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In the Absence of Caution

by Gary Clifton

Mason Northern Insurance Company had hired McTavish to look into a fatal hit and run auto accident. He punched the doorbell button, which produced five bars of Mozart inside the huge house.

The massive oak door swung slowly open to reveal a smallish, slender man in his late thirties, in a dark, tuxedo-type jacket. McTavish was a head taller. Had he stumbled into Dracula’s castle?

“Jason McTavish, insurance investigator, sir. I called. I have an appointment with Mrs. Crawford?”

The man in the vampire outfit eyed McTavish for what seemed a full half-minute. His battered face and crooked nose, scarring around the eyes, suggested to McTavish’s practiced eye that the man had been in a serious accident.

“Mrs. Crawford is on the telephone to her barrister, sir. She instructed me to tell you to wait. She’ll decide whether to speak with you.” His speech was clipped, resonant, proper, and definitely rude. He spoke with a slight accent McTavish couldn’t readily identify.

“You the gatekeeper?” The haughty attitude touched a McTavish nerve.

“No, sir, the butler. Perhaps you should come back another time,” the man said.

McTavish ramped up his game face. “Look, pal, I need to talk with Mrs. Crawford — to which she’s already agreed — sooner rather than later. We’re lookin’ at a vehicular homicide here.”

Rolling his eyes, the man said, "Sir, I am not your pal." He started to slam the door. McTavish caught it with a foot. From the cooled caverns behind the man, a soft female voice sounded. “It’s all right, I’ll speak with this man.”

McTavish, already simmering, distinctly heard the butler mutter something about “scruffy dumb cop” from behind the door. McTavish stepped back from the massive door.

Helen Crawford hardly looked thirty. In tennis shorts with deeply tanned legs that went all the way to the floor, she was blonde, fit, and smelled of lilacs, the result he assumed, of having nothing to do all day long and plenty of help to do it with.

“Jason McTavish. Representing Mason Northern, Mrs. Crawford. We need to determine who was driving your Lexus yesterday when the car struck and killed a twelve-year old boy in a school crosswalk and then was found abandoned three blocks from here.”

“My attorney advises me not to talk with you.” She reached for the already partially closed door. McTavish stepped into the doorway, a practice of many years.

“Uh, ma’am, I afraid you don’t understand. Homicide is obtaining a warrant for your arrest as we speak.”

The butler appeared from behind her, punched a finger in McTavish’s chest and pushed him back onto the tall-pillared porch. “Beat it,” he said softly.

Many years a cop before he retired to go into the PI business, McTavish was robust, fit, and a brawler. No household servant, especially one as wimpy as this guy, was going to push him around.

The man stepped out onto the porch and shoved McTavish again. “Mrs. Crawford says she doesn’t want to talk to you. You have a hearing problem.”

McTavish reacted. “I have a problem all right. Push me again shorty and I have a surprise for you,” he said through clenched teeth.

The butler immediately pushed him again.

“You gotta be the rudest butler I ever saw. Somebody needs to give you a lesson in decorum.”

The butler stood quietly, the irritating smirk on the battered face. Oddly for the situation, he made a slight feint with his left hand as if to throw a punch.

Concluding he was now safely in self-defense mode, McTavish caught the butler a full overhand right in the already non-existent nose. The blow sprawled him on the porch floor on his butt.

“There’s more where that came from, dude. You’ve got the manners of a goat. You new at this?”

“New at being the butler, sir.” The man struggled to his feet. “Prior to coming to work for Mrs. Crawford as butler and director of security, I was European middleweight boxing champion for fourteen years, sir.”

He stepped forward, blood trickling from his flattened nose. “You can resume teaching me a lesson now, sir.”

* * *

Case file in hand, McTavish took a chair across the desk from the director of claims at Mason Northern.

“Good grief, McTavish, what happened to your face?”

“Fell off a front porch... sorta.”

Copyright © 2016 by Gary Clifton

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