“Jesper, what are you doing?”
“I am giving my notice, sir,” you reply.
“Giving your notice at a time like this? Lord Burgerbury has just been shot dead!”
“Yes, sir. I am aware. The light went out, a gunshot rang out in the middle of a room full of people, and when the lights came back on, Lord Burgerbury was lying dead on the carpet.”
“Yes, and it’s going to need a good scrubbing. What do you mean by giving notice?”
“Sir, the storm outside may have knocked out the phone lines and temporarily made travel into town quite inconvenient for us all. However, I am quite certain that eventually the police will be contacted. When they do, as I am your butler, the majority of the suspicions will naturally fall on me. The idea that “the butler did it” is quite popular, and if you’ll recall, is the reason why your last four butlers have left your employment.”
“Wait, you mean to say you are not the murderer?”
A butler never rolls their eyes. “Shocking, I know, sir. True, nevertheless.”
“Well, that is ruddy inconvenient, I must say. It looks like we have quite a mystery to solve.”
“You have to solve, sir. I am, as you mentioned, giving you my notice.”
“Don’t be tedious, Jesper. You can’t possibly go anywhere in this weather, so you might as well stay here and solve the crime. Tell you what, I’m a sporting man. Find out who the murderer is before the police arrive, and I’ll double your salary for the remainder of the year. What do you say?”
You take a glance out of the windows of Hassenpfeffer Manor. If it were just rain, maybe you could go, but it’s actually hailing, and all you have by way of transportation is a bicycle. Just this once, you allow yourself to sigh.
“Very good, sir.”
You turn back to the room. Really, you have no idea how one goes about solving a murder, but it appears you’d better learn quickly.
Chosen: You should figure out where the bullet came from.
Lord Burgerbury was shot in the center of the room. Without knowing where the bullet came from, How could you possibly know who the guilty party might be? You make your way to the corpse.
“I say, Jesper, jolly good of you to off the old brute.” Major Frumpenstache pats you on the back. “Hate to speak ill of the dead, you know. Still, no sense denying he was something of a horse’s backside.”
You stare down at the body, not looking at the Major. “No doubt, sir. Though I cannot accept your gratitude, I fear. I am not the one responsible for Lord Burgerbury’s demise.”
“Blimey! You don’t say. Something of a twist, there, what?”
“Quite, sir.” You turn your eyes back to the Major. “My father was a groom to a military man. He taught me how to remove gunpowder stains from a man’s sleeve. I do not see any powder burns on Lord Burgerbury’s chest. Do you?”
“Well spotted, man. Remind me to bring you on my next hunting trip.”
“So one might assume he was not fired upon at close range. Further, based on how he’s fallen, I would imagine the shot came from that side of the room.”
“Oh, no doubt there. He fell down just like those ruddy Wuppruckers we fought back in aught three.”
You’re not about to comment on that. You’re one quarter Wupprucker on your father’s side. Instead you look at the side of the room where the shot was fired from. Two old ladies sit in high backed chairs in front of a bookcase.
“I say, Jesper, You don’t mean to suspect Lady Hoopenhoof or the Duchess of Lonzenheim? They might have been the only two people in the world I would have believed didn’t want the old gasser dead. They’d have killed his wife right enough, but they loved the man himself.”
“And where was Lady Burgerbury standing, sir?”
“Why right next to him of course.”
It takes him a moment. You are not surprised.
“By Thunder! You think they might have tried to kill the young lady and missed?”
“It is possible, sir.”
“Hmm. Well that would be a bad show.” He cocks his head to the side. “Of course, and I don’t know if you know this, Jesper, there is a secret passage behind that bookcase. Whoever did the deed might have hidden in there.”
“Thank you, sir. I was aware of the passage. Everyone knows of that passage.”
But apparently not everyone knew that everyone else knew. That might be useful information. Well, you’ve got a few more leads to follow, but you can’t follow them all at once, so . . .
Chosen: Into the not-so-secret passage to look for clues.
You cross the room to where the bookcase rests. All eyes are on you as you pull out the fourth volume of Lindywop’s Guide to Recessive Genes in the Common Larch. It wouldn’t take much of a detective to spot the fact this is a fake volume. Lindywop’s research was mostly confined to Birch trees, after all.
In any case, pulling out the book releases a hidden switch, allowing you to swing the bookcase backward revealing the “secret” passageway. There are some less-than-believable gasps as some of the guest present attempt to maintain the fiction that they knew nothing about this passageway.
You take the candlestick from the nearby table and try to ignore the guests who press against you for a better look. As long as none of them try to go into the tunnel and ruin any chance of you finding clues you . . .
You wish you could say you were surprised to find another body. You’re not. This one belongs to one of the groundskeepers. Harold or Horace, they’re identical twins and you’ve never been able to keep them straight. He is slumped against the wall with a glassy-eyed look of surprise on his face.
Lord Hassenpfeffer is suddenly at your elbow. “Well, good show, Jesper. I know I told you to solve the case and all, but I never expected such efficiency.”
“Well look at him!” Lord Hassenpfeffer takes little note of the fact that you’re doing just that. “Here he is, lying where the gunshot came from, holding the murder weapon, and well, Jesper, even you can read that note he wrote on a handkerchief and pinned to his chest.”
“‘I did it, and I’m sorry.’ Yes, sir.”
“Well that settles that, doesn’t it?”
Except it most assuredly does not. Your employer has failed to notice that the revolver in Horace’s (or Harold’s) hand is fully loaded. There is no bullet missing, meaning it was reloaded after he was shot. Difficult to do when he apparently shot himself. Furthermore, the body is cold. It’s been here for hours, whereas Lord Burgerbury has been dead for all of twenty minutes. Further-furthermore, the note was obviously written by a left-handed writer, and Harold (or Horace) was not.
There’s so much wrong with Lord Hassenpfeffer’s conclusion, you’re not sure where to start. And so you tell him:
“Sir, I thank you so much for exonerating me.” You point at the floor ahead of you. “However, just in the interest of tying up loose ends, I wonder if I might have your permission to follow those muddy footprints.”
“Whatever for, Jesper?”
You remind yourself that a butler should not rub the bridge of his nose, no matter how suddenly the headache has come on. “Idle curiosity, sir.”
Lord Hassenpfeffer shakes his head like he’s looking at a child playing with a pile of mud. “Suit yourself, old bean.”
You could do without the audience as three or four of the guests follow you. There are two sets of prints, one leading to the body from somewhere else, and one leading away. As you’re more interested in learning where the killer went, you follow the latter set. It leads you, disappointingly, to a set of abandoned muddy boots. Evidently, whomever it was changed into another pair of shoes.
Doctor Reegemeege squints his near-sighted eyes at the boots. “What does this mean?”
“It means I am looking for a left handed person with very small feet, sir.” You gesture to the boots. “Whomever wore these boots last didn’t need to unlace them to remove them.”
“And where will you find that person?”
“An excellent question.”
You turn on your heel and head to the kitchen. Making the tea takes more time than you’d prefer to be spending just now, but it’s a necessary step. You couldn’t possibly approach the Mistress without tea.
“Where are you off to, Jesper?” says the cook.
“I need to speak to Lady Hassenpfeffer. She is in the solarium, I believe.”
“During a thunderstorm?”
“I have long since ceased to ask.”
Unlike the Master, Lady Hassenpfeffer smiles when she sees you. “Jesper, have you brought me tea? Oh, I’m so happy. You know you’re the only butler I’ve had for years who could make a proper cup of tea.”
Your secret, of course, is that you are the first butler she’s had who used actual tea instead of ground up old lawn clippings.
“I don’t know if you are aware of the unpleasantness in the main sitting room, madam, but I’m afraid I’ve been conscripted to try to find a murderer.”
“Oh, how very exciting. I always said if anyone shot me in the head, I’d want you to be the one to solve it for me.”
You are quite certain she’s never said anything even remotely like that. “Yes madam. I have reason to believe the killer is left-handed. I don’t suppose any of the invited guests might suffer from that condition?”
She laughs her musical little trill. “Oh, Jesper, don’t you know? It’s very fashionable to be left-handed this season. Positively everyone is left-handed these days. I was just telling the governess she should teach the girls to write with their left hands before they’re too old to really master it. And I’ve had to speak to Alice the maid about it several times.”
“About teaching your girls?”
“No, you silly goose, about being left-handed. Apparently she claims she was born that way, but I’ve told her it is no excuse for using a hand which is above her station.”
“I see. Well, perhaps it would help to know if any of our guests have particularly small feet?”
“Well, I’m sure I don’t know for certain, but Colonel Bruiserbean did once say he might as well be a satyr for the size of his feet. And Lady Hoopenhoof claims that her family is descended from the actual Cinderella. They tend to pride themselves on rather dainty feet. Does that help, Jesper?”
She sets down her tea cup long enough to clap excitedly. “Oh, goody! Now just a moment while I finish my tea, and we can go interrogate someone.”
“You are coming with me, madam?”
“Of course, I am, Jesper. As soon as I finish my tea. By the way, who exactly are we going to go talk to?”
Chosen: The governess. She can teach left-handedness, and you know she wears very tiny shoes.
“If madam has no objections, I’d like to speak to the governess.”
“Katherine!” exclaims Lady Hassenpfeffer.
“With respect, her name is Hildegard, ma’am.”
“Oh silly me. I must have been thinking of the last governess.”
The last governess was named Gertrude. “Quite, ma’am. If you are prepared?”
You make your way to Hildegard’s quarters, stopping to catch your breath after the sixth set of stairs. Lord and Lady Hassenpfeffer certainly do prefer their children and servants well removed from the rest of the house. You knock to be polite, but you’re not surprised when Lady Hassenpfeffer’s bursts in a half-second later.
You check your watch to be sure. Four corpses in under an hour. Probably not a record, but certainly your personal best.
They swing from nooses like two macabre pendulums, one man, one woman. You approach Hildegard first and take the envelope from her pocket. You read it aloud for Lady Hassenpfeffer’s benefit.
“Having been forced to view the body of my beloved Harold by the wicked fiend who ended his life, I cannot go on living. Please bury me next to him, Hildegard.” You turn to Lady Hassenpfeffer’s . “And what of the other note?”
“I am most distressed to find that, not only did someone attempt to kill me, but my beloved Hildegard was evidently not able to tell my corpse from my brother Horace’s. I have decided to join her in the afterlife. Please bury me next to Hildegard, not Horace. I’m the one without the bullet hole, Harold.” She shakes her head. “Utterly tragic. I wonder if they’ll start haunting the place.”
She is, in your opinion, far too excited about that prospect.
“Do you think the notes are forged like it was for Horace, or Harold, or, well, the one with the bullet hole?”
“I could not say for certain, but I think not. I seem to recognize Hildegard’s writing at least from when she applied for the position.” You consider that. “Not her current position, of course.”
“So someone killed poor Horace, or whichever one, and then showed his handiwork to poor Katherine.”
“Hildegard, But yes, so it would seem.”
“But what does that have to do with killing Lord Burgerbury?”
“I have no idea, madam, but I have some thoughts on where I might continue to search.”
Chosen: Try to find out who “Katherine” is and why she’s on Lady Hassenpfeffer’s mind.
“Before we depart, ma’am, I wonder if you would indulge my curiosity?”
“Oh, you naughty fellow, Jesper. I am a married woman.”
A butler never throws up in his own mouth. “A tragedy to myself and all men, I assure you. However, I was wondering if you could tell me about Katherine?”
She glances upward to the woman swinging there,
“No, no. Hildegard, remember?”
“Ah, yes. Sorry. So who is Katherine?”
A butler never twitches. “That was rather my question. Do you perhaps know another woman named Katherine?”
“Oh, simply dozens. My first Latin teacher, three duchesses I can think of, my late sister, and the flower girl on Polipont Road.”
“Oh you’ve seen her, she’s the one with the lazy eye.”
“Not the flower girl, ma’am. You had a sister?”
“Yes. She was my older sister. Heir to the whole family’s fortune.” She scrunches up her face. “She’s been on my mind for a little while now. I keep waking up at night thinking I’ve heard her singing.”
“Well, we can be grateful that isn’t ominous in any way.”
She tilts her head at you. “What does it mean?”
Gregor cocks his head at you. “Sir, are you all right? If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were frustrated.”
“A butler is never frustrated.”
The under-butler nods at you. “Of course not. Thus the concern, sir.”
You purse your lips. You are allowed that much display of emotion. “I have just spent nearly three-quarters of an hour in the Master bedroom with Lady Hassenpfeffer. If you smirk, I’ll have you polishing fish forks for the rest of your life.”
“What were you doing?”
“Searching for a secret passageway where someone might have been keeping her up at night pretending to be her dead sister.”
“Did you find it?”
“No. In fact what I found was a collection of legal and medical papers that showed Lady Hassenpfeffer never had a dead sister, but did experience a malady where she believed herself to be her own sister complete with a alternate personality to match it.”
“Actually, no. She had something of an episode, and I wound up meeting the sister. Considerably more sensible than Lady Hassenpfeffer herself.”
He nods. “She almost couldn’t help but be so. I am sorry for the waste of your time, sir.”
“Well, I am solving a murder. There was bound to be at least one red herring.”
“I believe Cook prepared halibut this evening.”
“Fish forks, Gregor.”
“Quite, sir. So what do you propose to do next?”
“I’m looking for a left-handed person with small feet who had a reason to kill Lord Burgerbury and blame Horace the groundskeeper, or possibly his brother Harold.”
“And how will you go about that, sir?”
The snifter is pleasantly full as you approach Lady Burgerbury.
“Jesper, you were gone a while. Have you found out who killed my husband?”
“Regrettably, no, madam.”
“Well, when you do, you let me know. I may have to kill them. Or kiss them. I haven’t quite decided.”
“Of course. I thought perhaps I might bring you this brandy to help fortify your nerves.”
“You’re the fourth servant to bring me brandy, Jesper. Are you trying to get me drunk?”
“That depends. Would madam say she is a talkative drunk?”
“I rarely shut up.”
“Then I am trying to get you positively plastered.”
She grins at you. A butler would never judge his betters, but the swig of brandy she takes could hardly be called Ladylike. “I can tell you two things: One, I did not kill my husband. Two, he was a horse’s . . .”
“I was rather hoping for new information, madam.”
“Ah, point.” She knocks back another hefty swig. “Let’s see, did you know he was unfaithful to me? Oh, yes, he thought I didn’t know but I’m quite sure he was seeing Duchess Millimollie. Of course, she flirts with every man with a bank account and a pulse, but it was more than that, I think.”
You shoot a glance at the Duchess, resplendent in more ostrich feathers than most ostriches.
Lady Burgerbury continues. “And the way he treated the staff. He locked the chauffeur in the closet for an entire day after he took a wrong turn the day before.”
“This would be the chauffeur with the peg leg?”
“Stumpy, yes. It’s ironic that was his name even before he lost his leg. But that’s nothing compared to the maid. He found out she was having a rendezvous with one of the neighbors and fired her.”
She considers the question and you can watch the brandy taking hold of her. “I think he might have seen his killer before the room went dark. He said something like ‘Darling, you know I’m no good with faces, but is that . . . Oh no.’” She blinks at you, evidently having difficulty focusing. “Was there anything else?”
“I can’t think of a think of a thing.”
“Excellent. Would you be a dear and fetch me something to retch in, then?”
As you signal to Alice the maid to go and fetch the retching bucket (the good one, there’s company here after all) you decide on your next course of action.
Lord Whimmblewidget has taken up a position in the corner of the room. He’s not exactly hiding, but he’s certainly not in his comfort zone here among the rest of .
“You’re the butler, are you not?”
“Indeed, my lord. Jesper, if you prefer.”
“I’m not sure what my preferences might have to do with your name, but all right.”
A butler may develop heartburn, but he may never let it be visible on his face. “Quite, sir. I fear I have a somewhat delicate question I must ask about your former staff. Apparently, there was a former member of the Burgerbury household, a maid, who was involved with someone from your household. ‘Involved’, here is a euphemism, you understand, The young woman was stripped of her position and transferred because of it. It may not be related to Lord Burgerbury’s death but I wonder . . .” You raise an eyebrow. “I say, my lord, are you quite all right?”
He most assuredly is not. He’s gone bone white. “Stripped of her position? Transferred away, you say?” His voice is barely a whisper as though the air will not escape his throat. “Suddenly?”
“I don’t know the details, my lord, but one may assume so. Lord Burgerbury was many things, but he had no reputation for procrastination.”
“Then she . . .” He swallows. “She likely would not have had a chance to return to my estate and let the poor fellow know what had become of her. Why she might have disappeared so suddenly without a chance to answer . . . to answer any important questions.”
“She could have sent letters.”
He laughs. It isn’t a jovial laugh, more like a hyena suffering from a spasm. “Yes, if the fool wasn’t so hurt that she’d abandoned him that he refused to read them.”
You stare pointedly at him, not believing the scenario that’s taken shape in your mind. “Sir, you are an only child, are you not, and your parents and family well and truly gone? The sort of man, one might say, who would have no consequences to fear from marrying below his station. Am I more or less correct about all that?”
Another hyena spasm. “It seems you’ve found me out, Jesper.”
“What became of the girl?”
“No idea. Thought she’d abandoned me after I proposed.”
“She was left-handed? Had terribly small feet?”
“Exactly. Hated my old governess Hildegard, too. Once she tried to kick her hard in the shins, but her feet were so tiny she missed entirely.”
“Have you seen her? The young woman, I mean, not Hildegard.”
“Seen her? Everywhere I turned for a little while there.”
“But tonight, sir?”
“No, not at all. Thought I smelled gardenias earlier — her perfume, you know — but I’ve been keeping my head down. Don’t have a lot in common with all these stuffed shirts.”
He’s close to tears, and the last thing you need is to get caught up in his emotional wreckage. There is a killer walking about, you know.
“I’ll have our maid, Alice bring you some Port or Sherry to help you calm . . .”
He nearly falls over. His skin changes from white to translucent. “You have a maid called Alice?”
Chosen: You did just leave Alice to take care of the wife of the man she murdered a little bit ago. You maybe ought to see to that.
There is a certain spring in your step as you head back to Lady Burgerbury. One might call it abject panic, but certainly a butler never . . .
No, it’s panic.
“Jesper!” Her voice is slurred. “You’ve got some wonderful people on your staff. Look at this face!”
You really have no interest in locking eyes with Alice, but Lady Burgerbury is quite clear about her gestures. Alice’s eyes are dull and emotionless. It’s terrifying.
“Not only did this sweet little thing bring me the nicest retching bucket I’ve ever seen, but she brought me a bottle of something to settle my stomach.” She waggles the small vial in front of you. “Dandelion extract and some peppermint oil.”
“Has madam partaken?” Your mouth is dry, but you manage to get that much out.
“Just about to.”
“Perhaps it would be better not to. You do have that dandelion allergy.”
“I have no such thing!”
“No, but I do, and it is contagious, you know.” You snatch the bottle out of her hand. “No sense in taking any chances.”
You about to put yourself between Lady Burgerbury and Alice to try to lead the former away. You stop when the gun makes its appearance.
“So, you figured it out, Jesper.”
Yes you have. But now what?
“Now, Alice. No need to do anything rash.”
“Need is a strong word, Jesper. I very much want to do this.”
“You are surrounded by quite a number of people. You’ll never get away.”
“No, but this way I can shoot her and you. first I’ve never liked you, Jesper.”
“Well, there’s no need to be rude about it.”
So saying, you toss the vial of poison into the air. While her eyes are watching it, you knock the gun out of her hand with a lightning quick chop taught to you when you became a Third Level Butler. Butle-Fu is a secret known only to the Ancient Order of the Serving Tray.
She shouts in pain, and you follow up with a kick to her instep, then reach out for a nerve pinch sure to knock her unconscious. She catches your hand and twists harshly, locking your elbow in a painful distention.
“Your technique is good, but I am an Eighth Level master of Maid-Jitsu.”
She delivers a kick to your chest, which sends you across the room to the screams of the guests. You collide with the wall and allow yourself an un-butlery grunt, just this once. Alice scrambles to pick up her pistol again.”
“Everything all right, sir?” Gregor, the under-butler has kept his composure. Good show on his part.
“Serving tray, if you please.”
“Of course, sir.” He hands it to you just a second before Alice fires the first shot.
Everyone expected the “Bang”, but they seem confused by the multiple “tings” and “karooms” which follow it. Too late, Alice realizes what’s happening. She falls to the ground, dropping the gun and clutching at her wounded leg.
“I saw you ricochet it off the tray, the statuette, the ashtray and the copper coffee pot, but what was the last bounce, sir?”
“Dr. Harrowholster’s pinky ring.”
“I daresay that’s not normally an advisable option, is it sir? They don’t teach that at the academy.”
“Any port in a storm, Gregor. Excuse me.” You hop to your feet and smoothly bring the serving tray down on Alice’s head with a satisfying “thud.”
“I daresay, Jesper. Good show and all that!” Lord Hassenpfeffer seems genuinely pleased for the first time since . . . well you don’t have a calendar going back that far. “What did we say, old fellow double your salary? Let’s make that triple. You’ve certainly earned it.”
“I think I can do better than that, Lord Hassenpfeffer.” Lady Bugerbury smiles her lovely smile at you. “You see, he just saved my life, and since I am a widow now, a very wealthy widow, I feel I might be able to help Jesper to a rather better circumstance.”
“A charming offer, ma’am. And if you would care to repeat it when you are once again sober, I would be very interested indeed. For now though, please excuse me.”
“Where are you going?”
“I need to get Gregor a new serving tray.”