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Death in the Back Seat by Dorothy Cameron Disney

Death in the Back Seat by Dorothy Cameron Disney

Author:Dorothy Cameron Disney
Language: eng
Format: epub


CHAPTER FOURTEEN

The Missing Annual

Over coffee Harkway heard the story of our evening. Directly afterward we started for the Coatesnash house. It was six o’clock.

Dawn was rising in the east, like the spreading of a slow stain. A bleak, colorless dawn. We climbed the pasture path. The rocks and trees and turnings that by night had been so fearsome were now merely gray and dull and ugly. Clothed in naked trees rose Hilltop House, cupolaed and hideous. The Lodge squatted in close attendance like a meek and anxious servitor. Unchallenged, we wound past the smaller building and on to the grape arbors.

Harkway had pocketed the key to the cellar door. We went there first. Quite undramatically the policeman thrust the key into the lock, twisted it. The lock grated, but did not budge. Again the lock grated. Harkway frowned.

“Sure this is the right key?”

“Certain. Here let me try it.” Jack’s knuckles whitened as he vainly exercised his force upon the key. His face looked queer. “It seems to stick.”

“It doesn’t,” amended Harkway doubtfully, “appear to fit.” Jack was nervous and annoyed.

“The key did fit last night. Let me try again.”

“I don’t think it’s necessary.” Harkway dropped to one knee and, taking out a pocket magnifying glass, scrutinized the lock. A small brass circle, slightly rusted. He handed Jack the glass. “Was this particular lock on the door last night?”

“I didn’t notice the lock; I simply turned the key.”

Harkway said slowly, “I believe the lock has been changed since you were here. Done pretty carefully, but if you look closely, you will see certain traces of the job.” He moved his finger around the rusted circle. “Do you see the particles of raw wood? And over here—the fresh scratch?”

Jack stood up. “I see, yes. But where did the second lock come from? Crockford isn’t New York. Where could a second lock be got in the middle of the night? They don’t grow on bushes.” Harkway hesitated, and I perceived his bewildered groping. He scratched his jaw. “The lock isn’t new.”

Suddenly and definitely I hit upon the origin of the second lock. A recollection of the cluttered storeroom flashed into my mind. I recalled the cardboard carton filled with odds and ends of hardware—bits of plumbing, window fastenings, a graceful wrought-iron hinge, a bunch (of string-tied keys and old discarded locks. Jack turned to me.

“Did you say something, Lola?”

“There were locks in the storeroom; I think this may be one of them.”

“In the storeroom!”

“Old locks—junk. The place was jammed with trash.”

Jack gnawed his lip and I understood, if Harkway did not, the workings of his thought. He was remembering our case against Franklyn Elliott. Small as it was, this bit of evidence weighed in the lawyer’s favor. A straw to indicate his innocence. Even if Elliott had the manual skill to change a lock—which seemed unlikely—he hardly could have obtained the second lock. Such a presumption required far too intimate a knowledge of the house. The person who had gone to the storeroom and found a lock there must have known precisely where to look for what he wanted.



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