Laughing boisterously, the guests could be heard throughout the Norstrum house as they poured through its front doors. Mrs. Simms, the Norstrum's long-time housekeeper, announced that cake and champagne awaited them all in the dining room.
"There's more? Geraldine Norstrum questioned her husband. "You've already done so much. The fireworks by the lake were amazing."
"Nothing is too much for my beautiful wife," Mason replied, kissing Geraldine on the cheek.
The Norstrums and their guests followed Mrs. Simms into the dining room. Geraldine gasped when she saw the cake - an exact duplicate of the one from her wedding, forty years before. "It's beautiful," she whispered, tears swelling in her eyes.
"Not as beautiful as you, my love," Mason stated softly.
"Toast!" one of the guests cried.
Holding up a glass of champagne, Mason began, "on the twenty-eighth of July, forty..."
Elizabeth Norstrum, Mason's twin sister, coughed sharply.
"I mean, July twenty-seventh," and Mason's face reddened. "I've made that mistake for forty years."
"That's quite all right, dear," Geraldine laughed. "Elizabeth and I have managed to keep your little secret, a secret... until tonight, that is."
"He's been doing it since day one," Elizabeth chimed in. "If it hadn't been for me, he would have missed his own wedding!"
"It's true," admitted Mason, sheepishly. Turning to his wife he added, "Thank goodness I didn't."
"Hold on Grandfather," called out Ernest. At twenty-one, he was the oldest of the Norstrum's three grandchildren. "I want a picture of you and Grandmother cutting the cake but I've run out of film. Does anyone have a spare roll?"
"No one uses film anymore, Ernest," said Mason, shaking his head. "Instead of spending money on that artsy-fartsy old-school photography class, you should have just gone out and bought yourself a good digital camera! Go get mine," he instructed. "It's on a shelf in my study."
Ernest returned a few minutes later, only to whisper something in his grandfather's ear. Mason's face paled.
"What's wrong?" asked Geraldine, worriedly.
"A minor problem," Mason answered. "take care of our guests, dear, and I'll attend to the matter." Mason hurried out and into the study, Ernest following closely behind.
"It was like that when I entered the room, Grandfather."
Mason walked over to the safe, usually hidden behind a large portrait on the wall. The portrait had been moved, the safe stood ajar and its contents, half a million dollars in bearer bonds, were gone. Mason sat down at his desk, almost collapsing into the chair. In a quiet voice, he said to Ernest, "go get your parents and sisters. Your Aunt Martha and Grandmother, too, as well as Elizabeth."
It wasn't long before the entire family was gathered in the study.
Mrs. Simms came barrelling into the room. "Mr. and Mrs. Norstrum, you've got a house full of guests..." She stopped short at the sight of the family, their faces full of seriousness. "What's going on?"
"There has been a robbery, Mrs. Simms," Geraldine said quietly. "Please make our apologies to the guests."
"Not so fast there," broke in John, Mason and Geraldine's son. "What if she's the thief? After all, this all probably happened during the fireworks when we were down by the lake. The only people in the house were Mrs. Simms and the extra hired help."
"That's right!" the housekeeper cried indignantly. "I was here with the caterers! I was keeping an eye on those two young girls. Making sure things were done right."
"I'm sure you could have found time to slip away unnoticed," John sneered.
"Maybe so, Father," Sarah interrupted, "but the same can be said of all of us. It would have been just as easy for any of us to slip away from the gathering at the lake. There was so much noise and it was completely dark except for the fireworks. The only people anyone would have noticed leaving were Grandmother and Grandfather."
"And why would we steal from our own family?" John asked.
"People steal from their families all the time," Rebbecca, Ernest's other sister stated.
Ernest, who had been examining the empty safe, turned to face his family. "I'm no expert but I think the safe was opened using the combination. There's no sign of anyone having broken into it, physically. You know what that means, don't you?" and he looked around the room, stopping pointedly at his Aunt Martha.
The room was filled with blank stares.
"Oh for goodness sake," Martha sputtered. "It means that whoever opened the safe knew the combination and I assume, from the look you're giving me, Ernest, that you think it was me."
"Well, I don't know the combination. I'm pretty sure my sisters don't, either. Grandfather told you though, didn't he?"
"He told your father, too," Martha stated angrily.
"Well, that certainly clears my name!" It was Mrs. Simms. I didn't know the combination to the safe, did I, Mr. Norstrum?"
"No you didn't, Mrs. Simms. You're in the clear."
"Thank goodness for that," and she turned on her heel, storming out of the room.
"So," John stared at his sister Martha, "that leaves us."
"John and Martha may both have been told the combination," began Geraldine, "but it would have been easy enough for anyone else to figure it out." She placed a hand, reassuringly, on her husband's arm. "The combination was the date of our anniversary. Or rather, it was the date Mason always confused with our anniversary - the twenty-eighth of July, 1973. They say not to use sentimental dates because it makes it easy for thieves but Mason is such a romantic man. He couldn't help himself."
"Oh, Grandfather..." Rebbecca sighed. "That means it could have been any of us. Mrs. Simms, included."
"That's right," agreed Elizabeth. "Knowing my brother and his habits, any one of us could have gone through the list of birthdays and other important dates until we hit upon the anniversary."
"So we're back where we started," Martha declared. "Let's just call the police and be done with it. They can look for fingerprints or whatever they do."
"The police have already been called," Mason told Martha. "I don't know if they'll find fingerprints or not but I do know who the thief is."
Everyone stared at Mason in astonishment.
"It was you, Elizabeth, wasn't it." It was a statement, not a question. Mason realised that anyone running through the list of dates, looking for the right combination, would have used the correct date of his wedding anniversary. Until tonight, only his wife and sister, Elizabeth, knew that he had always confused the anniversary date. Only they would have considered the twenty-eighth a possibility. During the fireworks, Elizabeth could easily have slipped away, unnoticed. Geraldine's disappearance however, as the guest of honour, would have been obvious.