She Hadn’t Changed In Three Years
Detective Sergeant Bruce Lynn arrived as the fire apparatus was getting ready to pull out. He turned into the winding driveway which led to the home of Miss Harriet Weston and the estate was by no means strange to him.
The drive curved interminably toward the heights overlooking the city. In the distance, to the left, he saw a broad swimming pool which also had memories for him. The house itself was freshly white, large, but also compact. When old Mike Weston built the place ten years ago, he wanted something spacious enough but not sprawling.
There was a wide porch and on it, slightly in front of the doorway and framed by the light coming from it, stood Harriet Weston. She hadn’t changed any in three years; she was just as beautiful a woman, with raven black hair and an oval face which had a perpetual pallor of sorts. It only served to make her more outstanding. Her age was about thirty-three, two years younger than Lynn. She extended her hand as Detective Sergeant Lynn approached.
“I’m very glad it is you who came, Sergeant.’’
“Well, we do sort of understand one another, don’t we, Mrs. Weston? Haven’t seen you in town very much.”
She smiled wanly.
“I don’t go very often. People still stare and talk. They still think I murdered Mike — my husband. Even after three long years they believe that.”
“I know.” Lynn nodded. “They also say I fell for your charming beauty and covered up the clues which should have put you into prison. It’s all very silly, but these things can grow serious.”
Her hand rested lightly on his arm.
“Bruce — I also know that you came up for a promotion six months ago and you didn’t get it because of — of those ghastly suspicions. And now, something else has happened.”
Lynn said, “The Fire Chief phoned that one room in your house was badly gutted by fire and that it was clearly incendiary. Which makes it a notice matter. Can you give me any information about it?”
“Only very little. Bruce. We smelled smoke, located the fire which was in Mr. Parnell’s room and I called the fire department while my brother-in-law. Owen Ames, tried to put it out. Tom helped. You remember Tom Martin, my uncle.”
“Yes.” Bruce said. “Suppose I have a look at the room. And what does Parnell say about it?”
“We can’t find him, Bruce. He seems to have vanished. Perhaps he is taking one of those long walks of his. Though he usually doesn’t go out much by night. I’ll be glad to show you to his room.”
Parnell Is Missing
Inside the house, Sergeant Lynn met Owen Ames, who was Harriet Weston’s brother-in-law. A man of slim build, partially bald and stoop-shouldered. Lazy enough to make breathing an incredible labor and greedy enough so that it showed in his eyes. He merely tendered Lynn a curt nod and walked away.
Tom Martin, Mrs. Weston’s uncle, was standing in the doorway of the gutted room. He was a tall man inclined toward beefiness and he had pale blue eyes with a dead-fish quality to them. He greeted Lynn cordially enough, but walked away as soon as he could decently escape.
Lynn entered the room of Jack Parnell, who had been Mike Weston’s private secretary and, since Mike’s death, had worked in the same capacity for Mrs. Weston.
The room was a charred mess. Almost everything in it had been destroyed beyond any hope of repair, but Lynn saw the clues which caused the fire authorities to brand this as arson. There were plenty of them, beginning with the faint odor of an oily combustible that won out even above the smell of the smoke.
Sergeant Lynn glanced at his watch.
“It’s nine, Harriet. Was Parnell at dinner?”
“No,” she replied. “I haven’t seen him since about six o’clock. Bruce, you don’t think — ?”
He shook his head.
“I don’t know what to think. But I know this much. Three years ago your husband was murdered. His body was found in the swimming pool. Oh. I realise the affair was put down as accidental death, but it wasn’t. Somebody hit him on the head with a peculiarly shaped weapon and then pushed him into the pool to drown while unconscious. The wound, according to the Medical Examiner, was caused by the edge of the pool. I know better than that.”
“What are you getting at?” Harriet Weston’s dark eyes were very wide.
“Somebody killed Mike. Maybe Parnell knew who did it and maybe the murderer had to strike again. I’m going to have a good look around the estate. I especially don’t like the appearance of this burned-out room. Some very inflammable fluid was sprayed on every wall, on every bit of furniture. Someone wanted desperately to destroy something. Parnell would know what and Parnell happens to be missing so I assume he hasn’t come back because he can’t come back.”
Lynn hurried out of the house with Harriet trailing him. Tom Martin and Owen Ames were in the living room, but neither made a move to get up. Outside, Lynn walked straight down the driveway in the direction of the swimming pool. He was following a hunch, but he felt it was just as easy to begin with the hunch and get it out of his system.
At the edge of the pool he drew his flashlight and sprayed the surface of the water carefully, moving the beam inch by inch. Suddenly the torch flicked out. He stepped closer to Harriet.
“What is it?” she asked in horror, and her hand quickly sought his. He felt the short, very rounded thumb of her right hand and winced. He was responsible for that. During those hectic hours on the estate three years ago, he’d accidentally slammed a heavy car door on that thumb and crushed it severely.
Lynn said. “I’m not sure. Something. Stay here. I’m going wading.”
At the Bottom of the Pool
He stripped off his shoes and socks, rolled his trouser legs as high as he could get them and shed his coat and vest. He clambered down a steel ladder and dropped into the pool. It was late Autumn and the water was cold enough to make him gasp. It came almost up to his hips, endangering the gun and the flash he carried in his trouser pockets. He removed them and handed them up to Harriet.
Then he waded slowly out, the slanting floor of the pool making him go deeper and deeper until he finally gave up and kicked out with his legs to go prone for actual swimming. He reached the middle of the pool, took a long breath and dived. He knew the approximate location of the spot where he’d seen that dark object which had looked like a submerged log.
Almost at once his hands found it and he quickly rose for air. Diving again, he secured a firm grasp on some clothing and towed the corpse until he felt the floor of the pool beneath his feet again. Then ha’ straightened and lifted the body above the water.
“Harriet,” he called softly. “Snap on my flash and turn it this way. Brace yourself. I think I’ve found Parnell.”
He heard shoes scrape on the cement, the flash centered with astonishing brilliance on him. For a moment or two he couldn’t see anything. Then he was staring into the grey and dead face of Jack Parnell. Lynn quickly bent the dead man’s head and saw the gouge just behind his right ear. The weapon which caused it had been used before in s similar fashion on Mike Weston.
“Hold the flash steady,” he called out, “I’m going to drag him ashore.”
There was no reply from Harriet, but the flash was held steadily enough. Lynn towed the corpse a bit and then lifted it. Parnell hadn’t been a big man and his body wasn’t too hard to manage. The knee high water was an impediment though, and Lynn’s progress was slow. He kept moving toward the light and wished Harriet would focus it to one side. It was blinding him worst than ever.
“Get ready to give me s hand,” he said softly, “if you think you can stand it. Then — “
Lynn’s voice rose to an unintelligible shout. Just ahead of the flashlight he saw his own service pistol pointed full at him. Lynn let go the corpse and tried to duck. The gun exploded just once. It woe do more than ten yards away; the killer couldn’t possibly miss. Lynn felt his head struck by something that felt like a gigantic club. He hurtled backwards and slid beneath the water.
He was dead, he told himself. Just as dead as Parnell, but it was odd that be could think and even feel the water. It was so blasted cold. He swallowed a lot of it, gagged and came up. He wasn’t dead. He simply had the beginnings of a glorious headache. The flash was out now. Nothing moved for few moments and then he heard Harriet’s voice. It came from the direction of the house. In a moment her high heels clicked on the walk circling the pool.
The Arrival of Mr. Fleming
Lynn gingerly felt his scalp.
The bullet had creased him, coming narrowly close to his skull. He knew the furrow was bleeding and maybe he had a permanent part in his hair but he chuckled hollowly. At least he was alive. He located the corpse again and this time he asked for no flashlight. In two minutes he was out of the pool and carefully putting the body down.
Then he straightened up to face Harriet there in the darkness. He said, “Did you hear that shot?” “Yes,” she said. “Someone called my name. From the house. I went back to see what was wanted. I was by the house when I heard it. Bruce, what happened?”
“The man who called your name passed you somewhere and came here to take your place. When I called for light, he obligingly switched on the flash. I couldn’t see beyond it naturally. When I swam very close, this person took a pot-shot at me with my own gun.”
“Bruce, you’ve hurt … .”
“Nothing serious,” he assured her, “although nobody missed that close on purpose. Parnell Is dead. He died under circumstances exactly like those which surrounded your husband’s death. This is not going to be very pleasant But whoever killed him apparently wanted to kill me too. 1 wonder why.”
“Bruce,” she exclaimed, “you don’t think I … ?”
“I can’t be sure about anything,” he said slowly. “Just between the two of us I’m sure you did not but there art plenty people who’ll say you did it. Come on bach to the house.”
He hastily put on his socks and shoes, rolled down his soaking wet trousers and drew coat and vest on as they hurried toward the house. A car rolled past and stopped at the entrance. Waiting on the top porch step sat a white-haired, very well dressed man whom Lynn instantly recognized.
“How long have you been around the estate, Mr. Fleming?” he demanded.
“Who asks? Who the devil … oh, Harriet, it’s you, but who else — ?”
“Sergeant Lynn,” the detective growled. “You’ve heard my voice often enough to recognize it. Answer my question.”
“Why, I arrived no more than a minute ago. I heard someone by the pool and I thought I’d wait here. Sergeant — something has happened. I can tell by your voice.”
“Jack Parnell is dead. He was murdered, just like Mike Weston was murdered. The same weapon, the same means. A clout behind the ear and then shoved into the pool to drown. Did you see anybody else?”
“No,” he replied. “I’m sure I didn’t.”
“Let’s go inside,” Lynn said, and walked up the porch steps.
Under the hallway light, Harriet glanced at his scalp wound and hurried off to get some antiseptic. Lynn walked to the phone and put in a call, asking for fingerprint men and the medical examiner. Then be proceeded to the living room where Tom Martin was sitting on the edge of hit chair, face perfectly white at Herb Fleming told him what had happened.
Parnell Was Blackmailing Somebody
Shortly, Owen Ames came down the stairs and he had to be told. Lynn faced the trio then. “Somebody,” he said. “was out on the estate five minutes ago. Just before Fleming arrived — unless that killer was you, Fleming, and I don’t say he wasn’t.”
“Killer? I?” Fleming asked in his best courtroom manner. Lynn had never trusted this man. As attorney for Mike Weston and, later on, the estate, he’d known him for some time.
Lynn said, “The pool is some distance from the house. It’s possible that Martin and Ames didn’t hear the shot, but I’d like to know where you two were during the last ten minutes.”
Ames spoke up.
“After you and Harriet went out, I decided to have another look at the scene of the fire. I don’t know what Martin did, though I expect he just stayed in the living room.”
“I did,” Martin said casually. “Never left it.”
“Then neither one of you has an alibi,” Lynn said. “Ames, there are outside back stairs from the second floor you could have used to leave and enter the house. Now, who saw Parnell last and when?”
Ames said, “I suppose I did. He went out for one of his walks about six o’clock. Sergeant, there is something else. I’d rather — well, that we were alone … .”
Lynn walked past Ames and signalled him to follow. In the hall, Ames dropped his voice to a whisper.
“I went up to Parnell’s burned-out room for more reasons than to just stare at it. I thought he’d been murdered, too. I wanted to look around and I did. Found something.”
He led the way upstairs. From a blackened desk drawer, he took out a steel box and shook it suggestively.
“He keeps his bank books and private papers in this. I saw him using it several times. And, Sergeant, one night about a month ago I happened to walk in on him. He was dozing at this same desk. Before him were three bank books and they were loaded. Thousands of dollars.”
Lynn pried the box lip open with a heavy screw driver. He examined the papers, none of which were of any use as clues. But the bank books were. Every Friday, it appeared. Parnell had banked part of his wages. Up to the time of Mike Weston’s death he put twenty dollars away each week. From the time of the death right up until the past Friday, he’d banked two hundred dollars, even, every week.
“Want my opinion?” Ames asked and then without waiting to find out whether Lynn did or not, he went on. “Parnell was blackmailing somebody; that must be it. What did he have on this person? What else but the fact that he knew the murderer of Mike Weston. His big deposits began a week after Mike’s death. Don’t you see?”
“Yes,” Lynn said curtly and with a sinking heart. This pointed straight at Harriet Weston.
“Furthermore,” Ames went on relentlessly, “Parnell stayed on his job and there was hardly anything for him to do after Mike was killed. He simply loafed about. I’ll swear he never did two hours work a week. There was no reason for him to remain. No reason why Harriet should have kept him on, but she did.”
“Have you anything more than that to base an accusation upon?” Lynn asked levelly.
“No. No, and I don’t even make that much an accusation.”
“Then keep your mouth shut. You married Harriet’s sister. She’s dead and you have been living off Harriet like a parasite. Perhaps you’d like to see her executed for murder so you’d come into whatever part of her estate she has made plans to leave you. If she has a motive, so have you, Ames. So has Tom Martin for that matter. And I intend to find out.”
He marched downstairs and stepped up to Harriet.
“Things are happening,” he said. “It’s essential that I know whom you are leaving all your money to. How much does Martin and Ames get?”
Harriet stepped behind Lynn and began dressing his wound. “Bruce — Sergeant, that is such a personal question … oh, it must be necessary. Yes, I made a will Tom and Owen get exactly nothing.”
She gave a little laugh.
“Frankly there isn’t very much, except for this house.”
Lynn grunted in exasperation as two nice motives went careening off into non-existence.
She continued. “I feel neither of them deserved anything. They won’t work; they let me support them and they aren’t even blood relations. All my money, Sergeant, is bequeathed to a niece who lives in England.”
Lynn asked. “And neither Ames nor Martin could control the estate or your niece?”
“Decidedly not. Attorney Fleming is the executor. What in the world are you getting at. Sergeant?”
“I don’t know. Just grasping at intangibles and finding them thin air. I hear the cars from Headquarters arriving. All of you go into the living room and stay there.”
For the next two hours there was confusion as fingerprint men ducked in and out, fire experts studied the burned room, the Medical Examiner went over the body of Jack Parnell and Sergeant Lynn made half a dozen phone calls. When it was over, the confusion remained in Lynn’s brain, for not one new thing had turned up. Outside the house, the flashlights of half a dozen men winked like fireflies as they searched every inch of ground.
Lynn lit a cigarette and frowned. Owen Ames and Tom Martin had no motive but the best chances of killing Parnell and taking that pot-shot at him. Fleming had a motive of sorts. Controlling Harriet’s estate would be profitable for him and yet not too profitable. An executor must account for every penny and could never get rich on the fees he is entitled to.
It always came back to Harriet. She had been suspected of murdering her husband three years ago. Lynn had refused to believe it, but almost everyone else did. Now it seemed that Parnell had retained his job when Harriet had nothing for him to do. It was a proven fact that Parnell had been blackmailing someone, otherwise where did those big weekly deposits come from? Harriet was the logical blackmail target. Therefore she had a very strong motive for disposing of Parnell
A detective entered the house somewhat excitedly. He was carrying an object wrapped in his handkerchief. Now he gravely exposed it and Lynn looked down at a triangular piece of steel about eighteen inches long. Heavy and formidable looking. There was hair on it and blood.
The detective said, “I found it hidden under a bush close by the pool. Before we touched it, I had the boys dust the thing. We got prints, Sarge. A woman’s prints. Harriet Weston’s. One of the boys went into town and got her record card. We made it when she was held on suspicion three years ago.”
“Put that thing away, safely,” Lynn ordered. “It’s the same weapon that killed both Mike and Parnell I remember the shape of Mike’s wound very clearly. On your way out, send Mrs. Weston in here alone.”
Faith in Harriet
She entered hesitantly, as if she sensed something wrong. Lynn helped her into a chair and then sat down facing her and bending forward until he was very close and could speak in a whisper.
“Parnell was blackmailing someone,” he said. “At a pretty good weekly clip. Harriet, why did you keep him on after Mike’s death? Was there any necessity?”
“Why no,” she answered slowly. “There wasn’t, Bruce, but I liked him. He’d worked for Mike more than ten years and I didn’t want to just throw him out.”
“All right. This one is going to hurt, Harriet. They found the weapon which slugged Mike three years ago and Parnell tonight. It had your prints on it. Can you explain that?”
She looked down at the floor.
“Bruce, we’re going to go all through this again. It will be horrible. I did not kill Mike or Parnell. I swear it but I can’t explain my fingerprints on the weapon. I don’t even know what sort of a weapon it was.”
He said, “All right, Harriet. Remember this, I have as much faith in you today as I had three years ago. This time I intend to find the murderer. I’m looking for a motive. If Parnell wasn’t blackmailing you, there was someone here who did pay off. Has Ames or Martin enough to pay around two hundred dollars a week?”
She sighed. “Both of them have some money. How much I don’t know. Neither spends any. I can’t say if they could pay to much.”
“Motive, motive,” Lynn groaned. “They haven’t any. Not for blaming you with the crime. And yet it has to be one of them. Or Fleming. All three were here the day that Mike was killed too. Why did Fleming come by the way?”
She shrugged. “Something about the estate. I don’t know; he hasn’t told me yet. Bruce, tell me one thing. I want a straightforward answer. Does it look bad for me?”
“Yes,” he said glumly. “Very bad. The whole thing points at you. I ought to make an arrest, but I won’t because I know you didn’t kill Parnell. And I thought of another thing. The reason why his room was set afire. He had something in the way of evidence upon which he bated his blackmail. Whatever it was, the murderer believed it to be hidden in Parnell’s room. He tried to find it, couldn’t and then proceeded to destroy everything in the hope that evidence would be eradicated also.”
“You didn’t find anything, Bruce?”
“No and I looked so hard that I’m sure Parnell’s evidence never was in that room. The murderer only thought it was. But where is it? Parnell must have left it with someone — Harriet — was Parnell friendly with Attorney Fleming?”
“Why, yes. Fairly so.” Lynn hurried toward the door, yanked it open fast. Attorney Fleming stood there, one hand raised as if to knock. There was a silly expression on his face.
“Well,” Lynn snapped, “did you hear anything of interest, Mr. Fleming?”
The silly grin faded. “I was not eavesdropping. I heard nothing at all. I came here for one purpose. To protect Mrs. Weston. I happen to be her attorney and these star-chamber sessions you police — “
Lynn stepped aside.
“Talk to her then. I’m going back to town.”
Neither Ames nor Martin spoke as he passed the living room door.
Lynn veered off, headed for the kitchen and had a little talk with the cook. Then he drove to headquarters and his mood was black. He should have arrested Harriet on the face of the ample evidence already at hand. Yet he couldn’t bring himself to do it. In fact, he admitted to himself, he admired her enough to call it love, and he would have seen her often except for the trouble three years ago. He had been afraid, and he knew she agreed, that wagging tongues might implicate him in a plot to whitewash murder.
Evidence and Opportunity
He made his report directly to the chief. In this city, with a police force of two hundred men, details of this nature were on an informal basis. He told the entire story, omitting nothing.
The chief was grizzled, a veteran who had risen from the ranks and he stood for no fooling around.
He said, “Sergeant, you should have brought her in. She has the motive, the opportunity and her prints were found on the murder weapon. She was suspected of killing her husband years ago and now fresh suspicion indicates she may have killed Parnell. Suspicions of murder don’t happen twice like that unless there is sufficient reason.”
Lynn nodded. “There’s reason all right, sir, but I think it is manufactured by the real killer. I lack only the motive. There simply doesn’t seem to be any.”
“But there is evidence and opportunity. And I disagree about motive. A blackmailer’s victim sometimes decides murder is easier than keeping up everlasting payments. Bring her in and book her, Sergeant.”
Lynn nodded wearily. “Yes, sir. I want to have a look at the murder weapon. Then I’ll go back to the house and make the pinch.”
He saluted gravely and head down, walked slowly along the corridor to the laboratory. There he studied the murder weapon. The hair on it had already been identified as Parnell’s. They were working on the bloodstains now. Lynn faced one of the fingerprint experts.
“Those prints,” he asked, “were they three years old or fresh ones?”
“We can’t tell, Sarge. But they are Mrs. Weston’a all right. Clear as a bell and compare exactly with those we took three years ago.”
Lynn sighed and his last hope was diminishing fast.
“The right thumb print is especially good,” the expert went on.
“Every loop and whorl is there — “
Lynn gave a start of excitement.
“There is nothing abnormal about that thumb print? Nothing at all?”
“No, Sarge. As I said, it’s normal and clear.”
Lynn raced back to the Chiefs office and popped his head through the partially opened door. “Mrs. Weston isn’t a killer, sir; I’ve proof of that now. She is being framed and if I can find the motive for that. I’ll hand you a double murderer.”
Trapped in the Cellar
He drove back to the estate and, nearing it, stopped beside the road for a cigarette and a bit of thinking. Harriet wasn’t the killer. Not of Parnell, at least, and if she hadn’t murdered him, it was obvious that she could not have killed her husband three years ago. If nothing more than this turned up, Lynn knew he’d be at least partially satisfied.
He thought grimly over each detail. Especially concerning the fire in Parnell’s room. It had been set to destroy evidence, but had it? Lynn doubted that, for Parnell had not been such a fool as to leave valuable property lying about or insecurely hidden. Lynn remembered how the clothes closet had been especially gutted. Why?
He started the car again and turned into the drive leading along that winding approach to the house. It was late but everyone was still awake. Murder had made them all sleepless, nervous and suspicious.
Without a word of explanation, Lynn hurried upstairs to the fire-swept room. The lights were gone so he resorted to the use of his flash. He stepped into the blackened clothes closet. The fire had been severest near the floor. Yet the inflammable substance could have been spilled against the walls just as effectively. What was on the floor that had been so necessary to destroy?
All Lynn saw were the remains of several pairs of shoes. He picked one up. The sole flopped away from the rest of the shoe. He dropped it and secured another. Its sole was loose too. All of the shoes had loose soles. Lynn felt his heart beat rapidly.
He hurried downstairs. Harriet alone was there. She explained that Martin had gone for a walk right after Lynn’s arrival and Ames had taken out his car for a drive.
Lynn said, “I’m going to find them, Harriet. I think I know the answer to this including the identity of the killer.”
She nervously grasped his forearm. “One of those two — or Fleming?”
He nodded somberly. “It has to be. Unless it was you, and I’m sure now that you are completely innocent of both crimes. Stay here. I won’t be very long.”
He was at the front door when the crash came. For a moment neither he nor Harriet could locate the source. Then another crash showed the way. Someone was in the cellar. Lynn turned quickly, sped to the door and snapped on the light. Nothing happened. He drew his flash with one hand, his gun with the other.
Grimly he started down the steps, moving as softly as possible. The odor of spilled wine rose to meet him. His flash swept the cellar, finding nothing. Harriet, he knew, stood at the top of the stairs. Light filtered down from the hallway.
He reached the floor, darted toward the ample furnace and took refuge behind it. From that vantage point, he slowly sprayed every part of the cellar with light.
There was a sharp scream, followed by another and another. Harriet came tumbling down the steps and the door upstairs was suddenly slammed shut and locked. Lynn swore softly and he raced to Harriet. She wasn’t hurt beyond a few bruises and he helped her up. Then he ran up the stairs and tried to force the door.
It was impossible. He couldn’t get leverage, for one thing, standing one step below the door with no space to draw back and hurl himself at the barrier. The door was heavy too, and stoutly locked.
He went back to where Harriet waited, passed her and examined the only other door leading to the rear of the estate. That was locked also, from outside. He saw broken bottles a dozen yards away.
Harriet came over to him. “Bruce, what on earth does this mean?”
Lynn said unhappily, “That I’m losing my grip. Somebody lured me down here and departed via this door, locking it after him. He then ran around the house, entered through the front, pushed you down the stairs and finished the job of locking us in. He’s gained precious time and I know why and what he is up to.”
“What are we going to do?” Harriet exclaimed.
“Only one thing,” Lynn said grimly. “The cellar windows are very high but I can boost you through one. It’s risky. The killer may be waiting for a chance to catch us at just such a disadvantage. But maybe he’a risking everything to reach Parnell’s body first.”
Lynn looked around, selected one window which didn’t seem to be sealed as tightly as the others and lifted it. He listened a moment, signalled Harriet and made a stirrup of his hands.
“Enter the house and unlock the cellar door,” he instructed. “Be careful. I thought we’d hear the killer drive away, but he’s either hanging around or leaving on foot.”
Harriet went through the window, whispered that she saw nothing and then Lynn retreated a few steps, ran and leaped for the high window. He got a finger hold, drew himself up and had his head through the aperture when a bullet tore into the framework beside his head.
He let go and fell back. It was a difficult situation because he had no target. To shoot, he’d first have to expose himself and the killer’s next shot might be the last one so far as Sergeant Lynn was concerned. Besides, there was Harriet to think about. She must have been captured. Any wild shooting on his part might wound or kill her.
Lynn ran to the hatchway door and tried to smash it down. He couldn’t and began hunting some sort of a tool with which to chop a hole through the heavy wood. Bullets from his gun would never shatter the lock and anyway, the shooting would only serve to draw the killer into position to cover this exit as well.
A hoarse croak of a voice, well disguised, rebelled him and he stopped in his tracks.
“Sergeant, I’ve got Harriet. If you try to follow me or send out word that will cause me to be picked up, I’ll kill her first. If you know what is best, stay right where you are.”
A moment later he heard a car starter whine, tires grind against the drive and then the car stopped. There were three quick shots and Lynn groaned. He knew they’d been directed at the police car. The killer started away again and Lynn made another leap for the window. He hauled himself up and out, ran to the front of the house and tried to get his car started. He found the hood clips loosened, raised the hood and saw how three bullets had ripped through the distributor.
He was getting set to hurry to the garage and try to find another car when he saw headlights swing into the driveway. Lynn stepped behind a tree, held his gun ready and waited. Maybe he would have a chance after all.
The car came to a stop and Owen Ames climbed out. He started up the porch steps. Lynn called to him and Ames halted quickly. Lynn took his arm and hurried him back to the car, got in himself and ordered Ames to drive to town.
“The killer has taken Harriet prisoner,” he explained. “He’s on his way now to get at certain evidence which I think Parnell carried on his person. The evidence which would convict the killer of murdering Mike Weston three years ago. The stuff Parnell used as the background for blackmail.”
“Tom! Tom Martin?” Ames cried. “Sergeant, I can’t believe it.”
“Maybe it’s Fleming,” Lynn said. “I can’t be sure. Parnell’s evidence will tell the story. Drive straight to the Riverview Funeral Parlors. That’s where I had Parnell’s body taken. Whoever the murderer is, he’ll go there. He must because he has suddenly realized that Parnell’s evidence wasn’t in the room he burned.”
Ames asked no questions but concentrated on his driving. When he pulled up before the funeral parlor, Lynn looked around quickly.
“He hasn’t arrived yet,” he said in a gratifying voice. “Thanks to your fast driving we beat him to it. Now take the car around the next corner. Then come back and I’ll let you in. There is nobody around at this time of night.”
Parnell’s Hollowed Out Shoe
Lynn obtained entrance by using a skeleton key on the front door. He proceeded through the large, empty rooms, reached the laboratory and saw Parnell’s body on a table; it was covered with a sheet, but his clothing was still on.
Someone hissed. Lynn spun around. It was Ames, who had found the door unlocked. Lynn snapped off his flash and stepped up to Ames.
“This isn’t very pleasant, but one of us has to stay here right beside the corpse. The other must cover the room from the corridor so that if the killer gets in, he’s trapped. Even if he gets away from you. I’ll be waiting outside to nab him.”
“A good idea,” Ames said. “I’m not afraid. I’ll conceal myself behind that desk. When the killer comes, I’ll let him go after what he wishes, but when he tries to leave I’ll be at his back and you’ll have him from the front. We can’t miss.”
Lynn nodded, waited until Ames concealed himself and then snapped off the flash again. Lynn crept out of the room took up a position slightly down the corridor and waited ten minutes. Nothing happened. He tiptoed to the laboratory and knocked softly.
“It’s Lynn,” he called out. “I’m coming in.”
Ames rose from his place behind the desk as Lynn entered. He came forward. Lynn looked disgusted. He turned overhead lights.
“He’d have been here by now. Maybe he beat us to it, though I can’t see how. But I know a way to find out. Should have done it when I first came here. Parnell carried his evidence of murder in a hollowed out sole of a shoe. The killer knew it and tried to destroy the evidence by burning every shoe in Parnell’s room. But for once Parnell wore the shoe in which the evidence had been concealed. Something I guess he rarely did. Before the murderer could get to Parnell’s body, I came along and he didn’t dare attempt to search the corpse.”
“Oh. I’m beginning to see. The murderer then had to make certain you could not interfere with his coming here. Are you sure he got that evidence?”
Lynn stepped up to the table, exposed the dead man’s legs and examined the still soaked shoes. He removed one, found an instrument and pried the sole away. It was hollowed out, but the hollow space was empty.
Lynn said, “Well, it’s gone. You feel very safe now, don’t you, Ames?”
Ames gaped at him.
“I think I know what you said, but it don’t make sense — “
Lynn stepped a little closer to him.
“Stop the clowning, Ames. You killed Mike Weston three years ago. Parnell knew you did and had enough documentary evidence to prove it. He touched you for two hundred dollars a week and you paid up. But it couldn’t go on. You had to kill Parnell sooner or later and you did.”
Ames gave a hoarse laugh.
“Sergeant, that’s utterly silly. I thought someone had kidnapped Harriet — “
“You did and dropped her off somewhere while she was unconscious. I doubt she even knew who you were. Then you drove back, in time to pick me up. Just in a very innocent manner. That was part of your plan too. You didn’t know where they’d taken Parnell’s body with the evidence on it. You could have found out by asking questions, but you were afraid to do that. Furthermore, you weren’t sure but that the body might be guarded. So you planned to get me to bring you here. A chance might appear to you could get at Parnell’s shoe.”
The Man I Killed Was Torturing Me
Ames didn’t look quite to confident.
“Sergeant, I think you’re guessing. However, I can’t afford to get mixed up in this. I’m willing to pay off — “
Lynn stuck out hit hand.
“You can make the first and last payment by giving me the paper you took out of Parnell’s shoe. I’m not guessing; I have all the proof. You tried to kill me when I was in the pool because you knew I’d given Harriet all the breaks three years ago and I’d be apt to repeat. What you wanted was a quick investigation, a quick arrest of Harriet and that would be that. You even secreted the murder weapon for three years because it had Harriet’s prints on it. You slugged Parnell, tossed the weapon where it would be found and you thought the fingerprints would do the rest.”
“I tell you — “ Ames began.
“Hand it over,” Lynn snapped. “You made a mistake About those prints. If Harriet had used the bar on Parnell’s skull and left those prints on it tonight, I would have known. You forgot that the thumb of her right hand is mangled. Due to my carelessness. Her prints had changed in three years. Those on her thumb at any rate.’’
Ames backed up a pace.
“I know when I’m licked. Give me a break. Sergeant. After all, the man I killed was torturing me. Blackmailing me. He deserved to die. Here is the evidence he had — “
Ames made a leap. His right hand, emerging from his pocket, held a snap knife with a large and ugly blade. Lynn didn’t even reach for his gun. He lunged at Ames, fended off the wild thrust of the blade and closed with the killer. Ames raised his hand again. Brought it down and the blade bit into Lynn’s shoulder. A high wound, painful but not dangerous. The pain made Lynn grunt in rage.
He reached up with both hands, grasped Ames by the throat and hauled him up and over. Ames crashed to the floor, tried to get up and Lynn swung a haymaker.
Then he affixed handcuffs, used the telephone and searched Ames for the statement he’d stolen from the corpse. He was treating his shoulder wound when help arrived.
Lynn told his story, turned Ames over to detectives and hurried back to Ames’ car. He drove to the estate again, travelling as fast as when Ames had made the trip to town.
Harriet was there, with Tom Martin. She was pale. On her forehead was a sizeable bump, but she managed to smile a bit.
“Whoever he was,” she said, “he hit me right after I told you the coast was clear. I woke up in the brush beside the road just beyond the estate.’’
“I know,” Lynn said. “I doubted he’d have killed you because he still wanted you to take the rap. It was Ames, of course. He’s locked up now. I knew it had to be him, but there was no evidence or motive. For Parnell’s death, yes. Blackmail there. But I wanted to convict him of killing Mike too, so your name would be cleared once and for all.”
“But how could you have known it was Ames?” Harriet asked.
Lynn smiled a bit.
“The man who lured you back to the house, took your place at the edge of the pool and tried to gun me out could not have come through the front door. You’d have seen the light of that door if it opened. Martin was downstairs. He didn’t go through the kitchen because the cook was there every minute and had no reason to lie. If Martin had gone to the second floor and tried to use the outside steps to the rear of the house, Ames would have seen or heard him. So that left Martin out of it. But Ames, being on the second floor, could have used those steps and returned by means of them. So it was either Ames or Fleming and from the amount of cash paid to Parnell as blackmail, I figured it must be Ames; Fleming would have tapped for a much larger amount.
Harriet closed her eyes and sighed deeply. “Ames and Mike quarreled a lot, but I never suspected Ames killed him.”
“It was all in a statement which Mike had ordered Parnell to type and which Mike signed. It stated that he caught Ames stealing and suspected Ames might commit murder to protect himself. Parnell didn’t tell us about that statement because he wanted to use it for blackmail. And he got away with it for three years. Concealing the statement in the hollowed out sole of a shoe. Ames was bound to find the hiding place and he did. Parnell usually left the shoe containing the paper, at home but last night he apparently had a foreboding and put it in a shoe he was wearing.”
“Then it’s over,” Harriet said. “I’m not sorry for Ames. He was always greedy. But now, Bruce, we can keep our heads up. There’ll be no wagging tongues if we’re seen together.”
“If you want us to be together,” Lynn said softly.
Her eyes were very bright.
“You know I do, Bruce.”
~ The End ~