Richard Butler, PI – Chapter 10 (a thrilling conclusion)

Here it is, the final chapter. Turned out considerably longer than the previous chapters. I enjoyed writing this story, hope you enjoyed reading. Also, look out for “Richard Butler 2: the lack of original ideas.”

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The suspects, soon to be known not as suspects but only only guests, crowded into the closet that currently functioned as an office. Each eyed his neighbor with suspicion, for one of them had killed their friend. These nervous glances exchanged for nearly ten uncomfortable minutes before Richard Butler strode proudly into the room.

“Butler! What’s this about?!” Bagley yelled.

The private detective, not wishing to upset his carefully calculated rhythm, ignored the question. “In mere minutes,” he proclaimed to his guests, “you will all know who murdered Albert Brian O’Connor the third.” Beat. “This proved to be a difficult case for me. Many leads to follow…” Butler quickly eyed his audience, “all with their own possible motives. Perhaps it was the Italian Diplomat! Maybe, upon learning about the presence of harmful chemicals in O’Connor’s disposable water bottles, he had to end the product; he does, after all, have an obligation to the well-being of his people. My understanding is he was here to solidify a deal to get Italy the bottles before everyone else!”

The guests all gasped and gaped at their own times during Butler’s monologue, some at the revelation of the chemicals, and a few at the suggestion of the Italian Diplomat. Most, however, found the latter suggestion believable; they all still thought he was probably in the mafia.

“Cut with the theatrics, will ya’ Butler?” Inspector Bagley quipped, “some of us would like to get out of here this week.”

“You want me to jump right on to the big finish?” Butler supposed.

“If you don’t mind.”

“Well, ok,” Butler said, then with a large smile, “you did it. That’s right, people, inspector Bagley is the murderer! Wrap it up, you may all go home now. Officer, restrain this man!”

“Cheese and crackers,” Bagley whined, “fine, continue your little game. Just speed it up a little, ok?”

Butler smiled. “Alright, where was I? Oh yes, the Italian Diplomat. He probably didn’t do it. No real motive or opportunity. Doc, how many people did you tell about the chemicals?”

“None,” Dr. Steinberg affirmed. “I could not even say conclusively why Mr. O’Connor asked me about the chemicals. I didn’t give it much thought.”

“And you, Mrs. O’Connor?”

“I hadn’t told anyone. I hadn’t decided yet our course of action.”

“So,” Butler continued, “no one else knew. We have it from the head of the business herself — yes, Mrs. O’Connor — that this was confidential information. So we can rule that out as motive for the kill. However, that does not leave the involved parties free. Take Dr. Steinberg, for example. Doc, did you ever argue or disagree with Mr. O’Connor?”

“No,” he responded, “he was a very agreeable man.”

“Interesting,” Butler mused, “when I questioned you earlier, you said, and I quote, that you recently ‘had to wrestle with him.’ Suppose you could, in fact, say conclusively why he asked about the chemicals. Sounds to me like that would make a pretty good cover up.”

“Preposterous! Why, I —”

“No matter, he didn’t do it.” Butler interjected, “no, O’Connor’s recent argument with his doctor was over whether or not he should take a renewal on his medicine subscription. And he did. Nothing harmful there.”

Dr. Steinberg breathed deeply. The clever misdirection had left him nervous.

“No,” the detective continued, “perhaps a more personal motive was at work here. Now, I didn’t have to be the skilled detective I am,” Bagley scoffed at this remark, but Butler trudged on through without giving it any attention, “to notice some tension at dinner tonight. Mrs. O’Connor and Gertrude made quite a scene. And they made this scene right above O’Connor’s plate — plenty of opportunity to slip some poison in.”

Both ladies protested to this. Once Butler managed to quiet them down, he continued. “Now, Gertrude, manipulative as she is, probably wouldn’t have done this. I mean sure, she’s pathologically insane and was having an affair with O’Connor, but she wouldn’t have killed him. After all, she thought, whether true or not, that he was leaving his wife for her! That’s no reason to kill.”

Gertrude smiled a mischievously coy smile at evidently being let off the hook. She didn’t seem to mind the allegations of being “pathologically insane.” However, Butler couldn’t tell whether this was because she knew it to be an accurate assessment, or if she was just glad to have escaped suspicion. Then again, maybe she just didn’t know what “pathological” meant. Mrs. O’Connor, however, clearly saw the implications of what Butler had said.

“What are you suggesting?!” she exclaimed, “I wouldn’t kill my own husband, no matter what he was planning on doing. Gertrude, by the way, was mistaken! And why must you drag my husband’s good name through the mud? Pick on someone else for a change… Harrington, maybe!”

Harrington started to speak, but Butler cut him off.

“I’m not here to discuss whether or not his name was good, I’m here to catch a murderer. Now, as much as I hate to say it after this questioning of my methods, it probably wasn’t the missis either. No, I suspected for a while that her jealousy was behind this, but I’m no longer convinced. So long as she ran the business, she seemed content to let Mr. O’Connor do whatever he wanted. I believe she loved the power he allowed more than she loved O’Connor, and she wouldn’t risk that.” Butler paused a moment to allow a suitable segue. “It seems the key to this case lay in two documents: a will and a note.”

At this signal, Clancy took the two documents from his briefcase and handed them to Butler. The detective continued: “the one I hold in my left hand is Mr. O’Connor’s recently updated will. In my right hand, his suicide note.”

Harrington stood up, “a suicide note! Why couldn’t you have just brought this up sooner and saved us all some time?!”

“Because,” Butler said patiently, “O’Connor didn’t write it. Now, to really see the importance of these two clues, we have to examine them together. Separately, they give their own different, incomplete, solutions to this case… but together, yes, we must look at them together.

“Let’s begin with the will,” Butler said as he began pacing through the room, a difficult task considering the lack of any personal space in that office. “O’Connor had recently updated his will. Well, not an update so much as a complete re-write. He was going to give everything he had to his son. As of a few months ago, Al. Jr. is the sole heir to the O’Connor estate. When I examined O’Connor’s safe, I discovered that someone had opened it very recently — someone knew about the change.

“Now,” he continued, “this clue by itself would lead us to convict Junior. After all, that’s a large sum of money. The problem is that Junior didn’t need the money. So long as Albert O’Connor the third was alive, he was going to take care of his son. Perhaps Junior needed assurance that his father wouldn’t change his mind again, but there’s no precedence for that. No, this clue in itself gave an incomplete picture, which brings us to the point of the supposed suicide note.”

Bagley rolled his eyes. Butler loved doing these monologues, stringing his audience along with every twist and turn of the case. Bagley wished it would just be done with. Butler continued:

“It took some work, but once we managed to wrestle my ledger away from inspector Bagley here —” Bagley smirked, not because it was retrieved but because he had inconvenienced Butler, “— I compared the handwriting on the suicide note with the signatures in the ledger. While the culprit tried to mask his handwriting, I saw through it. The writing on the page was jittery, as if the culprit’s hand was shaking while writing. Only one person here matches that description: Joel O’Connor!” The crowd gasped at this, which only fueled Butler’s enthusiasm in his presentation. “Yes, Joel O’Connor — as many of you know — has always written with a shaky hand. This led me to believe he killed his highly successful brother out of jealousy. But, as I said, these pieces of evidence must be examined in conference with each other, not alone.

“Now, I must admit that, had it not been for a stroke of luck, I may have never solved this case. No, too many strands. Too many fine points which, taken on their own, seemed insignificant. But there was one piece of evidence that tied them all together, and of all the supply closets in all the mansions in all the world, it walked into mine.” Butler paused to appreciate the way he had his audience riveted, waiting anxiously upon the next revelation.

“Italian Diplomat, would you please tell these people why I found you hiding in my office today?”

“Well,” he said, nervously, “I was getting some cleaning supplies. For Mrs. O’Connor, she asked me to.”

“Interesting…” Butler said, “during a time of mourning such as this, why would you think about cleaning? Let me ask everyone: what could you possibly need to clean up at a time like this?”

Mrs. O’Connor stammered “what do you mean?”

Butler continued his monologue. “I realized that, just because one person opened the safe, it doesn’t mean only one person was present at the time. The prints were recent, but old enough so I knew it was opened before the guests arrived. This leaves us with the three remaining O’Connors as people who potentially knew the contents of the new will. I know from overhearing that the two young men here knew, and I’ll work under the assumption that the Missis knew as well. After all, she’s probably the only one out of the three of them with the means to open it.

“Mrs. O’Connor, your one mistake was telling me that “nothing” would stop you from seeing this business through. Nothing. Not chemicals. Not O’Connor himself.”

“What? No… no!” she protested.

“O’Connor inquired to Dr. Steinberg about the chemicals,” Butler explained authoritatively, “and he decided he would pull the project. Mrs. O’Connor, of course, couldn’t have that. But she couldn’t get rid of O’Connor on her own. No, she needed help. Once the will was discovered, it was easy enough to convince Joel to write the note for her. She told him that, while Albert would never give his brother the money he needed, Junior would be more than happy to. Sure, Mrs. O’Connor would lose her money from this, but she new that she would more than make that back from the water bottle sales. All she had to do was fetch his recently refilled medicine bottle and slip an extra dosage into his wine…”

The crowd didn’t gasp this time. Instead, they stayed completely still, mouths agape with shock at the grisly details. Butler landed the finishing blow:

“The only thing you would need to clean up at a time like this… is murder!”

The crowd broke into hysteria. Mrs. O’Connor’s denials were drowned out by the sounds of “how could you?!” by the shocked guests and “you monster!” by the more dramatically inclined ones. No one could believe it. Especially not Inspector Bagley.

“Everyone QUIET!” the police inspector roared. Once his command was obeyed, he spoke: “One problem, Butler: what do cleaning supplies have to do with this, besides the metaphorical? Also, do you have any evidence other than speculation here?”

“Listen, inspector, I know this case has a lot of strands; it’s a complicated one. I understand if you didn’t follow everything, but we’ve eliminated all other possible solutions, so no matter how improbable —”

“Cut it Butler, it’s my turn. Doctor, you and Butler both said that O’Connor recently refilled his fluni… his medicine?”

“Yes, just the other day.”

“Wait,” Butler protested, “this is kind of… my thing.”

Inspector Bagley smirked and brought out the Flunitrazepam bottle from his coat pocket. “If he recently got a refill, why is it that the bottle we found in his office is nearly empty?”

“Well, I told you, he overdosed, courtesy of his wife,” Butler said matter-of-factly.

“Uh uh,” Bagley said, “an overdose wouldn’t have taken the whole bottle. That much and the pills wouldn’t have dissolved, not fast enough for her to slip them into his drink in the presence of their guests.” Suddenly, the tension in the room was back, and all attention was pointed towards Inspector Bagley.

“An overdose would have to be prepared outside of the room,” he continued, “but close by, probably, as no one left the dinner room for long that day. For example, that table we saw earlier — the one with the fresh crack in it — would be an ideal location. You follow?”

Butler nodded, signaling approval merely in the inspector’s line of reasoning. He continued.

“Now, our guy must have mixed most of the pills into O’Connor’s drink. Then, he took a few for himself — while under the effects of the drug, he would not be able to hold himself steady, and could write the suicide note in a completely unrecognizable hand. At this point, he probably would have fallen over and blacked out for a few minutes.”

Again, Butler nodded. He was getting impatient and couldn’t see where Bagley was going with all this. Then, just before Bagley said it, Butler realized what he was saying.

“Butler, how’s that headache of yours doing?”

“Bagley, you can’t be serious?”

The inspector laughed, “but it makes a kind of sense, right? You told me yourself O’Connor wasn’t an agreeable man, which kind of clashes with everyone else’s word. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you your murderer: private investigator Richard Butler!”

Butler cut in before the crowd had a chance to gasp. “Hold on, Bagley. If I did it, why would I even be here? And trying to solve the case nonetheless! I mean, I’ve caught murderers who tried to pin their crime on some helpless witness, but the way I see it, you’re blaming me using the clues that I found? Why would I possibly do that?”

“I’m glad you asked,” he said smugly. “It took me most of your monologue to put it all together. As I said before, angry at his mistreatment of you, you sneak an extra dosage of his medicine into his wine. You’re in a convenient place to do this, as you prepare the food. Then, you pop in a few yourself to mask your handwriting. At this point, you fall over, crack the table, and give yourself an inconveniently revealing headache.”

At the mention of this, Butler once again rubbed his head. He wasn’t sold yet, but the headache was undoubtedly real.

“Doctor,” Bagley continued, “what could be a possible side-effect of O’Connor’s medicine? If someone took too much, but not enough to kill them?”

“Well,” Dr. Steinberg said as he rubbed his chin thoughtfully, “along with blacking out, I believe the person would experience some short term memory loss.”

“And there it is,” Bagley said as he accusingly waved his finger at Butler. “You said yourself: you’ve caught criminals who tried to pin it on others, and you knew that wouldn’t hold. No, you had to believe that you were catching the murderer. You knew if you opened the safe you’d connect that to the O’Connors. You knew that your handwriting under the drug would resemble Joel’s. Heck, you set the table purposely to cause trouble between Gertrude and Mrs. O’Connor, a perfect opportunity for you to ‘deduce.’ You either knew about or planted enough leads that, once you had forgotten them thanks to the pills, you were certain to follow enough of them to make a case!”

Butler said nothing. The more Bagley spoke, the more convinced he became. After all, it sounded like a nearly foolproof plan.

“Butler! You have anything to say for yourself!?”

“It’s… brilliant,” he said with a sense of awe. “The only case I ever failed to solve… was me!”

“What’s really crazy,” Bagley said as he handcuffed Butler, “is I probably never would have solved it had it not been for your thoroughness! You turned up all the right clues… just weren’t looking in the right place.”

The people formerly known as suspects — Mrs. O’Connor, Albert Jr., Joel, Harrington, Dr. Steinberg, Gertrude, and the Italian Ambassador — and Clancy all watched in silence as Bagley took Richard Butler, private investigator away. The long night of suspicions, interrogations, and mysteries was finally over. Just before Butler had turned the corner, he looked over his shoulder and spoke.

“Clancy?”

“Yes Butler?”

“Case closed.”

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Reclaiming Awesome (a word-choice rant)

The other night, I made some blueberry-banana pancakes. They were awesome.

Only one of those two sentences is correct. Well, they’re both grammatically correct, but there’s still a problem with the second one. The problem is my usage of that word: “awesome.” I feel like this word has become overused to the point of being misused. It only takes a look at where the word comes from to see this.

“Awesome” clearly comes from “awe,” defined as “a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder.” Let’s take these one at a time. Do you respect blueberry-banana pancakes? Revere? Do you have fear or wonderment towards them? No, of course not. “Awe” is a feeling one has towards a roaring thunderstorm, the view from a high mountaintop, or, on a much grander scale, God. Something that is awesome is beautiful and powerful. It’s something that is gentle and dangerous. It’s something that fills you with wonder. Look up “awesome” in the thesaurus, and you’ll find it in the company of words like “stunning,” “staggering,” and “dreaded.”

Awesome things can be bad. They can inspire fear. The phrase “awesome destruction” is not contradictory, oxymoronic, or paradoxical. In fact, it’s just as correct as saying “awesome beauty.” Both those things fill you with wonder. They both inspire awe.

Of course, some would argue that words change meanings over time. In general, they’d be correct. The way “awesome” is used has changed, but more specifically it has been watered down. By changing the meaning over time, we really lose the way to express the unique trait that “awesome” can be. It becomes just like a number of other words, any of which do their job well enough with the help of “awesome.” My opening sentence is a true story. I really did make blueberry-banana pancakes, and they were fantastic. Great. Delightful. Superb (well, maybe not. I’ll work on them some more, and hopefully get there…).

But not “awesome.”

From this point on, if you catch me misusing that word, you have permission to punch me in the face. But in a brotherly way.

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Richard Butler, PI – Chapter 9 (a meeting with the Italian Diplomat)

Richard Butler rushed through the halls of the O’Connor estate with such speed that Clancy struggled to keep up. Of course, this was not uncommon, as Clancy often failed to keep up with the ace private eye, both mentally and physically. Clancy’s speed came mostly just when behind the wheel of the car.

“Butler! Hold on, wait!” he cried, in between gasps for air.

“No time for waiting, dear Clancy, we’ve got a case to crack!” Butler declared as he showed no indication of slowing down.

“But sir,” Clancy persisted, “Joel and Junior went that way!” Butler slowed to a halt and turned to find Clancy pointing a clear one-hundred and eighty degrees away from their current bearing. Butler sighed.

“Clancy, we don’t just approach them like that!” he said, bemused. After seeing Clancy’s overly perplexed face, Butler explained “come on, you know how we do it. We assemble all the suspects in a room, I go through my process of detection, give them the major clues, throw in a few false leads to lower our guy’s defenses… then, we nail him.”

Clancy laughed at himself, “of course, how’d I forget about that part?”

Butler smiled. “Don’t beat yourself up over it. This is the most important play of the game, we need to be focused. The last thing we need is for him to slip out of our fingers now.” The detective and his assistant continued walking in their original direction, “Clancy, I need you to gather the suspects up for me. Instruct them to be in my office in two hour’s time. Tell them… nothing. Just that I require their presence.”

With a serious look on his face, Clancy firmly nodded and went off to begin his hunt. Before he had gotten a few yards away, Butler whipped around and added, with a mischievous grin, “oh, and make sure our friend Inspector Bagley is there. This is something he needs to see.”

With a delightful grin, Clancy scurried off to begin his task. Butler continued walking towards his office. He had two hours — two hours of peace and quiet — to prepare himself for the grand finale.

At least, he should have.

As Butler entered his supply closet, he felt the distinct feeling that he was not alone. This was not unlike the feeling he got while tailing a suspect, but this time it felt as if he was on the other end of the situation. Butler held still, listening for any sounds that might tip him off to the exact location of this person, but the drum of the washing machines masked any hint he might have gotten. With the ease and finesse of a tightrope walker, Butler crept over to the pile of towels towering in the corner of the room — a perfect spot for an unlucky intruder to find himself hiding.

Butler reached in, found a collar, and pulled out, to his surprise, none other than the Italian Diplomat.

“Well well,” Butler said, “what have we here? Sent by the mafioso to knock off the detective?”

“That is a stereotype you fool!” the diplomat stammered, “I am Italian, not mafia!”

“Maybe so, maybe not. But that doesn’t change the fact that I just caught you hiding in my office,” the detective smirked.

“It’s none of your stinkin’ business!” the Italian Diplomat said as he threw his hands up in the air.

Butler, slightly amused and leaning towards annoyed, replied “considering this is my office, I rather think it is!”

“I was, uh, looking for something!”

“Uh huh. Somehow, this isn’t working to make me less suspicious,” Butler remarked as he pushed the Italian Diplomat into the chair. He sat on the desk and asked, in a manner which clearly wasn’t a question, “now, why don’t you tell me all about it. From the beginning, please.”

From the beginning, the Italian Diplomat told Richard Butler, private detective, the story of how he ended up hiding under a pile of towels in the detective’s office. He trembled, stammered, and sweated through the whole thing, but he made it through just the same, details intact. Butler listened intently, asking questions here and there for clarity’s sake, but mostly he let the diplomat speak and allowed his own mind to process. It wasn’t often that such vital clues just waltzed into his office (or even broke in), but that’s what had happened and Butler wasn’t about to question it; he had caught a lucky break. The Italian Diplomat’s story had unraveled everything he had learned about the case, but the detective’s brilliant mind took those strands and wrapped them back up into a nice bow. Now, he finally saw the big picture.

“Alright signor,” Butler said, “here’s the deal: I need you to stick around. Pretty soon, we’ll be having a little get-together in here. Everyone who was at the dinner, and lived to tale the tale of course, will be in attendance, as well inspector Bagley.”

The diplomat nodded.

“Now, I’m sensitive to your… situation. But I’ll need you here to help catch this killer.”

“And… you promise I’ll be safe?” the Italian Diplomat asked.

“The cops will be here, I don’t think anyone will try and hurt you,” Butler assured. After a quick affirming nod from the diplomat, Butler said “alright, let’s do this.”

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