Peculiar Nature of Alan Miller


I MET HIM at a party, in 1928. The party was otherwise a washout.

I stood, as I remember, alone and dejected in the dining room. The party was upstairs. I wanted a drink, but I could find only a bowl of tepid punch, several dozen sticky glasses, and three wilted sandwiches. I thought of going home.

The kitchen door opened gently, and a man looked in at me. His eyes were thoughtful, and surprised. The man seemed affable, but somewhat round and undistinguished. He had thin blond hair, like a luminous halo, and blue eyes. He carried in his right hand a large bottle of cold beer. He paused in the doorway to look at me seriously and consideringly.

ďHmm,Ē he said after a time. Then he returned into the kitchen. Almost at once he appeared again, this time carrying six large bottles of cold beer. He made a sign for me to follow him. We sat on the bottom step of the stairs, and we disposed of the empties from time to time in the pockets of the coats which hung on the hat rack. Miller could hold more liquid than any other man I ever knew. He had, and has, a curious sense of humor. That, I suppose, constitutes his peculiar nature. Why he should also be a fairly astute detective, I donít know. Neither does he. His mind, it seems to me, is more like Aliceís in Wonderland than Sherlock Holmesís. He drinks too much to be very clever.

We finished our hostís beer from the refrigerator that night of the party, and incidentally discovered to each other that he liked to talk and drink, I to drink and listen. The next weekend I visited him at his Connecticut farm. After that, I came as frequently as I could. In the course of comfortable evenings in his library, after Mrs. Miller had gone up to bed, he told me the strange experiences which I have written into these mystery stories: the one about bawdy Mrs. Whyte-Burrell, the one about Dr. Nathanís abominable house, and this about the washing machine in the melancholy nudist colony. This case, in fact, occurred only last autumn, when I had the misfortune to be in California, and so missed the grisly fun.

I have disguised, needless to say, a great many of the names. Totten Ferry canít be found in a gazeteer. However, the geography of the place is no fiction, and may very easily be identified for all I care.

To keep this irrelevant matter out of the body of the account, I append here a potted biography of Alan Miller. It may have some value in explaining the man.

1891: He was born of Dutch-English parents.

 1906: He entered Andover.

 1908: He left Andover, because he had shot a masterís cat by means of a cannon, projectile and powder of his own fabrication. He had missed the master.

1908-1910: He learned to ride, rope, shoot wild game on an uncleís ranch in Arizona. 1910: Andover, mollified, permitted him to return.

 1913: He entered Yale.

1917: He left Yale to enlist in the Army.

 1917ó1918: He was shipped to England, where he got his commission and his wings; he flew to France; he did various contradictory things for a time; he returned to America, and the business of selling bonds.

 1919: He married.

 1926: He retired, with his wife, three children and a competency, to a neat farm among larger estates in a quiet, pastoral valley in southern Connecticut. He retired something short of wealthy because he dreaded putting on fat and airs of urban respectability. He retired to a life of breeding horses and dogs, and became in a short while: Master of the Totten Hunt, Secretary of the Totten Valley Golf Club, and (quite unaccountably) Chief of the Totten Ferry Police Department.

 1926ó1934: He lived reasonably and even richly on his small income. He found as much amusement and excitement in his daily life as any man should. More remarkable is the fact that he became moderately famous as a detective of crime, in spite of a deplorable lack of special knowledge, hocus-pocus, scientific paraphernalia and false whiskers. Not that any of these would have been the least use to him in the Naked Lady case.