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Did She Fall?
FROM BEACH TO CLIFF
ONCE more Emily-Jane was the center of all eyes. It almost seemed a pity that she couldn't have arisen in her ballet dress and performed one of her innocently suggestive little dances. Instead she lay there cold, picked out by an early sun as golden as her hair. As in life so in death, eyes looked at her fascinated, but this time there was a different quality in her spell.
Munson mounted the rock. For some minutes he stood looking down at the girl. Dark, lithe, and inscrutable he was. The sun splashed against his straight black hair. He stood motionless, his intense gaze photo-graphing every detail of the body and its immediate surroundings. Then, throwing back his head, he let his eyes travel slowly up the face of the cliff until they rested on the summit. There they remained fixed. He would have to go up there to the actual point of the departure of Emily-Jane from the world she had so successfully deceived. Once more he looked down at the dead girl as if trying to discover the reason for her existence.
"All right, Manning," he said, in a low voice that carried its calm tones clearly to the silent group of watchers.
Dr. Manning left Daniel's side and joined Munson on the rock.
"Manning," Munson said, "I waited for you so that you could give evidence at the inquest. I can rely on your discretion when you are discreet, and I might as well tell you now that I want the inquest to be a mere formality—wilful murder with an open field. You understand ?" He raised his dark eyes to those of the doctor.
"What a body, Munson," murmured Manning. "What a figure. Too bad. Too damn bad. Wasted. Lost. I understand."
The whole-hearted depravity of the man pleased Munson, who smiled grimly and said, "For the moment, Manning, I want your purely professional observations."
"You have them, Munson. What is it?"
"The position of that figure and certain other details," Munson continued, "tell me an interesting story. What do they tell you, Manning?"
For some time Manning's eyes roved over the body, then he looked up at Munson with puzzled eyes.
"In the first place, Munson," he said, "there's the position of the body itself. Graceful as she was in life, she just couldn't have fallen so gracefully. Impossible. She would have been all sprawled out or twisted. Somebody has fixed her. Decent of whoever it was. Then another thing, those blood smears on her face, they upset me. By rights they shouldn't be there. The face, fortunately, is uninjured. There is no reason—no way that I can see, for blood being there at all. My conclusion is that someone put those marks on her face in the dark. Probably it isn't her blood, but that of some wounded—" He gave a slight start and ended up with, "That's the way I see it."
"Thanks," said Munson. "Damned good. And that's the story I want you to tell at the inquest with the exception, with the very essential exception, of the wounded part. Now just one minute and we'll get this over. I want to let these people go back home to breakfast, if they can eat any."
Once more his eyes traveled over the little group at the foot of the rock.
"Pete," he called in a casual voice, "will you come up here for a moment?"
For the second time that morning Pete ascended the rock, on this occasion with the dignity and deliberation of a semi-official consultant.
"Now, Pete," said Munson, with an indulgent smile, "you arrived at the Crewe house at six o'clock."
"Did I?" said Pete, quite pleased and surprised.
"Yes, Pete, you did," Munson assured him. "About how long were you on this beach altogether?"
"About an hour by the sun," replied Pete. "What I mean is, one hour from the time I landed until I called on Mr. Barney."
"So that puts you here just at about five o'clock," observed Munson. "Was the body when you found it exactly as it is now?"
"Exactly," replied Pete emphatically. "Just as she lays there now."
"Not likely that anyone else would be wandering round here before five, do you think, Manning?" asked Munson.
"Most unlikely, I should say," he replied.
"That's all," said Munson briskly. "The inquest will be held at ten o'clock tomorrow."
As Pete was on his way down, Munson called him back.
"Did you see anything else down here," he asked, "that might be helpful in clearing up this case? Any marks or objects—anything?"
And Pete honestly declared that he had not seen a thing, for he had completely forgotten the bright little object now resting in his pocket.
Alone on the rock, Munson knelt down and examined the girl's dress. Suddenly he rose and called to June Lansing. Reluctantly she left Daniel's side and mounted the rock.
"June," said Munson, still preoccupied, "would you very much mind reaching your hand down in there and see what it is? I don't like to do it myself for some reason."
"You're a terrible man, Scott," replied June, "and I mean it, but you can't help some of your finer instincts, can you?"
When she looked into his eyes she read there a deep, abiding sadness, and there was sadness in his voice, too, when he said : "June, you must believe me. This is the rottenest, the most heartbreaking task I've ever undertaken. But, June, I've got to go through with it to the end, and I must do it my way."
Without another word, June did as she was bidden. The hand she withdrew held a packet of letters. She exchanged glances with Munson, and for the first time June's eyes wavered. Silently and with a heavy heart she left the rock. When Munson rose and read with deep concentration one of the letters from the packet, Sam could not repress a gasp.
"What is it?" asked Sue, startled.
"Oh, nothing," replied Sam, when all the time he felt like ducking and setting off hell-bent down the beach. "Nothing at all except that this place is getting on my nerves."
He braced himself to receive the admonitory look that Munson was sure to bestow on him upon his completion of the beastly letter. Fortunately for the state of Sam's morale, no such look was forthcomng. Instead, Munson looked up thoughtfully, then slipped the letter back into the packet. There was a new expression in his eyes when he glanced down at the still figure at his feet.
"Holt," he called sharply.
As Holt approached the rock it became apparent to everyone present that he was in an abject state of funk. His swagger and self-esteem were gone, and with their departure the man became a lamentably deflated creature. His feet seemed to scrape along the rocks and his eyes strained away from the body of Emily-Jane.
Munson watched him silently.
"Go on and look at her," he said harshly. "You weren't so modest when she was alive."
Lane Holt for a swift flash bared his teeth, then he looked uneasily away, his fingers nervously plucking at the flaps of his coat pockets. Munson seemed to be in no hurry. He was carefully, almost hopefully, examining the blood smears on the waxen face turned to the sky.
"What the hell do you want with me here?" Holt asked at last in a husky voice.
"Oh, yes," replied Munson. "Thanks for reminding me. Were these, by any chance, what you were looking for in Emily-Jane's room?"
He held out the packet of letters. Holt started visibly. Involuntarily his hand went out as if to seize the packet.
"Oh, no, no," he replied. "I was looking for nothing —just to see if she was in, that's all."
"No thought of a little blackmail, Holt?" asked Munson. "Sort of a complete life of crime? No?"
"I didn't do it, Munson. I didn't, you know. I—I was fond of Emily-Jane. I really was."
"That admission makes it all the more probable in view of the fact that she was soon to marry another man. Don't try to convict yourself, Holt. You don't have to."
"May I go now?" Holt's face was ghastly, his words trembled. He could feel Munson's eyes burning into him. There was no escape. No hope of escape. "Yes, go!" The words fell like a lash.
Munson turned back to his inspection of the blood smears.
"Dan," he called in an absorbed voice, "do you think you could make the grade, old man?"
"Damn him and his old mans," muttered Sam. "He's trying to hang the lot of us. Why, old Dan can hardly stand on his feet. He's been through enough for one day."
But Daniel was moving forward, moving slowly and carefully, but well under way. There was no suggestion of hesitancy about his approach, no indication of guilt or dread. At the base of the rock, Pete Clark, who had remained to see whatever was to be seen, offered to lend a helping hand.
"Thanks, Pete," said Dan. "I think I can still navigate."
He climbed the rock he had played on so often as a boy, and stood gazing down at Emily-Jane. Not many hours ago she had been dancing and trysting. Enjoying both. It seemed such a great way off. Just a few hours. Most of the guests at the affair were still sleeping. Time had not even begun for them. How could she be so utterly dead, so completely remote from life? Why, she did not even know that life ever had been, that there was a world with golf links in it, country clubs, and dances. She was not even aware of the rock she was lying on. She was through, gone. And really it was a good thing, although even in death she still retained the power to wound and to destroy. What a fool he had been to hope otherwise. Munson had been repeating his name for some time. Why in hell couldn't he keep quiet? Daniel wanted to think.
"Yes, yes," he said impatiently. "What's on your mind, Scott?" His gaze was polite but abstracted. Scott was a good chap. A hard worker. At present, an awful pest.
"What do you make of these, Dan?" asked the awful pest, pointing to the blood smears on the face of Emily-Jane. "I asked Doc Manning, but I'd like to get your opinion."
Daniel's thoughts snapped back to the immediate present. "Are we conversing as equals, Scott?" he asked.
"As always, Dan," replied Munson, a little puzzled.
"That being the case," said Dan, with a smile, "my opinion is that you're an extremely apparent hypocrite and that you don't want my opinion at all. Scott, old dear, you're just plain plain, if you get what I mean. Now let's get down to cases. What do you really want? Do you want me to find the murderer of this girl here? Are you seeking my collaboration? If so, give me your confidences also. As you know, I'm a pretty sick dog at present. You can't bank on my reactions, you know, because I'm not quite myself at the moment. Out with it, Scott. Don't be a humbug."
"Daniel," said Munson, "you're too much for me. As far as I'm concerned, your rather painful trip down here has been entirely wasted. I see now that I'll have to work on you a different way. You know me too well. I'm at a disadvantage because of that, but time will tell. Good luck. I hope you win."
"Same to you," said Daniel. "I hope you choke."
"Thanks," replied Munson with a real smile. "Can I help you down?"
"No, thanks," said Daniel. "I think I can make it, but why don't you cover her up, Scott? She's licked."
"But don't forget, Dan, she still possesses the power of death."
Daniel turned and faced him squarely. "You mean you possess the power of death," he retorted. "She's ended."
Thus, at the moment of triumph, Daniel made the mistake of emphasizing with obvious satisfaction the impotency of Emily-Jane. Munson was not the man to overlook such little slips. He dropped the sheet over the body and followed Daniel from the rock.
"We've stood about enough punishment for one morning," he said to the little group. "You'd better get back now and try to eat something. When we bring home Emily-Jane, I hope you'll keep young Barney out of the way. Don't mind the presence of some minions of the law if you happen to see them. I've had to have a few photographs taken, but I've instructed the men to leave the members of the household entirely alone. Let's try to carry on as usual. I'll join you as soon as I can, if that prospect brings you any pleasure. I hope, Dan, young Barney has come to his senses, but don't be surprised if he develops a fixed idea. It will have to wear itself out. It's tough, but the kid's had a shock." He paused and looked down the beach. "At last," he exclaimed, "here comes our honored coroner. I bet he's had his breakfast."
Munson was back on the rock when they last saw him. With the assistance of a short stout officer he was carefully painting the outline of Emily-Jane upon the rock.
Having settled his business with the coroner and that dignitary having departed, Munson turned to the two local officers who had come to relieve Griggs, the gardener.
One of these officers was a red man. That was the impression he gave. Red of face and hair and hand. He was short and rather stout. The other was a crushed individual. No stomach. A sad, broken sort of face, and great lengths of arms and legs—yards of them.
"Well," thought Munson, considering the pair, "this is a well-balanced team they've given me."
"What's your name?" he asked the little red officer. "Shay, sir," came the piping reply.
"And yours?" Scott turned to the other, whose sad eyes were fixed dreamily on the sea.
"Shay, sir," this one found the heart to say.
"I'm not asking to be introduced to my friend here," said Munson. "I already know his name."
The crushed officer looked even more sorrowful. "My name is Shay," he replied, as if trying to convince himself of that fact.
"Oh," suggested Scott hopefully. "Brothers, I take it."
"We hardly know each other," protested the crushed one. "He's just joined. Been an officer somewhere else."
In the face of this new complication, Munson came near to washing his hands of the case, but he rallied gamely. "What do they call you at home?" he asked the red officer.
"Tim, sir," came the prompt reply.
The crushed man seemed to be having a terrible time with himself. He gave the impression of one preparing for a long, swift flight. When Munson turned to him he spoke quickly.
"Don't ask it, Mr. Munson," he said. "It is. It always was."
They were now standing in a space where no one had been allowed to tread. The two fishermen were preparing to carry the body back to the house. Munson sat down on a rock and moodily considered the situation. Suddenly his eyes took on a new interest. About two feet away, in a patch of smooth hard sand, was an odd impression—a cluster of small pointed indentations, the whole being a little larger than a fifty cent piece.
Forgetting for a moment the stupendous problem of the two Tim Shays, he took out a notebook and made a careful sketch of the design. While doing so he noticed the mark of a man's foot near by. This he carefully measured for length and breadth. Then he put away his notebook and turned to face the situation.
"Well," he said, "I'm not blaming you fellows about the matter of names, but it does seem unfortunate. Any suggestions ?"
"I've also been known as Shad," offered the crushed man.
"And they used to call me Red," contributed the other. "Red Shay," he added, with evident satisfaction. Munson beamed upon them.
"Well," he said, "you can see for yourself how simple it is. It's all settled. Now, boys, we'll have to get up the face of that cliff somehow or other."
His aids looked aghast. The man must be mad. If he started in like this, what would it be at the finish? Had the truth been vouchsafed them, they would have resigned en masse from the force.
Munson was back on the rock, superintending the removal of Emily-Jane, taking an active part in it.
"Careful, men," he told the huskies. "She's badly broken. Handle her gently."
And the great men, with hard, rough hands, handled the body of Emily-Jane with all the delicacy of a woman. Munson stood looking after them as they plodded through the sand, bringing Emily-Jane home. Then he rejoined his waiting staff.
"All set," he said briskly, and led the way to the path that twisted up the side of High Point Rock. At the foot of the path the staff halted smartly.
"They say I suffer from giddiness," confided Red to Munson.
"Well, here's your chance to show them they're all wrong," replied Munson.
"Mr. Munson," quoth Shad, "I'm a good man on a flat. None better, but going up, no—not so good."
Munson suddenly turned on them with what they later decided was nothing less than the fires of hell in his eyes.
"Do you see this path?" he asked them in a low voice. "Do you see how steep it is—how high?"
They readily agreed that they saw all that and more.
"Well, if this path were ten miles long," continued Scott, "and twice as high, I'd make you sprint up it. Come on."
As they fell in behind him, Red confided to Shad in a whisper, "There'll be two deaths instead of one."
"Three," muttered Shad. "And he'll be the murderer."
As Munson made his way up the twisting pathway, he halted from time to time to chalk a circle round certain dark stains that occasionally appeared on the large rocks beside the way. He noted that the rocks bearing these stains were always those that would prove helpful in serving as brakes or braces for anyone descending the path. He took no pride in his discoveries. In fact they rather depressed him. Those blood smears on the face of Emily-Jane and a few dark spots on the rock had led him to expect the existence of these on the path. Once he stopped and picked from between two rocks, companionably leaning against each other, a torn piece of blood-stained lint, obviously a part of a bandage—Daniel's bandage. The train was only too clear, yet it did not prove that Daniel had murdered Emily-Jane. Contributory evidence only. He might have been on the spot. He might have gone down the cliff after the commission of the act, and arranged her body. He might have seen the person who did kill her, but so far, Munson suddenly realized, he possessed no conclusive evidence. Daniel had the motive, and it could be proved he was at the scene of the murder, but was that quite enough? With some juries it would be if the case were properly presented. And then Munson remembered with a sinking heart their conversation at the golf club just before Daniel had driven off—that could be used to advantage by a skilful prosecutor, but still it was not complete. Even now Daniel might be safe if only nothing new were found against him.
Munson, poised in the path, with the piece of red lint in his hand, sweated not so much from the exertion of the climb as from the temptation to pervert the truth, to juggle the facts. Not for any friend in the world would he convict an innocent person, offer up a sacrifice. And this was only too easily possible. It could be done. On the night, or rather morning, of Emily-Jane's death there was more than one person astir, and probably lurking round High Point Rock. He wiped his forehead and, after slipping the lint into an envelope, continued on his way.
Clawing up the path behind him, came the two ex. hausted Shays. When they spied the chalk marks on the rocks they became exceedingly perplexed.
"Looks to me like he's playing games," observed Red, quite seriously.
"He's just mad enough to," returned Shad. "Maybe he thinks he's showing us the way."
"That's real nice of him then," put in Red in hitbest sarcastic pipe. "As if there was a chance of ever losing this path. It would be just as hard to go back now as to keep on going up."
"Then up we go," groaned Shad. "This isn't getting us nowhere."
"No?" said Red. "Well, I'm telling you now, I'm scratching out my grave with my own two dogs."
Munson was met at the top of the path by a tall bronzed man with startlingly pale blue eyes. He was neat of appearance, well set up, and had a brisk, businesslike way about him.
"Are you Mr. Munson?" he asked.
"I was before I started up that damned path," said Scott, with a faint smile. "I'm rather less than Munson now. And you?"
The bronzed man with the pale blue eyes was indulgent enough to return Munson's smile.
"My name's Bennett, Mr. Munson," he said. "I'm from headquarters. The district attorney instructed me to hot-foot it down here to help you. Now get me right on this. He told me to help you when and if you needed me, but not to butt into your operations. In other words, I'm at your disposal. I can come and go as needed. I've been here since a quarter to seven. Found two local men guarding the point. I've been standing by up here because from all I could learn, it seemed to me that this place was important."
Munson extended his hand.
"I need someone like you," he said. "Already I've felt the need of someone with whom to compare notes —someone to talk to—someone to listen to me. This is a family affair, you know, and that makes things difficult." He paused to consider his words carefully, then added: "If I don't take you entirely into my confidence it is not through lack of trust, but merely on the grounds of expediency. Unnecessary things need not be known."
"I expect nothing, Mr. Munson," said Bennett. "I'm really not on the case. As I said before, I'm merely standing by to be used when called for . . . to go here and there when necessary."
At this moment two strained faces appeared round the edge of the rock at the head of the path. The faces were too tired even to sweat. They had merely congealed themselves into two molds of exhaustion. It looked as if for all eternity, even after eons of complete rest those faces would remain unchanged, never able to return to their former state of well-being. Bodies followed the faces, and these bodies promptly deposited themselves on the ground.
"Quite a climb," came from one of the faces, with a feeble smile.
"Compared with that path, Mt. Blanc is a hole in the ground," announced the other.
"My staff," said Munson, pointing to the prostrate figures. Then he addressed himself to the faces. "Rest up, boys," he said. "You deserve it. Rest up a few minutes, then we'll get to work. Be careful where you walk."
"Can't walk," said the redder face.
"Don't have to worry where I put my feet," said the other. "Mine stay right where they are . . . forever."
As the two men walked away, Munson's keen ear detected the sound of low but hysterical laughter. Munson, himself, was laughing a little inwardly.
"I feel sure I'll be needing your help," he remarked to Bennett. "My staff seems to be permanently damaged. Have you looked about any?"
"A little," replied Bennett, "but touched nothing. There are certain things." He did not continue.
"Yes," said Munson, taking a quick step forward and pointing to a man arguing with the two local guards barring the way to High Point Rock, "and I'll bet one of those certain things is the property of that gesticulating gentleman."
"There is a silver hip flask," suggested Bennett. "Lead me to it," said Munson. "I have an idea I know about where it is."
"We must step carefully because there are also foot-marks," observed Bennett diffidently.
Fifteen yards farther on, close to the soggy edge of the great rock, Bennett pointed to a flask lying on the bare earth. Round about the flask was a frantic scramble of footprints now rapidly drying beneath the sun that had promised so much. Munson carefully picked up the flask and examined it for initials. They were plain enough "L. H." A pleased expression came to Munson's face. Suddenly he waved the flask aloft.
"It's all right, Holt," he called. "I've found it."
With an expression of the utmost dismay, Holt stopped arguing with the guards and fixed his eyes on the flask, gleaming like an accusing brand in the sun-light.
"Will you please go, Bennett," said Munson, "and conduct that gentleman through our conscientious constabulary ?"
Bennett soon returned with Holt in tow.
"Be careful how you step, Holt," warned Munson. "You might spoil some of your own footprints. By the way, which ones are yours?"
Munson looked appraisingly at Holt's feet, then pointed to a mark in the soil.
"I'll bet that one belongs to you," he said. "Of course, you were wearing dancing shoes. Put your foot in it and see how it fits."
"Damned if I will," replied Holt, his eyes on the flask. "And you haven't the authority to make me."
"You're right there," replied Munson, reluctantly. "Anyway, I don't work much from footprints unless they are practically forced upon me. Nevertheless your refusal shows a decided disinclination to cooperate with the law. Oh, is this yours ?"
Holt's hand shot out to the extended flask, which Munson quickly drew back.
"I see it is," he remarked dryly. "We found it here—right on the edge of the cliff at virtually the exact spot where Emily-Jane was pushed to her death."
"Munson, I swear to God I didn't do it," said Holt in desperation. "In spite of that flask, in spite of every-thing you've got against me or may get against me, I tell you I didn't murder Emily-Jane."
"All right, Holt," said Munson, in a voice a little less bitter than he customarily used when addressing him. "Go away now and don't come back here. We'll have a little talk soon. But keep your shirt on. You're in a bad way."
The man's once jaunty shoulders sagged as he turned and retraced his steps. Munson looked after him for a moment, then sat down rather heavily on a convenient rock.
"The trouble with this case," he said, "lies in the extraordinary circumstance that I have already three perfectly good suspects, three perfectly good motives, and three convincing sets of clues. Get me?"
"If I worked hard enough," continued Scott, "I might be able to convict any one of the three suspects, yet all three can't be guilty."
"It's a matter of choice at present," remarked Ben-nett.
"That's just the trouble," replied Munson. "It's a matter of choice—my own personal feelings, and I don't like that. If I followed them I'd go out and get that person who was just here, a most unpalatable character."
"Why don't you do it?" asked Bennett.
"No," said Munson, with a shake of his head, "that would be a little too low down. I may get him in the end, but something, some small, still voice keeps telling me he's not the man."
He rose and walked restlessly about, his searching eyes taking in every detail of the setting. He noted the bushes, stopped to examine certain marks barely visible in the soil, then returned to the cliff's edge and stood looking down at the confused grouping of footprints. The minutes passed unnoticed as he examined these. At length he returned to the rock and sat down.
"Had much experience with murder?" he asked suddenly.
"Some," said Bennett.
"Any good on observation ?" continued Munson.
"Yes, I am," replied the other quite frankly. "I've a microscopic pair of eyes, and that's almost a fact."
"Good," said Munson. "Now I'm going to make up a little story and after I've finished I want you to help me find out if there's any foundation in fact in it." He closed his eyes and settled himself on the rock.
"It's getting damned hot," he said, "and I'm getting damned hungry and sleepy. Can't afford to be sleepy. Well, here goes. A girl and a man are standing right here near the edge of the cliff. It is three o'clock in the morning. An old slut of a moon is trying to display her vanished beauty. The man and the girl are drinking, perhaps. In those bushes over there a man is hiding. He watches and listens. And somewhere about, not
quite sure where, another man is hiding. Now one of two things happens. I don't know which. Either the couple near the edge of the cliff starts to quarrel, and the man tries and eventually succeeds in pushing her over in spite of the intervention of one of the hidden men, either that happens or the couple starts in love-making and one of the hidden men rushes out and confronts them. A fight follows and over she goes. In either case the second hidden man is a witness to the whole tragic, silly, sordid business. He sneaks away unseen and scared momentarily dumb."
Munson stopped and opened his eyes.
"Now you study these marks here, wander round through the bushes and examine the ground as well as you can under the circumstances, then tell me what you've found out. I'm either too lazy or too tired to do it myself, but already I've seen some things."
Bennett, without a word and with a display of modesty that did him credit, followed the trail of Munson's previous investigations, only he was much more thorough and fared farther afield. He even disappeared into the thicket of bushes. When he returned he set about reading the riddle of the footprints. Munson seemed to be sleeping or thinking. Bennett was not sure which. Finally he spoke.
"Mr. Munson," he said, "you're about right, but it won't work unless we can get that eye-witness of yours to come clean."
"Oh, I know it's only a story," replied Munson. "A sort of a picture of what might have happened, that's all."
"What actually did happen, I expect," said Bennett. "Let's work backwards."
"A good idea," agreed Munson.
"Well, let's begin with this mess of footprints," went on the other. "Undoubtedly these are the girl's. High heels and all. A small, dainty foot. Now, there are two pairs of men's prints, one larger than the other. All that they actually show is that there's been considerable stamping going on. There's your scuffle part. But there's one print that gives us our lead to the bushes, assuming the guy ran in a straight line. Take the last print in—the one on the outskirts, so to speak. Feel like moving?"
"No," replied Munson, "but I will."
"Then, we'll use the center of that heel as a pointer and follow it to the bushes," said Bennett.
The two men did so and halted at the line of the bushes. It hardly required a practiced eye to see that someone had recently broken through those bushes. The interlaced twigs were snapped in several places. Some leaves had been stripped from the branches. With the facts already in hand it was not difficult to reconstruct the scene.
"Want to go inside?"
Munson did. Here they discovered ample evidence to confirm whatever suspicion the snapped twigs and stripped leaves might have aroused. A large body must have crouched here. There were not many signs of trampling, but enough to show that the thicket at this point was unlike the thicket elsewhere. Not conclusive, perhaps, but sufficiently so under the circumstances.
"Satisfied?" asked Bennett.
"Then let's go back," said the detective.
They retraced their steps and followed the bushes round a bend. Bennett stopped and pointed. "In there," he said briefly. "Same thing."
"I hadn't found that one," said Munson.
"Here's something," said Bennett, "you haven't worked into your story. It might have a bearing." This time Bennett took Munson to an isolated clump of bushes about fifteen yards from the edge of the cliff. The clump was composed of unusually high bushes. A tall person could stand beneath their branches. Even with the sun doing its best, the soil underneath the bushes remained moist. Bennett took no little pleasure in pointing out to Munson the prints of two different pairs of feet on the landward side of the clump. One pair was made by a man, the other by a woman, but the woman could not have been Emily-Jane, for these prints had been made by far less dainty shoes of an entirely different character.
"I wonder who they were," mused Munson aloud.
"Of course they might have been here earlier in the evening and then gone away," said Bennett, dashing cold water all over his discovery.
"I know, I know," replied Munson impatiently. "But in a case of murder and with so many plausible suspects, a lead as hot as this might prove extremely helpful. . . . Not every witness of a murder is willing to come forward. It was a hot, murky, dark summer night. God knows how many couples were taking advantage of it to go the limit. You couldn't drag 'em to admit they were out in the dark, dark bushes at three o'clock in the morning. A woman would have to be fairly seething with public spirit and pro bona publico to come forward of her own free will, and, of course, the escort would hold back for fear of involving the woman." He stopped speaking and looked thoughtfully at the prints, particularly at those of the woman. He seemed to be trying to visualize the person who had stood in the shoes that had left their marks so clearly behind.
"Bennett," he said at last, "a man spends all his life taking back something whether he knows it or not. I now take back what I said awhile ago about footprints. It is perfectly true that in the past I've never got all worked up over them, but these prints here interest me strangely. They might mean so damn much—not the prints, but the persons who made them. Now, as I read these prints—I refer to the smaller ones—it strikes me they must have been made either by a woman who prefers comfort to style or by one who has occasion to be much on her feet, a servant perhaps. I don't mean one of your high-stepping, high-heeled, movie-mad girls, although she may easily be that type—Wait a minute." Munson broke off, and returned to his inspection of the prints. "Let's take up the man's prints for a change," he resumed. "What type of man left them here, do you suppose?
Bennett studied the marks in the damp soil for several minutes. He, too, seemed to be endeavoring to give flesh and blood to the wearer of the shoes that had made them.
"For one thing," he said, "he was far from being a dandy. The wide, flat heel and the broad toe, the nail marks in the heel and the full impression of the sole, all go to convince me that those are the working shoes of a working-man—an outside man." He looked at Munson for confirmation, but Munson seemed to be miles away.
"All right," said Munson unexpectedly. "How about this : A maid still wearing her service shoes snags onto the stable man, the gardener, or some other outside male servant, and takes him for a walk. No date, no dressing-up for the occasion, no thought one way or another. They come down here and eventually stand behind this bush. Now, I say this because I happen to know just such a likely pair. There may be a dozen of them on this point of land—all sorts of combinations of those pairs, but I know one pair. I've watched them. A maid and an outside boy who possesses both the inclination and the enterprise to come prowling down here on a dark night. Perfectly innocently, I mean, that is, within all reasonable expectations. I'm going to find out— Oh, hell," he broke off, "all this is unprofitable speculation, but interesting. You got me into it, Bennett. I already know the murderer. Of that I'm fairly certain, but I wish to God I could find another one. I rather like this murderer, you see. Understand, Bennett, my remarks are unofficial now."
"Perfectly, Mr. Munson," replied Bennett earnestly. "It's a tough situation."
"It is. It is," said Munson, walking absent-mindedly away. Presently he stopped and called back over his shoulder, "Have you had any breakfast, Bennett?"
"I could stand a cup of coffee," he replied.
"Then let's go back to the house. There are things to be done there and I'd like to have you along."
A piping voice greeted them as they were about to leave the point. "What's to become of us?" asked the piping voice.
Munson looked upon the intrepid Shays with a sardonic grin. "My staff seems to be partially resuscitated," he said. "What's going to become of you, did you ask?"
"Yes, Mr. Munson," said Shad. "What's to become of us?"
"One hell of a lot," came the distressing reply, "if you stick around with me. Come along and I'll show you."
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