âYouâre implying that Mrs. Epworth killed her husband and deliberately used a helpless child to conceal it?â
âCould this possibly be true?â demanded the chief. âYouâve met her, whatâs she like?â
Swope nodded. âIâve met herâunder the worst of circumstances, of courseâwhen completely hysterical. Attractive, younger than I expectedâmid-forties, Iâd guess. Mrs. Hobson at the Home for Disabled Children said she was very charming, devoted to her husband and enthusiastic about his charity work.â
Pruden said, âIf it
be true youâve got to admit it would be a damn clever murder, using a witness like Jenny who canât tell anyone what she saw, or protect herself if accused.â He frowned. âSwope, look at your notes again; didnât you say that Mrs. Hobson, the director at the Home for Disabled Children, told you that Mrs. Epworth specifically asked for Jenny to stay that weekend? She
on Jenny, didnât she?â
Swope nodded. âThatâs true. My God, if thatâs whyâ But how fiendish if . . . ifââ
Madame Karitska said, âFiendish, yes.â
Frowning, the chief said, âIf we believe this, surely there had to be another woman there, a maid, a cook? I canât believeââ
Swope interrupted him to say, âWe checked all that, sir. Maid left at five, the cook at six. Mrs. Epworth . . .â He took out his notebook again. âShe was in the kitchenâshe saidâat the counter, making out recipes to give the cook for a party later in the week. A party planned,â he added dryly, âto elicit more contributions for the Home for Disabled Children.â
âBut this is unbelievable,â said the chief. âWhy would Mrs. Epworthâwhat possible motive could she have?â
Swope shook his head. âWe never looked into that, sir, never dreamedâit was taken for granted, assumedâ I mean, there was all that blood and Mrs. Epworth distraught, hysterical, the blood on the doorknob, the child gone and leaving a trail of blood in the hall.â
âIf this is true,â said the chief, looking dazed, âif this
be true, deliberately using a disabled child to cover her crime, she would deserve to be hanged.â Startled, he added, âSorry, damn it; forget I said that.â
âForgiven,â said Madame Karitska with a smile.
Pruden said slowly, âBut if trueâhow clever, how shrewd. It would be the perfect crime, wouldnât it? Absolutely the perfect crime.â
âSwope,â said the chief in a hard voice, âdrop everything youâre working on, and start checking out Mrs. Epworthâs past; check Epworthâs will, see if Mrs. Karitskaâsorry,
Karitskaâs right, impossible as it seems, damn it. Start from the beginning, a fresh inquiry.â To Madame Karitska he said angrily, âIf youâre wrongââ
âThat,â said Pruden, âis for us to find out, isnât it?â
Madame Karitska rose from her chair to say quietly, âIâll go now, but I do hope, in the meantime, the child Jenny can be given happier surroundings while you investigate.â Picking up her purse she nodded to Pruden and Swope and left the chief to cope with his confusion and his shock. But he was a good man, Pruden had always said so, and she could be certain that he would be thorough.
Pruden, joining Swope the next morning for their new assignment, said, âThe hell of it is, if Madame Karitska should be right about Mrs. Epworth, how can there be any possibility of proving her guilty and the child innocent, with Jennyâs bloody fingerprints all over the dagger and door?â
Swope nodded. âIâve had time to realize that, too. A lot of footwork ahead, and dare I add that it comes down to a test of Madame Karitskaâs clairvoyance?