Watt, Watt, EverywhereMystery teasers are little stories where you need to figure out what happened based on the given clues.
The police were digging through the ruins of the Watt mansion's south addition, what had been Sei Watt's cigar-smoking bunker until 36 hours ago. The family scion, Hya Watt, was seated at the desk that had so recently been his father's, waiting for Nora Shekrie to summarize. After a full day on the case, her only conclusion was that he'd need an expert. Nora explained the name as they waited for Private Investigator homeS (*not* Holmes, thank you) to arrive.
"It's a tribute to his Great Lakes ancestry. It's an eclectic mixture: Seneca, Menominee, Ottawa, and French Canadian, plus the Winnebago shaman and German farmer you read about."
Hya nodded. "The trailing capital?"
"Superiority complex." Hya counted lakes, groaned, ... and retained homeS immediately.
homeS now sat at the room's other working chair. Hya poured him a Bushmill's from Sei's cabinet. At the first sip, Nora began.
"Sei Watt's retreat room was designed and built by the finest talent available to the CEO of Watt's New."
"The cutting-edge, most profitable arm of the Watt business empire." Nora acknowledged with a nod -- homeS wasn't interrupting, merely saving time.
"It was virtually fireproof. Full climate control: atmosphere carefully filtered, cleansed, and maintained from pressurized tanks: a 3-to-1 mixture of nitrogen and oxygen, with carbon dioxide to keep the respiratory system happy. Four percent?"
"He retired there every night after dinner, roughly 7:30, to smoke and read in peace. The only combustibles in the room were those he brought with him: usually two cigars, a lighter, his dessert, and several books or periodicals. Whatever happened, the pyrotechnics were formidable."
"I've seen the security footage. Volumes of whitish vapor -- water?" Nora nodded.
"It dissipated like heavy fog. I asked Sgt. Wilco to gather ash samples from downwind; I knew you'd want them later." homeS nodded thanks.
"The supply valves stuck in the heat; the tanks are empty now," Nora continued.
"Empty, or down to one atmosphere?" Nora let the ego pass: they needed his mind.
"You're right, of course. The room is ruined, you'll have the coroner's report before we leave, and ..."
Now he interrupted. "Suspects? For once, not the primary heirs."
"Correct. Hya was suddenly graduated two weeks early, with honors; college in New Zealand. The only reasonable competition for CEO is a cousin on the Deere side, Ivan Gufinov."
"Who prefers to do applied research in central Europe, at his own pace."
Hya spoke up in defense. "Ivan has 20 patents for Watt, plus four humanitarian awards on three continents."
Nora went on. "The family retainers are paid what they're worth, which is considerable. When Hya's mother died two years ago, ...""
"The regatta accident. Sasha Deere was ..." homeS's failure to find words spoke volumes.
"Thank you," Hya sniffed. "Go on, Nora."
"Her will gave each roughly a year's salary. Sei Watt's will is rumored to be even more generous."
"Somewhat more," Hya agreed. "One or two may retire. Deserved, but they'd be hard to replace."
Nora counted the suspects. "Nita Pepper runs the kitchen; Duncan Pines, landscaping; Cooper Benden, handyman; Dustin Flores, housekeeper; Seymour Panes is the family doctor, and makes house calls."
"What did each do with the first bequest?" homeS asked Hya.
"Pines invested in T-bills and Watt's New," he explained. "Flores put his mother in assisted living and got some rest. Benden still places small bets at the track, but buys more than his share of the drinks, and doesn't panic when he loses, although he's gone back to worrying. Pepper is taking classes: one from Caprial Pence, another from Horst Staley so far. The food is even better than before. I don't know about Dr. Panes; shall I ask him?"
"Please, if it's convenient," homeS said; his tone made it more than a request.
To his surprise, the scion of the Watt empire immediately hit three buttons on his desk phone, and they all heard the receptionist connect to Dr. Panes.
"Dr. Seymour, I'm here with some official people trying to clear up my father's death. You're on speakerphone. They're curious about how you spent the money from my mother."
"New diagnostic gadgets for the clinic." They murmured agreement. "I'm glad you called; I need to speak with you about your father's condition. It's personal, but you might decide it bears on the investigation."
"Then you have my permission to discuss it right now, on speaker-phone." Hya started a recorder, stated the fact, and introduced the parties. "Go ahead, Doctor."
"Your father had only a few months: cancer, metastasized. That's why your MBA program was accelerated. He had perhaps four months at work, then two dying at home. He planned to tell you at graduation. He cut red tape and expected you to do the rest. You didn't disappoint him."
Hya couldn't speak; Nora asked, "Doctor, who else knew?"
"I told nobody. We spoke only in person. Perhaps someone was in the hallway when I last examined him at home, but I couldn't say."
homeS looked at Hya's face, then spoke. "Thank you, Doctor. May I call you later, if needed?"
"Of course. I'll be at all the services, of course."
The call ended; they digested the news. Finally, homeS had open issues.
"So Pepper prepared his desserts. Pines may have had outside access at the time. Flores had keys to everything. Benden maintained the bunker's air and sprinkler systems."
"Not quite." Hya looked up. "Father had the only inside key, and cleaned it himself. Benden had external access to the air system; there was no sprinkler. Dad hated the idea of his pipe setting it off."
A light bulb appeared over homeS's head. "When you have eliminated the impossible ..." He let the statement hang as he punched his cell phone.
"Sgt. Wilco? The ash will show almost nothing, but it's critical for the murder trial. ... Yes, we have. Please take into custody for questioning ..."
Whom did homeS finger for the murder?
HintIn a fireproof room, what burns well?
AnswerhomeS continued. "... Cooper Benden. Interrogate him about the late Mr. Watt's medical condition."
Hya added "And have them get his betting records from the track."
A quick search of his room turned up a large number of markers from two bookies, plus notes on two on-line betting parlors.
"So he thought he'd cost my father only a few stressful months, but pay off his gambling debts. We have motive and opportunity; how about means?" Hya asked.
homeS raised an eyebrow, inclining his head to Nora.
"Let me see if I have this right," she said, still humble before the P.I. "It was all too simple. Benden merely substituted hydrogen for nitrogen in the air mix. Mixed with nearly pure oxygen, as soon as Sei Watt struck a match, boom! Water vapor, the weakest seam gives out, and the extra hydrogen burns with oxygen from outside. The tanks keep pumping, and most of the evidence floats downwind."
She went on with details. "The residual gas in the tanks should make the case, along with the *lack* of ash, since the fire was clean. Fortunately, solving the case quickly should let you stabilize the business environment. The crime is limited; no more enemy action to threaten your new position."
"So, what do I tell the press? Oh, I guess I'll let the P.R. heads handle that."
Nora noticed a gleam in the P.I.'s eye. She churned her brains, stumbled across the obvious phrase, and gasped an apology as she ran, giggling, into the hall.
"What brought that on?"
"I deduce that she imagined telling the fourth estate how your father died."
"So, how *did* my father die, homeS?"
The hired brain drained the last mouthful of the wonderful whiskey, placed his glass on the service tray next to the door, and answered.
"Elementally, my Deere-Watt scion."
With a two-fingered salute, homeS escaped the study to escort Nora to her car.
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