My dinner was interrupted twice. Saul Panzer came before I had finished my soup, and Fred Durkin arrived while we were in the middle of the beet and vegetables. I went to the office both times and gave them their instructions and told them some hurry would do.
Wolfe made it a rule never to talk business at table, but we got a little forward at that, because he steered Hilda Lindquist and Mike Walsh into the talk and we found out things about them. She was the daughter of Victor Lindquist, now nearly eighty years old and in no shape to travel, and she lived with him on their wheat farm in Nebraska. Apparently it wasn’t coffee cups she snapped in her fingers, it was threshing machines. Clara Fox had finally found her, or rather her father, through Harlan Scovil, and she had come east for the clean-up on the chance that she might get enough to pay off a few dozen mortgages and perhaps get something extra for a new tractor, or at least a mule.
Walsh had gone through several colors before fading out to his present dim obscurity. He had made three good stakes in Nevada and California and had lost all of them. He had tried his hand as a building contractor in Colorado early in the century, made a pile, and dropped it when a sixtyfoot dam had gone down the canyon three days after he had finished it.
He had come back east and made a pass at this and that, but apparently had used up all his luck. At present he was night watchman on a constructing job up at 5^th and Madison, and he was inclined to be sore on account of the three dollars he was losing by paying a substitute in order to keep this appointment with Clara Fox. She had found him a year ago through an ad in the paper.
Wolfe was the gracious host. He saw that Mike Walsh got two rye highballs and the women a bottle of claret, and like a gentleman he gave Walsh two extra slices of the beef, smothered with sauce, which he would have sold his soul for. But he wouldn’t let Walsh light his pipe when the coffee came. He said he had asthma, which was a lie. Pipe smoke didn’t bother him much, either. He was just sore at Walsh because he had had to give up the beef, and he took it out on him that way.
We hadn’t any more than got back to the office, a little after nine o’clock, and settled into our chairs—the whole company present this time—when the doorbell rang. I went out to the front door and whirled the lock and slid the bolt, and opened it. Fred Durkin stepped in. He looked worried, and I snapped at him, “Didn’t you get it?”
“Sure I got it.”
“What’s the matter?”
“Well, it was funny. Is Wolfe here? Maybe he’d like to hear it too.”
I glared at him, fixed the door, and led him to the office. He went across and stood in front of Wolfe’s desk.
“I got the car, Mr. Wolfe. It’s in the garage. But Archie didn’t say anything about bringing a dick along with it, so I pushed him off. He grabbed a taxi and followed me. When I left the car in the garage just now and walked here, he walked too. He’s out on the sidewalk across the street.”
“Indeed.” Wolfe’s voice was thin; he disliked after-dinner irritations. “Suppose you introduce us to the dick first. Where did you meet him?”
Fred shifted his hat to his other hand. He never could talk to Wolfe without getting fussed up, but I must admit there was often enough reason for it. Fred Durkin was as honest as sunshine, and as good a tailer as I ever saw, but he wasn’t as brilliant as sunshine. Warm and cloudy today and tomorrow. He said, “Well, I went to the garage and showed the note to the guy, and he said all right, wait there and he’d bring it down. He went off and in a couple of minutes a man with a wide mouth came up and asked me if I was going for a ride. I’d never saw him before, but I’d have known he was a city feller if I’d had my eyes shut and just touched him with my finger. I supposed he was working on something and was just looking under stones, so I just answered something friendly. He said if I was going for a ride I’d better get a horse, because the car I came for was going to remain there for the present.”
Wolfe murmured, “So you apologized and went to a drug store to telephone here for instructions.”
Fred looked startled. “No, sir, I didn’t. My instructions was to get that car, and I got it. That dick had no documents or nothing, in fact he didn’t have nothing but a wide mouth. I went upstairs with him after me. When the garage guy saw the kind of an argument it might be he just disappeared.
I ran the car down on the elevator myself and got into the street and headed east. The dick jumped on the running board, and when I reached around to brush a speck off the windshield I accidentally pushed the dick off. By that time he was at Third Avenue and he hopped a taxi and followed me. When I got to Tenth Avenue, inside your garage, I turned the car inside out, but there was nothing there but tools and an old lead pencil and a busted dog leash and a half a package of Omar cigarettes and—”
Wolfe put up a palm at him. “And the dick is now across the street?”
“Yes, sir. He was when I come in.”
“Excellent. I hope he doesn’t escape in the dark. Go to the kitchen and tell Fritz to give you a cyanide sandwich.”
Fred shifted his hat. “I’m sorry, sir, if I—”
“Go! Any kind of a sandwich. Wait in the kitchen. If we find ourselves getting into difficulties here, we shall need you.”
Fred went. Wolfe leaned back in his chair and got his fingers laced on his belly; his lips were moving, out and in, and out and in. At length he opened his eyes enough for Clara Fox to see that he was looking at her.
“Well. We were too late. I told you you were wasting time.”
She lifted her brows. “Too late for what?”
“To keep you out of jail. Isn’t it obvious? What reason could there be for watching your car except to catch you trying to go somewhere in it? And is it likely they would be laying for you if they had not already found the money?”
“Found it where?”
“I couldn’t say. Perhaps in the car itself. I am not a necromancer. Miss Fox. Now, before we—”
The phone rang, and I took it. It was Saul Panzer. I listened and got his story, and then told him to hold the wire and turned to Wolfe.
“Saul. From a pay station at Sixty-second and Madison. There was a dick playing tag with himself in front of Miss Fox’s address. Saul went through the apartment and drew a blank. Now he thinks the dick is sticking there, but he’s not sure. It’s possible he’s being followed, and if so should he shake the dick and then come here, or what?”
“Tell him to come here. By no means shake the dick. He may know the one Fred brought, and in that case they might like to have a talk.”
I told Saul, and hung up.
Wolfe was still leaning back, with his eyes half closed. Mike Walsh sat with his closed entirely, his head swaying on one side, and his breathing deep and even in the silence. Hilda Lindquist’s shoulders sagged, but her face was flushed and her eyes bright. Clara Fox had her lips tight enough to make her look determined.
Wolfe said, “Wake Mr. Walsh. Having attended to urgencies—in vain—
we may now at our leisure fill in some gaps. Regarding the fantastic business of the Rubber Band. Mr. Walsh, a sharp blow with your hand at the back of your neck will help. A drink of water? Very well. Did I understand you to say, Miss Fox, that you have found George Rowley?”
She nodded. “Two weeks ago.”
“Tell me about it.”
“But Mr. Wolfe … those detectives …”
“To be sure. You remember I told you you should be tied in your cradle?
For the present, this house is your cradle. You are safe here. We shall return to that little problem. Tell me about George Rowley.”
She drew a breath. “Well … we found him. I began a long while ago to do what I could, which wasn’t much. Of course I couldn’t afford to go to England, or send someone, or anything like that. But I gathered some information. For instance, I learned the names of all the generals who had commanded brigades in the British Army during the war, and as well as I could from this distance I began to eliminate them. There were hundreds and hundreds of them still alive, and of course I didn’t know whetner the one I wanted was alive or not. I did lots of things, and some o£ them were pretty bright if I am a fool. I had found Mike Walsh through an advertisement, and I got photographs of scores of them and showed them to him. Of course, the fact that George Rowley had lost the lobe of his right ear was a help. On several occasions, when I learned in the newspapers that a British general or ex-general was in New York, I managed to get a look at him, and sometimes Mike Walsh did too. Two weeks ago another one came, and in a photograph in the paper it looked as if the bottom of his right ear was off. Mike Walsh stood in front of his hotel all one afternoon when he should have been asleep, and saw him, and it was George Rowley.”
Wolfe nodded. “That would be the Marquis of Clivers.”
“How do you know that?”
“Not by divination. It doesn’t matter. Congratulations, Miss Fox.”
“Thank you. The Marquis of Clivers was going to Washington the next day, but he was coming back. I tried to see him that very evening, but couldn’t get to him. I cabled a connection I had made in London, and learned that the marquis owned big estates and factories and mines and a yacht. I had been communicating with Hilda Lindquist and Harlan Scovil for some time, and I wired them to come on and sent them money for the trip. Mr. Scovil wouldn’t take the money. He wrote me that he had never – taken any woman-money and wasn’t going to start.” She smiled at Wolfe and me too. “I guess he was afraid of adventuresses. He said he would sell some calves. Saturday morning I got a telegram that he would get here Monday, so I telephoned your office for an appointment. When I saw him this noon I showed him two pictures of the Marquis of Clivers, and be said it was George Rowley. I had a hard time to keep him from going to the hotel after the marquis right then.”
Wolfe wiggled a finger at her, “But what made you think you needed me? I detect no lack of confidence in your operations to date.” “Oh, I always thought we’d have to have a lawyer at the windup. I had read about you and admired you.”
“I’m not a lawyer.”
“I shouldn’t think that would matter. I only know three lawyers, and if you saw them you would know why I chose you.”
“You sound like a fool again.” Wolfe sighed. “Do you wish me to believe that I was selected for my looks?”
“No, indeed. That would be … anyhow, I selected you. When I told you what your fee might be, I wasn’t exaggerating. Let’s say his estates and mines and so on are worth fifty million—”
“Dollars. That’s conservative. He agreed to pay half of it. Twenty-five million. But there are two of the men I can’t find. I haven’t found a trace of Rubber Coleman, the leader, or the man called Turtle-back. I have tried hard to find Rubber Coleman, because be had the papers, but I couldn’t. On the twenty-five million take off their share, one-third, and that leaves roughly sixteen million. Make allowances for all kinds of things, anything you could think of—take off, say, just for good measure, fifteen million. That leaves a million dollars. That’s what I asked him for a week ago.”
“You asked who for? Lord Clivers?”
“You said you were unable to see him.”
“That was before he went to Washington. When he came back I tried again. I had made an acquaintance … he has some assistants with him on his mission—diplomats and so on—and I had got acquainted with one two weeks ago, and through him I got to the marquis, thinking I might manage it without any help. He was very unpleasant. When he found out what I was getting at, he ordered me out. He claimed he didn’t know what I was talking about, and when I wanted to show him the letter my father had written in 1918, he wouldn’t look at it. He told the young man whom he called to take me away that I was an adventuress.”
She wasn’t through. But the doorbell rang, and I went to answer it. I thought it just possible that a pair might rush me, and there was no advantage in a roughhouse, so I left the bolt and chain on until I saw it was Saul Panzer. Then I opened up and let him in, and shut the door and slid the bolt again.
Saul is about the smallest practicing dick, public or private, that I’ve ever seen, and he has the biggest scope. He can’t push over buildings because he simply hasn’t got the size, but there’s no other kind of a job he wouldn’t earn his money on. It’s hard to tell what he looks like, because you can’t see his face for his nose. He had a big long cardboard box under his arm.
I took him to the office. As he sidled past a chair to get to Wolfe’s desk he passed one sharp glance around, and I knew that gave him a print of those three sitting there which would fade out only when he did.
Wolfe greeted him. “Good evening, Saul.”
“Good evening, Mr. Wolfe. Of course Archie told you my phone call. There’s not much to add. When I arrived the detective was there on the sidewalk. His name is Bill Purvil. I saw him once about four years ago in Brooklyn, when we had that Moschenden case. He didn’t recognize me on the sidewalk. But when I went in at that entrance he followed me. I figured it was better to go ahead. There was a phone in the apartment. If I found the package I could phone Archie to come and get into the court from Sixtieth Street, and throw it to him from a back window. When the detective saw I was going into that apartment with a key, he stopped me to ask questions, and I answered what occurred to me. He stayed out in die hall and I locked the door on the inside. I went through the place.
The package isn’t there. I came out and the detective foUowed me downstairs to the sidewalk. I phoned from a drug store. I don’t think he tried to follow me, but I made sure it didn’t work if he did.”
Wolfe nodded. “Satisfactory. And your bundle?”
Saul got the box from under his arm and put it on the desk. “I guess it’s Bowers. It has a name on it, Drummond, the Park Avenue florist. It was on the floor of the hall right at the door of the apartment, apparently been delivered, addressed Miss Clara Fox. My instructions were to search only the apartment, so I hesitated to open this box, because it wasn’t in the apartment. But I didn’t want to leave it there, because it was barely possible that what you want was in it. So I brought it along.”
“Good. Satisfactory again. May we open it. Miss Fox?”
I got up to help. Saul and I pulled off the fancy gray tape and took the lid off. Standing, we were the only ones who could see in. I said, “It’s a thousand roses.”
Clara Fox jumped up to look. I reached in the box and picked up an envelope and took a card from the envelope. I squinted at it—it was scrawly writing—and read it out, “Francis Horrocks?”
She nodded. “That’s my acquaintance. The man that ejected me for the Marquis of Clivers. He’s a young diplomat with a special knowledge of the Far East. Aren’t they beautiful? Look, Hilda. Smell. They are very nice.”
She carried them to Wolfe. “Aren’t they a beautiful color, Mr. Wolfe? Smell.” She looked at Mike Walsh, but he was asleep again, so she put the box back on the desk and sat down.
Wolfe was rubbing his nose which she had tickled with the roses. “Saul. Take those to the kitchen and have Fritz put them in water. Remain there. You must see my orchids. Miss Fox, but that can wait. Mr. Walsh! Archie, wake him, please.”
I reached out and gave Walsh a dig, and he jerked up and glared at me. He protested, “Hey! It’s too warm in here. I’m never as warm as this after supper.”
Wolfe wiggled a finger at him. “If you please, Mr. Walsh. Miss Fox has been giving us some details, such as your recognition of the Marquis of Clivers. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
“Sure.” Walsh pulled the rips of his fingers across his eyes, and stretched his eyes open. “What about it?”
“Did you recognize the Marquis of Clivers as George Rowley?”
“Sure I did. Who says I didn’t?”
“As yet, no one. Are you positive it was the same man?”
“Yes. I told you at the table, I’m always positive.”
“So you did. Among other things. You told me that through ancient habit, and on your post as a night watchman, you carry a gun. You also told me that you suspected Harlan Scovil of being an Englishman, and that all English blood was bad blood. Do you happen to have your gun with you? Could I see it?”
“I’ve got a license.”
“Of course. Could I see it? Just as a favor?”
Walsh growled something to himself, but after a moment’s hesitation he leaned forward and reached to his hip and pulled out a gat. He looked at it, and rubbed his left palm caressingly over the barrel, and then got up and poked the butt at Wolfe. Wolfe took it, glanced at it, and held it out to me. I gave it a mild inspection. It was an old Folwell.44. It was loaded, the cylinder full, and there was no smell of any recent activity around the muzzle. I glanced at Wolfe and caught his little nod, and returned the cannon to Mike Walsh, who caressed it again before he put it back in his pocket.
Clara Fox said, “Who’s wasting time now, Mr. Wolfe? You haven’t told us yet—”
Wolfe stopped her. “Don’t begin again. Miss Fox. Please. Give me a chance to earn my share of that million. Though I must confess that my opinion is that you might all of you sell out for a ten-dollar bill and call it a good bargain. What have you to go on? Really nothing. The paper which George Rowley signed was entrusted to Rubber Coleman, whom you have been unable to find. The only other basis for a legal claim would be a suit by the man called Turtle-back to recover the value of his horse, and since Mr. Walsh has told us that Turtle-back was over fifty years old in 189?, he is in all likelihood dead. There are only two methods by which you can get anything out of the Marquis of Clivers; one is to attempt to establish a legal claim by virtue of contract, for which you would need a lawyer, not a detective. You have yourself already done the detective work, quite thoroughly. The other method is to attempt to scare the marquis into paying you, through threat of public exposure of his past. That is an ancient and often effective method, technically known as blackmail. It is not—”
She interrupted him, cool but positive. “It isn’t blackmail to try to collect something from a man that he promised to pay.”
Wolfe nodded. ‘It’s a nice point. Morally he owes it. But where’s the paper he signed? Anyway, let me finish. I myself am in a quandary. When you first told me the nature of the commission you were offering me, I was prepared to decline it without much discussion. Then another element entered in, of which you are stall ignorant, which lent the affair fresh interest. Of course, interest is not enough; before that comes the question, who is going to pay me? I shall expect—”
Mike Walsh squawked, “Ten per cent!”
Clara Fox said, “I told you, Mr. Wolfe—”
“Permit me. I shall expect nothing exorbitant. It happens that my bank account is at present in excellent condition, and therefore my cupidity is comparatively dormant. Still, I have a deep aversion to working without getting paid for it. I have accepted you. Miss Fox, as my client. I may depend on you?”
She nodded impatiently. “Of course you may. What is the other element that entered in of which I am still ignorant?”
“Oh. That.” Wolfe’s half-closed eyes took in all three faces. “At twentyfive minutes to six this evening, less than five hours ago, on Thirty-first Street near Tenth Avenue, Harlan Scovil was shot and killed.”
Mike Walsh jerked up straight in his chair. They all gaped at Wolfe.
Wolfe said, “He was walking along the sidewalk, and someone going by in an automobile shot him five times. He was dead when a passerby reached him. The automobile has been found, empty of course, on Ninth Avenue.”
Clara Fox gasped incredulously, “Harlan Scovil!” Hilda Lindquist sat with her fists suddenly clenched and her lower lip pushing her upper lip toward her nose. Mike Walsh was glaring at Wolfe. He exploded suddenly, “Ye’re a howling idiot!”
Wolfe’s being called an idiot twice in one evening was certainly a record. I made a note to grin when I got time. Clara Fox was saying, “But Mr.Wolfe … it can’t … how can …”
Walsh went on exploding, “So you hear of some shooting, and you want to smell my gun? Ye’re an idiot! Of all the dirty—” He stopped himself suddenly and leaned on his hands on his knees, and his eyes narrowed. He looked pretty alert and competent for a guy seventy years old. “To hell with that. Where’s Harlan? I want to see him.”
Wolfe wiggled a finger at him. “Compose yourself, Mr. Walsh. All in time. As you see, Miss Fox, this is quite a complication.”
“It’s terrible. Why … it’s awful. He’s really killed?”
Hilda Lindquist spoke suddenly. “I didn’t want to come here. I told you that. I thought it was a wild goose chase. My father made me. I mean, he’s old and sick and he wanted me to come because he thought maybe we could get enough to save the farm.”
Wolfe nodded. “And now, of course …”
Her square chin stuck out. “Now I’m glad I came, I’ve often heard my father talk about Harlan Scovil. He would have been killed anyway, whether I came or not, and now I’m glad I’m here to help. You folks will have to tell me what to do, because I don’t know. But if that marquis thinks he can refuse to talk to us and then shoot us down on the street … we’ll see.”
“I haven’t said the marquis shot him. Miss Lindquist.”
“Who else did?”
I thought from her tone she was going to tell him not to be an idiot, but she let it go at that and looked at him.
Wolfe said, “I can’t tell you. But I have other details for you. This afternoon Harlan Scovil came to this office. He told Mr. Goodwin that he came in advance of the time for the interview to see what kind of a man I was. At twenty-six minutes after five, while he was waiting to see me, he received a telephone call from a man. He left at once. You remember that shortly after you arrived this evening a caller came and you were asked to go to the front room. The caller was a city detective. He informed us of the murder, described the corpse, and said that in his pocket had been found a paper bearing my name and address, and also the names of Clara Fox, Hilda Lindquist, Michael Walsh, and the Marquis of Clivers. Scovil had been shot just nine minutes after he received that phone call here and left the house.”
Clara Fox said, “I saw him write those names on the paper. He did it while he was eating lunch with me.”
“Just so. Mr. Walsh. Did you telephone Scovil here at five-twenty-six?”
“Of course not. How could I? That’s a damn fool question. I didn’t know he was here.”
“I suppose not. But I thought possibly Scovil had arranged to meet you here. When Scovil arrived it happened that there was another man in the office, one of my clients, and Scovil approached him and told him he wasn’t Mike Walsh.”
‘“Well, was he? I’m Mike Walsh, look at me. The only arrangement I had to meet him was at six o’clock, through Miss Fox. Shut up about it. I asked you where Harlan is. I want to see him.”
“In time, sir. Miss Fox. Did you telephone Scovil here?”
She shook her head. “No. Oh, no. I thought you said it was a man.”
“So it seemed. Fritz might possibly have been mistaken. Was it you who phoned. Miss Lindquist?”
“No. I haven’t telephoned anyone in New York except Clara.”
“Well.” Wolfe sighed. “You see the little difficulty, of course. Whoever telephoned knew that Scovil was in New York and knew he was at this office. Who knew that except you three?”
Hilda Lindquist said, “The Marquis of Clivers knew it.”
“How do you know that?”
“I don’t know it. I see it. Clara had been to see him and he had threatened to have her arrested for annoying him. He had detectives follow her, and they saw her this noon with Harlan Scovil, and they followed Harlan Scovil here and then notified the Marquis of Clivers. Then he telephoned—”
“Possible, Miss Lindquist. I admit it’s possible. If you substitute for the detective a member of the marquis’s entourage, even more possible. But granted that we rather like that idea, do you think the police will? A British peer, in this country on a government mission of the highest importance, murdering Harlan Scovil on Thirty-first Street? I have known quite a few policemen, and I am almost certain that idea wouldn’t appeal to them.”
Mike Walsh said, “To hell with the dumb Irish cops.”
Clara Fox asked, “The detective that was here … the one that told you about… about the shooting. Our names were on that paper. Why didn’t he want to see us?”
“He did. Badly. But I observed that there were no addresses on the paper except my own, so he is probably having difficulty. I decided not to mention that all of you happened to be here at the moment, because I wanted a talk with you and I knew he would monopolize your evening.”
“The detective at my apartment… he may have been there … about this …”
“No. There had hardly been time enough. Besides, there was one at the garage too.”
Clara Fox looked at him, and took a deep breath. “I seem to be in a fix.”
“Two fixes. Miss Fox.” Wolfe rang for beer. “But it is possible that before we are through we may be able to effect a merger.”