Murder in a Posh Hotel by KB Inglee

“Mr. Gooding isn’t here,” said the young man at the hotel desk, lifting his chin and looking down his nose at her.

“Where is he?” Emily Lawrence asked, fighting the urge to stamp her foot. “I have an appointment with him at ten o’clock.”

“I couldn’t say.”

“I should like to leave a note for him, if you don’t mind.”

She shook the wet snow from her hood onto the polished marble floor then searched in her purse for a visiting card and a pencil.

“Very well, though it won’t do you much good.”

He dismissed her by shuffling some papers on the mahogany desk. The telephone rang and the clerk turned his back on her to answer it.

Emily thought, not for the first time, what a convenience it would be to have a telephone at home. It would save time and shoe leather when she was working on an investigation. Mr. Gooding could have telephoned her to cancel the appointment and saved her a cold wet trip into Boston.

As she turned to leave, she saw a Boston police officer whose name she could almost recall, come through the door from School Street. Not at all the sort of person who should be entering this posh hotel.

“Good morning, Sergeant O’Shay,” she hoped fervently that was his name. “What brings you to the Parker House?”

He chuckled. “I can hardly tell you that, Mrs. Lawrence, now can I?”

“No, I suppose not.”

“It ain’t for a good cup of morning coffee, that much I’ll say.” He laughed again and stepped up to the desk.

She moved just far enough away so she could overhear what the clerk said.

The room number the clerk gave to O’Shay was the same one Alfred Cox had written on the card he had handed her at breakfast.

Emily imagined a host of reasons why a Boston policeman would be visiting a novelist in his room. Robbery, assault, even death. Or Gooding might simply want to interview a policeman for his next novel.

She stepped out into the street in time to see the black van from Massachusetts General Hospital turning into the alley that lead to the service entrance of the hotel.

Death, then.

“Well, well, well, what would Mrs. Lawrence be doing here just now?”

Emily swung around to face the grinning reporter from the Herald. Wet snow covered his hat brim and soaked into his collar. His green and yellow plaid trousers hung sodden about his ankles. Even his well waxed mustache drooped in the damp.

“I might ask the same of you, Mr. Fleet.”

“Word is out that a famous novelist was stabbed last night.   You wouldn’t know anything about that, now, would you?”

“I don’t know anything about a stabbing, Mr. Fleet.   You should know I stay out of cases that are police business.”

“I’ll give you dollars to donuts that you came here to meet with Mr. Webster Gooding.”

Emily felt the color rising in her face.

“I thought so. I understand Professor Alfred Cox spent a couple of hours with Gooding last evening. And Professor Cox just happens to live in the same Cambridge boarding house you do.”

Mr. Fleet snatched Emily’s elbow and pulled her into the alley. They watched as a stretcher covered by a dark blanket was carried out of the service entrance of the hotel. The front bearer slipped on the icy step, and the hand of the dead man slipped off the stretcher. It was a man’s hand with just the proper bit of white cuff showing below the black sleeve.   An ostentatious fraternal ring on the pinky was visible even from this distance.


Mrs. Stevens and the four boarders were in the parlor sipping from tiny glasses of sherry when Emily came down stairs dressed for dinner.   The fire in the marble fireplace was warm and cheery, the curtains shut against the angry weather.

Emily rested her hand lightly on the arm of the portly man who stood by the marble topped table doling out drops of sherry to those assembled. “Professor Cox, I need to speak with you privately.”

Doctor Bryers lifted one dark eyebrow, and ran his thumb over the watch in his black vest pocket, but kept silent. The two students muttered to each other in the corner.   Mrs. Stevens lifted a hand to silence them.

“Did you see Gooding this morning?” Cox asked.

“No. I need to speak with you about that.”

Before Emily could tell him what had happened, Mary entered the parlor.

“It’s a Boston policeman for you, Mrs. Emily,” said Mary, handing her a card. “I put him in the music room.”

Captain Bates was standing by the keyboard of the square piano.

“Do you play, Captain Bates?”

“One of my daughters is quite good. She’d better be after the fortune I’ve paid to her teacher.”

Emily motioned him to one of the upholstered chairs, and took the other herself.

“What can I do for you?”

“You were at the Parker House this morning? You went to see Mr. Gooding the novelist?”


“What time did you arrive?”

“My appointment was for ten. I got to the hotel about quarter ‘til. The clerk chased me away, but I met Mr. Fleet from the Herald in the street and he told me my appointment had been cancelled. We stood in the snow and watched as Mr. Gooding was removed from the premises.”

Years of experience had taught her to answer only what she had been asked. Captain Bates seemed intelligent and sensible and must have known this already so there was no harm done.

“Why did he want to see you?”

“I don’t know. He requested the meeting. I assume he was going to tell me why when we met.”

“Did you know him?”

“No, I’d never met him.”

“How did he arrange for the appointment?”

“Through a mutual friend. Everyone in the literary field knows everyone else in the literary field.”

“Does Professor Alfred Cox live in this house?”


“Is he here now?”

“Yes, in the other room.” She pointed to the common wall between the music room and the parlor.

“Would you be so kind as to fetch him for me, Mrs. Lawrence?”

Emily called Cox out into the hall. “I think Gooding was murdered this morning before I saw him.   Captain Bates of the Boston police wants to see you.”

Cox froze in mid stride and stared at her for several seconds in shocked silence.

“Gooding murdered? Poor sod. Do you know what happened?”

“Not yet.”

“Am I a suspect?” he asked, his voice soft, as though saying it would make it so. “I spent a couple of hours with him last evening.”

Once in the music room Emily introduced Cox to the policeman. Much to her surprise, instead of asking her to leave, Bates indicated that she should sit in the chair by the door.

“Gooding was a friend of yours?” the policeman asked Cox.

“An acquaintance, really. And a colleague. Teaches literature at Williams. Writes under the name of Zachary Garner.”

“Do you know why he was in Boston?”

“To see his publisher. Cyrus Oliver always puts his most profitable writers up in nice hotels. Makes me wish I didn’t live here. I could use a night in a good hotel. He told me he was working on the galleys for another novel.   Zachary Garner was far more prolific than Baxter Hardey.”

“Baxter Hardey?” asked Bates.

Emily laughed. “Not a murder suspect, if that’s what you are looking for. Baxter Hardey is the pen name Professor Cox uses.   You mustn’t tell anyone. Alfred, you must be careful about giving the police more information than they need.”

Cox looked sheepish.

“The newspaper man said he was stabbed,” Emily said.

Bates shrugged. “You will read about it in the evening papers. But, yes. Stabbed in his room by parties unknown.”

“Why would anyone kill Gooding?” asked Cox. “He was an inoffensive man who liked expensive whisky and fine food. His books are filled with violence, but I’ve never known him to raise his voice, let alone a hand to anyone.”

“Professor Cox, you arranged for the appointment with Mrs. Lawrence and you spent a couple of hours with the victim last evening. Do you know why he wanted to see Mrs. Lawrence?”

Cox nodded.

“Why did he want to see her?”

Cox shrugged. “I’ve no idea. Wouldn’t tell me. I suppose he wanted to hire a private detective.”

“You were overheard arguing with him. What was the argument about?”

Cox looked puzzled. “We didn’t argue about anything.”

“Do you own a knife, Professor Cox?”

“Certainly, three of them. A penknife.” He drew it out of his pocket and handed it to the policeman. “I have two daggers in my room. I will send Mary for them, if you wish. One was the model for the murder weapon in one of my books. The other, quite dull, serves me as a letter opener.   It was my mother’s.”

Mary was dispatched for the knives. Bates looked at them carefully and handed them back.

“If either of you learn any more, please let me know.”

“Of course.”


Mary showed Bates out.

“I am a suspect.” Cox sounded unhappy.

“Your knives weren’t the murder weapon, not even close, or he would never have given them back. By the way, what did you argue about?”

“We didn’t argue about anything.” Cox paused for a moment.   “We were discussing the cultural relevance of Lady Windermere’s Fan by Oscar Wilde. Our opinions differ radically. I suppose someone passing by in the hall might have overheard us and thought we were arguing. You live in a house full of scholars. You know how loud those discussions can get.”

“You have an alibi.”

“You saw me at breakfast, then there was class this morning, Italian novel with twelve students in attendance. Last night, on the other hand, is more of a problem.”

She didn’t tell him that her glimpse of the body indicated death in the morning rather than last night.

Cox stroked his mustache. “Is it possible he took his own life?”

“Stabbing isn’t a usual means of suicide. Why do you suggest it?”

“He seemed very subdued when I left. He mentioned his Boston woman, not his wife, said she was into him financially, but he didn’t give any more details. He talked about his wife a lot, too. I’ve never know him to be forthcoming about his private life. He’s been having difficulty with his publisher, too. Seems Oliver leaked his real name and the college took a dim view of his pastime.”

“How do you handle that?” asked Emily.

“I told everyone who might be upset that I was writing under a pen name. They know the kind of twaddle I write, but not the name I write under. A little contextual critique would lay the secret bare if anyone cared enough. I use the words ‘flight of fancy’ far too much.”

Emily nodded and smiled. Every Baxter Hardey book used the phrase at least four times.

“After the scandal at the school…” Cox began.

“There was a scandal when they found out he was the author of sensational fiction?”

“He thinks so. Most schools realize they underpay the faculty and are happy to have you make a bit on the side as long as you don’t drag them through the mud.”

Cox paused, turning his pen knife over and over on his palm.

“He was thinking of giving it up.”

“Teaching or writing?” Emily asked.

“Writing, at least that kind of book. He said he liked teaching, and that each book was worse than the one before it. He didn’t find it fun any more. His publisher offered him more money, but he thought he would give it up anyway. I guess the publisher was threatening a lawsuit.”

Cox paused, took a deep breath and let it out slowly before going on.

“He had two more books on his contract with Oliver.   There was something there I couldn’t quite put my finger on. He seemed dissatisfied with the arrangement. I got the feeling he was giving up his publisher rather than the writing. He didn’t say as much. You don’t suppose he was looking for another publisher and wanted out of the contract?   Maybe he wanted to hire you to find grounds for terminating the contract.”

“That might be reason for him to kill the publisher, not the other way around.”

Cox shrugged. “Maybe they argued and it got out of hand. Still, neither of them are violent men.”

“You mentioned a woman. Do you know who she is?”

“I never met her. Her name is Mrs. Franklin. Gooding says she always carries her knitting with her. Can you imagine?”

“Do you know his publisher?”

“Certainly. He’s taken a couple of my critical articles as book chapters. Doesn’t seem like the sort who would kill off his authors.”


After dinner, Emily was standing by the window in Mrs. Stevens’ sitting room watching the snow make halos around the street lamps when the doorbell rang.

“Who would come calling on an evening like this?” asked Mrs. Stevens as she rose from the overstuffed yellow sofa to answer the door.

A few murmured sounds from the hall and Mrs. Stevens returned.   “It’s a Mrs. Franklin to see you, dear.   I put her in the parlor.”

Mrs. Franklin, several inches taller than Emily, was the kind of woman who grew more striking with age. Dark curls showed beneath her feathered hat. Her gown was forest green and antique gold trimmed with jet beads. She paced the parlor, pausing now and then to move a picture on the mantle or to straighten a curtain. She turned as Emily came through the door.

“You must help me, Mrs. Lawrence.” Emily wondered how many hundreds of conversations had begun with those words in the twenty years she had been a detective.

Mrs. Franklin sat in the chair Emily indicated and opened the bag she carried with her. She pulled out a cloud of salmon lace on a pair of long thin knitting needles. As soon as she picked up the needles and started work, her whole body settled into stillness as though all her energy moved through her fingers and into the project in her lap.

“What can I do for you?”

“The police think I killed Mr. Gooding.”

“Did you?” asked Emily.

“No, of course not! But I have to go to police headquarters to talk to Captain Bates in the morning. Someone said you were there at the hotel this morning, looking for Mr. Gooding. I thought you could help.” Emily wondered who she had heard it from.

“You were at his hotel last night?”

“Yes, I arrived about ten in the evening and left about one or two. Mr. Gooding found me a cab, so he must have been alive when I left.”

“How long have you known Mr. Gooding?”

“Well over ten years. We met when he sold his first book and came to Boston.”

“How did you meet?”

“His publisher, Mr. Oliver, introduced us.”

Emily would have to ask Cox if publishers often provided such comforts for out-of-town authors. What other authors did Mrs. Franklin warm on cold Boston nights?

Mrs. Franklin went on. “Do you know he had decided to stop writing his books? I told him how wonderful they were. If he didn’t come to Boston to meet Mr. Oliver, I would never see him.”

“Is it true there had been a scandal when it came out he was the author?”

“That school of his is just a bunch of snobs. What’s wrong with his books? They are exciting and romantic. I loved every one of them.”

“I must admit, I’ve read one or two myself.”

“Mr. Oliver was very upset with him. Going to take him to court, you know. Mr. Oliver saved them both great expense by killing poor Webster.”

Being dead didn’t seem to Emily like a good way to save money.

“Why would Mr. Oliver want to kill someone who made so much money for him?”

Mrs. Franklin laughed. “If there were to be no more books, think how well this one would sell if the author had just been murdered.”

“Someone suggested he owed you money. Is that the case?”

“Why yes, how odd that anyone should even know that.   Teachers don’t make much money and he spent a week in Boston last summer working on his last book. Didn’t have a penny in his pocket and he likes to stay in nice hotels.   I had a bit extra at the time, so I paid for his room at the Parker House and his meals. It came to a tidy sum. He was paying me back a little at a time. Maybe Mr. Oliver will reimburse me for what is left.”

Mrs. Franklin had not stopped knitting throughout the conversation. Her fingers flew and she never once glanced at the work. Emily was amused by the mental image of a naked Mrs. Franklin knitting in bed with her sated lover asleep at her side.

“What a lovely color,” Emily commented. She reached out to touch it and found the fine wool yarn soft and the stitches even and regular.

Emily glanced into the bag as Mrs. Franklin opened it to put away her work. There was the usual jumble of knitting implements, all far more expensive than anything Emily had in her knitting basket. She saw ivory tapestry needles, steel stitch holders, fine wooden cable needles, four sets of needles one of bone, two of tight grained wood and one of steel, all slim and glossy, and an embroidery tool with its intricately carved ivory handle darkened from age and use. Mrs. Franklin folded the shawl carefully and slipped it into the bag.

“Mrs. Franklin, I don’t think there is anything I can do for you. I don’t work with open police investigations. You can trust Captain Bates to sort it all out properly. I suggest you tell the truth. If you didn’t kill Mr. Gooding, you are perfectly safe.”

“Do you think so?”

“Let me call you a cab,” Emily offered.

“That’s very kind of you, but Bobby is waiting for me.”

Mrs. Franklin climbed into the waiting cab. It wasn’t a private carriage, yet she had called the driver by name. Emily supposed if you were to spend nights in hotels with visitors you would need a horse and driver at your beck and call. The horse was a small bay with a white spot shaped like a duck on his belly just behind the surcingle.

“I will have to send Alfred to talk to Mr. Oliver,” she said to herself as she climbed the stairs.

She found Patrick Sullivan at the desk in his room with his freckled nose in an open book, light from the electric lamp on his desk turning his hair into a copper halo. She would miss him when he graduated from Harvard in the spring. He helped her with cases from time to time, but more than that they were friends.

“It’s about Professor Cox, isn’t it? What can I do to help?” he asked.

“Cabs,” said Emily. “Could you find the cabs Mrs. Franklin and Mr. Oliver took to and from the hotel?” She described Billy and the horse with the duck mark.

“I can start with my brother, Joseph. If he didn’t drive them, he’ll know who to ask. I can use a friend’s telephone, but it’s not a particularly nice night to be out.”


“Working?” asked Dr. Bryers as Emily heaped her breakfast plate with bacon and eggs. She ate lightly between cases, but her appetite increased substantially when she took on a case.

“Not exactly.”

“She’s trying to keep me from being charged with murder,” admitted Cox, whose appetite had not suffered. “Seems the police think a literary discussion is grounds for murder.”

Everyone turned to stare at Professor Cox. Of the six people at the breakfast table, only Mrs. Stevens was less likely to be arrested for murder.

“I have the information you asked for last evening, Mrs. Lawrence.” Patrick handed her a folded piece of white paper.

“Good lad,” said Cox.

At that moment the doorbell rang. Mary set the serving dish she was carrying on the sideboard and went to answer the door. She was back in a minute and handed Emily a card.

“I told him you could see him after breakfast, Mrs. Emily, but he insisted.”

“I’ll see him now. I might as well get it over with.” She tossed Mr. Fleet’s card into the middle of the table for the others to see and went to greet him.

Mr. Fleet wore the same grin he had yesterday, but his trousers were more subdued.

She held the parlor door open for him and closed it behind them. She neither offered him a seat nor took one herself.

“What can I do for you, Mr. Fleet?”

“The weapon used to stab Gooding was at least three inches long, round and very thin.”

“Like an ice pick?” she asked.

He walked over to her knitting basket and drew out a double pointed steel needle.

“Please don’t ravel my work, Mr. Fleet.”

She had spent an hour or so early in her career trying to turn a knitting needle into a murder weapon to prove it could be done. It was possible with some modification to the needle if you knew where and how to use it. It was certainly not a weapon of opportunity. Mrs. Franklin’s wooden needles would have broken and the thin steel ones would have bent before penetrating the skin.

“A woman? The police suspect a woman?”

“Actually they think it’s the publisher who found the body. I understand Professor Cox argued with the victim last night in his hotel room.   Then you show up at the hotel in the morning. What’s the connection?”

Emily thought a bit before answering.

“It would seem that Professor Cox and Mr. Gooding were friends. The professor had a drink with him in his room. He asked me at breakfast if I would be willing to pay a call on Mr. Gooding at ten. I assumed he needed a detective for some reason. It would be most unlike Professor Cox to send me all the way to Boston in that miserable snow simply to get a book autographed.”

“You don’t know why he wanted to see you?”

She shook her head. “Neither does Professor Cox. You can be sure I asked him. That’s all I know.”

She remembered the paper Patrick had given her. “Have you looked into the cabs that took his visitors to and from the hotel? Have you interviewed Mr. Oliver?”

“Can’t get to Oliver. He is holed up in his Back Bay mansion.   Only his lawyer and the police are allowed in. I thought maybe you and Cox could see him.”

“I am deeply offended, Mr. Fleet. Do you think I would take on a case to get information for a newspaper? If that were my intention, I would have become a reporter, not a detective.”

“No, but you would take a case to get your friend off the hook.”

“Professor Cox is not a suspect.”

Fleet was silent for a bit. His demeanor changed from aggressive reporter to a man reminded of his own mortality by a chance incident.

“Mrs. Lawrence, you and I saw them take Mr. Gooding’s body out of the hotel. I can still see the red stone in the ring bobbing up and down as they carried the stretcher to the van.”

“Why Mr. Fleet, do I detect a touch of humanity under your reporter’s swagger?”

He shrugged. “Let me know if you find anything.”

She didn’t answer.

Mr. Fleet handed her the needle he had favored for the murder weapon. She lifted out the stocking she had been knitting. If there was damage to it she wanted him to see it. Her own knitting implements were shabby in comparison with those she had seen last night. She picked up the cheap tin tool she used to put holes in fabric and pick up dropped stitches. It had a sharp point that could be inserted between the threads to force them apart without breaking them. The shaft was three inches long and broadened gradually to almost half an inch across. The handle was ornate filigree of stamped tin. It was far less used than the ivory one in Mrs. Franklin knitting bag. It lacked the dark stains.


Emily was pleased to see Mrs. Franklin coming out of Captain Bates’ office. She was dressed in black; her deep mourning veil covered her face and fell to her waist.

“You might wish to stay, Mrs. Franklin. I have some interesting information along the lines you suggested to me last evening.”

Emily was unable to see the expression under the veil, but Mrs. Franklin followed Emily back into the office.

“It is not my intention to interfere in police business, Captain Bates,” Emily began, “but I have one or two tidbits you might find useful.”

Mrs. Franklin remained standing clutching her knitting bag to her chest and winding her fingers in and out of the handles. Emily took the wooden chair by the door.

“I know that Gooding saw Professor Cox between eight thirty and ten in the evening. I know that Mrs. Franklin came in just after Cox left. I also know she says she left about one thirty, leaving Gooding alone until Oliver arrived at eight in the morning.

“Mr. Fleet and I saw the body taken to the van. We saw clearly that rigor mortis had not set in yet.   If Mrs. Franklin left when she says she did, she is in the clear.”

Mrs. Franklin lifted her chin causing the veil to rustle.

“There is a bit of a problem, though.” Emily handed him the paper Sullivan had given her at breakfast.

“Here are the names of the cabbies who drove both Mrs. Franklin and Mr. Oliver to and from the hotel. One of the people at my boarding house comes from a family of cabs drivers in Boston.   He gave me this information this morning. Mr. Oliver arrived at eight in the morning and left at ten thirty, after the police had arrived. Mrs. Franklin arrived at ten in the evening and left just before Mr. Oliver arrived, not in the middle of the night as she told me. Thus, either could have been the killer.”

“Is this right?” asked Bates. He narrowed his eyes as he stared at Mrs. Franklin “You lied about the time?”

“Mr. Oliver must have done it,” said Mrs. Franklin.   Her voice was calm, but she clutched her knitting bag tighter. “Mr. Gooding had found another publisher in New York. He wanted to break his contract with Mr. Oliver. I would never see him again.”

Emily shook her head. “Professor Cox suspected that.   Even if they got into a heated argument, there is nothing in either of their characters to suggest it would have come to blows. A law suit, maybe, but not murder.

“I suggest you look at the addresses on the paper,” Emily went on, “the place where the cabby took Mrs. Franklin. 213 Commonwealth Avenue. Mr. Oliver’s address. What is your relation to Mr. Oliver, Mrs. Franklin?”

The lady remained silent.

“Is it possible that Professor Cox was right, you were introduced to Mr. Gooding by Mr. Oliver, not as a companion, but as Mrs. Oliver?”

Emily turned back to the policeman. “Professor Cox told me that he owed her money. She verified this last evening. She told me he had been repaying her for his hotel stay last summer. But Cox said the publisher pays for the hotel and meals.”

Emily paused to consider her next words.

“I think she was blackmailing him, though I doubt either of them thought of it that way. I know he was giving her small amounts of money. With the combination of a blackmailing mistress and a publisher who sparked a scandal for better sales, is it any wonder he wanted a new publisher?   Perhaps Gooding broke the news to Mrs. Franklin after a night of passion. She knew she had to be gone before her husband arrived, and she had arranged to have her favorite driver waiting for her.”

Mrs. Franklin stood ramrod straight, but the knitting bag fell to the ground at her feet.

Emily retrieved it, removed the ivory handled embroidery tool and set it on the desk in front of the policeman.

“This is called a stiletto. It fits the description of the murder weapon. Some of those stains on the handle could be Gooding’s blood. Why don’t you take a look at it, Captain Bates?”

The End