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Authors: Ellery Queen

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BOOK: Greek Coffin Mystery
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“Can you perform an autopsy all right on Khalkis?” asked Pepper anxiously. “After all, he was embalmed.”

“Doesn’t make a particle of difference,” said the Assistant Medical Examiner. “They don’t remove any vital organs in embalming. If there’s anything wrong, I’ll find it. Matter of fact, the embalming helps matters. It’s served to preserve the body—there isn’t the slightest sign of putrefaction.”

“I think,” said the Inspector, “we’ll find out a little more about the circumstances surrounding Khalkis’ death. There may be a clew to this feller Grimshaw there. Doc, you’ll see that the bodies are taken care of?”

“Sure thing.”

Dr. Frost put on his hat and coat and, somewhat coldly, took his leave. In Khalkis’ study the Inspector found a headquarters fingerprint expert busily going over the room. His eyes lighted at sight of the Inspector, and he hurried over.

“Find anything, Jimmy?” asked the Inspector in a low tone.

“Lots, but none of it means anything. This place is lousy with prints. All over the place. I understand there’ve been a million people tramping in and out of here all week.”

“Well,” sighed the Inspector, “do what you can. Suppose you go into that drawing-room across the hall and take prints of the little corpse. The man we think is Grimshaw. Bring the file set from h.q.?”

“Yeah.” Jimmy hurried from the room.

Flint came in and said to the Inspector, “Morgue ’bus is here.”

“Get the boys in. But tell ’em to wait until Jimmy is finished across the hall.”

Five minutes later the fingerprint expert entered the study wearing a look of satisfaction. “That’s Grimshaw, all right,” he said. “The prints match the gallery set.” His face fell. “Sort of went over that coffin, too,” he said disgustedly. “But it’s chockful o’ prints. Won’t get anything out of it. I’ll bet every dick in town’s had his mitts on it.”

Photographers were filling the room with silent flashes. The library became a miniature battlefield. Dr. Prouty came in to say good-by; the two bodies and the coffin were carted out of the house; Jimmy and the photographers departed; and the Inspector, smacking his lips, shooed Ellery and Pepper into the library and shut the door.

9 … CHRONICLES

A
LOUD KNOCK ON
the door, and Sergeant Velie opened it an inch. He nodded, admitted a man, and closed the door again.

The newcomer was a roly-poly, greasy individual; Inspector Queen discovered that he was Trikkala, the Greek interpreter, and at once set him to questioning Demmy concerning the imbecile’s movements on Friday night of the previous week.

Alan Cheney contrived to slip into a seat near Joan Brett. He gulped, then whispered shyly, “Evidently my mother’s talent for interpreting Greek isn’t trusted by the Inspector”—obviously as an excuse for speaking to Joan; but she turned her head to give him a frigid stare and he smiled weakly.

Demmy’s eyes took on a flicker of intelligence. He was apparently unaccustomed to being the object of public interest, and some amorphous emotion of vanity stirred within him, for his dull face became wreathed in smiles and his Greek stuttered faster than before,

“He says,” reported Trikkala, in a voice as greasy as himself, “he says that his cousin sent him to bed that night, and that he saw and he heard nothing.”

The Inspector peered curiously at the tall shambling Caricature of a man standing by the interpreter. “Now ask him what happened the next morning when he awoke—Saturday, last Saturday, the day his cousin died.”

Trikkala fired a mouthful of harsh syllables at Demmy; Demmy, blinking, replied in a more halting version of the same language. The interpreter turned to the Inspector. “He says his cousin Georg’s voice woke him up that morning, calling to him from his bedroom next door. He says he got up, he dressed, he went into his cousin’s bedroom, he helped his cousin to rise and dress.”

“Ask him what time that was,” directed the old man.

A brief colloquy. “He says it was half-past eight in the morning.”

“How is it,” inquired Ellery sharply, “that this man Demmy had to dress Georg Khalkis? Miss Brett, didn’t you say before that Khalkis was not helpless, despite his blindness?”

Joan shrugged her cleanly curved shoulders. “You see, Mr. Queen, Mr. Khalkis took his blindness very hard. He was always an energetic person, and he would never admit, even to himself, that the loss of his sight made any difference in his normal life. That’s why he insisted on keeping a tight rein on the welfare of his Galleries. That’s why, too, he insisted that no one ever touch a single article in this room or his bedroom. Nobody has ever so much as moved a chair out of its accustomed place in here during Mr. Khalkis’ life as a blind man. In this way he always knew where everything was and could get about his own little series of rooms with perfect facility, just as if he could see.”

“But you’re not answering my question, Miss Brett,” said Ellery gently. “It would seem, from what you’ve just said, that he would refuse assistance in such a simple matter as getting out of bed and dressing. Surely he could dress himself?”

“You’re so terribly keen, aren’t you, Mr. Queen?” Joan smiled and Alan Cheney rose suddenly and returned to his old place by the wall. “It would seem so. I don’t think that Demmy meant to convey the idea that he actually assisted Mr. Khalkis out of bed, or even helped him physically to dress. You see, there was one thing Mr. Khalkis
couldn’t
do, and
had
to have help in doing.”

“And what was that?” Ellery was toying with his
pince-nez,
his eyes alert.

“Selecting his clothes!” she said triumphantly. “He was an extremely fastidious person. His clothes had to be top-hole. And, being blind, he could not select his day’s wardrobe. So Demmy always did that for him.”

Demmy, who had been gawping at this incomprehensible interlude in his questioning, must have felt neglected, for he suddenly erupted in a shower of Greek. Trikkala said: “He wants to proceed with his story. He says he dressed his cousin Georg according to schedule. He—”

The Queens interrupted simultaneously: “According to schedule?”

Joan laughed. “It’s a pity I can’t speak Greek. … You see, Inspector, Demmy has never been able to assimilate the intricacies of Mr. Khalkis’ wardrobe. As I said, Mr. Khalkis was very finical about his clothes—he had many suits and always wore something different every day. A completely new ensemble. If Demmy had been a valet of ordinary intelligence, the problem would have been simple. But Demmy is naturally feeble-minded and, to save himself the bother of commanding a new ensemble each morning, Mr. Khalkis had cleverly arranged a written schedule, in Greek, prescribing for Demmy’s edification a definite ensemble for each day in the week. This put no tax on poor Demmy’s stunted brain. The schedule was flexible. If Mr. Khalkis desired to alter any day’s prescribed ensemble, he gave Demmy oral instructions in their native language.”

“The schedule was used over and over again?” asked the Inspector. “I mean, did Khalkis make out a new schedule every week?”

“Oh, no! It was a seven-day schedule, repeated each week. When his suits showed signs of wear—or what Mr. Khalkis thought were signs of wear from his sense of touch; he was very stubborn about those things and wouldn’t take any one’s word—he merely had the worn garment exactly duplicated by his tailor. He followed the same plan with his haberdasher, booter, and so on. In this way, the schedule has remained the same ever since Mr. Khalkis’ blindness.”

“Interesting,” murmured Ellery. “I suppose it prescribed evening ensembles also?”

“No indeed. Mr. Khalkis religiously wore strict evening clothes every night; this was something which didn’t strain Demmy’s memory, and so it wasn’t in the schedule.”

“All right,” growled the Inspector. “Trikkala, you ask this half-wit what happened next.”

Trikkala’s hands described a few heated arcs, and the words flew out of his mouth. Demmy’s face became almost animated. He held forth at length, quite amiably, and Trikkala finally stopped him, wiping his forehead desperately. “He says he dressed his cousin Georg according to schedule. It was about nine o’clock when he and his cousin left the bedroom and went into the library.”

Joan said: “It was Mr. Khalkis’ custom to confer with Mr. Sloane in the study at nine each morning. When he was finished talking over the day’s affairs with Mr. Sloane, I used to take his dictation.”

Trikkala continued: “This man says nothing about that. He says he left his cousin sitting at the desk here and went away from the house. I cannot exactly make out what he tries to say, Inspector Queen. It is something about a doctor, but his speech is mixed up. He is not all there, hey?”

“No, he isn’t,” grumbled the Inspector, “darn the luck. Miss Brett, do you know what he’s trying to tell the interpreter?”

“I fancy he meant to say that he went to visit Dr. Bellows, the psychiatrist. You see, Mr. Khalkis tried always to improve Demmy’s mental condition, although he’d been told repeatedly that Demmy’s case was quite hopeless. Dr. Bellows became interested, secured some one who knew how to speak Greek, and he has kept Demmy under observation at his office, a few squares away. Demmy visits Dr. Bellows twice a month, on Saturdays. He must have gone to Dr. Bellows’ office. At any rate, he returned at about five in the afternoon. Mr. Khalkis had died meanwhile, and nobody had thought in the confusion of the afternoon to notify Demmy. So when he reached home he knew nothing about his cousin’s death.”

“It was very sad,” sighed Mrs. Sloane. “Poor Demmy! I told him, and he took on dreadfully. He whimpered like a child. In his own poor feeble-minded way, he was very fond of Georg.”

“All right, Trikkala. Tell him to stay here, and stand by yourself. We may need him again.” The Inspector turned to Gilbert Sloane. “Evidently you were the next after Demmy to see Khalkis last Saturday morning, Mr. Sloane. Did you meet him here at nine, as usual?”

Sloane cleared his throat nervously. “Not exactly,” he said in his slightly simpering voice. “You see, while I met Georg in the study here every morning strictly at nine, last Saturday I overslept—I’d worked particularly late at the Galleries the night before. So I didn’t get downstairs until a quarter after nine. Georg seemed a little—well, put out because I had kept him waiting. He was very cross and grumpy; he’d become unusually so in late months, probably because of his growing feeling of helplessness.”

Inspector Queen applied snuff to his thin nostrils, I sneezed, and said very deliberately, “Was there anything amiss in this room when you came in that morning?”

“I don’t see … Why, of course not. Everything was as usual. Normal, I should say.”

“Was he alone?”

“Oh, yes. He did remark that Demmy had gone out.”

“Tell me exactly what happened while you were with him.”

“Nothing important, Inspector, I assure you—”

The Inspector snapped: “Everything, I said.
I’ll
judge what’s important and what isn’t, Mr. Sloane!”

“As a matter of fact,” commented Pepper, “nobody here seems to consider anything important, Inspector.”

Ellery murmured, in a jingly rhythm:
“‘Wie machen wir’s, dass alles frisch und neu

Und mit Bedeutung auch gefällig sei?’”
*

Pepper blinked. “Eh?”

“Goethe in a twinkling mood,” said Ellery gravely.

“Oh, don’t mind him. … Well, we’ll change their attitude about
that,
Pepper!” The Inspector glared at Sloane. “Go on, Mr. Sloane. Go on. Spill it all. Even if it’s a matter of Khalkis having cleared his throat.”

Sloane looked bewildered. “But … Well, sir, we went through the business of the day quickly. Georg seemed to have something on his mind aside from sales and collections.”

“Good!”

“He was brusque with me, very brusque. I was quite put out, I assure you, Inspector. I didn’t like his tone, and I told him so. Yes. He half-apologized in the growl he used when he was angry. Perhaps he felt that he’d overstepped himself, because he changed the subject abruptly. He was fingering the red tie he was wearing, and he said, in a much calmer tone: ‘I think this tie is losing its shape, Gilbert.’ Of course, he was just making conversation. I reassured him, saying: ‘Oh, no, Georg, it looks quite all right.’ He said, ‘Well, it’s flabby—I can feel it’s flabby, Gilbert. Before you leave remind me to call Barrett’s and order some new ties like the one I’m wearing.’ Barrett’s is his haberdasher—I should say ‘was.’ … Well, that was Georg’s way; there was nothing wrong with the necktie, but he was very fussy about his appearance. I don’t know if all this—” he said doubtfully.

Before the Inspector could speak, Ellery said sharply: “Go on, Mr. Sloane. And did you remind him before you left?”

Sloane blinked. “Naturally. I think Miss Brett will bear me out. You remember, don’t you, Miss Brett?” he asked anxiously, turning to the girl. “You had come into the room just before Georg and I finished talking over the day’s affairs—you were waiting to take some dictation.” Joan nodded emphatically. “There, you see?” said Sloane in a triumphant voice. “That’s just what I was about to say. Before I left, I said to Georg: ‘You asked me to remind you, Georg, about the ties.’ He nodded, and I left the house.”

“And that’s all that happened between you and Khalkis that morning?” demanded the Inspector.

“That’s all, sir. Everything exactly as I’ve told you—our exact words. I didn’t go to the Galleries at once—I had a business appointment downtown—so it wasn’t until I got to the Galleries two hours later that I was informed by one of our employees, Miss Bohm, that Georg had died not long after I’d left the house. Mr. Suiza here had already gone to the house. I went back at once—the Galleries are only a few blocks away, you know, on Madison Avenue.”

Pepper whispered to the Inspector, Ellery stuck his head into the circle, and the three men had a hurried conference. The Inspector nodded and turned to Sloane with a gleam in his eye. “I asked you before, Mr. Sloane, whether you noticed anything amiss in this room last Saturday morning and you said no. A few minutes ago you heard Miss Brett testify that the man we found murdered, Albert Grimshaw, called upon Khalkis the night before Khalkis died, with a mysterious feller who tried, hard to keep his identity secret. Now what I’m getting at is this: That mysterious feller may be an important lead. Think hard: Was there anything in the library here, on the desk perhaps, that shouldn’t have been here? Something that this secretive man may have left—something that might give us a clew to his identity?”

BOOK: Greek Coffin Mystery
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