It’s curtains for a vain actor in this Nathan Shapiro whodunit—the final book written by the coauthor of the “excellent” Mr. and Mrs. North series (The New Yorker).
Nathan Shapiro might be the gloomiest member of Manhattan’s finest, but that doesn’t stop the dour detective from getting the job done when the going gets tough . . .
Called upon to investigate the suspicious death of actor Clive Branson, Det. Lt. Nathan Shapiro and his right-hand man, Det. Anthony “Tony” Cook, are confronted with something strange: a dead man in makeup. It seems the thespian was keen on hiding his real age, and made himself up to appear much younger. Now, that’s the mortician’s job.
The cast and crew of Branson’s current Broadway production, Summer Solstice, are all shocked by the actor’s sudden death. Or so they seem. But when it’s revealed that barbiturates were used to take Branson out, Shapiro and Cook start auditioning suspects—because one of them is putting on a most-convincing performance to hide the fact that beneath a mask of innocence lurks a cold-hearted killer.
The Old Die Young is the 10th book in the Nathan Shapiro Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
About the Author
Frances and Richard Lockridge were some of the most popular names in mystery during the forties and fifties. Having written numerous novels and stories, the husband-and-wife team was most famous for their Mr. and Mrs. North Mysteries. What started in 1936 as a series of stories written for the New Yorker turned into twenty-six novels, including adaptions for Broadway, film, television, and radio. The Lockridges continued writing together until Frances’s death in 1963, after which Richard discontinued the Mr. and Mrs. North series and wrote other works until his own death in 1982.
Read an Excerpt
There were two telephones on the not-large desk in the small office. One of them was black and had been there for years. When it wanted attention it screamed. The other, the red one, had been there only about a week, and merely muttered. It was a direct-line telephone with its own number, available from outside — direct, but actually one of two extensions. The other extension was on the desk of Captain William Weigand, commanding. But Weigand was not in his office at a few minutes before noon that Monday in late September.
Nathan picked up the telephone which had muttered its summons and said "Shapiro" into it. His tone was resigned; after all, it was Monday morning.
The answer was in a woman's voice. A faintly familiar voice, but one which Lieutenant Shapiro could not immediately place. "Good morning, Nathan," whoever it was said. "I was trying to get Bill."
Of course. He should have recognized the softly pleasant voice.
"The captain isn't in today, Mrs. Weigand," Nathan Shapiro said. "Down at headquarters. The Commissioner sent for him."
"Dear old Coxey," Dorian Weigand said. It was not the way Shapiro would have referred to Edwin James Coxe, Police Commissioner of the City of New York. Of course, Mrs. Weigand was not on the force, except by marriage. And Coxe, who had come up through the ranks, a feat just short of unique, had been Bill Weigand's first commanding officer, years ago. When Weigand had been in the uniformed division, his law studies at Columbia University interrupted by lack of funds. The Weigands and the Coxes presumably were friends, privately, hence the "dear old Coxey."
"It's like him to tell Bill himself, instead of through channels," Dorian said.
That needed no amplification. It was already well known. William Weigand had gone up from captain to deputy inspector. This meant that he would no longer command Homicide, Manhattan South, which rated nothing higher than a captain. It meant that some other captain would command the squad, of which Shapiro was one of three lieutenants. The event did nothing to brighten a Monday morning. With Bill Weigand, Nathan knew where he was. Usually, of course, in surroundings with which he was totally unfamiliar. But Nathan had got used to that. Also, he and Weigand were friends.
"Probably," Nathan told Dorian Hunt Weigand, "the captain will call in before long. Shall I tell him you called? Or, if it's urgent, you can probably reach him at the Commissioner's office."
"I don't know if it's urgent," Dorian said. "It's only — well, I feel something strange is going on."
Shapiro's life, like that of any other policeman, is largely made up of strange things going on. He said, "Something we'd be interested in, Mrs. Weigand?"
"I don't know. I think — well, I think it might be. Of course, Mr. Branson may merely have passed out, I suppose. But it would be rather a long passout, and his dresser keeps trying to wake him up and can't."
"Dresser. Helps him change. That sort of thing. It's Clive Branson, Nathan. The actor."
"You're at a theater, Mrs. Weigand?"
"No. At Mr. Branson's house. In Murray Hill. It's a house he's leased, apparently. And the dresser — Edgar Lord, his name is — lives here too. Gets Branson's meals. That sort of thing. Probably thinks of himself as a gentleman's gentleman. If the English still think that way. Or ever did, of course, except in Wodehouse. Mr. Branson's valet is what it comes to, I suppose. Dresser in the theater; valet at home. Anyway, if it's a passout, it seems to be a very long one. The party was over at about two at the latest, Lord thinks. And now it's — what time is it, Nathan?"
"Ten of twelve."
"Then I've been here two hours. My appointment was for ten and I was a few minutes early."
"To do sketches. Preliminary ones. To — oh, get the feel of him. The general shape of him, if you know what I mean."
Lieutenant Nathan Shapiro, Homicide South, was not sure he did. He did know that Dorian Weigand did sketches, sometimes caricatures. That some of them showed up in magazines. They were signed "Hunt," which had been Dorian's name before she married Captain — no, Deputy Inspector William Weigand.
"For the Chronicle," Dorian said. "A strip for the Arts and Leisure section. The cast of Summer Solstice. All four of them. Maybe the other three in a sort of circle around Branson. If it works out that way. If Branson has anything I can hang him on. Like the President's teeth, you know. Or Nixon's nose. But I won't know until I've looked at him, which was what I came down here to do. Only he won't wake up."
"Down where, Mrs. Weigand?"
"Murray Hill." She gave him an address in the mid-Thirties, East Side. "It's a big old town house, not converted."
"And this dresser, this man named Lord, has been trying for two hours to wake this Branson up? This actor?"
"A very celebrated actor, Nathan. Yes. Oh, at first after he let me in, Lord said Mr. Branson would be down right away; that he was sure Mr. Branson hadn't forgotten I was coming. But after about ten minutes, he said he would go up and tell Branson I was there. He — the valet, I mean — came back in a few minutes and said. Mr. Branson was having his coffee and would be right down. He said, 'I knocked at his door and he answered me. At least I'm pretty sure —' And then he asked if he couldn't bring me coffee. Or tea, perhaps. I told him no. I think he was going to say he was pretty sure Branson had answered him and decided not to. Then he went back upstairs and I got my sketch pad out and — oh, checked the light. And twiddled my thumbs. For half an hour, almost. And then Lord came to the head of the stairs and called down that Mr. Branson wasn't really wide awake yet and that maybe I'd better postpone everything. Call Miss Abel and set up another date.
"Branson's agent. The one I talked to after the Chronicle decided it wanted the spread; thought probably Summer Solstice would run that long, anyway. And they'd pretty much promised Simon's publicity man."
Dorian Weigand kept tossing bits and pieces at him, which, he thought, was not like her. Although, after all, he didn't know her that well. She was evidently having an upsetting morning.
She was sorry, she said. Probably she wasn't tracking too well. Rolf Simon, producer of a play called Summer Solstice, by Bret Askew, which had opened two weeks before. "To mixed notices," Dorian added. "Although it was supposed to be a smash. Branson's the star. I keep feeling somebody ought to do something about him right now, although of course it's not my business. Or yours. I just — well, wanted to talk to Bill about it. Because it doesn't feel right."
It was beginning not to feel right to Shapiro.
"This man Lord," Shapiro said. "Maybe he ought to call Branson's doctor."
"I suggested that, Nathan. Lord doesn't think Mr. — he's heavy on the 'mister' — Branson has a doctor. Not in New York, anyway. Maybe on the West Coast. But he doubts it. Mr. Branson is never sick. Lord never knew him to be. 'Not in all the years I've been with him,' he said. So I suggested he call for an ambulance because — well, people don't sleep all this soundly, do they? Lord has been calling his name. Rather loudly the last few minutes. And — well, shaking him, I think. Putting cold water on his head. I don't know what all."
"And Lord doesn't want to call an ambulance?"
"Says, 'Oh, Mr. Branson wouldn't want me to do that!'" Her emphasis was heavy on the word "that," as presumably Lord's had been.
"Did he say why, Mrs. Weigand? Why Mr. Branson wouldn't want an ambulance called?"
"No. Probably it is more the way Lord feels himself. Very protective, Lord seems to be. And fuddy-duddy. Doesn't want outsiders intruding. Did I tell you Lord sounds rather English? In accent, I mean."
She had not. "Is there anyone else there, Mrs. Weigand? Servants or something?"
"Just the dresser and me, far's I know. And I feel — well, responsible. Which is absurd, of course. Still — somebody ought to do something. So, I called Bill."
"And got me instead." He paused. Probably nothing for the police to get involved in. A protracted passout. Or possibly a heart attack, of course. Not a concern of Manhattan South. Still, he didn't think Dorian Weigand would make mountains of molehills.
"This party last night," Shapiro said. "This man Lord say how late it lasted?"
"He doesn't know. Says he doesn't. Says he went up to his room — he stays on the top floor — about eleven. Says Mr. Branson told him to. Seems it was a surprise party. Birthday party for Branson. The people giving it — Mr. Simon chiefly, Lord thinks — brought in waiters. Bartender, anyway. And provided the drinks and whatever food they had. The party started about ten, Lord says. When he started to let people in."
"This man Simon. The producer. Who else does Lord say?"
"Pretty much the whole cast of Summer Solstice, apparently. Nathan, we've got to do something."
"Yes," Nathan Shapiro said. "I'll put in a call for an ambulance. And tell the cap — the deputy inspector — when he comes in. And you? You want to stay there?"
"Not much. But I can. I will."
Nathan put in the call. Through channels, which would bring not only an ambulance, probably from Bellevue, but also a patrol car from precinct. For a man who didn't want either. Who probably wanted to be left alone to sleep off a hangover.
After he had made the call, Lieutenant Shapiro looked fixedly at the two telephones on his desk; then, abruptly, he stood up and went out through the squad room. Tony Cook, detective (1st gr.), was at a desk. He was typing. But when Shapiro, with a movement of the head, summoned him, Tony Cook quit typing.CHAPTER 2
There was a dignified defiance, Shapiro thought, about the old town house. It stood in mid-block, was four stories tall and was made of brick, which had been painted white — rather recently painted white. Bricks age in a hundred years or so. The house stood a little withdrawn from apartment houses towering over it on either side. Once, undoubtedly, it had stood shoulder to shoulder with other houses like itself, forming a block-long wall of dignity. Farther up the block, another survivor of its kind still stood, but it was more worn. It too was of brick, but many summer and winter storms had eroded it.
The half-dozen steps leading up to the front door of the white-brick house were of sandstone, scrubbed clean and a little worn by many feet. The brass rails on the sides of the short staircase were highly polished. The steps leading down from the sidewalk ended at the entryway of the bottom floor. The floor would be a basement in the front of the house, but in the rear would open on a back yard which almost certainly was called a "garden."
Shapiro and Tony Cook climbed the steps to double front doors. Shapiro pressed the bell push. A bell sounded beyond the double doors. It was a bell, not chimes. The old house would have no truck with fripperies.
They waited for a long time. Then one of the doors opened and a man stood in the doorway. He was tall and thin and, sparsely, gray-haired. He wore a black suit and a stiff white collar with a black string tie. He said, "Yes, gentlemen?"
He sounded English, all right. It occurred to Shapiro that he should have been wearing a wing collar. But Rose and Nathan Shapiro had been watching "Upstairs, Downstairs" on television.
"Mr. Branson?" Shapiro said.
"I am afraid Mr. Branson is occupied," Edgar Lord said. "If you would care to leave your cards, gentlemen?"
"Then," Shapiro said, "Mrs. Weigand, if she is still here."
Lord raised gray and somewhat bristling eyebrows.
"Miss Hunt," Shapiro said. "The artist who's here to do sketches of Mr. Branson. Is she still around, Mr. Lord?"
Lord hesitated for a moment as if he were consulting himself. Then he said, "Probably the lady has left. She was about to when I took coffee up to Mr. Branson."
"Make sure she has, please," Shapiro said, suiting his idiom to the dark-suited man's. "And tell her Lieutenant Shapiro would like to see her."
Lord said, "Lieutenant?" with doubt in his voice, a doubt Nathan Shapiro could understand and even share.
"Police lieutenant," Shapiro said.
Lord said, "Sir," and drew back and started to close the door. Shapiro prepared to place a foot in it, but from behind the butler-valet-dresser, Dorian Weigand said, "Nathan!" and then, "Did you?"
"Yes," Shapiro said. "Ought to be here any time. By now, actually."
A siren, still several blocks away, took up its cue. A second siren joined it.
"Mr. Branson will be displeased," Lord said. "He does not like invasions of his privacy." But he stepped back from the door, leaving it open. Shapiro and Cook went into the house — into a rather narrow entrance hall with a staircase rising out of it.
Dorian stood in a doorway on their right. Shapiro had almost forgotten how green her eyes were. She moved toward him. He had almost forgotten how lightly she moved, how much with the grace of a cat.
"I'm glad you called them," she said. "But I didn't expect you to come yourself."
"Thought I might as well," Nathan said. "Quiet morning, anyway. You know Detective Cook, don't you?"
Dorian did. She had met Tony Cook when a painter was murdered a few years back. (When she had also met Shapiro; when she had almost been pushed under a bus.)
She said, "Good morning, Mr. Cook," and, "I'm afraid I —" But then a siren made a dying moan outside and Shapiro opened the door, to which Lord paid no attention. The ambulance was from Bellevue. The cruise car which nosed up behind it was from precinct. Two young men in white got out of the ambulance and withdrew a stretcher from it. A uniformed policeman got out of the police car, leaving another uniformed policeman in it. The three came up the immaculate steps.
"You the one wanted an ambulance?" the patrolman asked. Shapiro said, "Yes," and took his gold shield out of a jacket pocket and showed it. The patrolman said, "Sir," and turned to beckon to the other uniformed man, who got out from behind the wheel and came to join them.
"Where?" Shapiro said to Edgar Lord.
"Upstairs," Lord said. "But I don't know whether —"
"Your patient's upstairs," Shapiro told the ambulance men. "Mr. Lord here will show you. Name of Branson. Mr. Lord hasn't been able to wake him up."
One of the ambulance men said, "O.K.," and looked at the badge still cupped in Shapiro's hand and added, "Lieutenant."
Lord shrugged narrow shoulders and seemed about to say something. But he did not; he merely shrugged his shoulders again, in evident resignation. Then he went up the stairs from the entrance hall, and the men in white went after him, carrying the folded stretcher. Shapiro watched the climb. The flight was rather long. Old town houses have high ceilings. At the top, Lord led them along a hallway toward the rear of the house.
"We may as well sit down, I guess," Dorian Weigand said, and turned back to the doorway she had come through.
The room into which they followed her was wide; except for the entrance hall, the width of the house. It was also deep. At the far end there were glass doors opening on a terrace, with sunlight falling on it. The light fell also on a small, neat stack of firewood, waiting for autumn and winter fires in the fireplace in the long wall of the living room — no, the drawing room. It would have been called that when the old house was young.
There was a long sofa facing the fireplace, which was small and held a basket, not fire irons. Coal, not wood, had been burned in the fireplace when it heated — partly heated — the big room. Dorian Weigand went to sit on the sofa, and Shapiro sat beside her. Tony Cook leaned against the wall near the door from the hall.
"Probably," Dorian said, "I've just caused everybody a lot of trouble. Just blundered in and made a mess of things. Bill won't like it."
"You had a right to wonder," Shapiro told her. "People don't usually pass out for this long. This man Lord doesn't know what time the party, the surprise birthday party, ended?"
"What he says. He let people in from around ten o'clock on. It was about eleven, he thinks, when Mr. Branson told him he might as well go up to bed. And he did go. The party was just getting started when he went."
"Where is Lord's room, did he say?"
"The top floor."
"That would be the fourth," Shapiro said. "Went up and went to sleep? The party — in this room, I suppose — didn't keep him awake?"
She didn't know. "Most of the time I've been here, Mr. Lord has been upstairs, trying to waken his master. At least I suppose that's what Lord calls him. Although it was 'Mr. Branson' to me."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Old Die Young"
Copyright © 1980 Richard Lockridge.
Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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