THE FERGUSON AFFAIR – Part Seven SPOILER ALERT
Gunnarson Matches Wits with the Stupidest
Criminal Macdonald Ever Created
After leaving the Doterys, Gunnarson decides it would be nice to check in on his wife, but no one answers. Since his secretary was also there, this is alarming news. Gunnarson belatedly realizes he has responsibilities as a father that will not wait and decides to head home. But Larry Gaines has hidden himself in Gunnarson’s back seat with a gun.
Because he wants to drive Gunnarson to his hideout.
Gunnarson and the moron, who is handicapped by a stammer, swap what passes for wisecracks and insults on a long drive far out into the desert to an abandoned house once owned by Haines’ grandfather. At least it seems like a long drive.
Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch
When they arrive, they are greeted by Hilda Dotery. We know her exact identity because Gaines calls her by name when she asks him the logical question of why he brought Gunnarson along. (The only explanation is that the trip happens for the benefit of the reader—Gunnarson couldn’t have found the hideout and has no reason to even think it exists. Without the pointless intervention of Gaines, the book would have nowhere to go.)
- Gaines then makes another slip and makes Hilda suspicious that he isn’t planning to take her along on their escape out of the country with the $200,000 from the kidnapping.
- She accuses him of planning to ditch her and take his mother instead. Which is not a bad guess.
- We have the usual wrestling for the gun. Hilda gets hit on the side of the head and goes down. But Gunnarson knocks the gun from Gaines’ hand.
- While Gunnarson and Gaines wrestle over a knife, Hilda shoots Gunnarson once in the shoulder.
- As he goes down, Gunnarson hears a second shot.
- When Gunnarson comes to he finds the cabin ablaze and an unconscious woman. He drags her outside.
- The Buenavista ambulance arrives from sixty miles away, crewed by the two ambulance drivers who transported the three other minor characters who arrived at the hospital dead. It is not explained why they turned up except the Gunnarson speculates to himself that the Forest Service will see and report the fire.
- The ambulance crew attempts to asphyxiate Gunnarson but are interrupted by Sgt. Granada, who followed them the sixty miles.
- It turns out that the two ambulance drivers were the ones tipping off the burglary gang. Their killing spree is explained partly to cover their crimes and partly because they are homosexuals.
Who’s on First?
Gunnarson awakens in the hospital to learn that his wife was absent from the house because she was giving birth. She attempts to get him to promise not to get involved with cases like this because he is a father now but he declines.
With the confession of the ambulance attendants, Barker, Gunnarson’s client, is in the clear and is released (Note that the person really responsible for freeing his client is Sgt. Granada, not Gunnarson.)
Gunnarson is evasive with the police about Holly May to the point of obstruction of justice, but he does share his suspicions with his client that Ferguson may have married his own daughter. Ferguson’s reaction can only be imagined but he begs Gunnarson not to confront his wife till they are certain.
Gunnarson goes to Ferguson’s house and finds the sleazy collection agent from Florida, Salaman, there, along with Holly May. Salaman performs his only useful plot function by telling them that the woman Ferguson is married to, who calls herself Holly May, is not the woman he knew in Florida. (Note that Salaman is too sleazy to have a first name.)
Ferguson reverses himself and says that his wife’s baby is definitely his. What?
Holly confesses that she is not Hilda Dotery, but her half-sister June. So her husband is not her father after all. I wish I could find a passage where Gunnarson apologizes to his client for accusing him of incest, but I can’t.