She Wrote Finis
In which the solving of a crime within a crime brings the strange case of Minna Lucas to its dramatic climax
WHEN she left the Vandolan Theatre with Robert, the last vestiges of Leslie's editorial independence had deserted her. Almost for the first time in her life. Miss Leslie P. Cole felt as clingingly feminine as she looked. With a little comfortable sigh, she let her hand slip through Robert’s arm. It was such a strong, adequate arm.
Vaguely there stirred in her mind the recollection of a time when she had not wanted Robert Boyer to kiss her, simply because he was an author. Her taboo seemed very remote now.
At that moment she would have liked very much for him to kiss her.
But Robert seemed far away. There were deep lines around his mouth, and his dark eyes were preoccupied. He was thinking perhaps of Faith whom she had always felt he really loved.
Suddenly, unreasonably, Leslie was jealous of Faith Felton.
Robert said: “How about some food before we call it a day?”
They found a quiet place across the street, chose a remote table. Robert stared abstractedly, his steady brown eyes fixed on a point above Leslie’s head.
“It curdles my blood to think of what Minna was doing to Faith,” he said.
“Everything about Minna curdles my blood now I know the truth. She’d been blackmailing Dave too, you know. And Lieutenant Trant thought she might have been doing the same thing to you.”
Leslie produced, from her pocketbook, the typed copy of the telegram from the Labrador police and told him what the lieutenant had said.
Robert stared at it with a wry smile. “This is one count on which Minna wasn’t guilty. I got her to send that telegram. Pierre Bernard was quite a friend of mine. His death was a big jolt. I wanted to do what I could for his parents.”
He twisted the paper over, glancing at the French manuscript on the other side.
“Hello, what’s this?”
“Just part of poor old Lenoir’s translation of ‘Mark.’ I thought I might keep it for curiosity value, but I’ve got a signed first edition and I don’t really need it.”
Leslie took the paper back. She was just tearing it up as a cheerful voice behind her said :
“A swell piece of sleuthing. I thought I’d track you here.”
Leslie glanced up to see Gordy Keath. To her surprise, she was faintly irritated at his arrival. Without being asked, he drew up a chair.
“I’ve just been through the mill with Trant.” said the agent. “He almost broke his back trying to wheedle a murder motive out of me. But I just didn’t have one. I’m a beautiful, innocent boy.”
Gordy continued to talk with rather exasperating facetiousness while Leslie and Robert ate. At length Leslie rose and announced that she was going home, glancing tentatively at Robert. But before the author could move, Gordy had jumped up, gripped her arm and was draw ing her toward the door.
He called to Robert over his shoulder, “I’ll take the lady home and you’ll pay the check. A fair distribution of labor. Good night.”
Too exhausted to object, Leslie let Gordy bundle her into a taxi. She had not the energy to object, either, when he slipped his arm around her waist. And illogically she discovered that the sensation was not unpleasant.
“It’s just occurred to me,” he said, “that I’ve never made love to you, Miss Cole. That was a gross oversight.
There should be an emotional as well as a mental bond between agent and publisher.”
He bent and kissed her chin. Leslie drew away and said, “Please don’t be debonair, Gordy. I just couldn’t bear it.”
“I’m not being debonair, darling.”
Impulsively he took both her arms, twisting lier around so that she was facing him. In spite of the half-mocking smile on his lips, his eyes were serious, almost tender. “Seems like it takes a murder to bring out the man in me. I’m rather crazy about you,
Leslie. You’re the prettiest female publisher in New York.”
In spite of herself, Leslie was smiling.
“You’re a dope, Gordy. But I like you.”
“She likes me!” Gordy took her hand and pressed it fervently to his heart. “Dear Miss Cole, this evening you have made me the happiest of men.
Dare I venture to hope—”
“Get out, Gordy,” said Leslie.
Gordy kept the taxi waiting and went with her up the steps of her apartment house. Leslie started fumbling through her pocketbook for her front door key. She juggled small change, her spectacles, her compact, stray letters. But there was no key.
“Darn it,” she said. “I must have left my key at the office. Be an angel,
Gordy, and help me search for the janitor.”
Eventually they found a very sleepy janitor who produced an extra key. Although Gordy pleaded to be allowed up, Leslie was tired enough to be adamant.
But she let him kiss her good night.
That was not unpleasant either. But when Leslie was alone in her room the vision of Robert’s dark, lean face rose up to obliterate the image of Gordy. She moved to the bookshelf where she kept her prized first editions and fingered them appraisingly. “Mark” was as nearly a great work of fiction as America had produced in years. It would be something if only she could feel that the author of a novel like that was—fond of her.
She took that solemn thought to bed with her.
AS SHE lay beneath the warm blankets, waiting for sleep to come, Leslie tried not to think. But, in spite of herself, her mind started circulating around the terrible events of that evening. She thought of Minna. Minna had rated no sympathy when she was alive, but Minna had been murdered—murdered by someone she, Leslie, knew intimately.
One of her friends . . . one of her six fellow guests . . .
That appalling thought merged in her mind with a queer belated pity for Minna. Minna might have been different if she had had the breaks. She had seen the rest of them making good all around her. But for her there had been nothing—a bad novel, a broken romance, a scarred face . . .
Minna’s scarred face followed Leslie into her dreams, haunting her, tormenting her with macabre fantasies.
She tried to push the nightmare from her, forced herself to wake. But, somehow, to her sleep-drenched mind came the uneasy sensation that Minna was somewhere near her,
that she was moving about in the darkness of the living room next door.
Surely that was the creak of a board.
She was straining her ears now with the desperate concentration of the half-wakened sleeper.
Either it was some trick of her nightmare, or she was actually listening to the sound of footsteps and breathing in the next room. Distinctly she heard it, the sharp intake of breath.
And it came from the passage right outside her bedroom door now. It was Minna—Minna was coming into her bedroom.
That was absurd, of course; utterly ludicrous. Minna was dead. That jerked her back to common sense.
But someone—a living, breathing person—was standing there outside her bedroom door. Once again the unmistakable sound of footsteps. Then a faint squeak as the door was pushed stealthily open.
Leslie lay perfectly still in the numb embrace of fear. Her body was incapable of movement. Only her thoughts rushed round like whirlwinds in her brain.
She had suddenly remembered her lost front door key. With blinding conviction she knew that she had not left it at the office. It had been in her pocketbook. And someone had taken it—someone at one of the places she had visited that night.
Someone had got into Minna’s studio and murdered her. And now—there was someone in her room.
Again that scarcely audible creak. This time it was nearer.
Still she could not move or speak. Only her brain hammered the question—Why? Had this person come to kill her as he had killed Minna? She hadn’t harmed anyone, and she didn’t know anything except what she had learned from those papers Trant had found. Was that the reason? Had she perhaps stumbled on some knowledge which, without her knowing it, pointed to the criminal?
And then suddenly, without her being conscious of it, the question in her brain had formed itself into words.
“Why are you here?” The unfamiliar sound of her own voice startled her. “What—what do you want?”
As soon as she had spoken she knew she had made a dreadful error. There flashed through her mind an article she had read the other day. It was about burglars and what to do if anyone broke into your bedroom at night. “Don’t,” it had said, “let the marauder know you’re awake. Go on pretending to be asleep or it may be fatal. Don't speak to him. Don’t look at him. Remember he may be more frightened than you and when a criminal is frightened—he kills.”
But she had spoken. She had given herself away. That realization brought panic. Wildly she put out a hand and groped for the reading lamp by the bed.
“Don't touch it.” The dazzling glare from a flashlight shone full in her face. Then, either it was the voice again or her nightmare framed in words! “And don't scream or I’ll kill you.”
She blinked helplessly. The voice told her nothing. It was muffled, unreal. And it was impossible to distinguish even the barest outline of the figure behind that white blaze of illumination.
The core of light moved nearer and nearer. For a moment a handkerchief flickered into the patch of brightness. A sweetish sickly smell invaded her nostrils.
A hand had touched her now. It was moving toward her throat.
A scream rose to her lips, but the sound was muffled by the handkerchief held tightly over her mouth. For a long moment she knew the terrors of imagined suffocation. Her
fingers clawed at the hand that held the handkerchief, clawed feebly . . . more feebly . . .
And all the time that sweetish sickly smell. A smell that made her think of dim corridors and white-robed figures.
A hospital smell ... it was as though every hospital in the world were falling on top of her. pressing her down into oblivion.
And then, at last, there was nothing in the world. Nothing except unconsciousness . . .
WITH the first glimmerings of returning consciousness, the hospital smell came back. Then Leslie was aware of a splitting headache and a dull sense of nausea. She forced her heavy lids open. The blurred outlines of her own familiar furniture told her it was morning. Suddenly memory came rushing back, bringing with it some of the horror of the night.
That handkerchief pressed over her face! That smell . . . chloroform, probably, or ether. Gradually her thoughts struggled into coherence. Whoever it had been could not have wanted to kill her—only to render her unconscious. Had he come to steal? She slid out of bed and made a hurried examination of her more valuable possessions. Her handbag, her jewel case—nothing was missing. She pulled out the drawers of her desk. Letters, manuscripts, were all untouched.
It must then, she thought dazedly, be something connected with Minna’s murder. She must call Trant at once.
As she telephoned, the pain in her head made her wince. But in a short time she was talking to Lieutenant Trant at police headquarters and giving him a broken account of the night’s happenings.
He promised to come right over, and it was almost no time before he arrived. He was wearing a blue suit with a
lighter blue shirt and tie. He looked very smart, very pleasant and, she thought, slightly apologetic.
After a quick glance around the room, he led her purposefully into the bedroom and put her back to bed with the efficiency of a trained nurse.
“There!” He smiled sympathetically. “I’ve got a doctor. He’ll be here right away. How do you feel?”
“Terrible. And it’s—it’s all crazy. Someone broke in and yet nothing seems to be missing.”
“I think you’ll find you’re mistaken. Miss Cole.”
Leslie stared incredulously. “You mean you know what’s been stolen?”
“I’m making a guess.” The detective sat down on the edge of the bed, his grey eyes watching her with the same apologetic smile. “I blush to admit it, but I used you last night as a kind of decoy. By sending you on those various errands. I hoped to force things to a head. Things got forced all right—far more so than I expected.”
He gave a little rueful shrug. “I thought the murderer of Minna Lucas would be interested in something you had in your possession. But I never dreamed he would steal your front door key, break in and chloroform you to get it. Now I’m responsible for that headache of yours. And I’m very sorry.”
To her surprise, Leslie did not feel angry with this unaccountable young policeman. There was only awe and a queer tinge of admiration.
“You mean you really had this all figured out? You know who killed Minna?”
“I was pretty certain a couple of hours after I’d seen the body.” There was nothing bombastic about that remark. It was a mere statement of fact. “And now, what happened here last night gives me the final piece of evidence I needed.”
Lewie's startled movement sent pain -spinning in her head again. "But «ho ...”
"There * lime enough for you to find that out. Mm Cok.” The detective s eyes were very grave. "Believe it or not. it's not always pleasant being a policeman. We have decent feeling*. And one o4 my most decent feelings is a very wholehearted dislike for Miss Minna Locas. I don't exactly relish the prospect of arresting her murderer ."
At that moment the doctor arrived. After a brief, fussy examination, he pronounced that there was nothing seriously wrong and gave Leslie something which removed her headache with incredible swiftness. He called Trant in:
"Sight shock. Overdose of ether.” he said with rigid economy of words. "Liquid diet. You her husband? '
Trant grinned. "Yes.” he sák!.
"Cup of tea. Quick. Strong. Hot," snapped the doctor and was gone.
Still grinning. lieutenant Trant disappeared into the kitchen and returned presently with a cup of strong, hot tea.
As Leslie sipped it. she said hesitantly, "Then you are going to make an arrest?"
He nodded. "I had made arrangements if ft a last roundup in my office at headquarters this morning. But when I heard of your—er—indisposition, I took the liberty of «witching it here. I guessed you wouldn't feel like going out. and I particularly want everyone to be—in at the finish. Is that all right?"
“I suppose so," she said weakly. "When does the curtain go up?"
"Nine-thirty. Plenty of time yet. Ill get you another cup of tea." Lieutenant Trant arranged the pillows for her and took the empty cup. "And. by the way. I called your office and told them you wouldn’t be well enough to go in."
As he moved out of the room, Leslie sank back against the pillows which he had fixed. They felt more comfortable than they had ever been before, and she found her thoughts frothing lightheaded!y. Sometimes in the past she had weighed the advantages of marriage with an author, even with a literary agent.
But it had never occurred to her to realize how thoróügñiy sátisfactory if must be to be married to a policeman.
T IEUTENANT TRANT had gone and come back again, very brisk and official now, accompanied by two policemen. Leslie, bathed and dressed but still a little shaky, felt increasingly nervous as the others started to arrive. Faith, Jimmy and Robert were the first to come; shortly after them, Gordy appeared alone; Dave Walker and Yvonne followed almost immediately.
To Leslie, knowing Trant’s reason for bringing them together, each arrival seemed frighteningly significant, like studied entrances in a play.
There was something a little stagily ominous, too, about the detective’s extreme politeness as he acted host and indicated chairs. The policemen were not visible now ; but Leslie knew they had been stationed at strategic posts, one of them outside the front door, the other on the platform of the fire escape. The thought of them completed the fantasy of the situation—that one of her friends should be a murderer and that, presumably, that person would be arrested soon.
And yet, when Lieutenant Trant finally started to speak, the blandness of his voice almost succeeded in lulling her into a false sense of security.
He said: ‘‘I’ve asked you all to come here because you are the people whom Miss Lucas invited to her party yesterday.
You’ve already told me why each of you accepted her invitation. But it’s not quite clear precisely what was in her mind when she invited you in the first place.” He paused. “That’s what I’m particularly anxious to puzzle out. After all. you weren't exactly her friends. In fact, all of you had in some way or another disappointed her.
And, to make it even more remarkable that she should have asked you to a party, most of you had a very good reason for wishing her dead.”
His grey, deceptively unobservant gaze moved around the room. “From what you’ve told me, she gave several of you different and rather confusing reasons for throwing the party.” His eyes settled on Gordy Keath. “She told you. I believe, that the party was to celebrate the acceptance of her novel.”
“Whereas in fact we know that the novel had not been accepted.” The detective’s attention had settled on Dave Walker now.
“To you, Mr. Walker, Miss Lucas implied that something was going to happen at the party which would make it unnecessary for
her to impose any longer on yoar—er—generosity lor the
free rental oí yoar house.”
Dave shifted uneasily. "That's «hat she said."
"Good.” The detective «as watching Faith Felton «hose lovely face looked pale and exotic behind a cobweb veil “When she invited you to the party. Miss Lucas said she «as hoping to be able to override your husband’s objections to dramatizing her novel, didn't she?”
"Then presuming she spoke the truth in each instance it’s not hard to reconstruct what «as in her mind. Miss Lucas must have had every reason to believe that after the party «as over, her manuscript would have been accepted as a book by Miss Cole and accepted to adapt as a vehicle for Miss Felton by Mr. Harding. It vas for that purpose that she invited you seven people to her house."
"But that's crazy." broke in Robert. “Both Mr. Harding and Mí» Cole had turned her down fiat. She couldn't have thought that a little get-together like that would persuade them-”
"Not persuade." said Trant quietly. “It wasn't to have been a question of persuasion; she'd tried that once and failed. This time she was out for blood. She «-as prepared to me—coercion."
"That’3 crazy tool" exclaimed Leslie. "No power on earth could have coerced me into publishing ‘Weeds.’ ”
Trant looked at her. "Are you sure? Wouldn’t you rather have taken a loss on publishing a bad novel than have some of your friends’ lives completely ruined?"
Jim Harding had been watching him. his dark eyes showing an alert, impersonal curiosity. "Let’s assume for the moment that Minna could have railroaded us into doing this thing. Where would it have got her? The book and the play would both have been ghastly flops—there wouldn’t have been anything in it for her."
“That's where I think you're wrong. Mr. Harding." Trant's smile came and »ent »ith alarming vividness. “Psychology's hardly a policeman's province; but I don’t think Miss Lucas’ paramount interest was money. She was one of those girls who are crazy for recognition. A novel published by Morton and Bkflakç. ja play m Bxss&nay written by you and starring Miss Felton—even if they hadn’t been commercial successes—would have put her to a certain extent in the public eye. Miss Lucas was insanely interested in the public eye.”
TJAITH said rather incredulously, “And you really mean
she was planning to blackmail all of us into foisting ‘Weeds’ on the public?”
“To a certain extent, yes. Either directly or indirectly she had a hold over all of you. I think she intended to
force you all as a group to launch her as a literary discovery." The detective paused, tapping softly on the neat surface of Leslie's desk. “But she made one mistake. Most of you knew nothing of what she was planning to do when she asked you to the party. But one of you knew everything. Miss Lucas had deliberately told that person, because her hold over him was by far the strongest and because she was planning to use him as her lever—or agent.”
Lieutenant Trant’s face was studiedly free of expression now. “As soon as I found out what Miss Lucas had against this particular person. I was pretty sure that he had murdered her because she had threatened him with exposure at the party unless he fell in with her scheme for railroading you all into boosting her thoroughly unboostabie novel. Rather unscrupulously, I’m afraid, I sent Miss Cole around to some of you with certain papers and certain instructions, in the hope that her actions would force the murderer into making a false move. My little ruse worked far more violently than I had anticipated.”
Rather shrilly Faith broke the deep silence of consternation. "You’re—you’re talking as if you knew who killed Minna!”
"Why. of course I am. Miss Felton—because I do know.” Now that he had actually said it, some of the acute tension relaxed for Leslie. And yet it was rather horrible, waiting there, doomed to ineffectual silence, waiting for the accusation which must inevitably come. Gordy’s hand had slid down the chair back to rest on her shoulder. With a swift, impulsive gesture Faith had slipped one arm through Jim’s and one through Robert’s, as if to barricade herself on both sides from—what?
lieutenant Trant's voice, sounding again, seemed unnaturally soft, hardly more than a murmur. "But we’re digressing from Miss Lucas herself. We’ve established her motive for giving the party, now. The next crucial point is to find out why she didn’t appear in person to greet her guests when they arrived.”
"But she explained that in the note she sent me,” put in Gordy jerkily. “She had a business date.”
Trant looked at him impassively. “That ’s where you re mistaken, Mr. Keath. Last night Miss Cole helped me prove something which has now been verified by typing experts. Miss Lucas herself did not write that note.”
“No. That note was entirely fictitious. Its reference to a business date was entirely false. It was written by the murderer for the simple reason that it was essential for his plans that the party should get under way although the hostess herself did not appear.”
“Then why didn’t Minna appear?” put in Robert quickly. “You don’t mean she was actually dead before Mr. Keath arrived, before the party began?”
“On the contrary. The medical evidence shows that it was absolutely impossible for Miss Lucas to have been dead before the party began.”
“Miss Lucas did not appear to greet her guests for a very good reason.” Lieutenant Trant was gazing down at his own hands. “I’ve said that she did not have a business date. That is true. But someone did visit her yesterday afternoon. That was the person whom she had been blackmailing the most unscrupulously, the person whom she had planned to use as a tool at the party, the person who had realized how impossible it was to foist her book on people who didn’t want it, and who had decided to murder her to prevent her exposing what she knew about him—wffiich she most certainly would have done if her scheme failed.”
FOR ONE second his gaze met Leslie’s and then flicked away. “That person must have arrived shortly before the party. Miss Lucas was not surprised to see him; probably she thought he had merely arrived early for the party. They went upstairs to the studio. It was then that this person carried out the first part of his extremely brilliant murder plot. He didn’t kill her. He waited his opportunity and struck her over the head with some blunt weapon which did not draw blood, but which was heavy enough to ensure her remaining unconscious for a considerable period.”
Yvonne Prévost gave a little gasp. His face very grim and set, Dave Walker slipped his arm around her waist. No one spoke.
“Yes,” continued the detective evenly, “that was the exceptionally clever aspect of this murder. Miss Lucas was killed, as it were, in two installments. On that first occasion when he was alone in the house with her, the murderer had ample time to stage the suicide tableau. He put the revolver in one hand and the last page of the novel in the other. He strewed the rest of the manuscript over the floor— arranged everything while Miss Lucas was still only unconscious.
“You see, he thought he was leaving nothing to chance. There was every reason to believe that the police would accept the false suicide at its face value. But, even if that failed him, he had a second string to his bow. Because, in spite of the fact that most of the crime was carried out before the party, Miss Lucas was actually to be killed after the party had started, in a house full of guests, nearly all of whom had as strong a motive as he for wanting her dead.”
Lieutenant Trant’s gaze had settled now on his left thumbnail. “Having done everything to Miss Lucas except fire the actual shot, the murderer typed on her typewriter the note to Mr. Keath. That was to give a plausible reason for Miss Lucas’ absence at the beginning of the party and to make certain all the other guests would get into the house. He left instructions for the radio to be turned on; he jammed the windows open in the living room so that later, when he finally did shoot her, there would be less chance of the shot being heard. It was his plan to return to the house in his capacity as guest, slip upstairs and—well, it wouldn’t have taken more than a few seconds to finish the job.”
He paused. “And the most astute part of it was that, if everything had gone right, there would have been absolutely no way for the police to guess the truth. He knew that medical evidence can establish pretty closely the actual time of death; but that it cannot possibly tell whether, or for how long a period, the victim was unconscious before the shot was fired.”
They had all been listening to him in spellbound silence. It was Gordy who finally spoke, his face puckered with bewilderment.
“But it was a crazy risk to have run. He left her upstairs there in the studio, unconscious. She might easily have come to.”
“I agree there was a certain amount of risk there—but not very much. A carefully dealt blow could have made a long period of unconsciousness almost certain.”
“But any of us arriving at the party might have gone up there and stumbled in on her. We could have told in a trice that she wasn’t dead. For one thing, there wouldn’t have been any blood.”
“But there was blood, Mr. Keath.” Lieutenant Trant’s grey eyes met his solemnly. “Nothing was overlooked. As Miss Cole and Mr. Boyer will remember, the manuscript of Miss Lucas’ novel was scattered all over the floor. I realized fairly soon that it had been put there as one of the suicide props. But I was rather puzzled by the fact that the thickest sheaf of pages was lying directly beside Miss Lucas’ head. That didn’t make sense to me until I realized that the manuscript had a second, extremely important function in the crime.”
His gaze shifted to Leslie. “Last night, Miss Cole, I pointed out to you that there was definite evidence to prove that Miss Lucas had red ink In her possession that afternoon. But there was no red ink at all in the house after the crime. I also showed you one page of the manuscript which had a stain of red ink on it. I thought you’d make the only deduction there was to make, but you didn’t. You see, when the murderer was arranging the false suicide tableau with Miss Lucas merely unconscious, he created the impression of blood by spilling red ink over the manuscript sheets which lay close to her head. Later, when he committed the actual
murder, it was easy for him to burn the ink-stained sheets in the fire and put fresh ones in their place to catch the genuine blood. Unfortunately, he omitted to burn one telltale stained page; unfortunately, too, he was unable to find any fresh red ink to fill up the empty ink well and he had to use green ink instead, a thing Miss Lucas would never have done herself and which put me on the right track.”
“But red ink!” exclaimed Dave Walker harshly. “No one would have been fooled by red ink —not after a first glance.”
“Someone almost certainly would have been fooled by the red ink, Mr. Walker.” Trant’s voice was very even now. “There was one guest at the party yesterday who had me puzzled from the beginning. She was a person over whom Miss Lucas had no sort of a hold. I couldn’t make out why she had been invited—until I realized about the red ink and saw that she had one attribute which was of extreme importance, not to Miss Lucas herself, but to Miss Lucas’ murderer.”
T_TE WAS staring at Dave. “As you say, to anyone who looked closely at that false corpse, the red ink, a dozen little things would have given it away as a frame-up. But for someone who was only allowed a brief glimpse of it, someone who, into the bargain, was distinctly short-sighted, there would have been no conceivable way of guessing that Miss Lucas was not in fact—dead.”
Leslie’s thoughts were reeling dizzily now. “You mean me! You mean Minna wasn’t dead when I discovered her?”
“Exactly, Miss Cole. That was your function in the murder plot. You were deliberately chosen for your short-sightedness, to be the person who discovered what you thought was the corpse.”
Leslie felt a sudden mounting of dread. “But who—tell me who ...”
Trant’s voice, quiet and relentless, seemed to come from miles away. “Who could it have been but one person, Miss Cole? Who pretended Miss Lucas had insisted on your going to the party although she had not actually invited you herself? Who called for you at your office and remained with you until you discovered the corpse—thus giving himself a perfect alibi, since we naturally assumed she was dead when you found her and must therefore have been killed before you got there? Who told you to report the death to the police when in fact Miss Lucas was not dead? Who saw to it that you discovered the phony corpse alone and then hustled you out of the room before you had time to get near it? Who told you to turn the radio on full blast when you telephoned—so that the sound of the bullet shooting Miss Lucas would more certainly be drowned?”
There was one long, ghastly moment of silence as everyone in the room turned to stare at Robert Boyer. His face was pale; his lips very tight; but he made no attempt to speak.
It was Faith who finally shattered the interminable quiet. She had swung round to Robert and was gripping his arm.
“Robert, he means you! He’s—he’s accusing you.” Her eyes, blazing with indignation, met Lieutenant Trant’s. “It’s crazy; it’s impossible. Robert was always the one who was so good to Minna. How could he conceivably have had a motive?”
Lieutenant Trant was watching Robert Boyer steadily. “Mr. Boyer had an overwhelmingly strong motive for murdering Miss Lucas. I guessed it just as soon as I broke open her safe and found certain papers.” He pulled two documents from his pocket and tossed them on the table. “Miss Cole has seen them. She’ll tell you that one of them was a handwritten letter from a man called Pierre Bernard. Another was a sheet of typewritten French manuscript with pencilled corrections. Miss Cole thought it was part of a rough draft of the French translation of ‘The Story of Mark.’ But she was wrong.”
He paused, turning suddenly to Leslie. “Last night, I had you type out that Canadian telegram and asked you to show it to Mr. Boyer. What I really wanted him to see was not the telegram itself but the page of French manuscript on whose back it had been typed. I wanted him to know I had found it. You see, it was not the only one; there are several others which, somehow, came into Miss Lucas’ possession and which she must have been using to bleed Mr. Boyer white. That was the crux of the whole thing. Miss Lucas, as Boyer’s secretary, had stumbled on the fact that the writing of those pencilled corrections on the French manuscript and the writing of that letter are identical—they were both written in the hand of Pierre Bernard. Everyone knows Boyer’s story of writing the novel to combat loneliness after his friend’s death. How could Bernard’s handwriting be on any copy of the manuscript?”
Robert had gone deathly white now. Leslie stared at him, half dazed, half caught out of herself in a racking surge of horror—and pity.
“Yes,” said Lieutenant Trant, and his voice had a strange finality, “that was the secret which Miss Lucas had discovered, the secret which she was planning to expose if Mr. Boyer didn’t use his immense literary prestige to force Miss Cole, Mr. Harding and Miss Felton into accepting ‘Weeds.’ Those few pages in French are all that remain of the original version of ‘The Story of Mark’—a novel which was written not in English but in French, not by Robert Boyer but by a French-Canadian boy who died in obscurity at its completion, a boy who left behind him a great book and a terrible temptation for his friend. ‘.The Story of Mark’ was written by Pierre Bernard.”
AFTER the bombshell of that announcement, the rest of what Trant had to say seemed infinitely unimportant. Leslie’s thoughts scudded at random. So that was why Robert had kept stalling Morton and Bidlake’s enquiries about his second novel. That was why he had sent that large cheque to Bernard’s mother— not out of generosity but for conscience money. Robert Boyer had pretended to be Bernard’s friend, when in fact he had stolen from him the fortune and glory which should have been his.
Robert had done that: Robert with
whom she had so very nearly let herself fall in love!
Lieutenant Trant’s voice ran on. “Now you can see why Mr. Boyer broke into Miss Cole’s apartment last night. He knew I’d got onto the lead of that French manuscript. He was hoping against hope that I would think it was just part of the French translator’s draft and attach no
suspicions to it. And yet he knew Miss Cole had something in her possession which would blow that theory higher than a kite. She had a copy of the French edition, with a handwritten inscription by the translator. Comparison of the manuscript pages with the French edition would, of course, have shown a difference in text. But that wasn’t all. If ever the handwriting of the Bernard manuscript were compared with the translator’s inscription, we would have seen at once that they were different, and would have been given a clue to the fact that the sheets of manuscript in Miss Lucas’ possession were not part of the translation. That book was far too dangerous to leave lying around. That’s why Mr. Boyer broke into this apartment last night.”
The lieutenant was looking at Leslie. “If you go to the bookshelf, Miss Cole, you’ll see that your inscribed copy of the French edition of ‘The Story of Mark’ is— gone.”
The fiat, unbroken pause which followed was almost unbearable to Leslie—like some weird silence in a dream, heralding a phantasmagorial end of the world.
Lieutenant Trant had risen to his feet. Robert had risen too. The two men stood there, staring at each other, Trant inscrutable, Robert white and haggard—but perfectly steady.
“Well, Mr. Boyer, if you have anything to say. I’m afraid I’m bound to warn you it can be used in evidence.”
Robert threw out his hands. The twisted ghost of a smile moved his lips. “I’ve nothing to say—nothing at all.”
TIEUTENANT TRANT and his policemen had gone, taking Robert Boyer with them. Vaguely, like phantoms in a dream, Leslie was conscious of Dave and Yvonne departing; of Faith squeezing her hand and then slipping away after Jimmy. She was left alone with Gordy, feeling spent and numb as if something really important had gone out of her life.
But she was glad Gordy was there. “Don’t let it get you, darling.” His voice sounded quiet and tender. “I’ll find you another tall handsome author.”
Leslie felt suddenly sorry for herself. She sniffed. “But, Gordy, it’s so frightful. Robert, of all people! I can’t believe— And I don’t want another tall handsome author.”
“Then how about a nice agent?”
Leslie looked up, her small face bewildered and owl-like. “Oh, Gordy, I don’t know what I want. I . . .”
“I know what you want.” Gordy moved closer, smiling down at her crookedly. “I bet you had no breakfast and it’s lunch time. I’m going to find some food for you.” A long moment they looked at each other. Gradually the faint suggestion of a smile stirred in Leslie’s eyes.
“All right, Gordy. I’d love to go to lunch with you. But it’s got to be—”
“I know, darling. Somewhere very expensive. With oodles of glamour.”