But He Was Already Dead When I Got There (7 page)

BOOK: But He Was Already Dead When I Got There
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“This is insane,” Simon muttered.

“Ssh.” Dorrie was looking for a good place to climb the wall.

“I don't know what's got into you, darling,” Simon complained. “You come rushing in yelling that we've got to
do
something, you drag me out of the shower, you make me dress in this ridiculous outfit—”

“You're supposed to wear black when you break into someone's house. Everybody knows that.”

“We'll go to
jail
!”

“No, we won't. Here.” Dorrie had found the part of the wall she wanted to climb; it looked no different from the rest of the wall to Simon. “Give me a leg up,” she commanded.

Simon locked his fingers together and held his hands for Dorrie to step in. He flipped her up as high as he could, and she scrambled to the top of the wall. “Now what?”

“Wait.” She dropped down on the other side.

He waited. Before long a rope came sailing over the top of the wall and dangled down on Simon's side. “I'm supposed to climb that, I assume,” he muttered.

He managed it, although the rope began to slip a little just as he reached the top. He dropped down beside Dorrie and saw she'd tied the rope to the leg of a heavy wrought-iron bench. The streetlights caused the wall to cast a heavy shadow over about half the terrace, but beyond the shadow visibility was good. Dorrie picked up her backpack and started to creep along the outside of the house.

“Wait a minute,” Simon stopped her. “Have you forgotten Uncle Vincent's alarm system? Exactly how do you plan to get in?”

“I thought of that.” Dorrie opened the backpack and pulled something out.

Simon looked at the aerosol canister she'd handed him. “Redi-Whip?”

She nodded. “You know how on television burglars are always spraying the alarm box with a white foam—to shortcircuit the wires or whatever? All we have to do is find the box and give it a squirt.”

Simon felt his head reeling. “I think that's shaving foam, darling.”

“But you use an electric razor,” she explained patiently. “Whipped cream was all we had. Come on—help me look for the box.”

Two circuits of the house failed to turn up any conveniently located alarm box. The Murdochs ended up by the double doors leading to the library, their ultimate destination. Simon folded his arms and arched an eyebrow at his frustrated-looking wife. “What now, Madame Burglar?”

“Maybe the alarm isn't turned on. We could try the doors and see. If it is turned on, we just get out of here fast and try to think of something else.”

“What if it's a silent alarm? The kind that's hooked up to the nearest police station?”

“But it's not, darling—remember the time Gretchen set it off by accident? Made one hell of a racket.”

Simon remembered. “But before we try the doors—hold on.” He put down the can of Redi-Whip and grabbed the edges of a rectangular wrought-iron table and, with much groaning and straining of muscles, carried it over and put it down flush against the wall. “In case we do have to make a quick getaway,” he said.

“Darling, that's brilliant!” Dorrie beamed at him. “Do you think you can jimmy those doors open with a screwdriver? The backpack wasn't big enough to hold a crowbar.”

“Let's try the doorknob first.” Simon reached out and turned the knob; the door swung open easily. No alarm went off.

“Hallelujah!” Dorrie cried softly, and dipped into her backpack again. “Here—I brought one for each of us.”

Simon took the flashlight she handed him. “Why don't we just turn on the lights?”

Dorrie was scandalized. “You
never
turn on the lights! The idea!”

“But with that wall blocking the view—”

“No. No lights. Absolutely not.” Her voice was firm.

Simon shrugged and turned on his flashlight, pointing the beam downward. He stepped into the library, Dorrie close behind. He played his light over the Sultanabad carpet and was startled when two yellow eyes suddenly blinked at him in the light. “The cat's in here,” he told Dorrie. “Don't step on him.”

“Simon.” Her voice was high and tight.

He looked to where her light was shining—and saw Uncle Vincent slumped over the desk in his own blood, grasping an automatic pistol in his right hand. “I think,” Simon said slowly, “we had better turn the lights on.”

“I'll do it.” Uncle Vincent disappeared as Dorrie's light moved down to the carpet. She crossed the room and flipped the light switch. “My god,” she said as Simon stepped up to the desk and bent over the corpse. “Is he …?”

“He certainly is.” Simon straightened up. “Most decidedly so.”

Dorrie stared at the gun. “Did he shoot himself? Why would Uncle Vincent commit suicide?”

Simon wrinkled his nose fastidiously and bent again for a closer look. “Don't bullets make neat little round holes?”

“I think so. They ought to.”

“Well, I don't see anything like that. It looks to me as if someone just hit him over the head with something.”

Dorrie gathered up her courage and went to the desk to see for herself. “You're right—that's what it does look like.”

“We'd better get out of here.”

She put a hand on his arm. “Not yet. We came here to get that promissory note—now it's more important than ever. Do you want to take the desk or the file cabinet?”

Bravely, Simon chose the desk. Their search failed to turn up the ever-elusive promissory note; they even looked in the drawers of the two end tables in the room.

“You know what this means, don't you?” Dorrie asked, dropping down on the sofa. “Whoever killed Uncle Vincent took it.”

“Dorrie, I think we should leave. Right now.”

“Wait, Simon—let's think this through. It must have been Lionel, don't you think?”

“Or Nicole. She has almost as big a vested interest in Ellandy's as you and Lionel.” Simon sat on the sofa beside his wife. “Lionel's the more likely one, though, I should think.”

Dorrie nodded. “And if it's that obvious to us, it will be equally obvious to the police. What happens then?”

Simon spread his hands. “Then they lock him up for the rest of his life. If he were a mass murderer, he'd get off with six or seven years.” Just then Godfrey Daniel jumped up into Simon's lap and dug in his claws before he could be pushed away. “Ow! Blasted animal.” Simon tried unsuccessfully to disengage the claws, but Godfrey held on with determination; Simon gave up and accepted the situation. “Lionel will go to jail, and since a felon is not permitted to profit from his crime—I think that's the way that goes—the loan will be called in and—”

“Called in by whom?”

“By whoever is appointed executor of Uncle Vincent's estate, I should imagine.”

“But how can the executor call in the loan if he doesn't have the promissory note?” Dorrie persisted. “Simon, Ellandy's just may be off the hook. I'll bet Lionel's already destroyed the note by now.”

Simon shook his head. “How he hopes to get away with it, I'll never know.”

Godfrey meowed harshly, tired of being ignored. Dorrie stretched out a hand and stroked the cat's back. “Yes, that's the difficulty, isn't it? If he
doesn't
get away with it, Ellandy's is doomed.”

A suspicion began to dawn in Simon's mind. “Dorrie …”

“Look around you. Look at this room—everything in place. It doesn't look at all as if, say, an ordinary, everyday sort of burglary has taken place here, does it?”

Simon noticed she herself avoided looking in the direction of the desk. “Darling, if you have in mind what I think you have in mind—”

“Say we make this place look as if a burglar broke in and Uncle Vincent surprised him. Uncle Vincent managed to get his gun out of his desk drawer, but the burglar was too quick for him. He bashed Uncle Vincent on the head and then made his escape! How does that sound?”

“Dorrie, my love—are you absolutely certain you want to aid and abet a killer? Think about it.”

Dorrie thought about it seriously for several minutes. “Yes,” she said.

Simon's half-smile returned, the first time since they'd found Uncle Vincent in his defunct state. “And I suppose there's no chance of talking you out of it?”

“No chance in the world.” She jumped up from the sofa. “Come on—let's do it.”

“I will if this blasted cat lets me get up.” Godfrey permitted it. Dorrie was already busy pulling out desk drawers and emptying the contents on the floor. “Wouldn't a burglar actually
take
something?” Simon asked.

“Oh—yes, he would, wouldn't he? Why don't you take that little jade horse? And that pearl inlay box on the end table. Whatever looks worth stealing.” Dorrie gritted her teeth and awkwardly removed Uncle Vincent's expensive watch from his left wrist, needing to take off one glove to do so.

“What about the Degas?” Simon suggested.

Dorrie considered. “Too awkward. We have to carry all this stuff, you know.” She put her glove back on.

“Billfold—I'll bet the old boy carried his billfold with him around the house.” Simon went through the dead man's pockets and found the billfold. “Aha!”

“Don't forget the credit cards.”

Simon removed the cash and the credit cards and dropped the billfold in a conspicuous place on the carpet. Godfrey Daniel immediately pounced on the billfold and started knocking it around the floor with his paws. “Leave that alone, you wretched creature!” Simon hissed. “Do you want to spoil our evidence?” He toed the billfold under the desk where the cat couldn't get at it.

Dorrie threw a couple of the sofa cushions on the floor. “It still doesn't look messed-up enough.” She pulled open a file drawer and started tossing papers up in the air. Godfrey loved that; he stood on his hind legs and batted at the falling pages. “Darling, shouldn't those terrace doors look as if they'd been broken open?” Dorrie asked. “There's a screwdriver in the backpack.”

“I've got a better idea.” Simon stepped out onto the terrace, turned his head away, and thrust a gloved fist through the glass panel nearest the doorknob.

The sound of breaking glass made both cat and woman start. “Oh my—that did make a bit of noise, didn't it?” Dorrie caught sight of a black, orange, and white tail twitching nervously from beneath the sofa. “Do you suppose anyone heard?”

“We'd better leave—come on.”

She glanced toward the mantlepiece. “What about that clock? It's worth several thousand at least.”

“Leave it—we've got more than we can carry now. Oh … the lights. The lights were off when we got here.”

Dorrie frowned. “Would a burglar who'd just killed a man stop to turn off the lights?”

“You're right. Let's go.” Simon went out on the terrace, wondering how they were going to get all their loot over the wall. “We'll have to toss this stuff over, I suppose, one piece at a time. Or—wait a minute.” The walled terrace encircled only three-fourths of the house, leaving the front entrance clear. At each end of the terrace was a metal gate—locked from the outside only. “Darling, see if you can lift the latch on that gate. My arms are full.”

Dorrie managed to get the heavy gate open and held it while Simon passed through. But when she tried to prop it open—to make it appear as if the burglar had left in a rush—it swung to behind her and fastened with a noisy click.

“Oh well,” said Simon. “The police will figure that's what happened to the burglar, too.”

The latch on the library door clicked and the door itself slowly began to inch open. Godfrey Daniel was instantly alert.

Malcolm Conner peered into the room, and grimaced at what he saw. He stepped inside and closed the door behind him. Malcolm stood quite still for a few moments, gazing in confusion at the glorious disarray around him. He took in the gaping file cabinet drawers, the papers scattered everywhere, the sofa cushions on the floor, the desk drawers pulled out and turned upside down.

Finally he focused his attention on Uncle Vincent. He crossed over to the desk and pulled Nicole's scarf out of his jacket pocket. Carefully he untied the knots; and using the scarf to handle each piece, he placed half the broken alabaster Hermes on the desk and the other half on the floor.

Malcolm stepped back to examine the effect. Satisfied, he stuffed the scarf back in his pocket and left, absent-mindedly switching off the lights as he went.

Bored, Godfrey went back to sleep.

The lights clicked on. Godfrey yawned and resettled himself, waiting patiently to see what this one was going to do.

Lionel Knox leaned against the closed library door, gazing in horror at the scene before him. “Jesus Christ,” he muttered. Slipping off one glove, he quickly crossed to the desk and felt for a pulse in Uncle Vincent's left wrist. Finding none, he stood in a brown study for a while, barely aware of the cat rubbing against his leg.

Lionel put his glove back on. He hunkered down and picked up a piece of paper from the floor and glanced at it. He dropped it, picked up another. Godfrey leaped to the back of the sofa, catching Lionel's eye. “What happened here, Godfrey?” he asked. The cat blinked at him.

Methodically Lionel started working his way through every piece of paper in the room. He'd look at each one only long enough to see what it was and then go on to the next. The job took him nearly half an hour, and when he finished he still didn't have what he was looking for.

Lionel sat on the floor thinking, his forearms resting on his knees. Godfrey trotted up between the man's knees and raised his head to be petted; Lionel obliged. “I think I know what happened,” he told the cat.

With a new sense of purpose, Lionel got up and went around behind the desk. Gritting his teeth, he took hold of Uncle Vincent's shoulders and pulled him back so that the dead man was sitting more or less upright in the wheelchair. Lionel grasped the chair's handgrips and wheeled Uncle Vincent out to the middle of the room. There he unceremoniously dumped the corpse on the floor. “Sorry, Uncle Vincent,” Lionel muttered. “It's necessary.” He fetched the automatic from the desk and shoved it under Uncle Vincent's body.

BOOK: But He Was Already Dead When I Got There
13.52Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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