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 (9 page)

BOOK: Rex Stout_Tecumseh Fox 03
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“I discovered it,” Fox continued, “when I inserted a pencil flash through an f-hole. I could see only a portion of the inside, so I don’t know whether it’s spread all over or not, but probably it is. I scraped some out with
a stick, and it’s still gummy, so it hasn’t been there long. I consulted an expert—”

“Where is it?” Adolph Koch demanded.

“As I said, on the inside—”

“No, I mean the violin. Where’s the violin?”

“It’s in a bank vault. You may take my word for it that the varnish is there. An expert told me that it may be permanently ruined. It can be unboarded and the varnish removed, but it has probably soaked into the wood fibers enough to alter the tone even if that is done. He also told me that a thick coat of varnish on the inside of either the back or the belly would destroy the resonance and brilliance of any fine violin, and that anyone familiar with musical instruments would know that.”

He looked around at them, his penetrating gaze halting a moment at each face; and when it reached Hebe Heath, she, choosing that juncture to contribute a grotesquerie which under more favorable circumstances would have got her the entire audience, pressed her palms to her breasts and exclaimed in a hollow and dreadful tone:


But no one seemed to hear it. Each in his turn and his own way was meeting the challenge of Fox’s silent survey. He broke the silence and spoke to all:

“So you have it, and you don’t like it. I don’t blame you. I suppose Miss Tusar regards this as confirming her suspicion that her brother was murdered. Perhaps. Perhaps not, legally. Whoever ruined his violin may merely have intended to humiliate and disgrace him. Even if it was calculated that in his distress Tusar would kill himself, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to prove that the calculation existed and led to premeditated murder. So I doubt if anyone is going to
pay for Tusar’s life with his own. But some kind of payment is going to be made. When I sat in that auditorium Monday evening and watched Tusar’s face I didn’t know what was going on, but I do now, and though I’ve dealt with a lot of crime professionally, including murder, I don’t remember anything quite as damnable and devilish as that.”

“Is your tone,” Koch inquired caustically, “intended to rebuke our moral palsy? I assure you I didn’t pour varnish in Jan’s violin.”

There were mutterings. Fox said sharply. “A rebuke is none of my business, but the facts are. I am no longer making a friendly report to a group of which I am a member. I am going to do one of two things immediately: either I shall question each of you in turn privately and thoroughly, and you will answer—”

“Fish! Mrs. Pomfret said emphatically. “We certainly have to decide what’s to be done, but if you think you’re going to turn my house into a police station—”

“That’s the alternative, Mrs. Pomfret. The police, or me. Moreover, I’ll start with your son. When I was left alone here the other day, he came and said you wanted me. He stayed here, I went out, but I doubled back and looked through the keyhole, and he had pawed into the package and got the violin. If you had seen his face when I entered, and heard what he said, you would have known as I did that he wasn’t merely passing the time.”

Eyes went to Perry Dunham. Mrs. Pomfret, frowning at Fox in disbelief, opened her mouth and closed it again, and then turned to her son and asked quietly, “What is this, Perry?”

“Nothing, Mum.” The young man reached across Wells to pat the back of her hand. “You know me, always
up to mischief. I was going to plant a clue for him.”

Fox shook his head. “You’ll have to do a lot better than that before we’re through.” He stood up. “If the rest of you will please leave me here with Mr. Dunham? Since it’s Sunday afternoon, I don’t suppose any of you have important engagements. If you have, and must leave before I get to you, I would like to see you as soon as possible. When I finish here I may or may not report to the police. That will depend.”

Hesitantly, with glances and murmurs, they pushed back their chairs. Koch addressed Fox:

“You said the varnish was put in the violin between noon Monday and eight in the evening. How do you know that?”

“Because the tone was all right when Tusar finished practicing with Miss Mowbray at noon.”

“How do you justify your assumption that one of us did it?”

“Not my assumption. I make a start here, that’s all.”

Most of them had started for the door, but were lingering. Mrs. Pomfret had moved to confront Fox:

“I’m going to have a few words with my son. I’ll send him back here as soon as I’m through. This high-handed procedure—I presume you are aware that your threat to go to the police is a gross breach of our confidence in your discretion?”

“I don’t regard it so.” Fox met her gaze. “And I meant what I said. I wish to question your son immediately.”

“So do I. And I intend to. I would advise you, Mr. Fox—”

“Take me first,” Henry Pomfret interceded from behind her elbow. “That is, if I’m included—”

“Attaboy,” Perry Dunham cackled. “Hurling yourself into the front line—”

“Come, Perry.” Mrs. Pomfret had her son’s arm.

“But, Mum, I assure you—”

“You come with me. Henry, I approve of your suggestion. Stay with Mr. Fox. If he wishes to search the house for cans of varnish, by all means let him.”

She marched out with her son in tow. The others had gone. Perry, as he pulled the door to behind him, stuck his face beyond its edge to grimace derisively at the two who were left.

Henry Pomfret seated himself in the chair Diego Zorilla had vacated. Fox scowled down at him through a moment’s silence and then declared: “For a lead nickel I’d use that phone now.”

Pomfret nodded. “If I were in your place that’s what I would do.” He added hastily, “But I hope you won’t. Naturally you resent my wife’s taking Perry off like that, but that’s how she does things. She called you high-handed, and she doesn’t realize she’s high-handed herself. She can’t help it. She was rich before she married Dunham, and ten times richer when he died, and you know what money does to people, even the best of them, and she’s one of the best.”

Fox turned a chair around, sat down, and, resting his chin on his thumb, regarded the husband speculatively. The face he saw irritated him. Yet there was nothing especially disagreeable about nature’s silly attempt to compose a human countenance out of a broad mouth and a sharp nose, small gray eyes and a wide sloping brow. Was he then irritated, not by what he saw, but by what he knew, that this man lived on his wife’s money? That suspicion, that he was allowing an appraisal to be adulterated by a prejudice, and a herd
prejudice at that, provoked him further. He abandoned the appraisal and inquired abruptly:

“Why did you and your wife leave before the concert began Monday evening?”

Pomfret blinked. Then he smiled wryly. “Well,” he said, “I left because she told me to take her home.”

“Why did she want to go home? Hadn’t she gone there to attend the concert?”

“Yes. That was the intention.” Pomfret leaned back in his chair and folded his arms. “You know, you’re putting me on a sort of spot. No doubt the proper thing is to tell you that if you want to know why my wife left before the concert you can ask her, but if you did ask her she would as likely as not tell you to go to the devil, and then you might attach undue importance to something wholly trivial. On the other hand, if I tell you and she finds out that I did …” He shrugged. “That seems to be the lesser evil. It was a tactical retreat. The Briscoe-Pomfret War.”


“My lord, you’ve never even heard of it?” Pomfret was amazed. “But then, you aren’t living in the trenches, as I am. Mrs. Briscoe is short on matériel, meaning money, compared to my wife, so she adopts a guerilla technique. She snipes. Last year, for instance, she practically kidnapped Glissinger, the pianist. Not long ago she coerced a promise from Jan to play at a musical for her. My wife talked him out of it. Monday evening in his dressing room he blurted at her that he had reconsidered and was going to keep his promise. Just before his concert was not time to start a counterattack, so she merely went home. The fact is, she has been damned upset about it, though she would never admit it. She thought her running out on his concert might have been responsible for the way he played,
just as Dora thought it might have been her fault. Now you say it was something more deliberate—and a lot more damnable. God knows I agree, if it happened the way you think it did.”

“How else could it have happened?”

“I don’t know.” Pomfret, looking uncomfortable, hesitated. “You’re experienced at this kind of thing and I’m not. But you said the varnish was put in the violin between noon and eight o’clock Monday, and frankly, I don’t see how you can be sure of that.”

“Do you mean it might have been done after the concert? During the two days it was in Miss Heath’s possession?”

“Well—you can’t rule it out as impossible, can you?”

“I can rule it out as silly,” Fox declared shortly. “If the varnish wasn’t in it Monday evening, what was wrong with it? Why wasn’t it all right? If you like to suppose Miss Heath put the varnish in, why not suppose she did it before the concert instead of after?”

Pomfret flushed. “I don’t,” he said stiffly, “particularly like to suppose Miss Heath did it. If what my wife said about my vase made you think I’m ill-disposed toward Miss Heath, you’re wrong. I have never thought it likely that she took the vase.”

“Your wife said that both of you have suspected her all along.”

“My wife has. I’m not responsible for her interpretation of my failure to fly to Miss Heath’s defense. Ordinary common sense would keep a man from defending a beautiful young woman against his wife’s suspicion.”

Fox considered that, and disposed of it by remarking, “I’m not married.” If the fact was regarded by him as a cause for regret, he successfully excluded
it from his tone. He went on, “There, in Tusar’s dressing room, you said he blurted something at your wife. Was there a scene?”

“I wouldn’t say a scene. No. But there was certainly an atmosphere. Jan always had nerves, but I had never seen him so much on edge. My wife knew what that concert meant to him, and she tried to calm him down.”

“How long were you in there?”

“Oh, ten minutes, perhaps fifteen.”

“Was there anyone else there?”

“Yes. Perry went in with us, but his mother told him to go and look up Dora. Beck went with him. Mrs. Briscoe was there. She’s a damn fool, and it was her mentioning her musical that made Jan say what he did to my wife.”

“Did she leave the dressing room before you did?”

“I don’t …” Pomfret thought a moment. “Yes, I do, she went out with Koch and left us in there. Or rather, Koch took her out. Koch was already there when we arrived.”

“Was there anyone else in there while you were? Perry, Beck, Mrs. Briscoe, Koch. Anyone else?”

I think not. I’m sure not. Just as we left Miss Heath and that fellow Gill went in.”

“Where was the violin?”

“The violin? I don’t remember—” Pomfret checked himself, frowned, and breathed. “Oh,” he said. “I see. You think it may have been done right there in the dressing room. I suppose that’s possible. There were a lot of people around, but of course they weren’t especially noticing the violin. It must have been there, but I don’t remember seeing it.”

“Soon after you left, Tusar appeared at the door of the dressing room and had it in his hand.”

“Well, it wasn’t in his hand while I was there. I’m sure I would have noticed it if it had been.”

“When was the last time you had seen Tusar prior to that evening at the hall?”

“I saw him Monday afternoon.”

Fox’s brows went up. “You did?”

“Yes.” Pomfret moved in his chair and an embarrassed little laugh escaped him. “So if you’re going by the law of averages you’ll probably pick me for the varnish suspect, or my wife, because we both had two opportunities. Only it happens that I didn’t see the violin either time. We were at the Garden at a matinee, a skating ballet, and we dropped in at Jan’s studio a little after five to invite him to have tea with us.”

“Did he accept?”

“He didn’t get invited. Diego and Koch were there, and my wife isn’t particularly fond of Koch. We stayed perhaps a quarter of an hour and then—What’s that?”

Pomfret jerked erect in his chair to rigid attention. Fox turned his head, ears alert, listened, and turned back again:

“It sounded like a female scream. Someone probably spilled a drink on Miss Heath—”

But Pomfret was on his feet. “Not Miss Heath—I think—”

A bellow came, from a distance and through the door, an urgent resounding bellow, in the bass of Diego Zorilla:


Fox bounded across to the door, jerked it open, and was in the hall; and saw Diego headed for him on the run, with an expression on his face that no drink spilled on Hebe could have accounted for. He braked to a stop.

“Well?” Fox demanded.

“Old Stony Face,” Diego rumbled. “Overlook my
excitement. I beg your pardon. I think he’s dead.” He hooked a thumb back over his shoulder. “In there. Would you care to look?”

As Fox moved forward, Henry Pomfret, on a gallop, shot past him; and by the time he had traversed the corridor and reception hall and entered the yellow room, Pomfret had already reached his wife and had an arm around her shoulder, as she leaned against a lacquered table telling the transmitter of a yellow enameled telephone, in a tone more hollow and dreadful than anything Hebe Heath could have produced:

“… Doctor Corbett, at once.…”

Other voices, commotion, servants running.…

Fox pushed through the huddled guests and knelt beside a prostrate motionless figure on the floor.

Chapter 7
BOOK: Rex Stout_Tecumseh Fox 03
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