Inspector Queen’s Own Case (22 page)

BOOK: Inspector Queen’s Own Case
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“Hospital,” Giffin said. “Nothing, Inspector. The trail goes back to Finner, and Finner only. Even Finner didn't pay the bills directly. Connie Coy paid them with the cash Finner provided. Humffrey kept a million miles away from it.”

“Murph,” the Inspector said. “Any luck with the cabs?”

“Nope,” the ex-sergeant said gloomily. “I must have tackled every hackie stationed around Grand Central. Just didn't hit it, that's all. Either this Humffrey hopped a cruising cab when he followed the girl home that night, or else he used a private car.”

The old man shook his head. “He'd have felt safer taking a public carrier, Murph. Actually, all he had to do when he saw her climb into a cab with her luggage at Grand Central was take another cab, maybe on Madison or Lexington, and be driven to the general neighborhood of the apartment, then walk over. After the shooting he probably just walked away—another pedestrian out for some air.”

Murphy looked unhappy.

“It's all right,” Inspector Queen shrugged. “We'll just have to keep digging.”

He clapped the two men on the shoulder and sent them home.

The following night, when Johnny Kripps came up with his day's report on Humffrey, the old man said, “I'm calling you off the tail, Johnny. Pete Angelo can take over.”

“You firing me, Inspector?” the bespectacled ex-Homicide man asked, not altogether humorously.

“At the salary you're getting?” He grinned, not humorously either. “Johnny, have you been spotted by any of the working details?”

“I don't think so.”

“We'll have to start cutting corners. We're getting nowhere. Here's what I want you to do—I'd do it myself, but you're the logical man for the job. Drop in at Homicide and see some of the boys. A friendly visit to your old pals, you understand.”

“Steer the talk around to the Coy and Finner cases?”

“Especially the Coy case. Find out what they've got. Don't overdo it, Johnny—I don't want to have to bail you out of 125 White Street!”

Kripps reported the next afternoon. “They've drawn a skunk egg, Inspector. All they had on the Finner case was that New Haven toll call, and Duane's pooped them on that. The fact that he's an M.D. running a private sanitarium gave them the bright idea at first that he was mixed up with Finner in the baby racket, but the more they've investigated Duane the cleaner he washes. Finner's case files they've exhausted without a lead.”

“And Coy?” Richard Queen asked grimly.

“Believe it or not, they haven't been able to come up with a single witness who saw a damn thing the night she got it. By the way, they think too that the killer hopped three or four roofs before he hit for ground level. Just walked down, and out, and away, probably on West End Avenue.”

The Inspector tormented his mustache.

“All they've got in the Coy case is the bullet they've taken from her head and the ones from the plaster.” Kripps shrugged. “Three slugs from the same gun. .38 Special ammo.”

“Pete dug out the gun permit information on Humffrey today,” the old man muttered. “One of the revolvers he owns is—or was—a Colt Cobra, which would fit with the ammo. But the gun is gone, Johnny. That we can be sure of. He probably dropped it in the Hudson the same night he shot Connie.”

“Quite a guy,” Kripps said unadmiringly.

“How do you know?” Jessie said.

“That he's quite a guy, Miss Sherwood?”

“That he's disposed of the gun?”

They looked at her.

“But Jessie,” Richard Queen protested, “possession of the weapon that fired the bullet that killed Connie Coy would be enough by itself to warrant a murder indictment. Humffrey wouldn't be so foolish as to hold on to it. A ballistics comparison test, if we or the police got our hands on it, would mean curtains for him.”

“Clever people are often so clever they're stupid,” Jessie said. “He might be holding on to the gun out of plain cussedness, just because he figures you think he wouldn't. He strikes me as that type of man.”

Ex-Inspector Queen and ex-Lieutenant Kripps examined each other.

“What do you think, Johnny?”

“What have we got to lose?”

“Plenty if we get caught at it.”

“Let's not be.”

“It might throw a scare in him, too,” the old man chuckled. “Maybe even turn up something. I should have thought of it myself! Let's talk to Murph and Giffin and the others and see how they feel about it.”

“Feel about what?” Jessie asked. “What are you talking about, Richard?”

He grinned at her. “There's only one way to take the bull, Jessie, and that's by the horns. We're going to raid Humffrey's apartment.”

The opportunity came two nights later. Cullum drove Alton Humffrey out to Oyster Bay to visit friends. The women on the staff had been given the night off.

The raiding party gained entrance to the Park Avenue building by way of an adjoining roof and a boarded-up penthouse. They got into the Humffrey apartment through the service door.

“No ripping, tearing or smashing,” Richard Queen ordered. “But give it a real going-over.”

They found nothing—no gun, no love letters, no receipted bills that tied in with Connie Coy, no correspondence with Finner … not a scrap of evidence to link Alton Humffrey with the murdered girl, or the murdered lawyer, or for that matter with the murdered baby.

The phone rang at three in the morning.

“Mr. Queen?” said a familiar nasal voice.

“Yes.” He was wide-awake instantly.

“I'm disappointed in you.”

“Are you, now.”

“Did you really think you'd find anything in my apartment that could possibly nourish your fantasies?”

“For the record, Mr. Humffrey,” Richard Queen said, “I don't know what you're talking about.”

“Yes. Well.” Humffrey sounded nasty but amused. “When you get over your attack of amnesia, you might take stock. Having me followed, ransacking my apartment, investigating my past—none of it will get you anywhere. You're in a pitiful condition, Mr. Queen. Have you considered consulting a palmist?”

His phone clicked gently in the old man's ear.

There was nothing in the next day's newspapers about a robbery attempt on Park Avenue.

The Inspector called another conference.

“Humffrey's right,” he said grimly. “I'm calling you all off.”

“What?” Jessie cried.

“The tail, too?” Wes Polonsky said.

“The tail, too, Wes.”

The five old men stared at the sixth incredulously.

“We'll get nowhere attacking Humffrey's strength,” he went on without excitement. “All we've done is waste time, money, and shoe leather. He's covered his tracks from way back where Finner and Coy were concerned, and he has nothing to do now but sit tight. What we've got to do is attack his weakness.”

“Does he have one?” Jessie asked bitterly.

“Yes. It's mixed up with what happened on the night of August 4th on Nair Island. It doesn't matter which murder we pin on Humffrey, remember. He can only take the long sleep once.”

“Sarah Humffrey? You keep coming back to her, Richard.”

He nodded. “I should have stuck to her from the beginning. I'm convinced Mrs. Humffrey knows something about the baby's murder that Humffrey is dead scared she'll spill.” He looked down at Jessie. “We've got to worm that information out of her. And that means an inside job.”

“In other words,” Jessie said, “me.”

He took her hand clumsily. “I wouldn't ask you to do it if I could see a better way, Jessie. Do you think you could get into the Duane Sanitarium as a nurse?”

5.

AND THEN … JUSTICE

“Where is this woman?” Richard Queen snarled. “She's half an hour late now.”

“She'll be here,” Jessie said soothingly. “My, you don't sound like an engaged man at all. More like a husband.”

He colored. “How about another cocktail?”

“I'd
love
another cocktail.”

He signaled the waitress hastily.

Jessie felt warm inside. It was not entirely the Pink Lady. Pretending to be engaged for Elizabeth Currie's benefit had been his idea. He had insisted on coming along, and they had to have a reason for his presence.

“Dr. Duane saw you that night on Nair Island, when he came to take Mrs. Humffrey to the sanitarium,” he had said stubbornly. “I'd rather sit in on this.”

“But he hardly glanced at me,” Jessie had said. “Doctors never look at a nurse's face unless she's young and pretty.”

“Then he took a good look!”

Not that Dr. Duane was going to be present. It was an exploratory lunch in a Stamford restaurant with Jessie's friend Elizabeth Currie, who had been on the nursing staff of the Duane Sanitarium for years. Approaching the problem of getting inside the sanitarium—and eventually inside Sarah Humffrey's room—through Elizabeth Currie had been Jessie's idea. Still, Richard had insisted. (“I want to feel this out, Jessie. I may still change my mind. After all, once you got in there you'd be cut off from me …”)

Elizabeth Currie turned out to be a tall Scotswoman with iron hair, steel jaws, and bone eyes.

“So this is
the
man, Jessie. Let me look at you … Well! He's a little older looking than I expected, but then … I think it's marvelous, two people of your age finding each other after all hope had fled, haha! However did you do it, Jessie?”

“It was love at first sight,” Jessie said lightly. “Wasn't it … darling?”

“Smack between the eyes,” Richard Queen mumbled. “Cocktail, Miss Currie?”

“I'll say! Double Manhattan.”

“Double Manhattan,” he said to the waitress. “Maybe we'd better order the food now …”

An hour later he nudged Jessie under cover of the tablecloth, desperately.

“Well, no, Elizabeth,” Jessie said, nudging him back. “As a matter of fact, our plans are a little vague. Richard's firm is sending him abroad for a few months, and we probably won't be … married till he gets back.”

“What a hor'ble idea,” the nurse said. “Why don't you get married now, you fool, and go with him?”

“We uh—we can't afford it,” the Inspector said. “So Jessie's looking around for something to do to while away the time——”

“I can't face going back to private cases, Elizabeth. I wish I could find a staff job somewhere.”

“You're crazy,” Elizabeth Currie said.

“Elizabeth, I just thought! Do you suppose there's an opening at the Duane Sanitarium?”

“There's always an opening at the Duane Sanitarium. Staff turnover is something terrific. But I still think you're crazy, Jessie.”

“Could you find out? First thing tomorrow? I'd be ever so grateful.”

“I'll talk to Dr. Duane myself.” Jessie's friend giggled. “I'm tight, do you know? Don't worry, I'll fix it for you, but you're absolutely balmy.”

“Maybe Elizabeth has something on this,” Richard Queen said. “What sort of place is it, Miss Currie? I wouldn't want Jessie getting into something——”

“That's just what she'd be doing,” the nurse said confidentially. “Oh, it's a lovely place and all that—like a lovely prison, that is. Those patients. Phoo.”

“Pretty sick people?”

“Pretty sick my eye. Bunch of hypochondriacs, most of 'em. Drive a nurse to drink. Which reminds me. Could I have another Manhattan, you nice man?”

“Better not, Elizabeth,” Jessie said. “Talking about patients. You get some pretty important people up there, don't you?”

“Filthy rich people. Could I——?”

“Isn't the Duane Sanitarium where they took that wealthy society woman—what was her name? You know, Elizabeth—that woman from around here somewhere, tragic case of the baby that suffocated in its crib. Last month.”

“Huh,” the nurse said. “Mrs. Humffrey.”

“Mrs. Humffrey!” Jessie said. “She's the one.” She thought, If Elizabeth remembers the newspaper stories, I'm sunk. She glanced at her confederate doubtfully, but he nodded for her to go ahead. “She had a nervous breakdown or something, didn't she?”

“Absolutely no control over herself,” Elizabeth Currie nodded contemptuously. “‘Bereavement shock,' they called it. All right, it was a ter'ble experience, but my God. She had everybody running around in circles.”

“Had?” Richard Queen said. “‘Had,' Miss Currie?”

“Huh?” the nurse said owlishly.

“Doesn't she still have everybody running around in circles?”

“No, indeedy, you nice man.”

“Why not?” Jessie didn't dare glance at him this time. “Elizabeth, you talk as if she isn't at the Duane Sanitarium any more.”

“She isn't. Big private limousine with two husky nurses in it took her away last Friday morning. And was Dr. Duane glad to see the last of
her.”

“I wonder where they took her.”

“Nobody knows. Big hush-hush. Who cares? Richard—I
may
call you Richard, mayn't I?—just
one
more teeny Manhattan? He's real nice, Jessie …”

It was late afternoon before they got rid of Elizabeth Currie, blearily bewildered at Jessie's sudden decision not to apply for a nursing job at the Duane Sanitarium after all.

He drove in a fury. “Last Friday morning! And I was up there Thursday asking about her. Duane must have phoned Humffrey, or Humffrey called and Duane mentioned my visit, and bango! the next morning Humffrey hauls her out of there.”

“But Richard, he was being followed.”

“He didn't go himself. Didn't you hear, Jessie?” He honked savagely at a slowpoke driver. “Arranged the switch to a new hideout by phone, and drew us off while the transfer was made by the new people, who could be anybody, anywhere—maybe Arizona, for all we know. He's smart, Jessie. Smart and quick on his pins.”

BOOK: Inspector Queen’s Own Case
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