The Case of Vera Chase: A Modern Whodunit

Detective Dickerson paced in front of the remaining suspects, five individuals of varying appearance and nature, and ran his thumb and index finger over either side of his mustache. Most people both attending and catering to the needs of the guests at the benefit gala had been dismissed. They were neither responsible for the elaborate scheme, which funneled funds to a non-existent charity under the guise of raising money to build schools in the rural communities of South America, nor were they guilty of the ensuing murder of Vera Chase, a prominent fashion icon and social media influencer.

From left to right stood Penelope Adamson, the hostess of the event and mastermind behind the entire scam, Cheryl Leigh, the guest of honor and iconic pop singer recruited to promote the event, Daniel Harris, the caterer and owner of the floundering DH Events and Catering, Pablo Medina, Miss Chase’s escort and an up-and-coming rapper with a burgeoning online following, and Missy Donovan, Penelope’s personal assistant.

“Mr. Medina,” Dickerson said, his eyes landing on the tattooed artist. “You are by now aware that your date, Miss Chase, was poisoned, and you had the best means if not necessarily an obvious motive.”

Pablo looked as if he were resisting the urge to punch Detective Dickerson in the face. “I would never hurt Vera. We were in love.”

“You were kissing some cocktail waitress in the hallway next to the bathrooms,” Penelope said with a smirk.

“Thank you, Miss Adamson,” Dickerson said. “That is quite enough.”

Pablo glared. “Fine, Vera was good for my image. She helped me gain followers and get traction for my music,” he amended. “Besides, we were good friends. She knew I couldn’t resist a fine ass now and then, and it never came between us as long as it didn’t interfere with her work. I made sure I was back in time to go live with her for all our adoring fans on social media, but by then she was already dead.”

“Mr. Harris,” Dickerson said, turning to the caterer without sparing another glance for Pablo. “You also had the means with access to the kitchen and everything Miss Chase ate, and I hear you also have quite the motive.”

“As if I’m the only one who hated Vera around here,” Daniel said. “I’m sure you are referring to the bad review she left me after I catered her birthday party. Sure, it nearly destroyed my business, but this gala was my chance to get DH Events and Catering back on its feet. I was going to turn things around. Don’t think for a second I would risk that for revenge. But it looks like Vera is here to spite me even from the grave.”

Detective Dickerson moved on to the esteemed guest of honor. “Miss Leigh, I gather you had no notion this whole charity ball was a farce?”

“Of course not,” she said with a scathing glare. “What are you implying?”

“One of Vera’s followers posted a comment saying this was all a hoax on the glamor shots from our entrance earlier in the evening. We thought it was a joke,” said Pablo.

“Regardless,” Dickerson continued with a dismissive wave of his hand, “your role as the guest of honor gave you some control over the guest list, did it not, Miss Leigh?”

“I suppose,” she admitted.

“Miss Adamson asked you to be the guest of honor to attract other high profile guests, and you used your connections to fill the seats at $500 a pop. I presume you personally invited Miss Chase?”

“What of it?” Cheryl asked. “We often run in the same circles. It’s only natural that I invited her.”

“I hear Miss Chase was becoming quite popular as of late,” Dickerson said. “Your social media presence, however, has been lagging.”

“I am a seasoned professional, and I know maintaining followers takes work. I have not released new music for a while, so the numbers are not what they once were, but I have an album coming out next month. Afterward, I’m sure my following will be as strong as ever.”

“That’s not what I hear,” said Pablo. “You were on a video call with Vera for hours a couple weeks ago so she could teach you how to use TikTok to reach younger followers. Face it, Cheryl, you’re getting old and fighting to keep up.”

Cheryl gasped, a hand over her mouth. “Rude!” she exclaimed after recovering some of her composure. “I am not that much older than you.”

“Sure,” Pablo said, rolling his eyes. “I’d be surprised if you’re younger than my mom.”

Cheryl spluttered, at a loss for words. “How dare you?!”

Pablo snickered.

“Please,” Detective Dickenson said, hushing the arguing artists.

“Now, Miss Donovan,” Detective Dickerson said.

Upon the address, the young assistant burst into tears. “I just took this job to make some extra money so I could afford school tuition and help my mom pay off her medical bills,” she said between sobs.

“There, there, Miss Donovan,” Dickerson soothed. “I just need to ask you a few questions. No one is accusing you of anything dastardly yet.”

“Oh,” the girl sniffed. She wiped at her nose with the back of her hand.

“Were you with Miss Adamson all evening?” he asked.

After a furtive glance at her employer, the girl said, “Yes.”

“Are you certain, Miss Donovan? You do not seem so sure.”

“Well, I went to the restroom once.”

“Ah, so Miss Adamson was out of your sight?”

“Yes sir,” the girl admitted, her shoulders drooping. She wouldn’t look at anyone, her gaze pinned on the floor just beyond her feet.

“Miss Adamson, where were you while Miss Donovan was indisposed?” Detective Dickerson asked.

“You think I took those few minutes to bump off that silly influencer?”

“Perhaps you were afraid of what might be revealed had she gone live,” he said.

“Why? By that point in the evening, I was already getting away with this little scam scot-free. Vera’s death is what brought you right to my doorstep!”

“Oh, but of course,” Dickerson agreed. “About what time did you run to the loo, Miss Donovan?” asked the detective.

“About, eight-thirty, I’d guess,” she replied, wiping at her drying tears. “Same time I saw Pablo outside the restrooms kissing that waitress.”

“Funny,” Dickerson said. “That nearly coincides with Miss Chase’s post announcing herself as a new celebrity promoter for Adidas.”

Pablo turned on Cheryl. “You were the promoter for Adidas until Vera dethroned you, and you were jealous,” he accused. “You killed her!”

“Not so fast, Mr. Medina,” said the detective. “Poison as a murder weapon requires some premeditation.”

“Cheryl was already upset by her lack of followers and envious of how many Vera gained so easily!” the rapper argued. “It doesn’t matter that she just found out Vera would be the new face of Adidas.”

“What of a woman worried her plot would be prematurely revealed and her scam found out?” Dickerson asked.

All eyes turned to Penelope.

“Me?” she asked, eyes big and soft like those of a doe. “I already told you. I was poised to make away with millions without a trace.”

“Or you got spooked and put your contingency plan into action while your assistant was occupied elsewhere, and finding Miss Chase’s escort also away, you took the opportunity,” Dickerson suggested so casually it was as if he had known all along.

Penelope’s face flushed bright red. “Nonsense. Like I said, I had already secured the funds and the only reason you’re here at all is because a dead celebrity mucked up a fine dining experience for my other guests. Because of this, not only is my retirement plan ruined, but so is my event. It’s a complete disgrace. An embarrassment!”

“My apologies, Miss Adamson, and you’re quite right. Furthermore, we still have one suspect we have not fully addressed.”

“Miss Donovan.”

The girl jerked to attention and tears once again welled in her eyes, dripping uncontrollably down her cheeks before he even finished speaking her name aloud.

“It’s alright, Miss Donovan,” said Detective Dickerson, his words only slightly more soothing than a thick swallow of cherry cough medicine. “Now, you mentioned your mother’s medical debt, but you failed to mention that she incurred these bills after a car accident involving Vera’s driver when he was on his way to drop her off at an award show last year.”

Missy cried harder, her words almost unintelligible. “It’s true, my mom has a painful back injury from the crash.”

“Sounds like a very personal reason to want to get revenge on Miss Chase,” said the detective.

“No!” Missy cried. “It wasn’t Vera’s fault. She even sent my mom flowers in the hospital. And she fired the driver.”

“Hmm,” Detective Dickerson mused, pacing in front of the five suspects before turning back to Penelope. “Of everyone, wouldn’t you agree that you had the most to lose, Miss Adamson?” he asked.

The woman scoffed. “Of course not. That would certainly be Cheryl.”

“Oh, but don’t you? Everyone else here is, after all, not significantly better or worse off than they were this morning, particularly Cheryl, who despite having a setback in her followers is an extremely successful artist. You on the other hand have nothing to fall back on. You said yourself, your entire career, your ability to happily retire, was based on this plan. And Vera threatened that plan, did she not?”

Penelope’s face twisted with a sneer.

“Fine! I wasn’t going to let some idiot influencer ruin this for me. One last scam, and I could have retired for life! With the comments on her pictures and the unpredictability of youth these days, I was forced to tie up loose ends,” Penelope said. “I was all set to buy an island right off the coast of–”

“Figi,” Dickerson supplied. “I know.”

The detective accompanied the announcement with a slight upturn of the corners of his mouth, his mustache twitching. Penelope’s face paled.

“How…?”

“This isn’t my first rodeo, Miss Adamson. And you’ve been getting sloppy,” he said. “In addition, I’ll have you know you’re not the only one who can run a scam. As it were, you found my listing for a non-existent island quite believable.”

Penelope ranted and raved, but the detective tuned her out as he summoned the police in to escort her away.

“The rest of you may go,” Detective Dickerson said. “But let this be a lesson to you all; be careful what you believe, especially when it comes to social media.”

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