“You certainly are, from the reports I've got here. Which one is your client?”
“You'll see it in the paper.”
“Then there's no reason-”
“Yes. There is. That I'm extremely busy and exactly a week behind you. Good-bye, sir.”
Wolfe's tone and his manner of hanging up got a reaction from the gate-crashers.
Mr Walter B. Anderson, the Starlite president, demanded to know if the caller had been Police Inspector Cramer, and, told that it was, got critical. His position was that Wolfe should not have been rude to the Inspector. It was bad tactics and bad manners. Wolfe, not bothering to draw his sword, brushed him aside with a couple of words, but Anderson leaped for his throat. He had not yet, he said, signed any agreement, and if that was going to be Wolfe's attitude maybe he wouldn't.
“Indeed.” Wolfe's brows went up a sixteenth of an inch. “Then you'd better notify the Press immediately. Do you want to use the phone?”
“By God, I wish I could. I have a right to-”
“You have no right whatever, Mr Anderson, except to pay your share of my fee if I earn it. You are here in my office on sufferance. Confound it, I am undertaking to solve a problem that has Mr Cramer so nonplussed that he desperately wants a hint from me before I've even begun. He doesn't mind my rudeness; he's so accustomed to it that if I were affable he'd haul me in as a material witness. Are you going to use the phone?”
“You know damn' well I'm not.”
“I wish you were. The better I see this picture the less I like it.” Wolfe went back to the line of candidates. “You say, Miss Koppel, that this adolescent busybody, Miss Shepherd, put the tray of glasses on the table?”
“She took them from me,” Elinor Vance put in, “when I got them from the cabinet.
She was right there with her hand out and I let her take them.”
“The locked cabinet that the Starlite is kept in?”
“And the glasses are heavy and dark blue, quite opaque, so that anything in them is invisible?”
“You didn't look into them from the top?”
“If one of them had something inside you wouldn't have seen it?”
“No.” Elinor went on: If you think my answers are short and quick, that's because I've already answered these questions, and many others, hundreds of times. I could answer them in my sleep.”
Wolfe nodded. “Of course. So now we have the bottles in the refrigerator and the glasses on the table, and the programme is on the air. For forty minutes it went smoothly. The two guests did well. None of Mr Traub's fears were realized.”
“It was one of the best broadcasts of the year,” Miss Fraser said.
“Exceptional,” Tully Strong declared. “There were thirty-two studio laughs in the first half-hour.”
“How did you like the second half?” Traub asked pointedly.
“We're coming to it.” Wolfe sighed. “Well, here we are. The moment arrives when Starlite is to be poured, drunk, and eulogized. Who brought it from the refrigerator? You again, Miss Vance?”
“No, me,” Bill Meadows said. “It's part of the show for the mikes, me pushing back my chair, walking, opening the refrigerator door and closing it, and coming back with the bottles. Then someone-”
“There were eight bottles in the refrigerator. How many did you get?”
“How did you decide which ones?”
“I didn't decide. I always just take the four in front. You realize that all Starlite bottles are exactly alike. There wouldn't be any way to tell them apart, so how would I decide?”
“I couldn't say. Anyway, you didn't?”
“No. As I said, I simply took the four bottles that were nearest to me. That's natural.”
“So it is. And carried them, to the table and removed the caps?”
“I took them to the table, but about removing the caps, that's something we don't quite agree on. We agree that I didn't do it, because I put them on the table as usual and then got back into my chair, quick, to get on the mike.
Someone else always takes the caps from the bottles, not always the same one, and that day Debby-Miss Koppel was right there, and Miss Vance, and Strong, and Traub. I was on the mike and didn't see who removed the caps. The action there is a little tight and needs help, with taking off the caps, pouring into the glasses, and getting the glasses passed around-and the bottles have to be passed around too.”
“Who does the passing?”
“Oh, someone-or, rather, more than one. You know, they just get passed-the glasses and bottles both. After pouring into the glasses the bottles are still about half-full, so the bottles are passed too.”
“Who did the pouring and passing that day?” Bill Meadows hesitated. “That's what we don't agree about.” He was not at ease. “As I said, they were all right there-Miss Koppel and Miss Vance, and Strong and Traub. That's why it was confusing.”
“Confusing or not,” Wolfe said testily, “it should be possible to remember what happened, so simple a thing as that. This is the detail where, above all others, clarity is essential. We know that Mr Orchard got the bottle and glass which contained the cyanide, because he drank enough of it to kill him. But we do not know, at least I don't, whether he got it by a whim of circumstance or by the deliberate manoeuvre of one or more of those present. Obviously that's a vital point. That glass and bottle were placed in front of Mr Orchard by somebody-not this one, or this one, but that one. Who put it there?”
Wolfe's gaze went along the line. They all met it. No one had anything to say, but neither was anyone impelled to look somewhere else. Finally Tully Strong, who had his spectacles back on, spoke: “We simply don't remember, Mr Wolfe.”
“Pfui.” Wolfe was disgusted. “Certainly you remember. No wonder Mr Cramer has got nowhere. You're lying, every one of you.”
“No,” Miss Fraser objected. “They're not lying really.”
“The wrong pronoun,” Wolfe snapped at her. “My comment included you, Miss Fraser.”
She smiled at him. “You may include me if you like, but I don't. It's like this.
These people are not only associated with one another in connection with my programme, they are friends. Of course they have arguments-there's always bound to be some friction when two people are often together, let alone five or six-but they are friends and they like one another.” Her timing and inflections were as good as if she had been on the air. “This is a terrible thing, a horrible thing, and we all knew it was the minute the doctor came and looked at him, and then looked up and said nothing should be touched and no one should leave. So could you really expect one of them to say-or, since you include me, could you expect one of us to say-yes, I gave him the glass with poison in it?”
“What was left in the bottle was also poisoned.”
“All right, the bottle too. Or could you expect one of us to say-yes, I saw my friend give him the glass and bottle? And name the friend?”
“Then you're agreeing with me. That you're all lying.”
Not at all.” Miss Fraser was too earnest to smile now. “The pouring and passing the glasses and bottles was commonplace routine, and there was no reason for us to notice details enough to keep them in our minds at all. Then came that overwhelming shock, and the confusion, and later came the police, and the strain and tension of it, and we just didn't remember. That isn't the least bit surprising. What would surprise me would be if someone did remember, for instance if Mr Traub said positively that Mr Strong put that.glass and bottle in front of Mr Orchard, it would merely prove that Mr Traub hates Mr Strong, and that would surprise me because I don't believe that any one of us hates another one.”
“Nor,” Wolfe murmured dryly, “that any of you hated Mr Orchard-or wanted to kill him.”