Authors: The Broken Vase
Tags: #Traditional British, #General, #Mystery & Detective, #National Socialism, #Fiction
“Neither do I, but I’d like to. I thought it was funk, but you say it wasn’t. Let’s go back and see him. And his violin.”
“It won’t do any good. It’s all over for this time. Half of the audience has gone home. Anyway, he can’t fight any harder than he did.” Diego shuddered. “I wouldn’t go through that again for a finger.”
But Fox insisted, and urged the necessity for haste if they were to get backstage before the end of the intermission. He paid for the drinks and hurried out, with the other still reluctant beside him. As they passed the front of the hall on their way to the corner, people were straggling down the steep steps from the entrance, hatted and wrapped, obviously with no intention of returning.
There was no one to challenge them at the stage door, which would have been remarkable if they had
been in a mood to remark on such an irregularity. They climbed steps, passed along a corridor, turned a couple of corners, crossed a large room cluttered with everything from bunting to sawhorses, and opened a door.
There had been a dozen people there before; now there were twice as many. And if before the atmosphere had been one of tense and nervous expectation, it was now, to Fox’s swift encompassing glance, one of shocked incredulous horror. The only faces that did not share it were those of two policemen in uniform who stood with their backs to the wall, one on each side of the door to the dressing room, which was closed. Nearest to Fox and Diego was Adolph Koch, seated on the edge of a wooden chair, as elegant as ever except that he was breathing with his mouth open. Diego confronted him and demanded:
“What is it?”
“What?” Koch lifted his head. “Oh. Jan. Committed suicide. Shot himself.”
ne of the policemen tramped over and inquired, “How did you fellows get in here? Isn’t there a man out there?”
Diego turned to look at him, but couldn’t speak.
“It’s all right,” Fox told him. “We came by the stage door. We belong.”
“Belong to what?”
“They’re friends of Mr. Tusar’s,” said Koch, and the policeman nodded and let it go.
Diego stood staring at the dressing-room door, his face contorted like a man trying to lift something too heavy for him.
Fox sidled to a corner and surveyed the scene. He did that both from instinct and from habit. He had at one time regarded that diathesis as a defect of his organism, and still was not fond of it, but an extended and sometimes painful experience had forced him to accept the fact. Events and situations which caused the blood of most people to rush in hot torrents, or froze it in their veins, merely turned him into an instrument of precision for record and appraisal. Whether he liked it or not, that was perforce his function
in the face of tragedy, while others might lament or console or collapse.
Of those visible, none had collapsed. They were here and there in pairs and groups, gazing silently at the door of the dressing room or murmuring in hushed tones. A woman was trying not to giggle, and a man and another woman were gripping her arm and telling her to stop. Felix Beck, Jan Tusar’s teacher, was pacing up and down, washing his hands in air. Diego Zorilla, having found speech, was talking with Adolph Koch. Hebe Heath was not to be seen, but the young man who had been in the dressing room with her previously, whom Diego had not known, was standing across the room with his hands in his pockets, and Fox noted that he also seemed to fancy himself as a recording and appraising instrument. Then Fox frowned, moved involuntarily, and stopped again, as his gaze was directed at Dora Mowbray. She was on a chair by the opposite wall, and on her face, no longer white but a sickly gray, there was no expression whatever or sign that she was hearing the words being addressed to her by Perry Dunham, who was leaning over her and talking earnestly to her ear.
Everyone turned as the door opened and three men entered. They were not in uniform, but the manner of their entry proclaimed them. One of the policemen called, “In here, Captain,” and the man in front, after a rapid glance around, crossed the room briskly and then stopped and turned. His air and attitude were businesslike but not aggressive, and when he spoke his voice, not raised, was affable almost to the point of apology.
“If you please,” he said, “it will save time if you’ll give your names and addresses to these men. Please don’t fuss about it now.”
He turned again and opened the door of the dressing room, and after one of the policemen followed him in the door was closed. The other two men got out notebooks and pencils and started on their task. The arrival of competent authority seemed to have absorbed some of the general shock and tension; people moved, and murmurs became audible words. Fox stuck to his corner. There, in due course, he was approached by a man with a notebook.
“How do you spell?…”
Fox spelled it, and repeated it, “Tecumseh Fox, Brewster, New York.”
“Huh?” The man looked up. “Oh, sure. You’re that one.” He finished writing. “You here on business?”
“Nope. My night off.”
The man grunted, made the astonishing statement, “You look more like a chess player,” in a tone of detachment, and moved on.
Fox unobtrusively made his way to the other side of the room, to the neighborhood of the young man Diego didn’t know, and got close enough to learn that his name was Theodore Gill and that he practiced the calling of publicity agent. When the census taker had passed on, the young man suddenly turned, met Fox’s eyes with an amused grin, and inquired:
“Did you get it all right? Theodore Gill. My friends call me Ted.”
Fox, a little taken aback, paid the grin with a smile. He noted that the eyes were more gray than blue, and the hair more light-brown than yellow, as he explained,
“I thought I knew you, but I guess I don’t. My name’s Fox.”
The other nodded. “Sure, I know. I know everything and everybody because I have to, God help me. Which do you think is worse—ah, here comes the science squad. They even beat the medical—no, here he is too. Look at that, would you? We are the universal necessity of the modern world. I mean publicity agents, of which I am one. Without us no one can live, and some poor devils can’t even die. They’ll take a hundred pictures of him. By the way, didn’t I hear you say you came in by the stage door?”
“I expect so. I said it.”
“Did you happen to see an entrancing vision of breathtaking beauty anywhere around? Momentarily blond?”
“If you mean Hebe Heath, no. Have you lost her?”
“I hope not. She was here, but isn’t.”
“Are you her—uh—”
“I’m her trumpet-tongued herald. She’s a client of mine. If ever you need—but that can wait, and must. Here’s the third act.”
The captain had emerged from the dressing room and pulled the door to behind him. His hat and overcoat had been discarded. The deliberate sweep of his eyes took them all in, and his manner was a shade more aggressive than it had been, but his voice was grave and informative rather than hostile or menacing:
“Mr. Jan Tusar is dead from a bullet that entered his open mouth and came out at the top of his skull. The official conclusion at present is that he shot himself, and there is no reason to suppose that it will be changed. He left a brief note—” the captain raised his hand to display a slip of paper—“addressed ‘To my friends who believed in me.’ I won’t read it now. The
handwriting will be authenticated by experts, but I would like to have it tentatively verified now by one of you who is familiar with Tusar’s writing. Will someone do that, please?”
There were glances, movements, hesitations, murmurs. A voice came out of the subdued confusion:
“Thank you. Your name?”
“Beck. Felix Beck.” He stepped forward. His mouth opened without any sound emerging, and then he said loudly as though to establish for all time an important and immortal fact, “I am Tusar’s teacher. For years I am his teacher.”
“Good.” The captain handed him the paper. “Is that his handwriting?”
Beck took it and peered at it, in a complete silence except for muffled voices and sounds of activity that came from behind the closed door of the dressing room. He rubbed the back of his hand across his eyes and looked again, his lips moving as he read the words. Then he looked up at the faces and spoke in a low quaver, “Do you know what he says to us?” He shook the paper at them. “I am one of them, am I not? His friends who believed in him? I ask you! Do you know—” Two tears rolled down his cheeks, and he couldn’t go on.
The captain said sharply, “Mr. Beck! I’m asking you. Is this Tusar’s writing?” He reached and got the paper.
Beck nodded, swiped at his eyes again, and shouted, “Yes! Of course it is!”
“Thank you.” The captain put the paper in his pocket. “Now a few questions, and that will be all. Were any of you in this room at the time Tusar left the stage and came to the dressing room?”
Felix Beck spoke again. “I was.”
“You saw him enter the dressing room?”
“Yes.” Beck’s voice was more controlled. “I was at the listening hole outside, but I came here after the Lalo. I couldn’t—I came away. I went in the dressing room and came out again, and was here when he came through.”
“What did you go in the dressing room for?”
“I wanted to look at the violin case.”
“Because I wanted to see. I did not think it was his violin he was playing.” A stir and murmur sounded, and Beck looked around defiantly. “I still do not think so!”
The captain was frowning. “Why not?”
“Because the sound! Good God, I can hear, can’t I?”
“You mean it didn’t sound right? Was Tusar’s violin a specially good one?”
“It is a Stradivarius. Not only a Stradivarius, but the Oksmann. Is that sufficient?”
“I don’t know. Didn’t Tusar have it with him when he came here from the stage?”
“Of course he did. But he wouldn’t stop. I spoke to him, but he didn’t answer. He walked on by, not looking at me, and entered the dressing room and shut the door. I went and started to open it and spoke to him, but he called to me to keep out. I thought I would let him alone for a little, and then Miss Mowbray came, and Mr. Koch, and Mr. Dunham, and then others—”
“When you went in the dressing room to look at the violin case, was there anyone in there?”
Beck stared. “Anyone—Of course not!”
“Did you see a gun in the dressing room?”
“I didn’t see one, no. But it was in his overcoat—at least it always was. Since he played at a benefit for
Czechoslovakia, and got threatening letters, he has always carried one. I told him it was foolish, but he did it.”
“I see.” The captain nodded. “So it was his own gun. You say Miss Mowbray was the first one to appear after Tusar. Who is she?”
“She is Tusar’s accompanist—”
“This is Miss Mowbray,” a voice snapped, “and it’s about time she was taken out of here. She’s in no condition to answer a lot of unnecessary questions.”
The young man who spoke—handsome, dark-eyed and dark-haired, fully as elegant in evening attire as Adolph Koch, and considerably more slender and athletic—had a hand on the back of Dora Mowbray’s chair. His tone, while not exactly supercilious, conveyed the impression that if he had the time and felt like it he might do his grandmother the favor of teaching her to suck eggs. The captain’s eyes took him in, as did others. The captain inquired:
“Your name, please?”
“My name’s Perry Dunham. There’s no need to question Miss Mowbray. She’s already passed out once. She and I both saw Jan shoot himself.”
“Oh. You did?”
“We did, as most of the people present can tell you. When I got back here Miss Mowbray and Mr. Koch were already here, and a lot of others came soon after. Everybody buzzed around, wondering what was wrong with Jan. Two or three of them started to go in the dressing room, but he yelled at them to stay out. Finally, when the intermission time was about up, Beck and Koch decided Miss Mowbray should go in, but I thought he might even throw something at her, so I went along. He was standing in front of the mirror with the pistol in his hand. I kept my head and told
Miss Mowbray to shut the door and she did. I started talking to Jan, and getting closer to him, but when I was still ten feet away he stuck the gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger.”
“Well.” The captain took a breath. “As I said, Mr. Dunham, I had already concluded that Tusar committed suicide. I never heard of a man holding his mouth open for someone to stick a gun in it pointing straight up. Of course this settles it, but as a matter of form I’ll ask Miss Mowbray a question. Did this thing occur as Mr. Dunham describes it, Miss Mowbray?”
Without looking at him, without lifting her head or eyes to look at anyone, she nodded.
“I’m sorry,” the captain persisted, “but if we get it clear now that ends it. You were present, with Mr. Dunham, when Tusar shot himself?”
“Yes.” She whispered it. Then her head came up and her eyes met the captain’s, and her voice was suddenly and surprisingly strong. “While we stood there—as Perry said. I was farther away than he was, keeping myself—trying not to scream at him. When he lifted the gun Perry jumped for him, but it was—he couldn’t—”