Three For The Chair | Chapter 5 of 27 - Part: 1 of 3

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

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II

A LITTLE RESEARCH into backgrounds is often a help, even in cases that apparently don’t call for it, and after Fyfe left I made a few phone calls to various quarters, getting a skimpy crop of useless information. David had taught at Audubon High School for twelve years, and had been head of the English Department for four. Paul’s real estate agency in Mount Kisco was no whirlwind but was seemingly solvent. Vincent Tuttle’s drugstore, also in Mount Kisco, was his own, and was thought to be doing fine. David had had no address or phone number for the nurse, Anne Goren, but Wolfe wanted them all, and I found her in the Manhattan book, listed as an RN. The first two times I dialed her number I got a busy signal, and the next three times no answer. Nor could I get Johnny Arrow. Calls to the Churchill Towers go through the Churchill switchboard, and I left word for him to call, and made half a dozen tries. Finally, just before Fritz announced dinner, I got Tim Evarts, assistant house dick, security officer to you, and asked him a few discreet questions. The answers were both for and against. For, the rent was paid on the de luxe Towers apartment, and the bar and restaurant staff all liked Johnny Arrow, especially his tipping standards. Against, Arrow had plugged a guy in the bar Saturday night, repeatedly and persistently, and had been removed by cops. Tim said that technically it had been a fine performance, but the Churchill bar wasn’t the place for it.

Fyfe had phoned that the arrangements had been made. At nine o’clock, when Doctor Frederick Buhl arrived, Wolfe and I were through in the dining room, having put away around four pounds of salmon mousse, Wolfe’s own recipe, and a peck of summer salad, and were back in the office. The doorbell took me to the hall, and as I switched on the stoop light what I saw through the one-way glass panel of the front door gave me a double surprise. Doctor Buhl, if it was he, was no doddering old worn-out hick doc; he was an erect, gray-haired, well-dressed man of distinction. And with him was a young female having her own personal points of distinction, discernible even by a swift glance at a distance.

I went and opened up. He moved aside for her to enter and then followed, saying that he was Doctor Buhl and had an appointment with Nero Wolfe. No hat covered his crown of distinguished gray hair, so there was nothing for the rack, and I led them down the hall and into the office. Inside, he halted to dart a glance around, then crossed to Wolfe’s desk and said aggressively, “I’m Frederick Buhl. David Fyfe asked me to come. What is all this nonsense?”

“I don’t know,” Wolfe murmured. He keeps his voice down to a murmur after a meal, unless goaded. “I’ve been hired to find out. Sit down, sir. The young woman?”

“She’s the nurse. Miss Anne Goren. Sit down, Anne.”

She was already sitting, in a chair I had moved up for her. I was making revisions in my opinion of Paul Fyfe. Probably he had been too impetuous, but the temptation had been strong; and the marks on her neck and cheeks and wrists must have been superficial since no scars were visible. Also a nurse’s uniform is much more provocative than the blue cotton print she was wearing, with a bolero jacket to match. Even in the cotton print, I could have – but skip it. She was there on business. She thanked me for the chair, coldly, no smile.

Doctor Buhl, in the red leather chair, demanded, “Well, what is it?”

Wolfe murmured, “Didn’t Mr. Fyfe tell you?”

“He told me that Paul thought there was something suspicious about Bert’s death and wanted to go to the police, and David and Louise and Vincent Tuttle couldn’t talk him out of it, and they agreed to get you to investigate and accept your decision, and he had talked with you, and you insisted on seeing me. I think it quite unnecessary. I am a reputable physician, and I signed a death certificate.”

“So I understand,” Wolfe murmured. “But if my decision is to be final it should be well fortified. I have no thought of challenging the propriety of your issuance of the death certificate. But there are a few questions. When did you last see Bertram Fyfe alive?”

“Saturday evening. I was there half an hour, and left at twenty minutes past seven. The others were there, having dinner in the living room. He had refused to go to a hospital. I had put him under an oxygen tent, but he kept jerking it off, he wouldn’t have it. I couldn’t get him to leave it on, and neither could Miss Goren. He was in considerable pain, or said he was, but his temperature was down to a hundred and two. He was a difficult patient. He couldn’t sleep, and I told the nurse to give him a quarter of a grain of morphine as soon as the guests had gone, and another quarter-grain an hour later if that didn’t work – he had had half a grain the night before.”

“Then you returned to Mount Kisco?”

“Yes.”

“Did you think he might die that night?”

“Of course not.”

“Then when you got word Sunday morning that he was dead, weren’t you surprised?”

“Of course I was.” Buhl flattened his palms on the chair arms. “Mr. Wolfe, I am tolerating this as a favor to David Fyfe. You are being inane. I’m sixty years old. I’ve been practising medicine for more than thirty years, and fully half of my patients have surprised me one way or another – by bleeding too much or too little, by getting a rash from taking aspirin, by refusing to show a temperature with a high blood count, by living when they should die, by dying when they should have lived. That is the universal experience of general practitioners. Yes, Bertram Fyfe’s death was a surprise, but it was by no means unprecedented. I examined the body with great care a few hours after he died, and found nothing whatever to make me question the cause of death. So I issued the certificate.”

“Why did you examine the body with great care?” Wolfe was still murmuring.

“Because the nurse had left him in the middle of the night – had been forced to leave – and I hadn’t been able to get a replacement. The best I could do was to arrange for one to report at seven in the morning. Under those circumstances I thought it well to make a thorough examination for the record.”

“And you are completely satisfied that pneumonia was the cause of death, with no contributing factors?”

“No, of course not. Complete satisfaction is a rarity in my profession, Mr. Wolfe. But I am satisfied that it was proper and correct to issue the certificate, that it was consistent with all the observable evidence, that – in layman’s language – Bertram Fyfe died of pneumonia. I am not quibbling. Long ago a patient of mine died of pneumonia, but it was a cold winter night and someone had opened the windows of his room and let the storm in. But in this case it was a hot summer night and the windows were closed. The apartment was air-conditioned, and I had instructed the nurse to keep the regulator at eighty in that room because a pneumonia patient needs warmth, and she had done so. In the case I mentioned, windows open to a winter storm were certainly a contributing factor, but in this case there was no evidence of any such factor.”

Wolfe nodded approvingly. “You have covered the point admirably, doctor, but you have also raised one. The air-conditioner. What if someone moved the regulator, after the nurse’s departure, to its lowest extreme? Could it have cooled the room sufficiently to cause your patient to die when you expected him to live?”

“I would say no. I considered that possibility. Mr. and Mrs. Tuttle have assured me that they did not touch the regulator and that the room’s temperature remained equable, and anyway on so hot a night the conditioner couldn’t have cooled the air to that extent. I wanted to be satisfied on that point, since no nurse had been there, and I arranged with the hotel to check it Saturday night, in that room. After the regulator had been at its extreme for six hours, the temperature was sixty-nine – too low for a pneumonia patient, even one well covered, but certainly not lethal.”

“I see,” Wolfe murmured. “You did not rely on the assurance of Mr. and Mrs. Tuttle.”

Buhl smiled. “Is that quite fair? I relied on them as wholly as you rely on me. I was being thorough. I am thorough.”

“An excellent habit. I have it too. Did you have any suspicion, with or without reason, that someone might have contrived to help the pneumonia kill your patient?”

“No. I was merely being thorough.”

Wolfe nodded. “Well.” He heaved a deep sigh, and when it had been disposed of turned his head to focus on the nurse. During the conversation she had sat with her back straight, her chin up, and her hands folded in her lap. I had her profile. There are not many female chins that rate high both from the front and from the side.

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

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