The reply to my Seattle telegram was waiting for me at the Continental Detective Agency when I arrived.
MRS EDWARD COMERFORD RENTED APARTMENT AT ADDRESS YOU GAVE ON MAY TWENTY-FIVE. GAVE IT UP JUNE 6. TRUNKS TO SAN FRANCISCO SAME DAY CHECK NUMBERS ON FOUR FIVE TWO FIVE EIGHT SEVEN AND EIGHT AND NINE.
Tracing baggage is no trick at all, if you have the dates and check numbers to start with — as many a bird who is wearing somewhat similar numbers on his chest and back, because he overlooked that detail when making his getaway, can tell you — and twenty-five minutes in a baggage-room at the Ferry and half an hour in the office of a transfer company gave me my answer.
The trunks had been delivered to Mrs. Evelyn Trowbridge’s apartment!
I got Jim Tarr on the phone and told him about it.
“Good shooting!” he said, forgetting for once to indulge his wit. “We’ll grab the Coonses here and Mrs. Trowbridge there, and that’s the end of another mystery.”
“Wait a minute!” I cautioned him. “It’s not all straightened out yet — there’re still a few kinks in the plot.”
“It’s straight enough for me. I’m satisfied.”
“You’re the boss, but I think you’re being a little hasty. I’m going up and talk with the niece again. Give me a little time before you phone the police here to make the pinch. I’ll hold her until they get there.”
Evelyn Trowbridge let me in this time, instead of the maid who had opened the door for me in the morning, and she led me to the same room in which we had had our first talk. I let her pick out a seat, and then I selected one that was closer to either door than hers was.
On the way up I had planned a lot of innocent-sounding questions that would get her all snarled up; but after taking a good look at this woman sitting in front of me, leaning comfortably back in her chair, coolly waiting for me to speak my piece, I discarded the trick stuff and came out cold-turkey.
“Ever use the name Mrs. Edward Comerford?”
“Oh, yes.” As casual as a nod on the street.
“Often. You see, I happen to have been married not so long ago to Mr. Edward Comerford. So it’s not really strange that I should have used the name.”
“Use it in Seattle recently?”
“I would suggest,” she said sweetly, “that if you are leading up to the references I gave Coons and his wife, you might save time by coming right to it.”
“That’s fair enough,” I said. “Let’s do that.”
There wasn’t a tone or shading, in voice, manner, or expression, to indicate that she was talking about anything half so serious or important to her as a possibility of being charged with murder. She might have been talking about the weather.
“During the time that Mr. Comerford and I were married, we lived in Seattle, where he still lives. After the divorce, I left Seattle and resumed my maiden name. And the Coonses were in our employ, as you might learn if you care to look it up. You’ll find my husband — or former husband — at the Chelsea Apartments, I think.
“Last summer, or late spring, I decided to return to Seattle. The truth of it is — I suppose all my personal affairs will be aired anyhow — that I thought perhaps Edward and I might patch up our differences; so I went back and took an apartment on Woodmansee Terrace. As I was known in Seattle as Mrs. Edward Comerford, and as I thought my using his name might influence him a little, I used it while I was there.
“Also I telephoned the Coonses to make tentative arrangements in case Edward and I should open our house again; but Coons told me that they were going to California, and so I gladly gave them an excellent recommendation when, some days later, I received a letter of inquiry from an employment bureau in Sacramento. After I had been in Seattle for about two weeks, I changed my mind about the reconciliation — Edward’s interest, I learned, was all centered elsewhere; so I returned to San Francisco-”
“Very nice! But—”
“If you will permit me to finish,” she interrupted. “When I went to see my uncle in response to his telegram, I was surprised to find the Coonses in his house. Knowing my uncle’s peculiarities, and finding them now increased, and remembering his extreme secretiveness about his mysterious invention, I cautioned the Coonses not to tell him that they had been in my employ.
“He certainly would have discharged them, and just as certainly would have quarreled with me — he would have thought that I was having him spied on. Then, when Coons telephoned me after the fire, I knew that to admit that the Coonses had been formerly in my employ, would, in view of the fact that I was my uncle’s only heir, cast suspicion on all three of us. So we foolishly agreed to say nothing and carry on the deception.”
That didn’t sound all wrong — but it didn’t sound all right. I wished Tarr had taken it easier and let us get a better line on these people, before having them thrown in the coop.
“The coincidence of the Coonses stumbling into my uncle’s house is, I fancy, too much for your detecting instincts,” she went on. “Am I to consider myself under arrest?”
I’m beginning to like this girl; she’s a nice, cool piece of work.
“Not yet,” I told her. “But I’m afraid it’s going to happen pretty soon.”
She smiled a little mocking smile at that, and another when the doorbell rang.