"Well, it's too bad you won't be with us permanently, Davies," Nelda said. "Your recipe seems to be just what Geraldine needs. With a dash of prussic acid added, of course."
That got the bush-fighting off to a good start. When Dunmore came in, a few minutes later, the two sisters were stalking one another through the jungle, blow-gunning poison darts back and forth. The newcomer sat down without a word; throughout the meal, he and Varcek treated one another with silent and hostile suspicion. Finally Gladys looked at her watch and called a truce to the skirmishing by announcing that it was time to start for church. Rand left the room with the ladies; in the hall, Gladys brushed against him quickly and gripped his left arm.
"Do be careful, Jeff," she whispered.
"Don't worry; I will," Rand assured her. Then he turned into the library and went up the spiral to the gunroom, while the three women went down to the garage.
He was standing at the window as the big Packard moved out onto the drive. Nelda was at the wheel, and Gladys, beside her on the front seat, raised a white-gloved hand in the thumbs-up salute. Rand gave it back, and watched the car swing around the house. Then he mopped his face with a wad of Kleenex and went over to the room-temperature thermostat, turning it down to sixty.
Sitting down at the desk, he dialed Humphrey Goode's number on the private outside line. A maid answered; a moment later he was talking to the Fleming lawyer.
"Rand, here," he identified himself. "Mr. Goode, I've been thinking over our conversation of last evening. There is a great deal to be said for the position you're taking in the matter. As you reminded me, I'm a small, if purely speculative, stockholder in Premix, myself, and even if I weren't, I should hate to be responsible for undeserved losses by innocent investors."
"Yes?" Goode's voice fairly shook. "Then you're going to drop the investigation?"
"No, Mr. Goode; I can't do that. But I believe a formula could be evolved which would keep the Premix Company and its affairs out of it. In fact, I think that the whole question of the death of Lane Fleming might possibly be kept in the background. Would that satisfy you? It would require some very careful manipulation on my part, and your cooperation."
"But.... See here, if you're investigating the death of Mr. Fleming, how can that be kept in the background?" Goode wanted to know.
"The murderer of Lane Fleming is also guilty of the murder of Arnold Rivers," Rand stated. "I know that positively, now. Murder is punished capitally, and one of the peculiarities of capital punishment is that it can be inflicted only once, on no matter how many counts. If our man goes to the chair for the death of Rivers, the death of Fleming might even remain an accident. I can hardly guarantee that; I have my agency license to think of, among other things. But I feel reasonably safe in saying that I could keep the Premix Company from figuring in the case. Would that satisfy you?"
"It most certainly would, Colonel Rand!" Goode's voice shook even more. "Are you sure?"
"I'm not sure of anything. It'll cost the Premix Company some money to get this done—I'll have certain expenses, for one thing, which could not very gracefully be itemized—and I will have to have your cooperation. Now, I want you to remain at home, where I can reach you at any moment, for the rest of the day. I'll call you later."
He listened to Goode babble his gratitude for a while, then terminated the call and hung up. Then he transferred the Colt .38 to the side pocket of his coat, picked up one of the sheets on which he had been listing the collection, and sat for almost fifteen minutes pretending to study it, keeping his eyes shifting from the hall door to the spiral stairway and back again.
Finally, the hall door opened, and Anton Varcek came in. Rand half rose, covering the Czech from his side pocket; Varcek came over and sat down in an armchair near the desk. He was looking more than ever like Rudolf Hess. Rudolf Hess on the morning of the Beer Hall Putsch.
"Colonel Rand," he began. "There has, within the last half hour, been a most important development. I am at a loss to define its significance, but its importance is inescapable."
Rand nodded. He had been expecting somebody to give birth to an important development; the steps toward gunfire were progressing in logical series.
"Well?" He smiled encouragingly. "What happened?"
"After you and the ladies left the dining-room," Varcek said, "Fred Dunmore turned to me and apologized for harboring unjust suspicions of me in the matter of Lane Fleming's death. He said that he had been unable to understand who else could have murdered Lane, until you had pointed out to him that the house could have been entered from the garage, and the gunroom from the library. Then, he said, he had had a conversation with some unnamed gentleman at the party last evening, and had learned that Lane had discovered that Humphrey Goode was deceiving him, and had been about to have him dismissed from his position with the company, and to sever his personal connections with him."
"The devil, now!" Rand gave a good imitation of surprise. "What sort of jiggery-pokery was Goode up to?"
"Fred said that his informant told him that Lane had proof that Goode had accepted a bribe from Arnold Rivers, to misconduct the suit which Lane was bringing against Rivers about a pair of pistols he had bought from Rivers. It seems that Goode was Rivers's attorney, also, and had been involved with him in a number of dishonest transactions, although the connection had been kept secret."
"That's a new angle, now," Rand said. "I suppose that he killed Rivers in order to prevent the latter from incriminating him. Why didn't Fred come to me with this?" he asked.
"Eh?" Evidently Varcek hadn't thought of that. "Why, I suppose he was concerned about the possibility of repercussions in the business world. After all, Goode is our board chairman, and maybe he thought that people might begin thinking that the murder had some connection with the affairs of the company."
"That's possible, of course," Rand agreed. "And what's your own attitude?"
"Colonel Rand, I cannot allow these facts to be suppressed," the Czech said. "My own position is too vulnerable; you've showed me that. Except for the fact that somebody could have entered the house through the garage, the burden of suspicion would lie on me and Fred Dunmore."
"Well, do you want me to help you with it?" Rand asked.
"Yes, if you will. It would be helping yourself, also, I believe," Varcek replied. "Fred is downstairs, now, in the library; I suggest that you and I go down and have a talk with him. Maybe you could show him the folly of trying to suppress any facts concerning Lane's death."
"Yes, that would be both foolish and dangerous." Rand got to his feet, keeping his hand on the .38 Colt. "Let's go down and talk to him now."
They walked side by side toward the spiral, Rand keeping on the right and lagging behind a little, lifting the stubby revolver clear of his pocket. Yet, in spite of his vigilance, it happened before he could prevent it.
A lance of yellow fire jumped out of the shadows of the stairway, and there was a soft cough of a silenced pistol, almost lost in the click-click of the breech-action. Rand felt something sledge-hammer him in the chest, almost knocking him down. He staggered, then swung up the Colt he had drawn from his pocket and blazed two shots into the stairway. There was a clatter, and the sound of feet descending into the library. He rushed forward, revolver poised, and then a shot boomed from below, followed by three more in quick succession.
"Okay, Jeff!" Ritter's voice called out. "War's over!"
He managed, somehow, to get down the steep spiral. The little .25 Webley & Scott was lying on the bottom step; he pushed it aside with his foot, and cautioned Varcek, who was following, to avoid it. Ritter, still looking like the Perfect Butler in spite of the .380 Beretta in his hand, was standing in the hall doorway. On the floor, midway between the stairway and the door, lay Fred Dunmore. His tan coat and vest were turning dark in several places, and Rand's own Detective Special was lying a few inches from his left hand.
"He came in here and shut the door," Ritter reported. "I couldn't follow him in, so I took a plant in the hall. When I heard you blasting upstairs, I came in, just in time to see him coming down. You winged him in the right shoulder; he'd dropped the .25, and he had your gat in his left hand. When he saw mine, he threw one at me and missed; I gave him three back for it. See result on floor."
"Uh-uh; he'd have gotten away, if you hadn't been on the job," he told Ritter. Then he picked up his own revolver and holstered it. After a glance which assured him that Fred Dunmore was beyond any further action of any sort, he laid the square-butt Detective Special on the floor beside him. "You did all right, Dave," he said. "Now, nobody's going to have a chance to bamboozle a jury into acquitting him." He thought of his recent conversation with Humphrey Goode. "You did just all right," he repeated.
"So it was Fred, then," he heard Varcek, behind him, say. "Then he was lying about this evidence against Goode." The Czech came over and stood beside Rand, looking down at the body of his late brother-in-law. "But why did he tell me that story, and why did he shoot at us when we were together?"
"Both for the same general reason." Rand explained about the two pistols and the planned double-killing. "With both of us dead, you'd be the murderer, and I'd be a martyr to law-and-order, and he'd be in the clear."
Varcek regarded the dead man with more distaste than surprise. Evidently his experiences in Hitler's Europe had left him with few illusions about the sanctity of human life or the extent of human perfidy. Ritter holstered the Beretta and got out a cigarette.
"I hope you didn't leave your lighter upstairs," he told Rand.
Rand produced and snapped it, holding the flame out to his assistant. "Dave," he lectured, "the Perfect Butler always has a lighter in good working order; lighting up the mawster is part of his duties. Remember that, the next time you have a buttling job."
Ritter leaned forward for the light. "Dunmore was a better shot with his right hand than he was with his left," he commented. "He didn't come within a yard of me, and he scored a twelve-o'clock center on you. Right through the necktie."
Rand glanced down. Then he burst into a roar of obscene blasphemy.
"Seven dollars and fifty cents I paid for that tie, not three weeks ago," he concluded. "Does your grandmother make patchwork quilts? If she does, she can have it."
"My God!" Varcek stared at Rand unbelievingly. "Why, he hit you! You're wounded!"
"Only in the necktie," Rand reassured him. "I have a hole in my shirt, too." He reached under the latter garment and rummaged, as though to evict a small trespasser. When he brought out his hand, he was holding a battered .25-caliber bullet. He held it out to show to Varcek and Ritter.
"Sure," Ritter grinned at Varcek. "Didn't you know? Superman."
"I'm wearing a bulletproof vest; Mick McKenna loaned it to me yesterday," Rand enlightened Varcek. "I never wore one of the damn things before, and if I can help it, I'll never wear one again. I'm damn near stewed alive in it."
"Think how hot you'd be, right now, if you hadn't been wearing it," Ritter reminded him.
"Then you knew, since yesterday, that he would do this?" Varcek asked.
"I knew one or the other of you would," Rand replied. "I had quite a few reasons for thinking it might be Dunmore, and one good one for not suspecting you."
"You mean my dislike for firearms?"
"That could have been feigned, or it could have been overcome," Rand replied. "I mean your knowledge of biology and biochemistry. If you'd killed Lane Fleming, there'd have been no clumsy business of fake accidents; not as long as both of you ate at the same table. He'd have just died, an unimpeachably natural death." He turned to Ritter. "Dave, I'm going upstairs; I want to get out of this damned coat of mail I'm wearing. While I'm doing it, I want you to call Carter Tipton, at the Jarrett place, and Humphrey Goode, and Mick McKenna, in that order. Tell Goode to get over here as fast as he can, and come up to my room; tell him we have to consider ways and means of implementing my suggestion to him."
In the month which followed, events transpired through a thickening miasma of rumors, official communiques, journalistic conjectures, and outright fabrications, fitfully lit by the glare of newsmen's photo-bulbs, bulking with strange shapes, and emitting stranger noises. There were the portentous rumblings of prepared statements, and the hollow thumps of denials. There were soft murmurs of, "Now, this is strictly off the record ..." followed by sibilant whispers. The unseen screws of political pressure creaked, and whitewash brushes slurped suavely. And there was an insistent yammering of bewildered and unanswered questions. Fred Dunmore really had killed Arnold Rivers, hadn't he? Or had he? Arnold Rivers had been double-crossing Dunmore ... or had Dunmore been double-crossing Rivers? Somebody had stolen ten—or was it twenty-five—thousand dollars' worth of old pistols? Or was it just twenty-five thousand dollars? Or what, if anything, had been stolen? Was somebody being framed for something ... or was somebody covering up for somebody ... or what? And wasn't there something funny about the way Lane Fleming got killed, last December?
The surviving members of the Fleming family issued a few noncommittal statements through their attorney, Humphrey Goode, and then the Iron Curtain slammed down. Mick McKenna gave an outraged squawk or so, then subsided. There was a series of pronunciamentos from the office of District Attorney Charles P. Farnsworth, all full of high-order abstractions and empty of meaning. The reporters, converging on the Fleming house, found it occupied by the State Police, who kept them at bay. Harry Bentz, of the New Belfast Evening Mercury, using a 30-power spotting-'scope from the road, observed Dave Ritter, whom he recognized, wearing a suit of butler's livery and standing in the doorway of the garage, talking to Sergeant McKenna, Carter Tipton and Farnsworth; the Mercury exploited this scoop for all it was worth.
On the whole, the Rosemont Bayonet Murder was, from a journalistic standpoint, an almost complete bust. There had been no arrest, no hearing, no protracted trial, no sensational revelations. Only one monolithic fact, officially attested and indisputable, loomed out of the murk: "... and the said Frederick Parker Dunmore, deceased, did receive the aforesaid gunshot-wounds, hereinbefore enumerated, at the hands of the said Jefferson Davis Rand and at the hands of the said David Abercrombie Ritter ..." and "... the said Jefferson Davis Rand and the said David Abercrombie Ritter, being in mortal fear for their several lives, did so act in defense of their several persons..." and, finally, "... the said Frederick Parker Dunmore did die."
The Evening Mercury, which sheet the said Jefferson Davis Rand had once cost the loss of an expensive libel-suit and exposed in certain journalistic malpractices verging upon blackmail, promptly burst into print with an indignant editorial entitled Trial by Pistol. The terms: "legalized slaughter," and "flagrant whitewash," were used, and mention was made of "the well known preference of a certain notorious private detective for the procedure of habeas cadaver." The principal result of this outcry was to persuade an important New Belfast manufacturer, who had hitherto resisted Rand's sales pressure, to contract with the Tri-State Agency for the protection of his payroll deliveries.
Then, at the other end of the state, the professor of Moral Science at a small theological seminary caught his wife in flagrante delicto with one of the fourth-year students and opened fire upon them, at a range of ten feet, with a 12-gauge pump-gun. The Rosemont Bayonet Murder, already pretty well withered on the vine, passed quietly into limbo.
* * * * *
Summer, almost a month before its official opening, was already a fait accompli. The trees were in full leaf and invaded by nesting birds, the air was fragrant with flower scents, and the mercury column of the thermometer was stretching itself up toward the ninety mark.
They were all outside, where the long shadow of the Fleming house fell across the lawn and driveway, gathered about the five parked cars. The new Fleming butler, a short and somewhat globular Negro with a gingerbread-crust complexion and an air of affable dignity, was helping Pierre Jarrett and Karen Lawrence put a couple of cartons and a tall peach-basket into Pierre's Plymouth. Colin MacBride, a streamer of pipe-smoke floating back over his shoulder, was peering into his luggage-compartment to check the stowage of his own cargo, while his twelve-year-old son, Malcolm, another black Highlander like his father, was helping Philip Cabot carry a big laundry hamper full of newspaper-wrapped pistols to his Cadillac. Pierre's mother, and the stylish-stout Mrs. Trehearne, and Gladys Fleming, obviously detached from the bustle of pre-departure preparations, were standing to one side, talking. And Rand had finished helping Adam Trehearne pack the last container of his share of the Fleming collection into his car.
"I see Colin's about ready to leave, and I'm in his way," Trehearne said. He extended his hand to Rand. "No need hashing over how we all feel about this. If it hadn't been for you, that offer of Kendall's would have had us stopped as dead as Rivers's had. Five hundred dollars deader, in fact."
Stephen Gresham, carrying a package-filled orange crate, joined him, setting down his burden. His wife and daughter, with another crate between them, halted beside him.
"Haven't you got your stuff packed yet, Jeff?" Gresham asked.
"Jeff's been helping everybody else," Irene Gresham burst out. "Come on, everybody; let's go help Jeff pack! You're going to have dinner with us, aren't you, Jeff?"
"Oh, sorry. I have some more details to clear up; I'm having dinner here, with Mrs. Fleming," Rand regretted. "I'll pack my stuff later."
Mrs. Jarrett, Mrs. Trehearne, and Gladys came over; one by one the rest of the group converged upon them. Then, when the good-by's had been said, and the promises to meet again had been given, they parted. One by one the cars moved slowly down the driveway to the road. Only Gladys and Rand, standing at the foot of the front steps, and the gingerbread-brown butler were left.
"My, my; that was some party!" the Negro chuckled, gathering up three empty pasteboard cartons and telescoping them together. "Dinner'll be ready in about half an hour, Mrs. Fleming. Shall I go mix the cocktails now?"
"Yes; do that, Reuben. In the drawing-room." She watched the servant carry the discarded containers around the house, then turned to Rand. "You know, not the least of your capabilities is your knack of finding servant-replacements on short notice," she told him.
"My general factotum, Buck Pendexter, is a prominent personage in New Belfast colored lodge circles," Rand said. "When your cook and maid quit on you, the day of the blow-up, all I had to do was phone him, and he did the rest." He got out his cigarettes, offered them, and snapped his lighter. "I notice you're having cocktails in the drawing-room now."
"Yes. I suppose, in time, I'll stop imagining I see Fred Dunmore's blood on the library floor. I got used to what had happened in the gunroom last December. Shall we go in?" she asked, taking Rand's arm.
The cocktails were waiting when they entered the drawing-room, off the dining-room. The butler poured for them and put the glasses and the shaker on a low table by a lounge.
"I'm afraid dinner's going to be a little later than I said, Mrs. Fleming," he apologized. "Things were kind of stirred up, today, with all those people here."
"That's all right; we can wait," she replied. "We won't need anything more, Reuben."
Motioning Rand down on the lounge beside her, she handed him a glass and lifted her own.
"Now," she began. "Just what sort of skulduggery has been going on? As of Friday, the top offer for the collection was twenty-five thousand five hundred, from some dealer up in Massachusetts. And then, on Saturday, you came bounding in with Stephen Gresham's certified check for twenty-six thousand. And I seem to recall that the late unlamented Rivers's offer of twenty-five thousand straight had them stopped. Not that I'm inclined to look askance at an extra five hundred—I can buy a new hat with my share of that, even after taxes—but I would like to know what happened. And I might add, that's only one of many things I'd like to know."
"The client is entitled to a full report," Rand said, tasting his cocktail. It was a vodka Martini, and very good. "You know, none of that crowd are millionaires. Adam Trehearne, who's the plutocrat of the bunch, isn't so filthy rich he doesn't know what to do with all his money—what the tax-collectors leave of it—and the rest of them have to figure pretty closely. The most they could possibly scratch together was twenty-two thousand. So I put four thousand into the pot, myself, bringing the total to five hundred over the Kendall offer, and hastily declared the collection sold. Of course, my getting into it meant that much less for everybody else, but five-sixths of a collection is better than no pistols at all. I imagine Colin MacBride is honing up his sgian-dhu for me because I got that big Whitneyville Walker Colt, but what the hell; he got the cased pair of Paterson .34's, and the Texas .40 with the ramming-lever."
"Why, I think the division was fair enough," Gladys said. "They'd agreed to take your valuation, hadn't they? And all that slide-rule and comptometer business.... But Jeff—four thousand dollars?" she queried. "You only got five from me, and you can't run a detective agency on old pistols."
Rand grinned as he set down his empty glass. Gladys refilled it from the shaker.
"My dear lady, that five thousand I unblushingly accepted from you was only part of it," he confessed.
"There was also a fee of three thousand from Stephen Gresham, for pulling the bloodhounds of the D.A.'s office off his back in the matter of Arnold Rivers, and there was five thousand from Humphrey Goode, which I suppose he'll get the Premix Company to repay him, for engineering the suppression of a lot of facts he wanted suppressed. And, finally, my connection with this business brought that merger to my attention, and I picked up a hundred shares of Premix at 73-1/4, and now I have two hundred shares of Mill-Pack, worth about twenty-nine thousand, which I can report for my income tax as capital gains. I'd say I could afford to treat myself to a few old pistols for my collection."
"Well!" She raised both eyebrows over that. "Don't anybody tell me crime doesn't pay."
"Yes. In my ghoulish way, I generally manage to bear myself in mind, on an operation like this. I make no secret of my affection for money." He lifted his glass and sipped slowly. "Look here, Gladys; are you satisfied with the way this was handled?"
She shrugged. "I should be. When I started out as Lane's blood-avenger, I suppose I expected things to end somewhere out of sight, in a nice, antiseptic death-chamber at the state penitentiary. You must admit that that business in the library was really bringing it home. There's no question that you got the man who killed Lane, and if you hadn't, I'd never have been at peace with myself. And I suppose all that chicanery afterward was necessary, too."
"It was, if you wanted that merger to go through, and unless you wanted to see the bottom drop out of your Premix stock," Rand assured her. "If the true facts of Mr. Fleming's death had gotten out, there'd have been a simply hideous stink. The Mill-Pack people would have backed out of that merger like a bear out of an active bee-tree.... You know what the situation really was, don't you?"
She shook her head. "I know Mill-Pack wanted to get control of the Premix Company, and Lane refused to go in with them. I don't fully understand his reasons, though."
"They weren't important; they were mainly verbal, and unrelated to actuality," Rand said. "The important thing is that he did refuse, and Mill-Pack wanted that merger so badly that it could be tasted in every ounce of food they sold. They got Stephen Gresham to negotiate it for them, and he was just on the point of reporting it to be an impossibility when Fred Dunmore came to him with a proposition. Dunmore said he thought he could persuade or force Mr. Fleming to consent, and he wanted a contract guaranteeing him a vice-presidency with Mill-Pack, at forty thousand a year, if and when the merger was accomplished. The contract was duly signed about the first of last November."
"Well, good Lord!" Gladys Fleming's eyes widened. "When did you hear about that?"
"I got that out of Gresham, a couple of days after the blow-up, when it was too late to be of any use to me," Rand said. "If I'd known it from the beginning, it might have saved me some work. Not much, though. Gresham was just as badly scared about the facts coming out as Goode was. I can't prove collusion between him and Goode, but Gresham was helping spread the suicide story, too."
"Nice friends Lane had! But didn't anybody think there was something odd about that accident, immediately after that contract was signed?"
"Of course they did, but try and get them to admit it, even to themselves. Nobody likes to think that the new vice president of the company murdered his way into the position. So everybody assumed the attitudes of the three Japanese monkeys, and made respectable noises about what a great loss Mr. Fleming was to the business world, and how lucky Dunmore was that he had that contract."
She looked at him inquiringly for a moment. "Jeff, I want you to tell me exactly how everything happened," she said. "I think I have a right to know."
"Yes, you have," he agreed. "I'll tell you the whole thing, what I actually know, and what I was forced to guess at:
"When this merger idea first took shape, last summer, Dunmore saw how unalterably opposed to it Mr. Fleming was, and he began wishing him out of the way. Some time later, he decided to do something about it. I suppose Anton Varcek gave him the idea, in the first place, with his jabber about the danger of a firearms accident. Dunmore decided he'd fix one up for Mr. Fleming. First of all, he'd need a firearm, collector's type and in good working order. It couldn't be one of the guns in the collection. He'd have to keep it loaded all the time, waiting for an opportunity to use it; he couldn't take a weapon out of the collection, because it would be missed, and he couldn't load one and hang it up again, because that would be discovered. So he had to get one of his own, and he got it from Arnold Rivers."
"You know that? I mean, that's not just a guess?"
"I know it. The gun he got from Rivers was a .36 Colt, 1860 Navy-model, serial number 2444," Rand told her. "Rivers had that gun last summer. He had it refinished by a gunsmith named Umholtz. After Umholtz refinished it, the gun was in Rivers's shop until November of last year, when it was sold by Rivers personally. And that was the revolver that was found in Lane Fleming's hand, and the one I got from the coroner, with a letter vouching for the fact that it had been so found."
He finished his cocktail. Gladys picked up the shaker mechanically and refilled his glass.
"Now we have Dunmore with this .36 Colt, loaded with powder, caps and bullets from the ammunition supply in the gunroom, waiting for a chance to use it. And also, he has this Mill-Pack contract in his safe deposit box at the bank. That takes care of the weapon and the motive; only the opportunity is needed, and that came on the 22nd of December, when Mr. Fleming brought home that Confederate Leech & Rigdon .36 he had just bought. It was just a piece of luck that both revolvers were alike in caliber and general type, but it wouldn't have made a lot of difference. Nobody was paying much attention to details, and Dunmore was on the scene to misdirect any attention anybody would pay to anything.
"Now, we come to the mechanics of the thing; the modus operandi, or, as it is professionally known, the M.O. You remember what happened that evening. Nelda had gone out. You and Geraldine were listening to the radio in the parlor, over there. Varcek had gone up to his lab. Mr. Fleming was alone in the gunroom, working on his new revolver. And Fred Dunmore said he was going to take a bath. What he did, of course, was to draw a tub full of water, undress, put on his bathrobe and slippers, hide the .36 Colt under the bathrobe, and then go across the hall to the gunroom, where he found Mr. Fleming sitting on that cobbler's bench, putting the finishing touches on the Leech & Rigdon. So he fired at close range, wiped the prints off the Colt with an oily rag, put it in Lane Fleming's right hand, put the rag in his left, grabbed up the Leech & Rigdon, and scuttled back to his bathroom, deadlatching and shutting the gunroom door as he went out. This last, of course, was a delaying tactic, to give him time to establish his bathtub alibi."
He lifted the cocktail glass to his lips. These vodka Martinis were strong, and three of them before dinner was leaning way over backward maintaining the tradition of the hard-drinking private eye, but Gladys was working on her third, and no client was going to drink him under.
"So, in the privacy of his bathroom, he kicked out of his slippers, threw off his robe, hid the Leech & Rigdon, probably in a space between the tub and the wall that I found while we were searching the house, the night before the shooting of Dunmore, and jumped into the tub, there to await developments. As soon as he heard Varcek's uproar in the hall, he could emerge, dripping bathwater and innocence, to find out what the fuss was all about.... Do you know anything about something called General Semantics?" he asked suddenly.
"Yes. Before I married Lane, I went around with a radio ad-writer," she told him. "He was a nice boy, but he'd get drunker than a boiled owl about once a month, and weep about his crimes against sanity and meaning. He'd recite long excerpts from his professional creations, and show how he had been deliberately objectifying words and identifying them with the things for which they stood, and confusing orders of abstraction, and juggling multiordinal meanings. He was going to lend me his Koran, a book called Science and Sanity, and then he took a job with an ad agency in Chicago, and I got married, and—"
Rand nodded. "Then you realize that the word is not the thing spoken of, and that the inference is not the description, and that we cannot know 'all' about anything. Etcetera," he added hastily, like a Papist signing himself with the Cross. "Well, some considerable disregard of these principles seems to have existed in this case. Dunmore is seen in a bathrobe, his feet bare and making wet tracks on the floor, his hair wet, etcetera. Straightaway, one and all appear to have assumed that he was in the tub, splashing soapsuds around, while Lane Fleming was being shot. And Anton Varcek, who can be taken as an example of what S. I. Hayakawa was talking about when he spoke of people behaving like scientists inside but not outside their laboratories, saw Lane Fleming dead, with an object labeled 'revolver' in his hand, and, because of his verbal identifications and semantic reactions, immediately included the inference of an accident in his description of what he had seen. That was just an extra dividend of luck for Dunmore; it got the whole crowd of you thinking in terms of accidental shooting.
"Well, from there out, everything would have been a wonderful success for Dunmore, except for one thing. Arnold Rivers must have heard, somehow, that Lane Fleming had been shot with a Confederate .36 that he'd bought somewhere that day, and that the revolver was in the hands of this coroner of yours. So Arnold, with his big chisel well ground, went to see if he could manage to get it out of the coroner for a few dollars. And when he saw it, lo! it was the .36 Colt that he'd sold to Dunmore about a month before."
Gladys set down her glass. "So!" she said. "Things begin to explain themselves!"
"You may say so, indeed," Rand told her. "And what do you suppose Rivers did with this little item of information? Why, as nearly as I can reconstruct it, he did a very foolish thing. He tried to blackmail a man who had committed a murder. He told Fred Dunmore he'd keep his mouth shut about the .36 Colt, if Dunmore would get him the Fleming collection. He wanted that instead of cash, because he could get more out of it, in a few years, than Dunmore could ever scrape, and in the meantime, the prestige of handling that collection would go a long way toward repairing his rather dilapidated reputation. Fred should have bumped him off, right then; it would have been the cheapest and easiest way out, and he'd probably be alive and uncaught today if he had. But he was willing to pay ten thousand dollars to save himself the trouble, and that's what he told you Rivers had offered for the collection. The ten thousand Dunmore told you Rivers was willing to pay was really the ten thousand he was willing to pay, himself, to keep Rivers quiet.
"Then I was introduced into the picture, and, as you know, one of my first acts was to go to Rivers's shop and sneer scornfully at Rivers's supposed offer of ten thousand. And, right away, Rivers upped it to twenty-five thousand. You'll recall, no doubt, that Mr. Fleming had a life-insurance policy, one of these partnership mutual policies, which gave both Dunmore and Varcek exactly twenty-five thousand apiece. I assume that Rivers had found out about that.
"I thought, at the time, that it was peculiar that Rivers would jump his own offer up, without knowing what anybody else was offering for the collection. I see, now, that it wasn't his own money he was being so generous with. And there was another incident, while I was at Rivers's shop, that piqued my curiosity. Rivers had in his shop a .36 Leech & Rigdon revolver, and I had been informed that it was a revolver of that type that Mr. Fleming had brought home the evening he was killed. I thought at the time that it was curious that two Confederate arms of the same type and make should show up this far north, but my main idea in buying it was the possibility that I might use it, in some way as circumstances would permit, to throw a scare into somebody. Rivers was quite willing to let me have it until he found out that I would be staying at this house, and then he tried to back out of the sale and offered me seventy-five dollars' credit on anything else in the shop, if I'd return it to him. Well, I'd known that Mr. Fleming had been about to start suit against Rivers over a crooked deal Rivers had put over on him, and I knew that if Mr. Fleming's death had been murder, there had been a substitution of revolvers. So I showed the gun I'd bought from Rivers to Philip Cabot, who had seen the revolver Mr. Fleming had bought, and he recognized it. It hasn't been established just how Rivers got the Leech & Rigdon, and never will be; the only people who knew were Rivers and Dunmore, and both are in the proverbial class of non-talebearers. I assume that Dunmore gave it to Rivers as a sort of down payment on Rivers's silence, and to get rid of it.
"Well, you remember Dunmore's angry incredulity when I told him that Rivers was offering twenty-five thousand instead of ten thousand. One would have thought, on the face of it, that he would have been glad; as Nelda's husband, he would share in the higher price being paid for the collection. But when you realize that Rivers was buying the collection out of Dunmore's pocket, his reaction becomes quite understandable. I daresay I signed Arnold Rivers's death-warrant, right there."
"I'll bet your conscience bothers you about that," Gladys remarked.
"Oh, sure; it's been gnawing hell out of me, ever since," Rand told her cheerfully. "But, right away, Dunmore decided to kill Rivers. He called him on the phone as soon as he left the table—here I'm speaking by the book; I walked in on him, in the gunroom, as he was completing the call, though I didn't know it at the time—and arranged to see him that evening. Probably to devise ways and means of dealing with the Jeff Rand menace, for an ostensible reason.
"So that night, Dunmore killed Rivers, with a bayonet. And here we have some more Aristotelian confusion of orders of abstraction. The bayonet is defined, verbally, as a 'soldier's weapon,' so Farnsworth and Mick McKenna and the rest of them bemused themselves with suspects like Stephen Gresham and Pierre Jarrett, and ignored Dunmore, who'd never had an hour's military training in his life. I'd like to check up on what picture-shows Dunmore had been seeing in the week or so before the killing. I'll bet anything he'd been to one of these South-Pacific banzai-operas. And speaking of confusing orders of abstraction, Mick McKenna and his merry men pulled a classic in that line. They saw Dunmore's automobile, verbally defined as a 'gray Plymouth coupe' in Rivers's drive at the estimated time of the murder. Pierre Jarrett has a car of that sort, so they included the inferential idea of Pierre Jarrett's ownership of the car so described.
"Well, that's about all there is to it. Of course, I showed Fred Dunmore the Leech & Rigdon, and told him it was the gun I'd gotten from the coroner. That was all he needed to tell him that I was onto the murder, and probably onto him as the murderer. But he had evidently assumed that already; that was after he'd assembled my .38 and that .25 automatic, and was planning to double-kill me and Anton Varcek. At that, he'd have probably killed me, if I hadn't been wearing that bulletproof vest of McKenna's. I owe Mick for my life; I'll have to buy him a drink, sometime, to square that."
"Well, how about Walters, and the pistols he stole?" Gladys asked. "Didn't that have anything to do with it?"
"No. It was a result of Mr. Fleming's death, of course. I understand that the situation here had deteriorated rather abruptly after Mr. Fleming's death. Walters was about fed up on the way things were here, and he was going to hand in his notice. Then he decided that he ought to have a stake to tide him over till he could get another buttling job, so he started higrading the collection."
Gladys nodded. "I suppose he decided, after Lane's death, that he didn't owe anybody here anything. Too bad he didn't wait, though. The situation has remedied itself, and that's something else I owe you."
"Yes? I noticed that there was nobody here but you," Rand mentioned.
"Oh, Anton's gone to New York. The Rockefeller Foundation is financing the major part of his research work, and he's well enough off to finance the rest himself. Geraldine went with him. Nelda is still recuperating from the shock of her sudden bereavement at a high-priced sanatorium—I understand there's a very good-looking young doctor there. And she's been talking about going to New York herself, in order, as she puts it, to lead her own life. I don't know whether she was afraid I'd be a restraining influence, or a dangerous competitor, but she feels that her own life could be best led away from here." She set down her glass and leaned back comfortably. "Peace, it's wonderful!"
Reuben, the gingerbread butler, appeared in the dining-room doorway. "Dinner's served now, Mrs. Fleming," he announced.
Rand rose, and Gladys took his arm; together, they went into the dining-room.