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Authors: Elizabeth Daly

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BOOK: Any Shape or Form
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Johnny at least could verify this. “We know where
you've
been,” he went on. “There's only one place where those grow in my woods.”

Gamadge knew the place; a shadowed spot, on the far side of the Loop and some distance off the road. He said: “You couldn't have been with Johnny long; that's a fact.”

“I'm sorry to tell you, Abigail,” said Blanche Drummond in a tone of regret, “that while you've been away your cousin Henry has quietly gone mad. He wants to know where we've all been, and how long we were there, and why.”

Miss Ryder, acquainted with Gamadge's “plodding” ways, was a little taken aback. She gave him a sharp glance. What she saw in his face did not reassure her; she asked quickly: “What is it?”

He had stepped back; the others were now in front of him, and formed a ragged semicircle; with David Malcolm at the left end of it and his sister near the entrance to the rose garden on the right. Gamadge said: “I've been waiting until you were all here. Hang on to yourself, Abby; bad news. Mrs. Malcolm is dead.”

Cora Malcolm broke the ensuing blank silence. She swung to face him, and with a gesture toward the rose garden, asked: “In
there
?”

“No. Up beyond the rock pool.”

The Malcolms looked across the arc of the semicircle at each other; their features were rigid. Johnny Redfield came to life:

“You mean—Gamadge! What...? Heart failure? A stroke?” He dropped the basket of marigolds and began to run up the lawn.

Gamadge called after him: “Redfield—don't go.”

“Not go? What do you—”

“She was killed. Somebody shot her with the rifle.”

He nodded towards the rose garden. “In there; somebody shot her from in there.”

Johnny stood with his arms hanging; he looked dazed and incredulous. Drummond said: “Good Lord; I heard it—a third shot. I thought…” He turned his head to stare at David Malcolm.

Malcolm's lips curved into a faint smile. He said: “Not me.”

Johnny gasped: “Some fool picked up the gun and shot at a crow or something. Accident. David—you left the rifle somewhere?”

“Yes,” said Malcolm. “I did.”

“My God. We're in for—” He started up the slope again.

Gamadge said: “Johnny, wait a minute. Don't you understand? Nobody's owned up.”

Redfield halted again. He looked over his shoulder. “Owned up?”

“Nobody's going to take the blame.”

Redfield slowly turned and came back. “I don't—oh. Yes. I see. But nobody
knew
—until this minute.” He looked from face to face. “I can hardly take it in myself. Where was she? Did you see it happen, Gamadge?”

“Not quite. I looked up a few seconds later, and saw her fall. She had been standing in front of the big birch. She was in plain sight from that corner of the place in there. Johnny, it wasn't an accident.”

Blanche Drummond cried out: “Of course it was! It must have been. What else could it be? I know what happened, Johnny; the Wilson boy came back for something. He's only fifteen; it's just what a boy would do—see a rifle and snatch it up, and never wait to find out if it was loaded. And point it at the first thing, and pull the trigger.”

Gamadge said: “Then the Wilson boy waited to put gloves on, Blanche, and piled up sods of turf to stand on.”

Johnny faltered: “Piled up sods?”

“Were sods piled up before?”

“I can't imagine what you mean. No sods are piled anywhere now. We started cutting in this nearest corner, but my old occasional man couldn't manage it after all.” He turned to Blanche. “For heaven's sake don't spread such stuff about the Wilson boy, Blanche. He isn't here on Sundays.”

“We can soon settle the whereabouts of the Wilson boy, I hope,” said Gamadge.

“Yes. But the thing is now”—again Redfield started for the rockery—”I can't let her lie there, Gamadge. Not another moment.”

“Johnny”—Gamadge's tone halted him again—“you know you can't touch her until the police come. In a few minutes you can get something and cover her; but now—don't you see? It's our one chance.”

“To do what?” shouted Redfield.

“To try to eliminate some of the crowd before the police do come. To keep what names we can off the record. Once they're on it, and the papers get them—nobody ever forgets. But if we can find out where everybody was, and what they were doing, and whom they saw…”

Redfield took out his handkerchief and wiped his face. “This is ghastly.” He looked at his guests, a pleading look. “Of course it was an accident. I understand—the unfortunate party is flabbergasted for the moment. But now—we're civilized people. We can't let anybody else take the blame. I mean the unfortunate party can't. Nobody'll think the worse of anybody—hunting and shooting accidents happen all the time. We'll all stand by.”

Silence answered him.

Gamadge said: “You see how it is, Johnny. I'll take the responsibility for the delay—just a few minutes.”

Drummond turned again to Malcolm, whose dark face was inscrutable. Drummond himself, big and bony, redheaded and red-faced, stolid and taciturn, was far the more typical Scot of the two. He asked: “Where did you leave the damned thing?”

Blanche Drummond broke in shrilly: “In the rose garden. We came up here and heard voices and went in to show the dead crows. Mrs. Malcolm was there with Henry; Henry saw us—saw David give the rifle to the statue.”

“Saw him do what?” Redfield gaped at her.

“Give the rifle to that wooden statue. Henry saw him.”

“Yes,” said Malcolm, in his low, pleasant, uninflected voice, “and warned me, too.”

CHAPTER FIVE
Joking Aside


W
E COULD JOKE
about the rifle half an hour ago,” said Gamadge. “Now we must—”

“Just one moment.” David Malcolm stood in an easy posture, one hand in a pocket, the other gently swishing the long sheaf of wild asters against his leg. There was a half-smile on his lips, but under this appearance of cool assurance a close observer would have seen tautness and control.

“Yes, Mr. Malcolm?”

“Do I understand that you were
with
Mrs. Malcolm?”

“Every moment, although I didn't happen to have my eyes on her at the moment she died.”

“Then excuse me for asking: why exactly do you feel yourself in a position to conduct an inquiry? I mean—even assuming that you had no motive for killing my stepmother, and no animus against her, you did, so far as the rest of us know, have time to do pretty much as you liked afterwards in the rose garden. Not that I suppose you would manipulate evidence in favor of—say—any old friend; at the expense—say—of newer acquaintances. But the fact that you had opportunity does rather remove you from the role of purely disinterested observer, doesn't it? Taken in connection with your entirely natural bias, you know.”

Redfield, his face screwed into an expression of vexed impatience, spluttered: “My dear boy, I beg of you, don't make an ass of yourself! Motive? Animus? It's only by the merest chance that Gamadge ever came up this afternoon, or ever met my poor aunt at all. As for bias—tampering with evidence—shocking nonsense! He wants to find out who's responsible for this tragedy, since nobody
takes
the responsibility! We couldn't get a better man to do it. For God's sake, David, don't obstruct! It—it doesn't
look
well.”

Malcolm, still smiling, said: “I note the cautionary implication of what you say. Let the expert in murder proceed.”

Gamadge, who had seemed to ignore this passage, went on equably:

“Check me at any point. What I am about to say may elicit protest from Mr. Malcolm, but Redfield will probably back me. My cousin Abigail is accounted for and eliminated.” He nodded towards Abby, who stood square and firmly planted, distress on her face and the spray of false Solomon's-seal in her hand. “Redfield will say whether he has ever seen false Solomon's-seal at any point in these woods nearer than the far side of the Loop.”

“No, I haven't,” said Redfield. “There isn't any, except in that clearing off the road, beside the stream.”

“If my cousin picked the spray there,” continued Gamadge, “she couldn't have been in the rose garden at five twenty-six, which I will call the time when the tragedy occurred. I certainly wasn't more than two minutes in getting Mrs. Malcolm off the edge of the pool, and laying her down in front of the big birch up there; then I looked at my watch, and it was five twenty-eight. Give Abby five minutes—a short estimate—to get down to the vegetable gardens and get off on her walk. Call it then seven minutes past five. Assume that the person who fired the rifle spent five minutes in the rose garden before the rifle was fired; I think that's fair—those turfs had to be dug up and arranged. That gives my cousin fourteen minutes to get to the clearing beside the stream and back again. She couldn't do it. I couldn't do it in fourteen, whichever way I went. She was back here at about five-forty, and that's when she would normally be back after a walk around the Loop—a good half-hour.”

Drummond said angrily: “You don't have to go through all that. Of course Miss Ryder's out of it.”

“Of course,” said Blanche. “Ridiculous.”

“I don't want any favors,” said Abigail.

“You don't need any, Miss Ryder,” said Malcolm, smiling, “so far as I'm concerned.”

“My cousin is of no use to us as a witness, either,” continued Gamadge, “because she wasn't here. She couldn't have seen who went or came at twenty minutes past five. Miss Malcolm.”

As he swung to her she started violently. She had not moved away from her position in front of the rose garden; she had been standing motionless, the croquet mallet held loosely in her hand. Now, lifting her head to face him, she paused a moment; then she said: “Yes?”

“You and Walter Drummond left the house shortly before five o'clock. You came down to the flower garden this way?” He gestured towards the gate below him and on his left.

“Yes.”

“You were with him there only a few minutes. You then left by the gate that opens on the Loop? I assume so, since Mrs. Malcolm and I didn't see you as we came down.”

“Yes; I went out that way.” She looked at Abigail. “Miss Ryder was just disappearing around the bend, where the road goes under the trees.”

“You came up past the rose garden, through the woods.”

“Yes. I heard Mrs. Malcolm's voice there.”

“But not your brother's; he hadn't arrived yet. You must have gone up to the tool house, then, by way of that upper gate.”

“I did.”

“It didn't occur to you to stop by and see the Apollo
then?”

“No. Mrs. Malcolm was there, as I said.”

“Shoals, 'ware shoals, Cora,” said her brother, smiling at her.

“That's very silly, David.” She returned his look gravely. “Nobody here imagines that we liked her.”

“Sensible of you, Miss Malcolm,” said Gamadge, “to admit the obvious.”

“I'm not at all sure,” said Malcolm, “that either of us ought to admit anything.”

“David, my boy,” said Redfield imploringly, “how often must I tell you—”

“You needn't tell me again, Mr. Redfield.”

Gamadge turned again to Cora Malcolm. “So, not caring to have to converse with the deceased, you passed us by. And then you settled down in the tool house for the next twenty-five minutes or so?”

“It didn't seem a long time to me. I got out a croquet mallet, and looked around at things, and then I sat on the steps smoking.”

“That third shot must have sounded pretty close?”

“I didn't pay much attention to it. I knew David and Mrs. Drummond would get all the crows they had light to see.”

“But in fact they gave up the chase when they had shot two. Walter: you say you didn't leave the flower garden after Miss Malcolm left you, until I met you coming out of it at five thirty-five.”

“No; I didn't.”

“And you didn't see anybody come through—or go through—because you were behind the dahlias and the cosmos. You didn't see your wife and Malcolm come up from the orchard, and you didn't see Malcolm return for his trip down to the swimming pool.”

“No, I didn't.”

“Johnny. You were picking marigolds; I suppose you saw nobody? Not Miss Malcolm walking up the Loop, not Blanche Drummond crossing to the greenhouse? Not Mr. Malcolm hanging up crows?”

Redfield had shaken his head after each suggestion. He now spoke with a kind of irritated apology: “No, and I can't help it if I didn't. I was grubbing at big weeds. I was back there behind the sunflowers. I was at the far end of the place, and it's big.”

“It's big. Blanche—”

She cried almost angrily: “Henry, I went straight to the greenhouse, and I stayed there. I was looking at Johnny's plants and wondering what he'd have next spring. It wasn't long. It couldn't have been long. I hardly heard that third shot at all. The rifle was right there, and I thought somebody had picked it up and just fired at something. There might have been a crow right on the top of one of those posts. The time
goes
when you're looking at things in a greenhouse.”

“Twenty minutes went, at least. Mr. Malcolm.”

Malcolm, again gently swishing the sheaf of asters against his leg, replied: “Mr. Gamadge.”

“We talked to you in the rose garden. You went out of it to hang up crows, I presume that you saw Mrs. Drummond afterwards, since she followed you almost immediately.”

“I saw her to speak to.”

“Of course he saw me,” said Blanche. “On my way to the greenhouse. I didn't think you wanted me to mention that.”

BOOK: Any Shape or Form
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