They entered as if they owned the place. I tipped Purley a wink as he passed me, but he was too impressed by his surroundings to reciprocate, and I didn’t blame him, as I knew he might get either a swell promotion or the opposite out of this by the time it was over. From the threshold I saw a big black limousine down at the curb, and back of it two other police cars containing city fellers. Well, well, I thought to myself as I closed the door, this looks pretty damned ominous. Cramer had asked me if Wolfe was in the office and I had waved him on, and now I brought up the rear of the procession.
I moved chairs around. Cramer introduced Hombert and Skinner, but Skinner and Wolfe had already met. At Cramer’s request I took Purley Stebbins to the kitchen and told him to play checkers with Johnny Keems. When I got back Hombert was shooting off his mouth about defiance of the law, and I got at my desk and ostentatiously opened my notebook. Cramer was looking more worried than I had ever seen him. District Attorney Skinner, already sunk in his chair as if he had been there all evening, had the wearied cynical expression of a man who had some drinks three hours ago and none since.
Hombert was practically yelling. “… and you’re responsible for it! If you had turned those three people over to us last night this wouldn’t have happened! Cramer tells me they were here in this office! Walsh was here! This afternoon we had him at headquarters and your man wouldn’t point him out! You are directly and legally responsible for his death!” The Police Commissioner brought his fist down on the arm of his chair and glared. Cramer was looking at him and shaking his head faintly.
“This sudden onslaught is overwhelming,” Wolfe murmured. “If I am legally responsible for Mr. Walsh’s death, arrest me. But please don’t shout at me—”
“All right! You’ve asked for it!” Hombert turned to the inspector. “Put him under arrest!”
Cramer said quietly, “Yes, sir. What charge?”
“Any charge! Material witness! We’ll see whether he’ll talk or not!”
Cramer stood up. Wolfe said, “Perhaps I should warn you, Mr. Hombert. If I am arrested, I shall do no talking whatever. And if I do no talking, you have no possible chance of solving the problem you are confronted with.” He wiggled a finger. “I don’t shout, but I never say anything I don’t mean. Proceed, Mr. Cramer.”
Cramer stood still. Hombert looked at him, then looked grimly at Wolfe. “You’ll talk or you’ll rot’”
“Then I shall certainly rot.” Wolre’s finger moved again. “Let me make a suggestion, Mr. Hombert. Why don’t you go home and go to sleep and leave this affair to be handled by Mr. Cramer, an experienced policeman, and Mr. Skinner, an experienced lawyer? You probably have abilities of some sort, but they are obviously inappropriate to the present emergency. To talk of arresting me is childish. I have broken no law and I am a sufficiently respectable citizen not to be taken into custody merely for questioning. Confound it, sir, you can’t go around losing your temper like this, it’s outrageous! You are entangled in a serious difficulty, I am the only man alive who can possibly extricate you from it, and you come here and begin yelling inane threats at me! Is that sort of conduct likely to appeal either to my reason or my sympathy?”
Hombert glared at him, opened his mouth, closed it again, and looked at Cramer. District Attorney Skinner snickered. Cramer said to Hombert, “Didn’t I tell you he was a nut? Let me handle him.”
Wolfe nodded solemnly. “That’s an idea, Mr. Cramer. You handle me.”
Hombert, saying nothing, sat back and folded his arms and goggled.
Cramer looked at Wolfe. “So you know about Walsh.”
Wolfe nodded. “From the Gazette. That was unfortunate, the reporter happening on the scene.”
“You’re telling me,” Cramer observed grimly. “Of course the marquis isn’t arrested. He can’t be. Diplomatic immunity. Washington is raising hell because it got in the paper, as if there was any way in God’s world of keeping it out of that lousy sheet once that reporter got away from there.” He waved a disgusted hand. “That’s that. The fact is, the Commissioner’s right. You’re responsible. I told you yesterday how important this was. I told you it was your duty as a citizen to help us protect the Marquis of Clivers.”
Wolfe lifted his brows. “Aren’t you a little confused, Mr. Cramer? Or am I? I understood you wished to protect Lord Clivers from injury. Was it he who was injured this evening?”
“Certainly it was,” Hombert broke in. “This Walsh was blackmailing him!”
Cramer said, “Let me. Huh?”
“Did Lord Clivers say that?” Wolfe asked.
“No.” Cramer grunted. “He’s not saying anything, except that he knew Walsh a long time ago and went there to see him this evening by appoint ment and found him lying there dead. But we didn’t come here to answer questions for you, we came to find out what you know. We could have you pulled in, but decided it was quicker to come. It’s time to spill it. What’s it all about?”
“I suppose so.” Wolfe sighed. “Frankly, I think you’re wrong; I believe that while you may have information that will help me, I have none that will help you. But we’ll get to that later. My connection with this affair arises from my engagement to press a civil claim on behalf of two clients, two young women. Also, to defend one of them from a trumped-up charge of larceny brought against her by an official of the Seaboard Products Corporation. Since I have succeeded in having the larceny charge withdrawn—”
District Attorney Skinner woke up. He croaked in his deep bass, “Don’t talk so much. What has that got to do with it? Come to the point.”
Wolfe said patiently, “Interruptions can only waste time, by forcing me to begin my sentences over again. Since I have succeeded in having the larceny charge withdrawn, and since they cannot possibly be suspected of complicity in the murder of Mr. Walsh, I am willing to produce my clients, with the understanding that if I send for them to come here they will be questioned here only and will not be taken from this house. I will not have—”
“The hell you won’t!” Hombert was ready to boil again. “You can’t dictate to us—”
But the authority of Wolfe’s tone and the assurance of his manner had made enough impression so that his raised palm brought Hombert to a halt.
“I’m not dictating,” he snapped. “Confound it, let us get on or we shall be all night. I was about to say, I will not have the lives of my clients placed in possible jeopardy by releasing them from my own protection. Why should I? I can send for them and you can question them all you please—”
“All right, all right,” Cramer agreed impatiently. “We won’t take them, that’s understood. How long will it take you to get them here?”
“One minute perhaps, if they are not in bed. Archie? If you please.”
I arose, grinning at Cramer’s stare, stepped over Skinner’s feet, and went up and knocked at the door of the south room.
I entered. The two clients were sitting in chairs, looking as if they were too miserable to go to bed. I said, “Egad, you look cheerful. Come on, buck up! Wolfe wants you down in the office. There are some men down there that want to ask you some questions.”
Clara Fox straightened up. “Ask us … now?” Hilda Lindquist tightened her lips and began to nod her head for I told you so.
“Certainly.” I made it matter of fact. “They were bound to, sooner or later. Don’t worry, I’ll be right there, and tell them anything they want to know. There’s three of them. The dressed-up one with the big mouth is Police Commissioner Hombert, the one with the thin nose and ratty eyes is District Attorney Skinner, and the big guy who looks at you frank and friendly but may or may not mean it is Inspector Cramer.”
“My God.” Clara Fox brushed back her hair and stood up.
“All right,” I grinned. “Let’s go.”
I opened the door, and followed them out and down.
The three visitors turned their heads to look at us as we entered the office.
Skinner, seeing Clara Fox, got up first, then Hombert also made it to his feet and began shoving chairs around. I moved some up, while Wolfe pronounced names. He had rung for beer while I was gone, and got it poured. I saw there was no handkerchief in his pocket and went and got him one out of the drawer.
Cramer said, “So you’re Clara Fox. Where were you this morning?”
She glanced at Wolfe. He nodded. She said, “I was here.”
“Here in this house? All morning?”
“Yes, last night and all day.”
Cramer handed Wolfe a glassy stare. “What did you do to Rowcliff, grease him?”
“No, sir.” Wolfe shook his head. “Mr. Rowcliff did his best, but Miss Fox was not easily discoverable. I beg you to attach no blame to your men. It is necessary for you to know that three of us are prepared to state on oath that Miss Fox has been here constantly, to make it at once obvious that she is in no way involved in Mr. Walshs death.”
“I’ll be damned. What about the other one?”
“Miss Lindquist came here at ten o’clock this evening. But she has been secluded in another part of the city. You may as well confine yourself to events previous to half past six yesterday. May I make a suggestion? Begin by asking Miss Fox to tell you the story which she recited to me at that hour yesterday, in the presence of Miss Lindquist and Mr. Walsh.”
“Why … all right.” Cramer looked at Clara Fox. “Go ahead.”
She told the story. At first she was nervous and jerky, and I noticed that when she was inclined to stumble she glanced across at Wolfe as he leaned back, massive and motionless, with his fingers twined on his belly and his eyes nearly shut. She glanced at him and went ahead. They didn’t interrupt her much with questions. She read the letter from her father, and when she finished and Cramer held out his hand for it, she glanced at Wolfe. Wolfe nodded, and she passed it over. Then she went on, with more detail even than she had told us. She spoke of her first letters with Harlan Scovil and Hilda Lindquist and her first meeting with Mike Walsh.
She got to the Marquis of Clivers and Walsh’s recognition of him as he emerged from his hotel fifteen days back. From then on they were after her, not Cramer much, but Skinner and Hombert, and especially Skinner. He began to get slick, and of course what he was after was obvious. He asked her trick questions, such as where had her mother been keeping the letter from her father when she suddenly produced it on her deathbed. His way of being clever was to stay quiet and courteous and go back to one thing and then abruptly forward to another, and then after a little suddenly dart back again. Clara Fox was no longer nervous, and she didn’t get mad. I remembered how the day before she had stood cool and sweet in front of Perry’s desk. All at once Skinner began asking her about the larceny charge. She answered; but after a dozen questions on that Wolfe suddenly sdrred, opened his eyes, and wiggled a finger at the District Attorney.
“Mr. Skinner. Permit me. You’re wasting time. The larceny charge is indeed pertinent to the main issue, but there is very little chance that you’ll ever discover why. The fact is that the line you have taken from the beginning is absurd.”
“Thanks,” Skinner said drily. “If, as you say, it is pertinent, why absurd?”
“Because,” Wolfe retorted, “you’re running around in circles. You have a fixed idea that you’re an instrument of justice, being a prosecuting attorney, and that it is your duty to comer everyone you see. That idea is not only dangerous nonsense, in the present case it is directly contrary to your real interest. Why is this distinguished company”—Wolfe extended a finger and bent a wrist—“present in my house? Because thirty thousand dollars was mislaid and two men were murdered? Not at all. Because Lord Clivers has become unpleasantly involved, the fact has been made public, and you are seriously embarrassed. You have wasted thirty minutes trying to trap Miss Fox into a slip indicating that she and Mr. Walsh and Mr. Scovil and Miss Lindquist hatched a blackmailing plot against Lord Clivers; you have even hinted that the letter written by her father to her mother seventeen years ago, of which Mr. Cramer now has her typewritten copy in his pocket, was invented by her. Is it possible that you don’t realize what your real predicament is?”
“Thanks,” Skinner repeated, more drily still. “I’ll get to you—”
“No doubt. But let me—no, confound it, I’m talking! Let me orient you a little. Here’s your predicament. An eminent personage, an envoy of Great Britain, has been discovered alone with a murdered man and the fact has been made public. Even if you wanted to you can’t keep him in custody because of his diplomatic immunity. Why not, then, to avoid a lot of official and international fuss, just forget it and let him go? Because you don’t dare; if he really did kill Mr. Walsh you are going to have to ask his government to surrender him to you, and fight to get him if necessary, or the newspapers will howl you out of office. You are sitting on dynamite, and so is Mr. Hombert, and you know it. I can imagine with what distaste you contemplate being forced into an effort to convict the Marquis of Clivers of murder. I see the complications; and the devil of it is that at this moment you don’t at all know whether he did it or not. His story that he went to see Mr. Walsh and found him already dead may quite possibly be true.
“So, since an attempt to put Lord Clivers on trial for murder, and convict him, would not only create an international stink but might be disastrous for you personally, what should be your first and immediate concern? It seems obvious. You should swiftly and rigorously explore the possibility that he is not guilty. Is there someone else who wanted Harlan Scovil and Michael Walsh to die, and if so, who, and where is he? I know of only six people living who might help you in pursuing that inquiry. One of them is the murderer, another is an old man on a farm in Nebraska, and the other four are in this room. And, questioning one of them, what do you do? You put on an exhibition of your cunning at cross-examination in an effort to infer that she has tried to blackmail Lord Clivers, though he has had various opportunities to make such an accusation and has not done so. Again, you aim the weapon of your cunning, not at your own ignorance, but direcdy at Miss Fox, when you pounce on the larceny charge, though that accusation has been dismissed by the man who made it.
“Bah!” Wolfe looked around at them. “Do you wonder, gentlemen, that I have not taken you into my confidence in this affair? Do you wonder that I have no intention of doing so even now?”
Cramer grunted, gazing at a cigar he had pulled out of his pocket five minutes before. Skinner, scratching his ear, screwed up his mouth and looked sidewise at Clara Fox. Hombert let out a “Ha!” and slapped the arm of his chair. “So that’s your game! You’re not going to talk, eh? By God, you will talk!”
“Oh, I’ll talk.” Wolfe sighed. “You may know everything you are entitled to know. You are already aware that Mr. Scovil was in this room yesterday afternoon and got killed shortly after leaving it. Mr. Goodwin talked with him and will repeat the conversation if you wish it. You may hear everything from Miss Fox and Miss Lindquist that I have heard; and from Miss Fox regarding Mr. Walsh. You may know of the claim which I have presented to Lord Clivers on behalf of Miss Lindquist and her father, which he has offered to settle. But there are certain things you may not know, at least not from me; for instance, the details of a long conversation which I had with Lord Clivers when he called here this afternoon. He can tell you—”
“What’s that?” Skinner sat up, croaking, Hombert goggled. Cramer, who had finally got his cigar lit, jerked it up with his lip so that the ash fell to the rug. Skinner went on, “What are you trying to hand us? Clivers called on you today?”
Wolfe nodded. “He was here over an hour. Perhaps I shouldn’t say today, since it is nearly one o’clock Wednesday morning. Yes, Lord Clivers calledr—w”
We drank eight bottles of beer, and he greatly admired that terrestrial globe you see there.”
Without taking his cigar from his mouth, Cramer rumbled, “I’ll be damned.” Hombert still goggled. Skinner stared, and at length observed, “I’ve never heard of your being a plain liar, Wolfe, but you’re dishing it up.”
“Dishing it up?” Wolfe looked at me. “Does that mean lying, Archie?”
“Naw,” I grinned, “it’s just rhetoric.”
“Indeed.” Wolfe reached to push the button, and leaned back. “So you see, gentlemen, I not only have superior knowledge in this affair, I have it from a superior source. Lord Clivers gave me much interesting information, which of course I cannot consider myself free to reveal.” He turned his eyes on the Police Commissioner. “I understand, Mr. Hombert, that Mr. Devore, Mr. Cramer, and you were all in communication with him, protecting him, following the death of Mr. Scovil. It’s too bad he didn’t see fit to take you into his confidence. Maybe he will do so now, if you approach him properly.”
Hombert sputtered, “I don’t believe this. We’ll check up on this.”
“Do so.” Wolfe opened the bottle and filled his glass. “Will you have beer, gendemen? No? Water? Whisky? Miss Fox? Miss Lindquist? You haven’t asked Miss Lindquist anything. Must she sit here all night?”
Skinner said, “I could use a good stiff highball. Listen, Wolfe, are you telling this straight?”
“Of course I am. Fritz, serve what is required. Why would I be so foolish as to invent such a tale? Let me suggest that the ladies be permitted to retire.”
“Well…” Skinner looked at Hombert. Hombert, tight-lipped, shrugged his shoulders. Skinner turned and asked abruptly, “Your name is Hilda Lindquist?”
Her strong square face looked a little startled at the suddenness of it, then was lifted by her chin. “Yes.”
“You heard everything Clara Fox said. Do you agree with it?”
She stared. “What do you mean, agree with it?”
“I mean, as far as you know, is it true?”
“Certainly it’s true.”
“Where do you live?”
“ Plainview, Nebraska. Near there.”
“When did you get to New York?”
“Last Thursday. Thursday afternoon.”
“All right. That’s all. But understand, you’re not to leave the city—”
Wolfe put in, “My clients will remain in this house until I have cleared up this matter.”
“See that they do.” Skinner grabbed his drink. “So you’re going to clear it up. God bless you. If I had your nerve I’d own Manhattan Island.” He drank.
The clients got up and went. I escorted them to the hall, and while I was out there the doorbell rang. It was Saul Panzer. I went to the kitchen with him and got his report, which didn’t take long. Johnny Keems was there with his chair tipped back against the wall, half asleep, and Purley Stebbins was in a corner, reading a newspaper. I snared myself a glass of milk, took a couple of sips, and carried the rest to the office.
Hombert and Cramer had highballs and Fritz was arranging another one for Skinner.
I said to Wolfe, “Saul’s back. The subject left his office a few minutes before six and showed up at his apartment about a quarter after seven and dressed for dinner. Saul hasn’t been able to trace him in between. Shall he keep after it tonight?”
“No. Send him home. Here at eight in the morning.”
“Yes. No, wait.” Wolfe turned. “Mr. Cramer. Perhaps I can simplify something for you. I know how thorough you are. Doubtless you have discovered that there are various ways of getting into that place on Fifty-fifth Street, and I suppose you have had them all explored. You may even have learned that there was a man there this afternoon, investigating them.”
Cramer was staring at him. “Now, somebody tell me, how did you know that? Yeah, we learned it, and we’ve got a good description, and there are twenty men looking for him …”
Wolfe nodded. “I thought I might save you some trouble. I should have mentioned it before. The man’s out in the kitchen. He was up there for me.”
Cramer went pop-eyed. “But good God! That was before Walsh was killed!” He put his drink down. “Now what kind of a—”
“We wanted to see Walsh, and knew you would have a man posted at the entrance. He was there to find a way. He left a few minutes after six and was here from six-thirty until eight o’clock. You may talk with him if you wish, but it will be a waste of time. My word for it.”
Cramer looked at him, and then at me. He picked up his drink. “To hell with it.”
Wolfe said, “Send Johnny home.”
Cramer said, “And tell Stebbins to go out front and tell Rowcliff to cancel that alarm and call those men in.”
I went to perform those errands, and after letting the trio out I left the door open a crack and told Purley to shut it when he came back in. The enemy was inside anyhow, so there was no point in maintaining the barricade.
Back in the office, Skinner and Hombert were bombarding Wolfe. It had got now to where it was funny. Clivers was the bird they had been busy protecting, and the one they were trying to get out of hanging a murder onto, and here they were begging Wolfe to spill what Clivers had disclosed to him over eight bottles of beer! I sat down and grinned at Cramer, and darned if he didn’t have decency enough to wink back at me. I thought that called for another highball, and went and got it for him.
Skinner, with an open palm outstretched, was actually wheedling. “But, my God, can’t we work together on it? I’ll admit we went at it wrong, but how did we know Clivers was here this afternoon? He won’t tell us a damn thing, and as far as I personally am concerned I’d like to kick his rump clear across the Atlantic Ocean. And I’ll admit we can’t coerce you into telling us this vital information you say you got from Clivers, but we can ask for it, and we do. You know who I am. I’m not a bad friend to have in this county, especially for a man in your business. What’s Clivers to you, anyhow, why the devil should you cover him up?”
“This is bewildering,” Wolfe murmured. “Last night Mr. Cramer told me I should help him to protect a distinguished foreign guest, and now you demand the opposite!”
“All right, have your fun,” Skinner croaked. “But tell us this, at least. Did Clivers say anything to indicate that he had it ready for Mike Walsh?”
Wolfe’s eyelids flickered, and after a moment he turned to me. “Your notebook, Archie. You will find a place where I asked Lord Clivers, ‘Don’t you believe him?’ I was referring to Mr. Walsh. Please read Lord Clivers’ reply.”
I had the notebook and was thumbing it. I looked too far front, and flipped back. Finally I had it, and read it out, “Clivers: «I don’t believe anybody. I know damn well I’m a liar. I’m a diplomat. Look here. You can forget about Walsh. I’ll deal with him myself. I have to keep this thing clear, at least as long as I’m in this country. I’ll deal with Walsh. Scovil is dead. God rest his soul. Let the police do what they can with that. As for the Lindquists…”
Wolfe stopped me with a ringer. “That will do, Archie. Put the notebook away.”
“He will not put it away!” Hombert was beating up the arm of his chair again. “With that in it? We want—”
He stopped to glare at Skinner, who had tapped a toe on his shin. Skinner was ready to melt with sweetness; his tone sounded like Romeo in the balcony scene. “Listen, Wolfe, play with us. Let us have that Your man can type it, or he can dictate from his notes and I’ll bring a man in to take it. Clivers is to sail for Europe Sunday. If we don’t get this thing on ice there’s going to be trouble.”
Wolfe closed his eyes, and after a moment opened them again. They were all gazing at him, Cramer slowly chewing his cigar, Hombert holding in an explosion. Skinner looking innocent and friendly. Wolfe said, “Will you make a bargain with me, Mr. Skinner? Let me ask a few questions. Then, after considering the replies, I shall do what I can for you. I think it is more than likely you will find me helpful.”
Skinner frowned. “What kind of questions?”
“You will hear them.”
A pause. “All right. Shoot.”
Wolfe turned abruptly to the inspector. “Mr. Cramer. You had a man following Mr. Walsh from the time you released him this afternoon, and that man was on post at the entrance of the boarding on Fifty-fifth Street. I’d like to know what it was that caused him to cross the street and enter the enclosure, as reported in the Gazette. Did he hear a shot?”
“No.” Cramer took his cigar from his mouth. “The man’s out in the kitchen. Do you want to hear it from him?”
“I merely want to hear it.”
“Well, I can tell you. Stebbins was away from his post for a few minutes, he’s admitted it. There was a taxi collision at the corner of Madison, and he had to go and look it over, which was bright of him. He says he was away only two minutes, but he may have been gone ten, you know how that is. Anyhow, he finally strolled back, on the south side of Fifty-fifth, and looking across at the entrance of the boarding he saw the door slowly opening, and the face of a man looked out and it wasn’t Walsh. There were pedestrians going by, and the face went back in and the door closed. Stebbins got behind a parked car. In a minute the face looked out again, and there was a man walking by, and the face disappeared again. Stebbins thought it was time to investigate and crossed the street and went in, and it was just lousy luck that that damn newspaper cockroach happened to see him. It was Clivers all right, and Walsh’s body was there on the ground—”
“I know.” Wolfe sighed. “It was lying in front of the telephone. So Mr. Stebbins heard no shot.”
“No. Of course, he was down at the corner and there was a lot of noise.”
“To be sure. Was the weapon on Lord Clivers’ person?”
“No.” Cramer sounded savage. “That’s one of the nice details. We can’t find any gun, except one in Walsh’s pocket that hadn’t been fired. There’s a squad of men still up there, combing it. Also there’s about a thousand hollow steel shafts sticking up from the base construction, and it might have been dropped down one of those.”
“So it might,” Wolfe murmured. “Well … no shot heard, and no gun found.” He looked around at them. “I can’t help observing, gentlemen, that that news relieves me enormously. Moreover, I think you have a right to know that Mr. Goodwin and I heard the shot.”
They stared at him.
Skinner demanded, “You what? What the hell are you talking about?”
Wolfe turned to me. “Tell them, Archie.”
I let them have my open countenance. “This evening,” I said, and corrected it, “—last evening—Mr. Wolfe and I were in this office. At two minutes before seven o’clock the phone rang, and it happened that we both took off our receivers. A voice said, ‘Nero Wolfe!’ It sounded far off but very excited—it sounded—well, unnatural. I said, ‘Yes, talking,’ and the voice said, ‘I’ve got him, come up here. Fifty-fifth Street, this is Mike Walsh, I’ve got him covered, come up.’ The voice was cut off by the sound of an explosion, very loud, as if a gun had been shot close to the telephone. I called Walsh’s name a few times, but there was no answer. We sent a phone call to police headquarters right away.”
I looked around respectfully for approval. Skinner looked concentrated, Hombert looked about ready to bust, and Cramer looked disgusted. The inspector, I could see, didn’t have far to go to get good and sore. He burst out at Wolfe, “What else have you got? First you tell me the man I’ve got the whole force looking for, thinking I’ve got a hot one, is one of your boy scouts acting as advance agent. Now you tell me that the phone call we’re trying to trace about a shot being heard, and you can’t trace a local call anyway with these damn dials, now you tell me you made that too.” He stuck his cigar in his mouth and bit it nearly in two.
“But Mr. Cramer,” Wolfe protested, “is it my fault if destiny likes this address? Did we not notify you at once? Did I not even restrain Mr. Goodwin from hastening to the scene, because I knew you would not want him to intrude?”
Cramer opened his mouth but was speechless. Skinner said, “You heard that shot on the phone at two minutes to seven. That checks. It was five after when Stebbins found Clivers there.” He looked around sort of helpless, like a man who has picked up something he didn’t want. “That seems to clinch it.” He growled at Wolfe, “What makes you so relieved about not finding the gun and Stebbins not hearing the shot, if you heard it yourself?”
“In due time, Mr. Skinner.” Wolfe’s forefinger was gently tapping on the arm of his chair, and I wondered what he was impatient about. “If you don’t mind, let me get on. The paper says that Mr. Stebbins felt Lord Clivers for a weapon. Did he find one?”
“No,” Cramer grunted. “He got talkative enough to tell us that he always carries a pistol, but not with evening dress.”
“But since Lord Clivers had not left the enclosure, and since no weapon can be found, how could he possibly have been the murderer?”
“We’ll find it,” Cramer asserted gloomily. “There’s a million places in there to hide a gun, and we’ll have to get into those shafts somehow. Or he might have thrown it over the fence. We’ll find it. He did it, damn it. You’ve ruined the only outside leads I had.”
Wolfe wagged his head at him. “Cheer up, Mr. Cramer. Tell me this, please. Since Mr. Stebbins followed Mr. Walsh all afternoon, I presume you know their itinerary. What was it?”
Skinner growled, “Don’t start stalling, Wolfe. Let’s get—”
“I’m not stalling, sir. An excellent word, Mr. Cramer?”
The inspector dropped his cigar in the tray. “Well, Walsh stopped at a lunch counter on Franklin near Broadway and ate. He kept looldng around, but Stebbins thinks he didn’t wise up. Then he took a surface car north and got off at Twenty-seventh Street and walked west. He went in the Seaboard Building and took the elevator and got off at the thirty-second floor and went into the executive offices of the Seaboard Products Corporation. Stebbins waited out in the hall. Walsh was in there nearly an hour. He took the elevator down again, and Stebbins didn’t want to take the same one and nearly lost him. He walked east and went into a drug store and used a telephone in a booth. Then he took the subway and went to a boarding house in East Sixty-fourth Street, where he lived, and he left again a little after half past five and walked to his job at Fifty-fifth Street. He got there a little before six.”
Wolfe had leaned back and closed his eyes. They all looked at him.
Cramer got out another cigar and bit off the end and fingered his tongue for the shreds. Hombert demanded, “Well, are you asleep?”
Wolfe didn’t move, but he spoke. “About that visit Mr. Walsh made at the Seaboard Products Corporation. Do you know whom he saw there?”
“No, how could I? Stebbins didn’t go in. Even if there had been any reason—the office was closed by the time I got Stebbins’s report. What difference does it make?”
“Not much.” Wolfe’s tone was mild, but to me, who knew it so well, there was a thrill in it. “No, not much. There are cases when a conjecture is almost as good as a fact—even, sometimes, better.” Suddenly he opened his eyes, sat up, and got brisk. “That’s all, gentlemen. It is past two o’clock, and Mr. Goodwin is yawning. You will hear from me tomorrow—today, rather.”
Skinner shook his head wearily. “Oh, no no no. Honest to God, Wolte, you’re the worst I’ve ever seen for trying to put over fast ones. There’s a lot to do yet. Could I have another highball?”
Wolfe sighed. “Must we start yapping again?” He wiggled a finger at the District Attorney. “I offered you a bargain, sir. I said if I could get replies to a few questions I would consider them and would then do what I could for you. Do you think I can consider them properly at this time of night? I assure you I cannot. I am not quibbling. I have gone much further than you gentlemen along the path to the solution of this puzzle, and I am confronted by one difficulty which must be solved before anything can be done. When it will be solved I cannot say. I may light on it ten minutes from now, while I am undressing for bed, or it may require extended investigation and labor. Confound it, do you realize it will be dawn in less than four hours? It was past three when I retired last night.”
He put his hands on the edge of his desk and pushed his chair back, rose to his feet, and pulled at the comers of his vest where a wide band of canary-yellow shirt puffed out.
“Daylight will serve us better. No more tonight, short of the rack and the thumbscrew. You will hear from me.”
Cramer got up too, saying to Hombert, “He’s always like this. You might as well stick pins in a rhinoceros,”