And Now for the Sequel…

Yes, indeed, my first sequel, this to “Color Scheme”…

 

“The Unhinged Man”

“A puzzle for you, Mr. Lord,” said Alice Little, the famed poetess.

The Puzzlers, that select and secretive organization, was having its monthly meeting.

Geoffrey Lord, the detective-story writer, sighed, put down his magazine, removed his spectacles, and polished them with a handkerchief. “Already?” he murmured.

“Already,” snapped Lee Shapiro, the attorney. “Another test of wits—that ‘every color on the canvas’ business was a giveaway.”

“It’s your turn to provide us with a puzzle next week,” Sidney Malkin, the stockbroker, explained.

Alan Tewksbury, the Columbia classics professor, was as taciturn and aloof as ever.

“Ready when you are,” Mr. Lord said cheerfully.

'You're unhinged!'

Shapiro started: “There’s an undercover detective investigating an international oil smuggling ring…”

“Sounds like a pulp story to me,” Geoff put in.

“Let me finish, Lord! The police find him a few days later, floating in the East River—“

“Doesn’t he know it’s polluted?”

“—dead, of course. Shot. Now, he’s got a note in his pocket—soaked, but the police are able to make it out. Obviously the killer neglected to go through the detective’s pockets.”

“Awfully obliging of him.”

Mr. Shapiro’s face looked a bit like a tomato, so Miss Little did him the favor of picking up the slack: “Please, Mr. Lord. There are five suspects for the identity of the murderer—five criminals—”

“Hitmen,” Shapiro snapped.

“I believe that’s the term,” said Miss Little, blushing. “Well, they’re the five criminals whom the smuggling ring usually uses: William Cardinal, Edgar Swann, Terence Crane, Norman Crowley, and Sam Ravenwood. Now, the note in the detective’s pocket has these five names on it and then follows it up with this: ‘I now know that the killer is the unhinged man.’

“That’s your question, then, Mr. Lord: which of these five is the ‘unhinged man’—the detective’s murderer?”

“First things first,” Mr. Lord murmured. “None of the suspects was—er—crazy, I suppose? Unhinged as the word is most often used?”

“Not any more than any other hitman” came the response (from Shapiro, if I’m not mistaken).

“Didn’t think so. And none of the suspects has any particular connection to a door, a gate, or anything like that, I suppose?”

“Correct. No connection there.”

“Well, then, two more possibilities, before I have to do some actual pondering: no suspect had any knowledge of biology, did he? A hinge in biology is a ligamentous joint, as in a bivalve shell.”

“They’re all hitmen, Lord,” Shapiro shot out, “not eggheads! Oh, sorry, Professor.”

“The only other possibility, then,” Geoff continued, smiling: “was the note written on an envelope? Or on letter paper? A ‘hinge’ may refer to a piece of gummed paper used to fasten a stamp on an envelope or in an album.”

“No envelope, no letter, nothing like that, Mr. Lord.”

“I didn’t think so. Well, if the word hinge wasn’t used literally, I can suppose the detective was a wordsmith?”

“You can say that,” Malkin said, nodding.

“Hm. Well, you will permit me to write those volucrine names down, won’t you?”

“Volucrine, you said, Lord?” muttered Prof. Tewksbury, rising from his chair.

“Indeed, Professor—same trick you played with the names last time, except referring to birds rather than the alphabet. The solution has nothing to do with names—well, except for one name.”

“Ah,” said the Professor, who, seeming slightly annoyed, fell back in his seat.

“It helps,” said Mr. Lord cheerfully, after having written them down, “if you know the derivation of one word in particular. And that one word is…”

He stopped suddenly, all the cheer leaving his face. “I’m a fool. Damn! Apologies, Miss Little. Yes,” he snapped, looking at a certain member of the Puzzlers, “you clever devil, you clever devil…”

To which member was Geoffrey Lord referring?

What was the word?

What was the solution?

How did Geoffrey Lord know?

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Color Scheme

I’m not yet ready to post the story to which I referred before, but in the meantime…

“Color Scheme”

When Mr. Geoffrey Lord, of West 87th Street, New York City, was first asked to join one of the most illustrious clubs known to man—I am referring, of course, to that select and secretive organization known as the Puzzlers—he did not grin or smile, an occurrence that understandably bemused his inimitable secretary, the lovely (and, as Insp. O’Leary realized several times, love-stricken)  Miss Paula Vale, because Geoff had tried (and failed) to gain entrance to the Puzzlers for year after year.
On the evening when Geoff was to set off for his induction ceremony, Paula, on her way out the Lordian door, finally managed to ask the age-old inquiry of why.
“Oh, so that’s why you’ve been looking at me so strangely ever since I got that letter,” Mr. Lord chuckled.
Paula sighed. “And you call yourself a detective…”
“Well,” her employer explained, tapping his pipe tobacco on the ash tray, “I suppose a Puzzler is not allowed to give out any information about the club, but I’m not yet a Puzzler, officially. Fact is, darling, that Malkin—Sidney Malkin, the stockbroker, that is—let me know several years ago that the entrance exam for the Puzzlers is unusually difficult, and I’m trying to make sure that my knowledge of minutiae is—shall we say—up to snuff.”
(It was not until Miss Vale was out the door that she realized Geoff had called her “darling.”)
When, at 9 o’clock that evening precisely, Geoff knocked three times on a disreputable door in a disreputable neighborhood, he was ushered into the usually-verboten establishment in utter silence. He would have felt a bit like he was five years old, playing at secret clubs, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Tom Sawyer—but for the taciturnity of those beckoning him in, which was oppressive and even, God help him, ominous. He entered, and the door was closed behind him.
“Mr. Geoffrey Lord.”
Not a question, but a statement, which seemed to come out of the black pitch of the room.
“At attention, and with my sword at the ready to defend the fair maiden’s honor,” said Geoff, somewhat foolishly.
No one laughed.
“You have been invited to take membership in the Puzzlers, if you should pass the entrance examination. Do you accept the invitation?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Are you ready for the examination?”
“Ready when you are. Mind if I smoke?”
No one responded, so Geoff lit a cigarette and grinned.
Then Geoff heard a lighter voice, a woman’s voice: “Mr. Lord, your achievements as a detective are well-known. With them in mind, we have devised an entrance examination especially for you—a detective puzzle.”
“With thee as my guide, fair lady,” the Lancelot of 87th St. responded, “I shall have little to fear.”
“The puzzle is this,” a gruff, male voice shot in: “you have been called to a painter’s studio in Greenwich Village. He has been killed by a putty knife from his palette.”
“Gruesome way to go,” muttered Mr. Lord.
“The police interview his estranged wife, Olivia; his angst-ridden son, Pythagoras—”
Pythagoras?” murmured Mr. Lord, smiling. “I detect a classicist’s touch here.”
“—and his four employees, with whom he had all quarrelled at one point or another: Quentin, Roy, Smith, and Travers.”
“First or last names? No, silly question—last names, because I’ve never heard of forenames ‘Smith’ or ‘Travers.’”
“It’s irrelevant,” came an exasperated voice. Geoff recognized this as Sidney Malkin.
“Before the painter died,” the gruff voice returned, “he had no pen or paper, but he managed to dip his paintbrush in every color on his palette and paint one line of each.”
Geoff—“Why didn’t he just paint the murderer’s name?”
“He thought,” another voice came in, “this would be a more direct method to identifying the killer to the police.”
“Or maybe he just had a detective-story mind,” the woman’s voice said. Geoff thought the voice sounded amused.
“Police later found out that our painter had argued with his wife and with his four employees that evening.”
“By the principle of the ‘least-likely suspect,’” said Geoffrey Lord, the detective-story writer, “that would make the son—Pythagoras—the killer. And I knew one could kill with a right angle…”
“Is that your final answer?”
“Not at all. I’m only prevaricating.”
“Your question is simple, Mr. Lord,” said Malkin’s voice. “The dying clue points to the killer—no tricks there. But what does it mean?”
Silence for a moment.
Mr. Lord said, “Ladies and gentlemen, you appeal to my abecedarian mind.”
“Oh?” said one voice—rather curiously.
“Indeed. You know exactly the traps into which I’d fall—someone has been reading my books, and I thank you for the implied compliment. But the murderer is indeed obvious.”
“What!”
“Well?”
“Mr. Lord, you don’t expect us to believe that you’ve so quickly guessed the solution to…”
He did expect them to believe it—as he explained the correct solution only seconds later.
The lights came on. Miss Alice Little, the well-known poetess, smiled welcomingly; Sidney Malkin patted Geoff on the back; Lee Shapiro, the famous but often-criticized attorney, coughed a trifle nervously; and Alan Tewksbury, the Columbia classics professor, raised an eyebrow—and they all welcomed the latest member of the Puzzlers into the finest dinner in New York.
CHALLENGE TO THE READER
Which of the six suspects killed the painter?
How did Geoffrey Lord know?
What was the meaning of the dying clue?
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Solution Time (Let’s Try This Again)

OK, folks, I’m revealing the solution to “Ruby Red.” (I would have revealed it before, as promised, but Inurhadi correctly found one of the three major clues.)

 

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birthstone_LP_v3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(You still with me?)

The dying clue indicated Fred Mayne, because his birthstone is the ruby (month: July), but the dying clue was faked. The murderer is Raymond Tallder.

Tallder’s motive? Inheritance from the will. But even more than that–Tallder threw suspicion on Fred Mayne by planting the ruby birthstone in Balchek’s hand. Why? As we know, Mayne and Tallder had previously argued; Tallder had said that Mayne was “still fuming,” but the same, from what he said, seems to apply to him.

Clues? Tallder was an expert gemologist, as stated, and therefore knew what stone to choose to indicate Mayne. Mayne, by the way, “tends to focus more on the rings and watches,” as Lt. McKee told us. Could Mrs. Balchek have known about the stone? No–she “had no interest in rare gems or any other part of her husband’s time-consuming profession…” Moreover, it is unlikely that Mrs. B, who had no interest in Mr. B’s profession, knew any of her husband’s employees’ birthmonths–which the murderer had to know because of the birthstone.

But what definitively establishes that the dying clue must have been faked–or, to be rigorously logical about it, is most likely to have been faked? Answer–the calendar. There was a calendar behind the counter on which Mr. Balchek, had he really been intended to be leaving a month-based dying clue, could have marked something–a day, a month–off.

More than that–who knew about that calendar? Balchek, obviously, as the jeweller–and also Fred Mayne. But Tallder? He “…now works mainly in his own office, not behind the counter…”

So the dying clue was faked by the only person who didn’t know that there was an easier way to fake it–who knew about gems and rare stones–who was likely to know his co-worker’s birthday–who benefited from the will–and who had a motive to frame Mayne: Raymond Tallder. QED.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Solution Time

If no one else cares to take a guess at it, I can reveal the solution later tonight. I will repeat that the answer was one of Inurhadi’s solutions but that prime information was missing.

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Another Game of Wits

“Ruby Red”

“Damn all dying clues!”

(This from a policeman, viz. Lt. Christopher McKee of the NYPD, whose job it is to investigate said clues, or any clues.)

“That’s one way to put it,” murmured Mr. Geoffrey Lord softly. “What’s wrong, Chris?”

“Who the hell would do something like that right before dying?—Don’t answer that,” McKee snapped. “I was just talking to Pop O’Leary. He said you were pretty good with these riddles—finding patterns and that sorta thing.”

“I try.”

“Well, here goes nothing: hope I’m not bothering you while you’re working on your latest novel…”

“Not bothering me at all, in fact.” Geoff smiled at a private joke. “Paula—Miss Vale, my secretary, y’know—is off to visit her mother, and I’m a vehement procrastinator. Heaven knows when that book will be finished.”

McKee rubbed his hands and began explaining the case.

The victim was Georj Balchek, the well-known jeweller and rare gem expert. He’d been stabbed in his shop but had apparently lived long enough to drag himself to one of the glass cases, smash the case open, and grab a ruby—before expiring, the ruby grasped with the firmness of rigor mortis.

“Suspects?” said the Great Man, filling his pipe.

There were three, according to the Lieutenant: the store’s manager, Raymond Tallder; the other employee, Fred Mayne; and Balchek’s wife Agnes. All three had the only other keys to the jewellery shop and had not given their keys to anyone (by their own testimony); and the burglary alarm had not gone off. Motives? The usual ones—to wit, greed, hate, and jealousy. Mrs. Balchek, who had no interest in rare gems or any other part of her husband’s time-consuming profession, had long wanted a divorce, as she freely admitted, which Balchek had denied her for fear of scandal. She also benefited from the will—as Tallder did, as well, his motive. Mayne had been passed over for promotion in favor of Tallder, and by all accounts (especially Tallder’s), he was still fuming.

“Hm,” said Geoff. “Is Mayne an expert in gemology as well?”

“Not exactly,” said the annoyed Lieutenant. “In fact, not at all—he doesn’t know much about them. Only Tallder and Balchek are—were—experts. Tallder now works mainly in his own office, not behind the counter,  but he is a gemologist. Mayne, on the other hand, tends to focus more on the rings and watches.”

“Right. By the way, Chris”—Geoff paused for a minute—“was there a calendar anywhere around?”

“A calendar? What? There was one behind the counter.”

“And you have the suspects’ birthdates?”

Now McKee was very confused—his normal reaction when he brought a case to Geoffrey Lord—and he expressed this confusion with assorted expletives, which amused Geoff greatly. Then McKee’s face cleared, and he murmured:

“Of course, Geoff. How did I ever miss…? And a jeweller, too! Tallder was born in December, and Mrs. Balchek was born in March, and Mayne was born in July.”

“Ah!”

“Well, then, Geoff, thanks, but I’ve got the murderer, then. All we need is proof.”

Geoff rose and puffed pensively on the pipe. “Ah–well!–Chris, there’s just one more point…”

Who is the murderer?

How did Geoffrey Lord know?

What is the meaning of the dying clue?

Posted in Game of Wits, My Stories | Tagged , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Forum

Howdy, folks–

 

I still mean to post more short detective fiction, but until then…

 

I just created a mystery-related forum here:

 

http://goldenageofdetection.freeforums.net

 

I based it off Dave Young’s JDC forum, a superb resource that is now no longer available, unfortunately. I’d like to continue what he started. Is anyone still in contact with Dave? I’d like to let him know about it.

 

Anyway, I hope you all enjoy it–and invite as many people as you’d like!

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A Game of Wits

Anyone else interested in testing his or her wits on the murder mystery below? Please comment there (with spoiler labels) if you think you have the solution–or if you have any questions, comments, concerns, complaints, rants, musings on the meaning of Life-with-a-capital-L, etc.

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“Thirteen at Dinner”

First of all–yes, I borrowed the title from the original American title of Christie’s Lord Edgware Dies. The plot, however, is far more Queenian, as you’ll tell if you read it…

I hope you’re all interested; this is one of those mini-mysteries I tend to write for party games and that sort of thing. Please leave questions, comments, possible solutions (marked off with a SPOILER label), etc., below.

Thanks!

 

“Thirteen at Dinner”

A Geoffrey Lord Mystery

Unfortunately for the renown of Mr. Geoffrey Lord, the amateur sleuth who solved the mystery with ease, the strange business of the Thirteen Club was rather quickly hushed up, involving as it did a fine lot of some of the most prestigious members of New York society, who were behaving as children playing at pirate—or, at least, playing until the first murder occurred. That good-natured, white-haired Irishman, Insp. James O’Leary, known the world over as “Pop,” brought the matter to Geoff’s attention, and Geoff—always ready to help a friend in need—savored the challenge despite the constant sighs of none other than his own private Watson, amanuensis, secretary, and all-around girl Friday, the pert and lovely Miss Paula Vale.

Sgt. Thaddeus Mack, the gentle giant with the absurd forename, was the first visitor at Geoff’s door on that wild-weathered day in April.

“It’s like this, Maestro,” he shot out in gravelly tones: “one of these fellas has gotta be guilty, but the Inspector and I ’ll be damned—sorry, Miss Vale—if we can guess who it is.”

Geoff, rising from the chair whence he was dictating his latest novel (The King of Diamonds Murder, you remember) to the ethereal Miss Vale, removed his spectacles and tapped his pipe on the table. “But, Sergeant,” he murmured, confused, “I’m still completely in the dark as to what happened, or even as to what this ‘Thirteen Club’ is.”

“It’s a wonderful title for your next book, though, Geoff,” Paula put in, “as good as the title to this book—you know, the one we’re supposed to be working on.”

“Hm, what? Oh, yes, of course, Paula. But…”

It was at that moment that Pop O’Leary entered the ever-bustling 87th St. apartment and shook off his drenched raincoat in the mudroom.

“‘Cruelest month,’ indeed,” he muttered. After some customary pleasantries, he sat on the Lordian sofa which had been—er—graced by kings and presidents, come to consult the Great Man about some case that had meant the security of nations.

“Miss Vale!” Geoff snapped, to which Paula only sighed, “Yes?” “Pen and pad ready?”

“Naturally, Mr. Lord,” she replied, having to keep herself from giggling.

“Well, Geoff, Miss Vale,” Pop started, warming his hands by the Lordian hearth, “the Thirteen Club—named to break the old superstition that it’s unlucky to have thirteen at dinner—is one of the most illustrious secret clubs in the City, made even more so by the fact that the entrance fee is…”

Pop mentioned a figure that caused everyone’s ears to perk up.

“The funny thing is, for this group of successful actors, businessmen, bankers, doctors, and lawyers, they’re not very bright as far as money is concerned.”

Geoff said, “I wouldn’t expect it of actors—having known a few in my time—but the rest of them?”

Pop nodded. “Not only that, but they’re so committed to their jobs that only a few of them married, and so each member of the Club decided, by and large, to will the majority of his fortune to the remaining members of the Club after he died…”

“A Tontine, eh, Pop?” Geoff put in. He stole a glimpse at Paula’s eyes, which were large and sparkling, and made the excellent, accurate, and amusing deduction she had forgotten all about the book they were supposed to type out before.

“Exactly. Bunch of fools, if y’ask me… Anyhoo, it seems that the Tontine will plan has backfired: the members of the Thirteen Club have ended up as unlucky after all. They seem to be killing each other for the money.”

“That’s terrible!” cried the innocent Miss Vale. “Geoff, we have to stop it before someone else is killed!”

Geoff put his arm around her. “What’s happened so far?”

“Four of the members have already kicked the bucket,” Sgt. Mack’s voice grated. “Milton Jackson, Jonathan Adams, and Fred Miller were each found at their apartments, shot through the head. Same gun according to the ballistics, Maestro.”

“But you said four, Sergeant. Who’s the fourth?”

O’Leary looked at Paula, then said, “George Johnson, the writer, was shot today in his living room; his wife and housekeeper were away, but, when Mrs. Johnson returned, she found her husband lying there and called an ambulance. He was rushed to the hospital and rallied for a while—Mack here was able to get there as he regained consciousness—but the docs weren’t able to save him in the long run. He died just about an hour before we got here.”

“The poor man,” Paula murmured softly.

Geoff said, “Any clues, Pop?”

“Besides the ballistics, just two—no fingerprints on the gun or around the apartment, worse luck. Mack, you tell Mr. Lord what you heard before Johnson died.”

“Well,” said the giant, “I only hears a few words, at the end, before he’s gone—y’know?”

“Yes?”

“Johnson laughed to himself, Maestro, and spit out, ‘He’s the only one not part of it.’”

Geoff rose and stared at the fire for a good minute. “‘He’s the only one not part of it’! Oh, Heaven, I’ve dealt with some difficult dying clues in my time, but this one beats all the others!” He broke off. “You said there were two clues.”

“That’s right, Geoff,” O’Leary responded, “but I can’t imagine what the other one has to do with anything. It was on Johnson’s desk—must have been working on it when he was shot—but it was just a list of names, the members of the club.”

“Do you have it?”

They did indeed, and Geoff saw exactly that—a list of names. Other than the three men Pop had mentioned earlier, and Johnson himself, there were Laurence Marsden and Hal Quincy, the actors; Ken Flaherty and Bruce Nalley, the politicians; Pete Jeffers and Walter Davis, the bankers; the two Theodores, Ted Alton and Theodore Smith (the one a lawyer and the other a retired ad executive); and, last but not least, Leo Oscar, the grocery-store entrepreneur.

It was a long while that Geoff considered those names and said nothing. He was obviously deep in thought, going through every possible permutation of the…

“Of course,” Geoffrey Lord muttered to himself. “How simple.”

“Oh, yes,” sighed Miss Vale. “How very simple.”

“Hm?”

“Well, I see the pattern too, Geoff. I’m just agreeing with you that it’s so simple.”

“We certainly ain’t seein’ it!”—this from a disgruntled Sgt. Mack.

“Ah!” said the Great Man. “Well, you go first, Paula.”

“Thank you, Geoff,” said the fair Paula. “The murderer is…”

CHALLENGE TO THE READER

Who is the murderer?How did Geoffrey Lord know?

What was the meaning of George Johnson’s dying words?

Enjoy, amateur sleuths!
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Links

It has been ages since I have posted here, for which I apologize, but, if anyone is interested, I wrote some comments that may interest fans of the genre at this site.

I may actually repeat the argument I made there on this site, just to see what everyone reading here may think of it, but…just preliminarily, if anyone’s wondering what I’ve been doing mystery-wise…

I intend on writing more posts here soon, particularly on the concept of the puzzle plot, as I did there. It’s an area that interests me greatly.

 

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“The Butler Did It!”

Here’s another story from the archives, this time solved by the nameless policeman narrator, with a cameo by a series sleuth of mine, Geoffrey Lord. I hope you enjoy it.

 

 

“The Butler Did It!”

 

It was just about last year at this time—September, right before summer officially ends—that I was sitting in my office, with scarcely a care in the world (so it always seems in retrospect), when Jack McDonald walked in and spat out, “Murder. Real bad, real confusing, real—”

“Well, that’s they pay us for, right, Jack?”

“But—! Perhaps I’m just not makin’ myself clear, sir.” McDonald’s a good guy, and a good cop, but he’s got an awful habit of never saying what he means.

“OK,” I said, “begin at the beginning. Call just came in?”

“Right.” It looked like he was about to break out in a cold sweat. “And you’re gonna either laugh like a hyena or blanch like a ghost.”
“Try me.”

“Murder. The first responders are there now. Now, it seems the guy left a clue to the killer. He said, ‘The butler did it!’”

I stared at him like he was nuts; and, when I saw he was serious, I thought I was going to start laughing hysterically. “The butler did it!” Gee, I didn’t think even the most traditional detective stories used that old cliché anymore.

“That’s not the funny part, sir.”

I looked at him straight in the eye. “OK?”

“We just got the call in, like I said. You know where they were calling from—where he was killed? The victim whose dying clue was ‘the butler did it,’” said Sgt. John McDonald, speaking calmly to his superior officer, “was a butler, killed at a butlers’ convention.”

We do not joke about a murder case, just as a matter of course. God! murder is a serious business, mister, a crime and a sin; a human life has been taken. And yet I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that we were cracking up the whole way to the butlers’ convention. Let’s get a few things straight: I’ve been working for the NYPD for about 30 years—enough time to be made a lieutenant, to have gotten a chance to see just about everything a guy can see in this job—and I’ve never heard of anything as screwy as this. A butlers’ convention? Heck, are there even any butlers still around nowadays?

Apparently there are, to answer my own question, enough to organize a convention once a year at the Waldorf Astoria. The Noble Union of Butlers, Valets, and General Factotums—I’m serious; they’ve unionized—hosts it, a party for the few butlers left in New York, and guess who “buttles” it? That’s right—the butlers’ butlers! Those strapping, up-and-coming lads who want to be butlers—yeah, like they’re in abundance—train for the job by buttling the butlers’ convention. As I say—screwiest thing I’ve ever heard. The Waldorf, when McDonald and I arrived, was stuffed to the brim with a bunch of the human-sized penguins, tailored butler-outfits, hair parted crisply in the middle like Jeeves-substitutes, just about every shape and size you can think of. There were tall butlers, short butlers, thin butlers, fat butlers, butlers who looked drunk, drunks who looked like butlers, butlers who looked like they weren’t actually butlers but wealthy college kids on a sociology experiment, even female butlers (never let it be said that butlers oppose your run-of-the-mill “gender equality”). I see police uniforms every day; I get sick and tired of seeing police uniforms; and let me tell you that after all the black-and-white I was more relieved at seeing a blue police uniform at that moment than seeing a million dollars fall out of the sky or the Lord Himself start speaking to Moses.

“OK, Schwartz,” I told the uniformed man, “what’s up?”

Schwartz saw me and broke out in laughter too. You’ve got to forgive us, but sending cops to butlers’ conventions tends to do that.

“OK,” I growled, “now that we’ve got that out of the way, what’s the story? And have you kept the newspapers away? Answer the more important question first—that’s the second one.”
“Newspapers OK so far,” Schwartz responded, exorcising himself of the giggles. “Our victim is one Giles A. Benson, according to the driver’s license in his pocket.”

“Been able to find family, next-of-kin, anything?”

“Still searching, sir.”

“OK, keep on it. CSI team here yet?”

“Just finished up in here.”

I was trying to keep my dignity, so I glanced at the corpse. His hair was parted on the left side, his red, fat face was all puffed-up like he hadn’t been breathing (well, he wasn’t now), his body was paunchy and well fed (there’s a nice euphemism for you). But that wasn’t the stupid thing. He was wearing a far-too-small butler’s outfit and looked absolutely hilarious in it.

Schwartz laughed again. “Pretty silly, ain’t it? How the heck does life throw this stuff at us?”

“Cause of death?”

“Strangulation, as you can see. Probably with a cord or something.”

I said, “Who found the body?”

“The president of the butlers’ union—hey, you can’t blame me for laughing if you’re doing it too, chief!—a guy named William Hemming.”

Hemming was tall and lean, with gray eyes and graying hair. He looked a bit like an overgrown scarecrow, though without the gawkiness.

“OK, let’s talk turkey,” I said, trying to sound like a movie cop—hey, sometimes it works with ’em! “Your name Hemming?”

“Yes, sir.”

A distinguished, patrician voice—not English, per se, but that kind of old-time American accent you hear in movies.

“Well, what happened, Mr. Hemming?”

“Hmm,” Hemming said. (I wouldn’t be surprised if he started every sentence with “hmm” and ending it with “sir.”) “It was most unfortunate, Inspector—quite unsuspected. Why anyone should wish to strangle poor Mr. Benson is beyond me.”

“Uh-huh.” Well, I knew this guy wouldn’t get me anywhere faster. Then something dawned on me. “Wait a sec, Hemming. I never said anything about Benson’s being strangled.”

You know, in detective stories, the criminal turns red in the face at a mistake like this and admits the whole crime. “Where were you when Joe was killed?” “In the bar when he was shot, Inspector.” “I never said he was shot!” By the way, it’s a horrible clue. If you ever write a detective story, don’t use it. Nor is it true to life, as I know now from experience. Either Hemming was not a criminal, or he just plain thought I was stupid. Or both.

He said, in words, “Inspector, I believe you know already that I discovered the body.” He said, in implications, “Give me credit for having a brain, mister.”

“Right,” I said winningly, trying (and failing) not to show that I was riled in any way. “So—tell us about this Benson. His likes, dislikes, etc.?”

“Hmm,” Hemming said again. I already realized I couldn’t stand Hemming. “Unfortunately, Inspector, there’s very little that I can tell you about Mr. Benson. Few, if any, of the members knew the gentlemen. He registered for our convention at the last moment; I believe he explained at what residence he was employed, information that may be difficult for me to find in our files, but unfortunately little more.”

“First of all, Hemming,” I snorted, “I’m not an ‘inspector,’ I’m a lieutenant. This ain’t Scotland Yard, just so you know. But what about finding the body? How’d that happen?”

“Ah.” Hey, at least it wasn’t “hmm.” “Well, Lieutenant, I had just come from one of the conference-rooms—where our main dinners are served, you understand. As this year’s president, it is my responsibility to oversee some of our less experienced butlers, valets, and general factotums—three in particular, who had not been doing as well in their studies.” (Studies!) “They meet on the other side of the hotel—so I passed through this smaller conference-room, where I found, lying there, the unfortunate Mr. Benson. I ran for assistance and found Mr. O’Connor, the hotel manager, and our vice-president, Phillips. They rushed in while I alerted the police, and that is when I believe Mr. Benson stated his final phrase.”

Seeing, once again, that I could get nothing out of Hemming, and feeling that I’d go crazy if I had to look at yet another butler, I turned to the hotel workers. I brought MacDonald with me to take notes and give me his thoughts. He’s pretty good at seeing an answer to things sometimes. The manager was a young guy, Thomas O’Connor, with glasses and asthma. (I knew the latter because he was nervous and kept using an inhaler.) He wore a gray suit and seemed like he wanted to feel important, high-and-mighty. It didn’t help that he looked like he’d just gotten out of high school.

“What do you know about this Giles Benson, Mr. O’Connor?”

“Yeah. Right, Lieutenant—right. I was on duty last night, but it was one of our check-in staff who checked Mr. Benson in, of course. You know, the Waldorf is proud to have one of the finest check-in services—”

“He checked in last night?”

“Right. I noticed him particularly because he hadn’t arrived with the majority of the other—er—convention participants.”

“Late?”

“Yeah. Uh—right, Lieutenant.”

“Take a note of that,” I murmured to McDonald. “Find out what he’d been doing before he got here. OK, go on, Mr. O’Connor.”

“This morning, after Mr. Hemming found the body, Mr. Philips and I entered—where we heard, almost immediately, ‘the butler did it!’ There’s not all that much more to tell, Lieutenant. None of the hotel staff had anything to do with Mr. Benson (I know nothing about him, to say the least)—besides the fact that housekeeping made his bed this morning. I can call the housekeeping department, of course.”

“And we’re gonna have to see his room. OK, thanks.”

Next on the list? Back to the butlers! Three of them, to be specific—the three of the butlers-in-training who hadn’t been doing as well with their “studies.” Their names? There was a Thompson, a Reilly, and a girl named Barbara Green. Their testimony was pretty much agreed on all particulars. They hadn’t anything to do with the deceased, to be quite honest. Yes, they’d seen him, all right. He was there, dressed in a gray suit, when the president was sworn in (oh, the drama) and given the ceremonial sash of office. Yes, Hemming had been going to see them on the morning of the murder, bringing a new outfit for Thompson. My pressing question for them had nothing to do with the murder, of course, and I didn’t ask it. It was simply “Why in the world would you—especially you, Miss Green—ever want to be butlers?”

Housekeeping, in the form of Mrs. Gonzalez, let me into room 803, but the room furnished few details for the investigation. In fact, it seemed as if Benson hadn’t brought anything with him, so spartan had he left his hotel room. MacDonald said he’d have the CSI team fingerprint the place, but I didn’t have much hope. I also checked out Hemming’s room, packed to the brim with butlers’ outfits; the vice president’s room, packed with books (voracious reader?); and the three trainees’ rooms, which were more akin to Benson’s in the light furnishing.

Speaking of the vice president, George Philips, the butler (butler again! The breed were going to give me nightmares) who had heard the dying words, was a middle-aged man who looked a little bit like Benson but was a great deal thinner. I had no niceties or pleasantries; my introduction was—

“So, what about these words, Philips?”

He grinned something of a cruel smile. “Words, Inspector—?”

“Lieutenant.”

That kind of took him off his high horse already. “Ah, lieutenant. Well, I entered the room after Hemming, our president [he sort of spit out the word—I sensed that he thought he should be president, or something like that], came running, saying that Benson had been killed. Now, I hadn’t the foggiest notion who Benson was at the time—he certainly did not mix much with the other butlers—but I checked in the room anyway. Even before I entered, he screamed, ‘The butler did it!’”

“‘The butler did it,’” I repeated. “Gee, how that really helps us. Wait! You were in the room when he said, weren’t you?”

“Yes, as I just explained. I—”

“Uh-huh.”

Thoughts were coming together. After all, Benson had to have had a specific butler in mind at a butlers’ convention…

“One more thing,” I murmured. “You wanted the president spot for yourself? Is that it? You…”

“Ah, I see you catch on quickly, Lieutenant. No, it’s not quite that, you understand. Let me see if I can explain this as a non-servant [amazing how that could sound like snobbery] would understand it: Hemming is a valet. I am a butler. The difference is large. The difference is…”

I didn’t care much about the difference. I finished the interview, sent McDonald back to the precinct with the CSI team, told Schwartz to try and find anyone who’d seen anything in the area, and headed swiftly over to Sardi’s. This last item wasn’t as incongruous as it sounds. For, under his own caricature, the man I had come to see was teaching the barman how to mix drinks. Typical.

“The problem is,” Geoffrey Lord was saying, the shaker in his hand and the bartender watching closely, “we’ve got to distinguish between real cocktails and just sugary drinks.”

“Right,” the bartender said.

“So I always recommend British vodka for vodka martinis, you understand. Funny how these things get phased out. I…”

“Hey, Geoff,” I told him, walking up to the bar.

He turned to me, confused for a minute, and then got a great big smile on his face. “And how’s the NYPD treatin’ you, Lieutenant?” He turned back to the bartender—“We’ll finish this up in a little while, OK, Joe?”—and then back to me. “A drink or anything? Joe’s one of the best in the country, and I should know after the massive cross-country trip…”

“Yeah, why’d you ever do that?”

“I thought I’d go crazy in Tinseltown, dealing with F.Z. Weinberg and his band of flying monkeys, so I needed the road trip even if just to clear my head. But what’s up?”

I told him about the case—everything I just explained. He laughed in all the right places, and I thought he’d start chortling so hard the restaurant would cave in. When I finally finished, he took a deep breath, grabbed a napkin from the table and a pen from his pocket, and wrote a few words down.

OK. Wow, boy-o, this is the nuttiest case I’ve ever heard of! Do you have any ideas?”

I told him my ideas. He nodded and showed me what he’d written.

“All right,” I said, “so we’re on the same page—literally here. I was just wondering if you had any ideas as to how we’d convict, and… Damn it!”

Geoff looked at me bemused. “What’s wrong?”

I said, “Your clue #3. I never saw it, but it’s been staring me in the face the whole time… That’s the way to convict!”

“I don’t know,” Geoff said, scratching his neck; “the whole thing could be wildly wrong…”

“…but if we’re both thinking the same thing I doubt it, Geoff. Do you think you could spare me a few hours tonight?”

His eyes dropped almost shamefacedly. “I feel terrible for saying no to a friend in need, but tonight I’m doing my lecture series on ‘detective stories in the modern world.’ I…”

“No worries,” I said, rising. “Thanks a million, Geoff. Tonight I’ll go and make the arrest of…”

 

 

 

 

Challenge to the Reader:

 

Now it’s your turn, dear reader. The identity of the murderer is obvious, if you look hard enough. Your questions: who committed the crime? How did our friend the Lieutenant know? And what did Giles Benson mean by saying “the butler did it”? Think you’ve got it? Let’s find out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the Waldorf-Astoria, that night, I ascended the stairs of the butlers’ convention main stage, the meeting having just been called to order, and announced that I knew the identity of the murderer. I received gasps from the assembled penguin-people and angry questioning from president and vice president of the illustrious union.

“It wasn’t actually all that difficult,” I said into the microphone, “but then it never is in retrospect. There were about five clues that made the identity of the murderer obvious and explained the dying message. I’m going to sound like a friend of mine, Mr. Geoffrey Lord, but, hey, the guy’s speech patterns sometimes rub off on me:

“1. The Clue of the Victim’s Appearance

“2. The Clue of the Victim’s Non-appearance

“3. The Clue of the President’s Sash

“4. The Clue of Proper Decorum

“5. The Clue of the Proper Title.

“Got it?”

“My dear inspector,” Hemming drawled, “I doubt that anyone could understand the elucidation of the crime after your vague hints.”

“But you would, Mr. Hemming,” I said, smiling at him, “because you’re the murderer.”

 

It shut him up all well and proper for a moment, for which I was immensely thankful. I always find it very relieving when someone I despise ends up being the villain.

“Let’s start from the beginning, though, because the identity of the murderer is not the real surprise in this business.

“1. The Clue of the Victim’s Appearance. One of the things I was struck by, when I began this crazy case, was the diversity of butlers. But there was one thing they all had in common—they were all dressed in their butler uniforms.[1] Well, why is that so interesting? Because the victim wasn’t wearing his.”

“But he was!” Hemming exploded.

“As much as I’d like this valet to be the murderer,” Philips murmured, “I do have to agree. He was wearing his uniform. He…”

“No, he wasn’t,” I put in quickly. “Think back to the corpse. His butler’s outfit was far too small for him.[2] That makes no sense, especially as every other butler here wore a tailored uniform. It was too small for him: not just a little too small, but far too small. Let’s think of what else we have here? We have a stout—no, fat—man, with hair parted on the left. Yes, there are fat butlers, but not many of them (because that’s generally a sign of wealth, to afford such food, not of domestic service)—and I doubt that any butler, especially one who’s a member of this—er—‘noble order,’ would have his hair parted on the left side.[3] I noticed at the beginning that every other butler had his hair parted in the middle,[4] à la Wodehouse’s Jeeves.

“2. The Clue of the Victim’s Non-appearance. Benson didn’t arrive with any of the other participants. O’Connor, the manager, told us that.[5] You yourself, Hemming, told us none of the other butlers really knew him.[6] In fact, Henning, you’re the only person who did know him. Philips didn’t,[7] and neither did Messrs. Thompson and Reilly and Miss Green.[8]

“There’s another meaning to ‘non-appearance,’ though. Stop thinking of what Benson did have. What didn’t he have in that spartan room of his? Any other butlers’ uniforms. But who did have a large number of butlers’ uniforms? None other than William Hemming.[9]

“I’m going to leave aside the clue of the presidential sash just for the time being. I think you’ll understand why in a moment.

“4. The Clue of the Proper Decorum. Hemming, we may suppose, is a perfect butler, with proper decorum. (Or—yes, Philips!—valet.) We’ve seen it. As a perfect butler, he calls his fellow butlers by their last names—Philips, Thompson, Reilly. He calls others by their title—‘lieutenant,’ ‘mister.’ Yet he is wildly demure—to Benson! The whole time I was interviewing him, it was always ‘Mr. Benson.’[10] Now, this isn’t a major point, but it’s excellent substantiation.

“5. The Clue of the Proper Title. Hemming is a valet, not a butler, as Philips has told us again and again. Yet, when Benson screamed ‘the butler did it!’ he could be referring to one person only—Hemming. Why? Both Philips and O’Connor say the scream came immediately[11]—as Philips put it, before he’d even entered the room.[12] Why would he have done this? Not to accuse them—they were coming into the room; he could have just said, ‘You did it!’ But, no, he said ‘the butler did it!’ Which butler? Obviously the one who had just been in the room. But Hemming’s not a butler—I know, Mr. Philips! In that case, Benson did not scream out the proper title. He referred to a valet as a butler. Ergo: he was not aware of Hemming’s proper title. Ergo: he was not a member of the butlers’ convention.

“When put together with the previous clues, we can come to only one conclusion.

“Q.E.D.: Giles Benson was not a butler.”

Pause while this settled in.

“It should really surprise no one. Who was the only person who said that Benson was a butler? Hemming, of course.[13] Benson obviously wasn’t a butler. Therefore: Hemming wasn’t telling the truth.

“But was Hemming the murderer? Probably, due to the clue of the proper title. But let’s make sure. Mr. Hemming, may I ask a favor? That sash you’re wearing—the presidential sash of the Butlers’ Union. May I see it?”

That’s what finished him, of course. He admitted the whole thing. Benson had been a moneylender; he had tracked Hemming down to the butlers’ convention, checked in to find him and get his money back. That was when Hemming had dreamt up the whole plan, and executed it beautifully. Geoffrey Lord wrote me a letter about it, actually, a little while later:

“…The cleverness of Hemming’s plot, of course, depended on the fact that one supposes that a fellow found in a butler’s uniform is a butler. I first started thinking in that direction because he was bringing clean clothing for Thompson on the morning of the murder.[14]I thought, Whatever happened to that clean clothing? If you look at it in the right way, it had to be what was used to redress Benson and therefore make him look like a butler. It did help that Benson had a ‘butler-sounding name,’ though that was sheer chance, amusingly enough. I knew that if he were the murderer the presidential sash was too good a weapon for him to pass up.[15] It was right there, after all—useful for strangulation. There were ways he could have got off, of course, but it seemed logical that he’d confess, and he did. An interesting and unusual case—and absolutely hilarious. You know, they’re going to have to change the old cliché. Now it will have to be ‘the valet did it!’”

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] p. 2.

[2] p. 3.

[3] p. 3.

[4] p. 2.

[5] p. 6.

[6] p. 5.

[7] p. 7.

[8] p. 6

[9] p. 7.

[10] pp. 4-5.

[11] p. 6.

[12] p. 7.

[13] p. 5.

[14] p. 6.

[15] p. 6.

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