When, about a quarter after nine Wednesday morning, I went up to the plant rooms with a message, I thought that Wolfe’s genius had at last bubbled over and he had gone nuts for good. He was in the potting room, stand ing by the bench, with a piece of board about four inches wide and ten inches long in each hand. He paid no attention to me when I entered. He held his hands two feet apart and then swiftly brought them together, flat sides of the two pieces of board meeting with a loud clap. He did that several times. He shook his head and threw one of the boards down and began hitting things with the other one, the top of the bench, one of its legs and then another one, the seat of a chair, the palm of his hand, a pile of wrapping paper. He kept shaking his head. Finally, deciding to admit I was there, he tossed the board down and turned his eyes on me with ferocious hostility – “Well, sir?” he demanded.
I said in a resigned tone, “Cramer phoned again. That’s three times. He says that District Attorney Skinner got tight after he left here and is now at his office with a hangover, cutting off people’s heads. As far as that’s concerned, I’ve had four hours’ sleep two nights in a row and I’ve got a headache. He says that the publisher of the Gazette told the Secretary of State to go to hell over long distance. He wants to know if we have seen the morning papers. He says that two men from Washington are in Hombert’s office with copies of cables from London. He says that Hombert saw Clivers at his hotel half an hour ago and asked him about his visit to our office yesterday afternoon, and Clivers said it was a private matter and it will be a nice day if it don’t rain. He says you have got to open up or he will open you. In addition to that. Miss Fox and Miss Lindquist are having a dogfight because their nerves are going back on them. In addition to that, Fritz is on the warpath because Saul and Johnny hang out in the kitchen too much and Johnny ate up some tambo shells he was going to put mushrooms into for lunch. In addition to that, I can’t get you to tell me whether I am to go to the Hotel Portland to look at Clivers’ documents which came on the Berengaria. In addition to that …”
I stopped for breath.
Wolfe said, “You badger me. Those are all trivialities. look at me.” he picked up the board and threw it down again. “I am sacrificing my hours of pleasure in an effort to straighten out the only tangle that remains in this knot, and you harass me with these futilities. Did the Secretary of State go to hell? If so, tell the others to join him there.”
“Yeah, sure. I’m telling you, they’re all going to be around here again. I can’t hold them off.”
“Lock the door. Keep them out. I will not be hounded!”
He turned away, definitely. I threw up my hands and beat it. On my way downstairs I stopped a second at the door of the south room, and heard the voices of the two clients still at it. In the lower hall I listened at the kitchen door and perceived that Fritz was still shrill with fury. The place was a madhouse.
Wolfe had been impossible from the time I first went to his room around seven o’clock, because he hadn’t taken his phone when I buzzed him, to report the first call from Cramer. I had never seen him so actively unfriendly, but I didn’t really mind that, knowing he was only peeved at himself on account of his genius not working right. What got me on edge was first, I had a headache; second, Fritz and the clients had to unload their troubles on me; and third, I didn’t like all the cussings from outsiders on the telephone. It had been going on for over two hours and it was keeping up.
After taking another aspirin and doing a few morning chores around the office, I sat down at my desk and got out the plant records and entered some items from Horstmann’s reports of the day before, and went over some bills and so on. There were circulars and lists from both Richardt and Hoehn in the morning mail, also a couple of catalogues from England, and I glanced over them and laid them aside. There was a phone call from Harry Foster of the Gazette, who had found out somehow that we were supposed to know something, and I kidded him and backed him off. Then, a little after ten o’clock, the phone rang again, and the first thing I knew I was talking to the Marquis of Clivers himself. I had half a mind to get Wolfe on, but decided to take the message instead, and after I rang off I gathered up the catalogues and circulars and reports and slipped a rubber band around them and proceeded upstairs.
Wolfe was standing at one side of the third room, frowning at a row of seedling hybrids in their second year. He looked plenty forbidding, and Horstmann, whom I had passed in the tropical room, had had the appearance of having been crushed to earth.
I sailed into the storm. I flipped the rubber band on my little bundle and said, “Here’s those lists from Richardt and also some from Hoehn, and some catalogues from England. Do you want them or shall I leave them in the potting room? And Clivers just called on the telephone. He says those papers came, and if you want to go and look at them, or send me, okay. He didn’t say anything about his little mix-up with the police last night, and of course I was too polite—”
I stopped because Wolfe wasn’t listening. His lips had suddenly pushed out a full half inch, and he had glued his eyes on the bundle in my hand. He stood that way a long while and I shut my mouth and stared at him.
Finally he murmured, “That’s it. Confound you, Archie, did you know it? Is that why you brought it here?”
I asked courteously, “Have you gone cuckoo?”
He ignored me. “But of course not. It’s your fate again.” He closed his eyes and sighed a deep sigh, and murmured, “Rubber Coleman. The Rubber Band. Of course.” He opened his eyes and flashed them at me. “Saul is downstairs? Send him up at once.”
“What about Clivers?”
He went imperious. “Wait in the office. Send Saul.”
Knowing there was no use pursuing any inquiries, I hopped back down to the kitchen door and beckoned Saul out into the hall. He stuck his nose up at me and I told him, “Wolfe wants you upstairs. For God’s sake watch your step, because he has just found the buried treasure and you know what to expect when he’s like that. If he requests anything grotesque, consult me.
I went back to my desk, but of course plant records were out. I lit a cigarette, and took my pistol out of the drawer and looked it over and put it back again, and kicked over my wastebasket and let it lay.
There were steps on the stairs, and Saul’s voice came from the door. “Let me out, Archie. I’ve got work to do,”
“Let yourself out. What are you afraid of?”
I stuck my hands in my pockets and stretched out my legs and sat on my shoulder blades and scowled. Ten minutes after Saul had left the phone rang. I uttered a couple of expletives as I reached for it, thinking it was one of the pack with another howl, but Saul Panzer’s voice was in my ear. “Archie? Connect me with Mr. Wolfe.”
I thought, now that was quick work, and plugged and buzzed. Wolfe’s voice sounded. “Nero Wolfe.”
“Yes, sir. This is Saul. I’m ready.”
“Good. Archie? You don’t need to take this.”
I hung up with a bang and a snort. My powers of dissimulation were being saved from strain again. But that kind of thing didn’t really get me sore, for I knew perfectly well why Wolfe didn’t always point out to me the hole he was getting ready to crawl through: he knew that half the time I’d be back at him with damn good proof that it couldn’t he done, which would only have been a nuisance, since he intended to do it anyway. No guy who knows he’s right because he’s too conceited to be wrong can be expected to go into conference about it.
Five minutes after that phone call from Saul the fun began. I got a ring from Wolfe upstairs. “Try for Lord Clivers.”
I got the Hotel Portland and got through to him, and Wolfe spoke. “Good morning, sir. I received your message … Yes, so I understand … No, he can’t go …If you will be so good—one moment—a very important development has taken place, and I don’t like to discuss details on the telephone. You may remember that on the phone yesterday afternoon Mr. Walsh spoke to you regarding a certain person whom he had just seen…. Yes, he is both dangerous and desperate; moreover, he is cornered, and there is only one course open to you that can possibly prevent the fullest and most distasteful publicity on the whole affair. … I know that, that’s why I want you to come to my office at once…. No, sir, take my word for it, it won’t do, I should have to expose him immediately and publicly…. Yes, sir…. Good. That’s a sensible man. Be sure to bring those papers along. I’ll expect you in fifteen minutes….”
Clivers rang off, but Wolfe stayed on.
“Archie. Try for Mr. Muir.”
I got the Seaboard Products Corporation, and Miss Barish, and then Muir, and buzzed Wolfe.
“Mr. Muir? Good morning, sir. This is Nero Wolfe…. One moment, sir, I beg you. I have learned, to my great discomfiture, that I did an act of injustice yesterday, and I wish to rectify it. … Yes, yes, quite so, I understand…. Yes, indeed. I prefer not to discuss it on the telephone, but I am sure you will find yourself as satisfied as you deserve to be if you will come to my office at half past eleven this morning, and bring Mr. Perry with you…. No, I’m sorry, I can’t do that. Miss Fox will be here…. Yes, she is here now…. No, half past eleven, not before, and it will be necessary to have Mr. Perry present…. Oh, surely not, he has shown a most active interest…. Yes, it’s only a short distance….”
I heard Muir’s click off, and said into my transmitter, “That will bring that old goat trotting up here without stopping either for Perry or his hat. Why didn’t you—”
“Thanks, Archie. Try for Mr. Cramer.”
I got headquarters, and Cramer’s extension and his clerk. Then the inspector. Wolfe got on. “Good morning, Mr. Cramer … Yes, indeed, I received your messages, but I have been occupied to good purpose. … So I understand, but could I help that? Can you be at my office at half past eleven? I shall be ready for you at that time…. The fact is, I do not intend merely to give you information, I hope to deliver a finished case. … I can’t help that either; do you think I have the Moerae running errands for me? … Certainly, if they wish to come, bring them, though I think it would be well if Mr. Hombert went back to diapers…. Yes, eleventhirty….”
Cramer was off. I said, “Shall I try for the Cabinet?”
“No, thanks.” Wolfe was purring. “When Lord Clivers arrives, bring him up here at once.”