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Murder in the Gunroom

Chapter 1
It was hard to judge Jeff Rand's age from his appearance; he was certainly over thirty and
considerably under fifty. He looked hard and fit, like a man who could be a serviceable
friend or a particularly unpleasant enemy. Women instinctively suspected that he would
make a most satisfying lover. One might have taken him for a successful lawyer (he had
studied law, years ago), or a military officer in mufti (he still had a Reserve colonelcy,
and used the title occasionally, to impress people who he thought needed impressing), or
a prosperous businessman, as he usually thought of himself. Most of all, he looked like
King Charles II of England anachronistically clad in a Brooks Brothers suit.
At the moment, he was looking rather like King Charles II being bothered by one of his
mistresses who wanted a peerage for her husband.
"But, Mrs. Fleming," he was expostulating. "There surely must be somebody else.... After
all, you'll have to admit that this isn't the sort of work this agency handles."
The would-be client released a series of smoke-rings and watched them float up toward
the air-outlet at the office ceiling. It spoke well for Rand's ability to subordinate esthetic
to business considerations that he was trying to give her a courteous and humane brush-
off. She made even the Petty and Varga girls seem credible. Her color-scheme was blue
and gold; blue eyes, and a blue tailored outfit that would have looked severe on a less
curvate figure, and a charmingly absurd little blue hat perched on a mass of golden hair.
If Rand had been Charles II, she could have walked out of there with a duchess's coronet,
and Nell Gwyn would have been back selling oranges.
"Why isn't it?" she countered. "Your door's marked Tri-State Detective Agency, Jefferson
Davis Rand, Investigation and Protection. Well, I want to know how much the
collection's worth, and who'll pay the closest to it. That's investigation, isn't it? And I
want protection from being swindled. And don't tell me you can't do it. You're a pistol-
collector, yourself; you have one of the best small collections in the state. And you're a
recognized authority on early pistols; I've read some of your articles in the Rifleman. If
you can't handle this, I don't know who can."
Rand's frown deepened. He wondered how much Gladys Fleming knew about the
principles of General Semantics. Even if she didn't know anything, she was still edging
him into an untenable position. He hastily shifted from the attempt to identify his
business with the label, "private detective agency."
"Well, here, Mrs. Fleming," he explained. "My business, including armed-guard and
protected-delivery service, and general investigation and protection work, requires some
personal supervision, but none of it demands my exclusive attention. Now, if you wanted
some routine investigation made, I could turn it over to my staff, maybe put two or three
men to work on it. But there's nothing about this business of yours that I could delegate to
anybody; I'd have to do it all myself, at the expense of neglecting the rest of my business.
Now, I could do what you want done, but it would cost you three or four times what
you'd gain by retaining me."