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by Rex Stout
Description: Jean Farris, renowned cloth designer, had no idea that the Indian jacket made of centuries old bayeta yarn would one day shape her destiny, through the most unusual way possible -- murder! But Guy Carew, half-Indian heir of murdered multi-millionaire Val Carew, saw fit to give it to her, and she innocently accepted the offer. Now she has her doubts: Was it truly out of the generosity of his heart, or something more sinister? Jean intends to find out; however, it seems that the murderer isn't the only one who doesn't want her to learn the truth! Somehow, for her and Guy, she must get through this in one piece ? or end up like Val Carew.
eBook Publisher: Wonder Audiobooks, LLC/Wonder eBooks,
eBookwise Release Date: April 2010
3 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [309 KB]
Reading time: 206-289 min.
Eileen Delaney heard the door of the noisy old elevator close behind her, and the diminuendo of its bang and rattle as its ascent progressed up the shaft. A few steps down the hall she was confronted by a dingy glass-paneled door bearing the inscription in gilt-edged black lettering:
JEAN FARRIS FABRICS, INC.
Before turning the knob and entering, she glared at the legend and stuck out her tongue at it. This implied no hatred of Jean Farris or enmity toward fabrics; the fact was that she admired the one to excess and permitted the other to monopolize all her talents and attention; the derisive protrusion of her tongue was merely a private but visible recording of her skeptical attitude toward life in general and her intention to keep her sense of proportion even upon entering a shrine. Especially since she was a stockholder in the shrine.
Tossing a nod on the fly at the chunky little woman seated at a flat-topped desk in the anteroom, Miss Delaney went on through another door in a partition. There was noise and activity, and even bustle. It was an enormous room, running the entire length of the building, and its width at least a third of its length. Beams of wooden-framed structures, nine feet high and nearly as wide, made a confusing maze of horizontal and vertical lines, and the confusion was completed by arrays of countless spools on spindles, taut threads of yarns converging on their slots in steel guides, shuttles gliding rapidly back and forth with the woof to be imprisoned in the warp, and the movements of the men and women on their stools before the looms. But there were no racing belts and no whirring of machinery; these were hand looms.
Miss Delaney went down the broad aisle, halting for a moment beside a loom where a woman with black hair, dark skin, and a strong straight back sat on the stool whipping the shuttle, and then continuing almost to the other end, where a worried-looking middle-aged man who was smoking a pipe advanced to greet her.
Miss Delaney said, "Hello, Karl. Everything will smell of tobacco again."
He kept the pipe in his mouth and said with a meekness that was veneered on iron, "I think not. You know the sponging."
"I know. All right. Why have you put Pakahle on the piece for Muir & Beebe? I thought you agreed--"
"Pakahle is a fine weaver."
"Sure she is, but on heavy stuff. She'll never in God's world keep that piece tight enough."
"She will. Jake is home, sick. I watch her."
"You'd better. You know--if it comes back--" Miss Delaney shrugged. "What I wanted to tell you, Krone says he must have the natural kasha, the one with nubs, by tomorrow afternoon. He has sold it to a giraffe named Mrs. Richmond for a sports ensemble, and she keeps telephoning from Newport and reversing the charge. Can you make it?"
"I think so."
"Good. I'll phone Krone and relieve his mind." Miss Delaney turned to go, then she wheeled on him again and lifted her nose for an offensive sniff. "If you told me that's thyme and rosemary in that pipe, I still wouldn't like it."
She left him. Returning half the length of the broad aisle, and crossing to the far side, she passed through a door set in a ceiling-high glassed partition. This was apparently a storage room, with two large tables, enclosed shelves and bins, and a strong smell of naphthalene. There were other doors at either end, and Miss Delaney headed for the one on the left. She rapped with her knuckles on its panel, and then immediately opened it and went in, involuntarily inhaling for the breath of a sigh as she did so.
She always sighed on entering that room, though she had come to realize that its chaos resulted not so much from disorder as from the laws of space. Untold thousands of skeins and windings and spools of yarn--linen, silk, cotton, wool, alpaca, cashmere, Shetland, mohair, llama--were on shelves, stands and tables, draped on the backs of chairs, hung in loops on the walls. Also on the walls were color charts, squares and rectangles of fabrics, sketches, drawings, whole pieces of materials, prints of ancient textiles, and various unclassifiable objects. Other yarns and fabrics were in bags and boxes and baskets on shelves and tables and the floor; and on the largest table was a clutter of sheets of paper of all sizes, crayons and pencils, scissors and glue and other miscellany, and more yarns and shreds of fabric.
At one side of this table a young woman was perched on a high stool. She had soft hair the color of strained honey, gray eyes whose lids came to a point with a faint upthrust toward the temples, and highly colored cheeks; and wore a blue linen smock which was not especially clean. What she had been doing was uncertain, for as the intruder entered she appeared to be completing some quick, rather flurried movement, and made a grab for one of the sheets of paper.
Miss Delaney gazed at her in astonishment. "Well, now what?" She advanced to the table. "I swear to God you're blushing!"
Jean Farris laughed and swung around on the stool. "Of course I'm blushing! Your knock startled me. I was reading that article by Stuart. I'm not conceited enough to swallow that. Have you read it?"
Miss Delaney grunted, with a doubtful eye. "You're conceited enough. For more than that. Anyway, I don't see it-- Oh, under there?" She took two steps. "Why did you hide--" She reached for a pile of skeins, and under it. Jean Farris put out a hand at her, and hastily drew it back. Miss Delaney's hand emerged from the pile of skeins clutching a book. "But Stuart's article wasn't in a-- What the dickens is this?" She flipped back the cover and frowned at the title page, held the frown for some seconds, finally tossed the book back onto the table, looked sharply at Jean Farris's face, still highly colored, and let out a snort.
"So!" There was a suggestion of a squeak in her voice. "I don't suppose you were reading Stuart's article in that book?"
Jean said mildly, "I--I didn't mean I was reading it that minute--when you came in. I read it this morning. He said that my color sense, combined with my feeling for--"
"I know he did. Excuse me. It was that book that you shoved under the yarn when I came in. Customs and Culture of the Cherokee Indians. I suppose ethnology is very interesting, but good heavens! You hid the book when you heard me coming, and I never saw you blush like that."
"I didn't hide it."
"Certainly you hid it."
"I wasn't blushing. If I was, it was only because I'm a week late on those designs for the Oxford and Shetland--"
"You're always late. It never matters, because everyone is more than willing to wait till you're ready, and you ought to be ashamed of yourself to intimate that I would ever have the nerve to get impatient--"
Miss Delaney stopped because she realized that her voice was squeaky. She turned for a chair, acquired one by moving a box of color cards from its seat to a stand, and sat down.
She looked into the young woman's gray eyes. "We might as well not be silly. May I ask you a question, Jean? Where did you get that book and why were you reading it? Just an ordinary question."
"I got it--" Jean waved a hand, vaguely. Then she grinned. "I got it at the oddest place! You'd never guess. A bookstore! And I'm reading it because I am a designer of fabrics--Jean Farris, maybe you've heard the name?--and there is a great deal to be learned from the study of primitive weaving ... I think it is pretty darned honest of me to admit that I still need to learn ... "
Miss Delaney, looking straight at her, snorted again. She said grimly, "You really should know better than to try to fake me."
"Why, Eileen! I wouldn't! You know very well I'm interested in the American Indian design and workmanship! Didn't I spend two weeks in New Mexico, and didn't I bring Pakahle back with me?"
"Pakahle is a Navajo. The Cherokees couldn't weave a gunny sack--and anyhow, they never tried." Miss Delaney shook her head, with compressed lips. "No. You shouldn't try to take me, Jean. I know all about it anyway. It's obvious. I've suspected it ever since Saturday, when you went to that ball game. Why in the name of heaven should you go to a ball game? Romance." Miss Delaney snorted. "You went to all the trouble of buying that book, and sitting there reading about the customs of a bunch of savages that couldn't even weave, and you tried to hide the book when I caught you at it, and you blushed like a sunset on a post card because I caught you ... Why? Because the worst thing that could possibly happen has happened. You haven't even fallen in love with a man. You have gone dotty over a damned aborigine."
"I have not gone dotty!"
"You have gone dotty. A Cherokee Indian."
"Adam and Eve were aborigines!"
"That's ridiculous. Anyway, if we're discussing romance, the less said about Adam and Eve the better. You know what happened to theirs."
"I didn't mention romance, you did. Will Rogers was a Cherokee Indian."
"I never met him. It's a good thing you didn't. So you don't deny it?"
"Of course not." Jean's cheeks had hoisted a flag again, but not this time, apparently, the banner of embarrassment. Her gray eyes looked indignant. "Really, Eileen. I don't feel under the necessity of denying or admitting anything."
"Meaning it's none of my business." Miss Delaney compressed her lips and sat motionless for a full minute. A keen eye might have perceived that the lips were not compressed quite tightly enough, might have remarked a faint inclination to sag at the corners; but if a streak of pathos, a concealed doubt of her ability to avert impending calamity, did indeed adulterate her resolution, it was not apparent in her voice. She resumed, "But you're wrong, you know you are. I certainly don't pretend to be an expert on lovers, though I'm fifty-two years old, which is exactly twice your age. Lack of experience. But I'm an expert on you. You have the finest and most original talent for textile design in America--if Marley Stuart says so, why shouldn't I, even if I am your partner? And you not only have the talent, you have a passion for it. It's a strange and beautiful fire in you; it actually creates things that didn't exist before; and a century from now, two centuries, more, men and women will wear things on their backs that will be different from what they would have been if you hadn't lived."
Jean said, "Piffle. I just like to make designs."
"Lots of other people like to, too. Don't be modest. You know darned well how good you are, you have too much sense not to. So if anything happened to take you away from this"--Miss Delaney's head pivoted for a survey of the rainbow chaos of the room--"it would be a disaster for humanity. Not as big a disaster as the end of the world maybe, but it would be an awful shame. So if you go dotty over a Cherokee Indian, it's everybody's business, and it is particularly my business because I'm personally and selfishly concerned. I've been bumming around the textile and fashion world for thirty years now, in various capacities, and it wasn't until I tied up with you, four years ago, that I got anything out of it except three meals a day--when I wasn't reducing--and the trick of keeping my fingers crossed during business hours. Look at them now."
She extended a hand and wiggled the fingers. "I've forgotten how. You, nothing but an inspired kid, you've made an honest woman of me. I could get maudlin easy, you know I'm Irish. So to me it would be worse than a disaster if you were to give this up; it would mean diving back into that mess--"
"But, Eileen! I haven't the faintest intention of giving it up! My lord, just because I read a book on the customs and culture of the Cherokee Indians--"
"That's not it." Miss Delaney sounded gloomy. "I mean, look at you. I can't imagine how you've escaped both the altar and the bed of sin as long as you have. With your--well, your physical construction and appearance--a man is not only probable, he's inevitable, and humanity could have no objection to that, and neither could I. Of course, the ideal would be a good-looking youngster who would understand and appreciate your work and the importance of your career, and would make himself useful--he might give Karl a hand and perhaps eventually take Karl's place, or he might be better fitted for the promotion end and help me out--possibly even business manager ... "
"My God." Jean shuddered. Then she laughed. "I thought you spoke of romance."
"I did." Miss Delaney sounded stubborn. "I swear you're an innocent--you, who studied five years in Vienna! A romance with a salesman or a bookkeeper can get just as good results as one with an Indian, on the average better. I have nothing against romance. The truth is, I have nothing against Indians either. If you happened to focus on one like Mabel Dodge's Tony, I would be delighted. We could get him a big cushion to sit on and find room to put it somewhere--even in this room with you if you wanted to. What I don't like--and I maintain it is my business, and a lot of other people's--is your getting lightheaded over the chance to become a quote lady unquote and go to hell."
Jean laughed again. "I wouldn't be a lady if you gave it to me for nothing. There might be some excitement in hell--"
"Not in that one. And you'll be a lady if you marry Guy Carew. Not that I suppose you've gone far enough to consider marriage; I'm trying to catch it in its early stage. Now that his father's dead he's worth perhaps twenty million--possibly twice that. He owns a yacht, a villa at Palm Beach, a place in the Adirondacks, the house on Sixty-ninth Street, the estate of Lucky Hills in Westchester, a racing stable--do you think he'd let you go on sitting on that stool breathing creation or fussing with yarn dealers or arguing with Karl or having your picture took for Women's Wear Daily? Or if he did let you, that you'd still be inclined to take the trouble, after a year or so? You would not. You would either rot or dry up. Pieces and shreds of you--"
"Eileen! Stop! I would not. And he isn't like that. He didn't buy the yacht or the Palm Beach villa. He spends his time out West, among his people, the Indians, helping them--"
"You mean he did spend his time like that. It's a good field for a dilettante. He's not a rich man's son now, he's the rich man. I'm not saying he's just a lump of living tissue; though he inherited his millions, I'll admit it's quite possible that he earned them." Miss Delaney snorted. "How long has it been, a month, since his father was murdered? In such a peculiar fashion? And the police appear to be completely up a tree?" She snorted again. "Appear to be! But of course you hear the gossip as well as I do. I suppose that might make him more romantic, to have half of New York convinced that he's a parricide--only I wouldn't have thought you'd fall--"
The concentration in Jean's eyes stopped her. She met them, with an effort, in silence. Jean said, low and quiet, "Why ... that's bad of you. I thought you were only acid sometimes ... I didn't know you could be venomous ... "
"I can be." Miss Delaney was quiet too. "Where any danger to this is concerned. This is my life now, my whole life." She put up a hand as if to touch the other, but the distance was too great, and the hand fell back to her lap. "Only I didn't intend to be venomous, and I don't think I was. After all, you do hear the gossip; I wasn't saying anything new. Honestly, Jean, honestly, I don't want to see you make a mistake. I would do anything to keep you here. Maybe I've made a mistake myself, but surely it can't have gone very far, since you only met the man two weeks ago--and I thought--when I saw you with that book--before it could develop into something serious--"
"I guess it already has." Jean tried a little laugh which didn't work very well. "They say marriage is serious."
"What!" Miss Delaney's squeak was unrestrained. "Marriage?"
Jean nodded and repeated firmly, "Marriage."
"You ... you ... Jean ... " The squeak came under control. "I don't believe it. You're just trying to see if I would fall dead. Well, I would."
"No, you won't. It won't affect us--this business. At least, not much."
"I don't believe it. You don't mean it's all settled?"
"Why ... " Jean hesitated, and her brow showed a wrinkle. "It is and it isn't. Secretly it is settled. I mean, I know about it but he doesn't. You've never seen him, have you?"
"No. How does it happen he doesn't know it's settled?"
"Because it hasn't come up." The wrinkle in Jean's brow was joined by another. "You see ... you know how I am. I've never been much for men, have I?"
"No, thank God. You've been too busy."
Jean nodded. "I'm not as innocent as you think I am. I've had lots of--I suppose you might call them ideas--about different men--especially the one in Vienna who wanted to give me that mountain I told you about--but whenever it got to a certain point I couldn't help laughing. You know, when they begin to look as if their collar was choking them?"
"I don't know. I don't seem to have that effect on their collars."
"Well, I do ... that is, I mean, they do look that way, and it isn't possible to keep from laughing, and they get as mad as the devil. Then I suppose, as you say, I've been so interested in my work--"
"Has this Indian begun choking yet?"
"No." Quick blood made spots of color on Jean's cheeks. Her chin lifted. "Nothing has occurred ... I don't consider him in that connection. I do make quick decisions about things, you know I do. Up till Saturday afternoon I had no idea whether I would ever be married or not; I hadn't thought about it much. Then quite suddenly I decided I would marry him. That's why I say it's settled for me but it hasn't been settled for him yet."
"Has he mentioned the subject?"
"Certainly not. He's only seen me four times."
Miss Delaney sat motionless, with pursed lips, staring with concentrated speculation at her partner's face. Finally she declared with emphasis, "I don't believe it. You're rolling me. You're fairly well educated, and you have a good sense of humor, and there you sit talking like a paleolithic cave girl on leap year day. Unless you're really deep and devious, which I've never suspected, and you've decided in cold blood to freeze onto that twenty million or whatever it is."
Jean was laughing. "I don't care whether he has twenty million or twenty cents! I can always make money, with you to help." She sobered. "But it's settled. Really, Eileen. And don't you dare mention it to anybody, because I don't know, it may take years-- Well! Come in!"
The knock had been at the door in the partition behind her, across the room from the one by which Miss Delaney had entered. It opened, and the chunky little woman from the anteroom appeared, carrying a large flat box of green and yellow cardboard secured with wide yellow tape. She advanced to the table.
Jean Farris had bounded from the stool and was exclaiming. "Thank heaven! I was afraid it wouldn't get here in time. I'll be late as it is. No, wait, Cora, don't go, I want to see how you like it. You too, Eileen, of course." She had the lid off and the top garment unfolded and was holding it up for inspection. "Oh, my God! He ended that stripe at the wrong--no, he didn't. Look! See how the line of the stripe in the jacket will meet it? Hey, what's that? Oh--snip that thread, will you, Cora? Isn't it pretty fine? Would you think that stripe could be so quiet? That's because the dark blend of the tabby absorbs it--just a trick! Everything is just a trick." She laughed. With the smock off and likewise the dress that had been under it, the pink silk hanging from the shoulder straps left almost as much bare skin displayed as if it had been a fashionable swimming suit. The skin was nicely tanned. She touched the pink silk. "Have you seen these, Eileen? Bretton's are featuring them--they call them Shapesheers! Isn't that terrible? Sheepshears, Shakespeares--it will haunt you. Cora, please dear, the brown pumps from that cupboard--no, over there--I'm glad it isn't sweltering, because I do want to show this sort of casually--and oh, I forgot to phone Roberts & Creel to send samples of that two-sixteens mixture--"
Miss Delaney was emptying a drawer, trying to find stockings to go with the brown pumps.