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VORTEX

By JON CLEARY

McKechnie faces a pile-up of trouble

when the real cause of Molly Farquhars death is revealed - continuing our serial

POLICE CHIEF JIM MCKECHNIE and his

assistant ROLEY TRUBAUER find the body I

of MOLLY, wife of GILBERT FARQUHAR, in CLINT BLAMEY'S tornado-wrecked farm- house outside the town of Friendship. Blamey is missina. Mollv and Gilbert have

spent their married life at the Farquhar home with his widowed mother ADELE, and her servant WILMA MAE. Gilbert's sister ROSE, after twenty years' absence, is there now dying of cancer, and her lover, United States Vice President WILLIS VANDERHORN, has come to her. McKechnie is keeping this secret, especially from his fiancee LEE BARRON, who owns the local newspaper. Farquhar goes with McKechnie and DR STENHOUSE to identify the body, but when McKechnie asks him why she was at Blarney's house, and had a large sum of money in her handbag, Farquhar drives away saying he is going home, but instead, heads for Blarney's farm. NOW READ ON:

MCKECHNIE DEBATED whether to follow Farquhar, but he heard his ear radio culling him. Roley Trubauer reported that he has just seen Clint Blamey.

"lt was out on Razorback. Chief." he

said. "I gave him the signal to pull up. but

he look off like mad. 1 was headed the

wrong way, and you know how narrow it is there. By the time I turned round, he was gone."'

"Keep looking for him Roley,"

McKeehnie said.

What was Clint Blamey up to? He was a loner, a widower in his late thirties, a hard

worker, running a Jersey herd on part of his farm and growing apples and peaches.

He was a regular churchgoer, keeping to himself at the services, but four or five times a year he would appear at a First Baptist get-together and be welcome. He

came into town once a week to do his

shopping, had a few drinks at Wayman's bar. was polite and friendly to anyone who spoke to him, and went home, still minding

his own business.

Dr Stenhouse was still sitting in his ear.

and McKechnie went over to him. "Doc.

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VORTEX

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FROM PAGE 133

did you examine Mrs Farquhar? I mean thoroughly?"

..No. That'll be the coroner's job when

he gets here. Why?"

"Was there any sign she'd been assaulted'? Raped?"

"It never crossed my mind. Chief." Stenhouse frowned. "What's on your mind?"

..Clint Blamey. Role\ Trubauer tried to flag him down out on Razorback and he took off."

Stenhouse shook his head. "Blamey isn't a rapist. I won't buy that. Anyhow I'll let you know what we find out when the coroner gets here."

McKechnie went back to headquarters. He paused by the glassed-in section where Lucy Chapley sat. "Anything on the storms from the Community people?" There was a Community Warning Centre over in Vista, the county seat.

"A hailstorm down near Pea Ridge, that's all. You have a visitor. Chief. 1 told her to go into your office."

From Lucy's expression he guessed who his visitor was. She did not approve of Lee

Barron. He went into his office, closed the door.

"That's twice you've met me this morn- ing and you haven't kissed me yet." Lee said.

He kissed her forehead, then went round and sat down behind his desk

"What do you want this time?"

"Information. The same as 1 wanted up at the Farquhars' house. Darling. I'm trying not to be a gate-crashing reporter. But the wife of one of the town's leading men was killed this morning. Is it too much to ask for all the facts so that 1 can get the story straight?"

"Look, I don't know any more than you do. I've seen Gil Farquhar, but I didn't ask him any questions. I'm leaving it till

tomorrow. When his sister will be dead, too."

"You're trying to make me sound like some sort of ghoul."

"I just know how the Farquhars would feel, that's all."

He had never told her how he had felt

when the newspapermen and the television interviewers had besieged him after his wife's death. He. about to go to work, had been kissing Paddy goodbye at their apartment door when the vengeful junkie had tried to shoot him. Paddy, seeing the aimed gun, had flung herself in front of McKechnie and taken the bullet in her heart.

There had been a departmental inquiry into why he had shot the junkie five times, as if grief and anger were no excuse for the wasteful expenditure of bullets. And almost every hour it had seemed, the reporters had been at him. asking their questions, demanding their right to know.

"Are you trying to hide something?" Lee said. "You know how I feel about that.

especially by a public official."

He knew all right. You only had to read her editorials. She was forever attacking any sort of cover-up. Mckechnie won- dered what she would say if he told her that half a mile from where they sat the Vice President of the United States had virtually ordered him to offer no informa- tion to anyone at all.

"Let's say I'm being sympathetic to someone else's grief. If that's a crime, go ahead and expose me."

She looked at him carefully, softening her attitude. "All right, forget I'm here from my paper. I know you. Even if you aren't hiding something, you've got something on your mind that's worrying you. Can I help?"

He wanted to sa v. Yes if von weren't

a newspaperwoman.

Tve got some problems." he admitted. "I'll tell you about them when 1 retire."

Then his phone rang. Lucy Chapley

said. "Dr Stenhouse is on the line. Chief."

Mckechnie put his hand over the phone. "I'll see you later, honey. This is police business."

Lee's mouth lightened, but she stood up. leaned across the desk and kissed him.

Then she went out of the office without a word, and Mckechnie took his call.

"Chief?" It was either a bad line or

Stenhouse was having difficulty with his voice. "Dr Main, the county coroner, is here with me. We've had a look at Molh

Farquhar. There was no sign of sexual

assault. But she was dead before the twister hit her. She'd been shot."

"She was also pregnant," said Stenhouse, sitting hack in the front seat of his car. "About three months, fd say."

"How old was she?"

"Forty, forty-one. She wasn't my patient, remember?"

"ls it unusual for a woman to become

pregnant for the first time at that age.'"

"No, it happens. It's only unusual when the woman's husband is impotent, has been ever since they married."

The coroner had gone back to Vista,

and McKechnie and Stenhouse were now

sitting in the doctor's car in the hospital parking lot. McKechnie frowned thought- fully.

"I was going to soft pedal Molly Farquhars death as much as I could. But it's a whole new ball game now. For a start I've got to bring every man I've got back on duty, try to pick up Clint Blamey before he gets too far away."

"You think he shot her?"

"I don't know. But he's my Number One suspect. Are you going back to the Farquhars?"

"You want me to? I have a couple of

other calls to make."

"Leave the family to me. then. I've got to call in to headquarters, then I'll go up

and see them." Then he remembered

something: "When Gil Farquhar left here, he wasn't heading home. He went west. He could've been going out to the Blamey place. I wonder what he's going to sa) when I tell him maybe Clint Blamey shot

his wife?"

"ll need not lune been (lint. 1 don't think he's any more a murderer than he is a rapist."

McKechnie went to his own car. called

Lucy Chaplev and told her to call in thc off-duty men. then he contacted Roley

Trubauer.

"I'm back at the Blamev place. Chief, (jil Farquhar'* out here, just sitting in that

old Caddie of his. I went across to him. but he said all he wants is to be alone."

"Tell him I'd like to see him back at his

house in twenty minutes. Roley. Molly Farquhar was shot, but don't tell him. I will when I see him. In the meantime I want Clint Blamey picked up. Go carefully with him - he could be carrying a gun."

Again he went back to headquarters. Bud Grierson, in charge of Records, was already on duty and five minutes later, .lack Atcheson and the three other off-duty

men arrived.

They were young men, all three of them farm boys w ho had opted for the glamour and excitement of a policeman's job only

to find that it could be as dull and routine

as working on a farm. Even to having to work on Sunday.

CJrierson and Atcheson. by right of age. took the two chairs opposite McKechnie's desk. The three young men stood lounging against the walls. The office was not large and it was packed with uniforms, badges gleaming, guns prominent.

McKechnie told them that Molls Farquhar had been shot. "There was a .38 slug in her skull. It was old ammunition, soft lead, so it was probably one of the older model guns."

"Suicide or murder?" Atcheson asked.

"Il could've been suicide." McKechnie

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FROM PAGE 135

was surprised the thought had not occurred to him. "We'll leave that open for the moment. In the meantime I want Clint Blamey picked up. He's got away from Roley once already this morning, so take him carefully. Better go in pairs. When Roley comes in Bud, you go with him."

"You want someone with you. Chief?" said Atcheson.

"I've got to go up to the f arquhars". I can do that on my own. That's it. Check in

with Lucy every ten minutes.**

As he drove back up to Forest View Drive, he wondered why he had not told the others about Molly Farquhars being pregnant. Then he realized he had become, almost without knowing it. the family's protector. Lee had been right. Or was he really only trying to protect Vice President

Vanderhorn?

Once again it was Adele Farquhar to whom he had to give the news. But this time Willis Vanderhorn was in the drawing-room with her. "She had been dead several hours, Mrs Farquhar. Have you any idea what time she left the house last night?"

"It was about eleven o'clock. Just after

my son had called Mr Vanderhorn." she said, after a slight pause.

"Was there any connection? I mean between the phone call to the Vice President and her leaving all ol' a

sudden like that?"

"You will have to ask my son that, Mr McKechnie. They were man and wife. Their relationship was none of my affair."

McKechnie didn't believe that. Gilbert

and Molly Farquhar had lived all their married life in this house. Adele Farquhar,

whether she admitted it or not. had been

part of their marriage. "Did you know your daughter-in-law was pregnant'.'"

The old woman's hands tightened on the arms of her chair. "I presume you're

certain ofthat. Mr Mckechnie'.1"

"Dr Stenhouse is. And the county

coroner."

She pondered the evidence, then said firmly, "No. I did not know."

"Do you have to continue with these questions?" said Vanderhorn. "Mrs

Farcjuhar has enough to bear as it is."

"Mr Vice President. I have what could

be a murder on my hands."

Vanderhorn nodded. "I'm sorry. Of course. But perhaps you could sparc Mrs farquhar the questions and leave them for

her son."

"Thank you, Mr Vanderhorn. Will you

excuse me, Mr McKechnie?" She went out

of the room, tall and straight-backed as ever. But McKechnie had the feeling that

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rUff I fc»W FROM PAGE 137

suddenly all her years had at last caught up

with her.

"She is a remarkable woman," said

Vanderhorn.

"I'm just beginning to recognize it." Mckechnie put away his notebook. He remarked with surprise that he had made no notes at all in it. "I haven't been out io the airport yet, sir. Are you still intendins; to stay on?"

Vanderhorn got up and moved to the

window.

"I suppose you are wondering what brings me here to Friendship? The truth is, Chief. Miss Farquhar and I have been ven good friends for almost twenty years. Do I have to spell out what I mean by that?"

"No. sir." Mckechnie had begun t<

suspect what Vanderhorn was telling him. The Vice President was not the first publa man who had had a secret private life

History, he guessed, was peopled by the shadows of women who had been kept in the background.

"Il was not easy for me to get down here. I had to steal out of my house in the middle of the night to avoid the Secret Service men who are supposed never to let me out of their sight. There'll be some panic this morning, but a certain person knows where I am and he'll cool the Secret Service.

"But if 1 am still missing tomorrow morning the media are sure to start asking questions. They allow me some privacy at the weekend, but only because they want a private life of their own for a day or two. But Monday they're back on the job."

"Do any of them know about Miss

Rose?"

"Some of them. I'm sure. But they have never made capital out of it. But the Vice President sneaking out of Washington and Hying halfway across the country to be with his dying sweetheart, a woman not his

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VORTEX

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FROM PAGE 138

wife, would be too good a story to be passed up. Especially by those White Hou^e correspondents who are Democrats. And in an election year."

Mckechnie did not appreciate the Vice President's having confided so much in him. He was being burdened by more than a man in his position should be asked to bear. "I think you should go back to W ashington now. sir. You can't really help nv staving here. I mean, help Miss Rose."

"1 can help her. She didn't want me to come down here. But this morning she asked me to sta\. 1 ow e her that, to be here

at the end."

Mckechnie nodded, then stood up.

"There may be some callers here this morning. The word's already around town that Molly Farquhar's dead. So far the) don't know she was shot, but the) soon will. You had best stay upstairs, sir. I'll go out now and tell your pilot to hop over to Springfield."

"I'm grateful. Chief. For your concern

and for \our efforts."

They had just walked into the hall when Gilbert Farquhar came in. He stood stockstill as he saw Mckechnie and Vanderhorn. As if we were enemies. Mckechnie thought.

"Officer Trubauer said you wanted to see me." Farquhar's voice w as hoarse.

"PU °o upstairs," said Vanderhorn. "Will you be back. Chief?"

"I think so. sir." Mckechnie waited till the Vice President had «one upstairs, then he turned back to Farquhar, who was staring up at the disappearing figure.

"Has he taken over this house?" He sounded angry and churlish. "Are you working for him?"

"Take it easv. Mr farquhar, "fm working for nobody - well, fm working for the town. 1 came here to see you. not the Vice President. I have more bad news about your wife."

Farquhar didn't move while McKechnie, as briefly and gently as he could, told him about the shooting of his

wife.

"There was one other thing, Mr Farquhar. Your wife was pregnant. Did you know that?"

Farquhar at last moved, turning to face McKechnie squarely. "Yes, I knew that. I learned it two nights ago. Friday night."

Suddenly he said. '"Who killed her0 Clint Blamey?"

''We're looking for him, but I don't

know if he killed her. Was she a friend of his?"

"Apparently, though 1 only found that out, too, on Friday night. My wife seems to have achieved the impossible - kept a

secret in a small town."

"When did you last see your wife?"

Farquhar gestured helplessly. "I'm not sure. Ten, ten-thirty. I was sitting with my sister all evening. My wife said good night

and went to her room."

"You didn't share the same room?"

"No. Do you have to take all this down

in that damned notebook?" There was no politeness at all about him now.

McKechnie ignored the question. "Your wife's car - is it out in the garage.'"

Farquhar blinked, having trouble being attentive. "No. Isn't it out at Blarney's place?"

"You were out there, you'd have seen it

if it w as." McKechnie closed his notebook.

He still had lilied only half a page. He had taken more notes on a simple auto accident. Was he still trying to protect this house and everyone in it?

"I'll probably have to come back. You'll

still be here?"

"Where do I have to go?" said larq uhar.

McKechnie left him. stepping out into

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VORTEX

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FROM PAGE 140

rain and strong wind. From his car he called headquarters.

"Lucy, tell Jack Atcheson to come up here to the Farquhars' on his own. I'll wait

for him."

He sat in his car, the windows rolled up against the rain, feeling suddenly worn out. When Atcheson pulled into the driveway behind him. he got out and went back to him. "Nobody, and I mean nobody. Jack, is to go into the house. Except Doc

Stenhouse."

"Do I let anyone go out? Gil Farquhar,

for instance?"

"Whv him in particular?"

"Jim. I didn't want to mention it back

down at headquarters. 1 could see you had something on your mind besides what you were telling us. Last night when I was coming on duty, about 11.45, 11.50. I guess it was. I saw Gil Farquhar. I was driving in from my place and he passed me in his Cadillac, heading out along Route 86. There were two people in the car. Going out toward Clint Blarney's place."

"You sure it was him?"

Atcheson repeated almost his.

McKechnie's, words of an hour or so earlier. "Who else drives an old Caddie

like that? No, it was him all right."

And about that same time, thc

telephone rang in the house behind them.

"May I speak to Mr Vanderhorn?" a

voice asked.

"Who calling, please?" said Wilma

Mae.

"A colleague," said the President of the

United States. "He'll know who it is."

"Billy Greb called me." said Lee, putting a plate of flapjacks on the table "He said he saw a police car going out to the airport about half an hour ago. Then just after that he saw a Learjet taking off. It flew right over his house."

Billy Greb was Lee's staff photogra- pher, a boy wonder who boasted of having a camera eye that could take in detail as clearly as his camera.

"Nobody around here owns a Learjet." Lee sat down, passed the spiced sausages that she had sent down specially each week

from St Louis. "Who was it?"

Mckechnie savoured a mouthful of sausage if not the question.

"Some pilot who'd lost his way. He'd put down to ask where he was, but there was no one on duty out there."

"The name of the town is painted on the roof of the hangars. All he'd have to do is check his map. What's the matter with \ou? Why did you just happen to be out at the airport when he put down?"

The sausage was suddenly tasteless. "Why can't we just have a quiet Sunday breakfast like we always do?"

"Because every other Sunday nothing's

going on. This morning something is.

Look, darling. I know some police work has to be kept under wraps for a while. But what's happened with the Farquhars? And who did that Learjet belong to, even if. as you say, the pilot was lost. Which I don't

for a moment believe."

He sighed, put down his fork. "You'll just have to be patient. I could tell you nothing's going on, but you wouldn't believe me -"

'You never said a truer word. Darling. I'm not going to sit back just because you tell me to. I think if you told me what's going on it might save a lot of heartburn. I'm going to find out anyway and I'd rather not hurt anyone if I can avoid it. If there is some scandal connnected with the

Farquhars isn't it better - " Then she stopped.

"Go on." he said, afraid that she already knew more than she admitted to.

"I just can't believe there would be any scandal - with them, I mean. Every body's known that Gil and Molly haven't been happy together for years, but that's no scandal. That's the way it. is with half the married couples in town. And Mrs Farquhar is beyond reproach." She looked at him squarely: 'Ts it Rose?"

"Can I have another cup of coffee?" He knew now that he was going to have to tell bet something. "Will you accept something

off the record? At least till tomorrow morning."

She gazed at him a while and she recognized he would not lie to her. "All right. But only till tomorrow morning."

"Molly Farquhar wasn't killed by that twister out at the Blamey place. She was already dead - she'd been shot."

Her eyes widened a little, but otherwise she remained unmoving. "By Clint Blamey?"

"I don't know."

"There's more to it than what you've

told me. I'd have found out about her

being shot just by going back to the

hospital morgue. And I was going to do that anyway as soon as you'd had

breakfast. What else is there?"

"This is very much off the record. She was pregnant - three months gone, according to Stenhouse. The only trouble is. Gil Farquhar is impotent."

She was silent for a while, then she said. "So she could have been pregnant to Clint Blamey and Gil found out and shot her? Is that what you're trying to hide till tomorrow morning?"

It was an out and he was tempted to take it. But couldn't. Tomorrow the truth, like a debt, would be due. Unless, of course, what Lee had said was the truth. He thought of Gil Farquhar driving out into the countryside at midnight: alone? But

Jack Atcheson had said there had been two

people in the old blue Cadillac. Had Molly, already dead, been riding in the car

with him?

He suddenly realized he had over- looked a most important clue. Where was Molly's car? He hadn't seen it at the Blamey place, and Farquhar had said it wasn't in the garage at home.

"'You can print what you suspect if you like." he said, "but you might have a libel suit slapped on you. Nothing in this is straightforward." He stood up. took his gunbelt from the back of the kitchen chair

and buckled it on.

She came round the table and put her arms round his neck. "All right, no more questions till tomorrow morning. But I want the whole truth then and nothing but

the truth."

They walked through the house, their

arms round each other. The Barron home

was at the opposite end of Forest View Drive from that of the Farquhar house. It was an old house, built from local stone, standing in two acres of garden. The interior was comfortable, not as elegant as that of the Farquhars, but still suggesting a

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^f\ßn f Em Ak FROM PAGE 143 spaciousness from the past. The furniture was solid, and good. McKechnie knew he would be happy here when they married - and they knew now it would be soon.

The rain had eased again, but the wind blew along the porch. There was a feverishness to it, a warning that

McKechnie heeded.

"Will you be working the rest of the day?" Lee asked him.

"I guess so. I've called all the fellers back on duty." To ward off any further remarks about thc Farquhars he said. "Must in case those Tornado Warnings turn out to be right."

"1 think you'd like that. Just to bury whatever's on your mind on the back page."

She was too smart. Married lite might not be so hot with her. "Assuming we get through the day. tonight for supper?"

"Seven o'clock. 1 love you, you know that? You're aggravating at times, but 1 love you."

"Likewise." He grinned, kissed her. "Bud Grierson brought me in a salmon yesterday. I'll bring it along and we'll have

that. I'll cook it."

She was a terrible cook and Mondays through Fridays had a woman come in to keep house and cook for her. Weekends

she and McKechnie ate out or he did the

cooking.

The moment of domesticity comforted

him, and they parted on a good note. He got into his car, put a call through to Roley Trubauer. "Roley, is Bud with you?"

"Just got together. Chief. We're heading out toward Razorback again, in case Clint Blamey comes back that way."

"Do that later. Go out to Clint Blarney's place and check around there, down in the woods behind it, everywhere, see if Molly Farquhar's car is there. She has - had a fawn Chewy. I think."

There was some murmuring and crackling, then Trubauer said. "Bud says it was a Buick and it was cream, she just never bothered to get it washed." He was learning more and more about Molly Farquhar. He had always thought her one of the neatest and smartest-looking women

in town.

"Anyhow. I want to know how she got out to Clint's place last night."

He switched off. drove slowly along the street, puzzled at his reluctance to approach the Farquhar house again.

Willis Vanderhorn had not enjoyed the conversation with the President. The two men had never been compatible. Their running on the same ticket four years ago

had been a matter of convenience.

"Your securit) guys have found out you're not at home." said the President. "Kerby, from the Secret Service, has been on to me in a panic. I've told them I know where you arc and not to worry, but you know what they're like. How long are you

going to stay down there? You're due in New York tomorrow at the UN. I hope you haven't forgotten that?"

"I haven't forgotten. I'll be coming hack to Washington tonight."

"How is she. Willis?"

"I've just come down from her bedroom. She's in dreadful pain. I can't le.ave her. Not while

"Don't jeopardize everything. 1 don't want to sound cruel. Willis, but she is going to die anyway."

"Don't worry, I'll keep our priorities straight. I'll be back tonight, whatever happens."

When he had hung up he sat on in the studv where he had taken the call. It had been the Senator's study and more than just vestiges of the old man still remained. Thc shelves seemed to hold only books published before the Senator's death.

He stood up and took down a title that had caught his eyes: Missouri Men. He opened it. hoping there might be a piece

on the Senator in it. but there was none.

Then a photo fell out into his hand: a young girl and a young man standing hand in hand in a garden. He recognized Rose al

once. It was a few moments before he

realized the laughing, carefree youth beside

her was her brother Gilbert.

There was a knock on the door. Adele

Farquhar pushed it open and saw him holding the photo.

"May 1 have that photograph, Mr

Vanderhorn? I didn't know it was in the book." She took it from him and looked at

it without expression. Or so he thought till he noticed the rigid control of her mouth. "That was such a long time ago. One's chil- dren seemed like strangers in those days."

He thought of his own children, two boys and a girl, already strangers to him. allies of their mother. "They looked very happy."

"They were good times, Mr

Vanderhorn. Their father was still alive. Our whole circumstances were. well, much better than now."

"Rose occasionally told me how things were back back here when she was young."

"Did she tell you much?"

"No. I never pressed it she could bc

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fV/n m E^V FROM PAGE 144 very reticent at times. She never mentioned her brother, for instance. Though they looked very happy together in that picture."

"They were. Gilbert would tell you

about it."

"I don't think so. Your son and I don't

seem to have any rapport. 1 saw him a while ago. going across the back lawn and into the woods. He seems to be avoiding

me."

"He often goes for walks." She was defending her children, something he had given up doing long ago. "Rose used to

like to walk, too."

"She still did, up till a few months ago when -" He gestured lamely. "That was why I bought her the house on Chesapeake Bay. She went walking every day she was

there."

"Did your family know of your

association with Rose?"

He nodded. "She and my mother met several times and got on well together. My mother never blamed Rose for the

break-up of my marriage. But no Vanderhorn has ever been divorced. My mother couldn't bear it."

"The one admirable thing, Mr Vanderhorn, is that you respect your mother's wishes. What would you like for luncheon? Normally we have our big meal °n Sundays at midday, but I'm afraid I

don't feel like it today. But Wilma Mae will prepare whatever you wish."

He noticed she had used the word luncheon, just as his mother did. The two

old women had much in common.

"Just something light. Rose told me once that Wilma Mae made something called Rum Tum Tiddy that she and the

Senator liked."

Adele Farquhar smiled. "Tomato soup and melted cheese, with a beaten egg and some seasoning. You shall have it, Mr Vanderhorn. Even if only for sentiment's

sake."

The front-door bell rang. Then Wilma Mae tapped on the study door. "Chief McKechnie here to see you Miz Farquhar. He's in the drawing-room."

"Again?" But Adele Farquhar addressed the question to Vanderhorn. not to her housekeeper. And he felt pleased. She had accepted him into her house, even if only for the day. "What can he want?"

McKechnie wanted Gilbert Farquhar. "I have some more questions to put to him, Mrs Farquhar."

"My son is not here, Mr McKechnie."

The police chief frowned. "Where is he

then?"

Vanderhorn had followed his hostess

into the drawing-room, feeling certain now that she wanted his support. He said, "1 saw Mr Farquhar going out across the back lawn about twenty minutes ago. He was heading into the woods, going for a walk."

McKechnie glanced out the window at the police car that had been parked in the driveway for the past hour. Then he looked back at Adele Farquhar. "Then Fd like to

talk to Wilma Mae."

"May I ask why, Mr McKechnie?"

"You may ask, Mrs Farquhar, but I'm

afraid I don't have to tell \ou."

"There is no need for you to be offensive, Mr McKechnie."

"That wasn't my intention." For the

first time Vanderhorn saw the weariness in

the police chief. "I am investigating what might be a murder, the murder of your daughter-in-law. That doesn't make this a

social call."

Vanderhorn waited on the old woman's reaction. He was sure that she had all his own mother's stock of the cold shoulder, the chill stare. But Adele Farquhar had more tact than that. Or perhaps more respect for this man who was just trying to do his job.

"Shall I bring Wilma Mae in here or do you wish to talk to her in the kitchen?"

"The kitchen will do." said McKechnie. "I feel more at home there."

"You underrate yourself, Mr McKechnie. I think you would feel at home anywhere."

"I never goes out anywhere at night."

said Wilma Mae. "Where the dark catches

me, I stays."

"So you were here in the house all night last night?"

To page 148

VORTEX

CONTINUED

FROM PAGE 147

"Yessir, Chief. Why I wanna go oui. anyways? With Miss Rose sick like she is. nobody knowing when she gonna go to the

Lord."

"Who did go out last night? I mean be- side Mrs Molly? What about Mr Gilbert?'*

Wilma Mae was a good-looking woman with a dignity that was partly inherited, partly absorbed. She was a daughter of this house if not the family. She had once had a husband, a quiet, sober man who had worked for the Farquhars as chauffeur and gardener, but he had died ten years ago. She was in her late fifties now, McKechnie guessed.

She sat at the big table in the middle of the big old-fashioned kitchen and gazed at him with all the confidence of a Farquhar. "What Mr Gil done last night is his

business. I dunno he went out or not."

McKechnie had already cursed himself for not having questioned Farquhar as soon as Jack Atcheson had told him of seeing the Cadillac going out last night toward the Blamey place. He should have come back to the house at once, but

weariness and ten years of easy-going

routine had dulled him.

"What about Mrs Molk? Was she upset at all Yesterday?"

"She upset like we all is. You be like that Chief, somebody you love dying in

your house."

"Of course. But Mrs Molly had other things on her mind, too." He took a risk. After all. she was one of the family, she wouldn't go broadcasting any scandal. "She was pregnant. Wilma Mae. Did you

know that?"

Slowly, the words dragged out of her. she said. "She told me. Like she done tell me lotsa things. She had nobody to talk to. she say. She used - confide? - me."

"What elese did she confide in you

Wilma Mae?"

Her eyes were deep closets of thought. She had secrets locked away in her that pained her to the point of tears.

"She dead, Chief. I respect the dead."

Sure. Mollv Farquhar was dead: and he was beginning to realize that he had never

known her when she was alive. She had

been a bright, sometimes witty woman, gregarious as a sparrow. But it seemed perhaps that no one had guessed at the Molly Farquhar behind the vital, good humoured image she had presented to

the town.

Only the three other people in this house had seen behind it. And, he guessed. Clint Blamey. He wondered if Blamey had

been confided in as this black house- keeper had been.

"Wilma Mae. Mrs Molly was shot. Someone killed her. Don't you want to help me find out who that might be?"

"1 ain't one for revenge, Chief. Mi/

Molly wasn't, neither. Leastways 1 never thought that before."

"Before what?"

Nothing showed in her face or eyes, but he knew she had made a slip. Then she

said. "Before she die."

He sat back in the old kitchen chair. This big work room he guessed, was Wilma Mae's pride and joy - that part of the

house which was hers and hers alone.

Copper-bottomed pots and pans gleamed like a signature, her mark impressed on them through the vigour ol'

her hands.

The table and work-benches were

wood, scrubbed to a pale gold. The wall tiles behind the benches were decorated by a pale blue symbol, lt took him a few moments to recognize that it was the letter F. The cupboards were of the same pale gold timber. McKechnie imagined he could see the tiny scoring of the scrub-brush in

the wood.

This was Wilma Mae's retreat, where

she felt safe from the night and whatever other terrors there were beyond the walls of the house. Where the dark catches me. I

slavs.

Then she jumped in her chair and he did the same. There was the loud crack of a shot and. part of the same frightening sound, the crash of glass as the window of the bedroom above them shattered. ^

To be continued

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