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Authors: Rex Stout

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BOOK: Homicide Trinity
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“Archie!” he roared. “Confound it, get her!”

I obeyed.

Chapter 9

I
would like to be able to report that Wolfe got somewhere with his effort to minimize the damage to the firm, but I have to be candid and accurate. He tried but there wasn’t much he could do, since Heydecker was the chief witness for the prosecution at the trial and was cross-examined for six hours. Of course that finished him professionally. Wolfe had better luck with another effort; the DA finally conceded that I was competent to identify Exhibit C, a brown silk necktie with little yellow curlicues, and Wolfe wasn’t
called. Evidently the jury agreed with him, since it only took them five hours to bring in a verdict of guilty.

At that, the firm is still doing business at the old stand, and Lamont Otis still comes to the office five days a week, and I hear that since Gregory Jett’s marriage to Ann Paige he has quit being careless about the balance between income and outgo. I don’t know if his eleven-percent cut has been boosted. That’s a confidential matter.

DEATH OF A DEMON
Chapter 1

T
he red leather chair was four feet away from the end of Nero Wolfe’s desk, so when she got the gun from her handbag she had to get up and take a step to put it on the desk. Then she returned to the chair, closed the bag, and told Wolfe, “That’s the gun I’m not going to shoot my husband with.”

Sitting facing her with my back to my desk, which was at right angles to Wolfe’s, I raised my brows. I hadn’t expected her to put on an act. When she had phoned the previous afternoon to ask for an appointment she had of course sounded a little jumpy, as most people do when they call the office of a private detective, but she had been quite matter-of-fact in giving the details. Her name was Lucy Hazen, Mrs. Barry Hazen. She gave her address, on East 37th Street between Park and Lexington. All she wanted was thirty minutes with Nero Wolfe, to tell him something confidential. She didn’t want him to do anything, not even give her advice; she merely wanted to tell him something; and she would pay one hundred dollars for the half-hour. She could and would pay more if she had to, but she hoped the hundred would be enough.

In November or December, when Wolfe’s income has reached a point where out of a hundred received he can keep only twenty bucks, he will make an appointment only for someone or something very special, but this was January, no big fee was in prospect, and even a measly C would help in the upkeep of his old brownstone on West 35th Street, including staff, particularly since he wouldn’t have to work for it. So it was set for 11:30 the following morning, Tuesday.

When the doorbell rang at 11:30 on the dot and I went to let her in, she gave me a smile and said, “Thank you for getting him to see me.” Handshakes can be faked and usually are, but smiles can’t. It isn’t often that a man gets a natural, friendly, straightforward smile from a young woman who has never seen him before, with no come-on, no catch, and no dare, and the least he can do is return it if he has that kind in stock. As I took her to the office and helped her off with her coat, which was mink, I was thinking that you never know, even the good-looking wife of a well-known public relations operator like Barry Hazen could have her feelings on straight. I was pleased to meet her.

So I was disappointed when she put on an act. It is not natural for a woman to open a conversation with a stranger by taking a revolver from her bag and saying that’s the gun she isn’t going to shoot her husband with. I must have been wrong about the smile, and since I don’t like to be wrong I was no longer pleased to meet her. I raised my brows and tightened my lips.

Wolfe, in his oversized chair behind his desk, darted a glance at the gun, returned his eyes to her, and grunted. “I am not impressed,” he said, “by histrionics.”

“Oh,” she said, “I’m not trying to impress you, I’m only telling you. That’s what I came for, just to tell you. I thought it would be more—more definite, I guess—if I brought the gun and showed it to you.”

“Very well, you have done so.” Wolfe was frowning. “I understand that you intend to ask me for no service or advice; you wish only to tell me something in confidence.
I should remind you that I am not a lawyer or a priest; a communication from you to me will not be privileged. If you tell me about a crime I can’t engage not to disclose it. I mean a serious crime, not some petty offense such as carrying a deadly weapon for which you have no permit.”

“I hadn’t thought of that, carrying a weapon.” She dismissed it with a little gesture. “That’s all right. There hasn’t been any crime and there isn’t going to be, that’s just the point. That’s what I came to tell you, that I’m not going to shoot my husband.”

Wolfe’s eyes were narrowed at her. He is convinced that all women are dotty or devious, or both, and here was more evidence to support it. “Just that?” he demanded. “You wanted half an hour.”

She nodded. She set her teeth on her lip, nice white teeth, and in a moment released it. “Because I thought it would be better if I told you something about … why. If you will regard it as confidential.”

“With the reservation I have made.”

“Of course. You know who my husband is? Barry Hazen, Public Relations?”

“Mr. Goodwin has informed me.”

“We were married two years ago. I was the secretary of a client of his, Jules Khoury, the inventor. My father, Titus Postel, was also an inventor, and he was associated with Mr. Khoury until his death five years ago. That’s where I met Barry, at Mr. Khoury’s office. I thought I really was in love with him. I have tried and tried to decide what was the real reason why I married him, I mean the
real
one, whether it was only because I wanted to have—”

She stopped and put her teeth on her lip. She shook her head, with energy, as if to chase a fly. “There you are,” she said. “I mean there I am. You don’t need to know all that. I’m blubbering, fishing for pity. You don’t even need to know why I want to kill him.”

Wolfe muttered, “It’s your half-hour, madam.”

“I don’t hate him.” She shook her head again. “I think I despise him—I know I do—and he won’t let me get a
divorce. I tried to leave him, I did leave him, but he made such a—There I go again! I don’t
need
to tell you all that!”

“As you please.”

“It’s not as I please, Mr. Wolfe, it’s as I must!”

“As you must, then.”

“This is what I
must
tell you. He has a gun in a drawer in his bedroom. That’s it there on your desk. We have separate bedrooms. You know how there can be something in your mind but you don’t know it’s there until all of a sudden there it is?”

“Certainly. The subconscious is not a grave; it’s a cistern.”

“But we don’t know what’s in it. I didn’t. One day a month ago, it was the day after Christmas, I went to his bedroom and took the gun from the drawer and looked to see if it was loaded, and it was, and all of a sudden I was thinking how easy it would be to shoot him while he was in bed asleep. I said to myself, “You idiot, you absolute idiot,’ and put the gun back, and I didn’t go near that drawer again. But the thought came back, it kept coming, mostly when I was trying to go to sleep, and it got worse. It got worse this way, it wasn’t just going in when he was asleep and getting the gun and shooting him, it was planning how to do it so I wouldn’t get caught. I knew it was idiotic, but I couldn’t stop. I could
not!
And one night, just two nights ago, Sunday night, I got out of bed trembling all over and went to the shower and turned on the cold water and stood under it. I had found a plan that would work. I don’t have to tell you what the plan was.”

“As you please. As you must.”

“It doesn’t matter. I went back to bed, but I didn’t sleep. I wasn’t afraid I might do something in my sleep, I was afraid of what my mind might do. I had found out that I couldn’t manage my mind. So yesterday afternoon I decided I would fix it so my mind would have to quit. I would tell someone all about it and then the plan wouldn’t work, and no plan would work so I wouldn’t get caught. Telling a friend wouldn’t do, not a real
friend, because that would leave a loophole. Of course I couldn’t tell the police. I have no pastor because I don’t go to church. Then I thought of you, and I phoned for an appointment, and here I am. That’s all, except this: I want you to promise that if my husband is shot and killed you will tell the police about my coming here and what I said.”

Wolfe grunted.

She unlocked her fingers, straightened her shoulders, and took a long deep breath—in with her mouth closed and out with it open. “There!” she said. “That’s it.”

Wolfe was regarding her. “I engaged only to listen,” he said, “but I must offer a comment. Your stratagem should be effective as a self-deterrent, but what if someone else shoots him? And I report this conversation to the police. You’ll be in a pickle.”

“Not if I didn’t do it.”

“Pfui. Of course you will, unless the culprit is soon exposed.”

“If I didn’t do it I wouldn’t care.” She extended a hand, palm up. “Mr. Wolfe. After I decided to tell you and made the appointment, I had the first good night’s sleep I have had for a month. No one is going to shoot him. I want you to promise, so I can’t.”

“I advise you not to insist on a promise.”

“I must! I must
know!

“Very well.” His shoulders went up a quarter of an inch and down again.

“You promise?”

“Yes.”

She opened her bag, a large tan leather one, and took out a checkfold and a pen. “I would rather make it a check than cash,” she said, “so it will be on record. Is a check all right?”

“Certainly.”

“I mentioned a hundred dollars to Mr. Goodwin. Will that be enough?”

He said yes, and she wrote, resting the check on the side of the bag. To save her the trouble of getting up to
hand it over I went and took it, but when she had closed the bag she arose anyway, and was turning to get her coat from the back of the chair when Wolfe spoke.

“Ten minutes of your half-hour is left, Mrs. Hazen, if you have any use for it.”

“No, thank you. I just realized that wasn’t exactly the truth, what I told Mr. Goodwin, that I only wanted to tell you something. I wanted you to promise something too. I
do
thank you and I won’t take—oh! You say I have ten minutes?” She glanced at her wrist. She turned to me. “I would love to see the orchids—just a quick look. If you would, Mr. Goodwin?”

“It will be a pleasure,” I said, and meant it, but Wolfe was pushing back his chair. “Mr. Goodwin doesn’t owe you the ten minutes. I do,” he said, lifting his bulk. “Come with me. You won’t need your coat.” He headed for the door. She gave me a glance with a suggestion of a smile, and followed him out. The sound came from the hall of the elevator door opening and closing.

I had no kick coming. The ten thousand orchids in the three plant rooms up on the roof of the old brownstone were his, not mine. He did like to show them off—so would you if they were yours—but that wasn’t why he had intervened. He had some letters to dictate, and he thought that if I took her up to look at the orchids there was no telling when we would come back down. Years ago he decided, on insufficient evidence, that I forget about time when I am with an attractive young woman, and once he has decided something that settles it.

The phone rang. I got it at my desk and told it, “Nero Wolfe’s office, Archie Goodwin speaking.” It was a man over in Jersey who makes sausage to Wolfe’s specifications, wanting to know if we were ready for a shipment, and I switched it to Fritz in the kitchen. Thinking there was no better way for a licensed detective to fill idle time than by snooping, I picked up the mink coat for an inspection. When I saw that the label said Bergmann I decided that inspection would be superfluous and put it back on the chair. I picked up the gun that she wasn’t
going to shoot her husband with. It was a Drexel .32, nice and clean, and the cylinder was full of cartridges, nothing for a lady with no permit to be toting around town. I inspected her check, East Side Bank and Trust Company, signed Lucy Hazen, and went and put it in the safe. After glancing at my watch, I turned on the radio for the noon news, and stood and stretched while I listened to it. Algeria was boiling. A building contractor on Staten Island denied that he had had favors from a politician. Fidel Castro was telling the Cuban people that the people who ran the United States government were a bunch of bums (my translation). Then:

“The body of a man named Barry Hazen was found this morning in an alley between two buildings on Norton Street in the lower West Side of Manhattan. He had been shot in the back and had been dead for some hours. No further details are available at present. Mr. Hazen was a well-known public-relations counselor. The Democratic leaders in Congress have apparently decided to center their fire—”

I turned it off.

Chapter 2

I
went and picked up the gun and smelled it, the barrel tip and the sides. That was silly but natural. When you would like to know if a gun has been fired recently you smell it automatically, but it doesn’t mean a thing unless it has just been fired, say within thirty minutes, and there has been no opportunity to clean it. I stood with it in my hand, looking at it, and then put it in a drawer of my desk. Her bag was there on the red leather chair, and I opened it and removed the contents. There were all the items you would expect a woman
who wore Bergmann mink to have with her, but nothing more. I got the gun from the drawer, removed the cartridges, and examined them with a glass, to see if one of them, or maybe two, was brighter and newer than the others. They all looked alike. As I was returning the gun to the drawer the sound came from the elevator descending, its thud at the bottom, and the door opening. They entered, Mrs. Hazen in front, and she crossed to the red leather chair, picked up her bag, turned to Wolfe’s desk, and then turned to me.

“Where’s the gun?” she asked. “I’m taking it.”

“There has been a development, Mrs. Hazen.” I was facing her at arm’s length. “I turned on the radio for the news, and he said that—I’ll repeat it verbatim. He said, ‘The body of a mail named Barry Hazen was found this morning in an alley between two buildings on Norton Street in lower Manhattan. He had been shot in the back and had been dead for some hours. No further details are available at present. Mr. Hazen was a public-relations counselor.’ That’s what he said.”

BOOK: Homicide Trinity
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