Read Rex Stout_Tecumseh Fox 03 Online

Authors: The Broken Vase

Tags: #Traditional British, #General, #Mystery & Detective, #National Socialism, #Fiction

Rex Stout_Tecumseh Fox 03 (8 page)

BOOK: Rex Stout_Tecumseh Fox 03
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Dora nodded uncertainly, turned from him to push the button, and opened the door to the hall. In a moment Ted’s voice sounded behind her:

“Yep, that’s him all right. That’s the way he would come up stairs. My God, he’s sprightly.”

Dora did not know that her manner of shaking hands with Tecumseh Fox at their first meeting, the day before at Mrs. Pomfret’s, was chiefly responsible for his being nice to her, so there could have been no artifice in its repetition now—the impulsive friendly offer halted abruptly in midair as if uncertain of its welcome. Fox, ready for it this time, had his hand already there. Ted Gill, having retreated within, was not seen until the other two had entered; he acknowledged Fox’s greeting with an uncivil grunt, watched the disposal of his hat and coat with a sullen eye, and, when Dora sat down, replanted himself firmly on the piano bench. He spoke as one in a hurry to get something disposed of:

“Miss Mowbray says that you phoned that you were looking for me. Can I do something for you?”

“Yes, if you don’t mind,” Fox took some papers from his pocket, thumbed through them and selected one, unfolded it and glanced at it. “I thought it would save time to write this out and have it ready for you to sign.” He extended the paper in his hand and Ted took it.

As Ted read, the others watched his face. At the first glance his brows were raised, then they came down to participate in a frown of astonishment. His lips parted, then his jaws snapped them shut. Finally he looked at Fox, plainly flabbergasted, and then got up and handed the paper to Dora.

“Read that, will you?” he requested plaintively. She glanced up at him, at Fox, and then looked at the paper:

I, Theodore Gill, hereby declare and affirm:

That on Thursday afternoon, March 7th, 1940, Hebe Heath admitted to me that on the preceding Monday evening she had removed Jan Tusar’s violin from his dressing room at Carnegie Hall, and taken it to her rooms at the Churchill Hotel, and that it was still in her possession. She also told me that it had been locked in her wardrobe trunk continuously from Monday night until that moment
.

That I advised her to return the violin immediately to its owners (a group of five persons of whom she is one). That she asked my assistance. That I procured a carton, wrapping paper, tissue and string, packed the violin, addressed the package to Mrs. Irene Dunham Pomfret, and mailed it
.

That the violin taken by Miss Heath from her trunk, in my presence, is the one I sent to Mrs. Pomfret, and I am firmly convinced, from what Miss Heath told me, that it is the one she took from Tusar’s dressing room Monday evening
.

“I see,” Dora said. Her voice sounded strained. “Naturally you would want to protect Miss Heath—”

“Nothing doing,” Ted declared incisively. “Oh, no. This is bad enough as it is, without any misunderstanding on that score. Naturally I would want to strangle Miss Heath. But a publicity agent who obeyed his natural impulses would be in jail in five minutes. One of my colleagues in Hollywood …” He shrugged, and turned to stare at Fox. “You seem to be pretty stupendous. How come?”

Fox smiled at him. “Will you sign it?”

“I will if you’ll tell me how the devil you got onto it.”

“Nothing very adroit. Not at all stupendous. Miss Heath left the scene alone and in a hurry that evening, and was wearing a wrap that might easily have concealed the violin. Item two, I have never seen anything as hammy as her performance yesterday when Mrs. Pomfret announced that she had received the violin by parcel post—the back of her hand to her mouth and her eyes popping out and gasping for breath. The very essence of ham. Item three, the IRENE in the address on the package. Started to make a B and changed it to an N. Might have been thinking of Hebe.”

“I was thinking of her all right,” Ted declared grimly.

“No doubt. Of course it wasn’t conclusive, but it was enough to suggest a call on Miss Heath. I was with her an hour—one of the most singular hours in my experience. You should be able to tell me: Which is she, subtler than a serpent or not quite brainy?”

“I can tell you,” Ted said emphatically.

“Please do.”

“Between you and me and Miss Mowbray.”

“Certainly.”

“Well. It’s hard to find words. She is dumb beyond all previous manifestations of dumbness. Beyond the wildest dream of hebetude. Dumb enough to chew on the stick instead of sucking the lollipop. Dumb enough to grab a violin and scram for absolutely no reason whatever except that the violin’s there and she has fingers to pick it up with and an ermine wrap to hide it under.”

Fox was frowning. “That’s a little hard to take. That last one. I’m a little partial to motives.”

“You were with her an hour,” Ted expostulated. “Where do motives originate? In the heart. Okay, say she has a heart. What is necessary for a motive to result in action? Transference through a nervous center called a brain. Well?”

“Maybe,” Fox conceded doubtfully. “Anyway, we’ll leave it at that for the present. May I have that paper, Miss Mowbray? Thank you.” He took his pen from his pocket and offered it to Ted. Ted spread the paper on the piano arm and wrote his name below the statement, as illegibly as possible, blew on it to dry it, and handed it over.

“Much obliged.” Fox stuck it in his pocket. “Another little point. Would you mind telling me what you and Miss Heath were doing in Tusar’s dressing room Monday evening? I mean before the concert.”

“Why didn’t you ask her?”

“I did. She said something about music being sublime. She pronounced it—”

“I know how she pronounces it. We went there to ask Tusar to have his picture taken with Miss Heath, with her holding the violin, and he refused. Miss Heath began to undergo emotions, and Tusar walked out.”

Fox nodded. “I saw him.” He turned to Dora. “May
I ask you, Miss Mowbray, did Tusar practice with you Monday afternoon?”

Dora shook her head. “Not in the afternoon. I went to his studio in the morning and we went through the Saint-Saens piece three times, but not the others. I left a little after twelve and didn’t see him again until evening, at the hall.”

“Why did you go through it three times? Didn’t it sound right?”

“I thought it did, but Jan wasn’t satisfied, especially with the animato after the introduction and the last eight measures before the allegro begins. He said he was racing it—”

“But the violin was all right? The tone? It didn’t sound as it did that evening?”

“Good heavens, no. In the evening it was terrible. From the very beginning it was terrible—but you heard it.…”

“Yes, I heard it.” Fox arose and went to get his coat. “I’ll run along. Thank you very much.”

“So it’s all—all over.” Dora moved toward the door. “It was Jan’s violin, and there was nothing—and that’s all.”

“Not all, Miss Mowbray.” Fox got his other arm in. “I’ve answered the questions you folks gave me, but I’ve run up against another one, and I’m afraid it’s a good deal uglier than those.”

“Uglier?…” she faltered.

“Yes. You’ll be hearing from Mrs. Pomfret, asking you to be there tomorrow at two o’clock. You too, Gill. In the meantime, you might be considering whether driving a man to suicide can be called murder. It’s a nice point.”

Chapter 6

T
he tendency of the human animal to follow a pattern, however recently molded, was illustrated on Sunday afternoon in Mrs. Pomfret’s library. Those twelve people had gathered there and sat at that table only once before, but as Mrs. Pomfret’s glance went down one side and up the other, she noted that each occupied the same chair as on the previous occasion. At her left Adolph Koch, and beyond him Ted Gill, Dora Mowbray, Tecumseh Fox, Diego Zorilla and Garda Tusar; at her right was Wells, then her son, her husband, Hebe Heath and Felix Beck. The meeting had convened a little late, for Fox had not arrived until a quarter past two. That must have been intentional, since he invariably got to places well ahead of time.

Mrs. Pomfret, completing her regnant glance, said that Mr. Fox had a report to make, and nodded at him.

Fox took a paper from his pocket, announced, “This is a statement signed yesterday by Mr. Theodore Gill,” and read it aloud.

The reactions were varied and in two quarters spectacular: Perry Dunham burst into a roar of laughter, and Hebe Heath, after maintaining a haughty stare at Fox until he reached the end, suddenly covered
her face with her beautiful hands and moaned. Ted Gill glared across at her; Garda’s eyes were flashing daggers; Henry Pomfret, next on her left, moved to increase the space between them. Diego Zorilla muttered in astonishment:

“A woman of course—but that one?” He demanded of Fox, “What is it, then? Merely a devil in her?”

Felix Beck was finding his tongue. “You!” he blurted. “I warned him! I warned Jan many times about you—”

“This is drivel,” Adolph Koch said sharply. “To begin with, I should like to know why Mr. Gill signed so extraordinary—”

“It is not drivel!” Garda cut him off. “She’s a Nazi!”

“Good God,” Ted Gill murmured in stupefaction.

“You, Garda,” Koch said caustically, “are an imbecile.”

“Oh, I am?” Garda was bitter, sarcastic, and triumphant. “I am always an imbecile, you think? When I said Jan was murdered I was an imbecile? So you said.” She snapped open her handbag, fumbled in it with hasty fingers, and took out an envelope. “This came to me today. Read it and see what you think now.”

Diego, next to her, had a hand there for it, but she reached around him toward Fox. Fox took the envelope, glanced at the address and postmark, extracted a slip of paper and looked at it front and back.

“No salutation,” he announced. “Hand-printed in ink—not, by the way, the same hand as on the package sent to Mrs. Pomfret—and it says: ‘Those who seek to damage the Reich will suffer for it as your brother did. Heil Hitler!’ Below, for signature, is a swastika. You say you got this today, Miss Tusar?”

“Yes. This morning by special delivery.”

“I noticed the special delivery. May I keep it?”

“No. I’m going to give it to the police.”

“As you please, of course. But I’d like to discuss it with you later—”

“Discuss it now,” Koch said bluntly. “It’s ridiculous! The idea that Miss Heath is a Nazi—What do you say to that, Mr. Gill?”

“Nothing. I’m petrified.”

“It’s absurd. Nor does that swastika thing prove that Nazis were responsible for Jan’s death; they may merely be taking credit for a misfortune they had nothing to do with.”

“Anyhow,” Mrs. Pomfret put in, “since Garda insists on turning it over to the police, that’s out of our hands. But I think the statement Mr. Gill signed entitles us to an explanation from Miss Heath. For what purpose did she remove the violin from the dressing room and keep it concealed for two days?”

Ted Gill groaned.

“That,” Fox said, “can wait. Any of you may ask Miss Heath about it later if you find it worth while. It is Mr. Gill’s opinion that, seeing the violin there, she surrendered to an irrational and irresistible impulse.”

“I don’t believe it,” Mrs. Pomfret said flatly.

“Well,” Perry Dunham offered, “here’s a suggestion that may solve two mysteries at once. I doubt if she’s a Nazi, but what if she’s a kleptomaniac?” He grinned crookedly at his stepfather. “She was here the day your Wan Li vase was stolen, wasn’t she? I’ll bet she swiped it, maybe starting a collection. Then she swiped the violin to start another collection—”

“Do you,” Koch inquired acidly of Mrs. Pomfret, “approve of your son’s brand of humor, madam?”

She met his gaze and matched his tone. “I don’t regard it as humor, Mr. Koch. However he may have
meant it. The same idea had occurred to me, quite seriously. When the vase disappeared you may remember that you said, of course in jest, that you must have taken it yourself because you were the only one present who appreciated its beauty and value. Though my husband and I have suspected Miss Heath all along, we have naturally kept silent, since there has been no evidence. Now we may at least say what we think. You agree, Henry?”

“I suppose so.” Pomfret looked uncomfortable. “If it will do any good. If it will get the vase back …”

“It may have that result.” Mrs. Pomfret aimed her shrewed eyes at Fox. “Will you please tell us how you learned that it was Miss Heath who stole the violin?”

“No,” Fox said bluntly. “At least not now, because I have something more important to tell you. We’ve been investigating what happened to the violin after Tusar used it Monday evening. Now the question is, what happened to it before he used it?”

There was an edge to his voice, a warning mordacity, that fastened all eyes on him.

“Or rather,” he went on, “the question is, who did it, because I know what happened. At some time between Monday noon and eight o’clock that evening, someone poured a lot of varnish through one of the f-holes and tilted the violin around to spread it over the inside of the back.”

There were ejaculations of incredulity and astonishment.

“God almighty,” Felix Beck said. “But that—no one alive—” He stopped, stunned.

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