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VORTEX

By JON CLEARY

The mystery deepens as

further revelations come to light about Molly Farquhars death - continuing our serial

THE BODY of MOLLY FARQUHAR was found in CLINT BLAMEY'S tornado-wrecked farmhouse near the town of Friendship. But after an autopsy, DR STENHOUSE tells POLICE CHIEF JIM MCKECHNIE that she was shot dead, and was also pregnant, although her husband GILBERT is impotent. Both Gilbert and his widowed mother ADELE, with whom the couple lived, deny knowing why Molly was at Blarney's house. Blamey himself is missing. Gilbert's sister ROSE, after over twenty years' absence, is at the Farquhar home dying of cancer. Her lover, United States Vice President WILLIS VANDERHORN, has come there, and McKechnie keeps this from his fiancee LEE BARRON, who owns the local newspaper. McKechnie's officer, JACK ATCHESON tells him he saw Farquhar driving toward Blarney's farm the night before. Farquhar is out when McKechnie goes to question him about this. As he is questioning the servant WILMA MAE, a shot shatters a window upstairs. NOW READ ON:

McKECHNIE SPRANG UP. but by thc time he got to the window, whoever had fired the shot was gone. There

was no one on the back lawn and the woods farther back looked empty. He ran out into the hall as Adele Farquhar came out of the drawing-room.

"Where's the Vice President?" he asked.

"Upstairs with my daughter." She stopped, put a hand to her throat. Then Vanderhorn said from the top of the stairs, "I'm all right. You had better go up to Rose, Mrs Farquhar."

They passed on the stairs, the old woman moving with almost youthful speed, and Vanderhorn came down to McKechnie. "Did you see him?"

"No, sir. Stay here. PU be back in a minute." He went quickly through the kitchen out to the back lawn where Jack Átcheson, his officer on duty there, was staring at the house, looking angry and bewildered.

They ran down to the woods together, but whoever had been there was gone. They saw crushed wet leaves

where someone had stood behind an oak and a trail down

the slope through the trees.

A narrow back road ran along the bottom of the slope and McKechnie guessed that the gunman, if he had had a car down there, was already heading along one of the back roads that ran out into the countryside.

"Take your car down to the bottom road. Jack. See if there are any tyre tracks. Call Lucy, tell her to call the other cars into this area," McKechnie said as they hurried back up again. "What about the houses on either side? They might've seen something."

"All at church," Atcheson panted.

"If there's nothing down at the bottom road, come

back here." McKechnie went back inside. Wilma Mae

was standing at the kitchen sink, staring out through the

window.

"Did you see anything. Wilma Mae? Before the

shot?" McKechnie asked.

To page 159

VORTEX

CONTINUED FROM PAGE 155

"I was looking at you. Chief." She gestured at the chairs beside the table, and

he realized she had had her back to the window. "Anybody seen anything, oughta been you. Who they trying to shoot? They trying to frighten Miss Rose to her death?"

He had no answer to either question. He just hoped that whoever had fired the shot had not been trying to shoot the Vice President of the United States. He went on into the hallway, and saw Vanderhorn through the open doors of the drawing-room. He went in. sure of his authority now but sickeningly aware of his responsibility.

"Were you standing by the windows upstairs, sir?" Vanderhorn nodded. "Did you see anything. I mean anyone?"

"I had my back to the windows. I don't think whoever it was was trying to kill me,

chief."

"I can't rule out that possibility. Would Miss Rose have seen anything? Does her

bed face the window?"

"It does. But she'd have seen nothing. She is dying, chief."

Mckechnie gestured weakly. "I'm sorry. I'll need to go up there later. To look for

the bullet."

"I don't know what Mrs Farquhar will say to that, but I'm saying no. She must be allowed to die without any further

disturbance. I'm adamant about that."

McKechnie didn't argue. The bullet wasn't going to move from whatever it was embedded in, the ceiling or one of the

walls of the bedroom. "How did she react when the shot smashed the window?"

"I thought it had killed her. The shock, I mean. Then I realized she was concerned for me, that I might have been hit." He seemed to forget their respective roles, spoke as man to man. "She was dying and her only concern was for me. Do we

deserve as much as that?"

"No. sir. My wife died saving me from a bullet and I've never felt I deserved it. There are my men. Excuse me. Just do me a favour, please. Stay away from the

windows."

McKechnie went out of the house, turning his face away from the onslaught of wind that suddenly blew up the street. The other three police cars and his own blocked the driveway. It looked like the scene of a major accident.

"Nothing. Chief," Jack Atcheson reported. "Not even any car tracks down there on the bottom road. He was either on foot or he left his car somewhere else."

The policemen had all got out of their cars and stood in a tight dark group beside McKechnie's car. The newcomers stared up at the big house, the younger men, the farm boys seeing it closely for the first

time.

"We went back out to the Blamey place, Bud and me," said Roley Trubauer. "No sign of Molly Farquhar's car."

"Any signs of Clint Blamey?"

"Nothing, Chief. You think he took the

shot back there?"

"He could've." McKechnie said.

Some spectators had begun to con- gregate at the bottom of the drive. Then McKenzie saw the tall stooping figure come down the street and push through the

group.

Gilbert Farquhar lifted his head and pulled up as he saw the line of police cars. His face clouded with a mixture of worry and anger.

"What's going on? Why all this commotion, Chief? What's happened?"

I_I

"Let's go inside, Mr Farquhar." McKechnie turned to his policemen. "1 still want to talk to Clint Blamey. But keep an eye on that sky, too. If you see another twister coming, that takes priority."

The men got back into their cars and drove off, waving the spectators away as they did so. Then Farquhar said, "You owe me an explanation, Chief. You're supposed to be keeping people away from this house, not drawing attention to it."

"Did you hear a gun shot about ten. fifteen minutes ago?"

Farquhar looked quickly up at the house. "My sister - ?"

"Your sister is all right. Did you hear

the shot?"

Farquhar nodded. "Yes, I heard it." "You didn't take any notice of it?" "What are you getting at?"

"Someone tried to kill Mr Vanderhorn.

He was upstairs in your sister's bedroom and someone tried to shoot him through the window. If you heard a shot down in this direction, why didn't it worry you?"

"I thought it was somebody out

shooting in the woods. I don't know, I just didn't take any notice of it."

"Your wife was murdered last night, Mr Farquhar. Shot. I'd have thought you'd be pretty jumpy if you heard another shot so close to your house."

Farquhar swung round and ran up the steps to the front porch. McKechnie, taken by surprise, took a moment to follow him.

"Come inside," he snarled at

McKechnie. ""I've got to phone someone. I've got a witness who'll tell you where I

was when we heard the shot!"

He went in the front door, followed by McKechnie, went to the phone on a hallway table, and Hipped through a leather-covered phone book. He was trembling with anger, glaring at

McKechnie as he waited for the number he dialled to answer.

Then: "Miss Barron? This is Gilbert

Farquhar. Could you come down to our house, please? lt's urgent!"

The tornadoes that had already touched down had killed twelve people, injured scores of others and disrupted the lives of hundreds more. They also disrupted the plans of Lew Black, who was white, and Jumpy Cowman, a black. They were the two men whose mug shots were on the clipboards of every cruising policeman in a

dozen counties in that corner where Missouri. Kansas and Oklahoma met.

They had held up the bank in Columbus. Kansas, on Friday and every- thing had been going well until the elderly policeman had walked into the bank. Jumpy, who was well nick-named, had shot him at once and they had to flee with half the money they had hoped to get.

Early on Sunday morning they were driving in rain down through Oklahoma when they saw a police road-block. They pulled up just in time, not knowing that the police cars were not waiting for them but were there to turn back motorists trying to drive through the devastated area.

They turned west, but eight miles along the side road they saw red lights blinking at them again through the dark-grey day. They pulled up and held a conference, a low level meeting of low level intellects. It did not occur to them to ask why police cars, if intent on intercepting two killers, should be flashing their lights as a warning.

Finally they turned and headed north-east, following the line of the storms straight through to Friendship.

"I saw Mr Farquhar passing my house and I went out to speak to him." said Lee and looked pointedly at McKechnie. "To offer him sympathy on his wife's death."

"Did you hear the shot, too?"

"Yes. I wasn't sure whether it was a car

backfiring or a gun going off. A lot of people around here have guns." She could not keep from glancing at the man standing with Adele Farquhar at the

To page 161

VORTEX

CONTINUED FROM PAGE 159

doorway of the drawing-room. They had come in only moments after she, ushered in by Gil Farquhar and McKechnie, had entered the room. They had pulled up, obviously surprised to find her in the

house.

Then McKechnie, apparently satisfied with her answers to his questions about Gil Farquhar, spoke to the man. "I'm sorry about this. sir. I didn't bring Miss Barron in

here."

"It looks as if the damage is done. I think the young lady recognizes me."

"I do, Mr Vice President," said Lee, though until the man had spoken she had

not been sure. "I'm Lee Barron, owner and editor of the local newspaper."

"Who brought you here?"

"I did," said Farquhar. "It had nothing to do with you being here. I was just trying to prove to our police chief that I wasn't the one who took a shot at you upstairs."

McKechnie had noticed that Adele

Farquhar did not appear to have the poise

and control that she had shown earlier. She looked much older, less certain of her small world. She spoke now but her voice was a little ragged.

"I don't think Mr McKechnie really believes that, do you?"

"Not now," said McKechnie.

"But you believed it till I brought Miss

Barron down here?"

"Not necessarily. I just have to cheek everything. I'm still trying to find out how your wife died. Don't forget that."

"What is that supposed to mean?"

"It means exactly what Mr McKechnie said." Adele Farquhar had regained some of her composure. "I think we have had enough of this. Go up to Rose. Gilbert. I think one of us should stay with her all

the time now."

"I'll go back up," said Vanderhorn.

"Stay where you are. PU go." Farquhar brushed by his mother and Vanderhorn and disappeared, leaving an edgy vacancy

behind him.

"Have you explained to Miss Barron why the Vice President is here?"

"No," said McKechnie. "Perhaps the

Vice President himself would like to.

Vanderhorn gave him a quick look, appreciating his shrewdness. "I'll have to ask you to forget you are a newspaper- woman Miss Barron. 1 am here for a very personal reason."

"I can't promise anvthing. Mr Vice President. I have a job to do, just as you have."

"I am not here as part of my job. Miss Barron. I was a close friend of Miss Farquhar and I came out here because her family called me to tell me she was dying. I - and I'm sure Mrs Farquhar and her son - would like her to die in decent obscurity, not splashed across the pages of your newspaper just because I am here."

McKechnie saw the slight stiffening in Lee. You're going about it the wrong way. he wanted to tell Vanderhorn. She doesn't see her newspaper as a scandal sheet.

"Mr Vice President -" Lee sounded as if she was about to begin a speech. Or an

editorial.

"Honey," said McKechnie gently; and saw Vanderhorn's eyebrows go up at the

endearment. "Miss Barron and I are

engaged to be married, sir. I wonder if she and 1 could have a minute or two alone, Mrs Farquhar?"

"Of course. I am sure we can trust Mr McKechnie to handle the situation. Mr Vanderhorn. As 1 said earlier, he is a man

of discretion."

Vanderhorn nodded. "I know that. I'm in your hands, Chief."

"We'll be in the back parlour. Come. Mr Vanderhorn." She went out of the room ahead of him, all her poise and authority recovered.

"A man of discretion." said Lee. "You have quite a reputation in high places, haven't you?"

"Forget the sarcasm. Be reasonable -"

"All right, PH be reasonable. You try and be the same. Don't you see what we've got here? This is the biggest story I've ever had - the biggest the paper's ever had! What do you expect me to do? Just turn my

back on it?"

"Yes."

To page 162

VORTEX

CONTINUED FROM PAGE 161

"Yes? Jim, how can I? I'm no admirer ot" that man or what he stands for. What do I owe him?"

"Respect for his position." he said, trying not to sound pompous and priggish. "And for the Farquhars."

"I respect them. And with what's happened - I mean Molly being mur- dered. And Rose dying -" She looked at him. suddenly frowning. "I've been dim!

She's his mistress, isn't she?"

"Yes, and she's dying. Stenhouse said she'll be dead some time today. Do you have any respect for the dead?"

"All right, stop needling! How long do I have to sit on the story?"

"Forever. He goes back to Washington tonight, whatever happens. After that it will be Mrs Farquhar who will have to

bear the brunt of the scandal."

"Are you bending the law in any way?"

"Not yet. I'm not going to, as far as he's concerned. He's not tied up with Molly's

murder."

She shook her head, dizzy with imagination. "What a story that would be!" Then she sighed. "All right. But Fm doing it for Adele Farquhar, not for him."

He kissed her on the cheek. "I know

why I love you. Because occasionally you

can be reasonable."

They went out to the back parlour, a bright green-and-white room where Adele

Farquhar and Vanderhorn waited with apprehension.

"It's all right. Mr Vanderhorn,"

McKechnie said. "Miss Barron under- stands the situation."

Vanderhorn bowed his head to Lee.

"Thank you, Miss Barron. Mrs Farquhar has explained to me what your politics are. that your newspaper is very much against our Administration. So I appreciate it even more, your going along with us."

"I'd like you to know I'm doing it out of respect for you, Mrs Farquhar." Lee said.

"Thank you, Lee. Perhaps you would

care for some coffee?"

McKechnie could see that Lee was

tempted. Even if she had not been a newspaperwoman, he knew she would

have found it difficult to resist the

invitation to stay. But somehow she did

resist it.

"I've intruded enough. But I'll come again - tomorrow perhaps? There will have to be a story - leaving out the

Vice President, of course. But the story on « Molly's death -"

Adele Farquhar nodded, knowing she j

could only ask so much. "All right.« Tomorrow then. Shall we say ten o'clock?" I

McKechnie once again had to admire « her. Her whole life was being demolished,« and she was making an appointment, as ^ casually as she might with her attorney.

"We'll see ourselves out." he said. 'TH« keep checking back. Mr Vanderhorn."

Vanderhorn nodded. "Mrs Farquhar,« may I invite Chief McKechnie to come ?

back and have lunch with me?"

If Adele Farquhar was surprised she hid j it well. "Of course. Twelve-thirty. Mr «j

McKechnie. Be punctual, please."

"He always is," said Lee. "He drives me up the wall."

"It is when they don't turn up at all that one is driven up the wall, Lee." But none

of the other three in the room believed that

any man had failed to turn up for a date with Adele Farquhar.

McKechnie took Lee's arm. They had

reached the front door when Gilbert

Farquhar appeared at the top of the stairs. McKechnie looked up at him.

"Mr Farquhar," he said, "where were you going last night at midnight? Your car was seen heading out toward Clint Blarney's place. Was your wife with you?"

"I never left the house last night."

"Then who brought your car back here?" To page 164

VORTEX

CONTINUED FROM PAGE 162

"That's for you to find out, McKechnie.

i never knew it had been taken out." He turned quickly and disappeared.

Outside the house McKechnie said to Lee. "I'll drive you home. This rain's too heavy." They ran down the driveway and

scrambled into his car. "I could have that

story on Page One of every paper in the country!" Lee said ruefully, then she asked. "Are you going back to head- quarters after you drop me?"

"No, not yet. I'm heading out to thc Blamey farm."

"Can I ride out with you?"

"You know I don't like civilians riding around in police cars."

"I'll get my own car and follow you out

there."

He shrugged. "All right then."

A power company truck was just pulling away as the police car drove up to the Blamey farm. The driver leaned out of his cabin. "We just shut off all the power into there. Chief. It's safe now for you to walk

around."

McKechnie turned in and drove up to the house, following the tracks he had made earlier. The cows, heavy with milk, had come closer and stood in a tight herd by the gate that led to the flattened milking

barn.

Out in the field beyond them the dead cows lay like dark tan rocks. In the orchard

fields the apple and peach trees still standing raised their jagged, splintered arms to the sky.

Then as they got out of the car, a pick-up truck came up from the road, pulled into the yard. A man got out. and McKechnie recognized Jeb Arahill.

"1 come up to see what I could do about Clint's cows." He was a lanky lean man. He raised cows and fruit, on a larger scale than Blamey, on a farm about a mile and a half down the road. "Dang it, that twister

sure made a mess. I heard about it on the

radio, but 1 couldn't get up here before this. I been bringing in my own herd for milking."

"Did the twister hit your place?"

"Nope, it lifted afore it got to them trees down yonder." He waved to a windbreak of trees half a mile away on the edge of the Blamey farm. "I tried to phone Clint, but

there wasn't no answer. Then he called me

'bout an hour ago, asked me to come up

and take care of his herd for him."

"Did he say where he was calling

from?"

Arahill shook his head. "He hung up

afore I could ask him that. He sounded

upset, not like himself. But I'm happy to oblige him. He's a good neighbour, Clint, always has been." He looked at the herd of

cows.

"I'll get my boys up here and we'll take

'em down over the bottom field there to

my place. Looks like I'm gonna be helping Clint out for quite a while. Sure had his share of bad luck these past coupla years. He's all right, is he, Chief? I mean, he wasn't hurt or nothing when the twister

hit?"

"No. he's all right, Jeb."

"A real nice feller. Well, I better be getting back, bring my boys up. Guess I'll read all about it in your paper, eh. Miss

Barron?"

"Some of it." said Lee.

Arahill drove away and McKechnie moved across to where he, Trubauer and Zeke Norval had pulled away the wreckage to extricate Molly Farquhars body. He tossed some timbers aside,

crouched down and went in under the flattened roof to what had been the front

bedroom. Lee clambered over the wreck- age, knelt down and peered in at him.

"What are you looking for?"

"A gun. Molly was shot by a .38. a hand gun. Clint, or whoever it was, used a rifle to take that shot at the Farquhar

windows."

McKechnie was squatting beside a double bed, with an iron-and-brass frame, that helped support the roof from collapsing further. Molly Farquhars body had been lying beside the bed. He looked under the bed. but there was no sign of a

gun.

It began to rain again, drumming on the iron roof right above his head. The wind swept in, fierce and strong, and the roof lifted, then fell back with a crash. McKechnie pushed Lee down beneath

him.

The wave of wind hit again and once more the roof lifted. This time it slipped back and away from the bed and McKechnie and Lee were left exposed. He stood up quickly, ready to push her ahead

of him out into the clear. Then he saw the

gun, a pearl handled .38 Smith and Wesson, lying in the middle of the exposed

bed.

He grabbed the gun by its barrel. Then abruptly the rain and wind stopped. And the phone rang.

McKechnie stumbled with shock,

almost losing his balance. Lee found the phone, down behind the smashed bedside table beneath the crushed wall. She pulled it out, and handed it to McKechnie.

"Hello?" said a woman's voice. "Mrs

Farquhar?"

"Just a moment." McKechnie put his hand over the mouthpiece, gave the phone to Lee. "You're Molly Farquhar. Answer

it."

Lee took the phone. "'Who's this?"

"This is Ozarks Airlines at Joplin,

ma'am. You booked two seats out of here

on our noon flight today for Kansas City. I'm sorry, but all flights for today have

been cancelled because of weather

conditions. Weather permitting, we'll be flying again tomorrow. Shall I hold the seats for you?" Lee looked at McKechnie. who had his ear against the phone. He took

it from her. "This is Chief of Police Jim McKechnie. down here in Friendship. When did Mrs Farquhar book those plane

tickets?"

"Police? How do I know you're that? What's going on down there?"

"We've had a twister. I'm standing in the middle of a wrecked house taking this call. Now I can go back to headquarters, have you call me there, but you can save me and yourself a lot of time and trouble if you just tell me when Mrs Farquhar

booked those seats and where she was heading."

"Why don't you ask Mrs Farquhar?

She's there, isn't she?"

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CONTINUED FROM PAGE 164

"Mrs Farquhar is dead. That was my dispatcher. All 1 want -*'

"All right. Chief. You just put me off-balance, that was all. Just a minute. I'll check." McKechnie waited. Then: "The booking was made at 5.20 pm yesterday and the tickets were to be picked up half an hour before night time this morning, to be paid for in cash. Mr and Mrs Farquhar were flying to Kansas City to connect with a Continental flight for Los Angeles,

California."

"Did she give you this number for your

return call?"

"Yes. There is a note here saying she would be at that number after 8 am this morning."

"Do you usually call up all your customers to tell them when a flight has

been cancelled?"

"No. But Mrs Farquhar has been a regular passenger on our flights and it was a courtesy service to her."

"How regular? And where did she go?"

"I'll have to check that. sir. Can 1 call you back?"

"Not here. Call me at headquarters in half an hour. That's 999-1234. And you'd

better cancel the reservations."

"I guessed as much. I'll call you, Chief." McKechnie hung up, put the phone down on the bed. Then he took Lee by the arm and helped her over the wreckage and

into the car.

"Where were Molly and Gil going on

Ozarks Airlines?" she asked as he drove off.

"Kansas City, then Los Angeles. But I'll bet it wasn't Gil. It was Clint Blamey going with her. But something stopped them. Why didn't they go up to a motel in Joplin, stay there last night? If two people are going to run away, they don't hang around

where the wife's husband can find them. Unless he did find them."

Lee was looking curiously at the gun. "lt's a fancy one. Men around here usually don't have pearl-handled guns, unless they're collectors. Clint wasn't a collector,

was he?"

"Not that I know of."

As they approached the town Lee said. "Take me to the office first. There's some- thing I want to check."

"What's on your mind?"

"I'll let you know if I find it."

When they reached the News plant

McKechnie went into Lee's office with her.

He sat there on the leather couch against une wall, relaxing with his eyes closed, while she went out to another office. Sunday morning there was only one staff member on duty, a junior girl to answer the phone, and keep an eye on the wire service teletype.

He could hear Lee and the girl talking

.ind after a time she came back with a file

of clippings. "I've got a good memory for

inconsequential things. Look at this story. It was written by my father."

The story, headed by a photograph of Senator Robert Farquhar, said that the Sheriffs Association of Missouri had presented a pair of pearl-handled Smith and Wesson pistols to Senator Farquhar on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of his being a member of the US Senate. Also at the presentation dinner had been Mrs Farquhar, daughter Rose and Dr Russell

Stenhouse.

"Stenhouse, eh? But where was Gil?"

"I don't know. When I came home to

take over from Dad I spent a couple of weeks going through the files on all the prominent people around here. Just for background - I'd been away from here for almost five years."

He handed back the clippings. "Are you going to use it in your storv on Mölly?"

Lee went around and sat down behind her desk. The mere aetion seemed to

change their status. He was listening to an editor now. not the girl he was going to marry: "Since 1 dug out that information myself. Fm entitled to use it," she said. "I'll use it if you come up with proof that the gun outside in your car is the one that shot Molly."

"You'll look pretty foolish if the Senator's guns are still together as a pair. But 1 promise you, if one of those guns is missing I'll let you know. And if the bullet that killed Molly matches those in the gun outside in the car, I'll let you know that

too." Me looked at his watch. "I haven't . time to go back to headquarters to pick up that call from Joplin. Can I call the airline

from here?"

He got the girl at Ozarks Airlines. "Oh, Chief. I was just about to call you. Mrs Farquhar flew out of here on an average of

io page 168

VORTEX

CONTINUED FROM PAGE 166

once a month. She's been doing that for at least a year."

"Where did she fly to? Was she alone?"

"Always to St Louis. And always on her own. Today's booking was the first double

she made."

"I have a great many faults." said Vice President Vanderhorn. unconsciously confirming the opinion of a great many of his fellow countrymen. "My idea of a good conversationalist is someone who is prepared to listen to mc. Miss Rose was a good listener." He paused. "Do you like this Rum Tum Tiddy?"

"lt's all right." said McKechnie unenthusiastically. "I was hoping Mrs Farquhar would have had lunch with us. I

like to listen to her. Her voice. I mean."

"You never heard Miss Rose, did you? No. you couldn't have. It was like her mother's, not as trained but just as pleasant to listen to. Not now, though."

"What time are you planning to leave this evening, sir? I'll have to get you over to Springfield."

"Do you think we could have a tornado through here?"

"Your guess is as good as mine. sir. Frankly I wish you were back in Washington."

"Don't think I haven't given thought to your concern for me. And lo the President's. He spoke to me this morning. If it's any consolation to you. he feels the same as you. that I shouldn't be here.

"I apologize to both of you. but I just

can*l leave. Not till the last moment,

anyway."

"I think I understand. As a man, I mean. Maybe not as Chief of Police, though."

Wilma Mae came in and cleared away the dishes. "You didn't like the Rum Tum Tiddy, Chief?"

"The what? Oh sure. I just wasn't hungry', Wilma Mae."

"I liked it fine." said Vanderhorn. "I'd

like to take the recipe back to Washington with me. if I may."

"You surely can. Mr Vice President. Miss Rose'd admire know you done that. It her favourite, long time ago. What you like follow? I got peach upside down cake or some pecan cookies."

Vanderhorn and McKechnie agreed upon pecan cookies and coffee. Then

McKechnie said. "When we're finished,

Wilma Mae, will you tell Mrs Farquhar

and Mr Gil I'd like to see them in the front room?"

"I don't tell Miz Farquhar nothing."

"I'm sorry. Will you ask her and Mr Gil if they'd see me in the front room?"

"You still worrying them?"

"Only because I have to. Wilma Mae.

Not because I want to."

But that didn't satisfy her. She went out of the room, rattling the dishes like the sound of her nerves, and Vanderhorn said, "She will protect them as if they were her

own. Rose used to tell me about her."

McKechnie remarked that it was Rose

now, not Miss Rose. "I hope I can protect you too. sir. It'll be bad enough for you if it ever gets out about you and Miss Rose. It'll be ten times worse if your name is linked

to this murder."

"I'll do my best to survive that." said Vanderhorn quietly. "What I want you to

remember is that Rose is the one to be

protected. No matter what the outcome of Molly Farquhar's murder. I'm relying on you."

"You're putting it on me a lot, sir."

Vanderhorn gazed steadily at the younger man across the table, all at once marvelling at their relationship. He felt as confident ot this quiet, open policeman as he did of men he had known for years.

"I know. And I don't like doing it."

Fifteen minutes later McKechnie was in

the drawing-room waiting for Adele Farquhar and her son. In one hand he held the pearl-handled gun, now wrapped in a plastic bag.

They came in, Adele composed but haughty. Gilbert belligerent.

"Mr Farquhar, Tm trying to give you and your mother as much privacy as I can. but things keep cropping up. I understand your wife used to leave town about once a month, go to St Louis. Do you know why

she went there?"

"No," said Farquhar flatly. "My wife did lots of things she never explained."

McKechnie looked at Adele Farquhar. "Did she ever explain her trips to you?"

"No," she said just as flatly.

McKechnie changed tack: "You have only two cars in the family? The Cadillac and your wife's Buick?"

"That's all," said Farquhar.

"I thought Wilma Mae might have a

car."

"My wife drove Wilma Mae downtown when there was shopping to be done."

"Can she drive?"

Farquhar looked at his mother, then back at McKechnie. "I guess so. Yes. But it would be years since she drove."

"You and your wife always drove your

mother around?"

"You know that is so, Mr McKechnie,'' said Adele Farquhar.

McKechnie took the gun from behind his back, took it out of the plastic bag. holding it by the barrel. "Do either of you recognize this?"

Adele Farquhar said, "It is one of a pair that belonged to my husband."

"Where is the other?"

'Tn the study. Come."

The two men followed her. In the study the old woman went to a cupboard set at an angle in one corner, and took out a felt-lined case with insets for two guns. In one there was a pearl-handled .38 Smith

To page 171

VORTEX

CONTINUED FROM PAGE 168

and Wesson. The other was empty.

"Did you know this gun was missing?"

McKechnie asked.

Before his mother could reply Gilbert Farquhar said. "1 did. I discovered it had gone about an hour ago. Where did vou

find it?"

"Out at Clint Blarney's. Il was on the bed, only a couple of feet from where we found your wife's body. What about its

ammunition?"

"There's a box of it in the desk." He

opened a drawer, took out a carton,

handed it to McKechnie. "It should be full. None of it has ever been used."

McKechnie opened the box. "Some of it's been used. Maybe three or four bullets. It's pretty old stuff, it's a wonder it fired. I'll take this with me." He put the box in the plastic bag with the gun.

"I'm not implying anything, Mrs Farquhar. I am trying to find out who killed your daughter-in-law. possibly with

this gun. When did you first learn the gun was missing?"

"I found the gun had gone when I came in here last night. The cupboard door was

open."

"What time was that?"

"Some time after eleven-thirty, i'm not sure exactly."

"Who do vou think took it? Your daughter-in-law?"

She hesitated, then nodded. "No one else would have taken it. 1 heard her go out just before I came downstairs."

"Why would she have taken it?"

"Who knows?" Gilbert Farquhar sounded as if he didn't care. "Maybe she was frightened of Blamey. Why don't you bring him in. McKechnie, and get all this

over and done with!"

"We'll get him." said McKechnie quietly. "Just one more question. Mrs Farquhar. You say your son always drives you wherever vou want to go. But can you drive yourself?"

The famous voice had no projection at all. McKechnie had to lean forward to hear

it. "Yes. I took my son's car out to Mr Blarney's farm last night."

"What time was that?"

"Again I don't know exactly. Between eleven-thirty and midnight, 1 suppose."

"How long were vou out at the Blamey

place?"

"Perhaps half an hour, a little more. Then I came straight back."

"Did you talk to your daughter-in-law and Clint Blamey?"

"Mr Blamey didn't say a word all the time 1 was there. 1 made no impression at all on Molly, 1 mean about her coming

back here. She told me she was finished with - with this family."

"Did she say why?"

"I understood why. But that. Mr McKechnie. is the family's concern."

"Maybe," said McKechnie. but did not press the point. "'Did your son know you had gone out there?"

"No," said Farquhar. "But 1 guessed it when you told me this morning that my car had been seen going out that way last night. Then when 1 found thc gun gone

"You thought your mother had killed your wife?"

"For a moment, yes. I'll never forgive myself -"

"We all jump to conclusions." But there

was no note of forgiveness in her voice. That's what has changed her, McKechnie thought: that her son could think her capable of murder.

"Did vou know your wife was going away with Blamey? She had booked two tickets to Los Angeles. They were going out on the noon flight from Joplin."

Farquhar shook his head. "I didn't know that. But when you told me there was over 2000 dollars in her handbag - well, I guessed she must have been thinking of going away."

"She couldn't have been afraid of him.

not if she was going to run away with him. She took that gun for another reason. Ma) be she was afraid you would come after her. Would she have tried to kill you?"

f arquhar said. "She might have."

"Miz Mollv'd never kill nobody," said Wilma Mae from the doorway. "Was me took the gun."

To be continued

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