Not Quite Dead Enough. | Chapter 26 of 30 - Part: 1 of 2

Author: Rex Stout | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 2955 Views | Add a Review

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Chapter 8

For dinner we had clams, frog legs, roast duck Mr. Richards, roasted corn on the cob, green salad, blackberry pie, cheese, and coffee. I sat across from Wolfe. On my right was General Carpenter. On my left was Sergeant Bruce. Obviously Wolfe had known Carpenter was going to bring her along, since the table was set for four before they arrived, but he hadn’t mentioned it to me. She ate like a sergeant, if not in manner, anyhow in quantity. We all did.

In the office, after the meal, I lighted cigarettes for her and me. Carpenter, in the red leather chair that John Bell Shattuck had occupied the evening before, filled a pipe and lighted it, crossed his legs, and puffed. Wolfe, disposed for comfort on his throne behind his desk, took it like a man. He hated pipes, but the expression on his face said plainly, at least to me, this is war and one must not shrink from the hardships.

“I still don’t understand,” Carpenter said, “why Shattuck exposed his flanks like that.”

Wolfe sighed with contentment. “Well,” he murmured, “he didn’t think he was. First, he underrated me. Second, he grossly overrated himself. That’s an occupational disease of those in the seats of the mighty. Third, that anonymous letter got him flustered. That was close to a stroke of genius, sending those letters out promiscuously.”

Carpenter nodded. “Dorothy’s idea. Miss Bruce.”

I thought to myself, Huh. “Dorothy.” “Ken darling.” She sure does get on a sociable basis.

“She appears to have some intelligence,” Wolfe conceded. “Nevertheless, she is a jenny ass. She hasn’t told you, of course, that she undertook to test my integrity and Major Goodwin’s. She offered to buy me for a million dollars. Since she has streaks of brilliance, use her by all means, but I think you should know that she also has a streak of imbecility. It was the most transparent springe ever devised by a female brain.”

“To you, perhaps.” Carpenter was smiling. “But I had suggested it to her. I told her to try you out if an opportunity came. With the interests and the sums involved, I was even keeping an eye on myself. And while I was aware of your talents—”

Wolfe grimaced. “Bah.” He waved it away, from the wrist. “You might at least have shown a little ingenuity in concealing the noose. As for Shattuck, he couldn’t help himself. Probably he had already had a hint that Ryder was about to crumple up.”

“I still don’t understand Ryder. I would have sworn he was as sound as they come, but he had a rotten spot.”

“Not necessarily,” Wolfe disagreed. “Possibly only a vulnerable one. No telling what. They were old friends, and who is so apt to know the secret word, the hidden threat, that will paralyze a man into helplessness, as an old friend? But Ryder got two shocks, simultaneously, that caused the threat, whatever it was, to lose its power. His beloved only son got killed in battle, and one of his men, Captain Cross, was murdered. The first altered all his values; and connivance at murder was not in his contract. He decided to go to you and let it out, and he informed Shattuck of his decision, not privately—he didn’t want to discuss it or argue about it—but publicly, irrevocably, before witnesses. That’s what it amounted to.”

“What a fix for a man,” Carpenter muttered.

“Yes. Also a fix for Shattuck. He was done for too. After that he really had no choice, and circumstances made it, if not easy for him, at least not too difficult. Returning after lunching with General Fife, all he had to do was get three or four minutes alone in Ryder’s office, and doubtless he didn’t find that very hard to manage. Then, I suppose, he left for some appointment. Men of his prominence always have appointments. You asked me before dinner if he killed Captain Cross too. As a conjecture, yes. If you’re going to complete the file on it, find out if he was in New York last Wednesday evening, and follow the trial.” Wolfe shrugged. “He’s dead.”

Carpenter nodded. He was gazing at Wolfe with a certain expression, an expression I had often seen on the faces of people sitting in that chair looking at Wolfe. It reminded me of what so many out-of-town folks say about New York: that they love to visit the place, but you couldn’t pay them to live there. Me, I live there.

Carpenter said, “What put you onto him?”

“I’ve already told you. His reaction, here, when Major Goodwin opened drawers and started to open the suitcase. Until then, I didn’t know. It might have been Fife, or Tinkham, or even Lawson. By the way,” Wolfe glanced at the clock, “they’ll be here in twenty minutes. I’ll explain to them about Miss Bruce, tell them I was merely using her, since you don’t want her real status revealed. But the instructions about Shattuck are to be an order from you. I promised him it would be an accident, and I’m holding to that line with the police, though Inspector Cramer knows better. He knows—he has had contacts with me before, over a period of years. That scene here today—what I said to Shattuck—is for no open record or general conversation.”

“I’ll see to that,” Carpenter agreed. “With the understanding, of course, that it is not to impede future operations. We’ll never get anyone who was concerned in it, but at least we’ll stop it, and we’ll stop them. I’m wondering—We might have broken Shattuck’s back, we just might—if we still had him.”

“Pfui.” Wolfe was complacent. “If he had had real stuff in him, if he had stuck it out and fought it out, we would have got nowhere. Convict him of murder? Nonsense. As for the rest, the battalions of wealth, legal talent and political power that would have lined up behind him—He could have thumbed his nose at us.” Wolfe sighed. “But he had annoyed me. He had challenged me. He came here last evening to warn me not to allow anyone to play tricks on me! So, knowing myself, I knew I’d never be able to let go of him, and I couldn’t afford it. As you know, I take no pay for this government work, and it leaves me little time for my private detective business. I simply couldn’t afford to spend the next three years, or five or ten, attending to Mr. Shattuck, or trying to.”

Carpenter gazed at Wolfe, puffing on his pipe. After about six pulls he realized he was out, and reached in his pocket for a match.

I dived into the opening.

“Major Goodwin,” I said, “requests permission to speak to General Carpenter.”

Carpenter frowned at me. “You’d never make a soldier. You’re too damn fresh. What do you want?”

“A suggestion, sir. I understand that General Fife and Colonel Tinkham are to be kept in ignorance of what Sergeant Bruce is: the brains of G2, apparently. So I should think they would be startled by her presence here and maybe suspect she is not a simple little WAC. So I just whispered to her to ask if she likes to dance, and she whispered back that she does. I respectfully suggest—”

“Go on, go on, get out of here, both of you. It’s a good idea at that, isn’t it, Dorothy?”

She nodded. “That’s why I told him I like to dance.”

Momentarily, I let it go. But after we had left the house and walked to the corner and flagged a taxi and she had got in, I spoke to her through the open door.

“Let’s start from scratch. He can take you to Eleventh Street, or he can take us uptown. Do you like to dance or don’t you?”

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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