By now the rain seemed even harder.
Bud groaned to himself while he, Zach Grant and a recently returned John Biebe sat in their unmarked car, figuring the fogged windows would provide a cover, but praying they still had a view of those under surveillance. Across the street – also parked – was another sedan, a flamboyant sports car registered to Kim Carpenter Barrett, and as he had indicated earlier, was now parked in front of Bullitt and Company. Minutes before, a third car had arrived from which emerged Savannah Hunt, and for nearly one half-hour, she and Barrett had been in conversation.
When the window fog in both vehicles cleared enough, the rain no longer a heavy blanket over the glassy surfaces, Bud caught sight of their expressions through the front passenger window. The man and the woman appeared to talk a good deal, Bud occasionally catching a glimpse of her face. He observed her animation; wished again Too bad I can’t read lips. Whatever was being said was intense, but eventually, the woman could be seen to nod, her hands making several motions as she finished. She finally jumped out of the front seat, rushing back to her own car.
White immediately came to attention. “Here we go…John…you follow her.”
“Zach…you and me will tail him. Let’s go.” Biebe sprang out just as Zach pulled from the curb, Barrett’s car moving ahead of theirs.
This is gonna keep me awake for another night Bud thought as they remained an inconspicuous distance behind the BMW 335. At least the streets were crowded as they blended with the traffic, hoping to not attract the suspect’s attention. With luck, the playboy was so intent on his current mission, he would pay the vehicles around him little notice, but Bud still wondered where Kim was heading. It definitely was not to his hotel or Chloe Treadwell’s or to the homes of friends’ they knew were in his circle. He was driving away from downtown, away from the heavily populated areas, and further and further into the countryside, the modern turnpike transforming into more narrow curving roads.
“Any clue, Bud?” Zach asked. “Where the hell’s he heading? Hey…you don’t…”
“Yeah…’fraid I do now.” Wonder if they’ve ever done a study…you know…how long someone can go on an hour’s sleep? Good thing he had taken that nap at the Hunt apartment, all of that seeming a lifetime ago when in actuality, only several hours had passed. Momentarily he saw her standing before him, all in white, and later, when she was even more human: her supposed shock, what he detected as a slight bit of rebellion; how her face appeared to soften at his apology over her personal papers. He wondered if he was losing his edge; wondered if he was not seeing the truth before him when it came to Savannah Hunt.
Nearly two hours later, after maintaining a steady speed in the rain, they stayed further behind Kim as there were now fewer cars. White was glad when they saw Barrett finally pull off the main road, drive another half-mile, then turn into the graveled driveway of a location that anyone wishing privacy would find agreeable. Within moments, the outline of a cottage, nearly hidden behind a grove of trees, came into view and the BMW came to a stop.
Zach had cut the headlights sometime back. Now they sat, watching from a distance as Kim scooted across the front seat and exited out the passenger door.
“You want I should go with you?” Zach asked.
“No…I’ll be alright. Just keep sharp.” Bud waited. Kim had the collar of his raincoat pulled up near his face, as if hiding his identity, and was nervously looking around as though concerned at being seen. Moments later, he was fumbling at the front door and then disappearing inside. “There he goes,” and White was quickly out of the police sedan.
In seconds, he was silently standing in the threshold, gazing into the cottage’s very cozy living room…and the figure of Kim Barrett with a double-barrel shotgun in his grasp!
“Are you taking it down or putting it away, Barrett?”
Kim nearly jumped to the ceiling as he spun about, only now realizing that in his rush, he had left the door wide open. “I…Oh…Lieutenant,” he stammered, nearly dropping the gun. “I…What are…?” But he never finished as White hurriedly approached and snatched the weapon from him as Kim stood in the spot by the fireplace as if affixed there.
The cop examined it. “It’s been fired lately.”
“Yes,” Kim calmly answered, having regained his composure. “I killed some rabbits with it.”
The erstwhile fiancé shrugged. “Oh…a while back. I don’t know exactly.”
“You know about guns, don’t you?”
“Yes.” Again the response was indifferent.
Bud’s eyes narrowed. “How come you didn’t clean it afterward?”
“I don’t know,” Barrett confessed, smiling and glancing off to one side. “I forgot, I suppose. One is allowed to forget sometimes, correct?”
These were the times – after a weekend of this nonsense – when Bud wanted nothing more than to punch the arrogant phony. These little one and two word responses, or answers that seemed to speak volumes and yet said nothing was beginning to annoy him, so he looked at the shotgun again, swallowing his desire to bust Barrett in the mouth…and now noticed the KCB engraved on the butt end. “Your initials?”
“Yes. I gave it to Savannah for protection. She didn’t want it, but I insisted. This house is rather isolated, as you see.”
“Did you teach her to use it?”
Kim shifted his shoulders, the raincoat draped about them nearly falling to the floor. “No.”
“Does she know how?”
“I don’t know. It didn’t occur to me to ask.”
And here we go again with no straight answers. Bud smiled sardonically. “You give her a gun for protection, but don’t bother to make sure she knows how to use it….Okay…You know, you’re a vague sort of fellow, aren’t you, Barrett?”
Kim rolled his eyes, stifling a yawn, as if the entire scene bored him. “I’ve spent very little time in observing my own character, Mister White.”
Amazing how one little word could change the meaning of things or shake the atmosphere if desired, and the use of ‘Mister,’ not ‘Lieutenant’ or ‘Detective’ or even ‘Officer’ was an attempt to put the cop in his place. White, however, persisted. “You haven’t borrowed it lately? You didn’t just bring it back tonight?”
“You followed me here.” Barrett’s voice mixed with annoyance and derision. “You saw me come in. You ought to know.”
“You…uh…realize the spot you’re in, Barrett?” Bud was willing to play this game too. He moved a few feet away, studying the room but never removing his eyes from the subject. If Kim ran, Zach would catch him if Bud did not, but he doubted the Southerner would attempt any escape. Barrett always had an answer for everything – this evening was no exception, for he believed himself capable of talking his way out of any problem.
Bud glared. “You took that poor girl to Miss Hunt’s apartment. You knew all along it was she who was murdered.”
Kim opened his mouth to speak – nothing emerged.
“Yeah Carpenter, we know. Didn’t you realize Savannah Hunt would come back any day and spill the whole thing?” He noticed a flicker of panic in Kim’s eyes, but it quickly vanished, replaced by a cynicism unmatched except by Sidney Lydecker. “Or did you plan to kill her too…hide the body someplace and cover up your first crime?”
“You’re being fantastic, White,” Kim snorted.
“You took a bottle of ‘Black Pony’ to the Hunt house Friday night.”
“I took it there over a week ago,” Barrett retorted, shaking his head.
“Bessie said it wasn’t there Friday night. It was Saturday morning.”
Kim appeared more annoyed. “I can’t help what Bessie said!” he snapped.
However, Bud caught it; that carefully maintained façade beginning to break. “Where’s the key to Savannah Hunt’s apartment?”
“I haven’t got it.”
“What did you do with it? Give it back to her tonight?”
“I never had one.” Sweat dampened his brow, and unintentionally, Kim removed a handkerchief from his pocket to dab his face.
“You didn’t take the bottle of Scotch to her house Friday night. You haven’t got a key to the apartment. How did you get in the night you took Diane Redfern?”
Kim gulped. “Well…I…”
“You had a key and I know it!”
Nearly panic-stricken, Kim collapsed upon an ottoman, visibly shaking, his chest rising and falling with such rapidity, Bud was afraid he might be having an attack, but if he was not, this was the time to add to the pressure.
“Now come on, Barrett. Spill it.” Bud stood over him, his body blocking the light, so that Barrett felt even more claustrophobic.
“I…” Kim started, looking up at White’s menacing form, but the habitually well-formed excuses would not come, the surrender coming to his eyes as he glanced away. “Savannah kept a duplicate key at her office, so I went over and got it. I knew where it was….See…I had asked Diane to dine with me….I…I wanted to have it out with her once and for all….You know, she thought…Well…she thought she was in love with me, you see and I….Well…we couldn’t go on talking in public places…not at the restaurant…not at the bar….Everywhere we went…She was too upset….I…I couldn’t go to her room. She…She only has this…well…her landlady has rules…and…well…I didn’t want to take her to my hotel….Someone…the doorman…or…or my neighbors….” He waved a hand in front of his face, as though that would help in organizing his thoughts. “So we went to Savannah’s.”
“Yeah?” Bud finally relaxed enough to sit in the chair beside him, leaning closer, not wanting Barrett to unwind.
“We…We talked there for about three hours…” Kim sheepishly raised his eyes, knowing White doubted the couple ‘talked’ the entire time. One corner of the playboy’s mouth turned up as he said, “Well…we talked and…you know we…Well…it was about three hours…and then…the doorbell rang and…” He paused.
“Diane was frightened, but knowing Savannah as I’ve known her…I’ve learned to be surprised at nothing.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Her friends would come to her with their troubles at all hours of the day or night, and she never minded, never….So…I asked Diane to answer the door.”
“Why didn’t you go yourself?” He knew, but was interested in hearing Barrett’s answer.
“Supposing one of Savannah’s friends had found me there.”
“Why open the door at all?”
“They must have seen the light.”
“What about the girl – Diane? What about her reputation?”
“I asked her to tell them Savannah had let her the apartment while she was away. Anybody that knew Savannah would have believed that.”
Kim glared straight ahead. “Well…then the doorbell rang again. I could hear Diane’s mules – Savannah’s they were – clattering across the bare boards between the rugs….Then there was a moment’s silence…and then a shot.” He shut his eyes. “It was an awful explosion…echoing off the walls…nothing like when I’ve gone hunting. I thought my ears….By the time I reached her, the door was closed and…and Diane…she lay there on the floor.”
“Did you go out to see who it was?”
“No! No…of course not. I…I was too confused…too horrified…incapable of doing anything….The room was dark….I saw only a vague…heap lying on the floor. I…I don’t think I fully grasped the situation….That explosion was still ringing in my ears and the room was…it was there…and…and it wasn’t. I thought maybe I had dreamt all of it but…I think I called her name…Diane’s name, but I’m not sure….I…” He hesitantly extended one trembling hand. “I remember kneeling on the floor…feeling her heart…then I glanced upwards…and I saw that her face was….” Kim shook his head, forcing away the memories. “My first instinct was to call the police and…”
“Then why didn’t you?”
“I don’t know! Or rather…I was afraid. I know you may not comprehend such a thing, Lieutenant, but I was afraid, not only for myself, but for Savannah. In a panicky sort of way, I felt I must keep out of this to keep Savannah out of it. I know now how foolish and hopeless it was…but there was only one thing on my mind: the safety of a person whose life was dearer to me than my own. Don’t you understand that?”
Yeah…I do. “Did you think Savannah had done it?”
Kim’s mouth parted, then shut again.
“Did you?” Bud repeated.
“I don’t remember what I thought.” The answer was low and unconvincing.
“Do you think so now?”
“No…” Again there was a hint of uncertainty.
“But you didn’t do it?”
“On Saturday, when our men went to the hotel to tell you Savannah was dead…you seemed sincerely shocked.”
“I was! I hadn’t expected that mistake.”
“But you had your alibi ready no matter who was dead, and yet you knew that the minute Savannah Hunt got back, it wouldn’t stick.”
Kim’s eyes grew wide. “Don’t you see?! I was incapable of thinking that far ahead. I was incapable of thinking at all….I was groping…groping for some way to keep Savannah’s name out of it….It may be difficult to believe, Lieutenant, but I was honestly heartbroken about Diane…Poor Diane…and I was panic-stricken about Savannah,” he moaned, running a hand through his dampened hair. “I haven’t slept a full two hours since this thing happened.”
“Okay…so let’s get back to the present. What did you and Savannah talk about tonight?”
“I…I told her the whole story, just as I’ve told you.”
“She phoned you after she promised me she wouldn’t call anybody. What did she want that couldn’t wait?”
“It’s perfectly natural she should want to see me, especially after what’s happened. She told me she had met you in her apartment.”
White smirked and remained composed as he stood and crossed to the other side of the room, something specific having caught his eye. “Why don’t you tell the truth? She sent you here to get rid of this gun.”
“She did not!” Kim exclaimed, sounding like the proverbial child with his hand caught in the cookie jar. “It was my own idea. She doesn’t even know I’m here…and…” He stood, sighing, resigned to his fate. “…I’ve likely made things worse, haven’t I?”
Bud’s hand casually moved to the knob on the old-fashioned radio – it was not the most modern appliance and likely had been part of the cabin for years, but it was the police officer in him, double-checking matters, needing to have his ducks in a row. There was a click…nothing. He smiled, pleased and relieved….
But it took a few seconds for it to properly warm up and as White started to turn away, he stopped on hearing a Glenn Miller tune blaring through the speaker. “It works fine, doesn’t it?” he asked out loud, partially to himself.
Kim shrugged. “Yes….Why? Did you think it wouldn’t?”
Bud sighed, turning the radio off again. “I hoped it wouldn’t.” It was so much better imagining her at my side at the policeman’s ball or with our grandkids on our knee, wasn’t it? “All right, Barrett, let’s go.”
“Well…am I under arrest?” The Kentuckian seemed about to draw up into a fetal position had the answer been yes.
“No…but you’re not to leave town…and it would be foolish of you to try it.”
Barrett nodded, relieved that at least his time had not yet come, and he walked out in front of Bud as the lieutenant turned off the lights and carefully shut the door.
And then, on the drive back to the city, White would have to consider his options – whether he liked them or not.