Read Dutch Shoe Mystery Online

Authors: Ellery Queen

Dutch Shoe Mystery (6 page)

“Through which door did he enter?” demanded Ellery.

“This one.” The nurse pointed to the door leading to the Anæsthesia Room.

Ellery turned swiftly to Dr. Minchen. “John, who was in the Anæsthesia Room this morning? Was it being used?”

Minchen looked blank. Miss Price volunteered, “There was a patient being anæsthetized there, Mr. Queen. I think Miss Obermann and Dr. Byers were there. …”

“Very well.”

“This man who came in limping, with surgical clothing on, closed the door—”

“Quickly?”

“Yes, sir. He immediately closed the door behind him and approached the wheel-table over there on which Mrs. Doorn was lying. He bent over her, then looked up and sort of absent-mindedly made a washing motion with his hands.”

“Mum, eh?”

“Oh, yes, sir; he didn’t say a word—just rubbed his hands together. Of course I understood immediately what he wanted. It’s a very familiar, well, gesture with Dr. Janney. It signified he wanted to disinfect his hands—probably because he meant to give the patient a last examination before the operation. So I went into the Sterilizing Room there”—she pointed to the cubicle at the northeast corner of the room—“and prepared a bichloride of mercury solution and an alcohol wash. I—”

Ellery looked pleased. “How long, do you judge, were you in the Sterilizing Room?”

The nurse hesitated. “Oh, it was three minutes or so. I can’t recall exactly. … I came back into the Anteroom and placed the disinfectants on the washbowl there. Dr. Janney—I mean the man, whoever he was—rinsed his hands quickly—”

“More quickly than usual?”

“Yes, I noticed that, Mr. Queen,” she replied, keeping her head averted from the surgeon, who leaned his elbow on his knee and stared steadily at her. “Then he dried his hands on a surgical towel I had ready and waved the bowls away. As I was taking them back into the Sterilizing Room I noticed that he went back to the wheel-table and again leaned over the patient. When I returned he was just straightening up, patting the sheet back into place.”

“Very clear, Miss Price,” said Ellery. “A few questions, if you please. … When you stood near him as he disinfected himself, did you notice his hands?”

She knit her brows. “Why—not particularly. You see, I wasn’t suspicious about anything and naturally took all his actions as a matter of course.”

“Too bad you didn’t notice his hands,” murmured Ellery. “I have great faith in the character of hands. … Miss Price, tell me this. How long were you gone the second time—when you restored your materials to the Sterilizing Room?”

“Not more than a minute. I just poured out the bichloride and alcohol solutions, rinsed the basins, and came out again.”

“How soon after you returned did this man leave?”

“Oh, immediately!”

“Through the same door by which he entered—the Anæsthesia Room door?”

“Yes, sir.”

“I see. …” Ellery took a short turn about the room, tapping his
pince-nez
thoughtfully against his chin. “From what you say, Miss Price, there seems to have been an astonishing dearth of conversation. Didn’t your mysterious visitor say anything at all during the entire proceedings—a word, just one all-important word?”

The nurse looked faintly surprised. Her clear eyes stared into space. “Do you know, Mr. Queen—why, he never opened his mouth all the time he was here!”

“Scarcely amazing,” said Ellery dryly. “Ingenious, the whole thing. … Didn’t you say anything either, Miss Price? Didn’t you greet him when he entered the room?”

“No, I didn’t greet him, sir,” she said quickly, “but I did call out to him while I was in the Sterilizing Room the first time.”

“Exactly what did you say?”

“Nothing terribly important, Mr. Queen. I know Dr. Janney’s nature quite well—he’s a little impatient some times.” A smile hovered about her lips. It faded quickly as the surgeon grunted. “I—I called out: ‘I’ll have it ready in a moment, Dr. Janney!’”

“You actually called him ‘Dr. Janney,’ eh?” Ellery looked quizzically at the surgeon. “A perfect get-up, I should say, Doctor.” Janney muttered, “Evidently, evidently!” Ellery turned to the nurse again. “Miss Price, is there anything else you remember? Have you covered absolutely everything that occurred while this man was in the room?”

She looked thoughtful. “Well—if I recall correctly, something else did happen. But it wasn’t very important, Mr. Queen,” she added apologetically, turning her eyes upward to his.

“I’m considered a good judge of unimportant things, Miss Price,” smiled Ellery. “What was it?”

“Why, while I was in the Sterilizing Room the first time, I heard a door in the Anteroom open and a man’s voice say, after the slightest hesitation, ‘Oh, pardon me!’ and then the door swung back. At least I heard the sound of a door again.”

“Which door?” demanded Ellery.

“I’m sorry, sir, but I really don’t know. You just can’t make out direction of sounds like that; at least I can’t. And of course I was out of sight.”

“Well, then! Did you recognize the voice?”

Her fingers twisted nervously in her lap. “I’m afraid I’m not much help, Mr. Queen. It sounded sort of familiar, I suppose, but I wasn’t particularly interested, really, and I don’t know who it might have been.”

The surgeon got wearily to his feet, looked in despair at Minchen. “God, what stuff and nonsense!” he growled. “It’s the baldest kind of frame-up. John, you don’t believe that I was implicated in this business, do you?”

Minchen ran his finger under the collar of his gown. “Dr. Janney, I don’t—can’t believe it. I don’t know what to think.”

The nurse rose swiftly, approached the surgeon, put her hand appealingly on his arm. “Dr. Janney, please—I didn’t mean to get you in wrong—of course it wasn’t you—Mr. Queen understands that. …”

“Well, well!” chuckled Ellery. “A tableau! Come, now, let’s not be melodramatic about this matter. Please sit down, sir. And you, too, Miss Price.”

They seated themselves, a trifle stiffly. “Did anything strike you as unusual, or out-of-the-way, during the time this—well, let’s call him ‘impostor’ temporarily—this impostor was in the room?”

“At the time, no. Of course, now I can see that his not talking, and the disinfectant business, and all that—I can see now that it was funny.”

“What happened after our precious impostor left?”

“Why, nothing. I took it that the doctor had just examined the patient to see that nothing had gone wrong. So I just sat down on the chair and waited. Nobody else came in and nothing really happened until the operating-room staff came in from the theater to wheel the patient away. And then I followed them into the theater.”

“Didn’t you look at Mrs. Doorn during all this time?”

“I didn’t go over to feel her pulse or examine her closely, if that’s what you mean, Mr. Queen.” She sighed. “Of course I glanced at her now and then, but I knew she was in a coma—her face was very pale—but then, too, the doctor had examined her—well, you see …”

“I see. I quite see,” said Ellery gravely.

“Anyway, my orders had been not to disturb the patient unless something unexpected happened, or seemed to be wrong. …”

“Yes, of course! One thing more, Miss Price. Did you notice on which foot the impostor placed his weight? You remember you said he limped?”

Her body drooped wearily in the chair. “It was his left foot that seemed to be the weak one. He put all his weight on the right—just like Dr. Janney. But then—”

“Yes,” said Ellery, “but then any one who wanted to do a thorough job of impersonation would be careful about that. … That’s all, Miss Price. You’ve been very helpful. You may go into the theater now.”

She said, “Thank you,” in a low voice, looked earnestly at Dr. Janney, smiled to Dr. Minchen, and departed through the door to the Amphitheater.

There was a little silence after Minchen softly shut the door. The Medical Director coughed, hesitated, then sank into the chair the nurse had left. Ellery put his foot on another chair, leaning his elbow on his knee and playing with his glasses. Janney fidgeted, took out a cigarette, crushed it between his hard white fingers. … Suddenly he leaped to his feet.

“Now, look here, Queen,” he shouted, “this thing’s gone far enough, don’t you think? You know damn well I wasn’t there. Why, it could have been any murdering scoundrel familiar with me and the Hospital! Everybody knows I limp. Everybody knows I’m wearing surgical clothes three-quarters of the time I’m here. It’s as plain as a pregnancy! God!” He shook his head like a shaggy dog.

“Yes, it looks remarkably like an imposition on your good nature, Doctor,” said Ellery mildly, peering at Janney. “But you can’t get away from it—the man’s clever.”

“I’ll give him credit for that, all right,” grumbled the surgeon. “Fooled Miss Price—she’s been with me for years now. Probably fooled a couple of others in the Anæsthesia Room. … Well, Queen, what are you going to do with me?” Minchen stirred uncomfortably.

Ellery’s eyebrows shot up. “Do?” He chuckled. “My
métier,
Doctor, is dialectic. I’m an avatar of Socrates. I ask questions. … So I’m going to ask you—and I know you’ll be truthful—where were you, Doctor, and what were you doing during the time this droll bit of play-acting was taking place?”

Janney straightened, sniffed. “Why, you know where I was. You heard Cobb’s piece. You saw me go off with the man to see my visitor. Good God, man, that’s infantile.”

“I’m singularly ingenuous this morning, Doctor. … How long did you speak with your visitor? And where? These are some of the things, Doctor. …”

Janney grunted. “Luckily, I looked at my watch just as I was leaving you. If you recall, it was 10:29. And my watch is accurate—has to be. … Went back with Cobb, met my caller in the Waiting Room, and took him to my office, which is just across the corridor next to the main lift. That’s all, I think.”

“Hardly, Doctor. … How long were you in your office with your visitor?”

“Until 10:40. Zero hour was approaching, and I had to cut the interview short. Still had to get ready—get into fresh surgical clothes—be disinfected. … So my visitor left and I went directly to the Amphitheater.”

“Entering from the West Corridor door, as I saw you,” murmured Ellery. “Check. … Did you escort your visitor to the main entrance? Did you see him out?”

“Naturally.” The surgeon grew restless again. “Now see here, Queen, after all—You’re questioning me as if I were the criminal.” Again the dynamic little surgeon had worked himself into a rage. His voice rose shrilly; livid veins stood out on his gnarled neck.

Ellery approached Janney with a pleasant smile. “And by the way, Doctor, who was your visitor? Of course, since you’ve been so frank with me about everything else, you won’t mind telling me this?”

“I—” Janney’s rage ebbed from his face slowly. He grew quite pale. With a sudden gesture he stood straight, clicked his heels together, moistened his lips with the tip of his tongue. …

A peremptory knock on the Amphitheater door sounded like thunder in the Anteroom. Ellery swung about instantly. “Come!”

The door opened and a small, slim man dressed in dark grey, white-haired and white-mustached, smiled in at them. Behind him stood a group of formidable-looking men.

“Well, dad,” said Ellery. He hurried forward. Their hands clasped and they looked earnestly at each other. Ellery shook his head the merest trifle. “You come in a most dramatic moment. It’s the most fascinating mess you’ve ever tackled, sir. Come on in!”

He stepped aside. Inspector Richard Queen advanced with springy steps, motioning the men behind to follow. He shot one quick comprehensive glance around the room, nodded affably to Dr. Janney and Dr. Minchen, hopped forward again.

“In, boys, inside,” he chirped. “There’s work to do. Ellery—on the job? Solved it yet? Thomas, come in and shut that door! And these gentlemen? Ah, doctors! A great profession. … No, Ritchie, you’ll find nothing in this room. I take it the poor old lady was lying here when she was done in? Shocking, shocking!”

He looked around, chattering incessantly, his keen little eyes missing nothing.

Ellery introduced the two doctors. Both bowed without speaking. The detectives with the Inspector had spread about the room. One poked the wheel-table curiously; it slid a few inches on the rubber floor.

“District detectives?” asked Ellery with a grimace.

“Ritchie’s gang like to be in on everything,” chuckled the old man. “Don’t let ’em bother you. … Come over to that corner, sir, and let’s hear the worst. I gather it’s something of a puzzle.”

“You gather correctly,” replied Ellery with a grim smile. They moved quietly away, by themselves, and Ellery in an undertone gave his father a résumé of the morning’s events, including the testimony that had been given. The old man nodded often. As Ellery’s recital drew to a close, the Inspector’s face grew graver. He shook his head.

“Worse and worse,” he groaned. “But that’s the life of a policeman. For every hundred open-and-shut cases there’s one that requires a mind trained in a dozen universities. Including the university of crime. … There are a few things to be done at once.”

The Inspector turned back to his staff, approached the tall, hard-jawed detective-sergeant named Velie.

“What did ‘Doc’ Prouty say, Thomas?” he demanded. … “No, sit still, Dr. Minchen; I’ll be prancing around. … Well?”

“Medical Examiner kept him on something,” boomed Velie in his deep bass. “Be here later.”

“Good enough. Well, gentlemen …”

He grasped Velie’s lapel, opened his mouth to speak. Ellery paid scant attention to the Inspector; out of the corner of his eye he was watching Dr. Janney, who had retreated to the wall and stood quietly regarding his shoe-tips.

With an unmistakable air of relief.

Chapter Eight
CORROBORATION

T
HE INSPECTOR WAS TALKING
paternally to Velie, who towered above him.

“Now, you’ve got some things to do, Thomas,” said the old man. “First thing is to run down this feller Paradise—that his name, Dr. Minchen?—he’s superintendent of the Hospital, Thomas—and get his report on people who came in and people who went out this morning. I understand Paradise was put on the job immediately after the murder was discovered. Find out what he’s done. Second thing—check up the guards at all exits and entrances and substitute our own men. Third thing—send in this Dr. Byers and Miss Obermann on your way out. Scoot, Thomas!”

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