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Authors: Frances Lockridge

Hanged for a Sheep

BOOK: Hanged for a Sheep
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Hanged for a Sheep

A Mr. and Mrs. North Mystery

Frances and Richard Lockridge

MYSTERIOUSPRESS.COM

“As good be hanged for a sheep as a lamb.”

—Old Proverb

Except for Toughy and Ruffy, the characters in this book are entirely fictional and are intended to resemble only themselves. Toughy and Ruffy are real enough to tear a house down, an activity they greatly enjoy.

1

T
UESDAY
, J
ANUARY
21

3:15
P.M. TO
4
P.M.

Pamela North got out of the cab and leaned against the wind. It was a furious wind, banging through the street and full of street dust; as she stood with her back to it, the wind rounded her skirt against her legs and tugged at the cab door as she held it open. The cab driver, peering out at her, knocked his flag down and, with a little shrug, climbed out on the other side and came around. He said it was windy.

“Because New York's on the bias,” Pam North told him. “If it weren't, the wind couldn't blow through it this way, because northwest would be up that way.”

Pam pointed. The taxi driver looked at her with some doubt, said “Yeh, maybe you got something there, lady,” and took the tugging door from her. He hauled two bags from the interior of the cab and reached for a black box with a mansard roof. The box, on being jiggled, yowled. The taxi driver let go of it and looked at Mrs. North reproachfully.

“Cats,” she said. He said, “Yeh!”

“Look, lady,” he said. “I don't like 'em. Creeps. You know how it is.”

“Of course,” Pam said. “Lots of people are that way. I'll carry them.”

Gingerly, he handed out the black case with the mansard roof. It yowled on two tones. The taxi driver looked puzzled.

“Two of them,” Mrs. North explained. “But quite small, really. Will you carry the bags up for me?”

He nodded and carried the bags across the walk and up the gritty stone steps to the door of the house. Pam, carrying the cats, followed him and stood just inside the doorway, looking very new against the old house. Sand opened the door while she searched her purse and said, “Good afternoon, Mrs. North.” The taxi driver took his money, skirted the black case, which had ceased to yowl, and went away. Back in the cab, he leaned across and looked at Mrs. North and the black case and shook his head doubtfully. Then he drove off. Sand carried the bags inside and Mrs. North lifted the black case over the threshold. It yowled on one note.

“One of them's getting tired,” she told Sand. “They've both been yelling all the way, nearly. Is my aunt—?”

“Yes, Mrs. North,” Sand said. He looked frail to be carrying the bags, she thought, but there was nothing to do about it. He followed her into the foyer and put the bags down by a small table which held a silver tray and a vase which sprayed daffodils.

“In the drawing room, Mrs. North,” Sand said. “Shall I tell madam that you—?”

“No,” Pam said. “Don't bother, Sand. If you'll just take care of the bags, please?”

Sand thanked her for the opportunity, started toward the stairs which spiraled grandly upward from the hall, stopped and turned. His face had a slightly different expression, as if he had become momentarily, and within proper bounds, a slightly different person.

“She's Mrs. Buddie again, Miss Pam,” he said. “I thought you ought to know.” He paused a second. “Since this morning,” he added.

Pam said, “Oh.” Then she smiled at Sand.

“I should think you'd rather like it, really,” she said. “It must be—well, homey? I mean, there's nothing as comfortable as an old name, is there, George?”

Sand really smiled. It was an affectionate smile.

“Well worn, Miss Pam,” he said. “A well worn name. It is—more comfortable.” Then he became, to a reasonable degree, a butler again. “Thank you, Miss Pam,” he said. He carried the bags up the spiraling stairs. Pam watched him a moment, smiling. Then she straightened herself, took a deep breath, and advanced toward the drawing room and Aunt Flora.

“Maybe
this
time I'll really believe in her,” Pam thought, stepping into the room which opened off the hall, the box banging softly against her right calf and yowling quietly; the arching feather which rose from the back of her hat and peered out over her face bobbed briskly. “Maybe—.” But Pam knew that she was whistling in the dark, because she had not seen Aunt Flora for weeks and because, after even one day's separation, Aunt Flora always drew from her niece an astonished, inward gasp of disbelief. There was, Pam realized anew, never going to be any getting used to Aunt Flora.

Aunt Flora occupied a chair by the fire as few can occupy chairs anywhere. She turned her head as Pam advanced across the room and spoke.

“Hello, dearie,” said Aunt Flora deeply. “A new cat?”

Pam's inward gasp interfered with immediate answer. Aunt Flora's wig, which Aunt Flora fondly believed to resemble hair, was as yellow as always. Her face was, as always, immobilized behind its uncrackable facade—unwrinkled because it could not wrinkle, fadeless because it was put on afresh each morning.

“Or,” Pam thought suddenly, “maybe once a week. And just
left
.”

Aunt Flora's wig was undulant with immaculate curls. Above the waist, Aunt Flora expanded dramatically; Aunt Flora's head sat atop Aunt Flora without the punctuation of a neck.

“I know,” Pam thought. “She's built like a snowman. That's it.”

Aunt Flora was dressed in a red silk dress, and ruffles fluttered on her bosom. Pam advanced toward Aunt Flora, and, circling, came to a pause before her. Aunt Flora had on red shoes.

“Look at me, dearie,” Aunt Flora commanded, deeply. “Did you ever see the like? I said, a new cat?”

“You look—lovely, Aunt Flora,” Pam said, her voice hardly weak at all. “Yes—only it's two. Do you want to see them?”

“Sly,” Aunt Flora said. “That's what cats are. Of course I want to see them, Pamela. Why two?”

“Because one gets lonely,” Pam said. “Everybody advises two.” She opened the black box and looked in. “Come on, babies,” she said. “Come on, Toughy. Come on, Ruffy.” The cats yowled. “They're part Siamese,” Pamela North explained. “It makes them yell. They're brother and sister.” She paused and looked down doubtfully. “So far,” she added.

Aunt Flora laughed. Her laughter was deep and her blue eyes were bright and alive and merrily wise.

“You'd better say ‘so far,'” Aunt Flora advised. Her advice was a chortle.

“I know,” Pam said. “Jerry says—.” She paused, wondering whether to report what Jerry said.

“I'll bet he does,” Aunt Flora told her. “Where
is
that man of yours?”

This was characteristic of Aunt Flora. Because she knew where Jerry North was; Jerry North's absence in Texas, where he pursued an author, was part of the complex which had brought Pam North to the home of her Aunt Flora, the family legend.

“Listen, darling,” Pam said. “You know perfectly well where Jerry is. I told you all about it on the telephone. There's this man who's written a big book, something like ‘Gone With the Wind,' Jerry hopes, and they want to publish it—Jerry and the firm, that is. And there are a lot of other publishers after it, because they all think maybe it's another ‘Gone With the Wind.' On account of it's about the South, I guess. So Jerry had to go to Houston, which is where it lives and now he's got to stay there and read it right away, because of all the other publishers. And it's very long. That's why they think it's another ‘Gone With the Wind,' really—that and the South. Jerry says he thinks it is even
longer
than ‘Gone With the Wind.'”

“God!” said Aunt Flora simply. “About Oklahoma, you say?”

“Texas,” Pam said. Aunt Flora said “Oh.”

“I never thought much of Texas,” she said, dismissing it. “Not a patch on Oklahoma. The Indian Territory. I can remember—.”

“Yes, darling,” Pam said. “I know you can.”

Aunt Flora laughed. It was the hearty laugh of one amused.

“All right, dearie,” she said, shaking throughout. “All
right
, dearie.”

The cats came out of the box cautiously. They were gray cats. One was a curious dark gray from nose to tail. The other was lighter and had a white collar of fur.

“Ruffy,” Pam explained, pointing. “Because of the ruff. But either spelling. And Toughy”—she pointed now at the all gray cat—“because it fits. And—.”

Toughy looked at Aunt Flora with growing consternation. Then he yowled, went across the room in a streak and vanished under a sofa. Ruffy, with rather the air of one who performs what is expected, streaked also, squirming under a chair.

“She wasn't afraid,” Pam pointed out. “She's the she, by the way. She just didn't want to let him down. Make him feel foolish.”

“Naturally,” Aunt Flora said. “Why don't you sit down, dearie? They'll come out.”

Pam sat down in a deep chair on the other side of the fireplace.

“D'you want a drink?” Aunt Flora said. “I do. Cold weather always makes me thirsty.”

A small, rectangular box housed a button on the arm of Aunt Flora's chair. She pressed it.

“I don't know,” Pam said. “Isn't it early? But—.”

“It's after noon, isn't it?” Aunt Flora demanded. “Well after. What are you talking about?”

Sand came in and said, “Yes, madam?” Aunt Flora looked at Pam.

“Oh,” Pam said. “Well—a martini, I guess. Dry please, Sand.”

“I'll have the usual sher—” Aunt Flora began. Then she stopped, and an odd expression made its way hesitantly along her jovially painted face. “I'll have a martini too, Sand,” she said. “And bring them in a small shaker.”

“Yes, madam,” Sand said. He turned.

“Remember,” Aunt Flora Buddie said, and there was a curious insistence in her voice, “remember, Sand—
in a small shaker
. Don't pour them out!”

“Certainly, madam,” Sand said. “Thank you.”

There was a somehow nervous silence for a moment after Sand left. Then Aunt Flora spoke.

“You may as well know,” she said. “It's one reason I wanted you here, really—one reason I insisted, I mean. You see, dearie, somebody's trying to poison me.”

She broke off and stared commandingly at Pam North.

“I won't have it,” she said. She said it with finality. Then she waited, having passed the conversational turn to Pam. It came over Pam, disconcertingly, that this was by no means one of Aunt Flora's little jokes.

“But—” Pam began. Aunt Flora seemed to feel that this finished her niece's turn.

“Surprises you, doesn't it?” she enquired. “Surprised me, too, I can tell you. Arsenic, they say. I had the—that is—there was an analysis.” She looked at Pam defiantly. “I threw up,” she said. “Naturally. And they say it was arsenic. I might be dead.”

BOOK: Hanged for a Sheep
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