Author's Note: This is the result of two things. First, hosting a pajama party for several Mag 7 fans at which we all stayed up WAY past our usual bedtimes, and, second, someone surfing with the television remote and just happening to hit on an old black and white movie just in time to hear someone off screen announce "The butler did it!" We just couldn't help ourselves! We promise to never write at 3 a.m. again!
"Man, this is sure some layout, huh?" Tanner asked as he opened a door on the second floor and found a storage closet that was as big as the living room of his apartment.
"If that impresses you, you should take a look in here," Ezra replied, inclining his head toward the door he'd pushed open.
Vin pulled the closet door shut and joined his teammate, peering in at what looked like a complete gymnasium. "Holy crap!" he yelped, then shook his head. "This just ain't right. The rec center in my neighborhood doesn't have that kind of state-of-the-art equipment. . ."
A tall, perfectly shaped blonde in a thong bikini appeared and slipped past them, her hips swaying like a cobra trying to mesmerize a mongoose. Both men watched her go, their mouths gaping open.
"I guess it really impresses the ladies, too," Vin managed.
"Apparently so," Ezra agreed, watching the woman as she headed down the stairs. No doubt Buck would spot her and take care of her interrogation. He sighed and glanced around at the opulent house. He had spent time in mansions like this one, although not recently - mores the pity. But that had been when he was still a child and being dragged all over the globe by his mother.
"Guess we better wrap this up and see if Chris and the rest 'a the boys are done," Vin said with a sigh when the woman was out of sight.
Standish nodded sadly.
They continued down the hallway, checking behind each door and finding nothing but various scenes out of a repeat of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.
By the time they reached the last door, Ezra was beginning to feel sorry for Bradley Bates, the rich arms dealer who had apparently double-crossed the wrong people. His body was still laying downstairs, waiting for the crime scene technicians to finish collecting their evidence before being carted off to the morgue.
"This is just. . . wrong," Tanner rasped, shaking his head as he stared in at what he hoped must be the master bedroom, because it was larger than his entire apartment.
Ezra waited for Vin to join him at the last door, then pushed it open to find a room, smaller than the rest and much less lavishly appointed. A man was seated at a small writing table, staring at something lying on the desktop.
The two men edged carefully into the room, their attention focused on the man. He was wearing black pants and a starched white shirt. A burgundy bow tie hung loose from his collar. In his sixties, he had snowy white hair and his face was deeply lined. Gentle brown eyes looked up to regard them with mild curiosity.
"And you are?" Ezra asked the man.
"Milton Clemet, at your service, sir."
"The butler?" Standish queried.
The man nodded sadly.
"Huh, Mr. Clemet," Tanner began, but the man interrupted him.
"Just Clemet, sir," he said, rising with grave dignity from the desk. "May I assist you?"
"We have to ask you to come with us downstairs," Ezra told him. "We're interviewing everyone who was in the house when Mr. Bates was killed. You were here when that happened, weren't you?"
"Oh, yes. Yes, indeed," Clemet stated, nodding.
The two ATF agents escorted the butler downstairs, finding a room just off the huge kitchen that most four-star restaurants would have killed for that wasn't being used. The "breakfast nook" the butler called it. But it would suit their purpose as a place to interview the man.
"I am at your disposal," Clemet told them.
Vin nodded. "We just want to ask you a few questions," he said, then stopped as his voice caught. He coughed, frowned, and then asked the older man, "Can I have something to drink?"
"Certainly, sir," Clemet stated, waiting for Vin to tell him what he wanted, but Tanner just stood there, looking at the butler expectantly.
"What would you like?" Ezra prompted his teammate.
"Uh? Oh." He grinned at Standish. "Well, I'd like a beer, but since we're on duty. . ." He looked at the butler and asked, "Y' got any root beer?"
"I'm sorry, sir, no root beer," Clemet replied, but then suggested, "Perhaps a Sprite, or a Coca Cola?"
Vin shrugged one shoulder. "Sure, a Coke's fine. Thanks."
"A glass of bottled water," Ezra told the man as he stood.
"Very good, sirs," Clemet said, immediately setting about fixing the men their drinks.
Vin pulled out one of the chairs at a long breakfast bar - or at least he thought it must be a breakfast bar - and sat down. "So, do you know who found the body?"
"I did, sir," Clemet replied, filling two elegant crystal glasses with crushed ice. "He was in the billiards room. . ."
Tanner and Standish nodded. They had seen the body. It wasn't a pretty picture.
Clemet opened a bottle of Coca Cola with a practiced flourish. Ezra couldn't help but smile slightly. It was as if the soda were actually a bottle of rare vintage wine. Angling the glass, the butler poured the drink. Then, as the two men watched, Clemet set a napkin on a dish, the glass on the napkin, the dish on a tray, and then he presented the whole thing to Vin.
"Uh. . . thanks," Tanner replied, taking the glass and shooting Ezra a look that was meant to inquire as to the butler's sanity.
A few moments later, a glass of bubbling water was presented to Standish in the same fashion.
"Was Bates dead when ya found him?" Vin asked after gulping down a third of the soda.
"Yes, I would assume so," Clemet said, hesitating slightly over his answer.
Ezra's eyes narrowed slightly. "Is that to say that you didn't check?" he asked the older man.
"Yes, sir. I can honestly say that I did not check. The butcher knife was embedded in his back. . . all that blood. . ." The man began to quake and his face went a sickly pale grey that had both ATF agents worried the man might faint or puke at any moment.
Ezra and Vin exchanged looks, Standish moving up next to the man and guiding him over to a chair. Clemet immediately sank into it with a long, anguished sigh.
Vin raised the glass to his lips as the butler said, "I. . . Sirs, I cannot bear this any longer. . . I find that I must confess. I butchered Mr. Bates after his bath this morning, when he went to the billiards room."
Tanner choked on the Coke.
Clemet was still shaking, his face even grayer than before.
Ezra handed him his untouched glass of bottled water.
Clemet looked up at Standish and shook his head. "No, but thank you, sir. It was very considerate of you."
"Why don't you tell us exactly what happened," Ezra urged the man, then took a sip of the water.
"Mr. Bates was a beast, sir, an absolute beast. And it wasn't that he was cruel and unfeeling towards myself and the rest of the staff, although that was exasperating, and tiresome. . . No, it was the way he treated Beatrice. . ."
"Beatrice?" Ezra echoed. "Is that Mrs. Bates?"
But Clemet hadn't heard him. The old man was lost in his own world and was muttering. "There's never been a kinder, more loving. . . a saint. . . He beat her, you know. He would frequently beat her. . . especially when he had been swilling beer."
"Y' in love with her?" Vin asked him gently.
Clemet nodded glumly. "Oh yes, I love her. I adore her. She's beautiful, striking. . . such a lady. . ."
Vin and Ezra exchanged glances, remembering the blonde they had seen earlier. It wouldn't be the first time a woman had brought a man to murder. They both turned their attention back to the butler, who had continued to ramble on.
". . .started swilling that foul beer while in the bath. . . Budweiser. . . Then, when he was finished, he continued to imbibe more in the billiards room. . . He summoned me, to bring him another bottle. Beatrice was there, watching him. . . I could see the fear in her beautiful brown eyes. . . She was afraid of him, but I had no choice but to fetch the bottled Bud for Mr. Bates. She. . . She was afraid, but so brave. . . She hated it when he bellowed for me like that. . . She. . . well. . . she vomited."
"Beatrice barfed?" Vin clarified.
Clemet nodded sadly. "Mr. Bates flew into a rage. . . I heard him begin to berate her. . . I. . . I simply could not bear it any longer. I brought the butcher knife back with me. . . I warned him not to beat her, but he ignored me. . . He turned his back. . . Oh! It was terrible! I- I buried the butcher knife in his back before he could beat Beatrice!"
"But he was also, uh. . . bludgeoned, several times," Standish stated.
"I know! I know! I pulled the knife out, and I beat him with it! I battered him! I bashed him, again and again and again! Before I knew it, I had buried the butcher knife between his shoulder blades and I couldn't pull it free. . . Beatrice, beloved, Beatrice had begun to bay. . ."
Tanner snorted into his soda. "Bay?"
Clemet nodded sadly. "She's so sensitive. . . my brave, brave girl."
"Sounds perfectly dreadful," Standish said. "You realize that we are going to have to place you under arrest. . ."
"Yes. Yes, I know, I know. I just want this to be over. . . before I lose my mind."
"I'll go get Chris," Vin said softly.
Standish nodded. "I'll stay here with Clemet. The man's obviously bereft."
"Better believe it," Vin replied. "Guess he ain't gonna get his beloved Beatrice after all."
"Hurry, before he becomes so brokenhearted his confession spins out beyond all comprehension."
"Be right back," Tanner promised.
"Beatrice. . . whatever will become of Beatrice?" bemoaned the butler.
"I'm sure she'll be well taken care of,"
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Special Agent Chris Larabee bent over what he thought was the prime suspect in the Bates murder, Kevin Klein, a known gun runner. His green gaze bore into the man's gray as he growled, "What was it, Klein, Bates raise his price?"
"Look, I already told you, I just stopped by to see if Brad was gonna be able to get me some-"
"Hey, Chris, can I talk to ya for a second?" Vin interrupted.
The Larabee glare sought out a new target. "Not now," he growled.
Vin just grinned. "Ez and I got a confession from Clemet."
"The butler," Tanner replied.
"The butler?" the blond echoed.
"Yep, this time the butler really did do it."
"See, I told you I didn't have anything to do with this!" Klein crowed.
"What's going on?" Buck asked, coming over to join them.
"The butler butchered Bates because he was berating Beatrice and she barfed," Vin replied matter-of-factly.
Buck's mouth gaped open, closed, and fell open again. "Oh," he replied. "Sure, okay."
"Who the hell is Beatrice?" bellowed the blond.
"Bates' bull mastiff," Klein quickly slipped in helpfully.
"Bull mastiff barfed so the butler bashed Bates?" Buck clarified.
"Bullshit!" Larabee snapped.
"Hey, the guy's in there having a breakdown," Tanner replied. "I think he really did do it."
"The butler?" Chris demanded.
"Yep," Vin said, then he looked at Klein. "Beatrice is a bull mastiff?"
The man nodded. "Biggest damn dog I ever saw."
"I'll bet," Buck responded, nodding.
"I have to hear this for myself," Larabee muttered. "Where is he?"
"Breakfast nook," Vin told him.
Larabee's eyes narrowed. "All right, who put you up to this?"
"What?" Tanner asked him, looking confused.
"The whole butler bull."
"No bull, boss," Tanner assured him.
Buck grinned. "Hell, this has to be a first, don't you think?" he asked. "The ATF arresting a butler for butchering his boss for berating a barfing bull mastiff?" He looked at Vin. "I get that right?"
Larabee looked at Klein and growled, "Get out - now!" He didn't want any witnesses when he killed his men.
The gun runner hastily retreated, calling back, "Better find Beatrice. She bites!"
"Of course she does," Chris sighed.
"Too bad Beatrice didn't bite Bates before the butler butchered him," Buck said. "Might have saved his life."
Larabee glowered at the two men. "Show me the butler."
The three men returned to the breakfast nook, Vin leading the way. "You the butler?" Larabee asked Clemet.
"You butchered Bates over a barfing bull mastiff, Beatrice?"
"Yes, sir. Mr. Bates became belligerent, bombed out of his mind on Budweiser beer. . . Beatrice, beautiful, Beatrice. . . he berated her. . . she barfed. . . Bates became belligerent. . . he would have beaten her. . . I. . . I. . ."
Chris sighed heavily. "Beat him with a butcher knife."
"Buried it, sir, between his shoulder blades. . . 'bout this deep," Clemet concluded, holding his fingers several inches apart.
"Bummer," Buck said, shaking his head.
"Bad day, sir. . . bad, bad day. . ."
"Bates was drinking Bud before breakfast?" Larabee questioned.
"Before he even took his bath." Clemet shook his head. "As soon as he got out of-"
"Bed," the four agents finished for him.
"Yes, sirs. The bum."
"Bet there's a book deal in this one," Buck offered.
"Out!" Larabee snapped at the man.
"What?" the big man asked innocently.
"Okay, cuff Clemet and let's get the paperwork started," Chris said.
"But, Beatrice!" Clemet cried.
"Don't you worry, we'll find her," Tanner assured the man.
"But be careful, she-"
"Bites," the four men finished for him.
"No, she believes she's a border collie. . . bounds in the backyard-"
"Get him out of here - now!" Larabee bellowed.
Buck took Clemet and escorted him out while the older man went on and on about his baby, Beatrice.
Larabee leaned heavily against the counter, shaking his head. "How the hell am I going to explain this to Travis?" he muttered more to himself than to the other two men.
Ezra smiled encouragingly and said, "Be honest. A bizarre butler-"
"Enough!" Larabee bellowed again, storming out before he bit their heads off.
"What's his problem?" Vin asked, confused.
"Beats me," Standish replied with a sly smile.
"Bastard," Tanner muttered.
"That's beneath you, Mr. Tanner."
Author's Second Note: This story first appeared in the Mag 7 zine, Let's Ride #8, published by Neon RainBow Press, Cinda Gillilan and Jody Norman, editors. When we all decided to post the stories that have appeared in the issues of Let's Ride that are more than two years old, we opted to use a generic pen name because, while Kacey Tucker is the primary author of this story, she had so much help from the other folks writing for the press that it just made sense to consider the story to be written by the Neon RainBow Press Collective! Resistance was futile. So, thanks to the whole Neon Gang - Dori Adams, Sierra Chaves, Dana Ely, Michelle Fortado, Patricia Grace, Deyna Greywolf, Erica Michaels, Nina Talbot, Kasey Tucker, Rebecca Wright, and Lorin and Mary Fallon Zane. Story lasted edited 10-6-2006. Art by Shiloh (firstname.lastname@example.org)