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A missing playboy, a note signed in Chinese ink, strange gaps in a collection of semiprecious stones - and Philo Vance is off on another baffling case, pitting his ice-sharp brain and quick trigger finger against a desperate arch-criminal.
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The Kidnap Murder Case
by S. S. Van Dine
Copyright 1936 Willard Huntington Wright.
This edition published by Reading Essentials.
All Rights Reserved.
THE PHILO VANCE SERIES
THE BENSON MURDER CASE
THE CANARY MURDER CASE
THE GREENE MURDER CASE
THE BISHOP MURDER CASE
THE SCARAB MURDER CASE
THE KENNEL MURDER CASE
THE DRAGON MURDER CASE
THE CASINO MURDER CASE
THE GARDEN MURDER CASE
THE KIDNAP MURDER CASE
THE PHILO VANCE SERIES
A PHILO VANCE STORY
The Purple House
The Ransom Note
A Startling Declaration
On the Rungs of the Ladder
The Black Opals
Decisions Are Reached
The Tree in the Park
Another Empty Room
The Green Coupé
Kaspar Is Found
Alexandrite and Amethyst
This Year of Our Lord
Shots in the Dark
The Windowless Room
The Final Scene
CHARACTERS OF THE BOOK
John F.-X. Markham
District Attorney of New York County.
Sergeant of the Homicide Bureau.
A play-boy and gambler, who mysteriously disappears from his home.
A broker; brother of Kaspar and technical head of the Kenting family.
Kaspar Kenting’s wife.
A lawyer; a friend of the Kenting family and their attorney.
Mrs. Andrews Falloway
Madelaine Kenting’s mother.
Madelaine Kenting’s brother.
Another friend of the Kentings.
The Kenting butler and houseman.
The Kenting cook and maid; wife of Weem.
Detective of the Homicide Bureau.
Detective of the Homicide Bureau.
Detective of the Homicide Bureau.
Detective of the Homicide Bureau.
Detective of the Homicide Bureau.
Patrolman on night duty on West 86th Street.
(Wednesday, July 20; 9:30 a.m.)
Philo Vance, as you may remember, took a solitary trip to Egypt immediately after the termination of the Garden murder case. He did not return to New York until the middle of July. He was considerably tanned, and there was a tired look in his wide-set grey eyes. I suspected, the moment I greeted him on the dock, that during his absence he had thrown himself into Egyptological research, which was an old passion of his.
“I’m fagged out, Van,” he complained good-naturedly, as we settled ourselves in a taxicab and started uptown to his apartment. “I need a rest. We’re not leavin’ New York this summer—you won’t mind, I hope. I’ve brought back a couple of boxes of archæological specimens. See about them tomorrow, will you?—there’s a good fellow.”
Even his voice sounded weary. His words carried a curious undertone of distraction; and the idea flashed through my mind that he had not altogether succeeded in eliminating from his thoughts the romantic memory of a certain young woman he had met during the strange and fateful occurrences in the penthouse of Professor Ephraim Garden. My surmise must have been correct, for it was that very evening, when he was relaxing in his roof-garden, that Vance remarked to me, apropos of nothing that had gone before: “A man’s affections involve a great responsibility. The things a man wants most must often be sacrificed because of this exacting responsibility.” I felt quite certain then that his sudden and prolonged trip to Egypt had not been an unqualified success as far as his personal objective was concerned.
For the next few days Vance busied himself in arranging, classifying and cataloging the rare pieces he had brought back with him. He threw himself into the work with more than his wonted interest and enthusiasm. His mental and physical condition showed improvement immediately, and it was but a short time before I recognized the old vital Vance that I had always known, keen for sports, for various impersonal activities, and for the constant milling of the undercurrents of human psychology.
It was just a week after his return from Cairo that the famous Kidnap murder case broke. It was an atrocious and clever crime, and more than the usual publicity was given to it in the newspapers because of the wave of kidnapping cases that had been sweeping over the country at that time. But this particular crime of which I am writing from my voluminous notes was very different in many respects from the familiar “snatch”; and it was illumined by many sinister high lights. To be sure, the motive for the crime, or, I should say, crimes, was the sordid one of monetary gain; and superficially the technique was similar to that of the numerous cases in the same category. But through Vance’s determination and fearlessness, through his keen insight into human nature, and his amazing flair for the ramifications of human psychology, he was able to penetrate beyond the seemingly conclusive manifestations of the case.
In the course of this investigation Vance took no thought of any personal risk. At one time he was in the gravest danger, and it was only through his boldness, his lack of physical fear, and his deadly aim and quick action when it was a matter of his life or another’s—partly the result, perhaps, of his World-War experience which won him the Croix de Guerre—that he saved the lives of several innocent persons as well as his own, and eventually put his finger on the criminal in a scene of startling tragedy.
There was a certain righteous indignation in his attitude during this terrible episode—an attitude quite alien to his customarily aloof and cynical and purely academic point of view—for the crime itself was one of the type he particularly abhorred.
As I have said, it was just a week after his return to New York that Vance was unexpectedly, and somewhat against his wishes, drawn into the investigation. He had resumed his habit of working late at night and rising late; but, to my surprise, when I entered the library at nine o’clock on that morning of July 20, he was already up and dressed and had just finished the Turkish coffee and the Régie cigarette that constituted his daily breakfast. He had on his patch-pocket grey tweed suit and a pair of heavy walking boots, which almost invariably indicated a contemplated trip into the country.
Before I could express my astonishment (I believe it was the first time in the course of our relationship that he had risen and started the day before I had) he smilingly explained to me with his antemeridian drawl:
“Don’t be shocked by my burst of energy, Van. It really can’t be helped, don’t y’ know. I’m driving out to Dumont, to the dog show. I’ve a little chap entered in the puppy and American-bred classes, and I want to take him into the ring myself. He’s a grand little fellow, and this is his début. I’ll return for dinner.”
I was rather pleased at the prospect of being left alone for the day, for there was much work for me to do. I admit that, as Vance’s legal advisor, monetary steward and general overseer of his affairs, I had allowed a great deal of routine work to accumulate during his absence, and the assurance of an entire day, without any immediate or current chores, was most welcome to me.
As Vance spoke he rang for Currie, his old English butler and majordomo, and asked for his hat and chamois gloves. Filling his cigarette case, he waved a friendly good-bye to me and started toward the door. But just before he reached it, the front door-bell sounded, and a moment later Currie ushered in John F.-X. Markham, District Attorney of New York County.
“Good heavens, Vance!” exclaimed Markham. “Going out at such an early hour? Or have you just come in?” Despite the jocularity of his words, there was an unwonted sombreness in his face and a worried look in his eyes, which belied the manner of his greeting.
Vance smiled with a puzzled frown.
“I don’t like the expression on your Hellenic features this morning, old dear. It bodes ill for one who craves freedom and surcease from earthly miseries. I was just about to escape by hieing me to a dog show in the country. My little Sandy——”
“Damn your dogs and your dog shows, Vance!” Markham growled. “I’ve serious news for you.”
Vance shrugged his shoulders with resignation and heaved an exaggerated sigh.
“Markham—my very dear Markham! How did you time your visit so accurately? Thirty seconds later and I would have been on my way and free from your clutches.” Vance threw his hat and gloves aside. “But since you have captured me so neatly, I suppose I must listen, although I am sure I shall not like the tidin’s. I know I’m going to hate you and wish you had never been born. I can tell from the doleful look on your face that you’re in for something messy and desire spiritual support.” He stepped a little to one side. “Enter, and pour forth your woes.”
“I haven’t time——”
“Tut, tut.” Vance moved nonchalantly to the centre-table and pointed to a large comfortable upholstered chair. “There’s always time. There always has been time—there always will be time. Represented by n, don’t y’ know. Quite meaningless—without beginning and without end, and utterly indivisible. In fact, there’s no such thing as time—unless you’re dabblin’ in the fourth dimension. . . .”
He walked back to Markham, took him gently by the arm and, ignoring his protests, led him to the chair by the table.
“Really, y’ know, Markham, you need a cigar and a drink. Let calm be your watchword, my dear fellow,—always calm. Serenity. Consider the ancient oaks. Or, better yet, the eternal hills—or is it the everlasting hills? It’s been so long since I penned poesy. Anyway, Swinburne did it much better. . . . Eheu, eheu! . . .”
As he babbled along, with seeming aimlessness, he went to a small side-table and, taking up a crystal decanter, poured some of its contents into a tulip-shaped glass, and set it down before the District Attorney.
“Try that old Amontillado.” He then moved the humidor forward. “And these panetelas are infinitely better than the cigars you carry around to dole out to your constituents.”
Markham made a restless, annoyed gesture, lighted one of the cigars, and sipped the old syrupy sherry.
Vance seated himself in a near-by chair and carefully lighted a Régie.
“Now try me,” he said. “But don’t make the tale too sad. My heart is already at the breaking-point.”
“What I have to tell you is damned serious.” Markham frowned and looked sharply at Vance. “Do you like kidnappings?”
“Not passionately,” Vance answered, his face darkening. “Beastly crimes, kidnappings. Worse than poisonings. About as low as a criminal can sink.” His eyebrows went up. “Why?”
“There’s been a kidnapping during the night. I learned about it half an hour ago. I’m on my way——”
“Who and where?” Vance’s face had now become sombre too.
“Kaspar Kenting. Heath and a couple of his men are at the Kenting house in 86th Street now. They’re waiting for me.”
“Kaspar Kenting . . .” Vance repeated the name several times, as if trying to recall some former association with it. “In 86th Street, you say?”
He rose suddenly and went to the telephone stand in the anteroom where he opened the directory and ran his eye down the page.
“Is it number 86 West 86th Street, perhaps?”
Markham nodded. “That’s right. Easy to remember.”
“Yes—quite.” Vance came strolling back into the library, but instead of resuming his chair he stood leaning against the end of the table. “Quite,” he repeated. “I seemed to remember it when you mentioned Kenting’s name. . . . The domicile’s an interestin’ old landmark. I’ve never seen it, however. Had a fascinatin’ reputation once. Still called the Purple House.”
“Purple house?” Markham looked up. “What do you mean?”
“My dear fellow! Are you entirely ignorant of the history of the city which you adorn as District Attorney? The Purple House was built by Karl K. Kenting back in 1880, and he had the bricks and slabs of stone painted purple, in order to distinguish his abode from all others in the neighborhood, and to flaunt it as a challenge to his numerous enemies. ‘With a house that color,’ he used to say, ‘they won’t have any trouble finding me, if they want me.’ The place became known as the Purple House. And every time the house was repainted, the original color was retained. Sort of family tradition, don’t y’ know. . . . But what about your Kaspar Kenting?”
“He disappeared some time last night,” Markham explained impatiently. “From his bedroom. Open window, ladder, ransom note thumbtacked to the window-sill. No doubt about it.”
“Details familiar—eh, what?” mused Vance. “And I presume the ransom note was concocted with words cut from a newspaper and pasted on a sheet of paper?”
Markham looked astonished.
“Exactly! How did you guess it?”
“Nothing new or original about it—what? Highly conventional. Bookish, in fact. But not being done this season in the best kidnapping circles. . . . Curious case. . . . How did you learn about it?”
“Eldridge Fleel was waiting at my office when I arrived this morning. He’s the lawyer for the Kenting family. One of the executors for the old man’s estate. Kaspar Kenting’s wife naturally notified him at once at his home—called him before he was up. He went to the house, looked over the situation, and then came directly to me.”
“Level-headed chap, this Fleel?”
“Oh, yes. I’ve known the man for years. Good lawyer. He was wealthy and influential once, but was badly hit by the depression. We were both members of the Lawyers’ Club, and we had offices in the same building on lower Broadway before I was cursed with the District Attorneyship. . . . I got in touch with Sergeant Heath immediately, and he went up to the house with Fleel. I told them I’d be there as soon as I could. I dropped off here, thinking——”
“Sad . . . very sad,” interrupted Vance with a sigh, drawing deeply on his cigarette. “I still wish you had made it a few minutes later. I’d have been safely away. You’re positively ineluctable.”
“Come, come, Vance. You know damned well I may need your help.” Markham sat up with a show of anger. “A kidnapping isn’t a pleasant thing, and the city’s not going to like it. I’m having enough trouble as it is. I can’t very well pass the buck to the federal boys. I’d rather clean up the mess from local headquarters. . . . By the way, do you know this young Kaspar Kenting?”
“Slightly,” Vance answered abstractedly. “I’ve run into the johnnie here and there, especially at old Kinkaid’s Casino and at the race-tracks. Kaspar’s a gambler and pretty much a ne’er-do-well. Full of the spirit of frivolity and not much else. Ardent play-boy, as it were. Always hard up. And trusted by no one. Can’t imagine why any one would want to pay a ransom for him.”
Vance slowly exhaled his cigarette smoke, watching the long blue ribbons rise and disperse against the ceiling.
“Queer background,” he murmured, almost as if to himself. “Can’t really blame the chappie for being such a blighter. Old Karl K., the author of his being, was a bit queer himself. Had more than enough money, and left it all to the older son, Kenyon K., to dole out to Kaspar as he saw fit. I imagine he hasn’t seen fit very often or very much. Kenyon is the solid-citizen type, in the worst possible meaning of the phrase. Came to the Belmont track in the highest of dudgeons one afternoon and led Kaspar righteously home. Probably goes to church regularly. Marches in parades. Applauds the high notes of sopranos. Feels positively nude without a badge of some kind. That sort of johnnie. Enough to drive any younger brother to hell. . . . The old man, as you must know, wasn’t a block from which you could expect anything in the way of fancy chips. A rabid and fanatical Ku-Klux-Klanner. . . .”
“You mean his initials?” asked Markham.
“No. Oh, no. His convictions.” Vance looked at Markham inquiringly. “Don’t you know the story?”
Markham shook his head despondently.
“Old K. K. Kenting originally came from Virginia and was a King Kleagle in that sheeted Order. So rabid was he that he changed the C in his name, Carl, to a K, and gave himself a middle initial, another K, so that his monogram would be the symbol of his fanatical passion. And he went even further. He had two sons and a daughter, and he gave them all names beginning with K, and added for each one a middle initial K—Kenyon K. Kenting, Kaspar K. Kenting, and Karen K. Kenting. The girl died shortly after Karl himself was gathered to Abraham’s bosom. The two sons remaining, being of a new generation and less violent, dropped the middle K—which never stood for anything, by the by.”
“But why a purple house?”
“No symbolism there,” returned Vance. “When Karl Kenting came to New York and went into politics he became boss of his district. And he had an idea his sub-Potomac enemies were going to persecute him; so, as I say, he wanted to make it easy for ’em to find him. He was an aggressive and fearless old codger.”
“I seem to remember they eventually found him, and with a vengeance,” Markham mumbled impatiently.
“Quite.” Vance nodded indifferently. “But it took two machine-guns to translate him to the Elysian Fields. Quite a scandal at the time. Anyway, the two sons, while wholly different from each other, are both unlike their father.”
Markham stood up with deliberation.
“That may all be very interesting,” he grumbled; “but I’ve got to get to 86th Street. This may prove a crucial case, and I can’t afford to ignore it.” He looked somewhat appealingly at Vance.
Vance rose likewise and crushed out his cigarette.
“Oh, by all means,” he drawled. “I’ll be delighted to toddle along. Though I can’t even vaguely imagine why kidnappers should select Kaspar Kenting. The Kentings are no longer a reputedly wealthy family. True, they might be able to produce a fairly substantial sum on short notice, but they’re not, d’ ye see, in the class which professional kidnappers enter up on their list of possible victims. . . . By the by, do you know how much ransom was demanded?”
“Fifty thousand. But you’ll see the note when we get there. Nothing’s been touched. Heath knows I’m coming.”
“Fifty thousand . . .” Vance poured himself a pony of his Napoléon cognac. “That’s most interestin’. Not an untidy sum—eh, what?”
When he had finished his brandy he rang again for Currie.
“Really, y’ know,” he said to Markham—his tone had suddenly changed to one of levity—, “I can’t wear chamois gloves in a purple house. Most inappropriate.”
He asked Currie for a pair of doeskin gloves, his wanghee cane, and a town hat. When they were brought in he turned to me.
“Do you mind calling MacDermott and explainin’?” he asked. “The old boy himself will have to show Sandy. . . . And do you care to come along, Van? It may prove more fascinatin’ than it sounds.”
Despite my accumulated work, I was glad of the invitation. I caught MacDermott on the telephone just as he was packing his crated entries into the station-wagon. I wasted few words on him, in true Scotch fashion, and immediately joined Vance and Markham in the lower hallway where they were waiting for me.
We entered the District Attorney’s car, and in fifteen minutes we were at the scene of what proved to be one of the most unusual criminal cases in Vance’s career.
“The Garden Murder Case” (Scribners, 1935).
This famous case had taken place just three months earlier.
As I learned later, he was referring to his Scottish terrier, Pibroch Sandyman. Incidentally, this dog won the puppy class that day and received Reserve Winners as well. Later he became a Champion.
Markham and Vance had been close friends for over fifteen years, and, although Vance’s unofficial connection with the District Attorney’s office had begun somewhat in the spirit of an experimental adventure, Markham had now come to depend implicitly upon his friend as a vital associate in his criminal investigations.
There had been several recent kidnappings at this time, two of a particularly atrocious nature, and the District Attorney’s office and the Commissioner of Police were being constantly and severely criticized by the press for their apparent helplessness in the situation.
Vance was referring to the gambling establishment which figured so prominently in the Casino murder case.
Vance was mistaken about this, as Kenting belonged to the old, or original, Klan, in which there was no such title as King Kleagle. This title did not come into existence until 1915, with the modern Klan. Kenting probably had been a Grand Dragon (or State head) in the original Klan.
Robert A. MacDermott was Vance’s kennel manager.
(Wednesday, July 20; 10:30 a.m.)
The Kenting residence in 86th Street was not as bizarre a place as I had expected to see after Vance’s description of it. In fact, it differed very little from the other old brownstone residences in the street, except that it was somewhat larger. I might even have passed it or driven by it any number of times without noticing it at all. This fact was, no doubt, owing to the dullness of its faded color, since the house had apparently not been repainted for several years, and sun and rain had not spared it. Its tone was so dingy and superficially nondescript that it blended unobtrusively with the other houses of the neighborhood. As we approached it that fateful morning it appeared almost a neutral grey in the brilliant summer sunshine.
On closer inspection I could see that the house had been built of bricks put together in English cross bond with weathered mortar joints, trimmed at the cornices, about the windows and door, and below the eaves, with great rectangular slabs of brownstone. Only in the shadow along the eaves and beneath the projections of the sills was there any distinguishable tint of purple remaining. The architecture of the house was conventional enough—a somewhat free adaptation of combined Georgian and Colonial, such as was popular during the middle of the last century.
The entrance, which was several feet above the street level and reached by five or six broad sandstone steps, was a spacious one; and there was the customary glass-enclosed vestibule. The windows were high, and old-fashioned shutters folded back against the walls of the house. Instead of the regulation four stories, the house consisted of only three stories, not counting the sunken basement; and I was somewhat astonished at this fact when it came to my attention, for the structure was even higher than its neighbors. The windows, however, were not on a line with those in the other houses, and I realized that the ceilings of the “Purple House” must be unusually high.
Another thing which distinguished the Kenting residence from the neighboring buildings was the existence of a fifty-foot court to the east. This court was covered with a neatly kept lawn, with hedges on all four sides. There were two flower-beds—one star-shaped and the other in the form of a crescent; and an old gnarled maple tree stood at the rear, with its branches extending almost the entire width of the yard. Only a low iron picket fence, with a swinging gate, divided the yard from the street.
This refreshing quadrangle was bathed with sunshine, and it seemed a very pleasant spot, with its blooming hedges and its scattered painted metal chairs. But there was one sinister note—one item which in itself was not sinister at all, but which had acquired a malevolent aspect from the facts Markham had related to us in Vance’s apartment that morning. It was a long, heavy ladder, such as outdoor painters use, leaning against the house, with its upper end just below a second-story window—the window nearest the street.
The “Purple House” itself was set about ten feet in from the sidewalk, and we immediately crossed the irregular flagstones and proceeded up the steps to the front door. But there was no need to ring the bell. Sergeant Ernest Heath, of the Homicide Bureau, greeted us in the vestibule. After saluting Markham, whom he addressed as Chief, he turned to Vance with a grin and shook his head ponderously.
“I didn’t think you’d be here, Mr. Vance,” he said good-naturedly. “Ain’t this a little out of your line? But howdy, anyway.” And he held out his hand.
“I myself didn’t think I’d be here, Sergeant. And everything is out of my line today except dog shows. Fact is, I almost missed the present pleasure of seeing you.” Vance shook hands with him cordially, and cocked one eye inquiringly. “What’s the exhibit I’m supposed to view?”
“You might as well have stayed home, Mr. Vance,” Heath told him. “Hell, there’s nothing to this case. It ain’t even a fancy one. A little routine police work is all that’s needed to clear it up. There ain’t a chance for what you call psychological deduction.”
“My word!” sighed Vance. “Most encouragin’, Sergeant. I hope you’re right. Still, since I’m here, don’t y’ know, I might as well look around in my amateurish way and try to learn what it’s all about. I promise not to complicate matters for you.”
“That’s a little more than O.-K. with me, Mr. Vance,” the Sergeant grinned. And, opening the heavy glass-panelled oak door, he led us into the dingy but spacious hallway, and then through partly-opened sliding doors at the right, into a stuffy drawing-room.
“Cap Dubois and Bellamy are upstairs, getting the finger-prints; and Quackenbush took a few shots and went away.” Heath seated himself at a small Jacobean desk and drew out his little black leather-bound note-book. “Chief,” he said to Markham, “I think maybe you’d better get the whole story direct from Mrs. Kenting, the wife of the gentleman who was kidnapped.”
I now noticed three other persons in the room. At the front window stood a solid, slightly corpulent man of successful, professional mien. He turned and came forward as we entered, and Markham bowed to him cordially and greeted him by the name Fleel. He was the lawyer of the Kenting family.
At his side was a somewhat aggressive middle-aged man, rather thin, with a serious and pinched expression. Fleel introduced him to us cursorily, with a careless wave of the hand, as Kenyon Kenting, the brother of the missing man. Then the lawyer turned stiffly to the other side of the room, and said in a suave, businesslike voice:
“But I particularly wish to present you gentlemen to Mrs. Kaspar Kenting.”
We all turned to the pale, terrified woman seated at one end of a small davenport, in the shadows of the west wall. She appeared at first glance to be in her early thirties; but I soon realized that my guess might be ten years out, one way or the other. She seemed exceedingly thin, even beneath the full folds of the satin dressing-gown she wore; and although her eyes were large and frankly appealing, there was in her features evidence of a shrewd competency amounting almost to hardness. It struck me that a painter could have used her for the perfect model of the clinging, nervous, whiny woman. But, on the other hand, she impressed me as being capable of assuming the rôle of a strong-minded and efficient person when the occasion demanded. Her hair was thin and stringy and of the lustreless ashen-blond variety; and her eyelashes and eyebrows were so sparse and pale, that she gave the impression, sitting there in the dim light, of having none at all.
When Fleel presented us to her she nodded curtly with a frightened air, and kept her eyes focused sharply on Markham. Kenyon Kenting went directly to her and, sitting down on the edge of the sofa, put his arm half around her and patted her gently on the back.
“You must be brave, my dear,” he said in a tone that was almost endearing. “These gentlemen have come to help us, and I’m sure they’ll be wanting to know all you can tell them about the events of last night.”
The woman drew her eyes slowly away from Markham and looked up wistfully and trustingly at her brother-in-law. Then she nodded her head slowly, in complete and confiding acquiescence and again turned her eyes to Markham.
Sergeant Heath broke gruffly into the scene.
“Don’t you want to go upstairs, Chief, and see the room from where the snatch was made? Snitkin’s on duty up there, to see that nothing is moved around or changed.”
“I say, just a moment, Sergeant.” Vance sat down on the sofa beside Mrs. Kenting. “I’d like to ask Mrs. Kenting a few questions first.” He turned to the woman. “Do you mind?” he asked in a mild, almost deferential tone. As she silently shook her head in reply he continued: “Tell me, when did you first learn of your husband’s absence?”
The woman took a deep breath, and after a barely perceptible hesitation answered in a slightly rasping, low-pitched voice which contrasted strangely with her colorless, semi-anæmic appearance.
“Early this morning—about six o’clock, I should say. The sun had just risen.”
“And how did you happen to become aware of his absence?”
“I wasn’t sleeping well last night,” the woman responded. “I was restless for some unknown reason, and the early morning sun coming through the shutters into my room not only awakened me, but prevented me from going back to sleep. Then I thought I heard a faint unfamiliar sound in my husband’s room—you see, we occupy adjoining rooms on the next floor—and it seemed to me I heard some one moving stealthily about. There was the unmistakable sound of footsteps across the floor—that is, like some one walking around in soft slippers.”
She took another deep breath, and shuddered slightly.
“I was already terribly nervous, anyway, and these strange noises frightened me, for Kaspar—Mr. Kenting—is usually sound asleep at that hour of the morning. I got up, put on my slippers, threw a dressing-gown around me, and went to the door which connects our two rooms. I called to my husband, but got no answer. Then I called again, and still again, in louder tones, at the same time knocking at the door. But there was no response of any kind—and I realized that everything had suddenly become quiet in the room. By this time I was panicky; so I pulled open the door quickly and entered the room. . . .”
“Just a moment, Mrs. Kenting,” Vance interrupted. “You speak of having been startled by an unfamiliar sound in your husband’s room this morning, and you say you heard some one walking about in the room. Just what kind of sound was it that first caught your attention?”
“I don’t know exactly. It might have been some one moving a chair, or dropping something, or maybe it was just a door surreptitiously opened and shut. I can’t describe it any better than that.”
“Could it have been a scuffle of some kind—I mean, did it sound as if more than one person might have been making the noise?”
The woman shook her head vaguely.
“I don’t think so. It was over too quickly for that. I should say it was a sound that was not intended—something accidental—do you see what I mean? I can’t imagine what it could have been—so many things might have happened. . . .”
“When you entered the room, were the lights on?” Vance asked, with what appeared to be almost utter indifference.
“Yes,” the woman hastened to answer animatedly. “That was the curious thing about it. Not only was the chandelier burning brightly, but the light beside the bed also. They were a ghastly yellow in the daylight.”
“Are the two fixtures controlled with the same switch?” Vance asked, frowning down at his unlighted Régie.
“No,” the woman told him. “The switch for the chandelier is near the hall door, while the night-lamp is connected to an outlet in the baseboard and is worked by a switch on the lamp itself. And another strange thing was that the bed had not been slept in.”
Vance’s eyebrows rose slightly, but he did not look up from his fixed contemplation of the cigarette between his fingers.
“Do you know what time Mr. Kenting came to his bedroom last night?”
The woman hesitated a moment and flashed a glance at Kenyon Kenting.
“Oh, yes,” she said hurriedly. “I heard him come in. It must have been soon after three this morning. He had been out for the evening, and I happened to be awake when he got back—or else the unlocking and closing of the front door awakened me—I really don’t know. I heard him enter his bedroom and turn on the lights. Then I heard him telephoning to some one in an angry voice. Right after that I fell asleep again.”
“You say he was out last night. Do you know where or with whom?”
Mrs. Kenting nodded, but again she hesitated. Finally she answered in the same brittle, rasping voice:
“A new gambling casino was opened in Jersey yesterday, and my husband was invited to be a guest at the opening ceremonies. His friend Mr. Quaggy called for him about nine o’clock——”
“Please repeat the name of your husband’s friend.”
“Quaggy—Porter Quaggy. He’s a very trustworthy and loyal man, and I’ve never objected to my husband’s going out with him. He has been more or less a friend of the family for several years, and he always seems to know just how to handle my husband when he shows an inclination to go a little too far in his—his, well, his drinking. Mr. Quaggy was here at the house yesterday afternoon, and it was then that he and Kaspar made arrangements to go together to the new casino.”
Vance nodded slightly, and directed his gaze to the floor as if trying to connect something the woman had told him with something already in his mind.
“Where does Mr. Quaggy live?” he asked.
“Just up the street, near Central Park West, at the Nottingham. . . .” She paused, and drew a deep breath. “Mr. Quaggy’s a frequent and welcome visitor here.”
Vance threw Heath a significant coup d’œil, and the Sergeant made a note in the small leather-bound black book which lay before him on the desk.
“Do you happen to know,” Vance continued, still addressing the woman, “whether Mr. Quaggy returned to the house last night with Mr. Kenting?”
“Oh, no; I’m quite sure he did not,” was the prompt reply. “I heard my husband come in alone and mount the stairs; and I heard him alone in his bedroom. As I said, I dozed off shortly afterwards, and didn’t wake up again until after the sun rose.”
“May I offer you a cigarette?” said Vance, holding out his case.
The woman shook her head slightly and glanced questioningly at Kenyon Kenting.
“No, thank you,” she returned. “I rarely smoke. But I don’t in the least mind others smoking, so please light your own cigarette.”
With a courteous bow in acknowledgment, Vance proceeded to do so, and then asked:
“When you found that your husband was not in his room at six this morning, and that the lights were on and the bed had not been slept in, what did you think?—and what did you do?”
“I was naturally upset and troubled and very much puzzled,” Mrs. Kenting explained; “and just then I noticed that the big side window overlooking the lawn was open and that the Venetian blind had not been lowered. This was queer, because Kaspar was always fussy about this particular blind in the summer-time because of the early morning sun. I immediately ran to the window and looked down into the yard, for a sudden fear had flashed through my mind that perhaps Kaspar had fallen out. . . . You see,” she added reluctantly, “my husband often has had too much to drink when he comes home late at night. . . . It was then I saw the ladder against the house; and I was wondering about that vaguely, when suddenly I noticed that horrible slip of paper pinned to the window-sill. Immediately I realized what had happened, and why I had heard those peculiar noises in his room. The realization made me feel faint.”
She paused and dabbed gently at her eyes with a lace-trimmed handkerchief.
“When I recovered a little from the shock of this frightful thing,” she continued, “I went to the telephone and called up Mr. Fleel. I also called Mr. Kenyon Kenting here—he lives on Fifth Avenue, just across the park. After that I simply ordered some black coffee, and waited, frantic, until their arrival. I said nothing about the matter to the servants, and I didn’t dare inform the police until I had consulted with my brother-in-law and especially with Mr. Fleel, who is not only the family’s legal advisor, but also a very close friend. I felt that he would know the wisest course to follow.”
“How many servants are there here?” Vance asked.
“Only two—Weem, our butler and houseman, and his wife, Gertrude, who cooks and does maid service.”
“They sleep where?”
“On the third floor, at the rear.”
Vance had listened to the woman’s account of the tragic episode with unusual attentiveness, and while to the others he must have seemed casual and indifferent, I had noticed that he shot the narrator several appraising glances from under his lazily drooping eyelids.
At last he rose and, walking to the desk, placed his half-burnt cigarette in a large onyx ash receiver. Turning to Mrs. Kenting again, he asked quietly:
“Had you, or your husband, any previous warning of this event?”
Before answering, the woman looked with troubled concern at Kenyon Kenting.
“I think, my dear,” he encouraged her, in a ponderous, declamatory tone, “that you should be perfectly frank with these gentlemen.”
The woman shifted her eyes back to Vance slowly, and after a moment of indecision said:
“Only this: several nights, recently, after I had retired, I have heard Kaspar dialing a number and talking angrily to some one over the telephone. I could never distinguish any of the conversation—it was simply a sort of muffled muttering. And I always noticed that the next day Kaspar was in a terrible humor and seemed worried and agitated about something. Twice I tried to find out what the trouble was, and asked him to explain the phone calls; but each time he assured me nothing whatever was wrong, and refused to tell me anything except that he had been speaking to his brother regarding business affairs. . . .”
“That was wholly a misleading statement on Kaspar’s part,” put in Kenyon Kenting with matter-of-fact suavity. “As I’ve already said to Mrs. Kenting, I can’t remember ever having had any telephone conversation with Kaspar at night. Whenever we had business matters to discuss he either came to my office, or we talked them over here at the house. . . . I can’t understand these phone conversations—but, of course, they may have no relation whatsoever to this present enigma.”
“As you say, sir.” Vance nodded. “No plausible connection with this crime apparent. But one never knows, does one? . . .” His eyes moved slowly back to Mrs. Kenting. “Was there nothing else recently which you can recall, and which might be helpful now?”
“Yes, there was.” The woman nodded with a show of vigor. “About a week ago a strange, rough-looking man came here to see Kaspar—he looked to me like an underworld character. Kaspar took him immediately into the drawing-room here and closed the doors. They remained in the room a long time. I had gone up to my boudoir, but when the man left the house I heard him say to Kaspar in a loud tone, ‘There are ways of getting things.’ It wasn’t just a statement—the words sounded terribly unfriendly. Almost like a threat.”
“Has there been anything further?” Vance asked.
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