“Mrs. Blackwell came home earlier than usual,” the butler said gravely. “Ordinarily, I would have been here before her. I should have been the one to find him. If any harm comes to her because of that…” He caught himself and said no more.

Although he was managing to maintain his dignity, Sarah could see the man blamed himself for Mrs. Blackwell’s horrible experience and was enduring the guilt of having caused her so much distress.

“You couldn’t have known,” she reassured him. “And although this is very tragic, it probably won’t harm either mother or child if the baby was ready to be born anyway. It’s really no one’s fault.”

The butler didn’t look convinced. Sarah felt genuine pity for him and great respect for his devotion to his mistress.

Mrs. Blackwell’s maid admitted her to a large bedroom furnished in white, French-style furniture. The walls were covered in paper that depicted a bucolic scene in the French countryside over and over again all around the room, and the windows were draped in a heavy, floral-patterned material that hung bunched on the floor in a style designed to show the occupant had money to buy fabric that wasn’t even necessary.

The enormous four-poster bed sat high off the floor, and Sarah had to walk over closer to even see the occupant. Mrs. Blackwell was an attractive young woman, probably in her early twenties. She lay with her eyes closed, moaning softly, her face damp with perspiration, even though the room was comfortably cool.

“Mrs. Blackwell?” Sarah said softly, waiting until the woman opened her eyes. “I’m Sarah Brandt. I’m a midwife.” Sarah was already rolling up her sleeves and assessing the situation.

“Does Edmund know you’re here?” she asked in alarm. Her face was pale and her lovely blue eyes were dilated. Sarah realized she might well be in shock from discovering her husband’s body.

“Yes,” Sarah lied without regret. “He sent for me. He wants to make sure you’re well cared for.”

She seemed doubtful, but she didn’t argue and even seemed to relax a bit. Sarah turned to the maid and began giving her instructions on what she was going to need.

MALLOY WENT BACK into Blackwell’s study swearing softly under his breath. He’d thought he was safe involving Sarah Brandt in this case. Clearly, Blackwell had shot himself, or so someone had taken great pains to make it appear. If Police Headquarters had sent someone else, perhaps that would have been the official report, too. Unfortunately, they’d sent Frank, and he’d discovered the truth.

He heard the front door open again, and this time Officer Patrick announced the medical examiner.

A moment later Dr. Haynes stepped into the study, a small room with heavily draped windows in which the smell of death was strong.

Dr. Haynes was a small man, well past middle age, who had seen too many dead bodies in his life. His eyes were sad behind his spectacles, and his clothes hung on him, as if he’d shrunk beneath them.

“A suicide, Malloy?” he said hopefully, assessing the situation at a glance.

“That’s what it looks like from here, but I’m afraid it ain’t going to be that easy.”

Haynes frowned. “The neighbors won’t like it. Another murder in this house. Are you sure?”

“Tell me what you think,” Malloy invited.

The dead man had been sitting at his desk and was now slumped over it, his head a blasted wreck, his blood and brains spilling over the desktop and onto the floor. A pistol lay beside his right hand.

“Is that his gun?” Haynes asked.

“The butler says he had one just like it that he kept in his desk drawer there.” He pointed. “It’s not there now.”

Haynes gave him an impatient glance. “Looks like a suicide to me, and it would to anybody else, too,” he insisted.

“Look again.” Malloy pointed to the piece of paper lying on the desk, beneath the blood and gore.

“A suicide note?”

“I doubt it.” It wasn’t possible to read all the words, but one thing was clear. “See there?”

He pointed at the last word on the page. It was just one letter that ended in a long, jagged line and a blotch, as if the writer had been startled or jarred, and the pen had fallen and made a blotch. “See the ink on his fingers? He was sitting here writing, and something surprised him. A man doesn’t shoot himself in the head while he’s in the middle of writing a letter, and if he does, he usually finishes it first. And even if he doesn’st, he wouldn’t surprise himself, would he?”

“Maybe somebody in the house startled him.”

“He was alone in the house. It’s Wednesday afternoon. The servants had the afternoon off, and he made sure they were all out. Told the butler he had a meeting with someone, and he didn’t want to be interrupted.”

“Who was he meeting?”

“Nobody knows. I don’t like where the pistol is laying, either. It’s all very neat, but a little far from his hand. If he’d dropped it, it might be anywhere, and if he didn’t drop it, it would be in his grasp. Instead, it’s right there, close to his hand, and placed just so, as if the killer wanted it to be there but couldn’t bear to touch Blackwell to put the gun in his hand.”

“Or didn’t want to get all bloody.”

“He risked it by moving the pen,” Malloy said. “Remember I said Blackwell was writing when he was shot? The killer put the pen back in the holder after he shot Blackwell. It’s got blood on it.”

“Maybe it got splashed when this poor fellow’s head went flying all over the room,” Haynes suggested.

“The blood is on the wrong side of the pen for that. And it’s a little smeared.” He showed Haynes what he meant.

“Looks like the mark of a finger in the blood, too.” Haynes sighed. “Frank, why can’t you just go along? You know nobody wants this to be a murder.”

“They’d rather let a killer go free, I guess,” Frank said. “What if somebody snuck in here to rob the place and found Blackwell and got scared and killed him? The neighbors should be worried about that.”

“If that’s what happened, the killer wouldn’t have gone to so much trouble to make it look like a suicide,” Haynes pointed out.

“So you agree with me? It’s a murder.”

Haynes sighed again. “Frank-” he began, but he was interrupted by a commotion in the hallway.

The door to the study burst open and a man burst in. He was short and round and balding, with muttonchop whiskers, his face red with outrage. “What’s going on here?” he demanded, and then he saw the body. “Edmund!” he cried. “My God, what happened?”

“Who are you?” Frank demanded as Mahoney made a belated effort to restrain the gentleman.

“What have you done to him?” the man was shouting.

“We haven’t done nothing to him, yet,” Malloy said, stepping in front of the man to block his view of the body. “Who are you?” he asked again.

“What?” the fellow asked, still looking with horror at the body.

“Your name?” Frank prodded. “And your reason for being here.”

At last he looked at Frank and seemed to recover himself. “Oh, yes, of course. My name is Potter. Amos Potter. I’m Dr. Blackwell’s assistant.” He glanced at the body again. His face had visibly paled.

“Let’s go sit down someplace, Mr. Potter,” Frank suggested gently, and took him by the arm.

He offered no resistance as Frank led him from the room.

“I tried to stop him,” Mahoney offered as he closed the office door behind them, but Frank just glared at him. He’d settle with him later.

“Have a seat, Mr. Potter,” Frank said when they’d reached the formal parlor across the hall. Frank pulled the doors shut behind him.

Potter sank down gratefully onto the ornately carved sofa and pulled a handkerchief from his pocket to wipe his face. “Good heavens. How horrible.” Then he seemed to remember something. “Mrs. Blackwell will be coming home from her visits soon. She ministers to the poor every afternoon, you know, and she should return any moment. She’s in a… a delicate condition. The sight of all these policemen will frighten her. Her health is very fragile, and the shock-”

“Mrs. Blackwell is already here,” Malloy interrupted him. “She was the one who found her husband’s body.”

Malloy had only thought Potter was pale before. Now even his lips lost their color. “Good heavens,” he said

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