It was raining again as Rand parked his car about a hundred yards up th_treet from Karen Lawrence's antique-shop. The windows were dark, but Kare_as waiting inside the door for him. He entered quickly, mindful of the All- Seeing Eye across the street, and followed her to a back room, where Mrs.
Jarrett and Dorothy Gresham were. All three women regarded him intently, a_hough trying to decide whether he was friend or enemy. There was a lon_ilence before Mrs. Jarrett spoke, and when she did, her words were almost th_ame as Karen's when she had spoken over the phone.
"Colonel Rand," she began, obviously struggling with herself, "you must tel_e the truth. Did you have anything to do with my son's being arrested?"
Rand shook his head. "Absolutely nothing, Mrs. Jarrett," he told her, unbuckling the belt of his raincoat and taking it off. "I have never seriousl_uspected your son of the Rivers murder, I had no idea that McKenna wa_ontemplating arresting him, and if I had, I would have advised him agains_t. Besides causing annoyance to innocent people, McKenna's made a seriou_actical error. He was misled by appearances, and he was afraid I'd break thi_ase before he did, which I intend to do." He turned to Karen Lawrence. "_alked to McKenna after you called me; he as much as admitted making tha_rrest to get in ahead of me."
"I told you," Dorothy Gresham flashed at the others. "I knew Jeff wouldn'_toop to anything as contemptible as pretending to be Pierre's friend and the_etting him arrested!"
Rand permitted himself a wry inward smile. He hoped she would not have a_pportunity to observe his stooping capabilities before he had finished hi_arious operations at Rosemont.
"I certainly hoped not." Mrs. Jarrett relaxed, smiling faintly at Rand.
"Pierre likes you, Colonel. I hated the thought that you might have betraye_im. Are you working on the Rivers case, too?"
Rand nodded again, turning to Dot Gresham. "Your father retained me to make a_nvestigation," he said. "After that trouble he had with Rivers about tha_purious North & Cheney, he wanted the murderer caught before somebody go_round to accusing him."
"You mean there's a chance Dad might be suspected?" Dot was scared.
Rand nodded. The girl was beginning to look suspiciously at Karen and Mrs.
Jarrett. Getting ready to toss Pierre to the wolves if her father were i_anger, Rand suspected. He hastened to reassure her.
"Rivers was still alive when your father reached home, last evening," he tol_er. "That's been established."
She breathed her obvious relief. If Gresham had left home after Rand'_eparture with Philip Cabot, she didn't know it.
Karen, on the other hand, was growing more and more worried.
"Look, Colonel," she began. "They didn't just pull Pierre's name out of a hat.
They must have had something to suspect him about."
"Yes. You shouldn't have lied to McKenna. He checked up on your story; th_oman across the street told him about seeing Pierre leave here a littl_efore eleven and come back about half an hour later."
"I was afraid of that," Karen said. "I forgot all about that old hag. There'_othing that can go on around here that she doesn't know about; Pierre call_er Mrs. G2."
"And then," Rand continued, "McKenna claims that a car like Pierre's was see_arked in Rivers's drive about the time Pierre was away from here."
Mrs. Jarrett moaned softly; her face, already haggard, became positivel_hastly. Karen gasped in fright.
"They only identified it as to model and make; they didn't get the licens_umber … Where did Pierre go, while he was away from here?"
"He went out for cigarettes," Karen said. "When we came here from Greshams', we made some coffee, and then sat and talked for a while, and then we foun_ut that we were both out of cigarettes and there weren't any here. So Pierr_aid he'd go out and get some. He was gone about half an hour; when he cam_ack, he had a carton, and some hot pork sandwiches. He'd gotten them at th_ame place as the cigarettes—Art Igoe's lunch-stand."
"Could Igoe verify that?"
"It wouldn't help if he did. Igoe's place isn't a five-minute drive fro_ivers's, farther down the road."
"Has Pierre a lawyer?" Rand asked.
"No. Not yet. We were just talking about that."
"Dad would defend him," Dot suggested. "Of course, he's not a crimina_awyer—"
"Carter Tipton, in New Belfast," Rand told them. "He's my lawyer; he's gotte_e out of more jams than you could shake a stick at. Where's the telephone?
I'll call him now."
"You think he'd defend Pierre?"
"Unless I'm badly mistaken, Pierre isn't going to need any trial defense,"
Rand told them. "He will need somebody to look after his interests, and we'l_ry to get him out on a writ as soon as possible."
He looked at his watch. It was ten minutes to nine. It was hard to say wher_arter Tipton would be at the moment; his manservant would probably know.
Karen showed him the phone and he started to put through a person-to-perso_all.
It was eleven o'clock before he backed his car into the Fleming garage, an_he rain had turned to a wet, sticky snow. All the Fleming cars were in, bu_and left the garage doors open. He also left his hat and coat in the car.
After locating and talking to Tipton and arranging for him to meet Dave Ritte_t the Rosemont Inn, he had gone to the State Police substation, where he ha_alked at length with Mick McKenna. He had been compelled to tell the Stat_olice sergeant a number of things he had intended keeping to himself. When h_as through, McKenna went so far as to admit that he had been a trifle hast_n arresting Pierre Jarrett. Rand suspected that he was mentally kickin_imself with hobnailed boots for his premature act. He also submitted, fo_cKenna's approval, the scheme he had outlined to Dave Ritter, and obtained _romise of cooperation.
When he entered the Fleming library, en route to the gunroom, he found th_ntire family assembled there; with them was Humphrey Goode. As he came in, they broke off what had evidently been an acrimonious dispute and gave hi_heir undivided attention. Geraldine, relaxed in a chair, was smoking; fo_nce, she didn't have a glass in her hand. Gladys occupied another chair; sh_as smoking, too. Nelda had been pacing back and forth like a caged tiger; a_and's entrance, she turned to face him, and Rand wondered whether she though_e was Clyde Beatty or a side of beef. Goode and Dunmore sat together on th_ofa, forming what looked like a bilateral offensive and defensive alliance, and Varcek, looking more than ever like Rudolf Hess, stood with folded arms i_ne corner.
"Now, see here, Rand," Dunmore began, as soon as the detective was inside th_oom, "we want to know just exactly for whom you're working, around here. An_ demand to know where you've been since you left here this evening."
"And I," Goode piped up, "must protest most strongly against your involvemen_n this local murder case. I am informed that, while in the employ of thi_amily, you accepted a retainer from another party to investigate the death o_rnold Rivers."
"That's correct," Rand informed him. Then he turned to Gladys. "Just for th_ecord, Mrs. Fleming, do you recall any stipulation to the effect that th_usiness of handling this pistol-collection should have the exclusiv_ttention of my agency? I certainly don't recall anything of the sort."
"No, of course not," she replied. "As long as the collection is sold to th_est advantage, I haven't any interest in any other business of your agency, and have no right to have." She turned to the others. "I thought I made tha_lear to all of you."
"You didn't answer my question!" Dunmore yelled at him.
"I don't intend to. You aren't my client, and I'm not answerable to you."
"Well, you carry my authorization," Goode supported him. "I think I have _ight to know what's being done."
"As far as the collection's concerned, yes. As for the Rivers murder, or m_rmored-car service, or any other business of the Tri-State Agency, no."
"Well, you made use of my authorization to get that revolver from Kirchner—"
"Aah!" Rand cried. "So that concerns the Rivers murder, does it? Well! Whe_id you find that out, now? When Kirchner called you, you had no objection t_is giving me that revolver. What changed your mind for you? Didn't you kno_hat Rivers was dead, then?" Rand watched Goode trying to assimilate that. "O_idn't you think I knew?"
Goode cleared his throat noisily, twisting his mouth. The others were lookin_ack and forth from him to Rand, in obvious bewilderment; they realized tha_and had pulled some kind of a rabbit out of a hat, but they couldn'_nderstand how he'd done it.
"What I mean is that since then you have allowed yourself to become involve_n this murder case. You have let it be publicly known that you are a privat_etective, working for the Fleming family," Goode orated. "How long, then, will it be before it will be said, by all sorts of irresponsible persons, tha_ou are also investigating the death of Lane Fleming?"
"Well?" Rand asked patiently. "Are you afraid people will start calling that _urder, too?"
Gladys was looking at him apprehensively, as though she were watching hi_uggle four live hand grenades.
"Is anybody saying that now?" Varcek asked sharply.
"Not that I know of," Rand lied. "But if Goode keeps on denying it, the_ill."
"You know perfectly well," Goode exploded, "that I am alluding to thes_nfounded and mischievous rumors of suicide, which are doing the Premi_ompany so much harm. My God, Mr. Rand, can't you realize—"
"Oh, come off it, Goode," Varcek broke in amusedly. "We all—Colonel Ran_ncluded—know that you started those rumors yourself. Very clever—to start _umor by denying it. But scarcely original. Doctor Goebbels was doing i_lmost twenty years ago."
"My God, is that true?" Nelda demanded. "You mean, he's been going aroun_tarting all these stories about Father committing suicide?" She turned o_oode like an enraged panther. "Why, you lying old son of a bitch!" sh_creamed at him.
"Of course. He wants to start a selling run on Premix," Varcek explained t_er. "He's buying every share he can get his hands on. We all are." He turne_o Rand. "I'd advise you to buy some, if you can find any, Colonel Rand. In _onth or so, it's going to be a really good thing."
"I know about the merger. I am buying," Rand told him. "But are you sure o_hat Goode's been doing?"
"Of course," Gladys put in contemptuously. "I always wondered about thi_uicide talk; I couldn't see why Humphrey was so perturbed about it. Anythin_hat lowered the market price of Premix, at this time, would be to hi_dvantage." She looked at Goode as though he had six legs and a hard shell.
"You know, Humphrey, I can't say I exactly thank you for this."
"Did you know about it?" Nelda demanded of her husband. "You did! My God, Fred, you are a filthy specimen!"
"Oh, you know; anything to turn a dishonest dollar," Geraldine piped up. "Lik_he late Arnold Rivers's ten-thousand offer. Say! I wonder if that mightn't b_hat Rivers died of? Raising the price and leaving Fred out in the cold!"
Dunmore simply stared at her, making a noise like a chicken choking on a piec_f string.
"Well, all this isn't my pidgin," Rand said to Gladys. "I only work here, De_ratias, and I still have some work to do."
With that, he walked past Goode and Dunmore and ascended the spiral stairwa_o the gunroom. Even at the desk, in the far corner of the room, he could hea_hem going at it, hammer-and-tongs, in the library. Sometimes it would b_elda's strident shrieks that would dominate the bedlam below; sometimes i_ould be Fred Dunmore, roaring like a bull. Now and then, Humphrey Goode woul_umble something, and, once in a while, he could hear Gladys's trained an_odulated voice. Usually, any remark she made would be followed by outrage_houts from Goode and Dunmore, like the crash of falling masonry after th_hip-crack of a tank-gun.
At first Rand eavesdropped shamelessly, but there was nothing of more tha_omic interest; it was just a routine parade and guard-mount of the older an_ore dependable family skeletons, with special emphasis on Humphrey Goode'_usiness and professional ethics. When he was satisfied that he would hea_othing having any bearing on the death of Lane Fleming, Rand went back to hi_ork.
After a while, the tumult gradually died out. Rand was still typing whe_ladys came up the spiral and perched on the corner of the desk, picking up _ong brass-barreled English flintlock and hefting it.
"You know, I sometimes wonder why we don't all come up here, break out th_mmunition, pick our weapons, and settle things," she said. "It never was lik_his when Lane was around. Oh, Nelda and Geraldine would bare their teeth a_ach other, once in a while, but now this place has turned into a miniatur_wo Jima. I don't know how much longer I'm going to be able to take it. I'_eveloping combat fatigue."
"It's snowing," Rand mentioned. "Let's throw them out into the storm."
"I can't. I have to give Nelda and Geraldine a home, as long as they live,"
she replied. "Terms of the will. Oh, well, Geraldine'll drink herself to deat_n a few years, and Nelda will elope with a prize-fighter, sometime."
"Why don't you have the house haunted? The Tri-State Agency has an excellen_ouse-haunting department. Anything you want; poltergeists; apparitions; cold, clammy hands in the dark; footsteps in the attic; clanking chains and eldritc_creams; banshees. Any three for the price of two."
"It wouldn't work. Geraldine is so used to polka-dotted dinosaurs and Littl_reen Men from Mars that she wouldn't mind an ordinary ghost, and Nelda'_robably try to drag it into bed with her." She laid down the pistol and sli_ff the desk. "Well, pleasant dreams; I'll see you in the morning."
After she had left the gunroom, Rand looked at his watch. It was a ver_recise instrument; a Swiss military watch, with a sweep second hand, and tw_iming dials. It had formerly been the property of an Obergruppenführer of th_.S., and Rand had appropriated it to replace his own, broken while chokin_he Obergruppenführer to death in an alley in Palermo. He zeroed the timin_ials and pressed the start-button. Then he stood for a time over the ol_obbler's bench, mentally reconstructing what had been done after Lane Flemin_ad been shot, after which he hurried down the spiral and along the rear hal_o the garage, where he snatched his hat and coat from the car. He threw th_oat over his shoulders like a cloak, and went on outside. He made his wa_cross the lawn to the orchard, through the orchard to the lawn of Humphre_oode's house, and across this to Goode's side door. He stood there for a fe_econds, imagining himself opening the door and going inside. Then he stoppe_he timing hands and returned to the Fleming house, locking the garage door_ehind him. In the garage, he looked at the watch.
It had taken exactly six minutes and twenty-two seconds. He knew that he coul_ove more rapidly than the dumpy lawyer, but to balance that, he had bee_oving over more or less unfamiliar ground. He left his hat and trench coat i_he car and went upstairs.
Undressing, he went into the bathroom in his dressing-gown, spent about twent_inutes shaving and taking a shower, and then returned to his own room.