Prompt: Write a story where a character's late arrival sets something in motion.
Inspector Dalton looked at his watch. It was nearly 8:45 AM on a Sunday morning in late March and Chief Inspector Rabbitt had not yet arrived to “pull the rabbit out of the hat,” as he liked to call his dramatic resolution of a murder case. When Rabbitt would make this announcement, Patrolman Drake would always whisper in his ear: “What? He’s going to pull himself out of a hat?” Every bloody time.
And this case was humdinger: Lord Carlton Farnsworth had been gunned down in the Chillingham Station in the early hours of the same morning. His body was found slumped on a bench on the railroad platform by the stationmaster at 2:20 AM with a single gunshot wound to the head. Rabbitt, or Bunny as he was known to his Eton and Oxford classmates, had asked him to assemble the suspects in the drawing room at Farnsworth Hall at 8:00 AM sharp.
And here they sat waiting for Bunny. There was Richard Lloyd, Farnsworth's head butler and his scorned homosexual lover ; Lady Annette Farnsworth, a former Hooter’s waitress, and his lordships third wife; Robert and Anne Howell, two American business associates of the Earl who were visiting from New York. The natives were getting restless.
“I say this is rather a bother,” Lloyd whined. “ I have duties here at the hall that must conform to a strict schedule.”
“We have to be in London before lunch,” Howell said. “Can’t you reach him on your cell phone?”
Lady Farnsworth’s hands were shaking noticeably and her lips were turning an unhealthy blue.
Dalton knew that Rabbitt liked to make his victims squirm by being late and making a dramatic entrance, but this was getting ridiculous.
However, he didn’t see the need for dramatics in this case because, in his mind at least, it was open and shut: Lloyd had the motive and his fingerprints were all over the .32 caliber automatic that was found in the station parking lot.
Farnsworth had been dropped off by his wife in order to catch a special 2:15 AM train to Southhampton for a VIP boarding of the Queen Mary II. The stationmaster had seen Mrs. Farnsworth heading down the center stairs toward the parking lot before he heard the gun shot and back up them just after at 2:20. Since the earl had been shot at point-blank range, this made her an unlikely suspect.
Just as the clock struck, Inspector Rabbitt entered the room. He was wearing his Deerstalker cap. “Uh-oh, he's wearing the topper,” Drake whispered “He must be feelin right cocky.”
“Good morning, ladies and gentlemen,” Rabbitt said with a theatrical sweep of his hat.
“Lord Farnsworth is barely cold in his grave and I have solved this despicable, pre-mediated crime,” he said, his laser beam blue eyes going from face to face and his prominent bulbous nose twitching.
“Only two people in this room had the means and the motive to commit this crime: Richard Lloyd and Lady Farnsworth.” Lloyd returned the Inspectors steely glare while Lady Fansworth gasped and covered her face with her hanky. “Lloyd was angry and rejected. Her ladyship was jealous and vengeful.”
“What weighs heavily against Mr. Lloyd is that the murder weapon - a .32 caliber Waltham-belongs to him and is covered with his finger prints.”
“He claims that Lady Farnsworth borrowed the gun early on the afternoon of the 24th, saying that she was going to shoot some rabbits that were damaging her garden, a despicable activity I might add.”
“That’s a damned lie!”, her ladyship bellowed. “I don’t know one end of a gun from another."
Ignoring the profanity, the inspector drolly replied: “The daughter of Rocco Chillemi, a capo in the Chicago mob, was teethed on firearms, I would suspect.”
“Both of our American visitors are prepared to testify that while they did not see Lloyd go out, they were surprised to see him come home in the early hours of the morning. Both, I repeat, both looked at their watches and the grandfather clock in the hall and noted the time to be 1:40 AM when he entered. He spent an hour with them before retiring, thus making it impossible for him to be at the train station shooting his former lover at 2:20 AM.”
Lloyd's supercillious expression never changed under the inspectors forceful glare.
“This leaves us in a bit of a pickle it would seem, since the stationmaster saw our other suspect running back up the center stairs moments AFTER the fatal shot was fired, thus clearing her of all suspicion.”
“Until we consider the Iphone,” he shouted dramatically, thrusting his cap in the air and striking his best Statue of Liberty pose. “Records show, that on the 23rd of March, Lady Farnsworth made a ninety nine cent online purchase at the ap store.” The long dramatic pause hung heavy in the lugubrious air.
“THAT purchase was a gun shot alarm ap.”
“I purchased that to scare the rabbits, you damned cretan,” the Peeress shreiked.
“Here is what happened in the early morning hours. Lady Farnsworth shot her husband just as the train entered the station, the noise drowning out the report. The platform was empty, so there were no other witnesses. She set the alarm timer for five minutes. She placed the phone next to her husband and left the platform, leaving and returning by the center stairs so that she would be sure to be seen by the stationmaster when the alarm went off. It was an easy matter to collect it again in the confusion after his death.”
“Lady Farnsworth, I ACCUSE you of murdering your straying fop of a husband on the TRAIN PLATFORM with the PISTOL.”
“Jesus Christ, now he’s playing Clue!,” Drake whispered.
“Slap her in irons and haul her away!”, his forefinger pointed at the accused like the digit of doom and she promptly collapsed in a heap upon the floor.
When the Emergency Services left after failing to jump-start Lady Farnsworth's heart , Dalton and Rabbitt sat in the squad car in the Farnsworth driveway. Dalton remembered the clock striking as the inspector entered the room.
“Sir, may I ask you a question?,” he said.
“Of course, Dalton, it is my duty to instruct as well as to lead,” came the smug reply.
“Why were you an hour late for the meeting this morning?”
“Rubbish, sir, “ he responded looking at his watch. “It is only now just going on quarter to nine.”
“Sir, did you forget that England went on daylight savings time this morning between one and two AM?”
You neglected to move your watch forward, sir, as the folks at Farnsworth Hall neglected to do as well. This occurred to me when I heard the clock strike nine as you entered. The railroad station of course would already reflect the correct time.This means that Lloyd got back to the manor at 2:40 AM rather than 1:40. It certainly raises the possibility that he was on the platform at 2:20, distracted the earl long enough to cause him to miss his train, shot him and fled down the south staircase.”
“Blimey, quite a boner on my part, what? Why don’t we just keep this as our little secret,” he said as he chewed on his first carrot of the day.