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Authors: Frances Lockridge

The Dishonest Murderer

BOOK: The Dishonest Murderer
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The Dishonest Murderer

A Mr. and Mrs. North Mystery

Frances and Richard Lockridge

MYSTERIOUSPRESS.COM

I

Friday, December 31 9:05 P.M. to 11:35 P.M.

There is nothing to worrry about, Freddie Haven told herself. There is nothing to think about twice. You are not a young girl, she told herself; not a child, full of imaginings, making much of little because it concerns this man. You are a grown woman, contained and poised; you were married, in those other days, to a man whose eyes laughed and whose voice had confident laughter in it, and this is not, cannot be, the same thing. This is a grown-up thing, made of warm affection, of shared understandings; this is more loving than being in love. In this there cannot be the quick excitement, the unreasoning fear and unaccountable delights. This time you cannot be frightened about nothing.

Freddie Haven looked at herself in the dressing table mirror. After a second she began to comb her hair. It was deep red hair; in some lights it was almost too dark to be called red. Satterbee hair. Freddie was used to knowing that it was beautiful, and unexpected. It clung to the brush, fell from the brush in soft waves; it lay sleek round her head, the ends curling under at the back, as her fingers twisted them. “You look fine, Freddie,” she told herself. “You're a fine looking young woman. You're a credit to Bruce.”

Even if it had been Bruce, she told herself, there would still be nothing beyond explanation. He had changed his plans. That was all. For some reason he had taken an earlier train from Washington. A hundred things could have brought him; he had interests in so many things. There was no reason he should tell her of a change in plan which did not affect her. At ten o'clock—“tennish”—he would come to the party, as he had said he would. Nothing had changed that mattered to them, or he would have let her know.

Even if it had been Bruce—but, of course, it had not been. Was she going to be that way again? Was she going to see Bruce in every big man, with shoulders set a certain way, seeing him where he could not be? She remembered, her hands idle again, looking into the dressing table mirror, seeing nothing in it, how often, how cruelly often, she had seen Jack—in a room, on the street—long after she knew she would never see him again. She was not going to get once more into that sort of turmoil. This had been—what did one say?—a “fancied resemblance.”

She took the incident out of her memory and looked at it. She had been coming home in Aunt Flo's car from having tea in Aunt Flo's big, square, irretrievably institutional house in the Navy Yard. They had come across Brooklyn Bridge and, leaving it, gone through Foley Square, then up Lafayette Street. They had gone along fast, with almost no traffic; she had been warm and furred in the back of the big car, looking without attention at almost deserted sidewalks, hardly noticing where they were. And then she had seen this big man who, for an instant, had looked like Bruce Kirkhill. She had seen him only momentarily while the car stopped for a light. Almost as soon as she had seen him, the light changed and the car started.

Now, thinking back, she tried to decide what it was that had made her think the man was Bruce. She tried to make what she had seen vivid again in her mind. A big man—yes, big as Bruce Kirkhill was big. He had been walking south, on the east side of the street. He had been alone; she was almost sure he had been alone. He had been walking with his overcoat unbuttoned, whipped by the wind. She remembered, now. It was that which had made her notice him, become conscious of him a she had not been conscious of other men she must have seen and had been unaware of seeing. It was cold; it had grown colder during the afternoon. The cold had bitten into her, with the peculiar damp penetration of cold in the Navy Yard, when she had come out of Aunt Flo's house and gone through the back yard to the waiting car. But this man was paying so little attention to the cold that he did not bother even to button his overcoat.

There must, she thought, have been something in the way the man walked which had made her think of Bruce, and then, fleetingly, identify this man as Bruce. It had not been his face, she realized, looking at the scene she had re-created. She had not tried to see his face until she thought of Bruce in connection with this man, and then the car started and, although she turned and tried to look back, it had been too late to see the face of the man. So it must have been something in the way he moved, something in the rhythm of his body.

She was relieved to discover how intangible it all was, thus thought through, thus reexamined. The man had been about Bruce's size, something in his movements had suggested Bruce. That was all there was to it. She had not seen his face and now, as the picture came clearer, she saw something else which she should have seen from the first. It could not have been Bruce. Even from a distance, even seen momentarily, there had been a kind of shabbiness about the man. Although she could not fully explain it to herself, the word “shambling” came to her mind along with the word “shabby.” Then she laughed. She would never tell Bruce—or perhaps one day she would tell Bruce, so that they could laugh together?—that for an instant, in the last hours of a year, riding home in a car from the Navy Yard, she had thought a shambling, shabby man was somehow like Bruce Kirkhill. Like Senator Bruce Kirkhill, the never shabby, the inconceivably shambling—the man who was so surely going places, and with whom she was going.

She stood up in the warm, softly lighted room. She crossed the room, slim in a golden evening dress, her square shoulders high and white, and pulled aside one of the heavy curtains which shut out the night. She could look far down, now, into Park Avenue. There was a kind of blur in the night, the street lights below her were dimmed. It's snowing, she thought; it's begun to snow.

There was a brief, emphatic knock on her bedroom door. She smiled before she spoke. How like her father was that one quick, decisive rap. It was polite—never would Vice Admiral Jonathan Satterbee dream of entering another's bedroom without first knocking. But it did not, it would be absurd to argue that it did, request admission. It announced that the admiral was about to enter. As she said, “Come, Dad,” she wondered whether anyone had ever kept the admiral waiting, once he had announced his presence. Not her mother, she was certain. Not she, certainly.

Vice Admiral Jonathan Satterbee, U.S.N. (Ret.), was a tall, straight man. He opened the door, now, and stepped emphatically into his daughter's bedroom. He was in evening clothes, perfectly fitting, in all respects civilian. But one looked, subconsciously, unavoidably, for the stripes of gold above the wrist. Vice Admiral Satterbee had lived a life in uniform. It was natural that civilian clothes, conscious of their lesser status, should try, on his tall, spare body, to look as much like uniform as possible.

Vice Admiral Satterbee regarded his daughter. She smiled at him.

“Pass inspection, sir?” she said.

He smiled, very slightly, not as one much used to smiling. But the smile softened his face.

“Very satisfactory,” the admiral said. He nodded.

“Darling,” Freddie said. “Is that the best you can do?”

“My dear,” her father said, “you are a very fine looking girl. Very beautiful. As you know.”

“The dress?” Freddie said. “The dress, Dad?”

He looked at the dress.

“Fits very well,” he said. “Don't catch cold. Where's Marta?”

“Resting,” Freddie said. “She's helping with the coats and things. I told her to rest. Why?”

“Not on station,” the admiral said. “You coddle her, Freddie.”

Freddie only laughed at that. The admiral accepted the subject as dismissed.

“Tie all right?” he said. He held his chin up a little higher; it was a chin which lived high.

The tie was perfect. Watkins was an artist with a bow. As Dad knows perfectly well, Freddie thought, as she always thought. But she went to the tall, erect man and reached up and pretended, but only pretended, so as not to mar perfection, to adjust the bow a little.

She stepped back and smiled up at the admiral, and he patted her arm lightly, gently.

“You're a good child, Winifred,” he said. “You coddle everyone.”

It was a special moment; because it was a special moment, he called her Winifred, which had been her mother's name. She did not say anything, but she put both her hands for a moment on his arms. Almost at once, before the touch became a caress, she dropped her hands.

“By the way,” he said. “Invited a young couple to drop in.” He paused. “This publisher fellow,” he said. “Going to bring out this book you know. North.”

Freddie said, “Of course, Dad.”

“Still think the other plan might have been better,” the admiral said. He looked down at his daughter. “Ought to feed people,” he said.

“Dad,” Freddie said. “It's always awkward. It sounds fine, but it's always awkward. And I know I wouldn't like to be one of the late ones. You wouldn't either.”

The admiral seemed to entertain momentarily, and to dismiss at once, a preposterous thought. Freddie watched her father's expression, and her smile did not show. The darling has never considered that, she thought; if some were to come to dinner, others to drop in later, the category of Vice Admiral Jonathan Satterbee was preordained. His was a confidence beyond conceit.

“Better this way, darling,” she said. “Really better.”

The admiral made a sound which was, as much as anything, “wumph.”

Probably, Freddie Haven thought, he knows perfectly well that it isn't only the awkwardness. Aunt Flo and Uncle William, not yet “ret.”; the commodore; Captain and Mrs. Hammond; Aunt (by courtesy) Angela; Mrs. Burton, the “Dowager Admiral,” whose for some time lamented husband had, in the year before his retirement, achieved Cominch. All very cultivated and delightful, all very Navy, all very—well, call it familiar. Those would have made up the dinner party before the party to which the others, the lesser, the non-Navy, might be invited. And there, of course, Bruce Kirkhill would have presented a hostess's problem, as well as a fiancée's. Had there been a dinner, he could hardly not have been invited. (By her; the admiral's position would have been equivocal.) But Senator Kirkhill and the “Dowager Admiral” would, undoubtedly, have presented a problem. Mrs. Burton had little use for politicians.

“Better this way, Dad,” Freddie repeated, and the admiral said “Wumph” again, but with moderated emphasis. He is a darling really, Freddie thought, and patted one of the arms which should have been to the elbow in gold braid.

“Suppose you've heard from Kirkhill?” the admiral said, changing the subject with authority.

“No,” Freddie said. “He's coming on the Congressional; going to the Waldorf to change, coming on. It's all arranged.”

The admiral said “Wumph” again and seemed about to continue. The hesitancy was untypical. Freddie said, “Yes, Dad?”

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