23 comments

Mystery Suspense Fiction

Frankie O’Dowd fidgeted with his tight clerical collar, as he warmed himself in front of the drawing room fireplace. Being the only single person in the room, O’Dowd struck a lonely but serious figure among the evening’s soiree of family dinner guests. 

Averting his gaze from the crackling and glowing embers, O’Dowd surveyed the spacious surroundings. For a large room, the fireplace seemed an inadequate size to be an efficient heater; however, not one of the several guests in the room complained about the cold air forcefully trying to blow through the cracks and crevices at every opportunity presented to it.

The four other people in attendance sat pensively across two leather Chesterfield sofas placed perpendicular to the fireplace - seemingly waiting for Father O’Dowd to finish a sentence he had started moments prior.

“Nine o’clock precisely,” the priest announced in a commoner tongue. He was declaring the hour in response to the large grandfather clock chiming its tune, before counting off its nine strikes of what sounded like a tired and ancient dull bell.

“Has anyone rang for tea?” O’Dowd devilishly enquired.

“I say, dear chap,” the older man at the far end of the left Chesterfield spoke up. “Perhaps we should wrap up this evening early. Cheryl, be a love and ring for Henderson and ask him to telephone a taxi for the reverend.”

“Henderson’s dead,” stated the cleric coldly.

“I say, what!? When?”

Producing a pocket watch from his waistcoat’s left flap, O’Dowd stared at it for a few moments.

“At precisely Nine fifteen this evening.”

“What!? But it’s still only one minute past nine,” Philip’s wife, Bunny, alerted him. “Philip, what on Earth does he mean?”

“Is this some form of a sick joke?” Philip demanded to know.

“I can assure you, not,” O’Dowd countered.

“Bunny, pull the cord. Get Henderson in here, now,” ordered Philip.

Standing to grab hold of a long velvety cord dangling from one side of the fireplace wall, Bunny nervously pulled on it, causing a distant bell to ring through the empty hallway somewhere outside the closed room.

Seated next to each other on the right-sided Chesterfield was Ray Barker and his wife Cheryl. Ray was a local car salesman at a dealership owned by Cheryl’s father, Philip - the co-host of the evening. Salesmanly slick, Ray could sell sand to desert dwellers – that’s how good he was. It was a trait learned from his barrow merchant father in the slums of London’s East End. Marrying Cheryl, generously elevated his social standing – as his new father-in-law owned several luxury car dealerships up and down the country. Observing the slippery traits of his son-in-laws’ philosophy to “Tell-the-customer-what-they-want-to-hear-then-sell-them-whatever-was-available” technique, he gladly offered him the position of floor manager at his newest dealership in the affluent area of St. John’s Wood, London - drastically changing life for Ray almost overnight. The fact that Cheryl was already expecting a child, made the decision even more imperative, and after their shotgun wedding was hastily arranged, Philip moved quickly to secure Ray’s immediate appointment. He would not tolerate a Bastard grandchild tainting the family business name.

“Look here, O’Dowd,” Philip asserted his authority as man of the house. “What is all this nonsense about and what does Henderson have to do with it?”

Moving from his toasty position in front of the fireplace, O’Dowd situated himself behind the right-side leather sofa, where the drinks table lay. Helping himself, he poured a generous portion of whiskey into a bevelled crystal tumbler glass, then downed its whole contents in one quick gulp.

“All will be revealed,” he cryptically replied while checking his watch. “In exactly twelve minutes… Oh, I hope you don’t mind.”

Pouring a second glass of whiskey, O’Dowd held it aloft in front of the fireplace, admiring the golden amber glow that the light from the flames projected through the contents of the glass.

“I must say that you have wonderful taste in whiskey, Mr. Osterly. Exceptional warmth and colour.”

“May I remind you, Mr. O’Dowd, that you are a guest in my house. And may I add that you are an unexpected guest at the bequest of my son-in-law – who has previously explained to me your clouded relationship with him in your younger days, terrorising Bermondsey.”

“Bermondsey, is it?” O’Dowd’s surprised reaction guffawed. “The Blue, hey Ray?” Referring to the heart of Bermondsey, so named after the Blue Anchor Pub that dates back nearly three hundred years. “Was nothing blue about Bermondsey, was there, Ray.”

Refusing to take the bait, Ray concentrated his gaze upon the flickering flames of the fireplace.

“No, in our day, the streets ran red. Blood red, if you follow my meaning.”

“I’m sorry,” Philip interrupted. “Are you inferring that my son-in-law is some form of ex-hoodlum?”

Laughing at the suggestion, O’Dowd gestured for Philip to calm himself.

“Let’s just say, he kept colourful company,” O’Dowd allayed. “He was our best salesman.”

“What on Earth do gangsters sell?” Philip preposterously asked.

“Protection, of course,” was the stereotypical reply. “Mainly commercial establishments. You know, small businesses, street vendors, pubs. That type of security.”

“What you really mean to say, is that you ran a protection racket, Mr. O’Dowd.”

“Please, Mr. Osterly. I prefer to be addressed by my ordained name, Father O’Dowd. All that’s past is well… in the past. I am a reformed man of the cloth, now. A parish leader of lambs.”

“To the slaughter, no doubt,” Bunny couldn’t resist the subjective jibe.

“Very Witty, Mrs. Osterly. I can see where your Cheryl gets her dry sense of humour from… and her looks – if I may be so bold.”

“Do we need to call for an ambulance?” Bunny innocently asked.

“Why, are you feeling poorly, Mrs. Osterly?”

“For Henderson, you impertinent man. If we have an ambulance on the way, perhaps he won’t die at Nine-Fifteen.”

“That’s very sweet, Bunny. May I call you that. I will anyway. Mrs. Osterly is far too formal for the upcoming events.”

“Damn it, Man! I demand you tell us what is going to happen to Henderson at Nine-fifteen?” Philip snapped.

“Without repeating myself,” O’Dowd insisted. “Henderson is going to die. Oh, dear. I have repeated myself, haven’t I.”

Upset at the redundant questioning that caused him to grow increasingly impatient, O’Dowd slithered over to the velvet bell cord and gave it such a tug, that it fell from its tether, dropping onto the edge of the fireplace – where it promptly caught alight. Reacting quickly, Cheryl grabbed the soda siphon from the drinks table, rushed to the fireplace, pulled the cord onto the stone hearth, then pressing the siphon’s trigger, she doused the cord with sparkling water, extinguishing any further threat of instantaneous combustion.

“Bravo,” O’Dowd congratulated, before holding his glass under the siphon. “Yes, please. Just a squirt, thank you, my dear.”

Irritated, Philip confronted O’Dowd to reprimand his reckless behaviour.

“I’m beginning to think your overall appearance is no more than a façade. A means to a deception. If you refuse to answer my questions, then I must ask you to leave my house.”

“And what if I ignore your request?”

“Then, I will have no other choice than to ring for the police and have you forcibly removed.”

Checking his pocket watch one more time, O’Dowd reached into the inside of his jacket and produced a black tubular metal object. Then, reaching into his jacket’s opposite inside lining, he alarmingly produced a pistol, which he slowly screwed the tube onto the end of.

“What are you doing?” Ray asked – completely surprised at his friend’s action.

“Please do call the Old Bill, Mr. Osterly,” O’Dowd instructed. “I will be long gone by the time they arrive.”

“Frankie,” Ray interrupted. “What’s going on?”

“I have business with the butler of the house.”

“What business?”

“Final business, Ray. Now, sit down there next to your lovely wife and don’t interfere. You of all people should know that I don’t like to be interfered with.”

No sooner had O’Dowd controlled the room, its door swung open and in walked Henderson – a newspaper folded over his right arm.

“Your evening paper, Mr. Osterly,” he announced.

“Allo, George,” greeted O’Dowd in a sinister Cockney accent. “Long time, no see.”

“Indeed,” Henderson calculatingly answered. “How are you, Frankie?”

“Frankie?” Philip sat up at the name’s mention. “So, you’re not a man of the cloth, after all.”

“No, Phil. Didn’t you think it odd that a Catholic priest was coming to talk about your Granddaughter’s impending christening?”

“Quite frankly, no,” replied Philip. “I presumed that Ray was a Catholic.”

“Daddy, we’re Church of England, for goodness sake,” Cheryl corrected her father. “One can’t have a cross-religion christening under a single denomination, now. Can one?”

“Quite right, Cheryl,” O’Dowd agreed. “Although, I don’t see why not. Sure, aren’t we all God’s children?” He mockingly asked in a comical Irish priest’s accent.

“Drop the act, Frankie,” demanded Henderson. “I wondered when I’d bump into you again.”

“Henderson, you know this man?” Asked Philip bewilderedly.

“We go way back, don’t we, Ray,” O’Dowd pointed out.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Osterly,” said Ray. “I honestly thought he had reformed.”

“’Reformed?” squawked O’Dowd in a mocking tone. “The only reform in my world, mate, was being sent away to the type of school that prefixed that word to its name. That’s where me and Ray met, everyone – in case you was wondering.”

“Darling, you went to reform school?” Cheryl disbelievingly asked.

“Oh, we all did, didn’t we, George,” O’Dowd confessed.

“Henderson, is this true?” Asked Philip.

“It’s not something I am proud of, sir. You may not know much of the world I come from, but when you’re poor, there’s only two options, the Army or the streets. It’s a competition to see who claims you first. In my case – at the age of fourteen – I was too young and innocent for selective service, but not too young to fit into a gang.”

“My gang, Philip. Bermondsey’s top crew,” O’Dowd pointed out. “Ray here, was our scout – so to speak. Negotiated with rival gangs to swap information benefitting each outfits’ expertise. The Dalton gang was banks. The Blackfriars crew was brewery deliveries, the Soho mob were… well, we all know what Soho deals in, don’t we. Our outfit was simply jewellery. Like that beautiful big engagement ring on your daughter’s finger.”

“I say, are you telling me that my daughter is wearing stolen jewellery?” Philip protested.

“No, Mr. Osterly,” Ray spoke up. “That was purchased with honest-earned money.”

“I’m not so sure any of you know the true meaning of honesty,” Philip scolded.

“But we do know about honour, Phil. And what the punishment for dishonour is. Ain’t that right, George.”

Remaining silent, George desperately wanted a peaceful resolution from the current situation he found himself in, but it was apparent that O’Dowd did not.

“You want money, Frankie? Is this what all these amateur dramatics are about? Compensation?”

“Not quite, George. Money can’t buy you revenge, you see.”

“Revenge, Father O… I mean, Mr. O’Dowd?” Bunny decided to enquire.

“Yes, Bunny, dear.”

“Revenge for what?”

“Darling,” Philip attempted to quell her incendiary questioning. “It’s none of our business what a gangster’s motive is.”

“Oh, but it is now, Phil,” O’Dowd pressed. “Has been since you took on George here as your Major-Domo. That’s manservant to you, Ray. You see, George was always good with the books. Kept neat and tidy accounts, didn’t you, George. A double accounting set of books was his forte, wasn’t it. Earned him the nickname of Ambidextrous George. Don’t get me wrong, Phil. We ran a legitimate enterprise in gold trading. Well, up front, anyway. Most of the loot we knocked off was smelted down, then sold back to the jewellers without them realising it was their own gold they were buying back. Quite lucrative, actually. But, in the criminal underworld, there are always those that think they can muscle in on your business or remove the head of it by snitching to the rozzers.”

“You left me no choice, Frankie. Not after that Bond Street job.”

“Bond Street?” Philip deliberately enquired. “When was this?”

“About twelve years ago, sir.”

“You don’t mean the Goldman’s Jewellery heist, do you?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Were you involved in that?”

“No, sir,” denied Henderson. “I just logged each piece when they arrived at the warehouse.”

“My brother was killed that day. Tortured, the police informed me.”

“Yes, sir. Frankie here boasted about it later that night. Said, it was all a mistake. You see, he thought your brother was the owner of the shop. But he was just a sales rep in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

“He wouldn’t give me the combination to the safe,” O’Dowd added. “So, I had to work him over a wee bit.”

“A wee bit,” mimicked Philip. “You literally bashed his brains in.”

Bringing the past to the fore in front of Bunny, caused her to swoon, but Philip caught and cradled her in his arms, rocking her gently.

“You’re an abomination, Mr. O’Dowd,” Philip spat. “My brother left a widow grieving so much that she took her own life the following month.”

“He wouldn’t give me the combination,” O’Dowd tried to justify.

“My God, man!” Philip protested. “He didn’t know it!”

“You’d best remain seated, there, Phil. I’m not here to do you harm, but if you press me, then I have more than one bullet in this gun and I’m not afraid to use it.”

Raising his pistol in the air, O’Dowd pointed it directly at Henderson.

“And I don’t want to waste my vengeance on someone other than this man,” he threatened.

“What’s it to be, Frankie? You’ve got witnesses,” Henderson revealed.

“I got ten years, George! Ten lonely years of staring at the same four walls, missing my little Johnny growing up to be a man,” O’Dowd stated, trying to hold back a remorse of tears.

“Yes, and he grew up to follow your footsteps,” Henderson added.

“And he paid the price, didn’t he. Fished from the Thames like he was some kind of sea urchin. Bloated and dead.”

Determinedly waving the gun at George, O’Dowd slowly tightened his index finger on the trigger.

“Witnesses, Frankie. What they don’t see, they can’t tell.”

Relaxing for a moment, O’Dowd pondered what to do.

“Okay, all of you sitting down, bend over and stare at the floor. Do it, now! And don’t you dare look up until I leave. Understood?” The terrified father, daughter, and son-in-law nodded their heads in acknowledgement, then in unison, they bent forward to comply. “At the floor, now!” O’Dowd barked.

Turning his attention back to Henderson, Frankie slowly aimed his gun for a headshot.

“I’ve waited a long time for this, George. Vaya Con Dios.”

Slowly squeezing the trigger, the sound of two muffled shots in succession, permeated the silence of the room. Too afraid to look up, Philip heard a thud, presumably to the Persian rug adorning the parquet floor. With O’Dowd’s words ringing in his ears, he waited for the sound of footsteps to leave the room. But after several additional tense moments, a familiar voice addressed him.

“Mr. Osterly, sir,” it calmly called. “It’s all over.”

Cautiously looking up, Philip first caught a glimpse of the dead body seeping blood onto his expensive rug, then, like a flood of relief flowing through him, he saw Henderson standing in the same spot, holding the now smouldering evening newspaper, revealing the silencer barrel of a pistol held securely in his hand.

“Henderson… where in Dickens did you get that?”

“It always travels with me, sir. Too many enemies that would like to exact vengeance on me for those sets of books handed over to Scotland Yard.”

Trying to make sense of things, Philip gestured towards the lifeless body of O’Dowd staining his rug with blood.

“Was this all necessary?”

“He wouldn’t have left witnesses, sir.”

“But he made us avert our eyes.”

“You all could have put him at the scene, so you would have been a loose end. I’m afraid my only option was to eliminate the threat.”

In a state of shock, Ray and Cheryl clung to each other like frightened monkeys too traumatised to speak. Poor Bunny had missed the whole episode. Her fainting spell had turned into a small cat nap, so she was none the wiser on the evening’s outcome.

“What now, Henderson?”

“I’m afraid I must regretfully tender my resignation, sir. I had recognised Mr. O’Dowd upon his arrival but pretended not to notice, hoping it would give me the element of surprise.”

“That appears to have been a good strategy,” Philip commended.

“Yes, prior to entering the room, I placed a phone call to the police, informing them of an armed intrusion. The old clock over there, tells me they’re only minutes away. I took the liberty of gathering some clothes and knick-knacks for my exit, as I don’t intend being here when they arrive.”

“We will all be sorry to see you go, Henderson.”

“Thank you, sir. I have enjoyed being under your employ. As a final act of service, allow me to add this charred newspaper to the coal fire. You wouldn’t want Mrs. Osterly catching a chill. She’s been through enough, already.”

“That’s quite alright, under the given circumstances. I’ll take care of the fire. How did you know he was armed?”

“It was the lay of his jacket, sir. An obvious and untidy conceal. He always was a careless thug.”

“But where will you go?”

“Don’t worry yourself with that, sir. I’ll head abroad and make a new life for myself somewhere. Perhaps, Australia. I understand there’s a special scheme costing ten pounds for passage Down Under.”

“This is all so much to take in, Henderson. What do I tell the police when they arrive?”

“I would suspect that is fairly obvious, sir, isn’t it?”

“I don’t follow.”

“…Just tell them the butler did it…”

 

 

August 15, 2023 14:38

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

23 comments

Amanda Lieser
00:26 Aug 25, 2023

Hi Chris, Well, you certainly immersed us in this world. My favorite lines came from the great Catholic versus Protestant debate-age old and yet modern to the day. This delivery of dialogue was perfect: “One can’t have a cross-religion christening under a single denomination, now.” Certainly, not, I think. You played in some great tropes to build it all up, including the final line. Nice work!!

Reply

Chris Campbell
05:21 Aug 25, 2023

Amanda, I love drawing room dramas, don't you? A bit of Poirot meets Agatha Christie in a board game setting. And to top it all off, the old adage names the culprit - or, in this scenario, saviour turned culprit. Thanks for your great feedback.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Nina H
11:12 Aug 21, 2023

The butler, in the drawing room, with the pistol - the Clue version of the story! Such a great story that hooked me from the opening! You developed the characters and their personalities so smoothly, it just flowed right along. I really enjoyed this mystery!

Reply

Chris Campbell
14:49 Aug 21, 2023

Nina, Thanks for your great feedback. It does echo the board game a little. I have a great fascination for the whodunnit - although, we all know who did in this story. So glad you liked it. Coincidentally, I have used the creator of Clue (or "Cluedo" as it's known in the outside world) as one of the main characters I write about. He was first introduced in Mr. Pratt's game - https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/0xf263/. I have included him in several other stories as well. The latest being, A Case Of The Obvious - https://blog.reedsy.co...

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Marty B
19:25 Aug 22, 2023

Great drawing room set up! I can see this as a tight play, with the elaborate velvet drapes and heavy upholstered furniture. The dialogue was snappy and kept the story moving while the cas of characters each had their own unique storylines. And the coup de grace of the final line- Of course the butler did it! Thanks!

Reply

Chris Campbell
23:36 Aug 22, 2023

Thanks for the great feedback, Marty. It does have that stage play feel to it. I like drawing room scenarios. It allows the opportunity for dialogue, character development, and tension to build. So glad you liked it.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Michał Przywara
20:36 Aug 17, 2023

Heh, great setup for that ending line :) Also, quite a lot of fun revelations along the way. Things got very tense once they started being revealed, and once the gun made an appearance. I had no idea how it would all turn out - but of course, the newspaper. There's some good verbal sparring here, as each man tries to delay the shooting, maneuvering for a better position and trying to unbalance the other. Thanks for sharing!

Reply

Chris Campbell
06:39 Aug 18, 2023

Thanks, Michal. It was a long wait for the punchline, but I hoped it worked. Thanks for the great feedback.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Helen A Smith
17:29 Aug 16, 2023

This aptly fits the take on cozy corner crime, Chris. Very enjoyable piece. Loved the character of O’Dowd playing the priest. Even more, Henderson. It’s a shame Henderson couldn’t have stayed in the household. I sense he’s going to be sorely missed.

Reply

Chris Campbell
23:39 Aug 16, 2023

Helen, Thanks for your great feedback. I agree that Henderson is a valuable asset. But keep him away from the accounts. 😂

Reply

Helen A Smith
09:55 Aug 17, 2023

They probably wouldn’t notice. He’d be too clever for them. 😃

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Mary Bendickson
16:14 Aug 16, 2023

Quote marks before 'slowly pulling the trigger'? Fine cozy job.

Reply

Chris Campbell
23:37 Aug 16, 2023

Thanks, Mary. Correction made. Thanks for reading my story.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Michelle Oliver
11:20 Aug 16, 2023

You have turned out a stellar tale. Lots of backstory, lots of conflict and a cast full of characters who are distinctly different from one another. Great work and a fun read.

Reply

Chris Campbell
14:34 Aug 16, 2023

Much appreciated, Michelle. Thanks for the great feedback.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Delbert Griffith
10:33 Aug 16, 2023

LOL The butler did it. Classic! This was a fun tale, written in your unique and inimitable style, Chris. As usual, you bring the laughs and chuckles out of me, and the excellent writing makes the tale a breeze to read. Stellar work, my friend. Simply wonderful. Cheers!

Reply

Chris Campbell
11:04 Aug 16, 2023

Many thanks, Delbert. It's the closest I could get to "Cozy." 🤣

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Lily Finch
00:26 Aug 16, 2023

Hi Chris, this was an ambitious piece. The plot was jammed full and the characters were many. Nonetheless, it was well done. Fine writing. LF6

Reply

Chris Campbell
00:58 Aug 16, 2023

Lily, Thanks for your great feedback. It was a challenge writing in so many characters. I had to list them all in a separate file, along with a brief description of their background, to bring them to life. I hope it worked. So glad you liked it.

Reply

Lily Finch
02:54 Aug 16, 2023

D) Yup. LF6

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Bruce Friedman
15:42 Aug 15, 2023

Loved your sorry Chris. Beautifully crafted. I had to read is slowly to keep up with the plot and the various characters, The ending was a semi-surprise. I didn't agree with some of your capitalization such as: Nine O’clock precisely.

Reply

Chris Campbell
15:50 Aug 15, 2023

To be corrected, Bruce. Thanks for pointing it out and thanks for the great feedback.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Chris Miller
17:20 Aug 25, 2023

Great fun, Chris. Lots of back story and characterisation packed into a pretty short and simple scene. Nicely done.

Reply

Show 0 replies
RBE | We made a writing app for you (photo) | 2023-02

We made a writing app for you

Yes, you! Write. Format. Export for ebook and print. 100% free, always.