It’s almost midnight in upstate New York at a small inn where a winter storm has blanketed the roads with three feet of impenetrable snow. The oil lamp on the nightstand casts a comforting glow over the pages of my Agatha Christie novel, while the smoke from my pipe fills the room with the sweet smell of Turkish tobacco. I’m about to turn in when I hear the creak of a floorboard coming from somewhere down the hall. A moment later a scream rings out followed by a series of sickening thuds. I pull my velvet dressing gown off the settee and step out into the hall.
The other guests stand huddled near the top of the staircase, their eyes focused on the landing where the innkeeper, a crusty man in his early seventies, lies motionless in a tangled mess of limbs. I push past the spectators and step gently down the stairs. While attempting to find the innkeeper’s pulse, I notice a small, feathered dart sticking out from behind his ear. One of the guests adjusts his monocle and barks: “My God, is he dead?” His companion, a woman at least twenty-five years his junior, exhales sharply and throws the back of her hand to her forehead. Another female guest, a humorless brunette with a perpetual smirk, begins tapping a cigarette against a shiny silver case. “Tragic accident,” she says while bringing the cigarette slowly to her mouth. I remove the dart and hold it high for all to see. “This was no accident, madam. This was murder.”
When I awake from this dream I am, in fact, in the bedroom of a quaint bed and breakfast a few miles outside of Albany, New York. There is snow on the ground, but according to my phone the roads are safe enough to allow eight Uber drivers to reach me in less than fifteen minutes. There is no oil lamp, nor settee, and rather than smoking a pipe while lounging in a dressing gown, I’m scrolling through Instagram and wearing a threadbare T-shirt from a 2004 charity fun run. Most importantly, the innkeeper is not dead. I deduce this when he knocks on my door to remind me that I will be charged for an additional day if I don’t check out by 10 a.m.
During breakfast, I survey the guests one last time. There is the balding, middle-aged man, drinking coffee and reading a newspaper. When he polishes his bifocals, I begin to wonder if they even make monocles anymore. Next to him a young woman stares at her phone as if it were a hypnotist’s watch, and I am convinced this is a clandestine, May–December romance, far from the prying eyes of the city but surely repulsive to the stuffy sensibilities of the innkeeper. At another table, a well-dressed woman with dark hair takes furtive drags from an e-cigarette while shuffling through a small stack of papers. When the innkeeper approaches, she points to one of the pages. A shady real estate developer, I’m certain, come to make another offer the old man will reject with a sneer.
As the plot thickens, my phone vibrates, alerting me to the fact my Uber is arriving. A couple of hours later, while the man with the bifocals helps his daughter settle in for spring semester at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and the brunette with the stack of papers assists the innkeeper with his quarterly taxes, I’ll be at the Albany airport, digging through my carry-on, trying to solve a much more urgent mystery: “The Case of the Missing iPhone Charger.”