They were two state troopers, smart and young and very nice. I'd almost forgotten such people existed. They saluted me as if I was royalty. “Miss Vivienne Michel?” The senior, a lieutenant, did the talking while his Number Two muttered quietly into his radio, announcing their arrival.
“I'm Lieutenant Morrow. We hear you had some trouble last night.” He gestured with his gloved hand at the ruins. “Seems like we heard right.”
“Oh, that's nothing,” I said disdainfully. “There's a car in the lake with a corpse in it and another corpse behind cabin Number 3.”
“Yes, Miss.” There was a hint of disapproval at my levity. He turned to his companion, who had clipped back the microphone to the set behind his saddle. “O'Donnell, take a look round, would you?”
“Okay, loot.” O'Donnell strode off across the grass.
“Well, let's go and take a seat somewhere, Miss Michel.” The lieutenant bent down to one of his saddlebags and produced a carefully wrapped package. “Brought along some breakfast. 'Fraid it's only coffee and doughnuts. That suit you?” He held out the package.
I gave him a full-candlepower smile. “That's terribly kind of you. I'm starving. There are some seats over by the lake. We can choose one that's out of sight of the sunk car.” I led the way across the grass, and we sat down. The lieutenant took off his cap and produced a notebook and pencil and pretended to go through his notes to give me a chance to get started on a doughnut.
He looked up and produced his first smile. “Now don't worry about this, miss. I'm not taking a statement. The captain's coming up himself for that. Should be along any time now. When they gave me the hurry call I got down the bare facts. But what's worrying me is that that radio just hasn't left me alone since then. Had to cut down my speed the whole way here from Route 9 to keep on listening to instructions from the station—that Albany was interested in the case, that even the top brass in Washington was breathing down our necks. Never heard such a load coming over the air. Now, miss, can you tell me how it's come about that Washington's mixed up in this, and within a bare couple of hours of Glens Falls getting the first report?”
I couldn't help smiling at his earnestness. I could almost hear him calling over to O'Donnell as they roared along, “Hell, we'll have Jack Kennedy on our tails any moment now!” I said, “Well, there's a man called James Bond who's involved. He saved me and shot these two gangsters. He's some kind of an English agent, secret service or something. He was driving from Toronto to Washington to report on a case, and he got a flat and ended up at the motel. If he hadn't, I'd be dead by now. Anyway, I guess he must be someone pretty important. He told me he wanted to make sure this Mr. Sanguinetti didn't get away to Mexico or somewhere. But that's more or less all I know about him, except that—except that he seemed a wonderful guy.”
The lieutenant looked sympathetic. “Guess so, miss. If he got you out of this trouble. But he's certainly got a fix in with the F.B.I. They don't often tangle in a local case like this. Unless they're called in, that is, or there's some federal angle.” The thin wail of sirens sounded far down the road. Lieutenant Morrow got to his feet and put his cap on. “Well, thanks, miss. I was just satisfying my curiosity. The captain will be taking over from here. Don't you worry. He's a nice kind of a guy.” O'Donnell came up. “If you'll excuse me, miss.” The lieutenant moved off with O'Donnell, listening to his report, and I finished the coffee and followed slowly, thinking of the gray Thunder-bird that would now be hammering out the miles southward, and of the sunburned hands on the wheel.
* * *
It was quite a cavalcade that came sweeping up the road between the pines—a squad car with outriders, an ambulance, two other police cars, and a recovery truck that came toward me across the grass and went on down to the lake. Everyone seemed to have had their orders, and very soon the whole area was covered with moving figures in olive-green or dark blue.
The heavily built man who soon came forward to meet me, followed by a junior officer who turned out to be the stenographer, looked every inch the detective-captain of the films—slow-moving, kindly-faced, purposeful. He held out his hand. “Miss Michel? I'm Captain Stonor from Glens Falls. Let's go somewhere where we can have a talk, shall we? One of the cabins, or shall we stay out in the open?”
“I've had about enough of the cabins, if you don't mind. Why not over there—my breakfast table. And by the way, thank you very much for your thoughtfulness. I was starving.”
“Don't thank me, Miss Michel.” The Captain's eyes twinkled frostily. “It was your English friend, Commander Bond, who suggested it”—he paused—“among other things.”
So he was a commander. It was the only rank I liked the name of. And of course he was bound to have put the captain's back up—an Englishman with all this authority. And with the C.I.A. and F.B.I, of all people! Nothing would irritate the regular police more. I decided to be extremely diplomatic.
We sat down and, after the usual police preliminaries, I was asked to tell my story.
It took two hours, what with Captain Stonor's questions and men coming up from time to time to whisper hoarsely into his ear, and at the end of it I was exhausted. Coffee was brought and cigarettes for me (“Not while I'm on duty, thank you, Miss Michel”), and then we all relaxed and the stenographer was sent away. Captain Stonor sent for Lieutenant Morrow and took him aside to radio a preliminary report to headquarters, and I watched the wreck of the black sedan, that had by now been hauled up the cliff, being towed over the lawn to the road. There the ambulance was driven over beside it, and I turned away as a wet bundle was carefully lifted out onto the grass. Horror! I remembered again those cold, red-flecked eyes. I felt his hands on me. Could it have happened?
I heard the captain say, “And copies to Albany and Washington. Right?” And then he was back sitting opposite me.
He looked at me kindly and said some complimentary things. I looked appreciative and said, “No, no.” I asked when he thought I could get on.
Captain Stonor didn't answer immediately. Instead he slowly reached up and took off his cap and put it on the table. The armistice gesture, a copy of the lieutenant's made me smile inside. Then he rummaged in his pockets and took out cigarettes and a lighter. He offered me one and then lit his own. He smiled at me, his first non-official smile. “I'm going off duty now, Miss Michel.” He sat back comfortably and crossed his legs, resting his left ankle on his right knee and holding the ankle. He suddenly looked like a middle-aged man with a family, taking it easy. He took his first long draw on his cigarette and watched the smoke drift away. He said, “You can be going any time now, Miss Michel. Your friend Commander Bond was anxious that you should be put to as little trouble as possible. And I'm glad to accommodate him—and you. And”—he smiled with unexpected humor and irony—“I didn't need Washington to add their wishes in this matter. You've been a brave girl. You got involved in a bad crime and you behaved like I'd wish any child of mine to behave. Those two hoodlums are both wanted men. I'll be putting in your name for the rewards. Likewise to the insurance company, who will certainly be generous. We've booked those Phanceys on a preliminary charge of conspiracy to defraud, and this Mr. Sanguinetti is already on the run, as the Commander suggested this morning he would be. We checked with Troy, as we would have checked anyway, and the normal police machinery is in motion to pick him up. There will be a capital charge against Mr. Sanguinetti, if and when we catch up with him, and it may be that you will be needed as a material witness. The state will pay for you to be brought from wherever you may be, housed, and taken back again. All this”—Captain Stonor made a throwaway gesture with his cigarette—“is normal police routine, and it will look after itself.” The astute blue eyes looked carefully into mine and then veiled themselves. “But that doesn't quite end the case to my satisfaction.” He smiled. “That is, now that I'm off duty, so to speak, and there's only just you and me.”
I tried to look just interested and nonchalant, but I wondered what was coming.
“Did this Commander Bond leave you any instructions, any letter? He told me that he had left you asleep early this morning. That he had gone off around six and had not wanted to wake you up. Quite right, of course. But”—Captain Stonor examined the end of his cigarette— “your evidence and the Commander's is to the effect that you shared the same cabin. Quite natural in the circumstances. You wouldn't have wanted to be alone any more last night. But it seems rather an abrupt good-by—after an exciting night like that. No trouble with him, I suppose? He didn't, er, try to get fresh with you, if you get my meaning?” The eyes were apologetic, but they probed into mine.
I blushed furiously. I said sharply, “Certainly not, Captain. Yes, he did leave a letter for me. A perfectly straightforward one. I didn't mention it because it doesn't add anything to what you know.” I ran down the zip on my front and reached inside for the letter, blushing even worse. Damn the man!
He took the letter and read it carefully. He handed it back. “A very nice letter. Very, er, businesslike. I don't get the bit about the soap.”
I said shortly, “Oh, that was only a joke about the motel soap. He said it was too strongly scented.”
“I see. Yes, sure. Well, that's fine, Miss Michel.” The eyes were kindly again. “Well, now. D'you mind if I say something personal? Talk to you a minute as if you might be my own daughter? You could be, you know— almost my granddaughter if I'd started early enough.” He chuckled cozily.
“No. Please say anything you like.”
Captain Stonor took another cigarette and lit it. “Well, now, Miss Michel, what the Commander says is right. You've been in the equivalent of a bad motor accident and you don't want to have any nightmares about it. But there's more to it than that. You've been suddenly introduced, out of the blue, so to speak, and violently, to the underground war of crime, the war that's going on all the time and that you read about and see in movies. And, like in the movies, the cop has rescued the maiden from the robbers.” He leaned forward across the table and held my eyes firmly in his. “Now don't get me wrong about this, Miss Michel, and if I'm speaking out of turn, just forget what I'm going to say. But it would be unreasonable of you not to create a hero out of the cop who saved you, perhaps build an image in your mind that that's the sort of man to look up to, even perhaps to want to marry.” The captain sat back. He smiled apologetically. “Now the reason I'm going into all this is because violent emergencies like what you've been through leave their scars. They're one hell of a shock to anyone—to any dam' citizen. But most of all to a young person like yourself. Now I believe”—the kind eyes became less kind— “I have good reason from the reports of my officers to believe, that you had intimate relations with Commander Bond last night. I'm afraid it's one of our less attractive duties to be able to read such signs.” Captain Stonor held up his hand. “Now I'm not prying any more into these private things, and they're none of my business, but it would be perfectly natural, almost inevitable, that you might have lost your heart, or at any rate part of it, to this personable young Englishman who has just saved your life.” The sympathy in the fatherly smile was edged with irony. “After all's said and done, that's what happens in the books and in the movies, isn't it? So why not in real life?”