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And there it was, the accusation. Maria was tempted to blurt out a denial, but instead, she clamped her lips tight and focused. To think that, up there on the roof, she’d felt a moment’s sympathy for Agent Singh! Angry tears began to form at the corners of her eyes, but she brushed them away.

All thoughts of waiting for a lawyer were forgotten. The fight had begun.

“It was a clever trick, but what gave you away,” began Agent Singh, with clinical detachment, “was the number of shots fired. The victim was shot only once, but Felicity heard two shots. No other bullets were found at the scene. And the revolver itself appeared to have been fired three times…”

CONFRONTATION: A Conspiracy of One

In this duel of reasoning, Agent Singh will present her argument. I've numbered the statements for easy reference and assigned each its own comment thread. For each statement, you may either

** Press for more detail. If a statement in Singh's theory seems unclear, you can suggest a question that Maria could ask.

** Suggest a counterargument based on the evidence and events seen so far.

This chapter will not continue until Maria has countered this argument thoroughly. Good luck!

1. “Because your uncle never left the office, and you were the only person assigned to patrol this area, you'd be the sole suspect if things went south. There seemed to be no way to escape suspicion."

2. “So you planned to make it look as if you’d been framed by an elaborate conspiracy.”

3. "Using the fabricator in the machining room, you modified another revolver's serial number to match yours. Then you gave your own pistol to Felicity."

3a. (Added statement): "You'd need to be a sound hand at gunsmithing and metalwork to pull this off."

4. "When night fell, you started your rounds early, before Felicity arrived. You threatened your uncle with the duplicate gun, then shot him once." Addendum: "You probably wore lab gloves for this."

5.“Then you arranged the crime scene to make it look as though a second person fought with your uncle.”
6. “To make it look as if you broke into the room, you pried the door open with a crowbar.”
6a. (Added statement:) "You used a wire trick, like in a mystery novel, to latch the door from the outside."
7. “Later, Felicity arrived. To fake the murder’s timing, you fired two blank cartridges and left the gun at the scene.”
7a. (Added statement:) "Even if you hadn't known Felicity would be late, with planning, you could've done it all within five minutes."
8. "Everything else in your story was a flat-out lie. The ‘mouse from nowhere’ was a ruse.”

9. “Of course, there was no voice on the radio. That was just a way to explain your strange movements and how the antifreeze and footprints got there.”

Maria gaped. The way Agent Singh put it, it really did sound like all of the pieces fit together. The only problem was, her whole theory was false. But how to prove it?

Narration Unlocked by LibrarySmiles: Why Alone, and Why Framed?

1. “Because your uncle never left the office, and you were the only person assigned to patrol this area, you'd be the sole suspect if things went south. There seemed to be no way to escape suspicion."

It occurred to Maria that she could question some assumptions here. Her uncle had arranged for her to patrol this area precisely because he'd trusted her, and she often delivered food to him herself, along with the laundry. In theory, it might have been wiser for Uncle Johann to have assigned two people to the wing.

But Agent Singh could easily twist this argument against her -- after all, being trusted in this way could have made it easier to kill Uncle Johann. 

2. “So you planned to make it look as if you’d been framed by an elaborate conspiracy.”

"That's ridiculously overcomplicated!" said Maria. "Why not just try to avoid leaving evidence altogether?"

"You couldn't expect to. You would certainly be the first person suspected even in the absence of physical evidence. Moving on..."

Narration Unlocked by SmolShrimpa: The Gun

3. "Using the fabricator in the machining room, you modified another revolver's serial number to match yours. Then you gave your own pistol to Felicity."

"Wait, wait!" said Maria. "How would I even do that? Make a new stock out of matching metal? Melt off the original number and somehow stamp in a new one? How would I even get a matching gun?"

"This model's not rare," replied Singh. "As for the serial number, a finer examination might show tampering."

And it might not, thought Maria. "What about checking the hammer strike patterns on the cartridges for a match?"

"We'll do that if the ballistics are inconclusive. But regardless of how the gun was copied, it happened."

Feeling as if she'd hit a wall, Maria threw up her hands. "Felicity can tell you! I'm no gun expert; I couldn't do any of this stuff!"

Singh cocked her head. "Then you played dumb. You'd need to be a sound hand at gunsmithing and metalwork to pull this off."

Singh's argument has been updated to add this statement, which will be useful later.

Narration Unlocked by SmolShrimpa: Fingerprints on the Gun?

4. "When night fell, you started your rounds early, before Felicity arrived. You threatened your uncle with the duplicate gun, then shot him once."

"Um...  well, since I never picked that gun up, that's easy to check, right?"

A flicker of worry passed across Agent Singh's eyes. "Jeffrey's taking his time with the prints..."

Meanwhile at the forensics lab, Jeffrey fruitlessly re-scanned the gun for the fifth time, adjusting contrast and tweaking image recognition settings. Dusting of the gun had revealed a bewildering panoply of full prints, partials, glove marks, and smears over every exposed surface.

"What the hell happened? Someone pass this piece around for show and tell?"

At least some of the prints inside the gun's workings matched Maria Park. She may have left prints on the outside of the gun, but they were partials or obliterated by others. A few of Felicity Crowe's prints also survived.

The topmost prints, the overlays, belonged to the victim and to some person or people wearing gloves. One type of glove marks was consistent with Agent Singh's careful handling, but others were more haphazard.

One thing was certain: a gloved finger had pulled the trigger.

"Mmm, I suspect you'd have found gloves," said Agent Singh. "This is a lab. They're easy to come by, and just as easy to replace where you found them."

Narration unlocked by strand VV: Manipulation of the crime scene

5. “Then you arranged the crime scene to make it look as though a second person fought with your uncle.”

"You're BHR investigators! If I manipulated the crime scene, wouldn't you have found some evidence of that?"

"We did," replied Singh. "There are several reasons to think the crime scene was faked."

She pointed to the positions of the fallen objects. "Notice the unnatural way in which these objects fell. Is that really consistent with a struggle?"

Maria looked. In truth, hadn't she thought the same thing when she first saw the scene? She'd thought: 

Signs of a struggle — dolls, books, and a globe knocked off the bookshelf. But not always consistent signs. Why was the pillow near the desk where her uncle slept, while the gun was near the body, and that stack of papers was scattered near the partition in the back? Two different struggles, or one struggle that moved around the room?   - Chapter 2

"And don't forget that the footprints stop in the middle of the room," added Singh, "which casts doubt on their reliability."

9. “Of course, there was no voice on the radio. That was just a way to explain your strange movements and how the antifreeze and footprints got there.”

"Speaking of tampering with the scene," said Maria, "Did you find a walkie-talkie there?"

"No," said Singh.

So whoever the mystery person was... they must have taken it with them when they left. 

And on the subject of entrances and exits...

Narration unlocked by strand VV: Timing

7. “Later, Felicity arrived. To fake the murder’s timing, you fired two blank cartridges and left the gun at the scene.”

The front door camera would've recorded Maria's entry... but the problem was, she really had arrived early that evening, and Felicity really had arrived late. 

She'd actually just wanted to speak with Uncle Johann about Henry, but he'd been asleep at the time. But hold on.

"Exactly what time does the camera show me coming in?"

"About twenty minutes before your partner. You had time to do it all."

At first that made sense, but...

"How would I know?"

"What?" Singh's tone betrayed neither anxiety nor interest.

"How would I know that Felicity was going to be late? I got here early, but not that early. I think I was only about five minutes early, tops."

Singh considered this. "Even if you hadn't known Felicity would be late, with planning, you could've done it all within five minutes. You just needed to shoot your uncle and stage the scene. Throw some objects around. Spill some antifreeze."

Singh's argument has been updated to include this claim.

Narration unlocked by SmolShrimpa: The Impossible Door  [with help from Astrowoud's examination in Chapter 1)

6. “To make it look as if you broke into the room, you pried the door open with a crowbar.”

Maria thought back to what she'd noticed earlier.

The deadbolt on the door was operated by a simple turning latch, and had clearly been installed as additional security to supplement the office's key lock. No other room on the floor had one.

It would not be plausible to lock the bolt from outside the room by ordinary means. Even elaborate tricks with wire and fishing line would be rendered impractical by the rubber covers that hid the gap by the side of the door.

Now I've got her.

"In your theory, when I broke the door open, was the deadbolt locked or unlocked?" she asked.

Singh turned around and examined the broken door, which had obvious crowbar marks on the outside. Prying the door open must have required a serious rush of adrenaline on Maria's part. The deadbolt had still been engaged, and it had broken through the frame and dislodged the strike plate. 

"...it seems to have been locked from the inside," admitted Singh.

Stymied, the agent examined the rubber covers around the edges of the door. Finally, she pointed at a deep tear. "Here. You could have slipped a wire through here."

Stunned, Maria tried to articulate a reply. "A wire...?! But... oh, come on! That's were I put the crowbar! Of course it got damaged there! Is it even possible to lock it that way?"

In response, Agent Singh led Maria to the machining room. "Do they still keep it here? Ah, yes, they do," she said, as she opened a drawer and retrieved a wire. She then returned to the office.

As Maria shook her head, unable to believe what she was seeing, Singh looped one end of the wire around the deadbolt switch, threaded it through the gap in the rubber guard, closed the door, and tugged. It took a few attempts to get the angle right, but a few minutes later, she had made an arrangement that could have locked the bolt from the outside.

"There. You used a wire trick, like in a mystery novel, to latch the door from the outside."

Singh's argument had been updated.

Double-Bind:

Enough progress has been made to open a new thread: "These Two Statements Contradict!"

In a Confrontation, when Maria's opponent has modified their argument enough, eventually they will get caught in a double-bind. Specifically, they will add one or more statements that create a contradiction with a statement that they themselves have made.

Usually, pointing out how an added statement contradicts another statement in the argument will be sufficient to bring a Confrontation to a successful end!

If you have an idea which two statements in the modified argument contradict, post your guess in the thread.

The double-bind has been found. Although resolving this double-bind is enough to advance the story, other holes in the argument exist. Finding them may shed further light on the case. I planned three possible paths to win this confrontation, and only one has been discovered so far!

Narration unlocked by SmolShrimpa: Impossible Speed  [SOLUTION #1; uses contradiction between deadbolt + time frame]

"So, I came here five minutes early," said Maria, with rising confidence, "and you say that's enough time? You're saying I planned to arrange the scene, fake the footprints, latch the door with a wire, and break in... in five minutes?" For the first time this evening, she felt like she finally had the advantage. There was no way Agent Singh was going to push her around on this one.

Singh took a deep breath, began to say something, then stopped. She could have argued that perhaps Maria had planned to shoot the victim before Felicity arrived, then do the wire trick after. But that would have been a high-risk proposition - the room's window was visible from the opposite wing, and Maria could easily have been caught in the act.

Turning away, Singh paced a few steps. Then she paced some more while Maria waiting with arms crossed.

After a few minutes of tense meandering, Singh spoke. "It does stretch plausibility. But then, it was just a theory."

Having just acquired a bout of indigestion attempting to rebut Singh’s ‘just a theory,’ Maria found this response less than satisfactory.

"But that's not all!" she said, hiccuping a little and forcing down some nervous bile. "If I'd been making up the whole story about the mouse... why would I waste time setting up cameras? In your theory, Felicity could've stopped by this wing at any time and found the broken door and Uncle Johann!"

“All right, all right," said Singh, making a placatory gesture with her hands. "Let’s assume, just for the moment, that your account was entirely true." She folded the map and put it away. "If so, the truth probably depends on whatever your uncle was working on. Some... impossible technlogy. We need to know more about that before we speculate further.”

Maria had suspected as much from the beginning, of course. "Then let me show you the mice."

“Sure,” replied Singh as they headed towards the animal testing room. “But honestly, I suspect there were two mice in there all along. You just missed one the first time you looked. Occam's razor.”

They opened the testing room door, turned the lights back on, and checked the cage.

Inside, one mouse drank from the water dispenser.

A second mouse dug around in the wood shavings.

And a third mouse reared up on its hind legs, clutched the cage bars with its forepaws, and looked Agent Singh directly in the eye, as if to say:

Howdy! I’m here to ruin your case!

 
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About the author

ferdielance

Bio: A university instructor who writes mystery stories and games, as well as the occasional short humor or horror piece.

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ferdielance ago

STATEMENT ONE: Questions and rebuttals here:

“Because your uncle never left the office, and you were the only person assigned to patrol this area, you'd be the sole suspect if things went south. There seemed to be no way to escape suspicion."

ferdielance ago

STATEMENT TWO: Questions and rebuttals here:

“So you planned to make it look as if you’d been framed by an elaborate conspiracy.”

ferdielance ago

STATEMENT THREE: Questions and rebuttals here:

"Using the fabricator in the machining room, you modified another revolver's serial number to match yours. Then you gave your own pistol to Felicity."

ferdielance ago

STATEMENT FOUR: Questions and rebuttals here:

"When night fell, you started your rounds early, before Felicity arrived. You threatened your uncle with the duplicate gun, then shot him once."

ferdielance ago

STATEMENT FIVE: Questions and rebuttals here:

“Then you arranged the crime scene to make it look as though a second person fought with your uncle.”

ferdielance ago

STATEMENT SIX: Questions and rebuttals here:

“To make it look as if you broke into the room, you pried the door open with a crowbar.”

    SmolShrimpa ago

    Not sure how prying open doors with a crow bar works so this might be a stretch, but if she pried open an unlocked door wouldn't that not destroy the locking mechanism? So if the lock is destroyed then the door must've been locked when she pried it open. If that's the case, Maria couldn't have been the one to lock it because the door was bolted from the inside (would the remains of the door be able to prove this?) when she pried it open and she doesn't have keys to the office to have lock it from the outside.

ferdielance ago

STATEMENT SEVEN: Questions and rebuttals here:

“Later, Felicity arrived. To fake the murder’s timing, you fired two blank cartridges and left the gun at the scene.”

ferdielance ago

STATEMENT EIGHT: Questions and rebuttals here:

"Everything else in your story was a flat-out lie. The ‘mouse from nowhere’ was a ruse.”

ferdielance ago

STATEMENT NINE: Questions and rebuttals here:

“Of course, there was no voice on the radio. That was just a way to explain your strange movements and how the antifreeze and footprints got there.”

ferdielance ago

"These Two Statements Contradict!"

In this thread, point out two statements in Singh's updated argument that now contradict each other.

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