This is a short story I entered in the contest: nycmidnight.com/ I was given the genre of Mystery with the subject of a bank account, and the character of a butler. The photograph was taken from http://www.briarpress.org/7388.
Nigel Brown is given little to go on for his first case as newly promoted inspector, as the complainant, Miss Abigail Rochelle, drops dead before she can even relate her story. He only knows a butler has somehow duped her out of ten thousand pounds.
“It was that butler fellow that did it.” Those were the last words of Abigail Rochelle, who lived at No. 1, Rochelle Lane, aptly named since Miss Abigail Rochelle was the only resident on Rochelle Lane.
Miss Rochelle was a spinster, a short, plump woman. She plopped a pan of brownies down on the inspector’s newly polished desk. Miss Rochelle loved to bake. The problem was that being alone she ate most of what she baked. It was Nigel Brown’s first case, having only been promoted the day before to inspector. Glowing with anticipation, he sat at his sparse desk, a blank report before him. He had just taken down the name and address from the agitated Miss Rochelle when his new ballpoint pen gave up the ghost. He excused himself to get a fresh one. Upon returning he found Miss Abigail Rochelle slumped over in the seat, half a brownie still in her mouth. Inspector Nigel Brown’s first day as inspector was not going well at all.
The one bright spot was that his first case was close to the morgue. Poisoning was ruled out as Inspector Brown had eaten a brownie himself and suffered no adverse effects. That was one blessing, although the inspector was not a religious man. Logic drove him, as did a rugged ambition towards not letting a case rest until it was solved. That is what got him the promotion and premature gray hair.
The autopsy ruled that Miss Abigail Rochelle hardly had any passable arteries left. That was not surprising after those many years of living alone and having no one else but herself to eat her own confections.
Before her untimely death, Miss Rochelle, aged 51, had been duped out of her life savings of ten thousand pounds. Being a man with a reputation for thoroughness, Inspector Nigel Brown could not have a blemish on his record with the first case under his charge. He owed it to the dear departed Miss Rochelle. How dear she might be was yet to be determined. But, before this was over, Inspector Brown was committed to making that and every aspect of Miss Abigail Rochelle’s life his business; whatever it took to bring justice.
Inspector Brown’s first order of business was the questioning of Albert Rochelle, brother to Miss Abigail Rochelle. He and his family lived in London. Mr. Rochelle had been out of town on business for the entire week in question. His wife was much grieved that she hadn’t visited or phoned for two weeks to check on her sister-in-law. Her youngest was leaving for college. With her husband away, Mrs. Rochelle had been entirely absorbed in that process, and she was suffering a bit of melancholy over becoming an empty nester. The inspector could relate having two boys of his own, although they wouldn’t be leaving for college for a while.
Neither Mr. nor Mrs. Rochelle knew anything about a butler. They both concurred that this must have been some new development and not like Abigail at all. Upon inspection of the premises, they were both shocked to find how neat it was. Everything was dusted and in its place. This was also not like Abigail. They eyed each other in shock. Perhaps she had indeed hired a butler. The only disturbance was two wine glasses and an empty bottle. The Rochelle’s told the inspector this was also contrary to Abigail’s usual behavior. They had never known her to drink.
A trip to the bank proved Miss Rochelle’s bank account to be devoid of funds. She had closed her account only one day before her untimely demise. The teller seemed to remember she was withdrawing the total sum for renovation or something like that. The teller was a tad vague on the exact reason why Miss Rochelle was closing her account.
The cashier stated to Inspector Brown, “I do remember Miss Rochelle. She was short and round, her head just peeking above the counter. She offered me a cupcake. I passed; making the excuse I was watching my weight. I didn’t want to hurt her feelings. It wouldn’t be professional to be eating at my teller window. Sticky pound notes are not something my boss would appreciate. Anyway, everything was in order. I counted out the notes and said good luck with your house repair. Or was it home repair? Maybe it was something else. I’m sorry. I can’t be sure.”
The inspector’s next course of action was to question neighbors and acquaintances. This was not an easy task as there were few of both. Miss Rochelle’s house was at the end of a cul-de-sac, hidden from view by a row of evergreens. It was also a good half-mile away from any other houses. The neighbors rarely saw her out.
The inspector, being the man of logic he was deduced that with all that baking, Miss Rochelle must have been in need of deliveries, eggs, milk, butter, and such. Would not the butler be taking care of this for her? Someone must have seen him. He now had fingerprints; although they had not matched up to anyone they had on file. A description might be all that was needed to find this alleged butler.
One by one, he spoke to each delivery person. Miss Rochelle was a good customer, they all agreed. They were sorry to lose her business. She handpicked everything. She was meticulous about her baking. Only the finest ingredients would do. None of them had seen a butler or a man for that matter. There had been a few smirks on the matter of a man.
The mailman told a different story. “She loved romance novels. She ordered them in bulk. I knew what they were by the name of the publisher on the brown paper wrapping.” The mailman, wanting to be as helpful as possible, added, “She liked to enter a lot of contests.”
The inspector confirmed that Miss Rochelle had an entire walled bookshelf filled with mostly romantic novels. She was lonely. She had some money. She was off the beaten track with her only relatives in a different town. She was the prime target for a con artist, a romantic con artist who liked to clean. But how did he happen upon Miss Rochelle? Was he a traveling salesman? Inspector Brown ruled that out since none of the neighbors had reported one. So, how did he know Miss Rochelle? She had belonged to no clubs. She more or less kept to herself, baking and reading. There had been no other reports of middle-aged women being taken in by a con man.
Miss Rochelle received a weekly newspaper. Paperboys are out early. If anyone might have seen the elusive butler, it would have been the paperboy. The lad, appearing frightened at first, swore that he saw nothing strange at No. 1 Rochelle Lane.
Thus far, Inspector Brown concluded, the man in question had been there less than a week and had kept himself secluded from other people. If he were a butler, the next course of action would be to visit estates and find out if there were any word about new butlers being hired or fired.
Another week passed. Inspector Brown was becoming more perplexed. His once immaculate desk became flooded with new cases, cases he put aside in favor of stamping case no. 1101 that of Miss Rochelle’s missing butler, closed. He couldn’t rest. His boss was becoming disagreeable.
More importantly, his wife was displaying a foul mood. There was a holiday coming up. Mrs. Brown insisted that he take she and the children on a train ride into London, as he had neglected them so. For the sake of his marriage he conceded.
Mrs. Brown chatted on about all the shops she would visit. The inspector played a game of cards with his boys. The oldest was winning. The inspector’s concentration was off, as he was replaying all the information he had on case no. 1101. He rubbed his thinning gray hair in disgust. The youngest, age ten, tugged at his coat sleeve. “Papa, can we go to the new bakery in London?”
Still distracted, “Yes, yes, I suppose we can. What is the name of this new bakery?”
“Abigail’s, I think,” said his son.
“Alright, if it is okay with your mother.” Just then, something clicked. The inspector lit up with a smile. He registered the two words, Abigail, and bakery.
“Tell me Jonathan, how do you know about this bakery in London?”
Jonathan, “My friend at school told me.”
“Who is your friend?”
“My friend is Daniel. He was delivering newspapers. A man on his route told him about a fabulous bakery that would opening and that he should visit when he was in London.”
Inspector Brown shook his son with a wild look in his eye. “What else can you tell me?”
His wife shrieked, “Nigel!”
He calmed, “I’m sorry, son. This is important.”
His son implored, “He won’t get in trouble will he?”
“Son, who do you mean?”
“Daniel’s older brother.”
“Why would Daniel’s older brother get in trouble?”
“Because he asked Daniel to take his paper route. He had got sick from drinking and smoking with some other boys the day before.”
The inspector then knew why the paperboy was so nervous when he came to question him.
“No, son, he won’t get into trouble.”
With that, Jonathan smiled and looked relieved, “I know the street it is on.”
Inspector Brown, “We will go there first thing.”
His wife gave him a most disturbed look, as she knew their holiday had taken a detour. He countered, “Cupcakes for everyone!” The boys smiled.
They arrived to see a new establishment, not yet open for business. The children were disappointed, but not Inspector Brown. A sign hung above the window, Abigail’s Confections. Inspector Brown banged on the door. A middle-aged gentleman in work clothes, paintbrush in one hand cracked the door. “We are not yet open for business.”
The inspector whipped out his badge. His wife rolled her eyes, jealous of this man who had usurped their family outing. The inspector’s sons fidgeted behind him. The man gave a puzzled look and let them all in. He put down his brush and wiped off his hands with a wet rag. He extended his clean hand toward Inspector Brown, “I’m Charles Butler. How may I help you?”
Inspector Brown gasped. He wondered how he could have been so negligent in missing the man’s last name might have been Butler. All the while he had been looking for a manservant or someone pretending to be a manservant. Mr. Butler acted surprised at the inspector’s visit, but not in the least guilty of anything.
The inspector asked, “Mr. Butler, are you acquainted with a Miss Abigail Rochelle?” He used the present tense when presenting the question to Mr. Butler.
Mr. Butler, “Why, yes, I am. Do you know her? I hope you will not spoil my surprise to her.”
Mr. Butler’s face was glowing. Inspector Brown was well accustomed to men who perpetrate crimes. Mr. Butler was clearly not this type of man.
The inspector continued, “Mr. Butler, I’m afraid I’m the bearer of bad news.”
Mr. Butler, “Is Abigail all right? I left in such haste. It was so early. The paperboy was just making his delivery. Abigail was quite groggy, still asleep when I told her of my plan, our plan, I should say. We had done some celebrating the night before.”
Inspector Brown, “Your plan?”
“Yes, this shop. I was going to call her tonight. I have made such progress, as you can see. Have you ever tasted her baked goods, Inspector? They are incredible.”
“Yes, I have, actually and, they are scrumptious.”
Mr. Butler, “But I’m sorry I’ve rambled on. I’m just so excited. I bought the ring today.”
The inspector’s eyebrows arched. “The ring?”
“Well, yes, I want to ask for Abigail’s hand in marriage.”
“Mr. Butler,” The inspector hesitated. “I’m afraid I have some bad news for you. There was a mishap. I’m afraid Miss Rochelle has died.”
Mr. Butler’s smile turned downward. He looked like a man who had been run over by a double-decker bus.
At this point, Mrs. Brown stepped in. “Please have a seat Mr. Butler. Let me get you a glass of water.” She walked over to the counter.
Mrs. Brown handed him the glass. Inspector Brown in a most apologetic voice, “How did you and Miss Rochelle meet?”
Mr. Butler sipped on the water and sat it aside. “She entered a contest. You see I work for a publisher here in London. She didn’t win, but I was so enthralled by the way she put forth words on paper. I have the manuscript here. Would you like to see it?”
Inspector Brown, “No, not now.”
“Well, anyway, I just had to meet her. So, I took it upon myself to go see her.” Mr. Butler took the ring from his pocket eyeing it over. “You see, Inspector, I fell in love. Do you believe in love at first sight?”
Inspector Brown looked at Mrs. Brown, “Yes, Mr. Butler, indeed I do.”
“How did she die?”
The inspector explained the whole situation to Mr. Butler, leaving out the part where Miss Rochelle had thought he might have robbed her blind, for he knew now it was a total misunderstanding.
“Mr. Butler, did you know that Miss Rochelle has a brother in London?”
“Yes, she has mentioned him and his family. She told me his wife is quite the baker as well.”
“Oh, I didn’t know that, Mr. Butler. I will need to call on you again. Will Monday be okay?”
“Yes, of course. I will be here. I will have to figure out what to do here. I guess I will need to sell the establishment. I put most of my savings into it along with Abigail’s.”
Early Monday morning, the inspector once again took the train into London where he visited Miss Rochelle’s brother and wife relaying the curious circumstances. Together, Mr. and Mrs. Rochelle and the inspector paid a visit to Mr. Butler. Upon meeting him, they found no reason to press any charges. It was such a shame that Abigail didn’t have a clue.
Mrs. Rochelle was elated with the little shop, so much so, that she and her husband agreed to buy out Mr. Butler’s part. She needed something to stay busy since both her sons were now away at school. She would keep the name in Abigail’s Confections, which pleased Mr. Butler, greatly.
Inspector Brown marked case 1101 solved.