The League of Frightened Men | Chapter 15 of 30 - Part: 1 of 4

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

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Chapter 9

Wednesday morning pretty early I was sitting in the kitchen, with the Times propped up in front of me but not really seeing it because I was busy in my mind mapping out the day, getting on towards the bottom of my second cup of coffee, when Fritz returned from a trip to the front door to say that Fred Durkin wanted to see me. One thing I hate to be disturbed at is my last two healthy swallows of morning coffee, so I nodded and took my time. When I got to the office Fred was sitting there scowling at his hat on the floor, where it had landed when he had tried to toss it so it would hook on the back of my chair. He always missed. I picked it up and handed it to him and said:

“A dollar even you can’t do it once out of ten tries.”

He shook his big Irish bean. “No time. I’m a workingman. I was just waiting for you to pick your teeth. Can I see Wolfe?”

“You know damn well you can’t. Up to eleven o’clock Mr. Nero Wolfe is a horticulturist.”

“Uh-huh. This is special.”

“Not special enough for that. Spill it to the Chief of Staff. Has the lop put dust in your eyes? Why aren’t you on his tail?”

“I don’t relieve Johnny until nine. I’ll be there.” Durkin grabbed his hat by the brim, squinted for an aim, tossed it at the back of my chair again, and missed it by a mile. He grunted with disgust. “Listen here, Archie. It’s a washout.”

“What’s the matter with it?”

“Well, you put three of us on this to cover him twenty-four hours a day. When Wolfe spends money like that, that shows it’s important. He really wants this bird’s program. Also, you told us to use taxis all we needed to, and so on. Well, it’s a washout. Chapin lives in an apartment house at 203 Perry Street with six floors and an elevator. He’s on the fifth. The house has a big court in the back, with a couple of trees and some shrubs, and in the spring it’s full of tulips. The elevator boy told me three thousand tulips. But the idea is that there’s another house on the court, facing on Eleventh Street, built by the same landlord, and so what? Anybody that wants to can go out of the Perry Street house the back way instead of the front. They can cross the court and go through a passage and come out on Eleventh Street. Of course they could get back in the same way if they felt like it. So parked in a cigar store the other side of Perry Street with my eye fastened on 203, I feel about as useful as if I was watching one of the tunnel exits at the Yankee Stadium for a woman in a dark hat. Not that I’ve got any kick coming, my only trouble is my honest streak. I just wanted to see Wolfe and tell him what he’s paying me money for.”

“You could have phoned him last night.”

“I could not. I got lit last night. This is the first job I’ve had in a month.”

“Got any expense money left?”

“Enough for a couple of days. I’ve learned self-control.”

“Okay.” I picked his hat up and put it on my desk. “That’s a nice picture you’ve got down there. It’s no good. It looks to me like there’s no way out of it but three more men for Eleventh Street. That would be buying it, six tails for one cripple and—”

“Wait a minute.” Fred waved a hand at me. “That’s not all of it. The other trouble is that the traffic cop at the corner is going to run us in. For blocking the street. There’s too many of us, all after that cripple. There’s a city feller there, I guess from the Homicide Squad, I don’t recognize him, and a little guy with a brown cap and a pink necktie that must be one of Bascom’s men. I don’t recognize him either. But get this, for example. Yesterday afternoon a taxi drives up and stops in front of 203, and in a minute Chapin hobbles out of the building on his stick, and gets in the taxi. You should have seen the hustle around there. It was like Fifth Avenue in front of St. Patrick’s at one o’clock Sunday, only Perry Street is narrow. There was another taxi coming along and I beat the town dick to it by a jump and he had to run half a block to find one. Bascom’s pet got into one that apparently he had waiting. I had a notion to yell to Chapin to wait a minute till we got lined up, but it wasn’t necessary. It was all right, his driver went slow and none of us lost him. He went to the Harvard Club and stayed there a couple of hours and then stopped off at 248 Madison Avenue and then went back home and we all followed him. Honest to God, Archie. Three of us, but I was in front.”

“Yeah. It sounds swell.”

“Sure it was. I kept looking around to see if they was all right. My idea was this, it came to me while I was riding along. Why couldn’t we pal up? You get one more man and him and Bascom and the town dick could cover Eleventh Street and let us on Perry Street have a little peace. I suppose they’re on twelve hours now, maybe they’ve got reliefs, I don’t know. How’s that for an idea?”

“Rotten.” I got up and handed him his hat. “No good at all, Fred. Out. Wolfe’s not using any second-hand tailing. I’ll get three men from the Metropolitan and we’ll cover Eleventh Street. It’s a damn shame, because as I told you, Wolfe wants Chapin covered as tight as a drum. Get back on the job and don’t lose him. It sounds sad, the way you describe that traffic jam, but do the best you can. I’ll get in touch with Bascom and maybe he’ll call his dog off, I didn’t know he had any more money to spend. Run along now, I’ve got some errands you wouldn’t understand.”

“I’m not due till nine o’clock.”

“Run along anyway.—Oh, all right. One shot, just one. A quarter to a dime.”

He nodded, shifted in his seat to get good position, and let her go. It was a close call; the hat hung there on its edge for a tenth of a second, then toppled off. Durkin fished a dime out of his pocket and handed it to me, and beat it.

I thought at first I’d run up to Wolfe’s room and get his okay on covering Eleventh Street, but it was only eight-twenty and it always made me half-sick to see him in bed with that black silk cover drinking chocolate, not to mention that he would be sure to raise hell, so I got the Metropolitan Agency on the telephone and gave them the dope. I only ordered six-dollar men because it was nothing but a check anyway; I couldn’t see why Chapin should be trying to pull anything foxy like rear exits. Then I sat for a minute and wondered who was keeping Bascom on the job, and I thought I’d phone him on the chance of his spilling it, but nobody answered. All this had made me a little late on my own schedule, so I grabbed my hat and coat and went to the garage for the roadster.

I had collected a few facts about the Dreyer business in my wanderings the day before. Eugene Dreyer, art dealer, had been found dead, on the morning of Thursday, September 20, in the office of his gallery on Madison Avenue near Fifty-sixth Street. His body had been found by three cops, one a lieutenant, who had broken in the door on orders. He had been dead about twelve hours, and the cause had been nitroglycerin poisoning. After an investigation the police had pronounced it suicide, and the inquest had verified it. But on the Monday following, the second warnings arrived; everybody got one. We had several copies in Wolfe’s office, and they read like this:

Ye should have killed me.
And with no ready cliff, rocks waiting below
To rub the soul out; no ready waves
To lick it off and clean it of old crimes,
I let the snake and fox collaborate.
They found the deadly oil, sweet-burning, cunningly
Devised in tablets easily dissolved.
And I, their Master, I,
I found the time, the safe way to his throat,
And counted: two.
One, and two, and eighty long days between.
But wait in patience; I am unhurried but sure.
Three and four and five and six and seven. …
Ye should have killed me.

Wolfe said it was better than the first one, because it was shorter and there were two good lines in it. I took his word for it.

Hell had popped right off. They forgot all about practical jokes and yelled to the cops and the D.A.’s office to come on back and nab him; suicide was out. When I got a description of the run-around that little poem had started, I was inclined to agree with Mike Ayers and cross out League of Atonement and make it the League of the White Feather. The only ones that hadn’t seemed to develop an acute case of knee-tremor were Dr. Burton and Leopold Elkus the surgeon. Hibbard had been as much scared as anyone, more if anything, but had still been against the police. Apparently he had been ready to go to bed with the willies, but also ready for the sacrifice. Elkus, of course, had been in on it, but I’m coming to that.

My date with Elkus that Wednesday morning was for nine-thirty, but I made an early start because I wanted to stop off at Fifty-sixth Street for a look at the Dreyer gallery where it had happened. I got there before nine. It wasn’t a gallery any more, but a bookstore. A middle-aged woman with a wart in front of her ear was nice to me and said of course I could look around, but there wasn’t much to be made of it because everything had been changed. The little room on the right, where the conference had taken place on a Wednesday evening and the body had been found the following morning, was still an office, with a desk and a typewriter and so on, but a lot of shelves had been put in that were obviously new. I called the woman over and she came in the office. I pointed at a door in the back wall and said:


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Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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