The storm raged on, showing no signs of abating, and nearly covering the sound of gunshots inside the Salvorson mansion.
Three men, who had come from different parts of the mansion, stood around the body of their late, unlamented business partner, Brock Salvorson. He was lying at the bottom of a long, steep flight of stairs.
“If it weren’t for the multiple gunshot wounds, we could have said he fell,” Ian Irwin said.
“I think we must also rule out suicide,” Philip Ordell added.
“Gentlemen,” said Tate Fanchon, “one of us is a murderer.”
“And we all have motive for killing the S.O.B.,” Ordell said.
“We could blame one of the servants,” Irwin suggested. “The butler, say. He shot Salvorson and ran out into the night.”
“Into the storm, fleeing his foul deed,” Fanchon agreed. “That would work if the servants weren’t all at a dance in the city, remember? The storm will prevent the authorities from accepting that Salvorson surprised a burglar. Crime, like legitimate commerce, takes the night off for such weather. No, one of us is going to end up in the chair for this. Anyone care to volunteer?”
The storm howled into the human silence.
“I thought not.”
“We will simply have to permit the legal system to sort out which of us is guilty,” Irwin said.
“Except,” said Fanchon, “the murderer will most certainly say something to implicate one of the other two of us. This is life and death. We’ve taken small advantage of each other over the years. Assuredly, one of us will take large advantage now.”
A long silence ensued as the men stared at the corpse, each lost in thought. Finally, Fanchon shook his head.
“No, it’s no good,” he said. “I can’t take any chances. I’m just going to kill the two of you and flee to Brazil.” And he reached into his jacket.
Ordell was faster and pulled a small pistol from his jacket. “Stop right there, Fanchon.”
Fanchon smiled and, with his left hand, opened his jacket to show he was unarmed. “Perhaps you’d point your gun at the murderer,” he said, indicating Irwin. “Your weapon is too small to have made such large wounds.”
Ordell instantly covered Irwin. “Let’s have it, Ian. Very slowly. I don’t want to kill you.”
“Now, wait! Yes, I have a gun, but I didn’t kill Salvorson.”
“Give me the gun, Ian,” Ordell said.
“You’re not pinning this murder on me!” Irwin began to run and Ordell instinctively shot him. Irwin fell hard on the floor and breathed no more. Ordell slowly walked over to Irwin’s body to check it.
Fanchon reached into his right back pocket and produced a small pistol. He shot Ordell once. Ordell dropped his gun and nearly fell on top of Irwin. He turned his head to look at Fanchon, his eyes wild with pain and terror.
“Actually, your gun is an exact match for the one that killed Salvorson. But mine isn’t. And mine is the one I shot you with in self-defense after you killed poor Salvorson and Irwin. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a business empire to run.”
He pulled the trigger again and the bullet lodged itself in Ordell’s brain, killing him instantly.
“Almost too easy,” he murmured.
He knelt down and removed the remaining bullets from Ordell’s gun to account for the number of wounds in the other two bodies. Then he fished into another pocket and pulled out the gun he had killed Salvorson with. He placed Ordell’s bullets into this gun so that it would not appear to have been used recently.
Fanchon stepped over Salvorson’s body and went up the stairs to the dead man’s study. He opened a desk drawer, casually tossed the gun inside, and closed the drawer. No one would be surprised to learn the old man kept a gun in his desk, and what an irony that it was the same sort that had killed him. Hadn’t done him any good, had it?
He picked up the candlestick telephone on Salvorson’s desk. It was dead. “Must be the storm,” Fanchon said to himself. He left the study and stopped short. He was certain he had just heard footsteps.
Only thunder answered him.
He looked around and saw no one. A grandfather clock was preparing to strike 10 p.m. It would be early for the servants to be back from the dance, but possible.
“Hello?” he called out again.
Something hit the wall near him and he spun to see what it was. A penny rolled to a stop and fell tails up. Fanchon knew his mistake a split second before he heard the shot and felt the bullet tear through him. He dropped to his knees and then fell across the penny.
“How about that, Mr. Salvorson?” A thin man dressed in black loomed over Fanchon’s body. “Guess you weren’t expecting a burglar on a night like this, were you? Don’t bother getting up. I’ll help myself to what I need.”