Muldoon was taking a vacation, and I had asked him to spend a week with
me at Palm Springs.
"You won't be bothered by murders here," I told him. "We
don't go in for that sort of thing so you should be able to get a good
I took him up to the Racquet Club for lunch the day he
arrived, and later we lazed around in the sun by the pool for a while,
negotiating a couple of Wes's highballs, and then went over to number one
court and watched a tennis match.
Evelyn and Peter van Rentz were playing Count de Veny
and John Forbes. De Veny was a guest of the van Rentzs. He as a heavily
bearded man, very foreign looking. With his bald head and heavy horn-rimmed
glasses he impressed one at first glance as being well along in years,
but his well-knit figure, lithe and active, belied this.
Dawson Sidley was sitting next to us. He also was visiting
Peter and Evelyn -- down for the weekend. I introduced Muldoon to him,
and we chatted for half an hour. Sidley was bewailing the fact that he
couldn't play tennis any more -- said he was sixty and had a bad heart.
Presently Muldoon and I left.
Muldoon is not a loquacious person, but he was unusually
silent as we drove through the village to my place nestled in the lee of
"There something mighty familiar about that de Veny
person," he remarked at last. "I've been trying to place him. I shall yet.
I never forget a man."
After dinner we spent the evening playing Canfield, each
one banking the other, and gossiping. I'm not much given to that except
when I'm with Muldoon; and he's so avid to know everything about everybody
he meets that I humour him, knowing how close-mouthed he is.
Muldoon was still trying to place de Veny; and that naturally
brought the van Rentzes into the conversation, and one can't discuss the
van Rentzes without talking a lot about Evelyn. She's that sort ot girl
-- just monopolizes the limelight wherever she is. She isn't conscious
of it either. It's just her wonderful personality. I think that everyone
that meets her falls in love with Evelyn van Rentz.
I met her first four years ago at a party the Allens gave
for her on her twentieth birthday, and I have been her devoted slave ever
Well, as it turned out, I guess I talked too much that
Muldoon and I turned in about midnight, and it seemed
to me that I hadn't much more than closed my eyes when the t telephone
commenced ringing. You know how terribly insistent and inconsiderate a
telephone bell can be in the dead of the night, and how you try to shut
it out of your consciousness and pretend you don't hear it.
I tried to, but it didn't work; so I got up and answered
The sheriff was on the other end of the line.
"I understand Inspector Muldoon is visiting you," he said.
"I'm in a mess, and I want to know if he'll help me out."
I asked him what sort of a mess he was in.
"There's been a murder a Peter van Rentz's. I can't get
anything out of any body. These people are personal friends of mine, and
I hate to arrest them all. I know if it can be solved by anyone, Inspector
Muldoon can do it. I'll sure appreciate it if he'll come over."
Half an hour later Muldoon and I walked into the van Rentz
living room. There were seven people there in addition to the sheriff and
one of his deputies.
Muldoon nodded to Sidley, whom he had already me; and
I introduced him to Evelyn and Peter van Rentz and Johnnie Forbes. Then
he turned ot the sheriff.
"Well," he asked, "what's the story?"
"Count de Veny has been murdered. None of these people
will admit to knowing anything about it."
"Where they all here at the time of the murder?"
"They say not __ no one that they know of."
"Good," said Muldoon. "Where's the body?"
"Come with me," directed the sheriff.
Muldoon motioned me to accompany them, after directing
the deputy to remain in the living room and see that no one left it.
The house faces north. At the west end are the dining
room, kitchen, and servants' quarters. A hallway runs south from the southeast
corner of the living room. On the east side of the hallway, the first room
is Peter's, across the hall was Johnnie's room. Sidley had the room just
south of Peter's, and across from Sidley's room was de Veny's. The servants'
quarters on the west and the guest room on the east form two sides of a
patio, the living room and dining room the third side; the fourth is open
toward the south. Evelyn van Rentz' room is directly north of Peter's and
opens into his room and the living room. It is not on the hallway.
We walked down the hall past Johnnie's and Peter's room
and turned to the right into the room that had been de Veny's. It still
was. He lay on his face in the middle of the floor, directly in front of
"Has anything been touched?" asked Muldoon.
"Not since I got here," replied the sheriff. "What happened
before that, I don't know, but they all swear there hasn't been a thing
moved. They just came in here, saw he was dead, and went out and called
Muldoon stepped to the side of the murdered man and examined
the body. There was a bullet hole between the shoulders. His yellow silk
pajamas were blood-soaked. A .45 Colt's automatic lay halfway between the
body and the doorway.
Muldoon rose and walked slowly about the room, taking
in every minutest detail. He pointed to a bullet hole in a chiffonier standing
against the west wall, directly opposite the doorway.
It didn't need a Muldoon to reconstruct that killing.
De Veny had been standing facing the chiffonier, his back toward the door,
the murderer stood in the doorway and shot him in the back; then he or
she had tossed the pistol to the floor near the body.
Perhaps he had hoped to make it appear a suicide, but
it couldn't have been. A man can't shoot himself between the shoulders
from behind. Muldoon took a handkerchief from his pocket and picked the
weapon up very gingerly, so as to not to obliterate any tell-tale fingerprints.
He took it close to a light and examined it with a pocket microscope.
"Whoever did this wore gloves," he commented. "Lets get
back to the living room."
Peter van Rentz was pacing nervously back and forth. He
is a handsome chap about ten years older than his wife, though he doesn't
look it. He 's always been nervous and excitable, often acting on impulse,
and it was plain to see that he was terribly upset.
Evelyn sat in a corner, dabbing occasionally at her eyes.
They were red and swollen from crying. Dawson Sidley stood in front of
the fireplace gazing intently at the dancing flames of a mesquite fire.
Johnnie Forbes sat on an arm of a sofa. It was evident that he was making
a valiant effort to appear calm. The ashtray on an end table near him was
piled high with cigarette butts. He was lighting one cigarette from another.
Johnnie is a nice kid. He's about four years younger than
his sister Evelyn, and fairly worships the ground she walks on. He glanced
up at Muldoon as we entered, and as he did so his cigarette dropped from
his fingers onto the rug. He didn't seem to notice it, and a thin, bald
man of about forty steeped quickly across the room and picked it up.
"Who are you?" demanded Muldoon of this person. He shot
the question at him in that way that he has that sounds like an accusation
of guilt and that he often uses in propounding the simplest and most innocuous
questions. The next instant he might be soothing and cajoling while putting
the most personal or important query,. I have seen men forget their own
names when questioned like that by Muldoon, and the next instant they would
truthfully answer a most incriminating question.
But this man was not at all perturbed. With perfect calm
he turned toward the Inspector, and, bowing slightly from the hips, replied.
"I am Vreeman, sir; Mr. van Rentz's butler."
"How long have you been here? -- On this job, I mean."
"I came with Mr. van Rentz about a year ago, sir -- shortly
after he and Mrs. van Rentz were married. We came down here to Palm Springs
about a month ago."
"How old are you?"
"Forty, sir, though I know I look much older. I know you'd
never believe, sir, that I am only six years older than my wife here,"
headed, indicating a neat little woman standing at his side.
"You are Mrs. Vreeman?" asked Muldoon, in his softest
and most ingratiating tones.
"Yes, sir; Edith Vreeman."
"Well, Edith, what do you know of this business tonight?
Start at the beginning."
"You see, sir, when they came home from the Racquet Club
about five, they was all that tired; and Mrs. van Rentz said we'd have
an early dinner and all go to bed. So we had dinner about six-thirty --
after they'd showered and changed; but they didn't dress. Mrs. van Rentz
wore slacks; and the gentlemen, flannels and polo shirts.
"They had a couple of cocktails before dinner, and after
dinner they felt that much rested they decided to have a few rubbers of
bridge -- that is, Mr. and Mrs. van Rentz, the Count, and Mr. Sidley. Mr.
Johnnie went out."
"Where did you go?" demanded Muldoon, turning on Forbes.
"I went to the village to bowl," said Johnnie.
"Who are you?" Muldoon almost shouted the question.
"I'm Mrs. van Rentz' sister -- I mean, she's my brother
-- I --" Johnnie flushed a deep scarlet.
"Never mind," said Muldoon, soothingly. "I think I grasp
the relationship; you're Mrs. van Rentz' younger brother."
Forbes nodded affirmatively.
"And now, Edith," continued Muldoon, "what happened after
"They played bridge; and after we got the dishes
done, Mr. Vreeman, Bert, and I played rummy in our room -- that is, Mr.
Vreeman's and my room. About ten o'clock the folks went to bed. Mr. Vreeman
went in and straightened up the living room and turned out the light, and
then we went on with our game."
"about eleven o'clock we heard a rumpus in the Count's
room -- it's right across the patio from ours, and the windows were open."
"What did you hear, Edith?"
"Well, the first thing we heard was voices talking low,
and then I heard Mr. Johnnie's voice say 'I got a good mind to kill you,
you --' Oh, sir, I couldn't say the words he called him. And then Mr. van
Rentz' voice said, "That's my job, Johnnie. I'll take care of him.'
"The Count said something then. He talked for several
minutes in a low tone that we couldn't catch, though we was all listening
at the window; and then everything quieted down like they had all gone
to their rooms.
"We talked about it for a while, and then we decided to
finish our rummy game and go to bed. It was just midnight when we finished,
I know that because Mr. Vreeman looked at his watch and said, 'Well, it's
midnight and time we was in bed,' and just then we heard a shot and a plump
like, like someone had fell."
"Van Rentz," said Muldoon, "you were in de Veny's room
about eleven o'clock tonight?"
Van Rentz hesitated; then he shrugged. "Well, I've got
to tell it sometime, I suppose. I woke up about eleven and heard voices
down the hall. I heard my wife's voice. I got up and went down to de Veny's
room. She was in there with him."
"And you?" demanded Muldoon, swinging suddenly on Johnnie.
"What were you doing there?" demanded Muldoon, swinging suddenly on Johnnie.
"What were you doing there?"
"I got in about ten-thirty. I wasn't asleep. When I heard
Pete and Ev in de Veny's room, I went in to to see what it was all about.
When I realized -- or thought I did -- I wanted to kill him. Pete wouldn't
let me. There was a gun in de Veny's room, like there was in all the master
bedrooms; but I guess de Veny didn't know that. Pete's got a kidnap complex.
He's always afraid someone's goin' to kidnap him or some of his guests,
so he keeps a gat in every bedroom. I could have got it and killed him
then; but Pete wouldn't let me, and Ev begged us not to. She said she could
explain everything, so we went back to her room, the three of us, and she
"What did you tell them, Mrs. van Rentz?" asked Muldoon.
"I told them the truth. I told them that I met de Veny
in New York about a year before Mr. van Rentz and I were married. We met
several times. He was always very courteous and pleasant. One night we
were at a party -- a big party -- one of those awful affairs that are such
"He suggested that we run out on it. He said that his
mother had heard so much about me that she was anxious to meet me -- she
wanted to contribute to a charity in which I was interested, but she was
an invalid and couldn't ever get out. He suggested that we run up to her
apartment and see her. He said he would go and phone her. He was gone a
short time, and came back and said she was delighted and begged us to come
"We took a cab and drove up somewhere around Fifty-ninth
Street. He took me up to an apartment. A man let us in and took our things.
De Veny said, 'Miss Forbes, this is 'Tony'; then he said "Tony, where is
"'She's dressing,' replied Tony. 'She said she'd be out
"Well, we waited; and while we were waiting de Veny mixed
a cocktail. He talked all the time, and half an hour passed before I realized
it. Then I suggested that it was getting late and perhaps I'd better see
his mother some other time.
"He said he'd go and see what was delaying her, and he
went into another room and was gone fully half an hour. When he came out
he said we'd better not wait; his mother was not feeling well.
"When we went down in the elevator he told the elevator
boy that any time I came, and he called me by name, to let me in -- if
I didn't have a key to his apartment. Then he told me,
"You see, my dear,' he said, 'I have no mother, Tony,
the doorman, and the elevator boy all know your name. They all know that
you were in my apartment alone with me for an hour from eleven to twelve
at night. What would your parents and your friends think if they knew that?
Wouldn't it be worth something to you if I were discreet and kept your
"Ever since, he has been blackmailing me. I don't know
how much I have paid him, but it is always more and more. When he learned
that I was to marry Peter his demands became more exorbitant. He followed
me to California when I came here to live after my marriage. He forced
me to invite him here. I couldn't raise the amount he demanded this time,
and I went to his room to tell him. I was desperate. I begged him to go
away and leave me alone, and then Pete came in, and Johnnie."
"And then? insisted Muldoon.
"After I had told them, I felt that Pete didn't believe
me, and I was heartbroken. He was very quiet and morose. Finally he said
we'd all better go to bed. In the morning we'd decide what to do. That
Muldoon stepped to a coffee table and picked up the revolver
he had brought from de Veny's room. He still handled it carefully with
his handkerchief. He held it out toward Peter van Rentz.
"Is this yours?" he asked.
"It might be," admitted Peter; "I have several of them,
but all Colt .45 automatics look alike."
Muldoon nodded. "How old are you , Mr. van Rentz?"
"You're quite a little older than your wife, aren't you?"
"Yes -- ten years."
"And you are inclined to be a little jealous of her. Isn't
"Not entirely," replied Peter. "I had never had any reason
to be jealous of her until --"
"Tonight?" asked Muldoon.
The Inspector turned toward Sidley.
"Mr. Sidley," he said, "your room was directly across
from de Veny's. You must have heard something of all this."
"I certainly did," replied Sidley -- "all of it."
"Do you know who murdered de Veny?"
"Yes," replied Sidley without a moment's hesitation.
"Who was it?" demanded Muldoon.
"Inspector Muldoon," said Sidley, "I have the greatest
respect for you; but this inquisition is entirely irregular, and I will
not answer that question. There are reasons why I may not reveal the name
of the murderer."
"Perhaps you will change your mind when I refresh your
memory," said Muldoon suavely. "Since I saw de Veny this noon at the Racquet
Club, I have been trying to place him. In some way I connected him with
you." Sidley flushed. "Then," continued Muldoon, "Mrs van Rentz's story
of blackmail cleared the identification completely.
"About ten years ago a young Austrian adventurer named
Carl Schultz commenced to blackmail you. You paid for a while, thus incriminating
yourself; then you stopped. He went the evidence to your wife, and she
"Count de Veny and Carl Schultz were one and the same.
The bald head, the beard, the glasses proved a perfect disguise. When did
you recognize de Veny as Schultz?"
"When I heard Mrs. van Rentz pleading with him not to
blackmail her further," said Sidley.
"There are several people here, any one of whom might
feel that he had ample provocation to kill de Veny -- Mr. and Mrs. van
Rentz, Mrs van Rentz' brother, Mr. Forbes, yourself. There is also another
I should like to clear this matter up so that it will not be necessary
for the sheriff to place you all under arrest. I wish that you would answer
"What is it?" asked Sidley.
"Was the murderer a man about de Veny's own age?"
"The man who killed de Veny was nearer forty than he was
thirty-five," replied Sidley.
"Thank you," said Muldoon. "And now, young man," he continued,
turning toward a good-looking chap in a chauffeur's uniform, "what is your
"Bert West, sir."
"You are the van Rentz chauffeur?"
"You love Mrs. van Rentz, don't you?"
West flushed and stammered. "Ev--everyone loves her."
"That isn't what I mean," said Muldoon in a very low voice.
"As a matter of fact, you're in love with her, aren't you?"
This was the result of my gossiping. Everyone knew it,
and everyone also knew that Evelyn van Rentz was about the only person
who didn't know it. I wished that I had kept my mouth shut.
Suddenly West flared up, "Yes, damn you, I am in love
with her! And then what?"
"There isn't anything you wouldn't do for her, is there?
asked Muldoon sweetly.
"I'd do anything in the world for her," said West.
"How old are you?" Muldoon fired that question almost
"I'm thirty-eight years old," replied West.
Muldoon sighed and drew a long black cigar from an inner
pocket. I knew that he had trapped the murderer.
"Sheriff," he said, "you may arrest the person who murdered
Carl Schultz, alias Count de Veny."
"But who did it, Inspector? I'll be dinged if I know."
Muldoon pointed. "There is your prisoner," he said.
At whom did he point? And why?
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