"He should get out...every sense he had warned him that he should get out now, and get out fast." . . .
He should have carried a gun. That was obvious enough now. A man was a fool to travel with that much money and not carry a gun, but who would have suspected that he would need a gun in the home of his best friend?
Only his best friend was dead ... murdered ... and the murderers had now no choice but to kill him, too.
He stood by the window and looked past the inside edge of the curtain into the orchard outside ... only he could not see very far into the orchard where the moonlight made avenues of pale light between the date palms and citrus trees.
He should get out ... every sense he had warned him that he should get out, and get out fast. Yet even now it might be too late. They might be expecting it, perhaps even hoping for it.
The way Art had picked up his keys the night before. He had picked them up and smiled coolly into his eyes and said, "Your car could stand a check. I'll just drive it in. Walt can have it fixed while you're loafing down here."
He had protested, but Art merely laughed it off. "What's the trouble? Can't a man do you a favor?" They were looking at him as if surprised at his protests, and then Art put the clincher on it. "I know you'll want to do some climbing while you're here."
So that was it ... now they had it established that he was going to climb, so if there was an accident no one would be surprised. After all, he had always climbed when he came down to the desert, and there were so many places an accident might happen ... so many places an accident could be made to happen.
He was a fool ... and possibly imagining things. Yet he had said nothing to let them believe he suspected what had happened, said nothing to imply suspicion. His manner had been calm, easy, friendly as always. He had to be careful, their suspicions would be keen-edged, they would suggest a double meaning in everything he did.
He looked around the beautifully appointed room, the decor revealing Esther's truly excellent taste, and he could scarcely believe that this was to be the setting for a murder. Of course, he could spring to his feet and denounce them now, right here in the presence of their guests, but the thought repelled him. Moreover, all he had was suspicion and a story that failed to conform with what he knew. There might be many explanations for it.
But, if he was right, and if they had murdered once for money would they not kill again? There was fifty thousand in cash ... a tidy sum in these days of high taxes ... and if he disappeared it would always be believed that he had absconded with the money.
By now Pete's money might be well used up ... at least all that was not involved in the trust ... so fifty thousand in cash would be no small help to an extravagant woman and her brothers.
"Have you heard the news, Jim?" Doris was looking at him across the room. "Esther's getting married again. She's going to marry Barry Drake."
"No." He held himself still inside, kept his face perfectly calm, thinking this out. "I have been out of touch."
"Oh, they've tried to keep it a secret, but it's been in the wind for a year or more. In fact, it began when you were in Korea."
"Doris," Esther's voice was sharp, "that simply is not true! We knew each other, of course, but as for anything starting between us, it was impossible. Pete was still alive."
"Well," Doris shrugged her thin shoulders, "you can't deny you were always together. You went everywhere together."
"I had to go with somebody," Esther protested, "and Barry was a good friend of Pete's."
That's a lie, Jim thought, Pete Forest couldn't stand Barry, and said so, not once but many times. Pete was a man with strong instincts about people and his instinct about Barry Drake was that he was a wrong number. The idea was easy for Jim to accept because he had never liked Barry himself.
- End of Fragment -
BEAU L'AMOUR'S COMMENTS: There is not much to this fragment, which is why it didn't make the cut for inclusion in the Lost Treasures books, where much of the material runs a couple of chapters or more. There are a couple of minor details here that are interesting, however. This piece is easy enough to date, it's after the Korean War and before income tax rates dropped from their all time high (over twice what they are today!). But I can say with some confidence that it is after 1955 because the property Louis is describing has some similarities to one my mother's family owned in the Palm Springs area and he didn't visit there until then. The clue is in the sentence where Dad mentions date and citrus trees. In Mom's orchards grapefruit trees were planted between rows of date palms in order to provide the grapefruit with shade ... I suspect he didn't know that until he met my mother.