Ed McBain: The House That Jack Built

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Ed McBain The House That Jack Built
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    The House That Jack Built
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    Детектив / на английском языке
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The House That Jack Built: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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When Ralph, a loving older brother upset by his brother’s gay lifestyle, is accused of his murder and the evidence points to his guilt, Matthew Hope must work with a few fleeting but crucial clues to prove Ralph’s innocence.

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Ed McBain

The House That Jack Built

This is for Nancy and Bo Hagan

1. This is the farmer that sowed the corn that kept the cock that crowed in the morn…

Matthew wondered what he was doing here.

I’m an attorney, he thought. Why am I lying here in the rain?

“Listen,” Warren whispered.

Matthew listened. He could hear the sound of angry waves pounding in against the beach. He could hear the rattling of palm fronds on the sharp wind. He could hear the rustle of sea oats along the shore.

Nothing else.

“Didn’t you hear something?” Warren whispered.

“No,” Matthew whispered.

They kept watching the house.

They were lying behind a huge sea grape on the side of the house facing the water. A cold drizzle pattered onto the broad leaves of the plant. The sand under them was cold and wet. The wind kept blowing in fiercely off the water. This was the third day of February. It had begun raining on the morning of the murder. It had been raining steadily for the past five days.


You listened to words and they didn’t mean anything until the pictures began to form. In the beginning, Matthew hadn’t conjured any images, he had heard only the string of words coming from Ralph Parrish’s mouth. Parrish had come down to Florida to see his brother. Drove down from Indiana a week ago; Wander Indiana, his license plate had read. Came down here for his brother’s fortieth birthday. Parrish’s brother was gay. Parrish knew that. But he hadn’t been prepared for his brother’s party, here in the house on the beach. Men wearing dresses. Men dancing with each other. Kissing other men. Parrish had gone up to his room at ten minutes to midnight. At a few minutes before seven in the morning, Parrish heard his brother screaming. He ran downstairs.

Fifty-two or — three years old, Matthew thought when first he met the man. Hair graying at the temples, a somewhat bulbous nose, a thin-lipped mouth. Broad shoulders that made the denim jailhouse clothing appear far too tight. An Indiana farmer who should have felt right at home here in Calusa, where so many Midwesterners now made their homes. But he’d been arrested for killing his younger brother.


Jonathan — the brother — greeting his Friday-night party guests. Despite the chilly weather, he is wearing pleated linen slacks and a designer silk shirt unbuttoned to the waist. Ornate gold crucifix on a thick gold chain nesting in the wiry hair on his chest. A gift from a former lover. A memento of Jonathan’s “Italian Sojourn,” as he calls it when he is in his bitch mode. Parrish uses exactly those words: his brother’s bitch mode. Matthew suddenly wonders if he, too, is gay.


But some images are beginning to form.

The crucifix is a little bauble from a Chicago dentist fresh out of the closet and summering in Venice. Bruce Something, would you believe it? Jonathan all sleek and slender and blond and pale and blue-eyed, with Bruce’s long-ago crucifix on his chest and the bells of St. Benedict down the road tolling the hour as the guests arrive, bong, bong, bong and so on, seven o’clock sharp. In Calusa, Florida, everyone always shows up on time, no chic half-hour, forty-five-minute tardiness here, oh, no, mustn’t miss any of the festivities. Middle West morality. Middle West manners transported due south to the Gulf of Mexico.

“Jonathan, this is heavenly!”

This from a splendidly bejeweled old queen wearing a mink stole over a Pierre Cardin knock-off. One of Jonathan’s friends. Standing there on the deck of the old Whisper Key beach house, the air redolent of Poison and Shalimar and Tea Rose and God only knew what other mingled fragrances, half the men in drag, the others looking blissfully Blass, all of them ooohing and ahhhing as the sun sets over the Gulf, the last sunset anyone will see for the next five days because it will begin raining at a quarter to five in the morning.

Jonathan says, “My brother’s a gentleman farmer, you know.”

A biker look-alike in black leather — the only rough trade in evidence — says, “And do gentlemen farmers plow deep?”

And the perfumed queen in the mink stole says, “Naughty, naughty,” and taps him with a Japanese fan.

Pictures forming.



Jonathan puts on the new CD someone brought as a birthday gift, and someone else remarks on how cold and crisp and scintillatingly sharp are the sounds blasting from the speakers. A couple begins slow-dancing close, and before anyone can breathe the word AIDS, everyone else is dancing, and it is just like old times, ah, those dear, dead times, hands on buns, fingers widespread at the napes of necks, sock it to me, darling. Ralph Parrish is watching a road-show production of The Boys in the Band, and it turns his stomach. He tells this to his brother in no uncertain terms. The two argue violently, and Parrish stomps upstairs to his room on the second floor of the house.

Downstairs, he can hear laughter, they are laughing at him.

And music again.

He drifts off into a troubled sleep. He dreams of acres and acres of sunwashed corn, his cash crop back home, but behind each withered stalk there are fornicating fags.

The faintest hint of light on the drawn window shade.

The sound of rain pelting the deck below.

Voices raised in argument.

And his brother screaming.

And now words erupt into fullblown images, Parrish throwing back the sodden sheets, his bare feet touching a wooden floor sticky with salt, his brother still screaming, the scream a blood-red splash on the pale gray dawn, and then words again, “I don’t have them! I don’t know where they are!” — his brother — and another scream.

And silence.

Parrish races downstairs.

A door slams.

Through the window, he sees someone running northward up the beach.

Running through the rain.

Wearing black.

On the floor, his brother is wearing red.

The pale linen slacks are stained red, the open silk blouse is stained red, his brother is red with the blood that seeps from a half-dozen cuts on his hands, blood that seeps in agonizing slow motion from the wound sucking the blade of the knife plunged into his chest.

Jonathan looks up at him.

His eyes are brimming with terror and pain.

Parrish’s first instinct is to pull the knife from his brother’s chest.

He tells this to Matthew later.

“I thought I could relieve his suffering if I pulled out the knife.”

His words to Matthew.

He pulls out the knife.

And blood spurts up onto his hands and his face.

“So much blood,” he later tells Matthew.


Remembered words in the falling rain.

Images of blood.

The Indiana farmer still maintained that the man in black was either the murderer or a witness to the murder. If the murderer, he would almost certainly come back to the house to get what he was looking for the first time around. The Calusa cops had finished their work here early this afternoon. Now Matthew and Warren lay on their bellies in the rain, waiting for the possible appearance of the stranger in black, who’d run off into a gray, wet dawn on the morning of January thirtieth.

“Don’t you hear it?” Warren whispered.

“No,” Matthew whispered back. “What?”

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