It was that time of evening in which various of the guests were scattered....some out of doors, some in the lounge, others in their rooms.
The killer walked along the hallway with a deliberate step, confident of a free hand dealt in the next play. A slight smile played on the full lips: a light gleam lodged itself in the eye. There would be no more waiting here. Days the killer had waited for this chance. Now the moment was here.
The killer stopped before the closed door, checking the empty hallway. The others were occupied elsewhere. But still, this had to be done with speed and caution.
With gloved hand the killer checked the knob, finding it locked, then defly picked the lock, glanced again to see if the coast was clear, then turned the knob and slipped quickly into the dimly-lighted room; relocked the door, glanced around.
By now the habits of Mrs. Long were known. She took baths instead of showers. She took her time, usually in a full tub.
It hadn't been hard to decide how to kill her--only when.
Very quietly the intruder turned off the lights in the outer room. Switching to the flashlight, the killer moved stealthily across the rug to the bathroom door. Very slowly the killer turned the knob of the bathroom door and found it unlocked. Georgia Long was singing along with the radio. The radio blared: the killer heard the sounds and smiled.
In one swift motion the killer's hand reached through the tiny opening of the doorway and flicked the light switch off.
Georgia stopped singing.
"What the heck?" she muttered. "What a time for the lights to go out!"
She realized suddenly that the radio was still on, and had gotten louder. Fear clutched her heart. "Who's there? Is someone there?"
In the split second she spoke a light beam suddenly flicked on and blinded her. She closed her eyes, raising her hands to keep the glare out. "Don't! Who are you? What do you want--get out--get out of here---"
All she heard was a short laugh. She had neither time nor effort to try to determine anything else, for her hair was suddenly seized and she was yanked backwards and felt her head being slammed against the back of the tub with tremendous force even as she was pushed down under the water: Whoever her assailant was had taken her so completely by surprise and was so strong that all her efforts at resistance were short-lived.
Georgia Long was drowned in her bathtub.
Delia Lightfoot decided to retire early. Oscar had found an ardent listener in the Sergeant, and was busy recounting his days in the Army. He told her he'd be up in a little while.
Delia walked up the stairs and was a little frightened. They had found the body of that girl today and they were all being questioned. Everyone had been told not to leave.
A Sheriff's deputy was even now on the premises, keeping an eye on things. They'd come in from town with cameras and instruments and people had been told "not to worry". Ralph Tully had been taken to town for questioning this afternoon and released and was back here again.
How could you not worry? Murder was Murder.
They should never have come. All this looseness, this talk about sex, which should be kept between a man and his wife. All this flirting and forward behavior. Why would anyone want to murder anyone at a dude ranch? There were certainly some abnormal people here.
She decided she would seek permission to leave. Surely they couldn't be suspects! She went into her room and closed the door. The more she got to thinking about things as they were, the more she fretted. She looked around the room and the shadows seemed more frightening, somehow. The room so warm and rustic and cozy, now seemed to hold sinister shadows.
Delia, you're being silly, she told herself. But she decided to go back down to get Oscar, nevertheless.Just as she opened her door and stepped out into the hallway, someone came out of Georgia Long's room face turned away from Delia. Since Georgia's room was a few doors down, and her eyesight was no longer as sharp as it used to be, Delia didn't at first recognize the person, who glanced her way and stood dead still.
Delia was somewhat discomfited. Funny way to look at me, she thought.
"Mrs. Lightfoot--Delia, you surprised me. I thought everyone was downstairs."
"But I thought you were supposed to be---" Delia began.
"Well, it's not important now, is it. You look tired, Delia." The smile dazzled, charmed, set Delia at ease. She began to relax a little.
"I am, a little. More jittery and tense than anything else. I suppose it's everything that's happened these last few days. And now, finding you here when I thought you were---"
"Surprised you, eh?" the killer laughed. "If you knew me better you'd know I'm full of surprises. Why don't we go into your room and I'll give your shoulders a rub? Relieve a lot of that tension. Best cure in the world I know of."
"Why....Why I suppose that would be all right. You....don't think it would be improper, or anything, do you? I mean---"
"Of course not."
Delia had scarcely realized she was being charmed and pursuaded into the room. She failed to notice that the killer locked the door behind them.
Delia sat down on the chair in front of the mirror and proceeded to relax while her shoulders were massaged . Oh, that felt so good....She could feel herself relaxing.....Her eyes closed, her mind drifted.....She felt a heavy pressure on the vulnerable areas of her neck---the cauteroid arteries----and opened her eyes instinctively. She had heard somewhere a person could be put unconscious by pressing those spots.....She felt faint, lightheaded......
"Oh, that's enough, too much---I'm getting faint---"
Something in the voice made Delia look up in the mirror. The hands were now like iron against her neck---she was going out, too weak to resist.
But the face!
The lips smiled.
The eyes hated.
It was the last thing she thought before she slipped into oblivion.
When the old lady slipped into unconsciousness, the killer, still wearing light gloves, quickly drug the inert form to the bed, suffocated her with a pillow, placed her on her side under the covers and pulled them up to her chin, arranged in bed as though she were sleeping. No time could be wasted undressing the old gal, and now the climb out the window and down the porch would have to be used. No more taking chances.
Standing over the dead woman, the killer, almost with regret, murmured, "I had to do it, you understand. You saw me come out of her room, you see. I couldn't take the chance you'd tell them...and besides, there is too much at stake, here, Delia---I could lose everything, you understand: Everything!"
The killer slipped out the window onto the terrace and was over the railing and down to the ground in a heartbeat, having closed the window upon exit.
While Delia slept on, oblivious ever again to the killer's voice and the killer's smile.
Oscar came out of the bathroom and went to his side of the bed. Delia had left the nightlight on, on his side. He didn't want to disturb her. She was turned on her side with the covers pulled up, dead to the world. He smiled. Was a time she'd have waited up for him, but now they were old, and wearied easily.
This last few days would make anybody tired, he thought. I'm pretty tired myself, all the crazy shenanigans that're going on around here. I should never've brought her here. Well, we'll see about leaving in the morning---We'll not only see about it-we'll do it! Sheriff or no Sheriff.
He turned out the light and slid into bed, suddenly tired from the long day and sore from the long ride."Goodnight, dear," he murmured softly to his sleeping wife as he turned his back to her and fell almost instantly asleep.
Ralph Tully glowered at the Sheriff's deputy. So, they had found out about his record. Once a man had a record, it dogged his heels like a hound at bay and on track. You might as well paste a label on your back.
They'd already told him he was their number one suspect. Just because he had a past history of molesting young girls.....McFarland had told him to get off the place and don't come back as soon as this police deal was done. What he should've done, was, he should've cut outta here the day after that babe disappeared. He'd do it now. the deputy couldn't watch them all at once. He could take a horse and cut across these hills and be miles gone before they knew he was missing.
He stood up.
"Where do you think you're going?" The deputy launched upright, alert.
"I know my rights. You got nothin' against me. You can't hold me."
"Well don't leave the premises until you get an ok from us." The man had an almost easy manner about him, but he could turn wolf in a hurry if he had to. Tully wasn't deceived. The man was in his forties but he was no hick town fool.
Grumbling, Tully went up to his room. it was dark outside. He locked his door, went to the window and looked out. There was an old veranda running the length of the outside wall, and not too much of a drop to the ground. He opened the window and climbed out onto the veranda, not bothering to take more from the room than his coat and Stetson and his knife. He walked along the porch as quietly as he could and when he got to the lowest corner where the ranchhouse banked against a hill, he swung over, dropped down, and headed for the barn, staying to the shadows.
Bob Dixon walked over from the lake, sick at heart. He had thought in coming here things might change, that troubles would remain behind him---that even his "sickness" would go away, or at least not bother him for awhile.
Loser, he thought. All his life he'd been a loser. He led people to believe he was a detective because it added excitement to his life to have people think he was brave and tough. He wasn't. All he was in reality was a clerk in a library. A clerk with what some people labeled an "abnormal passion" for other men.
He'd been thrown over again for another lover. The humiliation, the anger one felt at rejection: The others always did this to him, forsaking him for some younger, more handsome lover. And then, Paul. He'd come so close to telling Paul how he felt, and tonight he would. He knew Paul made the rounds in the barn to check the kept up horses at night. It was getting unbearable. He was so jealous of those women who flirted with Paul he could hardly stand it anymore.
Those others: sneering at him, giving him those snide looks, laughing at him. As if they think we aren't human! Just because we love differently, he told himself--as if they think we don't have feelings too!
Dixon felt himself slipping away, like before. Once before he had broken, gone off the deep end, taken drastic action for which he'd paid dearly, incarcerated with lunatics. Blindly, through his tears, he made his way to the barn.
The shadows seemed to laugh at him. He heard their voices. He stumbled on, stumbled over something. He almost fell on the pitchfork some fool had left in the way. He didn't remember picking it up.
Pitchfork. Something in his mind reached back. Yes. Insane, they said he was. Claimed he had gone berserk, attacked his uncle, with whom he lived, with a pitchfork.....
That was a long time ago. He didn't remember doing such a thing to his uncle. He did remember his uncle making fun of him, calling him a pansy, a queer, a pervert--unnatural........
It's that Tully, he thought. He's the pervert. And those women, they deserve what they get, flaunting themselves at Paul, the little tramps!
Back to the pitchfork: They said he was cured. He hoped desparately he was cured...But how can I be cured of something I don't remember being and doing?
If Paul rejects me I don't know what I'll do! I won't stand it, that's all. I'll--I'll leave, or kill myself, or.....What will I do if he laughs at me? I couldn't stand that!
He found himself staring at the pitchfork. He felt his mind walking away from him, leaving him standing, looking on like some unconcerned bystander.
He heard a noise. Someone was coming. He'd have to hide! (Why?) (He couldn't think why....)
Pitchfork still in hand, he darted into the nearest hiding place.