|The Mysterious Affair of the Purloined Suspenders
Author: StarryDiadem PM
With deep apologies to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, here is my answer to the challenge to write a Lancer whodunnit. Holmes and Watson will never be the same again.Rated: Fiction K - English - Western/Mystery - Words: 8,050 - Reviews: 1 - Published: 09-24-12 - Status: Complete - id: 8552756
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
THE MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR OF THE PURLOINED SUSPENDERS
To Val Crawford, it is always the case. I have seldom heard him mention it under any other name. In his eyes, it eclipses and predominates every other strange and mysterious happening that has marked his long and illustrious career. More than any other, this case afforded him that cold, precise, intellectual interest that remains his greatest pleasure. Never before have the details been laid before the public, but I have his permission to delineate them now — not for general entertainment, which is a concept alien to the man, but for the better information and education of my readers and to allow them better to understand that fine, analytical mind in action.
The events that became known in my case file as the Mysterious Affair of the Purloined Suspenders unfolded some weeks after I ceased baching with Crawford in his quarters behind the town jail. I married in the spring of that year and moved to my own house with Mary, following the strange events during which I met my dear girl. That case, the Curious Incident of the Hare-Lipped Bank Clerk, has already been published to no small public acclaim and the embarrassment of those of our leading citizens whose negligence led to the incident taking place. Crawford, of course, was indifferent to both praise and censure on the subject, preferring as always to walk his own path. He ploughed his own furrow, as he so quaintly put it when ignoring the remonstrances of the red-faced bankers.
In deference to my new responsibilities as a family man, I had given up the uncertain life of the consulting detective and had taken up a new career, working as an associate in the emporium owned by our worthy town mayor, Elijah D. Hicks. The hours there were regular and the risks to oneself were minimal; issues that had caused my Mary some concern when I was still pursuing the detecting avocation before we were married. Having spent several weeks as a happily-married man, I no longer shared Crawford's bachelor ways, but I would still, when my work and Mary permitted, step across Main Street and join Crawford for a few hours of chess, tobacco and a yarn about his latest cases.
It was on such an occasion, around ten o'clock one quiet Sunday morning, that the peculiar affair of the Purloined Suspenders was set in motion. Mary was visiting her aunt in nearby Spanish Wells and I had taken the opportunity to eschew church for my old friend's company.
Now, most Sundays in Green River are quiet and calm. Through the exercise of his usual diligence and intelligent reasoning, Crawford usually has the Saturday-night miscreants locked up snug and tight by dawn. They spend the morning reflecting on their sins and sleeping off their potations, as Scott Lancer put it on that particular Sunday. He was ushered into Crawford's rooms in the jailhouse by Lone Crow's widow, who is employed by Crawford as his housekeeper, just as we finished breakfast. He was looking for his errant brother and had expected to find him partaking of Crawford's hospitality.
Scott is a pleasant and cultivated young man, of considerable education and address. He is always well and neatly dressed, favouring shades of brown and beige that Mary, who had once seen him across the street, considered very complimentary to his colouring and figure. He was, she said, every inch the gentleman. But that particular Sunday he surpassed his usual sartorial elegance. Living in Green River, I am used to seeing gentlemen in formal town-wear but I have never seen anything like Scott's well-cut beige suit. The collar and cuffs of a deep burgundy served only to emphasise the sharp tailoring of the ensemble. He must have brought the suit west with him – he had only lately arrived in California, having come from the East a few months previously – and nothing in Green River could compare with it. If only Mary had been there to see it! She would have been all admiration.
You may wonder why Scott Lancer sought his brother at Crawford's bachelor quarters. It will seem strange to those of my readers who are familiar with all the cases that I have recounted, that the cool, unemotional intellect that lives beneath Crawford's careless dress and personal habits would count any man, even I, as a close friend. But the younger Lancer, Johnny, is by way of being the exception. He alone is capable of reaching beyond the unprepossessing exterior that Crawford presents as a defence against a world that does not, and cannot, understand his greatness. I have seen Crawford relax his defences, and unbend with genuine pleasure at Johnny Lancer's company and conversation, and a specially blue joke about a priest and a brothel, that I tried not even to think about in Mary's genteel presence, made him laugh out loud.
However, on this occasion Johnny was neither sharing Crawford's breakfast nor locked up in Crawford's tender care like the other town drunks and cowboys on the spree. Scott Lancer confessed he had rather assumed the latter would be the case, but Crawford shook his head. Johnny was too smart, said Crawford, too cautious to let down his guard like that.
"A name like his don't fade after only a few months outa the game. There's too many young shootists on the prod, looking to make names of their own. I reckon Johnny Madrid will be damned before he helps them along by getting rip-roaring drunk."
I was able to bear witness that Johnny had turned up in town the previous evening to spend an hour or two playing three handed poker with Crawford and I, before wandering down to the saloon to take a drink or two and then going on to Miss Luce's establishment to take his pleasure with a girl or two. So far as Crawford and I knew, he was still there.
Crawford stretched out his long legs and rolled himself a quirley. On that day he did not reach for the long stemmed pipe or the bottle of Taos Lightning, nor did he have recourse to more arcane narcotics to stave off the paralysing boredom that sometimes afflicted his great mind when cases were sparse and it was insufficiently stimulated by some perplexing intellectual problem. "Some Saturday nights you'd be right to look for him here, Scott, because some Saturday nights he's too damned close-fisted to pay for a room for the night and he gets free board and lodgin' here if he has to take a swing at my nose to get it."
Scott sighed and refused my offer of frying pan coffee. As I have said, he is an educated man and has a fine, discriminating palate that balks at Crawford's rough-edged, bachelor hospitality, however kindly meant. "And some Saturday nights he's too contrary to come home, even though he knew Murdoch wanted us all to come into town to church this morning."
Crawford looked Scott up and down, eyes sharp and missing nothing. "I see that you're wearin' some real fancy duds this morning that I don't reckon you bought around here. I ain't ever seen anything like that in Higgs's store."
I could bear witness to the truth of that, also. The mayor does carry a limited line of luxury, quality clothing in the Gentlemen's Fine Apparel department. I had bought a town suit there myself (with employee discount) that wasn't dissimilar in colour to that worn by Scott, but it paled to mere rags in comparison to this creation. Surely Scott had this from a master tailor back East?
Scott confirmed this. "From a bespoke tailor in Boston," he murmured. "A fashionable man, but a touch exclusive."
"Bespoke?" I asked, intrigued.
Scott smiled at me and answered without condescension. "Tailor made only, nothing ready made. He's an Englishman, of course. They produce all the very best tailored suits. French couturiers for the ladies, English tailors for we gentlemen."
Crawford nodded. "I figured. It ain't quite the style around here." He glanced at Scott's attire again. "Town shoes, not workin' boots; puddin' basin hat, not a Stetson... I reckon you're on your way to church."
Scott Lancer is a cynical young man, not given to awe, as he then showed. "Next thing is that you'll deduce that it's a Sunday."
"I already did." Crawford dismissed that sally with a shrug. "You're dressed real fine even for church. I ain't never seen that suit before. I guess today's a special service. Of course! I guess the reverend's going to bless the new church bell."
I could only stare and admire the rapier-sharp brain that made these deductions based on nothing more than the appearance of an elegantly attired young rancher.
Crawford continued his analysis. "I heard Lancer put a heap of money into the bell fund. Likely that's why Murdoch's wanting to parade you all in your best duds, to get credit where it's due. Good for him. But Johnny won't get gussied up for a church bell."
Now it is certainly true that Johnny Lancer is known as a colourful dresser and his clothes are, in their way, as distinctive as Scott's stylish Boston suit. But he affects the charro style favoured by the Californio Mexicans. Mayor Higgs does not carry that type of garment in his store. Green River is mostly Anglo, with the Mexican population going to Morro Coyo, and Baldomero's store there, for their clothing needs. I would be as surprised to see a charro suit for sale in the mayor's store as I would be to see Johnny Lancer in a town suit and string tie.
"You likely won't see him at all afore nightfall," concluded Crawford with a smile. "I will. You won't."
"You are very likely right. And while I think it's a little unfair to suggest that Murdoch is looking for honour and glory, the fact remains that there would be no church bell without his generosity and it only seems fair that he gets the opportunity to bask a little in the town's acknowledgement. The church has lacked a bell since it was founded some years ago, I believe. Besides, it gives him the excuse to wear his best suit, too. Harris tweed, specially imported." Scott dusted his bowler hat carefully and smiled. "Sadly, it smells like a hot summer night in the alley behind the Painted Buffalo when there are long queues for the backhouse. Tweed is a little too fragrant for my taste."
Crawford tipped back his chair to balance it on the back legs. He was perfectly at his ease as he continued to elucidate the workings of that great brain. "You won't see Johnny there," he repeated. "One, you ain't Catholics and you're all doomed to the fiery furnace and no amount of bells will save you. Two, he don't like going to a church where the preacher holds him up to be preached agin as a sinner—stands to reason a man don't like bein' singled out like that. Three, you ain't Catholics and you're all doomed to the fiery furnace. Four, you'll never get him gussied up in a suit like that, Harris tweed or no Harris tweed. Five, you ain't Catholics and you're all doomed to the fiery furnace..."
"I get it. I get it." Scott blew the last speck of dust from the crown of his hat and put it onto his well-combed hair. "Before I burn, I'll just play dumb when Murdoch throws his temper tantrum, shall I? After all, it will only be the truth. I don't know where Johnny is. Tell him he'd better have a good excuse ready for why he isn't there this morning."
"I just gave you five."
"Indeed," said Scott, drily. "Then good day to you, Sheriff Crawford. I'll no doubt see you later."
"Sure thing. And Scott?"
Scott paused in the doorway.
"You'd best get that horse of yours to Gus Guthrie. The right front shoe's loose and I don't reckon it'll hold until you get home again."
Scott stared, looking genuinely surprised by this deduction. I stared too, feeling genuinely awed. This was an example of that great mind in its prime, and I had no doubt at all that Crawford would be proved right.
"How did you...?" Scott's voice trailed off and he shook his head. "He started to act up, trailing on that hoof just before we reached town. I took him along to Gus before I came to see you, and she'll reshoe him while I'm in church. I'm impressed, Val."
Crawford smiled and Scott, still shaking his head, left laughing.
I sought instruction and enlightenment. "How did you do that?"
He shrugged. "You know my methods."
I did, indeed: keen observation and incisive deduction are at the heart of Crawford's peculiar and outstanding success in solving the cases that leave other, lesser minds at a complete loss. He has said to me before that we both see the same things, but the difference is that he observes and deduces and I merely look and can make nothing of what I see. I tell him often that in an earlier time, he would have burned at the stake for witchcraft. The truth is that his sharp, analytical mind — unmatched by any of his generation — has been trained and honed by years of assiduous devotion to his trade. His is no ordinary dedication to his work. He has devoted his life to it.
Knowing this and with his encouragement, I pondered upon my own observations of our young rancher, and tried to see how Crawford had come to his conclusions.
"There was some slight roughening of the fabric on the right pants leg," I remembered. "Just where it might catch against the stirrup."
Crawford's hawk-sharp eyes gleamed with honest amusement. He nodded. "There surely was."
"There is a tiny scuff mark on the side of his right shoe." I had noticed the mark and mourned the damage to footwear finer than any I had ever seen before. "And as he left, I noticed a smear of red soil or mud on the sole, just on the instep."
"Bravo! Very good. You took a good look there and saw all the facts of the matter."
"I saw them, Crawford, but I don't see how you got from those facts, fascinating as they are, and deduced that Scott's horse is about to cast a shoe." I shook my head, admiration and yes! a little resentment too, warring within me. "I bow to your genius there."
He smiled, and I begged him to elucidate further. He laughed and shook his head, but upon my entreaty that he explain how these facts, seemingly unconnected, had led him to the conclusion that had impressed both Scott and myself with its uncanny accuracy, he conceded.
"There's a trick to it," confessed Crawford, grinning, and gestured to the window. "Fact is, I stood up to go to the backhouse just as the Lancers rode down Main Street. I got a good view of him, and his horse. Any fool could see the critter's shoe was loose." He tapped the side of his nose, laughed, and as I sat there, shocked and chagrined, he poured me a generous slug of firewater and proposed a toast.
"To detective genius!" I echoed, smiling reluctantly. It was clear that I would never be able to best my friend, and perhaps I should give up trying.
As I look back, I am certain that was the starting point for our case. Mary, in whom I have the most perfect and tender confidence, agrees with my conclusions on this matter, suggesting that my hopes of making an impression lay behind the case as it unfolded. Despite she and Crawford being but little acquainted — she has a charming shyness when he is present that is matched only by his own, as Crawford is not at his ease with women — he has as much respect for her judgement as she has for his. He has commented often on her shrewdness, so I am assured that her conclusions here are indeed correct.
Suffice it to say, that I must begin my narrative proper by explaining to my readers that the discovery that the infamous suspenders had been stolen from Mayor Higgs's Emporium was made the very day after our encounter with Scott Lancer at the jailhouse.
The mayor reposed a great deal of flattering confidence in my ability to manage his emporium while he himself was engaged elsewhere. He is a man of many interests. As mayor, he has a myriad items of business to attend to around the town, meeting with other businessmen and citizens and listening to their concerns and making himself indispensable to the good working of our little community. No matter is too small for him to use his good offices on behalf of the townspeople, and no resident in the town is beneath his notice, not even those whose company most people eschewed. As proof of this charitable and benevolent aspect of his character, when I met him outside Miss Luce's establishment one morning, he told me he had been advising the young ladies on keeping chickens in the yard. I had wondered about the feathers.
The mayor had left mid-morning to attend a town council meeting, leaving me alone in the store. Monday mornings are normally relatively quiet. The Lancer boys came in, Johnny apparently unrepentant about missing church the day before; the Widow Hargis came to buy precisely two ounces of sugar and a tin of oysters; and Mrs Conway arrived for her monthly ranch supplies. The latter was a large order and took my attention for some considerable time. The mayor returned after Mrs Conway had left with mutual expressions of esteem and the profession of her compliments to my wife, which gave Mary a great deal of pleasure when I told her over supper that night. He was pleased with the takings so far that day and as I worked on replenishing the dry goods display from stores in the back room, he made a round of the emporium, and in the course of that, checked the display case in the clothing department. His cry of alarm had me running to his assistance.
There had been three pairs of suspenders in the case. Two were workaday and plain, aimed at the working man. The third pair were more decorative, with cheerful red flowers embroidered the length of each suspender. Of course, they were the more expensive.
They were missing.
I hadn't sold them. They would hardly appeal to either of the ladies. With respect to the two gentleman, they were not an article of clothing that one would associate with Johnny Lancer, and Scott doubtless already had several pairs of decorative suspenders and hardly needed more. No, I hadn't sold them.
They had been stolen.
Yet I hadn't seen anyone near the case. It was unthinkable that any of our customers that morning would have taken them. As I said to Crawford when I arrived at his consulting rooms, breathless with haste and dismay, it was an enigma and one that may, given the eminence of each of the customers that day, be the cause of an unsavoury scandal in our small community. I implored him to come with me to the scene of the crime to give the mayor and me the benefit of his observations and keen analysis.
I was, I admit, a little distressed. "This is the first case that we've worked upon together where I am personally involved, Crawford. This crime touches me deeply. I feel most responsible."
He gave me a sharp glance. "Is that windbag, Higgs, givin' you a hard time?"
I winced. "He isn't pleased. Naturally."
Crawford nodded. He had been perusing the Wanted posters, as was his wont of a morning, and making pithy and pitying observations upon the miscreants depicted thereon. He is something of a student of physiognomy and rather ahead of his time in pursuing this new scientific method of criminology. I do not know if he has read Lavatar's Physiognomische Fragmente zur Beförderung der Menschenkenntnis und Menschenliebebut I have heard from his own lips comments that would lead me suspect that at the least, he is familiar with the work of Cesare Lombroso. Or, I would suspect such familiarity if he could read Italian. I have heard a hundred times his views on how this man is obviously a criminal because "his brow slopes so far back I can't see how in tarnation he keeps his hat on" or that criminal is shown by arms so long "he can use them to lasso cattle" and other insights into the relation between the criminal's looks, facial features and physique and the criminal's actions. It is an education, and a privilege, to hear him.
Crawford put aside the posters and stood up, hitching up his garments before strapping on his gun. Whilst I was thankful that he was coming to my aid — if not surprised, since his middle name might as well be 'Loyalty' rather than the Ethelbert his parents christened him — I spared a moment to wish that he were not going through one of those periods where the lack of mental challenge and stimulation had sunk him into a sort of ennui and world weariness. Whilst he had not plunged to the depths of chewing peyote and seeking out his fiddle from wherever Lone Crow's widow had hidden it, his lethargy had made him even more careless in his apparel than normal. His current dark mood had led to a deeper apathy with regard to the niceties of dress and hygiene that society demands of us and that Crawford so despises.
For myself it is of no great matter, I well know the great brain and mighty intellect that live beneath the untidy exterior, but I admit to a rush of indignation whenever I hear of his disparagement by men such as the mayor, because of his indifference to conformable dress and behaviour. Crawford himself dismisses hints to present a more conventional image to the world and points to the miscreants in his cells as a more important indication of his worth as a criminologist. I concede the point, but still...
However, to return to our narrative, Crawford accompanied me to the scene of the dreadful crime, and if his clothes were a little rumpled and his shirt showed evidence of his last night's supper, his eyes were clear and sharp with interest.
Mayor Higgs waited beside the despoiled showcase. He is not a prepossessing man, and on this occasion his face was red with ill-suppressed temper and his paunch, poorly constrained by his town jacket, was thrust forward in a manner that struck me as both aggressive and irate. His entire manner lacked cordiality. He had, of course, suffered a financial loss that must have weighed heavily on his spirits, but in part his snappish temper was due to the machinations of the local Cattlegrowers' Association. Crawford was retained by the association, not by the municipality of Green River, and the mayor resented the lack of control over Crawford's actions. He had said to me previously that it was a deplorable situation. Perhaps he was unaware of my relationship with Crawford, but I had merely pursed my lips and said nothing.
He greeted Crawford with acidity. "About time you got here, Sheriff. I've been robbed!"
"I heard." Crawford hitched up his pants again. He really should use suspenders himself and I can testify to their efficiency, but I forbore to suggest it. "This the showcase?"
He looked down at the remaining suspenders and I saw his eyes narrow. "Someone stole a pair of these?"
"No." Higgs stroked the glass top of the case with hands that shook with anger and loss. "These are ordinary twenty-five cent suspenders. The pair taken were the deluxe model. Embroidered, Sheriff! Embroidered! The best pair in the shop!"
"Embroidered, eh?" Crawford scratched at his hair. "Embroidered with what?"
"Flowers," I put in. "Red ones, on a black ground. With green leaves."
Crawford grimaced. "Real purty, by the sound of 'em, if you like that kinda thing. Worth much?"
"I should say so!" burst in the mayor, his already red face darkening. "A dollar-seventy five for the pair, Sheriff! A dollar seventy five lost! A dollar seventy five stolen from me!"
Crawford stared, his mouth dropping open. I had never seen him so surprised. "For suspenders? A dollar seventy five for suspenders?"
"Deluxe suspenders," corrected the mayor, stiffly,
Crawford shook his head and gave the mayor a dark look. "At a dollar seventy five for somethin' to hitch up a man's pants, I ain't sure who's the bandito here."
And to mark the point, he used both hands to grasp the waistband of his own pants, and gyrated his hips with vigour, pulling up the dusty legs as far as they would go.
The mayor puffed up looking not unlike Mary's rooster fluffing out his feathers. "I assure you, Crawford, that it was a legitimate business mark up from the wholesale price!"
"You an' me differ on what's lee-git-i-mate around here, Higgs." Crawford sniffed. He leaned forward and looked over the case minutely, scanning each polished inch of wood and sparkling glass. The catch of the case shone brightly; I'd polished the brass myself on Friday afternoon. Crawford fingered it to try it and I tutted softly and reached for my polishing cloth.
"In more ways than one," sneered the mayor.
Crawford ignored this. "Who was in this morning?" he asked me. I told him, and he discounted the ladies immediately. He looked thoughtful when I mentioned the Lancer brothers. "Scott's a dee-luxe sort of dresser and Johnny's the man for embroidery—"
"Of course!" said Higgs, quickly. "None of the Lancers have ever treated this town with the respect it deserves. Scott Lancer is altogether too refined to deign to notice us and I've never been easy with that killer Madrid around... They'd pretend it was a joke, but—"
"—but I'd trust both of them with the contents of the safe in Green River Banking and Mutual Insurance Corporation," went on Crawford, as if the mayor hadn't spoken. He gave Higgs a shrewd, watchful glance. "I don't figure either one of 'em for thieves."
Higgs snorted. "Well, who do you think did it?"
Crawford shrugged. "I'll do some diggin' around and see what I can find. But first I want to be sure when you last clapped eyes on these dee-luxe suspenders?"
Higgs looked blank and glanced at me.
"I remember them being there on Friday when I polished the case," I said. "I didn't work on Saturday."
"I haven't noticed them for a few days," admitted Higgs. "I have clerks to manage the shop for me. Tom Reilly worked here on Saturday."
"I'll talk to Tom. He'll be at his other job right now, swamping out the Spanish Doubloon, and I can catch him there. But the fact is that neither of you can be sure the suspenders were here at all today."
Higgs agreed, morosely, and cast me a black look. I was of the opinion that his spirits were lowered further since, if my old friend was right, Higgs no longer had cause to take the cost of the suspenders from my weekly stipend. I gave Crawford a look that I hope conveyed my gratitude.
He winked back.
Tom Reilly hadn't been able to say for certain if the suspenders had been there on Saturday as he'd had no cause to go to the case, it being a slow sales day in Gentlemen's Fine Apparel. Reluctantly, Mayor Higgs had not apportioned blame for the loss of his merchandise, although both Reilly and I were exhorted to increase sales and to use special vigilance in guarding the remainder of his stock. He raised the price of bandannas and flannel underwear, to make up the loss of the suspenders.
This was not a case where there were swift developments and for some weeks Crawford ruminated quietly and diligently on the facts he had to hand, gathering what clues there were and weighing evidence and testimony. He never seemed impatient or downhearted about his apparent lack of progress. He didn't allow it to interfere with his usual avocations and the very next day could be seen breakfasting as usual in Rosie's Café and asking for an extra serving of pie and later he was at his desk, reviewing with a careful eye the desperadoes depicted on the "Wanted"s.
"It's all churning about in here," he said to me, one day, tapping a temple. "I'll just let it stew for a while and see what comes out of it."
He was almost delighted some three or four weeks later when I had to report to him that Mayor Higgs had carried out the fall stock inventory, and to everyone's astonishment, a gentleman's comb and brushes set, ivory and tortoiseshell, was missing. He slapped one hand on his desk to relieve his feelings and jumped to his feet.
"I knew it! I knew that goldurned outlaw wouldn't let it rest at them suspenders!" He was smiling with a heartfelt cheerfulness that was rather at odds with his usual demeanour.
I was disconcerted, as I'd had no indication that he felt that this case was ripening towards any sort of conclusion, but his whole attitude, the alertness of him, put one in mind of a hound on the scent. He was all narrowed eyes and keen, flared nostrils... this was a man who was on the hunt, I could feel it. Val Crawford never gave up, never admitted defeat. He always triumphed in the end, his being the victory of cold reason and logic over the tumultuous, amoral passions of the criminal mind.
I told him who had been into the shop during the pertinent time: two of the bank clerks, Mr Miller, the Widow Smithers after some calico for an apron, and divers other townspeople. Oh, and Scott Lancer had come in to say hello and buy some peppermints for the vaqueros' children back at Lancer. He'd been in town to collect the mail.
Crawford went to the window and looked out over Main Street, watching the people pass to and fro.
"One of them, do you think?" I asked, pointing towards the street.
His hands made a reaching gesture and he looked around him, unfocused for a moment, searching for something not there. Lone Crow's widow had hidden it too well this time, so he extended his left arm, tilted his head over to the left and tucked in his chin, and played an imaginary fiddle instead. His bowing was a wonderfully smooth action. That he is an accomplished musician, the one repose of a sensitive soul, is known only to the readers of my casebook. But whenever the softer emotions threaten the citadel of his intellect, he brings it all forth in music, allowing the rapture of that fine art to ravish his soul and his senses. I have rarely seen him so transported, as he is by music. It has a power over him that no mere woman could hope to match.
I wondered what great classical piece he was hearing in his head, what marvel had come from another master's brain, now dust in the grave. Mozart, perhaps, or Haydn. Crawford hummed the tune, his eyes closed as he played. I inched closer to hear.
Hold That Critter Down.
After a moment or two, he said, still with his head tilted and eyes closed, "Scott Lancer was at the Millers' dance last Saturday, I reckon."
"He was indeed," I said. "Mary and I attended."
"Figured on it, since Johnny came here for a game of checkers, him not bein' one for parties. Scott wearin' those fancy duds of his agin?"
"I don't recall anything special. He was well dressed, as always, but it wasn't the most formal of parties."
Crawford nodded. "Nothin' unusual at all, then?"
I took a moment to consider the question fully. "I don't believe so, Crawford. Mary commented that he was particularly well groomed, but that's all I remember. Something of a contrast to some of the rougher-headed guests."
Crawford's eyes snapped open and he gave me a sharp glance. "Like a hoss after curryin'? That sort of well groomed?"
"Thought so," was all Crawford said. "Thought so." He shook his head. "Well, I doubt that'll be the end of it. No, there's more to come."
For a moment he looked grave, then he returned to his imaginary music, and after waiting for a little while, I gave it up and left him to it. He was playing Bury Me Not On The Lone Prairiewhen I softly closed the door.
The third, and final act came two weeks later.
The Millers' party had been part of a series of events to celebrate the wedding of their daughter, Maisie, to the son of the local banker, Cy Wallamacher. The girl was too good for the Wallamacher scion, in my humble opinion, but she seemed content with her lot and made a pretty, blushing bride on the eve of her wedding.
The formal pre-wedding ball was hosted by the Wallamachers at their mansion on the edge of town. Well, I must be truthful in these narratives of mine, and confess that what passes for a mansion in Green River would in Stockton, much less Sacramento or San Francisco, be considered little more than a large farmhouse with delusions of grandeur and a tacked-on porch. Still, it is the largest house in Green River and Cyrus N. Wallamacher is our leading citizen. Any event there is an occasion.
Everyone in Green River society was there. The leading townspeople and the important ranchers round about – the Lancers (with the exception of Johnny, who was still eschewing parties), Mrs Conway, the Reaghs – were all out in force, determined to enjoy the Wallamacher hospitality. We expected the best, and we got it: the house was bright with lamplight, the courtyards strung with Chinese lanterns, the buffet was a masterpiece of the culinarian's art and they'd hired a small orchestra, all the way from the Stockton Opera House. It was the social event of the year. Mary and I enjoyed ourselves immensely. And if I say so myself, we danced the schottische with great aplomb.
Two days later, on the morning of the wedding, Mayor Higgs came to me in great distress. The finest cambric shirt from the Gentlemen's Fine Apparel collection was nowhere to be found. The hanger swung there in its accustomed place upon the rack, but it was most indisputably empty.
"You can tell Crawford if you like," muttered Higgs, when I suggested a consultation. "But he don't have any more idea than I do. Ten dollars! That shirt represents a loss of ten dollars! I don't think I can bear it."
While the mayor tottered off to lie down to recruit his strength and restore his mental equilibrium, I walked swiftly down Main Street to Crawford's quarters. The street was gay with bunting in preparation for the day's festivities, all paid for by Cy Wallamacher. I had heard that the entire town was invited and that later there would even be fireworks.
Even Crawford was going to the wedding. When I arrived at his rooms, Johnny Lancer was forcing Crawford into a set of clothes that had evidently been borrowed from Scott.
"I told him that if I couldn't get out of this darn wedding party, I was damned if he could," said Johnny, pausing in his labours to greet me. He resumed stuffing Crawford's arms into a white linen shirt. "Stop grumbling, Val, and get into the damned duds."
Crawford sighed and complied, not without some sotto voce complaints that Johnny took with remarkable good humour. Unusually, I had not seen Crawford for a couple of weeks, not since I'd had to report to him the loss of the ivory comb. He looked thinner and worn, as though the fine edge of him were being honed and sharpened by the exigencies of this most peculiar case. It was wearing on him, I realised, in a way that I had never known a case wear on him before. But it was also whetting the steel in the man, revealing the flame of intellect and curiosity within, making the fire burn all the brighter. He was worn, but undefeated.
He listened in silence to what I had to say about this latest loss and who had been in the store at the critical time that we thought the shirt had been taken. He didn't look at me, but buttoned up the fine shirt that belonged to Scott Lancer, his fingers deftly turning each small pearl button and all his attention, it seemed to me, concentrated on that mundane task.
When I was finished, he glanced at Johnny. "You go to the Wallamacher fandango, Madrid?"
Johnny Lancer just raised an eyebrow.
Crawford sighed. "No, I guess not. Scott did, though?"
"He was there." Johnny looked solemn. "All gussied up again and in his best dancin' shoes. He says he don't get the chance to wear those fancy Eastern duds too often out here, but the ladies like it when he does. I heard he danced two dances with Maisie Miller and she almost tossed young Wallamacher over on the strength of it." He grinned. "I had a better time at Luce's, I can tell you."
"Scott looked very fine," I agreed. "Mary and I agreed he was quite the finest gentleman there. He put even Cy Wallamacher in the shade."
"And then the shirt comes up missin'," said Crawford, shrugging into a beautifully-cut coat of dark blue superfine. I had to wonder if Scott Lancer knew of his brother's depredations on his wardrobe. The jacket was a superlative fit.
"Well, yes, but—" I stopped and looked askance at Johnny. Surely Crawford couldn't mean that Scott Lancer had anything to do with it? Scott was a gentleman with an extensive wardrobe, to be sure, but I would wager my life on it being honestly obtained. "My dear Crawford, what are you suggesting?"
He shook his head at me. "Not that. Scott Lancer don't need to take no suspenders or combs or fancy shirts."
No need, no. But Crawford and I both knew that men did stranger things to assuage desires that had no connexion to real needs. More than one of our cases proved that. Why, just consider the Curious Incident of the Mendicant Elephant if you need proof of that assertion!
But I made haste to agree with him. Johnny Lancer had stiffened, and I would be loathe to offend him by casting aspersions upon his elder brother. I wished I could consult with Crawford alone, and he must have felt a similar frustration for he nodded to Johnny in a grave and significant manner. Johnny had perspicacity enough to take the hint, announcing that he had business at the barber's before making his appearance in church for the wedding.
"I'd tell Zeke to call here and trim that hay rick you call a head of hair," was his parting shot to Crawford, "if you weren't too damn mean to find the dime to pay him."
"Yeah, yeah." Crawford waved a dismissive hand, waiting until the door closed behind Johnny before turning to look at me. He kept silence for a while, until I began to feel a trifle uneasy. When he did speak, his words astonished me. "You puttin' on a few pounds there, amigo?"
It was undeniable that married life agreed with me and that Mary was then—and is now—an artist in the kitchen. A regular life suited me. I was a most contented man and, laughing, retorted by telling Crawford we married men pitied poor bachelors from the bottom of our hearts.
"I may have put on a pound or two," I finished. "But my coffee is from a pot, not a frying pan!"
"Three and a half, I'd say. That jacket looks a bit tight, like you got too many layers on underneath it." Crawford pinned his badge to the lapel of the coat, and I felt a little pang for the damage the steel pin would do the cloth while at the same time I could only applaud his stern devotion to duty. Crawford was first and foremost a criminologist and his vigilance neither slept nor faltered. Not even at a wedding.
"Perhaps," I conceded. "But what do you really think of this latest development? Like you, I find it hard to believe Scott Lancer capable of a felonious act. He has none of the traits I've come to look for in a criminal."
He scratched his chin and for the first time I realised he was clean shaven. It shook me. He had always said that I saw things but that I did not truly observe, and here was proof! Had our positions been reversed, he would have not only noticed the state of my chin at the instant he clapped eyes on me, but could have told me the brand of razor blades and the scent of my shaving soap. Truly the man was a marvel.
"I was kinda expectin' somethin' to go missing," said Crawford, fixing me with his keen, piercing gaze. "Seems to me that Scott Lancer's at the bottom of it." I let out some protest, and he held up a hand to stop me. "Oh, not that he'd steal so much as a button, for I'd never believe that. Seems to me, though, that someone admires the way Scott Lancer turns himself out when it comes to the tailorin' line."
I moistened my lips. "And seeks to emulate him, you mean?"
"I reckon so. I reckon that this someone wishes he looked as well as Scott Lancer does, when Scott puts on the fancy duds. And this someone found a way to try and do that."
I slipped a hand inside my buttoned-up jacket and smoothed down my shirt. It was soft and fine under my finger tips.
Crawford went on, his voice unusually gentle. "I don't reckon this is some black-hearted bandito. This ain't your usual mis-cree-ant, just a regular hombre who's lost his way. And I don't reckon it'll happen again. But I do reckon on the mayor findin' all his missin' goods in some back storeroom somewhere, where they must have been put and overlooked."
"I—" I started, uncertain. The great man's leaps of deduction and logic had left me floundering in his wake, as in so many cases where he had made the connexions between seemingly un-connected facts and observations, and with his great knowledge of mankind and human nature, had laid bare the case to me and put his hand on the perpetrator. "I—"
Crawford patted my shoulder. "The mayor will just get to thinkin' he overlooked it all. Maybe he got hisself so worked up about it, he mistook. Yeah, I'm pretty darn sure that's how it'll all turn out. Don't you agree?"
"I—" I faltered again. Then under his comradely touch and the kind, gruff voice and eyes, I straightened up and nodded. "I have no doubt at all, Crawford, that you are right, as always." I smiled with unfeigned admiration. "You have reasoned it all out and I can find no fault with your logic! It is a thing of beauty, the way your mind works! When I come to look over our cases, none will be like this and present so many strange and interesting features, or offer the opportunity for you to show the qualities you have to such a high degree—"
"Tomorrow," he predicted. "I reckon the mayor will find the stuff tomorrow."
Ah, the generosity of the great heart that he hides behind the gruff, unkempt exterior. I could only nod, let my eyes fill with the tears of friendship and comradeship and raise my hand to clasp that of the most modest and retiring benefactor of the human race.
Mary thought that I was a little subdued in church as we watched Maisie Miller walk down the aisle on her father's arm to where young Wallamacher awaited her at the altar. It was true that my spirits were lower than she (or I!) could have anticipated at such a happy occasion, especially since it brought to mind our own nuptials of a few months before.
I glanced only once at Scott Lancer, determined never to allow myself to be beguiled again by the fine clothes the young rancher owned. I pressed Mary's hand instead, where it lay in mine, and returned her sweet smile. A man had no need of bespoke tailoring when he had a wife like my Mary.
I caught Crawford's gaze at one point in the proceedings, and we exchanged nods of the most perfect understanding and agreement. He sat with Johnny Lancer near the back of the church. All the easier to make an early escape, I suspected.
I found myself looking at Johnny not with the ordinary man's careless glance but with the analytical gaze that Crawford himself said was at the heart of his successes. I observed that Johnny Lancer affected tight trousers of Mexican style — calzoneras, I believe they are called — that seemed to be made of a soft suede leather and decorated down the outside of each leg with shiny silver buttons or coins. His linen shirt was gleaming white, the plackets decorated in exquisite embroidery done in shades of blue and gold; and the black, short-waisted jacket was trimmed with a matching deep gold and blue braid. It was a striking ensemble. What it lacked in the quiet elegance of Scott Lancer's Eastern attire, it more than made up for in magnificence. It must have represented the very finest merchandise that Señor Baldomero had to offer.
I had never before taken a great deal of notice of native Californio dress, but as I pointed out, quietly, to Mary, it presented a stupendous sight when worn with such grace and aplomb. She agreed, remarking with a blush that Mr Johnny Lancer certainly had fine figure and that his choice of clothing showed it off to perfection.
I could only agree. And with Mary pressed confidingly against my side as we whispered our approbation of Johnny Lancer's stylish attire, I wondered if Señor Baldomero had any openings and if Mary would like living in Morro Coyo. Upon further consideration, I believed that the advantages would even outweigh the sacrifice of Crawford's company.
Johnny Lancer made some impatient movement (possibly at the length of the sermon) and the church lamps glinted on the buttons down his pants in a most attractive manner.
I smiled. It may even not be a sacrifice.