The One Who Didn't
DARCY TROBRIDGE, ambling downstairs from late morning sleep, paused on the bottom step and peered warily into the front room. At
sight of the two women by the parlor fire, his dissipated young face sharpened with appraisal.
Never before had he seen even his Aunt Frisbe’s imperious spine attain such a degree of rigidity. Although her eyes were on the morning paper, she gave the impression of intent listening, as if her body beneath the grey cashmere were a focused seismograph, set for eagerly expected tremors somewhere in the house. And his sister Olive, knitting a sweater for her love, worked her needles this morning in a series of furious clicks, explosive as firecrackers.
Darcy took it all in. Then, assuming his habitual indolence, he strolled over to the archway and leaned against the jamb. “What’s eating you two gals?” he asked.
His aunt turned slowly, her grey eyes sharp with disapproval. “If you had favored us with your presence any time yesterday, Darcy, you would know that your uncle has had another attack.”
“Why, the old boy can’t be so very sick. I heard him come down a little while ago.”
Without reply Miss Frisbe withdrew behind her paper, noncommittal as a grey lizard retreating into a rock wall, and Darcy turned enquiringly to his sister. Their glances, pointed with mutual question, crossed and parried.
Then the girl said uncertainly, “You woke mo when you came in last night. I heard Uncle George call you into his room . . .”
“Yes, and he gave me hell for waking him. What’s the matter? Has he been . . .?” He broke off, turning as the door across the hall burst open and George Frisbe, with his friend Haslett at his heels, hurried out of the study.
Olive and Miss Frisbe jumped up, speaking simultaneously. “Good morning, Uncle George.”—“Are you feeling better, George?”
“I’m all right again, and I’m hungry,” he answered shortly, without interrupting his rapid trot down the wainscotted hall.
The others crowded after him, hut he was still in the lead when he reached the dining room. Hurrying to the table he took a capsule from the medicine bottle at his place, tossed the pill into his throat and swallowed it without water. “Bella, we’re ready for lunch,” he called.
The cook brought in the soup, and as soon as they were served Frisbe began to spoon up his hot bouillon greedily. The others started in slowly, sipping broth arid nibbling crackers in an uneasy expectant silence.
A ray of sunshine slanting along the richly set table fell across the two narrow Frisbe heads, highlighting the similarity of the lean cheeks, long eyes and jutting chins. But George’s yellow skin was in contrast to his white hair, and there was a curious wistful ness in his face, while his sister’s grey monotone was all of duty’s daughter. The niece and nephew, too, bore the trademark of the family in their narrow, arrogant features, although admixture of Tro bridge blood had softened the mold.
But the fingering sunbeam revealed no trace of Frisbe in the occupant of the fifth chair. Eric Haslett was as foreign in this tall house, among these long and narrow Frisbes, as a steeplechaser penned in with carefully stepping carriage horses.
Yet he, too, was constrained. Leaving his soup untasted lie sat with his head bent to one side in an attitude of intent absorption.
Frisbe, oblivious of the nervous atmosphere, drank his bouillon and leaned back in his chair, munching a cracker. “Well, Eric, tell us about your trip to New York,” he said. “Have any fun ... or was it all business?” His voice was mocking, yet not unfriendly, and intimate with a shared joke.
For a moment Haslett seemed not to have heard. Then his face, a testament of reckless living, tightened
with sudden decision and he was on his feet, rushing to the kitchen, shouting for mustard, for hot water.
Before they could grasp the situation he was back with a pitcher, thrusting it against Frisbe’s lips, forcing the yellow liquid into his throat. “Get this down quick, man! You’re full of poison!”
Unable to speak the old man spluttered, his eyes alarmed. When he began to gulp the emetic, Haslett turned to Olive. “Get your thiosulphate. Run!” After several swallows Frisbe pulled back from the pitcher, his face working. Sweat broke out, and he doubled over in a paroxysm of nausea. Haslett supported him, trying to guide him toward the bathroom, but midway to the door Frisbe collapsed.
Olive, rushing in from the hall with a bottle, stared down at her uncle in dismay. “Do you want this? . . . Is he . . .?”
Miss Frisbe, who had been shouting unheard in the confusion, took over in the sudden lull. She turned furiously on Haslett. “What’s the meaning of all this? What have you done to my brother?” Then,
“Darcy, call Doctor Jerome!”
But Haslett, kneeling beside his friend, raised a face twisted with torment. “No doctor can help him now. You’ve killed him!”
THE police car passed the parked sedan and stopped before the porte-cochère in a scurry of gravel. The plain-clothes man at the wheel jumped out, but Captain Kiefer, head of the homicide squad, sat on for a moment, looking at the gloomy Frisbe residence. Although heavy clouds were closing in on the wintry afternoon, it seemed to him that the tall grey house before him distilled its own shadows.
The captain’s man-in-the-street face was mated to a personality he took pain? to conceal. His colleagues, to whom subtlety would have been incomprehensible anyway, considered him sound but slow. He liked to approach a case with deliberation, skirting it while he sniffed the atmosphere, taking stock of the intangibles which so often guided him in the conduct of an enquiry. And this house with its narrow, pillared portico proclaimed a way of life. It was a rigid credo in stone, redolent of Victorian matrimony, austere good works and the sanctity of profits. The captain viewed it with distaste, but he descended from the car without comment.
As the two men went up the steps they could see a pink jellyfish of a face gazing at them through the plate-glass entrance. The door opened on their approach and a rotund little man said, “Captain Kiefer? I’m Dr. Jerome. The medical examiner is here, in the dining room with the body. Shall I take you on back, or do you want to talk to Miss Frisbe first? She’s expecting—”
Interrupting the words spouting from the little physician like bursts of steam from a kettle, Kiefer introduced his assistant, Puckett, and after a hasty glance at the formidable silhouette awaiting him in the parlor, he said he’d join the medical examiner.
When they entered the dining room the medical examiner was closing his bag. “I suppose you’ll want an autopsy,” he said to Kiefer.
“But I can tell you now it was cyanide. He got it in one of those capsules.” He nodded toward a medicine bottle standing on the table. “The doctor tested one of the pills before notifying us—”
“Perhaps I overstepped there,” Jerome broke in nervously. “But I thought the family was just hysterical. I couldn’t believe it! They were making accusations, and Haslett had tried to give him sodium thiosulphate—that’s the antidote for cyanide, you know. So I thought I’d better look into it. As soon as I found the capsules were poisoned I phoned you.” “No harm done.” The medical examiner picked up his overcoat and turned to Kiefer. “Frisbe took a pill before lunch. Since the others ate the same food, the doctor figures, if he was poisoned, it must have been by the medicine. He took the bottle down to the medical school lab. They analyzed one of the other capsules and found potassium cyanide.”
“What were the pills for?” Kiefer asked.
“They were digestive capsules—my prescription. Frisbe had them made up at Hewitt’s Pharmacy,”
One of the fourjn that grim grey mansion wanted George Frisbe to stay alive . . . But which one?
Jerome said. “And he’d already taken half of them, one before each meal.”
“Then he’d had a pill from this bottle at breakfast?” Kiefer asked.
“No, he’d been sick. He hadn’t eaten since yesterday morning,” Jerome said. “And during that 24 hours the pills must have been poisoned. But how on earth could Haslett have guessed ...”
“When can I have the body?” the medical examiner asked. He had put on his coat, and though he stood by the table he created the illusion of being already halfway through the door.
Kiefer looked over the room thoughtfully, at the corpse on the floor, the disarray of dishes. “You can have it picked up as soon as you like,” he said. “There’s no point in taking pictures. The only significant thing here is the medicine bottle. We’ll want that, Puckett, but with the handling it’s had I doubt you’ll find anything. After it’s printed have the rest of the pills analyzed.”
Puckett, with due precaution, stored the bottle in his satchel and followed the other men into the hall.
When the medical examiner had slammed his way out, Jerome, still aboil, said, “Miss Frisbe knows . . . rather, she accuses—that is, she wants to tell you ...” He looked toward the parlor, where the lady of the house, attended by her niece, sat grimly listening to their conversation.
“Before I see the family I’d like to go over the situation with you, doctor,” Kiefer said.
“Yes, yes, of course. We can talk in here,” Jerome said, using an old-fashioned key to open a door at the left of the hall. “This is George’s study. Miss Frisbe asked me to hold the key for you,” he explained, and leaving the key in the lock he led the way into a room reminiscent of a museum antechamber.
Although the window at the front admitted waning daylight, Kiefer turned on a lamp for cheer. “Now, doctor,” he said as he settled himself, “let’s have the whole story.”
“But I can’t make head or tail of it,” Jerome said, his pink jowls trembling with bewilderment. “Frisbe was dead when I arrived. It looks like murder. But why kill a dead man? Frisbe was moribund, you know. An inoperable case.”
The unnatural death of his patient, the first such in a long and conservative practice, had jolted the doctor beyond coherence, and Kiefer set himself to patient questioning. From the scramble of miscellaneous facts elicited he gradually pieced together the relevant bits.
The picture was now reasonably clear.
George Frisbe was an incurable. He knew it, but he was a religious man, unalterably opposed to suicide. Moreover, he had not been in much pain, and had opiates for his occasional attacks. He’d even been planning a trip south for some deep-sea fishing. He wanted to make the most of the time he had left, which, Jerome estimated, should have been about a year.
As for the poison, there was a stock of that in the house. The niece, Olive Trobridge, made a hobby of handcraft jewellery. She used the cyanide in her work, and in accordance with standard practice she kept the antidote, thiosulphate, on hand too, in case of accident.
“But,” the doctor exclaimed, his body going into gelatinous upheaval as he threw out his hands, “the most extraordinary thing was Haslett’s giving him the emetic before he showed any sign of poisoning. And if he knew the cyanide was in the capsule, why did he let him swallow it in the first place?”
“That would seem to be the crux of the whole thing,” Kiefer said. “But before I get his story I want to . . .”
“Haslett hasn’t explained anything,” Jerome said. “He won’t say a word. Not a word ! He’s kept himself shut up in his room ever since.”
“Now if he’d poisoned that pill himself,” Kiefer began slowly, “and wanted to clear himself of suspicion, couldn’t he have given the emetic, and even the thio, in the certainty that nothing could save Frisbe by then? Once a man swallows cyanide he’s a goner, unless he gets the antidote lightning quick.”
“But not in this case,” Jerome said. “The poison was in a capsule that dissolves slowly in the process of digestion. It ordinarily would have come up intact with the mustard water. However, Frisbe hadn’t eaten for 24 hours, his stomach was full of gastric juice, and as he had an acid condition anyway, the capsule dissolved with extraordinary rapidity. But it was a fluke. In 99 cases out of 100 the measures Haslett took would have worked.”
The doctor’s statement carried conviction. Finding himself on purely medical grounds he had recovered his professional assurance. “Moreover,” he said, “I’d warned Miss Frisbe the end might come unexpectedly. There was always possibility of hemorrhage. I wouldn’t have questioned the death if Haslett hadn’t given the emetic. And Haslett’s no fool. You can take it he made a valid attempt to save Frisbe.”
“What is Haslett’s connection with the family?” Kiefer asked.
The doctor’s face warmed up, his eyes glinting with the eagerness of a gourmet settling down to a choice dish. “Haslett was Frisbe’s friend. A recent but a very close friend.” Then professional discipline quenched the wayward impulses of the inveterate old gossip, and he concluded stiffly, “He’s been living here for some months.”
He glanced at his watch.
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The One Who Didn't
Continued from page 17
“I must get back to my office, captain. Shall I introduce Miss Frisbe now? She is suffering greatly, but she has her distress well under control.”
WHEN he brought the bereaved sister into the study, the set of her jaw suggested that being well in control was a habit Miss Frisbe had acquired early in life.
During Jerome’s introduction she coolly appraised the homespun ingredients of Kiefer’s face, and as soon as the doctor departed she took the reins firmly in hand, announcing didactically, “Eric Haslett murdered my brother, Captain Kiefer.”
Imperiously she waved away his questions. “No, I didn’t see him tamper with the pills.”—“Nobody actually saw him take the cyanide from Olive’s room.”—“Captain, will you kindly refrain from interrupting and let me tell you what happened?”
It was not the first time Kiefer had been assessed at face value. With equanimity he let the lady go at her own pace.
“Seven months ago,” she said, “my brother met this man, Eric Haslett, and took an extraordinary fancy to him, although he was not the sort of person he had ever cared to associate with before.”
She was chill with distaste for the subject, her manner that of a head mistress explaining indisputable but unpleasant facts of life to her pupils. “Haslett insinuated himself, took over as business manager at a handsome salary, and moved into this house. He established such a hold that my brother even put him in his will.” “Blackmail?” Kiefer suggested. “Certainly not. Mr. Frisbe led an exemplary life. But he was ill, and had become, for some reason, dependent on this man’s company. He was utterly deluded.”
While speaking she fingered her dress with an odd picking motion, as if ; removing bits of invisible lint. An unconscious gesture, Kiefer decided, symptomatic perhaps of a persistent tendency to pluck the fluff from others, to tidy up their lives for them.
“I told Mr. Frisbe the map was obviously loose-living and predatory,” she exclaimed. “But for the first time in his life he disregarded my advice. So I took things in my own hands. I employed a detective agency. And on Monday, two days ago, 1 received their first report.”
With a first show of emotion she leaned toward the captain, her obsidian eyes relishing her disclosure. “Eric Haslett was in New York on the pretext of business—but actually for a spree. Liquor! Women! Dice! He had been a bootlegger and a gambler. He’d been in jail!” She leaned back with a wickedly triumphant smile. “I turned over the documents to my brother that night.”
“And what was his reaction to that?” “He phoned his lawyer to come the next day. Mr. Newcomb came—that was yesterday morning—and my niece overheard them talking in here. Everything previously left to Haslett was to go to Darcy in a new will. And,” she leaned forward again, impressing the point with her dominating eyes, “Eric Haslett heard that conversation too.”
She glanced from Kiefer to Lieut. Puckett, gratified with her effect. “My brother was to sign the new will this afternoon. Last night, after we retired, Haslett sat on alone downstairs. There was a supply of cyanide in Olive’s workroom, and the pills were on the sideboard.
“I leave the inevitable conclusion to you.” She rose majestically. “Mr. Newcomb is on his way here. He will confirm me. Meanwhile I shall send Olive to tell you her part of the story.” She swept out the door in a satisfied exit.
In a few minutes the girl came in alone. Her youthful appeal aroused a response only in part paternal, and Lieut. Puckett seated her with more than routine courtesy.
Olive had the long face of her mother’s family, but her narrow eyes were set at an alluring angle, and her coloring, very black and very white, made her charming. However, the roundness of youth disguised a chin that would some day resemble her Aunt Frisbe’s.
She had been crying. But an inner glow, which Kiefer recognized, shone through the surface layer of grief. It was the special radiance of a woman in love.
In answer to his questions she told her story, glancing from one to another of the men with a pretty deference. She had been in the parlor yesterday. Around noon Haslett arrived unexpectedly from New York. When he came in a gust of wind blew through the hall, the study door swung ajar, and she heard the lawyer say, “Then all those mining shares now go to Darcy?” And he had laughed—a funny laugh. Then her uncle and Mr. Newcomb came out of the study.
Olive showed no reluctance in discussing the episode, but Kiefer perceived she was desperately uneasy, afraid of other questions he might ask. Wondering how he could get at whatever it was she was withholding, he said, “And then what happened?”
Her uncle had been surprised to find Haslett back, she continued, but didn’t listen to the explanation. His face was drawn with pain and he started up the stairs, telling her to bring his special medicine. She took him his palliative pills and left him alone. Her aunt had glanced into his room occasionally, but since he wasn’t allowed to eat for 24 hours after an attack, and as the opiate induced long sleep, he had been left undisturbed. He had come downstairs shortly before lunch and . . .
Olive was like one of those Chinese sets of a box within a box within a box, Kiefer thought. First there was the superficial shock over her uncle, then the deeper layer, the buoyant happiness of love reciprocated, and finally, at the core, this fear which had become increasingly apparent as she talked.
But nothing should concern her so deeply, penetrate the sheath of her love except . . .
Except a threat to the love itself, Kiefer concluded in sudden illumination. And following up his hunch with a blind try, he asked, “Why did your uncle object to this young man of yours?”
“Oh, but he didn’t object to him,” she protested in a flurry of emotion. “He liked Ned—Mr. Bryant. It was just that he didn’t want me to marry on a short engagement.
“You see,” she rushed on, thoroughly agitated now, “my mother married my father, in 1917, on short acquaintance. It didn’t turn out well. She divorced him just before she died. So uncle was against hasty marriages.”
“And you were all for a short engagement?” Kiefer prodded.
For a fraction of a second she hesitated, then she glanced down at her trembling hands and murmured uncertainly, “I ... I don’t know.”
But the defiant passion that had flared up in her eyes before she screened them with her black lashes had given
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Kiefer the true answer. “That’s all for now,” he said. “Will you tell your brother we’re ready for him?”
“Darcy isn’t here,” she answered. “I think he went out for a drink.” And with head high, and back as rigid as her Aunt Frisbe’s, she walked from the room.
Il EUT. PUCKETT looked after her j appreciatively. “A hot little number,” he said. “And it looks like she didn’t get on with the old man.” He doodled a curvaceous figure beneath the shorthand in his notebook. “But this Haslett, now, had a motive that stands up and barks.”
“I haven’t forgotten Haslett,” Kiefer said. “We’ll have him in now—and tell Miss Frisbe I want to see that lawyer, Newcomb, as soon as he gets here.” When Puckett left, the captain crossed to the kidney-shaped desk standing at right angles to the fireplace. A pile of loose papers held down by a glass weight lay on the top beside a crammed letter fold. Kiefer picked up the weight, and the azure liquid inside rolled up miniature waves, rocking the little schooner that floated on the water.
His imagination tickled, the captain dallied with the toy, smiling as the tiny ship bobbed furiously, riding out the storm he shook into being. He wondered how Frisbe had come by it. The thing was fantastically out of keeping with the sombre study, with the uncompromising atmosphere of the whole house.
The dead man’s features had recorded an arid life. But perhaps, despite his apparent dedication to the sterner virtues, romantic longings had persistently bubbled. Kiefer was still looking at the glass ball, musing, when Lieut. Puckett returned with Frisbe’s unaccountable friend.
Eric Haslett’s aquiline nose, bold sardonic glance and swing of body came straight from some buccaneer forebear. He acknowledged his introduction to
Kiefer with assurance, pulled a chair into a position he liked better, sat down, and waited imperturbably for the captain’s opening gambit.
“Mr. Haslett, why did you give an antidote to Frisbe before he showed any sign of poisoning?” Kiefer asked.
The buccaneer pulled a cigarette from his pocket and looked at it thoughtfully. “To explain just why I acted as I did, captain, I’ll have to give you the background of this thing.” He struck a match, and, holding it to his cigarette, asked over the flame, “Have you talked to Darcy Trobridge?”
On the captain’s negative, he said, “George didn’t like his nephew, who is a weakling, a wastrel and a drunkard. But he had him in his will for a quarter million, to protect the other heirs. Because that will would have been broken if he had cut out his blood nephew and left a fourth of the estate— to me, for instance.” Pie threw a glance of impudent challenge at the captain.
Kiefer, refusing to be drawn, waited in stony silence, and Haslett, still unperturbed, continued. “George was leaving me his stock in a Bolivian silver mine, and was giving Darcy a block of industrials, though he didn’t want him to get a red cent. That was the situation when we began getting bad reports from the mine. Confidential information. The vein was expected to run out in a couple of years. However, it was still yielding a good return.” He drew on his cigarette, regarding Kiefer shrewdly. “Do you see the chance that was for George?”
“I think I follow you,” Kiefer said, slowly. “Frisbe knew he was going to die soon. If he left that stock to Darcy, the boy would be satisfied, live high on his dividends for a while, and then the mine would go bust.”
“That’s it. George was contemplating some other changes too. When he had them worked out he was going to make a new will. But in any event, I was to get the industrials and Darcy the mine. Plowever,” he shrugged his
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shoulders with bitterness, “someone intervened with cyanide, and now I’m the one left with the lemon.”
“Yes, but what reason did Frisbe have for leaving a quarter million to you?” Kiefer asked.
“George was under no illusion about me, captain,” Haslett answered with a twisted, deprecatory smile, and Kiefer felt the charm of the man. “He knew me for the sort I am, but ... he liked me.” He said it simply, without selfconsciousness.
“George’s mother and his sister taught him that wealth was a social responsibility,” he explained. “He never had any fun. Every act of his was dictated by duty. Then, when he found himself facing the end, something in him woke up. Perhaps I gave him, at secondhand, a sense of the adventure, the excitement of life.”
He walked over to the window, and as he stood, head thrust forward, broad shoulders hunched, he reminded Kiefer of a panther, or other great cat, charged with controlled but explosive energy. “We were planning some sea fishing. In his last few months George was going to let himself go . . . have fun . . . learn the feel of an open boat on the sea.” He swung around. “He was entitled to that taste of real living, captain, and hanging’s too good for the rat who did him out of it.”
YOU’RE accusing Darcy Tro-
“I don’t know.” As Haslett pondered sombrely they heard a car stop out front. “Darcy might have found out . . . But,” he went on reluctantly, “George was making more than the one change in his will. There were others who . . .” He said, glancing out the window, “Here comes Newcomb. He can tell you about that.” And he started toward the door.
“Hold on there,” the captain ordered. “You haven’t explained that antidote. How did you know Frisbe had been poisoned and with cyanide at that?” Haslett stopped beside the centre table and slowly stubbed out his cigarette. After a minute he looked up. “In the course of your work, Kiefer, don’t you sometimes act on a hunch? Call it what you want to—instinct, intuition, psychic perception—there’s something that warns the trained man of danger.
“When you live in the jungle, as I have, captain, you develop a special awareness. It puts you on the alert an instant before the hidden cobra strikes. My senses are honed fine. They have to be. I’m an adventurer and a gambler. More than once my life has depended on a split-second warning of the other fellow’s intention . . .” “Good Lord, Haslett,” Kiefer broke in. “You surely don’t expect me to believe that some kind of extrasensory perception told you there was cyanide in that capsule?”
“Of course there was more to it than that,” Haslett said. “While I was in New York George had been nettled by certain members of his family, and he’d drawn up the new will right off. He told me about it just before lunch today, and when we went into the dining room it was in my mind that three people were going to lose heavily if he lived to sign that will.”
His eyes, beneath piratical eyebrows, were not mocking now. “I was subconsciously prepared, you see, and when we began to eat it came to me like an electric shock—the awareness of something wrong, of menace. There was a tension, a dreadful expectancy in that room. Someone’s glands were pouring out adrenalin! I could smell the murderous intent! I’m a man of action. I got that emetic into George
without stopping to think. Then I remembered all the cyanide in the house, and sent Olive for the thio on the off chance. But . . .”
The door opened quietly. Haslett glanced toward it, then said, “You may laugh at extrasensory perception, captain, but if I had acted on mine an instant sooner, ¡ George would be alive now.” And shouldering his way past the small man at the door he strode from the room.
Newcomb, coming in, looked after him with a quizzical smile. Kiefer knew the little lawyer well. Although he was a legal wisp of a man, there was nothing stilted about his mind. Without hesitation he discussed the two wills, confirming Haslett’s statements. Frisbe, knowing the mine would soon be worthless, was switching bequests to Darcy’s loss and Haslett’s gain.
Newcomb was amused by Frisbe’s scheme for outwitting his nephew, but when Kiefer asked how Olive Trobridge was affected by the new will, he answered with gravity. “Originally she was to receive the income from a fourth of the estate and get the capital on reaching 40. But Frisbe was adding a codicil. She lost the entire claim if she married a man to whom she had been engaged for less than a year.”
Lieut. Puckett let out a significant whistle, and after a moment Kiefer said, “She’s rather an impetuous young lady, isn’t she? And much in love . . . I wouldn’t be surprised if she were already Mrs. Bryant. You’d better check on a secret marriage, Puckett.” He turned back to Newcomb. “And what were Miss Frisbe’s prospects?”
“She received her fourth outright under the old will. But in this new unsigned document” — Newcomb tapped the papers he’d taken from his brief case—“she was given the use of the income only. On her death the capital went to specified charities.”
“Then she wasn’t appreciably affected by the new will?” Kiefer asked, surprised. “I thought . . .” he let his sentence lapse, and in the pause the lawyer started to speak, then checked himself.
Finally interest in the truth prevailed over his reluctance to discuss his clients. Newcomb said, “On the contrary it was a very cruel punishment indeed. Miss Frisbe has a dominating personality. Her church and related groups make up her world, and if she had a quarter million to leave as she wished, she could dictate everything, from the shape of the chandelier in the vestry to the menus served in the orphanage. But with the income alone her power would be exceedingly limited, and power is her breath of life.”
“Why was her brother doing this to her?” Kiefer asked.
“It was a beautiful irony,” Newcomb said. His smile was reminiscent and a little sad. “George was always a very, very good boy. But sooner or later a man has to sow a few wild oats, and Haslett was Frisbe’s belated, and vicarious, oat. That friendship entertained and stimulated Frisbe. It was an escape from the monotony of his life—and from thought of imminent death.
“Then,” he continued grimly, “Miss Frisbe dug up unsavory facts from Haslett’s past and laid them before her brother on Monday night. Frisbe knew Haslett had lived by his wits, but he had seen it in a romantic light, and Miss Frisbe’s sordid details took the gloss off.”
“Yet right afterward he changed his will in Haslett’s favor,” Kiefer protested. “That doesn’t make sense.”
“Eric’s companionship was the only diversion left to Frisbe,” the lawyer said. “She’d taken the heart out of it, but he still clung to the shell, and he
turned not against his friend but on his sister. She had broken his toy, and he wanted to hurt her exactly as she had hurt him. He emasculated his gift to her, so that she, too, would be left at the end of her life with nothing but an empty shell.”
“And he was poisoned before he could sign that will,” the captain mused. “If they knew what was in it— and they may well have found out— then we have three people in this house with motive, with means, with opportunity.”
The lawyer lit a cigar and smoked placidly while Kiefer thought it over. After a few moments the captain asked abruptly, “Frisbe hadn’t mentioned changing his will until he phoned you on Monday?”
“No,” Newcomb answered. “We walked in the park together on Sunday and he had nothing on his mind. Then the next night he called me in a tearing hurry to make a new will. He stiffened as if stung. “By jove! That would indicate . . .!”
But Kiefer, one jump ahead, was already on his feet, hurrying to the dead man’s desk. Lieut. Puckett and Newcomb peered over his shoulders as he leafed through the large letter fold. He pulled out a sheet of correspondence, glanced through it rapidly.
He saw, first, the letterhead of a mining concern in Bolivia, then caught glimpses of typescript . . . “Regret to inform you . . . unexpected indications . . . ore-bearing streak running out ...”
Kiefer dropped the letter on the desk and faced about with controlled excitement. “Three of the four people in this house had a motive for poisoning Frisbe. Yet he was killed by the one who didn't!” He broke off, whirling at the sound of an old-fashioned key turning in the lock.
Lieut. Puckett hurled himself at the door, but Kiefer went to the window. As he struggled with the sash he saw a figure hurtle down the steps, and leap into the police car. “Your gur, Puckett, damn it, your gun!” he yelled.
He had the window up when Puckett reached his side, and, grabbing the pistol from his assistant, he fired at the car, now gathering speed down the circular drive. The bullet struck a rear tire and the automobile, swerving, crashed into a giant oak.
A figure stumbled from the wreckage and the captain fired again.
BUT why? Why in oehosaphat did Haslett kill him?” Puckett asked. “Look at that date line,” the captain answered, pointing to the letter he had extracted from Frisbe’s file. It lay now on his desk at headquarters. He had made his arrest, turned over the wounded man to the jail authorities, and had yet to write his report. Sighing, he glanced at his watch.
Puckett was still staring at the letter in the manner of a child given a toy too old for him, and Kiefer, relenting, laid down his pen. “That letter, air-mailed from Bolivia, couldn’t have reached Frisbe before Monday. And on Monday Haslett was in New York.”
Puckett’s blankness remained unleavened, and the captain said, “Haslett evidently discovered he was being tailed, and, guessing that Miss Frisbe was back of it, he came rushing home to offset, if he could, the effect her information would have on Frisbe. And on stepping into the house Tuesday morning, he heard Newcomb say the mining stock was to go to Darcy. At that time he didn’t know the mine was worthless. He thought Miss Frisbe had turned her brother against him.”
“But I thought . . . Oh, then that letter was the first bad report from the mine,” Puckett said, comprehension coming suddenly. “Haslett thought he was going to be cut out, and that night he fixes his death trap. Then the next morning, just before lunch, Frisbe tells him the mine is going bust but he’s drawn up a new will leaving him a quarter million in good stock . . . Lord ! What a situation !”
“And before Haslett could get to the pills, Frisbe, terribly hungry after his fast, rushed into the dining room and swallowed a poisoned capsule,” Kiefer said. “Haslett must have been frantic, yet what could he do without giving himself away? He lost valuable time trying to figure an out. Finally he decided to chance it, to save Frisbe first, in the hope he could think up an explanation later.
“He gave the emetic, he sent for the specific antidote, he did everything possible. But the capsule broke, and Frisbe was killed by the one who didn’t want him to die.”