After luncheon, McClump and I called on Howard Henderson — the man who had seen the fire while driving home from Wayton. He had an office in the Empire Building, with his name and the title Northern California Agent for Krispy Korn Krumbs on the door. He was a big, careless-looking man of forty-five or so, with the professionally jovial smile that belongs to the traveling salesman.
He had been in Wayton on business the day of the fire, he said, and had stayed there until rather late, going to dinner and afterward playing pool with a grocer named Hammersmith — one of his customers. He had left Wayton in his machine, at about ten thirty, and set out for Sacramento. At lavender he had stopped at the garage for oil and gas, and to have one of his tires blown up.
Just as he was about to leave the garage, the garage man had called his attention to a red glare in the sky, and had told him that it was probably from a fire somewhere along the old county road that paralleled the state road into Sacramento; so Henderson had taken the county road, and had arrived at the burning house just in time to see Thornburgh try to fight his way through the flames that enveloped him.
It was too late to make any attempt to put out the fire, and the man upstairs was beyond saving by then — undoubtedly dead even before the roof collapsed; so Henderson had helped Coons revive his wife, and stayed there watching the fire until it had burned itself out. He had seen no one on that county road while driving to the fire….
“What do you know about Henderson?” I asked McClump, when we were on the street.
“Came here, from somewhere in the East, I think, early in the summer to open that breakfast-cereal agency. Lives at the Garden Hotel. Where do we go next?”
“We get a car, and take a look at what’s left of the Thornburgh house.”
An enterprising incendiary couldn’t have found a lovelier spot in which to turn himself loose…