"We'll be down in a moment; you can put these back where they belong when you find time," Rand told him. "Now, here," he said to Gladys. "This is the same idea, in a revolver. Six chambers, two charges in each. In theory, it was a good idea, but in actual practice ..."
Walters went out the hall door, presumably to call Varcek. Rand continued talking about the superposed-load principle, as used in the Lindsay pistol and the Walch revolver, until he was sure the butler was out of hearing. Gladys was looking at him in appreciative if slightly punch-drunk delight.
"I wondered why you brought that thing over here with you," she said. "Brother, was that a quick shift!... You're really sure he's the one?"
"I'm not really sure of anything, except of my own existence and eventual extinction," Rand told her. "It pretty nearly has to be somebody inside this house. I don't think anybody else here, yourself included, would know enough about arms to rob this collection as selectively as it has been robbed. Did you see what just happened, here? I asked him for one of the most uncommon arms here, and he went straight and got it. He knows this collection as well as your husband did, and I assume he knows values almost as well.... And, of course, there was a musket, too; Mr. Fleming didn't collect long-arms, or he'd have had one. It embodied the same principle as the pistol. The legend is that this man Lindsay's brother was a soldier; he was supposed to have been killed by Indians who drew the fire of the detail he was with and then charged them when their muskets were empty." Rand shrugged. "Actually, the superposed-load principle is ancient; there's a sixteenth-century wheel lock pistol in the Metropolitan Museum, in New York, firing two shots from the same barrel."
Varcek and the butler, who had entered by the hall door, went across the gunroom and down the spiral. Rand laid down the pistol and escorted Gladys after them.
Dunmore and Geraldine were in the library when they went down. Geraldine, mildly potted, was reclining in a chair, sipping her drink. Dunmore was still radiating his synthetic cheerfulness.
"Get many of the pistols listed, Colonel?" he hailed Rand, with jovial condescension.
"No." Rand poured two cocktails, handing one to Gladys. "I went to Arnold Rivers's place this morning, on a little unfinished business, and damn near tripped over Rivers's corpse. I spent the rest of the day getting myself disinvolved from the ensuing uproar," he told Dunmore. "You heard about it, of course."
"Yes, of course. Horrible business. I hope you didn't get mixed up in it any more than you had to. After all, you're working for us, and if the police knew that, we'd be bothered, too.... Look here, you don't think some of these other people who were after the collection might have killed Rivers, to keep him from outbidding them?"
Nelda, entering from the hallway, caught the last part of that.
"Good God, Fred!" she shrieked at him. "Don't say things like that! Maybe they did, but wait till they've bought the collection and paid for it, before you start accusing them!"
"I'm not accusing anybody," Dunmore growled back at her. "I don't know enough about it to make any accusations. All I'm saying is—"
"Well, don't say it, then, if you don't know what you're talking about," his wife retorted.
In spite of this start, dinner passed in relative quiet. For the most part, they talked about the remaining chances of selling the collection, about which nobody was optimistic. Rand tried to build up morale with pictures of large museums and important dealers, all fairly slavering to get their fangs into the Fleming collection, but to little avail. A pall of gloom had settled, and he was forced to concede that he had at last found somebody who had a valid reason to mourn the sudden and violent end of Arnold Rivers.
Dinner finished, he went up to the gunroom and began compiling his list. He found a yardstick, and thumbtacked it to the edge of the desk to get over-all and barrel lengths, and used a pair of inside calipers and a decimal-inch rule from the workbench to get calibers. Sticking a sheet of paper into the portable, he began on the wheel locks, leaving spaces to insert the description of the stolen pistols, when recovered. When he had finished the wheel locks, he began on the snaphaunces, then did the miguelet-locks. He had begun on the true flintlocks when Walters, who had finished his own dinner, came up to help him. Rand put the butler to work fetching pistols from the racks, and replacing those he had already listed. After a while, Dunmore strolled in.
"You say you found Rivers's body yourself, Colonel Rand?" he asked.
Rand nodded, finished what he was typing, and looked up.
"Why, yes. There were a few details I wanted to clear up with him, and I called at his shop this morning. I found him lying dead inside." He went on to describe the manner in which Rivers had met his death. "The radio and newspaper accounts were accurate enough, in the main; there were a few details omitted, at the request of the police, of course."
"Well, you didn't get involved in it, though?" Dunmore inquired anxiously. "I mean, you're not taking any part in the investigation? After all, we don't want to be mixed up in anything like this."
"In that case, Mr. Dunmore, let me advise you not to discuss the matter of Rivers's offer to buy this collection with anybody outside," Rand told him. "So far, the police and the District Attorney's office both seem to think that Rivers was killed by somebody whom he'd swindled in a business deal. Of course, they know about the collection being for sale, and Rivers's offering to buy it."
"They do?" Dunmore asked sharply. "Did you tell them that?"
"Naturally. I had to account for my presence at Rivers's shop, this morning," Rand replied. "I don't know if the idea has occurred to them that somebody might have killed Rivers to eliminate a rival bidder for the collection or not; I wouldn't say anything, if I were you, that might give them the idea."
The extension phone rang shrilly. Walters picked it up, spoke into it, and listened for a moment.
"Yes, Miss Lawrence; he's right here. You wish to speak to him?" He handed the phone across the desk to Rand. "Miss Karen Lawrence, for you, Colonel Rand."
Rand took the phone. Before he had time to say "hello," the antique-shop girl demanded of him:
"Colonel Rand, you must tell me the truth. Did you have anything to do with Pierre Jarrett's being arrested?"
"What?" Rand barked. Then he softened his voice. "No; on my honor, Miss Lawrence. I knew nothing about it until this moment. Who did it? Olsen?"
"I don't know what his name was. He was a State Police sergeant," she replied. "He and another State Policeman came to the Jarrett house about half an hour ago, charged Pierre with the murder of Arnold Rivers, and took him away. His mother phoned me about it a few minutes ago."
"That God-damned two-faced Jesuitical bastard!" Rand exploded. "Where are you now?"
"Here at my shop. Mrs. Jarrett is coming here. She's afraid the reporters will be coming out to the house as soon as they hear about it, and she doesn't want to talk to them."
"All right. I'll be there as soon as I can. If there's anything I can do to help you, you can count on me for it."
He hung up, and turned to Walters. "Is my car still out front?" he asked. "It is? Good. I'll be gone for a while; tell the others I have something to attend to."
"What's happened now?" Dunmore asked sourly.
"Just what I was speaking about. The Gestapo gathered up Pierre Jarrett; they seem to have gotten the idea, now, that the motive may have been competition for the collection. Next thing, Farnsworth will think he has a case against Carl Gwinnett, and he'll land in the jug, too. I hope you realize that every time something like this happens, it peels a thousand or so off the price I'll be able to get for you people for these pistols."
Dunmore didn't try to ask how that would happen, for which Rand was duly thankful; he accepted the statement uncritically. Walters was staring at Rand in horror, saying nothing. Rand picked up the outside phone and dialed the same number he had called from the Rivers place that morning.
"Is Sergeant McKenna about?... He is? Fine; I'd like to speak to him.... Oh, hello, Mick; Jeff Rand."
McKenna chuckled out of the receiver. "Sort of slipped one over on you, didn't I?" he gloated. "Why, I was checking up on those people who were at Gresham's, last evening, and they all agreed that young Jarrett and the Lawrence girl had left the party about ten. So I had a talk with Miss Lawrence, and she tried to tell me that Jarrett was with her at her apartment, over the antique shop, from about ten fifteen until about twelve, when another girl she rooms with got home from a date. I'd of took that, too, only right across the street from the antique shop there is one of these old hens like you find in every neighborhood, the kind that keeps their nose flattened on the window between the curtains, checking up on the neighbors. I spotted her when I came out of the antique shop, so I slipped around to see her, and she told me that young Jarrett went into the apartment with the girl at about quarter past ten, stayed inside for about twenty minutes, then came out and drove away. She says Jarrett came back in about half an hour, and stayed till this girl who shares the Lawrence girl's apartment—a Miss Dupont, who teaches sixth grade at Thaddeus Stevens School—got home, about twelve. So there you are."
"Uh-huh. Dave Ritter said this was going to turn into another Hall-Mills case; well, now you have your Pig Woman," Rand said. "Miss Lawrence shouldn't have lied to you, Mick. I suppose she got worried when you started asking questions, and there's nothing like a good murder in the neighborhood to make liars out of people."
"And damn well I know that!" McKenna agreed. "But that isn't all. It seems our cruise-car crew spotted Jarrett's car standing in Rivers's drive, about eleven. Just when he was away from the antique-shop, and about when the M.E. figures Rivers was getting the business."
"Did they get the number?" Rand asked. "Or how did they identify the car?"
"Oh, they knew it; see, our boys shoot a lot with the Scott County Rifle & Pistol Club, and they've all seen Jarrett's car at the range, different times," McKenna said. "A gray 1947 Plymouth coupe. Like I say, they knew the car, and they knew Jarrett collects guns, and the lights were on inside the shop and the shades were drawn, so they didn't think anything of it, at the time. See, they went to bed about ten this morning, and didn't get up till after five, so I didn't find out about it till after supper."
Rand shrugged, and managed to get some of the shrug into his voice. "Can be, at that," he said. "I hope you're not making a mistake, Mick; if you are, his lawyer's going to crucify you. What are you using for a motive?"
"Rivers was outbidding this crowd Jarrett and the girl were in with. They all told me about that," McKenna said. "And he and the girl were planning to use their end of the collection to go into the arms business, after they got married. Rivers got in the way." McKenna, at the other end of the line, must have shrugged, too. "After all, for about four years, they'd been training Jarrett to overcome resistance with the bayonet, so he did just that."
"Maybe so. You find out anything about that other matter I was interested in?"
"You mean the pistols? Huh-unh; we went over Rivers's place with a fine-tooth comb, and questioned young Gillis about it, and we didn't get a thing. You sure those pistols went to Rivers?"
"I'm not sure of anything at all," Rand replied, looking at his watch. "You going to be in, say in a couple of hours? I want to have a talk with you."
"Sure. I'll be around all evening," McKenna assured him. "If we don't have another murder."
Rand hung up. He pulled the sheet out of the typewriter, laid it face down on the other sheets he had finished, and laid a long seventeenth-century Flemish flintlock on top for a paperweight, memorizing the position of the pistol relative to the paper under it.
"Put those pistols back on the wall," he told Walters, indicating several he had laid aside after listing. "Leave the others there; I'm not finished with them yet. I'll be back before too long. If I don't find any more bodies."
It was raining again as Rand parked his car about a hundred yards up the street from Karen Lawrence's antique-shop. The windows were dark, but Karen was waiting inside the door for him. He entered quickly, mindful of the All-Seeing Eye across the street, and followed her to a back room, where Mrs. Jarrett and Dorothy Gresham were. All three women regarded him intently, as though trying to decide whether he was friend or enemy. There was a long silence before Mrs. Jarrett spoke, and when she did, her words were almost the same as Karen's when she had spoken over the phone.
"Colonel Rand," she began, obviously struggling with herself, "you must tell me the truth. Did you have anything to do with my son's being arrested?"
Rand shook his head. "Absolutely nothing, Mrs. Jarrett," he told her, unbuckling the belt of his raincoat and taking it off. "I have never seriously suspected your son of the Rivers murder, I had no idea that McKenna was contemplating arresting him, and if I had, I would have advised him against it. Besides causing annoyance to innocent people, McKenna's made a serious tactical error. He was misled by appearances, and he was afraid I'd break this case before he did, which I intend to do." He turned to Karen Lawrence. "I talked to McKenna after you called me; he as much as admitted making that arrest to get in ahead of me."
"I told you," Dorothy Gresham flashed at the others. "I knew Jeff wouldn't stoop to anything as contemptible as pretending to be Pierre's friend and then getting him arrested!"
Rand permitted himself a wry inward smile. He hoped she would not have an opportunity to observe his stooping capabilities before he had finished his various operations at Rosemont.
"I certainly hoped not." Mrs. Jarrett relaxed, smiling faintly at Rand. "Pierre likes you, Colonel. I hated the thought that you might have betrayed him. Are you working on the Rivers case, too?"
Rand nodded again, turning to Dot Gresham. "Your father retained me to make an investigation," he said. "After that trouble he had with Rivers about that spurious North & Cheney, he wanted the murderer caught before somebody got around to accusing him."
"You mean there's a chance Dad might be suspected?" Dot was scared.
Rand nodded. The girl was beginning to look suspiciously at Karen and Mrs. Jarrett. Getting ready to toss Pierre to the wolves if her father were in danger, Rand suspected. He hastened to reassure her.
"Rivers was still alive when your father reached home, last evening," he told her. "That's been established."
She breathed her obvious relief. If Gresham had left home after Rand's departure with Philip Cabot, she didn't know it.
Karen, on the other hand, was growing more and more worried.
"Look, Colonel," she began. "They didn't just pull Pierre's name out of a hat. They must have had something to suspect him about."
"Yes. You shouldn't have lied to McKenna. He checked up on your story; the woman across the street told him about seeing Pierre leave here a little before eleven and come back about half an hour later."
"I was afraid of that," Karen said. "I forgot all about that old hag. There's nothing that can go on around here that she doesn't know about; Pierre calls her Mrs. G2."
"And then," Rand continued, "McKenna claims that a car like Pierre's was seen parked in Rivers's drive about the time Pierre was away from here."
Mrs. Jarrett moaned softly; her face, already haggard, became positively ghastly. Karen gasped in fright.
"They only identified it as to model and make; they didn't get the license number ... Where did Pierre go, while he was away from here?"
"He went out for cigarettes," Karen said. "When we came here from Greshams', we made some coffee, and then sat and talked for a while, and then we found out that we were both out of cigarettes and there weren't any here. So Pierre said he'd go out and get some. He was gone about half an hour; when he came back, he had a carton, and some hot pork sandwiches. He'd gotten them at the same place as the cigarettes—Art Igoe's lunch-stand."
"Could Igoe verify that?"
"It wouldn't help if he did. Igoe's place isn't a five-minute drive from Rivers's, farther down the road."
"Has Pierre a lawyer?" Rand asked.
"No. Not yet. We were just talking about that."
"Dad would defend him," Dot suggested. "Of course, he's not a criminal lawyer—"
"Carter Tipton, in New Belfast," Rand told them. "He's my lawyer; he's gotten me out of more jams than you could shake a stick at. Where's the telephone? I'll call him now."
"You think he'd defend Pierre?"
"Unless I'm badly mistaken, Pierre isn't going to need any trial defense," Rand told them. "He will need somebody to look after his interests, and we'll try to get him out on a writ as soon as possible."
He looked at his watch. It was ten minutes to nine. It was hard to say where Carter Tipton would be at the moment; his manservant would probably know. Karen showed him the phone and he started to put through a person-to-person call.
* * * * *
It was eleven o'clock before he backed his car into the Fleming garage, and the rain had turned to a wet, sticky snow. All the Fleming cars were in, but Rand left the garage doors open. He also left his hat and coat in the car.
After locating and talking to Tipton and arranging for him to meet Dave Ritter at the Rosemont Inn, he had gone to the State Police substation, where he had talked at length with Mick McKenna. He had been compelled to tell the State Police sergeant a number of things he had intended keeping to himself. When he was through, McKenna went so far as to admit that he had been a trifle hasty in arresting Pierre Jarrett. Rand suspected that he was mentally kicking himself with hobnailed boots for his premature act. He also submitted, for McKenna's approval, the scheme he had outlined to Dave Ritter, and obtained a promise of cooperation.
When he entered the Fleming library, en route to the gunroom, he found the entire family assembled there; with them was Humphrey Goode. As he came in, they broke off what had evidently been an acrimonious dispute and gave him their undivided attention. Geraldine, relaxed in a chair, was smoking; for once, she didn't have a glass in her hand. Gladys occupied another chair; she was smoking, too. Nelda had been pacing back and forth like a caged tiger; at Rand's entrance, she turned to face him, and Rand wondered whether she thought he was Clyde Beatty or a side of beef. Goode and Dunmore sat together on the sofa, forming what looked like a bilateral offensive and defensive alliance, and Varcek, looking more than ever like Rudolf Hess, stood with folded arms in one corner.
"Now, see here, Rand," Dunmore began, as soon as the detective was inside the room, "we want to know just exactly for whom you're working, around here. And I demand to know where you've been since you left here this evening."
"And I," Goode piped up, "must protest most strongly against your involvement in this local murder case. I am informed that, while in the employ of this family, you accepted a retainer from another party to investigate the death of Arnold Rivers."
"That's correct," Rand informed him. Then he turned to Gladys. "Just for the record, Mrs. Fleming, do you recall any stipulation to the effect that the business of handling this pistol-collection should have the exclusive attention of my agency? I certainly don't recall anything of the sort."
"No, of course not," she replied. "As long as the collection is sold to the best advantage, I haven't any interest in any other business of your agency, and have no right to have." She turned to the others. "I thought I made that clear to all of you."
"You didn't answer my question!" Dunmore yelled at him.
"I don't intend to. You aren't my client, and I'm not answerable to you."
"Well, you carry my authorization," Goode supported him. "I think I have a right to know what's being done."
"As far as the collection's concerned, yes. As for the Rivers murder, or my armored-car service, or any other business of the Tri-State Agency, no."
"Well, you made use of my authorization to get that revolver from Kirchner—" Goode began.
"Aah!" Rand cried. "So that concerns the Rivers murder, does it? Well! When did you find that out, now? When Kirchner called you, you had no objection to his giving me that revolver. What changed your mind for you? Didn't you know that Rivers was dead, then?" Rand watched Goode trying to assimilate that. "Or didn't you think I knew?"
Goode cleared his throat noisily, twisting his mouth. The others were looking back and forth from him to Rand, in obvious bewilderment; they realized that Rand had pulled some kind of a rabbit out of a hat, but they couldn't understand how he'd done it.
"What I mean is that since then you have allowed yourself to become involved in this murder case. You have let it be publicly known that you are a private detective, working for the Fleming family," Goode orated. "How long, then, will it be before it will be said, by all sorts of irresponsible persons, that you are also investigating the death of Lane Fleming?"
"Well?" Rand asked patiently. "Are you afraid people will start calling that a murder, too?"
Gladys was looking at him apprehensively, as though she were watching him juggle four live hand grenades.
"Is anybody saying that now?" Varcek asked sharply.
"Not that I know of," Rand lied. "But if Goode keeps on denying it, they will."
"You know perfectly well," Goode exploded, "that I am alluding to these unfounded and mischievous rumors of suicide, which are doing the Premix Company so much harm. My God, Mr. Rand, can't you realize—"
"Oh, come off it, Goode," Varcek broke in amusedly. "We all—Colonel Rand included—know that you started those rumors yourself. Very clever—to start a rumor by denying it. But scarcely original. Doctor Goebbels was doing it almost twenty years ago."
"My God, is that true?" Nelda demanded. "You mean, he's been going around starting all these stories about Father committing suicide?" She turned on Goode like an enraged panther. "Why, you lying old son of a bitch!" she screamed at him.
"Of course. He wants to start a selling run on Premix," Varcek explained to her. "He's buying every share he can get his hands on. We all are." He turned to Rand. "I'd advise you to buy some, if you can find any, Colonel Rand. In a month or so, it's going to be a really good thing."
"I know about the merger. I am buying," Rand told him. "But are you sure of what Goode's been doing?"
"Of course," Gladys put in contemptuously. "I always wondered about this suicide talk; I couldn't see why Humphrey was so perturbed about it. Anything that lowered the market price of Premix, at this time, would be to his advantage." She looked at Goode as though he had six legs and a hard shell. "You know, Humphrey, I can't say I exactly thank you for this."
"Did you know about it?" Nelda demanded of her husband. "You did! My God, Fred, you are a filthy specimen!"
"Oh, you know; anything to turn a dishonest dollar," Geraldine piped up. "Like the late Arnold Rivers's ten-thousand offer. Say! I wonder if that mightn't be what Rivers died of? Raising the price and leaving Fred out in the cold!"
Dunmore simply stared at her, making a noise like a chicken choking on a piece of string.
"Well, all this isn't my pidgin," Rand said to Gladys. "I only work here, Deo gratias, and I still have some work to do."
With that, he walked past Goode and Dunmore and ascended the spiral stairway to the gunroom. Even at the desk, in the far corner of the room, he could hear them going at it, hammer-and-tongs, in the library. Sometimes it would be Nelda's strident shrieks that would dominate the bedlam below; sometimes it would be Fred Dunmore, roaring like a bull. Now and then, Humphrey Goode would rumble something, and, once in a while, he could hear Gladys's trained and modulated voice. Usually, any remark she made would be followed by outraged shouts from Goode and Dunmore, like the crash of falling masonry after the whip-crack of a tank-gun.
At first Rand eavesdropped shamelessly, but there was nothing of more than comic interest; it was just a routine parade and guard-mount of the older and more dependable family skeletons, with special emphasis on Humphrey Goode's business and professional ethics. When he was satisfied that he would hear nothing having any bearing on the death of Lane Fleming, Rand went back to his work.
After a while, the tumult gradually died out. Rand was still typing when Gladys came up the spiral and perched on the corner of the desk, picking up a long brass-barreled English flintlock and hefting it.
"You know, I sometimes wonder why we don't all come up here, break out the ammunition, pick our weapons, and settle things," she said. "It never was like this when Lane was around. Oh, Nelda and Geraldine would bare their teeth at each other, once in a while, but now this place has turned into a miniature Iwo Jima. I don't know how much longer I'm going to be able to take it. I'm developing combat fatigue."
"It's snowing," Rand mentioned. "Let's throw them out into the storm."
"I can't. I have to give Nelda and Geraldine a home, as long as they live," she replied. "Terms of the will. Oh, well, Geraldine'll drink herself to death in a few years, and Nelda will elope with a prize-fighter, sometime."
"Why don't you have the house haunted? The Tri-State Agency has an excellent house-haunting department. Anything you want; poltergeists; apparitions; cold, clammy hands in the dark; footsteps in the attic; clanking chains and eldritch screams; banshees. Any three for the price of two."
"It wouldn't work. Geraldine is so used to polka-dotted dinosaurs and Little Green Men from Mars that she wouldn't mind an ordinary ghost, and Nelda'd probably try to drag it into bed with her." She laid down the pistol and slid off the desk. "Well, pleasant dreams; I'll see you in the morning."
After she had left the gunroom, Rand looked at his watch. It was a very precise instrument; a Swiss military watch, with a sweep second hand, and two timing dials. It had formerly been the property of an Obergruppenfuehrer of the S.S., and Rand had appropriated it to replace his own, broken while choking the Obergruppenfuehrer to death in an alley in Palermo. He zeroed the timing dials and pressed the start-button. Then he stood for a time over the old cobbler's bench, mentally reconstructing what had been done after Lane Fleming had been shot, after which he hurried down the spiral and along the rear hall to the garage, where he snatched his hat and coat from the car. He threw the coat over his shoulders like a cloak, and went on outside. He made his way across the lawn to the orchard, through the orchard to the lawn of Humphrey Goode's house, and across this to Goode's side door. He stood there for a few seconds, imagining himself opening the door and going inside. Then he stopped the timing hands and returned to the Fleming house, locking the garage doors behind him. In the garage, he looked at the watch.
It had taken exactly six minutes and twenty-two seconds. He knew that he could move more rapidly than the dumpy lawyer, but to balance that, he had been moving over more or less unfamiliar ground. He left his hat and trench coat in the car and went upstairs.
Undressing, he went into the bathroom in his dressing-gown, spent about twenty minutes shaving and taking a shower, and then returned to his own room.
When he rose, the next morning, Rand noticed something which had escaped his eye when he had gone to bed the night before. His .38-special, in its shoulder-holster, was lying on the dresser; he had not bothered putting it on when he had gone to see Rivers the morning before, and it had lain there all the previous day. He distinctly remembered having moved it, shortly after dinner, when he had gone to his room for some notes he had made on the collection.
However, between that time and the present it had managed to flop itself over; the holster was now lying back-up. Intrigued by such a remarkable accomplishment in an inanimate object, Rand crossed the room in the dress-of-nature in which he slept and looked more closely at it, receiving a second and considerably more severe surprise. The revolver in the holster was not his own.
It was, to be sure, a .38 Colt Detective Special, and it was in his holster, but it was not the Detective Special he had brought with him from New Belfast. His own gun was of the second type, with the corners rounded off the grip; this one was of the original issue, with the square Police Positive grip. His own gun had seen hard service; this one was in practically new condition. There was a discrepancy of about thirty thousand in the serial numbers. His gun had been loaded in six chambers with the standard 158-grain loads; this one was loaded in only five, with 148-grain mid-range wad-cutter loads.
Rand stood for some time looking at the revolver. The worst of it was that he couldn't be exactly sure when the substitution had been made. It might have happened at any time between eight o'clock and twelve, when he had gone to bed. He rather suspected that it had been accomplished while he had been in the bathroom, however.
Dumping out the five rounds in the cylinder, he inspected the changeling carefully. It was, he thought, the revolver Lane Fleming had kept in the drawer of the gunroom desk. There was no obstruction in the two-inch barrel, the weapon had not been either fired or cleaned recently, the firing-pin had not been shortened, the mainspring showed the proper amount of tension, and the mechanism functioned as it should. There was a chance that somebody had made up five special hand-loads for him, using nitroglycerin instead of powder, but that didn't seem likely, as it would not necessitate a switch of revolvers. There were four or five other possibilities, all of them disquieting; he would have been a great deal less alarmed if somebody had taken a shot at him.
Getting a box of cartridges out of his Gladstone, he filled the cylinder with 158-grain loads. When he went to the bathroom, he took the revolver in his dressing-gown pocket; when he dressed, he put on the shoulder-holster, and pocketed a handful of spare rounds.
Anton Varcek was loitering in the hall when he came out; he gave Rand good-morning, and fell into step with him as they went toward the stairway.
"Colonel Rand, I wish you wouldn't mention this to anybody, but I would like a private talk with you," the Czech said. "After Fred Dunmore has left for the plant. Would that be possible?"
"Yes, Mr. Varcek; I'll be in the gunroom all morning, working." They reached the bottom of the stairway, where Gladys was waiting. "Understand," Rand continued, "I never really studied biology. I was exposed to it, in school, but at that time I was preoccupied with the so-called social sciences."
Varcek took the conversational shift in stride. "Of course," he agreed. "But you are trained in the scientific method of thought. That, at least, is something. When I have opportunity to explain my ideas more fully, I believe you will be interested in my conclusions."
They greeted Gladys, and walked with her to the dining-room. As usual, Geraldine was absent; Dunmore and Nelda were already at the table, eating in silence. Both of them seemed self-conscious, after the pitched battle of the evening before. Rand broke the tension by offering Humphrey Goode in the role of whipping-boy; he had no sooner made a remark in derogation of the lawyer than Nelda and her husband broke into a duet of vituperation. In the end, everybody affected to agree that the whole unpleasant scene had been entirely Goode's fault, and a pleasant spirit of mutual cordiality prevailed.
Finally Dunmore got up, wiping his mouth on a napkin.
"Well, it's about time to get to work," he said. "We might as well save gas and both use my car. Coming, Anton?"
"I'm sorry, Fred; I can't leave, yet. I have some notes upstairs I have to get in order. I was working on this new egg-powder, last evening, and I want to continue the experiments at the plant laboratory. I think I know how we'll be able to cut production costs on it, about five per cent."
"And boy, can we stand that!" Dunmore grunted. "Well, be seeing you at the plant."
Rand waited until Dunmore had left, then went across to the library and up to the gunroom. As soon as he entered the room above, he saw what was wrong. The previous thefts had been masked by substitutions, but whoever had helped himself to one of the more recent metallic-cartridge specimens, the night before, hadn't bothered with any such precaution, and a pair of vacant screwhooks disclosed the removal. A second look told Rand what had been taken: the little .25 Webley & Scott from the Pollard collection, with the silencer.
The pistol-trade which had been imposed on him had disquieted him; now, he had no hesitation in admitting to himself, he was badly scared. Whoever had taken that little automatic had had only one thought in mind—noiseless and stealthy murder. Very probably with one Colonel Jefferson Davis Rand in mind as the prospective corpse.
He sat down at the desk and started typing, at the same time trying to keep the hall door and the head of the spiral stairway under observation. It was an attempt which was responsible for quite a number of typographical errors. Finally, Anton Varcek came in from the hallway, approached the desk, and sat down in an armchair.
"Colonel Rand," he began, in a low voice, "I have been thinking over a remark you made, last evening. Were you serious when you alluded to the possibility that Lane Fleming had been murdered?"
"Well, the idea had occurred to me," Rand understated, keeping his right hand close to his left coat lapel. "I take it you have begun to doubt that it was an accident?"
"I would doubt a theory that a skilled chemist would accidentally poison himself in his own laboratory," Varcek replied. "I would not, for instance, pour myself a drink from a bottle labeled HNO_3 in the belief that it contained vodka. I believe that Lane Fleming should be credited with equal caution about firearms."
"Yet you were the first to advance the theory that the shooting had been an accident," Rand pointed out.
"I have a strong dislike for firearms." Varcek looked at the pistols on the desk as though they were so many rattlesnakes. "I have always feared an accident, with so many in the house. When I saw him lying dead, with a revolver in his hand, that was my first thought. First thoughts are so often illogical, emotional."
"And you didn't consider the possibility of suicide?"
"No! Absolutely not!" The Czech was emphatic. "The idea never occurred to me, then or since. Lane Fleming was not the man to do that. He was deeply religious, much interested in church work. And, aside from that, he had no reason to wish to die. His health was excellent; much better than that of many men twenty years his junior. He had no business worries. The company is doing well, we had large Government contracts during the war and no reconversion problems afterward, we now have more orders than we have plant capacity to fill, and Mr. Fleming was consulting with architects about plant expansion. We have been spared any serious labor troubles. And Mr. Fleming's wife was devoted to him, and he to her. He had no family troubles."
Rand raised an eyebrow over that last. "No?" he inquired.
Varcek flushed. "Please, Colonel Rand, you must not judge by what you have seen since you came here. When Lane Fleming was alive, such scenes as that in the library last evening would have been unthinkable. Now, this family is like a ship without a captain."
"And since you do not think that he shot himself, either deliberately or inadvertently, there remains the alternative that he was shot by somebody else, either deliberately or, very improbably, by inadvertence," Rand said. "I think the latter can be safely disregarded. Let's agree that it was murder and go on from there."
Varcek nodded. "You are investigating it as such?" he asked.
"I am appraising and selling this pistol collection," Rand told him wearily. "I am curious about who killed Fleming, of course; for my own protection I like to know the background of situations in which I am involved. But do you think Humphrey Goode would bring me here to stir up a lot of sleeping dogs that might awake and grab him by the pants-seat? Or did you think that uproar in the library last evening was just a prearranged act?"
"I had not thought of Humphrey Goode. It was my understanding that Mrs. Fleming brought you here."
"Mrs. Fleming wants her money out of the collection, as soon as possible," Rand said. "To reopen the question of her husband's death and start a murder investigation wouldn't exactly expedite things. I'm just a more or less innocent bystander, who wants to know whether there is going to be any trouble or not.... Now, you came here to tell me what happened on the night of Lane Fleming's death, didn't you?"
"Yes. We had finished dinner at about seven," Varcek said. "Lane had been up here for about an hour before dinner, working on his new revolver; he came back here immediately after he was through eating. A little later, when I had finished my coffee, I came upstairs, by the main stairway. The door of this room was open, and Lane was inside, sitting on that old shoemaker's-bench, working on the revolver. He had it apart, and he was cleaning a part of it. The round part, where the loads go; the drum, is it?"
"Cylinder. How was he cleaning it?" Rand asked.
"He was using a small brush, like a test-tube brush; he was scrubbing out the holes. The chambers. He was using a solvent that smelled something like banana-oil."
Rand nodded. He could visualize the progress Fleming had made. If Varcek was telling the truth, and he remembered what Walters had told him, the last flicker of possibility that Lane Fleming's death had been accidental vanished.
"I talked with him for some ten minutes or so," Varcek continued, "about some technical problems at the plant. All the while, he kept on working on this revolver, and finished cleaning out the cylinder, and also the barrel. He was beginning to put the revolver together when I left him and went up to my laboratory.
"About fifteen minutes later I heard the shot. For a moment, I debated with myself as to what I had heard, and then I decided to come down here. But first I had to take a solution off a Bunsen burner, where I had been heating it, and take the temperature of it, and then wash my hands, because I had been working with poisonous materials. I should say all this took me about five minutes.
"When I got down here, the door of this room was closed and locked. That was most unusual, and I became really worried. I pounded on the door, and called out, but I got no answer. Then Fred Dunmore came out of the bathroom attached to his room, with nothing on but a bathrobe. His hair was wet, and he was in his bare feet and making wet tracks on the floor."
From there on, Varcek's story tallied closely with what Rand had heard from Gladys and from Walters. Everybody's story tallied, where it could be checked up on.
"You think the murderer locked the door behind him, when he came out of here?" Varcek asked.
"I think somebody locked the door, sometime. It might have been the murderer, or it might have been Fleming at the murderer's suggestion. But why couldn't the murderer have left the gunroom by that stairway?"
Varcek looked around furtively and lowered his voice. Now he looked like Rudolf Hess discussing what to do about Ernst Roehm.
"Colonel Rand; don't you think that Fred Dunmore could have shot Lane Fleming, and then have gone to his room and waited until I came downstairs?" he asked.
Here we go again! Rand thought. Just like the Rivers case; everybody putting the finger on everybody else....
"And have undressed and taken a bath, while he was waiting?" he inquired. "You came down here only five minutes after the shot. In that time, Dunmore would have had to wipe his fingerprints off the revolver, leave it in Fleming's hand, put that oily rag in his other hand, set the deadlatch, cross the hall, undress, get into the bathtub and start bathing. That's pretty fast work."
"But who else could have done it?"
"Well, you, for one. You could have come down from your lab, shot Fleming, faked the suicide, and then gone out, locking the door behind you, and made a demonstration in the hall until you were joined by Dunmore and the ladies. Then, with your innocence well established, you could have waited until your wife prompted you, as she or somebody else was sure to, and then have gone down to the library and up the spiral," Rand said. "That's about as convincing, no more and no less, as your theory about Dunmore."
Varcek agreed sadly. "And I cannot prove otherwise, can I?"
"You can advance your Dunmore theory to establish reasonable doubt," Rand told him. "And if Dunmore's accused, he can do the same with the theory I've just outlined. And as long as reasonable doubt exists, neither of you could be convicted. This isn't the Third Reich or the Soviet Union; they wouldn't execute both of you to make sure of getting the right one. Both of you had a motive in this Mill-Pack merger that couldn't have been negotiated while Fleming lived. One or the other of you may be guilty; on the other hand, both of you may be innocent."
"Then who...?" Varcek had evidently bet his roll on Dunmore. "There is no one else who could have done it."
"The garage doors were open, if I recall," Rand pointed out. "Anybody could have slipped in that way, come through the rear hall to the library and up the spiral, and have gone out the same way. Some of the French Maquis I worked with, during the war, could have wiped out the whole family, one after the other, that way."
A look of intense concentration settled upon Varcek's face. He nodded several times.
"Yes. Of course," he said, his thought-chain complete. "And you spoke of motive. From what you must have heard, last evening, Humphrey Goode was no less interested in the merger than Fred Dunmore or myself. And then there is your friend Gresham; he is quite familiar with the interior of this house, and who knows what terms National Milling & Packaging may have made with him, contingent upon his success in negotiating the merger?"
"I'm not forgetting either of them," Rand said. "Or Fred Dunmore, or you. If you did it, I'd advise you to confess now; it'll save everybody, yourself included, a lot of trouble."
Varcek looked at him, fascinated. "Why, I believe you regard all of us just as I do my fruit flies!" he said at length. "You know, Colonel Rand, you are not a comfortable sort of man to have around." He rose slowly. "Naturally, I'll not mention this interview. I suppose you won't want to, either?"
"I'd advise you not to talk about it, at that," Rand said. "The situation here seems to be very delicate, and rather explosive.... Oh, as you go out, I'd be obliged to you for sending Walters up here. I still have this work here, and I'll need his help."
After Varcek had left him, Rand looked in the desk drawer, verifying his assumption that the .38 he had seen there was gone. He wondered where his own was, at the moment.
When the butler arrived, he was put to work bringing pistols to the desk, carrying them back to the racks, taking measurements, and the like. All the while, Rand kept his eye on the head of the spiral stairway.
Finally he caught a movement, and saw what looked like the top of a peak-crowned gray felt hat between the spindles of the railing. He eased the Detective Special out of its holster and got to his feet.
"All right!" he sang out. "Come on up!"
Walters looked, obviously startled, at the revolver that had materialized in Rand's hand, and at the two men who were emerging from the spiral. He was even more startled, it seemed, when he realized that they wore the uniform of the State Police.
"What.... What's the meaning of this, sir?" he demanded of Rand.
"You're being arrested," Rand told him. "Just stand still, now."
He stepped around the desk and frisked the butler quickly, wondering if he were going to find a .25 Webley & Scott automatic or his own .38-Special. When he found neither, he holstered his temporary weapon.
"If this is your idea of a joke, sir, permit me to say that it isn't...."
"It's no joke, son," Sergeant McKenna told him. "In this country, a police-officer doesn't have to recite any incantation before he makes an arrest, any more than he needs to read any Riot Act before he can start shooting, but it won't hurt to warn you that anything you say can be used against you."
"At least, I must insist upon knowing why I am being arrested," Walters said icily.
"Oh! Don't you know?" McKenna asked. "Why, you're being arrested for the murder of Arnold Rivers."
For a moment the butler retained his professional glacial disdain, and then the bottom seemed to drop suddenly out of him. Rand suppressed a smile at this minor verification of his theory. Walters had been expecting to be accused of larceny, and was prepared to treat the charge with contempt. Then he had realized, after a second or so, what the State Police sergeant had really said.
"Good God, gentlemen!" He looked from Mick McKenna to Corporal Kavaalen to Rand and back again in bewilderment. "You surely can't mean that!"
"We can and we do," Rand told him. "You stole about twenty-five pistols from this collection, after Mr. Fleming died, and sold them to Arnold Rivers. Then, when I came here and started checking up on the collection, you knew the game was up. So, last evening, you took out the station-wagon and went to see Rivers, and you killed him to keep him from turning state's evidence and incriminating you. Or maybe you killed him in a quarrel over the division of the loot. I hope, for your sake, that it was the latter; if it was, you may get off with second degree murder. But if you can't prove that there was no premeditation, you're tagged for the electric chair."
"But ... But I didn't kill Mr. Rivers," Walters stammered. "I barely knew the gentleman. I saw him, once or twice, when he was here to see Mr. Fleming, but outside of that...."
"Outside of that, you sold him about twenty-five of these pistols, and got a like number of junk pistols from him, for replacements." He took the list Pierre Jarrett and Stephen Gresham had compiled out of his pocket and began reading: "Italian wheel lock pistol, late sixteenth- or early seventeenth-century; pair Italian snaphaunce pistols, by Lazarino Cominazo...." He finished the list and put it away. "I think we've missed one or two, but that'll do, for the time."
"But I didn't sell those pistols to Mr. Rivers," Walters expostulated. "I sold them to Mr. Carl Gwinnett. I can prove it!"
That Rand had not expected. "Go on!" he jeered. "I suppose you have receipts for all of them. Fences always do that, of course."
"But I did sell them to Mr. Gwinnett. I can take you to his house, if you get a search warrant, and show you where he has them hidden in the garret. He was afraid to offer them for sale until after this collection had been broken up and sold; he still has every one of them."
McKenna spat out an obscenity. "Aren't we ever going to have any luck?" he demanded. "Jarrett out on a writ this morning, and now this!"
"But he ain't in the clear," Kavaalen argued. "Maybe he didn't sell Rivers the pistols, but maybe he did kill him."
"Dope!" McKenna abused his subordinate. "If he didn't sell Rivers the pistols, why would he kill him?"
"He's only said he sold them to Gwinnett," Rand pointed out. Then he turned to Walters. "Look here; if we find those pistols in Gwinnett's possession, you're clear on this murder charge. There's still a slight matter of larceny, but that doesn't involve the electric chair. You take my advice and make a confession now, and then accompany these officers to Gwinnett's place and show them the pistols. If you do that, you may expect clemency on the theft charge, too."
"Oh, I will, sir! I'll sign a full confession, and take these police-officers and show them every one of the pistols...."
Rand put paper and carbon sheets in the typewriter. As Walters dictated, he typed; the butler listed every pistol which Gresham and Pierre Jarrett had found missing, and a cased presentation pair of .44 Colt 1860's that nobody had missed. He signed the triplicate copies willingly; he didn't seem to mind signing himself into jail, as long as he thought he was signing himself out of the electric chair.
The book in which Fleming had recorded his pistols he still had; he had removed it from the gunroom and was keeping it in his room. He said he would get it, along with the things he would need to take to jail with him. When it was finished, they all went down the spiral stairway into the library.
Nelda was standing at the foot of it. Evidently she had been listening to what had been going on upstairs.
"You dirty sneak!" she yelled, catching sight of Walters. "After all we've done for you, you turn around and rob us! I hope they give you twenty years!"
Walters turned to McKenna. "Sergeant, I am willing to accept the penalty of the law for what I have done, but I don't believe, sir, that it includes being yapped at by this vulgar bitch."
Nelda let out an inarticulate howl of fury and sprang at him, nails raking. Corporal Kavaalen caught her wrist before she could claw the prisoner.
"That's enough, you!" he told her. "You stop that, or you'll spend a night in jail yourself."
She jerked her arm loose from his grasp and flung out of the library. As she went out, Gladys entered; Rand, who had been bringing up in the rear, stepped down from the stairway.
"He confessed," he said softly. "We had to bluff it out of him, but he came across. Sold the pistols to Carl Gwinnett. We're going, now, to pick up Gwinnett and the pistols."
"I'm glad you found the pistols," she told him. "But what're we going to do, over the week-end, for a butler...."
Rand snapped his fingers. "Dammit, I never thought of that!" He allowed his brow to furrow with thought. "I won't promise anything, but I may be able to dig up somebody for you, for a day or so. Some of my friends are visiting their son, in a Naval hospital on the West Coast, and their butler may be glad for a chance to pick up a little extra money. Shall I call him and find out?"
"Oh, Colonel Rand, would you? I'd be eternally grateful!"
It was just as easy as that.
Dave Ritter, driving his small coupe, kept his eye on the white State Police car ahead. Rand, who had come away from the Fleming home in the white car, had called Ritter from the office of the Justice of the Peace while waiting for Walters to put up bail, after his hearing. Now, en route to Gwinnett's, he was briefing his assistant on what had happened.
"So everything's set," he concluded. "Mrs. Fleming jumped at it; she knows you're coming in your own car, which you may keep in the garage there. You've left New Belfast about now; if you show up around three, you'll be safe on the driving time. Your name is Davies; I decided on that in case I suffer a lapsus linguae and call you Dave in front of somebody."
"Yeah. I'll have to watch and not call you Jeff, Colonel Rand, sir." He nodded toward the glove-box. "That Leech & Rigdon's in there; you'd better get it out before I go to the Flemings'. The guy at the drive-in made a positive identification; it's the one he sold Fleming. I saw the rest of the pistols he has there; don't waste time looking him up about them. They stink. And I saw Tip this morning. He got young Jarrett sprung on a writ." He thought for a moment. "What does this do to the Rivers and Fleming murders?"
"We can look for one man for both jobs, now," Rand said. "Probably the motive for Fleming was that merger he was so violently opposed to, and the Rivers killing must have been a security measure of some sort. There; that must be Gwinnett's, now."
The State Police car had pulled up in front of a large three-story frame house with faded and discolored paint and jigsaw scrollwork around the cornices, standing among a clump of trees beside the road. McKenna and Kavaalen got out, with Walters between them, and started up the path to the front steps. Ritter stopped behind the white sedan, and he and Rand got out. By that time, Walters and the two policemen were on the front porch.
Suddenly Ritter turned and sprinted around the right side of the house. Rand stood looking after him for a moment, then started to follow more slowly; as he did, a shot slammed in the rear. Jerking out the changeling .38-special, he whirled and ran around the left side of the house, arriving at the rear in time to see Gwinnett standing on a boardwalk between the house and the stable-garage behind, with his hands raised. There was a fresh bullet-scar on the boardwalk at his feet. Ritter was covering him from the corner of the house with the .380 Beretta.
Rand strolled over to Gwinnett, frisked him, and told him to put his hands down.
"Nice, Dave," he complimented. "I thought of that, too, about a minute too late. As soon as he saw Walters coming up the walk with the police, he knew what had happened. Come on, Gwinnett; we'll go through the house and let them in."
Gwinnett's eyes darted from side to side, like the eyes of a trapped animal. "I don't know what you're talking about," he said, stiff-lipped. "What is this, a stick-up?"
Nobody bothered to tell him to stop kidding. They marched him through the kitchen, where a Negro girl, her arms white with flour, was dithering in fright, and into the front hall. A woman in a faded housedress had just admitted the two officers and the former Fleming butler.
"You goddam rat!" Gwinnett yelled at Walters, as soon as he saw him.
"For God's sake, Carl," the woman begged. "Don't make things any worse than they are. Keep quiet!"
"All right, Gwinnett," McKenna said. "We're arresting you: receiving stolen goods, and accessory to larceny. We have a search warrant. Want to see it?"
"So you have a search warrant," Gwinnett said. "So go ahead and search; if you don't find anything, you'll plant something. I want to call my lawyer."
"That's your right," McKenna told him. "Aarvo, take him to a phone; let him call the White House if he wants to." He turned to Walters. "Now, where would he have this stuff stashed?"
"In the garret, sir. I know the way."
As Kavaalen accompanied Gwinnett to the phone, Walters started upstairs. Rand and McKenna followed, with Mrs. Gwinnett bringing up the rear. During the search of the attic, she stood to one side, watching the ex-butler dig into a pile of pistols.
"This is one, gentlemen," Walters said, producing a Springfield 1818 Model flintlock. "And here is the Walker Colt, and the .40-caliber Colt Paterson, and the Hall...."
Eventually, he had them all assembled, including the five cased sets. Rand found a couple of empty bushel baskets and laid the pistols in them, between layers of old newspapers. He picked up one, and McKenna took the other, while Walters piled the five flat hardwood cases into his arms like cordwood. Still saying nothing, her eyes stony with hatred, the woman followed them downstairs.
The rest of the afternoon was consumed with formalities. Gwinnett was given a hearing, at which he was represented by a lawyer straight out of a B-grade gangster picture. Rand had a heated argument with an over-zealous Justice of the Peace, who wanted to impound the pistols and jackknife-mark them for identification, but after hurling bloodthirsty threats of a damage suit for an astronomical figure, he managed to retain possession of the recovered weapons.
Ritter left at a little past three, to report for duty in the Fleming household. Rand rode with McKenna and Kavaalen to the State Police substation, where the pistols were transferred to McKenna's personal car, in which they and Rand were to be transported back to the Fleming place.
It was five o'clock before Rand had finished telling the sergeant and the corporal everything he felt they ought to know.
"When we get to the Flemings', I'll give you that revolver I got from the coroner," he finished. "One of your boys can take it to this fellow Umholtz, and get him to identify it. You might also show it to young Gillis, and see what he knows about it. Gillis might even give you a name for who got it from Rivers. I'm not building any hopes on that, and the reason I'm not is that Gillis is still alive. If he knew, I don't think he would be."
"Yeah. I can see that," McKenna nodded. "Fact is, I can see everything, now, except one thing. This pistol-switch somebody gave you; what's the idea of that?"
"Why, that's because I'm on the spot," Rand told him. "I'm to be killed, and somebody else is to be killed along with me. The .25 automatic will be used on me, and the .38 will be used on the other fellow, and we'll be found dead about five feet apart, and I'll be holding my own gun, and the other fellow will be holding the .25, and it will look as though we shot it out and scored a double knockout. That way, my mouth will be shut about what I've learned since I came here, and the man who's supposed to have killed me will take the rap for Fleming and Rivers both. Nothing to stop an investigation like a couple of corpses who can't tell their own story and can take the blame for everything."
"Zhee-zus!" Kavaalen's eyes widened. "That must be just it!"
"Well, you got your nerve about you, I'll say that," McKenna commented. "You sit there and talk about it like it was something that was going to happen to Joe Doakes and Oscar Zilch." He looked at Rand intently. "You want us to keep an eye on you?"
Rand leaned over and spat into the brass cuspidor, a gesture of braggadocio he had picked up among the French maquis.
"Hell, no! That's the last thing I do want!" he said. "I want him to try it. You realize, don't you, that all this is pure assumption and theory? We don't have a single fact, as it stands, that proves anything. We could go and pick this fellow up, and he's one of three men, so we could grab all three of them, and even if we found the .25 Webley & Scott and my .38 in his pockets, we couldn't charge him with anything. Fact is, right now we can't even prove that Lane Fleming's death was anything but the accident it's on the books as being. But let him take a shot at me...."
"And then you'll have another nice, clear case of self-defense." McKenna frowned. "Goddammit, Jeff, you've had to defend yourself too many times, already. This'll be—well, how many will it be?"
"Counting Germans?" Rand grinned. "Hell, I don't know; I can't remember all of them."
"One thing," Kavaalen said solemnly, "you never hear of any lawyers springing people out of cemeteries on writs."
"Look, Jeff," McKenna said, at length. "If it's the way you think, this guy won't dare kill you instantly, will he? Seems to me, the way the script reads, this other guy shoots you, and you shoot back and kill him, and then you die. Isn't that it?"
Rand nodded. "I'm banking on that. He'll try to give me a fatal but not instantly fatal wound, and that means he'll have to take time to pick his spot. The reason I've managed to survive these people against whom I've had to defend myself has been that I just don't give a damn where I shoot a man. A lot of good police officers have gotten themselves killed because they tried to wing somebody and took a second or so longer about shooting than they should have."
"Something in that, too," McKenna agreed. "But what I'm getting at is this: I think I know a way to give you a little more percentage." He rose. "Wait a minute; I'll be right back."
There was less feuding at dinner that evening than at any previous meal Rand had eaten in the Fleming home. In the first place, everybody seemed a little awed in the presence of the new butler, who flitted in and out of the room like a ghost and, when spoken to, answered in a heavy B.B.C. accent. Then, the women, who carried on most of the hostilities, had re-erected their front populaire and were sharing a common pleasure in the recovery of the stolen pistols. And finally, there was a distinct possibility that the swift and dramatic justice that had overtaken Walters and Gwinnett at Rand's hands was having a sobering effect upon somebody at that table.
Dunmore, Nelda, Varcek, Geraldine and Gladys had been intending to go to a party that evening, but at the last minute Gladys had pleaded indisposition and telephoned regrets. The meal over, Rand had gone up to the gunroom, Gladys drifted into the small drawing-room off the dining-room, and the others had gone to their rooms to dress.
Rand was taking down the junk with which Walters had infiltrated the collection and was listing and hanging up the recovered items when Fred Dunmore, wearing a dressing-gown, strolled in.
"I can't get over the idea of Walters being a thief," he sorrowed. "I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen his signed confession.... Well, it just goes to show you...."
"He took his medicine standing up," Rand said. "And he helped us recover the pistols. If I were you, I'd go easy with him."
Dunmore shook his head. "I'm not a revengeful man, Colonel Rand," he said, "but if there's one thing I can't forgive, it's a disloyal employee." His mouth closed sternly around his cigar. "He'll have to take what's coming to him." He stood by the desk for a moment, looking down at the recovered items and the pile of junk on the floor. "When did you first suspect him?"
"Almost from the first moment I saw this collection." Rand explained the reasoning which had led him to suspect Walters. "The real clincher, to my mind, was the fact that he knew this collection almost as well as Lane Fleming did, and wouldn't be likely to be deceived by these substitutions any more than Fleming would. Yet he said nothing to anybody; neither to Mrs. Fleming, nor Goode, nor myself. If he weren't guilty himself, I wanted to know his reason for keeping silent. So I put the pressure on him, and he cracked open."
"Well, I want you to know how grateful we all are," Dunmore said feelingly. "I'm kicking hell out of myself, now, about the way I objected when Gladys brought you in here. My God, suppose we'd tried to sell the collection ourselves! Anybody who'd have been interested in buying would have seen what you saw, and then they'd have claimed that we were trying to hold out on them." He hesitated. "You've seen how things are here," he continued ruefully. "And that's something else I have to thank you for; I mean, keeping your mouth shut till you got the pistols back. There'd have been a hell of a row; everybody would have blamed everybody else.... How did you get him to confess, though?"
Rand told him about the subterfuge of the trumped-up murder charge. Dunmore had evidently never thought of that hoary device; he chuckled appreciatively.
"Say, that was smart! No wonder he was so willing to admit everything and help you get them back." He looked at the pistols on the desk and moved one or two of them. "Did you get the one the coroner had? Goode said something—"
"Oh, yes; I got that yesterday." Rand turned and went to the workbench, bringing back the Leech & Rigdon, which he handed to Dunmore. "That's it. I fired out the other five charges, and cleaned it at the State Police substation." He watched Dunmore closely, but there seemed to be no reaction.
"So that's it." Dunmore looked at it with a show of interest and honest sorrow, and handed it back, then shifted his cigar across his mouth. "Look here, Colonel; I've been wanting to ask you something. Did Gladys just get you to come here to appraise and sell the collection, or are you investigating Lane's death, too?"
"Well, now, you're asking me to be disloyal to my employer," Rand objected. "Why don't you ask her that? If she wants you to know, she'll tell you."
"Dammit, I can't! Suppose she's satisfied that it really was an accident; would I want to start her worrying and imagining things?"
"No, I suppose you wouldn't," Rand conceded. "You're not at all satisfied on that point yourself, are you?"
"Well, are you?" Dunmore parried.
That sort of fencing could go on indefinitely. Rand determined to stop it. After all, if Dunmore was the murderer of Lane Fleming, he would already know how little Rand was deceived by the fake accident; the Leech & Rigdon had told him that already. If he weren't, telling him would do no harm at this point, and might even do some good.
"Why, I think Fleming was murdered," Rand told him, as casually as though he were expressing an opinion on tomorrow's weather. "And I further believe that whoever killed Fleming also killed Arnold Rivers. That, by the way, is where I come in. Stephen Gresham has retained me to find the Rivers murderer; to do that, I must first learn who killed Lane Fleming. However, I was not retained to investigate the Fleming murder, and as far as I know from anything she has told me, Gladys Fleming is quite satisfied that her husband shot himself accidentally." In a universe of ordered abstractions and multiordinal meanings, the literal truth, on one order of abstraction, was often a black lie on another. "Does that answer your question?" he asked, with open-faced innocence.
Dunmore nodded. "Yes, I get it, now. Look here, do you think Anton Varcek could have done it? I know it's a horrible idea, and I want you to understand that I'm not making any accusations, but we always took it for granted that he'd been up in his lab, and had come downstairs when he heard the shot. But suppose he came down and shot Fleming, and then went out in the hall, and made that rumpus outside after locking the door behind him?"
"That's possible," Rand agreed. "You were taking a bath when you heard the shot, weren't you?"
Dunmore shook his head. "I suppose so. I didn't hear any shot, to tell the truth. All I heard was Anton pounding on the door and yelling. I suppose I had my head under the shower, and the noise of the water kept me from hearing the shot." He stopped short, taking his cigar from his mouth and pointing it at Rand. "And, by God, that would have been about five minutes before he started hammering on the door!" he exclaimed. "Time enough for him to have fixed things to look like an accident, set the deadlatch, and have gone out in the hall, and started making a noise. And another thing. You say that whoever killed Lane also killed this fellow Rivers. Well, on Thursday night, when Rivers was killed, Anton didn't get home till around twelve."
"Yes, I'd thought of that. You know, though, that the murderer doesn't have to be Varcek, or anybody else who was in the house at the time. The garage doors were open—I'm told that your wife was out at the time—and anybody could have sneaked in the back way, up through the library, and out the same way. There are one or two possibilities besides you and Anton Varcek."
Dunmore's eyes widened. "Yes, and I can think of one, without half trying, too!" He nodded once or twice. "For instance, the man who was afraid you were investigating Fleming's death; the man who started that suicide story!" He looked at Rand interrogatively. "Well, I got to go; Nelda'll be out of the bathroom by now. I want to talk to you about this some more, Colonel."
After Dunmore had gone out, Rand mopped his face. The room seemed insufferably hot. He found an electric fan over the workbench and plugged it in, but it made enough noise to cover any sounds of stealthy approach, and he shut it off. He had finished revising his list to include the recovered pistols for as far as it was completed, and was hanging them back on the wall when Ritter came in.
"House is clear, now," his assistant said, stepping out of his P. G. Wodehouse character. "Both pairs left in the Packard, Dunmore driving. Man, what a cat-and-dog show this place is! It's a wonder our client isn't nuts."
"You haven't seen anything; you ought to have been here last night ... Where is our client, by the way?"
"Downstairs." Ritter fished a cigarette out of his livery and appropriated Rand's lighter. "If we hear her coming, you can grab this." He brushed a couple of Paterson Colts to one side and sat down on the edge of the desk, taking a deep drag on the cigarette. "What's the regular law doing, now that young Jarrett is out?"
"I had a long talk with Mick McKenna," Rand said. "Fortunately, Mick and I have worked together before. I was able to tell him the facts of life, and he'll be a good boy now. When last heard from, Farnsworth was beginning to blow his hot breath on the back of Cecil Gillis's neck."
Ritter picked up the big .44 Colt Walker and tried the balance. "Man, this even makes that Colt Magnum of mine feel light!" he said. "Say, Jeff, if Farnsworth's going after Gillis, it's probably on account of those stories about him and Mrs. Rivers. At least, all that stuff would come out if he arrested him. Maybe we could get a fee out of Mrs. Rivers."
"I'd thought of that. Unfortunately, Mrs. Rivers had a very convenient breakdown, when she heard the news; she is now in a hospital in New York, and won't be back until after the funeral. Prostrated with grief. Or something. And this case is due to blow up like Hiroshima before then. Well, we can't get fees from everybody." That, of course, was one of the sad things of life to which one must reconcile oneself. "I got a call from Pierre Jarrett; Tip's staying at the Jarrett place tonight. I thought it would be a good idea to have him within reach for a while."
The private outside phone rang shrilly. Ritter let it go for several rings, then picked it up.
"This is the Fleming residence," he stated, putting on his character again. "Oh, yes indeed, sir. Colonel Rand is right here, sir; I'll tell him you're calling." He put a hand over the mouthpiece. "Humphrey Goode."
Rand took the phone and named himself into it.
"I would like to talk to you privately, Colonel Rand," the lawyer said. "On a subject of considerable importance to our, shall I say, mutual clients. Could you find time to drop over, sometime this evening?"
"Well, I'm very busy, at the moment, Mr. Goode," Rand regretted. "There have been some rather deplorable developments here, lately. The butler, Walters, has been arrested for larceny. It seems that since Mr. Fleming's death, he has been systematically looting the pistol-collection. I'm trying to get things straightened out, now."
"Good heavens!" Goode was considerably shaken. "When did you discover this, Colonel Rand? And why wasn't I notified before? And are there many valuable items missing?"
"I discovered it as soon as I saw the collection," Rand began answering his questions in order. "Neither you, nor anybody else was notified, because I wanted to get evidence to justify an arrest first. And nothing is missing; everything has been recovered," he finished. "That's what I'm so busy about, now; getting my list revised, and straightening out the collection."
"Oh, fine!" Goode was delighted. "I hope everything was handled quietly, without any unnecessary publicity? But this other matter; I don't care to go into it over the phone, and it's imperative that we discuss it privately, at once."
"Well, suppose you come over here, Mr. Goode," Rand suggested. "That way, I won't have to interrupt my work so much. There's nobody at home now but Mrs. Fleming, and as she's indisposed, we'll be quite alone."
"Oh; very well. I think that's really a good idea; much better than your coming over here. I'll see you directly."
Ritter was grinning as Rand hung up. "That's the stuff," he approved. "The old Hitler technique; make them come to you, and then you can pound the table and yell at them all you want to."
"You go let him in," Rand directed. "Show him up here, and then take a plant on that spiral stairway out of the library, just out of sight. I don't think this it, but there's no use taking chances." He mopped his face again. "Damn, it's hot in here!"
Ten minutes later, Ritter ushered in Humphrey Goode, and inquired if there would be anything further, sir? When Rand said there wouldn't, he went down the spiral. Just as Rand had expected, Goode began peddling the same line as Varcek and Dunmore before him. They all came to see him in the gunroom with a common purpose. After easing himself into a chair, and going through some prefatory huffing and puffing, Goode came out with it. Did Rand believe that Lane Fleming had really been murdered, and was he investigating Fleming's death, after all?
"I have always believed that Lane Fleming was murdered," Rand replied. "I also believe that his murderer killed Arnold Rivers, as well. I am investigating the Rivers murder, and the Fleming murder may be considered as a part thereof. But what brings you around to discuss that, now? Did you learn something, since last evening, that leads you to suspect the same thing?"
"Well, not exactly. But this afternoon, Fred Dunmore and Anton Varcek came to my office, separately, of course, and each of them wanted to know if I had any reason to suspect that the, uh, tragedy, was actually a case of murder. Both had the impression that you were conducting an investigation under cover of your work on the pistol collection, and wanted to know whether Mrs. Fleming or I had employed you to do so."
"And you denied it, giving them the impression that Mrs. Fleming had?" Rand asked. "I hope you haven't put her in any more danger than she is now, by doing so."
Goode looked startled. "Colonel Rand! Do you actually mean that...?" he began.
"You were Lane Fleming's attorney, and board chairman of his company," Rand said. "You can probably imagine why he was killed. You can ask yourself just how safe his principal heir is now." Without giving Goode a chance to gather his wits, he pressed on: "Well, what's your opinion about Fleming's death? After all, you did go out of your way to create a false impression that he had committed suicide."
Goode, still bewildered by Rand's deliberately cryptic hints and a little frightened, had the grace to blush at that.
"I admit it; it was entirely unethical, and I'll admit that, too," he said. "But.... Well, I'm buying all the Premix stock that's out in small blocks, and so are Mr. Dunmore and Mr. Varcek. We all felt that such rumors would reduce the market quotation, to our advantage."
Rand nodded. "I picked up a hundred shares, the other day, myself. Your shenanigans probably chipped a little off the price I had to pay, so I ought to be grateful to you. But we're talking about murder, not market manipulation. Did either Varcek or Dunmore express any opinion as to who might have killed Fleming?"
The outside telephone rang before Goode could answer. Rand scooped it up at the end of the first ring and named himself into it. It was Mick McKenna calling.
"Well, we checked up on that cap-and-ball six-shooter you left with me," he said. "This gunsmith, Umholtz, refinished it for Rivers last summer. He showed the man who was to see him the entry in his job-book: make, model, serials and all."
"Oh, fine! And did you get anything out of young Gillis?" Rand asked.
"The gun was in Rivers's shop from the time Umholtz rejuvenated it till around the first of November. Then it was sold, but he doesn't know who to. He didn't sell it himself; Rivers must have."
"I assumed that; that's why he's still alive. Well, thanks, Mick. The case is getting tighter every minute."
"You haven't had any trouble yet?" McKenna asked anxiously. "How's the whoozis doing?"
"About as you might expect," Rand told him, mopping his face again. "Thanks for that, too."
He hung up and turned back to Goode. "Pardon the interruption," he said. "Sergeant McKenna, of the State Police. The officer who made the arrest on Walters and Gwinnett. Well, I suppose Dunmore and Varcek are each trying to blame the other," he said.
"Well, yes; I rather got that impression," Goode admitted.
"And which one do you like for the murderer? Or haven't you picked yours, yet?"
"You mean.... Yes, of course," Goode said slowly. "It must have been one or the other. But I can't think.... It's horrible to have to suspect either of them." For a moment, he stared unseeingly at the litter of high-priced pistols on the desk. Then:
"Colonel Rand, Lane Fleming is dead, and nothing either of us can do will bring him back. To expose his murderer certainly won't. But it would cause a scandal that would rock the Premix Company to its very foundations. It might even disastrously affect the market as a whole."
"Oh, come!" Rand reproved. "That's like talking about starting a hurricane with a palm-leaf fan."
"But you will admit that it would have a dreadful effect on Premix Foods," Goode argued. "It would probably prevent this merger from being consummated. Look here," he said urgently. "I don't know how much Gladys Fleming is paying you to rake all this up, but I'll gladly double her fee if you drop it and confine yourself to the matter of the collection."
Even in his colossal avarice, that was one kind of money Jeff Rand had never been tempted to take. An offer of that sort invariably made him furious. At the moment, he managed to choke down his anger, but he rejected Goode's offer in a manner which left no room for further discussion. Goode rose, shaking his head sadly.
"I suppose you realize," he said, sorrowfully, "that you're wrecking a ten-million-dollar corporation. One in which you, yourself, are a stockholder."
Rand brightened. "And the biggest wrecking jobs I ever did before were a couple of petrol dumps and a railroad bridge." He got to his feet along with the lawyer. "No need to call the butler; I'll let you out myself."
He accompanied Goode down the front stairway to the door. Goode was still gloomy.
"I made a mistake in trying to bribe you," he said. "But can't I appeal to your sense of fairness? Do you want to inflict serious losses on innocent investors merely to avenge one crime?"
"I don't approve of murder," Rand told him. "Least of all, to paraphrase Clausewitz, as an extension of business by other means. You know, if we let Lane Fleming's killer get away with it, somebody might take that as a precedent and bump you off to win a lawsuit, sometime. Ever think of that?"
When he returned to the gunroom, he found Gladys Fleming occupying the chair lately vacated by the family attorney. She blew a smoke-ring at him in greeting as he entered.
"Now what was Hump Goode up to?" she wanted to know.
"I'm taking too much on myself," Rand evaded. "Maybe I should have turned Walters over for trial by family court-martial. How do you like Davies, by the way?"
"Oh, he's cute," Gladys told him. "One of your operatives, isn't he?"
"Now what in the world gave you an idea like that?" he asked, as though humoring the vagaries of a child.
"Well, I suspected something of the sort from the alacrity with which you produced him, before Walters was out of the house," she said. "And nobody could be as perfect a stage butler as he is. But what really convinced me was coming into the library, a little while ago, and finding him squatting on the top of the spiral, covering Humphrey Goode with a small but particularly evil-looking automatic."
Rand chuckled. "What did you do?"
"Oh, I climbed up and squatted beside him," she replied. "I got there just as you were telling Goode what he could do with his bribe. You know, with one thing and another, Goode's beginning to become unamusing." She smoked in silence for a moment. "I ought to be indignant with you, filling my house with spies," she said. "But under the circumstances, I'm afraid I'm thankful, instead. Your op's a good egg, by the way; he's on his way to bring us some drinks."
"I ought to be sore at you, retaining me into a mess like this and telling me nothing," Rand told her. "What was the idea, anyhow? You wanted me to investigate your husband's murder, all along, didn't you?"
"I—I hadn't a thing to go on," she replied. "I was afraid, if I came out and told you what I suspected, that you'd think it was just another case of feminine dam-foolishness, and dismiss it as such. I knew it wasn't an accident; Lane didn't have accidents with guns. And if he'd wanted to kill himself, he'd have done it and left a note explaining why he had to. But I didn't have a single fact to give you. I thought that if you came here and started working on the collection, you'd find something."
"You should have taken a chance and told me what you suspected," Rand said. "I've taken a lot of cases on flimsier grounds than this. The fact is, you practically told me it was murder, when you were talking to me in my office."
"Jeff, I never was what the soap-operas call being 'in love' with Lane," she continued. "But he was wonderful to me. He gave me everything a girl who grew up in a sixteen-dollar apartment over a fruit store could want. And then somebody killed him, just as you'd step on a cockroach, because he got in the way of a business deal. I'm glad to be able to spend money to help catch whoever did it. It won't help him, but it'll make me feel a lot better.... You will catch him, won't you?"
Rand nodded. "I don't know whether he'll ever go to trial and be convicted," he said. "I don't think he will. But you can take my word for it; he won't get away with it. Tomorrow, I think the lid's going to blow off. Maybe you'd better be away from home when it does. Take Nelda and Geraldine with you, and go somewhere. There's likely to be some uproar."
"Well, Nelda and Geraldine and I are going to church, in the morning," Gladys said. "It's a question of face. We have a rented pew—Lane was quite active in church work—and none of us are willing to let ourselves get squeezed out of it. We all go; even Geraldine manages to drag herself to the Lord's House through an alcoholic fog. And we'll have to be back in time for dinner. It would look funny if we weren't."
"Well, if nothing's happened by the time you get back, I want you to talk the girls into going somewhere with you in the afternoon, and stay away till evening. And don't get the idea that you could help me here," he added, stopping an objection. "I know what I'm talking about. The presence of any of you here would only delay matters and make it harder for me."
Then Ritter came in, a cigarette in one corner of his mouth, carrying a tray on which were a bottle of Bourbon, a bottle of Scotch, a siphon and a couple of bottles of beer.
The dining-room was empty, when Rand came down to breakfast the next morning. Taking the seat he had occupied the evening before, he waited until Ritter came out of the kitchen through the pantry.
"Good morning, Colonel Rand," the Perfect Butler greeted him unctuously. "If I may say so, sir, you're a bit of an early riser. None of the family is up yet, sir."
Rand jerked a thumb toward the kitchen. "Who's out there?" he hissed.
"Just the cook; frying sausage and flipping pancakes. Premix pancakes, of course. The maid sleeps out; she hasn't gotten here yet. How'd it go last night? You put a dummy under the covers and sleep on the floor?"
"No, last night I was safe. The blow-off isn't due till this morning, when the women are at church, and he'll have to catch me and the fall-guy together."
"What do you want me to do?" Ritter asked, giving an un-butler-like hitch at his shoulder-holster. "I can stand on my official dignity, and get out of any cleaning-up work till after dinner, and I won't have any buttling to do till the women get home from church."
"Case Varcek and Dunmore, when they come in; see if either of them is rod-heavy. Find anything, last night?"
Ritter shook his head. "I searched Varcek's lab, after everybody was in bed, and I searched the cars in the garage, and a lot of other places. I didn't find them. Whoever he is, the chances are he has them in his room."
"Did you look back of the books in the library?" Rand asked. When Ritter shook his head, he continued: "That's probably where they are. Not that it makes a whole lot of difference."
"If I'd found them, it'd of given me something to watch; then I'd know when the fun was going to start." Ritter broke off suddenly. "Yes, sir. Will you have your coffee now, or later, sir?"
Gladys entered, wearing the blue tailored outfit she had worn to Rand's office, on Wednesday.
"At ease, at ease," she laughed, dropping into her chair. "Anything new?"
Rand shook his head. "We'll have to wait. I'm expecting some action this morning; I hope it'll be over before you're home from church."
She looked at him seriously. "Jeff, you're using yourself as murder-bait," she said. "Aren't you?"
"More or less. He knows I'm onto him. He's pretty sure I haven't any real proof, yet, but he doesn't know how soon I will have. He realizes that I'm cat-and-mousing him, the way I did Walters. So he'll try to kill me before I pounce, and when he does, he'll convict himself. What he doesn't realize is that as long as he sits tight, he's perfectly safe."
Neither of them mentioned the obvious corollary, that conviction and execution would be almost simultaneous. It must have been uppermost in Gladys's mind; she leaned over and put her hand on Rand's arm.
"Jeff, would it help any if I stayed home, instead of going to church?" she asked. "I'm a pretty fair pistol-shot. Lane taught me. I can stay over ninety at slow fire, and in the eighties at timed-and-rapid. If I hid somewhere with a target pistol—"
"Absolutely not!" Rand vetoed emphatically. "I'm not saying that because I'm afraid you might stop a slug yourself. You're a big girl, now; you can take your own chances. But if you stayed home, he wouldn't make a move. You and Geraldine and Nelda have to be out of the house before he'll feel safe coming out of the grass."
"Watch it!" Ritter warned. "Yes, ma'am; at once, ma'am."
Nelda came in and sat down. Ritter held her chair and fussed over her, finding out what she wanted to eat. He was bringing in her fruit when Varcek and Geraldine entered. Nelda was inquiring if Rand wanted to come to church with them.
"No; I'm one of the boys the chaplain couldn't find in the foxholes," Rand said. "I'm going to put in a quiet morning on the collection. If nobody gets murdered or arrested in the meantime, that is."
Geraldine looked woebegone; her hands were trembling. "My God, do I have a hangover!" she moaned. "Walters, for heaven's sake, fix me up something, quick!" Then she saw Ritter. "Who the devil are you?" she demanded. "Where's Walters?"
"Out on bail," Rand told her. "Don't you remember?"
"Oh, you did this to me!" she accused. "Walters could always fix me up, in the morning. Now what am I going to do?"
"You might stop drinking," her husband suggested mildly.
"Oh, just stop breathing; that would be better all around," Nelda interposed.
Ritter coughed delicately. "Begging your pardon, ma'am, but I've always rawther fawncied myself for an expert on morning-awfter tonics. If you'll wait a moment—"
He departed on his errand of mercy, returning shortly with a highball glass filled with some dark, evil-looking potion. He set it on the table in front of the sufferer and poured her a cup of coffee.
"Now, ma'am; just try this. Take it gradually, if I may suggest. Don't attempt to gulp it; it's quite strong, ma'am."
Geraldine tasted it and pulled a Gorgon-face. Encouraged by Ritter, she managed to down about half of the mixture.
"Splendid, ma'am; splendid!" he cheered her on. "Now, drink your coffee, ma'am, and then finish it. That's right, ma'am. And now, more coffee."
Geraldine struggled through with the black draft and drank the second cup of coffee. As she set down the empty cup, she even managed to smile.
"Why, that's wonderful!" She lit a cigarette. "What is it? I feel as though I might live, after all."
"A recipe of my own, a variant on the old Prairie Oyster, but without the raw egg, which I consider a needless embellishment, ma'am. I learned it in the household of a former employer, a New York stockbroker. Poor man: he did himself in in the autumn of 1929."