thing. When they run like that, ninety-nine times out of a hundred there’s another woman in it. Suppose Mrs. Butler found out about it, before he got away? He was going to have the money and the other woman, while she held still for the disgrace. What would she do? Help him pack his bag, to be sure he had plenty of handkerchiefs?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “What about her?”

She shrugged and gestured with the cigarette. “Who knows who’s capable of murder? Maybe anybody is, under the right pressure. But I can tell you a little about her. This is probably an odd thing to say, but she’s one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen. Brunette, with a magnolia complexion and big, smoky-looking eyes. And a bitch right out of the book. Old-family sort of thing; the house is really hers. She also drinks like a fish.”

“You didn’t miss much while you were up there.”

“You mean the drinking? It was one of those hushed-up secrets everybody knows.”

“Then,” I said, “your idea is she killed Butler? And that

the money’s still there in the house?”


“Didn’t the police shake it down?”

“After a fashion. But why would they make much of a search, when he’d obviously got away to Sanport and then disappeared?”

“I see what you mean,” I said. “But there’s another angle. You say he was a big guy. If she killed him, how did she dispose of his body? She couldn’t very well call the piano movers.”

She shook her head. “That I don’t know. I haven’t been able to figure it. But maybe she had a boyfriend. She still had to get back from Sanport, too, after she ditched the car. And, naturally, she couldn’t come on the bus. Somebody’d remember it. A boyfriend fits.”

“I can see Mrs. Butler rates, in your book,” I said. “So far, she’s only a lush, a murderer, and a tramp. What’d she do? Dig up your flower beds?”

“Opinions are beside the point. This is for money. What we’re trying to get at is facts!”

“And all we’ve got is a string of guesses. Anyway, what’s your idea?”

“That we search the house. Tear it apart, if necessary, until we find the money, or some evidence as to what became of Butler, or something.”

“With her in it? Think again.”

“No,” she said. “That’s why it takes two of us. She’s here in town now, attending a meeting of some historical society. I’ll hunt her up, get her plastered, and keep her

that way. For days, if necessary. You’ll have time to dismantle the house and put it back together before she sobers up enough to go home.”

“What you’re really looking for,” I said, “is a patsy. If something goes wrong, you’re all right, but I’m a dead duck.”

“Don’t be silly. The house is in the middle of an estate that’d cover a city block, with big hedges and trees around it. There’s one servant, who goes home as soon as she’s out of sight. You could take an orchestra with you, and nobody’d ever know you were in there. The police may check the place once a night when nobody’s home, but you don’t have to tear off a door and leave it lying on the lawn for them, just to get in. The drapes and curtains will all be drawn. There’ll be food in the kitchen. You could set up housekeeping. How about it?”

“It sounds safe enough, for the price,” I said. I got up and walked across the room. “But I still don’t see it. All that stuff about her leaving there in the car doesn’t prove anything. Hell, maybe she was in it with him, and was just covering for him by ditching the car while he got out of town some other way.”

She shook her head. “No. I tell you he’s dead. And she killed him. That money’s still there.”

“I can’t see why you’re so sure,” I said.

“Then you don’t believe I’m right?” she said. “You don’t want to tackle it?”

I thought about the money. A hundred and twenty thousand. You couldn’t get hold of it all at once. It was too big. It had to grow on you.

I let it grow.

But, hell. She was crazy. In that whole story of hers there wasn’t one shred of evidence that Butler hadn’t got away with it. A lot of good guesses, maybe, but no concrete evidence. And if you were going to take a chance and start breaking laws like that, you had to have something more definite than a guess to lead you on. I

couldn’t see it.

“Well?” she asked. “How about it?”

“The whole thing’s a pipe dream,” I said.

“You’re passing up a fortune.”

I shrugged. “I doubt it.”

I tried another pass but she wasn’t having any, so I said, “See you around,” and shoved off. I punched Winlock’s buzzer on the way downstairs, but he still wasn’t home.

I got in the car and looked at my watch. It was after five. The whole afternoon was shot. I went home, picking up my mail on the way in through the lobby, and wondering how much longer I’d be able to pay the rent. It was more apartment than I needed, or could afford, in a new building with a lot of glass brick and thick carpets, over on Davy Avenue. I’d moved into it when I first went with Wagner Realty and was going to make a thousand a month selling houses in a subdivision. That was in May, and when they dusted off the old wheeze about a reduction in force three days ago, on the first of August, I was still working on the first month’s thousand. Maybe the demand for ten-thousand-dollar apple crates was falling off, or I was no salesman.

I sat down in the living room and looked at the mail. It was all bills except one letter on orchid stationery. I tried to recall who the girl was, but finally gave up and looked at the bills. The tailor called my attention very tactfully to $225 that I had apparently overlooked last month and the month before. There was another note due on the car. I shuffled through the others: two department stores, the utilities, and the kennel that boarded Moxie, the English setter. I checked my bank balance. I had $170.

I went out in the kitchen and tried to convince myself I ought to have a drink. After looking at the bottle, I shoved it back on the shelf, losing interest in it. I never drank much, and I still had the sour taste of those others in my mouth. I thought of her. I thought of her on that towel. The hell with all dizzy women, anyway. The whole afternoon shot, I hadn’t sold the car, and I didn’t even get the consolation prize. No sale, no loving, I thought disgustedly, saying it so it rhymed. The whole afternoon shot to hell. It would probably have been pretty good stuff, too.

That bank balance couldn’t have been right. A hundred and seventy— I checked it again.

It was right.

I thought of Saudi Arabia, of 120-degree heat and sand and the wind blowing for two years, and wondered if I could take it. But before long it wasn’t going to be a question of whether I could stand it or not. I had to do something. I made less money every year.

You got your brains beat out for four years for seventy dollars a month plus your tuition and having some old grad pounding you on the back to get into the pictures after you’d scored from eight yards out in the last three seconds of play in the Homecoming game, and five years later the son-of-a-bitch couldn’t remember your name when you tried to send it in past the arctic blonde in the outer office.

I put a cigarette in my mouth, reaching for the lighter, and then let it hang there, forgotten. Half of $120,000...

I shrugged irritably. Was I going to start that again? Maybe I was going back to believing in Santa Claus. Diana James was just a victim of wishful thinking, trying to build something out of a half-baked theory. But still, she didn’t quite strike me as that kind of featherhead.

Why was she so sure? That was the thing I couldn’t see. It didn’t match up with the flimsy evidence of her story. And why hadn’t the police found him? Something rang there, too. They should have picked him up long ago, a big, good-looking guy like that with no place to hide. I didn’t know much about police work, but it seemed to me embezzlers should be the easiest of all lamsters to collar; the people who were looking for them knew too much about them. They’d have pictures of him, a complete knowledge of all his habits, everything. His car had been abandoned here in a city of four hundred thousand, and then he had vanished like a wisp of smoke. It could happen. But the odds were very long against it.

The whole thing was just crazy enough to make you wonder.

And the amount was too big to get out of your mind.

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