Murder in the Gunroom
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?"