Murder in the Gunroom
Chapter 13

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Think it might be the Fleming pistols?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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