I threw down the magazine section of the Sunday Times and yawned. I looked at Nero Wolfe and yawned again. “Is this bird, S. J. Woolt, any relation or yours?”
Wolfe, letting fly with a dart and getting a king of clubs, paid no attention to me.
I went on. “I suppose not, since he spells it different. The reason I ask, an idea just raced madly into my bean. Why wouldn’t it be good for business if this S. J. Woolf did a picture of you and an article for the Times? God knows you’re full of material.” I took time out to grin, considering Wolfe’s size in the gross or physical aspect, and left the grin on as Wolfe grunted, stooping to pick up a dart he had dropped.
I resumed. “You couldn’t beat it for publicity, and as for class it’s Mount Everest. This guy Woolf only hits the high spots. I’ve been reading his pieces for years, and there’s been Einstein and the Prince of Wales and Babe Ruth and three Presidents of the United States (ones say, can you see very little in the White House) and the King of Siam and similar grandeur. His idea seems to be, champions only. That seems to let you in, and strange as it may appear, I’m not kidding, I really mean it. Among our extended circle there must be a couple of eminent gazabos that know him and would slip him the notion.”
Wolfe still paid no attention to me. As a matter of fact, I didn’t expect him to, since he was busy taking exercise. He had recently got the impression that he weighed too much—which was about the same as if the Atlantic Ocean formed the opinion that it was too wet—and so had added a new item to his daily routine. Since he only went outdoors for things like earthquakes and holocausts, he was rarely guilty of movement except when he was up on the roof with Horstmann and the orchids, from nine to eleven in the morning and four to six in the afternoon, and there was no provision there for pole vaulting.
Hence the new apparatus for a daily workout, which was a beaut. It was scheduled from 3:45 to 4:00 P.M. There was a board about two feet square, faced with cork, with a large circle marked on it, and twenty-six radii and a smaller inner circle, outlined with fine wire, divided the circle’s area into fifty-two sections. Each section had its symbol painted on it, and together they made up a deck of cards; the bull’s-eye, a small disk in the center, was the Joker. There was also a supply of darts, cute little things about four inches long and weighing a couple of ounces, made of wood and feathers with a metal needle-point. The idea was to hang the board up on the wall, stand off ten or fifteen feet, hurl five darts at it and make a poker hand, with the Joker wild. Then you went and pulled the darts out, and hurled them over again. Then you went and pulled …
Obviously, it was pretty darned exciting. What I mean to convey is, it would have been a swell game for a little girls’ kindergarten class; no self-respecting boy over six months of age would have wasted much time with it. Since my only excuse for writing this is to relate the facts of one of Nero Wolfe’s cases, and since I take that trouble only where murder was involved, it may be supposed that I tell about that poker-dart game because later on one of the darts was dipped in poison and used to pink a guy with. Nothing doing. No one ever suffered any injury from those darts that I know of, except me. Over a period of two months Nero Wolfe nicked me for a little worse than eighty-five bucks, playing draw with the Joker and deuces wild, at two bits a go. There was no chance of getting any real accuracy with it, it was mostly luck.
Anyhow, when Wolfe decided he weighed too much, that was what he got. He called the darts javelins. When I found my losses were approaching the century point I decided to stop humoring him, and quit the thing cold, telling him that my doctor had warned me against athlete’s heart. Wolfe kept on with his exercise, and by now, this Sunday I’m telling about, he had got so he could stick the Joker twice out of five shots.
I said, “It would be a good number. You rate it. You admit yourself that you’re a genius. It would get us a lot of new clients. We could take on a permanent staff—”
One of the darts slipped out of Wolfe’s handful, dropped to the floor, and rolled to my feet. Wolfe stood and looked at me. I knew what he wanted, I knew he hated to stoop, but stooping was the only really violent part of that game and I figured he needed the exercise. I sat tight.
Wolfe opened his eyes at me. “I have noticed Mr. Woolfs drawings. They are technically excellent.”
The son of a gun was trying to bribe me to pick up his dart by pretending to be interested in what I had said. I thought to myself, All right, but youll pay for it, let’s just see how long you’ll stand there and stay interested. I picked up the magazine section and opened it to the article, and observed briskly, “This is one of his best. Have you seen it? It’s about some Englishman that’s over here on a government mission—wait—it tells here—”
I found it and read aloud: “‘It is not known whether the Marquis of Clivers is empowered to discuss military and naval arrangements in the Far East; all that has been disclosed is his intention to make a final disposition or the question of spheres of economic influence. That is why, after a week of conferences in Washington with the Departments of State and Commerce, he has come to New York for an indefinite stay to consult with financial and industrial leaders. More and more clearly it is being realized in government circles that the only satisfactory and permanent basis for peace in the Orient is the removal of the present causes of economic friction.’”
I nodded at Wolfe. “You get it? Spheres of economic influence. The same thing that bothered Al Capone and Dutch Schultz. Look where economic friction landed them.”
Wolfe nodded back. “Thank you, Archie. Thank you very much for explaining it to me. Now if you—”
I hurried on. “Wait, it gets lots more interesting than that.” I glanced down the page. “In the picture he looks like a ruler of men—you know, like a master barber or a head waiter, you know the type. It goes on to tell how much he knows about spheres and influences, and his record in the warhe commanded a brigade and he got decorated four times—a noble lord and all prettied up with decorations like a store front—1 say three cheers and let us drink to the King, gendemen! You understand, sir, I’m just summarizing.”
“Yes” Archie. Thank you.”
Wolfe sounded grim.
I took a breath. “Don’t mention it. But the really interesting part is where it tells about his character and his private life. He’s a great gardener. He prunes his own roses! At least it says so, but it’s almost too much to swallow. Then it goes on, new paragraph. While it would be an exaggeration to call the marquis an eccentric, in many ways he fails to conform to the conventional conception of a British peer, probably due in some measure to the tact that in his younger days—he is now sixtyfour—he spent many years, in various activities, in Australia, South America, and the western part of the United States. He is a nephew of the ninth marquis, and succeeded to the tide in 1905, when his uncle and two cousins perished in the sinking of the Rotania off the African coast But under any circumstances he would be an extraordinary person, and his idiosyncrasies, as he is pleased to call them, are definitely his own.”
“He never shoots animals or birds, though he owns some of the best shooting in Scotland —yet he is a famous expert with a pistol and always carries one. Owning a fine stable, he has not been on a horse for fifteen years. He never eats anything between luncheon and dinner, which in England barely misses the aspect of treason. He has never seen a cricket match. Possessing more than a dozen automobiles, he does not know how to drive one. He is an excellent poker player and has popularized the game among a circle of his friends. He is passionately fond of croquet, derides golf as a “corrupter of social decency,” and keeps an American cook at the manor of Pokendam for the purpose of making pumpkin pie. On his frequent trips to the Continent he never fails to take with him—”
There was no point in going on, so I stopped. I had lost my audience. As he stood facing me Wolfe’s eyes had gradually narrowed into slits; and or a sudden he opened his hand and turned it palm down to let the remaining darts fall to the floor, where they rolled in all directions; and Wolfe walked from the room without a word. I heard him in the hall, in the elevator, getting in and banging the door to. Of course he had the excuse that it was four o’clock, his regular time for going to the plant rooms.
I could have left the darts for Fritz to pick up later, but there was no sense in me getting childish just because Wolfe did. So I tore off the sheet of the magazine section I had been reading from, with the picture of the Marquis of Clivers in the center, fastened it to the corkboard with a couple of thumbtacks, gathered up the darts, stood off fifteen feet, and let fly. One of the darts got the marquis in the nose, another in his left eye, two of them in his neck, and the last one missed him by an inch. He was well pinned. Pretty good shooting, I thought, as I went for my hat to venture out to a movie, not knowing then that before he left our city the marquis would treat us to an exhibition of much better shooting with a quite different weapon, nor that on that sheet of newspaper which I had pinnea to the corkboard was a bit of information that would prove to be fairly useful in Nero Wolfe’s professional consideration of a sudden and violent death.