Authors: Ellery Queen
THE FOUR OF HEARTS
Ellery Queen was both a famous fictional detective and the pen name of two cousins born in Brooklyn in 1905. Created by Manfred B. Lee and Frederic Dannay as an entry in a mystery-writing contest, Ellery Queen is regarded by many as the definitive American whodunit celebrity. When their first novel,
The Roman Hat Mystery
(1929), became an immediate success, the cousins gave up their business careers and took to writing dozens of novels, hundreds of radio scripts and countless short stories about the gentleman detective and writer who shared an apartment on West 87
Street with his father, Inspector Queen of the NYPD. Dannay was said to have largely produced detailed outlines of the plots, clues and characters while Lee did most of the writing. As the success of Ellery Queen grew, the character's legacy continued through radio, television and film. In 1941, the cousins founded
Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine
. Edited by Queen for more than forty years, the periodical is still considered one of the most influential crime fiction magazines in American history. Additionally, Queen edited a number of collections and anthologies, and his critical writings are the major works on the detective short story. Under their collective pseudonym, the cousins were given several Edgar awards by the Mystery Writers of America, including the 1960 Grand Master Award. Their novels are examples of the classic âfair play' whodunit mystery of the Golden Age, where plot is always paramount. Manfred B. Lee, born Manford Lepofsky, died in 1971. Frederic Dannay, born Daniel Nathan, died in 1982.
THE FOUR OF HEARTS
THE LANGTAIL PRESS
This edition published 2013 by
The Langtail Press
The Four of Hearts
Copyright Â© 1938 by Frederick A. Stokes Company.
Copyright renewed by Ellery Queen
GOD'S GIFT TO
It is a well-known fact that anyone exposed to Hollywood longer than six weeks goes suddenly and incurably mad.
Mr. Ellery Queen groped for the bottle of Scotch on the open trunk.
âTo Hollywood, city of screwballs! Drink 'er down.' He guzzled what was left of the Scotch and tossed the bottle aside, resuming his packing. âCalifornia, here I go â unwept, unhonored, and unsung. And do I care?'
Alan Clark smiled that Mona Lisa smile by which you may know any member of the fraternity of Hollywood agents, fat or thin, tall or short, dewy-eyed or soiled by life. It is the sage's, the saint's, the cynic's smile of pure wisdom.
âAll you wacks act this way at first. Them that can take it snaps out of it. Them that can't â they turn yellow and go squawking back East.'
âIf you're trying to arouse my ire,' growled Ellery, kicking his prostrate golf-bag, âdesist, Alan. I cut my eye-teeth on the tactics of scheming agents.'
âWhat the hell did you expect â a Class A assignment your first week on the lot and a testimonial dinner at the Coconut Grove?'
âWork,' said Ellery unreasonably.
âPhooey,' said his agent. âIt isn't work here; it's art. Rembrandt didn't get his start knocking out the Sistine Chapel, did he? Give yourself a chance to learn the ropes.'
âBy burying myself in that mausoleum of an office they gave me and sucking my thumbs?'
âSure, sure,' said Clark soothingly. âWhy not? It's Magna's dough, isn't it? If the studio's willing to invest six weeks' salary in you, don't you think they know what they're doing?'
âAre you asking me?' said Ellery, flinging things into the trunk. âThen I'm telling you. No!'
âYou've got to get the feel of pictures, Queen, before you can wade into a script. You're not a day-labourer. You're a writer, an artist, a â a sensitive plant.'
âFlapdoodle, with onions on the side.'
Clark grinned and tipped his hat. âPleased to meet you â¦ Just the same, what's the rush? You've got a future out here. You're an idea man, and that's what they pay off on in Hollywood. They need you.'
âMagna gives me a six-week contract with an option for renewal, the six weeks expire today, they
take up the option, and that means they need me. Typical Hollywood logic.'
âThey just didn't like the contract the New York office wrote. Happens out here all the time. So they let your contract lapse and now they'll offer you a new one. You'll see.'
âI was brought out here to do the story and dialogue on a horse opera. Have I done a single thing in six weeks? Nobody's paid the slightest attention to me, I haven't been able to see or talk to Jacques Butcher even once â¦ Do you know how many times I've called Butcher, Alan?'
âYou've got to have patience. Butch is the Boy Wonder of Hollywood. And you're just another louse â another writer.'
âYou can't prove it by anything I've written, because I haven't written anything. No, sir, I'm homeward bound.'
âSure, sure,' said the agent. âHere, you left out this wine-coloured polo shirt. I know how you feel. You hate our guts. You can't trust your best friend here; he'll use the back of your neck for a stepladder the minute you turn your head. I know. We're twerps â'
âNo art â'
âThrow our dough around â â
âDog eat dog!'
âJust the same,' grinned Clark, âyou'll learn to love it. They all do. And you'll make a hell of a lot more money writing for pictures than you ever will figuring out who wrapped a meat-cleaver around Cadwallader St Swithin's neck in Room 202. Take my advice, Queen, and stick around.'
âThe way I figure it,' said Ellery, âthe incubation period lasts six weeks. After that a man's hopelessly infected. I'm taking it on the lam while I still have my sanity.'
âYou've still got ten days to pick up your tickets to New York.'
âTen days!' Ellery shuddered delicately. âIf it hadn't been for the Sperry murder I'd have been back East long ago.'
Clark stared. âI
there was something screwy in the way GlÃ¼cke's been pinning medals on himself!'
âOuch, I've let the cat out. Keep it under your hat, Alan. I promised Inspector GlÃ¼cke â'
The agent pulled a gust of indignation up from his shoes. âDo you mean to stand there and tell me you cracked the Sperry case and didn't have the brains to get your pan smeared over the front page?'
âIt doesn't mean anything to me. Where the devil can I put these spiked shoes?'
âWhy, with that publicity you could have walked into any studio in Hollywood and written your own ticket!' Clark became quiet, and when Ellery looked up he saw the old Mona Lisa smile. âLook,' said Clark. âI've got a sweet idea.'
Ellery dropped the shoes. âNow wait a minute, Alan.'
âLeave it to me. I absolutely guarantee â â
âI gave GlÃ¼cke my word, I tell you!'
âThe hell with that. Well, okay, okay. I found it out somewhere else. You'll still be the white-haired boy â â
âI think,' mused the agent, pulling his lip, âI'll try Metro first.'
âAlan, absolutely no!'
âMaybe I can ring Paramount and Twentieth Century in on it, too. Play 'em off against each other. I'll have the Magna outfit eating out of my hand.' He slapped Ellery's shoulder. âWhy, man, I'll get you twenty-five hundred bucks a week!'
In this moral crisis the telephone rang. Ellery fled to it.
âMr. Queen? Hold the line, please. Mr. Butcher calling.'
Ellery said: âMr.
âButcher!' Clark yanked his hat over his ears. âSee, what did I tell you? Butcho the Great! Where's your extension? Don't mention dough, now. Feel him out. Boy, oh, boy!' He dashed into the bedroom.
âMr. Queen?' said a sharp, nervous, young man's voice in Ellery's ear. âJacques Butcher speaking.'
âDid you say Jacques Butcher?' mumbled Ellery.
âTried to locate you in New York for four days. Finally got your address from your father at Police Headquarters. What are you doing in Hollywood? Drop in to see me today.'
âWhat am I do â' Ellery paused. âI beg your pardon?'
âWhat? I say, how is it you're on the Coast? Vacation?'
âExcuse me,' said Ellery. âIs this the Jacques Butcher who is executive vice-president in charge of production at the Magna Studios on Melrose, in Hollywood, California, United States of America?' He stopped. âThe planet Earth?'
There was a silence. Then: âBeg pardon?'
âYou're not the gag man?'
âWhat? Hello! Mr. Queen?' Another dead moment in Time, as if Mr. Butcher were fumbling with a memorandum. âAm I speaking to Ellery Queen, Queen the detective-story writer? Where the hell â Madge. Madge! Did you get me the wrong man, damn it?'
âWait,' said Ellery hollowly. âMadge got you the right man, all right, all right. But my brain isn't functioning at par these days, Mr. Butcher. I'm slicing âem into the rough on every drive. Did I understand you to ask if I'm in Hollywood on a
âI don't get this.' The edge on the sharp voice was badly blunted. âWe seem to have our wires crossed. Aren't you feeling well, Queen?'
âWell?' howled Ellery, growing red in the face. âI feel terrible! Why, you incomparable nitwit, I've been employed by your studio for six interminable weeks now â and you ask me if I'm here on a vacation?'
âWhat!' shouted the producer. âYou've been on our lot for six weeks?
âI've phoned your office twice a day, six days a week, fathead â that makes seventy-two times not counting Sundays that I've tried to talk to you, you misbegotten apology for an idiot's stand-in! And you wire New York for my address!'
âWhy â doesn't â somebody
me these things!'
âHere I've parked on my chassis,' roared Ellery, âin that doge's palace your minions gave me to doze in â a month and a half, do you hear? losing weight, fretting my fool head off, dying by inches not a hundred feet from your office â and
in New York!' Ellery's voice grew terrible. âI'm going mad. I
mad. Do you know what, Mr. Butcher? Nuts to you.
nuts to you!'
And he hurled the telephone majestically from him.
Clark came scurrying back, rubbing his hands. âOh, wonderful, wonderful. We're set. We're in!'
âGo away,' said Ellery. Then he screeched: â
âHasn't been done since Garbo gave her last interview to
,' said the agent gleefully. âTelling Butch where he gets off! Now we're getting somewhere.'
âNow,' said Ellery, feeling his forehead, ânow â we're â getting somewhere?'
âGreat guy, Butch. Biggest man in pictures. What a break! Get your lid.'
Where are we going?'
âTo see the Boy Wonder, of course. Come on!'
And the agent bustled out, looking delighted with life, the world, and the whole confused, thunderous march of events.
For a moment Ellery sat still.
But when he found himself putting a match on his head, sticking his hat-brim into his mouth, and rubbing a cigarette on his shoe, he made a gibbering sound and followed his personal representative from the apartment with the fogged air of one who will never understand.
Each studio in Hollywood has its Boy Wonder. But Jacques Butcher, it was admitted by even the other Boy Wonders, was the Boy Wonder of them all.
This paragon occupied a four-room bungalow office in the heart of the quadrangle of executive buildings on the Magna lot. The bungalow, thought Ellery grimly, was some unknown architectural genius's conception of the kind of Spanish edifice a Spanish executive in charge of the production of Spanish motion pictures would erect in his native Spain amid blood, mayhem, and the belch of batteries. It was very yellow, stuccoed, Moorish, and archified; and it was tiled and roofed and patioed as no structure outside a cocaine-addicted hidalgo's nightmare had ever been. In a word, it was colossal.
The Second Secretary's office in the edifice, having been designed in the same faithful spirit to house females, resembled the interior of a Moorish prince's zenana.
Ellery, scrutinizing this plaster and silken gingerbread, nodded unpleasantly. The Sultan of Production was probably lolling on an amethyst-studded throne puffing on a golden hookah and dictating to two houris in g-strings. As for Mr. Alan Clark, his manner had grown less and less enthusiastic as Mr. Queen grew more and more steel-dignified.
âMr. Butcher will see you in a moment, Mr. Queen,' said the Second Secretary piteously. âWill you have a chair?'
âYou,' said Mr. Queen with a nasty inflexion, âare Madge, I presume?'
âHa,' said Mr. Queen. âI will be delighted to have a chair.' And he had a chair. The Second Secretary bit her budding lip, looking as if she wanted chiefly to burst into tears.
âMaybe we'd better come back tomorrow,' whispered the agent. âIf you're going to have an antagonistic attitude â'
âLet me remind you, Alan,' said Mr. Queen complacently, âthat coming here was your idea. I'm really looking forward to this audience. I can see him now â burlap bags under his eyes, dressed like a Radio City typist's conception of Robert Taylor, with a manicurist on one hand and a eunuch on the other â'
âSome other time,' said Clark, rising. âI think maybe tomorrow â'
âSit down, friend,' said Mr. Queen.
Clark sat down and began to snap at his own fingernails like a tortured turtle. A door opened and he jumped up again. But it was only a washed-out male, obviously the First Secretary.
Mr. Butcher will see you now, Mr. Queen.'
Mr. Queen smiled. The Second Secretary looked faint, the First Secretary paled, and Clark wiped his forehead.
âNice of him,' murmured Mr. Queen. He strolled into the First Secretary's domain. âAh, quite like my preconception. In the worst of possible taste.
Le mauvais goÃ»t.
âYes, Mr. Queen,' said the First Secretary. âI mean â'
âBy the way, what's the proper form? Does one genuflect and kiss the royal hand, or will a deep bow from the waist suffice?'
âA kick in the pants would be more like it,' said a rueful voice. â
Mr. Queen turned around. A young man was standing in the doorway holding his hands high. He wore a soiled pair of slacks, openwork sandals on bare feet, and a lumberman's plaid shirt open at the throat. More wonderful than that, he was smoking a chipped clay pipe which fumed foully; his fingers were stained with ink; and he had not shaved his heavy young beard, judging from its vigorous sprout, in at least three days.
âI thought â' began Mr. Queen.
âI certainly rate one,' said the Boy Wonder. âWill you dish it out now, or can we talk things over first?'
Mr. Queen swallowed. âAre
âGuilty. Say, that was the dumbest stunt I've ever seen pulled in this town, and we've pulled some beauties here.' He shook Ellery's hand crisply. âHello, Clark. You Queen's agent?'
âYes, Mr. Butcher,' said Clark. âYes, sir.'
âCome in, both of you,' said the Boy Wonder, leading the way. âDon't mind the spurious magnificence of this dump, Queen. The damned thing was wished on me. It was built by old Sigmund in the free-lunch days, when he was tossing away the stockholders' dough like a hunyak on Saturday night. I've tried to make my own workroom liveable, anyway. Come on in.'