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Authors: Ellery Queen

The Devil's Cook

BOOK: The Devil's Cook
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The Devil's Cook

Ellery Queen

MYSTERIOUSPRESS.COM

God may send a man good meate,

but the deuyll may send

an euyll coke to dystrue it.

—A
NDREW
B
OORDE

Dyetary of Helth (1542)

God sends meat,

but the devil sends cooks.

—J
ONATHAN
S
WIFT

Polite Conversation (1738)

Cast of Characters

Terry Miles—She was five feet four of scenic stuff, and she wasn't particular who explored the scenery

Farley Moran—Law student and Terry's neighbor. He was a cool cat who lost his
sang froid
the night the police sent him out to meet the killer

Ben Green—Farley's roommate. He was Terry's type, more or less. Trouble was, he had more brains and less money than most of her playmates

Orville Reasnor—Janitor by trade, girl watcher by choice. When it came to the tenants, he never missed a trick or a torso

Fanny Moran—Farley's half-sister. A neat little package of goodies that all the boys wanted to open, but it was marked “Don't Touch”

Jay Miles—Professor of economics and Terry's husband. He was the only one who didn't seem to miss his missing wife

Otis Bowers—A brilliant physicist, but he flunked out in Adultery

Ardis Bowers—His nagging wife. To her, marriage was an institution and she intended to make Otis serve his full term, but no time off for bad behavior

Maurice Feldman—Terry's lawyer. He knew his client's favorite sport, but she changed partners so often he never knew who was in the game

Brian O'Hara—Small-time gambler—big-time Lothario. He only went for a sure thing, in horses or women

Capt. Bartholdi—A cop with Gallic charm. He looked like a boulevardier, but he could teach Mickey Spillane a few tricks

Freda Page—Jay Miles' student assistant. Even thick lenses couldn't hide the lovelight in her eyes when Jay's name was mentioned

1

Handclasp, which is not defined in the dictionary, connotes friendliness. If your dictionary has a gazetteer, you might find Handclasp listed as a city, population 125,407, in north-central United States.

It is reasonable to assume that the founders of Handclasp named their settlement with fair visions of an inland oasis in which the habitants would live in harmony with each other, and maybe even with the Indians. Alas for visions! Although there is no record of trouble with the Indians, there has been, from time to time, a generous dollop of it among the citizenry. Some of this trouble has been trivial, some has ben serious, but most of it, as in the wider world, has been neither one nor the other. There has been a continuity of political wars, social antagonisms, personal vendettas, and marital shenanigans. Here and there, in this haphazard chronicle of standard deviations, some of which went as far as the courts, an occasional item of gaudier aspect pops up.

Like murder.

The propaganda issued by the Chamber of Commerce to entice new industry will tell you that Handclasp has, in addition to parks, libraries, and wide streets, over one hundred churches of various denominations and almost fifty elementary and secondary schools, public, parochial, and private. The inference is clear. Although dedicated to profits and progress, the Chamber is civilization-conscious. If further proof is demanded, look at Handclasp University.

Founded as a private institution in 1869, taken over by the city in 1893 and by the state in 1924, Handclasp University has grown into a flourishing association of five fully accredited colleges boasting a total enrollment of nearly seven thousand students. On or near the campus there are almost enough dormitories and fraternity and sorority houses to accommodate the enrollment. For the overflow, including tenant faculty members, there are convenient rooms in private houses carefully screened by the university lodging service, and habitable apartment buildings. Of these, although it is not mentioned by the Chamber, The Cornish Arms is one.

The grandest thing about The Cornish Arms is its name. Otherwise, it is fair to call it ordinary. It is a buff brick building set flush with the sidewalk and rising two stories. The ground floor is bisected by a hall from street to back-alley and this design is duplicated on the floor above. There is an apartment to each side of each hall—four all told—and they are, if not posh, at least comfortable. In the basement there is a fifth apartment which is occupied, or was, by Orville Reasnor, the superintendent and maintenance man.

The Cornish Arms, in brief, is not singled out for attention because it is in any way distinguished. It is described because, at this particular time, certain people lived there.

One of these was Terry Miles. Terry cannot be casually dismissed. From, metatarsus to auburn crown, she stood five feet four of scenic stuff. It was scenery, moreover, that she knew how to display to most graphic effect. Cézanne never did more with a landscape than Terry did with hers; and if he did it to more people, it was only because Terry never hung in a gallery or was constructed of materials as durable. While they lasted however, they did have the advantage of mobility. She could, for example, pick her spots and a special class of tourist. Let it be said that the lucky nature-lovers who were permitted to pause and admire Terry's scenery in detail, while differing considerably among themselves, possessed a common denominator. They were all men.

On this afternoon, which was the afternoon of a Friday in November, Terry went calling. She had not to go very far—to be exact, seven feet, which was the width of the hall outside her door. Having crossed that distance and reached another door exactly like hers, she knocked on it, and it was opened after a delay by a young man in a deplorable gray sweatshirt, wheat jeans, and rather soiled sneakers. His dark hair was tousled, having a tendency to curl, and his eyes were a disconcerting pale gray in color, darkening near the pupils to a shade that seemed sometimes slatish and sometimes green. His mouth was small, but it was filled with good if small teeth, and so it appeared to be bigger than it was. He was, in sum, a young man of striking good looks; he might have been handsome enough to look dull if he had not, being shrewd, fought the effect off with deliberate sloppiness.

In his right hand he was clasping a can of beer that had been plugged in two places and was perspiring invitingly.

“Hello, Terry,” he leered. “Come in and join the orgy.”

“Really? A real orgy?” Terry stretched on her toes to peer over Farley's shoulder in search of the lurid details. “I don't see any signs of it.”

“We've taken cover. We thought you might be the vice squad. Damn it, Terry, come on in before the super gets suspicious.”

Terry stepped into a room that was, except for personal items and colors and an accumulated disorder, a mirror image of the one she had just left. Books were stacked on a straight chair. More books were tumbled carelessly onto one end of a well-worn sofa. At the other end of the sofa, slumped on his spine with a can of beer balanced precariously on his stomach, sat a young man who seemed to have one eye that was incapable of opening as wide as its mate. This produced the disconcerting effect of a squint; he was apparently peering malevolently when he was in fact only looking at you. Below the eyes jutted a crooked nose, surrounded by a face of engaging ugliness. Furthermore he was short, slight of build, and seemed at the moment overcome by a feeling of unshakable lassitude. He made no move to rise when Terry entered the room, compromising on a limp wave that caused the can of beer to tilt dangerously on his stomach.

“Hi, Terry,” he said, in a surprisingly baritone voice. “I'm afraid Farley was telling you a whopper. No orgy.”

“Oh, Ben, I knew he was just joking,” Terry said. “I mean, there would have been a lot of noise and everything. Orgies are by definition noisy. Everyone knows that.”

She went over and sat down on the sofa between the young man named Ben and the books. The other young man, the one called Farley, seated himself by the simple expedient of backing against the arm of an overstuffed chair and falling across it into the seat. During this maneuver, he adroitly preserved the integrity of his beer.

“Are you disappointed?” Farley said.

“I am, rather,” Terry said. “Orgies can be quite pleasant if they're conducted properly.”

“That comment,” said the young man with the squint and the crooked nose, “requires some excogitating. It raises an arguable point. Are orgies ever proper?”

“Moreover,” said Farley, “I doubt that they are ‘conducted.' In my experience, they just start somehow and grow.”

“That is exactly the kind of academic quibbling I'd expect from a law student and an embryo historian,” Terry said. “You're just making excuses for not providing me with interesting entertainment.”

“You're right.” Ben, the young man on the sofa, deftly snared his can, took a long swallow from it, and rebalanced it on his stomach. “If I had time, I'd get an orgy started. Unfortunately, I have to leave soon. I hate to walk out on any kind of entertainment, proper or otherwise.”

“That's true,” said Farley. “Old Ben is off on a mysterious excursion for the weekend. Even I have not been admitted to his confidence, but I suspect the complicity of my sweet little sister in the apartment upstairs. Damn it, Ben, would you actually consort with the little sister of your friend and roomie?”

“Nothing of the sort.” Old Ben squinted at his friend and roomie with incredible malevolence. “Fanny has nothing to do with it.”

“Where are you going?” Terry said.

“That,” said Ben, “is for me to know and you to find out.”

“There's no use asking him,” said Farley. “He simply won't tell me. For my part, I'm reconciled to his lack of faith in me, shabby though it is. We were just having a couple of parting beers.”

“As I see it,” Terry said, “you are still having them, and
I
would have one with
you
, if only someone had the good manners to ask me.”

“Farley,” said Ben, “what in hell has happened to your manners? Why don't you ask Terry to have a beer?”

“Excuse me,” Farley said. “Terry, will you have a beer?”

“Yes, I will,” Terry said.

Farley, bailed out of his chair over the arm, as he had got in, and started for the kitchen.

“While you are in the refrigerator,” said Terry, “I'd appreciate it if you would get me three fresh carrots.”

Farley came to an abrupt halt. He seemed to be having difficulty with the message.

“Did you say three fresh carrots?” he said.

“Yes, medium-sized, if you please.”

“Why in the devil, if I may ask, would you simply assume that you could borrow anything like three fresh carrots from a couple of bachelor students?”

“Why not? You and Ben cook most of your own meals, don't you? It's perfectly reasonable to assume that you might have carrots around the place.”

BOOK: The Devil's Cook
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