Three For The Chair | Chapter 10 of 27 - Part: 1 of 3

Author: Rex Stout | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 2129 Views | Add a Review

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VII

IT WAS TWENTY MINUTES to twelve when, after a buzz from me on the house phone to tell him they were all there, Wolfe entered, crossed to his desk, greeted them with a nod to the left and one to the right, and sat. On the phone Doctor Buhl and I, after a warm discussion, had settled for eleven-thirty, but he was ten minutes late.

I had given David, as the senior member of the family, the red leather chair. Doctor Buhl and Paul and the Tuttles were ranged in front of Wolfe’s desk, with Paul next to me. I wanted him handy in case Johnny Arrow got a notion to try another one-two on him. Arrow and Anne were in the rear, side by side, behind Doctor Buhl. Saul Panzer was over by the big globe, in one of the yellow chairs, with his feet, on their toes, pulled back. He always sits like that, even when we’re playing pinochle.

Wolfe focused on David. “I was hired,” he said, “to inquire into your brother’s death and decide whether the police should be asked to investigate. I have decided in the affirmative. It is indeed a case for the police.”

They made noises and exchanged glances. Paul turned his head to glare at Johnny Arrow. Louise Tuttle reached for her husband’s arm. Doctor Buhl said with authority, “I challenge that decision. As the attending physician, I demand your reasons for it.”

Wolfe nodded. “Of course, doctor. You are right to make that demand. Naturally the police will want my reasons too, as will the others here, and the simplest way to handle it is for me to dictate my memorandum to Inspector Cramer of the Homicide Squad in your presence.” His eyes moved. “It will go better if none of you interrupt. If there are questions after I finish I’ll answer them. Archie, your notebook, please. First a letter to Mr. Cramer.”

I swiveled to get the notebook and pen, swiveled back, crossed my legs, and rested the notebook on my knee. That way I was facing the audience. “Shoot,” I told him.

“Dear Mr. Cramer. I believe you should give your attention to the death of a man named Bertram Fyfe last Saturday night in his apartment at Churchill Towers. In support of that belief I enclose summaries of recent conversations with seven persons, with identifying data, and also a memorandum of the results of the inquiry I have made. Sincerely.”

He wiggled a finger at me. “You will prepare the summaries and data, and the memorandum will tell you what should be included and what may be omitted. Start the memorandum on my letterhead, in the usual form. Understood?”

“Right.”

He leaned back and took a breath. “The memorandum: Since three of the persons involved, including the deceased, are named Fyfe, I shall use first names. Paul’s conjecture regarding the morphine can, I think, be ignored. To suppose that one of those present brought with him lethal tablets of some sort, so similar in appearance to the morphine tablets that they could be substituted without arousing the suspicion of the nurse, would be extravagant indeed. One person, Tuttle, the pharmacist, might have had such tablets or been able to get them or make them, but even so it would have to be assumed that he anticipated an opportunity to substitute them unobserved, also an extravagant assumption.”

“It’s ridiculous,” Dr. Buhl declared. “Any lethal substance in the Pharmacopoeia would have left evidence that I would have detected.”

“I doubt that, doctor. It’s an overstatement, and I wouldn’t advise you to repeat it on the witness stand. I asked you not to interrupt. Archie?”

He wanted the last three words, and I obliged. “‘An extravagant assumption.’”

“Yes. Therefore, after routine inquiry by Mr. Goodwin, I dismissed jugglery with the morphine as a mere chimera of Paul’s spiteful fancy; and indeed I would have dismissed the whole matter on that basis but for one pesky thorn, the hot-water bags. Paragraph.

“I felt compelled to assume, and I am confident you would have agreed in the circumstances, that Paul had found the hot-water bags empty in the bed. That stumped me. After the departure of the nurse, sometime during the night, someone had taken the bags from the bed, emptied them, and put them back. For what conceivable reason? That could not be simply dismissed. I worried it. I sent Mr. Goodwin to Mount Kisco to inquire about the morphine, but that was mere routine. The empty hot-water bags had somehow to be explained. I considered them in every possible light, in relation to everything I had been told by all those concerned, and it came to me from two directions at once. The first was as a possible answer to the question, what purpose could empty bags serve in a bed better than full bags? The second was the fact that the Fyfes’ father had also died of pneumonia, after someone had opened a window and let the winter cold in to him. A window of death. The question and the fact together brought me an idea. Paragraph.

“I made three phone calls – no, four. I phoned the manager of Schramm’s store on Madison Avenue, and asked him how he packs two quarts of ice cream on a hot summer afternoon for a customer who wishes to take it some distance in a car. He said the ice cream is put in a cardboard container, and the container is put in a carton on a bed of dry ice, and chunks of dry ice are packed on both sides of it and on top. He said that is their invariable custom. I phoned Doctor Vollmer, who lives on this street, and at his suggestion I phoned an official of a firm which makes dry ice, and learned (a) that several pounds of chunks of dry ice, placed under the covering of a pneumonia patient near his chest, would certainly lower his temperature materially and probably dangerously; (b) that only a controlled experiment could tell how dangerously, but it might be fatal; (c) that if the dry ice pressed against the body, even with fabric between, it would burn the skin seriously and leave vivid marks; and (d) that a rubber bag would be perfect, between the ice and the body, for prevention of the burning. My fourth -”

“This is fantastic,” Doctor Buhl said. “Perfectly fantastic.”

“I agree,” Wolfe told him. “I had something fantastic to account for. Paragraph. My fourth phone call was to David Fyfe, to ask him to come to see me. The next thing was to learn what had happened to the ice cream. The hypothesis I was forming was bootless if there was evidence that the package had been intact on Sunday, and when Mr. Goodwin phoned from Mount Kisco I asked him to inquire. He did so, of Paul, Mr. and Mrs. Tuttle, Miss Goren, and Mr. Arrow, and they all disclaimed any knowledge of it. He also -”

Louise Tuttle’s high thin voice cut in. “That’s not true! I told him I saw it in the refrigerator Sunday!”

Wolfe shook his head. “You told him you saw a large paper bag and supposed it contained the ice cream. You didn’t look inside the bag. You didn’t see the dry ice.” His eyes were holding hers. “Did you?”

“Don’t answer that,” Tuttle said abruptly.

“Indeed.” Wolfe’s brows went up. “Have we reached a point where questions can’t be answered? Did you look inside the bag, Mrs. Tuttle?”

“No! I didn’t!”

“Then I’ll proceed. Archie?”

I cued him. “‘it. He also.’”

“Yes. He also went to the apartment and looked in the refrigerator, and there was no sign of the ice cream. I had myself asked David, and he too had said he knew nothing about it. So my hypothesis now had some flesh and bone. Someone had done something with the ice cream and was lying about it. If the dry ice had been used in the manner suggested, to kill a pneumonia patient, it could never be proven, since dry ice leaves no trace whatever, and my assumption would have to remain an assumption. I had to tackle the problem from another direction, and in fact I had already prepared to do so by asking certain questions of David Fyfe and by sending for Saul Panzer. You know Saul Panzer. Paragraph.

“There had been a few intimations, as you will find in the enclosed summaries of conversations. Bert Fyfe had been tried for the murder of his father and acquitted. He had resented the testimony of his sister and brothers at the trial, and a major item in his defense was an alibi supplied by his friend Vincent Tuttle, who testified that they had been playing cards at the rooming house where they both had rooms. According to Mr. Arrow, Bert had come to New York not on business but, in Arrow’s words, because something was eating him from away back. Arrow himself was of course not a target for suspicion, since he spent Saturday night in a police station. And other points you will not miss – the most suggestive being, I think, that Bert not only went to see the landlady he had rented a room from twenty years ago, but when he found she had gone to Poughkeepsie he went there to see her. As you will find from the summary of my conversation with David yesterday afternoon – I’ll have to give you that, Archie – Bert had lived in her rooming house only a short time, about two months, hardly a sufficient period to form a bond so strong that after an absence of twenty years he would seek her out so persistently. It was a fair inference that he had some special purpose in mind. Paragraph.

“Other suggestive bits came from David yesterday afternoon in response to questions. His father’s relations with his progeny, after the mother’s death, had not been cordial. He had ordered Bert to leave and not return. He had been difficult with David and Paul. He had refused permission for his daughter to marry the young man named Vincent Tuttle, then a clerk in the local drugstore, and had commanded her not to see him. After his death Louise had married Tuttle, and later they had bought the drugstore with her share of the inheritance. I had known, of course, from a previous conversation, that the estate had been divided equally among the children.”

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

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