Home to Roost
Somebody at the dinner table dropped a poison pellet into the vitamin addict's pill-box.
The murdered cop carried the clue inside his folded newspaper.
The Squirt and the Monkey
The monkey was the only witness to the murder and all it could do was gibber.
Rex Strout's Triple Jeopardy—three separate, complete and exciting adventures with Nero Wolfe, the celebrated armchair detective, and Nero's extra arms and legs, the inimitable Archie Goodwin—three top-drawer Nero Wolfe Mysteries, all in one book!
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Read an Excerpt
“Our nephew Arthur was the romantic type,” said Mrs. Benjamin Rackell with the least possible movement of her thin tight lips. “He thought being a Communist was romantic.”
Nero Wolfe, behind his desk in his outsized chair that thought nothing of his seventh of a ton, scowled at her. I, at my own desk with a notebook and pen, permitted myself a private grin, not unsympathetic. Wolfe was controlling himself under severe provocation. The appointment for Mr. Rackell to call at Wolfe’s office on the ground floor of his old brownstone house on West Thirty-fifth Street, at six p.m., had been made by phone by a secretary in the office of the Rackell Importing Company, and nothing had been said about a wife coming along. And the wife, no treat as a spectacle to begin with, was an interrupter and a cliché tosser, enough to make Wolfe scowl at any man, let alone a woman.
“But,” he objected, not too caustic, “you say that he was not a Communist, that, on the contrary, he was acting for the FBI when he joined the Communist party.”
He would have loved to tell her to get lost. But his house had five stories, counting the basement and the plant rooms full of orchids on the roof, and there was Fritz the chef and Theodore the botanist and me, Archie Goodwin, the fairly confidential assistant, with nothing to carry the load but his income as a private detective; and the Rackell check for three thousand bucks, offered as a retainer, was under a paperweight on his desk.
“That’s just it,” Mrs. Rackell said impatiently. “Isn’t it romantic to work for the FBI? But that wasn’t why he did it; he did it to serve his country, and that’s why they killed him. His being the romantic type had nothing to do with it.”
Wolfe made a face and undertook to bypass her. His eyes went to Rackell. She would probably have called her husband the stubby type, with his short arms and legs, but he was no runt. His trunk was long and broad and his head long and narrow. His eyes pointed down at the corners, and so did his mouth, making him look mournful.
Wolfe asked him, “Have you spoken with the FBI, Mr. Rackell?”
But the wife answered. “No, he hasn’t,” she said. “I went myself yesterday, and I never heard anything to equal it. They wouldn’t tell me a single thing. They wouldn’t even admit Arthur was working for them as a spy for his country! They said it was a matter for the New York police and I should talk to them—as if I hadn’t!”
“I told you, Pauline,” Rackell said mildly but not timidly, “that the FBI won’t tell people things. And the police won’t either, not when it’s murder, and especially when the Communists come into it. That’s why I insisted on coming to Nero Wolfe to find out what’s going on. If the FBI doesn’t want it known that Arthur was with them, even if it means not getting his murderer, what else can you expect?”
“I expect justice!” Mrs. Rackell declared, her lips actually moving visibly.
I gave it a line to itself in the notebook.
Wolfe was frowning at Rackell. “There seems to be some confusion. I understood that you want a murder investigated. Now you say you came to me to find out what’s going on. If you mean you want me to investigate the police and the FBI, that’s too big a bite.”
“I didn’t say that,” Rackell protested.
“No, but clear it up. What do you want?”
Rackell’s down-pointing eyes looked even mournfuller. “We want facts,” he declared. “I think the police and the FBI are quite capable of sacrificing the rights of a private citizen to what they consider the public interest. Our nephew was murdered, and my wife had a right to ask them what line they’re proceeding on, and they wouldn’t tell her. I don’t intend to just let it go at that. Is this a democracy or isn’t it? I’m not—”
“No!” the wife snapped. “It’s not a democracy, it’s a republic.”
“I suggest,” said Wolfe, exasperated, “that I recapitulate to see if I have it straight. I’ll combine what I have read in the papers with what you have told me.” He focused on the wife, probably figuring that she would be less apt to cut in if he held her eye. “Arthur Rackell, your husband’s orphaned nephew, was a fairly efficient employee of his importing business, drawing a good salary, living at your home here in New York, on Sixty-eighth Street. Some three years ago you noted that he was taking a radically leftist position in discussions of political and social questions, and you remonstrated without effect. As time passed he became more leftist and more outspoken, until his opinions and arguments were identical with the Communist line. You, both you and your husband, argued with him and entreated him, but—”
“I did,” Mrs. Rackell snapped. “My husband didn’t.”
“Now, Pauline,” Rackell protested. “I argued with him some.” He looked at Wolfe. “I didn’t entreat him because I didn’t think I had a right to. I don’t believe in entreating people about their convictions. I was paying him a salary and I didn’t want him to think he had to—” The importer fluttered a hand. “I liked Arthur, and he was my brother’s son.”
“In any case,” Wolfe went on brusquely, still at the wife, “he did not change. He stubbornly adhered to the Communist position. He applauded the Communist attack in Korea and denounced the action of the United Nations. You finally found it insufferable and gave him an ultimatum: either he would abandon his outrageous—”
“Not an ultimatum,” Mrs. Rackell corrected. “My husband refused to permit it. I merely—”
Wolfe outspoke her. “At least you made it plain that you had had enough and he was no longer welcome in your home. You must have made it fairly strong, since he was moved to disclose an extremely tight secret: that he had been persuaded by the FBI, back in nineteen forty-eight, to join the Communist party for the purpose of espionage. No easy admonition would have dragged that out of him, surely.”
“I didn’t say it was easy. I told him—” She stopped, and the thin lips really did tighten. She relaxed them enough to let words out. “I think he thought he would lose his job, and he was well paid. Much more than he earned, the amount of work he did.”
Wolfe nodded. “Anyhow, he told you his secret, and you promised to keep it, becoming a confederate. Privately admiring him, with others you had to pretend to maintain your condemnation. You told your husband and no one else. That was about a week ago, you say?”
“And Saturday evening, three days ago, your nephew was murdered. Now to that. You have added little to what the papers have carried, but let’s see. He left the apartment, your home, and took a taxi to Chezar’s restaurant, where he had a dinner engagement. He had invited three women and two men to dine with him, and they were all there when he arrived, in the bar. When your nephew came they went with him to the table he had reserved and had cocktails. He took a small metal box from—”
“Gold is a metal, madam. He took it from a pocket, his side coat pocket, put it on the table, and left it there while he conferred with the waiter. There was conversation. When plates and rolls and butter were brought, the pillbox got pushed around. It was on the table altogether some ten or twelve minutes. When hors d’oeuvres were served, your nephew started to eat, remembered the pillbox, found it behind the basket of rolls, got from it a vitamin capsule, swallowed the capsule with a sip of water, and began on his hors d’oeuvres. Six or seven minutes later he suddenly cried out, sprang to his feet, overturning his chair, made convulsive gestures, became rigid, collapsed and crumpled to the floor, and died. A doctor arrived shortly, but he was already dead. It has been found that two other capsules in the metal box, similar in appearance to the one he took, contained what they were supposed to and were harmless; but your nephew had swallowed potassium cyanide. He was murdered by replacing a vitamin capsule with a capsule filled with poison.”
“Certainly. That’s what—”
“I’ll go on, please. You were and are convinced that the substitution was made by one of his dinner companions who is a Communist and who learned that your nephew was acting for the FBI, and you so informed Inspector Cramer of the police. You were not satisfied with his acceptance of that information, especially in a subsequent talk with him yesterday morning, Monday, and went yourself to the office of the FBI, saw a Mr. Anstrey, and found him noncommittal. He took the position that a homicide in Manhattan is the business of the New York police. Exasperated, you went to Inspector Cramer’s office, were unable to see him, talked with a sergeant named Stebbins, came away further exasperated, regarded with favor your husband’s suggestion, made this morning, that I be consulted, and here you are. Have I left out anything important?”