It was O’Hara from police headquarters. We turned the apartment upside down and inside out, but didn’t find anything of importance except the will she had told me about, dated July eighth, and her uncle’s life-insurance policies. They were all dated between May fifteenth and June tenth, and added up to a little more than $200,000.
I spent an hour grilling the maid after O’Hara had taken Evelyn Trowbridge away, but she didn’t know any more than I did. However, between her, the janitor, the manager of the apartments, and the names Mrs. Trowbridge had given me, I learned that she had really been entertaining friends on the night of the fire — until after eleven o’clock, anyway — and that was late enough.
Half an hour later I was riding the Short Line back to Sacramento. I was getting to be one of the line’s best customers, and my anatomy was on bouncing terms with every bump in the road.
Between bumps I tried to fit the pieces of this Thornburgh puzzle together. The niece and the Coonses fit in somewhere, but not just where we had them. We had been working on the job sort of lopsided, but it was the best we could do with it. In the beginning we had turned to the Coonses and Evelyn Trowbridge because there was no other direction to go; and now we had something on them — but a good lawyer could make hash out of it.
The Coonses were in the county jail when I got to Sacramento. After some questioning they had admitted their connection with the niece, and had come through with stories that matched hers.
Tarr, McClump and I sat around the sheriff’s desk and argued.
“Those yarns are pipe dreams,” the sheriff said. “We got all three of ‘em cold, and they’re as good as convicted.”
McClump grinned derisively at his superior, and then turned to me.
“Go on, you tell him about the holes in his little case. He ain’t your boss, and can’t take it out on you later for being smarter than he is!”
Tarr glared from one of us to the other.
“Spill it, you wise guys!” he ordered.
“Our dope is,” I told him, figuring that McClump’s view of it was the same as mine, “that there’s nothing to show that even Thornburgh knew he was going to buy that house before the tenth of June, and that the Coonses were in town looking for work on the second. And besides, it was only by luck that they got the jobs. The employment office sent two couples out there ahead of them.”
“We’ll take a chance on letting the jury figure that out.”
“Yes? You’ll also take a chance on them figuring out that Thornburgh, who seems to have been a nut, might have touched off the place himself! We’ve got something on these people, Jim, but not enough to go into court with them. How are you going to prove that when the Coonses were planted in Thornburgh’s house — if you can even prove that they were planted — they and the Trowbridge woman knew he was going to load up with insurance policies?”
The sheriff spat disgustedly.
“You guys are the limit! You run around in circles, digging up the dope on these people until you get enough to hang ‘em, and then you run around hunting for outs! What’s the matter with you now?”
I answered him from halfway to the door — the pieces were beginning to fit together under my skull.
“Going to run some more circles — come on, Mac!”