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He hung up, crossed to me, thumbed me away, moved the chair aside, and stood by Miss Fraser's chair, gazing down at her. Keeping his gaze where it was, he rumbled: “You might talk a little more, Wolfe.”

“I could talk all night,” Wolfe declared. “Miss Fraser is worth it. She had good luck, but most of the bad luck goes to the fumblers, and she is no fumbler. Her husband's death must have been managed with great skill, not so much because she gulled the authorities, which may have been no great feat, but because she completely deceived her husband's sister, Miss Koppel. The whole operation with Mr Orchard was well conceived and executed, with the finest subtlety in even the lesser details-for instance, having the subscription in Miss Koppel's name. It was simple to phone Mr Orchard that that money came from her, Miss Fraser. But best of all was the climax-getting the poisoned coffee served to the intended victim. That was one of her pieces of luck, since apparently Mr Traub, who didn't know about the taped bottle, innocently put it in front of Mr Orchard, but she would have managed without it. At that narrow table, with Mr Orchard just across from her, and with the broadcast going on, she could have manipulated it with no difficulty, and probably without anyone becoming aware of any manipulation. Certainly without arousing any suspicion of intent, before or after.”

“Okay,” Cramer conceded. That doesn't worry me. And the Poole thing doesn't either, since there's nothing against it. But the Koppel woman?”

Wolfe nodded. “That was the masterpiece. Miss Fraser had in her favour, certainly, years of intimacy during which she had gained Miss Koppel's unquestioning loyalty, affection, and trust. They held steadfast even when Miss Koppel saw the anonymous letters Mr Strong had received. It is quite possible that she received similar letters herself. We don't know, and never will, I suppose, what finally gave birth to the worm of suspicion in Miss Koppel. It wasn't the newspaper story of the anonymous letters and blackmailing, since that appeared yesterday, Friday, and it was on Wednesday that Miss Koppel tried to take an airplane to Michigan. We may now assume, since we know that she had seen the anonymous letters, that something had made her suspicious enough to want to inspect the farewell letter her brother had sent to his friend, and we may certainly assume that Miss Fraser, when she learned what her dearest and closest friend had tried, to do, knew why.”

“That's plain enough,” Cramer said impatiently. “What I mean-”

“I know. You mean what I meant when I said it was a masterpiece. It took resourcefulness, first-rate improvisation, and ingenuity to make use of the opportunity offered by Mr Traub's delivery of the box of Meltettes; and only a maniacal stoicism could have left those deadly titbits there on the piano where anybody might casually have eaten one. Probably inquiry would show that it was not as haphazard as it seems; that it was generally known that the box was there to be sampled by Miss Fraser and therefore no one would loot it. But the actual performance, as Mr Goodwin described it to me, was faultless. There was then no danger to a bystander, for if anyone but Miss Koppel had started to eat one of the things Miss Fraser could easily have prevented it. If the box had been handed to Miss Fraser, she could either have postponed the sampling or have taken one from the second layer instead of the top. What chance was there that Miss Koppel would eat one of the things? One in five, one in a thousand? Anyway, she played for that chance, and again she had luck; but it was not all luck, and she performed superbly.”

“This is incredible,” Madeline Fraser said. “I knew I was strong, but I didn't know I could do this. Only a few hours ago my dearest friend Debby died in my arms. I should be with her, sitting with her through the night, but here I am, sitting here, listening to this…this nightmare…”

“Cut,” Bill Meadows said harshly. “Night and nightmare. Cut one.”

The grey-green eyes darted at him. “So you're raiting, are you, Bill?”

“Yes, I'm ratting. I saw Debby die. And I think he's got it. I think you killed her.”

“Bill!” It was Elinor Vance, breaking. “Bill, I can't stand it!” She was on her feet, shaking all over. “I can't!”

Bill put his arms around her, tight. “All right, kid. I hope to God she gets it.

You were there too. What if you had decided to eat one?”

The phone rang and I got it. It was for Cramer. Purley went and replaced him beside Miss Fraser, and he came to the phone. When he hung up he told Wolfe: “Koppel’s friend still has that letter, and it's safe.”

“Good,” Wolfe said approvingly. “Will you please get her out of here? I've been wanting beer for an hour, and I'm not foolhardy enough to eat or drink anything with her in the house.” He looked around. “The rest of you are invited to stay if you care to. You must be thirsty.”

But they didn't like it there. They went.

Chapter Twenty-Six The experts were enthusiastic about the letter Lawrence Koppel had written to his friend. They called it one of the cleverest forgeries they had ever seen.

But what pleased Wolfe most was the finding of the cyanide. It was in the hollowed-out heel of a house slipper, and was evidently the leavings of the supply Mrs Lawrence Koppel had snitched six years ago from her husband's shelf.

It was May eighteenth mat she was sentenced on her conviction for the first-degree murder of Deborah Koppel. They had decided that was the best one to try her for. The next day, a Wednesday, a little before noon, Wolfe and I were in the office checking over catalogues when the phone rang. I went to my desk for it.

“Nero Wolfe's office, Archie Goodwin speaking.”

“May I speak to Mr Wolfe, please?”

“Who is it?”

“Tell him a personal matter.”

I covered the transmitter. “Personal matter.” I told Wolfe. “A man whose name I have forgotten.”

“What the devil! Ask him.”

“A man,” I said distinctly, “whose name I have forgotten.”

“Oh.” He frowned. He finished checking an item and then picked up the phone on his desk, while I stayed with mine. This is Nero Wolfe.”

“I would know the voice anywhere. How are you?”

“Well, thank you. Do I know you?”

“Yes. I am calling to express my appreciation of your handling of the Fraser case, now that it's over. I am pleased and thought you should know it. I have been, and still am, a little annoyed, but I am satisfied that you are not responsible. I have good sources of information. I congratulate you on keeping your investigation within the limits I prescribed. That has increased my admiration of you.”

“I like to be admired,” Wolfe said curtly. “But when I undertake an investigation I permit prescription of limits only by the requirements of the job. If that job had taken me across your path you would have found me there.”

Then that is either my good fortune-or yours.

The connection went.

I grinned at Wolfe. “He's an abrupt bastard.”

Wolfe grunted. I returned to my post at the end of his desk and picked up my pencil “One little idea,” I suggested. “Why not give Dr Michaels a ring and ask if anyone has phoned to switch his subscription? No, that won't do, he's paid up.

Marie Leconne?”

“No. I invite trouble only when I'm paid for it. And to grapple with him the pay would have to be high.”

“Okay.” I checked an item. “You'd be a problem in a foxhole, but the day may come.”

“It may. I hope not. Have you any Zygopetalum crinitum| on that page?”

“Good God no. It begins with a Z!”

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