“You must be Mister Sherwood Garth,” the young man of about twenty-three told me. It didn’t sound like a question, it sounded as if he informed me of who I was. I sat on a wooden chair with my feet perched on the railing in front of my front porch. I sit here frequently in order to take in the beauty of the Pacific Ocean that faced my front yard.
I casually looked over my shoulder at the sign nailed to the front wall of my home, which I use as an office. It read ‘Woodie Garth’s Beach House.’ “Well, now that we have half of the introduction in hand; who might you be?”
“David March, sir.” The lanky, sandy-haired lad said. “I would like to speak to you about a job. You still take cases, don’t you?” He asked as he eyed my relaxed attire and my desire to remain in my chair. “I’m indeed sorry to bother you if you’re retired from Pinkerton. I’ve heard excellent reports about you.”
“You have,” I said smiling. “Someone has been talking behind my back. It must be that Harold Lloyd fellow. You can’t shut him up.”
“Seriously, Mister Garth. If you can’t help me, just say the word and I’ll be on my way.” I could see that the boy became irritated with my lack of enthusiasm. I couldn’t blame him. Since 1918, when the Mallorys and I started MGM Detective Agency, We’ve been exceedingly busy and I rewarded myself some free time. One way of escaping is Lounging on my front porch. Visiting my new friends in the world of Hollywood and escorting many of them to local speakeasies took up my evenings. I spent my days on the beaches of Santa Monica.
“I must apologize, young man. I’m being quite rude,” I said, standing and brushing some sand from my white shirt and dungarees. “Let’s go into my office and discuss your problem.” I opened the door as he climbed the three steps to the porch. “Allow me to call Major Mallory and his wife. They, more than likely will want to hear your story first hand.”
“No, Mister Garth,” he said, stopping on the third step. A frown fell over his face. “I do not wish, what I have to say, to go any further than you and I, and possibly my sister. You’ll understand once you hear me out.”
I held the door ajar and looked back at him. I remained silent for just a moment, my brow knitted and then conceded. “All right, I’ll abide by your rules for the time being. Come in, the room to your left is my consulting room. Find a comfortable seat and I’ll be with you once I’m dressed appropriately.”
“Never mind your dress, Mister Garth. I want to come straight to the point.”
“That’s fine with me,” I responded, shrugging and closing the door. I call it my consulting room, however, the builders originally designed it as the living room. It had a large fireplace on the east wall that faced the ocean through a large window covered with sheer sky blue curtains. A semi-circle of a variety of colored chairs faced the fireplace. During the winter months, I build a large fire but Mister March’s visit came in July, thus, no need for a fire.
We walked into the consulting room and I gestured to the chairs. He took a green one as I took one opposite him. I offered him a drink, which he turned down. “Now what can I do for you?”
“It’s about my father,” he said with a sigh. “There are those in my family who wish to prove him insane and take over the studio and his personal assets as well. He is a rich and an important man in the industry.”
“Is your father Francis March, th head of West-Coast Studios?”
“Good, you’ve heard of him,” David March answered. “Yes, my stepmother and my elder brother are trying to prove that he is insane. I and my sister believe it’s a farce.”
“That’s interesting,” I said, leaning back in my chair and running my fingers through my black hair. “I met your father at a dinner in May. He seemed perfectly rational to me. What evidence do they have to prove otherwise?”
“That’s just it. His behavior in May acted rationally, perfectly normal,” David said, crossing and uncrossing his legs as he spoke. “The first week of June, for no reason that we could see, he began having hallucinations. From that day forward, he would have daily visions. Most of them surrounded our mother, who died six years ago.”
“Be more specific, Mister March,” I coaxed.
“He would see my mother floating through whatever room he’s sitting in. In his hallucination, she would stop and turn towards him and admonish Father for marrying Paula Clinton.”
“That’s right, I recall reading about the wedding,” I said. “So, that little golddigger has her claws in your father.”
“Excellent description, Mister Garth. We tried to warn him before the wedding, but he wouldn’t listen. Now it’s come to this.” David put his head in his hands and shook.
“What other hallucinations has he had?”
“A number of bizarre visions. Like horses galloping through the living room. Worse yet, he saw an opening form in the wall of his bedroom and odd people walked through from another world. He actually sees these things and it scares him.”
“Does anyone else see them?”
“No, only Father. That’s what scares him the most. We’d all be sitting in the front parlor and he sees something. He insists that the rest of us experiences the visions as well. Of course, no one does.”
I remained silent a moment and thought the problem through, “Has he changed his diet recently?”
“Not at all. In fact, he has a very bland diet. He has oatmeal for breakfast every morning, eats out for lunch at a variety of restaurants and a normal meat and potatoes dinner prepared by our cook. Eleanor is a very loyal employee and would never harm father,” David said, shaking his finger at me. “She, by the way, cannot stand Paula. There would be no collusion between them.”
“Has he been examined by a doctor?” I asked, trying to get a grasp on the situation.
“Of course, Father is as healthy as a horse. The family doctor, who has been with us since my childhood, found nothing physically wrong with him,” David said. “Paula brought in a psychiatrist, who is staying with us, She hired Doctor Norman Ross. I don’t have an ounce of trust in him.”
“I can understand your feelings,” I said with a nod. “However, he would lose his license to practice if he became part of a crooked deal like you’re suggesting. What would you like me to do?”
“I thought you could move into a guest room at the house and investigate. I could tell everyone that you’re a college chum of mine and—”
“That wouldn’t work. I’m about ten years older than you. It’s not plausible that we would have been classmates.”
“What would you suggest?”
I could be your instructor at whatever college you went to.”
“That would be Yale, Mister Garth.”
“Okay, I taught your history class. I’m passing through and decided to visit my favorite pupil,” I said, smiling at the thought of being a college professor. I would have been a terrible student let alone an instructor at the college.
“Here’s the address of my home,” he said, reaching forward and handing me his card. “I’ll expect you around noon tomorrow. That should give you time to arrange for the visit.” He stood and walked to the door. His step seemed to be lighter and his smile brighter. “Is that all right with you, Mister Garth?”
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Mister March. Or I should call you David. Is that what your professors called you?”
“Yes, and you’re Professor Garth. Good afternoon, sir.”
“Good Afternoon,” I said in greeting Arthur March, David older brother. I had dressed in a black cotton suit with thin lapels and a small crookedly tied bow tie. My disguise as a college professor. I also wore a pair of heavy glasses with clear lenses to add authenticity. “Out of the goodness of his heart, David invited me into your home while I search for a domicile of my own.”
Arthur March looked over to David and gave him a deep frown, “I don’t remember David speaking of you. What subject do you teach?” I imagine Arthur’s large imposing frame would unnerve all who met him except me. I’ve faced down bigger brutes then him before.
“I taught David Mid-evil European history, dear boy. He was a wiz on the subject,” I said, my shoulders hunched forward.
“If it’s going to be a short visit, I have no problem with it,” Arthur said. “He’ll show you to a room.” He looked over at David and added, “Be quick about it. I want to talk to you in private about your father.”
“Oh, yes, David said his father is ill,” I said, fanning concern. “What’s wrong with the poor man?”
“If it’s any of your business, he’s crazy. He sees ghosts around the house. And, he’s not poor, he’s got enough money to buy the city of Santa Monica. The cheap bastard,” the last phrase he mumbled to himself.
“David and I can catch up on old times later,” I said, stepping closer to Arthur “Why don’t you show me to my room. You, the master of the house, can give me a better picture of the household.”
“Not a bad idea, Artie,” David said. I could see him suppressing a smile.
“Grab your bag and come this way,” Arthur said, leading me to the staircase. “Once we walked out of earshot of David, Arthur looked at me and asked, “Why do you care about the old man’s illness?”
“To be honest, while David drove me from the train depot, he told me about the man’s derangement.” I looked up at Arthur’s craggy face. “Do you think a man in that condition should be running a movie studio?”
“Well, I see someone has some sense around here.” His frown contorted into a twisted smile. “We’re working on a plan to remove him. But, he has lawyers—, he looked down at me and said. “Don’t jump into the fray until you know who’s waiting for you.”
We walked silently climbed the staircase until reaching the upstairs hallway. A woman of remarkable beauty stepped from a room at the end of the hallway. As she approached us, I recognized her as Paula Clinton, from the movies I’ve seen. She had shoulder length blonde, wavy hair that swayed casually as she walked. She wore a silk dress of yellow embedded with rhinestones. It came down to her knees swinging to the rhythm of her walk.
“And, who have we here,” she asked Arthur but looking at me with her wide bright eyes. “A visitor to the house?”
“Yea, David invited Professor Garth to stay with us a while.”
“Oh, a professor,” she beamed. “I love intellectual men. You carry on such enlightening conversations.” She reached out her hand, I took it and gave a small bow.
“I love intellectual women,” I countered with a smirk. “More so if they are as beautiful as you, my dear.”
“We should get along famously, professor,” she said, winking. Then she left Arthur and me, leaving the image of her swaying hips in my mind.
Arthur looked down at me and said steadily, “Don’t get any funny ideas, she’s taken.”
Of course, I thought, he didn’t say who had taken her. He didn’t mention the husband. Interesting, I thought. I moved into a small, but well furnished, room at the opposite end of the corridor from Paula’s. I believe Arthur went out of his way to find this room for me.
The next morning I woke and dressed early. I didn’t want to run into Arthur and deal with the jealousy and suspicion he held for me. I put on the same get-up I had on the day before. I walked down the hall and before beginning the descent on the stairs, I met a man coming up. The elderly man had a head of white hair and dressed immaculately. That surprised me, considering the early hour.
“How do you do,” I said, once he reached the second floor. “Do I have the honor of meeting Mister Francis March?”
“Heavens no,” he answered, his eyes popped open as if I insulted him. Without taking my hand reached out to him, he said, “ I’m Doctor Norman Ross. I’m Mister March’s psychiatrist. He’s a very ill man. I hope you don’t have the misfortune of meeting him.”
“Why is that, sir? David said he merely has hallucinations. He mentioned no violent behavior.”
“Leave the diagnosis to the trained professionals, young man. There’s no telling where these visions will lead to.” He pushed past me without a word and scurried down the hall. I watched as he went directly to Paula Clinton’s room and, without so much as a knock, entered. My mind went back to Arthur’s warning. She’s taken. I can see who she’s taken by.
I went down the stairs and entered the kitchen. Expecting to find the cook, I found an empty room. It gave me a chance to look through the cupboards and try to find the substance that caused the hallucinations. My reward for persistence came when I found the bowl of oatmeal that sat on the counter where the cook had just prepared it.
I found little interest in the bowl. However, lying on the counter, next to the bowl, I spied a small pile of grains. At first, I assumed them to be spilled oatmeal. But, on closer examination, the grains appeared to be wheat with a stain of something black on the shaft. I pulled one of the envelopes I always carried and slid the grains into it. Folding the envelope, I put it in my pocket and turned to the bowl of oatmeal. There they sat, mixed in with the oatmeal, a handful of the semi-black grains. It would have been futile to try to pick them out, as the door opened I swept the bowl from the counter, breaking it and spraying the contents across the floor.
“Here now,” a robust elderly woman called out. “Who are you and what are you doing in my kitchen?” Her face flushed red with anger as she stood in front of me with her fists on her hips.
“I’m terribly sorry,” I said, looking as guilty as I could. “I’m searching for something to eat and I stumbled in here. I’m Professor Garth, a friend of young David’s.
“If you’re hungry, the breakfast for the rest of the family is in the dining room. This mess you caused belongs to the master of the house.”
“I am sorry. Is there anything I can do?’
“You can get out of my kitchen. Don’t touch anything. I’ll clean it up and make a fresh batch of oatmeal.” She fumed.
“Is there a special ingredient that you put in the oatmeal for Mister March?”
“Of course not, he strictly orders plain oatmeal every morning. Doesn’t even want sugar or raisins,” she answered. “But that’s what he wants, that’s what he gets.”
On the way to the dining room, I passed a telephone on the wall of the hallway. I quickly grabbed the ear-phone and gave the operator Major James Mallory’s telephone number. I realized that David March didn’t want anyone else involved, but I do need my Watson. I hadn’t planned to tell Mallory the specifics of the case, just going to use him as a delivery boy. I developed a close friendship with Doctor Pablo Vasquez, the forensic specialist with the local police. He is a chemist and would be able to identify the grain and the black growth on it.
I spoke to Mallory’s lovely wife, Anneka, “How are you this lovely day?”
“A bit put out by the phone ringing at this time of the morning,” she said, her voice groggy from being woken. “My humblest apology. But. I have an urgent task for the major. Is he available?”
My charm with women seemed to placate her. Her voice perked up. I could hear a smile on her face. “James is still asleep and I don’t want to wake him. What is it you need, Woodie?”
“One of you needs to come down to the March estate and pick up a small package for me and take it to Doctor Vasquez at the Santa Monica police lab. It’s extremely important.” I spoke with a sense of urgency.
“Sounds like you’re onto something there. I can be there at ten. I need to dress and make myself presentable.”
“Oh, you’re always presentable, dear lady,” I said. “However, don’t come to the house, I am under an assumed persona. I’ll meet you at Fineberg’s Deli down the street.”
“Whatever you say, boss,” Anneka jested. “Ten on the nose, see you then.”
I went to the dining room and found a cute teenage girl in a school uniform eating her breakfast. Possibly the first to rise, besides the cook. Her blonde pigtails fell over her white blouse. Beneath the blouse, she wore an ankle length, checkered blue, and white skirt. I went to the sideboard and filled my plate with pancakes, as I poured the syrup on my meal, I eyed the girl with caution. Turning back to the table I sat across from her.
“You must be Virginia March,” I said, smiling openly. “Your brother David told me about you. You’re still in high school, I see. ”
“I’m a senior and I’ll be graduating once I finish my summer classes. And, I know who you are,” she whispered leaning forward. “You’re that detective David hired.”
I put my finger to my lips, “Mums the word. No one knows who I am except you and your brother.”
“Don’t worry,” she whispered, picking up a slice of bacon. “I think my quiff of a step-mother is out to get my daddy’s jack. I don’t want her to get it.”
“Oh, you know,” she said. “Money. You need to bone-up on our new languages, Mister Garth. I mean Professor Garth.”
“I imagine I do,” I replied grinning. “What makes you think she’s doing something to cause the hallucinations?”
“She and the doctor have it all worked out,” Virginia said in a small voice. She looked around the room, anxiously. No one remained behind. “I’m no kid, ya know. The first time I took a gander at those two, I knew they were playing a game. She’s had the doc in her room overnight every other night.” She put the bacon in her mouth and ripped in half with a vengeance.
“Isn’t he a bit old for her?”
She shrugged. “He got the stuff that she needs to put my father away in a sanitarium. She’ll do anything to get him there. The quiff.”
A quiff, as Virginia put it, means she has loose morals and the way Paula conducted herself on the stairwell hinted at that. I also witnessed the good doctor going into her room. “What time did Doctor Ross go into the kitchen this morning?”
“He never went in there,” she said. “He went into the library across the hall. Stayed in there a few minutes and went back upstairs. I have a view of the hallway from here and could see every movement he made.”
That information surprised me. I felt certain that the doctor tainted the oatmeal. I turned back to Virginia. “Who else entered the kitchen this morning?”
“Irene, the cook, of course. My brother Arthur leaves early, at five, to go to work, so he probably went to the kitchen for something to eat.” She thoughtfully added, “Arthur likes to spend time with Paula as well. I hate to think my brother would—.”
“I understand. How about you? When are you up?” I added.
“I like to help Irene make breakfast while I wait for my eggs and bacon,” she said.
“What time does David leave for work?” I asked to get a clear picture of who is doing what.
“He doesn’t leave till ten o’clock. He sleeps in until around eight,” she said with food in her mouth. “You don’t suspect him of doing anything, do you?”
“No, just checking. What about Paula? Does she ever get up early?”
“Are you kidding? With her wild nights, she’s lucky to get up by noon.”
“So, you didn’t see her this morning?” I asked.
“Unless I peeked through the keyhole,” she answered with a smile that showed her scrambled eggs.
“Thank you for all your help, Virginia,” I said nodding to the well-proportioned girl. “I don’t want to keep you from school.”
“Don’t trouble yourself, Woodie. You can take up all the time you want. I’m fascinated by the mystery of it all,” she said, smiling.
Virginia, at seventeen, seemed to be alert to the adult misconducts around the house. “If you see something that looks questionable, let me know, okay?”
“Okay, swanky, but that covers a lot around here,” she said with an unexpected wink. She stood and walked away from the table. She then abruptly turned and grabbed a valis that sat on the chair next to the one she vacated. “I can’t forget this.” She then left.
I had a meeting to go to at ten. I finished breakfast and returned to my room. I’m sure that the results of the tests on the grain will answer how he or she poisoned Mister March, but by who?
I had time on my hands now that I passed the envelope to Anneka. Doctor Vasquez, if not too busy, should have the results within a few hours. Anneka promised to get those results back to me promptly. I needed to use the next few hours to hunt out the ‘who’ of the equation.
The three siblings were away from the house, it’s a perfect time to snoop around. My first target was Arthur’s room. The room that sat between his father’s and step-mothers room. I found that odd. Rich folks usually have separate bedrooms, but they usually are adjoined. In this case, Arthur is separating the two.
I left my room and looked down the hall. No one stood about, not even the maid. I bet the maid has some stories to tell about this family, I thought as I walked down the hall. I tried the door and relieved to find it unlocked. I closed the door quietly and looked around. The dwelling of the oldest brother appeared to be twice the size as my own room. Richly decorated in dark greens. The room looked, to me, dreary with wallpaper, bedspread, carpeting, and art-work frames all in forest green. I went to the dresser first, moving silently since Paula’s room stood just on the other side of an adjoining door.
A number of items attracted my attention. A note from his step-mother thanking him for a wonderful night. He also, foolishly, had a few photographs of Paula hidden away under his garments. They weren’t sleazy photos, but having them at all seemed odd. So, it seemed as though the doctor shared the favors of Paula Clinton with Arthur. However, the grains that I had found in the kitchen were nowhere in Arthur’s room.
That pointed the finger of guilt more towards Doctor Ross. He spent last night with Paula. I saw him coming back upstairs, but did he come back to the room next to this one, or his own? I went to the adjoining door and cautiously knelt. No key blocked my view, so I peered in. There sat Paula at her vanity, brushing her hair. Still wearing a fine silk negligee that flowed loosely over her captivating figure. I could hear no voices at first, then the unmistakable deep voice of the doctor.
“I don’t understand what’s causing all the hallucinations, Paula. But, I’m glad he is having them,” It’ll make his committal all the easier. Then, we can remove the unwanted guests from here and be together.”
“What’s taking you so long?” she hissed. “I’ve been patient with you, doctor. And, kind to you. I want him gone.”
“I want to be sure that he’ll stay gone, my love,” he pleaded. “Now, come back to bed and show me how kind you can be.”
I could see her expression in the vanities mirror when he suggested more kindness. She gritted her teeth and squeezed her eyes shut. Then looked back into the mirror and smiled to herself. “I’ll be right there.” She stood and I could hear the bed squeak and knew I had a few minutes to go to the doctor’s room.
His room sat across the hall from mine. I simply slipt out of Arthur’s room and sauntered down the hall. Again, the door swung open without any effort. I didn’t want to take to much time. There’s no telling how much time I had. After a quick investigation of all the drawers of the dresser, side tables, and wardrobe, I found nothing incriminating. Either the doctor could be an honest man and not know about the grain, or he hid it quite well. I found his black bag and searched for anything that would condemn him, to no avail.
I wanted out of there before they finished being kind to one another. I stepped out of the room and closed it behind me. The next room on my list is David’s. His room sat next to mine. Unfortunately, his door was locked. I would have jimmied the lock, but, I’d be wasting precious time. After all, he’s the one who brought me into the case.
Next to his room sat Virginia’s. I didn’t expect much from her’s, but, my history with the female of the species made it a priority. Her door surprisingly opened without a problem. Most young girls like their privacy. I slid into the room and closed the door. It looked like a typical teenage girls room. Painted in pink with frilly sheer curtains hanging from her four-poster bed.
The walls were covered with pictures of all the latest stars of Hollywood. Garbo, Louise Brooks, Marion Davies, Clara Bow, Esther Ralston, and other starlets. I dug into her dresser drawers, finding more photos of Hollywoods starlets, then I hit jackpot. A bag containing the blackened grain that I found in the kitchen.
That afternoon I spoke to David March and arranged for a meeting with the household. He had arrived home early from his work and I approached him in the den, where he had poured himself a scotch.
“Did you want one, Mister Garth?” he said, holding up the bottle.
“No, thank you. I try to keep my head clear while on a case,?” I answered.
“There are times when this clears my head,” he said, drinking the scotch. “You have the case worked out already?”
“I’ll tell you about that this evening,”. I said, looking towards the front window. “That’s if you can arrange for a meeting here in the den.”
“Paula will be a bitch about it,” David warned. “But, I’ll promise her a gift if she comes.”
“Excellent. Not your father, though,” I added. “It may be painful for him.”
“Whatever you say. It’s your game, Woodie.”
“One more thing. Who told Virginia that I go by the name Woodie?”
David shrugged, “I might have mentioned it when I told her you were coming. She’ll be home from her Horticulture class in a few minutes. I’ll ask her then.”
“Never mind, I’ll talk to her later.” I waved off his offer. “Just be sure everyone is here at half-past seven.”
I felt pleasantly surprised that everyone had shown up in the den as requested. Not all were happy to be there. I didn’t need to cover as a college professor any longer. I dressed in my gray cotton suit and a broad white tie. Did away with the fake spectacles, looking and feeling like myself again.
“I thought David summoned us to the den,” Arthur blustered. “Who are you to take charge?”
I stood up and looked about the small group. “I can understand your feelings, sir. But, let me start by identifying myself. I am Sherwood Garth, not a professor but a private investigator. David felt his father’s state of mind may be more than simple aging. He hired me to see what is happening to the poor man.”
“Where is Francis?” Paula asked looking around the room. She looked as alluring as she did when I peeked through the keyhole. She sat next to Doctor Ross on the sofa across from where I stood.
“I didn’t wish for him to be here,” I answered. “I feared that it would be too painful for his already fragile mind.”
“I have a few questions for Irene,” I nodded towards the elderly cook standing dutifully at the door.
“Get on with it then,” Arthur said, glaring at me. “This is your doing, David. Father is in good hands with Doctor Ross. We didn’t need some Pinkerton man nosing around the house.”
“Interesting. Who told you I’m a Pinkerton agent?”
“You did, just moments ago.”
“Did I? I must be slipping. Irene, What time do you prepare Mister March’s oatmeal?”
“He wants it ready by five am, sir. He doesn’t always rise that early, but in case he does, he wants it ready.”
“And, who else is in the kitchen at that time?”
Irene looked around the room at each of the family members. I sensed a bewildering presence infold her. The cook couldn’t be sure if she should answer or not.
“Go on, Irene,” David said. “You’ll not be punished for speaking the truth.”
“Well, Arthur leaves for work early,” she stuttered. “But, he never goes in the kitchen. I serve him on the dining room table.”
“The kitchen is for the help, I’m not a servant here,” Arthur said, belligerently.
“Mrs. March never comes down for breakfast. She usually joins the doctor for lunch around noon. That’s when he gets up.”
“What about David and Virginia?”
“David sleeps in until ten,” she said looking at David. “That leaves Virginia.”
“Yes, that leaves Virginia,” I said, my gaze shifting to the teenage girl. I walked over to her chair and looked down at her pouting face. “What college did you want to attend, Virginia?”
She squirmed in her seat. Her pleading eyes looked over to her stepmother for help. “I wanted to go to Princeton in New Jersey.”
“Your father refused to pay for that college,” I said. “He didn’t want you to go out of state. According to this letter, that you failed to mail to Princeton on his behalf I found in your room, tucked away under your pillow, He thought it best that you go to a local college.”
“Who allowed you to nose through my room? You had no right.”
“Maybe not, but I’m not a policeman,” I answered, looking at David. “Since David hired me I’ll go on. I also found a few notes from your step-mother. She didn’t want you to leave either.”
“Those are personal notes—”
“Yes, extremely personal,” I said, glancing at Paula who blushed a deep shade of red.
“That’s enough, Mister Garth,” the movie star said. “What are you trying to get at?”
“To the point, A substance called Ergot Fungi is what induced Mister March’s hallucinations,” I said, pulling a small bag from my pocket. It’s a fungal disease of rye and other cereals. It’s hard to see unless you’re looking for it. It’s black and grows on the ears of the cereals.”
“So, you think I had something to do with this,” Paula said. “I know nothing about fungal diseases.”
“No, but your young lover does,” I responded. “You took the horticulture class, Miss March and learned about the fungus there. For the rest of you, the Ergot Alkaloid causes hallucinations, irrational behavior, and convulsions. It’s is very hard to find it in the victim’s system unless you look for it.”
“What is all this,” Arthur March said, jumping from his chair. “You’ve got some nerve accusing my sister of trying to murder her father. It’s preposterous.”
“No, Mister March, she didn’t want to kill her father, and you knew it as well.”
“Wait a second,” David interrupted. “You’re saying all three of them are in on this?”
“I’m afraid so, David. I have the proof,” I said, walking behind his chair and placing my hand on his shoulder. I then handed him the bag. “This is the substance that I found in Virginia’s room. I found some of it next to your fathers oatmeal bowl yesterday morning. I’m sorry I had to break the bowl that morning, Irene, but I didn’t want Mister March to ingest any more of it.”
“How do you know Virginia mixed it in the oatmeal?” David asked, having a difficult time believing his sister would be involved.
“She is the only one who is in the kitchen to tamper with the cereal,” I said. “ Irene and Virginia confirmed that. When I called my partner and had him take the substance to be analyzed, she took it to Doctor Pablo Vasquez with the Los Angelas Police Department. Does that name sound familiar, Arthur?”
Arthur March stepped back, away from the chairs and toward the door. His face looked pinched and drawn, his lips trembled, he couldn’t think of anything to say.
“No? Well, he knows you, sir. When Major Mallory spoke to him, the doctor said that you had asked the same questions about the grain you brought him. Pablo said that he gave you the symptoms of the fungus.”
“Oh, and let’s not leave you out, Paula. I checked with your agent. He had arranged for a staring role on Broadway for you. It would have been a turning point in your lackluster career.”
“What does all this mean?” David shouted, now on his feet, his brow knitted in anger.
“You fool, David,” Arthur said, grinning. “That old idiot up in bed is holding us all back. You’re too stupid to see it. We didn’t want to kill Father, his will would have given the company to the stockholders. We needed to prove him insane and have him committed. That’s why the good doctor is here.”
“So, he’s in on it too.”
“No, we used him,” Virginia said, crossing her legs and smiling smugly at Doctor Ross. “I let Paula entertain him at night so that he would follow directions at the right time.”
“Indeed,” was all that Doctor Ross could say as he shifted in his seat.
“I’ll tell you the rest, David, so your Pinkerton man doesn’t think he has all the answers,” Virginia said as she took charge of the room. She seemed to have a charismatic hold on everyone in the house. Even at the tender age of seventeen, she took charge. “The three of us are in it together. I learned about the fungus from my instructor at my school. He had no idea what I had planned to do with the grain. When he turned away, I took it.”
“You added it to the oatmeal while Irene prepared your breakfast,” I explained.
“Excellent, Mister Garth. You catch on quickly,” she said mockingly, still grinning. “Anyway, when we had father committed, Arthur would assume command at the studio and run it his way. Paula would take control of the family fortune and send me to Princeton and take that role on Bradway she so dearly wanted in New York. Since I would be in New Jersey, I could visit her as often as we wanted. There you have it, David.”
“Well, it’s not going to work,” David said.
“Sure it is,” Arthur said, I can give you a well-paying job and we can pay the Pink money to keep quiet. Now give me the grain,” he demanded.
“Never,” David shouted.
Garth smiled and pointed behind David, “I think Mister March has something to say about it.”
All of the occupants in the room turned to the door that led to the kitchen. There stood an older man bent and pale from the sickness put on him. However, alert enough to understand what he had heard. Mister Francis March’s stared, his eyes ablaze with anger.
“Mister Garth, I want you to collect all the evidence against these people. Get affidavits from Doctor Vasquez and Virginia’s teacher and have it all categorized. I’ll not go to the police at this time. Paula, you’re finished here. Take this little tramp, who used to be my daughter and leave,” he then turned to Arthur, “You’re fired. Pack your things here and at the office and vacate both of the premises. Doctor Ross, you can leave as well.”
“I’m sorry about all of this, Father,” David said as the room cleared of the guilty parties.
“Don’t be,” the elder March said. “You and Mister Garth saved me for a horrible fate. I don’t want to retaliate, I just want them out of our lives. If you want it, Arthur’s job is yours. I’ll put you under my wing and someday the studio can be yours.”
Thank you, Father. And, Mister Garth?”
“You’ll be amply rewarded for your service, young man. Just name your price,” Francis March said to me.
He would have paid a hefty sum for what I saved him. However, I charged him the going rate with a promise from him to refer our detective agency to others in the entertainment industry. I assumed, from what I learned in the past couple days, there’s enough corruption and immorality in Hollywood to make MGM Detective Agency a fortune.