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Chapter 8

  • 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."