Capt. M. L. Heimrich of the New York State Police may not have the flash of hard-boiled city detectives, but there’s no lead the intrepid investigator won’t follow until his every hunch is satisfied . . .
Just as he’s about to take a well-deserved break, Captain Heimrich is confronted with a fresh-faced officer who has a gut feeling about what should be an open-and-shut case. Trooper Crowley knows all the evidence points to Margaret Landcraft being trampled to death by Prince, Deep Meadow Farm’s prize-winning Angus bull. But he also knows Prince to be a gentle giant and Mrs. Landcraft one of the sturdiest women around—something just doesn’t add up.
Captain Heimrich isn’t very familiar with cattle, but following hunches has never led him astray. He soon learns that Mrs. Landcraft’s sons seem much more keen on cashing in their champion bull than carrying on the family profession—leading Heimrich to believe the real killer may be human after all . . .
Death and the Gentle Bull is the 7th book in the Captain Heimrich Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
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The house itself was on a rise. Cars climbed from the road to it, along a drive shaded by tall hemlocks. People left the cars and went through the house, which was cool and empty; went through french doors, across a flagged terrace, to the lawn, which was by no means empty — nor, indeed, noticeably cool. People who were unfamiliar with Deep Meadow paused on the terrace and, according to their natures, gave forth small gasps of wonderment, audible yelps of the same or merely blinked their eyes. Evelyn Merritt, although she had seen it often, caught her breath and Wade Landcraft smiled down at her and nodded and said it would be even better in the spring, with pink and yellow and the faintest of greens on the hills.
Bonita Landcraft, on the other hand, said, "My God, Harv! I still don't believe it! I'll never believe it. It's painted on. Somebody painted it on." To which Harvey Landcraft said, yes, it was quite a view, and then, "The bar's usually over there," indicating. The bar was; the bar was part of the foreground. A long buffet table was part of the foreground; round tables under bright umbrellas were part of the foreground; some hundred and fifty people, in shade and in shadow, were part of the foreground. So were two busy photographers. "She does a nice job," Harvey Landcraft said. "Come on, Bonny."
The lawn lay level for two hundred feet or more beyond the terrace. Then green land began gently to descend from the ridge, toward the white barns a thousand feet away. Beyond and to either side of the white barns were paddocks and pasture land lower still. A large tent was half hidden by one of the barns. Through the fields a sparkling small stream ran, and could be seen from the terrace. And beyond the valley, green hills rose in a kind of mannered turbulence against the sky. There was even a prettily innocent white cloud above one of the hills, obviously, Bonita Landcraft reflected, tethered there for the occasion.
Margaret Landcraft, although she continued to listen to a smallish man, whose face a little resembled a potato left too long in the baking oven, considered the cloud. It did not, she hoped, presage a break in the weather. Bad weather rendered people less expansive, more inclined to fault finding. On the day of The Sale it was, naturally, best to have people as expansive as they could be got. Well, Alec professed confidence that tomorrow would be fine and it had to be admitted that he was good about weather. Better than the Weather Bureau, for all the money "they" spent on it.
"It's such a beautiful place," Evelyn Merritt said. "So really beautiful."
"And on the other hand," Wade said, "it does smell of cows, doesn't it?" Evelyn sniffed.
"It's hardly noticeable," she said, so admitting that it was a little noticeable. A gentle breeze blew upward from the barns, which lay to southwest of the house. The breeze was, undeniably, tinged with the not unpleasant, somewhat ammonic, scent of cattle habitation. It was not, Evelyn thought, really worth mentioning.
"Not to them, anyway," Wade said, and waggled a long finger at the people on the lawn. "It's the air they breathe."
"Naturally enough," Evelyn said, and was agreed with, almost too emphatically.
"It gets into the pores," Wade said.
Evelyn Merritt said, "Nonsense," almost sharply, and Wade looked down at her. Then he smiled. She was slight; she had deeply red hair, cut short. (As if, he thought, to minimize its richness.) She had blue eyes. But her skin did not redden in the sun, or too much freckle. She had a kind of golden tan, now in mid-September — golden tan on face and neck and arms. And (he glanced lower, in appreciation) on slim, un-stockinged legs.
"We," Evelyn said, but did not hurry it, "we are blocking traffic." She put a hand on his arm, let it rest a second, removed it. "A nice, long drink," she said. "With a great deal of ice."
They walked, side by side, across grass which seemed to welcome their feet. He was dressed as were most of the other men, in tweed jacket and grayish slacks and a colored shirt; he was as brown as the other men, with that special deepness of coloration which persists when there are no bleaching winters in a city; about his gray eyes there were those small crinkles which come from being much in the sun. He was even beginning, now in his late twenties, to develop the somewhat heavy shoulder muscles of a man who does country work. (He could swing her off the ground and into his arms with, apparently, no effort to speak of.) As they walked among Margaret Landcraft's guests, gathered for the traditional buffet which preceded The Sale, he was in no sense alien.
But for all that, Evelyn thought, he's not a countryman and never will be. He's not a cattle man, and won't be. He's not in his place; not really in his place. Some day he would be Deep Meadow Farm, since there was no likelihood that Harvey would want more to do with it than (naturally) his proper share of its profits. Wade would be going to the shows in the east, and in the west — to Chicago, to Kansas City — as his mother went now. He would show the Aberdeen Angus of Deep Meadow Farm, and know as much as most about the breed, and about its breeding. It was too late for him to start over. At least —
They had stopped while Wade talked to a man from Omaha, about Deep Meadow Prince. Wade was saying, lightly, pleasantly, that he didn't doubt it; that Mr. Burns, from Omaha, was not alone. Prince would be an addition to anybody's herd of beef animals. Wade shook his head. "I doubt if you could get mother to set a price," he said. "Any price at all."
At least, it would be too late in another year or two, in another five at most. He had not yet quite acquiesced; now — today, tomorrow, next week, next month — he might well chuck it and start over. He wasn't clear, admitted he wasn't clear, at what. He didn't know what else he'd be good at. "And" (he had said, more than once) "at this I'm all right, Evvie. No great shakes, but good enough. What else —" He had shrugged. He had once wanted to be an architect. He was not sure that he any longer much wanted that. He wasn't sure what he wanted.
"Probably nothing enough any more," he said. "Except —" He had pointed, then, aiming his right index finger as he might a weapon, and at her breast.
Well, she thought, as they walked toward the trestle table with the two men in white jackets behind it — well, her he had, would always have. They would marry — how long was it, now? Two weeks from yesterday they would marry and, it was to be hoped, live happily ever after in a place of beauty, after all only pleasantly aromatic of Aberdeen Angus. Which would be all right with her, if with him. If, finally, he could acquiesce without bitterness, it would not matter. The cattle were pleasant creatures.
They had stopped again; a host had duties. She looked out toward the pastures, bright in the slanting sun. Black cattle seemed to float in the green grass. It was remarkable how nearly legless the Angus breed had become. It was, in a fashion, rather endearing. It would be fine here, with Wade — even with Wade and Wade's mother. Her mind slightly accentuated the qualifying phrase. She regretted this. Mrs. Landcraft was admirable in all respects — if a little formidable, if somewhat — well, "absorbing" was perhaps as good a word as any. But Evelyn Merritt, to become Evelyn Landcraft in thirteen days, had no thought that she would be herself absorbed. Everything could, she was certain, be made to jog along most comfortably. They would — she stopped herself. She had been about to think they would grow old gracefully. It was an odd solace to find at the age of twenty-four. It was odd to seek solace at twenty-four.
They started on again, still toward the trestle table with bottles on it, with glasses catching the slanting sunlight, with two white-coated, active men. There were several groups near the bar; Bonita and Harvey formed a group of two. How inevitably, Evelyn thought, Bonita Landcraft carried New York with her — even here, with country spread so widely, so greenly, Bonita might have been standing on pavements. She was standing very prettily, to be sure. Grass did not seem actually to perturb her.
Bonita flicked a hand in greeting. She said, "Hi, you two," and Harvey turned, at her words, and raised his right hand in something like a salute. He did not really look a great deal like Wade — for one thing, he was new enough to the sun to have a sunburned nose. The facial contours were different, the mouth different, the body heavier. About his gray eyes there were no sun crinkles; the eyes themselves seemed quicker, shrewder.
"Hello," Evelyn said and Wade said, " 'Lo Bonny. Harv. Been here long?"
Harvey Landcraft looked at his glass. He said, "About half a drink." He looked at Evelyn. He said, "Hi, sister-in-law." He looked around the lawn. The caterer's men had begun to arrange food on the buffet table. "She's really going to town this time," Harvey Landcraft told his brother.
"It's a big sale," Wade said. "Her biggest. A party even Life attends." He indicated the busy men with cameras.
"And this —" Harvey waved his hand at "this" — "softens them up. Does it, do you suppose?"
He did not seem to expect an answer; from his brother he got a shrug. "I'll get us something," Wade said. "Gin and tonic? Scotch, bourbon, rye?"
"Gin and tonic," Evelyn said. "In a very tall glass." Wade went. Evelyn smiled at Bonita Landcraft. She said, "You look cool."
"Oh," Bonita said. "I am, as a matter of fact. Within reason."
It was enviable, Evelyn thought, still smiling. It was unquestionably true. It was not only the white dress, although the white dress helped. (And what it must have cost! Evelyn Merritt thought.) It was Bonita herself; so slenderly trim and poised, feather-cut brown hair so artfully disarranged. Evelyn was conscious that her own forehead was faintly moist.
"For some reason," Bonita said, "I'm sort of air-conditioned. Look — does it smell of cows?"
"A little," Evelyn said.
"Good," Bonita said. "I thought maybe I was smelling things. It's not a bad smell, really."
"Aberdeen Number Five," Harvey Landcraft told them both. "Ready for another, Bonny?"
Bonita was not. Harvey looked at his glass in reproach. He said, "Excuse me, ladies," and went toward the bar.
"Madison Avenue thirst," Bonny said. "Do you think mine's getting a little fat?" They looked at the trestle table, where the brothers were side by side. "Yours isn't," Bonny said. "Depends on the kind of bull you throw, apparently."
"Harvey looks fine," Evelyn said.
"As a matter of fact, he is. But there's no point in letting him know, is there?" She appeared to consider. "Of course," she said, "I do. Let him know, that is. You do yours?"
"Oh yes," Evelyn said. "It's hard not to, isn't it?"
"You know," Bonita said, "I've never tried much. Not for a long time, anyway. They're big bastards, aren't they?" A third man had joined the Landcraft brothers. "Not that he won't let you die of thirst," Bonita said. "Come on. We're heifers on our own, apparently." She put a hand on one of Evelyn's slim brown arms. "I'm glad Wade found you, if it's all right to say so. Or was it the other way round?"
"Either way," Evelyn said. "Both ways, I guess."
"So long," Bonita said, "as mamma didn't enter in. I take it she didn't?"
"She does, you know. If allowed. One has — well, to put up signs. Private property, keep off. You know?" She looked at Evelyn. "I see you do," she said, although Evelyn said nothing. Bonita suddenly linked her arm in Evelyn's. "Heifers of the world, unite," she said. "To the bar, march!"
They went, arm in arm, red head and brown head at a level, tanned slim legs in cadence.
"Now there," Alec Ballard said to the man next him. "There go a couple of real baby dolls. The boys do themselves well."
They continued for a moment to watch the girls. Then Ballard turned back to the shorter man. He said, "Well?"
"I'll think about it," the other man said. "When there's anything to think about. All you say is 'if.'"
"That's right," Ballard said. "Nothing sure about it. But you'd be interested. A lot would."
"Oh," the other man said. "Interested. Yes. But I know Margaret."
"Sure you do. Sure you do. She knows you too, doesn't she? Eh?"
The other man looked at Ballard. He had to look up. Alec Ballard was tall; a heavy, powerful man. He's a little like a bull himself, the other man thought.
"We've known each other for some years," he said, mildly. "Join me for a drink?"
"Better circulate," Ballard said. "She expects it, you know."
"As you like," Arnold Thayer said.
"As I'm told's more like it," Ballard said. He went off. The smaller man looked after him. Very like a bull, Thayer thought. Or did he plan to seem so? Thayer went toward the bar.
If Arnold Thayer thought he could go behind her back, he would have opportunity to think again. Margaret Landcraft noted this obvious fact in passing, while she said, "Other end, man. Take advantage of what wind there is, for God's sake," to the one of the caterer's men who was setting up a pedestal fan at an end — the wrong end, of course — of the buffet table. The fan, very large, leashed by fifty feet of flex to an outlet on the terrace, was intended to discourage flies, providing a headwind. (Or, depending on the flies, a tail wind.) There would be flies all the same; flies were a part of nature; on a stock farm they sometimes seem the largest part of nature. There was one now on one of the turkeys. Well, the people here tonight were used to flies.
Mrs. Landcraft looked across the turkey — and the hams, the cold roasts of beef, the bowls of salad, the hooded brazier in which hot dishes were being kept tepid — and regarded, from some distance, her daughter-in-law and her daughter-in-law-to-be. Like all of them nowadays, Mrs. Landcraft thought, they dressed to be looked at. No wonder they were. Especially that-wife-of-Harvey's. Bonita — of all the improbable names! What kind of parents would they be who named a girl Bonita? With a name like that, they had only themselves to blame if she turned out no better than she should be; turned out, specifically, to be in the chorus of a television musical, with the legs — of which she so evidently was proud — visible in their entirety to anyone who could turn a knob.
Bonita turned from the bar, standing so that the westering sun was behind her. Nothing, so far as Margaret Landcraft could see, under that skimpy white dress. And with the light slanting as it did, Margaret Landcraft could see enough — too much. Her own son's wife! Her oldest son's wife! The wife of the son who should be, and who wasn't, devoting himself to Deep Meadow Farm. Mrs. Landcraft shook her head — apparently at the turkey. What a disappointment Harvey was!
Evelyn wasn't, or didn't seem to be, quite so bad. She wasn't wearing many more clothes, but nowadays none of them did. Her name was not one Mrs. Landcraft would have chosen but, at least, it was better than Bonita. ("Bonny," of all things!) And the Merritts were a good enough family; a family with roots. Not as long in Putnam County as the Landcrafts, naturally. That would have been too much to expect. And certainly not as long as the Wades, who had been there since the Revolution (And of whom Margaret Landcraft appeared to be the last. Her brother was married and childless; he was also close to seventy, so that little was to be expected.)
If Wade, in whom the name continued to live, although misplaced — if Wade had to get married, he could have done worse, perhaps. This girl of his was flighty now, but she would — at least, one could hope she would — settle down. She'd never take a real interest in the herd, probably. But Wade didn't either. That Margaret Landcraft faced, as she had for several years. What would happen to Deep Meadow when she died hardly bore thinking of.
Margaret Landcraft thought of it only briefly. She was sixty-two, but what was sixty-two, when one lived a healthy life out of doors, and kept up one's interests? Sixty-two was an age at which men became presidents of the United States, and of large corporations. Obviously, women, who notoriously lived longer than men, had no reason, at sixty-two, to feel older than middle-aged. Grandfather Wade had lived into his nineties — and been as cantankerous as ever to the end.
Excerpted from "Death and the Gentle Bull"
Copyright © 1954 Richard and Frances Lockridge.
Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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