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Chapter 12

At twelve oclock noon Wolfe and I sat in the office. Fred Durkin was out in the kitchen eadng pork chops and pumpkin pie. He had made his appearance some twenty minutes before, with the pork chops in his pocket, for Fritz to cook, and a tale of injured innocence. One of Barbers staff had found him in a detention room down at headquarters, put there to weigh his sins after an hour of displaying his ignorance to Inspector Cramer. The lawyer had pried him loose without much trouble and sent him on his way, which of course was West 35th Street. Wolfe hadnt bothered to see him.

Up in the tropical room was the unusual sight of Clara Foxs dress and other items of apparel hanging on a string to dry out, and she was up in the south room sporting the dressing gown Wolfe had given me for Christmas four years before. I hadnt seen her, but Fritz had taken her the gown. It looked as if wed have to get her out of the house pretty soon or I wouldnt have a thing to put on.

Francis Horrocks had departed, having accepted my hint without any whats. Nothing had been explained to him. Wolfe, of course, wasnt openly handing Clara Fox anything, but it was easy to see that she was one of the few women he would have been able to think up a reason for, from the way he talked about her. He told me that when she and Horrocks had come running into the potting room she had immediately stepped into the osmundine box, which had been all ready for her, and standing there she had fixed her eyes on Horrocks and said to him, No questions, no remarks, and you do what Mr. Wolfe says. Understand. And Horrocks had stood and stared with his mouth open as she stretched herself out in the box and Horstmann had piled osmundine on her three inches deep while Wolfe got the spray ready. Then he had come to and helped with the boards and the pots.

In the office at noon, Wolfe was drinking beer and making random remarks as they occurred to him. He observed that since Inspector Cramer was sufficiently aroused to be willing to insult Nero Wolfe by having his house invaded with a search warrant, it was quite possible that he had also seen fit to proceed to other indefensible measures, such as tapping telephone wires, and that therefore we should take precautions. He stated that it had been a piece of outrageous stupidity on his part to let Mike Walsh go Monday evening before asking him a certain question, since he had then already formed a surmise which, if proven correct, would solve the problem completely.

He said he was sorry that there was no telephone at the Lindquist prairie home in Nebraska, since it meant that the old gentleman would have to endure the rigors of a nine-mile trip to a village in order to talk over long distance; and he hoped that the connection with him would be made at one oclock as arranged. He also hoped that Johnny Keems would be able to find Mike Walsh and escort him to the office without interference, fairly soon, since a few words with Walsh and a talk with Victor Lindquist should put him in a position where he could proceed with arrangements to dean up the whole affair. More beer. And so forth.

I let him rave on, thinking he might fill in a couple of gaps by accident, but he didnt.

The phone rang. I took it, and heard Keems voice. I stopped him before he got started: 1 cant hear you, Johnny. Dont talk so close.

What?

I said, dont talk so close.

Oh. Is this better?

Yeah.

Well Im reporting progress backwards. I found the old lady in good health and took care of her for a couple of hours, and then she got hit by a brown taxi and they took her to the hospital.

Thats too bad. Hold the wire a minute. I covered the transmitter and turned to Wolfe. Johnny found Mike Walsh and tailed him for two hours, and a dick picked him up and took him to headquarters.

Picked up Johnny?

No. Walsh.

Wolfe frowned, and his lips went out and in, and again. He sighed. The confounded meddlers. Call him in.

I told the phone, Come on in, and hurry, and hung up.

Wolfe leaned back with his eyes shut, and I didnt bother him. It was a swell situation for a tantrum, and I didnt feel like a dressing-down. If his observations had been anything at all more than shooting off, this was a bad breal^^and it might lead to almost anything, since if Mike Walsh emptied the bag for Cramer there was no telling what might be thought necessary for protecting the Marquis of Clivers from a sinister plof. I didnt talk, but got out the plant records and pretended to go over them.

At a quarter to one the doorbell rang, and I went and admitted Johnny Keems. I was still acting as hall boy, because you never could tell about Cramer. Johnny, looking like a Princeton boy with his face washed, which was about the only thing I had against him, followed me to the office and dropped into a chair without an invitation. He demanded, How did I come through on the code? Not so bad, huh?

I grunted. Perfectly marvelous. Youre a wonder. Where did you find Walsh?

He threw one leg over the other. No trouble at all. Over on East Sixtyfourth Street, where he boards. Your instructions were not to approach him until I had a line or in case of emergency, so I found out by judicious inquiry that he was in there and then I stuck around. He came out at a quarter to ten and walked to Second Avenue and turned south. West on Fifty-eighth to Park. South on Park

Wolfe put in, Skip the itinerary.

Johnny nodded. We were about there anyhow. At Fifty-sixth Street he went into the Hotel Portland.

Indeed.

Yep. And he stayed there over an hour. He used the phone and then took an elevator, but I stayed in the lobby because the house dick knows me and he saw me and I knew he wouldnt stand for it. I knew Walsh might have got loose because there are two sets of elevators, but all I could do was stick, and at a quarter past eleven he came down and went out. He headed south and turned west on Fifty-fifth, and across Madison he went in at a door where its boarded up for construction. Thats the place you told me to try if I drew a blank at Sixty-fourth Street, the place where he works as a night watchman. I waited outside, thinking I might get stopped if I went in, and hoping he wouldnt use another exit. But he didnt. In less than ten minutes he came out again, but he wasnt alone any more. A snoop had him and was hanging onto him. They walked to Park and took a taxi, and I hopped one of my own and followed to Centre Street. They went in at the big doors, and I found a phone.

Wolfe, leaning back, shut his eyes. Johnny Keems straightened his necktie and looked satisfied with himself. I tossed my notebook to the back of the desk, with his report in it, and tried to think of some brief remark that would describe how I felt. The telephone rang.

I took it. A voice informed me that Inspector Cramer wished to speak to Mr. Goodwin, and I said to put him on and signaled to Wolfe to take his line. jjf The sturdy inspector spoke. Goodwin? Inspector Cramer. How about doing me a favor?

Surest thing you know. I made it hearty. Im flattered.

Yeah? Its an easy one. Jump in your wagon and come down to my office.

I shot a glance at Wolfe, who had his receiver to his ear, but he made no sign. I said, Maybe I could, except for one thing. Im needed here to in spect cards or admission at the door. Like search warrants, for instance. You have no idea how they pile in on us.

Cramer laughed. All right, you can have that one. Therell be no search warrants while youre gone. I need you down here for something. Tell Wolfe youll be back in an hour.

Okay. Coming.

I hung up and turned to Wolfe. Why not? Its better than sitting here crossing my fingers. Fred and Johnny are here, and together theyre a fifth as good as me. Maybe he wants me to help him embroider Mike Walsh. Id be glad to.

Wolfe nodded. I like this. Theres something about it I like. I may be wrong. Go, by all means.

I shook my pants legs down, put the notebook and plant record away in the drawers, and got going. Johnny came to bolt the door behind me.

I hadnt been on the sidewalk for nearly twenty hours, and it smelled good. I filled the chest, waved at Tony with a cart of coal across the street, and opened up my knees on the way to the garage. The roadster whinnied as I went up to it, and I circled down the ramp, scared the daylights out of a truck as I emerged, and headed downtown with my good humor coming in again at every pore. I doubt if anything could ever get me so low that it wouldnt perk me up to get out and enjoy nature, anywhere between the two rivers from the Battery to i loth Street, but preferably below 59th.

I parked at the triangle and went in and took an elevator. They sent me right in to Cramers little inside room, but it was empty except for a clerk in uniform, and I sat down to wait. In a minute Cramer entered. I was thinking he might have the decency to act a little embarrassed, but he didnt; be was chewing a cigar and he appeared hearty. He didnt go to his desk, but stood there. I thought it wouldnt hurt to rub it in, so I asked him, Have you round Clara Fox yet?

He shook his head. Nope. No Clara Fox. But we will. Weve got Mike Walsh.

I lifted the brows. You dont say. Congratulations. Whered you find him?

He frowned down at me. Im not going to try to bluff you, Goodwin. Its a waste of time. Thats what I asked you to come down here for, this Mike Walsh. You and Wolfe have been cutting it pretty thin up there, but if you help me out on this well call it square. I want you to pick this Mike Walsh out for me. You wont have to appear, you can look through the panel.

I dont get you. I thought you said you had him.

Him hell. Cramer bit his cigar. Ive got eight of em. Oh. I grinned at him sympathetically. Think of that, eight Mike Walshes! Its a good thing it wasnt Bill Smith or Abe Cohen.

Will you pick him out?

I dont like to. I pulled a hesitation. Why cant the boys grind it out themselves?

Well, they cant. Weve got nothing at all to go on except that Harlan Scovil had his name on a piece of paper and he was at your place last night. We couldnt use a hose on all eight of them even if we were inclined that way The last one was brought in less than an hour ago, and hes worse than any of the others. Hes a night watchman and hes seventy if hes a day, and he says who he knows or doesnt know is none of our damn business, and Im inclined to believe him. Look here, Goodwin. This Walsh isnt a client of Wolfes. You dont owe him anything, and anyway were not going to hurt him unless he needs it. Come on and take a look and tell me if weve got him.

I shook my head. Im sorry It wouldnt go with the program. Id like to, but I cant.

Cramer took his cigar from his mouth and pointed it at me. Once more Im asking you. Will you do it?

I just shook my head.

He walked around the desk to his chair and sat down. He looked at me as if he regretted something. Finally he said, Its too much, Goodwin. This time its too much. Im going to have to put it on to you and Wolfe both for obstructing justice. Its all set for a charge. Even if I hated to worse than I do, Ive got upstairs to answer to.

He pushed a button on his desk. I said, Go ahead. Then, pretty soon, go ahead and regret it for a year or two and maybe longer.

The door opened and a gumshoe came in. Cramer turned to him. Youll have to turn em loose. Nick. Put shadows on all of them except the kid that goes to N. Y. U. and the radio singer. Theyre out. Take good men. If one of them gets lost youve got addresses to pick him up again. Any more they pick up, Ill see them after youve got a record down.

Yes, sir. The one from Brooklyn, the McGrue Club guy, is raising hell.

All right. Let him out. Ill phone McGrue later.

The gumshoe departed. Cramer tried to get his cigar lit. I said, And as far as upstairs is concerned, to hell with the Commissioner. How does he know whether or not its justice that Wolfes obstructing? How about that cripple Paul Chapin and that bird Bowen? Did he obstruct justice that time? If you ask me, I think you had a nerve to ask me to come down here. Are we interfering with your legal right to look for these babies? You even looked for one of them under Wolfes bed and under my bed. Do Wolfe and I wear badges, and do we line up on the first and fifteenth for a city check? We do not.

Cramer puffed. I ought to charge you.

I lifted the shoulders and let them drop. Sure. Youre just sore. Thats one way cops and newspaper reporters are all alike, they cant bear to have anyone know anything they wont tell. I looked at my wrist watch and saw it was nearly two oclock. Im hungry. Where do I eat, inside or out?

Cramer said, I dont give a damn if you never eat. Beat it.

I floated up and out, down the hall, down in the elevator, and back to the roadster. I looked around comprehensively, reflecting that within a radius of a few blocks eight Mike Walshes were scattering in all directions, six of them with tails, and that I would give at least two bits to know where one of them was headed for. But even if he had gone by my elbow that second I wouldnt have dared to take it up, since that would have spotted him for them, so I hopped in the roadster and swung north.

When I got back to the house Wolfe and Clara Fox were in the dining room, sitting with their coffee. They were so busy they only had time to toss me a nod, and I sat down at my end of the table and Fritz brought me a plate. She had on my dressing gown, with the sleeves rolled up, and a pair of Fritzs slippers with her ankles bare. Wolfe was reciting Hungarian poetry to her, a line at a time, and she was repeating it after him; and he was trying not to look pleased as she leaned forward with an ear cocked at him and her eyes on his lips, asking as if she were really interested, Say it again, slower, please do.

The yellow dressing gown wasnt bad on her, at that, but I was hungry.

I waded through a plate of minced lamb kidneys with green peppers, and a dish of endive, and as Fritz took the plate away and presented me with a hunk of pie I observed to the room, If youve finished with your coffee and have any time to spare, you might like to hear a report.

Wolfe sighed. I suppose so. But not here. He arose. If Fritz could serve your coffee in the office? And you. Miss Fox upstairs.

Oh, my lord. Must I dig in again?

Of course. Until dinner time. He bowed, meaning that he inclined his head two inches, and went off.

Clara Fox got up and walked to my end. Ill pour your coffee.

All right. Black and two lumps.

She screwed up her face. With all this grand cream here? Very well. You know, Mr. Goodwin, this house represents the most insolent denial of female rights the mind of man has ever conceived. No woman in it from top to bottom, but the routine is faultless, the food is perfect, and the sweeping and dusting are impeccable. I have never been a housewife, but I cant overlook this challenge. Im going to marry Mr. Wolfe, and I know a girl that will be just the thing for you, and of course our friends will be in and out a good deal. This place needs some upsetting.

I looked at her. The hem of the yellow gown was trailing the floor. The throat of it was spreading open, and it was interesting to see where her shoulders came to and how the yellow made her hair look. I said, Youve already upset enough. Go upstairs and behave yourself. Wolfe has three wives and nineteen children in Turkey.

I dont believe it. He has always hated women until he saw how nicely they pack in osmundine.

I grinned at her and got up. Thanks for the coffee. I may be able to persuade Wolfe to let you come down for dinner.

I balanced my cup and saucer in one hand while I opened the door for her with the other, and then went to the office and got seated at my desk and started to sip. Wolfe had his middle drawer open and was counting bottle caps to see how much beer he had drunk since Sunday morning. Finally he closed it and grunted.

I dont believe it for a moment. Bah. Statistics are notoriously unreliable. I had a very satisfactory talk with Mr. Lindquist over long distance, and I am more than ever anxious for a few words with Mr. Walsh. Did you see him?

No. I declined the invitation. I reported my session with Cramer in detail, mostly verbatim, which was the way he liked it.

Wolfe listened, and considered. I see. Then Mr. Walsh is loose again.

Yeah. Not only is he loose, but I dont see how we can approach him, since theres a tail on him. The minute we do theyll know its him and grab him away from us.

I suppose so. Wolfe sighed. Of course it would not do to abolish the police. For nine-tenths of the prey that the law would devour they are the ideal hunters, which is as it should be. As for Walsh, it is essential that I see him or that you do. Bring Keems.

I went to the front room, where Johnny was taking ten cents a game from Fred Durkin with a checkerboard, and shook him loose. He sat down next to the desk and Wolfe wiggled a finger at him.

Johnny, this is important. I dont send Archie because he is needed here, and Saul is not available.

Yes, sir. Shoot.

The Michael Walsh whom you followed this morning has been released by the police because they dont know if he is the one they want. They have put a shadow on him, so it would be dangerous for you to pick him up even if you knew where to look. It is very important for Archie to get in touch with him. Since he is pretending to the police that he is not the man they seek, there is a strong probability that he will stick to the ordinary routine of his life; that is, that he will go to work this evening. But if he does that he will certainly be followed there and a detective will be covering the entrance all evening; therefore Archie could not enter that way to see him. I am covering all details so that you will know exactly what we want.

Is it true that when a building project is boarded up, there is boarding where the construction adjoins the sidewalk but not on the other sides, where there are buildings?

I would think so; at least it may be so sometimes. Very well, I wish to know by what means Archie can enter that building project at, say, seven oclock this evening. Explore them all. I understand from Miss Fox, who was there last Thursday evening to talk with Mr. Walsh, that they have just started the steel framework.

Miss Fox also tells me that Mr. Walsh goes to work at six oclock. I want to know if he does so today. You can watch the entrance at that time, or you may perhaps have found another vantage point for observing him from inside. Use your judgment and your wit. Should you phone here, use code as far as possible. Be here by six-thirty with your report.

Yes, sir. Johnny stood up. If I have to sugar anybody around the other buildings in order to get through, Ill need some cash.

Wolfe nodded with some reserve. I got four fives from the safe and passed them over and Johnny tucked them in his vest. Then I took him to the hall and let him out.

I went back to my desk and fooled around with some things, made out a couple of checks, and ran over some invoices from Richardt. Wolfe was drinking beer and I was watching him out of the coiner of my eye. I was keyed up, and I knew why I was; it was something about him. A hundred times I tried to decide just what it was that made it so plain to me when he had the feeling that he was closing in and was about ready for the blow-up.

Once I would think that it was only that he sat differently in his chair, a little farther forward, and another time I would guess that it was the way he made movements, not quicker exactly but closer together, and still another time I would light on something else. I doubt if it was any of those. Maybe it was electric. There was more of a current turned on inside of him, and somehow I felt it. I felt it that day, as he filled his glass, and drained it and filled it again. And it made me uncomfortable, because I wasnt doing anything, and because there was always the danger that Wolfe would go off half cocked when he was keeping things to himself. So at length I offered an observation.

And I just sit here? Whats the idea, do you think those gorillas are coming back? I dont. Theyre not even watching the front. What was the matter with leaving Fred and Johnny here and letting me go to Fifty-fifth Street to do my own scouting? That might have been sensible, if you want me to see Mike Walsh by seven oclock. All Im suggesting is a little friendly chat. Ive heard you admit youve got lots of bad habits, but the worst one is the way you dig up odd facts out of phone calls and other sources when my back is turned and then expect me

I waved a hand.

Wolfe said, Nonsense. When have my expectations of you ventured beyond your capacity?

Never. How could they? But, for instance, if its so important for me to see Mike Walsh it might be a good idea for me to know why, unless you want him wrapped up and brought here.

Wolfe shook his head. Not that, I think. Ill inform you, Archie. In good time. He reached out and touched the button, then sighed and pushed the tray away. As for my sending Johnny and letting you sit here, you may be needed. While you were out Mr. Muir telephoned to ask if he might call here at half past two. It is that now

The devil he did. Muir?

Yes. Mr. Ramsey Muir. And as for my keeping you in ignorance of facts, you already interfere so persistently with my mental processes that I am disinclined to furnish you further grounds for speculation. In the present case you know the general situation as well as I do. Chiefly you lack patience, and my exercise of it infuriates you. If I know who killed Harlan Scotland since talking with Mr. Lindquist over long distance I think I dowhy do I not act at once? Firstly because I require confirmation, and secondly because our primary interest in this case is not the solution of a murder but the collection of a debt. If I expect to get the confirmation I require from Mr. Walsh, why do I not get him at once, secure my confirmation, and let the police have him? Because the course they would probably take, after beating his story out of him, would make it difficult to collect from Lord Clivers, and would greatly complicate the matter of clearing Miss Fox of the larceny charge. We have three separate goals to reach, and since it will be necessary to arrive at all of them simultaneouslybut there is the doorbell. Mr. Muir is three minutes late.

I went to the hall and took a look through the panel. Sure enough, it was Muir. I opened up and let him in. From the way he stepped over the door sill and snapped out that he wanted to see Wolfe, it was fairly plain that he was mad as hell. He had on a brown plaid topcoat cut by a tailor that was out of my class, but twenty-five years too young for him, and apparently he wasnt taking it off. I motioned him ahead of me into the office and introduced him, and allowed myself a polite grin when I saw that he wasnt shaking hands any more than Wolfe was. I pushed a chair around and he sat with his hat on his knees.

Wolfe said, Your secretary, on the telephone, seemed not to know what you wished to see me about. My surmise was, your charge against Miss Clara Fox. You understand of course that I am representing Miss Fox.

Yes. I understand that.

Well, sir?

The bones of Muirs face seemed to show, and his ears seemed to point forward, more than they had the day before. He kept his lips pressed together and his jaw was working from side to side as if all this emotion in his old age was nearly too much for him. I remembered how he had looked at Clara Fox the day before and thought it was remarkable that he could keep his digestion going with all the stew there must have been inside of him.

He said, I have come here at the insistence of Mr. Perry. His voice trembled a little, and when he stopped his jaw slid around. I want you to understand that I know she took that money. She is the only one who could have taken it. It was found in her car. He stopped a little to control his jaw. Mr. Perry told me of your threat to sue for damages. The insinuation in it is contemptible. What kind of a blackguard are you, to protect a thief by hinting calumnies against men who men above suspicion?

He paused and compressed his lips. Wolfe murmured, Well, go on. I dont answer questions containing two or more unsupported assumptions.

I dont think Muir heard him; he was only hearing himself and trying not to blow up. He said, Im here only for one reason, for the sake of the Seaboard Products Corporation. And not on account of your dirty threat either.

Thats not where the dirt is in the Seaboard Products Corporation that has got to be concealed. His voice trembled again Its the fact that the president of the corporation has to satisfy his personal sensual appetite by saving a common thief from what she deserves! Thats why she can laugh at me! Thats why she can stand behind your dirty threats! Because she knows what Perry wants, and she knows how

Mr. Muir! Wolfe snapped at him. I wouldnt talk like that if I were you. Its so futile. Surely you didnt come here to persuade me that Mr. Perry has a sensual appetite.

Muir made a movement and his hat rolled from his knees to the floor, but he paid no attention to it. His movement was for the purpose of getting his hand into his inside breast pocket, from which he withdrew a square manila envelope. He looked in it and fingered around and took out a small photograph, glanced at it, and handed it to Wolfe. There, he said, look at that.

Wolfe did so, and passed it to me. It was a snapshot of Clara Fox and Anthony D. Perry seated in a convertible coupe with the top down.

I laid it on the edge of the desk and Muir picked it up and returned it to the envelope. His jaw was moving.

He said, I have more than thirty of them. A detective took them for me. Perry doesnt know I have them. I want to make it clear to you that she deserves .. that she has a hold on him Wolfe put up a hand. Im afraid I must interrupt you again, Mr. Muir. I dont like photographs of automobiles. You say that Mr. Perry insisted on your coming here. Ill have to insist on your telling me what for.

But you understand

No. I wont listen. I understand enough. Perhaps I had better put a question or two. Is it true that you have recovered all of the missing money?

Muir glared at him. You know we have. It was found under the back seat of her car.

But if that was her car in the photograph, it has no back seat.

She bought a new one in August. The photograph was taken in July. I suppose Perry bought it. Her salary is higher than any other woman in our organization.

Splendid. But about the money. If you have it back, why are you determined to prosecute?

Why shouldnt we prosecute? Because shes guilty! She took it from my desk, knowing that Perry would protect her! With her body, with her Qesh, with her surrender

No, Mr. Muir. Wolfes hand was up again. Please. I put the question wrong, I shouldnt have asked why. I want to know, are you determined to prosecute?

Muir clamped his lips. He opened them, and clamped them again. At last he spoke, We were. I was.

Was? Are you still?

No reply. Are you still, Mr. Muir?

I no.

Indeed. Wolfes eyes narrowed. You are prepared to withdraw the charge?

Yes under certain circumstances.

What circumstances?

I want to see her. Muir stopped because his voice was trembling again.

I have promised Perry that I will withdraw the charge provided I can see her, alone, and tell her myself. He sat up and his jaw tightened. Thatthose are the circumstances.

Wolfe looked at him a moment and then leaned back. He sighed. I think possibly that can be arranged. But you must first sign a statement exonerating her.

Before I see her?

Yes.

No. I see her first. Muirs lips worked. I must see her and tell her myself. If I had already signed a statement, she wouldnt no. I wont do that.

But you cant see her first. Wolfe sounded patient. There is a warrant in force against her, sworn to by you. I do not suspect you of treachery, I merely protect my client. You say that you have promised Mr. Perry that you will withdraw the charge. Do so. Mr. Goodwin will type the statement, you will sign it, and I will arrange a meeting with Miss Fox later in the day.

Muir was shaking his head. He muttered, No. No I wont. All at once he broke loose worse than he had in Perrys office the day before. He jumped up and banged his hand on the desk and leaned over at Wolfe. I tell you I must see her! You damn blackguard, youve got her here! What for? What do you get out of it? What do you and Perry

I had a good notion to slap him one, but of course he was too old and too little. Wolfe, leaning back, opened his eyes to look at him and then closed them. Muir went on raving. I got out of my chair and told him to sit down, and he began yelling at me, something about how I had looked at her in Perrys office yesterday. That sounded as if he might really be going to have a fit, so I took a step and got hold of his shoulders with a fairly good grip and persuaded him into his chair, and he shut up as suddenly as he had started and pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and began wiping his face with his hand trembling.

As he did that and I stepped back, the doorbell rang. I wasnt sure about leaving Wolfe there alone with a maniac, but when I didnt move he lifted his brows at me, so I went to see who the customer was.

I looked through the panel. It was a rugged-looking guy well past middle age in a loose-hanging tweed suit, with a red face, straight eyebrows over tired gray eyes, and no lobe on his right ear. Even without the ear I would have recognized him from the Times picture. I opened the door and asked him, what he wanted and he said in a wounded tone, Id like to see Mr. Nero Wolfe. Lord Clivers.


Chapter 11 | The Rubber Band | Chapter 13







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