It Was Done To The Butler
Copyright ©Jerold Last
Chapter 1. The corpse on the floor
Our nice quiet evening with the stars was interrupted by a scream from upstairs.
“I’ve got it. You two stay with Vera and make sure she’s safe.”
I ran up the stairs towards the sound of the screams, which continued. A bathroom door stood open, with a screaming lady I didn’t know standing there, and a corpse I did know, our host Raymond Butler, laying on the floor in a pool of blood. At a quick glance, the 0.35-inch hole in his head suggested a gunshot wound as the cause of death. My first task was to get the screamer calmed down and out into the hall so I could close the door and maintain the integrity of the crime scene. Then I grabbed my cell phone, dialed 911, and reported the murder. The dispatcher ordered me to stay on the scene until the cops arrived.
I phoned Vincent to suggest that he, Bruce, and Vera make a quick exit from the premises and go somewhere out of potential danger like the client’s hotel and wait there until the police had questioned me and turned me loose to go on with our business.
Bruce, Vincent, and I were guarding the body of the Argentine actress and sexpot Voluptia Vasquez at one of the biggest parties in Beverly Hills this year. We were at a prestigious address in a large private home in the 90210 zip postal code. The mansion belonged to the estate of the corpse and to his surviving wife. Both of the Republicans and a substantial percentage of the many Democrats and anarchists in the movie business were here, elegant in expensive clothes and jewelry.
This was a weird gig for us: The Beverly Hills Police Department had asked me to provide security for the actress during this party as a freebie as they were understaffed due to the current round of budget cuts. In return, we would get a lot of goodwill from the local police and the opportunity to hand out our business cards to the wealthy movers and shakers who attended the party. The Police Chief assured me that it would be a nice quiet evening with the stars, good canapés and a good buffet table, and great advertising for my detective agency.
At the time, my agency consisted of Vincent and me as full time employees, with Bruce occasionally filling in on bodyguard jobs as needed. I was the only one with a P.I. license, while Vincent was accumulating the necessary supervised hours to get his.
I’m Roger Bowman, about 6 foot, two inches tall, 190 pounds, 36 years old, blue eyes, and a former Los Angeles police detective and patent lawyer. Over the last couple of years, much of my best detective work has been done in South America.
Bruce is a former Navy Seal, now a full-time nanny for our eight-month-old son Robert. He’s from West Hollywood, flamboyantly gay, slim and wiry, has dark hair with a cowlick, is in his mid-30s, and good looking with an infectious smile. He’s also a very good associate to have on your side in a fight. It said something about Hollywood-type parties that more people tried to hit on Bruce than me that night.Vincent is Vincent Romero, a former CIA agent in Northern Chile. He’s about 50 years old, in superb shape for his age, almost 6 feet tall and wide across the shoulders. He’s got a permanent tan from his long time in the Atacama Desert of Chile, and is very, very good looking according to my wife Suzanne.
We met Voluptia (real name, Vera Cohen) for the first time at the party, and she seemed pleased that she would have three handsome escorts wherever she went this evening. Her stage name was well chosen: in a word she was voluptuous, with a beautiful face, big breasts, a small waist, and an old-fashioned hourglass figure. She must have been about 25 years old and exuded sex appeal. Her nominal escort was her agent, Harvey Schwartz, who was too busy working the room schmoozing with the rich and famous to pay much attention to our client.
The screaming lady in the bathroom was one of the catering staff taking a short break from walking through the mass of guests with various trays of hors d’ouvres and drinks, and was a most unlikely suspect.
The first police that arrived were uniformed patrolmen and patrolwomen who took names of guests and secured the bathroom crime scene, but left any real questioning for the detectives who would arrive next. Then came CSI and forensic technicians to gather physical evidence, a coroner to pronounce that the dead guy was dead so the body could be taken to the morgue, and the first pair of detectives. Detective Murphy and his partner, whose name I never learned, came over to me. Murphy, a short guy with a serious case of short guy syndrome, wearing a fedora hat just like a Hollywood cop from a 1940s movie, started his interrogation. The partner took notes and was clearly there to be seen, not heard. He collected my name and address.
“You’re the one who called the police, aren’t you?”
“What kind of work do you do?”
“I’m a private detective.”
He scrutinized my license carefully. “What are you doing here at a Beverly Hills party for the rich and connected?”
“I was asked to bodyguard one of the guests.”
“An actress named Vasquez.”
“Are you carrying a gun?”
“Do you really want me to believe that you’re here as a bodyguard and you’re completely unarmed?”
That didn’t seem to deserve an answer.
Murphy turned to his partner with a sneer. He exuded cockiness, arrogance, and a permanent chip on his shoulder against taller people like me. “He probably shot the victim, dumped the gun, and decided to bluff it out. Put the cuffs on him and let’s get him down to the station and see if we can sweat a confession out of this cheap private dick.”
This stupidity had gone far enough. “You might want to call your chief and check me out before you find out how much it can cost both you personally and the city of Beverly Hills for you to make a warrantless arrest with no evidence.”
“I don’t have to arrest you to take you downtown,” blustered Murphy.
“Actually, you do.”
“What do you think you are, some kind of lawyer?”
“As a matter of fact, yes.”
“So, what are you going to do about it if I cuff you now and haul your ass down to jail for resisting arrest?”
That was my cue to stand up and move into his personal space where I towered over him. “If you’re dumb enough to try, I’ll put you in the hospital for resisting my citizen’s arrest for criminal assault and felonious assault with a deadly weapon. I’d suggest that you call your chief first. He’s the one who hired me to come here tonight and bodyguard the actress.”
He yielded with bad grace and made the phone call. Then he turned to his partner. “This clown has some juice. The chief says to let him go.”
He turned back to me and tried to look ferocious. “You haven’t heard the last of this, punk. I’ll be watching you.”
Chapter 2. Later that night
I caught up with my colleagues and Vera at The Beverly Hilton Hotel. She had one of the private villas in the back, courtesy of her studio. It was a reasonably long walk from the hotel lobby through the back door and several hundred yards of lawn to her villa, which was indeed very private. There was a complete wet bar, so I helped myself to a nice single malt scotch. I had a few questions for the body that we had been hired to guard.
“Did you know Raymond Butler before tonight’s party?”
“Yes he is, actually was I guess, a corporate vice president at the studio that brought me here from Buenos Aires to star in a new movie we’ve started filming. His brother Willard is producing the movie and his wife Ingeborg is a set designer on the film. So I’ve met the whole family at work, and they’ve had me to their house for dinner a couple of times.”
“Did you all get along together?”
“Of course. This is the opportunity of a lifetime for me. I certainly wouldn’t do anything to risk my future in Hollywood. I’m making more for this film than I’ve been paid during my entire career in Argentina until now.”
“Do you know if Raymond had any enemies?”
“Of course he did. He was rich and powerful. People envied him or tried to use him all the time. He could be very difficult if you argued with him about anything and a vindictive enemy.”
Her English was very good. She had a sexy voice I could listen to all night and just the right amount of accent to make her exotic. If she could act as well as she spoke and looked, she had a great career ahead of her.
“One last question. Is there anyone you can think of who hated Raymond enough to kill him?”
“Take your pick. Anyone who wanted his job, who wasn’t cast in his movies, or feels they weren’t paid enough for acting, filming, or writing in one of his movies. Probably half the people in the industry had a motive to kill him, or thought they did.”
“I don’t think you’re a target, but just in case someone thinks you are I’d like Vincent to stay here overnight to make sure you’re safe. Vincent runs the body guarding part of my detective agency. Is that OK with you?”
Arrangements were made, Vincent stayed on the living room couch, and Bruce and I went home, a half a mile or so away. Bruce lives with Suzanne and me. He works full time as a Nanny for our son Robert, now 8 months old, and also works an erratic schedule with Vincent Romero when he needs help guarding bodies.
My wife Suzanne met us at the door. She’s about 5’8”, 32 years old, lean athletic body just about as good as new since giving birth to our son, Robert, 8 months ago, Scandanavian looking face, long blond hair, and an aura of success and good breeding. Her look is almost always casual but at the same time Los Angeles sophisticated.
“Your party made it on to the TV news tonight. You may want to check it out.”
We went into the family room to watch the TV, already on. A talking head on the TV was standing on the street with the house where Raymond Butler hosted his last party in the background. She was talking gravely, in the vain hope that nobody would notice that she didn’t have anything to say.
“The murder took place on the second floor of the house you see behind me. A famous producer and studio head, Raymond Butler, was the victim. He was 54 years old and had been nominated three times for an Academy Award for his popular action films. The police have made no comments yet about the killing, except that they are optimistic that there will be an early arrest in this case.” She droned on, but I tuned it all out.
Just then, the phone rang. It was after midnight, so that was strange. I answered it and listened to my new client explain why she wanted to hire me. I finally hung up and turned to Suzanne and Bruce“That was Inge Butler. Apparently Detective Murphy has decided that I’m not guilty after all and that makes her the best suspect since she’s in line to inherit a lot of money. She wants to hire me to look after her interests and find the real killer. Money is no object—She is offering my regular fee, all of our expenses, and a substantial bonus if we identify the actual killer. I think it’s worth a shot since I’m not particularly busy for the next few weeks. I’m invited for breakfast tomorrow to discuss the case. Would you like to go with me, Suzanne?”
Chapter 3. The next day
And that’s how the two of us ended up over an elegant brunch of things laden with cholesterol that tasted good late the next morning with Inge and Willard Butler. Inge was a statuesque blond of about 45 who had kept her figure and looked very attractive. She was dressed casually in designer jeans and a designer T-shirt that had probably cost her the better part of $400 or more for the outfit. Her body language said, “Look at me”, and my guess was that any man would do just that.
Willard was a lot less impressive. He was in his mid to late forties, balding and foolish enough to try to hide it by growing his hair long on the sides and brushing it over the big bald spot. He was maybe five foot eight, soft and paunchy looking, and sort of blended into his surroundings like an oversized mouse.
Inge smoothed cream cheese over one side of a toasted bagel, added capers, sliced red onion, lettuce, a tomato slice, and Nova Scotia smoked salmon, and capped it off with the other half of the bagel. She took a bite, chewed, and explained to us that life with Raymond was not a bowl of cherries, but that they were both creative people and that was typical when two creative people were married.
“Of course we had fights. Doesn’t every married couple? But making up was half the fun, and we always did. With me as your client, you should get some cooperation from the police. Why don’t you start looking for the killer there, with an objective eye examining the evidence, and not jump to the same conclusion they did that the spouse is always the most logical suspect.”
I was about to impress my client, always a good way to start a relationship.
“I’ve already done that. I stopped off at the Beverly Hills station on the way here. They don’t have much. Your husband was shot with a 9mm pistol, which they haven’t found. Nobody heard a shot, so the pistol may have had a silencer on it. Or maybe there were enough champagne corks popping that the sound of the shot was just missed. He was killed 10 or 15 minutes before the body was found, so he died after the party was in full swing. Nobody seems to have seen him any time near then so we don’t know where he was or what he was doing for almost an hour before he was murdered. If there was a suppressor, the killing was probably done by a professional, who somehow got in and out with nobody seeing him or her. It’s more likely that one of the guests at the party did it, with or without a suppressor. I think we need to look for someone at the party with a motive. It isn’t likely that this murder will be solved with DNA or forensic evidence. It looks like it was very well planned and cleanly executed. Do you have any ideas who I should begin with for my list of suspects?”
“How about Voluptia Vasquez? She was a lot better performer on his casting couch than on the screen, and I know that Raymond was considering firing her from the movie and sending her back to Argentina, since he was the one who sponsored her H-2 visa. That would have been a big hit for her income and her ego.”“I think we can rule out Voluptia as a suspect pretty conclusively. There were three of us watching her pretty carefully all night, including what must have been the time of the murder. All three of us will swear that she didn’t go upstairs at any time during the evening, so she has a perfect alibi. On top of that, did you see her dress? There was no way she could have a 9mm pistol hidden under it. The dress was just too tight to conceal a gun that big.”
“Doesn’t his relationship with Voluptia give Inga a strong motive too?” asked Suzanne.
“No, we had an open marriage. Raymond may have screwed around on the set but he loved me and came home every night. I didn’t begrudge him his casual flings, just as he didn’t begrudge me mine.”
I thought for a moment. “How about you, Willard? Do you have any suspects to suggest?”
His brow furrowed. He looked deep in thought. “No, I don’t think so. But I think I’d look closely at the guest list and see if you can figure out which people Raymond personally invited to the party and start there. He had a sadistic streak, and he could very easily have invited someone here to publically embarrass them as the night’s big entertainment event.”
“Do you have a guest list and can you try to figure out who invited whom and add that information to the list?”
“Sure, but there are going to be a lot of question marks on the list.”
“That’s better than nothing, and I can use a starting point, even if it’s totally speculative and partially incomplete.”
Off Willard went, returning in less than 5 minutes with a Xerox copy of a typed list.
“Here you go,” he said as he handed the list to me. “I’ve color coded it for who invited each guest and put question marks where I didn’t know. I would guess that I assigned an inviter to about 75% of the names, which was more than I expected. Can you figure out any way to eliminate the catering staff and the other folks who put on the party from the suspect list?”
“That’s the sort of thing the police do very well. I think we should leave that task to them. They have the resources and data bases to do that job properly.”
Brunch ended and off we went. Suzanne returned home to take care of Robert and I drove to my office to compare notes with Vincent. I had met Vincent Romero, originally from Wisconsin, during the previous year while we were chasing a serial killer through Peru and Chile. He had retired from his job with the CIA and moved with his family to Los Angeles where he now worked for my growing detective agency. His background as a spy made him quite well trained in almost all of the things a detective should do, so he was a great asset to the business. I told him about our new client and what I had learned from the police.
If Vincent had a weakness as a detective, it was his tendency to “shoot from the hip”. He didn’t really analyze the data but tended to go with his first impressions and snap judgments. On the other hand, his instincts were good, so he was right at least as often as he was wrong.
“Murder cases are usually pretty simple. People usually kill for profit or for passion, at least the sane murderers do. So who profits or where’s the woman scorned or the frustrated would-be lover?”
“That’s our job to find out. If we’re lucky, the name is on this list I got from Willard Butler. Do you have any suggestions about how we should split it up and look for the answers?”
“How about you take the men and I’ll take the women? We can waste the afternoon Googling all of them and see what comes up.”
So that’s exactly what we did.
By the time we started thinking about dinner we had everyone on the list in one of three categories: Yes, No, and Maybe. When we cross-matched the Yeses and maybes against the invitations by Raymond, we had a short list of eight suspects to work on. Despite all of the horrendous assumptions we had to make, it was a place to start.
“OK Vincent, we’ll split things up a little differently this time. You take the crime of passion and I’ll take the profit motive. That’s a fair distribution as far as workload is concerned. Go interview anyone you can find who knows any of the eight suspects. Start with people associated with the movie. Tell them you’re a freelance writer doing a story for a magazine. See what you can find out about anyone on your list, personally and professionally, and the names of the people they went to the party with. Interview the escorts, male and female, and find out whether any of our suspects had a chance to sneak upstairs at the right time and what they wore—whether it was loose enough to hide a large pistol under or in. See if you can pick up any juicy gossip about who is in bed with whom, or wants to be. I’ll take a long hard look at the paperwork related to the movie and at whatever I can get my hands on concerning Butler’s other financial interests. Tomorrow is soon enough to begin.”
A quick phone call to Suzanne was all it took to recruit her talents to our team. She volunteered to set up a meeting the next morning with Inge, who she had met earlier today at brunch, to find out whatever she could about the relationships between Inge, Raymond, Willard, and the eight people whose names were on our list. With her knack for getting women to talk to her about topics they would never share with me, this seemed our best strategy to figure out whether one of the surviving Butlers did it.
Chapter 4. Day three
A brief phone call from me to Inge was all it took to set up an appointment for after lunch to go through whatever remained of Raymond’s paperwork at home that hadn’t been confiscated by the police detectives, and for her to get me cleared to do the same thing in his office at the studio. My search for a paper trail started with the studio office.
I drove up to the studio gate where a rent-a-cop with a clipboard gestured me to stop. He checked my ID against his list, smiled and saluted me, handed me a map, and pushed a button that opened the gate to allow me to drive through the lot to my destination. The map was the layout of the facility, with a convenient green line tracing my route to Raymond Butler’s office and a blue line delineating the return route. I put the map on the dashboard and followed the green line directions. The route led me past some low brick buildings, a bunch of trailers, and a familiar movie set of a 1-block long western street with the usual general store, jail, miscellaneous stores, and a newspaper office fronting on a raised wooden sidewalk with a couple of horse troughs and hitching rails in the street. What made this set different was all of the buildings looked authentic from the street, but there was absolutely nothing behind them except slanted posts to hold up the false fronts. I made a couple of turns past more buildings and another back lot, this time presenting a street scene from a big eastern city that looked a lot like Gotham City in the last Batman movie we went to. There were people scurrying around everywhere I looked, on bicycles, on foot, and even two western types on horses.
Finally I reached my destination, a modern building with well-marked parking spaces in front. I drove into an empty space labeled “Visitors”, and parked my car. As I walked to the front door an attractive, casually dressed woman greeted me by name, introduced herself as Leslie, and told me to follow her. She led me to an office with Raymond Butler’s name inscribed on the glass door in bold black letters. We went on in. Leslie explained that she was here to give me whatever help she could. She also was responsible for making sure that I didn’t take anything out of the office except copies she would prepare for me of anything I told her that we needed to be copied.
For the first time I was pleased that Detective Murphy was the lead investigator on this case. He was too lazy, or too stupid, to have searched Butler’s office, so it was a treasure trove of mostly meaningless paper. I made two piles, a large one of stuff that looked useless for my investigation and a smaller one that was worth reading carefully to see if there were any clues to be found. The smaller stack, which was still a lot of paper, was carefully Xeroxed for me by a Leslie, who turned out to be a bored secretary with nothing to do with her boss dead. She had been assigned to watch me carefully so I didn’t steal any studio property, and was quite happy to help me within the parameters of her assignment. I left an hour after I got there with a briefcase full of paper to read before lunch. I drove back home to do this chore.
The most interesting things I found in the stack may not have had anything to do with the murder, but had a lot to do with Hollywood pop culture. I read all of the contracts for everybody involved in the movie. The amounts people were paid varied widely, but even the least of them seemed to have made a ton of money for a few pounds of work. Willard Butler was carried on the books as an Associate Producer, whatever that meant, and was paid a flat fee of hundreds of thousands of dollars to be Raymond’s “Gofor”, that is, a glorified errand boy. Nice work if you can get it! Raymond was “The Producer”, which seemed to mean the person who found the sources of money for the production. He got a percentage of the gross revenues earned by the movie for his efforts. Inge was the “head set designer”, who supervised a large crew of craftsmen (and women) who made the magic of the movie possible by creating all of the rooms, buildings, and furniture we saw in the finished product.
Most of the actors and actresses were paid a fixed amount, ranging from tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars, for their performances. Vera’s contract was different because she was not a U.S. citizen and because she was the star of the film with no previous track record in the Hollywood system. The studio clearly was hedging its bets in case she got too temperamental or decided to quit and go home. All of her expenses to come to Hollywood from Buenos Aires, to live in luxury at the hotel, and any other reasonable charges (clothing, food, entertainment, etc.) were either directly paid for by the studio or reimbursed on a weekly basis. She would be paid $500,000 additional salary upon satisfactory completion of the movie. The studio had an option on her services for two future movies on the same financial basis.
I skimmed the rest of the paperwork in the pile. Neat stuff for gossip, but this wasn’t solving the murder.
My next stop was the Butler house, where Inge herself answered the door.
“Come in. Everything is waiting for you in the den, there to the left. Is there anything I can get you?”
“A cup of coffee would be nice.” I went to the den, turned on the lights, and sat on a comfortable chair behind the big desk, which was covered with file folders and stacks of papers.
Inge showed up with a cup of coffee, cream, sugar, some nice pastries, and a thermos with more coffee if I wanted any later.
“Don’t worry. You won’t be interrupted. Take as long as you need. I won’t bother you. Just let me know when you leave, please.”
I spent two hours plowing through the paperwork. Most of it duplicated what I’d already seen in Raymond’s office that morning. The rest of it was the typical random clutter and copies of bills and receipts we all tend to collect over time if we own a home. Raymond seemed to be well organized, with everything filed logically.
I left at 4 PM, carefully saying good-bye to Inge on the way out. Back at the office I found Vincent, carefully transcribing the content of dozens of interviews for our files, and Suzanne, who I had called and asked to meet us as I was leaving Inge’s house.
“Suzanne, you go first. What can you tell us about the Butlers?”
“Let’s start with Inge. She was very forthcoming with me. She and Raymond had an open marriage, like she told us before, but they also had an agreement that casual sex on the job was OK, but nothing more than that was allowed. She was certain that Raymond had exercised his option, in Hollywood parlance, with Voluptia, probably a lot more than once, but that it didn’t mean much of anything to either of them. There didn’t seem to be any passion there, so there almost certainly didn’t seem to be a motive for murder. Her relationship with Willard is platonic, and always has been, at least from her perspective. She herself is completely straight, and had no sexual relationship of any kind with Voluptia. In fact, she had no sexual interactions with anyone on the set of this movie, even though she thinks the Best Boy is ‘kind of cute’.
“I spoke to both Inge and Willard separately, and neither of them heard what the other one said to me. You’ve trained me well as a detective. Willard was a bit more reserved than Inge was. He told me that his sex life, and in fact his love life as a whole, is none of my business. He did tell me, however, that he sees Inge as his sister-in-law, and nothing more. He also confirmed Inge’s story about her relationship with Raymond and the rules that governed their marriage. And that’s about all I got out of the two of them.”
I reached out and took her hand. “What’s your gut reaction? Do you think either one of them was capable of murdering Raymond? Or that they did?”
She squeezed my hand back. “Are they capable of premeditated murder for profit? I’d say Yes on Inge, No on Willard. Do I think either of them killed Raymond? I’d say No to both.”
I relaxed back and turned to look directly at Vincent. “Did you learn anything I should know about, Vincent?”
He looked pretty pleased with himself. “Yes, I think the gossip part was the most juicy.”
Clearly he wanted some encouragement. That was a small price to pay for a clue or two.
“What juicy tidbits would you like to share?”
“Everyone at the party had an escort. The custom in this group seems to be that the escorts wander around during the party looking for connections to future movies, so nobody could possibly give anyone else an alibi for the time frame the murder is supposed top have occurred in. All of the women were wearing the tightest dresses they could squeeze into, so none of them could possibly have hidden a gun on their bodies. Of course, they could have hidden a gun someplace upstairs before the party, so we can’t rule out that any of them could have been the killer. The men could have carried guns; nobody looked for bulges under the jackets or under the cummerbunds, so we can’t rule any of them out either.
“Now we can share the gossip. Let’s see. Raymond and Inge had an open marriage, so at one time or another every possible combination and permutation of conjugation between either of them and each of our eight suspects is thought to have taken place. Two or three of these allegations came from more than one source, so are more plausible. Willard was quite jealous of Raymond’s success, but had an easy life and didn’t have to do much to maintain it, so probably didn’t have any obvious motive for killing his brother. Voluptia Vasquez was just OK as an actress, but probably will become a star anyway because of her great body, her loose morals, and because she was perfectly cast in Raymond’s movie where she basically plays herself. Raymond seemed to be getting tired of her as a playmate, and was making some moves on a couple of other starlets on the movie set. Voluptia’s agent, Harvey Schwartz, likes to gamble and spent a few weekends with his client in Las Vegas. Willard might also have gotten to know Voluptia in the carnal sense, but that’s just a rumor for now. Another juicy rumor had Voluptia and Inge together as a couple in Las Vegas and Reno for a couple of long weekends.”
“You did a good job, Vincent. Excuse me for a few minutes while I make some phone calls. I may have this murder solved.”
Fifteen minutes later I was back with Vincent. “We’ve got motive and opportunity locked up. Let’s see if we can prove means. Here’s what I want you to do next. Find the key grip whose name and address are on this piece of paper and ask him whether he’s made a suppressor that would fit on a 9mm pistol as a movie prop or as the real thing for anyone in the last six months or so. If he has, get the name of who requested it. Call me as soon as you find out, please. I’ll be at home.”
I’d been home for half an hour when Vincent called. “You were right, Roger. I don’t really think I have to tell you who, do I?”
“No, but get it in writing so I can get that nice fat juicy bonus from our client. If it’s OK with our client, we can meet over at her house tonight after dinner, say 9:30. I’ll make all the arrangements.”
Chapter 5. Crime does not pay
It was time. Everyone I had called had agreed to come and was there in Inge’s living room, sitting on one of the comfortable chairs or the couch. Going around the circle we had Vincent, Inge, Willard, Suzanne, The Beverly Hills police chief (whose name was Peck), and me. Inge and Willard had been told that it was time for me to deliver a progress report to my client, while Chief Peck was invited on the basis of our investigation having turned up some new information that should be shared with the police. I cleared my throat and began speaking.
“I asked all of you to this meeting so we could share some new information, which has led me to a theory of who killed Raymond Butler and why. Inge, you’re the client and deserve to hear this first. Chief, you’re here because eventually we’re going to need a policeman to arrest the killer, and your Detective Murphy is barely intelligent enough to tie his shoelaces much less deal with a high profile murder case like this one. Vincent and Suzanne worked with me on this case and Willard lives here, so they got invited.
“To start things off, I have a couple of questions for the Chief. I assume you had your men perform a thorough search for the murder weapon in the house and on the grounds, so the killer couldn’t have left it behind after they used it. Is that correct?”
“Yes, it is. That’s standard procedure in a case like this.”
“Then we can conclude that the killer had to be a man. All of the women were wearing the type of gown that would not have allowed them to conceal anything as large as a 9mm pistol under it without detection. My second question is can I also assume that you looked for a suppressor and couldn’t find one?”
“Yes, you can.”
“That’s another item that would have been challenging to hide under a tight gown. It’s possible, but not too likely. So we have a killer, almost certainly male, who walked out of here carrying a pistol and a silencer and was able to get away with his big gamble. Obviously our killer was a risk taker.
“Chief, I know that suppressors are illegal in California under state law and can’t be bought legally here in the State even though they are legal in most of the rest of the United States. I had Vincent check with one of the craftsmen on the movie set whether he had custom made one for someone thinking it was being made as a movie prop. He had. I suspect that if you could get a search warrant you could find the suppressor, and maybe even the gun, in my suspect’s house. I think our information will be enough to get a judge to sign a search warrant for you. Here’s the name of our suspect,” I said, passing him a folded sheet of paper.
The Chief made a call on his cell phone, carefully lowering his voice so he couldn’t be heard by anyone else in the room.
“OK, that’s started. We should have a warrant ready to go and be searching in less than an hour. That should do it for means. How about opportunity and motive?”
“Opportunity is easy. He was one of the guests at the party. There must be more than 50 people who saw him there. Vincent suggested the motive early on in our investigation. Do you remember what you said, Vincent?”
“I said that most murders are done for profit or passion. Roger checked out profit while I focused on passion. Roger seems to have solved the murder, so my guess is profit.”
“There are two big clues and an assumption or two here. Vincent found out that Harvey Schwartz is a gambler. I suspect that you’ll find out that he was deeply in debt to the Las Vegas Casinos, and needed the money to pay off his gambling debts. I have copies of the contracts for everyone in the movie. Harvey stood to make $50,000 as soon as the movie was completed as his 10% commission on Voluptia Velez’s $500,000 salary. I assume he didn’t get anything if she didn’t get paid that salary as the studio was just paying her expenses until the film was completed. I assume you’ll find someone who’ll tell you that Raymond was ready to fire Voluptia from the movie because she wasn’t good enough, either on screen or in bed. Willard, do you have any insights to share on this question?”
“You are exactly correct. He planned to fire her immediately after the party. I guess he must have told Harvey about it earlier in the day as a courtesy and paid the price. But how did you figure all of that out just by looking at a movie contract?”
“It was simple. If instead of asking who profited by Raymond’s death I turned the question around and asked who stood to lose if he didn’t get killed, the answer was right there when I read the contract.”
Just then the phone in the Chief’s pocket rang. He listened silently for a minute or two, thanked the caller, and closed the phone.
“That was the detective who searched Harvey’s house. They found the pistol and the suppressor on a shelf in a closet. I think we’ve got an open and shut case here.”
Inge stood up and walked to a table in the corner of the room.
“I think I owe you a bonus, Roger. I’ll give you your check now. Send me a bill for the expenses and your daily charges.”
Willard had been lost in thought for a long time. Then he asked, “Did you ever suspect me?”
“Of course not,” Roger replied. “Having the Butler do it would have been too corny, even for Hollywood!”