“Because he was — Thornburgh.”

He didn’t say anything for about five minutes. Then: “I reckon that’s right. How’d you know it?”

We were sitting beside the wreckage now, waiting for the police that we had sent our commandeered chauffeur to phone for.

“He had to be,” I said, “when you think it all over. Funny we didn’t hit on it before! All that stuff we were told about Thornburgh had a fishy sound. Whiskers and an unknown profession, immaculate and working on a mysterious invention, very secretive and born in San Francisco — where the fire wiped out all the old records — just the sort of fake that could be cooked up easily.

“Now, consider Henderson. You had told me he came to Sacramento sometime early this summer — and the dates you got tonight show that he didn’t come until after Thornburgh had bought his house. All right! Now compare Henderson with the descriptions we got of Thornburgh.

“Both are about the same size and age, and with the same color hair. The differences are all things that can be manufactured — clothes, a little sunburn, and a month’s growth of beard, along with a little acting, would do the trick. Tonight I went out to Tavender and took a look at the last batch of laundry — and there wasn’t any that didn’t fit the Coonses! And none of the bills all the way back were large enough for Thornburgh to have been as careful about his clothes as we were told he was.”

“It must be great to be a detective!” McClump grinned as the police ambulance came up and began disgorging policemen. “I reckon somebody must have tipped Henderson off that I was asking about him this evening.” And then, regretfully: “So we ain’t going to hang them folks for murder after all.”

“No, but we oughtn’t have any trouble convicting them of arson plus conspiracy to defraud, and anything else that the Prosecuting Attorney can think up.”

The End

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