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Authors: Elizabeth Daly

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BOOK: Any Shape or Form
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“Well, I'm glad he could keep her here. It's a dreadful thing for Johnny Redfield.”

Mosson said: “I gather that you're inclined to wipe him off the list, then.”

“The list?”

“Of possible murderers.”

“There are no possible murderers on my list of acquaintances.”

“That's definite, anyhow. Mr. Redfield tells us he had a financial motive; his aunt's property, about thirty thousand dollars.”

“I shouldn't murder anybody for thirty thousand dollars; I don't know why I should think other people would. Other sane people, I mean. Other decent people. Lieutenant Griggs—”

“Yes, Miss Ryder?”

“Could some insane person have got in?”

“Well...” Griggs pursed up his lips. “I suppose anybody could have got in. But an insane person? There were those gloves, you know, and that piled-up turf. It wasn't insane to use all those precautions.”

“But there are monomaniacs who are very cunning.”

Griggs said: “We'll keep the possibility in mind.” He shuffled his papers, and then looked up at her: “You've had your place here a long time, haven't you, Miss Ryder?”

“Oh goodness, yes. We had a lot of property in this part of the world once.”

“Ryders, Redfields, Drummonds. They go ‘way back.”

“But I sold everything off long ago, luckily for me. Everything but my few acres down the hill. We all had real farms once; my grandmother took charge in her own dairy. I had my own little churn, and I always went up to the pastures in the evening to help round up the cows. I had a calf given me every summer, and I never could see why it had vanished the next year.”

“You've known the Drummonds all your life, haven't you?”

“I've known Walter all
his
life. I've known Blanche since he married her, a dozen years ago.”

“Would you object to saying whether you know of any kind of a love affair between Mrs. Drummond and Mr. David Malcolm?”

She looked less angry than disturbed. After a moment she said: “I suppose you have to ask all kinds of questions, but I don't know why you should ask that. And I can't answer you, because I don't know a thing about it. I shouldn't dream of gossiping to the police.” She added severely: “I hope you aren't being led astray. Mr. Malcolm is a very interesting young man, and we're all fond of him.” After another pause she amplified this: “The Drummonds and the Malcolms have a great deal in common—they're all good at sports.”

“I understand that Miss Malcolm and Drummond are great friends,” said Griggs, studying his notes.

Abigail was silent. Presently she said: “I suppose it's those silly maids. I hope it isn't Henry Gamadge. If it is”—she cast a withering look at him—“all I can say is that criminology has ruined his character.”

“Gamadge hasn't said a word,” declared Mosson.

“People put such horrible constructions on the simplest and most harmless behavior,” said Abigail.

“So they do.” Griggs looked up at her. “The deceased, now. Redfield's cook thinks she was definitely crazy. Some kind of a witch or something, too.”

“I must say I thought better of Reina Debenham. Mrs. Malcolm was flighty and odd. That's all.”

“Was she the kind to make enemies, would you say?”

“I don't really know. I only met her twice. Enemies?” Miss Ryder pondered. “She certainly wasn't tactful.” Then she cast a hasty glance at Gamadge, who was looking at the fire, and added: “But people aren't murdered for tactlessness, fortunately for us all.”

“Wonder why the servants disliked her so much.”

“Johnny Redfield did say that she gave a good deal of trouble; required waiting on, and didn't like Reina's coffee, which is delicious but a trifle more roasted than we get it. Reina roasted it herself, when she could get the beans.”

“Did Mrs. Malcolm talk to you about that companion of hers, that Miss Gouch?”

“I think she did, once, last July. In the course of conversation.”

“Did you get any impression that there was ill feeling there? Mr. Redfield seemed to think that Miss Gouch was treated rather shabbily by Mrs. Malcolm because she insulted her religion—that sun cult, you know, or whatever it was.”

“Religion?” Miss Ryder looked aloof and vague. “Would you call it a religion? I'm Anglican-Catholic myself, and rather high.”

Mosson interposed gravely: “You evidently didn't have much in common with the deceased, Miss Ryder.”

“Nothing at all,” said Abigail cheerfully, “so far as tastes go.”

“She didn't talk about this Miss Gouch in a way that made you think Miss Gouch was an enemy?” asked Griggs.

“No,” said Abigail, rather startled. “She didn't at all. She was rather complimentary about her, as I remember the conversation.”

“Now these young Malcolms.”

“Lieutenant,” said Abigail, “I cannot believe that either of them would commit a crime. I don't know them well, of course; I've barely met them. I haven't exchanged twenty words with either of them since they first began coming up here to stay with Johnny Redfield. But they're both highly educated and well-bred, and such people simply do not murder people all of a sudden. They can't. It isn't possible.”

“Not all of a sudden, no.”

“If you're thinking about the way they felt towards their stepmother, then I can only say that millions of people feel like that, and don't commit murder.”

“I wasn't thinking about the way they felt towards their stepmother, Miss Ryder.”

“You're thinking about the money.”

“Yes. That's the big motive for murder.”

“Well, all I can say is that two people who behaved less as though they meant to commit a murder…”

“Can't go by that, can we?”

“Of course, Miss Ryder,” said Mosson, “we can't expect you to look at these things as we professionals do. But you suggest an insane criminal; I suggest—off the record—that a young person with a grudge can nurse that grudge until there's nothing else left for him in life. Or for her. I can think of two feminine examples, and one of them was only sixteen. And both were members of the upper-middle-class, and to this day a lot of people—in spite of the sixteen-year-old's confession—can't believe she did it. Here we have a big stake in money besides the other motive; I shouldn't be at all surprised to find that something very like insanity might have developed. Hasn't this young Malcolm a head injury that never got well?”

Abigail, looking deeply depressed, said that he had. “But don't call
him
insane, Mr. Mosson! You ought to hear him talk. He's as cool and chatty as if—as if nothing had happened.”

“In his present circumstances,” said Mosson, “I'm not sure that it's particularly sane of him to be cool and chatty.”

Griggs rose, and the others also got to their feet. Griggs said: “You can go home whenever you want to, Miss Ryder. Thanks for giving us your opinion.”

“I'll wait and see whether I can be of any further use to Johnny Redfield.” She stood looking from one to the other representative of authority. “You couldn't use any of this guesswork as evidence, could you?”

“Afraid we couldn't,” said Mosson. “We're just trying to get a picture.”

He opened the door for her. When he turned back he was smiling. So was Griggs.

“Go ahead and gloat,” said Gamadge. “Poor Abby.”

“I said Miss Ryder wouldn't lie,” Griggs reminded him smugly.

“What I call transparent honesty,” agreed Mosson. “You can see right through it. I don't think she includes Cora Malcolm in the case, though; she didn't bother to give her a build-up.”

“Well”—Griggs started for the door—“we'll clear off the Drummonds now. Start with Mrs.”

Mosson sank back upon his sofa. He said gloomily: “I hate this case.”

“So do I,” said Griggs. “Hate it like poison.”

CHAPTER EIGHT
Animated

S
TATE OFFICER STROMER,
who ushered Blanche Drummond into the studio, was a phlegmatic youth; but even he stood for a moment as if bedazzled, looking after the straight, tall, long-waisted figure, and the curled arrangement of gold-brown hair drawn up from the long white neck, before he withdrew and shut the vision out.

It was the new animation in her face that made it seem really beautiful, the unwonted color in her cheeks that brightened her eyes. But the brightness made the eyes seem harder, and the animation aged her by years. Gamadge had never seen her so handsome or so old.

She went quickly around the end of Mosson's sofa and sat down beside him.

“Mr. Mosson,'“ she said, “isn't this dreadful? Could you give me a drink? I really need one.”

Mosson began to pour the drink. Griggs, ignored and rather at a loss, waited standing behind his table. Gamadge, ignored, leaned forward smiling to push the siphon nearer and drop a piece of ice in her tumbler.

“Walter and I were so glad to know you were here,” said Blanche. “It's such a comfort to have somebody on the spot who knows all about such things and isn't likely to jump to conclusions. Now of course we all think that an insane person got in. Unless that little Wilson boy—”

Mosson said: “Here's your highball, Mrs. Drummond. The Wilson boy was at home with his family. I wonder if you'd be so good as to address yourself to Lieutenant Griggs? He's conducting the examination of witnesses.”

“Oh.” Her head slowly turned, and she smiled at Griggs. “How silly of me. Am I to sit there?” She rose, glass in hand. “I didn't know this was a formal investigation. I thought the sheriff conducted them—our dear old sheriff in Old Bridge.”

Gamadge, with a knowing grin at her, carried his little table over and set it beside the middle witness chair.

“Less than dust though I be,” he murmured, “let me make myself useful in my poor way.”

“Henry, darling, we adore you! But you're not a professional. We must rely on professionals now.” She sat down, took a cigarette from Gamadge, and a light.

Griggs sat glumly down and looked at her. “Sheriff is on holiday,” he said. “And we're out of the town limits anyway. We scratched up a deputy in Old Bridge, though, and he's now down in the grounds helping our cameraman. You won't get anything more formal than this, Mrs. Drummond, until the inquest tomorrow afternoon.”

“Oh. I see.” She sat with her tumbler in one hand, her cigarette drooping from the fingers of the other. Her long, slim legs were extended, her feet crossed. Officer Ames dragged his eyes from the shimmering convolutions of her hair and applied himself to his notes.

“Now I understand,” said Griggs, “that this afternoon noon you caught up with Mr. David Malcolm outside that rose garden—while he was hanging up a couple of dead crows—and had a word with him.”

“Oh; yes. I did. But I didn't catch up with him, exactly, you know!” She made the correction with gentle tolerance. “I just happened to pass him; I was on my way to the greenhouse.”

“Would you tell me what he said to you?”

“What he said to me? Why on earth do you—but of course you must have some reason for asking that. Let me see. There had been some talk about our going down for a walk to the swimming pool, but I had realized that it would be rough and perhaps wet, and”—she looked at her delicate shoes—“I decided not to go. I told him I wasn't going after all, and I think he just said all right.”

“And he went off alone?”

“Well, I didn't see him go, because I walked straight across the road and over to the greenhouse.”

“You stayed inside there for fifteen minutes or more, probably twenty,” said Griggs.

“Did I?” She took a sip of highball. “To tell you the truth, Lieutenant,” she smiled at him, “I was a little tired of the party. I had had quite enough of poor Mrs. Malcolm. She embarrassed me.”

“Embarrassed you?”

“Her clothes were so insane. She wore a wreath, you know, poor old soul, and a sort of dressing gown, and bare feet in beach sandals. To be perfectly frank, it made me sick to look at her.”

Griggs picked up a sheet of paper and put it down again. “You were just killing time in that greenhouse?”

“Until I could decently suggest going home.”

“You heard that third shot—the one that killed Mrs. Malcolm?”

“Yes, I did; faintly.”

“Who did you think fired it?”

“I didn't think. I knew the rifle was there where David Malcolm left it, and I didn't know that Henry Gamadge and Mrs. Malcolm had left the place. I thought—or rather I should have thought if I'd thought anything—that Henry had fired it.” She added: “Of course people will say that the Malcolms had a motive.”

“People?”

“People that don't know them.”

“They had a motive, Mrs. Drummond.”

“But they didn't know they'd have an opportunity. They didn't know Mrs. Malcolm was going up to the rockery, and they didn't know they could shoot her from that one place in the rose garden.” She added brightly: “I don't know what you can do in a case like this.”

Griggs looked at her.

“I mean you can't arrest both the Malcolms, can you, just because one of them might have done it?”

Griggs said after a pause: “This is a preliminary examination. The evidence hasn't more than begun to come in yet. And you mustn't assume that we're only thinking of the Malcolms, Mrs. Drummond.”

“But who on earth else...” She stared at him. Then she said: “I meant that you simply have to have something definite, before you arrest people. Don't you?”

“Definite? Motive's definite; Mrs. Drummond.”

“But don't juries want
more,
when they're—oh, it's too ridiculous! The Malcolms! If you only knew them! That is, nobody
can
know Cora; but at least they'd know she wouldn't commit a murder. David is the simplest, kindest—why, he's a perfect child. And he was ever so much farther away from the place than Cora was—he picked those asters by the pool. That's twice as far as the tool house.”

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