THE WYCHERLY WOMAN Part Seventeen
First, a Couple of Preliminaries
As Archer observes, the case is coming into focus. But he isn’t ready to make his final move, for two reasons. One is, for want of a better word, humanitarian. The other is business.
Archer’s first stop is back at the Siesta Motel, where Bobby Doncaster and the cockroaches have been waiting for word. The times that Archer can give unreservedly good news in the entire series can probably be counted on one hand, and I am a little surprised that Macdonald doesn’t linger. There is just a bit of drama in telling a young man that his pregnant fiancé isn’t going to the gas chamber. Let alone that, as soon as she gets some rest they can marry after all. In the later books, Archer at times takes on the role of priest (see Hard-Boiled Heretic, by Mary S. Weinkauf) and there is plenty of work for a counselor here. But in 1961 Archer is still an all-business private eye.
The second stop is awkward but necessary. Recall that Wycherly’s ship had engine trouble on November 2 and didn’t leave until the 3d. He has no alibi for the night Catherine was killed. Macdonald kept this possibility alive throughout much of the novel, although Archer never actively pursued that line of investigation. Now, it’s time to take that off the table. Yes, it’s an interruption of the story but it also prolongs the suspense as we wait for the final scene.
Archer had finally caught up with the steward who took care of Wycherly’s cabin. The steward confirms that Wycherly couldn’t have left and returned to the ship in time to commit the murder.
With that out of the way, Archer is near to solving the case, at least in part. He doesn’t understand why, but he has an idea of who. What’s more, he knows who to ask.
Merriman Real Estate is Closed for Regular Business
Archer persuades Sally Merriman to play the tape that Stanley Quillan made. She had played the tape the night before, after Quillan’s demand for it aroused her curiosity. It means nothing to her. But it means a great deal to Archer.
- The couple speaking are Catherine Wycherly and Carl Trevor, her brother-in-law. From where the microphone was located, the two of them must be in bed.
- Carl says Phoebe saw them together that night. Catherine shrugs it off; Phoebe is old enough and smart enough not to tell Helen. And it would be fine if Helen knew anyway, as far as Catherine is concerned—then she and Carl could be together.
- Carl is appalled at the idea of losing half of his possessions in a divorce, which starts (or rather, probably renews) an argument between them.
- Catherine suggests that if Carl tells Phoebe the truth, that he is really her father, that will keep her from saying anything. (it’s probably already too late but they don’t know that.)
Archer gives Sally all the cash from his wallet he can spare and leaves. There is one errand left to close the case. It’s Chapter 28, eight pages from the end, and we still don’t see how it all fits together.