When I leave my waking up in the morning to the vagaries of nature, it’s a good deal like other acts of God—you can’t tell much about it ahead of time. So Tuesday at six-thirty I staggered out of bed and fought my way across the room to turn off the electric alarm clock on the table. Then I proceeded to cleanse the form and the phiz and get the figure draped for the day. By that time the bright October sun had a band across the top fronts of the houses across the street, and I thought to myself it would be a pity to have to go to jail on such a fine day.
At seven-thirty I was in my comer in the kitchen, with Canadian bacon, pancakes, and wild-thyme honey which Wolfe got from Syria. And plenty of coffee. The wheels had already started to turn. Clara Fox, who had told Fritz she had slept like a log, was having breakfast with Wolfe in his room.
Johnny Keems had arrived early, and he and Saul Panzer were in the dining room punishing pancakes. With the telephone I had pulled Dick Morley, of the District Attorney’s office, out of bed at his home, and Wolfe had talked with him. It was Morley who would have lost his job, and maybe something more, but for Wolfe pulling him out of a hole in the BanisterSchurman business about three years before.
With my pancakes I went over the stories of Scovil’s murder in the morning papers. They didn’t play it up much, but the accounts were fairly complete. The tip-off was that he was a Chicago gangster, which gave me a grin, since he looked about as much like a gangster as a prima donna. The essentials were there, provided they were straight: no gun had been found.
The car had been stolen from where some innocent perfume salesman had parked it on 29th Street. The closest eyewitness had been a man who had been walking along about thirty feet behind Harlan Scovil, and it was he who had got the license number before he dived for cover when the bullets started flying. In the dim light he hadn’t got a good view of the man in the car, but he was sure it was a man, with his hat pulled down and a dark overcoat collar turned up, and he was sure he had been alone in the car.
The car had speeded off across 3ist Street and turned at the comer. No one had been found who had noticed it stopping on Ninth Avenue, where it had later been found. No fingerprints … and so forth and so forth.
I finished my second cup of coffee and got up and stretched and from then on I was as busy as a pickpocket on New Year’s Eve. When Fred and Orrie came I let them in, and after they had got their instructions from Wolfe I distributed expense money to all four o£ them and let them out again. The siege was still on. There were two dicks out there now, one of them about the size of Charles Laughton before he heard beauty calling, and every time anyone passed in or out he got the kind of scrutiny you read about. I got the long-distance call through to London, and Wolfe talked from his room to Ethelbert Hitchcock, which I consider the all-time low for a name for a snoop, even in England. I phoned Murger’s for the copies of Metropolitan Biographies, and they delivered them within a quarter of an hour and I took them up to the plant rooms, as Wolfe had said he would glance at them after nine o’clock.
As I was going out I stopped where Theodore Horstmann was turning out some old Cattleyas trianae and growled at him, “You’re going to get shot in the gizzard.”
I swear to God he looked pale.
I phoned Henry H. Barber, the lawyer that we could count on for almost anything except fee-splitting, to make sure he would be available on a minute’s notice all day, and to tell him that he was to consider himself retained, through us, by Miss Clara Fox, in two actions: a suit to collect a debt from the Marquis of Clivers, and a suit for damages through false arrest against Ramsey Muir. Likewise, in the first case. Miss Hilda Lindquist.
It looked as if I had a minute loose, so I mounted the two flights to the south room and knocked on the door, and called out my name. She said come in, and I entered.
She was in the armchair, with books and magazines on the table, but none of them was opened. Maybe she had slept like a log, but her eyes looked tired. She frowned at me, I said, ‘“You shouldn’t sit so close to the window. If they wanted to bad enough they could see in here from that Thirty-fourth Street roof.”
She glanced around. “I shouldn’t think so, with those curtains.”
“They’re pretty thin. Let me move you back a little, anyhow.” She got up, and I shoved the chair and table toward the bed. “I’m not usually nervous, but this is a stunt we’re pulling.”
She sat down again and looked up at me. “You don’t like it, do you, Mr. Goodwin? I could see last night you didn’t approve of it. Neither do I.”
I grinned at her. “Bless your dear little heart, what difference does that make? Nero Wolfe is putting on a show and we’re in the cast. Stick to the script, don’t forget that.”
“I don’t call it a show.” She was frowning again. “A man has been murdered and it was my fault. I don’t like to hide, and I don’t want to. I’d rather—”
I showed her both palms. “Forget it. You came to get Wolfe to help you, didn’t you? All right, let him. He may be a nut, but you’re lucky that he spotted the gleam of honesty in your eye or you’d be in one sweet mess this minute. You behave yourself. For instance, if that phone there on the stand is in any way a temptation …”
She shook her head. “If it is, I’ll resist it”
“Well, there’s no use leaving it here anyhow.” I went and pulled the connection out of the plug and gathered the cord and instrument under my arm. “I learned about feminine impulses in school. There goes the office phone. Don’t open the door and don’t go close to the windows.”
I beat it and went down two steps at a time. It was Dick Morley on the phone, with a tale. I offered to connect him with Wolfe in the plant rooms, but he said not to disturb him, he could give it to me. He had had a little trouble. The Clara Fox larceny charge was being handled by an Assistant District Attorney named Frisbie whom Morley knew only fairly well, and Frisbie hadn’t seemed especially inclined to open up, hut Morley had got some facts. A warrant for Clara Fox’s arrest, and a search warrant for her apartment, had been issued late Monday afternoon. The apartment had not been searched because detectives under Frisbie’s direction had gone first to the garage where she kept her car, and had found in it, wrapped in a newspaper under the back seat, a package of hundred dollar bills amounting to $30,000. The case was considered airtight. Frisbie’s men no longer had the warrant for arrest because it had been turned over to Inspector Cramer at the request of the Police Commissioner.
I thanked Morley and hung up and went upstairs to the plant rooms and told Wolfe the sad story. He was in the tropical room trimming wilts. When I finished he said, “We were wrong, Archie. Not hyenas. Hyenas wait for a carcass. Get Mr. Perry on the phone, connect it here, and take it down.”
I went back to the office. It wasn’t so easy to get Perry. His secretary was reluctant, or he was, or they both were, but I finally managed to get him on and put him through to Wolfe. Then I began a fresh page of the notebook.
Perry said he was quite busy, he hoped Wolfe could make it brief. Wolfe said he hoped so too, that first he wished to learn if he had misunderstood Perry Monday afternoon. He had gathered that Perry had believed Miss Fox to be innocent, had been opposed to any precipitate action, and had desired a careful and complete investigation. Perry said that was correctWolfe’s tone got sharp. “But you did not know until after seven o’clock last evening that I was not going to investigate for you, and the warrant for Miss Fox’s arrest was issued an hour earlier than that. You would not call that precipitate?”
Perry sounded flustered. “Well … precipitate … yes, it was. It was, yes. You see … you asked me yesterday if I am not the fount of justice in this organization. To a certain extent, yes. But there is always … well … the human element. I am not a czar, neither in fact nor by temperament. When you phoned me last evening you may have thought me irritable—as a matter of fact, I thought of calling you back to apologize. The truth is I was chagrined and deeply annoyed. I knew then that a warrant had been issued for the arrest at the instance of Mr. Muir. Surely you can appreciate my position. Mr. Muir is a high official of my corporation. When I learned later in the evening that the money had been found in Miss Fox’s car, I was astounded … I couldn’t believe it … but what could I do? I was amazed….”
“Indeed.” Wolte still snapped. “You’ve got your money back. Do you intend to proceed with the prosecution?”
“You don’t need to take that tone, Wolfe.” Perry sharpened a little. “I told you there is the human element. I’m no£ a czar. Muir makes an issue of it. I’m being frank with you. I can’t talk him off. Granted that I could kick the first vice-president out of the company if I wanted to, which is a good deal to grant, do you think I should? After all, he has the law—”
“Then you’re with him on it?”
A pause. “No. No, I’m not. I… I have the strongest… sympathy for Clara—Miss Fox. I would like to see her get something … much more human than justice. For instance, if there is any difficulty about bail for her I would be glad to furnish it.”
“Thank you. We’ll manage bail. You asked me to be brief, Mr. Perry. First, I suggest that you arrange to have the charge against Miss Fox quashed immediately. Second, I wish to inform you of our intentions if that is not done. At ten o’clock tomorrow morning I shall have Miss Fox submit herself to arrest and shall have her at once released on bail. She will then start an action against Ramsey Muir and the Seaboard Products Corporation to recover one million dollars in damages for false arrest. We deal in millions here now. I think there is no question but that we shall have sufficient evidence to uphold our action. If they try her first, so much the better. She’ll be acquitted.”
“But how can … that’s absurd … if you have evidence …”
“That’s all, Mr. Perry. That’s my brevity. Good-by.”
I heard the click of Wolfe banging up. Perry was sputtering, but I hung up too. I tossed the notebook away and got up and stuck my hands in my pockets and walked around. Perhaps I was muttering. I was thinking to myself, if Wolfe takes that pot with nothing but a dirty deuce he’s a better man than he thinks he is, if that was possible. On the face of it, it certainly looked as if his cra2y conceit had invaded the higher centers of his brain and stopped his mental processes completely; but there was one thing that made such a supposition unlikely, namely, that he was spending money.
He had four expensive men riding around in taxis and he had got London on the phone as if it had been a delicatessen shop. It was a thousand to one he was going to get it back.
Still another expenditure was imminent, as I learned when the phone rang again. I sat down to get it, half hoping it was Perry calling back to offer a truce. But what I heard was Fred Durkin’s low growl, and he sounded peeved.
“That you, Archie?”
“Right. What have you got?”
“Nothing. Less than that. Look here. I’m talking from the Forty-seventh Street Station.”
“The … what? What for?”
“What the hell do you suppose for? I got arrested a little.”
I made a face and took a breath. “Good for you,” I said grimly. “That’s a big help. Men like you are the backbone of the country. Go on.”
His growl went plaintive. “Could I help it? They bopped me at the garage when I went there to ask questions. They say I committed something when I took that car last night. I think they’re getting ready to send me somewhere, I suppose Centre Street. What the hell could I do, run and let him tag me? I wouldn’t be phoning now if it hadn’t happened that a friend of mine is on the desk here.”
“Okay. If they take you to the DA’s office keep your ears open and stick to the little you know. We’ll get after it.”
Tou’d better. If I—hey! Will you phone the missis?”
I assured him he would see the missis as soon as she was expecting him, and hung up. I sat and scratched my nose a minute and then made for the stairs. It was looking as if being confined to the house wasn’t going to deprive me of my exercise.
Wolfe was still in the tropical room. He kept on snipping stems and listened without looking around. I reported the development. He said, “These interruptions are abominable.”
I said, “All right, let him rot in a dungeon.”
Wolfe sighed. “Phone Mr. Barber. Can you pick Keems up? No, you can’t. When you hear from him let me talk to him.”
I went back down and got Barber’s office and asked him to send someone out to make arrangements for Fred to sleep with his missis that night, and gave him the dope.
I had no idea when I might hear from Johnny Keems. They had all got their instructions direct from Wolfe, and as usual he was keeping my head clear of unnecessary obstructions. As I had let Orrie Gather out he had made some kind of a crack about being the only electrician in New York who understood directors’ rooms, and of course I knew Saul Panzer had a contact on with Hilda Lindquist, but beyond that their programs were outside my circle. I guessed Fred had gone back to the garage to see if he could get a line on a plant, which made it appear that Wolfe didn’t even have a dirty deuce, but of course he had talked with Clara Fox nearly an hour that morning, so that was all vague. But it did seem that Frisbie or someone around the District Attorney’s office was busting with ardor over an ordinary larceny on which they already had the evidence, leaving a dick at the garage; but that was probably part of the net they were holding for Clara Fox. It might even have been one of Cramer’s men.
I went on being a switchboard girl. A little before ten Saul Panzer called, and from upstairs Wolfe listened to him while I put down the details he had collected from Hilda Lindquist regarding her father in Nebraska. She thought that if riding in an airplane didn’t kill him it would scare him to death. Apparently Saul had further instructions, for Wolfe told him to proceed. A little later Orrie phoned in, and what he reported to Wolfe gave me my first view of a new slant that hadn’t occurred to me at all. Introducing himself to Sourface Vawter as an electrician, he had been admitted to the directors’ room of the Seaboard Products Corporation, and had learned that besides the double door at the end of the corridor it had another door leading into the public hall. It had been locked but could be opened from the inside, and Orrie had himself gone out that way and around the hall to the elevators.
Wolfe told Orrie to wait and talked to me. “Don’t type a note on that, Archie. Any that you do type, put them in the safe at once. Leave Orrie on with me and be sure the other line is open. A call I am expecting hasn’t come. When Keems calls I’ll talk to him, but I’ll give Orrie Fred’s assignment. Taking the hint that he didn’t want to burden my ears with Orrie’s schedule, I hung up. I filed some notes in the safe and loaded Wolfe’s pen and tested it, a chore that I hadn’t been able to get around to before—absentmindedly, because I was off on a new track. I had no idea what had started Wolfe in that direction. It had beautiful possibilities, no doubt of that, but a hundred-to-one shot in a big handicap is a beautiful possibility too, and how often would you collect on it? After taxing the brain a few minutes, this looked more like a million to one. I would probably have gone on to add more ciphers to that if I hadn’t been interrupted by the doorbell. Of course I was still on that job too. I went to the hall and pulled the curtain to see through the glass panel, and got a surprise. It was the first time Wolfe’s house had ever been taken for a church, but there wasn’t any other explanation, for either that specimen on the stoop was scheduled for best man at a wedding or Emily Post had been fooling me for years.
The two dicks were down on the sidewalk, looking up at the best man as if it was too much of a problem for them. They had nothing on me. I opened the door and let it come three inches, leaving the chain on, and said in a well-bred tone, “Good morning.”
He peered through at me. “I say, that crack is scarcely adequate. Really.” He had a well-trained voice but a little squawky.
“I’m sorry. This is a bad neighborhood and we have to be careful. What can I do for you?”
He went on peering. “Is this the house of Mr. Nero Wolfe?”
He hesitated, and turned to look down at the snoops on the sidewalk, who were staring up at him in the worst possible taste. Then he came closer and pushed his face up against the crack and said in a tone nearly down to a whisper, “From Lord Clivers. I wish to see Mr. Wolfe.”
I took a second for consideration and then slid the bolt off and opened up. He walked in and I shut the door and shot the bolt again. When I turned he was standing there with his stick hung over his elbow, pulling his gloves off. He was six feet, spare but not skinny, about my age, fair-skinned with chilly blue eyes, and there was no question about his being dressed for it.
I waved him ahead and followed him into the office, and be took his time getting his paraphernalia deposited on Wolfe’s desk before he lowered himself into a chair. Meantime I let him know that Mr. Wolfe was engaged and would be until eleven o’clock, and that I was the confidential assistant and was at his service. He got seated and looked at me as if he would have to get around to admitting my right to exist before we could hope to make any headway.
But he spoke. “Mr. Goodwin? I see. Perhaps I got a bit ahead at the door. That is … I really should see Mr. Wolfe without delay.”
I grinned at him. “You mean because you mentioned the Marquis of Clivers? That’s okay. I wrote that letter. I know all about it. You can’t see Mr. Wolfe before eleven. I can let him know you’re here.”
“If you will be so good. Do that. My name is Horrocks—Francis Horrocks.”
I looked at him. So this was the geezer that bought roses with three-foot stems. I turned on the swivel and plugged in the plant room and pressed the button. In a minute Wolfe was on and I told him, “A man here to see you, Mr. Francis Horrocks. From the Marquis of Clivers…. Yeah, in the office…. Haven’t asked him. … I told him, sure…. Okay.”
I jerked the plugs and swiveled again. “Mr. Wolfe says he can see you at eleven o’clock, unless you’d care to try me. He suggests the latter.”
“I should have liked to see Mr. Wolfe.” The blue eyes were going over me.
“Though I merely bring a message. First, though, I should—er—perhaps explain … I am here in a dual capacity. It’s a bit confusing, but really quite all right. I am here, as it were, personally … and also semi-officially. Possibly I should first deliver my message from Lord Clivers.”
“I beg your pardon? Oh, quite. Lord Clivers would like to know if Mr. Wolfe could call at his hotel. An hour can be arranged—”
“I can save you breath on that. Mr. Wolfe never calls on anybody.”
“No?” His brows went up. “He is not—that is, bedridden?”
“Nope, only house-ridden. He doesn’t like it outdoors. He never has called on anybody and never will.”
“You don’t say.” His forehead showed wrinkles. “Well. Lord Clivers wishes very much to see him. You say you wrote that letter?”
I nodded. “Yeah, I know all about it. I suppose Mr. Wolfe would be glad to talk with the marquis on the telephone—”
“He prefers not to discuss it on the telephone.”
“Okay. I was going to add, or the marquis can come here. Of course the legal part of it is being handled by our attorney.”
The young diplomat sat straight with his arms folded and looked at me.
“You have engaged a solicitor?”
“Certainly. If it comes to a lawsuit, which we hope it won’t, we don’t want to waste any time. We understand the marquis will be in New York another week, so we’d have to be ready to serve him at once.”
He nodded. “Just so. That’s a bit candid.” He bit his lip and cocked his head a little. “We appear to have reached a dead end. Your position seems quite clear. I shall report it, that’s all I can do.” He hitched his feet back and cleared his throat. “Now, if you don’t mind, I assume my private capacity. I remarked that I am here personally. My name is Francis Horrocks.”
“Yeah. Your personal name.”
“Just so. And I would like to speak with Miss Fox. Miss Clara Fox.” I felt myself straightening out my face and hoped he didn’t see me. I said, “I can’t say I blame you. I’ve met Miss Fox. Go to it.”
He frowned. “If you would be so good as to tell her I am here. It’s quite all right. I know she’s having a spot of seclusion, but it’s quite all right. Really. You see, when she telephoned me this morning I insisted on knowing the address of her retreat. In fact, I pressed her on it. I confess she laid it on me not to come here to see her, but I made no commitment. Also, I didn’t come to see her; I came semi-omcially. What? Being here, I ask to see her, which is quite all right. What?”
My face was under control after the first shock. I said, “Sure it’s quite all right. I mean, to ask. Seeing her is something else. You must have got the address wrong or maybe you were phoning in your sleep.”
“Oh, no. Really.” He folded his arms again. “See here, Mr. Goodwin, let’s cut across. It’s a fact, I actually must see Miss Fox. As a friend, you understand. For purely personal reasons. I’m quite determined about this.”
“Okay. Find her. She left no address here.”
He shook his head patiently. “It won’t do, I assure you it won’t. She telephoned me. Is she in distress? I don’t know. I shall have to see her. If you will tell her—”
I stood up. “Sorry, Mr. Horrocks. Do you really have to go? I hope you find Miss Fox. Tell the Marquis of Clivers—”
He sat tight, shook his head again, and frowned. “Damn it all. I dislike this, really. I’ve never set eyes on you before. What? I’ve never seen this Mr. Wolfe. Could Miss Fox have been under duress when she was telephoning? You see the possibility, of course. Setting my mind at rest and all that. If you put me out, it will really be necessary for me to tell those policemen outside that Miss Fox telephoned me from this address at nine o’clock this morning. Also I should have to take the precaution of finding a telephone at once to repeat the information to your police headquarters. What?”
I stared down at him, and I admit he was too much for me. Whether he was deep and desperate or dumb and determined I didn’t know. I said, “Wait here. Mr. Wolfe will have to know about you. Kindly stay in this room.”
I left him there and went to the kitchen and told Fritz to stand in the hall, and if an Englishman emerged from the office, yodel. Then I bounced up two Sights to the south room, called not too loud, and, when I heard the key rum, opened the door and entered. Clara Fox stood and brushed her hair back and looked at me half alarmed and half hopeful.
I said, “What time this morning did you phone that guy Francis Horrocks?”
She stared. It got her. She swallowed. “But I—he—he promised …”
“So you did phone him. Swell. You forgot to mention it when I asked you about it a while ago.”
“But you didn’t ask me if I had phoned.”
“Oh, didn’t I? Now that was careless.” I threw up my hands. “To hell with it. Suppose you tell me what you phoned him about. I hope it wasn’t a secret.”
“No, it wasn’t.” She came a step to me. “Must you be so sarcastic? There was nothing … it was just personal.”
“As for instance?”
“Why, it was really nothing. Of course, he sent those roses. Then … I had had an engagement to dine with him Monday evening, and when I made the appointment with Mr. Wolfe I had to cancel the one with Mr. Horrocks, and when he insisted I thought that three hours would be enough with Mr. Wolfe, so I told Mr. Horrocks I would go with him at ten o’clock to dance somewhere, and probably he went to the apartment and waited around there I don’t know how long, and this morning I supposed he would keep phoning there and of course there would be no answer, and he couldn’t get me at the office either, and besides, I hadn’t thanked him for the roses—”
I put up a palm. “Take a breath. I see, romance. It’d be still more romantic if he came to visit you in jail. You’re quite an adventuress, being as you are over ninety per cent nincompoop. I don’t suppose you know that according to an article in yesterday’s Times this Horrocks is the nephew of the Marquis of Clivers and next in line for the title.”
“Oh, yes. He explained to me … that is … that’s all right. I knew that.And Mr. Goodwin, I don’t like—”
“We’ll discuss your likes later. Here’s something you don’t know. Horrocks is downstairs in the office saying that he’s got to see you or he’ll run and get the police.”
“What! He isn’t.”
“Yep. Somebody is, and from his looks I’m willing to admit it’s Horrocks.”
“But he shouldn’t … he promised … send him away!”
“He won’t go away. If I throw him out he’ll yell for a cop. He thinks you’re here under duress and need to be rescued—that’s his story. You’re a swell client, you are. With the chances Nero Wolfe’s taking for you—all right. Anyhow, whether he’s straight or not, there’s no way out of it now. I’m going to bring him up here, and for God’s sake make it snappy and let him go back to his uncle.”
“But I-good heavens!” She brushed her hair back. “I don’t want to see him. Not now. Tell him … of course I could … yes, that’s it… I’ll go down and just tell him—”
“You will not. Next you’ll be wanting to go and walk around the block with him. You stay here.”
Outside in the hall I hesitated, uncertain whether to go up and tell Wolfe of the party we were having, but decided there was no point in riling him– I went back down, tossing Fritz a nod as I passed by, and found the young diplomat sitting in the office with his arms sdll folded. He put his brows up at me. I told him to come on, and let him go first. Behind him on the stairs I noticed he had good springs in his legs, and at the top his air pump hadn’t speeded up any. Keeping fit for dear old England and the bloody empire. I opened the door and bowed him in and followed him.
Clara Fox came across to him. He looked at her with a kind of sickening grin and put out his hand. She shook her head. “No. I won’t shake hands with you. Aren’t you ashamed of yourself? You promised me you wouldn’t. Causing Mr. Goodwin all this trouble …”
“Now, really. I say.” His voice was different from what it had been downstairs, sort of sweet and concentrated. Silly as hell. “After all, you know, it was fairly alarming … with you gone and all that … couldn’t find a trace of you … and you look frightful, very bad in the eyes …”
“Thank you very much.” All of a sudden she began to laugh. I hadn’t heard her laugh before. It showed her teeth and put color in her cheeks. She laughed at him undl if I had been him I’d have thought up some kind of a remark. Then she stuck out her hand. “All right, shake. Mr. Goodwin says you were going to rescue me. I warned you to let American girls alone—you see the sort of thing it leads to!”
With his big paw he was hanging onto her hand as if he had a lease on it.
He was staring at her. “You know, they do, though. I mean the eyes. You’re really quite all right? You couldn’t expect me—”
I butted in because I had to. I had left the door open and the sound of the front doorbell came up plain. I glanced at Francis Horrocks and decided that if he really was a come-on I would at least have the pleasure of seeing how long he looked lying down, before he got out of that house, and I got brusque to Clara Fox. “Hold it. The door bell. I’m going to shut this door and go down to answer it, and it would be a good idea to make no sounds until I get back.” The bell started ringing again. “Okay?”
Clara Fox nodded.
“Okay, Mr. Horrocks?”
“Certainly. Whatever Miss Fox says.”
I beat it, dosing the door behind me. Some smart guy was leaning on the button, for the bell kept on ringing as I went down the two flights. Fritz was standing in the hall, looking belligerent; he hated people that got impatient with the bell. I went to the door and pulled the curtain and looked out, and felt mercury running up my backbone. It was a quartet. Only four, and I recognized Lieutenant Rowcliff in front. It was him on the button. I hadn’t had such a treat for a long while. I turned the lock and let the door come as Far as the chain.
Rowcliff called through, “Well1 We’re not ants. Come on, open up.”
I said, “Take it easy. I’m just the messenger boy.”
“Yeah? Here’s the message.” He unfolded a paper he had in his hand. Having seen a search warrant before, I didn’t need a magnifying glass– I looked through the crack at it. Rowcliff said, “What are you waiting for? Do you want me to count ten?”