Getaway With Murder

In Chesapeake City, B&B guests spend a mysterious weekend to die for

March 08, 2009|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,

But for the monkey, it was everything a cocktail party should be. And we were model guests, tipsily trading self-serving lies and brazen speculation, between bites of crudites and crackers, about who was sleeping with whom.

We were so into our roles that no one noticed birthday girl Truly slip away. Nor did we think much when nanny Karen conspiratorially beckoned to the help, including the maid, who happened to be me.

"What?" I said, mouth full of cheese, following her down the hall to the mudroom.

There, unmoving and sprawled on the Persian-esque carpet, lay underwear magnate Marie Snobb's only child, Truly, who was also the guest of honor, having turned 18 that day. Her tiara was slightly askew, but her red boa was still wrapped snugly about her neck. Too snugly.

I gasped. Then whooped. The party just got good.

This is why each couple had come, traveling from their homes throughout the Mid-Atlantic to the pretty, if overly precious, Blue Max Inn Bed & Breakfast in historic Chesapeake City. This is why we were dressed in 1940s-ish garb, why we were lying like rogues and why we were bribing one another with play money and secrets.

We wanted murder.

Innkeeper Christine Mullen obliged, arranging a murder-mystery weekend in which we, the well-fed guests, were also the performers, the detectives, the victim and - if you're lucky - the killer.

For $99 (on top of the two-night room fee), couples attend a cocktail reception Friday evening to get to know fellow players; the Saturday "birthday party" where the role-playing begins; and dinner afterward at a local restaurant. Mullen began the weekends a few years ago to attract business during the colder months, a slow time for the tiny town on the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal. She typically holds a murder-mystery weekend in January and another in late March, though she'll also organize one on request.

Scott, my partner in this particular crime, and I received our assignments in the mail two days before the weekend. Inside was a guest list of characters with brief bios, a page from the National Gossip detailing juicy bits, a secret dossier on our alter egos and a description of the game and the setting.

It was 1942, and Truly A. Snobb was turning 18. Her rich parents were throwing her a big bash, and Scott and I, it turned out, would be serving: He was staid butler Coleman Pinch, and I was head maid Wanda Ringfingers. Coleman's costume suggestions included a silver tray and white gloves, while Wanda's said "short black skirt." Happily, it was just a suggestion.

We made the easy drive up Interstate 95 after work Friday, stopping at Target to pick up costume complements: crepe paper to make Scott's bow tie and a white kitchen towel for my apron. He'd packed a dark suit, and I'd brought an era-appropriate (knee-length) skirt and blouse, though we would later learn pretty much anything would have worked with a little effort.

We missed the early evening reception and followed Mullen's instructions to let ourselves in. The Blue Max is a quintessential B&B. It's on a quiet street lined with historic homes and is welcoming in a grandmotherly sort of way, with lots of fake flowers and frills. Privacy is honored here, but there are plenty of common areas for socializing, including a sunny breakfast room and a sizable drawing room with a fireplace and piano.

We stayed in the "suite" room, which cost $220 per night. It was completely comfortable with plenty of space, a Jacuzzi and faux fireplace.

The historic section of town lies within a few blocks, with a half-dozen restaurants sprinkled between the Blue Max and the canal. We bundled up and strolled to the Bayard House Restaurant, which offered lovely water views and a toasty fire, but fairly standard, somewhat pricey American fare.

It was after 8 p.m., and the restaurant was close to empty, which meant we could loudly map our plan to dominate the game. I quizzed Scott on the characters, which included, among others, the cheese king, the feminist, the governor, the farm girl, the war hero and the Africa-based "civilizator," whose costume featured a monkey puppet. Each had quirks and a partner, and each was doomed. We were going to rule.

Saturday morning, we met our competition over breakfast: 14 long-time friends from New York and New Jersey, most of whom appeared to be in their 50s and 60s. They'd booked all but two rooms, ours and the still-empty honeymoon suite. Mullen said it was unusual for one group to book the event (usually people come in twos and fours), but it worked well for us. They were good fun.

The group went off to check out the antique shops and sports bars in North East, a town 20 minutes away, while Scott and I opted for the Chesapeake City sights.

There's a reason things slow down in the winter: There's not a lot going on. Touristy trinket shops line the main street, Bohemia Avenue, though none opened before 11 a.m., and many didn't open at all.

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