Blondhilda and the Mystery at Skull Manor
by Chris Hugh
Stanley Chester Brown, world-famous graphics novel artist and newly-wed husband of the Norse Goddess Blondhilda, adjusted his thick glasses and peered down the steep stairs. A large crumpled form lay there. Stan had been awakened by the sound of running feet followed by the boom of a shotgun. Now the head of the stairs was splintered by a shotgun blast and a dead man lay at its foot.
Stan and Blondhilda had booked two weeks at an abandoned manor house on a deserted island. The vacation was a gift from Loki, the Norse god of mischief. The honeymoon had started out pleasantly. The accommodations were lovely and the combination gardener, cook and butler had been exemplary. Unfortunately he was also an amateur photographer. When Blondhilda found certain candid honeymoon videos floating around on YouTube, she'd discovered the multi-talented man was the shape shifter Loki. She kicked Loki off the island, literally.
The lovers still were not alone, though, because the very day Blondhilda sent Loki into Earth orbit, a motorboat carrying two frantic temp attorneys had landed on the island: Helena, short and round like a Butterball turkey, and Rico, a Cuban who'd learned English from old videotapes. They arrived with tales of international conspiracy and claims that they were escaping a crazed murderer. Blondhilda and Stan met them with skepticism until crazed murderer Grease arrived spewing insensitive language, body odor and .223 fully-jacketed rounds. Blondhilda disarmed him handily and afterwards Stan simply expected to spend the next few days (or however long it took the dang Viking longship to come pick them up again) quietly reading Agatha Christie novels in the manor's library and keeping his uninvited guests from killing each other.
I, of course, am Snowbubbles the cat. My associate is Mr. Ruff Ruff, the dog. We came with the house.
Back to the dead guy. Stan made his way down the stairs and was relieved to see the dead man was Grease. This would make the remainder of his holiday far more pleasant because Grease was not only murderous and violent, he was also a very poor houseguest who'd managed to offend every being on the island. He had propositioned Blondhilda, tried to kick me and Ruff, and, as I've already mentioned, he was in the process of trying to kill Helena and Rico when we met him.
It was the middle of the night, and I must say Stan has become quite a bit more decisive and bold since I first started following his adventures. He immediately began dragging Grease toward the manor's rear door, apparently with the intention of dropping him down the steep cliffs into the sea. He was interrupted when a pale golden light suddenly infused the open stairwell.
Blondhilda levitated majestically through a skylight and landed at the top of the stairs, literally glowing. Her hair was a sheet of pale gold that flowed to her narrow waist. She had traded her skin-tight platinum armor for a translucent platinum silk kimono and had traded her five-inch spiked thigh-high battle boots for five-inch spiked marabou slippers and thigh-high stockings. One of her slippers had an ugly dent in it.
She was out of breath, her chest heaving magnificently, when she saw Stanley,
"Hi, punkin," he said.
"Hello, my love," she said. Then she noticed the body. "Oh, did you kill that man?" She laughed a little and smiled. "Thank Odin! He was getting on my last nerve, but he was sort of our houseguest, so I was only coming down here to torture him, but--"
Stan interrupted her. "I didn't kill him!"
"Whatever, darling." She shrugged her statuesque shoulders. "Would you like me to help you bury him?"
Suddenly Helena scurried out from around the upstairs hall smelling strongly of gunpowder. Her eyes grew large when she saw Grease's dead form and she staggered back, suppressing a smile. She hid the shotgun she was carrying behind her back and stammered, "I was just heading to the kitchen for a snack."
Footsteps thundered down the hall and suddenly Rico skidded to a stop next to Helena. He was panting. As I might have mentioned, he learned English from old *Welcome Back Kotter* tapes. He looked down at the body. "Groovy, man," he said thoughtfully. "Out of sight."
Mr. Ruff Ruff came in from outside, went up to Grease, sniffed a bit, then lifted his leg. Stan pushed him away before he could contaminate the crime scene.
I circled the body. Grease had landed a bit out from the foot of the stairs, making it clear that he was pushed and had not simply fallen. Someone had also sprayed him with strong-smelling urine.
I knew exactly who had killed him; I'd known it all along.
* * *
Ten minutes later, at Stan's insistence, we were gathered in the manor's library. Like Hercule Poirot, Stan had gathered his suspects and now he looked at each of them in turn. "Blondhilda, I love you darling, but I know how, um, vio--I mean, forceful you can be. And Grease had irritated you. Maybe you kicked him down the stairs?" Blondhilda continued sharpening her Sword of Truth and Wifely Annoyance and did not dignify his remark with a response.
Stan looked at Rico. "You were running around upstairs and could easily have pushed him down the stairs."
Rico folded his arms across his chest and looked at him with offended dignity. "That's a just a bunch of far out jive, man," he said coldly.
Stan looked at Helena. "You had a smoking gun in your hand."
Stan stared at her expectantly.
"Well," she finally said with exaggerated patience. "I realize a smoking gun is usually a bit of a clue, but may I point out that the decedent was not shot?"
"I realize that," Stan said. "But you could have startled him and caused him to fall." Helena rolled her eyes.
Stan looked at Mr. Ruff Ruff. "You seemed to have been outside when he died, going potty. However, when you came in, you tried to go potty on Grease, which makes me think you didn't really go potty outside, which leaves you without an alibi." Ruff Ruff opened his mouth in a big doggy grin. Stan narrowed his eyes at the dog, then glanced at the body. "You might have tripped him. I know you didn't like him because he kicked you." Ruff and thumped his tail and drooled.
We were at an impasse. Finally, Blondhilda made an impatient tsking noise with her pink, luscious mouth and, with an annoyed glance at Stan, brought out her Sword. It had a magical property: any person who touched it could speak only the truth. Its non-magical property was that when the six-foot-tall Norse goddess wielded it, with her eyes aflame and thunder rolling at her feet, people grew wonderfully willing to waive their right to remain silent, no matter how many years of law school they had endured.
She pointed it at Rico. He gulped and touched the flat of the blade. "Foxy lady, the man was chasing me when you caught me on the flip-flop. I didn't push that honkey. I was running from him."
Blondhilda gave him a gimlet glare, then turned to Helena. Helena stood up and grasped the hilt over Blondhilda's hand. "Okay, I shot *at* him," she admitted, "because he was chasing Rico but I missed. If I had hit him, I would have had the affirmative defense of justifiable homicide in defense of others. But I didn't hit him." She looked at Rico with red-rimmed eyes, then hung her head. "I'm very sorry. I'll start doing target practice more often, I promise."
Blondhilda patted her shoulder, then she gave her husband a pointed look and glanced down at the Sword. "I didn't kick him down the stairs, Stan. My slipper was dented because I was doing an altitude adjustment on Loki. He's now in geosynchronous orbit."
Stan nodded ruefully and blew a kiss at the goddess. She instantly forgave him, kiss-kissed back and then turned to the dog.
Blondhilda touched Mr. Ruff Ruff gently with the sword's hilt; he did his innocent puppy eyes thing and everyone said "Aw." He rolled over and Rico rubbed his belly. "Can you dig it," Rico explained. "Doggies always keep a little pee in reserve so they can leave a message for a friend. Just 'cause he was getting ready to spritz Grease doesn't mean he didn't really go pee outside." Then dog bounced to his feet, sat, put his right paw up to the Sword and barked. He was innocent.
All eyes turned to Stan. He was sitting in an old leather wing chair by the crackling fireplace. "Well, I didn't do it," he said, sitting up straighter. Blondhilda strode to him, her hips gently moving against the silk of her kimono. He was the last person to be questioned. The truth would be spoken at last. She bowed before him. Her golden hair spilled about her, her silken kimono gaped at the front, the firelight gleamed on the goddess's smooth, pale skin. She put the Sword in his hand. Quietly he said, "Dang, you've got nice—-"
"Did you kill Grease?" she interrupted. Everyone leaned forward, listening for his answer.
Blondhilda straightened and put her hand on her hip. "Let's look at that body again."
The group filed out and closely examined it. Grease was six feet tall, heavily built, unshaven, brown-haired and ugly. If I may be permitted a paraphrase, his head and neck were at an acute angle that looked to turn chronic. He was wearing heavy boots that he had used to kick a certain cat, black velvet pants, the front right cuff generously coated with soft, silky, shiny beautiful white fur, some kind of shirt and a jacket, and a complete lack any sort of night-vision goggles that would have allowed him to see any exquisite creature who might have tripped him on the stairs. He was also, as I mentioned, fragrant, as if an offended creature, after tripping down the stairs, had decided to make a statement.
Blondhilda studied the body for a few moments, her magnificent chin resting against the thumb and forefinger of her graceful hand. Then put down her Sword and scooped me up. "I think Grease just fell down the stairs," she said, giving me a wink and tickling my belly.
Helena looked at me, and back to Blondhilda. "Or maybe it was Loki. He's the trickster god, right? He's always playing jokes."
Everyone chuckled. "Oh, that Loki!" Rico said. Ruff Ruff barked happily. Stan shrugged and patted my head.
Blondhilda handed me to Helena, then she picked Grease up with one hand. We all went with her as she carried him outside and tossed him into the ocean. Then we came back inside and enjoyed some milk and cookies before going back to sleep.
But make no mistake, Grease died by foul play and I know who did it.
I've always known.
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