I’m not yet ready to post the story to which I referred before, but in the meantime…
When Mr. Geoffrey Lord, of West 87th Street, New York City, was first asked to join one of the most illustrious clubs known to man—I am referring, of course, to that select and secretive organization known as the Puzzlers—he did not grin or smile, an occurrence that understandably bemused his inimitable secretary, the lovely (and, as Insp. O’Leary realized several times, love-stricken) Miss Paula Vale, because Geoff had tried (and failed) to gain entrance to the Puzzlers for year after year.
On the evening when Geoff was to set off for his induction ceremony, Paula, on her way out the Lordian door, finally managed to ask the age-old inquiry of why.
“Oh, so that’s why you’ve been looking at me so strangely ever since I got that letter,” Mr. Lord chuckled.
Paula sighed. “And you call yourself a detective…”
“Well,” her employer explained, tapping his pipe tobacco on the ash tray, “I suppose a Puzzler is not allowed to give out any information about the club, but I’m not yet a Puzzler, officially. Fact is, darling, that Malkin—Sidney Malkin, the stockbroker, that is—let me know several years ago that the entrance exam for the Puzzlers is unusually difficult, and I’m trying to make sure that my knowledge of minutiae is—shall we say—up to snuff.”
(It was not until Miss Vale was out the door that she realized Geoff had called her “darling.”)
When, at 9 o’clock that evening precisely, Geoff knocked three times on a disreputable door in a disreputable neighborhood, he was ushered into the usually-verboten establishment in utter silence. He would have felt a bit like he was five years old, playing at secret clubs, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Tom Sawyer—but for the taciturnity of those beckoning him in, which was oppressive and even, God help him, ominous. He entered, and the door was closed behind him.
“Mr. Geoffrey Lord.”
Not a question, but a statement, which seemed to come out of the black pitch of the room.
“At attention, and with my sword at the ready to defend the fair maiden’s honor,” said Geoff, somewhat foolishly.
No one laughed.
“You have been invited to take membership in the Puzzlers, if you should pass the entrance examination. Do you accept the invitation?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Are you ready for the examination?”
“Ready when you are. Mind if I smoke?”
No one responded, so Geoff lit a cigarette and grinned.
Then Geoff heard a lighter voice, a woman’s voice: “Mr. Lord, your achievements as a detective are well-known. With them in mind, we have devised an entrance examination especially for you—a detective puzzle.”
“With thee as my guide, fair lady,” the Lancelot of 87th St. responded, “I shall have little to fear.”
“The puzzle is this,” a gruff, male voice shot in: “you have been called to a painter’s studio in Greenwich Village. He has been killed by a putty knife from his palette.”
“Gruesome way to go,” muttered Mr. Lord.
“The police interview his estranged wife, Olivia; his angst-ridden son, Pythagoras—”
“Pythagoras?” murmured Mr. Lord, smiling. “I detect a classicist’s touch here.”
“—and his four employees, with whom he had all quarrelled at one point or another: Quentin, Roy, Smith, and Travers.”
“First or last names? No, silly question—last names, because I’ve never heard of forenames ‘Smith’ or ‘Travers.’”
“It’s irrelevant,” came an exasperated voice. Geoff recognized this as Sidney Malkin.
“Before the painter died,” the gruff voice returned, “he had no pen or paper, but he managed to dip his paintbrush in every color on his palette and paint one line of each.”
Geoff—“Why didn’t he just paint the murderer’s name?”
“He thought,” another voice came in, “this would be a more direct method to identifying the killer to the police.”
“Or maybe he just had a detective-story mind,” the woman’s voice said. Geoff thought the voice sounded amused.
“Police later found out that our painter had argued with his wife and with his four employees that evening.”
“By the principle of the ‘least-likely suspect,’” said Geoffrey Lord, the detective-story writer, “that would make the son—Pythagoras—the killer. And I knew one could kill with a right angle…”
“Is that your final answer?”
“Not at all. I’m only prevaricating.”
“Your question is simple, Mr. Lord,” said Malkin’s voice. “The dying clue points to the killer—no tricks there. But what does it mean?”
Silence for a moment.
Mr. Lord said, “Ladies and gentlemen, you appeal to my abecedarian mind.”
“Oh?” said one voice—rather curiously.
“Indeed. You know exactly the traps into which I’d fall—someone has been reading my books, and I thank you for the implied compliment. But the murderer is indeed obvious.”
“Mr. Lord, you don’t expect us to believe that you’ve so quickly guessed the solution to…”
He did expect them to believe it—as he explained the correct solution only seconds later.
The lights came on. Miss Alice Little, the well-known poetess, smiled welcomingly; Sidney Malkin patted Geoff on the back; Lee Shapiro, the famous but often-criticized attorney, coughed a trifle nervously; and Alan Tewksbury, the Columbia classics professor, raised an eyebrow—and they all welcomed the latest member of the Puzzlers into the finest dinner in New York.
CHALLENGE TO THE READER
Which of the six suspects killed the painter?
How did Geoffrey Lord know?
What was the meaning of the dying clue?