The League of Frightened Men | Chapter 13 of 30 - Part: 1 of 6

Author: Rex Stout | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 5913 Views | Add a Review

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Chapter 7

When I got back to the office everybody was talking. Mike Ayers had gone to the table to get a drink, and three or four others had joined him. Dr. Burton stood with his hands dug into his pockets, frowning, listening to Farrell and Pratt. Wolfe had untwined his fingers and was showing his inner tumult by rubbing his nose with one of them. When I got to his desk Cabot the lawyer was saying to him:

“I have an idea you’ll collect your fees, Mr. Wolfe. I begin to understand your repute.”

“I shall make no discount for flummery, sir.” Wolfe sighed. “For my part, I have an idea that if I collect my fees I shall have earned them. Your friend Mr. Chapin is a man of quality.”

Cabot nodded. “Paul Chapin is a distorted genius.”

“All genius is distorted. Including my own. But so for that matter is all life; a mad and futile ferment of substances meant originally to occupy space without disturbing it. But alas, here we are in the thick of the disturbance, and the only way that has occurred to us to make it tolerable is to join in and raise all the hell our ingenuity may suggest.—How did Paul Chapin acquire his special distortion? I mean the famous accident. Tell me about it. I understand it was at college, a hazing affair.”

“Yes. It was pretty terrible.” Cabot sat on the edge of the desk. “No doubt of that, but good God, other men, the war, for instance … oh well. I suppose Paul was distorted from the beginning. He was a freshman, the rest of us were sophomores and on up. Do you know the Yard?”

“The Yard?”

“At Harvard.”

“I have never been there.”

“Well. There were dormitories—Thayer Hall. This was at Thayer Middle Entry—Hell Bend. We were having a beer night downstairs, and there were some there from outside—that’s how fellows like Gaines and Collard happened to be present. We were having a good time around ten o’clock when a fellow came in and said he couldn’t get in his room; he had left his key inside and the doors had snap locks. Of course we all began to clap.”

“That was a masterpiece, to forget one’s key?”

“Oh no. We were clapping the opportunity. By getting out a hall window, or another room, you could make your way along a narrow ledge to the window of any locked room and get in that way. It was quite a trick—I wouldn’t try it now for my hope of the Supreme Court—but I had done it in my freshman year and so had many others. Whenever an upperclassman forgot his key it was the native custom to conscript a freshman for that service. There was nothing extraordinary about it, for the agility of youth. Well, when this fellow—it was Andy Hibbard—when he announced he had locked himself out, of course we welcomed the opportunity for a little discipline. We looked around for a victim. Somebody heard a noise in the hall and looked out and saw one going by, and called to him to come in. He came in. It was Chapin.”

“He was a freshman.”

Cabot nodded. “Paul had a personality, a force in him, already at that age. Maybe he was already distorted. I’m not a psychiatrist. Andy Hibbard has told me … but that wouldn’t help you any. Anyway, we had been inclined to let him alone. Now, here he was delivered to us by chance. Somebody told him what was expected of him. He was quite cool about it. He asked what floor Andy’s room was on, and we told him the fourth, three flights up. He said he was sorry, in that case he couldn’t do it. Ferd Bowen said to him, ‘What’s the matter, you’re not a cripple, are you?’ He said he was perfectly sound. Bill Harrison, who was serious-minded in his cradle, asked him if he had vertigo. He said no. We marched him upstairs. Ordinarily not more than a dozen or so would probably have gone up to see the fun, but on account of the way he was taking it thirty-five of us herded him up. We didn’t touch him. He went, because he knew what would happen if he didn’t.”

“What would happen?”

“Oh, things. Whatever might occur to us. You know college kids.”

“As few as possible.”

“Yes. Well, he went. I’ll never forget his face as he was getting out of the hall window, backwards. It was white as a sheet, but it was something else too, I don’t know what. It got me. It got Andy Hibbard too, for he jumped forward and called to Chapin to come back in, he would do it himself. Others grabbed Andy and told him not to be a damn fool. All who could crowded up and looked out of the window. It was moonlight. Others ran to one of the rooms and looked out of the windows there. Chapin got onto the ledge all right, and got straightened up and moved along a little, his hand stretched out as far as he could, trying to reach the next window. I didn’t see it, I wasn’t looking, but they said that all of a sudden he began to tremble, and down he went.”

Cabot stopped. He reached in his pocket for his case and lit a cigarette. He didn’t hold the match to it as steady as he might have. He took a couple of puffs and said, “That’s all. That’s what happened.”

Wolfe grunted. “You say there were thirty-five of you?”

“Yes. So it turned out.” Cabot pulled at his cigarette. “We chipped in, of course, and did all we could. He was in the hospital two months and had three operations. I don’t know where he got a list of our names; I suppose from Andy. Andy took it hard. Anyway, the day he left the hospital he sent all of us copies of a poem he had written. Thanking us. It was clever. There was only one of us smart enough to see what kind of thanks it was. Pitney Scott.”

“Pitney Scott is a taxi-driver.”

Cabot raised his brows. “You should write our class history, Mr. Wolfe. Pit took to drink in 1930, one of the depression casualties. Not, like Mike Ayers, for the annoyance of other people. For his own destruction. I see you have him down for five dollars. I’ll pay it.”

“Indeed. That would indicate that you are prepared to accept my proposal.”

“Of course I am. We all are. But you know that. What else can we do? We are menaced with death, there’s no question about it. I have no idea why, if Paul had this in him, he waited so long to get it out—possibly his recent success gave him a touch of confidence that he needed, or money to finance his plans—I don’t know. Of course we accept your proposal. Did you know that a month ago Adler and Pratt and Bowen seriously discussed the notion of hiring a gangster to kill him? They invited me in, but I wouldn’t—everyone’s squeamishness begins somewhere, and I suppose that was the starting point for mine—and they abandoned the idea. What else can we do? The police are helpless, which is understandable and nothing against them; they are equipped to frustrate many kinds of men, but not Paul Chapin—I grant him his quality. Three of us hired detectives a month ago, and we might as well have engaged a troop of Boy Scouts. They spent days looking for the typewriter on which the warnings were written, and never even found it; and if they had found it they would not have been able to fasten it on Paul Chapin.”

“Yes.” Wolfe reached out and pressed the button for Fritz. “Your detectives called on me and offered to place their findings at my disposal—with your consent.” Fritz appeared, and Wolfe nodded for beer. “Mr. Cabot. What does Mr. Chapin mean when he says that you killed the man in him?”

“Well … that’s poetry, isn’t it?”

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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