by Rex Stout
She said, in her nicely managed voice that was a pleasure to listen to, "Daumery and Nieder."
I asked her politely, "Will you spell it, please?"
I meant the Daumery, since I already had the Nieder down in my notebook, her name being, so she had said, Cynthia Nieder.
Her lovely bright blue eyes changed expression to show that she suspected me of kidding her--as if I had asked her to spell Shakespeare or Charlie Chaplin. But I was so obviously innocent that the eyes changed again and she smiled.
She spelled Daumery and added, "Four ninety-six Seventh Avenue. That's what we get for being so cocky about how famous we are--we get asked how to spell it. What if someone asked you how to spell Nero Wolfe?"
"Try it," I suggested, smiling back at her. I extended a hand. "Put your fingers on my pulse and ask me. But don't ask me how to spell Archie Goodwin, which is me. That would hurt."
Wolfe grunted peevishly and readjusted a few hundred of his pounds in his built-to-order high-test chair behind his desk. "You made," he told our visitor, "an appointment to see me. I supposed you needed a detective. If so tell me what for, without encouraging Mr. Goodwin to start caterwauling. It takes very little to set him off."
I let it go by, though I am much more particular than his insult implied. I felt like indulging him because he had just bought a new Cadillac sedan, which meant that I, Archie Goodwin, had a new car, because, of the four men who lived in Nero Wolfe's house, an old brownstone on West 35th Street not far from the river, I was the only one who drove. Wolfe himself, who suspected all machinery with moving parts of being in a plot to get him, rarely left the house for any reason whatever, and never--well, hardly ever--on business. He stayed in his office, on the ground floor of the house, and used his brain if and when I could pester him into it. Fritz Brenner, chef and supervisor of household comforts, knew how to drive but pretended he didn't, and had no license. Theodore Horstmann, curator of the orchids in the plant rooms on the roof, thought walking was good for people and was still, at his age, trying to prove it.
That left me. In addition to being chief assistant detective, bookkeeper and stenographer, the flea in the elephant's ear, and balance wheel, I was also chauffeur and errand boy. Therefore the new car was, in effect, mine, and I thought I ought to show my appreciation by letting him call me a tomcat at least once. Another thing, the car had cost plenty, and we hadn't been offered an acceptable job for over a week. We could use a fee. This blue-eyed female treat looked as if she wasn't short on cash, and if I riled Wolfe about a little thing like a insult he might react by broadening out and insulting her too, and she might go somewhere else to shop.
So all I did was grin understandingly at Cynthia Neider, brandish my pen over my notebook, and clear my throat.
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"Daumery and Nieder," Cynthia said, "is as good a name as there is on Seventh Avenue, including Fifty-seventh Street, but of course if you're not in the garment trade and know nothing about it--I imagine your wives would know the name all right."
"No wife," I stated. "Neither of us. That's why we caterwaul."
"Well, if you had one she would know about Daumery and Nieder. We make top-quality coats, suits, and dresses, and we confine our line, even here in New York. The business was started twenty years ago by two men, Jean Daumery and Paul Nieder--my Uncle Paul--my father's brother. It's--"
"Excuse me," Wolfe put in. "Will it save time to tell you that I don't do industrial surveillance?"
"No, that's not it," she said, waving it away. "I know you don't. It's about him, my uncle. Uncle Paul."
She frowned, and was looking at the window beyond Wolfe's desk as if she were seeing something. Then her shoulders lifted and dropped again, and she went back to Wolfe.
"You need some background," she told him. "At least I think it would be better. Daumery was the business head of the firm, the organizer and manager and salesman, and Uncle Paul was the designer, the creator. If it hadn't been for him Daumery wouldn't have had anything to manage and sell. They owned it together--a fifty-fifty partnership. It was my uncle's half that I inherited when my uncle killed himself--anyway, that's how it was announced, that he committed suicide--a little over a year ago."
That gave me two thoughts: one, that I had been right so about her having the price of a fee; and two, that we were probably in for another job of translating a suicide into a murder.
"I suppose I should tell about me," Cynthia was saying. "I was born and brought up out West, in Oregon. My father and mother died when I was fourteen, and Uncle Paul sent for me, and I came to New York and lived with him. He wasn't married. We didn't get along very well together, I guess because we were so much alike, because I'm creative too; but it wasn't really so bad, we just fought all the time. And when it came down to it he let me have my way. He was determined about my going to college, but I knew I was creative and it would be a waste of time. We fought about it every day, and finally he said f I didn't go to college I would have to earn my living, and then what do you think he did? He gave me a job modeling for Daumery and Nieder at top salary! That's what he was like! Actually he was wonderful. He gave me the run of the place too, to catch on about designing, but of course he wouldn't have done that if he hadn't known I had unusual talent."
"What kind of talent'" Wolfe asked skeptically.
"As a clothes designer, of course," she said, as if that were the only talent worth mentioning. "I was only eighteen--that was three years ago--and completely without training, and for two years I only modeled and onto things, but I had a few little chances to show what I could do. I was surprised that my uncle was willing to help me along, because most established designers are jealous; but he did. Then he went West on a vacation, and then the word came that he had killed himself. Maybe I ought to tell you why I wasn't surprised that he had killed himself."
"Maybe," Wolfe conceded.
"Because I knew how unhappy he was. Helen Daumery had died. A horse she was riding had gone crazy and thrown her off on some stones and killed her. She was Daumery's wife--the wife of my uncle's partner--and my uncle was in love with her. She had been one of their models--she was much younger than Daumery--and I think she was the only woman Uncle Paul ever loved--anyhow he certainly loved her. She didn't love him because she didn't love anybody but herself, but I think she probably gave him the cherry out of her cocktail just because she enjoyed having him like that when no other woman could get him. She would."
I didn't put it in my notes that Miss Nieder had disapproved of Mrs. Daumery, but I could have, and signed it.
"Helen's death broke my uncle up completely," Cynthia went on. "I never saw anything like it. I was still living in his apartment. He didn't say a word to me for three days--not a single word--nor to anyone else, and he didn't leave the apartment day or night--right in the middle of getting ready for the showings of the fall line--and then he said he was going away for a rest, and he went. Four days later the news came that he had committed suicide, and under the circumstances it didn't occur to me to question it."
When she paused Wolfe inquired, "Do you question it now?"
"I certainly do," she said emphatically. "I wasn't surprised, either, at the way he did it. He was always keyed up and dramatic, about everything. He was by far the best designer in New York, and he was the best showman, too. So you would expect him to do something startling about killing himself, no matter how unhappy he was. He took all his clothes off and jumped into a geyser in Yellowstone Park."
Wolfe let out a mild grunt. I gave her an admiring eye, for her calm voice and manner in dishing out a fact like that, but of course it was a year old for her.
"Under the surface of that geyser," she said, "down below, the pressure in the pipe from above keeps the temperature far above the boiling point, according to an article about it I read in a newspaper."
"That seems conclusive," Wolfe murmured. "Why do you now question it?"
"Because he didn't die. Because he's not dead. I saw him last week, here in New York, alive."
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I felt myself relaxing. It had seemed that we were about to be tagged for the chore of ripping the false face off of a murder disguised as a suicide, and at the smell of murder I always go tight all over. In the detective business that's the center ring in the big tent. The headline "MAN DEAD" gets the eye good, but Cynthia Nieder had scrapped that and changed it to "MAN ALIVE" which was quite a comedown. Another thought had struck me: that if Uncle Paul was alive her inheriting half the business out the window and her ability to pay a good fee was open to question. My attitude toward her personally remained intact; she rated high priority on voice, and other observable factors. But professionally I was compelled to grade her way down in the little routine items. So I relaxed and tossed my notebook on my desk, which is so placed that a half-turn of my swivel chair puts me facing Wolfe, and with another half-turn I am confronting the red leather chair beyond the end of his desk where a lone visitor is usually seated. Some visitors clash with it, but Cynthia, in a deep-toned yellow dress, maybe silk, a jacket in brown and yellow checks, flaring open, and a little brown affair slanting on her head, looked fine. Having learned one or two little things about women's clothes from Lily Rowan and other reliable sources, I decided that if Cynthia had designed that outfit Wolfe should eat his skepticism about her talent.
She was talking, telling about the man alive.
"It was last Tuesday," she said, "a week ago tomorrow, June third. We were showing our fall line to the press. We don't show in hotels because we don't have to, since our showroom seats over two hundred comfortably. For a press showing we don't let anyone in without a ticket because if we did the place would be mobbed. I was modeling a blue and black ensemble of lightweight Bishop twill when I saw him. He was in the fifth row, between Agnes Pemberton of Vogue and Mrs. Gumpert of the Herald Tribune. If you asked me how I recognized tell you, but I simply knew it was him, there wasn't the slightest doubt--"
"Why shouldn't you recognize him?" Wolfe demanded.
"Because he had a beard, and he wore glasses, and his hair was slick and parted on the left side. That sounds like a freak, but Uncle Paul would know better than to look freaky. The beard was trimmed, and somehow it didn't make him conspicuous. It was lucky I didn't completely recognize him when I first saw him, or I would probably have stood and gawked at him. Later in the dressing room Polly Zarella asked Bernard--that's Bernard Daumery, Jean's nephew--growing his own wool, and Bernard said he didn't know, probably from the Daily Worker. Of course we know most of the guests at a press showing, but not all of them. When I modeled another number--a, full-back calf-covering coat in tapestry tones of Kleinsell rating--I took him in without being obvious about it, and all of a sudden I knew who it was-I didn't guess, I knew. It staggered me so that I had to get off quick, quicker than I should have, and in the dressing room it was all I could do to keep them from seeing me tremble. I wanted to run out and speak to him, but I couldn't because it would have ruined the show. I had four more numbers to model--one of them was our headliner, a tailored dress and jacket in black with white stripes, with slightly bouffant sleeves and a double hemline--and I had to go on to the end. When it was over I hurried out front and he was gone:'
"Indeed," Wolfe muttered.
"Yes. I went outside, to the elevators, but he was gone."
"You haven't seen him since?"
"No. Just that one time."
"Did anyone else recognize him?"
"I don't think so. I'm sure they didn't, or there would have been a noise. A dead man come back to life?"
Wolfe nodded. "Many of those present had known him?"
"Certainly, nearly all of them. He was famous, as famous as you are."
"Wolfe skipped that one. "How sure are you it was him?"
"I'm absolutely positive. There simply isn't any argument about it."
"Did you find out who he was supposed to be?"
She shook her head. "I couldn't find out a thing about him. I didn't want to ask questions of too many people, and but no one could tell me anything." She hesitated. "I must admit the ticket thing is handled pretty loosely. The tickets aren't just scattered around, but anyone who knows the ropes wouldn't have much trouble getting one, and my you're uncle certainly knows the ropes:"
"Whom have you told about this?"
"No one. Not a soul. I've been trying to decide what to do."
"You might," Wolfe suggested, "just erase it. You say you inherited a half-interest in that"--he grimaced--"that business from your uncle?"
"Anything else? Property, securities, money in the bank?"
"No. He had no property, except the furniture in his apartment, and the lawyer said there were no securities or bank accounts."
"Hunk," Wolfe said. "Those are portable. But you have half of that business. Is it solvent?"
Cynthia smiled. "As Polly Zarella puts it, we grossed over two million last year with a swelled-up profit."
"Then why not erase it, if your uncle likes his beard and his hair slicked? If you corner him and make him shave and wash his hair, and make him take his old label, you'll have no share of the swelled up profits. He will. I would charge moderately for this interview."
"No." She shook her head emphatically. "I have to know what's going on, and I have to know where I stand. I--" She stopped and bit her lip. Apparently she had keeping emotions, whatever they might be, under control, they were trying to break loose. When she was ready for speech again all she said was, "I'm upset.'
"Then you should reserve decision." Wolf e was being very patient with her. "Never decide anything while upset." He wiggled a finger. "And in spite of your dogmatism you may be wrong. True, you might have him when others didn't, since you lived with him and knew him intimately, but others knew him intimately. One especially--his business partner, Mr. Daumery--for twenty years, you say. Was he there that day and did he see the man with the beard?"
Cynthia's eyes had widened. "Oh," she exclaimed, "didn't I-I thought I had mentioned that! Of course Bernard Daumery, the nephew, was there-I know I mentioned him--but Jean Daumery, my uncle's partner, he's dead!"
Wolfe's eyes opened to more than a slit for the first time. "The devil he is. Jumped in a geyser?"
"No, in an accident. He was drowned. He was fishing and fell from the boat."
"Where was this?"
"In Florida. Off the west coast."
"It was--let's see, today is June ninth--a little over six weeks ago."
"Who was on the boat with him?"
"Bernard, his nephew."
"And the nephew inherited that half?"
"Yes, but " She frowned. Her hand fluttered. She had a habit of making gestures which were graceful and a pleasure to look at. "But that's all right."
"Why is it all right?"
"That's a silly question," she said with spirit. "I merely mean that if there had been any question of anything wrong the Florida people would have attended to it."
"Perhaps," Wolfe conceded grumpily. "Only it's quite a list. Mrs. Daumery thrown from a horse onto stones and killed. Mr. Nieder propelled into a geyser and boiled. Mr. Daumery hurtled into an ocean and drowned. It's not my affair, thank heaven, but if it were I should want better testimony than that of what you call the Florida people." He got brusque. "About your uncle, what do you want me for?"
She knew the answer to that one. "I want you to find him, and I want to see him."
"Very well. It may take time and it will be expensive. A retainer of two thousand dollars?"
She didn't blink. "Of course," she agreed, speaking as a millionaire. "I'll mail you a check today. I suppose it's understood that this is extremely confidential, as I said at the beginning, and no reports are to be phoned to me, and written reports are not to be mailed but handed to me personally. One thing I was going to suggest."
She directed her clear blue eyes at me, and back at Wolfe.
"I'll be glad," she said, "to tell you all I know about his former associates, but I doubt if that will help. He had no relatives but me, and no really close friends that I know of. The only person he ever loved was Helen Daumery--unless he had some affection for me; I guess maybe he did. But he loved designing, his work, and he loved that business. I think he came there last Tuesday because he simply couldn't stay away. I don't believe he knew I recognized him, so why wouldn't he come back? If he does, it will probably be today, because this afternoon we have our big show of the fall line for buyers. That's why I came to see you this morning. He wouldn't even need a ticket, and I have a feeling he'll be there. I know you do everything in your office and practically never go out, but couldn't Mr. Goodwin come? He could sit near the front, and I could arrange to give him a signal if I see my uncle--only he would have to be extremely careful not to spoil the show in any way--"
Wolfe was nodding at her. "Excellent," he declared.
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At 2:55 that Monday afternoon in June I entered the building at 496 Seventh Avenue and took an elevator to the twelfth floor.
Since that was only a ten-minute walk from Wolfe's place my choice would have been to hoof it, but Wolfe was proceeding to spend chunks of the two grand even before he got it. He had called in Saul Panzer, the best free-lance operative on earth, and Saul and I went together in a taxi driven by our old pal Herb Aronson, whom we often used. Saul and Herb stayed at the curb in the cab, with the flag down. It had developed that Cynthia didn't want Uncle Paul's whiskers yanked off in any public spot, and therefore he would have to be tailed. Tailing in New York, if you really mean it, being no one-man job, we were setting it up right, with me on foot and Saul on wheels.
Cynthia had filled in a few gaps before leaving our office. She had inherited her uncle's half of the business under a will he had left, but was not yet in legal possession because of the law's attitude about dead people who leave no remains. There had been no serious doubt of his being pressure-cooked in the geyser, though no one had actually seen him jump in, since his clothes had been found at the geyser's rim, and the farewell letters in the pocket of the coat, one to his lawyer and one to his niece, had unquestionably been in his handwriting. But the law was chewing its cud. Apparently Jean Daumery, up to the moment he had fallen off the boat and got drowned, had done likewise, and, in the six weeks since his death, his nephew Bernard had carried on with the chewing. That was the impression I got from a couple of Cynthia's remarks about her current status at Daumery and Nieder's. She was still modeling, and most of the designing was being done by a guy named Ward Roper, whose name she pronounced with a good imitation of the inflection Winston Churchill used in pronouncing Mussolini.
She had got in another dig or two at Helen Daumery, replying to Wolfe's casual questions. It was possible, she said, that Jean Daumery had known what was going on between his wife and his business partner, but it was doubtful because Helen had been an extremely slick article. And when Wolfe inquired about Helen's death and Cynthia told him that it happened on a country lane where Helen and her husband were out for a Sunday morning ride on their own horses, and the husband was the only eyewitness, she added that whoever or whatever was in charge of accidents might as well get the credit for that one, and that anyway Jean Daumery was dead too.
So it still looked as if we were fresh out of murders as far as Cynthia was concerned. To get any attention from Wolfe a murder must be attached to a client with money to spend and a reason for spending it. Cynthia didn't fit. As for her uncle, he wasn't dead. As for Helen Daumery, Cynthia wasn't interested a nickel's worth. As for Jean Daumery, Cynthia was stringing along with the Florida people who had decided there was nothing wrong.
Therefore there was no tingle in me as I got off the elevator at the twelfth floor.
Double doors were standing open, with a few human beings gathered there. As I approached, a bulky female who had been in my elevator swept past me and was going on through, but a man sidestepped to cut her off and asked politely, "What is your firm, please?"
The woman glared at him. "Coats and suits for Driscoll's Emporium, Tulsa."
The man shook his head. "Sorry, there's no place for you." His face suddenly lit up with a cordial smile, and I thought unexpected grace was about to drop on her until saw that the smile was for another one from my elevator, a skinny dame with big ears.
"Good afternoon, Miss Dixon," the smiler said, serving it with sugar. "Mr. Roper was asking about you just a minute ago."
Miss Dixon nodded indifferently and went on in. I maneuvered around Driscoll's Emporium, who was looking enraged but impotent, and murmured at the man in a refined voice.
"My name is Goodwin, British Fabrics Association. Miss Cynthia Nieder invited me. Shall I wait while you check with her?"
He looked me over and I took it without flinching, wearing, as I was, a tropical worsted tailored by Breslow and a shirt and tie that were fully worthy. "It isn't necessary," he finally conceded and motioned me through.
The room was so nearly packed that it took a couple of minutes to find an empty seat far enough front to be sure of catching Cynthia's signal, which was to be brushing her hair back on the right side with her left hand. I saw no point in pretending I wasn't there, and before sitting down I turned in a slow complete circle, giving the audience the eye as if I were looking for a friend. There were close to two hundred of them, and I was surprised to see that nearly a third of them were men, though Cynthia had explained that there would be buyers not only from all over the country, but also merchandise executives, department heads, presidents, vice-presidents, fashion writers, fabrics people, and miscellaneous.
I saw no one with whiskers.
Also before sitting I picked up, from the chair, a pad paper and a pencil. The pad consisted of sheets with Daumery and Nieder and the address neatly printed in upper corner. I was supposed, as I soon learned from watching my neighbors, to use it for making notes about the numbers I wanted to buy. On my right was a plump gray-haired specimen with sweat below her ear, and on my left was a handsome woman with an extremely good mouth, fairly young but not quite young enough. Neither had given me more than an indifferent glance.
The room was high-ceilinged, and the wood-paneled walls were pretty well covered with drawings and photographs. Aside from that, and us on our chairs, there was nothing but a large raised platform, in the open space between the front row of seats and the wall beyond. The wall had two doors, twenty feet apart. I had been seated Only a minute or two when the door on the left opened and a woman emerged. She was old enough to be my mother but wasn't. My mother wouldn't use that much lipstick in a year, and her shoulders would never get that much padding no matter what high fashion said.
The woman stood a moment, looking us over, turned to signal to someone through the open door, closed the door, and went to a chair near the end of the front row that had evidently been held for her. She was no sooner seated than the door opened again and out came the girl that I was waiting to marry. I put my teeth together to keep from whistling. I got the impression that she was the girl they were all waiting to marry, seeing how concentrated and alert everyone became the second she appeared, and then I realized what this meant to the buyers. For them it was the make or break. It meant their jobs. They had just so many thousands to spend, on so many numbers, and it was up to them to pick the winners or else.
Anyone could have picked the girl with one eye shut, but they weren't picking girls. She stepped up on the platform, came to the front edge, walking in a highly trained manner, extended her arms to the sides, full out, and said in a clear and friendly voice, "Six-forty-two: "Six-forty-two was a dress and coat, looking like wool and I suppose it was, sort of confused about colors like a maple tree in October. She gave it the works. She walked to the right and then to the left, threw her arms around to show that the seams would hold even if you got in a fight or wore it picking apples, and turned around to let us see the back. She said "Six-forty-two" four times altogether, at appropriate intervals, distinctly and amiably, with just the faintest suggestion in her voice and manner that she wouldn't dream of letting that out except to the few people she was very fond of; and when she took the coat off and draped it over her arm and lifted her chin to smile at the back row, there was some clapping of hands.
She left by the other door, the one on the right, and immediately the one on the left opened and out came the girl I was waiting to marry, only this was a blonde, and she had on a gray fur evening wrap lined in bright red and what she said was "Three-eighty and Four-nineteen." The 380, I gathered from neighbors' mutterings, was the wrap, and the 419 was the simple red evening gown that was disclosed when she ditched the wrap. It was fairly simple in front at the top, just covering essentials--but at the back it got even simpler by simply not starting until it hit the waistline. The woman on my right whispered to the one on her other side, "The hell of that is I've got a customer that would love it but I wouldn't dare let her buy it."
To clear up one point, they had there that afternoon six of the girls I was waiting to marry, if you count Cynthia Nieder, and I don't see why you shouldn't. Each of them made around a dozen appearances, some more, some less, and as for picking and choosing, if the buyers were as far up a stump as I was by the time it was over the only way they could possibly handle it was to send in an order for one of each.
As I explained to Wolfe in the office that evening, after I had reported a blank and we were conversing, "Imagine it! After the weddings I will of course have to take a good-sized apartment between Fifth and Madison in the Sixties. On a pleasant autumn evening I'll be sitting in the living room reading the newspaper. I'll toss the paper aside and clap my hands, and in will come Isabel. She will have on a calf-exposing kitchen apron with a double hemline "and will be carrying a plate of ham sandwiches and a pitcher of milk. She will say seductively, `Two-ninety-three,' make interesting motions and gestures without spilling a drop, put the plate and pitcher on a table at my elbow, and go. In will come Francine. She will be wearing slim-silhouette pajamas with padded shoulders and a back-flaring hipline. She'll walk and wave and whirl, say `Nine-thirty-one' four times, and light me a cigarette and dance out. Enter Delia. She'll be dressed in a high-styled bra of hand-made lace with a billowing sweep to the--"
"Pfui," Wolfs said curtly. "Enter another, naked, carrying a basket full of bills, your checkbook, and a pen."
He has a personal slant on women.
Back to the show. It lasted over two hours, and for some of the numbers the applause was unrestrained, and it looked to me as if the Daumery and Nieder profits were likely to go on swelling up. Cynthia, in my opinion, was the star, and others seemed to agree with me. The numbers she modeled got much more applause than the rest of the line, and I admit I furnished my share, which was as it should be since I was her guest. Remarks from my neighbor on the right, who was evidently in the know, informed me that Cynthia's numbers had all been designed by herself, whereas the others were the work of Ward Roper, who had been Paul Nieder's assistant and was merely a good imitator and adapter.
In the office that evening I explained that to Wolfe, too, partly because I knew it would bore and irritate him, and partly because I wanted to demonstrate that I hadn't been asleep although my report of results had had no bodice at all and a very short skirt.
A breath and a half had done it. "I got in by following Cynthia's instructions, found a seat in the fifth row, and sat down after doing a survey of the two hundred customers and seeing no whiskers. Miss Nieder made fourteen appearances and did not signal me. When she came out front after the show she was immediately encircled by people, and I beat it, again following instructions, went down to the sidewalk, told Saul nothing doing, and handed Herb Aronson a ten-dollar bill."
Wolfs grunted. "What next?"
"That requires thought, which is your department. We can t sick the cops on him because the client doesn't want that. We can buy a gross of combs and comb the city. Or we can try again at their next show for buyers, which as you know, will be Thursday morning at ten. Or you may remember what the client said about her uncle's private file."
Wolfs poohed. "She doesn't even know whether it exists. She thinks Jean Daumery took it and locked it up, and that the nephew, Bernard Daumery, is hanging onto it. She thinks she may possibly be able to find it."
"Okay, you admit she thinks, so why not you? You're merely objecting, not thinking. Think."
That was before dinner. If he did put his brain in motion there were no visible or audible results. After dinner back in the office again, he started reading a book. That disgusted me, because after all we had a case, and for the sake of appearances I started in on a blow-by-blow account of the Daumery and Nieder show. The least I could do was to make it hard for him to read. I went on for over an hour, covering the ground, and then branched out into commentary.
"Imagine it!" I said. "After the weddings I will of course have to take a good-sized apartment..."
I've already told about that.
The next morning, Tuesday, he was still shirking. When we have a job on he usually has breakfast instructions for me before he goes up to the plant rooms for his nine-to-eleven session with Theodore and the orchids, but that day there wasn't a peep out of him, and when he came down to the office at eleven o'clock he got himself comfortable in his chair behind his desk, rang for Fritz to bring beer--two short buzzes--and picked up his book. Even when I showed him the check from Cynthia which had come in the morning mail, two thousand smackers, he merely nodded indifferently. I snorted at him and strode to the hall and out the front door, on my way to the bank to make a deposit. When I got back he was on his second bottle of beer and deep in his book. Apparently his idea was to go on reading until Thursday's show for buyers.
For one o'clock lunch in the dining room, which was across the hall from the office, Fritz served us with chicken livers and tomato halves fried in oil and trimmed with chopped peppers and parsley, followed by rice cakes and honey. I took it easy on the livers because of my attitude toward Fritz's rice cakes. I was on my fifth cake, or maybe sixth, when the doorbell rang. During meals Fritz always answers the door, on account of Wolfe's feeling that the main objection to atom bombs is that they may interrupt people eating. Through the open door from the dining room to the hall I saw Fritz pass on his way to the front, and a moment later his voice came, trying to persuade someone to wait in the office until Wolfe had finished lunch. There was no other voice, but there were steps, and then our visitor was marching in on us--a man about Wolfe's age, heavy-set, muscular, red-faced, and obviously aggressive.
It was our chum Inspector Cramer, head of Homicide. He advanced to the table before he stopped and spoke to Wolfe.
"Hello. Sorry to break in on your meal."
"Good morning," Wolfe said courteously. For him it was always morning until he had finished his lunch coffee. "If you haven't had lunch we can offer you--"
"No, thanks, I'm busy and in a hurry. A woman named Cynthia Nieder came to see you yesterday."
Wolfe put a piece of rice cake in his mouth. I had a flash of a thought: Good God, the client's dead.
"Well?" Cramer demanded.
"Well what?" Wolfe snapped. "You stated a fact. I'm eating lunch."
"Fine. It's a fact. What did she want?"
"You know my habits and customs, Mr. Cramer." Wolfe was controlling himself. "I never talk business at a meal. I invited you to join us and you declined. If you will wait in the office--"
Cramer slapped a palm on the table, rattling things. My guess was that Wolfe would throw the coffee pot, since it was the heaviest thing handy, but I couldn't stay for it because along with the sound of Cramer's slap the doorbell rang again, and I thought I'd better not leave this one to Fritz. I got up and went, and through the one-way glass panel in the front door I saw an object that relieved me. The client was still alive and apparently unhurt. She was standing there on the stoop.
I pulled the door open, put my finger on my lips, muttered at her, "Keep your mouth shut," and with one eye took in the police car parked at the curb, seven steps down from the stoop. The man seated behind the wheel, a squad dick with whom I was acquainted, was looking up at us with an expression of interest. I waved at him, signaled Cynthia to enter, shut the door, and elbowed her into the front room, which faces the street and adjoins the office.
She looked scared, untended, haggard, and determined.
"The point is," I told her, "that a police inspector named Cramer is in the dining room asking about you. Do you want to see him?"
"Oh." She gazed at me as if she were trying to remember who I was. "I've already seen him." She looked around, saw a chair, got to it, and sat. "They've been--asking me--questions for hours--"
"Why, what happened?"
"My uncle--" Her head went forward and she covered her face with her hands. In a moment she looked up at me and said, "I want to see Nero Wolfe," and then covered her face with her hands again.
It might, I figured, take minutes to nurse her to the point of forming sentences. So I told her, "Stay here and sit tight. The walls are soundproofed, but keep quiet anyhow."
When I rejoined them in the dining room the coffee-pot was still on the table unthrown, but the battle was on. Wolfe was out of his chair, erect, rigid with rage.
"No, sir," he was saying in his iciest tone, "I have not finished my gobbling now, as you put it. I would have eaten two more cakes, and I have not had my coffee. You broke in, and you're here. If you were not an officer of the law Mr. Goodwin would knock you unconscious and drag you out."
He moved. He stamped to the door, across the hall, and, into the office. I was right behind him. By the time framer was there, seated in the red leather chair, Wolfe was seated too, behind his desk, breathing at double speed, with his mouth closed tight.
"Forget it," framer rasped, trying to make up.
Wolfe was silent.
"All I want," framer said, "is to find out why Cynthia Nieder came to see you. You have a right to ask why I want to know, and I would have told you if you hadn't lost your temper just because I arrived while you were stuffing it in. There's been a murder."
Wolfe said nothing.
"Last night," framer went on. "Time limits, eight P.M. and midnight. At the place of business of Daumery and Nieder on the twelfth floor of Four-ninety-six Seventh Avenue. Cynthia Nieder was there last night between nine and nine-thirty, she admits that; and nobody else as far as we know now. She says she went to get some drawings, but that's got holes in it. The body was found this morning, lying in the middle of the floor in the office. He had been hit in the back of the head with a hardwood pole, one of those used to raise and lower windows, and the end of the pole with the brass hook on it had been jabbed into his face a dozen times or more--like spearing a fish."
Wolfe had his eyes closed. I was considering that after all Cramer was the head of Homicide and he was paid for handling murders, and he always tried hard and deserved a little encouragement, so I asked in a friendly manner, "Who was it?"
"Nobody knows," he said sarcastically and without returning the friendliness. "A complete stranger to all the world, and nothing on him to tell." He paused, and then suddenly barked at me, "You describe him!"
"Nuts. Who was it?"
"It was a medium-sized man around forty, with a brown beard and slick brown hair parted on the left side, with glasses that were just plain glass. Can you name him?"
I thought it extremely interesting that Cramer's description consisted of the three items that Cynthia had specified. It showed what a well-planned disguise could do.
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Wolfe remained silent.
"Sorry," I said. "Never met him."
Cramer left me for Wolfe. "Under the circumstances, he argued, still sarcastic, "you may concede that I have a right to ask what she came to you for. It was only after :she tried two lies on us about how she spent yesterday morning that we finally got it out of her that she came here. She didn't want us to know, she was dead against it, and she wouldn't tell what she came for. Add to that he fact that whenever you are remotely connected with anyone who is remotely connected with a murder you always know everything, and there's no question about my needing to know what you were consulted about. I came to ask you myself because I know what you're like."
Wolfe broke his vow. He spoke. "Is Miss Nieder under arrest?"
The phone rang before Cramer could answer. I took it, a voice asked to speak to Inspector Cramer, and Cramer came to my desk and talked. Or rather, he listened. About all he used was grunts, but at one point he said "Here?" with an inflection that started my mind going, and simple logic carried it on to a conclusion.
So as Cramer hung up I pushed in ahead of him to tell Wolfe. "Answering your question, she is not under arrest. They turned her loose because they didn't have enough to back up anything stiffer than material witness, and they put a tail on her, and the tail phoned in that she came here, and the call Cramer just got was a relay of the tail's report. She's in the front room. I put her there because I know how you are about having your meals interrupted. Shall I bring her in?"
Cramer returned to the red leather chair, sat, and said to someone, "You snippy little bastard." I ignored it, knowing it couldn't be for me, since I am just under six feet and weigh a hundred and eighty and therefore could not be called little.
Cramer went at Wolfe. "So the minute we let her go she comes here. That has some bearing on my wanting to know what she was after yesterday, huh?"
Wolfe spoke to me. "Archie. You say Miss Nieder is in the front room?"
"It was she who rang the bell while Mr. Cramer was trying to knock my luncheon dishes off the table?"
"What did she say?"
"Nothing, except that she wanted to see you. She has spent hours with cops and her tongue's tired: "
"Bring her in here."
Cramer started offering objections, but I didn't hear him. I went and opened the connecting door to the front room, which was as soundproof as the wall, and said disclose respectfully for all to hear, "Inspector Cramer is here asking about you. Will you come in, please?"
She stood up, hesitated, stiffened herself, and then walked to me and on through. I placed one of the yellow chairs for her, facing Wolfe, closer to my position than to Cramer's. She nodded at me, sat, gave Cramer a straight full look, transferred it to Wolfe, and swallowed.
Wolfe was frowning at her and his eyes were slits. "Miss Nieder," he said gruffly, "I am working for you and you and you have paid me a retainer. Is that correct?
She nodded, decided to wire it for sound, and said, "Yes, certainly."
"Then first some advice. The police could have held you as a material witness and you would have had to bail. Instead, they let you go to give you an illusion of freedom, and they are following you around. Should at any time want to go somewhere without their knowledge, there's nothing difficult about it. Mr. Goodwin is an expert on that and can tell you what to do."
Cramer was unimpressed. He had got out a cigar and was rolling it between his palms. I never understood he did that, since you roll a cigar to make it draw better, and he never lit one but only chewed it.
"I understand," Wolfe continued, "that Mr. Cramer and his men have dragged it out of you that you came here yesterday, but that you have refused to tell them what so far. Is that correct?"
"Good. I think that was sensible. You are suspected of murder, but that puts you under no compulsion to disclose all the little secrets you have locked up. We all have them, and we don't surrender them if we can help it. But my position in this is quite different from yours. It is true you have hired me, but I am not an attorney-at-law, and therefore what you said to me was not a privileged communication. In my business I need to have the good will, or at least the tolerance, of the police, in order to keep my license to work as a detective. I cannot afford to be intransigent with a police inspector. Besides, I respect and admire Mr. Cramer and would like to help him. I tell you all this so that you will not misunderstand what I am about to do."
Cynthia opened her mouth, but Wolfe pushed a palm at her, and no words came. He turned to Cramer.
"Since your army has had several hours to poke into corners, you have learned, I suppose, that Mr. Goodwin went to that place yesterday and sat through a show."
"Yeah, I know about that."
"You didn't mention it."
"I hadn't come to it."
"Your reserves?" Wolfe smiled, as mean a smile as I had ever seen. "Well. You heard what I just told Miss Nieder. She came yesterday morning to consult me about her uncle."
"Yeah? What uncle?"
"Mr. Paul Nieder. He is dead. Miss Nieder inherited half of that business from him. Back files of newspapers will tell you that he committed suicide a little over a year ago by jumping into a geyser in Yellowstone Park. Miss Nieder told me about that and many other things--the present status of the business, her own position in it, the deaths of her uncle's former partner and his wife, and so on. I don't remember everything she said, and I don't intend to try. Anyhow it was a melange of facts which your men can easily collect elsewhere. The only thing I can furnish that might help you is the conclusion I formed. I concluded that Miss Nieder had herself pushed her uncle into the geyser, murdered him, and had become fearful throw of exposure, and had come to me with the fantastic notion here of having me get her out of it."
"Why you--" Cynthia was sputtering. "You--"
"Shut up," Wolfe snapped at her. He turned. "Archie. Wasn't that the impression you got?"
"Precisely," I declared.
Cynthia had done fine, I thought, by shutting up as instructed, but I would have risked a wink at her, or at least a helpful glance, if Cramer's eyes hadn't been so comprehensive.
"Thanks for the conclusion," Cramer growled. "Did tell you that? That she had killed her uncle?"
"Oh, no. No, indeed."
"Exactly what did she want you to do?"
Wolfe smiled the same smile. "That's why I came to that conclusion. She left it very vague about what I was to do. I couldn't possibly tell you."
"Try telling me what you told Goodwin to do when you sent him up there."
Wolfe frowned and called on me. "Do you remember, Archie?"
"Sure I remember." I was eager to help. "You told me to keep a sharp lookout and report everything that happened." I beamed at Cramer. "Talk about the dancers of Bali! Did you ever sit and watch six beautiful girls prancing-
"You're a goddamn liar," he rasped at Wolfe.
Wolfe's chin went up an eighth of an inch. "Mr. Cramer," he said coldly, "I'm tired of this. Mr. Goodwin can't throw you out of here once you're in, but we can leave you and go upstairs, and you know the limits of your license as well as I do."
He pushed back his chair and was on his feet. "You say I'm lying. Prove it. But for less provocation than you have given me by your uncivilized conduct in my dining room, I would lie all day and all night. Regarding this murder of a bearded stranger, where do I fit, or Mr. Goodwin? Pah. Connect us if you can! Should you be rash enough to constrain us as material witnesses, we would teach you something of the art of lying, and we wouldn't squeeze out on bail; we would dislocate your nose with a habeas corpus ad subjiciendum."
His eyes moved. "Come, Miss Nieder. Come, Archie."
He headed for the door to the hall, detouring around the red leather chair, and I followed him, gathering Cynthia by the elbow as I went by. I presumed we were bound for the plant rooms, which were three flights up, and as we entered the hall I was wondering whether all three of us could crowd into Wolfe's personal elevator without losing dignity. But that problem didn't have to be solved. I was opening my mouth to tell Wolfe that Cynthia and I would use the stairs when here came striding by. Without a glance at us or a word he went to the front door, opened it, crossed the sill to the stoop, and banged the door shut.
I stepped to the door and put the chain bolt in its slot. Any city employee arriving with papers would have only a two-inch crack to hand the papers through.
Wolfe led us back to the office, motioned us to our chairs, sat at his desk, and demanded of Cynthia, "Did you kill that man?"
She met his eyes and gulped. Then her head went down, her hands went up, her shoulders started to shake, and sounds began to come.
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That was terrible. The only thing that shakes Wolfe as profoundly as having a meal rudely interrupted is a bawling woman. His reaction to the first is rage, to the second panic.
I tried to reassure him. "She'll be all right. She just has to--"
"Stop her," he muttered desperately.
I crossed to her, yanked her hands away, using muscle, pulled her face up, and kissed her hard and good on the lips. She jerked her face aside, shoved at me, and pro-tested, "What the hell!"
That sounded better, and I turned to Wolfe and told him reproachfully, "You can't blame her. I doubt if it's fear or despair or anything normal like that. It's probably hunger. I'll bet she hasn't had a bite since breakfast."
"Good heavens." His eyes popped wide open. "Is that true, Miss Nieder? Haven't you had lunch?"
She shook her head. "They kept me there--and then I had to see you--"
Wolfe was pushing the button. Since it was only five steps from the office door to the kitchen door, in seconds Fritz was there.
"Sandwiches and beer at once," Wolfe told him. "Beer, Miss Nieder?"
"I don't have to eat."
"Nonsense. Beer? Claret? Milk? Brandy?"
"Scotch and water. I could use that."
Which of course halted progress for a good twenty minutes. It wasn't only his own meals that Wolfe insisted on safeguarding from extraneous matters. When Fritz brought the tray Cynthia wasn't reluctant about the Scotch, but she needed urging on the sandwiches and got it from both of us. After a taste of the homemade pate no further urging was required. To make her feel that she could take her time Wolfe conversed with me about the plant germination records. Not about Cramer. His feelings about Cramer were much too warm and too recent. When she was through I put the tray on the table by the big globe, leaving her a glass full of her mixture, and then resumed my seat at my desk.
Wolfe was regarding her warily. "Do you feel better?"
"Much better, yes. I guess I was pretty empty."
"Good." Wolfe leaned back and sighed. "Now. You came to me as soon as the police let you go. Does that mean that you want my help in this new circumstance?"`
"It certainly does. I want--"
"Excuse me. We'll go faster if I lead, and Mr. Cramer is quite capable of sending men here with warrants. Let's compress it. There are two points on which I must be satisfied before we can proceed. First, whether you killed that man. An attorney may properly work for a murderer, but I'm not an attorney, and anyway I don't like money from murderers. Did you kill him?"
"No. I want to--"
"Just the no will do if it's the truth. Is it?'-
"Yes. It's no."
"I'm inclined to accept it, for reasons mostly not communicable. Some are. For instance, if you had- been unable to eat that pate--" Wolfe cut himself off and sent his eyes at me. "Archie. Did Miss Nieder kill that man?"
I looked at her, my lips puckered, and her gaze met mine. I must admit that she looked pretty ragged, not at all the same person as the one who had modeled, just twenty-four hours before, a dancing dress of Swiss eyelet organdy with ruffled shoulders. She had sure been through something, but not necessarily a murder.
I shook my head and told Wolfe, "No, sir. No guarantee with sanctions, but I vote no. My reasons are like yours, but I might mention that I strongly doubt if I would have had the impulse to make her stop crying by kissing her thoroughly if she had jabbed a window pole into a man's face more than a dozen times. No."
Wolfe nodded. "Then that's settled. She didn't, unless we get cornered by facts, and in that case we'll deserve it. The other point, Miss Nieder, is this: Was the man you saw up there a week ago today your uncle, and was it he who was killed last night?"
A "yes" popped out of her. She added, " It was Uncle Paul. I saw him. I went--"
"Don't dash ahead. We'll get to that. Since I'm assuming your good faith, tentatively at least, I am not suggesting that what you told me yesterday was flummery. I grant that you thought it was your uncle you saw a week ago today, and I accepted it then, but now it's too flimsy for me. You'll have to give me something better if you've got it.
What was it that convinced you it was your uncle?"
"I knew it was," Cynthia declared. "Maybe if I tried I could tell you how I knew, but I don't have to because now I do know so I could prove it. I've been trying to tell you. You remember what I said about my uncle's private file--that I thought jean Daumery had taken it and that Bernard has it now. I went there last night to look for it, and saw that--that dead man there on the door. You can imagine--"
She stopped and made a gesture.
"Yes, I can imagine," Wolfe agreed. "Go ahead."
"I made myself go close to look at him--his face was dreadful but he had the beard and the slick hair. I wanted to do something but I didn't have nerve enough, and I had to sit down to pull myself together. Now they say I was in there fifteen minutes, but I wouldn't think it took me that long to get up my, nerve, but maybe it did, and then I went and pulled up the right leg of his trousers and pulled his sock down. He had two little scars about four inches above the ankle, and I knew those scars--that's where my uncle got bit by a dog once. I looked at them close. I had to sit down again--" She stopped, with her mouth open. "Oh! That's why it was fifteen minutes I had forgotten all about that, sitting down again--"
"Then you left? What did you do?"
"I went home to my apartment and phoned Mr. Demarest. I hadn't--"
"Who's Mr. Demarest?"
He's a lawyer. He was a friend of Uncle Paul's, and he's the executor. I hadn't told him about seeing my uncle last week because after all I had no proof, and I wanted to find my uncle and talk with him first, so I decided to you to find him for me. But when I got home I the only thing to do was to phone Mr. Demarest, so I did but he had gone out--"
"Confound it," Wolfe grumbled, "why didn't you phone me?"
'Well--" Cynthia looked harassed. "I didn't know you, did I? Well enough for that? How could I tell what you would believe and what you wouldn't?"
"Indeed," Wolfe said sarcastically. "So you decided to keep it from me, running the risk that I might glance at a newspaper. What is the lawyer doing? Reading up?"
She shook her head. "I didn't get him. I phoned again at eleven-thirty, thinking he would be home by then, but he wasn't, and the state I was in it didn't even occur to me to leave word for him to call. Intending to phone again at midnight, I lay down on the couch to wait, and then- it may be hard to believe but I went to sleep and didn't wake up until nearly seven o'clock. I thought it over and decided not to tell Mr. Demarest or anybody else. During a show season there are lots of people going up and in those elevators in that building after hours, and I thought they wouldn't remember about me, and my name wasn't in the book because they know me so well and they're not strict about it. That was dumb, wasn't it?"
Wolfe acquiesced with a restrained groan.
She finished the story. "Of course I had to go to work as if nothing had happened. It wasn't easy, but I did, and the place was full of people, police and detectives, when I got there. I had only been there a few minutes when they took me to a fitting room to ask questions, and like a fool I told them I hadn't been there last night when they already knew about it."
Cynthia fluttered a hand. "When they were through with me I phoned Mr. Demarest's office and he was out at lunch. So I came here."
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Wolfe heaved a sigh that filled his whole interior. "Well." He opened his eyes and half closed them again. "You said you want my help in this new circumstance. What do you want me to do? Keep you from being convicted of murder?"
"Convicted?" Cynthia goggled at him. "Of murdering my uncle?" Her chin hinges began to give. "I wouldn't--"
"Lay off," I growled at Wolfe, "unless you want to make me kiss her again. She's not a crybaby, but your direct approach is really something. Use synonyms."
"She's not hungry again, is she?" he demanded peevishly. But he eased it. "Miss Nieder. If you're on the defense and intend to stay there, get a lawyer. I'm no good for that. If you want your uncle's murderer caught, whoever it is, and doubt whether the police are up to it, get me. Which do you want, a lawyer or me?"
"I want you," she said, her chin okay.
Wolfe nodded in approval of her sound judgment. "Then we know what we're doing." He glanced at the wall clock. In twenty minutes I must go up to my orchids. I spend two hours with them every afternoon, from four to six. The most urgent question is this: Who knows that the murdered man was Paul Nieder? Who besides you?"
"Nobody," she declared.
"As far as you know, no one has said or done anything to indicate knowledge or suspicion of his identity?"
"No. They all say they never saw him before, and they have no idea how he got there or who he is. Of course--the way his face was--you wouldn't expect--"
"I suppose not. But we'll assume that whoever killed him knew who he was killing; we'd be donkeys if we didn't. Also we'll assume that he thinks no one else knows. That gives us an advantage. Are you sure you have given one a hint of your recognition of your uncle last week?"
"Yes, I'm positive. "
"Then we have that advantage too. But consider this: if that body is buried without official identification as your uncle, your possession of your inheritance may be further delayed. Also this: you cannot claim the body and give it appropriate burial. Also this: if the police are told who the murdered man was they may be able to do a better job."
"Would they believe--would they keep it secret until they caught him?"
"They might, but I doubt it. Possibly they would fancy the theory that you had killed him in order to hold onto half of that business, and if so your associates up there would be asked to confirm the identification. Certainly Mr. Demarest would be. That's one reason why I shall not tell the police. Another one is that I wouldn't tell Mr. Cramer anything whatever, after his behavior today. But you do as you please. Do you want to tell them?"
"Then don't. Now." Wolfe glanced at the clock. "Do you think you know who killed your uncle?" t Cynthia looked startled. "Why no, of course not!"
"You have no idea at all?"
"How many people work there?"
"Right now, about two hundred."
"Pfui." Wolfe scowled. "Can any of them get in after hours?"
"No, not unless they have a key--or are let in by someone who has a key. Up to the time of the press showing, even up to yesterday, the first buyers' show, there were people there every evening in the rush of getting the line ready, but most times there's no one there after hours. That's why I picked last night to go to look for that file."
"There was no one working there last night?"
"No, not a soul."
"Who has keys?"
"Let's see." She concentrated. "I have one. Bernard Daumery....Polly Zarella....Ward Roper. That's---oh no, Mr. Demarest has one. As my uncle's executor he is in legal control of the half-interest."
"Who opens up in the morning and locks up at night?"
"Polly Zarella. She has been doing that for years, since before I came there."
"So there are just five keys?"
"Yes, that's all."
"Pah. I can't depend on you. I myself know of two you haven't mentioned. Didn't your uncle have one? He probably let himself in with it last night. And didn't Jean Daumery have one?"
"I was telling about the ones that are there now," Cynthia said with a touch of indignation. "I suppose Uncle Paul had one, of course. I don't know about Jean Daumery's, but if he had it in his clothes that day fishing it's at the bottom of the ocean, and if he didn't have it I suppose Bernard has it now."
Wolfe nodded. "Then we know of four people with keys besides you. Miss Zarella, Mr. Daumery, Mr. Roper, Mr. Demarest. Can you have them here this evening at half-past eight?"
Cynthia gawked. "You mean--here?"
"At this office."
"But good lord." She was flabbergasted. "I can't just order them around! What can I say? I can't say I want them to help find out who killed my uncle because they don't know it was my uncle! You must consider they're much older than I am--all but Bernard--and they think I'm just a fresh kid. Even Bernard is seven years older. After all, I'm only twenty-one--that is, I will be--my God!"
She looked horror-struck, as if someone had poked a window pole at her.
"What now?" Wolfe demanded.
"Tomorrow's my birthday! I'll be twenty-one tomorrow!"
"Yes?" Wolfe said politely.
"Happy birthday!" she cried.
"Not this one," Wolfe stated.
"Look out," I warned him. "That's one of a girl's biggest dates." He pushed his chair back hastily, arose, and looked at me.
"Archie. I would like to see those people this evening. Six o'clock would do, but I prefer eight-thirty, after dinner. Go up there with Miss Nieder. She is under suspicion of murder, and has engaged me, and can reasonably expect their co-operation. She is in fact half-owner of that business, and one of them is her partner, one is her lawyer, and the other two are her employees. What better do you want?"
He made for the door, on his way to the elevator.
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One of my little notions--that I had already exchanged words with Bernard Daumery--turned out to be wrong. Evidently it is not a Seventh Avenue custom for half- owners to act as doortenders at buyers' shows. At least, contrary to m surmise it had not been Bernard Daumery who on Monday afternoon had barred Driscoll's Emporium and had given me a head-to-foot survey before letting me in. I never saw that number again.
Business as usual is one of the few things that the Police Department makes allowances for in handling a homicide. The wheels of commerce must not be stalled unless it is unavoidable. So at the Daumery and Nieder premises eight hours after the discovery of the body, a pug-nosed dick hovering inside near the entrance was the only visible hint that this was the scene of the crime. The city scientists had done all they could and got all that was gettable and had departed. As Cynthia and I entered, the dick recognized me and wanted to know how come, and I told him amiably that I was working for Nero Wolfe and Mr. Wolfe was working for Miss Nieder, pausing just long enough not to seem boorish. I wasn't worried about Cramer. He knew damn well that if he took drastic steps Wolfe would perform exactly as outlined, and that he had been a plain jackass not to wait until Wolfe had downed the other two rice cakes and had some coffee. If the case got really messy and made him desperate he might explode something, but not today or tomorrow.
Cynthia and I were sitting in Bernard Daumery's waiting for him to finish with some customers in the show-room. It had been his uncle Jean's room, and was large, light, and airy, with good rugs and furniture, and the walls even more covered with drawings and photographs than in the showroom. We had decided to start with Bernard.
"The trouble with him," Cynthia was telling me with a frown, "is that he can't bear to decide anything. Especially if it's something important, you might think he had to wait to see what the stars say or maybe a crystal ball. Then when he does make up his mind he's as stubborn as a mule. The way I do when I want him to agree about something, I act as if it wasn't very important--"
The door came open and a man was there. He shut the door and approached her.
"I'm sorry, Cynthia, it was Miss Dougherty of Bullock's-Wilshire, and Brackett was with her. She thinks you're better than ever, and she's lost her head completely over those three-Oh! Who-?"
"Mr. Goodwin of Nero Wolfe's office," Cynthia told him. "Mr. Daumery, Mr. Goodwin."
"Nero Wolfe the detective?" he asked.
I told him yes. His exuberance about Miss Dougherty of Bullock's-Wilshire evaporated without a trace. He sent Cynthia a look, shook his head, though not apparently at her, went to a chair, not the one at his desk, and sat. Cynthia's statistics had informed me that he was four years younger than me, and I might as well concede them to him. On account of the intimate way he had beamed at Cynthia on entering, naturally I looked upon him as a rival, but to be perfectly fair to him he was built like a man, he knew where to get clothes and how to wear them, and he was not actually ugly.
Now the exuberance was gone. "This godawful mess," he glummed. "Where does Nero Wolfe come in?"
"I went to see him," Cynthia said. "I've hired him.--"
"What for? To do what?"
"Well-I need somebody, don't I? After the way the police acted with me? When they know I came here last night and apparently no one else did?"
"But that's absolutely idiotic! Why shouldn't you come here?"
"All right, I should. But I think they came within an inch of interesting me."
"Then you need a lawyer. Where's Demarest? Did he send you to Nero Wolfe?"
Cynthia shook her head. "I haven't seen him, but I'm going to as soon as--"
"Damn it, you should have seen him first!"
"I'm not taking your time," Cynthia declared, "to ask you what I should have done. I'll tend to that, thank you. I want to ask you to do something."
I thought she was making a bad start and needed help. "May I join in?" I inquired pleasantly.
Bernard scowled at me. "This thing is absolutely crazy," he complained. "What we ought to do is ignore it!"
Yeah," I agreed, "that would be innocent and brave, but it might get complicated. If one of you gets charged with murder and locked up it would take a master ignorer--"
"Good God, why should we? How could we? Why would any of us kill a man we never saw or heard of before? The thing for the police to do is find out how he ever got in here--that's their problem."
"I completely agree," I assured him heartily. "The trouble is you've got a logical mind and some cops haven't. So the fact remains that one of you, especially one of you that has a key to this place, is apt to get arrested for murder, and right now the odds strongly favor Miss Nieder because they know she used her key last night. Getting convicted is something else, but she would rather not even be arrested right in the middle of the showings of the fall line. May I go on a minute?"
"We're busy as the devil," Bernard muttered.
"I'll be brief. Miss Nieder has hired Mr. Wolfe. She will consult her lawyer, Demarest, within the hour. But meanwhile--"
The door swung open and a man entered. He too shut the door behind him, half turning to close it gently, and then spoke as he advanced.
"Good afternoon, Cynthia. Good afternoon, Bernard. What on earth is going on here?" He saw me. "Who are you, sir, an officer of the law? So am I, in a way. My name is Demarest-Henry R. Demarest, Counselor." He was coming to me to shake on it, and I stood up and obliged.
"Goodwin, Archie," I said, "assistant to Nero Wolfe, private detective."
"Oho!" His brows went up. "Nero Wolfe, eh?" he turned to the others and I had his broad back and the pudgy behind of his neck. "What is all this? A dead man found on the premises and I have to learn it from a policeman asking me about my key? May I ask why I wasn't informed?"
"We were busy," Bernard said gruffly. "And not with business. The whole police force was here."
"I tried to phone you last night," Cynthia said, "but you weren't at home, and today you were out at lunch, and I have arranged with Nero Wolfe to keep me from being convicted of murder, and Mr. Goodwin came here with me. I was nearly arrested because I came here last night and stayed fifteen minutes."
` Demarest nodded. He had deposited his hat on Bernard's desk and his fanny on Bernard's chair the other side of the desk, which seemed a little arbitrary. He nodded again at Cynthia.
"I know. A friend at the District Attorney's office has given me the particulars. But my dear child, you should have called on me at once. I should have been beside you! You went to Nero Wolfe instead? Why?"
He irritated me. Also Cynthia sent me a glance which I interpreted to mean that hired help are supposed to earn their pay, so I horned in.
"Maybe I can answer that, Mr. Demarest. In fact that's what I was about to do when you entered. You know how it stands now, do you?"
"I know how it stood thirty minutes ago."
"Then you're up with us. I was explaining to Mr. Daumery that Miss Nieder would prefer not to be arrested. Primarily that's what sent her to Mr. Wolfe. I was going on to explain what she can expect of Mr. Wolfe. She Won't have to pay him for an all-out job. On a case like this that would mean checking on everybody who entered or left the building last evening after hours, which would be quite a chore itself, considering how careless elevator men get. Things like that are much better left to the police, and a lot of similar jobs, for instance the fingerprint roundup, the laboratory angles, checking alibis, and so on. Naturally the five people who have keys to this place are special cases. Their alibis will get it good, and they'll be tailed day and night, and all the rest of it. We'll let the city pay for all that, not Miss Nieder. That's what Mr. Wolfe won't do."
"It doesn't leave much, does it?" Demarest inquired.
"Enough to keep him occupied. Apparently you've heard of him, Mr. Demarest, so you probably know he goes about it his way. That's what he's doing now, and that's why I'm here. He sent me to arrange a little meeting at his office tonight. Miss Nieder, Miss Zarella, Mr. Daumery, Mr. Roper, and you, you are the five who have keys. Half-past eight would suit him fine if it would suit you. Refreshments served."
Bernard and Demarest made noises. The one from Bernard was an impatient grunt, but the one from Demarest sounded more like a chuckle.
"We're summoned," the lawyer said.
I grinned at him. "I wouldn't dream of putting it that way."
"No, but we are." He chuckled again. "We who have keys. I offer a comment. You said that Wolfe's primary function, as Miss Nieder sees it, is to prevent her arrest. -
"Okay?" I prodded him.
Obviously he intends to perform it by getting someone else arrested--and tried and convicted. That may prove to be a difficult and expensive undertaking, and possibly quite unnecessary. I would engage, with the situation as it is now, to get the same result with one-tenth the effort and at one-tenth the expense. It's only fair to her, isn't it, to give her that alternative? I don't know," he muttered "I'll think it over."
He turned. "It's your money, Cynthia. What about it? Do you want to pay Wolfe to do it his way?"
For a second I thought she was weakening. But she was only deciding how to put it.
"Yes, I do," she declared firmly. "I never had a detective working for me before, and if you can't hire a detective when you're suspected of murder when can you hire one?"
Demarest nodded. "I thought so," he said in a satisfied tone. "Just what I thought. Did you say eight-thirty, Goodwin?"
"That would be best. Mr. Wolfe works better when he isn't looking forward to a meal. You'll come?"
"Certainly I'll come. To save energy. I like to economize on energy, and it will take less to attend that meeting than it would to argue Miss Nieder out of it." He smiled at her. "My dear child! I want a private talk with you."
"Maybe it can wait a few minutes?" I suggested. "Until I finish arranging this? How about it, Mr. Daumery? You'll be with us?"
Bernard was sunk in gloom or something--anyhow, he was sunk. He was hunched in his chair, his eyes going from Cynthia to Demarest to me to Cynthia.
"Okay?" I prodded him.
"I don't know," he muttered. "I'll think it over."
Cynthia emitted a little snort.
Demarest regarded Bernard with exasperation. "As usual. You'll think it over. What is there to think about?"
"There's this business to think about," Bernard declared. "It's bad enough already, with a murdered man found here in the office. We would practically be admitting our connection with it, wouldn't we, the five of us going to discuss it with a detective?"
"I've hired the detective personally," Cynthia snapped.
"I know you have, Cynthia." His tone implied that he was imploring her to make allowances for the air spaces in his skull. "But damn it, we have to consider the business,
don't we? It may be inadvisable. I don't know."
"How long would you need to think?" I asked pleasantly.
"It's five o'clock now, so there isn't a lot of time. Say an hour and a half? By six-thirty?"
"I suppose so." He sounded uncertain. He looked around at us as if he were a woodchuck in a hole and we were terriers digging to get him. "I'll let you know. Where'll you be?"
"That depends," I replied for us. "There are two more to invite-Miss Zarella and Mr. Roper. It might help if you would get them in here. Would that require thinking over too?"
Demarest chuckled. Cynthia sent me a warning glance, to caution me against aggravating him.
Bernard retorted with spirit. "You do your thinking and I'll do mine." He got up and went to his desk. "Would you mind using another chair, Mr. Demarest?"
Demarest moved out. Bernard sat down and picked up the phone transmitter, and told it, "Please ask Mr. Roper and Miss Zarella to come in here."
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They entered together.
I had seen Polly Zarella before. It was she who, the preceding afternoon, had emerged from the door on the left and given the signal that started the show. She still resembled my mother only in point of age. Her lipstick supply was holding out, and so was her shoulder padding, though she had on a different dress. Seeing her on the street, I would have tagged her for a totally different role from the one she filled--Cynthia having informed me that she was a scissors-and-needle wizard, in charge of all Daumery and Nieder production, and a highly important person.
After I had been introduced Bernard invited them to sit. Then he said, "I'm sorry to take your time, but this day is all shot to hell anyhow. Mr. Goodwin wants to ask you something."
They aimed their eyes at me. I grinned at them engagingly.
"You're busy and I'll cut it short. More trouble and all on account of a dead man. The cops are making it hot for Miss Nieder because she was here last night and said she wasn't when they first brought it up. Now she's in a fix, and she has hired my boss, Nero Wolfe, to get her out. Mr. Wolfe would like to have a talk with five people, the five who carry keys to this place--the five who are here now. He sent me to ask if you will come to his office this evening at half-past eight. Miss Nieder will of course be there. Mr. Demarest is coming. Mr. Daumery is thinking it over and will let us know later. It will be in the interest of justice, it will help to clear up this muddle and let you get back to work, and it will be a favor to Miss Neider. Will you come?"
"No," Polly Zarella said emphatically.
"No?" I inquired courteously.
"No," she repeated. "I losed much time today. I will be here all evening with cutters cutting."
"This is pretty important, Miss Zarella."
I do not think so. She said zank. He was here, he is gone, and we forget it. I told that to the policemen and I tell it to you. Miss Nieder is not dangered. If she was dangered I would fight it off with these hands"-she lifted them as claws- "because she is the best designer in America or Europe or the world. But she is not. No."
She got up and started for the door. Cynthia, darting to her feet, intercepted her and caught her by the arm.
"I think you ought to wait," I said. "for Mr. Roper's vote. Mr. Roper?"
Ward Roper cleared his throat. "It doesn't seem to me," he offered, in the sort of greasy voice that makes me want to take up strangling, "that this is exactly the proper step to take, under the circumstances."
Seeing that Polly's exit was halted, I was looking at Roper. Getting along toward fifty, by no means too old to strangle, he was slender, elegant, and groomed to a queen's taste if you let him pick the queen. His voice fitted him to a T.
What's wrong with it?" I asked him. He cocked his head to one side to contemplate me. "l--most everything, I would say. I understand and sympathize with Mr. Daumery's desire to think it over. It assumes that we, the five of us, are involved in this matter, which is ridiculous. One may indeed be involved, deeply involved, but not the other four. Not the rest of us."
"What the hell are you getting at?" Bernard demanded with heat.
"Nothing, Bernard. Nothing specific. Just a comment expressing my reaction."
Plainly it was no time for diplomacy. I arose and stepped to a spot nearer Cynthia, where I could face them all without neck-twisting.
"This is a joke," I declared offensively, "and if you ask me, a rotten one." I focused on Bernard. "Have you got around to your thinking, Mr. Daumery? Made up your mind?"
"Certainly not!" He resented it. "Who do you think you are?"
"Just at present I'm Miss Nieder's hired man." My eyes went around. "You're acting, all but Demarest, like a bunch of halfwits! Who do I think I am? Who do you think Miss Nieder is, some little girl asking you to please be nice and help her out? You damn fools, she owns half of this outfit!" I looked at Bernard. "Who are you? You're her business partner, fifty-fifty, and what couldn't she do to you if she felt like it! So you say you'll think it over!"
Nuts!" I looked at Polly and Roper. "And what are you? You're her employees, her hired help. She owns half of this firm that you work for. And through me she makes, a sensible and reasonable request, and listen to you! As for you, Roper, I hear that you're a good imitator and adapter. I understand that you, Miss Zarella, are as good as they come at producing the goods. But you're not indispensable--neither or both of you. In this affair Mr. Wolfe and I are acting for Miss Nieder. Speaking as her representative I hereby instruct you to report at the office of Nero Wolfe, Nine-twenty-four West Thirty-fifth Street, at half-past eight this evening."
I wheeled and got Cynthia's eye. You confirm that, Miss Nieder?"
Her yes was creaky. There was a tadpole in her throat, and she got rid of it and repeated, "Yes. I confirm it."
"Good for you." I turned. "You'll be there, Miss Zanella?"
Polly was staring at me with what seemed to be wide-:eyed admiration, but I could be wrong. "But certainly," she said, fully as emphatically as she had previously said no. "If it is so exciting as you make it I will be there with bells on."
"Fine. You, Mr. Roper?"
Roper was chewing his lip. No doubt it was hard for a man of his eminence to swallow a threat of being fired.
"The way you put it," he told me, with a strong suggestion of a tremble in his greasy voice, "I hardly know what to say. It is true, of course, that at some future time Miss Nieder will probably own a half-interest in this business in the success of which I have had some part for the past fourteen years. That is, she will if she is--available."
"What do you mean, available?"
"Isn't it obvious?" He spread out his hands. "Of course your job is to get her out of it, so you can't be expected to take an objective attitude. But the police are usually right about these things, and you know what they think." The grease suddenly got acutely bitter. "So I merely ask, what if she's not available? As for your--"
What stopped him was movement by Bernard. Cynthia's partner had left his chair and taken four healthy strides to the one occupied by Roper. Roper, startled, got erect in a hurry, nearly knocking his chair over.
"I warned you last night, Ward," Bernard said as if he meant it. "I told you to watch your nasty tongue." His hands were fists. "Apologize to Cynthia, and do it quick."
"Apologize? But what did I--"
Bernard slapped him hard. I couldn't help approving of my rival's good taste in making it a slap, certainly better than my strangling idea, and to spend a solid punch on him would have been flattering him. The first slap teetered Roper's head to the left, and a second one, harder if any- thing, sent it the other way.
A thought struck me. "Don't fire him" I called. "Miss Nieder doesn't want him fired! She wants him there tonight!"
"He'll be there," Bernard said grimly, without turning. He had backed up a step to glare at Roper. "You'll be here, Ward, understand?" That sounded swell, so I crowded my luck. "You will too, Mr. Daumery, won't you?"
"What the hell, it was a cinch, with him ordering Roper to come. But he turned around to tell me, "I'll decide later. I'll let you know. I'll phone you. Your number's in the book?" Demarest chuckled.
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I like to keep word and having the spur of the moment promised refreshments, they were there. On the table near the big globe were tree-ripened olives, mahallebi, three bowls of nuts, and a comprehensive array of liquids ranging from Wolfe's best brandy down to beer. Each of the guests had a little table at his elbow. At a quarter to nine, when the last arrival had been ushered in, Bernard Daumery and Ward Roper had nothing on their tables but their napkins, Cynthia had Scotch and water, Demarest a Tom Collies, and Polly Zarella a glass and a bottle of Tokaji Essencia. Bernard had phoned around seven o'clock that we could expect him.
If the cops were tailing all of them, as they almost certainly were, I thought there must be quite a convention outside on 35th Street.
I had completed, before dinner, an extra fancy job of reporting. Wolfe had wanted all the details of my party- arranging mission at Daumery and Nieder's, both the libretto and the full score, and I had to get it all in and leave time for questions before Fritz announced dinner, knowing as I did that if we were late to the table and had to o hurry Wolfe would be in a bad humor all evening. In my opinion there would be plenty of bad humor to go around without Wolfe contributing a share, which was another reason for keeping my promise on the refreshments.
Since the staging had been left to me I had placed Cynthia in the red leather chair because I liked her there. Polly Zaxella had insisted on having the chair nearest to which might have been just her maternal instinct. On her right was Demarest, and then Roper and Bernard. That seemed a good arrangement, since if Bernard took his head to do some more slapping he wouldn't have far to go.
"Thank you for coming," Wolfe said formally.
"We had to, Demarest stated. "Your man Goodwin dragooned us.
"Not you, I understand, Mr. Demarest."
"Oh yes, me too. Only I saw the compulsion a little ahead of the others.
Wolfe shrugged. Anyway, you're here." His eyes swept the arc. I believe that Mr. Goodwin has explained to you that, guided by inclination and temperament and compelled by circumstances, my field of investigation in a case like this is severely limited. Fingerprints, documentation, mute and exhaustive inquiry, having people followed around--those are not for me. If this murderer can be identified and exposed by such activities as a thorough examination of all entrances and exits of people at that building last evening, which is possible, but by no means assured. The police will do the job. They're fairly good at it. I haven't the patience. But I think we might start by clearing up one point: how you spent your time last evening from eight o'clock to midnight. I take it you have told the police so I hope you will have no objection to telling me in my capacity as Miss Nieder's servant."
Wolfe's eyes fastened on Demarest. "Will you begin, sir?"
The lawyer was smiling. "If your man had asked that question this afternoon it might have simplified matters. I didn't mention it because I saw Miss Nieder wanted us here."
"It's been mentioned now."
"And now I'll simplify it. You want it all, of course. Yesterday afternoon there was a showing of the Daumery and Nieder fall line to buyers. You know about that, since your man was there. It brought a situation to a climax. For two years now--it began even before Paul Nieder's death--Mr. Roper here has been getting increasingly jealous of Miss Nieder's talent as a creative designer. The reactions to this new line have made it evident that she is vastly superior to him--entirely out of his class. Miss Nieder's talent as a creative designer at the buyers' show yesterday enraged him. He wanted to quit. Daumery and Nieder still need him and can use him; his services are valuable within the limits of his abilities. It was desirable to calm him down. Mr. Daumery thought it proper to inform me of the matter and ask my help, since I legally represent a half-share in the firm. Last evening, Tuesday, Mr. Daumery, Miss Zarella, and Mr. Roper dined with me in a restaurant and then we all went to Mr. Daumery's apartment to continue our discussion. Mr. Roper wanted a new contract. My wife was with us. We were together continuously, all five of us, from half-past seven to well after midnight.
Demarest smiled. "It does simplify things, doesn't it?"
It simplified me all right. The best my head could do was let in a wild idea about the four of them taking turn with the window pole, presumably with Mrs. Demarest along to keep count of the jabs. That little speech by that wit lawyer was one of the few things that made me let my mouth hang open in public.
"It does indeed," Wolfe agreed without a quiver. His eyes moved. "You verify that, Mr. Daumery? All of it as told?"
"I do," Bernard said.
"Do you, Miss Zarella?"
"Do you, Mr. Roper?"
"I do not, Roper declared, his grease oozing bitterness. "To say that Miss Nieder is vastly my superior is absolutely absurd. I have in my possession three books of clippings from Women's Wear Daily, Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, Glamour--"
"No doubt, Wolfe conceded. "We'll allow your exception to that part. Do you verify Mr. Demarest's account of what happened last evening?"
"No. There wasn't the slightest necessity of, calming me down,' as he put it. I merely wanted--"
"Confound it, were you four people together, with Mrs. Demarest, from seven-thirty till after midnight?"
"Yes, we were."
Wolfe grunted. In a moment he grunted again and turned to me.
"Archie. Miss Nieder's glass is empty. So is Mr. Demarest's. See to it, please."
He leaned back, shut his eyes, and began making little circles on the arm of his chair with the tip of his forefinger. He was flummoxed good, his nose pushed right in level with his face.
I performed as host. Since Demarest's requirement was another Tom Collies it took a little time, but Polly Zarella took none at all since she had shown herself capable of pouring the Tokay herself. Apparently the statement about Cynthia's superiority, out loud for people to hear, had made Roper thirsty, for this time he accepted my offer and chose B & B. In between, glances at Wolfe showed that he was working, and working hard, for his lips were pushing out and then pulling in, out and in, out and in....
I finished the replenishing and resumed my seat.
Wolfe half opened his eyes.
"So," he said conversationally, as if he were merely starting a new paragraph with the continuity intact, "naturally the police are specially interested in Miss Nieder, since she alone, of those who have keys, is vulnerable. By the way, Mr. Daumery, how did it happen that Miss Nieder wasn't invited to that conference? Isn't she a half-owner?"
"I represented her interest," Demarest stated.
"But before long she'll probably be representing herself. Shouldn't she be consulted on important matters?"
Bernard spoke. "Damn it, isn't it obvious? If she had been there we couldn't have handled Roper at all. He can't bear the sight of her:'
"I deny--" Roper began, but Wolfe cut him off. "Even so, isn't it true that Miss Nieder has been deliberately and consistently ignored in the management of the business?"
"Yes," Polly said, nodding emphatically. The three men said no simultaneously, and all were going on to elaborate, but again Wolfe took it away.
"This will finish sooner if you let me dominate it. I am not implying that Miss Nieder is unappreciated. You all admit her designing talent, all but Mr. Roper, and just this afternoon one of you was quick and eager to resent an aspersion on her. I mean, Mr. Daumery, your assaulting Mr. Roper only because he hinted that Miss Nieder might have killed a man. Your business needs him, and surely you were risking losing him. You leaped hot-headed to Miss Nieder's defense. It isn't easy to reconcile that with your reluctance to come here this evening at her request."
"I wasn't reluctant. I had to think it over, that's all."
"You often have to think things over, don't you?" Bernard resented it. "What's it to you if I do?"
"It's a great deal to me," Wolfe, declared. "I have engaged to prevent Miss Nieder's arrest for murder, and I suspect that your habit of thinking things over is going to show me how to do it, and I intend to learn if I'm right."
His gaze shifted. "Mr. Demarest. How long have you known Mr. Daumery?"
"Six years. Ever since he graduated from college and started to work in his uncle's business."
"You've known him intimately?"
"Yes and no. I was an intimate friend of Paul Nieder, the partner of Bernard's uncle."
"Please give me a considered answer to this : has he always had to think things over? Have you noticed any change in him in that respect, at any time?" .
Demarest smiled. "I don't have to consider it. He was always a very decisive young man, even aggressive, until he became the active head of the business after his uncle's death some six weeks ago. But that was only natural, wasn't it? A man of his age suddenly taking on so great a responsibility? Our business affairs?"
"Perhaps. Miss Zarella, do you agree with what Mr. Demarest has said?"
"Oh, yes!" Polly was emphatic as usual. "Bernard has been so different."
"And do you, Miss Nieder?"
Cynthia was frowning. "Well, I suppose people might have got that impression--"
"Nonsense " Wolfe bit her off. "You're hedging. Mr. Daumery was ardent in resenting a suspicion that you had committed a murder, but you don't have to reciprocate or him. His alibi is impregnable. Was there a change in Mr. Daumery, as stated, about six weeks ago?"
"Yes, there was, but Mr. Demarest has explained why."
"He thinks he has. Now we're getting somewhere."
Wolfe's eyes darted at Bernard. "Mr. Daumery, I wish to ask you some questions as Miss Nieder's agent. They may strike you as irrelevant or even impertinent, but if they are not actually offensive will you answer them?"
Bernard had the look of a man who suspects that some- one is sneaking up behind him but for reasons of his own doesn't want to turn and see. "I probably will," he said.
"Thank you," Wolfe said graciously. "Are your parents alive?"
"Where are they?" Los Angeles. My father is a professor in the university there."
"Is either of them conversant with your business affairs?"
"Not especially. In a vague general way:'
Have you brothers or sisters?"
"Two younger sisters. In college."
"Have you any other relatives that you see or with frequently?"
Bernard looked at Cynthia. "Do you want me to go on with this autobiography?"
"She has no opinion in the matter," Wolfe said curtly, because she doesn't know what I m after. You may or may not have guessed. But can you object that my questions are offensive?"
"No, they're only silly."
"Then humor me--or humor Miss Nieder through me. Any other relatives that you see or correspond with frequently?
"I'm about through. I won't name any names, because the only ones I know are already eliminated. For help in making important decisions, manifestly it is not Mr. Demarest you turn to, since he has had to rationalize the change he has noticed in you. Nor Miss Zarella nor Mr. Roper, since their attitude toward Mr. Goodwin's invitation to come here this evening had no effect on yours. I'll have to put it in general terms: is there a banker, or lawyer, or friend, or any other person or persons, on whose judgment you frequently rely for guidance in your business? Anyone at all?"
"No special person. I discuss things with people, naturally--including Mr. Demarest "
"Ha! Not Mr. Demarest. He has noticed a change in you. This is your last chance, Mr. Daumery, to drag somebody in."
"I don't have to drag anybody in. I'm of sound mind and body and over twenty-one."
"I know you are, and of a decisive and aggressive temperament, and that's why I'm making progress." Wolfe wiggled a finger at him. "One last question. Yesterday Miss Nieder suggested, frivolously I thought, that you might find counsel in the stars or a crystal ball. Do you?"
Bernard croaked at Cynthia, "Where the hell did you get that idea?"
"I said she was being frivolous," Wolfe told him. "Do you? Or tea leaves or a fortune-teller?"
Wolfe nodded. "That's all, Mr. Daumery. Thank you again. That satisfies me.
He took them all in. You have a right to know, I think, who it was that was killed in the Daumery and Nieder office last evening. It was Mr. Paul Nieder, the former partner in the business."
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Everybody stared at him. If I had had a pin handy I would have tried dropping it.
"What did you say?" Demarest demanded.
"By my mother's milk," Polly Zarella cried, springing to her feet, "it was! It was Paul! When they made me--look at him I saw he had Paul's hands, Paul's wonderful artist artist hands, only I knew it couldn't be!" At Wolfe's desk, glaring at him ferociously, she drummed on the desk with her fists. "How?" she demanded. "Tell me how!"
I had to get up and help out or she might have climbed over the desk and drummed on Wolfe's belly, which would have stopped the party. The others were reacting too, but not as spectacularly as Polly. My firmness in getting her back in her chair had a quieting effect on them too, and Wolfe's words could come through.
"You'll want to know all about it, of course, and eventually you will, but right now I have a job to do. Since, as I say, Mr. Nieder was killed last night, it follows that he didn't kill himself over a year ago. He only pretended to. A week ago today Miss Nieder saw him in your show room, disguised with a beard and glasses and slick parted hair. She recognized him, but he departed before she could speak to him. When she entered that office last evening respect the body was there on the floor, and she confirmed the identification by recognizing scars on his leg. Further particulars must wait. The point is that this time he was killed indeed, and I think I know who killed him."
His eyes went straight at Bernard.
"Where is he, Mr. Daumery?" Bernard was not himself. He was trying hard to be but time couldn't make it. He was meeting Wolfe's hard gaze with a fascinated stare, as if he were entering the last stage awful of being hypnotized.
"Where is he?" Wolfe insisted.
The best Bernard could do was a "Who?" that didn't sound like him at all.
Wolfe slowly shook his head. "I'm not putting anything on," he said dryly. "When Mr. Goodwin told me what happened this afternoon this possibility occurred to me, along with many others, but up to half an hour ago, when I got my head battered in by being told that you four people spent last evening together, I had no idea of where my target was. Then, after a little consideration, I decided to explore, and now I know. Your face tells me. Don't reproach yourself. The attack was unexpected and swift and everything was against you."
Wolfe extended a hand with the palm up. "Even if I didn't know, but still only guessed, that would be enough. I would merely give it to the police as a suspicion deserving inquiry, and with their trained noses and their ten thousand men how long do you think it would take them to find him? Another fact that may weigh with you: he is a murderer. Even so, you are a free agent in every way but one; you will not be permitted to leave this room until either you have told me where he is or I have given the police time to start on his trail and cover my door."
Demarest chuckled. "Unlawful restraint with witnesses," he commented.
Wolfe ignored it and gave the screw another turn on Bernard. "Where is he, Mr. Daumery? You can't take to think it over, to consult him on this one. Where is he?"
"This is awful," Bernard said hoarsely. "This is an awful thing."
"He can't do this!" came suddenly from the red leather. Cynthia's concentrated gaze at Bernard was full of kind and degree of sympathy that I had hoped never to see her spend on a rival. "He can't threaten you and keep you here! It's unlawful!" Her head jerked to Wolfe and she snapped at him, "You stop it now!"
"It's too late, my dear child," Demarest told her. "You hired him--and I must admit you're getting your money's worth." His head turned. "You'd better tell him, Bernard. It may be hard, but the other way's harder."
"Where is he, Mr. Daumery?" Wolfe repeated.
Bernard's chin lifted a little. "If you're right," he said, still hoarse, "and God knows I hope you're not, it's up to him. The address is Eight-sixteen East Ninetieth Street. I want to phone him."
"No," Wolfe said curtly. "You will be unlawfully restrained if you try. What is it, an apartment building?"
"The tenth. Apartment Ten C. I rented it for him."
"Is he there now?"
"Yes. I was to phone him there when I left here. I said I would go to see him, but he said I might be followed and I had better phone from a booth."
"What is the name?"
"Dickson. George Dickson."
"That's his name?"
"Thank you. Satisfactory. Archie."
"Give Fritz a revolver and send him in. I don't know how some of these minds might work. Then get Mr. Dickson and bring him here. Eight-one-six East--"
"Yeah, I heard it.-
"Don't alarm him any more than you have to. Don't tell him we know who got killed last night. I don't want you killed, and I don't want a suicide."
"Don't worry," Demarest volunteered, "about him. committing suicide. What I'm wondering is how you expect to prove anything about a murder. You've admitted that half an hour ago you didn't even know he existed. He's tough and he's anything but a fool."
I was at a drawer of my desk, getting out two guns and loading them--one for Fritz and one for me. So I was still there to hear Ward Roper's contribution.
"That explains it," Roper said, the bitterness all gone, 'replaced by a tone of pleased discovery. "If Paul was alive up to last night, he designed those things himself and got them to us through Cynthia! Certainly! That explains it!"
I didn't stay for the slapping, if any.
"There's no hurry," Wolfe told me as I was leaving.
"I have things to do before you get back."
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For transportation I had my pick of the new Cadillac, the subway, or a taxi. It might not be convenient to have my hands occupied with a steering wheel, and escorting a murderer on a subway without handcuffs is a damn nuisance, so I chose the taxi. The driver of the one I flagged on Tenth Avenue had satisfactory reactions to my license card and my discreet outline of the situation, and I elected him.
Eight-sixteen East Ninetieth Street was neither a dump nor a castle of luxury--just one of the big clean hives. Leaving the taxi waiting at the curb, I entered, walked across the lobby as if I were in my own home, entered the elevator, and mumbled casually, "Ten, please."
The man moved no muscle but his jaw. "Who do you want to see?"
"I'll have to phone up. What's your name?"
"Tell him it's a message from Mr. Bernard Daumery."'
The man moved. I followed him out of the elevator and around a corner to the switchboard, and watched him plug in and flip a switch. In a moment he was speaking into the transmitter, and in another moment he turned to me.
"He says for me to bring the message up."
"Tell him my name is Goodwin and I was told to give it to him personally."
Apparently Dickson didn't have to think things over. At least there was no extended discussion. The man pulled out the plug, told me to come ahead, and led me back to the elevator. He took me to the tenth floor and thumbed me to the left, and I went to the end of the hall, to the door marked 10C. The door was ajar, to a crack big enough to stick a peanut in, and as my finger was aiming for the pushbutton a voice came through.
"You have a message from Mr. Daumery?"
"Yes, sir, for George Dickson."
"I'm Dickson. Hand it through to me."
"I can't. It's verbal."
"Then say it. What is it?"
"I'll have to see you first. You were described to me. Mr. Daumery is in a little trouble."
For a couple of seconds nothing happened, then the door opened wide enough to admit ten bags of peanuts abreast. Since he had certainly had his hoof placed to keep it from opening, I evened up by promptly placing mine to keep it from shutting. The light was nothing wonderful, but good enough to see that he was a husky middle-aged specimen with a wide mouth, dark-colored deep-set eyes, and a full share of chin.
"What kind of trouble?" he snapped.
"He'll have to tell you about it," I said apologetically. "I'm just a messenger. All I can tell you is that I was instructed to ask you to come to him."
"Why didn't he phone me?"
"A phone isn't available to him right now."
"Where is he?"
"At Nero Wolfe's office on West Thirty-fifth Street."
"Who else is there?"
"Several people. Mr. Wolfe, of course, and men named Demarest and Roper, and women named Zarella and Nieder -- that's all."
The dark eyes had got darker. "I think you're lying. I don't think Mr. Daumery sent for me at all. I think this is a put-up job and you can get out of here and stay out."
"Okay, brother." I kept the foot in place. "Where did I get your name and address, from a mailing list? You know Mr. Daumery was at Nero Wolfe's, since he phoned you round seven o'clock to ask your advice about going, and he told you who else was invited, so what's wrong with that? Why do you think he can't use a phone, because he don't speak English? Even if it were a put-up job as you say, I don't quite see what you can do except to come along and unput it, unless you'd rather do it here. They've got the impression that your help is badly needed. My understanding was that if I didn't get there with you by eleven o'clock they would all pile into a taxi, including Mr. Daumery, and come here to see you. So if you turn me down all I can do is push on inside and wait with you till they arrive. If you try to bounce me, we'll see. If you call on that skinny elevator pilot for help, we'll still see. If you summon cops, I'll try my hardest to wiggle out of it by explaining the situation to them. That seems to cover it, don't you think? I've got a taxi waiting out front."
From the look in his eye I thought it likely that he was destined to take a poke at me, or even make a dash for some tool, say a window pole, to work with. There was certainly no part of me he liked. But, as Demarest had said, he was anything but a fool. Most men would have needed a good ten minutes alone in a quiet corner to get the right answer to the problem this bird suddenly found himself confronted with. Not Mr. Dickson. It took him a scant thirty seconds, during which he stood with his eyes on me but his brain doing hurdles, high jumps, and fancy dives.
He wheeled and opened a door, got a hat from a shelf and put it on, emerged to the hall as I backed out, pulled he door shut, marched to the elevator, and pushed the button.
By the time we had descended to the sidewalk, climbed into the taxi, been driven to Wolfe's address, mounted the stoop and entered, and proceeded to the office, he had not uttered another word. Neither had I. I am not the kind that shoves in where he isn't wanted.
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We were back again to the headline we had started with: MAN ALIVE. This time, however, I did not regard it as a letdown. I took it for granted that by the time I got back everyone there would know who was coming with me even if one or two of them hadn't caught on before I left. I thought it would be interesting to see how they would welcome, under those difficult circumstances, their former employer and associate on his return from a watery grave, but he took charge of the script himself as he entered the office. He strode across to face Bernard and glare down at him. Bernard scrambled to his feet.
Dickson asked, his tone cold and biting, "What the hell's the matter with you? Can't you handle anything at all?"
"Not this I can't," Bernard said, and he was by no means whimpering. "This man Wolfe is one for you to handle, and I only hope to God you can!"
Without moving his shoulders, Dickson pivoted his head to take them in. "Well, I'm back," he announced. "I would have been back soon anyway, but this bright nephew of mine has hurried it up a little. Ward, you're looking like a window display in a fire sale. Still putting up with them, Polly? Now you'll have to put up with me again. Cynthia, I hear you're on the way to lead the whole pack." His head pivoted some more. "Where's Henry? I thought he was here."
I was asking that question myself. Neither Wolfe nor Demarest was in sight. I had turned to ask Fritz where they were, but he had left the room as soon as I appeared. And not only were those two missing, but what was fully as surprising, there had been two additions to the party. Inspector Cramer and my favorite sergeant, Purley Stebbins, were seated side by side on the couch over in the far comer.
I dodged my way through the welcomers, some sitting and some standing, and asked Cramer respectfully, "Where's Mr. Wolfe?"
"Somewhere with a lawyer," Cramer growled, "making up charades. Who's that you brought in?"
"George Dickson, so I'm told. I suppose Mr. Wolfe phoned you to come and get a murderer?"
"Your face is dirty, Purley."
"Go to hell."
"I was just starting. Excuse me."
I began to dodge my way back to the hall door, thinking that I had better find my employer and inform him that I had delivered as usual, but I was only halfway there when he and Demarest appeared, coming in to us. After one swift glance at the assembly, the lawyer sidled off along the wall to a remote chair over by the bookshelves, evidently not being in a welcoming mood. Wolfe headed for his desk, but in the middle of the room found himself blocked. George Dickson was there, facing him.
"Nero Wolfe?" Dickson put out a hand. "I'm Jean Daumery. This is a real pleasure!"
Wolfe stood motionless. The room was suddenly quiet, painfully quiet, and all eyes were going in one direction, at the two men.
"How do you do, Mr. Daumery, Wolfe said dryly, stepped around him, and walked to his chair. Except for the sound of that movement the quiet held. Jean Daumery let his hand fall, which is about all you can do with a rejected hand unless you want to double it into a fist and use it another way. After solving the hand problem, Jean turned a half-circle to face Wolfe's desk and spoke in a different tone.
"I was told that my nephew sent for me. He didn't. You got me here by a trick. What do you want?"
"Sit down, sir," Wolfe said. "This may take all night."
"Not all of my night. What do you want?"
"Sit down and I'll tell you. I want to present some facts, offer my explanation of them, and get your opinion. There's a chair there beside your nephew." To a man trying to grab the offensive and hold it, it's a comedown to accept an invitation to be seated. But the alternative, to go on standing in a room full of sitters, is just as awkward, unless you intend to walk out soon, and Jean couldn't know what he intended until he learned what he was up against. He took the chair next to Bernard.
"What facts?" he asked.
"I said," Wolfe told him, "that this may take all night, but that doesn't mean that I want it to. I'll make it as short as possible." He reached to his breast pocket and pulled out folded sheets of paper. "Instead of telling you what this says I'll read it to you." He glanced around. "I suppose you all know, or most of you, that tomorrow will be Miss Nieder's twenty-first birthday."
"Oh yes!" Polly Zarella said emphatically.
Wolfe glared at her. He couldn't stand emphatic women. "I persuaded Mr. Demarest," he said, "to anticipate the delivery date of this paper by a few hours. It was intended, as you will see, only for Miss Nieder, but, as Mr. Cramer would tell you if you asked him, evidence in a case of murder has no respect for confidences."
He unfolded the paper. "This," he said, "is a holograph. It is written on two sheets of plain bond paper, and is dated at the top Yellowstone Park, May sixteenth, Nineteen forty-six. It starts, `My dearest Cynthia,' and goes on: "I'll send this to Henry, sealed, and tell him not to open it and to give it to you on your twenty-first birthday. That will be June eleventh next year. How I would love to be with you that day! Well, perhaps I will. If I'm not, I think by that time you will know your way around enough to decide for yourself how to look at this. You ought to know about it, but I don't want you to right now."
Wolfe looked up. "This is not paragraphed. Evidently Mr. Nieder didn't believe in paragraphs." He returned to the paper:
"You are going to get the news that I have killed myself and a farewell note from me. I know that will affect you, because we are fond of each other in spite of all our differences, but it won't break your heart. I'm not going to kill myself. I hope and expect to be with you again and with the work I love. I'm writing this to explain what I'm doing. I think you know that I loved Helen. You didn't like her, and that's one thing I have against you, because she gave me the only warm happiness I have ever known outside of my work. She understood what I -- but I don't want to make this too long. I only want you to know what happened. Jean found out about us and killed her. Just how he did it I don't know, but out alone with her on the horses it would have been easy for a man like him, with his will power and cleverness. He intended to kill me too, and he still intends to, and as you know, Jean always does everything he intends to do. That's why I wouldn't leave the apartment those three days and nights, and that's why I came away. I don't suppose I am very brave, at least not physically brave, and of course you know that Jean has always overwhelmed me. I was in complete terror of him after he killed Helen, and I still am. He will not forget and he will never leave anything undone. I'm surprised that he hasn't followed me out here, and perhaps he has, but he loves his part of that business nearly as much as I love mine, and the fall line is being assembled, and I think he'll wait until I get back. I tore myself away only to save my life. Only I'm not coming back, not now. When he gets the news he'll think I'm dead. I can't stay away forever, I know that. I'll see what happens. He might die himself. People do die. But I'm trying to study what I know of his character. I know him pretty well. I think it is possible that if he thinks of me as dead for a long time, perhaps two or three years or even only one year, and then I suddenly return to join him in that business again and do for it what no one else can do, his mind may work in such a way that he will not feel he has to carry out his intention of killing me. That's one of the possibilities. Anyhow I'll see what happens. I know I can't stay away forever. It may be that somehow I'll be back with you and my work before your twenty-first birthday comes, and if so I'll get this from Henry and you will never see it. But I'll send it to him because if I never do get back I want you to know the truth of this. I'm going to tell you in my farewell note that I am depending on you to keep that business at the top because you have a fine talent, a very fine talent that I'm proud of, and that will be the only part of my farewell note that will not be a fake. I mean every word of that. I am very fond of you and proud of you. Your Uncle Paul."
Wolfe folded the sheets and returned them to his pocket, and looked up.
"It is a capital U in Uncle," he announced.
Polly Zarella and Cynthia both had tears in their eyes.; Polly jumped to her feet, brushing the tears away without bothering about a handkerchief, and faced Jean Daumery with her eyes blazing. "I quit!" she shrieked. "I give you two weeks notice before people! You said I'll have to put up with you but I won't! There will be a new business, Zarella and Nieder, and Cynthia and I will show again. You and Ward Roper to compete with us? Phut!"
Her spitting at him seemed to be unintentional, merely coming out with the phut.
"Confound it, madam, sit down," Wolfe grumbled.
Polly darted to Cynthia and was apparently going to begin arrangements for the new partnership then and there, but the sound of Jean Daumery's voice sidetracked her.
"I see," Jean said calmly. He had tightened up. "You got me down here to accuse me of murdering my wife, with that hysterical letter from Paul Nieder to back it up. This is absolutely fantastic!"
Wolfe nodded. "It would be," he agreed, "so that's not what I'm doing. I don't waste time on fantasy. I read that letter only for background. To get down to our real business: when and where did you last see Mr. Nieder?"
Jean shook his head. "From fantasy to fact? Our business? When and where I did this or that is certainly my business, but not yours. You were going to tell me facts."
"You won't answer that?"
"Certainly not, why should I? I don't owe you any answers to anything."
You're entirely correct,' Wolfe conceded, "but not very intelligent. I suppose you know that those two gentlemen. on the couch are Police Inspector Cramer and Sergeant Stebbins. Their presence does not mean that I asked that question with the voice of authority, but surely it makes it obvious that if you don't answer me you will be given an opportunity to answer them. Suit yourself. I'll try again. "When and where did you last see Mr. Paul Nieder?"
Once more Jean proved himself capable of a swift and sensible decision. "I don't know the exact date," he said, "but it was early in May last year, at our place of business,
Just before he left for a vacation."
"Aha," Wolfe murmured in a pleased tone, "that's more like it. Now, Mr. Daumery, here are a few of the facts I promised. Mr. Nieder did not kill himself a year ago May; you heard that letter I read. He was seen, alive, here in New York, last week, by his niece, disguised with a beard, slick hair parted on the left side, and glasses. He was seen again this morning, by many people, only this time he was dead. The manner of his death--"
"So that's what you had!" Inspector Cramer was longer on the couch but right among us--or at least among Wolfe, at his desk, barking at him. "By God, this time you've asked for it!"
"Pfui," Wolfe said peevishly. "I've got Mr. Daumery here for you, haven't I? Do you want to take it over now? Are you ready to? Or shall I give him some more facts?"
Cramer's eyes left Wolfe for a look around. When they hit Cynthia they must have had a message for her, for she left her seat and walked to one over near Demarest. Cramer went and sat in the red leather chair, which put him in the center of things with a full-face view of Jean Daumery. Purley Stebbins had moved too, quietly pulling up a chair to Jean's rear about arm's length off.
"Let's hear your facts," Cramer growled.
Wolfe's gaze was back at Jean. "I was about to say," he resumed, "that the manner of that man's death--no one but his niece knew it was Mr. Nieder--made it necessary to call in the police. They did what they were supposed to do, and naturally they concentrated on the most important point: who was he? As you see, Mr. Daumery, Mr. Cramer resents not being told by the only people who knew-Miss Nieder, Mr. Goodwin, and me--but that's really foolish of him. For if he had known who the dead man was he would probably, and reasonably, have focused on the most likely culprit, Miss Nieder, who was known to have been on the spot and who had the excellent motive of wanting to keep her inheritance of a half-share in the business. As it stood, it was vital for the police to identify the corpse. I don't know, Mr. Daumery, whether you are aware of the stupendous resources of the New York police in attacking a problem like that. You may be sure that they employed all of them in trying to trace at man with a beard and slick hair parted on the left and glasses. That's one of the facts I ask you to consider. Is it likely that they failed entirely? Is it likely that they found no one, anywhere, who had seen such a man?" I am anxious to be quite fair with you. Is it not likely, for instance, that if the bearded man had been seen recently, on the street or in some other public place, talking with another man--say a man whose description tallies well with yours--that the police have learned of it and can produce a witness or witnesses to identify the second man?"
Wolfe raised a finger, and suddenly bent it to aim straight at Jean. " I am fairly warning you. It is nothing against you that you told me you last saw Paul Nieder over a year ago. Nobody likes to be involved in disagreeable matters. But now be careful. If, after what I have just said, you persist in lying, you can't blame us if we surmise--look at his face, Mr. Cramer. Do you see his face?"
Wolfe let the silence work, and the pairs of eyes all fixed on Jean's face, with his finger still nailing the target, for a full five seconds, and then suddenly snapped like a snap of a whip.
"When and where did you last see Paul Nieder, Mr. Daumery?"
It was devilish. No man could have stood up under it completely whole. What was Jean going to say?
He said nothing.
Wolfe leaned back and let his eyes open to more than slits. "It offers," he said like a lecturer, "a remarkable field for speculation. What, for instance, made you suspect that his suicide was a fake? Possibly you were as well acquainted with his character as he was with yours, and you knew it was extremely improbable that he could jump into a geyser with no clothes on. Indeed, there are few men who could. In any case, he was right about you; you did not forget or abandon your intention. It would have been dangerous to hire someone to find him and if you undertook it yourself it might have taken years. You decided to coax him out. You went to Florida on a fishing trip with your nephew, and you arranged with him to stage a drowning for you. Another speculation: how much did you tell him? Did yuou have to let him in--"
It was Bernard. He was out of his chair, but not to confront his uncle or to bear down on Wolfe. He had turned to where Cynthia's new position had put her in his rear, and his explosion was for her.
"Get this straight, Cynthia," he told her. "I'm not trying any scuttle or any sneak, and whatever he has done that's up to him with no pushes from me, but his is my part and you've got to have it straight!" He wheeled to his uncle. "You told me that someone had it in for you and your life was in danger. You said nothing about Paul Nieder, and of course I thought he was dead. You said that your '
supposed death would force this person to take certain steps and the situation would soon be changed so that you could reappear. For all I know, that's how it was. I don't know." He turned back to Cynthia. "I don't know anything, except that I'm damned if I'm going to have you listen to insinuations that I'm mixed up in this."
"Shut up and sit down," his uncle told him.
Bernard wheeled again. Wolfe nodded at him. "Thank you, sir, for relieving us of that speculation. There are plenty left." He looked at Jean. "For example, at that encounter with your disguised former partner, wherever it was and however it came about, did you two arrange meet Tuesday evening at your place of business to discuss matters and reach an understanding? It must have been an interesting meeting, with him thinking you dead and there, with his mutilated face, on the floor of his own office, or were you afraid to postpone it even for an hour for fear he would disclose himself to Miss Nieder or Mr. Demarest, and so increase your risk? And why on earth did you jab that thing at him more than a dozen times? Were you hysterical? Surely you didn't prevent his being identified, with everyone thinking him dead long ago.
"It was a wolf tearing a carcass into pieces," Polly Zarella declared emphatically.
"Perhaps." Wolfe's shoulders went up a quarter of an prevent inch and down again. "You can have him, Mr. Cramer. I'm through with him.
Cramer was scowling. "I could use some more facts."
"Bah." Wolfe resented it. "What more do you want? You saw his face; you are seeing it now, with all the time he's had to arrange it. I phoned you that he would be here for you, and there he is. I've done my part and you can do yours. He got into that building last night and out again,and was not invisible. That's really all you need."
Cramer arose. Purley Stebbins was already up.
"One thing I need," said Cramer, stepping to the desk, "is that letter Nieder wrote." He extended a hand. "There in your breast pocket."
Wolfe shook his head. "I'll keep that--or rather, I'll destroy it. It's mine."
"Like hell it isl"
"Certainly it is. It's in my handwriting. I wrote it while Archie was going for him--with Mr. Demarest's help. You won't need it. Just take him out of here and get to work."
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For my own satisfaction I have got to add that that was one time Wolfe outsmarted himself. Not far from the top of the list of the things he abhors is being a witness at a trial, and ordinarily he takes good care to handle things so that he won't get a subpoena. But only last week I had the pleasure of sitting in the courtroom and watching him--and listening to him--in the witness chair. The District Attorney wasn't any too sure of his case, and on this one Wolfe couldn't shake him loose. It was a good thing for Cynthia that Wolfe didn't know that would happen at the time we sent her a bill, or she might have had to hock her half of the business to pay it. Wolfe got sore about it all over again just yesterday morning, when the paper informed him that the jury had stayed out only two hours and forty minutes before bringing in a first-degree verdict. That proved, he claimed, that his testimony hadn't been needed.
The owners of Daumery and Nieder tell me that not only will I be welcome at any of their shows, front row seat, but also that any number I want to pick will be sent with their compliments to any name and address I choose. I thought Cynthia understood me better than that. Women just don't give a damn. I suppose in a month or so she'll be light-heartedly sending me an invitation to the wedding.