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Rex Stout

BOOK: Rex Stout


When she saw him she stopped short, stood perfectly rigid, and, wanting to scream, set her teeth down hard on her lip. It looked at first as if he were doing a grotesque dance in the air, three inches above the ground, with his toes pointing downward.

Dol moved, took one step, and stopped again. He was unquestionably dead.…



Bantam Books by Rex Stout
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A Bantam Book / published by arrangement with the Author

Farrar & Rinehart edition published 1937 Bantam edition / January 1983

All rights reserved.
Copyright © 1937 by Rex Stout.
This book may not be reproduced in whole or in part, by mimeograph or any other means, without permission. For information address: Bantam Books, Inc

eISBN: 978-0-307-76814-8

Bantam Books are published by Bantam Books, Inc. Its trademark, consisting of the words “Bantam Books” and the portrayal of a rooster, is Registered in U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and in other countries. Marca Registrada. Bantam Books, Inc., 666 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10103



It was not surprising that Sylvia Raffray, on that Saturday in September, had occasion for discourse with various men, none of them utterly ordinary, and with one remarkable young woman; it was not surprising that all this happened without any special effort on Sylvia’s part, for she was rich, personable to an extreme, an orphan, and six months short of twenty-one years. She was intellectually unpretentious but not vapid; physically a fair focus for dreams but not a gasper—though a viscount stale from Oxford and dubbed her so; financially impregnable but not notorious.

As, around ten o’clock Saturday morning, she emerged from an elevator on the 28th floor of the Chemicals Building on 39th Street, her pretty lips were askew in a crooked line of worrisome determination and her lovely brown eyes were dark with trouble. But surely not a trouble that threatened her soul, for obviously she had not been losing any sleep; and, as she turned right and started down the wide corridor, there was no drag at all in the muscles of her happy young legs.

Twenty feet from the elevator door she stopped short. Facing her was a man who, meeting her from the opposite direction, had also stopped.

Sylvia showed surprise. “Well, hullo! I didn’t know you ever got as far south as this.” She looked down the corridor and back at him. “I suppose you’re buying aspirin wholesale?”

The man stammered, “Miss Raffray. Really.” He too
looked along the corridor and back. “They don’t make aspirin, do they?”

She shook her head. “I guess not. I saw you come out of there. Not that it’s any of my business—but I didn’t know they had begun making chemicals out of brains.” She looked doubtful. “I don’t suppose that’s funny, either. Anyhow, nice to see you.” She took a step.

He put out a restraining hand, but without reaching her. He said somewhat loudly, “Miss Raffray!” in a tone of urgency and appeal. She halted, surprised again, and turned the brown eyes back to him. Always pale, he seemed a shade paler, now that she really looked at him. She saw that his stringy hair, objectionably thin for a man not yet forty, was as usual straggling on his forehead, that his large nostrils were faintly quivering from his perpetual mental excitement, which was also definitely objectionable, and that his pale inquisitive eyes appeared, even more than ordinarily, to emerge perceptibly from their sockets in the effort to see more, see deeper, see everything. None of this surprised her, but his tone did, and his hand reaching for her. She raised her brows at him.

He swallowed. “Miss Raffray, I … I don’t want to be impertinent.…”

She laughed. “There’s no law against it. But I’m late.”

“Yes. You’re going to see Mr. Storrs. Aren’t you?”

“I was headed that way.”

“Yes.” The man closed his lips tight. Then opened them again: “I want to ask you … don’t see him. That is, don’t see him now. See him later. He’s not—” He stopped, and frowned. “Oh, the devil. That’s all. See him later.”

Sylvia was staring at him. “What’s the matter? Is he lit? That would be good, P. L. lit. Or are you? What’s the matter? Are you lit, Professor Zimmerman?”

“No. I’m not a professor. I’m an instructor of psychology.”

“But you’re an Assistant Professor. Martin told me, kudos from your book. And I haven’t congratulated you. May I? But what is this about P. L.? Have you analyzed him and left him limp?” She glanced at her wrist. “Good lord, I’m twenty minutes late! Are you doing an experiment on me, getting a reaction or something?”

“Please.” The man raised his hand again, and dropped it. “I merely thought you would realize, if I asked you to postpone … but of course you won’t. You will, though, later. You will realize, Miss Raffray, that sometimes an injury, an almost mortal injury … you will realize what a sacrifice I have made to devotion, that I am profoundly devoted …?” He stopped, frowned at her, and finally shook his head. He muttered, “No. All right. The devil. Go ahead,” and turned and started briskly toward the elevators.

Sylvia attempted no outcry, and allowed only three seconds for astonished gaze at the man’s retreating back. Then, murmuring with a tinge of exasperation, “Utterly off his nut,” she proceeded to the end of the corridor, where wide double doors proclaimed in gold lettering, COMMERCIAL CHEMICALS CORPORATION, and entered. So, briefly, ended her first occasion for important discourse that morning, though she had then no hint of its importance.

The second occasion, this one not accidental but by appointment, took place in the private office of Peter Lewis Storrs, president of the Commercial Chemicals Corporation. As Sylvia was ushered in to him by a soft-spoken young woman who obviously, from her lips and eyes and cheeks, did not confine her dealings with chemicals to their business aspect, P. L. Storrs glared at her from behind a telephone transmitter, nodded at a chair, and continued rumbling into the phone. She sat and regarded him with her lower lip caught by a tooth. She saw nothing alarming, nothing to account for Professor Zimmerman’s idiotic suggestion in the corridor. Everything seemed quite normal: the brusque impatient bass of his voice, the golf-tanned healthy skin crowned by his thick gray mop of hair, the colored handkerchief showing at his breast pocket, the slight redness in the eyes which she knew was the banner of hay fever.

But when he finished with the phone and pushed it away, something extraordinary, indeed unprecedented, did happen. He said nothing. He sat and looked at her a full ten seconds, pursing his lips. Finally he slowly shook his head, got up from his chair, and walked around his desk to
stop where she sat, looking down at her. She sent her eyes up at him, speculating. At length he shook his head again, sighed audibly, returned to his chair, placed his hands on top of his desk with the fingers interlocked, and rubbed the ends of his thumbs together, regarding her. All this was remarkable. He had not reproached her for being late, he had not asked her if she wanted a drink of water, and he was showing no efficiency whatever in the employment of time. She had not dreamed that he had been so disturbed by the little difficulty—little to him—which had arisen, and she bit her lip again. Then she smiled at him:

“I met a man in the hall. Steve Zimmerman. He said I shouldn’t see you. He said I should wait and see you later.”

P. L. Storrs was scowling. “He did, huh?”

She nodded. “He was stammering. That alone was funny enough, you know how he can talk if you let him get started. I was surprised to see him—I thought you disliked him so much—”

“What else did he say?”

“That was all. Oh, he raved something about mortal injury and sacrifice and devotion—do you think he’s cracked? I do. I expected to find you … I don’t know, he was crazy. I thought you tolerated him only on account of Martin. I thought you disliked him.”

“I do.” Storrs tightened his lips, then resumed, “Zimmerman is vile. Zimmerman is a mental and emotional scavenger. Call it modern psychology! Pah!” He made an abrupt gesture. “What else did he say?”


“You said mortal injury.”

“He was just blithering. I guess he was anyhow.” Sylvia bit her lip again, then released it, and sat up straighter. “But I was late, and I’m keeping you. I had a long talk with Dol last night.”

Storrs nodded. “You said you would. And I said—”

“I know. But listen, P. L. Please listen. I know there’s no use arguing with you about Dol, because we’d only fight. But I have to tell you what she said. There are three important points. Wait.” Sylvia opened her ostrich-skin bag and fumbled in it for a paper, which she unfolded and frowned at. “Now, first, the matter of publicity. Dol says
okay. I told you yesterday, that piece in the Sunday Gazette was just an accident. Len Chisholm—”

“It’s no use.” Storrs was brusque. “Really, Sylvia—”

“You wait, P. L.!” She raised her voice. “You be quiet! And then you can be reasonable. Len Chisholm got those pictures and jollied us about it, and we thought he was only joking, and then the Sunday editor offered him two hundred dollars for it and he needed the money. Dol says”—she squinted at the paper—“she will guarantee in writing that no similar disaster will occur in the future. That’s the first point. Next, me being around there too much. I myself think that’s silly, because I might as well be there as anywhere else, except maybe in jail, and it’s no more vulgar than a dog show and it doesn’t smell as bad; but anyway, Dol has written down here, ‘Miss Raffray will come to the office no more than three times a week, for conferences.’ That settles that. The third and last point—well, this is the big concession
make. Dol persuaded me. I don’t think to have the firm’s name Bonner & Raffray is a disgrace at all, and I’m not ashamed of it, but Dol persuaded me. The new name will be the Bonner Detective Agency, Incorporated, and Dol and I will each own half of the stock, same as before, and she’ll be president and I’ll be vice-president and treasurer—don’t just sit there like that and shake your head at me!”

Storrs’ head was moving from side to side too slowly, with too much reluctance, for his typical firm certitude. At her protest it stopped all movement, and he sat gazing at her gloomily. Presently he rumbled, “Sylvia … dear child, dear Sylvia.…”

“Oh, my God!” She waved an irritated hand at him. “That’s the limit, P. L., pulling the softy act on me. This should be man to man. It’s not fair.”

“It certainly isn’t.” He shook his head again, and actually heaved a sigh. “I’m not pulling an act. I was thinking of something … but not now … no, I can’t now. You think I was acting soft?” His tone was suddenly grim. “Not exactly. For the first time in my life I really understand murder. I could at this moment kill a man”—his clenched fists were on the desk before him—“with these two hands, without compunction. And feel I had done a good job, and
willingly—” He stopped abruptly and with his fist shoved a heavy paperweight so that it slid across the polished desk and collided with a file basket. He glared at the basket, then looked at Sylvia. “I’m a damned fool. I can’t now. I suppose you’re going to be in the country with us this evening?”

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