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Murder in the Gunroom

Chapter 17
When he rose, the next morning, Rand noticed something which had escaped his eye
when he had gone to bed the night before. His .38-special, in its shoulder-holster, was
lying on the dresser; he had not bothered putting it on when he had gone to see Rivers the
morning before, and it had lain there all the previous day. He distinctly remembered
having moved it, shortly after dinner, when he had gone to his room for some notes he
had made on the collection.
However, between that time and the present it had managed to flop itself over; the holster
was now lying back-up. Intrigued by such a remarkable accomplishment in an inanimate
object, Rand crossed the room in the dress-of-nature in which he slept and looked more
closely at it, receiving a second and considerably more severe surprise. The revolver in
the holster was not his own.
It was, to be sure, a .38 Colt Detective Special, and it was in his holster, but it was not the
Detective Special he had brought with him from New Belfast. His own gun was of the
second type, with the corners rounded off the grip; this one was of the original issue, with
the square Police Positive grip. His own gun had seen hard service; this one was in
practically new condition. There was a discrepancy of about thirty thousand in the serial
numbers. His gun had been loaded in six chambers with the standard 158-grain loads; this
one was loaded in only five, with 148-grain mid-range wad-cutter loads.
Rand stood for some time looking at the revolver. The worst of it was that he couldn't be
exactly sure when the substitution had been made. It might have happened at any time
between eight o'clock and twelve, when he had gone to bed. He rather suspected that it
had been accomplished while he had been in the bathroom, however.
Dumping out the five rounds in the cylinder, he inspected the changeling carefully. It
was, he thought, the revolver Lane Fleming had kept in the drawer of the gunroom desk.
There was no obstruction in the two-inch barrel, the weapon had not been either fired or
cleaned recently, the firing-pin had not been shortened, the mainspring showed the proper
amount of tension, and the mechanism functioned as it should. There was a chance that
somebody had made up five special hand-loads for him, using nitroglycerin instead of
powder, but that didn't seem likely, as it would not necessitate a switch of revolvers.
There were four or five other possibilities, all of them disquieting; he would have been a
great deal less alarmed if somebody had taken a shot at him.
Getting a box of cartridges out of his Gladstone, he filled the cylinder with 158-grain
loads. When he went to the bathroom, he took the revolver in his dressing-gown pocket;
when he dressed, he put on the shoulder-holster, and pocketed a handful of spare rounds.
Anton Varcek was loitering in the hall when he came out; he gave Rand good-morning,
and fell into step with him as they went toward the stairway.