Holmes’s building earns the nickname “The Castle.” Ned’s sister, Gertrude, comes to Ned one day and tells him tearfully that she must return to Iowa. Ned assumes that a man must have courted her, then been “indiscreet.” Holmes walks by Gertrude, and she reddens, but Ned does not notice. Shortly after Gertrude returns to Iowa, she becomes ill and dies. Holmes tells Ned he is sorry, but his eyes continue to look as calm as Lake Michigan.
Again, Larson tells his story from Ned’s perspective, but in such a way that what Ned doesn’t recognize is obvious to the reader: Holmes was the one who was indiscreet with Gertrude. It’s impossible to tell if Gertrude’s death was Holmes’s fault or not, but his eerie calmness after hearing of her passing is almost as disturbing as knowing that he killed her.
Ned argues with his wife, Julia, and their daughter, Pearl, becomes increasingly moody. Ned hears rumors of an affair between Julia and Holmes, but doesn’t believe them. Holmes asks Ned if he will buy the pharmacy from him. Holmes offers to raise Ned’s salary by six dollars and week, and then accepts these six dollars a week as Ned’s payment for the store. Ned eagerly accepts, not wondering why Holmes would sell such a profitable business to him. Holmes’s seeming generosity convinces Ned that Holmes must not be involved with his wife.
Ned seems not to recognize the obvious: he is being paid exactly the same amount (12 dollars plus six dollars, minus six dollars is still 12 dollars!) to do more work and accept all the debts Holmes has accumulated while running the store. He puts too much faith in Holmes’s appearance of respectability and wealth to wonder if Holmes might not be trying to cheat him (and “cheat” with his wife, for that matter).
Ned and Julia continue to fight. Holmes is sympathetic, and comments that Julia is a beautiful woman. He asks Ned to buy a life insurance policy for himself and his daughter, and offers to pay the initial premiums. A man who calls himself C. W. Arnold claims that Ned need only pay him one dollar to obtain an insurance policy, but Ned refuses.
Holmes’s sympathy is unsettling, since he adds that Gertrude is beautiful — clearly, he’s having an affair with her. Ned begins to grow suspicious of Holmes’s offers — but, as usual, by the time he notices that something is wrong he has already lost money to Holmes.
Ned finds that the pharmacy, which he now owns, is deep in debt from the time when Holmes owned it. Holmes tells him that debts are typical, and says that the sale of the pharmacy was final. Ned realizes he has been tricked and begins to suspect that Holmes and Julia are having an affair, and leaves his wife to work in a jewelry store elsewhere in Chicago. Julia and Pearl continue to live with Holmes. Eventually, Ned leaves Chicago, meets another woman, and divorces Julia without gaining custody of his daughter.
Ned is hardly a psychopathic murderer like Holmes, but that doesn’t make him a good man. He leaves his wife and his daughter, seemingly without much concern for them, and eventually allows them to live with a man he knows to be a liar and a cheat. “Ordinary” people in Larson’s book often seem evil, too, except that their evil takes the form of negligence.
Holmes, who has promised Julia that he would marry her when Ned left, loses interest in her, and finds Pearl increasingly repulsive. At night, he goes to look at his kiln.
Holmes isn’t interested in Gertrude herself; he enjoys the sense of conflict he can create in families. Now that Gertrude doesn’t represent any argument or conflict, he begins to tire of her.