Shakedown for Murder
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This is a novel, entirely a work of fiction. All characters, names, incidents, and places—including the village of 'End Harbor'—are completely imaginary and not intended to represent any persons, living or dead.
Copyright, 1958, by Ed Lacy. Published by arrangement with the author. Printed in the U.S.A. A shortened version of this novel appeared in the August 1958 issue of the
Mercury Mystery Magazine
under the titles “Listen to the Night.”
“.... of course I got here as soon as possible, but I was too late
he must have died within seconds after phoning me. I found him over the hall table. You and I, we're more than merely old friends, so believe me when I tell you that in a case like this, there isn't anything a doctor can do. At his age, the heart grows very tired.” Doctor Edward Barnes placed a hand on the other's damp, trembling shoulder; a hand both firm and gentle.
understand, Edward.” The voice was dazed, sullen with mounting hysteria.
“What?” the doctor asked, cupping an ear, brushing the rain from his face with his other hand. “What did you say?”
“I said... I'm okay. It's just... I'll miss him so. You know how close we were.”
The doctor pulled his old felt hat down as he said, “Come now, no weeping. There isn't much one can say about death, especially the death of an old friend. Yet I always find myself groping for the meaningless phrases. Our only consolation is to remember he lived a long and useful life. And he died without pain. Remember the old Indian saying you once told me.... Death is but the opening of a new trail. Do you recall telling me that?”
“Yes. I suppose I knew this would happen
some day. But... oh God! Ed, it's all so sudden!”
“Let yourself go, weep.” Barnes reached into the car for his bag. “Naturally you're in shock. I'll give you something to calm your nerves, make you forget.”
“I don't need any drugs.”
“Listen to me. It's late, there isn't anything either of us can do till morning. Standing out here in the rain will only give you a chill. If you like, I'll spend the night here.”
“Come now, at a time like this... I can stay the night with you.”
“No, Ed, I'm... fine.”
“Then take this pill and you'll sleep for...
The doctor's wet and wrinkled face expanded with astonishment for a very brief part of a second as he was viciously kneed in the groin. Gasping, Barnes bent over
arms out like a racing swimmer ready to dive
then he stumbled back against his car, hands now pressed hard to his middle.
The killer clamped a hand over the doctor's open mouth, another over the sharp nose. The old man's watery eyes bulged
pain still mixed with surprise. He started to claw the air, then slumped to the wet ground.
Opening the door of the doctor's heavy Buick, the murderer dragged the old man across the front seat, yanked a woolen muffler from around Barnes' thin neck, then savagely jammed it over the doctor's pink face. For a moment the doctor's legs jerked and thrashed as the muffler cut off all air.
Certain Barnes was dead, with great effort the body was picked up and slowly lowered to the floor of the rear of the car. Placing the medical bag on the front seat, the killer slid behind the wheel
and drove off, driving along the dark roads of the village.
Reaching Bay Street the murderer stepped out and listened long and carefully, sweating face almost touching the wet pavement. Certain no cars were coming, the doctor's corpse was quickly pulled to the middle of the road. Then backing the Buick up, the killer shifted gears and pressed the gas pedal to the floor.
The big car jumped as it ran over the dead body.
The murderer stepped out and stared down at the rain striking the crushed face, then picked up a pebble. The Buick was aimed at a large tree off the road, the ignition turned off, and the pebble wedged under the accelerator—forcing it as far down as the pedal could go. Then reaching in and turning on the ignition, the killer awkwardly jumped back as the Buick leaped forward, crossed the road and smashed into the tree. The thick rain slightly muffled the crashing sound.
Standing perfectly still and hidden in the nearby woods, the killer waited to see if the noise brought anybody, then ran over to the wreck. The pebble was removed, the front and rear seats carefully examined. The doctor's woolen scarf was on the floor beneath the crumpled steering wheel. Grabbing the scarf, the murderer pulled a thin, pencil flashlight from Barnes' bag, quickly played it over the tires. Nothing of the doctor's flesh or clothing had stuck to the new tires. The killer rubbed the scarf over a red spot on a tire wall, then realized it was merely red paint.
Dropping the flash back into the bag, the killer went home, walking and running through unlit streets and woods wherever possible. At the gate of the house the killer was still clutching the doctor's scarf, and with a moan of utter dismay and horror, dropped the muffler with a frantic motion, ran sobbing into the house.
Minutes later, the murderer returned, picked up the scarf and went back into the warm house.
My “vacation” started off as I expected—by giving me a hard time.
The railroad station at Hampton was full of sleek cars and people standing around as nude as they could get, without being arrested. I never saw so many scrimpy shorts and stuffed halters in my life. The young people showed off their trim thighs and bosoms, while even the old duffers walked around without shame, holding their sloppy stomachs in. I stepped off the train with my battered bag in one hand and Matty in his wicker basket in the other. I was sure a standout: I was the only person not sporting a tan. Also, I had on a tie and a shirt, not to mention my old blue serge suit. Everybody looked at me as though I were an escapee from a museum.
I was sweaty and in a bad mood. I didn't want to coma out here and a three-hour ride on the Long Island Railroad isn't exactly any laughs for me. Matty was evil too, cooped up in his basket all that time. On the train he'd been wailing and making a small racket When I poked my finger in to quiet him, he'd showed his feelings by biting it. I'd snapped my finger in his gut and he had hissed like a snake, then shut up.
As I was looking around the station, sorry I hadn't told Danny to meet me, a fat little man in worn slacks, high shoes, an outrageous sport shirt and an ancient sweaty straw hat hustled over to me and made a pass at my bag.
As I snatched it to me, he asked, “Hey, mista, you wants the taxi, huh?”
I nodded and followed him to an old Dodge. I sat on the front seat, Matty's basket on my lap. The car was hot as a Turkish bath. The driver went up and down the platform trying to drum up trade, finally got in and started the car with a jerk. “Mista, where yeu go?”.
“Gooda summer, now. That my town. Cost you one dolla. You visit some-abody?”
“Know where the Lund cottage is, on Beach Road?” I never found dialect funny, even on TV.
“You bet I know. Vera nice people. You a friend?”
“I hope so. Dan Lund is my son.”
A real smile flitted across his weather-beaten face as he turned into a main highway. The Dodge kept edging toward the road shoulder. “Your Danny is a lucky man, his Bessie is a wonderful wife. The second I first saw her I knew she was a Greek, like me. She has all the warm beauty of the....”
I didn't have time to wonder what happened to the dialect. I shouted, “You're going off the road!”
He turned the wheel too hard. The car went into a shimmy dance, finally got squared away as Matty growled savagely. This joker stuck a fat hand in my face, told me, “I'm Jerry Sparelous, a true friend of your daughter-in-law. Will you stay in the Harbor long?”
“A week,” I said, shaking hands fast so he could pat the paw back on the wheel. “Then I visit my daughter in the mountains for a week.” Matty seemed to sigh. Or maybe it was me.
I had a month off and Dan insisted I spend the first week with him. The second would be with Signe and her basketball team of noisy kids. Then maybe I could get some real rest in my flat on Washington Heights, sitting in my underwear next to the big window fan, watching TV or doping the nags.
“End Harbor is nice—I've lived here for thirty-five years,” this Jerry said, the car starting off on a tangent again. “What you do, Mr. Lund?”
“I'm a cop. Look, Mr.... Jerry... side of the road again.”
“Don't worry,” he said, jerking the car around. “In twenty years I never had an accident—that was my fault. Yes, yes, Bessie has told me about you. They want you to retire. You and me. I sold my store and some land a few years ago. I have enough money. But people ask why I drive a taxi. They think a man of sixty-four is fit for nothing but dying....”
We went around a turn and made directly for some bushes on the side of the road. I tried to put my foot through the floorboard before he headed down the highway again. I said weakly, “Perhaps you need glasses.”
“I have two pair—at home. Hot in New York?”
“Big city is all rush, crazy. I haven't been back to New York in thirty-two years. Who wants to rush?”
I didn't answer. Three hours away and he hadn't been to the big apple in a third of a century! They couldn't drag me away from New York.
We drove in silence for awhile, except when I told him he was going off the road. It was starting to grow dark and we seemed to be driving through a lonely, wooded section. But on reaching End Harbor we passed a lot of new ranch-type houses. With a scream of tires he turned into a wide road that went by a pond the size of the Central Park skating rink. “Plenty big bass in there, and they bite on a plug. You a fisherman?”
“I can take it or leave it.”
“Me, too. Funny, you don't look like a policeman—you're too thin. Me, I wish I was thin. Every day I'm getting more like a squash. Too much beer. Doctor gives me plenty of hell. But I say, what difference does it make if I'm fat, I'm not making a show for the girls. How old are you, Mr. Lund?”
“Your wife is dead, too. Bessie told me. Jesus, I almost went crazy when my Helen died eight years ago, God rest her soul. I got three boys. Two of them run a garage in Chicago, the other is a tinsmith out in Los Angeles. My boys all leave the Harbor fast.” He shrugged, waved both hands. “But everybody has to live their own life.”
The Dodge went over the only bump in the road and Matty whined.
He turned to smile at the basket. “You have a cat, I have a dog—when he comes home. Strange, isn't it, how in our old age we turn to the companionship of animals?”
“I always had a....”
“Now we don't talk, Mr. Lund. I have to cross a busy highway on which people race toward Montauk like they are going to St. Peter's gates.”
He brought the car to a complete and jerky stop, screwing up his eyes as he peered up and down the road. Cars were going by doing at least seventy. A motorcycle cop stationed here could keep a town tax-free. Jerry kept looking up and down the road, waiting for a break, and talking all the time. Some junk about the days when End Harbor was a whaling port, the houses that still had shell marks, or something, from the days of 1776 when, according to Jerry, the British Navy bombarded the village.
He suddenly stepped on the gas and I banged my forehead against the windshield as the car leaped across the road. Then he stopped abruptly to ask if I was hurt, shaking me up again. I had a hell of a headache but told him, “I'm okay. How much farther to the house?”
“Just down this street,” Jerry said, starting the car before I could get out. He drove past a few houses and I could smell the salt in the air. Then he stopped, said proudly, “Here we are, Mr. Lund.”
I wanted to say I wouldn't have given even money we'd get here, but I paid him a dollar as the cottage door opened and Andy yelled, “Grandpa is here!”
It always gives me a start to hear myself called grandpa.
Andy came leaping at me and almost knocked me down with a hug. He's big for his age but still lardy. When my Danny had been ten, he was already muscular, and coming down the porch steps now, in shorts, he still looked in good shape. Maybe Andy got his softness from Bessie— she had an apron around her bathing suit. She wasn't fat but all a kind of sensuous softness that went with her creamy skin, dark hair, and flashing eyes. Sometimes I thought Bessie was too much woman for Danny—or any one man.
They were all over me, pumping my hand, everybody talking at once. Matty was yelling to get out of his basket, and Bessie and Jerry were rattling off Greek. The noise didn't help my headache any. Somehow we finally got into the cottage and I put my bag in the room I was to share with Andy. I wanted to take a hot bath but Andy was trying to show me a spinning reel he'd just bought and Matty was screaming. I opened the basket and the cat immediately made a quick sniffing tour of the cottage. I asked Bessie for an empty box and began filling it with torn newspapers. She said, “Oh, for—can't that beast do its business outside?”
“Matty isn't for any outdoors stuff. Doubt if he'll ever leave the house. And he might get ticks. I'll take care of his box. Just leave him alone for awhile, he has to get used to the place. Will I have time to take a hot bath?”
Danny burst out laughing. “Bath? All we have is a shower. Bess, have we time for a fast swim?”
“If you make it real quick.” She patted my face. “Special for you I'm making rice pilaf and that wine pudding you love, moustalevrai.”
“That settles it, well take a swim,” Danny said. When I hesitated, he poked me on the arm—and my head rang —and asked, “What the devil kind of a Norseman are you?”
“Yes, Grandpa,” the kid chimed in, “We have the blood of Leif Ericson in our veins. That's what you told me.”'
“Did I say that? And I bet old Leif never took a dip if he could help it. Okay, I'll change.”
As I got into my old woolen trunks the room seemed quiet and my headache eased up. I unpacked my suitcase into a drawer, carefully hid my empty service gun. I didn't want to leave it around the flat, in case the place was robbed or something. I could smell Bessie's cooking and I was real hungry, so I decided to get the damn swim over with. Swimming! I sure missed the peace and quiet of my flat!
Everybody remarked about the whiteness of my skin as I gave Andy a boat kit I'd brought for him. He let out a whoop of joy that split my eardrums. Then Danny rushed us out to his new Ford and we drove the two blocks to the beach. I felt dizzy. As they used to say during the war, was this entire trip necessary?
The water was smooth and the tide low. I splashed around in the damn chilly water, then banged my toe on a rock, while the boy showed off his underwater swimming. He pointed out a rowboat in which we would go fishing tomorrow. Dan had to swim under my legs, come up arid throw me over. I spit out a mouthful of salt water and tried to hold my temper.
As we stood on the sandy beach and toweled ourselves dry, Danny started working on me. First he made some crack about my wool trunks with the white belt being the only pair in existence and why didn't I live it up a little and buy a new pair? Then, driving back to the cottage, he told me, “Dad, I'm a sure thing to be made head of the accounting department next month. It means a big raise and... well, if you want to retire I could easily give you fifty or sixty dollars a month.”
“Who wants to retire? I like being a cell block attendant, hanging around the precinct house all day. No walking a post or worrying about the weather, no carrying a belt full of junk.”
“But Dad, you're practically a janitor there!”
“He's not a janitor, he's a cop,” Andy said quickly.
I stared at Dan with surprise; being a phony had never been one of his faults. “What's wrong, son? Are you getting that snob executive outlook, too, along with your big desk? Sure, I sometimes sweep up and put out the ashes, depending on the tour I'm working, but there's nothing wrong with that. No work is degrading—as long as you always have a choice of work. And you know how simple my wants are—anytime I feel like retiring my pension will do me fine.”
“Okay,” Dan said, “It was just an idea.”
When we reached the cottage Bessie gave me a small hug—and she smelled fine—asked, “Matt, don't you feel invigorated?”
“You bet,” I said, slapping her plump behind, and going to my room to dress—and sneak a nip of brandy to ward off a cold. Matty was sitting on my bed, switching his tail nervously, his eyes seemed to be asking me, “What the devil are we doing out here?” Andy came in to put on a sweatshirt and poked at the cat. Matty got up on his hind feet to box and I told the boy, “Take it easy, he's hungry.”
“Mama put down a saucer of milk for him but he wouldn't drink it. Gosh, Grandpa, I go for that boat kit you gave me. After we go fishing tomorrow, I'll start on it.”
“Do we have to go fishing?” I was thinking of spending tomorrow sleeping.
“Sure, porgies are biting. I want to try out my spinning reel. Pops wanted to give it to me but I insisted on paying for it Two dollars. Pops is some fisherman, can catch any....”
Bessie called us in to eat I added a little beer and sugar to Matty's milk before I sat down and the cat licked it up like a pig. Dan said, “I'll be damned!” While Bessie said, “Really, Matt, you and that fat cat. You need a wife.”
“Figure out a way of doing away with Danny and I'm your man,” I cornballed. Bessie blushed with pleasure. Her good breasts seemed ready to pop over the top of her skimpy bathing suit. I glanced at Dan. His eyes met mine and they were full of pride—like when he was a kid and Martha would be telling me about some smart thing he'd done. Martha would have liked Bessie.
The rice pilaf was a dish of steaming spiced rice packed with livers and other meats served like an upside-down cake. I tried not to stuff myself only I couldn't resist the wine pudding and I was barely able to get up from the table. I gave Matty some scraps which he picked over. Bessie said, “Don't leave the scraps around, they'll bring bugs.”
“Don't worry, he'll eat it. But he likes to take his time,” I said. I got my pipe working and sat on the couch, knowing I was in for a rough night my guts drum-tight. Andy and Dan washed the dishes while Matty sat by the screen door, gazing cautiously out at the country night.
Andy went to bed after warning me, “You hit the sack soon, too, Grandpops, we have to be full of pep for fishing tomorrow.”
Bessie brought out a bottle of Irish whisky and we sat around, had a few belts, she and Dan going over some local gossip. When Matty curled up on the couch beside me we had a mild argument as to whether cats were cleaner than human animals. My stomach eased up a bit and I asked, “What's with your friend Jerry? One minute he talks like a bad comedian, and then all the dialect vanishes.”
“Oh, he's a character,” Bessie said. “Waged a one-man war with End Harbor for years. When he first came here he really had an accent and they gave him the cold shoulder. You know the jive: most people in town can trace their ancestors back to 1776, as if that means a thing. Then it seems Jerry wrote a letter to the local paper against the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti, making him the village radical. So he said the hell with them and purposely kept on talking with his horrible accent. Why, he even refused to buy a brick for the Legion building here, but he always marches at the head of the July Fourth parade and they can't leave him out—he won the Distinguished Service Cross in World War I, highest medal anybody in the Harbor has. Whole thing is pretty silly: on both sides.”
“Yeah. Still, a man has to have plenty of moxie to thumb his nose all his life at his neighbors,” I said.
“And a stubborn capacity for loneliness,” Dan added, yawning. “I have to catch the seven a.m. train back to the job, I'd better turn in.”
“Me, too. I can't let a week-end husband sleep alone,” Bessie said. She rubbed her knee. “My leg aches, bet it will rain.”
“Dad, don't you bother getting up early tomorrow,” Dan said, coming over to take a mock punch at my head. “I'll see you Friday night—all tanned and rested.”
And with a nervous breakdown, I told myself. I feinted a left and jabbed his belly with my right. We used to box a lot, until he reached sixteen and got too big for me.
They washed up and went to their bedroom. I listened to the radio, and the noises in my stomach, read through the local paper. The radio had a lot of static. So did my belly. If I'd been home, I would have soaked in a hot tub, read a book. I could hear Bessie and Dan whispering and laughing behind their door. Finally at ten, as it began to rain hard, I went to bed, Matty following me.
The bed was soft as mush and I kept twisting and turning like a live pretzel. After years of working round-the-clock tours sleep either comes easily, or it's work. It's always a battle for me. I kept sinking in various parts of the mattress, for a time I fanned at a buzzing mosquito, then I listened to the rain and tried to think about Jerry's one-man fight, and if it was all worth it. I got up and took a swig of brandy, sat in the John for a time reading a woman's fashion mag that was all ads. Then I made myself some tea.
As I was puttering around in the kitchen, Bessie came out wearing hip length baby-doll pajamas, and my God, she looked like a walking barbershop calendar. “Anything the matter, Matt? Told you it would rain.”
“Be my luck, a rainy week. I couldn't sleep so I'm making some tea. Want a cup?”
“Nope. Heard you padding around.” She pointed to my flannel pajamas and shook her head. “You're a goner if an antique shop spots that outfit. Right out of Esquire— 1910 issue.”
“You ought to be more careful how you walk around.”
“Why, does it excite you?”
“Okay, okay, it's too late for the super-sophisticated chatter.”
She reached up and batted a finger against my long nose. “I've thought about you, father-in-law. You worry me. We're going to have a talk during the week. Now go to sleep.”
As Bessie walked across the room I couldn't keep my eyes from the sway of her hips. “I worry you? A talk about what?”
“Sex,” she called over her shoulder, closing their bedroom door.
For a second I was completely confused. I had my tea and wondered why young folks think it's smart to make conversation about four-letter words. Or was my generation any brighter in keeping them hidden, making them words of fear?
When I got to bed Matty fixed himself around my big feet and I closed my eyes, waited for sleep to come. It turned cold and I had to get up to adjust the blanket Suddenly I hated summers: Things were so simple the rest of the year, weekly suppers with Danny and Signe, then coming back to the comforts of my own place. No soft beds or mosquitoes, no... or was I getting cranky in my old age?
I fell off into a deep sleep and the next thing I knew Andy was shaking me. I opened my eyes to see a cloudy dawn outside the screened window. The boy said cheerfully, “Six o'clock. We're going fishing today.”
“Damn it, can't you let me get some rest!” I snapped.
He backed away. “Dad and Mom are up and I... I thought you'd want to ride to the station with them. Then we'd go fishing. That's all.”
The uncertain look in his eyes made me ashamed. I reached out and rubbed his plump shoulders. “Sure. I always wake up... eh... cranky. You got the bone structure, now it's time you started making muscles, young man. Maybe I'll get you a barbell for Christmas. Rowing is good, too.”
The boy left and I lay in bed for a moment, wishing I could go back to sleep, knowing I couldn't. I still felt bloated and a little tired. I finally got up; a soak in a hot tub would cure me. Matty gave a sleepy whine in protest as I pulled my feet away from his back.
Dan and Bessie were moving around in the kitchen-living room, Bessie in a robe, Dan wearing shorts. As I waved and headed for the bathroom, Dan asked, “What are you up so early for, Dad? Want to take a quick dip?”
“Keep up that kind of talk and I'll spank you—with a baseball bat,” I said, closing the bathroom door. I cursed, forgetting they didn't have a bath. But I took a hot shower, and things came out all right, and I felt better as I dressed, my clothes slightly damp.
Dan was now wearing a tropical suit, coconut straw, shirt and tie, and we had a big breakfast. Andy talked about fishing and Bessie kept reminding Dan of things she wanted brought out the following week end. The milkman drove up and Bessie said, “I'd better pay him for last week's milk.”
She left the screen door open and I was surprised to see Matty up and stretching. The cat went outside and sniffed around with disdain, then followed Bessie back into the cottage, shaking the dew from his paws. Bessie sat down to finish her coffee, said, “The milkman told me Dr. Barnes was killed last night in an auto accident.”
“It's six-twenty, we haven't much time,” Dan said. “Who's Barnes?”
“You know, that old doctor who has the big house just past the shopping district on Main Street. A fat man with a ring of gray hair around his head like a monk. Only doctor in End Harbor. Seems he ran his car into a tree, not far from here, was thrown out on the road, and run over by another car.”
“Can we see where it happened?” Andy asked.
“You certainly can't,” Dan told him. “Everybody drives too sloppy-fast around here.”
“They can't take much of a driving test,” I put in, enjoying my first cup of coffee for the day. “Take your friend Jerry, he can barely see the road.”
“Imagine, the poor man out on the road, dead all night in the rain,” Bessie said, crossing herself.
“You mean he was killed by a hit-and-run driver?” I asked.
“I don't know. A post office truck found the body two hours ago. Perhaps whoever ran over the doctor thought he'd hit an animal or something.”
“Nuts. When you hit 'something' weighing one hundred fifty or two hundred pounds, you certainly know it isn't a squirrel,” I said.
Dan got up and locked his briefcase. “Lots of dogs killed by cars. Sometimes even a deer.”
“Sounds odd. If I hit a dog or a deer, I'd damn well get out to see what I hit.”
“Well,” Bessie said, stacking the dishes in the sink, “now you understand, Andy, why I wouldn't bring your bike out here. This means we'll have to go to Hampton if we need a doc.”
I wanted to stay home, sit on the porch for awhile, but Bessie insisted I drive to the station with them. Andy argued all the way about how careful he'd be if they let him have his bike. There was a small crowd at the station, mostly wives giving their husbands last minute advice, or vice versa.
It was cold and damp, the coffee had worn off, and I sat in the car, feeling irritated, wishing I was home in my own bed. Jerry drove two young girls to the station, stood around chattering with Bessie in Greek. The old man looked like I felt—as if he'd been up all night. We saw Dan off and Bessie said I had to see the countryside. She and Andy got into a long argument over whether he could go fishing if it was cloudy. I wanted to tell them both to shut up.
Bessie had to make like a guide, stopping at every goddamn landmark, even making me walk through a cemetery full of jokers who had been killed while whaling long ago. I couldn't have cared less.
Andy was making a pest of himself, impatiently asking the time every few minutes and Bessie told him if he didn't stop it there wouldn't be any fishing even if the sun came out. We finally parked in front of the End Harbor supermarket at a little after eight. The sun was dodging behind rain clouds and it was a muggy day. End Harbor was sure a hick town: a small movie house, a dozen or so stores including the big supermarket. There was an ancient building, a three-story brick job, that I later learned was a combination hotel, city hall, police and fire department headquarters, post office, and telephone company. There was a small crowd in front of this building.
Andy wanted to see what was up and Bessie said, “You go down there with Grandpa while I shop. Yes, yes, I won't forget to get clams for bait. Don't you forget to buy a paper.”
We stopped at the one stationery-tobacco-newspaper store, where I bought the Times and the moon-faced woman behind the counter gave me a silly grin as she said, “You're new to End Harbor. Now I know the summer has really started.”
“Has it? Do you carry the Morning Telegraph?”
“Oh, my, I never even heard of it. A new paper?”
“It's a racing sheet.”
“We wouldn't carry that,” she said, clamping her fat lips together.
The week was growing worse every minute. I couldn't even dope the nags.
Outside, Andy headed for the crowd and I said, “You go along, I'll sit in the car and read the paper.”
“Come on, Grandpa, don't be such an old crab,” he said, pulling on my arm. I was too mad to even swat his tear.
The crowd was around an old Buick, the front battered in, all doors open. The entire motor was shoved back, the steering wheel almost touching the seat Andy asked if this was the doctor's car and somebody whispered, “Yes. It hit a tree and he was thrown out.”
A young cop in a fancy light blue uniform, red bow tie and red shoulder patch, black leather belt and puttees, was leaning against the fender of the car, obviously enjoying his self-importance. He looked like a store cop. His cap was carefully crushed down the center, as if he was a plane jockey.
Andy met some kid he knew and when they took a few steps forward to get a better look at the wreck, the cop actually screamed, “Hey! Get back there!”
The kids jumped with fright. Andy said, “My Grandpop is a cop, too, a New York City policeman!”
People turned to glance at me. I felt like a fool. The boy-cop, feeling he had to prove his authority, walked over to the kids, barked, “I told you to keep back.” He pushed them—Andy nearly fell.
I said, “Take it slow, buster, the kids aren't doing anything.”
“Okay, oldtimer, you keep out of this.”
Andy looked up at me, to see what I would do... and that's how the whole mess really started.
I couldn't let this badge-happy jerk talk me down in front of Andy. I strolled over to the wreck, casually examined the front doors. Buster yelled, “What the hell you doing?” and grabbed my arm.
Pulling my arm away so hard he stumbled, I said, “Keep your mitts off me.” As I took out my wallet, flashed my tin, I heard the crowd whispering.
“You haven't any authority here,” junior said, his voice not sure.
“Haven't I? You don't know your law—I'm a peace officer anywheres in the state of New York.” I only intended going through the motions of looking at the wreck and let it go at that, but the boy-cop spoiled things by pointing to the building, telling me, “You'd best go in and see Chief Roberts.”
Everybody was watching me and I had to follow through. It still would have been a snap to get out of, if Andy had remained outside, like I told him. Instead, the dumb kid followed me into the building, which was older than the NYC precinct houses—which are older than God. In the lobby there was another bronze marker, something about the British shelling the spot in 1777. I was ready to turn and walk out, when Andy suddenly opened a door marked POLICE CHIEF, yelled, “Here it is, Grandpa!”
It was a small office and the man behind the desk was sporting the same musical comedy uniform, and a big gold badge. End Harbor had the youngest police force in the world: Chief Roberts looked like a heavyweight boxer, with a collar-ad face. He was doing some paperwork, snapped, “I'm busy.”
With the kid in the room with me, I couldn't back out, so I flashed my badge, said in a small voice, “Matt Lund, New York City Police. Thought I... eh... might give you a hand.”
“Chief Art Roberts,” he said, holding up a big paw for me to shake. “A hand with what?”
“With the Doctor Barnes case,” Andy cut in. I put a hand on the boy's shoulder; to keep him still.
For a second Roberts looked as if he were being kidded, then he said, “We're used to accidents here and can....”
I couldn't just stand there like a dummy. I asked, “Accident? Is that for true, or just for public gossip?”
He tried to hold himself in, but he jumped a little. He waved a big hand at me, said, “Plain as the nose on your face: The doctor skidded into a tree, was thrown clear of the car. Medical Examiner isn't sure if death was a result of the fall or came from being run over.”
“Chief, my nose is plainer that that. I don't like sticking it in anybody else's business, I'm here on vacation...” I nodded down at Andy, hoping Roberts would understand why I had to make the play.
He merely growled, “What are you trying to say, pop?”
Maybe it was the “pop” that did it. “That it couldn't have been an accident. Look at the steering wheel, it would have pinned the driver against the seat.”
“Maybe yes and maybe no. No witnesses. Also possible he was thrown out of the car on impact, before the wheel was pushed back. I think it was an accident.”
I should have let it go at that, but Andy said, “My grandpa is a peace officer, too,” although I squeezed his shoulder hard.
“You don't say,” Roberts said, his voice loaded with sarcasm. “I'm busy, so if you'll....”
“Look, I'm not trying to tell you your business, but if you'll come outside I'll show you something that says it couldn't have been an accident.”
He stood up, and Lord, the tight uniform showed off his fine build; like Maxie Baer in his prime. “Now, listen, Mr. —”
“Lund, ain't you pushing your badge kind of far? One of our best citizens is killed in a routine accident and you start calling it something else.”
“Aren't you interested in how your best citizen: was killed?”
He stuck his cap on—at a practiced cocky angle, said —as if talking to an idiot, “Okay, I'll look to make you happy.”
“I merely want to have you explain one thing, then it's all yours. I'm going fishing.”
We went out and the boy-cop whined, “Chief, I tried to tell him....”
The Chief waved him silent, then the son-of-a-bitch tried to showboat me. He said, loudly, “Pay attention, Wally, a big-time cop from the big city is about to show us yokels how to operate.”
“I didn't say that, or that I....”
“You got me out of my office, Lund, now either put up or shut up.”
He was so childish I wanted to take a chance and hang one on his square jaw: he was built so perfectly there had to be something wrong, like a weak chin. The crowd was watching us with mild curiosity and that made me sore, too—I must have looked pitiful next to Mr. America in the fancy uniform.
“Well, come on, whet have you got to show me.?” Roberts asked.
I went over to the door by the driver's seat, shut and opened it; did it again. “Notice it isn't loose nor in poor working condition. Look at the lock, it isn't sprung, not even scratched.”
“What you trying to prove, that they made better caw in the old days?” Roberts wisecracked.
“It proves that unless the doc drove with his door open, he wasn't in the car when it crashed into the tree. If his body had hit the door with enough of a wallop to force the door open, or if the impact of the car hitting the tree had been great enough to fling the door open—the lock would have been sprung.”
Roberts glanced around at the crowd like a ham actor, whispered, “What the devil are you trying to say, Lund?”
“Just that with the steering wheel pushed to the back of the seat, and the door lock in good shape, it seems clear to me that Doctor Barnes wasn't in any accident— he was murdered.” I wasn't talking loudly but a gasp went up from the crowd and I heard the word “murdered” repeated in a shocked chorus.
“We haven't had a murder in End Harbor in seventy-six years. As for the steering wheel, like I told you, the doc might have been thrown out before the steering wheel could pin him.”
“That's possible, but not probable. But tell me how a man can be thrown through a closed door without springing the lock?”
Roberts' handsome face flushed. “It was a muggy night, maybe he was driving with the door partly open.”
“The car must have been doing at least seventy when it hit the tree, judging by the battered motor. What man drives that fast on a rainy night with the door open?”
The boy-cop who had been staring at the door with puzzled eyes, now said, “Chief, everybody knows Doc Barnes was a bug about safe driving. He was always preaching....”
“Aw, shut up, Wally!”
I gave Roberts a small smile, I suppose I was really enjoying myself. “I hope I haven't given you more work. I didn't mean to butt in, it's your case, but my grandson here... well, you know how it is. I had to play cop for him.”
There wasn't anything more to say and I walked Andy through the crowd. Glancing at Roberts, I saw him glaring at me. Murder would sure upset the quiet routine of his job.
As we headed for the supermarket Andy looked up at me with big eyes, said, “Gee, Grandpa! Gee!”
Bessie was waiting with a pile of packages outside the cashier's counter. “I've been standing here so long the butter and frozen foods have probably melted. Let's take these out to the car. Imagine what they're saying—that Doctor Barnes was murdered. If that isn't the most fantastic thing I ever....”
“Grandpa told them so, Mom!” Andy cut in, his voice high with excitement. “Oh, Mama, you should have seen the way Grandpa told the Police Chief why it had to be murder. Grandpa is a peace officer, too! I bet like Wyatt Earp in the cowboy....”
“Keep still, Andy. Matt, you didn't start this horrid rumor?”
“Isn't a rumor, but murder. I told you this morning that hit-and-run business didn't rest right with me. Newspapers to the contrary, most people aren't hit-and-run drivers. At least the guy would have stopped and....”
“Guy?” Bessie asked, opening the car door for us. “We women drive, too, remember?”
“.... slowed down, even if he didn't stop. Once he saw the wrecked car, knew he wouldn't be blamed for hitting the doc, he certainly would have reported it.”
Driving away Bessie said, “A murder in End Harbor, in this quiet little village... Matt, are you positive?”
“Let's put it this way: Certain factors point to murder, and until they're investigated and explained, the case should be handled as a homicide.”
“Tell Mom about the door locks,” Andy called out from the back seat. “Grandpa, how many killings you been on?”
His “Oh” oozed with disappointment.
Bessie's knee nudged mine and she made a waving motion with her little finger. Andy must have been watching her in the windshield mirror, for he asked, “Who you telling to shut up, Mom?”
“Nobody, mister big eyes and ears. I don't like all this murder talk. I don't want to hear another word about it —especially from you.”
“Can I ask Grandpa one last question?”
“Go ahead. Lord, you should have heard the way the gossip spread through the supermarket. An absolute stranger, a woman, came up and whispered it to me as if....”
“You said I could ask the question,” Andy cut in. “Grandpa, when are you going to catch the killer?”
“Andy, all I plan to catch is some sleep. I'm on vacation.” I tried to change the subject. “Clouds seem to be lifting; don't you want to try your spinning reel?”
“Sure, but I thought....”
“Andy, police work is exactly that—work. I merely put my two cents in because I didn't like the way that young cop was pushing you around. We'll let the End Harbor police do their own work. You and I are going to pack a few sandwiches, take our lines and see what's in the bay.”
Bessie groaned. “Don't know where my head is, I forgot bread. We'll stop at Tony's.”
She drew up before a small store and I said, “I'll get the bread.” A beefy young man was leaning across the counter, looking bored. He straightened up slowly when he saw me, said, “Now that you're here, I know it's summer.”
“What? Let me have a loaf of whole wheat.”
“Yes, sir. And what else?”
“That's all. Give me a couple cans of beer, any brand.”
He looked bored again as he got the beer. “Tell you, mister, business ain't worth getting out of bed for these days. It's after nine and I just broke the ice with you. That goddamn supermarket is squeezing out every merchant. My folks made a good living from this store as far back as I can recall but now... big chains put the whole town on its back. Oh, they give jobs to a few people, bat they drain all the money out, spend it elsewhere and.... Sorry, didn't mean to cry on your shoulder. Suppose you heard about Doc Barnes' accident? Now I hear some state trooper says it's a murder. Gives you the creeps.”
“Murder always does,” I said, paying and taking my bag.
Reaching the cottage, Bessie found Matty sleeping on the couch. When she pushed him off, the cat arched his back and spat at her. “Give me any back talk, you fat tom, and you'll be crab bait. Andy, go down to the Johnsons' and borrow their oars.”
“You bet,” the boy said, dashing out.
As I helped Bessie put things away she told me, “Matt, I don't like all this murder talk around Andy. He sees enough violence on TV. Thank God he's getting a summer off from that.”
“Don't shield him too much, this is a pretty violent world.”
“Matt, you're not taking part in this... murder, are you?”
“Hell, no. It's none of my business. Technically I am a peace officer but I only opened my yap to show off for Andy, I suppose. The local cop was a young snot.”
“Let's not talk about it in front of Andy. And don't let him horse you into rowing way out—the weather can change fast here. And take it easy rowing, you've done enough grandstanding for one day.”
I patted her cheek. “Since when did you become such a worry bug? Matter of fact, I don't intend to touch the oars; about time Andy got rid of his baby fat. He's growing up fine, Bessie.”
“Of course. It's been fourteen months since my miscarriage. We're trying hard for another child.”
“Don't worry about it. If it happens, it happens. And if it doesn't—you have Andy. Martha and I had two kids within three years and after that, nothing.”
“It isn't a fixation with me, or anything. But I do so want a girl. Would you like to play bridge tonight? I can ask John Preston over.”
“I don't care. Better make it tomorrow night, I didn't sleep much last night. Guess I'll get into my trunks.”
“Take pants along, in case the sun comes out and cooks that pale skin of yours.”
I changed while she made lunch. Then I fed Matty and cleaned out his box, stretched out for a snooze just as Andy returned with the oars. He got his fishing tackle together, including a pair of old metal binoculars. I picked them up, hung them around my neck.
Andy said, “Dad's letting me use them this summer. They're powerful.”
“I know.” They were good glasses, cost five dollars— back in 1929 when Martha gave them to me for Christmas. I gave them to Danny on his sixteenth birthday. Now Andy had 'em. It gave me a happy warm feeling—and made me feel old.
I carried the oars and the lunch while Andy took the fishing gear. As we walked to the beach he asked, “Grandpa, why do people kill each other?”
“Because we haven't learned to control our anger, I suppose. We're all under tensions which....”
“What's tensions mean, Grandpa?”
“I thought I told you to call me Matt?”
“Mama says not to. What's tensions?”
“Oh... people worry too much,” I said, wondering what I'd started. “They worry about a job, money, even clams. Then maybe they start fighting and one party gets so angry he doesn't realize what he's doing, swings the clam rake... and the other man is dead. Or two countries start shouting over a boat or something, and then there's war. Remember, never let your anger master you. These glass rods any good?” I asked, changing the subject with a clumsy hand.
He was a true fishing nut, talked rods and reels all the way to the beach. I hoped he would outgrow that soon, I've always found guys who go in for a lot of fishing gear to be bull artists—and not just about fish, either.
In the light of morning, even a dull one, the bay seemed far prettier than last night. It was a large rough circle of water opening on the Sound, or maybe the ocean. Andy started swimming out to get the rowboat. While I didn't want to get wet, I couldn't let him swim alone. The damn water was still ice cold. When we got the boat ashore, Andy wanted to empty some of the water and I almost broke my back tipping the heavy tub. We finally pushed off, and to my surprise the boy rowed well. As I lit my pipe the sun came out for a spell. I examined some of the anchored yachts through the glasses, and if it wasn't for my damp trunks, I would have enjoyed things.
Dropping anchor outside the breakwater, we got our hooks over. Fishing wasn't exactly a success. Not only didn't we catch anything but Andy's spinning reel wouldn't work. The fish kept eating my bait without my feeling a bite. I realized I was getting a burn and put on my pants and shirt. I didn't have to worry about the kid, he was brown as coffee. He was upset over the reel. I tried to monkey with it but mechanical gadgets are always over my noggin. I gave it up, asked if he wanted a sandwich. He pointed at the remains of a rotting dock, told me, “Pops usually fishes there. The reel was working for him yesterday. You should have seen him cast with it—sent it out a mile.”
I put the glasses on the dock. “Nobody there.”
“Pops may be fishing from the beach, on the other side. He can fix the reel, I bet.”
I motioned for him to pull up anchor as I took the oars. I couldn't remember when I last rowed. Although I once had a post that included the lake at 110th Street and I did a lot of rowing then. I was still pretty good at it.
The dock and the beach were empty. Andy said, “Damn. I mean darn—Pops is always here.”
I rowed back out into the bay and tossed out the anchor. The kid fished with my rod while I had a sandwich and some chocolate milk Bessie had fixed. My backside ached from sitting on the hard boat seat and I felt sleepy. I sat there, holding my head in my hands, feeling the stubble on my chin, almost dozing, when Andy caught a Small blowfish and startled me with his shouting. He tickled its white belly to show me how it blew itself up into a ball, then said it was too small to eat and tossed it back. Funny, when I was coming up we never ate them—now they were a delicacy. The kid wanted to row some more. He didn't head out into the bay but followed the shoreline. “There's Pops',” he said.
Andy was pointing a chubby finger at an old-fashioned but well kept-up house that stood above a cluster of trees. It was a large square house, painted white with red trim and in the center of the roof there was a small glass-enclosed room with a railing running around it. A man was lying on a cot, taking what little sun there was. He seemed to have a blanket over most of him and a large floppy straw hat covered his head and face. Sneakers and old army suntans stuck out of the bottom of the cot. I put the glasses on him; couldn't see any better. There was a paper on the floor, he was probably sleeping.
“Grandpa, you know what that is? That kind of... of house up on the roof?” Andy asked with the self-importance of the newly learned.
“No,” I lied. “What is it?”
“In the days when End Harbor was a big whaling port, the wife of the captain of the ship would walk on the roof every day, looking out on the bay, see if her husband's ship was coining in. I bet from up there she could see for about fifty miles, maybe a hundred. Anyway, they call it the widow's walk because she never knew whether she was a widow or not. I mean, if the boat never came back.” He was making for the shore and now he stood up and called, “Pops!” and waved his hands.
“Sit down, you'll turn the boat over. You're too far away for him to hear. Besides, he looks like he's sleeping. What's the man's real name?”
“I don't know, everybody calls him Pops. He knows lots of things about fishing and... heck, I thought I'd ask him to fix my reel. He sold it to me.”
There was a faint line of narrow beach, then a steep bank that rose ten or fifteen feet and disappeared into a layer of trees. The house sure had privacy. Maybe he was just resting. I asked, “Do you think we'd be bothering him if we took the reel to his house?” I had enough of the boat and water.
“No. Mom says he's a very spry man for his age. What does spry mean?”
“That he has pep. Well go to the house, but if he's asleep we'll let the reel go till tomorrow.”
“Okay, we have to row back to that old dock. The road runs by....”
“Well go ashore here and walk up. I'll row and you watch out for rocks. Has he any dogs?”
“I don't know,” the kid said, moving forward as I took over the oars. “He lives with Mr. Anderson. He's the mailman here. He also has a big vegetable truck.”
We beached the boat and with obvious delight Andy scolded me for not burying the anchor in the sand. I helped him up the bank, getting myself dirty. After the trees we came to a large field that ran up to the house. It was a nice hunk of land. Behind the house there was an open garage with a large new truck. A station wagon stood in the driveway which circled through a well-kept lawn. Everything about the place showed a lot of care, and except for the truck it looked like a rich man's estate.
We were about halfway across the field when one of the side windows of the house flew up and a shotgun barrel covered us as a man's voice yelled, “Hold it! Don't you lead signs? You're trespassing on private property!”
I grabbed Andy, said, “Don't move.” Then I called out, “Put that damn gun away. The boy merely wants to see Mr... Pops. I didn't see any NO TRESPASSING signs.”
“Should have come around by the road. Well, don't stand there, come along. Be careful where you walk, stay on the path.” He stood in the window, the gun still on us. He was a stocky joker. I kept the kid behind me and I was puffing as we reached the house. It was quite a slope.
The man and gun left the window and a moment later appeared on the screened porch that ran around the house. He was holding the gun by the barrel now. It was an expensive pump shotgun. He had on a dun polo shirt that showed off his bulky shoulders, and work pants. He looked about forty-five, a strong man with a thick neck, heavy iron-gray hair, and wide, homely face. He wasn't tall, in fact looked smaller than he was—like Marciano did in the ring. “What do you want to see Pops about? He's not feeling well.”
“I wanted to ask him about this reel he sold me,” Andy said, “It don't—doesn't work.”
The guy smiled and it completely changed his face, gave it some life. “You must be the kid who wouldn't take the reel for a gift, wanted to buy it. He told me about you. What's wrong with it?” he asked, coming down the porch steps.
He rested the gun between his knees as Andy handed him the reel. I said, “If you're so fond of guns, learn how to handle them. If you should happen to kick the shotgun now, it would blow your head off.”
“I know about guns, but thanks for the advice,” he said, resting the shotgun against the steps.
“And you ought to think twice or three times about pointing it at people—even trespassers.”
He looked up from the reel, eyes staring right into mine. He had honest eyes. “You must be this city policeman causing all the fuss.” He held out a large hand. “I'm Larry Anderson.”
“Matt Lund,” I said, shaking his mitt.
“Sorry I shouted at you. This used to be farm land and it's full of ruts and holes. I'm always afraid somebody will break a leg. As for the gun, I've been jumpy as a cat all morning. Pops had a mild heart attack right after breakfast and—you know about Doc Barnes. I couldn't even get a Hampton doctor to come over, those society snobs. Anyway, Pops' condition isn't serious and one of the docs gave me instructions over the phone. Pops will have to rest for a week or so, absolute rest. Meantime, just to play it safe, I've contacted a specialist in New York.” He took out a penknife and loosened a screw in the reel. It spun smoothly. “It's okay, son, you had it down too tight.”
Andy thanked him and as we turned to walk back to the boat, Anderson said, “I'd better show you the path.”
“I don't want to put you out....”
“That's okay.” As we followed him across the field he said over his thick shoulder, “Of course the doc's death upset me too. As a member of the town council, I—and Art, Chief Roberts—have called a meeting for noon. Murder makes it a terrible mess. But you were right, Mr. Lund. At least the Chief agrees it's murder. But it sure don't make sense, anybody killing a sweet guy like Ed Barnes who always.... Careful, step around these wooden boards. Old well here and the weather may have rotted the cover. I know Doc would have been the first to agree with us about the publicity.”
“What publicity?” I asked.
“The summer season hasn't been too good, as it is. Now this murder talk—it won't help business or the good name of the Harbor.”
When we reached the beach he said something about wind taking the POSTED signs he'd tacked to the trees. He showed Andy how to oil the reel, and pointing to a red buoy out in the water, said, “Tide should be in strong soon, brings in the fish. I've always found buoy 9 out there a good spot for kings.” He turned to me. “On behalf of the Harbor Council I want to thank you for helping out the police department.”
“Guess in time Roberts would have noticed the door lock. He was excited. Young bunch of policemen you have.”
“Chief Edwards died of kidney trouble last year, just after Jim Harris resigned to live with his girl in Brooklyn; she married a big dress man there. Art was new to the force, but that left him chief. Maybe you can give him a hand on this case?”
“Nope, I'm on vacation here, for a week.”
“Well, thank you again for your interest. Don't think we'll have much more sun, I'll take Pops back to his room. I'm trying to get a woman to help out around the house, but help is difficult to find during the summer.” He touched the binoculars around my neck. “Getting a lazy man's view of the harbor?”
“Well, I have to tend to Pops. Treat that reel with care and it will work fine, sonny.”
Andy said he would and we rowed out to the buoy. The kid got off some long casts while I pulled in a fair-sized porgy and the bastard cut my hands with his fins. Andy gave me a lecture on how to land a fish and I gave up fishing for the day. I saw Anderson up on the widow's walk, talking to Pops. Then he lifted the old man in his arms, stopped for second as if to point us out to Pops, then easily carried him into the house.
The sun came out again and we hung around the buoy for a long time, Andy catching a couple more porgies. I was getting stiff and when it started to cloud up again, over Andy's protests, I said it was time to head for home.
Neither Bessie nor the car were at the beach. Andy asked some women where she was but they said she hadn't been down as yet. We went to the cottage and Bessie wasn't there either. While the boy took the oars back, I showered and shaved, and then climbed into the mushy bed for a nap. It started to rain lightly and I lay there, listening to the rain hit the roof—an interesting sound for anybody accustomed to working in the damn rain. I was too pooped to sleep.
I was only wearing shorts and my knees were lobster red; in fact my skin was so hot I couldn't cover myself with a sheet and had to shove Matty off the bed. He tried to jump back on and I got up and pushed him into the living room, closed the door. I took a belt of brandy and stretched out again. If I was in the city now, just coming off at four o'clock, I'd go back to my old beat and play cards with some of the storekeepers after they closed. Or sit around the house and watch an early cowboy movie on TV.
Pain in my legs awoke me. Bessie was sitting on the bed, shaking me, her slacks pressing against my sunburnt knees. Her dark eyes were large and frightened. I asked, “What's the matter?” and moved away from her. It was still raining and at first I thought the shades were down, then I glanced at my watch—it was after eight.
“Matt, Andy and I have been riding all over town looking for you, and here you are, pounding your ear!”
I sat up and groaned; my skin felt as if it was cracking. “Damn, but I've got a burn. Got anything for that?”
“I saw Matty on the couch outside so I thought you had gone to town or... I'm all mixed up. Matt, Matt, they've arrested Jerry for Dr. Barnes' murder!”
I stood up and shook with a small chill; my red skin seemed to change from hot to ice every second. I was afraid to put on a robe. “Jerry, the dialectician? Where did you learn that?”
“It's all over the village. And every one of these bigoted souls is pleased as punch now that the village 'foreigner' is labeled a murderer! I tried to see him but that dumb-ox police chief wouldn't even let me talk to him. Matt, there's nobody to help him. You saw Jerry, I know trim—he couldn't possibly kill anybody.”
Stiffly, I headed for the door.
“Matt, are you sleepwalking? Didn't you hear what I told you?”
“I'm not deaf, but when I get up the first thing I have to do is take in the John. I'll be back in a second.”
Washing was torture and I couldn't find a thing in the medicine chest for sunburn. When I came out, Bessie had tea bags is a pan of hot water, cotton, and a bottle of baby oil. She told me to stand still and began dabbing my red skin with the tea bags. It embarrassed me to have her touch me all over so I cornballed, “Thinking of serving me with sugar?”
“No, with an apple in your mouth. Tannic acid is the best thing for a bum. Now I'll put on the oil, and dress you warmly before you catch a cold. Matt, we simply....”
“Where's the kid?”
“Visiting down the street. Matt, we must help Jerry. I'm certain they're making him the whipping boy, the goat.”
“Do you know why they think Jerry did it?”
“Oh, something about his having an argument with the doctor last night. Jerry is a diabetic, or on the verge of becoming one. He felt ill last night and called the doctor, who bawled him out for drinking beer. A neighbor heard them shouting at each other. Mrs. Barnes claims Jerry's was the only call the doctor had last night. There, that's enough oil, now get dressed. I have supper working.”
“I'm not hungry, stuffed myself on sandwiches in the boat,” I said, going to my room and dressing. Matty was wailing for his supper.
Bessie had hamburgers, potatoes, and a cup of strong spicy tea waiting. She sat down opposite me and lit a cigarette. When I asked when she started smoking, she said, “Only when I'm nervous. Matt, you have to prove Jerry is innocent.”
“You're a policeman and the only one who can—and will—help him. You know he's being framed.”
“Bessie, honey, because he's your landsman doesn't make him innocent. They must have something else on him beside what you've told me.”
“They don't! You can almost feel the sigh of relief in the village now that he's arrested—they all hate him.”
“You sure he's arrested or merely held for questioning?”
“Oh—I don't know the legalities... Matt, what are you going to do?”
“Go back to sleep. I'm on....”
“Matt, I'm serious!”
“So am I. Bessie, no matter what you may think, people are rarely framed for murder. At least not in New York State. I'm on vacation, not to mention that I have no business here as a cop.”
“Matt, I'm counting on you. You're the one who started this murder business, you just have to help!”
“Bessie, be sensible. I acted like a horse's ass this morning, playing the big cop. It's... well... like a matter of professional ethics. Suppose Roberts was in New York and tried playing cop—they'd laugh him out of town, if they didn't actually boot him out of the station house. Actually, as a peace officer, I have no more authority over Roberts than... well, than any citizen. I mean....”
“Matt, you're spouting about ethics like this was a debate, a bull session. A man's life is at stake!”
I nibbled at the hamburger. “Easy, Bessie. You say go out and solve a murder like it was the same as going to the store. I mean, exactly what do you think I can do? This isn't a movie. I'm not a detective; all my life I've been a plain old beat-cop. The truth is that except for a couple of busted store windows and petty house robberies, I've never taken part in a real crime. Jerry will get a lawyer, a chance to prove his innocence. Damn it, Bessie, what I'm trying to say is: I'm not sure I can help him or....” I let the rest of the sentence die, turned away to give Matty a piece of hamburger.
I saw disgust and shame in Bessie's eyes. “I hate to say this, Matt, but you're an old maid. All you want is your bed and to fool around with a dumb cat. Jerry is a good man, doesn't that matter to you? I suppose if he was a lousy cat with a broken leg, you'd run to....” She held her face in her hands and began to weep.
I'm a sucker for tears—any kind. I went around the table and put my hands on her shoulders. She hugged my waist. “Okay, Bessie, I'll see what I can do. But don't expect me to work miracles, be a super-sleuth.”
She wiped her face on my shirt. “Matt, I'm sorry.... about calling you an old maid. You're like Jerry—a good man. I know you'll solve this. I just know!”
“Yeah.” It sounded like nothing. “Let me have the keys to the car. I'll see what I can get from this alleged Chief of Police.” My fingers were stroking her hair, it was very soft.
Bessie insisted I wear one of Danny's windbreakers, which was too big for me and I knew I looked comical as I parked in front of the Harbor's main building. I was hoping Robert's would be out. He wasn't. He was behind his desk sucking on a big cigar, and from the sneering expression on his face I had the feeling Roberts had been waiting for me. I was all set to explain about Bessie nagging me and how I was on vacation, and hardly wanted a fight with my daughter-in-law on any occasion. But the sight of him got my dander up, making it harder for me to apologize for sticking my nose into his business. I fully realized I was being a prize pain in his rear.
Roberts boomed, “If it isn't Peace Officer Lund. I suppose you heard the news?” The sarcastic “Peace Officer” bit didn't help my mood.
I relit my pipe and sat in the chair beside his desk. “Yeah, I heard. I know this sounds kind of dumb—I mean, this morning I was talking up because of the boy, and now, well, my daughter-in-law is after me. You see, she's Greek, like Jerry, and she wants me to....”
“How come you let your son marry a Greek?”
That ended any explanations I had in mind. I puffed on my pipe and stared at this big young handsome dressmaker's dummy. He puffed, too—purled out his chest, said, “Not bad for a hick cop: murder in the morning, an arrest in the afternoon.”
“I never called you a hick cop, Roberts. Yeah, it was fast work. How did you do it?”
“Common sense. We checked with Pris... Mrs. Barnes, on the doc's night calls. His last one was at Jerry's house. Mrs. Ida Bond—she lives across the road from Jerry—she heard the doc bawling Jerry out for drinking beer and Jerry telling him to leave him alone. She is ready to swear she heard Edward, Doc Barnes, shouting, 'Then I won't be responsible for your life,' and Jerry answering, 'And I won't be responsible for yours.' That's the exact words. Naturally when we questioned Jerry he denied the killing, but did admit he had some words with Doc. Claims he was home all night, but living alone... that ain't much of an alibi.”
“You arrested him on that evidence?”
Roberts waved a long hand at the smoke in the air. “Sounds good to me: two men have an argument and later one of them is found murdered.”
“Find any fingerprints?”
“Didn't look,” he said calmly. “First off, being out in that rain all night, hardly be any prints or tire tracks. Then, we were so sure it was an accident... I mean, the undertaker was already working on the body when you convinced me it had to be murder. But I got all the evidence I need.”
“Come off it, Roberts,” I said, not blaming him for holding out on me. “Your evidence won't stand up in court.”
He blew a cloud of lazy smoke, watched it drift up to the ceiling. “If it doesn't, Jerry's acquitted.” He leaned across the desk, lowered his voice. “Between you and me, being a diabetic old Jerry could plead he was in a state of shock, sort of nuts, get off with that.”
This was the screwiest cop ever! “Anything missing? Wallet or money gone, any signs of robbery?” I asked.
“Nope. Made a careful check with Mrs. Barnes. Everything's there. This wasn't any robbery.”
“What time was the doctor at Jerry's house?”
“Around nine-thirty. Jerry phoned him just before nine. Mrs. Barnes says the doc was peeved at having to make a night call. And before you ask what time the doc died— I'll tell you. Medical Examiner puts it around eleven P.M., but he can't be positive, give or take an hour or two. So that fits.”
I was fed up with this hot air. I got to my feet. “Jerry has a lawyer?”
A shrug of the heavy shoulders—and it wasn't padding either. “He must have plenty of dough, been living like a miser all his life. He can get himself a good one. He's over at the Riverside jail—that's the county seat.”
“Think I can see him?”
The handsome face tightened. “Look, it's an open and shut case....”
“Can I see him?”
Roberts stared at me, his eyes narrowing. There was a silent pause while he made a fist with his big right hand, balanced it on his left palm for a second, examining it. Finally, convinced he still had all his fingers, or something, he looked at me again, asked, “What you making a production of this for, Lund?”
“No production. He's a kind of friend of the family. I merely want to see that he has a lawyer, cigarettes, understands his rights.”
Roberts opened his fist, slapped the desk—lightly. “You should know it isn't up to me. Go down to the jail in the morning, if it will make you feel any better. Only if you're still on this peace officer kick, remember I'm in charge here and you'll do what I say or....”
“You're the one making a thing of it. I told you why I'm here: Jerry is a friend of my daughter-in-law and... uh... Fm only doing this as a friend.”
“Suit yourself, friend. But don't let me trip over you.”
“Thanks.” I zipped up the floppy windbreaker on the way out.
I didn't feel like rushing back to more of Bessie's needling. There was a dreary-looking bar across the street. I went in and ordered a beer. The bartender was a tall man with the kind of shoulder and arm development that came from doing something a darn sight harder than mixing drinks. He had weak eyes and his thick glasses gave his fleshy face an unreal look. There were a couple of young kids, about eighteen or nineteen, hanging around a pin-ball machine. They were drinking straight gin, or maybe it was vodka.
I bought a bag of potato chips and sipped my brew slowly. Bessie said Jerry used his mumbling dialect on everybody in town—did that include the doc? If so, how could a woman across the road understand what he was yelling? And Barnes—now, why would a doctor be shouting at a patient? The whole dumb village was acting screwy: first they didn't want to call it murder, pass it off as an accident. Then they tagged Jerry and from the way Roberts acted, he couldn't care less if it held up in court. He seemed to want an acquittal.
“.... I hear he's a big-time private eye.” This was followed by a nervous giggle from the pinball crowd. I looked into the dirty mirror behind the bar; the three punks were leaning against the machine, staring at me with crocked eyes. One of them said, loudly, “I heard he's FBI. Sent down here to root up trouble. I ain't hit an FBI yet, but there's always a first time.”
I felt a chill, which had nothing to do with my sunburn. These were tall husky young fellows, with SOP crewcuts and loud sport shirts. But they were wearing work shoes and looked accustomed to hard work—and in shape. There was more mumbling and I finished my beer as quickly as I could—without making it look fast, nodded at the barkeep and headed for the door.
I'd reached the sidewalk when they came out, all of them swinging. I blocked a wild right and punched one of them in the eye. A smack on the chin dropped me. I sat on the walk, dizzy, and trying to think of a lot of things— like curling up to protect myself from kicks. And if the bastards had busted my bridgework.
My head was spinning but I saw the bartender come out and give one of the kids a swift kick in the can, tell him, “I warned you about starting any roughhouse in my place, Tommy. Try this again and I'll droplock you through the wall. And I ain't kidding.”
A pair of long legs in black puttees passed me. Roberts moved nicely. He grabbed the nearest kid and slapped him across the face. A hell of a slap, the mouth went out of shape for a moment and his hair shook. When he let go, the punk went reeling down the street. The others started to run but Roberts took two steps and backhanded another across the nose, making it bleed. He was damn good, always had his right fist cocked for real trouble. He reached down and lifted me to my feet. “You okay, Lund?”
I put a finger in my numb mouth; my bridgework was still in one piece. I said, “Yeah.”
The bartender said, “Sorry, mister. I thought they were only fooling. Come in and get a shot on the house, fix you up.”
“I'm okay.” I started toward Bessie's car. Roberts walked along with me. “They thought you were here to look into a hot-rod accident. A kid was killed in a race, in a car stolen out of state from New Jersey. Was some talk about the Feds coming into the case. They were just scared.”
“They weren't scared enough.” Feeling returned to my jaw.
“Kids used to do a lot of cop-fighting down here, their form of juvenile delinquency, I guess. Matter of fact, that's why I was first taken on, as a special, to handle the kids. Sure you're okay, Mr. Lund?”
I got in the car and said I was fine. Hell of it was, Roberts really sounded sincere.
“It won't happen again, Lund. You understand, one of those things. I'll drop in on the kids, at their homes, in an hour or so, put the fear of the law in them. I don't stand for cops being slugged here.”
“Sure, they were liquored up. Thanks.”
“Anyway, I'm glad you socked one of the clowns. Handle yourself good for a guy your age.”
I waved and drove off, wondering if he was kidding me; not sure. I couldn't make this hick burg, couldn't figure it even a little.
If there's one thing I can't take, it's to be awakened suddenly. Bessie shook me awake and said, “It's seven o'clock, Matt.”
I sat up in bed and thought maybe I was lucky: she could have started at five a.m. She began talking about Jerry and I told her to hold it—she didn't want to mention murder in front of the kid. Maybe she knew I was sore; when I came out of the bathroom she had some of this thick Turkish coffee waiting and a few cups of that put me back in a normal mood. Andy took the boat kit I'd brought him to a friend's house and by eight, Bessie was driving me to Riverside. Her pretty face looked tired. I asked, “Didn't you sleep last night?”
“How could I, worrying about Jerry?”
“Honey, don't carry this landsman stuff too far. Frankly, I don't get the play here, but even Roberts doesn't seem to think a court will find the old boy guilty so....”
“No, Matt, that won't be good enough.”
“He's an old man, we can't even have him stand trial. Don't you see, it would kill him, be the final victory for End Harbor. We have to prove he's innocent before trial. Another thing, nobody can be positive of an acquittal.”
“Bessie, come back to earth. You say we 'can't let him stand trial'; like it was up to us. There's only so much we can do.”
“Matt, I got to know Jerry because he is of Greek descent, like I am, but I'd go to bat for him anyway. I mean, his being Greek has nothing to do with it. You know how damn biased the Harbor is toward him.”
“Aren't you just as biased, in his favor? At this point we don't know he didn't kill the doc—we merely think so. Now let's get some facts, find out exactly where we stand, before we do any more gum-beating.”
“Of course. And I'm very proud of you, father-in-law, for helping poor Jerry.”
“What the hell, looks like a rainy day anyway,” I said, not entirely kidding.
“You louse!” she cried, hitting me with her knee. “For that I won't buy Matty any liver for supper. What enjoyment do you get from that fat-assed cat? All he does is sleep.”
“At least he doesn't talk much.”
“Very funny! Matt, ever think of getting married again?”
“As the joke goes, marriage is nice to think about—if you only think and don't....”
She cut me off with a four-letter word and drove the rest of the way in silence.
At the Riverside Police Headquarters they flatly refused to let us see Jerry, since we weren't relatives. I got the sergeant-in-charge aside and showed him my badge. He said, “You must be the joker who started all this. I worked out of the 130th Precinct in New York for a couple years myself—harness bull. Then I moved out here for the summer and got on this force. Slower life, and better for the heart. This is a screwy case, they got nothing against this Greek that will wash in court.”
“Think he'll be indicted?”
“Are you kidding? You know these grand juries, do anything the D.A. asks. We told Roberts he had a watery case but he seems happy.”
“I know, but why?”
“Tell ya, in these villages, what the hell, the chief is lucky to be taking home fifty bucks a week, and no civil service standing or pension. Not much cushion money around, either. Roberts is a glamour boy and beside showing off that fancy uniform all he does is chase a speeder now and then, maybe lock up a drunk. So he's puffed up about 'solving' this murder. Hey, how come you're interested in all this?”
“He's a friend of my daughter-in-law. You know how it is, she expects me to act like Dick Tracy because I have a badge. I just wanted to be sure Jerry has a lawyer, cigarettes.”
“Well, I don't see no harm in your seeing him. We can't even understand what he says—when he talks. I hear he won't have either of the two lawyers in End Harbor. Guess the court will have to appoint somebody. I'll give you fifteen minutes with him. As for the babe, your daughter-in-law, that's out.”
Bessie was sore as a boil when I told her she couldn't go in, but finally agreed to do her shopping and meet me outside the station house in a half hour.
The cells were pretty good, modern and heated, with a sink and toilet in each one. The cell block attendant was a sleepy-looking fat character. When he started to recite the rules, I told him I had the same job in New York, and he said in a bored voice, “Then you know the score. Don't cause me no trouble, pops.”
“Pops” yet, and the fat slob looked less than a dozen years younger than me.
Jerry seemed to have doubled his age overnight, his body was shrunken, face more wrinkled, his color splotchy. He didn't get up and I sat on the clean bunk beside him, explained about Bessie wanting to see him.
He muttered, “Mista, whata you want with me?” We were back to the dialect.
“Jerry, we only have a few minutes, so cut the crap and talk straight. Have you money to hire a lawyer?”
“Money? What gooda is money? Whatta good any lawyerman do me? This all one frame.”
I shook him. “Damn it, talk straight! What do you mean, a frame?”
He stared at the floor a moment, started to cry. I shook him again, whispered fiercely, “What's the matter with you? Bessie and I are your friends. Look, you can still lick the bastards. You fought them all these years, why give up the last round?” As usual tears had me spooked.
Rubbing his hand across his face he asked quietly, “What do you want to know, Mr. Lund?”
“Did you do it? Now, wait; understand, I have to know that for sure.”
He shook his head slowly, as if it took a great effort. “The doc and me, we never rubbed together well, especially when I first came to the Harbor, but I always admired him. Town never had much use for him either. No, of course I didn't do it. Do you believe that?”
“I wouldn't be sitting here if I didn't believe you. Exactly what happened the night before last? What were you fighting with Barnes about?”
He straightened up. “What fight?”
“A Mrs. Bond, who lives across the street from you, claims you shouted at the doc, something about you wouldn't be responsible for his life. And the doc was yelling at you. Did you say that to Barnes?”
“Well, yes. Because my garden has always been better than hers, all the time this Bond woman must spy on me. I said that to the doc, but only as a joke.”
“If it was such a joke, why were you shouting it at the top of your lungs?”
“Ed—Doc Barnes—used a hearing aid but it wasn't working so good. Maybe the batteries were weak. So we were talking loud. Now you talk as if you don't believe me, Mr. Lund.”
“Look, I have to ask questions because I need the complete picture if I'm going to be of any help to you. Now what happened that night?”
Jerry shrugged. “Nothing happened. I keep telling you that.”
“Damn it, Jerry, wake up! Can't you understand this isn't a game or a... look, tell me everything you did from the time you dropped me off at Bessie's cottage.”
“That was the last train for the night, so I went home for my supper. I had a couple bottles of beer. After I eat I'm listening to the radio—music—and I begin to feel sick, real dizzy. I know an attack is coming on so I phoned the doc. I'm feeling miserable until he comes over and he raises sand because I'm off my diet. The doc was sore at me. I told him, like I always do, to fix me up, that I'm too old to worry about a diet, eating is one of the few joys left in life for me. He said that if I didn't stick to the diet he wouldn't be responsible for my life. So making a wisecrack, I tell him nobody but God is responsible for life. He didn't hear and I yelled I wouldn't be responsible for his life either. He gave me an insulin shot, and a pill to make me sleep. Edward said he had to see the old goat, then he could get some sleep himself. Then he left.”
“What's this 'old goat' mean?”
Jerry shrugged. “That he had another call to make. I didn't ask him.”
“What time did he leave?”
“Maybe nine thirty, maybe ten. The pill made me sleepy and I went to bed at once. In the morning I took some ladies to the train, you saw me at the station, and there I hear about Edward being killed in an accident. It upset me, like I said, I admired him. In the afternoon they come and arrest me. You see it's a frame. They kept asking can anyone prove I was at home all night That's silly—they right well know I live alone.”
“Did you tell Roberts about the 'old goat'?”
“Sure. I told him exactly what I told you.”
“Where's the medicine bottle the doc gave you, the stuff that put you to sleep?”
“What bottle? He gave me one pill.”
I tried to think of something else to ask but my mind was going in circles. “I don't believe they have anything on you that will stand up in court, a jury will find you not guilty and....”
“But in the eyes of the Harbor I will always be a murderer! Bad enough for me in town up to now.... Even if I'm free, I will have to leave the Harbor.”
“Jerry, you either have to fight this or give up. First step is to get a lawyer, a young kid just starting out, if you can. A Riverside lawyer. A kid will act like a legal-eagle because an acquittal means good publicity for him. You want Bessie to find a lawyer for you?”
“All right, I'll get one.”
“Okay, but do it at once. Did anybody in End Harbor, or in any of the other burgs around here, have any reason for killing the doc? Did he have any enemies, any at all?”
“No, no. Edward is—was—the only doctor in the Harbor, a big man in the town.”
“But you just told me the Harbor didn't have much use for him either.”
“I don't like to repeat... gossip. They keep this quiet because Barnes was the mayor at one time, an important man in the church... but he told them all to go plum to hell, even his wife.”
“Told them to go to hell about what?”
“You know how the town got its name, End Harbor?”
“I suppose because it's at the end of the bay.” He shook his head. “A long, long time ago a tribe of Indians lived there, part of the Shinnecock Nation, called Endins—sounds like Indians. That was a couple hundred years ago. When I first came to the Harbor there were still several Indian families, but they moved away. Only one family left, Joe Endins and his daughter Jane. Jane grew up to be a fine girl but there was nothing for her in the Harbor, no job, no man to marry—because she's Indian. All she can do is work as a maid. Her papa died and she still hung around, maybe she's twenty-three, twenty-five, a very lonely young woman. Then the story starts she is going with Doc Barnes. That was about ten years ago. This is all gossip, you understand, but this I do know, Edward trained her to be a nurse and took her on all his calls. His wife is mad as the devil and the town is buzzing with whispers. After a year or so, Jane stops working for the doctor. She still lives in the Harbor but works in a Hampton factory. But the doctor, he keeps seeing her, you can usually find his car parked boldly in front of the Endin house a few times a week. Gossip is the devil's tongue in a small town. Because Priscilla Barnes helped Art Roberts, sort of kept an eye on him when his mother died, why some dirty people hinted....”
“Wait up, Mrs. Barnes and Chief Roberts are an item?”
“No, no! She's old enough to be his mother. I merely show you the evil power of gossip... and how well I've known that power!”
“But this other bit, Doc and an Indian gal, jeez! Changes everything, gives the doc's wife a motive for the killing.”
Jerry patted my knee, as if he was talking to a kid. “Indeed not. You shock me, Mr. Lund. But of course you don't know Priscilla Barnes. A very quiet and meek woman. If she stood the cross of gossip all these years, when Jane was working in the Barnes home—Edward had his office in the house—why should she get angry sow, when the affair, if it was that, seemed to be dying out?”
“Some people carry a long fuse and you never know—when....”
The attendant rapped on the bars. “Time's up.”
“Think hard: the doc didn't give you any hint as to who the 'old goat' might be? Didn't say in which direction he was driving to see the goat, for example?”
“Nope. He said it in passing; you know.”
“Let's go, break it off.” The cell block attendant opened the door.
“Whatsa the bigga rush with you?” Jerry mumbled.
“When you get that lawyer, I want to see him. And don't talk to anybody but the lawyer,” I told him.
“What is there to talk about?”
I stood up. “Maybe I'll be back to see you tomorrow, or the next day. Need any cigarettes, cigars—anything?”
Jerry shook his head. “I am glad you came, Mr. Lund,” he said, getting up and shaking my hand. “You made me feel better—a little.”
Bessie was sitting in the car, puffing on a cigarette, bags of groceries on the rear seat. She started pumping me with questions and I said, “Relax, Jerry is fine. Bessie, the whole Harbor is lying in their carefully brushed teeth.”
“But why? It's such a peaceful community—I know they dislike Jerry, but to frame him for murder—that I can't understand.”
“Let's get going, I have a lot of work to do. The why is the usual old one: your pillar of the community, Doc Barnes, was carrying on for years with an Indian woman, a descendant of the tribe that founded End Harbor. Name is Jane Endin. You know her?”
“No. We tourists rarely get to know anybody but the storekeepers. You think this Indian woman killed him?”
“She had more reason than Jerry. Not to mention the doc's wife, who's been having the affair flung in her face all these years. But this explains Chief Roberts' attitude —from the go he knew darn well it was murder but all he can think of is the Harbor doesn't want a scandal. In a small town everybody is close friends—especially Mrs. Barnes and Roberts. He's even willing to call it an accident and let it go at that. Then enter the clown—me—who has to shoot off his big mouth. Now the Harbor has to call it murder but they find a custom-made patsy—the doc was known to have visited Jerry, the village bogeyman.”
“But to put Jerry on trial for his life, Lord, how can they be so heartless!”
“Honey, that's the angle, the reasons Roberts doesn't give a fat damn his evidence is weak and circumstantial— he knows Jerry won't be found guilty. So what? The mess is over, hushed without any scandal. I told you I was the joker in the deck, well, honey, I'm going to knock over their can of peas, bust this wide open!”
“Matt, I knew you would!”
“You didn't know a mumbling thing, and neither did L Frankly, I only went to Riverside this morning to go through the motions. But that's all changed now—I know he's being railroaded. Being an ordinary patrolman, a harness bull, I've never looked upon 'police work' as anything but a job. But like everybody else I sometimes thought, had daydreams, about being a real detective. So in my old age I'm frankly going to give it a try.”
The odd thing was I said this rah-rah pitch cold sober, actually meant every word. Listening to Jerry I'd decided to goose End Harbor wide open, expose all the petty scheming and hatreds, a kind of concentrated form of big city vice. If I was doing it for Jerry, I was also doing it for my own ego. And all the time I knew I was showboating; a four-flusher—for the case was a set-up and I would knock it over with the speed of a fiction private eye.
Bessie wanted to know what I had in mind but I merely puffed on my pipe with great self-importance, told her I couldn't discuss it at the moment, but I would need the car.
She said I could have it and even managed not to talk all the way back to the cottage. I gave Matty his lunch in three seconds flat and with Bessie watching with admiring eyes I dashed off—the great detective about to run himself ragged.
Roberts was out but the boy-cop was holding down the desk. He told me Roberts was working. I asked, “Did you know the doc was deaf?”
“Yeah. Everybody knew that, he had one of them transparent hearing buttons stuck in his ear.”
“You know why Jerry was loud-talking him, why the doc was shouting back? The hearing device wasn't working that night.”
“That so? There wasn't enough left to say if it was working or not Who told you all this?”
“Jerry. Didn't you fellows question him at all? He claims Barnes had another call to make—which means Jerry wasn't the last person to see the doc alive.”
Junior fooled with his red tie, almost yawned in my face. “Guess that would change things—if you can prove it. We grilled old Jerry, but who can understand the way he talks? After a couple questions he wouldn't say a damn word. To my way of thinking, this proves Jerry guilty— for he'd sure as hell make up a story about the doc having another call. Mrs. Barnes says he only had to see Jerry.”
“She might say anything. Jerry says the doc told him he was on his way to see the 'old goat.' Any idea who that would be?”
He showed a mouthful of teeth in a big grin. “Offhand that could be anybody over the age of thirty. There's a summer population of around 2800, not to mention the 1468 actual residents of the Harbor, and at least half of them are over thirty—you plan to question about 3000 people, mister?”
“I might, to save a man's life,” I snapped, knowing I was wasting time: the End Harbor police weren't interested in finding the killer. “Where does Jane Endin live?”
“Out on Bay Street, couple houses past the entrance to Tide Beach. So you know about her?”
“I sure do,” I said, starting for the door.
“All this rushing about will tire you out, man your age.”
I spun around. “Don't let that pansy uniform go to your head, sonny. I've put in more years as a cop than you have weeks!”
“Take it easy, mister. I'm only trying to save you work. She ain't home. We been trying to locate her since yesterday.”
I almost swallowed my tongue: a possible suspect leaves town and they sit on their butts! “Know where she works in Hampton?”
“Sure, at the watch factory. We phoned there, she wasn't to work yesterday or today. What you want to see her for?”
“To ask who she thinks will win the pennant!” I said, walking out.
He called after me, “Hell, I can tell you that—the Giants.”
Outside I sat in the car and got my pipe going—watching the people on the main drag—trying to figure my next step. I knew what I had to do but I didn't want to rush it, act like a jerk—the way I'd just done with the uniform-happy boy. One thing was for sure; I couldn't shake this village loose by myself.
I made a list of all the names I'd heard since coming to the Harbor—Jerry's, Doc and Mrs. Barnes, Chief Roberts, Jane Endin, Mrs. Bond, Larry Anderson, Pops (but what was his name?), even copied the names from the store windows on Main Street—obviously the big apples in the village. Getting a handful of change I put in a long distance call, which would also take it away from the ears of the local operators, to Nat Reed in New York. Nat and I shared a post for a brace of years before he quit to go into private work, ended up in a cushy spot with a credit agency. Credit outfits have become the largest snoop agencies in the country outside the government. They have complete files on millions of people. I gave Nat a fast rundown on what I was doing, the list of names.
As I expected, he said, “Matt, you know I can't give out info like that. It's only for our subscribers.”
“I know—that's why I'm wasting dough on a long distance call.”
Nat sputtered a little before he said, “Okay, I'll send you whatever we have, get it out today.”
“Put it in a plain envelope. Seal it good.”
“Things that bad?”
“I'm playing it safe, wind blows a lot of ways out here.”
“I'll mail it special delivery.” He laughed. “Going in for police work as a hobby in your old age?”
“Isn't it about time? And if I'm in my old age, where does that put you, you old belch? Thanks, Nat. Say hello to the wife for me.”
I drove along Main Street until I reached the picture-window white house set back on a neat lawn with Doc Barnes' shingle hanging from a post made to look like an old whaling ship's mast. I rang the doorbell and a stout woman with a healthy face and heavy gray hair in a big bun topping her head opened the door. A plain worn short red dress showed off arms and legs that belonged on a football team.
“No, no, I'm only staying with Priscilla in her hour of need. I'm Mrs. Jenks.”
“Can Mrs. Barnes see people? It's important.”
The bright eyes in the large face turned suspicious. “You're new in the Harbor, ain'tcha?”
“Yes. My name is Matt Lund. I'd like to speak to Mrs. Barnes.”
“Well, you certainly don't look like a reporter. They've been ringing our phone like.... Well, I keep telling them all this excitement is bad for shock. My son is a doctor, too, you know. Practicing in Brooklyn. Edward urged him to come home and share his practice but Don thought there wouldn't be enough for two doctors to.... Say! You're that city police inspector!”
Gossip was promoting me fast. “Your son going to take over Doctor Barnes' practice now?”
“I should hope so. After all, Edward would have wanted it that way—he practically insisted Don go to med school. This is what I've been dreaming about—Don back in the Harbor, where he belongs and.... But this is no time to talk about such things.”
“Maybe not. Will you ask Mrs. Barnes if she'll Bee me for a few minutes?”
“Priscilla is piddling around in the kitchen. This morning she was busy with the funeral arrangements. You'll only upset her and she needs her rest.”
There was a moment of silence while we stared at each other. I suppose I should have gone away but I stood there, waiting. Finally she snorted, “Hmmm! I'll ask Priscilla,” and shut the door in my face.
A frail little woman with an unhealthy waxen skin and thin white hair opened the door a moment later. Her delicate features and mild eyes added up to a washed-out look, and the mouth was merely a faint pink line. She was wearing a white apron over a black dress. The apron was even starched. But the more I looked at her I realized she wasn't exactly frail—more on the wiry side. She had been a pretty woman at one time, in fact still had a kind of beauty—if you go for the fragile type of looks—which I don't. Her voice was a shock; it was far from delicate—it was hard, almost brittle, as she said, “I'm Mrs. Barnes. What do you wish to speak to me about?”
“May I come in?”
She seemed to wince and shake, as if I'd hit her. She closed her eyes for a moment and I had this feeling the very last thing she wanted was to talk to me—or even see me. Then she opened her eyes, stared at me boldly, and that strong, harsh voice said, “Of course. Excuse my manners.
I followed her into a spotlessly neat living room: a mixture of old-fashioned heavy furniture, a big new TV, and two modern plywood chairs. Everything was neat-as-a-pin-so. She was a real Dutch housewife, as they used to say in my day. She pointed toward a stuffed leather chair and I sat down while she perched on the edge of a plain maple stool. Maybe she wasn't as old as I figured—her legs were pretty good, hardly a vein showing. I fooled with my cap as I said, “I realize the strain you're under, Mrs. Barnes, and I wouldn't be here... if a man's life wasn't at stake.”
“I understand, it's your job.”
“Yes, it is, if you believe it's every citizen's job to uphold the law.”
“I respect the law, I always have. But you might as well know this: I do not—I cannot—believe Edward was murdered.”
“Then all the more reason to aid a man under arrest for his murder. I'll be blunt, Mrs. Barnes, do you really want to find the murderer of your husband? The rest of End Harbor doesn't seem....”
“I can't stand the sound of that word—murder!” Her hard voice rose in a wail; brought the picture of an icicle to my mind. I noticed the swinging door that led to the kitchen move slightly—where Mrs. Jenks was at her listening post. “Ed—Doctor Barnes—devoted his life to the health and welfare of people. Who would want to kill a saint? Why, why?”
“Do you think Jerry killed your husband?”
“No. I refuse to believe he was killed by... anybody! It was an accident.”
“Mrs. Barnes, did you act as a secretary for your husband, keep track of his calls?”
“Naturally, if the phone rang and Edward was out, or busy, I took it.”
“I understand Jerry phoned the doctor at nine P.M. Did you take the call?”
“Yes. That is, we both answered. Edward had this stranger in his office, but as I picked up the extension, Edward answered, so I hung up. But I knew it was Jerry.”
“Why, some elderly man, a Mr. Nelson, drove up to ask if Edward knew about a man he was looking for, an old army friend, a Mr. Hudon... or some name like that.”
“Why did he think your husband would know him?”
“I don't know exactly, I didn't pay much attention to it. Mr. Nelson was driving along the Island and his friend was supposed to be living in the Harbor, at least he sent Mr. Nelson a card from here a few years ago. Since Mr. Hudon suffered from gallstones, Mr. Nelson thought Edward might have treated his friend. It's all rather complicated and of no importance.”
“It may be of great importance. Did you say Mr. Nelson was an elderly man?”
“Oh, yes. But very tall and well preserved for his age. Edward had never heard of the other man, so Mr. Nelson left.”
“Does Chief Roberts know about Mr. Nelson?”
“Yes, I mentioned it to Artie.”
“Did Nelson say where he was staying in the Harbor?”
“Are you certain Doctor Barnes had never seen Nelson before? Did he act excited, or upset after Nelson left?”
“Edward never put eyes on the man before. I gathered that Mr. Nelson was merely passing through the Harbor. Really, Mr. Lund, I don't see the point of all this.”
“Jerry claims the doctor told him he was on his way to make another call, that he had to see the 'old goat.' That might have been this Nelson.”
“That's ridiculous, Nelson wasn't a patient.”
“Have you any idea as to who the 'old goat' might be?”
“No.” She suddenly batted her ear nervously with a finger. “And Edward had no other calls except Jerry's.”
“How do you know, Mrs. Barnes?”
“Sir, are you doubting my word?”
“No, ma'am, merely checking. I don't have to tell you that if I can prove Doctor Barnes had another stop to make after he left Jerry, it might set Jerry free. Are you positive there wasn't another phone call after Jerry's?”
“Edward never said a word about it and he always told me where he was going, in case of an emergency. I was sitting here watching TV and after Mr. Nelson took his leave, as the programs were changing, Edward came out of his office and was rather angry. He hated night calls. He said there was nothing wrong with Jerry if he'd watch his diet.”
“How do you know he wasn't angry over something this Nelson said?”
“I know. I mean he wasn't really angry. Lands, Mr. Lund, this Mr. Nelson merely dropped in to ask some information. Only reason Edward took him into his office was to check his files for the other man's name. As Edward left, a few minutes later, Mrs. Jenks came over to watch TV. She stayed when I became nervous, that is, when it neared midnight and Edward didn't return.”
“What did you do, when he didn't return?” It was neat, the way she set up an alibi without my even asking.
“What could I do? I thought he'd been detained but I was surprised he hadn't phoned me. Around midnight I took a sedative and went to my bed.”
“And Mrs. Jenks went home?”
“Of course, where else would she go at that hour?”
“Let me get this straight; while Nelson was with your husband, Jerry phoned. Then Nelson left, and Doctor Barnes left, cursing Jerry.
“Indeed not! Edward never uttered a harsh word in his life.
“Excuse me. Did Nelson and Doctor Barnes leave together?”
“No, no. Really, Mr. Lund, I find this very tiring, going over and over the same thing. Some minutes after Mr. Nelson left Edward put on his hat and coat, then went back to his office—for his bag, I imagine. A few minutes later he walked through this room, looked at the TV show for a moment, kissed me, said he wouldn't be late.”
“You were listening to TV—suppose the phone had rung in those few minutes, are you certain you would have heard it? Was the TV on loudly?”
She poked her ear again, hesitated. “I did have the set on fairly loud. I'm a trifle deaf in one ear.”
“Then you can't be certain the phone didn't ring again?” I said, feeling excited.
“You haven't even the smallest idea who the doctor meant by the 'old goat'?”
“Indeed not. Edward would never refer to a patient like that!”
I stood up. “Thank you for your time, Mrs. Barnes, you've been most helpful. One more thing—was your husband's hearing aid working that night?”
“Of course. He had several and would have worn another if anything had been wrong.” She got to her feet. “Mr. Lund, you're new to the Harbor, never knew Edward. He was a tender and loving man. I've been sickly all my life, couldn't give him children. Yet he was always considerate of me, never complained, although he dearly wanted a child. Everybody spoke well of him, he was a man in a million, without an enemy in the world. He gave unceasingly of his time and money. Why, he even loaned Mrs. Jenks the money for her son's schooling, for example. I'm telling you this because there's absolutely no reason for a man like that to have been murdered, it's... it's... just impossible!” She worked her ear over for a moment. “I'll do everything in my power to help poor Jerry.”
“That's most commendable, Mrs. Barnes. Did you tell that to Chief Roberts?”
“I did. Landsakes, everybody knows Jerry Sparelous is a bit touched, but he barks, doesn't bite. I've never known him to harm a soul.”
I thanked her again and at the door I asked, “Do you think Jane Endin would have harmed Doctor Barnes?”
The pale lips formed a tight slit after she said, “Get out!” The words came with bullet force.
It was raining again and I sat in the car, slowly cleaned out my pipe and lit it. Mrs. Jenks came running out of the house, a shawl half over her big head. When she saw me, she opened the car door, pushed in. “Drive me to the drugstore! I could break your neck, upsetting Priscilla like that!”
I wanted to remark that I hadn't the slightest doubt but that those arms could break my neck. I drove off without saying a word, then I asked, “Where is the drugstore?”
“Straight ahead on Main Street. Where did you think it would be? You made her sick.”
“Sorry. But I have to ask certain questions and....”
“Why?” she shouted. “Why do you have to ask any questions? This isn't your town!”
“Unfortunately murder isn't the property of any one town. Do you want to see Jerry sent to jail?”
“If he killed Ed Barnes he ought to be hung!”
“The 'if' is why I must ask questions. Like, where were you that night, Mrs. Jenks?”
“Me?” It was a mild explosion.
“Like I said, I have to ask certain questions.”
With a movement amazingly fast for a woman her size, she suddenly put an immense sandaled foot on top of mine, banging it down on the brake, causing the car to screech to a stop. “You dirty old skunk, stop this car this second!”
She opened the door and jumped out. I wiggled my toes. She shook a fat fist at me. “If I tell my son what you just said—I hate to think what he'd do to you! And for your information, I was home all night after I left Priscilla's. Why I even sat up until three in the morning, watching out the window to see if Edward came home. Then my younger boy, Mike, got up and made me go to bed. There, you dirty-minded ferret!”
I watched her walk away in the rain, the jelly-flesh on her wide backside shaking. I drove to Hampton, letting the talk with Mrs. Barnes cook in my mind. The “evidence” against Jerry was getting downright silly, and there were at least five leads that made a damn sight more sense than Jerry's alleged motive. Nelson, whoever he was, could be the 'old goat.' Mrs. Barnes had reason enough to kill her husband, so had Jane Endin—if what Jerry said was true.
Nor could I even rule out burly Mrs. Jenks—she might have wanted her son to practice in the Harbor awfully bad.
Any lawyer could prove Mrs. Barnes was far from positive the doc didn't make two calls that night. Why, I could take the stand and disprove Roberts' “evidence” on the basis of my conversation with Mrs. Barnes. I considered Roberts a hot lead, too. As the guy in Riverside said, not much in the way of a salary or pension for a small-town cop. Not impossible Artie decided to get something going for himself, and Priscilla must certainly be the Harbor's richest widow right now. That fitted, he needed other reasons beside hushing up a town scandal for making such a sloppy case. But—it takes a certain kind of sharpie to make a realistic job of playing an older woman, and Roberts was all lardhead. Of course, you can never tell about motives—he could be framing Jerry merely to spite me. That was fantastic, but then what was my motive for being an eager-beaver in my old age?
However, I felt quite pleased with myself. Detective work was only using horse sense—shame I hadn't been more ambitious when I first got on the force. This job was far from over, though. Tracking down Nelson would be hard, I didn't even know his first name. Probably mean a lot of digging into Doc's past—I had the hunch they'd known each other years ago—and that would require spade work. The thing to do was take a crack at what I had on hand—Jane Endin.
You'd never guess Hampton was only seventeen miles from End Harbor, everything about the town cried money: solid, father-to-son folding dough. The large houses and great estates looking like something you see in the movies, the swank shops—branches of famous Fifth Avenue stores —the expensive cars, even teenagers zipping around in foreign jobs. I had to ask a couple times before I found the watch factory—a new brick building covered with vines and flowers, the windows large and clean, bright neon lights inside. I would have taken it for a small ritzy school.
People rarely question a police badge, the gal at the reception desk didn't when I flashed my tin and said, “Peace Officer. I'd like Miss Endin's home address.”
“This is something, the police phoned yesterday and this morning asking for her. She lives in End Harbor.”
“I know that, but she hasn't been home,” I said, thinking I was wrong not to have tried her house instead of taking the boy-cop's word for it. “Did she have any address here in Hampton? You know, some place to call in an emergency?”
“No sir, we only have the Harbor address for her.”
“I see. Can I speak to whoever worked next to her, any close pal she has among the girls here?”
“I suppose it's about that murder in the Harbor. Gee whiz, we never have nothing here but hot-rod jerks wrecking themselves.” She phoned in to somebody, then told me, “Girl be out in a second. This Jane in trouble?”
A young girl in a tight red turtleneck sweater, and tighter jeans showing off her round basketball rear, walked up to me. When she walked the basketball was far from still. “You the detective? See, I work next to Jane. Is she in a jam? When I saw her this morning she didn't act like....”
“Where did you see her?”
“On the Dunes Road. I can't, sleep much when it's muggy and my old man is too cheap to get air conditioning, so I was up early this morning. I drove around and she passed in her old struggle-buggy. She didn't stop, just waved at me. Jane looked bad, like she'd been up all night.” The girl had a jerky way of talking—and thinking, for she reached up to brush her close-cut dark hair with her fingertips... and to make sure I saw her tiny pointed breasts.
“Did Miss Endin ever mention any friends in Hampton? Say, some place where she might go on her lunch hour, or after work?”
“Naw. She didn't talk much. Even though I've worked beside her for over a year now, Jane ain't the buddy-buddy type. You see, she's old, and an Indian. Last....”
“For crying out tears, I bet she's thirty if she's a day. Last summer I suggested we might take in the pow-wow at the reservation. I figured her being Indian and all. Man, she near flipped, told me off. You can't figure a woman like—”
She brushed her hair again, with both hands this time, to give me the full view. It wasn't much of a view. “Mister, you don't know a little about this end of the Island. Guess you must be a big-time dick brought in special for the murder. I know that's what it's about.” She gave me a cute wink.
“Where is the reservation?”
“Outside Qotaque there's this Indian reservation. Every summer all the Indians living in Brooklyn and the other cities, they're supposed to return and hold dances, and all this old square stuff. I went once. It was from hunger, strictly tourist bait jive.” She glanced at the wall clock. “You know I'm losing time, this is a piece-work deal. Anything else?”
“That's all. Thank you.”
“What they want Jane for, witness against this old Greek?”
“No, I'm merely checking.”
She winked again. “You wouldn't tell me anyway. Yon know, you ain't what I pictured a dick looking like.”
“Sorry, I left my muscles home,” I said, heading for the door.
The rain was coming down harder and my back started to ache. Twenty minutes later I was in Qotaque, which was even smaller than the Harbor. A stiff wind was driving the rain and it was almost dark enough to be night. I stopped for coffee and a hamburger, got directions on finding the reservation. I followed the directions and when I reached the Shinnecock Canal I knew I'd passed the turn-off.
I drove back slowly, the windshield wiper fighting a losing battle, and found it—not a road but a country lane with a faded wooden sign. The rain had made the dirt road into a mud rut. I inched along, not seeing any houses.
If I'd been going faster I might have made it: the car slid into a hole, or some damn thing, and stuck. My right rear wheel raced like a runaway prop, sending up a shower of mud. The car skidded a few inches from side to side, sank back into the hole. I tried backing out; it was a waste of time.
I sloshed over to the bushes on the side of the “road” to pull out a handful of branches; nothing gave except my skin. I took out my penknife and hacked away like a cub scout. By the time I was thoroughly soaked, the rain chilling the remains of yesterday's sunburn, I had an armful of small branches. I packed these in front of the rear wheels and the car went a big fat two feet, then slid back into the mud. Locking the ignition, I started walking in the rain, cursing myself for not having the sense to stay in my comfortable New York flat.
After I walked a few hundred yards there was a turn in the mud and I came upon a couple of shacks and a store. I felt as if I'd stumbled on some forgotten Tobacco Road. There was a light in the store. I tracked in mud. The guy behind the counter looked more like a Negro than an Indian, although he had long white brushed hair reaching his shoulders. He was wearing a worn beaded vest over a faded shrimp-colored sport shirt. He was short and wide.
“Come for souvenirs? Fall in the mud, mister?” His voice was a rough croak and his wide mouth toothless.
“My car is stuck. Can you...?”
“Ah, you need gas. I have a pump behind the store.”
“I'm stuck in the mud. Can you help me?” The light was one small bulb and the few cans and boxes on the shadowy shelves seemed terribly stale-looking. In a separate showcase he had some dusty toy tom-toms, beaded belts and feathered hats, left over from the last tourist invasion.
“Ah, the mud. Washington still robs the Indian, for years we have asked for a paved road. I'm Chief Tom. I have a truck if you want a tow. Ten bucks.”
“Ten bucks! That mud ambush out there your work?”
“You want tow or not?” There was an evil gleam in his bloodshot eyes. “You're blocking the road so I'll have to tow your car out of the way. Still cost you ten bucks.” He pulled back his vest with a proud movement to show me a large, highly polished gold badge. “I'm a deputy, in charge of traffic here.”
“Thanks for going through the motions of asking if I wanted a tow.” I felt tired, no longer the super-detective. I dried my face with my handkerchief, pulled out my pipe. It was wet. “This the reservation?”
He nodded. “Indians dumb. Government give them land and a house here for free, but the young bucks, they leave. Maybe go into army, never come back here. Live in lousy tenements in Brooklyn.”
“Sure, they're crazy to leave this paradise. You know a Miss Jane Endin?”
His eyes became cagey. “I know her. That's what I mean. She has house and land in End Harbor, but if she was smart she would sell it and come live here for nothing. She's not smart.”
“I know, she isn't a customer of yours. Where can I find her?”
“What you want to see her for?”
I flashed my buzzer but he grabbed my hand and pulled back his vest—held my badge against his. He gave me a grin full of purple gums; his badge was bigger. “What she done?”
I jerked my hand away, put my badge in my pocket. “Nothing. I want to ask about a friend of hers.”
Chief Tom gave me a wise look. “You're a Federal man. Income tax trouble?”
“No. When did you see Miss Endin last?”
“Let me see... five, six years ago. Ain't she in the Harbor no more?”
I suppose I should have asked more questions, visited the other shacks. But my back was aching, I had a chill, and was so damn tired all I could think of was soaking in a hot tub—if I could find one. I was too weary to even haggle with him about the price. I said, “Get your truck.”
He pulled a fancy white trenchcoat from under the counter that made him look ridiculous, carefully brushed his long hair before putting on a battered fishing cap. Locking the door, he told me to wait. A moment later he came roaring around in an old six-wheeled army truck so high I had to pull myself up to the running board.
Reaching my car, Tom said he would push me out. I asked if there was any way he could circle around, come up behind the car and pull me out. He told me there was another road but it meant driving miles out of the way, and he pushed cars out after every rain. I got behind the wheel and he inched the big truck forward. His bumper seemed to be on my headlights. When I shouted it was all wrong he yelled back, “Just keep her in neutral and don't worry. I push you to the main road.”
I told him to be careful. He had the truck in low and I kept the door open, leaning out to see where I was backing. My car moved backwards as if it was a toy, the glare of his lights in my eyes. When the main road was in sight I signaled he could stop pushing me. At that second I went into another dam hole and his bumper came down on my lights with a sickening crash of metal.
We both jumped out. Tom croaked, “What's the matter with you, you crazy!” and examined his bumper—which a tank couldn't have dented. Both my headlights were smashed, the fenders dented, and my bumper was hanging.
He said, “What did you put her in gear for?”
“Who put her in gear? Didn't you see me waving for you to stop?”
“I thought you were waving me on. I said I'd push you out to the road.”
“You dumb bastard!” I kicked the bumper. It fell off and I picked it up, tried to shake off the mud, then put it in the back of the car.
Tom put his hand under my fenders. “They're not touching the tires, you can drive.” He held out his hand. “Ten bucks.”
“I ought to sue you for....”
“Mister, ten bucks. That's the rate.”
“I'll give you the back of my hand ten times! I'll....”
He suddenly grabbed my windbreaker and before I knew what the devil was happening, he actually picked me up and threw me into the mud. “Don't get yourself hurt, mister. You don't know how to drive, ain't money out of my pocket. Ten bucks, please.” He glanced down at his trenchcoat—it wasn't even muddy.
I sat up in the mud. I had to tangle with a muscle man, and the long haired son-of-a-bitch probably was older than me, too! My behind was soaking wet. I stood up, wanted to slug him but decided he'd flatten me. Without a word I gave him two five-dollar bills, got in the car and backed out. I headed for End Harbor, expecting to b» collared any second for driving without lights.
I'd never been this angry before in my life. The great Sherlock Lund—a mass of mud! One thing, I couldn't have Bessie and Andy see me like this.
I cooled off as I drove, paying full attention to the rainy road. I could see fairly well, there were enough cars going the other way to light up the road. I didn't stop at Hampton but pulled into a garage on the outskirts of End Harbor. A young fellow eating his supper in the office came out wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. “What happened to you? New car, too.”
“I ran into Sitting Bull. Tell me how bad it is. Got a test room?”
He nodded toward a small white door. Inside I washed most of the mud off, using a lot of paper towels. I looked pretty good, considering the damn oversize windbreaker, but I was still wet all over. When I came out the mechanic was back in the office, finishing his supper. I went in, tried drying out my pipe bowl with matches as he said, “Nothing wrong with your lights, just need new glass and bulbs. Where you heading for?”
“I'm staying in the Harbor.”
He finished his container of coffee, said, “Brooklyn license plates. Well, I know the summer has really started with you....”
“Aw, cut it off. Can you fix the lights now? I want to get back to my cottage.”
“Can't put the glass in, but I can give you bulbs,. Look, suppose you bring the car around in the morning and leave it. I'll straighten out the fenders, paint 'em, take care of the lights and the bumper. Do it in a day if I at busy. Cost you thirty-five dollars.”
He went out to the car and put in bulbs, carried the bumper back into the shop. The lights weren't much good, but at least I wouldn't get a ticket. As I lit my pipe and started the car, he said, “That's seventy-five cents for the bulbs. Deductible from the thirty-five dollars but payable now.”
“It's touching to see your faith in your fellow men,” I said, giving him three quarters.
He smiled. “I'm a union man—E. Pluribus Unum. See you in the morning, mac.”
He was so pleased with his corny wisecrack I didn't say a word, puffed harder on the pipe. I still had to kill time until Andy went to bed. There was one thing I'd overlooked—the scene of the crime. Not that I expected to find anything there now. I should have gone there yesterday. As a detective I was a good cell block attendant. I rolled down the window, asked, “Know where the killing of the doctor happened?”
He came to the office door, a sugar doughnut in his dirty hand. “Crazy the way people are on the morbid kick. I went out there myself to have a look this morning. Instead of turning into Main Street, take the other fork— that's Montauk Road. Follow that for about a mile and you'll see another road crossing it, a wide road. That's Bay Street. Make a right turn on Bay, away from the water. Couple hundred yards down you'll see a busted tree—that's the spot.”
“Bay Street?” I repeated. Jane Endin lived on Bay Street—Roberts was trying hard to overlook the obvious clues.
“Can't miss it, jack. There's a new brick house on one corner, boarded up—some rich cat who's been in Europe for last two years. On the opposite corner, toward the bay, you'll see a picket fence and a house. Not much of a house but nice piece of land. Belongs to an Indian gal. Don't forget, make a right turn on Bay.”
Ten minutes later I was on Bay Street, looking at the big tree with the splintered gash in the thick trunk. The tree was at an angle, its roots torn up. It would probably die soon. Keeping my faint lights on the scene I walked around in the rain, not knowing what I expected to find... and finding nothing.
Turning around I drove back to the highway. I stared at the boarded-up bright ranch house. The way Roberts operated, it could have belonged to Mr. Nelson. Then I looked at the Endin house. It was a weather-beaten two-story affair with at least an acre of land behind the low picket fence. There was an old car in the driveway; no lights in the house. I pulled off the road, decided to snoop around the house.
Of course there wasn't anything to see. A grape arbor in the back of the house, an unused chicken coop, a locked Shed. On the door there was a knocker shaped like an arrowhead, or maybe it was an arrowhead. I looked into one of the dark windows. As I turned away a porch light came on and the door opened.
A woman stood there who made me forget all about Indians, being a detective, even about feeling tired. She wasn't any beauty. She was tall and straight, black hair with streaks of gray pulled severely away from her angular face. Her eyes were bright and tired, and her face came down to an over-long jaw. Her skin was creamy and she was wearing a man's gray shirt and dungarees. Perhaps she was far from a beauty, but there was such a bitter, sullen look about her—she looked sexy. In fact, she looked like she was ready to explode with sex. I mean, she seemed about thirty-five and... well, as if she'd been storing it up all those years.
Her eyes took in my wet and dirty clothes before she asked, “What do you want?” It was a cold voice, proud and clear.
I took off my cap. “Excuse me, I was looking for a Miss Endin.”
“I'm Jane Endin. Why are you snooping around my property?”
Being an amateur detective I hadn't given much thought as to the type of man Doc Barnes had been. If anything, I'd pictured him a prissy sort, a bluenose. My respect for the doc soared—this was indeed a woman. Then I told myself to act my age, stop the schoolboy crap—Jane Endin looked capable of anything: passion and/or murder.
“Why must you stare at me—so rudely? What do you want?”
“Sorry, I don't mean to be rude. I expected a....
“A tommyhawk in my hand?” Her voice was sharper than one.
“My name is Matt Lund. Perhaps you've heard of me, the New York City policeman interested in Doc Barnes' death.” I went through the motion of flashing my badge.
“I haven't heard of you.” Her voice became a talking-to-herself whisper. Her eyes looked through me, as if I weren't there. She seemed dazed and when her face slackened the high cheekbones stood out.
“I've been looking for you, Miss Endin. Can we talk?”
“What have we to talk about?” She turned and started to close the door. Her hair was a thick juicy braid that went to her waist—an exciting braid.
“Aren't you interested in finding Doc's killer?”
“Killer?” she repeated, back still to me, everything about her straight and tense. “Who would kill Edward? I can't associate killing with Edward, he was only interested in healing, the living.”
“Do you think Jerry murdered him?”
“Murder?” She spun around, her eyes coming alive again. “Jerry, the taxi man? But.... I thought it was an accident? Who says Jerry killed Edward?”
“The Harbor police. Jerry's in the Riverside jail this second, charged with murder.” I wondered where she could have possibly been not to have heard. Or was it all an act? “I'm trying to help Jerry. I don't think he did it. That's what I wanted to talk about.”
“Wipe your feet on the mat as you come in.”
She had an odd walk, sort of threw her legs out—and all the stiffness left her. I followed her into a living room which looked too neat to have been lived in much. The furniture was old but the walls were covered with various-size abstract paintings, violent splashes of color that didn't make sense yet were strangely exciting. There was also a large photo of a brown-skinned man in a gold frame who had to be her father—almost the same features. She pointed toward a maple chair with red cushions but I said I'd rather stand, didn't want to dirty the chair. She shrugged, lit a cigarette, and sat on an ancient leather chair, curling her legs under her. With that one movement, despite the shirt and dungarees, the stern face, a touch of feminine warmth came over her.
I nodded at the paintings, I guess they were oils. “Very unusual.”
“Do you understand them?”
“I don't know, but they give me a feeling of excitement.”
She studied me over a puff of smoke.
I got under way. “Miss Endin, I'm a stranger here, a tourist. I'm also a cop. I'm going to ask you some questions. I don't mean to be rude, but I can't be subtle. I'm very tired, especially tired of the runaround I've been getting. End Harbor acts like it's outside the law. I wouldn't care, but a man is being framed—I think. Doc Barnes is murdered and the Harbor acts as if....”
“You never knew Edward,” she cut in, voice clear and sharp once more. “He was a good man, considerate. Perhaps he has now found greater happiness. We Indians have a saying, that death is but the opening of a new trail. We all must die, including Edward, but no one would kill him.”
“But someone did. They've arrested Jerry on evidence so thin it doesn't make sense. I think they collared him because he's talked with an accent for most of his life, told the Harbor to leave him alone. Everybody here is trying to hush the murder, pretend it didn't happen— even you. Why?”
“Who can believe a man like Edward could be murdered?”
“Nuts. They're putting the lid on it because you and Doc Barnes have been the village scandal for years!”
She jumped to her feet, a graceful fast movement, “Leave my house!”
“I said I was going to be blunt. Your personal affairs are your own business. But remember Jerry in the Riverside Jail with not a single End Harbor person caring a cold damn!”
“What do you want of me? I wouldn't hurt Jerry. He's one of the few men who bothered to tip his hat to me. I have nothing to do with his being in jail.”
“Miss Endin, all I want you to do is answer a couple of questions.”
She sat down again, the braid coming over her shoulder like a snake. “What questions? What can I tell you?”
“The doctor was killed not far from here: did he visit you Sunday night?”
She shook her head. “I last saw Edward on Friday. He came over to have a cup of tea and watch television. He did that every Friday evening.”
“Where were you Sunday night?”
“I was here all day Sunday—painting.”
I took my time lighting my pipe, full of mixed feelings: I didn't believe her... and I wished to God I was twenty years younger.
“If you're hinting I killed Edward, you're so wrong. I worshipped him.”
“Excuse the bluntness but were you his girlfriend?”
“I was his friend.”
I'd heard somewhere that silence can break a person down. I wandered around the room slowly. The TV set was the only new thing in the room, everything else looked very old. Even the bookcase full of book club novels seemed unused. Through a doorway I saw a spotless old-fashioned kitchen, a polished coal stove. I'd lay odds it hadn't seen a fire in years. I stared at the paintings for a moment, then faced her. She wasn't even watching me, her eyes studying the floor. “Have you any boyfriends?”
“Now, Miss Endin, you're an attractive woman, you must have....”
“I'm an Indian!” She sounded as fierce as her paintings. “Do you know what that means in a town like the Harbor, Mr...?”
“Mr. Lund, have you any idea what it means to grow up happy with a loving father, even proud that this is the land of your ancestors? Then it all changes when you're twelve or thirteen, the doors start slamming? The kids you played with and went to school with suddenly become painfully polite. I'm not invited to anyone's house, they never come to mine. Have you any...? No, how could you know what it means to be the only 'colored' person in a white town!”
“I'm proud I am an Indian! And if it was a bitter pill I could take it as long as my father was alive. I never knew my mother, but Dad was a wonderful man, full of living, like Edward. I could forget the rest of the Harbor over Dad's laughter and little jokes at night as we took care of the house, the garden, went fishing and swimming. Best of all were the hunting trips and the stories he remembered from his grandfather—alone in the woods we were living in Indian country again. But it got bad—he died when I was twenty.”
Her voice died, too. I kept pacing the room slowly, telling myself not to be a sucker, taken in by a sob story. She crushed her cigarette in a clam shell ashtray, a loud noise in the silent house. Even the rain on the roof seemed muffled. After a long wait I asked, “What about Doc, Miss Endin?”
“I nearly went out of my head when Dad died, I was so lonely. I didn't know what to do with myself. Sometimes I'd read day and night until my head hurt. I turned to painting and that helped a little, more as I gained confidence. You know, for nearly two years I never spoke to a soul, except the storekeeper down the street.”
“You mean nobody in the Harbor spoke to you? Why?”
“No occasion to talk. They might nod or wave to me on the street. It was more a case of the Harbor ignoring me. Oh, for a time Larry Anderson was friendly but the kind of relationship he wanted... seems like most white men think that's all we've been placed on this earth for. I went out to the reservation but there wasn't anybody there I really knew.”
“Ever leave the Harbor? New York's only a few hours away.”
She laughed, a short, harsh sound. “Who would I know in New York? You forget, this town is named after my family, I belong here!”
“A person belongs where they're happy. How did Doc come into the picture?”
She stroked the heavy braid coming down her side. I suddenly wondered how she'd look with all that hair undone, perhaps falling to her hips.
“About two years after Dad died I needed money. Only job I could get was as a domestic. I had headaches all the time, felt sick. One day the woman I worked for sent me to see Edward. He remembered me as a kid, was very kind. When he said I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown, I became hysterical, spilled all my thoughts out to him. He was shocked, and that was the start of our friendship. He taught me practical nursing, hired me to help in his office. He was interested in my painting, encouraged me. And the Harbor misunderstood, thought we were having an affair. Even Priscilla! Nobody said it openly, they respected Edward too much for that. But I could feel the snickers, the whispered laughter whenever I passed a group of men. Edward was furious, sickened. But how can you combat gossip, an unseen enemy?”
She was staring at the floor again, didn't expect me to answer—and what is the answer?
“Edward insisted I get active in the church, even held an exhibition of my paintings there. Everybody laughed at them—except a few artists over from East Hampton and Sag Harbor. I worked in Edward's office for over a year and a half, loved it. But I knew he was having difficulties with Priscilla over me, and she's sickly. Against his wishes—our only fight—I left, took various jobs in Hampton and Southampton as a domestic, in a factory. Of course I didn't mind the Harbor rejecting me, I was used to it. But Edward never stopped being my friend, fighting the town. He made a point of taking me for rides, visiting me several times a week. We read the same books, watched TV. He took me to an art school in East Hampton but I couldn't take it; they were friendly, only they treated me like a pet, a freak. He wanted to send me to a nurses' school, but I was afraid; I hadn't finished high school. He told me to join the WACs during the war, but I didn't want to be with all those white women.” She looked up, stared right into my eyes. “I'll be blunt too. If Edward had wanted me to be his girlfriend, I would have —gladly! I think he desired me but felt it would be giving in to the gossip.”
I leaned against the kitchen doorway, trying to believe what she was telling me. Or had the doc been trying to break off and she killed him? I said, “The police think Jerry was the last patient Barnes saw that night. Jerry insists the doc said he was going to see somebody else, somebody he called an 'old goat.' Have you any idea who that might be?”
She shrugged and I realized she had good breasts. “I don't know. It could be a real goat. Edward once raced a small boy and his dog to Riverside to save the dog's life. You see, he was a dedicated man, kindness was his religion. That's why I can't think of him being murdered.”
Barnes' wife and mistress sure thought alike, at least about the doc. “Did the doc ever mention a man named Nelson, or anybody named Hudon?”
She shook her head.
“Anybody in the Harbor by those names?”
“I never heard them before.”
“Where were you yesterday, today?”
Again that interesting shrug. “I heard about his death on my way to work. I felt like the time I'd lost Dad. I drove around, trying to think. I sat on the beach for hours. Then I kept driving about, all the quiet back roads. I couldn't bear seeing anybody. Finally I came back here late this afternoon, tried to sleep.”
“You worked for him, which of his patients would be call an 'old goat'?”
“I have no idea. Hardly like Edward to call anybody that. I suppose they'll bury him tomorrow. I know he'll understand if I don't go to the funeral.”
“You're in a bad spot, Miss Endin. If the jury fails to indict Jerry, if they need another patsy, they'll tag you.”
“Me?” She jumped.
“Circumstantial evidence is a darn sight stronger against you than Jerry. You haven't an alibi, Barnes was killed near your house. They could easily cook up a motive— jealousy. Your lover was about to leave you....”
“Edward wasn't my lover! Let any doctor examine me!”
I was sold. Perhaps I admired the fierce way she said she was a virgin, the almost terrible way she said it. She could have so easily used a smug tone. This was a wail of protest.
But that didn't make her innocent of murder. Could she have insisted on bed and the doc refused? Only how could a man refuse something like Jane? Still—all the old saws about a woman spurned banged around in my head.
She lit another cigarette. “They wouldn't dare accuse me.”
She was right about that, they'd be afraid it would blow the village apart. But actually, why would it? According to her, Barnes had only tried to help her, felt sorry for her. This required a little mental cooking on my part. “Miss Endin, is it true Priscilla Barnes is fond of Art Roberts?”
“That nonsense! She helped him, as she would a son. Why, she's....”
“I know, old enough to be his mother.” I zipped up my windbreaker, “Well, thank you, Miss Endin.”
“You understand, I want to help Jerry. But I don't know how I can.”
She walked me to the door. I asked, “Was Mrs. Barnes still upset over the doc's seeing you every Friday?”
“It was something they never talked about. I don't believe she really knew Edward.”
“Would she be so upset as to murder him?”
She stopped, stock-still. “Never! Not Priscilla, she could never do... that.”
“I was only asking.” As she opened the door and the rain hit us, I said, “You have a nice piece of land, probably get ten thousand for it.”
“Are you telling me to leave the Harbor?”
I grinned. “I'm not the one to tell you anything. But there's a lot to do and see in New York, Frisco, Paris. It's a big world; you'd be surprised how tiny a speck End Harbor is on it. Well, if I think of anything else to ask, I'll call again.” I held out my hand. Her hand was firm and cool.
I drove down Bay Street. It was nearly nine-thirty and I was bushed. A police car passed me, stopped. Chief Roberts stuck his over-handsome puss out as I slowed down. “Busy—busy, Mr. Peace Officer? Find any big clues, Mr. City Cop?” Satisfaction dripped from his voice.
“Only that it's raining.”
He turned a flash on my battered fenders. “What happened to your car?”
“I've been running into a lot of blank walls today. Why didn't you tell me a Mr. Nelson visited the doc the night he was killed?”
He showed all his white teeth in a grin. “I don't have to tell you a damn thing. Matter of fact, I sent Nelson to see Edward. He asked me about this old guy he was looking for, I suggested the doc might know about him, or maybe the post office. Any other questions, big shot?”
I was too tired to think of anything. I told him, “Why don't you arrest yourself, Roberts, for obstructing justice?” and I drove off.
He laughed at me.
When I reached our cottage Bessie came running out and hugged me. I told her, “Watch it, you'll get dirty.”
“Matt, where have you been all afternoon and evening? I've been worried sick. What happened? Did you find anything new?” Then she saw the car and: “Oh, my God, you were in an accident!”
“Relax and let me get out of these wet clothes. Andy sleeping, I hope?”
“Of course. He waited up to show you this.” On the dining room table there was a fine model of a cabin cruiser built from the kit I'd brought him. Matty, curled up on a chair, yawned and studied me with an arrogant cat-look. But when I poked his nose he licked my finger.
“Tell me all about it,” Bessie said impatiently. “Are you hungry?”
“I could use some food. Above all I need a good hot tub but I'll settle for a shower.” Going into my room I undressed quietly and even the mushy bed looked welcome. I put on a robe, watching Andy, the solid way he slept. When I came out Bessie said, “I'm making something special for you, fried chicken simmered in yogurt.”
“I'm hungry enough to try anything,” I said, closing the bathroom door. I stood under the warm shower for a long time and felt human again. Wearing a sweater over my robe, I got a pipe going and sat at the table, examined the boat while Bessie cooked. “Andy do this himself? Fine job.”
“Kids down the street helped him. Matt, do you want me to explode? What happened today?”
I told her about seeing Mrs. Barnes, about the stranger named Nelson, about Mrs. Jenks, and about locating Jane Endin. I found myself talking a great deal about Jane, ended by saying, “A woman like that shouldn't ever be lonely, she looks so passionate.”
Placing some food in front of me Bessie asked, “Can you tell if a woman is passionate by her looks?”
“You can think she is,” I said, tearing into the chicken, which was out of this world. Bessie sat across the table, drinking tea and beaming at me, telling me what a great detective I was. I didn't contradict her; I was too busy eating.
When I finished eating I insisted upon helping her with the dishes, although I was pooped. Bessie asked if I got the number of Chief Tom's truck. I told her, “I'll take care of fixing the car.”
“Nonsense, I'm sure Danny's insurance covers it. Send him the bill and the license number of the truck.”
“I was too mad to think straight. I didn't get the number. But I suppose I can get it tomorrow.”
“Want me to ask this Jane over for supper tomorrow?”
“Oh, for—cut it out. She may be a murderer.”
“But from the way you talk...?”
“Honey, what she said or what I think isn't proof. Now lay off about her.”
“I like what you said about thinking a woman can look passionate. Do I look hot?”
“Will you stop it? I'm tired.” Sometimes Bessie embarrassed me with her talk about sex. When I was coming up girls didn't talk like that.
“I think it's a high compliment. Do I look hot, Matt?”
“Like a firecracker—as you very well know.”
She gave me a fast hug; the nice warm living odor of her body. “Want to know something, you've always looked the same way to me. For true.”
“Stop it,” I said, afraid I was blushing.
“I mean it. I often wonder, what do you do for a woman, Matt?”
“What's that supposed to be, clever, sophisticated talk? Well, it isn't! And it's none of your business.” I felt as uneasy as a kid listening to his father trying to explain the facts of life.
“Don't be prissy, and I'm certainly not trying to be clever. Why, if you looked thin I'd ask you what you were eating. A person needs sex the same way they need food and shelter.”
“When I get in need for a woman, I find one!” I snapped, lying.
“This Miss Endin sounds like something you ought to get next to.”
“What's the matter with you? I'm an old man.”
“Only in your mind. Dan and I worry about you. He wants you to marry again. Matt, you're hard and lean, | homely in a way that appeals to women. You could easily find plenty of women. You're not sixty yet, most men your age start chasing chippies. But you, if you'd stop being an old maid, forget that silly fat-assed cat and....”
“I've had enough of this damn talk. I have no complaints about my sex life, never had!” I didn't realize I was talking so harshly until Bessie backed away. Changing the subject I asked, “Did you feed Matty?”
“The pig ate two helpings of liver. What do you plan to do tomorrow, about Jerry?”
“Oh, there's a lot to do,” I said, patting her cheek as we both grinned at each other. “I have to see what I can find out about this Mr. Nelson, maybe talk to him. And I want to learn more about Mrs. Jenks' sons, maybe snoop into Priscilla Barnes' background. I'm going to examine Jerry's car—if I can. Probably have a long talk with the lawyer Jerry hires. I'll be busy—busy all day doing....”
A car pulled up in front of the cottage. We both looked out at the rain sparkling in the headlights. Bessie groaned. “I hope this isn't the summer plague—unexpected guests. They come barging in and expect you to put them up for the night like it was....”
There were slow, tired steps on the porch until the door opened. Jerry stood there, blinking at the light. He looked haggard, sickly.
For a long moment we didn't speak, then I whispered, “Lord help us—how did you break out?”
“I came by to thank you both,” Jerry mumbled. “Now I go to my house and sleep. I sleep a long time. Yes, I need sleep.”
Bessie raced over and kissed him, said something in Greek. He nodded and touched her face with his fingers, his eyes began to water.
“How did you get out?” I asked, trying to keep my voice down.
“Out?” He blinked stupidly, wiped his eyes with the back of a dirty hand. “It's over, they set me free. The District Attorney, the judge, the policemen, they told me to go. They found the real killer. Didn't you hear? They found the body of a man in a car out at Hampton Point. They told me he killed the doctor. Some man named Nelson.”
I was as stunned as if I'd stopped a haymaker with my chin. “Nelson is dead? Who killed him?”
Jerry shrugged. “I do not know. Art Roberts and the police at Riverside were very excited. I'm not feeling well, so when they said they were sorry and I was free, I ask no questions and let them take me home. Now I come over to thank you, then I will go to my bed.”
Bessie asked if he wanted something to eat, was he really sick, and Jerry said a good sleep would fix him up. I questioned him about Nelson but he didn't know a thing. I'd been tired before, now I felt exhausted, beat and old.
Bessie said she would drive him home but Jerry said it wasn't necessary and pulled his glasses from his shirt pocket, as if proving something.
When he left Bessie danced over to me. “Matt, you did it! You're the best policeman ever!”
“I did what?” I felt like a terrible fool. That son-of-a-bitch Roberts must have known about the Nelson business, when he stopped me before. Matt, the big detective—the first-grade horse's end!
“Why, you freed Jerry!”
“All I did was race around in circles, chasing my tail.”
“Nonsense. If you hadn't stirred things up, they never would have looked farther, Jerry would still be in jail. You're wonderful!”
I shook myself. “I suppose that's one way of looking at it. Honey, I'm going to turn in... I'm tired.”
“Get a good night's sleep. I'll see to it Andy is quiet in the morning.”
Bessie blew a kiss at me. “Don't act so blase, you're tremendous. In a few hours you've solved everything. Say—I have to phone the news to Dan. I'll drive down to the store.”
“Well, be careful, the lights aren't much good. Better wait until morning.”
“Oh, no. I'll go to the Johnsons down the road, use their phone. You get your sleep.”
I went to bed and started tossing and turning. I kept telling myself I had done a good day's work. What the hell, it was rough working against the police, even against hick cops. But I couldn't buy that; still felt like a fool. I'd been so tightly smug, bragged and shot off my big mouth... and all the time this comic-cop Roberts had found the killer. Or was this another cover-up? It did seem too convenient—no scandal, not even a phony trial for Jerry, a dead stranger did it! And who killed Nelson? Had Roberts gunned him to make the collar? That was far-fetched but the way they worked things around here... Lord, the D.A., and the magistrate sure let people in and out of jail easily here. Well, it wasn't my business any longer—it never had been.
I had a headache. All Bessie's fine chicken stuck in my gut like a dead weight. For a time I lay in bed and listened to the rain, then I knew I couldn't sleep, got up and took a couple soda pills to settle my stomach, went back to the sack. Bessie came in, humming; I heard her wash up, go to bed. About a half hour went by and I was no nearer sleep. Without knowing exactly why, I felt defeated.
Andy was breathing heavily in the next bed. I tried to think about my grandson, but think what? So I said the hell with it and took a long swig of brandy, damn near threw it up. But a few moments later I went off into a good sleep.
I had a number of small dreams. In the last one I was out in a storm, the rowboat rocking like mad. I seemed about to capsize when I opened my eyes. Andy, in a bathing suit, was shaking me. The sun was starting to come through the bedroom window.
I sat up, rubbed my face. I still felt lousy. “What time is it? Finally got us a nice day.”
“Yes, Grandpa. Think we can get in some more fishing? It's almost seven-thirty.”
“Seven-thirty? Bessie said she'd let me—damn it, Andy, did you wake me up to tell me about fishing?” I asked, angry.
“No, sir. There's a policeman outside. He has something for you.”
I put on a robe and nodded to Bessie, washing up in the bathroom. She should have closed the door, the sun silhouetted her figure against her short nightgown.
End Harbor's one police car was parked outside and a cop I'd never seen before, a stocky joker about thirty, waved a letter at me. “Special delivery.”
“A special?” Then I remembered, Nat and his credit report. “You fellows deliver mail, too?”
He was looking me over; I guess I didn't look like much. “I heard a lot about you—big city cop. Yeah, when we're cruising around we deliver specials and telegrams.”
“They nab whoever killed Nelson?”
“It was a suicide. Found the gun right in his lap, I hear. He had a gun permit, too.”
“What makes him the doc's killer?”
“Found the doc's scarf in the glove compartment Doc was wearing the scarf the night he was killed.”
“Roberts said nothing was missing.”
“Mrs. Barnes didn't remember he was wearing a scarf until we—I mean the Hampton Point police—found it.”
“What's the tie-up between Nelson and the doctor?”
He shrugged. “We don't know—yet. But having the dead man's scarf in his car proves he saw the doc last. That's why he probably killed himself, sense of guilt.”
I wanted to ask more questions but told myself to mind my own business. I thanked him for the letter, wondered if he expected a tip, went back inside.
“What's the special about?” Bessie asked. She'd changed to a bathing suit.
“Nothing. Just some info I asked for. You done in the John?”
I went in and washed up. When I came out she said, “Well, at least open it.”
“The case is over.”
“It's special delivery, open it!”
I opened it, showed her Nat's report. Bessie said, “That's all? I'll make breakfast, then we'll spend the day on the beach. Andy, take out the milk and juice, set the table.”
I dressed and glanced at Nat's report. He didn't have a thing on Jerry, or about Jane Endin. Doc Barnes was rated as a highly respected citizen. A former mayor, his income was over $15,000 a year. Nat had plenty of information about the doc's background, college, war record —but none of it interesting. Larry Anderson also had a good credit rating, although his income averaged under $5000. Art Roberts only made $2800 a year but somehow owned his house and car. The few other names I'd picked at random were either not listed, or mostly considered poor credit risks.
“In general, End Harbor is a two-bit town, business-wise. There's a few retired people with dough, and of course the doctor. He's always been comfortable, in fact he married into money. His wife inherited a neat bundle from her folks, shortly before Barnes married her. However, since her older brother had disappeared years before, there was some difficulty settling the estate and Priscilla Barnes (maiden name—Wiston) spent many thousands of bucks hunting for the missing brother—Jack Wiston. He was never found, thought to have vanished in a Canadian gold rush.
“This Anderson seems to be the only merchant making a go of things. He owns his house and land, free and clear, never asks for credit, pays all bills promptly. Of course most of the people there own their homes. Handed down from father-to-son stuff, but everybody is money-poor. Barnes probably has stocks and bonds. By the way, if you're thinking of buying property, real estate in End Harbor is considered a very sound investment. People are pushing out all along the Island, and the summer tourist trade has been growing steadily. There's been a small real estate boom in End Harbor and considerable building —mostly of summer cottages—as a result. However, the contractors are all from Hampton and other towns. Odd there isn't a building contractor in the Harbor. That should be a sweet business if you're thinking of investing. So is real estate. And where did you get your pile from? I always thought you were an honest slob. Or did you finally bring in a horse?”
Matty got up, stalked into the room, stretching and yawning. I cleaned his box, washed my hands, and fed him. I had to coax him to eat. He took a few sips of his milk, started to walk away. I ran my ringers through his fur for ticks. He must have been as irritable as I was— he swung on me.
Bessie put breakfast on the table, told me, “At least wash your hands after touching that filthy beast.”
“He's cleaner than you or I,” I said, making for the kitchen sink.
She steered me toward the bathroom, as if I were a child. Maybe I felt kind of childish. Or would senile be the correct word?
During breakfast Andy had to tell me—in detail—how he'd built the model boat. Then he started asking when we'd go fishing. I was far too restless to sit in a damn rowboat. I made the mistake of saying I had to see about fixing the car and that started another flood of questions. I finally snapped, “Andy, it's too early in the morning for so much talk. I've had a hard night.”
“Doing what, Grandpops?”
“Oh, Andy... leave me alone.”
The kid sulked until Bessie told him to cut it out before he got walloped. No sooner did the kid quiet down than Bessie started to run her mouth. Danny had assured her his insurance covered the damage. If I wanted to wait until he came down on Friday, he would take care of things.
Andy cut in with, “Anybody knows you should be towed out of mud, not pushed.”
“Nonsense. How about the time I was pushed out of the sand with the old car?” Bessie asked.
I finished my coffee quickly as they argued, all the petty talk increasing my nervousness. I finally got in a word, told Andy I'd meet him on the beach, to take the rods and stuff there and wait. Then I told Bessie I was merely going to get the Indian's license number, leave the car at the garage.
I undressed and put on my bathing trunks, then dressed again. Matty was back on my bed and I poked him and he hissed at me. I don't know what it was, but driving toward Hampton I felt depressed as hell.
I found the reservation without any trouble, didn't bother going into the shack they called a store. Chief Tom's truck was parked outside and I got down the license number, and his full name from the fly-specked beer license in the dirty store window. His name was Tom Claude Faro.
Danny's car looked bad in the daylight and I was glad to drop it off at the garage. The mechanic I'd talked to yesterday was there and I got quite a shock when I saw Art Roberts changing from coveralls into his snappy uniform. He called out, “Wait a minute,- Lund, I'll give you a lift back to the Harbor.”
“What are you doing here?”
“Working. This is my cousin Hank,” he said, nodding at the other mechanic. “When will Lund's car be ready?”
“Not for a day, maybe two. Phone me in the morning, Mr. Lund,” this Hank said.
Roberts carefully dressed, paying a lot of attention to his hair. A mirror was his best friend. When he saw me watching him he winked, said, “I have to look my best— going to Edward's funeral in an hour. Come on.”
He had a snappy white MG and as I sat in the bucket seat, I said, “Some car.”
“Keeps me broke. Bought it two months ago from a society kid I pinched for drunk driving. Got a good buy.”
We drove for a moment before he said, “Suppose you know about Nelson. We have everything but the motive. Hampton Point police are having the L.A. cops look into Nelson's life.”
“How come he had a gun permit?”
“Don't know. He was a retired bank guard, maybe they let them keep their rods. Pretty good work for hick cops, isn't it?”
“Stop that 'luck' routine. I never called you one.”
“Sure, but you're thinking it: I'm a hick cop in a gaudy uniform. Okay, I am. And I like it. I have to take another job to keep going, everybody in the Harbor works at a couple jobs. See, plenty of work around here but not any good jobs. Anyway, the case is settled. Jerry is off the hook so I think you're happy. Now stop getting into everybody's hair. Heard you visited Mrs. Barnes and Jane Endin yesterday. I guess now you'll stick to fishing and stop throwing your badge around.”
“Sure. I only did it because of my daughter-in-law, had to showboat a little.”
He gave me a patronizing grin; with his looks, the uniform, and the MG, Roberts must have been God's gift to the women—in the Harbor. He said, “You won't believe this, but I'm damn glad you were so nosey. Matter of fact, I learned something, working with you.”
I laughed. “Working with me!”
“I was a little steamed at first when you showed me up, my saying it was an accident.” We turned into Main Street, stopped in front of the Municipal Building. “Want me to run you up to your cottage?”
“No, thanks, I could use a walk. You know, I was thinking it could have been an accident Suppose Barnes saw a drunk driver coming at him, had to swerve to escape hitting him, went off the road and was killed when the car hit the tree? The drunk could have stopped, dragged the body out of the car, then panicked when he saw he had a stiff, taken off. Perhaps later the body was run over by a hit-and-run driver. Too much of a coincidence, two lousy drivers, but it's possible. I mean, was possible.”
Roberts had real dismay on his big face. “Jeez, you ain't starting to open this all over again, Lund?”
I crawled out of the MG, straightened up. “Nope. Merely talking. From now on I'm just another tourist.”
Roberts sort of jumped out of the car, brushed his uniform. “Great. I've had all the action I want for one summer. Let the Hampton Point police dig up the fine details.” He held out a heavy hand. “Good knowing you, Lund.”
I shook his hand. “Sure. Whenever you're in town, drop into the precinct house. Boys be jealous of your uniform.
He smiled. “I might do that.”
“I work out of the...”
“I know where you work. Checked on you. You're a cell block attendant. Guess you'll be retiring soon.”
I didn't know if he was sarcastic or not when he said cell block attendant. “In a year or two.”
He sighed. “Wish I had a pension to look forward to. Guess I'll have to die in harness. I plan to take the next state trooper exam. Well, have to get back to the office. Hope you have decent weather for the rest of your stay.”
We shook hands again and as I walked toward the cottage I wondered whether Roberts was a ham or sincere. In either case he still was a jerk. But with his looks and set-up, be odd if he didn't take himself seriously. It was getting hot and I was sweating by the time I reached the beach.
Bessie was sitting under a striped umbrella with some other young women, all of them in brief bathing suits. She introduced me with a big build-up, great detective line, gave me a sandwich and a cold drink. The women made a small fuss over me, asked a lot of dumb questions. All the talk made me jittery again.
Andy came out of the water, said he was ready to go fishing. He had the model of the cabin cruiser under the umbrella, wanted to try it in the water. Bessie said it wasn't meant for that, he should know better. She seemed to be picking on the boy, or maybe it was my nerves. They argued about the boat. I finally cut in and told him he could take the model along but to keep it in the rowboat.
Bessie told him to dig clams for bait but he pulled a paper bag from out under the towels, said he still had clams from the other day and a hunk of squid somebody had given him. She asked him where he kept it all the time and he said in the freezer. She bawled him out, again, for keeping the stinking squid in the refrigerator. He whined that he wouldn't do it again. Then she started on me, warning me to be careful of the sun. I said okay and that I was going into the swamp grass to take off my pants. The women all laughed as Bessie said, “Oh, for, Matt drop your pants here. My God!”
All this chatter didn't help my nerves or blue mood and I was happy when Andy and I finally got into the boat. He rowed and gave me the glasses to wear around my neck. The tide was starting to come in and when we reached the breakwater we drifted. I had a few small bites, then didn't bother baiting up. Andy caught a large hump-back sea-porgy that damn near snapped his rod. He was so excited he didn't nag me to fish. The sun felt good, took the last of yesterday's chill from my bones. I was content to glance around the harbor through the glasses: they almost put me aboard the big yachts. Andy kept up a line of chatter, looking into the pail with pride at “my” fish.
For no reason, before we drifted out of view, I put the glasses on Jane Endin's house. Of course I didn't see a damn thing, except her car was still in the driveway. I examined a few more boats, the shore at Haven Island across the bay. We were drifting in front of Anderson's house and up on the widow's walk Pops was laying on the cot, Larry Anderson sitting beside him, reading the paper. I turned the field glasses on the Endin house for a last look. Jane was out in the back yard, wearing a loose-fitting loud purple robe, hair hanging down her back like a thick black brush stroke. She was putting small towels on the line. The towels were full of bright red splotches—undoubtedly the rags she used to wipe her paint brushes. But why only red paint?
Andy yelled, “Grandpa!” He was standing, his rod forming a rigid U as the line jerked.
“Reel it in!”
“It's too heavy! Gee, I must have a whale!”
I moved over to help him and out of the corner of my eye I saw two quick flashes of light from the walk atop Anderson's house. For a second I thought they were shots, waited for the shotgun sounds. No sound came.
It was just a big ugly skate on the line and I held the rod while Andy cut the hook out of the wing, his face full of disgust. Was Anderson signaling somebody? As I gave Andy back the rod, I turned and put my binoculars on the widow's walk. Anderson was standing up, talking to Pops. Larry was holding something in his right hand that at first I thought was an automatic: then I realized what the light flashes were—he'd been watching us through binoculars and the flashes had been the sun striking the lens.
Anderson seemed to shrug, as if having an argument, then got his left hand under Pops and lifted him up. He got his right hand, still holding the glasses, under the old man's ankles, carried him downstairs.
There was something phony about the scene, exactly what I didn't know. Andy said he wanted to row out into the bay. I took the oars: exercise might quiet my restlessness. I told him to troll. As I rowed I faced the top of Anderson's house. Why was he watching us through the glasses? But that wasn't what struck me wrong.
I told myself to stop it, I was no longer playing movie dick. What the devil, with a view like that, he'd certainly spend a lot of time looking through binoculars. Why assume he was watching us—could have been looking at the yachts going past the lighthouse way out in the bay? I put muscle to the oars, we were going against the tide... and suddenly I knew what was wrong—the way Anderson had lifted the old man—he'd done it with one hand! His right hand, holding the glasses, had been used merely for balance.
Strong as Anderson seemed, he'd hardly lift a man with one arm. It sure was a careless way to carry a sick man, even if he could do it. And Pops—the floppy straw hat over his face, arms under the blanket... maybe that wasn't a man up there but a straw dummy!
I told myself that was plain silly, but couldn't get the idea out of my mind. What would be the point of carrying a dummy up to the widow's walk, the reading act? After all, suppose Pops only weighed ninety to a hundred pounds, a guy built like Anderson could carry a hundred-pound sack of potatoes in one arm—maybe. Still, to lift a man recovering from a heart attack you'd think he would have put the glasses down, used both hands to carry Pops?
Nuts, I thought, stop acting like a jerk. You're not on the case. You're not on anything but supposedly enjoying fishing. Keep it at that or you'll make a fool of yourself— again.
I rowed out near some red and black buoys and we tossed out the anchor. We were in real deep water and I baited up but we didn't catch a damn thing. I picked up the boat model, it was even a better job than I thought—the kid had fashioned tiny furniture out of cardboard and matches. When I told him he was right smart Andy said, “Heck, I didn't do that part. Jenny Johnson did it. Bob— that's her brother—and I put the hull and deck together, but she fixed up the inside, even painted the name on the back. You'll see her on the beach today. She's pretty and smart.”
“What? I should say not. Jenny is going on fifteen— she's old.”
“That's not...” I began, and stopped. How old was Nelson? How old was Doc Barnes? Judging from Priscilla who looked about fifty-eight, the Doc must have been sixty-five, or so. Hell, of course he could have married an older woman.... But suppose he was sixty-five, anybody he called an “old goat” would have to be at least seventy, seventy-five or even eighty. That could be Nelson, if he was that old... and it could also be Pops! “Andy, how old was Pops?”
“Not was, Grandpa, but is. My teacher told me to always be sure about the proper tense of a....”
“Too hot for lessons. How old would you say Pops is?”
“Gee, I don't know. He looks awful old.”
“As old as I am?”
“No, way older. Heck, I betcha Pops is at least... forty.”
I stared at the kid, then grinned—at myself. He'd started me on the idea, what more could I expect? “Andy, how old do you think I am?”
“I don't know,” he said, his voice uncomfortable. “Thirty-seven?”
“Come on, now. Your daddy is going on thirty-five, I think, so I have to be at least twenty years older than he is.”
“I just have to,” I said, not wanting to explain the birds and lie bees to the kid. Pops was the man I had to talk to, and right away I tried to think of a way of going in now, without the kid asking a million questions.
“You could only be fifteen years older than Dad.”
“Okay, let's forget it This is sure a swell model. Next time we go shopping, I'll buy you another kit. In fast, if we row in....”
“Great, Grans! Make it a helicopter kit this....”
A siren went off back in the Harbor. “What's that—a fire?”
Andy shook his head. “No. That was only one.... Do you say ring or blast or blow?”
“Blast, I guess.”
“One blast means it's noontime.”
“I've had enough sun and I'm starved. Think we can make for the beach?”
To my surprise the boy said, “Any time you wish.” He poked at the pail with his toe. “I wanted to go in before, show Mom my big porgy. Can I row?”
I gave him the oars, slipped on a shirt and got my pipe working. When we came within sight of Anderson's house I put the glasses on the widow's walk. Pops was on the cot again, blanket and all. The hat was covering most of his face and he was still wearing the tan shirt. But he seemed to be holding a newspaper up on his stomach. Then I saw him turn a page, adjust his hat.
Matt Lund and his great deductions? The old straw dummy was me. The hell with playing detective—I'd had it.
Back on the beach I had a sandwich and some warm soda. After showing off his fish, Andy and another kid took it way down the beach to clean. I curled up in th» shade of the beach umbrella, listened to Bessie's small talk with the other young women, watched some tots busy making sand pies. I completely forgot the “case.” I felt so relaxed I even dozed off for a few minutes.
Then Bessie shook me awake and soon had me digging clams with my fingers, squatting in the shallow water with the women. I managed to find a few. Bessie had a couple dozen small ones down her bosom, in fact all the girls had “clam bras” as they called it.
When the tide came in high enough to make any more digging impossible, Bessie sat on the beach and smashed clams together and ate them. I skipped that—the fresh clams looked too gritty and snotty. I curled up for another nap but didn't complain when Andy said it was high enough for swimming. I fooled in the water with the kids. When Bessie stood up and shouted it was five, time to go home as she had a special meat pudding to make... I was completely pooped, glad to drag my tired rear toward the cottage.
Walking along the road Bessie kept bawling me out for getting too much sun, but I told her I felt fine. And I did. I was honestly tired without a worry or a thought on my mind. All I wanted was to eat and swim—get some sleep, and the hell with being a jerk detective. When Bessie said something about asking Jane Endin over I was so bushed I only put up a mild argument.
Reaching the cottage I went around to the back, with Andy, to hang out the beach towels. He asked how soon we'd buy the helicopter kit and....
Bessie screamed. A hell of a scream.
I dropped the towels, damn near fell over Andy as we rushed around front, into the house. Bessie was standing in the doorway, pointing, her face full of horror.
Matty was on his back, his four feet sticking stiffly up in the air. He was laying on the tabletop, next to a dish of food. One glance told me he was dead.
Andy asked, “Is poor Matty sick?”
I finally took my eyes off the cat, looked coldly around the room. I was frightened, but most of all I was too angry and upset to speak. Before I'd been grandstanding for the boy, maybe for myself, doing Bessie a favor, or perhaps having a little something going for the sake of “justice.” But that was all over. Now I was just plain goddamn burning mad!
Andy asked, “What's the matter with Matty? If we give him some warm milk...?”
Bessie put an arm around the boy's fat shoulders, told him softly, “He's dead, Andy. He took sick and died and he's—”
“Gone to Heaven? Mom, do cats and dogs go to Hell, too?”
“Keep still, Andy.” She turned to me, her eyes troubled. “He is dead, isn't he, Matt?”
Sure, I knew he was dead at first glance. But I stepped over and poked his stiff legs with my fingers, stared into the glassy little eyes. I was putting on an act for Bessie. My eyes kept working the room, waiting for any movement or sound behind the doors, in the other rooms. But the killer wouldn't be dumb enough to hang around. If he'd been down for real action, he wouldn't have bothered with my cat. The room looked okay, not a thing disturbed.
Andy was asking, “But, Mom, how did he die? Did he eat some of the stuff in that plate? Looks like there's some of it on his mouth.”
“I don't know,” Bessie said, starting for the table.
I grabbed her shoulder, told her, “Don't move. Did you touch anything when you came in?”
“No. Soon as I opened the door and saw Matty, I yelled. I don't understand how I could have been so careless as to leave those vegetables out of the refrigerator. It isn't like me to....”
“What's in the bowl?” I asked, my eyes still covering the room.
“I was going to make keftethes for supper, so I....”
I must have been snapping the questions at her, for Bessie sort of blinked and backed away from me as she said, “It's a... uh... fried meat ball. But there isn't any meat in the dish—just some vegetables I intended to saute first—tomato paste, peppers, mushrooms, olives, herbs and.... Obviously the heat must have turned the food and Matty ate some and got ptomaine and... oh, Matt, I know how fond you were of the beast... I'm sorry I was so careless, really!” She was on the verge of tears.
“Stop it, Bessie.” My voice was hard and curt; I knew I had to simmer down, cool off and use my head. “It wasn't your fault, you didn't do anything to Matty.”
Andy said, “Gee, think what would have happened if we had eaten the food. I bet....”
Bessie nodded, her face a sudden sickly white. “Matty saved our lives. But—even if it has been a hot afternoon, why should vegetables spoil that fast?”
There was a moment of silence. I was trying to think a few steps ahead. Then Bessie said, “Matt, will you take... him... away? I'll clean up and....”
I told her, “Bessie, I want you to stay out of the house, for awhile. You and Andy eat out.”
“I have some things to do here.”
She shrugged. “Well, if you wish. We'll change and eat in the village.” She started for the bedroom.
“No! I want you both out right now!”
“In our bathing suits? Please, Matt, while I realize how deeply you felt about the cat, I said I was sorry about the accident but....”
“Will you stay the hell out of here! I don't care where you eat—just leave me alone!” I heard the roar of my own voice and Andy's shrill, “Grandpops!”
I suddenly relaxed, got my nerves somewhat under control. Even tried to smile at Bessie as I took her trembling band, told her, “Honey, don't you see, I'm not only thinking about Matty—he's dead and gone. This wasn't any accident. This is a warning.”
“A warning? About what?”
“An attempt to frighten me off the Doc Barnes murder.”
Bessie tried to hide the anxious look mat slipped across her soft face. “But, Matt, that's over, solved.”
“The killer thinks I'm still on the case, didn't fall for that Nelson suicide thing.”
“Matty ate some bad food, that's too bad, but aren't you going overboard trying to connect a simple accident with...?”
“Bessie, Bessie, are you blind? You know what a fussy eater Matty is—was. You commented upon it several times. He wouldn't have eaten that food—I've never seen him jump on the table to steal food in his life! Don't you see, this is a plant, and a clumsy one at that, to scare....” I saw Andy staring up at me with big eyes—and bigger ears. “Andy, without saying a single word to anybody about what's happened, run over to the Johnsons, or whoever has a phone, and call the police. Just tell Roberts I want him up here pronto.”
“Yes, sir!” the boy said, taking off like a sprinter.
I waited until I heard him running down the road.
“Bessie, honey, this isn't any joke—it's damn serious. The killer came around to put the fear of God in me. He found Matty. Suppose he'd found you or Andy?”
Her face said she still didn't believe me. “Matt, doesn't that sound rather—fantastic? The heat spoiled some food and Matty ate it.”
“That's exactly what he wants us to buy—well, no sale! The killer has been riding his luck high, but with Matty he made his first mistake. He couldn't know Matty's eating habits, that Matty would never leap on the table for food.”
“Who knows how hungry the cat was?”
“Look, I certainly know all about his dainty appetite—it's impossible!”
“Now, Matt, be reasonable. I mean Matty could have.... He? You know who the killer is? Why Barnes was killed?”
“I don't know the why, but I have a hell of a strong idea as to who did it Bessie, what are we wasting time and arguing about? Whether you think I'm crazy or not, let's not take any chances. Take Andy over to the Johnsons and stay there for the night. Or until I call for you. I have a lot of work to do here: fingerprints and other clues. Okay?”
“Oh, Matt, you're not making much sense. I think you're....”
“Damn it, honey, what do you know about murder? Listen, at least humor me, even if you think I'm an old fool!”
“Matt, you know I don't think that. I mean, it's simply that.... All right, I'll wait for you at the Johnsons. Can I at least take some meat out of the refrigerator to cook over there?”
“No. After I have it analyzed, I'm throwing out every bit of food here. Forget food, you ate enough clams to last you a week. Honey, just turn right about and get. And don't worry.”
She giggled nervously. “Now you tell me—don't worry! I'll be waiting for you at the Johnsons. Matt, please take care—don't do anything foolish.”
I nodded, watched her cross the porch, go down the steps. It suddenly came to me how right she was: the chips were down and I'd damn well better be a good detective —no more second guessing.
I walked through the house slowly. Things seemed okay. But then he hadn't been hunting for anything—except me. I returned to the table and Matty. There didn't seem to be any skin or blood sticking to his claws. Yet I couldn't see him being manhandled without a fight. His mouth was wide open in a sort of gasp and some of the tomato-red food stuck in his throat. I sniffed at the bowl, the food smelled spicy and good. I took another sniff, bending so low the tip of my nose touched the mess. I jerked my head back, laughing aloud like a goon—the food was cold! I stuck a finger in: it was all cool—proving Bessie hadn't left it out on the table. There wasn't any doubt, it had been deliberate.
There wasn't anything to do until Roberts showed. I brushed away a fly buzzing Matty, washed up at the sink. I went outside, “locking” the screen door. It wasn't a lock, merely a catch.
I dropped in on the three cottages nearest ours. No one had been home in the afternoon—they'd all been at the beach. But he could have easily checked that first... seen me on the sand, too, or out digging those damn clams.
The entire End Harbor police motor pool was parked in front of the cottage—Roberts leaning out of the radio car. He waved a lazy hand at me. “Nobody home. What's all the excitement about now?”
My old distrust of him returned—hard and fast. Not that I thought he did it, but the motive behind everything had to be this small town scandal—and Roberts' main job was to keep a lid on it.
“Come inside,” I said, “unlocking” the screen door. He got out of the car, straightened his shirt, followed me in. When he saw Matty on the table Roberts whistled, pushed his hat back on his head, asked, “Ate some rat poison?”
“No, he was killed.”
“Got to be careful leaving these insecticides around. Too bad. What you want to see me about, Lund?”
“What kind of fingerprint equipment do you have here?”
“Not much—actually nothing to speak of. They've got a complete outfit at Riverside, of course, and Hampton Point. Guess if we ever had any need for taking prints, we could call on them. Why?”
“Why? To see if the killer left any prints!”
Roberts pulled at one of Matty's stiff legs. “What killer? Left what prints?”
“The guy who killed my cat. I think he also killed Doc Barnes and maybe Nelson. It's obvious.”
Roberts gave me a queer look, as if I was nuts. He sat down on a chair, fanning his face with his fancy cap. I asked, “What's the matter with you? If there were prints on the chair, your big ass has smeared them.”
“I'm far from getting the message, Lund,” he corned. “Send it to me slower. Now what about the cat?”
I told him about coming home from the beach, finding Matty dead, added, “But it's all a clumsy job. First off, the food was cool, meaning it hadn't been spoiled—that it was taken out of the icebox recently and poison added. Secondly, it must have been forced down Matty's throat, he never in his life ate off the table. It was done to scare me off.”
“Scare you off what?” Roberts asked, his voice sarcastically polite.
“Come on, Roberts! Off the Barnes killing.”
“Lund, you can't be starting that again? The case is over.”
“The killer doesn't know that! Listen to me, Roberts, before I was sticking my nose in for no real reason, but from now on I'm in with both feet. That's my cat!” He still was looking at me as if waiting for the punchline of a gag. The hell with you, I thought. You won't get off those glamour-pants, you're too much of a jerk. And the devil with trying for prints. Killer would be too smart for that And there wasn't time, anyway.
“Lund, I got a dog I'd flip over if he died. So I can understand why the death of your cat has upset your better judgement, but....”
He got up. “Yeah, I can stop it. I can get back to some paperwork I was doing when your boy phoned. Talk sense, man, you're basing a lot of wild talk on what? That you think the cat would never jump on the table! You know how curious cats are, and he might have been very hungry, so he ups and eats some of this spoiled food and....”
“Damn it, it isn't spoiled! Stick your ringer in the stuff now, see if it feels like it's been out all afternoon.”
Roberts touched the mess with a thick finger, said, “Yeah, does feel cool.” He cleaned his fingertip on the tablecloth. “Let's start again; maybe he choked on a bone or...?”
“And maybe somebody is being murdered while we're gassing!”
“You're not sure how the cat died—why don't you ask a vet before shooting off your mouth about murder?”
I was too mad to even get riled. “Where can we find an animal doc?”
“Nearest one is in Hampton. You see what he says and then. Your car is still in the shop. I'll drive you there.”
“Thanks!” I got Matty's basket, gently placed him in it I couldn't bend his legs, so I left the top open. I put the bowl in a big saucepan, held that in my left hand and took the basket under my right arm, said, “Let's go.”
Roberts nodded at my trunks. “Your legs aren't that good. Ordinance against walking around in swim trunks— even old ones. Get dressed.”
I slipped on my clothes, wondering how much more of this patronizing “humoring” I could take. Even a hick cop should take murder seriously. Roberts carried the pot out to the car as he said, “I'll have to stop at the station, tell 'em where I'm going. Kind of late—best we phone the vet and see if he's around.”
I didn't say a word. When we pulled up in front of the “police station” I had cooled off enough to admit Roberts was at least trying to work intelligently. I should have thought of seeing a veterinarian. I should have used my head instead of my temper. I had to play it careful, not risk Andy or Bessie—or myself. I stared out of the car window, Matty heavy and silent in his basket on my lap, watching the people pass by on the street, wondering if I were being watched, too.
About ten minutes later Roberts came out, waved to a couple of passing girls before he told me, “It's after six— the vet shut at four. Wife says he's on his boat fishing, won't be back until late.”
“Another vet around?”
“In Riverside. I phoned him, too—no answer. Tomorrow morning well....”
“Tomorrow will be too late. Where can I get this food analyzed?”
“At this hour?”
“We haven't a lab and the county lab at Riverside will be shut. Doc Barnes would have been our man. Guess Jessie—the druggist—might help us.”
“Think he's out fishing, too!”
Roberts gave me a stupid grin. “Let's walk across the street and see.”
The druggist turned out to be a serious-faced kid of about twenty-six or so, wearing a loud yellow sport shirt and Bermuda shorts. We went to the back of the store, waited while he made a soda for an old lady. Then I told him we wanted to know what had killed Matty, showed him the dish of food. He sniffed at it, rubbed some between his slender fingers. He ran water over a spoonful of the stuff, washing away the red tomato paste. He held up a small white sliver. “I don't have to be a research chemist to spot this—piece of toadstool. There's a quantity of mushrooms here and at least one of them is toadstool.”
He handed it to Roberts who said, “Yeah, it is a toadstool. That makes for a simple answer, Lund, your daughter-in-law picked wild mushrooms and....”
“She buys her mushrooms.”
“Lucky you—got a good lawsuit. Hope she got 'em at the supermarket.”
“I doubt that, Artie,” Jessie the druggist said. “Store mushrooms are cultivated and there's little chance of a toadstool mixing in. Beside, this type is a cinch to spot. Of course, remember there could be something else in the food and if you give me a few days to....”
I cut in with, “What would have happened if we—I— had eaten some of this? Would it have caused death?”
“You understand, I'm not a toxicologist, so this is far from an expert opinion. There are various species of poisonous mushrooms, or toadstools, as they are commonly called, and I imagine some are quite deadly. However, judging by the structure of this sample, it's a local variety. I used them for doll umbrellas when I was a kid. I believe you'd have to eat a far larger quantity than could be found in this plate to possibly cause death. But there's enough here to have made you miserably ill for several days.”
I nodded. “One thing more, doc, wouldn't...?”
Jessie gave me a solemn grin. “I'm not a doctor.”
“But you're a country lad and maybe you know about animals. Wouldn't an animal by instinct leave a toadstool alone?”
“I couldn't say. I suppose an animal might know food was poisonous by the smell, but mushrooms are odorless. And it seems to me I recall pictures of cows dying out West when they were driven by thirst to drink at alkaline wells. Notice how the cat's neck is swollen and the large, almost abnormal amount of food in the throat, as if the food were forced down his throat.” He gave me a suspicious glance.
“But, Jess, couldn't the swelling be caused by the toadstool making the cat sick?” Roberts asked.
Somebody called out from the front of the store, “Jessie?”
“Leaving a dime for the paper on the counter.”
“Thanks.” The druggist turned to Roberts. “That's possible. I really don't know. Say, Artie, what's this all about?”
“Nothing,” I said quickly. “Thanks for your time, Mr.... Jessie.” I picked up Matty's basket and the pot of food. Roberts followed me out to the police car, opening the door for me. I told him, “I'd appreciate it if you'd drive me back to the cottage.”
“Why, sure, I always give door-to-door service,” he said, starting the car. “Well, guess you're convinced now it was an accident.”
“Accident? How often have you had a case of toadstool poisoning in the Harbor?”
“Never heard of any, but they do happen,” he said, glancing at a car making a brake-screeching turn off Main Street, muttering, “Dumb kid drivers.”
“I'll tell you what happened. The killer came to our cottage with a toadstool while we were at the beach, found the food in the icebox, cut in the toadstool. He figured after eating the food we'd get sick enough to pack up for New York. I'd be off his back. Then he saw my cat, thought he had a better way of making sure his plan worked fast—forced food down Matty's mouth and left the bowl beside him on the table.”
“You're going off half-cocked, Lund. All that is only what you think.”
I patted Matty's basket. “I didn't think up this!”
“But you can't be positive that...?”
“Look, Lund, all we know is your cat ate a toadstool and died. That doesn't prove a thing. You heard Jessie, he wasn't even certain how the cat died. And don't keep saying 'he'—if you think the cat was deliberately killed— I recall hearing your daughter-in-law wasn't keen on the cat. And her boy—some kids get kicks out of hanging dogs and....”
“Oh cut it. I've had enough talk.”
“What the hell do you expect me to do? If the cat was killed deliberately, so what? I'm not the SPCA. Killing a cat isn't any crime. As for this being part of the Barnes business, old man, you're way off your rocker.”
We finished the ride in silence. Roberts helped me into the cottage with the stuff, planted his rear on a chair again —his favorite hobby. I wondered what he was hanging around for. I knew I was wasting valuable time talking to the big dope. The toadstool told me all I wanted to know... except for one other thing I had to clear. I asked, “How old would Jack Wiston be now?”
“Who?” His face looked blank and I doubted if he was that good an actor.
“Priscilla Barnes' missing brother,” I said.
“You really get around, Lund. I don't know. That was long before my time. I never saw or knew any of her family, not even when I was a kid.”
“How old was Barnes?”
“Around sixty-three. I have his exact age in my files. Had a nice funeral for Ed today. Worked out fine.”
“You mean Jane Endin didn't show. How old was Nelson?”
Roberts looked startled. “What's Pops got to do with this?”
“How old is he?”
Roberts shrugged. “Never could count that high. This a quiz program?”
“It was, up till now. Roberts, do me one favor, give— or sell—me a handful of .38 shells.” I touched his polished belt lined with bullets. I knew there was little chance the hardware store carried them.
Roberts couldn't have jumped to his feet faster if a shell had goosed him. His eyes actually narrowed—again —as he asked, “What for?”
“For my empty gun.”
“That tears it, Lund. You've been a wild-hair from the moment you came to the Harbor. Pack a gun and I'll jail you!”
“The law says I can carry a gun anywhere in the state.”
“Then I'll lock you up for disorderly conduct, for being a loony! You sore because your Greek buddy is free and you haven't anything to do now? Who the devil do you think you are? Dick Tracy? I'm warning you, Lund, and only this once, annoy anybody else in the Harbor and I'll throw your ass in jail so fast it will make your badge smoke!” He started for the porch, his big frame filling the doorway.
“Maybe the Hampton Point police will be interested.”
Roberts spun around so quickly I thought he was going to swing on me. “Sure, go tell them about your cat—they'll toss you in a cell, a padded one! Maybe you don't believe this, but I'm doing you a favor—although you sure act like you're cracked. Well, here's the favor, some free advice: don't make a fool of yourself in Hampton Point They have a big force, a rough one. It's a rich town and they got plenty of cops because they're afraid the migratory potato pickers might get out of hand in the summer. You go there and they'll laugh you out of town!”
He ran down the porch steps, and into the radio car. I leaned against the wall, watched the lights of the car disappear—wondered what to do next. For a second I was full of doubts... But it had to be Pops. He was the “old goat,” and for some reason he'd killed Barnes, then taken off. That accounted for the dummy up on the widow's walk. I'd seen the hands move this afternoon, but whose hands? On a hot day why would anybody, even a supposedly sick man, keep a hat over his face, a blanket on? Somehow Larry Anderson was in this, probably protecting Pops, maybe being blackmailed. It all fitted. Larry had seen me out on the bay this afternoon with the glasses, thought I was spying on Pops again, that I hadn't been taken in by the Nelson “suicide.” So Larry told the “old goat.” Or he and Pops could be in this together.
Hell, everybody in the Harbor might be in on this. Jane Endin hadn't been at the funeral, she only lived a few blocks from here, must know about mushrooms and herbs. She could be working with Pops, trying to scare me off.
But off what? What possibly could be going on in this peaceful lousy hick burg that called for murder? I didn't know who did the other killings, but Matty had to be the work of Pops, whoever he was and wherever he was. That was why Larry had put his glasses on me this afternoon.
I either had to pack up Andy and Bessie, get away from here at once, or if I stayed, I had to solve it before anything happened to them. And I had to do it alone—me, the do-it-yourself detective. Maybe I was being an old fool, but I just couldn't run.
I went inside and dumped every bit of food I could find—the stuff in the icebox along with sugar, salt, cereals —in the garbage can. Even the toothpaste. Some flies were on Matty. I rummaged around until I found an empty hat-box and put Matty in it. I carefully wrapped the box in aluminum foil, tied it securely with fishline, then put the package in his wicker basket. I scrubbed the tabletop, threw out the cleanser and a box of soap powder.
There was a clam rake in the back of the house. I took it down the road to an empty field, buried Matty. It took me a long time to dig the grave and it was very dark when I finished. There couldn't be a doubt in my mind now, I was sweating drops of pure anger.
I dropped into the Johnsons where everybody stared at me as if seeing the village idiot—maybe because I was still carrying the clam rake. Bessie asked if I wanted supper. I said no and took her aside, whispered about the toadstool and that I had thrown out all the food in the house.
“I can't understand how one possibly got in. I can easily recognize a toadstool when I....”
“Never mind that now; you didn't do a thing. Just keep quiet about it and spend the night here.”
Mr. Johnson, a character with a big belly and lard shoulders, boldly assured me he would most certainly... “look after Bessie and the child...” meaning Bessie had let her big mouth go.
Everybody talked in hushed tones, as if not to excite me. I told Bessie I had buried Matty, not to worry if I didn't return that night. I asked for Jerry's address.
“What do you want his address... for?” she started to ask. But something in my face stopped her and she said in a loud whisper, “He lives on Belmont Lane. Not far away. Matt, be careful.”
“Don't worry about me. And remember, don't leave this house.”
I stopped at our cottage for my gun, feeling the silence of the house, before starting for Jerry's place. I suppose it wasn't far at that, the whole Harbor wasn't much, but I kept walking in circles until I asked a couple of people and finally found this one-block side street with the ritzy name. In the dark all I could see was a small house set in a large garden. I lit a match to read a crude TAXI sign nailed to a small fence. He wasn't home. The garage was empty, too. I wondered where he was.
But it didn't matter much, I'd wanted to ask what he knew about Pops. And borrow his car—see if I could get any help and ammo from the Hampton Point police. But Roberts was probably right. If I walked in and told them I was gunning for a killer, that the Nelson thing was a set-up... all because my cat was dead... they'd laugh me into a straitjacket. These village cops, washing each ether's hands. I had to play it alone.
I headed for the bay, walking across the harbor. Through the open doors and windows I saw everybody in their houses, silently watching TV, and maybe nibbling at a bottle. Crazy yokels who never went to a big city, maybe never to another village unless they had to.
Cutting across Main Street, I walked toward the water down a narrow street I'd never been on before. To my surprise next to a boat and bait place I found a small store still open. It was a tiny shop, the downstairs of a house, and seemed to stock a little bit of everything. I wanted a flash and also I was very hungry. A fat woman with wispy gray hair and wearing a bag of a dress waddled out of a back room, asking, “Yes, sir, what can I do for you?”
I bought an expensive light, the only kind she had, glad she hadn't cracked about my being a sure sign of summer. I ate a candy bar as I went over to a basket of fresh vegetables, felt of the string beans and cabbages—like I knew what I was doing, asked if they were local produce.
“Only the potatoes and tomatoes. Be more truck vegetables in a week or two. Long Island potatoes ain't much this year.”
Over a bottle of soda I listened to a speech about what the local potato growers did wrong, how expensive the California and North Carolina crops were. I had a hunk of over-sweet cake before she mentioned Anderson, said he went into Patchogue for vegetables three times a week. I said, “I've seen his truck around. New one. He must be making out pretty well.”
“He's always cheerful. Joy to have that man around. And once you're straight with him, he's easy on credit. Frankly, I don't know how Larry does it; he can't meet the supermarket's prices. I used to sell four or five baskets of fruits and vegetables a day during the summer. Now I'm lucky to sell that much a week. Had anything else to do, at my age, I'd give up the store. I order less and less from Larry, but I suppose he does better in the other towns.”
“This Anderson lives with his father, doesn't he? Old man they call Pops?”
“That's not his daddy,” the fat lady said, getting up steam. For ten minutes she told me what a wonderful man Larry was, how Pops wasn't “even a relation,” merely an old friend, but Larry couldn't have treated him any better “if the old man had been his father.” It also seemed that Pops was a wonderful man, always full of jokes and willing to help out; sometimes he brought her fish.
End Harbor was simply full of “wonderful” men and women—when they weren't killing or getting killed. The storekeeper went on to tell me how active Larry was in the city council, had organized a Scout troop—only there weren't enough kids interested. Pops was busy in the various cake sales and used to sell chances for the annual Legion car raffle—up till last year when his arthritis got real bad. I paid her and left in the middle of a speech about the younger generation.
I walked down to the beach, along the shore toward the spot where Andy and I had landed a couple days ago.
I had company, a big Irish setter tagged along behind me. I threw some stones for him to chase and when I reached Larry's property I shooed the dog away. Climbing the bank I saw a light in the kitchen of Anderson's house. I walked carefully through the rough grass until I reached the garage. The doors were open, the truck standing inside, and the concrete floor was wet. Stepping inside I covered the flash with my hand and turned on the light. All I saw were stacks of empty wooden crates and bushel baskets. On the truck there were crates of lettuce and fruit, all recently watered down. Everything was neat and businesslike. I don't know what I expected to find but I didn't find a damn thing. There was an outboard in one corner, on a rack, a....
I heard a sound outside the garage and froze, my hand sneaking toward the gun inside my belt—until I remembered it was empty. Somebody was walking around the outside of the garage, walking softly. I heard them come to the door as I strained to see in the darkness. The padding sound came directly toward me, despite the fact I was hidden behind a pile of peach crates. A moment later there was a small whine and the cold muzzle of my buddy, the dog, touched my hand. I was so relieved I nearly giggled as I whispered, “Beat it, boy.”
It must have seemed a caressing sound to him for the big son-of-a-bitch put his paws on my chest and tried to lick my face. I pushed him away and he hit one of the stacks of empty crates—which came down with all the thunder in the world. I ran out of the garage, knocking over more boxes, headed for the beach. I heard a door slam and then heavy steps as a flashlight sliced the darkness. I kept running as fast as I could, bent low and zigzagging, my breathing harsh. I hit a rut, or some damn thing, and went sliding on my face and chest in the heavy grass. The air was knocked out of me, the lousy gun in my waist felt like it had gone through my stomach. I lay there, sobbing for breath, wondering if I'd busted my store teeth. The heavy footsteps came closer and I clamped a hand over my open mouth to muffle my breathing.
The night was split with the roar of a shotgun blast, followed by a tiny, unreal scream.
The footsteps approached slow, cautiously. I pulled my gun from out of my stomach—a bluff was better than nothing. Then some fifteen feet to my right a flash snapped on and I saw Anderson, shotgun in work-gloved hands, bending over. He raised the bloody remains of the Irish setter by one leg, the head resting on the ground. Anderson remained bent over like that for a few minutes, an odd smile on his thick face. It could have been a smile of relief or of sorrow. I wondered what he was doing... he seemed to be listening to the night. Then I knew he was waiting to see if the sound of the shot brought anybody on the run.
I was as flattened to the ground as I could get. I was scared outright silly—he hadn't known it was a dog he was shooting at. And I was impressed by the gloves-touch— Anderson believed in being prepared—fingerprints must have been uppermost in his mind at all times.
Satisfied no one was coming, he dropped the dog and walked back to the garage, the light bouncing ahead of him. The fall had knocked my own flash from my hand and I didn't try to find it, but crawled toward the beach like a frightened snake, thankful I hadn't broken any real bones or false teeth. When I heard Larry returning I played dead in the grass again, grateful I could still play at it. He held the gun in his right hand, a shovel in his left. Dragging the dog farther away from me, he sent the light dancing around—trying to decide where to dig, then finally dug a deep grave and buried the mutt It was a rough night in the Harbor for animals.
It took him almost an hour and all that time I was flat in the damp grass, fighting gnats and watching his powerful movements. He was sure a strong clown. One thing was for certain: my theory about Pops being out of the house, that dummy on the widow's walk, was right. If the old man was sick in the house with a bad ticker Anderson sure wouldn't be blasting a shotgun on the grounds. And if Pops had been hiding in the house, the gun blast would have brought him out. He was probably on the run for killing Barnes and Nelson. But theory wasn't worth its salt unless I found the motive. If I went to Roberts he would stall me with his Anderson-is-a-big-citizen kick. I might try the Riverside or Hampton Point police, but I'd have to come up with more than I had. Suppose Pops wasn't home— what did that prove? Pops and this Anderson were doing something shady and the only way I could get a lead on them would be to find out everything about Anderson and his too prosperous business.
When Anderson returned to his house I got up and walked stiffly along the beach, then over to Jerry's house. He was still out and I stood on his porch, wondered again where he could be. There was a light in the house across the way and I saw a shadow behind the curtain. That would be nosey Mrs. Bond.
I crossed the street and the shadow disappeared. I rang her bell and a moment later this little old lady opened the door. I said, “Mrs. Bond, I'm....”
“I know,” she squeaked, her beady eyes bright and a faint whiff of port clinging to her words, “You're that secret service man.”
“You know where Jerry went?”
“Oh, my, what's he done now?”
“He hasn't done a damn thing, I....”
“See here, young man, don't raise your voice to me.”
“I... uh... wanted to hire his car, taxi me to the station,” I said, almost floored by that “young man.”
“I haven't the slightest idea where he is. He drove away in the middle of the afternoon and hasn't been back since. You were here before, weren't you?”
“Yeah. If he returns soon, tell him I'd like to see him.”
“If you think I have nothing better to do than watch for that—that foreign devil to come home....”
“You've been watching him for years, what's a few more hours?” I said, walking away. I walked across the Harbor till I reached our cottage; suddenly kept walking. Jane Endin's car was in the driveway and two of her windows were lit. I worked the arrowhead knocker. When she opened the door she looked different—much younger. Some of the tenseness was gone from her face, her eyes rested. She was wearing a mannish sport shirt and jeans, the pants full of paint stains. I said, “Hello,” and she nodded, asked, “Mr. Lund, what has happened to you now, or do you always dress this sloppy?”
I looked down—hadn't realized my pants and shirt were streaked with grass and dirt stains. “Seems I had another accident.”
“Be careful, you may be accident-prone. Come in. Like to wash up? Your face is dirty.”
She took me to the bathroom, and as we passed through the living room I saw her latest work standing on an easel. It seemed to be a picture of a rough sea but the water was a violent red, the wave-caps a terrible purple, and the sky a dead, sickly green. At least it wasn't a picture you forget quickly.
The bathroom fixtures were bulky and ancient. I washed, drying my face and hands on toilet paper—the towels looked like they'd never been used. For a second I glanced at the big bathtub with envy, then went back to the living room.
I stared at the new painting and she asked, “Do you like it? Don't touch it, please, it's still wet.”
“That's okay, I'm wearing gloves.”
For a fast second her eyes seemed to harden, then she giggled—and for a moment she seemed about eighteen, “That's a wonderful joke.”
“And very old. Yeah, I think I like it. It's the nightmare terror a rough sea can give you.”
“Thank you, that's exactly what I had in mind. The other day, when I was staring at the sea all day... it seemed so terribly ruthless. Since I decided not to go to Edward's funeral today, I worked hard on the painting to pass time. I'm glad Jerry is out. I knew he couldn't have done such a thing. Who is this Nelson, the man they say did it?”
“I never saw him. Did you?”
She shook her head as we sat down opposite each other. She lit a cigarette, started to hand me the pack, said, “But you smoke a pipe. I'm sorry about what happened to your cat.”
“Who told you?” I patted my pockets; my pipe was some place in Anderson's field. It was a damn good piece of briar, too. I reached over and took one of her cigarettes.
“I have Newsday delivered here every afternoon, and the boy told me. First time I ever heard of anybody making a mistake about toadstools. Lucky it was only the cat.”
“Yeah, only a cat. And it was a mistake all right, a big one,” I said slowly, wondering if I'd be booting things by taking her into my confidence. I had a hunch Jane was completely straight, still these Harbor people were all hard to make. Any horse player knows a hunch addict is a fool, but I couldn't waste any more time. And I couldn't go it alone. I took the plunge. “You see, now I'm sure I know the real killer.”
“Killer? You think somebody killed your cat?”
“I know the louse who killed my cat also murdered Doc Barnes and this Nelson.”
She jumped a little, went pale. “But I thought...? That is, they are so sure; they said they found Edward's scarf on the dead man?”
“Forget Nelson for now. I think I know who killed the doc. But I don't know the motive, the reasons why, all the little things that will round out the full picture. I need your help for that.”
“My help? I'll do anything to get Edward's killer, but... but I hardly see how I can be of any help. What can I do?”
“You...” I wiped tobacco crumbs from my lips. I never could smoke cigarettes, not even when I was sneaking a smoke on my post. “You can be a big help. I need background information about Pops. I want to know all about him. And about Larry Anderson.”
“Not Larry. He's—”
“Skip telling me what a community pillar he is. I'll give it to you from the shoulder—I think he and Pops are in some kind of racket. I've checked, and he's making too much dough from his vegetable business. Wait—let me talk for a second. Pops is supposed to be very sick— Anderson takes him up on the roof, that widow's walk, every day for the sun. I'm sure that's an act, with a dummy. I think Pops killed Barnes—but I don't know the motive, yet—and is in hiding. I was out on the bay this morning, with my fieldglasses. I believe Larry thought I was watching the house, that he told Pops, and my cat was killed to scare me off the case.”
“Mr. Lund, do you realize what you're saying? It's ridiculous. Strong as he is, Larry has never struck anybody, not even in anger. As for Pops, why, he's a jolly, gentle old man. They're like father and son.”
“Maybe. But Pops has to be the 'old goat' the doc was going to see after he left Jerry. And if Pops didn't kill the doc, he knows who did—that's why he's hiding. The point is, Larry isn't acting like he has a sick father in the house, he's firing a shotgun like he's in a battle. Nor was my cat an accident—and it couldn't have been Nelson, he's dead. There's a lot of whys I have to answer, and maybe I'm all wet. But if I'm not, there's a killer loose. I need your help to see if I'm wrong.”
“But Larry and Pops—they're the last two people in the world I'd think of as.... killers.”
“Will you help me, Miss Endin?”
“I simply can't believe they are crooks or... even bad...
I crushed the damn cigarette in a clam shell ashtray. “Okay, you answer a few questions and convince me I'm wrong. Who is Pops? What's his full name?”
“I don't know his first name but his surname is Brown. Long as I can recall he was just called Pops, Pops Brown.”
“Know where he came from?” Maybe Pops knew Nelson in California and they both had something on Barnes.
“No. Seems to me he was always around the Harbor, always an old man. When Mrs. Anderson was alive she needed a farm hand. Of course it really wasn't a farm, more of a truck vegetable patch. But it was plenty of work and she needed a part-time helper, or she'd have to take Larry out of school. Pops was working around: clam digging, potato picker, fixed up the roads—he helped Mrs. Anderson out in return for room and board. He's lived there ever since. When Larry started his wholesale business Pops helped him for a time, mostly on the raising end. But it became too much work for him. For the last couple of years, even though he was too old to work, Larry has taken care of him, treated him fine. Pops always has spending money.”
“I bet,” I said, wondering if maybe Larry was working for Pops. “Did Pops ever leave here, say for a few days or weeks at a time?”
“Doesn't anybody know where he came from? Has he any relations?”
“Pops is about the oldest person in town, all his pals have passed on. Guess there isn't anyone who knows much about him. I do know he sometimes has a friend or two, also old men, visiting him for a month or so.”
“Any of Priscilla's family live around here?”
Jane shook her head.
“Did you ever see or hear of Jack Wiston?”
“No. I think that's Priscilla's maiden name but her folks were all dead before I was born. Who is Jack Wiston?”
“Forget him, I'm crossing him off. Let's get back to Pops.”
“Mr. Lund, you're terribly wrong about all this.”
“I don't think so, there's too many phony angles about Pops, and Anderson. Larry's mother leave him any money?”
“Oh, no, they were always very poor.”
“And from what you've told me Pops was a bum, so he didn't have any. Anderson's post office job isn't much, he gets around $1500 a year. Yet he pays his bills promptly and with cash, his business is the only one in the Harbor that's able to buck the supermarket—why only Larry's?”
“I don't know, but if he was so rich, why would he keep the mailman job? Also, Larry doesn't deal only in the Harbor. He serves a number of stores from Patchogue out to Montauk. Most of these other towns haven't any supermarkets.”
“Is Anderson the only wholesale produce man in these parts?”
“In End Harbor, but I'm pretty sure there are others around. Of course there are, the Henderson boy works for one in Hampton, come to think of it.”
“So we have a lot of two-bit stores and competition for their trade, but for some reason Anderson is rolling in dough—the new truck, station wagon, top credit rating, well-kept house. I think he has too much money, more than his business can account for. In both his jobs, mailman and trucker, he gets around. Could he and Pops be in some kind of racket, like the numbers, or making a book?”
She smiled. “You don't know Larry.”
“That's why I need your help, I want to know all about him. I don't seem to know anybody in the Harbor. Yesterday you told me he'd made some... passes at you. Yet now you're defending him.”
“Not defending him but trying to have you understand how wrong you are about him. Larry was always a mama's boy. His father died when he was about eleven or twelve and Larry....”
“How did he die?”
“Heart attack while clamming in the winter. They found his frozen body in the boat. I was just a kid then, but I think Edward was starting his practice and Larry's father was his first real case. I remember he had him stretched out on the dock, trying everything to revive him. You see, up until before the war, when factories started springing up in Hampton, and even in the Harbor, this was a very poor town. Everybody was on short rations. They clammed, fished, rented rooms, picked potatoes—in addition to whatever regular jobs they might have. My dad used to go out in his old leaky boat over the week ends at low tide and bring in a dozen bushels of clams. It's hard work and in those days brought in about ten dollars a weekend, more in the winter. Of course now they get as much as five dollars and six dollars a bushel, but the bay is pretty well cleaned out It takes over fifteen years for a clam to grow and....” She shook her head, as if scolding herself. “I'm talking all around what you want to know—about Larry. He just lived to make money for his mother. Always was a hard worker; delivered papers, peddled berries in the summer, any odd job he could get. And of course he worked hard on their farm. He never had time for girls. Although he's about eight years older than I am, since there's only one school here, we knew each other—a little. Larry never had time for school games either. He was even deferred from the army on account of his mother being sickly and he was her sole support, but he was drafted when she died in '43. It was just before he went into the army he began seeing me.”
“What does 'seeing me' mean exactly?”
“Not what you think,” she said quickly. “We saw each other for a few weeks. He would take me driving—at sight, to a movie—in some other town... always careful we weren't seen together in the Harbor. One night he tried to paw me and that was the end of it. He even apologized afterwards, but I never saw him again, except on the street, of course. I imagine he was very lonesome. It was hard for the single men who weren't in the army, what with fathers being taken. I never cared for him and I resented his thinking he could... you know... just because I'm an Indian.”
“Why hasn't Anderson married since his mother died? Has he any girl friends?”
“None that I know of. I suppose he's married to his business, he works very hard at it. If you really think Pops and Larry are mixed up in this, that Pops is gone, why not ask Chief Roberts to look into it?”
“I don't trust him. Frankly, I don't trust anybody in the Harbor—except you. Everybody seems to be working hand in hand to cover up this mess.”
“Why do you trust me, Mr. Lund?”
“I don't know why. I just do. When are you going back to work?”
“In a day or two. Fm still pretty jittery, even though I had a restful day, today.”
“The main thing Fm lacking is the motive, the why, to all this. Anderson was around the house today, which means he should be out on his vegetable route tomorrow. I have this... hunch, I guess, that his traveling around the countryside is the key to everything. It's the only thing he does different from anybody else in the Harbor. Maybe he has a couple of wives or gal friends stashed away, maybe he's peddling dope—that would tie him in with the doc. Most likely he has Pops hiding out someplace around here. I'd like to tail him tomorrow and I need a car. I busted up my son's. Can I borrow yours?”
“If he had anything to do with Edward's death, M not only let you have the car, I'll go along with you.”
“I don't want to put you out,” I said, full of suspicion again.
“I haven't anything else to do, and I know the countryside. But there's one condition: if you don't find anything to definitely prove mat Pops is gone, what I mean is, if you're not absolutely sure, one way or the other, I want you to go to Chief Roberts, have him ask to see Pops.”
“I'll buy that,” I said, my suspicions melting—a little. “What time do we start?”
“Larry is usually at Patchogue by five a.m. Sometimes when I'm too nervous to sleep I take long rides during the early morning hours, before going to work. I enjoy driving in the dawn fogs. I often see him leave his house at four A.M. That's when we should start, too.”
“Good,” I said, getting up, thinking of the dizzy young thing in the Hampton watch factory. Driving seemed to be a psychiatrist's couch out here. “I'll call for you at three-thirty.”
Jane got up slowly, seemed to stretch. “It will save time if I pick you up in front of your cottage.”
“Okay. I live at—”
“I know where you live, Mr. Lund.”
I said that would be fine and stopped to look at her painting again. Standing beside me, she asked, “Would you like to have it?”
“Well... I'd like to buy it,” I said as if I bought paintings every day. “How much?”
“That's being silly. If you want it, I'll give it to you.”
“I do want it. Thank you.”
“It should be dry in a day or two. I'll have it framed and ready before you leave the Harbor. I'm glad you want one of my works.”
Walking back to the cottage I was confused. For no reason except my instinct, which I didn't trust, I was taking Jane into my confidence. But I didn't like the business of her going with me, began to doubt who was actually tailing who. And it was odd she knew where I lived. Still, it was a small village, she would know... maybe.
It was after eleven and I stopped at the Johnsons to tell Bessie I'd spend the night in her cottage. Mr. Johnson was playing solitaire on the kitchen table, said, “Bessie and Andy went home about an hour ago. It's all right, their....”
I ran out of the house and sprinted for the cottage as if I were a kid. I came busting into the place, puffing like a whale and there was Danny grinning nervously at me. I fell into a chair as I tried to ask, “What are you doing here?”
“Take it slow, Matt. Man your age shouldn't be racing down the street. Anybody chasing you?” I noticed he had the kid's baseball bat leaning against a chain.
I shook my head. “Where's Bessie and Andy?”
“Sleeping. They've had a big day. I happened to got some time off, thought I'd make it a long week end, be with you.”
“Cut the slop, Danny, Bessie phoned you to come.”
He came over and sat on the arm of my chair. “Yes. She's worried about you, Matt. Dad, I've always looked up to you as a man with plenty of good old common sense— so tell me one thing and I'll be quiet—are you sure you're not going off the deep end on Matty's death?”
“Matty's death got me angry but it didn't make me hysterical, if that's what you mean. I'm not going off half-cocked. Before I was kind of playing at solving this murder, now I'm serious. I think I know what I'm doing.”
He slapped me on the back lightly. “Okay, Dad. What can I do to help you?”
“Stay with Bessie and Andy every minute of the day tomorrow. Don't frighten them, go to the beach and all the other things you usually do, but don't let them out of your sight. Having that bat around isn't a bad idea, either. I'm going to set the alarm and sleep on the porch because I have to be up in a few hours. I'll be gone most of tomorrow.”
He wanted to ask where I was going, but didn't He pointed at my clothes. “Been in a fight?”
“Nope, merely crawling on the grass. Now stop worrying. Tomorrow I'm only going riding, to see some of the other towns. With a woman. No danger.”
“This Indian sex-boat Bessie told me about?”
“Sex-boat? I ought to fan Bessie's.... Go to sleep, Dan, and let me work things out in my own way.”
“Hungry? I have tea on and....”
“Where did you find food here?” I shouted.
“Easy, Dad. Bessie told me over the phone that you'd thrown out everything, so I brought some down with me. Hungry?”
I washed up, had a cup of tea and a few sandwiches, made up the porch cot, set the alarm. I didn't need a clock to wake me—I never went to sleep. I listened to the country noises, and thought of nothing and everything. I was bushed but my mind kept spinning like a top. Mostly I lay there waiting—waiting for something to happen. I had this feeling I was in way over my head, had dragged Dan and his family in, too. I wanted bullets for my gun, I wanted Roberts at least working with me... and most of all, I wished I was back in the precinct, had the platoon with me.
In the quiet I couldn't kid myself any longer—as a cop I didn't have much confidence in me. I was goddamn frightened.
I got up at three and turned off the alarm. I must have slept a few winks, I felt rested, although my mind was still down in the dumps. I washed and shaved, careful not to make any noise. When I came out of the bathroom I found Bessie at the stove. She had a robe over her baby-dolls, but the robe was open and gave her a very deshabille effect. “Coffee, Matt?” she whispered.
“What are you doing up?”
“I've always been a light sleeper. Danny and Andy— take a bomb to wake them.”
“What did you have to send for Dan for?”
“You have me worried, Matt. Danny says you're going out with this Jane Endin today. Any danger?”
I laughed. “That's what you've wanted, me to take her out. No danger, we're merely going around and asking a few questions.”
“So early in the morning?”
“Okay, take me off the witness stand. Can you make some of that thick Turkish coffee? It will stay with me awhile.”
“Certainly. How about toast, eggs?”
I went into my room and watching the sleeping boy, I hid my empty gun. The kid had a big knife in his fishing box, but I didn't know much about using a knife.
I was sipping a tiny cup of the thick, soupy coffee when a car pulled up outside. I went out and asked Jane if she wanted coffee. The dim light from the dashboard hit the planes of her face at an odd angle, making it look like a long soft mask. She was wearing slacks, a tight white blouse with a big jade pin at the neck, and a short suede jacket. The tightness of the blouse said she was a bigger woman than I'd imagined. She hesitated, then said she would take a cup. We walked to the house and I introduced her to Bessie—for a second they looked each other over like pugs listening to the ref's instructions. Jane drank her coffee in silence, and drank it fast. Then she stood up, told Bessie, “I never had anything like that before. It's very good. Thank you.” She turned to me. “It's getting late.” She walked toward the door, the odd, stiff-legged walk, her thick braid doing a saucy dance on her back.
I put on Danny's too-big windbreaker, told Bessie I'd probably be back in the afternoon but not to worry if it was later. Bessie put her lips to my ear and whispered a single word:
As we drove toward Riverside and Patchogue the sky was bright with pale stars and the road spotted with fog pockets. Jane was a good driver, real good. After a while she said, “Your daughter-in-law is a very attractive woman. It must be a joy to have children, visit with them.”
“I don't know. After kids grow up they should stay out of their parents' way, and vice versa. I don't think they want to be bothered with an old man. And I didn't want to come out here. I have a better time alone in the city.”
“That's a strange thing to say.”
“Why? I'm old, set in my ways, and I know it. Next week I have to go up to the mountains to see my daughter Signe and her kids. It's a routine. Another crowded, noisy cottage. I won't get any rest there and neither will Signe.”
“The fortunate are not always aware of their fortune.”
I didn't know if that was supposed to be an old Indian saying or not, and didn't ask. “Shouldn't we see if Anderson has pulled out with his truck?”
“He's left. We'll pick him up at Patchogue. He never makes any stops until he starts back. He'll return to the Harbor by nine, then take out his station wagon to deliver the mail. About ten-thirty he'll pick up his truck, head out toward Montauk.”
My mind began to wrinkle with doubts as I wondered how often Jane had tailed Anderson before—or driven with him?
“That was an odd coffee Mrs. Lund served. I hear she makes an interesting wine pudding.”
I turned and stared at her. “How did you know that?”
“Just heard it.”
“Hasn't anybody in the Harbor anything to do but snoop on...?” I saw her face tighten up and added. “What I mean, exactly how does this village gossip work?”
“Very simple. Mrs. Lund asked Charley, who has the store as you turn into Main Street, for grapes, said she was going to mash them. Naturally he asked why and she told him about the wine pudding. I happened to be in the store later in the afternoon when he was repeating the recipe to some other woman. Don't people talk to each other in New York?”
“I suppose so, but there's so many people it's hard to tell.”
The roads were empty and she kept the car at fifty, only slowing down as we went through Riverside, and as we neared Patchogue an hour later, in a lot of truck traffic.
It was starting to turn light as she pulled up before some old buildings, nodded down the street. There were lights on in a warehouse beside a railroad siding, and several trucks were backed up to a loading platform. Anderson was watching two colored men loading his neat truck.
“What do we do now?”
“Wait,” I said, reaching into a pocket for my lost pipe and a notebook. I borrowed one of her cigarettes as I wrote down the name of the wholesaler and the time. Jane sat there, staring at nothing; she made me uneasy. I couldn't entirely lose the feeling I was walking into a trap.
At six forty-eight, the day starting bright and sunny, Anderson headed back toward the Harbor. I nudged her knee, told her not to stay too close. If I'd had my wits about me, I would have brought the glasses along. But there were more cars on the road and it wasn't any trick tailing the big green truck. Anderson drove some twenty miles before he stopped at a village of two stores; a hardware shop and a general store. The owner of the general store helped Larry unload a few crates of stuff. Although we were parked behind a bend down the road, I could make out a kind of mild argument—the storekeeper evidently wanted Anderson to take back a small basket of tomatoes. Finally Anderson was paid and drove off.
I made a note of the store and time, told Jane to drive on. She asked, “I thought you were going to talk to the man in the store?”
“We'll return later. You know Anderson's route, don't you?”
“No. From here on he'll make a lot of stops. Suppose you get out and talk to this man, while I follow Larry? Takes him five or ten minutes at each stop, and when I find where he's stopping, I'll come back and get you.”
“We can return here later in the day....”
“I'd like to get this over quickly. I don't like spying on people.”
“But suppose we lose him?”
“Island's so narrow here if we cruised about for ten minutes, we'd run into him,” Jane said, opening the door for me.
There wasn't anything for me to do but get out. I told her, “If you don't see me when you come back, honk your horn twice. And park a ways down from the store.” She nodded and drove off. I knew I was making a rock play. Why had she practically put me out of the car? Was she warning Larry? But she could have done that last night, or refused to come with me, or give me her car.
The storekeeper was a pudgy Italian, or maybe a Syrian, with a very straight large nose and dark eyes. He was opening a crate of melons, feeling each one, as I walked in.
I bought a corncob pipe and some tobacco. He gave me the “Now I know summer is really here, seeing you. Stopping at the Fan Tail Hotel, sir?”
“No, I'm staying at End Harbor, merely riding around this morning.”
Giving the last melon a feel he took the bait, told me, “My vegetable man comes from there. You know Larry Anderson?”
“I've seen his truck. Hard worker.”
“Kills himself three times a week, and of course he's the mailman, too. But in the winter he only makes a trip here once a week. Me, I stand on my feet all day long, winter and summer.”
“I bet,” I said, trying to turn the conversation around to something—and not knowing what “something” was. “Guess you know Pops is sick? Larry must have his hands full.”
“I know. Larry takes good care of old man Watson. Tell you, you won't find many people these days giving a hoot about anybody else or.... Up early, Mrs. Kane.”
A young woman customer was at the door. “I have the baby in the car, Joe. Give me a bottle of milk, package of bacon, two packs of cigarettes. Put it on my tab.”
I waited until he had taken care of her, feeling excited. Then I asked, “Did you say Pops' name was Watson?”
“Of course I'm only down for a week, but my son knows him and I thought his name was Pops Brown?”
He shook his fat head. “Naw, not the old man living with Larry. Used to help him out. His name is John Watson, I know.”
“I suppose you do, but I'd have sworn it was Brown.”
“Well, you have him mixed up with somebody else.”
I considered flashing my badge to get more dope, but tried talk. “I don't want to contradict you, mister, but I never forget a name. I'm sure it's Brown.”
The storekeeper sighed. “Look, I know, every month I cash his Social Security check. John Watson—no middle name. For seven years I been cashing them every month. Mister, if I was on Social Security I'd sit for the rest of my life.”
A horn honked twice outside. “None of my business, but why does... eh... Watson come all the way over here to cash his check?”
He shrugged. “Maybe he don't want the End Harbor bank to know his business. Maybe it's a habit—I started cashing the checks when old man Watson was helping Larry on the truck. Now—every month Larry brings me the check. It's for... I don't even know why I'm telling you this, Larry always says he don't want people knowing his business. But like I said, that's how I'm sure his name is Watson.”
The horn sounded again. “Guess you have me,” I said, making for the door. “First time I've been wrong on a name in years.”
“Always a first time for everything,” the storekeeper said, opening another crate.
Jane's car was down the road. When she saw me she turned around and as I slid in beside her she said, “Larry's about seven miles from here, making a delivery to a roadside diner, having breakfast there. Learn anything?”
“I don't know. What did you say Pops' name was?”
“Are you positive?”
“Nothing, I couldn't remember it. We'll wait until Larry leaves the diner then do the same thing—you go on to the next stop, come back for me.”
The diner was a fancy chrome job at a road intersection, and seemed too imposing for the orange juice I ordered. I said I noticed Anderson's truck leaving, were these his oranges? The place wasn't busy and the counterman bent my ear explaining how all juices come canned these days and a what a great timesaver it was. I had to order another juice before I could turn the talk around to Pops. But he only knew Pops as Pops.
Jane returned to tell me Anderson was at a store a dozen miles away. At this store and the next one, as I stocked up on tobacco, and cigarettes for Jane, I found out nothing. One storekeeper was a newcomer, the other knew Pops, but had no idea of his last name. I was beginning to think the first storekeeper had been batty, when at a few minutes before eight we stopped at a small store outside Riverside, several minutes after Larry pulled out. The store was run by a skinny Jewish woman who insisted Pops' name was Robert Berger. When I started my polite argument about having a memory for names, she cut me off with: “Mister, I don't like to contradict a customer, especially you, for now I know the summer has started well, but on this I'm sure. Berger himself wanted it.”
“When he was driving around with Larry, years ago, he personally asked me to cash his Social Security check. I remember, it was the first time I'd known the old man's same and I asked if he was Jewish—a name like Berger. He told me he was part Jewish on his mother's side. Tell you the truth, I admire Larry for being nice to the old man, all this time, even though they're of different religions. And every month Berger insists Larry bring his check here for me to cash,” she said, proudly—I thought.
“Doesn't he trust the End Harbor banks?” I cornballed.
“Berger doesn't want his business mixed up with Larry's. That's smart, I say.”
“I suppose so. Do you go into the Harbor to visit Berger often?”
“Me? Mister, I'm lucky to have time to read a book. My husband takes care of the chickens, I run the store, and any free time we have isn't for visiting—we rest.”
“This Anderson certainly sounds like a good soul. Does he have many old men living with him?”
“Look, he isn't running a hotel. Just Pops Berger, and believe me if others looked after their old workers the way Larry does, this would be a better world.”
I said it would; wanted to add it would be a world full of cemeteries.
Anderson made a fast stop in Riverside and Jane told me, “Now he'll go home, leave his truck, and take out the mail for an hour. Shall we follow his mail route?”
“No, that would be too obvious, a store is a public place, a home isn't. Let me talk to the guy in tins Riverside store.”
I bought some bacon and eggs and learned nothing—the storekeeper vaguely remembered Pops—but as Pops.
Back in the car I asked Jane. “How often do you go to these little villages we've stopped at?”
“Never. I don't know anybody there.”
“Do the people in these villages, the storekeepers, do they come to End Harbor much?”
“Of course not. They might go into Riverside or Patchogue at times, to the bigger stores, once in a while. Like on Christmas. What's the bacon and eggs for?”
“I had to buy something. Thought we might have breakfast at your place, then pick up Anderson when he starts on his route again.”
“Worried about taking me into a restaurant?”
I heaved the package of eggs and bacon out the open window. She stopped the car, got out and pulled the drippy package of bacon from the mess, wrapped it in the remains of the paper bag, slid back in the car. As we drove on she said, “Waste is stupid.”
“So was that crack of yours. Stop at any diner or restaurant you wish.”
“I'd rather make us breakfast,” she said. And I didn't make any remarks about understanding women—even to myself.
We put away a healthy snack of blueberry pancakes and coffee, although I'd eaten so much junk at the stores I had to force myself. When we finished she said, “You look tired, lay down while I do the dishes.”
I said I was okay, helped dry the few dishes. She didn't talk for a time, then she asked, “Well, do you think we're getting anyplace?”
“Yeah. I'm not absolutely sure yet, but I think we've stumbled on the key to the whole mess.”
“You still believe Pops has run away? Do you know where he is?”
“I think Pops is dead.”
She spun away from the sink, her hands falling to her side. Even her braid jumped. “Dead?”
“What did we see today that could possibly make you think that? I mean, I can't believe it. Pops murdered, why it's—”
I said, “I don't actually know how he died. Could be Barnes killed him. Or....”
“Miss Endin, I said I wasn't sure yet. Until I am, let's not argue about it. I don't want to blow holes into a half-formed idea.”
The surprising thing was she didn't talk about it again. At ten o'clock we started shadowing Anderson once more. His route took him all the way out to Montauk. After a time I didn't bother to stop at all the stores Larry serviced —the pattern was easy to follow: Social Security checks under various names, eight that I'd been able to find, were cashed each month but always at a store twenty or thirty miles away from the other. Although Hudon hadn't been among the names.
At a few minutes after three we were back in Jane's home, and Anderson's truck was in his garage. Jane insisted upon fixing lunch and I told her, “I'm sure of the motive now. Anderson and Pops had a Social Security racket going for them. Pops was getting checks under eight different names, besides his own, and maybe more that we haven't found out. Anderson has the perfect set-up for cashing them, the storekeepers, miles apart, who know Pops under his various names. In fact, Pops himself cashed the checks when he was working, then Larry took it from there when the old gay retired. As you said, there's little chance of the store owners meeting each other, checking on Pops' names.”
“Where did Edward fit into this?”
“Here's what I think: Larry was away that. Sunday night. The doc got a call from Jerry and then Nelson dropped in to find out about his old buddy, who'd sent him a card from End Harbor. Now, as Barnes was about to leave he got another call—from the 'old goat.' That had to be Pops, who must have felt sick—or maybe Larry was threatening him, over what I don't know, but you can never tell when the crooks will fall out. The point is, I think, the doc found Pops dead and Larry then killed Barnes.”
“But why? I can't believe he'd kill Edward.”
“If I'm right, he not only killed him but did it up the street, so you'd be blamed.”
“Of course, you should have been the number one suspect, But Larry didn't know about Jerry yelling at the doc.
Jerry was picked up instead and of course it didn't matter to Anderson.”
“But suppose Pops is—did—die? He was an old man, why kill Edward?”
“Way I see it, Larry wanted to continue this Social Security racket and for that he had to have a live old man. Once the word went around Pops was dead, he couldn't cash any more checks, no matter what names he used. Let's say Pops had a heart attack and Barnes got there before Larry—Anderson had to think fast, if he killed Barnes and kept up the line that Pops was sick, but still alive, his racket could continue for another few months, or years. Even if he supposedly sent Pops to a sanatorium out of the Harbor, he could have Pops lingering for another year or so, keep on cashing the checks. My idea is Anderson had to think fast, so he switched the devil for the witch, as the old saying goes, killed Barnes.”
Jane sat on a kitchen chair hard, seemed to fall down on it. She lit a cigarette. “I still can't believe it. This sixty dollars a month, or whatever you get on Social Security, is that worth killing for?”
“I think you can get from thirty dollars to about one hundred and sixty dollars a month, depending on how high your salary was. Let's take an average, say each man was getting ninety dollars a month, and keep to the eight cases we know about—that's seven hundred and twenty dollars a month, over eight grand a year. If they've been doing it for, well, ten years, that adds up to over $80,000. So it wasn't any penny ante scheme. And you see how it all fits—explains Anderson's ready money—not enough dough to shout about, but to quietly repair the house, buy a new truck, pay bills quickly. He undoubtedly has a bundle hidden some place.”
“I don't know, Mr. Lund, I simply can't believe it. For one thing, how would Pops be eligible for all these checks under different names? He couldn't have held jobs under those names for any length of time. I mean, he's always worked in and around the Harbor.”
“Wait up, Jane, you still don't get it. Remember, if Larry did kill Barnes, then it had to be a hell of a cold-blooded killing, for Barnes was his good friend and Anderson was murdering merely to continue his racket for another few months, or a year. But then it would take a cool killer to strangle my cat, to shoot a dog, and certainly to gun Nelson. Know what makes a cold-blooded killer? Only one thing: practice!”
“I still don't.... What are you getting at?”
“The perfect deal he and Pops had. Larry's place is on the edge of town, surrounded by high trees. You told me Pops sometimes had friends, other old men, out at the house. Did you, or anybody else, ever see any of them leave?”
“But I'd hardly know when they came or went. His house is out of the way and....” She suddenly froze, her mouth wide open with horror.
“I walked across his ground on Monday, came in unexpectedly from the bay, and he threw a gun at me and Andy. Know why? We were walking on his private cemetery!”
“At least. Ever read about the Bluebeard killings—the French guy who married a score of widows and killed them for their money? This is the same idea, but using men.”
I felt so excited I got up and started walking around the kitchen. Jane kept following me with her eyes, her long face sickly. Finally she said, “But to... to... kill so many...?”
“After they knocked off one man... you know the line: they could only get the chair once. I don't know how they lured the old men to the farm, but I can make a damn good guess,” I said, talking aloud to myself, to get things straight in my own mind. “Here's Larry, a single man in a small town. He can't marry—a wife would get on to his racket. Okay, he's young and healthy, must see a woman some place. Has plenty of time on his hands, especially after the summer months. Suppose he drives into Jamaica, New York, Long Beach, hangs around bars to pick up babes. Okay, during the years he also has met a lot of lonely old men hanging around the bars. Be a snap to strike up a beer conversation, find eight who are not only getting Social Security, but who are alone in the world. Larry sells them on his big house in the country, maybe Pops goes along on these recruiting jobs, asks the other old guy to come out and keep him company, all for free. When did Larry's mother die?”
“In 1943.” Jane whispered.
“They've had well over a dozen years to take their time, pick at least eight victims. They lure an oldtimer out and once he starts getting his checks, a matter of weeks, they knock him off. Who would know? No relatives, and the guy probably sticks to the grounds for the first few weeks. So a Social Security check for a... Robert Berger keeps coming promptly every month. Pops has already set up the storekeeper, in this case the one near Riverside, to cash it for him—and keep cashing them. Except for Pops dying this racket could have gone on for years, in almost perfect safety.”
“Somehow I still can't believe it. Doesn't the Social Security board ever check to see if a person is still living?”
“Frankly I don't know. I think a person has to file a yearly report if they continue working. Seems to me the earnings can't be above a certain figure. I'll find out. But in this case the men weren't working, so the only way Washington would know they had died would be when the checks were returned, the envelopes marked DECEASED, and... Lord, Lord!”
“What is it?” Jane asked, sitting up.
“Merely thinking what a really perfect deal Larry has— he's the postman! I'm sure on the first of every month, or whenever the checks are due, little Larry is in the post office early, boxing up the mail like mad—making sure nobody notices the checks, taking them out when he starts delivering the mail. Of course, that explains Nelson's death.”
“I'm bewildered. What does it explain?”
“Now listen: Nelson's story—according to Roberts— was that an old buddy of his had sent him a card from the Harbor. This guy named Hudon. Nelson assumes he's living here, perhaps he'd said so on the card. I'll bet folding money this Hudon was one of the old men killed on Anderson's place, only he got the card off without their knowing it. Okay, Nelson happens to come East, decides to look up his friend. No Hudon. He went to Barnes because his pal Hudon was sickly and Barnes is the only doc. Barnes can't help him, he never heard of Hudon. Nelson asks Roberts, the police chief, who also isn't any help. But who would Roberts send Nelson to, who of all people in the Harbor would know if a man named Hudon had ever lived here? Anderson the mailman!” I pounded the table like a debater, delighted with myself.
“Nelson must have given Larry a bad turn, but by this time Anderson has already killed Doc, and somehow still has his scarf. Maybe Nelson doesn't take a fast 'no,' maybe he's asking around too much. Or, because I'm sticking my big nose into the thing, Larry feels Jerry won't even come up for trial and by now the 'accident' is no longer an accident. Larry's in a small sweat. All right. Probably Nelson left a forwarding address in case Anderson should hear about Hudon. Nelson's in Hampton Point, Our boy Larry has to get out from under fast—he remembers the scarf, finds Nelson and kills him with his own gun, the suicide touch. How lucky our Larry seemed, Nelson packing a rod! He leaves the doc's scarf in Nelson's car and Roberts—he swallows the hook, again!”
Jane shook her head. “Edward only wore one scarf, a worn one I gave....” Her voice died to a painful whisper, then came alive as she said, “This is all a nightmare, a murder factory here in the Harbor.”
“What better place than a sleepy village? Actually, the only bad mistake Anderson made was killing my cat. Yeah, hadn't been for that, I would have forgot things.”
“Mr. Lund, this just can't be true. I can't picture Larry doing all these... murders.”
“Why not? As I told you, you can only burn once.”
Jane said slowly, “It's so hard to think of somebody you once knew as a killer. It's an insult to your memory. Well, what do we do now?”
“We could call in Roberts, or the Federal men,” I said, not quite certain what I wanted to do. I suppose deep in my mind I had the idea of taking Larry solo—but I was too old for that. Truth is, I'd probably never been that young. I told myself to stop being a fool, not let my anger over Roberts refusing to do anything about Matty blind my better judgment.
She said, “If Larry is such a monster, we have to put an end to this at once. I think we should get Art Roberts, demand to see Pops.”
“Yeah, that's what we should do. But he'll kick like a mule on reopening his nice little neat case, arresting a pillar of the community.”
“No, murder is a serious thing, even in the Harbor. Want to phone him from here or shall we go downtown?”
That “downtown” forced me to grin. I said we could phone. When I got Roberts on the phone I told him, “Come out to Miss Endin's house at once—I have something for you.”
“Again? What is it this time, a dead clam? I'm busy with....” The light sarcasm in his voice changed abruptly as he asked, “Jeez, not Jane Endin?”
I didn't want to talk much on the phone, maybe the operator was Anderson's cousin or something. “Look, Roberts, I'm waiting exactly five minutes. If you're not out by then I'm making another call and there will be a flock of tourists in the Harbor, all of them with Federal badges!” I hung up and winked at Jane, thinking what a ham I was. She stared back with solemn eyes, as usual.
I suddenly wondered what her life would have been like If she'd had a sense of humor. Or would she have ended up the village whore?
Roberts and his musical comedy uniform were planted in Jane's living room chair less than four minutes after I phoned. I briefed him on what I'd found and he rubbed his big hands together as he said flatly, “I don't believe that Larry Anderson would....”
“I know, he's the salt of the earth. Roberts, it's a bit late for the chamber of commerce spiel. End Harbor is in for some messy publicity but that can't be helped. I want you to demand to see Pops Brown. You won't see him because he's buried in Larry's yard—I think.”
“But for... all those murders,” he muttered, shaking his big head. “I can't bust into his house without a warrant, and if Pops is alive, I'll look—”
I know what he was thinking and for a second I felt sorry for the handsome slob: Larry was the village big shot and if Roberts crossed him and the case turned out to be a dud, Roberts wouldn't have the pretty uniform for long.
I said, “What have you got to worry about? If for nothing else, we have him dead to rights as a Social Security fraud. Don't stall me or I'll go over your head. Hell, Roberts, I'm giving you a break, letting you make the collar.”
“Actually, all we know is he cashed some checks. Maybe people on his mail route gave them to him?” Roberts turned to Jane. “Did you hear these storekeepers say they cashed checks under different names?”
“No, I was in the car all the time, following Larry.”
Roberts sprang to his feet—really sprang—and turned to me in triumph. “Then I've only your word for this whole....”
The way the jerk towered over me made me angry. “You want to question the storekeepers? Go ahead, I'll give you the addresses. But I'm phoning Washington in a minute and I'll give you odds they have somebody at Anderson's house before dark!”
Roberts shrugged his beefy shoulders and sighed like a guy about to ask the boss for a raise. “Okay, okay. I'll see Pops. But, Lund, if he's alive, if this turns out to be a rhubarb, I'll not only collar you as a public nuisance, but I'll work you over!”
“Cut the big talk, you're not a public hero yet. I'm going with you. Another thing, Anderson is shotgun happy, can you get a couple more of your men?” I nearly added, “If there are a couple more.”
He sort of pulled himself erect and threw out his wide shoulders—all in one motion. “I can handle Larry.”
He looked as if he could handle Floyd Patterson but looks don't stop bullets. “How about giving me some ammo, and I'll pack my gun?”
“No need, there won't be any gun play,” he said sharply. “I know Larry... why, I was trolling for blues with him only last week. And for all I know, you might be trigger-happy over that dumb cat of yours. You want to go, let's do it.”
I didn't say another word, he was working up his courage and a push might have spooked him. We all walked out to the polished squad car and he told Jane, “This won't be any place for you.”
“Yes, it is. Edward Barnes was my friend.”
She said it with such quiet dignity Roberts glanced at her to tell her something; I motioned for her to get in.
Larry's truck and station wagon were parked in the driveway but he wasn't in sight. We walked up onto the porch and Roberts rang the bell. Roberts was sweating a bit, but only over fear of losing his job—the jerk hadn't loosened his gun in its holster. After a moment Anderson opened the door. He had his shirt off, the thick muscles under this thin T-shirt, and a towel in his hand. He said, “Hello, Jane, Artie, Lund. I'm just washing up. What's this, a delegation? Something up for the Harbor Council?”
“Larry,” Roberts said, “I want to see Pops.”
Anderson was good, nothing changed on his face—but I saw the great muscles of his arms stiffen. “You know Pops is very sick, he can't see anybody or be disturbed. Doctor's orders.”
“What doctor?” I asked.
“The specialist in New York. Pops is sleeping right now. Everybody knows a person suffering from heart trouble needs absolute rest. What's this about?”
“I won't do a thing to harm Pops,” Roberts said. “Let me see him, I won't awaken him.”
“Pops couldn't have done anything, he's been in bed since.... Legally you have no right to bust into my house.”
“Larry, don't put this on a legal basis,” Roberts said softly. “I'm asking to see Pops, as a friend. You want me to ask as a police officer—I'll have to place you under arrest if you don't let me see Pops.”
“Arrest? Artie, are you crazy?”
“Let me see Pops and I'll explain all this.”
I smiled—Anderson hadn't bothered to even ask what the arrest would be for—he damn well knew! But he suddenly stepped back from the door, told us, “Come in, but don't make any noise.”
Roberts went pale, hesitated. I walked past Anderson followed by Jane... and then Roberts. We were in an old-type large living room, nicely furnished, everything neat and spotless, and impersonal. Larry started up the carpeted steps to the floor above. As we followed he turned, asked, “Is it necessary for all of you to come up? Any shock can mean Pops' life.”
“We'll be very quiet, won't make as much noise as a shotgun killing an Irish setter. Only Roberts will take a look into Pops' room. All he wants to see is his face.” I stressed the word “face.” Roberts was so jittery he might be satisfied seeing a couple of pillows under a blanket.
Anderson stared at me without showing any emotion. “Then keep your voices down,” he said, turning to walk up the steps again. “I'll let you see Pops and then I'll want a goddamn good—excuse me, Jane—a good explanation for this foolishness!”
I saw the back of Roberts' neck become a sickly pink. He stopped climbing the stairs until I goosed him with my knee. Although I was certain Anderson was bluffing, a very tiny clammy feeling was working in the pit of my guts. If I was wrong about things....
The upstairs hall was wide, several potted plants on small tables lining the flower-papered walls. There was another staircase, smaller and steeper, at the end of the hall, that probably went up to the widow's walk. We walked past several open bedrooms, stopped in front of a closed door. Anderson whispered, “This is Pops' room. Artie, the more I think of it, I can't risk his life by letting you see him. I don't know what this city snoop has filled you with but....”
“Open the door a crack,” Roberts said; almost pleaded.
“Suppose he's awake? The shock might....”
“Cut the production number, Anderson,” I said, trying to keep my voice both a whisper and tough. “Suppose he is awake? Roberts isn't a stranger, he's a friend of Pops.”
Anderson shrugged, turned toward the door. He dropped me towel as he spun back around and clipped Roberts on the chin with a wild right. As Roberts folded and I leaped at Larry. I thought with a sort of stupid satisfaction I'd always known Roberts looked too good, had some glass in his square jaw. I was diving for Anderson's waist and I stopped thinking as he straight-armed me.
I was sailing through the air and then I hit a wall as if going through it, slid down to the floor, shaken and dizzy. Vaguely I knew Anderson was heading for the stairs going down to the living room... and that I was crawling toward Roberts to get his gun. My eyes wouldn't focus and I wasn't sure if I was alive or dead.
I heard Larry yell, “Stay away, Jane, I don't want to hurt you!” and the picture turned real and clear. Jane was backed against a wall, letting him run past. Then she calmly picked up a potted plant and threw it like a bowling ball.
She was smart, didn't aim for his head but for his legs. The pot seemed to bounce once behind him, then break into a hundred pieces as it hit the back of his knees, sending him crashing down the stairs.
I yanked Roberts' Police Special from his shiny holster and staggered toward the steps. I expected to see Anderson out cold, but he was a rugged joker—he was standing on file landing below, blood on one side of his face. He shook himself like a floored pug. As he started down the stairs, I grabbed the railing to keep from falling, fired a shot into the ceiling. The staircase seemed full of thunder and over it—to my surprise—I heard a firm voice saying, “Don't move, Anderson, or I'll plug you! You've had it!” I wished I felt half as strong as my voice.
He stood stock-still for a split second, then turned and faced me, an open-mouthed, stunned look on his wide face. With the blood, the dumb look, his big muscles under the torn shirt, he looked like a brute, a human ape. I said, “Put your hands behind your head, keep 'em up there!”
My voice was like a whip and as he put his hands up, his bigness seemed to shrink. The great muscles began to tremble and his big face took on a puzzled expression for a second—until it went to pieces.
Anderson was standing with his hands behind his head, body shaking, crying softly. For a split second he reminded me of an overgrown kid being punished... but only for a very very short split second.
Dan and I were on the Sunday night train to New York. He wanted to go back Monday morning but I insisted I needed a decent night's sleep in my own bed before taking off to visit Signe and her kids. I even considered postponing seeing her for a week, to rest up in my flat, or maybe recover would be a better word. But I figured it was best to get it over with, then hang around the flat for a straight two weeks' rest before returning to the old grind.
As the train pulled out of Hampton we waved at Jerry, Bessie and Andy. Jerry was talking out of the side of his mouth, probably retelling Bessie how he had come to our cottage the night I was looking for him—before he drove to see the doc in Hampton, but found the cottage empty.
Jerry had insisted upon driving us to the station, for free, despite Sunday being his busiest night; and had only gone off the road a few times as Bessie yelled at him in Greek that he was a road menace. He'd felt bad when I told him I'd come to his place to use his car, had to get Jane and her struggle-buggy instead. The old guy seemed to worship me—a new feeling for me; and it wasn't a bad one, either.
I gave them a final wave and tried to make myself comfortable in the seat. I was loaded down: Bessie's gifts for Signe's brood, Jane's framed picture carefully wrapped in an old table cloth—which was just as well, it would have caused a sensation in the crowded train otherwise.
I was also carrying a new batch of mosquito bites, an aching back, a lot of peeling sunburnt skin—and was togged out in one hundred forty-one dollars worth of fancy clothes which Bessie had horsed me into buying. I was wearing a natty coconut straw, tropical blue suit, nylon sport shirt, Italian loafers, and a thin bow tie almost as red and loud as Roberts'. Bessie insisted I had to look “the part” when the reporters interviewed me. God knows Td been cornered by enough newsmen and photographers. One magazine writer even rented a speedboat to talk to me while I was fishing with Andy. Of course I'd spent a lot of time with the D.A. in Riverside. The last couple of days had been a marathon—even the hot-rod set had bought me a round of beers in a Harbor gin mill. I should have been exhausted but I felt just fine.
Dan nudged me, whispered, “Your public,” and nodded toward the front of the car. A couple of suntanned jokers In their correct summer “gray flannel” outfits were in a huddle, pointing toward me. For once I was glad I'd bought the new duds, looked like I belonged on the train, although my inner man scornfully told me that was a snobbish damn fool sentiment. One of the characters left the huddle and then walked down the aisle toward me with his confident-salesman approach, stopped at our seat and said, “Excuse me, sir, but aren't you Mr. Lund, the famous detective in the End Harbor murder cases?”
“You mean the cop in the case,” I said. “Yeah, my name is Lund.”
He gave me a practiced junior-executive smile, a firm handshake, said his name was Benson, or something like that. I introduced Dan and then Benson-shemson said, “Told my friends I recognized you from the news pictures. Wonderful work, Mr. Lund. I hope you don't mind this intrusion, sir, but there's one aspect of the case that puzzles me—how did Anderson ever think up such an ingenious scheme?”
Of course he had to talk in a crisp board-of-directors voice and more people turned around. I had quite an audience as I said, “He didn't think it up, merely fell into it. As stated in his confession, an old friend of Pops came to live with them in the winter of '47. About a month later the man took sick, died in his sleep. The following morning his Social Security check arrived. They were hard up and had planned to borrow some dough from him when he got his check. Anderson claims Pops said they should take a chance and cash it, as he was certain the dead man had no relatives to ask questions. They shoved the body under the ice at the edge of the bay—to make it look like a drowning—and kept cashing his checks all during the winter. In the spring they quietly buried him on the farm. According to Anderson it was Pops who got the idea of killing more men, doing it wholesale.”
“I see,” this character said, as if it mattered whether he saw things or not. “One more point, for my wife: you know women and their sense of the morbid. How did they kill the others—shoot them?”
“Your wife should read the papers, if she's that curious. No, they killed them 'painlessly,'“ I said, wishing he would leave me alone. I'd gone over the story so damn many times. “After the victim had put in a change of address with the Social Security board, and Anderson was certain it was in the mail, they got the man roaring drunk. Soon as he passed out, they poured a shot of carbon tetrachloride down his throat, or had him drink it as straight gin. Carbon tet is a cleaning fluid and easy to buy. This was Larry's brain storm. Carbon tet and alcohol causes uremia, so in case anything went 'wrong,' they could claim the man died of natural causes. There, that's the details, now you can go into business for yourself.”
My new found buddy flung back his head and laughed. “Not me, I know you can't get away with murder.” He gave me a flash of his strong teeth, grinning in appreciation of his own cleverness. “Ironic, though—Anderson had no possible way of foreseeing his partner, this Pops, would call in Doctor Barnes and the doctor would find him dead. I suppose if he hadn't murdered the doctor he never would have been caught. Greed is the basis of most crimes, isn't it, Mr. Lund?”
“That's what I hear,” I said and we shook hands again and he left to rejoin his pals. Danny said, “My, my, makes me proud to be the son of a famous superman.”
“Yeah—I'm a goddamn hero in my old age. Boys at fee precinct house will rib me for months,” I said, thinking how surprised I'd been that Art Roberts hadn't hogged the publicity. In fact when you got to know him he wasn't a bad slob. My luck sure had been riding the rail, lucky as hell on the case, lucky on the glory angle, too.
I shifted Jane's painting on my lap. It was too big to risk putting up on the luggage rack. And my lap had gotten big, too, with Bessie's cooking. Dan said, “Here, rest the picture on my knees.”
“It's okay. I'll hold it. Certainly brightens up the old flat.”
“Going to see her again?”
“Stop it. I took enough of that from Bessie.
Danny shrugged. “You'll still have two weeks' vacation after Signe's kids work you over. Be nice, for you both, if you showed Jane New York. Dad, you might as well be prepared to do it—all this coming week my dear Bessie will be working on Miss Endin. If I know my good wife, you might even find Jane waiting on your doorstep when you return from the mountains.”
“If Bessie tries to... !” I stopped, my voice full of alarm—at myself. Of course I had a whole week to think it out up at Signe's place... but what scared me was I had to admit the idea gave me a kind of happy glow... the kind a guy my age isn't supposed to have—they say.
Hanns Heinz Ewers