LOOK BOTH WAYS BEFORE CROSSING
I borrow this title from a short memoir about a woman who was married with children, became infatuated with another woman and left her family for her. And then decided that the true love of her life was a different woman. And then decided she liked men better than she thought . . . She lost a lot but never her sense of humor. The title is also a good piece of advice when approaching a story that is going to take a hard right turn and stomp on the gas.
While Sheila Howell is sunning herself by the country club pool and pouting about how no one understands her love for John Galton, her father is having an earnest lunch conversation with Archer.
- Doctor Howell is apoplectic at the ease with which John Galton has insinuated himself into Mrs. Galton’s good graces. She is redoing her will in his favor and is showering him with every conceivable gift.
- She refuses to consider that the boy might be an imposter and becomes hostile when the subject is raised.
- The person raising the subject is Dr. Howell himself, who has found holes in the boy’s story.
- The Cleveland orphanage that he claims to have lived in burned to the ground three years ago, several years after he claims he left. All records were destroyed, the director was killed in the fire, and the staff are scattered.
- Howell has spent a good amount of time listening to the boy and detects a Canadian pronunciation of certain words, such as “about.” But the boy says he never lived in Canada.
- At that point, Archer happens to show Dr. Howell the boy’s handwritten note, and Howell explodes—the letter contains the Canadian spelling of “labour.”
- Archer now has a new client—Dr. Howell, and his job is to get to the bottom of who they boy is, whether Mrs. Galton wants it or not.
“It’s the same case,” I said. “The Brown killing and the Culligan killing and the Galton impersonation, if it is one, all hang together.”
Archer’s only lead to this new phase of the case is even slimmer than what he had at the start—a possible connection between the boy and either Detroit or Canada, or both. Well, there’s a little more than that. The police tell Archer that Culligan was arrested in Detroit as he was crossing from Canada into the United States at about the same time, five and a half years ago, as the boy turned up in Ann Arbor.
Archer hates coincidences.
He books a flight to Detroit but he has three hours. As we have seen, Archer never lets a minute pass if he can help it. He uses the time to revisit Sable’s office. I wish I knew whether Archer’s intent was to talk to Sable or to his secretary, Mrs. Haines
Archer recalls from their first meeting that she disapproves of Sable’s choice in wives; Archer wondered in Chapter One if she’d wanted that job for herself. She certainly has no love for Mrs. Sable.
- She confirms what Archer has already glimpsed; that Sable’s wife is unstable. But it’s worse than Archer realized. On several occasions Mrs. Sable came to the office making accusations about her and Mr. Sable.
- Haines enjoys the irony of telling Archer that it’s Mrs. Sable who’s the unfaithful one. Last summer she went to Reno, lived with another man, and ran up huge gambling debts.
- Instead of divorcing her, Sable begged her to come back to him and she finally relented.
- Ever since the death of Culligan, Mrs. Sable has been in a nursing home nearby; Sable has lunch with her every day and he is probably there now.
Archer in a Nursing Home
Archer finds Sable there, looking even worse than the day of Culligan’s death and too tired to concentrate. They have a short but interesting conversation.
- His wife, who we learn is named Alice, suffers from a history of depression. She had a bad marriage a few years ago when she was living in Chicago and working as a model.
- Howell has failed to disclose to Archer that he has his own financial interest in proving that the boy is an imposter. Not only is the doctor the executor of the estate and a beneficiary himself, but under the present will there are very large bequests to charities the doctor supports.
- Sable told Mrs. Galton that he couldn’t do a new will for her if there was any uncertainty about the boy, and he doesn’t know if another lawyer has done a new will yet or not. But it seems like only a matter of time.
- Sable says at one point he believed the boy’s story; now he doesn’t know what to think.
Archer still has some time left before his flight. He decides to spend it at the Galton estate.