Alan Vanneman

Three Bullets: A New Nero Wolfe Threesome

Fan Fiction
(© Copyright Alan Vanneman 2008; revised in 2013)

About the Author

I am a writer living in Washington, DC. I have published two novels, Sherlock Holmes and the Giant Rat of Sumatra and Sherlock Holmes and the Hapsburg Tiara, both available online via Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc. The Hapsburg Tiara is also available in an unabridged audio edition, read very well by English actor Simon Vance, in cassette, CD, MP3, and digital downloadable formats, available online from Blackstone Audio. I do not own any cats, but I do have an extremely large TV set. I enjoy reading about dinosaurs and British parliamentary figures, in that order.

View my complete profile.


One of these cases is so old it voted for Eisenhower. The other two just happened yesterday. Why have I been sitting on the first one? Wolfe would say I didn’t like being outsmarted by a fifteen-year-old girl, but he would say that. All three are about people who knew what they were doing. And when you know what you’re doing, it only takes one bullet to make a murder. —Archie Goodwin

Invitation to a Shooting Party

Chapter 1

“It’s not a divorce! You can’t get a divorce if you’re not married!”

Henrietta Winterbourne was probably the richest, and oldest, and most irascible woman I’d ever met. She didn’t give an inch to anyone. But then, neither did Nero Wolfe.

“Your logic is impeccable, Mrs. Winterbourne,” he said, “but the purpose of language is to clarify, not obfuscate. Your great-granddaughter was married to Henry Cavendish before three thousand people in St. Paul’s cathedral in London more than two years ago. They are married before the eyes of God and man. I specifically informed your secretary that I did not do divorce work and he assured me that the matter did not involve divorce.”

“And it doesn’t!”

“Then permit me to redefine my terms. I do not overturn marriages, whether real or imagined. If you undertook an arduous journey as a result of my imprecision, I apologize.”

Hetty started to say something, something irascible, I suspect, but thought better of it and relaxed back in the big red chair in front of Wolfe’s desk. She clutched her purse and turned her sharp gray eyes on me.

“Well, if you won’t do it, what about this young fellow? He’s just sitting there, not doing a thing.”

She had me on that one. I wasn’t doing a thing, and hadn’t been for three months. It was August of 1935. Unemployment was as high as the Chrysler Building and the detective business was flatter than Jimmy Durante’s hat. Even the Yankees were having a bad year. And now Wolfe was telling the richest woman in America to get out of his office.

“Mr. Goodwin is fully engaged in his capacity as my assistant,” said Wolfe, sharply. There are many ways to rile Wolfe, and one of the best is to suggest that I should be taking orders from anyone but him.

“You are as pigheaded as people say,” said Hetty.

“I am indeed, madam,” said Wolfe. “I am also disinclined to be lectured to in my own home. I consented to see you and now I have done so. Now I must ask you to leave.”

It’s a good bet that no one in her eighty-seven years had ever used that line on Hetty Winterbourne before. She rose up to her full height, which I’m guessing was about five one, even though she had to lean on her stick to do so, and gave Wolfe one hard look.

“You’ll take me as a client, and you’ll do my bidding,” she said.

“That is most unlikely,” growled Wolfe. “Mr. Goodwin will show you to the door.”

I rose from my chair, not quite certain how I was going to handle it. The gallant thing to do was to take Mrs. Winterbourne by the arm, but suppose she wasn’t interested in leaving? There aren’t many things I wouldn’t do for Wolfe, but wrestling an eighty-seven-year-old woman is definitely one of them.

Fortunately, Hetty made it easy on me. By the time I had gotten from behind my desk, she was already turned around and headed out the door.

“Come, Marvin,” she said.

Marvin was a presentable gent of about sixty, who looked like he’d spent about forty of those years being cowed by Hetty. He was a good six inches shorter than me, and if he’d had a square meal in his life he’d forgotten it. Hetty hadn’t bothered to introduce him, but I’m guessing that he was the secretary that I’d talked to. I had to guess, because he hadn’t spoken a word the entire time he’d been there.

I don’t think Hetty was too happy to have me company, but I always like to see our guests to the door. Not that I was expecting her to steal anything. I always like to trust my fellow man, and my fellow woman, and it’s been my experience that people are a lot more trustworthy when they know they’re being watched. I opened the door for her, which was the least I could do, considering the browbeating she’d taken from Wolfe.

“You’ll have to excuse him,” I said, as she stepped out the door. “Mr. Wolfe feels that anyone foolish enough to get married is beyond redemption.”

“I don’t excuse anyone,” said Hetty. “When you’re as old as I am, young man, you’ll realize that marriage is the one thing on earth worth caring about.”

I didn’t argue with her. You could end an argument with Hetty, but you couldn’t win one. I stood in the doorway and watched as she and Marvin walked to the Heron towncar parked at the curb. It was a gleaming dark-green and as formal as everything else about Hetty. It even had an open driver’s compartment for the chauffeur, which you don’t see very often these days. Hetty didn’t believe in spoiling the help, which in her case included just about everyone.

When I got back to the office, Wolfe was already reading, the Modern Library edition of C. K. Scott Moncrieff’s translation of Remembrance of Things Past. Naturally, he had Proust’s original on hand, to keep Scott honest. I sat at my desk and slammed a drawer.

“That was a hell of a show, even for you,” I said.

“Archie. I am reading.”

“Nuts. You could have heard her out, I could have chased my tail for three weeks, and we’d be sitting on fifteen grand minimum. Maybe twenty.”

I was hoping to get a rise out him, but Wolfe wasn’t biting.

“Indeed,” he said, his eyes still fixed on the page. “There are any number of things I might do, if I were willing to discard principle and reduce my life to spineless incoherence. I am neither a student nor a purveyor of marital discord.”

“Nuts,” I said again. “You can’t grow corn without manure.”

Wolfe took the strip of gold he uses as a book mark and placed it in the book.

“Archie,” he said. “To match metaphors with Marcel Proust is foolhardy in the extreme. I would like to read my book. Perhaps there is a sporting event you would wish to attend.”

I got erect. I felt like saying “nuts” again but decided it was foolhardy.

“If you’re trying to make me mad, you’re making a nice job of it,” I said. “I know you don’t like to talk about money, but you sure like to spend it. Tell Fritz I won’t be staying for lunch and I won’t be back for dinner.”

I headed out the door so quickly Wolfe didn’t even get the chance to ask me where I would eat. Or maybe he didn’t even care. It had gotten that bad.

Outside the weather was decent, for Manhattan in August, and I was feeling poor, so I passed on a cab and headed north for a few blocks before catching the IRT. I had my choice of 155th and 161st Streets and decided on the Yanks. Detroit was in town, and you couldn’t ask for a better match-up than Lefty Gomez and Schoolboy Rowe. I had put on my best tropical worsted for Mrs. Winterbourne, dark-blue with a thin chalk stripe, with a white shirt with blue stripes and a dark-red challis four-in-hand with thin gold stripes, so I caught a few stares from the crowd, but I just pulled down the brim of my Panama hat and pretended to read the Gazette.

When I reached the stadium I decided that as long as I looked like a dude I’d have to act like one too, so I sprang for the extra seventy-five cents and took a box seat by first base. There was more pitching and less hitting than I like to see, until the top of the eighth, when Lefty hung a curve to Hank Greenberg with three on and Hank put it in the bullpen in left center. You aren’t supposed to be able to hit them out there, but I guess someone forgot to tell Hank. The Yankees couldn’t manage more than two singles in their half of the eighth, and when the Schoolboy struck out Dickey, Gehrig, and Lazzari on ten pitches in the ninth I started to think the Tigers really could go all the way.

When Lazzari missed that last pitch I said a word you’re not supposed to say in the box seats and two young ladies in the row in front of me blushed and giggled. Naturally, I apologized and it seemed only decent to escort them to the cab stand. They gave their names as Cheryl and Melissa and mentioned that they were going back to Vassar next week for their senior year, with the emphasis on “senior.” I said that we needed to celebrate that event and suggested drinks at the Flamingo. They agreed and we set a date for eight-thirty. Once I had them on their way I went back to the IRT, still feeling poor. I stopped at a phone booth and called Lon Cohen and asked him if he felt like an early dinner at the Pierre.

“What’s up, Archie?” he asked.

“Nothing,” I said, “and that’s the problem. I’ll see you at six.”

I rode the IRT back down town and got off at 42nd Street to walk off the three hot dogs I’d had at the game and to make sure that Wolfe was up with the orchids when I arrived. I had to ring the doorbell because Fritz always puts the chain on when I’m gone.

“What did you say to him, Archie?” he asked, when he let me in. “He looked furious.”

“I said what needed to be said,” I told him.

I glanced in at the office and didn’t see anything that needed taking care of, so I went upstairs and changed into my evening clothes. I’m not sure that a kid from Sandusky really belongs in black tie, but when you’re entertaining Vassar girls it never hurts to go first class. When I showed up at Pierre’s Lon gave me the ribbing I deserved, and there was nothing I could do but take it.

“Shouldn’t we have a photographer here?” he said. “Your fans would love to see you in this. Maybe a few autographed copies for the copy boys in the press room.”

“Save it,” I told him. “The porterhouse is on me.”

Pierre’s has a menu as long as your arm, but Lon and I never look at it. They serve an eighteen-ounce porterhouse that’s two inches thick and sweeter than butter. They charge $3.50 for it and it’s worth every penny.

“What can you tell me about Hetty Winterbourne?” I asked him, once he’d gotten a good start on his salad.

He laughed.

“Nero Wolfe is working for Hetty?”

“He will be if I have anything to say about it.”

“That would be sweet. Archie, you’ve got to give me an exclusive on this.”

“Ten to one there’s nothing to give, but if there is you get it.”

“You’re on. What do you want to know?”

“She’s got a granddaughter who got married a couple of years ago.”

“Great-granddaughter. Hetty Winterbourne was in the theater when Lincoln was shot, and that’s no joke.”

“Okay. A great-granddaughter.”

“Yeah. Hetty Vanderbilt Morrison was Commodore Vanderbilt’s favorite niece. She married Randolph Winterbourne in 1867, and that is also not a misprint. Randolph was a sporting gent and he bought half of Bucks County to do his shooting, and Hetty still owns it. They had three kids before Randolph died, sometime in the 1890s. Hetty’s outlived them all, and her grandkids too. I can’t give you the exact lineage, but Hetty raised Virginia Winterbourne herself after her parents cashed in in an automobile wreck in 1926. I can give you the details if you want, because I wrote the Gazette’s obituary.”

“Save it. I want to know about the marriage.”

“You’re always in a hurry, Archie. That kid was the one thing that Hetty cared about. But when Ginnie hit twenty-one, her trust fund kicked in, and she left Bucks County like a bat out of hell, and she didn’t stop until she hit Paris. That’s where she hooked up with Henry Cavendish.”

Lon took a break when our steaks arrived. There’s a time to talk and a time to eat. Once he’d finished half his steak and most of the mashed potatoes he started in again.

“Henry Cavendish is a very interesting man. I’ve written more column inches on him than Gallant Fox. He’s the second son of the Earl of Havisham. He graduated from Eton in 1921 and went on to Oxford, where he made quite a name for himself. He left Oxford when he was twenty-one and spent three years in Africa shooting lions and five in Argentina roping steers before he moved to Paris. And if you think that isn’t the kind of background to interest a society kid you don’t get out much.”

I listened to Lon for another half hour, but nothing he said gave me any reason to believe that Henry and Virginia weren’t legally married. If Henry had an old wife in Africa or Argentina that he hadn’t managed to get rid of, no one was talking about it. I needed something to hang my hat on if I was going to get Wolfe to buy this case, but, so far, nothing. Finally, I got tired of being coy, and came right and asked Lon.

“Did anyone suggest that Cavendish already had a wife? In Argentina or Africa?”

“I never heard that one,” Lon said. “Is that what this is about? Hetty says Cavendish is a bigamist and she’s hiring Wolfe to prove it?”

“You didn’t hear that from me or anyone else,” I said. “No. You say nothing, and you print nothing, without hearing from me first.”

“Hey, it’s your steak. As for Cavendish already having a wife, or enough of one to queer the marriage, no, I never heard a word on that. I can through my files just to be sure.”

“Thanks,” I said, “If it pans out, there’s another steak in it for you.”

“That’s a deal. What if it doesn’t pan out?”

“Then you can buy me one.”

“Not on my salary. Do you really think you can sell Wolfe on divorce work?”

“I don’t know if I can sell myself on it. Maybe they’re happy.”

“Why not? It isn’t often that a Daisy Chain girl gets herself a big-game hunter.”

“Daisy Chain? Virginia Winterbourne went to Vassar?”

“Hey, where else would she go? Yeah, she was there. She never graduated, though.”

“I won’t hold it against her. Thanks, Lon. I owe you one.”

I took a cab over to the Flamingo in a pretty good mood. Not that I had the slightest idea that I could get anything I could use from Cheryl and Melissa, but it wouldn’t hurt to have a topic for conversation.

The girls were both dressed in basic black with discreet diamonds, which I’m guessing is the after-dark uniform for Poughkeepsie girls. I asked them if they liked Mumm’s and caviar and they said yes. They also liked dancing. They were neck and neck for the first two hours, but after we opened the third bottle Cheryl took the lead. They excused themselves to visit the powder room and fifteen minutes after they got back Melissa announced that she had a headache. Melissa was an awfully nice kid and I had the feeling that I’d like to catch up with her sometime when she didn’t have a headache, but I also had the feeling that trying to get that message to her with Cheryl around would be playing it way too cute. So I gave Melissa a ten-spot for the cab ride home and counted my blessings. Cheryl and I didn’t leave the Flamingo until close to twelve, which meant that I didn’t get home until after three.

I’m not saying that I didn’t sleep well but when the alarm went off I wasn’t ready for it. If I don’t get my eight hours I’m likely to be cranky and this morning I was coming up about two hours short. I didn’t get down to the kitchen until after nine and when I did make it Fritz was regarding me with what I’m sure he felt was a sympathetic eye.

“The jeunes filles, Archie? And the champagne?” he asked, handing me a glass of orange juice.

Jeunes filles in spades, Fritz,” I said, when I had finished the glass. “Ask me a question about the Daisy Chain.”

“The Daisy Chain? I do not know about that. Anyway, it is too early to talk. A young man with a hangover needs quiet.”

I didn’t argue with him. Instead I drank two of the best cups of coffee in New York City, black with three lumps. After the second cup my eyes started focusing, but there was nothing in the Times worth a detective’s attention, so I decided to concentrate on Fritz’s raised buckwheat griddle cakes instead. He uses sour-dough starter and lets the batter rise overnight in the refrigerator. They’re an inch thick and lighter than air. Wolfe likes them with sour cream and caviar, which is too rich for my blood. I take them with wild thyme honey or maybe some of Fritz’s black currant jam. After seven griddle cakes, four of Fritz’s veal and pork link sausages, and two more cups of coffee, I was ready to open the morning mail.

Not that that was much of a chore. Things were tough all over. A collector in Santa Barbara, Jared Poindexter, had heard about a new strain of Oncidium that Wolfe had perfected and was wondering if he could buy two dozen. He was willing to come to Chicago if we’d ship them overnight on the Twentieth Century Limited. The price he quoted would keep Wolfe in beer for a week if you didn’t count Sunday, so his offer was definitely worth taking under consideration. But as for real business there was nothing.

I put Mr. Poindexter’s letter on Wolfe’s desk, along with a pair of orchid catalogues. Then I did a little dusting and emptied the waste-baskets, which held nothing but the envelopes from the two letters Wolfe had gotten the day before. At a quarter to eleven I took the orchid vase off his desk and took the Brassocattleya racemes out to the kitchen.

“These look too fresh to throw away,” I told him.

Bon, Archie,” he said.

Bon is right,” I replied.

“Do you think you will have a job soon?” he asked. Fritz hates to sound nervous when Wolfe isn’t working, but he can’t help it.

“We’d be working now if he didn’t feel he has to prove he doesn’t give a damn to everyone that walks in the door,” I said. “Inspector Cramer has always said that one day Wolfe would play it too cute, and now I half believe him.”

“You will find him work, Archie. You always find a way.”

“I wish I had your confidence.”

I went back to the office and sat at my desk. Wolfe would be down from the plant rooms in ten minutes and I still hadn’t come up with the needle I needed. Then I put a sheet of paper in the Royal and started typing. When I was done I folded the single sheet in thirds and put it in an envelope. I put the envelope in my desk drawer and waited.

At eleven oh one I heard Wolfe’s elevator humming.

“Good morning, Archie,” he said, as he walked in. “Did you sleep well?”

“Like a top.”

He grunted.

“I hope that wasn’t a metaphor,” I added.

“No, it was a simile,” he said, placing half a dozen Dendrobium blossoms in the vase. Instead of going to his desk he went to the globe and gave it a whirl.

“That’s a good idea, planning a trip,” I said. “They do say that travel is broadening. Say if a fellow went to Africa or Argentina, he might learn all kinds of things. Of course, there are risks. I hear those señoritas can be quite charming. A young fellow, all alone, without his mother to protect him, could get married before you know it. And then how would he get out of it?”

“Señorita, Archie. Your slovenly pronunciation reduces an elegant word to a vulgarism. Why not exhaust your own language before corrupting another?”

Wolfe adjusted his seventh of a ton to fit in the one chair in the world that could handle it. Then he rang for beer.

“Then excuse my French,” I said. “But how do you know that this Henry Cavendish didn’t get hitched in Argentina or Africa?”

“I grasp at facts, not straws. If a previous Mrs. Cavendish did exist, a supposition for which there is not the slightest evidence, she surely would have presented herself by now, regardless of motivation.”

“Sure, but maybe she hasn’t heard. She may be sitting up in her hacienda, doing her knitting and waiting for Henry. Or maybe she’s been bought off.”

Wolfe didn’t even grunt at this one. He didn’t have to because Fritz had arrived with his beer. He opened the bottle with the gold-plated opener a client gave him and poured the beer so that there was a quarter-inch of foam at the top of the glass. Then he drank from the glass and licked the foam from his upper lip.

Even I didn’t have the nerve to tackle him when he was engaged in this ritual. So I opened the drawer and took out the envelope.

“By the way,” I said, “you may want to sign off on these expenses.”

I got erect and carried the envelope over to his desk. Wolfe picked it up and placed it under the letter and the catalogues. I turned my back on him and started typing up the plant records Theodore had put on my desk the night before. We didn’t have any clients but we did have lots of orchids.

I had to wait twenty minutes before Wolfe bit.

“Champagne, Archie?” he asked.

“Yes, sir,” I said. “And caviar. You can’t stint on a Vassar girl. But I can’t say it wasn’t worth it. What I don’t know about the Daisy Chain isn’t worth knowing. Did you know that it’s a tradition going back over fifty years?”

“Do you expect me to pay for your debauches?”

“I wouldn’t put it like that. You have to spend money to make money. Of course, I’m probably going at it all wrong. What we really need is advertising. Maybe a neon sign. Or I could get one of those sandwich boards.”

“Enough, Archie.”

“It’s just a thought.”

“It is less than a thought. It is scarcely even a craving. My services are their own advertisement. To trumpet the unique is to degrade it.”

I looked at Wolfe and he looked back. I was just summoning up the guts to ask him if he would approve the expenses or not when the doorbell rang.

“Maybe a client,” I said, jumping up from my chair.

Wolfe snorted.

As I headed out into the hall I couldn’t help wondering if I was riding him too hard. If this was a new client I could see Wolfe turning him down just to spite me. But when I opened the door what I saw didn’t look like a client.

“A delivery to Mr. Wolfe from Mrs. Winterbourne,” the fellow said.

The gent was tall and lean, and dressed in a dark-green chauffeur’s uniform. I guessed that he was Mrs. Winterbourne’s chauffeur, a deduction I confirmed by glancing around his shoulder and getting a look at the town car. He was holding a large cardboard box with an envelope resting on it.

“I’ll open it, if you don’t mind,” I said. “I like to know what I’m bringing in here.”

“Of course, sir,” he said.

He handed me the envelope and lifted the lid on the box. Inside was a large, thick curl of fresh sausage.

“Mrs. Winterbourne extends her compliments,” he said, handing the box to me.

I took the box into the office and placed it on Wolfe’s desk.

“Mrs. Winterbourne extends her compliments,” I said.

Chapter 2

Wolfe didn’t look at the sausage so much as he inhaled it.

“Venison,” he murmured, as another man might say “gold.”

He pressed the buzzer to summon Fritz.

“Venison,” he said again, pointing to the box, when Fritz arrived.

Fritz gripped the box with both hands.

“Beautiful,” he said. “I have not started the chicken for lunch. We could have a tomato salad, with fresh bread.”

“Indeed,” said Wolfe. “Begin immediately, Fritz. Such beautiful meat must be handled promptly. Archie, there is an inconvenience.”

“An inconvenience?” I said.

“Yes. I question Mr. Moncrieff’s grasp of the subjunctive, particularly the future tense. It is a fine point, and I would like a copy of the Petit Larousse to settle matters. The 1908 edition, of course. I consulted Mr. Lefkowitz last night and he informs me that he has a copy. I would appreciate it if you could obtain it from him.”

“Sure. I’ll pick it up after lunch.”

“That might be inconvenient. I believe it would be better if you departed immediately.”

He was looking me in the eye as he said this, looking me in the eye and lying. There was at least five pounds of sausage in that box, and he was going to eat every ounce of it himself.

Part of me—a very small part—couldn’t blame him. Until there are deer in Central Park and I have a hunting rifle, the odds of Wolfe getting his hands on fresh venison are slim to none. But the thought of driving down the Lower East Side and back just so that Wolfe could do me out of a meal in good conscience put my nose out of joint.

“If you’re going to eat her sausage, you’re going to have to take her case. Are you going to compromise your principles for five pounds of venison?”

I didn’t expect Wolfe crack and he didn’t. He gave me his frostiest look, the one that lets me know I couldn’t move him with a bulldozer.

“You have your instructions, Archie. Please comply with them.”

So that was the way it was going to be. I got erect and headed for the door. I took my Panama from the hatrack and went outside. The breeze that had been blowing the day before was gone, and by the time I reached Curran Motors the sweat was starting to trickle down my back. I put the top down on the Packard roadster Wolfe pays me to drive, but driving through Manhattan traffic in August, even with the top down, and even in a Packard roadster, is a bit of a chore. The only radio station I could pull in was featuring a lunchtime serenade from Shep Fields and his Rippling Rhythm, which did nothing to improve my mood. When I finally reached Lefkowitz’s at the corner of Broome and Suffolk I was ready to jump in the East River, just to cool off, but I decided against it. I was wearing my last good linen suit, and the odds that I could replace it any time soon were slim to none.

I went down the steps to Lefkowitz’s Book Emporium, the one bookstore I’ve seen that has more books on the floor than on the shelves. If it isn’t in English, Lefkowitz will carry it.

“Mr. Goodwin,” he said, when he saw me. “You have come for the Larousse.”

“Yes,” I said.

“Tell Mr. Wolfe I was thinking about what he said last night, about the Proust translation. I found several other volumes that might help resolve matters, along with the Larousse.”

He handed me a book the size of a footstool, and put a couple more on top of it.

“Mr. Wolfe will appreciate that,” I said.

“You can carry them? Let me help you. We miss Mr. Wolfe so much at the Montaigne Society. Sir Archibald expressly asked me to urge Mr. Wolfe’s attendance.”

I didn’t know Sir Archibald from Adam, but I did know about the Montaigne Society, which holds monthly dinners in connection with the New York Public Library. Everybody, including Wolfe, puts on black tie and drinks wine and speaks French for four hours. Four months ago when I was driving Wolfe to one of the dinners we were rear-ended by a taxi and since then Wolfe has always found an excuse not to go.

“I’ll tell him,” I said.

We got the Packard loaded and I took off. Driving back up Broadway the sun was hotter than ever, and I began thinking about how nice it would be to keep on driving, to head up into the mountains for a month or two and not have to worry about Proust, or venison, or orchids. By the time I passed the Flatiron Building I had half a dozen good lines to use on Wolfe and I was trying to figure out which one was best, but when I turned left on Thirty-Fifth I decided I was working too hard. If he paid the bill from the Flamingo I would call it square. If not, I might give Melissa a call and see if she was still in town.

I parked in front of the brownstone and carried the books up the stoop. Fritz was waiting for me and opened the door.

“Archie,” he said, “let me help you. You must be tired.”

“I am not tired,” I said.

“Archie, Mr. Wolfe ate all the sausage.”

“I’m not surprised,” I said.

“I have lunch for you. Would you like some lamb chops?”

“That would be fine. I need to take the car around and then I want to take a shower.”

“Of course, Archie. Of course.”

Wolfe was seated at his desk, reading the Moncrieff with a pencil in his hand.

“Ah, the Larousse,” he said.

“Mr. Lefkowitz sent along several other books he felt might be helpful,” I told him.

Wolfe looked through them.

“Excellent,” he said.

“Mr. Lefkowitz also misses you at the Montaigne Society, as does Sir Archibald.”

That got either a chuckle or a grunt out of Wolfe.

“That amuses you?” I asked.

“Sir Archibald Willoughby is the head of the British consulate in New York. Two years ago I assisted him in the preparation of an address he delivered to the society on the Florio translation. Last year another member delivered an address that contained some criticisms of Sir Archibald’s remarks. I gather that he is preparing a rebuttal and apparently he desires my assistance once more.”

Before I could reply the phone rang.

“Nero Wolfe’s office,” I said, “Archie Goodwin speaking.”

“Mr. Wolfe, please,” said a dry, polite voice.

“May I say who’s calling?”

“This is Mr. Treadwell, Mr. Goodwin. We spoke before. I am calling on behalf of Mrs. Winterbourne.”

“Hetty’s secretary,” I told Wolfe. “He wants to speak to you to tell you to hold for her.”

He gave me another frosty look and picked up the phone.

“This is Nero Wolfe,” he said.

“Mr. Wolfe,” Treadwell said, “Mrs. Winterbourne would like to speak with you.”

“Then allow her to do so,” said Wolfe, in a flat tone.

Hetty’s thin voice came across the line.

“Mr. Wolfe,” she said. “I hope you enjoy the venison.”

“I have already done so,” said Wolfe. “It was a most unnecessary gesture.”

“One of the advantages of an estate such as mine is the quantity of game. I imagine you are also fond of grouse and quail?”

She had Wolfe where she wanted him. I was expecting him to roll over completely, but somehow he managed to put on the brakes.

“I am fond of all the delicacies you name and more,” he said. “But I am no more free from guile than you. Having eaten your sausage, I owe you some manner of recompense. But the charge of freeing your great-granddaughter from her current marriage by hook or by crook, which of course is your intent, is one that I utterly decline. Bigamy, of course, is a felony in both Great Britain and the State of Pennsylvania. You say you have evidence. Provide me with that material. I will review it and come to a conclusion as to whether any grounds for inquiry present themselves. If so, we may be able to fashion an agreement acceptable to us both, though I make no promises. Unless and until we reach such an agreement, I will decline any and all provender which you may supply.”

“That isn’t good enough,” said Hetty. “Henry Cavendish is coming to my house this weekend with half a dozen of his relatives for three weeks of shooting. I have just learned that he has talked my Ginnie into leaving the U.S. for London. If I don’t get him now I’ll never get him. I want you to come here today!”

I couldn’t quite keep a grin off my face when I heard Hetty say that. Inviting Wolfe to Bucks County was like inviting the Statue of Liberty. Neither was likely to make the trip.

“That unfortunately is impossible,” said Wolfe. “I have my orchids to attend to, and cannot neglect them.”

“Then what about your assistant? He looks presentable. And he looks like he knows how to take care of himself. I don’t enjoy the thought of having a bunch of foreigners under my roof with no one I can count on.”

“I sympathize,” said Wolfe. “Then perhaps we can reach an agreement. For a sum of fifteen hundred dollars I will review the material you have gathered and reach a conclusion as to its significance, a task, I will inform you in advance, that I contemplate with thorough-going skepticism. For an additional fifteen hundred dollars and expenses, Mr. Goodwin will reside with you for three weeks. Mr. Goodwin will pass as one of your guests, and he will not be under your direct command. In particular, he will perform no illegal acts. You will rely on his tact and discretion, for, as you yourself have observed, he possesses a singular array of competencies.”

“Three thousand dollars for a lot of hot air,” said Hetty. “You must be a Democrat.”

“My political sympathies, such as they are, would astound you, Mrs. Winterbourne. Indeed, I offer nothing more than best efforts. I do not perform the impossible or the illegal. If you wish to contract for either, you must go elsewhere.”

Hetty, bless her soul, wasn’t in the mood to haggle. I had the strong feeling that she would pay a hundred thousand, no questions asked, to see Henry Cavendish laid out on a slab. Three thousand was small change to her, but it might be buying her nothing.

“Very well,” she said, after two seconds’ pause. “My attorney will bring you the evidence later today. Have your Mr. Goodwin be at Princeton before eleven on Thursday. My chauffeur will be there to meet him.”

“I shall do so. Good day, madam.”

We hung up together.

“A singular array?” I said.

“Pfui. You were intending to make yourself insufferable over this matter. You wished for activity, and now you shall have it. Forgive me, but I must consult the Larousse.”

There were a lot of things I could have said, but Wolfe had me on the essentials. I was more than ready to ride him for eating Hetty’s sausage after ordering her out of his house, but now he had taken the case, or at least a case. Three thousand wasn’t much, considering the woman we were working for, but it was a start. I left Wolfe with the subjunctive, and took the roadster back to Curran’s. Then I went upstairs and showered and changed, and went to the kitchen, where Fritz greeted me with a pair of broiled double loin chops, along with tomato salad. Double loin chops are likely to dry out when you broil them, but not if you put a kidney in the center, the way Fritz does.

“Do you have a case, Archie?” Fritz asked. “I heard Mr. Wolfe talking on the telephone.”

“I have a vacation,” I said. “Mr. Wolfe wants me out of his hair. I’ll be bunking with Hetty for three weeks, to keep an eye on her son-in-law. I guess he’s really her great-grandson-in-law.”

“Three weeks? That is a long time.”

“Mr. Wolfe is hoping that Hetty will treat me worse than he does.”

“Three weeks, Archie.”

“Don’t worry. I can take it.”

I finished the lamb chops and had a slice of apple pie and a glass of milk for dessert. When I went out in the office Wolfe had gone up to the plant rooms. There were plenty of plant records, so I started typing. Around five o’clock I received a call from a lawyer who called himself Wesley Bradford, wanting to speak to Mr. Wolfe. After ten minutes of sparring he agreed to come over on Wednesday at eleven-thirty with all the materials his firm had pulled together on Henry Cavendish. I was guessing that what he would be bringing would be a haystack without a needle, but I had to do that all on my own, because Wesley wasn’t giving anything away for free.

After I finished with Mr. Bradford I decided I wanted to talk to Cheryl, which turned out to be a good idea, because she wanted to talk to me. In fact, she wanted to invite me up to Poughkeepsie, which made me glad I was going to Bucks County instead. I’ve got nothing against Vassar, but a man shouldn’t press his luck. We spent ten minutes consoling each other for the fact that our schedules wouldn’t mesh, and then I rung off and went back to typing plant records. Wolfe came down at six and started in on Proust again. After about ten minutes he had me call Lefkowitz and they started talking French. Wolfe would read a passage in French and then a passage in English and then they would argue. Or at least Wolfe would.

They both seemed to have a fair head of steam, so I decided to start packing for Bucks County. Three weeks with Hetty was going to take at least half my wardrobe, and I wanted to make sure that none of my socks needed darning. I wasn’t going to show up looking like a poor relation. When I was finished I was left with one big decision: gun or no gun? On the one hand, the odds were very good that Henry Cavendish had committed no crime other than being a man whom Hetty didn’t want her great-granddaughter to marry. On the other, three weeks was a long time. The more I thought, the more convinced I was that I would sleep better with a Marley in the room. It was a toss-up between the .30 caliber and the .22, and the coin came down in favor of the .22. A .22 is light, awfully light, but if you wear it right it doesn’t show at all. I wasn’t planning on carrying it with me, but you never know.

For dinner Fritz gave us clams à la Ritz and boiled tongue, with pickles and potatoes Parmesan. Wolfe doesn’t talk much when he’s eating clams à la Ritz, but when we got to the tongue he had more to say, on Proust’s ability to create a fictional world that was fictional, yet removed from reality by only an infinitesimal margin, approaching the fine-grained detail of daily life while retaining the separateness and completeness of art. He said that Proust was someone you wouldn’t want to meet but would always want to read. When I asked him if he thought I would enjoy Proust he said no—“You are a creature of the immediate, Archie. Proust would admire you but you would not admire Proust. Proust was incapable of meeting the least challenges of everyday life. He was a failure even in dissipation.” When I asked how a guy like that could write a book worth reading, Wolfe said that was Proust’s one miraculous competence.

Fritz had blanc mange with brandied apricots for dessert, but I decided to pass. There was a revue that I wanted to see. The Times called it “insipid,” while the Gazette said it had “Bert Lahr, lots of girls, and little else,” which was good enough for me. Proust probably wouldn’t have enjoyed it, but I had a good time. Afterwards, I had a couple of drinks and a couple of dances at the Flamingo, and got home after midnight.

The next morning I got a call from Mr. Treadwell, filling me in on my cover. I was supposed to be from Mr. Bradford’s office, come to check on the title to some property that Hetty’s family, not the Winterbournes, owned on Long Island. Mr. Bradford showed up at eleven-thirty the next day, as he said he would, with two young men in tow carrying boxes. He sat down in the big red chair in front of Wolfe’s desk and took out three documents he wanted Wolfe to sign. They talked until twelve and Wolfe signed one of them. When Mr. Bradford left Wolfe picked up Proust, in French, and read until lunch. For lunch Fritz gave us braised beef cheeks with beet salad and spoon bread.

“If you signed with Hetty full time you could be eating pheasant,” I said.

“You object to beef cheeks?” he asked.

“I don’t object to them, but only Fritz can make me like them. We’re eating pigs’ feet, tripe, and tongue three times a week. The last steak I had I had to pay for myself.”

“You are indeed deprived. All the more reason for you to depart. One can only hope that Mrs. Winterbourne’s table will prove more bountiful.”

My mentioning tripe got Wolfe going on the curious significance of viscera, how we were seemingly both fascinated and repelled by the thought of eating ourselves, which led him to the thought of Montaigne, the short, shy, frail skeptic struggling to make sense of a world that had no pattern or bottom. He started quoting Montaigne in French, which he knows I don’t enjoy. When I suggested that he ought to start going to meetings of the Montaigne Society again he winced. Apparently, he had a harder time going out in a world with no pattern or bottom than Montaigne did.

I skipped dessert again because the Dodgers were playing a double-header with St. Louis. The ride out to Ebbets Field isn’t the quickest, but they let you catch the second half for fifty cents. When I got there the Dodgers had taken the first game 7–3, knocking out Dizzy Dean. Dizzy’s brother Paul was on the mound, and the crowd was calling for blood. But they couldn’t shake Paul, and he shut out the Bums, 3–0.

When I got back, Wolfe was working through Hetty’s documents. He was being paid fifty dollars an hour to sit on his duff and read, and he was hating every minute of it. When I asked him how it was going all I got was a grunt, and that was more than I expected.

For dinner Fritz gave us chicken hash à la Ritz, with string beans, which he likes to call haricot verts, followed by pineapple chilled with white wine. Wolfe was still in a mood to talk about Montaigne, but he was branching out to discuss Cervantes, because some of the material Hetty had sent him was in Spanish. He talked a lot about the Latin mind, so secure in its Catholicism, which he said Americans could not understand. “To the outsider there is a special romance,” he told me, “for everything seems all of a piece, as though religion were in the air and the soil and the sun, and not in the head. It is false, of course, but undeniable.” I was trying to work up my nerve to tackle him on his religion, but I didn’t have to. “I myself was of two worlds, Greek Orthodoxy and Voltaire, my mother and father, of course. Voltaire won, easily. Fresh air should always trump incense, however rarely it does so.”

After dinner we went down to the basement and shot pool, which is Wolfe’s idea of exercise. He won’t let me let him win, so I took him for five bucks, which didn’t improve his mood. I went to bed at eleven and was up at seven, which gave me time to think about what I was going to be wearing to Bucks County. I knew better than to try to pass myself off as someone who knew his way around an estate, so I chose a gray tattersall, with a white shirt with blue pinstripes and a blue and red paisley tie. I came downstairs carrying two of my four suitcases. I took them down the hall to the door and set them by the hatrack. Then I went back up and got the other two. When I went in the kitchen Fritz gave me coddled eggs with a slice of country ham and hash browns.

“Do you have to stay three weeks, Archie?” Fritz asked. “You could come back on the weekend.”

“That would be a nice reverse,” I said. “Live in the city and work in the country. No. It’s a paid vacation, Fritz, even if I do have to put up with Hetty. She’s tough, but she’s slow. There isn’t a ninety-year-old woman alive that I can’t outrun.”

“You always make jokes, Archie. Mr. Wolfe needs you to take care of him.”

“He won’t get into trouble. Not in three weeks, anyway. Besides, he has a job too.”

When I finished breakfast I called a cab to take me to Penn Station. It was after nine so I called the plant rooms.

“Any last instructions?”

“I cannot offer any specific guidance based on what I have read. However, do not allow yourself to be bullied by Mrs. Winterbourne. You will decide what, if anything, merits investigation. If there is substance, you may alert me by telephone, in a vague and casual manner, of course. All details shall be transmitted via the mail. Mrs. Winterbourne, I am sure, will have no compunction about using her servants as spies, so exercise caution in all matters.”

“I’ll do that.”

When the cabbie arrived he wasn’t too excited to see my four suitcases plus a typewriter, but he had me at Penn Station by nine-forty and he brightened up just a little when I tipped him two dollars. I gave a redcap my luggage and the number for my train on the curb and walked inside and picked up the Gazette at a newsstand. There was plenty about the NRA and the Wagner Act, but nothing about Hetty’s great-granddaughter’s husband, so I turned to the sports pages and read about the game I’d missed and the one I’d seen. I caught a 10 AM local heading south, transferring at Princeton Junction, and arrived at Princeton by eleven. A chauffeur in a dark-green getup was standing on the platform. He wasn’t the one who had brought us the sausage, but the rig was the same, so I took a chance.

“I’m Mr. Harris,” I told him. “You’re from Mrs. Winterbourne?”

“Yes, sir,” he told me. “Please come this way.”

He was holding a large red bag, which looked like a mail bag, only classier, and I asked him about it.

“A diplomatic dispatch bag,” he said, “for Lord Harrington. He is engaged in some business with the British government. Mrs. Winterbourne’s in-town chauffeur makes the transfer to the British consulate in New York.”

A pair of redcaps carried my four suitcases down the stairs and followed us through the station. We caught more than a few stares as we headed for the car, which was a dead ringer for the Heron town car that had been at Thirty-Fifth Street. The Heron I drive for Wolfe is big enough, but this one was huge, and I had the backseat all to myself. I was looking like a dude and living like one too.

We headed out of Princeton and crossed the Delaware into Pennsylvania at New Hope, about twenty miles north of the spot where Washington made the trip. We drove north for close to an hour before coming to a pair of the highest iron gates I’d ever seen. Two men who didn’t look like they had a whole lot to do came out and opened the gates for us and we drove in. Fifteen minutes later, we were at the door.

Chapter 3

I’ve never been to Versailles, or Buckingham Palace. But I have been to Winterbourne Manor, so can’t say that I’ve been deprived. It wasn’t quite as roomy as Penn Station, but there were a lot more rugs. And deer heads. The Winterbournes had been depopulating the stags of Bucks County for more than a century, and it showed.

Hetty wasn’t around to take my hat, which didn’t surprise me. But Marvin Treadwell was, along with a butler, who did take my hat, along with two boys to carry my bags. Whatever you wanted to say about Winterbourne Manor, there was no shortage of help.

“Mr. Harris,” said Marvin, extending a hand.

That was my cover. I was Tom Harris, a very distant relative of Hetty’s, on the Vanderbilt side, who happened to work for Mr. Bradford, up to research titles and conveyances for some properties on Long Island that the Vanderbilts had inherited about fifty years ago that were starting to become valuable. I didn’t think it was much of a cover—I could have picked it apart in about five minutes—but as we walked through the house, I figured the place was so big no one would even know I was there, much less care why.

“Everyone is either riding or shooting,” Marvin told me. We were heading up a staircase that was a match for the one in the Waldorf-Astoria. “Cocktails will be served at seven. Guests are expected to dress for dinner.”

I couldn’t tell how Marvin felt about having me around. He knew that Hetty wanted me there, and what Hetty wanted Hetty got, but I doubt if Marvin had much enthusiasm for new blood.

“How many guests are there?” I asked.

“You will meet them,” he said, as though it wasn’t his job to count.

We arrived at my room. Actually, I had three of them, including a bath.

“Nice,” I said.

“Mrs. Winterbourne felt that discretion was appropriate,” said Marvin.

“I’m always in favor of it myself, I said.

The gang left me alone with my suitcases, and I set to work unpacking. I was about half-way through when a maid showed up with a large silver tray.

“Mr. Treadwell felt you might be hungry, sir,” she told me.

She put the tray on a table in the sitting room, and I stopped to eat. I had half a pheasant, potato salad, cold green beans, and a nice bottle of white wine. I’ve had better, but only from Fritz.

I finished the pheasant and went back to unpacking. I got everything stowed in about an hour, which gave me some time to look around. As far as I could tell, there was nothing in any of the three rooms that wasn’t older than I was. There was a large bookcase with John Marshall’s Life of Washington, the collected speeches of Daniel Webster, and the memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant. The bathroom had been put in around 1900, and I was thankful for the upgrade. Some of the pieces in the bedroom looked like they predated Hetty. I had a back room on the third floor, looking out over the gardens, but I couldn’t see much, because there was a large oak spoiling my view. Considering Hetty’s age, it was surprising the place wasn’t falling apart. But I guess she had the cash, and the help, and the will to keep the whole thing running.

After I finished my inspection I decided to stretch my legs and walk back to the main entrance. I walked down that curving staircase feeling like I should be wearing a sword and a plumed hat. Douglas Fairbanks would have loved it, but it wasn’t my style. Once I hit the ground floor I decided to do a little investigating, or at least a little exploring, so I followed my nose until I came to a large room with large paintings and large windows, to let in the afternoon sun. I was staring at a large painting of some gent with a shotgun over his shoulder when a voice spoke.

“You’re the new guest, aren’t you? Marvin said you would be coming.”

She was a young woman, just a kid, practically, though you couldn’t tell it from her dress. She had thick, short, dark-brown hair that sparkled from the light from the windows, and just a hint of lipstick on her mouth. The closer she got the younger she looked.

“I’m Donna Atterbury,” she said, extending a hand.

“I’m Tom Harris,” I told her.

“No, you’re not. You’re Archie Goodwin.”

She grinned, and I could see her teeth.

“I’ve been reading about murders since I was twelve,” she told me. “I cut your picture out the paper last year, when you shot that gangster.”

“I’m not Archie Goodwin, whoever he is,” I said.

She wasn’t buying it.

“You’re here to investigate the Cavendishes, aren’t you? I know Hetty hates them.”

She laughed.

“I won’t give you away,” she said. “I don’t like the Cavendishes either. Would you like some tea?”


She went to a bell rope in the corner.

“We can sit here,” she said, leading me to a sofa. “Did you bring your gun with you?”

“I don’t have a gun,” I said, which was not terribly accurate, but this kid had too much imagination.

“Do you like me?” she asked, when we were seated.

“I haven’t made up my mind yet,” I said.

“I probably talk too much, don’t I? I don’t get much chance to talk out here. Hetty doesn’t like me, and neither does Virginia. And of course none of the Cavendishes like me either. But I’ll miss them when they go, because at least they’re not old. They think they’re clever, because they’re English. I hate them, really, because they can go, and I can’t.”

“Where are your parents?”

“Well, that’s the question, isn’t it? My mother died when I was born. My father drinks a lot. He lives in Paris, and I never see him. I’m related to Hetty on my mother’s side. My mother was her great-niece. Mother’s family didn’t approve of my father very much. I used to live with my aunt, but then she got married. Her husband lost a lot of money in the Crash and they decided to move to Italy. It turned out that he’d embezzled a lot of money. Somehow, Hetty got involved. There were a couple of lawsuits, and I ended up here. She used to pay more attention to me, but now she spends all her time fighting with the Cavendishes.”

A maid—a different maid—showed up with a large silver tray. Donna poured me a cup.

“What would like in it?” she asked.

“Lemon and one sugar,” I told her. “You know, I’m not Archie Goodwin. Maybe I look like him.”

She laughed.

“I keep a scrapbook of remarkable people,” she said. “FDR, Lindbergh, Einstein, Clare Booth, Kirsten Flagstad—people like that. I read the Inquirer every day, and Time magazine every week, and I get the Sunday Times and the Herald-Tribune, and the Gazette.”

“You read a lot.”

“That’s because I’m bored. I’m afraid of horses. One of Hetty’s nieces lives on the estate, and she teaches me French and drawing, sometimes. Last year, the Gazette had a big article on Nero Wolfe—‘Genius for Hire,’ that’s what they called it. It had your picture. I thought it would be fun to be a genius for hire.”

“You don’t look much like Mr. Wolfe.”

“No, I don’t. But two weeks ago I heard that Hetty was going to see Mr. Wolfe. Then I heard that she was sending him deer sausage. So that’s how I knew it was you. It wasn’t just your picture. I hope you enjoyed the sausage.”

“I didn’t get any.”

“Really? Nero Wolfe ate it all?”

“Yes. He’s really fat. Where do you get your information?”

“It does help, doesn’t it? From Mrs. Benson. She’s one of the housekeepers. She’s the only one who likes me. We play hearts together and she tells me what’s going on. What’s so funny?”

“Nothing. It sounds like you’ve got good information. I guess I’ve just got to trust you.”

“You can. You’re going to prove that Henry married a girl in Argentina, aren’t you?”

“Okay, I’m going to trust you. I’m betting that that marriage is all in Hetty’s head. As Mr. Wolfe likes to say, he’s not in the business of manufacturing evidence.”

“So he’s just going to take Hetty’s money and tell her she’s wrong?”


“Hetty won’t like that.”

“Mr. Wolfe won’t mind. That’s how you act when you’re a genius. People hire you, but they don’t own you.”

“You like working for him, don’t you?”

“Yes, I do.”

“I’d like—what do you think of Roosevelt?”

“I liked him better when he was governor.”

“Why? Don’t you think we need leadership?”

“I like leaders who know what they’re doing.”

“Well, did you like what Hoover did to the Bonus Marchers? Is that what you call leadership?”

“No. Okay, you’ve got me. Roosevelt’s better than Hoover. But we’ve still got the Depression.”

“I think we need public ownership of utilities.”

“We probably do. Can you tell me how many people live here?”

“You’re changing the subject.”

“Yes, I am. But I promise we’ll talk more about FDR if you like.”

“Would you like some cake?”


“All right. When you say how many people, do you mean everyone? Servants and tenants as well as family? Because that’s about two hundred, and that’s not counting babies.”

“I don’t want to count babies. Let’s start with family. Anyone who works for Hetty has enough problems.”

“Ha, ha. All right. Family’s a lot simpler, because Hetty’s outlived them all. My great-aunt Nancy Winterbourne—that’s Hetty’s niece—is my tutor, when she’s feeling up to it. Then there’s Charles—Charles Winterbourne. I call him Uncle Charlie, but of course no one else does. He’s a grand nephew of Hetty’s, but he’s not directly related to Aunt Nancy. He’s not very well. Both Davis and Nancy have their own little houses. It’s a lot easier to build a new house than to fix up this one.

“That’s the live-in family. You’ve met Marvin—Marvin Treadwell—already, of course. He went with Hetty to see you. And there’s Davis Cranford. He’s from an old Philadelphia family. He was going to marry Hetty twenty years ago, but it never quite got off the ground. But he’s moved in anyway. He’s a lot younger than she is. And Alice Maven. She’s Hetty’s estate manager. She’s in her sixties too. She’s family in some way, I think, but I don’t know how. And then there’s Robert, Dr. Jameson. He’s Hetty’s doctor, although he spends most of his time with Nancy and Charles.

“That’s the old guard. Well, then there’s Virginia. I guess I should tell you about her, shouldn’t I? She’s quite a horsewoman. That’s one thing that Hetty always liked about her. Hetty rode until she was past eighty. They would go to the meets and hunts and Hetty would show her off.”

Donna paused to take some tea.

“You’re sure you don’t want any cake?” She asked.

“I just had lunch,” I told her.

She put down her teacup and folded her hands. Talking about Virginia seemed to make her nervous.

“That turned out to be a big problem for me, because, as I say, I’m afraid of horses. Hetty didn’t care for that, of course. It was supposed to be something I could conquer, but I never did. I guess I’m neurotic. I know I am, about horses. They bother me.”

“I’ve never ridden a horse,” I told her.

“No, but you’ve shot three people.”

“That’s different. It’s very different.”

“I’m sure it is. Would you tell me what it’s like?”

I looked into her eyes to see if she was serious and she looked back.

“It’s final,” I said. “It’s very quick, and it isn’t something you’re looking for, and when it’s done you know that it’s something that can never be undone. And you know that anyone who could do it easily is someone to be afraid of. It’s a test, and you’ve passed. I could joke about it under the right circumstances, but it isn’t something to talk about too much, or make too much of. It doesn’t have to affect you at all. Some people like it.”

I drank some tea.

“Now, tell me some more about Virginia.”

“Well, I didn’t see her much. She was away at school, or she was riding. I was in awe of her, of course. She was beautiful, and Hetty did let her spend some money. She would come home from school looking so glamorous. I was dying to go to school so I could be just like her, but I think Hetty lost a lot of money in the Crash—not at first, but later on. She wouldn’t talk about it at all. And I was afraid of horses. Anyway, I didn’t get to go away to school and be like Ginnie.”

She poured herself another cup of tea.

“I must sound like a poor little rich girl, don’t I? I saw a movie like that when I was eight. It was one of the last movies I’ve ever seen. I’ve never seen a talking film. That’s what happens to little girls who don’t like horses.”

“Tell me more about Virginia,” I said.

“And stop talking about yourself. I’m sorry. I used to watch her put on her makeup. She liked me to do that. That was fun. She’d put a dot of cold cream on my nose and I’d dab her perfume under my ears. Ginnie’s an awfully good actress. Either that or she just didn’t trust me, because when she left Vassar when she was twenty-one I was as shocked as Hetty. I think she hates Hetty—really hates her. I never knew that.

“That’s it for the Winterbournes. If I’m going to tell you about the in-laws, I do need a slice of cake.”

She cut herself a slice and put it on a plate.

“Good cake,” she said, taking a bite.

“Well, Henry was the one we all wanted to see,” she began. “I don’t know much about English aristocrats, but he certainly fills the bill. He was off shooting bears in Alaska with his elder brother Gerald and his cousin Antonio—second cousin, the one from Argentina. Ginnie and Gerald’s wife Diane and Antonio’s wife Gabriela were staying in New York. They all showed up together last week. Ginnie also brought along a couple of lawyers from New York—there’s a lot she wants to settle—but Hetty wouldn’t let them stay here. I think they’re in Allentown. Ginnie and Henry went to see them yesterday.”

“Has she told anything about what she wants?”

“Ginnie? No. And I’m not much of an eavesdropper.”

“Tell me some more about the Cavendishes. Is Antonio a Cavendish?”

“Not by name. It’s Rodriquez. He and his wife both speak very good English. They’re terrific snobs, of course, all of them. Hetty can match them down, but I surely can’t. They all like to ride and shoot. There’s supposed to be a twelve-point buck on the estate somewhere and they all want to shoot it.”

“You don’t shoot things?”

“No. I could never kill a deer. But I do like venison. I guess I’m a hypocrite instead of a humanitarian.”

I could have guessed that a passel of Brits and half Brits from the Argentine would be snobs, so I wanted a little more, but I was interrupted by the arrival of another snob.

“Mr. Harris! Mr. Harris!”

Hetty entered from the far corner of the room, hobbling stiffly. Marvin was with her, trying to calm her down, I thought, but she wasn’t listening. Donna and I both rose, and I saw Donna pass her hand over her mouth.

“I see you’ve met my great-grandniece,” Hetty said, when she reached us. “And I see she’s painted herself up for you. That’s entirely inappropriate, Donna. You may go.”

“Of course, Mrs. Winterbourne,” said Donna. There was a flat, angry look on her face, and I could hardly blame her. Donna might be squeamish about killing deer, but I had the feeling that she wouldn’t be so picky when it came to old ladies.

“You shouldn’t exert yourself like that, Mrs. Winterbourne,” said Marvin, when he caught up with her.

“Nonsense. I have one thing left to do in my life, and when that’s done I hope I am too.”

“Perhaps you’d like to sit down,” I said.

“I would,” she replied. “Marvin! My sherry. And some biscuits.”

“Of course, Mrs. Winterbourne.”

Marvin took off in search of biscuits while Hetty and I had a little chat.

“What was that young woman talking to you about?” Hetty demanded.

“Life,” I said. “Life at Winterbourne Manor.”

“I see Tom’s wife in her, that’s what I see. That’s why I keep her.”

“You should send her to school.”

“You would think that. Her mother’s family can’t help her, and her father won’t. I’ve spent quite enough money on her as it is. It’s not just a matter of money, anyway. It’s a matter of principles.”

I laughed. She looked at me sharply.

“You’re a very sentimental man, Mr. Goodwin. You can afford to be. You’re young, and you’re strong, and you have no one depending on you. You think I should be willing to pay for other people’s mistakes, but I can’t and I won’t.”

“When will I see the Cavendishes?” I asked.

“Yes, that’s better. At dinner, of course. You’re not going to learn much, except that they’re English, and conceited beyond endurance. I can’t believe that you will enjoy them.”

“Probably not. What about Sr. Rodriquez? It might be convenient having him here. How does he get along with his British cousins?”

“He’s very shrewd—they all are, really. They’re here for a reason—Ginnie’s money, of course, but I can’t figure it all out. They want me to die, naturally. That would solve everything, or at least a lot of things.”

“What about the lawyers?”

“They say it’s property—Ginnie’s trust, or one of them. That trust was established by my grandson, under my son’s guidance, to protect Ginnie, and it shall.”

“What about your will? That’s the real money, isn’t it? I mean, Winterbourne Manor?”

“My will is my business. They shan’t break Ginnie’s trust, and they shan’t break my will.”

“But you will break Virginia’s marriage.”

“Yes, if you do your job. And now here’s Marvin with my sherry.”

Marvin must have been hovering, waiting for a high sign from Hetty. When he got it he came in with the sherry and biscuits.

“Now, perhaps you’d better leave me, and prepare for dinner. Remember that you’re a Vanderbilt, even if three times removed, and we share the same blood, or else you’ll get nothing from them.”

I went up to my room and started struggling with my tux, which I’m sure wasn’t quite up to Vanderbilt standards. Since as Tom Harris I actually had a job, the odds were that this crew would have a hard time recognizing me as human. When I came back down at six-thirty a sad sack in dark-green Winterbourne livery—not the one who had taken my hat earlier—directed me to a large room where the aristocracy were clearly at play. As I entered the room a waiter approached me with a silver tray. I took a glass. As I did so I found a tall gent with sharp gray eyes looking into mine.

“You must be Tom Harris,” he said, shaking my hand. “Henry Cavendish.”

I’d been made once already, by Donna Atterbury, and I had the distinct feeling that I was being made again. Henry Cavendish didn’t have a pencil moustache, but otherwise he looked and acted a lot more like Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. than anyone should. He had at least an inch of height on me, plus his English accent was the real thing.

“I hope you won’t be so busy with all your research that you won’t have time to join us for some shooting tomorrow,” he said. “The gillies say there’s a twelve-point buck on the premises, and there’s a case of Mumm’s for the fellow who gets him.”

“That sounds exciting,” I said. “I’ve always wanted a twelve-point buck.”

Growing up in Ohio as a boy, I’d slaughtered more rabbits, squirrels, and birds than I could count, but I’d never shot a deer. But how hard could it be? Rabbits are a lot smaller.

“Splendid. Darling, Mr. Harris is going to give us a hand tomorrow.”

I turned and was looking into another pair of eyes, blue ones this time. I’d seen newspaper clippings of Virginia Winterbourne, but they didn’t do her justice. She was the first heiress I’d ever seen, and she more than looked the part. Virginia Winterbourne was very, very blonde, very, very young, very, very polite, and very, very sure of herself. There was a lot of Hetty in here, although I’m betting she was prettier than Hetty ever dreamed of being, and it was easy to see why they didn’t get along.

“Mr. Harris! Why, you’re the handsomest lawyer I’ve ever seen! No wonder grandmamma invited you up.”

“I’m afraid my wife can’t resist another conquest, Mr. Harris,” Cavendish told me.

“She won’t have to try very hard,” I said, trying to pace myself.

They were both grinning at me, Cavendish looking like he’d like to put a bullet in me and Ginnie looking like she’d like to see him try. Fortunately, our little threesome attracted a crowd. Another tall gent appeared, with another tall blonde in tow.

“My brother Gerald, Lord Harrington,” said Henry. “Gerry, this is Mr. Harris, up from New York.”

“How do you do?” said Gerry, giving me a firm grip. “And you must meet my wife Diane.”

I shook hands with Diane as well. Like Ginnie, she was a good deal younger than her husband.

“Mr. Harris is family,” said Ginnie. “A Vanderbilt.”

“I’m a long way from a Vanderbilt,” I said.

“Nonsense. I’m going to call you Tom, and you must call me Ginnie.”

“Americans adore first names,” said Henry. “But then we are in America. Gerry and Diane? I expect that we’d better join in.”

I couldn’t help liking Henry just a little for that, because I would much rather have shot Gerry than address him as “my lord,” and that, after all, would be murder. I was just getting used to Gerry and Diane when Tony and Gabbie showed up—the two Argentineans. They were a surprise. Tony was short and dark, a bit chubby, and had a few years on everyone, even his lordship. But Gabbie was just the opposite—another tall, cool blonde who looked like she’d just stepped off Park Avenue. I knew the girls had been shopping at Saks, but I didn’t know they’d bought it. I wished Gabbie had been around a minute earlier, to hear Ginnie call me a Vanderbilt, because she didn’t seem all that excited about meeting a lawyer. Tony didn’t either. He had a way of looking up his nose at me in a way that I’d never seen before, and for the first time since Hetty had shown up on Wolfe’s door I was beginning to wonder if there might possibly be something down in Argentina that the Cavendishes wanted kept quiet.

We talked a bit about how the shooting had gone that day—Ginnie, and Gabbie, and Diane had all picked up a couple of pheasant, while Gerry had bagged a six-point buck. We’d be having the pheasant for dinner, along with a deer that Ginnie had shot the week before. I was just finishing my drink when Hetty appeared. She had a large, red-faced gent on her arm, whom I pegged as Davis, the ex-fiancé, and was followed by a woman almost as old as Hetty and a younger man, neither of them looking very chipper. I figured they had to be Nancy and Charles, the Winterbournes in residence. Donna was there too, and Henry, and another woman, about Henry’s age, whom I drew a blank on. Apparently, Hetty had assembled them all upstairs to keep them away from the guests and the alcohol, because once they arrived we headed straight for the dining hall. The Brits and the Argentines all paired off and everyone else did too. I was trying to mill about politely when the one person I didn’t know came up and took my arm.

“Mr. Harris, my name is Alice Maven, the estate manager. I’m afraid you’re stuck with me.”

“I was hoping I would be,” I said.

She laughed. She was deeply tanned, with an outdoor face seamed with fine wrinkles.

“You are from the city, aren’t you? This will be something to tell your partners about. You’re a brave man to come this far from civilization.”

“I wouldn’t have missed it for the world,” I said, which wasn’t precisely true, but close enough. Whatever you wanted to say about Winterbourne Manor, it wasn’t like any place I’d been before.

The dining room had room for fifty, with a fireplace about the size of my bedroom back in Ohio, and high windows that looked out over the gardens in the back. The walls were dark pink, and the windows were hung with dark red velvet drapes, which made the place a little bit funereal, especially since Hetty seemed to be saving on the lights. There were plenty of candles, but the room was just too big for them to make much of a difference.

When we took our seats, it was clear that, while Alice and I weren’t quite below the salt, we weren’t above it either. Hetty sat at the head, of course, with Henry on her right and Ginnie on her left, followed by Cavendishes and Rodriquez’s. The two Winterbournes followed, and then Donna, paired with Davis, and then Alice and myself, with poor Marvin bringing up the rear, not that he seemed to mind. Apparently, we were short one regular, Dr. Jameson, who was out caring for one of the servants. Looking at the crew, I couldn’t blame Donna for hanging out with a cook, and I couldn’t blame Ginnie for running off to Paris as soon as she got her hands on the trust fund.

“You’re wondering what it’s like without the Cavendishes, aren’t you?” said Alice.

“This is a big room,” I said.

“Hetty does have guests, frequently,” said Donna. “She belongs to seven hunts. People come from far away, from as far as Newport and Charleston.”

“It’s clear that Mr. Harris misses the city,” said Alice. “But the garden and grounds of Winterbourne Manor are worthy of inspection.”

“I’m sure they are,” I said. “The whole house is fascinating.”

“What do you do in New York?” asked Alice. “Do you enjoy the theater?”

“I see most of the shows,” I said, “when I’m not working.”

“Have you seen Katherine Hepburn?” asked Donna.

“Katherine Hepburn and Katherine Cornell. I see a lot of Katherines. I like George Gershwin. I like Irving Berlin. I like Cole Porter. I like what’s new.”

“It must be exciting!” said Donna, and she sounded excited.

“Donna is not a country girl,” Alice observed. “She has no patience.”

“I have no patience for the country,” said Donna. “It’s beautiful.”

“It’s more than beautiful,” said Alice.

I kept one ear open for the conversations going on at Hetty’s end of the table, but I couldn’t hear much more than a few words about hunting. Those folks loved to shoot.

We started with pheasant, and it would be silly of me to claim that Fritz’s was better. I wouldn’t say this on Thirty-Fifth Street, but pheasant usually beats beef cheeks. That was followed by roast saddle of venison, with something called poivrade sauce. “It means pepper sauce,” Donna told me.

I never would have guessed it, but Hetty liked to eat. Wolfe would have been happy at that table, which is the best compliment I can give, when it comes to food. Once a Vanderbilt girl, always a Vanderbilt girl, I guess.

Once Donna found out that I knew about Broadway, she wouldn’t let up. I didn’t have a chance to listen on the Cavendishes, which made me all the more interested in joining them for drinks afterwards. Apparently, in Europe the men do their drinking alone, which was kind of a disappointment, because I was wanting to spend a little time with Ginnie, even with her husband looking on. When it comes to alcohol, I’m a sipper rather than a drinker, but that night I had the distinct impression that the boys wanted to hear what I had to say as much as I wanted to hear what they had to say. Even pacing myself, I drank a lot more than I like to, but a lot less than the Cavendish gang. I was drunk, all right, but I wasn’t sloppy. I made it upstairs under my own steam, but when I made it into bed I knew I would hate myself in the morning, and I did. As hangovers go, it wasn’t much, but I resented it. I got drunk for the benefit of three sports and didn’t get a damn thing out of any of them. I hadn’t made any mistakes, but they hadn’t made any either, and that wasn’t fair.

Chapter 4

I got up early, almost to punish myself, and sat down at the type-writer. An hour later, I had knocked out an account of most of what had happened to me. I should have done it the night before, but I was too drunk to type, and trying just would have made me mad. When I was finished I showered, shaved, and dressed and got downstairs around nine-thirty. I came across a servant carrying a large red bag, either the same one I had seen the day before or one just like it, but this morning it was stuffed.

“Are you taking that to the chauffeur?” I asked.

“Yes, sir,” he replied.

“It’s heavy this morning, isn’t it?”

“It is, sir. I don’t know what they send. Or what they don’t.”

“I have a letter that needs to be mailed. Could the chauffeur do that for me?”

“Of course, sir.”

I handed him the letter. If he mailed it at the Princeton station, Wolfe should have it tomorrow or the next day at the latest. I thanked him and then got directions to the breakfast room. Donna was sitting by herself, nursing a cup of coffee.

“Did you enjoy drinking with the aristocracy?”

“Not really. I’m not much for the hard stuff.”

“We could have breakfast outside if you like.”


Sitting outside on the verandah, if that’s what you call it, and working on a half grapefruit, I finally got to see the gardens that Alice Maven liked to talk about so much. They were something, and I could see her, striding off in the distance and giving a couple of men with rakes and a wheelbarrow instructions. The summer flowers were gone, but there were masses of golden chrysanthemums that were just beginning to catch the morning light, and, descending beyond them, stone walls and walks lined with box hedges, beeches, and oaks.

“This must be hell for you, living here,” I said.

“It is awful, isn’t it? Hetty’s punishing me for something, but I don’t know what. I’m like a bone she won in a fight long ago. She doesn’t want me any more, but she won’t give me up, either.”

She picked up a silver coffee pot.

“Would you like some?”

She poured a cup.

“What about sugar and cream?”

“Sugar only. Three lumps,” I said.

She added the sugar, stirred, and handed me the cup. I drank half of it and sat back in my chair.

“My mother was born in a sod house,” I said. “In Nebraska. She lived there until she was sixteen. She married my father because he told her they would live in a frame house with windows. He took her back East, to Ohio. We lived in a two-story frame house with a furnace in the basement and a tin roof. She left Nebraska when she was sixteen, and she’s never been back.”

“I guess I should get married.”

“That’s one way out.”

“But you’re a man. You didn’t have to. You can do anything you want.”

“Except play baseball.”

“That’s what you wanted?”

I nodded.

“When I was a boy I would play every day in the summer until it was too dark to see. I played in a semi-pro league starting when I was fifteen. I wanted to quit high school to play but my parents wouldn’t let me. When I was eighteen I tried out for a minor league team. I could run, and field, and throw, and hit a fast ball. But I couldn’t hit the curve. I’ve never wanted anything as much as I wanted to hit that damn curve.”

I finished my coffee.

“But I couldn’t. So I went to college instead. I knew I didn’t belong there. My mom solved her problems traveling east, so I thought that might work for me. And I guess it did.”

“The paper said you killed two men in a warehouse.”


“When you were eighteen.”

“They had guns too. I told them to stop. When you’re guarding a warehouse at night and someone points a gun at you and cocks the trigger you either back down or you don’t. I didn’t.”

“I could never kill anyone, I’m sure. Not like that. Are you a hunter?”

“I used to shoot rabbits. Sometimes in the winter we used to eat rabbit seven nights a week.”

“What does Nero Wolfe do?”

“He reads, he eats, and he raises orchids—when he isn’t detecting.”

“How does detect?”

“Sometimes by talking, sometimes by listening. I don’t miss much, but he doesn’t miss anything.”

“What does he read?”

“Right now he’s reading C. K. Scott Moncrieff’s translation of Remembrance of Things Past.”

“All right. What is Remembrance of Things Past?”

“It’s a novel by a Frenchman, Marcel Proust. Mr. Wolfe likes it. I’ve never read it, but then I don’t read much of anything but the Gazette and the Times. Mr. Wolfe doesn’t think Mr. Moncrieff understands the French subjunctive.”

“What are Mr. Wolfe’s favorite books?”

“Mr. Wolfe says that a man who’s read the essays of Montaigne, the plays of Shakespeare, and the history of Gibbon knows half of what is worth knowing. I guess that would apply to a woman as well.”

“What’s the history of Gibbon?”

“Edward Gibbon. He wrote The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Mr. Wolfe reads it in January and February to keep his spirits up.”

“Have you read it?”

“No. As I say, I’m not much of a reader.”

“A man of action. But you have seen Shakespeare.”

“Some. I saw Katherine Cornell in Romeo and Juliet.”

“And how was that?”

“I liked Katherine Hepburn better, in The Warrior’s Husband. Better legs.”

“Here comes Hetty, to send me to my lessons.”

One thing I liked about Hetty was that she couldn’t sneak up on you. She always wore black, which stood out against the red brick and the white woodwork, and this morning she was leaning on Davis’ arm. Whether she was pleased to see me I couldn’t say, but she clearly wasn’t pleased to see Donna.

“Run along, young lady,” she told her. “You mustn’t be dawdling.”

Again Donna rose and left, and again she didn’t look happy about it.

“Now, Mr. Goodwin,” Hetty said, as she settled herself. “I’m sorry we have not yet had a chance to talk alone. What did you learn last night?”

“That Brits can hold their liquor.”

“Yes, of course. But what else?”

“I think they think I’m not Tom Harris. Or else they think Tom Harris is someone who needs to be watched. Ginnie told them I was family. I’m not sure why she did that.”

“You’re presentable, Mr. Goodwin. I wouldn’t have brought you here if you weren’t. You know how far a young man can go.”

She paused, as if she were tired. She leaned back in her chair and breathed patiently.

“I am an old woman, Mr. Goodwin,” she said. “Have you ever seen vultures gather? They are gathering, from three continents. Ginnie’s the worst. The others want a piece, but she wants it all. And I have no one else I can give it to!”

“What about Donna?”

“Donna! You have known her less than a day and already she has smitten you.”

I laughed.

“You’re making me glad I don’t have any money, Mrs. Winterbourne,” I told her. “You and Mr. Wolfe made a deal, and I will uphold our end. But as I’m sure Mr. Wolfe told you, I am his agent and assistant, not yours.”

“Very well. Tell me what you’re going to do.”

“I guess I’m going deer hunting. I can’t very well hang around here by myself. This evening I’d like to go into town where I can make a phone call.”

“That’s absurd. You can make a phone call here.”

“Not with privacy. What I have to say is for Mr. Wolfe’s ear only, not for yours or your guests.”

There was a flicker of irritation in her eyes. I decided I wasn’t going to tell her that her servants couldn’t keep a secret, or at least didn’t.

“Would you like some coffee?” I asked.

She didn’t. I was about to say more when Henry and Tony appeared, looking a little red-faced, which was understandable, considering the amount of brandy they’d put away the night before.

“Good morning, Mrs. Winterbourne,” Henry said. “Tommie, you’re looking well. Splendid weather, isn’t it? We were just going round to the gun room. Please join us.”

We took our leave of Hetty and ambled back through the house.

“You brought your own rifles, I suppose?” said Henry.

“I’m afraid not. I expected to be working.”

“Oh, bad show. Well, there’s no point in wasting your time sighting a gun anyhow. The growth is so thick here, both Tony and Gerry are using shotguns all week, and I’ve switched too. Haven’t had a long shot since we’ve been here. The bucks know we’re here and stick to cover. We’re sending all the rifles back to England tomorrow. It’s a waste of time keeping them.”

We reached the gun room. I couldn’t help staring. At age twelve this room would have been heaven—more than heaven—to me. It was a big room, with a carved stone fireplace, and leather sofas and chairs arranged in a rectangle around it. But that wasn’t what caught my eye. It was the guns. The walls were lined with glass cases, filled with literally dozens of shotguns and rifles.

“Impressive, isn’t it?” asked Henry. “Say what you like about Hetty, her mister knew guns, and Hetty keeps them right.”

“Beautiful weapons,” said Tony. “Beautiful.”

Henry opened one of the cabinets with a key.

“Take your pick,” he said. “Some of them go back a century, but the newer ones are over here.”

I took down a fourteen-gauge that probably cost more than the tin-roof frame house I grew up in. It felt perfect in my hands.

“A bit light for deer, don’t you think?” said Tony.

“I want to kill my buck, not butcher him,” I said. “At close range, you shouldn’t miss.”

Henry chuckled.

“You have the air of a marksman, Tommie,” he said. “I sensed it from the first. Tony, we’ll have to look sharp to keep Mr. Harris away from our champagne. Now, we’d better get over to the stables.”

“I’ll be in Mrs. Winterbourne’s carriage,” I said. “There are a number of things we need to discuss.”

“That’s no good,” said Tony. “Our hostess keeps a fine stable.”

Henry passed my shotgun off to a servant and we went back to the verandah. By this time Gerry had arrived, with all the ladies in tow. After a round of bacon and eggs, they all took off for the stable, leaving me with Hetty. The effort of keeping her eye on so many guests at once seemed to have exhausted her, so we sat in silence until her carriage arrived—an antique that must have been half as old as she was, drawn by four good-looking horses. The old codger who was holding the reins dismounted and helped her in. I joined her, and we rode silently through the grounds. We passed half a dozen people—raking gravel, clipping hedges, or tending flower beds—and they all stopped and turned and bowed as we passed. I never felt so creepy, but Hetty didn’t bat an eye. After all, she’d been doing this for eighty-seven years.

We rode in the carriage for close to an hour, slow and uphill, until we came to Hetty’s favorite spot, a high mountain meadow sown with flowers, mountains along one side but overlooking a broad valley, with the Delaware River in the distance. A big white tent with no sides protected a half a dozen chairs from the sun. A dozen servants were there ahead of us, being supervised by Alice Maven. When I got out, Henry was waiting for me.

“Bernard here is your gillie,” Henry told me, pointing to a spry little man who looked like he’d spent his life outdoors. “Bernard knows these mountains better than I know Rio.”

As I walked over the grass, something white and gleaming caught my eye. I picked it up.

“You’ve found something, Mr. Harris?” Hetty demanded.

“Nothing really. Looks like a broken piece of porcelain,” I said.

“I remember dropping a plate last week,” said Henry. “We’ll give you the mountain on the left today, Tom. We each take one, to keep from shooting one another.”

As he spoke there was a popping sound.

“Did someone start early?” I asked.

“No,” said Hetty. “Damned poachers! They get worse every year! Alice! Alice! This is intolerable! I want to talk to the governor!”

I left Hetty to rant and said hello to Bernard, who handed me the fourteen gauge I’d chosen in the gun room. He had another gun strapped across his back and several bags of shells. I followed him down the side of one mountain and up another. Bernard knew the deer trails and it didn’t take him long to find some fresh scat. I can remember winters when I hunted for rabbit as a boy, putting food on the table for the three of us, until the last light faded from the snow. Deer hunting in Pennsylvania in late summer is a lot different, but there’s still that same sense of peace and excitement. At first I was worried that Bernard would take me for a tenderfoot, but I forgot about that. I forgot about Henry and Ginnie and Tony and Gabbie and Hetty and Donna. I even forgot about Wolfe. I was that teenage boy again, with his finger on the safety, out alone and ready to do justice in an untamed world.

To smell like a deer, to hear like a deer, to know like a deer. These are things I’d never thought of before, but I was thinking about them now. Rabbits, rabbits were easy, if you knew how. Rabbits have a lot of little ways that an outsider would never know, but when push comes to shove, rabbits figure they can always outbreed you. They’re quick enough, and small enough, and you’ll never get them all. Deer are large and careful. I’d never seen a live deer, but I thought about those wet, sensitive noses, like a dog’s, and those large ears, listening for the thud and crackle of clumsy feet.

After about two hours, Bernard tapped me on the shoulder and pointed silently. Far in the distance, I could see two tiny brown shapes. Above the head of one there was the faintest cloud of brown—his antlers. They weren’t our target, of course. Bernard was just letting me know that there were deer here in the forest, and not to lose heart.

We went up half-way up one mountain and began to circle it. The wind was shifting, and we needed to keep it in front of us. As we started up again, I felt another tap on my shoulder. Bernard pointed up the mountain. I couldn’t see anything, but I knew he could. I followed his lead, and he led me in a careful path. I knew there was a deer. There had to be.

We kept maneuvering, and at last I saw the soft brown in the dark green. Bernard led me in a wide circle around the mountain. I would have gone straight for the deer, and spooked him in a minute. Forty-five minutes of careful walking put us above the deer, but still walking into the wind. As we began our descent I suddenly saw horns and a head, not twenty yards away. We were on top of him. The shotgun butt flew to my shoulder, and I fired. The deer’s head twisted as though he were trying to shake off a fly, and he went down.

The buckshot caught him in the neck, just beneath his head. He was an eight-point, not the twelve-point, but he was mine.

“Mr. Harris,” Bernard told me, “you walk like a hunter, and you shoot like one too.”

I stood over the kill, feeling happy. Everything was quieter and noisier than before at the same time. I stared at the deer’s head. One of the shot had taken out his left eye. Other than that, the shot had made a clean pattern. I hadn’t made the deer ugly, and I was glad that Hetty had such good guns.

What happened next I wouldn’t have believed unless I had seen it with my own eyes. Bernard took out a hunting horn and blew on it. The sweet, mellow sound echoed across the mountain. A few seconds later, I heard another, and then, very far off, a third.

“Two fellows will be coming with a mule,” he told me. “It should take an hour. You can wait here and I’ll take you back, Mr. Harris, or you can strike out on your own. If you go down to that stream and follow her back up, you’ll come to the trail that takes you straight to the overlook.”

I looked down and saw a gleam of water where the sun caught it. In an hour or two, that gleam would be gone.

“I’ll take a chance,” I told him. “You’re a first-rate guide, Bernard. One of those haunches is yours.”

“Thank you, indeed, Mr. Harris. I never turn down a haunch.”

He blew a second time on his horn. I took my bearings, and a compass, and started off. Just as I reached the stream I heard a couple of shots. I had forgotten all about the other hunters, about everything. I was coming back to it now, like a diver returning to the surface. I was returning to Hetty and Ginnie and Henry and Tony. I wanted some time to talk to Ginnie, to find out why she was so friendly. And I wanted to talk to Wolfe. I wasn’t at all sure that we could break this case the way Hetty wanted, but I felt there was a case, something moving underground.

I reached the overlook at little after five. Hetty was sitting under an awning, with both Marvin and Davis to keep her company, along with half a dozen servants, and Dr. Jameson, whom I hadn’t met before. He was an old coot with a red face, who looked like he’d had his share of port in his time. Apparently, taking care of the Winterbournes could wear you down.

“Mr. Goodwin,” Hetty said, “did you get a shot?”

“More than a shot,” I said, “an eight point. Bernard says they’ll bring it back by mule.”

“How splendid. You shoot deer and seduce young girls. There is no end to your talents.”

“I thought I had been seduced.”

“Donna will be at her studies,” said Hetty, sharply. Apparently, I was a bad influence.

“Yes. I would like to go into town to make my phone call.”

“Mr. Goodwin doubts the integrity of my hospitality. Ronnie, take Mr. Goodwin to the house and give him the keys to the Buick. There is a tavern in Bucksville that will accommodate you, I believe.”

Ronnie was a fifteen-year-old kid who seemed happy enough to escape from Hetty’s presence. He led me to a pony cart, just about the most ridiculous vehicle I’d ever set foot in. But after five hours of walking up and down mountains, I wasn’t complaining. As we rode back through the estate grounds, I wondered what it must be like growing up on a place like this, with Hetty Winterbourne as your lord and master. Hetty was like the weather to these people. When she roared, they just put their heads down and shivered. Was it worse than growing up in a sod house? I wondered.

The pony cart took the jolts harder than Hetty’s carriage, but it was quicker. Ronnie didn’t mind popping the whip now and again, just to see the pony jump. We arrived at the big house in not much more than an hour. Ronnie tracked down the chauffeur, who tracked down the keys to the Buick, which was just a bit younger than Ronnie, but it ran well enough to get me to Bucksville, about five miles away. The tavern was an old stone place that was still lit by gas, but they did have a telephone. It was after six when I called, so Wolfe would be down from the plant rooms.


I’ve never been able to get him to answer a call properly.

“Hi. It’s me. I have to tell you, this gang is quite a gang. I almost feel sorry for Hetty.”

“Then you have met the Cavendishes and their Argentine relations?”

“I have. I think they’re on to me. I figured they wouldn’t give Tom Harris the time of day, because the poor guy has to work for a living, but Ginnie told them I’m family, so all of a sudden I’m a pal. Henry and Gerry and Tony all tried to get me drunk last night.”

“Did they succeed?”

“Yes, but not so that I talked. But they didn’t either. Ginnie—she told me to call her that, by the way, so don’t be offended—brought along some lawyers too, but Hetty won’t let them stay at the mansion.”

“Indeed. I could imagine that Mrs. Winterbourne is striving to extract some concession from her great-granddaughter, but since her real intent, as she expressed it to us, is to overturn the marriage, I can’t imagine what it could be.”

“I get the impression that Ginnie would like to do a little extracting of her own. These Brits are hanging on her. As they see it, she’s got the key to the vault.”

“No doubt. The English aristocracy is equally striking for both its insolence and its insolvency. And one may include arrogance and incompetence as well.”

In the past, Wolfe had said a few sharp things to me about British policy in the Balkans and towards Montenegro in particular, but hearing him go on like this made me realize that I hadn’t heard the half of it.

“So you don’t trust them either. The thing is, it’s not a crime to be a jerk in this country. They’ve got a game, but I don’t know what it is, and I don’t even know if we should give a damn. I came here thinking our best bet is to take the three thousand and quit while we’re ahead. Maybe that’s still the case, but then again, maybe not. By the way, I shot a deer today.”

“Congratulations. Do you, do you intend to consume it yourself?”

“I doubt it. We’ve got plenty of deer. Also pheasant and quail.”

I’m sure I could hear him groan. I’ll admit it was unnecessary. Fritz’s beef cheeks are first rate, but they aren’t pheasant, and they aren’t fresh venison.

“The, ah, the deer carcass. Perhaps it would be possible for Mrs. Winterbourne to provide transport? She could deduct from her fee.”

“Perhaps. Hetty has a regular delivery system set up from here to New York. I did promise a haunch to Bernard. He was my guide. There’s a man who knows about deer. I’ll talk to him.”

“It must be hung properly, but Fritz could do that if necessary. And perhaps the liver. I confess a particular fondness for the liver. That should be dispatched immediately.”

“Sure. I’ll see to it. Any other organs?”

“None. By the way, Archie. Are you armed?”

“Did I bring the Marley? Yes.”

“A reasonable precaution.”

“Do you really think someone in this gang is up for murder?”

“You have sensed desperation beneath the surface, and I believe your intuition is correct. According to Mr. Bradford, he has, in the last few months, received discreet but persistent inquiries as to the whereabouts of Lord Harrington, suggesting extreme financial difficulties. Mr. Bradford felt it was not his place, absent instructions from Mrs. Winterbourne, to comply.”

“That’s a puzzle. You’d think she’d want to cause trouble. Gerry’s been shooting bears in Alaska with his brother and his cousin.”

“You are on a first-name basis with a peer.”

“I am, thanks to Ginnie. If we can break this case in her favor, I vote to do so. I’ll admit that I wanted this case, but I’d rather shoot a man than call him ‘my lord.’”

Wolfe chuckled.

“What do you want me to tell Hetty?” I asked.

That one he didn’t find so funny.

“Confound it,” he said. “I have Mr. Bradford’s permission to share with her the concern of Lord Harrington’s creditors with his whereabouts. If she presses you, say that I have found nothing to confirm her suspicion that her great-granddaughter’s husband is a bigamist.”

“That may cost you a liver.”

“I have sacrificed my palate to my conscience before, Archie. More than once.”

“Okay. When I get out of this place I’ll bring you a pheasant or two. I’d better get back to keep an eye on things.”

Once I got back to the house I discovered that bagging an eight-point can do wonders for your popularity when you’re out in the country. None of the three English gents had had a kill, but the ladies provided us with plenty of pheasant. Getting that deer moved me up a spot at the dinner table, and I noticed that Donna moved down a notch. Hetty must have decided that I was a bad influence.

After dinner, the fellows seemed even more determined to get me drunk than the night before, but I held my ground, claiming an upset stomach. I was still a little tight when I headed up the stairs, wondering whether three thousand in the bank was worth three weeks of brandy poisoning. Of course, I had asked for it, so I couldn’t really complain.

When I opened the door to my room I got a bit of a shock. Hetty was waiting for me.

“You’ve kept me waiting long enough,” she snapped, when I entered. “You aren’t too drunk to talk sense, are you?”

“I’m not drunk at all,” I said.

“Very well. I had to talk to you immediately because this evening Ginnie told me that she will institute proceedings to overturn and liquidate her trust fund unless I agree to turn over a number of important properties to her immediately.”

“And you don’t want her to do that.”

“I do not. I do not want to see myself held up to ridicule as a grasping old fool. And I do not want to see the family holdings broken up in this manner.”

“Have you talked with Mr. Bradford? Could she overturn the trust?”

“Of course she could, if she wanted to accept losses.”

“According to Mr. Wolfe, Lord Harrington has creditors who would dearly love to know where he is.”

“I am not surprised. She wants to pay off that English gang so that they will love her, but of course they won’t. They’ll squeeze and squeeze, until she has nothing, and then they will drop her. What did Mr. Wolfe say about the evidence?”

“He said there was no evidence—nothing that could affect Ginnie’s marriage.”

Hetty’s eyes flashed, and she made a sound. I guess “tchach” is as close as I can come. I don’t know if that’s supposed to be a word or not. She rose unsteadily to her feet.

“If Ginnie goes through with this, there’s going to be a fight,” she said. “It costs money to get money. I’ll teach her that, if I have to. I don’t want to, but I will. I will not be bullied, even at the cost of a scandal. If Ginnie wants a scandal, she shall have one. Time is on my side. That gang needs money now, and I don’t.”

I could have pointed out to Hetty that, at age 87, time wasn’t on her side, but she wasn’t paying me to do that. Still, I decided to push it, just a little.

“Sooner or later, Ginnie’s going to get it all,” I said.

“You mean when I’m dead,” she said. “Yes, and I will be dead soon, won’t I? And I can’t give Winterbourne Manor to anyone but Ginnie. That’s why I hired you. Congratulations on your deer, Mr. Goodwin.”

With that she walked out of my room, trembling with every step. She was so damn fragile and so damn angry. I wanted to knock some sense into her, but if there was one thing Hetty didn’t take, it was advice.

When she was gone I shut the door and started shucking my monkey suit—first the jacket and vest, and then the tie. I was just starting in on the cuff links when I heard a voice.

“Mr. Goodwin!”

I looked around. There was nobody.

“I’m outside!” said the voice. Then I saw a young, feminine hand appear under the frame of the open window beside my bed and shove it upward.

“I’m sorry to be so dramatic, but I had to see you, and Hetty won’t let me.”

It was Donna.

“How the hell!”

“It’s quite safe. There’s a little balcony.”

“Donna, you can’t come in here.”

“Then you have to come outside, because I have to talk to you.”

I pushed the window all the way open and looked out. There was a little balcony, but it was damn little, a fake balcony with a waist-high stone railing. Donna was perched on top. It scared me just to look at her.

“Do you want to come out?” she asked.

“How did you get here?”

“When I first came to live here I explored everything. I climbed all over these roofs. I used to live here. I can still do it.”

“You’re afraid of horses but not of this.”

“Yes, I am.”

I couldn’t stand to look at her perched on that railing. But since I had killed three men I couldn’t admit that.

“Let’s go up on the roof,” I said.

I watched as she turned and climbed up the side of the wall. I was almost double her weight, but those stones looked solid. I decided that whoever built this place knew what he was doing, and followed her. Once I was up on the roof itself I was more nervous. There was a full moon right over head, which gave me enough light to see what I was doing, but those old slates weren’t designed to be walked on, and I had had plenty of champagne and a couple of brandies. Somehow, I made it. Donna led me to a massive brick chimney that must have been twelve feet high.

“Isn’t this great?” she exclaimed. “Look at those arches.”

“It’s great all right.”

“It’s great to be able to show it to someone. In the winter, when the trees are bare, you can see the sun rise and set. And at night you can see the moon on the snow. May I have a cigarette?”

“No. I don’t smoke, and I don’t like women who do. They taste like tobacco.”

The moon was hitting her full in the face, and I could see her blush.

“Why are we up here?” I asked.

“Because, I didn’t trust you at first, but now I do, and there are things I want to tell you.”

“Why do you trust me?”

“Because you told me about your mother.”

She paused, and picked at her skirt.

“There are things I do when people aren’t around,” she said. “I sneak into people’s rooms. It’s easy. The locks here are a hundred years old. It’s so quiet in someone else’s room.”

“Have you found anything?”

“Well, no. But I could.”

“Would you like to do me a favor?”


“Then stop sneaking into other people’s rooms. I don’t think it’s a good idea with this crowd.”

“All right. But there’s something else. I heard Gabriela and Ginnie arguing, very cold. I knew Ginnie could be hard, like Hetty, when she wanted to be, but this was different. This was life and death. And Gabriela was just as fierce. I’ve never heard people talk like that before.”

“Do you remember exactly what they said?”

“It was almost in code, like they’d been through it before, and I’m sure they had. I remember Gabriela saying ‘I didn’t like what you said, Ginnie. You had best take it back. You know we are serious.’ And Ginnie said ‘In my own house I speak as I please. If I were your guest I would be better behaved.’”

“That’s it?”

“Yes, that’s it! I said they weren’t specific.”

“When was this?”

“Before you came here. I heard them whispering after dinner. Hetty was pretending not to listen, but Ginnie knew she was, so she said ‘We’ll discuss it later’ and gave Gabriela’s hand a squeeze, except that she squeezed it really tight. I could see Gabriela wince. So when Hetty sent me away I went outside Ginnie’s window. I opened it a little so I could hear, but I couldn’t hear too much. They kept their voices down. They said what I told you, and then they must have walked away from the window. I couldn’t hear anything. I waited and waited, and finally the lights went out, and that was that. I’ve been watching both of them ever since, but there’s nothing to see. They don’t look angry, or anything.”

“Is that it?”

“Yes, that’s it, unless you want to know where Davis keeps his Scotch. Are you glad you came?”

“Yes. It was worth the trip. Are you sure you can get back?”

“I’ll be fine.”

I was a lot more worried about myself than I was about her, but I knew she’d appreciate being asked. Climbing back down was harder on the nerves than going up—it usually is—but I made it smoothly enough.

Chapter 5

In the morning I had breakfast with Hetty on the verandah. Donna wasn’t in sight, and I didn’t ask what had happened to her. Gabbie and Ginnie stopped by, and I learned that the ladies had decided that they had shot enough pheasants—they’d bagged more than twenty the day before—and would be hunting deer instead. Seven deer hunters sounded like a bit of a crowd, and since I had already scored an eight-point, I decided to bow out. I was, after all, supposed to be here on a job, even though no one seemed to be buying that story. I was also thinking that if Donna could pick locks, I could too. This was Hetty’s house, after all, so it would hardly even qualify as breaking and entering.

After the gang set off for the shoot I had one of the servants take me down to the kitchen to make sure that my deer would reach Wolfe in good shape. Going below stairs in Winterbourne Manor is a bit like visiting the catacombs. We went to the game room, where three carcasses were hanging from the ceiling. Mine was the one that was short a leg. Other than that, it looked fine. Bernard was a very good man with a knife, as I knew he would be. There’s a lot more to skinning and dressing a deer than a rabbit, but the principles are the same.

The carcass wouldn’t be leaving until tomorrow, but the liver had already left. Hetty’s chef assured me that they had a special hamper, one they had been using for more than thirty years, to ensure that the liver would remain chilled, but not frozen, throughout the trip.

With that out of the way, I decided that it was time to do a little snooping. I had a healthy respect for Donna’s inquisitiveness, and she probably would have found a few things I would have missed, but there were a few things that I would find that she would miss. But after a good three hours, I had to admit that I was licked. Ginnie had a locked desk that I spent twenty minutes on, because I didn’t want to leave any scratches. When I got inside I opened one of the large drawers and found a smooth metal case that weighed about forty pounds. The lid had three dials on it and the name “Wissen” etched in fine script. Swiss watchmakers put these together for special clients who have papers they don’t want disturbed. There was no way I was getting in that little box with anything less subtle than a sledgehammer, and that wouldn’t quite do. So Ginnie was hiding something, which didn’t surprise me, but what? If she didn’t trust her lawyers—and obviously she didn’t—it had to be good.

Over the next three days I went through everyone’s room, and didn’t learn a damn thing. Sometimes, people with secrets are good at hiding them. After three days of snooping I was more than ready to start living like a man of leisure again. I spent another day hunting with Bernard, but never got close enough to a deer to get off a shot. I walked back to the overlook and saw Marvin, Davis, and Hetty all sound asleep under the tent. A group of servants, sitting on the grass about twenty paces behind the tent, rose as I appeared, but I waved them off. I walked under the tent and waited politely for about ten minutes, but it was clear that it would take more than politeness to wake them. I went and stood in front of Hetty and it was then that I saw that she wasn’t sleeping. As peaceful as she looked from the back, there was a broad stain of blood that had soaked over her belly. Her mouth had fallen open and her eyes were glassy. I felt her pulse, both her wrist and her neck. Nothing. Her dress was stiff with dried blood. Hetty Winterbourne was dead, and she’d been that way for hours.

I wakened Marvin, which wasn’t an easy job—sherry and sunshine had taken their toll on him—and gave him the bad news. He stared at me, unbelieving.

“She can’t be,” he said. “She can’t be.”

“She is. I can’t tell for sure, but I think she’s been shot.”

“No. We’ve been here all the time. I didn’t hear a thing.”

“You’ve been asleep. Where’s Dr. Jameson?”

“Why, I’m not sure. He—oh, he went to see Charles. You know, he’s never well.”

“Then I think you better call Alice. And we better find Dr. Jameson.”

Marvin talked to the servants, who had figured out that something was wrong. Ronnie started off in his pony cart to find Alice and Dr. Jameson, but that was going to take some time. I wanted to get back to the house to call Wolfe, but that was going to take some time too. I couldn’t leave until Alice or the doctor showed up, which gave me a little time to some detecting. I wasn’t going to undress Hetty, so I couldn’t be sure, but it looked like she’d taken a slug in her belly. She couldn’t have been shot from close range. Marvin and Davis might not have noticed, but surely the servants would have heard it. But a long-range shot would have gone unnoticed. Guns were popping all the time at Winterbourne Manor. But who had a rifle that day?

I stood in front of Hetty and looked out over the valley. She wasn’t facing the river, but the mountains to the left. She looked like she had slid down in her chair after she’d taken the bullet, so it would be hard to determine the exact trajectory of the round, but I didn’t think whoever shot her fired from below. It was at least a hundred yards to the first slopes of the mountains. Getting a clear shot from the slopes was possible if you picked your spot carefully, but most of the area was covered with dense undergrowth. Far up the mountain there was a rocky outcropping, at least five hundred yards away.

I looked at Hetty again. A spent round, fired from the top of the mountain, or even the other side, could have reached her. It would have been falling with little more than the force of gravity. Would a bullet traveling that distance even penetrate her flesh? And what were the odds of that happening? Slim to none, I decided. Whoever had put that bullet in Hetty had done so on purpose, and they’d done it from the outcropping.

Word of Hetty’s death had begun to spread among the hundreds of people who worked for her. A crowd was gathering, though they remained at a respectful distance. At last Alice Maven appeared, riding on a horse. She dismounted and approached me.

“She’s really dead,” she said to me.

“Yes,” I said. “We need to have her examined.”

“I notified Robert. He’s on his way.”

Robert was on his way, but it still took a good half an hour for him to reach us. We could have put Hetty in her carriage and taken her back to the house, but I wanted witnesses. Alice and Dr. Jameson were the two people I could trust in that house to tell what they saw.

“You found her just like this?” he asked me, when he arrived.

“Yes. No one has touched her since I’ve been here.”

“The other two were asleep, I understand.”


He kept looking back and forth, from Hetty to me, as though he didn’t quite trust me. Well, I was a stranger. And Hetty was dead. And I had found her.

He bent closely over Hetty, holding her head between his hands.

“We’d better get her in the carriage,” he said. “Do you mind?”

I didn’t. I’d never carried a client’s corpse before, but there’s a first time for everything. And poor old Hetty wasn’t much of a burden.

Once we got her in the carriage I went to speak with Alice.

“I’m not Mrs. Winterbourne’s personal attorney,” I told her. “I think we need to contact Mr. Bradford as soon as possible.”

“I notified his office,” she told me. “We should be hearing from him shortly.”

That was good. I also wanted to say that we should notify the sheriff as well, but I didn’t want the idea to come from me.

“You know, it does appear that Mrs. Winterbourne was shot,” I said.

“We need Robert to determine that,” she said, sharply.

“I know,” I said. “As I said, I am not Mrs. Winterbourne’s personal attorney, but there is an enormous amount of money at stake here, and anything that is in the slightest degree suspicious needs to be taken care of in advance.”

“What do you find suspicious?” she demanded.

“If Mrs. Winterbourne was shot, and I think she was, I find that suspicious,” I said. “Unless you want to believe that Charles or Marvin stabbed her, which I do not.”

“That’s absurd. You know yourself that all hunting is being done with shotguns. If Mrs. Winterbourne was shot, which perhaps she was, it was a stray round from a poacher. We’ll know more when Robert has examined her.”

“I would like to have a look at the gun room,” I told her.

“You may certainly do so.”

So that was that. I got in the carriage with Dr. Jameson while Alice rode ahead. I didn’t think it was likely that Alice Maven had plugged her employer of some twenty odd years, but I was beginning to wonder.

Once the carriage was underway I tried to strike up a conversation with the doctor, but he wasn’t talking. He’d been watching my little talk with Alice, and I suspect that it made him more suspicious of me than he had been before. An outsider, causing trouble? We can’t have that. The more I pushed him, the tighter he clammed. Finally, I gave up. With Hetty gone, I didn’t count. I was just an observer, an observer who needed to keep his mouth shut. So I shut it. I sat and stared as we passed through the fine gardens, along smooth gravel paths. Everything I was seeing belonged to Ginnie now. Maybe the whole show was over. You can’t have a job without a client, and our client was dead. We’d be damned lucky to get a penny out of Ginnie, even if she didn’t find out what Hetty had put us up to. But I didn’t like it. I had a feeling in my gut that if we walked, someone would be getting away with murder, and I didn’t like it. I needed to hear Dr. Jameson tell me that Hetty had been shot, and then I needed to talk to Wolfe.

There was a crowd waiting for us at the house—everyone had been back from the hunt and had gotten the news. Donna stared at me with a drawn, bewildered face. I knew she would be looking for me, but I wanted to get a look at the rest of them—the Cavendish gang. I can hardly blame them for not looking too down. Hetty was eighty-seven and she’d been nothing but trouble for them. The one to watch out for was Ginnie. She wasn’t Ginnie any more, after all. She was Mrs. Cavendish now, and if she’d ordered me off “her” property I’m not sure what I would have done. Fortunately, she didn’t. They were playing it smooth, and so was I. We all stood around and talked for twenty minutes about how terrible it was. People asked me a lot of questions and I answered them. I listened closely to what the others said—where they were, and how they got the news—but I didn’t ask anyone anything. I wasn’t going to put anyone on the spot, not yet.

As soon as the conversation hit a real lull I murmured something about needing to get cleaned up. As I did so I managed to get a minute with Donna.

“Is there a safe phone I can use?” I asked.

She looked startled, then excited.

“Of course!” she said, keeping her voice low. “Is this important?”

“It could be. Give me a few minutes, and then come inside. I’ll be in the gun room.”

I went inside and down the corridor to the gun room. Edwards was there, replacing several of the shotguns.

“Such terrible news, sir,” he said, as I entered.

“Yes, terrible.”

I watched as he replaced the guns. There was only one missing—the fourteen-gauge Purdy that I’d been using.

“There’s just my Purdy missing,” I said.

“Yes, sir.”

“It should be up soon. I don’t suppose anyone used a rifle today.”

“Oh, no. The forest is simply too dense for that sort of shooting, even for Englishmen.”

He said that last sentence with just a bit of a smile.

“Of course.”

I wandered over to the cases containing rifles, but there wasn’t much point in checking them. It would be awfully hard to get a rifle out of that room without Edwards knowing about it, and I couldn’t imagine him lying on behalf of the Cavendishes, not even Ginnie.

“Very good,” I said, and walked out.

Donna was coming down the hall. She beckoned, and I followed.

“I was talking with Edwards,” I said.

“I heard you. What about?”

“Hetty was shot,” I said, “but not by a rifle that came from that room.”

She grabbed my hand.

“Are you sure?” she demanded.

“Ninety-nine percent,” I said. “I have to talk to Mr. Wolfe, and I can’t be worried that a Cavendish will be listening to me.”

She led me up the stairs and down a hallway away from my own room. We turned down a second hallway and came to a closed door. She knocked cautiously. There was no answer.

“It’s okay,” she said, opening her purse and taking out a couple of straightened bobby pins. She had the door opened in ten seconds.

“You can talk here,” she said, opening the door to what had to be the smallest room in the house. “This is a little office that Hetty uses. That’s a direct line that isn’t connected to any other phone in the house.”

She pointed to a modern desk phone.

“Thanks,” I said.

“You’re just going to stand here until I leave?” she asked.


“All right. You can find your own way back.”

She left. I picked up the phone and dialed the operator. Considering my location, the connection was almost decent. She put me through to the brownstone. Since it was almost seven, I figured the phone would ring about seven times before Fritz picked it up in the kitchen, but I was wrong. Half-way through the first ring I heard Wolfe’s voice.


“You’re in the office.”

“Yes, eating onion soup and absorbing the contents of a codicil to Mrs. Winterbourne’s will.”

“Then you know that she’s dead.”

“Yes. Mr. Bradford called to inform me. He was informed, more than an hour ago, by a Miss Maven. Mr. Bradford was in Philadelphia when he received the call. He sent the codicil to me by special messenger. It empowers Mr. Bradford to employ me to investigate the circumstances of Mrs. Winterbourne’s death if they appear to be at all suspicious.”

“Would you call a slug in the gut suspicious?”

“I would. Mr. Bradford was not so forthright.”

“I don’t know what Alice Maven told him. I found her body. I suppose it’s possible that she was stabbed, somehow, but right now I’d say it’s a thousand to one that she was shot. Her doctor is examining her. Maybe I should talk to Mr. Bradford.”

“That is likely to be impossible. He informed me that he was setting off at once to obtain a court order authorizing him as executor of Mrs. Winterbourne’s estate to assume the duties and privileges of ownership of Winterbourne Manor until the estate is settled.”

“Mr. Bradford is active.”

“He is indeed. I gather he has acquired some animus towards the Cavendish family.”

“He’s going to acquire more when he learns that Hetty has been murdered.”

“You are sure it will come to that?”

“Close enough. There are poachers on the estate. You hear guns popping. But the odds that a round is going to catch someone in the gut are close to none. I think you better prepare for an excursion.”

“That is absurd.”

“I don’t think so. I am not leaving this crowd for a second. When Bradford shows up, the fur is going to fly, and I will be watching. Did Bradford mention anything about a fee?”

“He did. Mrs. Winterbourne was quite willing to spend money when it suited her interest to do so. Do you suppose she anticipated this event?”

“The last time I talked to her, she wasn’t afraid. She was mad. She wasn’t frightened of anything, as far as I could tell, but she was suspicious as hell.”

I waited for Wolfe to say “Confound it,” which is what he usually says when he knows he has to work, but this time he didn’t say anything. The thought of traveling to the wilds of Pennsylvania, plus the thought of doing it without me, had shut him up tight.

“Look on the bright side,” I told him. “If this goes through, I won’t be riding you about money until January 1936.”

“You find this amusing. I do not. I shall await Mr. Bradford’s call.”

That was the way we left it. The next six hours were like a footrace through molasses. Dr. Jameson didn’t get through with Hetty until close to eight o’clock. It took me twenty minutes to get him to admit that Hetty’s stomach had contained a thirty caliber slug, one that didn’t belong there. We sat down to dinner at eight-thirty, everyone staring at Hetty’s empty chair, and no one saying a damn thing except “It must have been poachers.”

Bradford showed up at nine, and the fur did fly. He had a court order for Ginnie, which she sure didn’t appreciate. When he handed it to her she said she was getting her lawyers up from Allentown and Bradford said no she wasn’t. Everyone who was at Winterbourne Manor could stay, but no one could arrive without his permission, and he wasn’t giving it. He had half a dozen papers signed by Hetty with him, which showed that both she and he had been thinking about this a lot. If Ginnie wanted to talk to her lawyers in Allentown, she was the one who would have to move.

You can imagine how that went over. Bradford had an assistant with him, a young attorney named Harrison Yates, who left to talk to a local attorney about summoning the county coroner and the sheriff to declare Hetty’s death to be possible manslaughter or even murder. That put the Cavendishes on the spot. Manslaughter meant hanging it on a poacher, but murder might mean hanging it on them. I can’t say that we got matters settled, but there was an armed truce of sorts established by midnight.

It got worse in the morning. The sheriff showed up, and I don’t think I ever saw an unhappier man. Poking his nose into rich people’s business was not what he got paid to do. What made it worse for him was that there was no one to take orders from. Bradford had a fist full of papers saying he was the boss, but he was from out of town. The odds were very good that eventually Ginnie and Henry would be running things, but that hadn’t happened yet.

The coroner didn’t show until about eleven. There was a lot of back and forth, and a lot of just plain silence, because country folks don’t like to do anything in a hurry, unpleasant things in particular, but finally Bradford got the ruling he wanted: Hetty’s death was “suspicious,” and would be investigated. An hour later Ginnie showed up, back from Allentown, with her own court order, but it was too late. The wheels of justice were in motion, but just barely.

With Bradford in charge, for the time being anyway, I could call Wolfe from Hetty’s little office without having to skulk around. I waited until after lunch because what I had to say to him was something he wasn’t going to want to hear. Of course, he would accuse me of ruining his digestion, but that wasn’t quite as bad as ruining his meal.


“It’s me. The sheriff and the coroner were here. Hetty’s death has been officially declared suspicious.”

“Confound it.”

“You’ll like it out here. It’s ten degrees cooler than in town. We’re having freshly shot quail for lunch.”

“You will inform Mr. Bradford that I will conduct my investigation in New York.”

“That won’t work, and you know it. Did I tell you? Hetty’s chef used to work at the Ritz, thirty years ago. I won’t say the quail Richelieu here are better than Fritz’s, but they’re awfully good.”

Wolfe didn’t say anything to that. I suspected that he was drawing little circles on the desk with his pinky, but I couldn’t be sure.

“Listen,” I said. “We’ll call Hetty’s in-town chauffeur. He’ll pick you up and drive you to Penn Station. We’ll book you a first-class compartment to Princeton Junction. The estate chauffeur will meet you there. You won’t even have to ride the local to Princeton. If it was good enough for Hetty, it will be good enough for you.”

“No,” he said, flatly. “I decline to expose myself to the buffets of chance in such an extravagant manner. You will be, as you have been, my eyes and ears. I have reviewed once more both your reports and the entirety of the material previously submitted to me by Mr. Bradford. You will continue your reports. In the final extremity it should be possible to induce the various Cavendishes to come here.”

There were a number of things I could have said to that, none of which Wolfe would have appreciated.

“I’ll have to let Mr. Bradford talk to you,” I said. “You know, you could lose this case if you keep this up. You aren’t the only private detective in New York.”

“I accept employment under certain conditions. I bent a rule in this matter and I regret it. If I bend another I shall regret it more.”

So that was how we left it. And that left me in a house full of people who more or less wished that I was dead. The only person I could talk to was Donna, who kept wanting to talk to me about Hamlet, and I wasn’t biting. But when I discovered that Winterbourne Manor had a billiards room, and when I discovered that Donna was the only one who would play with me, we worked out a deal after dinner: shoot pool for two hours and not talk about Hamlet, and then read Hamlet for an hour. I was Hamlet and she was Ophelia. Frankly, I never could see what she saw in him. When he wasn’t tripping over his own two feet he was yelling at her. But Donna seemed to love it. Then we did Ophelia’s mad scenes and I had to read everyone else’s part. When we got Ophelia dead Donna wanted to go back and do it again, with her being Hamlet and me being Ophelia. I told her that would have to wait for another day and we left it at that. I went up to my room and wrote my letter to Wolfe, who was still sitting tight.

The next day I decided that, what the hell, I would go hunting. By the time I got up the Cavendishes had all decamped to Philadelphia, where they were lining up some serious legal talent to get control of Hetty’s estate away from Mr. Bradford. Bradford had sent the kid Yates to the state capitol in Harrisburg the day before to talk to the governor, who had gone to law school with Bradford.

Bernard gave me all the company I needed. It was a beautiful day for hunting. We found fresh scat after an hour and trailed a nice buck for two, but in the end he scented us and bolted for good. Towards the end of the day we caught up with a doe, but she was young and I didn’t feel like shooting her. I decided that I would tell Wolfe that if he would come out and save me from the Cavendishes and Donna I would shoot a deer for him and let him have the liver.

That night I shot more pool with Donna—two hours of pool for half an hour of Hamlet, with me reading Ophelia. There’s an awful lot of “how now’s” and “go to’s” in Shakespeare. But Donna loved it.

The next day the Cavendishes were back from Philly. They had a court order but so did Bradford, so they went back to Philly to fight it out. I tried to talk to Bradford before he left but he was a busy man and an angry one. Apparently, the fact that I worked for Wolfe wasn’t improving his temper. I waited until eleven-thirty and called Wolfe.


“Yes. It’s me. If you get off your high horse and get out here I promise I will shoot a deer for you.”

“A shrewd inducement. However, I decline.”

“Listen, the Cavendishes and Bradford are in Philly, fighting this thing out. I’m not a lawyer, and Bradford is, but I don’t see how he can keep Hetty’s estate out of Ginnie’s hands unless he can prove that she put that slug in Hetty’s gut, and the odds are a million to one that she didn’t.”

“Perhaps. But I have much to tend to here. The thrips have become increasingly troublesome, and it would be unwise to leave Theodore to cope with them unassisted. The Paphiopedila are particularly susceptible.”

After lunch the sheriff arrived. I was a little surprised to learn that he had tests run on the bullet that had killed Hetty. It was a .30 caliber, and he had a warrant for every .30 caliber in the place. The way he went at it, I figured he must have gotten a call from the governor. Of course, with all the Cavendishes in Philadelphia, he had a clear shot. Alice Maven showed him around. Where she was coming down in all of this I didn’t know.

The sheriff took seven rifles from the gun room, each one a beauty. He searched the rooms of all the guests, including mine, but came up empty. When he was done I spent the rest of the afternoon hunting quail. I flushed three nice coveys and came back with fourteen birds. After dinner I shot pool again with Donna. She was a long way from a hustler but she was improving, to the point where I could let her win a game without feeling embarrassed.

“You let me win,” she said.

“I probably did, but only because you sank that last shot.”

She smiled.

“I should let you off, but I still want to read Shakespeare.”

“No more Hamlet,” I said.

So we switched to Macbeth. I was Macbeth, and Donna was everyone else. She loved being the three weird sisters.

The next day the house was still empty of Cavendishes. They must have really been raising hell in Philadelphia. I was just deciding to do a little more deer hunting when a servant informed me that I had a phone call. It was Wolfe.

“Archie,” he said. “You will take the train to New York today, arriving at the Pennsylvania Station at five o’clock. Mrs. Winterbourne’s chauffeur will be waiting for you at the 8th Avenue entrance. You will proceed here. The chauffeur will wait. At six-thirty we shall depart for the Pennsylvania Station. We shall travel by first-class compartment to Princeton Junction, where we shall again be met by Mrs. Winterbourne’s chauffeur. We shall travel thence to Winterbourne Manor.”

“Just me? You don’t want a police escort?”

“In my hour of distress and danger, Mr. Goodwin, I will not be subject to your adolescent persiflage.”

Wolfe hadn’t addressed me as “Mr. Goodwin” in five years. He called me that for the first six months, but after the first “very satisfactory” it became “Archie.” Now he was laying down a marker. “Mr. Goodwin” meant I had to button it but good.

“I’ll be there,” I said. “What would you like for dinner?”

“I shall be incapable of appreciating a true meal when I arrive. Instead, I shall require onion soup and good French bread. And good butter.”

“Of course. Anything else?”

“You are armed?”


“Very good.”

He hung up without waiting for a reply. I was sore because if I hadn’t made that crack about needing a police escort I could have gotten more out of him, like how much cash Bradford was offering him to make the trip and why he felt I needed a gun. I informed Alice that Mr. Wolfe would be arriving and made a few suggestions about what a guest who weighed in at a seventh of a ton would require. Fortunately, Hetty’s late brother had been almost as chubby as Wolfe, and his old bedroom was still available. I checked it out, and it seemed sturdy enough. Bobby Winterbourne even had his own elevator, so that made it just about perfect.

Naturally, Wolfe was still up in the plant rooms when I arrived, taking one last whack at the thrips, so I chatted with Fritz until he came down, dressed in his gaiters and cloak and carrying his walking stick. I was about to tell him that we were headed for the Poconos, not the Alps, but then I remembered I wasn’t supposed to be funny, so I clammed.

“The luggage is in the car,” I told him.

He wasn’t in the mood for conversation. He never is when he travels. Once we actually got in the car, his pulse rate practically doubled. Sitting in the back of a Heron town car, particularly Hetty’s, is as close as you can get to being in a parlor on wheels, but Wolfe wasn’t buying it. He isn’t a fan of Penn Station either, and the first-class compartment we had must not have been first-class enough, because he made circles with his little finger all the way. I spent most of the trip telling him things he already knew if he’d been reading my letters, and I knew he had. He didn’t complain, but he didn’t listen, either.

He didn’t calm down a bit when we reached Princeton Junction and transferred to Hetty’s other town car. I made a few remarks about the country air, but he wasn’t biting. The only air that Wolfe likes is the air that’s inside his house on Thirty-Fifth Street. In fact, he didn’t say a damn thing until he got his feet on Winterbourne Manor’s graveled drive.

“Extraordinary,” he muttered, staring up at the mansion above him.

“I told you it was big,” I said.

We took the elevator up to his room. I unpacked for him while he sat, leaning back in the big leather arm chair that Bobby had left by the window. At first I thought he was thinking, but I could see that the lips weren’t moving in and out. He wasn’t thinking, he was recovering.

I was almost done when he rose and inspected the bookcase by the bed.

“These books have been recently placed here,” he said.

“That was probably Donna,” I said. “I told her about your favorite reading. She’s probably going to want to talk to you about Hamlet.”


He took a book off the shelf.

“The Bury Edition,” he said to himself. “Excellent. Archie. You have brought me here, safely, and I thank you. Now I require onion soup and solitude.”

And so that’s how we left it. Donna was waiting down the hall but I told her that Mr. Wolfe was in no mood to discuss Hamlet.

Chapter 6

Wolfe called me to his bedroom at eight the next morning for instructions. He was sitting upright in bed in his yellow pajamas and his yellow bathrobe, with a breakfast tray on his lap. His hair was tousled and his cheeks were unshaven, but his eyes had focus. I couldn’t tell you what he’d had for breakfast, because he’d cleaned his plates—all four of them.

“The butter here is very good,” he told me.

“You can thank Alice Maven for that,” I said. “She runs the show around here. I haven’t figured out whose side she’s on yet. Maybe she figures she’ll have to live with whoever comes out on top, so she’s just playing it down the middle.”

“Such rationality is as rare as it is welcome, particularly in a woman.”

“You’d say that about anyone who gave you a square meal in your hour of distress and danger.”

“The brain without the stomach feeds upon itself and dies. You have informed Mrs. Cavendish and her relatives of my arrival and my purpose?”

“Yes. Ginnie will see you, maybe, but I doubt if the Brits will. According to Donna, they’re about ready to pull up stakes. She’s done a little eavesdropping. Bradford wanted the sheriff to tell them that they’re all suspects, but apparently he doesn’t have the nerve.”

“I am hardly surprised. ’Tis dangerous when the baser nature comes between the pass and fell incensed points of mighty opposites.”

“Yeah. So what do we do about it?

“I am curious to see this gunroom that you described with such enthusiasm. I shall arrive there around nine. Perhaps if Mr. Bradford and Mrs. Cavendish could arrive by ten? She, of course, may be accompanied by others if they wish. But that would give me the opportunity to schedule interviews with as many people as possible.”

“You sound like you expect to be here a while. The butter must be good.”

“We shall see, Archie. You have your weapon with you?”

“The Marley. No. But I can get it.”

“Do so. But concealment is essential. No one must know that you have it. Now you will excuse me, for I must dress.”

So he was set to pull something, but he wasn’t going to say what. I went to my room and spent a good fifteen minutes making sure the shoulder rig didn’t show. When I was finished I went downstairs and told a servant to inform Mr. Bradford and Mrs. Cavendish of Wolfe’s invitation. Then I went out to the verandah where I found Donna having breakfast.

“Is Mr. Wolfe ready to talk about Hamlet?” she asked.

“Not yet, but he’s getting there. He was quoting this morning. And he likes the butter here. But he’s got to meet with Ginnie and Bradford first.”

“Can I meet him?”

“I suppose. He’s going to be in the gun room around nine. But you’re going to have to wait until we get things settled before you talk about Hamlet.”

“Who does he suspect?”

“He never says.”

“Does he know what a mobled queen is?”

“You’ll have to ask him.”

While we were eating Ginnie and Cavendish came by. Now that we were putting our cards on the table, I suppose they thought it was proper to face me down.

“Mr. Goodwin,” she said. “I understand your employer wishes to have a word with us.”


“We will be there, though I will not promise that we will be punctual.”

“We don’t mind waiting.”

She drew in her breath, as though she were about to say something she might regret, and then thought better of it.

“Don’t be too hard on Mr. Goodwin, dear,” said Henry. “He can’t help his boss.”

He smiled at me as though I would have made a decent gillie if I hadn’t gone to the big city. I had shot a deer, after all, so I wasn’t all bad.

“She’s cool,” said Donna, after they left.

“Takes after her great-grandmother,” I said.

She made a face.

“Who do I take after?”

“I don’t know, but I do know that I like you the best.”

“Maybe. If I were Ginnie, I wouldn’t like you either.”

“I guess not.”

“What is Mr. Wolfe going to ask them?

“You never know. At this point, he may be fishing, or he may have something up his sleeve. But I don’t think he wants to talk about Hamlet.”

She didn’t like that. We waited until five after nine to go to the gun room. When we got there, Wolfe was sitting on a big red leather sofa with a shotgun across his lap. Alice Maven was standing beside him, giving him a few pointers. Mr. Bradford was seated across from them in a wing chair, rising from his seat and nodding as we entered.

“Archie,” Wolfe said. “And you must be Miss Atterbury. You will forgive me if I do not rise. Mr. Bradford shames me with his courtesy. I am not fully recovered from my journey. Mrs. Maven was just acquainting me with the special charms of this formidable weapon. It is astonishing what gilded embroidery the aristocracy will not lavish upon the implements of their leisure. As though the purpose of life were to shoot a bird rather than eat one.”

You didn’t have to guess where Wolfe came down on that one. He handed the shotgun back to Alice.

“Mr. Wolfe,” said Donna, brightly, “I want to know all about what you have to say about Hamlet!”

Wolfe raised his shoulders a quarter of an inch and then let them drop.

“Mr. Goodwin warned me of your enthusiasm. I wish I could deliver a bon mot worthy of both the occasion and the subject, but I fear I cannot. Legions of genius have grappled with his character, and yet he eludes them. Is he a courtier, a king, a scoundrel, a child, a poet, or a madman? Shakespeare, I believe, emptied his genius rather than employed it in creating his character. How else to explain the astounding incongruities? And yet, what wonders his genius contained! Old age may descant whatever wisdom it pleases to lessen Hamlet, but the young will forever be his champion. You admire him, no doubt?”

“I do! Poor Hamlet!”

“You see? When you are as old, and as fat, as I am, you will think differently.”

“Well, I’ll never be that fat!”

Donna reddened and laughed at the same time.

“That was awfully rude, wasn’t it? I’m sorry!”

“I used the word, which certainly gives you license to repeat it. And yet I find that I carry not an ounce of surplus. One must balance one’s temperament as one can. Ah, Mrs. Cavendish, is it not?”

Ginnie walked into the room, looking even cooler than before. And she had the whole gang with her, all except Henry. Gerry and Diane took the sofa by the windows, while Tony and Gabby each took a chair along the wall facing the fireplace. They all looked a little beat, particularly Tony and Gabby, but three days of talking with lawyers will do that to you. Ginnie, I have to say, was bearing up better than the rest, and she was carrying most of the strain. She stood directly before Wolfe and looked him straight in the eye. Was he going to stand or wasn’t he? Wolfe didn’t budge. Since Winterbourne Manor wasn’t officially her house, she wasn’t officially his hostess. At least, that was the line he gave me later.

“Mrs. Cavendish,” he said. “I am Nero Wolfe, as you know. The situation in which we find ourselves is intensely disagreeable to us both. You, I know, do not wish me beneath this roof. I assure you that I and Mr. Goodwin wish we were gone as passionately as you do. And it is my intention to achieve that state of affairs as quickly as possible.”

“My quarrel is with Mr. Bradford, Mr. Wolfe,” she said.

“Indeed. But I believe I can settle that quarrel, and resolve the dispute that has preempted the distribution of property under your great-grandmother’s will, though not without a significant degree of friction and unpleasantness.”

That widened her eyes. She shot a glance at Bradford. If he knew anything, he was sitting on it, but good. She turned her eyes back to Wolfe and smiled.

“Well,” she said. “I suppose I should sit for that.”

“Thank you.”

Ginnie took a seat on the couch by the fireplace, directly opposite Wolfe. I was still on my feet, standing by the fireplace, which let me keep an eye on the whole crowd.

“Archie,” said Wolfe, “please sit down.”

I took the chair next to him. He had himself twisted slightly in the corner of the couch, which gave him a pretty good view of everyone. It wasn’t the way he liked it, at the brownstone, but it would have to do.

“As you all probably know,” he began, “or have at least surmised, the late Mrs. Winterbourne came to me, demanding that I prove that the marriage of Mr. Cavendish to her great-granddaughter Virginia was null and void, on the grounds that Mr. Cavendish had contracted an earlier marriage, still valid, while living in Argentina. I declined. As I am certain you all know, Mrs. Winterbourne disliked intensely the slightest resistance to her will. I confess, not without a modicum of shame, that I at last consented, not to undertake the task that she originally laid before me, but to determine its feasibility. In addition, my assistant Mr. Goodwin would come here, under a false name, in further assistance of this arrangement.”

Wolfe paused for a second. I guessed that he was thinking about the trouble that eating five pounds of deer sausage could get you into. He glanced around the room and continued.

“Mrs. Winterbourne, of course, was confident that, having planted the hook, she would soon land the fish. For my part, I was determined to escape with both my honor and my fee intact, for I fear I am both vain and covetous. But both stratagems were soon surpassed by events, most notably, the death of Mrs. Winterbourne, as discovered by Mr. Goodwin.

“Before Mrs. Winterbourne’s death, I had already read widely in the vast amount of information that her minions had collected on Mr. Cavendish’s life. After I learned of the terms of her will from Mr. Bradford, I increased my efforts. I had little more to show for my efforts than a cloud of surmise, but perhaps what I learn from you today may provide some clarity.”

As he said this, Henry Cavendish walked into the room.

“My, what a gathering. You are certainly Nero Wolfe.”

“I am.”

“I congratulate you, Mr. Wolfe. Getting my relatives and Mr. Bradford in the same room is no small feat.”

“You must join us, Mr. Cavendish. The matters we discuss concern you urgently.”

“I have heard quite enough talk over the past couple of days. The old lady may be dead, and Mr. Bradford may fancy himself the master, but I am still a guest and have a mind for a little shooting. You do not hunt, Mr. Wolfe?”

“For profit only, not pleasure. And I confine myself to my own species.”

Cavendish went to the open gun rack and took out a fourteen gauge.

“A pity,” he said, looking at the gun more than us. “You know, Mr. Wolfe, the happiest hours of my life I have spent with a gun in my hand.”

“This elegant room speaks to the joys of bloodshed. But I do ask that you join us. What I have to say concerns you, and, though much of what I have to say is awkward, I dislike talking behind a man’s back, particularly when the matter is so grave.”

“Well, when you put the matter like that, I feel obliged to listen, at least for awhile.”

“I shall try to be as brief as possible.”

Cavendish sat down in the chair on the opposite side of the fireplace from Wolfe, with the shotgun across his legs. He crossed his left leg over his right and his foot was twitching, just a little.

“I appreciate your indulgence,” said Wolfe.

He glanced all around the room, drew in a bushel of air, and then let it out again.

“Now, to begin,” he said. “As I said before, it was Mrs. Winterbourne’s purpose, from the day Miss Winterbourne’s engagement to Mr. Cavendish was announced to first prevent, and then annul that marriage. She failed. It is often remarked that it is impossible to prove a negative. That is almost true. However, in her efforts to prove that Mr. Cavendish had married in Argentina, I believe that Mrs. Winterbourne established a negative. She proved, entirely contrary to her intentions, that Henry Cavendish did not marry in Argentina. Mr. Bradford, I salute you. Your indefatigable efforts led you to every parish within that country, and to every priest or other official empowered to perform the rituals of matrimony. We know, indisputably, who was married in the nation of Argentina from November 3, 1931, through March 7, 1934, when he departed. And so we know, indisputably, that Henry Cavendish was not among that number.”

“I told the old fool that, a hundred times,” said Ginnie.

“No doubt,” said Wolfe. “However, I fear I am not finished. You see, there was much more to the story.”

Wolfe took in another bushel of air. He had them, and now he was going to milk them.

“When Henry Cavendish arrived in Buenos Aires, he received a great deal of attention and, as the son of an earl, traveled in the highest social circles. I confess that I had little idea of the prestige of the British aristocracy in Argentina until I read the news clippings that Mr. Bradford so assiduously acquired. For some foolish reason I assumed that the nations to the south were not so ridden with the vice of snobbery as prevails in this great democracy. But I was soon disabused of my innocence. It is not too much to say that I know everyone who is anyone in Buenos Aires, at least as reported by La Prensa and La Nación, not to mention Le Petit Journal, which I find has an extraordinary charm.

“Mr. Cavendish arrived in Argentina in November of 1931 and departed in March of 1934. For the first year of his stay, until February of 1933, to be precise, I find no mention of his supposed cousin, Sr. Rodriguez, whatsoever.”

“You call me an imposter, sir?” snapped Tony.

“Indeed not, if by imposter you mean that I deny that you are a blood relative of Mr. Cavendish, for it is indisputable that you are, though you are hardly a first cousin. But it appears that you spent the first twenty-five years of your life on a large ranch, far distant from Buenos Aires, a city that you had visited only once or twice in your life before 1932.”

“It is no crime to be from the pampas.”

“Indeed not, nor is it one to be poor, but you were assuredly both, until all at once you were seen, frequently, in society, and identified as the cousin of an English earl. And in October of 1933 you married Señorita Gabriela Honoria Isabella Calderone, described in Le Petit Journal as a society beauty who possesses everything except wealth. How did such a match occur? For the first time, I found myself confronted with a question worth investigating.”

Wolfe paused and drank from his beer. I watched Gabby’s face. Being called poor but beautiful didn’t seem to please her much. She was staring at Wolfe. They all were. What he knew, how much he knew, they didn’t know. But he had found a string to pull, and now he was pulling it.

“It is always remarkable,” he said, “to observe the power of money, in this case, Hetty Winterbourne’s. As I say, my curiosity was aroused. I called Mr. Bradford, who dispatched cables to both London and Buenos Aires. That money exchanged hands there can be no doubt. But in the end, I had my solution. In May of 1927, a mere three months after his twenty-first birthday, Henry Cavendish departed from his family’s home in London to travel to Nairobi, where he lived for three years. What precisely he did there I know not, for Mrs. Winterbourne’s curiosity did not carry that far. But I learned from the inquiries that Mr. Bradford made on my behalf that two months before Henry Cavendish left England, another Cavendish, a Janet Cavendish, left England, traveling to Argentina, where, for all intents and purposes, she disappeared. There is no reason to suppose her dead, but very little reason to suppose her alive.”

Wolfe looked around the room.

“As most of you well know, Janet Cavendish is, or was, Henry Cavendish’s true wife. They were married in a Roman Catholic ceremony. To further complicate matters, she was pregnant at the time of her departure from England.”

Wolfe paused again. He had all his ducks in a row, and he was knocking them off one by one.

“It was this circumstance that baffled poor Mrs. Winterbourne. She had rumors and surmises of all sorts regarding a Mrs. Cavendish in Argentina, rumors that were in fact true. The wedding, however, had not occurred there. And it was knowledge of this wedding that allowed Mr. Rodriguez to achieve his sudden rise to social eminence. But such things cost money, money that he obtained from Henry Cavendish. Mr. Cavendish, at last, did what so many Englishmen have done before him. He married an American.

“But that, alas, did not entirely solve matters. The tedious and relentless Mrs. Winterbourne simply would not give up. There were always more lawyers, more court orders, and more challenges. Mr. Cavendish was patient, but at last his patience snapped.

“You contrived it very well, sir,” said Wolfe, looking directly at Cavendish. “How quickly did you discover the prominence that gave you a clear shot at Mrs. Winterbourne as she sat in her chair? The third day, perhaps? Or the fifth? I understand that that was the day that you decided to dispense with your rifle and take up a shotgun along with the other hunters.

“You sent your rifles to England, as you said, and none were found here. But I suspect that you secreted one, on the prominence itself. It was a long shot, after all, of close to 500 yards. You needed a clear day with no wind. Perhaps you practiced, shooting at a plate one morning, which would account for the fragment of china that Mr. Goodwin discovered. Mrs. Winterbourne, fortunately, would present an absolutely stationary target, but even then, some patience was necessary. You could afford to miss wide, I suppose. A single bullet fired at such range could go unnoticed if it passed overhead. But you needed a precise shot.”

If Wolfe had hit a nerve with Cavendish, he wasn’t showing it.

“Did you really come all this way to amuse us with your fairy tales, Mr. Wolfe? I should think Hetty could have gotten a more entertaining fellow than you for her money.”

Wolfe grunted.

“What I have told you is a mixture of deduction and surmise,” he said, “yet one that, I am confident, comes very near the truth. “But if you mean that I have said little that would hold up in a court of law, I agree entirely. And I would not even mention these conjectures had I not received far more substantial evidence before leaving my home and traveling here. For if you knew my character you would know that I do not travel on a surmise.

“Mr. Goodwin informed me of the extravagant arrangement that was contrived to allow you and your brother access to the diplomatic pouch of the British Consulate in New York. By the merest coincidence, I am acquainted with Sir Archibald Willoughby, who is, of course, the head of the consulate here. I asked Sir Archibald if he would examine the contents of the pouches that were received on the days immediately following Mrs. Winterbourne’s death. I pointed out that neither Lord Harrington nor his brother were members of the British Foreign Service. This distinction appeared to hold little weight for him, and he refused. When I persisted, he suggested that I might obtain satisfaction if my request was supported by someone in authority. With some trepidation, I consulted Chief Inspector Cramer of the New York Police Department. Mr. Cramer, I must say, took little pleasure in providing me with assistance, but ultimately he acted, and yesterday I had my answer.

“The pouch contained a rifle, a most excellent rifle, made by the firm of Holland & Holland, a .30 caliber bolt-action Mauser, with a Monte Carlo stock, which surely means more to you than it does to me, and equipped with Zeiss telescopic sight of remarkable quality, sighted to 500 yards. The barrel carries a finely crafted inscription. Mr. Cramer, though not as well acquainted with the poets as he might be, conveyed to me the gist ‘Arma virumque cano,” the well-known opening phrase from Virgil’s epic. Are you familiar with such a weapon, Mr. Cavendish?”

“Well, that’s enough of that, now, isn’t it?” said Cavendish, rising to his feet.

I rose to my feet as well, but not before Henry had broken the shotgun, slipped in two shells, clicked the barrel back in place and pointed it at my gut. He was just too fast for me. I wanted to go for the Marley but the odds against me were way too high. As long as he didn’t know I had it, I had a chance.

“Sit down, Mr. Goodwin,” he told me. “You’re a good man with a gun. Too good, really. I hope to avoid killing you, but I would enjoy doing so.”

“For God’s sake, Henry,” said Ginnie. “This is absurd. We can refute Mr. Wolfe’s nonsense in court.”

“To be subjected to the justice of the local boors? I think not. Canada, provincial as it is, has more appreciation for rank. The authorities there will handle the case with more understanding.”

“You intend to slaughter us all?” said Wolfe. “I assure you, sir, you shall be some time digging my grave.”

“No one needs to die, Mr. Wolfe, although I believe I shall require a hostage. Donna here should arouse sufficient sympathy.”

“Henry, please!” said Ginnie. “This is impossible! You can’t do it!”

“I should not argue with your husband, Mrs. Cavendish,” said Wolfe. “He appears to have abandoned himself to his iniquity. He shall be brought to justice soon enough.”

Cavendish swung the barrel of the shotgun until it was pointing directly at Wolfe’s face.

“You are a damned meddler, Mr. Wolfe,” he said. “I could have paid your price. I could have settled it.”

Wolfe glared back at him. They seemed to be the only two men in the room.

“My cupidity, though pronounced,” he said, “would not induce me to bargain with a common criminal such as yourself. Your guilt has deranged you, and soon it will destroy you.”

I could see Henry’s right forefinger tightening on one of the shotgun’s two triggers. Whether he would have pulled it I’ll never know, because I slid forward from the chair and dropped to one knee. The Marley was in my hand. He was turning towards me but it was too late. I put three bullets in his rib cage under his left armpit before he got around with the shotgun. His knees were bent, and he tried to straighten them. It was the last thing he ever did. He fell towards me in slow motion, and I took the barrel of the shotgun with my left hand, placing the muzzle over my shoulder, so that it would miss me if it went off. When his fingers fell from the gun, I pulled it up and away from him.

There was quite a bit of shouting and crying, and a little screaming, but I couldn’t hear much of it. I was standing over Henry, my heart beating.

Chapter 7

The next several hours were kind of a blur. I had another talk with the local sheriff, who probably would have been happier climbing mountains in the Himalayas or counting penguins at the South Pole. I had just solved his case for him, or Wolfe had, but he wasn’t very grateful.

I had to go down to his office to make a statement, which was fine with me, really, because I appreciated a break from life at Winterbourne Manor. The Cavendishes had hated me before, but now I had destroyed their lives, or at least turned them upside down. When I finished giving my statement the sheriff wanted to know if I would mind too much being fingerprinted and photographed. Well, I did mind, but in a way I felt I owed him for making such a mess of his routine, and anyway I figured that the next time I would be in his jurisdiction would be never. When I got back to the house I went straight to my room and took a shower and changed clothes. I wasn’t bloody, not so that you could notice, but I had been agitated.

I was tying the knot on my tie when I heard a knock on the door. It was Ginnie.

“May I come in, Mr. Goodwin?” she asked.

“Of course.”

Say what you like about the bedrooms in Winterbourne Manor, they’re large. She took the chair by the fireplace and I took the sofa.

“Mr. Wolfe and I will be out of here tonight,” I said. “He hates traveling at night even more than in the daylight, but I’ll move him.”

“Yes, that would be best.”

She paused, and ran her fingers through her hair, though it didn’t need it.

“It’s very hard for me to thank you, Mr. Goodwin. I don’t like you very much.”

“I can understand that.”

“Yes. But, you see, I always knew that Henry was dangerous. It was one of the things I liked about him. It can be a very exciting quality in a man.

“I didn’t know everything that Mr. Wolfe said, although of course I knew that Tony had something on Henry. I should have guessed what it was, but I didn’t. Tony and Gabby were both so damned greedy. Henry should have killed Tony, I suppose, but then Henry was greedy too. I was just finding that out. And then Hetty hated him so much. I couldn’t let her have her way. All her life she had her way, and all of my life too. Henry was the one thing I had that made her mad, and I loved that!”

Her eyes flashed.

“So, you see, I couldn’t give him up. I couldn’t admit to Hetty that I made a mistake. I thought, with all of us here, we could bring her to terms. That wasn’t a good idea, of course. I should have known that there would be danger, that it would come to no good.”

“You didn’t pull that trigger.”

“No, I didn’t. Poor Henry! He was so entirely full of himself. He deserved to die, didn’t he?”

“I suppose he did. Anyway, I couldn’t let him kill my boss.”

“No. I suppose I’m not much of a wife.”

“You’re more of a wife than a murderer deserves.”

“Perhaps. In a very awful way, I am very much in your debt, Mr. Goodwin. I am in your debt in a way that makes me ashamed of myself.”

I shrugged.

“There isn’t a lot I can say that would make a difference,” I said. “But, again, you didn’t pull that trigger.”

She nodded.

“Would you like to do me a favor?” I asked.

She laughed.

“Well, I certainly ought to, shouldn’t I? Yes, what is it? To pay your bill?”

“No. I suppose Mr. Bradford is taking care of that. But I think you should send Donna to school.”

“Donna? Oh, my God, yes! Poor Donna! She’s had enough of this place, hasn’t she? Yes, of course.”

She laughed some more, without hysteria this time.

“You like her, don’t you, Mr. Goodwin?”

I didn’t answer that.

“I have to see Mr. Wolfe,” I said.

We left my room together. Ginnie disappeared down the hallway, leaving me to descend the staircase alone. I asked a servant where Mr. Wolfe was and he directed me out to the verandah, which was a surprise. I tried to think of the last time that Wolfe sat out in the open air when he didn’t have to and gave up. I found him drinking beer and eating bread and cheese, which Donna sliced for him.

“Archie,” he said, “you have returned from your ordeal.”


“Please join us. I have been attempting to convince Miss Atterbury that the works of Gibbon will not please her. She intends to be contrary, but I doubt if her defiance will carry her past the reign of Julian the Apostate.”

“You’ll see,” said Donna.

“Thank you,” said Wolfe, as she handed him another slice of bread and cheese. “Miss Atterbury, I would appreciate it if you would allow me a private conversation with Mr. Goodwin.”

“Of course.”

Donna rose and looked at me.

“You were wonderful, Archie,” she said, blushing.

I nodded. She left, and I sat down.

Wolfe drank his beer and licked the foam from his upper lip.

“Nothing,” he said, “so provokes the romantic sensibility in a young woman as the shedding of blood.”

“That’s one way of putting it.”

“You saved my life, Archie. I thank you.”

I cut myself some cheese.

“You certainly set yourself up for it, riding him that way. What was the point of pulling that stunt in the gun room, of all places?”

“I underestimated Mr. Cavendish severely. He exceeded my expectations both in his finesse and in his derangement. It was only right that I should call down the consequences of my folly upon my own head.”

“Sure. But if you had the Mauser, or Cramer did, why not let Cramer handle it with the sheriff? Bradford still would have paid you your fee.”

“No doubt. But I did not have the Mauser. Sir Archibald remained obdurate.”

“You didn’t have the Mauser.”

“No. The weapon was a gift to Mr. Cavendish, given to him for his exploits in Nairobi, more than ten years ago. The ceremonies were described in some detail by a columnist for the Nairobi Times. Mr. Cavendish, I am sure, never knew of such an article, or else it did not occur to him that Mrs. Winterbourne’s minions could possibly have obtained a copy. But they did, and Mr. Bradford faithfully conveyed it to me. Possession of the Mauser certainly would have doomed Mr. Cavendish, and I certainly intended to provoke him into defiance and even flight. I anticipated in him a capacity for violence but not the appetite for it that he displayed. I had the distinct feeling that he would not leave that room without committing an outrage. Fortunately, you proved worthy of the burden I had so rashly placed upon you.”

“I spoke with Ginnie before I came down here,” I said.


“She told me that she knew Cavendish was a dangerous man. That was what she liked about him, one of the things. Eventually, she realized that she’d made a mistake, but she wouldn’t back off, because of Hetty.”

Wolfe looked out over the garden.

“Mrs. Winterbourne,” he said, “could have lived another five years, even ten, with nothing to live for but to meddle obsessively in the lives of the young. She died, so it would seem, surrounded by the things she loved. One could almost sympathize with Mr. Cavendish. But it was not his life to take.”

We left that afternoon. I tried to get away without getting kissed by Donna, but she was too quick for me. I made her work for it, holding my head up, but she put her hand on my shoulder and jumped. Two days after we got back to the city I deposited a check drawn to Hetty’s estate for $50,000, and Fritz gave us truffled pheasant for dinner. I haven’t been in touch with Donna, but we do have a date, on May 17, 1941. That’s her twenty-first birthday, and we’re meeting for drinks under the clock at the Biltmore.

Fame Will Tell

Chapter 1

“Only two body guards. No guns. No one inside the office. No dark glasses. No one taller than five eleven. No one larger than a hundred and seventy-five pounds.”

“Are you serious?”

“Those are Mr. Wolfe’s rules. If you don’t like them, you don’t see him.”

As a matter of fact, the last two are my own. I don’t like muscle, and I especially don’t like muscle that’s bigger than me.

“I’ll have to check with Mr. Thomas.”

“No. You don’t have to check with Mr. Thomas. You decide now. In or out. If you’re in, you and your two men can come this afternoon at four-thirty and I will show you how it is. Then you will come tomorrow at ten-thirty and you can have a search. The young ladies will arrive at eleven fifteen. But your men will remain in the hall at all times. And if you show up this afternoon or tomorrow with guns or with glasses, the deal is off.”


“Damn is right.”

“Listen, do you want this or don’t you?”

“It’s Mr. Wolfe’s house, and Mr. Wolfe’s rules. He might like this job, and he might not. But he doesn’t need it. And I can tell you right now that if he hears a cell phone the deal is off, no matter what.”


“Damn is right.”

“But the girls want Mr. Wolfe.”

“Fine. Then be here at four-thirty. Three guys, no guns, no glasses.”

“We’ll be there. You tell Mr. Wolfe he drives one hard bargain.”

“I don’t have to tell him. He knows it.”

I hung up the phone and sat back in my chair, grinning. Phineas Martínez didn’t know how lucky he was. Six months ago Wolfe would have had my scalp—in fact, he would have taken it himself, with one of Fritz’s filleting knives—for even suggesting that he accept a singing group as a client. But these were not normal times. A pair of structural engineers had told him that the orchid greenhouses on the roof of the brownstone on 35th Street were corroded beyond repair and would have to be replaced. The first architect Wolfe hired quoted him a price of $5 million as a minimum. Wolfe fired him, of course, and hired another one, who quoted him a price of $7 million, just for openers. He found a third who said he could keep it under $6 million if Wolfe wouldn’t mind using space heaters during the winter. So Wolfe went back to the first one, and by the time he and Theodore got done applying the finishing touches to the blueprints, with structural reinforcements and a new roof for the brownstone itself, plus separate tropic, subtropic, and high-altitude greenhouses, the final estimate was coming in at just under $6.2 million.

That was a lot of money, even for orchids, and it didn’t do much for Wolfe’s mood. Any bank would have been glad to lend him the money with the brownstone as collateral, but Wolfe wasn’t excited about adding mortgage payments to his expenses. He’d gotten used to working one week a month and having truffles for breakfast every morning and he wasn’t in a hurry to go back to having them every other day, like a normal human being.

I heard the elevator hum and slid the DVD under an orchid catalogue.

“Good morning, Archie. Did you sleep well?”

“Sure. Is the glass holding up?”

Wolfe arranged the Cymbidium in the orchid vase on his desk as if he hadn’t heard me. Panes had been falling at the rate of one a week and the last one had missed Theodore by less than five yards. That’s not what I would call a near miss, but then Theodore isn’t what I would call a risk-taker. The next day Wolfe had ten men on the roof putting six-inch plastic shipping tape on every pane, but that didn’t satisfy Theodore. He told Wolfe that if they started falling any closer he’d be giving notice, and Wolfe knew he meant it.

“The glass is holding up, Archie,” said Wolfe, once he had the blossoms draped the way he wanted them. “I paid $80,000 for this house when I purchased it. You will forgive me if I do not race to spend eighty times that sum for repairs.”

He sat in the one chair in the world that actually suits him and picked up the morning mail. I ignored him, entering Theodore’s plant records on the computer.

“Mr. Applebaum’s check has not arrived?” he asked.

Applebaum was a stockbroker who owed us $100,000 for two days’ work back in April. Wolfe had kept him out of jail, which you might think would have made him grateful but it hadn’t.

“I spoke with his secretary this morning. They wired the money at 9:57.”

Wolfe grunted.

“By the way,” I said, “Black PussyCat will be here tomorrow at eleven fifteen.”

Wolfe stared.

“You know, the group.”

Wolfe kept staring. His right forefinger was tracing little circles on his desk.

“They want to hire you,” I explained.

“By ‘group’ you mean a claque of willfully offensive and self-indulgent young people,” he said.

“You know who they are. Three hot black chicks from Alabama whose booty is always on duty. I’ve got their latest DVD.”

Wolfe shuddered. Anything digital gives him the creeps.

“You will inform them that I am not available,” he said, pretending to concentrate on the mail.

“Sure. And we can watch Theodore leave, either feet first or under his own steam. Frankly, I’d prefer the former, but what difference does it make? You’ll never replace him. Getting Theodore out of this place is like pulling a hermit crab out of its shell, but you’ve managed to do it. Those plant rooms are a museum piece. I haven’t said a kind word about Theodore since the Mets beat Boston, but he could be making three times as much money, with a half dozen first-rate people under him, working for a commercial outfit. If you want, get rid of the orchids. But don’t think you can pay for new plant rooms working a week a month for two-bit stockbrokers. Black PussyCat grossed $10 million their first year, $37 million their second, and $75 million their third. They’re negotiating a new multi-media contract proposal with Murder 1 Records for more than $250 million. You probably know this already since you read everything but you pretend you don’t. But if you want to keep growing orchids I think you better hear them out. And, by the way, the girls specifically requested your services.”

Wolfe snorted. It might have started out as a grunt, but it finished as a snort.

“Archie, I have maintained this house as an oasis of civilization for close to thirty years. I shall not open the gates to barbarism.”

He pushed the button on his desk that lets Fritz know he’s ready for beer.

“They’ll be here tomorrow at 11:15,” I said. “Their security will be here at 4:30 this afternoon to case the joint. They know the rules.”

“Indeed. And if you must litter your speech with banalities, why not confine yourself to the current half-century?”

Fritz arrived just in time to cool things off. I won’t say that Wolfe grabbed the bottle but he was definitely glad to see it. He opened the bottle and put the cap in the front drawer of his desk. Since he had gotten the bad news about the plant rooms his consumption was up to thirteen bottles a day, which was bad luck. He knew damn well we needed a serious client, but he didn’t want to hear it from me.

I watched him pour the beer until the foam rose within a quarter inch of the rim of the glass.

“If you think my language is bad, wait until you hear Jermaine, Maureen, and Adelle,” I told him. “I think you need to catch their act. I don’t want to spring them on you cold.”

I got erect and went around the room, either dimming the lights or dousing them. I pushed the button that lowered the screen in front of the bookcase and loaded the disc into the DVD player. Most people who hate digital don’t have a $30,000, custom-installed projection system in their office, but that’s Wolfe. When I said he read everything I meant it. A year ago he wrote out a shopping list for me, and now we watch Charlie Chaplin and Greta Garbo twice a week with our apple pie and cognac.

The disc featured the girls in action at Madison Square Garden. Like any decent supergroup, they arrived by space ship, the ship blowing off huge rings of exploding golden sparks as it descended. The 20,000 kids in the audience were going wild and the 10,000 watt sound system wasn’t exactly quiet. When the ship landed, three golden robots emerged, disassembling themselves to reveal Black PussyCat in the flesh.

And what flesh. Jermaine, Maureen, and Adelle Campbell made me feel older than Alan Greenspan, but still I had to admit they were magnificent, those beautiful, ebony bodies, blacker than black, in skin-tight silver bikinis that left five percent to the imagination and gave away the rest. If I were fifteen I would have been dead.

“What are they doing?” asked Wolfe.

“If you know one tenth—no, make that one ten-thousandth—of what you say you know about human nature, you know damn well what they’re doing, and why they’re doing it.”

“You made your point. At least turn off that infernal noise.”

“I wanted you to get the full ambiance.”

“Turn it off, Archie.”

I did turn off the sound, but not before the girls started chanting “f*ck you like a motherf*cker, baby.” The only word Wolfe hates more than “motherf*cker” is “ambiance.”

“Sorry about that,” I said.

“If I expected to be shielded from all the horrors of modern life I should require an army rather than one man. That is not even music, is it?”

“I don’t know what it is, but it makes fifteen-year-old boys spend their allowance.”

“The females are as addled as the males. The audience forms an acute sociological commentary on the sexual phantasms of our era. Human beings will do anything with their desire other than embrace it directly.”

“Yeah. Do you want me to kill the picture too?”

“No. And I must listen to the sound as well. But at half-volume only, please.”

I didn’t say anything. The one thing you never do with Wolfe is gloat. While he sat back and watched the sexual phantasms of our era I got to work on Theodore’s plant records. A half hour of Black PussyCat goes a long way with me, even at half volume, so I put on the ear-phones and listened to Diana Krall instead.

I have to hand it to Wolfe. He sat through “Bootilicious,” “Down on My Baby,” “Coming Attraction,” “Hard Enuff To Hurt,” “2 Black 2 Care,” “Bitch Pack,” “Dreamin’ n’ Screamin’,” “You Ain’t Good Enuff,” and “On My Own” without flinching, which is not bad for a man who called the Spice Girls “Hell-spawn.” At about quarter past twelve he rapped his beer bottle twice on the desk.

“Had enough?” I asked.

“I had more than enough an hour ago. Is blasphemy the product of boredom or its source?”

“You’ve got me on that one. But it does sell tickets.”

Wolfe traced a circle on his desk with his forefinger.

“The forms of the Ewig-Weibliche are infinite,” he said.

“The what?”

Das Ewig-Weibliche—the Eternal Feminine. Awakened by her charms, we glimpse the divine, or so Goethe would have it. You know the thing well enough, if not the word.”

I knew Wolfe was being cute, but I didn’t know why, so I let it ride.

“Will you see them?” I demanded.

“Confound it. I will see them, Archie. But I make no promises.”

He rang for another beer and settled back with F. P. Lock’s biography of Edmund Burke and didn’t move until Fritz summoned us for lunch—beet and endive salad with chervil, tarragon, and chives, roast tomatoes, and roast Scotch grouse on toast masked with cream sauce. I made the mistake once of telling Wolfe that I thought grouse were gamy, so he doesn’t feel guilty about having three for my one. While we ate he filled me in on Burke’s theories of the Sublime and the Beautiful, and whether he exaggerated the role of the irrational. When I said I thought the Beautiful was rational, he agreed, but then asked how I could explain the attraction I felt for Lily Rowan, which I thought was a bit of a cheap shot. He brought up das Ewig-Weibliche again and then he quoted French, which I didn’t care for either. I was trying to think up something about orchids, but I was afraid he might take it personally, so I kept my mouth shut.

Afterwards we went out to the office for a little pesto and beer. Three grouse don’t really fill Wolfe up, but if he ate four he’d have to give me two, and at $75 a pop I suppose he feels he has to be conservative. Fritz makes the pesto with Canestrato cheese mixed with anchovies, pig liver, black walnuts, chives, sweet basil, garlic, and olive oil, and I didn’t really miss that second grouse at all.

When Wolfe was half-way through his second beer I decided to tackle him.

“What would Burke have to say about Black PussyCat?”

He nodded.

“A reasonable question. I have always felt that Hell must be very beautiful, or it would not be so well-populated. I have no doubt that Burke would agree. It is a rare privilege to touch beauty without being burned, a privilege earned only by the discipline of reason.”

“So you think these girls are Hell-spawn?”

Wolfe’s cheeks pulled away from the corners of his mouth, which meant that I had amused him.

“An interesting surmise, Archie. You do know how to observe. But it would be absurd to condemn others of my species more harshly than myself. To criticize these young ladies for harvesting the bounty of their charms would be like criticizing a flower for opening itself to the sun. The profit motive is more recent than photosynthesis, but no less hardy, and no more to be condemned. Now you will excuse me. Burke’s critique of Lord North’s first Cabinet is most gripping.”

I took that as an invitation to skedaddle. I hadn’t been outside all day and I didn’t want my legs to get rusty, so I hiked across Manhattan and back again. I can’t walk south any more because it makes me angry, and I don’t like to be angry when I can’t do anything about it.

I got back just as Wolfe was going up to the plant rooms. I finished off the last of Theodore’s records and then went on the Internet to pick up a little more background on Black PussyCat. I discovered that I wasn’t as up to date on the music scene as I thought I was. Murder 1 Records was widely assumed to have had the inside track in signing Black PussyCat to its first “real” contract, but in the last month it had come a cropper. Murder 1 was almost entirely the brainchild of Mario Frank and Harris Smith. Mario was the guts and Harris was the brains of the company with the baddest street rep in the country, operating out of shiny new studios in Brooklyn, or “Crooklyn,” as they liked to call it. They’d been in New York for ten years and had had numerous run-ins with the law, but they kept making money so fast no one seemed to care, or not until Harris set out to bring Murder 1 public, which meant that he had to deal with the New York Stock Exchange. There were, it appeared, people on the Stock Exchange who were not happy about sharing the same ticker tape with a pair of bad-assed rappers, which had led to the DA’s office taking a look at Murder 1’s accounting practices.

According to what I read, Mario wanted to bag taking the company public. He’d opened a monster club in Harlem, with a built-in, state of the art recording studio, which was like his own little kingdom, and he rarely left the penthouse suite. But Harris, who was only worth about $350 million, was determined to be a billionaire before he was forty, and taking the company public was the only way he could get there. From what I read, Phineas Martínez loved Murder 1’s rep, but he hated “controversy,” and had started talking with a couple of people at Sony, Denzel Scott and Harriet Wertheimer, who were supposed to know how to handle a supergroup.

This was all very interesting to know, and I was glad I knew it when Mr. Martínez showed up at 4:30 on the dot, with his assistant Roberta Culbertson and a couple of more or less presentable goons in tow, Maurice and Thomas. I explained to Maurice and Thomas that while they were inside Mr. Wolfe’s house they would be taking orders from me, which was not something they wanted to hear, but they said “Yes, Mr. Goodwin” without gagging, and that was what I wanted to hear. Then I took them through the first floor of the house, and I showed them the office and explained to them that the entrances from the kitchen and the front room would both be locked and I would have the only key. I showed them the basement and we went out the back way and had a look at the alley.

I suppose it would be rude if I said that Mr. Martínez looked like a respectable pimp, but that is what he looked like. He was short, and dark-complected, and very dapper in his dress. The charcoal, three-button Brioni he was sporting must have set him back four grand and some change. He spoke perfect English and had just a light scent of expensive cologne to go with his monogrammed, white- and lavender-striped shirt. He was very smooth with everyone and knew how to round off all the edges. When you met him, you realized that this was a man who could take three beautiful black girls through a swimming pool of sharks without leaving a drop of blood in the water. And I had to wonder just what kind of trouble they were in that Mr. Martínez couldn’t handle.

While we were out in the alley Mr. Martínez got a call from the girls that had to be attended to, which gave me an opportunity to speak with Roberta. She was a good-looking kid with thick black hair that caught the sunlight in a thousand ways. She was recovering from a bad case of Long Island lockjaw but I didn’t hold it against her.

“What brought you into hip-hop?” I asked.

“I don’t talk the talk, do I?” she laughed. “I had to do something to get out of Bryn Mawr.”

“I suppose so. What is it the girls want to talk about with Mr. Wolfe?”

“Oh, I’m just an assistant. The girls speak for themselves.”

“I see. Do you have any questions?”

“I’m sure you know that we don’t want a word of this to get to the press.”

“We get paid to keep our mouths shut.”

“I know. But everyone has someone they like to tell secrets to. When I got into this business I thought I’d be dining out on my stories. But everybody hates me because I do nothing but keep my mouth shut. It’s not like Sex and the City.”

“Neither is the detective business. But you must get a good ride.”

“I do get a good ride, but it’s not my plane.”

I was ready to follow up on that thought when Mr. Martínez clicked his cell shut and joined us.

“Everything is set,” he said. “Thank you, Mr. Goodwin, for your professionalism. We will arrive tomorrow at ten-thirty. We would like to have a car in the alley.”

“Sure. It’s a public thoroughfare. But nothing big or black. We don’t want to scare the neighbors.”

“Of course. The girls will arrive at eleven-fifteen, as you said.”

I nodded.

“You said the girls wanted Mr. Wolfe,” I said. “You saw the office. Mr. Wolfe is a lot like his office. He’s old-fashioned. He doesn’t like obscenities. He doesn’t like attitude, and he certainly doesn’t like skin. I mean, he’s the opposite of hip-hop. I don’t deny that I get a kick out of the thought of Wolfe chewing the fat with Black PussyCat, but if the girls really want to hire him, they need to remember who they’re dealing with.”

Mr. Martínez grinned.

“Black PussyCat can work any audience, Mr. Goodwin,” he said. “But thanks for the heads-up. I think we’re going to enjoy doing business together.”

We shook hands. I shook hands with Roberta as well. She had a nice grip for a Bryn Mawr kid, and I wondered if she might be interested in a visit to the Flamingo.

The next day Maurice and Thomas showed up right on time, which I appreciate. I took them inside and gave them each a frisking, which they certainly didn’t appreciate, but business is business. Then we went around to the back and I said hello to Jerry and Frank. They were in a dark-gray Camry, respectable but not intimidating. We went back through the house and said hello to Fritz, who had a casserole of tripe in the oven for dinner and was starting in on lunch—broiled deviled chicken, mushrooms on croûtes, and cold asparagus. Then I took the boys through the hall and deposited them in the front room, explaining to them that Mr. Wolfe didn’t like to see strange men loitering in his hallway. Once they heard him enter the office, they could take up their positions.

I was at my desk at ten of eleven, filling Wolfe’s Mont Blanc, just in case he wanted to take any notes. He wouldn’t, of course, but he likes to be ready. As for ballpoints, forget it. Wolfe pretends he doesn’t know they exist.

I heard the elevator at eleven. Wolfe had a particularly large spray of Paphiopedilum when he came in, which I took as a good sign. He would never admit it, but on rare occasions Wolfe will select an orchid to please his guests rather than himself, and there was nothing subtle about the hybrid he’d picked.

“Good morning, Archie,” he said to me, as he always does. “Did you sleep well?”

“I always sleep well when we’re expecting a major client,” I said.

“That remains to be seen. I know that you find the prospect of this encounter entertaining, but I do not conduct my affairs with your amusement in mind. I am not repelled by the outré, provided that it is sufficiently lucrative, but neither do I embrace it wantonly.”

“Sure. I know you’re taking this job because of the orchids.”

“I am consenting to this interview because you would pester me endlessly if I did not. The likelihood that these young ladies are in a pickle that would suit my talents without besmirching my honor is slender.”

“I’m just happy to see that you’re willing to change with the times.”

I grinned, which irritated Wolfe, of course, so he began to sort through the mail. At eleven-fifteen the doorbell rang. I got erect without hurrying and went to the door. I could see the girls through the one-way mirror. They were dressed in matching cargo-style jump suits made of peach-colored silk, and the way the silk clung to their long, graceful bodies just about defined bootilicious. Mr. Martínez had switched from charcoal to flat black and had put on a tie, which was a nice touch. Roberta was in black as well, with her hair up and pearl earrings. You can take the girl out of Bryn Mawr, I guess, but you can’t take the Bryn Mawr out of the girl.

I ushered them in quickly, because celebrities don’t care to stand out in the open. They had a pair of large gents in basic black with them, and I waited to make sure that the guards retreated to the pair of shiny black Chevy suburbans parked on the street. Wolfe hasn’t seen his front yard, if you can call it that, in more than a year, but he doesn’t like people loitering there.

Mr. Martínez shook hands with me in the hallway and made introductions all around. I was just a bit nervous: whether it was DNA or plastic surgery, the girls all had the drop-dead killer good looks of supermodels, but all supermodels look alike, so how was I to tell the difference, and if I got the names wrong, wouldn’t that sound like I thought all blacks looked alike? I had told myself that Jermaine was the darkest and Maureen was the lightest, but up close a man gets dazzled. I was closer to feeling fifteen than I had felt in a long time, and I wanted to get things moving.

“It’s a pleasure to have you here,” I said. “Mr. Wolfe is right down the hall.”

I ushered them in, making one last stab at skin color. I had Jermaine pegged but I could go either way with Maureen and Adelle. Fortunately, one had a silver necklace and the other had a gold one.

Once we were all in, I expected Wolfe to ask them to forgive him for not standing, but he did stand. I guess he figured that four women outweighed him—not by a lot, but enough.

“Welcome, ladies, and Mr. Martínez. I am Nero Wolfe. You have met my assistant, Mr. Goodwin.”

“Now, this is a white man’s room, isn’t it?” said the one with the silver necklace.

“It is indeed, young lady,” said Wolfe. “I apologize neither for the pigment of my skin nor the contours of my intellect.”

“You’re going to have to excuse our little sister, Mr. Wolfe,” said Jermaine. “Adelle doesn’t know how to behave around grown-ups.”

“I’m just saying,” said Adelle. “Look at all those books! Did you read them all?”

“Not all of them, but the large majority,” said Wolfe.

“Huh! So I guess that’s why you’re so smart.”

“You shall be the judge of my acuity. Please, all of you be seated.”

“Can I look at your flowers?”

“Of course.”

If Adelle minded being told she didn’t know how to behave around grown-ups, she sure didn’t show it. She ran up to Wolfe’s desk and started staring at the orchids. But she didn’t touch, which was a big point in her favor.

“Now look at you!” she said, talking to the flower. “Aren’t you the prettiest thing! What’s your name?”

“Adelle,” said Jermaine. “We’re here on business.”

“I know we are. I just want to know this flower’s name.”

“It is an orchid,” said Wolfe, briskly. “It is a hybrid of the genus Paphiopedilum.”

Adelle giggled.

“Mr. Wolfe is a world-famous grower of orchids,” said Mr. Martínez.

Wolfe raised his shoulders a fourth of an inch in recognition.

“Successful, perhaps, though hardly world-famous. The commercial enterprises of today have far outstripped the mere hobbyist.”

“You are too modest, Mr. Wolfe. I understand that you have created more than a dozen hybrids that are available commercially.”

“A hobbyist only. My grower certainly deserves a majority of the credit, and Mr. Goodwin almost as much as myself. But let us turn to the matter at hand. You have a difficulty, and desire my assistance.”

Jermaine laughed.

“First there’s one thing you have to tell me, Mr. Wolfe. Are you cooking chitterlings?”

“If by ‘chitterlings’ you mean tripe, the answer is yes. Tripe à la mode de Caen is one of my favorite dishes.”

“Okay, a white man who eats chitterlings. I guess that’s a good sign. Phineas can tell you about our problem.”

Mr. Martínez had taken the red leather chair to the right of Wolfe’s desk. Jermaine had taken the other leather chair, by the globe, and was watching everything with her bright, black eyes. I didn’t dare look at them, because I knew that once I did, I’d never stop. I’ve been around show people before, but I’d never seen a woman with this kind of energy. Maureen sat in the yellow chair nearest to Jermaine, looking a little nervous and taking sips from a bottle of Evian. She had a little box of mints on her knee, and every once in a while she’d take one and crunch it in her teeth. Adelle was still being a little girl, sitting on the floor and running her fingers through the pile of the Shirvan. Roberta had taken the yellow chair closest to me, which I took as a good sign. It also gave me the chance to admire the line of her jaw without being noticed.

“I don’t know if you’re familiar with the girls’ career,” Mr. Martínez began.

“Mr. Goodwin has acquainted me with their remarkable monetary success over the past several years.”

“Black PussyCat is more than a successful group, Mr. Wolfe. These girls are quite capable of surpassing the achievements of the Spice Girls and equaling the international position of such groups as U2 and the Rolling Stones.”

“Indeed. And what might I do to assist in such an extraordinary endeavor?”

Mr. Martínez paused and smiled.

“That is the future, of course,” he said. “But there is also the past. I have been the group’s manager for five years. Prior to that time, they were managed by a woman known as Anita Watson.”

“Don’t talk about her like that, Phineas,” said Jermaine.

“I talk about her like that because it has been established that Anita Watson is not her real name.”

“Anita taught us everything, Mr. Wolfe,” said Jermaine, her eyes blazing. “We were just three poor church girls when we met her, singing in the choir. She took us in!”

“As a matter of fact, Anita recruited the girls in a talent contest in Muscle Shoals, a contest that in the past often ended badly for the winners,” said Phineas, coolly.

“But not for us.”

“No. I do not mean to belittle what she accomplished. In two years’ time she had the girls performing in some of the best local venues in the South.”

“And she never stole a dime from us.”

“Perhaps not. But she supplemented her income by dealing extensively in cocaine, a failing, Mr. Wolfe, that is too common in my line of work.”

“And she spent it on us.”

“A portion at least. In any event, when Anita went to prison, I purchased the girls’ contract, which at that time consisted largely of debts, with no recording contract, and no prospect of one. But I realized the girls’ talent. I arranged for cosmetic surgery, dance lessons, vocal training, everything. I obtained a recording contract and brought them to Los Angeles. You understand, Mr. Wolfe, that in our business, image is everything.”

“I have seen their image. What libel could mar such an intentionally scabrous veneer?”

Mr. Martínez smiled again.

“Do the girls look scabrous to you?”

“Perhaps not,” Wolfe conceded.

“No. Black PussyCat stands for self-confidence and self-respect. Anita was released from prison six months ago. She has unfortunately contacted a former lover of hers, Peter Rogers, who has extensive criminal connections here in New York. They are in the city, claiming fraud in the sale of the original contract and demanding twenty-five percent of the arrangement I am negotiating with Sony. They say they wish to keep the matter a complete secret, but once I open the door to blackmail there will be no closing it. Black PussyCat is entirely free from any criminal associations and I am determined to keep it that way. Black PussyCat does not romanticize violence or exploitation. Black PussyCat is about freedom and human dignity.”

“Yes!” exclaimed Jermaine, and the way she said it, you had to believe that she believed it. “Mr. Wolfe, Anita helped us when we needed it, and we want to help her. We want to pay her back for all she did for us, but we can’t help her when she’s hooked up with Peter Rogers. He’s a son of a bitch.”

“No doubt,” said Wolfe. “But I gather that convincing Miss Watson of that fact will take some doing. I should think that you, Miss Campbell, would have far more credibility with her than I.”

“I do not want the girls dealing with this directly, not at all,” said Mr. Martínez, sharply. “Anita has allied herself with dangerous people.”

“You say you are negotiating with Sony,” I interrupted. “Is that a done deal? I mean, is Murder 1 out of it.”

“Sony is a leading candidate, but the matter is far from closed,” said Martínez, smoothly. “I’m not going to limit myself. The details, I may say, are irrelevant to this discussion.”

“You must forgive my assistant’s intrusion, Mr. Martínez,” said Wolfe. “But Mr. Goodwin and myself are absolute strangers to the world you describe. I doubt if I sully your industry or your profession by suggesting that adjusting to the presence of a criminal element has long been an issue.”

“There are innumerable fixers and adjusters in our industry, none of whom can keep their mouths shut and all of whom have sticky fingers. We come to you, Mr. Wolfe, for your unique reputation for getting results and keeping secrets. No one’s going to do a ‘Behind the Music’ on these girls.”

What Wolfe knew about MTV you could put in a gnat’s hat, but he grunted affirmatively anyway.

“You have complimented both my orchids and my character, Mr. Martínez. You must know that I have a third weakness as well. However unromantic it may be, my probity comes with a price, and it is a large one. Tell me precisely what it is you wish me to do and I will tell you if I will engage to do it.”

Mr. Martínez opened his briefcase.

“In the first place, I want you to put Peter Rogers in jail for a long time,” he said, handing Wolfe a photograph. “Unless we get rid of him, there can be no guarantee that Anita will not renew her claims, one way or another.”

“Indeed. Are there any outstanding warrants against him?”

“No. But he is a career criminal. He has twice been convicted of narcotics violations in California and has spent more than eight years in prison. He is a very unscrupulous and very persuasive man, and he is working here as a pimp.”

Wolfe turned to me and held up the photograph.

“Archie, do you know this man?”

“No. I don’t know all the pimps in New York City.”

“Of course not. Mr. Martínez, Mr. Goodwin and I are not in the business of manufacturing evidence. From what you have told me, Mr. Rogers may very well be embedded in the criminal milieu, but extracting him from it is likely to require the sort of eavesdropping, harassment, and plea-bargaining techniques that are the unique province of the New York City Police Department.”

“I have information here that should help you,” said Mr. Martínez, lifting up his briefcase and placing it on his lap. “I also have a cashier’s check for $500,000. That should help as well. I want Peter Rogers in jail, and I want Anita Watson out of my hair. There’s plenty in here that will help. You may as well take the whole thing.”

With that, Martínez hoisted the open briefcase onto Wolfe’s desk.

“Not yet,” said Wolfe. “As phrased, you ask the unethical, and perhaps the impossible. I catch criminals on occasion, when it suits my financial advantage to do so, but I do not invent them. You offer no evidence that Mr. Rogers has committed a crime—at least, not one for which he has not been punished—and yet you wish him in jail. I must decline.”

“I overshot my mark,” said Martínez. “Let me rephrase my terms. I want Anita Watson to sign an agreement renouncing all her claims against Black PussyCat, severally and individually, in return for payments of $50,000 a year adjusted for inflation, which will lapse if she takes any actions that have or could have a tendency to injure the reputation or income of Black PussyCat or any of its principals or employees.”

“That is a more reasonable proposition,” said Wolfe, “although dangerously open-ended. I have only heard your side of the story. I may say, Mr. Martínez, that although I have only known you a brief time, I have already formed a high opinion of your abilities.”

“Thank you,” said Phineas, politely.

“And yet we are all deplorably blind in assessing those things that are nearest our hearts. Perhaps Miss Watson is entirely justified in making her claims. I am not ashamed to bluff, or even to bully, in an indifferent cause, but what if Miss Watson proves to be what perhaps she is, a woman of intelligence and resolve, who will not be bluffed and bullied when a king’s ransom is at stake? You wish to purchase, surely, not my best efforts but a certain result, and with the information in my possession I have no reason to believe that Miss Watson’s acquiescence in your terms may reasonably be achieved.”

It may have been my imagination, but Phineas may have gulped—not audibly—and Phineas was not the gulping kind.

“There are plenty of firms—large ones—who would not be so fastidious,” he said.

“Then perhaps you should consult them.”

That wasn’t the answer Phineas wanted.

“I gave up cigarettes five years ago, Mr. Wolfe,” he said, after a pause, “and I have never wanted one until now.”

“I am sorry.”

“Yes. Let me revise my offer. In exchange for the $500,000, examine the contents of this briefcase at your leisure, ask me any questions you have, obtain any other information you feel is necessary, and in a week’s time give me your conclusions on the best way of proceeding to achieve the goal I stated previously. After having done so, you may or may not wish to undertake the pursuit of that goal.”

Wolfe smiled.

“Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but extravagant remuneration is surely a close second,” he said. “Your terms are generous indeed, Mr. Martínez, and I agree to them. Archie, would you be so kind as to take Mr. Martínez’ briefcase?”

I hoisted it from Wolfe’s desk to mine. It must have weighed twenty pounds. I opened it and on the top was a large envelope with fancy script that said “Mr. Nero Wolfe.” I opened it and there was the prettiest thing I’d seen in three months—a cashier’s check from Chase Manhattan for $500,000 made out to Nero Wolfe. They use such nice paper on the large denominations.

“It looks good,” I said.

Mr. Martínez laughed.

“Excellent,” he said. “Then we’re in business, Mr. Wolfe.”

“We are indeed, for the next week.”

Wolfe was playing it coy, all right, and I thought he was doing a good job, but it wasn’t good enough. I didn’t guess what was going to happen next and I’m sure Wolfe didn’t either. Adelle leaped to her feet, ran around Wolfe’s desk, and kissed him.

“You just nail that motherf***ker, Mr. Wolfe, that’s all!”

“Yes, yes, indeed,” muttered Wolfe. “Archie, please assist Miss Campbell to her seat.”

So he knew their names—their last name, at least. I can’t say I wasn’t enjoying the sight of Nero Wolfe with a phat black chick hanging on him, but Wolfe doesn’t pay me to laugh at him, so I got beside Adelle as quickly as I could.

“Mr. Wolfe appreciates the emotion,” I said, putting my arm around her. “But he’s not much for lovin’ at this hour of the morning.”

“I just wanted to say thank you,” she said, smiling up at me.

She was lithe and graceful and half my age. Fortunately, Mr. Martínez and Jermaine knew what to do. They took her off my hands and sat her down.

“Don’t be too mad at my baby sister, Mr. Wolfe,” said Jermaine. “She just gets carried away.”

“Naturally. But let us return to the business at hand. I make no guarantees. I shall review the material you provided. If I have inquiries, Mr. Martínez, I shall direct them to you. I hope to justify the confidence you have reposed in me.”

“We know you will, Mr. Wolfe,” said Jermaine, rising to her feet. “And you too, Archie.”

The smile she fired at me almost took my head off. I suddenly realized I was on my feet without really knowing how I got there. I was leading the girls out and all of a sudden Adelle and Maureen had their arms around me. There was no doubt that they were very, very good. Out of the corner of my eye I could see Roberta and she was smiling. I tried to make myself care but eventually I gave up. Finally I got them out the door and shut it, and locked it, and put on the chain. I watched through the one-way glass until the Suburbans took off and then I walked back to the office.

“They’ve got a hell of an act,” I told Wolfe.

Wolfe waggled a finger.

“Sit down,” he said. “Archie, under no circumstances are you ever to allow yourself to be alone with any of those women. That is not a witticism or a jest. It is an order.”

“Yes, sir,” I said, “as long as it doesn’t include Roberta.”

“That is reasonable, I suppose,” he grunted. “I presume you have already secured her confidence?”

That was Wolfe. Not only does he think that I can make any woman dance on the palm of my hand, he thinks I go out of my way to do it.

“I have not secured her confidence, as you put it. I enjoy her company and I hope that she would enjoy mine. If anybody has a 24/7 job she does, but I’m hoping that she might be able to squeeze in a few hours at the Flamingo.”

“Let us hope that her schedule does not conflict with Miss Rowan’s.”

Ever since November 2000 Lily has been spending half her time in Washington, saving us from the Republicans. Wolfe never gets tired of giving me the needle on this one.

“Miss Rowan knows, as you do not, how I can keep my private and professional lives separate, and the difference between companionship and something more.”

“Indeed. I never deny you your gifts, Archie. Now I must peruse this mass of material Mr. Martínez has assembled. Perhaps you could also obtain some supplemental information from the popular press.”

“Sure. How many tons would you like?”

“A judicious sample, not an inundation. What do you think of Mr. Martínez’ claim that Mr. Rogers is a professional criminal?”

“The odds look awfully good to me. But he doesn’t sound like the sort who could handle a high-class squeeze like this one.”

“Perhaps confinement has encouraged him to expand his horizons if not his character. Another question: What is ‘Murder 1?’”

I gave Wolfe as much as I knew on the background of the negotiations. He listened with his eyes shut, his chin rested on one fist. When I was done he asked a few more questions about Frank and Smith.

“Mr. Martínez is not telling us all he could,” he said. “But then, there is no reason why he should. I will examine the contents of his briefcase with some care. By the way, I understand from today’s mail that Mr. Harz has secured the edition of Mr. Burke’s collected writings that I had requested. Perhaps you will have time today to visit his establishment and examine the volumes?”

Chapter 2

I nodded, but felt that I could wait until after lunch before heading over to the Upper East Side to look at a bunch of books. Since Wolfe was all locked up in Lord North’s cabinet, I decided to pay Fritz a visit, but then remembered that it was a Wednesday, and I wasn’t allowed in the kitchen after eleven. I have seen a lot of changes in my life, but undoubtedly the biggest is the fact that Fritz now thinks it’s okay for a woman to be in the kitchen—even in his kitchen. He has an assistant, Mary Mak, who’s studying to be a chef. She comes in Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, from about eleven in the morning to ten at night, which Fritz considers short hours. As I say, Fritz has accepted the fact that a woman can be in a kitchen, but he hasn’t accepted the idea that I can be in his kitchen when Mary is there. It just makes him too nervous. With nothing better to do, I went online and did a little more checking on Black PussyCat and Phineas Martínez. I liked Mr. Martínez, but he was definitely a player, and I wasn’t interested in being played. The world of hip-hop wasn’t exactly my turf, or Wolfe’s either, and I didn’t want to show up trying to put people in jail until I was sure I knew who belonged there.

I didn’t learn a lot before lunchtime. Fritz and Mary gave us veal chops en papillotes—two for me and four for Wolfe—along with asparagus and French bread from the bakery that Mary’s sister owns. Wolfe wasn’t excited about Fritz’s idea of putting in a brick oven for the bread, and the bakery is only about twenty-five minutes away. We get the loaves right out of the oven, so there isn’t much to complain about.

For dessert we had strawberry-rhubarb pie with French vanilla ice cream, which always puts Wolfe in a good mood. You didn’t hear it from me, but I think Mary’s crust can beat Fritz’s. Wolfe clearly preferred talking about Burke’s notion of civilization and the diffusion of authority to trying to figure out if we could put Peter Rogers in jail, so it wasn’t until almost two before I left to visit Mr. Harz. On the way back I stopped off at a magazine stand and picked up half a dozen slicks entirely devoted to Black PussyCat. I didn’t get back to the office until about four-thirty. I was cleaning out my emails when the phone rang.

“Nero Wolfe’s office. Archie Goodwin speaking.”

“Hello, Mr. Goodwin. This is Anita Watson.”

Someday I’ll stop thinking that I’m ready for everything, because I wasn’t ready for Anita Watson, not ready for her to call me like that and not ready for her to speak in such a clear, intelligent voice.

“Hello, Ms. Watson,” I said. “You are well informed.”

She laughed.

“I try to keep up.”

“Mr. Wolfe is in the plant rooms right now.”

“I know he is.”

“But I will be glad to have him call you sometime after six.”

“That might be too late, Mr. Goodwin. I’d like to see you right now.”

“What’s a couple of hours? There’s a lot of money at stake.”

“You’re right about that. But I have to tell you, Mr. Goodwin, that time is of the essence. I’m sure Phineas has been telling you all sorts of bad things about me, but I can be very reasonable when it’s in my interest to do so. But, as I say, time is of the essence.”

She was pushing, and I didn’t like it. I doubted if Wolfe wanted to see Anita right away, not unless he had to, and I didn’t want to see her either, not with her setting the schedule. So I played for time.

“You could come here if you like,” I said. “I’m guessing you know the address. And Mr. Wolfe will be down at six.”

“That might be too late, Mr. Goodwin,” she said. “I’d rather that you came here.”

Either she was very good or she really was sitting on something that she thought was about to blow.

“Well, let’s consider that,” I said. “As a matter of fact, Mr. Martínez has been saying some things about you that weren’t complimentary. He doesn’t seem to be too fond of Peter Rogers either.”

“I’m not surprised. Peter Rogers is not involved in this matter. I’ll tell you what, Mr. Goodwin. I’m staying at the Hotel Pennsylvania. I’m sure you know where that is.”

“Of course.”

“Good. We can meet in the lobby. As you enter, if you go past the check-in clerks, there’s a pair of chairs to your right, and then a long sofa, up against a window. I’ll be sitting on that sofa, wearing black slacks and a black blouse. You’ll have a full view of the lobby as we’re sitting on the sofa. You won’t be afraid to talk to an old black woman under those circumstances, will you?”

I wasn’t loving it, but it would have to do.

“I’ll be there,” I said. “By the way, what’s your room number, in case there’s a hang-up?”

“There won’t be a hang-up,” she said. “Maybe you just want to know if I’m really staying at the hotel. But that doesn’t matter. Just be here in half an hour.”

“All right,” I said. “I’ll be there in half an hour.”

I hung up and then dialed the Hotel Pennsylvania. The phone number, in case you don’t know, is Pennsylvania 6-5000. Some time in the dark ages the Pennsylvania used to be a fancy place, but today it’s about mass rather than class—it’s one of the biggest and busiest hotels in the world and it’s for tourists who don’t want to spend much but want to be right downtown and right across the street from Penn Station and Madison Square Garden. The head of security there is a retired police captain who is one of the few cops I know who likes me, mainly because he was about to arrest the mayor’s brother-in-law a few years back until I called him to say that Wolfe had just fingered the real murderer. People were leaning on him so hard he felt that he had to bend the other way.

“Jerry,” I said, “it’s Archie. I’m meeting a woman named Anita Watson at your place in half an hour. Has she got a room?”

“Hold on,” he told me. I could hear muffled voices and then he was back.

“There’s an Anita Watson in 736,” he told me.

“Anyone with her?”

“She took a single. If there’s anyone else we don’t know about it. She checked in a week ago.”

“Thanks,” I said. “Would it be asking too much to have someone cruise the lobby in twenty-five minutes to give me a heads-up? Anita Watson is a middle-aged black woman. She says she’ll be wearing black slacks and a black blouse. That’s all I’ve got except that she sounds smart. I’d like to know if she has anyone watching her back.”

“Not a problem. Give me a call five minutes before you show.”

I hung up and dialed the number for the plant rooms on the roof. Theodore answered and transferred to Wolfe.

“Hi, it’s me,” I said. “I got a call from Anita Watson. She says she’s staying at the Pennsylvania and she wants to meet me in the lobby in half an hour. Do I go?”

“Confound it. This is far too abrupt. What is your assessment?”

“She sounds smart. I don’t like it, but it’s too good to pass up.”

“Agreed. Exercise caution in your approach and do not accompany her anywhere. Suggest that she would benefit financially by meeting with me. In any event, do not dally. We have the tripe for dinner.”

Wolfe knows that tripe à la mode de Caen isn’t my favorite dish. He just hates the thought of anyone missing a meal. I assured him I wouldn’t be late. Then I hung up and went over to the safe. I’d never heard of anyone being plugged in the Pennsylvania, but, as I say, I don’t like to be rushed. I didn’t know what kind of game Anita was playing, but I had the feeling that it was a good one. She was probably a step ahead of me, and in cases like that it’s better to be prepared for the worst.

I took off my jacket and put the shoulder holster on. It’s complicated, but I didn’t want to walk into the place with a rod sticking out of my belt. I owed it to Jerry to keep things respectable. When I had it fitting right I called Fritz on the phone to tell him that I was going out. I was feeling just a little bit antsy, and told him not to let anyone in and not to go out himself until I got back. There was a possibility that Anita just wanted me out of the house and I didn’t feel like being played for a sucker.

When I walked out the front door of the brownstone I looked east and west and saw nothing. I walked one block east and caught a cab and told the driver to step on it, which was fine until I got within two blocks of the hotel. Traffic was backed up solid so I paid the driver and finished the trip on foot. I called Jerry at five after five and he said there was and had been no one in the lobby fitting Anita’s description and that there was no one who looked “suspicious.” I asked him what “suspicious” meant and he said “not a tourist.” I was a little worried that Anita hadn’t shown, but I figured that with the Marley tucked under my left armpit I could handle a roomful of tourists.

I went through one of the big revolving doors on the Seventh Avenue side. Whatever you want to say about the Hotel Pennsylvania, it’s big. The lobby was swarming with people. I made my way through it and found the sofa that Anita had mentioned, but there was no one sitting on it. I went over and sat down. I waited a good twenty minutes and then called Wolfe.

“Hi, it’s me.”

He grunted.

“I’m at the hotel, waiting for Anita, but she hasn’t shown. It crossed my mind that this might have been a gag to get me out of the house, and now I’m a little spooked.”

“A reasonable supposition, but so far unsubstantiated,” he said. “Our assailants, if there are such, have yet to present themselves.”

“Yeah. Well, don’t take any pizzas until I get back. I’ve got Anita’s room number, so I think I’ll pay her a visit. I don’t know what’s up, but she sounded like she wanted to see me. She sure wasn’t telling me all she knew.”

“You are armed, are you not?”


“Good. Do not press matters, Archie. Miss Watson is in no position to command us. Invite her here after dinner, if feasible. If she is not willing to cooperate, that is her loss, not ours.”

“I’ll let you know how it goes.”

“Very well.”

I clicked the cell shut and sat tight for another ten minutes. Either I was being stood up or something was wrong. I got erect and headed for the elevators. I rode up with a crowd of kids in matching corduroy jackets from the Kansas City All-Star Marching Band, but fortunately they got off at five, and I had the elevator to myself when I got off at seven. I found 736 and knocked, but got no answer. I knocked pretty hard and called Anita’s name a couple of times, but there was nothing.

I had reached the sticking point. So far I hadn’t done anything that Jerry wouldn’t have approved of. Now I was ready to cross the line. I took out a very interesting piece of plastic that Saul Panzer had given me, which would operate just about any electronic hotel lock in the city. One swipe and I was in, but when I looked around the room, I wished I hadn’t opened the door.

I had caught up with Anita, and it wasn’t pretty. She was lying on the floor with a bullet hole in her forehead. That was bad, but what was worse was that Jermaine was standing over her, holding a gun.

“Put that down,” I said.

She stared at me. She was wound awfully tight, and I didn’t know which way she was going to go.

“Put it down,” I repeated.

She nodded, but she wouldn’t let go of the damn gun. She was spooked but good.

“Jermaine,” I said, “I’m asking you. Put the gun down. Whatever has happened has happened. It’s over. Put down the gun.”

She put it down.

“I didn’t do it,” she said, shaking. “How could it happen?”

“I know you didn’t,” I said. I was reaching for her when all of a sudden we had company.

“Hands up!” they shouted. “Now! Both of you!”

They were cops. I wasn’t glad to see them, but at least they were cops.

“I’m Archie Goodwin,” I said.

“Congratulations,” said the one who was manhandling me. “Shut the f*ck up.”

He slammed me up against the wall. I know cops like to take charge at a crime scene, particularly when there’s a stiff on the floor, but this was pushing it.

“I’ve got a piece,” I said, loud. “I’ve got a license.”

That got me an elbow in the kidney. It almost shut me up, but not quite.

“This is Jermaine Campbell, lead singer with the group Black PussyCat,” I said. “You may want to give Inspector Cramer a call.”

“I guess I forgot to tell you to shut up,” the cop told me. “Shut up.”

He slapped my head against the wall. I couldn’t see, but I was hoping that they weren’t treating Jermaine the same way.

I spent the next twenty minutes spread-eagled against the wall. No one was in a hurry to ask me questions. They took Jermaine out. As she was going I yelled at her to call Phineas, which got me another headslap. After Jermaine left I was almost getting lonesome when I heard Cramer’s voice behind me.


“Yeah, it’s me.”

“Of course, it would be you.”

“Do you want to hear my story or not?”

“Take him downtown.”

“I’d like to talk to Mr. Wolfe.”

“Not now. Take him downtown.”

“I know you’re mad. I know you hate celebrities.”

“Shut up. What I hate is finding Archie Goodwin at a crime scene.”

“You don’t want to lock up Jermaine Campbell and you know it.”

“Take him downtown.”

He was repeating himself, which meant that he didn’t know what the hell to do. He didn’t want to lock up Jermaine, but he didn’t want to let her walk, either. I was guessing that he was going to keep both of us overnight, to show that he didn’t play favorites, and sort things out in the morning, when he would have a preliminary report from the crime lab. They took me downtown and took my fingerprints, which they’ve done a dozen times before, and gave me a paraffin test. They took a DNA sample and my clothes. Thanks to TV the public loves forensic evidence, and the media loves to give it to them, so Cramer has to be ready. Around midnight they put me in an orange jump suit and tossed me in the tank with a dozen winos and crackheads, none of whom recognized me. I found enough space to lie down and figured I needed sleep more than anything else. I’d been out for a couple of hours when I felt someone poking me in the ribs. I jumped up quickly.

“Someone to see you,” a cop told me.

They handcuffed me and walked me to a little room. Nate Parker was sitting there, not looking happy.

“You’re keeping late hours,” I told him.

“I’ve never seen a lockdown like this, Archie,” he told me. “I can’t get you out until they question you, and they say they can’t question you until Inspector Cramer gets in, which won’t be until nine.”

“Cramer’s flipped,” I told him. “He thinks he’s going to crack this case in one day. He thinks he’s going to find blood on my socks or cordite residue in my eyebrows. Where’s Jermaine?”

“Jermaine who?”

“Jermaine Campbell. She was at the crime scene.”

“They won’t tell me anything. I had to threaten a suit to get in here. What happened to your face?”

“They slammed me around a little.”

“I want you examined by a doctor.”

“I guess that’s good. My guess is, at this point Cramer’s immune to anything but threats. Be obnoxious.”

“If that’s what it takes to defend my client’s rights, yes.”

I was tired, and angry. Cramer was angry, and he was kicking me like a dog.

“They can’t keep this up, Archie.”

“I know. I’ll be out of here by dinner time, but it’s a long time to dinner time.”

It was. I told Parker that he would need to check with Wolfe in the morning about our client. I wanted to say more but I had the feeling that the cops might be listening in. There’s attorney-client privilege and all that, but it wasn’t our room. There was also the fact that I couldn’t be sure that Jermaine wasn’t guilty. I didn’t want to believe that—in fact, given the way she had talked about Anita, it was hard to believe that she could have pulled that trigger, but triggers can be awfully easy to pull.

Parker told me he’d be back at nine in the morning, with a writ for my release. Cramer wouldn’t like that.

“I’ll see you at nine,” I said.

I didn’t want to go back to the tank, but I needed my sleep. They woke me at eight for breakfast. I asked for my clothes back and they told me to stuff it. At nine I went into another little room and waited for half an hour before Cramer came in.

“What’s the DNA tell you?” I asked.

“Shut up,” he said. “I’ll ask the questions.”

He asked a lot of them, and I answered them. There was a lot I would have preferred not to say, like what I knew about relations between Anita and Jermaine, but I couldn’t pretend that the group’s past history wasn’t relevant. Cramer seemed to know everything already, so I didn’t feel too bad about giving it all up, but it’s just bad for business. You help a cop and he comes to expect it. He kept after me for close to three hours. Catching me at a crime scene made him want to charge me with something—anything, really—but he knew I was clean. It was Jermaine that was making him crazy. He didn’t want to let her walk, but he didn’t want to keep her either, unless she confessed, and it was clear that she hadn’t done that. I was the only dog he had to kick, and now he had to let me go.

I went back to the tank for another two hours, while they pretended they had lost my papers. Finally they took me to another room, where they gave me my clothes. They were a mess, stained with chemicals and seams ripped open. I guess they thought I was carrying a shiv or maybe a signed confession. The one thing that I was worried about, my little piece of plastic, I found in my wallet. They hadn’t thought to check it out, and I was damned glad of that, because there might have been hell to pay if they had.

Parker was waiting for me when I came out. He shook his head.

“Archie, I have never seen you look so wretched.”

“It’s okay. Have you heard anything about Jermaine?”

We walked outside and ran into a mob of reporters. At that moment I was probably the most filmed, taped, and photographed man on the planet. The crowd was shrieking questions at us as we fought our way through, but Nate and I were saying nothing, not even “no comment.” What was the point?

Fortunately, Parker’s car, a dark-gray Lexus, was waiting for us at the curb. I slid in the back seat. It was the first time in eighteen hours that I’d been comfortable.

“I have not heard anything about Miss Campbell,” he told me, once the door was shut. “Her lawyers were very abrupt.”

“They get paid to be, I’m sure.”

“Yes. They haven’t gotten her out and I don’t think they will for another day or two at the earliest. Perhaps not at all.”

“She was in the room with Anita, with the gun in her hand,” I said.

“I see. Inspector Cramer was most difficult to deal with.”

“He’s upset. Cops like to control things when they’re upset.”

“Nevertheless, I would like to have you examined. Do you mind if we go to a doctor’s office first?”

“No. It can’t hurt to have the leverage. May I borrow your cell?”

I dialed the office.


“Yes, it’s me. I’m out.”

“Mr. Parker has informed me of your mistreatment, Archie. There will be recompense.”

“He’s exaggerating. All I need is a shower, a shave, and a hot meal.”

“You are serious?”

“Yeah. One of the cops banged me around a little. When they’ve got a corpse and a guy with a gun they get a little carried away.”

“Indeed. The entire affair has propelled Inspector Cramer’s bumptious inefficiency to new heights. I fear for his sanity.”

I chuckled.

“You are amused.”

“Cramer would rather run the marathon in a top coat and galoshes than deal with a celebrity murder case. And now he’s got the biggest one ever. Every tab in the world is going to be sitting on this one. By the way, have you heard from Phineas?”

“More than once. He is, of course, both more demanding and more obsequious than ever.”

“Yeah. Does he want us to get Jermaine off?”

“That was the gist of our conversations. I informed him that I would reserve judgment pending your release. Have you formed any conclusions?”

“Conclusions, no. I don’t believe that Jermaine is or was a cold-blooded killer. Can I imagine her showing up to talk with Anita and taking a gun along for protection? Yes. Can I imagine that gun going off? I can. I saw fear in her eyes, not anger. But I can’t tell you I know she’s innocent.”

“According to the press, she maintains her innocence but refuses to provide any description or explanation of her actions. Pfui. The thought of willfully entering this maelstrom almost gives one sympathy for Inspector Cramer.”

I chuckled again.

“At least you’ll be getting a better paycheck.”

“I shall be. Mr. Martínez has offered $1 million as a retainer, with a $1 million bonus if Miss Campbell is found innocent of all charges.”

“We can do better than that. I think you need to talk with Mr. Parker to draw up a real contract.”

Nate raised his eyebrows when I mentioned his name.

“I’m suggesting that Mr. Wolfe consult with you on a contract with Black PussyCat’s management to identify the murderer of Anita Watson.”

Parker smiled.

“That could get complicated.”

“Don’t worry. It’s all for the orchids.”

I went back to Wolfe.

“We’re making a stop at a doctor’s office first. Parker has me lined up with someone who’s a pro when it comes to police brutality. I figure it can’t hurt to have something to hang over Cramer’s head. He won’t be happy to learn you’re on the case.”

“He has, of course, already leaped to that conclusion. His is a mind that seeks information only to affirm its prejudices.”

The Lexus, which had been heading north while we talked, slowed and pulled over.

“I guess we’re at the doctor’s office,” I told Wolfe. “I’ll give you the details later.”

Wolfe grunted. I clicked the cell and handed it back to Parker. The last thing I felt like getting right now was a physical, but leaning on Cramer wasn’t a bad idea. He could huff and puff all he pleased, but a police brutality suit wasn’t something he could ignore. The doc poked me for half an hour and then we were finished. I told Parker I could get home on my own but he seemed to think it was his job to hang around, so we rode back in his Lexus. I admit that as soon as I hit that soft back seat I went out. I’d been running on an adrenaline high ever since I opened that door and saw Jermaine standing there with the gun and now I suddenly had a deficit. I don’t know how long I was out but when Parker touched my shoulder we were parked in front of the brownstone.

“Are you all right?” he asked.

“I’m fine,” I said. “That cat nap was all I needed.”

As I got out of the car I glanced at my watch. It was after four. Wolfe would be up in the plant rooms. I let myself in quietly and went upstairs for a shower, a shave and a new set of clothes. The old ones I tossed in the trash. I went downstairs and into the kitchen. Fritz was working on filet of sole Véronique for dinner and I didn’t want to spoil my appetite, but I did want to slow it down. A snack of pâté and some of Mary’s sister’s bread with a glass of milk would do me fine, but Fritz insisted on fixing me a plate of carpaccio instead. Fritz cuts his carpaccio from Kobe top loin. He won’t freeze it, but Mary has talked him into using a slicer. He puts it on a bed of radiccio, sprinkled with olive oil and aged Parmesan, with white asparagus and a roasted onion on the side. That and a pot of Fritz’s coffee and a slice of left-over strawberry-rhubarb pie were almost enough to forget about what had happened to my suit.

I was going through my emails when Wolfe came down. Instead of walking straight to his desk as he always does he walked in front of mine and stared at my face.

“No serious damage, I hope?” he said.

“No. Cops get excited when they see a corpse.”

“No doubt. Mr. Parker assures me that your injuries are actionable. But that would be your decision.”

“I don’t like to whine, but any finger we have to stick in Cramer’s eye is fine by me. But I don’t think we can use the threat of a lawsuit to spring Jermaine.”

“Of course not,” he said, walking to his desk. “We will not inform Mr. Martínez of this matter. He fancies himself a grand strategist, and the fewer pieces we allow him the less he will be tempted to dominate the board.”

“What is our strategy?”

He ignored my question for a moment as he took the time to get his seventh of a ton settled in the one chair that was actually built to hold it. When he was comfortable he rang for beer, leaned back, and laced his fingers on his belly.

“Tell me what happened at the hotel,” he said.

I gave it to him, what there was to give. He asked about the corpse, about the room, and about Jermaine. I gave him what I had, which wasn’t much.

When I was finished, he rang Fritz for another beer and laced his fingers around his belly again. I expected him to speak, but he didn’t. Instead, his lips started working, in and out. He kept it up for a few minutes. Of course, while I’d been in the can he’d had a full day to go through whatever it was that Phineas had in his briefcase, but, still, he hadn’t spoken with anyone or even reached a decision whether to take the case, whatever that was.

Fritz arrived with the beer, but even that couldn’t catch Wolfe’s attention. Fritz put the bottle and the glass on Wolfe’s desk and left. Thirty seconds later, Wolfe unlaced his fingers and put his hands to good use, opening the bottle with the gold-plated opener a client had given him and pouring the beer so that there was a quarter-inch of foam at the top of the glass. He drank from the glass and licked the foam from his upper lip. He set the glass down and looked at me.

“I will accept the case, Archie, but only on my own terms. I am a detective, who identifies the guilty, not an advocate who guards their interests. Mr. Martínez will doubtless insist that I bend my efforts to achieve Miss Campbell’s freedom. But, as you have suggested, it is quite within the realm of possibility that Miss Campbell is the culprit rather than the victim.”

“He isn’t going to pay you $2 million to get Jermaine the needle.”

“Perhaps he will pay $1 million for me to accept the case and $5 million more for the young lady’s complete and entire exoneration.”

“Even for you, that’s pushing it. Suppose you investigate and finger her? You won’t collect a dime, no matter what the contract says.”

“Perhaps not. But if perchance the facts are in our favor I will rid myself of that clattering disaster that resides above my head without encumbrance.”

“I thought you had been looking at Phineas’s briefcase. You’ve been looking at architectural plans.”

“I have been considering my interests, as Mr. Martínez has been considering his. I confess that I have been the victim of inertia in caring for my orchids. The nineteenth century has its charms, but the twenty-first has its advantages.”

After dinner Mr. Parker stopped by to talk with Wolfe about drawing up a contract for Phineas to sign. Wolfe spent fifteen minutes explaining what he wanted. Parker took half an hour explaining why that wouldn’t fly. Wolfe said that it was his way or nothing, and that Martínez would take it. If Nate had had a moustache, he probably would have chewed its corners. But he didn’t, so he told Wolfe he would draw up a contract and have it ready tomorrow afternoon.

“I have $500,000 in hand. If my efforts tend to imperil rather than exonerate Miss Campbell, I will not be unduly tenacious in the pursuit of the remaining $500,000. However, if full payment is earned, you must make swift and complete payment a certainty.”

Parker smiled, to the extent that a lawyer can.

“Martínez is likely to spend $500,000 vetting this contract. Six million is serious money, even for a supergroup. He won’t be in a hurry.”

Wolfe smiled too.

“He will be if Miss Campbell is not released. If Mr. Cramer remains obdurate, as I suspect he will, Mr. Martínez will have little choice but to come to terms. When you draft the agreement, err on the side of directness.”

After Parker left I had a few questions for Wolfe, such as how the hell he was so sure that Cramer wouldn’t let Jermaine walk, with a $25 million bail and two ankle bracelets, and how the hell he was so sure that Martínez would decide that the best thing he could do for his star was to turn Wolfe loose on whoever had killed Anita. I had looked into Jermaine’s eyes as she held the gun, and I wanted to give her every benefit of the doubt, but the more I thought about it the more I thought it was close to even money that she had pulled the trigger, one way or another.

Those were the big questions I had, and there were two dozen others I might have asked, but Wolfe wasn’t talking. He had his head stuffed inside of F. P. Lock and he wasn’t going to come up for air.

“I have a question for you,” I said.

“Archie, is it too much to expect that you should gather from my demeanor that I do not intend to discuss this matter with you for the remainder of the evening? At the present time I have no client, and while I have no client my time is my own.”

“Yeah. I was just thinking about Harry Caldwell.”

“What about him?”

“Harry likes to play pool and he likes to eat. I could call him up and set up a game tonight and invite him for dinner tomorrow.”

Wolfe frowned. When he’s being clever he doesn’t like me to come up with an idea he has to agree with.

“That would be, perhaps, judicious.”

“In other words, yes.”

“I choose my words with care, Archie. There is no need to alter them.”

“Yeah. The way Harry eats steak, you wouldn’t bring him here unless you were sure that Martínez is going to bite, and how do you know that?”

Wolfe smiled.

“You wrong me, Archie, not once but twice. Mr. Caldwell’s palate, though simple—defiantly so, one would have to concede—is without artifice. I do not demean myself by having him at my table. And I base my optimism on no recondite knowledge. Your suggestion is a good one. Please act on it.”

So the ball was back in my court. I called Harry and Wolfe went back to his book. Three hours later, I was out fifty bucks. Harry was in a good mood, and I was ready for bed.

Chapter 3

Harry Caldwell is a black dick that Wolfe likes to use when business takes us north of 101st Street. We pay Harry $90 an hour, $10 less than Saul’s rate, which Harry thinks is unfair, but he never turns us down. Harry likes Wolfe’s style. He has a nice house on West 128th Street, with fewer books but more TVs, and more stereos. Harry doesn’t do orchids, but he does do girls. He’s a booking agent when he isn’t a detective, and he always seems to have a few would-be actresses or models or singers living with him. Harry doesn’t have a chef yet but he does have a nice arrangement with the rib joint across the street. Like me, Harry likes to conduct as much of his business as possible on foot. He says that Wolfe has the right idea about eating but the wrong idea about walking. He says that walking is one of the two things that keeps a man young.

I told Fritz over breakfast that Harry was coming, but of course he already knew that, because he and Wolfe had spent an hour the night before going over the menu, which was not going to be vegetarian. Harry is one of the few guests that Fritz actually likes, because Harry loves food, and not quite in the same way that Wolfe or Fritz does. Harry loves the look of food, not just the taste of it. The sight of a first-rate steak will bring tears to his eyes. He spent several years working in the kitchen at Charlie’s on 125th Street, and he knows something about meat. When I heard the menu Fritz and Wolfe had lined up, I held myself to three of Fritz’s raised-yeast flannel cakes. Fritz makes the batter the night before, so the cakes practically float off the pan. He serves them with a cognac-flavored apple compote and applewood-smoked bacon sliced extra thick.

I had plenty of reading material that morning, because the papers were fit to explode with news over Anita Watson’s murder, not to mention Jermaine’s continued incarceration. Even the Times gave the story half the front page, while the Post, the News, and the Gazette couldn’t write about anything else. Since I had been there, I didn’t learn much that I didn’t know already, except that two shots had been fired, the one that had taken out Anita and a second that went through the ceiling.

All three papers had a picture of me coming out of the cooler looking like something that had washed up on the Jersey marshes. I hadn’t shaved, my face was swollen, and my suit was a mess.

“Look at you, Archie,” said Fritz, pointing with his spatula. “They should not print such things.”

“Mr. Wolfe will be pleased,” I said. “We may be suing the police.”

“This is a big case, isn’t it, Archie? The tournedos Rossini. I had planned a nice coq en pâté, because I know that is your favorite, but Mr. Wolfe insisted on the change.”

I’m not sure why Fritz has decided that coq en pâté—which is a chicken in pastry—is my favorite dish, but he has. A tournedo Rossini, if that’s a word, is a thick slice of beef filet served with goose liver and truffles, and if Wolfe was serving them to Harry Caldwell, you can bet he felt he had that $6 million in the bag. And if I ever felt that Wolfe was biting off more than even he could chew, it was now.

“Don’t count your coqs just yet,” I told Fritz, taking a last mouthful of coffee. “I’ve been riding him about the greenhouse, and he thinks this case is going to buy him a new one.”

Fritz didn’t say anything, but I could tell his feelings were hurt. He doesn’t like to hear about Wolfe spending money “up there.” It’s a matter of priorities with him. No one ever ate an orchid, after all.

I took a fresh cup of coffee with me when I went into the office. After a night in the slammer I could have used some extra sack time, but instead I’d been playing pool with Harry. I drank the coffee and ran through my emails and then the Gazette online to see if anything had broken. It hadn’t. Cramer was playing it tough with Jermaine, not granting interviews, and Ben Dykes in the DA’s office was the same way. Since the news on the web was half an hour old I switched on CNN and got a glimpse of Mayor Bloomberg fighting his way through a crowd of reporters, looking like he’d rather be smoking a cigarette. Holding a beautiful young black woman, one of the hottest pop stars in the world, for murder in the media capital of the universe was worse than a three-pack a day habit.

I switched off the sound and listened to my voice mails. I’ve generally built up an arrangement with reporters over the years. They know not to call me. When I’ve got news, I’ll call them. But all bets were off on this one. I skimmed through about sixty messages. I hate to waste time that way but every once in a while you’ll get a call out of nowhere that you want to take. This wasn’t one of those whiles, however. I took me a good hour and a half to work through the electronic slush pile that had accumulated while I spent one night in the cooler. When I was done I finally started in on plant records and I had a ways to go when I heard the whirr of Wolfe’s elevator.

“Good morning, Archie,” he said, as always. “I hope you slept well.”

“You better believe it,” I said. “There’s no window like one without bars.”

Wolfe nodded as he adjusted the double Pleione speciosa in the vase on his desk. When he was finished he seated himself behind his desk.

“It is many years since I have endured confinement,” he said. “At that time it was my most fervent hope that I would know no prison again except the grave, and I continue in that sentiment. I apologize to you that your services to me brought you to this.”

“Forget it. It comes with the territory. If I were afraid of a night in the jug Cramer would own me.”

“Your bravado is touching. Let us hope that we will be able to show the inspector that the arm of the law, though mighty, is not invulnerable. I trust that Mr. Caldwell was amenable to my invitation?”

“He was ready to start last night. You know he’d never pass up one of Fritz’s dinners, plus he’s already got it figured that you’re working on Anita’s murder. I asked him if he’d ever heard of Peter Rogers, and he said no but he made a few calls while we were playing eight-ball. I’m guessing he’ll have something for us tonight.”

“Satisfactory. If all goes well we shall reach an agreement with Mr. Martínez this afternoon.”

After that he seemed to feel that he’d done enough work for one day, because he picked up his biography of Edmund Burke and started turning pages. When I finished the plant records I took Mr. Martínez’s brief case out of the safe, where Wolfe had stowed it, and started doing a little reading myself. Mr. Martínez, I have to say, was a very thorough, and very cautious, man. He had long dossiers on both Peter Rogers and Anita Watson that some fancy PI firm in Los Angeles had put together. I wish I could say some unkind things about the job they had done, but I couldn’t. When I finished reading the dossiers I knew plenty. The only thing I didn’t know was whether Peter had killed Anita.

When I finished with dossiers I started in on a series of files that Martínez had put together on “Antigua Enterprises,” which is what he called his own outfit. Antigua Enterprises claimed that it offered “unique and comprehensive client services covering the entire range of the entertainment industry.” Whether that was true or not, I don’t know, but Antigua did own Black PussyCat’s contract, which was better than gold. There were glossies of all the girls, shots of Martínez shaking hands with famous people, and a DVD. I put all of that aside and concentrated on the personnel files. As I say, Mr. Martínez was very thorough, and very cautious. An act like Black PussyCat requires a lot of talented people to make it work—musicians, choreographers, makeup artists, sound and lighting technicians, just to name a few—the kind of people who like to work hard and play hard. I could tell that if you worked for Mr. Martínez you did a lot more of the former than the latter. He kept a sharp eye on his people, and he must have had a string of private dicks watching them. He had photos and bios on close to three dozen people, with all their peculiarities noted. I’ve spent a lot of time poking my nose into other people’s business, and I’ve gotten used to the fact that none of us behave ourselves all the time, but going through that bundle of bios still made me feel a little creepy. I was glad I didn’t work for Phineas.

“This guy doesn’t trust his help, does he?” I asked Wolfe, when I was finished.

He was drinking beer, of course. Landing a big case put him in a good mood, and even if he hadn’t landed this one he thought he had, so he was celebrating. When Wolfe was in a good mood, he celebrated by drinking beer. When he was in a bad one he cheered himself up by drinking beer. So either way you cut it, there was no way he could keep himself under ten bottles a day.

“There are few compulsions less attractive than the compulsion to view the compulsions of others,” he said. “It is the disorder that made J. Edgar Hoover so formidable.”

“You sound like you’d like to hang this one on Phineas himself.”

“I could conceive of Mr. Martínez ordering a murder, but not committing one. Still, there is a strand in his makeup that, however calculating, is relentlessly law-abiding. Pfui. The contemporary entertainment industry, as it likes to call itself, is the intersection of vanity and avarice, two qualities guaranteed to reveal the human psyche in its most lurid hues.”

“You would prefer the company of Mr. Burke.”

“No. I consume the advantages of modern times too voraciously to condemn them. I acknowledge the ideal yet embrace the reality. I prefer a New York that does not reek of horse urine and dung, however polluted its airwaves.”

At that point Fritz summoned us for lunch, oxtail soup and oyster croquettes, with a tomato salad and strawberries and pineapple for dessert. I could tell that Wolfe was expecting the dinner with Harry to be quite a feed. He only ate ten croquettes, and he’s usually good for twenty. Wolfe gave me a break from Edmund Burke and talked about popular entertainment instead, which was close to talking about business, but he kept it general. He said it was only natural for adolescents to determine the content of popular culture because they had the desires of adulthood without knowledge of its limitations, and what did popular culture offer but the illusion of a world without limitations to desire? I guess he must have known more about Madonna than I thought he did, but I didn’t press it.

We were back in the office when Parker arrived with the contract. Wolfe took out his Mont Blanc and started going through it, which let me go back to CNN, which had half a dozen high-priced lawyers spinning theories about what Cramer was up to. My theory was that he had a wolf by the ears and was afraid to let go. If Cramer let her walk and she was innocent he was a goddamn fool for locking her up in the first place, and if he let her walk and she was guilty he was a goddamn fool for letting her go. He made his call and he was stuck with it. The hearing for bail was at three, which was sure to be the biggest media circus ever. On the one hand, I couldn’t imagine a judge tough enough to keep Jermaine Campbell in the slam, but on the other hand I couldn’t imagine a judge who would let a murderer walk. They give you a hundred and twenty grand a year and a black robe, and they let you hang yourself.

When Wolfe was done rewriting the contract Parker had a look at it and said Wolfe’s revisions were “elegant,” which was probably going to cost Wolfe another grand or two. But what’s a couple of thousand bucks when you’re making six million? Wolfe was already smelling the orchids, but I wasn’t so sure.

Parker had emailed me a copy of the contract before he arrived, so I made Wolfe’s changes and ran out copies for both of them. When they were satisfied I dialed Martínez on his cell.

“Mr. Martínez,” I said, “this is Archie Goodwin. I have Mr. Wolfe on the line.”

“Wolfe! What does he want?”

“I think he should explain that himself.”

“You’re goddamned right he should.”

“Mr. Martínez,” said Wolfe. “I fear our last conversation ended rather abruptly.”

“Mr. Wolfe,” said Martínez. All of a sudden Wolfe was his favorite person in the world. “I presume that you have reconsidered your position.”

“I have changed it,” said Wolfe, dryly. “I have a new proposal for your consideration.”

“I’m very pressed for time right now, Mr. Wolfe, as you can imagine. Can this wait?”

“I think it would be in your interest, and that of Miss Campbell, to resolve this matter as quickly as possible. In brief, I am proposing that you engage me to provide conclusive evidence as to the guilt of an individual other than Miss Campbell for the killing of Anita Watson.”

“Do you have such evidence now?”

“I do not. However, I am confident that I can obtain it.”

There was a pause.

“How much is this going to cost me?”

“An excellent question. My terms are as follows: if, as a result of my efforts, all charges arising from the death of Anita Watson are dropped against Miss Jermaine Campbell, you will pay the sum of $6 million.”

I’ll give it to Martínez. He didn’t squawk at the price. But he didn’t fold, either.

“That’s a substantial sum, Mr. Wolfe. It’s quite possible that no charges will be filed against Jermaine.”

“In that case, you would have no need of my services.”

“No. But suppose the police identify the real murderer? Am I supposed to pay you $6 million?”

“You may trust to the competence of Mr. Cramer and his minions if you so desire, Mr. Martínez, though previously you did not speak highly of them. Miss Campbell will be arraigned in a few hours. I can transmit my proposed contract to your attorneys immediately, for you to consider at your leisure.”

“My leisure. You sound sure of yourself, Mr. Wolfe. That’s good business. You’re smart, but I’m not sure you’re worth it.”

“Then I suggest that you make up your mind soon. I suspect that the judge’s ruling this afternoon will provide a suitable inducement.”

There was another pause. It was probably my imagination, but I could have sworn that I heard Martínez grinding his teeth.

“I’ll get back to you, Mr. Wolfe. I appreciate your interest.”

“Thank you, Mr. Martínez,” said Wolfe. “I appreciate your courtesy. Please understand that the terms of the proposed contract that I am submitting to you are not negotiable. You are, of course, entirely free to reject the contract, but if you accept you must do so without emendation.”

“You can propose anything you like, Mr. Wolfe. How I respond is my business.”

“Very well. Please inform Miss Campbell of my concern for her comfort and safety.”

“I will do that. Goodbye, Mr. Wolfe.”


I pushed the disconnect button on the speaker phone and turned to my computer.

“Are we ready to transmit?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Wolfe.

I sent the file in a special read-only format with a unique watermark so they couldn’t monkey with it and waited for a confirmation.

“They’ve got it,” I said. “Now all we can do is hope the judge doesn’t let her walk.”

“Whether Miss Campbell remains in confinement is immaterial. She will be charged, and Mr. Martínez will have no alternative but to seek my assistance.”

I didn’t know whom he was bluffing, me or Martínez, but I had to call him on it.

“You know who killed Anita Watson.”

“I do not. I have surmises. They are all trivial, all but one. Jermaine Campbell is innocent of the murder.”

I nodded. I was glad he was sure, because I wasn’t. I couldn’t be objective about Jermaine—no man could—but Wolfe had a better shot at it than I did.

I phoned the office of Martínez’s lawyers to make sure they got the contract and could handle the file. Wolfe went back to Edmund Burke and I went back to Martínez’s brief case. I took out the DVD and put it in my computer. What I saw was a serious ego trip—the life of Phineas Martínez as told by Phineas Martínez. Actually, he’d hired James Earl Jones to read the script, which gives you an idea of what Phineas thought of himself. There were shots of Phineas hanging with Beyoncé, with Bill, with Arnold, with Quincy Jones, with Berry Gordy, with David Geffen, with Puff Daddy, and a couple of dozen other people that I guess I should have known, but didn’t. When I finished with that I checked in with CNN to see what was happening at the courthouse. I actually felt sorry for Cramer when I saw him working his way through the screaming mob that lined the steps. What he was doing I wouldn’t do for ten times his salary. The judge had banned cameras from the arraignment, which was reasonable enough, considering that if they had held it in Yankee Stadium they still wouldn’t have room for the crowd who wanted to get in.

I watched for about twenty minutes and then gave up. Watching blow-dried legal experts trying to fill dead air was not going to get Jermaine off the hook. Wolfe was convinced that she was innocent, but why? She’d been holding the gun when I came in. There was residue on her hand. Other than claiming that she was innocent, she had clammed up completely, refusing to say how she had known that Anita was at the Marriott or why she had come to Anita’s room. Asking myself why Wolfe was so sure she hadn’t pulled the trigger was a waste of time. I needed to go back over the information Martínez had given us. I was half way through the bios when the phone rang.

“Nero Wolfe’s office. Archie Goodwin speaking.”

“This is Phineas Martínez. You may tell Mr. Wolfe that I’m ready to sign.”

“That’s excellent news, Mr. Martínez. Just to be sure of things, as I recall, Mr. Wolfe specified that you were to agree to the contract without emendation.”

“I am a man of my word, Mr. Goodwin.”

“Of course. But you will sign the contract that Mr. Wolfe submitted to you, without any change.”

There was a pause.

“Yes, Mr. Goodwin.”

“Very good. I’ll tell Mr. Wolfe immediately.”

“You do that.”

He hung up.

“Martínez,” I told Wolfe. “We’re in. He’s not happy about it, but we’re in.”

“How could he be? His star is accused of murder, and it will cost him $6 million to remove this onus from her career.”

“Yeah. Now that we’ve got a client, have you got any instructions?”

“Yes. Get in touch with Saul. Mr. Martínez and his enterprise arrived in New York two weeks ago, and it was at that time that the late Miss Watson approached him with her renewed demands for compensation. I wish Saul to obtain all the information he can on the activities of Tanya Abbott during that time. Under no circumstances is he to divulge his connection with either myself or Mr. Martínez.”

“Couldn’t I do that?”

“Of course you could, but not as well as Saul.”

I snorted.

“So what am I supposed to do, sit on my fanny?”

“I apologize, Archie. Although my statement may stand on its merits, I needlessly provoked your amour propre. Your recent incarceration, linked as it was with that of Miss Campbell, has made your person too widely known for researches of such a delicate nature. In any case, Saul has a unique finesse for such matters.”

My amour propre was still provoked, but I was damned if I’d let him see it.

“You want a full tail?”

“At this time, no. If Saul’s suspicions are aroused, he should call and I will make a decision. Now you will excuse me. It is time for my plants.”

With that he rose and headed for the elevator. I started sorting through the pile of photos and papers on my desk, looking for Tanya. I recognized her name—she was Maureen’s hair dresser—but why Wolfe thought she was hot I couldn’t tell you.

Two hours later, I still couldn’t tell you. I spent an hour reading everything I could find on both Tanya and Maureen, and there was nothing. When I was finished I put a call through to Roberta Culbertson, but all I got was her voice mail. I switched on CNN to catch up on the arraignment. Jermaine was out on bail, for a cool $5 million, with an ankle bracelet, confined to a townhouse on the Upper East Side that some record executive had been kind enough to lend her. Dykes had backed Cramer up all the way at the hearing and the judge had gone along. Dykes had said he wanted her held without bail, but I had to believe that was just hardball. Having Jermaine cooped up on the Upper East Side was a lot better publicity for the city than having her cooped up on Rykers.

I was happy that Jermaine was out, and I was even happier that we were working for her. About a quarter to six the doorbell rang. When I went to the door there was a messenger waiting, with a signed copy of the contract. I took it back to my desk and looked through it to make sure that it was a print copy of the file I sent. Fussy, I know, but computers make it so easy to alter things, and while Phineas may have been a man of his word, I had the hunch that you were better off if you made sure of exactly what it was he said.

“Phineas signed,” I told Wolfe when he came down from the orchids. “Without emendation. And Jermaine is out on bail.”

He went to the chair behind his desk and adjusted his seventh of a ton. When he was comfortable he leaned back and drew in about a bushel of air.

“Satisfactory,” he said, on the exhale. “Transmit a copy of the document to Mr. Parker for his immediate perusal. I intend to earn this fee, and I intend to receive it without dickering, deceit, or delay.”

“You do trust him, don’t you?”

“Mr. Martínez has gotten where he is by getting others to pay him millions, not the reverse.”

I had the feeling that Wolfe had something more to say about Phineas, not likely to be complimentary, but the doorbell cut him off. I got erect.

“That will be Harry,” I said.

Wolfe grunted, and picked up F.P. Locke.

I went to the door. Harry likes to come a little early because he likes to see the meat he’s going to eat before it’s cooked. There’s something about the sight of a good, raw steak that makes him happy. It’s something Fritz appreciates. “Mr. Caldwell understands food,” he told me once. I’ve been eating it all my life, but I guess I don’t understand it the way Harry does.

“Hey, Archie! Nice suit! You never do give the women a break, do you?”

That’s Harry. Big talker, and smooth talker. I took his 44 extra-long cashmere overcoat and hung it on the rack, along with his silk scarf.

“I try not to,” I said.

He laughed.

“Did you tell Fritz I’d be hungry?”

“I think he knows it.”

“I hope so.”

He inhaled deeply.

“Man, smells good already! A man could stay happy in this house just breathing!”

I took Harry around to the kitchen. He could meet Wolfe later. Right now he had filets to look at.

“Mr. Caldwell,” said Fritz, when we came in. “So good to see you. This is my assistant, Miss Mak.”

“Just gorgeous,” said Harry, giving Mary a big smile.

Mary turned and waved, very quickly. She was in front of the smaller range, working with a big skillet and a large saucepan.

“Mary is busy,” said Fritz, crisply. Having Harry and me in the kitchen with Mary wasn’t quite as bad as having me in there alone, but it was enough to make Fritz jumpy.

“Let’s see some meat,” said Harry.

Fritz smiled and took us over to the cutting board. He removed a large sheet of butcher’s paper with a flourish. There were five nice filets and three porterhouse steaks. Each piece was at least two inches thick and two of the steaks weighed two pounds each. I always tell Fritz to keep mine at one pound. Meat that sweet shouldn’t be eaten just to fill you up.

“You get these from Weinstein’s?” Harry asked.

Fritz nodded.

“Mr. Weinstein has such a fine eye. With beef I trust him before I trust myself.”

Harry grinned.

“That’s the truth,” he said. “That’s the truth. That is just beautiful. Aged four months, I bet.”

“Of course.”

“That is just beautiful. I’d almost rather look at them than eat them. Almost! Well, I don’t want to be messing with a man when he’s in his kitchen. We’d better say hello to Mr. Wolfe. Mary, it was awful sweet meeting you.”

We went back out the hallway.

“That is sweet,” said Harry, “having a sweet gal like that cooking for you.”

I didn’t say anything. The best way for me to lose my job was to cause trouble with Fritz. Mary was sweet, all right, but she wasn’t quite that sweet.

We went into the office.

“Mr. Caldwell,” said Wolfe, looking up from his book. “I hope your visit to my kitchen reassured you.”

“Now, Mr. Wolfe, you know I didn’t need any reassurance. I love a good kitchen, and you’ve got the best.”

Wolfe smiled.

“The best is never an extravagance,” he said. “Perfection is never obtainable, but what pleasure can compare with its pursuit?”

“You’re telling me. That’s some fine-looking steak in there.”

“Indeed. Would you care for a drink, Mr. Caldwell?”

“Just a little bourbon would do me fine.”

I got Harry two fingers of Wild Turkey over some ice and a beer for Wolfe. He doesn’t like to bother Fritz when we’re getting close to dinner time. I had a little Wild Turkey myself, just to be sociable, but I added water. I’m just not tough enough to drink it neat.

“Now, Mr. Wolfe,” said Harry, “Archie told me you’re looking for a fellow named Peter Rogers.”

“I am,” said Wolfe.

“Well, it turns out that Mr. Rogers is a very interesting fellow. As soon as I started asking about him, people started asking about me. Then I learn that this Peter Rogers had been hooked up with a woman named Anita Watson. All of a sudden I find out I’m working on the biggest, blackest murder in New York history. You know, Mr. Wolfe, I’m the kind of a guy who can take the rough with the smooth, and who doesn’t get too greedy. But I’m guessing that you’re working for this fellow Phineas Martínez. Is that a fact?”

“It is.”

“You must be charging him a tight price.”

“I’m charging him nothing unless I perform.”

“People talk, Mr. Wolfe, people talk. Now, Archie, here, is a very sharp detective, I must say, but he doesn’t travel too well. I mean, when he’s traveling north of 101st Street. So I wonder if I shouldn’t be talking to Mr. Martínez myself.”

“A plausible supposition, Mr. Caldwell.”

Harry grinned.

“A ‘supposition.’ That’s like a ‘supposin’, I guess.”

“It is indeed.”

“The problem is, I can’t eat a man’s steak and then walk out on him. And those steaks Fritz showed me, I don’t think I can turn them down. I’m letting my belly make up my mind for me, and that ain’t good business.”

“Perhaps I should provide a more continuing inducement to both. Agree to function as an independent contractor for this affair and I will extend a monthly invitation to dine with me for the next twelve months. I believe you have never enjoyed Fritz’s short ribs braised with beer and buckwheat honey. With Fritz’s coleslaw and French-fried onion rings?”

Harry didn’t just grin this time. He laughed.

“Short ribs fixed with beer and buckwheat honey! I guess you want to see a man eat himself to death.”

“Indeed not. I prefer you as an ally, not a victim.”

Harry laughed some more and finished his whiskey.

“I think you got yourself a deal, Mr. Wolfe. I’ll tell you what I know about Peter Rogers. He was in Harlem until Anita Watson was murdered, definitely, and he probably still is, but he’s made himself awful scarce. He knows some hard people. I figure if he is in the city, something’s keeping him here. He and Anita were looking for a sweet score, and now he figures he can get it on his own. Mr. Martínez would love to hang Anita’s murder on Peter, wouldn’t he?”

“He would.”

“And a man with a rap sheet like Peter’s would make an awfully nice fall guy. So why’s he sticking?”

“Allow me to propose another supposition—that Mr. Rogers is guilty of the murder. If so, it is possible that someone can provide evidence of his guilt. Mr. Rogers may feel that he must remain close in order to ensure that this person does not do so. He finds himself on the horns of a dilemma. Violence might be dangerous, because it could draw attention away from Jermaine and towards himself. But, given both his nature and his circumstances, he will not adjure it entirely. And so he lingers.”

“That fits, especially if there’s money involved, and he can’t get his hands on it.”

Wolfe was about to say something more, when Fritz summoned us to dinner. We began with very young Guinea hens, served with cognac and black cherry sauce. Fritz makes the final touches at the table, carving the hens and igniting them with the cognac in a chafing dish. Harry loved this.

“When I was a cook,” he said, “I had to bust my ass just to make food taste good. If I was lucky, I could make it look good too. But this is presentation! It takes a real chef to do this!”

Fritz was imperturbable, of course. A chef, when he’s presenting, acknowledges compliments impersonally. To actually appear gratified or pleased would be too personal—unprofessional. But I was sure he was pleased. Fritz only really listens to people who know food. Harry doesn’t know cuisine, but he does know food.

Then we got down to business. I won’t say that Harry was in a hurry to get to the steak, but he didn’t eat that Guinea hen so much as he inhaled it. “Sweet, sweet, sweet,” was all he said when it was going down.

With the Guinea hens gone, it was time for the tornedoes Rossini.

“What’s that on the top?” asked Harry.

“Goose liver and truffles,” said Fritz.

“If you say so.”

I guess Harry didn’t mind, because he ate that first filet almost as fast as he ate the Guinea hen.

“Best tornado I ever et,” he said. “Never ate goose liver before, at least, not on purpose, but Fritz can make me eat anything, and make me like it.”

With the first tornedo down, Harry was ready to talk a little, mostly about real estate.

“Never thought I’d see the day,” he said, “white folks moving into Harlem. Hell, we’ll let them in, but they’re going to pay for it. White folks beat dope dealers any day.”

Harry was rehabbing a couple of brownstones on 120th and 2nd.

“I hate to say it, but real estate beats just about anything. When you’re a private dick you got to worry if some damn fool is going to blow your head off. Now all I got to worry about is rats and rain. Where’s the man who can build a perfect roof? That’s what I want, one you can just slap on a building and it won’t leak. You got yourself a roof, you got yourself a house. Just get rid of the damn rats, and you’re in business. White folks hate rats. I’ve never seen a rat I couldn’t whip, but white folks can’t handle them.”

Wolfe could have talked a little about roofs and rehab himself, but he kept his mouth shut. If he started in on that, one thing would lead to another, and pretty soon Harry would start asking why he should be running around Harlem looking for a thug like Peter Rogers for $90 an hour while Wolfe was being paid $6 million to sit on his fanny and read about Edmund Burke. So we talked about patterns of residence and the diminishing significance of race.

“Money beats race, that’s for sure,” said Harry. “I never thought I’d live to see the day. Didn’t think there would be such a day. Didn’t even imagine it. But it’s coming. My man Clinton did that. Changed the subject entirely. Black and white’s going. Everything’s all mixed together now, if you’ve got the cash. Not even cash. A man with a roll is a damn hick, a city hick. Plastic’s the thing—plastic and an uptown rep. Harlem’s getting uptown. The folks that are getting left behind don’t like it. I understand, but I ain’t going to be one of them.”

After we finished off the tornedoes it was time for a change of pace, although I don’t think that lobster Albert would qualify as “cleansing the palate.” Harry knew enough not to call it “surf and turf.” He just said “sweet.” Eating lobster in the shell got Wolfe started on the physiology of the arthropods, and the architecture of life, which I’d heard him talk about more than once. Shellfish would do that to him—lobsters, crabs, even oysters—it didn’t matter. Harry just listened.

We’d already eaten more than most people eat in a day, but when Fritz and Mary brought out the steaks, with potatoes noisette and roasted vegetables, it seemed like we were just getting started. We finished with coffee and cognac. Fritz offered us fruit and cheese but he didn’t have any takers. It was close to ten when we made it back to the office. Wolfe was a little antsy about putting a full-time tail on Rogers the minute we found him, which convinced me that Wolfe really didn’t know who had killed Anita. If Rogers was sticking, Wolfe figured, he must have a good reason, and he wouldn’t leave absent a “precipitous development”—which I figured meant another body. I was set to hang this on Rogers, but I figured everyone else was too, and that made me wonder. I knew bad things about the guy, but I’d never met him, so how did I know he was guilty? Eating a big dinner, even with Harry Caldwell, wasn’t doing much to catch Anita’s killer or get Jermaine off the hook. I went to bed that night thinking that I would be getting up early in the morning.

Chapter 4

Even after eight hours of sleep, I think I was still digesting steak when I went down for breakfast. I told Fritz I wasn’t in the mood for anything too heavy. He gave me a glass of juice made from fresh bananas, guavas, and limes, which Mary must have made the night before. I drank my juice and started skimming the papers, which were going wild with Jermaine, of course, but if they had anything I didn’t know I didn’t see it. Dykes was playing it tight, as he always does, and Cramer was saying nothing. The Mayor said that justice would prevail, which it would, of course, but that was going to cost Martínez $6 million, although nobody knew it yet but him.

When I finished my juice Fritz poured me another glass. A minute later he brought me what he called shirred eggs opera style. I don’t know how to shir an egg, and I don’t know what chicken livers have to do with the opera, but I do know that they go together well with a glass of banana-guava-lime. I took my coffee into the office and ran through my emails and my phone mails. I was deleting with both hands, something I’m pretty good at, but it still took me half an hour to get through them, mostly because there were a few from Wolfe’s orchid-fancier pals that I actually had to read. After listening to the first five words of fifty phone messages, I returned one of them, to Lon Cohen at the Gazette.

“Archie!” he exclaimed. “You returned my call!”

“I always return your calls, Lon.”

“Archie, if you have got anything on this, anything at all, the sky’s the limit. Just name it.”

“Nothing right now,” I said. “But sit tight, and I mean absolutely tight, and I’ll have an exclusive for you.”

“Archie! Wolfe is on this, isn’t he? What’s the angle?”

“I said sit tight, didn’t I? I’ve never heard you so excited.”

“That’s because I’ve never been so excited. Archie, this trial is going to get more ink than OJ, and it’s happening right here.”

Sometimes Lon can get a little fierce. But the people have the right to know, don’t they?

“I’ll call you, Lon. The first thing.”

“Call me any time,” he said. “And that means three AM on a Saturday night. It means four AM on a Saturday night. I don’t care. Just call me.”

“You got it,” I said.

That took care of Lon. When I finished with him I actually had some real work to do, entering plant records. I finished them off in less than an hour and then spent twenty minutes scanning the Internet. Neither Jermaine nor Peter Rogers had confessed, so we were still in business.

I thought that now would be a good time to try to catch up with Roberta, and this time she was picking up.

“Archie!” she said. “I was so surprised to get your call.”

“Well, now that we’re both on the same team, I thought we ought to get to know each other better.”

She laughed.

“Is that how you put it? You are old-fashioned.”


She laughed again.

“I’m afraid, Mr. Goodwin, that, even though you and Mr. Wolfe are working for Mr. Martínez, he isn’t too fond of you.”

“I would definitely like an opportunity to change that.”

The third time around it was more of a giggle than a laugh.

“I’m not sure that that would be proper. Anyway, I’m tied up completely for the next two nights.”

“Then we better think about the two after that.”

“No! I don’t think that would be a good idea.”

It was my turn to laugh.

“I’ll call you,” I said.

“Archie! No!”

That made me laugh some more.

“I’ll call you,” I said one more time.

So that was that. I was in a good mood, but wouldn’t be able to do anything about it for another two nights. I went back to the Internet for another ten minutes. Wolfe came down at eleven, with two tall spikes of Oncidium flexuosum.

“Good morning, Archie,” he said. “Did you sleep well?”

“After that dinner last night I should have hibernated.”

Wolfe grunted. I watched as he arranged the orchids in the vase on his desk. Wolfe has grown several thousand varieties of orchids in his time, so that I can’t say that he has a favorite, but he is partial to Oncidium flexuosums, because he loves yellow. He once complimented me on a tie, saying it was “Oncidium flexuosum yellow.”

He seated his seventh of a ton behind the desk and rang for beer.

“Has Saul reported?”


“And I assume that Mr. Caldwell has not as well?”

“He hasn’t called.”

“And your infernal machine? It is silent?”

“Infernal machine” is his way of saying “computer.” He knows how damn useful they are, but he pretends he hates them.

“Nothing’s broken,” I said. “You can still earn that $6 million, if you step lively.”

“Pfui. Let Mr. Martínez simmer for a day or two. He will be less grudging once he realizes that he can expect succor from no source other than myself.”

Apparently, the thought of poor Jermaine cooped up in a brown-stone on the Upper East Side, weighed down with an ankle bracelet, didn’t bother him as much as it did me. Fritz arrived with the beer, which was what Wolfe was really waiting for. He opened the bottle with the gold bottle opener and put the cap in the front drawer of his desk. Then he poured the beer into the glass until the foam rose within a quarter inch of the rim. He drank carefully and licked the foam from his lips. Then he picked up F.P. Lock and started reading. I put on my earphones and listened to Norah Jones while I went through the bio of Tanya Abbott that Phineas had supplied one more time, trying to figure out why Wolfe liked her. I wasn’t getting anywhere when the phone rang.

“Archie, it’s me.”

It was Saul.

“What have you got?” I asked.

“It’s good, but expensive. I’ve been talking with a former boyfriend of Tanya’s, Jerry Martin. He says he quit her when he decided she was using him as an errand boy for a little business in high-end tchotchkes.”

“That’s what he said.”

“No, that’s what I said. He said ‘high-end shit.’”

“Okay, what exactly did he mean?”

“The kind of knick-knacks a superstar collects on the circuit, only lots of it—cases of Krystal champagne, jewelry, electronics, designer dresses, handbags, shoes—you name it. All from Maureen, apparently, or almost all of it. He said he was with her for eight months and she cleared over $400,000.”

“That’s a lot of tchotchkes.”

“Yeah. Well, he said he got tired of being a strong back with empty pockets, and an empty bed.”

“This guy sounds terrific.”

“He came up with that one on his own.”

“Anything else?”

“What I got cost me a grand. He said he’d give up the number of Tanya’s private cell for five more. He says it’s her business line and she hasn’t changed it. I’m not sure I believe that. Also, I didn’t know if Wolfe wanted it that badly or if you’ve already got it. I can get him the cash in an hour if you want it.”

“I’ll check.”

I turned to Wolfe.

“Saul,” I said. “He’s been talking with Tanya’s ex. She’s been running a business under Phineas’ nose, selling superstar freebies on some sort of gray market. About $400,000 in eight months, according to the ex. For five grand we can have the number to her private cell. Do you want to talk to Tanya without going through Phineas?”

Wolfe grunted.

“How much has Saul paid this man so far?”

“Just a grand.”

“Under the circumstances, that sounds advisable. Even if Miss Abbott has discarded the number, which would have been prudent, the confidence of this individual appears worth maintaining.”

“It’s a go,” I told Saul.

“Did you know about this?” I asked Wolfe, after hanging up on Saul.

“I? Indeed not.”

So he was going to play it that way. I went on the Internet and checked through the twenty-five emails that had accumulated since I had checked last. There were two worth keeping, both from orchid growers. Otherwise, nothing. I ran a search on Maureen, not thinking I would find anything, but I couldn’t be sure. Anything that would help push that incipient smirk off Wolfe’s face was worth having.

For lunch Fritz treated us to pot au feu, lamb brain fritters, and celery knob and beet salad, with mango sorbet accompanied by macadamia nut shortbread for dessert. Wolfe started in on Burke’s notion of the British constitution with the soup and didn’t let up. Most of it was directed more at George Bush than me, and I didn’t object. How could I? Even 9/11 couldn’t make Republicans really feel sorry for New York. I know Wolfe wished that George could be there, but if he had been I don’t think he would have listened. But I bet he would have enjoyed the fritters. Lamb brains are getting harder and harder to find, and when Fritz gets his hands on some good ones he does them right.

Wolfe had enough to say about the British constitution, not to mention the limited but intriguing parallels between the French Revolution and the reaction to it and modern times, that we barely got back in the office before two-thirty. I checked the phone mail and there was a message from Saul, giving us Tanya’s cell. We agreed that I would handle the call, with Wolfe listening in. I dialed her number and got a quick reaction.


“Hello, Miss Abbott. This is Archie Goodwin. I work for Nero Wolfe. Is this a good time for you to talk?”

“I’ll tell you what I’ll do,” she said. “I’ll call you right back.”

“I would appreciate that,” I said, quickly, “because, you know, Miss Abbott, Mr. Wolfe has been hired by Mr. Martínez to solve the murder of Anita Watson.”

“Really? Well, I will call you right back.”

Her phone clicked. I turned to Wolfe.

“What do you think?” I asked.

“An acute young woman,” he said, “but then that was already established. I doubt that she thinks she can elude us, but no doubt she wishes to be more sure of her ground.”

He glanced at the clock.

“If she calls back immediately, insist that she come here as soon as possible. Suggest that compliance will bring leniency.”

“Will it?”

“Quite possibly. Unless she herself is the murderer, of course.”

If Wolfe had more to say, he didn’t get a chance, because the phone rang. I picked it up, putting it on speaker as I did so.

“Mr. Goodwin?”

“Yes, this is Mr. Goodwin, Miss Abbott. Thanks for calling me back so quickly. As I just said, Mr. Wolfe has been hired to find the person who murdered Anita Watson. We’ve been talking with a gentleman named Jerry Martin, and your name came up.”

“I see.”

“Yes, and Mr. Wolfe feels that you might be able to shed some light on all of this. Naturally, in this sort of investigation we like to be as discreet as possible. For example, we don’t believe that Mr. Martínez needs to know about this.”

“Well, aren’t you a clever fellow, Mr. Goodwin! And I suppose Mr. Wolfe is pretty clever too.”

“He has that reputation.”


“We were hoping that it might be possible for you to come by here this evening, say eight-thirty or nine.”

“That’s awfully early for me, Mr. Goodwin. What about ten-thirty?”

Wolfe nodded.

“That would be fine,” I said, and I gave her the address.

“She could be playing us,” I said after I hung up, “but she sounded straight.”

“It might be advisable to ascertain the state of Mr. Martin’s health just prior to her arrival,” said Wolfe. “You felt it appropriate to reveal our source?”

“Dropping Jerry’s name let her know we’ve got the goods on her. If she’s smart enough to con Phineas Martínez she’s smart enough to know that killing Jerry Martin would be the stupidest thing she could do.”

“Perhaps. But attributing rationality to even the most cunning criminal mind is always an unwarrantable assumption.”

“You think she’s good for it, don’t you?”

“On the contrary, I am a decided skeptic. But the possibility exists, and a murderer threatened with exposure will not be constrained by the bonds of common sense.”

“You want me to call Saul and see if he can keep an eye on Jerry?”

“I think that would be judicious.”

I called Saul, who told me he would have a good man on Jerry in fifteen minutes and would keep us posted. That seemed to satisfy Wolfe, because he rang for beer and picked up F. P. Locke. I was getting tired of sitting on my fanny, so I told Wolfe I was going for a walk. What I really felt like doing was visiting Jermaine. I could console her for being under arrest, and also I could smell her perfume. I felt it was unfair that I was defending her but couldn’t be near her. Of course, Wolfe had said that I shouldn’t be alone with any of the three sisters, which I knew was an awfully good rule, but I couldn’t help wanting to break it. I was heading east on Thirty-Fifth Street into a pretty brisk wind. I had on a topcoat and hat, with my hands in my pockets, but it was a damn cold November that year and the sky was overcast—not good weather for walking. I took out my cell and called the security chief at the Hotel Pennsylvania. He wasn’t that happy to hear from me, but we both agreed that having a little chat might be worthwhile. I flagged a cab on Seventh and headed downtown.

I met my friend at a coffee shop a block from the hotel. He wasn’t any happier to see me than he was to hear me, so I picked up the tab for the coffee.

“They’re blaming me, Archie,” he said.

“You didn’t rent Anita Watson a room,” I said. “And you didn’t tell anyone where she was staying, did you?”

“You know it’s not like that,” he said. “If it happened on your watch, it’s your fault.”

“So what did happen?”

“She checked in a week before the murder. She paid with cash, which we don’t like, and said she didn’t want her presence at the hotel confirmed. If someone called and asked for Anita Watson, staff were to say that there was no one registered with that name. She said she was having trouble with an ex-boyfriend.”

“Maybe she was right.”

“Maybe. She didn’t get any calls, and she didn’t make any. She had a cell.”

“Smart,” I said. “These days, everybody’s smart.”

“It’s the damn TV. I wish we could do half the stuff they say we can do.”

“Right. What did the cops talk to you about?”

He looked at me.

“Cramer called me. He said not to talk to you.”

“That doesn’t surprise me. I can tell you this: Wolfe says that Jermaine is innocent. If he pulls it off, it’s going to be huge.”

“So I’m supposed to want in on it?”

“You’re a man of discretion. Use it.”

“Yeah. They asked a lot about Jermaine, of course, how she could have gotten in without anyone seeing her.”

“How did she get in?”

“In a cheap coat, a scarf, and cheap sunglasses. The coat made her look fat, and I guess she kept her head down. She didn’t ask anyone for information.”

“Did anyone see her come in?”

“No. The outfit was in the room.”

“The odds are at least a hundred to one that she got a call,” I said. “But unless Cramer is holding it back, she hasn’t said from whom.”

“It was a set-up, Archie. Anita Watson called you because someone told her to.”

“I’m not sure. There are too many pieces floating around. Me, Jermaine, Anita, and whoever pulled the trigger. Maybe Anita’s call to me was on the level, and someone jumped on it. Someone like Peter Rogers.”

“You think he’s good for it?”

“Everyone says he’s bad. Anita trusted him, or least she had trusted him. She probably would have let him in. If she thought I might get cute, she might have wanted him there. Did the cops even ask about Rogers?”

“Yeah, but they kept it quiet. They had a photo that they showed around, but they didn’t use his name. Somebody else could have been in that room. But if the cops found anything to prove it, they kept it under their hat.”

“If they did, I can’t see Cramer charging Jermaine.”

He nodded.

“Anyway, no one on our staff spotted him, that I can tell. I mean, we aren’t Tiffany’s. We get lots of people, and lots of different kinds of people.”

“I’m not complaining, I’m just asking. Listen. What about the rooms next to Anita’s. And the ones above and below. Who stayed there? What I really mean is, did anyone disappear?”

“The room above hers was vacant. All the adjoining rooms were checked out. Everyone was identified and cleared.”

“The room above was vacant for the whole week?”

“Yes. It was cleared two days before Anita arrived. Three girls from Ohio said the air was bad. Something about the heating unit or the blower. There’s a work order on it.”

“Did the cops interview the girls?”

“No. They left three days before the murder.”

“Did that work order get executed?”

“Yes. It’s been occupied since yesterday.”

“But it was unoccupied the whole time Anita was there.”


“Can you get me names and phone numbers of the girls from Ohio?”

“Is this important?”

“I don’t know. Maybe the girls will tell me.”

“OK, I’ll get it for you. I’ve got to get back. Let me know if you hear anything.”

I said I would, but I probably wouldn’t until I’d heard everything. I wasn’t expecting much from the girls but when I report back to Wolfe I like to have an answer to every question he could ask, and I didn’t have an answer to this one. I took a walk up Seventh. The wind had died down and the sun had come out, so I decided to spend a little shoe leather and hiked it back to the brownstone instead of taking a cab. My head was clearer but not any smarter than when I left. I took off my hat and coat and went into the kitchen to talk with Fritz. I sat on a stool and drank a glass of milk while I watched him prepare five pounds of lamb’s neck for pâté. It was nice lamb’s neck and Fritz was in a good mood.

“Did you get these with the brains?” I asked.

“Of course,” he said, slicing a carrot. “Such fine lamb! Mr. Harris is to be congratulated. Mr. Wolfe will be pleased. We have not had pâté d’ agneau in more than a year.”

Fritz always goes to Mr. Harris for lamb. I don’t know how he gets fresh lamb in November—fresh lamb that will meet Fritz’s standards—but he does. He will do slaughter to order for special clients, which isn’t cheap, but if you want lamb’s brains, he’s your man. Fritz put the carrot in a pot with the lamb’s neck and then sliced an onion and added that as well. He added thyme, and coriander, and fennel, and black peppercorns, and then poured in about three cups of olive oil. When he was done he put a lid on the pot and put it in the oven.

“Will those young women be coming back?” he asked, turning away from me.

“Probably not,” I said. “At least, not until Mr. Wolfe is ready to solve the case. He feels they’re a distraction.”

Fritz didn’t say anything to that. I went into the office and started deleting emails and phone messages. When Jermaine Campbell has been indicted for murder and it’s known that she was in Wolfe’s office, reporters can’t resist calling every two hours. When it broke that Wolfe was on the case for real, they’d be calling every minute. Fortunately, Martínez was keeping a lid on it.

While I was deleting emails I got one, from the Hotel Pennsylvania. It gave names for three women, but only one phone number, in Sandusky. I called and got an answering machine. The second girl said her name was Mary Richards, which might have been a joke, but since the third girl was not named Rhoda Morgenstern, I took a chance and worked my way through three M. Richards before I found one who had been to the Hotel Pennsylvania.

“Hello, Ms. Richards,” I said, trying to sound efficient. “This is Harold Roberts with the Hotel Pennsylvania. I’m just calling to find out how you felt about your stay in our hotel.”

“Well, it was fine,” she said, sounding a little cautious, as though they might have broken something, or thought they had.

“What about the heating unit?” I said. “I understand there was some problem with that, I mean, in the first room you had.”

“Well, that was what you said.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. Unless I’m reading this wrong, someone in your suite complained about an odor.”

“An odor!” She laughed. “No, that wasn’t it. Someone at the desk said there might be a problem with carbon monoxide. That’s why they moved us. I think you got some bad information.”

“It certainly sounds like it,” I said. “I’m glad I called. We really need to keep better records. Well, how was the second room?”

“Fine. I mean, it was a room.”

“Of course. And the next time you’re in New York, we certainly hope you’ll join us at the Hotel Pennsylvania again.”

“Yeah, sure.”

From the way she said it, she must have figured me for a corporate drudge, but I didn’t care. The way they were telling it, the girls had been moved. And why would they lie?

I finished the rest of the emails and did a little dusting. I was wishing Roberta hadn’t been so specific about being busy for two days, but she had been, so I called Fred Durkin and asked if he was up for a little eight-ball later that evening, and he was. Fred was about as far from Bryn Mawr as you could get, but he was still good company.

Wolfe came down from the plant rooms at six.

“I talked with my friend at the Pennsylvania,” I told him, once he got settled. “There’s no evidence that anyone was in that room with Anita other than Jermaine.”

“If there had been, I doubt that Mr. Dykes would have been so presumptuous as to indict Miss Campbell.”

“Yeah. I think she rubbed him, and Cramer, the wrong way. She called their bluff and they were stuck with it.”

“And so was she.”

“Yeah. But my friend doesn’t know everything that goes on at the hotel, or if he does, he isn’t telling me.”

I filled Wolfe in on what Mary Richards had to say.

“Intriguing,” he said, when I was done. “You have turned up a crumb, Archie.”

“A crumb?” I said.

“A clue, if you prefer. A substantive.”

“Okay. If someone was in that room and he clipped a toenail, or blew his nose, the cops could finger him. I mean, if they had his DNA. Which they might, if he’d done time.”

Wolfe made a face. Having the cops solve the case for us wasn’t the way he liked to do things.

“Has the room been vacant the entire time?”

“No. Someone moved in yesterday.”

“Then DNA evidence, presuming that it were obtainable, would still not be conclusive.”

“Suppose it’s Peter Rogers’ toenail?”

Wolfe made another face.

“Inform Sergeant Stebbins,” he said.

Purley never likes to hear my voice, but he will take my calls, unless Cramer tells him not to. I put the phone on speaker and dialed.

“Sgt. Stebbins,” he answered.

“Purley,” I said, “have you got a minute?”


He listened anyway and patched me through to Cramer, who wasn’t pleased.

“What is it?” he snapped.

I told him.

“So Wolfe wants us to do his legwork for him, is that it?”

“If you don’t cover that angle, it’s going to come up at trial.”

“Are you threatening me, Goodwin?”

“I’m not telling you anything you don’t know yourself.”

He knew I was right, of course, and that only made him madder. He made a suggestion about what I could do with my advice, and what Wolfe could do with his, and hung up.

“That man,” said Wolfe, coldly, “possesses honor, but not competence. He staggers from one banality to the next.”

“He’ll check it out,” I said. “He’ll have to.”

“No doubt.”

“So what do we do?”

“Wait, for the time being.”

He rang for beer and picked up Mr. Lock. He couldn’t get enough of Burke. Ten minutes later we sat down to tomato bouillon, followed by duck with turnips, accompanied by artichokes stuffed with tomatoes. Duck with turnips is a dish that Wolfe likes to eat slowly, which meant that I heard even more than I might have expected about Burke and the American Revolution, and the plight of a patriot striving to do his duty to his country in the midst of an unjust and an unwise war. I think Wolfe was quoting, or else he was just beginning to talk like Burke. He made a lot of comparisons between Britain and the U.S. during the Vietnam War, saying that Senator Eugene McCarthy might have been a Burke without his moment, which led to a long discussion of what we would think of Burke if he had died before the French Revolution, or of Winston Churchill if he had died before the Second World War. I was thinking that none of this was helping us catch Anita Watson’s murderer, but it’s one of Wolfe’s rules never to discuss business over dinner, and rules are rules.

Fritz had bread pudding with apricot sauce for dessert, but I took a pass, figuring I needed at least two hours to win enough money from Fred to make the trip to Eddie’s worth my while. Eddie has a little basement place not too far from Times Square. It’s hard to find, which is something Eddie likes, for a variety of reasons. I’m not supposed to notice some of the things that go on there, but it’s the one place I know in Mid-Town where you won’t meet a tourist or, even worse, a college graduate. Fred was on a roll for the first hour, up by fifty, but I closed towards the end and finished down by a five-spot. I figured that wasn’t much to pay to get away from Edmund Burke for a couple of hours. I left around ten so I could get back to the office in time to prepare for Tanya. I flagged a cab and had just given the driver the brownstone’s address when my cell gave me a buzz. I took it out and answered.

“Archie Goodwin.”

“Archie, it’s me. I’ve got your boy spotted.”

“That’s good. Where is he?”

“Not too far from my old place. He’s laying low, and he’s got people looking for him.”

“Any line on that?”

“The kind of people you’d hire for a job. No line on who’s hiring.”

“Okay. Stay on him. I guess you just earned those short ribs.”

Harry chuckled.

“Tell Mr. Wolfe I’ll be around to collect. Say, does the name Miranda Jones mean anything to you?”

“No. Why?”

“Miranda’s sister sent her $90,000 in money orders from ten post offices around Harlem over the past few days. Paid for with brand-new C-notes. Miranda got the cash in Miami. She used to spend time with a feller named Gene Allen.”

“Sorry. I don’t know Miranda, and I don’t know Gene.”

“Well, I know him. He’s tried to take me out a couple of times over the years. I never could prove a damn thing, so I keep an eye out for him. He’s a free-lance son of a bitch, and he’d definitely pull the trigger if the price was right.”

“Is he looking for Rogers?”

“I haven’t heard that. I’ll ask around.”

“Sounds good.”

I clicked my cell shut and settled back. Peter Rogers was sticking and he was in a jam. It was a good bet that things had gone south for him, but how? I was guessing that he hadn’t killed Anita, that he and Anita had been the victim of a double-cross of some sort, but why was he staying in Harlem, especially with people looking for him? It was hard to see how he could still expect to make some cash out of this. Of course, he might have been hanging around to prevent someone from pinning the rap for Anita’s death on him, but he didn’t sound like he was in a position to do much threatening. I still hadn’t gotten it sorted out in my mind when I reached the brownstone. When I got in I found that Wolfe had finished with Lock and had started in on Burke and India, by someone named Frederick Whelan. So I wasn’t finished with Edmund.

“I got a call from Harry,” I said. “Peter Rogers is about a hundred blocks north of here, lying low, with men looking for him.”

“I am not surprised. Poor Mr. Rogers is learning how little honor there is among thieves. I wonder if he is capable of profiting from the lesson.”

“Yeah. Harry mentioned a couple of other names—Miranda Jones and Gene Allen. Gene is some sort of hit man that Harry doesn’t care for. Miranda’s his girl, or she was, and it looks like Gene just got paid for something. Miranda’s sister had $90,000 in fresh hundred-dollar bills.”

“Is there anything to link them to this matter?”

“Nothing so far. Harry would like to see Gene in the slammer.”

“Pfui. I seek culprits, not scapegoats.”

“Yeah. Should I call Purley about this one too?”

“Yes. Perhaps we can oblige Mr. Caldwell gratis in this matter.”

I called. Purley was about as excited to hear about Miranda Jones as he had been to hear about Mary Richards, but he did tell me that they’d put a man on it. I hung up and turned to Wolfe.

“Is there anything you want to go over before Tanya arrives?” I asked.

“No. I am content to trust to the moment.”

I sat at my desk and deleted a few emails. Wolfe was acting like he had something, but he was always so full of bluff—acting like he had something when he didn’t, acting like he was empty when he had the whole case right in the palm of his hand—that I didn’t even bother to try to read him. Trusting the moment looked pretty good to me too.

The doorbell rang. When I answered it, Tanya Abbott was looking pretty good too—what Lily likes to call sass and class—New York and LA. The belted full-length camelhair she was wearing couldn’t have come cheap.

“So nice to meet you at last, Mr. Goodwin,” she said, as though she meant it. “I’ve heard so much about you.”

She had a soft, elegant voice. I helped her off with the camelhair. The white silk double-breasted pant suit she had on underneath probably wasn’t from Macy’s. The deep vee of the jacket showed nothing but warm brown skin, and up close it looked very, very warm. I was up to my eyeballs in beautiful young women and couldn’t do a damn thing about it.

“I’ll take you to see Mr. Wolfe,” I said.

“Good evening, Miss Abbott,” said Wolfe, when we arrived. “You will forgive me if I remain seated.”

“Of course, Mr. Wolfe.”

Tanya sat in the big red chair in front of Wolfe’s desk as though she owned it, and crossed her legs gracefully. She gave Wolfe a big smile, then turned and gave me one too. I realized, as I should have before, that she was used to handling egos.

“Now, Mr. Wolfe, what can I do for you?”

There wasn’t anything in her manner to indicate that we had her in a pretty tight corner.

“You are Maureen Campbell’s hairdresser?”

“Yes, I am.”

“And is that all you do?”

Tanya laughed.

“I guess it doesn’t sound like much to you, Mr. Wolfe. Maybe I’m being presumptuous, but I don’t think you know very much about show business.”

“Perhaps not,” Wolfe conceded. “How long have you known that Miss Campbell and Peter Rogers were lovers?”

Tanya laughed. It was a good laugh, but not perfect.

“What a thing to say, Mr. Wolfe! What would make you think that?”

“A number of things. You were not present in this office several days ago, Miss Abbott, when Mr. Martínez and the three Campbell sisters came here to seek my assistance. During that discussion, the name of Mr. Rogers came up, as one would have expected. I was surprised at the vigor with which Miss Jermaine Campbell seized control of the conversation. I also observed a certain discomfort on the part of Maureen Campbell. She was the only one of the three to say nothing throughout the visit.”

“Maureen is the quiet one.”

“Perhaps. But, in my perception at least, it was her nervous ingestion of water at the first mention of Mr. Rogers’ name that prompted Jermaine Campbell to wax so eloquent.”

“‘Wax so eloquent.’ You are rather eloquent yourself, Mr. Wolfe.”

“Thank you. I am fond of words. I strive always to treat them with respect. But to continue. This observation, trivial in itself, might have meant nothing. But now Miss Jermaine Campbell finds herself charged with murder, and I would say it was half her own doing.”

“Well, I know she’s innocent. It’s the police who are so damn stupid they can’t find the real criminal so they pin it on a black woman. They just want to get on TV. It’s like OJ all over again.”

“I should hope not, though when the American system of celebrity and the American system of justice collide, it is almost always the latter that is destroyed. Let me acquaint you with my reasoning on this matter, Miss Abbott. Miss Campbell found herself in an extremely compromising situation. One might have expected her to do everything she could to extricate herself. Instead, she did everything, short of a full confession, to implicate herself. She proclaimed her innocence but refused to provide any explanation of her actions whatsoever, essentially daring the police not to arrest her. Of course, she was arrested, and now she has been indicted. Her behavior could have been the result of either panic or guilt, but I have been doubtful. From my brief conversation with Miss Campbell, I formed the opinion that she was a shrewd and resourceful woman, with something to hide. I wondered if that something might involve her sister Maureen.

“At first it was difficult to obtain information. I had the files that Mr. Martínez had provided, which, on the one hand were thorough, yet on the other had surely been ‘scrubbed,’ to use the expression currently in favor with those paid to deceive us—I refer to our so-called intelligence agencies—of any information that Mr. Martínez felt I ought not to know. I supplemented Mr. Martínez’s files with a variety of exuberantly tawdry publications that Mr. Goodwin was kind enough to obtain for me. I discovered, Miss Abbott, a surprising discontinuity. It seems that you are a genuine celebrity in your own right.”

Tanya laughed.

“Me! I don’t think so, Mr. Wolfe. Of course, there’s gossip connected with everyone involved with Black PussyCat. People like to go on about hair. You know that. Mr. Martínez is very careful about keeping the spotlight on his stars. He’s just doing his job.”

“Perhaps. But I must remark upon your rings, Miss Abbott. I presume you are a collector.”

“Well, I do like jewelry.”

“Indeed. That stone in the ring you wear on the middle finger of your left hand is most distinctive. Egyptian, is it not?”

“Well, I’m glad I’m not trying to fool you, Mr. Wolfe, because it would be no good to try. I’m fond of ancient Egyptian pieces. I was able to buy this through a gentleman I know at the Cairo museum. It’s about four thousand years old. It’s not really that valuable, but I do love it.”

“Would you allow me to examine it more closely?”

“Sure, if you like.”

Tanya took off the ring and handed to Wolfe. The stone was large and black, with an engraving. Wolfe studied it through his magnifying glass.

“Onyx, Archie,” he said to me. “Not of great value, though very striking. The ankh, of course, is ubiquitous in Egyptian art. I cannot vouch for its antiquity.”

“Well, I can,” Tanya said. “I had it examined by seven experts. There’s a lot of fakes out there, Mr. Wolfe.”

“There are indeed, Miss Abbott. But without them I would be compelled either to forego my extravagant tastes or else support them through more arduous endeavor. So let us not condemn the baseness of our species out of hand.”

“Why are you interested in my ring, Mr. Wolfe?”

“An excellent question. Because I have seen it before—three times, in fact, in photographs supplied by Mr. Martínez, taken at various premieres and other events that feature Maureen Campbell and her sisters or Miss Campbell with Mr. Martínez. I believe I also observed your ring in two videos. Always your ring, but never yourself. I was able to obtain other photographs that allowed me to identify you as the wearer of the ring. And so it was clear to me that these photographs and videos had been cropped and edited to remove your image. As you are no doubt thoroughly aware, Mr. Martínez is a man who prefers to have things his way.”

“He’s a control freak.”

“As you wish. My review was not exhaustive, but I do not believe that the image of any other person was so scrupulously removed from the material submitted to me by Mr. Martínez. In my investigations, Miss Abbott, I am always particularly interested to know the things that other people do not wish me to know. And so, Miss Abbott, if you would be so kind, please tell me what Mr. Martínez does not want me to know about you.”

With that, Wolfe leaned back in his chair, laced his fingers over his stomach, and closed his eyes.

“Well, look at you,” Tanya laughed. “You’re just like the caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland, aren’t you? But I don’t suppose you’ll turn into a butterfly, no matter how long I wait. Well, I will tell you, Mr. Wolfe, but not because I want to. To hear a secret, I want you to keep a secret. You know the one I mean.”

“I do not reveal secrets unnecessarily, Miss Abbott. I demand privacy for myself and respect it in others. It would seem that it is almost as urgent for you that this mystery be resolved as it is for Mr. Martínez.”

“Then I guess I would be doing him a favor if I told you, wouldn’t I? Well, it isn’t that much of a mystery. Maureen does trust me. Being a hairdresser for a young woman can be a very intimate relationship, Mr. Wolfe. You would be surprised.”

“Everything about young women is a surprise to me, Miss Abbott. In such matters I am a perpetual tyro.”

She laughed.

“A tyro. I guess I’m not supposed to know what that is, and I don’t. Well, Mr. Tyro, it was my job, and it’s still my job, to keep an eye on Maureen and keep her out of trouble. You know, I don’t think you like Phineas very much, and there are times when I don’t like him either, but he is a very smart man. He doesn’t want to know everything Maureen does. It’s my job to see that, whatever she does, it won’t be serious. That isn’t easy. When Maureen was fifteen the girls would split a can of soup three ways for dinner. Now she’s twenty-three. She’s rich, she’s beautiful, she’s famous. There isn’t much a girl like that won’t try, especially when a man’s involved.”

“Peter Rogers.”

“Yes, Mr. Wolfe, Peter Rogers, a goddamn son of a bitch, if you want my opinion. A man like that is nothing but trouble, and that’s what a young girl wants. I mean, Maureen was the quiet one. Jermaine was the leader. Adelle was the baby. Maureen had to do something. I don’t know which is worse, a man or drugs. I talked with Peter when it started. I told him I would let it happen if there were no drugs. I knew Phineas hated Peter, but that didn’t matter. I would let Maureen have her little game if there were no drugs. Peter wanted money, of course. A man like that always wants money. So I gave him some. And I kept some for myself. I was doing a job, Mr. Wolfe. A job that Phineas needed done, and that no one else could do. I was close to Maureen in a way that no one else can be. You don’t know how much a young woman needs her hairdresser.”

Tanya stopped and laughed.

“No,” she continued, “you don’t know. When a woman has a lover, when she has a secret lover, she has to have her hair perfect. She will worry about that hair, and worry about it. You just can’t get it right enough to please her. So I knew Maureen, and her moods. I knew everything she was up to. I never said. She never had to know how much I knew, because she never had to ask for help. I was always ahead of her. Peter was a habit with her, her big secret, but after two years, she wasn’t the same girl any more. She was more than a girl. I could see that, too. She wasn’t ready to leave him. But she was ready for something more, and Peter just didn’t have that much control over her. He didn’t give her money. She gave him money. She had all the money, all the everything. He was just a poor boy acting bad. She was starting to see that. She had all kinds of men wanting her. She’d done Peter. He was like an old doll she’d grown up with. She was getting ready to trade him in.”

Tanya paused.

“You can guess that Peter didn’t like that. But there wasn’t much he could do. Peter Rogers was small-time. The more he pushed, the more tired she got. She had bodyguards. She had money. There was nothing he could do.”

“Then her involvement with Mr. Rogers was at an end?”

“Yes. She didn’t need him, and he couldn’t get to her. And then he was dumb enough to get himself thrown in jail. I don’t know if Phineas planned it that way, but it worked out that way, which was just as good.”

“But, then, upon his release, Mr. Rogers apparently reacquainted himself with Ms. Watson and together they decided to reopen Ms. Watson’s agreement with Mr. Martínez.”

“Yes, I don’t know how that happened. Maybe Anita had gotten herself in trouble. I don’t know. Or maybe it was just the money. I’m sure Phineas cut her off without a penny. The figures they were throwing around—a hundred million, two hundred million. She used to drive all night to get the girls to a gig and make their breakfasts when they got there. I guess you don’t forget something like that.”

“I imagine not. But you never informed Mr. Martínez of the relationship between Maureen Campbell and Mr. Rogers, even after it had ended?”

“No. Phineas had a real thing about Peter. I’m not sure he would have forgiven me for letting it happen. Phineas likes to think that he isn’t vindictive, but he is.”

“In any event, you would have a reluctance to do anything that would prompt Mr. Martínez to subject your activities to a greater scrutiny than they have received in the past, would you not?”

“That’s not a nice way to put it, Mr. Wolfe.”

“Perhaps not. But with Mr. Martínez’s empire threatened with collapse, an empire that provides you with all your sustenance, some sacrifices must be made. Would you agree?”

“Well, if telling Phineas, and the police, about Maureen and Peter means that she’ll be arrested, what’s the point? I mean, it may make the police look stupid, but is that all you want?”

“No, I do not. I must warn you, Ms. Abbott, that this clandestine relationship will almost undoubtedly be revealed, and its revelation, when it occurs, will surely prompt Mr. Martínez to regard you in a less favorable light. You must be prepared for that eventuality.”

Tanya smiled.

“I could have guessed that, Mr. Wolfe. I had a good time being Maureen’s big sister, but it’s time to move on. I should have my own business.”

“Of course.”

“I suppose Phineas is paying you a great deal of money for all this.”

“He will be, presuming that I resolve the matter in compliance with the terms of our agreement.”

“Yes. So I don’t suppose there’s anything that I could offer that would encourage you to keep my name out of all this? I mean, does Phineas have to know that I talked with you?”

Wolfe raised his shoulders a quarter of an inch and then let them drop.

“I do not consider myself compelled to inform Mr. Martínez of everything I have done. If he asks me point blank I should hardly deny it. In any event, such a denial would do little but prompt suspicion. You know the cards you hold, and you are aware of those held by Mr. Martínez. I suggest you play them accordingly.”

Tanya rose from the chair.

“Thank you, Mr. Wolfe,” she said, extending a hand.

Wolfe rose as well. He was not one for standing or for shaking hands, but he had to stand up anyway if he was going to get to bed that night, and Tanya had put him on the spot. He shook her hand and I escorted her to the door. Her perfume was warm and spicy again. She looked straight ahead as she walked, but there was a mischievous glint in her eye. There was something about being so close to Tanya that was making me forget about Bryn Mawr.

“Maybe when this is all over we could get to know each other a little better,” I said. “Is the Flamingo too old-fashioned for you?”

“The Flamingo is but you aren’t,” she said, with a laugh. “We’ll see, Mr. Goodwin. I’m not sure Phineas will want me in New York when this is all over. Have you ever been to Vegas in the Spring?”

She turned around and kissed me, hard. A gentleman doesn’t like to be impolite and, anyway, as soon as our lips met I realized I was in the mood for a hard kiss. At the same time, I realized that, though it had never come up, of the fourteen thousand and one things Wolfe disapproved of, one of the top ten had to be two consenting adults consenting in his front hallway. I consented pretty good for about a minute but then I had to put the brakes on.

“Sorry,” I said, “you’re not the only one with a tough boss.”

She backed off, not much, and her eyes were shining.

“You’re not bad for a white boy,” she said. “Keep in touch.”

I helped her with the camelhair and opened the door.

“Good night, Archie,” she said, giving me a big smile.

I watched her walk to her silver Audi Sportster and slip inside. Her lights flashed as she swung the car around and headed back to Midtown. I walked back to the office. Wolfe was still on his feet, examining the globe, running his finger along the San Andreas Fault.

“A very shrewd woman, Ms. Abbott,” he said, as I reappeared.

“Shrewd isn’t the half of it,” I said.

“No doubt. Perhaps it is unnecessary, but I extend my ban on association to include her person.”

“Phineas was one stop ahead of you. You two are taking all the fun out of the detective business. Do we tell Phineas what we know, enough to get Maureen in here alone?”

“Confound it! If only that were desirable. No doubt, if he were without any choice, Mr. Martínez would prefer to sacrifice Maureen Campbell to preserve the career of her sister, but he would only do so with the greatest reluctance. This case contains a thousand fragments. It can only be assembled with a single gesture, and I am not in a position to make one. We must wait upon events.”

“Mr. Martínez won’t like that.”

“Perhaps not. But each passing day will make him more grateful for my services once they are rendered. Good night, Archie. I trust you will sleep well.”

Chapter 5

I did sleep well, until about three thirty in the morning, when the phone started ringing.


“Archie, it’s Harry. Peter Rogers is dead.”

That was enough to wake me up.

“Just now?”

“Yes. He was in an alley just off 133rd Street, not too far from Lexington Avenue. Two guys stepped out of a black SUV with covered plates and shot him.”

“You had a man who saw it?”

“Yes. He called it in and made himself scarce.”

“I guess he doesn’t know why Rogers was in an alley at three thirty in the morning?”

“No. I guess he must have been desperate.”

“That’s a good guess. Thanks, Harry.”

“I can taste those short ribs already.”

Harry was laughing when he hung up but I wasn’t. There was no point in waking Wolfe. I got on my computer and typed a short note telling him what happened and put it in an envelope. I found a red magic marker and wrote “URGENT!” on the envelope and took it up to Wolfe’s room and slid it under the door. He wouldn’t enjoy bending over to pick it up in the morning, but he could always use the exercise. When I went back to bed I tried to figure out how Rogers’ murder was going to break. I never got to know Pete, but I couldn’t think of anyone who would miss him. Phineas sure wouldn’t. A decent lawyer could probably get Jermaine off by convincing the jury that Rogers was good for it. Who was going to miss a two-bit pimp/drug dealer like old Pete? And Jermaine wasn’t going to have decent lawyers—she’d have the best. Which gave Phineas a bit of a motive for putting Pete down. But if we cleared Jermaine by implicating Phineas, would we get our fee? I decided I was thinking too much, so I rolled over and went to sleep.

Four hours later, the alarm went off. My head wasn’t any clearer, so I decided to give it a rest. I took a shower and dressed in a dark-blue suit with a fine claret stripe. It wasn’t quite mourning attire, but I felt Pete would have appreciated the gesture. Before going down for breakfast I checked the Internet. Everyone was screaming about the murder, of course, but they didn’t have anything that I hadn’t gotten from Harry. When I got to the kitchen I barely glanced at the papers. Their coverage was yesterday’s news already, and they didn’t know it. I drank the glass of fresh-squeezed and blended orange, pineapple, and banana juice that Fritz had ready for me and then settled down to a nice hot waffle with fresh strawberries and three pork and veal sausages. I finished my second cup of coffee and waited until five after nine before going into the office and calling Wolfe in the plant rooms.

“Good morning,” I said. “You got my note?”

“Yes. I apologize to you for the inconvenience of Mr. Caldwell’s message. He should have waited.”

“Thanks, but no thanks. Murder is always inconvenient.”

“A man’s slumber, like his digestion, should be sacred. Any invasion of these necessities should be avoided.”

“Yeah. Do you have any instructions?”

“I do. Get them here tomorrow morning. All of them. And the gentlemen and lady Mr. Martínez mentioned in our first interview.”

“Gentlemen and lady?”

“From the record companies. Both of them.”

“Let me get this straight. You want Phineas, Black PussyCat, Tanya Abbott, and the executives from Sony and Murder 1 here tomorrow morning at eleven?”

“Yes. And Miss Culbertson. And Mr. Caldwell. And Inspector Cramer.”

Having Tanya and Roberta in the same room together was not something I wanted at all, but that wasn’t an angle I could take with Wolfe.

“Suppose that’s impossible,” I tried.

“It shouldn’t be.”

If I had waited a split second I suppose I would have heard Wolfe hang up on me, but I didn’t, so he heard me hang up on him. Phineas could deliver everyone except Cramer and Harry and the guys from Murder 1, so I called him first. Naturally, he wanted to talk to Wolfe, but that wasn’t going to happen. He sputtered and snapped for about ten minutes before I finally got it through to him that if he wanted Jermaine to lose that ankle bracelet he needed to shut up and let Wolfe run things his way. At the end of the conversation we understood each other but we didn’t like each other. When I hung up the phone I sat back, feeling more than a little sweaty, which I hate, and feeling like I deserved the $6 million all for myself. But I still had two more phone calls to make. I called Harry, which was easier than shooting fish in a barrel. Harry would pay ten grand just to be in the same room with Black PussyCat, and here I was giving it to him for free. Then I called Cramer. We hadn’t seen each other in quite a while, but his mood hadn’t improved.

“Goodwin!” he snarled. “What the hell does Wolfe think he’s doing, sticking his oar in this?”

“Saving your hide,” I said. “Wolfe wants the execs from Murder 1 in his office at a quarter to eleven tomorrow morning. You and Purley can come too if you behave yourselves.”

I figured that would get a reaction, and it did. Cramer said a few things about both Wolfe and me that civil servants aren’t supposed to say in earshot of a taxpayer. I let him ramble for thirty seconds and then cut him off. I’d been harassed that morning long enough.

“Listen,” I said. “I’m going to tell you the same thing I told Phineas Martínez. If you want this thing cleaned up, you’ll be here, with guests.”

“Martínez? Wolfe wants the whole gang?”

“He does. And what Mr. Wolfe wants, Mr. Wolfe gets. I’ll be expecting you at a quarter of eleven. We want to have everyone comfortable before Mr. Wolfe comes down.”

I couldn’t see Cramer’s face, but I didn’t have to. He didn’t even claim that he couldn’t get Mario and Harris, because he knew he could. It would cost Dykes nothing to turn up the heat on Murder 1.

Five minutes after Cramer hung up the phone rang. I answered it.

“Nero Wolfe’s office. Archie Goodwin speaking.”

“Hello, Mr. Goodwin. This is the district attorney’s office for the City of New York. Mr. Dykes would like to speak with Mr. Wolfe.”

“Mr. Wolfe isn’t available. Perhaps Mr. Dykes would like to speak with me.”

Mr. Dykes didn’t want to speak with me, of course, but he didn’t have any choice, so after a minute or two of back and forth he came on the line.

“Listen here, Goodwin,” he said, “who does Nero Wolfe think he is?”

“He thinks he’s Nero Wolfe,” I said, “and he also thinks he can solve the murders of Anita Watson and Peter Rogers.”

“I—this is absurd. I won’t have the police force of the City of New York used as a prop in one of his charades. Your boss is a money-grubbing publicity hound and, frankly, I’m sick of it and so is everyone else in the city. The people of New York will be protected by its own law-enforcement officers, not some obese orchid-fancier who’s afraid to cross the street!”

I laughed.

“How long did it take you to write that speech?” I asked.

“Put Wolfe on the line!” he demanded.

“I will not. If I did, he wouldn’t speak to you, and he’d fire me. Listen, Mr. Dykes. I kind of like you, most of the time, but not right now. You know damn well that however pig-headed you are, Wolfe has got you beat. You can’t beat him, so don’t take it out on me. Mr. Wolfe invited Inspector Cramer and Sergeant Stebbins to his little soiree as a matter of pure professional courtesy. If you want to forbid them to attend, Mr. Wolfe has no objection.”

I know I was pushing Dykes, more than a little, but he was pushing me. There was a pause, as he finally got up the nerve to tell me the real reason he called.

“Very well. I am informing you, and you may inform Mr. Wolfe, that I insist on attending this gathering.”

“I’ll have to ask him,” I said. “As you know, Mr. Wolfe is very old-fashioned, about everything, but particularly about the people who pass over his threshold.”

There was nothing I could have said to Dykes that would have made him madder.

“I demand to speak with Wolfe!” he practically shouted.

“Please stay on the line,” I said, sounding like an operator.

I buzzed Wolfe on the house phone.

“Sorry to disturb you,” I said, “although I think you asked for it. Dykes is on the line. He wants to talk to you, of course, but I told him he can’t. He also wants to come to the show. What shall I tell him?”

“How absurd,” Wolfe grunted. “Of course he wants to come, and of course I desire his presence. But honor forbids us to acknowledge the obvious. Inform him that I shall be delighted to have him as my guest.”

I switched lines.

“Mr. Dykes?” I said. “Mr. Wolfe will be delighted to have you as his guest.”

“Fine,” he snapped.

So that was done. I went into the kitchen, where Fritz was preparing a broth for poaching lamb tongues.

“We’re having a party tomorrow,” I told him. “Tomorrow morning. Lots of people, but no food.”

“Mr. Wolfe is going to solve the case, Archie?”

“Mr. Wolfe thinks so. But don’t order any truffles.”

“Now, Archie, I always have truffles.”

I went back into the office. One thing I have learned working for Wolfe is not to try to outthink him. If he thought he could tie this whole thing up and wrap a ribbon around it tomorrow morning, well, I would let him try. But I wasn’t going to waste any time wondering how he was going to do it. Thanks to Wolfe and Phineas and George Bush, I was denied even the possibility of female companionship, so I called Saul and arranged to meet him for dinner, followed by the Knicks at the Garden. If Wolfe had plans for me, fine, but it sounded like he didn’t.

I spent most of the morning working on something that had nothing to do with the case. Ever since the breakup of the Soviet Union Wolfe had been taking more and more interest in the Balkans. Once he discovered that there were websites based in the Balkans, he had me download material for him every week. There were about twenty sites that Wolfe found “interesting,” which was a lot to print out. It was all in Greek, or Russian, or Serbian, so it was over my head, but Wolfe was happy.

When he came down from the plant rooms I asked him if there was anything that needed doing, and he said no, which left me nothing to do but type up plant records and take care of a little correspondence. For lunch Fritz gave us lamb tongue salad, along with tomatoes stuffed with scrambled eggs and truffles, accompanied by lamb sausages and lamb kidneys. Wolfe filled me in on the grandeur and vanity of empire, and the role of nabobs in 18th century English parliamentary politics.

After lunch there was still nothing to do, which always makes me restless. I told Wolfe that I needed some fresh air and he agreed. Outside it was cold and gray, so I caught a cab on Thirty-Fifth headed east. I’d lost money to both Harry and Fred shooting eight-ball so I figured I needed some practice. When I got to Eddie’s it was a little early for the regular crowd, but a couple of college boys had found their way in. I took them for seventy bucks and taught them a lesson in how old men play pool. By the time we finished it was half past six. I met Saul at Klein’s Deli on the Lower East Side, the one place in the city that still makes pastrami the way Saul likes it. We caught a cab up to the Garden. Since I had the cash I bet fifty on the Lakers. I liked the Knicks but Saul refuses to bet against a New York team, regardless. I won the bet, the first time I’d taken money from Saul in a year, so I told him that the next time the pastrami would be on me.

When I got back to the brownstone I looked on my desk for instructions from Wolfe, but there was nothing. I went into the kitchen and had a glass of milk and a slice of the apple tart that Fritz had given Wolfe for dinner. When I was finished I went to bed. The next day was going to be busy.

I woke up fifteen minutes before the alarm. Since we were having so many distinguished guests I figured I’d better look my best, so I went with a navy flannel from Barney’s. Not as fashionable as either black or dark gray, but that wasn’t what I was looking for. I wore it with a tan, Sea Island cotton shirt and a red and gold tie Lily had picked up for me in Paris. When I came down for breakfast Fritz gave me a look.

“Those young women are coming,” he said.

“Yes, Fritz, but if everything goes the way we want it, they won’t be back.”

That seemed to calm his nerves. I glanced through the Times and the Gazette, and the Post, but they hadn’t gotten a whiff of what we were up to. Fritz gave me an anchovy omelet with roasted tomatoes and fresh sourdough bread, cut thick and toasted. I got into the office about nine and started checking things on the computer. At ten I quit to start getting ready for the show, setting out all of the yellow chairs. We had thirteen invited guests—not a good number—and I was betting that some of them would be showing up with lawyers, which could get the total close to twenty. At first I wasn’t sure we had that many chairs, but bringing in all the ones from the front room, plus a couple from the second floor got us up to snuff.

I set our guests to arrive in shifts. Harry got there first, at ten fifteen, to help with logistics. With Cramer and Purley in attendance, there weren’t going to be any bodyguards in the house at all. The Murder 1 contingent, Mario Frank and Harris Smith, warranted a serious pat-down before they made it to the office, and I wanted plenty of help with that from someone I could trust. Phineas and all the girls showed at ten-thirty, and all five were wearing shades. I was looking at three grand in designer sunglasses, easy. I told them no sunglasses in Mr. Wolfe’s house, something I’d be saying a lot in the next half hour. Phineas had a couple of lawyers in tow, naturally. Getting a gang that large settled took some time. Phineas wanted the big red chair but I had to save that for Dykes. We had soft drinks and bottled water for those who wanted it, but nothing fancy.

Denzel Scott and Harriet Wertheimer, the Sony folks, showed at ten thirty-five, both tall and WASPy, despite the names, and both with those year-round tans you just can’t get out of a bottle. They had their lawyers with them, and they were WASPy too. I figured that it wouldn’t do to discriminate, so I gave all four a pat-down. I thought Harriet might object, but she didn’t. Mario and Harris came five minutes later, with their lawyers. I guess Brioni is the thing for hip-hop moguls, because that’s what they were wearing, but they didn’t quite wear them the way Phineas did. They weren’t big, but they definitely had some attitude, attitude that wouldn’t be helped by taking a pat-down from a white guy, but it was my house, so I wasn’t going to back off. I gave them both a good going over, while Harry watched.

There were a lot of hard looks when Harry and I brought them in to meet the rest of the guests, but I’ve seen a lot of people in that office who didn’t want to be there and didn’t care for the company they had to keep, and I wasn’t worried. But I did leave Harry there to keep an eye on things when the doorbell rang one more time, at ten forty-five precisely. I went to the door and found Purley, Cramer, and Dykes waiting for me. I’ve got to hand it to Dykes. A lot of big shots might have tried to play it cute by arriving fashionably late, but not New York’s DA. The invite said quarter of eleven, and here he was.

I led them back to the office and gave Dykes the red chair. I had fifteen minutes to handle last-minute drink orders. One minute after I passed out the last Perrier I heard the elevator doors open. Everybody else must have been listening too, because all of a sudden the room got quiet. Wolfe walked in, carrying a spike of Cympridium grandiflorum with a half-dozen large, pink blossoms. What happened next hadn’t been scripted by anyone.

“Oh, Mr. Wolfe,” said Adelle, leaping to her feet. “You do have the prettiest flowers!”

“Sit down, Adelle,” said Jermaine, grabbing her by the arm.

“I was just saying,” said Adelle, taking her place.

Wolfe bowed gently in Adelle’s direction.

“You are too kind, Miss,” he said. “Good morning to you all. I appreciate your courtesy at arriving promptly at this unusual gathering.”

He made his way to his desk, where he carefully placed the spike in the vase before taking his chair. As he did so I put a bottle of beer and a glass on his desk.

“Thank you, Archie,” he said. “Now, let us get to business. This is a matter of extreme urgency and moment, and the sooner it is resolved the better for all of us—all of us except one, I suppose. First, I would like to ask Mr. Goodwin to introduce me to the myriad whom I do not know by sight.”

I made the introductions, though I needed help with all the lawyers, with just a little tightness in my gut. That “all of us except one” crack implied that we had a murderer in our midst. I couldn’t help but put my money on the Murder 1 boys, but if they were guilty they weren’t embarrassed about it.

“Very well,” said Wolfe, when I was done. “Now, perhaps Mr. Dykes, as the senior government official present, would like to make a statement.”

“I would,” Dykes said. “This proceeding is highly unorthodox, and I can only say that the less said about what goes on here, the better. This is Mr. Wolfe’s show. If you don’t like it, get out.”

Judging from the look on Dykes’ face, there was a hell of a lot more that he wanted to say, but didn’t. I knew he wanted like hell to have this case settled, right now, but he also wanted like hell for Wolfe not to get the credit for it.

“Consider yourselves warned,” said Wolfe, looking around the room. He paused to drink from his glass of beer, licking the foam from his lips as he always did.

“I must say that I have never seen such an array of lawyers in my life,” he continued. “No one is here under legal compulsion, but it is also fair to say that none of you is here by choice. But, regardless of the reason why, you are all here in my home under my sufferance. What I have to say is likely to strike one or more of the attorneys here as offensive or actionable. Feel free to bring suit against me at your convenience, but do not interrupt me. If you do interrupt me, you and your clients will be required to leave.”

Wolfe looked around the room to see if anyone had the nerve to confront him. No one did.

“Now, at last, to begin,” he said. “We are confronted by, first, the murder of Anita Watson, and, second, the murder of her assumed accomplice, Peter Rogers. Miss Jermaine Campbell has, most unwisely, in my opinion, been charged with the murder of Miss Watson.

“Why do I say that? When I first met Jermaine Campbell, she argued passionately on behalf of Miss Watson. Was it likely that she would wantonly kill the woman whom she regarded as a second, even a first mother? No. And yet, daughters do murder their mothers from time to time, given sufficient provocation, and occasionally a mother will return the favor. My sympathy for Miss Campbell’s position is not a product merely of sentiment, nor of cupidity, though Mr. Cramer would doubt me.”

Cramer gave a snort at this point, but evidently he’d taken an oath of silence, because he didn’t rise to the bait.

“No,” Wolfe continued. “What convinced me of her innocence was her extraordinary behavior upon her arrest—insisting that she did not commit the crime and yet refusing any explanation of why she was there or what had occurred. She seemed, in my opinion, to be daring first Mr. Cramer here to arrest her and daring Mr. Dykes to indict her. Both complied with her wishes.

“Let us attempt to make sense of the very little Miss Campbell has told us. Let us suppose Miss Campbell arrived at Miss Watson’s hotel room—never mind why—and found her dead body. Why would she not alert the police? Surely, because she thought she knew who had committed the murder—and, surely, that person could only be one of her sisters, for there is no one else for whom she would run such a risk, other than a lover, and I had no evidence that such a person existed. Mr. Goodwin had informed me to the contrary, and his judgment in these matters is usually to be trusted.”

Wolfe paused to drink from his beer. I glanced at Maureen and Adelle, to see how they were taking it. Wolfe had Adelle mesmerized; she was staring at him the way people stare at a television. Maureen was nervous, plus she had the Rogers connection, so I put a marker down on her and shifted my attention back to Wolfe.

“My curiosity had already been drawn to Maureen Campbell,” Wolfe said, “for a variety of reasons. I conducted an interview with her hairdresser, Tanya Abbott, who is here today.”

Tanya didn’t seem to care much for her new-found notoriety. She opened her purse, I think to go for her shades, but I caught her eye and she backed down. Wolfe kept talking.

“When I interviewed Miss Abbott,” he said, “she communicated to me her suspicion that, several years ago, Maureen Campbell had initiated an intimate relationship with Peter Rogers.”

“That’s a disgusting lie, Mr. Wolfe,” snapped Phineas. “You’re going to retract that right now.”

“My terms, Mr. Martínez,” said Wolfe, waggling a finger, “apply to you as well, though you are my client. We can end this matter right now, if that is your preference, and Jermaine Campbell will remain under indictment for murder.”

Phineas’ eyes were just about popping out of his head, and I’m not sure that mine weren’t as well. The thought of Wolfe walking away from a $6 million fee, and poor beautiful Jermaine going to trial, and possibly to jail—well, I didn’t like that. Just looking at her made me want to do something—anything—for her. Fortunately for my instincts, and Wolfe’s pocketbook, Phineas backed off.

“Continue,” he said.

“Thank you, Mr. Martínez. I know that concession cost you a good deal. I believe you will thank me in the end. To continue. Maureen Campbell had initiated an intimate relationship with Peter Rogers, a relationship that naturally ended when Mr. Rogers entered prison. My statements, so far, are coincident with the truth, are they not, Miss Campbell?”

Wolfe looked at Maureen.

“I’m not saying anything, Mr. Wolfe,” she said. “Besides, you told me not to.”

“Very well. About six months ago, Mr. Rogers was released from jail. Coincidentally, Mr. Martínez began negotiations for a new contract for these three young ladies at about the same time. Many of you are far more familiar with the path of these negotiations than I. According to the information provided to those of us on the outside, Mr. Martínez found himself torn between the greater financial resources and social respectability of the Sony Corporation and the aura of violence and authenticity surrounding the corporation known as ‘Murder 1.’ Ultimately, he began to incline to the former when the process of negotiation was interrupted by the murder of Anita Watson and the subsequent arrest and indictment of Jermaine Campbell.”

Wolfe paused to take another drink of beer.

“This sequence of events can serve as the basis for a variety of theories. We know that Anita Watson had approached Mr. Martínez, asking, in effect, for a renegotiation of her agreement. And she acknowledged that she wished to share some of the money with Mr. Rogers. Whether she stated this as some sort of implied threat or merely out of honesty, we do not know. I was hired to resolve this matter, which disappeared of its own accord with the murder of Miss Watson, followed, only a few days later, by the murder of Mr. Rogers.

“Possibly, Mr. Rogers killed Miss Watson in a private quarrel, and then was killed in another, as Mr. Martínez has argued, in effect resolving the matter. Mr. Rogers’ death, of course, is unsolved, but the death of a minor hoodlum is hardly front-page news.

“Perhaps that was the case. But I remained skeptical. There were a number of questions that remained unresolved in my mind. Only a few hours after I accepted the case, Miss Watson called Mr. Goodwin. How did she know of our involvement? If Maureen Campbell had resumed her relationship with Mr. Rogers, as Miss Abbott suspected, then the answer is obvious. But even if that were true, why this remarkable set of coincidences? Mr. Goodwin receives a call from Miss Watson. From his account of their conversation, Miss Watson was in a state of anticipation and confidence, rather than fear or panic. Yet a few hours later she was dead. Mr. Goodwin arrived to find Jermaine Campbell already present, and shortly thereafter the police arrived. Surely, this was choreographed. But how, and why?

Wolfe looked at Jermaine.

“Miss Campbell, I ask you, why did you go to that hotel room?”

“You don’t have to answer,” said Phineas, quickly.

“I, I received a call,” she said.

“From Miss Watson?”

“No, it was a man. Someone I’d never heard before. But he said, he said, ‘your sister’s in trouble. She’s in Anita’s hotel room with Peter Rogers. You’d better go over there.’ Something like that.”

“You had been there before.”

“Yes. She called me, a couple of days earlier. She had my private cell.”

“What was her demeanor on that visit?”

“She was glad to see me, but there was a lot of tension. When I went there I thought it would be fun seeing her. Then I realized how much things had changed. And I realized that Anita couldn’t have liked those changes. She looked so poor! Those cheap, cheap clothes. I was surprised she could afford the cell phone she had. It was a nice one—probably titanium. I wish I had given her—I don’t know, five million dollars, or something. But I didn’t. I said it was all up to Phineas. I didn’t know how Peter fit into things. I was worried about Maureen. I was mad at Anita, for bringing him back in. We still liked each other, but when I left I think we both knew how much things had changed. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to see her again, not until Phineas had reached an agreement with her.”

“But when you received the call you went.”

“Yes, even though I wasn’t sure. After that call, I had to. I called her—I had her cell—but she didn’t answer.”

“Because she was already dead.”

“I suppose. I didn’t know. I was afraid for Maureen. When I got there, well, I was sure Maureen had done it.”

“Why would you think that?”

“I saw her mints right there—the ones from England. She always has them. I put them in my purse. Besides, Anita had threatened to tell Phineas about Maureen and Peter. At least, that’s how I took it. She said all sorts of things might come out. I was disappointed in her. She was probably disappointed in me.”

“You didn’t think that Rogers might have committed the murder, or someone else?”

“No! I knew it wasn’t Peter, because Anita never would have told him where she was. She was afraid of him!”

“So you fired the second shot.”


“Into the ceiling.”


“That was another detail that always distressed me. The random element is present in all human affairs, and in murder more than most, but it is pleasant to have it resolved. You did this to manufacture evidence that would lead the police away from your sister?”

“Yes. I had seen that, on TV.”

“No doubt. And you also assumed that, since you weren’t guilty, ultimately, you wouldn’t be convicted.”


“You should be flattered, Mr. Dykes, to meet a citizen with such faith in the infallibility of our legal system.”

“I’ll take your compliments with a grain of salt, Mr. Wolfe. Ms. Campbell tells an excellent story, but the indictment still stands.”

“We shall see how long you continue in that disposition.”

One of the lawyers from Murder 1 spoke up.

“I never thought I would say this, but isn’t it obvious that Mr. Wolfe is correct? Peter Rogers was the odd man out here. Anita Watson was likely to get a crumb or two, but he was getting nothing. He murdered Watson in a fit of frustration and then lured Ms. Campbell to Anita Watson’s hotel room to pin the murder on her, destroying what he could not have.”

“Destroying what he could not have,” repeated Wolfe. “That is well put. Mr. Jamison, I believe?”

Mr. Jamison nodded, looking a little embarrassed.

“That certainly comports with what we know, or are encouraged to know, of Mr. Rogers’ character. There is no doubt that he was a violent man, and quite capable of at least intending the destruction you describe.”

“And now he himself has been murdered, which surprises no one,” said Phineas. “Case closed. Mr. Dykes, I demand that you drop the indictment.”

“I agree entirely,” said one of the suits from Sony. “This whole situation is intolerable.”

“Nuts!” said Cramer. He had been sitting on it for a long time and now he couldn’t take it any more. “Nuts! I’ve seen more murders than anyone in this room, and the number of times the murderer himself was dead I could count on one hand.”

I’ve got to hand it to him. There was plenty of top-drawer legal talent in that room, but a cop is a cop, and Cramer glared them all down.

“I must share Inspector Cramer’s skepticism,” said Wolfe. “Matters were prettily arranged. As I said, I could easily imagine Mr. Rogers intending such a scheme. But for him to improvise so brilliantly in such a short space of time—I confess I did entertain it as a possibility, a possibility that I was reluctant to discard. But I had too little substance to confirm it. I knew of Mr. Rogers almost entirely by report. He was corrupt and dangerous, everyone said, but what had he actually done? There was a lack of detail that disturbed me. How did Mr. Rogers learn of Miss Watson’s call to Mr. Goodwin? How did he obtain Miss Campbell’s cell phone number? Where had he been staying and to where did he abscond after killing Miss Watson? I attempted to locate him through the services of Mr. Caldwell, and even that took several days. When we did obtain that information I went so far as to surreptitiously inform the police and they took no action. And then I heard nothing until I learned that Mr. Rogers was dead.”

“So you phoned that in,” snapped Cramer. “We went to that address, but Rogers was gone, if he had ever been there, which I doubt.”

“Perhaps we were gulled,” said Wolfe.

Cramer gave him a hard look, but Wolfe didn’t back down.

“Mr. Cramer suspects my veracity, but I am telling the truth. However, if Mr. Rogers is to be our culprit, we must answer the questions I have raised. We have been told by both Tanya Abbott and Jermaine Campbell that Maureen Campbell had been involved with Peter Rogers. Are those statements correct, Miss Campbell?”

Wolfe looked at Maureen.

“Was,” she said.

“Meaning that you were involved with him before he went to prison.”

She nodded. I kept one eye on Phineas, who wasn’t liking this too much, even though he’d had a little time to get used to it, and even though it was beginning to look like the indictment against Jermaine could get dropped.

“But had you resumed your relationship, as both your sister and Miss Abbott had assumed?”

Maureen dropped her eyes, and then looked up.

“Why do I have to say anything?” she demanded.

“Why, indeed? You have just learned, if you had not already guessed, that your sister has risked her freedom, if not her life, on your behalf.”

“But you know he did it, and he’s dead, so it’s over,” she said. “You say you have all these questions, but who cares? It’s over. It’s done.”

“Not entirely, for I have left out the most intriguing question of all. The murderer, when he made the call to your sister, was confident that you were not in her presence. Is it not a fact that you disappeared, perhaps an hour before your sister received that call? That you disappeared, in fact, in a manner that would ultimately encourage her to believe that you were implicated in the murder of Anita Watson?”

Maureen went back to staring at the floor.

“Maureen, you better answer him,” said Jermaine.

“Indeed, Miss Campbell, you should,” said Wolfe. “Tell us the truth. You were, in fact, not with Peter Rogers, were you?”

Maureen shook her head.

“No,” said Wolfe. “You were not. You were with Mario Frank.”

Everyone’s head turned. Mario glared at us.

“That’s a goddamn lie,” he said. “This is a travesty.”

“Your response is hardly unreasonable, Mr. Frank, under the circumstances. But I fear that the nets will quickly gather. Your plan was ingenious in the extreme. By provoking such a profound scandal, you could ensure that the Sony Corporation would be forced to drop the Campbell sisters. You knew that Mr. Martínez detested you, but his own ambition, and his ambition for the group, would ultimately force him to come to terms with you. It was you who provided Anita Watson with the encouragement, and the funding, needed to draw her to New York. Once there, she was able to exploit Jermaine Campbell’s affection for her to obtain some information on the progress of Mr. Martínez’ negotiations with Sony. Unfortunately, such information failed to provide your organization with an advantage sufficient to overcome Mr. Martínez’ repugnance for you and your works.”

“This is the sheerest speculation,” interrupted one of the lawyers with Frank and Harris. “And it’s treading dangerously on slander.”

“That question is easily settled,” said Wolfe.

He turned to Maureen.

“You were intimate with Mr. Frank, were you not?” he asked.

She burst into tears.

“You’re making it up!” she said, sobbing. “It didn’t happen that way at all! Not at all!”

There are times when I’ve thought that Wolfe, given the choice of letting a murderer walk or dealing with a woman in tears, would let the killer go, but with $6 million on the line he didn’t hesitate to be tough on himself and on Maureen.

“I’m afraid that it did happen that way, Miss Campbell,” he said, focusing his entire attention on her. “Miss Abbott, when discussing your prior involvement with Mr. Rogers, remarked on the charm of irresponsibility. Mr. Rogers, if he had any charm at all, was a sordid and unprepossessing figure. Mr. Frank, on the other hand, as the merest witling could observe, is the entire opposite.

“It was, of course, inevitable that you would meet. Mr. Martínez could not prevent that. But he could, as he surely did, forbid you to see him socially. And so you were presented with the same challenge once more. It was shrewd of you to take advantage of Mr. Rogers’ recent release from prison to induce both Miss Abbott and your sister Jermaine to believe that you had resumed your relationship with Mr. Rogers.”

“No,” said Maureen. “No.”

“You will have to do better than that, Miss Campbell.”


“Your recantation must wait for another time. But there are so many threads. The hotel room directly above Miss Watson’s, the one that was so conveniently vacated after her arrival. It was there, surely, that the real murderer awaited. It was Mr. Frank who brought Miss Watson to New York, and installed her in the hotel. It was he who gave her the cell phone that so caught Miss Campbell’s eye. It would not be impossible, I should imagine, to adjust a cell phone so that all its calls, whether incoming or outgoing, would be transmitted to a second device? Particularly an individual such as Mr. Frank, with easy access to individuals skilled in all aspects of aural electronics? Such an arrangement would allow this individual, whoever he was, to monitor Miss Watson’s activities with remarkable ease. How else could the crime have been managed? Miss Watson’s call to Mr. Goodwin was surely intercepted. Whatever it was she intended to discuss with him, Mr. Frank must have concluded that the risk was too high. Your improvisation, sir—the murder of Miss Watson, the dispatch of Miss Campbell to the scene, the summoning of the police—was remarkably bold. We must also credit the unfortunate Mr. Rogers with the wit to recognize himself as the ultimate pawn in all these matters. He managed to elude you for some time, although I don’t suppose you even intended to kill him until several days after Miss Campbell’s indictment, and perhaps not even then. But in his desperation he might have become dangerous.”

“This is all very pretty, Mr. Wolfe,” said one of the lawyers, “pretty ridiculous. You haven’t a shred of evidence. Where are these magical telephones?”

“At the bottom of the East River, undoubtedly, like so many instructive objects. But there are other threads as well, many of them. The hundred-dollar bills with which a certain Miss Jones was so lavish—their serial numbers are on record, are they not? I mean, with the disbursing bank.”

“Yes,” said Dykes, quickly. “Show me a hundred-dollar bill, and I can tell you what it had for breakfast.”

“That should supply an incontrovertible link. And then there is Miss Jones’ paramour, Mr. Allen, to consider. He has been associated with the discharge of firearms in his prior career, has he not? All the bullets associated with the deaths of Miss Watson and Mr. Rogers should be examined and compared with those collected in earlier investigations involving Mr. Allen. As I say, I think it unlikely that the cell phones can be obtained, but I may be wrong. The great danger that a cunning criminal like Mr. Frank runs in assigning actual murders to underlings is their unreliability. It is not impossible that either Mr. Allen or Miss Jones kept the phone.”

“You’ve got nothing,” said Frank.

“On the contrary, Mr. Frank, on the contrary. Your goose is cooked. It is Mr. Smith who still retains some freedom of decision. You can shed some light on these matters, can you not, Mr. Smith? Or do you wish your empire to be pulled down and destroyed by the wanton corruption of your associate?”

Smith hesitated one second too long to respond.

“Tell him, damn it! Tell him!” Frank snapped. His eyes were blazing.

“Don’t say anything! Either of you!” interrupted one of the lawyers.

Wolfe permitted himself a chuckle.

“In a world run by lawyers, only lawyers would speak,” he said. “Mr. Smith will speak, in his own good time. He knows something, and he knows he knows it, and he knows that it will be impossible to conceal it. The disbursal of cash, perhaps? Mr. Allen was surely well paid for his endeavors, and a large withdrawal, however disguised, cannot long be hidden from a businessman of Mr. Smith’s acumen.”

Wolfe turned his attention to Ben Dykes.

“What about it, Mr. Dykes?” he asked. “In your considered opinion, would it be in Mr. Smith’s interest to cooperate?”

“It would,” said Dykes, turning to look at Smith. “You’re a very smart man, Mr. Smith. We can give you what you want, and we can take it away.”

“You,” said Frank quietly, pointing a finger at Wolfe.

“Forget it, Mario,” said Smith. “It’s over. Your game’s over.”

He suddenly looked tired and cautious, a businessman at the end of a long day, a businessman who has decided to cut his losses.

“This meeting is over,” said another one of the lawyers. He had to be speaking for Smith. “You have nothing, Mr. Wolfe.”

Wolfe settled back in his chair and laced his fingers over his belly. He took in a bushel of air and then let it out.

“On the contrary,” he said, “I have everything. And you have a full plate. Mr. Dykes and Mr. Cramer will keep you hopping. I feel confident that from this point on I can leave matters in their hands. Would you agree, Mr. Dykes?”

Dykes looked weary as well. He had the collar—the real collar—for the hottest murder in Manhattan’s history, and he was hating every minute of it.

“Mario Frank,” he said, standing up, “you are under arrest, for the murder of Anita Watson. You have a lawyer and surely you know that you have the right to remain silent.”

“Shut the f*ck up,” snarled Frank.

Now it was Dykes’ turn to laugh.

“Not much of a defense,” he said.

“Purley, put the cuffs on him,” said Cramer.

I was ready to jump, and Harry was too, but Frank wasn’t quite that dumb. Cramer and Purley took Frank and Smith downtown, Frank in cuffs and Smith walking free, and their lawyers trailing behind. Dykes stayed put in the red chair.

“I can’t release you now,” he told Jermaine. “Not until we have a solid case on paper. But you can relax.”

“Mr. Dykes, this is an absurd imposition,” said Phineas. “Absurd!”

“I agree, Mr. Martínez, and the people of New York apologize. But we cannot override the letter of the law. Miss Campbell is hardly subject to any real duress.”

“Only this damn bracelet,” she said. “I ought to wear this in our next tour.”

“I would advise against that,” said Dykes. “In any event, that bracelet belongs to the City of New York.”

“You’re going to see one just like it in our next damn video,” Jermaine continued.

“I like that!” said Phineas, suddenly enthusiastic, and probably grinning for the first time in at least a week. “That would be terrific!”

“You know it will be!” said Jermaine. “Come here, Maureen. I’ve got to kiss somebody!”

That got all three of them weeping, hugging, and kissing. Tanya managed to work her way into the group too, which showed me that she really was the kind of woman who could stay one step ahead of Phineas. Phineas himself stepped up and shook Wolfe’s hand. I think it may have been the first time that Wolfe was actually grateful for a handshake. Anything to divert his attention from four weeping, hugging, kissing women in his office. I escorted the DA to the door, trying to make a little conversation, but Dykes wasn’t interested. He had his BlackBerry in his hand, punching in information that he didn’t want me to see. When I got back Roberta looked a little lonesome, standing there all by herself, so I went over to talk to her.

“I guess this sort of thing doesn’t happen too often at Bryn Mawr,” I said.

“No,” she laughed. “Your boss is quite a performer.”

“He’s almost as good as he thinks he is,” I said.

“I see. What about you, Mr. Goodwin? How do you measure up to your own opinion?”

I told her I’d give her a chance to find out if she felt like coming with me to the Flamingo Room. She said yes, which was something I’d been wanting to hear.

While we were talking Phineas was chewing the fat with the Sony folks, Denzel and Harriet. Their conversation probably meant that that $250 million was pretty safe, give or take $5 or $10 million. Harry was talking to Tanya, which might have been the start of the sharpest hair salon in Harlem. Phineas and the Sony folks shook hands all around, and then went over to have a word with Wolfe. When they were finished I accompanied Denzel and Harriet to the door, with their lawyers, and on the way back I ran into Jermaine’s lawyers, so I showed them out too. When I got back to the office the girls were gathered around Wolfe.

“You did it, Mr. Wolfe!” said Jermaine. “I knew you would the moment I walked in the door. I smelled the chitterlings.”

Tripe à la mode de Caen,” said Wolfe.

“Whatever! I knew you knew! That’s why I talked. Because I knew you were going to invite us to lunch, and I knew you wouldn’t do that if you were sending Maureen to jail.”

Wolfe pretended that he wasn’t enjoying it.

“Archie,” he said, “perhaps you would like to show our guests the orchids. I must apologize in advance for the poor condition of my greenhouse. Repairs are imminent, but have not yet begun. And afterwards you may all join Mr. Goodwin and myself for tripe, if such is your pleasure.”

So that’s how Wolfe financed new greenhouses for the roof. They’re so nice I’ve seen Theodore smile twice in a month. The one thing I still can’t figure is whether Wolfe told Fritz to prepare tripe for nine because he’d cracked the case or because he hadn’t. Because it wasn’t until Jermaine talked that the dominoes started falling, and she wouldn’t have talked if she hadn’t smelled chitterlings. So did Wolfe know, or did he not know? I didn’t know, but I did know this: if Wolfe had guessed wrong, we’d have been eating tripe for a week.

Politics Is Murder

Chapter 1

“I apologize for arriving at such a late hour. I’ve been spending an awful lot of time in DC lately, and I just got back on the shuttle.”

Ann Coulter crossed her legs. She had very nice ankles, which I always appreciate in a woman, even when she’s a conservative. The slim, black silk dress she was wearing didn’t look like it came from DC.

“My associate Mr. Goodwin and I both have a preference for late hours, Miss Coulter. Would you care for a drink?”

“Why, yes, I would. Frozen Stoli if you’ve got it.”

Wolfe turned to me.

“Archie?” he said.

I went to the liquor cabinet and opened the sliding door that conceals the little refrigerator we installed to cater to fussy guests.

“Straight up or on the rocks?” I asked.

“Oh, you better put a couple of cubes in there. I don’t want to talk too much and you don’t want me passing out on you.”

I fixed her glass and then made one for myself—two fingers of Haig & Haig Pinch poured over the big, fat, old-fashioned cubes Wolfe insists on. While I was bar-tending Wolfe rang for Fritz to bring him a beer. He was just finished pouring the foam when I handed Ms. Coulter her glass.

“You may smoke if you like,” Wolfe told her.

She raised her eyebrows.

“I thought you didn’t approve of smoking.”

“I do not. But I do like to maintain the pretense that I reside in a city where the trappings if not the substance of personal liberty have not been entirely extinguished.”

Ann opened her handbag and took out a golden pack of cigarettes. I didn’t catch her brand but I’m guessing it was American.

“My God,” she said, lighting up and blowing a plume of smoke into the air. “This is why I came to New York. Cheers, Mr. Wolfe.”

We all had a taste. When she put down her glass Ann stubbed out her cigarette.

“I do appreciate the thought, but this is too pretty a room to smoke in,” she said. “Now, Mr. Wolfe, I expect you would like to know why I am here.”

“Indeed I would,” said Wolfe. “I do not believe I am obstreperous in my opinions, but surely you must be aware that they differ markedly from your own.”

“Yes, I am aware, and I am also aware that Mr. Goodwin does not care for me.”

She turned to me and smiled.

“I believe you were quoted as saying that I give blondes a bad name?”

“I never read the columns,” I said.

“Perhaps not. You also said that the only honest thing about me was the color of my pubic hair.”

“They must have caught me without my ice cubes.”

“I hope you made this appointment with more purpose than to subject my assistant to impudent raillery,” said Wolfe.

“So I did, Mr. Wolfe. To be brief, someone has something of mine that I want back.”

“Is this a criminal matter?” asked Wolfe.

“Blackmail is criminal, isn’t it? If you mean have I done something criminal, the answer is no.”

“I would require a few specifics. And, if I accept the case, utmost candor. But I must acknowledge that curiosity alone prompted me to grant you this interview. I have no real need of employment at this time and, I must confess, no real desire to do you a favor.”

She simpered just a bit, if that isn’t being unfair, and drank some of her vodka.

“I wasn’t expecting a favor, Mr. Wolfe. I am quite prepared to pay you a decent fee, but I have an additional inducement as well. You are familiar with the name of Richard Hawkins?”

“Mr. Hawkins is a commercial dealer in orchids of marked financial success.”

Wolfe didn’t put much of a spin on it, but he didn’t have to. I knew he hated Hawkins’ guts.

“Then perhaps you know that Mr. Hawkins recently obtained proprietary rights to a new genus of epiphytic orchids discovered in New Zealand?”

“No one can own a wild orchid.”

“Yes, but Mr. Hawkins’ firm purchased the only area in New Zealand where these orchids are to be found. It is possible that others exist for the taking, but their discovery will be difficult.”

Wolfe finished his beer and rang for another.

“I assume you have a point?”

“I do. You know that these orchids are a unique discovery, a genus that appears to be prior but closely related to several of the leading genera, a sort of missing link, so to speak, offering extraordinary opportunities for interbreeding and the development of hybrids.”

“Mr. Hawkins is quite adept at promoting his wares. He also has a remarkable gift for beguiling his customers into believing that his goods are worth the prices he charges for them.”

“Perhaps you would like to see one of the blossoms,” Ann said, opening her purse. “I have four healthy plants as well.”


She had Wolfe’s attention. She took out a clear plastic box that contained a single, large orchid. The petals and sepals were creamy white, but the lip was a rich, reddish purple.

Archacattleya Tyria is the scientific name, I believe,” she said, handing him the box.

Wolfe snorted.

“Mr. Hawkins is ever the salesman,” he said, taking out the big magnifying glass he keeps in his desk.

Fritz came in with a beer but Wolfe didn’t notice. He spent about ten minutes going over the blossom without saying a word.

“Remarkable,” he said at last.

“Four healthy plants,” Ann repeated.

“You obtained them legally?”

“Of course I did. He gave them to me.”

“If you can obtain four Archacattleya Tyrias from Mr. Hawkins I wonder that you could require my services, in any matter.”

“I appreciate the compliment. But the fact remains that I do require your services.”

“And you are willing to incur Mr. Hawkins’ ire when he discovers your treachery?”

“As you say, no one can own a wild orchid. In any event, you will be free to develop hybrids at your leisure and then present them to the world a few years down the road.”

I won’t say that Wolfe smiled, but there was definitely something resembling a smirk on his face. The opportunity to stab Hawkins in the back was an offer he couldn’t refuse. He poured the beer Fritz had brought, bringing the foam a quarter inch from the rim.

“A cunning inducement,” he said at last. “Naturally, I would insist on an appropriate fee, entirely apart from the orchids, and a pledge of discretion on your part.”

“You can have that,” she said. “I don’t want anyone to know that I’ve been here.”

“Very well, Miss Coulter. Absent an extraordinary complication, I will accept your case.”

“Thank you, Mr. Wolfe. Perhaps Mr. Goodwin will be so kind as to give me some more vodka.”

She gave me a smile, but left me feeling just a little like a waiter. But giving her a wisecrack would be reaching, so I just bit my tongue and poured.

“Thanks,” she said. “I’ll have just one cigarette as well.”

She lit a cigarette and began.

“This goes back to when I was just starting out in Washington,” she said. “I didn’t know anyone, didn’t know what I was doing, and no one knew me. I had been living with a man and he threw me out. I was dumb enough to track him down at a party and try to have it out with him. I’d had a few drinks first to get my courage up, which of course was another mistake. It was like one of those scenes you see in the movies, where the heroine makes a complete ass of herself. I had gotten a ride to the party but I didn’t want to see anyone, so I just stormed out on my own. When I got out on the stoop I realized that I didn’t know where I was and that I didn’t have a place to stay. I lit a cigarette and tried to figure out how long I’d have to sit there before I was sober enough to figure out what to do when the door opened and someone sat down beside me.”

She took a drink of her vodka and stopped to think about it a little.

“It was David Brock. I didn’t know who he was, but he asked me if I needed a ride. There was something very sweet about him. He had this beat-up old car. The man I’d been living with was older, of course, with a Mercedes. I’d been impressed by that.”

She laughed.

“That night with David was so wonderful. He was such a little boy, but with no hesitations. I told him everything, about how Jerry had changed the locks on me, and I still had a few things in the apartment, things I wanted, and I didn’t want to have to ask Jerry to get them for me, one thing in particular. David said he could pick any lock and it was my stuff. It was a very fancy building, of course, but David just walked in and stared everyone down. He was amazing! And he picked the lock! I thought he was f*cking Cary Grant!”

She laughed.

“So I had my stuff. It was three in the morning and we went out for subs at an Eddie Leonard Sandwich Shop. You know, fifteen great varieties. I couldn’t stop laughing. I guess that was the one time in my life that I got to be a kid. David let me stay in this group house where he was living. Of course, I was mad about him for awhile, but it didn’t take me too long to figure out that he was gay. Then I got busy and he got busy, and it was completely different between us. We’d meet at parties and we’d just be a pair of hot young conservatives on the make, that’s all. It was business.

“I lost touch with David for a time and then I happened to run into him when he was having all his trouble with his book about Hillary. He was at a party and he was very drunk, very bitter. I had this stupid intuition that he shouldn’t be left alone, so I took him to my place. I tried to get him to talk, but he wouldn’t. In the morning he seemed completely dead, so I just left him. I ran into some people and didn’t get back until close to midnight. He was gone, but he’d left a sheet of paper. It said ‘You thought we were even. We weren’t, but now we are.’”

Ann took a long drag on her cigarette and put it out.

“I didn’t know what he meant, but I certainly didn’t like the sound of it. I had a premonition that unfortunately proved to be true. Because I had told David what I especially wanted from Jerry’s apartment, at least some of it. Jerry had a lot of video equipment, early stuff. I used to tape myself to see how I could come across on TV.”

She shrugged.

“You can see where this is going. It wasn’t with Jerry, and I won’t tell you whom it was with, but if anyone saw it, I’d have to move to New Zealand. I was a damn fool to tape it, and a bigger fool to keep it, but anyway, here I am.

“A week later I got a letter from David, very manic. He said it would be our little secret, but that from now on I would have to be nice to him. I guess he thought I should have defended him somehow. Well, I kept expecting him to ask me for something—introductions, invitations, whatever—but he never did. After a year or so I got up my nerve and took him out to dinner and asked him just what he planned to do with that tape and what he wanted from me. He apologized for having taken it. He said it was a low point in his life and he was through making threats. He said I didn’t have anything to worry about. But when I asked him to give it back he said no. He said he’d never make a copy and he’d never show it to anyone, but he wasn’t giving it back. He said it made us even, which I didn’t care for.”

She rattled the ice cubes in her glass and finished her vodka.

“So I didn’t hear from him at all for awhile, until just recently, when there was all this fuss about his new book. He called me and he sounded very hurt, very threatened. He said I was one of the people who had ruined him. He said I knew people and I could get him a book contract with a $3 million advance. I said that was impossible and he started crying. Then he pulled himself together a little and told me that it better be possible or I would be sorry. A week later I received a package in the mail.”

“Where did you receive it?” asked Wolfe.

“Where? Oh, DC. I have an office there.”

“Did you keep the package?”

“Of course. It had a New York postmark. David’s been staying at the Plaza. I mean, he hasn’t been keeping many things a secret.”

“I see. What was in the package?”

“My tape. And a note from David. He said he’d made a copy, and I had three weeks to come up with the book offer. He included a book proposal, if you can call it that. About two pages of insults.”

“Directed towards you?”

“No, not me. Conservatism. Christianity. The Puritan Heritage. How Christian guilt enslaved us, how it had been responsible for slavery. That Lincoln was gay, that Jefferson was gay.”

“What did you do?”

“I burned the tape and I called him, but he’d told the desk not to accept my calls. Then two weeks later he called me. He sounded completely different. He said to forget about the book proposal, that it was nonsense, and that he was sorry for acting like an ass. I tried to play him a little bit, saying we should get together for lunch, that it would be romantic having lunch at the Plaza. He laughed at that and said he wasn’t there any more, a friend was lending him a house in Soho. He sounded very smug about that, like that proved he had connections.”

“Did you ask him who had lent him the house?”

“No, I didn’t want to go that far. I definitely felt he was being secretive about it. I was trying to get up my nerve to confront him directly about the video when he said that it was time to make an end to the whole thing. He said he was wrong to have asked for three million, but he deserved something substantial for having kept my secret so faithfully. He said he wanted something ‘reasonable but substantial’—that was how he put it. I’m meeting him for lunch at the Plaza in three days.”

“But you doubt his good faith.”

“Yes. I’m presuming that he’s converted the video into some sort of digital format. As long as there’s a single copy left, there could be a million in a matter of hours. Anyway, he obviously enjoys holding this over my head, a part of him does, at least. If I leave David to his own devices, he’s never going to destroy that last copy.”

She rattled her ice cubes again and sucked on the water.

“More vodka?” Wolfe asked.

“No. I’ve gotten through the worst. Mr. Wolfe, I’ve come to you because of your reputation. You have resources, you have influence, and you have discretion. I’m going to meet with David in three days and I’ll pay him, at least $500,000, to destroy that video. But I’m willing to pay you another $500,000 to make sure he holds up his end of the bargain.”

Wolfe grunted.

“That may be impossible,” he said. “Wittingly or unwittingly, Mr. Brock may have allowed copies to have passed beyond his control. The man you describe appears to be thrashing about with no stratagem beyond the impulse of the moment. But if in fact he has been acting in cold blood your goose may already be cooked.”

Ann smiled.

“Then I have to take that chance. Will you accept me as a client?”

“You offered an unusual inducement, Miss Coulter. I must insist on the transfer of at least two of the orchids you mentioned. You have acknowledged that it may be impossible to resolve this matter in a manner entirely to your satisfaction. Your problem is ticklish, and I have always found that it is best to treat such problems in writing. Archie, your computer.”

“No!” said Ann, sharply. “I don’t want anything in writing. It’s ticklish, all right, but I’m not signing my name to anything.”

“Then certainly I must insist on the plants.”

Ann bit her lip.

“I was afraid you would be like that,” she said. “But I only brought one. If Archie—Mr. Goodwin—will be so kind as to fetch that shopping bag I brought with me.”

There are several things Archie doesn’t care for. One is fetching and another is being on a first-name basis with Ann Coulter, but the thought of that poor little archacattleya sitting all alone in the hallway had Wolfe’s seventh of a ton in an uproar and it was my job to calm things down. I went out into the hallway and brought back her big, gleaming Hermés shopping bag and set it down in front of her. She took out a few handfuls of chiffon and then reached in to pull out a clear plastic carrying case with a single potted orchid inside, about a foot high. There was only one bloom, but it was a dead ringer for the one sitting on Wolfe’s desk.

Wolfe let out a deep exhalation of air when she placed the case in front of him. He lifted the lid and took out the plant. He picked up his magnifying glass and inspected the bloom carefully. He took out a pollinating stick and probed the flower gently for pollen. He put the pollen carefully on a white sheet of paper and examined it under his glass.

“It appears to be genuine,” he said at last.

“It’s genuine. I’m not here to play games. You should have a conventional retainer as well. I brought along ten cashier’s checks for $7,500 each, made out to bearer. Will that do?”

She held up an envelope.

“That will do,” said Wolfe. “Archie?”

I went around to collect the checks. Since they were as negotiable as cash, I wanted to put them in the safe, but I didn’t want to appear fussy, so I just took the envelope and went back to my desk.

“You are cautious,” said Wolfe. “I do report my transactions to the IRS. I dislike taxes, but I do not disdain them.”

She fluttered a hand.

“Fine. Do you want me to meet with David on Friday?”

“Yes. Make clear your intentions to him as you have stated them to me, without mentioning, of course, that you have hired me. Be receptive, but avoid any appearance of weakness. Maintain a business-like composure. Above all, do not attempt to threaten him, in words or manner. As you say, he enjoys the sensation of control. Do nothing that would deny him that sensation.”

“Very good. Shall I contact you?”

“Yes. Call each day at eleven fifteen, including Friday. Tell us if you have heard from him or have learned anything else. I doubt that I will have additional instructions for you. I thank you for this orchid, Miss Coulter. Now I must care for it.”

“Thank you, Mr. Wolfe,” she said, rising to her feet. “And thank you, Archie.”

She gave me a big smile, bigger than I wanted. Did I say I didn’t want to be a on a first-name basis with her? But correcting a blonde at one in the morning is a bit fussy, and I’d already decided I didn’t want to do that. I slipped the envelope in my coat pocket and got erect.

“Do you need a cab?” I asked.

“Oh, no, I’ve got a limo,” she replied, giving me another reason to dislike her. I walked her out into the hallway and took her coat off the rack, a charcoal trench that felt like a blend of cashmere and silk. I was going to hand it to her but she turned her back to me so there was nothing I could do but help her to put it on.

“Thanks,” she whispered. “I hear you can be a gentleman when you want to be.”

“Miss Rowan keeps me on a pretty short leash,” I said.

“Really?” she laughed. “I hadn’t heard that!”

She pulled the belt tight around her slender waist and headed for the door.

“You don’t have to open it,” she said. “Good night, Archie.”

I watched her through the one-way glass, to make sure she made it to the car. Then I went back into the office. Wolfe had his lens out, studying the orchid. I squatted in front of the safe and spun the dial.

“Archie,” said Wolfe.


“I want you to call Saul Panzer in the morning. I want you to locate this house in Soho where Mr. Brock is residing. Tell Saul we will need three reliable men to keep Mr. Brock and the house under constant surveillance. In addition, I want you to determine whether Mr. Brock has any company.”

I put the envelope in the safe and spun the dial.

“You want a bag job?” I asked.

“No at the present time. On Friday morning, Saul will follow Mr. Brock. If it is feasible, you will enter the house and learn all that you can about the number and location of the copies that Mr. Brock may have made of this video. If in your judgment you are confident that it is wise to do so, you will eliminate the copies you have found. You will, of course, commit no other offense.”

“Fine. What do you think Brock is up to?”

“I doubt if he knows. He appears to be an injured soul. Such persons are likely to be more dangerous to themselves than others, but they should never be backed into a corner. Now I must tend to this orchid. I seriously question Mr. Hawkins’ classification. Surely this is a Vanda.”

“I wouldn’t doubt it.”

I picked up the Hermés bag and started folding it.

“You find Miss Coulter attractive?” he asked.

“When I want your advice about blondes I’ll ask for it,” I said. “It was you who took this case, not me.”

“Indeed. Then I will only remark that it would be reasonable to obtain appropriate guarantees of Miss Coulter’s full compliance with the terms of our agreement, particularly since we have, at her request, kept no written record.”

“You mean keep a copy of the video.”

“That would be one option.”

“Sure. But how will I know if it’s her?”

“That I gather will not be a problem.”

Chapter 2

I called Saul in the morning and gave him the pitch. He said that locating Brock would be a breeze and that he would come by at one to pick up four grand in cash for expenses. There aren’t many places in this world where cash still beats plastic, but the detective business is one of them.

When I was finished with Saul I went through the emails and printed out a dozen for Wolfe to look at. He still won’t read from a computer screen. Then I checked about three dozen websites that carry information from the Balkans in general and Montenegro in particular. Most of it’s in Serbian, or Greek, or Russian, none of which I can read, of course, but Wolfe can, so I download anything that’s new and print it out for him. When I finished that I started entering the corrections Wolfe had made to an article he’d written in Serbian. As I say, I can’t read Serbian, but I’ve had lots of experience typing it. Serbian is the one language that gives you your choice of alphabets, Latin or Cyrillic. The Latin is tough but the Cyrillic is unbelievable. I tried to get Wolfe to agree to have the Cyrillic texts done by someone who knows what he’s doing, but that was unacceptable, so I bought a Cyrillic keyboard to keep from going crazy. What Wolfe has said to me about the Balkans you could put in a thimble, but what he doesn’t know about what goes on there you could put in a thimble too.

When I finished with that I went out in the kitchen, where Fritz was opening oysters for lunch. Some people might think that ten in the morning was a little early for opening oysters, but if you had ever seen Fritz cook them, or Wolfe go through them, you wouldn’t. He likes to start off with a dozen oysters Portia as an appetizer and go on to three dozen batter-fried. Fritz found a new distributor who sells oysters he calls Totten Inlet Virginicas and Wolfe can’t get enough of them.

I sat on a stool and watched Fritz open the oysters and slide each one into a large jar, with enough oyster liquor to keep them fresh. Fritz and I hadn’t had time for conversation over breakfast—scrambled eggs, smoked brook trout, and sourdough toast cut thick—and it was time to catch up.

“We have a case, Archie?” he asked me.

“Yes. How did you know?”

“I smelt perfume when I came up this morning. Mme. Rowan is out of town, is she not?”

That’s Fritz’s little joke, or one of them. He thinks Lily takes up a bit too much of my time.

“Yes, Mme. Rowan is out of town. You should be the detective, Fritz.”

“No, Archie. You are the detective.”

He opened an oyster and hesitated.

“What’s the matter?” I asked.

“The edges are puckered. It is not so beautiful as the others.”

“Give it to me. I’ll never know the difference.”

“Archie. You could have la bonne bouche if you cared. It is not so mysterious.”

Fritz put the oyster down. He cut a lemon in half lengthwise and then cut one of the halves into quarters. He squeezed some lemon onto the oyster and slid it into his mouth.

“Bon,” he said.

“Bon is right,” I said.

I left Fritz and went back to the office and tidied up a bit. Wolfe came down from the plant rooms at eleven, as he always does. He had a trio of Cypripedium calceolus blooms with him.

“Good morning, Archie,” he said, as he always does. “Did you sleep well?”

“I always sleep well when we have a client,” I said. “Saul says he’ll be by at one to pick up expense money.”

“Indeed,” said Wolf, arranging the blooms in the vase on his desk.

“How’s the Archacattleya Tyria?” I asked.

“I changed the pot, and it should do nicely,” said Wolfe. He sat down in the one chair in the world where he can feel comfortable and picked up the big magnifying glass he keeps on his desk. He turned the vase around and began to study the Cypripedium calceolus.

“The tropical varieties have become overworked, I fear, and I doubt that this new specimen has much to offer, even when considering Mr. Hawkins’ formidable gifts as a huckster. The more northerly breeds, however, have complexities that have scarcely been acknowledged, let alone explored.”

He pretended to be talking to himself, but he was talking through his hat, and he knew it. The Orchid Fancier’s Digest had had cover stories on Hawkins’ new flower for two months in a row, and they hadn’t done that in twenty years. Getting his hands on an Archacattleya Tyria without having to go through Hawkins was sweeter for Wolfe than a pound of white truffles, and he was so bull-headed he had to pretend that he didn’t give a damn. He was working so hard at it that he studied those blooms for a full minute before ringing Fritz for a beer. Since we had a client, I didn’t see the point in riding him, so I started entering plant records. At eleven-fifteen Ann called.

“Hello, Archie,” she said, putting me on the spot. I didn’t want to be on a first-name basis with her, but now there was no way I couldn’t be.

“Good morning,” I said. “Anything to report?”

“No, nothing. I hope I didn’t keep you up too late last night.”

“I’m used to it.”

“I can imagine.”

I caught a glance at Wolfe out of the corner of my eye. He was enjoying this and I wasn’t, so I had to put a stop to it.

“I’d like to chat, but I’m in the middle of another case right now.”

She laughed.

“I’m sure you’re very busy. I’ll talk to you tomorrow, then. Good bye.”

“Good bye.”

I hung up the phone and looked at Wolfe.

“Miss Coulter,” I said. “With nothing to report.”

“I gathered as much,” he grunted. “An unusual woman. Guileful, yet not without charm, despite her dyspeptic intellect.”

“If you can call a crocodile charming.”

Wolfe smirked. I wasn’t having it and turned back to my keyboard. It was such a relief not to be typing in Serbian that I pounded away until one o’clock without a break, when the doorbell rang.

“That’ll be Saul,” I said.

Wolfe nodded, without looking up from his book. He had been reading René Gousset’s Empire of the Steppes for the last week, apparently under the theory that Genghis Khan had something to do with what’s going on in the Middle East. That seemed like going back awfully far to me, but Wolfe is always a sucker for the long perspective.

I walked to the door and took a look through the one-way panel, because I never like to open a door without knowing what’s on the other side, but there were no surprises this time around. It was Saul.

“What’s up, Archie?” he asked me.

“Mr. Wolfe will fill you in,” I told him.

Wolfe likes to do all the talking with Saul. I never know how much Wolfe wants the help to know, and if he didn’t want Saul to know that we were working for Ann Coulter, that was fine with me.

Saul sat down in the yellow chair to the left of Wolfe’s desk. He’s got this idea that the big red leather one right in front of Wolfe’s desk is for the big shots, not the help.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Wolfe,” he said.

“Good afternoon, Saul,” said Wolfe, looking up from his book. “We have a task for you, simple in description though tedious in execution. I gather Archie has given you a general overview?”

“There’s a guy living in Soho. You want us to find him and keep an eye on him.”

“Yes. The man’s name is David Brock. Have you heard of him?”

“He’s that guy who was after the Clintons.”

“Yes. If you require additional information on Mr. Brock, Archie can assist you. Mr. Brock has been subjecting our client to vague and conflicting demands for money. We certainly do not consider him a physical threat, but it is important that we locate his residence. Once he is located, we need to know where he goes and whom he sees, and whether he shares his residence with others. We require this level of information up until noon on this Friday.”

“You want a bag job?” Saul asked.

“That would be too risky. As I say, Mr. Brock constitutes at best a vague threat to our client, who desires, as clients so often do, the utmost discretion. We are dealing with people in the public eye. You will inform Archie as soon as you locate Mr. Brock, and inform him of any meetings and any activity that appears out of the ordinary.”

“Do you want video?” Saul asked.

Wolfe made a face. There’s a lot he doesn’t like about the detective business.

“Confound it. I suppose it is necessary, particularly if you see him engaged in conversations of a conspiratorial nature.”

“I’ll keep my eyes open,” said Saul.

I could see Saul glancing at his watch. Fritz would be serving lunch in fifteen minutes, and Saul has never turned down one of Fritz’s meals. But with Totten Inlet Virginicas on the menu, I was hoping that Wolfe wouldn’t be in mood to share, and I was right, which was fine by me. Saul could have my job any time he wanted it, and the less time he spent with Wolfe, the more I liked it.

“Very well,” said Wolfe, picking up his book. “Archie, I believe you said Saul required four thousand?”


I squatted in front of the safe and spun the dial. I’d put the cash in an envelope earlier in the morning, so I wouldn’t have to count it.

“Count it if you like,” I told him.

“That’s okay, Archie. You haven’t shorted me for at least a year.”

I was happy to let him have his joke. I followed him to the door.

“If I hit any snags I’ll give you a call,” he said.

I nodded, but he was just being polite. If Brock was in the city, Saul would find him.

I walked back in the room. Wolfe was counting bottlecaps. He’d had four in an hour. Either Ann was getting to him or the Archacattleya Tyria was.

“Now we just sit tight until Friday?” I asked.

“Yes. Saul will almost undoubtedly ascertain Mr. Brock’s location before the evening is out. I want to avoid confrontation with Mr. Brock as much as possible. One could wish that he retains but a single copy of this video, which we could obliterate without his being aware of our action. But we are advancing too far ahead of the facts.”

It seemed to me that he was doing all the advancing, and it also seemed to me that he was suggesting that, if Brock didn’t have a roomie, I should pay his place a visit on Friday while he was lunching with Ann and obliterate something. That would be a smooth way to do it, but it was also way in advance of the facts. Before I could say anything Fritz came in to announce lunch.

I couldn’t complain. I’d much rather eat oysters Portia than worry about a bag job. Fritz makes them with Mornay sauce and spinach purée, with parsley, tarragon, chives, and chervil for flavor. At the last minute he sprinkles them with Parmesan cheese and runs them under the broiler, so they’re still bubbling when he brings them out. Wolfe and I each take a dozen, but when it comes to the batter-fried I’m out of the running. I take one dozen to Wolfe’s three. To fill in the nooks and crannies Fritz gave us a salad of bibb lettuce, red speckled deer’s tongue, nasturtium flowers, white asparagus, and caviar, with roasted tomatoes on the side.

While we were eating Wolfe filled me on the migrations of Mongolian steppe peoples in the Tamarin basin, something I’d never cared much about, and still didn’t after he was done. I was glad when Fritz brought out the apple tarts and cinnamon ice cream, which I washed down with two cups of strong black coffee. After lunch Wolfe went back to the plant rooms and I felt like doing something. I checked the phone messages just to be sure that Saul hadn’t already found Brock’s little hideaway, but there was nothing. I was tempted to go down to Soho myself and start asking a few questions, but that wasn’t a good idea. As Wolfe said, we were dealing with people in the public eye, and I’ve been in the papers and on the tube myself just a little too often to get away with making discreet inquiries about somebody like David Brock. I was sure that ninety-nine percent of the people in New York City didn’t know who he was, but if you went down into lower Manhattan, the odds were going to go up. And if word happened to get back to Brock, it would queer the deal for good.

I had to face it. My job was to sit on my fanny and type. So I ran through the rest of the plant records and a few pieces of correspondence that Wolfe had left for me, including three in Serbian. I printed out copies and studied them to make sure I got all the accent marks right, because Wolfe loves to catch me and I hate to get caught. I did find a few, so I ran out another set and put them on Wolfe’s desk. When I was finished it was only 3:15, and I didn’t want to spend the rest of the day watching Wolfe read, so I got my hat. I walked east and caught a cab at Ninth Avenue, heading for Barneys. The salesmen there know enough not to dress me like everyone else or no one else, and by the time I left I’d ordered three suits, a dozen shirts, and half a dozen ties. That would hold me for a good six months. While I was shopping the sun had come out, so I decided to hike all the way back to West Thirty-Fifth Street. When I got back I went upstairs and put away my new ties. Then I decided that I didn’t like the way I had my ties arranged, and then I decided that if I didn’t have better things to do than rearrange my ties I had a problem. The problem was, with no detecting to do and no Lily Rowan, I didn’t have anything better to do than rearrange my ties.

I went downstairs, sat at my desk and took out a deck of cards. Lily had been down in Washington for the past week, and for three of the last four, setting up some sort of bash that was going to teach George Bush who was boss. I wasn’t sure that George was getting the message, but until he did I was going to be playing a lot of solitaire.

When I heard Wolfe’s elevator at six I scooped up the cards and put them in my desk. Acting like I had time on my hands would guarantee a crack from Wolfe about Lily’s absence and he didn’t need to be encouraged.

“I put the correspondence on your desk,” I told him as he came in.

“Thank you, Archie,” he replied.

Wolfe adjusted his four thousand ounces and rang for beer. I turned my back on him and focused on my computer, glancing through the New York Post online to make sure that they weren’t running any headlines like “Ann Coulter Pulls a Paris,” but all they had was a piece about snails invading Minnesota. I went over to the Gazette and the Daily News, and they were clean too.

For dinner Fritz gave us calf brains with black butter, almost enough to shut Wolfe up, but not quite. He wanted to talk about the movement of Muslim peoples in Central Asia and the Mogul conquest of India, and there was nothing I could do about it. Then he got sidetracked—something about Hindu temples and the use of the sacred to approach the profane—but I wasn’t listening. I was thinking about Lily and whether I should call her. I decided that calling her would be the act of a chump. In fact, I figured I was half a chump just to be wasting time thinking about it, and I also figured that if I didn’t start paying attention Wolfe might spot me, and I didn’t want that.

Fritz gave us blanc mange flavored with kirsch for dessert and, while I couldn’t complain, I wasn’t in the mood to stick around for a second helping.

“You have plans, Archie?” said Wolfe, raising an eyebrow when I turned down a second serving.

“I have plans,” I said, firmly.

In fact, I didn’t have plans, other than to get out of the house. Wolfe gave me another ten minutes on the efflorescence of erotic sculpture under the Guptas that I didn’t need while I finished my coffee and then remarked that since he didn’t seem to have my full attention I was free to leave if I wished. If he was looking for an argument, he didn’t get one. I said I appreciated his kindness and got erect. I was heading down the hallway for the staircase when the telephone rang. I went into the office and picked up the receiver. It was Saul.

“I hope I didn’t interrupt your dinner, Archie,” he told me.

“No, I was just heading out.”

“Well, I found your boy. He’s staying in a nice little mews on an alley off of Sullivan, just north of Spring. I’ve got a man on it.”

“Is it just him?”

“I think so. We haven’t seen anyone else. Of course, it’s early. We’ve got until Friday noon to be sure, right?”


“Good. Once I found him I didn’t want to ask any more questions. Oh, and I got you a key.”

“Is that all? No engraved invitation?”

“I’m still working on that.”

“Okay, but we’re going to have to dock you.”

“Yeah. It’s only for the basement, not the front door. But you won’t have to stand there on the stoop with a hammer and chisel.”

Of course, there were a hundred ways Saul could have gotten that key, but the odds of getting it were a thousand to one against. But that was Saul.

“I’ll tell Wolfe. Hold on.”

I turned around. While I’d been talking Wolfe had seated himself behind his desk and was deep into The Empire of the Steppes.

“Saul’s found Brock,” I told him.

“So I gathered,” he said, dryly.

“And a key.”

“Indeed. Inform Saul that we are increasing his daily rate by one hundred dollars.”

“Yeah. Do you have instructions?”

“None. This matter is in more than capable hands.”

“Wolfe says to sit tight,” I told Saul. “He’s bucking your daily rate by a C-note.”

Saul chuckled.

“Have a good night, Archie,” he told me.


I hung up the phone and started out the door.

“Archie,” said Wolfe. “Before you leave, there is a small but significant matter that I wish to discuss with you.”

I turned.

“Archie,” he said, looking straight at me with those damned sharp eyes of his, “the very nature of our relationship implies that a certain deference on your part is owed to me. Particularly when you are aware that you are in my presence, it is inappropriate for you to refer to me in conversation merely by my surname, without the conventional honorific.”

“You mean I should always call you mister.”

“That is the appropriate inference.”

I never liked it when Wolfe got cute with me about the difference between “infer” and “imply,” and of all the times that he had, this was the time that I liked it least.

“I’ll keep that in mind,” I said.

“See that you do.”

The way he settled back in his chair may not have implied that I wasn’t needed, but I inferred it anyway. I turned on my heel.

“I may be back late,” I said.

If he made a reply I didn’t hear it. I was up the stairs in a hurry and so mad that I took a shower. That gave me a chance to think. There was only one place where I was headed, and that was the Flamingo. But what was I going to do there? I decided that I wasn’t going to think about that. I wasn’t in the mood for black so I put on something that Hugo Boss called “contemporary evening wear” in navy flannel that had set me back two grand, with a tan silk shirt with a light check. If Wolfe saw me in that outfit he’d be sure to make a crack, but I wasn’t going to let him decide what I was going to wear, even though I knew that if we got into it I’d be likely to say something less than deferential. I just steamed on past the door and out the stoop. If he saw the bait, he ignored it.

I walked east to Tenth Avenue and caught a cab. When I got to the Flamingo it had just the right flavor, plenty of noise, and plenty of class. I still hadn’t decided whether I was going to behave myself or not when that decision was taken away from me. A crowd of Lily’s friends showed up around twelve and they weren’t in a hurry to leave. I wasn’t going to try to outwait them, so I left around one, bound for West Thirty-Fifth Street and all alone.

Thursday was more of the same. I spent the morning disassembling the two Marleys I kept in the safe, oiling them and putting them back together again. Saul called at ten to say that he still hadn’t seen anyone but Brock use the mews, and Ann called at eleven fifteen to say that she hadn’t heard from Brock. I told her to sit tight and get ready for her lunch on Friday. Wolfe hit me with a new set of corrections for the Serbian piece he’d been working on, which got me through lunch and into the afternoon. Just before he left for his afternoon session with the plants Wolfe gave me an Internet search on a dozen new sites in three different languages, none of which I could read. There was plenty of material to run out and then a new set of corrections to the Serbian piece, so that by the time we sat down to Fritz’s stuffed breast of veal I was feeling a lot more like a secretary than a detective. Still, tonight was poker night, and with Saul on stakeout down in Soho I might even have a chance to win a few bucks. And in fact I was close to six hundred dollars ahead at midnight when Lon Cohen took it all away with a jack-high straight flush in diamonds. That left me still fifty to the good, but Lon was close to a thousand. When I got into bed at one-thirty that night I was thinking that I could use a little excitement.

Chapter 3

I was sorting through the morning mail at around nine-thirty when Saul called.

“Archie,” he said, “how’d the game go?”

“Ask Lon,” I said. “How are things in Soho?”

“Quiet. Brock came in last night around eight. We haven’t seen him since. No company.”


“Nope. No sign of anyone but him.”

“Good. I’ll be down around eleven forty-five.”

Wolfe came down from the plant rooms at eleven as always, with three Pleione Versailles blossoms.

“Good morning, Archie,” he said, as always. “Did you sleep well?”

“Very well,” I said, which was stretching it just a bit. “Saul called. If there’s anyone but Brock in that mews he hasn’t seen him.”

Wolfe settled in his chair and rang for beer.

“Excellent. You will meet with Saul and obtain the key to the mews. You will observe Mr. Brock’ departure. If you consider it judicious to do so, you will enter the house in Mr. Brock’ absence. Your search must be cautious. It will not do to allow Mr. Brock to become aware that his privacy has been violated. Nothing would be more likely to drive him to some petty and ill-considered act that would reduce our efforts to naught. If he has made copies of this file and secreted them on the premises, then we are flummoxed. You will inspect his computer. You will determine if the files are there, and if copies have been made. I assume that that is possible?”

“It’s possible, yes. There are all sorts of things he could have done, but I’ll know more once I’ve had a look at that computer.”

“And we will know more when we have the terms he intends to present to Miss Coulter at their luncheon. Miss Coulter’s surmise that Mr. Brock will not relinquish the coercive grip he maintains on her at his own initiative is, I believe, valid. As he spreads his net we must fashion one of our own that will encompass his meager device.”

Fritz arrived with Wolfe’s beer.

“Thank you, Fritz,” he said.

I watched as he opened the bottle with the gold-plated opener a client gave him and poured the beer so that there was a quarter-inch of foam at the top of the glass. He drank from the glass and licked the foam from his upper lip. He set the glass down and looked at me.

“If you are confident that the computer has the only copy of the file, you will remove it.”

“I’d say it’s a million to one that he’s got at least two copies of the file. If we erase the one, he’ll know it, and he’ll be mad.”

“No doubt. Then you must simply learn as much as you can learn, and wait to hear Miss Coulter’s account of their conversation. If we have a clear idea of how he intends to play his hand it will be more feasible to ensure his actual compliance with his proffers.”

When he was done with me he picked up The Empire of the Steppes. I suppose he couldn’t wait to get back to Genghis Khan.

I walked over to Tenth Avenue and caught a cab down to Washington Square and then walked the rest of the way to Sullivan, where I met Saul.

“He’s still inside,” Saul said.

“I think I’ll take a walk around the block,” I told him.

I walked around the block. As I approached him Saul shook his head so I kept on going. When I came back from my second go-round Saul headed into a coffee shop. He sat in a booth facing a window so that he could watch the street.

“He still hasn’t shown,” he said, as I slid in across from him.

As he spoke my cellphone started buzzing. I clicked it open and put it to my ear. I didn’t have to guess who it was.

“Archie, he isn’t here. I called his cell and he didn’t answer. What should I do?”

“Sit tight,” I told her.

“I’m not sitting, I’m standing.”

“Well, grab a seat. Unless he’s way ahead of us he hasn’t left yet.”

“You mean you know where he lives?”

“I’m not saying that. Have a glass of wine and if he doesn’t show in fifteen minutes call me.”

Saul ordered a corned beef and a glass of seltzer. I took a corned beef and a glass of milk, just to be sociable. I was hoping that I wouldn’t have a chance to eat, but I did. Ann called, and I told her to hang out until one. If he didn’t show by then, she should leave Brock a message, go back to her hotel, and sit tight until she heard from me.

“What’s his game?” Saul asked, when I put away my cell.

“Don’t know. Maybe he got cold feet.”

I felt like asking Saul if he was absolutely sure that Brock was in the mews, but I didn’t. If Saul said he was there, he was there. At a quarter to one I called Wolfe.

“It’s me,” I said. “Brock hasn’t shown at the Plaza. Saul says he came in early last night and hasn’t left. He hasn’t called Ann. She’s called his cell twice and he hasn’t answered.”

“Confound it.”


“What are you doing?”

“Having lunch with Saul. The mews is on a cul-de-sac and we’ve got a clear view of the entrance. And we’ve got another man down the street.”

“What are you eating?”

He really thought that was important.

“A corned beef sandwich and a glass of milk.”

“Mr. Brook’s waywardness has cost you sautéed veal kidneys with mushrooms, accompanied with braised sorrel.”

“I’ll be sure to give him a piece of my mind when I see him.”

“Indeed. What do you propose to do?”

“You’re asking me?”

“You are the man on the spot.”

I felt like saying “indeed” but I didn’t.

“I’ll sit here with Saul until one-thirty. We can give Saul another grand to watch the place through tomorrow. If Brock doesn’t call Ann by tomorrow, something has gone seriously screwy. Either he’s worked himself into a hopeless funk or someone’s leaning on him. That’s only a guess, but I just can’t see why he would bail at this point.”

There was a pause. I’m guessing that Wolfe was thinking about how much he would rather be eating sautéed veal kidneys than worrying about David Brock. On the other hand, Dave’s little scheme, whatever it was, had already netted Wolfe an Archacattleya Tyria, something he surely thought he’d never get his hands on. So, as far as Wolfe was concerned, they were just about even.

“Make the arrangement with Saul,” he said. “Stay until one-thirty or two and then return here. You told Miss Coulter to inform you immediately if she hears from the gentleman?”

“Yes, of course.”

“You will report to me at two thirty, not that I believe you will have anything to report. It appears that we have placed ourselves at the mercy of the vagaries of an imbecile.”

“Yeah. Do I tell Saul that we may want him after tomorrow?”

“No. Absent any new developments, we will end the surveillance at noon tomorrow. If Mr. Brock retires entirely into his shell Miss Coulter may demand recompense, not that she shall receive any.”

“I’ll see you at two thirty.”

I closed my cell and put mustard on my corned beef. When we finished Brock still hadn’t shown. Saul gave me the key he had, to the basement of the mews rather than the front door, and I left. I stretched my legs a bit and walked over to Eighth Avenue before catching a cab. I had the cabbie let me off at Thirty-Fifth. I got out and headed west. As I approached the brownstone I gave Ann one last call. There was nothing. Whatever was biting Brock was biting him hard.

When I knocked Fritz was there to undo the chain and let me inside.

“Archie,” he said. “I saved you two kidneys. I could serve you a lovely lunch in half an hour.”

“Forget it,” I said. “I’ve got all the kidneys I need. But I appreciate the thought.”

When I got into the office Wolfe was hard at work, reading Gousset with both hands.

“Would you like a report?” I asked, as I slid behind my desk. “I can keep it brief.”

“No,” he said.

You couldn’t keep it briefer than that. There was a heap of plant records on my desk, along with another revision of Wolfe’s article. I started typing.

I was still at it when Wolfe went up to the orchids at four. Just to be absolutely sure that nothing was happening, I called both Saul and Ann. Saul had seen nothing and Ann had heard nothing. I called them both again at a quarter to six for an update and got a repeat.

“Nothing,” I told Wolfe when he came down at six.

He grunted, adjusted his bulk in the chair and rang for beer. Then he picked up The Empire of the Steppes. From the expression on his face he was peeved at Brock and was taking it out on me.

“I finished making those corrections you gave me,” I said, handing him a new printout.

Wolfe grunted again. Fritz arrived with his beer.

“And I checked with both Ann and Saul. Nothing.”

He raised an eyebrow.

“You refer to Miss Coulter by her first name?” he asked, opening the bottle.

I let it pass. Wolfe poured the beer so that there was a quarter-inch of foam at the top of the glass. He drank from the glass and licked the foam from his upper lip.

“It is possible that Mr. Brock has lost his nerve in this matter entirely?” Wolfe asked. “Saul may be keeping watch over an empty burrow.”

“If Saul says he’s there he’s there,” I said. “If Brock wanted to walk why wouldn’t he just walk? It would take some doing to get past Saul, and nothing that I’ve heard about Brock makes me believe that he could do it or that he would do it.”

“Interesting, Archie. You are capable of arguing, if not thinking, in the alternative. You must keep this up. It is a sign of progress.”

“Yeah. Here’s an alternative. I check in with Saul after around ten o’clock. If Brock hasn’t shown by then, I go in the house myself.”

“Brilliant. And do what?”

“I don’t know yet. I’m thinking in the alternative.”

Wolfe took another drink from his glass.

“Mr. Brock,” he said, “for whatever reason, has chosen to leave Miss Coulter on tenterhooks. I feel no particular compulsion to remove her from that position.”

“You’re ready to hand back her retainer?”

“I am. I accepted it in good faith and would return in the same manner, minus expenses.”

“She’ll want the orchid as well.”

“No doubt. But she won’t get it.”

After that he pretended to be reading, but I could see that little smirk he gets when he thinks he’s being cute. He reached for his beer. Since there was scarcely half a glass remaining, there was no point in being subtle. He drained the glass and set it down.

“You know, Archie,” he said, “I believe Miss Coulter has stimulated pangs of gallantry in your breast.”

“I’m just getting tired of typing Serbian.”

“Perhaps. But I see no point of pressing the matter. Mr. Brock is a slow-moving quarry. We can afford to be patient.”

He wanted to ring for another beer, but it was too close to dinner time, so he went back to Gousset. Five minutes later the doorbell rang.

“That will be our guests,” he said.

“We have guests?” I asked.

“Indeed. I fear it will be a slow evening for you, Archie, unless you speak Serbian.”

I went to the door. There were three men who definitely looked Serbian. They were polite enough, and one of them could speak clear English, but I could tell that by calling it a slow evening Wolfe was putting me down easy. Before dinner I fixed drinks and nodded politely. During dinner I nodded politely some more and enjoyed Fritz’s braised sweetbreads. After an hour or so the one who could speak English remarked that a young man like myself shouldn’t waste his time listening to a bunch of old men, which was nice to hear, even though I didn’t have a particular place I wanted to go. I waited about twenty minutes, at which time I ran out of politeness and excused myself. I walked over to Curran Motors and took the BMW Z-4 roadster Wolfe pays me to drive and went for a ride out to Jersey. When I leave the city for no reason I know I’m restless. I listened to Harry Connick on the changer, one of his instrumental albums. I know he makes fifty times as much, easy, pretending to sing like Frank, but I still wish he’d stick to the piano. By the time I turned around I was closer to Ohio than I’d been in the past fifteen years, and there was still no Lily. I knew where she was, but I was damned if I was going to go after her. I was in danger of starting to feel sorry for myself when my cell rang.

“Archie! Where are you?”

It was Lily.

“On a case,” I said.

“That’s not what Nero said.”

“When was the last time you got a straight answer out of him? And don’t call him Nero. You know he doesn’t like it and neither do I.”

“I’m neglecting you, aren’t I?”

I laughed.

“All right, be that way. I know I am. But things are terrible down here, much worse than I thought. I’m sorry, Archie, but I’m going to have to raise an awful lot of money if I’m going to keep Arianna from ruining everything.”


“Arianna Huffington. Don’t pretend you don’t know who she is. You’ve heard me complain about her often enough.”

I laughed again, and felt better about it this time.

“It’s not that funny! Archie!”

“I know. I don’t approve of Californians either.”

“Ha! You just say that to get my goat.”

“When are you coming back?”

“Oh, Archie! I am coming back! It’s just that, well, you turn your back on these people just once, and you’re done.”

“I thought DC was for people who couldn’t make it in Manhattan or LA.”

“It is. That’s why they’re so terrible. Archie, I will make it up to you.”

I knew she was serious, but I knew she was serious about getting Bush too. She had her back up about him in a way I’d never seen her before.

“I know you will,” I said, “but it is taking time.”

“Thank you, Archie,” she said. “I won’t say anything more, because I don’t want to make any promises I can’t keep.”

“There’s a light on,” I said.

She made a sound, a sound like she was a big warm cat, a big warm cat I wanted to hold in my arms.

“I’m missing you, Escamillio. I know you’re mad, and I know it’s my fault. Believe me, I’ll be home soon.”

I didn’t say anything to that, because I suspected that it wasn’t quite true. Between settling things with Arianna and with George, Lily had a bigger fight on her hands than ever before. And I wasn’t ready to lift a finger to help her.

I didn’t get back to Thirty-Fifth Street until about one, and didn’t roll out of bed until around eight, which barely gave me enough time for six of Fritz’s griddle cakes with wild thyme honey. I read the Times and the Gazette and listened with half an ear while Fritz told me about all the trouble he had finding woodcocks worth the money. There were too many breeders, he said, and too much money. The woodcock was a very special bird, he said, very simple, and very delicate, and should be left alone. When Fritz talks about woodcocks he can get a little upset.

I finished my coffee and went into the office. I did a little dusting and straightened a few items on Wolfe’s desk so that everything would be the way he wanted them and filled the gold Mont Blanc a client gave him with ink. At nine-fifteen I called Saul.

“Anything?” I asked.

“Not a damn thing,” Saul said. “Nobody in or out.”

“Sit tight,” I told him. “I think I’m coming down.”

I called Ann. She had called Brock but he still wasn’t answering his cell and she was getting well beyond antsy. She wanted to see Wolfe. I told her Wolfe was busy all day and that I would get back to her. Before I left I took out a special laptop I use when I’m breaking and entering computers and put it in a black carrying case. I got my hat and told Fritz to put the chain on the door and headed out. I caught a cab on Tenth and rode down to Sullivan. Saul was waiting there for me.

“I can’t stand the suspense,” I told him. “I’m going in.”

“Let me do it,” Saul said. “He might recognize you.”

“You try the door,” I said. “If he’s in, you handle it. If not, I will.”

“You think he pulled a skip?”

“I don’t know what I think. What I think is that he wouldn’t sit tight like this for two days. You said he always went out to eat.”

Saul nodded.

“So why he is so anti-social all of a sudden?”

“It’s your call, Archie.”

Saul walked down the alley while I walked the other way. Ten minutes later I walked back.

“Nothing,” Saul said. “If he’s there he doesn’t want company.”

It was dicey. The smart thing to do was sit tight, but I wasn’t having it.

“I can’t wait,” I said. “You watch me.”

I headed up Sullivan towards Washington Square. I walked three blocks until I found a coffee shop. I had a cup of coffee and two cinnamon doughnuts and glanced through copies of the Post and the News. When I was done I walked back down Sullivan and into the alley. The mews had an English basement and I walked down the steps under the stoop as though I knew what I was doing. I took advantage of the privacy to slip on a pair of gloves. The door opened and I was inside.

I was in a furnished apartment that was being used for storage—nice carpeting on the floor, but no real furniture. I walked to the back of the apartment and found the stairs. It was dark but I had my flashlight. When I got to the top of the stairs the door was locked. It took me ten minutes to pick the lock.

There wasn’t much light—the windows were hung with translucent white curtains—but there was enough so that I could see that whoever owned the place had had some money to throw around. It was the sort of Soho mews that about a million people in New York were willing to kill for. I was in a big room that looked lived in. There was a copy of the Times from Thursday and an opened copy of a book called A History of Writing lying on a coffee table. I checked in the kitchen and found a stainless-steel refrigerator with a bottle of champagne, three bottles of white wine and some take-out.

When I was done with the first floor I went up the stairs. I opened the first door that I came to and walked into somebody’s bedroom, stepping over the body of Hillary Clinton as I did so.

Chapter 4

It took me about ten seconds to realize that the stiff wasn’t Hillary. The blue pant suit and the hairdo had me fooled. I flashed my light on the face and saw that it was Brock. He wasn’t Hillary, but he was dead, courtesy of a slug that had drilled him right through the forehead.

I was very glad that I was wearing gloves. I stepped back a little and let the beam of my flashlight play over Brock’s body. He was wearing lipstick and other makeup to go with the wig, as well as women’s shoes. I guess he had to get those by special order, because for a short guy Brock had big feet.

I touched Brock’s arm. He was stiff and cold. It was a sure bet that he’d been killed on Thursday night. Whoever had done it wasn’t around. I had the place to myself.

I looked around the room and found what I wanted—Brock’s laptop. He was a Mac man. I’ve always found Macs a little fancy for my taste, but they are easy to operate. I took out my laptop and hooked it up to Brock’s. This was going to take some time, but I figured that I had time, if I didn’t mind spending it with a corpse. The odds were a million to one that there was only one other person in the world who knew that Brock was dead, and he wasn’t telling. According to everything Saul had seen, Brock didn’t have much of a social life, so it wasn’t too likely that anyone would come looking for him. Anyway, that was how I was going to play it.

The laptop I brought along had been specially outfitted by a serious hacker that Wolfe and I have consulted on more than one occasion. It’s got two extra hard drives and will handle a terabyte of data without gagging. If you don’t know what a terabyte is, let’s just say that I was able to copy Brock’s entire hard drive without even breathing hard.

Once I had the whole hard drive on my machine it was easy. I read through everything that Brock had written for the past couple of weeks, which wasn’t much. There was his “history” that Ann had mentioned, but he hadn’t touched it. I thought I might have gold when I found his diary, but apparently Brock wasn’t the type to unburden himself. There were references to people, usually by initials, and sometimes by a single initial, so unless you knew something about Brock’s social life—and I didn’t—it wasn’t much to go on. He did have “AC” down for lunch on Friday at the Plaza. So he probably hadn’t planned on being murdered.

Finally I came to a folder that was password protected. It was big, and fat, and mysterious. Thanks to some nice custom software I was able to override all the little tricks Apple builds into its machine and found Brock’s password. I opened the folder and found a single file, which Brock had cleverly named “1”. It was about forty megs, which sounded like a video file, but when I tried to get in it was no go. I set the software to search for the password, but it just wasn’t there. This was a specially encrypted file that Brock had loaded onto his machine a couple of weeks ago. There had been a lot of reformatting and some industrial-strength erasing, which suggested to me that Brock had gone to a pro for the work. I had the feeling that if I tried to crack that file and blew it I’d have some serious egg on my face.

This looked like a problem that I couldn’t solve where I was. I dearly wanted to delete “1” from his hard drive, but I had to let it go. The odds were a thousand to one that that file was the one that Ann wanted, but the odds were also at least ten to one it was tied somehow to Brock’s murder. Destroying evidence is illegal and also unsportsmanlike. Using some special software, I cleaned up Brock’s machine so that no one could tell that I had been inside. Maybe Steve Jobs could figure out what I had done, but it would take him a week, and he’d have to want to know what had happened awfully bad.

I was just disconnecting my machine from Brock’s when he sat up. Corpses will do that. The muscles tighten, and up she goes. But you have to have spent a lot more time in a morgue than I have not to jump when it happens. He had his back to me, which made it a lot easier, but not easy enough. My muscles tightened too, and I stood up from the chair. Now that I have taken care of our client, maybe there was something I could do for Mr. Brock.

Whoever had killed him had not walked in or out of the alley. I was betting on that. So how was it done? I went up another flight of stairs to a very neat little studio, with seven-foot-ceilings and a pair of tiny windows. I opened a large closet and found my answer: a hatch to the roof, a hatch that wasn’t locked from the inside.

It was a well-made hatch, so there was no water damage. I wanted to open it, but decided against it. There are a lot of people in New York who have nothing better to do than look out the window, and the sight of a man climbing out of a hatch in a roof might be just the sort of thing to catch their eye. So I let the hatch be and went back down to the second floor. I took one last look at David Brock, in his Hillary wig, his lipstick, and his pearls. There wasn’t a damn thing I could do for him, but I had the feeling that I was going to catch his killer before I was done.

I had gone south a block on Sullivan when Saul caught up with me.

“How did it go?” he asked.

“Good for me, bad for Brock,” I said. “He caught a slug in the forehead two days ago.”


“Yeah. It was a small caliber, a twenty-two, I’m guessing. It was in a back room, on the second floor. Unless you were standing right outside, you couldn’t have heard it. There’s a roof hatch, unlocked. Let’s take a walk around the block and see how he did it.”

We walked back up Sixth Avenue to MacDougal. Saul nodded at a walkway between two buildings.

“There it is,” he said. “At the end of the main alley there’s a fire escape. He went across the roof, and then down and out. He’d have to jump a few walls. He must be a kid.”

“Okay,” I said. “You better leave.”

“Do you want me to call it in?”

“No, I’ll do it.”

“I’m sorry, Archie. You can dock me the C note.”

“Forget it. We weren’t looking for this.”

I walked up MacDougal and caught a cab to Thirty-Fifth Street. When I got out I saw a polished black sedan sitting three doors down that might have set off some alarm signals but it didn’t. We do live in a tony neighborhood, after all, and chauffeured cars aren’t that rare. I knocked on the door and Fritz came and removed the chain to let me in. He seemed to be flustered about something but I was in too much of a hurry to pay much attention. I rushed into the office, almost colliding with Hillary Clinton as I did so.

It was the real deal this time around. Our meeting was a surprise to both of us, but she had her hand out in three-fifths of a second. A constituent is a constituent, after all.

“Senator, this is my assistant, Archie Goodwin. Archie, this is Senator Clinton.”

Somehow, I hadn’t even noticed that Wolfe was in the room, which was probably a first for me, and maybe for him.

We shook hands. She fixed her sharp eyes on me and gave me a big smile.

“Senator Clinton was gracious enough to have lunch with me,” Wolfe continued. “She has been giving us enormous assistance with the situation in the Balkans.”

“Mr. Wolfe is the one who has been giving enormous assistance,” Hillary said. “His research and analysis have been superb.”

Wolfe looked like he was about to blush. I was expecting him to say something about all the work I had done—learning to type in Serbian in two alphabets, for example—but he didn’t.

“Well, this is an honor,” I said.

Not brilliant, I admit, but considering that three hours ago I thought I was leaning over the senator’s corpse, not bad. I stepped out of her way and unconsciously started looking for her security guard. Then I realized that there wasn’t one.

“Where’s the Secret Service?” I asked.

“Oh, I took a page from Eleanor,” she said. “Look.”

She opened her purse and took out a small black Marley thirty-two.

“Wouldn’t the NRA love this!” she laughed. “It’s only a five-round clip. I figure that if I need more than five bullets, they’re going to get me.”

I didn’t say anything. I guess even Methodists can have a little sang-froid.

“We don’t mean to keep you, Senator,” Wolfe said, as though being in the same room with me might be some kind of imposition.

It isn’t often that it’s Wolfe who shows a visitor to the door, but obviously this was one of those times. Since the hallway wasn’t really built for three when one of the three weighs in at a seventh of a ton, I was discreet and walked behind. When the door opened I could see the black sedan had pulled up right in front and two men were getting out. Frankly, I felt safer.

“You weren’t going to invite me to lunch?” I asked.

“You certainly would have been had you been here,” Wolfe replied. “I didn’t tell you in advance because the senator’s staff prefers not to give advance notice of her plans. Unfortunately, you chose to absent yourself.”

I was about to say “nuts” but decided against it. Much as I wanted to ride Wolfe about getting up close and personal with Hillary, the news I had was too hot to wait.

I did wait until Wolfe got himself comfortable in his chair and rang for beer.

“You’re going to need that,” I said, sitting behind my desk. “The news I’ve got isn’t pretty. David Brock has been murdered. He caught a twenty-two through the forehead.”

“Confound it!” Wolfe made little circles on his desk with a forefinger. “This is not what I wanted to hear.”

“Yeah. I guess you’ll have to earn those orchids. The police are bound to discover a lot of phone calls between Ann Coulter and Brock, and they’re going to wonder what they were talking about. And if they find out that Ann came up here with a million in cashier’s checks, which they will if they bother to look, they’re going to wonder a lot.”

“Have you informed Miss Coulter?”



Wolfe inhaled and then let out about a bushel of air. He was looking off in the distance, not at me, as though he wanted to pretend that I hadn’t told him about Brock’s murder.

“You have disturbed my digestion,” he said, still not looking at me.

“I apologize.”

“Thank you.”

Fritz arrived with Wolfe’s beer.

“Oh, Archie,” he said, “I was so sorry that you were not here for our luncheon for the senator. Such a gracious lady!”

I hid a smile. I was even sorrier than before that I had missed Hillary’s act. Any woman that could make both Wolfe and Fritz act like schoolboys was something special.

“I had business downtown,” I said.

“Have you eaten? I saved a pheasant for you.”

“I’m fine. I had a couple of doughnuts at eleven.”

Wolfe shuddered.

“Archie, is this true? You haven’t eaten since? Fritz, bring Archie a plate.”

All at once I had his sympathy. I should have led with the no lunch.

“Forget it,” I said. “What I’ve got won’t wait.”

Wolfe opened his beer with the golden opener a client had given him and put the bottle cap in his desk drawer. Then he poured the beer so that there was a quarter-inch of foam at the top of the glass. He drank from the glass and licked the foam from his upper lip.

“Confound it,” he said again. “Let’s have it.”

So I gave it to him, the whole thing. He hates to ask about computers, but he didn’t have much choice. He asked me to repeat a couple of things about Brock’s hard drive, but finally he got it straight. When he did he got up from his chair and went over to the globe and gave it a whirl.

“You spent hours in that mews, when any minute the police could have arrived.”

“I took a chance, yes.”

“You took more than a chance. Mr. Brock’s murder has complicated this case immensely. What was once tawdry but trivial has been converted into a game that can only be played for the highest stakes. You should have consulted me. This was an extreme step to have taken on behalf of a dubious client.”

“Nuts. If I had consulted you there’s no way you could have given me an answer I could use. And I would have ruined your luncheon. And you can have it as my considered opinion that there’s no way in hell that Ann Coulter could have gotten in and out of that mews without Saul seeing her.”

“She is a young woman.”

“She’s young, but she’s no Mary Lou Rettan, who’s an acrobat, by the way.”

Ten years ago, Lily Rowan had made me take her niece to see Mary Lou in Peter Pan. I guess I still hadn’t gotten over it.

Wolfe wouldn’t let it go.

“What are the odds of Miss Coulter making the journey you described if her life depended on it?”

“In one piece? Twice? A thousand to one. Besides, if you were David Brock, would you let Ann Coulter climb down your roof hatch and shoot you, particularly if you were dressed like Hillary Clinton?”

Wolfe started to smile, but he ironed it out.

“She could have lain in wait,” he said.

“Nuts,” I said again. “Anyway, this guarantees that Ann won’t stiff you for the other three orchids, and it could double your fee.”

“Indeed. Archie, you will leave here and walk east. You will make a call to the police from the Pennsylvania Station, to inform them of the murder. Immediately thereafter you will walk several blocks and call Miss Coulter. Unless she is an absolute ninny, which we know she is not, she will wish to see me.”

Wolfe raised his head and looked at the clock. It was three-thirty.

“Tell her to be here at six. Tell her that if she arrives earlier, she will not be admitted. If you wish, you may inform her of some simple methods of avoiding immediate contact with the police, but you will not shelter her here.”

“Are you expressing an animus?”

“I am expressing a sense of caution that you lack. Miss Coulter is willful, attractive, and self-possessed. In our animal cousins the instinct for reproduction is a blunt instrument, primitive but reliable. Among us it frequently takes fantastic and even self-defeating forms. Your appetite for the exotic and forbidden, if not controlled, will be your ruin, and I will not have my interests compromised by your folly. I rely upon your instincts, but I rely on my ability to direct them even more. You have already run an extraordinary risk on Miss Coulter’s behalf, with no reason at all to believe that she deserved it.”

“You heard what she said. She came to you because you offer discretion and results.”

“Do not quibble. You work for me, not for her.”

So that was the way it was.

“I’ll get my hat,” I told him.

It isn’t much of a hike from the brownstone to Penn Station, but I was glad for the walk. Making the call to the cops took some finesse. I didn’t want to tell them that a Mr. David Brock was lying in a mews off of Sullivan with a twenty-two slug through his forehead. So I told them I was a concerned neighbor who thought he might have heard a gun go off last Thursday and that I hadn’t seen that fellow who had moved into the mews across the way in a couple of days. How fast the cops would move on that was a bit tricky. If they couldn’t find the owner of the mews to let them in, they’d have to drill the lock, which they don’t like to do with nothing more than I had given them. I didn’t like the thought of David’s corpse gathering dust for another week, but I liked the thought of the police knowing that someone had been inside and seen Brock’s corpse even less. Once they made the connection between Brock and Ann the police would be bound to make the connection between Ann and Wolfe, and if Inspector Cramer had even the slightest reason to suspect that I knew more about this than I should I’d be a guest of the New York State penal system for a long time to come.

I walked a couple of blocks up into the garment district before I found a phone and called Ann.

“Hi, Archie. Any news?”

The reaction of a part of me to that cool, sexy voice was more primitive than I cared to admit. I ignored it. This was business.

“Too much,” I said. “Wolfe wants to see you at six.”

“What is it?” she said, excited. “He’s released the video, hasn’t he?”

“No. But it’s going to get complicated, but maybe not right away. It’s not something that I can talk about over the phone.”

“Damn it! Oh, Jesus, he’s put it on the Internet, hasn’t he? Oh, Christ!”

“No, he hasn’t. Calm down.”

“I’m coming over right now!”

“No, you aren’t. If you show up now, we’ll let you stand there on the stoop until six. You don’t want to do that.”

“No, I don’t.”

“Then listen to me. This is not good, but it’s not what you think.”

There was a pause.

“Can you come see me?”

“No. I’m sorry to leave you hanging, but that’s the way it is.”

“But I want to see you now!”

“I’m sorry, but it’s impossible. I’ll see you at six. And listen. Wolfe wants you to bring the other three orchids.”

“No! That wasn’t the deal!”

“Yes, it was the deal. I’m telling you, you don’t want to haggle at this point.”

“All right! Jesus! Archie, I’m crawling out of my skin!”

“I know, but if you’re willing to trust us you can still get home free. That’s not a promise, but it is a possibility. A real possibility.”

“All right. All right. I’ll bring the three orchids.”


There was a pause.

“It’s four o’clock now,” she said, almost to herself. “I’ll, I’ll work on my book and see you at six.”

“And bring the orchids. All three of them.”

“God, yes, I can’t forget about the orchids.”

“Don’t forget about the orchids. Wolfe isn’t handling this case because he likes you.”

“Yes, you’re right. I’ll bring them.”

That was better. She was calmer, and I was calmer. But when I hiked back to the office I was still feeling a little primitive.

Fortunately, I had something to occupy me—lots of Serbian typing. I hit the keys and pushed through about a dozen pages of Wolfe’s handwritten draft. At six o’clock I heard Wolfe’s elevator descending and the doorbell ring at the same time. Ann took precedence, of course, and anyway I wanted to slow her down and give Wolfe a chance to get settled. As for the orchids, I didn’t really think that Ann might try to stiff him, but there’s a saying that Wolfe likes to use—“always trust everyone, but always cut the cards.”

“Hello, Archie,” she said, when I opened the door. She was flustered underneath, but she hadn’t forgotten to put on her makeup and do her hair. I’m guessing that if she did work on her book it didn’t cost her more than fifteen minutes. When she took off her raincoat, the sight of her in a slim, black and white silk number with less than modest cleavage had me feeling primitive again.

“You’ve got the orchids?” I asked.

She smiled.


She handed me another Hermés bag, a big one this time. Apparently, she collected them. I looked inside and there were three orchids in individual plastic cases.

“Then we better talk to Mr. Wolfe.”

I led her into the office. She took the big red leather chair right in front of Wolfe’s desk. She muttered something and Wolfe grunted back. I stepped around the chair and put the Hermés bag on Wolfe’s desk and took out the orchids. Wolfe had his magnifying glass out so I removed the plastic cases from the orchids. They all had blooms, but Wolfe wasn’t going to rely on either the word of a right-wing virago or the naked eye. It must have taken him more than five minutes of eye-balling before he was ready to proceed.

“Satisfactory,” he said at last. “You have complied with the terms of our bargain, Miss Coulter. You have asked for my discretion. Now I must ask for yours. What I am about to say concerns you greatly. You must promise never to divulge when, where, or how you obtained the information I am about to give you.”

Wolfe had her, and I can’t say he wasn’t enjoying it.

“I promise!” she said. “Haven’t I waited long enough? Jesus!”

“Yes, you have. Mr. Goodwin and I have ascertained that Mr. Brock is dead. He has been murdered.”

“Oh, Christ!”

“Indeed. His body is even now lying in the mews in Soho that he mentioned to you.”

Ann gripped the arms of the chair with her hands. I’ve seen a lot of people do that in the years I’ve been with Wolfe, but not many have dug their fingers in the leather harder than Ann did.

“You’re absolutely sure?”

“We are.”

“What about the tape, the video?”

“We know nothing. There is a slim possibility that it no longer exists at all. But that possibility is very slim indeed and confirming it will take some doing.”



Wolfe turned a palm.

“Since your tormenter is now dead,” he continued, “there also exists the slim possibility that you will no longer consider yourself in need of my services. By bringing you here, I have been operating on the contrary assumption that your need has in fact been intensified.”


“Yes. In your writings and personal appearances, Miss Coulter, you have frequently extolled the need for an aggressive, even ruthless police force. You shall shortly obtain a unique opportunity to observe the mettle of New York City police. I hope that their contempt for civil liberties and such niceties as due process will measure up to your standards.”

“Don’t be so f*cking cute. I need to talk to my lawyer. And my publicist.”

“No doubt. But you shall not do so from my telephone. The police do not yet know of Mr. Brock’s death, but they will know soon, and when they do they will begin their inquiries. They will discover your repeated calls to one another. They will discover your lunch at the Plaza together and if Mr. Brock made a note of it they will discover the lunch you intended to have together yesterday. Perhaps you will be fortunate. Perhaps Mr. Brock led an active social life, in which case your communications will not appear to be of unusual interest. In that case, they will pursue you with a gentle hand. But if you are not fortunate, they will focus a particular interest upon you. They will discover your purchase of a million dollars’ worth of cashier’s checks, and at that point the screws will begin to tighten.”

“Damn it! That f*cking Bloomberg! Jesus!”

“I doubt if the mayor will take a special interest in your case. However, if the police do focus their attention on you, as I suspect they will, they will almost undoubtedly discover that you had contacted me. Inspector Cramer, who makes a point of never learning from his mistakes, maintains an infantile obsession with what occurs in this house. He burned his fingers badly on his last celebrity murder. The fact that his mishandling of the case was entirely due to pressure from above has, understandably, only served to increase his choler. The inspector’s instinct is always to act. And if there is no target but you, you will not be coddled.”

If Wolfe was looking for a reaction from Ann he got one, but I don’t think it was the one he expected. She burst into tears.

“Archie,” he said, looking at me, of course, because whenever a woman does something that he can’t handle I’m supposed to make it disappear.

“I’m all right!” said Ann, almost shouting. She took a handkerchief out of her bag and wiped her eyes.

“I’m such a shit,” she said, “sitting here yapping about myself while poor David—he’s really dead, isn’t he?”

“He is, Miss Coulter.”

“Poor man! He tried so hard to do what was right and everything came out wrong for him. This is so wrong, so unfair.”

“Murder is unfair.”

“I do have to hire you, then. To find David’s murderer, and to, well, to protect my sorry blonde ass.”

She laughed as she said this, almost hiccupping.

“The two goals you describe are quite likely to be complementary,” Wolfe said. “The more quickly we identify Mr. Brock’s murderer, the less the police are likely to discover. However, it is possible that they could conflict. In such an eventuality, you would have to choose which was the more important.”

“Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. Let’s just say that I’ll pay you a lot to see that it doesn’t come to that.”

“Very well. Archie, your computer.”

Wolfe spent the next ten minutes dictating a statement for Ann to sign, but I won’t tell you what he said because Ann spent the next twenty revising it. When she was done it was twice as long as Wolfe’s version and half as readable, so I guess she felt she’d done her job. Wolfe looked it over and added a proviso that required her to cough up $500,000 as a nonrefundable retainer.

“That’s a little steep, isn’t it?” she asked. “What’s your usual fee?”

“I have no usual fee. In any event, Miss Coulter, your predicament is far from usual. You should count yourself fortunate to have the wherewithal to command my services.”

“For $500,000 I want a guarantee that you will keep me out of jail.”

“That is impossible. It would not be beyond Mr. Cramer’s conceit to place you in jail merely to provoke me, though I confess my emotions would be mixed. I suggest rather that an additional $500,000 be offered as a bonus if I do succeed in resolving this matter before Mr. Cramer becomes so desperate as to place you in irons.”

You can imagine how much Ann liked that. I thought she would tell Wolfe to go to hell without slowing down, but I was wrong. She was afraid of the slammer and wanted assurances, and so they went at it. Watching Ann’s ego smack into Wolfe’s was like watching the collision of two icebergs: cold and snowy on top, with plenty of grinding going on underneath. I have the distinct impression that she was getting ready to tell him that since she was paying the bills she’d be calling the shots, but apparently she thought better of it.

“Fine,” she said at last. “If Archie will run out a couple of copies for us, we can sign them.”

I began typing. Out of the corner of my eye I watched Wolfe pick up his magnifying glass for another look at one of the Archacattleya Tyrias. When I finished I ran out two copies and handed them to Ann to sign. She read them carefully and signed them without saying a word and then passed them to Wolfe.

“I’ll have a cashier’s check for you tomorrow afternoon,” she said, when he had finished signing. “Is that reasonable?”

“Quite reasonable. Have you plans for dinner, Miss Coulter?”

“Dinner? No, none. I was going to stay in and work on my book.”

“Then perhaps you would like to join Mr. Goodwin and myself. We are having country paté, cream of sorrel soup, and sautéed chicken Florentine, with fruit and cheese for dessert.”

She laughed, which isn’t necessarily the way to make a hit with Wolfe.

“Sure, why not? It’s a way to get some of that $500,000 back.”

“Excellent. Archie, perhaps you will be good enough to inform Fritz that we will be three for dinner tonight.”

I left for the kitchen, wondering what in hell Wolfe was up to. I couldn’t believe that he felt sorry for Ann, even if she had given him four orchids that he thought he’d never get his hands on, even for $500,000. I told Fritz that we’d be three, which didn’t make him too happy.

“But Archie, you know how much he likes chicken Florentine. There won’t be enough for you.”

“Don’t worry. I’ll fill up on the paté.”

“I’ll put out the green peppercorn and the pistachio as well.”

“That should do it.”

I went back to the office. Ann and I had a glass of white wine while Wolfe had a beer. At dinner Ann started telling us about her days as a lawyer, and she and Wolfe got into it over Scalia, whom Wolfe called “a puffed-up pseudo-Thomas who will not have one-tenth, no, make that one-hundredth, the impact on American jurisprudence to which he pretends.” I don’t know what a “pseudo-Thomas” is, but Ann didn’t care for it, and they went at it pretty good. Wolfe also said that Scalia’s gloss on the Dred Scott decision was willfully debased, and that didn’t go over well either. But the dessert—Persian melon and strawberries accompanied by Camembert, cognac and coffee—finally slowed them down.

“This is beautiful fruit,” Ann said.

“It is indeed,” said Wolfe. “My cook has located a Japanese gentleman in New Jersey whose produce delights the palate as well as the eye.”

When we were finished I walked her to the door. This time I decided to let her get her own coat.

“Do you really think they will come after me, Archie?” she asked. “Just because I was going to have lunch with him?”

“Yes,” I said.

I took out a business card and a pen.

“If you’re really in a jam,” I said, “call me on this number. It’s a cell, but it’s not traceable to me.”

She took the card.

“What will they do to me?” she asked. “The police, I mean.”

“They’ll ask you questions. Naturally, you aren’t going to tell them everything, and, unless you’re very, very good, you won’t satisfy them. It’s hard to conceal something from the police unless you lie, and you don’t want to lie.”

“I’m a lawyer,” she said, smiling. “I won’t have any trouble.”

“So was Bill Clinton,” I said, “and look what happened to him.”

“F*ck you,” she said.

So I guess she didn’t appreciate the comparison.

Chapter 5

Brock’s murder was all over the papers the next day. I read through the Times, the Post, and the Gazette over breakfast. It was too soon for the columnists to have their say, but when I went on the Internet the bloodhounds were in full cry. You couldn’t blame them: political murders don’t happen every day.

When Wolfe came down from the plant rooms at eleven I still hadn’t heard from Ann, which I figured was a good thing.

“No word from the client,” I told Wolfe as I watched him arrange a cane of Dendrobium infundibulum with four blossoms in the vase on his desk.

“Mr. Cramer’s minions will be at her door soon enough,” Wolfe said. His face was turned away from me, but I heard a smirk even if I didn’t see one.

He seated himself in the big chair behind his desk and rang for beer. He leaned back and laced his fingers around his stomach. I had the distinct feeling that he was about to offer a pearl of wisdom regarding Ann that I didn’t particularly want to hear, but the phone rang before he was able to speak.

“Nero Wolfe’s office, Archie Goodwin speaking,” I said.

“Hello! This is Archie Goodwin I’m speaking to, isn’t it?”

“I am Mr. Goodwin, Mr. Wolfe’s assistant.”

“Oh, dear! Of course, Mr. Goodwin. Well, I should tell you who I am. I am Andrew Sullivan. Perhaps you’ve heard of me? I am on the tube quite a bit these days.”

“Yes, I’ve heard of you.”

“Well, the reason I’m calling is this dreadful affair involving poor David. Now, what I’m going to tell you here is very private, absolutely. So you won’t breathe a word, do you understand?”

“Yes. Could you hold for just a minute, Mr. Sullivan?”

“Yes, of course.”

I turned to Wolfe.

“It’s Andrew Sullivan,” I told him, putting my hand over the receiver. “Brock had dinner with him on Wednesday. He’s talking my ear off.”

“Better yours than mine,” said Wolfe. “Allow him to continue.”

“I’m back, Mr. Sullivan,” I said.

“Yes. Thank you. What I have to say is this! I had dinner with David last Wednesday night, and last night the police positively grilled me about it for hours!”

“But they let you go.”

“What? Yes, they did. But the thing is, they asked me just endless questions about Ann Coulter. And I couldn’t for the life of me understand why they should want to drag poor Ann into this, but when they finished with me I called her and she told me not to tell anyone but that she had hired you!”

“She did?”

“Yes, and I felt that it was, my duty really, to come speak to you about it. I mean, I’m frightfully booked, but I wondered if I might pop by for lunch. To help Ann, I mean.”

I put my hand over the receiver again and turned to Wolfe.

“He wants to be invited to lunch,” I said.

Wolfe made a face.

“Confound it. What prompted him to call?”

“He says the police questioned him last night and asked him about Ann. So he called her and she said that she had hired you.”

“Then they are on her trail but not ready to strike. What do you surmise is Mr. Sullivan’s purpose in this matter?”

“I think he’d like a free lunch.”

“To be sure. When you dispose of him tell Fritz that we will be three for lunch. But inform him that I will not sacrifice a woodcock.”

When I got back to Andy I wasn’t quite sure whether Ann had actually told him that she had hired Wolfe or if he was guessing. But if he was guessing, by letting him invite himself to lunch, we’d let the cat out of the bag.

“Can you come at noon?” I asked. “Mr. Wolfe doesn’t eat until one, and prefers not to discuss a case during meals.”

“Noon will be excellent,” he said. “Perhaps I, should I bring a bottle of wine? Or two?”

“Mr. Wolfe prefers to rely on his own cellar,” I said.

“Yes, of course. Well, I shall be there! Thank you so much for your courtesy!”

When I hung up I called Ann and asked her about Andy.

“I did tell him, Archie,” she said. She sounded nervous. “I talked with my lawyer, Mr. Pegrem. The police have been making lots of inquiries. They spoke to the chauffeur who took me to your house last week, so they know about that. Anyway, when Andy called, I thought maybe you would want to talk with him. I know that Andy likes to talk, but he can keep his mouth shut when he wants to.”

“Well, he does sound like he’s willing to talk.”

“Okay, you don’t have to like him. But he’s important in my circles. What do you think I should do if the police come?”

“I think they will come, and I think you should rely on Mr. Pegrem for that. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.”

“Thanks, Archie.”

She put a lot of emotion into those last two words, which surprised me. My keeping my fingers crossed wasn’t going to do a damn thing for her. I turned to Wolfe.

“Ann did tell Andy. It seems she learned from her lawyer that the police had talked to her chauffeur, so that they know she was here last week. She says Andy talks a lot but can keep his mouth shut when he wants to.”

“Have they questioned her?”


Wolfe grunted.

“One can almost pity Mr. Cramer in this situation,” he said. “He must have suspicions, strong ones, yet he does not act because he lacks probative evidence. What a burden for a policeman.”

“I’d say that means he thinks she’s guilty. If he thought she was clean he wouldn’t worry about asking her why she was going to have lunch with Brock.”

“Indeed. But you were going to remind Fritz about the woodcocks.”

I rose from the chair to remind Fritz. Wolfe likes to have six woodcocks for the two of us, which usually leaves some left over, but not a lot. Bringing Andy in would mean two more, to be safe, and getting two woodcocks on such short notice might be tricky.

I found Fritz peeling cauliflowers.

“We have an unexpected guest for lunch,” I told him. “Mr. Wolfe wants to make sure that we have enough woodcocks.”

“That is no problem, Archie. Is this a big case? Are you going to be on television?”

“I hope not,” I said, “at least not until it’s over.”

“You know, I have been wanting to ask Mr. Wolfe about a new range.”

“When it’s over, Fritz,” I told him.

“Of course, Archie. You know best.”

Andy showed up at five minutes to twelve, wearing a checked suit with a deerskin vest. I’d seen him on television a few times. He was one of the people Wolfe liked to turn off, which put him in pretty good company, actually. As far as I could tell, the only people Wolfe liked to watch were Greta Garbo and Charlie Chaplin.

“Archie Goodwin!” he said, shaking my hand. “Mr. Cohen of the Gazette tells such wonderful tales of you! So this is the famous house! I feel as though I were on hallowed ground.”

He enjoyed gesturing when he talked, so I gave him some room as we walked down the hall.

“Nero Wolfe!” he exclaimed when he entered the office. “Now, don’t get up!”

He walked over and shook Wolfe’s hand.

“Such a charming study! And what splendid books! Ah, you have a complete set of Burke, I see! My, an entire section of Burkiana! Well, we must have it out on Edmund!”

“No doubt,” said Wolfe. “But first, Mr. Sullivan, you must help me to earn my fee. Please have a seat and tell Mr. Goodwin and myself about your meeting with David Brock.”

“Of course,” said Andy, hitting the big red leather chair in front of Wolfe’s desk. There wasn’t a chance that he would settle for one of the yellow ones.

Wolfe rang for beer as Andy seated himself.

“Would you care for something to drink?” he asked. “We won’t be eating for an hour.”

“Just a glass of your famous New York seltzer, with some ice, if Mr. Goodwin would be so kind,” he said, giving me a big smile.

Mr. Goodwin was so kind, and decided to join Mr. Sullivan. While I was getting out the glasses Fritz arrived with Wolfe’s beer.

“Now, Mr. Sullivan,” said Wolfe, once he had poured his beer to his satisfaction, “please tell us about your meeting with Mr. Brock.”

“Of course. But there isn’t much to tell, really. We just happened to run into one another on the street and stopped for a cup of coffee. I’d been worried about David, after that terrible fuss over his book, which seemed so unfair to me. I commiserated, but I’m afraid he wasn’t that receptive.”

“Why not?”

“Well, perhaps I’m reading too much into this, but in a way we were competing for the same little spot in the sun, the gay conservative. David seemed to feel that I’d got it all for myself and I wasn’t letting him in. It’s, ah, it’s difficult, you know, being a talking head. It’s a bit of a brotherhood, but there’s quite a bit of scuffling going on at the same time. David, um, well, he had a bit of trouble positioning himself. He’d come up with the raw-meat crowd and then all of a sudden he’s telling them oh by the way fellows I’m a homosexual. It didn’t work so well. And then I had my little Oxford exotic thing going, Mr. Tory Catholic Queer, don’t you know.”

“Mr. Brock expressed such sentiments to you?”

“No, not in so many words. But, frankly, I was surprised that he suggested we stop for coffee. I’ve seen him several times at parties over the past several months, and he never bothered with more than a few pleasantries.”

“I gathered from Miss Coulter that Mr. Brock was something of a recluse.”

“I wouldn’t go that far. Of course, David wasn’t being invited to the big right-wing shindigs. The parties where I met him were, shall we say, male only.”

Wolfe nodded.

“Did he mention Miss Coulter in your conversation, or in any previous conversations?”

“No, never. That’s why I couldn’t figure out why the police kept asking me about her. I certainly had the feeling that David was excited about something. He said it was a new book, but he didn’t give me any details, which made me suspicious. He didn’t name a publisher, or the size of his advance, or anything. He just said it was ‘something sweet,’ like he was some kind of hustler, and Lord knows David wasn’t.”

He laughed, and then cried a few tears. He took out his handkerchief and dabbed his eyes.

“We speak so casually of the dead,” he said. “Poor man! I hope he’s at rest.”

“What else did you talk about?”

“He asked me what I was up to, and I’m afraid I rattled on a bit. It seemed to amuse him. Again, I had the feeling that he was keeping something from me.”

“Did you have any information that would suggest that Mr. Brock was involved with anyone?”

“The police did ask me about that. The answer is no. As far as I was aware, David was entirely chaste. But I was curious. In fact, I asked him if he was seeing anyone, which isn’t something I necessarily ask.”

“Did Mr. Brock tell you where he was staying?”

“No. He said he had a place, a nice place, but that was all. I understand from what the police said that it was a mews in Soho.”


“Well, we were right in Soho, so I don’t know why he didn’t tell me. I had the feeling that he was being secretive, so I guess I was right.”

“Mr. Sullivan,” Wolfe said, “according to Miss Coulter you can keep a secret when you wish to. I have a question that I would like to ask you, but I would like you to agree to keep the fact that I asked you this question a secret.”

Andy shrugged.

“Well, of course. Ann called me and asked me to be helpful. It would be my pleasure to do whatever I could to help her, and you, and of course your distinguished colleague Mr. Goodwin.”

Andy turned and gave me another big smile at this point, which I hardly cared for.

“Very well,” said Wolfe, impatiently. I don’t think he cared for the “distinguished colleague” bit. I was his assistant, and that was that.

“Did the police,” Wolfe continued, “ask you anything regarding the appearance of Mr. Brock’s body?”

“No, they didn’t. They said he’d been shot through the head. They asked me if I knew of anyone who might want to harm him, who had a history of violence, that sort of thing. I’m sure they were hinting about some sort of rent boy affair, rough trade or something like that. But I told them what I told you, that as far as I knew, David wasn’t involved with anyone, on any sort of basis. Whatever he was doing, I didn’t know about it.”

“Then the information I am giving you is private, and I ask that you not mention it to anyone, including Miss Coulter. Mr. Brock, when he was shot, was dressed in a woman’s pantsuit, wearing makeup and a wig.”

“Oh, I say! Oh, dear! Poor fellow! Well, I can explain that! Yes!”

“You can?”

“Poor David! A warning to us all, I’m afraid! Well, you see, there was a big Hillary party out on Long Island on Thursday. I had an invite myself, though I ended up not attending.”

“You will have to explain yourself further.”

“Yes, of course. A Hillary party, well, it’s terribly passé now. I guess you can call it a classic, but still. Basically, you put on a cheap blue pantsuit, a cheap wig, some cheap pearls, and drink Scotch till you drop. I mean, it’s an evening.”

“Can you give us the names of the persons who arranged this party?”

“Well, yes, if you absolutely have to have it. These people don’t care for publicity, of course.”

“Had you ever been to a party at this house before?”


“What about Mr. Brock? Did you ever see him at one of these parties?”

“He could have been there, I suppose. I was rather ‘relaxed,’ shall we say, for much of the time. I don’t recall it, but it’s possible.”

“Then I will hold the request for names in abeyance, pending evidence that would direct my attention more specifically to that gathering.”

Andy was about to add something when Fritz arrived to invite us to lunch. We started with roasted cauliflower soup, which Andy pronounced “splendid.” Naturally, he loved the woodcocks flamed in cognac as well.

“Such superb flavor to the crostini,” he said. “With what did your cook anoint them, besides the birds themselves, I mean?”

Rouennaise,” said Wolfe, who tends to be pretty terse until he’s finished with his first woodcock and well into his second.

“Ah, rouennaise! Well, I can’t pretend to be a connoisseur. Such a meal is well beyond my level of expertise.”

After that he shut up for awhile, until he was half-way through his second bird and Wolfe was half-way through his third.

“Splendid! Splendid!” he said again. “But I must ask you about the Burke! You know, I’ve been reading the most extraordinary book by Nicholson on Burke and Natural Law.”

“I warn you, Mr. Sullivan,” Wolfe said, wiggling a finger, “that you will vex me if you seek to make a Thomist of Edmund Burke. You may recall the malicious witticism of the Younger Pitt, who said of Burke’s speeches that he found in them much to admire and nothing to agree with. I would hardly go so far. Burke was a man of profound insights and profound errors. His prejudices, like those of Johnson and Macaulay, or indeed Orwell, are half his charm, but they entertain without convincing. To take all that Burke did and said, and work it into a system of necessary truth, is to take a man and make him into a monster.”

“Of course, the true conservative begins with the sinful nature of man,” Andy said. “The true conservative, as Oakeshott said, is slow to admire and hesitant to affirm.”

“Indeed. And how does that comport with Burke’s hideous persecution of Warren Hastings?”

“I wouldn’t call it hideous.”

“I would call it what it was, an attempt at political murder, an attempted return to the bloody reprisals of the 17th century.”

“I would call it chivalrous to defend the honor and persons of individuals subject to the British crown, however different they might be from ourselves.”

“An admirable sentiment, surely, but criminal accusations should be a matter for judges, not politicians. In any event, Mr. Burke, in all his honest fury, found himself the dupe and cat’s paw of Mr. Pitt, something which, I conjecture, he never knew. And Mr. Hastings’ dreams of parliamentary glory, whatever they may have been, were reduced to ruin. It is a pretty commentary on the mutability of human affairs.”

Fritz had given us four woodcocks for starters, and another four for seconds. Andy and I had each had two, and Wolfe had had three. That left one on the platter, and while Wolfe was talking, Andy looked at it more than once, but had the good sense not to take it. He was smart. I’ll give him that. He picked at the bones of his second until Wolfe reached for his fourth, and then started talking.

“Whatever you may think of the Hastings affair,” he said, “you must give Burke extraordinary credit for his prescience in the Reflections. His reaffirmation of the spiritual as the very heart of man, in the face of the hellish idealism of the Revolution, guarantees his fame for all time. Your President understands that. I do not think it is going too far to see the hand of Providence in his election. How he has grown in office! Like a young king!”

Granted, Andy didn’t take the last woodcock, but praising Bush like that was almost as bad.

“Pfui,” said Wolfe. Hearing George Bush compared to a young king made him too angry to eat, and that just made him madder.

“That gentleman, Mr. Sullivan,” he said, “has much to learn, and it will be learned at our expense, or rather the expense of the young. I myself am cunning and crafty, and I array myself in the carapace of privilege that you behold around you, but they have no comparable defense, nor do the people of Iraq. I do not condemn do-gooders. I strive to do good myself, if I am convinced that the goal is feasible and the cost within reason. But this Administration has delusions of omnipotence. Such delusions inevitably corrupt and destroy. I can only hope that our republican institutions and democratic habits will, over time, ameliorate this lust for power, preventing it first from soaring too high and then from crashing too low. But I am fearful, as I have never been before, for the republic. What others could not do to us, we threaten to do to ourselves.”

“Well,” said Andy. “Well. I think that that is a bit extreme.”

“I do not. I do not know your status in this nation, Mr. Sullivan. But as a refugee from the Old World, I miss little of what I left behind. I do not mourn the plumage of the dying bird, to borrow Mr. Paine’s fine image.”

“Well, Paine! I mean to say! There was a mean fellow!”

“A common mind, but an uncommon thrust. I may dine like an aristocrat, Mr. Sullivan, and you may ridicule me for doing so, but I do not think like one. I hold myself apart from the common man, but I acknowledge him as my master. Those who despise the modern world, like your Mr. Oakeshott, despise the truth.”

“Well, that’s just absurd. In the first place, Oakeshott did not despise the modern world. He understood it far better than you. He offered an alternative for the shallowness of modern culture, an opportunity for redemption, for engagement, for passion, that far transcended the empty babble of social reform.”

“He followed Hegel,” said Wolfe, sourly.

“So he did. And Bradley.”

“Bradley was only a mistake. Hegel, a disaster. Hegel is the false refuge for all those who would deny empiricism. He has produced an army of intellectual monsters, from Husserl to Sartre, and beyond.”

“Facts alone mean nothing. Surely you know that.”

“That is far too facile. It is, of course, folly to try to import the techniques of science directly into morality. The human world has meaning and value, while the natural one does not. But Hegel, Bradley, Oakeshott, and all the rest deny the patient learning of western science, the one new thing under the sun in the last two thousand years.”

Wolfe took a drink from his glass of wine, and then started in on his woodcock. Andy turned to me.

“What about you, Mr. Goodwin? Does a man of action like yourself have an opinion on the huffings of two self-anointed scholars?”

“I didn’t follow much of it,” I said. “But I do like facts.”

“No doubt facts catch criminals. But can they govern peoples? Without vision, the people perish, after all.”

“I’m not so sure of that. Too much talk is a bad sign, in my opinion.”

“Again, no doubt. Well, I must concede the ground to my host. It would be churlish, Mr. Wolfe, to pursue you when you have laid this splendid repast at my feet.”

“Then I won’t pursue you. But I would urge you, Mr. Sullivan, to consider more closely, and more patiently, the quiet riches of science. Perhaps you are aware that Spinoza recommended the soft beauty of growing plants to the speculative mind. I have for many years pursued the extravagant beauty of the orchid. In the past, we breeders were hardly wiser than the captives in Plato’s cave. But now with the amazing triumphs of modern genetics, we see the remarkable truths of the living cell, truths that Plato, self-blinded with his doctrine of ideas, could never have known. Indeed, his aristocratic conceit alone would have prevented him from looking where truth could be found. His error, and even more that of Aristotle, who did have some affection for this world, was perhaps forgivable, but as for Hegel, no.”

Andy finished his wine.

“You certainly give old Hegel a beating,” he said. “Are there any philosophers you do admire?”

“I resemble Hume most, both in girth and temperament, though he had too great a longing for order. No doubt if I had lived in those times, when so few could live lives of ease, and when the suffering of the great mass of humanity was encountered at every turn, I would have been more cautious. With all the ills of contemporary life, it is in fact a great privilege to live in these times. As you see, I live very well, but as for actual comfort I am not that far removed from the common man. I could expect a starving man to cut my throat to rob my table, but a suburbanite with his barbeque would smile at my woodcock.”

“The body is fed, perhaps, but what about the soul?”

“The soul? I again commend the soft beauty of growing plants to you, Mr. Sullivan, patience and humility, rather than the longing for great men.”

I could see Andy readying himself again, his lips moving, but then he decided against it. Instead, he laughed.

“I’m afraid I must confess myself dazzled, Mr. Wolfe,” he said. “Dazzled, though unconvinced, or perhaps unconvinced but dazzled. In any event, if the soft beauty of growing plants includes your orchids, I should be glad to follow your advice.”

“Naturally,” said Wolfe. “But perhaps you have room for one of Fritz’s dessert omelets?”

Andy wasn’t going to say no to that. Fritz fills his dessert omelets with apricot jam, and, at the last second, he sprinkles them with sugar and cognac and sets fire to them as he brings them to the table, so that they’re glazed on the outside and soft and warm on the inside. While Fritz handled the omelets Mai Ling poured the coffee. Andy, who may have missed that third woodcock just a little, made short work of his omelet.

“Again, splendid!” he said, when he was finished. “There is an austere majesty to these dishes, the simplicity of the finest.”

“I admire your palate more than your intellect, Mr. Sullivan,” Wolfe said. “Though you use more words than you need to, you know what you are talking about.”

“It will take more than that to wound my amour propre, Mr. Wolfe, I assure you. And you are a conscious stylist in your own right. But I am impatient for your orchids.”

Wolfe will never admit it, but he does like to show off his orchids to someone who can appreciate them, even someone who talked too much, like Andy, and it was a pretty good bet that Andy could appreciate orchids. Wolfe finished his coffee and we headed up to the roof, Wolfe taking his elevator while Andy followed me up the stairs.

“Such a fine staircase!” he said, running his hand along the banister. “Superb mahogany! And so well polished! I can smell the beeswax!”

As we reached the first landing he gestured down the hallway.

“The living quarters, I believe?”


“I’m sorry if I intrude. But this is a storied house, after all. I mean, the murder cases! We have nothing like it in England, I’m afraid.”

I took the second and third flights a little faster, hoping that Andy couldn’t walk upstairs quickly and talk at the same time. He did puff a little, but he didn’t stop talking. When we hit the roof he had to talk about the view, which meant that he had to talk about the World Trade Center, but finally he got around to the greenhouses themselves.

“Why, it’s a veritable city of glass!” he said. “It must have cost a fortune!”

“More than one,” said Wolfe, who was still sore about the tab. He didn’t like spending money on anything but food and flowers, along with an occasional book.

Wolfe led us into the first room, with its banks of Odontoglossums. We passed on to the Cympediums and the Miltoniopsis rooms, but it was the Vandas that really got him.

“So exuberantly scrotal, are they not?” he asked. “Really, I cannot see the vagina at all.”

For the first time in my life I felt like talking with Theodore.

“What bliss, to be so surrounded by beauty!” Andy said to Wolfe. “To labor four hours a day here! In this!”

“It is gratifying,” Wolfe said, “though there is much drudgery. If you spend much time with plants, Mr. Sullivan, you will soon acquire a fine appreciation for the persistence of insects.”

“Naturam expelles furca, tamen usque recurret, as my tutor used to say. Ah, Mr. Wolfe, we are far above the madding crowd now, aren’t we, in your fine aerie? Would not your vulgar empirics smash all this to ruins if they could?”

“The finest aerie sits on the earth, like all things. Enjoy my orchids, Mr. Sullivan. Do not make them an occasion for sparring.”

I’ll give Andy credit. He loved to talk, but he could put a cork in it when he had to. For the rest of time we spent on the roof he said nothing more than “lovely, lovely.”

Coming down stairs, he was more talkative.

“You are going to catch this fellow in a hurry, aren’t you?” he said. “I mean, it isn’t going to be pretty when the news of David’s outfit gets out. Poor man! I’m so surprised by it all. Please let me know if I can help in any way. I mean if there’s anything I can do! Anything at all!”

He put his hand on my shoulder when he said this. Maybe he was just being earnest, and maybe I was just being fussy, but I didn’t appreciate it. But it would have been too fussy to react, so I didn’t.

“Mr. Wolfe will make every effort to wrap this up as soon as possible,” I said. “I’ll tell him what you said.”

“Thank you, Mr. Goodwin. May I call you Archie?”

“Lots of people do.”

“Of course. Well, I, I, you don’t think I talk too much, do you? Perhaps I am a bit of a rattle. They encourage it so dreadfully at Oxford. It’s very bad, really.”

“New York is full of people who talk for a living. Sometimes I talk too much.”

“Oh, I’m sure you don’t. Archie Goodwin is a man of action, is he not?”

I let that one go. In another second we were in the hallway. Wolfe came out of his elevator to meet us.

“Well, Mr. Wolfe, thank you for a splendid lunch and a splendid tour! I was just telling Archie here that I will be glad to do anything to help you in this matter.”

“No doubt,” said Wolfe. “We appreciate your time, Mr. Sullivan.”

“What splendid carpeting! But I suppose everyone says that.”

“Not everyone,” said Wolfe. “Good day, Mr. Sullivan.”

Of course, it would take more than that to faze Andy. He gave both of us a big smile. I let him get his own coat.

Chapter 6

“He knows himself very well,” Wolfe said, when the door was closed. “A shrewd mind given over entirely to natter.”

We walked back to the office.

“What about that party on Long Island?” I said. “Do we need the guest list?”

Wolfe adjusted himself in his favorite chair. When he got his seventh of a ton settled he looked at the clock.

“That is Mr. Cramer’s speciality, or one of them. It is more than possible that Mr. Brock’s murderer had received an invitation as well. I trust you conveyed to Mr. Tompkins the urgency with which we wish the matter of that computer’s contents to be pursued?”


“Very well. Then we will await his report.”

With that, Wolfe turned to his new book, A Polite and Commercial People: England 1727–1783, by Paul Langford, which put him only two hundred and fifty years behind the times, instead of five hundred. I was about to congratulate him on his progress when the phone rang. It was Mr. Tompkins.

“Archie,” he said. “That was quite a puzzle you brought me.”

“Have you got the file?” I asked.

“It’s more complicated than that, but the short answer is ‘no.’ The file that was labeled ‘1’ is not recoverable.”

“You told me you could recover anything.”

“If I told you that I was lying. Listen, I’ve still got some work to do on it. This thing is wired, and I don’t want it to blow up on me when I’m showing you how it works. Why don’t I bring it by around five?”

“Can you make it six? Mr. Wolfe is with his orchids until then.”


I turned to Wolfe.

“He hasn’t got the file, but he does have something to show us.”

“Six o’clock is too early. This will surely take some time, and I will not have my dinner delayed or rushed. My digestion has been sufficiently addled by Mr. Sullivan. Ask him if nine o’clock will be convenient. At his rates it should be.”

Wolfe has the idea that he’s the only one in town with the right to charge a premium.

“What about nine o’clock?” I asked Harold.

“Sure, I’ve got stuff to do. I’ll see you then. Save me some paté.”

I gave Harold some of Fritz’s paté once, and now he thinks it’s a perk.

“Okay,” I said, “but only because it’s an after-dinner house call.”

“You drive a hard bargain, Archie,” he said. “See you at nine.”

“He’ll be here,” I told Wolfe.

“Excellent,” he said, opening his book.

That left me some free time to catch up on Wolfe’s correspondence. Wolfe had been upset when he spent $320 for a copy of Letters to a German Princess, written back in the seventeen hundreds by a Swiss mathematician named Leonhardt Euler. Wolfe said the book was a “shoddy and unworthy facsimile” and wanted his money back. The publisher wouldn’t agree that the book was shoddy, but said he would give Wolfe a refund if he really wanted one, but also offered to sell Wolfe an original copy of the book for $10,000, which included an inscription by Euler to someone named d’Alembert. Wolfe was interested, but wanted twenty five percent off for “vexation.” The publisher wanted to make it fifteen, but Wolfe wasn’t budging. I figured that I should get at least ten for being the middleman, but didn’t say so. When I finished that I was back on the Internet, cruising for news on the Balkans. It wasn’t hard to find. I downloaded about a dozen articles and printed them out for Wolfe to read.

When I finished with that Wolfe had gone up to the plant rooms. Since I couldn’t needle him I went in the kitchen to talk to Fritz. He was using the food processor to make fish mousse.

“You have solved the case, Archie?” he asked, when I came in.

“Not yet, Fritz. Your woodcocks were a big hit.”

“The young man was fond of eating. Soon, he will be as fat as Mr. Wolfe.”

“He will be if he hires a cook as good as you.”

“Archie. You are too clever. I make a joke about Mr. Sullivan and you make a joke about me. What did you think of the shrimp we had last week?”


“They had a beautiful color, but their taste was not the best. I think we will have to go back to Mr. Callisto.”

I left Fritz larding a boned top rump of beef with strips of pork fat for tomorrow’s lunch. I caught the last two innings of the Mets and the Pirates and did a little dusting when Ann called.

“Archie,” she said, in a very low voice, “how did things go with Andy?”

“Pretty well,” I said. “But I figure he didn’t do it.”

“Well, of course he didn’t do it. Archie, I think the police are watching me.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised. But if they’re tapping your phone, whispering isn’t going to throw them off.”

“They can’t tap my phone. I’m talking on a cell.”

I laughed.

“These days, they can tap anything, if they want to.”

“Well, they wouldn’t tap me, would they?”

I laughed again.

“I have no idea. I guess Mr. Wolfe would like you to think so.”

“I don’t trust him. He talks too much.”

“Lots of people talk too much.”

“Ha, ha. Do you think I should stay inside?”

“You mean because of the police? No. What you do now isn’t going to affect their thinking, unless you buy a ticket to Brazil. If they want to arrest you, they’ll come and get you.”

“Huh! Well, I don’t want the goddamn New York Times sticking its nose into this.”

“I can’t help you there.”

“Archie, I wish I could see you. I feel safer when I’m around you.”

I don’t know if my head believed all of that, but part of me did.

“Coming here, or me going there, is one thing that would attract the press.”

“You’re right, damn it.”

“Sure, I’m right. Go about your business, and if the press comes after you, don’t get cute. I don’t care if it’s the Post or the Times, when you get cute they’ve got you.”

“I have a press agent.”

“Okay. Talk to him.”


“Okay, talk to her. I’ll call you when we have news.”

She hung up, not sounding happy. I went on the Internet and ran through the Gazette, the Post, the News, and a couple of other sites. They were giving Brock’s murder a nice play, but none of them mentioned Ann, or Andy, or us, which surprised me a little. I knew Cramer hated celebrity murders, and my guess was that he was keeping as tight a grip as possible on this one. Cramer has about two dozen men on the force that he trusts absolutely to keep it shut, and when he’s got a case as hot as this one he calls them in on it. They know who they are and what Cramer wants from them. Which, this time around, was the way we wanted it too.

Wolfe came down from the plant rooms at six, as he always does.

“I got a call from Ann,” I told him. “She thinks the police are watching her.”

“And so they should be.”

“Yeah. The papers have nothing on Ann, or Andy, or us. Cramer’s holding it close.”

He adjusted his seventh of a ton in the big yellow chair behind his desk and picked up A Polite and Commercial People. Half an hour later Fritz called us in for beef consummé with chevril, parsley, and tarragon, followed by a beet and endive salad, followed by filets de sole Reine Victoria—filets served with diced lobster meat and poached oysters in Newburg sauce, with shrimps and truffles around the edges. I’m not sure if the shrimps came from Mr. Callisto, but they were delicious. Dessert was more of Mr. Horowitz’s big fat strawberries, splashed with cognac this time, and topped with whipped cream. After dinner we had coffee in the office, and I had Fritz put out some paté for Harold. I was just beginning to wonder if he was going to show when he called.

“Archie, it’s me. I had a little trouble, but I’m on my way. I thought I might as well tell you that I’ve got something, but not everything.”

“What does that mean?”

“I’m guessing that the two files have to be read together, but we’ve only got the one.”


“And the one file we do have was boobytrapped nine ways to Sunday. I’ve cleaned it off, so that we can feed it a password.”

“You’re not in a cab, are you?”

“No, I’m driving.”

“Okay, then I guess we can talk. Mr. Wolfe and I don’t have the password. Or if we do, we don’t know it.”

“I understand that. But I’ve narrowed it down to a thousand and eight possibilities.”

“That’s a start.”

“Yes. Except that these passwords aren’t words. They’re long strings of characters. I’m positive that if we feed this file the correct password I can get inside it. Once we do that I can tell you what was done to it, and maybe who did it, but there’s no way we can read the file itself unless we get the second file.”

“That’s okay.”

“Well, don’t you want to know what the file is? What it says?”

“I guess I didn’t explain that. We’re pretty sure we know what the file is. It’s a video. What we want to know is who made it and whether he made any copies.”

“Well, Brock didn’t. I can tell you that. Not with software you gave me.”

“That’s good to know.”

“Okay. I’ll be there in ten minutes.”

I hung up.

“It was Harold,” I told Wolfe.

“I gathered as much.”

“He’ll be here in ten minutes. He can open the file with the right password. He’s got one thousand and eight possibilities. If we can pick the right one, he can get inside and maybe tell us who did the encrypting.”

Wolfe grunted.

“That would be worth knowing. As far as Miss Coulter is concerned, finding and eliminating all copies of the two files takes precedence over the apprehension of Mr. Brock’s murderer.”

Apparently he felt that disposed of the matter, because he picked up his book and started reading again. I went on the Internet to check out the Gazette, just in case Lon had broken the case for us, but he hadn’t. Then the doorbell rang. I went to the door. It was Harold. He was carrying a briefcase in his right hand, with two computers slung over his shoulder. I rarely saw him with just one.

“Hello, Archie,” he said. “Are you ready to crack some codes?”

I led him into the office.

“Take a chair, Mr. Tompkins,” Wolfe said. “I understand you have a puzzle for us.”

Harold pulled one of the yellow chairs up beside my desk. He unzipped one of his computers and handed me the electric cord. Since he was the guest, it was my job to crawl on the floor and plug it in.

“Do you want to get online?” I asked him.

“No, no. I want to keep this clean.”

Once he got his machine cranking he turned to Wolfe.

“Maybe Archie told you that I narrowed the list of possible passwords to one thousand and eight. I know that’s not much of a help, and what’s worse is that they’re not actual words.”

He opened his briefcase and took out two sheafs of paper.

“I printed them out so that you could take a look at them. In case you’re worried about security, the machine I’ve got with me has the only copy of my analysis.”

If Wolfe was worried, he didn’t show it. He took the pages Harold gave him without a word. When I looked at the copy Harold gave me, I didn’t know what to think. Each page was covered by strings of characters a line and a half long.

“Each string has one hundred and thirty five characters,” Harold told us. “Of course, with a string that size there are trillions of possibilities, but we were able to eliminate most of them.”

I started running my eyes down the page. If there was a pattern, I wasn’t seeing it. A thousand or a trillion, what difference did it make? After two pages, I put on the earphones and dialed up Diana Krall.

“You desire accompaniment?” Wolfe asked. Somehow, it bugs him when I put on the earphones.

“I’m guessing this is going to take a while,” I said.

He grunted. Harold started working on his laptop, and I turned up Diana just a little. Half a dozen pages later, I knew I wasn’t making any progress. I stopped, and started over again, thinking I might catch something the second time around, but I didn’t. Some of the strings were random, as far as I could tell. There was probably some formula that would generate them, but we didn’t have the formula, and even if we did, how would we know which was the formula that generated the actual password? Some of the strings had the same pattern repeated over and over again. So maybe it was the number of repeats that counted. But Brock could have gotten that number from the number of letters in his name, the day of the month he made the file—anything. There were five letters in “David” and five in “Brock.” I started marking each string that had five, ten, or twenty-five repetitions. I found three in the first six pages and eleven more in the next ten. Live in Paris gave way to Steppin’ Out. Diana was half way through “I’m Just A Lucky So And So” when Wolfe spoke.

“Try this one,” he said, handing a sheet to Harold.

Harold showed it to me. Wolfe had marked one line with his pen. This is what it said:


“eieeoaaio?” I asked.

“Those are the vowels for, among other things, the words ‘Eddie Leonard’s Sandwich Shop.’ You may remember that Ms. Coulter stated that she and Mr. Brock dined at such an establishment on the night that they first met. The letters are repeated fifteen times, as in ‘fifteen great varieties,’ a statement that I believe referred to the items available on Mr. Leonard’s menu.”

Wolfe adjusted himself in his chair. When he’s feeling that smug he likes to take his time with it.

“It may serve as some balm to know that I was assisted by your own observational powers in achieving this deduction. You informed me that Mr. Brock had a volume in his possession with the title A History of Writing.”


“It is a fascinating peculiarity of the early Phoenician and Semitic writing systems that the vowels are omitted. It appears that it was the Greeks who first used letters to indicate the vowels on a systematic basis. Mr. Brock simply reversed the process. It is, I suppose, a contrivance that suggests itself to anyone who reads of the early alphabets.”

“And that was what gave it away?”

“It was the fifteen repetitions that first provoked my mind. Many of the strings repeat the same characters fifteen times. I did not know if it was a ruse or a clue, of course, until I reached the proper string. If I have satisfied your curiosity on this point, perhaps we had better put this matter to the test.”

I gave the sheet back to Harold. He called up the string on his computer and loaded it.

“Good morning, Mr. Phelps,” the computer said.

Harold clapped his hands.

“We’re in!” he said. “Archie, have you got a clean laptop we can use for a few days?”


“Good. I want to copy this program onto it, open and live, as a back up. I want you to keep it open while I take this one back to my place and work on it.”

I got the laptop and Harold went to work on it. Wolfe went back to his book. After about an hour, Harold closed up shop.

“Okay. I’ve got three copies of the open program, including the one on your laptop, which you’ll keep open. I’m betting that I can find out who set this up in a day or two.”

“Mr. Tompkins,” said Wolfe. “What assurances can you give me that this cipher program that Mr. Goodwin obtained from Mr. Brock’s computer existed only on that computer until Mr. Goodwin copied it?”

“Well, none. Whoever designed it surely kept a copy—without the password, of course. There are a variety of ways that a program can be made unique once the designer is finished with it. Conceivably, Brock could have been given several copies, and each could have had a different configuration. Of course, the program is designed not to be copied, but Archie copied it. It’s possible that someone else could have hacked it.”

Wolfe made a face.

“I thought as much. Then we are forced to rely on nothing more than Mr. Brock’s sense on honor, presuming he had one. Very well. We have made enough progress for one night.”

I walked Harold to the door and went back to the office. Wolfe was reading, of course, and I had a few things to keep me busy. It was close to twelve when he put down A Polite and Commercial People, remarking as he did so that I should begin searching the Internet for a complete set of the letters of Horace Walpole. With that, he headed off to bed. I didn’t feel like searching for Horace’s letters, but I also didn’t quite feel like going to bed. I switched on the tube, or rather the flat screen, and watched a little of Jon Stewart, but for some reason I didn’t find him as funny as he found himself. I started flipping channels and I was still flipping fifteen minutes later when my backup cell rang.

“Archie! It’s me! I’m outside! Come get me!”

“Outside? Why!”

“They’re coming to arrest me! I’m outside! Come get me!”

“Out front?”

“No, out back in a cab! Come get me!”

“Are the police on your tail?”

“Archie, for god’s sake shut up and come get me! What am I paying you for?”

“You aren’t paying me enough to talk to me like that.”

“Oh, Christ, oh Christ! Will you take your f*cking male machismo and stick it up your f*cking ass and come get me?”

“Shut up and sit tight.”

I was almost mad enough to slam the phone down, but I figured that I had graduated from high school. Anyway, you can’t slam a cell. I went to the safe and got out the .32 Marley and tucked it in my belt. I don’t like being melodramatic, but I also don’t like stepping into dark alleys at night. I went out the kitchen and through the little courtyard to the gate. When I opened the gate I saw a cab. It flashed its lights and the left rear door opened. It was Ann. She was running towards me in a full-length fur coat, heels, and I don’t know how much else.

“Hold it,” I said, as she reached the gate. “Have you been officially informed that you’re under arrest?”

“Damn it, I told you, no! A friend of mine called. He was at a party. He was sitting next to a judge and the judge got a call on her cell phone, and she told him the police wanted her to sign a warrant for my arrest.”

If it was a lie it was a good one, and there was nothing in Ann’s demeanor to suggest that she was lying. Maybe the cops wouldn’t present the warrant to the judge. Maybe she wouldn’t sign it. So if I let Ann in I wouldn’t be aiding and abetting a fugitive. Maybe.

She took my arm as I led her through the alley. She was shaking.

“This is exciting,” she said.

As we passed a trashcan just outside the gate to the rear courtyard I slipped the backup cell into the can. Even I didn’t think that Cramer had a tap on her cell, but they just might know what number she’d called, and I didn’t want that little item on me.

We went into the kitchen and up the back stairs.

“We’re going up on the roof,” I told her. “Don’t make any noise.”

We reached the roof and stepped into the darkened plant rooms.

“Is it okay to talk now?” she asked.


“Do you like my coat? It’s sable.”

“It’s nice.”


She may have said something else but I didn’t hear it. I was looking straight into her eyes, but I was also noticing that underneath that coat she was wearing nothing but a bra and panties. I don’t know what would have happened next but what did happen next was that both of us heard the sudden whoop of a police car siren. I spun around and saw a procession of three cars—two patrol cars and one an unmarked Buick—headed down Thirty-Fifth Street.

“It’s Cramer,” I said. “You stay here. Find a seat. Don’t make a sound, and don’t let yourself be seen.”

I headed downstairs to the third floor and walked quickly to my room. I could hear the doorbell ringing. When I reached my room I shut the door and changed into my pajamas in the dark. I could hear confusion downstairs. Fritz would be up and going to the door and refusing to let Cramer in. I heard Fritz coming upstairs. There was a knock on my door.

“Archie!” he cried through the door. “Archie, are you up? It’s the police.”

“I’m up,” I said. “Go tell Mr. Wolfe. Say you couldn’t wake me up.”

“What? Archie, he will be angry. He will be very angry.”

“I know. It’ll be good for him. He needs some excitement in his life.”

“I don’t know, Archie.”

“Do it, Fritz. I’ll see that he buys you a new range.”

Fritz had been in a bit of a snit ever since the new greenhouse had gone in. The more money Wolfe spent on plants, the less he felt like spending on the kitchen.

“All right, Archie.”

He went down the hall. I felt a bit silly, but I pulled back the covers and got in bed. If worst came to absolute worst, and the police actually searched the place and found my bed still made, well, Cramer would be happy but I wouldn’t.

As I lay there I could hear Wolfe arguing with Fritz and the doorbell ringing. Getting Wolfe out of bed once he’s gotten into it isn’t a chore I would wish on anyone. Fritz was earning that new range. After a very long ten minutes I heard Wolfe’s elevator. He was coming up from the second floor. A minute later I heard three sharp knocks.

“Archie!” He roared. “Archie, get up this instant!”

I stumbled out of bed, putting on a good show for myself, and pulled on my bathrobe. I knew Wolfe was close to exploding, but if I made it too quickly he’d be wondering why Fritz couldn’t wake me.

“What’s up?” I said, through the door. “I’ll be out in ten minutes.”

“You will be out in ten seconds!” he shouted.

“In ten minutes,” I said.

As I spoke the doorbell rang again. By playing it cute I knew I was pushing Wolfe as far as I’d ever pushed him, but I wanted him to handle Cramer, not me, at least for the start.

“Confound it!”

That was Wolfe, not me. I listened and heard him walk down the hall. Then there was the whirr of the elevator. I waited a good ten minutes and then headed downstairs.

When I finally reached the front door I couldn’t see much but I could hear plenty. Wolfe was out on the front stoop, where he hadn’t been for a good six months, in his bathrobe, which was probably a first. As you might guess, he wasn’t happy about either, and he was letting Inspector Cramer know all about it.

“Goodwin!” the Inspector shouted, when I appeared.

“Mr. Goodwin will give you no more satisfaction than I have, Inspector,” said Wolfe. “Once again I demand that you remove yourself from my property.”

“Just a damn minute,” said Cramer. “I’ll arrest the both of you for obstruction of justice if you don’t shut up. Listen, Goodwin. I have a warrant for Ann Coulter’s arrest.”

He shoved a piece of paper under my nose and then snatched it away.

“She’s Wolfe’s client, damn it, and she’s here. I know it and I want her.”

I knew I was damn close to the edge, but I also knew that Cramer was bluffing. When a cop says he “knows” something, the odds are about a hundred to one that he doesn’t know it. And when the cop is Cramer, the odds are a thousand to one.

“If she were under this roof I’d know it, and she isn’t,” I said.

“Do you have a cellphone with the number 705-422-4221?”

“No, I do not.”

Cramer’s eyes bugged. He thought he set me up, but he hadn’t. He wanted more, but Wolfe wouldn’t let him have it.

“I hope that Mr. Goodwin and I have gratified your unseasonable curiosity, Mr. Cramer. If you ever hope to cross my threshold in the future, you will remove yourself from my stoop. Now!”

Taking orders from Wolfe at one in the morning wasn’t to Cramer’s liking, but he started backing down the steps. He started, but he was too damn bull-headed to leave without trying to get the last word in.

“If I find out she was here, I’ll have you both,” he said. “If I had a dollar for every lie you’ve told me, I could retire.”

“And if I had a dollar for every time I have saved you from the natural consequences of that morass of ignorance and belligerence you call an intellect, so should I. Good night, sir.”

Wolfe and I watched as Cramer and his boys beat their retreat. Once they got in their cars I opened the door for Wolfe, but he didn’t move until all three cars were out of sight. As we went back inside I started to speak, but Wolfe raised his hand.

“Not one word, Archie. Not one word.”

He took the elevator and I took the stairs. I went up to the plant rooms and found Ann sitting in the big chair that Wolfe uses. When she saw me she stood up.

“You did it,” she said.

“I did,” I said. “Would you like a drink?”

We went down to my room.

“All I’ve got is Scotch,” I told her.

“Scotch is fine,” she said.

She sat down and wrapped the fur coat around her. I poured her two fingers of Haig & Haig and added a couple of ice cubes and then made one for myself.

“Here’s to freedom,” I said.

We clinked glasses and drank. When she started to speak I interrupted her.

“Since we don’t have attorney-client privilege, it might be better not to tell me anything.”

She smiled a little, and shivered, and drank some Scotch.

“Can I say ‘thank you’?” she asked.

“Yeah. You can say that.”

She finished her Scotch and her eyes met mine. There was no point in being coy. I stood up and took her hand. She rose and I kissed her, hard. I’d been wanting to do it since I saw her in the alley, a lot, but I didn’t know how much I’d been wanting it until our lips met. We kissed for a long time and then she slid her head next to mine, with her lips against my ear.

“Turn out the light,” she whispered. “I’m very shy.”

Chapter 7

“It’s nothing. Go back to sleep.”

Usually when a woman tells me that I do, but for some reason when Ann said it the next morning I didn’t. My eyes were just focused enough to read my alarm clock. It was five of eight, which amounted to five hours sleep, three hours under the eight I like to get, but, under the circumstances, I wasn’t missing them. I put my arms around her.

“No!” she whispered. “Get me something.”

“Get you what?”

“Something to wear! Damn it, don’t make fun of me! I told you I was shy!”

She hid her head, I guess so that she wouldn’t see me. I got out of bed and found her a bathrobe. If she wanted her bra and panties she’d have to get them herself, because just looking at them would get me started all over again. In fact, just thinking about them was getting me started.

“Stop laughing,” she said.

“I can’t. I’m happy.”

She made a noise, a sweet, happy noise. I got in bed with her and put the robe on top of her. She pushed it on the floor and turned to me.

“Damn it,” she said, kissing me with quick, little kisses. “Damn it, damn it, damn it, if there’s anything I hate to see in the morning, it’s a happy liberal.”

I wanted to kiss her hard. I wanted to kiss her very hard, but she turned away again.

“You mustn’t tell anyone,” she whispered.

“I won’t.” I was laughing again. It was hard to stop.

“You will.”

“No, I won’t. I’m a gentleman.”

“Don’t make fun of me. You know I hate that.”

We weren’t making much progress, but then all of a sudden we were. I guess I wasn’t behaving much like a detective, but what the hell.

“Archie, this is impossible,” she told me, almost an hour later.

“I know,” I said. “Do you want to use the bathroom?”

“Go ahead. You’re the man.”

“Oh, right. You believe in the male prerogative.”

“Shut the f*ck up.”

I laughed and kissed her.

“Close your eyes.”

She not only closed her eyes, she pulled the sheet over her head. I swung my legs out of bed and got erect. I found the robe I had gotten her, and her bra and panties. Then I found my robe and headed into the bathroom. I was way behind schedule, and there wasn’t much I could do about it. I finished in about twenty-five minutes and gave the place over to Ann. I put out a sweat shirt and a pair of sweat pants for her, the only outfit I had that wouldn’t look completely ridiculous on her.

I dressed as quickly as I could but I still didn’t finish until nine-thirty. I had to get Ann out by ten so that I could get the office ready for Wolfe when he came down from the plant rooms at eleven. I took a chance and called Saul. Fortunately, he was awake and ready to supply limousine service for only a grand. When I was done with him I went downstairs to the kitchen. Fritz wasn’t there, which gave me the opportunity to put together a little breakfast tray—two glasses of orange juice, some rolls and butter, a carafe of coffee, cups and saucers, and a little pitcher of milk. Naturally, I couldn’t get all that done before Fritz showed up, carrying Wolfe’s breakfast tray.

“Archie!” he hissed. “That woman!”

“That woman is going to get you your new range,” I said.

That cooled him off about one percent. There was no point in wasting time with him, so I took off with the tray. When I got upstairs Ann was dressed, with her makeup on. She was combing her hair the way women do when they don’t want anyone to know they’ve been doing something they shouldn’t.

“I’m impressed,” I said.

“Shut up and give me some orange juice,” she said.

I laughed. She wasn’t in a laughing mood any more but I didn’t care.

“I called Saul,” I told her. “He’ll be meeting us in the alley in ten minutes.”

“Who’s Saul?”

“Someone we both can trust.”

“All right. I suppose I ought to thank you.”

“Please don’t. It would just embarrass the both of us.”

I sat in a chair and buttered a roll for each of us and poured the coffee.

“Do you like cream?”

“Is the coffee hot?”

“It’s not undrinkable.”

“Then no.”

She was still working on her hair. I looked out the window. If I looked at her I’d start laughing again, and I had the feeling that she didn’t like to be laughed at right now. She spent another five minutes on her hair. Then she drank her coffee, finishing off the whole cup without coming up for air. She put on her fur coat and grabbed a roll.

“Can we go now?” she demanded.

“Right on schedule,” I said. “Walk lightly on the stairs.”

We went out through the back. Fritz, I’m sure, stayed in the kitchen, knowing that we wouldn’t come through there. Seeing Ann, I think, would have killed him, literally. We went out through the garden.

“Nice flowers,” Ann said.


Saul was waiting for us.

“Keep your head down,” I told Ann.

She turned to me and her eyes caught mine for just a second. They were soft and beautiful. Then she got in the car.

“You’re out of here,” I told Saul.

I walked back through the house to the office, feeling light-headed. I dusted Wolfe’s desk and arranged things on his desk the way he liked them. I was almost done when the phone rang.

“Archie, it’s Harold. I’ve got some good news for you. That program was made by a hacker named Stephen Harrison. He works out of his house near Brighton Beach.”

Harold gave me the address and I wrote it down.

“There’s something you should know,” he said. “Harrison used a proprietary program that Microsoft developed for the CIA. They’d be very angry if they knew that he’d hacked it.”

“If it’s proprietary how come you know about it?”

He laughed.

“I know about it, but I wouldn’t use it, not in anything that I would sell to anyone else. That kind of hacking is a felony these days.”

“Okay. That helps. Thanks.”

I left a note for Wolfe, telling him where I was headed. At the last minute I stopped and went to the safe and got out the Marley and the shoulder holster. Harrison probably wasn’t the murderer, but it’s possible that he knew who was, and I never like to go on a murder case without a little something extra.

When I was in harness I put my jacket back on and checked myself in the mirror. The suit I was wearing—black, with a gray and red weave so that I didn’t look like I was going to a funeral—was loose enough so that I didn’t have to worry about a bulge. When I was satisfied that I looked legit I headed out to Curran Motors on Tenth to pick up the Z4.

Driving through Midtown traffic at eleven in the morning isn’t my idea of a good time, but at least I had Norah Jones to keep me company. Lack of sleep and the memories of what I’d been doing instead of sleeping made me a little light-headed. When I hit a long light just before the onramp for the Brooklyn Bridge I hit the button that folds up the roof. It’s such a fancy feature that I’m almost embarrassed to use it, but Wolfe paid for it so why not?

Traffic was light on the bridge. The sky was blue and the cool breeze coming over the windshield was waking me up. I wished I had stopped for a cup of coffee, but I was feeling better. My cell beeped and I answered it.

“Hi. It’s me.”

Oh, that voice! But it wasn’t the voice my gut was expecting. I didn’t know it, but I was one word, one little word, away from death. Because if I had said the wrong word, I would be better off driving right off the damn bridge than continuing to live.

“Hi,” I said. I didn’t know it yet, but I had just saved my own life.

“Well, you sound like you’re in a good mood. What have you been up to?”

It was Lily, damn it, Lily! I wasn’t supposed to be getting any “Hi, it’s me” phone calls from anyone but her. I gripped the steering wheel until my knuckles were white.

“I am in a good mood,” I said, though I’ll bet I didn’t sound like it. “We’ve cracked the case.”

“What case? Archie, where are you, and what are you up to?”

“I’m on the Brooklyn Bridge and two seconds ago a semi tried to erase me. The David Brock murder case. Keep it under your bonnet. We’re in it up to our necks but we can’t tell a soul.”

“Who’s Nero working for?”

“That’s what I can’t tell you.”

“What do you mean you can’t tell me? Archie, you know I don’t like secrets.”

Dames, right? Or as Wolfe would say, “das Ewig-Weibliche,” which is German for “the eternal feminine.” He thinks it’s funny, but right now I wasn’t laughing.

“Listen,” I said, “Cramer’s been after us with a crowbar. If we don’t get this one tied up all neat and pretty, and soon, your Archie could end up in the slammer. I’ll fill you in when we’re done, but not before.”

“I guess this case is more important than I am. I thought you missed me.”

“Now this is blackmail. You know I hate blackmail.”

“I can keep a secret, Archie.”

“I know you can, but you know how Wolfe feels about women.”

I thought I was being clever, but I guess I wasn’t.

“Don’t hide behind his skirts, Archie.”

She giggled. I guess she thought she was being clever.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I can’t tell you. I’m going to see a murderer.”

“Oh, now you’re cross. Don’t be cross, Archie.”

“I’m not cross.”

There was a pause, and then lots of laughing.

“Oh, Archie. Oh, dear. You’ve been a bad boy, haven’t you? You’ve been stepping out, and it’s all my fault. It’s okay, Archie. Mommy’s coming home. I’ve been missing you.”

There was more laughing—a lot more—and then a click. Das Ewig-Weibliche. Can’t live with it, can’t live without it.

By the time I got to Brighton, I had gotten Lily off my mind, just a little. Stephen Harrison lived in a beat-up, two-story bungalow that didn’t look any different than any of the other beat-up, two-story bungalows on the block. The encryption business didn’t seem to pay all that well.

I knocked on the door.

“Stephen Harrison?” I asked.

“That’s me.”

Steve was pretty much what I expected—tall and skinny, with glasses, but he had a tan that looked like it came from two weeks in the Bahamas. Maybe the encryption business had been picking up.

“My name’s Archie Goodwin. I work for Nero Wolfe.”

I handed him a card and he looked at it. While he was looking I slid my foot an inch or two over the doorsill.

“I understand you do custom software for people,” I told him.

“Where did you hear that?”

“A client.”

“Yeah, well, it’s just a hobby. I really don’t have time for any new business. I think you better talk to someone else.”

There was a look in Steve’s eye that suggested he wasn’t quite as impressed with me as I thought he should be. He had noticed my foot moving, and when he stepped back to shut the door he hit it hard, but not hard enough. As the door came forward I dipped at the knees, caught the door with both hands, and sprang forward. Steve slammed up against a wall. Before he could recover, I was inside, and the door was shut.

“Okay,” I said. “Now, listen, Mr. Harrison, and listen good. You did a job for a man named David Brock. Maybe you’ve been away, but David Brock is dead. You haven’t heard from the police, have you?”

“No,” he said, sourly.

“Well, unless you tell me what I want to hear, you will. And they might even ask you why you were using an encryption code that Microsoft made to order for the CIA. I don’t know who you’re more afraid of, Bill Gates or Uncle Sam, but you’ll have both of them on your tail unless you play ball.”

He looked me in the eye. His mood hadn’t improved.

“Okay, you win. Brock came to me with a videotape. He wanted it put on a disc and encrypted. I did the job for him.”

“It was split into two files.”


“Did Brock come here?”

“No, we met at an ice cream parlor in Brooklyn. He likes ice cream. At least he did.”

“Was there anyone with him?”


“Did you keep a copy of the files?”

“No. I don’t play games with my clients. I don’t want them coming back. I do a job and I move on. That’s the way they want it, and that’s the way I want it.”

It sounded good, but I didn’t know if it was true. On the other hand, if he had made a copy, the odds were very good that I’d never find it. So why look?

“What exactly did you do for Brock?”

“I told you. I made an encryption file, and I made two files that had to be read by that file, two files that had to be read together to produce the video.”

“Did he tell you why he wanted the file, what he was going to do with it?”

“Of course not. Why do you ask me these questions when you already know the answers?”

I was liking Mr. Harrison less and less.

“What happened when you were done? Did you send the files to Brock?”

“No. I didn’t even know his name. He paid in cash.”

“But you knew who I was talking about.”

“Because of the encryption file. Look, you cracked that file, or somebody you hired did.”

I looked Harrison in the eye and he looked back. I wasn’t liking him any better.

“So what did happen?”

“We met in Brooklyn again, but not at the ice cream store. I gave him three discs—one with the encryption file, and two with the two read files. And I gave him a code he would need to copy the files onto a hard drive.”

“What was the code?”

“Chocolate, vanilla, strawberry. You make the string by taking the first letter of each one, and then the next—‘C,’ ‘V,’ ‘S,’ ‘H,’ ‘A’—like that.

“He put the encryption file and one of the read files in his pocket, and he put the other read file in an envelope. The address was 713 W. 163rd Street, apartment 806.”

He grinned. It wasn’t a pretty grin, but he was happy with it.

“I guess I owe you one, Mr. Harrison,” I said. “But be careful with that encryption program. I hear Bill Gates plays rough.”

“I hear that too.”

“Is there anything else you’d like to tell me?”

“Not a damn thing.”

I walked back to the Z4 feeling I could use a shower, but I didn’t have the time. I climbed into the front seat and loaded up the CD changer with Norah, Diana, and Frank. There were about a million stoplights between me and 163rd Street, and I needed some company.

As I was going back through Brooklyn I put a call through to Hector Ramirez, a private op that Wolfe and I use for certain jobs. Hector has certain qualifications—“Yo hablo Español y no soy blanco,” as he likes to put it—that are a little beyond me. But all I got was Hector’s answering machine. Since Ann was willing to pay us an extra $500,000 to keep her out of the slammer, I figured it was my job to clean this up as quickly as I could.

When I got to 163rd, I had the distinct feeling that I was the only person on the block, and probably in a one-mile radius, who shopped at Barney’s. The little Z4 looked awfully naked and vulnerable sitting there on the curb, so I decided to hurry.

Seven thirteen had seen some use. There were a couple dozen buzzers by the door, but the wires had been ripped out and the door had been kicked in. Whether you lived here or were just visiting, you took your chances. The elevator was busted too, so I headed up the stairs. After the fourth flight I felt like calling Hector again, but it was too late for that. My forehead was wet when I got to the eighth floor. I gave the Marley a pat, just to make sure it was there, and opened the door to the hallway.

It was just as I expected, hot and airless. I knocked on 806 and got no answer. It was a steel firedoor with a plate over the lock. There was no way that I was getting in unless someone opened it for me. I headed back to the stairs. I could try to find the super. A benjamin or two could provide a lot of access in this neighborhood. But the odds were that I’d have to do it the hard way—get Hector and Saul on board, and maybe one or two others—and stake the place out and hope that our mystery man wasn’t in the Bahamas.

I had just reached the third-floor landing when I passed him. He was a young kid, maybe seventeen, wearing a silk shirt and Armani shades. Neither of us belonged in that stairwell, and we both knew it, but he was quicker. By the time I got myself turned around and headed in the right direction he was a flight ahead of me. I figured he was heading for his apartment but when he got to the eighth floor he kept on going. That was smart. He knew roofs, and I didn’t.

The building was ten stories high. He didn’t even bother to shut the door. When I stepped outside I got a surprise—a bullet ricocheting off the roof exit about two feet from my head. The kid was crouched beside a box on the rooftop, about thirty feet from me, blasting away.

Unless you know a lot about handguns, thirty feet is an awfully long distance to be shooting. I hit the deck and grabbed the Marley. The kid kept shooting. He quit after five more rounds and then threw the gun at me. I started forward and he started running. There was a three-foot wall running around the roof. He cleared it nicely, but didn’t quite reach the fire escape on the next building, ten feet away. Too much height, not enough distance. I heard him scream and I heard him thump. Then I walked back to the box. There was an envelope with a ZIP disc inside. I put them both in my pocket and took out my cell.


“Purley, it’s Archie. Would you like to know who killed David Brock?”

“Goodwin, you son of a bitch.”

“Save the compliments. I’m on the roof at 713 W. 163rd Street. You’ll need an ambulance for the perp. He leaped off the roof, and it’s ten stories down.”

“The perp. You watch too much TV, Goodwin.”

“Maybe so. You can tell your boys to stop looking for Ann Coulter. The kid took a couple of shots at me, and dollars to doughnuts they’ll match the slug you took out of Brock.”

“You are cute.”

“It’s a .22, a seven-shot Smith & Wesson. Do you want me to read you the serial number?”

“Goddamn it.”

I had his attention.

“Do you want me to read the serial number?”

“Read it.”

So they had identified the piece. I gave him the number.

“Hold on,” he told me.

I stood there, waiting and looking down into the street. The kid had fired six shots, after all, and you might expect someone to phone that in, but so far, nothing. Over the cell I could hear Purley say, not to me, “he’s on three.”


It was Cramer, and not in a good mood.

“Good afternoon, Inspector, how are you? I’m guessing you’re in a good mood, because I just gave you the best headline you’ve had in months. Plus you don’t have to chase Ann Coulter all over town any more.”

“You talk too damn much, Goodwin.”

“Maybe I do, but I deliver, don’t I? Relax. The press doesn’t even have to know I was ever here. Tell them you got the tip from a reliable informant.”

“Don’t you move a muscle.”

“I won’t, but you will hurry, won’t you? And you will drop that warrant on Ms. Coulter, won’t you? Because otherwise the deal’s off.”

Cramer wasn’t really doing me a favor by dropping the warrant, but he could guess that, the way I was leaning on it, it meant a little something extra for Wolfe’s fee. There was a pause, and then he said something a city employee isn’t supposed to say to a citizen and hung up. Ten minutes later I saw a black and white pull up behind my Z4, which I appreciated. When the uniform got out I leaned over and waved and he waved back. I could see him take out a cell phone and dial it. Then my cell rang.

“You’re Mr. Goodwin?” he asked.

“I am.”

“All right, Mr. Goodwin. You just stay put. Inspector Cramer will be here shortly.”

“I’m not going anywhere.”

When he was done I called Ann.

“Hi, it’s me,” I said. “You’re in the clear. I found Brock’s murderer.”

“Oh, Archie! I could kiss you!”

I started laughing, but Ann wasn’t amused.

“Shut up, Archie! Just shut up!”

Okay, so we were enemies again. That was just as well.

“Who’s laughing?”

“Shut up. Well, who did it?”

“I don’t have a name. Some kid. He took a few shots at me and then jumped off a building. I’m afraid Dave was keeping some bad company.”

“I don’t know whether to believe you or not.”

“Then don’t. But that’s the way it happened. Oh, and since we’re not friends any more, let me just say that any and all promises I’ve made are conditional on receipt of that million-dollar fee that you and Wolfe negotiated.”

“Archie, I thought you were a gentleman. At least I hoped you were.”

“I am a gentleman, but Wolfe is a businessman, and he’s also my boss. Send that check over by special courier today and everything will be nailed down.”

Ann said a couple of words that a lady shouldn’t say to a gentleman and then she hung up. I decided I wanted to talk to someone who wouldn’t talk dirty to me, so I called Wolfe. It was after three so I figured that he’d be finished with lunch, but I was wrong. I wasn’t in the mood to leave a message so I used a special code to redirect the call into the kitchen, where Mary answered.

“Mr. Wolfe is having a party,” she informed me. “Seven visitors. Standing rib roast and Yorkshire pudding. Eight ribs high! Magnificent! Very English.”

“And he didn’t invite me,” I said. “Tell him to pick up in the office.”

“Oh, but I don’t think Mr. Brenner would approve.”

“You leave that to me. Tell Mr. Wolfe the call is worth a million. He’ll understand.”

I had a good wait, almost five minutes, before Wolfe picked up.

“Archie,” he said, “where are you?”

“I’m standing on a roof a hundred and thirty-one blocks north of you,” I said. “And Brock’s killer is lying ten floors below me in an alley. Cramer and Purley are on their way. Cramer’s pulled the warrant on Ms. Coulter and, unless I’m reading her wrong, you’ll be getting a million-dollar check from her this afternoon.”

“No one, I think, would question your knowledge of Miss Coulter’s intentions,” Wolfe said. Was there an edge in his voice? Perhaps a hint of one.

“Yeah,” I said. “How come you didn’t invite me to your soiree?”

“This is a small gathering intended to promote a better understanding in the press of the underlying issues facing the Balkan nations,” he said. “It was hardly my intention to demand your absence. I shall have Fritz roast the bones upon your arrival. Oh, and Archie. Most satisfactory. I could quibble perchance at your methods, but not at your results.”

Deviled beef bones are a treat I don’t get often enough, so I was happy.

“Thanks,” I said. “By the way, don’t be surprised if Fritz starts hinting for a new range. I think it’s about time.”

“I see. Not only must I endure your pecadillos, I must compensate others for doing so as well. It is fortunate that Miss Coulter has such deep pockets.”

“A man with four off the books orchids can’t be too fussy.”

“Mr. Hawkins’ loss is his own doing. I do not doubt that I came by the orchids more honorably than did Miss Coulter. But that is neither here nor there. Since you have assumed the role of intermediary in this matter, inform Fritz that I will pay for value but not extravagance.”

“Sure. I’ll let you get back to the press.”

With that done I had no one left to call. Two more black and whites had arrived, and the place was crawling with uniforms, but Cramer and Purley didn’t show for another half hour, and when they did they weren’t in a good mood, but they had to let me walk. I was giving them the whole thing, no Nero Wolfe, no Archie Goodwin, but of course they didn’t like it. Cops don’t like it when you do them favors. They were mad, all right, but not mad enough to give me a pat down, which I appreciated, because if they found that envelope with Brock’s handwriting on it, and that disc, they might start asking more questions. But why? The case was closed.

It was close to five when I dropped the Z4 off at Curran’s and hiked the four blocks back to the brownstone on West Thirty-Fifth. Fritz met me at the door.

“Archie,” he said, “a messenger just came from a Miss Coulter. Are we rich?”

“Rich enough for a new range,” I said. “Is Wolfe in the office?”

“No, the guests are still here. He is showing them the orchids.”

So they were getting the full treatment.

“Fine,” I said. “I need a shower and a change of clothes. But I’ll be ready for some deviled beef bones in forty-five minutes.”

“Of course, Archie. And I saved you a quail stuffed with truffles.”

I headed up the two flights to my room, but when I got there the door was open. I stared. Andy Sullivan stared back.

“What are you doing in my room?” I said.

“Why, I, I was looking for you. But, of course, you weren’t here. But, then, now you are.”

“Is that my underwear you’re holding?”

“Why, I suppose it is.”

“Put it down.”

“Please. I owe you an explanation.”

“I don’t want an explanation. Put my underwear on the floor.”

He did as he was told.

“Now step away from it.”

“Please. You don’t understand. You’re so unreflective. It’s such a shining quality. Please don’t lose it.”

“Get out of here. Go down the stairs, go out the door, and don’t come back. Ever.”

“Yes. Yes, of course.”

I gave him plenty of room, and I’ll give him credit. Once he started moving he didn’t stop. He was out the door and headed east in good time. When I was sure he was gone I picked up my underwear and put it back in my drawer. I showered and shaved and put on tan slacks with a blue and white striped shirt with a blue blazer and a red and gold silk tie. Lily would want me in black tie later, but right now I could be informal. I went downstairs to the kitchen where Fritz had the quail waiting for me. I finished the quail and had two ribs, with a nice claret and a watercress salad.

When I was finished, the guests had gone and Wolfe was on the roof with Theodore, catching up on a few things. I went into the office and switched on my computer. As it warmed up I took out the disc I had found on the roof. Should I? I was a detective, right? Other people trusted me with their secrets. And how could I keep a secret if I didn’t know it? I slid in the disc and punched a few keys. After five minutes, I’d seen enough. Yeah. It was Bill.