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Hooked: A Narrative Explanation of the Murder Mystery

Tuesday, January 31, 2023
Note: for maximum enjoyment, please first
read the mystery, available here
“It was a dark, rainy August night in the small, close-knit beach town in New Jersey. The mayor arrived home late, exhausted after a long day laboring over her proposal for a new community crypto-mining farm in the soon-to-be-demolished library’s plot. Shaking off the rain from her bright pink umbrella with one hand, she checked the mailbox with the other. She rifled through the contents, tossing the spam, ads and credit card offers into the nearby bushes. She paused, however, at a small green envelope with no postage, addressed simply to “Mayor”. Curious, she stepped inside, hung her umbrella on the hook, and tore open the envelope. 'DOCKS. 2AM TONIGHT. TELL NO ONE,' it read. It was unsigned and the all-caps handwriting was deliberately plain, but the mayor knew immediately that it was the librarian. Who else owned stationery these days?
“This past year, the mayor had made her stance on public libraries very clear and there was no shortage of ill will between her and the librarian. To an outside observer, the letter might seem very much like a threat, or at the very least, a trap. Such an observer would probably advise the mayor to toss the letter into the bushes with the rest of the spam. But, those involved in the town’s government, the librarian included, knew that the mayor was very receptive to persuasion. No matter how strongly she felt about public libraries, she cared more deeply for strong, logical, recurring arguments. In the foyer, the mayor smiled to herself. Perhaps she could come around to the librarian after all. She microwaved her leftover foie gras, ate it, and then settled in to bed for a short nap, setting her alarm for 1:30 a.m., eager to learn what profits the night might bring.
“The mayor’s husband, meanwhile, was locking up the local history museum where he worked as director. As his relationship with his wife grew stormier and stormier, he had taken to working later and later; it was now well after 11:00 p.m. He glanced around furtively into the gloomy night and subconsciously pulled his briefcase closer to his body. He popped open his black umbrella and, almost running, hurried to the waterfront. In his briefcase were several of the museum’s most priceless artifacts—two matching pirate outfits in mint condition, believed to have been worn by Captain William Kidd’s first and second mates; several sheathed daggers; a gold chain; three bejeweled bangles; and a brass pirate hook. Even though he was the director, he was certainly not authorized to take these items and had had to carefully disable the alarm system without leaving a trace of his actions. This thrilling heist had left his heart pounding, but he was even more excited by what he knew awaited him at the docks: a romantic, role-playing tryst with his lover, the goldfish fisherman.
“They had met in June when the fisherman stopped by the museum. For the last few years, the fisherman had been travelling up and down the coast, buoyed by his parent’s dwindling trust fund and his sturdy boat, docking at random in small towns for a few days or weeks, catching not one goldfish the whole time. At the museum, the pirate hook had caught his eye and he asked the handsome director a few questions about it. The questions led to a drink, which led to dinner, which led to a long, steamy night on the boat, which led to an ongoing, very secret affair with deeper and deeper feelings felt by both sides, an affair which led, at last, to the handsome and respectable museum director rushing to the docks with stolen pirate relics in tow. They had experimented with Halloween costumes before, but the allure of authenticity had eaten at them all summer. At last, they were going to have some real fun.
“Try as she might, the mayor couldn’t fall asleep. Maybe it was the rain. Maybe it was the promise of a fresh source of income. Either way, she sprung out of bed before her alarm and stole quietly downstairs, not wanting to wake her husband, who she assumed must be asleep on the couch by now. (It had been a rare rough patch in their marriage, but if he wouldn’t do his dishes, he didn’t deserve to share a bed with her.) She pulled on her boots and raincoat, and slipped into the night. She left her umbrella on the hook, having been mayor long enough to learn to leave bright pink items at home during secret rendezvouses. She arrived at the docks 30 minutes early and paced back and forth, deep in thought. If the librarian paid up, she would need some other building for her crypto operations. Maybe the hotel. Surely she could sneak some impossible-to-meet updates to the building code in the next spending bill to force the hotel to close. The gentle, rhythmic thunk of the boats against the dock in time with the waves helped the mayor think. But soon, she became aware of one boat that was rocking out of time with the others. Its rocking was considerably less gentle. It was a large fishing boat, equipped with a spacious cabin. Examining it now more closely, the mayor noticed a faint flicker of candlelight coming from the porthole. Squinting, she peered in. Inside were two men dressed as pirates engaged in passionate relations. It was her husband! The mayor screamed.
“Unable to see out the window into the dark, the two men resolved to send out the mayor’s husband to investigate the commotion. In haste, he pulled up his striped pirate pants and hurried onto the dock. As he leapt from the boat, the corner of one of the night’s Trojan condom wrappers became unstuck from his shirt and fluttered to the dock, where it became stuck again. Once on the dock, he quickly realized that the scream had come from his wife, who, seeing him emerge in his pirate garb, immediately began to yell at him. Thus ensued a terrible argument about dishes and responsibility and love and trying new things in the bedroom and the museum director’s reputation, to say nothing of the mayor’s own, and some frankly horrible and bigoted notions about sexuality expressed by the mayor. The husband, disgusted with his wife, confessed meanly that he didn’t love her and never had. For this, she slapped him. He returned the slap, forgetting (or perhaps not forgetting) that he was still wearing the authentic brass pirate hook. She attempted to dodge the blow, but instead took the hook straight to the eye. Perhaps he pushed it in further on purpose or perhaps he had tried in vain to pull it out, but the deed was done. He had killed his wife.
“He anxiously unfastened the hook, rushed back on to the boat, gathered up his things, urged the fisherman to say nothing, promising him that they would flee for the Caribbean the following evening, that their love would be eternal, that nothing else mattered as long as they had each other. Fighting the wind with his umbrella, he ran home.
“Minutes later, the librarian appeared at the docks, ready to bribe the mayor to save the library. Her hands were tucked in to her raincoat, protecting the stack of cash she had just withdrawn. When she saw the body, her hands flew up to her mouth involuntarily. As she did this, her ATM receipt fell out of her pocket and was blown over to the body. She screamed. She screamed the way only a frightened librarian, long used to silence, can scream. The seagulls sleeping nearby were woken by the din and flapped away. Before thinking about the compromising position she was in—alone at night with the body of her political enemy whom she had summoned to the docks to illegally bribe—she called the police.
“And that, I deduce, is what happened last night,” concluded the good detective Jaz Sinterton. The listening police officers applauded in amazement. That night, the police apprehended the mayor’s husband on his way to the docks. He was dragging behind him a huge suitcase stuffed with clothes, stolen pirate paraphernalia and a fake passport. Upon his arrest, he immediately confessed. The goldfish fisherman, meanwhile, waited an extra hour for his lover to arrive, but finally, decided to return to the seas, heartbroken and alone.
The close-knit community was, of course, shaken to its core. An emergency election for mayor was held, pitting the librarian, now respected for having what it takes to play local politics, against a reclusive and eccentric crypto-coin executive, who had just moved to town a year prior. The executive won narrowly. The library was gutted and replaced by a server farm, partly out of respect for the deceased mayor’s wishes, partly out of greed for the alleged tax revenue it would bring.
A month later, after the sentencing hearing, the town’s sheriff stopped Sinterton on the courthouse steps. “I have to know. How do you do it?” he asked with a bemused smile.
“The secret,” said Sinterton with a wink, “is Ray Worth’s pistachio ice cream, with a generous heap of chocolate fudge on top.”
And that is just what the good detective treated himself to after having closed another case and seeing justice served once again. The ice cream also helped drown out the unending pain now inflicted by his ex-wife, who had moved in next door to live with his neighbor, the new mayor, who, it turned out, was the father of the newborn baby, Sinterton’s daily reminder of his wife’s infidelity.
I should really get a hook of my own,
thought the detective.