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Authors: Robert Bruce Sinclair

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BOOK: The Eleventh Hour
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“Oh.” He felt a little foolish at his inept effort to trap her. “Just what kind of help did you expect to be to me?”

“Why, cook and keep house, and keep people from bothering you. Being a writer, I’m sure you wouldn’t be very good at those things yourself. Of course, that’s one of the things about you that always appealed to me — being a writer, I mean. There’s something sort of glamorous about a writer.”

A sardonic glint came into his eyes. “Your sister didn’t think—” He stopped himself just in time. “Helen didn’t tell me you were like this,” he substituted rather lamely.

That’s her plan,
he thought. To trap him in the course of casual conversation; to lead him on until he revealed his true feeling about Helen. He believed now that Helen had not written her, but he knew also that she had some suspicion which she was determined to confirm. She was beguiling, easy to talk to, and it was inevitable that if he did talk to her, he would betray himself: he would make that one slip which would be the first, and fatal, flaw in his armor. He had to get her out of the house: whatever Bauer might learn from her was less dangerous than what she could learn from him.

“You can’t stay here,” he said abruptly.

“What?” She was taken aback at the sudden harshness in his voice. “What is it? You act as if you were afraid of me.”

He laughed, as convincingly as he could, and realized he had been doing a very bad job of acting. “Why should I be afraid of you?”

“Well, you needn’t be. I noticed there’s a lock on my door, and I suppose there’s one on yours.”

So she thinks I can’t resist her charms,
Conway reflected.
Isn’t sex wonderful?
He was quite willing to disguise himself in wolf’s clothing if it would help get rid of her. But he needed a chance to plan a new campaign.

“I haven’t had any lunch,” he said. “Maybe that’s why I’m a little edgy. How about you?”

“I thought that’s what was wrong with you,” she said. “But you’ve been cross-questioning me so much I haven’t had a chance to suggest it. I’ll get it right away. You see, I told you I could be a help.” She headed for the kitchen, and Conway followed. “Go away,” she said. “This is my department.” Conway retired to the living room to consider his problem. He had got nowhere when she announced, in an amazingly short time, that lunch was ready.

The meal was good, but the luncheon could hardly have been called a success. It was eaten in almost complete silence: Conway volunteered no conversation, fearing that he might make some slip, and warily responded to her efforts with no more than a “Yes” or “No.” By the time they finished, she appeared to have given up. But she made one final effort.

“This is a depressing room,” she said, indicating the dining room which Conway himself had always disliked. “Don’t you ever eat out there?” She pointed to the small square of brick outside the French windows, which, in accordance with California custom, was dignified by the name of “patio.”

“No,” he said.

“Why not?”

“Helen didn’t like to. It was always too hot or too cold.”

“I’d like it,” she said, and began gathering up the dishes.

“It was a very good lunch, and you’ve proved what a great help you are,” he said. “Now I’ll take care of these, while you go up and get ready to start looking for a place to live.”

“You
are
in a hurry to get me out, aren’t you?”

“Sorry if I seem rude.”

“Well, you do, and you needn’t be. I’ll find a place this afternoon. But I finish what I start, and I’m going to finish this lunch — which means washing the dishes. Go away.”

Conway felt childishly helpless. How do you stop an attractive young woman who is determined to wash dishes for you? He did not know how he could be any more rude than he had already been, and he certainly could not use force. He could help her, and thereby speed the operation, but that meant being with her: the one thing he wanted to avoid.

“I’ll go up to my room,” he said. “I’ll see if there’s anything advertised in the papers.”

He marked a few listings which he thought might be possibilities, and then sat down at the typewriter so that he might give the appearance of working. But it was over an hour before she tapped on the door.

“I didn’t sleep a wink on the plane, and it’s suddenly hit me,” she said. “I’m so sleepy I could die. I’ll just take a little catnap and then I’ll be fine, and I can get going.” Conway started to remonstrate, but the door closed, and a moment later he heard the door of Helen’s room being shut.

At least she had agreed to leave, he thought. She was in no hurry about it, and he might have to be firm, or rude again, but he was certain he could have her out of the house by tomorrow. That was not the entire solution to the problem, but it was something. It was so much, in fact, that he was even able to start working on a story idea which had come to him the night before.

When the doorbell rang, he looked at his watch and was astonished to discover that it was almost five o’clock. His surprise was succeeded by anger that he had allowed Betty to sleep away the afternoon, and he rapped sharply on her door before going downstairs. He was not unprepared to find that his caller was Sergeant Bauer.

“I was right near here, so I thought I’d drop in and see if you could save me some trouble on something,” the detective said.

“Anything I can.”

“You wouldn’t happen to have any beer on ice, would you?”

“Sure thing. Be with you in a minute.” But the sergeant followed him into the kitchen.

“Has she gone?” he asked in a stage whisper.

“Not yet. She’s been asleep.”

“What!”

“She said she was passing out for lack of sleep, and wanted to take a nap before she went out looking for a place to move. I got busy and didn’t realize how late it was.”

Conway handed him a glass of beer, and the detective took a long drink. “This don’t look good, you know — you and a young girl being alone here in this house.”

“You’re telling me,” Conway said. “I told her she had to find someplace else to stay, and she finally agreed to. Now she’s wasted the afternoon. If you can do anything to hurry her, I’ll be very grateful.”

“Just leave it to me,” Bauer said. “Certainly seems funny, her coming here at all.”

“If I had my car, I’d pile her and her luggage into it, and find a place for her in a hurry,” Conway said. “Have you any idea when I’ll get it back?”

“Couple of days, prob’ly. And they ought to release the body tomorrow. Who you going to have?”

“Have?”

“Mortician.” Conway stared blankly. “For the funeral.”

“I–I hadn’t thought.”

“Better call one. They’ll check with the medical examiner, and as soon as he’s finished — well, they’ll handle everything.”

“Oh.”

The sergeant’s manner took on an air of diffidence which Conway had never observed before. “Look,” he said, “I don’t want to be nosy, but — ah — how you fixed for money?”

A perfect reading,
Conway thought:
impossible to tell whether he’s prepared to lend me money, or wants to borrow some.
“I’m not rolling,” he said. “I can’t do anything elaborate, but I think I can manage to do it respectably.”

“Course you could go to Woodlawn Haven,” Bauer said. “But they don’t need the publicity so much. You’ll get a better break from one of the smaller places that can really use the advertising.” Conway could only look at him. “But not too small. You’ll be surprised, I’ll bet, how big a turn-out you’ll get.”

“I hadn’t thought of that,” Conway said. Which was true. With all his meticulous planning, he had given no thought to the necessity for what is known as a Christian burial. Nor to the sideshow that is apt to accompany the burial of a spectacular murder victim. “I’d like as little publicity as possible,” he said.

“Oh, sure,” said the detective, thoroughly unconvinced. “Try the Walbridge Mortuary. Mention my name. Not that I get a cut,” he added hastily. “But they’ll play ball with you, and the Department plays ball with them. They ought to do it for the price of the casket. And they’ll put on a service no woman could ask for more. They certainly did all right for Layzelle Llewellyn.”

“Who?” Conway asked.

“The White Rose. You know, I told you.”

“Oh, yes. You said I might be able to save you some trouble,” Conway said, hoping he was not changing the subject too abruptly.

“Yeah. Larkin and I’ve been checking that list of your friends this afternoon.”

“And—?”

“I was right, like I knew I’d be. Nothing. Not a thing. What a waste of manpower.”

“Too bad. But, as you say, you knew nothing would come of it.”

“Yeah. They’re all just terribly shocked, and wish they could do something, and are we going to find the killer? And I have to stand there and lie in their teeth, and then when nothing happens they’ll remember me and not realize I’m just covering up for the Department, so they’ll think
I’m
the schnook. And that’s one thing I can’t stand.” He stared moodily at the beer.

“I don’t see how anybody could think that of you.”

“A lot of people ain’t good judges of character.” He put down his empty glass, and Conway proved himself at least a good enough judge of character to get another bottle from the icebox. The detective brightened.

“Well, as long as I started checking these people, I might as well finish,” Bauer said as he opened the bottle. “That Taylor that was crossed out — know where he worked or anything?”

Conway took a sip from his glass. He would have liked to drink a toast to Sergeant Bauer and his search for Mr. Taylor.
A long chase and a merry one,
he thought;
it’ll keep you out of mischief.

“I haven’t any idea,” he said with complete truthfulness. “I think he was a salesman of some sort, but I don’t know what he sold, and I haven’t the vaguest notion of where he worked.” He led the way into the living room.

“Oh. Well, just thought you might save me a little time. Don’t know anything else about him, eh?”

“Not a thing. He was a little taller than me, black hair, dark. Do you think he may know something?”

“Nah. It’s just that I got to go through the motions. Say, is that dame ever coming down?”

“I heard her walking around — she ought to be down any minute. Did you want to see her?”

“Sure I want to see her.”

Conway wondered whether the sergeant merely wanted to prove that he could hasten Betty’s departure, or whether he had other reasons for wishing to talk to her. Whichever it was, Conway knew there was no chance of balking the detective, once he had made up his mind. He went to the foot of the stairs.

“Betty,” he called.

“Be down in a minute.”

“I got to get going,” Bauer said.

“I don’t know what can be taking her so long,” Conway said. “But you know women.”

“Yeah,” said Bauer. “And that reminds me. I had lunch with Greta and showed her those beat-up gloves. And you know what she said? She said, ‘Good gosh, if a woman was lucky enough to lose one of those, why would she want it back? If she lost one, she could throw the other one away with a clear conscience.’ Makes sense. And that’s a woman’s way of figuring. Gotta take that into account.”

He’s not stupid enough on his own, Conway thought; he has to call on Greta for assistance. “All women aren’t alike, you know, Sergeant. Maybe Greta has an old world point of view that—”

“Old world?” the sergeant interrupted. “You mean she’s a foreigner?” A belligerent note came into his voice. “She was born in Elyria, Ohio.”

“I’m sorry, I just thought, from her name—”

“Her name’s Gertrude,” the sergeant said with finality.

“Well, anyway, there’s no accounting for the way women think. All I know is that my wife was very annoyed at losing the glove, and asked me to go back and look for it. Maybe she wanted to use them for working in the garden.”

“Helen? Working in the garden?” Betty smiled incredulously as she came into the room. “She certainly must have changed.”

Conway stood in impotent rage as the detective wandered to a window from which the garden was fully visible. It was quite evident that it had felt the ministrations of no loving hands, gloved or ungloved, for a long time.

“She do much gardening?” Bauer asked.

“No.” Conway searched for an explanation which the girl would be unable to contradict. “She was always talking about getting at the garden, but she never did anything about it. It was sort of a joke between us.”

“I don’t get it.”

“Don’t get what?”

“What the joke was about her not doing any gardening.”

“It wasn’t funny. It was just sort of a private joke between us — the way you and Greta probably have private jokes.”
Is he ribbing me?
Conway wondered.

But the sergeant’s face was guileless. “We don’t have any jokes, Greta and me,” he said. “She hasn’t got a very good sense of humor.”
Praise from Caesar,
Conway thought.

“Do you mind telling me what this is all about?” Betty asked.

“Nothing,” Conway said shortly. “Sergeant, you were going to—”

But Bauer had taken the gloves from his pocket. “It don’t make sense to me that anybody would care if they did lose one of these gloves,” he said. “Any woman would be glad to get rid of them.”

Conway caught the quick glance Betty flashed at him. “Any woman except Helen,” she said as she examined the gloves. “She could never bear to lose anything — and she never threw anything away.”

Startled at this manifest untruth, Conway looked at her, but she was bending over to get a cigarette from the box on the table. He was utterly bewildered. A moment earlier she had intimated, for Bauer’s benefit, that
he
was lying; now
she
had lied, to cover up for him.

“No cigarettes,” she announced. “I’ll really have to get to work on this house. I spent an hour after lunch cleaning the kitchen, and I didn’t even make an impression.” Conway held out a pack of cigarettes, and she took one without meeting his eyes.

“I wanted to talk to you about that,” Bauer said. “Mr. Conway told me you weren’t going to stay here.”

“I told Mr. Conway,” she said frigidly, “that I would leave as soon as I could find a suitable place to stay. I intended to start looking this afternoon, but he didn’t wake me, and I overslept.”

BOOK: The Eleventh Hour
5.18Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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