The Usual Suspects

Episode 21 – Witt Kepler, Private Eye

The next morning, Witt was to meet his client, Erica Hansen, the spouse of one of the world’s most successful shipbuilders ever, at 9:00 AM sharp. Somehow, a spy had infiltrated the estate and was stealing information, but Witt had no idea who, how, or even why this was happening.

As he was driving to the city’s more affluent west side, Witt spotted a convenience store. An impromptu decision caused him to wheel his GTO into the parking lot. Today, there would be smokes.

After trading $4.53 for a package of Lucky Strikes, Witt thanked the kid behind the counter. The poor lad had no idea how much Witt would enjoy the nicotine which was about to start coursing through his system.  Witt felt reacquainted with his nervous system, something he had missed for the past three days. Any trigger pulling now would result in much better bullet placement later, to be sure. Despite his best effort, the private detective could not remember why he had decided to quit to begin with. Witt shook his head, trying to convince himself by saying  “No, it had nothing to do with Carolyn…

Witt pulled up to the gate. He waited patiently for someone to answer his push of the little red button on the intercom, all the while pondering if someone could climb the imposing granite wall  surrounding the entire estate. Judging by the waterless moat he could see on the interior side of the wall, any intruder would be trapped for a long while. The spy must have had inside help… Finally, some static crackled.

“Mr. Kepler, please drive to the front of the house. The estate manager will meet you there.”

Witt thanked the voice, which had already signed off, and then waited for the wrought-iron gate to open. The gate opened slowly, and after making sure there was no possibility of scratching his car by moving too quickly, he proceeded forward. The drive to the estate house was scenic, slightly uphill, and full of sharp turns. Witt gripped the steering wheel a little more tightly than normal, and kept his foot from pushing too much gas into the four barrel carburetor since the shoulder-less road had irrigation canals on each side, deep enough to stop his classic car, permanently.  No reason to lose control and wreck before the case even gets started.  As Witt entered the circular driveway in front of the Georgian red brick mansion (complete with Ionic pillars) he could see an older gentleman, dressed to the nines, waiting for him.

“Mr. Kepler. Welcome to the Hansen Estate. If you will drive around to the far side of the mansion, you will see ramp leading down to the lower parking lot. One of my men will be there to direct you to your parking spot.”

Witt nodded, not certain if he should tip the guy or not.

He said “men.” Witt registered the word into the back of his mind, which was trying to sort out how many potential suspects might be employed at the mansion. Discounting the Hansen’s themselves, he now knew of at least three: the estate manager and his men, plural. This may not be such an easy job, he thought.

Finding the ramp, Witt wheeled the car below ground level. True to the man’s word, there was another man, also very well dressed, waving his arm for Witt to park next to the row of black BMW sedans. Witt knew the Hansen’s were reclusive, but having several identical cars was starting to look a bit paranoiac, at least to Witt.

The valet, or whatever he was supposed to be, did not say anything. Unlike the manager, there was no greeting at all. The man pressed a few buttons on his phone and motioned for Witt to enter the mansion through a side door.  Certainly, there was a main door, directly in front of the valet stand, but the man was insistent with his arm signals. Witt obliged, opening the non descript gunmetal gray steel door.

The breeze from mechanically cooled air hit his face with verve. Old fluorescent lighting gave the hallway an eerie glow and Witt half expected a masked man with a running chainsaw to appear at any minute. He came upon a stairwell leading up to a large wooden door. There was no lock.

Witt was always the cynical, paranoid man with an eye for detail. Just because he was invited to the mansion didn’t mean someone wasn’t out to get him before he even made it inside. He carefully traced the door frame with his fingers, finding a contact plate in the upper right corner. Probably an alarm of some type, he thought. Yet, there was no other option but to open the door. He couldn’t stay in the hallway forever.

Witt had two options: burst in quickly and take everyone by surprise, or turn the knob slowly and cautiously open the door, being prepared to unholster, aim and fire at a moment’s notice.

As he reached for the door, it opened, leaving the detective staring into an open room. Three women and three men stared straight back at him. In the room was his benefactor, Erica Hansen, along with two other ladies, probably staff, he assumed. And the estate manager was on hand, along with the mute valet and another man, dressed casually as if to be working outside. Butler, footman and gardener perhaps? Witt noticed right away he was the only one without a drink in his hand. He knew this discrepancy would have to be rectified, and soon.

“Welcome to our home, Mr. Kepler. Please come in.  We’re having mimosas, would you care for one?”

Silly question

“That would be fine, actually. I must confess, I have not had a welcome like this in a long time.”

The lady of the house poured a colorful drink from a crystal pitcher. “Well, you are our guest. Tove was excited to find out you were coming here to help our little company. Have you had a chance to think about how you want to do this?”

Witt looked around the room, He did not know anyone except Erica, and he had just met her the day before. Taking a seat in the corner chair, facing in to the middle of the room, he surveyed the scene before speaking.

“Well, I guess I should take a tour of the house to understand what goes on in each room. I’ll do a sweep for bugs, of course, and look for anything unusual. Then I’d like to interview each of the staff to learn of their duties and how they interact with each other and anyone outside the granite walls.”

Erica took a sip of her mimosa, saying “Goodness. We might have this wrapped up by the end of the day then. Right?”

Witt tried not to laugh out loud.

“This could take days, really. Perhaps weeks. If we do it right. Observing the staff alone could take a few days. How many more people work on the estate?”

“No one else. Just us right here.”

Witt wanted to lock the door right then…

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