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E.Q. Griffen Earns His Name

by Josh Pachter

EQM1268_JoshPachterFor the third time in as many minutes, Ellery Queen removed his horn-rimmed glasses (they just don’t make good pince-nez any more) and carefully polished the lenses.

“Shades of Circe!” he muttered. “How can I be so abysmally dense?”

Ellery’s vexation stemmed from his total inability to find the solution to a mystery that even John Hamish Watson would have been able to see through without the benefit of a second glance. But: “It’s there,” E.Q. groaned, “if only I knew what it was!”

“My goodness, Ellery,” a feminine voice intruded, “don’t tell me our little problem has got you talking to yourself?”

With a moan of embarrassment and despair, the great detective fled the room.

That Alison Field, he thought, as he paced the sidewalk in front of the Fields’ home. Why can’t she realize that being a detective isn’t as easy as it seems in books. It’s hard work! I just wish I could show her!

Ellery Queen’s last name was Griffen, and he was sixteen years old.

About an hour before his hasty departure from the Fields’ kitchen, Ellery had received a frantic telephone call from Mrs. Leora Field. “Ellery,” she had said, “is anybody else home? Well, then, could you come over, please? Right away!”

When Ellery had arrived, the woman had led him into her kitchen and pointed a trembling finger at an open window. “They’re gone! Do something, Ellery, they’re gone!”

“What’s gone?” the boy asked sensibly.

“My pies!” she shrieked. “My beautiful pies!”

Finally, the story came out. Leora Field had spent that day baking three large apple pies for a church bazaar to be held the next afternoon. Later, she had taken Alison, her only child, to a dental appointment, leaving the pies on the windowsill to cool. When they returned, the pies were missing.

Ellery’s investigation had uncovered only one clue: an Italian postage stamp, which he found lying face down beneath the window. The stamp was golden brown and dark brown, and had been issued in 1964 — Ellery had looked it up in his Scott Catalogue. The design of the stamp illustrated Italian sports.

Ellery reflected, and decided there were only four people known to him who could possibly be connected with foreign postage stamps: Charles Green, who owned the local stamp shop; Greg Zorn, a boy of Ellery’s age who worked at Green’s store every day after school; and two stamp collectors, Al Williams and Steve Holden. Steve’s mother was in charge of the church bazaar.

Even though the Italian stamp seemed to be the only clue, Ellery simply could not figure out how to eliminate any of his suspects. A few phone calls established that not one of the four had an alibi for the crime period. And now Alison Field was needling him.

Suddenly a cry split the quiet late-afternoon air: “Ellery! Ellery!”

It was the detective’s mother and, relieved, he trotted off toward home and dinner.

Something will hit me sooner or later, he thought.

 

The greatest compliment a Griffen child could receive was to be told that he had “earned his name.”

Inspector Ross Griffen, of the Tyson County Police Force, had grown up on a rich diet of detective fiction and, in respectful memory of Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Arsène Lupin, Bulldog Drummond and the other heroes of his youth, he had named each of his eleven children after one of them. And the inspector had introduced his sons and daughter to the joys of detection at early ages, teaching them to use their minds and wits to their fullest advantage.

A Griffen “earned his name” when he was able to solve a criminal problem in the manner of his namesake. Although these problems were usually made up round robin at the dinner table or read out of a book, the children had on several occasions used their detective powers to help solve cases their father had brought home with him.

Jane Marple Griffen, Peter Wimsey Griffen, Albert Campion Griffen, and John Jericho Griffen had pointed out clues that had led to the solution of two burglaries and one case of arson. Parker Pyne Griffen, Gideon Fell Griffen, and Augustus Van Dusen Griffen had earned their names on make-believe crimes, while Sherlock Holmes, Perry Mason, and Nero Wolfe, being younger than ten years of age, had understandably not yet shown much creativity.

Inspector Griffen’s biggest disappointment was Ellery. Not that the boy didn’t try; he was always advancing ingenious theories, but he always seemed to be wrong.

So when, that Thursday evening, his father sat down at the table with a singularly puzzled and abstracted look on his face, Ellery kept quiet about his own problem and asked, “What’s up, Dad?”

“Not now, El,” the inspector answered. “I’ll tell you about it after dinner.”

But after dinner Griffen went into his study (a rare treat for a policeman with eleven children), and sat down with the phone. Hoping to get some information about their father’s case, the Griffen children turned on the radio to an all-news station and listened. After the usual roundup of national and international news, the announcer delivered a local report:

“At an unknown time last night, Collier’s Jewelers on South Firthson Avenue, under twenty-four-hour high-security guard, was broken into and robbed of a twenty-two-thousand-dollar diamond necklace. Police investigation, led by Inspector Ross Griffen, has thus far failed to discover the identity of the thief or thieves or how they managed to enter the building. The necklace was found missing this morning from a seemingly untouched display case by Geoffrey Collier, the store’s owner and manager, during a routine search of the building. The police were immediately notified. Timothy Tierney, night guard, neither saw nor heard anything out of the ordinary last night. An intricate burglar-alarm system failed to go off. For further information on last night’s robbery of Collier’s Jewelers, stay tuned to….”

At the mention of the name Collier, Parker had sat up very straight and listened intently to the broadcast. At its conclusion, he exclaimed, “Boy! Anyone clever enough to get into Collier’s is really going to be tough to catch.”

“What do you mean, Park?” Jane asked.

“You know my friend Dickie Albert? Well, his brother Paul works at that jewelry store, and Paul was telling Dick and me about it. That place is as safe as Fort Knox.”

“If this is Dad’s case,” Ellery put in, “we’d better know the layout. How about describing it to us?”

“From what Paul Albert told me, old man Collier has that whole place set up with just one purpose in mind: not letting any merchandise out of the store until it’s been paid for. And up to now he’s done a good job of it, too. So far, there have been three burglary attempts, and each time the crooks were caught before they even got into the store.

“Here’s the way it works. Every night, before closing up, Collier locks all the windows from the inside. There are bars over each window on the outside. He double locks the back door, and then, with Tierney standing guard outside, Collier searches the entire building. After the search, he double locks the front door, gives the only duplicates of those two keys to Tierney, and leaves for home.

“When he comes back the next morning, Tierney unlocks the front door, returns the keys, and then the two of them search the store together. There’s a series of alarms covering both doors, all the windows, and all the showcases. Like I said, safe as Fort Knox.”

“Obviously not,” Albert commented drily.

Augustus looked up from a magazine, yawned, and said, “It shouldn’t require a Thinking Machine to inform you that, with all these precautions, it had to be an inside job.”

Shaking his head, Parker replied, “I doubt it. According to Paul, Collier even put his porter through a strict security check. Believe me, anyone who can get a job at Collier’s is one hundred percent honest. That guy Collier doesn’t take any chances.”

The study door opened, and Inspector Griffen walked out. He crossed the living room to his easy chair and dropped into it. Eyes closed, he slowly massaged his forehead. Finally he spoke: “All right, kids. If you’re still interested, I’ll tell you about the case.”

“We kn-know most of the facts, D-d-dad,” John Jericho stammered. Unlike his tall red-haired namesake, John was short, dark, and occasionally spoke with a stutter. “How about if we just ask q-q-questions about the points we’re not clear on?”

“Fine with me, son,” the inspector replied. “What would you like to know?”

“F-first of all, was the n-normal routine followed last night?”

“Yes, it was, everything as usual: windows and doors locked, et cetera.”

“And the necklace was definitely in the case when Collier left?” Jane asked.

The inspector nodded, then elaborated. “It’s by far the most valuable piece in the store, and Collier checks it just before he leaves. He’s sure it was there last night.”

Gideon, lost in thought until this time, looked up and said, “I rather think you’ve been ignoring the obvious. What about this man Tierney? People have gone rotten for far less than twenty-two thousand dollars. Money’s the motive, the keys are the means, and Tierney had opportunity all last night.”

“Collier stands by Tierney and every one of his other employees, but we’re having them all checked out, anyway. I’ve got Captain Harris, my best man, on it, and I should be hearing from him any minute.”

“I could explain this ‘miracle’ two other ways,” continued Gideon, neither a doctor nor fat, but hoping to become the former and trying to stall off the latter. “Tierney could be innocent, but he could have left his post for a while — to get a beer, say — or even have dozed off for just long enough.”

“I’ll have all that information soon,” the inspector said.

Albert spoke up: “Of course the burglar alarms were on all last night? No signs of tampering, nothing out of order?”

“Nothing,” his father said. “There’s a bell-and-light hookup at headquarters. If the alarm is tripped, or tampered with, the bell goes off, and, if there’s any internal malfunction, the light starts flashing.”

“What about those window bars?” Augustus asked.

“If I understand the point of your question, son, then the answer is no. Not even a circus midget could have passed between those bars. In fact, I think it would be safe to say that whoever got into Collier’s Jewelers had a harder time of it than Professor Van Dusen had getting out of Cell 13.”

A silence followed, shattered after some seconds by the ringing of the phone. Nero Wolfe Griffen rose, according to custom, and crossed to the kitchen. He picked up the receiver and, thanks to its long cord, was able to carry it back to his father.

“Hello, Griffen speaking … yeah, Harris … all of them? … all night, huh? … okay, thanks a lot.” Inspector Griffen handed the phone back to his son, who walked once more to the kitchen.

Wolfe cradled the phone.

“Well, kids, that seems to let out Tierney,” the inspector said. “Harris is convinced the night guard is completely innocent, and that he didn’t leave his post all last night.”

Inspector Griffen’s eyes swept the room tiredly, then came to rest on Ellery. “What about you, El?” he asked. “You haven’t said a word so far. Have you got any questions?”

“Just one, Dad,” Ellery responded. “Whose fingerprints were found on the rifled display case?”

The inspector looked startled and replied, “It’s funny you should ask that. We dusted every inch of that case, and it looks, according to what we found, like it just wasn’t touched. Every print on it belonged there; there were no strange ones. Not a single area had been wiped off. And gloves seem to be out. Although wearing gloves will eliminate fingerprints, the gloves themselves leave marks or smudges on most materials. Not traceable to any particular pair, of course, but identifiable as having been made by gloves. That help you any, Ellery?”

“It might.”

Inspector Griffen stood up. “Kids,” he said, “I’m due back at headquarters at eight, and it’s seven-thirty. Unless there are any suggestions, I’ll leave now.”

There were suggestions.

Jane said, “This reminds me of an incident that occurred back in high school, when Violet Bronson, a beautiful girl with deep blue — ”

And Parker said, “The crime was quite obviously committed by some poor misguided — ”

And Gideon said, “With all the doors and windows locked — ”

And Augustus S.F.X. Van Dusen said, “Logically — ”

And then, wonder of wonders, Ellery said, “I know the answer.”

 

Inspector Griffen sat down heavily, breathed deeply, and listened to the silence. Finally he managed to ask, “What?”

“I said,” Ellery repeated, “I know the answer. And I do. Not only do I know who robbed Collier’s, but I know how and why.”

“You’re sure?” the inspector asked incredulously.

Ellery pulled off his glasses and thought for a moment. Then he nodded and said, “Yes, I’m sure.”

“Then tell us, son.”

“Of course. There are,” he began, “two ways this crime could have been committed without leaving a single fingerprint, mark, or clue. The first is that the lack of clues indicates the lack of a crime — that is, the necklace was not stolen at all but merely mislaid.”

“But we — ” his father interrupted.

“Don’t interrupt,” Wolfe grumbled.

Ellery continued: “But we can eliminate this possibility, because a thorough police search failed to turn up the gems. Besides, they were definitely seen by Mr. Collier when he made his rounds last night.

“You especially, Sherlock, should know that ‘when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.’ So eliminating our first possibility indicates that the second one must be the truth. But before we discuss that, let’s consider the ways in which the thief could have entered the store to commit the robbery.

“The front of Collier’s,” Ellery went on, “is guarded by Timothy Tierney, who has been found to be one hundred percent trustworthy. He remained at his post all night, making entry through the front impossible. There are other stores on both sides of the jewelry store, but with no connecting doors or partitions. The back windows were locked and barred, and found to have been undisturbed. The same goes for the back door, so rear entry can also be ruled out. I’ve been in the store, and I know that there are no other ways in — no fire escape, no skylight, no chimney. And we can’t forget the burglar alarms — ready to go off at any intrusion.

“These facts all boil down to this: there is no way that anyone could have entered Collier’s after closing and stolen that necklace!

“But since we have established that it was stolen, then the theft must have occurred before closing.

“Could the thief have taken the necklace and left before the building was locked up? No, since Collier saw it before closing up for the night.

“Could he have hidden in the building until after closing, stolen the jewels, and then left? Or waited until morning, managing to escape during the confusion caused by the discovery of the theft? No again: he would have been found during Collier’s nightly search. And don’t forget, no strange fingerprints were found on the display case.”

“I’ve got it!” Jane cried. “Vickie Harding did the same thing up at the University. You know Vickie, Ellery, she’s that cute girl with the long blond — ”

“Get to the point, Jane!” snapped Peter, the oldest.

The Griffens’ only girl blushed. “Oh, yes, sorry. I do ramble so. Anyway, one day last semester, Vickie forgot to bring her lunch to school. Rather than ask me for a loan so she could buy something in the cafeteria, she sneaked one of my sandwiches out of my lunch bag, leaving some crumpled-up paper in its place so that I wouldn’t notice anything missing until later. Of course, I easily deduced that Vickie had taken the sandwich and confronted her. She broke down and confessed. I forgave her, and we’ve been the best of friends ever since.”

“And just how does that help?” Parker sneered.

Jane looked at her younger brother furiously and continued, “Obviously the same thing happened here. The thief took the necklace before the store closed, leaving a paste replica in its place. Then, when Collier made his search, he thought the genuine necklace was still there!”

Parker clapped his hands with glee and pounced. “And just what happened to this replica,” he demanded. “Did it get up and walk away? Or did the successful diamond thief decide to come back later and steal the fake, too?”

Jane’s mouth fell open.

“May I continue?” Ellery asked politely. “This brings us back to the second possibility — that the theft was committed before, not after, Collier’s Jewelers was closed for the night.

“The biggest question still is: How was the necklace stolen without leaving either fingerprints or marks or smudges on the display case?

“But isn’t it possible that we’ve been looking at this point from the wrong angle, that the thief’s prints are on the case, and that we just didn’t recognize them as belonging to the crook? In other words, that this was an inside job, after all?

“Assuming this to be true, the theft must have been committed after Mr. Collier looked into the case, but before the thief left the building.”

Breaking his silence, Inspector Griffen said, “But, Ellery, Collier always conducts his search after all store personnel have already left.”

“Exactly!” Ellery exclaimed triumphantly. “So it should be as clear as daylight that the thief must have been — ”

“C-C-Collier!” John Jericho yelled.

 

“It’s not too uncommon an occurrence,” Inspector Griffen explained at breakfast the next morning. The jewelry-store owner had confessed, and the stolen necklace was now residing in a police safe.

“Collier had been backing a risky stock too heavily, and his firm was bankrupt. The brokers were pressing him to pay the large balance of his account, and he needed cash in a hurry. So Collier stole his own jewels, expecting to collect their full value from his insurance company, plus another five to ten thousand dollars by selling the diamonds through a fence.”

“How did he manage it, Dad?” Albert asked.

“I told you that Collier and Tierney search the store together every morning, but Collier conducts the evening search by himself, with Tierney on guard outside. So it was easy for him to unlock the display case, slip the necklace into his pocket, and then relock the case. He probably figured that, even though Tierney had passed a rigorous security check, the guard would be blamed, since he had the perfect opportunity to commit the crime. But I suppose you deduced all this, Ellery. What I’d like to know is what put you on to it so quickly?”

Ellery beamed. “You know that Ellery Queen, after whom I’m named, often solves his cases through interpretation of seemingly insignificant clues: a piece of sugar in a dead man’s hand, a cut-out piece of paper from the Sunday comics, a cryptic dying message.

“Well, Ellery once solved a case because there was no top hat where there should have been one, and another case when he noticed the statuette of a bridegroom missing from a newlywed’s apartment. These two cases came to my mind when I realized that this case was also characterized by a lack of clues, by a clue that was missing.

“Finally, I realized that this lack of clues was a clue in itself, indicating that the theft must have been perpetrated by someone whose fingerprints on the display case would not be suspicious. This obviously pointed to an insider, and to the logical conclusion that it was Collier himself who stole the necklace.”

“Ellery,” Inspector Griffen said proudly, “you’ve earned your name.”

***

Noon that day found Ellery Queen Griffen pounding on the front door of Leora Field’s home. After a short while, Mrs. Field opened the door and ushered Ellery into the kitchen, where Mrs. Sandy Holden was sipping from a mug of steaming coffee.

“Ellery,” she began, and coughed apologetically, “I think that little matter — ”

The detective interrupted, “Yes, yes, that’s why I’m here! I’ve got the case all solved! The answer hit me last night, after I managed to — ahem — clear up another slight matter. You see, that postage stamp was a blind! It was planted at the scene of the crime to throw suspicion on three innocent boys, your son included, Mrs. Holden.”

“But, Ellery,” Leora Field said.

“Just a minute, please. After deducing that this was all a frame-up, I began to wonder who could have possibly had access to that stamp — ”

“But, Ellery,” she said again.

“In a moment. I went through all the people I know, matching up motive and opportunity, but I got nowhere.”

“Ellery!” Mrs. Field pleaded.

Paying no attention, the young criminologist continued: “Then I found someone. Someone who works every day in Benton’s Grocery, which is right next door to Green’s Stamp Shop! Peter Gould, who merely had to walk next door to purchase that stamp.”

The victimized housewife looked at her friend, shrugged, and let Ellery go on.

“So it was Peter Gould who stole your pies, Peter Gould who planted that stamp, Peter Gould who — just the other day — told me that your daughter had refused to go to the movies with him! So, out of revenge, he tried to ruin your contribution to the church bazaar. The case,” E.Q. concluded, “is solved!”

“Ellery,” Mrs. Field said patiently, “there never was a case. This whole thing was just a big mistake.”

“Excuse me?” Ellery said calmly.

“There never was a case, Ellery. Sandy — Mrs. Holden — came by to pick up those pies yesterday afternoon, but, as I told you, I was out with Alison. She didn’t know that, though, so she went around back, thinking that I was here in the kitchen and perhaps couldn’t hear the front doorbell. She saw the pies on the windowsill, and, when she realized I wasn’t home, she took them. Peter Gould had nothing to do with it.”

“But — but — ” Ellery stammered. “My reasoning! There was nothing wrong with it! I — wait a second! What about that stamp?”

“I think I can explain that,” Sandy Holden said. “I didn’t want to take the pies without letting Leora know, so I left a note. You know that my son Steve collects postage stamps. Well, I picked that one up for him at Green’s store, along with some others that Steve ordered, and they were all in a glassine envelope in my purse. When I was looking for a pencil and paper to leave the note — well, somehow the stamp must have fallen out.”

“But the note!” Ellery insisted. “What about the note?”

“Oh,” she continued, “I forgot. I wrote the note and put it on the kitchen table, this one right here. The breeze through the open window must have blown it off. When I came over for coffee this morning, I learned that Leora thought the pies had been stolen, and I explained the whole thing. We found the note over there in the corner.”

“But,” Ellery said, “but — ”

“Sorry, Ellery, but I’m afraid you were all wrong.”

“But,” Ellery said, “but — ”

“Oh, Ellery,” Alison giggled from the doorway.

 

Copyright © 1968. E.Q. Griffen Earns His Name by Josh Pachter

 

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