Inspector Richard Queen and his new wife engage in a manor house mystery
Ellery Queen is vacationing in Istanbul when he learns that his aging father, the retired police inspector Richard Queen, is getting married. The world-famous sleuth rushes home to congratulate the happy couple and enjoy the unique experience of giving his father away to the bride. The honeymoon over, Richard and his new wife return home to find an envelope containing a $100 bill and half of a $1,000 bill—a down payment for one of the most puzzling cases the Queen men will ever encounter.
Accompanying the money is a letter summoning Inspector Queen and his spouse to a peculiar vacation in the wilds of New York. Also invited are a con man, a country doctor, a charitable spinster, and a few other disreputable characters who have been assembled for a weekend of murder and mystery they will never forget.
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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
The House of Brass
By Ellery Queen
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 1969 Ellery Queen
All rights reserved.
Richard was all for San Juan or St. Croix, but Jessie held out for every girl's right to one honeymoon in Niagara Falls (she said "girl" bravely, taking advantage of the technicality); so Niagara Falls it turned out to be, Richard giving in without a fight. He was so much in love he would have agreed to Hanoi.
Ellery received his father's cable in an Istanbul hotel room and collapsed on the bed. He was on a planetary junket, nibbling at police chiefs for gourmet crimes, and he had encountered no criminological recipe so outré as the Inspector's announcement. His first thought was of old fools; but when he flew to New York he found Jessie Sherwood to be, not an old man's nubile folly, but a brisk and buxom dear approaching fifty, with a young voice and young eyes, full of soft humor and authority, and without duplicity or doubts. They scouted the opposition for a moment, decided there was none, and fell into each other's arms.
The couple were married in Jessie's little church in the Village, and afterward Ellery gave them a reception at the Algonquin, out of an obscure sentiment toward the memory of Frank Case and the Round Table, in a suiteful of spring flowers. Jessie wore an Irish lace dress the color of blue violets, like her eyes, and the Inspector a summer tuxedo (peevishly vetoing Ellery's overenthusiastic suggestion of a cummerbund), and Ellery had the unique experience of giving his father away. The minister out of the quaintness of his Episcopal heart spoke of the blessings of matrimony "in the summer of our content," which Jessie thought a beautiful way of putting it, while her groom glared at the man of God, who was a good twenty years younger than he and could afford to be patronizing.
The continuation of the beginning was very, very satisfactory. The mighty Falls roared an unending welcome and offered them its shiniest sunlight, rainbow, and mist. And the fat Indian woman squatting near the railing sold them pillows stuffed with pine needles that scented their double bed with sanctification.
When they got back from the honeymoon, looking well-fed, they went to the Queen apartment. Jessie had given hers up, putting her things in storage against the undiscussed future. It kept seeming as if there would always be time enough to talk about it.
"Home." Jessie crooned over the word. Then she clucked over the dust and began bustling about opening windows.
The old man dumped their bags. "Is it?"
"Why, Richard, whatever do you mean?"
"What are we going to do about Ellery?" So it came out.
"Oh, pooh," Jessie said. "I made up my mind long ago. Ellery will live with us, and that's that." She went hunting for a dustcloth.
"Maybe he will," the Inspector mumbled, "and then again maybe he'll have something to say about it. He usually does." And he began thumbing through the accumulation of mail he had found waiting for him.
"We won't see," Jessie said, reappearing. "You haven't lost a son, you've gained a wife."
"It's beginning to sink in," the Inspector said with a grin. "All right, let's say it's settled for the time being."
"Why does it have to be temporary? Where would we get an apartment these days we could afford? Even with me working —"
"With you what?" the retired Inspector cried.
"You're not going back to nursing! I want a wife, not a proctologist's plumber. My police pension'll be enough, along with what I've stashed away. I didn't marry you to watch you carry bedpans for a lot of neurotic women — or men! — and don't you forget it, Jessie Queen."
"Yes, Richard," Jessie said meekly. But she thought: I will. We'll need the money. "What's wrong?"
He was glaring at one of the envelopes. "This is addressed to Miss Jessie Sherwood. Your first letter, and they don't pay me the courtesy of using my name!"
"Forwarded by Registry. It's probably some charity asking for money. I'm on all sorts of lists."
It was not a plea for money. Jessie looked, and frowned, and looked again. "I'll be darned."
"What is it, Jessie?"
"Look at this."
This turned out to be a $100 bill.
And that was half a $1000 bill.
The Inspector frowned at the pretty portraits, too. Experience had taught him that mysteries starting out with unsolicited lucre had a way of turning nasty toward the end, if not sooner. For fillip, the original of the $1000 bill had been scissored down the middle of Grover Cleveland's bust with a pinking shears in three opart-looking jags.
"Richard, whatever can it mean?"
He was holding the bills up to the light off the end of his nose. "They're not counterfeits. How should I know? There's got to be some explanation. Look in the envelope, Jessie. There must be a note."
There was, and they touched heads bending over it. Unfolded, it became two sheets of vellum notepaper bearing a heavily engraved gold crest, all very impressive; or it would have been impressive if it had not had the foxed look of paper that has been lying around for a generation. The body of the letter was typewritten, as was the address on the envelope.
"Out of somebody's attic, looks like. Read it aloud, Jessie." The Inspector's reading glasses were over near the old leather chair. "Damn my eyes!" He regularly damned each part of his anatomy that surrendered to his years; this year it was his eyes.
Jessie's soft voice gave the contents of the note a femininity that rather got in the way of its style. "'Dear Miss Sherwood,'" the foxed vellum said. "'You will doubtless think it odd to receive an invitation from someone you do not know. I give you my word, however, that this is all very much to your interest.
"'I invite you herewith to visit me at The House of Brass, my ancestral home near Phillipskill, New York.
"'The $100 bill enclosed will serve to cover your traveling expenses. As for the missing half of the $1000 bill, it will be presented to you at the expiration of your visit. Call it a souvenir of what I think I may assure you will be an unusual experience.
"'Taxis are available at either the Tarrytown or Phillipskill railroad stations, although Phillipskill is somewhat nearer. If you should decide to come by motor, take the second turn on your left after passing the Old River Inn on the Albany Post Road; then the first turn to the right, which is marked by a sign that says Private Road. As for water transportation, the old boat landing has been in disrepair for many years, and I cannot vouch for its safety.
"'May I hope to expect you as soon as possible. Your arrival or absence will reply for you. In the latter case, of course, the halved $1000 bill will be of no use to you. In any case, you may retain the $100 bill.
Yours faithfully, Hendrik Brass'"
The signature was old-man shaky, Jessie observed — an old-fashioned old man, she thought, from the language. She remarked this to Richard, who went for his glasses to see for himself.
"An old boy, all right. And of the old school. I take it you don't know a Hendrik Brass?"
"Never heard of him."
The Inspector reached for the telephone. "Velie?" he said to the Sergeant when the familiar basso blasted his ear. "Sure I'm back! Fine, she's fine. Listen, Velie — yes, I'll tell her. Remember that Fifth Avenue place called The House of Brass? What became of it. How about a man named Hendrik Brass? — Hendrik, ending in ik. You're a fat lot of help. Sure, first chance we get." He hung up. Jessie looked at him anxiously.
"The House of Brass used to be a high-toned jewelry store on Fifth Avenue, like Tiffany's and Carder's. You had to have real moola to walk in there, Jessie. As I recall the place, it specialized in gold — solid gold services, that sort of stuff. They closed the shop years ago. Velie says they never reopened. Not in New York, anyway."
"But the letter talks about The House of Brass as if it's a place to live in, Richard."
"Doesn't he call it the ancestral home? I guess he just uses the old firm name for it."
Jessie's little nose twitched like a rabbit's. "I swear, Richard, I don't know what to do about this."
"I know what I'd do."
"Send the money back and forget it."
"Would you really?" In spite of herself, Jessie felt a lick of disappointment. Her life had been a succession of stuck movie frames — night duty, whining women, unsavory bedpans, men patients who either pinched your bottom or looked as if they would like to, and the eternal triangle of nurse, intern, and supervisor. What her life had lacked was the unexpected, and here it was being offered her on a silver platter, or rather in a gold-crested letter. And Richard, dear new husband, was saying to send the bright bills back and forget the whole thing. "Oh, Richard," Jessie heard herself say in a rush, "let me!"
He was wonderful. He looked at her with his bushy-browed stare; then the whole hard face melted and ran, and he took her in his arms. "How could I ever deny you anything, honey? But my advice is to get more information. How about giving this Hendrik Brass a ring and finding out first if he's got all his marbles? You can sometimes tell just from the way they sound. I'll call for you if you want."
"Would you, darling?"
"You bet," he said; and jumped for the phone.
But Westchester Information had no listing for a House of Brass or a Hendrik Brass, and he set the phone down with a scowl. "If not for the cash, I'd say it was a practical joke. Jessie, I don't want to deny you, but ..."
Men had to be male, especially new husbands; Jessie was not alarmed. Instead, she kissed him. "I'm eaten up by plain nosiness, darling. Don't tell me you aren't."
"If you think I'd let you go traipsing off by yourself —"
"I wouldn't dream of it. Oh, Richard, this sounds like an adventure! What a thrilling way to start our married life."
How right she was.
"DeWitt Alistair" sounded like a made-up name in a third-rate play played by a fourth-rate company. But it happened to be Alistair's legal monicker, which he used only when the mark needed a particular kind of softening up. As it had turned out, he would have been better advised to use something that sounded as if it came out of Pilgrim's Progress, like John Repentance or Reuben Disappointment.
To make matters grittier, Mrs. Alistair, who had had her doubts from the beginning, kept throwing the biter-bit bit in his teeth. She managed this feat without opening her mouth, an accomplishment that few appreciated but her husband, who had long since given up admiring it.
So the Alistairs were not in connubial harmony when they entered the lobby of the shabby-genteel hotel in the West 60s that Alistair had insisted reflected their working image and that, it now appeared with bitter clarity, their true image could not afford. The fish had taken their bait, slipped the hook, and vanished downstream, leaving them hungry and furious. The immediate problem was to find a less knowledgeable trout, and the wherewithal to land him. They paid only perfunctory attention to the impressive-looking envelope in their box. Impressive-looking envelopes did not impress them. They had mailed too many of them.
Both were thinking deeply.
Upstairs, in their shabby-genteel room, Alistair tossed the envelope on the bed, sat down near the dusty window, and turned to the racing news in the paper he had picked up from a lobby chair. Mrs. Alistair unlocked one of their two suitcases. From it she took an electric plate, a whistling teakettle minus the whistle, a spoon, two plastic cups, and a nearly empty jar of instant coffee. She filled the kettle at the tap in the bathroom, placed it on the hot plate, plugged the plate in at the outlet behind her husband's chair, and returned to the bathroom to repair her face, which was aristocratic-plain, well-preserved, noncommittal, and served her purposes. When she came out she planted herself before her spouse and looked at him. After a moment he lowered the paper.
"Well, what are you looking at?" DeWitt Alistair had a thunky voice, with a British edge to it that gave off a faint thud of counterfeit. It was. He had been born in Weehawken, New Jersey.
"Well," Elizabeth Alistair replied, "not very much." Her speech was entirely unaffected. What there was of it.
"There you go again!"
"Haven't said a word."
"I'll clip you!"
His wife seemed undaunted. "What do we do now, Machiavelli?"
"I've got to think about it," he said shortly.
"You won't find the answer in the harness entries."
"Let me alone, will you!"
"Any money left?"
He returned to his newspaper, shrugging.
Mrs. Alistair spooned out the coffee, added the water, stirred, and set one of the cups down at his elbow. Then she did the same for herself. All in an exhausted way. It was one of their longest dialogues in months.
She sat down on the bed and sipped her brew, giving herself completely over to thought. The process was evidently not agreeable; it foretold disaster for someone.
Suddenly she picked up the letter and opened it.
Alistair grunted something unpleasant to himself and turned the page. He looked like Walter Pidgeon, but with mean little eyes like a corrida bull. He was not a good man to meet in an alley. Or to play cards with.
"What now, for God's sake?" He glanced over. She was holding up a mint $100 bill and what looked remarkably like half a mint $1000 bill. He extended his hand quickly. She gave him two sheets of rusty-looking vellum note-paper. The bills she retained.
"I'll take the whole one," he said. "You can keep the half."
Mrs. Alistair smiled at his transparency. She handed over the $100 bill and tucked the mutilated bill away in her cleavage. Alistair held the $100 bill up to the light. Then, without comment, he placed it in his wafer wallet and turned to the letter. When he had finished reading the letter he stored it carefully in his breast pocket.
"What do you think, Liz?"
"I'm not so sure."
"That's an improvement," she said, and rose.
"Nothing to lose. And there's the other half of the grand."
"Pigeon bait," she said reflectively.
"What can he get out of us? So we bite. Agreed?"
Alistair picked up the telephone, said, "Time, please," listened, and hung up. "Twelve minutes to checkout," he said to his wife, and rose, too.
Elizabeth Alistair washed the cups and spoon and dried them on a hand towel, deposited them in the smaller suitcase along with the jar of coffee and the hot plate, and locked the case. Her husband put on his Tyrolean hat and charcoal-gray Wales of Boston weatherproof, and picked up the larger of the two cases. His wife went to the closet and got out her Russian lynx coat, a memento of a bygone bonanza which she kept in rack-new condition. She tucked the beige velvet toque carefully on her dyed hair, looked around, picked up the smaller case and, as an afterthought, her husband's stolen newspaper, and preceded him from the room.
Neither looked back.
It was indicative of Dr. Hubert Thornton's quality that the patients of the South Cornwall Medical Group called him "Doc," while they addressed his three medical partners as "Doctor." To the partners this was symptomatic of his weakness, and they were forever chiding him about it. "All right, so you're a kindly old g.p.," the heart and lungs man of the Group jeered. "But do you have to lay it on so thick, Hube? It makes the rest of us look like medical sharks."
"I don't try to," Hube Thornton protested. "It just comes out that way."
"Take the Andersons' bill. It's been delinquent for seven months. What's so great about the Andersons? You sleeping with Mrs. Anderson or something?"
Thornton flushed. "Mrs. Anderson has a prolapsed uterus and a peptic ulcer," he said stiffly.
"Neither stopped her from buying two cases of bourbon and Scotch for that wingding they threw last Saturday night. If the dame can buy booze in case lots she can damn well pay her medical bill. The trouble with you, Hube, is you're trying to be South Cornwall's Albert Schweitzer. Who's going to pay our bills?"
"You're right, of course." And Thornton took out his fat old Waterman pen and wrote the Medical Group his personal check for the amount of the Andersons' bill.
It made for an embarrassed silence.
"That ties it," said the pediatrician of the Group with a snap of his jaws on the cigar in his mouth. "You have a genius for making me feel like a son of a bitch, Hube. You can take your check and shove it." He tore it up. "All right, men, we wait some more. Hube Thornton Rides Again."
The tall surgeon of the Group shook his Ivy-League-barbered head. "Hube, you should have gone into the Public Health Service. You spend more time in that clinic and make more night calls than the rest of us put together."
"Somebody has to," Dr. Thornton said feebly.
"You were born in the wrong century. You know you've got bags under your eyes an inch thick? Ozzie here insists you're an incipient TB. And why the hell don't you get your glasses fixed? You look like a Skid Row bum. And buy another suit?"
They ran through a long list of chronic grievances.
Thornton remained silent. He had tried more than once to withdraw from the Group for the sake of the common weal; to his bewilderment they always jumped on him as if he had proposed that they start performing illegal abortions.
Excerpted from The House of Brass by Ellery Queen. Copyright © 1969 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
7 And Where Again?,
8 And Why Again?,
9 And What Again?,
10 What and Where?,
12 Who's Who?,
13 When, Where, Who, Why,
14 Who and Why?,
15 Who, How, and Why Finally,