Three Witnesses by Rex StoutThree Witnesses by Rex Stout

Three Witnesses

byRex Stout

Mass Market Paperback | September 1, 1994

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Three witnesses hold all the clues in three crimes of passion that have even Nero Wolfe guessing to the very end.

Did the dead millionaire who suddenly came back to life—only to end up dead again—write his own death warrant years before? Will the black Labrador retriever who follows Archie home prove that man’s best friend is a killer’s worst enemy? And in a case involving a telephone answering service with three very untalkative operators, could the great detective himself be the witness who will save an innocent man from the chair?
Introduction by Susan Conant
“It is always a treat to read a Nero Wolfe mystery. The man has entered our folklore.”—The New York Times Book Review
A grand master of the form, Rex Stout is one of America’s greatest mystery writers, and his literary creation Nero Wolfe is one of the greatest fictional detectives of all time. Together, Stout and Wolfe have entertained—and puzzled—millions of mystery fans around the world. Now, with his perambulatory man-about-town, Archie Goodwin, the arrogant, gourmandizing, sedentary sleuth is back in the original seventy-three cases of crime and detection written by the inimitable master himself, Rex Stout.
Rex Stout (1886–1975) wrote dozens of short stories, novellas, and full-length mystery novels, most featuring his two indelible characters, the peerless detective Nero Wolfe and his handy sidekick, Archie Goodwin.
Title:Three WitnessesFormat:Mass Market PaperbackDimensions:224 pages, 6.82 × 4.17 × 0.57 inPublished:September 1, 1994Publisher:Random House Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0553249592

ISBN - 13:9780553249590


Read from the Book

The Next Witness   I   I had had previous contacts with Assistant District Attorney Irving Mandelbaum, but had never seen him perform in a courtroom. That morning, watching him at the chore of trying to persuade a jury to clamp it on Leonard Ashe for the murder of Marie Willis, I thought he was pretty good and might be better when he had warmed up. A little plump and a little short, bald in front and big-eared, he wasn’t impressive to look at, but he was businesslike and self-assured without being cocky, and he had a neat trick of pausing for a moment to look at the jury as if he half expected one of them to offer a helpful suggestion. When he pulled it, not too often, his back was turned to the judge and the defense counsel, so they couldn’t see his face, but I could, from where I sat in the audience.   It was the third day of the trial, and he had called his fifth witness, a scared-looking little guy with a pushed-in nose who gave his name, Clyde Bagby, took the oath, sat down, and fixed his scared brown eyes on Mandelbaum as if he had abandoned hope.   Mandelbaum’s tone was reassuring. “What is your business, Mr. Bagby?”   The witness swallowed. “I’m the president of Bagby Answers Ink.”   “By ‘Ink’ you mean ‘Incorporated’?”   “Yes, sir.”   “Do you own the business?”   “I own half the stock that’s been issued, and my wife owns the other half.”   “How long have you been operating that business?”   “Five years now—nearly five and a half.”   “And what is the business? Please tell the jury about it.”   Bagby’s eyes went left for a quick, nervous glance at the jury box but came right back to the prosecutor. “It’s a telephone-answering business, that’s all. You know what that is.”   “Yes, but some members of the jury may not be familiar with the operation. Please describe it.”   The witness licked his lips. “Well, you’re a person or a firm or an organization and you have a phone, but you’re not always there and you want to know about calls that come in your absence. So you go to a telephone-answering service. There are several dozen of them in New York, some of them spread all over town with neighborhood offices, big operations. My own operation, Bagby Answers Ink, it’s not so big because I specialize in serving individuals, houses and apart ments, instead of firms or organizations. I’ve got offices in four different exchange districts—Gramercy, Plaza, Trafalgar, and Rhinelander. I can’t work it from one central office because—”   “Excuse me, Mr. Bagby, but we won’t go into technical problems. Is one of your offices at six-eighteen East Sixty-ninth Street, Manhattan?”   “Yes, sir.”   “Describe the operation at that address.”   “Well, that’s my newest place, opened only a year ago, and my smallest, so it’s not in an office building, it’s an apartment—on account of the labor law. You can’t have women working in an office building after two a.m. unless it’s a public service, but I have to give my clients all-night service, so there on Sixty-ninth Street I’ve got four operators for the three switchboards, and they all live right there in the apartment. That way I can have one at the boards from eight till two at night, and another one from two o’clock on. After nine in the morning three are on, one for each board, for the daytime load.”   “Are the switchboards installed in one of the rooms of the apartment?”   “Yes, sir.”   “Tell the jury what one of them is like and how it works.”   Bagby darted another nervous glance at the jury box and went back to the prosecutor. “It’s a good deal like any board in a big office, with rows of holes for the plugs. Of course it’s installed by the telephone company, with the special wiring for connections with my clients’ phones. Each board has room for sixty clients. For each client there’s a little light and a hole and a card strip with the client’s name. When someone dials a client’s number his light goes on and a buzz synchronizes with the ringing of the client’s phone. How many buzzes the girl counts before she plugs in depends on what client it is. Some of them want her to plug in after three buzzes, some want her to wait longer. I’ve got one client that has her count fifteen buzzes. That’s the kind of specialized individualized service I give my clients. The big outfits, the ones with tens of thousands of clients, they won’t do that. They’ve commercialized it. With me every client is a special case and a sacred trust.”   “Thank you, Mr. Bagby.” Mandelbaum swiveled his head for a swift sympathetic smile at the jury and swiveled it back again. “But I wasn’t buzzing for a plug for your business. When a client’s light shows on the board, and the girl has heard the prescribed number of buzzes, she plugs in on the line, is that it?”   I thought Mandelbaum’s crack was a little out of place for that setting, where a man was on trial for his life, and turned my head right for a glance at Nero Wolfe to see if he agreed, but one glimpse of his profile told me that he was sticking to his role of a morose martyr and so was in no humor to agree with anyone or anything.   That was to be expected. At that hour of the morning, following his hard-and-fast schedule, he would have been up in the plant rooms on the roof of his old brownstone house on West Thirty-fifth Street, bossing Theodore for the glory of his celebrated collection of orchids, even possibly getting his hands dirty. At eleven o’clock, after washing his hands, he would have taken the elevator down to his office on the ground floor, arranged his oversized corpus in his oversized chair behind his desk, rung for Fritz to bring beer, and started bossing Archie Goodwin, me. He would have given me any instructions he thought timely and desirable, for anything from typing a letter to tailing the mayor, which seemed likely to boost his income and add to his reputation as the best private detective east of San Francisco. And he would have been looking forward to lunch by Fritz.   And all that was “would-have-been” because he had been subpoenaed by the State of New York to appear in court and testify at the trial of Leonard Ashe. He hated to leave his house at all, and particularly he hated to leave it for a trip to a witness-box. Being a private detective, he had to concede that a summons to testify was an occupational hazard he must accept if he hoped to collect fees from clients, but this cloud didn’t even have that silver lining. Leonard Ashe had come to the office one day about two months ago to hire him, but had been turned down. So neither fee nor glory was in prospect. As for me, I had been subpoenaed too, but only for insurance, since I wouldn’t be called unless Mandelbaum decided Wolfe’s testimony needed corroboration, which wasn’t likely.   It was no pleasure to look at Wolfe’s gloomy phiz, so I looked back at the performers. Bagby was answering. “Yes, sir, she plugs in and says, ‘Mrs. Smith’s residence,’ or, ‘Mr. Jones’s apartment,’ or whatever she has been told to say for that client. Then she says Mrs. Smith is out and is there any message, and so on, whatever the situation calls for. Sometimes the client has called and given her a message for some particular caller.” Bagby flipped a hand. “Just anything. We give specialized service.”   Mandelbaum nodded. “I think that gives us a clear picture of the operation. Now, Mr. Bagby, please look at that gentleman in the dark blue suit sitting next to the officer. He is the defendant in this trial. Do you know him?”   “Yes, sir. That’s Mr. Leonard Ashe.”   “When and where did you meet him?”   “In July he came to my office on Forty-seventh Street. First he phoned, and then he came.”   “Can you give the day in July?”   “The twelfth. A Monday.”   “What did he say?”   “He asked how my answering service worked, and I told him, and he said he wanted it for his home telephone at his apartment on East Seventy-third Street. He paid cash for a month in advance. He wanted twenty-four-hour service.”   “Did he want any special service?”   “He didn’t ask me for any, but two days later he contacted Marie Willis and offered her five hundred dollars if she—”   The witness was interrupted from two directions at once. The defense attorney, a champion named Jimmy Donovan whose batting average on big criminal cases had topped the list of the New York bar for ten years, left his chair with his mouth open to object; and Mandelbaum showed the witness a palm to stop him.   “Just a minute, Mr. Bagby. Just answer my questions. Did you accept Leonard Ashe as a client?”   “Sure, there was no reason not to.”   “What was the number of his telephone at his home?”   “Rhinelander two-three-eight-three-eight.”   “Did you give his name and that number a place on one of your switchboards?”   “Yes, sir, one of the three boards at the apartment on East Sixty-ninth Street. That’s the Rhinelander district.”   “What was the name of the employee who attended that board—the one with Leonard Ashe’s number on it?”   “Marie Willis.”  

Editorial Reviews

“It is always a treat to read a Nero Wolfe mystery. The man has entered our folklore.”The New York Times Book Review