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First published in The American Magazine, June 1936

Collected in Masquerade: Ten Crime Stories,
The Lost Classics Series, Crippen & Landru, 2007

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2022
Version Date: 2022-07-22

Produced by Matthias Kaether and Roy Glashan

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The American Magazine, June 1936 with "Masquerade"


Not all the guests at the party had
been invited... for instance Joe Walton.

FOR the occasion of the Mexican masquerade, James Partington Wesley dressed himself from the heels to the guards. He wore a pair of golden, spoon-handled spurs with tiny golden balls in them that kept up a tinkling melody as he walked, a whisper of music at his heels, so to speak. His boots were softer than doe-skin and more shining than glass. Over them fitted a pair of the tight Mexican trousers which flared out at the bottom and were decorated up the outer seam with silver and golden conchas... real gold, solid gold, of course, from Wesley's big mine, El Rey. About his hips flowed a silken, crimson scarf, fringed with deep golden thread. He had on a Mexican jacket overworked like a church tapestry with intricate arabesquings. His jacket was opened in front over the blue silk of his shirt, but' toned with jewels of different sorts. The sombrero tilted back on his gray head was banded with beautiful Mexican wheel work, also gold.

This costume set the keynote for the masquerade. Two hundred people in the brightest Mexican dress were having fun all the way from the arches of the big patio, down the terraces of the garden, to the ancient cypresses which Mood about the lake festooned with lights; and two orchestras made music, one for the dancers on the tiles of the patio, snapping out the latest jazz, and one on a float in the lake, breathing those lazy Mexican songs which stir the heart and quicken the blood.

The festival was well under way and it was high time for Partington Wesley to descend from his dressing-room-study into the midst of all that happiness; but he remained in the big chair with his head reclining against the padded wing of the high back. His appearance was thoughtful; his eyes half open, dull with peering into the future. His gray hair seemed silver-white in contrast with the brilliant black of his waxed mustaches; and on those mustaches there was a single bead of dark red. It had run down—one could see the faint, pink trail—from the forehead of Wesley. Exactly between the eyes, just in the center of his habitual frown, was a bullet-hole. That was why Wesley was late.

Joe (Kinky) Walton observed the dead man with a judicial eye. He even leaned and looked into the dead eyes before he straightened and nodded, satisfied; then he put the revolver back inside his jacket. All the sound of music and of happy voices that came fountaining up from the patio and spread in wide ripples across the terraces to the lake was hushed by the rapid booming of several explosions. Whole rings and clusters of dazzling white stars appeared in the sky, a dropping constellation of brightness that showed the cloud of white smoke from which it fell.

These ten thousand startling eyes of brilliance looked in through the window, overmastered the lights in the room, and made the shadow of tall Joe Walton flow suddenly across the dead man. He was so startled that he whirled about, and the corner of the table rubbed against his sash. The wood was centuries old, worm-eaten, and therefore as rough as a file. For that reason a fuzzy bit of fluff detached from the silk and remained clinging to the worm-eaten wood. But Walton did not look down at it. The flickering dance of the fireworks in the sky. in fact, had partially blinded him, and the booming explosions still left a tremor in his mind.

There were windows on both sides of the room, from one side overlooking the garden and on the other opening upon the balcony which ran past the entire side of Wesley's suite. It was a very decorative bit, that balcony. The little Moorish pillars had been imported from Spain; the arabesques on the vaulted ceiling had made the same journey to New Mexico. A heavy door closed the balcony at the farther end, the only entrance to Wesley's apartment. At the other end the balcony ended with the blank face of the wall.

Between the columns, flowers bloomed from the deep boxes that stood on the balustrade. Walton breathed the warm, heavy scent of them as he leaned to look down the face of the wall to the water beneath. Wesley had dammed the ravine, so that the head of water lapped against the foundations of the old house. The lake irrigated almost a thousand acres of clover and alfalfa that turned into fat beeves, pork, butter, cheese. This lake was now unlighted. It had no part in the festival, because, the season being July, the creek had stopped flow-ing and the water had sunk many feet, revealing ugly, raw, muddy banks on all sides. However, dark as it was, Walton could make out the skiff which he had left at the foot of the wall. It had been possible to climb up the wall using the slightest finger and toe grips. To descend, blindly, was beyond even the power of an ape.

HE considered everything in quiet order, as he had learned to do during his nine years in prison. Some of the old effervescence had left him the moment he was put on trial for the murder of Leclerc. Now that he had served his term for manslaughter—with time off for good behavior—he was a different man. The life essence in him seemed to have changed. At twenty-one he was the first voice in every song, the first hand in every deviltry. At thirty he was of altered material. The pink had been rubbed out of his cheek. He was a big, brown, smooth, quiet fellow, continually smiling a little.

He was now in the most imminent peril. Wesley certainly was being missed from the party, and people would soon come to look for the head of the house, the patron of the festival. Walton considered diving from the balcony, but remembered the rocks near the surface.

The quick time of the music and the happiness of laughing voices from the patio murmured about him as he turned and went back into the room where the dead man sat. His shoulder brushed against the great velvet curtain beside the French door, and the silken whisper hushed his soul with fear, but he forced himself to relax. It is when we are at ease that ideas jump up out of nothing.

The boots which he had tied together and hung about his neck he placed on the floor, and then he sat down in the depths of a comfortable chair. It was typical of the mixed character of Wesley that he should have furnished his private rooms partly in the old Spanish style, partly with French elegance, partly with twentieth-century American comfort. The face which big Kinky Joe Walton regarded with such calm showed a confusion of qualities, from the noble proportions of the forehead to the precise neatness of that waxed mustache and the heavy, bulbous jowls.

WALTON rolled a cigarette with wheat-straw papers. The crumbs of tobacco which fell in his lap he carefully removed and dropped into the pocket of his Mexican jacket. For he had come dressed for the masquerade. He lighted his cigarette, and leaned in the chair to wait for a thought and capture it on the wing. When ashes formed on the end of the cigarette, he knocked them into the palm of his left hand, pulverized them, and then blew them into a puff of nothingness He wished to leave not the slightest clue.

Calmly he abstracted his mind from the noise of the jubilee and blinded his eyes to the flowers and trees of fire that bloomed with thunder outside the opposite windows of the room. In this way he happened to look up the lines of the velvet curtains to the long cords which looped across the top and hung down the sides... Kinky Joe got to his feet like a cat that sees a bird.

The paper cutter on the long table was a good old Mexican dagger, with a bit of sharpness still left to its straight blade. He used that to cut the cords. When he had four of them he started knotting them together.

His fingers began to shudder at the work. He stopped, deliberately flexed and opened his hands, and resumed the work without foolish haste. He had made the rope and draped it over one of the columns just above the boat when he heard voices and then the rattle of a key in the door that was the entrance to Wesley's rooms, the big, iron-bound door on the balcony.

Kinky Joe Walton straddled the flower box before him, grasped the double strand of the rope, and swung himself softly over the edge of the balustrade.

The iron-bound door of the balcony opened, groaning a little as the weight came onto the hinges. To Joe Walton, descending his double rope, even the whispers of the velvet binding of the cords through his hands seemed loud enough to betray him. The boots strung about his neck tapped on the wall. With his bare toes he kept fending himself away from it, while his hands paid out the ropes. He checked his progress when he heard two voices on the balcony.

"You go in first, Kathryn," said the man. "You go in first and tell him how things are with us."

"You don't want to hide behind me, do you?" she asked.

"I'm not ashamed of being afraid of your father. Everybody is afraid of him."

"He's not my father."

"He's just the same. Adoption makes him just the same as your real father."

"Not by a long jump," said Kathryn. "Real blood has a claim. But if I marry a man he doesn't approve of, I've jumped out the window and out of his mind at the same time."

"Confound the money and all the rest you can get from him. I've got money enough."

"Enough for what?"

"You don't have to live like a princess in velvet, do you? You can be happy without that, can't you?"

"WHAT have I been working all these years for?" she demanded. "What have I been playing such a part for, singing the songs he likes, reading aloud to him in the evening until he is snoring in his chair?"

"Don't you love him at all?"

"I used to when I was a brainless little youngster... before I understood why he'd adopted me."

"He adopted you because he wanted to have a girl in the house to raise along with Jimmy."

"He adopted me because of my pretty face. Besides, people think a man who adopts a child must have a heart. He needs to give the world that sort of proof."

"Kathryn, you're so lovely that...."

"Bah! Stop it!... I hate my face! I wish I had freckles and a pug nose. I'd never have come into this rotten house, then.... You don't know.... When there are no guests it isn't so bad. But when there are people in the place I have to go in and be looked over before I go down to dinner. I have to be looked over like a... like a Miss America in a bathing suit. I've hated him so long that I'm half afraid he begins to know it. I hate him so much that I think it's the reason I'm ready to marry you."

"Wait a minute... Kathryn!"

"It's anything to get away from this place. I don't love you. Clay. You know that."

"You're going to. I'm going to teach you to, darling."

"Can't you just be real? Can't you say, 'Kathryn, you're nice to look at... and you're going to have about five million dollars some day. And, besides, I rather like you.' That's the way you feel."

"I don't... Kathryn....

"That the way you feel, though. You've seen too much devil in me, Clay. If I weren't half convinced that you're a liar, I wouldn't mind going in to break the ice for you with J. Partington Wesley, as he likes to call himself."

ALL of this talk had been quite clearly audible to big Joe Walton as he inched his way down that rope, blessing the velvet sheathing which made it flow so softly through his hands. But his shoulders were aching with fatigue as he neared the intimate lapping of the little waves of the lake. He reached the boat.

Above him, he thought, perhaps the two of them were already in the dead man's presence. They would make no noise, for Kathryn was not the screaming type; she never had been, even when she was only eleven or twelve years old and had been "his girl." Or perhaps at this very moment they were putting hands on the velvet rope, and an electric torch would shine over the edge of the balcony and find him like an eye in the night.

He began to draw on one part of the rope, very gently. The smooth of the old marble pillar above and the velvet easing of the rope made it run easily. A thick coil of it was already in his arms when the pressure ceased from above. Something flew coiling down, noiseless and almost weightless, and showered over him. That was the last half of the rope.

He swept it together and dropped it in the skiff.

There were two small oars, but he dared not risk the clicking noise of the oarlocks. Instead, he knelt in the center of the boat and used one oar as a paddle. His strokes were soundless as he slid the skiff to the rocky place from which he had started his voyage. There, stepping ashore, he watched the stars in the lake put out in groups and single brightnesses by the spreading wake he had left behind him.

He wanted to be off that instant, for the lights from the windows of Wesley's room shone clearly across the water; they converged like a group of spears, aimed straight at the eye of Joe Walton. However, he made himself wait until he had rolled and tied the curtain-rope around a weighty rock. The water at this point was at least twenty feet deep, so he dropped the bundle at once. The skiff he set adrift, just as he had found it, to be carried by the changing wind to another point on the lake. Then he retired to the brush.

There he waited for a long moment, staring towards the huge, looming outline of the house. It seemed totally incredible that Kathryn and Clay... that would be young Clay Bristol, no doubt... had not found the dead man by this time. But still the house had not been alarmed. The jigging rhythm of the patio orchestra continued; the laughing voices drew in the distance to a single focal point of happiness; and far off, on the lake beneath the terraces, he could make out with surprising clearness, through the nearer music rather than over it, the song which the Mexican orchestra was playing on the float:

Blue eyes all the long day I remember;
Brown eyes I find in the soft, treacherous shadows;
But black eyes I remember in the night.
Then sorrow descends upon me from the sky
And the starlight gathers like frost upon my soul....

As he listened, Joe Walton remembered the stringy, swift little body of Kathryn Wesley and her brown eyes, already too old with thought and brooding. There grew up in him a desire greater than thirst in the desert to learn what was actually living in the mind of the girl, and to have sight of her again. Besides, it would be better to show himself in the festival. His first intention had been to find Wesley in the midst of the celebration, and now it seemed best to go down among the people, and among their numbers to wash away all suspicion.

First, he examined himself carefully by match-light. The dust on his knees and elbows he was able to brush away; the cloth was undamaged. The boots he had carried around his neck were scratched here and there but he was able to rub the scratches out. So he pulled on socks, then boots, and stood up to take his way to the house of Wesley. His horse remained where the reins had been thrown under the lee of the great projecting rock. He climbed into the saddle, and gave the gelding a brisk mile's gallop to start the sweat streaming properly before he came to the long double shed under which the horses and the automobiles of the visitors were sheltered. Just before he reached it, a huge tree of crimson fire flung trunk and branches into the sky and hung there for a moment, bathing the house, the terraces, the lower lake with blood red; immediately afterwards came the booming of the report and the rapid, flying echoes....

A WALL of flowers, woven over the cruel thorns of a hedge of Spanish bayonet, prevented the guests from passing directly into the patio but permitted them to enter through a great floral gateway onto the second garden terrace. From this point of view each arrival saw the entire picture at its best, from the wide patio entrance, down the terraces, to the colored lights which shone, like flowers also, among the huge Mexican cypresses that fringed the lower lake. The float on which the musicians were moored was lighted with Japanese lanterns only and bloomed faintly on the black of the water. But the main feature of the festival was a little Mexican village—or the face of a village's single street—which ran down through the center of the garden.

Every house held some sort of Mexican reality: a baby that squalled until its mother soothed it with ancient Mexican songs; a trained pig, with the dirty old man who had trained it; three or four readers of the future through cards, palmistry, and the stars; workers of mysteries with cards and dice.

The crown of all was the little plaza with the white face of a miniature church on one side, and a series of shops opposite where all the goods were free gifts to those who chose to take them.

Best of all was the Wesley interpretation of a barbecue. The center of it was a whole ox turning on a great spit that got its motive power from a mule trudging in a patient circle. Now and then someone wanted a portion of that fat beef, and the spit was stopped while the attending chef cut to one's taste and measure.

A series of old, hand-hammered Mexican iron pots stood over low fires, and in them simmered several kinds of beans in several kinds of Mexican hot sauces, and finally the greatest pot of all, in which were young chickens cooking slowly, so tender that they almost dissolved into the soup.

No matter to what part of the plaza one turned there was food, and more food, not served at a definite time but whenever and wherever one chose to have it. For in-stance, there was a whole row of Dutch ovens in which saddles of venison were ripening for the most tender mouth; there were continual fresh hatches of roast corn on the cob, tortillas, long loaves of crusty bread, complicated pastries grouped around a monstrous cake five feet in diameter, with frosting an inch thick. And almost every bird that ran on the desert or flew in the Mogollon Mountains could be had roasted or boiled or fried to the taste.

BIG Joe Walton had gone as far as the plaza, sauntering, before Sam Bent caught him suddenly by the elbow and said, "Great Scott!... it's Kinky!"

Walton turned on him that new smile of his which no one except the men of the penitentiary had seen before this day. He said, "Hello, Sammy. But I'm not 'Kinky' any more. I've had all the kinks rolled and hammered out of me."

Sam Bent stepped a little closer, still with his eyes going up and down the tall body of his former friend. He said softly, "Do they know that you're here?"

He hooked his finger towards the house, all dim in the night except where the lights flashed upwards on the clusters and files of great flags which decorated the facade.

"They didn't invite me; they didn't invite half these people," said Walton. "They just said that all old friends would be welcome. I used to be an old friend, didn't I?"

Sam Bent stared at him. He said, "Wesley tried to hang you, nine years ago. Have you forgotten that?"

And Walton answered, "Sammy. I've spent nine years in a place where it's not worth while remembering."

"You mean that?" asked Sam Bent.

Walton kept on smiling; he made no answer. Bent stepped back, nodding. "All right," he said. "All right!"

Walton went on. It was just as well that Bent had recognized him. That was why he was there to be recognized. Five minutes later a chilly little whisper began to stir around him, and he knew that the news which Bent had reported had overtaken him. He found eyes were being fixed upon him with a covert hunger, and instantly removed when he looked back. Of course, they thought that he had come back for one or two reasons: either to get his revenge on Wesley or to prove that his spirit was humbled and that he was ready to kiss the hand which struck him down. He did not care in the least what conclusions these people reached. Nine years of pain either rub the flesh and soul raw or else put on a fine-grained finish that even the most potent social acids cannot cat through, and Walton was able to look in every eye and maintain that quiet smiling. All he wanted was to be seen, and when that was accomplished he could leave the Wesley grounds. In the meantime, he was strolling idly through the crowd.

Little Dick Martin came running up to him from behind. He was no longer "little," for time had put on him ten pounds a year. He panted with fat and surprise and good nature.

"Old Kinky!" he said, squeezing the hard knuckles of Walton's hand. "The old Kinky back among us."

"With all the kinks out, brother," smiled Walton.

"I don't know what's up your sleeve, but I'm glad you're here!"

"I'm looking for my girl," said Walton.


"Little Kathryn. She used to be my girl."

"Kathryn? She's not little any more."

"I suppose not. Things don't stand still, except in jail."

"How was it?" asked Dick Martin.

"The best rest cure in the world," said Walton.

"Cure for what?" asked Dick stupidly.

"For fireworks, and things," said Walton, as another bomb exploded above them and filled the air with intricacies of white flame. "If you see Kathryn, tell her that I'm looking for her, will you? So long, Dick."

"Wait a minute," said Dick.

"So long," said Walton, and walked on.

EVERYONE knew about him by this time; people were hurrying into the plaza to make sure that it was indeed Joe Walton, murderer, who had come to the Wesley party.

A man with powerful shoulders and a good deal of the bulldog in his face stepped around in front of him as he sauntered. People came to a pause on every hand. This fellow was perhaps twenty-three but be carried about with him an air of authority and possession.

"Are you Joe Walton?" he asked.

"That's my name," said Walton.

"I'm Jimmy Wesley," said the other.

"You've grown to quite a man, Jimmy."

"I've grown enough to ask you what you want here?"

"All the old friends were invited," said Walton, with his smile. "So I just dropped in. Glad to see me, Jimmy, aren't you?"

It was a warm night, but Jimmy began to sweat more than the weather explained. He was dressed as a cavalier of the old Spanish school, with lace at his wrists and a ruff sticking out from his bull throat.

"You came to get at Father," said Jimmy, thrusting out his chin.

"Matter of fact, I'd like to see him," said Walton.

"You're seeing me. Will that do you?" asked Jimmy Wesley.

"I'm not here for fighting. I'm just here for fun." said Walton.

"The deuce you are," answered Wesley. "Hey, boy!"

He stopped a dark-faced Mexican who was going by with a wineskin and a tray of glasses under his ami. Just another touch of the old style.

"A couple of glasses!" ordered Jimmy Wesley.

When they were filled with expert speed, he held one out to Walton. "Have this with me, will you?" he said.

"Thanks," said Walton. "I'm not drinking."

Jimmy Wesley put the glasses slowly back on the tray without taking his eyes from the face of Walton.

"All right," he said. "I guess I understand."

"I hope you do," said Walton. "You look like a bright boy, Jimmy."

HE walked past the hard, set face of Jimmy Wesley with no other farewell. It had been rather clever of Jimmy, he thought, to have put him to that old fashioned Western test of the host and the guest. As a matter of fact, hunger raged in him, and thirst also, but he would not break bread or taste so much as pure, cold water as the guest of the Wesley millions. He told himself that he was a fool and that he should never have let Jimmy catch him on such an old and silly superstition. But the beliefs we are born with lie deeper than the skin of all except the liars....

"Joe! Oh, Joe!" called a voice behind him.

He knew the voice. He had heard it that same evening, not long before, as he dangled at the end of a velvet rope. Now, as he turned, he saw her coming. She was like something of Velasquez, except that the stem old Spanish painter had never found a face and a throat as lovely as hers to make immortal. She lacked that dignity which Velasquez liked to pour over the feeble court of the Spanish king. Actually, she was picking up her skirts so that she could run to Walton.

He saw the faces of the witnesses gaping as they watched. Actually he felt their breath stopped and not retaken as she hurried up to him with one hand held out.

"I'm so glad!" she cried. "I've been hunting everywhere."

She put her hands on his shoulders. "Kiss me, Joe, won't you?" she asked.

He thought of the face of the dead man, which she must have seen only a little time before; then he leaned and kissed her lips, tenderly.

"I'm still your girl, Joe?" she said, taking his arm, walking with him, and putting all her enchantment in her eyes and in her laughter as she looked up at him.

"How much of this is for the crowd and how much for me?" asked Walton.

"About fifty-fifty, dear," she said.

"What a dull time you must have been having," said Walton.

"Simply rotten," answered Kathryn. She added, "You haven't told me whether or not I'm still your girl, Joe?"

"What d'you think?" he asked, with his smile.

They were wandering out of the patio, towards the softer lights of the lake below.

"I don't know," she replied. "You have such a new face that perhaps you have a new heart, too.... It's darker, here, and the fools can't keep on staring.... I'm really glad to see you, Joe."

"There's no Wesley in your blood," said Walton. "I'd like as much of you as you'll give, Kathryn. How much is that?"

"I don't know how much of me there is," she answered. "Shall we find out?"

"Let's find out," said he....

SHERIFF Bill Leinster had a modernized wooden leg. The modernization consisted in the rubber tip, and it was the only modern thing about Sheriff Bill. Once he was a lean, hard-drawn desert man with no extras in the way of flesh, but after Mickey Kinkaid put two bullets through his right knee and he had to take to the wooden leg, he was less active and he put on weight. He was resting his artificial limb in a rock-ing chair and drinking beer as cold as the mountain snows when Kathryn Wesley found him, not many minutes before site ran to join big Joe Walton so cheerfully.

The sheriff had made a valiant effort to costume himself for the party. He took a fancy to a jaunty red cloak of cotton velvet, but though the color fitted well with his rosy complexion, the skirts of the cloak were by no means large enough to reach around his tub of a body. He also liked a small hat with a big feather in it that stuck on his round, bald head like an inkwell with a quill. His jeans, to which he was accustomed, and his rough old cowhide boots, he could not give up.

He was just finishing his beer with one hand and signaling with the other for a fresh glass when Kathryn Wesley came down into the patio to him.

She said, "Uncle Billy, will you come along with me?"

"You know how many miles I've rode today?" asked the sheriff. "I've rode thirty miles with my peg leg tied to a stirrup leather and me all sluiced around side-wise in the saddle like a sack of barley. So don't ask me to go along anywheres with you unless you got the people to help to carry me, Kate."

She leaned over him a little. "Father has been killed," she said.

THERE was a drop of beer left in the glass, after all, as the last of the foam melted down. And Sheriff Bill Leinster finished the drop, put down the glass, and swung himself up to his feet with a sort of clumsy agility. He used a cane in his left hand and kept the right free for emergencies.

"Go ahead and I'll follow on after you," said the sheriff.

But she took his arm and helped him, saying, "You just lean a lot of weight on me, Uncle Billy. I don't look like much, but I'm a pretty good mountain climber."

"You ain't much upset about your daddy's death," said the sheriff cheerfully. "How come, Kate?"

"You know how come," said the girl.

"Yeah. You and him never got on very good, did you?"

"Never very good," she said.

"How'd you find him?"

"You'll see."

"Tell me something, Kathryn."

"You ask your questions all at once. Uncle Billy, and then I won't come out in a spotted rash trying to answer them by installments."

Bill Leinster laughed and panted as he reached the level of Wesley's balcony. In the library, which was on that floor, they passed a man with a scarred face and a pointed beard, in a sweeping cloak.

"Hello... ain't I seen you somewhere?" asked Bill Leinster.

"I am Don Pedro de Alvarez," said the man with the scar on his face, and the tension of the scar-tissue pulled his mouth crooked as he spoke. "You may have known me in the African wars, señor."

"Yeah? African?" echoed the sheriff. "Yeah, maybe!"

And he went on, muttering, "Darn these fellows that take a costume party so serious that it gets onto their tongue, like whisky. How about him, Kathryn?"

"I don't know," she said. "He's just a poor devil, I suppose."

"You always know a man as soon's you see him," answered the sheriff.

"All I saw of this one was his scar. Uncle Billy.... Here's the door."

IT was made of thick wood with heavy bands of iron wrought into the surface to give it extra strength. The girl took a key out of her purse.

"Wait a minute, Kate. This is the only door into your daddy's rooms, ain't it?"

"That's right."

"Who's got the keys to it?"

"I have this one; then there's Jimmy... no, not Jimmy any more. Father gave Jimmy's key to Wickett."

"Who's Wickett?"

"He's the tough fellow that Father hired as a bodyguard."

"Why would James P. Wesley want a bodyguard?"

She shrugged her shoulders.

"Where's this Wickett now?" asked the sheriff.

"I don't know," she answered.

"Was he around when you seen what happened?"

"I didn't see what happened. I only saw the results of it. Father told Wickett to circulate through the crowd and see that nobody made any trouble on account of the wine."

"When it comes to free booze," said the sheriff, taking the key from her and examining it, "there's a lot of the boys that'll work overtime and not ask for no extra pay.... Tell me something, Kathryn."

"All right," she said. "But don't take me by surprise, Uncle Billy."

"Arc you a good girl?" he asked.

"Don't trust brown eyes," she said.

"Ah, Kate," he said, "you always been an ornery, mean little cuss of a spunky cayuse, is what you always been. Ain't you a good girl, Kathryn?"

"I've got my good spots," she said.

"Look me in the eye."

She looked him in the eye, unwavering.

"You could do dam' near anything. I guess," said the sheriff, musing over her.

"Anything that becomes a lady," said the girl, with a faint smile.

"Yeah? Murder don't become nobody!" said the sheriff.

Her eyes pinched a little, suddenly, the light shrinking to a point. She said nothing but kept on watching his face.

"Well..." said the sheriff, and unlocked the door.

He stood and looked down the balcony. There was a sudden salvo of fireworks that shook the house; the sky filled with dartings of light and then a glow.

"A gun wouldn't be heard through a noise like that," said the sheriff. "You been here alone when you seen him?"

"I had a witness. Clay was with me."

"I don't like him," said the sheriff.

"Why not? Clay's all right."

"He's just one of them darn' Easterners," said the sheriff. "Now, take it right up from here. What did you do?"

"I stood here with Clay and talked with him for a while."

"Was he making love to you, Kate?"

"No. He wasn't."

"Ain't you a liar, Kate?"

"Partly," she said. "I forget."

"You never forgot nothing in your whole life," answered the sheriff. "Then what happened?"

"We went down to Father's room."

"Why was the two of you calling on him?"

"We wanted to ask if he'd permit Clay to marry me."

"Would you have to be permitted if you wanted to marry somebody?" asked the sheriff.

"What you think, Uncle Billy?"

"I think you'd go and grab your man and marry him, and that's that!"

"I've got a five-million-dollar tag on me," said Kathryn, "and I believe in taking care of high-priced goods."

"All right.... You don't care how mean you show yourself, do you?"

"You know me so well, Uncle Billy," she answered, "that I have to pick my times for lying, and make them very few."

"Well, maybe," he answered. "Come along, then."

They went down the balcony to the open French windows of the room where the body of Wesley was sitting.

"Neat, eh?" said the sheriff.

"It was a good shot," said the girl. Her voice was perfectly level, but Leinster looked suddenly at her.

"Crying over him, eh?" he asked.

She mastered herself quickly. "Not really," she said.

"Kind of loved him, didn't you?" he persisted.

"I never loved him. But I loved some of the things about him," she said.

"Look here. Why'd your father take the key away from Jimmy and give it to this chest-protector of his, this Wickett?"

"Well... Jimmy has been doing a little light drinking, and Father didn't like it. He warned Jimmy, and finally he took the key away from him."

"YOU don't lie well till you get warmed up to it," answered Leinster, "and then you go right along like a trotting horse. What was the real reason that he took the key away?"

"Give me time, Uncle Billy, and I'll think up something else."

"While you're thinking, you can run along, honey.... But am I gunna have to see a rope knotted around that pretty little throat of yours?"

"I hope not, Uncle Billy."

"I hope not, too, but, as sure as there's been murder here, I wouldn't spare you none, no matter how long I've known you."

"Of course you wouldn't," she agreed.

"Only the three keys to that door? Your key, and Wesley's, and Wickett's?"

"That's all."

"Any other way of getting to these rooms?"

"Turn yourself into a lizard and climb up from the lake, or take a good pair of wings and fly."

"Will you run along?" asked the sheriff.

"I'll run." she said.

He waited until he heard the heavy, in inbound door clang with a booming sound at the end of the balcony. Then he approached the dead man. He took a cigarette out of a filigreed box on the table and fitted it, with a horrible exactness and unconcern, in the bloodless wound between the eyes. Then he backed away and sighted down a revolver until he was exactly in line with the direction in which the cigarette pointed. The sheriff found himself standing directly in front of the French window that opened upon the balcony.

Sheriff Bill Leinster removed the cigarette and threw it into the fireplace. After that, he began to hobble about the room and out on the balcony. At the balcony railing he took out a small electric torch and moved carefully down the balustrade until he came to one of the boxes where the flowers were, perhaps, a trifle bent. Here he held the torch level on the flowers for an entire minute. By the end of that time he was certain that some of the green branches were lifting, more slowly than the hand of a clock. So grass, crushed down by a footfall, will keep on rising for hours until all or nearly all of it is standing erect again.

AT this point, Leinster leaned over the balustrade and swept the water of the black lake beneath him with his torch. The cone of light, spreading wide, passed like a dim ghost over the lake until it spotted, far away, the black outline of a boat, apparently adrift.

Leinster nodded. He went straight back into the death chamber, where he paused to examine the comer of the table. A slight trace of blue fuzz adhered to the edge of the worm-eaten wood. This he removed with care and then twisted into a thread. It made a single line of dark-blue silk. Leinster tucked it away in his vest pocket.

Afterwards, he lifted a baffled eye to scan the room. Something about it was wrong. There was something loose, inert, uncared-for about the place; and presently he saw that it was because the curtains, instead of falling in straight, neat lines, sagged loosely from the upper corners of the windows. All the curtain cords, which had controlled and kept in place the sweep of red velvet, had disappeared.

Here the sheriff returned to the balcony, shaking his head, his teeth gritting hard. But, instead of continuing his examination, he gripped the key with a sudden decision, plunged it into his pocket, and at once left the master's wing of the house.

Going downstairs was the sheriff's hardest physical maneuver in these days. He managed the thing, as a rule, by sliding one shoulder against the wall and swinging the wooden leg well up and out with each step he made. When he had reached the level of the patio, however, he was able to swing along at a good rate. He passed towards the Mexican improvised village, then to the right through the flowered entrance. Pie Tucker was just coming in. "You leavin', Sheriff?" asked Pie. "I just forgot something," said the sheriff, and he hastened on as though he were in fact on the trail of something of the greatest value. He turned the corner of the long double shed where the automobiles and horses were standing. He went on around the first bend of the rough road which swept up the rise to the Wesley house. Behind a growth of tall shrubbery he sat down on a convenient rock and lighted his pipe. He was panting hard and was covered with perspiration.

Me tried to put his mind in order, but all he could think was, "My stars, I'm fat! I'm old and fat!"

He kept on puffing at his pipe and patting his wooden leg until a small automobile pulled out on the road from the Wesley place and started down towards him. The sheriff got up from his rock and stepped through the brush.

"Hi!" yelled the sheriff, waving his arms as the light flared over him. "Stop!"

The car slid swiftly on down the road towards him. He pulled an old forty-five single-action revolver and fired twice in the air. Even then the machine ran on for a moment before the brakes groaned. The sheriff hobbled after it. The headlights flung their cone brilliantly up the road and struck a yucca, photographing it on the memory; the car itself was a black patch.

"Hello, partners," said Leinster. "Who might you be?"

There was a slight pause, and then a voice said. "Why, hello, Sheriff. I'm that same Don Pedro who spoke to you a while ago."

The sheriff poked his head inside the car. It was empty, except for the driver. "Oh, you the gent that went to the African wars?" asked Leinster.

"Against the infidels, Sheriff," said the driver.

"Outside of that, what might your name be?" asked Leinster.

"Well, it's Alvarez, all right," answered the other.

"Now, doggone me, but I'm surprised to find you leavin' so soon," said the sheriff.

"The fact is that I don't wear the sort of face that makes other people happy," answered Alvarez. "I thought the crowd here would be big enough to cover me up, but it wasn't."

"Somebody sure done a lot of damage to your face, brother," said the sheriff.

"It was a mule," said Alvarez. "A mule with a fast pair of heels. After she kicked me, I thought my brains must be mixed up with the blood that was running out of my head."

"Alvarez, you sure gunna pull right out and leave this crowd?" asked Leinster.

"That's my idea," said the man in the car. "Anything wrong with that?"

"There's nothing wrong with that," said the sheriff. "But what I was wondering was this: Would you do me a favor?"

"I don't see why I shouldn't, if it lies along my road," said Alvarez.

THE sheriff rested his wooden leg on the running board. "Fact is," he said, "I was wondering if you could backtrack and do me the favor right there in Wesley's house."

"Something important?" asked Alvarez.

"It's important to me," said the sheriff. "It's doggone important to me and the law, you might say. You see, Alvarez, I thought that the gent who left the house in a car wouldn't be you. I thought it would be somebody else. That's why I raised the ruction and stopped the car. Hope you don't mind."

"I'd like to help," said Alvarez. "I got no right to ask," said Leinster. "Some kinds of nervous gents would be sort of jittery, being held up with a gun. But you take it so doggone easy, Alvarez—and you ain't got your brain set on the party—so I sort of thought maybe you wouldn't mind lending me a hand."

"Well, I won't mind at all," said Alvarez.

"It's a kind of a dirty job," said the sheriff. "I'll tell you what it is: There's a dead man back there in the house that needs some watching."

"Dead? Great Scott!" exclaimed Alvarez.

"I won't ask you twice," explained the sheriff gently. "I don't wanta drag you in, but the fact is that there's a dead man back there that hadn't oughta be dead. He's a gent that oughta still be alive, and that's a fact.... But he's dead. Would you stand watch over him for me?"

Alvarez suddenly laughed. "You afraid that he'll get up and walk?" he asked.

"I dunno," said Leinster. "I ain't sure of anything. I don't understand. You think you could lend me a hand, partner?"

"Climb in," answered Alvarez, "and I'll do what I can."

AFTER the sheriff was in the car—a slow and dragging process for him—Alvarez turned the car.

"I wouldn't say you were Spanish blood," remarked the sheriff.

"Nobody would," answered Alvarez. "I don't even speak that lingo very well. But the Spanish must be in me back there somewhere. Otherwise I wouldn't be wearing the name. Spanish, mind you. I know well that there's no greaser."

"Sure, there ain't," agreed Leinster.

They left the car, not under the shed, but near the entrance to the grounds. The sheriff, entering, asked to have Jimmy Wesley called; and Jimmy overtook them before they reached the patio. Fifty of the guests, most of them the youngsters of the party, had remained in the patio, preferring to dunce to the jazz music on the waxed tiles; and now one of Wesley's carefully planned entertainment numbers was taking the eye of the crowd. Four Indian girls were doing one of the queer, bending, stamping tribal dances.

The sheriff took Jimmy Wesley by the shoulder. "Jimmy," he said, "you get a couple of men to watch at the entrance and at the stable sheds, out yonder, will you?"

"Watch for what, Uncle Billy?" asked Wesley.

"Watch for anybody that leaves. Watch close, and when they leave, bring back a description of the first man—or woman—or both. Understand?"

"What kind of funny business is up?" asked Wesley.

"You get the men on the job, and Chen you come back. I'll be up in your father's rooms.... Funny thing he ain't come down yet."

"He'll be down, all right," answered Jimmy. "He's ripening himself with some old corn whisky, I guess; but he'll be blossoming all over the place before the night's finished. You wait and see."

Young Wesley went off, and the sheriff looked after him for a moment.

"He don't waste no love on his dad, does he?" asked Leinster.

"I've noticed it that way," answered Alvarez. "The fact is that when the father is a big man and a strong head, the son gets jealous. Ever think of that?"

"Maybe you're right," nodded the sheriff. "Lend me a hand up these stairs, will you?... Zowie! There goes some more fireworks! Speakin' for myself, I'd rather look at a good fat, yearling than at all of these fireworks."

"I'll go with you on that," said Alvarez. "One of those yearlings with the fat right in the eyes."

"Brother," said the sheriff, "you're a man after my own way of thinking."

They reached the balcony door, which Leinster unlocked with Kathryn's key.

They walked into the dead presence of James Partington Wesley, his head still comfortably resting against the cushioned top of the chair. Alvarez simply said, "Wesley, eh?... That was a center shot. Sheriff!"

"Yeah," said the sheriff. "Wesley wasn't looking when he got that. He was leaning his head buck just that way, in the chair, and somebody stood off and took a careful sight. Somebody mean and cool and steady. Anyway, we got this room for a trap, and Wesley is the bait in it, now."

"Bait?" said Alvarez.

"If you'll help me, we'll make a trap, all right," said Leinster. "I'm going to fade out for a minute. Jimmy Wesley is coming up here. When he sees the dead man, you watch what Jimmy does."

"Where'll I watch from?" asked Alvarez.

"From here," said the sheriff, and led the way to the big room on the right. It was a library, all the volumes bound in full morocco leather, blues and greens and warm reds. It was a somber, heavy room, in spite of the color of the bindings.

"I leave this door open," said the sheriff. "You can watch around the corner of it; and you can see a whole lot in that big mirror. Mind doing it, Alvarez?"

Alvarez ran the tip of his tongue over his lips. "There's been murder here, Sheriff," he answered. "You've got a right to tell me what to do.... Where'll you be now?"

"I'll come back in time to get part of the show," said the sheriff. "Just keep your ears open and your eyes filed down right fine, will you?"

"Like needles," said Alvarez, and smiled. The smile pulled his mouth crookedly to the side against the scar tissue on his cheek....

THE majority of the Wesley guests remained in the patio or strung through the various attractions of the Mexican village, but a few preferred the quiet of the lower lake, the stringed orchestra with its single mournful flute, and those soft old timeless Mexican songs that drifted in from the float. Big Joe Walton sat beside Kathryn Wesley on the bank. He had gathered some pebbles and threw them one by one, at little intervals, into the water, which was spotted with varying colors from the lights strung through the trees above them. Therefore, by choosing his mark with absent-minded care, he could make the pebbles throw up a splash of violet, of red, of pale green, or of thin gold, and afterwards the small ripples slid away along the surface and seemed to mix up all the colors like oil.

"What's the song? How does it go, Joe?" asked the girl.

The mild chorus floated to them over the water, clear and small, like a thing of the mind.

"It goes like this," said Walton.... "You don't know Spanish?"

"Never picked it up," she answered.

He began to translate in detached lines and phrases:

"Love has made me a stranger...
In all the familiar places of my life
Love has made me a stranger.
The voices of my friends are strange to me;
Their eyes have no meaning.
All that rejoiced me is like meat without salt;
Only with you, my beautiful and dear one.
Only at your side I seem to sit at a feast
With wine and roses."

The music ended. A little ripple of laughter ran along the near banks of the lake.

"THOSE words were rather nice," said the girl. "It's queer that people would laugh at them."

"Youngsters always laugh at love," said Walton.

"Why, Joe?"

"It's too big for them to speak of it; so they giggle like fools. Ever notice something, Kathryn?"


"Girls are always laughing at nothing."

"I don't laugh a great deal," she said.

"You're not young enough," he answered. "You never were young enough."

"You've grown rather wise, Joe."

"I've had ninety years of thinking behind me," he answered.

"There goes another song. Translate it, will you?" she asked. "And put your arm around me, Joe.... That's better. Let me get my head comfortable.... I hope this doesn't seem silly to you, now that you've grown so old."

He said nothing. But as the music started he translated again:

"Chiquita—the devil take you, Chiquita!
I lived in the mountains;
I was as free as a goat.
When the eagles began screaming in spring;
When the waterfalls were shouting in the canyons;
When the birds sang to each other;
Then I laughed in my heart because I was free.
But I drove my flock to the village,
Chiquita; The devil take you, Chiquita!
Over your shoulder, why did you smile at me?"

The song being ended, silence remained along the banks of the lake.

"That's an amusing one. I wonder why they don't laugh at that?" asked the girl.

Walton plumped a small pebble into the water. It made a little musical sound; the water jumped up like a finger of gold.

"The youngsters don't laugh at that," said Walton, "because there's sense in it."

"Hm-m," murmured the girl. "I don't think it's particularly clever."

She turned her face up towards his, to wait for the answer. Instead, he merely plumped another stone into the lake and watched the pale-green splash that followed.

"Turn your face down," said Walton.

"Why?" she asked.

"I don't like to have it so near," he answered.

"Hm-m," she murmured again, without moving. "It's a queer thing, rather nice and rather sad. To have a man like you caring so much about me, I mean."

"I haven't said a word about caring for you, Kathryn."

She laughed a little. "Look up here, Joe," she said.

"Well?" he asked, raising his head.

"You see those stars through the branches?" she asked.

"What about them?"

"That's the way I see the truth through all your lying, Joe."

"I don't lie, except when it's important," he answered.

"This is important, isn't it?"

"Not a bit. I'll never see you again."

"Will you look at me? Don't you like to?"

"The looking is all right," said Walton, continuing to stare at the lighted float.

"Tell me something."

"About what?"

"What really happened, when you killed Leclerc?"

"Oh, about that? I simply had a grudge against him, and went out and filled him full of lead. It seems that his body fell down into the canyon and was carried away by the water. That must be why the corpse was never found."

"That's what the jurors believed. What really happened?"

"That's what happened. I've got nine years of proof that that's what happened."

"No. It was something else. You couldn't have killed a man. You could now, but then you couldn't. Tell me the truth. Kiss me and then tell me."

"I won't have any more of this nonsense," said Walton.

After a moment he turned his head and kissed her. He said, "We'd been out prospecting—your father and I. We'd made a strike. We came back to his place before we filed the claim. There was no hurry. Leclerc was here at the old house. It didn't look the way it looks now."

"I know," she said.

"Leclerc was a dog," said Walton. "When I saw him at the house we had some words. I hit him. The cook saw me do it. Your father held me back. Leclerc got out. As he went, I swore that I'd use a gun the next time I met him."

"What was the matter between you and Leclerc? Was it a girl?"

"Yes. I was a fool. Your father and I argued about Leclerc. Afterwards he left the house for an hour or so. He came back. We had a gloomy sort of lunch. Your father went out again. When he came back he had the sheriff with him."

"Uncle Billy?"

"Yes. I saw them coming and knew something was wrong. I started to get out. I was on my horse when they turned loose with their guns and shot the horse down. It pinned me with the fall. They arrested me for killing Leclerc. They showed me his hat with a bullet hole through it and a bloodstain, where they'd found it on the side of the canyon. And James Partington Wesley swore that he'd seen me meet Leclerc and shoot him down without giving him a chance to draw."

She, after a moment of silence, said, "Trial strike that you and Father made... was that what turned out to be El Rey, the big mine?"

"That was El Rey," he answered.

"Did you come here to kill him?" she asked.

He plumped a stone into the water. He threw still another. "Did you ever hear the story of Delilah?" he asked. "What of it?"

"Shall I leave you, or will you get up and leave me?"

"Do you think I'm trying to draw you into trouble, Joe?"

"Well, good-by," said Walton.

"If you go now, when will you come back?" she asked.

"I'm not coming back," he answered.

"You will, though."

"Are you so sure of that?

"When you translated those songs, you were saying, around the comer, that you care a lot about me."

"What do you mean by that?"

"Why, Joe, I can talk Spanish like a native. I know what the real words of the songs were."

He dropped back his head and groaned.

"You meant what you said... in those translations, didn't you?" she begged.

He would not speak.

She said, "Suppose you and I are both as bad as we can be—hard and bad—still we could love each other, couldn't we?"

Three men came out of the darkness, suddenly. The voice of Clay Bristol said, "Walton, don't make a move! You're wanted!"

The girl stepped close to Walton. She held him by the arms and lifted her face to him. "We could love each other, couldn't we, Joe?" she asked.

Two men came to his shoulders, each of them with a naked gun.

"We could love each other, Joe, couldn't we?" she repeated.

His head bent by degrees.

"Watch him!" cautioned Clay Bristol. "He's as dangerous as a snake. Fan him. See if he's wearing a gun!"

"Here!" said one of the others. And he drew the big revolver from under Walton's armpit.

The head of Walton sank. He stared into the face of the girl. "Are you straight?" he asked.

"Maybe I never was before. Even five minutes ago. I am now," she answered.

"Yes," said Walton. "We could love each other."

She stood on tiptoe, with her arms straining around him, and kissed him for the third time that night....

THE wind drifted the skiff gradually across the lake and touched its stem against the shore. The peg-legged sheriff hauled it up and scanned it from stem to stern with his torch. He found nothing of interest, except that when he turned one of the oarlocks, it squeaked and groaned loudly. After that, he resumed his walk around the edge of the lake.

When he came to the place where the brush advanced close to the edge of the bank, the light showed him one faint imprint of toes on a little sandy spot. Otherwise the surface was brick-hard from sun-baking, or else was rock.

The sheriff sat down, lighted his pipe, and took out a small notebook and a pencil and a little pair of calipers. With the calipers he laid out the dimensions of that big toe and all the little prints that tapered down beside it. Afterwards, he tried to sketch in the rest of the foot from suggestion. That was pretty inaccurate work, but he knew distinctly that the man who had stepped on this spot was large and heavy; otherwise the bare toes would not have dug into the sand so strongly.

The sheriff went back through the brush. He found a place where footprints suddenly began, indicated by the small dents where a pair of high heels had been stepping along. These prints led to a tall rock where a horse with a cross-barred shoe on the left forefoot had idled for some time. A few hairs were lodged against the face of the rock, where the horse had chafed an itching flank. It was a gray horse, a tall gray horse with a barred shoe on the left fore-hoof.

SHERIFF LEINSTER went down to the house again and swung his wooden leg up the stairs, but when he came to the balcony and through the open door of it he moved with a greater care, bringing down the rubber tip of his wooden leg so softly that it made not the least sound; his cowhide boot became as soft as velvet, and as silent. So he came to the French windows, through which he looked again into the face of James Partington Wesley. A shadow came out of the library door. That was his new acquaintance, Alvarez, with his scar-face distorted by mouthing, silent speech. Alvarez was frantically indicating the door at the farther end of the room; at the same time he began a catlike advance. The sheriff, moving more slowly, reached the door at the lower end of the room at the same moment with Alvarez.

"Get your gun ready," said Alvarez, putting his lips at the ear of the sheriff, and whispering with a hissing breath. "I'll throw the door open, quick."

Leinster hooked his cane over his shoulder, steadied himself against the wall with one hand, and pulled out the old single-action revolver. Then Alvarez cast the door suddenly wide. It threw a gust of wind before it that rattled among some papers scattered on the floor in front of the little steel safe which filled a corner of James Partington Wesley's bedroom. The door of the safe was wide open; half a dozen of the neat, shining little metal drawers were pulled partly out; and Jimmy Wesley kneeled on the carpet with his hands full of documents.

Gradually he stood straight. The stuff in his hands dropped to the floor and spilled out in a wide, white splash.

"You go and see if Jimmy has got anything interesting in his clothes, will you?" said the sheriff. "Jimmy, I'm kind of surprised to see you here."

Jimmy said nothing. Alvarez came up to him from behind and slid his hands over the body of young Wesley. "Nothing on him," he reported. "Where'd you throw it?" asked the sheriff. "Tell me where you threw it, Jimmy, will you?"

"Threw what?" asked Jimmy. "The gun," said the sheriff. "What gun?"

"The one you used in there," said Leinster.

The head of Jimmy thrust forward. "Oh... that..." he said. "I murdered my fattier, you think?"

"You gave so darn' little about him, you might of, mightn't you?" asked the sheriff.

"He hated me," answered Jimmy. "Why should I pretend?"

"What happened to bring you in here?" asked the sheriff.

"When I heard that you wanted to see me," said Jimmy, "I came up, and found the rooms empty; except for the dead man. So I stepped back in here, naturally."

"Why naturally?" asked the sheriff.

"Naturally, because I knew that the safe was here."

"What made you think about the safe, sonny?"

"I knew it held the new will."

"What new will?"

"The one he wrote out in favor of Kathryn. All in her favor!"

"He wouldn't do that, would he?" asked the sheriff, shaking a deprecating head. "I mean, you being his own flesh and blood, He wouldn't favor a girl that only belongs to him by adopting her?"

"He would have done anything to smack me down!" said Jimmy. "Anything!... I came in here and found the door of the safe open, and I started to hunt for the new will; but of course it was gone."

"How come the door of the safe was open?" asked the sheriff. "Did your father like to let the insides of the safe have fresh air, now and then?"

"Listen to me!" said Jimmy Wesley. "Are you fool enough to think that I came up here, expecting to find you, and then put a bullet through my father's brain and sneaked back in here?"

"The body's cold," said the sheriff, "or doggone near cold, now. No, I think that you done it a while back. You come in and had an argument with your father, earlier in the evening and... what was the argument about, Jimmy?"

"Who told you that I had an argument with him in there?" asked Jimmy Wesley.

"I have to know a lot of things," said the sheriff, "without telling folks how I find them out. You look pretty sick, Jimmy. Suppose you sit down and take a good, deep breath and then tell me how it happened."

JIMMY WESLEY got to a chair and dropped into it. Alvarez followed and stood behind him. Something about this moment pleased Alvarez so much that he kept smiling, which made his face a constant study of horror.

"Now go right ahead. We want to know everything," said the sheriff.

"I'm not going to talk," said Jimmy. "I'm going to wait for a lawyer's advice."

"Unless I lake a lot of care, Jimmy, this case won't ever get to the hands of a lawyer," answered Sheriff Leinster. "The fact is that when the boys down there in the garden hear that you killed your father, a lot of them is likely to get together and hang you to one of them fine big cypresses down by the lake, sonny..... You better talk to Uncle Billy, I guess."

Jimmy fumbled at his throat and stared. After a moment he half spoke and half whispered, "I didn't do it! Uncle Billy, I didn't do it!"

The sheriff pointed a finger at him like a gun and said, "You go back to the moment when you were arguing with your father. Tell me what it was about."

"Haven't I got a right to a little money?" cried Jimmy. "How can I get along on a hundred dollars a month? You know a man in my position has to live like something.... Take tonight. I met Jeff Akers and he reminded me that I owed him five hundred. I came up here and told Father. I told him I was half crazy. I had to have it. He just lay back in his chair and laughed at me. That was all. When I begged him, he said, 'Things like this will toughen you, Jimmy. You need toughening. You're too soft. I didn't have a hundred dollars a month to spend till I was a lot older than you.' I said that he hadn't been raised the way I was raised and that people hadn't expected him to be free in his spending.

"Look here, Uncle Billy, if there's any drinking, don't people naturally look to me to do the spending? They haven't any money, most of them. They know I have or ought to have. They laugh when I say that I can't get hard cash. I told Father all that but he just lay back in that chair and sneered at me. Then he told me to get out, and he added something about his new will. He told me I was a disgrace to the family—because I did nothing. I just sat around and lived on his money. I told him that he'd never trained me or educated me to work at a profession, and what else could I do? He got wild. He told me to get out, and I got. That's the straight truth!"

"Part of it's straight," said the sheriff. "You got out, and went as far as the balcony. You stood there in the shadow and looked back and seen him, and all at once you hated him like hell. You pulled out your gun. You took a good, steady aim, and you let him have a slug right between the eyes."

Jimmy leaped to his feet. Alvarez's hand shot out and gripped him at the nape of the neck.

"Uncle Billy!" cried young Wesley. "You're wrong! I didn't do it!"

"Who else would of wanted to?" demanded tke sheriff.

"Anybody. There's a thousand people that hate him.... There's Kathryn. Wouldn't she want to get rid of him before he changed his mind about the will again?"

"Sit down!" commanded Alvarez calmly.

The sheriff looked at the carpet on the floor. Then he spat on it.

"You're sure a thoroughbred, Jimmy," he said. "There ain't a drop of anything but skunk in you!"...

CLAY BRISTOL, who seemed to be in command of the party, said to Kathryn, "I never thought you'd make such a public fool of yourself.... Do you realize that Walton has murdered your father?"

She did not seem to hear. "I'm going along with you, Joe," she said "Do you mind?"

"You keep back. Keep out of it, Kathryn," said Clay Bristol.

But she put her arm through that of big Joe Walton, and walked up the path beside him. Bristol wanted to stop her, but one of his party, a fellow dressed like a clown in tights, pointed out that it hardly mattered how they took him so long as he was willing to go along.

When they went up through the pseudo-Mexican village people began to notice them. One fellow, rather drunk, bawled, "They've got Kinky Joe for something! This time, put him where he'll keep!"

Then, beyond the village, as they came towards the upper terrace, a woman began to scream, off in the shrubbery on the right. She did not pause to take breath. Her voice was a searing blast of sound. It went through the brain, thin as a needle. People ran one way and another, scattering all over the place. Before the escort got big Joe Walton through the patio the news had overtaken them: Wickett, James P. Wesley's bodyguard, had been found dead in the shrubbery, stabbed through the back to the heart!

The sheriff, on his way to see the dead body, went swinging out through the patio. But even murder could not take all the dancers away from the waxed tiles, and the orchestra, determined not to let the good time die out of the air, struck into its jazziest tune.

The sheriff stopped the cortege. He said. "Hello, Kathryn. How are you, Kinky? You boys just take them upstairs and leave them in the rooms of Mr. Wesley, will you? Just turn them in there and guard the door, will you?"

Clay Bristol said, "You don't mean to turn them loose?"

"They ain't gunna go away unless they use wings," said the sheriff. "Do it just that way, will you?"

He went on across the patio, making good time, swinging his fat body through almost ninety degrees with every step he made. His guides hurried before him. Scores of people were jammed around the place where the body had been found trampling down the brush, spoiling the flower beds.

THE sheriff, when be arrived, saw that a handkerchief had been thrown over the face of Wickett. He did not hasten to disturb the dead man. First he mopped the sweat from his face and neck and panted out, "Well, there's a lot of cooks around this broth!... If the murderer put in some time coverin' his track, he wasted his brains. He might of known that you folks would wipe out all sign."

At this, the nearer ranks backed up and gave him a little more space. He got laboriously down on one knee and pulled the bandanna from the face of Wickett. The silk made a strange little sound as it pulled lightly across the bristles of his unshaven skin. He was a swarthy, brutal hulk. His scalp was fitted down so close to the eyes that hardly half an inch of forehead appeared.

"Somebody give me a hand. Turn him over." said the sheriff.

At this, there was a little pause, for no one wished to touch death. The sheriff had to look up. Under the rebuke of his gaze, two of the nearest men obediently laid hands on Wickett and turned him over. He had chosen a long white satin cloak to set off his beauty for the masquerade. Just between the shoulders, rather low down, there was a stain of red around a thin slit in the cloth.

"Looks kind of Mexican, don't it?" asked the sheriff cheerfully.

One of the men who had helped turn the dead man answered, "That's one of the troubles with Wesley. He keeps so many dirty greasers around. They got their knives, all of 'em, and they know how to carve out some dirty tricks, too!"

"A greaser is sure a talented coyote," said the sheriff. "Leave me have a look at the pockets of this man Wickett."

He went carefully through the pockets of the dead man. What he took out was merely the usual wheat-straw papers and tobacco: and in addition he found a small pocket knife, a few dollars in paper, a bit of silver, a wallet that contained two or three letters, and no more.

"Thai's all there is on him, except what the murderer would of taken," said the sheriff. "How long's Wickett been around these parts? How many enemies has he got?"

"He ain't likely to have any," said someone. "He's only a few days here, all the way from Tombstone."

"He got a quicker ticket back than he looked for," said the sheriff, and got himself with difficulty to his feet. "I guess that's all. You sure there wasn't anybody gunning for him?"

"Gents that go gunning don't use knives." said someone.

"That's a true thing," answered the sheriff. "Some of you mind carrying poor Wickett back to the house? I'd help, myself, but a wooden leg ain't much good under a load. Just take him into the house and lay him out decent in a back room, where nobody's likely to see him.... Go ahead and whoop it up, ladies and gents. We'll all be with Wickett soon enough!"

He started on back towards the house. Kit paused a few times to mop his wet face and neck and the streaming baldness of his head. As he looked up, it seemed to the sheriff that the black of the night was swirling overhead and that the stars shone with a strange dimness.

By the time he reached the patio, the dancers were making their crooked circles again. The shock of Wickett's death had blown over like a gust of wind and left them untouched. Only a few of the older people were leaving the masquerade with sobered faces.

THE sheriff found a cold glass of beer, sipped a part of it, and then climbed up towards the Wesley rooms. When he pushed the door open, he could hear quick, hurried voices inside the room where the dead man sat. So he closed that door softly and listened as he moved cautiously down the balcony.

Jimmy Wesley was saying, "They've got enough on me, and on you, Kathryn. We all ought to get out of here.... They'll drag you into it, Walton. The three of us could charge out and break through..."

The sheriff appeared in the French window and smiled upon the three.

Walton sat unconcerned in a chair, smoking a homemade cigarette. Kathryn was perched on the arm of his chair, smoking also, and tapping ashes from the smoke before they had a chance to gather. Otherwise, she seemed as calm as could be.

"The judge and the jury is gunna be mighty interested when they hear that you was planning to leave us all," said the sheriff. "Suppose you tell us what they've got on Kathryn, will you?"

Jimmy had leaped as though from a spur when he heard the voice of the sheriff. Now he stood in a sullen silence, glancing once at the girl, then staring at the floor.

"Go on, Jimmy," said Kathryn. "Talk, Jimmy. He'll get it out of you sooner or later. Stand up like a little man and tell your piece."

"Meaning that I'm not man enough to keep my mouth shut?" demanded Jimmy.

"Meaning exactly that," said the girl.

"You hate me because you know that I see through you!" cried Jimmy. "You've always hated me, and that was always the reason! Yes! I'll tell him what I know."

"Of course you will," said the girl.

Jimmy said, "You know about her, Sheriff. You know she was always a wildcat. I don't have to tell you that."

"Cats keeps their paws clean," said the sheriff. "Anyway, I don't care what site's been. I care about what she done tonight. What was it, Jimmy?"

JIMMY took breath. His lips parted, before he spoke, and then he almost shouted. "She killed my father!"

Walton said, "Jimmy, I never knew that rats came in such outsizes."

Jimmy cried, "I'll tell you what she did tonight. She sneaked down to the gun-room and she came out with an automatic. I saw her go; I went in after her and checked over the guns."

"Is that right, Kathryn?" asked the sheriff.

"That's right," she answered. The smile did not diminish on her lips.

"Well, go on, Jimmy. What happened then?"

"I'd gone to her," said Jimmy, "after I'd had my argument with Father. I told her what he'd said, and I told her that in the morning he'd change his mind and she would be in the soup, and I'd be out."

"And then she decided that she'd make hay while the sun was shining? She'd bump off James Wesley before he had a chance to change his mind?"

"That's it. She came right up to his rooms with the gun, and she came in and talked to him. That's the last I ever saw him alive."

The sheriff said, "Well. Kathryn? You came up here with a gun?"

She looked for a long moment at Jimmy. She was still looking at him as she said, "That's right. I came up here with a gun. I'd decided that it wouldn't be safe for me to go around the place without a gun in my bag. Because Jimmy, there, had just finished telling me that Father had made out the will in my favor, but that he'd murder me before it ever was executed in my favor."

"What did you say to your father?" asked the sheriff.

"I came in to tell him about Jimmy, and then I changed my mind. When I started thinking of it, I realized that Jimmy was too low to worry Father about him. So I went out after I'd let him look over my costume."

"Does that sound right? Don't that sound like a lie?" cried Jimmy.

The sheriff sighed. He said. "It's kind of hard to listen to him, but I guess I have to.... Joe, you mind taking off your right boot and the sock that's over your foot?"

Walton stared, then started to obey.

"While he's doing that," said the sheriff, "you can tell me, Kathryn, what the three of you have been talking about while I was away and you were up here."

"We talked—oh, about one thing and another. Nothing important except when the big brother began to get panicky and tried to stampede all three of us."

"If you won't tell me. I've somebody here who will," said Sheriff Leinster.

He walked down the room to the library door. Alvarez came out of the deeper blackness of the room. Only his scarred face could be seen, pulling and twisting out of shspe as he laughed.

"Jimmy's the murderer, all right," he murmured. "He's been running around like a squirrel in a cage. He wanted to cut up the curtains and make a rope out of them, and then they could swim across the lake and escape. He said that they'd all hang. But Jimmy's the on I v one that will get his neck stretched."

"Good!" said the sheriff. "He's the one that I'd like to hang, out of the lot. You've still got a gun?"

"Yes. This one."

"Here's a better one," said Leinster. "You take this, and if anything starts, shoot and shoot to kill."

"Man or woman?" said Alvarez, grinning horribly.

"That's right. Stay kind of in the background where you'll be out of the deal but ready to step in when I need you."

"You can trust me, Leinster," said Alvarez.

"That's what I'm doing," said the sheriff.

He went back to the chair where big Joe Walton sat with a bared foot, patiently smoking and waiting. Leinster put a piece of paper from his notebook under the toes of the foot and drew an outline with pencil around it.

"Stand up, will you?" asked the sheriff.

Walton rose. The sheriff made his tracing again. He studied the strong way in which the toes of Walton gripped the floor even when he was standing passive. Afterwards. Leinster got to his feet and went to a chair. He sank down into it and heaved a great breath.

"I guess I got the right man," he said. "Kinky, you tell just where you've been and what you've done, tonight, will you?"

WALTON regarded him for a long moment. Then he started pulling on his sock. As he got into his boot he was starting his tale, slowly. He simply said, "Well, Uncle Billy, when I started for this house I wasn't sure of my welcome. So when I got close. I rode around and got off my horse above the new lake behind the house. Right by a big rock. I threw the reins and stood there looking at the lights in the house and all that, and watching the fireworks go crash in the sky, now and then. I went down into the brush a little closer. There was a boat floating beside the bank, new me. I decided that I'd gel into the boat and row up closer to the house and see what I could see. And hear what I could hear."

"Like an Indian, eh?" asked the sheriff. Kathryn left the arm of Walton's chair, took a place opposite him, and watched his face intently.

"Like an Indian." agreed Walton. "That was the way I felt. Exactly like an Indian. There would probably be water in the boat and I didn't want to spoil my boots, so I took them off. Anyway, the bank was steep. I walked down to the boat and got in. There wasn't any water in it, after all. I tried the oars, but they made a lot of noise in the rusty oarlocks. So I simply took one oar and used it like a paddle. I drifted the boat over to the house, but there wasn't much use in being so close. Just the music and the voices out of the patio came out to me. The walls of this house are pretty thick. I began to feel like a fool. What can I find out, anyway? And who was apt to be talking about me?"

"Father was likely to," said Jimmy. "Father did, too. Why else did he get Wickett as a guard, except that he knew you were getting out of prison?"

"Maybe," said Joe Walton. "Anyway, after a moment, I paddled back to the place where I'd left my boots, got back to my horse, and came on in. That's all."

The sheriff looked at the blue silk sash around the hips of Walton. Then he pulled from a vest pocket a little blue silk thread and began to twist it between his fingers.

"You're an uncommon bright num. Kinky. I wouldn't want you on my trail. I sure wouldn't. It ain't the lies that people tell. It's the way they tell 'em. And your way is sure near perfect."

THE sheriff scanned their faces. "I want you to reckon back to a long time ago, when you was only a shaving of what you are now. Kinky. When you was about fifteen, I remember a time when you climbed Apache Rock clean to the top. I guess you're still the only gent that ever got to the top of that mesa and enjoyed the view." The sheriff paused.

"What does that mean?" asked the girl.

"I guess Kinky Joe knows what it means," he said. "And there's sure no smoother rope than velvet curtain cords, eh, Kinky?"

The girl glanced at the tall curtains, hanging unevenly. "Joe, what does it mean?" she asked.

"I guess it means that I'm to hang, Kathryn," he said.

She sprang up, crying, "No!... They can't I... I'm going to tell..."

Walton pointed a steady finger at her. With a quick flash of his hand, Alvarez, moving like a big cat in the background, jerked up his revolver and covered Walton.

But Walton merely said, "You sit down and be still, Kathryn. Sit down!'"

She sank slowly into her chair. The agony had whitened her face.

"It was Walton, was it?" demanded Jimmy. "Yes. He's up to murder. Only, I still don't see when he could have got through the balcony door."

"You and me could smile about that. Kinky, couldn't we?" asked Leinster.

He put the blue thread back into his vest pocket, rolled and lighted a cigarette. After that, he hoisted his wooden leg and crossed it over the sound knee. He said. "We'll drop Joe Walton for a while and go into some of the other things that kind of interest me in this here job.... Take the murder of Wickett, now. What you gents say about that? Kathryn, stop starin' at Walton, and try to lend your brain to me. You got a pretty good head inside that mop of hair. Lemme hear what you've got to say."

She was oblivious of the voice of the sheriff except to turn one desperate glance towards him. Then she was staring once more at the face of Walton. She said suddenly, "It wasn't murder. It was an honest fight. With guns..."

"Honest fight?" shouted Jimmy. "Then where's Father's gun? Where's the honesty of shooting a man that's sitting in a chair?"

The girl, slowly broken down by this blow, gradually dropped her head until her face was blinded by her hands. She gripped her face with those tensed fingers.

The sheriff said, "Let's get onto Wickett. Why would he be killed—knifed in the back?"

"What difference does it make how a hired gunman was killed?" demanded Jimmy impatiently.

"It makes a whole lot of difference," said the sheriff. "It's part of the whole doggone picture, Jimmy, and even if I got enough to hang Kinky Joe, I still don't know the whole truth till I can fit in Wickett."

"Why is he a part of the picture?" asked Jimmy. "You get two hundred folks together and there's always likely to be trouble, some place or other. You know that!"

"Sure, I know that," answered Leinster. "But it happened too pat. Wickett was the bodyguard of your father. And Wickett was killed the same night as James Wesley. Them two things hitch together mighty pretty. They can't be both happenstance."

"You figure it out. I don't give a hang," said Jimmy. "I'd say: Get Walton to jail as fast as you can—or else the people will sure lynch him tonight!"

"Yeah. Maybe they would. Maybe they would," nodded the sheriff. "Lemme see. What would the killing of Wickett mean? It would mean that afterwards the killer would have a better chance and more time on his hands when he come to taking his shot at James Wesley, wouldn't it?"

"Wickett was down there in the grounds. Father'd sent him there. The killer wouldn't have to touch Wickett."

This strong suggestion came from Jimmy. Something about the remark touched the strange risibilities of Alvarez. He began to laugh, very softly. Perhaps it was the horrible inappropriateness of laughter at such a moment that made Joe Walton jerk up his fine head and stare fixedly at Alvarez, with a certain absent look in his eyes, as of one remembering.

THE sheriff said, "Still and all, there might of been a reason for the stabbing of Wickett. Stabbing is a silent way of doing a gent in, if you're dead sure that you know how to find the right spot with the point of your knife. The man that killed Wickett knew. He was as sure as a butcher. He split Wickett's heart with one stroke, and Wickett dropped on his face. Now, just suppose that the killer didn't want Wickett out of the way. He didn't care. But he wanted to borrow from Wickett something that Wickett wouldn't loan."

"Go on!" cried Jimmy, excited. "What was it?"

"Why, when we searched through the pockets of Wickett, we didn't find the key to the balcony door, did we?"

"That gives you a reason for the murder," said Jimmy. "He kills Wickett, and then... why, I see it all!"

"Do you?" said the sheriff admiringly. "You go ahead and tell us all about it, will you?"

"Of course I will," said Jimmy. "After Walton scouted around the lake, he went back, as he said, and came into the garden of the house. He hunted out Wickett, killed him, got the key, and then came in through the house..."

"He would have been seen," said the sheriff. "And he wasn't seen. Walton isn't the sort of fellow who could walk through a crowd and not be noticed. No, I've asked questions, and from the minute he came in through the regular entrance of the grounds, he was seen and watched every minute. Kinky Joe didn't murder Wickett. That's all I'm sure of. Cot any more ideas of who might of done it?"

He scanned his small audience, but there was no immediate reply. "Well," said Leinster, "I guess we got plenty of time. Somewhere in this room is the gent that murdered Wickctt. Somewhere is the gent that killed James Wesley. Maybe Wesley himself. That ain't impossible, if somebody was good enough to throw his gun into the lake afterwards. But here I've got all the people that could of done the work. I've got the potatoes and the tomatoes and the meat and the beans and the peppers all here in the pot, and if they cook a little longer, I'm gunna have my stew fit and ready. Time'll do a whole lot of things. It'll do more than fire, but it just takes longer."

Joe Walton yawned and made another cigarette. "You mean," he said, "that Wesley may have walked out into the garden, called Wickett to one side, and stabbed him in the back... and then that he came back in here and shot hinv self?"

"I've heard of stranger things," said the sheriff. "But I don't wanta leave you out of the picture. We'll say that Wesley didn't stab his bodyguard. Kind of hard for him to get back and forth without being seen."

Again the silence followed his voice.

He said, "There ain't any hurry. Take it easy, everybody."

"I never heard of such blamed nonsense," said Jimmy, growing very angry.

"Alvarez, you got any ideas?" asked the sheriff.

"No," said Alvarez.

JOE WALTON jerked up his head again and stared at Alvarez. "Co on, Alvarez," said the sheriff genially. "I've got an idea that you could help us, if you'd put that brain of yours on the job!"

"You've got Walton. He's enough hanging for you, isn't he?" asked Alvarez.

Walton slipped out of the chair to his feet and made a step towards Alvarez.

"Joe! Joe! What's the matter?" asked Kathryn, snatching her hands down from her face.

"Keep back, there!" shouted Alvarez. "Don't make another move or I'll split your wishbone. Kinky!"

"Leclerc!" said Joe Walton "Leclerc!"

And he went in at Alvarez, dodging, his big body swerving like a snipe in the wind.

Alvarez yelled, "Take it, then. Take it, curse you!"

The useless click of the hammer on the chamber followed. Alvarez screeched and started to run; then big Joe Walton reached him and crushed him to the floor.

The sheriff had not moved. He went on smoking his cigarette and nodding, and with every nod the little hat slipped a bit more askew on his round, bald head. Joe Walton stood up. The body of Alvarez dropped down from his big hands like a dead bird in the talons of a hawk.

"It's Leclerc!" said Walton. "I knew his laugh first, and I couldn't believe it. I knew the laugh, and then I knew the voice! Leclerc!"

He lifted the loose body and flung it down on the floor. Alvarez's head struck headily. He lay on his back with his arms sprawling out wide.

"Maybe you're right, Joe," said the sheriff. "Maybe we sent you to prison for nine years all for nothing. Go through that hombre, Jimmy, and see what he's got in his pockets."

They took out a thick wallet, a very thick wallet filled with new money in brown paper binders.

"Ellery & Chipping... it's stamped on the labels," said Jimmy. "That's father's bank."

"Ay, and I figger that that's your father's money, too," said the sheriff. "Here—he's waking up. Leave us hear what he'll say."

ALVAREZ got to his feet, dragging himself up by keeping a grip on the edge of the table. His forehead was cut, and the blood running down from it got into the narrow trench of the old scar along his cheek. It made it seem like a new wound, very horrible, and deep as the bone.

"I'm kind of sorry about givin' you a faked-up gun, Alvarez," said the sheriff. "But when I seen you leaving the party so doggone early, why, I figgercd that the earliest gent to leave this party might be the one that killed James Wesley. And so I just kept on dickerin' around with you.... I knew Joe Walton never in his born days shot a man that was sitting all peaceful in his chair. But keeping my finger on Joe was the fire that put the smoke in your eyes. Eh?... What kind of a fool were you, Alvarez, to carry the money of James Wesley around in your pocket?"

Walton stepped to the other side of Alvarez.

Kathryn cried out, "Don't touch him, Joe!"

"I'm through with him... nearly," said Walton. He raised the loosely hanging arm of Leclerc and pushed back the sleeve. "Here it is. Here's his signature. I can still find men that'll swear to this scar on the arm even if we've never seen the scar on the face.... Leclerc, are you talking, or taking it with your mouth shut?"

Leclerc looked with dead eyes on Walton.

"He won't talk," said the sheriff. "He don't have to talk. Maybe we'll find some' thing in his car that will tell us the rest of the yam."...

As a matter of fact the stuff was under the back seat of the little car—a litter of documents, and the will which favored Kathryn among them. Apparently he had caught up from the safe—having unlocked it with the key which he found on Wesley—the contents of the cash drawer, just as they were. The hard cash he jammed into his wallet. The rest, on the hope that they might prove to be convertible bonds, perhaps, he had hidden under the seat of the car.

He would not speak, but the story was fairly clear when they were able to go through Wesley's books. For on them, each month, for nine whole years, appeared sums paid out to one Alvarez and mailed to France, to Spain, to Italy, even to far-off India. Two hundred a month, then two hundred and fifty, three hundred, four hundred, until the sum had mounted to five hundred some six months before. Two months later the entries ceased Perhaps Alvarez had squeezed the golden goose once too often and Wesley refused to continue paying. That refusal, of course, had brought Leclerc back to renew his threat of blackmail in person. His story of how Wesley had planned, with him, to ruin poor young Joe Walton, of course, would smash the rich man like an eggshell; and yet continued irritation, the long, steady drain, the mounting demands, finally had made Wesley make the fatal refusal.

There never was proof about Wickett but the thing was reasonably clear. Leclerc had managed to draw the bodyguard to the side, amidst the shrubbery, and had run a knife into him for the sake of the key which would be Leclerc's passport to the private balcony of Wesley. What the argument with Wesley had been, no one would ever know, for the lips of Leclerc were locked. Perhaps Wesley had trusted that Leclerc would fear his own share of the legal punishment that would follow a revelation of the truth. And Leclerc, shrinking away from him, shot him from the shadow of the French window. Perhaps he had timed his shot with the flash of one of the exploding fireworks, and fired in consonance with the sound of the explosion instantly afterwards. Then he had dared to plunder the safe, had left the balcony, throwing away gun and key; and in the nearest room he had remained until his shaking nerves were quieted....

"IF you knew that it wasn't Joe," said Kathryn, long afterwards, "why did you torture him. Uncle Billy?"

"I knew, and I didn't know," said the sheriff. "I kind of had a hunch Kinky Joe couldn't of done it. But I wasn't quite sure."

"I came near enough," said Walton, "to get into that room with a gun in my hand. I came there meaning to have it out with him."

"A Kinky Joe don't fight a man that's sitting in a chair," said the sheriff. "The blue silk thread kind of shook me up. But I kept on waiting. Wickett... when I heard about him dying, I knew you didn't turn the trick. Who was it, then? The first man that left the party? Jimmy... that little skunk of a Jimmy?" He stopped.

"Or me?" asked Kathryn. "Did you ever really suspect me, Uncle Billy?"

The sheriff cleared his throat. "Well...." he began.

"Steady, Uncle Billy." said Walton.

"Why, Joe," said the sheriff. "I wouldn't say nothing to upset your wife, would I?"

"Sure, you wouldn't," said the deep, soft voice of Walton.


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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