January 2nd is a holiday in its own right. It’s first day of the year in which everyone breaks their New Year’s resolutions. And the place people go to break them most often? The bar.
The Green Dragon Tavern on Marshall Street was the first place someone died that day.
“He just fell off his stool, choking, gasping for air. He was spewing alcohol then blood out of his mouth,” an eye witness said.
“Steam came out of his eyes, I tell ya, and bood from his ears, and green puss from his mouth. Foaming like a rapid dog, then POP! some veins in his neck exploded and he died,” another witness said. “Thank God.”
It was horrific. It lasted two full minutes. There was nothing anyone could do.
“He ordered a Dancing Lady,” the bartender said to the police. “That’s what I gave him. I swear it. Here, I’ll show you.”
He showed them. It contained four different types of fruits, and was served with a tiny umbrella in a martini glass. The cops all looked at the cocktail like it was some newly discovered chemical. One of them tried it. He didn’t die, but the other officers instantly gave him the nickname fruitcake.
The bartender sighed in relief. “Yeah, it’s a girl’s drink. I don’t know why a man would want it, particularly at noon, but I’m not here to ask questions. The fella wants a pink drink, I give him a pink drink. Yeah, I serve it with suspicion, but we serve all types in here.”
The man that died was named Douglas Eckart. He had no known enemies. He was a business man at an accounting firm downtown. He’d been in the place a few times over the last few years. No one could really remember what he drank previously. No one paid that much attention.
The police searched the whole tavern top to bottom and found no trace of poison. They took the bartender downtown for more questioning. The case went cold, until two o’clock when another man died in another bar in the exact same way.
“Yeah, he ordered a Dancing Lady,” the bartender at that tavern said to the investigators. “I didn’t have any banana liqueur, so I had to skip that, but that shouldn’t have killed him.”
The police went through the same procedure. There was no evidence, no residual poison, no connection to the first victim.
By five o’clock, six more people had died the same way. All of them in different bars, but all with the same drink.
“And you know what the crazy thing is,” the reporter for the Globe was telling the police officer standing outside the Union Bar, the site of the latest death, “this Dancing Lady drink is getting popular. People are ordering it left and right.”
“Flirting with death,” the cop said. Across the street, people were pouring into the Bell In Hand for happy hour. Whenever someone ordered the infamous drink, the crowd would go silent, then when the person had taken a sip and survived the place erupted with cheers.
“They think it’s a game,” the reporter said.
“It is a game,” said Nicky Saint, Boston’s one and only white-haired private detective. “More of a puzzle, really.”
“I was wondering when you were going to come snooping around these murders,” the reporter said snidely.
“I could say the same to you,” Nicky replied. “Of course, nothing makes your paper’s circulation increase like murder.”
“Five percent lift for every dead body we put on the front page, the chief always says,” the reporter replied. “We’re off to a great start this year.”
Nicky lit his pipe and watched the tavern across the street get rowdier and rowdier. “Well, I hate to spoil your business goals, but there’s only one person left who hasn’t been killed.”
“How do you know that?” the policeman said.
“It’s the ninth day of Christmas,” Nicky replied. “Nine ladies dancing. Eight are dead so far. That leaves one. But not to worry. I’ve got this case all but wrapped up.”
“What?” the policeman said. “Why last I heard the chief detective hadn’t a single clue. The lab fellas haven’t even identified what kind of poison was used yet.”
“The police department would be better off trying to deduce who the next victim is going to be,” Nicky replied, “rather than how they’re going to die.”
“But these killings are random acts of violence,” the reporter said.
“Hardly,” Nicky retorted. “Put the victim’s names together and you can see the pattern. D. Eckart, A. D’Tre, E. Wither, Lotta Hay, P. Mame Eres. May K., D. Tule, Ty D.”
Nicky said the list three times fast before the police officer picked up on it. “Yeah, yeah,” he said snapping his fingers to the rhythm playing in his head. “It’s the last line to that old Christmas song, ‘Decorate the tree with a lot of happy memories, and make the yule tide gay.'”
“So the last victim will be named Gay!” the reporter said. “First or last?”
“Who knows,” Nicky said. “But I know just where to start.”
The P.I. then strode across the street towards the noisy tavern, right on past the entrance to a phone booth on the street corner where he began thumbing through the phone book.