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.