Philo Vance - The Canary Murder Case Part 19

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The girl made no answer for several minutes. She was, I could see, trying to estimate Vance; and evidently she decided that, in any case, she had nothing to lose, now that her friends.h.i.+p with the Canary had been discovered, by talking to this man who had promised her immunity from further annoyance.

"I guess you're all right," she said, with a reservation of dubiety; "but I don't know why I should think so." She paused. "But, look here: I was told to keep out of this. And if I don't keep out of it, I'm apt to be back hoofing it in the chorus again. And that's no life for a sweet young thing like me with extravagant tastes, believe me, my friend!"

"That calamity will never befall you through any lack of discretion on my part," Vance a.s.sured her, with good-natured earnestness. . ..

"Who told you to keep out of it?"

"My, fiance" She spoke somewhat coquettishly. "He's very well known and he's afraid there might be scandal if I got mixed up in the case as a witness, or anything like that."

"I can readily understand his feelings." Vance nodded sympathetically.

"And who, by the bye, is this luckiest of men?"

"Say! You're good." She complimented him with a coy moue. "But I'm not announcing my engagement yet."

"Don't be horrid," begged Vance. "You know perfectly well that I could find out his name by making a few inquiries. And if you drove me to learn the facts elsewhere, then my promise to keep your name a secret would no longer bind me."

Miss La Fosse considered this point.

"I guess you could find out all right . . . so I might as well tell you, only I'm trusting to your word to protect me." She opened her eyes wide and gave Vance a melting look. "I know you wouldn't let me down."

"My dear Miss La Fosse!" His tone was one of pained surprise.

"Well, my fiance is Mr. Mannix, and he's the head of a big fur importing house. . . . You see", she became clingingly confidential, "Louey, that is, Mr. Mannix, used to go round with Margy. That's why he didn't want me to get mixed up in the affair. He said the police might bother him with questions, and his name might get into the papers. And that would hurt his commercial standing."

"I quite understand," murmured Vance. "And do you happen to know where Mr. Mannix was Monday night?"

The girl looked startled.

"Of course I know. He was right here with me from half past ten until two in the morning. We were discussing a new musical show he was interested in; and he wanted me to take the leading role."

"I'm sure it will be a success." Vance spoke with disarming friendliness. "Were you home alone all Monday evening?"

"Hardly." The idea seemed to amuse her. "I went to the Scandals, but I came home early. I knew Louey, Mr. Mannix, was coming."

"I trust he appreciated your sacrifice." Vance, I believe, was disappointed by this unexpected alibi of Mannix's. It was, indeed, so final that further interrogation concerning it seemed futile.

After a momentary pause; he changed the subject.

"Tell me; what do you know about a Mr. Charles Cleaver? He was a friend of Miss Odell's."

"Oh, Pop's all right." The girl was plainly relieved by this turn in the conversation. "A good scout. He was certainly gone on Margy. Even after she threw him over for Mr. Spotswoode, he was faithful, as you might say, always running after her, sending her flowers and presents. Some men are like that. Poor old Pop! He even phoned me Monday night to call up Margy for him and try to arrange a party. Maybe if I'd done it, she wouldn't be dead now. . . . It's a funny world, isn't it?"

"Oh, no end funny." Vance smoked calmly for a minute; I could not help admiring his self-control. "What time did Mr. Cleaver phone you Monday night, do you recall?" From his voice one would have thought the question of no importance.

"Let me see. . . ." She pursed her lips prettily. "It was just ten minutes to twelve. I remember that the little chime clock on the mantel over there was striking midnight, and at first I couldn't hear Pop very well. You see, I always keep my clock ten minutes fast so I'll never be late for an appointment."

Vance compared the clock with his watch.

"Yes, it's ten minutes fast. And what about the party?"

"Oh, I was too busy talking about the new show, and I had to refuse.

Anyway, Mr. Mannix didn't want to have a party that night. . . . It wasn't my fault was it?"

"Not a bit of it," Vance a.s.sured her. "Work comes before pleasure, especially work as important as yours. . . . And now, there is one other man I want to ask you about, and then I won't bother you any more., What was the situation between Miss Odell and Doctor Lindquist?"

Miss La Fosse became genuinely perturbed.

"I was afraid you were going to ask me about him." There was apprehension in her eyes. "I don't know just what to say. He was wildly in love with Margy; and she led him on, too. But she was sorry for it afterward, because he got jealous, like a crazy person.

He used to pester the life out of her. And once, do you know!, he threatened to shoot her and then shoot himself. I told Margy to look out for him. But she didn't seem to be afraid. Anyway, I think she was taking awful chances. . . . Oh! Do you think it could have been, do you really think, ?"

"And wasn't there anyone else," Vance interrupted, "who might have felt the same way? Anyone Miss Odell had reason to fear?"

"No." Miss La Fosse shook her head. "Margy didn't know many men intimately. She didn't change often, if you know what I mean.

There wasn't anybody else outside of those you've mentioned, except, of course, Mr. Spotswoode. He cut Pop out several months ago. She went to dinner with him Monday night, too. I wanted her to go to the Scandals with me, that's how I know."

Vance rose and held out his hand.

"You've been very kind. And you have nothing whatever to fear. No one shall ever know of our little visit this morning."

"Who do you think killed Margy?" There was genuine emotion in the girl's voice. "Louey says it was probably some burglar who wanted her jewels."

"I'm too wise to sow discord in this happy menage by even questioning Mr. Mannix's opinion," said Vance half banteringly.

"No one KNOWS who's guilty; but the police agree with Mr. Mannix."

For a moment the girl's doubts returned, and she gave Vance a searching look. "Why are you so interested? You didn't know Margy, did you? She never mentioned you."

Vance laughed. "My dear child! I only wish I knew why I am so deuced concerned in this affair. 'Pon my word, I can't give you even the sketchiest explanation. . . . No, I never met Miss Odell.

But it would offend my sense of proportion if Mr. Skeel were punished and the real culprit went free. Maybe I'm getting sentimental. A sad fate, what?"

"I guess I'm getting soft, too." She nodded her head, still looking Vance square in the eyes. "I risked my happy home to tell you what I did, because somehow I believed you. . . . Say, you weren't stringing me, by any chance?"

Vance put his hand to his heart, and became serious.

"My dear Miss La Fosse, when I leave here it will be as though I had never entered. Dismiss me and Mr. Van Dine here from your mind."

Something in his manner banished her misgivings, and she bade us a kittenish farewell.

17 CHECKING AN ALIBI (Thursday, September 13; afternoon) "My sleuthing goes better," exulted Vance, when we were again in the street. "Fair Alys was a veritable mine of information, eh, what?

Only, you should have controlled yourself better when she mentioned her beloved's name, really, you should, Van old thing. I saw you jump and heard you heave. Such emotion is unbecoming in a lawyer."

From a booth in a drugstore near the hotel he telephoned Markham: "I am taking you to lunch. I have numerous confidences I would pour into your ear." A debate ensued, but in the end Vance emerged triumphant; and a moment later a taxicab was driving us downtown.

"Alys is clever, there are brains in that fluffy head," he ruminated. "She's much smarter than Heath; she knew at once that Skeel wasn't guilty. Her characterization of the immaculate Tony was inelegant but how accurate, oh, how accurate! And you noticed, of course, how she trusted me. Touchin', wasn't it? . . . It's a knotty problem, Van. Something's amiss somewhere."

He was silent, smoking, for several blocks.

"Mannix. . . . Curious he should crop up again. And he issued orders to Alys to keep mum. Now, why? Maybe the reason he gave her was the real one. Who knows? On the other hand, was he with his chere amie from half past ten till early morning? Well, well.

Again, who knows? Something queer about that business discussion.

. . . Then Cleaver. He called up just ten minutes before midnight, oh, yes, he called up. That wasn't a fairytale. But how could he telephone from a speeding car? He couldn't. Maybe he really wanted to have a party with his recalcitrant Canary, don't y' know. But, then, why the brummagem alibi? Funk? Maybe. But why the circuitousness? Why didn't he call his lost love direct? Ah, perhaps he did! Someone certainly called her by phone at twenty minutes to twelve. We must look into that, Van. . . . Yes, he may have called her, and then when a man answered, who the deuce was that man, anyway?, he may have appealed to Alys. Quite natural, y' know. Anyway, he wasn't in Boonton. Poor Markham! How upset he'll be when he finds out! . . . But what really worries me is that story of the doctor. Jealous mania: it squares with Ambroise's character perfectly. He's the kind that does go off his head. I knew his confession of paternalism was a red herring. My word! So the doctor was making threats and flouris.h.i.+ng pistols, eh? Bad, bad. I don't like it. With those ears of his, he wouldn't hesitate to pull the trigger. Paranoia, that's it. Delusions of persecution. Probably thought the girl and Pop, or maybe the girl and Spotswoode, were plotting his misery and laughing at him. You can't tell about those chaps. They're deep and they're dangerous.

The canny Alys had him sized up, warned the Canary against him. . ..

Taken by and large, it's a devilish tangle. Anyway, I feel rather bucked. We're moving, oh, undoubtedly we're moving, though in what direction I can't even guess. It's beastly annoyin'."

Markham was waiting for us at the Bankers' Club. He greeted Vance irritably. "What have you got to tell me that's so d.a.m.ned important?"

"Now, don't get ratty." Vance was beaming. "How's your lodestar, Skeel, behaving?"

"So far he's done everything that's pure and refined except join the Christian Endeavor Society."

"Sunday's coming. Give him time. . . . So you're not happy, Markham dear?"

"Was I dragged away from another engagement to report on my state of mind?"

"No need. Your state of mind's execrable. . . . Cheerio! I've brought you something to think about."

"d.a.m.n it! I've got too much to think about now."

"Here, have some brioche." Vance gave the order for lunch without consulting either of us. "And now for my revelations. Imprimis: Pop Cleaver wasn't in Boonton last Monday night. He was very much in the midst of our modern Gomorrah, trying to arrange a midnight party."

"Wonderful!" snorted Markham. "I lave in the font of your wisdom.

His alter ego, I take it, was on the road to Hopatcong. The supernatural leaves me cold."

"You may be as pancosmic as you choose. Cleaver was in New York at midnight Monday, craving excitement."

"What about the summons for speeding?"

"That's for you to explain. But if you'll take my advice, you'll send for this Boonton catchpole and let him have a look at Pop. If he says Cleaver is the man he ticketed, I'll humbly do away with myself."

"Well! That makes it worth trying. I'll have the officer at the Stuyvesant Club this afternoon and I'll point out Cleaver to him. . . . What other staggering revelations have you in store?"

"Mannix will bear looking into."

Markham put down his knife and fork and leaned back. "I'm overcome!

Philo Vance - The Canary Murder Case Part 19

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Philo Vance - The Canary Murder Case Part 19 summary

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