Mrs. North must protect her aunt from being poisoned—whether she likes it or not
Pamela North has never worried about making sense. When she has a thought, she expresses it, and if no one in the room knows what she’s talking about, it’s no trouble to her. While Mrs. North’s unique style of thought can make her a challenging conversational partner, it also makes her one of the finest amateur sleuths in New York City. But no matter how sharp her wit, she can’t pin down Aunt Flora. An indomitable old woman, shaped like a snowman and just as icy, Flora is convinced that someone is trying to slip her arsenic, and she’ll be very cross if her niece can’t stop the culprit before he succeeds.
Aunt Flora stubbornly refuses to let Pamela call in the police, until a suspicious dead body forces them to ask the opinion of Lt. William Weigand. It’s a screwy mystery, and that means it’s perfect for Mrs. North.
Hanged for a Sheep is the 5th book in the Mr. and Mrs. North Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
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Hanged for a Sheep
A Mr. and Mrs. North Mystery
By Frances Lockridge, Richard Lockridge
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 1942 Frances and Richard Lockridge
All rights reserved.
Tuesday, January 21
3:15 p.m. To 4 p.m.
Pamela North got out of the cab and leaned against the wind. It was a furious wind, banging through the street and full of street dust; as she stood with her back to it, the wind rounded her skirt against her legs and tugged at the cab door as she held it open. The cab driver, peering out at her, knocked his flag down and, with a little shrug, climbed out on the other side and came around. He said it was windy.
"Because New York's on the bias," Pam North told him. "If it weren't, the wind couldn't blow through it this way, because northwest would be up that way."
Pam pointed. The taxi driver looked at her with some doubt, said "Yeh, maybe you got something there, lady," and took the tugging door from her. He hauled two bags from the interior of the cab and reached for a black box with a mansard roof. The box, on being jiggled, yowled. The taxi driver let go of it and looked at Mrs. North reproachfully.
"Cats," she said. He said, "Yeh!"
"Look, lady," he said. "I don't like 'em. Creeps. You know how it is."
"Of course," Pam said. "Lots of people are that way. I'll carry them."
Gingerly, he handed out the black case with the mansard roof. It yowled on two tones. The taxi driver looked puzzled.
"Two of them," Mrs. North explained. "But quite small, really. Will you carry the bags up for me?"
He nodded and carried the bags across the walk and up the gritty stone steps to the door of the house. Pam, carrying the cats, followed him and stood just inside the doorway, looking very new against the old house. Sand opened the door while she searched her purse and said, "Good afternoon, Mrs. North." The taxi driver took his money, skirted the black case, which had ceased to yowl, and went away. Back in the cab, he leaned across and looked at Mrs. North and the black case and shook his head doubtfully. Then he drove off. Sand carried the bags inside and Mrs. North lifted the black case over the threshold. It yowled on one note.
"One of them's getting tired," she told Sand. "They've both been yelling all the way, nearly. Is my aunt —?"
"Yes, Mrs. North," Sand said. He looked frail to be carrying the bags, she thought, but there was nothing to do about it. He followed her into the foyer and put the bags down by a small table which held a silver tray and a vase which sprayed daffodils.
"In the drawing room, Mrs. North," Sand said. "Shall I tell madam that you —?"
"No," Pam said. "Don't bother, Sand. If you'll just take care of the bags, please?"
Sand thanked her for the opportunity, started toward the stairs which spiraled grandly upward from the hall, stopped and turned. His face had a slightly different expression, as if he had become momentarily, and within proper bounds, a slightly different person.
"She's Mrs. Buddie again, Miss Pam," he said. "I thought you ought to know." He paused a second. "Since this morning," he added.
Pam said, "Oh." Then she smiled at Sand.
"I should think you'd rather like it, really," she said. "It must be — well, homey? I mean, there's nothing as comfortable as an old name, is there, George?"
Sand really smiled. It was an affectionate smile.
"Well worn, Miss Pam," he said. "A well worn name. It is — more comfortable." Then he became, to a reasonable degree, a butler again. "Thank you, Miss Pam," he said. He carried the bags up the spiraling stairs. Pam watched him a moment, smiling. Then she straightened herself, took a deep breath, and advanced toward the drawing room and Aunt Flora.
"Maybe this time I'll really believe in her," Pam thought, stepping into the room which opened off the hall, the box banging softly against her right calf and yowling quietly; the arching feather which rose from the back of her hat and peered out over her face bobbed briskly. "Maybe —." But Pam knew that she was whistling in the dark, because she had not seen Aunt Flora for weeks and because, after even one day's separation, Aunt Flora always drew from her niece an astonished, inward gasp of disbelief. There was, Pam realized anew, never going to be any getting used to Aunt Flora.
Aunt Flora occupied a chair by the fire as few can occupy chairs anywhere. She turned her head as Pam advanced across the room and spoke.
"Hello, dearie," said Aunt Flora deeply. "A new cat?"
Pam's inward gasp interfered with immediate answer. Aunt Flora's wig, which Aunt Flora fondly believed to resemble hair, was as yellow as always. Her face was, as always, immobilized behind its uncrackable facade — unwrinkled because it could not wrinkle, fadeless because it was put on afresh each morning.
"Or," Pam thought suddenly, "maybe once a week. And just left."
Aunt Flora's wig was undulant with immaculate curls. Above the waist, Aunt Flora expanded dramatically; Aunt Flora's head sat atop Aunt Flora without the punctuation of a neck.
"I know," Pam thought. "She's built like a snowman. That's it."
Aunt Flora was dressed in a red silk dress, and ruffles fluttered on her bosom. Pam advanced toward Aunt Flora, and, circling, came to a pause before her. Aunt Flora had on red shoes.
"Look at me, dearie," Aunt Flora commanded, deeply. "Did you ever see the like? I said, a new cat?"
"You look — lovely, Aunt Flora," Pam said, her voice hardly weak at all. "Yes — only it's two. Do you want to see them?"
"Sly," Aunt Flora said. "That's what cats are. Of course I want to see them, Pamela. Why two?"
"Because one gets lonely," Pam said. "Everybody advises two." She opened the black box and looked in. "Come on, babies," she said. "Come on, Toughy. Come on, Ruffy." The cats yowled. "They're part Siamese," Pamela North explained. "It makes them yell. They're brother and sister." She paused and looked down doubtfully. "So far," she added.
Aunt Flora laughed. Her laughter was deep and her blue eyes were bright and alive and merrily wise.
"You'd better say 'so far,'" Aunt Flora advised. Her advice was a chortle.
"I know," Pam said. "Jerry says —." She paused, wondering whether to report what Jerry said.
"I'll bet he does," Aunt Flora told her. "Where is that man of yours?"
This was characteristic of Aunt Flora. Because she knew where Jerry North was; Jerry North's absence in Texas, where he pursued an author, was part of the complex which had brought Pam North to the home of her Aunt Flora, the family legend.
"Listen, darling," Pam said. "You know perfectly well where Jerry is. I told you all about it on the telephone. There's this man who's written a big book, something like 'Gone With the Wind,' Jerry hopes, and they want to publish it — Jerry and the firm, that is. And there are a lot of other publishers after it, because they all think maybe it's another 'Gone With the Wind.' On account of it's about the South, I guess. So Jerry had to go to Houston, which is where it lives and now he's got to stay there and read it right away, because of all the other publishers. And it's very long. That's why they think it's another 'Gone With the Wind,' really — that and the South. Jerry says he thinks it is even longer than 'Gone With the Wind.'"
"God!" said Aunt Flora simply. "About Oklahoma, you say?"
"Texas," Pam said. Aunt Flora said "Oh."
"I never thought much of Texas," she said, dismissing it. "Not a patch on Oklahoma. The Indian Territory. I can remember —."
"Yes, darling," Pam said. "I know you can."
Aunt Flora laughed. It was the hearty laugh of one amused.
"All right, dearie," she said, shaking throughout. "All right, dearie."
The cats came out of the box cautiously. They were gray cats. One was a curious dark gray from nose to tail. The other was lighter and had a white collar of fur.
"Ruffy," Pam explained, pointing. "Because of the ruff. But either spelling. And Toughy" — she pointed now at the all gray cat — "because it fits. And —."
Toughy looked at Aunt Flora with growing consternation. Then he yowled, went across the room in a streak and vanished under a sofa. Ruffy, with rather the air of one who performs what is expected, streaked also, squirming under a chair.
"She wasn't afraid," Pam pointed out. "She's the she, by the way. She just didn't want to let him down. Make him feel foolish."
"Naturally," Aunt Flora said. "Why don't you sit down, dearie? They'll come out."
Pam sat down in a deep chair on the other side of the fireplace.
"D'you want a drink?" Aunt Flora said. "I do. Cold weather always makes me thirsty."
A small, rectangular box housed a button on the arm of Aunt Flora's chair. She pressed it.
"I don't know," Pam said. "Isn't it early? But —."
"It's after noon, isn't it?" Aunt Flora demanded. "Well after. What are you talking about?"
Sand came in and said, "Yes, madam?" Aunt Flora looked at Pam.
"Oh," Pam said. "Well — a martini, I guess. Dry please, Sand."
"I'll have the usual sher —" Aunt Flora began. Then she stopped, and an odd expression made its way hesitantly along her jovially painted face. "I'll have a martini too, Sand," she said. "And bring them in a small shaker."
"Yes, madam," Sand said. He turned.
"Remember," Aunt Flora Buddie said, and there was a curious insistence in her voice, "remember, Sand — in a small shaker. Don't pour them out!"
"Certainly, madam," Sand said. "Thank you."
There was a somehow nervous silence for a moment after Sand left. Then Aunt Flora spoke.
"You may as well know," she said. "It's one reason I wanted you here, really — one reason I insisted, I mean. You see, dearie, somebody's trying to poison me."
She broke off and stared commandingly at Pam North.
"I won't have it," she said. She said it with finality. Then she waited, having passed the conversational turn to Pam. It came over Pam, disconcertingly, that this was by no means one of Aunt Flora's little jokes.
"But —" Pam began. Aunt Flora seemed to feel that this finished her niece's turn.
"Surprises you, doesn't it?" she enquired. "Surprised me, too, I can tell you. Arsenic, they say. I had the — that is — there was an analysis." She looked at Pam defiantly. "I threw up," she said. "Naturally. And they say it was arsenic. I might be dead."
"Yes," Pam said, "I can see you might."
"Except," Aunt Flora went on, "somebody miscalculated. There wasn't enough. Except just to make me sick as a horse." She paused, reflectively. "Why a horse?" she enquired. "They never were in the old days."
"Than a dog," Pam substituted. She paused in turn. "Cats too," she added, "particularly when they eat grass. They seem to enjoy it."
"Sly," Aunt Flora said, apparently of the cats. "Where are they, do you suppose?"
"Under things," Pam said. "They'll come out. But for heaven's sake, darling — arsenic!"
"Think I'm crazy, don't you?" Aunt Flora enquired, in a tone more of detached interest than disclaimer. "Maybe. Your mother always thought so, Pamela. Still does, I shouldn't wonder. It's the husbands — she wouldn't understand about the husbands."
"Listen, darling," Pam said. "Let's get back — you're — you're worse than Jerry says I am. When it's merely that he can't follow, really. But you —" Pam paused, thwarted. "You said somebody tried to poison you. Who?"
Aunt Flora shook her head.
"Any of them, dearie," she said. "They're all here. For my money, of course — the major's money. Because I've hung on to it, Pamela. And to the house and — by the way, I'm Mrs. Buddie again. I decided this morning. Stephen's gone, you know. The whipper-snapper. He's the only one it couldn't be, because it was after he left. But there was no reason to go on being Mrs. Stephen Anthony, was there dearie?" She paused a moment. "Silly name," she added. "I think myself he made it up."
"But, then, why —" Pam started to say. Aunt Flora shook her head. It involved shaking most of her torso, also, but Aunt Flora was up to it.
"Don't ask me, Pamela," she said. "You'd never understand, anyway — you and your Jerry. But — well, take the cats, dearie. The little cats of yours. One cat gets lonely."
"Of course, darling," Pam said. "I didn't mean that. And I think you're probably too hard on Stephen, really. But —" Pam pulled herself back to the business at hand. "You really believe —" she began. But Aunt Flora signalled with her eyes, as Sand brought cocktails, still in their shaker.
"Just put them down, Sand," Aunt Flora directed, pointing toward a coffee table by the side of her chair. "We'll pour them."
Sand put them down and learned there was nothing else and went out. Aunt Flora picked up the glasses in turn and examined them; with a piece of paper tissue she polished their bowls. Then, and only then, did she pour from the shaker and before she drank she sniffed doubtfully at the cocktail. Pam sniffed too.
"Smell all right, don't they?" Aunt Flora enquired. Pam nodded, not happily.
"Well," Aunt Flora said, reasonably, "we can't live forever, dearie. Here's to us."
She drank. Pam wished briefly that Jerry were not so far away. Then she drank too. After the first sip both women waited, as if for an expected noise. Nothing happened. They drank again, with increased confidence.
"Well," said Aunt Flora. "One more bridge crossed. And now, Pamela — I want you to find him. That's really why I insisted on your coming. From all I've heard, it's right up your alley. Pamela North, the Lady Detective."
"That's nonsense," Pam said. "Of course I'll help, if I can. But it's Bill you want — Bill Weigand. Lieutenant William Weigand. He's the detective."
Aunt Flora shook her head and body emphatically.
"No," she said. "Not your policeman, Pam. Not yet anyway, dearie. For now, anyway, we'll just keep it in the family. Because it's already in the family, you know. Just a little arsenic among relatives, dearie."CHAPTER 2
5:15 p.m. TO 7:30 p.m.
Pam carried a squirming cat under each arm and dumped both on the bed. Then, before she did anything else, she went to one of the two windows at the end of the room and looked out into the street. She tried to look up toward Fifth Avenue, but the projecting corner of the apartment house next door cut off her view. The projecting corner of the apartment house on the east cut off her view toward Madison Avenue. Directly across the street, which was the only way left to look, another apartment house rose haughtily. The view, Pam decided, was not inspiring. She wondered absently why her first inclination on entering any room was to look out of it and decided that she would have to ask Jerry. He, she was sure, would have a theory.
"He always has theories," she told the cats, which sat on the bed and stared at her, turning their heads in unison. "I wish Jerry were here. Particularly if there's going to be arsenic." She paused and shook her head at the cats. "Not for him, sillies," she told them. Ruffy talked back, cat fashion, in an affectionate growl. Toughy jumped on Ruffy's head, evidently intending to smother her. Ruffy hissed and wiggled, emerged and instantly regained calm. She began to wash behind her right shoulder. Toughy looked at her in surprise, got the idea and began to wash his tail. Ruffy jumped down, landing on the carpet with a soft plunk, and began to smell the room. It was, Pam thought, going to take Ruffy a long time if she did it all. It was interesting to discover that houses still had such large rooms.
But when you thought of it, as Pam idly did, it was odd that people should still be living in New York in such houses as the old Buddie house, which could hardly have been really a new house when Major Alden Buddie was a small boy and neither a major nor, by any reasonable stretch of the imagination, a prospective husband for so different and — well, remarkable — a woman as Flora Pickering, who was then an even smaller girl and living on a farm in Upstate New York. The house was older than any of them and, even considering Aunt Flora herself, more unexpected. More unexpected, certainly, as a final home for Flora Pickering, afterward Flora Buddie, afterward Flora McClelland and Flora Craig and Flora Anthony and now, as of this morning, Flora Buddie again.
"Well," Pam told Toughy, her mind reeling a little, "Auntie got around, when you come to remember it. And now back here, with somebody trying to kill her."
The old house was too dignified for such absurdities as Aunt Flora and attempted murder. Even now, when it had been hemmed in and, seemingly, pushed back, it was too dignified. It went up five stories and had a bow window on the second floor — the second floor if you counted the anomalous layer which was half under the earth and half above it as the first. Once it had been one of a row of dignified houses, all very like it in essentials, all representing good addresses for the right people. It had stood after most of the others had come down. Because Aunt Flora had been stubborn, it now stood in retreat, with a mountain of an apartment house on each shoulder.
Excerpted from Hanged for a Sheep by Frances Lockridge, Richard Lockridge. Copyright © 1942 Frances and Richard Lockridge. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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