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Chapter 7

  • When Walters entered, Rand had his pipe lit and was walking slowly around th_oom, laying out the work ahead of him. Roughly, the earliest pieces were o_he extreme left, on the short north wall of the room, and the most recen_nes on the right, at the south end. This was, of course, only relativel_rue; the pistols seemed to have been classified by type in vertical rows, an_hronologically from top to bottom in each row. The collection seemed t_onsist of a number of intensely specialized small groups, with a large numbe_f pistols of general types added. For instance, about midway on the long eas_all, there were some thirty-odd all-metal pistols, from wheel lock t_ercussion. There was a collection of U.S. Martials, with two rows of th_egulation pistols, flintlock and percussion, of foreign governments, place_n the left, and the collection of Colts on the right. After them came th_ther types of percussion revolvers, and the later metallic-cartridge types.
  • It was an arrangement which made sense, from the arms student's point of view, and Rand decided that it would make sense to the dealers and museums to who_e intended sending lists. He would save time by listing them as they wer_ung on the walls. Then, there were the cases between the windows on the wes_all, containing the ammunition collection—examples of every type of fixed- pistol ammunition—and the collection of bullet-molds and powder flasks an_heel lock spanners and assorted cleaning and loading accessories. All tha_tuff would have to be listed, too.
  • "I beg your pardon, sir," Walters broke in, behind him. "Mrs. Fleming sai_hat you wanted me."
  • "Oh, yes." Rand turned. "Is this the whole thing? What's on the walls, here?"
  • "Yes, sir. There is also a wall-case containing a number of modern pistols an_evolvers, and several rifles and shotguns, in the room formerly occupied b_r. Fleming, but they are not part of the collection, and they are now th_ersonal property of Mrs. Fleming. I understand that she intends selling a_east some of them, on her own account. Then, there is a quantity o_mmunition and ammunition-components in that closet under th_orkbench—cartridges, primed cartridge-shells, black and smokeless powder, cartridge-primers, percussion caps—but they are not part of the collection, either. I believe Mrs. Fleming wants to sell most of that, too."
  • "Well, I'll talk to her about it. I may want to buy some of the ammunition fo_yself," Rand said. "So I only need to bother with what's on the walls, i_his room?… By the way, did Mr. Fleming keep any sort of record of hi_ollection? A book, or a card-index, or anything like that?"
  • "Why no, sir." Walters was positive. Then he hedged. "If he did, I never sa_r heard of anything of the sort. Mr. Fleming knew everything in this room.
  • I've seen him, downstairs, when somebody would ask him about something, clos_is eyes as though trying to visualize and then give a perfect description o_ny pistol in the collection. Or else, he could enumerate all the pistols of _ertain type; say, all the Philadelphia Deringers, or all the Alle_epperboxes, or all the rim-fire Smith & Wesson tip-back types. He had _emarkable memory for his pistols, although it was not out of the ordinar_therwise, sir."
  • Rand nodded. Any collector—at least, any collector who was a serious arms- student—could do that, particularly if he were a good visualizer and kept hi_tuff in some systematic order. At the moment, he could have named an_escribed any or all of his own modest collection of two hundred-odd pistol_nd revolvers.
  • "I was hoping he'd kept a record," he said. "A great many collectors do, an_t would have helped me quite a bit." He made up his mind to compile such _ecord, himself, when he got back to New Belfast. It would be a big help t_arter Tipton, when it came time to settle his own estate, and a man on who_he Reaper has scored as many near-misses as on Jeff Rand should begin t_hink of such things. "And how about writing materials? And is there _ypewriter available?"
  • There was: a cased portable was on the floor beside the workbench. Walter_howed him which desk drawers contained paper and other things. There was, Rand noticed, a loaded .38 Colt Detective Special, in the upper right-han_esk drawer.
  • "And these phones," the butler continued, indicating them. "This one is _rivate outside phone; it doesn't connect with any other in the house. Th_ther is an extension. It has a buzzer; the outside phone has a regular bell."
  • Rand thanked him for the information. Then, picking up a note-pad and pencil, he started on the left of the collection, meaning to make a general list an_ough approximation of value for use in talking to Gresham's friends tha_vening. Tomorrow he would begin on the detailed list for use in solicitin_utside offers.
  • Twenty-five wheel locks: four heavy South German dags, two singles and a pair; three Saxon pistols, with sharply dropped grips, a pair and one single; fiv_rench and Italian sixteenth-century pistols; a pair of small pocket or sas_istols; a pair of French petronels, and an extremely long seventeenth-centur_utch pistol with an ivory-covered stock and a carved ivory Venus-head for _ommel; eight seventeenth-century French, Italian and Flemish pistols. Ran_oted them down, and was about to pass on; then he looked sharply at one o_hem.
  • It was nothing out of the ordinary, as wheel locks go; a long Flemish weapo_f about 1640, the type used by the Royalist cavalry in the English Civil War.
  • There were two others almost like it, but this one was in simply appallin_ondition. The metal was rough with rust, and apparently no attempt had bee_ade to clean it in a couple of centuries. There was a piece cracked out o_he fore-end, the ramrod was missing, as was the front ramrod-thimble, bot_he trigger-guard and the butt-cap were loose, and when Rand touched th_heel, it revolved freely if sluggishly, betraying a broken spring or chain.
  • The vertical row next to it seemed to be all snaphaunces, but among them Ran_aw a pair of Turkish flintlocks. Not even good Turkish flintlocks; a pair o_he sort of weapons hastily thrown together by native craftsmen or importe_eady-made from Belgium for bazaar sale to gullible tourists. Among the fin_xamples of seventeenth-century Brescian gunmaking above and below it, thes_hings looked like a pair of Dogpatchers in the Waldorf's Starlight Room. Ran_ontemplated them with distaste, then shrugged. After all, they might have ha_ome sentimental significance; say souvenirs of a pleasantly remembered tri_o the Levant.
  • A few rows farther on, among some exceptionally fine flintlocks, all of whic_re-dated 1700, he saw one of those big Belgian navy pistols, circa 1800, o_he sort once advertised far and wide by a certain old-army-goods dealer for $6.95. This was a particularly repulsive specimen of its breed; grimy wit_ardened dust and gummed oil, maculated with yellow-surface-rust, th_rasswork green with corrosion. It was impossible to shrug off a thing lik_hat. From then on, Rand kept his eyes open for similar incongruities.
  • They weren't hard to find. There was a big army pistol, of Central Europea_rigin and in abominable condition, among a row of fine multi-shot flintlocks.
  • Multi-shot … Stephen Gresham had mentioned an Elisha Collier flintloc_evolver. It wasn't there. It should be hanging about where this post- Napoleonic German thing was.
  • There was no Hall breech-loader, either, but there was a dilapidated ol_etland. There were many such interlopers among the U.S. Martials: an Englis_unce-ball cavalry pistol, a French 1777 and a French 1773, a couple more $6.95 bargain-counter specials, a miserable altered S. North 1816. Among th_olts, there was some awful junk, including a big Spanish hinge-frame .44 an_ Belgian imitation of a Webley R.I.C. Model. There weren't as many Paterso_olts as Gresham had spoken of, and the Whitneyville Walker was absent. I_ent on like that; about a dozen of the best pistols which Rand remembere_aving seen from two years ago were gone, and he spotted at least twenty item_hich the late Lane Fleming wouldn't have hung in his backyard privy, if he'_ad one.
  • Well, that was to be expected. The way these pistols were arranged, th_bsence of one from its hooks would have been instantly obvious. So, as th_ood stuff had moved out, these disreputable changelings had moved in.
  • "You had rather a shocking experience here, in Mr. Fleming's death," Ran_aid, over his shoulder, to the butler.
  • "Oh, yes indeed, sir!" Walters seemed relieved that Rand had broken th_ilence. "A great loss to all of us, sir. And so unexpected."
  • He didn't seem averse to talking about it, and went on at some length. Hi_tory closely paralleled that of Gladys Fleming.
  • "Mr. Varcek called the doctor immediately," he said. "Then Mr. Dunmore pointe_ut that the doctor would be obliged to notify either the coroner or th_olice, so he called Mr. Goode, the family solicitor. That was about twent_inutes after the shot. Mr. Goode arrived directly; he was here in about te_inutes. I must say, sir, I was glad to see him; to tell the truth, I had bee_fraid that the authorities might claim that Mr. Fleming had shot himsel_eliberately."
  • Somebody else doesn't like the smell of that accident, Rand thought. Aloud, h_aid:
  • "Mr. Goode lives nearby, then, I take it?"
  • "Oh, yes, sir. You can see his house from these windows. Over here, sir."
  • Rand looked out the window. The rain-soaked lawn of the Fleming residenc_nded about a hundred yards to the west; beyond it, an orchard was beginnin_o break into leaf, and beyond the orchard and another lawn stood a half- timbered Tudor-style house, somewhat smaller than the Fleming place. A pat_ed down from it to the orchard, and another led from the orchard to the rea_f the house from which Rand looked.
  • "Must be comforting to know your lawyer's so handy," he commented. "And wha_o you think, Walters? Are you satisfied, in your own mind, that Mr. Flemin_as killed accidentally?"
  • The servant looked at him seriously. "No, sir; I'm not," he replied. "I'v_hought about it a great deal, since it happened, sir, and I just can'_elieve that Mr. Fleming would have that revolver, and start working on it, without knowing that it was loaded. That just isn't possible, if you'll pardo_e, sir. And I can't understand how he would have shot himself while removin_he charges. The fact is, when I came up here at quarter of seven, to call hi_or cocktails, he had the whole thing apart and spread out in front of him."
  • The butler thought for a moment. "I believe Mr. Dunmore had something lik_hat in mind when he called Mr. Goode."
  • "Well, what happened?" Rand asked. "Did the coroner or the doctor choke o_alling it an accident?"
  • "Oh no, sir; there was no trouble of any sort about that. You see, Dr. Yardma_alled the coroner, as soon as he arrived, but Mr. Goode was here already.
  • He'd come over by that path you saw, to the rear of the house, and in throug_he garage, which was open, since Mrs. Dunmore was out with the coupé. The_ll talked it over for a while, and the coroner decided that there would be n_eed for any inquest, and the doctor wrote out the certificate. That was al_here was to it."
  • Rand looked at the section of pistol-rack devoted to Colts.
  • "Which one was it?" he asked.
  • "Oh it's not here, sir," Walters replied. "The coroner took it away with him."
  • "And hasn't returned it yet? Well, he has no business keeping it. It's part o_he collection, and belongs to the estate."
  • "Yes, sir. If I may say so, I thought it was a bit high-handed of him, takin_t away, myself, but it wasn't my place to say anything about it."
  • "Well, I'll make it mine. If that revolver's what I'm told it is, it's to_aluable to let some damned county-seat politician walk off with." A though_ccurred to him. "And if I find that he's disposed of it, this county's goin_o need a new coroner, at least till the present incumbent gets out of jail."
  • The buzzer of the extension phone went off like an annoyed rattlesnake.
  • Walters scooped it up, spoke into it, listened for a moment, and handed it t_and.
  • "For you, sir; Mrs. Fleming."
  • "Colonel Rand, Carl Gwinnett, the commission-dealer I told you about is here,"
  • Gladys told him. "Do you want to talk to him?"
  • "Why, yes. Do I understand, now, that you and the other ladies want cash, an_on't want the collection peddled off piecemeal?… All right, send him up. I'l_alk to him."
  • A few minutes later, a short, compact-looking man of forty-odd entered th_unroom, shifting a brief case to his left hand and extending his right. Ran_dvanced to meet him and shook hands with him.
  • "You're Colonel Rand? Enjoyed your articles in the Rifleman," he said. "Mrs.
  • Fleming tells me you're handling the sale of the collection for the estate."
  • "That's right, Mr. Gwinnett. Mrs. Fleming tells me you're interested."
  • "Yes. Originally, I offered to sell the collection for her on a commissio_asis, but she didn't seem to care for the idea, and neither do the othe_adies. They all want spot cash, in a lump sum."
  • "Yes. Mrs. Fleming herself might have been interested in your proposition, i_he'd been sole owner. You could probably get more for the collection, eve_fter deducting your commission, than I'll be able to, but the collectio_elongs to the estate, and has to be sold before any division can be made."
  • "Yes, I see that. Well, how much would the estate, or you, consider _easonable offer?"
  • "Sit down, Mr. Gwinnett," Rand invited. "What would you consider a reasonabl_ffer, yourself? We're not asking any specific price; we're just taking bids, as it were."
  • "Well, how much have you been offered, to date?"
  • "Well, we haven't heard from everybody. In fact, we haven't put out a list, o_olicited offers, except locally, as yet. But one gentleman has expressed _illingness to pay up to twenty-five thousand dollars."
  • Gwinnett's face expressed polite skepticism. "Colonel Rand!" he protested.
  • "You certainly don't take an offer like that seriously?"
  • "I think it was made seriously," Rand replied. "A respectable profit could b_ade on the collection, even at that price."
  • Gwinnett's eyes shifted over the rows of horizontal barrels on the walls. H_as almost visibly wrestling with mental arithmetic, and at the same tim_rying to keep any hint of his notion of the collection's real value out o_is face.
  • "Well, I doubt if I could raise that much," he said. "Might I ask who's makin_his offer?"
  • "You might; I'm afraid I couldn't tell you. You wouldn't want me to publis_our own offer broadcast, would you?"
  • "I think I can guess. If I'm right, don't hold your head in a tub of wate_ill you get it," Gwinnett advised. "Making a big offer to scare awa_ompetition is one thing, and paying off on it is another. I've seen tha_appen before, you know. Fact is, there's one dealer, not far from here, wh_akes a regular habit of it. He'll make some fantastic offer, and then, whe_verybody's been bluffed out, he'll start making objections and findin_aults, and before long he'll be down to about a quarter of his origina_rice."
  • "The practice isn't unknown," Rand admitted.
  • "I'll bet you don't have this twenty-five thousand dollar offer on paper, ove_ signature," Gwinnett pursued. "Well, here." He opened his brief case an_xtracted a sheet of paper, handing it to Rand. "You can file this; I'll stan_ack of it."
  • Rand looked at the typed and signed statement to the effect that Carl Gwinnet_greed to pay the sum of fifteen thousand dollars for the Lane Fleming pistol- collection, in its entirety, within thirty days of date. That was an averag_f six dollars a pistol. There had been a time, not too long ago, when _istol-collection with an average value of six dollars, particularly one a_arge as the Fleming collection, had been something unusual. For one thing, arms values had increased sharply in the meantime. For another, Lane Flemin_ad kept his collection clean of the two-dollar items which dragged down s_any collectors' average values. Except for the two-dozen-odd mysteriou_nterlopers, there wasn't a pistol in the Fleming collection that wasn't wort_t least twenty dollars, and quite a few had values expressible in thre_igures.
  • "Well, your offer is duly received and filed, Mr. Gwinnett," Rand told him, folding the sheet and putting it in his pocket. "This is better than a_nwitnessed verbal statement that somebody is willing to pay twenty-fiv_housand. I'll certainly bear you in mind."
  • "You can show that to Arnold Rivers, if you want to," Gwinnett said. "See ho_uch he's willing to commit himself to, over his signature."