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Authors: Elizabeth Daly

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“Oh, for mercy's sake stay—out of it,” said Mosson. “We have too many people in it now. Unless you're secretly developing homicidal mania? No? Then stay out of it. How about you, Redfield?” He cast a faintly incredulous look at the figure supine on the couch under the east windows. “Any chance of leaving you out?”

“No,” said Redfield with his eyes shut. “There isn't. Even I could have shot my aunt Josephine with that Winchester—forty yards is practically point-blank range. I've shot crows. And I had a financial motive, too. I'm her residuary legatee, at least I was the last I heard of it. She's made a new will, lately, I understand, leaving some money to some astrological society or other—perhaps as a sop to their sensibilities; she was losing interest in them. But I don't think she'd leave them much. I don't get a cent of the Malcolm money, of course; but last spring she had about seven thousand in the bank, and since she's been here she's had two income installments—early in July and early in October. They amount to about twelve thousand apiece. So I may now come in for something like thirty thousand gross, say, and perhaps I needed it. You never can tell. I'm not conscious of needing it as badly as all that, but you can check up on me. I do most of my business with the old Chemists in New York, but I keep a pretty good balance at Old Bridge. You can check up on me for blackmail or the double life. And I paid out a mysterious little aggregate of forty-seven dollars last spring; it went to my bookie, if you must know.”

Mosson said: “Tsk tsk.”

“Griggs has her checkbooks,” continued Redfield wearily. “I'll give you the name of her bank in Los Angeles. I haven't their number.

“But perhaps you ought to know that I preferred her to live. I was fond of her—I had reason to be. Apart from the fact that she was an inoffensive woman and had always been most kind to me otherwise, she'd been giving me five thousand a year ever since she got her income, after old Malcolm died. For ten years she's been giving it to me yearly to keep the old place up. Now—I don't know.”

Griggs looked at him, rather awed: “Five thousand a year!”

“It doesn't go so very far, Griggs, especially nowadays.” Redfield smiled at him. “But it made the difference. Any man who says that five thousand a year doesn't make a difference, that man's a liar. She had a sentiment about the old place, though she never came near it until this summer since before she was married; and she had a sentiment for me.” He smiled again. “I'm the last of the Redfields.”

“She had forty-eight thousand dollars' income?” asked Mosson.

“Just about, after taxes were paid. You'll find it all in her checkbook.

“But only for life.”

“Only for life.”

“But she had, say, thirty thousand in the bank, which if she didn't leave it away from you in this last will, comes to you.”

“Yes. It ought to be nearly that. She didn't spend a cent of those two installments here—had plenty of cash with her. Sent the checks right back to Los Angeles for deposit.”

“Well,” said Mosson, “all I can say is that if you killed her for thirty-odd thousand, you were a damned fool. The medical examiner seems to think she was a pretty good insurance risk. You might have got a hundred thousand from her before she died a natural death.”

Griggs said: “There's a big difference between thirty thousand and the principal on that forty-eight thousand. It's so blamed obvious there ought to be a catch in it.”

“Yes,” said Mosson, “and don't forget the catch in it. Two! Two with equal motives, time, and opportunity. Damn it.”

“I can't believe it,” said Redfield, “and I won't. There's a loophole, a big loophole.”

“Not such a very big loophole, Redfield,” said Mosson.

“I'm thinking of possibilities; your point of view isn't mine, Mosson, it can't be. To me it's more possible that an outsider got in than that one of those children did this.”

“Well, let's tackle it,” said Griggs. “What kind of an outsider? A mighty smart one—no lunatic. You say your aunt was getting queer, Mr. Redfield. How queer? Flighty enough to make a lot of enemies without caring what happened afterwards?”

Redfield turned his eyes on Gamadge. “What do you think, Gamadge?”

“The impression she conveyed,” said Gamadge, “was one of extreme flightiness.”

“Did it reach irresponsibility?” asked Mosson.

“It seemed to. Definitely.”

“Well, I don't know.” Redfield's hands were clasped behind his head, and his eyes were fixed on the ceiling. “She seemed shrewd enough when it was a matter of business. She wasn't irresponsible there. But of course she hadn't much time lately for problems on the earthly plane. First she was wrapped up in the study of the stars, and then she took up this preposterous sun cult, which was her own invention, if you ask me. One humored her, but it was something of a worry. This last companion she had—this Miss Gouch—excellent creature, sensible, not young herself; she knew how to manage Aunt, or at least, I thought she did. But lately Miss Gouch began to worry about the sun cult, and in fact she badgered me about it. Aunt would talk, you know, about being absorbed in the System. Whatever that meant. But Gouch worried. Well, it
might
have ended in suicide—”

“Suicide?” Griggs was alert.

“But I never thought so. All nonsense. I told Gouch last spring not to fuss about it; told her to let Aunt go her own way and pay no attention. So far as I could see, Aunt adored life. What do you think, Gamadge?”

“Savored it, yes.”

“But Gouch didn't like the responsibility, especially as she was down for something in Aunt's will, and was afraid of being blamed if anything happened.
Was,
I say. Not any more! Aunt was very touchy about her spiritual life. Wouldn't stand interference in that department. Gouch was a fool; she interfered, and Aunt turned her off and cut her out of her will and made the new one.”

“Oh dear,” said Mosson.

“I was horrified, and if I only knew where the woman was I'd send her an honorarium myself. Aunt worked her like a horse, she was doing all the housekeeping since the servant shortage. And, if you please, Aunt made her stay on and close the Pasadena house and see her off on the train! They parted at the Los Angeles station, and nobody knows where she went to, and now I never shall know.”

Griggs spoke slowly, after a pause: “Your aunt didn't leave any memorandum of her home address? This Miss Gouch's home address? There's no way we could find out—”

“I don't think so. Aunt said Gouch had insulted her most sacred feelings, and that so far as Aunt was concerned Gouch didn't exist any more.”

Mosson looked at Griggs, eyebrows lifting. “The loophole?”

Griggs shuffled his papers. “Well…these elderly women—you don't know what they'll do if they've brooded long enough over a thing. How much was she down for in your aunt's will, Mr. Redfield?”

“Quite a lot; little annuity of I think five hundred per annum.”

“That was a disappointment. She knew about it, you say?”

“I certainly meant to imply that she did.”

Griggs himself brooded now: “Gouch knew Mrs. Malcolm was coming here, probably worked out the trip for her. Followed along, perhaps got into the grounds more than once this summer.”

“Pleasant thought.” Redfield closed his eyes to shut it out.

“Came along today by bus,” continued Griggs. “Sunday—big crowds, buses jammed. She'd plan for that. Walked in and went down to the garden this afternoon, hung around in the woods behind the rose garden, heard the talk about the rifle. Saw Miss Malcolm go up to the tool house, saw pretty much where the rest of the party was. Dodged into the enclosure, watched Gamadge and Mrs. Malcolm go up to the rockery. Nothing to it. Afterwards she ran up through the woods again and out.”

Redfield said: “It sounds most improbable to me, but if it's even the barest possibility, let's hang on to it for dear life.”

“What was she like, Mr. Redfield?” Griggs took up his pen.

“Oh Lord, how do I know? I hardly saw the woman while I was with Aunt; she didn't even sit at meals with us. Aunt wouldn't have considered that at all fair to me. Let's see: she was going gray, I know that. Medium height, thin features, looked intelligent and even good-natured. If she's a murderer,” said Redfield, “she didn't look like one when I last had the pleasure of seeing her.”

“Color of eyes?” Griggs, was writing busily.

“Vaguely blue or gray. Competent but fussy; I thought she fussed a little too much over Aunt Josephine; elderly ladies hate to be treated as if they were decrepit. But Lord, angels couldn't please ‘em.”

Mosson asked: “Was that thing down in the garden really part of her religion, or was it only a kind of emblem or reminder?”

“I don't quite know what it meant to her. It was a foolish thing for me to collect, but it amused me—part of that old circus! I suppose I saw the last of those when I was a boy. Or do they still come to Rivertown, Mosson?”

“No. I don't know whether there are any more of the little one-ring shows left in these parts.”

“Well, it seemed to me a pleasing relic of rural gaiety. But when she saw it in the lumber room—I must confess she seemed to take it a trifle more seriously than was quite sensible. I humored her”—he smiled faintly—“you all know why, now—when she wanted it in the garden. But although I wouldn't admit it before, it really did rather get on my nerves. What do you think, Gamadge?
Was
she taking it seriously?”

“I couldn't quite make out,” said Gamadge. “I couldn't quite make
her
out. I made a foolish joke about sunstroke, and she seemed to pity me more than she resented my flippancy. Perhaps she'd resent skepticism from a lady-companion more than from a man and a recent acquaintance.”

Griggs tapped the table with his pen. “I suppose,” he said, “that we ought to check up on her; unless…”

“Unless we get something definite nearer home. Thin stuff, the Gouch stuff,” said Mosson. “And hard to check, too. Who's to remember her in the Los Angeles station? In these times? Perhaps through her trunk—”

“If she had a trunk,” growled Lieutenant Griggs.

“I seem to see a collection of superannuated holdalls,” murmured Redfield.

“Especially in these times,” repeated Mosson. “Well, it would be a long search and an expensive one. We might advertise. We might inquire at Rivertown and Old Bridge bus station. But why not concentrate now on what's under our noses? I know how you feel about it, Redfield; but we have no prejudice in favor of the two persons who benefit hugely by your aunt's death.”

“And they had that feeling against her,” said Griggs, “on account of the mother.”

“I never told you they had feeling,” protested Redfield. “I only gave you the bare facts of their lives. You're going on inference. I knew you would!”

“Well, Redfield,” said Mosson, smiling at him, “wouldn't you?”

“They're good children,” said Redfield, his eyes tightly shut again. “Lots of children won't make friends with a stepmother. But now it was going to be all right; and they knew years ago that Aunt wanted them to have two thousand apiece from her a year. They agreed to meet her. I arranged it. It's all my fault.”

Griggs shuffled his notes. Then he cleared his throat, and said briskly: “I'll get hold of the officer that takes shorthand. We'll have the servants in first, and then Miss Ryder. Clear them out of the way. We know already that the cook and the maids were together, and that they didn't see any strangers. And we know what Miss Ryder knows. I'll just get it on the record.”

Johnny swung his legs to the floor and got up.

“Then I'll clear out. You won't want me here.”

“No. Thanks, Mr. Redfield. “

“I'll be in my sitting room upstairs, or next door in the living room, or in the dining room later.”

“Shall I go?” asked Gamadge, as Redfield went out and closed the door.

“Like to have you here,” said Griggs. He looked at Mosson. “All right with you, Mr. Mosson?”

“All right with me.”

Griggs went out, leaving the door open. Malcolm's voice came to them from the living room.

“And you'll see the nice modern villa or chateau,” he was saying, “and right in the side yard the ruins of the old dungeon and the tower. The air should be heavy with cliche; but is it? No! Not one platitude ever soils the lips of those French. They...”

Griggs came back, followed by a state policeman who carried a notebook.

“Just sit over there, Ames,” he said, “by the lamp. And pull up three chairs in front of this table. There are three maids, two colored.” He looked at Gamadge. “Doesn't the white maid mind?”

“Oh, no,” said Gamadge. “Tilly Wirtz thinks that the Debenhams are very distinguished.”

CHAPTER SEVEN
Feudal


D
ISTINGUISHED, ARE THEY?”
Mosson, who was freshening his highball, looked amused.

“Very. The cook—Reina—is the best type of West Indian, brought up in the British colonial tradition. Redfield calls her Debby. Her daughter Alice is American born and bred; she's had two years of college, and wouldn't be doing housework here if Debby didn't need her. Tilly Wirtz is Austrian, from somewhere near Salzburg; limpidly honest, awfully stupid, getting on in years. Redfield picked her up in a hotel over there, and got her to this country years ago. But she hasn't made much sense of us yet, and doesn't speak English very well.”

The studio door opened, and a small procession entered. It was headed by a tall and large black woman, who wore a white uniform. A magenta handkerchief was tied about her head, and there were handsome gold hoops in her ears. She looked grave, aloof, and calm.

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