“Damn all dying clues!”
(This from a policeman, viz. Lt. Christopher McKee of the NYPD, whose job it is to investigate said clues, or any clues.)
“That’s one way to put it,” murmured Mr. Geoffrey Lord softly. “What’s wrong, Chris?”
“Who the hell would do something like that right before dying?—Don’t answer that,” McKee snapped. “I was just talking to Pop O’Leary. He said you were pretty good with these riddles—finding patterns and that sorta thing.”
“Well, here goes nothing: hope I’m not bothering you while you’re working on your latest novel…”
“Not bothering me at all, in fact.” Geoff smiled at a private joke. “Paula—Miss Vale, my secretary, y’know—is off to visit her mother, and I’m a vehement procrastinator. Heaven knows when that book will be finished.”
McKee rubbed his hands and began explaining the case.
The victim was Georj Balchek, the well-known jeweller and rare gem expert. He’d been stabbed in his shop but had apparently lived long enough to drag himself to one of the glass cases, smash the case open, and grab a ruby—before expiring, the ruby grasped with the firmness of rigor mortis.
“Suspects?” said the Great Man, filling his pipe.
There were three, according to the Lieutenant: the store’s manager, Raymond Tallder; the other employee, Fred Mayne; and Balchek’s wife Agnes. All three had the only other keys to the jewellery shop and had not given their keys to anyone (by their own testimony); and the burglary alarm had not gone off. Motives? The usual ones—to wit, greed, hate, and jealousy. Mrs. Balchek, who had no interest in rare gems or any other part of her husband’s time-consuming profession, had long wanted a divorce, as she freely admitted, which Balchek had denied her for fear of scandal. She also benefited from the will—as Tallder did, as well, his motive. Mayne had been passed over for promotion in favor of Tallder, and by all accounts (especially Tallder’s), he was still fuming.
“Hm,” said Geoff. “Is Mayne an expert in gemology as well?”
“Not exactly,” said the annoyed Lieutenant. “In fact, not at all—he doesn’t know much about them. Only Tallder and Balchek are—were—experts. Tallder now works mainly in his own office, not behind the counter, but he is a gemologist. Mayne, on the other hand, tends to focus more on the rings and watches.”
“Right. By the way, Chris”—Geoff paused for a minute—“was there a calendar anywhere around?”
“A calendar? What? There was one behind the counter.”
“And you have the suspects’ birthdates?”
Now McKee was very confused—his normal reaction when he brought a case to Geoffrey Lord—and he expressed this confusion with assorted expletives, which amused Geoff greatly. Then McKee’s face cleared, and he murmured:
“Of course, Geoff. How did I ever miss…? And a jeweller, too! Tallder was born in December, and Mrs. Balchek was born in March, and Mayne was born in July.”
“Well, then, Geoff, thanks, but I’ve got the murderer, then. All we need is proof.”
Geoff rose and puffed pensively on the pipe. “Ah–well!–Chris, there’s just one more point…”
Who is the murderer?
How did Geoffrey Lord know?
What is the meaning of the dying clue?