“You had never seen or heard of him before he came to see you as one of the four?”
“I hadn't seen him, but I had heard of him, and I had seen his sheet.”
“Oh?” Wolfe's eyes went half-shut. “You had?”
“Yes, about a month before that, maybe longer, when the question of having a tipster on the programme had come up again, I had subscribed to some of the sheets-three or four of them-to see what they were like. Not in my name, of course. Things like that are done in my manager's name-Miss Koppel. One of them was this Track Almanac? “How did you happen to choose that one?”
“My God, I don't know!” Madeline Fraser's eyes flashed momentarily with irritation. “Do you remember, Debby?1 Deborah shook her head. “I think we phoned somebody.”
“The New York State Racing Commission,” Bill Meadows offered sarcastically.
“Well.” Wolfe leaned forward to push a button on his desk. “I’m going to have some beer. Aren't some of you thirsty?”
That called for an intermission. No one had accepted a previous offer of liquids I had made, but now they made it unanimous in the affirmative, and I got busy at the table at the far wall, already equipped. Two of them joined Wolfe with the beer, brought by Fritz from the kitchen, and the others suited their fancy. I had suggested to Wolfe that it would be fitting to have a case of Starlite in a prominent place on the table, but he had merely snorted. On such occasions he always insisted that a red wine and a chilled white wine must be among those present. Usually they had no takers, but this time there were two, Miss Koppel and Traub, who went for the Montrachet; and, being strongly in favour of the way its taste insists on sneaking all over the inside of your head, I helped out with it. There is only one trouble about serving assorted drinks to a bunch of people in the office on business. I maintain that it is a legitimate item for the expense account for the clients, and Wolfe says no, that what anyone eats or drinks in his house is on him. Another eccentricity. Also, he insists that they must all have stands or tables at their elbows for their drinks.
So they did.
Wolfe, for whom the first bottle of beer is merely a preamble, filled his glass from the second bottle, put the bottle down, and leaned back.
“What I've been after,” he said in his conversational tone again, “is how that particular individual, Mr Cyril Orchard, became a guest on that programme. The conclusion from the newspaper accounts is that none of you, including Miss Shepherd and Mr Savarese, knew him from Adam. But he was murdered. Later I'll discuss this with you severally, but for now I'll just put it to all of you: had you had any dealings with, or connection with, or knowledge of, Cyril Orchard prior to his appearance on that programme. Other than what I have just been told?”
Starting with Madeline Fraser, he got either a no or a shake of the head from each of the six.
He grunted. “I assume,” he said, “that the police have unearthed no contradiction to any of your negatives, since if they had you would hardly be foolish enough to try to hold to them with me. My whole approach to this matter is quite different from what it would be if I didn't know that the police have spent seven days and nights working on it. They have been after you, and they have their training and talents; also, they have authority and a thousand men-twenty thousand. The question is whether their methods and abilities are up to this job; all I can do is use my own.”
Wolfe came forward to drink beer, used his handkerchief on his lips, and leaned back again.
“But I need to know what happened-from you, not the newspapers. We now have you in the broadcasting studio Tuesday morning, a week ago today. The two guests-Mr Cyril Orchard and Professor Savarese-have arrived. It is a quarter to eleven.
The rest of you are there/at or near the table which holds the microphones.
Seated at one side of the narrow table are Miss Fraser and Professor Savarese; across from them, facing them, are Mr Orchard and Mr Meadows. Voice levels are being taken. About twenty feet from the table is the first row of chairs provided for the studio audience. That audience consists of some two hundred people, nearly all women, many of whom, devoted followers of Miss Fraser, frequently attend the broadcasts. Is that picture correct-not approximately correct, but correct?”
They nodded. “Nothing wrong with it,” Bill Meadows said.
“Many of them,” Miss Fraser stated, “would come much oftener if they could get tickets. There are always twice as many applications for tickets as we can supply.”
“No doubt,” Wolfe growled. He had shown great restraint, not telling her how dangerous she was. “But the applicants who didn't get tickets, not being there, do not concern us. An essential element of the picture which I haven't mentioned is not yet visible. Behind the closed door of an electric refrigerator over against the wall are eight bottles of Starlite. How did they get there?”
An answer came from the couch, from Fred Owen. “We always have three or four cases in the studio, in a locked cab-' “If you please, Mr Owen.” Wolfe wiggled a finger at him. “I want to hear as much as I can of the voices of these six people.”
They were there in the studio,” Tully Strong said. “In a cabinet. It's kept locked because if it wasn't they wouldn't be there long.”
“Who had taken the eight bottles from the cabinet and put them in the refrigerator?”
“I had.” It was Elinor Vance, and I looked up from my notebook for another glance at her. “That's one of my chores every broadcast.”
One trouble with her, I thought, is overwork. Script writer, researcher, bartender-what else? “You can't carry eight bottles,” Wolfe remarked, “at one time.”
“I know I can't, so I took four and then went back for four more.”
“Leaving the cabinet unlocked-no.” Wolfe stopped himself. “Those refinements will have to wait.” His eyes passed along the line again. “So there they are, in the refrigerator. By the way, I understand that the presence at the broadcast of all but one of you was routine and customary. The exception was you, Mr Traub.
You very rarely attend. What were you there for-”
“Because I was jittery, Mr Wolfe.” Traub's advertising smile and smooth low-pitched voice showed no resentment at being singled out. “I still thought having a race tout on the programme was a mistake, and I wanted to be on hand.”
“You thought there was no telling what Mr Orchard might say?”
“I knew nothing about Orchard. I thought the whole idea was a stinker.”
“If you mean the whole idea of the programme, I agree-but that's not what we're trying to decide. We'll go on with the broadcast. First, one more piece of the picture. Where are the glasses they're going to drink from?”
“On a tray at the end of the table,” Deborah Koppel said.
“The broadcasting table? Where they're seated at the microphones?”
“Who put them there?”
“That girl, Nancylee Shepherd. The only way to keep her back of the line would be to tie her up. Or of course not let her in, and Miss Fraser will not permit that. She organized the biggest Fraser Girls' Club in the country. So we-”
The phone rang. I reached for it and muttered into it.
“Mr Bluff,” I told Wolfe, using one of my fifteen aliases for the caller. Wolfe got his receiver to his ear, giving me a signal to stay on.
“Yes, Mr Cramer?”
Cramer's sarcastic voice sounded as if he had a cigar stuck in his mouth, as he probably had. “How are you coming up there?”
“Slowly. Not nearly started yet.”
That's too bad, since no one's paying you on the Orchard case. So you told me yesterday.”
This is today. Tomorrow's paper will tell you all about it. I'm sorry, Mr Cramer, but I'm busy.”