“I think it was made seriously,” Rand replied. “A respectable profit could be made on the collection, even at that price.”
Gwinnett’s eyes shifted over the rows of horizontal barrels on the walls. He was almost visibly wrestling with mental arithmetic, and at the same time trying to keep any hint of his notion of the collection’s real value out of his face.
“Well, I doubt if I could raise that much,” he said. “Might I ask who’s making this offer?”
“You might; I’m afraid I couldn’t tell you. You wouldn’t want me to publish your own offer broadcast, would you?”
“I think I can guess. If I’m right, don’t hold your head in a tub of water till you get it,” Gwinnett advised. “Making a big offer to scare away competition is one thing, and paying off on it is another. I’ve seen that happen before, you know. Fact is, there’s one dealer, not far from here, who makes a regular habit of it. He’ll make some fantastic offer, and then, when everybody’s been bluffed out, he’ll start making objections and finding faults, and before long he’ll be down to about a quarter of his original price.”
“The practice isn’t unknown,” Rand admitted.
“I’ll bet you don’t have this twenty-five thousand dollar offer on paper, over a signature,” Gwinnett pursued. “Well, here.” He opened his brief case and extracted a sheet of paper, handing it to Rand. “You can file this; I’ll stand back of it.”
Rand looked at the typed and signed statement to the effect that Carl Gwinnett agreed to pay the sum of fifteen thousand dollars for the Lane Fleming pistol-collection, in its entirety, within thirty days of date. That was an average of six dollars a pistol. There had been a time, not too long ago, when a pistol-collection with an average value of six dollars, particularly one as large as the Fleming collection, had been something unusual. For one thing, arms values had increased sharply in the meantime. For another, Lane Fleming had kept his collection clean of the two-dollar items which dragged down so many collectors’ average values. Except for the two-dozen-odd mysterious interlopers, there wasn’t a pistol in the Fleming collection that wasn’t worth at least twenty dollars, and quite a few had values expressible in three figures.
“Well, your offer is duly received and filed, Mr. Gwinnett,” Rand told him, folding the sheet and putting it in his pocket. “This is better than an unwitnessed verbal statement that somebody is willing to pay twenty-five thousand. I’ll certainly bear you in mind.”
“You can show that to Arnold Rivers, if you want to,” Gwinnett said. “See how much he’s willing to commit himself to, over his signature.”
Pre-dinner cocktails in the library seemed to be a sort of household rite—a self-imposed Truce of Bacchus before the resumption of hostilities in the dining-room. It lasted from six forty-five to seven; everybody sipped Manhattans and kept quiet and listened to the radio newscast. The only new face, to Rand, was Fred Dunmore’s.