Sharp Knives by Kathryn Ramage

"I reckon you're right about this Thursk feller," Sam said when he and Frodo met for a cold luncheon in the private dining room at the Bullroarer's Head. "He almost said as much when I asked him about seeing any strangers in here early that night--said he wouldn't've seen anybody early." All the same, Sam didn't sound pleased at their success, and Frodo noted it.

"You have doubts, Sam?" he asked. "All our other most likely possibilities have become impossible, if they were where they say they were that night. All the same, if you have any reason to think I've got it wrong, I'd like to hear it. I don't want to be unfair."

"'Tisn't that you're wrong--only, I liked him. Talking to him at his shop, he seemed like a friendly lad and not like somebody that'd commit murder. I'll think of him when I give the little uns those toys I bought, and whenever they play with them."

"We've known pleasant murderers before this, Sam," Frodo reminded him. "Lady Iris was kind and welcoming to you when the rest of the North-Tooks behaved like abominable snobs. And I've told you about the poisoner in Minas Tirith, who seemed like such a nice girl. Val Stillwaters. Rubar. In fact, I believe I've met more charming murderers than ill-mannered ones."

This made Sam smile, but he asked. "Do we tell Chief Thornbreak?"

"No, not yet. When we meet this afternoon, I shall tell him the facts I've discovered today, but I won't place any special importance on Rudmer Thursk. So far, we've only heard that he was somewhere else when Mr. Brundle claims he was here. That doesn't prove he was at the cottage murdering Everard and Tibby. He might've been anywhere. I'd like to talk to the hobbit who spoke to Dodi last night before I give his story more credence. This other hobbit might be telling a tale for some reason of his own. And I'd like to hear what Rudmer has to say for himself."

They settled down to their meal of game pie and beer and were just finishing when there was a tap on the door. Mr. Brundle came in to ask if there was anything more they wanted and, as he was clearing the mugs and plates, told them, "Rudmer's out in the public room. He was asking after you, Mr. Baggins, wanting to know if you were here. I didn't like to disturb your lunch, but if you don't mind seeing 'm now, I'll send 'm right in."

Frodo agreed, and Rudmer appeared in the dining-room doorway a few minutes later. His eyes went nervously from Sam to Frodo. "So it's true then?" he asked Sam. "You're a friend o' Mr. Baggins, helping with his investigating? A high shirriff yourself, like Mr. Thornbreak? And when you came to my shop, it was to ask me questions?"

"I didn't say nothing that was a lie," Sam answered, though he knew that this was splitting a fine hair. "I'm only stopping in Tookbank for a day or two, and I wanted to buy some toys for my little uns."

"But you asked me about the murders." Rudmer looked frightened. "What did you want me to tell you? What did I tell you?"

"I wanted to find out where you were the night Tibby and Everard were murdered," Frodo cut in, to Sam's relief. "Mr. Brundle told me that you were the first one in the public room when he opened for business that evening, and you stayed late enough to take your dinner in the kitchen."

"With Aunt Rula," said Rudmer. "That's true, Mr. Baggins. I thought Tansy'd be in bed by the time I got home and didn't want to be rattling pots and pans to wake her cooking my own supper at home."

"That part of it I've no doubt is true," Frodo agreed. "You were here at a late hour, but were you also here at an early one? I've heard from someone else that you weren't, and your own words to Mr. Gamgee suggest it as well."

"Who's been saying things about me?" Rudmer demanded.

Since Frodo couldn't supply a name, he only said, "Is it true, Mr. Thursk?"

"I told you, Mr. Baggins--folks' tell whatever tales come into their heads. They tell lies. It was that Turgo Buspey, wasn't it? He'd say such a thing."

"Why would he lie to get you into trouble?" Sam asked.

"I'll tell you why. You want to know where I was that night? Well, I wasn't off stabbing Tibby and Mr. Everard. I wasn't anywhere near to that cottage. I'll tell you right where I was."

"I'd like it very much if you did, Mr. Thursk," said Frodo. "Won't you sit down, please?"

Rudmer didn't accept this invitation, but remained standing as he explained, "It's like this, Mr. Baggins. You never been in my shop, but your friend here can tell you that it's all fiddly little bits o' carving."

"It's nice work," said Sam. "Good carving."

"Thank you," Rudmer nodded in Sam's direction to accept the compliment. "But it's naught that half the hobbits in the Shire that're handy with a knife couldn't do. My work brings in enough to see that we don't go in want, but I'd like to do more. So I'm going to buy a lathe."

"A lathe?" Frodo echoed in surprise.

"One o' them turny machines that makes the legs on a table all round and even," Sam explained.

"I do know what a lathe is, Sam." Frodo turned his attention back to Rudmer. "So you were out buying this lathe that evening?"

Rudmer nodded. "I want to do proper carpentry--tables 'n' chairs--but that takes bigger tools 'n a pocket-knife. There's no carpenter here nearer'n the Thain's man over in Tuckborough. This lathe, it's in Tooksend. The old carpenter there, Mr. Druve, he's leaving his work to go live with his daughter in Waymoot and he's selling off his things cheap. It's a ways to go, so I shut up my shop early to walk over and have a look at the lathe and some o' his big saws and planers and other tools. And that's why I got back to town so late."

"Did you tell your uncle where you'd been?"

"No, Mr. Baggins. Like I said, I didn't want anybody to know 'til it was done."

"Is that also why didn't you tell me this when we spoke yesterday?" Frodo wondered.

"That, and I didn't see any reason for it. I told you I wasn't anywhere near that cottage, Mr. Baggins, and it would've looked strange if I'd told you more. I didn't know it was so important, not 'til you sent your friend here to ask me in round-about, and I talked to my uncle just now and he said he'd done his best to keep me safe. Safe! He meant well, but he couldn't've done worse for me. I never asked him to lie for me," Rudmer insisted, "only that I had a secret to keep and he mustn't tell anybody. But after he heard about Tibby and Mr. Everard being killed, I guess he must've thought I had a bigger secret'n I did! I didn't tell nobody where I was going, since there're others that'd be ready to buy that lathe too if they heard about it and might've got there before me or offered Mr. Druve more'n I could pay."

"Like this Buspey feller," said Sam.

"That's right, Shirriff. He's got an idea to go into carpentry but doesn't have the money to set up shop for himself. He'd be happy to do me a wrong turn now he knows I got there first."

"It seems a rather hard 'turn' if it gets you hanged," Frodo observed.

"It won't come to that! I can prove I was there, Mr. Baggins. You go and ask old Mr. Druve and he'll tell you. He'll say how much I paid."

"We will ask him," said Frodo. "He isn't a relation of yours, by any chance?"

"No. I never saw him before I went over to Tooksend. A friend who knew I was wanting some carpenter's tools told me about it. You can ask him too. He lent me a cart to go get it and he's keeping it at his barn 'til I can make proper space for it in my workroom. He'll show it to you if you say I sent you." Rudmer provided the name of his friend and the location of the farm.

"D'you believe him?" Sam asked Frodo after Rudmer had gone back to the public room to fortify himself with an ale after his ordeal.

"I couldn't say until we verify his story. I was going to ask you to call on Farmer Olddigger this afternoon. Tooksend is on the way." Tooksend was a small village at the point where the Tuckborough road met the Waymoot road. It was four miles away--not as long a journey as the ride to Olddiggers' farm, but still far enough in the opposite direction from the cottage that, if Rudmer was telling the truth, he couldn't have been there at the right time to commit the murders either.

Sam accepted this assignment. "Me 'n' my pony had a good rest up this morning. We're ready for another long ride."

"It'll take you most of the afternoon, I'm afraid. I'll have to meet Shirriff Thornbreak by myself and tell him what we've learned. If you're up to it when you get back, please join me at Green Hill for dinner tonight and tell me what you've found. If not, send one of the stable-lads with a message and I'll see you when I return." Frodo smiled. "But I hope you won't be very tired."

He gave Sam a quick kiss before they left the dining-room and walked together down the back tunnel of the inn that led toward the stables. If Sam was to accomplish all he had to do this afternoon, it was best that he begin his journey right away.

"I can't help wondering, Sam," Frodo said before they reached the door to the stable yard. "What if Rudmer is telling the truth? And Edegar is as well? What if all our possibilities turn out to be impossible? Who then could have killed Ev and Tibby?"

"Maybe Rudmer Thursk's right," Sam answered. "It's a stranger who did it after all."
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