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Authors: Rex Stout

The Last Drive

BOOK: The Last Drive
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The Last Drive
and Other Stories
Rex Stout
Edited by Ira Brad Matetsky

MYSTERIOUSPRESS.COM

Introduction

T
oday, Rex Todhunter Stout (1886–1975) is remembered primarily as the creator of Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin, who appeared in 72 murder mysteries published between 1934 and 1975. But two decades before he created Nero Wolfe, “Rex T. Stout” authored at least 46 works of fiction—novels, novellas, and short stories—spanning­ a variety of genres. These works appeared in at least ten different magazines between 1912 and 1918.

Stout had travelled from his native Kansas to New York seeking a career as a writer. In 1913, he told the newspaper back home in Topeka that he felt an “irresistible attraction” to writing, and that he was “strongly of the opinion that New York City is the field in America for anyone desiring to enter upon a literary career.” Stout hit the ground running, selling fourteen stories to a variety of publishers in his first year, and receiving from $18 to $40 for each. Over the next four years or so, he wrote and sold five novels and two dozen more short stories. And then he stopped writing, having concluded that he'd been writing for money rather than for art, and that he needed to make his fortune so as to gain the freedom to write what he wished rather than what publishers would pay for. He stayed away from the typewriter for more than a decade.

Some of Stout's early stories show signs of the literary talents that would later give rise to the Nero Wolfe corpus, and some, frankly, do not. But all of them should be of interest to the many fans and admirers of Stout and his work. During the 1970s, Stout's biographer, John McAleer, sought to locate as many of these stories as possible. It was not an easy task. Though McAleer frequently met with Stout while writing the biography, McAleer told another collector, Judson Sapp, that Stout was “no help” in locating his early stories because “they are too far in the day ago for him. He hasn't seen them or thought about them for almost sixty years.”

Instead, McAleer visited and communicated with libraries throughout the country. He was handicapped by the limited number of magazine indexes then available (there were no computerized indexes back then, and the pulps and popular fiction were not included in the
Reader's Guide
or comparable works). Even when magazines containing the stories could be located, some libraries still would not provide copies based on copyright and preservation concerns. The Library of Congress denied McAleer access to the serialization of one early novel until McAleer relayed his request through his brother-in-law—Congressman Tip O'Neill, majority leader of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Despite these obstacles, Stout collectors and bibliographers did ultimately locate the majority of these early Stout stories. The greatest number of them appeared in a popular pulp magazine,
The All-Story
, and its successors,
All-Story Weekly
and
All-Story Cavalier Weekly
, all published by the Frank B. Munsey Company
.
Others appeared in somewhat more upscale magazines:
Short Stories
,
The Black Cat, The Smart Set, Lippincott's Monthly Magazine
, and
Smith's Magazine
.

McAleer discussed the stories he had found in several chapters of his magisterial
Rex Stout: A Biography
, later republished as
Rex Stout: A Majesty's Life
.
(On reading McAleer's first draft, Stout opined that “I think there is too much detail of … the stuff I wrote in my twenties,” though he conceded that he was an interested party and “I can't safely trust my judgment.”) McAleer also published a collection chosen from the early stories,
Justice Ends at Home and Other Stories
, in which the lead story was Stout's first murder mystery, as well as an edition of
Under the Andes
, a serialized 1914 novel representing Stout's foray into science fiction. McAleer's introductions to the two volumes are required reading for fans of early Stout. Later collectors published two more collections of the early short stories (
Target Practice
, which reprinted the stories from
All-Story
, and
An Officer and a Lady and Other Stories
) and three more early novels (
Her Forbidden Knight
,
A Prize for Princes
, and
The Great Legend
)
.
But no one knew whether all the early works of Rex Stout had yet been found.

Today we know they had not. In this volume, we present eleven more early stories by Rex Stout, all first published between 1912 and 1918. The first story in this volume,
The Last Drive
, was Stout's second murder mystery novel (after
Justice Ends at Home
), published in a completely unexpected place,
Golfers Magazine
. Its rediscovery is the most important development in Stout scholarship in the past twenty-five years. The other stories include a supernaturalistic shaggy-dog story (“Ask the Egyptians”), an ironic tale of local politics (“The Pickled Picnic”), several pulp romance tales, and at least one romance-that-wasn't (to say here which story would spoil it). Although the stories are a century old, all stand up to modern reading.

For the rediscovery of eight of the stories in this volume, we are indebted to the volunteer indexers of the comprehensive and ongoing FictionMags/Galactic Central magazine indexing project (
www.philsp.com
) under the leadership of Phil Stephensen-Payne and William G. Contento, as well as the editors of Rex Stout's bibliography on Wikipedia, whose addition of these new stories first drew them to my attention. For finding and recognizing the significance of
The Last Drive
, we are grateful to Ross E. Davies and Cattleya Concepcion of
The Green Bag Almanac and Reader
(www.greenbag.org). For encouraging my work on this volume, I thank Rex Stout's daughter, Rebecca Stout Bradbury; Otto Penzler and Rob W. Hart of The Mysterious Press; the staff of the Burns Library at Boston College­, archival repository of the Rex Stout, John McAleer, and Judson Sapp papers; Noah Peters, who located copies of many of the stories at the Library of Congress; and of course my colleagues and friends of the Wolfe Pack, the worldwide literary appreciation society for the many fans of Rex Stout (
www.nerowolfe.org
).

Despite substantial research efforts to locate all the remaining early works of Rex Stout, of course we may still have missed some. Please bring any new discoveries or leads to our attention at
[email protected]
.

—Ira Brad Matetsky

The Last Drive

Introduction

The Last Drive
is a detective fiction novel—a murder mystery—that was serialized in
Golfers Magazine
in six installments from July to December 1916.
Golfers Magazine
primarily consisted of non-fiction­ for golfing enthusiasts, but some issues included a piece of golf-related fiction.

Rex Stout was never known as a golfing enthusiast, and the fact that he published fiction in
Golfers Magazine
was entirely unsuspected­ until 2011, when researcher Cattleya Concepcion came across a citation to this story in a Copyright Office register while searching under Stout's name for something else. (It is fortuitous that the story was listed under Stout's name; everything Stout published in other magazines during this period was copyrighted in the magazine owners' names, not Stout's.)

Stout's earlier novella
Justice Ends at Home
and
The Last Drive
are the two main pieces from Stout's early writing career from which one might have extrapolated important elements of the early Nero Wolfe books written twenty years later. But to say more of
The Last Drive
would spoil the story, so let us hold our thoughts for the afterword.

The Last Drive

CHAPTER I

T
here had been a friendly argument before the foursome got started that Saturday afternoon in June. Carson Phillips, retired from the army with the rank of colonel, and possessor of a fortune ample enough to allow him to regard the monthly check from Washington as just a little added pin money, had hotly resented the insinuations of his two nephews, Harry and Fred Adams, concerning the relation between a man's age and his golf score.

“So you'll be kind enough to divide yourselves between us!” he snorted. “Do you hear that, Fraser? A wonder their impudence doesn't choke them. I'm hanged if I wouldn't play their best ball—I've tamed wilder lads in the service—”

Fraser Mawson smiled and nodded his head, held with the poise and air of authority acquired by thirty years of experience at the New York bar.

“As a matter of fact, Colonel,” he agreed, “you'd probably give them a run for their money. I'm rather a better lawyer than golf player, but—impertinence! So you want to let us old fellows down easy, do you, boys? We'll show you! Won't we, Carson? Shall we give them a trimming?”

The soldier nodded, and straightway produced a silver coin from his pocket and sent it spinning in the air, with a “Call it, Harry,” directed at one of the young men, who stopped laughing long enough to pronounce the word:

“Heads!”

But it fell with the eagle up, and, having thus won the honor, the Colonel motioned to the waiting caddies and turned to lead the way to the first tee.

They found a crowd there ahead of them, for it was a clear, brilliant June day, and the links of the Corona Country Club was one of the most convenient and best patronized within easy motor distance of New York. For the most part they were men, and you might have found among them the possessors of many well-known names in the business and professional world of the metropolis. Not the least prominent were the members of the foursome with which we are especially concerned. Colonel Carson Phillips, fifty-six and straight as an arrow, was a fine figure of a man with his clear-cut, bronzed features, steady gray eyes and military bearing; Fraser Mawson, also a little more than fifty, one of the most popular men among his own profession as well as a welcome addition to a jolly corner in any of the exclusive clubs, was perhaps a little less distinguished in his appearance, but still a handsome man; and Harry and Fred Adams, brothers, and nephews and heirs of the Colonel, twenty-four and twenty-six respectively, were engaging young fellows with a great deal of foolishness still clinging to them, and all their accomplishments so far developed of a purely social nature. They were spending a week at their uncle's country home, not far from the Corona club, back in the Jersey hills; and Fraser Mawson, who had handled the Colonel's business and legal affairs for the past twenty years, was down for the week end.

Silent nods and low-spoken greetings, not to disturb the pair who were driving off, were exchanged as they reached the first tee. Everyone knew Colonel Phillips, open-handed and good-natured old warrior that he was; and there were friendly smiles for him from men like Bolton Cook, the Colorado millionaire who was waking up a section of Wall Street, Harrison Matlin, corporation attorney; John Waring, widely known as a travel lecturer, and Canby Rankin, a wealthy southerner, who had become interested in the detection of crime as a pastime and performed it so well that his talents had more than once pulled the New York Police Commissioner out of a hole. The Colonel and Rankin were old friends, and now they joined each other for a low-toned conversation while most of the others in the crowd swung drivers and irons at blades of grass to limber up.

In thirty minutes or so the foursome's turn came, and Mawson and the Colonel teed up. With a short, nervous swing, all forearm, Mawson got a ball 180 yards straight down the middle of the fairway. Then the Colonel. His style was slashing and business-like; you might have thought he was using a cavalry sword on an adversary in the heat of battle. A slice carried him into a trap on the right, 200 yards away. His two nephews followed, with the gracefulness and assumed carelessness of a generation who plays thirty-six holes in the daytime and dances thirty-six numbers at night; they got long straight drives. As the four men started off down the smooth turf side by side the Colonel turned to call over his shoulder to those assembled at the tee:

“We're going to show these youngsters! The match will end on the fourteenth green!”

And with a wave of his hand and a smile he strode ahead beside Mawson. With what suddenness would the answering smiles and shouts have died away if they had known what the next hour held in store!

The Colonel's optimistic enthusiasm was reinforced by an astonishing 3 for the first hole by Mawson, who reached the green with his second, a long iron over a trap, and sunk a twenty-footer. The two young men took fours; Colonel Phillips needed six.

“That's alright,” observed the old soldier cheerfully as they headed for the second tee. “If I don't do it my partner will. One under par! Do you still think we're too old to make it interesting, Fred?”

“A miracle, sir,” laughed the elder of the two young men. “To my certain knowledge Mr. Mawson never made that hole in less than five before in his life. Confess it, Mr. Mawson!”

The lawyer was nervously swinging his putter back and forth, nipping the tops of the blades of grass. “That three was a little unusual,” he admitted. “But it's the Colonel I'm looking to. Slicing is something new for you, Carson.”

“Been at it for a week,” frowned the soldier in reply. “Some devilish trick that's caught me unawares. Totally undiscoverable. I had Mac go around with me yesterday, but he could find nothing wrong; advised me to try my brassie off the tee. I am doing so. You saw. Worse than ever.”

“The honor is still yours, gentlemen,” came from Harry Adams as they reached the tee. “Let's take this one, Fred, miracle or no miracle.”

It was a short hole, a midiron over a lake, and three of them laid their balls neatly on the green. It was a half in three, with the Colonel barely missing a fifteen-footer for a two. On the next, a two-shot hole, the Colonel used his brassie again from the tee, and again he sliced badly, into the rough. No miracle came to assist Mawson, and the elder pair lost the hole four to six. The fourth was something over five hundred yards. Once more the Colonel went far to the right; he chopped out of some underbrush, gritted his teeth, called for his brassie,—and sliced out of bounds. They lost the hole by two strokes, and became one down.

On the way to the fifth tee the Colonel grew highly voluble. “I've been led forty miles on a false trail out in Luzon,” he declared in deliberate disgust, “and I've seen twelve-pounders suddenly kick up their heels and grin in your face. Also I've had experience with women. But for pesky, petty, unholy tricks, nothing can equal golf. Incomprehensible. Satanic. All at once, from nowhere, I acquire this damnable slice. Cause not to be found. For fickleness women are hopeless amateurs compared to a golf club.”

“Use an iron, sir,” suggested young Harry Adams respectfully.

“You should have fought it out with the driver,” put in Fraser Mawson, busying himself with the selection of a new ball. “Don't give in to their whims. You see that the brassie is even worse. Something in your stance or grip or stroke.”

“I didn't suppose it was the way I combed my hair,” observed the Colonel in wrathful sarcasm.

The younger pair had the honor now, and each got a long straight one from the tee. Mawson's nervousness appeared to have increased, and he topped badly, dribbling along into a hazard. The Colonel hesitated a moment, took out his brassie, then handed it back and called for his driver. As he teed up and took his stance his jaw was set and his eyes were grim. He did not take his golf with the poignant earnestness with which the famous Mrs. Battle played bridge, perhaps, but he had sworn to beat “the youngsters” and like a good soldier he put his brave old heart into it. Slow back, an easy, well-timed swing, and away went the ball, straight and true as a bullet, 220 yards down the fairway. The Colonel watched it tensely till it came down, then relaxed, straightened and grinned happily.

“A beauty, sir!” Harry called out.

“Longer than ours,” Fred agreed.

The Colonel waved his driver valiantly in the air. “The weapon of a gentleman,” he announced vaingloriously. “I retract my remarks of a moment ago. After Fraser recovers from that trap you boys may play the odd. Permit an old man to exult.”

They tramped together down to the bunker, on their way meeting and exchanging greetings with another foursome coming back on the fourteenth hole. It might have been thought a pity that their interest in the game kept them from appreciation of the lovely landscape that spread itself out in four directions: woods and a winding ribbon of road to the left, a bubbling merry brook in front, and on the other two sides the gently swelling green hills, smiling in the sunshine, with the smooth turf of the links dotted here and there with thick clumps of underbrush, a solitary tree or a miniature grove; and all made alive by a group of players at a tee here or scattered there along the fairway, the caddies with their bright yellow caps making little dots of color in the most unexpected places, as though a painter had carelessly thrown drops of ochre about from the point of his palette knife.

Fraser Mawson, standing in a sand pit, niblick in hand, was certainly not thinking of the landscape. He took three to get out, and his fifth was played before they came up to the other balls. The two young men took brassies to make the green, just over a deep ditch two hundred yards aways; one reached it nicely, the other hooked a little to the left into some deep grass. The Colonel, with twenty yards less to go, used a driving mashie; again his jaw was set firmly, down came the heavy iron head, and the ball sailed through the air, just clearing the top of the ditch and dropping dead on the sloping green. Again the Colonel grinned.

“Nice approach, sir,” came from Fred Adams; and he added to his younger brother in an undertone, “We'll have to go some, Harry; the old boy's back on his game.”

Then he turned quickly at a swift expression of alarm in Harry's eyes, and the two young men stepped forward together, calling out:

“What's the matter, sir?”

The cause of their alarm came from their uncle the Colonel. He had let his mashie fall to the ground, and he stood with white face and eves drawn close in pain, trembling visibly, while a half comical expression of surprised dismay parted his lips.

“What the deuce—what—” he stammered, moving his hands uncertainly upwards to his chest, while his two nephews ran forward, crying out, “What is it, sir?” and Fraser Mawson stood still, opened his mouth and let out in a high-pitched voice the one word:

“Indigestion!”

Suddenly the Colonel straightened himself up with an apparent effort, and made his voice steady:

“Most curious sensation in my chest—no, here, lower down—I don't think—indigestion—quite acute and—and painful—.”

By that time the two young men had him by the arm, one on either side, and were trying to lead him toward the seats at the sixth tee, but he shook them off impatiently and stood still on the green turf, swaying a little from side to side with his hands pressed tightly on his breast. Harry turned to Fraser Mawson with a frightened look:

“Maybe it's his heart—I'd better—.”

As he spoke there came a cry from his brother, and again they sprang forward as the Colonel suddenly thrust his hands straight in front of him and sank to the ground. They caught him and let him gently onto the turf, while Fred knelt to hold his uncle's head in his arms, calling frantically to the others:

“Run—quick—a doctor! Wortley's around somewhere—for God's sake hurry!”

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