Read Rex Stout_Tecumseh Fox 03 Online

Authors: The Broken Vase

Tags: #Traditional British, #General, #Mystery & Detective, #National Socialism, #Fiction

Rex Stout_Tecumseh Fox 03 (10 page)

BOOK: Rex Stout_Tecumseh Fox 03
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he outraged and inquisitive law closed in.

The phone call went to the 19th precinct at 3:36 P.M. At 3:40 a radio car arrived, and at 3:42 a second one. One minute later came a precinct lieutenant with two men; all three entered the building, but shortly the two men emerged onto the sidewalk again and joined a colleague in uniform who was engaged in a heated argument with a woman in a fur coat who was in the driver’s seat of a black sedan drawn up at the curb twenty yards from the entrance to 3070. One of the men energetically dispersed a small crowd of kibitzers that had collected and commanded them to move on; the other, after a short contribution to the argument, climbed to the roof of the sedan, perched there on his knees inspecting a spot near its center, bent over to sniff at it, and straightened to call down:

“Go get a blotter inside there!”

“Get it yourself!” his comrade retorted from the pavement. “I’m finding pieces of glass!” As in fact he was.

At 3:49 a carload of reinforcements, not in uniform, arrived. One took over the argument with the woman in the fur coat; a second clambered to the sedan’s roof
to consider the problem presented there; the others scattered to look for pieces of glass and shoo onlookers away. A limousine which tried to approach was held off and tenants of 3070, though enveloped in mink, were ruthlessly compelled to walk an extra thirty steps with no canopy to protect them in case it had suddenly started to rain. At four o’clock another police car swerved to the curb and a man with a black bag got out and hurried into the building. At 4:08 still another arrived and disgorged five men with a variety of kits and paraphernalia; and two minutes later, at 4:10, the chief of staff himself appeared. Followed by two subordinates, he descended from his car in the middle of the street, walked over and accosted a man standing by the black sedan:

“What’s all this?”

“A bottle of whisky thrown from a window up there, Inspector. Hit the top of this car and broke. We’ve gathered up all we can find, and we got a little of the liquid with a medicine dropper—”

“All right, hold everything until I get a look upstairs. Apologize to the lady—”

“Yes, sir, I am. She’s going to report me and see the mayor and sue the city.…”

But Inspector Damon of the Homicide Squad had moved on. A large loose-jointed man, with the jaw of a prizefighter and the morose eyes of a pessimistic poet, he did not appear, as he strode into the lobby and headed for the elevators, to feel with an intensity the outrage of the law at finding itself flouted, but in fact he was outraged. Familiar as he was with crime, and willing to accept it as a necessary element in the composition of the metropolitan scene, after twenty years on the New York police force, he was always affronted by its insolent and improper intrusion into circles
where it did not belong. So when he entered the richly furnished Pomfret reception hall and accepted the offer of a uniformed policeman to take his hat and coat, he was not only an officer of the law performing his duty, but also a man with a personal grievance. He scowled at a bulk approaching from the right and inquired testily, “Where’s Craig?”

And when he had been conducted into a large chamber with yellow paneled walls and yellow furniture, and across to the far side, he stood and frowned down in silence at a figure stretched out on the floor. A man kneeling there twisted his neck to look up at him, nodded a greeting, returned articles to a black bag that was open beside him, and got to his feet. The inspector turned to another man who had detached himself from a group in the middle of the room, and demanded:


Sergeant Craig looked as if he too felt that crime had its place and it was not here. “It’s about as bad as you could ask for, Inspector,” he said gloomily. “Dead on arrival. Perry Dunham, son of Mrs. Pomfret. Drank whisky with eight other people in the room and collapsed and had convulsions and died. No statement, nothing. The doctor says cyanide poisoning.”

“I said indicated,” the man with the bag interjected. “I’m not going to have—”

Damon said with peevish sarcasm; and knelt beside the figure on the floor, supported himself with his hands, lowered his face until his nose was all but touching the lips which had recently belonged to Perry Dunham, and sniffed. After another sniff he straightened, scrambled to his feet, started to brush off his knees from force of habit but desisted when he saw there was no need for it, turned to Sergeant Craig and demanded:

“Who the hell threw a bottle of whisky out of the window?”

“I don’t know, sir, we only got here a couple of minutes ago. Lieutenant Wade of the Ninetheenth—”

“Right here, Inspector,” came a voice from a man entering. He advanced briskly. “Arrived at 3:43. Dead on arrival. Four radio men were already here. I was told a whisky bottle had been thrown from a window—”

“Who threw it?”

“I don’t know. There were ten people here to handle, not counting three or four servants, and all I know is Tecumseh Fox told me—”

“Fox! How the devil did he get here?”

“He didn’t get here, he was here.”

“Where is he?”

“In yonder. A room they call the library. I herded them all out of here and got names and addresses.” The lieutenant offered a sheet of paper. “That’s as far as I’ve got, except that I got the glass Dunham drank out of just before he went down. I gave it to Sergeant Craig.”

Damon ran his eye down the list of names and up again, grunted, and turned to the sergeant. “All right, get busy. Give it the works. I want what you find in the pockets. As soon as you have pictures of it send it down for a p.m. Find something that had the poison in it—it could have been either a liquid or a powder. Smell for cyanide and remember the powder doesn’t smell till you wet it. They think they’ve got something down below in a medicine dropper. Get it down to the laboratory, and pieces of the bottle they’ve collected, and that glass he drank out of. Keep two men on the door. Doctor, I’d appreciate a p.m. report as soon as possible.”

“Sunday afternoon,” the doctor said dismally.

“Yeah, it’s Sunday where I am too. All right, Lieutenant, where’s the library and for God’s sake quit looking as if someone poisoned this fellow just to give you a break and get your name in the paper.”

“This way, Inspector,” said the lieutenant in a dignified tone.

Inside the library door, Inspector Damon stopped, looked around, heaved a sigh, and looked around again. Fifteen faces had turned to him as he entered, and even with the little he already knew it was barely this side of certainty that back of one of those pairs of eyes was a brain desperately rallying all its cunning and courage for defense against a deadly peril. It was the way some murderers comported themselves when menaced by the deadly peril which he represented that gave the inspector a high opinion of the mental and nervous equipment of men and women; he was still capable of amazement that so cureless a guilt could preserve itself silent and unseen in the tiny prison of a human skull.…”

“Mrs. Pomfret,” Lieutenant Wade said.

She was approaching, and Damon moved to meet her. “I’m Inspector Damon,” he said gruffly, feeling awkward. He was no stranger to the ordinary extravagances of grief and could deal with them without much discomfort, but this woman’s eyes embarrassed him. They were dry, direct, piercing, without emotion.

She spoke calmly, with careful spacing as if breath had to be apportioned for each word. “These policemen have not done anything. They said they had to wait for you. My son is dead. My only son. My only child. What are you going to do?”

“Why—” Damon stammered, “I know how you feel, Mrs. Pomfret—”

“You do not know how I feel.” She closed her mouth, and her jaw twitched. She turned and gestured with her hand. “These people were in my house, invited here, and one of them killed my son.” She leveled her eyes at Adolph Koch. “You.” At Hebe Heath. “You.” At Garda Tusar. “You.” At Felix Beck …

Damon moved in front of her. “See here, Mrs. Pomfret,” he said bluntly, “you ask what I’m going to do. First I’m going to find out what happened and how it happened. I can’t just snap my fingers and truth jumps out of a box. All I know now is that your son drank something and died. This will be—”

“He cried out.” Mrs. Pomfret’s jaw twitched again, “He called to me. He started to come to me, with his face—he staggered and fell down and got up on his knees and fell again—”

She stopped.

“I can get this from someone else,” Damon offered “I don’t want—”

“No. I prefer to tell you myself. We were all in there except my husband and that man.” She pointed: “Tecumseh Fox.” She pointed again: “That is my husband.” Again: “That is Dora Mowbray.” She completed the roster, pronouncing the names clearly and precisely, excepting four men in uniform—two policemen and two servants. “We had all been in this room, and left my husband and Mr. Fox here and went to the yellow room. That is in front, the other side of the reception hall—”

“I just came from there.”

“Then you—you’ve seen him—”

“Yes, I saw him. You understand, Mrs. Pomfret, it will be necessary—the body must be taken for an examination—”

“Taken? Away from here?”

“Yes. I have given the order—”

“I don’t want that!”

“Naturally you don’t. But you asked me what I’m going to do, and that’s one of the things we do, and it’s going to be done. However painful—Now here! Mrs. Pomfret!”

She was marching for the door. One of the two detectives who had entered with Damon was there, backed against the knob; she gestured him away, but he stood fast. The inspector was speaking:

“You can’t go in there, Mrs. Pomfret!”

She turned, and he saw her eyes again. “I intend,” she said, “to be present when my son’s body is taken away.”

Damon gave up. “All right,” he said to the man at the door, “go along with her and tell Craig.” The man nodded and opened the door. When it had closed behind them Damon turned and surveyed the field. Even disregarding the two policemen, the detective, and the two servants, there were so many of them.… He frowned at Tecumseh Fox and inquired:

“So you weren’t there when it happened?”

Fox, seated at a corner of the table, shook his head. “I was in here with Mr. Pomfret. When I got there Dunham was dead.”

The inspector’s eyes moved to a young man standing the other side of Fox’s chair with his hands thrust into his pockets. “Your name is Theodore Gill?”

Ted nodded. “That’s right.”

“Where were you?”

Ted wet his lips and swallowed. “I was in there. Drinking a highball and talking with Miss Mowbray and Mr. Beck.”

“Where was Dunham?”

“I don’t know. I mean I didn’t notice. He had been
talking with his mother, but I suppose he had left to pour himself a drink. The first I knew, when he made a choking noise and cried out, he was in the alcove where the drinks were. He tottered a few steps and collapsed, and struggled to his knees and went down again—just as Mrs. Pomfret said. The first one to get to him was Mr. Zorilla.”

“I was already there.” Diego Zorilla’s bass came from the other side of the room, and Damon turned to look at him. “I was getting Scotch and sodas for Miss Heath and myself when Perry came and poured his drink. I was right there when he poured it and drank it.”

“Did he take it from the same bottle that you got yours from?”

“No, mine was Scotch. He always drank bourbon.”

“Did he use the same soda bottle that you used?”

“He didn’t use any. Drank it straight, right down. He often did that, with water for a chaser.”

“Was Miss Heath in the alcove with you?”

“Not at that moment. I had gone to get a drink for myself, and she was there starting to mix one, and I offered to do it, and she went to a chair and sat down.”

“What were you doing at the moment Dunham swallowed his drink?”

“I had picked up the two glasses and was putting them down again to close a window. Someone had opened a window in the alcove and the curtain was blowing, and Mrs. Pomfret called to me to close it. I never got it closed. While I was putting the glasses down I saw a peculiar look on Perry’s face just as he gulped his drink—or just after—and he made a sort of a strangled noise. It didn’t seem more than three seconds before he cried out and his face twisted up and he
went into a stagger. If that drink did it, it was incredible how swift it was—”

“Why do you say ‘If that drink did it?’ Had he had one before that?”

Diego shook his head. “Not that I know of. I’m pretty sure he hadn’t. He had been talking with his mother, at the divan at the end of the room.”

“Then the glass he poured his drink into was clean? Not previously used?”

“I don’t know. I suppose so. There was an assortment of them there on the traveling bar.”

“And you were already there making Scotch and soda when he came up to pour his drink?”


“Right there facing him, watching him?”

“Watching him? Why would I be watching him?”

“Well, you were right there. If he had put anything in his drink from a vial or a box or an envelope, you would have seen him. Wouldn’t you?”

“Yes, I would.” Diego’s eyes flickered and his lips twisted wryly. “And God knows I’d like to say I did. But I didn’t.”

“Why would you like to say you did?”

“I should think that’s obvious. Though I wasn’t especially fond of Perry Dunham, I wouldn’t have regarded his suicide as a pleasant thing to happen. But it would have been a lot pleasanter than what seems to have happened.” Diego slowly looked around. “One of us. Including me.” He met the inspector’s gaze. “I wasn’t ‘watching’ him, as you put it. But unless he used sleight of hand, he didn’t put anything in his glass except what he poured from the bottle.”

“And that was from the bottle of bourbon there on the bar?”


Damon turned to the two menservants, standing side by side at the far wall. “Did either of you men take that bar in there?”

One of them spoke. “Yes, sir, I did.” He appeared startled at the loudness of his own voice, and repeated four tones down, “I did, sir.”

BOOK: Rex Stout_Tecumseh Fox 03
5.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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