When Colonel Phillips begins his final game of golf, his greatest problem in life is that he has begun to slice the ball. Playing with his lawyer and nephews, Phillips fights his way back into the game and is on the verge of victory when he keels over. He clutches his chest, mumbles a few words, and is dead in minutes. The doctor has no doubt: The colonel was poisoned. Finding the culprit falls to the president of the golf club, amateur detective Canby Rankin, who will do whatever it takes to find the killer on the links.
Written nearly a century ago, “The Last Drive” is now available for the first time in book form. Clever, charming, and absolutely baffling, it is the tale that inspired the first Nero Wolfe novel, Fer-de-Lance, and along with the other stories in this volume represents the early efforts of a modern genius.
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About the Author
After the Depression wiped out his savings, Stout began writing detective stories. Fer-de-Lance (1934) introduced Nero Wolfe, master of deduction, and his indefatigable assistant, Archie Goodwin. Over the next four decades, Stout published dozens of stories and novels starring the quirky pair, earning him a place in the mystery novelist’s pantheon alongside Agatha Christie and Erle Stanley Gardner. He died in Connecticut in 1975.
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The Last Drive
And Other Stories
By Rex Stout, Ira Brad Matetsky
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2015 Ira Brad Matetsky
All rights reserved.
THE LAST DRIVE
There had been a friendly argument before the foursome got started that Saturday afternoon in June. Carson Phillips, retired from the army with the rank of colonel, and possessor of a fortune ample enough to allow him to regard the monthly check from Washington as just a little added pin money, had hotly resented the insinuations of his two nephews, Harry and Fred Adams, concerning the relation between a man's age and his golf score.
"So you'll be kind enough to divide yourselves between us!" he snorted. "Do you hear that, Fraser? A wonder their impudence doesn't choke them. I'm hanged if I wouldn't play their best ball—I've tamed wilder lads in the service—"
Fraser Mawson smiled and nodded his head, held with the poise and air of authority acquired by thirty years of experience at the New York bar.
"As a matter of fact, Colonel," he agreed, "you'd probably give them a run for their money. I'm rather a better lawyer than golf player, but—impertinence! So you want to let us old fellows down easy, do you, boys? We'll show you! Won't we, Carson? Shall we give them a trimming?"
The soldier nodded, and straightway produced a silver coin from his pocket and sent it spinning in the air, with a "Call it, Harry," directed at one of the young men, who stopped laughing long enough to pronounce the word:
But it fell with the eagle up, and, having thus won the honor, the Colonel motioned to the waiting caddies and turned to lead the way to the first tee.
They found a crowd there ahead of them, for it was a clear, brilliant June day, and the links of the Corona Country Club was one of the most convenient and best patronized within easy motor distance of New York. For the most part they were men, and you might have found among them the possessors of many well-known names in the business and professional world of the metropolis. Not the least prominent were the members of the foursome with which we are especially concerned. Colonel Carson Phillips, fifty-six and straight as an arrow, was a fine figure of a man with his clear-cut, bronzed features, steady gray eyes and military bearing; Fraser Mawson, also a little more than fifty, one of the most popular men among his own profession as well as a welcome addition to a jolly corner in any of the exclusive clubs, was perhaps a little less distinguished in his appearance, but still a handsome man; and Harry and Fred Adams, brothers, and nephews and heirs of the Colonel, twenty-four and twenty-six respectively, were engaging young fellows with a great deal of foolishness still clinging to them, and all their accomplishments so far developed of a purely social nature. They were spending a week at their uncle's country home, not far from the Corona club, back in the Jersey hills; and Fraser Mawson, who had handled the Colonel's business and legal affairs for the past twenty years, was down for the week end.
Silent nods and low-spoken greetings, not to disturb the pair who were driving off, were exchanged as they reached the first tee. Everyone knew Colonel Phillips, open-handed and good-natured old warrior that he was; and there were friendly smiles for him from men like Bolton Cook, the Colorado millionaire who was waking up a section of Wall Street, Harrison Matlin, corporation attorney; John Waring, widely known as a travel lecturer, and Canby Rankin, a wealthy southerner, who had become interested in the detection of crime as a pastime and performed it so well that his talents had more than once pulled the New York Police Commissioner out of a hole. The Colonel and Rankin were old friends, and now they joined each other for a low-toned conversation while most of the others in the crowd swung drivers and irons at blades of grass to limber up.
In thirty minutes or so the foursome's turn came, and Mawson and the Colonel teed up. With a short, nervous swing, all forearm, Mawson got a ball 180 yards straight down the middle of the fairway. Then the Colonel. His style was slashing and business-like; you might have thought he was using a cavalry sword on an adversary in the heat of battle. A slice carried him into a trap on the right, 200 yards away. His two nephews followed, with the gracefulness and assumed carelessness of a generation who plays thirty-six holes in the daytime and dances thirty-six numbers at night; they got long straight drives. As the four men started off down the smooth turf side by side the Colonel turned to call over his shoulder to those assembled at the tee:
"We're going to show these youngsters! The match will end on the fourteenth green!"
And with a wave of his hand and a smile he strode ahead beside Mawson. With what suddenness would the answering smiles and shouts have died away if they had known what the next hour held in store!
The Colonel's optimistic enthusiasm was reinforced by an astonishing 3 for the first hole by Mawson, who reached the green with his second, a long iron over a trap, and sunk a twenty-footer. The two young men took fours; Colonel Phillips needed six.
"That's alright," observed the old soldier cheerfully as they headed for the second tee. "If I don't do it my partner will. One under par! Do you still think we're too old to make it interesting, Fred?"
"A miracle, sir," laughed the elder of the two young men. "To my certain knowledge Mr. Mawson never made that hole in less than five before in his life. Confess it, Mr. Mawson!"
The lawyer was nervously swinging his putter back and forth, nipping the tops of the blades of grass. "That three was a little unusual," he admitted. "But it's the Colonel I'm looking to. Slicing is something new for you, Carson."
"Been at it for a week," frowned the soldier in reply. "Some devilish trick that's caught me unawares. Totally undiscoverable. I had Mac go around with me yesterday, but he could find nothing wrong; advised me to try my brassie off the tee. I am doing so. You saw. Worse than ever."
"The honor is still yours, gentlemen," came from Harry Adams as they reached the tee. "Let's take this one, Fred, miracle or no miracle."
It was a short hole, a midiron over a lake, and three of them laid their balls neatly on the green. It was a half in three, with the Colonel barely missing a fifteen-footer for a two. On the next, a two-shot hole, the Colonel used his brassie again from the tee, and again he sliced badly, into the rough. No miracle came to assist Mawson, and the elder pair lost the hole four to six. The fourth was something over five hundred yards. Once more the Colonel went far to the right; he chopped out of some underbrush, gritted his teeth, called for his brassie,—and sliced out of bounds. They lost the hole by two strokes, and became one down.
On the way to the fifth tee the Colonel grew highly voluble. "I've been led forty miles on a false trail out in Luzon," he declared in deliberate disgust, "and I've seen twelve-pounders suddenly kick up their heels and grin in your face. Also I've had experience with women. But for pesky, petty, unholy tricks, nothing can equal golf. Incomprehensible. Satanic. All at once, from nowhere, I acquire this damnable slice. Cause not to be found. For fickleness women are hopeless amateurs compared to a golf club."
"Use an iron, sir," suggested young Harry Adams respectfully.
"You should have fought it out with the driver," put in Fraser Mawson, busying himself with the selection of a new ball. "Don't give in to their whims. You see that the brassie is even worse. Something in your stance or grip or stroke."
"I didn't suppose it was the way I combed my hair," observed the Colonel in wrathful sarcasm.
The younger pair had the honor now, and each got a long straight one from the tee. Mawson's nervousness appeared to have increased, and he topped badly, dribbling along into a hazard. The Colonel hesitated a moment, took out his brassie, then handed it back and called for his driver. As he teed up and took his stance his jaw was set and his eyes were grim. He did not take his golf with the poignant earnestness with which the famous Mrs. Battle played bridge, perhaps, but he had sworn to beat "the youngsters" and like a good soldier he put his brave old heart into it. Slow back, an easy, well-timed swing, and away went the ball, straight and true as a bullet, 220 yards down the fairway. The Colonel watched it tensely till it came down, then relaxed, straightened and grinned happily.
"A beauty, sir!" Harry called out.
"Longer than ours," Fred agreed.
The Colonel waved his driver valiantly in the air. "The weapon of a gentleman," he announced vaingloriously. "I retract my remarks of a moment ago. After Fraser recovers from that trap you boys may play the odd. Permit an old man to exult."
They tramped together down to the bunker, on their way meeting and exchanging greetings with another foursome coming back on the fourteenth hole. It might have been thought a pity that their interest in the game kept them from appreciation of the lovely landscape that spread itself out in four directions: woods and a winding ribbon of road to the left, a bubbling merry brook in front, and on the other two sides the gently swelling green hills, smiling in the sunshine, with the smooth turf of the links dotted here and there with thick clumps of underbrush, a solitary tree or a miniature grove; and all made alive by a group of players at a tee here or scattered there along the fairway, the caddies with their bright yellow caps making little dots of color in the most unexpected places, as though a painter had carelessly thrown drops of ochre about from the point of his palette knife.
Fraser Mawson, standing in a sand pit, niblick in hand, was certainly not thinking of the landscape. He took three to get out, and his fifth was played before they came up to the other balls. The two young men took brassies to make the green, just over a deep ditch two hundred yards aways; one reached it nicely, the other hooked a little to the left into some deep grass. The Colonel, with twenty yards less to go, used a driving mashie; again his jaw was set firmly, down came the heavy iron head, and the ball sailed through the air, just clearing the top of the ditch and dropping dead on the sloping green. Again the Colonel grinned.
"Nice approach, sir," came from Fred Adams; and he added to his younger brother in an undertone, "We'll have to go some, Harry; the old boy's back on his game."
Then he turned quickly at a swift expression of alarm in Harry's eyes, and the two young men stepped forward together, calling out:
"What's the matter, sir?"
The cause of their alarm came from their uncle the Colonel. He had let his mashie fall to the ground, and he stood with white face and eves drawn close in pain, trembling visibly, while a half comical expression of surprised dismay parted his lips.
"What the deuce—what—" he stammered, moving his hands uncertainly upwards to his chest, while his two nephews ran forward, crying out, "What is it, sir?" and Fraser Mawson stood still, opened his mouth and let out in a high-pitched voice the one word:
Suddenly the Colonel straightened himself up with an apparent effort, and made his voice steady:
"Most curious sensation in my chest—no, here, lower down—I don't think—indigestion—quite acute and—and painful—."
By that time the two young men had him by the arm, one on either side, and were trying to lead him toward the seats at the sixth tee, but he shook them off impatiently and stood still on the green turf, swaying a little from side to side with his hands pressed tightly on his breast. Harry turned to Fraser Mawson with a frightened look:
"Maybe it's his heart—I'd better—."
As he spoke there came a cry from his brother, and again they sprang forward as the Colonel suddenly thrust his hands straight in front of him and sank to the ground. They caught him and let him gently onto the turf, while Fred knelt to hold his uncle's head in his arms, calling frantically to the others:
"Run—quick—a doctor! Wortley's around somewhere—for God's sake hurry!"
Harry was off like a shot in the direction of the clubhouse. Fraser Mawson stood as one helpless with astonishment, his eyes staring. The caddies, who had gone on toward the green, came running back at the sound of the young man's shouts, and were speedily scattered over the links in every direction in search of Doctor Wortley, as were several other golfers who hastened over from nearby tees and greens. Their shouts for a doctor soon filled the air over all the June landscape; meanwhile Fred knelt with his arms around the shoulders of his uncle, whose eyes had assumed a glassy, fearful stare, while unintelligible sputterings came from his lips and his fingers tore nervously at the grass. Fraser Mawson had knelt down beside him and was saying over and over, "What is it, Carson, for God's sake what is it?" finally causing the young man to exclaim half angrily, "Shut up, don't you see he can't answer you?"
All at once a great shudder ran through the Colonel's form and his hands were clenched tightly against his sides; a line of white foam appeared between his lips as his voice became articulate, barely so, a mere series of gasps:
"Fred—here, so I can see you—that's right, my boy—goodbye—tell Harry—and you, Fraser—I don't know what this is, but it's the end—all on fire inside—water—cool me off a little, you know—"
The words gave place to meaningless sounds, little noises that escaped the old warrior in his terrible agony despite the tremendous effort he was making to control himself. His eyes were the eyes of a tortured man, rolling from side to side, and froth covered his lips; he had seized Fred's arm with his right hand, and the crazy force of the grip crunched the bones so that the young man had to set his teeth on his lip to keep from crying out. Fraser Mawson had disappeared and now came running back with a pail of water from a nearby drinking tank; they tried to get the Colonel to drink, but he was beyond sensible action and the water ran over his neck onto the grass with little splotches of white in it. Shouts were heard, "The doctor!" and men seemed suddenly to appear from all sides, while from the direction of the clubhouse an automobile was seen dashing over the smooth fairway and leaping across the rough. By the time it arrived a crowd of twenty or thirty golfers had gathered; three or four of them had knelt down to assist Fred in his efforts as the Colonel's body writhed and twisted horribly about in his pain. As the automobile jerked up suddenly with a grinding of brakes they made room for Doctor Wortley and he leaped out toward the group. Just as he arrived a mighty convulsive shudder ran over the prostrate form from head to foot, and then it lay still.
The doctor leaned over with an ejaculation of amazement, and silence fell over the crowd as he knelt to unbutton the old faded army shirt that the Colonel had always worn on the links. Mutterings and whisperings from forty throats accompanied his quick, deft movements, lasting for the space of two long minutes; then absolute silence again as he slowly rose to his feet and turned about. A glance to one side, a clearing of the throat, and he spoke in an undertone:
"Gentlemen, Colonel Phillips is dead."
There was a gasp from the crowd and two muttered words of dismayed unbelief from Fraser Mawson as he stood whitefaced beside the doctor:
Then a boyish cry of despair from Harry Adams as he threw himself down beside his uncle's body and seized the hand that lay there on the grass in his own; his brother Fred was supporting the grey head on his knees and was trying to close the eyes with pathetic little strokes of his fingers. Stammering amazed whisperings passed around, and suddenly a direct question was put to the doctor by somebody. He seemed to hesitate, then turned again to the bareheaded group.
"Gentlemen, you are all members of the Corona club, and you have a right to know; the Colonel was poisoned. I tell you this at once that there may be no gossip about it. The nature of the accident will have to be investigated, and it will be well if no silly rumors are circulated, both for the sake of the Colonel's memory and the reputation of the club. I think you may be trusted in that respect. I'll leave it to you, Matlin, to see that the caddies do no talking. Call it heart disease.—Here, some hands, if you please. Cook, will you kindly run your car a little closer."
There was a tug at Doctor Wortley's arm, and he turned to look into Harry Adams' set face and staring eyes.
"Doctor—did you say—my uncle was poisoned—"
A nod answered him, and he spoke again, stammering:
"But what—what was it—"
The doctor threw his arm across the lad's shoulder. "We'll find that out later, my boy. Keep steady. The thing now is to get him home.—Here, you men—"
Carefully and gently the still body was lifted and carried to the automobile and covered with a robe. The faces of the crowd, filled with the fearful solemnity that always accompanies the presence of death, no matter whose, also bore the finer imprint of the hand of real sorrow, testifying eloquently to the quality of the man who had just left them.
Excerpted from The Last Drive by Rex Stout, Ira Brad Matetsky. Copyright © 2015 Ira Brad Matetsky. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Table of Contents
ContentsIntroduction by Ira Brad Matetsky,
The Last Drive,
Billy Du Mont, Reporter,
The Pickled Picnic,
Ask the Egyptians,
This Is My Wife,
It Happened Last Night,
Old Fools and Young,
Appendix: The Early Fiction of Rex Stout,