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49

THE QUESTION IS, Lieutenant Orville said, is the butler in on it?

Lieutenant Wooster cocked his head, like a very bright spaniel: You think the butler did it?

Its been known to happen. Liking the phrase, Lieutenant Orville said it again: Known to happen.

The two lieutenants had taken over the missing Monroe Halls office as their investigation HQ, since obviously Monroe Hall had no present need of it. Orville and Wooster were CID, Criminal Investigation Division, and this case was their baby, nor were they unmindful of the potential in it for themselves. Hall after all was a very famous man, some might even say a very infamous man. Clustered outside the compound already, partially blocking traffic on the county road, barely an hour after the event, were a dozen TV vans, just itching to broadcast Lieutenant Orvilles manly face and professional manner worldwide via satellite as he reported on progress in the case (Wooster was the sidekick, and knew it), which Orville would do just as soon as he had the merest sliver of progress, or something that could be made to look like progress, to report.

In the meantime, forces were gathering, positions were being manned (or more likely personed), and the parameters of the situation were beingyou know itstaked out. Lieutenant Orville was a fellow with a literary bent, which meant hed read a lot of Sherlock Holmes and Perry Mason and 87th Precinct (damn, those boys were good), and which also meant he had trained himself to have a keen and analytical mind, and to leap on every anomaly that reared its head, of which, in the present case, the anomaly was the butler.

Why kidnap Hall? That much was obvious. Hall was incredibly wealthy, and would be worth a lot in ransom. A fortune in ransom. But what the hell was the butler worth? Why snatch the butler?

This question had led Lieutenant Orville to a further thought. What if the butler had not been snatched? What if the butler had gone willingly? What if, in fact, the butler had been a co-conspirator from the very beginning? What if he were not a victim but a perpetrator? That would put a different light on the situation, would it not? It would.

Mmm, Lieutenant Orville said. What do we know about this butler?

It is the sidekicks job to assemble the data and lay it before his chief. Now Lieutenant Wooster withdrew his notebook from his jacket pocket, flipped a few pages, and read, John Howard Rumsey. Hired day before yesterday.

Oh ho. The plot, Orville said, thickens.

Theres a funny little cluster of hiring two days ago, in fact, Lieutenant Wooster said. The butler. A chauffeur. A private secretary. A

Private secretary, Lieutenant Orville said. Is that the geek we threw outa this room?

Fredric Eustice Blanchard, Lieutenant Wooster read. Yep, thats him. And the fourth one was a new guard for the security team here.

Security, eh? Lieutenant Orville permitted himself a little pitying smile. And I suppose none of these people had ever laid eyes on one another before two days ago.

Well, a couple of them, Lieutenant Wooster agreed. But the butler and the secretary, Blanchard, theyd both worked together at the Vostkojek embassy before this.

At the what?

Vostkojek embassy. Its a country in Europe, its an embassy in Washington.

Well, which is it?

Lieutenant Wooster thought that over. An embassy in Washington.

And these two worked there, did they? How come they left?

The story is, the ambassador was assassinated.

Lieutenant Orville sat up straighter. What? Murdered?

Thats right. Lieutenant Wooster consulted his notebook. Apparently, the new ambassador fired everybody and brought all new people in. So Rumsey and Blanchard came to work here.

Pretty long way from Washington.

Yes, sir.

Howd they happen to wind up here, do we know?

They were both sent over by an employment agency, Cooper Placement Services. In fact, all four were.

Oh, were they? Bob, I think it might profit us to take a little look at this Cooper Placement Service.

Check.

Shake the tree a little, Lieutenant Orville said, doing a tree-shaking gesture. See what falls out.

Check.

In the meantime, Lieutenant Orville said, lets bring this faggot Blanchard in, see what hes got to say for himself and his pal the butler.

Check.

Lieutenant Orville had taken an instinctive dislike to the secretary, Blanchard. He trusted his instincts, mostly because they were all he had, and when Lieutenant Wooster brought the fellow in to be questioned, Orville felt it again, that immediate distrust.

Look at him, in his natty suit and tie, that shit-eating grin, that politeness that was just a little too polite, so that it was more like an insult than real politeness. There were criminals Lieutenant Orville had met who had that same slick surface, smooth and oily, covering something completely different underneath. It was as though Fredric Eustace Blanchard were not Fredric Eustace Blanchard at all, not a private secretary, not in any way the person he seemed to be, as though there were another person hidden down inside there, who would be very interesting for Lieutenant Orville if he could only winkle him out.

Well, that was unlikely, and probably not useful to the investigation at hand, so once Blanchard was settled at his ease beside Monroe Halls big double-sided desk, with Lieutenant Orville in Halls seat behind it and Lieutenant Wooster ready to take copious notes at what had been Blanchards desk, Orville went directly to what he thought was the point: Tell me about the butler.

John Rumsey, Blanchard agreed, and smiled for no reason Lieutenant Orville could see, and said, Worked with him down in D.C.

Where your employer was murdered, Lieutenant Orville pointed out. Yours and Rumseys.

That was sad, Blanchard said, but went on grinning.

Were you and Rumsey questioned in the case?

Not us, Blanchard said.

Oh? Lieutenant Orville registered surprise. Whys that?

Well, Blanchard said, Ambassador Chk was killed in Novi Glad.

And where, Lieutenant Orville pursued, is Novi Glad?

Its the capital of Vostkojek. Blanchard waved a hand to indicate someplace far away. About five thousand miles from D.C. Past an ocean, and most of Europe.

And where were you when this ambassador was killed?

In D.C.

Beginning to realize this was not after all going to be a fruitful line of inquiry, Lieutenant Orville segued out of it with one final question: Did they ever catch the perpetrator?

Oh, sure, Blanchard said. It was political. He was a Bigendian.

No. No deeper into that blind alley. And where were you this morning, Lieutenant Orville abruptly demanded, when your latest employer was being kidnapped?

Blanchard pointed at Wooster. At my desk there.

And what were you doing?

Arranging charitable affairs for Mr. Hall to take part in.

Unbelieving, Lieutenant Orville said, Monroe Hall needs charity?

Oh, no, Blanchard said. He gives charity. His reputation took a bad hit a little while ago, and weve started the rehabilitation.

Lieutenant Wooster mildly said, My uncle lost everything in the SomniTech affair, everything.

Turning that bland smile toward Wooster, Blanchard said, But Im sure the family helped out.

Lieutenant Woosters mouth opened. He looked completely blank, as though the plug had been pulled on his brain.

Lieutenant Orville said, So you were arranging charity this morning. Who with, and where did that person go?

A lot of people, by phone. Blanchard pointed at the immobilized Wooster again. The phone log is by your partners left hand there.

Bob, Lieutenant Orville said, lets see that phone log.

Popping back to life, Lieutenant Wooster picked up the black ledger book, carried it to Lieutenant Orville, and went back to his seat. Lieutenant Orville scowled at the book. When he leafed its pages, they were all there: names, numbers, times. There was no doubt it would all check out.

Slippery son of a bitch, this Blanchard. If only I could get under the surface, Lieutenant Orville told himself. Theres something going on down in there. He said, Until further notice, I dont want you leaving the property.

Blanchard actually laughed. Not me, he said. I wouldnt skip this for a million dollars.


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