When Wolfe came down to the office from the plant rooms at six o’clock, Saul Panzer and Orrie Gather were there waiting for him. Fred Durkin, who had spent most of the afternoon in the kitchen with the cookie jar, had been sent home at five, after I had warned him to cross the street if he saw a cop.
Nothing much had happened, except that Anthony D. Perry had telephoned a little after Fred had left, to say that he would like to call at the office and see Wolfe at seven o’clock. Since I would be leaving about that time to sneak up on Mike Walsh, I asked him if he couldn’t make it at six, but he said other engagements prevented. I tried a couple of leading questions on him, but he got brusque and said his business was with Nero Wolfe.
I knew Saul would be around, or Johnny Keems, so I said okay for seven.
There had been no word from Johnny, The outstanding event of the afternoon had been the arrival of another enormous box of roses from the Horrocks person, and he had had the brass to have the delivery label addressed to me, with a card on the inside scribbled “Thanks Goodwin for forwarding,” so now in addition to acting as hall boy and as a second-hand ladies’ outfitter, apparently I was also expected to be a common carrier.
I had lost sixty cents. At a quarter to four, a few minutes after Clivers had gone, Wolfe had suggested that since I hadn’t been out much a little exercise wouldn’t hurt me any. He had made no comments on the news from Clivers, and I thought he might if I went along with him, but I told him I couldn’t see it at two bits. He said, all right, a dime. So I mounted the stairs while he took the elevator and we met in his room. He took his coat and vest off, exhibiting about eighteen square feet of canary-yellow shirt, and chose the darts with yellow feathers, which were his favorites. The first hand he got an ace and two bull’s eyes, making three aces. By four o’clock, time for him to go to the plant rooms, it had cost me sixty cents and I bad got nothing out of it because he had been too concentrated on the game to talk.
I went on up to the south room and was in there nearly an hour. There were three reasons for it: first, Wolfe had instructed me to tell Clara Fox about the visits from Muir and Clivers; second, she was restless and needed a little discipline; and third, I had nothing else to do anyhow. She had her clothes on again. She said Fritz had given her an iron to press with, but her dress didn’t look as if she had used it much. I told her I supposed an adventuress wouldn’t be so hot at ironing. When I told her about Muir she just made a face and didn’t seem disposed to furnish any remarks, but she was articulate about Clivers. She thought he was lying. She said that she understood he was considered one of the ablest of British diplomats, and it was to be expected he would use his talents for private business as well as public.
I said that I hadn’t observed anything particularly able about him except that he could empty a glass of beer as fast as Nero Wolfe; that while he might not be quite as big a sap as his nephew Francis Horrocks he seemed fairly primitive to me, even for a guy who had spent most of his life on a little island.
She said it was just a difference in superficial mannerisms, that she too had thought Horrocks a sap at first, that I would change my mind when I knew him better, and that after all traditions weren’t necessarily silly just because they weren’t American. I said I wasn’t talking about traditions, I was talking about saps, and as far as I was concerned saps were out, regardless of race, nationality, or religion. It went on from there until she said she guessed she would go up and take advantage of Mr. Wolfe’s invitation to look at the orchids, and I went down to send Fred home.
When Wolfe came down I was at my desk working on some sandwiches and milk, for I didn’t know when I might get back from my trip uptown.
I told him about the phone call from Perry. He went into the front room to get reports from Saul and Orrie, which made me sore as usual, but when he came back and settled into his chair and rang for beer I made no effort to stimulate him into any choice remarks about straining my powers of dissimulation, because he didn’t give me a chance. Having sent Orrie home and Saul to the kitchen, he was ready for me, and he disclosed the nature of my mission with Mike Walsh. It wasn’t precisely what I had expected, but I pretended it was by keeping nonchalant and casual. He drank beer and wiped his lips and told me, “I’m sorry, Archie, if this bores you.”
I said, “Oh, I expect it. Just a matter of routine.”
He winked at me, and I turned and picked up my milk to keep from grinning back at him, and the telephone rang.
It was Inspector Cramer. He asked for Wolfe and I passed the signal, and of course kept my own line. Cramer said, “What about this Clara Eox? Are you going to bring her down here, or tell me where to send for her?”
Wolfe murmured into the transmitter, “What is this, Mr. Cramer? A new tacric? I don’t get it.”
“Now listen, Wolfe!” Cramer sounded hurt and angry. “First you tell me you’ve got her hid because we tried to snatch her on a phony larceny charge. Now that that’s out of the way, do you think you’re going to pull—”
“What?” Wolfe stopped him. “The larceny charge out of the way?”
“Certainly. Don’t pretend you didn’t know it, since of course you did it, though I don’t know how. You can put over the damnedest tricks.”
“No doubt. But please tell me how you learned this.”
“Frisbie over at the District Attorney’s office. It seems that a fellow named Muir, a vice-president up at that Seaboard thing where she worked, is a friend of Frisbie’s. He’s the one that swore out the warrant. Now he’s backed up, and it’s all off, and I want to see this Miss Fox and hear her tell me that she never heard of Harlan Scovil, like all the Mike Walshes we got.”
Cramer became sarcastic. “Of course this is all news to you.”
“It is indeed.” Wolfe sent a glance at me, with a lifted brow. “Quite pleasant news. Let’s see. I suspect it would be too difficult to persuade you that I know nothing of Miss Fox’s whereabouts, so I shan’t try. It is now six-thirty, and I shall have to make some inquiries. Where can I telephone you at eight?”
“Oh, for God’s sake,” Cramer sounded disgusted. “I wish I’d let the Commissioner pull you in, as he wanted to. I don’t need to tell you why I hate to work against you, but have a heart. Send her down here, I won’t bite her. I was going to a show tonight.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Cramer.” Wolfe affected his sweet tone, which always made me want to kick him. “I must Erst verify your information about the larceny charge, and then I must get in touch with Miss Fox. You’ll be there until eight o’clock.”
Cramer grunted something profane, and we hung up.
“So.” I tossed down my notebook. “Mr. Muir is yellow after all, and Mr. Perry is probably coming to find out how you knew he would be. Shake-up in the Seaboard Products Corporation. But where the devil is Johnny—ah, see that? All I have to do is pronounce his name and he rings the doorbell.”
I went to the entrance and let him in. One look at his satisfied handsomeness was enough to show that he had been marvelous all over again. As a matter of fact, Johnny Keems unquestionably had an idea at the back of his head—and still has—that it would be a very fine thing for the detective business if he got my job. Which doesn’t bother me a bit, because I know Wolfe would never be able to stand him. He puts slick stuff on bis hair and he wears spats, and he would never get the knack of keeping Wolfe on the job by bawling him out properly. I know what I get paid high wages for, though I’ve never been able to decide whether Wolfe knows that I know.
I took Johnny to the office and he sat down and began pulling papers out of his pocket. He shuffled through them and announced, “I thought it would be better to make diagrams. Of course I could have furnished Archie with verbal descriptions, but along with my shorthand I’ve learned—”
Wolfe put in, “Is Mr. Walsh there now?”
Johnny nodded. “He came a few minutes before six. I was watching from the back of a restaurant that fronts on Fifty-sixth Street, because I knew he’d have a shadow and I didn’t want to run a risk of being seen, a lot of those city detectives know me. By the way, there’s only the one entrance to the boarding, on Fifty-fifth.” He handed the papers across to Wolfe. “I dug up nine other ways to get in. Some of them you couldn’t use, but with two of them, a restaurant and a pet shop that’s open until nine, it’s a cinch.”
Instead of taking the papers, Wolfe nodded at me. “Give them to Archie. Is there anyone in there besides Mr. Walsh?”
“I don’t think so. It’s mostly steel men on the job now, and they quit at five. Of course it was dark when I left, and it isn’t lit up much. There’s a wooden shed at one side with a couple of tables and a phone and so on, and a man was standing there talking to Walsh, a foreman, but he looked as if he was ready to leave. The reason I was a little late, after I got out of there I went around to Fifty-fifth to see if there was a shadow on the job, and there was. I spotted him easy. He was standing there across the street, talking to a taxi driver.”
“All right. Satisfactory. Go over the diagrams with Archie.”
Johnny explained to me how good the diagrams were, and I had to agree with him. They were swell. Five of them I discarded, because four of them were shops that wouldn’t be open and the other was the Orient Club, which wouldn’t be easy to get into. Of the remaining four, one was the pet shop, one a movie theater with a fire alley, and two restaurants. After Johnny’s detailed description of the relative advantages and disadvantages, I picked one of the restaurants for the first stab. It seemed like a lot of complicated organization work for getting ready to stop in and ask a guy a question, but considering what the question led to in Wolfe’s mental arrangements it seemed likely that it might be worth the trouble. By the time we were through with Johnny’s battle maps it lacked only a few minutes till seven, and I followed my custom of chucking things in the drawers, plugging the phone for all the house connections, and taking my automatic and giving it a look and sticking it in my pocket. I got up and pushed my chair in.
I asked Johnny, “Can you hang around for a couple of hours’ overtime?”
“I can if I eat.”
“Okay. You’ll find Saul in the kitchen. There’s a caller expected at seven and he’ll tend to the door. Stick around. Mr. Wolfe may want you to exercise your shorthand.”
Johnny strode out. I think he practiced striding. I started to follow, but turned to ask Wolfe, “Are you going to grab time by the forelock? Will there be a party when I get back?”
“I couldn’t say.” Wolfe’s hand was resting on the desk; he was waiting for the door to close behind me, to ring for beer. “We’ll await the confirmation.”
“Shall I phone?”
“No. Bring it.”
“Okay.” I turned.
The telephone rang. From force of habit I wheeled again and stepped to my desk for it, though I saw that Wolfe had reached for his receiver. So we both heard it, a voice that sounded far away but thin and tense with excitement. “Nero Wolfe! Nero—”
I snapped, “Yes. Talking.”
“I’ve got him! Come up here … Fifty-fifth Street … Mike Walsh this is … I’ve got him covered … come up—”
It was cut off by the sound of a shot in the receiver—a sound of an explosion so loud in my ear that it might have been a young cannon. Then there was nothing. I said “Hello, Walsh! Walsh!” a few times, but there was no answer.
I hung up and turned to Wolfe. “Well, by Godfrey. Did you hear anything?”
He nodded. “I did. And I don’t understand it.”
“Indeed. That’s a record. What’s the program, hop up there?”
Wolfe’s eyes were shut, and his lips were moving out and in. He stayed that way a minute. I stood and watched him. Finally he said, “If Walsh shot someone, who was it? But if someone shot him, why now? Why not yesterday or a week ago? In any case, you might as well go and learn what happened. It may have been merely a steel girder crashing off its perch;
there was enough noise.”
“No. That was a gun.”
“Very well. Find out. If you—ah! The doorbell. Indeed. You might attend to that first. Mr. Perry is punctual.”
As I entered the hall Saul Panzer came out of the kitchen, and I sent him back. I turned on the stoop light and looked through the panel because it was getting to be a habit, and saw it was Perry. I opened the door and he stepped inside and put his hat and gloves on the stand. I followed him into the office.
Wolfe said, “Good evening sir. I have reflected, Archie, that the less one meddles the less one becomes involved. You might have Saul phone the hospital that there has been an accident. Oh. no, Mr. Perry, nothing serious, thank you.”
I went to the kitchen and told Saul Panzer: “Go to Alien’s on Thirtyfourth Street and phone headquarters that you think you heard a shot inside the building construction on Fifty-fifth near Madison and they’d better investigate at once. If they want to know who you are, tell them King George.
Make it snappy.”
That was a nickel wasted, but I didn’t know it then.