A man, with brown cheeks smoothly shaven and wearing a clean denim shirt because it was Monday morning, chaperoning his herd of Jerseys across the paved road from the barn side to the pasture side, saw a car coming and cussed. With any driver whatever the car would make his cows nervous; and if bad luck made it a certain kind of weekend driver from New York, which was only fifty miles to the south, there was no telling what might happen. He stood in the middle of the road and glared at the approaching demon, then felt easier as he saw it was slowing down and still easier when it crept, circling for a six-foot clearance past Jennifer's indifferent rump. When it stopped completely, so close alongside that he could have reached out and touched the door handle, the last shred of his irritation was dissolved, for he was by no means so hopelessly committed to cows that he didn't know a pretty girl when he saw one. He even saw, before she spoke, the flecks of ochre that warmed her troubled grey eyes, though she spoke at once.
"Please, am I going right for the Fox place?"
He grunted and crinkles of criticism radiated from the corners of his eyes. "Oh," he said, "you're bound for The Zoo."
"Yes," she agreed, not smiling. "I've heard that's what they call it in the neighborhood. Am I going right?"
He nodded and jerked a thumb. "On about a mile, big white house set on a knoll with trees around, back from the road a piece."
She thanked him. He saw her lips tighten as she reached for the gearshift and blurted: "What you so mad about this fine summer morning?"
"I'm not mad, I'm worried. Thank you."
He watched the small coupe, not ramshackle but far from elegant, recede until it rounded the bend, then sighed and muttered: "If it's a man worrying her it's not me and never will be," and yelled in fresh irritation: "Hey, Queenie, dern you, move!"
The girl drove the prescribed mile, saw the big white house on the knoll among trees and turned into the private lane which led to it. The pleasant curves of the lane, the little bridge over a brook, the elms and maples which permitted the sunshine to reach only a stingy third of the lawn, even the four or five people scattered around who turned or lifted their heads to watch the coupe pass--these details barely grazed the rim of her attention. There appeared to be no connection between the driveway and the pillared porch, so she followed it around the house to a broad gravelled space, the rear boundary of which was an enormous old barn with one end, judging from the doors, converted into a garage.
She parked at the edge of the gravel and got out. Two big dogs and one little one came loping from behind shrubs, regarded her cynically and rambled off. A rooster crowed without enthusiasm. A man appeared at a small door at the far corner of the barn, decided in one brief glance that the coupe and its cargo were not his affair, and vanished. The girl started for the back entrance of the house, which was all but hidden from view by a riot of yellow climbing roses, and when nearly there was halted by the emergence of a large round-faced woman in a green smock with the impatient eyes of one who has not quite caught up with the urgencies of life and does not expect to. Her voice, too, was husky with impatience, but not unpleasant.
"How do you do?"
"How do you do?" said the girl. "My name is Nancy Grant. I phoned an hour ago. Is Mr. Fox here?"
The woman shook her head. "Mr. Tecumseh Fox hasn't returned. You can wait on the front porch unless you want to come in the house this way. I'm busy getting ready to cook dinner."
"I--" The girl bit her lip. "Will he be here soon?"
"Maybe he will, but there's no telling. He was supposed to come home last night. Didn't Mr. Crocker tell you that on the phone?"
"Yes, he did, but I--"
"Well, Mr. Tecumseh Fox'll come some time. He always does. What kind of trouble are you in? Bad?"
"Forget it. You can go and pick flowers. They're all around, pick any kind you want to. I wish I could. I wish I could go to church or sit outdoors or pick flowers a day like this, but I've got to cook dinner." She wheeled abruptly and made for the entrance, but after she had disappeared behind the roses her face showed again for the announcement: "My name is Mrs. Trimble!" and then was gone.
The girl made a face at the roses, pulled her sagging shoulders up straight and started around the house. As she encircled it, again plucking at the fringe of her attention were the multifarious surrounding facts--healthy shrubs and trees, comfortable grass in sun and shadow, beds and borders of flowers--which showed a place cared for but not pampered. Ascending the steps to the pillared front porch, she found it broad and clean and cool, though somewhat unbalanced because its right half sported a dozen summer chairs while its left half had none at all. In one of the chairs sat a man in a striped jacket and grey slacks, with bulbous inflamed blotches disfiguring his face and forehead. One of his eyes was swollen shut; with the other he was gazing intently at something he held in his hand. From somewhere came a sound like sawing wood, though no such process was in view. After one swift glance to the right, the girl turned to the chairless left and perched on the porch rail.
The man's voice came, raised against the sawing noise:
"Sit over here!"
She said she was all right.
"No, you're not! A phoebe has a nest there so we moved the chairs! Sit over here! I'm not mangy; I got stung by bees!"
To avoid argument, she slipped to her feet and moved towards the chairs, while he resumed his scrutiny of the object in his hand, which, she saw as she approached, was a small alarm clock. She was lowering herself into a seat when she jerked erect again, startled by two nearly simultaneous assaults on her ears, first a loud splintering and crashing from beyond the porch and then the jangling of the bell on the alarm clock. She stood there staring at a large dead limb of a maple tree which had hurtled through the lower branches and lay there on the lawn. The sawing noise had stopped. A voice called from above:
"How about it?"
The man the bees had stung yelled: "One second! You win! By God, one second!"
There was a shout of triumph and a sound of scrambling; and a man came sliding down the trunk of the tree and hit the ground. He was young, homely, big and sweaty, and his shirt was torn. He stood at the foot of the steps and commanded.
"Come on, clean it up."
"I'll do it tomorrow. These stings hurt."
"You'll do it now. That was the bet. And first you'll go and make me a drink and bring it to me and I'll sit here and drink it and watch you. You whittled me down to eight minutes and I did it anyway. I want rye--"
He broke off and turned, looking towards the lane. The horn of a car had sounded, one sharp blast, and in a moment the car could be seen, a big black convertible with a chromium hood, noiselessly rolling up the grade this side of the brook.
The man with the alarm clock rose to his feet. "Fox returning," he announced. "Wait till he sees the mess you made on the lawn! I've got to give this clock back to Mrs. Trimble ... "
He trotted off into the house. The homely young man bounded up the steps to the porch and strode after him. The convertible rounded the arc of the driveway and disappeared to the rear. Nancy Grant sat down. During the five minutes she still had to wait she turned her head fifty times to glance hopefully at the door, but it was between glances that he finally appeared. She heard light quick steps, twisted her head again and saw a man carrying perhaps fifteen more years than her twenty-two, in a brown Palm Beach suit and without a hat. Her first swift thought, as she rose, was that he looked like a fox, but then she saw, his face towards her, that his chin and nose were not actually pointed and his brown eyes were opened too wide to look sly. The eyes took her in, all of her, with so brief a displacement of their focus into her own that it might have been lightning leaping a gap, and she was disconcerted.
"I'm Tecumseh Fox. Mrs. Trimble says your name is Nancy Grant. You want to see me?"
She nodded, looked left and right, opened her mouth and closed it.
"It's all right out here," he said. "We won't be interrupted or overheard. You look kind of used up. Could I get you a drink?"
"No, thank you."
"No? Sit down." He pulled a chair around to confront hers, sat as she did, reached out suddenly and surprisingly to give the back of her hand three reassuring pats, leaned back and asked: "Well?"
"It's murder." The hand he had patted closed to a fist. "The Thorpe murder."
"Thorpe? Has a Thorpe been murdered?"
"Why, yes." She looked astonished and incredulous. "The papers this morning--"
"I haven't seen them. I apologize. I drove up to Boston yesterday to look at something and just got back. A friend of yours named Thorpe?"
"No, not a friend. Ridley Thorpe, the--you must know. The head of Thorpe Control."
"That one? Murdered?"
"They've arrested my uncle. My Uncle Andy--Andrew. That's why I came to you--he used to know you. Andrew Grant?"
Fox nodded. "Sure. He visited me a while about three years ago. He was going to write something but didn't get started."
A little flush in Nancy's cheeks furnished an idea of what she might look like when not used up. "I know," she said. "He told me all about the people you let stay here as your guests, as long as they want to. I know he was--he was pretty aimless. But when I came to New York to have a career--I think it was on account of me he got a job writing advertising, to be able to help me, though I didn't know that then--anyhow, I admire him and I'm grateful to him and I love him very much and I thought you might be willing to help him--he didn't send me here--though I suppose your opinion of him, since you only knew him when he was ... well--"
"I wouldn't have picked him for a murderer. Did he kill Thorpe?"
"Good. Why was he arrested?"
"He ... I'll have to tell you all about it."
"Will you help him? Will you get him out of it?"
"Go ahead and tell me."
"He was there last night--where Thorpe was murdered."
"Where was that? I apologize again. There are papers in the house. Shall I get one and read it?"
Nancy shook her head. "I'll tell you. I know things that aren't in the papers. He was killed at a place over near Mount Kisco--a little place with a bungalow off in the woods where he went weekends alone. No one ever went there with him, or was invited there, not even his family, except a colored man who was his chauffeur and valet and cook for the weekends. No one else was allowed on the place. Last night somebody sneaked through the woods and shot through an open window and killed him."
"And Andy Grant was there?"
"Yes. It's things about that that I know that aren't in the papers. I drove him there."
"You did. Invited?"
"No. He--Uncle Andy works, writes copy for the Willoughby Advertising Agency. Thorpe Control is their biggest account. He wrote a series for a campaign for a new product they're going to bring out and Thorpe executives turned it down. He thought it was the best thing he had ever done and it should be a big thing for him, and he fought for it too hard and maybe lost his temper, and the agency fired him. That was a week ago. He was sure he could sell the campaign to Ridley Thorpe if he could get to him, but he couldn't get near him. He knew about the bungalow where Thorpe spent secluded weekends, apparently everybody at the agency did, and he decided to try to see Thorpe there. He knew I was ... he knew ... I had gone ... "
Her voice trailed off. She looked apologetically at Tecumseh Fox, then closed her eyes and put her palms to her temples and pressed so hard that he could see the backs of her hands go white. When she opened her eyes again she tried to smile, but all it amounted to was a quivering of her lips. "I guess I'm a softy," she said. "I guess I'll have to have that drink. You see they kept me at the police station, or maybe it was the jail, at White Plains all night, and I didn't get any sleep, and then I got away and phoned--"
"You ran away from the police?"
"Yes, they left me alone in a room and I sneaked out and went down an alley and phoned here and then I stole a car and--"
"You did. You stole a car? The one parked out back?"
"Yes, I had to get here, and I was afraid to try to rent one, even a taxi, for fear--"
"Hold it." Fox was frowning. "Look at me. No, right in the eyes ... Uh-huh. How straight are you?"
"I'm pretty straight." Her lips quivered again. "I'm a little stupid sometimes, but I'm reasonably straight."
"Let me see your hand."
Without hesitation she extended it. He took it, inspected the back and palm, the joints and fingertips, the firm little mounds. "Not palmistry," he said curtly. "Nice hand. Is there anything of yours in that car?"
"Not a thing? Sure?"
He turned his head and made his voice a baritone bellow:
After a moment there was the sound of steps, much heavier than Fox's had been, and the screen door opened for a man to come through. He was under forty but not much, in shirt sleeves with no tie, excessively broad-shouldered, and had a swarthy face so remarkably square that its outlines could have been reproduced with a straight rule. Restrained movements of his jaw indicated that he had not quite finished chewing something. He approached and rumbled as from the bottom of a deep cavern:
"Right here, Tee."
"Uh-huh," said Fox, "your shirt's showing. Miss Grant, this is Mr. Pavey, my vice-president. Dan, that coupe out back was driven here by Miss Grant. It's hot. She took it from the curb in White Plains this morning. Tell Bill to take the station wagon and go by the back road towards Carmel, turn left at Miller's Corner and go over the hill towards the lake. You follow him in the coupe and ditch it along there after you top the hill. Take a rag along to wipe the doors and handles and steering wheel. You don't want any audience while you're transferring to the station wagon."
Dan Pavey shook his head. "That's too close by, only four miles from here. Wouldn't it be better if we went down beyond--"
"Right again," Dan rumbled and tramped off.
"Excuse me," Fox said, and arose and followed his vice-president into the house. Nancy's head fell forward, like a tulip with the sap out of its stem. Again she pressed her palms tight against her temples and was still sitting that way ten minutes later when Tecumseh Fox reappeared, with a newspaper under one arm and, balanced on the other, a tray with chicken sandwiches, a bottle of sherry, a glass and a highball.
"Here," he said, pulling a table over with his foot, "you break your fast while I see what this says."