Ever since New York was Nieuw Amsterdam, the McKells have been building their fortune. Combining Scottish thrift with American know-how, they built an empire that, by the 1930s, stretched across the globe. No one in the family found more success than Ashton McKell, an entrepreneur who counts his wealth in the hundreds of millions, who smokes twenty cigars a day, and whose only problem is his son Dane, an adventurous soul who shocks his father by giving up business for the disgraceful pursuit of writing. Despite their differences, Dane loves his father. He is shocked when he learns the old man is having an affair—and thunderstruck when Ashton is accused of murder.
When his father’s mistress is found dead, Dane will do anything to free Ashton. And no detective is more suited to this puzzling case of blackmail, lust, and greed than the singular Ellery Queen.
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About the Author
Although eventually famous on television and radio, Queen’s first appearance came in 1928, when the cousins won a mystery-writing contest with the book that was later published as The Roman Hat Mystery. Their character was an amateur detective who uses his spare time to assist his police inspector uncle in solving baffling crimes. Besides writing the Queen novels, Dannay and Lee cofounded Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, one of the most influential crime publications of all time. Although Dannay outlived his cousin by nine years, he retired Queen upon Lee’s death.
Ellery Queen was a pen name created and shared by two cousins, Frederic Dannay (1905–1982) and Manfred B. Lee (1905–1971), as well as the name of their most famous detective. Born in Brooklyn, they spent forty-two years writing, editing, and anthologizing under the name, gaining a reputation as the foremost American authors of the Golden Age “fair play” mystery. Although eventually famous on television and radio, Queen’s first appearance came in 1928, when the cousins won a mystery-writing contest with the book that would eventually be published as The Roman Hat Mystery. Their character was an amateur detective who uses his spare time to assist his police inspector uncle in solving baffling crimes. Besides writing the Queen novels, Dannay and Lee cofounded Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, one of the most influential crime publications of all time. Although Dannay outlived his cousin by nine years, he retired Queen upon Lee’s death.
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The Fourth Side of the Triangle
By Ellery Queen
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 1965 Ellery Queen
All rights reserved.
The First Side
That oozing Tuesday in August, Dane was planning his weekend. The choices were several. He was invited to a party the guiding idea of which was to charter a canalboat in Newcastle, Pennsylvania, and glide through Bucks County watching the south end of the mule head north along the towpath (or was it the north end heading south?), lallygagging around under the awning away from the gassy streets of the metropolitan summer. It was tempting to contemplate a floating journey through a tunnel of cool green trees; and afterward, in the evening, fireflies, lanterns on lawns, and dancing.
Or there was the invitation to join friends on Fire Island; the swimming would be better (Dane liked surf), and the trip was shorter.
A third choice lay up the Hudson, at an estate near Rhinebeck. It meant a pool for swimming (Dane detested pools), and the nuisance of formal dress; but the food would be superb, and one or two of the women, too.
Of one thing he was certain: wherever he wound up, it was not going to be in New York, broiling to death. No matter what.
But there was a matter.
Because this was before he found out about his father.
The first McKell had come to America while New York was still Nieuw Amsterdam, following a small disagreement with the Laird of the Clan. It was with some disquiet that the disgruntled immigrant subsequently observed the royal banner of the Stuarts waving over his city of refuge, Peter Stuyvesant not to the contrary; but the Duke of York and his lieutenants seemed not to be interested in any affront offered The McKell by his hot-tempered cousin. Gradually he came out of retreat; cautiously he began to buy a little and sell a little, to export and import in a modest way. This founding McKell took a wife, begat progeny, and died in the Presbyterian faith, leaving an estate of £500 and the advice, "Be aye canny wi' sil'er and dinna spend it saftly." His eldest son took the pioneer's advice to heart so earnestly that he was reputed never to spend sil'er at all. In any case, the son left £1000 in the family strongbox and a sloop in the Hudson River.
So it had gone, McKell outdoing McKell in enterprise and thrift. During the Civil War the reigning McKell, one James, proved the man for the time. James hired a substitute in the draft, took contracts to supply the Union Army with black walnut wood for riflestocks, died seized of an apoplexy, and left almost $1,000,000. James's son Taylor, having no war available in which to test his patriotism, exercised his energies by expanding the family trade in sugar, coffee, and tobacco. He also had the foresight to invest in shipping in a period when the American merchant marine was still a sludge of wreckage from the damage done by Confederate raiders and railroad competition. He died at a vast age, leaving over $3,000,000, a young son named Ashton, and a pew in New York's Grace Episcopal Church.
Ashton McKell was in his mid-fifties when his son Dane made the seismic discovery about him. Many of Ashton's contemporaries had failed even to maintain their original inheritances, blaming the unions, the income tax, the Crash, and that Traitor to His Class for their misfortune. Not so Ashton McKell. Ashton had doubled his portion before he was twenty-five, and then doubled that. And more. The ships of the McKell Lines sailed every sea. There was McKell coffee, supplied (under various brand names) to more American homes than the competition looked upon with happiness; and the coffee was more often than not sweetened with McKell sugar (no retail sales). And the cigarets inhaled afterward were certain to contain the products of the National & Southern Tobacco Company (a wholly owned McKell subsidiary). The combined worth of Ashton McKell's interests came to something between $80,- and $100,000,000; even Ashton was not quite sure.
And he still had the first shilling the first McKell in America had ever turned over to a profit.
"Dane," said Lutetia McKell. "There is something I must tell you about your father."
Ashton's drive was all thrust. "Take it easy?" he had once snorted to his doctor. "If I had it in me to take it easy, I'd have been clipping coupons for the past twenty years. Do you call that living?"
Not for him the slow life terminating in the long death. He liked to recall Zachary McKell. Old Zach had dropped in his tracks at the age of ninety-two after cutting the winter's wood rather than pay a sawyer the outlandish fee of $1.00 a cord to do it for him.
"Moderation be damned" was Ashton's credo. He smoked twenty cigars a day, ate rich and fatty foods, worked, played, and fought hard; in the chart room of his empire he delegated as little real authority as he efficiently could.
Dane was very like his father in appearance. He had inherited the high color, the Caesarean nose, the imperial chin, the wavy brown hair women liked to stroke. But where the father's eyes were the chill gray of his ancestors from "the bleak and difficult Hebrides," the son's were the china-blue of his mother's. And the clusters of muscle at the corners of Ashton's mouth were missing from Dane's except when Dane flew into one of his rages.
"Mother!" Dane sprang from the chair, pretending a surprise he did not really (and this was curious) feel. "Are you dead sure? I can't believe it."
But he could.
Ashton's doubts about his son were of long standing. They had been born in Dane's childhood. A boy who preferred books to football! Mendelssohn to "Old Man River" (and later, Mozart to Mendelssohn)! Languages to Math! Comparative Religion to Economics! Ancient History to Business Administration! Coin collecting to coin amassing! What kind of McKell had he spawned?
The father told himself that it was all "a phase," like Dane's incredible preference (at the appropriate age) for poetry over whorehouses. "He'll grow out of it," Ashton McKell kept saying. When Dane was in private school, his father was confident that prep school would "change" him. Groton having failed, perhaps Yale would succeed. Privately Ashton held that a hitch in the Marine Corps might prove a likelier agency, but of course the very idea could not be breathed to Lutetia, who considered the National Registration Act an affront to decent people. Dane continued to hack out his own trail.
For all his misgivings, Ashton McKell never once envisioned the worst. Dane dropped out of Yale, disappeared. His father found him toiling under a beefy sun in one of North Carolina's tobacco plantations — not even McKell-owned! Later he took a job as a deck hand on one of the McKell freighters. But he jumped ship in Maracaibo, and turned up six months later in a Greenwich Village pad, shacked up with a long-haired girl with dirty bare feet and oil paint on her nose. He spent the better part of another year riding the rods and bunking down in hobo jungles; in the space of the following three years he was a Hollywood extra, a carny roustabout, buddy-buddy with a gang of braceros down around the Mexican border, a beach boy at Santa Monica, a field hand on a Hawaiian pineapple plantation, and legman for an alcoholic Chicago police reporter who needed somebody to keep him from being rolled and perhaps knifed in a Loop alley.
When Dane showed up at home, lean and hungry-looking as Cassius (his mother spent three marvelous months cooking for him with her own hands — a service, Ashton remarked wryly, that she had never rendered to him), his father said, "Every McKell for centuries has gone into the family business."
"I," said Dane, "am breaking the chain."
It was as if he had announced that he was en route to the Trappist monastery in Kentucky to take the vows of silence.
"You mean you're not?"
"Why should I, Dad? I don't like business. Any business. Yours included ... Anyway, it isn't as if I had to." Dane was on the pale side, but the McKell chin was noticeably firm.
"What in hell do you mean by that?" Ashton shouted. Silence swallowed the shout.
At least, the father thought, he's not being flip about it. He realizes what this damned radical nonsense means ... Ashton could not have endured it if the boy had been casual.
"I'm of age," Dane said. "It doesn't mean merely that I now have the vote and can join the lodge. Grandfather McKell and Grandfather DeWitt both made provision for me in their wills, Dad. What do I need business for?"
"You mean to say you intend to live without working? By God, Dane, that's cheap — I mean, cheap!"
"I didn't mean that at all. I'm going to work. But it's work of my choice ... In a way," Dane said thoughtfully, "I didn't choose it so much as it chose me."
Ashton McKell did not live by bread alone. He was a confident communicant of his faith, and a vestryman. This rushed into his head. Appalled, he cried, "You're going into the Church?"
"What? No." Dane laughed. "I'm going to write."
There was a blank space. Then Ashton said, "Well, I don't think I understand. Write? Write what?"
Ashton probed his memory. Had he ever known a writer? Known anyone who knew a writer? There was Lamont's son Corliss, but he was a Socialist. And that young Vanderbilt, Cornelius — he hadn't even had that excuse. And ... yes, his late mother's friend, Mrs. Jones, who had written novels under her maiden name of Edith Wharton. But — damn it all! — she had been a woman.
"So you're going to write," Ashton said slowly, and he asked again, "Write what?" searching his mind for a sensible explanation. He fell on one: his mother. His mother spoiled him.
"Fiction. Novels, principally," Dane said. "I've already dipped my toes in the short story — one was published in a little magazine; I don't suppose you found time to read it in the copy I sent you." Dane smiled faintly. "I'm lucky. I mean, having the means to write without having to worry about rent money or the electric bill — or, for that matter, deadlines. A lot of writers have to write stuff they loathe, just to keep the fuel pump going. I don't have to do that —"
"Because of money you didn't earn," said his father.
"I admitted I'm lucky, Dad. But I hope to justify my luck by producing good books." Dane saw his father's look and said carefully, "Don't get me wrong. Supplying people with sugar and coffee is honorable employment —"
"Thanks!" Ashton said sarcastically. Nevertheless, he was touched. At least, he said to himself, the boy doesn't accuse me of being a rotten capitalist exploiter or sneer at the way his people have been making a living for almost three hundred years.
"Only it's not for me, Dad. I'm going to write. I want to. I have to."
"Well," said Ashton McKell. "We'll see."
He saw. He saw that it was neither phase nor fancy, but good solid ambition.
Dane took an apartment of his own in one of the buildings he had inherited from the estate of Gerard DeWitt. He did this with kindness, and for a long time scarcely a day passed without a visit home; but Ashton knew that it was not so much from genuine involvement as out of consideration for his mother's feelings.
The boy worked hard, his father had to concede. Dane allowed himself exactly one weekend off each month; the rest was four walls, stuffy cigaret smoke, and the firing of his typewriter. He wrote, rewrote, destroyed, started over.
His first novel, Hell in the Morning, was a flop utter and absolute. No major reviewer mentioned it, and the minor ones were merciless. A typical notice from a provincial book column said: "Hell in the Morning is hell any time of the day." He was scolded as "a rich man's Nelson Algren" and "Instant Kerouac" and "a moth in the beard of Steinbeck." One lady reviewer ("Why doesn't she stay home and wash the dirty diapers?" roared Ashton McKell) remarked: "Rarely has such small talent labored so hard to produce so little." Dane, who had been absorbing punishment like an old club fighter, in grim silence, cried out when he read that one. But his father (only Judith Walsh, Ashton's private secretary, knew that the tycoon had subscribed to a clipping service) stormed and raved.
"The Duxbury Intelligencer! What's that smelly little rag good for but to wrap codfish in?" and so on. Finally, anger spent, came consolation. "At least now he'll give up this tomfoolery."
"Do you think so, Ashton?" Lutetia asked. It was at one of the family dinners from which Dane was absent — his absences were becoming more frequent. It was clear that Lutetia did not know whether to be sorry for her son's sake or glad for her husband's. The struggle, as usual, was short-lived. "I hope so, dear," Lutetia said. If Ashton thought writing was bad for Dane, it was.
"I simply don't understand you people." Judy Walsh was a more than occasional visitor to her employer's home. Ashton required outlandish hours of his secretary, sometimes dictating well past midnight in his study, so that Judy was frequently there for dinner. She was important to Lutetia McKell in another way. Lutetia's never-expressed regret had been for lack of female companionship. Her few nieces were too emancipated for her taste, and there was Judy, an orphan, trim, efficient, outspoken, and yet, under the independence, with a need no one but Lutetia suspected, a need like her own, feminine, and yearning for tenderness. Judy's hair bordered on Irish red, and she had a slanty little Irish nose and direct blue Irish eyes. "Really, Mr. McKell." Thus Judy, at Ashton's remark. "Give up this tomfoolery! You sound like a character out of the Late Late Show. Don't you know enough about Dane to realize he won't ever give up?"
Ashton growled into his soup.
Dane's second novel, The Fox Hunters, was a failure also. The Times called it "Faulkner and branch water, New England style." The New Yorker said (in toto): "A teenager's first experience with Life turns out to be not at all what he had thought. Callow." The Saturday Review ...
Dane continued to plow away.
It turned out to be the kind of New York August which made it technically possible to walk from back to peeling back at Coney Island, from the boardwalk to the sea, without once touching the scorched sand. It was the season when mild little men who had never been known to raise their voices ran through the streets slashing at people with an ax ... when those New Yorkers who owned no air-conditioners used fans, and those who owned no fans slept on kitchen floors before open refrigerators, so that the overloaded circuits blew out, nullifying refrigerators, fans, and air-conditioners alike.
Tempers erupted, gangs rumbled, husbands slugged their wives, wives beat their children, offices closed early, subways re-enacted the Inferno, in the thick and dripping air hearts faltered and gave up the blood-pumping struggle, and Lutetia McKell told her son that his father had confessed to her: "There is another woman."
"Mother!" Dane sprang from the chair, pretending a surprise he did not really feel. "Are you dead sure? I can't believe it."
But he could. Queer. A moment before his mother said, "There is another woman," Dane could have said in truth that the thought of his father's possible infidelity had never crossed his mind. Yet once the words were uttered, they seemed inevitable. In common with most of mankind, Dane could not think comfortably of his parents in sexual embrace; but in his case the Freudian reasons were complicated by the kind of father and mother he had. His mother was like a limpet clinging to a rock, getting far more than she gave; for she could only give acquiescence and loyalty as she moved up and down with the tides. Somewhere deep in his head flickered the thought: she must be the world's lousiest bed partner.
It seemed obvious to Dane that his father, on the other hand, was a man of strong sexuality, in common with his other drives and appetites. The surprise lay not so much in the fact that there was another woman as in that he had been so blind.
So — "Are you dead sure? I can't believe it." — when he was certain from the first instant, and belief came flooding.
"Oh, yes, I'm sure, darling," said Lutetia. "It's not the sort of thing I would imagine." No, Dane thought; you'd far likelier imagine a Communist revolution and a commissar commandeering your best silver service. "But for some time now I've ... well, suspected something might be wrong."
"But, Mother, how did you find out?"
Lutetia's cameo face turned rosy. "I asked him what was wrong. I could no longer stand thinking all sorts of things."
"What did he say?" So you do lead a mental life, Dane thought, after all. Funny, finding out about one's parents at such an advanced stage of the game. He loved his mother dearly, but he would have said she hadn't a brain in her head.
"He said, 'I'm terribly sorry. There is another woman.'"
"Just like that?"
"Well, dear, I asked him."
"I know, but — ! What did you say?"
"What could I say, Dane? I've never been faced with such a situation. I think I said, 'I'm sorry, too, but it's such a relief to know,' which it was. Oh, it was."
Excerpted from The Fourth Side of the Triangle by Ellery Queen. Copyright © 1965 Ellery Queen. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsI The First Side ... SHEILA,
II The Second Side ... ASHTON,
III The Third Side ... LUTETIA,
IV The Fourth Side ... DANE,
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