It was a knock on the front door.
It was footsteps in the living room.
It was Theo. “Anyone for a game of chess?” he asked, leaning through the bedroom doorway.
“No, thank you,” Sydelle replied, looking very busy.
Theo smiled shyly at Angela and left.
Sydelle read the obituary in Turtle’s newspaper. The words
two hundred million dollars
were underlined, but she found a more interesting item. “Sam Westing was a master at chess; no wonder Theo’s so interested. Do you know anything about the game, Angela?”
“A little,” she replied slowly, putting the pieces in order. “The judge says she’s a pawn and Otis Amber says he’s the king, Crow’s the queen—Oh well, it’s probably just a coincidence.”
“We can’t leave any stone unturned,” Sydelle insisted. “As the will says,
Object of the game: to win.
“What did you say?”
“Object of the game: to win.”
“How about: object of the game: twin. Maybe the murderer is a twin.”
“Twin!” Sydelle liked that. The only problem would be getting the murderer to admit that he (or she) is a twin. “Let’s get back to my apartment. It’s time I transcribed those notes.”
Angela helped the invalid to her feet and nervously peered in both directions before stepping into the hallway.
Sydelle chuckled at her timidity. “There’s nothing to be scared of, Angela. Westing was murdered for his money, and we’re not rich yet. We won’t be rich enough to be murdered until we find the name, and by the time we get the money from the estate, the murderer will be locked up in jail.”
In spite of the impeccable logic, Angela looked back over her shoulder several times on the way to 3C.
“Strange.” Sydelle stood before her open apartment door. She had slammed it shut on leaving, but had not locked the dead bolt; after all, not even a burglar could get into a snowbound building. Unless . . .”
Angela, too frightened to notice that Sydelle ran through the apartment with her crutch in the air, found her partner in the bathroom frantically tossing soiled towels from the hamper.
Sydelle Pulaski stared at the bare wicker bottom, then sank to the rim of the bathtub, shaking her head in disbelief. Someone in Sunset Towers had stolen the shorthand notebook.
LOST AND FOUND
EARLY THE NEXT morning a typed index card was tacked to the elevator’s back wall:
LOST: Important business papers of no value to anyone but the owner. Please return to Sydelle Pulaski, 3C. No questions asked.
The shorthand notebook was not returned, but the idea of a bulletin board was an instant success. By late afternoon the elevator was papered with notices and filled with tenants facing sideways and backwards, reading as they rode up and down.
Lost: Silver cross on filigree chain, topaz pin and earrings, gold-filled cuff links. Return to Grace Windsor Wexler, 3D. REWARD!
All players willing to discuss sharing their clues come to the coffee shop tomorrow 10 A.M.
WHOEVER STOLE MY MICKEY MOUSE CLOCK BETTER GIVE IT BACK. JUST LEAVE IT IN THE HALL IN FRONT OF APARTMENT 3D WHEN NO ONE’S LOOKING.
ORDER DOWN, NOT UP!
Or come on up to the fifth floor
and dine in elegance
SHIN HOO’S RESTAURANT
Specializing in exquisite Chinese cuisine.
LOST: STRING OF PEARLS. SENTIMENTAL VALUE. IF FOUND, PLEASE BRING THEM TO APARTMENT 2C. THANK YOU. FLORA BAUMBACH (DRESSMAKING AND ALTERATIONS, REASONABLY PRICED)
FOUND: SIX CLUES
The following clues,
printed on squares of Westing Toilet Tissue,
were found in the third-floor hallway:
BRAIDED KICKING TORTOISE ‘SI A BRAT
I am having an informal party this evening from eight o’clock on. You are all invited. Please come.
J. J. Ford, apartment 4D
Turtle, wherever you are—
Be home at seven-thirty SHARP!!!
Your loving mother
“Mom, I’m home.” No one else was.
On reading Mrs. Wexler’s note in the elevator, Flora Baumbach had insisted, “You must do what your mother says.” When Turtle replied, “Like showing her our clues?” Flora Baumbach’s answer was “Perhaps so. After all, she is your mother.”
Flora Baumbach was sappy. Always smiling that dumb smile, always so polite to everybody. And so timid. When they had finally reached a snowbound broker, Flora Baumbach was so nervous she dropped the telephone. Turtle had to admit to some nervousness herself, but it was the first real order she had ever placed. For a minute there, she thought she might choke on the thumping heart that had jumped into her throat, but she had pulled off the transaction like a pro. Now if only the stock market would go up, she’d show Mr. Westing about refining gold. The next part of the will would read: “Whichsoever pair made the most money with the ten thousand dollars inherits the whole estate.” She was sure of it.
“Oh, there you are.” Grace Wexler acted as if Turtle was the tardy one, but she quickly sweetened. “Come, dear, let’s go to your room and I’ll fix your hair.”
Her mother sat behind her on the edge of the narrow bed, loosed the dark brown hair, and brushed it to a gloss. She had not done that with such care in a long, long time.
“Have you eaten?”
“Mrs. Baumbach made me a dinner.” Turtle felt the fingers dividing the hair into strands. Her mother was so warm, so close.
“Your poor father’s probably starving; he’s been so busy on the phone, changing appointments and all.”
“Daddy’s eating in the coffee shop; I just saw him there.” Turtle had dashed in shouting: “The braided tortoise strikes again!” and kicked a surprised Theo in the shin. (It was Doug Hoo, not Theo, who had made the sign.)
Her mother twisted the three strands into a braid. “I think you should wear your party dress tonight; you look so pretty in pink.”
Pretty? She had never used that word before, not about her. What’s going on?
“You know, sweetheart, I’m rather hurt that you won’t tell your own mother about your clues.”
So that was it. She should have known. “My lips are sealed,” Turtle said defiantly.
“Just one eensy-beensy clue?” Grace wheedled, winding a rubber band around the end of the braid.
“N-n-n,” Turtle replied through sealed lips.
Angela came into the small room and tugged Turtle’s braid (only her sister could get away with that).
Beaming on her favorite, Grace took her hand, then gasped. “Angela, where’s your engagement ring?”
“I have a rash on my finger.”
Thump, thump. Sydelle Pulaski appeared in the doorway. “Hi, what’s everybody doing in the closet?”
“See, I told you this is a closet,” Turtle said.
Grace ignored the complaint. It did no good being nice to that ungrateful child, never satisfied, always whining about something or other. “Oh, hello, Miss Pulaski.”
“I’ve been feeling a bit weakly, thank you, but nothing can keep me from a party.” Sydelle’s crutch was painted in black and white squares to match her black and white checkered dress. Her large hoop earrings were also black and white: the white one dangled from her left ear, the black from her right.
“The party is such a lovely idea,” Grace said, warming up to the owner of the shorthand notes. “When I saw the invitation in the elevator I suggested to Mr. Hoo that he call the judge to see if she needed hors d’oeuvres; and sure enough, he got an order for six dozen.” She turned to Angela. “Hadn’t you better get dressed, dear? It’s getting late. It’s too bad Doctor D. can’t escort you to the party, but your father and I will take you.”
“Angela and I are going together; we’re partners, you know.” Sydelle had it all planned. They were to appear in identical costumes; tonight was the night they would discover if one of the heirs was a twin.
“I’m going to the party with Mrs. Baumbach,” Turtle remarked. “The sign said everyone’s invited.”
Again Grace ignored her. “By the way, Miss Pulaski, I do hope you’ve changed your mind about showing me your notes.”
It was the secretary’s turn to seal her lips. She wouldn’t put it past that uppity Grace Windsor Wexler to steal the notebook from an unfortunate cripple and then rub it in.
Grace tried again, her voice dripping with honey. “You know, of course, that if I do win the inheritance, everything I own goes to Angela.”
Turtle bounded up. “Let me out of here: a person can’t breathe in this closet.” She kicked the bed, kicked the chair, kicked the desk, and elbowed past the disapproving secretary.
“What in the world is wrong with that child?” her mother said.
Judge Ford was instructing Theo in the art of bartending when the telephone rang. The snowbound newspaperman had found several items in the files.
“First, the engagement announcement of Angela Wexler to D. Denton Deere. Next, several clippings on a lawsuit brought against Sam Westing by an inventor named . . .”
“Hold on, please.” Mr. Hoo waddled in with a large tray of appetizers. The judge pointed him to the serving buffet and apologized to her caller. “I’m sorry, would you repeat that name.”
“James Hoo. He claimed Westing stole his idea of the disposable paper diaper.”
“One minute, please.” The judge cupped her hand over the mouthpiece. “Please don’t leave, Mr. Hoo. I was hoping you’d stay for the party, as a guest, of course. Your wife and son, too.”
Hoo grunted. He hated parties. He had seen his fill of people eating and drinking and acting like clowns, jabbering like . . . so that’s it: jabbering, dropping clues. “I’ll be right back.”
The receiver hissed with an impatient sigh, then the researcher went on. “I’ve got a thick file of sports items on another Hoo, a Doug Hoo. Seems he runs a pretty fast mile for a high-school kid. That’s all I could find on the names you gave me, but I still have stacks of Westing clippings to go through.”
“Thank you so much.”
The doorbell rang.
The party was about to begin.
THE LONG PARTY
“I HOPE WE’RE not too early.” Grace Windsor Wexler always arrived at parties fashionably late, but not tonight. She didn’t want to miss a thing, or a clue, or wait around in her apartment with a murderer on the loose. “I don’t think you’ve met my husband, Doctor Wexler.”
“Call me Jake.”
“Hello, Jake,” Judge Ford said. A firm handshake, laugh lines around his eyes. He needed a sense of humor with that social-climbing wife.
“What a lovely living room, so practically furnished,” Grace commented. “Our apartments are identical in layout, but mine looks so different. You must come see what I’ve done with it. I’m a decorator, you know. Three bedrooms do seem rather spacious for a single woman.”
What does she mean, three bedrooms? This is a one-bedroom apartment. “Would you care for an appetizer, Mrs. Wexler? I’m curious to know exactly how you are related to the Westing family.”
The judge had hoped to take the “heiress” by surprise, but Grace gained time by coughing. “Goodness, that ginger is spicy—it’s the Szechuan cooking style, you know. How am I related? Let me see, Uncle Sam was my father’s oldest brother, or was he the youngest brother of my father’s father?”
“Excuse me, I have to greet my other guests.” The judge left the prattling pretender. Father’s brother or father’s father’s brother, if the relationship was on the paternal side her maiden name would be Westing.
The party went on and on. No one dared be first to leave. (Safety in numbers, especially with a judge there.) So the guests ate and drank and jabbered; and they watched the other guests eat and drink and jabber. No one laughed.
“I guess murder isn’t very funny,” Jake Wexler said.
“Neither is money,” Mr. Hoo replied glumly.
Deciding that his wife had found the perfect partner, the podiatrist moved on to the two women standing in silence at the front window. “Cheer up, Angie-pie, you’ll see your Denton soon enough.” His daughter twisted out of his embrace. “Are you all right, Angela?”
“I’m fine.” She was not fine. Why did they ask about Denton all the time, as though she was nobody without him? Oh, it wasn’t just that. It wasn’t even the humiliation of her mother chiding her about the “twin” costume (in front of everybody) and sending her back to their apartment to change clothes. It was more than that, it was everything.
Jake turned to Madame Hoo. “Hi there, partner.”
“She doesn’t speak English, Dad,” Angela said flatly.
“And she never will, Angela, if no one talks to her.”
“Snow,” said Madame Hoo.
Jake followed her pointing finger. “That’s right, snow. Lots and lots of snow. Snow. Trees. Road. Lake Michigan.”
“China,” said Madame Hoo.
“China? Sure, why not,” Jake replied. “China.”
Angela left the chatting couple. Why couldn’t she have made some sort of friendly gesture? Because she might do the wrong thing and annoy her mother. Angela-the-obedient-daughter did only what her mother told her to do.
“Hello, Angela. One of these tidbits might cheer you up.” Judge Ford held the tray before her. “I hear you’ll be getting married soon.”
“Some people have all the luck,” Sydelle Pulaski said, appearing from nowhere to lean over the tray to spear a cube of pork. “Of course, not all us women have opted for marriage, right, Judge Ford? Some of us prefer the professional life, though I must say, if a handsome young doctor like Denton Deere proposed to me, I might just change my mind. Too bad he doesn’t happen to be twins.”
“Excuse me.” The judge moved away.
“I’m not having any luck at all, Angela,” Sydelle whined. “If only your mother hadn’t made you change clothes someone surely would have mentioned ‘twin.’ It’s much harder to judge reactions when I have to bring up the subject myself. You shouldn’t let your mother boss you like that; you’re a grown woman, about to be married.”