Read French Powder Mystery Online
Authors: Ellery Queen
“We have no use for lights here,” he said, “so we have not installed them.” With a swift movement he restored the fixture to its place on the wall.
Ellery took a decisive step forward. But then he shook his head, retreated, turned to the Inspector.
“Henceforth, or at least for the present, I shall be silent,” he said smiling, “and latinically pass for a philosopher.”
POLICEMAN PUSHED HIS
way into the room, looked about as if to catch the eye of authority, was summoned peremptorily by old Queen, mumbled a few words, and departed almost as quickly as he had come.
The Inspector immediately took John Gray aside and whispered in the little director’s ear. Gray nodded and went to the side of Cyrus French, who was staring blankly into space, muttering to himself. With the aid of Weaver and Zorn, Gray managed to twist French’s chair around so that the old man’s back was to the body. French noticed nothing. The store physician took his pulse professionally. Marion’s hand was at her throat; she stood up quickly and leaned against the back of her father’s chair.
Then the door opened and two white-garbed men with visored caps entered, bearing a stretcher between them. They saluted the Inspector, who jerked his thumb toward the sheeted corpse.
Ellery had withdrawn into the far corner of the room beyond the bed to hold communion with his pince-nez. He frowned at it, tapped it on the back of his hand, threw his lightcoat on the bed and sat down, taking his head between his hands. Finally, as if he had come to either an impasse or a conclusion, he produced from the pocket of his coat the volume it contained, and began to scribble hurriedly on the fly-leaf. He paid not the slightest attention to the two police doctors stooped over the dead woman.
Nor did he protest when he was unceremoniously moved by a silent, nervous man who had entered immediately behind the stretcher bearers, and who was now engaged with the help of an assistant in photographing the dead woman, her position on the floor, the bed, the handbag and other articles connected with the victim. Ellery’s eyes followed the police photographer, but abstractedly.
Suddenly he snapped his little book back into his pocket and waited thoughtfully until he caught his father’s eye.
“Lord, son,” said the Inspector, coming over, “I’m tired. And worried.
“Apprehensive? Come, now—don’t fall into that silly frame of mind, dad. Why should you be apprehensive? This case is coming along, coming along. …”
“Oh, you’ve probably caught the murderer and hidden him in your vest-pocket,” growled the old man. “I’m not worried about the murderer, I’m worried about Welles.”
“Sorry!” Ellery moved closer. “Don’t let Welles rile you, dad; I don’t think he’s as bad as you’ve painted him. And while he’s merely heckling you, I’ll be working undercover—grasp the idea?”
“It’s not half bad at that,” said the Inspector. “My gosh! He’s liable to walk in here any minute now, El! I never thought of that! By this time he has a telephoned report and—Yes! What is it?”
A bluecoat tramped in with a message and left.
The Inspector groaned. “Word’s just come that Welles is on his way here—now we’ll have arrests, interviews, grillings, reporters running over the place, and merry—”
Ellery’s air of raillery vanished. He grasped his father’s arm and guided him swiftly to an angle in the wall.
“If that’s the case, dad, let me tell you what is in my mind—quickly.” He looked around; they were fairly unobserved. He lowered his voice. “Have you reached any definite conclusions yet? I’d like to have your reactions before I tell you mine.”
“Well—” the old man peered about him cautiously, then cupped his mouth in his small hands—“between you and me, son, there’s something queer about the whole business. As far as details are concerned, I’m a little hazy—if you’re clearer than I, it’s probably because you have had something of the advantage of an observer. But as to the crime itself—the possible motive—the story behind it—I have the inescapable feeling that the murder of Mrs. French is not half so important to us as what may have necessitated the murder. …” Ellery nodded thoughtful. “I have no doubt that this is a carefully planned murder. Despite the weirdness of the place, the apparent sloppiness of the crime, there is amazingly little to go on.”
“What about Marion French’s scarf?” asked Ellery.
“Fiddlesticks!” said the Inspector contemptuously. “Can’t see that it means anything intelligible. In all probability she left it somewhere about and Mrs. French picked it up. … But I’ll bet a cookie that the Commissioner grabs it.”
“I think you’re wrong there,” commented Ellery. “He’ll be afraid to tackle French. Don’t lose sight of French’s power as head of the Anti-Vice Society. … No, dad, for the present Welles will keep his hands off Marion French.”
“Well, what have you concluded, Ellery?”
Ellery produced his small volume and turned to the flyleaf on which he had scribbled a few moments before. He looked up. “I hadn’t thought about the remote nuances of the crime, dad,” he said. “Although, now that you’ve brought it up, it seems to me that you are probably correct about the far-reaching significance of the motive as opposed to the crime itself. … No, I’ve been chiefly occupied until now with more direct affairs. I have four interesting little puzzlers to elucidate. Listen carefully.
“First, and probably most important,” he began, referring to his notes, “there is the puzzle of Mrs. French’s key. We have a fair sequence of incident. The nightwatchman, O’Flaherty, observes the victim at about eleven-fifty last night with the gold-disked apartment key in her possession. She is lost sight of until twelve-fifteen to-day, when she is found dead—still in the store, but with the key missing from the scene of the crime. The question arises, then: Why is the key missing? It seems on the face of it a pure matter of discovery, doesn’t it? Yet—regard the possibilities. It is plausible enough at this time to suspect that the key’s disappearance is connected with the crime, more directly with the murderer. A murderer disappears, a key disappears. It is not difficult to imagine that they disappeared together. Now, if this is so—and for the present let us assume that it
so—why did the murderer take the key? Obviously, we can’t answer that question—yet. But—we now know that the murderer has in his possession a key to a certain apartment—French’s private apartment on the sixth floor.”
“That’s so,” muttered the Inspector. “I’m glad you suggested sending one of the boys to watch that apartment this morning.”
“I had that thought,” said Ellery. “But something else disturbs me. I can’t help asking myself: Doesn’t the absence of the key perhaps indicate that the body was brought to this window from some other place?”
“I can’t see that at all,” objected the Inspector. “Can’t see that it has anything to do with it.”
“Let’s not quarrel about it,” murmured Ellery. “I can see one very, very interesting possibility that makes my question logical and the item of Marion French’s scarf seems to point the same way. I think that I’ll be able to check up soon on the facts—which will put me in a position to prove more definitely what I’ve just postulated. … Let me get on to point number two.
“The natural thought one has on finding the body in this window is that the crime was committed here. Of course! Usually, one would not even stop to question it.”
“It seemed funny to me, though,” said the Inspector, frowning.
“Ah! It did, eh? Perhaps I can crystallize your suspicion a bit later,” said Ellery brightly. “We enter, we see a body, we say: Crime was committed here. But then we stop to observe. We are told by Prouty that the woman has been dead some twelve hours. The body is found a bit after noon. That would make it a short time after midnight when Mrs. French died. In other words, when the crime was committed. Observe that in any case the crime was committed in dead of night. What is the appearance of this window at such a time—of this whole section of the building? Total darkness!”
“And—?” put in the Inspector dryly.
“You don’t seem to take my dramatics very seriously,” laughed Ellery. “Total darkness, I repeat. Yet we are supposing that this window is the scene of the crime. We prowl about the window, ask ourselves: Are there lights in here? If there are, that’s the end of it. With the door closed, and these heavy drapes on the street side, light would be unobserved outside the window-room. We investigate and find—no, no lights. Plenty of lamps, plenty of sockets—no bulbs. I doubt, indeed, if the lamps are even wired. So—we suddenly visualize a crime in total darkness. What—you don’t like that idea? Neither do I!”
“There are such things as flashlights, you know,” objected Queen.
“So there are. That occurred to me. Then I asked myself: If there was a crime here, there was some logically necessary antecedent action. A crime presupposes a meeting, a probable quarrel, a murder, and in this case, disposal of the body in a
queer and inconvenient place—a wall-bed. … And all in the rays of a flashlight! As redoubtable Cyrano would remark: No, I thank you!”
“Might have carried bulbs with him, of course,” muttered the Inspector, then their eyes met and they both laughed at once.
Ellery grew serious. “Well, let’s leave the little matter of illumination for the present. You’ll admit it reeks slightly of improbability?
“And now to that exceedingly fascinating little thingamajig,” he continued, “the lipstick engraved with the letter
That’s my point number three. In many ways, it’s of extreme significance. The immediate conclusion is that Lipstick marked
does not belong to Mrs. French, whose initials, engraved on three other articles in her bag, are
W. M. F.
Now, Lipstick marked
is of a noticeably darker shade than the paint on the dead woman’s lips. Which not only corroborates the premise that Lipstick marked
is not Mrs. French’s, but also that there is
lipstick extant somewhere which
belong to Mrs. French. Follow? Now where is that lipstick? It is not in this window anywhere. Therefore it is somewhere else. Did the murderer take it, along with the key? That seems silly. Ah—but haven’t we a clue. Of course! for observe …” he paused, “the dead woman’s lips. Half-finished! And of a lighter shade. What does this mean? Undoubtedly that Mrs. French was interrupted while she was dabbing at her lips with her own lipstick now missing.”
“Why interrupted?” demanded the Inspector.
“Have you ever seen a woman who began to paint her lips leave them half-painted? It just isn’t done. It
have been an interruption which prevented those lips from being entirely daubed. And a violent interruption, I’ll wager; nothing short of an unprecedentedly odd occurrence would stop a woman from smearing that last red blob on the right place.”
“The murder!” exclaimed the Inspector with a queer light in his eye.
Ellery smiled. “Perhaps.—But do you grasp the implication, dad? If she was interrupted by the murder or the incidents immediately preceding the murder, and the lipstick is not in this window—”
“Of course, of course!” exclaimed the old man. He sobered. “It’s true, though, that the lipstick might have been taken by the murderer for purposes of his own.”
“On the other hand,” returned Ellery, “if it was not taken by the murderer, then it is still somewhere in or about the building. You might institute a search through six floors of this dry goods mortuary.”
“Oh, impossible! But I suppose we’ll have to have a try at it later.”
“Perhaps it won’t be necessary in about fifteen minutes,” said Ellery. “At any rate, a genuinely interesting question comes up: To whom does the
lipstick belong, if it is not Mrs. French’s? You might look into that, dad. I have an idea that the answer to that question will bring complications—
Scott Welles. …”
At mention of the Police Commissioner’s name the Inspector’s features lengthened. “You’d better finish what you began, Ellery; he’ll be here any minute now.”
“And so I shall.” Ellery removed his pince-nez and twirled it recklessly in the air. “Before we proceed to point number four, bear in mind that you’re
ing two feminine accessories—
la lipstick de Madame, et sa clef. …
“To point number four, then,” continued Ellery with a faraway gleam in his eye. “For point number four we must credit the habitually sharpened perceptions of our grossly underpaid and revered medico, Sam Prouty. He thought it strange that wounds of the nature of Mrs. French’s should have bled so little. At least, there was little trace of blood on her body and clothes. … By the way, there was also a smear of dried blood on the palm of her left hand—you noticed it, of course?”
“Saw it, all right,” muttered the Inspector. “Probably clapped her hand to one of the wounds at the moment she was shot, and then—”
“And then,” finished Ellery, “her hand dropped in death and the divine ichor, which by all the laws of physics, according to friend Sam, should have gushed forth, did—what? I should say,” he remarked seriously after a pause, “that it obeyed the immutable laws of that exact science and did gush forth freely. …”
“I see what you mean …” murmured the old man.
“It gushed forth freely—but not in this window. In other words, we must look for an interesting combination of elements to explain away the phenomenon of two bloody revolver-wounds being practically bloodless on the discovery of the body. …
“Let me sum up the indications to this point,” Ellery continued swiftly. “To my mind the absence of Mrs. French’s apartment key; the absence of normal illuminating-facilities in this window; the absence of Mrs. French’s rightful lipstick, which she must have had almost directly before her death, since her lips are only half-painted; the absence of blood from two logically bloody wounds; the presence of Marion French’s scarf; and another item of a more general but none the less convincing nature—all converge into one conclusion.”
“And that is that the murder was not committed in this window,” said the Inspector, taking snuff with a steady hand.