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Murder in the Gunroom

Chapter 11
Mick McKenna had put his finger right on the sore spot. It did hurt Rand like hell; a nice,
sensational murder and no money in it for the Tri-State Agency. Obviously, somebody
would have to be persuaded to finance an investigation. Preferably some innocent victim
of unjust suspicion; somebody who could best clear himself by unmasking the real
villain.... For "villain," Rand mentally substituted "public benefactor."
He was running over a list of possible suspects as he entered Rosemont. Passing the little
antique shop he slowed, backed, read the name "Karen Lawrence" on the window, and
then pulled over to the curb and got out. Crossing the sidewalk, he went up the steps to
the door, entering to the jangling of a spring-mounted cowbell.
The girl dealer was inside, with a visitor, a sallow-faced, untidy-looking man of
indeterminate age who was opening newspaper-wrapped packages on a table-top. Karen
greeted Rand by name and military rank; Rand told her he'd just look around till she was
through. She tossed him a look of comic reproach, as though she had counted on him to
rid her of the man with the packages.
"Now, just you look at this-here, Miss Lawrence," the man was enthusing, undoing
another package. "Here's something I know you'll want; I think this-here is real quaint!
Just look, now!" He displayed some long, narrow, dark object, holding it out to her.
"Ain't this-here an interestin' item, now, Miss Lawrence?"
"Ooooooh! What in heaven's name is that thing?" she demanded.
"That-there's a sword. A real African native sword. Look at that scabbard, now; made out
of real crocodile-skin. A whole young crocodile, head, feet, an' all. I tell you, Miss
Lawrence, that-there item is unique!"
"It's revolting! It's the most repulsive object that's ever been brought into this shop, which
is saying quite a lot. Colonel Rand! If you don't have a hangover this morning, will you
please come here and look at this thing?"
Rand laid down the Merril carbine he had been examining and walked over beside Karen.
The man—whom Rand judged to be some rural free-lance antique-prospector—extended
the object of the girl's repugnance. It was an African sword, all right, with a plain iron hilt
and cross-guard. The design looked Berber, but the workmanship was low-grade, and
probably attributable to some even more barbarous people. The scabbard was what was
really surprising, if you liked that kind of surprises. It was an infant crocodile, rather
indifferently smoke-cured; the sword simply went in between the creature's jaws and
extended the length of the body and into the tail. Either end of a moldy-green leather
thong had been fastened to the two front paws for a shoulder-baldric. When new, Rand
thought, it must have given its wearer a really distinctive aroma, even for Africa. He drew
the blade gingerly, looked at it, and sheathed it with caution.
 
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