Выбрать главу

“Who on earth could have wanted to kill that man?”

“I don't know. That's what I've been hired to find out-provided the poison reached its intended destination. You say you're not surprised, but I am. I'm surprised the police haven't locked you all up.”

“They damn' near did,” Traub said grimly.

“I certainly thought they would arrest me,” Madeline Fraser declared. “That was what was in my mind-it was all that was in my mind-as soon as I heard the doctor say cyanide. Not who had given him that glass and bottle, not even what the effect would be on my programme, but the death of my husband. He died of cyanide poisoning six years ago.”

Wolfe nodded. The papers haven't neglected that. It was what leaped first to your mind?”

“Yes, when I heard the doctor say cyanide. I suppose you wouldn't understand-or perhaps you would-anyway it did.”

“It did to mine too,” Deborah Koppel interposed, in a tone that implied that someone had been accused of something. “Miss Fraser's husband was my brother. I saw him just after he died. Then that day I saw Cyril Orchard, and-” She stopped. Having her in profile, I couldn't see her eyes, but I saw her clasped hands. In a moment she went on: “Yes, it came to my mind.”

Wolfe stirred impatiently. “Well, I won't pretend that I'm exasperated that you're such good friends that you haven't been able to remember what happened.

If you had, and had told the police, I might not have this job.” He glanced at the clock on the wall. “It's after eleven. I had thought it barely possible that I might get a wedge into a crack by getting you here together, but it seems hopeless. You're much too fond of one another. Our time has been completely wasted. I haven't got a thing, not a microscopic morsel, that I hadn't already got from the papers. I may never get anything, but I intend to try. Which of you will spend the night here with me? Not all the night; probably four or five hours. I shall need that long, more or less, with each of you, and I would like to start now. Which of you will stay?”

There were no eager volunteers.

“My Lord!” Elinor Vance protested. “Over and over and over again.”

“My clients,” Wolfe said, “are your employer, your network, and your sponsors.

Mr Meadows?”

“I've got to take Miss Fraser home,” Bill objected. “I could come back.”

“I'll take her,” Tully Strong offered.

“That's foolish.” Deborah Koppel was annoyed. “I live only a block away and we'll take a taxi together.”

“I'll go with you,” Elinor Vance suggested. “I'll drop you and keep the taxi on uptown.”

“I'll ride with you,” Tully Strong insisted.

“But you live in the Village!”

“Count me in,” Bill Meadows sdd stubbornly. “I can be back here in twenty minutes. Thank God tomorrow's Wednesday.”

“This is all unnecessary,” the president of Starlite broke in with authority. He had left the couch and was among the candi- dates, who were also on their feet.

“My car is outside and I can take all of you who are going uptown. You can stay here with Wolfe, Meadows.” He turned and stepped to the desk. “Mr Wolfe, I haven't been greatly impressed this evening. Hardly at all impressed.”

“Neither have I,” Wolfe agreed. “It's a dreary outlook. I would prefer to abandon it, but you and I are both committed by that press release.” Seeing that some of them were heading for the hall, he raised his voice. “If you please? A moment. I would like to make appointments. One of you tomorrow from eleven to one, another from two to four, another in the evening from eight-thirty to twelve, and another from midnight on. Will you decide on that before you go?”

They did so, with me helping them and making notes of the decisions. It took a little discussion, but they were such good friends that there was no argument.

The only thing that soured the leave-taking at all was when Owen made an opportunity to pass me a crack about no patch or cut being visible on Wolfe's face. He might at least have had the decency to let it lie.

“I said nothing about his face,” I told him coldly. “I said he cut himself shaving. He shaves his legs. I understood you wanted him in kilts for the pictures.”

Owen was too offended to speak. Utterly devoid of a sense of humour.

When the others had gone Bill Meadows was honoured with the red leather chair.

On a low table at his elbow I put a replenished glass, and Fritz put a tray holding three sandwiches made with his own bread, one of minced rabbit meat, one of corned beef, and one of Georgia country ham. I arranged myself at my desk with my notebook, a plate of sandwiches to match Bill's, a pitcher of milk and a glass. Wolfe had only beer. He never eats between dinner and breakfast. If he did he never would be able to say he is no fatter than he was five years ago, which isn't true anyhow.

In a way it's a pleasure to watch Wolfe doing a complete overhaul on a man, or a woman either, and in another way it's enough to make you grit your teeth. When you know exactly what he's after and he's sneaking up on it without the slightest sound to alarm the victim, it's a joy to be there. But when he's after nothing in particular, or if he is you don't know what, and he pokes in this hole a while and then tries another one, and then goes back to the first one, and as far as you can see is getting absolutely nowhere, and the hours go by, and your sandwiches and milk are all gone long ago, sooner or later the time comes when you don't even bother to get a hand in front of your yawns, let alone swallow them.

If, at four o'clock that Wednesday morning, Wolfe had once more started in on Bill Meadows about his connections with people who bet on horse races, or about the favourite topics of conversation among the people we were interested in when they weren't talking shop, or about how he got into broadcasting and did he like it much, I would either have thrown my notebook at him or gone to the kitchen for more milk. But he didn't. He pushed back his chair and manipulated himself to his feet. If anyone wants to know what I had in the notebook he can come to the office any time I'm not busy and I'll read it to him for a dollar a page, but he would be throwing his money away at any price.

I ushered Bill out. When I returned to the office Fritz was there tidying up. He never goes to bed until after Wolfe does. He asked me: “Was the corned beef iuicy, Archie?”

“Good God,” I demanded, “do you expect me to remember that far back? That was days ago.” I went to spin the knob on the safe and jiggle the handle, remarking to Wolfe: “It seems we're still in the paddock, not even at the starting post. Who do you want in the morning? Saul and Orrie and Fred and Johnny? For what? Why not have them tail Mr Anderson?”

“I do not intend,” Wolfe said glumly, “to start spending money until I know what I want to buy-not even our clients' money. If this poisoner is going to be exposed by such activities as investigation of sales of potassium cyanide or of sources of it available to these people, it is up to Mr Cramer and his twenty thousand men. Doubtless they have already done about all they can in those directions, and many others, or he wouldn't have phoned me squealing for help.

The only person I want to see in the morning is-who is it? Who's coming at eleven?”

“Debby. Miss Koppel.”

“You might have taken the men first, on the off chance that we'd have it before we got to the women.” He was at the door to the hall. “Good night.”

Chapter Seven

If, thirty-three hours later, at lunch time on Thursday, anyone had wanted to know how things were shaping up, he could have satisfied his curiosity by looking in the dining-room and observing Wolfe's behaviour at the midday meal, which consisted of corn fritters with autumn honey, sausages, and a bowl of salad. At meals he is always expansive, talkative, and good-humoured, but throughout that one he was grim, sullen, and peevish. Fritz was worried stiff.