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Inspector Richard Queen's ALTER ego, which was in startling contrast with his ordinarily spry and practical old manner, often prompted him to utter didactic remarks on the general subject of criminology. These professorial dicta were habitually addressed to his son and partner-in-crime-detection, Ellery Queen, in moments when they browsed before their living-room fire, alone except for the slippery shadow of Djuna, the wraith-like gypsy lad who served their domestic needs.
"The first five minutes are the most important," the old man would say severely, "remember that." It was his favorite theme. "The first five minutes can save you a heap of trouble."
And Ellery, reared from boyhood on a diet of detectival advice, would grunt and suck his pipe and stare into the fire, wondering how often a detective was fortunate enough to be on the scene of a crime within three hundred seconds of its commission.
Here he would put his doubt into words, and the old man would nod sadly and agree—yes, it wasn't very often that such luck came one's way. By the time the investigator reached the scene the trail was cold, very cold. Then one did what one could to atone for the unsympathetic tardiness of fate. Djuna, hand me my snuff! ...
Ellery Queen was no more the fatalist than he was the determinist, or pragmatist, or realist. His sole compromise with isms and ologies was an implicit belief in the gospel of the intellect, which has assumed many names and many endings through the history of thought. Here he swung wide of the fundamental professionalism of Inspector Queen. He despised the institution of police informers as beneath the dignity of original thinking; he pooh-poohed police methods of detection with their clumsy limitations—the limitations of any rule-plagued organization. "I'm one with Kant at least to this extent," he liked to say, "that pure reason is the highest good of the human hodge-podge. For what one mind can conceive another mind can fathom ..."
This was his philosophy in its simplest terms. He was very near to abandoning his faith during the investigation of Abigail Doorn's murder. Perhaps for the first time in his sharply uncompromising intellectual career, doubt assailed him. Not doubt of his philosophy, which had proved itself many times over in former cases, but doubt of his mental capacity to unravel what another mind had conceived. Of course he was an egoist—"bobbing my head vigorously with Descartes and Fichte," he used to remark ... but for once in the extraordinary labyrinth of events surrounding the Doorn case he had overlooked fate, that troublesome trespasser on the private property of self-determination.
Crime was on his mind that raw blue Monday morning in January, 192-, as he strode down a quiet street in the East Sixties. Heavy black ulster bundled about him, fedora pulled low over his forehead shading the cold gleam of his pince-nez glasses, stick cracking against the frosty pavement, he made for a low-slung group of buildings clustered solidly on the next block.
This was an unusually vexing problem. Something must have occurred between the moment of death and rigor mortis. ... His eyes were tranquil but the skin of his smooth brown cheek tightened and his stick struck the concrete with force.
He crossed the street and made rapidly for the main entrance to the largest building of the group. Looming before him were the red granite steps of an immense curving stairway which rose from two distinct points of the pavement to meet on a stone platform above. Carved in stone over a huge iron-bolted double door appeared the legend:
THE DUTCH MEMORIAL HOSPITAL
He ran up the steps and, panting a little from his exertions, heaved on one of the big doors. He was looking into a serene, high-ceilinged vestibule. The floor was of white marble, the walls heavily coated with dull enamel. To his left was an open door displaying a white plaque marked: OFFICE. To his right was a door similarly marked: WAITING ROOM. Directly ahead, beyond the vestibule, he could see through a glass swinging door the grillwork of a large elevator, in the entrance to which sat an old man in spotless white.
A burly, hard-jawed, red-faced man similarly dressed in white trousers and jacket, but wearing a black-visored cap, stepped out of the Office as Ellery paused to look around.
"Visitin' hours from two t' three," he said gruffly. "Can't see nobody in the Horspit'l till then, mister."
"Eh?" Ellery plunged his gloved hands deeper into his pockets. "I want to see Dr. Minchen. Quickly."
The attendant rasped his jaw. "Dr. Minchen, is it? D'ya have an appointment with th' Doctor?"
"Oh, he'll see me," I said quickly, "please." He fumbled in his pocket, brought out a piece of silver. "Now get him, won't you? I'm in the devil of a hurry."
"Can't take tips, sir," said the attendant regretfully. "And I'll tell th' Doctor who—?"
Ellery blinked his eyes, smiled, put the coin away. "Ellery Queen. No tips, eh? What's your name? Charon?"
The man looked dubious. "No, sir. Isaac Cobb, sir. 'Special.'" He indicated a nickel badge on his coat, shuffled off.
Ellery stepped into the Waiting Room and sat down. The room was empty. He wrinkled his nose unconsciously. A faint odor of disinfectant pinched the sensitive membrane of his nostrils. The ferrule of his stick tapped nervously on the tiled floor.
A tall athletic man in white burst into the room. "Ellery Queen, by thunder!" Ellery rose swiftly; they shook hands with warmth. "What on earth brings you down here? Still snooping around?"
"The customary thing, John. A case," murmured Ellery. "Don't like hospitals as a rule. They depress me. But I need some information—"
"Only too glad to be of service." Dr. Minchen spoke incisively; he had very keen blue eyes and a quick smile. Grasping Ellery's elbow he steered him through the door. "But we can't talk here, old man. Come into my office. I can always find time for a chat with you. Must be months since I've seen you...."
They passed through the glass door and turned to the left, entering a long gleaming corridor lined on both sides with closed doors. The odor of disinfectant grew stronger.
"Shades of Aesculapius!" gasped Ellery. "Doesn't this awful smell affect you at all? I should think you'd choke after a day in here."
Dr. Minchen chuckled. They turned at the end of the corridor and strode along another at right angles to the one they had just traversed. "You get used to it. And it's better to inhale the stink of lysol, bichloride of mercury and alcohol than the insidious mess of bacteria floating about.... How's the Inspector?"
"Middling." Ellery's eyes clouded. "A stubborn little case just now—I've got everything but one detail.... If it's what I think ..."
Again they turned a corner, proceeding down a third hall parallel to the first through which they had passed. To their right, along the entire length of the corridor, there was blank wall broken only at one spot by a solid-looking door labeled: AMPHITHEATER GALLERY. To their left they passed in succession a door marked: DR. LUCIUS DUNNING, CHIEF INTERNIST; a little farther on another door inscribed: WAITING ROOM; and finally a third door at which Ellery's companion halted, smiling. The door was lettered: DR. JOHN MINCHEN, MEDICAL DIRECTOR.
It was a large, sparsely furnished room dominated by a desk. Several cabinets with metallic instruments gleaming on glass shelves stood against the walls. There were four chairs, a low wide bookcase filled with heavy volumes, a number of steel filing-cases.
"Sit down, take your coat off and let's have it," said Minchen. He flung himself into the swivel-chair behind the desk, leaned backward, placed his square-fingered hard hands behind his head.
"Just one question," muttered Ellery, throwing his ulster over a chair and striding across the room. He leaned forward over the desk, stared earnestly at Minchen. "Are there any circumstances which will alter the length of time in which rigor mortis usually sets in?"
"Yes. What did the patient die of?"
"I should judge about forty-five."
"Pathology? I mean—any disease? Diabetes, for example?"
"Not to my knowledge."
Minchen rocked gently in his chair. Ellery retreated, sat down, groped for a cigarette.
"Here—have some of mine," said Minchen.... "Well, I'll tell you, Ellery. Rigor mortis is tricky, and generally I should like to examine the body before making a decision. I asked about diabetes particularly because a person over forty affected by an excess saccharine condition in the blood will almost inevitably stiffen up after a violent death in about ten minutes—"
"Ten minutes? Good God!" Ellery stared at Minchen, the cigarette drooping from his thin firm lips. "Ten minutes," he repeated to himself softly. "Diabetes.... John, let me use your 'phone!"
"Help yourself." Minchen waved, relaxed in his chair. Ellery snapped a number, spoke to two people, made connection with the Medical Examiner's office. "Prouty? Ellery Queen.... Did the autopsy on Jiminez show traces of sugar in the blood? ... What? Chronic diabetic condition, eh? I'll be damned!"
He replaced the receiver slowly, drew a long breath, grinned. The lines of strain had vanished from his face.
"All's well that ends ill, John. You've rendered yeoman service this morning. One call more, and I'm through."
He telephoned Police Headquarters. "Inspector Queen ... Dad? It's O'Rourke ... Positive. The broken leg.... Yes. Broken after death, but within ten minutes.... Right! ... And so am I."
"Don't go, Ellery," said Minchen genially. "I've a bit of time on my hands and I haven't seen you for ages."
They sat back in their chairs, smoking. Ellery wore a singularly peaceful expression.
"Stay here all day, if you want me to." He laughed. "You've just provided the straw that broke a stubborn camel's back.... After all, I mustn't be too harsh with myself. Not having studied the mysteries of the Galenic profession, I couldn't possibly have known about diabetes."
"Oh, we're not a total loss," said Minchen. "As a matter of fact, I had diabetes on my mind. Just about the most important personage in the Hospital—chronic case of diabetes mellitus—had a bad accident this morning on the premises. Nasty fall from the top of a flight of stairs. Rupture of the gall bladder and Janney's getting ready to operate immediately."
"Too bad. Who is your first citizen?"
"Abby Doorn." Minchen looked grave. "She's over seventy, and although she's well preserved for her age the diabetic condition makes the operation for rupture fairly serious. The only compensating feature of the whole business is that she is in a coma, and anæsthesia won't be necessary. We've all been expecting the old lady to go under the knife for mildly chronic appendicitis next month, but I know that Janney won't touch the appendix this morning—just not to complicate her condition. It's not so serious as I'm probably making it sound. If the patient weren't Mrs. Doorn, Janney would consider the case interesting but nothing more." He consulted his wrist watch. "Operation's at 10:45—it's almost 10:00 now—how would you like to witness Janney's work?"
"He's a marvel, you know. Best surgeon in the East. And Head Surgeon of the Dutch Memorial, partly because of Mrs. Doorn's friendship and of course through his genius with the knife. Why not stay? Janney will pull her through—he's operating in the Amphitheater across the corridor. Janney says she'll be all right and when he says so, you can bank on it."
"I suppose I'm in for it," said Ellery ruefully. "To tell the truth, I've never witnessed a surgical operation. Think I'll have the horrors? I'm afraid I'm a wee bit squeamish, John...." They laughed. "Millionaire, philanthropist, social dowager, financial power—damn the mortality of the flesh!"
"It hits us all," mused Minchen, stretching his legs comfortably under the desk. "Yes, Abigail Doorn.... I suppose you know she founded this Hospital, Ellery? Her idea, her money—really her institution.... We were all shocked, I can tell you. Janney more than the rest of us—she's been fairy godmother to him practically all his life—sent him through Johns Hopkins—Vienna—the Sorbonne—just about made him what he is today. Naturally he insisted on operating, and naturally he'll do the job. No finer nerves in the business."
"How did it happen?" asked Ellery curiously.
"Fate, I guess.... You see, Monday mornings she always comes down here to inspect the Charity Wards—her pet idea—and as she was about to walk down a flight of steps on the third floor she went into a diabetic coma, fell down the stairs and landed on her abdomen.... Luckily Janney was here. Examined her at once, and even from a superficial examination saw that the gall bladder had been ruptured by the fall—abdomen swollen, bloated.... Well, there was only one thing to do. Janney began to give her the insulin-glucose emergency treatment...."
"What caused the coma?"
"We've discovered it was negligence on the part of Mrs. Doorn's companion, Sarah Fuller—middle-aged woman who has been with Abby for years, runs the house, keeps her company. You see, Abby's condition called for an insulin injection three times a day. Janney's always insisted on doing it himself, although in most cases of this sort even the patient may inject the insulin. Last night Janney was kept by a very important case, and as he usually did when he couldn't run over to the Doorn house, he 'phoned for Hulda, Abby's daughter. But Hulda wasn't home, and he left word with this Fuller woman to tell Hulda when she got in to administer the insulin. Fuller woman forgot or something. Abby is generally careless about it—the result was the dose wasn't given last night. Hulda slept late this morning, never knowing of Janney's message, and again this morning Abby didn't get her injection. And on top of it ate a hearty breakfast. The breakfast finished the job. Sugar content in her blood quickly overbalanced the insulin, and coma inevitably followed. As luck would have it, it struck her at the top of a flight of stairs. And there you are."
"Sad!" murmured Ellery. "I suppose everybody's been notified? There'll be a sweet family party here, I'll wager."
"Not in the operating-room, there won't," said Minchen grimly. "The whole kit and boodle of 'em will be in the Waiting Room next door. Family's barred from the theater, don't you know that? Well! How'd you like to take a little walk around? Love to show you the place. If I do say so, it's a model of hospitalization."
"With you, John."
They left Minchen's office and walked down the North Corridor the way they had come. Minchen pointed out the door to the Amphitheater Gallery, from which they would later view the operation; and the door to the Waiting Room. "Some of the Doorn crowd are probably in there now," commented Minchen. "Can't have 'em wandering around.... Two auxiliary operating-rooms off the West Corridor," he went on as they rounded the corner. "We're pretty busy at all times—have one of the largest surgical staffs in the East.... Across the corridor, on the left here, is the main operating-room—called the Amphitheater—which has two special rooms, an Anteroom and an Anæsthesia Room. As you can see, there's a door to the Anteroom off this corridor—the West—and another entrance, to the Anæsthesia Room, around the corner in the South Corridor.... Amphitheater's where the big operations take place; it's also used for demonstration purposes to the internes and nurses. Of course, we have other operating-rooms upstairs."
The Hospital was strangely quiet. Occasionally a white-garbed figure flitted through the long halls. Noise seemed to have been entirely eliminated; doors swung on heavily oiled hinges and made no sound when they slipped shut. A soft diffused light bathed the interior of the building; and except for the chemical odor the air was singularly pure.
"By the way," said Ellery suddenly, as they sauntered into the South Corridor, "I believe you said before that Mrs. Doorn wouldn't be given anæsthetic for the operation. Is that only because she is in a coma? I've been under the impression that anæsthesia is administered in all surgical cases."
Excerpted from The Dutch Shoe Mystery by Ellery Queen. Copyright © 1959 Ellery Queen. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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Posted July 1, 2014