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BOOK: Rex Stout
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“Can you walk?”

Without moving Cooper said, “I don’t want to walk.”

“Nuts.” Hicks got him by the shoulder. “Listen, brother. My bed is two flights up. You can either walk to it or be taken to Bellevue, which is only three blocks away, and let them carry you.”

Cooper pulled himself to a sitting posture. “I don’t want to go to Bellevue.”

“Then upsy-daisy. Snap out of it.”

“I don’t want to go to bed.”

“You don’t have to. You can sit in a chair. Come on.”

Cooper muttered something, but showed an inclination to move, and Hicks got hold of him and helped him out. His legs supported him, and a firm grasp on his arm was all he needed to steer him across the sidewalk, into the entrance, and up the two flights of stairs.

The medium-sized room that Hicks ushered him into was neat and clean and bare-looking. The bed and dresser and table and two chairs were devoid of any pretense at embellishment, and for decoration the walls displayed a picture of Abraham Lincoln, a chart of the human body showing muscles and blood vessels, a drawing of an airplane flight cut from a magazine, all unframed, and a large framed canvas that was a brilliant splash of red and yellow. When asked, as he had been once, where he got the Van
Gogh, Hicks replied that someone he had done something for had given it to him.

Hicks closed the door. Cooper looked around, focused his eyes on the bed, and staggered across and fell on it before Hicks could reach him. Hicks stood and glared down at him. He stooped for a closer look, and straightened up again.

“The unspeakable bum,” he said in a tone of disgust. “Out. Asleep. And the only bed I’ve got. I can do one of two things, undress him or toss him out of the window.”

The decision, apparently, was for the former, for he started the undressing, beginning with shoes. They were heavy brown oxfords. One was off and deposited on the floor when the sound came of voices and footsteps outside on the stairs. Someone en route for the fourth floor, Hicks thought, going for the other shoe, and had it in his hand when there was a loud knock at his door. He jerked around and called out:

“Who is it?”

The reply came, “ABCDXYZ! Open up!”

Hicks made a face. Bill Pratt of the
, carrying between ten and fifteen drinks.

“I’m not at home!”

“Oh, yes, you are! You must be, because we saw the light in your window. Don’t keep this lady waiting, she’s a friend of yours. Let down this barrier.”

“What lady?”

“An old, old friend. Here hanging onto me. I’ll count ten and bust the door down. One, two …”

Hicks put down the shoe, stepped on the table and switched off the light, crossed to the door and opened it just wide enough to slide through, and was in the hall with the door closed behind him and the spring lock caught.

“I was just going out,” he explained.

Bill Pratt, tall and loose-jointed, with careless clothes and a carefree face, said indignantly, “Then you can go back in again. We’re here on business.”

“That’s him all right,” said the girl.

“Do you deny it?” Pratt demanded. “Do you deny that you promised this girl a year’s subscription to the
Movie Gazette
and maybe a trip to Hollywood? Wait! Wait till I tell you. I met her this evening at the Flamingo. She’s a fine girl and a swell dancer.”

He looked at the girl. “My God, you’re a good dancer.”

“You met her at the Flamingo,” Hicks said.

“I did. Any objection to that?”


“Okay. She said an inmate of an insane asylum with a card having the name A. Hicks and a string of letters on it told her this morning that if she could identify some photographs she would get a year’s subscription to the
Movie Gazette.
Let’s go in and sit down.”

“In a minute. So what?”

“So of course I knew it was you. I want to know two things. I want to know what kind of a gag it is, and I want enough to make at least a column, and I also want to know when her subscription to the
Movie Gazette
is going to start. She’s the best dancer in New York and I want to know when her subscription is going to start, and I also want—”

The girl put in, “You haven’t told him about the photograph.”

“What photograph?”

“The one I didn’t know. I told you about it.”

“I forgot that part. Tell it again.”

“There was one I didn’t know, but I know it now, because she came today to see Mr. Vail. Only I don’t know her name.”

Hicks’s eyes fastened on the girl. “She came to see Vail today? What time?”

“Around noon. Just before I went to lunch.”

“How long did she stay?”

“I don’t know, but she left before I came back from lunch.”

“Why don’t you know her name?”

“Because she didn’t give it. She said she was expected, and Mr. Vail said to send her in.”

“That’s why I know it’s a story,” Pratt said. “Let’s go in and sit down. You see, going there with that photograph, you must have known that woman was going—”

a story,” Hicks admitted. “But I need a drink, and so do you. We all need a drink. Come along.”

“He was going to show me your room,” the girl protested. “The kind of a place a famous man lives in. He says you’re cuckoo.”

“Some other time.” Hicks herded them to the stairs and got them started down. “We’ve got to talk this over and we’ve got your subscription to attend to.”

“A drink is a splendid idea,” Pratt said positively. “And music for dancing. My God, she’s a good dancer.”

On the sidewalk Hicks explained that there was no place for dancing in the neighborhood, but plenty of drinks. He took them to Second Avenue and north a block, and into a Bar & Grill. After they had slid into a seat of a booth he said:

“Excuse me a minute. Go ahead and order and make mine the same.”

He went through a gap in a partition leading to the front, glanced back to make sure he could not be seen, proceeded to the entrance, and emerged to the street. A block farther north he entered a drugstore, looked up Judith Dundee’s number in the phone book, shut himself in a booth, and dialed it. Three minutes later he came out again, took another route back to his address on 29th Street, to avoid passing the Bar & Grill, got into the car he had parked there, and headed uptown.


The slightly grandiose living room of the Dundee apartment on Park Avenue was dimly lit, and quiet, with only faint intrusion of the midnight noises of the city. The upholstery of the divan, and the cushions on it, were a dark rich red, which made an effective background for the gold-colored dressing gown Judith Dundee wore, with mules to match, and no stockings.

Hicks shifted his chair to alter his field of vision. He didn’t like bare legs with long skirts.

“I’ll keep my eyes open if I can,” Mrs. Dundee said. “I don’t often take a sleeping pill, but I did tonight. I was in bed when you phoned.”

“Sorry,” Hicks said gruffly.

“Not at all. Not if you have news for me.”

“I’ve got nothing that’s much good. There have been a few little developments.” The sharp glint of his eyes contrasted with her lackluster gaze from under heavy lids. “I thought you might
be able to furnish some information that would help. Have you heard anything?”

She frowned. “Heard anything? You mean from my husband? No. As for information, I told you everything yesterday—”

“I don’t mean yesterday. Today.”

“No.” Her frown deepened. “I told you my husband refuses to discuss it with me, and anyway I haven’t seen him—”

“I have. And a few others. There has been a murder.”

“Murder?” Her lids opened wide. “
” she repeated incredulously. “Who—” A cushion tumbled to the floor as she leaned to clutch his arm. “Ross? Dick? My son? My husband?” She pulled at him, shook him. “Don’t sit there glittering at me—”

“Not your son or husband. A woman named Martha Cooper.”

“They’re all right?”

“So far as I know. Did you know Martha Cooper?”

“No. What—”

“I’m telling you. Do you know a girl named Heather Gladd who works out at the laboratory at Katonah?”


“Have you ever been out there?”


“Mrs. Cooper is Heather Gladd’s sister. She went out there today to see her. Sometime between two-fifty and four-forty this afternoon, on the house terrace, someone hit her on the head with a brass candlestick and killed her.”

Mrs. Dundee stared at him. “How awful! There in the house at Katonah? Where my son lives?” A little shudder ran over her. “Who did it?”

“Not ascertained. Brager and Miss Gladd and I are out because we were all at the laboratory. Whereas Cooper, the husband, and Mrs. Powell and Dundee Senior and Junior were all at the house during that period—”

“Dick was there?”

Hicks nodded. “And still is. Also Ross. Both voluntarily. They’re not held by the police—not yet—”

“Nonsense,” Mrs. Dundee said sharply. “They don’t hit women with candlesticks. But for heaven’s sake, what was it? What were you all doing there? How did you get there?”

“Me, by train. I’ll tell you all about that if and when. When you’ve told me a couple of things; for instance how and where you’ve spent the day.”

have spent the day?”

“That’s right.”

Mrs. Dundee gazed at him, and, sleeping pill or no sleeping pill, her eyes did not lack luster nor did the lids droop. “Really,” she said, “I suppose I have no right to complain of your impudence—”

“Save it,” Hicks cut her off rudely. “You asked me to do a job for you and I started to work on it. I might have had more sense even if I did need a new suit. I’m not trying to find out if you have an alibi for the time a murder was committed, I’m merely asking where you were between noon and five o’clock today, which is not in itself an offensive question. The simplest way is just to go ahead and tell me.”

“Nevertheless—under the circumstances—it

“Okay, it’s impudent. Where were you? Here? At home?”

“No. I went out a little before noon. Shopping. Later to the Modern Museum.”

“Car and chauffeur?”

“No, taxicabs.”

“Did you go anywhere except shopping and the museum?”

“Afterwards I went to Rusterman’s with some friends—”

“I mean before the museum. Only shopping?”


Hicks got out his wallet, took some bills from it, counted them, and laid them on a cushion of the divan. Then he stood up.

“Very well,” he said. “There’s what’s left of your two hundred. Seventeen dollars. The account is closed. I figure I don’t owe you anything, because I am not something you work with strings. Don’t sputter. If you hire somebody else, and I think you’d better the way things are going, I advise you to deal off the top, and don’t forget to tell him about your visit to Vail’s office today. But although you’re a liar, you deserve something for your money, which I’ve spent. Your husband has a sonotel, which is an electric eavesdropper, planted in Vail’s office, and the proof he had is a record of a conversation you had there with Vail on Thursday, September fifth. I suppose tomorrow he’ll have a record of your conversation today.”

Mrs. Dundee was goggling at him in consternation. “Good heavens!” she said, aghast.

“And goodness gracious,” Hicks said dryly. “You’re in a nice fix now. Happy landing.” He turned and was going.

He did not see her leave the divan, but the movement must have been swift, for he had gone only three paces when the grasp of her fingers on his sleeve stopped him; and when he wheeled sharply she held on and was jerked off balance, so that she had to use her other hand to seize support, a fold of his coat; and there she was against him, looking up at him.

“You listen to me,” she said harshly. “Maybe you think you’re picturesque, but you’re not going to quit me like this. My husband hasn’t got any record of any conversation I had with Vail in his office. I was never in his office in my life.”

“You were there today.”

“All right, I was. I was never there before. I went to tell him about this and tell him if he couldn’t get along without stealing Dundee formulas at least I wasn’t going to be dragged into it.”

“That was a good idea.” Hicks’s yellow-brown eyes slanted down to meet her upturned gaze. “He could explain to your husband just how he got the formulas and that would let you out. Did he give it to you in writing?”

Mrs. Dundee let go of his coat. “I know I made a fool of myself,” she acknowledged. “He merely said he has never got any Dundee formulas. And there’s nothing very picturesque about your sarcasm, either. When you asked me where I had been today, there was no point in admitting that I had been idiot enough to go and appeal to Jimmie Vail.”

She stepped to the divan and picked up the seventeen dollars, returned and stuffed it into his coat pocket, and demanded, “Is that all that’s left of it? Then you’ll need more I’ll give you a check.” She went back to her seat on the divan and put her hands to her forehead. “I’m getting a headache from that darned pill. Sit down and tell me about that record of a conversation that never took place. Did you see it or hear it?”

Hicks sat down. “You’re pretty remarkable,” he observed. “You haven’t asked how I knew you went to Vail’s office today.”

“What does it matter? I suppose you bribed somebody. With my money. I want to know about that record. There couldn’t be any such record. What does it say?”

“I didn’t hear it. Your husband told me about it—”

He broke off as a sound cut in.

“The doorbell,” Mrs. Dundee said. She stirred and sank back
again. “The maids have gone to bed.” She glanced at her wrist. “It’s after midnight.”

“Shall I go?”


Hicks crossed the living room and passed through an arch into the large reception hall, traversed that, and opened the door. He did not swing it hospitably wide, but only enough for the breadth of his own shoulders; and after one glance into the foyer he kept his shoulders there.

Hicks said, “Hello.”

The man in the foyer said, “Hello.”

Hicks said to the elevator boy, who had waited there in his open door for the bell to be answered, after the custom in apartments with private elevator foyers, “Everything is under control, thank you,” and, after a fleeting moment of hesitation, the boy let his door go shut and the hum of the descending car followed.

BOOK: Rex Stout
5.9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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