The afternoon was very quiet now, ready to go shading into evening twilight. The westering sun had disappeared behind a bank of clouds low out over the ocean.
Oscar had been quiet long enough. “Cap’n, you know how the Chief is, on certain subjects. He will blow his top when he hears about this. Or he’ll just curl up and die, I don’t know which.”
In the short time Jubal had been at San Simeon, he had already heard several casual references to Mr. Hearst’s strong aversion to death, even as a topic of conversation.
“And we’ll get the blame. This happened on our shift.” The helper sounded genuinely worried.
“Shut up a minute, I said, let me think.”
Jubal was having trouble picturing Mr. Hearst curling up and dying for any reason, let alone over any simple piece of news, no matter how unpleasant.
But the chief of security knew his boss a lot better than Jubal did, and evidently had a different view of the situation. At last Murray said, “You’re right, Oscar, seeing or hearing about anything dead really gets to him. Remember when his last dog died? Little dachshund.”
“Yeah.” Oscar was nodding solemnly. “And we even had to paint that dead palm tree green, until we could get a replacement in.”
“Yeah.” Murray was wearing a tin whistle, hung on a cord around his neck, and now he fished the whistle out from where it had been tucked inside his shirt, and held it in his hand and looked at it. But he didn’t look like he was going to blow it.
Jubal sat down in the grass at last. His knees had gone a little shaky for a minute there, but he thought they would be steady when he stood up again.
At last, looking at Jubal again, Captain Murray said, “I’d say this fellow came on the grounds intending no good.”
His helper had now had time to get a suggestion ready. “How ’bout this, Captain? Say there were two burglars, kidnappers, or whatever. They sneaked on the grounds, and got this close to the house, and then had a dust-up about something. One killed the other, then gave up on doing whatever job they’d intended, and just ran for it.”
“Killed him how?”
“Hit him over the head, maybe? Or maybe this character just had a heart attack.”
“Maybe.” Murray was still thinking. “Though he don’t look like he’s been hit over the head. And he’s young for a heart attack, can’t be much over thirty.”
With a sigh of dissatisfaction, the security chief bent over the victim again, and gingerly began going through his pockets. Whoever he was, he had not been carrying a whole lot with him. Jubal hovered, shifting his position so he could watch closely. The search turned up nothing at all that gave a clue as to who the man might be. A couple of keys, a pocket knife. No billfold or driver’s License. No loose change, but a surprising amount of paper money, fives, tens, and twenties in a money clip. Jubal estimated between fifty and a hundred dollars.
It seemed an awful lot of dough for a casual burglar to be carrying, especially before he’d even got near enough to the houses to burgle anything. Murray didn’t even count the bills, but rubbed them between his fingers for a moment, and then, regretfully but decisively, tucked them back where they had come from.
Oscar let out a faint sigh as the money disappeared again.
With an air of having made a decision, Murray slapped his hands on his thighs and stood up straight. He said, “This is almost sure to get reported sooner or later. But I’d feel happier about it if he wasn’t found on the grounds.”
Then the senior security man seemed to be struck by a sudden thought. He looked at Jubal sharply. “You tell anyone else about this, kid?”
“No.” Jubal shook his head. “How could I? There wasn’t time. I just saw him lying here, and went and touched him and saw that he was dead, and turned around and met you guys.”
Murray, looking as if he was growing to like his sudden thought, was nodding slowly. Jubal thought he could guess what course of action the man was considering. It would be a hard decision—a security guard would have to be reluctant to stake his own job, his own future, on the idea that a mere kid like Jubal could be trusted to keep his mouth permanently shut about a thing like this. But then, on the other hand, when Jubal stopped to think about it, maybe the risk to Murray and Oscar wouldn’t really be that great. Jubal was willing to bet that any of Hearst’s employees, at least any one the old man was willing to go to bat for, would have to do something pretty terrible, worse than just moving a dead body, before he would be in danger of arrest by any of the local cops.
The security captain was still looking at Jubal, even more meditatively now. Murray said to him conversationally, “First time you see this kind of thing, it tends to make you sick.”
Jubal shook his head. “Not the first time for me. I’ve seen worse than this. There was a mining accident last year, and I was helping with some of the men when they brought them out. I’m not going to be sick over this.”
“Oh,” said Murray. Both men gave him a look of reappraisal. Then Oscar the helper put in, “I’d say that if you’re a guest here, you’re no miner’s kid.”
But the captain still looked uncertain. “With old W.R.,” he said, “you never know for sure who he’s going to invite.”
“I’m not a miner’s kid,” said Jubal calmly. “My dad owns a couple.” He jerked his head in the uphill direction, toward Casa Grande. “He’s in there socializing now. Maybe by now they’re sitting down to dinner. He’s trying to arrange some kind of a business deal.”
“I see,” said Murray. “So how about your father?”
“How about him what?”
“I mean, are you going to tell him about this? Maybe you feel you have to tell him?” Security’s tone said he could understand that. Jubal telling his father would be perfectly natural, and perfectly all right with him.
But Jubal was shaking his head. Now that he’d had a couple of minutes to recover from the first shock and think the situation over, it was pretty obvious where his duty lay. He turned his gaze toward the bulk of Casa Grande, where soon, at dusk, the floodlights would be coming on to light up the huge white walls. The walls of the enormous house looked old, much older than their inner construction really was, and in places it seemed they might almost be ready to crumble. But that wasn’t about to happen. Jubal had heard that underneath a sprinkling and scattering of imported stones taken from ancient buildings they were all modern reinforced concrete, designed and built to resist fierce California earthquakes.
He said, “My father wouldn’t want to be interrupted while he’s trying to score points with Mr. Hearst. Last thing in the world Dad would want would be for someone to come busting in on them, maybe make Mr. Hearst stop one of his favorite movies in the middle, to deliver this kind of news.” Especially, thought Jubal, if it turned out that I was the one who made the discovery. It wouldn’t be good if the police were to show up here in the middle of dinner or the nightly movie, or maybe early tomorrow, and spend all day talking to Dad’s only son.
Murray sighed. “I been sort of thinking along similar lines myself, Jubal. Why should we bother your dad and the rest when they’ve got important business? Now this fella lying on the ground here is dead, and nothing we do is going to help him in the least.”
“That’s true,” the boy agreed.
“Sure, it’s got to be reported, and it will be. By somebody. But I don’t see why it has to be reported as having happened at San Simeon.”
Jubal nodded thoughtfully. “I don’t see that either,” he assented.
Oscar the faithful assistant chimed in with, “Bringing the Chief news like this would be about the last thing in the world that he’d want us to do.”
Murray nodded soberly. He seemed about three-quarters decided that Jubal could be trusted. But it seemed he still hadn’t absolutely, finally, made up his mind.
Jubal, who had now solidly made up his own mind, pressed for a favorable decision. “If anyone asks me what I’ve been doing tonight, well, I’ve got nothing to tell. I wasn’t even out here tonight, away from the paved walks. And as far as I know, you weren’t either. In fact I haven’t seen either of you guys anywhere this evening.”