Tuesday, September 13, 2016

"Why Should He Want to Murder You?"

"The Scorpion's Thumb."
By Ellery Queen (1905-82; 1905-71).
First appearance (as a radioplay): "The Adventure of the Scorpion's Thumb" in The Adventures of Ellery Queen series, December 31, 1939.
Short story version in Radio and Television Mirror, December 1940 (7 pages).
Online HERE (PDF) (pages 26-28 and 55-58).
(Illustration posed by cast members: Hugh Marlowe as Ellery Queen and Marian Shockley as Nikki Porter.)
"Murder, lurking beneath the hectic gaiety of a holiday party, offers radio's master sleuth one of his most baffling puzzles, to be solved with only stolen money, a broken engagement, and a cocktail glass for clues."
It's the day after Christmas, and who should darken Ellery Queen's door but Mr. Herbert Weaver:
He was small, with a big head on which grew a poor crop of lank white hair, he wore sombre black clothes and a necktie of a dreary seaweed pattern, and he had a cough which he always produced with an air of great apology. 
Ellery Queen's first impulse, when Mr. Weaver explained that he had recently discovered a shortage of $25,000 in his firm's accounts, was to tell the little man to consult the police. Embezzlement didn't in the least intrigue Ellery's mind, used as it was to more dramatic puzzles.
But Mr. Weaver's pale lips pursed into an O of dismay at the suggestion. He couldn't possibly, he said with a cough, do that, because the thief could only be one of two people. "And I wouldn't want to prosecute either of them," he said.
Ellery's lack of interest in the case, however, suddenly turns when he hears more about "them," neither of whom would make a good suspect:
Ellery felt the first faint prickings of the curiosity that always came when a puzzle began to fascinate him. A crime that — if Weaver weren't mistaken — could have been committed by only two possible men, one of them a millionaire and one a paragon of honesty — this sounded like an impossibility, and Ellery doted on impossibilities.
Before Ellery can wrap this one up, embezzlement will be proven, someone will attempt suicide and fail and someone else will commit suicide without meaning to, Ellery will have to deal with not just too many suspects but too many motives—and, after all that, Sergeant Velie will get the credit for solving the case.
Dramatis personae:
~ Ellery Queen:
   "So you each took out insurance policies making each other the beneficiaries?"
~ Nikki Porter:
   "His gaze strayed past Mr. Weaver to where Nikki Porter, his secretary, was demurely taking short-hand notes, and he thought, for perhaps the two million and forty-first time, how pretty she was. . . ."
~ Inspector Queen:
   "He must have been reading too many old-fashioned novels. But I don't see that we're any nearer to finding out who killed him."
~ Sergeant Velie:
   "It's got your thumbmark on it too. But here's the funny thing — the other piece has your thumbmark on it too. Your thumbmark and a picture of a Scorpion!"
~ Herbert Weaver:
   "Won't you please investigate for me — confidentially?"
~ Steve McKay:
   "If you'll destroy that evidence when you get it, and then shut up about the whole business, I'll make it worth your while."
~ David Robinson:
   "The police will find the evidence and I'll be arrested. I can't face that. Please forgive me for what I am about to do . . ."
~ Sheila Robinson:
   "I've carried this burden so long."
~ Viola Weaver:
   "Poor Sheila!"
~ Dr. Temple:
   "Why shouldn't I get plashtered ... gonna stay plashtered all year ..."
~ Conrad Long:
   "I can't understand this. He was perfectly sober when Steve and I visited him before — and he never struck me as being the sort of chap who would drink too much."
Resources:
- There's a lot of information about the Ellery Queen radio series on Wikipedia (HERE) and on Ellery Queen: A Website on Deduction, starting (HERE).

The bottom line: "There comes a time when you look into the mirror and you realize that what you see is all that you will ever be. And then you accept it. Or you kill yourself. Or
you stop looking in mirrors."
Tennessee Williams

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