Authors: M. K. Wren
A Multitude of Sins
By M. K. Wren
Copyright 2014 by Martha K. Renfroe
Cover Copyright 2014 by Untreed Reads Publishing
Cover Design by Ginny Glass
The author is hereby established as the sole holder of the copyright. Either the publisher (Untreed Reads) or author may enforce copyrights to the fullest extent.
Previously published in print, 1975.
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the publisher or author, except in the case of a reviewer, who may quote brief passages embodied in critical articles or in a review. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
This is a work of fiction. The characters, dialogue and events in this book are wholly fictional, and any resemblance to companies and actual persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Also by M. K. Wren and Untreed Reads Publishing
Curiosity Didn’t Kill the Cat
who somehow made room for one more.
A Multitude of Sins
M. K. Wren
Meg stretched herself, obliterating most of Harney and Malheur Counties in a gray fog, then she smiled her Mona Lisa smile, blue jewel eyes half closed, and challenged him to do something about it.
He did, with a resigned sigh, closing his calculations of day’s marches and encampments inside the leather-bound tome, then devoting his attention to a gentle, systematic rubbing, working down from her ears to her tail.
Conan Flagg knew himself to be a sucker for blue-eyed females, and this blue-point Siamese was totally female. But being also very much a lady, she was seldom overdemanding. She indicated her satisfaction with a thrumming purr and after a few minutes lapsed again into catnap.
He leaned back and rested his eyes, strained with fine print and illegible topographic markings, with a long look out the window to his right. Past the chimneys and roofs of the village, the Pacific Ocean lay shining in the April sun, gray-green, dappled with lavender cloud shadows.
To his left, through the one-way glass on the door, he could look into the bookshop and across to the front entrance. His view included the end of the counter and Miss Dobie, her determinedly auburn hair in close-ranked curl. She was contending with a horde of youngsters with her usual inertial efficiency, circling the dour square of her face with a benevolent smile. Beatrice Dobie had no great fondness for children, but she thoroughly enjoyed the dinging clank of the ancient cash register registering cash.
He was spared that sound as well as the clamor of exuberant youth; this small sanctum, which he called an office, was soundproofed. Satisfied that Miss Dobie needed no assistance, he lit a cigarette and took a moment to savor the Ravel
Quartet in F
playing on the tape deck, his dark eyes focused on the opposite wall. The Leonard Baskin woodcut was new and deepened the shadows at the corners of his mouth with a smile of pleasure.
But a few seconds later, the smile vanished when Miss Dobie knocked and hastily opened the door.
“Sorry, Mr. Flagg, but I just found this on the counter.” She handed him a long white envelope. “Looks like somebody’s trying to save money on postage.”
He frowned at the address. It was printed with a rubber stamp; the one available at the counter.
THE HOLLIDAY BEACH BOOK SHOP
AND RENTAL LIBRARY
BOX 73 HOLLIDAY BEACH, OREGON
CONAN JOSEPH FLAGG, PROPRIETOR
His name was underlined in red, probably with Miss Dobie’s pen, also available at the counter. The letter inside the envelope was typed on quality bond; a modern typeface, possibly an Olympia electric portable. There was no letterhead, signature, or name on it.
“Who left it, Miss Dobie?”
She shrugged, her mouth a thin, nonplussed line.
“I don’t know. I was upstairs looking for that Kathleen Norris book for Mrs. Hoskins, then the school bus dumped the kids just as I got back downstairs. I didn’t even notice that letter till I got rid of most of the little—” She turned and sighed at one of the youngsters. “Danny, please stick to the children’s section.”
“Can you remember who was in the shop when—” The bell on the counter clanged for attention. “Never mind. I’ll read it first and see if it’s worth the questions.”
“Probably a fan letter,” she said, closing the door with an arch smile. “Or a
“Typewritten?” But she was gone. He took a short puff on his cigarette and began reading the letter.
Dear Mr. Flagg,
Forgive me this unorthodox approach, but I find myself in an unusual situation. I need professional assistance of a kind I know you’re qualified to offer, although your private investigator’s license seems to be a well-kept secret.
It isn’t so secret that you’re majority stockholder of the Ten-Mile Ranch Corporation, and as such, I realize you can well afford to turn down any cases that don’t excite your interest. This is one reason for my reluctance to commit either my problem or my identity to paper. There are other reasons, but they’re part of the problem.
All I’m asking is a chance to explain the problem to you
Please believe me, that is imperative. I’ve formulated a plan to assure the necessary privacy. If you’re willing to grant me an interview on these terms, you can indicate assent simply by carrying out your part in the plan. If you don’t do so, I’ll accept that as a refusal, and I assure you, won’t bother you again.
I would like to meet with you at your house. There’s a path leading from the beach to the patio south of the house, and that will be my avenue of approach. I know your housekeeper, Mrs. Early, is there on Mondays and always leaves promptly at four. I mention this because you may wish to have her transmit a message to me. I’d prefer to have no one else involved, but I’ll leave that decision to you.
I’ll be on your patio at four o’clock. If you aren’t there, or I don’t receive a message from you by four-thirty, I’ll understand you aren’t interested in my case.
His first response was annoyance—at the letter, its writer, its method of delivery, the school bus and its contents for delaying Miss Dobie’s discovery of it, and even Miss Dobie for reasons he couldn’t define beyond that coy
It was now only five minutes until four.
He reached across Meg for the phone, then waited impatiently through five rings for an answer.
“H’lo? Flagg residence?” The thin voice was underlain with wheezing.
“Mrs. Early. I was afraid I’d missed you.”
“Oh, Mr. Flagg? Well, I was jest about out the door, and Chester’s outside leanin’ on the horn waitin’ for me.”
“Sorry to keep him waiting, but I’m glad I caught you because I…ah, forgot my house keys this morning.”
That produced a bemused cackle. “Oh, I swear, Mr. Flagg, if you ain’t the most absent-minded man I ever did know. Why, if your head wasn’t—”
firmly attached, fortunately. As for my immediate problem, you can solve it very nicely by leaving the patio door unlocked for me.” Then he added, “Just leave the door open. Air the place out a little.”
“Leave it open? But anybody could jest walk right up from the beach and—”
“The path isn’t that obvious, and you can’t see the door from the beach. Anyway, I think I’m coming home soon.”
“Well, all right, but it jest don’t seem right to—”
“Mrs. Early,” he said carefully, “leave the door open. Please. Oh, and if you don’t think Chester will get too impatient, would you mind putting on a fresh pot of coffee?”
“Sure, Mr. Flagg. Chester’s used to waitin’ fer me. He’s been Early all his life.” She paused to appreciate her threadbare witticism with a gleeful chuckle. “Oh—don’t fergit to look in your fridge. Had some spare ribs left over yestiddy. Didn’t want ’em goin’ to waste.”
Conan laughed. “To throw away your spare ribs would be more than a waste; it would be a crime. Thanks, Mrs. Early.”
He looked at his watch again, then at the letter, not yet fully convinced he should answer the anonymous summons. Perhaps it was only reflex that induced him to tell Mrs. Early to leave the door open, literally and figuratively.
The incidence of neatly corrected typos suggested he wasn’t dealing with an experienced typist, but the writer was obviously educated; the letter was literate and even rational in tone despite its unusual content.
The writer was also very familiar with some aspects of his personal life, but only the reference to his private investigator’s license concerned him. That
a well-kept secret. But not perfectly kept; he had a file of anonymous inquiries from obvious cr
or paranoids. He was also aware that certain people regarded Conan Flagg, private investigator, with some animosity, and wouldn’t be above setting a lethal trap for him.
The latter consideration he dismissed. The letter was too well written for any of the potential Flagg-killers he knew. He was also inclined to dismiss mental aberration.
Still, he wondered at the repeated references to privacy, the insistence on meeting at his house, and the approach through the patio, which like the path, was heavily screened by trees. And the path began in a small cove hidden from view except in a narrow arc directly west. Jane Doe’s “problem” included a pronounced fear of observation.
Then he frowned. Why was he thinking in terms of
Doe rather than John? Something about the syntax, perhaps. He began rereading the letter, but stopped himself and returned it to its envelope.
He was procrastinating. As if he still had a choice to make. He
keep this appointment. At least, he’d find out about the problem. And the writer. But it rankled, this feeling that he’d been pushed into a decision before he had time to think it out.
He rose, pausing to give Meg a brief rub.
“Wish me luck, Duchess.”
She was late.
Isadora Canfield looked at her watch, finding it hard to focus. Ten minutes past four.
What if Conan Flagg came for this appointment, and finding the patio empty, left in disgust? Should she leave another letter? Sorry, Mr. Flagg. Couldn’t meet you today because it took fifteen minutes for me to muster the nerve to walk up this path. How about tomorrow?
It was so hot for April, even under the dense shadow of jackpines wind-cast over the rough footpath. A creek chattered nearby, hidden in the impenetrable cover of salal.
No, it wasn’t that hot. Her palms and face were damp with perspiration for the same reason her throat was dry.
Isadora Canfield had never walked this path before, and realized now she was a fool to think she could without being reduced to a state of quivering terror. The child on the beach last week had been so nonchalant. Sure, it goes up to Mr. Flagg’s house. Jeremy—so he called himself—cheerfully admitted to frequent trespassing and provided a detailed description of the path and the Flagg residence, including the patio and sliding glass door opening onto it.