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Authors: Elizabeth Daly

Any Shape or Form (9 page)

BOOK: Any Shape or Form
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Alice, a mere wisp beside her mother, came next. Tilly Wirtz brought up the rear—a small, pale-haired creature in spectacles, whose skirts reached her black-clad ankles. She had a meek, innocent, confiding look, but it was plain that policemen filled her with a great awe.

“Now just sit down in those chairs,” said Griggs, in a benevolent voice, “where I can talk to you. That's right. Don't be nervous; we know you had nothing to do with what happened this afternoon. You were all in sight of each other, clearing off the cocktail party and organizing dinner.”

Debby, who looked anything but nervous, said: “About dinner, sir. Mr. Redfield has ordered a buffet supper instead in the dining room. It's ready now. Everybody's to go and eat in there, and so are the officers and the gentlemen down in the garden.”

“That's like Redfield,” observed Mosson.

“Yes, sir. But Mr. Redfield wants to know if you gentlemen want trays in here.”

“Mr. Mosson and I do,” said Griggs. “We'll let you know when. Now what we want to know from you three is this: Would it be easy for strangers to get into the place any time during the day? Any day?”

After a pause for reflection, Debby said: “Strangers don't come way out here, Lieutenant; but they could get in. You know Alice and I have our apartment in the cottage across the drive?”

“Yes.”

“Well, we don't go back and forth much in a day; not unless we have some special errand like changing our uniforms for the afternoon. We have a sitting room over here, too. We have a radio in it. It looks out on the terrace, and the kitchen and pantry windows are high.”

“Miss Wirtz.”

Tilly, who seemed to have something on her mind, started. She looked at Griggs vacantly.

“You have your room in the house here, Miss Wirtz?”

“Upstairs at de end of de north wing, and a nice bath.”

“You don't sit up there in the daytime and look out of your windows?”

Tilly seemed shocked at this. “If I have time off I sit in our sitting room and listen to de music.”

Reina said: “I wish some stranger did get in today, sir. To take the blame off the house. It was an accident, but even so I wish you could find some stranger to take the blame off the house.”

“If it was an accident,” said Griggs dryly, “nobody's owned up.”

“Ladies and gentlemen often have accidents with guns in the Islands.”

“Ladies and gentlemen,” retorted Griggs, “own up.”

“Yes, sir; in the Islands.”

“Anywhere,” snapped Griggs. “Forget whether it was an accident, and just remember that anyhow this unfortunate lady was shot dead.”

The three seemed to reflect on the fact, but without grief.

“And we have to find out how it happened,” continued Griggs, “no matter who gets the blame.”

Debby turned her majestic head and looked at Tilly Wirtz. Tilly, avoiding her eye, gazed at the wall above Griggs' head. Debby turned again to face him.

“Of course,” she said, “I'm always in my kitchen when I'm not in our sitting room or in our apartment across the drive. I don't see the guests that come here, and I never go upstairs. But I told Alice and Tilly that it's their duty to do what they can to help you, just as if they'd taken their solemn oath in a court of justice.”

Gamadge, looking at the faces of his colleagues, and seeing nothing there but gratification, interposed: “You haven't taken a solemn oath, Debby; and this isn't a court of justice. You don't any of you have to say a thing, but if you do it ought to be the truth. That's all.”

Debby turned towards him, raised her head so that she seemed to be looking down at him from an immense height of conscious rectitude, and replied in her deep, melodious voice:

“Morally, Mr. Gamadge, it's as if we were bound by our solemn oaths in a court of justice.”

“And that,” said Mosson to Gamadge in a thin whisper, “fixes
you.”

The severe countenance of Griggs had relaxed into an expression of pleased interest: “They want to make a statement, Mrs. Debenham?”

“Tilly does. All
I
know,” said Debby, “is that Mrs. Malcolm was crazy. I hardly ever saw her. But if a colored person put up a thing in his garden in the Islands—a thing like that thing Mrs. Malcolm made Mr. Redfield put up in the rose garden—the Governor would send to ask why.”

Griggs sat back to digest this if possible. “It's only a figure off a circus wagon.”

“That lady,” said Mrs. Debenham, “didn't want it there because it was off a circus wagon. Mr. Redfield did; or anyway, he thought of putting it up in the kitchen garden for fun. But Mrs. Malcolm…She wasn't in my kitchen three times all summer, but when she did come, something bad came with her.”

Alice, showing mortification, protested: “She was just eccentric, Mother. There wasn't anything wrong about Mrs. Malcolm. She was pleasant enough. And that wooden image—you know people like Mr. Redfield's friends have their own kind of fun. It was just her fun, putting it in the rose garden. You sound so old-fashioned, Mother, when you talk like that.”

“Well,” said Debby, without looking at her, “I didn't say she died of magic. Tilly—remember what we said.”

Tilly Wirtz, without other warning than the extraction of a pink handkerchief from her apron pocket, burst into loud sobs.

“Tilly,” said Mrs. Debenham, looking straight in front of her, “it wouldn't be right to keep it to yourself.”

“Certainly wouldn't,” agreed Griggs.

Tilly sobbed.

“Come on,” said Griggs, “what was it?”

Tilly put away her handkerchief. “I wish I hadn't told Reina and Alice. De young chentleman was choking.”

“Choking?”

“Chust choking wit his sister.”

“What were they joking about?”

Tilly insisted on explaining the circumstances first; how she had come to overhear them.

Immediately after the twins' arrival, and their introduction to the deceased, they had gone up to the rooms they always occupied when they came to Idlers. The rooms, a guest suite with a bath between, extended along the north wing. Beyond them was a series of cupboards, and then came Tilly's room and a servants' bath, at the head of the back stairs.

David Malcolm had the end room, and Tilly, not knowing that he had come upstairs, arrived at its half-open door with towels for the communicating bath. She could get into the bath only through one bedroom or the other.

She had been arrested on his threshold by the sound of his voice.

“He said,” she quavered, “‘Dis is our big chance, Cora. But which of us will bump her off?'”

“Bump her off,” repeated Griggs, dreamily.

“It means—
keel
somebody!”

“So it does.”

“But he was choking. Miss Malcolm was standing I tink in de bathroom doorway. I didn't hear what she said. He said: ‘She's worse dan we expected. How about using an ax?' And Miss Malcolm said: ‘Sh. You want to ruin us?' And I came away.”

Griggs sat looking at her. After a pause he said as if to himself: “They weren't here much. They may have thought you were
all
in that cottage across the drive.”

“A French gentleman might think so,” said Mrs. Debenham, dryly. “And Mr. Malcolm is practically French.”

“You repeated all this to the others?” Griggs turned back to Tilly.

She had done so, thinking it was rather a joke herself—on Mrs. Malcolm, whom nobody seemed much to care for. When, said Tilly, Mrs. Malcolm was in fact bumped off, the three had consulted again. They were all aware—Alice had heard plenty of talk in the living room and dining room—of the twins' financial position and expectations.

Mosson cleared his throat. “Miss Wirtz: were names mentioned? I mean could you swear Mr. Malcolm and his sister were talking about their stepmother?”

Tilly, suddenly producing the pink handkerchief again, said that the name “Mrs. Malcolm” had been pronounced by the young man.

“And anyhow,” said Alice, in her quiet voice, “he couldn't have been talking about Mrs. Drummond, because he knew Mrs. Drummond already.”

Griggs stared. “Why should he have meant Mrs. Drummond? You mean he might have meant Mrs. Drummond if he and Miss Malcolm hadn't met her already?”

“Just in joke. She was annoying him so last summer.”

Griggs looking bemused at this, as indeed Mosson did also, she went on in an expository tone: “This is the third year they've been coming, you know. They came first in the fall of nineteen forty. They've known Mr. and Mrs. Drummond three years.”

“I know; but how was Mrs. Drummond annoying him?” Griggs, apparently rather annoyed himself, repeated the question in a different form: “How should Mrs. Drummond annoy anybody?”

“Well, running after him,” said Alice carelessly. “They were great friends at first, but last summer, and this summer before Mrs. Malcolm came, she ran after him. It embarrassed Mr. Redfield, I think. And I do think that Mr. Malcolm joked about it a little with his sister; in a nice way, you know.”

Her words had fallen into a dead silence. In a dead silence she began again: “I don't think Mr. Redfield would have asked the Drummonds over today, but he's so sorry for them now. They used to be so rich, and now they're so poor with the taxes.”

After another period of silence, Mosson asked in a tone of mild interest: “How did Mr. Drummond take it?”

Alice needed no gloss on this question: “I don't think he paid any attention. He's such great friends with Miss Malcolm.” She added: “I don't mean anything serious; it's just their kind of fun, you know.”

The next half minute was punctuated every few seconds by Tilly's catches of breath. But Tilly didn't look interested. Perhaps her capacity for interest in such matters had been exhausted in European hotels.

At last Griggs said: “That all? Thanks. Fine. You understand that at the inquest tomorrow all you'll have to do will be to answer questions? It'll be purely formal tomorrow. Just answer questions.”

He saw them out of the studio, closed the door, and came back to sink into his chair. “Great heck, they'd—I must warn the M. E.”

Mosson's head was back against his cushions. “We're all living on a volcano,” he said in a sepulchral voice.

“No,” remarked Gamadge, “not all of us. Johnny wasn't blown up. Surely you realize that they were only ‘taking the blame off the house'? They're protecting Redfield. They're feudal.”

“Redfield would hate this. He certainly didn't inspire it—to my own knowledge he hasn't exchanged a syllable with those servants since the murder. He sent them instructions about the buffet supper through that officer out there—Stromer. Miss Ryder told me everything he did before that—she was with him. My God, that girl—Alice—she's trying to suggest that the Drummonds had a motive for the murder.”

“I got it,” said Griggs. “Hinting they had an interest in the Malcolm twins getting the money. Would you think a girl like that Alice would have the brains?”

Gamadge said: “She's above small gossip, and so is her mother, and Tilly hasn't an ounce of malice in her. They simply don't intend Redfield to be involved. He's the kind of employer who deserves loyalty.”

“He'd be wild,” said Mosson. “Mrs. Drummond! Who'd have thought it?” He groaned faintly. “What a murder case brings out!”

“Mrs. Drummond isn't much of a mixer,” said Griggs, “but she isn't unpopular. Drummond's liked. We'll have to go easy on this.”

“I can't get over the subtlety of that Debenham girl's attack,” said Mosson.

Ames, the officer who was acting as stenographer, looked up from his notes. He said: “I've seen Mr. Drummond and Miss Malcolm once or twice walking on the back roads.”

“That stuff may not be left on the record at all,” Griggs warned him. “Look out with it.” He rose. “Well, I'll get Miss Ryder. Perhaps another miracle will happen, and I'll get something from her.”

“Don't get your hopes up,” said Gamadge. “She's feudal too; but her loyalty is to a code.”

“Miss Ryder wouldn't lie to us.”

“No, but she won't give you impressions for facts. She'll hand you those, if she has any. She would take a thing of this kind, and her obligations to the law, very seriously.”

“That's something.” He opened the door, put his head into the living room, and said: “If you please, Miss Ryder.”

Self-reliant and disciplined of spirit, always calm in a crisis, she was composed enough now; but it was evident that she was deeply shocked and distressed. She said: “How do you do, Mr. Mosson,” glanced at Ames in his corner, and made for the row of chairs in front of Griggs' table. “Am I to sit here?”

“Sit any place you want to, Miss Ryder.”

“If the others sat here, I will.”

Gamadge said, as he and the other men resumed their seats, “The lieutenant means that you're only a witness, Abby, not a suspect.”

“I hope he doesn't think Alice and Reina and Tilly Wirtz are suspects?”

“No, but they wouldn't have taken the occasion seriously if he hadn't put them in a row.”

She said: “I suppose it was very lucky for me that I picked this spray,” and looked down at it; it was in the buttonhole of her gray jacket, and Gamadge thought how like her it was to have preserved it. He couldn't imagine Abigail picking a thing and then throwing it away. She respected the lives of plants and flowers.

“I'd like to say, Lieutenant Griggs,” she began, “and Mr. Mosson too, if he had anything to do with it, that I think it was kind to let Johnny keep poor Mrs. Malcolm's body here until the funeral.”

“We were consulting our own convenience, I'm afraid, Miss Ryder,” said Mosson. “This studio is a good place to hold an inquest in, you know, and the house is central. Right in the middle of the county.”

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