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SUNDAY AFTERNOON. Chuck Yancey had never had to stand guard duty himself at the gate before, and he didnt like it. It was demeaning. It was beneath him. And it was only necessary because Judson Swope had pulled a bunk. Out of here some time yesterday afternoon, never showed up for his midnight tour on the gate. Frantic last-minute calls in all directions, and finally they got Mort Pessle to fill in, but that meant Mort wasnt available for his normal tour today. Shorthanded without Swope, Chuck Yancey found himself doing gate duty with Heck Fiedler. At least it gave him an opportunity to make Hecks life miserable, but it was still a comedown.

Also boring. Thered never been much traffic through this entrance on weekends, and now that Mrs. H was shutting the place down, laying off everybody but Yancey and his crew, there was no traffic at all, not for the first six hours.

But then, at five minutes to two, an unremarkable sedan turned in and stopped at the bar, and Yanceys spirits rose for just a second, until he saw the occupants; the two plainclothesmen from CID, making such pests of themselves on Friday. Lieutenant Orville, who was driving, and the other one.

Yancey stepped out of the shack to see what these two wantedthe case was over, wasnt it? and Orville said, We want to talk to Fred Blanchard.

Ill see if hes around, Yancey said, because in truth he hadnt seen anybody from the main house today. Back inside the shack, he called the main house and got no answer at all, then tried the house where Blanchard and Swope and a couple others were living and got the same result.

Back outside the shack, he reported as much: Nobody around.

Orville nodded as though some deep suspicion had been confirmed. Hes been living here, hasnt he?

Until tomorrow, thats right.

Well want to see his place.

Ill have to escort you, Yancey said, and called in to Heck, Be right back.

Heck smiled and nodded, glad to see him go, and Yancey got into the backseat of the cops car to direct them to the green house, and along the way Orville, looking too often at Yancey in the mirror for somebody supposed to be steering a car, said, You may wonder why Im still after Fred Blanchard, what with Hall being found and the case over.

I may, Yancey agreed.

You may say, Orville said, that Lieutenant Orville, hes just got his nose out of joint because he didnt catch up with that Mark Sterling fella, but that would not be the case, would it, Bob?

Absolutely not, said the other one.

Mark Sterling just fell into their laps, Orville explained. I never even got a look at him. So thats one of the kidnappers, but theres at least four more. And dont forget the butler.

I wont, Yancey promised.

And who did the butler used to work with, down in Washington, D.C.?

Blanchard, Yancey told him.

Exactly! I didnt trust Blanchard from the second I saw him. I knew he was hiding something, and I am going to find it.

When they stopped in front of the green house, it had an empty look to it even before they got out, hammered on the door, opened the door, stood in the living room, and yelled, Hello?

Nobody here, Yancey said.

Which is Blanchards room?

I would have no idea.

Well, Bob, I guess well search the whole place.

Yancey thought of mentioning warrants, but it was no skin off his nose. Nor, as it turned out, was it to be much of a search. The house had been stripped of all personal possessions. Nothing left but rumpled sheets and open closet doors.

So they all went, Yancey said, as they trooped back down the stairs.

Orville said, All?

The new hires.

The new hires!

My security guy Swope, Blanchard, the new chauffeur, and the butler. Of course, the butler was already gone.

Orville said, With his personal property?

Well, somebody packed it up and took it away, Yancey said, and the phone rang, echoing in the empty house. Ill get it, Yancey said. Probably Heck at the gate.

It was. Got a guy here, Heck said. Old friend of Blanchards, wants to talk to him.

Well be right there.

The old friend of Blanchards didnt look like anybodys old friend. Tall and bony, he had yellow hair close-cropped like Yanceys, but somehow looking more menacing on this bozo, and mean blue eyes that studied them as though they were meat and this was lunchtime.

Before anybody else could speak, the bozo turned those eyes on Orville and the other one and said, Fred Blanchard? Yancey wondered why his right hand was up by his jacket lapel.

It had seemed to Yancey the bozo had been asking which of the plainclothesmen was Blanchard, but maybe not. Orville hadnt taken it that way, anyway, because he said, So youre an old friend of Blanchards, are you?

Oh, yes, the bozo said. He had some kind of accent that made him sound like a knife sharpener. It has been too long since we have met.

Yancey said, Lieutenant, hes got a weapon under that jacket. Heck, stay behind him.

Oh, yeah.

The bozo looked startled. I have done nothing.

Orville might be slow, but he could catch up eventually, because all at once his own pistol was in his hand and he was saying, Lieutenant Orville, CID. Put your hands on top of your head.

I have done


I shall go away, the bozo suggested, but he did put his hands on his head. I shall come back another time.

Bob, frisk him.

No, I go away.

Heck, shoot him in the leg if he takes a step toward the door.

You bet!

So the other one frisked the bozo, and he turned out to have two loaded Glocks on him. Also three wallets, each with different ID, but all showing photos of this same guy.

Orville could not have been happier. He was practically kissing himself on both cheeks. I knew wed get to the bottom of it, he chortled. And I knew, when we did get to the bottom of it, we would find Fred Blanchard.

I have diplomatic immunity, the bozo said.

Not here you dont, Orville told him. But youre a diplomat, are you? Bob, its that foreign embassy again.

I think youre right, the other one said.

Orville, suddenly even more excited, jabbed a finger at the bozo and said, You and Fred Blanchard and the butler and your whole crowd, you probably killed the ambassador, too!

From the flinch the bozo gave, and the sudden skittery look in his eyes, Yancey guessed that, whether they were thinking of the same ambassador or not, in some way or another Orville was right.

All right, my friend, Orville told the bozo, Im taking you in for questioning, and before Im done with you, youll spill everything you know about Fred Blanchard. Put the cuffs on him, Bob.

As the other one put the cuffs on the bozo, Orville looked out the guardshack window at the county road, but he was clearly seeing much farther. I knew I was gonna get you, Fred Blanchard! You wont hide from me! Nowhere on Earth, Fred Blanchard, will you be safe from Lieutenant Wilbur Orville! Lets go, Bob. This is a wrap.

| The Road to Ruin |