Aletha Carlisle emitted a strangled cry, clapping a hand to her mouth, but Carlisle remained motionless, almost as if for a second he could not believe the incredible words he had heard uttered. Then the blood spilled back into his cheeks as he found his voice.
"Honor!" he cried out in a mixture of horror and revulsion. "Stealing your mother's pendant and pawning it to pay off gambling debtsand then placing the blame on an innocent man is...honorable? That was you, then, wasn't it, imitating Dick's voice to Mrs. Whatley? No, you don't have to tell me. I know you're clever at it." He shuddered. "I've complimented you on it often enough."
He gave his son another disbelieving stare, then turned, shaken, to the stout pawnbroker. "Mr. Cataldo?" As he did so he withdrew a business card from his suit jacket. "If you'll call at my office Monday morning, I'll return the money you paid to my son. After all, you are now out a valuable piece of property."
He inclined his head to the right to take in Steven, who stood with his fists doubled, his ashen face stark in the combined yellow light of the fire and the flickering rainbow of the Japanese lanterns. "My son will have ample opportunity to repay me when he comes to work for me next week. I don't think college is quite the place for him any longer." Steven's head jerked up as if he had been electrically shocked, but his father merely added grimly, "I can always use another office boy."
"Office boy-" His son found his voice. "I won't work as your office boy! Have your underlings sniggering at me-"
"Perhaps," Carlisle said coolly, "you should have thought of that before you disgraced the family and given them something to snigger about. If you're an office boy, I at least won't have to see you every day. I'm not certain I care to."
"Thomas!" Mrs. Carlisle cried out in protest. "I'm sure there's no need for that. We can have him make amends another way! We simply-" but her husband had already stepped aside to speak to Detective Sullavan and her voice died away, leaving Steven to remain, wavering, as the crowd murmured around him. His eyes sought Rory for support, but he found nothing but disappointment and pain on the features of his best friend.
Then, breathing heavily, he took one, then another, then a third deliberate step until he was face to face with Artie Dale.
"What's your real deal in this, Dale," he asked harshly, all pretense of civility gone from his voice. "as if I would believe your Boy Scout excuse of helping a friend?"
Artie's eyes, shaded by the smoked glasses, nevertheless shifted to Dick, who was watching him in a kind of wonder. "What do you think, Carlisle? That I was deliberately going after you? That I would have given a tinker's dam about some bored rich kid swiping his mother's jewelry if he hadn't dragged in an honest fisherman's son down in the dirtnot to mention trying to implicate his best friend in a crime? Yeah, I did it for a chum."
Afterwards no one in the crowd could agree about how the next few seconds came about. What happened was so swift that even the people standing closest to the two young men did not actually see every movement.
As he spit out the words, "Then maybe your chum can get you out of this," Steven's hand flashed to the table. The massive bread knife that just moments before had provided Betty with a slice of her aunt's cheese bread was suddenly in his hand and with a short, savage motion, he stabbed forward and downward.
Artie saw the swift movement, pivoted too slowly. The blade missed his vital organs, but slashed across his left arm, the one he threw up instinctively to protect himself, and Artie cried out in pain, his right hand snapping reflexively over the severed flesh as Steve threw the knife to land point-first in the sand. In the next second he had turned, growled, "Get out of my way, you fat cow!" and pushed Miss Diana Davis aside as if she were a kitten, sending both the society reporter and his own mother sprawling in the sand.
Too stunned to react properly, nevertheless several members of the crowd made a grab for him, but the lithe, agile boy, in fighting trim from endless athletics, dodged their grasp or shoved them aside as he disappeared into the darkness. Sullavan wheeled, cursed, and headed at a dead run after his quarry, but in a moment there came the cough of a single-cylinder engine, Sullavan's voice raised in an oath, and then the sound of a motor cycle vanishing rapidly up the beach. Sullavan swore again, loudly.
In the meantime Artie had fallen back on the much-trampled sand, his mouth twisted in pain as blood began spilling from between fingers clapped over the slash. Betty, snapped from her shocked reaction by the sight of the blood, recalled her Red Cross classes and suddenly turned, snatching two of the many cloth napkins from the table with only a small idea of what to do with them.
"Mother of God," a bystander cried out, "somebody get the doctor."
Horace Madison clapped his son on the back. "Dr. Porter was down by the rocks fishing when I saw him last. Run!"
Rory took to his heels and vanished into the crowd.
"Here, Elly," Betty heard as she turned back to Artie. To her surprise, Priscilla was on her knees next to the fallen man, reaching out for the napkins. "Give me the napkins, quickly. And a butter knife, too! Hurry!"
Dazed, she turned back to the table, only to find Dick already swiftly handing the knife to her. There on the ground, confronting the profusely bleeding man, Priscilla remained, as always, calm and prepared. "I'll use these for a tourniquet, you see," and swiftly she made that appliance, using the butter knife in place of a stick to keep the cloth taut.
"This can't keep this on too long," she said, finishing that part of the work. "Dr. Porter will need to know what time I started. Dick, come help me. You have a watch."
"I'll help you all I can, Cil," Dick said, dropping to her side and ineffectually attempting to wipe up some of the blood now steadily dripping down Artie's elbow into the sand, "but I don't know what time it is. I don't have my watch any longer."
"What?" she asked, startled, as if the missing timepiece was most important, but in reality observing with growing dismay the blood too rapidly pumping from the wound.
Dick said quietly, "It's why I was at McIllveray's the day the pendant vanished. I pawned the watch dad gave me, and Grandpop's pearl studs as well." Now with one strong hand he pressed a napkin against the slash to stanch the welling blood, for Artie, already weakening, had dropped his bloodstained right hand and was bracing himself in a half-sitting position, grinding his teeth against the pain. "You see, I wanted to buy you an engagement ring," Priscilla's mouth formed an "O." "to let you know that I would wait, as long as your mother thought proper."
Priscilla's mouth worked, but the only thing she could manage was a weak, "Oh, heavens, I'll never understand men," before she turned back to the problem at hand. "Where is that doctor? Elly! I need more napkins, now!"
Betty, now nearly insensible watching her pain-wracked friend, started, then snatched more napkins from the table just as her father gently dropped Grandfather Roberts' pocket watch into Dick's lap. "Here, use this. I know I can trust you."
Priscilla looked gratefully at her uncle, then gasped as Betty unsteadily handed her the squares of cloth, "Uncle David, take Elly away! She's about to faint!"
Indeed the girl was already swaying as black spots popped before her eyes when her father swooped her up as if she were a toddler again and he had never been sick. He carried her past the babbling, surging picnickers and the now blurred, bobbing Japanese lanterns to a quiet area just a few feet from the thicket the young ladies had been using for nature's purposes. Swiftly he set her on the sand and pushed her unresisting head between her knees until her swimming vision cleared and she could breathe without difficulty again.
And then she looked up into her father's face, then down at where Artie's blood had spattered her hands, and burst into tears.
He fell to his knees, gathering her in his arms and holding her tightly as she wept, tears wrung from her in great gasping sobs. Finally he began to rock her back and forth, saying "Shhh, shhh," until the sobs subsided and she slowly recovered.
David pulled a now perspiration-damp handkerchief from his pocket and wiped her eyes, then her tear-stained face. "It's all right, chickadee."
"Oh, Dad!" she sniffled in a heartrending voice. "He's going to die."
"Not if your cousin has anything to say about it," he answered, recalling Priscilla's resolve.
"Isn't she splendid?" Betty admitted, wanting to look back down the beach, but not having the courage to do so.
"Yes." He regarded her with serious, concerned eyes. "Chickadee, tell me something. Sullavan said that someone saw Steven being assaulted in the basement of the Majestic. You got upset the moment he spoke of it. Was it...was it you that saw it happen? You were so off-color that evening."
Betty's lips trembled, and she nodded wordlessly.
"Dear God," he gasped, his face paling, "why didn't you say something?"
"I just-" she faltered. "I was trying to help Artie."
"You knew what he was doing?" David exclaimed.
In a hesitant, trembling voice, Betty told him what had happened from the moment she had discovered Artie was not as badly injured as he claimed to hearing his explanation to their trading of information to her revelation about Steven's talent for mimicry. By the time she finished, he was as pale as Steven had been earlier.
"Why didn't you say something?" he repeated, his hands gripping hers as if he were afraid something would part them.
"I was...I was enjoying it," she confessed, shamefaced. "I wanted to do something special, to help Artie clear Dick's name, and...it was exciting, like an adventure from the pictures. I was part of it, instead of being poky, dull Elizabeth Roberts from Elkhart, Indiana."
"Dear God," he repeated, then embraced her tightly. "You are special, chickadee. For heaven's sake, you always have been and always will be." His voice caught.
They hugged each other in silence and then parted for a moment as he recovered his composure, then he said, grimly, "Your mother will never speak to me again when she finds out about this."
Betty answered, half-laughing, half-crying, "We'll have to endure the silent treatment together, then," and he managed a laugh as well, then pulled her close for another minute or two.
Finally he asked gently, "Would you like me to see how Artie is?"
"Yes, Dad," she whispered although the tears still blinded her, and he pressed a kiss to her forehead, then rose and disappeared into the crowd.
"Elly, are you all right?"
Betty turned to see her cousin Kit staring at her. Vision blurry from her tears and with the girl illuminated only in the dim, bobbing lights of kerosene lanterns, Betty could still see that she was clutching her skirt and chewing her lower lip. "I didn't mean to eavesdrop on you and your dad, but I was out here when the screams started and then you came and you were talking and I couldn't help-"
"I'm all right," and now Betty wiped the remaining tears from her eyes with a corner of her skirt as her cousin joined her.
"You have blood on you," Kit pointed out, trembling.
"It will come off," Betty assured, but the sight of the sticky substance on her hands made her queasy. She wondered if she might vomit.
Thank God for Kit and her odd reactions! She burst out then, "How can you possibly think you're poky and dull?"
Betty almost laughed. Kit was still Kit and the world was once again stable.
"I am," she answered stoutly, unperturbed, "and homely and-"
"But I'm the one who's as homely as two toads," her cousin wailed. "Cilla got the blond curly hairI bobbed my hair because it wouldn't curl for beans. Your dad runs a newspaper! I'm stuck in this dull old place with Miss Perfect Priss...'Why can't you be quiet and sensible like your sister?' 'Cilla doesn't raise such a ruckus in the kitchen.' 'Your sister always looks like she stepped out of a bandbox...'"
"'Patricia doesn't always have her nose in a book,'" Betty mimicked her in a sing-song voice. "'If you want to help Patty with her quilt your stitches will have to be smaller than that,' 'You're getting too big to climb up in the haymow; you don't see your sister going up there,'" and when Kit's mouth was sufficiently agape, Betty added with feeling, "I'm glad Pat didn't come. She would have spoilt all my fun and then...'peached' to Mother about it the moment we walked in the door. Dad'll at least...soften it a little."
Kit's eyes were as round as saucers as Betty finished, "And do you know why Patty didn't come with us? Because of a boyyyyyy!"
At that both she and Kit began to giggle and the two girls fell into each other's arms, mingling tears and embarrassed laughter.
In a few moments David Roberts had threaded his way out of the crowd, returning to the girls. His expression was thoughtful, but when he squatted down at his daughter's side, he reported, "Artie's lost a great deal of blood and he'll need his wound stitched, but Dr. Porter seems confident he'll be fine. He's planning to take Artie back to his office and then probably on to the hospital."
"Might I say goodbye to him, Dad?" Betty asked, starting to scramble to her feet. "If they send him to the hospital we probably won't see him again before we leave-"
The Shell Pendant Mystery is ©2002 by Linda M. Young