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Authors: Charlotte Armstrong

The Unsuspected

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THE UNSUSPECTED

 

 Copyright
©
1945 by The Curtis Publishing Company

 

Charlotte Armstrong

 

 

 

 

Chapter One

 

 

On a February Monday, in the afternoon, too late for lunch too early for tea, the restaurant was nearly empty. A party of stout "girls" were quarreling over the check with high-pitched, playful cries. Two men at another table were eating very fast and swap-

ping manly gossip.

 

A blond girl in a powder-blue suit was waiting in the lobby. She was a butter-and-eggs, sugar-and-cream kind of girl, with yellow hair, pink-and-white skin, round blue eyes. Her small nose, snubbed up at the end, might have been drawn by an illustrator of children's

books. She was cute.

 

  The man who came in very fast through the revolving door might have been roughly classified as tall, dark and handsome. He was muscular and a trifle too thin for his expensive suit. His face had bleak and guarded expression. The girl in blue got up. They were not alike. You wouldn't have guessed from their meeting that they were blood relatives. But if you had watched them wisely you would have known them to be close in understanding, and that she was anxious about him.

 

She put her hand on his sleeve. "Let's get us a corner."

 

The mans face loosened a little. "How are you, Jane?"

 

"All right."

 

There were plenty of empty corners. They found a table against the partition that bounded the bar. "No uniform any more," she commented.

 

The man didn't answer. He looked across the big room with all the clean white tablecloths. It was very warm and dim and quiet, with soft music coming over the radio in the bar behind them. He looked down at five different kinds of spoons. His left hand mas-

saged the familiar ache in his right forearm.

 

 

Jane said, “I had to see you. I was afraid you'd go up there."

 

"Up to Dedham, Connecticut? Why would I go up there?" He drew a breath. He didn't want to talk about it. He had hoped she wouldn't talk about it. He said, "She isn't even buried there."

 

"No," said Jane.

 

"She's dead."

 

"Yes."

 

"And that's that." She began to murmur something, but he said, "How've you been?"—warning her off.

 

"All right," said Jane again. She had picked up her purse and was holding it tightly with both hands. "Did Rosaleen write you often, Fran?"

 

"Of course she wrote." He moved his shoulders impatiently.

 

"What are you thinking?"

 

"I thought maybe," he said, "we could meet and have a bite without—”

 

Jane said, "You're the only one I can talk to."

 

"Then don't ask foolish questions," he said unhappily. "You know what I'm thinking. Naturally, I'm wondering why. Why?" He spread both hands flat on the table, as if he were going to push it aside and get up and leave. "If you know why, then you can tell

me and get it over. Why did Rosaleen want to die so much that she had to hang herself?" He got it out brutally. It was what he was thinking.

 

 Jane's pretty face began to look pinched, as if she were cold, Francis leaned back against the seat. "I want to understand it," he said more quietly. "And I'm prepared to understand it. Go ahead. And if you've got to go gently," he sighed, "I guess I can stand it."

 

"I've got to go slow," she said, a bit stubbornly. "Rosaleen wrote me a letter." She opened her bag and took out the letter. He could see Rosaleen's pretty handwriting, sloping back and running a little uphill.

 

"I don't want to read it, Jane."

 

"All right." She put the letter down on the tablecloth. "I don't want you to do anything but listen to me a few minutes. Fran, could you try ... not to wince away so much?"

 

He didn't answer, but he relaxed a little. He knew she wouldn't talk about it just to hurt him. She began with care.

 

"Rosaleen must have written you about her job—about Luther Grandison, didn't she?"

 

"That's her boss."

 

"You know who he is?"

 

"Sure. I know. He was a director for the stage and the movies wasn't he? The one who did all those wonderful melodramas years ago? Wrote a book of memoirs—famous guy."

 

"Yes," said Jane. "Well—" She picked up her fork and put it into the creamed chicken.

 

"So Rosaleen fell in love with her boss," said Francis.

 

Jane's fingers opened and the fork fell. "No, no, no! Lord, he's more than sixty! He's an ugly old man! He's not like that. That isn't it at all."

 

"What then?"

 

She didn't answer. She was looking at him as if she'd had a glimpse of the fantastic regions of his mind.

 

"Look, Janey, I said I was prepared to understand, but you don't seem to get it. I simply mean that it's been a long time and I realize what time can do. Rosaleen's been in the back of my life, the back of my mind—the back of my heart, if you want to put it that way—

ever since I can remember. We were kids. We were cousins. Everybody paired us off in the old days. But time's gone by and we've been apart, and maybe she grew up and changed. What I'm trying to tell you is that if she did change and got mixed up emotionally—"

 

"But she hadn't changed," Jane said. "She hadn't changed all.”

 

Well then, he thought, the girl who had died still was Rosaleen, unchanged. Little and dark and tense and vivid. Her heels tapped quickly across a remembered room. The way she walked, the way she turned her head, the straight set of her shoulders, her pale skin her black hair, her red dresses and her thin red mouth were alive again.

 

He forced his eyes to focus. "Then why?" he burst. "Then why did she do it?"

 

Jane put her hand on his fist. "No reason."

 

"No—"

 

"There simply wasn't anything," she said. "Now sit still, Fran. This is what I've got to tell you: First, there was something in this letter. I'll show you in a minute. Cousin Hilda had to go up there to Dedham and get—bring her—bring the body back. There wasn't anyone else to do it. Geoffrey was down in bed, sick. You were overseas. Buddy's gone. So of course I went too. All the time on the train Hilda kept saying she couldn't understand, she couldn't understand. That's what I thought you'd say. You know as well as we do how Rosaleen believed in everything. She just couldn't have done it! That's what Cousin Hilda said. And I felt that too. There are some things you can't believe, even when they happen.”

 

"Go on,” he said tonelessly.

 

"When the train pulled in, I saw him out the window. This Luther Grandison. He was out there on the platform. I took one look, and he was kind of. . . stagy! Standing there, looking tragic, and people all around, watching him! Fran, it made me mad! I had the

feeling somebody'd written the script. I—” Jane stopped.

 

He said gently, "What did you do?"

 

 "I had a brainstorm. I told Cousin Hilda to pretend I hadn't come. And I went up to him after the services and asked for Rosaleen's job. I got it, Fran. I'm Grandison's secretary. He doesn't know I ever knew her. I'm Miss Moynihan."

 

He said, "Why?"

 

Jane said violently, "Because I hate him! I want you to listen. He talks on the air at four o'clock. He's a guest.”

 

He had turned on the bench to look on her. He seemed calm and detached. "So you hate Luther Grandison. What's it got to do with Rosaleen?"

 

Jane hesitated. "You know how she . .did it, don't you? And you know she left a note? You know what it said?"

 

"Hilda put the clipping in her letter." His voice was flat.

 

"Didn't you think it was funny she didn't mention a name of any of us, even you?"

 

"I thought it sounded sick," said Francis. “And religious, maybe."

 

"You know she didn't sign it?" He moved his shoulders. "Fran, I found that note!"

 

"You found it?"

 

"I mean I found the text of it, in a book.”

 

He kept looking at her, and his scalp seemed to lift and settle, his face changed. “Go on."

 

"It was copied out in her handwriting, but, Francis, it was copied. Out of an old book of trials in Scotland. of those old cases. You know, he's kind of an authority on murder.”

 

"Murder?" said Francis.

 

His voice was light and rather gentle. They were the only customers in the whole room now. The soft music from the bar was punctuated by the dick of silver, off in a corner, where a busboy was sorting it away.

 

Francis was thinking. Murder. One person dead, that meant. He'd seen them die in quantities, seen the flames come up like an answer from the earth beneath. Yet when it was just one, alone, that was murder. There was something a little bit quaint and out of joint in the mixed values.

 

Jane said, "What shall I do?"

 

Francis picked up a spoon and balanced it on his finger. "You think Rosaleen was murdered?" He might have been asking, Do you think it's going to rain? "By whom?" he said.

 

"By Luther Grandison."

 

All he said, again, was, "Why?"

 

"Read the letter."

 

He took up the letter; his eyes raced through. Stuff about the weather, kidding stuff about Jane and Buddy. "Who is Tyl?" His voice was different; suddenly it had become crisp and demanding.

 

"Tyl's Mathilda. One of Grandison s wards. He has two—two girls. They lived there with him most of the time."

 

"Who's Althea?"

 

"That's the other one—the beautiful one. She's married to Oliver Keane now. Look."

 

Jane's finger pointed out the paragraph Rosaleen had written in her breezy style:

 

The old spider makes out like money is too, too vulgar, but he had

his reasons why he'd rather marry off Althea. Some day I'll tell you

what makes me say that. It makes me mad. He's so smooth and philo-

sophical, you tend to get fooled. The last thing on earth you'd imag-

ine would be what I'm . . . imagining! Sorry, hon. Let it go until I

see you.

 

But her pen had refused to leave the subject. The scrawl went angrily on:

 

Nobody can tell me money's not like the blood in his veins! And if

he's so wise, why doesn't he know that Tyl's heart is broken? Because

it's broken, Jane, a real smash! And that's an awful thing to be in the

same house with. She's going away, thank God. And Oliver's moving

in.

 

I think he does know it's broken! I don't think he cares! I think be

is perfectly selfish! I think— Sorry, I'm in a bad mood. I feel like

 throwing things. Excuse it, please, and love.

                                   YOUR ROSALEEN

 

"Well?" said Francis coolly.

 

 Jane said eagerly, tumbling the story out, "Mathilda was the rich one—very, very rich. Her parents both got killed in the same accident when she was a little girl. Her father lived just long enough to turn her and all the money over to Grandison. And it was Mathilda that Oliver Keane was engaged to. And only two days before their wedding, he went and married the other one."

 

"Althea?"

 

 "Yes, Althea Conover, and she's not rich at all. Of course, she's gorgeous, and I guess poor Mathilda wasn't so hot. Althea's the daughter of another friend. Grandy took her in."

 

"Grandy?"

 

"That's what the girls call him. Now, here's the thing, Fran. This is the way Mathilda's money was fixed. She was to make her own will at twenty-one, and she did. But she didn't get the money then. She was to get control whenever she married! Don't you see?"

 

"No," said Francis.

 

"Grandy didn't want:her to get married. So there must have been something funny about the money."

 

He shook his head.

 

"I don't care," she insisted. "What if he'd done something he shouldn't? What if Rosaleen did find out? She'd bring it right out in the open. You know she would. She wouldn't have stopped to think to be afraid. So, you see?"

 

"He killed her because she knew too much," said Francis, and began to laugh. It was pretty rusty laughter.

 

Jane said, “I'll give up the job and go home, if you say so." Jane's tea was cold. "Just the same," she said, "if Rosaleen felt like throwing things, that's not a suicidal mood."

 

Francis' face darkened He looked at the date on the letter. "So a man of over sixty took hold of a lively little dame like Rosaleen Wright and hung her up by the neck? And she just quietly let him? Come, Jane."

BOOK: The Unsuspected
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