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Alfred Hitchcock Presents: 16 Skeletons From My Closet Part 23

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"Oh, yes, and so am I. I have a pistol like the ones you saw. It all started when we were quite young. In the beginning, we used bb pistols. We lived in a small town, only a short walk into the country, and we used to go out together frequently, the three of us, and have matches. Would you like to see my pistol?"

"It would be kind of you to show it to me."

"Not at all."

She got up and went to a desk and returned in a minute with the pistol, which was, as she had said, apparently identical with the two he had appropriated. Clean, recently oiled. He took it and examined it and handed it back to her. She sat in her chair again, the pistol lying in her lap beneath her hands.

"Do you happen to have a photograph of Mr. Fleming?" he asked.



"Of Rufe? No. I'm sorry."

"Not even a snapshot?"

"Not even that. It's rather strange, isn't it, when you come to think about it? Neither Alex nor Rufe were much for having their pictures taken."

"Perhaps you could describe him to me."

"Why?"

"Oh, just in case I happen to see him or something. It might save me some time and trouble."

"Well, he's quite tall. About six-three, I'd say. Rather thin, but quite strong. He has a long face with thick eyebrows that grow across the bridge of his nose and black hair that's wiry and doesn't stay brushed very well. His shoulders are somewhat stooped, and I keep telling him to pull them back, but it doesn't do any good. I think he stoops deliberately to avoid appearing as tall as he is, especially when he's with me. As you can see, I'm rather small."

"Yes. I see." Marcus stood up, holding his hat, and looked around the room. An open entrance to a small kitchen. A door closed upon what must be a bedroom. Off the bedroom, certainly, a bath. No different, basically, from the place shared by Gray and Fleming. "Tell me," he said. "Can you think of anyone at all who might have wanted to kill Alexander Gray?"

"No. No one. Surely it must have been some kind of accident."

"He was in no trouble that you knew of?"

"None. If Alex had any trouble, it must have been minor."

"I see. Well, thank you very much, Miss Sh.o.r.e. If you see Mr. Fleming, please have him contact me at police headquarters."

She followed him to the door and showed him out; the last thing he saw was her grave face and darkened eyes as the door closed between them. It was now well past time for lunch, and so he went on and had a steak sandwich at a small restaurant and went on from there to headquarters, where he read a brief report from the coroner as to the estimated time of Alexander Gray's death, which estimate was, as Marcus had predicted, not much different from Marcus's guess. The coroner thought that Gray had been killed by a .22 caliber bullet, but there had been no time as yet to recover it from the body, due to an acc.u.mulation of work, and an autopsy was promised as soon as possible.

Marcus carried the pair of matched pistols to ballistics and left them with instructions for tests, and then returned to his desk and began to clear up some paper work, including his own report of the Gray case. He tried three times without success, during the rest of the afternoon, to reach Fleming at his apartment, and he kept thinking that Fleming might call in, but he didn't. Late in the afternoon, Fuller came in and reported on what had happened at the golf course after Marcus had left, but it didn't amount to much.

Alone, Marcus rocked back in his chair and closed his eyes and tried to think. He thought mostly about Sandra Sh.o.r.e. He still had difficulty in convincing himself that she was real, and he wondered if she was truly so remarkably self-contained as she had appeared, or if she had only found it impossible to express more effectively her shock and surprise at news that was really no news at all. Had she in fact known that Alexander Gray was dead before Marcus had arrived to tell her so? Marcus wondered, but he didn't know.

He sat there thinking for a long time, not really getting anywhere, and then he tried Fleming's apartment again without any luck. He decided to go out and eat and go home, and that's what he did. In his bachelor's apartment, he read for a while and had three highb.a.l.l.s, bourbon and branch, and listened, the last thing before going to bed, to a Toscanini recording of Beethoven's Sixth. The next morning, which was the morning of Sunday, he got up early and drank two cups of coffee and went back to headquarters, and he was at his desk there when Fuller, reluctantly on duty, brought in a young man to see him. The young man, according to Fuller, had something to say about the Gray case, now public knowledge, that might or might not be significant. The young man's name, said Fuller, was Herbert Richards.

"Sit down and tell me what you know," Marcus said.

"Well," said Herbert Richards, sitting, "I was driving out there yesterday morning on the street just east of the Golf Club where this guy was killed, and my old clunker quit running all of a sudden. I've been working on a construction job, and I was on my way to meet some of the crew at a place in town. We were going on together in one of the trucks, you see. Anyhow, my clunker quit, and I had to hurry terribly to make it on time, walking, and so I cut across the corner of the golf course, walking in a kind of gully that runs diagonally across the corner, and all of a sudden I heard shots."

"Wait a minute," Marcus said. "Did you say shots?"

"Yes, sir. Two of them. I read about the murder in the paper last night, and it said this guy was only shot once, so I wondered if I could have been mistaken, but I've thought about it, and I'm sure I'm not. They came so close together that they did sound almost like one shot, but I'm sure there were two."

"What did you do when you heard the shots?"

"Nothing. Just kept on going down the gully."

"Didn't it occur to you that something might be wrong?"

"Why should it? I've heard lots of shots in my life, or sounds like shots. This is the first time it ever turned out to be someone getting murdered."

Marcus conceded the validity of the point. Honest folk going about their business just didn't jump to the conclusion of murder at every unusual sight or sound, even the sound of shots.

"What time was this?" he said.

"That's mostly what I wanted to tell you. It was just daylight. Just after dawn. I know it's important to know the time something like this happens, and that's why I came down here."

"I'm glad you did."

"You think it may help?"

"I think so. Thanks. If you don't have anything else to tell me, you can go now."

Herbert Richards left, visibly pleased, and Marcus closed his eyes and thought for a moment about the scene of Alexander Gray's murder. Opening them again, he looked for Fuller, who was waiting.

"Fuller," he said, "you remember that high bank we went down about twenty yards or so from where Gray was lying? You take a couple of men and go out there and dig around in it and see if you can find a bullet."

Fuller, who resented the a.s.signment, betrayed his feelings. Marcus, who marked the resentment, did not.

"Who cares if one bullet missed?" Fuller said. "We got the one in Gray, soon as the coroner digs it out this morning, and that's all we need. Besides, from the position of his body, Gray was facing the bank; the killer wasn't. Any bullet that missed him would have gone in the opposite direction."

"Go dig around anyhow," Marcus said. "It doesn't do any harm to be thorough."

Fuller gone, Marcus a.s.sumed his favorite position for thinking, chair rocked back, eyes closed, fingers laced above his belly. He thought this time about several things in a rather fantastic pattern. He thought about Alexander Gray and Rufus Fleming and Sandra Sh.o.r.e in an emotional triangle so crazy that it could certainly have been sustained only by a trio who were themselves a little crazy. He thought about Alexander Gray lying on a golf course. He thought about a brown worsted jacket lying on the gra.s.s about five paces from Gray's body. He thought about Herbert Richards, a construction worker in the act of trespa.s.sing, hearing two shots fired so closely together that they were barely distinguishable from one. He thought about a matched pair of target pistols placed in accidental symbolism below a reproduction of Daumier's Don Quixote. He thought about a cabinet above a lavatory in which there was only one razor and one toothbrush.

I don't believe it, he thought. By G.o.d, I simply don't believe it.

After a while, he went to ballistics and got a report, but still lacked the specific comparison he needed, which waited upon the coroner. In his car, he drove slowly, with an odd feeling of reluctance, to Sandra Sh.o.r.e's apartment building. He rang her bell and waited and was about to ring it again when she opened the door. Her eyes widened a little in the faintest expression of surprise, recovering almost immediately their grave, characteristic composure.

"Good morning," he said.

"Good morning," she said. "Do you want to come in again?"

"If you don't mind."

"I do mind, rather, to tell the truth, but I suppose I must let you."

"Thank you. I'll try to be brief."

They sat as they had yesterday, in the same chairs, and he was silent for a while, looking down at the hat in his hands and wondering how to begin. Then he looked up at Sandra Sh.o.r.e, at the grave eyes in the serene heart, and let his own eyes slip away and fix themselves deliberately on the door closed upon her bedroom.

"May I go into your bedroom, Miss Sh.o.r.e?" he said.

"No. Certainly not." She sat very still, watching him until his eyes returned to her, and then her small b.r.e.a.s.t.s rose and fell slowly on a drawn breath and a sigh. "Well," she said, "I see you have been as clever as I was afraid you would be, but I'm glad, really, quite glad, because he seems to be getting worse instead of better, and I have been afraid he would die in spite of everything I could do. It was impossible to get a doctor, you see, and so I took out the bullet myself, but he seems to be getting worse, as I said, and I've been wondering what I should do."

"Did you also return the pistols to the apartment and pick up a razor and toothbrush while you were there?"

"Yes. How very clever you are! Alex and Rufe simply decided between them what they must finally do, the way to settle matters for good and all, and so they walked out there to the golf course together, which was the handiest place where it could be done, and it might have turned out all right for Rufe, although not for Alex, except that he got hit, too, in the shoulder, and that made everything much more difficult. He had to go somewhere, of course, and so he came here, and I helped him. He had the pistols, and I thought the best thing to do was to clean them and oil them and take them back to the apartment, and that's what I did."

"It was a mistake. Surely you know we can match the bullet in Alexander Gray with one of those pistols."

"That's true, isn't it? I suppose I didn't think of it at the time because I was upset and not thinking clearly about anything. It's odd, isn't it? I wanted so much to help Rufe, and I tried, but I guess I only did him harm instead."

"The fools! The crazy fools!" Marcus spoke with low-key intensity, slapping a knee. "Why the h.e.l.l couldn't they have drawn high card for you or something?"

"Oh, no!" She stared at him with scorn, as if he had betrayed himself as a sordid sort of fellow with no discernible sense of honor. "Alex and Rufe would never have treated me so cheaply."

"Excuse me," he said bitterly. "I concede that you've done your best for Rufe, whom you love, but what about dear Alex, whom you loved equally and who is unfortunately dead as a rather irrational consequence?"

"If it had turned out the other way around," she said, "I'd have done as much for Alex."

"I see." He stood up, his bitterness a taste on his tongue that he wanted to spit out on the floor. "I'll call an ambulance, and then you and I can go downtown together."

He was at his desk, doing nothing, when Fuller came in that afternoon.

"We dug all over that bank," Fuller said, "and there's no bullet in it."

"That's all right," Marcus said. "I know where it is. Or, at least, was."

"The h.e.l.l you do! Maybe you wouldn't mind telling me."

"Not at all. It was in the shoulder of a fellow named Rufus Fleming. He and Gray had a duel out there yesterday morning. That's how Gray got killed."

"A duel!" Fuller's eyes bulged, and he was so certain that Marcus had gone off the deep end that he felt safe in saying so. "You're always talking about someone being nuts," he said, "but in my opinion you're the biggest nut of all."

Marcus was not offended. He closed his eyes and smiled bleakly.

Well, he thought, it takes one to catch one.

Dear Readers:.

By now, I hope, you have read each and every one of the stories in this Dell Book Anthology, and your appet.i.te for crime-mystery-fiction has been whetted to a keen edge as a result. There is always the possibility, of course, that you are one of those who start reading a book from the back instead of from the front. Psychologists have a name for this habit, which I shall not define further, since I have no wish to invade any other field of research. I am kept quite busy laboring in my own vineyard, to mix a metaphor. Others enjoy the fringe benefits of my labors For example, the postal employees of the Riviera Beach, Florida, branch Post Office have noted a heavy increase in their daily burdens since we moved the editorial offices of Alfred Hitchc.o.c.k's fine publication to an enchanting location, at 2441 Beach Court, Palm Beach Sh.o.r.es, Riviera Beach, Florida, facing the blue Atlantic. If you are interested in learning further particulars about this excellent publication, please write to me at the above address. I look forward to hearing from you, one and all.

end.

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