She admitted to shooting her husband because, in her words, he was phoning that woman. But will the telephone bill prove his unfaithfulness or her error?
“Still trying to be Mrs. Frack’s lawyer?” the Sheriff asked me, “Why don’t you just let her alone like she wants?”
“Not my idea.” I said; “her relatives want me to see what I can do.”
“Well, I’ll check.” He picked up the phone. A moment later he said, “She’ll see you.” He looked at some letters in his hand. “It’s been a week, now; maybe she’s getting lonesome.” He waved me on toward the distant cell-block.
“Wait a minute,” he called after me. “Here, take these to her. Probably some cranks praising her for shooting her husband.” He looked at the faces of the envelopes quizzically, “Some bills here, too,” he said. “They’re certainly sure as death and taxes, aren’t they?”
I took the bundle. “They’re addressed to her home,” I said, “how did the mailman come to leave them here?”
“It’s a small town, son; everybody knows she’s here, and why.”
“Oh,” I said, “yeah. Well, I’ll take them in.”
“Cleary will show you where,” the Sheriff said. “I like to stay away from those ferret-faced women much as I can.”
The Sheriff was right. Cleary showed me where, unlocking the cell for me; and Mrs. Frack was ferret-faced. She was attractive enough in a slim way, but her facial expression gave me the feeling she thought that I and the whole world were holding something out on her. She didn’t say anything about sitting down, so I handed her the mail.
She looked at it impersonally, said abruptly, “I don’t see any point in our talking.” She paused. “I thought if I told you that you’d leave me alone.”
“Your brother’s folks wanted me to—” I didn’t really get started.
“I shot my husband,” she said. “I shot Richard when he was phoning that woman again; I couldn’t stand it any more and I killed him.”
I wanted to get her talking. “Perhaps,” I said, “Mr. Frack wasn’t calling a woman. Maybe it was a business call.”
“At one o’clock in the morning?” There was scornful bitterness in her voice. “It was a woman. I just know it was. He had taken to staying up long after I went to bed just to talk to her.”
She was so intense that she convinced me that Richard Frack had certainly been an indifferently faithful husband. “If it was a woman,” I still reserved a final judgment, “do you have any idea who it was?”
“No, but I watched him for a long time. He was acting very differently toward me.” Her eyes flickered over my face as though to search out some defection on my own part. “I caught him, though.”
There was a world of satisfied suspicion in her voice. “I went to bed and fell asleep finally; when I woke he was standing at the hall telephone with the nightlight showing his face plain.”
She opened a letter with a quick probe of her nail-file. “Richard,” she said, “had a very pleased expression on his face, very pleased. Oh, he was talking to her all right.”
“Perhaps,” I suggested, “we might make something of a plea of temporary insanity—” I got no further.
“No! I went to the dresser and got his gun. I shot him just after he put the phone down. He still had a satisfied smirk on his face; that’s the way it was.”
Mrs. Frack had been talking to me as if from memory. She kept flicking at the envelopes with her quick nail-file, briefly scanning each letter and putting it aside.
Finally she was looking at a paper that had the crisp impersonality of a bill. She was very quiet; when she continued to say nothing I gently eased the paper from her fingers. She never even noticed.
It was a telephone bill stating the monthly charges, no toll calls listed. The last entry was for the 31st, the morning Richard Frack had been killed. It read with simple starkness:
Time-Signal – 0.10.
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