Wednesday we had entertained Miss Koppel from eleven to one, Miss Fraser from two to four, Miss Vance from eight-thirty in the evening until after eleven, and Nathan Traub from midnight on; and Tully Strong Thursday morning from eleven until lunch time.
We had got hundreds of notebook pages of nothing.
Gaps had of course been filled in, but with what? We even had confessions, but of what? Bill Meadows and Nat Traub both confessed that they frequently bet on horse races-Elinor Vance confessed that her brother was an electroplater, and that she was aware that he constantly used materials which contained cyanide.
Madeline Fraser confessed that it was hard to believe that anyone would have put poison into one of the bottles without caring a damn which one of the four broadcasters it got served to. Tully Strong confessed that the police had found his fingerprints on all four of the bottles, and accounted for them by explaining that while the doctor had been kneeling to examine Cyril Orchard, he, Strong, had been horrified by the possibility that there had been something wrong with a bottle of Starlite, the product of the most important sponsor on the Council. In a panic he had seized the four bottles, with the idiotic notion of caching them somewhere, and Miss Fraser and Traub had taken them from him and replaced them on the table. That was a particularly neat confession, since it explained why the cops had got nowhere from prints on the bottles.
Deborah Koppel confessed that she knew a good deal about cyanides, their uses, effects, symptoms, doses, and accessibility, because she had read up on them after the death of her brother six years ago. In all the sessions those were the only two times Wolfe got really disagreeable, when he was asking about the death of Lawrence Koppel-first with Deborah, the sister, and then with Madeline Fraser, the widow. The details had of course been pie for the newspapers during the past week, on account of the coincidence of the cyanide, and one of the tabloids had even gone so far as to run a piece by an expert, discussing whether it had really been a suicide, though there hadn't been the slightest question about it at the time or at any time since.
But that wasn't the aspect that Wolfe was disagreeable about. Lawrence Koppel's death had occurred at his home in a little town in Michigan called Fleetville, and what Wolfe wanted to know was whether there had been anyone in or near Fleetville who was named Orchard, or who had relatives named Orchard, or who had later changed his name to Orchard. I don't know how it had entered his head that that was a hot idea, but he certainly wrung it dry and kept going back to it for another squeeze. He spent so much time on it with Madeline Fraser that four o'clock, the hour of his afternoon date with the orchids, came before he had asked her anything at all about horse races.
The interviews with those five were not all that happened that day and night and morning. Wolfe and I had discussions, of the numerous ways in which a determined and intelligent person can get his hands on a supply of cyanide, of the easy access to the bottles in the refrigerator in the broadcasting studio, of the advisability of trying to get Inspector Cramer or Sergeant Purley Stebbins to cough up some data on things like fingerprints. That got us exactly as far as the interviews did. Then there were two more phone calls from Cramer, and some from Lon Cohen and various others; and there was the little detail of arranging for Professor F. O. Savarese to pay us a visit.
Also the matter of arranging for Nancylee Shepherd to come and be processed, but on that we were temporarily stymied. We knew all about her: she was sixteen, she lived with her parents at 829 Wixley Avenue in the Bronx, she had light yellow hair and grey eyes, and her father worked in a storage warehouse. They had no phone, so at four Wednesday, when Miss Fraser had left and Wolfe had gone up to the plants, I got the car from the garage and drove to the Bronx. 829 Wixley Avenue was the kind of apartment house where people live not because they want to, but because they have to. It should have been ashamed of itself and probably was. There was no click when I pushed the button marked Shepherd, so I went to the basement and dug up the janitor. He harmonized well with the building. He said I was way behind time if I expected to get any effective results-that's what he said-pushing the Shepherd button. They had been gone three days now. No, not the whole family, Mrs Shepherd and the girl. He didn't know where they had gone, and neither did anyone else around there. Some thought they had skipped, and some thought the cops had 'em. He personally thought they might be dead. No, not Mr Shepherd too. He came home from work every afternoon a little after five, and left every morning at half-past six.
A glance at my wrist showing me ten to five, I offered the animal a buck to stick around the front and give me a sign when Shepherd showed up, and the look in his eye told me that I had wasted at least four bits of the clients' money.
It wasn't a long wait. When Shepherd appeared I saw that it wouldn't have been necessary to keep the janitor away from his work, for from the line of the eyebrows it was about as far up to the beginning of his hair as it was down to the point of his chin, and a sketchy description would have been enough. Whoever designs the faces had lost all sense of proportion. As he was about to enter the vestibule I got in front of him and asked without the faintest touch of condescension: “Mr Shepherd?”
“Get out,” he snarled.
“My name's Goodwin and I'm working for Miss Madeline Fraser. I understand your wife and daughter-”
“But I only want-”
He didn't put a hand on me or shoulder me, and I can't understand yet how he got past me to the vestibule without friction, but he did, and got his key in the door. There were of course a dozen possible courses for me, anything from grabbing his coat and holding on to plugging him in the jaw, but while that would have given me emotional release it wouldn't have got what I wanted. It was plain that as long as he was conscious he wasn't going to tell me where Nancylee was, and unconscious he couldn't. I passed.
I drove back down to Thirty-fifth Street, left the car at the kerb, went in to the office, and dialled Madeline Fraser's number. Deborah Koppel answered, and I asked her: “Did you folks know that Nancylee has left home? With her mother?”
Yes, she said, they knew that “You didn't mention it when you were here this morning. Neither did Miss Fraser this afternoon.”
“There was no reason to mention it, was there? We weren't asked.”
“You were asked about Nancylee, both of you.”
“But not if she had left home or where she is.”
“Then may I ask you now? Where is she?”
“I don't know.”
“Does Miss Fraser?”
“No. None of us knows.”
“How did you know she was gone?”
“She phoned Miss Fraser and told her she was going.”
“When was that?”
“That was…that was Sunday.”
“She didn't say where she was going?”
That was the best I could get. When I was through trying and had hung up, I sat and considered. There was a chance that Purley Stebbins of Homicide would be in the mood for tossing me a bone, since Cramer had been spending nickels on us, but if I asked him for it he would want to make it a trade, and I had nothing to offer. So when I reached for the phone again it wasn't that number, but the Gazette's, that I dialled.
Lon Cohen immediately got personal. Where, he wanted to know, had I got the idea that an open Press release made an entry in my credit column?
I poohed him. “Some day, chum, you'll get a lulu. Say in six months, the way we're going. A newspaper is supposed to render public service, and I want some.
Did you know that Nancylee Shepherd and her mother have blown?”