The Box (a dystopian story for musicians)

Here it is, in all its unedited glory — the most derivative thing I’ve ever written! Maybe I’ll just call it an “homage”… yeah, that should fix it. I just love dystopian stories like Farenheit 451.

I wrote it for the same class as the music sonnet.

—————————————————-

Mathematics was John’s favorite of the fine arts, though not for any of the reasons others liked it. Some of John’s colleagues liked math for its practicality — being an expert in math gave one many advantages in life. Businesses and politicans were always in need of people who knew statistics, for example. Others used their math skills to move into other areas such as banking and computers.

But John wasn’t like those people. He wasn’t particularly analytical, making statistics duller than the pair of safety scissors he used to use back in school, in visual art class. John never cared much for the ironically abbreviated “art” class, it never seemed very interesting. Cut and paste, cut and paste. That’s all they would do. The teacher would pass out the art books and safety scissors, and the students would make visual art. What do you want to make today? A horse? Cut the horse from the book and paste. A farm? Cut the farm from the book and paste.

Language arts was equally devoid of life to John. He found the logic techniques interesting enough, but again, John was not analytical enough to get into the grind of the business of writing. Others liked the consistency of these arts, getting into the mode of productivity and moving.

The difference was that while most people seemed to “like” it, John actually found pleasure in the art of mathematics. Not in the problem solving or statistical parts of it, but in the numbers themselves. John was fascinated by numbers — by the relationships between them, the way they added together and divided apart. The way he could count in fours or count in threes and find himself getting different feelings — he could almost picture the numbers. Almost. There was something missing, as if he was trying to see with his nose or hear with his eyes.

John remembered the first time he mentioned this to anyone. He was in his 10th grade math class. He remembered raising his hand…

“Mr. Faber?” he had asked.

“Yes John?”

And then he expressed his fascination, his joy, and his frustrations with the art of mathematics. He would never be able to remember exactly what he said — likely it was too disconnected, the thoughts only half-formed and the words even less so, to be worth remembering. What John did remember about that day was the key point he communicated to his teacher — that there was something he was missing. John saw something in the numbers, but was missing a key element, and could never figure out what it was.

There was one other thing from that day which John would never forget: Mr. Faber’s reaction.

The man, probably the oldest teacher John ever had, looked startled, unsettled even, by John’s questioning. He tried to ignore it and go on with the lesson over fractions. He could have, too. The other students didn’t think twice about John’s remarks. But the teacher’s trembling hand dropped the chalk while trying to write the example “3/4.” Mr. Faber’s voice became shaky and a gloss went over his eyes, as if he was no longer looking at the class, but looking at something long gone.

After escaping to the hallway for a minute, Mr. Faber returned and didn’t say another word about what happened. John tried mentioning this to other teachers over the years, but never got a reaction again.

John snapped out of his memory and stood up. He began walking towards the exit, passing through the maze of work stations. Everyone sat at his own station, solitarily jabbing away at the numbers. They all spent so much time with the numbers but never saw past the surface — never came close to the life that hid inside them.

John wished he could show them. He stopped trying a few years after the incident with Mr. Faber, but it didn’t matter anyways. John himself didn’t really know what he was looking for, he just knew there was something else. Maybe if someone would begin looking with him, maybe then they could find something together. But that was the problem — there was no one. No one interacted with each other beyond the necessaries for business, as little as that was. And why should they?

As John walked the city streets outside, he found the same thing. Everyone caught up in their own worlds, inhabiting the same physical space as their neighbors but nothing more.

John found himself walking a street he had never been to before, in an area of town unknown to him. The shops were all closed down, old buildings filled with dusty relics. The block was empty, save for John, though it did not feel any quieter than the rest of the city.

Then he heard it. A sound came from one of the supposedly abandoned buildings. John recognized the voice as being a child’s, though he couldn’t explain what it was. It had no words, just sounds — light, bouncing, sounds. He thought it similar to a quick, sustained series of hiccups, though he was sure that wasn’t it. This was not a problematic sound, there was life in it. It was unlike anything John had heard before. He entered the building.

“What’s going on in here?”

The two children inside looked up at him. Their mouths were curved upwards and slightly open in a way John had never seen before. One of them, a young girl, stretched her arm out towards John, offering up the object that had elicited such a sound.

John took the object in his hand. It was a wooden box, small enough to fit in one hand, though it took the girl two. Anxiously, John opened the box.

He found that it wasn’t a box for storing items, it was a machine. Inside it was a steel cylinder covered with small knobs. Next to that was a series of thin, metal flaps. He briefly wondered how these children could find such life in a small machine, the same life he had been looking for in the numbers, in the patterns he saw. The box fascinated him, and John noticed patterns in the knobs inside the box.

“Look,” the girl said, noticing his confusion. John followed her finger to where it pointed — the side of the box held a small crank.

As he began to turn the crank, something happened. John heard sound in a way he never had before. It was like a group of voices calling out to him in coordination, each voice of a different quality. The metallic sounds were like the clanging of pots in a kitchen, but instead of chaos he found clarity.

“What is this?”

The girl pointed to the label on the front of the box:

“A music box. It’s music.”

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PreApocalyptic – Chapter 3 (a shouting match)

Aaaaaand I’m back! It seems that, last fall, school killed my creativity. Unfortunately, Christmas break didn’t really revive it… until now… three days before spring classes begin… eh, here it is:

———————————————————

Jim placed the kerosene lantern on the table, filling in the void left by the sudden departure of computer screen’s pale blue glow with a warm orange. He then returned to his office, reclined in his chair, and closed his eyes. Out in the bar, the company took a moment to quietly consider what they had just seen.

“It’s preposterous,” Kate declared.

The rest of the company stared at her a moment before Mike vocalized the question they all were thinking: “Is it?”

“He did have some documented evidence,” Mark added.

“I don’t think we should take any chances!” Sam meekly suggested, attempting to assert some authority.

Ed made another one of his trademark noises.

Kate stammered. “That video could be counterfeit! They can make anything with computers — the room was dark, we couldn’t see much detail. Or maybe they had look-a-likes. I don’t know, I just don’t buy it.”

“Why would someone possibly fake this? What would he have to gain?” Mark countered. Kate raised her voice to speak over him.

“I don’t have all the answers,” she defended, “but he’s surely playing some sort of angle.”

“You don’t have any answers — but we’ve got one on that computer!”

“Listen, Mark, we don’t all take things blindly, some of us use our heads!”

“And what do you mean by that?!”

“Ok you two,” Mike matched Kate’s voice level, then topped it, “I don’t know what this is about, but I’m armed and beginning to get irritated, so if you’d cut the bickering, I think everyone in here might appreciate it.”

“Guys,” Sam said, at a level somewhere nearing Kate’s but slightly lower (and with more trembling), “we have a dead man in the freezer. Did you forget? A dead man. With a hole in his stomach. This is serious!”

“Exactly!” Mark exclaimed, “how is he playing an angle if he’s dead?!”

Kate continued, unfazed: “I’m not taking any rash action without thoroughly considering the situation; I’ve got a reputation to uphold!”

“Well I have an obligation to the well-being of my brothers and sisters, I don’t think this should be ignored!”

“I don’t give a damn about your reputation,” Mike, in a move which neared upon super-human abilities, raised his voice to yet another level, “or your obligation. Everyone just calm down so we can figure this thing out!”

“There’s a dead man in the freezer!” Sam reiterated.

“You’re fools… every one uh ya!” Ed managed to say, in his most coherent and sound sentence of the night so far.

The voices raised higher and higher in what seemed like no more than a contest of wills. Sound vibrations bounced back and forth in a microscopic ping-pong match between the four players, filling the bar with sweat, exaggerated arm flailing, and highly unfiltered declarations of feelings between the company. More so than usual, that is, but without even the excessive consumption of alcohol to lower inhibitions. The company was so caught up in their own viewpoints that nothing could hope to pull them from their voice-raising competition.

Nothing, aside from the gunshot.

All five heads, now noticeably silent, turned to see Jim standing just outside the doorway to his office, handgun pointed upwards. Dust and chips from the old wooden ceiling floated down around him, followed by a thin, but steady, stream of water.

“I think you hit a pipe,” Mike observed.

Jim nodded. “The handgun may have not been the best decision, considering the other buildings above us. You gave me no choice.”

The company pointed fingers at each other with their eyes. Jim continued:

“That was a plural ‘you.’ You all have been shouting back and forth about whether this is real or a hoax, what we should do, and whether any of this really matters to the six of us here. The way I see it is this: I’m not getting any sleep tonight. I’d like to. There’s nothing I’d like more than to sleep all night with the sound of rain outside my window, but I know that the moment I step back into that office you all will be at it before I can slam the door behind me.

“So,” he continued, “in the interest of my getting some shut-eye tonight, I suggest we resolve this issue. As I said, we’ve three main issues to sort through — whether this is real, whether it concerns us, and what, if anything, we should do. Now, the second and third questions rely upon the first. Unfortunately, we can’t get to the document evidence on the drive, so we’ll have to base out debates solely around the video. Or, more precisely, our memory of it. So, let’s discuss —” Jim paused, “and please, one at a time.”

Kate wasted no time. “That video could easily be faked. It was very dark and shaky.”

“She makes a decent point,” Mike conceded, “why are the conspiracy tapes always so shaky?”

“It was a hidden camera,” Mark suggested, “and he was running for his life. You expect him to have a steadicam on hand? But we got clear enough shots to make out recognizable faces.”

Jim interjected himself back into the conversation. “Ok. So it was very shaky, either due to our visiter fearing for his life or hiding some shoddy special effects. Both are serviceable explanations. We’ll call that one a draw. Kate: if it was a fake, how did they get all those foreign dignitaries?”

“Could be look-a-likes.” When this suggestion fell flat with her audience, she reached for a backup. “Or maybe some clever video editing. Green-screens and the like.”

“Video editing will only take you so far,” Mark countered, “we saw enough quick pans and changing angles to make me think that splicing footage of each one together is an unlikely option. In particular, the getaway at the end is good evidence against most of the people being digitally inserted.”

Kate sat silent, hoping someone else would come up with a point to counter Mark. No one did.

“Ok,” Jim said as he struck a tally mark on the right side of a napkin, “we’ll give that one to ‘real.’ The score is now 1-0, ‘real’ leading. Kate?”

“How about the absurdity of the whole thing?” she offered.

“Now hold on,” Jim said, “we’re still discussing whether or not the video appears genuine on its own merits. Once that’s settled, we can move on to motives, plausibility, and other abstractions. Does anyone have any other objections or supports for the genuineness of this video?”

No one did.

Jim continued mediating. “Well, in that case, let’s go on to plausibility, what —”

Kate jumped in. “It’s highly implausible. Do any of you guys know how difficult it would be to control the world? As someone involved in politics, let me tell you that it’s not so simple as being an evil overlord. Governments — actual, legitimate, democratic governments — are shockingly unorganized. There are innumerable forces and influence behind every decision made, both from the public sphere and the political. And those are just the ones done transparently! Take all the ‘behind-closed-doors’ decision and you’ve got way too much to keep track of. And that’s just in our country. Consider all the third-world countries who are less organized than ours, then put them together and you get international politics and trade. That adds a whole new level of complexity to the problem. No, no ring of power could help anyone keep track of, much less control, all of that. To do that, you would need —”

Mike interjected, “foreign dignitaries, hands in every government, secret service, mega-corporation, and more?” He took her silence to mean ‘yes, thank you, that’s exactly what I was going to say,’ and continued, “so basically, exactly what the video showed us? By your own admission, there are things at work, shaping decisions, that we don’t know about.”

“Yes,” she conceded, “but even then, it’s a long-shot. So many forces influencing the world, and one group attempting to hold it together? That building would be a very shaky foundation, and it would be only a matter of time before it topples.”

“Just like the tower of Babel…” Mark mused. When he caught the blank stares coming from four of his companions (though, to be fair, one of those four was Ed, and blank stares were the default for him), he explained. “Genesis. People, wanting to be like God, try to build a tower to the heavens, and God, not greatly appreciating this gesture, topples it. You might say these people were trying to do the same thing — be like God. Only, instead of building a tower, they try to shape the world the way they want it, to suit their own desires.”

After a moment of silence, Mike spoke up. “In all due respect, preacher, I hope you’re wrong on this one. If someone up on high decided to topple this particular tower, then we’re probably all going down with it.”

“Well,” Mark replied, “now it’s beginning to sound more like the flood.”

Sam appeared to be genuinely frightened by this point. “Let’s hope that doesn’t happen!”

“Ok,” Jim interjected, “fascinating metaphors and allusions all around, but let’s get back on topic — any responses to Kate’s claim of absurdity?”

“I’ve got one!” Mark offered.

Before he could voice his opinion, Jim asked “and you’re sure it’s an argument, not a sermon?”

“No sir, putting my lawyer hat back on.” Jim nodded, and Mark continued, “Kate, you really invalidated your own argument. Your point was that such an organization could never last — to move away from the tower metaphor, the ropes tying this thing together were to thin. No matter how much they try, this nameless organization can’t keep tabs on everyone — including themselves. Sooner or later, something would snap.”

“Exactly,” Kate exclaimed, seemingly satisfied.

“But that’s exactly what we’re told happened!” Mark slammed his fist on the table. “The video made it clear that this fell apart for exactly the reason you suggested it wouldn’t hold! The organization reached that tipping point, and it snapped!”

There was a long silence as the implications of their discussions set in with each person at the table. Finally, Jim spoke:

“Well, it’s seems plausibility has become a non-issue. That, along with the added credibility that comes from the dead man on our hands, means that from this point forward we need to approach the issue as if it’s real. As if the world’s about to end.” He stood up, looked at their faces and heard the storm continue outside. “The question now is… what do we do about it?”

No one, not even Kate, was quick to answer this one.

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PreApocalyptic – Chapter 2 (a bit of exposition)

“The line’s out,” Jim announced as he set the phone back onto the receiver.

“Can’t say I’m surprised” Mike crouched next to and examined the strange man. He touched two fingers to the man’s neck, “with this storm, I expect this man will be our last visitor tonight.” After receiving inquiring looks from the others in the room, he added, “yeah, he’s dead.”

The group, while not surprised giving the copious amount of blood he had spilled, was taken aback nonetheless by this news. Kate gasped silently and turned her face from the crowd. Sam rubbed his forehead. Mark slowly removed his hat and placed it over his heart. Even Ed seemed to momentarily sober up.

Kate broke their moment of silence, “What do we do now?” She looked around for any sign of life from the others’ faces, “we can’t just spend the whole night here with a dead man in the room.”

“She’s right,” Jim asserted, before pointing at Sam, “run to the supply closet and get me a fresh mop bucket. Mike, I think we have some blankets in the back room. Let’s use one of those to wrap him up. Mark, I need you to head to the kitchen and clear some space in the freezer —”

“Wait, what?!”

Jim stared back at Mark, dumbfounded. “The walk-in freezer… it’s in the kitchen. Just move some boxes around.”

“I know what it is,” Mark protested, “I just think there are better ways of dealing with this than hiding it!”

Jim bit his lip. He didn’t particularly want to deal with this at the moment. He glanced over at Mike and raised an eyebrow.

The cop took his cue. “All due respect, preacher, ‘hiding’ isn’t exactly the idea here. With the phones out and the storm going, we can’t do much about contacting the authorities until morning. However…”

Jim stepped back in to finish the justification. “We can clean the blood off my floor and get rid of the smell.”

Mark accomplished his assigned task, free of any more complaining. Jim could tell that his heart wasn’t in it, but that wasn’t important so long as the job was completed. Once a suitable space was cleared in the freezer, Jim instructed Mike and Sam to transport the body, which they did, and proceeded to pick up the mop and clean the blood.

After a few minutes, the six people of varying familiarity with each other reconvened, free of the residue stench of blood and decay.

Kate, once more, asked “so… what do we do now?”

“Well,” Jim answered, “I’m going to take a nap in my office. You all are free to sleep where you may, if you so choose.” Before he was finished speaking, Jim had already begun making his leave. While still in earshot, Jim overheard their conversation. The preacher began:

“What exactly was that man talking about?”

“Don’t know, it’s probable he was delirious. Sounded like a mad man,” the cop suggested.

“The end of the world…” the businessman pondered, “if only we could know whether there’s any truth to what he said.”

There was a small break in the conversation as they mentally reviewed their situation. Jim, against his better judgement, found himself standing in the doorway to his office; with his back to the guests, he couldn’t help but keep listening. He wasn’t sure why, and certainly wasn’t looking to interject, but his curiosity had gotten the better of him.

Ed made a series of inarticulate noises which could have signaled either distress or confusion, Jim wasn’t sure; he thought he may have heard the words “watermelon” and “parakeet.”

After disappearing for a moment, Jim arrived back in the company and forcibly put his hand on the table. When he lifted it, a USB drive remained.

“If I heard correctly, that might be of service,” he said before, once again, walking away. This time, though, he took a seat behind the bar. This, he thought, might be worth watching.

The five guests looked at the drive in awe, each of their minds racing with the possibilities of what it might hold. Sam eased their tension by opening his laptop and inserting the drive. After a warm-up chime, the computer screen filled up with a video of their late visitor, looking in much better condition than when he arrived.

“If you’re watching this,” the recording said, completely oblivious of the level of cliché in his speech, “it means I’m already dead.”

Kate and Sam some jaw dropping at this line, to which Mike gave them a raised eyebrow, as if to ask ‘really, what did you expect?’ The video continued:

“I knew they were after me, but I thought I could escape them. Foolish, I know. Once they discovered I was coming clean to the world, telling the people of the world what they should have been told long ago, there was no way they’d let me live.”

“Who are —” Mark began asking, before Kate cut him off with a sharp “Shh!”

“I’m sure you’re wondering who ‘they’ are,” the man on the screen suggested, “if only it could be explained that easily. I had hoped to get this into the hands of someone who wouldn’t need an explanation; unfortunately, such a person doesn’t exist. Anyone who does know is already one of them.” He paused for dramatic effect. “Until my recent ‘retirement,’ I was a member of a… an organization. I use the term ‘organization’ loosely. I was not high ranking, as rank does not exist within this group. There is no headquarters, no list of members, no documents of any kind. There is not even a name, as names are reserved for university clubs and old men’s fraternities. We are who the Bilderberg Conference, the Illuminati, and so many others desperately want to be. We… this organization… is what every urban legend strives to be, though no legends exist about it. In all likelihood, you are the first person or persons to ever learn of its existence without undergoing initiation.”

At this point, the company in the bar was completely wrapped in suspense. The man had recorded this post-mortem message with a pause to accommodate this reaction.

“The video I’m about to show you was taken during my last attendance at one of the meetings.” At the point, the video switched from the shot of the man to a hidden camera, roughly from his perspective. He was sitting at a long table in a dark room; the faces of the other members were barely visible. The commentary continued, “I took this video as proof. The world needed to know what was going on.” The camera began panning and zooming to get a clear picture of the faces at the table. The camera revealed a mixture of unknown faces and world leaders, anywhere from Latin America to the Middle East to the USA.

“Dear God,” Kate gasped, “most of these guys have thrown around more immature name calling at the UN than a 3rd grade playground. What are they doing together at a secret society?”

“More importantly,” Mark added, “why is Morrissey there?” It was a question they would never have a satisfactory answer for. The video continued:

“You may think this is the part where I tell you these people are involved in a plot for world domination. But don’t be naïve — these people already control the world. They have for the past century at least, though I don’t know for sure how long. Could be longer. No one knows their origin anymore, save the sole remaining founding member. What I do know is that every major war, assassination, every peace treaty, even cultural shifts — this group has orchestrated all of it.”

Jim looked at his guests, wishing he could see their faces. He couldn’t though, as their bodies remained motionless; their eyes were captured by the computer screen. At this point, one of the figures on the screen, a man they all recognized as a prominent African president, pointed at the camera. His fierce eyes seemed to be staring straight into the company in the bar. It frightened all of them, Mike less noticeably.

In reality, of course, he was pointing his malicious finger at their recently deceased visitor, who was understandably much more frightened than the six of them sitting in the bar. The camera jolted up and made its way to the darkness. When the image returned, it was back to the original shot of their visitor.

“I didn’t create this message to tell the world that they’re being controlled by this small organization. Most of the people in the world can live their happy lives regardless of who’s pulling the strings. No, I came to tell you what they wouldn’t. As you might imagine, controlling the world requires a great deal of observation and manipulation. The organization keeps careful tabs such things as world economy, environmental concerns, and political issues. Tonight, it got out of control.”

Almost knowingly, a crack of thunder resounded as lightning momentarily lit up the bar, reminding the company of the storm going on just outside their window.

“We now face what might be described as a perfect storm,” their informant continued. “The organization, while keeping the world afloat, has caused more problems than they’ve stopped; they’re motivated first and foremost by greed. Eventually, greed gets everyone in over their heads, even the organization.”

The man spoke quicker now, taking fewer breaths between statements.

“I don’t have much time left. I need to get moving if I want this message to be heard. I’ve uploaded documents to this drive giving more details, but here’s what you need to know: the world, as we know it, will soon be over. That much is for certain. It has already begun and cannot be stopped. There are four primary causes to this, though I’m sure they will start a domino effect, toppling over any of the other infrastructures ripe for falling.

“The factors are as follows: the imminent depletion of fossil fuels, a forthcoming plague worse than anything the world has seen, a world-wide electrical failure, and an oncoming nuclear war. These sort of things are normally regulated by the organization, but they’ve gotten out of hand. I’m telling you this, not so you can try to stop it, but so you can save humanity. This is what you must do —”

The screen went black.

“I… I think the battery’s dead.” Sam whimpered.

“Well,” Mike said, “pretty soon, it may not be alone in that.”

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PreApocalyptic – Chapter 1 (a strange new visiter)

Author’s Note:

All right, and thus ends my one month without finishing any writing (started a few though). Hopefully it won’t happen again… seems I’ve sufficiently exorcised the demons blocking my creativity (for now at least. They tend to come back without warning, so fingers crossed).

Oh, and any similarity to real people is completely coincidental. Except for Ed. I never got his name, but he’s definitely real.

——————————————–

Jim stared out across the room, watching the mixture of rain and hail attack the pavement outside. It was late, the sun was down, and with the heaviness of this particular storm any light from street lamps or windows was mostly obscured as well. Three feet ahead of the window, Jim saw chaos. Anything beyond that existed only in darkness.

“Crud,” a man in a suit said as he swiveled on the barstool, “looks like I won’t be getting home anytime today.” He leaned forward on the bar and continued, “well, while we’re stuck here, give me another beer, will ya Jimmy?”

“Comin’ up,” Jim replied as he fetched a fresh bottle. “How’s the office been today, Sam?”

“Eh, you know. Nothing exciting,” he yawned. “Got some trouble getting my foot in the door right now, but things will bounce back… honestly, I’d rather not think about work right now.”

Jim nodded and moved on. His eyes scanned across those few remaining customers not foolish enough to leave during the storm or wise enough to leave before it shifted into full force. Three of the “usual suspects” remained in the bar — Sam, the aforementioned businessman, a cop named Mike, and a perpetual drunk, supposedly named Ed, though no one really knew much about him for sure on account of his general incoherence. Jim also spotted a man and a woman sitting at a table together, both late thirties or early forties. Presumably they might be a couple, but Jim couldn’t yet say for sure.

He grabbed a wet rag and began cleaning his way over in their direction until he stood within eavesdropping range. At that point, he began meticulously cleaning each table in their vicinity. It was, after all, a very slow night.

“This is crazy!” the woman laughed, “You’ve changed so much. Out of everyone we knew, I never would have pegged you, Mark, as a preacher! Of all things!”

The man, Mark, returned the polite laughs, “well, Kate, you haven’t changed one bit, and I always expected you to end up a politician!”

The two old friends continued chatting, and Jim learned a few things before he stopped paying attention. He learned that the preacher and the politician had gone to college together, except back then they were a lawyer and an actress. They ran into each other by accident recently when Kate entered Mark’s church one Sunday morning, although Jim was fairly certain it was not accidental as she seemed to be looking for an endorsement. At that point, he had gleaned enough information to satisfy his admittedly low curiosity — politics was an issue which interested Jim even less than the earlier pleasantries. Besides, the tables certainly would not clean themselves.

Jim decided that this storm wouldn’t be letting up anytime that night; it was time to take a break from his cleaning. He dropped the towel down on the last table and headed over to speak with the cop, complimentary coffee in hand.

“Thanks,” Mike said as he accepted the gift. “You about ready to kick these people off the premises? I believe it’s just about closing time. At that point, it’s trespassing to stay, and that’s a crime…”

Jim gave a weak laugh, “well, I could do that, but with this storm we’ve got, they probably wouldn’t get more than a few feet beyond the door.”

“We can get ’em for that too: loitering.”

“Good call. But I think we’ll let it slide, officer — this time,” Jim said with a wink.

“If you say so,” he replied as he sipped his coffee, “it’s your building.” Mike picked up the day’s newspaper and began thumbing through it while Jim picked up his mop. In place of cleaning the floors with such a device, as might be expected, Jim folded his hands together on top of the mop to use it as a support pole. Jim once again took a moment to look out the window and appreciate the ironic tranquility of the storm. Despite the destructive nature of such a force — the pounding of the rain and the piercing of the hail, the power of lightning and the roar of thunder — the only thought to go through Jim’s mind at such a time was the strong desire to curl up and take a nap. During a time of such intense chaos, Jim felt oddly at ease. He appreciated the irony.

His musing, however, was soon cut off by a cry from the other corner of the room.

“Hey Jimmy!” Sam called, “How do you get this TV working?”

Jim hesitated a moment, then turned and headed over to troubleshoot the machine, where the businessman, drunk, preacher, and senator sat. After a few moments of his fiddling with the cables in the back and adjusting the antennae, the static and white noise gave way to the local weather report.

“As you can see,” the weatherman said as he exaggerated arm gestures, “we have this storm on top of us. Now, it’s moving pretty quickly so it’ll pass soon, but don’t leave your houses just yet. We’ve got what appears to be a second wind coming in close after, and this one seems to be even bigger. We suggest you stay in your houses, as this seems to only be the beginning.”

The on-screen map zoomed out to reveal a swirling purple spot which easily dwarfed the city. The five guests and the bartender gave their complete attention to the on-goings of the television screen. Ed gave less attention than the rest of them, although proportionately he in fact gave more as he gave all he could given his current level of sobriety, or lack thereof.

Their attention broke off abruptly as the screen flickered away. The guests’ eyes veered over towards Jim, as if to ask him to fix it yet again. Before he could respond though, a pound of thunder shook the building and the lights went out. After a moment of silence, Ed spoke up:

“The purple hell… it’s coming for us!”

Not knowing exactly how to respond to this, Jim did the only sensible thing he could and spoke up. “Nobody panic, I’ll get some lights,” he said as he tripped over chairs and bruised himself on table corners. Eventually, he came back with a kerosene lantern and a few candles. “Not great, but it’ll do. We’ve got some light, we can wait out —”

“Jim!” Mike called from behind his newspaper. “I think we’ve got someone at the door!”

Picking up the kerosene lantern, Jim once again walked across the room. “Hold on, I’m coming!” As he walked, the pounding at the door grew heavier and heavier, as if the person on the other side grew more and more desperate. Not too farfetched a theory, considering the storm this person was stuck in.

As Jim threw the doors open, the man nearly fell in. With his arms holding his stomach and his back arched, he hunched a few steps into the room. The man, gasping for air, mostly mumbled inaudibly. After a few moments though, more definable words came out:

“… madness. Won’t stop… or no. It will. All of it… Everything. Everything will stop… they said it wouldn’t happen, but it is… it’s a perfect storm…”

“Well, I wouldn’t call this evening perfect,” Mike chimed in, “’course, I wasn’t really planning on going home, so —” at this point, the strange man lifted his arms from his stomach to reveal profuse bleeding, which proceeded to spill out onto the floor. He raised his head and looked them each in the eyes with a now profound sense of desperation. The group partook in an appropriate moment of stunned silence.

“Disease, war, famine… this is only the beginning. Or the end… it’s happening.” Urgently and with trembling, the man dug into his coat pocket and protruded a small USB drive. “This… will explain everything.”

“Wait,” Mark asked, “just what are you talking about?”

“Haven’t you been listening to anything I’ve said?” the man asked with a gallows chuckle, “Don’t you see? Tonight beckons the end of the world.”

And, with another flash of lightning and crack of thunder, their strange new visitor collapsed to the ground.

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Writer’s Block (a demon in my head)

In the pantheon of demons, there exist many varieties. Some are large and some are small. Some scaly, others slimy, and some clever demons even impersonate angels of light! Some demons attack your mind, while others attack the body. Some are vile and wicked, others… are also vile and wicked, but occasionally grudgingly so. This is the story of one such demon.

Bifron the Dreaded, drinker of the tears of men, was currently part of a rare breed of demons — the disgruntled. As he stood waiting for the elevator up, he kicked a fiery rock on the underground as a physical manifestation of his dissatisfaction. Despite his best reasoning or justification, Bifron still couldn’t believe they would do this to him — and after all the loyalty he had shown them!

This thought, as evil as any of his yet slightly more whiny than most, was briefly cut off by the chime of the elevator. With his hands in his coat pockets, Bifron stepped through the door and hit the top button — “GROUND LEVEL.”

“Bifron… that you?!” the nicely-dressed demon next to him asked. Bifron looked over at him, trying to remember where he recognized this demon from. Cued by Bifron’s blank look, the demon exclaimed “Germany, early 15th century? We tempted that great scholarly guy? C’mon, surely you remember that!”

After a moment, the memories rushed back to Bifron. “Mephistopheles! Why, I haven’t seen you in ages!” This was the moment in which, had the two old friends not been horrid demons, they would have given each other a large embrace. This behavior, though, would be far too loving a behavior for vile demons such as themselves.

“Boy, those were some good times!”

“Yeah,” Bifron agreed, “though I seem to recall you got all the credit for that one.”

“Haha, well that’s how the legends tell it.” Mephistopheles replied, “but I sure do remember a certain promotion coming out of it. How have the centuries of tempting world leaders been treating you, anyways?”

“About that…” Bifron trailed off, hoping Mephistopheles would pick up on the cues that this wasn’t a subject he wished to talk about. He looked up at the ceiling, and saw the “3rd Circle” light lit up; they’d be at the surface soon. After a moment, he could tell that Mephistopheles wasn’t picking up on any cues. “I was transferred to another department… demoted, really.”

“What?” Mephistopheles exclaimed, “redeemit, why’d they go about doing that?! I mean, I don’t want to be blasphemous or anything… well, I do, but not to our side. You know what I’m saying. I’d just expect more loyalty from the big guy, that’s all.”

“I don’t know… I guess I kind of… I’d rather not talk about it.”

After a few more moments of awkward silence, the elevator reached the top. The demons said their parting words and Mephistopheles went off to seduce upright men with ideas of power. Bifron, on the other hand, headed off to begin his first day on the new job.

From now on, Bifron was a writers block demon.

It was not a glamorous job. He was afraid that he would never again hold the respect of his fellow demons. But he had always believed in a job well done, no matter what that job was, and this would be no different.

Bifron checked his surroundings. He was in a small, one-bedroom apartment in the big city. Two late notices from the landlord sat on the kitchen counter. The kitchen sink was filled with dishes, most crusted with the dry remnants of pasta sauce or sandwich crumbs. Flies had begun to make their home in the overflown garbage can. At the desk, a young man sat, frantically typing away at his laptop.

The demon made his way over to the man, close enough to read over his shoulder. He moved neither silently nor cautiously — one advantage to living in the spirit world was the ability to not be noticed by anyone, save those with that pesky “discernment” gift. Just the thought of it made Bifron sick, so he put that thought out of his head. Once it was sufficiently gone and the vomit was back down his throat, Bifron looked over at the computer screen. The man had his word processor opened. At the top of the document, he read the title “The Long Road Ahead, a novel by Pete Peterson.”

“Ok, here goes,” Bifron said to himself. After taking a deep breath, he plunged his head into Peterson’s, so he could get a better view on what he was working with. Inside Peterson’s psyche, he saw a nebula of words floating around. Slowly, a few words would make their way out of the general mass and meet up in a smaller group. Once these words had assembled together, they zoomed out towards the exit.

Simple enough. Bifron stuck his hand into Peterson’s head and commenced the chaos. He grabbed hold of an adverb — “serendipitously” — and with all his might he hurdled it to the far side of Peterson’s mind.

“Well,” he said to himself, “that wasn’t so tough.” Bifron went for another. This time he chose a noun, “vanguard.” Within a few throws, Bifron began to really get into this new job. It almost became a game for him. He grabbed words as quickly as possible and threw them this way and that, causing complete disorder in the mind of the poor young writer. Soon, the words became too jumbled for any progress to be made that night. It may have not been the highest profile job out there, but Bifron had enjoyed himself.

After an amount of time relatively short when compared to the damage he had done, Bifron wiped the dust from his hands and exited poor Peterson’s presence. He felt deliciously bad about what he had done, as he should. It was a bad thing to do, and he was an evil demon. Within a few moments, a messenger for him had arrived with his next assignment.

Excitedly, he opened the envelope. It contained directions to an apartment a mere few blocks away, where a college student, Jen Benson, was writing a term paper. Sources said it was due the next day, and worth half her grade.

Bifron smiled. This would be fun.

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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.”

——————————
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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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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Richard Butler, PI – Chapter 8 (a close second)

Richard Butler wandered uneasily through the hallways. He had, until a few moments prior, thought himself to have reached the end of this case. The path was straight, his view was clear, and the murderer would soon be caught. However, after a slight detour thanks to the navigational prowess of Inspector Bagley, Butler now found himself lost. Now all that he needed to do was to find himself found. He needed to get a bearing, a direction; a lead. Butler searched through his mind. He still suspected Mrs. O’Connor (or, almost equally, Gertrude), but now he was convinced he needed to find out who opened the safe.

Butler found himself in the game room. He would have preferred to find himself in a focused state of mind with a lead, but this was acceptable too. A close second. He sat down in one of the armchairs near the pool table, the kind of armchair that you tend to sink into and causes you to lose any thoughts which clash with the desire to sleep.

But Butler would not let the comfort of this chair prevail against his need to get back on track. Only a moment after taking a seat in the oversized armchair, Butler came to his feet. Things were beginning to make since; clues began to come together to form something somewhat resembling a case, a case whose image was almost complete enough to warrant cracking.

“Of course!” he exclaimed to the empty room. The importance, Butler now saw, did not lay in the safe but in the content of the new will. Almost anyone could have opened the safe, but if the person who opened the safe was one and the same with the murderer, then the motive would have been gained by the revelation of the will.

This thought, unfortunately, was cut off just as it was going somewhere. Butler heard two loud voices coming his way.

“Oh please, please help me out! Help out your favorite uncle, you know I’ve always been good to you!” the first voice pleaded.

“Listen, can we talk about this later? My father just died, I’m not in the mood to be discussing business on a day like this!” the second voice reasoned.

The voices, correctly deduced by Butler’s keen detective ears to be Albert O’Connor’s brother Joel and his son Al Jr., entered the game room. The two O’Connors, aware of but not acknowledging the presence of the private investigator-slash-manservant, made their way over to the pool table as Joel picked up and began to chalk two cues.

With this gesture, he asked “pool?” Al Jr. gave him a look as if to lump games in with business in the “activities we don’t do today” category. Joel tossed him the pool stick anyways and said “come on, it’ll take your mind off things.”

After a moment’s hesitation, Junior threw a faint smile, signaling his entrance into the game. He leaned over the table and stabbed the white ball, sending the pool balls flying in their separate ways. After sinking two balls, Junior made a slight slip-up and gave the turn over to his uncle.

“That was pretty good, boy,” Joel taunted, “but let me show you how the game is really played!” Joel sat up on the edge of the table, leaned far over, and lined his pole up behind his back. Butler observed that this shot could have been made much more easily, had it been approached from a different angle. The detective almost said something to correct Joel’s error, but it was more in his nature to detect than it was to coach. Instead, he decided to sit and watch where this was going.

‘Where this was going’ turned out to be a wasted turn. Joel’s pole had, undoubtedly due to the awkward angle, only grazed the edge of the white pool ball, sending it dawdling over to the side.

“Well,” Joel muttered, “you get the idea.”

The two O’Connors continued their game of pool, with the elder of the two surprisingly winning. While Joel O’Connor was not, by any means, a natural at the game of pool, junior was just absent-minded enough to begin losing miserably. Naturally, the uncle’s unmistakable domination over his nephew in the realm of games did nothing to calm the junior O’Connor’s qualms. When his next turn came up, instead of pointing his pole at the ball to strike, Junior set it on the table and sat down.

“Uncle,” he said, “thank you for attempting to calm my nerves, but I regret to say it’s not working. I need a plan B.”

“Coming right up!” Butler said as he leapt into action. He had been working as a private investigator all night, and it seemed a good thing to, if only temporarily, switch back into manservant mode. Butler darted to the game room bar and poured a glass of wine, which he promptly brought over to the pool table.

“Here you go, Master O’Connor, let’s see if this helps.”

Junior grabbed for the glass and took a long drink. At this moment, young Junior gained a new sense of confidence. Perhaps it was being referred to, for the first time, as “Master O’Connor,” or perhaps it was simply the plan B, but Albert Brain O’Connor IV was now ready to play some pool. He straightened his back and lifted his chin. Junior had returned to the table with a new sense of composure, and a better posture.

While the pool table itself sat firmly lodged in its place in the room, it would have been clear to any bystander that the tables had turned. As his playing improved, the duration of Junior’s turns grew longer and longer. Had they been measured in feet and inches rather than minutes and seconds, they would have reached nearly to the moon. Throughout this, Joel became nervous and sloppy. His hands shook, his knees trembled, and soon this game they played became one-sided.

Butler watched this game with fascination. It didn’t require his finely tuned detection techniques to notice the tension between the two O’Connors. The tension was so thick that no knife-metaphor could cut it. This tension had nearly reached its climax when Joel surrendered.

“I think I’m about done… you had some good shots, I had some good shots… can we call that even?”

Butler chimed in, “well, I hardly think that’s truthful.”

Joel, with his face flushed and his fists clenched, rigidly set the pool cue down on the table and marched out of the room.

“Uncle, wait!” Junior cried as he followed after Joel. Butler overheard one small, yet crucial, piece of their conversation as they left the room.

“Uncle, I’ll help you out. You can have some of the money, you know I got more than enough.”

Upon hearing this, all the clues and pieces of evidence Butler had obtained up until this point raced through his mind. Only two seemed to be of particular importance: the falsified suicide note and the will, and he now knew of two suspects who knew of the latter. Butler moved swiftly and silently, determined to tail his suspects — a skill any good detective should be proficient in — and finally reach the end of this case. However, as Butler turned the corner, he was abruptly stopped by the former piece of evidence.

“Clancy!”

“Butler, I’ve found it!” the sidekick said with glee as he retrieved Butler’s ledger from his bag. “It wasn’t easy,” he continued, “but I managed to get it back from Bagley!”

“Great work Clancy,” Butler affirmed, “but I don’t think I need it; I already know who our culprit is. New evidence has come up, and my deductions tell me — almost for certain — that we need to catch Al Jr. However, it’s good that you came now. This ledger should only confirm my suspicions!”

Clancy opened the ledger to the most recent entry and handed it to Butler, who took the suicide note out from his coat pocket. He observed the sloppy, jittery handwriting on the note, a handwriting which could only match —

“ — Joel O’Connor?” Butler realized, with a hint of befuddlement, before regaining himself and saying “well, that was… a close second.” Butler slammed shut the ledger and pushed it into Clancy’s chest, prompting Clancy to grab ahold of and carry the evidence lest it fall.

“Come, Clancy,” he said, “let’s catch ourselves a killer.”

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Richard Butler, PI – Chapter 7 (a will and a way)

Wow, been about three weeks since I’ve written anything… I blame it on finals. But those are done now. Anyways, this author’s note is already too long.
—————————————
Butler fished his keychain from his pocket and searched for the one fitting this door. Enough keys occupied this ring to make up a small archipelago, but Butler knew his way around and found the one he needed. He carefully turned his head, putting the detective nose-to-nose with Inspector Bagley, who had been looking over his shoulder.

“I assure you, Inspector, there’s nothing to see here.”

“My hunch says otherwise, so open the door!” Bagley replied angrily. Bagley never appreciated anyone questioning him.

Butler sighed, “no, I was referring to the keys. A little personal space, please?”

Embarrassed, but not so much that anyone not trained in detecting could tell, Inspector Bagley shied a few steps away from the private detective, who proceeded to open the way into the room, which Bagely thought to be the way to solving this case. Butler, of course, already thought he had it solved — although he was not closed off to other possibilities.

The private detective and the police detective entered the room that, until recently, Albert O’Connor had called his office. Papers littered the desk, filing cabinets overflowed to the ground, and books stacked from the floor to ceiling. Various iterations of his final disposable water bottle habited the shelves, and other unfinished inventions filled the room. The room was a mess.

The two detectives slowly walked into the room, carefully observing their surroundings. Bagley spoke up:

“Seems like he was in the middle of something big before he died.”

Butler, never one to pass up an opportunity to best Bagely, suggested “or maybe… he was looking for something. That would explain the overturned files and papers. He was looking for something — something incriminating — and then he couldn’t find it, it was too late… he got killed.”

Bagley took Butler’s deduction and raised him a piece of evidence, asking “well, that doesn’t fit in too well with this suicide note, now does it?”

Butler laughed at the absurdity of Bagley’s suggestion, “you don’t really think O’Connor wrote that, do you?”

Bagley stared at Butler, raised his chin, and squinted his eyes as if to say ‘no, what, do ​you?’ He then proceeded to actually say it: “No… what, do you?”

Butler turned his head slightly, took Bagley’s squinting and raised him a lifted eyebrow.

“So,” Bagley suggested, with only a hint of questioning and a dash of faux-confidence, “we both don’t believe O’Connor wrote that…”

“Yes…” Butler confirmed, matching Bagley’s tone precisely. The two investigators stood there for a full minute, staring at each other in contemplative silence, both preoccupied trying to determine what the other was thinking. Both inspectors thought themselves to be playing the other. Bagley, deep down, wondered whether he was the one being played. Butler, of course, knew he was doing the playing.

Simultaneously, they looked away and began to individually inspect the room. Inspector Bagley walked over to the desk and began inspecting the many objects that took residence there. Butler made his way over to the closet, which held O’Connor’s spare suits and his safe. He was nearly ready to leave this scene, after finding nothing of note in the closet. But then he noticed something.

“Someone’s opened this safe recently,” Butler declared as he pointed to the handprints in the dust where it had been gripped.

Bagley seemed to take little interest in Butler’s revelation. Without turning around, he continued his searching and simply asked “is that so?”

Butler once again took his key-ring from his pocket, this time to open the safe. He came back from the closet with a single item: O’Connor’s last will and testament.

“Well, what do we have here?” Bagley raised his question playfully. Butler was about to brag on his finding, until he saw the smug grin on Bagley’s face.

Bagley stood, arm outstretched, displaying his own prize. He brought it up level with his eyes as he read the label. The small capsule was nearly empty, but it did have a small layer of pills lining the bottom.

“Flunitrazepam,” he read, before asking “now why might this be here?”

“That’s… not important!” Butler stammered as he regained his composure, “O’Connor suffered from insomnia, that’s probably just his medicine. Nothing else to see there.” Bagley’s face sunk into a snarl before he put the capsule in his coat pocket. Butler continued, “but this, this you’ve got to see.” He held up the will and pointed aggressively, “O’Connor changed his will — he’s giving everything he has to his son. Even better, the safe was opened recently… someone found out about this!”

Bagley laughed, “yeah, well how do you know that wasn’t just O’Connor opening?”

“Check the prints on the safe if you want, they’re much too fresh for this. This will was signed months ago!” Butler countered.

“Yeah, okay,” Bagley retreated, “so someone knew he changed his will. That doesn’t necessarily mean they would want him dead. People loved O’Connor!”

“Is that what they’re telling you?” Butler asked, astonished. “I can tell you, from experience, that’s not exactly true. Not to speak ill of the dead, but I worked for him… O’Connor was not the most pleasant guy.”

“Alright, do what you want,” Bagley said, “I’m following up with Dr. Steinberg on this Fluni… medicine.” Bagley looked at the label before trying again, “trazi… flunitraz…” Finally, he just shook his head and left the room.

Butler waited until Bagley was just out of sight before saying, to no one in particular, “there’s one nuisance gone… time to go find another.”

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Richard Butler, PI – Chapter 6 (a roaring inconvenience)

Butler and Clancy raced back to the kitchen, where Butler had left his ledger after signing in the guests. This case, which had only moments ago seemed dry enough to kill a camel, was now on the verge of tying up. The detective now had two suspects with motives to kill. They also both had opportunity, as their scuffle over O’Connor’s plate at dinner would have provided ample time to covertly slip some poison into O’Connor’s unwilling drink. Butler wasn’t sure about the means — he knew one of them had poisoned O’Connor, but the nature of the poison in question was still a mystery. It didn’t matter though, all he needed was enough evidence, and a clever plan, to coerce a confession out of the murderer.

The detective and his assistant arrived at their destination to find what could only be described as a roaring inconvenience.

“Inspector Bagley,” Butler sighed with disbelief. The end of this investigation was in sight, yet just out of his reach. It seemed a few more hurdles still stood in their way.

“Oh, crackers.” Bagley said, with disbelief to at least match, if not surpass, Butler’s.

“That’s us, inspector. As a matter of fact, we’re about to crack this one wide open,” Butler replied snidely. It took a moment for Bagley to catch on, before he snapped back:

“Alright, I don’t have time for your wisecracks —” these words had only just left Bagley’s mouth when he realized his mistake. But it was too late, and there was no way to corral those words back; Butler had already leapt on the opportunity.

“Really, inspector, you’re too kind,” Butler continued, and while still in control of the conversation, asked “Inspector, what are you doing here in my kitchen?”

Bagley laughed. “Wouldn’t you like to know?” Then, ignoring the implications of his own snide remark, Bagley went on to explain what exactly he was doing. “It’s called doing my job, Butler, not my fake job I pretend to have, or some job I’m deluded into thinking I’m really good at, my real job. Something you should consider. I’m going over every inch of this house,” he said as he inspected a sizable crack on the food preparation table, “and I’m going to find this killer.”

“Get in line,” Butler responded dryly as he went to the cabinet that held his ledger. He swung the doors open, but instead of finding the solution to this case, Butler was greeted only by disappointment. The cabinet was as empty as Bagley’s head. Butler whipped around to face Bagley and asked “what did you do with my ledger?”

Bagley smiled, knowing that with this he had won a battle, albeit a minor one. “You mean the one we took as evidence?” Before Butler had a chance to get any words out his mouth, Bagley cut him off with a preemptive retort: “and don’t even try to tell me it’s not evidence! Why else would you want it? I’m not an idiot!”

“Well, it couldn’t be because I’m a butler. I have a job to do, you know. That didn’t die with Mr. O’Connor.”

“Yeah, I’ve got a job too,” Bagley said, “and it’s to not give up evidence, so you can just forget about it!”

Butler stood there, eyes closed and breathing deeply to avoid losing his calm amidst Inspector Bagley’s lunacy. He sighed and glanced over at Clancy, who seemed at a loss for what to do. But that was okay, Butler figured. It might even be best if Clancy just sit this one out and let Butler handle the inspector.

“Inspector, I understand that you have a job to do — and I respect that,” Butler said, “you as a person? Not so much, but I have great respect your job.” Butler strode over to the table and leaned imposingly on it. He lowered his voice, stared down Inspector Bagley in the eye, and said “but I don’t appreciate it when you get in the way of my job. Either one of them. So no more cracking the table where I set plates and no more getting in the way of my inspecting. Now give me back my ledger so I can do my job.”

Bagley snarled, stood up straight and turned his back to Butler. He walked to the door, opened it, and looked back at Butler.

“No,” he stated, “I won’t give it to you. But I tell you to come follow me. You have keys to everything in this house?”

“Indeed I do, how about I trade them for the ledger?”

Bagley made no recognition of Butler’s offer. “Then I expect you to come with me and co-operate. Don’t make me put up a fight, because I will!”

Butler was not afraid of Bagley’s attempt at intimidation, but after giving this a quick consideration, he agreed. However, before he left to endure the torture that was co-operating with Bagley, Butler leaned in close to Clancy to give him some classified instructions.

“Clancy,” he whispered, “I need to you go back and find where they’re keeping the ledger. Take it as quietly as you can… by any means necessary.” Clancy, eyes wide with determination, nodded.

Butler turned around to go follow Bagley. Right as they had almost left the room, into the safety of Bagley not knowing their plan, yet the danger of occupying the same room as Bagley for an extended amount of time, Clancy turned around and complicated things with this question:

“Wait! What will I do with it without the note?”

Butler closed his eyes and breathed deeply once again. However, he could not maintain his calm well enough for this comment to blow over. Bagley uttered the two words Butler was afraid of.

“What note!?”

Sighing a sigh of defeat, Butler lifted the suicide note from his pocket and held it in the air, where Inspector Bagley snatched it from his firm grasp. Bagley laughed. He didn’t get many opportunities to one-up Butler (although he’d never admit to this), so he savored each one he did get. Bagley stopped laughing once he opened and read the note.

“Huh.”

Bagley took a moment to process this information, before shrugging and instructing “Okay, Butler, come with me — and watch yourself, I don’t want to see you pulling clever!” Bagley turned around and left the room, not even looking back to make sure Butler was following. This small victory had given him a renewed sense of arrogance.

“Don’t worry,” Butler said to no one in particular, as Clancy had already left on his covert mission and Bagley was a few strides ahead, “With my hand, I don’t need any cards up my sleeve.”

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