Read French Powder Mystery Online
Authors: Ellery Queen
“Just what do you mean by still another item which points toward that conclusion, Ellery?”
“Has it struck you at all,” answered Ellery slowly, “what an utterly preposterous setting this window-room is for the crime of murder?”
“I did think of it, as I mentioned before, but—”
“You’ve been too plunged into detail to get a psychological slant on this affair. Think of the privacy, the secrecy, the conveniences, that a fully planned murder requires. Here—what did the murderer have? An unlit, periodically patrolled window. Dangerous from start to finish. In the heart of the main floor, where the nucleus of the nightwatchman’s staff is located. Not fifty feet from the constantly present head nightwatchman’s office. Why? No, dad it’s perfectly silly! It was the first thought I had when I came in here.”
“True enough,” muttered the Inspector. “Yet—if it didn’t take place here why transport the body here at all
the murder, if that is what was done? If seems to me that almost as much danger, if not more, existed in that event as in the first. …”
Ellery frowned. “That had occurred to me, of course. … There is an explanation; there must be. I begin to see the manipulation of a fine Italian hand. …”
“At any rate,” broke in the Inspector with a slight impatience, “so much is clear to me after your analysis: this window is certainly not the scene of the crime. I think I see—yes, of course it’s as plain as day—the apartment upstairs!”
“Oh, that!” Ellery said absently. “Naturally. Wouldn’t make sense otherwise. The key, a logical place for the lipstick, privacy, illumination … yes, yes, the sixth floor apartment by all means. It’s my next stop. …”
“And it’s positively depressing, El!” exclaimed the Inspector, as if struck by a thought. “Imagine! That apartment has been used by five people incessantly since eight-thirty this morning when Weaver arrived. Nobody noticed anything up there, so evidently traces of the crime were removed from the apartment before that time. Goodness—if only. …”
“Now don’t be bothering your poor grey head with fancy!” laughed Ellery, suddenly restored to good humor. “Of course the traces of the crime have been removed. The top layer, so to speak. Perhaps even the middle layer. But away down deep, underneath, we may find who—knows? Yes, that’s my next stop.”
“I can’t help worrying about the reason this window was used at all,” frowned the Inspector. “Unless it’s that time element. …”
“Heavens! You’re becoming positively a genius, dad!” chuckled Ellery affectionately. “I’ve just got over solving that little problem for myself. Why was the body placed in the window? Let’s apply unfailing
“There are two possibilities, either or both of which may be correct. First: to keep attention away from the
scene of the crime, which is undoubtedly the apartment. Second, and more logically,
to prevent the body from being discovered before noon.
The dead certainty of the daily demonstration time—which you have reasoned, of course, was common knowledge to all New York—tenons much too snugly.”
“But why, Ellery?” objected Inspector Queen. “Why delay the body’s discovery until noon?”
“If only we knew that!” murmured Ellery, with a shrug. “But in a general way it seems reasonable that if the murderer left the body to be discovered—and he knew it with certainty—at twelve-fifteen, then he had something to do
which the discovery of the body prematurely would have made dangerous or impossible. Do you follow me?”
“But what on earth—”
“Yes, what on earth,” replied Ellery sadly. “What did the murderer have to do on the morning of the crime?
“We’re just stumbling in the dark Ellery,” said the Inspector with a faint groan. “Just staggering from premise to conclusion without a ray of light anywhere. … For example, why couldn’t the murderer have done what he had to do last night,
in the building?
There are telephones, you know, if he had to communicate with some one. …”
“Are there? But—we’ll have to check up on that later.”
“I’ll do that right away—”
“Just a second, dad,” interrupted Ellery. “Why not send Velie out to that private elevator to look for traces of blood?”
The Inspector stared at him, made a fist. “Goodness! How stupidly I’ve managed things!” he cried. “Of course! Thomas!”
Velie stalked across the room, received an inaudible instruction, and immediately left.
“I should have thought of that before,” growled the Inspector, turning back to Ellery. “Naturally, if the murder was committed in the apartment, the body had to be brought down here from the sixth floor.”
“Probably find nothing” commented Ellery. “I’d pick the staircase, myself. … But look here, dad. I want you to do something for me.—Welles will be here any moment now. To all intents and purposes this window is the scene of the crime. He’ll want to hear all the testimony all over again, anyway. Keep him down here—give me an hour upstairs alone with Wes Weaver, won’t you? I must see that apartment at once. Nobody has been in it since the meeting broke up—it’s been watched all the time—there
be something there. … Will you?”
The Inspector wrung his hands helplessly. “Of course son—anything you say. You can certainly tackle it with a fresher mind than I can. I’ll keep Welles down here. Want to examine that Employees’ Entrance office, the freight room, and that whole section of the main floor, anyway. … But why are you taking Weaver?” His voice sank lower. “Ellery—aren’t you playing a dangerous game?”
“Why, dad!” Ellery’s eyes opened wide in honest astonishment. “What do you mean? If you’ve any suspicion of poor Wes, disabuse your mind of it right now. Wes and I were bunkies at school; remember that summer during which I stayed with a chum in Maine? That was Westley’s father’s place. I know the poor boy as well as I know you. Father’s a clergyman, mother’s a saint. Background clean, life’s always been an open book. No secrets, no past. …”
“But you don’t know what he’s bumped into in the city here, Ellery” objected the Inspector. “You haven’t seen him for years.”
“Look here, dad,” said Ellery gravely. “You’ve never made a mistake following my judgment, have you? Follow it now. Weaver’s as innocent of this crime as a lamb. His nervousness is plainly connected with Marion French. … There! The photographer wants to talk to you.”
They turned back to the group. Inspector Queen spoke to the police photographer for a few moments. Then dismissing the man, he resolutely beckoned the Scotch store manager.
“Mr. MacKenzie, tell me—” he asked abruptly, “what is the condition of your telephone service after shopping hours?”
MacKenzie said: “All ’phones except on one trunk line are cut off at six o’clock. That line is connected with O’Flaherty’s desk at the night exit. If there are any incoming calls, he takes them. Otherwise there is no telephone service at night.”
“I see by O’Flaherty’s time-sheet and report-sheet that there were no incoming or outgoing calls last night,” remarked the Inspector, consulting the chart.
“You can rely on O’Flaherty, Inspector.”
“Well,” pursued Queen, “suppose some department is working overtime? ’Phone service kept open?”
“Yes,” replied MacKenzie. “But only on written request of the head of the department.—I should add that we have very little of that sort of thing here, sir. Mr. French has always insisted that the closing hour be kept more or less strictly. Of course, there are exceptions every once in a while. If there is no record on O’Flaherty’s chart of such a request, you may be sure no lines were open last night.”
“Not even in Mr. French’s private apartment?”
“Not even in Mr. French’s apartment,” returned the store manager. “Unless Mr. French or Mr. Weaver instructs the head operator to the contrary.”
The Inspector turned questioningly to Weaver, and Weaver shook his head in an emphatic negative.
“One thing more, Mr. MacKenzie. Are you aware of the last time before yesterday that Mrs. French visited the store?”
“I believe it was a week ago Monday, Inspector,” replied MacKenzie after some hesitation. “Yes I’m fairly certain. She came in to speak to me about some imported dress material.”
“And she did not appear at the store after that?” Inspector Queen looked around at the other occupants of the room. There was no answer.
At this moment Velie reëntered. He whispered to his superior and stepped back. The Inspector turned to Ellery. “Nothing in the elevator—not a sign of blood.”
A policeman stepped into the window-room and made for the Inspector.
“The Commissioner’s here, Inspector.”
“I’ll be right out,” said the Inspector wearily. As he left the room, Ellery gave him a meaning glance. He nodded slightly.
When he returned a few moments later, escorting the portly, pompous figure of Commissioner Scott Welles and a small army of detectives and deputies, Ellery and Westley Weaver had vanished. And Marion French sat in her chair, clutching her father’s hand, watching the window-door as if with Weaver had gone some of her heart and courage.
“As for the word
are indebted for its genesis to mythology. … Clue has descended etymologically from
(in common with many other words of similar endings; i.e.,
etc.) … being a literal Old English translation of the Greek word for thread, directly traceable to the legend of Theseus and Ariadne and the ball of cord she gave him with which to grope his way out of the Labyrinth after killing the Minotaur. … A clue in the detectival sense may be of an intangible as well as a tangible nature; it may be a state of mind as well as a state of fact; or it may derive from the absence of a relevant object as well as from the presence of an irrelevant one. … But always, whatever its nature, a clue is the thread which guides the crime investigator through the labyrinth of nonessential data into the light of complete comprehension. …”
WILLIAM O. GREEN’S
LLERY AND WESTLEY WEAVER
picked their way unnoticed through the throngs on the main floor. At the rear of the store, Weaver indicated around the bend of the wall a small grilled door. A policeman stood guard with his back to the ironwork.
“That’s the private elevator, Ellery.”
Ellery exhibited a special police pass signed in Inspector Queen’s punctilious hand. The policeman touched his cap and opened the grilled door.
Ellery noted the staircase door around the corner, then entered the elevator. He closed the door carefully, touched the button marked 6, and the elevator began to ascend. They stood in silence, Weaver’s lip creased under his teeth.
The elevator was finished in bronze and ebony, with an inlaid composition-rubber floor. It was spotlessly clean. On the further wall was a low divan-like seat covered with black velvet. Ellery adjusted his pince-nez and looked about him with interest. He bent over to examine more closely the velvet seat, craned his neck at a suspicious darkening in an angle of the wall.
“Might have known Velie would overlook nothing,” he thought.
The elevator clicked to a stop. The door opened automatically and they stepped out into a wide, deserted corridor. At one end of the corridor was a high window. Almost directly opposite the elevator exit was an unpaneled door of heavy mahogany. A neat small tablet, with the words:
was affixed to this door.
To: Mr. French
Monday, May 23, 19—
A special meeting of the Board of Directors is hereby called for the morning of Tuesday, May the twenty-fourth, at eleven o’clock, in the Conference Room.
. Details of the Whitney-French negotiations will be discussed. It is hoped that a final decision may he reached officially at that time, your presence is imperative.
Mr. Weaver is to meet Mr. French in the Conference Room at nine a.m. promptly to prepare the notes for final directorial discussion.
(Signed) Cyrus French,
(Per) Westley Weaver, Sec’y.
A detective in plain clothes indolently leaned against the frame. He seemed to recognize Ellery at once, for he greeted him and stepped aside.
“Going in, Mr. Queen?” he asked.
“Righto!” said Ellery, cheerfully. “Be a good man and stick it outside here while we’re sniffing around the apartment. If you see any one—with authority—coming, rap on the door. If it’s just anybody, shoo ’im away. Understand?”
The detective nodded.
Ellery turned to Weaver. “Let’s have your key, Wes,” he said in a natural tone. Without a word Weaver handed him the key-case which Inspector Queen had examined in the window not long before.