IT MADE Power uncomfortable. But that was because he knew too much about the background. How Hank House, who called himself for theatrical purposes, The Great Enrico, had snatched Rita Tallant out of these aristocratic Pine Avenue purlieus. How he had done so against the furious protests of friends and family. (A Tallant married to a magician!) How other men, some of them here tonight, had been, as the saying is, crazy about the glamorous Rita.
He had played his own part in that affair. Rita had come, breathless, to his flat that day five years ago. She came because, out of the nonage dances they had attended, a very considerable friendship had grown. He was now, she informed him, in loco parentis. He had gone with her to the registry office and stood by while she married Hank. He had gone to the train on which they departed for that world tour that finally placed The Great Enrico at the very head of his profession.
He hadn't particularly wanted to come here tonight. Rita—as glamorous and lovely as ever—had insisted. He’d suspected things would turn out as they had, for the Tallants—like the elephants—do not forget. Having spent five years in Hank House’s theatrical world, Rita had lost too much of her Tallantness to realize that. She wanted to justify herself to these people—family and friends—wanted to show them that Hank really was great, a genuine master of his craft, an artist in legerdemain.
It wasn’t working out that way. Hank was proving his greatness, but he had worked with too many audiences not to realize that this one—gathered in evening clothes and hauteur in the huge Tallant drawing-room—regarded him with a fundamental antagonism. That they mistrusted not his magic, but himself and all that he stood for. Between the end of the room that had been cleared and curtained as a temporary stage and the rows of chairs in which they sat so stiffly, a deep and unbridgeable chasm yawned.
He had tried very gallantly for Rita’s sake to bridge it. He was young, he was presentable, he had charm, he had wit. He had approached his audience modestly, unassumingly. Instead of dazzling them, he had used his tricks as a background against which to recite the whole history of magic—in which particular lore he was amazingly learned. He had used Rita, who acted as more than a decorative foil, and his bearded assistant, in such a way as to make it appear that they were as essential to the performance as himself. But it melted nothing under the stuffed shirts facing him.
He was getting angry, contemptuous. The sharp acid of irony began to etch his words. He brought out his pyrotechnics—and when he had them gaping: “Very simple, ladies and gentlemen—ve-ry simple!” Then he'd pause and throw a glance of utter disdain into the teeth of their stupefaction.
Busy helping him, Rita missed it. None of his audience did, and Power could feel the rising groundswell of their irritation. It was a pity. It was a pity because Hank House really was an engaging and magnetic personality. A pity because, having poured so many gifts into her lap from those long, slim, beautiful and clever hands, here was one he couldn’t. A pity because, in their jealous way, the Tallants loved Rita, as only a long conventionalized family will love its single lively and exotic member.
“And now, ladies and gentlemen”—Hank’s voice fairly dripped acid—“the basket trick. This one came from India—India, you know, in the East. A long way from Montreal—and warmer. Here is the basket. It is empty. I place it on the tripod clear of the floor not to deceive you. My wife steps into it—alley-oops!” He swung Rita gracefully up by the waist. He smiled at her, kissed her hand, closed the lid on her. And then his expression became suddenly ferocious. “If any of you think this is a collapsible sword, step up and try its point. Any candidates for incredulity? . . . Not interested, eh?”
He caught the weapon near its point and doubled the supple blade. “It’s cold, this steel.” He laughed curtly. “Cold as a jealous heart!” He swung with a savage unexpectedness and plunged the weapon through the basket. Three times. His movements were so furious that some woman in the audience let out a stifled cry.
He swung on her with an icy smile, leaning one elbow against the basket through which he had left the sword sticking. “Afraid, madam? The Great Enrico has slipped perhaps. The Great Enrico never slips—”
“She’s bleeding!” The hoarse cry came from John Tallant, whose tall bulk had half-risen in the centre seats. “You’ve killed—”
Red drops were falling from the bottom of the basket!
House’s dark eyes flashed with disdain on his tall brother-in-law. Only a few heard his sotto voce: “Et tu, Brute!"—for at the same moment he swept the lid from the basket and tilted it forward. It was empty.
Rita stepped from behind the curtains. She was smiling, but there was something forced about it. At last even she realized that there could be no justification in this house for The Great Enrico. House took her hand and, bowing sardonically to his audience, swept her off that stage across which his bearded assistant drew the curtains.
The head of the house of Tallant—old H.J.—rose and said audibly to the lady beside him. “A drink, perhaps . . . To remove the taste!” A man beside Power muttered: “And a rotten one!”
THE EXODUS began toward the dining room and the big conservatory beyond. Here ten minutes later, Rita swept up to Power in her impulsive way and cried, “Kent, dear, you look positively lorn!”
He could have said that her own eyes held a hurt, lonely look. Instead he said nothing.
She laughed wryly. “I’ll never learn, will I? Hank says I should develop bumps of intelligence some time from banging my head against walls!” And then—rather anxiously: “Have you seen him?”
“Not since he bowed you off yon stage.”
She tucked a hand through his arm. “Let’s go somewhere where we can talk.” They threaded a way through groups who looked after her with the pity and scorn of those bidding farewell to one who has betrayed their cause. Power felt an itch to slap faces, but she was saying in her intimate way: “It’s been a long time since we opened our hearts to one another.” She turned him off the big hall into a dark and narrow corridor. “Not since that night you persuaded me. I don’t think I’d have had the courage to run off with Hank if you hadn’t said what you did that night. And I’d have missed an awful lot of happiness—here we are.” He swung the door open. “An awful lot of happiness, Kent.”
It was the old playroom, and had the cluttered look of disuse. Into it had been piled The Great Enrico’s props—and Power had the feeling that she had brought him here, not so much for that heart-to-heart talk as to have him present against the embarrassment of meeting Hank. There’s comfort sometimes in a third party.
But House wasn’t here. “Not very cozy.” She seated herself on the old sofa. “But private!” And then, wrinkling her nose: “What a funny smell! Old apples!”
Power thought it was more like stale wine gone bad. “Hank’s amazingly clever, Rita. I had no idea he—what’s the matter?”
She had leaned forward with a sudden exclamation, was staring across the room. “The sword! We never leave it that way!”
It was stuck through the basket in the far corner. “That’s the way Hank left it when he—”
“But we never—”
He got to it before she did and took hold of the hilt. A sickening apprehension gripped him. It was stuck. He drew it out slowly—and then with a swift, impetuous movement, Rita swept the cover clear.
“Oh! . . . Oh!” She flung herself across the basket. “Hank!”
Hank House had appeared for the last time as The Great Enrico. His slim body grotesquely crowded on itself, lay within the basket. Turning from that grief—so brokenly passionate—Power laid the sword on the table.
There was a spot of blood on his hand. It wasn’t Hank House’s blood. Something had scratched the ring finger just below where it joined the palm.
The door opened. There was a peculiarly startled look in the dark little eyes of House's bearded assistant as he halted on the threshold. He still wore his theatrical eastern garb and carried a black box, another of the props, under his arm.
“Dawkins!” Rita sprang to her feet. “They’ve killed him!” She put both hands over her eyes as though this were something she might rub out of them. And then, turning pitifully to Power: “This is Joe Dawkins—Hank's assistant.”
Power led her to the door. “Dawkins and I'll handle things,” he said gently. “Slip up to your room, and don’t talk—not to anyone.”
When she had gone, he turned to the little man. “When were you in here last?”
“About five minutes ago.” Dawkins wet his dry lips to say that.
“Mr. House here then?”
A self-contained little man, Joe Dawkins used his voice reluctantly. Nor did his dark eyes tell you anything. Even the trim, pointed beard seemed to screen any possible revelation of his spirit. Perhaps his long association with magic had done something to him: magic might turn you inward if you lacked a Hank House’s sense of humor and took it too seriously. Was that why he betrayed so little emotion over an event that must have far-reaching effects on his future?
“How long were you with House?”
“Eleven years.” And then tersely: “I taught him!” There was nothing in the little eyes to show just what that last expression meant. Dawkins’ lips were compressed tightly now, as though in disapproval of even that small self-revelation.
“When you left him did he seem to be expecting someone?”
“Did you meet anyone in the corridor outside?”
Dawkins gave him an odd, startled look, as though something had suddenly come through. But the light faded. “No—I didn’t meet anyone.”
“You don’t seem sure about that,” Power said curtly.
Something wavered secretively in the depths of Dawkins’ eyes. “I answered your question.”
What conflict, working long years inside him, had given Dawkins’ personality this queer dark slant? He seemed to read the question in Power’s eyes, and his shoulders moved irritably. “I didn’t meet him. He was standing there.”
“I don’t know. He was at the end, looking along the other hall. He had his back to me.”
Power turned to the wall and lifted the phone. When he was through talking into it, he said, “Wait at the front door until Sergeant Papineau arrives. Bring him straight here.”
WHEN, together with the coroner and a fingerprint man, Sergeant Papineau did arrive, he found Power on his hands and knees searching the floor in the vicinity of the basket: “Qu’est-ce que c'est?”
“Murder most foul.”
Papineau's glance had already found the basket. “For sure!”
"Just a minute before you start ghouling! I'm looking for something. Put your man to work on that sword hilt—and the outer doorknob there.”
Papineau nodded to his henchman. “You look for what?”
“Something tiny—something sharp . . . voilà!”
It was certainly tiny. He picked it up by wetting the tip of his finger, to which it adhered. Dr. Morin flashed his torchlight, and it became a small fragment of thin brown glass.
“What does she make?”
Power sat back on the floor. “I came in here with Mrs. Henry House. She noticed that sword stuck through the lid of the basket. She thought it unusual, so we investigated. The dead man is her husband—known to the world of magic as The Great Enrico. He had been giving a performance here tonight. It wasn’t a success. ’’
“Non?” Papineau breathed interestedly.
“Non. The Tallants are a proud and jealous family. In dragging the sword from the basket, I got this little scratch. I’ve an idea it was made by this fragment of glass—which must have been caught in the jewelled interstices of the sword hilt.”
Papineau shook his head. “It is cock-eye, this. Someone put this Enrico in a basket and runs 'im t’rough wit’ a sword. It does not march.”
“Take a look at the back of his head.”
Dr. Morin did that. “Ah! He has been struck down first!”
The back of House’s head was bloody from what must have been a savage blow. “This has been enough to kill him.” Dr. Morin declared.
“Then why is the sword run t’rough ’im?”
Power smiled rather aridly. “You'd need to have witnessed tonight's performance to understand that, Pap. In his last act House placed his wife in that basket and ran the sword through it. It’s evidently his practice to do that savagely—to heighten the theatrical effect. I’ve a notion it may also have touched off a latent spark in the murderer's breast. So when he secreted House’s body in the basket, his ego needed the extra gesture to complete the act of revenge. In any case—”
The door swung open abruptly, and the tall angry figure of John Tallant entered, Joe Dawkins trailing. “What’s going on here?”
Power said: “Murder. I took the liberty of sending for the police.”
Tallant's glance had found the basket. He stood for a moment staring hard at it—and then: “Why wasn't I notified—or my father?”
He was a big, rawboned, sandy-haired man of the type to whom anger comes easily. His palish blue eyes, and the irregular bony contours of his face, betrayed an individual of strong and brooding passions. You felt that for all he was the son of a successful financier, and one himself, he had sought vainly through life for something he hadn’t found.
“I’ll accept the responsibility for that,” Power said quietly.
“You had no right—”
“Pipe down—there’s been a murder.”
Tallant's slightly bloodshot eyes moved again to the basket. It was difficult to tell from their expression just what emotions the sight evoked. Not horror, certainly. Nor regret. But something not altogether free of pain and embarrassment.
Sergeant Papineau said, “You entertain guests tonight. It will be necessary—”
Power said in his ear, “A list’s all we need. I’ve seen the lot.”
“—to ’ave a list of these people. I shall make it myself.”
Tallant seemed to be protesting inwardly against it all, the ugly notoriety, the affront to his father’s guests. “It was a ghastly mistake!” he muttered. “From the first!” He strode from the room.
Dr. Morin shrugged. “I am sometimes amused with these lords of creation, these gentlemen of wealth and position. It is a personal insult when the same things happen to them as to the rest of us.”
Joe Dawkins said in his cryptic way: “That was him.”
Power swung: “What’s that?"
“The man who was standing at the end of the corridor.”
“You’re sure of that?”
“I don’t make mistakes.”
Dr. Morin said, “The manner of the murder seems clear. He is struck from behind, fracturing his skull. He is then bundled into the basket and run through with the sword.”
Power turned from staring at the blank profile of Joe Dawkins. He frowned. “Yes—that seems to be it, all right.”
“You are disappointed? It is too simple?”
“Just puzzled. When Mrs. House and I came in here we noticed a queer odor—like stale wine. Then there was that bit of glass that cut my finger. It might have been part of an ampoule.”
“But surely you do not suggest that he is first made unconscious with some volatile poison, then struck on the back of the head, and then run through! No—it is too much, that!”
Power laughed wryly. “You certainly make it sound that way.”
“But if it is a volatile poison, there was premeditation! Yet you suggested that it was the manner in which the dead man thrust the sword through the basket during his performance which has set murder off in the murderer’s brain!”
IT WAS true. There was nothing about this murder that spelled premeditation. Everything pointed in the other direction. Nor did the post mortem which Dr. Morin conducted later that night reveal any other cause of death than the blow on the head. House’s lungs contained no gas with that queer winy odor—and if he had inhaled a poison with such a smell some of it should have lurked in the air alveoli.
“You agree,” Dr. Morin exclaimed at the end, “there is no evidence of your mysterious vapors?”
“I’d still like to know what that bit of glass and that smell meant,” Power replied, shaking his head.
“Per’aps,” Papineau suggested, “you ’ave been drinking some champagne—and it is your own breath you smell.”
“I suppose it was my breath Rita House smelled?”
Papineau leered suggestively. “ ’Ow do we know?”
“I’m not,” Power declared curtly, “in the habit of standing that close to my friends’ wives.”
“We believe you,” Papineau exclaimed solemnly. “T’ousands wouldn’t.” He dropped an eyelid at Dr. Morin.
They went into the coroner’s office where, after some hinting, Dr. Morin produced a bottle and some glasses. Papineau drew a paper from his pocket and handed it to Power. “There are t’irty people at M’sieu Tallant’s ’ouse tonight. It is too many.”
Power glanced at the list. “It’d be fine—if they were all there.”
“What you mean?” Papineau bridled. “I ’ave take the names myself. Wit’ the greatest care!”
“You missed Perry Gates."
“There ’as been no Perry Gates when I make that list!”
“So you say. He was certainly there during the performance.”
“But not when I—”
“It’s very funny.”
“Me, I know ’e is not there!” Pap was getting hot under the collar.
“Of course. You couldn’t have made a mistake. But the fact remains it’s funny. You see Perry Gates was one of a dozen or so young gents who wanted to marry Rita Tallant before House snatched her from under their noses. In fact he looked the surest bet until House mowed him down. He was there when the performance ended—he wasn’t there when you took that list. I wonder why. Did he go home in a huff, or a hurry. Let’s see if we can find out.”
When, ten minutes later, the police car drew up outside the big Sherbrooke Street apartment house, a small open car stood parked in front of its entrance. Papineau was about to step down when Power caught his arm. A woman came hurrying out of the apartment, stepped into the other car and shot away from the curb.
“That,” Power said, “was Mercia! Tallant—John Tallant’s sister. Rita House’s sister. Was she on your list?”
“Oui! I remember distinct!”
“Perhaps she just came here to pay a social call.”
Perry Gates had removed his tails for a velvet smoking jacket, and they found him pacing the floor in a haze of cigarette smoke. He was one of those large, floridly handsome men who maintain the appearance of a matinee idol into the late thirties, with increasing difficulty. Perhaps he would have been more successful but for that look of petulance—or if he had been less self-indulgent. The man and his luxurious surroundings strongly indicated one who had been spoiled all his life by pampering circumstances.
“This,” Power said, “is Sergeant Papineau of the detective bureau, Gates. We’re investigating Hank House’s death.”
“House?” The other man gave a fine exhibition of startled surprise. “Great Scott, you don’t mean—”
Power smiled dryly. “You don’t have to put on that act. We saw Mercia Tallant leaving just now.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Gates was blustering.
“Okay. House was murdered after the performance we both attended tonight. So we’d like to know why you left so soon after that performance—and when.”
“Immediately!” Gates said through tight lips. “I’d had enough!”
“You didn’t by any chance go into the playroom?”
“I did not!”
“You had nothing to say to House before leaving?”
“He was the last person in the world I’d—”
“Why did you leave so early?”
“That’s my business.”
“And ours also, m’sieu,” Papineau exclaimed.
“Anyone see you leave?”
“I made my regrets to John Tallant—and Miss Tallant.”
Power walked over to the window. His back to Gates, he seemed to be sniffing the air. When he came back he said. “It wasn’t very clever of you to pretend you didn’t know House was murdered, Gates. I’d advise you to walk more carefully from now on.”
“When I want your advice I’ll ask for it.”
Descending in the elevator, Power said, “We might find the Tallants huddling over their alibis at this hour.”
“Me,” Papineau declared gloomily, “I t’ink it ’as been a mistake to allow so much time to all those people wit’out questioning.”
“In a crowd they’d have kept mum, out of consideration for the Tallants. We’ll get more out of ’em separately—if we need to.”
“But there are t’irty-one !”
“You’ve still got your life ahead of you.”
JOHN TALLANT let them in—the servants had evidently been sent to bed—and led them grudgingly to the library where Mercia Tallant sat with her father. It could be said of the three Tallants that they seemed to lean together for support. Old H.J., hatchet-faced and scowling, sat in the high-backed chair. Mercia was on the hearth stool at his feet; John Tallant took stance beside the old man.
Power said, “Since I was a guest here tonight I hate returning in my present guise.”
The soft words got him nothing. “I didn’t choose my guests tonight!” the old man snapped. He took a cigar from the humidor, and bit the end off savagely.
“Father! That’s your second!” Mercia Tallant exclaimed solicitously.
“A man’s got to do something to keep the smell out of his nose!” growled the old pirate. He lit the cigar aggressively.
Power asked, “Were any of you in the old playing-room with House after the performance tonight?”
"I wasn’t!" The senior Tallant’s tone suggested that there was no room big enough to hold himself and his late son-in-law comfortably.
His intransigency was causing his son and daughter some uneasiness.
Power turned to the former. “What about you?”
“No!” It came tersely, and without hesitation.
“Where were you from the time House’s performance ended until he was murdered?”
“I came into the dining room and circulated among the guests.”
“You didn’t loiter in the corridor leading to the playroom?”
“I can vouch for him,” Mercia Tallant exclaimed. “We came into the dining room together.”
She was a downright sort of woman of about thirty-five. You could imagine her completely in her métier flicking high boots with a riding crop. There was no nonsense about Mercia Tallant. She knew what she wanted—and didn’t look as if she’d stop at much getting it.
Power turned to the brother. “You didn’t leave the dining room or the conservatory after that?”
“Not until the butler told me you were messing about in the playroom.”
Power turned to the sister. “And you?”
“I was hostess to my father’s guests,” she said bluntly, as though that answered everything.
Papineau seemed on the point of asking John Tallant something, but Power shot another question at the woman. “You called on Perry Gates tonight at his flat?”
It startled her, but it didn’t shake her. It did, however, shake the male members of the family; seemed to catch them horribly by surprise. “Perry Gates,” she declared in her downright way, “is a very old friend of mine.” There was more color in her cheeks than there had been, more defiance in her eyes.
“And you felt you had to warn him?”
"I thought he should know what had happened after he left.”
“Because he is a very old friend of mine.”
"And you wanted him to be clear on his alibis?”
“I resent that!” John Tallant took a step forward angrily.
“The statement of a bounder!” snorted the old man in the chair. “What can you expect?”
“Let me continue bounding,” Power said with a twisted smile. “A moment ago, Miss Tallant, you provided an alibi for your brother. Why shouldn’t I suppose you went to see Perry Gates tonight for the same purpose?”
“You can suppose what you like. It’s a free country.” But she wasn't altogether at her ease.
“Me,” Papineau said on the way home, “I like Mademoiselle Tallant. She 'as the courage. She looks you straight in the eye when she lies. There is not’ing furtive. She is very much afraid for her brother—for M’sieu Gates. So she does what she can, eh? For why you do not insist that M’sieu John Tallant reply to the question did he loiter in the corridor—where M’sieu Dawkins 'as seen ’im?”
“Because M’sieu Dawkins may not have seen him.”
"Comment?" Papineau exclaimed, astonished.
“I keep remembering something Dawkins said tonight. Three words. I taught him. He was speaking about House, and he seemed to mean that he had made The Great Enrico out of House. Dawkins is a queer customer. I don't know quite what to make of him. He seems to be the secretive taciturn, brooding type, the type that would turn inward on himself and huddle around a grievance. What’s more, nobody had a better opportunity of killing House, or of making it look unlikely that he did kill him. When he told me that he had seen someone in the corridor, it was in answer to a leading question. He may have been lying about that. Better put a tail on him and see what he does with himself for the next few days.”
Papineau shrugged sceptically. “Me, I do not t'ink it is M’sieu Dawkins.”
Neither did Rita House when, at Power’s invitation, she came to his flat the following morning after breakfast. “No, no, Kent! Joe couldn’t have done it!”
“Why couldn’t he?” Power insisted. “Supposing all these years he has believed he really was the brains behind Hank. Hank was getting all the acclaim—all the income—while he remained unhonored and unsung. That sort of feeling might have grown inside a man of Dawkins’ introverted type until it became unbearable.”
“But why should he have chosen last night, of all nights?”
“Didn’t he know about the feeling between Hank and your family? And that suspicion would logically fall in that direction?”
SHE SHOOK her head distressedly. “But there never was the least ill-feeling between them—never! And he knew that he owed everything to Hank. He was down and out, drinking himself to death, when Hank took hold of him. Joe had an act of his own at the time, but somehow he couldn’t put it across on the stage. Just lacked the personality. Despite his cleverness. He really is a first-rate magician. I know he’s queer and secretive, but I’m sure he loved Hank for all Hank did for him.”
“Or do you say that because, having loved Hank so much yourself, you can’t imagine anyone not loving him? I’d like to be as clear on this as I can, Rita. It we eliminate Joe, the finger points in a most embarrassing direction.”
Her face slowly hardened. All that the Tallants had done to Hank House down the years returned with its freight of angry protest. “Let it point where it will,” she said tersely.
After she had gone, he went into his laboratory and sat staring again at that fragment of brown glass that reposed, a tiny speck, on a piece of white filter paper on the bench. He had tried it for volatile poisons but found nothing. That, of course, was not unexpected given so small a fragment, but it was disappointing. For he could not rid himself of the conviction that in some manner that glass spicule meant something to the solution of this case. It was not part of the jewelled sword hilt, had been held in the hilt’s interstices only by gravity. Which meant that it must have got there while the murder was being committed, and fallen to the floor immediately after he, Power, had removed the sword from the basket.
The phone rang, and it was Papineau. “We find only one set of prints on that sword.”
“Those’ll be mine.”
"Oui, they correspond to another set on the doorknob.”
“I opened the door to let Mrs. House in.”
“There are three others.”
"Two of ’em'll be Dawkins’ and John Tallant’s. They both came in after the murder. So did you.”
“Dawkins opened the door for us. I suppose I must search t’rough the ’ole t’irty-two guests for the fourth. It is too much!”
“I'd start with Perry Gates.”
“Me, I wonder if she is wort’ while. This murderer ’as take care to leave no prints on the sword. Per’aps ’e takes the same care wit’ the doorknob. And per’aps that is why we find only the four prints—all so clear—on a door that many people must ’ave open.”
“I’d still make sure of the fourth, Pap. Perhaps the murderer did wipe the knob clean. But supposing immediately after he did so he heard someone coming along the hall. He may have grabbed it again instinctively with the idea of slipping back into the room. But no one came. He takes his hand off the knob without realizing he has grasped it and so fails to wipe it clean again.”
“It makes no ’ay wit’ me, that,” Pap declared sceptically.
“I'd still make sure of that fourth set of prints.”
Power went downtown. In the office of the vice-president of the Carno Pharmaceutical Company, he held out the tiny fragment of glass to his friend, Tom Knowlings. “What kind of drugs might come in an ampoule of that sort of glass?”
“Could you give me a list?”
“It’d take an hour or two. I’d have to put one of our chemists onto it.”
“Will you send the list to my flat as soon as it's complete?”
POWER returned home and began to pore through his Cushny. He was still studying that most useful text when Papineau arrived. The sergeant had not yet contacted Perry Gates, but two of the prints had corresponded with John Tallant’s and Dawkins’. He took Power's prints—which fitted the third. And then he laid a slip of paper on the bench in front of Power.
"Regardez! One of my men ’as follow the gentleman to a telegraph office.”
It was a copy of a message.
Acme Theatrical Agency,
45 East Forty-second Street.
Great Enrico Dead Here Stop Taking Over Props And Act Stop Book Me Unfulfilled Engagements As Great Guiseppi Stop Wire Reply Mayfield Hotel. Dawkins.
“Not wasting any time, is he?” Power exclaimed.
“Me, I waver over this M’sieu Dawkins,” Papineau confessed. “At first I say no—but this marches wit’ your suspicions, non?"
“I suggest you make Dawkins another visit. Don’t let him see what you’re doing, but find out if he has any medicine bottles lying about his room. If he has, you might try a little palming.”
Papineau perked his ears. “For why the medicine bottles?”
“I’m worried about his health,” Power replied, as Hicks came in to announce lunch. He was anxious about other healths. When Papineau departed an hour later, he rang up Rita House. “What drugstore does your family patronize?”
She gave him a name. Then he went along to Gates’ apartment. Perry Gates employed a rather dour and elderly woman to look after his flat by day, and when she answered his ring Power said that he had come to inspect the plumbing.
When he opened the small closet above the wash basin, she said, “No pipes there.”
“You never know where a plumber’ll put a pipe, sister.”
He moved along the bedroom, very luxurious. “The only pipes in there are what he smokes,” she said.
“My error—where’s the kitchen."
Three minutes later he said, ‘You've got some of the finest plumbing here I’ve seen in Montreal, sister. Congratulations."
Since Perry Gates used the same pharmacy as the Tallants, he thought to kill two birds with one stone. But the dispensing clerk at this establishment assured him that his ethics did not permit him to disclose what prescriptions were made up there, or for whom. “I mean to say, Mr. Power, we have to keep these matters confidential.”
“I could get a warrant.”
"Have you a warrant?”
‘‘Not on me."
When he got back to his flat the list of ampouled drugs from the Carno Pharmaceutical Company was awaiting him. He went through it very carefully—checking with Cushny—was still at it when Papineau rang. “You do not ’ave to be anxious about the ’ealt’ of M’sieu Dawkins. Not even a box of aspirins. But I ’ave somet’ing interesting. The fourt’ fingerprints on the doorknob belong to M’sieu Perry Gates.”
“I’m beginning to wonder if it is interesting,” Power exclaimed.
“Comment?” And then Papineau asked, “What is the name of your druggist, M’sieu Power? Per’aps I should be interested in your ’ealt’ also!”
“I don’t use one. How about picking me up here in your car in a quarter of an hour. Bring The Great Guiseppi, if you’ve still got a tab on him.”
Power then rang Perry Gates’ office. Would Gates mind meeting him and Sergeant Papineau at the Tallant home shortly?
It was twenty minutes before the desk clerk downstairs rang to say that Sergeant Papineau was waiting. He had Joe Dawkins in the back seat, and the little man’s eyes actually betrayed some apprehension.
“Turning colder,” Power said, as he stepped in beside him.
Dawkins didn’t seem to think the remark merited a reply.
They found Perry Gates with John Tallant in the library of the big house on Pine Avenue. Both men wore somewhat that look of annoyance of a lion disturbed at a meal, sort of by protest out of disdain.
Power said, “Meet Mr. Joe Dawkins. You three have a good deal in common. Suspects all.”
It was, oddly enough, Joe Dawkins who spoke. He spoke one word: “No !”
Power swung on him. “Don’t care for your company, eh?”
Dawkins gave him the straight glance. “You’ve got nothing on me,” he said. “And you won’t have.” It was spoken in that same tone with which last night he had said: “I taught him.” Curt and confident.
“Then why were you in such a hurry to take on where Hank House left off?” Power asked him. “There was a telegram you sent to the Acme agency this morning. ”
DAWKINS rocked slightly on his heels, but he had an answer.“ A man has to think of his future.”
“If he has a future.” Power swung on Perry Gates. “But let’s go into the past again for a moment. Last night you told me you went straight home after House’s performance. That wasn’t true, was it?”
Gates’ florid face reddened. He said angrily, “I told you—”
“I know you told me, but you were lying.” Power seemed deliberately trying to anger these men. “We found your fingerprints on the door of the playroom. You went there, didn’t you?”
John Tallant snorted, “You’ll find all sorts of fingerprints there.”
“But we didn’t. We found only four. Yours, Dawkins’, Gates’ and my own.”
“You’ll find mine on every doorknob in this house.”
Power was facing Perry Gates again. “Why did we find yours?”
John Tallant said sharply, “Don't answer that, Perry! See your lawyer first!”
“Feel the need of a lawyer, Gates?”
Gates decided to go it on his own. He looked decidedly less sure of himself now. “I went there just before I left the house.”
“I thought House had needlessly humiliated the Tallants and wanted to tell him so.”
“With a clout on the back of the head.”
“No!” the other man growled angrily. “I didn’t enter the room."
“I realized the futility of it the moment my hand touched the doorknob. You can't make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”
“So you turned away in sorrow. The great renunciation. Very noble of you.”
“Hang it,” John Tallant shouted, “you don’t have to insult him!” He was very angry. “I won’t stand for it. You can’t pull that Gestapo stuff in this house!”
Power looked him coldly up and down. “You’re blustering—like a spoiled child. Be your age.”
Tallant clenched his fists. Caught up in the clutch of his anger, he breathed heavily, his face almost purplish. “Don’t talk to me that way!”
“I’ll talk as I please.”
“You . . . You!” It came gasping—and suddenly a spasm of pain twisted the bony contours of Tallant’s face.
Power did an unexpected thing. He reached into the gasping man’s right vest pocket and brought out a tiny object covered with blue silk. Crushing it in his handkerchief, he thrust it under Tallant’s nose. “This is what you want.”
Tallant pressed the handkerchief to his face and dropped into the chair behind him. His face lost its purplish color—became flushed. The look of pain left him.
Power turned to Papineau and said: “He’s your murderer.”
Half an hour later in the sitting room of his own flat, he said: “I felt from the beginning that that tiny bit of brown glass meant something, Pap. But it wasn’t until this afternoon that I realized what. John Tallant has angina pectoris, and like a lot of people with that type of heart disease he tried to keep it dark. Even his sister, Rita, knew nothing about it. If she had, she’d have recognized immediately the significance of that odor we noticed when we went into the playroom. Perhaps you noticed that I tried deliberately to annoy our three suspects—to get ’em angry.”
“Oui—usually you employ the suavity.”
“That was because I felt certain that House’s murderer suffered from angina pectoris, and I wanted to provoke him into an attack. I could see no other logical explanation for the fragment of glass and the odor. Tallant made the mistake of letting me anger him into an attack.”
“An angry man,” Papineau declared sententiously, “is anybody’s fool.”
“Tallant went into that room last night and found House there. They probably had words over the performance. I can imagine Hank telling him to go jump in the lake and turning his back on him. That was when Tallant struck. We’ll probably discover what with before he comes to trial. Then he put House in the basket. But all that activity engendered agitation, too. He had an attack—had to break one of the ampoules of amyl nitrite he always carries with him to ward ’em off. In his handkerchief. But when he recovered from the attack, vengeance was still unsatisfied. So he caught the sword in his handkerchief-protected hand, and one of the fragments of the ampule got caught in the interstices of the hilt. But that was his very bad luck. Look here.”
He showed Papineau the ampoule he had crushed for Tallant. “It has a woven, blue silk covering. That’s so it can be crushed without the crusher cutting his fingers. Under ordinary circumstances all the fragments are caught and held in the silk. But the silk covering is slightly open at both ends, and in this case the fragment we found must have escaped into his handkerchief, and so got caught on the sword hilt.”
“Such a little t’ing to betray a man!” Papineau breathed. “But these little t’ings! If ’Itler’s father ’as not change ’is name from Schicklegruber, per’aps we do not ’ave this sacré war. Even the Boches could not say to each other wit’out laughing: ‘Heil Schicklegruber.’ ”