Richard Butler, PI – Chapter 5 (a double hearing)

Back at the supply closet, which was currently wearing its “office” hat, Richard Butler paced back and forth, searching his memory for any hidden clue in everything he had heard thus far. Clancy leaned back against the soap cabinet, waiting for Butler to give him the next move. No sounds came in the way of Butler’s thinking, aside from the quiet hum of the washing machine. But even after reviewing the facts enough times to bring his headache back, Butler hadn’t come up with anything new. If there was a clue to be found in what he had learned, it would have to come later.

“Clancy!” Butler called, breaking the silence (aside from the washers, of course) they had been experiencing for the past fifteen minutes.

“Right here,” Clancy said, which was a rather obvious statement, considering he had not moved throughout the same duration as they had experienced silence. “What’s our next move?”

“I need you to fetch Mrs. O’Connor, I’ve got a few questions for her. Grab Gertrude too, while you’re at it.” Butler recalled their display during dinner and decided he ought to follow up on this lead. He thought it might make up for the staleness of the ones he had been following. A glass of water might also help.

“I’ll bring them in at once,” Clancy said, glad to be back on the case. He promptly stood up, turned around, and headed for the door. Just as he was exiting the office, Butler stopped him:

“Hold on a second,” he added, “bring them in one at a time. Dinner was awkward enough with the two of them separated by a table full of people, I don’t need them getting at each other’s throats in my office too.” Then, with a sharp smile, added “That’s my job.”

“Understood” was Clancy’s only word before leaving the room. Butler sat down, using the brief respite to formulate an attack strategy. He would soon have two potential killers in the room with him, and needed a good way to trap them.

After merely a few minutes, plenty of time for an expert like Butler to concoct his plan, Clancy returned with both suspects waiting outside. Butler asked for Mrs. O’Connor to come in first, followed by the younger, more manipulative Gertrude.

Once he got the usual cordial formalities out of the way, he pushed on straight through to the firm intimidation stage. Butler began with this question:

“Did Mr. O’Connor ever talk about his business ventures?”

Mrs. O’Connor was quick to answer. “Of course he did! I had just as much stake in this business as he did.”

“So then,” he prodded, “he told you about the possible health problems associated with his bottles?”

“Well, we’d have a problem on our hands if he hadn’t,” she asserted, “after all, I was the brains of the operation.” At Butler’s prompting, Mrs. O’Connor went on to explain that, while Albert O’Connor was a brilliant innovator, he did not have the innate command to be an entrepreneur. O’Connor solved this problem by surrounding himself with first-rate businessmen, such as Harrington and, more importantly, his wife.

“So then,” Butler advanced, “the business will continue to run smoothly?”

“This project was my dear husband’s life’s work,” Mrs. O’Connor stated gravely, “nothing will stop me from seeing it through.”

Gertrude’s answer to this same question, a simple “Alfred never mixed business with pleasure,” could only be met by Butler with an awkward “so I’ve heard.” However, it did allow him an easy segue into his next question:

“I’m going to be straightforward with you, Gertrude,” he said, “we all saw your spectacle at dinner, so I have to ask: were you having an affair with Mr. O’Connor?”

Gertrude, not returning Butler’s frankness, opted instead to defend her actions from earlier in the evening. “I didn’t find it fair that I had to sit so far away from Al,” Gertrude said with a pitiful frown, one which made her appear inauthentically innocent. “I just wanted to talk to him, but I was stuck between Joel, who kept making advances despite my repeated rejecting, and the Italian Diplomat,” Gertrude’s puppy-like expression changed into a grimace as she recalled the situation, “have you ever been close to the man? He stinks up the room like… well, I would say it, but not in polite company.”

“I appreciate that,” Butler said after the brief lull in brain activity that came with Gertrude’s tone of voice. He quickly regained himself and got back on topic. “Listen, I don’t have all day. Were you having an affair or not?”

Gertrude grinned. She did not, however, respond to Butler’s question.

“Alright,” he said, defeated, “if you’re not going to answer my question, then just get out of my office. It’s not like I don’t know the answer.” Butler had barely finished his surrender when Gertrude nearly deafened him:

“It’s wasn’t an ‘affair’! I was the one he should have been with!”

Butler’s eyes opened wider than they usually did after confessions of this sort, probably thanks to the magnitude of her noise level. “Is that so?” He asked, as if she wasn’t already going to continue unloading.

“He was going to leave her, anyways,” Gertrude said with a restored tone, “he told me so the night before he died.”

After a few more questions, but no more answers, Butler dismissed Gertrude from the office. Once given a moment to process, Clancy looked at Butler and asked:

“What do you make of her claim that O’Connor was going to leave his wife… was she lying?”

“Considering the source, that’s a fair assumption,” Butler responded without a moment’s wait. However, after reconsidering for a moment, he suggested, “but, on the off chance she wasn’t lying, and O’Connor really was going to leave his wife… then we have a jealous wife on our hands. A jealous wife who’s used to taking risks.”

“So then, we need to find out whether or not he was really going to leave Mrs. O’Connor?”

“We may not need to,” Butler declared in a moment of inspiration. He brought forth the supposed suicide note from his jacket, and said “maybe all we need is this.” When he saw the perplexed look on Clancy’s face, Butler explained: “whichever of them killed Mr. O’Connor must have written this note as a cover-up. All we need is a handwriting sample, and we should be able to figure out which one is closer.”

“So then, this note is literally our smoking gun!” Clancy exclaimed.

“Figuratively, actually,” Butler corrected, “it’s not literally a gun… nor is it the murder weapon, for that matter. But it is what will reveal the murderer to us.” Butler let that sink in for a moment. “Let’s go get my ledger. I had all the guests sign in when they arrived, that should be enough handwriting to give us an idea.”

As Butler took off, he looked back and noticed Clancy hanging behind. “Figuratively…” Clancy mused. Butler broke his reflection.

“Come along, Clancy. We’ve got work to do.”

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About thomasbwhite
Writing, Photography, Jamming, Violin-ing, Hiking, Musing, Reading, Learning, Sketching, Frisbee-ing, Rambling... just a few of my favorite things.

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