Table of Contents

+ Add to Library

Previous Next

Chapter 16

  • 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—"
  • Goode began.
  • "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.