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"The Queens Were in the Parlor"
They sat about the old walnut table in the Queen apartment—five oddly assorted individuals. There was District Attorney Henry Sampson, a slender man with bright eyes. Beside Sampson glowered Salvatore Fiorelli, head of the Narcotic Squad, a burly Italian with a long black scar on his right cheek. Red-haired Timothy Cronin, Sampson's assistant, was there. And Inspector Richard Queen and Ellery Queen sat shoulder to shoulder with vastly differing facial expressions. The old man sulked, bit the end of his mustache. Ellery stared vacantly at Fiorelli's cicatrix.
The calendar on the desk nearby read Tuesday, May the twenty-fourth, 19—. A mild spring breeze fluttered the window draperies.
The Inspector glared about the board. "What did Welles ever do? I'd like to know, Henry!"
"Come now, Q, Scott Welles isn't a bad scout."
"Rides to hounds, shoots a 91 on the course, and that makes him eligible for the police commissionership, doesn't it? Of course, of course! And the unnecessary work he piles on us...."
"It isn't so bad as that," said Sampson. "He's done some useful things, in all fairness. Flood Relief Committee, social work.... A man who has been so active in non-political fields can't be a total loss, Q."
The Inspector snorted. "How long has he been in office? No, don't tell me—let me guess. Two days.... Well, here's what he's done to us in two days. Get your teeth into this.
"Number one—reorganized the Missing Persons Bureau. And why poor Parsons got the gate I don't know.... Number two—scrambled seven precinct-captains so thoroughly that they need road maps to get back to familiar territory. Why? You tell me.... Number three—shifted the make-up of Traffic B, C, and D. Number four—reduced a square two dozen second-grade detectives to pounding beats. Any reason? Certainly! Somebody whose granduncle's niece knows the Governor's fourth secretary is out for blood.... Number five—raked over the Police School and changed the rules. And I know he has his eagle eye on my pet Homicide Squad...."
"You'll burst a blood-vessel," said Cronin.
"You haven't heard anything yet," said the Inspector grimly. "Every first-grade detective must now make out a daily report—in line of duty, mind you—a daily personal report direct to the Commissioners office!"
"Well," grinned Cronin, "he's welcome to read 'em all. Half those babies can't spell homicide."
"Read them nothing, Tim. Do you think he'd waste his time? Not by your Aunt Martha. No, sir! He sends them into my office by his shiny little secretary, Theodore B. B. St. Johns, with a polite message: 'The Commissioner's respects to Inspector Richard Queen, and the Commissioner would be obliged for an opinion within the hour on the veracity of the attached reports.' And there I am, sweating marbles to keep my head clear for this narcotic investigation—there I am putting my mark on a flock of flatfoot reports." The Inspector dug viciously into his snuff-box.
"You ain't spilled half of it, Queen," growled Fiorelli. "What's this walleyed walrus, this pussy-footing specimen of a 'civvie' do but sneak in on my department, sniff around among the boys, hook a can of opium on the sly, and send it down to Jimmy for—guess what—fingerprints! Fingerprints, by God! As if Jimmy could find the print of a dope-peddler after a dozen of the gang had had their paws on the can. Besides, we had the prints already! But no, he didn't stop for explanations. And then Stern searched high and low for the can and came runnin' to me with some crazy story that the guy we're lookin' for'd walked himself straight into Headquarters and snitched a pot of opium!" Fiorelli spread his huge hands mutely, stuck a stunted black cheroot into his mouth.
It was at this moment that Ellery picked up a little volume with torn covers from the table and began to read.
Sampson's grin faded. "All joking aside, though, if we don't gain ground soon on the drug ring we'll all be in a mess. Welles shouldn't have forced our hand and stirred up the White test case now. Looks as if this gang—" He shook his head dubiously.
"That's what riles me," complained the Inspector. "Here I am, just getting the feel of Pete Slavin's mob, and I have to spend a whole day down in Court testifying."
There was silence, broken after a moment by Cronin. "How did you come out on O'Shaughnessy in the Kingsley Arms murder?" he asked curiously. "Has he come clean?"
"Last night," said the Inspector. "We had to sweat him a little, but he saw we had the goods on him and came through." The harsh lines around his mouth softened. "Nice piece of work Ellery did there. When you stop to think that we were on the case a whole day without a glimmer of proof that O'Shaughnessy killed Herrin, although we were sure he'd done it—along comes my son, spends ten minutes on the scene, and comes out with enough proof to burn the murderer."
"Another miracle, eh?" chuckled Sampson. "What's the inside story, Q?" They glanced toward Ellery, but he was hunched in his chair, assiduously reading.
"As simple as rolling off a log," said Queen proudly. "It generally is when he explains it.—Djuna, more coffee. Will you, son?"
An agile little figure popped out of the kitchenette, grinned, bobbed his dark head, and disappeared. Djuna was Inspector Queen's valet, man-of-all-work, cook, chambermaid, and unofficially the mascot of the Detective Bureau. He emerged with a percolator and refilled the cups on the table. Ellery grasped his with a questioning hand and began to sip, his eyes riveted on the book.
"Simple's hardly the word," resumed the Inspector. "Jimmy had sprinkled that whole room with fingerprint powder and found nothing but Herrin's own prints—and Herrin was deader than a mackerel. The boys all took a whack at suggesting different places to sprinkle—it was quite a game while it lasted...." He slapped the table. "Then Ellery marched in. I reviewed the case for him and showed him what we'd found. You remember we spotted Herrin's footprints in the crumbled plaster on the dining-room floor. We were mighty puzzled about that, because from the circumstances of the crime it was impossible for Herrin to have been in that dining-room. And that's where superior mentality, I suppose you'd call it, turned the trick. Ellery said: 'Are you certain those are Herrin's footprints?' I told him they were, beyond a doubt. When I told him why, he agreed—yet it was impossible for Herrin to have been in that room. And there lay the prints, giving us the lie. 'Very well,' says this precious son o' mine, 'maybe he wasn't in the room, after all.' 'But Ellery—the prints!' I objected. 'I have a notion,' he says, and goes into the bedroom.
"Well," sighed the Inspector, "he certainly did have a notion. In the bedroom he looked over the shoes on Herrin's dead feet, took them off, got some of the print powder from Jimmy, called for the copy of O'Shaughnessy's fingerprints, sprinkled the shoes—and sure enough, there was a beautiful thumb impression! He matched it with the file print, and it proved to be O'Shaughnessy's.... You see, we'd looked in every place in that apartment for fingerprints except the one place where they were—on the dead body itself. Who'd ever think of looking for the murderer's sign on his victim's shoes?"
"Unlikely place," grunted the Italian. "How'd it figure?"
"Ellery reasoned that if Herrin wasn't in that room and his shoes were, it simply meant that somebody else wore or planted Herrin's shoes there. Infantile, isn't it? But it had to be thought of." The old man bore down on Ellery's bowed head with unconvincing irritability. "Ellery, what on earth are you reading? You're hardly an attentive host, son."
"That's one time a layman's familiarity with fingerprints came in handy," grinned Sampson.
Ellery looked up excitedly. He waved his book in triumph, and began to recite to the amazed group at the table: "If they went to sleep with the sandals on, the thong worked into the feet and the sandals were frozen fast to them. This was partly due to the fact that, since their old sandals had failed, they wore untanned brogans made of newly flayed ox-hides. Do you know, dad, that gives me a splendid idea?" His face beamed as he reached for a pencil.
Inspector Queen swung to his feet, grumbling. "You can't get anything out of him when he's in that mood.... Come along, Henry—you going, Fiorelli?—let's get down to City Hall."CHAPTER 2
"The Kings Were in the Counting-House"
It was eleven o'clock when Inspector Queen left his apartment on West 87th Street in the company of Sampson, Cronin and Fiorelli, bound for the Criminal Courts Building.
At precisely the same moment, some miles to the south, a man stood quietly at the library dormer-window of a private apartment. The apartment was situated on the sixth floor of French's, the Fifth Avenue department store. The man at the window was Cyrus French, chief stock-holder of French's and president of its Board of Directors.
French was watching the swirling traffic at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and 39th Street with unseeing eyes. He was a dour-visaged man of sixty-five, stocky, corpulent, iron-grey. He was dressed in a dark business suit. A white flower gleamed on his lapel.
He said: "I hope you made it clear that the meeting was for this morning at eleven, Westley," and turned sharply to eye a man seated beside a glass-topped desk before the window.
Westley Weaver nodded. He was a fresh-faced young man, clean-shaven and alert, in the early thirties.
"Quite clear," he replied pleasantly. He looked up from a stenographic notebook in which he had been writing. "As a matter of fact, here is a carbon copy of the memorandum I typed yesterday afternoon. I left one copy for each director, besides this one which you found on the desk this morning." He indicated a slip of blue-tinted paper lying beside the desk telephone. Except for five books standing between cylindrical onyx book-ends at the extreme right of the desk, a telephone, and the memorandum, the glass top was bare. "I followed up the memos to the directors with telephone calls about a half-hour ago. They all promised to be here on time."
French grunted and turned again to look down upon the maze of morning traffic. Hands clasped behind his back, he began to dictate store business in his slightly grating voice.
They were interrupted five minutes later by a knock on the outer door, beyond an anteroom. French irritably called, "Come!" and there was the sound of a hand fumbling with the invisible knob. French said, "Oh, yes, the door's shut, of course; open it, Westley."
Weaver went quickly through the anteroom and flung open the heavy door. He admitted a weazened little old man who showed pale gums in a grin, and with an amazing celerity for a man of his years tripped into the room.
"Never seem to remember that locked door of yours, Cyrus," he piped, shaking hands with Westley and French. "Am I the first?"
"That you are, John," said French with a vague smile. "The others should be here any moment now."
Weaver offered the old man a chair. "Won't you sit down, Mr. Gray?"
Gray's seventy years sat lightly on his thin shoulders. He had a birdlike head covered with thin white hair. His face was the indeterminate color of parchment; it was constantly wreathed in smiles which lifted his white mustache above thin red lips. He wore a wing collar and an ascot tie.
He accepted the chair and sat down with a preposterously lithe movement.
"How was your trip, Cyrus?" he asked. "Did you find Whitney amenable?"
"Quite, quite!" returned French, resuming his pacing. "In fact, I should say that if we officially come to a complete agreement this morning, we can consummate the merger in less than a month."
"Fine! Good stroke of business!" John Gray rubbed his hands in a curious gesture; they rasped together.
There was a second knock at the door. Weaver again went into the anteroom.
"Mr. Trask and Mr. Marchbanks," he announced. "And if I'm not mistaken, there comes Mr. Zorn from the elevator." Two men passed into the room, and a moment later a third; whereupon Weaver hurried back to his chair by the desk. The door swung shut with a click.
The newcomers shook hand all around and dropped into chairs at a long conference table in the middle of the room. They made a peculiar group. Trask—A. Melville Trask in the Social Register—fell into a habitually drooping attitude, sprawling in his chair and playing idly with a pencil on the table before him. His associates paid little attention to him. Hubert Marchbanks sat down heavily. He was a fleshy man of forty-five, florid and clumsy-handed. At regular intervals his loud voice broke in an asthmatic wheeze. Cornelius Zorn regarded his fellow directors from behind old-fashioned gold-rimmed eyeglasses. His head was bald and square, his fingers were thick, and he wore a reddish mustache. His short figure completely filled the chair. He looked startlingly like a prosperous butcher.
French took a seat at the head of the table and regarded the others solemnly.
"Gentlemen—this is a meeting which will go down in the history of department store merchandising." He paused, cleared his throat. "Westley, will you see that a man is posted at the door so that we may continue absolutely undisturbed?"
"Yes, sir." Weaver picked up the telephone on the desk and said. "Mr. Crouther's office, please." A moment later he said, "Crouther? Who? Oh, yes.... Never mind looking for him; you can take care of it. Send one of the store detectives up to the door of Mr. French's private apartment. He is to see that no one disturbs Mr. French while the Board meeting is going on.... He is not to interrupt us—merely station himself at the door.... Whom will you send? ... Oh! Jones? Good enough. Tell Crouther about it when he comes in.... Oh, he's been in since nine? Well, tell him for me when you see him; I'm very busy just now." He hung up and returned quickly to a chair at French's right. He snatched his pencil and poised it over his notebook.
The five directors were poring over a sheaf of papers. French sat staring at the blue May sky outside while they familiarized themselves with the details of the documents, his heavy hands restless on the table top.
Suddenly he turned to Weaver and said in an undertone, "I'd almost forgotten, Westley. Get the house on the wire. Let's see—it's eleven-fifteen. They should be up by this time. Mrs. French may be anxious about me—I haven't communicated with her since I left for Great Neck yesterday."
Weaver gave the number of the French house to the operator, and a moment later spoke incisively into the mouthpiece.
"Hortense? Is Mrs. French up yet? ... Well, is Marion there, then? Or Bernice? ... Very well, let me speak with Marion...."
He shifted his body away from French, who was talking in a low tone to old John Gray. Weaver's eyes were bright and his face suddenly flushed.
"Hello, hello! Marion?" he breathed into the telephone. "This is Wes. I'm sorry—you know—I'm calling from the apartment—your father would like to speak to you...."
A woman's low voice answered. "Westley dear! I understand.... Oh, I'm so sorry, darling, but if Father's there we can't talk very long. You love me? Say it!"
"Oh, but I can't," whispered Weaver fiercely, his back rigid and formal. But his face, turned away from French, was eloquent.
"I know you can't, silly boy." The girl laughed. "I just said it to make you wriggle. But you do, don't you?" She laughed again.
Excerpted from The French Powder Mystery by Ellery Queen. Copyright © 1930 Ellery Queen. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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Posted March 3, 2010
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