Alfred Hitchcock Presents: 16 Skeletons From My Closet - novelonlinefull.com
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"Is it? I don't believe so. You can try thinking about it on the way up. You may change your mind."
"I'm reasonably certain that either Mr. Fleming or Mr. Gray will be in on a Sat.u.r.day morning."
"Mr. Fleming, maybe. Not Mr. Gray. Mr. Gray will never be in again. He's dead. He has, it seems, been murdered."
The pince-nez popped off Mr. Price's nose and jerked and swung at the end of their ribbon. Marcus had a bleak vision of a trap sprung, a body hanging.
"What did you say?"
Marcus didn't bother to repeat himself. He merely waited for the information to soak in and become tenable.
"This is dreadful," Mr. Price said.
"So it is."
"Why would anyone murder Mr. Gray? He was such a pleasant man."
"Pleasant people are sometimes murdered. Usually by unpleasant people."
"When did it happen? Where?"
"Never mind that now. You'll know soon enough. Everyone will. Now I would like to go upstairs and see Mr. Fleming if he's in, or look through the apartment if he's not."
"Yes," said Mr. Price. "Yes, of course."
They went up three floors and rang the bell of three-o-six. Mr. Fleming was either not in or not answering. The former was true, as Marcus learned immediately after Mr. Price had opened the door for him. The apartment consisted of a living room, a large bedroom with two beds, a bath and a small kitchen. No one was there. The beds were made and the kitchen was clean and the living room was orderly. Mr. Gray and Mr. Fleming had been tidy housekeepers. Mr. Fleming, so far as Marcus knew, still was.
"Did Fleming spend the night here?" he asked.
"I don't know. He was here early, as Mr. Gray was, but he may have gone out again and not returned."
"All right. Thanks. I won't need you any longer. And don't worry about the apartment. I'll leave it in good order."
Mr. Price didn't look convinced, but he left. Marcus went into the bedroom and began to prowl. He opened drawers and looked into closets, but all he achieved was confirmation of the judgment he had already made - that Mr. Gray and Mr. Fleming were clean and orderly enough to please the most fastidious woman. In the living room, after poking into places and scanning the t.i.tles of books that struck him as being intolerably dull on the whole, he stopped before the mantel of a dummy fireplace to look at a picture. A photograph of a young woman. Inscribed. He took it down and read the inscription: For Rufe and Alex with all my love, Sandy. The double inscription implied a Platonic meaning at variance, it seemed to Marcus, with the totality of love. He scratched his head and examined Sandy's face.
It was a lovely face. A wistful face. Shaped like a small, lean heart. Big eyes with sadness in them. Tenderness in them. Pa.s.sion in them? Pa.s.sion, at least, in the soft lips set in the merest of smiles. In spite of the suggested pa.s.sion, however, there was - Marcus groped for the word - a kind of mysticism. He was falling, in an instant, half in love.
Putting the photograph back on the mantel, he turned away. Then he turned back. On the mantel, placed squarely below a reproduction of Daumier's Don Quixote and Sancho Panza that hung on the wall above, was a sizable leather case. He removed the case and opened it. Inside, nested in plush, was a matched pair of .22 caliber target pistols. Both clean. Both lately oiled. Beautifully cared for. The purloined letter still makes its point, he thought. In his attention to drawers and closets, he had nearly overlooked the case in plain sight. Not, so far as he could see at the moment, that it would have made any particular difference if he had. Nevertheless, he appropriated the case and took it with him when he left. That was after he had returned once more to the bathroom and stood for a few minutes with an abstracted air before the open medicine cabinet above the lavatory.
Downstairs, he rang the superintendent's bell again. Mr. Price, clearly relieved to see him on his way out, made a polite effort not to show it.
"Are you finished, Lieutenant?" he said.
"Yes. For the present, at least. I'm taking this with me. It's a pair of matched target pistols. Was either Mr. Gray or Mr. Fleming an enthusiast for target shooting, do you know?"
"Both were, as a matter of fact. Sunday mornings, fair days, they have gone off regularly for matches. I believe they made small wagers. I do hope you will take good care of the pistols."
"The best. I'll give you a receipt for them if you want me to."
"I'm sure that won't be necessary."
"Thanks. By the way, there's a photograph on the mantel upstairs. A young lady. Blonde hair cut quite short. Very pretty face. It's signed Sandy. Do you know her by any chance?"
"I've met her. Miss Sandra Sh.o.r.e. She was introduced to me in the hall one evening when I happened to encounter her with Mr. Gray and Mr. Fleming. Afterward, on several occasions, I exchanged a few words with her when she came to call."
"Has she come here often?"
"Frequently. Many times, I suppose, when I didn't see her. I'm sure that it was all quite proper. She was equally the friend of both gentlemen. They had been friends, she told me once, since childhood. It was quite a charming relationship."
"I'm sure it was. Tell me, do you know Miss Sh.o.r.e's address?"
"No, but it's probably in the directory."
"Would you mind checking it for me?"
"Not at all."
Marcus was invited in, but he preferred to wait in the hall. After a few minutes Mr. Price returned with the address written down on a sheet from a memo pad. Engaging again in mental cartography, Marcus located the address in relation to where he was.
"One more question, if you don't mind," he said, "and I'll run along. I a.s.sume both Mr. Gray and Mr. Fleming own automobiles?"
"Only one between them, which they both used. One might think that such an arrangement would lead to difficulties, but they apparently worked it out very well."
"Mr. Gray and Mr. Fleming seem to have been extremely compatible. Share apartment. Share car. Share girl. Most commendable. Where is the car kept?"
"There's a garage at the rear, just off the alley. Stall number five. The automobile, if you wish to know, is a Ford. I'm not sure of the model. Recent, however."
"Thanks again. You've been most helpful."
Marcus turned with his sometimes offensive abruptness and went out of the building and around to the garage. Stall number five was occupied by a 1960 Ford. Mr. Fleming, wherever he was, was obviously moving either by shank's mare or in some other vehicle than his own. Marcus, in the one furnished by the department, drove to the address on the memo sheet, and this time it was unnecessary to disturb the superintendent, for there was a directory of tenants in the entrance hall that told him where to go, and he went.
The photographer who had taken Sandra Sh.o.r.e's picture, he learned, was an artist. He had caught on paper precisely the elfin and haunting quality of her face. The sadness and tenderness and pa.s.sion a.s.sembled in the lean heart. Now, in person, there was more, of course. A small and slender body exquisitely formed, suggesting its delights in a boyish white blouse and a narrow skirt. Marcus, in the hall, held his hat and offered up a short and silent paean.
"Yes?" Sandra Sh.o.r.e said.
"My name is Marcus," Marcus said. "Lieutenant Joseph Marcus. Of the police. I wonder if I may speak with you for a few minutes?"
She surveyed him gravely, her head c.o.c.ked a little to one side.
"It will take only a few minutes. I'd appreciate it very much."
"Well, if you are actually a policeman, you will certainly speak with me whether I am willing or not, so there isn't really much use in asking my permission, is there?"
"It distresses me, but I must admit that you're right. Thank you for clarifying the situation so nicely. May I come in?"
She nodded and closed the door after him, when he was across the threshold. Following her into the living room to a chair in which he sat, he admired her neat ankles and lovely legs. When she was in another chair across from him, the narrow skirt tucked primly beneath her knees, which showed, he continued to admire the legs for a moment, discreetly, but soon went back to her face, which was the best of her, after all, in spite of distractions.
"You don't look like a policeman," she said.
"Don't I? I wouldn't know. What is a policeman supposed to look like?"
"I'm not sure. Not like you, however. What do you wish to speak with me about?"
"Not what, really. Who. A young man named Alexander Gray."
"Alex?" She managed to appear slightly incredulous without, somehow, disturbing the serenity of her expression. "What possible interest could the police have in Alex?"
"He's dead. Murdered, apparently. Someone shot him sometime early this morning on the course of the Greenbrier Golf Club."
She sat quite still, her only movement the folding of her hands in her lap. In her great, grave eyes there was a slight darkening, as if a light had been turned down.
"The truth is often ridiculous. Things don't seem to make sense."
"Alex isn't even a member of the Greenbrier Golf Club."
"Apparently you don't have to be a member to be killed on the course."
"I simply refuse to believe you. It's cruel of you to come here and tell me such a lie."
"It would be cruel if I did. And pointless."
"I see what you mean. You would have no reason. Unless there's a reason that I can't understand. Is there?"
"No. None whatever. Surely you realize that."
"I suppose I do. I suppose I must believe you after all." She stood up suddenly and walked over to a window and stood there for a minute looking out, slim and erect against the gla.s.s, her pale hair catching afire from the slanting light. Then she returned, sitting again, tucking the skirt and folding her hands. "Poor Alex," she said. "Poor little Alex."
He hadn't been so little. Average height, at least, but Marcus skipped it. Miss Sandra Sh.o.r.e was striking him as a remarkable young woman. There was genuine grief in her voice, in her darkened eyes, but her face was in repose, fixed as serenely in shock and grief as it had been in the photograph.
"You are very composed under the circ.u.mstances," he said. "I'm relieved and thankful."
"Perhaps I can't quite accept it yet, in spite of knowing that it must be true."
"Sometimes it takes a while for things to hit us hard. Do you feel like talking with me now?"
"What do you want to know?"
"You were a good friend of Alexander Gray's. Is that true?"
"Yes, it's true, but I can't imagine how you know. Unless you've talked with Rufe. Have you?"
"Rufus Fleming? No. I'd like to talk with him, however. I don't know where he is."
"Have you been to the apartment? Alex and Rufe lived together, you know."
"Yes, I know. I've been there. Do you have any idea where Fleming could be?"
"Just out somewhere, I imagine. He'll show up soon."
"His car was in the garage."
"Rufe often walks places. Quite long distances sometimes. He enjoys it."
"There was a photograph of you in their apartment. A very good one. I noticed that it was inscribed to both Gray and Fleming. All your love. Were you an equally good friend to both?"
"Equally? That's so hard to judge, isn't it? I loved them both. I still love them both, even though Alex must be dead, since you say so."
"Did they both love you?"
"Oh, yes. We all loved each other."
"Isn't that a rather unusual relationship to exist among two men and a woman?"
"I don't think so. Perhaps it is. It has been that way for so long that it seems perfectly natural to me."
"Didn't it ever get complicated?"
"Well, it was difficult in certain ways. They both loved me and wanted to marry me, and I loved both of them, which was all right, and wanted to marry both of them, which was not, and that's where the difficulty was."
"I understand. Bigamy is no solution. Besides being illegal."
"Yes. Anyhow, I couldn't bear to marry one of them and not the other, for that would surely have meant giving up entirely the one I didn't marry. If only I could have married one of them and kept the other one around as always, it would have been all right, but it wouldn't have worked, I'm sure, for a husband is different from a friend, no matter how good and tolerant he may be, and will become possessive and insistent upon his rights and resentful of the attentions to his wife of another man."
Marcus didn't quite believe her. Not her words. He believed them, all right. He didn't quite believe her. That she existed. That she was sitting this instant in the chair across from him with her knees together and her skirt tucked in. He was, in fact, more than a little confused by what seemed at once perfectly logical and utterly insane. That was it, he decided. It was logical, but nuts. There was not necessarily any contradiction in that.
"You said this relationship had existed for a long time," he said. "How long?"
"Oh, years and years. Ages. Since we were very young."
"You all knew each other then?"
"Isn't that what I said? Went through school together and have remained close to each other since."
"It's strange, to say the least, that two men should remain such friends in such circ.u.mstances."
"Well, they were very sweet and tolerant and understanding, and they kept thinking something could be worked out, but, as I said, there was no way to work it satisfactorily."
"Now, however, the problem has resolved itself."
"You mean, because Alex is dead, that there is nothing to keep me from marrying Rufe? That may be true, but I'll have to think about it. It doesn't seem quite fair to Alex. A kind of unfair advantage for Rufe, you know. I may be compelled by fairness to give him up also."
Marcus slapped a knee sharply and stood up and walked around his chair and sat down again. He closed his eyes and opened them, and she was still there.
"There was a pair of target pistols in the apartment," he said. "The superintendent told me they were bugs about target shooting. Is that so?"