FROM THE EXPRESSION on the face of Mario Gonzalo, it might seem that there was something singularly unsatisfactory about this particular banquet of the Black Widowers.
There was nothing apparent to account for that. The dinner, which revolved about a main course of roast duck, smothered in dark cherries and underpinned by wild rice, with the skin delightfully crisp and the meat tender and moist, was perfection. The sausage in pasta that had preceded and the generous chocolate parfait that had succeeded represented the calories – be – damned attitude of Roger Halsted, who was hosting the evening. Now the Black Widowers sat .over their brandy, grilling their guest, with all in a state of satisfactory repletion.
The weather outside was delightful, and the guest was an intelligent and articulate person whose personality fit the general aura of the society. Even the terrible – tempered Thomas Trumbull was agreeable and the argumentative Emmanuel Rubin disputed nothing in any voice that was a decibel louder than that of ordinary conversation.
The guest's name was Haskell Pritchard and he was a civil servant. It had already been established that he was in charge of solid waste disposal and some traces of merriment at the start over his perhaps having to drive a garbage truck vanished under the undoubted seriousness of the problem.
"The fact is," Pritchard had said, "that we are running out of places to put the waste and we're going to need some innovative ideas on the matter."
Rubin said, a bit sardonically, "The waste, sir, was once raw material, and that raw material came from somewhere, certainly not from within this city. Wherever it came from it left a hole, whether you call that hole a mine or a quarry or whatever. Why not put the waste back in the hole it came from?"
"Actually," said Pritchard, "this has been thought of. There are indeed abandoned mines, quarries and other such things in the countryside and there have been attempts to negotiate their use as dumps. However, it can't be done. People are willing to sell raw materials but are not willing to accept the residue after the consumer is done with it – even if we pay both times, once for taking and once for returning."
Geoffrey Avalon said, "It's a common sociological phenomenon. Everyone is in favor of cracking down on crime and sending criminals to jail, but nobody wants to spend money on building more jails to hold those criminals and, even more so, nobody wants any new jail built in his neighborhood."
Halsted said, "I don't see the relevance of that, Jeff."
"Don't you?" Avalon's eyebrows rose. "I should think it was obvious. I am speaking of the general ability of the public to recognize a problem and to want to solve it, but to balk at any personal inconvenience involved in a solution. Might I also say that it is delightful, after a good dinner, to be discussing, in a more or less detached manner, problems that affect the public weal, with no personal puzzle involved. I take it, Mr. Pritchard, that your work, or your life, for that matter, does not at the moment involve some conundrum that is robbing you of sleep and peace of mind?"
Pritchard looked surprised. "I can't think of anything, Mr. Avalon Ought I to have come here with something of the sort, Roger?"
"Not at all, Haskell," said Halsted. "It's just that sometimes we are faced with a riddle, but I find it relaxing not to have one."
"I don't," said Gonzalo, with energy, revealing his reason for dissatisfaction, "and I hope I never do. I think all of you are getting too old, and I also think that if Mr. Pritchard thinks hard he can come up with something interesting."
Halsted bridled at once, and said, with the soft stutter that invaded his voice whenever he was indignant or excited, "If you're trying to say, Mario, that my guest is dull – "
James Drake interposed. "Come on, Roger. Mario just wants a puzzle. – But think a moment, Mario; shouldn't Henry have a rest at a banquet now and then?"
"Sure," said Mario, "and just serve the dishes and take away the empty plates and get us water and drinks and anything else we ask for. He's having a great rest."
Henry, that perfection of a waiter, without whom the Black Widowers were unthinkable, stood by the sideboard and, at Gonzalo's words, a small smile played briefly over his unlined, sixtyish face.
Avalon said, "Suppose we have a vote on the matter, with the host's permission. I move we be permitted, now and then, to have a banquet in which there is nothing more than civilized conversation."
Halsted said, "All in favor of Jeff's motion -"
And it was even as the hands began to go up (minus Gonzalo's) that there came about something that marked an utterly unprecedented event in the history of the banquets of the Black Widowers. There was a violent intrusion of an uninvited person into their midst.
There was, to begin with, the sound of a scuffle on the stairs, some vague shouting, a muffled cry of "Please, mister, please – "
The Black Widowers froze – astonished – and then a young man broke into the room.
He was slightly disheveled, and he was breathing hard. He looked from face to face and behind him a waiter said, "I couldn't stop him, gentlemen. Shall I call the police?"
"No," said Halsted, who, as host, automatically took the initiative. "We'll handle it. What do you want, young man?"
The intruder said, "Are you guys the Black Widowers?"
Halsted said, "This is a private party. Please leave."
The intruder raised a hand, placatingly. "I'll leave in a minute. I ain't here to eat nothing. But is this the place where the Black Widowers meet and are you the guys?"
Avalon, his voice as baritone as he could make it, said, "We are the Black Widowers, sir. What is it you want?"
"Well, you help guys, don't you?"
"No, we do not. As you have been told, this is a private meeting and we have no other purpose but to meet."
The intruder looked baffled. "They told me you guys figure out things. I have a problem." Suddenly, he did not look in the least formidable. He was of medium height, with thick dark hair, dark eyes, and dark eyebrows, and he was rather handsome. He seemed to be in his mid – twenties and, beneath a rather theatrical affectation of toughness, there was a touch of loss and confusion. He said, "They told me you could help me – with my problem."
His shirt collar was open and his Adam's apple, quite visible, moved up and down. He said, "I could pay – something."
Gonzalo said, joyously, "What's your problem?"
Trumbull snarled, "Mario." He turned to the intruder, "What's your name?"
"Frank Russo," said the intruder, defiantly, as though expecting someone to object to the designation.
"And where did you hear we solve problems?"
Russo said, "I just heard. It don't matter where, does it? Other guys who eat with you talk, maybe, and it goes from one to another. So I asked and found out you eat here at the Milano, a good paesano restaurant – if you got the dough for it – and you were gonna be there tonight, and I thought, what the hell, if you help other people, maybe you can help me."
Rubin, looking combative, said, "Yes, but just who told you where and when we would be meeting?"
Russo said, "If you don't like people should talk about you, then I'm telling you I won't. The way you're gonna know I won't is I ain't gonna talk about the guy who told me about you."
Drake muttered, "That sounds fair enough to me."
"Now if you don't want to help me," said Russo, "I'll leave. After that, though, if I hear people say you help out, I'll deny it."
There was silence at that, and then Russo said, with an authentic note of pleading in his voice, "Can I at least tell you what's bugging me?"
Halsted said, "What's the consensus? Anyone in favor of listening to Russo raise his hand." He raised his, and Gonzalo's hand shot up vigorously.
Drake said, "Well, listening can't hurt," and raised his.
Halsted waited, but the hands of Avalon, Trumbull, and Rubin remained resolutely down. Halsted said, "Three to three. I'm sorry, Haskell, I can see that you're itching to raise your hand, but you're not a Widower. Henry, would you break the tie?"
Henry said, "Well, Mr. Halsted, if you insist, then my own feeling is that when the Widowers are evenly balanced on some point, the preference should be given to the merciful. It is hard to turn away someone in trouble." And he raised his hand.
Halsted said, "Good. Could you bring a chair, Henry, and put it near the door for the young man? Sit down, Russo."
Russo sat down, put his hands on his knees, and looked about anxiously. Now that he had made his point, he seemed to be uneasy at the surroundings he found himself in.
Halsted said, "Haskell, we're going to have to interrupt your grilling to take care of Mr. Russo, if we can. I hope you don't mind."
"On the contrary," said Pritchard. "I wanted to vote in favor of the young man, as you suspected, and I'm glad the waiter tipped the vote in his favor, though I thought only members could vote."
"Henry is a member. – And now, Jim, would you do the honors?"
Drake stubbed out his cigarette. "Young man," he said, "ordinarily, I'd begin by asking you to justify your existence, but you are not a guest of ours and that question therefore doesn't apply. You can just tell us what your problem is, but I must warn you, that any of us can interrupt at any time to ask a question, and that Henry, our waiter, can do so, too. In return, you must answer all questions truthfully and fully, and you must understand that we cannot guarantee that we'll be able to help you."
"Okay, that suits me. I'm gonna tell you the story, but you gotta promise it don't go outside this room."
Drake said, "I assure you that nothing that goes on in this room is ever spoken of by the Black Widowers outside, although it does seem that at least one of our guests did not adhere to this rule."
"Okay, then." Russo closed his eyes a moment as though deciding where to begin. Then he said, firmly, "I got a sister who just turned eighteen."
"What's her name?" said Gonzalo.
"I'm gonna tell you," said Russo, "even if you didn't ask because that's part of the problem. Her name is Susan. All her life I called her Suzy, but she's got it in her mind she wants to be called Susan and that's what I call her now.
"She's my kid sister. I'm twenty – four and I been taking care of her for six years now – ever since our ma died."
"Have you got a job?" asked Avalon.
"Course I got a job," said Russo, indignantly. "What kind of a question is that? How could I be taking care of her without a job? I been driving a truck for a brewery since I was fifteen and two years ago I got a supervising job. I ain't rich, but I make decent money and I can pay you guys – some."
Avalon looked uncomfortable. "There is no question of payment, sir. Just go on with your story. Is your father also dead?"
Russo said, "I don't know where my father is. I don't care, either. He's gone." His arm made a final, dismissive gesture. "I take care of Susan. – The thing is Susan ain't – bright."
Drake said, "Do you mean she's retarded?"
"She's not mental. Don't think that. She's just not bright. People could take advantage of her and there ain't much she could do in the way of a job."
"With special educational care – " began Avalon.
Russo's face twisted. "What's the use of saying that? I ain't got money for that."
Avalon reddened and muttered, "There's the sociological problem again. People recognize the need and say they want a solution, but if it's a question of public funds, the taxpayer buttons his pocket."
Russo said, "She cooks. She takes care of the place. She can go shopping, and the guys around the neighborhood know about her and they make sure nothing happens to her. Any of them step out of line, he'll be taken care of."
His fist clenched and a steely look came into his eyes. "They're all careful, you bet, but it's something I've been getting more and more worried about. She's the best – natured kid in the world, always willing to help, always smiling. She takes care of herself real good, and the thing is, she's getting to be very nice – looking. It's something to worry about, you know what I mean?"
Drake said, "We know what you mean. Does she like men?"
"Sure she does. She likes everybody, but she don't know about that sort of thing. She don't read and nobody talks dirty to her, you can bet on that. But these days, you gotta be careful about what movies she sees; it's getting so, you even gotta be careful about television, you know what I mean? Besides, any guy wants something, she'd go along, she's so good – natured, you know what I mean?"
Drake said, "Do you have a girlfriend of your own?"
Russo said, quickly, "What's that supposed to mean? You think I'm queer?"
"I'm asking if you have a girlfriend of your own?"
"Course I do."
"Does she know about Susan?"
"Course she does. And when we get hitched, she knows we gotta continue taking care of Susan. And she's willing. She sits with her evenings when I gotta be away. Like now."
Avalon cleared his throat and said, as delicately as he could, "Have you ever thought that, with an operation, she might be – "
Russo clearly had thought of that, for he did not allow the sentence to be finished. "We ain't gonna cut her up."
Gonzalo said, "Have you talked to your priest?"
Russo said, "Nah. I know what he'll say. He'll just say to keep on doing what we're doing and to trust in God."
Gonzalo said, "She might make a good nun."
"No, she don't have the call. And I'm not gonna be making her a nun just to get rid of her. I don't wanna get rid of her, see."
Rubin said, "Do you expect she'll get married some day?"
Russo said, defiantly, "Could be. She'd make a good wife; a lot better wife than most I see around. She's good – natured, hardworking, clean." He hesitated. "Course, whoever marries her's gotta understand she's not – smart, and he'd have to take care of her because anyone could take advantage of her, if you know what I mean. And he'd have to take that into account if anyone does, and not take it out on her."
"What if she has children?"
"What if she does? She'd take good care of them. And they wouldn't have to be like her. I'm not. My ma wasn't."
Trumbull suddenly clanged his spoon against his water glass. There was silence and Trumbull said, "Gentlemen, this is all very well, but Mr. Russo is wasting our time. What is his problem? There's nothing we can do about his sister, if that's his problem. If he's come to ask us for advice about what to do with her now that she's eighteen, it seems to me that what I would say would be the same as the priest might say, to keep on doing what he's doing and trust in God. – I move we end this matter now."
"Hey, hold on," said Russo, anxiously. "I ain't told you my problem yet. All this stuff so far is just to explain."
Halsted said, "Well, then, Mr. Russo, I think we understand about your sister. Would you tell us your problem now?"
Russo cleared his throat and there was a moment of silence as he seemed once again to be choosing among alternate beginnings.
He said, "Two weeks ago, on the tenth, my sister was picked up."
"By the police?" asked Gonzalo.
"No, by some guy. No one from the neighborhood. I don't know who the guy was. I was at work, of course, and Susan, she went out to do some shopping. She got strict instructions never to talk to anybody she don't know. Never. But I guess she musta this time. I did a lot of asking around in the neighborhood these last two weeks. Everybody knows Susan and they were all upset, and from what one guy says and what another guy says, what it looks like is that she was talking to some tall, skinny guy, good – looking kind of, but no one can swear to exactly what he looked like, except maybe he had blond hair. I said how come they let something like that go on – her talking to a strange guy. They all said they thought it was some friend because they figured Susan wouldn't talk to a stranger.
"He took her off in an automobile and when I got home from work, she was still gone, and I can tell you I went crazy. I ran all around the neighborhood and I had all the guys going all over." He shook his head. "I don't know what I would of done, if she hadn't come home."
Trumbull said, "Then she did come home?"
"Just about when it was getting dark. Whoever it was, he had put her on a commuter train and she got off at the right station, thank goodness, and she knew enough to take a taxi. She had money. She still had her train – ticket stub and I think she came from Larchmont in Westchester."
"Was she all right?" asked Gonzalo.
Russo nodded his head. "She wasn't hurt. I sort of managed not to say anything at the time, but the next day I stayed home from work, making out I was sick, and I got her to tell me everything that happened. I had to know.
"Well, she met this guy and he talked to her, and he got around her, you know. She said he was very handsome and talked nice and bought her an ice – cream soda, and asked if she wanted a drive in his car and it was a very pretty car. Well, she couldn't resist; she's always agreeable to everything anyway. I figure he's one of these guys from somewhere fancy who comes into a poor neighborhood to pick up something easy for cheap. This time he picked up something easy for nothing – except an ice – cream soda."
Avalon began, "Did he – "
Russo cut him off at once. "Yeah. He did."
"How do you know?"
"Because Susan told me. She didn't know what it was all about, and she told me. The dirty – " He checked himself, then said, furiously, "He had to know she didn't know what it was all about. He had to know she wasn't – smart. It was like taking advantage of a little kid."
Avalon began. "If she had had the proper instruction -" caught Russo's furious eye, halted, and looked the other way.
Rubin said, "How did your sister feel about it?"
"She thought it was great. That's the worst part. She'll want to do it again. She'll suggest it to guys."
"No," said Rubin, "that's not the worst part. Is she pregnant?"
"Watch your language," said Russo, tightly.
Rubin raised his eyebrows. "Let me rephrase that. Is she in the family way?"
"No, thank God. She isn't. She had her – time – since then. She's all right that way."
Trumbull said, "Well, then, Mr. Russo, what's your problem?"
Russo said, "I want to find the guy."
Avalon said, "Why?"
"I want to teach him a lesson."
Avalon shook his head. "If you're thinking of killing him, we can't be a party to that. As it happens, your sister is over eighteen, and she was not taken over a state line. She was not hurt, or impreg – or put in a family way. She went along willingly and had a good time, and he can always claim he had no idea she was retar – not responsible. I don't think he can be charged with kidnapping. She was returned promptly and there were no ransom demands. In fact, I don't think he can easily be charged with any crime at all."
Russo said, "That's why I'm not going to the police. I couldn't anyway, even if I could nail him with a crime. I can't let people know what happened to Susan. It would be a disgrace to her and to me. And if the guys know she's not a – not a – you know what I mean, they won't have no respect for her. They might figure, well, as long as it's gone, what's one more.
"So I gotta find him. I ain't gonna kill him, but I just want to explain to him that it wasn't nice what he did, and since I probably ain't got his education and I can't explain it in fancy words, I'd like to use a different kind of language. Listen, he's liable to do this to other people's sisters or daughters and maybe, just maybe, if I rearrange his face a little so it ain't so pretty, it won't be so easy for him next time."
Avalon said, "I sympathize with your point of view. I think the man is a cad and it might do him a little good to pay for his intrusion on your life and your sister's – but I fail to see how we can help you find him."
Russo said, "Actually, Susan remembered some things."
"As, for instance."
"She said the guy kept saying, 'Don't worry. Don't worry.' Course he would, the dirty bastard. There was nothing for him to worry about. He could see she was a nice clean girl and wouldn't give him anything; though with his kind of life, he could have given something to her, and I don't mean a baby."
Avalon said, "Yes, we understand, but what was it Susan remembered?"
"Well, he said, 'Don't worry. Don't worry," and then he said, 'See, this is my house, and see what it's called?""
"What the house is called?" asked Gonzalo.
"Yeah. One of those fancy places they have in the suburbs with a name, I guess. You know, a hunk of wood on the lawn with a name on it. That's the kind of guy he is, fancy job, fancy house, fancy family, and when the fancy wife and kids go off to some fancy resort or something, he stays home and goes tomcatting around."
Trumbull said, with visibly mounting impatience. "What was the name of the house?"
"Susan said the house was named for her. She said this guy even thought she was a saint."
"She said the house was called "Saint Susan.'"
Halsted said, "Are you sure? Could Susan read that?"
"She can read some, but actually, she said he read it to her. That makes me think maybe it was in fancy writing because one word Susan can make out easy in print is her own name. She says he read the name and it made her a saint. She knows what saints are, so she loved it. She thought he named the house just for her." Russo shook his head sadly. "It's the sort of thing she would think."
Halsted said, "I never heard of a Saint Susan. Is there one?"
"I wouldn't swear there wasn't," said Rubin, "but I never heard of one, either. Did you, Jeff."
Avalon shook his head.
Gonzalo said, "Why shouldn't a house be called Saint Susan, even if there aren't any on the list? Maybe it was a reference to his wife or his mother."
"You don't go around calling your wife or mother a saint on a board on the lawn," said Rubin.
"It takes all kinds," said Gonzalo.
"There's one more point," said Russo. "He told Susan that the reason he named his house 'Saint Susan' was because of his own name. It wasn't his wife or mother, you see, but his own name. Of course, that tickled Susan, too. It meant the house was named for him and for her. – From Susan's reactions to all this and from everything else she must have said, that bum must have known she wasn't a – a – whole person. He had to know he was doing something terrible. There's just no excuse for him."
Halsted said, "I agree, but is there anything else? Is it just that the house is 'Saint Susan' and that it's from his name? What is his name?"
Russo shook his head. "I don't know. Susan can't remember. Susan never remembers names. She knows I'm Frank, but she calls everyone else 'Johnny.' She don't remember the guy's name. Maybe he never told her for all I know."
"That's it, then? Nothing else?"
Russo shook his head again. "That's it. So what do I do? How do I find this guy?"
Gonzalo said, "I'm afraid your sister must have it all wrong. 'Saint Susan' seems silly, and it can't have a connection with the guy. He's not named Susan, I'm sure. Unless there's a man's name that sounds like Susan."
Drake said, "Sampson? Simpson?"
Gonzalo said, "Saint Sampson? Saint Simpson? Those are worse than Saint Susan."
Pritchard raised his hand. "Gentlemen! Pardon me."
"Yes, Haskell," said Halsted.
"I know I'm not a member of the Black Widowers and can't vote. But can I participate in this discussion?"
"Oh, sure. There was no intention of excluding you."
Pritchard said, "Might Susan not be this fellow's last name? If he lives in Larchmont, you could look up people with that last name in the phone book."
Russo looked disappointed. "I thought of that myself, and I looked up the Larchmont phone book. No last – name Susans there. Course, I could try other towns. He coulda driven Susan to the Larchmont station from some other town."
"Well, let's see now," said Rubin. "Can there be a little more subtlety to it? Susan is a very common name. In fact, I have seen statements that at the present time it is the most common of all feminine names, commoner even than Mary. It dates back to the popular apocryphal book Susanna and the Elders, which was eventually stuck on to the Book of Daniel."
He smirked a bit through his sparse beard and said, "I'm sorry if I sound a bit pedantic. Generally, I leave that sort of thing to you, Jeff, but 'Susanna and the Elders' is generally considered to be the first detective story in Western literature and so it interests me professionally."
Trumbull said, "And does this have any point besides the fact that it interests you?"
"Yes, it does, because Susanna is the English form of the Hebrew name Shoshannah, which happens to mean 'lily.'"
Gonzalo said, "And you claim this guy's name is Lily?"
"His last name," said Rubin coldly, "might be Lily, or Lilly with two l's. Why not?"
Avalon said, "It might be, and if Mr. Russo is fully determined to follow every lead, I suppose he might follow that one. However, I cannot imagine anyone but the most devoted pedant – such as the one you all insist on labelling me as – would, if he wanted to name the house for himself, do so by way of the Hebrew version of the name, just in order to end up with 'Saint Susan.' Surely he might as well name it 'Saint Lily' and have done with it."
"Well," said Halsted, "has anyone else got any ideas?"
There was silence around the table, and Halsted said, "I am sorry, Mr. Russo, but the information you have given us simply isn't enough. Perhaps you had better take the attitude that your sister has not really been harmed and decide that though the incident was deplorable, there is nothing to do now but forget it."
"No," said Russo, stubbornly. "I can't forget it. I'll have to keep looking. If it takes all my life," he added melodramatically.
He rose, "I'm sorry you can't help me. I'm sorry I busted into your dinner."
"Wait a while," said Gonzalo. "What is this? No one has asked Henry yet."
Halsted said, "I asked if anyone else had any ideas. That includes Henry, doesn't it? Henry, do I have to ask you specifically?"
Henry looked apologetic. "It is difficult for me, Mr. Halsted, to think of myself as a Black Widower."
"That's very irritating, Henry," said Halsted. "There's not a banquet that passes that we don't tell you that you're a Black Widower."
"And the best one of all," muttered Trumbull.
"So do you have a suggestion to make?" asked Halsted.
Henry said, "Not exactly just yet, but I have a question to ask."
"Then go ahead and ask it."
And Russo said, "Well, go ahead, waiter. If you're one of the bunch, go and ask."
"Mr. Russo," said Henry, "you said that your sister doesn't remember names. If you were to suggest a specific name to her, do you suppose she would remember whether that name was that of the man who had carried her off?"
Russo hesitated. "I don't know. You say any name to her, and she might say, 'Yeah, that's the name,' just to be agreeable, you know."
"But suppose I give you three names and you try all three and she picks out one of them and says that's the one and not the other two. Would that be reliable?"
"It might be," said Russo, doubtfully. "I never tried anything like that."
"Can you reach your sister by telephone, Mr. Russo?"
"Yeah. Sure. She's at home right now, with my girlfriend."
"Then call her and ask her if the man's name was Bill. Then ask her if the man's name was Joe. And then ask her if the man's name was Fred."
Russo looked toward the others. Halsted said, "There's a phone over there by the cloakroom." He held up a dime.
Russo said, "I got a dime, thank you." He put it into the slot and dialled. "Hello, Josephine, it's Frank. Listen, is Susan sleeping? – Can you get her to the telephone? – Well, I know, but it's important. Tell her she'll make me happy if she comes to the telephone and it'll only take a minute and then she can go back to the program. Okay?" He waited, and said, "She's watching television. – Hello, Susan, you okay? Yeah, this is Frank. I got to ask you a question. Do you remember the guy who took you for a ride in his car. Yes, yes, that guy, but don't tell me what he did. I know. I know. Okay, listen, Susan doll, this guy, was his name Bill?"
He put his hand over the mouthpiece and said in a hoarse whisper to the Black Widowers generally, "She says maybe. You can't tell from that."
"Try Joe," said Henry in a low voice.
"Susan," said Russo into the phone. "Maybe it was Joe. Do you think it was Joe, honey?"
Again his hand went over the mouthpiece and he shook his head. "She says maybe. She'll say that to anything I try."
Henry said, "Now try Fred."
"Susan," said Russo. "What about Fred? Could it have been Fred?"
There was a pause and then he stared wildly over his shoulder at the Black Widowers. "She's screaming, 'It's Freddie. It's Freddie. That's his name.' "He held the telephone receiver in their direction and the sound of girlish squealing was clear.
"Thanks, Susan," Russo said into the mouthpiece. "You're a good girl. Now go and watch television. – Yes, I'll be home soon."
He hung up the phone and said, "It's Fred all right. That was no "Maybe" just to be nice. That was jumping up and down. How did you know?"
Henry smiled faintly. "It was just a guess. You see, there was an eighteenth – century Prussian monarch, named Frederick the Great -"
At this, Avalon started suddenly and said, "Good God, Henry, why do these things occur to you, when I miss them completely."
"I am sure, Mr. Avalon, that given another few minutes of thought, it would have occurred to you, too."
"Hold on," said Russo, frowning, "what is all this? What's this Frederick the Great got to do with anything?"
"Well," said Henry, "Frederick was a hardworking monarch who built a small castle in a rural setting to which he could retire once in a while and be relatively free of the cares of the state. It was rather like an American President taking off for Camp David for the weekend. At this castle, Frederick would get together with scholars and writers and indulge in intellectual conversations. He called this castle "Without Care" or 'Without Worry.' I thought of that when you described how that man told your sister not to worry and then pointed out the name of his house as though there were a connection."
Russo said, a look of honest bewilderment on his face, "He called his house "Don't Worry'?"
"Not quite. Frederick the Great, although he ruled a German kingdom, spoke French, and he called his castle by the French phrase meaning 'without care.' He called it Sans Souci. I imagine that this man who carried off your sister is named Frederick and that he has had enough of an education to have heard of Sans Souci and had the affectation to copy the great Frederick in this respect. I am sure, Mr. Russo, that if you go to Larchmont or the neighboring towns and check the city or town directories for a house by that name owned by someone whose first name is Frederick, you will find it."
Russo said, "Is this real? San Soosee? I never heard of it. But sure, Susan would think it was Saint Suzie. And even if she wants to be called Susan, all her life she's been called Suzie and she would get the two mixed up, and say it was Saint Susan." He looked up grimly, and rubbed his right fist into the palm of his left hand. "I think I'm gonna find this guy."
"You may indeed do so," said Henry, "but if you do, may I make a suggestion?" "Sure."
"We of the Black Widowers can't encourage violence. If it should be that this Frederick is a married man with a respectable position in the community, 1 would merely discuss the matter with his wife. You will avoid what might be a serious brush with the law, and I think the results would then be far more unpleasant to the man than a bruised face would be."
Russo thought awhile. "Maybe." And he left.
Avalon said, "That was a cruel suggestion, Henry."
"The man had performed a cruel deed," said Henry.
Here is another case in which (as in "The Good Samaritan") I have managed to bend the usual formula without doing irrevocable harm to it. After all, by now the Black Widowers have solved no fewer than forty – seven problems and it is not in the least implausible that the word might have gotten out, and that, therefore, something would happen as it did in this story – an intrusion.
And so I say farewell once again, and very reluctantly. There are few stories I write that I enjoy as much as I enjoy my Black Widowers, and having written forty – eight of them altogether has not in the least diminished my pleasure or worn out their welcome to my typing fingers. I can't guarantee that this is true of my readers as well, but I certainly hope it is.