TREMPER made a strange sound of clearing his throat and stepped for-ward. Up to now he had so thoroughly effaced himself I had lost all track of
him. It was an erect, determined Tremper who faced the sergeant.
“There’s no need to take young Mr. Hastings, sir. Nor Mr. Kimball either. I was the man in that car at three o’clock. I committed the burglary, sir; did the job, as you say.” He closed his lips and waited.
Every eye in the room was upon him. Embarrassed a little by the attention he had drawn to himself, he swung forward a wrist self-consciously, ready for the handcuffs. Tremper, I reflected, must have viewed such quiet confessions on the screen.
Judith gasped his name. Bud let out an incredulous “Aw-w-w!” Rickey seemed disappointed that I was not being manacled and lugged away.
Sergeant Leroy found himself, and almost unbelievably he managed to turn Tremper’s astounding admission to the credit of his police methods.
“I figured I’d work a squeeze on you,” he told Tremper. “You couldn’t bear to see the boy go to the station house, could you?” Sergeant Leroy had undoubtedly hit on the thing that released Tremper’s tongue, but he certainly had not planned the trick. Tremper made no reply. He said merely: “I’m ready to go, sir.”
“Now don’t rush me, Tremper. Is that the name? Where’d you put the stuff?”
“In the stables, sir. Under the hay. I’ll take you to it. The bottles are all intact, sir.” Again as if to conclude things, he offered himself for handcuffing.
’’It would take a butler,” Sergeant Leroy said, surveying Tremper, “to pick wine at fifty dollars a bottle and leave the cheap stuff behind.”
From the first mention of the word “bottles” Judith had been on the point of breaking in.
“Sergeant,” she said, “what kind of wine was stolen? That may make a difference.”
Sergeant Leroy carelessly thumbed through his notebook.
“Now you’re getting me in a spot,” he said. “I’d have to go to school again before I could say it right off.” He found the page. “Here it is, though. Let’s see: six bottles Romany —is it?—Conty? That was the first take—several nights ago. And six bottles Mont-r-a-”
“Montrachet,” Judith aided him.
“What you say. Old stuff. Both lots of it. Part of Masso’s pre-war cellar.”
“But sergeant,” Judith began, then: “Why Tremper! It’s impossible!” She turned back to the sergeant. “Masso had no such wine as that. No grocer at all has. Why, Masso even asked dad to let him bid on those very ones if our cellar was ever broken up. Tremper! Those wines came from here. You know they did! If it’s really old stuff I don’t think there’s another two dozen bottles of either one in America. None at all that I’ve ever heard of. Tremper?”
Tremper, for probably the first time in his life, refused to respond to Judith. He said to the sergeant urgently:
“Can’t we start, sir?”
A theory had pieced itself together in my mind over the last few moments.
“I think I can safely say,” I told the sergeant, “that you’ll only find six bottles under the hay in the stables. All of the Romanee Conti, 1870, is back in the cellar. Right, Tremper?”
“Yes, sir. And I hoped to replace the others, sir. The Montrachet, 1898.”
But the sergeant continued to look at me.
“The caretaking business seems to have been going great guns around here,” he commented. “But we’ll get to you later on.”
TT WAS Bud’s unnatural silence over the last few minutes,
I suppose, that made me look at him. I saw a single emotional unit of blank astonishment. His eyes were fixed on Tremper. For some reason the butler’s confession signified more to him than to any of the rest of us.
Sergeant Leroy wagged his head.
“I have to hand it to you, Tremper, for a slick job of double-crossing. Sold this grocer the stuff and sneaked it off'n him again. Well, I suppose a butler gets time to think those things up.”
Tremper made no reply. The next words were Judith’s. She planted herself before the sergeant.
“I’m speaking now,” she said, “as my father's representative. We do not care to make any complaint against Tremper for taking wine from the cellar here. You may drop that part of it entirely. And as for this Masso, I shall pay
him whatever price he asks for the wine he says was stolen from him. That is, I'll sign a sixtv-day guaranteed note."
Sergeant Leroy scratched his head.
"That ought to tickle Masso. But it don't take the matter of burglary off the books. Burglary’s a criminal charge, Miss Hastings. It’s the province that’s the complainant here."
Judith fought back. "But wouldn't the province look pretty silly pressing a burglary charge in which the stolen goods had been paid for—well, twice over, if Masso wants that much?’’
“Well, still ...” the sergeant deliberated.
A thought struck Judith. "And another thing. What about Masso receiving stolen property?” She turned to me. "Isn’t that a crime, Kim?”
"Receiving it and knowing it to be stolen,” I knew enough simple law to tell her.
"I thought so. Well, Masso not only knows enough about wine to know it was stolen, but he undoubtedly knew where it came from. So one word out of Masso and I’ll see that he goes to court himself. And I’ll be right there to give evidence!” Judy was gorgeous.
Sergeant Leroy tried again to uphold the law.
“Well—there's breaking and entering.”
Judy was ready for that. "And I suppose Masso will get up and testify to someone’s breaking and entering? Look —here’s what I’ll do, sergeant. I'll call up Masso right now. Just let me talk to him two minutes and you take the phone. Masso will swear to you he never got the wine in the first place. And as for breaking and entering—well, that was just a couple of corks that popped in his cellar and blew out the windows. I’ll bring Masso into line. How about it? Do you want to try?”
It was magnificently spoken. If I thought before that I loved Judy, I knew now I adored her. She not only had fire and determination, but she had the keenness to put them to the best account. She was making a great battle for Tremper. Sergeant Leroy shuffled uneasily like a man caught in the wrong. For a moment he looked more guilty than the butler.
“You don’t leave much to be said, Miss Hastings. This ain’t the usual case, that’s sure. Two burglaries, yet both sides win, you might say—and the province left without any first-class complaining witness to fall back on. Guess a man can always learn in police work.”
“Well, now here,” suggested Judy. “Suppose you just go along and look it up in the book. Take your men with you. No hurry about coming back, if ever. Nobody’s going to disappear. And I’m sure you’re too smart a man, sergeant,” she flattered him, "to put the province to useless expense in these times.”
Even had he known what to do about it all, he could not have resisted her. Now, at length, he did replace his hat. The uniformed men took it as a signal. They herded toward the door and, nodding good nights, filed out.
As the sounds of their departure died away, Judith sank into her chair at the table and stared absently at the demolished shortcake. She was stunned—and 1 could well understand it—by Tremper’s unbelievable confession that he had stolen and restolen his employer’s wane. It wras a shocking contradiction of everything she had known of Tremper.
Both Bud and Tremper had left the room directly after the policemen had gone. I heard them exchange a word or two in the kitchen. Then came the sound of the back door closing. It must have been Bud who had gone out, since I heard the rattle of dishes from the pantry. I could only suppose he was trying to evade explaining to me what he had been doing in my car.
Rickey was fidgety. He, too, resumed his seat, and tried to divert Judith’s attention to himself. I decided there was nothing I could say to alleviate Judith’s distress over Tremper’s dereliction. I felt low' and hopeless about everything, disgusted with the whole business. The secret household at Shoulder Hill had been discovered, and must of course now come to an end. I was glad of it. I loved Judith too much to stand by and see her continue the course she was on. Yes, tomorrow should end everything.
I excused myself and started dispiritedly for my room. But in the upper hallway I stopped, pondering a question. Tremper, the police claimed, had stolen the wine from the cellar to sell to the grocer, then restolen it from the grocer to keep the cellar intact. He might reasonably have done this once—the time I caught him. But how could he have got into the wine cellar a second time w'hen the key was securely in my possession throughout the preceding night? There had been no tampering with the lock; I was sure of that.
I wanted to get things straight then and there. I turned about and started for the kitchen, determined to clear up this one mystery at least, if only to satisfy my own curiosity. But I w'as destined not to learn the truth of the matter as quickly as I had thought.
A FLOOD of light greeted me as I opened the break fast-
_ room door. The place was empty now'. Tremper had evidently turned on the wall lights and started to clear away. A thread of smoke arising from the table caught my eye. Someone had left a burning cigarette. I crossed to
put it out. It was, 1 found, a cigarette that had been lighted only a moment before. It lay in Rickey's ash tray and it was of the brand he smoked. Rickey must have just left this room—even as I was coming downstairs—and left it in a hurry, it seemed.
As I stood there, tamping out the burning tobacco, there came from outside the vague sound of voices. 1 could distinguish no words, nor tell who was speaking. But there was a note of tensity in the sounds, as if a sharp dispute were going on out there. My thoughts went naturally to Bud, within whom a volcano had been smoldering for days and who had been in a quiver since getting the butler’s whispered message at dinner.
Tremper was in his pantry as I passed through. I hastened on to the kitchen door, and was for the moment beyond hearing of what might be going on outside. Hurrying, 1 followed the rear driveway around the comer of the house, toward w'here the sounds of contention must have originated.
Rickey’s car stood in the full light of the breakfast-room windows. Rickey himself was leaning across the rear deck after just slamming the rumble seat closed. No one else w'as about.
And yet I could have sworn that I had heard two voices the moment before. Rickey turned a casual face to me, and with his too-easy smile, said:
"Ever see anything like the way the dew' settles these nights? Leave a car open and she gets soaked.”
The comment had the sound of a remark cooked up for the sake of something to say. A scant quarter hour before, he had put himself out to turn suspicion tow'ard me. Now he was trying to be jovial and friendly. The fellow had no integrity whatever. It was difficult for me to speak to him civilly, but feeling somew'hat of a constable myself, I asked him briefly if he had seen Bud. This man, now so concerned with the falling dew', had but just rushed out of the dining room in such a hurry that he forgot his newly lighted cigarette.
"Bud?” he said as if stalling for time. “Why, yes.
He was around here.” He turned his face about as if looking for the boy.
He w'as lying, but had no idea I knew it. Standing there, trying to dope things out, my glance went over the house. There, on the second floor in the farther wing, was a light in Judith’s room. It accounted for her whereabouts, at least.
Rickey sensed my doubts.
“Judy and I,” be said unctuously, “thought w'e’d take a little spin up country and back. To sort of celebrate getting off with no more than a reprimand.”
He was trying to be jocose about the police visit, but his w'ords fell flat with me. As for Judith leaving the estate, I didn’t suppose it mattered any more. Soon, w'e’d all be leaving it—I, in disgrace.
Judith’s room light winked out. Then almost at once, I heard her footsteps on the driveway. She had come out the terrace door and she was running. This seemed strange since the night was warm and there was no rush about taking a country drive. Or was this expedition to be merely a country drive? As she came up, I felt sure it w'as something more than that. Judith had changed her costume completely. She now wore a dark-colored tailored suit and a hat. It was an outfit for travel rather than for an evening ride. Travel?
It was the going-away costume of a bride ! 1 felt halfsick at the thought. But I knew, suddenly, that this ivas (he night!
AT SIGHT of me Judith was flurried.
4*“Oh !” she said. “Well!” Then: “Isn’t this a grand evening to go places, Kim?”
I couldn’t find words to reply to her. I could only look on, without authority to stop her as she got into the car. Rickey closed the door on her firmly. The top of the roadster was folded down and she sat full in my view, pulling on her gloves and sending bright, excited glances about her.
Few men, I suppose, have had the experience of standing by and watching the one and only girl prepare to drive away with another man. While I had never imagined myself an actual suitor, a candidate for Judith’s heart and hand, nevertheless I loved her so much I would have been willing to see her marry almost any man selected at random rather than make the calamitous mistake of running off with Rickey Montaine. Yet I was helpless. Judith was of age.
Rickey tucked himself in and reached for the starter. The motor didn't catch. And then, before he had time to spin it again, another sound came from the darkness back of me. It was a moan, a mumbling, inarticulate sound in a man’s tone. Someone wras in trouble! Bud?
The next instant Rickey was at his starter again. This time the engine took hold. But with its first explosions, I was across the driveway and into the shrubbery, pushing aside branches. There, full length on the ground, stirring and groaning, lay Bud.
Knocked out ! So that had been the end of the controversy I liad heard.
Rickey had done it; no doubt of that. And Rickey was getting away. I pounded back toward the car which was already in motion and picking up speed. I put everything into a sprint. Rickey had to slow for the curve near the kitchen door and as he did so, I got a finger hold on the rear fender. I pulled myself forward, my feet hanging. Next, I was able to hop to the right-hand running board. Rickey, seeing me, gave me a baleful look. Through clenched teeth, he said:
“Get off of there, you mug! Get off, I tell you! Or should I crack your neck for you?“ It was Rickey's true self speaking now and with Rickey’s own vocabulary. The veneer of gentility had been cast aside.
I knew now what I wanted to do, most of anything in the world—feel my fist land on Rickey’s jaw. We’d have things out at last. The lust for fight surged up in me—ah, for a master’s degree in personal combat! Crack my neck for me, would he? Fine! I reached ior the ignition, cut the motor and tossed the key out of the car.
Rickey snarled and jerked his brake. The abrupt stop threw me from the runningboard. I landed on one knee in the grass. Floundering there, I saw Rickey, his face distorted with anger, climb out of the car on the far side and start after me. In his hand was a jack handle gripped like a club.
Judith gave a sharp cry.
“Rickey!” she called frantically. “Rickey, stop it ! Are you crazy?”
RICKEY charged toward me around the - rear of the car. I felt a primitive upwelling of delight. Weapon or no weapon, this Montaine and I were going to clash at last. My only chance of avoiding a clout from that jack handle was to close in on him and stay so close he couldn’t get a swing at me. But how to do it was a problem. I was on my feet now, but not set to go forward. Boxing was no good. This was to be a rough and tumble affair. All rules were off. And it looked very much as if Rickey would manage the rough end of things and I'd take the tumble.
Rickey, coming on, raised the jack handle for a blow. Judy shrieked. In that instant a stream of light from the house fell across us. Tremper had heard the noise and flung open the kitchen door. I caught a glimpse of him hurrying down the steps. All that came in a flash.
I take no credit for my next move. I had started forward with the idea of charging in low and getting Rickey around the waist when, pushing desperately with my right foot, my shoe sole slithered backward across the dewy grass leaving me with no traction and no momentum whatever. I went almost to the ground, my rush ruined. There was no question now of closing in. The next best thing was to continue my fall in the hot» that Rickey would hurtle past me. I could lx* up again before he turned.
As I went to all fours, Rickey, plunging too heavily to swerve, banged into my ribs, tripped over my crouched body and hit the ground. But instead of sprawling he drew himself together while still in the air and landed with arms and legs folded in and back arched as a clever football player falls on the ball. It was prettily done. Doubled up like a porcupine he made two rolling revolutions and was on his feet again, agile and unhurt, and starting back toward me —as dangerous as ever. 1 had gained nothing so far. 1 had even given him an advantage, since I was now between Rickey and the light from the kitchen and clearly silhouetted.
Taking my cue from him 1 had, of course, no thought of fighting fair. 1 would gladly have jerked a bumper from the car and felled him with it had 1 been able. But there was no weapon at liand for me. Fists, feet and trickery would have to serve me. And 1 had used my best trick—that of tripping. It would be no good a second time. He was coming on again now. Again my only hope was to get low and duck under the swinging jack handle.
Rickey liad foreseen my tactics. Instead of aiming at my head he prepared a wallop
to catch me at chest level or lower. To stoop and dive into it would be to go down with a cracked skull. I’d be a fool to try. To give myself time to think I adopted a truly Napoleonic strategy. I retreated.
Though the first fall in the battle had been mine through accident, I insist on taking credit for the second. I backed away stupidly, toward the car. But before I reached it the idea came to me. When my foot touched the driveway I groped backward, feeling for the running board. I found it and stepped up. As Rickey, swinging his iron club, rushed in to deliver a coup de grâce I took off in a flying leap, jumping as high as I could from the running board at his head. My plan was to bear him down, rough him, try to wrench the jack handle from him. It was a desperate scheme.
Rickey swung back his arm. I caught the gleam of light on the metal. Then I leaped. I had expected to catch a good rap somewhere, and as I landed, bunched up, on Rickey’s head and shoulders, a sharp pain shot up and down my left arm. The jack handle had caught me a smash on the elbow. My whole arm went suddenly numb. The elbow was dislocated, I supposed; perhaps broken. At any rate I now had but one good arm. As we toppled to the ground together, Rickey flailed about him with that vicious iron bludgeon.
WHEN I leaped I had, as I said, been bunched up, knees and shoulders foremost. When I landed I had lost the use of an arm but discovered the potentiality of my knees. We came down together, Rickey below. And at the impact, my two knees sank into his diaphragm. I knew I had scored. He gave a grunt and I made sure to let him have the full force of my weight.
It knocked his wind out. But Rickey wasn’t by any means through. With the surprise of it, he had lost his grip on the jack handle. I first realized this when he raised both his hands and clutched wildly toward my throat. Though he no longer had the weapon, I no longer had two arms. I would be no match for him in a wrestling fight on the ground. There was but one way I could beat him now. That was to get away from those clawing hands, get him to face me standing up, and try to land a solid punch.
I rolled away and scrambled to my feet. If I were forced into any fancy boxing I didn’t have a chance. I couldn’t even put up a guard. But I might be able to sock him hard enough to send him down. I had done enough boxing in college to know what can be accomplished by one punch, properly delivered and unexpectedly received. There had been no punching at all up till now. Rickey had set the tone of this thing as a choking, gouging, biting affair, exactly the kind of battle I would expect him to wage.
Rickey let out a roar as he got to his feet. As I stood waiting for him to come on, I was aware of Tremper and Judith on the far side of the car. She was pulling at him as if trying to keep him from going into the affray. And as Rickey plunged forward I caught a glimpse of Bud, walking uncertainly around the comer of the house. He seemed hardly more than able to move.
If it were not that Rickey had completely lost his temper, my goose would have been cooked then and there. But if he knew anything at all about boxing, he forgot it in his furious intent to wreak vengeance on me. At any rate he came on completely unguarded, reaching for me as perhaps a fighting gorilla reaches for a mortal enemy. His crazy anger gave me a wonderful break. I dodged a vindictive extended arm and started an uppercut with my right from about waist level. Nothing was in its way; nothing except Rickey’s chin. Never in my life had I put such steam into a wallop nor had such a perfect target. It connected, and Rickey went down, gurgling.
I hadn’t seen Tremper come up. Suddenly he was there at my side.
“I thought you might need this, sir,” he said. “I took the liberty of going to your room after it.” He nut my caretaker’s automatic pistol into my hand.
Continued on page 34
Continued from page 20—Starts on page 18
It was the thing I most certainly did need. Rickey was beginning to squirm and mutter.
“Get up!" I ordered him. With the gun on him 1 marched him before me into the house. Tremper followed.
Bud was seated at one end of the kitchen work table, his head on his arms. He looked up dizzily as we entered the room. One eye and cheek were puffed and discolored. Judith was hovering over him with a wet towel. Tremper hurried to set a chair for me. Rickey, watching the gun muzzle, backed off to the other side of the room. Judith had not looked at him as he came in. Bud followed Rickey with his eyes to where he stood, then, a hand to his jaw, said:
"Nice work, Kim.” He caught sight of my hanging left arm. "Say, did he wing you? Are you hurt?”
“Caught me on the elbow,” I said, trying to lift the arm and failing. I thought I began to feel life coming back into it.
Bud fumbled in his pocket and brought out a key.
“Tremper,” he said, “snake up a bottle of brandy from the cellar, will you? We all need a swig. Here you are.” He held out the key.
Though I kept my eyes on Rickey, I must have looked my astonishment.
“Guess you never knew I had entrée to the subterranean vaults, eh, Kim?” said Bud. “Yup. Dad made quite a solemn ceremony of presenting me with a key when I was sixteen. The old idea of putting the stuff in a fellow’s way so he won’t want it. It worked with me, too.” he assured me.
So there had been two wine-cellar keys, mine and Bud’s! Could it have been Bud’s key that Tremper used to take the second batch of wine from the cellar? I didn’t have time then to pursue the query. Rickey broke out:
“Look here! I demand—”
He was interrupted by heavy knocking at the outer door. Someone stood there on the steps. In a quick glance I could see only a pair of eyebrows, but those eyebrows told me everything.
“Come in!” I called, and the beetling Tektonias slid into the room like a dimenovel detective entering at the crucial moment. Bud welcomed the man with a one-sided grin.
“Hi, Tek!” he said, starting up. He sank back a little dizzily.
TEKTONIAS stood there a moment, taking in the scene. I should have thought he might show a little surprise at the layout, but he was imperturbable. He had undoubtedly studied mystery story behavior ^and perfected himself in crisis technique. Presently he gave me a dark nod. sent a severe stare at Judith, still busy with wet towels, and then let Rickey have the full benefit of a scrutiny that leaped from ambush as it were. Rickey gazed back at him defiantly but without recognition.
“What,” I wanted to know, “are you up ! to this time, Mr. Tektonias? Would it be I something in the way of guarding or of I shadowing?”
"Neither,” he replied ominously. “In! vestigation.”
Bud burst out: "Listen, have you got
Tektonias cleared his throat. “I’ve developed an angle or two,” he told Bud. “Oh, when we’re alone, Mr. Hastings.” Rickey shuffled uneasily and glanced toward an open window, then back at me. He found himself still under guard. As the I numbness went out of my arm, I began to 1 feel a hideous pain. Something was certainly wrong with that elbow.
Bud spoke again. "Come right out with it, Tek, whatever it is. I mean, we’d all like to hear.”
From behind me, I heard a door open and close. Tremper had returned with the brandy.
Tektonias pulled out a paper and unfolded it deliberately.
“The party in question,” he stated, "that is to say, the party who calls himself Richard Montaine, was bom with the name—”
There was a quick movement on the far side of the room. Rickey, taking advantage of my inattention at the moment, had started forward.
“Say, what is all this?" he shouted, “I’m going—”
“No, you’re not,” I told him. “Not till we both find out what it is.” I crossed over to where I could guard him at short range. He glanced at the muzzle of the gun and subsided.
“Go right ahead, Tek, old man,” said Bud. “Don’t mind the gunplay.”
"The name,” continued the detective methodically, “was formerly Robert Meecham.”
Something bumped on the table. Tremper had ceased pouring brandy and set the bottle down hard. His jaw fell open as he stared at Tektonias.
Bud got to his feet excitedly.
“Well, now, take a look at that bird. Tek,” he said, pointing to Rickey. “Is he the man?”
Tektonias looked Rickey over minutely.
“Can’t say. All I traced was the name and the record that goes with it. But there’s police pictures in the mail on the way to me now.”
'Rickey cut in :
“Say, what’s the idea of all this? There’s no police pictures of me anywhere.” He scowled at Tektonias and at Bud.
Tremper had recovered himself and with a hurried, “One moment, please,” scurried from the room. I heard him on the stairway, then almost at once he was back. In his hand was a bound volume. He went to Bud and flipped the book open at a marked place. I caught a glimpse of the title: World News Fortnightly. It was book-bound back issues of the widely circulated periodical of summarized news for the busy reader.
Bud bent low over the page. Then. “Yowee!” he roared, and fetched Tremper a slap on the back. “Old Tremper! Working away like a mole all the time. Kim! Tek!” he called. “Look here. You too. Judy. Or wait, I’ll bring it over to you, Kim. Keep that guy covered.”
HE SPREAD the book before me, the rest crowded around. Looking up from the printed page was the face of Rickey Montaine. It was a younger Rickey and he wore a small mustache. But it was the same man. I couldn’t mistake those lips that seemed about to go into a too easy smile. The picture was captioned, “Robert Meecham, convicted perjurer, to whom a stack of Bibles is just so much wood-pulp.” Recollection came back to me. I knew now why Rickey’s photographed face was vaguely familiar to me. It was in connection with the scandalous Trotter-Meecham affair of four years before. The press had been contemptuously full of Robert Meecham alias Rickey Montaine. And so that was what Tremper had been up to with his wish to "consult certain volumes” in the Hastings library ! He must have checked back through dozens of issues of the World News Fortnightly. A mole, but also a beaver.
Judith, her nursing work done, pulled off her hat and tossed it to the table. She hadn’t once looked at Rickey since he entered the room. She had taken no part in the talk. She seemed now pathetically depressed and ashamed. It had taken dynamite to end the infatuation that had filled her mind for the last few months. But it was ended. After all, I realized, Judith was young and was feminine. Rickey Montaine had offered a charm of manner, a studied thoughtfulness and a flattering devotion that might well have swayed a less susceptible and older woman than Judith.
If falling romantically in love is an
emotional perception of another individual, then falling out of love may well be an intellectual perception that sweeps away all sentimental fog. In the last few minutes I had witnessed a most conclusive falling out of love. And had Rickey not been so full of anger and resentment toward the rest of us. he would have seen the same thing. But now, egotistically, he appealed to Judith as if nothing whatever had changed between them.
“Judy,” he cried, “they’re trying to frame me. They’re cooking up some nonsense about my being somebody I’m not. Surely you couldn’t believe—”
Judith didn’t tum her head.
“It doesn’t matter,” she said, “who you are or who you were. ’ She shuddered slightly. “You’ve been nobody at all to me since you showed how beastly unfair you were. That jack handle!” She paused. “Oh, since long before that, I guess.” She spoke to the butler. “Tremper, will you get my bags, please, from the rumble seat of —that car?”
Rickey’s game was up. and he knew it.
“Look here,” he blustered, “I’ve committed no crime and I’m not wanted by the police. I demand to be permitted to leave this room.”
‘Permitted to leave it?” said Bud. “You’d be propelled out of it if I had the proper use of my legs. Now, beat it! And keep going!”
I pocketed my gun. Rickey had started for the door. But Tektonias, for the first time showing something of the agility of his calling, sprang catlike and intercepted him.
■Just a minute,” he said, “just a minute.
I got to have an admission out of you or I can’t collect the pay for my work. I did this investigating job on speculation. How about it? Aren’t you Robert Meecham?”
“Get out of my way !” said Rickey.
“Because if you ain't,” said Tektonias, “I got to keep tailing you till I find out exactly who you are. I’m not going to lose my fee on your account.”
Rickey was appalled. The prospect of having those sinister eyebrows pursue him was more than he could stand. He wanted no such shadow as this behind him. It was unthinkable.
‘All right,” he said. “I’m Meecham. That suit you?”
As Tremper came in with Judith’s bags, Rickey went out, letting the screen bang behind him. For a moment we heard him cursing as he hunted for his car keys. His motor roared malignantly and he was gone.
TEKTONIAS looked expectantly at Bud.
“Well let’s see,” he said, “with the job done, it comes to an even three hundred fiity. That’s outside of the hundred and a hall you paid down for retaining fee.”
To my astonishment, Bud reached for a wallet and counted out three hundred and fifty dollars in large bills. He handed the money to Tektonias, then looked at me with a sheepish grin.
"Chicken feed, just chicken feed,” he said, sell-consciously. “Well worth the price, though, wasn’t it, Kim?”
“And I thought you were broke," I said. “I was,” Bud admitted. “But a man of my resourcefulness always finds ways. In this case, I nabbed the family wine, rushed it over to Masso, the grocer, and pawned it with him for about half what it was worth. The old Scrooge. Honest old Tremper here went moral on me, developed scruples. He couldn’t bear to think of putting any of those precious bottles in hock.” He paused. “Tremper, tell all, now. You followed me over in Kim's car and found out where I went, didn’t you?”
The butler nodded, smiling to himself. Tektonias finding himself unnoticed, shuffled his feet and said.
“Well, good night all. If there’s anything in my line you ever need . . .” He tossed some of his business cards to the table. We gave him a chorus of good nights.
“All right.” I said to Bud, “go on. I don’t get it all yet.”
“There’s nothing more to get. Kim. I nipped the bottles out of the cellar and pawned ’em, and Tremper nipped 'em back without my knowing it. You almost dished
the thing by laying up the station wagon. But I managed to make out with your bus. And Tremjjer did. too. as I found out when the constabulary lurched in here a while ago. Tremper, the old hijacker! Slamming around the country in thunderstorms. Say, I could hardly believe it myself when it came out that as fast as I put the old vintages in pawn. Tremper rushed ’em back here.”
“Bud, you goop,” said Judith, “why did you have to do it twice?”
“Didn’t get the cash I needed the first time,” Bud explained. “Only fifty a bot for the Romanee Conti, and thirty per for the Montrachet. Saved the family honor, though, didn’t it?” He grinned at Judy.
Judy smiled ruefully.
“Serves me right, I guess, that I’ll have to pay Masso myself, finance my own investigation.”
Bud put a hand to his bruised face.
“Good thing for me that Rickey hadn’t yet thought of the jack handle when I took him on,” he commented.
“You were as out as if you’d been hit by a house when I spotted your tumed-up toes beneath the rhododendrons,” I told him, wishing I had some treatment for my aching arm.
"Toes up is right ! Kim, you saw me get a tip-off from Tremper at the dinner table. I know you did. He buzzed in my ear that Judy’s bags were in Rickey’s rumble seat. So I marched out and started to disembark ’em. Had no idea then that Eyebrows Tektonias was going to crash through in time. Rickets, the bum, caught me at it and socked me from behind. I’ll always wish,” he mused, “that I’d been able to give him a real battle.”
Judith had an idea.
“Tremper,” she said with mock severity, burlesquing a cranky dowager, “if you have a plausible explanation for your absence from the pantry during dinner, I'd be glad to hear it.”
Tremper smiled and flushed.
“I had a duty elsewhere, Miss Judith. It came to my mind at the time the toast was drunk. There was something about the wording of it—the reference to your good fortunes. Miss Judith—that made me believe I’d find luggage in the car. I felt obliged to look. I have come to have something of a prejudice against seeing cars leave the grounds without being searched.” He winked solemnly at Bud.
It was Judith’s turn to flush.
“Well,” she faced us, “you’ve all been so dam decent, I hope you’ll carry it a step further and help me forget the mess I almost landed in. Call me simple or mushy or infantile or feeble-minded if you like. But what I really was, 1 suppose, was stubborn. Just plain sot. The more you all bucked me the more determined I got. Determination is a grand old Hastings characteristic. I was applying it to the wrong project, that’s all.” She looked at me particularly, as much as to ask: “You’ll believe that, won’t you?
UD GAVE her a bear hug.
“Open confession,” he said, “is good for something—I forget what. You’re all right, Judy.”
Tremper had been eyeing my limp arm. It was one long tearing pain and beginning to swell.
“May I suggest, sir,” said the butler, “that you let me call a doctor?”
“Rush and do it, Tremper,” said Judy. “From now on this house is being run like a civilized place.”
It meant she wasn’t going away! My heart pounded. But there would be no need for a caretaker in an opened and occupied house. I had a vision of myself packing up and searching out a new writing room.
“Kim,” said Judith coming across to me, “you’ve gone pretty slack on tuis thesis business here lately. I’m going to see to it that you pursue the higher learning from now on. For one thing, you’ll have less to worry about. I mean me.”
She looked deep into my eyes. I wanted to kiss her. I might not worry about her, but I would never be able to keep from thinking about hei. She went on :
1 “We’re going to have a com festival later ! in the summer. Roasting ears and every -; thing. Kim, have you had a look at that ; prize-winning patch of mine lately? Isn’t it grand?” Impulsively, she seized my unin! iured hand in both of hers, and gave it a ! tight squeeze. "You’ll see,” she said. “I ! mean, we’ll both see, won’t we?” Her eyes »hone. I couldn’t think she meant her enthusiasm all for the com.
Bud had been deep in the pages of the volume that contained the Trotter-Meecham scandal.
“And what a story !” he hurst out. “Jude, this fellow Meecham hired himself out—”
“1 don’t want to hear,” said Judy, covering her ears.
‘‘— hired himself out.” went on Bud. “as a witness against Mrs. Trotter in the Trotter divorce case. And after he’d lampblacked the lady’s character, the whole thing was blown open. And they cracked down on him for perjury. And so what did he get but three years in—"
Judith snatch«1 the book from him and
tossed it to a chair.
"Gosh,” said Bud. “Hot reading matter. Nothing like what a fellow gets in school.”
‘Tm glad you mentioned school,” said Judith, “now—”
“Wait, Judy! See if I haven’t got your thought. By telepathy, sort of. Kim,” he said to me, “since there won’t be so much doing in the caretaking line, how about me Í and you tutoring in maths together? That
is, you as tutor, me as tutee, of course. Say. an hour a day?"
Tremor, entering the room, took me by the good arm to lead me away.
"The doctor will be along, sir,” he said. “He suggested, in the meantime, to plunge the arm into hot water. I have a filled basin, sir.”
Together we mounted to the servants’ quarters.
“May 1 say,” said Tremper when we were out of hearing of the kitchen, "that I was hardly able to believe my ears, sir, a moment ago. Miss Judith, sir, and her vegetables. And Master Bud with his studies! It’s revolutionary, sir.”
“Think they’ve changed, Tremper?” I asked.
"Metamorphosed, sir, I assure you. Mr. Hastings always used to say they’d never get the straight of things—of life, sir -until they had really collided with something, come dose to disaster. He used to hope they wouldn’t get too much hurt in the process.”
“Well, they both took a wallop or two tonight, Tremper.”
“And came through most fortunately, sir. I may say I’m looking forward with pleasure to the parental reaction. It will be something to see. sir. something very gala.” He turned back my shirt sleeve. “Now, sir,” he said, and with the gentleness of a careful nurse, immersed my arm in comforting hot water.