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Authors: Elizabeth Daly

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BOOK: Any Shape or Form
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She gave him a cynical look from half-closed eyes, but made no comment on that. She went on:

“I got the bike at the drugstore where I got a container of coffee and some crullers; the clerk's brother rented it to me. They know when I rode off, and they got some fun out of it, too. These skirts we wear now, you could ride a fence rail in them; a few inches more leg, who cares?

“The point was, I like a picnic, and I didn't want to break in on the doings here too early. Those two—Dave and Cora—I wanted to give them plenty of time to get it all settled about the extra money, and then I was going to drop in. In case the kids might have ruined the deal after all; you never know how they'll go on, fooling the way they do when they get together. I was going to see Mrs. Malcolm myself, if I had to. I know a lot about old ladies.

“But just tell me how I could have fixed it up worse for myself. Not that I care. They can't do a thing to me.”

“You think the outsider theory too farfetched?”

“They can fool with it if they like, they won't get anywhere with that kind of business. But imagine how I fixed myself. The clerk fitted me out with a shopping bag to hang on the handle bars, and I telephoned this inn at Old Bridge for a room for tonight, and off I rode. Ten miles to go, and I took four hours to get here—it's well after eight!”

“How did you while away the time, Mrs. Malcolm?”

“In a field, up a nice country lane. I found a place in the sun halfway up a rock, and I had my snack and my coffee and some cigarettes. I had a nap. I never started off again till it got chilly after the sun went down.”

She stopped, and looked down again at the dead woman. When she spoke again it was briskly: “Well, they've got the money, anyway.”

Gamadge, slightly horrified, said that perhaps they had.

“I bet it was an accident.”

“They've more or less abandoned that theory.”

“Accident or no accident, those kids would never do a thing like this. Dave Malcolm is too smart to do it or let Cora do it. And he could talk a jury's ears off, anyhow.”

“You won't worry, so long as they get the money?”

She smiled. “That's right. I won't worry.”

“May I ask what you did with your bicycle?”

“Parked it against a tree after I pushed it up the lane. Boy. Am I hungry after that push. The kids always said that Mr. Redfield's a nice man; I'd better go down and meet him and ask for something to eat. You know, I think it's lucky I came.”

“Because your husband's financial position is now so different?”

“Well, it's more fun to look forward to a lot of money than to a few more hundreds, isn't it?”

“I must say I admire your courage. It was already a legend; now I find it a living fact.”

She smiled. “It takes more than a thing like this to scare me. And it takes a lot to scare those twins.” She added: “And they don't do many foolish things.”

“Canny, are they?”

“Scotch, all right!”

“Well, I strongly advise you to go down now and introduce yourself to the police, and tell them your story.”

“Where's Dave?”

“He was in the dining room a few minutes ago.”

“I didn't see him when I looked in.”

“He was up beside one of the windows.”

“I'll go down and find the cops.”

“You'll find the important one on the right when you reach the hall.”

“Thanks.” She walked around the bed and out into the hall. Gamadge, following, saw her down the stairs and practically into the arms of Officer Stromer. He heard his astonished bark and her cool reply, then returned to the best room and closed the door.

He turned on all the lights. Then he crossed the room to a small desk under the north window. It was of course empty of Mrs. Malcolm's papers—Griggs had them. It was spotlessly neat—Alice or Tilly would look to that. If it had ever contained a letter or memorandum providing a clue to the present whereabouts of Miss Gouch, Griggs would have found it by this time.

Gamadge went to the dresser and found Mrs. Malcolm's expensive alligator handbag in the top drawer. It contained her ration books, her keys, stamps, an old shopping list, a couple of dollars in change and several hundreds of dollars in bills. Redfield was probably right in thinking that her bank balance had not been depleted during the summer—she had come to Idlers well provided with cash; and no doubt she had settled most of her outstanding accounts in Pasadena before she left for her long visit East.

A small address book in the handbag did not supply the address, permanent or other, of Miss Gouch. Had Mrs. Malcolm acquired her from a registry office or from an acquaintance or a friend? And would registry office or friend have her permanent address, or only that of her previous position? Could such persons as Miss Gouch be located at all during the summer months, between jobs?

The top drawer held gloves, monogrammed linen handkerchiefs, oddments, and two old jewel cases and a leather jewel box. In one of the jewel cases Redfield or somebody had replaced the diamond cluster which had been on the dead woman's breast; in the other were two rings which had sparkled on her fingers that afternoon. As custom orders, they had left her the wedding ring. Lesser ornaments were jumbled in the leather box—perhaps the heart-shaped pin had been among them, the Token which was now lost.

Other drawers in the dresser contained expensive, plain, handmade undergarments of prewar quality—Mrs. Malcolm would have had such a stock of them as should last the duration. They were of comfortable, elderly cut, and all monogrammed.

The dresser top had glass to cover its fine old polished surface. There was a framed photograph of a dour-looking man on it, a bearded man with pale eyes. No doubt Mr. Archibald Malcolm—his children had not inherited their coloring from him. Had they inherited the ruthless determination that showed in what could be seen of his tight mouth? Not a man of sentiment.

The handsome and costly, but plain, toilet articles on the dresser looked as if they might have belonged in a fitted traveling case. They, like Mrs. Malcolm's other personal belongings, were monogrammed
J.R.M.
Gamadge found the traveling case—a fine but small pigskin one—in the larger of the two large cupboards. It contained no papers relating to Miss Gouch, and had no inner compartment for letters or jewelry. There were two other pieces of small luggage, and a small wardrobe trunk; this stood open in an angle of the cupboard, and was empty. No clue to the present whereabouts of Gouch here.

The other cupboard was fitted with hooks, and with shelves above and below. It held dresses and coats, robes, hats, slippers and shoes; a plain, conservative wardrobe except for three bright tea gowns or house robes and their matching sandals; Mrs. Malcolm had chosen them all of the same length and cut, and seemed to have liked cheerful colors in her negligees. One was pink, one blue, and here was the yellow one. It had no bloodstains on it, and had been hung up with the rest. A flannel bath gown near it had lost its cord—Gamadge found the cord attached to the yellow robe by a safety pin.

The yellow wreath had probably sunk long since to the bottom of the rock pool, but on the shelf, among other hats, was the straw shade-hat it had been taken from.

There was nothing in any pocket of coat or robe or dressing gown.

Gamadge closed the cupboard door, and without looking again at the sheeted figure on the bed went out of the best room. He closed its door behind him, and turned right. When he reached the entrance to the north wing he turned right again, and walked the length of the wing to the back stairs. Descending them, he followed a passageway that led past kitchen and pantries to a lobby. One of its doors gave on the terrace, the other on the dining room; he found the latter empty, but the buffet supper had not been cleared away, and the coffee urn was still steaming.

He helped himself to cold beef and salad, bread and butter, fruit and cake, and filled a cup with coffee. Then, drawing up a chair, he sat down comfortably to his meal.

When he had finished, he crossed the hall—Stromer, he was amused to note, now guarded the front door—and went into the living room. Peace reigned there. So far as any newcomer could have guessed, no murder had been committed that afternoon, and no outsider had arrived at Idlers. The Partisans were following their chosen line.

Miss Ryder had in her characteristic fashion found herself something to do; she had laid out a patience on a small table to the right of the fireplace, and was busy at it; firmly disregarding Redfield's advice and censure, and ignoring the officious forefinger with which he pointed out combinations that she had missed. He was hanging over the back of her chair; anxious and worried, still badly shaken, but still able to play up as a host.

Blanche Drummond sat on an ottoman at the left of the hearth; she was doing nothing; and her eyes wandered. Walter Drummond stood behind her, his arm on the mantelshelf. He was smoking, and he watched Abigail's game.

David Malcolm sat in the west window seat, reading. His sister, on the east window seat, sat looking out on the darkness of the terrace.

Gamadge joined her; if the Partisans could behave as though nothing had happened, then so could he.

“You were born in Oregon, I think, Miss Malcolm?”

“Yes, My father had a place near Portland.”

“Do you remember it?”

“Pretty well. It was a wonderful place for children. I often think of it.”

The disinherited, how often they think of it! Gamadge said reflectively: “I'm cursed with the sense of the past, too.”

“Are you?” She turned her head to look at him. “I didn't mean that I was, exactly. In fact, I'm not. I only think of the place in Oregon as a scene. It's because we have no roots.” She added: “I mean that's why my brother and I have no sentiment about the past. We were never at home anywhere—we were foreigners. We didn't belong anywhere, and no place belonged to us. But David thinks that's better for people; he thinks you get a broader point of view.”

“He may be right. I haven't that point of view, so I can't tell.
I'm
a mere jelly of sentiment, you know.”

“Are you? I shouldn't have thought it.”

“Oh, yes. I see some piece of junk, and I become sad; to think that it was somebody's treasure once, and is now a treasure no longer to anyone.”

“That is being sentimental!”

“Oh, I assure you…”

But she was looking beyond him, and her face had changed. Gamadge turned, to see Mrs. David Malcolm standing in the doorway, Lieutenant Griggs looming in her wake. She was smiling as her eyes passed from one occupant of the room to another; she looked very big in her short suit, which revealed a notable length of sturdy leg in mesh stockings. She looked very blond, with her little stylish hat perched on top of her tightly curled hair.

Redfield's face, as he took her in, was a blank of astonishment. He simply couldn't imagine who she was. Drummond looked surprised, too, Blanche Drummond merely shocked. Clothes like those Mrs. Malcolm wore really shocked her.

Malcolm rose, and he returned her smile. “Well, Freddy,” he said, “I see you managed it. Do you feel rewarded?”

Her good-humored, cynical gaze fixed him keenly. “Just as well I came,” she said. “You kids need me to look out for you. I bet if I'd been here this afternoon none of it would have happened.”

CHAPTER ELEVEN
The Outsider

J
OHNNY REDFIELD,
after no more than a few seconds of astonishment, hurried forward. “Good heavens, you must be Mrs. David.”

“That's right.” She cast a merry glance in her husband's direction, and took Redfield's proffered hand.

“But I had no idea you were in the neighborhood.” He looked as if this new complication were almost more than he could grasp.

“Neither had Dave and Cora.” She smiled.

“How ghastly to meet you for the first time in these circumstances,” said Johnny, trying his best to keep things on the social plane.

“Yes, it's bad, isn't it? I was flabbergasted when I heard,” said Mrs. David cheerfully.

“But when did you come?”

“About an hour ago. I biked from Rivertown.”

“Biked! I could have sent somebody. I should have managed it.”

“I bet you would. The kids always said you were mighty nice. Their best friend.”

“I've tried to be a friend to them. Do sit down, Mrs. David. You must be exhausted.” He glanced about him as if distraught, and at last urged her towards a sofa against the wall opposite the fire. But when they reached it he stopped.

“Am I quite out of my mind? Let me introduce you. Miss Ryder, Mrs. Drummond, Drummond, and our friend Henry Gamadge.”

She nodded coolly to each, but when her eyes met Gamadge's she favored him with a broad grin. He returned it.

“And you must have something to eat. Or have you had your supper somewhere?” asked Redfield. “I don't—I simply cannot believe that you biked from Rivertown!”

“Oh, I did. But I've had supper. When I came, the cops got me.”

“Cops? Oh. You mean you've been talking to Griggs.” Redfield seemed for the first time aware of Griggs in the doorway. The lieutenant withdrew into the hall and out of sight.

“Yes,” said Mrs. David Malcolm. “And to somebody in plain clothes.”

“Plain clothes?”

“But he's left. A man named Mosson.”

“Oh. Yes. Our State's Attorney.”

“Funny guy. We had a laugh or two when I told them about my trip here. But that Mosson would get a laugh out of the dead march. Anyway, they were having a tray. They sent the trooper out to get me something. I haven't tasted such a piece of beef since the fall of forty-one.”

“Well, I'm very glad indeed that you were taken care of.” He settled her on the sofa and sat beside her—a perfect host in difficulties. “David, my boy, it's quite time for drinks. The maids have had a long day, we won't disturb them. You know your way about the pantry. Will you bring us the usual tray?”

BOOK: Any Shape or Form
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