Lists (None yet)

Login to create lists

Tagged (None yet)

Add Tags

Comments (None yet)

Add New Comment

No corrections yet

VORTEX

A tornado warning was out for the little town but McKechnie feared more than nature's devastation ? beginning the latest novel by the ever popular Australian author

The weather began to look ominous late Saturday. It was not unusual for that time of year. The spring storms had many faces, but their threat never changed. They had many names, but eventually the Spanish name for them

became universal: tornadoes.

They are born in thunderstorms. Columns of air begin to rotate, increasing in violence and velocity. a funnel of cloud drops down from the mass, spinning in a counter-clockwise direction, and within the funnel are winds whirling at up to 300

miles an hour.

Late on this particular Saturday a severe low-pressure system, a concen tration of cold drv air. was developing on the eastern slopes of the Rocky mountains.

Fifteen hundred miles to the south floods

of warm moist air were merging and

pushing up out of the Gulf of Mexico. The \ two fronts were moving inexorably toward

each other.

At midnight on Saturday, the National Severe Storms Forecast in Kansas City. Missouri, issued its first Storm Watch. The message was received in. the com

munications section of the Police

Department of the town of Friendship, south-west Missouri, and the despatcher on

dutv. Officer Jack Atcheson. made a note i

to inform the local radio station when it J

came on the air at six o'clock in the M

morning. M

The two weather fronts continued to ^

By i

JON CLEARY

VORTEX

CONTINUED FROM PAGE 143

inarch toward each other. Several small twisters, like probing scouts, touched down, then lifted, doing no damage. I Friendship, a quiet town, slept peacefully

and woke to a dark dawn.

The voice came over the Police

Department car radio: "Headquarters? This is PD-Four, out on Route 86. There's a twister on the ground here, about a mile

west."

Police Chief Jim McKechnie, cruising alone along Forest View Drive, cut in: 'This is Chief McKechnie, Roley. Is it a big 'un?"

"Naw, chief, nothing to worry about." Roley Trubauer. despite his German name, was an ex-Arkansas hill-billy. His drawl and manner of speech sometimes drove McKechnie to distraction, but no officer in the eight-man department was more reliable. "I'll just keep an eye on it."

"Keep reporting in, Roley, but don't go chasing it."

McKechnie made a note on his pad. put it back on the clipboard on top of two Wanted notices. The wanted men. a white and a black, had killed a policeman and robbed a bank and the notices said they were dangerous.

He continued on along Forest View, occasionally looking west between the houses to see if he could catch a glimpse of the twister. The sky there was dark, but he could not see any sign of the tell-tale funnel. He switched on his microphone.

"PD-Four? You there, Roley? What's happening now?"

"She's lifted. Chief, just disappeared the way they do. Don't think there's anything to worry about. I'm heading over that way. Looks like she passed close to Clint Blarney's place. I'll go see he's OK."

"Don't get too far under that black stuff." McKechnie had pulled up at the end of Forest View where it dipped in a curve down to the main part of town. In his driving mirror, he saw Dr Stenhouse coming down the sidewalk behind him, collar of his raincoat turned up against the wind, checked golf cap pulled low over his

brow.

McKechnie got out of the car, glad to stretch his legs. He was tall, lean and in

good condition for a man who spent most of his working day behind a desk or riding around in a squad car.

"You're up early. Doc."

"Morning. Chief. I was up late, too. There was a dance out at the country club.

You should've been there."

"Saturday is not my night for loosening up." Saturday, drunken drivers' night, and Wednesday, church night, were the two busiest shifts of the week. Normally he kept in touch wherever he was, then went home to bed at midnight. But last night, alerted by the Storm Watch, aware of the rising wind, sensing in his bones that something might happen he had been unable to sleep and he had got up at three o'clock and gone out cruising in his car. "Why are you up so early?"

Stenhouse nodded toward the big house

that stood at the end of the bluff where the

street dipped down into the town. "I'm on my way in there."

"How is Miss Rose?"

"She won't see the end of the day. I had to tell the family that last night."

"How did they take it?"

"They've been expecting it."

Russell Stenhouse, was easily the town's

best doctor and he knew it. He was married with two children who had married and

moved away from the town and though he and his wife were known to be unhappy together they put up a front and were leaders of the country club set.

"It'll be a relief for the Farquhars, I guess." he said. "After all, she's been away from them for twenty-five years. When she came home a month ago to die, I'm not

sure she was too welcome."

McKechnie looked toward the big frame house with the green copper cupola on the tower that jutted above its two storeys. In all his time in the town, ten years, he had never been inside the Farquhar house. But there was no reason why he should have been. The Farquhars, despite the fact that their fortunes had declined over the past couple of decades, were still the family in Friendship. Only a

select few were invited to the house.

"What's she like? Miss Rose. I mean."

"You mean to look at? A skeleton now due to the cancer. But I remember her

when I first came here. Best-looking girl in

town then."

'How old would she be now?"

"Forty-six. that's all. A crying shame, she's got to go so young and in such a way."

"Where's she been all the time she's been away?"

"Don't know. The family never talked about her. least of all her brother Gil, and he's the only one of them has ever been my patient. The others. Mrs Farquhar and Gil's wife, go up to Joplin. Mrs Farquhar was a big city woman and I guess she never

trusted small town doctors."

"Where you surprised they called you in

when Miss Rose came home?"

"Gil did that."

"I saw Gil Farquhar out driving about twenty minutes ago."

"Gil? You sure? This early?"

"Who else drives a twelve-year-old

Cadillac?"

"That's so. Well, I'd better get on in

there."

McKechnie got back into his car and drove on down the winding street into the

business section. He had come to

Friendship ten years ago from New York after the sudden, totally unexpected death of his wife. He had been looking for a

haven and he had found it in this small

town which, though the effort sometimes showed, tried to live up to the name it had been given 140 years ago.

But though Friendship had expanded, it had never developed into a city, either in

size or in attitude. It was a conservative

community. There were twenty-Five churches and two bars in town, reversing the proportion of the New York neighbourhood where McKechnie had begun on the beat.

He had come here when there was a

vacancy in the Police Department. When the former chief retired three years ago he had been made chief, and it had been a

measure of the other officers' acceptance

of him that there had been no resentment of his appointment.

Now he earned less than a New York

cop on the beat. But he had hunting and fishing right on his door step, the respect of his fellow citizens. And. as from a year ago,

he also had Lee Barron.

He passed the News plant, nodding affectionatelv at it as if he were nodding at its editor and publisher. Lee's great

To page 147

l/ADTCy continued!

WXjri I CJK from page 145 I

grandfather had started the newspaper.

The Barrens were the only ones in town 1 who might have challenged the Farquhars 1 as the family.

Lee had inherited the newspaper and J printing plant from her widowed father and within three months of taking over had started to shake up the paper and the town, falling in love with the chief of police into the bargain. The News building, which took up the south-west corner of the town

square, was diagonally across from police 1 headquarters.

McKechnie switched on the local radio \ station and heard Derry Brass, the junior

announcer, saying a Tornado Watch had ! just come in and that a small twister had been sighted for two minutes out on Route 86. Then he went back to playing the gospel music that made up the station's programme from 6 am till noon.

He drove into a squall of rain and when

he came out of it saw the old blue Cadillac

coming down the middle of the street straight toward him. He banged his horn, swinging sharply to his right, and saw the startled face of Gil Farquhar as the Cadillac went past only a foot from him.

A man in dark glasses was sitting beside Farquhar, and McKechnie wondered who he was, and why Gil Farquhar, normally the most careful of drivers, should have been driving so inattentively.

He drove out along Airport Road, and as he approached the airport, one concrete runway and two small hangars, he saw a plane parked outside one of the hangars. He turned in the gates of the airport, parked his car, and walked across to the plane, a six-seater Lear jet.

A man in tan dungarees and a smart-looking flying jacket with an emblem on the pocket opened the door of the aircraft, but didn't get out.

"You heard the warnings? There's a Tornado Watch just been issued for this

area," McKechnie said.

"I heard it. But I can't take off yet.

Much as I'd like to."

He's no fool, McKechnie thought, he's a professional. "You waiting for someone?"

"Yes. My boss." "A local man?"

"No. I just brought him in. He's visiting

someone in town."

"I think you ought to get out of here.

To page 149

VORTEX

CONTINUED FROM PAGE 146

Maybe I can take a message in to your boss. Do you know where he is?*'

The pilot shook his head, but McKechnie sensed the man was either lying or hedging. "Mind if I look at your registration papers'?"

"Are you entitled to do that? This is an airport, there's no law as far as I know says I have to check in with the local police ?"

"You don't know us local police. We make our own laws. May I see your papers, please? Your licence and the plane's papers."

The pilot hesitated, then reached back behind him and drew out a small satchel.

He took out some papers and handed them to McKechnie. The pilot's name did not concern him, but he looked up when he saw the name on the plane's registration.

"The Vanderhorn Corporation? The

Vanderhorn?"

The pilot hesitated again, then nodded as McKechnie gave him back the papers. "Yeah. I brought down the ? one of the vice-presidents."

"They don't have any plants around here. They thinking of moving down

here?"

"I don't know. I guess so."

"Someone meet him here?"

"A guy in an old blue Cadillac."

Then McKechnie heard his car radio

calling him. There were other questions he wanted to ask the pilot, but he had the feeling the man wouldn't know the answers to them. He went across to his car, called

in.

"Chief?" Jack Atcheson sounded

excited. "Roley Trubauer's just called in. The twister hit the Blarney place, and there's a dead woman there. Molly Farquhar. Gil Farquhar's wife!"

The Blarney farmhouse was set back about two hundred yards from the road and a long straight driveway led up to it. The twister had followed the driveway as if

a course had been set for it. It had

demolished the avenue of red cedars lining the gravel track, uprooting at least half of them and leaving the rest as jagged stumps.

Trees and branches lay across the drive and McKechnie pulled off to one side and followed the tracks of Roley Trubauer's car up to the flattened farmhouse. He rounded

the barn and a smaller shed, both reduced

to a rubbish dump of timber, and pulled up in the muddy yard.

In the fields beyond, he could see three or four dead cattle and, still further on, the stripped trees of the Blarney orchard. A power line had been brought down and lay in the mud, crackling and spitting sparks.

Trubauer came to meet him. "She's in there. Chief. Where the front bedroom

was."

"You sure it's Molly Farquhar?"

"It's her all right, but she's a mess.

Looks like the twister tried to tear her apart."

"Anyone else in the house?"

"Not far's I can see. No sign of Clint Blarney at all. That's danged funny, you reckon? I mean, what was she doing out

here on her own?"

"We'll start being detectives later, Roley. We'll get her out of here first."

An ambulance came into sight, siren wailing. It came bouncing up the tracks of the police cars, the siren dying away. Zeke Norval, its driver, got out, staring at the wreckage.

The frame house, once two storeys high, was now only shoulder-high to McKech nie. The walls were nothing but a pile of splintered lumber. The roof had settled down over the lot, like an iron pie crust.

Pieces of smashed furniture showed under

the wreckage. Clint Blarney, wherever he

was, was homeless.

McKechnie went round the house, checking that the broken power line had made no part of the wreckage live and dangerous. Then he came back and the three men lifted the body of Molly Farquhar out from what had once been the front bedroom and put it on a stretcher.

McKechnie looked down at the dead

Molly Farquhar. He had seen her often around town, spoken to her frequently; but he had never really known her. He had always thought of her as an addicted committee woman; she had belonged to every organization in town. His image of her was that she was always in mid-stride, never at rest. But she was at rest now,

forever.

Zeke Norval. put a blanket over her and

To page 150

VORTEX

CONTINUED FROM PAGE 149

a minute later he was bouncing down the track again.

McKechnie looked once more at the wrecked house. "Do you think Clint is

somewhere under there?"

"He could be. but I don't reckon so. His car ain't in the barn, either. Molly Farquhar's car ain't here. So how'd she get

out here?"

McKechnie had no answer to that. He

was turning away when he saw something sticking out from beneath the wreckage. It was a woman's handbag, made of expensive brown leather dark now with water. He opened it. took out a cheque book and some other papers: the name on all of them was Molly S. Farquhar. A rear pocket, closed b\ a zipper, was full of S20

bills.

"Twenty-two hundred dollars." McKechnie said, after counting them. "Do women usually carry that much monev

around with them?"

"Not my missus," said Trubauer

McKechnie looked at the cheque book.

The last butt showed a withdrawal of

S2200. dated two days ago. "Did you ever see her and Clint together?"

"Only at church socials and such things." McKechnie put the monev and the cheque book and papers back into the handbag.

"1 can't afford to keep you staking out this place all the time, but stay on patrol out this way, try and get by here every ten minutes or so. Make out your report and bring it in later. I'll go see Gil Farquhar, give him the bad news. He'll have to identify the body."

"What we going to do. Jim? 1 mean, what was she doing out here? A nice respectable woman like her. When 1 file my report where I found her, it's going to be all over town. You know what this place is like. Gossip goes through it quicker'n a

twister."

"We're in the business of crime

prevention, not gossip prevention. I don't know why she was out here, but I have more to do than protect the Farquhars' good name, if that's what you're thinking." He looked at the power line still sizzling in the mud. "Better get the power company out here as soon as they can. shut off that power before someone gets electrocuted. I'll look in at headquarters when I get back to town, then go straight to the Farquhars'."

The sky looked lighter and the clouds seemed to have lifted by the time McKechnie pulled up outside head quarters. As he went into the one-storey brick building, he met Jack Atcheson coming out on his way home.

"Bad news about Moll) Farquhar, eh? What w as she doing ? ?"

_.

"I don't know. Jack. Don't spread the news around yet. I still have to to tell the Farquhars. And stick by your phone. Just in case 1 have to call you back."

Lucy Chapley. the weekend part-time despatcher, was at the communications console. She was a widow with two teenage sons, a plump, pretty woman, who took her job seriously.

"I heard you tell Officer Atcheson not to broadcast the terrible news about Mrs Farquhar." she said to McKechnie. "What do 1 tell the radio station if they hear about it? They've been calling in about the twister out at the Blarney place."

"Tell them the house was demolished, and no more than that. Not till I come back from the Farquhars'. Get on the phone and tell the officers off-duty and the volunteers that I want them on stand-by.

"Put out a call to all our cars and to Dem Brass at the radio station that I want to see Clint Blarney. I'm going to the Farquhars' now."

The Farquhars. ten years ago. had had 18 acres of land surrounding their house. But now they had only three acres and the rest had been sold off to lawyers, doctors and business men who had built

houses designed to show how much their owners had paid for the land. The Farquhar house stood among the ranch

To page 153

VORTEX

CONTINUED FROM PAGE 150

houses and haciendas and Tudor log

cabins like a memorial.

McKechnie rang the front doorbell, then the door was opened bv Wilma Mae. the black woman who had lived in the house since her birth. No one else on

F orest View had help who lived in. You could buy an $80.000 house but you couldn't buy live-in help any more.

"Morning. Wilma Mae. I'd like to see Mr Farquhar."

'"He busy, Chief. This ain't a happy house this morning. Maybe you come back

some other time?"

"I'm afraid not. Wilma Mae. It's

important I see him now."

"Who is it. Wilma Mae?" McKechnie

recognized the voice from inside the house. No one else in Friendship had a voice like

it.

"It's Chief McKechnie from the police, Miz Farquhar. He wanna see Mr Gilbert, he say it important." She swung open the

door and McKechnie saw the tall

grey-haired figure standing at the bottom

of the wide stairs in the hall.

"Come in. Mr McKechnie. We'll go into the drawing-room."

Polished wood gleamed like brown marble. The large rug in the middle of the floor might be worn but it had come from Persia. The mahogany balustrade of the

curved staircase shone with the same lustre as the floor. McKechnie knew he was in

the midst of money. He suddenly realized that the twelve-year-old Cadillac outside meant nothing.

''You are a discreet man. Mr

McKechnie, so I know you have not come here without good reason." Adele Farquhar closed the heavy mahogany doors of the drawing-room, shutting them in. "Please sit down. There, facing the light, so that I can see you clearly. My eyes arc not what they used to be and I am too vain to wear spectacles in front of gentlemen."

It was not a coy remark but a statement of fact. She was sevent) \ears old and still beautiful, tall and as straight-backed as

McKechnie himself. She had been born in

Mississippi, had gone to New York in the Twenties and gone on the stage. She might

have been a star had she not married Senator Robert Farquhar and retired from Broadway.

There were still people in New York who remembered her and her voice, the most beautiful, they claimed, ever heard in the American theatre. McKechnie. a man with a delicate ear, listened to it as if to music.

He sat down on a green velvet couch-. "I have bad news, Mrs Farquhar. Mavbe 1 should see your son."

"He is upstairs with his sister. Tell me

your news."

McKechnie told her. trying not to sound blunt yet keeping his words to a minimum.

She closed her eyes and for just a moment

her back wilted.

"The county coroner is coming over from Vista. He's probably on his way now, seeing who she is."

Adele Farquhar nodded, as if it were onl\ right that a Farquhar should get preferential treatment even in death. But

she said. "Can't Dr Stenhouse handle it? Do we have to have outsiders?'"

*'In accident cases like this. yes. It's onl\ a formalit) ."

"Have you told the newspaper people

about it?"

He shook his head. "1 don't run the

Police Department for the media. Mrs Farq uhar."

She gave him a small apologetic nod. "I should not have asked that question. I said you are a discreet man and I meant it."

"Thank you. But discreet as I'm supposed to be. I'm going to have to ask some questions. Maybe tomorrow ?"'

*'You mean when my daughter is ? is also dead? Dr Stenhouse told me he had given you the news about her."

'It's a terrible day for you. Mrs Farquhar."'

She was silent, sitting up straight, and McKechnie noticed the portrait on the wall behind her: Robert Farquhar, silver-haired

and handsome, the stock model of a

senator, looking down with pride and love on his wife. He had been (went) years older than his bride and he had died thirty years ago and. McKechnie had been told, was still mourned by her.

He stood up. "I'll have to come back

tomorrow. I'm afraid. Even if -"

"Oh, Rose will be dead." She stood up. put out her hand. He took it gently, but her grip was firm. "Thank you for coming yourself, Mr McKechnie, instead of sending another officer. But I'd like to ask you a question. Do you know why m\ daughter-in-law was out at the Blarney

place?"

To page 155

VORTEX

CONTINUED FROM PAGE 153

"I don't know. That's something 1 hope your son will be able to answer."

"Be gentle with him when you do question him. I don't know how he -" Her voice broke. But she recovered, opened the doors for him. "Come tomorrow morning. But please keep the newspaper people away from us today. I understand you are friendly with Miss Barron. Explain that we need our privacy today. Of all days."

They walked out into the hall just as two men. Gilbert Farquhar and a stranger, came down the stairs. McKechnie looked at the stranger, recognized him, and recognized too why the Farquhars, today of all days, needed their privacy.

"Mr Vanderhorn?" he said. "I saw your pilot out at the airport. I warned him he'd better take off, get away from this weather, otherwise you're likely to lose your aeroplane."

Gilbert Farquhar looked at the man beside him. then at his mother. She raised her chin a little, mistress of the situation.

"We've found a cure for the common cold. Sir, but there are unfortunate

side effects."

"Mr Vanderhorn. this is our chief of police, a man of great discretion," she said.

"Mr McKechnie. this is the Vice-President of the United States "

The President of the United States was

angry. "He called me at three o'clock this morning." he told the First Lady. "Said he was going down to sec that woman of his! Three o'clock in the morning!"

"I'm sure he didn't call her that woman.

And you're not annoyed that he called you in the middle of the night - you've been

called at that hour before."

"Not by him! He's out of his mind. All right, so he loves the woman. But he ought to give a thought to his position!"

"lie s been doing that lor years. Fifteen or twenty years, isn't it? How long have they been friends?"

"They're more than friends, you know that. She's been his mistress all that time." He scowled. "You're no comfort at all.

You sound as if you agree with what he's

done."

"I do. I think it's gallant and courageous and wholly admirable. I just wish for Rose Farquhar's sake that he had been all these things twent) years ago."

Willis Vanderhorn had been used to

hatred all his lite. It seemed to be a

corollary to his wealth and position. Yet he had been surprised at the hatred displayed to him by this man whom he had met for the first time this morning.

When Gilbert Farquhar had met him at the airport, he had said nothing that could be termed anything but polite. But Vanderhorn recognized an enemy when he

saw one.

"1 am sorr\ about your wife."

"You said that. Mr Vice-President."

"1 don't think we need to be too formal in here, do we? Yes, I did say it. But I thought you hadn't heard me."

Gilbert Farquhar sat slumped in the

chair his mother had sat in when she had been in this room with McKechnie. He was a tall man, but did not have his mother's carriage or appearance.

Frustrated ambition and self-pity had

blotched him. He had wanted to be a

politician, but he had never been able to make his mark with any of the state's party bosses. He had practised law for a while,

but he had not been successful at that.

Gradually he had retreated, did nothing now but watch the family investments.

It irked him that, ironically, so much of the family money was invested in corporations that, over the years, had become part of the Vanderhorn empire.

"I know I'm not welcome here, Farquhar - especially now. I'll be gone as

soon as -" He didn't finish, but he didn't ha\c to.

farquhar sat up. "You aren't helping m\ mother b\ staying on. Nor my sister."

\ anderhom got up and w alked to the window. Net curtains hung between the heavy green drapes and no passer-by in the street would be able to distinguish him properly. He was a man of medium height and still athletic at fifty-five. He was not handsome but women had always found

him attractive.

"That policeman is still outside in his

car."

"He's waiting for me." Farquhar stood up. "I have to go down to the hospital."

"I think I should have a word with him.

Will you ask him to come in?" Then Vanderhorn made an apologetic gesture. "Sorry. I'm accustomed to having things

done for me."

"So Rose told me." Farquhar went out

and a few moments later McKechnie was

ushered into the drawing-room. "I'll go and get my coat." said Farquhar and left the policeman and the Vice-President

alone.

"I think your warning to my pilot was good sense, Chief. Would you mind going out to the airport and telling him to take

off for somewhere where the weather is not

so unsettled? I tried phoning the airport,

but the office there seems unattended."

"It always is Sunday mornings, sir. I'll go out and tell him. Where will I tell him

to head for'1"

To page 157

VORTEX

CONTINUED FROM PAGE 155

"Where do you suggest?"

"Springfield should be all right, sir. You can drive over there and meet him. Or, if things clear, he can come back and pick you up. Are you alone? 1 mean, do you have any aide with you, or Secret Service

men?"

"No, Chief, I'm alone. Why do you

ask?"

"I'm not trying to butt in here, sir. But I feel, well, responsible for you. I mean your safety."

"You mean because I'm the Vice President?" Vanderhorn nodded. "Chief,

come back and see me after you have gone with Mr Farquhar down to the hospital. Oh, and after you've seen my pilot. Until then, I'd appreciate it if you told no one, and I mean no one, that I'm here in Friendship."

"Does Washington know you're here?"

"Nobody knows but the President. You're in privileged company. May we keep it that way?"

Gilbert Farquhar came to the door,

raincoat buttoned to his neck, and old

tweed hat pulled low down on his head.

"When you are ready. Chief." He glanced at Vanderhorn. "Have you ex plained the situation to him?"

"No. I don't think Chief McKechnie wants to be burdened with too much information."

McKechnie was aware of the tension between the two men. He was curious as to

what had brought the Vice-President to this house on this particular day. Dit it have something to do with the dying woman upstairs? But maybe Vanderhorn was right.

He shouldn't be burdened with too much information. He went out to the hall,

leaving the two men to their antagonism

and their secret.

"Perhaps you should tell him," Farquhar kept his voice low. "We may need him to keep people away from here i later. Now that my wife is dead. She was

very popular in the town."

"I appreciate your concern for my position ?"

"I wasn't thinking of you, Mr Vice-President. I was thinking of m\ sister." Farquhar left him abruptly and a moment later Vanderhorn. standing at the window, saw him and McKechnie going down the front steps to the police car and the Cadillac in the driveway. A third car was standing there, a yellow station-wagon that must have just arrived. He turned as Adele Farquhar came into the room.

"She is sleeping," she said. "We can leave her for a while. I haven't had my breakfast ? I presume you haven't had time for any. either. Would you care to join

me?"

They went down the hall to a small rear room that looked out on to a garden. Vanderhorn wondered if Adele Farquhar usually breakfasted like this. The glasses

holding orange juice were crystal, the

toast-rack was silver, there were fine lace

mats under the thin china plates.

Adele Farquhar saw his observant eye. "Wilma Mae has a sense of occasion, Mr Vanderhorn."

Wilma Mae came in, placed eggs and bacon in front of them both, then went back to her kitchen. There was a short

silence while they both ate, then Vander

horn broke it.

"Mrs Farquhar. 1 should like you to know that I did ask my wife for a divorce. Fifteen years ago. But she is a believer in marriage, a devout one. She also enjoys the Vanderhorn name. If in name only, as they say. And I should like you to know also that Rose did not break up my marriage. My wife and I were already going our separate ways before I met Rose."

"Ladies and gentlemen, we have with

us tonight. . ."

"That is a comfort then, even if a small one. Well, I should like . you to know something. Mr Vanderhorn. It was I who had my son get in touch with you last night to tell you that Rose had only twenty-four hours to live. He was verv much against the

idea."

"Why did you do it?"

"1 felt you owed it to Rose. To be with her when she died. Now I depend upon you to see that her name is never connected with yours. You have managed to keep it out of the gossip columns for twenty years. 1 don't want someone defaming her after she is dead."

When McKechnie got outside with Gilbert Farquhar he saw Lee Barron's yellow station-wagon parked at the end of the driveway.

"Excuse me a minute, Mr Farquhar." He walked down the driveway, put up a restraining hand as Lee went to get out of the wagon. "Stay there, honey. What are you doing here?"

"What do you think? 1 heard about Molly Farquhar being killed."

To page 159

VORTEX

CONTINUED FROM PAGE 157

"Well you can't go in there now. Mrs Farquhar has asked me to keep everyone away, at least until tomorrow."

"Who's in there now? I saw a man

landing at that front window behind the ;urtains."

"He's ? he's a friend of the family, I guess. I didn't meet him. Go home, honey, they've got enough trouble."

"Maybe I could just have a word with Gil. A sympathetic word."

"Tomorrow. Your sympathetic word would just somehow turn into a few questions."

She looked out at him, puzzled. "I'm not just your girlfriend, darling. I'm here as a newspaperwoman ? "

"Please go home."

She stared at him, still puzzled but a little angry now.

"You must have your reasons," she said brusquely, "but I hope you're not suddenly concerned about people's right to privacy just because they are the Farquhars. Watch your feet!"

She backed out of the driveway in a snarl of gravel, swung the station-wagon

round and went off down the curve of the hill in a screech of tyres.

The local hospital, a large one-storey building, was ow ned and run by the town's seven doctors. Dr Stenhouse was waiting in

the tiny hall that connected the morgue to the main building when McKechnie and Farquhar arrived. "You want me to come in with you. Gil?"

Farquhar shook his head, drew himself up straight and went into the morgue without a word. Stenhouse said, "How did

he take it?"

"Quietly." said McKechnie. "I gave the news to Mrs Farquhar and she told him."

"What about their visitor?"

"You met him?" McKechnie asked.

"He arrived while I was there. First

time I ever thought I might have to treat myself for shock. You instructed to keep your mouth shut, too?"

"He didn't have to issue me any orders. 1 don't want the responsibility of him. The sooner he gets out of here, the better. Has the coroner arrived yet?"

"He's been delayed by the storm over in Vista. I didn't examine her. I'll leave that to him."

Farquhar. pale and strained-looking, came out. still without a word, and the three went out to their cars.

McKechnie followed Farquhar as he went and got into his old Cadillac.

"We found your wife's handbag near her body. There was 2200 dollars in it. Did she usually carry that much money around

with her?"

Farquhar did not seem to be paying attention. "What0 No. No. Why would

she?"

"I don't know. Unless she was going somewhere. There were no credit cards in her bag."

"We don't believe in them. We always pay cash or by cheque."

"Did you have a joint account?"

"We each had our own." Then

Farquhar said bluntly, "Fm going home. Good morning, Chief."

"I have to come back and see the

Vice-President. Do you want to talk to me further today or should we leave it till

tomorrow?"

"I'm not interested in talking to anyone."

"I understand how you feel. But I still have to know what your wife was doing out at Clint Blarney's place."

"Does it matter? My wife is dead. Isn't that final enough?"

"For her, yes. If I can find Clint Blarney and he can explain satisfactorily what your wife was doing out there, maybe I won't have to trouble you. But if I don't ? "

He had to step back as Farquhar suddenly took off. The car rolled drunkenly as it went out of the hospital parking lot, and went speeding down the

street. But McKechnie noticed that it was

not headed back up toward Forest View Drive, toward home. It was going in the opposite direction, out of town toward the Blarney place. rrrj

To be continued

Zoom

plus
thumb
minus
left
thumb
right
up
thumb
down