Portland

My date with Sheila was going extremely well. We'd had coffee. We'd walked and talked. We'd stopped at a little cupcake store, the Montessori Cupcake Academy, where the cupcakes self-direct their own deliciousness goals. And now, with the sun going down but no bedroom stuff seeming imminent, I suggested we get a drink, a proposition that Sheila readily agreed to.

We were in her neighborhood in NE Portland, so I followed her lead to a local bar, which she assured me was cool. I hadn't heard of it, but that didn't mean anything; I was no great judge of what was cool in this town. People normally just told me which things were cool or had stopped being cool, and I nodded dismissively as if I had already known that, and had even gotten a little bored talking about it. That was how I stayed cool.

Our waitress came by to take our order. I ordered a whiskey, while Sheila got some kind of complicated ale, something made by eight chemists and a priest using hops specially flown in from the moon. While we waited for our drinks we made small talk, Portland-people-watching, cataloging the various weirdos in the bar, who seemed ever-so-slightly weirder than normal. I concluded that it legitimately was a cool bar.

The waitress returned without drinks. "Hey guys. We're having our parlor murder night tonight. Here's some roles for you," she said, handing us two slips of paper.

"Our what?" I asked, flapping my lips at the retreating waitress.

"Oh, I've heard about this!" Sheila squealed. "This is supposed to be awesome."

"What is it?" I asked. I read my slip of paper. "Lord Edmond Connaught of the 5th Royal Gurkha Rifles."

"Does it say you're the murderer?" Sheila asked, her voice low, leaning in conspiratorially.

"It does not. Someone here has a piece of paper telling them to murder us?"

Sheila laughed. "It's a game. Like those murder mystery parties, except without all the boring middle-aged people holding napkins and appetizers."

"And people show up to drink and play this with strangers?" I looked around the room, examining the crowd. "Yes. Yes they do. And they brought costumes," I added, spotting a duchess, two turbaned men, a Chinese opium addict, and someone who was either pretending to be Amelia Earhart or someone who just normally dressed like Amelia Earhart; this was, after all, still Portland.

There was a commotion from the center of the bar, as a waitress with a red wig and an enormous cigarette holder collapsed to the floor. "Madam Ella O'Rourke's been poisoned!" someone shouted. Everyone roared in approval. A few seconds passed before the waitress got up, took off her wig and returned to work. The bar was cool, but evidently not cool enough to pay a waitress to lie around for hours pretending to be dead.

"I wonder who poisoned her?" Sheila asked.

"I hope no one's role-playing someone from the city's bylaw office."

"Ha ha. Come on, let's get into the spirit of things." A waitress showed us to the prop chest, where Sheila, or should I say Constance Gardener, amateur botanist, found a bonnet and a small spade. I found a pith helmet my size as well as a plastic cavalry saber. All decked out, Sheila took me by the arm -- body contact! -- and looked into my eyes. "Well, my lord? Shall we?" Together, we set to work solving crimes.

Our first conversation was with a fellow with a carabiner hanging from his ear piercing, who was doing his best to imagine and then recreate a Belgian accent. "Do you think he was the murderer?" Sheila asked after he'd wandered off. "He seemed suspicious."

"Highly suspicious," I agreed. "I would suggest he's probably holding vast quantities of 'le cannabis.'" I cocked my head to one side. "But I don't think he's the murderer."

Indeed, as we continued our drinking and mingling, it became incredibly clear that Sheila was herself the murderer, and was tickled at being so central to the night's festivities. By our fourth or fifth conversation she was freely talking about how much she hated redheads and their filthy Irish blood, and how much she respected plants' ability to produce poisons capable of scouring the globe of the Irish taint.

Inevitably, we were confronted by a large burly man dressed as Miss Marple, who hurled the accusation of murder at Sheila, laying out his case in a slightly tedious way. By this point of course, Sheila had written the word "poison" on an empty bottle and stuck it in her waistband, so the fellow really didn't have much cause to take pride in his deductive capability. Finally Miss Marple concluded his speech, insisting the constabulary seize the villain.

I immediately saw how to play this on a whole lot of different levels, and freed my saber, leaping to Sheila's defense. My plastic sword a deadly and hilarious blur in front of me, I slew Miss Marple, two policemen and the waitress who had already been killed once that night. Sheila loved it, waving her own spade around like it was more menacing than the 4-inch piece of plastic it was. Back to back we fought our way to the door, laughing and hurling English-accented insults as we went. Reaching the door we bowed, and escaped into the night.

A minute later, we escaped from the night to return our props, left, then escaped from the night once again to pay our tab. Then, finally, we got around to actually escaping into the night, off to our new lives on the lam, which happily, after not too much longer, included some bedroom stuff.

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