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46

OF COURSE, KELP SAID into the phone, Mr. Hall would expect to contribute to the orphans picnic, other than merely providing the grounds and the staff to cater the affair.

The child welfare woman had not yet thawed. Nor had she yet agreed to provide orphans to assist in Monroe Halls rehabilitation. Icily, she said, Contribute. Hed want to supply milk and cookies, would he?

Well, beyond that. Mr. Hall was thinking, Kelp said, making it up as he went along, of contributing a bus.

A Im sorry?

A bus, Kelp repeated. A large vehicle for conveying fifty-four seated persons, and twelve standees.

I know what a bus is, she snipped.

Kelp waited. Let the penny drop. Well, more than a penny.

Thud. A bus? There was a new squeak in her voice. He wouldhedhed contribute a bus? Oh, I see, you mean, hed pay the rental.

No, Kelp said, hed pay for the bus. Surely there are other times youd like to take the kiddies on excursions. Youd have to come up with your own driver, though.

Excuse me, Mr. ?

Blanchard, Fred Blanchard.

Mr. Blanchard, are

Fred, please.

Are you, she insisted, saying that Mr. Hall would buy and donate to us a bus?

Hes been impressed by the work youre doing over there.

Mr.

Fred, please. And youre?

Alice Turner.

Alice, why dont we work out a date here, agreeable to both of us, so Mr. Hall can be sure to have the bus ready in time to bring the kiddies to the picnic?

Well

Sunday after next, would that be good?

No, as it turned out, that would be a little too soon, as Kelp had expected. Alice had board members to consult, and so on, and so on, but by the end of the conversation all ice was gone, and it was pretty clear that Monroe Hall was in one picnic with sixty kiddies and out one bus.

Kelp was just hanging up, pleased with himselfcharitable work is always satisfying, particularly with somebody elses moneywhen Mrs. Hall walked in, for the second time in ten minutes, but this time looking worried. Fred, she said, have you seen Mr. Hall?

Hes out riding a horse, Kelp told her. They left about fifteen minutes ago.

Well, no, hes not, she said.

Kelp said, The instructor drove in with his own horse, fifteen minutes ago.

And left, just a few minutes later, Mrs. Hall said. When I couldnt find Monroe, and I didnt see any horse transporter out front, I called the gate, and they said the horse transporter left not five minutes after it arrived. They thought it was merely somebody bringing a horse on approval, for Monroe to possibly buy.

No, it was to learn to ride.

I know that, Mrs. Hall agreed. But the gate didnt know that. Nobody thought it necessary to tell the gate why a horse transporter was coming into the compound, so when it went right back out, they assumed it was merely a horse that Monroe had decided not to buy.

Frowning, Kelp got up and went over to look out the front window. No horse transporter in front of the house. Nothing in front of the house, all the way down to the guardshack. Maybe, he said, and turned around to look at Mrs. Halls worried face, he decided he wasnt ready to ride a horse after all, and sent the guy away. Or just didnt like the guy.

Then where did he go? Fred, where did my husband go?

Kelp looked out the window. Well, he wouldnt leave the compound.

Not willingly.

Kelp studied that worried face again, and this time he suspected his own face showed a little worry as well. Mrs. Hall, he said, nothings happened, everythings okay.

Then where is Monroe? she said. Ive called all the other places around the compound where he might be, and no ones seen him. Not since the horse transporter came in and went right back out again.

But Kelp didnt like what Mrs. Hall was thinking, because he knew it was the same as what he was thinking, and he wasnt ready for what they both were thinking. He was too busy for what they both were thinking.

Mrs. Hall said, There are people who would like to get their hands on Monroe.

This was true. Their hands and probably also their feet. Feeling discombobulated, not himself, not even Fred Blanchard, Kelp said, Couldnt he, uh, couldnt he be, uh

She was shaking her head. He isnt on the compound, she said. He wouldnt leave, but he isnt here.

Uh

Fred, she said, call the police.

What Kelp thought was, Wait a minute, youve got this backwards here! I dont call the police, other people call the police about me! What he said was, Yes, Mrs. Hall.


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