HotFreeBooks.com
Murder in the Gunroom
by Henry Beam Piper
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

"Is that all?" Nelda demanded angrily of Gladys. "Why Fred's done all that already!"

"Is that correct, Mrs. Fleming?" Rand asked, for the record.

"I told you, yesterday, what's been done," Gladys replied. "Fred has talked to one dealer, Arnold Rivers. There has been no inventory of any sort made."

"Mr. Rivers is offering us ten thousand dollars," Nelda retorted. "I don't see why you had to bring this Colonel What's-his-name into it, at all. You think he can get us a better offer? If you do, you're crazy!"

"Ten thousand dollars, for a collection that ought to sell for five times that, in Macy's basement!" Geraldine hooted. "How much is Rivers slipping Fred, on the side?"

"Oh, go back to your bottle!" Nelda cried. "You're too drunk to know what you're talking about!"

"They tell me Colonel Rand is a detective, too," Geraldine continued. "Maybe he can find out why Fred never talked to Stephen Gresham, or Carl Gwinnett, or anybody else except this Rivers. How much is Fred getting out of Rivers, anyhow?"

"My God, Geraldine, shut up!" Nelda howled. Then she decided to take direct notice of Rand's presence. "Colonel Rand, I'm sorry to say that, in her present condition, my sister doesn't know what she's saying. It's bad enough for my stepmother to bring an outsider into what's obviously a family matter, but when my sister begins making these ridiculous accusations ..."

"What's ridiculous about them?" Geraldine demanded, dumping another two ounces of whiskey into her glass and freshening it with the siphon. "I think Rivers's offering ten thousand dollars for the collection, and Fred's thinking we'd accept it, are the only ridiculous things about it."

"That's rather what I told Rivers, this afternoon," Rand put in. "He seemed a bit upset about my being brought into this, too, but he finally admitted that he was willing to pay up to twenty-five thousand dollars for the collection, and if he buys it, that's exactly what it's going to cost him."

"What?" Nelda fairly screamed. Her hands opened and closed spasmodically: she was using a dark-red nail-tint that made Rand think of blood-dripping talons.

"Mr. Arnold Rivers told me, this afternoon, and I quote: I'm willing to pay up to twenty-five thousand dollars for that collection, unquote," Rand said. "And I can tell you now that twenty-five thousand dollars is just what he will pay for it, unless I can find somebody who's willing to pay more, which is not at all improbable."

"H'ray!" Geraldine waved her glass and toasted Rand with it. "And twenty-five G ain't hay, brother!"

Gladys smiled quickly at Rand, then turned to Nelda. "Now I hope you see why I thought it wise to bring in somebody who knows something about old arms," she said.

Nelda evidently saw; there was apparently nothing stupid about her. "And Fred was going to take a miserable ten thousand dollars!" The way she said it, ten thousand sounded like a fairly generous headwaiter's tip. "Did Rivers actually tell you he'd pay twenty-five?"

Rand gave, as nearly verbatim as possible, his conversation with the dealer. "And he can afford it, too," he finished. "He can make a nice profit on the collection, at that figure."

"My God, do you mean the pistols are worth more than that, even?" she wanted to know, aghast.

"Certainly, if you're a dealer with an established business, and customers all over the country, and want to take five or six years to make your profit," Rand replied. "If you aren't, and want your money in a hurry, no."

"That's why I was against turning the collection over to Gwinnett on a commission basis," Gladys said. "It would take him five years to get everything sold."

Nelda left the fireplace and advanced toward Rand. "Colonel, I owe you an apology," she said. "I had no idea Father's pistols were worth anywhere near that much. I don't suppose Fred did, either." She frowned. Wait till she gets Fred alone, Rand thought; I'd hate to be in his spot.... "You say you're acting on Humphrey Goode's authority?"

"That's right. I'll negotiate the sale, but the money will be paid directly to him, for distribution according to the terms of your father's will." Rand got out Goode's letter and handed it to Nelda.

She read it carefully. "I see." She seemed greatly relieved; she was looking at Rand, now, as she was accustomed to look at men, particularly handsome six-footers who were broad across the shoulders and narrow at the hips and resembled King Charles II. She was probably wondering if Rand was equal to Old Rowley in another important respect. "I didn't understand ... I thought...." A dirty look, aimed at Gladys, explained what she had thought. Then her glance fell on the bottle and siphon on the table beside Geraldine's chair, and she changed the subject by inquiring if Colonel Rand mightn't like a drink.

"Well, let's go up to the gunroom," Gladys suggested. "We can have our drink up there, while Colonel Rand's looking at the pistols.... Coming with us, Geraldine?"

Geraldine rose, not too steadily, her glass still in her hand, and took Rand's left arm. Gladys, seeing Nelda moving in on the detective's right, took his other arm. Nelda was barely successful in suppressing a look of murderous anger. The double doorway into the hall was just wide enough for Rand and his two flankers to pass through; Nelda had to fall in a couple of paces rear of center, and wasn't able to come up into line until they were in the hall upstairs.

"There's the gunroom." Gladys pointed. "And that's your room, over there." As she spoke, Walters came out of the doorway she had indicated.

"Your bags are unpacked, sir," he reported. Then he told Rand where he would find his things, and where the bath was.

There was a brief discussion of drinks. The butler received his instructions and went down the stairway; Rand broke up the feminine formation around him and ushered the ladies ahead of him into the gunroom.

It was much as he remembered it from his visit of two years before. There was a desk in one corner, and back of it a short workbench and tool-cabinet. There was a long table in the middle of the room, its top covered with green baize, upon which many flat rectangular boxes of hardwood rested—some walnut, some rosewood, some quartered oak. Each would contain a pistol or pair of pistols, with cleaning and loading tools. In the corner farthest from the desk, he saw the head of the spiral stairway from the library below, mentioned by Gladys Fleming. There were ashstands and a couple of cocktail-tables, and a number of chairs, and the old maple cobbler's bench on which Lane Fleming had died. The only books in the room were in a small case over the workbench; they were all arms-books.

Then he looked at the walls. On both ends, and on the long inside wall, the pistols hung, hundreds and hundreds of them, the cream of a lifetime's collecting. Horizontal white-painted boards had been fixed to the walls about four feet from the floor, and similar boards had been placed five feet above them. Between, narrow vertical strips, as wide as a lath but twice as thick, were set. Rows of pistols were hung, the barrels horizontal, on pairs of these strips, with screwhooks at grip and muzzle. There were about a hundred such vertical rows of pistols.

Rand was still looking at them when the butler brought in the drinks; when Gladys told the servant that that would be all, he went out, rather reluctantly, by the spiral stairs to the library.

"Well, what do you think of them, Colonel Rand?" Gladys asked.

Rand tasted his whiskey and looked around. "It's one of the finest collections in the country," he said. "I may even be able to find somebody who'll top Rivers's offer, but don't be disappointed if I don't.... By the way, did anybody help Mr. Fleming keep this stuff clean? The room seems dry, but even so, they'd need an occasional wiping-off."

"Oh, Walters was always in here, going over the pistols," Nelda said. "He's been in here every day, lately."

"I wonder if you could spare him to help me a little? I'll need somebody who knows his way around here, at first."

"Why, of course," Gladys agreed. "He isn't very busy in the mornings, or in the afternoons till close to dinner-time. Are you going to start work today?"

"I'll have to. I'm going to see Stephen Gresham and his associates this evening, and I'll want to know what I'm talking about."

They spent about fifteen minutes over their drinks, talking about the collection. Rand and Gladys did most of the talking, in spite of Nelda's best efforts to monopolize the conversation. Geraldine, after a few minutes, retired into her private world and only roused herself when her sister and stepmother were about to leave. When they went out, Gladys promised to send Walters up directly; Rand heard her speaking to him at the foot of the main stairway.



CHAPTER 7

When Walters entered, Rand had his pipe lit and was walking slowly around the room, laying out the work ahead of him. Roughly, the earliest pieces were on the extreme left, on the short north wall of the room, and the most recent ones on the right, at the south end. This was, of course, only relatively true; the pistols seemed to have been classified by type in vertical rows, and chronologically from top to bottom in each row. The collection seemed to consist of a number of intensely specialized small groups, with a large number of pistols of general types added. For instance, about midway on the long east wall, there were some thirty-odd all-metal pistols, from wheel lock to percussion. There was a collection of U.S. Martials, with two rows of the regulation pistols, flintlock and percussion, of foreign governments, placed on the left, and the collection of Colts on the right. After them came the other 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 whom he intended sending lists. He would save time by listing them as they were hung on the walls. Then, there were the cases between the windows on the west wall, containing the ammunition collection—examples of every type of fixed-pistol ammunition—and the collection of bullet-molds and powder flasks and wheel lock spanners and assorted cleaning and loading accessories. All that stuff would have to be listed, too.

"I beg your pardon, sir," Walters broke in, behind him. "Mrs. Fleming said that 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 and revolvers, and several rifles and shotguns, in the room formerly occupied by Mr. Fleming, but they are not part of the collection, and they are now the personal property of Mrs. Fleming. I understand that she intends selling at least some of them, on her own account. Then, there is a quantity of ammunition and ammunition-components in that closet under the workbench—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 for myself," Rand said. "So I only need to bother with what's on the walls, in this room?... By the way, did Mr. Fleming keep any sort of record of his collection? A book, or a card-index, or anything like that?"

"Why no, sir." Walters was positive. Then he hedged. "If he did, I never saw or 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, close his eyes as though trying to visualize and then give a perfect description of any pistol in the collection. Or else, he could enumerate all the pistols of a certain type; say, all the Philadelphia Deringers, or all the Allen pepperboxes, or all the rim-fire Smith & Wesson tip-back types. He had a remarkable memory for his pistols, although it was not out of the ordinary otherwise, 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 his stuff in some systematic order. At the moment, he could have named and described any or all of his own modest collection of two hundred-odd pistols and revolvers.

"I was hoping he'd kept a record," he said. "A great many collectors do, and it would have helped me quite a bit." He made up his mind to compile such a record, himself, when he got back to New Belfast. It would be a big help to Carter Tipton, when it came time to settle his own estate, and a man on whom the Reaper has scored as many near-misses as on Jeff Rand should begin to think of such things. "And how about writing materials? And is there a typewriter available?"

There was: a cased portable was on the floor beside the workbench. Walters showed him which desk drawers contained paper and other things. There was, Rand noticed, a loaded .38 Colt Detective Special, in the upper right-hand desk drawer.

"And these phones," the butler continued, indicating them. "This one is a private outside phone; it doesn't connect with any other in the house. The other 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 and rough approximation of value for use in talking to Gresham's friends that evening. Tomorrow he would begin on the detailed list for use in soliciting outside 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; five French and Italian sixteenth-century pistols; a pair of small pocket or sash pistols; a pair of French petronels, and an extremely long seventeenth-century Dutch pistol with an ivory-covered stock and a carved ivory Venus-head for a pommel; eight seventeenth-century French, Italian and Flemish pistols. Rand noted them down, and was about to pass on; then he looked sharply at one of them.

It was nothing out of the ordinary, as wheel locks go; a long Flemish weapon of 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 appalling condition. The metal was rough with rust, and apparently no attempt had been made to clean it in a couple of centuries. There was a piece cracked out of the fore-end, the ramrod was missing, as was the front ramrod-thimble, both the trigger-guard and the butt-cap were loose, and when Rand touched the wheel, 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 Rand saw a pair of Turkish flintlocks. Not even good Turkish flintlocks; a pair of the sort of weapons hastily thrown together by native craftsmen or imported ready-made from Belgium for bazaar sale to gullible tourists. Among the fine examples of seventeenth-century Brescian gunmaking above and below it, these things looked like a pair of Dogpatchers in the Waldorf's Starlight Room. Rand contemplated them with distaste, then shrugged. After all, they might have had some sentimental significance; say souvenirs of a pleasantly remembered trip to the Levant.

A few rows farther on, among some exceptionally fine flintlocks, all of which pre-dated 1700, he saw one of those big Belgian navy pistols, circa 1800, of the 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 with hardened dust and gummed oil, maculated with yellow-surface-rust, the brasswork green with corrosion. It was impossible to shrug off a thing like that. 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 European origin and in abominable condition, among a row of fine multi-shot flintlocks. Multi-shot ... Stephen Gresham had mentioned an Elisha Collier flintlock revolver. 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 old Ketland. There were many such interlopers among the U.S. Martials: an English ounce-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 the Colts, there was some awful junk, including a big Spanish hinge-frame .44 and a Belgian imitation of a Webley R.I.C. Model. There weren't as many Paterson Colts as Gresham had spoken of, and the Whitneyville Walker was absent. It went on like that; about a dozen of the best pistols which Rand remembered having seen from two years ago were gone, and he spotted at least twenty items which the late Lane Fleming wouldn't have hung in his backyard privy, if he'd had one.

Well, that was to be expected. The way these pistols were arranged, the absence of one from its hooks would have been instantly obvious. So, as the good stuff had moved out, these disreputable changelings had moved in.

"You had rather a shocking experience here, in Mr. Fleming's death," Rand said, over his shoulder, to the butler.

"Oh, yes indeed, sir!" Walters seemed relieved that Rand had broken the silence. "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. His story closely paralleled that of Gladys Fleming.

"Mr. Varcek called the doctor immediately," he said. "Then Mr. Dunmore pointed out that the doctor would be obliged to notify either the coroner or the police, so he called Mr. Goode, the family solicitor. That was about twenty minutes after the shot. Mr. Goode arrived directly; he was here in about ten minutes. I must say, sir, I was glad to see him; to tell the truth, I had been afraid that the authorities might claim that Mr. Fleming had shot himself deliberately."

Somebody else doesn't like the smell of that accident, Rand thought. Aloud, he said:

"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 residence ended about a hundred yards to the west; beyond it, an orchard was beginning to break into leaf, and beyond the orchard and another lawn stood a half-timbered Tudor-style house, somewhat smaller than the Fleming place. A path led down from it to the orchard, and another led from the orchard to the rear of the house from which Rand looked.

"Must be comforting to know your lawyer's so handy," he commented. "And what do you think, Walters? Are you satisfied, in your own mind, that Mr. Fleming was killed accidentally?"

The servant looked at him seriously. "No, sir; I'm not," he replied. "I've thought about it a great deal, since it happened, sir, and I just can't believe 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 pardon me, sir. And I can't understand how he would have shot himself while removing the charges. The fact is, when I came up here at quarter of seven, to call him for 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 like that in mind when he called Mr. Goode."

"Well, what happened?" Rand asked. "Did the coroner or the doctor choke on calling it an accident?"

"Oh no, sir; there was no trouble of any sort about that. You see, Dr. Yardman called 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 through the garage, which was open, since Mrs. Dunmore was out with the coupe. They all talked it over for a while, and the coroner decided that there would be no need for any inquest, and the doctor wrote out the certificate. That was all there 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 of the collection, and belongs to the estate."

"Yes, sir. If I may say so, I thought it was a bit high-handed of him, taking it 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 too valuable to let some damned county-seat politician walk off with." A thought occurred to him. "And if I find that he's disposed of it, this county's going to 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 to Rand.

"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, and don't want the collection peddled off piecemeal?... All right, send him up. I'll talk to him."

A few minutes later, a short, compact-looking man of forty-odd entered the gunroom, shifting a brief case to his left hand and extending his right. Rand advanced 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 commission basis, but she didn't seem to care for the idea, and neither do the other ladies. They all want spot cash, in a lump sum."

"Yes. Mrs. Fleming herself might have been interested in your proposition, if she'd been sole owner. You could probably get more for the collection, even after deducting your commission, than I'll be able to, but the collection belongs 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 a reasonable offer?"

"Sit down, Mr. Gwinnett," Rand invited. "What would you consider a reasonable offer, 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, or solicited offers, except locally, as yet. But one gentleman has expressed a willingness 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 be made on the collection, even at that price."

Gwinnett's eyes shifted over the rows of horizontal barrels on the walls. He was almost visibly wrestling with mental arithmetic, and at the same time trying to keep any hint of his notion of the collection's real value out of his face.

"Well, I doubt if I could raise that much," he said. "Might I ask who's making this offer?"

"You might; I'm afraid I couldn't tell you. You wouldn't want me to publish your own offer broadcast, would you?"

"I think I can guess. If I'm right, don't hold your head in a tub of water till you get it," Gwinnett advised. "Making a big offer to scare away competition is one thing, and paying off on it is another. I've seen that happen before, you know. Fact is, there's one dealer, not far from here, who makes a regular habit of it. He'll make some fantastic offer, and then, when everybody's been bluffed out, he'll start making objections and finding faults, and before long he'll be down to about a quarter of his original price."

"The practice isn't unknown," Rand admitted.

"I'll bet you don't have this twenty-five thousand dollar offer on paper, over a signature," Gwinnett pursued. "Well, here." He opened his brief case and extracted a sheet of paper, handing it to Rand. "You can file this; I'll stand back of it."

Rand looked at the typed and signed statement to the effect that Carl Gwinnett agreed 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 average of six dollars a pistol. There had been a time, not too long ago, when a pistol-collection with an average value of six dollars, particularly one as large as the Fleming collection, had been something unusual. For one thing, arms values had increased sharply in the meantime. For another, Lane Fleming had kept his collection clean of the two-dollar items which dragged down so many collectors' average values. Except for the two-dozen-odd mysterious interlopers, there wasn't a pistol in the Fleming collection that wasn't worth at least twenty dollars, and quite a few had values expressible in three figures.

"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 an unwitnessed verbal statement that somebody is willing to pay twenty-five thousand. I'll certainly bear you in mind."

"You can show that to Arnold Rivers, if you want to," Gwinnett said. "See how much he's willing to commit himself to, over his signature."



CHAPTER 8

Pre-dinner cocktails in the library seemed to be a sort of household rite—a self-imposed Truce of Bacchus before the resumption of hostilities in the dining-room. It lasted from six forty-five to seven; everybody sipped Manhattans and kept quiet and listened to the radio newscast. The only new face, 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 subconsciously filed his description: forty-five to fifty, one-eighty, five feet eight, hair brown and thinning, eyes blue. To this he added the Rotarian button on the lapel, and the small gold globule on the watch chain that testified that, when his age and weight had been considerably less, Dunmore had played on somebody's basketball team. At that time he had probably belonged to the Y.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 was here to stay. At company sales meetings, he probably radiated an aura of synthetic good-fellowship.

As Rand followed Walters down the spiral from the gunroom, the radio commercial was just starting, and Geraldine was asking Dunmore where Anton was.

"Oh, you know," Dunmore told her, impatiently. "He had to go to Louisburg, to that Medical Association meeting; he's reading a paper about the new diabetic ration."

He broke off as Rand approached and was introduced by Gladys, who handed both men their cocktails. Then the news commentator greeted them out of the radio, and everybody absorbed the day's news along with their Manhattans. After the broadcast, they all crossed the hall to the dining-room, where hostilities began almost before the soup was cool enough to taste.

"I don't see why you women had to do this," Dunmore huffed. "Rivers has made us a fair offer. Bringing in an outsider will only give him the impression that we lack confidence in him."

"Well, won't that be just too, too bad!" Geraldine slashed at him. "We mustn't ever hurt dear Mr. Rivers's feelings like that. Let him have the collection for 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. Doubtless he expected Nelda to launch a counter-offensive, as a matter of principle. If he did, he was disappointed.

"Well?" Nelda demanded. "What did you want us to do; give the collection away?"

"You don't understand," Dunmore told her. "You've probably heard somebody say what the collection's worth, and you never stopped to realize that it's only worth 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. "In fact, we can expect more than that from Rivers. Colonel Rand was talking to Rivers, this afternoon. Colonel Rand doesn't have any confidence in Rivers at all, 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 was a 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-five thousand."

"I don't believe it!" Dunmore exclaimed angrily. "Rivers told me personally, that neither he nor any other dealer could hope to handle that collection profitably at more than ten thousand."

"And you believed that?" Nelda demanded. "And you're a business man? My God!"

"He's probably a good one, as long as he sticks to pancake flour," Geraldine was generous enough to concede. "But about guns, he barely knows which end the bullet comes out at. Ten thousand was probably his idea of what we'd think the pistols were worth."

Dunmore ignored that and turned to Rand. "Did Arnold Rivers actually tell you he'd pay twenty-five thousand dollars for the collection?" he asked. "I can't believe 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 could be taken seriously." Rand repeated, as closely as he could, his conversation with the arms-dealer. When he had finished, Dunmore was frowning in puzzled displeasure.

"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 pistols inside of five years. I doubt if you realize how valuable those pistols are. You probably defined Mr. Fleming's collection as a 'hobby' and therefore something not to be taken seriously. And, aside from the actual profit, the prestige of handling this collection would be worth a good deal to Rivers, as advertising. I haven't the least doubt that he can raise the money, or that he's willing to pay it."

Dunmore was still frowning. Maybe he hated being proved wrong in front of the women of the family.

"And you think Gresham and his friends will offer enough to force him to pay the full amount?"

Rand laughed and told him to stop being naive. "He's done that, himself, and what's more, he knows it. When he told me he was willing to go as high as twenty-five thousand, he fixed the price. Unless somebody offers more, which isn't impossible."

"But maybe he's just bluffing." Dunmore seemed to be following Gwinnett's line of thought. "After he's bluffed Gresham's crowd out, maybe he'll go back to his original ten thousand offer."

"Fred, please stop talking about that ten thousand dollars!" Geraldine interrupted. "How much did Rivers actually tell you he'd pay? Twenty-five thousand, like he did Colonel Rand?"

Dunmore turned in his chair angrily. "Now, look here!" he shouted. "There's a limit to what I've got to take from you...."

He stopped short, as Nelda, beside him, moved slightly, and his words ended in something that sounded like a smothered moan. Rand suspected that she had kicked her husband painfully under the table. Then Walters came in with the meat course, and firing ceased until the butler had retired.

"By the way," Rand tossed into the conversational vacuum that followed his exit, "does anybody know anything about a record Mr. Fleming kept of his collection?"

"Why, no; can't say I do," Dunmore replied promptly, evidently grateful for the change of subject. "You mean, like an inventory?"

"Oh, Fred, you do!" Nelda told him impatiently. "You know that big gray book Father kept all his pistols entered in."

"It was a gray ledger, with a black leather back," Gladys said. "He kept it in the 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 help to me."

The rest of the dinner passed in relative tranquillity. The conversation proceeded in fairly safe channels. Dunmore was anxious to avoid any further reference to the sum of ten thousand dollars; when Gladys induced Rand to talk about his military experiences, he lapsed into preoccupied silence. Several times, Geraldine and Nelda aimed halfhearted feline swipes at one another, more out of custom than present and active rancor. The women seemed to have erected a temporary tri-partite Entente-more-or-less-Cordiale.

Finally, the meal ended, and the diners drifted away from the table. Rand went to his room for a few moments, then went to the gunroom to get the notes he had 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 I see you.... Yes, of course; so am I.... Well, say about eleven.... Be seeing you."

He hung up and turned to Rand. "More God-damned union trouble," he said. "It's enough to make a saint lose his religion! Our factory-hands are organized in the 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 what this country's coming to!" He glared angrily through his octagonal glasses for a moment. Then his voice took on an ingratiating note. "Look here, Colonel; I just didn't understand the situation, until you explained it. I hope you aren't taking anything that sister-in-law of mine said seriously. She just blurts out the first thing that comes into her so-called mind; why, only yesterday she was accusing Gladys of bringing you into this to help her gyp the rest of us. And before that ..."

"Oh, forget it." Rand dismissed Geraldine with a shrug. "I know she was talking through a highball glass. As far as selling the collection is concerned, you just let Rivers sell you a bill of something you hadn't gotten a good look at. He's a smart operator, and he's crooked as a wagon-load of blacksnakes. Maybe you never realized just how much money Fleming put into this collection; naturally you wouldn't realize how much could be gotten out of it again. A lot of this stuff has been here for quite a while, and antiques of 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 a better price out of him than I could." Dunmore smiled ruefully. "I guess he's just a better poker player than I am."

"Not necessarily. He could see your hand, and you couldn't see his," Rand told him.

"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 the station-wagon, lock up after you've put your own car away. If you find only three, then you'll know that Anton Varcek's still out, so leave it open for him. That's the way we do here; last one in locks up."



CHAPTER 9

Rand found another car, a smoke-gray Plymouth coupe, standing on the left of his Lincoln when he went down to the garage. Running his car outside and down to the highway, he settled down to his regular style of driving—a barely legal fifty m.p.h., punctuated by bursts of absolutely felonious speed whenever he found an unobstructed straightaway. Entering Rosemont, he slowed and went through the underpass at the railroad tracks, speeding again when he was clear of the village. A few minutes later, he was turning into the crushed-limestone drive that led up to the buff-brick Gresham house.

A girl met him at the door, a cute little redhead in a red-striped dress, who gave him a smile that seemed to start on the bridge of her nose and lift her whole face up after it. She held out her hand to him.

"Colonel Rand!" she exclaimed. "I'll bet you don't remember me."

"Sure I do. You're Dot," Rand said. "At least, I think you are; the last time I saw you, you were in pigtails. And you were only about so high." He measured with his hand. "The last time I was here, you were away at school. You must be old enough to vote, by now."

"I will, this fall," she replied. "Come on in; you're the first one here. Daddy hasn't gotten back from town yet. He called and said he'd be delayed till about nine." In the hall she took his hat and coat and guided him toward the parlor on the right.

"Oh, Mother!" she called. "Here's Colonel Rand!"

Rand remembered Irene Gresham, too; an over-age dizzy blonde who was still living in the Flaming Youth era of the twenties. She was an extremely good egg; he liked her very much. After all, insisting upon remaining an F. Scott Fitzgerald character was a harmless and amusing foible, and it was no more than right that somebody should try to keep the bright banner of Jazz Age innocence flying in a grim and sullen world. He accepted a cigarette, shared the flame of his lighter with mother and daughter, and submitted to being gushed over.

"... and, honestly, Jeff, you get handsomer every year," Irene Gresham rattled on. "Dot, doesn't he look just like Clark Gable in Gone with the Wind? But then, of course, Jeff really is a Southerner, so ..."

The doorbell interrupted this slight non sequitur. She broke off, rising.

"Sit still, Jeff; I'm just going to see who it is. You know, we're down to only one servant now, and it seems as if it's always her night off, or something. I don't know, honestly, what I'm going to do...."

She hurried out of the room. Voices sounded in the hall; a man's and a girl's.

"That's Pierre and Karen," Dot said. "Let's all go up in the gunroom, and wait for the others there."

They went out to meet the newcomers. The man was a few inches shorter than Rand, with gray eyes that looked startlingly light against the dark brown of his face. He wasn't using a cane, but he walked with a slight limp. Beside him was a slender girl, almost as tall as he was, with dark brown hair and brown eyes. She wore a rust-brown sweater and a brown skirt, and low-heeled walking-shoes.

Irene Gresham went into the introductions, the newcomers shook hands with Rand and were advised that the style of address was "Jeff," rather than "Colonel Rand," and then Dot suggested going up to the gunroom. Irene Gresham said she'd stay downstairs; she'd have to let the others in.

"Have you seen this collection before?" Pierre Jarrett inquired as he and Rand went upstairs together.

"About two years ago," Rand said. "Stephen had just gotten a cased dueling set by Wilkinson, then. From the Far West Hobby Shop, I think."

"Oh, he's gotten a lot of new stuff since then, and sold off about a dozen culls and duplicates," the former Marine said. "I'll show you what's new, till the others come."

They reached the head of the stairs and started down the hall to the gunroom, in the wing that projected out over the garage. Along the way, the girls detached themselves for nose-powdering.

Unlike the room at the Fleming home, Stephen Gresham's gunroom had originally been something else—a nursery, or play-room, or party-room. There were windows on both long sides, which considerably reduced the available wall-space, and the situation wasn't helped any by the fact that the collection was about thirty per cent long-arms. Things were pretty badly crowded; most of the rifles and muskets were in circular barracks-racks, away from the walls.

"Here, this one's new since you were here," Pierre said, picking a long musket from one of the racks and handing it to Rand. "How do you like this one?"

Rand took it and whistled appreciatively. "Real European matchlock; no, I never saw that. Looks like North Italian, say 1575 to about 1600."

"That musket," Pierre informed him, "came over on the Mayflower."

"Really, or just a gag?" Rand asked. "It easily could have. The Mayflower Company bought their muskets in Holland, from some seventeenth-century forerunner of Bannerman's, and Europe was full of muskets like this then, left over from the wars of the Holy Roman Empire and the French religious wars."

"Yes; I suppose all their muskets were obsolete types for the period," Pierre agreed. "Well, that's a real Mayflower arm. Stephen has the documentation for it. It came from the Charles Winthrop Sawyer collection, and there were only three ownership changes between the last owner and the Mayflower Company. Stephen only paid a hundred dollars for it, too."

"That was practically stealing," Rand said. He carried the musket to the light and examined it closely. "Nice condition, too; I wouldn't be afraid to fire this with a full charge, right now." He handed the weapon back. "He didn't lose a thing on that deal."

"I should say not! I'd give him two hundred for it, any time. Even without the history, it's worth that."

"Who buys history, anyhow?" Rand wanted to know. "The fact that it came from the Sawyer collection adds more value to it than this Mayflower business. Past ownership by a recognized authority like Sawyer is a real guarantee of quality and authenticity. But history, documented or otherwise—hell, only yesterday I saw a pair of pistols with a wonderful three-hundred-and-fifty-year documented history. Only not a word of it was true; the pistols were made about twenty years ago."

"Those wheel locks Fleming bought from Arnold Rivers?" Pierre asked. "God, wasn't that a crime! I'll bet Rivers bought himself a big drink when Lane Fleming was killed. Fleming was all set to hang Rivers's scalp in his wigwam.... But with Stephen, the history does count for something. As you probably know, he collects arms-types that figured in American history. Well, he can prove that this individual musket was brought over by the Pilgrims, so he can be sure it's an example of the type they used. But he'd sooner have a typical Pilgrim musket that never was within five thousand miles of Plymouth Rock than a non-typical arm brought over as a personal weapon by one of the Mayflower Company."

"Oh, none of us are really interested in the individual history of collection weapons," Rand said. "You show me a collection that's full of known-history arms, and I'll show you a collection that's either full of junk or else cost three times what it's worth. And you show me a collector who blows money on history, and nine times out of ten I'll show you a collector who doesn't know guns. I saw one such collection, once; every item had its history neatly written out on a tag and hung onto the trigger-guard. The owner thought that the patent-dates on Colts were model-dates, and the model-dates on French military arms were dates of fabrication."

Pierre wrinkled his nose disgustedly. "God, I hate to see a collection all fouled up with tags hung on things!" he said. "Or stuck over with gummed labels; that's even worse. Once in a while I get something with a label pasted on it, usually on the stock, and after I get it off, there's a job getting the wood under it rubbed up to the same color as the rest of the stock."

"Yes. I picked up a lovely little rifled flintlock pistol, once," Rand said. "American; full-length curly-maple stock; really a Kentucky rifle in pistol form. Whoever had owned it before me had pasted a slip of paper on the underside of the stock, between the trigger-guard and the lower ramrod thimble, with a lot of crap, mostly erroneous, typed on it. It took me six months to remove the last traces of where that thing had been stuck on."

"What do you collect, or don't you specialize?"

"Pistols; I try to get the best possible specimens of the most important types, special emphasis on British arms after 1700 and American arms after 1800. What I'm interested in is the evolution of the pistol. I have a couple of wheel locks, to start with, and three miguelet-locks and an Italian snaphaunce. Then I have a few early flintlocks, and a number of mid-eighteenth-century types, and some late flintlocks and percussion types. And about twenty Colts, and so on through percussion revolvers and early cartridge types to some modern arms, including a few World War II arms."

"I see; about the same idea Lane Fleming had," Pierre said. "I collect personal combat-arms, firearms and edge-weapons. Arms that either influenced fighting techniques, or were developed to meet special combat conditions. From what you say, you're mainly interested in the way firearms were designed and made; I'm interested in the conditions under which they were used. And Adam Trehearne, who'll be here shortly, collects pistols and a few long-arms in wheel lock, proto-flintlock and early flintlock, to 1700. And Philip Cabot collects U.S. Martials, flintlock to automatic, and also enemy and Allied Army weapons from all our wars. And Colin MacBride collects nothing but Colts. Odd how a Scot, who's only been in this country twenty years, should become interested in so distinctively American a type."

"And I collect anything I can sell at a profit, from Chinese matchlocks to tommy-guns," Karen Lawrence interjected, coming into the room with Dot Gresham.

Pierre grinned. "Karen is practically a unique specimen herself; the only general-antique dealer I've ever seen who doesn't hate the sight of a gun-collector."

"That's only because I'm crazy enough to want to marry one," the girl dealer replied. "Of all the miserly, unscrupulous, grasping characters ..." She expressed a doubt that the average gun-collector would pay more than ten cents to see his Lord and Savior riding to hounds on a Bren-carrier. "They don't give a hoot whose grandfather owned what, and if anything's battered up a little, they don't think it looks quaint, they think it looks lousy. And they've never heard of inflation; they think arms ought still to sell for the sort of prices they brought at the old Mark Field sale, back in 1911."

"What were you looking at?" Dot asked Rand, then glanced at the musket in Pierre's hands. "Oh, Priscilla."

Karen laughed. "Dot not only knows everything in the collection; she knows it by name. Dot, show Colonel Rand Hester Prynne."

"Hester coming up," Gresham's daughter said, catching another musket out of the same rack from which Pierre had gotten the matchlock and passing it over to Rand. He grasped the heavy piece, approving of the easy, instinctive way in which the girl had handled it. "Look on the barrel," she told him. "On top, right at the breech."

The gun was a flintlock, or rather, a dog-lock; sure enough, stamped on the breech was the big "A" of the Company of Workmen Armorers of London, the seventeenth-century gunmakers' guild.

"That's right," he nodded. "That's Hester Prynne, all right; the first American girl to make her letter."

There were footsteps in the hall outside, and male voices.

"Adam and Colin," Pierre recognized them before they entered.

Both men were past fifty. Colin MacBride was a six-foot black Highlander; black eyes, black hair, and a black weeping-willow mustache, from under which a stubby pipe jutted. Except when he emptied it of ashes and refilled it, it was a permanent fixture of his weather-beaten face. Trehearne was somewhat shorter, and fair; his sandy mustache, beginning to turn gray at the edges, was clipped to micrometric exactness.

They shook hands with Rand, who set Hester back in her place. Trehearne took the matchlock out of Pierre's hands and looked at it wistfully.

"Some chaps have all the luck," he commented. "What do you think of it, Mr. Rand?" Pierre, who had made the introductions, had respected the detective's present civilian status. "Or don't you collect long-arms?"

"I don't collect them, but I'm interested in anything that'll shoot. That's a good one. Those things are scarce, too."

"Yes. You'll find a hundred wheel locks for every matchlock, and yet there must have been a hundred matchlocks made for every wheel lock."

"Matchlocks were cheap, and wheel locks were expensive," MacBride suggested. He spoke with the faintest trace of Highland accent. "Naturally, they got better care."

"It would take a Scot to think of that," Karen said. "Now, you take a Scot who collects guns, and you have something!"

"That's only part of it," Rand said. "I believe that by the last quarter of the seventeenth century, most of the matchlocks that were lying around had been scrapped, and the barrels used in making flintlocks. Hester Prynne, over there, could easily have started her career as a matchlock. And then, a great many matchlocks went into the West African slave and ivory trade, and were promptly ruined by the natives."

"Yes, and I seem to recall having seen Spanish and French miguelet muskets that looked as though they had been altered directly from matchlock, retaining the original stock and even the original lock-plate," Trehearne added.

"So have I, come to think of it." Rand stole a glance at his wrist-watch. It was nine five; he was wishing Stephen Gresham would put in an appearance.

MacBride and Trehearne joined Pierre and the girls in showing him Gresham's collection; evidently they all knew it almost as well as their own. After a while, Irene Gresham ushered in Philip Cabot. He, too, was past middle age, with prematurely white hair and a thin, scholarly face. According to Hollywood type-casting, he might have been a professor, or a judge, or a Boston Brahmin, but never a stockbroker.

Irene Gresham wanted to know what everybody wanted to drink. Rand wanted Bourbon and plain water; MacBride voted for Jamaica rum; Trehearne and Cabot favored brandy and soda, and Pierre and the girls wanted Bacardi and Coca-Cola.

"And Stephen'll want rye and soda, when he gets here," Irene said. "Come on, girls; let's rustle up the drinks."

Before they returned, Stephen Gresham came in, lighting a cigar. It was just nine twenty-two.

"Well, I see everybody's here," he said. "No; where's Karen?"

Pierre told him. A few minutes later the women returned, carrying bottles and glasses; when the flurry of drink-mixing had subsided, they all sat down.

"Let's get the business over first," Gresham suggested. "I suppose you've gone over the collection already, Jeff?"

"Yes, and first of all, I want to know something. When was the last that any of you saw it?"

Gresham and Pierre had been in Fleming's gunroom just two days before the fatal "accident."

"And can you tell me if the big Whitneyville Colt was still there, then?" Rand asked. "Or the Rappahannock Forge, or the Collier flintlock, or the Hall?"

"Why, of course ... My God, aren't they there now?" Gresham demanded.

Rand shook his head. "And if Fleming still had them two days before he was killed, then somebody's been weeding out the collection since. Doing it very cleverly, too," he added. "You know how that stuff's arranged, and how conspicuous a missing pistol would be. Well, when I was going over the collection, I found about two dozen pieces of the most utter trash, things Lane Fleming wouldn't have allowed in the house, all hanging where some really good item ought to have been." He took a paper from his pocket and read off a list of the dubious items, interpolating comments on the condition, and a list of the real rarities which Gresham had mentioned the day before, which were now missing.

"All that good stuff was there the last time I saw the collection," Gresham said. "What do you say, Pierre?"

"I had the Hall pistol in my hands," Pierre said. "And I remember looking at the Rappahannock Forge."

Trehearne broke in to ask how many English dog-locks there were, and if the snaphaunce Highlander and the big all-steel wheel lock were still there. At the same time, Cabot was inquiring about the Springfield 1818 and the Virginia Manufactory pistols.

"I'll have a complete, itemized list in a few days," Rand said. "In the meantime, I'd like a couple of you to look at the collection and help me decide what's missing. I'm going to try to catch the thief, and then get at the fence through him."

"Think Rivers might have gotten the pistols?" Gresham asked. "He's the crookedest dealer I know of."

"He's the crookedest dealer anybody knows of," Rand amended. "The only thing, he's a little too anxious to buy the collection, for somebody who's just skimmed off the cream."

"Ten thousand dollars isn't much in the way of anxiety," Cabot said. "I'd call that a nominal bid, to avoid suspicion."

"The dope's changed a little on that." Rand brought him up to date. "Rivers's offer is now twenty-five thousand."

There was a stunned hush, followed by a gust of exclamations.

"Guid Lorrd!" The Scots accent fairly curdled on Colin MacBride's tongue. "We canna go over that!"

"I'm afraid not; twenty would be about our limit," Gresham agreed. "And with the best items gone ..." He shrugged.

Pierre and Karen were looking at each other in blank misery; their dream of establishing themselves in the arms business had blown up in their faces.

"Oh, he's talking through his hat!" Cabot declared. "He just hopes we'll lose interest, and then he'll buy what's left of the collection for a song."

"Maybe he knows the collection's been robbed," Trehearne suggested. "That would let him out, later. He'd accuse you or the Fleming estate of holding out the best pieces, and then offer to take what's left for about five thousand."

"Well, that would be presuming that he knows the collection has been robbed," Cabot pointed out. "And the only way he'd know that would be if he, himself, had bought the stolen pistols."

"Well, does anybody need a chaser to swallow that?" Trehearne countered. "I'm bloody sure I don't."

Karen Lawrence shook her head. "No, he'd pay twenty-five thousand for the collection, just as it stands, to keep Pierre and me out of the arms business. This end of the state couldn't support another arms-dealer, and with the reputation he's made for himself, he'd be the one to go under." She stubbed out her cigarette and finished her drink. "If you don't mind, Pierre, I think I'll go home."

"I'm not feeling very festive, myself, right now." The ex-Marine rose and held out his hand to Rand. "Don't get the idea, Jeff, that anybody here holds this against you. You have your clients' interests to look out for."

"Well, if this be treason make the most of it," Rand said, "but I hope Rivers doesn't go through with it. I'd like to see you people get the collection, and I'd hate to see a lot of nice pistols like that get into the hands of a damned swindler like Rivers.... Maybe I can catch him with the hot-goods on him, and send him up for about three-to-five."

"Oh, he's too smart for that," Karen despaired. "He can get away with faking, but the dumbest jury in the world would know what receiving stolen goods was, and he knows it."

Dorothy and Irene Gresham accompanied Pierre and Karen downstairs. After they had gone, Gresham tried, not very successfully, to inject more life into the party with another round of drinks. For a while they discussed the personal and commercial iniquities of Arnold Rivers. Trehearne and MacBride, who had come together in the latter's car, left shortly, and half an hour later, Philip Cabot rose and announced that he, too, was leaving.

"You haven't seen my collection since before the war, Jeff," he said. "If you're not sleepy, why don't you stop at my place and see what's new? You're staying at the Flemings'; my house is along your way, about a mile on the other side of the railroad."

They went out and got into their cars. Rand kept Cabot's taillight in sight until the broker swung into his drive and put his car in the garage. Rand parked beside the road, took the Leech & Rigdon out of the glove-box, and got out, slipping the Confederate revolver under his trouser-band. He was pulling down his vest to cover the butt as he went up the walk and joined his friend at the front door.

Cabot's combination library and gunroom was on the first floor. Like Rand's own, his collection was hung on racks over low bookcases on either side of the room. It was strictly a collector's collection, intensely specialized. There were all but a few of the U.S. regulation single-shot pistols, a fair representation of secondary types, most of the revolvers of the Civil War, and all the later revolvers and automatics. In addition, there were British pistols of the Revolution and 1812, Confederate revolvers, a couple of Spanish revolvers of 1898, the Lugers and Mausers and Steyers of the first World War, and the pistols of all our allies, beginning with the French weapons of the Revolution.

"I'm having the devil's own time filling in for this last war," Cabot said. "I have a want-ad running in the Rifleman, and I've gotten a few: that Nambu, and that Japanese Model-14, and the Polish Radom, and the Italian Glisenti, and that Tokarev, and, of course, the P-'38 and the Canadian Browning; but it's going to take the devil's own time. I hope nobody starts another war, for a few years, till I can get caught up on the last one."

Rand was looking at the Confederate revolvers. Griswold & Grier, Haiman Brothers, Tucker & Sherrod, Dance Brothers & Park, Spiller & Burr—there it was: Leech & Rigdon. He tapped it on the cylinder with a finger.

"Wasn't it one of those things that killed Lane Fleming?" he asked.

"Leech & Rigdon? So I'm told." Cabot hesitated. "Jeff, I saw that revolver, not four hours before Fleming was shot. Had it in my hands; looked it over carefully." He shook his head. "It absolutely was not loaded. It was empty, and there was rust in the chambers."

"Then how the hell did he get shot?" Rand wanted to know.

"That I couldn't say; I'm only telling you how he didn't get shot. Here, this is how it was. It was a Thursday, and I'd come halfway out from town before I remembered that I hadn't bought a copy of Time, so I stopped at Biddle's drugstore, in the village, for one. Just as I was getting into my car, outside, Lane Fleming drove up and saw me. He blew his horn at me, and then waved to me with this revolver in his hand. I went over and looked at it, and he told me he'd found it hanging back of the counter at a barbecue-stand, where the road from Rosemont joins Route 22. There had been some other pistols with it, and I went to see them later, but they were all trash. The Leech & Rigdon had been the only decent thing there, and Fleming had talked it out of this fellow for ten dollars. He was disgustingly gleeful about it, particularly as it was a better specimen than mine."

"Would you know it, if you saw it again?" Rand asked.

"Yes. I remember the serials. I always look at serials on Confederate arms. The highest known serial number for a Leech & Rigdon is 1393; this one was 1234."

Rand pulled the .36 revolver from his pants-leg and gave it a quick glance; the number was 1234. He handed it to Cabot.

"Is this it?" he asked.

Cabot checked the number. "Yes. And I remember this bruise on the left grip; Fleming was saying that he was glad it would be on the inside, so it wouldn't show when he hung it on the wall." He carried the revolver to the desk and held it under the light. "Why, this thing wasn't fired at all!" he exclaimed. "I thought that Fleming might have loaded it, meaning to target it—he had a pistol range back of his house—but the chambers are clean." He sniffed at it. "Hoppe's Number Nine," he said. "And I can see traces of partly dissolved rust, and no traces of fouling. What the devil, Jeff?"

"It probably hasn't been fired since Appomattox," Rand agreed. "Philip, do you think all this didn't-know-it-was-loaded routine might be an elaborate suicide build-up, either before or after the fact?"

"Absolutely not!" There was a trace of impatience in Cabot's voice. "Lane Fleming wasn't the man to commit suicide. I knew him too well ever to believe that."

"I heard a rumor that he was about to lose control of his company," Rand mentioned. "You know how much Premix meant to him."

"That's idiotic!" Cabot's voice was openly scornful, now, and he seemed a little angry that Rand should believe such a story, as though his confidence in his friend's intelligence had been betrayed. "Good Lord, Jeff, where did you ever hear a yarn like that?"

"Quote, usually well-informed sources, unquote."

"Well, they were unusually ill-informed, that time," Cabot replied. "Take my word for it, there's absolutely nothing in it."

"So it wasn't an accident, and it wasn't suicide," Rand considered. "Philip, what is the prognosis on this merger of Premix and National Milling & Packaging, now that Lane Fleming's opposition has been, shall we say, liquidated?"

Cabot's head jerked up; he looked at Rand in shocked surprise.

"My God, you don't think...?" he began. "Jeff, are you investigating Lane Fleming's death?"

"I was retained to sell the collection," Rand stated. "Now, I suppose, I'll have to find out who's been stealing those pistols, and recover them, and jail the thief and the fence. But I was not retained to investigate the death of Lane Fleming. And I do not do work for which I am not paid," he added, with mendacious literalness.

"I see. Well, the merger's going through. It won't be official until the sixteenth of May, when the Premix stockholders meet, but that's just a formality. It's all cut and dried and in the bag now. Better let me pick you up a little Premix; there's still some lying around. You'll make a little less than four-for-one on it."

"I'd had that in mind when I asked you about the merger," Rand said. "I have about two thousand with you, haven't I?" He did a moment's mental arithmetic, then got out his checkbook. "Pick me up about a hundred shares," he told the broker. "I've been meaning to get in on this ever since I heard about it."

"I don't see how you did hear about it," Cabot said. "For obvious reasons, it's being kept pretty well under the hat."

Rand grinned. "Quote, usually well-informed sources, unquote. Not the sources mentioned above."

"Jeff, you know, this damned thing's worrying me," Cabot told him, writing a receipt and exchanging it for Rand's check. "I've been trying to ignore it, but I simply can't. Do you really think Lane Fleming was murdered by somebody who wanted to see this merger consummated and who knew that that was an impossibility as long as Fleming was alive?"

"Philip, I don't know. And furthermore, I don't give a damn," Rand lied. "If somebody wants me to look into it, and pays me my possibly exaggerated idea of what constitutes fair compensation, I will. And I'll probably come up with Fleming's murderer, dead or alive. But until then, it is simply no epidermis off my scrotum. And I advise you to adopt a similar attitude."

They changed the subject, then, to the variety of pistols developed and used by the opposing nations in World War II, and the difficulties ahead of Cabot in assembling even a fairly representative group of them. Rand promised to mail Cabot a duplicate copy of his list of the letter-code symbols used by the Nazis to indicate the factories manufacturing arms for them, as well as copies of some old wartime Intelligence dope on enemy small-arms. At a little past one, he left Cabot's home and returned to the Fleming residence.

There were four cars in the garage. The Packard sedan had not been moved, but the station-wagon was facing in the opposite direction. The gray Plymouth was in the space from which Rand had driven earlier in the evening, and a black Chrysler Imperial had been run in on the left of the Plymouth. He put his own car in on the right of the station-wagon, made sure that the Leech & Rigdon was locked in his glove-box, and closed and locked the garage doors. Then he went up into the house, through the library, and by the spiral stairway to the gunroom.

The garage had been open, he recalled, at the time of Lane Fleming's death. The availability of such an easy means of undetected ingress and egress threw the suspect field wide open. Anybody who knew the habits of the Fleming household could have slipped up to the gunroom, while Varcek was in his lab, Dunmore was in the bathroom, and Gladys and Geraldine were in the parlor. As he crossed the hall to his own room, Rand was thinking of how narrowly Arnold Rivers had escaped a disastrous lawsuit and criminal action by the death of Lane Fleming.



CHAPTER 10

When Rand came down to breakfast the next morning, he found Gladys, Nelda, and a man whom he decided, by elimination, must be Anton Varcek, already at the table. The latter rose as Rand entered, and bowed jerkily as Gladys verified the guess with an introduction.

He was about Rand's own age and height; he had a smooth-shaven, tight-mouthed face, adorned with bushy eyebrows, each of which was almost as heavy as Rand's mustache. It was a face that seemed tantalizingly familiar, and Rand puzzled for a moment, then nodded mentally. Of course he had seen a face like that hundreds of times, in newsreels and news-photos, and, once in pre-war Berlin, its living double. Rudolf Hess. He wondered how much deeper the resemblance went, and tried not to let it prejudice him.

Nelda greeted him with a trowelful of sweetness and a dash of bedroom-bait. Gladys waved him to a vacant seat at her right and summoned the maid who had been serving breakfast. After Rand had indicated his preference of fruit and found out what else there was to eat, he inquired where the others were.

"Oh, Fred's still dressing; he'll be down in a minute," Nelda told him. "And Geraldine won't; she never eats with her breakfast."

Varcek winced slightly at this, and shifted the subject by inquiring if Rand were a professional antiques-expert.

"No, I'm a lily-pure amateur," Rand told him. "Or was until I took this job. I have a collection of my own, and I'm supposed to be something of an authority. My business is operating a private detective agency."

"But you are here only as an arms-expert?" Varcek inquired. "You are not making any sort of detective investigation?"

"That's right," Rand assured him. "This is practically a paid vacation, for me. First time I ever handled anything like this; it's a real pleasure to be working at something I really enjoy, for a change."

Varcek nodded. "Yes, I can understand that. My own work, for instance. I would continue with my research even if I were independently wealthy and any sort of work were unnecessary."

"Tell Colonel Rand what you're working on now," Nelda urged.

Varcek gave a small mirthless laugh. "Oh, Colonel Rand would be no more interested than I would be in his pistols," he objected, then turned to Rand. "It is a series of experiments having to do with the chemical nature of life," he said. Another perfunctory chuckle. "No, I am not trying to re-create Frankenstein's monster. The fact is, I am working with fruit flies."

"Something about heredity?" Rand wanted to know.

Varcek laughed again, with more amusement. "So! One says: 'Fruit flies,' and immediately another thinks: 'Heredity.' It is practically a standard response. Only, in this case, I am investigating the effect of diet changes. I use fruit flies because of their extreme adaptability. If I find that I am on the right track, I shall work with mice, next."

"Fred Dunmore mentioned a packaged diabetic ration you'd developed," Rand mentioned.

"Oh, yes." Varcek shrugged. "Yes. Something like an Army field-ration, for diabetics to carry when traveling, or wherever proper food may be unobtainable. That is for the company; soon we put it on the market, and make lots of money. But this other, that is my own private work."

Dunmore had come in while Varcek was speaking and had seated himself beside his wife.

"Don't let him kid you, Colonel," he said. "Anton's just as keen about that dollar as the rest of us. I don't know what he's cooking up, up there in the attic, but I'll give ten-to-one we'll be selling it in twenty-five-cent packages inside a year, and selling plenty of them.... Oh, and speaking about that dollar; how did you make out with Gresham and his friends?"

"I didn't. They'd expected to pay about twenty thousand for the collection; Rivers's offer has them stopped. And even if they could go over twenty-five, I think Rivers would raise them. He's afraid to let them get the collection; Pierre Jarrett and Karen Lawrence intended using their share of it to go into the old-arms business, in competition with him."

"Uh-huh, that's smart," Dunmore approved. "It's always better to take a small loss stopping competition than to let it get too big for you. You save a damn-sight bigger loss later."

"How soon do you think the pistols will be sold?" Gladys asked.

"Oh, in about a month, at the outside," Rand said, continuing to explain what had to be done first.

"Well, I'm glad of that," Varcek commented. "I never liked those things, and after what happened ... The sooner they can be sold, the better."

Breakfast finally ended, and Varcek and Dunmore left for the Premix plant. Rand debated for a moment the wisdom of speaking to Gladys about the missing pistols, then decided to wait until his suspicions were better verified. After a few minutes in the gunroom, going over Lane Fleming's arms-books on the shelf over the workbench without finding any trace of the book in which he had catalogued his collection, he got his hat and coat, went down to the garage, and took out his car.

It had stopped raining for the time being; the dingy sky showed broken spots like bits of bluing on a badly-rusted piece of steel. As he got out of his car in front of Arnold Rivers's red-brick house, he was wondering just how he was going to go about what he wanted to do. After all ...

The door of the shop was unlocked, and opened with a slow clanging of the door-chime, but the interior was dark. All the shades had been pulled, and the lights were out. For a moment Rand stood in the doorway, adjusting his eyes to the darkness within and wondering where everybody was.

Then, in the path of light that fell inward from the open door, he saw two feet in tan shoes, toes up, at the end of tweed-trousered legs, on the floor. An instant later he stepped inside, pulled the door shut after him, and was using his pen-light to find the electric switch.

For a second or so after he snapped it nothing happened, and then the darkness was broken by the flickering of fluorescent tubes. When they finally lit, he saw the shape on the floor, arms outflung, the inverted rifle above it. For a seemingly long time he stood and stared at the grotesquely transfixed body of Arnold Rivers.

The dead man lay on his back, not three feet beyond the radius of the door, in a pool of blood that was almost dried and gave the room a sickly-sweet butchershop odor. Under the back of Rand's hand, Rivers's cheek was cold; his muscles had already begun to stiffen in rigor mortis. Rand examined the dead man's wounds. His coat was stained with blood and gashed in several places; driven into his chest by a downward blow, the bayonet of a short German service Mauser pinned him to the floor like a specimen on a naturalist's card. Beside the one in which the weapon remained, there were three stab-wounds in the chest, and the lower part of the face was disfigured by what looked like a butt-blow. Bending over, Rand could see the imprint of the Mauser butt-plate on Rivers's jaw; on the butt-plate itself were traces of blood.

The rifle, a regulation German infantry weapon, the long-familiar Gewehr '98 in its most recent modification, was a Nazi product, bearing the eagle and encircled swastika of the Third Reich and the code-letters lza—the symbol of the Mauserwerke A.G. plant at Karlsruhe. It had doubtless been sold to Rivers by some returned soldier. In a rack beside the door were a number of other bolt-action military rifles—a Krag, a couple of Arisakas, a long German infantry rifle of the first World War, a Greek Mannlicher, a Mexican Mauser, a British short model Lee-Enfield. All had fixed bayonets; between the Lee-Enfield and one of the Arisakas there was a vacancy.

Rivers's carved ivory cigarette-holder was lying beside the body, crushed at the end as though it had been stepped on. A half-smoked cigarette had been in it; it, too, was crushed. There was no evidence of any great struggle, however; the attack which had ended the arms-dealer's life must have come as a complete surprise. He had probably been holding the cigarette-holder in his hand when the butt-blow had been delivered, and had dropped it and flung up his arms instinctively. Thereupon, his assailant had reversed his weapon and driven the bayonet into his chest. The first blow, no doubt, had been fatal—it could have been any of the three stabs in the chest—but the killer had given him two more, probably while he was on the floor. Then, grasping the rifle in both hands, he had stood over his victim and pinned the body to the floor. That last blow could have only been inspired by pure anger and hatred.

Yet, apparently, Rivers had been unaware of his visitor's murderous intentions, even while the rifle was being taken from the rack. Rand strolled back through the shop, looking about. Someone had been here with Rivers for some time; the dealer and another man had sat by the fire, drinking and smoking. On the low table was a fifth of Haig & Haig, a siphon, two glasses, a glass bowl containing water that had evidently melted from ice-cubes, and an ashtray. In the ashtray were a number of River's cigarette butts, all holder-crimped, and a quantity of ash, some of it cigar-ash. There was no cigar-butt, and no band or cellophane wrapper.

The fire on the hearth had burned out and the ashes were cold. They were not all wood-ashes; a considerable amount of paper—no, cardboard—had been burned there also. Poking gently with the point of a sword he took from a rack, Rand discovered that what had been burned had been a number of cards, about six inches by four, one of which had, somehow, managed to escape the flames with nothing more than a charred edge. Improvising tweezers from a pipe-cleaner, he picked this up and looked at it. It had been typewritten:

4850:

English Screw-Barrel F/L Pocket Pistol. Queen Anne type, side hammer with pan attached to barrel, steel barrel and frame. Marked: Wilson, Minories, London. Silver masque butt-cap, hallmarked for 1723. 4-1/2" barrel; 9-1/4" O.A.; cal. abt .44. Taken in trade, 3/21/'38, from V. Sparling, for Kentuck #2538, along with 4851, 4852, 4853. App. cost, RLss; Replacement, do. NLss, OSss, LSss.

To this had been added, in pen:

Sold, R. Kingsley, St. Louis, Mo., Mail order, 12/20/'42, OSss.

Rand laid the card on the cocktail-table, along with the drinking equipment. At least, he knew what had gone into the fire: Arnold Rivers's card-index purchase and sales record. He doubted very strongly if that would have been burned while its owner was still alive. Going over to the desk, he checked; the drawer from which he had seen Cecil Gillis get the card for the Leech & Rigdon had been cleaned out.

Picking up the phone in an awkward, unnatural manner, he used a pencil from his pocket to dial a number with which he was familiar, a number that meant the same thing on any telephone exchange in the state.

"State Police, Corporal Kavaalen," a voice singsonged out of the receiver.

"My name is Rand," he identified himself. "I am calling from Arnold Rivers's antique-arms shop on Route 19, about a mile and a half east of Rosemont. I am reporting a homicide."

"Yeah, go ahead—Hey! Did you say homicide?" the other voice asked sharply. "Who?"

"Rivers himself. I called at his shop a few minutes ago, found the front door open, and walked in. I found Rivers lying dead on the floor, just inside the door. He had been killed with a Mauser rifle—not shot; clubbed with the butt, and bayoneted. The body is cold, beginning to stiffen; a pool of blood on the floor is almost completely dried."

"That's a good report, mister," the corporal approved. "You stick around; we'll be right along. You haven't touched anything, have you?"

"Not around the body. How long will it take you to get here?"

"About ten minutes. I'll tell Sergeant McKenna right away."

Rand hung up and glanced at his watch. Ten twenty-two; he gave himself seven minutes and went around the room rapidly, looking only at pistols. He saw nothing that might have come from the Fleming collection. Finally, he opened the front door, just as a white State Police car was pulling up at the end of the walk.

Sergeant Ignatius Loyola McKenna—customarily known and addressed as Mick—piled out almost before it had stopped. The driver, a stocky, blue-eyed Finn with a corporal's chevrons, followed him, and two privates got out from behind, dragging after them a box about the size and shape of an Army footlocker. McKenna was halfway up the drive before he recognized Rand. Then he stopped short.

"Well, Jaysus-me-beads!" He turned suddenly to the corporal. "My God, Aarvo; you said his name was Grant!"

"That's what I thought he said." Rand recognized the singsong accent he had heard on the phone. "You know him?"

"Know him?" McKenna stepped aside quickly, to avoid being overrun by the two privates with the equipment-box. He sighed resignedly. "Aarvo, this is the notorious Jefferson Davis Rand. Tri-State Agency, in New Belfast." He gestured toward the Finn. "Corporal Aarvo Kavaalen," he introduced. "And Privates Skinner and Jameson.... Well, where is it?"

"Right inside." Rand stepped backward, gesturing them in. "Careful; it's just inside the doorway."

McKenna and the corporal entered; the two privates set down their box outside and followed. They all drew up in a semicircle around the late Arnold Rivers and looked at him critically.

"Jesus!" Kavaalen pronounced the J-sound as though it were Zh; he gave all his syllables an equally-accented intonation. "Say, somebody gave him a good job!"

"Somebody's been seeing too many war-movies." McKenna got a cigarette out of his tunic pocket and lit it in Rand's pipe-bowl. "Want to confess now, or do you insist on a third degree with all the trimmings?"

Kavaalen looked wide-eyed at Rand, then at McKenna, and then back at Rand. Rand laughed.

"Now, Mick!" he reproved. "You know I never kill anybody unless I have a clear case of self-defense, and a flock of witnesses to back it up."

McKenna nodded and reassured his corporal. "That's right, Aarvo; when Jeff Rand kills anybody, it's always self-defense. And he doesn't generally make messes like this." He gave the body a brief scrutiny, then turned to Rand. "You looked around, of course; what do you make of it?"

"Last night, sometime," Rand reconstructed, "Rivers had a visitor. A man, who smoked cigars. He and Rivers were on friendly, or at least sociable, terms. They sat back there by the fire for some time, smoking and drinking. The shades were all drawn. I don't know whether that was standard procedure, or because this conference was something clandestine. Finally, Rivers's visitor got up to leave.

"Now, of course, he could have left, and somebody else could have come here later, been admitted, and killed Rivers. That's a possibility," Rand said, "but it's also an assumption without anything to support it. I rather like the idea that the man who sat back there drinking and smoking with Rivers was the killer. If so, Rivers must have gone with him to the door and was about to open it when this fellow picked up that rifle, probably from that rack, over there, and clipped him on the jaw with the butt. Then he gave him the point three times, the second and third probably while Rivers was down. Then he swung it up and slammed down with it, and left it sticking through Rivers and in the floor."

McKenna nodded. "Lights on when you got here?" he asked.

"No; I put them on when I came in. The killer must have turned them off when he left, but the deadlatch on the door wasn't set, and he doesn't seem to have bothered checking on that."

"Think he left right after he killed Rivers?"

Rand shook his head. "No, that was just the first part of it. After he'd finished Rivers, he went back to that desk and got all the cards Rivers used to record his transactions on—an individual card for every item. He destroyed the lot of them, or at least most of them, in the fireplace. Now, I'm only guessing, here, but I think he took out a card or cards in which he had some interest, and then dumped the rest in the fire to prevent anybody from being able to determine which ones he was interested in. I am further guessing that the cards which the killer wanted to suppress were in the 'sold' file. But I am not guessing about the destruction of the record-file; I found the fireplace full of ashes, found one card that had escaped unburned—you can be sure that one wasn't important—and found the drawer where the record-system was kept empty."

"Think he might have stolen something, and covered up by burning the cards?" McKenna asked.

Rand shook his head again. "I was here yesterday; bought a pistol from Rivers. That's how I noticed this card-index system. Of course, I didn't look at everything, while I was here, but I can't see where any quantity of arms have been removed, and Rivers didn't have any single item that was worth a murder. Fact is, no old firearm is. There are only a very few old arms that are worth over a thousand dollars, and most of them are well-known, unique specimens that would be unsaleable because every collector would know where it came from."

"We can check possible thefts with Rivers's clerk, when he gets here," McKenna said. "Now, suppose you show me these things you found, back at the rear ... Aarvo, you and the boys start taking pictures," he told the corporal, then he followed Rand back through the shop.

He tested the temperature of the water in the ice-bowl with his finger. He looked at the ashtray, and bent over and sniffed at each of the two glasses.

"I see one of them's been emptied out," he commented. "Want to bet it hasn't been wiped clean, too?"

"Huh-unh." Rand smiled slightly. "Even the tiny tots wipe off the cookie-jar, after they've raided it," he said.

A flash-bulb lit the front of the shop briefly. Corporal Kavaalen said something to the others. McKenna picked up the card Rand had found by the edges and looked at it.

"What in hell's this all about, Jeff?" he asked.

"Rivers made it out for one of his pistols. An English flintlock pocket-pistol; I can show you one almost like it, up front. He'd gotten it and three others, back in 1938, in trade for a Kentucky rifle. The numbers are reference-numbers; the letters are Rivers's private price-code. Those three at the end are, respectively, what he absolutely had to get for it, what he thought was a reasonable price, and the most he thought the traffic would stand. He sold it in 1942 for his middle price."

There was another flash by the door, then Kavaalen called out:

"Hey, Mick; we got two of the stiffs, now. All right if we pull out the bayonet for a close-up of his chest?"

"Sure. Better chalkline it, first; you'll move things jerking that bayonet out." He turned back to Rand. "You think, then, that maybe some card in that file would have gotten somebody in trouble, and he had to croak Rivers to get it, and then burned the rest of the cards for a cover-up?"

"That's the way it looks to me," Rand agreed. "Just because I can't think of any other possibility, though, doesn't mean that there aren't any others."

"Hey! You think he might have been selling modern arms to criminals, without reporting the sale?" McKenna asked.

"I wouldn't put it past him," Rand considered. "There was very little that I would put past that fellow. But I wouldn't think he'd be stupid enough to carry a record of such sales in his own file, though."

McKenna rubbed the butt of his .38 reflectively; that seemed to be his substitute for head-scratching, as an aid to cerebration.

"You said you were here yesterday, and bought a pistol," he began. "All right; I know about that collection of yours. But why were you back here bright and early this morning? You working on Rivers for somebody? If so, give."

Rand told him what he was working on. "Rivers wants to buy the Fleming collection. That was the reason I saw him yesterday. But the reason I came here, this morning, is that I find that somebody has stolen about two dozen of the best pistols out of the collection since Fleming's death, and tried to cover up by replacing them with some junk that Lane Fleming wouldn't have allowed inside his house. For my money, it's the butler. Now that Fleming's dead, he's the only one in the house who knows enough about arms to know what was worth stealing. He has constant access to the gunroom. I caught him in a lie about a book Fleming kept a record of his collection in, and now the book has vanished. And furthermore, and most important, if he'd been on the level, he would have spotted what was going on, long ago, and squawked about it."

"That's a damn good circumstantial case, Jeff," McKenna nodded. "Nothing you could take to a jury, of course, but mighty good grounds for suspicion.... You think Rivers could have been the fence?"

"He could have been. Whoever was higrading the collection had to have an outlet for his stuff, and he had to have a source of supply for the junk he was infiltrating into the collection as replacements. A crooked dealer is the answer to both, and Arnold Rivers was definitely crooked."

"You know that?" McKenna inquired. "For sure?"

Another flash lit the front of the shop. Rand nodded.

"For damn good and sure. I can show you half a dozen firearms in this shop that have been altered to increase their value. I don't mean legitimate restorations; I mean fraudulent alterations." He went on to tell McKenna about Rivers's expulsion from membership in the National Rifle Association. "And I know that he sold a pair of pistols to Lane Fleming, about a week before Fleming was killed, that were outright fakes. Fleming was going to sue the ears off Rivers about that; the fact is, until this morning, I'd been wondering if that mightn't have been why Fleming had that sour-looking accident. If he'd lived, he'd have run Rivers out of business."

"Hell, I didn't know that!" McKenna seemed worried. "Fleming used to target-shoot with our gang, and he knew too much about gats to pull a Russ Columbo on himself. I didn't like that accident, at the time, but I figured he'd pulled the Dutch, and the family were making out it was an accident. We never were called in; the whole thing was handled through the coroner's office. You really think Fleming could have been bumped?"

"Yes. I think he could have been bumped," Rand understated. "I haven't found any positive proof, but—" He told McKenna about his purchase, from Rivers, of the revolver that had been later identified as the one brought home by Fleming on the day of his death. "I still don't know how Rivers got hold of it," he continued. "Until I walked in here not half an hour ago and found Rivers dead on the floor, I'd had a suspicion that Rivers might have sneaked into the Fleming house, shot Fleming with another revolver, left it in Fleming's hand and carried away the one Fleming had been working on. The motive, of course, would have been to stop a lawsuit that would have put Rivers out of business and, not inconceivably, in jail. But now ..." He looked toward the front of the shop, where another photo-flash glared for an instant. "And don't suggest that Rivers got conscience-stricken and killed himself. Aside from the technical difficulties of pinning himself to the floor after he was dead, that explanation's out. Rivers had no conscience to be stricken with."

"Well, let's skip Fleming, for a minute," McKenna suggested. "You think this butler, at the Fleming place, was robbing the collection. And you say he could've sold the stuff he stole to Rivers. Well, when the family gets you in to work on the collection, Jeeves, or whatever his name is, realizes that you're going to spot what's been going on, and will probably suspect him. He knows you're no ordinary arms-expert; you're an agency dick. So he gets scared. If you catch up with Rivers, Rivers'll talk. So he comes over here, last night, and kills Rivers off before you can get to him. And while Rivers may not keep a record of the stuff he got from Jeeves, or whatever his name is—"

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse