Read French Powder Mystery Online
Authors: Ellery Queen
“Our lone man is connected with the store. The removal of the body to the window downstairs and all its attendant complications, which I have also expounded at some length, prove this.”
Ellery relaxed slightly. Again he looked about the room with a little smile. He applied his handkerchief to his lips, glanced slyly at Commissioner Welles, who sat perspiring and alert in his chair; at his father, who was slumped in an attitude of weariness, one fragile hand shielding his eyes; at the motionless detectives to his left; at Velie, Crouther, “Jimmy,” and Fiorelli to his right. Then he began once more.
“On one point,” he said dryly, “we have as yet reached no definite conclusion. I refer to the nature of the business which the murderer considered so imperative as to require special attention Tuesday morning. …
“Which brings me to the most absorbing subject of the five books which we discovered on this desk—that interesting mélange of paleontology, elementary music, commerce of the
philately, and bad vaudeville jokes.”
Ellery launched into a short, graphic description of the five strange volumes, the markings, Weaver’s story of Springer’s duplicity, the revelation that the addresses were drug-distributing depots, and finally the unsuccessful raid on the house at the 98th Street address, taken from the sixth book in Weaver’s possession.
“When Springer prepared the sixth book,” continued Ellery, to his ever-tensing audience, “we can assume that he had no suspicion that the book-code was being tampered with or known to an outsider. If he had, he would not have prepared the book and left it for Mr. Weaver’s investigating fingers. So that, when Springer left the store on Monday night, followed by Mr. Weaver, he did not know that this sixth book,
Modern Trends in Interior Decoration,
by Lucian Tucker, was in our young amateur detective’s possession. And since Springer met and spoke to no one all evening, even when he arrived at his Bronx apartment (for we have checked up through the telephone company and found that he did not make any telephone calls when he got home), he could not therefore have known that the book-system had been tampered with until, at the very earliest, the next morning, Tuesday, when he returned to work. In other words, after the murder. If we presume that not Springer, but some one else, would have been apprised by an outsider of the discovery of the code system, we must not forget that the only method by which any one could have communicated with another about the matter from the store would be by telephoning, since he could not leave the store during the night. And we discovered that the telephone service at this store is cut off at night, with the exception of one trunk line leading to O’Flaherty’s desk; and this was not used, according to O’Flaherty’s own testimony.
“Then we are forced to conclude that it was impossible for anyone in the store Monday night and early Tuesday morning to have communicated with Springer or anyone else about the missing sixth book, which Weaver took away with him.”
Ellery forged ahead rapidly. “The fact that the system of dope distribution was disorganized the next morning, Tuesday—as it was, for the sudden abandonment of the 98th Street house on Tuesday afternoon is clear evidence—could have been due only to someone of the drug ring discovering during the night that the system was being tampered with. I repeat here the fact that Springer went ahead on Monday evening with his regular task of codifying the sixth book, showing that up to that time the ring considered their system safe. Yet by next morning they had become alarmed and fled the 98th Street rendezvous, even before catering to their addict-customers. Again, then, the logical explanation is that it was during the previous night that some one discovered something wrong.
“This discovery could have been caused only by, first, noticing the absence of the sixth book from its accustomed shelf in the Book Department Monday night after Weaver left—the last one to check out of the store; second, finding the five duplicate books on Mr. French’s desk Monday night; or third, both. We must conclude therefore that since the disorganization did take place the morning after the crime, it could have only been ordered by someone who made one or both of these discoveries Monday night; Someone—to amplify—who must have been in the store after Springer and Weaver left, and who therefore could not get out of the store or communicate with any one until at least nine o’clock Tuesday morning.”
Dawning comprehension shone from several faces before him. Ellery smiled. “I see that some of you are anticipating the inevitable conclusion. … Who in the store that night was in a position to make one or both of these bibliographical discoveries? The answer is: the murderer, the man who killed Mrs. French in the room in which the five books were prominently in sight. Is there anything about the murderer’s subsequent actions which proves that he
make the discovery of the five books in the apartment? Yes, there is. The fact that the murderer removed the body to the window-room in order to give himself time next morning to attend to his ‘business’—which until this point has been obscure. …
“The deductive chain, ladies and gentlemen,” said Ellery in a curiously triumphant voice, “is too strong and perfectly welded to be anything but truth.
The murderer warned the drug ring Tuesday morning.
“In other words, to add an element to our growing description—our murderer is a man, who worked alone, who is connected with the store, and who belongs to a large, well-organized drug ring.”
He paused, fingered the five books on the desk with sensitive fingers. “Furthermore, we are now in a position to add another qualifying item to the growing description of the murderer.
“For had our drug-distributing murderer been present in the French apartment
the night of the murder—and by ‘before’ I mean at any time within five weeks prior to the fatal night—he would have seen the books on the table, would have become suspicious, would have at once ordered the cessation of the book-code operations in the Book Department. And since up to the very night of the murder the book system was still in effect, it follows most gracefully that the murderer had not been in the French library for between one and five weeks before Monday night last. … We have confirmation that it was the murderer again who saw those books on the desk. For in examining and later fixing the damaged book-ends, he could scarcely have missed seeing—and understanding to his horror the significance of—the five volumes. …
“As a matter of fact,” continued Ellery swiftly, “there is no difficulty in deducing that the murderer, upon seeing the incriminating books on this desk, immediately stole downstairs to the Book Department with a flashlight to determine whether the sixth book had been tampered with also. And of course he would have found it gone—the climax-capping discovery which would make it imperative for him to get word to his confederates that the game was up. This is a decently reasonable conjecture which very soon, I am happy to announce, we shall be able to check more positively!”
And with this he stopped short, mopped his forehead with his handkerchief, and polished the lenses of his pince-nez with absent fingers. This time a ripple of conversation disturbed the quiet atmosphere, beginning in a minor cadence that swelled to excited proportions, only to cease abruptly when Ellery lifted a hand for silence.
“To make the analysis complete,” he resumed, restoring his glasses to his nose, “I shall now become perhaps objectionably personal. For I mean to take up, one by one, each of you and measure you by the yardstick I have constructed in this analysis!”
Instantly the room was a babel of exclamations, expressions of anger, resentment, bewilderment, uncomfortable self-interest. Ellery shrugged his shoulders, turned toward Commissioner Welles. The Commissioner said “Yes!” in a decisive tone and glared at the people assembled before him. They subsided, muttering.
Ellery turned back to his audience with a half-smile. “Really,” he said, “I have not sprung my greatest surprise by any means. So there is little cause for protest on the part of any one here—or should I say nearly anyone? At any rate, let’s begin this fascinating little game of elimination.
“From the first unit on my yardstick—the fact that the murderer is a man—” he said, “we may at once absolve, even as an intellectual exercise, Miss Marion French, Miss Bernice Carmody, and Mrs. Cornelius Zorn.
“The second unit—that this man worked alone—is irrelevant and useless to determine identity, so we will proceed to the third unit, which is that the murderer, a man, is connected with this establishment. And to the fourth, which is that the murderer has not been in this apartment within the past five weeks.
“There is, first, Mr. Cyrus French.” Ellery bowed insouciantly to the feeble old millionaire. “Mr. French is certainly connected with this establishment. Mr. French, further, could have committed the crime, if you judge physical possibility a factor. I demonstrated privately not long ago that, had Mr. French bribed the chauffeur of his host, Mr. Whitney, to take him into the city from Great Neck on Monday night and forget about it, he could have arrived at this apartment in sufficient time to slip through the freight-entrance and into the apartment. He was not seen again, except by the chauffeur, after he retired to his room in the Whitney house at nine o’clock Monday night complaining of a slight indisposition.
“However—” Ellery smiled at the purpling face of French—“Mr. French has certainly been in this room within the past five weeks—every day, in fact, for years. And if this seems inconclusive, Mr. French, rest easy. For there is another reason, that thus far I have purposely neglected to mention, which makes your culpability a psychological impossibility.”
French relaxed, a vague smile lifting the corners of his tremulous old mouth. Marion squeezed his hand. “Now,” said Ellery busily, “Mr. John Gray, donor of the entangled book-ends and close friend to the French family. You, Mr. Gray,” he said gravely, directly addressing the spruce old director, “are eliminated on a number of counts. Although you are connected with the store in a very important capacity, and although your absence on Tuesday morning would have been seriously noticed, you too have been a frequent visitor to these rooms during the past five weeks; in fact, you attended a meeting here on Friday, I believe. And you had an alibi for Monday night which we checked up and found stronger than even you believe. For not only does the night-man at your hotel desk confirm your statement that you were talking with him at eleven-forty Monday night, making it impossible for you to have entered the store, but another person, unknown to you—a fellow-resident at the same apartment hotel—saw you enter your suite at eleven-forty-five. … Even without this we could not seriously have entertained a thought of your guilt, for we had no reason to believe that your friend the night-clerk is anything but an honest man. No more reason, in fact, than that Mr. Whitney’s chauffeur, in the case of Mr. French, is dishonest. In Mr. French’s case I merely mentioned the bribe as an eventuality, improbable but certainly within the realm of possibility.”
Gray sank back with a curious sigh, dug his small hands into the pockets of his coat. Ellery turned to red-faced, nervous Cornelius Zorn, who was fumbling with his watch-chain. “Mr. Zorn, your alibi was weak, and you could have, with perjured testimony on the part of Mrs. Zorn, committed the murder. But although you are a prominent official of the store, you too have been in this room at least once weekly for many months. And you, too, as well as Mr. French and Mr. Gray, are further absolved by this psychological inadmissibility of which I spoke before.
“Mr. Marchbanks,” continued Ellery, turning to the heavy-set, lowering brother of the dead woman, “your story about the automobile trip to Long Island and staying over-night at your house in Little Neck, unseen by any one who might vouch for your presence, also made it physically possible for you to have returned to the city in time to get into the store and commit the murder. But you needn’t have been so irate yesterday—you are absolved too by this secret point of mine, besides being eliminated, as a regular attendant here at the directorial conferences, on the same account as Mr. Zorn.
“And Mr. Trask—” Ellery’s tone, hardened slightly—“although you were drunk and rolling about the streets—” Trask’s jaw dropped in vapid astonishment—“on Monday night and Tuesday morning, you, too, are set free by my yardstick, as well as by my as yet undivulged item.”
Ellery paused, looked contemplatively at the stony, dark features of Vincent Carmody. “Mr. Carmody. In many respects you deserve our apologies and genuine commiserations. You were entirely eliminated from our speculations by the fact that you are in no way connected with the store. Had you committed the murder, despite your story of the night trip to Connecticut, which was unsubstantiated and might have been false, there would have been no necessity for taking the body of Mrs. French downstairs to the window-room. Because you could have walked out of the store at nine o’clock unrestrained by any fear that your absence might be noticed. You did not belong in the store at all.
You, too, incidentally, are eliminated further by my charming and mysterious little point.
“And now,” continued Ellery, turning to the disturbed Gallic features of Paul Lavery, “we come to you. Don’t be afraid!” he smiled—“you didn’t commit the crime! I was so certain that I did not even bother to ask you for a statement of your movements on Monday night. You have been in this apartment daily for weeks. Besides, you came here directly from France only a short time ago—it was quite beyond the area of probability to suspect you, therefore, of being embroiled in a gang of drug-peddlers, operating with intense organization in this city and country. And you, too, cannot very well be our murderer, since you do not logically measure up to my last point, still withheld. And, if I were to be minutely psychiatric, I might add that a man of your refined and Continental intelligence would never have committed the regrettable mistakes which got our esteemed mysterioso into trouble. For I do believe that, out of all of us, you alone would have been man-of-the-world enough to know how a woman puts her hat into a hat-box, and how she stores buckled shoes in a shoe-bag. …