The Silent Interview


Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge this week was Who The Fuck Is My D&D Character? Click the link, go ahead. Even if you don’t play D&D (which I never really got into), it’s a hell of a lot of fun. It’s amazing. So, the challenge was to write a short story of around 1000 words with your D&D character, though not necessarily in the fantasy genre. I clearly did not follow the 1000 words rule.


(image not mine)


Barlow was far from a proud owner of a vast vocabulary, but a plethora of adjectives popped in his head as he beheld the house. The best word he could find for it was stately. The lawn was perfectly manicured, the roses large and lush, the topiaries practically prancing off their posts. The Georgian façade was painted ivory white, with blue-gray shingles lining the roof, and elegant Corinthian pillars flanking the porch. The house was owned by an apparent distant cousin of Her Majesty, yet another fellow tucked into the ever-complicated royal family tree. If he remembered right, there was a bit of French lineage in there as well, rumors about him being partially descended from the Palatinus Roland of Charlemagne’s court. Barlow knew his history, having once had a girlfriend who worked in the British Library, but he also knew that blue-bloods claiming such ancestry were most likely bragging through their expensive silk hats.

The man in question was Adrien Bartholomew Smythe, a retired General honorably discharged after a glorious career in the army. He was an inspirational character, a proud leader, philanthropist, recipient of a number of medals for valor and honor, and had apparently, taken up beekeeping off late. Everything about him was squeaky clean besides that little rumor that had sprung up a few months ago, some shtick about devil worship. Load of bollocks, in Barlow’s opinion. He was more interested in the man being a key witness and possible suspect in the murder of Valerie Tyler in Harrod’s on Wednesday night.

Barlow removed his hat, dusted his shoes, and rang the doorbell. A mustachioed butler opened the door.

“Can I help you, sir?”

“Inspector Timothy Barlow.” He held up his badge. “I’m here to ask Mr. Smythe a few questions about the incident at Harrod’s last night. Can I come in?” There was a pause. “I could come back with a warrant.”

The butler regarded him with a haughty stare down the point of his nose, but ushered him through to a parlor furnished with antique furniture, bronze statuettes, and gilt-framed paintings on clearly expensive wallpaper. Barlow was almost afraid to sit down lest he smudged the upholstery, but lowered himself onto a mahogany armchair to wait.

A minute later, Smythe entered the room, followed by a young woman in a paisley-printed frock. He was modestly dressed in a sweater vest and pressed slacks, leaning gently on a silver-topped walking stick. He had an amicable air about him, eyes crinkled with friendly lines and mouth smiling under a full grey beard. Barlow stood up and shook his hand.

“Inspector Timothy Barlow. Thanks for meeting me, sir. I’m just here to ask a few questions.”

Smythe waved a careless hand as if to say it was nothing. He gestured and the three of them sat down. The woman in paisley cleared her throat.

“Before we begin, Inspector, you should know that my grandfather has taken a vow of silence.”

Barlow blinked. “Excuse me?”

“A vow of silence,” she repeated. “He signed a contract with a wellness center to not speak or write to directly communicate for a period of six months as a starter. It’s been doing wonders for his blood pressure.”

Smythe nodded sagely. Barlow looked between them.

“You do understand we’re conducting a murder investigation, Miss…”

“Felicity Smythe, and yes. Grandfather will not speak or write down his answers to your questions, but there are other ways to communicate.” The butler walked in with a tea tray and set it on the coffee table. “Thank you, Wadsworth,” said Felicity. “Inspector Barlow, how good are you at charades?”

Barlow blinked again, wondering if he’d stepped into the TARDIS and got lost somewhere in an alternate universe. “Charades?”

“Yes, Inspector, charades,” she replied with a touch of irritation in her tone. “Or Pictionary, whatever works. I certainly hope you know how to play, because I personally hate the game and I’m not interested in gambling on my grandfather’s health for your sake. If you’re about finished gawping, can we get on with it?”

It was only ten in the morning, but Barlow suddenly wanted a drink. “Very well then.” He turned to Smythe, who was watching them with a placid smile. “Sir, as you may know, Valerie Tyler, a shop girl from the cosmetics section in Harrod’s, was found stabbed behind the L’Oréal counter on Thursday morning. Time of death is speculated at around ten thirty, Wednesday night. Security footage at Harrod’s shows you present there an hour before, talking to Miss Tyler after closing hours.”

Felicity turned to Smythe with a shocked gasp as he tensed up like a deer caught in headlights. His eyes flicked around the room in a panic before he deflated and gave a small nod.

“Grandfather!” Felicity exclaimed. “You said you were going to the club!”

He gave her a helpless look, cringed at her sharpening glare, and looked away. Barlow leaned forward.

“Sir, you were also seen leaving twenty minutes later with Miss Tyler and a purchase. A section of footage was cut out and the next thing we saw is Miss Tyler dead behind the lipsticks.”

Felicity’s glare grew murderous.

“Mr. Smythe,” said Barlow, firm but gentle. “Could you tell us what happened that night?”

“Yes, Grandfather,” said Felicity in an acid tone. “Could you tell us what happened that night?”

Smythe set his cane aside and took a deep breath. Looking Barlow in the eyes, he pointed at himself and then held up two fingers. It took Barlow a moment, but he cottoned on.

“You and…two? No, V? Valerie?”

Smythe nodded and then hooked his index fingers together. Felicity turned red in the face.

“You were having an affair with a shop girl?!”

Smythe gave his granddaughter a disgusted glare and she glowered right back before making herself a cup of tea to calm down.

Barlow asked, “You knew Valerie? You were friends?”

Smythe smiled approvingly and then made a slow series of gestures. Two fingers up, then at himself. A motion like swiping a credit card or exchanging items. Finally, setting an invisible box on the table and opening it with a delighted expression and jazz hands.

“You and Valerie,” said Barlow. Smythe nodded. “You were giving her…presents?”

Smythe shook his head, paused for a moment, and then grudgingly gestured at Felicity.

“You were giving a present to Miss Felicity?”

Felicity perked up. Smythe shrugged, looked put out, but nodded. He crooked his finger up and down in a spraying motion.

“Oh, my birthday!” Felicity exclaimed. “You remembered! You got me that perfume I wanted?”

Perfume was far too personal a gift to be getting for one’s granddaughter, but Barlow couldn’t afford a bottle of expensive spray even if he wanted to, so what did he know. Felicity cheered and pressed a kiss to her grandfather’s cheek, but then pulled back, frowning.

“Wait, how does the shop girl fit into this? Was she helping you?”

Smythe nodded. Barlow rubbed his brow, his discomfort rising. If the attorneys found out about their ridiculous game, there was going to be such a hullabaloo about putting words in the witness’s mouth.

“All right then,” he said, “why did you go after hours?”

Smythe pointed at the newspaper folded on the table between them. Felicity drew in a hissing breath.

“Oh, the reporters!” she snapped. “Those mangy hounds follow us everywhere! It’s been nigh impossible to do anything without some fool paparazzo with a camera spying on us ever since those rumors came out and started spreading like weeds. None of it is true, Inspector, I swear it.”

“I believe you.” Barlow leaned his elbows on his knees. “Sir, is there anything else you can tell us? Did Valerie say anything to you? Did you know anybody who would wish to hurt her?”

Smythe stroked his lush beard as he mulled. Barlow would have once been awed at the regal picture it made–the wide shoulders, the beard stroking, the bearing of a commander–but having played charades with the man for the past ten minutes, he found it hard to stay impressed. After a moment, Smythe pointed at Barlow.


Smythe nodded and sliced one hand down on the other, making a motion like pushing something away.

“Me in half? Timothy? Tim? No? Barlow…bar, low? Bar?”

Smythe’s head bobbed. He pulled the newspaper to him and tapped on a picture of the Prime Minister.

“The PM? David Camer…oh, not the whole thing, just David?”

Smythe then tapped on the table. Barlow wanted to tear his hair out. He was not paid enough for this.

“Table? Desk? Wood? Oh, wood? David Wood? Wait, David Wood, the floor manager at Harrod’s?”

Smythe nodded, looking mightily pleased with himself.

“David Wood…bar…Valerie was going to meet her boss in a bar?”

Smythe pointed at an elegant bronze statuette of two Grecian lovers embracing. Barlow pinched the bridge of his nose.

“Let me get this straight, Mr. Smythe,” he said. “Valerie Tyler told you that she was having an affair with her boss, David Wood, and was going to meet him at a bar?”

Smythe gave a beatific smile. Barlow had had enough.

“All right then.” He rose to his feet and shook their hands. “Thank you very much for your time and…cooperation, sir, miss. We will investigate this further and will return to you if there are any further questions.”

Felicity offered to walk him out. Before shutting the door, Barlow told her, “If there is a trial, your grandfather may be called to give a statement in court as a key witness.”

Even as the words left his mouth, Barlow got a vivid vision of the possible court trial: a frustrated prosecutor going through rounds of charades, resorting to Pictionary, the judge banging her gavel when the lawyers started protesting, Smythe proceeding with his calm and unruffled air through it all. A mad cackle threatened to escape him. Felicity caught his expression and gave him a wry look.

“I told you I hated charades. Goodbye, Inspector,” she said, and shut the door.

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