Nola observed the two men from behind an artificial Ficus tree in the hotel lobby. She watched Peter slip three quarters into the vending machine.
“D3,” the voice, high-pitched.
Peter turned his head. “Huh?”
“D3,” the man repeated. “The Baby Ruth bar. Look at the label. Ten-percent more. Why not get more for your money?” Peter’s smile contorted into an oxymoronic amused, annoyed combination. The man noticed. “Let me explain. The candy bar now weighs 9.9 ounces. Obviously, the old, smaller bar was nine ounces. Ten-percent less. The calculation is a simple one. At nine ounces, if the cost is 75-cents, the price per ounce is roughly 8.3 cents. With the added weight, the price drops to slightly more than 7.5 cents per ounce. That’s approximately ten-percent less per ounce. See what I’m saying?”
Peter looked at the short, balding man. The stranger’s chalky complexion and out of shape sweater gave him a cadaverous appearance. The two were physical opposites. Peter was tall, with a full head of dark, wavy hair. His skin had the appearance of having spent a lot of time under a tropical sun. His clothes, immaculate. Peter’s glossy, handmade Italian shoes stood in stark contrast to the stranger’s worn chukka boots.
“I don’t like nuts,” Peter said.
With slightly squinted eyes, the man responded, “Neither do I. Did you know the Baby Ruth bar was named after President Grover Cleveland’s eldest daughter, Ruth? Most people think its namesake was Babe Ruth, the baseball player. It wasn’t.”
“Listen, Mister …” Peter let the word hang.
“Beebe. Leonard Beebe. I’m here for the annual insurance underwriters conference. I’m an actuary. My tenth year attending. Used to have it downtown, you know, in one of the nicer hotels. No more. Too much money, I guess. Everyone’s a bean counter now and cutting back. And you? What brings you here? Family vacation? Business?”
The two men stood in the vending area of the Patriot Hotel in a Philadelphia suburb. Built during the mid-1980’s, the hotel was a notch or two above typical airport hotels. Peter had been here before. The place was clean. The staff were professional and accommodating, but best of all, the bar served Stateside, his favorite local small batch vodka.
“Murder.” Beebe took an unconscious step back. Peter said nothing, enjoying the awkward silence. Others nearby seemed to pay them no attention, yet they knew better. The two men continued adlibbing.
“Is the victim here, in the hotel?” Beebe questioned.
“Sure is,” Peter said, playing along.
“And your motive?” Beebe asked.
“It’s not my motive. I’m here to solve the crime, not commit it. This one will be better than last, I hope.”
“Oh?” Beebe asked.
Beebe’s grin increased. “So, you have a partner in crime, do you? Who is he?”
Peter didn’t hide the annoyance in his voice. “He’s a she. Her name’s Nola. She’s somewhere around.” The two men stared at each other. “Okay, I’ll tell you,” Peter began. “I’m here for a murder mystery dinner party. I met Nola at the last event in Phoenix. We sort of hit it off, if you know what I mean?” Beebe nodded. “We developed a relationship over the past year,” Peter said. “We decided to pair up this time, pool our resources, and see if we can’t solve this thing together.”
“Sounds like fun,” Beebe said. “I have to run. Say, you never did tell me your name.”
Beebe extended his hand. They shook. “Well, good luck to you and … what’s her name?”
“Right. Nola. Good luck to you both.” He turned to leave, but stopped.
“Something wrong?” Peter asked.
“No. Before I leave, I just want to see what candy you finally choose, that’s all. One less mystery in this world.”
Peter had forgotten about the 75-cents still sitting in the vending machine, awaiting his selection. “I’m glad you reminded me. I might have walked away without anything. Now, that would have been a real crime!” Peter said. “Let’s see.” He scanned his options. “B4.” The plain Hershey chocolate bar fell with a small thud.
“Good choice,” Beebe said. “Personally, I would have gone with the Baby Ruth, but given that was the last of the plain Hershey bars, that elevates its value. Nice meeting you, sir. Maybe we’ll run into each other again. Who knows?”