Pre-dinner cocktails in the library seemed to be a sort of household rite—_elf-imposed Truce of Bacchus before the resumption of hostilities in th_ining-room. It lasted from six forty-five to seven; everybody sippe_anhattans and kept quiet and listened to the radio newscast. The only ne_ace, to Rand, was Fred Dunmore's.
It was a smooth, pinkly-shaven face, decorated with octagonal rimless glasses;
an entirely unremarkable face; the face of the type that used to be labeled
"Babbitt." The corner of Rand's mind that handled such data subconsciousl_iled his description: forty-five to fifty, one-eighty, five feet eight, hai_rown and thinning, eyes blue. To this he added the Rotarian button on th_apel, and the small gold globule on the watch chain that testified that, whe_is age and weight had been considerably less, Dunmore had played o_omebody's basketball team. At that time he had probably belonged to th_.M.C.A., and had thought that Mussolini was doing a splendid job in Italy,
that H. L. Mencken ought to be deported to Russia, and that Prohibition wa_ere to stay. At company sales meetings, he probably radiated an aura o_ynthetic good-fellowship.
As Rand followed Walters down the spiral from the gunroom, the radi_ommercial was just starting, and Geraldine was asking Dunmore where Anto_as.
"Oh, you know," Dunmore told her, impatiently. "He had to go to Louisburg, t_hat Medical Association meeting; he's reading a paper about the new diabeti_ation."
He broke off as Rand approached and was introduced by Gladys, who handed bot_en their cocktails. Then the news commentator greeted them out of the radio,
and everybody absorbed the day's news along with their Manhattans. After th_roadcast, they all crossed the hall to the dining-room, where hostilitie_egan almost before the soup was cool enough to taste.
"I don't see why you women had to do this," Dunmore huffed. "Rivers has mad_s a fair offer. Bringing in an outsider will only give him the impressio_hat we lack confidence in him."
"Well, won't that be just too, too bad!" Geraldine slashed at him. "We mustn'_ver hurt dear Mr. Rivers's feelings like that. Let him have the collectio_or half what it's worth, but never, never let him think we know what a God-
damned crook he is!"
Dunmore evidently didn't think that worth dignifying with an answer. Doubtles_e expected Nelda to launch a counter-offensive, as a matter of principle. I_e did, he was disappointed.
"Well?" Nelda demanded. "What did you want us to do; give the collectio_way?"
"You don't understand," Dunmore told her. "You've probably heard somebody sa_hat the collection's worth, and you never stopped to realize that it's onl_orth that to a dealer, who can sell it item by item. You can't expect … "
"We can expect a lot more than ten thousand dollars," Nelda retorted. "I_act, we can expect more than that from Rivers. Colonel Rand was talking t_ivers, this afternoon. Colonel Rand doesn't have any confidence in Rivers a_ll, and he doesn't care who knows it."
"You were talking to Arnold Rivers, this afternoon, about the collection?"
Dunmore demanded of Rand.
"That's right," Rand confirmed. "I told him his ten thousand dollar offer wa_ joke. Stephen Gresham and his friends can top that out of one pocket.
Finally, he got around to admitting that he's willing to pay up to twenty-fiv_housand."
"I don't believe it!" Dunmore exclaimed angrily. "Rivers told me personally,
that neither he nor any other dealer could hope to handle that collectio_rofitably at more than ten thousand."
"And you believed that?" Nelda demanded. "And you're a business man? _M_od!_"
"He's probably a good one, as long as he sticks to pancake flour," Geraldin_as generous enough to concede. "But about guns, he barely knows which end th_ullet comes out at. Ten thousand was probably his idea of what we'd think th_istols were worth."
Dunmore ignored that and turned to Rand. "Did Arnold Rivers actually tell yo_e'd pay twenty-five thousand dollars for the collection?" he asked. "I can'_elieve that he'd raise his own offer like that."
"He didn't raise his offer; I threw it out and told him to make one that coul_e taken seriously." Rand repeated, as closely as he could, his conversatio_ith the arms-dealer. When he had finished, Dunmore was frowning in puzzle_ispleasure.
"And you think he's actually willing to pay that much?"
"Yes, I do. If he handles them right, he can double his money on the pistol_nside of five years. I doubt if you realize how valuable those pistols are.
You probably defined Mr. Fleming's collection as a 'hobby' and therefor_omething not to be taken seriously. And, aside from the actual profit, th_restige of handling this collection would be worth a good deal to Rivers, a_dvertising. I haven't the least doubt that he can raise the money, or tha_e's willing to pay it."
Dunmore was still frowning. Maybe he hated being proved wrong in front of th_omen of the family.
"And you think Gresham and his friends will offer enough to force him to pa_he full amount?"
Rand laughed and told him to stop being naïve. "He's done that, himself, an_hat's more, he knows it. When he told me he was willing to go as high a_wenty-five thousand, he fixed the price. Unless somebody offers more, whic_sn't impossible."
"But maybe he's just bluffing." Dunmore seemed to be following Gwinnett's lin_f thought. "After he's bluffed Gresham's crowd out, maybe he'll go back t_is original ten thousand offer."
"Fred, please stop talking about that ten thousand dollars!" Geraldin_nterrupted. "How much did Rivers actually tell you he'd pay? Twenty-fiv_housand, like he did Colonel Rand?"
Dunmore turned in his chair angrily. "Now, look here!" he shouted. "There's _imit to what I've got to take from you… ."
He stopped short, as Nelda, beside him, moved slightly, and his words ended i_omething that sounded like a smothered moan. Rand suspected that she ha_icked her husband painfully under the table. Then Walters came in with th_eat course, and firing ceased until the butler had retired.
"By the way," Rand tossed into the conversational vacuum that followed hi_xit, "does anybody know anything about a record Mr. Fleming kept of hi_ollection?"
"Why, no; can't say I do," Dunmore replied promptly, evidently grateful fo_he change of subject. "You mean, like an inventory?"
"Oh, Fred, you do!" Nelda told him impatiently. "You know that big gray boo_ather kept all his pistols entered in."
"It was a gray ledger, with a black leather back," Gladys said. "He kept it i_he little bookcase over the workbench in the gunroom."
"I'll look for it," Rand said. "Sure it's still there? It would be a big hel_o me."
The rest of the dinner passed in relative tranquillity. The conversatio_roceeded in fairly safe channels. Dunmore was anxious to avoid any furthe_eference to the sum of ten thousand dollars; when Gladys induced Rand to tal_bout his military experiences, he lapsed into preoccupied silence. Severa_imes, Geraldine and Nelda aimed halfhearted feline swipes at one another,
more out of custom than present and active rancor. The women seemed to hav_rected a temporary tri-partite Entente-more-or-less-Cordiale.
Finally, the meal ended, and the diners drifted away from the table. Rand wen_o his room for a few moments, then went to the gunroom to get the notes h_ad made. Fred Dunmore was using the private phone as he entered.
"Well, never mind about that, now," he was saying. "We'll talk about it when _ee you… . Yes, of course; so am I… . Well, say about eleven… . Be seein_ou."
He hung up and turned to Rand. "More God-damned union trouble," he said. "It'_nough to make a saint lose his religion! Our factory-hands are organized i_he C.I.O., and our warehouse, sales, and shipping personnel are in the A.F.
of L., and if they aren't fighting the company, they're fighting each other.
Now they have some damn kind of a jurisdictional dispute… . I don't know wha_his country's coming to!" He glared angrily through his octagonal glasses fo_ moment. Then his voice took on an ingratiating note. "Look here, Colonel; _ust didn't understand the situation, until you explained it. I hope yo_ren't taking anything that sister-in-law of mine said seriously. She jus_lurts out the first thing that comes into her so-called mind; why, onl_esterday she was accusing Gladys of bringing you into this to help her gy_he rest of us. And before that … "
"Oh, forget it." Rand dismissed Geraldine with a shrug. "I know she wa_alking through a highball glass. As far as selling the collection i_oncerned, you just let Rivers sell you a bill of something you hadn't gotte_ good look at. He's a smart operator, and he's crooked as a wagon-load o_lacksnakes. Maybe you never realized just how much money Fleming put int_his collection; naturally you wouldn't realize how much could be gotten ou_f it again. A lot of this stuff has been here for quite a while, and antique_f any kind tend to increase in value."
"Well, I want you to know that I'm just as glad as anybody if you can get _etter price out of him than I could." Dunmore smiled ruefully. "I guess he'_ust a better poker player than I am."
"Not necessarily. He could see your hand, and you couldn't see his," Rand tol_im.
"You going to see Gresham and his friends, this evening?" Dunmore asked.
"Well, when you get back, if you find four cars in the garage, counting th_tation-wagon, lock up after you've put your own car away. If you find onl_hree, then you'll know that Anton Varcek's still out, so leave it open fo_im. That's the way we do here; last one in locks up."