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Alfred Hitchcock Presents: 16 Skeletons From My Closet Part 21

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And laughing.

Unquestionably, gentlemen have a place in the mystery stories of my fine publication. For one thing, their correct behavior can be something of an irritant. And sometimes - ever mindful to do the right thing - they turn to murder.

HOMICIDE AND GENTLEMEN.

BY FLETCHER FLORA.

Lieutenant Joseph Marcus walked past the ninth hole, par-four, with a fine official disregard of the green. It wasn't quite disregard, however, for there was in his performance a degree of deliberate malice that expressed itself by a digging-in of the heels and a scuffing of the toes. Lieutenant Marcus, who had been a poor boy and was still a poor man, felt an unreasonable animus for the game of golf and a modest contempt, in spite of certain famous devotees, for the folk who played it. He was by nature gentle and tolerant, though, and he was faintly ashamed of his feeling and its expression of petty vandalism.



With Sergeant Bobo Fuller at his side, although a half step to the rear, he descended from the green on a gentle slope and moved rapidly across clipped gra.s.s toward a place where the ground dipped suddenly to form a rather steep bank. Sergeant Fuller, whose name was really something besides Bobo that almost everyone had forgotten, did not lag the half step because he found it impossible to stay abreast. Neither did he lag as a pretty deference to rank. Sergeant Fuller did not give a d.a.m.n about rank, to tell the truth. He didn't give a d.a.m.n about Lieutenant Marcus either, and that was why he maintained the half step interval. He considered Marcus a self-made sn.o.b who read books and put on airs, and the interval was subtle evidence of a dislike of which the sergeant was rather proud and the lieutenant was vaguely aware.

Going over the lip of the bank, Marcus dug in his heels again, this time with the perfectly valid purpose of r.e.t.a.r.ding his descent. At the bottom he was on level ground that again tilted, after a bit, into a gentle slope. Fifty yards ahead was a small lake glittering in the morning sunlight. Between Marcus and the lake, somewhat nearer to him and almost in the shade of a distinguished and gnarled oak, was a group composed of four men and a boy. The boy was holding, in one hand, a fishing rod with a spinning reel attached; in the other, a small green tackle box. Two of the four men were uniformed policemen who had been dispatched from police headquarters to maintain the status quo for Marcus, who had not been on hand at the time, and a third was, as it turned out, a caretaker who had walked into a diversion on his way to work across the course. The fourth man was lying on his face on the gra.s.s, his head pointed in the direction of the bank behind Marcus, and Fuller, and he was, Marcus had been a.s.sured, dead. That was, in fact, why Marcus and Fuller were there. They were there because the man on the gra.s.s was dead in a manner and place considered suspicious by public authorities hired to consider such things, which included Marcus, who also secretly considered the whole development something of an imposition.

Speaking to the pair of policemen, with the air of abstraction that had contributed to his reputation for sn.o.bbishness, he knelt beside the body to make an examination that he felt certain would yield nothing of any particular significance. This pessimistic approach was natural to him, and he was always surprised when things turned out better than he had hoped or expected. Well, the man was dead, of course. He had been shot, Apparently in the heart, by what appeared to have been a small caliber gun. From the condition of the body, he judged that the shooting had occurred not many hours earlier, for rigor mortis was not advanced. These things were always hedged about by qualifications, however, and it was doubtful that the so-called estimate of the coroner, who was presumably on the way, would be much closer to the truth than Marcus's guess. Sometime between was the way Marcus expressed it somewhat bitterly to himself. Between midnight, say, and dawn.

Still with the irrational feeling of being imposed upon, Marcus made other observations and guesses. Age, thirty to thirty-five. Height, about five-eleven. Weight, give or take ten pounds on either side of one-seventy. Hair, light brown and crew cut. Eyes, open and blind and blue. White shirt, blood stained. Narrow tie, striped with two shades of brown, and summer worsted trousers, also brown. Brown socks, brown shoes. Lying on the gra.s.s, about five paces away, a jacket to match the pants. In the right side pocket of the pants, coins amounting to the sum of one dollar and twenty-three cents. Also a tiny gold pen knife. In the left hip pocket, b.u.t.toned in, a wallet. In the wallet, besides eighteen dollars in bills, several identifying items, including a driver's license and a membership card in Blue Cross-Blue Shield. Well, Marcus thought, they won't have to pay off on this one. According to both the license and the membership card, the dead man was someone named Alexander Gray. With all items officially appropriated and in his own jacket pocket, Marcus walked over to the brown jacket on the gra.s.s and found nothing in it. Nothing at all.

"Who found the body?" he asked of whoever wanted to answer.

"The kid found him," one of the policemen said.

Marcus turned to the boy, about twelve from the looks of him, who still held the rod and reel and tackle box as if he feared that they, too, might be appropriated. Marcus had no such intention, of course, but he wished he could borrow them and spend the day using them instead of doing what he had to do. Marcus liked kids, but he seldom showed it. It was his misfortune that he seldom showed anything, and much of the little he did show was a kind of characteristic distortion of what he actually thought and felt.

"What's your name, sonny?" he said.

"William Peyton Hausler," the boy said.

It was obvious that he was stating his name fully in an attempt to secure a status, however limited by his minority, that would establish his innocence and insure the respectful treatment to which he was ent.i.tled.

"You live around here?"

"On the street over there, the other side of the golf course." He gestured with the hand holding the rod and reel to indicate the direction.

"Looks like you're going fishing."

"Yes, sir. In the lake."

"You fish here often?"

"Pretty often. The manager of the club said it was all right."

"It doesn't look like much of a lake. Any fish in it?"

"It's stocked. c.r.a.ppie and ba.s.s, mostly. Club members fish in it. I'm not a member - my dad isn't - but the manager said it was all right for me to fish."

"What time was it when you found the body?"

"I don't know exactly. It hadn't been light long. About six-thirty, I guess. I wanted to get to the lake early because the fish bite better then."

"That's what I hear. Early morning and late evening. What'd you do when you found the body?"

"Nothing much. I walked up close to it, and I spoke a couple of times to see if there'd be any answer, but there wasn't, and I was pretty scared because I could tell something was wrong, and just then Mr. Tompkins came along."

"You touch anything at all?"

"No, sir. Not a thing."

"Who's Mr. Tompkins?"

"This is him. He's one of the caretakers."

"Okay. Thanks, sonny. You better go and see if you can still catch some fish."

The boy went on down the gentle slope to the little lake, and Marcus turned to Tompkins, who was a leathery-looking man who appeared to be in his sixties. He was dressed in faded twill pants and a blue work shirt of heavy material like the ones that Marcus had worn with roomy bib overalls as a kid.

"Is that right?" Marcus said. "What the kid told me?"

"I guess so. Far as I know. When I got here, he was just standing and staring at the body. He looked scared."

"No wonder. Kids don't find a body every day. What'd you do?"

"I looked at the body, not touching it, and I could see a little blood where it had seeped out in the gra.s.s. I told the kid to stay and watch things while I hustled up to the Club House to call the police."

"The Club House open that early in the morning?"

"No. There's a phone booth on the back terrace. I happened to have a dime."

"Lucky you did. I usually don't. After you called the police, did you come back here and wait?"

"That's right. Just came back and waited with the kid and didn't bother anything."

"Good. You did just right. I don't suppose you know this guy?"

"The dead man, you mean? I never saw him before."

"All right. You might as well go on to work." Marcus turned away to a uniform. "You go up to the Club House and bring the manager down here. You can tell him what's happened if he's curious."

The caretaker and the policeman went off in different directions, one toward the Club House and the other, presumably, toward whatever building sheltered the equipment for taking care, and Marcus began to prowl slowly the area around the body. He wasn't looking for anything in particular, just anything he could find, and he found nothing. No significant marks in the clipped gra.s.s growing from hard earth. No small item conveniently dropped that might later point to a place or person. Not even, he thought bitterly, a lousy cigarette b.u.t.t.

The brown jacket bothered him. Why the h.e.l.l had the dead man taken it off? Before he was dead, of course. And why had he left it lying on the ground five yards or so from where he had walked to be killed? Unless he had been moved after being killed, which didn't seem probable. And why, for that matter, had he been here on the golf course at all? A golf course did not seem to Marcus to be a likely place to be in the hours between midnight and dawn, sometime between, but then a golf course did not seem to Marcus a likely place to be at any time whatever, unless you came, like the kid, to fish in a lake or to lie on the gra.s.s under a tree and wish that you were something besides what you had become.

Fuller, watching Marcus, was tempted to ask him what he was looking for, but he resisted the temptation. Anyhow, quite correctly, he guessed that Marcus didn't know himself, and he was determined to avoid giving, in front of the uniform, the impression of a dumb cop appealing to his superior for enlightenment. Marcus was already, in Fuller's opinion, sufficiently overrated at headquarters. As it turned out, after a few minutes, the appeal went the other way, but it was no triumph for Fuller, after all, for it only forced him to admit what he had hoped to conceal.

"Any ideas, Fuller?" Marcus said.

"Not yet," Fuller said. "I've been trying to figure it."

"So have I, but I haven't had any luck, and I doubt if I ever do. As I see it, a guy who got himself shot on a golf course must have been crazy, and crazy people make the worst kind of murder victims from a cop's point of view because it's almost impossible to figure logically why they did what they did that got them killed."

Sure, Fuller thought. Read me a lecture about it, you topnotch sn.o.b. The Psychology of Nuts by Dr. Joseph Marcus.

He was saved from making a reply by the return of the other uniform and a small man in Bermuda shorts and heavy ribbed stockings that reached almost to his knees. Marcus approved of the shorts, for he was always one for keeping comfortable, but he was d.a.m.ned if he could understand why anyone would deliberately qualify the effect of the shorts by wearing the stockings. Which was, however, he conceded, none of his business.

"You the manager of this club?" Marcus said.

"Yes," the small man said. "Paul Iverson."

"I'm Lieutenant Joseph Marcus, Mr. Iverson. We've got a body here."

"Yes, yes. I know. The officer told me."

"He was shot."

"It's incredible. I can hardly believe it."

"It looks like someone took advantage of the privacy of your golf course to commit a murder."

Iverson's expression, although indicating shock and a shade of nausea, was primarily one of resentment. Among the activities of the club, he palpably felt, one expected and accepted certain indiscretions and transgressions of the peccadillo type, but murder was neither expected nor acceptable and ought to cause someone to lose his membership.

"Are you certain that it's murder?" he said. "Perhaps he killed himself."

"With his finger, maybe?"

"Oh, I see. There's no gun."

"Right. No gun. Besides, there's no powder marks on his shirt. He was shot from a distance."

"Do you think it could have been an accident of some sort?"

"It could have been, but I don't think so."

"Well, it's a terrible thing. Simply terrible. I can't understand it at all."

"You're luckier than me. You don't have to understand it. All you have to do is see if you recognize the body."

Iverson hesitated, then walked over to the body and looked intently for a moment into blind blue eyes. When he straightened and turned back to Marcus, the shade of nausea in his face had deepened, but there was also a new element of relief, as if the worst, which had been antic.i.p.ated, had not developed.

"I don't know him," he said. "I can a.s.sure you that he was not a member of this club."

"Well, that's all right," Marcus said with an unworthy feeling of spite. "Maybe the murderer is."

"I believe you'll find that he is not. I find it inconceivable that a member of this club should be involved in anything like this. It will create a dreadful fuss, I'm afraid, as it is. We may have some withdrawals."

"Are you positive this man was not a member? His name was Alexander Gray."

"I'm quite positive. Our membership is limited, rather exclusive, and I'm acquainted with all members. That's why I'm convinced that none of them could be involved."

"Even exclusive people can commit murder, Mr. Iverson. Possibly even exclusive people you happen to be acquainted with. Never mind, though. Thanks for coming down."

Marcus turned away abruptly, and there was in his movement an implication of disdain that made Iverson flush and Sergeant Fuller curse softly under his breath. Aware that he had been dismissed, the manager went back across the course toward the Club House, only the roof of which was visible beyond the rise. Marcus went over and picked up the brown worsted jacket from the gra.s.s where he had dropped it after exploring the pockets.

"I wonder where the coroner is," he said.

"He'll be along," Fuller said.

"Well, I won't wait for him. You stay here and find out what he's got to say. Nothing much, I suspect. Because he never does."

Sergeant Fuller was curious about Marcus's plans, but he was d.a.m.ned if he would give him the satisfaction of knowing it. He watched Marcus go off toward the Club House, where they'd left their car in the parking lot, and he cursed again under his breath, Marcus for what he was, and the coroner for not coming.

In the car, unaware that he had been cursed, or even that he had given cause for cursing, Marcus checked Alexander Gray's driver's license for an address. The street and number rang a faint bell, and he sat quietly for a minute, concentrating, trying to fit the location properly into a kind of mental map of the city. If his mental cartography was correct, which it was, Gray had lived not more than a mile from the entrance to this club. Probably somewhat less. Marcus looked at his watch and saw that it was two minutes after nine o'clock. Starting the car, he drove down a macadam drive and slipped into the traffic of a busy suburban street. He swung off after a while and was soon parked at the curb in front of a buff brick apartment building which displayed in large chrome numbers above the double front doors the address on the license.

Inside on the ground floor, he found the apartment of the building superintendent, who turned out to be, when he had opened his door in response to Marcus's ring, a wispy little man with wispy gray hair and pince-nez clipped to the bridge of a surprisingly bold nose. Marcus introduced himself and received an introduction. The superintendent's name was Mr. Everett Price.

"Is there an Alexander Gray living in the building?" Marcus asked.

"Yes." Mr. Price removed the pince-nez, which were, of course attached to a black ribbon, and held them by the spring clip in his right hand. "He's in three-o-six. He shares the apartment with Mr. Rufus Fleming."

"Oh? Have Mr. Gray and Mr. Fleming shared the apartment long?"

"About two years, I think. Yes, two years this summer. Perfect gentlemen, both of them. Quiet and good-mannered. There is, in fact, something old-fashioned in their manners. Rather courtly, you know. It isn't often, nowadays, that you find that quality in younger men."

"I agree. It's rare. Do you know if Mr. Fleming is in at the moment?"

"No, I don't. It's possible, however, this being Sat.u.r.day. Mr. Fleming doesn't work on Sat.u.r.day."

"I wish I didn't. I believe I'll just go up and speak with Mr. Fleming, if you don't mind."

Mr. Price looked confused. He scrubbed the lenses of the pince-nez with a clean white handkerchief and clipped them to his big nose again, peering at Marcus as if he had decided that some revision of his first judgment of him had become necessary.

"Excuse me," he said. "I thought you wanted to see Mr. Gray."

"I didn't say that," Marcus said. "I only asked if Mr. Gray lived here."

"Yes. So you did. I made an a.s.sumption, I suppose. In any event, it's quite likely that both gentlemen are in this morning."

"I wonder if you would come up with me. Just in case neither of them is."

Now Mr. Price looked startled. Possibly he had suddenly gathered from Marcus's tone that Marcus was certainly going up in spite of anything, although willing to make a nice pretense of asking permission, and that the superintendent was d.a.m.n well coming up with him, whether he was agreeable or not.

"What on earth for?" Mr. Price said.

"So that you can let me into the apartment, if that is necessary."

"Oh, I couldn't do that without authorization from the tenants. It's unthinkable."

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Alfred Hitchcock Presents: 16 Skeletons From My Closet Part 21 summary

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