Friday, March 9, 2012

The Whistling Tea Kettle - Harry Kemelman

Theme for the Week: Queen's Quorum Titles

Story: The Whistling Tea Kettle
Author: Harry Kemelman
Source: The Nine Mile Walk (Queen's Quorum #125).
Story Number: 69
This story is pretty similar in theme, construction and solution to Kemelman's debut story "The Nine Mile Walk". In that story the whole plot is constructed based on the utterance of one sentence. In this story, the whole plot hinges on the whistling sound made by the tea kettle.
Scholars and big-wigs are assembling for a three day university convention to attend a series of meetings, conferences  and panel discussions over a three day timeframe. Two such scholars are put up in the boardinghouse opposite to that of the university professor Nicky Welt. He invites them over for dinner as he is a little curious about the two gentlemen and their disciplines. Erik is an European mathematician and is attending the convention so that somebody would hire him based on his expertise. Earl is the curator of the Laurence Winthrop collection and has brought with him a priceless artifact to display at the convention. Along with the differences in their field of work, they have a few personal differences in the beverage they consume - Erik drinks only coffee and Earl drinks only tea. Each has his own teapot and a percolator but there is only one burner in their residence.
The next day, the narrator(un-named so far) and Welt hear the tea kettle being used and the narrator declares that even though it's a tea kettle, it's Erik who is brewing the tea. Nick disagrees and he declares that Erik is indeed the one using the kettle but he is not brewing tea. From there, Welt propounds a series of logical deductions and inferences which would show that a crime was being planned and executed at that very moment! As usual he is right in every aspect and it is all amicably handled and concluded - with Welt preventing the crime from being carried out, without anyone even getting to know that a crime was to be committed and was averted in time.

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