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BOOK: Rex Stout
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The door opened and a policeman was on threshold, the one
whom Hicks had encountered in the lower hall. He looked at Hicks and said curtly:

“You’re wanted downstairs.”

The lights had been turned on in the living room, though it was only the beginning of twilight outdoors. It was a large and pleasant room, with comfortable chairs and sofas still in gay summer covers. Two men in the uniform of the State Police were there, in addition to the one who accompanied Hicks, and seated around a large table with a reading lamp were three in civilian clothes. One of these, with dark skin and hair pasted down, was armed with a stenographer’s notebook; the other two, Hicks was acquainted with. The one with little gray eyes and a jaw displaying more expanse than his forehead was Manny Beck, chief of the Westchester County detectives, and the one with a pudgy round face and scarcely any mouth at all was Ralph Corbett, the district attorney. Corbett half rose to his feet and extended a hand across the table for a shake.

“Hello there, Hicks! How have you been? This is the first we’ve seen of you around here since you set a fire under us on that Atherton case! How have you been?”

He was beaming with cordiality. Manny Beck nodded and mumbled a greeting.

“I’m hearty, thanks,” Hicks said, and sat down.

“You look it,” Corbett declared enthusiastically. “Driving a taxi seems to agree with you.”

The glint in Hicks’s eyes could have been dislike, or merely their reaction to the glare of the reading lamp. “You keeping tabs on my career?”

“No, no,” Corbett laughed. “Ha ha. But here we’ve got a murder on our hands, and here you are on the spot, so naturally we phoned New York to satisfy our curiosity. Driving a taxi! Ha ha. You’re a character. Out here on your day off?”

“No. I took on a little job.”

“Well, of course, I know you did.” Corbett beamed at him. “I know better than to try any subtlety with you. I’ll just come right out and ask you, why were you following this Mrs. Cooper?”

Hicks shook his head. “Now ask me why I was selling turnips without a license.”

Corbett laughed. “I’ll get around to that later. But I know all about your following her. You came out on the same train that she did.”

“It was a public train.”

“And you told the taxi man at the station to follow the car she was in.”

“Did I? Have you got him here? Get him in here. As I remember it, I happened to overhear her telling her man she was going to Dundee’s on Long Hill Road, and I told mine I was going to the same place.”

“Now come,” Corbett protested genially. “You know darned well you were following her. Weren’t you? Yes or no.”

“No.”

“This is on the record, you know.”

“I see it is.”

“Would you like to discuss it with me privately?”

Hicks shook his head. “Nothing to discuss.”

Manny Beck growled suddenly and not at all genially, “If you weren’t tailing her, what were you coming here for?”

“You remember Manny Beck,” Corbett said. “He gets impatient because he knows I’m just a good-natured boob.”

“He’s wrong on two counts,” Hicks said. “You’re not good-natured and you’re not a boob.”

“Thank
you
!” Corbett threw back his head and laughed. He turned it off abruptly. “But at that it’s a fair question.”

“Yeah,” Beck growled. “What were you coming here for?”

“On business.”

“What kind of business?”

“Mr. Dundee’s business. Confidential. You’ll have to ask him.”

“We have. Now we’re asking you.”

“I can’t tell you without Dundee’s permission.”

“Hicks is a lawyer,” Corbett put in. He asked Hicks playfully, “Or shall I say,
was
a lawyer?”

“Suit yourself.”

“Anyway, you know the law. Manny and I are beneath contempt. Ha ha. You decline to tell us what Dundee sent you out here for?”

“Yes.”

“But he did send you?”

“Yes.”

“He sent you out here to this house, which he owns, to do something for him?”

“Yes.”

“Then how does it happen you didn’t even know there was a house here?”

“Didn’t I?” Hicks’s brows went up. “That’s odd.”

“Very odd. The taxi man asked you if you wanted to come to the house or the laboratory, and you looked surprised and asked, ‘Why, is there a house?’ ”

“Did I say that?”

“You did. Is it plausible that you would come out here on confidential business for Dundee and not even know there was a house here?”

“No,” Hicks said emphatically. “It’s inconceivable. So either I’m lying about being here on Dundee’s business, which seems pretty farfetched, or else I was kidding the taxi man. That was probably it.” Hicks leaned forward. “Look here, let’s boil it down. I don’t know any of these people, except Dundee. I never saw any of them, including Mrs. Cooper, before today. The only thing I could tell you would be about the job I was on, and I won’t tell you that unless Dundee tells me to. Except, of course, where I was, and what I did and saw and heard, since I got here at ten minutes to three this afternoon. Naturally you can have that if you want.”

“I’ll take it for a starter. Go ahead.”

Hicks did so. Luckily, there was no need for him to falsify in any particular regarding his movements or to resort to any elaborate inventions. Of his first visit to the laboratory, he omitted the detail of Heather Gladd’s tears, and Dundee’s reaction on finding him there. His brief conversation with Heather at the bridge had been, he said, about nothing in particular. He made the point that as far as Heather was concerned, her alibi had more than him to rest on, since dictation had come from Brager over the loudspeaker every few minutes, and her typing of it was down in black and white. After being called to the terrace by Cooper’s cries, and making sure that Mrs. Cooper was dead and notifying the police, he had stayed at the house until the police car entered the drive and had then gone to the laboratory to tell Dundee about it. Later, when Miss Gladd came to the laboratory, it had been apparent that she scarcely knew what she was doing, and he had started back to the house with her, and had stopped in the woods to give her a chance to pull herself together. She had said she wanted to be alone and he had left her there.

Corbett and Beck had questions. They took him back all over it, tightening it up, while the windows went dead as night took the outdoors. Hicks did not underrate Corbett and Beck. While
Beck had nothing special in the way of brains, his capacity for vulgar skepticism was practically unlimited; and for all his infantile pseudo joviality, Corbett was smart, and, in a matter involving peril, might be dangerous. Hicks, committed to lies, and, more privately, to the temporary concealment of a fact which he already suspected might prove to be the central clue in the solution of a brutal murder, left no more holes than he had to. He was caught off balance only once, when Corbett suddenly asked:

“Do you know Mrs. Dundee?”

It was totally unexpected, and the answer was not on his tongue where it should have been. To cover the second’s inevitable hesitation, he asked, “Mrs. Dundee? Why?”

“No particular why. Do you know her?”

“Slightly. I know her when I see her.”

“Did you see her here today?”

“No.”

“You’re sure you didn’t see her or hear her here today?”

“If I did it was in my sleep, and I wasn’t asleep.”

He was alert now, fully alert, because he had no notion what could possibly have interested them in Mrs. Dundee. Had Dundee himself carelessly made a slip? If so, and they came on at him now …

They didn’t. They dropped her as abruptly and unexpectedly as they had taken her up. Corbett asked a few more questions about Heather Gladd, and was obviously about at the end of the string, when the sound of sudden commotion and raised voices from the other side of a closed door caused all heads to turn in that direction.

The door burst open. The man in a Palm Beach suit and a battered Panama hat came in, cast a glance around, and called over his shoulder to someone in the other room:

“He’s not in here!”

Manny Beck growled. “Who’s not?”

“The husband. Cooper.”

“He’s outside. One of the cadets has him.”

The man shook his head sadly. “On the contrary,” he declared in a tone of melancholy satisfaction. “He’s gone. Nobody has him.”

“Fer crisake!” Beck bellowed, and bounded from his chair and out of the room. All the others followed him.

Eight

George Cooper was gone.

At half past eight Hicks sat at the table in the dining room eating ham and eggs. At his right were Brager and Heather Gladd; across the table were the Dundees, father and son. What talking there was came mostly from R. I. Dundee. Hicks listened to him with one ear, his brain being preoccupied with a violent disapproval of the latest turn in events.

Apparently Cooper had taken to the woods. As Hicks had patched it together from various pieces he had gathered, shortly after sundown, on the terrace, Cooper had become ill. When the spasms had become less acute he had asked for whisky, the policeman had suggested coffee, and they had gone to the kitchen. There the policeman had left him huddled on a chair, waiting for Mrs. Powell to prepare the coffee. Another policeman, sent by Lieutenant Storrs, had come to take Mrs. Powell to the library. When the first policeman returned to the kitchen, somewhat later, no one was there. That was all. Cooper had disappeared. Nobody had seen him go. The cars parked outside were all there. The guard stationed on the drive had nothing to report. Now the inquiry was in abeyance while all hands sought the fugitive.

Hicks didn’t like any part of it. For one thing, he had wanted to talk with George Cooper at the first opportunity. He had followed Martha Cooper from the restaurant, and on to Katonah, on account of the remarkable resemblance of her voice to Mrs. Dundee’s; he had a hunch about that, and it had become more than a hunch when he learned that Dundee’s proof of his wife’s treachery was a record of his wife’s voice on a sonotel plate. But by the time he had learned that, Martha Cooper was dead, and a new and more terrible’ suspicion forced itself on him, hunch or
no hunch. Then came this jolt. Did Cooper’s flight mean that he had murdered his wife just to get her out of the way? It looked like it, and it was highly unsatisfactory.

Hicks glanced around at the faces. The other men had eaten as well as he had, but Heather had swallowed only half a piece of toast, in spite of the urging of Mrs. Powell. Hicks’s eyes glittered at her disapprovingly. He didn’t understand why she was there, and he resented anything he didn’t understand. Since she couldn’t eat, why the devil did she stick around in that dismal company? Why didn’t she go up to her room and lie down, or pace the floor, or cry, or sit at the window and look out at the dark?

R. I. Dundee was eating apple pie and announcing that he was going to remain for the night. Naturally he could leave whenever he pleased, since by his flight the man Cooper had confessed his guilt, but he was staying, and he wanted Brager and Ross, as soon as they had finished their coffee, to go with him to the laboratory.

Ross put down his coffee cup and said no, he would stay at the house. Dundee said he wanted him at the laboratory. Ross said stiffly that he was sorry, he couldn’t go.

“Why not?” Dundee demanded.

The young man stared at his father. “My God,” he blurted, “don’t you have any feeling about anything? Leave Miss Gladd here alone, with all—the way things are and the way she feels?”

“Nonsense,” Dundee said testily. “What good can you do her? Mrs. Powell is here, and those men around, and here’s Hicks. Certainly I have feeling. Is there anything any of us can do, Miss Gladd?”

“No,” Heather said.

“Of course not.” Dundee frowned at her. “I should say, you have my sympathy. My deep sympathy. I’m very sorry this has happened to you here at my place. I hope I don’t need to say I’m sorry. I’m clumsy at things like this, but if there is anything we can do, say so. I suppose you’ll want to take a day or two off.”

Ross made a noise that could have meant indignation.

Hicks asked, “When’s the next train to New York?”

They looked at him. “Are you leaving?” Dundee demanded.

Hicks said he was. Brager said there was a train at nine-twenty. Heather suddenly stood up and said:

“I’ll drive you down to the station.”

“He can phone for a taxi,” Ross said. “There’s time.”

“No, I’ll take him,” Heather insisted.

So that’s it, Hicks thought. That’s why she’s hanging around here, she wants a conference with her lawyer. He pushed back his chair and got up.

Ross and Brager were both telling Heather that she shouldn’t try to drive a car, she ought to go to bed. Dundee told Hicks he wanted a word with him, and arose and led the way to the kitchen, where Mrs. Powell was washing dishes, and on outdoors. There he peered around into the dark, faced Hicks, and demanded:

“Well?”

“All right,” Hicks said. “I told them if they wanted to know what I came here for they’d have to get it from you.”

Dundee uttered profanity. “And that man killed his wife and ran away, and now they’ll catch him, and that’s that. I was a damn fool to tell you anything. But you put it over on me, and I’m not a whiner. I want to handle this thing my way, and if I don’t find that plate I want to keep that sonotel operating in Vail’s office, and if you tell my wife about it she’ll tell Vail. It’s worth a thousand dollars to me if you don’t tell her. Cash. I’ll give it to you tomorrow. Come to my office—”

“No,” Hicks said. “I have a previous engagement.”

“Nonsense. I’m only asking you to wait—”

“Forget it,” Hicks snapped. “No sale. What and when I tell your wife will be decided by secret ballot, with only one voting. Nor were you a damn fool. If I had told them why I was here, it would have been pretty unpleasant. By the way, what did you say to them about your wife?”

“To whom?”

“The police or the district attorney.”

“Nothing. Why should I? Look here, if you’ll wait—”

“No. Forget it. Somebody must have. They asked me if I knew Mrs. Dundee, and if I had seen her here today. I said I hadn’t, and they asked if I was sure I hadn’t. How did they ever know there was a Mrs. Dundee?”

BOOK: Rex Stout
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