Three novellas and two short stories starring the ever-ingenious Ellery Queen
The amateur theater company of Wrightsville is dying a slow and painful death. Every production is worse than the last, and the backers are about to pull the plug when the director reaches for his ace in the hole: the always-reliable production TheDeath of Don Juan. For the lead, he digs up faded Broadway star Foster Benedict, whose name is enough to sell out the run. But on opening night, Benedict makes a hash of the first act, and doesn’t show up for the second. When he’s found in his dressing room with a knife buried in his back, it’s clear that the libertine’s death has come a bit too soon. World-famous detective Ellery Queen is in the audience, and in this novella—as well as in the other stories collected in Queens Full—he proves that Don Juan doesn’t have a monopoly on adventure.
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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.
Read an Excerpt
By Ellery Queen
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 1965 Ellery Queen
All rights reserved.
THE DEATH OF DON JUAN
ACT I. Scene 1.
An early account of the death of Don Juan Tenorio, fourteenth-century Spanish libertine — who, according to his valet, enjoyed the embraces of no fewer than 2,954 mistresses during his lifetime — relates that the great lover was murdered in a monastery by Franciscan monks enraged by his virility. For four hundred years poets and dramatists have passed up this ending to Don Juan's mighty career as too unimaginative. No such charge can be brought against their versions.
Don Juan, they tell us, planted the seeds of his own destruction when he harrowed the virtue of a certain noble young lady, daughter of the commander of Sevilla. While this sort of thing was no novelty to the famous gallant, it was to the young lady; and Don Juan found himself fighting a duel with her father, the commander, whom he killed.
Here the poetic imagination soars. Don Juan visits the tomb of the late victim of his sword. A marble statue of the grandee decorates the tomb. Don Juan invites the statue to a feast, an inexplicable gesture under the circumstances. Having failed in the flesh, the ensculptured nobleman leaps at this second chance to avenge his daughter's ruptured honor. The marble guest shows up at the feast, grasps the roué in his stony clutch, and drags him off to hell. Curtain.
This Don Juan changeling counts among its affectionate foster-parents Molière, Mozart's librettist Da Ponte, Dumas père, Balzac, and Shaw. Now to the roster must be added the modest name of Ellery Queen, who has fathered his own. According to Ellery, Don Juan was really murdered in a New England town named Wrightsville, and this is how it came about.
From the days of William S. Hart and Wallace Reid, Wrightsville's dramatic appetite was catered to by the Bijou Theater in High Village. When in the course of human events the movies' fat years turned lean, the Bijou's owner bought up the old scrap-iron dump on Route 478 and on the site built Wright County's first alfresco movie theater, a drive-in that supplanted Pine Grove in the Junction as the favorite smooching place of the young in heart.
This left the two-by-fours nailed over the doors of the abandoned Bijou; and the chairman of the Wrightsville Realty Board, whose office faced the empty building from the other side of Lower Main, vowed at a Board lunch over his fourth old-fashioned that one dark night he was going to sneak over to that eyesore on the fair face of High Village and blow the damn thing up, he was so sick of looking at it.
When, suddenly, Scutney Bluefield bought it.
Scutney Bluefield was a rare specimen in the Wrightsville zoo. Where the young of the first families grew up to work with their money, Scutney played with it. Seven generations of Bluefields had labored and schemed so that Scutney's life might be one grand game. As he often said, his vocation was hobbies. He collected such unexpected things as chastity belts, Minié balls, and shrunken heads. He financed one expedition to prove the historicity of Atlantis and another to unearth the bones of Homer. He flitted from Yoga to Zen to voodoo, and then came back to the Congregational Church. And the old Bluefield mansion on the Hill was usually infested with freeloaders no one in Wrightsville had ever laid eyes on — "my people collection," he called them.
Scutney Bluefield looked like a rabbit about to drop its first litter, but there was a sweet, stubborn innocence in the portly little bachelor that some weedy souls of the region found appealing.
Scutney bought the Bijou because he discovered The Theater. To prepare himself, he lived for two years in New York studying drama, after which he financed a play and watched the professionals spend his money in a lost but educational cause. He hurried home to organize an amateur company.
"No, indeed, no red barns surrounded by hollyhocks for me," he told the Wrightsville Record reporter. "My plan is to establish a permanent repertory theater, a year-round project to be staffed by local talent."
"This area hasn't supported professional companies in years, Mr. Bluefield," the reporter said. "What makes you think it will support an amateur one?"
One of the little man's pinkish eyes winked. "You wait and see."
Scutney's secret weapon was Joan Truslow. Joanie was what the boys at the Lions and the Red Men luncheons called "a real stacked little gopher," with natural ash-blond hair and enormous spring-violet eyes. She had been majoring in drama at Merrimac U. when the arthritis got her father and 'Aphas was forced to resign as town clerk. Joan had had to come home and take a job as receptionist at The Eternal Rest Mortuary on Upper Whistling. She was the first to answer Scutney's call, and her audition awed him.
"Wonderful," he had confided to Roger Fowler. "That girl will make us all proud."
Rodge was not comforted. A chemical engineer, he had used his cut of Great-Uncle Fowler's pie to buy one of the blackened brick plants standing idle along the Willow River in Low Village and to convert it to Fowler Chemicals, Inc. His interest in Scutney Bluefield's Playhouse was strictly hormonal; he had been chasing Joan Truslow since puberty. To keep an eye on her, young Fowler had offered his services to Scutney, who was not one to look a gift horse under the crupper. The Playhouse needed a technician-in-charge to be responsible for carpentry, props, lights, and other dreary indispensables. So long as the backstage crew functioned, Scutney did not care how many opportunities Roger seized to corner the stage-struck Miss Truslow and, sotto voce, con amore, try to sell her a bill of household goods.
Scutney did the Bijou over, inside and out, and renamed it the Playhouse. It cost him a fortune, and of course Emmeline DuPré's was the first voice of doom. (Miss DuPré, known to the cruder element as the Town Crier, taught Dancing and Dramatics to the children of the already haut monde of Wrightsville.)
"Scutney will never see a penny of his unearned lucre," Miss DuPré announced.
For once the Town Crier seemed to cry true. The Playhouse was a resounding flop, Joanie Truslow notwithstanding. Scutney tried Shaw, Kaufman and Hart, Tennessee Williams, even (these were conceived in desperation and born calamities) Ionesco and Anouilh; comedy, farce, melodrama, tragedy; the square and the off-beat. They continued to play to dwindling houses.
"Of course, we're not very good yet," Scutney reflected aloud after a lethal week.
"Joan's colossal, and you know it," Rodge Fowler said in spite of himself.
"Thank you, sir." Joan's dimple drove him crazy. "I thought you were against careers for females."
"Who's against careers for females? I'm just against a career for you," Roger retorted, hating himself for driving the dimple to cover. "Look, Scutney, how much more of your ancestral dough are you prepared to drop into this cultural outhouse we call home?"
Scutney said in his precise, immovable way, "I am not giving up yet, Roger."
A Record editorial said: "Is local taste so low that our favorite amusements must be TV Westerns and dramatized deodorant commercials, and movies that give our children the willies? At a time when Wrightsville is reflecting the nationwide jump in juvenile delinquency, alcoholism, dope addiction, gambling, prostitution, and what have you, the community should be supporting Mr. Bluefield's efforts to bring us worth-while dramatic fare. Why not attend the Playhouse regularly, and bring along your teen-agers?"
The empty seats kept spreading like a rash.
A letter to the Record signed Cassandra, in a literary style indistinguishable from Emmeline DuPré's, suggested that the Wrightsville Playhouse be renamed the Haunted Playhouse.
When the town's snickers reached the Hill, Scutney's pink eyes turned a murderous red. Very few people in Wrightsville were aware of the paper thinness of Scutney Bluefield's skin.
He flung himself into the Viking throne in his catch-all study, and he thought and he thought.
All at once the name Archer Dullman flew into his head.
Ten minutes later Wrightsville's patron of the performing arts was driving lickety-hop for the airport and the next plane connection to New York.
ACT I. Scene 2.
Ellery checked in at the Hollis, showered and changed, cased the lobby, toured the Square (which was round), and returned to the hotel without having seen a single familiar face.
He was waiting for the maître d' (also new to him) in a queue of strangers at the entrance to the main dining room, thinking that time was being its usual unkind self, when a voice behind him said, "Mr. Queen, I presume?"
"Roger!" Ellery wrung young Fowler's hand like Dr. Livingstone at Ujiji. The truth was, he had met Rodge Fowler less than half a dozen times during his various visits to Wrightsville. "How are you? What's happened to this town?"
"I'm fine, and it's still here with certain modifications," Roger said, blowing on his hand. "What brings you this-a-way?"
"I'm bound for the Mahoganies — vacation. I hear you're Wrightsville's latest outbreak of industrial genius."
"That's what they tell me, but who told you?"
"I'm a Record mail-subscriber from way back. How come you've joined a drama group, Rodge? I thought you got your kicks in a chem lab."
"Love," Roger said hollowly. "Or whatever they're calling it these days."
"Of course. Joan Truslow. But isn't the company folding? That ought to drop Joanie back into your lap."
Roger looked glum. "The Death of Don Juan."
"That old stand of corn? Even Wrightsville —"
"You're not getting the message, man. Starring Mark Manson. Complete with doublet, hose, and codpiece. We open tomorrow night."
"Manson." Ellery stared. "Who dug him up?"
"Scutney Bluefield, via some Times Square undertaker named Archer Dullman. Manson's a pretty lively corpse, Ellery. We're sold out for the run."
"So the old boy still packs them in in Squedunk," Ellery said admiringly. "Death of Don Juan ... This I've got to see."
"There's Scutney at that corner table, with Manson and Dullman. I'm meeting them for supper. Why not join us?"
Ellery had forgotten how much like a happy rabbit Scutney Bluefield looked. "I'm delighted you're here for the opening," Scutney cried. "You will be, Ellery, won't you?"
"If I have to hang from a rafter. I haven't had the pleasure of attending one of Mr. Manson's performances in —" Ellery had been about to say "in a great many years," but he changed it to "in some time."
"How are things at the Embassy, Mr. Green?" the actor asked sadly, tilting his cocktail glass, finding it empty, running his forefinger around the inside of the glass, and licking the finger. "You should have seen me with Booth, sir. John Wilkes, that is. Those were the days. Garçon, may I trouble you for an encore?" The wavering finger pushed the empty glass into alignment with nine others, whereupon Manson smiled at Ellery and fell asleep. Head thrown back, he resembled a mummy; his gentle, fine-boned face was overlaid with a mesh of wrinkles.
The waitress took their orders. Manson woke up, courteously ordered Chaud-Froid de Cailles en Belle Vue, and fell asleep again.
"What's that?" the waitress demanded.
"Never mind, honey. Bring him a rare T-bone."
Scutney looked peevish. "I do hope —"
"Don't worry, Bluefield. He never misses a curtain."
Ellery turned, surprised. The speaker was the man introduced to him as Archer Dullman. He had immediately forgotten Dullman was there. He now saw why. Dullman was not large and not small, neither fat nor thin, ruddy nor pale. Hair, eyes, voice were neutral. It was hard to imagine him excited, angry, amorous, or drunk. Ellery paid close attention to him after that.
"Are you Mr. Manson's manager, Mr. Dullman?"
"It's a buck."
Even so, it was some time before he realized that Dullman had not actually answered his question.
Ellery buttered a roll. "By the way, isn't it an Actors' Equity rule that members may not perform with amateurs?"
It was Scutney who answered; in rather a hurry, Ellery thought. "Oh, but you can almost always get Equity's permission in special cases. Where no Equity company is playing the area, and provided the amateur group initiates the request, deposits the full amount of the member's salary with them, and so forth. Ah, the soup!" He greeted the return of their waitress with relief. "Best chowder in town. Right, Minnie?"
Ellery wondered what was bugging the little man. Then he remembered.
The "Archer" had fooled him. Around Broadway, Dullman was better known as "The Dull Man." It was a typical Broadway quip; Dullman was supposed to be sharper than a columnist's tooth. If Scutney Bluefield had allowed himself to be suckered into a Dullman deal ...
"They've been calling us the Haunted Playhouse and laughing their heads off," Scutney was chortling. "Who's laughing now?"
"Not me," Rodge Fowler growled. "That scene on the couch between Manson and Joan in the first act is an absolute disgrace."
"How would you expect Don Juan to act on a couch?" Dullman asked with a smile.
"You didn't have to direct it that way, Dullman!"
"Oh, you're directing?" Ellery murmured. But nobody heard him.
"Think of the dear old ladies, Fowler."
"I'm thinking of Joan!"
"Now, Rodge," Scutney said.
Manson chose that moment to wake up. He peered around the crowded dining room and staggered to his feet. His hair-piece had come loose and slipped to one side, exposing a hemisphere of dead-white scalp. He stood there like some aged Caesar in his cups, bowing to his people.
"My dear, dear friends," the actor said; and then, with simple confidence, he slid into Dullman's arms.
Scutney and Roger were half out of their chairs. But Ellery was already supporting the actor's other side.
"Manson can walk, Dullman. Just give him some support."
Between them they dragged Manson, graciously smiling, from the dining room. The lobby seethed with people attending a Ladies' Aid ball; a great many were waiting for the elevators.
"We can't maneuver him through that mob, Dullman. What floor is he on?"
"Then let's walk him up. Manson, lift your feet. That's it. You're doing nobly."
Ellery and Dullman hustled him up the staircase toward the mezzanine. Dullman was crooning in the actor's ear, "No more martinis, huh, Mark? So tomorrow night you can step out on that stage in those sexy tights of yours and give these Yokelsville ladies a thrill. You're the great Mark Manson, remember?" Manson made small pleased noises.
Scutney and Roger came running up behind them.
"How is he?" Scutney panted.
"Beginning to feel pain, I think," Ellery said. "How about it, Manson?"
"My dear sir," the actor said indulgently. "Anyone would think I am intoxicated. Really, this is undignified and unnecessary."
He achieved the mezzanine landing and paused there to recuperate. Ellery glanced at Dullman, and Dullman nodded. They released him. It was a mistake.
Ellery grabbed in vain. "Catch him!" But both Scutney and Roger stood there, stunned. Manson, still smiling, toppled backward between them.
Fascinated, they watched the star of The Death of Don Juan bounce his way step after step down the long marble staircase until he landed on the lobby floor and lay still.
ACT I. Scene 3.
They went straight from the hospital to Dullman's room at the Hollis. Dullman sat down at the telephone.
"Long distance? New York City. Phil Stone, theatrical agent, West Forty-fourth Street. No, I'll hold on."
"Stone." Scutney was hopping about the room. "I don't know him, Archer."
"So you don't know him," the New Yorker grunted. "Phil? Arch Dullman."
"So what do you want?" Ellery could hear Stone's bass rasp distinctly.
"Philly boy," Dullman said.
"Please, Archie, no routines. It's been an itch of a day, and I was just going home. What's on your mind?"
"Phil, I'm on a spot up here —"
"Wrightsville. New England."
"Never heard. Can't be a show town. What are you, in a new racket?"
"There's a stock company here just getting started. I made a deal for Mark Manson with this producer to do Death of Don Juan."
"Never mind! Opening's tomorrow night. Tonight Manson falls down a staircase in the hotel and breaks the wrist and a couple fingers of his right hand, besides cracking two ribs."
"Old lushes never die. That's all?"
"It's plenty. There might even be concussion. They're keeping him in the hospital twenty-four hours just in case."
"So what?" The agent sounded remote.
"The thing is, they've taped his ribs and put a cast on his forearm and hand. He won't be able to work for weeks." A drop of perspiration coursed down Dullman's nose and landed on the butt of his cigar. "Phil — how about Foster Benedict?"
Stone's guffaw rattled the telephone.
"Foster Benedict?" Scutney Bluefield looked astounded. He leaped to Dullman's free ear. "You get him, Archer!"
But Ellery was watching Rodge Fowler. At the sound of Benedict's name Roger had gripped the arms of his chair as if a nerve had been jabbed.
Excerpted from Queens Full 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
ContentsTHE DEATH OF DON JUAN,
THE WRIGHTSVILLE HEIRS,
THE CASE AGAINST CARROLL,
E = MURDER,
DIAMONDS IN PARADISE,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Several short stories well written whodunits.