Inspector Queen’s Own Case (20 page)

BOOK: Inspector Queen’s Own Case
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“Well, at least let me thank you for pursuing it so discreetly.”

“Are you through?” the old man asked.

“Forgive me, Mr. Queen.” The millionaire leaned back attentively. “You were about to say?”

“On the 20th of this month,” the Inspector began, “a shyster lawyer named Finner was murdered in his office on East 49th Street.”

“Oh, yes.”

“Finner, of course, was the man who turned the baby over to you back in June.”

“He was?”

“Come, Mr. Humffrey, you're hardly in a position to deny it. Jessie Sherwood went along with you and Mrs. Humffrey to take charge of the child. She saw Finner at that time. So did your chauffeur, Cullum.”

“I did not deny it, Mr. Queen,” Humffrey smiled. “I was merely making some appropriate sounds.”

“On Thursday the 18th, possibly the next day, Finner got in touch with you, told you I was putting pressure on him, and asked you to be present at a meeting in his office with me and Miss Sherwood on Saturday the 20th, at 4
P
.
M
. You agreed to come.”

“Now you've moved from the terra firma of fact,” Humffrey said, “into the cuckooland of speculation. Of course I can't permit unfounded allegations to pass unchallenged. Pardon me for interrupting, Mr. Queen.”

“You deny those allegations?”

“I will not dignify them by a denial. In view of your failure to mention the slightest corroboration, none is necessary. Go on.”

“You agreed to be there,” Richard Queen continued, unmoved. “But you had a little surprise up your sleeve for Finner, Mr. Humffrey. And, I might add, for us. You went to Finner's office that Saturday afternoon, all right, but not at four o'clock. You got there about an hour and a half early—from the contents of Finner's stomach, according to accounts of the autopsy findings, it must have been right after Finner came up from his lunch. You picked up Finner's letter-knife from his desk and buried it in his heart. Then you rifled his files for the folder marked ‘Humffrey' that contained the papers and proofs of the baby's parentage, and out you walked with it. By this time, of course, you've destroyed it.”

Jessie was watching Alton Humffrey's face, fascinated. There was no twitch or flicker to indicate that the millionaire was indignant, alarmed, or even more than mildly interested.

“I can only ascribe this extraordinary fantasy to a senile imagination,” Humffrey said. “Are you accusing me—in all seriousness—of murdering this man Finner?”

“Yes.”

“You realize, of course, that without proof of any sort—an eyewitness, let us say, a fingerprint, something drearily unfantastic like that—you're exposing yourself to a suit for criminal slander, defamation of character, and probably half a dozen other charges my attorneys will think of?”

“I'm relying on your well-known dislike for publicity to restrain them, Mr. Humffrey,” the old man said dryly. “May I proceed?”

“My dear man! Is there more?”

“Lots more.”

Humffrey waved his long white hand with its curling fingers as if he were bestowing a benediction.

“On the following Monday morning,” Richard Queen went on, “you walked into a Times Square detective agency run by a fellow named Weirhauser and hired him to shadow Miss Sherwood and me. Weirhauser reported to you that we were visiting the maternity sections of one metropolitan hospital after another, trying to match up a set of infant footprints with the hospital birth records. This went on for about a week.”

“I see,” Humffrey said.

“Last Sunday evening, Weirhauser reported to you that we had presumably found what we'd been looking for. Our hospital find had taken us to an apartment house on West 88th Street, where we asked a lot of questions about a tenant named Connie Coy. Connie Coy, Mr. Humffrey.”

“You pause significantly. Is the name supposed to mean something to me?” the millionaire asked.

“Weirhauser told you that Connie Coy was out of town filling a singing engagement in a Chicago nightclub, but that she was expected back soon. You then gave Weirhauser a clumsy story about being on the wrong tack and called him off the job.”

Suddenly the room turned stifling. Jessie sat very still.

“And for this allegation, Mr. Queen, you're also drawing on your imagination?”

“No,” the old man said, smiling for the first time. “For this one, Mr. Humffrey, I have an affidavit sworn to and signed by George Weirhauser. Would you care to see it? I have it right here in my pocket.”

“I'm tempted to say no,” Humffrey murmured. “But as a man who has played poker with Harvard undergraduates in his day—yes, I think I would care to see it.”

Inspector Queen took a folded paper from his pocket and laid it defenselessly on the desk. Jessie almost cried out. But the millionaire merely reached for it, unfolded it, read it through, and politely handed it back.

“Of course, I don't know this man Weirhauser's signature from yours, Mr. Queen,” he said, clasping his bony hands behind his head. “But even if this is a legitimate affidavit, I fancy Weirhauser hasn't too sweet a reputation, and if it became a matter of his word against mine——”

“Then you're denying this, too?”

“As among the three of us here,” and Humffrey smiled coldly, “I see no harm in admitting that yes, I engaged a detective to follow you and Miss Sherwood last week, simply to see what mischief you were up to. I'd gathered from what Miss Sherwood let drop that you and she were bent on following up her hysterical belief that the baby was murdered; and I felt—in my wife's protection, if not in mine—that I was justified in keeping myself informed. When my man's report indicated that you were chasing some will-o'-the-wisp involving a woman I'd never heard of, I of course lost interest. My only regret is that in hiring Weirhauser I seem to have made a mistake. I detest mistakes, Mr. Queen, particularly my own.”

“Then your position is that you never knew Connie Coy, the nightclub singer?”

“Yes, Mr. Queen,” the millionaire said gently, “that is my position.”

“Then I can't understand your activities the day after you fired Weirhauser. Last Sunday night Weirhauser told you we were asking questions about the Coy girl and that she was expected back soon from Chicago. The next day—this past Monday, Mr. Humffrey—
you spent the entire day and a good deal of the evening at Grand Central Terminal watching the arrival of trains from Chicago
. Why would you have done that if you didn't know Connie Coy and had no interest in her?”

Humffrey was silent. For the first time a slight frown drew his brows toward each other. Then he said, “I think I'm beginning to be bored with this conversation, Mr. Queen. Of course I was not in Grand Central Terminal that day, to watch the Chicago trains or for any other absurd purpose.”

“That's funny,” the old man retorted. “A redcap and a clerk at one of the newsstands have identified a Stamford, Connecticut news photo of you as that of a man they saw hanging around the Chicago incoming train gates at Grand Central all day.”

The millionaire stared at him.

Richard Queen stared back.

“Now you annoy me, Mr. Queen,” Humffrey said icily. “Your so-called identifications don't impress me at all. You must know, from your days as a competent police officer, how unsatisfactory such identifications are. I must really ask you to excuse me.”

He rose.

“Just when I was getting to the most interesting part, Mr. Humffrey?”

The old man's grin apparently changed Humffrey's mind. He sat down again.

“Very well,” he said. “What else have you dreamed up?”

“The Coy girl got in at Grand Central that evening. She took a taxi uptown, and you followed her to 88th Street.”

“And you have a witness to that?”

“No.”

“My dear Queen.”

“At least not yet, Mr. Humffrey.”

Humffrey settled back. “I suppose I should hear this fairy tale out.”

“You followed Connie Coy home, you took up a position on a roof overlooking her top-floor apartment, and when you saw me pumping her you aimed at a point midway between her eyes with a gun you were carrying, and you shot her dead.

“Don't interrupt me now,” the old man said softly. “Finner was killed because he had the file on the case and knew who the baby's parents were. Connie Coy was killed because, as the mother of the baby, she certainly knew the identity of its father. The only one who benefits by destroying those papers and shutting Finner's and the real mother's mouth, Mr. Humffrey, is the baby's real father.

“You've committed two cold-blooded murders to keep your wife, her relatives, your blue-nosed friends, me, Jessie Sherwood, from finding out that you'd adopted, not a stranger's child, but
a child you yourself fathered in a cheap affair with a nightclub entertainer.”

Humffrey opened a side drawer of his desk.

Jessie's heart gave a wicked jump.

As for the old man, his hand flashed up to hover over the middle button of his jacket.

But when the millionaire leaned back, Jessie saw that he had merely reached for a box of cigars.

“Do you mind, Miss Sherwood? I rarely smoke—only, in fact, when I'm in danger of losing my temper.” He lit a cigar with a platinum desk lighter and looked at Richard Queen with a mineral brightness. “This has gone beyond simple senility, Mr. Queen. You're a dangerous lunatic. You claim that I not only committed two atrocious murders, but that I did so in order to conceal from the world that I was the blood-father of the unfortunate little boy I adopted. I can't imagine your laying any other heinous crimes at my door, but from the beginning you and Miss Sherwood have insisted Michael was murdered. How does your diseased mind reconcile his alleged murder with my subsequent crimes? Did I murder my own child, too?”

“I think you got the idea when your nephew made that drunken, senseless attempt to break into the baby's nursery the night of July 4th,” the Inspector said quietly. “What you couldn't have known, of course, was that Frost would suffer an appendix attack and have to have an emergency operation—an ironbound alibi—for the very night
you
picked. I think you murdered Michael, Mr. Humffrey, yes. I think you selected a night when you knew Miss Sherwood would be off. I think that after your wife fell asleep you deliberately suffocated the baby, and that in the confusion after Miss Sherwood's arrival to find the baby dead you noticed the pillowslip in the crib with its telltale handprint that indicated murder, and disposed of it. And from that moment on, of course, you kept insisting that Jessie Sherwood had been seeing things and that the baby's death was an unfortunate nursery accident. Yes, Mr. Humffrey, that's exactly what I think.”

“Making me out a monster with few precedents.” Humffrey's nasal tones crackled. “Because only a monster murders his own flesh and blood—eh, Mr. Queen?”

“If he does it believing it
is
his own flesh and blood.”

“I beg your pardon?” The millionaire sounded amazed.

“When you found out that Connie Coy was pregnant and arranged through Finner to adopt the baby without her knowledge when it was born, Mr. Humffrey, you did it because you wanted possession of your own child. But suppose after you arranged for the secret purchase of your baby, with a forged birth certificate, with Finner paid off, with Connie Coy not knowing you had the baby and your wife not knowing the baby was yours—suppose after all this, Mr. Humffrey, you suddenly began to suspect you'd been made a fool of? That you'd gone to all that trouble and skulduggery to pass your name on to a baby that wasn't yours at all!”

Humffrey was quite still.

“A woman who'd had an affair with one man might have had affairs with a dozen, you told yourself. Suppose you even checked back and found that the Coy girl had been sleeping around with other men at the same time you were her lover? You being what you are—a proud, arrogant man with an exaggerated sense of family and social position—your love for the child you'd thought was yours might well have turned to hate. And so one night you murdered him.”

The cigar had gone out. Humffrey was very pale.

“Get out,” he said thickly. “No, wait. Perhaps you'll be good enough to spell out for me just what further incredible flights of your fancy, Mr. Queen, I must protect myself against. According to you, I fathered that child in a sordid affair, I murdered the child, I murdered Finner, I murdered the child's mother. Against these insanities you have adduced just two alleged pieces of evidence—that I hired a private detective to follow you two for a week, which I have explained, and that I was seen in Grand Central Terminal last Monday watching for Chicago trains, which I deny. What else have you?”

“You were in the Nair Island house on the night of the baby's murder.”

“I was in the Nair Island house on the night of the baby's accidental death,” the millionaire said coolly. “A coroner's jury supports my version of the slight difference in our phraseology. What else?”

“You had the strongest motive of anyone in the world to remove the folder marked ‘Humffrey' from Finner's filing cabinet and destroy it.”

“I cannot grant even the existence of such a folder,” Humffrey smiled. “Can you prove it? What else?”

“You have no alibi for the afternoon of Finner's murder.”

“You state an assumption as a fact. But even if your assumption were a fact—neither have ten thousand other men. What else, Mr. Queen?”

“You have no alibi for the evening of Connie Coy's murder.”

“I can only repeat my previous comment. Anything else?”

“Well, we're working on you,” the old man drawled. “A whole group of us.”

“A whole group?” Humffrey pushed his chair back.

“Oh, yes. I've recruited a force of men like myself, Mr. Humffrey, retired police officers who've become very interested in this case. So, you see, it wouldn't do you the least good to kill Miss Sherwood and me, as you tried to do Monday night. Those men know the whole story …
and you don't know who they are
. Come, Jessie.”

BOOK: Inspector Queen’s Own Case
12.1Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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