Daily Archives: July 18, 2012

Playing Deadline, Part 3

At the end of my last post we started analyzing the broken piece of porcelain we found below the library balcony for any trace of the various substances we found in the suspects’ bedrooms. While we’re keeping Duffy busy with that, the 12:00 will-reading rolls around, and everyone gathers in the living room along with Mr. Robner’s lawyer, Coates. It goes as expected. Because Mr. Robner had not yet delivered the promised new will to Coates before his death, the old must still be taken as in effect, dividing the estate equally between Mrs. Robner and George, who now sees even more lavish parties in his future. Coates does say, “Should a more recent will actually exist and be found within a reasonable period, the present one will be voided.” Sounds like a nudge to me.

We now can have a little fun by making almost everyone very uncomfortable using what we’ve already found out. Let’s start with Mrs. Robner.

>show letter to mrs. robner
"You have certainly stooped to a new low, haven't you, Inspector? Opening people's mail. I think there are laws against that sort of thing, but I guess you wouldn't know. I suppose you also know that Steven is my lover and that we were planning to be married. Don't look so melodramatic: I didn't kill my husband. You think my talk of divorce may have driven him to it? Why don't you leave me alone!"

>ask mrs. robner about steven
"I might as well tell you. Steven and I were lovers. We were going to be married as soon as I could divorce Marshall. I asked Marshall about it, but he became angry and refused. I didn't know what to do. Don't look at me that way. I had nothing to do with my husband's death. Driving him to it with talk of divorce? Hah! You didn't know Marshall, that's for sure! I should have told the police earlier, I suppose, but it's really none of your business."

This passage highlights an interesting aspect of Deadline: despite being ostensibly set in then-current times, it doesn’t feel like 1982. The way that Mrs. Robner is so plainly subservient to her husband; the way everyone is referred to as Mr. or Mrs. So-and-So instead of her first name; the rather patrician lifestyle of the family; the way that Dunbar, a supposedly professional and competent woman integral to the running of Mr. Robner’s business, was still expected to serve him his tea at 11:00 each night; even some of the language choices, such as Mr. Robner being a noted “industrialist” — all make this story feel like an artifact of Dennis Wheatley’s heyday, another sign of the huge influence the crime dossiers had on the whole project. Now we have a husband “refusing” to let his wife divorce him.

And Mrs. Robner is of course right, not only about our mail tampering (which should constitute a federal crime if I’m not mistaken) but about our behavior in general. If all detectives could behave like we do in Deadline, most Law and Order plots would be a hell of a lot simpler. A postmodern implementation of Deadline might let us identify the killer, only to throw the case out and throw us in jail because of all the laws we broke getting there.

Anyway, we’ve discovered that Mrs. Robner certainly had her secrets, but it still doesn’t quite seem to add up to murder somehow. Baxter is even less satisfying, shrugging his shoulders at the fragment of a note, claiming never to have seen it and not to know what it could be about. With George, though, we score:

>turn calendar
It is open to July 8.
There is only one notation here, under the 9AM column: "Call Coates: Will completed".

>show calendar to george
"I ... uh ... I don't really know what to say. I guess that maybe Dad ... but there is no other ... I can't help you ... sorry." George appears to be quite agitated.
"I've... got to be going now. I'll see you later," George says. He starts to leave.
George heads off to the east.

What follows is a delicate cat-and-mouse chase, in which we need to trail George through the house without spooking him so much that he doesn’t do what he wants to do next. Here the emergent possibilities that I mentioned in my first post really come to the fore; we can duck into closets and the like (or not), and George will react accordingly. Like so much in this game, it takes a number of restores and some careful time management to get right. When we do so, however, he leads us to a secret room — naturally, behind the bookshelves in the library. And, if we time our bursting in on him just right, we catch him next to an open safe, Mr. Robner’s new will in hand. Sure enough, it disowns George, leaving the entire estate to his mother. Presumably George meant to destroy it before it was discovered by someone else.

Still, we haven’t really proven much more than that. George apparently didn’t know the new will had actually been completed until we brought it to his attention in the living room. Then, knowing it must be in his father’s secret safe, he acted impulsively and desperately to get rid of it. We’re far from proving murder. George doesn’t seem smart enough to have come up with the subtly diabolical plot the murder increasingly looks to have been. And, barring a co-conspirator, it’s hard to see how he could have pulled it off, given Rourke’s testimony that he didn’t come down from his room after 11:00.

Given all that, of more ultimate importance than the new will are the other papers we find in the safe.

>examine safe
A stack of papers bound together is in the safe.

>examine stack
In leafing through these papers, it becomes obvious that they are documents that incriminate Mr. Baxter in wrongdoings regarding the Focus scandal. They document funds which were embezzled by Mr. Baxter and give a general idea of how the scandal was hushed up. This evidence should be sufficient to convict Mr. Baxter in the Focus case.

There’s a solid motive here. But let’s not jump to conclusions too fast. By this time Duffy’s lab runs have turned up another key piece of information. The fragment of porcelain found in the rose garden contains traces of the blood-pressure medication Dunbar is taking.

>read report
Dear Inspector,

In response to your request for analysis of the cup fragment, we have found a considerable quantity of a drug called Methsparin, which is occasionally sold in this country under the name "LoBlo". It is a blood pressure lowering agent used in Europe, but infrequently used here, which explains the oversight in our blood analysis of the deceased. A review of that blood reveals a high blood level of Methsparin. While the amount of Methsparin in the blood is not dangerous in itself, a strong interaction between it and various other drugs has been well documented. As you may have gathered, one of those drugs is Amitraxin (Ebullion). The effect of Methsparin is to displace drugs from protein binding sites, leaving more free in the blood and simulating an overdose.

Your new evidence leads me to conclude that the cause of death of the deceased is Amitraxin toxicity secondary to ingestion of Methsparin and Amitraxin in combination.


Arthur Chatworth, Pathologist

Marc Blank’s other life — as you may remember, he graduated from the Albert Einstein School of Medicine, only to drop out of his internship to come to Infocom — comes through for him here. I asked my doctor wife, who normally gets as frustrated with depictions of medicine in fictions as I do with depictions of computers and hacking, whether the above made sense. She said it made perfect sense in theory, although she doesn’t know of any drugs with that effect which actually exist.

With two new favorite suspects, we set what we’ve learned before them to see what we can turn up.

>show stack to baxter
He reads slowly and leafs through the pages. "I'm afraid I have not been altogether candid with you. There was some trouble a few years ago with Focus Corp. because of some, let us say, irresponsible dealings on my part. Marshall agreed to cover up my involvement to save the company from bad publicity."

"I can't understand why he would be insisting that I do this or that, though, as it seems to say on that note you showed me. He must have changed his mind, however, since I never received the note."

>ask baxter about merger
"Ah! I didn't realize you had an interest in finance. Before Marshall died, we agreed that the only reasonable way to protect our interests was to be bought out by a larger company which would be able to provide us with more capital for expansion. I had been talking to people at Omnidyne and we agreed in principle on the terms for such an agreement last week. I am hopeful that we can accomplish the deal quickly."

Mrs. Robner, however, already told us that her husband was not in favor of the deal. As for Dunbar, her denial and attempt to cast the blame on everyone’s favorite scapegoat are quite feeble:

>show report to dunbar
She seems stunned but recovers quickly. "He didn't commit suicide, then?" she says. "But LoBlo, that's a pill that I take for my blood pressure." She pauses. "I can tell what you're thinking, but I didn't, couldn't have done it. Why should I? Someone must have taken them, maybe George. He knew I used them."

Flustered, she soon leaves the room. If we follow, we see her conveniently drop a ticket stub — to the same symphony that Baxter claimed to have attended alone on the night of the murder. When we ask each about it separately, we find they’ve failed to get their stories entirely straight.

>show stub to baxter
"Ah, that must be Ms. Dunbar's ticket stub. I should have told you earlier. Ms. Dunbar was with me at the concert on the night that Marshall killed himself. She became ill at intermission time and hired a car to take her back home. You see, Inspector, I know how much Ms. Dunbar appreciates classical music, and I occasionally ask her along with me to my subscription series. I really should have told the other detective, but I didn't think it mattered."

>show stub to dunbar
"Oh, I ... well, I guess I should tell you. You see, Mr. Baxter and I, we go together to concerts, only occasionally, you understand. We went that night, the night Marshall died. And then he took me home and that's it. I should have said something before, I know. I just didn't think it was important, and, well, I didn't think that the others should know that we were seeing each other socially. Our ... nobody knows about it, you know. Please don't say anything!"

What are they hiding? If Dunbar’s version is the truth, Baxter was in fact at the house that night. And in either case, it seems their relationship was much closer than anyone associated with them had previously believed.

At this point the ultimate answer to the puzzle of Mr. Robner’s murder is becoming pretty clear. We’ll lock the case down with one more piece of evidence next time, and also make room for some final thoughts on the whole experience.


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