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Chapter 19

  • There was less feuding at dinner that evening than at any previous meal Ran_ad eaten in the Fleming home. In the first place, everybody seemed a littl_wed in the presence of the new butler, who flitted in and out of the roo_ike a ghost and, when spoken to, answered in a heavy B.B.C. accent. Then, th_omen, who carried on most of the hostilities, had re-erected their fron_opulaire and were sharing a common pleasure in the recovery of the stole_istols. And finally, there was a distinct possibility that the swift an_ramatic justice that had overtaken Walters and Gwinnett at Rand's hands wa_aving a sobering effect upon somebody at that table.
  • Dunmore, Nelda, Varcek, Geraldine and Gladys had been intending to go to _arty that evening, but at the last minute Gladys had pleaded indispositio_nd telephoned regrets. The meal over, Rand had gone up to the gunroom, Glady_rifted into the small drawing-room off the dining-room, and the others ha_one to their rooms to dress.
  • Rand was taking down the junk with which Walters had infiltrated th_ollection and was listing and hanging up the recovered items when Fre_unmore, wearing a dressing-gown, strolled in.
  • "I can't get over the idea of Walters being a thief," he sorrowed. "I wouldn'_ave believed it if I hadn't seen his signed confession… . Well, it just goe_o show you… ."
  • "He took his medicine standing up," Rand said. "And he helped us recover th_istols. If I were you, I'd go easy with him."
  • Dunmore shook his head. "I'm not a revengeful man, Colonel Rand," he said,
  • "but if there's one thing I can't forgive, it's a disloyal employee." Hi_outh closed sternly around his cigar. "He'll have to take what's coming t_im." He stood by the desk for a moment, looking down at the recovered item_nd the pile of junk on the floor. "When did you first suspect him?"
  • "Almost from the first moment I saw this collection." Rand explained th_easoning which had led him to suspect Walters. "The real clincher, to m_ind, was the fact that he knew this collection almost as well as Lane Flemin_id, and wouldn't be likely to be deceived by these substitutions any mor_han Fleming would. Yet he said nothing to anybody; neither to Mrs. Fleming, nor Goode, nor myself. If he weren't guilty himself, I wanted to know hi_eason for keeping silent. So I put the pressure on him, and he cracked open."
  • "Well, I want you to know how grateful we all are," Dunmore said feelingly.
  • "I'm kicking hell out of myself, now, about the way I objected when Glady_rought you in here. My God, suppose we'd tried to sell the collectio_urselves! Anybody who'd have been interested in buying would have seen wha_ou saw, and then they'd have claimed that we were trying to hold out o_hem." He hesitated. "You've seen how things are here," he continued ruefully.
  • "And that's something else I have to thank you for; I mean, keeping your mout_hut till you got the pistols back. There'd have been a hell of a row; everybody would have blamed everybody else… . How did you get him to confess, though?"
  • Rand told him about the subterfuge of the trumped-up murder charge. Dunmor_ad evidently never thought of that hoary device; he chuckled appreciatively.
  • "Say, that was smart! No wonder he was so willing to admit everything and hel_ou get them back." He looked at the pistols on the desk and moved one or tw_f them. "Did you get the one the coroner had? Goode said something—"
  • "Oh, yes; I got that yesterday." Rand turned and went to the workbench, bringing back the Leech & Rigdon, which he handed to Dunmore. "That's it. _ired out the other five charges, and cleaned it at the State Polic_ubstation." He watched Dunmore closely, but there seemed to be no reaction.
  • "So that's it." Dunmore looked at it with a show of interest and hones_orrow, and handed it back, then shifted his cigar across his mouth. "Loo_ere, Colonel; I've been wanting to ask you something. Did Gladys just get yo_o come here to appraise and sell the collection, or are you investigatin_ane's death, too?"
  • "Well, now, you're asking me to be disloyal to my employer," Rand objected.
  • "Why don't you ask her that? If she wants you to know, she'll tell you."
  • "Dammit, I can't! Suppose she's satisfied that it really was an accident; would I want to start her worrying and imagining things?"
  • "No, I suppose you wouldn't," Rand conceded. "You're not at all satisfied o_hat point yourself, are you?"
  • "Well, are you?" Dunmore parried.
  • That sort of fencing could go on indefinitely. Rand determined to stop it.
  • After all, if Dunmore was the murderer of Lane Fleming, he would already kno_ow little Rand was deceived by the fake accident; the Leech & Rigdon had tol_im that already. If he weren't, telling him would do no harm at this point, and might even do some good.
  • "Why, I think Fleming was murdered," Rand told him, as casually as though h_ere expressing an opinion on tomorrow's weather. "And I further believe tha_hoever killed Fleming also killed Arnold Rivers. That, by the way, is where _ome in. Stephen Gresham has retained me to find the Rivers murderer; to d_hat, I must first learn who killed Lane Fleming. However, I was not retaine_o investigate the Fleming murder, and as far as I know from anything she ha_old me, Gladys Fleming is quite satisfied that her husband shot himsel_ccidentally." In a universe of ordered abstractions and multiordina_eanings, the literal truth, on one order of abstraction, was often a blac_ie on another. "Does that answer your question?" he asked, with open-face_nnocence.
  • Dunmore nodded. "Yes, I get it, now. Look here, do you think Anton Varce_ould have done it? I know it's a horrible idea, and I want you to understan_hat I'm not making any accusations, but we always took it for granted tha_e'd been up in his lab, and had come downstairs when he heard the shot. Bu_uppose he came down and shot Fleming, and then went out in the hall, and mad_hat rumpus outside after locking the door behind him?"
  • "That's possible," Rand agreed. "You were taking a bath when you heard th_hot, weren't you?"
  • Dunmore shook his head. "I suppose so. I didn't hear any shot, to tell th_ruth. All I heard was Anton pounding on the door and yelling. I suppose I ha_y head under the shower, and the noise of the water kept me from hearing th_hot." He stopped short, taking his cigar from his mouth and pointing it a_and. "And, by God, that would have been about five minutes before he starte_ammering on the door!" he exclaimed. "Time enough for him to have fixe_hings to look like an accident, set the deadlatch, and have gone out in th_all, and started making a noise. And another thing. You say that whoeve_illed Lane also killed this fellow Rivers. Well, on Thursday night, whe_ivers was killed, Anton didn't get home till around twelve."
  • "Yes, I'd thought of that. You know, though, that the murderer doesn't have t_e Varcek, or anybody else who was in the house at the time. The garage door_ere open—I'm told that your wife was out at the time—and anybody could hav_neaked in the back way, up through the library, and out the same way. Ther_re one or two possibilities besides you and Anton Varcek."
  • Dunmore's eyes widened. "Yes, and I can think of one, without half trying, too!" He nodded once or twice. "For instance, the man who was afraid you wer_nvestigating Fleming's death; the man who started that suicide story!" H_ooked at Rand interrogatively. "Well, I got to go; Nelda'll be out of th_athroom by now. I want to talk to you about this some more, Colonel."
  • After Dunmore had gone out, Rand mopped his face. The room seemed insufferabl_ot. He found an electric fan over the workbench and plugged it in, but i_ade enough noise to cover any sounds of stealthy approach, and he shut i_ff. He had finished revising his list to include the recovered pistols for a_ar as it was completed, and was hanging them back on the wall when Ritte_ame in.
  • "House is clear, now," his assistant said, stepping out of his P. G. Wodehous_haracter. "Both pairs left in the Packard, Dunmore driving. Man, what a cat- and-dog show this place is! It's a wonder our client isn't nuts."
  • "You haven't seen anything; you ought to have been here last night … Where i_ur client, by the way?"
  • "Downstairs." Ritter fished a cigarette out of his livery and appropriate_and's lighter. "If we hear her coming, you can grab this." He brushed _ouple of Paterson Colts to one side and sat down on the edge of the desk, taking a deep drag on the cigarette. "What's the regular law doing, now tha_oung Jarrett is out?"
  • "I had a long talk with Mick McKenna," Rand said. "Fortunately, Mick and _ave worked together before. I was able to tell him the facts of life, an_e'll be a good boy now. When last heard from, Farnsworth was beginning t_low his hot breath on the back of Cecil Gillis's neck."
  • Ritter picked up the big .44 Colt Walker and tried the balance. "Man, thi_ven makes that Colt Magnum of mine feel light!" he said. "Say, Jeff, i_arnsworth's going after Gillis, it's probably on account of those storie_bout him and Mrs. Rivers. At least, all that stuff would come out if h_rrested him. Maybe we could get a fee out of Mrs. Rivers."
  • "I'd thought of that. Unfortunately, Mrs. Rivers had a very convenien_reakdown, when she heard the news; she is now in a hospital in New York, an_on't be back until after the funeral. Prostrated with grief. Or something.
  • And this case is due to blow up like Hiroshima before then. Well, we can't ge_ees from everybody." That, of course, was one of the sad things of life t_hich one must reconcile oneself. "I got a call from Pierre Jarrett; Tip'_taying at the Jarrett place tonight. I thought it would be a good idea t_ave him within reach for a while."
  • The private outside phone rang shrilly. Ritter let it go for several rings, then picked it up.
  • "This is the Fleming residence," he stated, putting on his character again.
  • "Oh, yes indeed, sir. Colonel Rand is right here, sir; I'll tell him you'r_alling." He put a hand over the mouthpiece. "Humphrey Goode."
  • Rand took the phone and named himself into it.
  • "I would like to talk to you privately, Colonel Rand," the lawyer said. "On _ubject of considerable importance to our, shall I say, mutual clients. Coul_ou find time to drop over, sometime this evening?"
  • "Well, I'm very busy, at the moment, Mr. Goode," Rand regretted. "There hav_een some rather deplorable developments here, lately. The butler, Walters, has been arrested for larceny. It seems that since Mr. Fleming's death, he ha_een systematically looting the pistol-collection. I'm trying to get thing_traightened out, now."
  • "Good heavens!" Goode was considerably shaken. "When did you discover this, Colonel Rand? And why wasn't I notified before? And are there many valuabl_tems missing?"
  • "I discovered it as soon as I saw the collection," Rand began answering hi_uestions in order. "Neither you, nor anybody else was notified, because _anted to get evidence to justify an arrest first. And nothing is missing; everything has been recovered," he finished. "That's what I'm so busy about, now; getting my list revised, and straightening out the collection."
  • "Oh, fine!" Goode was delighted. "I hope everything was handled quietly, without any unnecessary publicity? But this other matter; I don't care to g_nto it over the phone, and it's imperative that we discuss it privately, a_nce."
  • "Well, suppose you come over here, Mr. Goode," Rand suggested. "That way, _on't have to interrupt my work so much. There's nobody at home now but Mrs.
  • Fleming, and as she's indisposed, we'll be quite alone."
  • "Oh; very well. I think that's really a good idea; much better than you_oming over here. I'll see you directly."
  • Ritter was grinning as Rand hung up. "That's the stuff," he approved. "The ol_itler technique; make them come to you, and then you can pound the table an_ell at them all you want to."
  • "You go let him in," Rand directed. "Show him up here, and then take a plan_n that spiral stairway out of the library, just out of sight. I don't thin_his it, but there's no use taking chances." He mopped his face again. "Damn, it's hot in here!"
  • Ten minutes later, Ritter ushered in Humphrey Goode, and inquired if ther_ould be anything further, sir? When Rand said there wouldn't, he went dow_he spiral. Just as Rand had expected, Goode began peddling the same line a_arcek and Dunmore before him. They all came to see him in the gunroom with _ommon purpose. After easing himself into a chair, and going through som_refatory huffing and puffing, Goode came out with it. Did Rand believe tha_ane Fleming had really been murdered, and was he investigating Fleming'_eath, after all?
  • "I have always believed that Lane Fleming was murdered," Rand replied. "I als_elieve that his murderer killed Arnold Rivers, as well. I am investigatin_he Rivers murder, and the Fleming murder may be considered as a part thereof.
  • But what brings you around to discuss that, now? Did you learn something, since last evening, that leads you to suspect the same thing?"
  • "Well, not exactly. But this afternoon, Fred Dunmore and Anton Varcek came t_y office, separately, of course, and each of them wanted to know if I had an_eason to suspect that the, uh, tragedy, was actually a case of murder. Bot_ad the impression that you were conducting an investigation under cover o_our work on the pistol collection, and wanted to know whether Mrs. Fleming o_ had employed you to do so."
  • "And you denied it, giving them the impression that Mrs. Fleming had?" Ran_sked. "I hope you haven't put her in any more danger than she is now, b_oing so."
  • Goode looked startled. "Colonel Rand! Do you actually mean that… ?" he began.
  • "You were Lane Fleming's attorney, and board chairman of his company," Ran_aid. "You can probably imagine why he was killed. You can ask yourself jus_ow safe his principal heir is now." Without giving Goode a chance to gathe_is wits, he pressed on: "Well, what's your opinion about Fleming's death?
  • After all, you did go out of your way to create a false impression that he ha_ommitted suicide."
  • Goode, still bewildered by Rand's deliberately cryptic hints and a littl_rightened, had the grace to blush at that.
  • "I admit it; it was entirely unethical, and I'll admit that, too," he said.
  • "But… . Well, I'm buying all the Premix stock that's out in small blocks, an_o are Mr. Dunmore and Mr. Varcek. We all felt that such rumors would reduc_he market quotation, to our advantage."
  • Rand nodded. "I picked up a hundred shares, the other day, myself. You_henanigans probably chipped a little off the price I had to pay, so I ough_o be grateful to you. But we're talking about murder, not marke_anipulation. Did either Varcek or Dunmore express any opinion as to who migh_ave killed Fleming?"
  • The outside telephone rang before Goode could answer. Rand scooped it up a_he end of the first ring and named himself into it. It was Mick McKenn_alling.
  • "Well, we checked up on that cap-and-ball six-shooter you left with me," h_aid. "This gunsmith, Umholtz, refinished it for Rivers last summer. He showe_he man who was to see him the entry in his job-book: make, model, serials an_ll."
  • "Oh, fine! And did you get anything out of young Gillis?" Rand asked.
  • "The gun was in Rivers's shop from the time Umholtz rejuvenated it till aroun_he first of November. Then it was sold, but he doesn't know who to. He didn'_ell it himself; Rivers must have."
  • "I assumed that; that's why he's still alive. Well, thanks, Mick. The case i_etting tighter every minute."
  • "You haven't had any trouble yet?" McKenna asked anxiously. "How's the whoozi_oing?"
  • "About as you might expect," Rand told him, mopping his face again. "Thank_or that, too."
  • He hung up and turned back to Goode. "Pardon the interruption," he said.
  • "Sergeant McKenna, of the State Police. The officer who made the arrest o_alters and Gwinnett. Well, I suppose Dunmore and Varcek are each trying t_lame the other," he said.
  • "Well, yes; I rather got that impression," Goode admitted.
  • "And which one do you like for the murderer? Or haven't you picked yours, yet?"
  • "You mean… . Yes, of course," Goode said slowly. "It must have been one or th_ther. But I can't think… . It's horrible to have to suspect either of them."
  • For a moment, he stared unseeingly at the litter of high-priced pistols on th_esk. Then:
  • "Colonel Rand, Lane Fleming is dead, and nothing either of us can do wil_ring him back. To expose his murderer certainly won't. But it would cause _candal that would rock the Premix Company to its very foundations. It migh_ven disastrously affect the market as a whole."
  • "Oh, come!" Rand reproved. "That's like talking about starting a hurrican_ith a palm-leaf fan."
  • "But you will admit that it would have a dreadful effect on Premix Foods,"
  • Goode argued. "It would probably prevent this merger from being consummated.
  • Look here," he said urgently. "I don't know how much Gladys Fleming is payin_ou to rake all this up, but I'll gladly double her fee if you drop it an_onfine yourself to the matter of the collection."
  • Even in his colossal avarice, that was one kind of money Jeff Rand had neve_een tempted to take. An offer of that sort invariably made him furious. A_he moment, he managed to choke down his anger, but he rejected Goode's offe_n a manner which left no room for further discussion. Goode rose, shaking hi_ead sadly.
  • "I suppose you realize," he said, sorrowfully, "that you're wrecking a ten- million-dollar corporation. One in which you, yourself, are a stockholder."
  • Rand brightened. "And the biggest wrecking jobs I ever did before were _ouple of petrol dumps and a railroad bridge." He got to his feet along wit_he lawyer. "No need to call the butler; I'll let you out myself."
  • He accompanied Goode down the front stairway to the door. Goode was stil_loomy.
  • "I made a mistake in trying to bribe you," he said. "But can't I appeal t_our sense of fairness? Do you want to inflict serious losses on innocen_nvestors merely to avenge one crime?"
  • "I don't approve of murder," Rand told him. "Least of all, to paraphras_lausewitz, as an extension of business by other means. You know, if we le_ane Fleming's killer get away with it, somebody might take that as _recedent and bump you off to win a lawsuit, sometime. Ever think of that?"
  • When he returned to the gunroom, he found Gladys Fleming occupying the chai_ately vacated by the family attorney. She blew a smoke-ring at him i_reeting as he entered.
  • "Now what was Hump Goode up to?" she wanted to know.
  • "I'm taking too much on myself," Rand evaded. "Maybe I should have turne_alters over for trial by family court-martial. How do you like Davies, by th_ay?"
  • "Oh, he's cute," Gladys told him. "One of your operatives, isn't he?"
  • "Now what in the world gave you an idea like that?" he asked, as thoug_umoring the vagaries of a child.
  • "Well, I suspected something of the sort from the alacrity with which yo_roduced him, before Walters was out of the house," she said. "And nobod_ould be as perfect a stage butler as he is. But what really convinced me wa_oming into the library, a little while ago, and finding him squatting on th_op of the spiral, covering Humphrey Goode with a small but particularly evil- looking automatic."
  • Rand chuckled. "What did you do?"
  • "Oh, I climbed up and squatted beside him," she replied. "I got there just a_ou were telling Goode what he could do with his bribe. You know, with on_hing and another, Goode's beginning to become unamusing." She smoked i_ilence for a moment. "I ought to be indignant with you, filling my house wit_pies," she said. "But under the circumstances, I'm afraid I'm thankful, instead. Your op's a good egg, by the way; he's on his way to bring us som_rinks."
  • "I ought to be sore at you, retaining me into a mess like this and telling m_othing," Rand told her. "What was the idea, anyhow? You wanted me t_nvestigate your husband's murder, all along, didn't you?"
  • "I—I hadn't a thing to go on," she replied. "I was afraid, if I came out an_old you what I suspected, that you'd think it was just another case o_eminine dam-foolishness, and dismiss it as such. I knew it wasn't a_ccident; Lane didn't have accidents with guns. And if he'd wanted to kil_imself, he'd have done it and left a note explaining why he had to. But _idn't have a single fact to give you. I thought that if you came here an_tarted working on the collection, you'd find something."
  • "You should have taken a chance and told me what you suspected," Rand said.
  • "I've taken a lot of cases on flimsier grounds than this. The fact is, yo_ractically told me it was murder, when you were talking to me in my office."
  • "Jeff, I never was what the soap-operas call being 'in love' with Lane," sh_ontinued. "But he was wonderful to me. He gave me everything a girl who gre_p in a sixteen-dollar apartment over a fruit store could want. And the_omebody killed him, just as you'd step on a cockroach, because he got in th_ay of a business deal. I'm glad to be able to spend money to help catc_hoever did it. It won't help him, but it'll make me feel a lot better… . Yo_ill catch him, won't you?"
  • Rand nodded. "I don't know whether he'll ever go to trial and be convicted,"
  • he said. "I don't think he will. But you can take my word for it; he won't ge_way with it. Tomorrow, I think the lid's going to blow off. Maybe you'_etter be away from home when it does. Take Nelda and Geraldine with you, an_o somewhere. There's likely to be some uproar."
  • "Well, Nelda and Geraldine and I are going to church, in the morning," Glady_aid. "It's a question of face. We have a rented pew—Lane was quite active i_hurch work—and none of us are willing to let ourselves get squeezed out o_t. We all go; even Geraldine manages to drag herself to the Lord's Hous_hrough an alcoholic fog. And we'll have to be back in time for dinner. I_ould look funny if we weren't."
  • "Well, if nothing's happened by the time you get back, I want you to talk th_irls into going somewhere with you in the afternoon, and stay away til_vening. And don't get the idea that you could help me here," he added, stopping an objection. "I know what I'm talking about. The presence of any o_ou here would only delay matters and make it harder for me."
  • Then Ritter came in, a cigarette in one corner of his mouth, carrying a tra_n which were a bottle of Bourbon, a bottle of Scotch, a siphon and a coupl_f bottles of beer.