Murder in the Gunroom
Stephen Gresham was in his early sixties, but he could have still worn his World War I uniform without anything giving at the seams, and buckled the old Sam Browne at the same hole. As Rand entered, he rose from behind his desk and advanced, smiling cordially.
"Why, hello, Jeff!" he greeted the detective, grasping his hand heartily. "You haven't been around for months. What have you been doing, and why don't you come out to Rosemont to see us? Dot and Irene were wondering what had become of you."
"I'm afraid I've been neglecting too many of my old friends lately," Rand admitted, sitting down and getting his pipe out. "Been busy as the devil. Fact is, it was business that finally brought me around here. I understand that you and some others are forming a pool to buy the Lane Fleming collection."
"Yes!" Gresham became enthusiastic. "Want in on it? I'm sure the others would be glad to have you in with us. We're going to need all the money we can scrape together, with this damned Rivers bidding against us."
"I'm afraid you will, at that, Stephen," Rand told him. "And not necessarily on account of Rivers. You see, the Fleming estate has just employed me to expertize the collection and handle the sale for them." Rand got his pipe lit and drawing properly. "I hate doing this to you, but you know how it is."
"Oh, of course. I should have known they'd get somebody like you in to sell the collection for them. Humphrey Goode isn't competent to handle that. What we were all afraid of was a public auction at some sales-gallery."
Rand shook his head. "Worst thing they could do; a collection like that would go for peanuts at auction. Remember the big sales in the twenties? ... Why, here; I'm going to be in Rosemont, staying at the Fleming place, working on the collection, for the next week or so. I suppose your crowd wouldn't want to make an offer until I have everything listed, but I'd like to talk to your associates, in a group, as soon as possible."
"Well, we all know pretty much what's in the collection," Gresham said. "We were neighbors of his, and collectors are a gregarious lot. But we aren't anxious to make any premature offers. We don't want to offer more than we have to, and at the same time, we don't want to underbid and see the collection sold elsewhere."
"No, of course not." Rand thought for a moment. "Tell you what; I'll give you and your friends the best break I can in fairness to my clients. I'm not obliged to call for sealed bids, or anything like that, so when I've heard from everybody, I'll give you a chance to bid against the highest offer in hand. If you want to top it, you can have the collection for any kind of an overbid that doesn't look too suspiciously nominal."
"Why, Jeff, I appreciate that," Gresham said. "I think you're entirely within your rights, but naturally, we won't mention this outside. I can imagine Arnold Rivers, for instance, taking a very righteous view of such an arrangement."
"Yes, so can I. Of course, if he'd call me a crook, I'd take that as a compliment," Rand said. "I wonder if I could meet your group, say tomorrow evening? I want to be in a position to assure the Fleming family and Humphrey Goode that you're all serious and responsible."
"Well, we're very serious about it," Gresham replied, "and I think we're all responsible. You can look us up, if you wish. Besides myself, there is Philip Cabot, of Cabot, Joyner & Teale, whom you know, and Adam Trehearne, who's worth about a half-million in industrial shares, and Colin MacBride, who's vice president in charge of construction and maintenance for Edison-Public Power & Light, at about twenty thousand a year, and Pierre Jarrett and his fiancée, Karen Lawrence. Pierre was a Marine captain, invalided home after being wounded on Peleliu; he writes science-fiction for the pulps. Karen has a little general-antique business in Rosemont. They intend using their share of the collection, plus such culls and duplicates as the rest of us can consign to them, to go into the arms business, with a general-antique sideline, which Karen can manage while Pierre's writing ... Tell you what; I'll call a meeting at my place tomorrow evening, say at eight thirty. That suit you?"
That, Rand agreed, would be all right. Gresham asked him how recently he had seen the Fleming collection.
"About two years ago; right after I got back from Germany. You remember, we went there together, one evening in March."
"Yes, that's right. We didn't have time to see everything," Gresham said. "My God, Jeff! Twenty-five wheel locks! Ten snaphaunces. And every imaginable kind of flintlock--over a hundred U.S. Martials, including the 1818 Springfield, all the S. North types, a couple of Virginia Manufactory models, and--he got this since the last time you saw the collection--a real Rappahannock Forge flintlock. And about a hundred and fifty Colts, all models and most variants. Remember that big Whitneyville Walker, in original condition? He got that one in 1924, at the Fred Hines sale, at the old Walpole Galleries. And seven Paterson Colts, including a couple of cased sets. And anything else you can think of. A Hall flintlock breech-loader; an Elisha Collier flintlock revolver; a pair of Forsythe detonator-lock pistols ... Oh, that's a collection to end collections."
"By the way, Humphrey Goode showed me a pair of big ball-butt wheel locks, all covered with ivory inlay," Rand mentioned.
Gresham laughed heartily. "Aren't they the damnedest ever seen, though?" he asked. "Made in Germany, about 1870 or '80, about the time arms-collecting was just getting out of the family-heirloom stage, wouldn't you say?"
"I'd say made in Japan, about 1920," Rand replied. "Remember, there were a couple of small human figures on each pistol, a knight and a huntsman? Did you notice that they had slant eyes?" He stopped laughing, and looked at Gresham seriously. "Just how much more of that sort of thing do you think I'm going to have to weed out of the collection, before I can offer it for sale?" he asked.
Gresham shook his head. "They're all. They were Lane Fleming's one false step. Ordinarily, Lane was a careful buyer; he must have let himself get hypnotized by all that ivory and gold, and all that documentation on crested notepaper. You know, Fleming's death was an undeserved stroke of luck for Arnold Rivers. If he hadn't been killed just when he was, he'd have run Rivers out of the old-arms business."
"I notice that Rivers isn't advertising in the American Rifleman any more," Rand observed.