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Murder in the Gunroom
by Henry Beam Piper
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"Walters," Rand supplied.

"Walters, then. While he may not keep a record of what he bought from Walters, the chances are he does keep a record of the stuff Walters got from him, to use for replacements, so the card-file goes into the fire. How's that?"

The flare of another flash-bulb made distorted shadows dance over the walls.

"That would hang together, now," Rand agreed. "Of course, I haven't found anything here, except the revolver I bought yesterday, that came from the Fleming place, but I'll add this: As soon as Rivers found out I was working for the Fleming family, he tried to get that revolver back from me. Offered me seventy-five dollars' worth of credit on anything else in the shop if I'd give it back to him, not twenty minutes after I'd paid him sixty for it."

"See!" McKenna pounced. "Look; suppose you had a lot of hot stuff, in a place like this. You might take a chance on selling something that had gotten mixed in with your legitimate stuff, but would you want to sell it right back to where it had been stolen from?"

"No, I wouldn't. And if I were a butler who'd been robbing a valuable collection, and an agency man moved in and started poking around, I might get in a panic and do something extreme. That all hangs together, too."

While Rand was talking to McKenna, Private Jameson wandered back through the shop.

"Hey, Sarge, is there any way into the house from here?" he asked. "The outside doors are all locked, and I can't raise anybody."

Rand pointed out the flight of steps beside the fireplace. "I saw Rivers come out of the house that way, yesterday," he said.

The State Policeman went up the steps and tried the door; it opened, and he went through.

"Chances are Mrs. Rivers is away," McKenna said. "She's away a lot. They have a colored girl who comes in by the day, but she doesn't generally get here before noon. And the clerk doesn't get here till about the same time."

"You seem to know a lot about this household," Rand said.

"Yeah. We have this place marked up as a bad burglary- and stick-up hazard; we keep an eye on it. Rivers has all these guns, he does a big cash business, he always has a couple of hundred to a thousand on him—it's a wonder somebody hasn't made a try at this place long ago.... Tell you what, Jeff; say you check up on this butler at the Fleming place for us, and we'll check up here and see if we can find any of the stuff that was stolen. We can get together and compare notes. Maybe one or another of us may run across something about that accident of Fleming's, too."

"Suits me. I'll be glad to help you, and I'll be glad for any help you can give me on recovering those pistols. I haven't made any formal report on that, yet, because I'm not sure exactly what's missing, and I don't want any of that kind of publicity while I'm trying to sell the collection. It may be that the two matters are related; there are some points of similarity, which may or may not mean anything. And, of course, I just may find somebody who'll make it worth my time to get interested in this killing, while I'm at it."

McKenna chuckled. "That must hurt hell out of you, Jeff," he said. "A nice classy murder like this, and nobody to pay you to work on it."

"It does," Rand admitted. "I feel like an undertaker watching a man being swallowed by a shark."

"You want to stick around till this clerk of Rivers's gets here?" McKenna asked. "He should be here in about an hour and a half."

"No. I'd just as soon not be seen taking too much of an interest in this right now. Fact is, I'd just as soon not have my name mentioned at all in connection with this. You can charge the discovery of the body up to our old friend, Anonymous Tip, can't you?"

"Sure." McKenna accompanied Rand to the front door, past the white chalked outline that marked the original position of the body. The body itself, with ink-blackened fingertips, lay to one side, out of the way. Corporal Kavaalen was going through the dead man's pockets, and Skinner was working on the rifle with an insufflator.

"Well, we can't say it was robbery, anyhow," Kavaalen said. "He had eight C's in his billfold."

"Migawd, Sarge, is this damn rifle ever lousy with prints," Skinner complained. "A lot of Rivers's, and everybody else's who's been fooling with it around here, and half the Wehrmacht."

"Swell, swell!" McKenna enthused. "Maybe we can pass the case off on the War Crimes Commission."



CHAPTER 11

Mick McKenna had put his finger right on the sore spot. It did hurt Rand like hell; a nice, sensational murder and no money in it for the Tri-State Agency. Obviously, somebody would have to be persuaded to finance an investigation. Preferably some innocent victim of unjust suspicion; somebody who could best clear himself by unmasking the real villain.... For "villain," Rand mentally substituted "public benefactor."

He was running over a list of possible suspects as he entered Rosemont. Passing the little antique shop he slowed, backed, read the name "Karen Lawrence" on the window, and then pulled over to the curb and got out. Crossing the sidewalk, he went up the steps to the door, entering to the jangling of a spring-mounted cowbell.

The girl dealer was inside, with a visitor, a sallow-faced, untidy-looking man of indeterminate age who was opening newspaper-wrapped packages on a table-top. Karen greeted Rand by name and military rank; Rand told her he'd just look around till she was through. She tossed him a look of comic reproach, as though she had counted on him to rid her of the man with the packages.

"Now, just you look at this-here, Miss Lawrence," the man was enthusing, undoing another package. "Here's something I know you'll want; I think this-here is real quaint! Just look, now!" He displayed some long, narrow, dark object, holding it out to her. "Ain't this-here an interestin' item, now, Miss Lawrence?"

"Ooooooh! What in heaven's name is that thing?" she demanded.

"That-there's a sword. A real African native sword. Look at that scabbard, now; made out of real crocodile-skin. A whole young crocodile, head, feet, an' all. I tell you, Miss Lawrence, that-there item is unique!"

"It's revolting! It's the most repulsive object that's ever been brought into this shop, which is saying quite a lot. Colonel Rand! If you don't have a hangover this morning, will you please come here and look at this thing?"

Rand laid down the Merril carbine he had been examining and walked over beside Karen. The man—whom Rand judged to be some rural free-lance antique-prospector—extended the object of the girl's repugnance. It was an African sword, all right, with a plain iron hilt and cross-guard. The design looked Berber, but the workmanship was low-grade, and probably attributable to some even more barbarous people. The scabbard was what was really surprising, if you liked that kind of surprises. It was an infant crocodile, rather indifferently smoke-cured; the sword simply went in between the creature's jaws and extended the length of the body and into the tail. Either end of a moldy-green leather thong had been fastened to the two front paws for a shoulder-baldric. When new, Rand thought, it must have given its wearer a really distinctive aroma, even for Africa. He drew the blade gingerly, looked at it, and sheathed it with caution.

"East African; Danakil, or Somali, or something like that," he commented. "Be damn good and careful not to scratch yourself on that; if you do, you'll need about a gallon of anti-tetanus shots."

"Y'think it might be poisoned?" the man with the dirty neck and the month-old haircut inquired eagerly. "See, Miss Lawrence? What I told you; a real African native sword. I got that-there from Hen Sourbaw, over at Feltonville; his uncle, the Reverend Sourbaw, that used to preach at Hemlock Gap Church, brung it from Africa, himself, about fifty years ago. He used to be a missionary, in his younger days.... I can make you an awful good price on that-there item, Miss Lawrence."

"God forbid!" she exclaimed. "All my customers are heavy drinkers; I wouldn't want to answer for what might happen if some of them saw that thing, suddenly."

"Oh, well.... How about that-there little amethyst bottle, then?"

"Well ... I would give you seven dollars for that," she grudged.

"Y'would? Well, it's yours, then. An' how about them-there salt-cellars, an' that-there knife-box?"

Rand wandered back to examining firearms. Eventually, after buying the knife-box, Karen got rid of the man with the antiques. When he had gone, she found a pack of cigarettes, offered it to Rand and lit one for herself.

"Well, now you see why girls leave home and start antique shops," she said. "Never a dull moment.... Wasn't that sword the awfullest thing you ever saw, though?"

"Well, one of the ten awfullest," Rand conceded. "I just stopped in to give you some good news. You won't need to consider that offer of Arnold Rivers's, any more. He is no longer interested in the Fleming collection."

"He isn't?" An eager, happy light danced up in her eyes. "You saw him again this morning? What did he say?"

"He didn't say anything. He isn't talking any more, either. Fact is, he isn't even breathing any more."

"He.... You mean he's dead?" She was surprised, even shocked. The shock was probably a concession to good taste, but the surprise looked genuine. "When did he die? It must have been very sudden; I saw him a few days ago, and he looked all right. Of course, he's been having trouble with his lungs, but—"

"It was very sudden. Some time last night, some person or persons unknown gave him a butt-and-bayonet job with a German Mauser out of a rack in his shop. A most unpleasantly thorough job. I went to see him this morning, hoping to badger something out of him about those pistols that are missing from the Fleming collection, and found the body. I notified the State Police, and just came from there."

"For God's sake!" The shock was genuine, too, now. "Have the police any idea—?"

"Not the foggiest. If some of the Fleming pistols turn up at his place, I might think that had something to do with it. So far, though, they haven't. I gave the shop a once-over-lightly before the cops arrived, and couldn't find anything."

She tried to take a puff from her cigarette and found that she had broken it in her fingers. She lit a new one from the mangled butt.

"When did it happen?" She tried to make the question sound casual.

"That I couldn't say, either. Around midnight, would be my guess. They might be able to fix a no-earlier time." An idea occurred to him, and he smiled.

"But that's dreadful!" She really meant that. "It's a terrible thing to happen to anybody, being killed like that." She stopped just short of adding: "even Rivers." Instead, she continued: "But I can't say I'm really very sorry he's dead, Colonel."

"Outside of maybe his wife, and the gunsmith who made his fake Walker Colts and North & Cheney flintlocks, who is?" he countered. "Oh, yes; Cecil Gillis. He's about due for induction into the Army of the Unemployed, unless Mrs. Rivers intends carrying on the business."

Karen's eyes widened. "Cecil Gillis!" she exclaimed softly. "I wonder, now, if he has an alibi for last night!"

"Think he might need one?" Rand asked. "Of course I only saw him once, but he didn't strike me as a possible candidate. I can't seem to see young Gillis doing a messy job like this was, or going to all that manual labor when he could have used something neat, like a pistol or a dagger."

"Well, Cecil isn't quite the languishing flower he looks," Karen told him. "He does a lot of swimming, and he's one of the few people around here who can beat me at tennis. And he has a motive. Maybe two motives."

"Such as?" Rand prompted.

"Maybe you think Cecil is a—you know—one of those boys," she euphemized. "Well, he isn't. He takes a perfectly normal, and even slightly wolfish, interest in the female of his species. And while Arnold Rivers may have been a good provider from a financial standpoint, he wasn't quite up to his wife's requirements in another important respect. And Rivers was away a lot, on buying trips and so on, and when he was, nobody ever saw Cecil leave the Rivers place in the evenings. At least, that's the story; personally, I wouldn't know. Of course, where there's smoke, there may be nothing more than somebody with a stogie, but, then, there may be a regular conflagration."

"That would be a perfectly satisfactory motive, under some circumstances," Rand admitted. "And the other?"

"Cecil might have been doing funny things with the books, and Rivers might have caught him."

"That would also be a good enough motive." It would also, Rand thought, furnish an explanation for the burning of Rivers's record-cards. "I'll mention it to Mick McKenna; he's hard up for a good usable suspect. And by the way, the news of this killing will be out before evening, but in the meantime I wish you wouldn't mention it to anybody, or mention that I was in here to tell you about it."

"I won't. I'm glad you told me, though.... Do you think there may be a chance that we can get the collection, now?"

"I wouldn't know why not. Rivers's offer was pretty high; there aren't many other dealers who would be able to duplicate it.... Well, don't take any Czechoslovakian Stiegel."

He moved his car down the street to the Rosemont Inn, where he went into the combination bar and grill and had a Bourbon-and-water at the bar. Then he ordered lunch, and, while waiting for it, went into a phone-booth and dialed the number of Stephen Gresham's office in New Belfast.

"I'd hoped to catch you before you left for lunch," he said, when the lawyer answered. "There's been a new development in the Fleming business." He had decided to follow the same line as with Karen Lawrence. "You needn't worry about Arnold Rivers's offer, any more."

"Ha! So he backed out?"

"He was shoved out," Rand corrected. "On the sharp end of a Mauser bayonet, sometime last night. I found the body this morning, when I went to see him, and notified the State Police. They call it murder, but of course, they're just prejudiced. I'd call it a nuisance-abatement project."

"Look here, are you kidding?" Gresham demanded.

"I never kid about Those Who Have Passed On," Rand denied piously. Then he recited the already hackneyed description of what had happened to Rivers, with careful attention to all the gruesome details. "So I called copper, directly. Sergeant McKenna's up a stump about it, and looking in all directions for a suspect."

Gresham was silent for a moment, then swore softly.

"My God, Jeff! This is going to raise all kinds of hell!" He was silent for a moment. "Look here, can you see me, at my home, about two thirty this afternoon? I want to talk to you about this."

Rand smiled happily. This looked like what he had been angling for. Maybe Arnold Rivers hadn't died in vain, after all.

"Why, yes; I can make it," he replied.

"Good. See you there, then."

Rand assured him that he would be on hand. When he returned to his table, he found his lunch waiting for him. He sat down and ate with a good appetite. After finishing, he had another drink, and sat sipping it slowly and smoking his pipe; going over the story Gladys Fleming had told him, and the gossip he had gotten from Carter Tipton, and the other statements which had been made to him by different people about the death of Lane Fleming, and the conclusions he had reached about the theft of the pistols, and the killing of Arnold Rivers; sorting out the inferences from the descriptions, and the descriptive statements of others from the things he himself had observed. When his glass was empty and his pipe burned out, he left a tip beside the ashtray, paid his check and went out.

He had two hours until his meeting with Stephen Gresham; he knew exactly where to spend them. The county seat was a normal twenty minutes' drive from Rosemont, but with the road relatively free from traffic he was able to cut that to fifteen. Parking his car in front of the courthouse, he went inside.

The coroner, one Jason Kirchner, was an inoffensive-looking little fellow with a Caspar Milquetoast mustache and an underslung jaw. He wore an Elks watchcharm, an Odd Fellows ring, and a Knights of Pythias lapel-pin. He looked at Rand's credentials, including the letter Humphrey Goode had given him, with some bewilderment.

"You're working for Mr. Goode?" he asked, rather needlessly. "Yes, I see; handling the sale of Mr. Fleming's pistols, for the estate. Yes. That must be interesting work, Mr. Rand. Now, what can I do for you?"

"Why, I understand you have an item from that collection, here in your office," Rand said. "The pistol with which Mr. Fleming shot himself. Regardless of its unpleasant associations, that pistol is a valuable collector's item, and one of the assets of the estate. If I'm to get full value for the collection, for the heirs, I'll have to have that, to sell with the rest of the weapons."

"Well, now, look here, Mr. Rand," Kirchner started to argue, "that revolver's a dangerous weapon. It's killed one man, already. I don't know as I ought to let it get out, where it might kill somebody else."

Rand estimated that this situation called for a modified version of his hard-boiled act.

"You think you can show cause why that revolver shouldn't be turned over to the Fleming estate?" he demanded. "Well, if I don't get it, right away, Mr. Goode will get a court order for it. You had no right to impound that revolver, in the first place; you removed it from the Fleming home illegally in the second place, since you had no intention of holding any formal inquest, and you're holding it illegally now. A court order might not be all we could get, either," he added menacingly. "Now, if you have any reason to suspect that Mr. Fleming committed suicide ... or was murdered, for instance ..."

"Oh, my heavens, no!" Kirchner cried, horrified. "It was an accident, pure and simple; I so certified it. Death by accident, due to inadvertence of the deceased."

"Well, then," Rand said, "you have no right to hold that revolver, and I want it, right now. As Mr. Goode's agent, I'm responsible for that collection, of which the revolver you're holding is a part. That revolver is too valuable an asset to ignore. You certainly realize that."

"Well, I don't have any intention of exceeding my authority, of course," Kirchner disclaimed hastily. "And I certainly wouldn't want to go against Mr. Goode's wishes." Humphrey Goode must pull considerable weight around the courthouse, Rand surmised. "But you realize, that revolver's still loaded...."

"Oh, that's not your worry. I'll draw the charges, or, better, fire them out. It stood one shot, it can stand the other five."

"Well, would you mind if I called Mr. Goode on the phone?"

Rand did, decidedly. However, he shook his head negligently.

"Certainly not; go ahead and call him, by all means."

The coroner went away. In a few minutes he was back, carrying a revolver in both hands. Evidently Goode had given him the green light. He approached, handling the weapon with a caution that would have been excessive for a Mills grenade; after warning Rand again that it was loaded, he laid it gently on his desk.

It was a .36 Colt, one of the 1860 series, with the round barrel and the so-called "creeping" ramming-lever. Somebody had wound a piece of wire around it, back of the hammer and through the loading-aperture in front of the cylinder; as the hammer was down on a fired chamber, there was no way in God's world, short of throwing the thing into a furnace, in which it could be discharged, but Kirchner was shrinking away from it as though it might jump at his throat.

"I put the wire on," the coroner said. "I thought it might be safer that way."

"It'll be a lot safer after I've emptied it into the first claybank, outside town," Rand told him. "Sorry I had to be a little short with you, Mr. Kirchner, but you know how it is. I'm responsible to Mr. Goode for the collection, and this gun's part of it."

"Oh, that's all right; I really shouldn't have taken the attitude I did," Kirchner met him halfway. "After I talked to Mr. Goode, of course, I knew it was all right, but ... You see, I've been bothered a lot about that pistol, lately."

"Yes?" Rand succeeded in being negligent about it.

"Oh my, yes! The newspaper people wanted to take pictures of me holding it, and then, there was an antique-dealer who was here trying to buy it."

"Who was that—Arnold Rivers?"

"Why yes! Do you know him? He has an antique-shop on the other side of Rosemont; he doesn't sell anything but guns and swords and that sort of thing," Kirchner said. "He was here, making inquiries about it, and my clerk showed it to him, and then he started making offers for it—first ten dollars, and then fifteen, and then twenty; he got up as high as sixty dollars. I suppose it's worth a couple of hundred."

It was probably worth about thirty-five. Rand was intrigued by this second instance of an un-Rivers-like willingness to spare no expense to get possession of a .36-caliber percussion revolver.

"Did he have it in his hands?" he asked.

"Oh, yes; he looked it over carefully. I suppose he thought he could get a lot of money for it, because of the accident, and Mr. Fleming being such a prominent man," Kirchner suggested.

Rand allowed himself to be struck by an idea.

"Say, you know, that would make it worth more, at that!" he exclaimed. "What do you know! I never thought of that.... Look, Mr. Kirchner; I'm supposed to get as much money for these pistols, for the heirs, as I can. How would you like to give me a letter, vouching for this as the pistol Mr. Fleming killed himself with? Put in how you found it in his hand, and mention the serial numbers, so that whoever buys it will know it's the same revolver." He picked up the Colt and showed Kirchner the serials, on the butt, and in front of the trigger-guard. "See, here it is: 2444."

Kirchner would be more than willing to oblige Mr. Goode's agent; he typed out the letter himself, looked twice at the revolver to make sure of the number, took Rand's word for the make, model, and caliber, signed it, and even slammed his seal down on it. Rand thanked him profusely, put the letter in his pocket, and stuck the Colt down his pants-leg.

About two miles from the county seat Rand stopped his car on a deserted stretch of road and got out. Unwinding the wire Kirchner had wrapped around the revolver, he picked up an empty beer-can from the ditch, set it against an embankment, stepped back about thirty feet and began firing. The first shot kicked up dirt a little over the can—Rand never could be sure just how high any percussion Colt was sighted—and the other four hit the can. He carried the revolver back to the car and put it into the glove-box with the Leech & Rigdon.

After starting the car, he snapped on the radio, in time for the two fifteen news-broadcast from the New Belfast station. As he had expected, the murder was out; the daily budget of strikes and Congressional investigations and international turmoil was enlivened by a more or less imaginative account of what had already been christened the "Rosemont Bayonet Murder." Rand resigned himself to the inevitable influx of reporters. Then he swore, as the newscaster continued:

"District Attorney Charles P. Farnsworth, of Scott County, who has taken charge of the investigation, says, and we quote: 'There is strong evidence implicating certain prominent persons, whom we are not, as yet, prepared to name, and if the investigation, now under way and making excellent progress, justifies, they will be apprehended and formally charged. No effort will be spared, and no consideration of personal prominence will be allowed to deter us from clearing up this dastardly crime....'"

Rand swore again, with weary bitterness, wondering how much trouble he was going to have with District Attorney Charles P. Farnsworth, as he pulled to a stop in Stephen Gresham's driveway.



CHAPTER 12

Gresham must have been waiting inside the door; as soon as Rand came up onto the porch, he opened it, and motioned the detective inside. Beyond a hasty greeting as Rand passed the threshold, he did not speak until they were seated in the gunroom upstairs. Then he came straight to the point.

"Jeff, can you spare the time from this work you're doing at the Flemings' to investigate this Rivers business?" he asked. "And how much would an investigation cost me? It's got to be a blitz job. I'm not interested in getting anybody convicted in court; I just want the case cleared up in a hurry."

"Well—" Rand puffed at the cigar Gresham had given him, watching the ash form on the end. "I don't work by the day, Stephen. I take a lump-sum fee, and, of course, it's to my interest to get a case cleared up as soon as I can. But I can't set any time limit on a job like this. This Rivers killing has more angles than Nude Descending a Staircase; I don't know how much work I'll have to do, or even what kind."

"Well, it'll have to be fast," Gresham told him urgently. "Look. I didn't kill Arnold Rivers. I hated his guts, and I think whoever did it ought to get a medal and a testimonial dinner, but I did not kill him. You believe me?"

"I'm inclined to," Rand replied. "In your law practice, you know what a lying client is letting himself in for. As my client, you wouldn't lie to me. You seem to think you may be suspected of purging Rivers. But why? Is there any reason, aside from that homemade North & Cheney he sold you, why anybody would think you'd killed him?"

"Great God, yes!" Gresham exclaimed. "Now look. I'm not worried about being railroaded for this. I didn't do it, and I can beat any case that half-assed ex-ambulance-chaser, Farnsworth, could dream up against me. But I can't afford even to be mentioned in connection with this. You know what that would do to me, in town. I just can't get mixed up in this, at all. I want you to see to it that I don't."

"That sounds like a large order." The ash was growing on Rand's cigar; he took another heavy drag at it. "But why necessarily you? Rivers had plenty of other enemies."

"Yes, but, dammit, they weren't all in his shop, last evening. Just me. And one other. The one who killed him."

"On your way out from town?" Rand inquired.

"Yes. I stopped at his place, about a quarter to nine. I was sore as hell about the hooking he gave me on that North & Cheney, falsely so-called, and I decided to stop and have it out with him. We had words, most of them unpleasant. I told him, for one thing, that Lane Fleming's death hadn't pulled his bacon off the fire, that I was going to start the same sort of action against him on my own account. But that isn't the point. The point is that when I was going in, this la-de-da clerk of his, Cecil Gillis, was coming out. He got into his car and drove away, leaving me alone with Rivers. He'll be the first one the police talk to, and he'll tell them all about it."

"That does put you back of the eight ball." Rand dropped the ash into a tray and looked at it curiously. It looked like the sort of ash he had seen at Rivers's shop, but he couldn't be sure. "But if it can be proved that Rivers was alive after nine twenty, when you got here, you'll be in the clear."

"I don't want to have to clear myself," Gresham insisted. "I don't want anything to do with it, at all. Here; I'll pay you a thousand down, and two more when you have the case completed; I want you to get the murder cleared up before I can be publicly involved in it. I say publicly, because this damned Gillis has probably involved me with the police already."

"Well, Gillis isn't exactly in a state of pure sanctity, himself," Rand commented. "As a suspect, the smart handicappers are figuring him to run well inside the money. For instance, you know, there have been stories about him and Mrs. Rivers."

Gresham snapped his fingers. "Damned if there haven't, now!" he said. "You talk to Adam Trehearne. He did business with Rivers—there wasn't much in his line Rivers and Umholtz were able to fake—and different times he's gone to Rivers's shop and there'd be nobody around, and then Gillis would come in from the house, smelling of Chanel Number Five. Mrs. Rivers uses Chanel Number Five. Maybe you have something there. If Cecil thought he could marry the business, with Rivers out of the way.... You'll take the case, won't you, Jeff?"

"Oh, certainly," Rand assured him. "Now, all they have on you is that there was ill-feeling between you and Rivers about that fake North & Cheney, and that you were in Rivers's shop yesterday evening?"

Rand's new client grimaced. "I wish that were all!" he said. "The worst part of it is the way Rivers was killed. See, back in Kaiser Willie's war, before I was assigned a company of my own, I was regimental bayonet-instruction officer. And after we got to France, I always carried a rifle and bayonet at the front; hell, I must have killed close to a dozen Krauts just the way Rivers was killed. And during Schicklgruber's war, I volunteered as bayonet instructor for the local Home Guard."

"My God!" Rand made a wry face. "There must be close to a hundred people around here who'd know that, and all of them are probably convinced that you killed Rivers, and are expressing that opinion at the top of their voices to all comers. You don't want a detective, you want a magician!" He took another drag at the cigar, and blew smoke through a circular gun-rack beside him. "What sort of a character is this Farnsworth, anyhow?" he asked. "Before the war, I had all the D.A.'s in the state typed and estimated, but since I got back—"

Gresham slandered the county prosecutor's legitimacy. "God-damn headline-hunting little egotist! He's running for re-election this year, too."

"One way, that could be bad. On the other hand, it might be easy to throw a scare into him.... Stephen, when you were at Rivers's, were you smoking a cigar?"

Gresham shook his head. "No. I threw my cigar away when I got out of the car, and I didn't light another one till I got home. If you remember, I was lighting it when I came in here."

"Yes; so you were. Well, I don't suppose, in view of the state of relations between you and Rivers, that you had a drink with him, either?"

"I wouldn't drink that guy's liquor if I were dying of snakebite, and he wouldn't offer me a drink if he knew I was," Gresham declared.

"Well, did you notice, back near the fireplace, a low table with a fifth of Haig & Haig Pinchbottle, and a couple of glasses, and a siphon, and so on, on it?"

"I saw the table. There was an ashtray on it, and a book—I think it was Gluckman's United States Martial Pistols and Revolvers—but no bottle, or siphon, or glasses."

"All right, then; it was the killer." Rand explained about the drinks, and the cigar-ashes. He went on to tell about the destruction of Rivers's record-cards.

"I don't get that." Gresham was puzzled. "Unless it was young Gillis, after all. He could have been knocking down on Rivers, and Rivers caught him at it."

"I'd thought of that," Rand admitted. "But I doubt if Rivers would sit down and drink with him, while accusing him of theft. And I can't seem to find anything around Rivers's place that looks as though it might have been stolen from the Fleming collection, either.... Oh, and that reminds me: If you have time this afternoon, I wonder if you'd come along with me to the Flemings' and see just what's missing. I'll have to know that, in any case, and there's a good possibility that the thefts from the collection and the killing of Rivers are related."

"Yes, of course," Gresham agreed. "And suppose we take Pierre Jarrett along with us. He knows that collection as well as I do; he'll spot anything I miss. He works at home; I'll call him now. We can pick him up before we go to the Flemings'."

They went into Gresham's bedroom, where there was a phone, and Gresham talked to Pierre Jarrett. It was arranged that he should pick Jarrett up with his car and come to the Flemings', while Rand went there directly.

Then Rand used the phone to call his office in New Belfast. He talked to Dave Ritter, explaining the situation to date.

"I'm going to need some help," he continued. "I want you to come here and get a room at the Rosemont Inn, under your own name. I'll see you there about five thirty. And bring with you a suit of butler's livery, or reasonable facsimile. I believe there will be a vacancy in the Fleming household tomorrow or the next day, and I want you ready to take over. And bring a small gun with you; something you can wear under said livery. That .357 Colt of yours is a little too conspicuous. You'll find a .380 Beretta in the top right-hand drawer of my office desk, with a box of ammunition and a couple of spare clips."

"Right. I'll be at Rosemont Inn at five thirty," Ritter promised. "And say, Tip was in, this morning, with a lot of dope on the Fleming estate. Want me to let you have it now, or shall I give it to you when I see you?"

"You have notes? Bring them along; I'll be seeing you in a couple of hours."

He parted from Gresham, going out and getting in his car. As Gresham got his own car out of the garage and drove off toward Pierre Jarrett's house, Rand started in the opposite direction, toward Rosemont.

About a half-mile from Gresham's he caught an advancing gleam of white on the highway ahead of him and pulled to the side of the road, waiting until the State Police car drew up and stopped. In it were Mick McKenna, Aarvo Kavaalen, and a third man, a Nordic type, in an untidy brown suit.

"Hi, Jeff," McKenna greeted him, as Rand got out of his car and came across the road. "This is Gus Olsen, investigator for the D.A.'s office. Jeff Rand; Tri-State Agency," he introduced.

"Hey!" Olsen yelled. "We been lookin' for you! Where you been?"

Rand raised an eyebrow at McKenna.

"You just came from where we're going," the State Police sergeant surmised. "Was Gresham at home?"

"He was; he's gone now," Rand said. "He and another man are going to help me check up on what's missing from the Fleming collection."

"Hey!" Olsen exploded. "What I told you, now; he run ahead of us with a tip-off! Gresham's skipped out, now!"

"What is all this?" Rand wanted to know. "What's he screaming about, Mick?"

"Like he don't know!" Olsen vociferated. "He tipped off Gresham so's he could skip out; I'll bet he's in it with Gresham!"

"Pay no attention," McKenna advised. "He doesn't know what the score is; hell, he doesn't even know what teams are playing."

"Now you look here!" Olsen bawled. "We'll see what Mr. Farnsworth has to say about this. You're supposed to cooperate with us, not go fraternizin' with a lot of suspects. Why, it's plain as anything; him and Gresham's in it together. I bet that was why he come around, the first thing in the morning, to find the body!"

Kavaalen, behind the wheel, turned around and began jabbering at Olsen, in the back seat, in something that sounded like Swedish. Most Finns can speak Swedish, and Rand was wishing he could understand it. The corporal's remarks ran to about a paragraph, and must have been downright incendiary. At least, Olsen seemed to catch fire from them. He rose in his seat, waving his arms and howling back in the same language.

"Shut up, goddammit, shut up!" McKenna bellowed into his face. "Shut up before I sling your ass to hell out of this car! I'm talking, and I don't want any goddam jaw from you, Olsen. You either," he barked at Kavaalen, winking at him at the same time.

Silence fell with a heavy thump in the car.

"Well, now that the international crisis seems to have been averted, how's about letting me in on it, too?" Rand asked. "For instance, what about Gresham? What's he supposed to be a suspect for?"

"Ah, Olsen suspects him of chopping Rivers up," McKenna replied wearily. "See, we questioned this Cecil Gillis, and he told us that last evening, as he was leaving Rivers's, he saw Stephen Gresham drive up and go into the shop. I wanted to talk to him, myself; I thought he might account for the cigar-ashes, and the drink-fixings on that table. But when Farnsworth heard about the killing, he sent Olsen around, and when Olsen heard that Gresham had been there, he tried him and convicted him on the spot."

"Oh, obscenity! Is that what it's about?" Rand exclaimed in disgust. "Yes, Gresham told me about that. He didn't have the drink, and he wasn't smoking a cigar in the shop, and he left a little after nine. He got home at nine twenty-two. I can testify to that, myself; I was there at the time, and so were seven other people." Rand named them. "They dribbled away at different times during the evening, but Philip Cabot and I stayed till around eleven." He mentioned the approximate time at which the others had left. "What time was Rivers killed, or hasn't the time been fixed?"

"The M.E. says around ten to two," McKenna said.

"He could be wrong; them guys only guess, half the time," Olsen argued. "And besides, Gresham had it in for Rivers. And that ain't all, neither; he knew how to use a bayonet, too. I seen him, myself, during the war, showin' the Home Guard how to do it, just the way Rivers was killed!" he produced triumphantly.

McKenna used a dirty word. "So what? Anybody who's ever had infantry training knows that butt-stroke-and-lunge," he retorted. "I learned it myself, when I was a kid, in '24 and '25, in C.M.T.C. Hell, anybody who's ever seen a war-movie.... If you hadn't lammed out of Sweden when you were sixteen, to duck conscription, you'd of known it, too."

"Well, maybe Olsen, or his boss, can explain why Gresham threw those record-cards in the fire," Rand contributed. "You know why Olsen says Gresham had it in for Rivers? Rivers sold Gresham a fake antique, a flint lock navy pistol that had been worked over into something else. Gresham was going to subpoena those records, when he brought suit against Rivers," Rand lied. "But I can explain why Cecil Gillis might have destroyed them, after killing Rivers, if he'd been cheating Rivers and Rivers caught him at it."

"Yeah, and that might explain why Gillis was in such a hurry to sic us onto Gresham, too," McKenna added. "I thought of something like that. And this high-brown girl that works for Rivers says that Gillis and Mrs. Rivers played all kinds of games together, when Rivers was away."

"Well, who's in charge of the investigation?" Rand wanted to know. "I heard, on the radio ..."

"You're liable to hear anything on the radio, including slanders on Bing Crosby's horses. But for the record, I am in charge of this investigation. And don't anybody forget it, either," he added, in the direction of the rear seat.

"That's what I thought. Well, Stephen Gresham has just retained me to make an independent investigation," Rand said. "It is not that he lacks confidence in the State Police, or in you; he was afraid that other parties might get into the act and try to make political capital out of it. Which appears to have happened."

"Well, if Gresham retained you, I'm satisfied," McKenna said. "You can take care of that end of it. Glad you're in with us."

"Well, I ain't satisfied!" Olsen began yelling, again. "And Mr. Farnsworth won't be, neither. Why, this here private dick is like as not workin' for the very man that killed Rivers!"

McKenna turned slowly in his seat, to face Olsen.

"One time, ten years ago," he began, "Jeff Rand had a client who was guilty of the crime he hired Jeff to investigate. It was an arson case; this guy set fire to his own factory, and then got Jeff to run down a lot of fake clues he'd planted. I know about that; I was on the case, myself. That's where I first met Jeff, and he saved me from making a jackass out of myself. And what happened to this guy who'd hired Jeff was something that oughtn't to happen even to Molotov, and it happened because Jeff fixed it to happen. If anybody hires Jeff Rand, he's one of two things. He's either innocent, or else he's out of luck.... I don't know why the hell I bother telling you this."

"Ten to two, you say," Rand considered. "Look. A couple of days ago, Rivers put out a new price-list to his regular customers. A lot of them, in different parts of the country, order by telephone, and some of them live in the West, where there's a couple of hours' time-difference. One of them, calling at, say, eight o'clock, local time, would get his call in at ten, Eastern Standard. If you checked the long-distance calls to Rivers's number last night, now, you might get something."

"Yeah. And if he took a call after nine twenty-two, that would let Gresham out. Even Farnsworth could figure that out. Sure. I'll check right away."

"Who's at Rivers's now?"

"Skinner and Jameson, of our gang. And Farnsworth, and some of his outfit. And the hell's own slew of reporters, of course," McKenna said. "Aarvo's going back there, in a little. We're still trying to locate Mrs. Rivers; we haven't been able to, yet. The maid says she went to New York day before yesterday."

"I'll probably be around at Rivers's, later in the day. I want to check on that Fleming angle."

"Uh-huh; I'll be there, in half an hour," Corporal Kavaalen said. "Be seeing you."

They exchanged so-longs, and Kavaalen backed, and made a U-turn, moving off in the direction of Rosemont. Olsen's voluble protests drifted back as the car receded. Rand returned to his own car and followed.



CHAPTER 13

Rand found Gladys alone in the library. As she rose to greet him, he came close to her, gesturing for silence with finger on lips.

"There's a perfect hell of a mess," he whispered. "Somebody murdered Arnold Rivers last night."

She looked at him in horror. "Murdered? Who was it? How did it...?"

"I haven't time to talk about that right now," he told her. "Stephen Gresham and Pierre Jarrett are on their way here, and I'd like you to keep the servants, and particularly Walters, out of earshot of the gunroom while they're here. It seems that a number of the best pistols have been stolen from the collection, sometime between the death of Mr. Fleming and the time I saw the collection yesterday. Stephen and Pierre are going to help me find out just what's been taken. I have an idea they might have been sold to Rivers. That may have been why he was killed—to prevent him from implicating the thief."

"You think somebody here—the servants?" she asked.

"I can't see how it could have been an outsider. The stuff wasn't all taken at once; it must have been moved out a piece at a time, and worthless pistols moved in and hung on the racks to replace valuable pistols taken." He had left the library door purposely open; when the doorbell rang, he heard it. "I'll let them in," he said. "You go and head Walters off."

Rand hurried to the front door and admitted Gresham and Pierre, hustling them down the hall, into the library, and up the spiral to the gunroom, while Gladys went to the foot of the front stairs. Through the open gunroom door, Rand could hear her speaking to Walters, as though sending him on some errand to the rear of the house. He closed the door and turned to the others.

"We'll have to make it fast," he said. "Mrs. Fleming can't hold the butler off all day. Let's start over here, and go around the racks."

They began at the left, with the wheel locks. Pierre put his finger immediately on the shabby and disreputable specimen Rand had first noticed.

"Phew! Is that one a stinker!" he said. "What used to be there was a nice late sixteenth- or early seventeenth-century North Italian pistol, all covered with steel filigree-work. A real beauty; much better than average."

"Those Turkish atrocities," Gresham pointed out. "They're filling in for a pair of Lazarino Cominazo snaphaunces that Lane Fleming paid seven hundred for, back in the mid-thirties, and didn't pay a cent too much for, even then. Worth an easy thousand, now. Remember the pair of Cominazo flintlocks illustrated in Pollard's Short History of Firearms? These were even better, and snaphaunces."

"Well, you go over the collection," Rand told them. "Note down anything you find missing." He handed them a pad of paper and a pencil from the desk. "I have something else to do, for a few minutes."

With that he left them scrutinizing the pistols on the wall, and went to the workbench in the corner, drawing the .36 Colt from under his waistband. Working rapidly, he dismounted it, taking off the barrel and cylinder, and cleaned it thoroughly before putting it together again. Pierre and Gresham had just started on the Colts when he slipped the revolver out of sight and rejoined them.

It took over a half-hour to finish; when they had gotten completely around the collection, Rand had a list of twenty-six missing items, including four cased sets. At a conservative estimate, the missing pistols were worth ten to twelve thousand dollars, dealer's list value; the stuff that had been moved in to replace them might have a value of two or three hundred, but no serious collector would buy any of it at any price. There had been no attempt to replace the cased items; the cases had been merely rearranged on the table to avoid any conspicuous vacancies.

"See that thing?" Pierre asked, tapping a small .25 Webley & Scott automatic with his finger. Rand looked at it; it had been fitted with an English-made silencer. "That thing," Pierre said, "is the one illustrated in Pollard's book. The identical pistol; it used to be in the Pollard collection."

"Lane had a lot of stuff from some famous collections," Gresham said. "Pollard collection, Sawyer collection, Fred Hines collection, Meeks collection, even the old Mark Field collection, that was sold at Libbie Galleries in 1911. His own could rank with any of them. Think you can get any of this stuff back?"

"I hope so. By the way, where does this fellow Umholtz, the fabricator of spurious Whitneyville Walker Colts, hang out? I believe he ought to be looked into."

"Say, that's an idea!" Pierre ejaculated. "He might have bought the pistols, instead of Rivers. Why, he has a gunshop at Kingsville, on Route 22, about fifteen miles west of here, just this side of the village. He had a big sign along the road, and his shop's in the barn, behind the house."

"I'll have to check up on him. But first, I want to see if any of this stuff's at Rivers's shop. I won't ask you to come along," he told Gresham. "No use you sticking your head into the lion's mouth. I've talked the State Police temporarily off your trail, but I still have Farnsworth to worry about."

"He'd like to prosecute a big corporation lawyer, if he thought he had any chance of getting a conviction," Pierre said. "Make a nice impression on the proletarian vote in the south end of the county."

"You're a member of the Mohawk Club in New Belfast, aren't you?" Rand asked Gresham. "Well, go there and stay there for a couple of days, till the heat's off. Pierre, you can come with me to Rivers's; I'll run you home in my car when we're through."

Gresham let himself out the front door; Pierre and Rand went out through the garage and got into Rand's car.

"You have any idea, so far, about who could have killed Rivers?" the ex-Marine asked, as they coasted down the drive to the highway.

"I haven't even the start of an idea," Rand said. He ran briefly over what he knew, or at least those items which were likely to become public knowledge soon. "From what I've observed at the shop, and from what I know of Rivers's character, I'd think that he'd been in some kind of a crooked deal with somebody, and got double-crossed, or else the other man caught Rivers double-crossing him. Or else, Rivers and somebody else had some secret in common, and the other man wanted a monopoly on it and killed Rivers as a security measure."

"Think it might be the Fleming pistols?"

"That depends. I'll have to see whether any of the Fleming pistols turn up anywhere in Rivers's former possession. Personally, I've about decided that the man who was drinking with Rivers killed him. There aren't any indications that anybody else was in the shop afterward. If that's the case, I doubt if the killer was Walters. You know what a snobbish guy Rivers was. And from what I know of him, he seems to have had a thoroughly Aristotelian outlook; he identified individuals with class-labels. Walters, of course, would be identified with the label 'butler,' and I can't imagine Rivers sitting down and drinking with a 'butler.' He would only drink with people whom he thought of as his equals, that is, people whom he identified with class-labels of equal social importance to his own labels of 'antiquarian' and 'businessman.'"

"That sounds like Korzybski," Pierre said, as they turned onto Route 19 in the village and headed east. "You've read Science and Sanity?"

Rand nodded. "Yes. I first read it in the 1933 edition, back about 1936; I've been rereading it every couple of years since. The principles of General Semantics come in very handy in my business, especially in criminal-investigation work, like this. A consciousness of abstracting, a realization that we can only know something about a thin film of events on the surface of any given situation, and a habit of thinking structurally and of individual things, instead of verbally and of categories, saves a lot of blind-alley chasing. And they suggest a great many more avenues of investigation than would be evident to one whose thinking is limited by intensional, verbal, categories."

"Yes. I find General Semantics helpful in my work, too," Pierre said. "I can use it in plotting a story.... Oh-oh!"

"The Gentlemen of the Press," Rand said, looking ahead as the car approached the Rivers house and shop. "There hasn't been a good, sensational, murder story for some time; this is a gift from the gods."

A swarm of cars were parked in front and beside the red-brick house. Among them, Rand spotted a gold-lettered green sedan of the New Belfast Dispatch and Evening Express, a black coupe bearing the blazonry of the New Belfast Mercury, cars from a couple of papers at Louisburg, the state capital, and cars from papers as far distant as Pittsburgh, Buffalo, and Cincinnati. In front of the shop, a motley assemblage of journalists was interviewing and photographing an undersized runt in a tan Chesterfield topcoat and a gray Homburg hat, whom they were addressing as Mr. Farnsworth. The District Attorney of Scott County had a mustache which failed miserably to make him look like Tom Dewey; he impressed Rand as the sort of offensive little squirt who compensates for his general insignificance by bad manners and loud-mouthed self-assertion. Corporal Kavaalen, standing in the doorway of the shop, caught sight of Rand and his companion as they got out of the car and came to meet them, hustling them around the crowd and into the shop before anybody could notice and recognize them.

"That was a good tip, about the telephone," he said softly. "Mick checked at the Rosemont exchange. Rivers got a long-distance call from Topeka last night; ten fifteen to ten seventeen. We got the night long distance operator out of bed, and she confirmed it; Rivers took the call himself. He gets a lot of long distance calls in the evenings; she knew his voice." He corrected himself, shifting to the past tense and glancing, as he did, at the chalk outline on the floor, now scuffed by many feet, and the dried bloodstains. "You say this puts Gresham in the clear?"

"Absolutely," Rand assured him. "He was at home from nine twenty-two on." He introduced Pierre Jarrett, and explained their mission. "You find anything except what's here in the shop?"

"Only Rivers's own .38 Smith & Wesson, in his room, and a lot of pistols out in the garage, that look like junk to me," Kavaalen said. "I'll show them to you."

Rand nodded. "Pierre, you look around the shop; I'll see what this other stuff is."

He followed Kavaalen through a door at the rear of the shop; the same one through which Cecil Gillis had carried the Kentucky rifle the afternoon before. Beside Rivers's car, there was a long workbench in the garage, and piles of wood and cardboard cartons, and stacks of newspapers, and a barrel full of excelsior, all evidently used in preparing arms for shipment. There was also a large pile of old pistols, and a number of long-arms.

Rand pawed among the pistols; they were, as the State Police corporal had said, all junk. The sort of things a dealer has to buy, at times, in order to get something really good. Many of them had been partially dismantled for parts. When he was certain that the heap of junk-weapons didn't conceal anything of value, he returned to the shop. Pierre was waiting for him by Rivers's desk.

He shook his head. "Not a thing," he reported. "I found a couple of out-and-out fakes, and about ten or fifteen that had been altered in one way or another, and a lot of reblued stuff, but nothing from Fleming's collection. What did you find?"

Rand laughed. "I found Rivers's scrap-heap, and some pistols that probably contributed parts to some of the stuff you found," he said. "Of course, all we can say is that the stuff isn't here; Rivers could have bought it, and stored it outside somewhere. But even so, I'm not taking the Fleming butler too seriously as a suspect for the murder."

"What's this about Fleming's butler?" a voice broke in. "Have you been withholding information from me?"

Rand turned, to find that Farnsworth had left the press conference in front and crepe-soled up on him from behind.

"I withheld a theory, which seems to have come to nothing," he replied.

Kavaalen told the D.A. who Rand was. "He's cooperating with us," he added. "Sergeant McKenna instructed us to give him every consideration."

"It seems that a number of valuable pistols were stolen from the collection of the late Lane Fleming," Rand said. "We suspected that the butler had stolen them and sold them to Rivers; I thought it possible that he might also have killed Rivers to silence him about the transaction." He shrugged. "None of the stolen items have turned up here, so there's nothing to connect the thefts with the death of Rivers."

"Good heavens, you certainly didn't suspect a prominent and respected citizen like Mr. Rivers of receiving stolen goods?" Farnsworth demanded, aghast.

"Who respects him?" Rand hooted. "Rivers was a notorious swindler; he had that reputation among arms-collectors all over the country. He was expelled from membership in the National Rifle Association for misrepresentation and fraud. Why, he even swindled Lane Fleming on a pair of fake pistols, a week or so before Fleming's death. And the very reason why your man Olsen was inclined to suspect Stephen Gresham was that he had had trouble with Rivers about a crooked deal Rivers had put over on him. Fortunately, Mr. Gresham has since been cleared of any suspicion, but—"

"Who says he's been cleared?" Farnsworth snapped. "He's still a suspect."

"Sergeant McKenna says so," Corporal Kavaalen declared. "He has been cleared. I guess we just didn't get around to telling you about that." He went on to explain about the long distance call that had furnished Stephen Gresham's alibi.

"And Gresham was at home from nine twenty-two on," Rand added. "There are eight witnesses to that: His wife and daughter; myself; Captain Jarrett, here; and his fiancee, Miss Lawrence; Philip Cabot; Adam Trehearne; Colin MacBride."

Farnsworth looked bewildered. "Why wasn't I told about that?" he demanded sulkily.

"Sergeant McKenna's been too busy, and I didn't think of it," Kavaalen said insolently. "I'm not supposed to report to you, anyhow. Why didn't your man Olsen tell you; he was with us when we checked with the telephone company."

Farnsworth tried to ignore that by questioning Pierre about the time of Gresham's arrival home, then turned to Rand and wanted to know what the latter's interest in the case was.

Rand told him about his work in connection with the Fleming collection, producing Humphrey Goode's letter of authorization. Farnsworth seemed impressed in about the same way as the coroner, Kirchner, but he was still puzzled.

"But I understood that you had been retained by Stephen Gresham, to investigate this murder," he said.

"So you did talk to Olsen, after I saw him," Rand pounced. "Odd he didn't mention this telephone thing.... Why, yes; that's true. My agency handles all sorts of business. The two operations aren't mutually exclusive; for a while, I even thought they might be related, but now—" He shrugged.

"Well, you believe, now, that Rivers had nothing to do with the pistols you say were stolen from the Fleming collection?" Farnsworth asked. Rand shook his head ambiguously; Farnsworth took that for a negative answer to his question, as he was intended to. "And you say Mr. Gresham has been completely cleared of any suspicion of complicity in this murder?"

"Mr. Rand's helping us; we want him to stick around till the case is closed," Corporal Kavaalen threw in, perceiving the drift of Farnsworth's questions. "He and Sergeant McKenna have worked together before; he's given us a lot of good tips."

"You understand," Rand took over, "Mr. Gresham didn't retain me merely to help him clear himself. I don't accept that kind of retainers. I was retained to find the murderer of Arnold Rivers, and I intend to continue working on this case until I do. I hope that the same friendly spirit of mutual cooperation will exist between your office and my agency as exists between me and the State Police. I certainly don't want to have to work at cross purposes with any of the regular law-enforcement agencies."

"Oh, certainly; of course." Farnsworth didn't seem to like the idea, but there was no apparent opening for objection. He and Rand exchanged mendacious compliments, pledged close cooperation, and did practically everything but draw up and sign a treaty of alliance. Then Farnsworth and Corporal Kavaalen accompanied Rand and Pierre Jarrett to the front door.

Some of the reporters who were ravening outside must have spotted Rand as he had entered; they were all waiting for him to come out, and set up a monstrous ululation when he appeared in the doorway. With Farnsworth beaming approval, Rand assured the Press that he was no more than a mere spectator, that the State Police and the efficient District Attorney of Scott County had the situation well in hand, and that an arrest was expected within a matter of hours. Then he and Pierre hurried to his car and drove away.



CHAPTER 14

Neither of them spoke for a moment or two. Then, after they had left the criminological-journalistic uproar at the Rivers place behind and were approaching the village of Rosemont, Pierre turned to Rand.

"You know," he said, "for a disciple of Korzybski, you came pretty close to confusing orders of abstraction, a couple of times, back there. You showed that Stephen was at home while Rivers was taking that phone call, a little after ten. But when you talk about clearing him completely, aren't you overlooking the possibility that he came back to Rivers's after you and Philip Cabot left the Gresham place?"

Rand eased the foot-pressure on the gas and spared young Jarrett a side-glance before returning his attention to the road ahead.

"Understand," Pierre hastened to add, "I don't believe that Stephen was fool enough to kill Rivers over that fake North & Cheney, but weren't you producing inferences that hadn't been abstracted from any descriptive data?"

"Pierre, when I'm working on a case like this, any resemblance between my opinions and the statements I may make is purely due to conscious considerations of policy," Rand told him. "I don't want Farnsworth or Mick McKenna going around bitching this operation up for me. If they feel justified in eliminating Gresham on the strength of that phone call, I'm satisfied, regardless of the semantics involved. Right now, the thing that's worrying me is the ease with which I seem to have talked Farnsworth into laying off Gresham. He and Olsen both have single-track minds. They may just dismiss that telephone alibi, such as it is, as mere error of the mortal mind, and go right ahead building some kind of a ramshackle case against Gresham. Since they picked him for their entry, they won't want to have to scratch him.... Damn, I wish I could think of where Walters could have sold those pistols!"

"Well, if Rivers wasn't involved somehow, why was he killed?" Pierre wondered. "Hey! Maybe Walters sold the pistols to Umholtz! He's just as big a crook as Rivers was, only not quite so smart."

Rand nodded thoughtfully. "Maybe so. And suppose Rivers found out about it, and tried to declare himself in on it. That stuff would be worth at least ten thousand; I doubt if whoever bought it paid Walters more than two. In the Umholtz-Rivers income bracket, the difference might be worth killing for."

"That's right. And Umholtz was in the infantry, in the other war; he served in the Twenty-eighth Division. He was trained to use a bayonet. And he'd pick that short Mauser; it has about the same weight and balance as a 1903 Springfield."

"Well, you know, the killer wouldn't need to have been trained to use a bayonet," Rand pointed out. "Mick McKenna made that point, this afternoon. There have been a lot of war-movies that showed bayonet fighting; pretty nearly everybody knows about the technique that was used. And against an unarmed and probably unsuspecting victim like Rivers, a great deal of proficiency wouldn't be needed." He slowed the car. "Up this road?" he asked.

"Yes. That's my place, over there."

Pierre pointed to a white-walled, red-roofed house that lay against a hillside, about a mile ahead, making a vivid spot in the dull grays and greens of the early April landscape. It consisted of a square two-story block, with one-story wings projecting to give it an L-shaped floorplan. It reminded Rand of farmhouses he had seen in Sicily during the War.

"Come on in and see my stuff, if you have time," Pierre invited, as Rand pulled to a stop in the driveway. "I think I told you what I collect—personal combat arms, both firearms and edge-weapons."

They entered the front door, which opened directly into a large parlor, a brightly colored, cheerful room. A woman rose from a chair where she had been reading. She was somewhere between forty-five and fifty, but her figure was still trim, and she retained much of what, in her youth, must have been great beauty.

"Mother, this is Colonel Rand," Pierre said. "Jeff, my mother."

Rand shook hands with her, and said something polite. She gave him a smile of real pleasure.

"Pierre has been telling me about you, Colonel," she said. There was a faint trace of French accent in her voice. "I suppose he brought you here to show you his treasures?"

"Yes; I collect arms too. Pistols," Rand said.

She laughed. "You gun-collectors; you're like women looking at somebody's new hat.... Will you stay for dinner with us, Colonel Rand?"

"Why, I'm sorry; I can't. I have a great many things to do, and I'm expected for dinner at the Flemings'. I really wish I could, Mrs. Jarrett. Maybe some other time."

They chatted for a few minutes, then Pierre guided Rand into one of the wings of the house.

"This is my workshop, too," he said. "Here's where I do my writing." He opened a door and showed Rand into a large room.

On one side, the wall was blank; on the other, it was pierced by two small casement windows. The far end was of windows for its entire width, from within three feet of the floor almost to the ceiling. There were bookcases on either long side, and on the rear end, and over them hung Pierre's weapons. Rand went slowly around the room, taking everything in. Very few of the arms were of issue military type, and most of these showed alterations to suit individual requirements. As Pierre had told him the evening before, the emphasis was upon weapons which illustrated techniques of combat.

At the end of the room, lighted by the wide windows, was a long desk which was really a writer's assembly line, with typewriter, reference-books, stacks of notes and manuscripts, and a big dictionary on a stand beside a comfortable swivel-chair.

"What are you writing?" Rand asked.

"Science-fiction. I do a lot of stories for the pulps," Pierre told him. "Space-Trails, and Other Worlds, and Wonder-Stories; mags like that. Most of it's standardized formula-stuff; what's known to the trade as space-operas. My best stuff goes to Astonishing. Parenthetically, you mustn't judge any of these magazines by their names. It seems to be a convention to use hyperbolic names for science-fiction magazines; a heritage from what might be called an earlier and ruder day. What I do for Astonishing is really hard work, and I enjoy it. I'm working now on one for them, based on J. W. Dunne's time-theories, if you know what they are."

"I think so," Rand said. "Polydimensional time, isn't it? Based on an effect Dunne observed and described—dreams obviously related to some waking event, but preceding rather than following the event to which they are related. I read Dunne's Experiment with Time some years before the war, and once, when I had nothing better to do, I recorded dreams for about a month. I got a few doubtful-to-fair examples, and two unmistakable Dunne-Effect dreams. I never got anything that would help me pick a race-winner or spot a rise in the stock market, though."

"Well, you know, there's a case on record of a man who had a dream of hearing a radio narration of the English Derby of 1933, including the announcement that Hyperion had won, which he did," Pierre said. "The dream was six hours before the race, and tallied very closely with the phraseology used by the radio narrator. Here." He picked up a copy of Tyrrell's Science and Psychical Phenomena and leafed through it.

"Did this fellow cash in on it?" Rand asked.

"No. He was a Quaker, and violently opposed to betting. Here." He handed the book to Rand. "Case Twelve."

Rand sat down on the edge of the desk, and read the section indicated, about three pages in length.

"Well, I'll be damned!" he said, as he finished. The idea of anybody passing up a chance like that to enrich himself literally smote him to the vitals. "I see the British Society for Psychical Research checked that case, and got verification from a couple of independent witnesses. If the S.P.R. vouches for a story, it must be the McCoy; they're the toughest-minded gang of confirmed skeptics anywhere in Christendom. They take an attitude toward evidence that might be advantageously copied by most of the district attorneys I've met, the one in this county being no exception.... What's this story you're working on?"

"Oh, it's based on Dunne's precognition theories, plus a few ideas of my own, plus a theory of alternate lines of time-sequence for alternate probabilities," Pierre said. "See, here's the situation ..."

Half an hour later, they were still arguing about a multidimensional universe when Rand remembered Dave Ritter, who should be at the Rosemont Inn by now. He looked at his watch, saw that it was five forty-five, and inquired about a telephone.

"Yes, of course; out here." Pierre took him back to the parlor, where he dialed the Inn and inquired if a Mr. Ritter, from New Belfast, were registered there yet.

He was. A moment later he was speaking to Ritter.

"Jeff, for Gawdsake, don't come here," Ritter advised. "This place is six-deep with reporters; the bar sounds like the second act of The Front Page. Tony Ashe and Steve Drake from the Dispatch and Express; Harry Bentz, from the Mercury; Joe Rawlings, the AP man from Louisburg; Christ only knows who all. This damn thing's going to turn into another Hall-Mills case! Look, meet me at that beer joint, about two miles on the New Belfast side of Rosemont, on Route 19; the white-with-red-trimmings place with the big Pabst sign out in front. I'll try to get there without letting a couple of reporters hide in the luggage-trunk."

"Okay; see you directly."

Rand hung up, spent the next few minutes breaking away from Pierre and his mother, and went out to his car. Trust Dave Ritter, he thought, to pick some place where malt beverages were sold, for a rendezvous.

Dave's coupe was parked inconspicuously beside the red-trimmed roadhouse. Opening his glove-box, Rand took out the two percussion revolvers and shoved them under his trench coat, one on either side, pulling up the belt to hold them in place. As he went into the roadhouse, he felt like Damon Runyon's Twelve-Gun Tweeney. He found Ritter in the last booth, engaged in finishing a bottle of beer. Rand ordered Bourbon and plain water, and Ritter ordered another beer.

"I have the stuff Tip left with Kathie," Ritter said, taking out a couple of closely typed sheets and handing them across the table. "He said this was the whole business."

Rand glanced over them. Tipton had neatly and concisely summarized the provisions of Lane Fleming's will, and had also listed all Fleming's life insurance policies, with beneficiaries, including a partnership policy on the lives of Fleming, Dunmore, and Anton Varcek, paying each of the survivors $25,000.

"I see Gladys and Geraldine and Nelda each get a third of Fleming's Premix stock," Rand commented. "But before they can have the certificates transferred to them, they have to sign over their voting-power to the board of directors. Evidently Fleming didn't approve of the feminine touch in business."

"Yeah, isn't that a dandy?" Ritter asked. "The directors are elected by majority vote of the stockholders. They now have the voting-power of a majority of the stock; that makes the present board self-perpetuating, and responsible only to each other."

"So it does, but that wasn't what I was thinking of. According to Tip, the board is one hundred per cent in favor of the merger with National Milling & Packaging. We'll have to suppose Fleming knew that; there must have been considerable intramural acrimony on the subject while he was still alive. Now, since he opposed the merger, if he had intended committing suicide, he would have made some other arrangement, wouldn't he? At least, one would suppose so. Well, then," Rand asked, "why, since he is so worried about these suicide rumors, doesn't Goode use the one argument which would utterly disprove them? Or is there some reason why he doesn't want to call attention to the fact that Fleming's death is what makes the merger possible?"

"Well, that would be calling attention to the fact that the merger made Fleming's death necessary," Ritter pointed out. He poured more beer into his glass. "While we're on it, what's the angle on this butler's livery I was supposed to bring? I brought my tux, and I borrowed a striped vest from the Theatrical Property Exchange, and I brought that Dago .380 of yours. But what makes you think the Flemings are going to be needing a new butler? You going to poison the one they have?"

"The one they have has been exceeding his duties," Rand said. "He was supposed to clean the pistol-collection. Not content with that, he's been cleaning it out. I know it was the butler." He went, at length, into his reasons for thinking so, and described the modus operandi of the thefts. "Now, all this is just theory, so far, but when I'm able to prove it, I'm going to put the arm on this Walters, if it's right in the middle of dinner and he only has the roast half served. And I want you ready to step into the vacancy thus created. I'm going to be busy as a pup in a fireplug factory with this Rivers thing, and I'll need some checking-upping done inside the Fleming household."

He went on, in meticulous detail, to explain about the Rivers murder. "I'll have some work for you, before you're ready to start buttling, too." Disencumbering himself of the two percussion revolvers, he laid them on the table. "I want you to take these and show them to this barbecue man. Get from him a positive statement, preferably in writing, as to which, if either, he sold to Lane Fleming. You might show your Agency card and claim to be checking up on some stolen pistols that have been recovered. Then, if he identifies the Leech & Rigdon, take the Colt and show it to Elmer Umholtz. You want to be careful how you handle him; we may want him for puncturing Rivers, though I'm inclined to doubt that, as of now. Get him to tell you, yes or no, whether he reblued it and replated the back-strap and trigger-guard, and if he did it for Rivers; and if so, when. I know that's been done; the bluing is too dark for a Civil War period job; the frame, which ought to be case-hardened in colors, has been blued like the barrel and cylinder, the cylinder-engraving is almost obliterated, and you can see a few rust-pits that have been blued over. But I want to know if this gun was ever in Rivers's shop; that's the important thing."

"Uh-huh. Got the addresses?"

Rand furnished them, and Ritter noted them down. The waitress wandered back to see if they wanted anything else; she gave a small squeak of surprise when she saw the two big six-shooters on the table. Rand and Ritter repeated their orders, and when she brought back the drinks, the Colt and the Leech & Rigdon were out of sight.

"The way I see it, everybody who's within a light-year of this Rivers killing is trying to pin the medal on somebody else," Ritter was saying. "The Lawrence girl was afraid young Jarrett had done it; right away, she sicced you onto Gillis. Gillis didn't lose any time putting McKenna and Farnsworth onto Gresham. Gresham's the only one who didn't have a patsy ready; you're supposed to dig one up for him. And Jarrett, the first chance he gets, introduces Umholtz." He stared into his beer, as though he thought Ultimate Verity might be lurking somewhere under the suds. "Do you think it might be possible that Rivers bumped Fleming off, in spite of his getting killed later?" he asked.

"Anything's possible," Rand replied, "except where some structural contradiction is involved, like scoring thirteen with one throw of a pair of dice. Yes, he could have. The way the Flemings leave their garage open as long as any of the cars are out, anybody could have sneaked into the house from the garage, and gone up from the library to the gunroom. The only question in my mind is whether Rivers would have known about that. That lawsuit and criminal action that Fleming was going to start—and that's been verified from sources independent of Goode—was a good sound motive. And say he took the Leech & Rigdon away, after leaving the Colt in Fleming's hand; selling it to some collector who'd put it in with a hundred or so other pistols would be a good way of disposing of it. And I can understand his trying to buy the Colt, to get it out of circulation." Rand sipped his Bourbon. "But that leaves us with the question of who killed Rivers, and why."

"Well, because Fleming is dead—and it doesn't matter whether he was murdered or died of old age—Walters starts robbing the collection. He sells the pistols to Rivers," Ritter reconstructed. "And, as Rivers doesn't want them around his shop till they've had time to cool off, he stores them with this Umholtz character, who seems to have been in plenty of crooked deals with Rivers in the past. The pistols are worth about ten grand, and nobody knows where they are but Rivers and Umholtz, and if Rivers drops dead all of a sudden, nobody will know where they are except Umholtz, and in a couple of years he can get them sold off and have the money all to himself."

"Yes, Dave; that's good sound murder, too. And Rivers would sit down and drink with Umholtz, and Umholtz could take that Mauser out of the rack right in front of Rivers and Rivers wouldn't suspect a thing till it was too late. Of course, it depends upon two unverified assumptions: One, that the pistols were sold to Rivers, and, two, that Rivers stored them with Umholtz."

"And, three, that Walters stole the pistols in the first place," Ritter added. "You know, it's possible that somebody else in that house might have stolen them."

"Yes. As I said, anything's possible, within structural limits, but possibilities exist on different orders of probability. We can't try to consider all the possibilities in any case, because they are indefinitely numerous; the best we can do is screen out all the low-order probabilities, list the high-order probabilities, and revise our list when and as new data comes to light. Well, I've told you why I think Walters is a good suspect. From what I've seen of that household, I think Walters was personally loyal to Lane Fleming, and I don't believe he feels any loyalty to anybody else there, with the exception of Gladys Fleming. He might keep quiet about the missing pistols if she were the thief; if Dunmore, or Varcek, or either of the girls had done the stealing, he'd tell Gladys, and she'd pass it on to me. She would be glad of anything that could be used against any of the others. And if, on the other hand, she had stolen the pistols herself, she wouldn't have wanted me poking around, and wouldn't have brought me in, at least not to handle the collection." Rand looked regretfully at his empty glass and decided against ordering another. "Dave, I just thought of something," he said. "How do you think this would work?"

He told Ritter what he had thought of. Ritter drank beer slowly and meditatively.

"It just might work," he considered. "I've seen that gag work a hundred times: hell, I've used something like that, myself, at least fifty times, and so have you. And I don't think Walters would be familiar enough with dick-practice to see what you were doing. But if it turns out that Walters didn't sell the pistols to Rivers at all, what then?"

"Well, if he sold them to Umholtz, Pierre Jarrett's theory is still valid until disproved," Rand said. "And if he didn't sell them either to Rivers or Umholtz, we'll have to conclude that Rivers and Fleming were killed by the same person, the Rivers killing being a security measure. That is, unless we find that Rivers was killed by Pierre Jarrett, which is a sort of medium-high-order probability. Jarrett and the girl left Gresham's early enough for him to have killed Rivers; they were both pretty hard hit by that twenty-five-grand blockbuster Rivers had dropped on them.... Give me back that Colt, Dave. All you have to do is get an identification on the Leech & Rigdon from the barbecue man. I'm going to let Mick McKenna handle Umholtz, one way or another, after we've concluded the Walters experiment. Until then, we don't want to stir Umholtz up, at all."



CHAPTER 15

Parking in the drive, Rand entered the Fleming house by the front door. The butler must have been busy with his pre-dinner tasks in the rear; it was Gladys herself who admitted him.

"Stay out of there," she warned him, taking his arm and guiding him away from the parlor doorway. "Nelda and Geraldine are in there, ignoring each other. If you go in, they'll start talking to you, and then they'll start talking at each other through you, and the air will be full of tomahawks in a jiffy. Let's go up in the gunroom; that's out of the battle zone."

"What started the hostilities this time?" Rand asked, going up the stairway with her.

"Oh, Geraldine lost Nelda's place-marker out of the Kinsey Report, or something." She shrugged. "Mainly reaction to Rivers's death. That was a great blow to all of us; twenty-five thousand dollars' worth of blow. It was a blow to me, too, but I'm not letting it throw me.... What were you doing all afternoon?"

"Trying to keep the rest of our prospects out of jail. This sixteenth-witted District Attorney you have in this county had the idea he could charge Stephen Gresham with the killing. I had a time talking him out of it, and I'm still not sure how far I succeeded. And I was trying to get a line on where those pistols got to."

"Ssssh!" They reached the top of the stairs, and Rand saw Walters approaching down the hall. "It was Colonel Rand, Walters; I let him in myself. Are Mr. Varcek and Mr. Dunmore here, yet?"

"Mr. Dunmore is in the library, ma'am, and Mr. Varcek is upstairs, in his laboratory. Dinner will be ready in three-quarters of an hour."

"Have you mixed the cocktails? You'd better do that. Serve them in about twenty minutes. And you'd better go up and warn Mr. Varcek not to become involved in anything messy before dinner."

Walters yes-ma'am'd her and started toward the attic stairway. Rand and Gladys went into the gunroom; Rand turned to the left, picked a pistol from the wall, and carried it with him as he guided Gladys toward the desk in the corner.

"You think Walters stole them?" she asked.

"So far, I'm inclined to. Have you told any of the others, yet?"

"Oh, Lord, no! They'd all be sure that I stole them myself. I'm counting on you to get them back with as little fuss as possible. Do you think that was why Rivers was killed? After all, when a lot of valuable pistols disappear, and a crooked dealer is murdered, I'd expect there to be a connection."

"There could be. Did you ever hear any stories about Mrs. Rivers and this young fellow Gillis who works in Rivers's shop?"

Gladys laughed. "Is that rearing its ugly head in public, now?" she asked. "Well, there's nothing like a good murder to shake the skeletons out of the closets. Not that this particular skeleton was ever exactly hidden. The stories are numerous, and somewhat repetitious; Cecil and Mrs. Rivers would be seen together, at roadhouses and so on, at what they imagined was a safe distance from Rosemont, and it was said that when Rivers was away over night, Cecil was never seen to leave the Rivers place in the evenings. Might this be relevant to Rivers's sudden demise?"

"It could be." Rand was keeping one eye on the hall door and the other on the head of the spiral stairway. "Don't mention outside what I told you about Farnsworth having this brainstorm about Stephen Gresham. If it got out, it might hurt Gresham professionally. The fact is, Gresham has just retained me to investigate the Rivers murder for him. That won't interfere to any great extent with the work I'm doing here; if necessary, I'll bring a couple of my men in from New Belfast to help me on the Rivers operation." He broke off abruptly, catching a movement at the head of the spiral, and lifted the pistol in his hand, as though showing it to Gladys. "See," he went on, "it has two hammers and two nipples, but only one barrel. It was loaded with two charges, one on top of the other; the bullet of the rear charge acted as the breech-plug for the front charge.... Oh, Walters!" He affected to catch sight of the butler for the first time. "Bring me that .36 Walch revolver, will you?"

"Yes, sir." Walters, crossing the room, veered to the right and went to the middle wall, bringing a revolver over to the desk. It was a percussion weapon with an abnormally long cylinder. "The cocktails are served," he announced.

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