“Mac, I really don’t want to do a Halloween party.”
Mac looked at his wife over the rims of his glasses. “You’re still cute when you try to cross me.”
Jeannie stood up from the dining room chair as quickly as her fifty-plus knees could push her, “Joseph Macadam, we finally have the house to ourselves and you want to clutter it up with people.
“Well, if you put it that way,” Mac laughed. “Aw, honey, it won’t be that bad. Just some neighbors and a few old friends for a couple of hours. We can ask them to come in costume, bob for apples…all the fun stuff. And no more virus issues — reason to celebrate!”
Jeannie sat back down again and stared at her husband. “I swear that not all the kids are out of the house. I still have a twelve-year-old living here.”
Mac giggled, snapped his newspaper, and bent down to read it again. He’d won. Whenever the twelve-year-old comment appeared, he’d won.
Jeannie signed. “Okay. But no more than fifteen people. Understand. That’s all.”
“That’s all.” Mac had a hard time suppressing a wide-grin.
Jeannie was down for the count and she knew it. She got up and went to the desk in the dining room, bringing back a notepad and pencil. “I’ll start the guest list. But…”
“’But’ what?” Mac said.
“I don’t know…I don’t know,” Jeannie said as she started to write down some names.
By the time the big day had rolled around, the house was decorated with kitschy cardboard skeletons and paper pumpkins. Their large dining room table was transformed into a finger-food and dessert buffet. Mac had decided against the apple-bobbing since they’d just had new carpets installed. Haunted house music was ready on the CD player since neither Jeannie nor Mac remembered how to use the iPhone speakers their son had given them. Downstairs in the family room they’d set out some chairs in front of the big flat screen in preparation for a showing of an old horror classic.
Jeannie, dressed in a Victorian dress and Mac in a Civil War soldier’s uniform, both borrowed from reenacting relatives, tasted the hard cider.
Mac raised his red paper cup to Jeannie. “Here’s to you, my dear.” Jeannie gave him a quick and awkward curtsey. “The keg is ready?” he asked.
“On the back porch,” she said. “I just hope we don’t have too much drinking.”
“Honey, lighten up. Will you? Everyone will be fine. Most of them are walking here since they’re neighbors.”
Jeannie straightened a crooked skeleton and looked doubtful. “I just have this feeling…”
The doorbell rang and Mac went to the front hall to answer it saying, “Here’s our first guest.”
It was Santa Claus. Jeannie heard Mac’s laugh before she saw her rotund neighbor, Sam, walk in as Santa…well, actually he looked like a chubby “Bad Santa.”
“Great outfit, Sam,” Mac said.
Bad Santa looked crestfallen. “How did you know it was me?”
Mac patted his belly. “That didn’t look like stuffing.”
“Sure, it’s stuffing,” Sam said, “from last Thanksgiving.”
Both men went into the dining room where Jeannie was waiting with a cup of beer for her guest.
“The place looks great,” Sam said looking around. “You two made this look like a Halloween party when we were kids.”
“But no bobbing for apples,” Mac said. “New carpet.”
“Where’s Christie?” Jeannie asked about Sam’s wife.
Sam shrugged. “Not coming. She says she doesn’t like Halloween.” He shook his head. “Girl’s odd. She says she has a bad feeling…”
“Hmm,” was all Jeannie said.
Mac slapped his back. “Enough of that nonsense. We’re going to enjoy Halloween as if we were those kids. Fix yourself a plate of goodies.”
Mac went over to the CD player and cued in the scary music while Jeannie answered the door for new arrivals beginning to trickle in. There was a cat and dog, husband and wife who usually fought like cats and dogs. There were the obligatory witches and the easy costumes: gypsies, hobos, and cowboys.
Jeannie was busy playing hostess with drinks and Mac was working the room, chatting up everyone, getting caught up with news: new grandbabies, kids in college, kids graduating.
Trick or Treat Night in their township was on Halloween that year but over by the time the party started. Mac had placed the large bowl of leftover treats on a table in the entrance way, thinking his guests would take handfuls on their way home. He and Jeannie didn’t need more temptations, although he secretly hoped that there would be something left in the keg on the porch.
Seeing that everyone had a drink and a plate of food, Mac boomed, “Downstairs to the Macadam theater room, a theater room without comfy seats but with a huge TV for the night’s entertainment.” But before he could get everyone downstairs, the doorbell sounded. Mac opened it to Frankenstein’s monster, dressed in black and with a green half-mask complete with stitches and bolts.
“George, I know that’s you. That’s always been your favorite character, since we were kids,” Mac said, showing him in. “Where’s the wife?”
“With sister,” grunted the monster.
“Well, you can tell her about all the fun you had.”
He turned to his other guests and said, “The evening is complete. We have the most famous science experiment in history.”
The monster nodded and grunted.
“And he’s staying in character.” That was greeted with another nod and a grunt.
Laughing Mac started to get his friends downstairs. As they ushered guests into the family room, Jeannie said to Mac, “You never told me what movie you chose for tonight. Are you sure you know how to work the computer and the television together?”
“Easy peasy,” Mac said with confidence he didn’t really feel. He done the computer to television thing when their son was there to troubleshoot. But, heck! He could do it. Easy peasy, right.
And it was. Mac surprised himself with what he remembered. He logged onto the movie-sharing site, downloaded the film he’d chosen and then did the technological wizardry that got the film from the computer to the big flat screen.
When the movie came on there were “Ooo’s” and “Ah’s” from the assorted revelers.
“Night of the Living Dead,” someone said. “Just don’t open the door tonight.” Everyone chuckled.
Inside the darkened family room, the black and white cult-classic no longer seemed dated. Even Mac, who’d watched it many times, felt chills go down his spine. In the middle of the movie he called for an intermission so everyone could refill their plates and cups before the big finale.
“See, Jeannie, everyone’s enjoying themselves. It’s going well,” Mac said.
“Yeah, you were right,” Jeannie admitted and then added with a smile, “as long as no zombies show up at our door tonight.”
“Smarty,” Mac said and kissed her cheek.
By midnight with the movie over and the dining room table depleted of food, the costumed guests were beginning to go home. Mac and Jeannie stood in the entrance way, hugging and saying their good-byes. Most stopped at the table and grabbed the Halloween candy left-over from Trick or Treat night. George/Frankenstein was the last to go.
“George, call me,” Mac said. “Since we moved out of the old neighborhood, we hardly see you and Carol.”
George/Frankenstein grunted and grabbed some candy.
“Still in character,” Jeannie laughed. “Don’t go scaring any kids tonight.”
After watching Frankenstein walk down the sidewalk, they closed the door. Mac gave Jeannie a hug and a long deep kiss. “Do you want to save clean-up for the morning, my sexy wife?”
Jeannie giggled. “It’s just this dress that’s got you going…”
“Nah, it’s what’s in the dress.”
The next morning they sat in the kitchen, the small counter television on to a local news station for background noise. Well actually, Mac sat and nursed a cup of coffee while Jeannie gathered the detritus of the night before.
She stood in front of her husband. “I thought you were going to help.”
Mac looked up at her and smiled. “After all the work I did upstairs when our guests left.” Jeannie wacked him with a dish towel and walked back into the dining room with a garbage bag.
Suddenly she heard him call to her. “Come in here, now.”
She hustled into the kitchen. “Are you all right?”
“Listen to the news,” Mac said pointing to the television.
As she watched the anchor, Jeannie’s knees went weak and she sat down by Mac. “Oh, dear God,” she whispered. “Poor George. If he’d been with her…”
“Maybe they both would have been shot. Carol killed for whatever small amount she had in her purse. And right outside their home.”
“Oh, honey. We’ve got to call George.”
Mac called but had to leave a message. “Maybe he’s not taking calls.”
“That’s understandable, “Jeannie said. “I don’t know what I’d do if…”
Mac put his hand on hers. “Don’t even think that.”
The doorbell sounded and Mac got up to answer it.
Jeannie heard a murmur of voices and Mac lead a young man, neatly dressed in a suit, into the kitchen.
“Honey, this is Detective Landis. He wants to ask us some questions about last night.”
Jeannie looked confused. “Last night?”
“Yes, ma’am. George Griffin was here last night from…” He looked at his notebook. “…eight to eleven-thirty?”
“Yes, detective,” Mac answered.
“The entire time? He didn’t leave?”
Mac answered again. “The entire time.”
“Are you sure?” the detective pressed.
“Yes, I’m sure. We were downstairs in our family room most of that time watching a movie.”
“Any exits from that family room, other than the inside stairs?”
“No, sir,” Mac said.
“May I see?” the detective asked.
“Of course. It’s this way.” Mac took the detective down into the family room. They returned within a few minutes.
“Can you give me the names of the other people who were at your party?”
This time Jeannie answered, “Of course. It may take me a few minutes.”
“That’s fine,” Detective Landis said.”
“I know. I can give you my guest list. It has their addresses. I…I sent out silly invitations. You know, like the ones you used to get as kids,” Her voice trailed off as she got up and went into the dining room.
She returned with the list and handed it to the detective. “I am so sorry, detective. I didn’t even offer you a cup of coffee. This just has me so upset. We used to be George and Carol’s neighbors.”
Landis smiled. “That’s okay. I understand.”
Mac turned to the detective. “Can we ask why all the questions about George?”
“Just routine in a murder investigation.”
Jeannie wasn’t satisfied with that answer. “But the news said it was a mugging, a robbery as she was coming home…”
“We’re looking into all possibilities, ma’am.”
Mac moved over to his wife and put his arm around her shoulders.
“Mr. and Mrs. Macadam, since you were once neighbors, do you know of any problems between Mr. and Mrs. Griffin?”
Mac shook his head. “No.” But Jeannie was quiet. Mac could feel her stiffen and the detective must have seen the change in her.
Detective Landis looked at her. “Ma’am?”
Jeannie took a deep breath and looked at her husband. “I’m sorry, honey. Carol swore me to secrecy. I couldn’t even tell you.”
“What, Mrs. Macadam?” The detective’s voice was soft.
“George would beat her.” There was a sharp intake of breath from Mac and a whispered, “no.”
Jeannie nodded. “I saw the bruises. She came to me one of the times it happened. I told her to report it. I guess she didn’t.”
Detective Landis sighed. “Yes, she did. Several times but she refused to press charges. But we do have the pictures.”
Mac shook his head. “But he loved her so much…”
“Yes, they always seem to love them so much. Here’s my card. If you think of anything else…”
Mac had sat back down, looking as if the wind had been knocked out of him. Jeannie took the card. “Yes, detective, we will.” She walked him to the door.
When she returned to the kitchen, the television was off and Mac was staring out into their backyard. “You never know what goes on behind closed doors,” he said. “He loved her so much.”
Jeannie sat down next to him, saying nothing.
“But at least we know where George was when Carol was…was murdered. We’re his alibi,” he said, still looking outside.
Jeannie didn’t say anything, just patted his shoulder. Other memories of George and Carol were returning. Something wasn’t quite right and she couldn’t put her finger on it. Something — something about the party — or was it something about George?
But Mac wasn’t going to let it go. “Look, I know you’re upset. So am I. Let’s talk about it.”
She just shook her head. “Not ready yet.” She dumped some paper cups and plates into a garbage bag. “Maybe later. Right now I just want to do some mindless work.” She really just wanted to think.
Mac had been married long enough to know when to back off. He walked down to the family room and turned on the television. It wasn’t long before he heard Carol coming downstairs.
“I think I figured it out.”
“Figured what out?” Mac said.
“How George did it.”
Mac just stared at his wife. Finally he said, “George couldn’t have done it. He was with us all evening. You saw him.”
“No, I didn’t,” Jeannie said. She started back upstairs. “I’m calling Detective Landis.”
Detective Landis sat in the large chair in the Macadam living room, his notebook open on his lap. “Mrs. Macadam, it was definitely what you told us that led us to the suspect in Carol Griffin’s murder.”
Mac shook his head. “I still have a hard time believing it. I have a hard time believing I didn’t know.”
“It’s not a new trick. Griffin just got someone to dress up as Frankenstein’s monster, for several hundred dollars, to pretend it was him at the party. Like you said, he really didn’t talk, just grunted, staying in character. The guy in costume didn’t realize he was an accessory to murder until we found him. When we did, he told us everything.”
“I really thought it was George…the monster.” Mac said. “Granted, I hadn’t seen him in over a year…”
“We might not have known it was an imposter at your party if it hadn’t been for your wife remembering that the real George Griffin was allergic to peanuts and…”
“The imposter walked out of the house after opening and chomping down on a Snickers bar he picked up out of the Trick or Treat bowl,” Jeannie said. “If that had really been George he wouldn’t have made it down our walk.”
“Griffin used your party and the fact his wife was going to her sister’s to plan what he thought would be the perfect murder. He just waited for her in the bushes behind their garage, shot her and took her purse to make it look like a robbery. His wife was finally getting a divorce and he wasn’t going to let her go.”
“But to kill her?” Mac said.
Landis closed his notebook and stood up. “It happens.”
Later Mac and Jeannie sat on the sofa, both reading. Mac looked up at his wife and said, “You know I’ve been thinking. Maybe Carol would still be alive if we hadn’t had that Halloween party.”
Without looking up from the book she said, “I doubt it. Not all husbands are like you.”
Mac smiled for the first time that day and went back to his book.