Philo Vance - The Canary Murder Case Part 22
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"You were intensely jealous of her, were you not, Doctor?"
"Jealousy," Doctor Lindquist remarked, with an air of ironic professionalism, "is not an unusual accompaniment to an infatuation.
Authorities such as Kraft-Ebing, Moll, Freud, Ferenczi, and Adler, I believe, regard it as an intimate psychological corollary of amatory attraction."
"Most instructive." Markham nodded his head appreciatively. "I am to a.s.sume, then, that you were infatuated with, or, let us say, amatorily attracted by, Miss Odell, and that on occasions you exhibited the intimate psychological corollary of jealousy?"
"You may a.s.sume what you please. But I fail to understand why my emotions are any of your affair."
"Had your emotions not led you to highly questionable and suspicious acts, I would not be interested in them. But I have it on unimpeachable authority that your emotions so reacted on your better judgment that you threatened to take Miss Odell's life and also your own. And, in view of the fact that the young woman has since been murdered, the law naturally, and reasonably, is curious."
The doctor's normally pale face seemed to turn yellow, and his long splay fingers tightened over the arms of his chair; but otherwise he sat immobile and rigidly dignified, his eyes fixed intently on the district attorney.
"I trust," added Markham, "you will not augment my suspicions by any attempt at denial."
Vance was watching the man closely. Presently he leaned forward.
"I say, Doctor, what method of extermination did you threaten Miss Odell with?"
Doctor Lindquist jerked round, thrusting his head toward Vance. He drew in a long rasping breath, and his whole frame became tense.
Blood suffused his cheeks; and there was a twitching of the muscles about his mouth and throat. For a moment I was afraid he was going to lose his self-control. But after a moment's effort he steadied himself.
"You think perhaps I threatened to strangle her?" His words were vibrant with the intensity of his pa.s.sionate anger. "And you would like to turn my threat into a noose to hang me?, Paugh!" He paused, and when he spoke again, his voice had become calmer. "It is quite true I once inadvisedly attempted to frighten Miss Odell with a threat to kill her and to commit suicide. But if your information is as accurate as you would have me believe, you are aware that I threatened her with a revolver. It is the weapon, I believe, that is conventionally mentioned when making empty threats. I certainly would not have threatened her with thuggee, even had I contemplated so abominable an act."
"True," nodded Vance. "And it's a rather good point, don't y' know."
The doctor was evidently encouraged by Vance's att.i.tude. He again faced Markham and elaborated his confession. "A threat, I presume you know, is rarely the forerunner of a violent deed. Even a brief study of the human mind would teach you that a threat is prima facie evidence of one's innocence. A threat, generally, is made in anger, and acts as its own safety valve." He s.h.i.+fted his eyes. "I am not a married man; my emotional life has not been stabilized, as it were; and I am constantly coming in close contact with hypersensitive and overwrought people. During a period of abnormal susceptibility I conceived an infatuation for the young woman, an infatuation which she did not reciprocate, certainly not with an ardor commensurate with my own. I suffered deeply; and she made no effort to mitigate my sufferings. Indeed, I suspected her, more than once, of deliberately and perversely torturing me with other men. At any rate, she took no pains to hide her infidelities from me. I confess that once or twice I was almost distracted. And it was in the hope of frightening her into a more amenable and considerate att.i.tude that I threatened her. I trust that you are a sufficiently discerning judge of human nature to believe me."
"Leaving that point for a moment," answered Markham noncommittally, "will you give me more specific information as to your whereabouts Monday night?"
Again I noted a yellow tinge creep over the man's features, and his body stiffened perceptibly. But when he spoke, it was with his habitual suavity.
"I considered that my note to you covered that question satisfactorily. What did I omit?"
"What was the name of the patient on whom you were calling that night?"
"Mrs. Anna Breedon. She is the widow of the late Amos H. Breedon of the Breedon National Bank of Long Branch."
"And you were with her, I believe you stated, from eleven until one?"
"That is correct."
"And was Mrs. Breedon the only witness to your presence at the sanitarium between those hours?"
"I am afraid that is so. You see, after ten o'clock at night I never ring the bell. I let myself in with my own key."
"And I suppose that I may be permitted to question Mrs. Breedon?"
Doctor Lindquist was profoundly regretful. "Mrs. Breedon is a very ill woman. She suffered a tremendous shock at the time of her husband's death last summer, and has been practically in a semiconscious condition ever since. There are times when I even fear for her reason. The slightest disturbance of excitement might produce very serious results."
He took a newspaper cutting from a gold-edged letter case and handed it to Markham.
"You will observe that this obituary notice mentions her prostration and confinement in a private sanitarium. I have been her physician for years."
Markham, after glancing at the cutting, handed it back. There was a short silence broken by a question from Vance.
"By the bye, Doctor, what is the name of the night nurse at your sanitarium?"
Doctor Lindquist looked up quickly.
"My night nurse? Why, what has she to do with it? She was very busy Monday night. I can't understand. . . . Well, if you want her name I have no objection. It's Finckle, Miss Amelia Finckle."
Vance wrote down the name and, rising, carried the slip of paper to Heath.
"Sergeant, bring Miss Finckle here tomorrow morning at eleven," he said, with a slight lowering of one eyelid.
"I sure will, sir. Good idea." His manner boded no good for Miss Finckle.
A cloud of apprehension spread over Doctor Lindquist's face.
"Forgive me if I say that I am insensible to the sanity of your cavalier methods." His tone betrayed only contempt. "May I hope that for the present your inquisition is ended?"
"I think that will be all, Doctor," returned Markham politely. "May I have a taxicab called for you?"
"Your consideration overwhelms me. But my car is below." And Doctor Lindquist haughtily withdrew.
Markham immediately summoned Swacker and sent him for Tracy. The detective came at once, polis.h.i.+ng his pince-nez and bowing affably.
One would have taken him for an actor rather than a detective, but his ability in matters requiring delicate handling was a byword in the department.
"I want you to fetch Mr. Louis Mannix again," Markham told him.
"Bring him here at once; I'm waiting to see him."
Tracy bowed genially and, adjusting his gla.s.ses, departed on his errand.
"And now," said Markham, fixing Vance with a reproachful look, "I want to know what your idea was in putting Lindquist on his guard about the night nurse. Your brain isn't at par this afternoon. Do you think I didn't have the nurse in mind? And now you've warned him. He'll have until eleven tomorrow morning to coach her in her answers. Really, Vance, I can't conceive of anything better calculated to defeat us in our attempt to substantiate the man's alibi."
"I did put a little fright into him, didn't I?" Vance grinned complacently. "Whenever your antagonist begins talking exaggeratedly about the insanity of your notions, he's already deuced hot under the collar. But, Markham old thing, don't burst into tears over my mental shortcomings. If you and I both thought of the nurse, don't you suppose the wily doctor also thought of her?
If this Miss Finckle were the type that could be suborned, he would have enlisted her perjurious service two days ago, and she would have been mentioned, along with the comatose Mrs. Breedon, as a witness to his presence at the sanitarium Monday night. The fact that he avoided all reference to the nurse shows that she's not to be wheedled into swearing falsely. . . . No, Markham. I deliberately put him on his guard. Now he'll have to do something before we question Miss Finckle. And I'm vain enough to think I know what it'll be."
"Let me get this right," put in Heath. "Am I, or am I not, to round up the Finckle woman tomorrow morning?"
"There'll be no need," said Vance. "We are doomed, I fear, not to gaze upon this Florence Nightingale. A meeting between us is about the last thing the doctor would desire."
"That may be true," admitted Markham. "But don't forget that he may have been up to something Monday night wholly unconnected with the murder, that he simply doesn't want known."
"Quite, quite. And yet, nearly everyone who knew the Canary seems to have selected Monday night for the indulgence of sub rosa peccadilloes. It's a bit thick, what? Skeel tries to make us believe he was immersed in Khun Khan. Cleaver was, if you take his word for it, touring the countryside in Jersey's lake district.
Lindquist wants us to picture him as comforting the afflicted. And Mannix, I happen to know, has gone to some trouble to build up an alibi in case we get nosey. All of 'em, in fact, were doing something they don't want us to know about. Now, what was it? And why did they, of one accord, select the night of the murder for mysterious affairs which they don't dare mention, even to clear themselves of suspicion? Was there an invasion of efreets in the city that night? Was there a curse on the world, driving men to dark bawdy deeds? Was there Black Magic abroad? I think not."
"I'm laying my money on Skeel," declared Heath stubbornly. "I know a professional job when I see it. And you can't get away from those fingerprints and the Professor's report on the chisel."
Markham was sorely perplexed. His belief in Skeel's guilt had, I knew, been undermined in some measure by Vance's theory that the crime was the carefully premeditated act of a shrewd and educated man. But now he seemed to swing irresolutely back to Heath's point of view.
"I'll admit," he said, "that Lindquist and Cleaver and Mannix don't inspire one with a belief in their innocence. But since they're all tarred with the same stick, the force of suspicion against them is somewhat dispersed. After all, Skeel is the only logical aspirant for the role of strangler. He's the only one with a visible motive; and he's the only one against whom there's any evidence."
Vance sighed wearily. "Yes, yes. Fingerprints, chisel marks.
You're such a trustin' soul, Markham. Skeel's fingerprints are found in the apartment; therefore, Skeel strangled the lady. So beastly simple. Why bother further? A chose jugee, an adjudicated case. Send Skeel to the chair, and that's that! . . . It's effective, y' know, but is it art?"
"In your critical enthusiasm you understate our case against Skeel Markham reminded him testily.
"Oh, I'll grant that your case against him is ingenious. It's so deuced ingenious I just haven't the heart to reject it. But most popular truth is mere ingenuity, that's why it's so wrong-headed.
Your theory would appeal strongly to the popular mind. And yet, y' know, Markham, it isn't true."
The practical Heath was unmoved. He sat stolidly, scowling at the table. I doubt if he had even heard the exchange of opinions between Markham and Vance.
"You know, Mr. Markham," he said, like one unconsciously voicing an obscure line of thought, "if we could show how Skeel got in and out of Odell's apartment, we'd have a better case against him. I can't figure it out, it's got me stopped. So, I've been thinking we oughta get an architect to go over those rooms. The house is an oldtimer, G.o.d knows when it was originally built, and there may be some way of getting into it that we haven't discovered yet."
"'Pon my soul!" Vance stared at him in satirical wonderment.
"You're becoming downright romantic! Secret pa.s.sageways, hidden doors, stairways between the walls. So that's it, is it? Oh, my word! . . . Sergeant, beware of the cinema. It has ruined many a good man. Try grand opera for a while, it's more borin' but less corruptin'."
"That's all right, Mr. Vance." Apparently Heath himself did not relish the architectural idea particularly. "But as long as we don't know how Skeel got in, it's just as well to make sure of a few ways he didn't get in."
"I agree with you, Sergeant," said Markham. "I'll get an architect on the job at once." He rang for Swacker and gave the necessary instructions.
Vance extended his legs and yawned.
"All we need now is a Favorite of the Harem, a few blackamoors with palm-leaf fans, and some pizzicato music."
"You will joke, Mr. Vance." Heath lit a fresh cigar. "But even if the architect don't find anything wrong with the apartment, Skeel's liable to give his hand away 'most any time."
"I'm pinnin' my childish faith on Mannix," said Vance. "I don't know why I should; but he's not a nice man, and he's suppressing something. Markham, don't you dare let him go until he tells you where he was Monday night. And don't forget to hint mysteriously about the fur model."
Philo Vance - The Canary Murder Case Part 22
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Philo Vance - The Canary Murder Case Part 22 summary
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