“Five thousand pounds,” Clivers said. “To be paid at once, and to be returned to me if and when recovery is made from Coleman’s estate. That’s fair. I don’t: say it’s generous. Who the devil can afford to be generous nowadays?”
Wolfe shook his head. “I see I’ll have to get you on the wing. You dart like a hummingbird from two thousand to ten to seven to five. We’ll take the ten, under the conditions you suggest.”
Clara Fox put in, “I don’t want anything. I’ve told you that. I won’t take anything.”
It was nearly three o’clock and we were all in the office. There had been six of us at lunch, which had meant another pick-me-up. Muir had gone, sped on his way by a pronouncement from Wolfe to the effect that he was a scabrous jackass, without having seen Clara Fox. Cramer and Hombert and Skinner had departed, after accepting Wolfe’s suggestion for protecting the marquis from further publicity, and I had agreed to tt. Doc Vollmer had come and fixed up Wolfe’s arm and had gone again. What was left of Rubber Coleman-Anthony D. Perry had been taken away under Cramer’s supervision, and the office floor looked bare because the big red and yellow rug where Perry had sat and where they had stretched him out was down in the basement, waiting for the cleaners to call. The bolt was back on the front door and I was acting as hall boy again, because reporters were still buzzing around the entrance like flies on the screen on a cloudy day.
Wolfe said, “You’re still my client. Miss Fox. You are under no compulsion to take my advice, but it is my duty to offer it. First, take what belongs to you; your renunciation would not resurrect Mr. Scovil or Mr. Walsh, nor even Mr. Perry. Almost certainly, a large sum can be collected from Mr. Perry’s estate. Second, remember that I have earned a fee and you will have to pay it. Third, abandon for good your career as an adventuress; you’re much too soft-hearted for it.”
Clara Fox glanced at Francis Horrocks, who was sitting there looking at her with that sickening sweet expression that you occasionally see in public and at the movies. It was a relief to see him glance at Wolfe and get his mind on something else for a brief moment. He blurted out, “I say, you know, if she doesn’t want to take money from that chap’s estate, she doesn’t have to. It’s her own affair, what? Now, if my uncle paid your fee … it’s all the same …”
“Shut up, Francis.” Clivers was impatient. “How the devil is it all the same? Let’s get this settled. I’ve already missed one engagement and shall soon be late for another. Look here, seven thousand.”
Hilda Lindquist said, “I’ll take what I can get. It doesn’t belong to me, it’s my father’s.” Her square face wasn’t exactly cheerful, but I wouldn’t say she looked wretched. She leveled her eyes at Clivers. “If you had been halfway careful when you paid that money twenty-nine years ago, father would have got his share then, when mother was still alive and my brother hadn’t died.”
Clivers didn’t bother with her. He looked at Wolfe. “Let’s get on. Eight thousand.”
“Come, come, sir.” Wolfe wiggled a finger at him. “Make it dollars. Fifty thousand. The exchange favors you. There is a strong probability that you’ll get it back when Perry’s estate is settled; besides, it might be argued that you should pay my tee instead of Miss Fox. There is no telling how this might have turned out for you but for my intervention.”
“Bah.” Clivers snorted. “Even up there. I saved your life. I shot him.”
“Oh, no. Read the newspapers. Mr. Goodwin shot him.”
Clivers looked at me, and suddenly exploded with his three short blasts, haw-haw-haw. “So you did, eh? Goodwin’s your name? Damned fine shooting!” He turned to Wolfe. “All right. Draw up a paper and send to my hotel, and you’ll get a check.” He got up from his chair, glancing down at the mess he had made of the front of his coat. “I’ll have to go there now and change. A fine piece of cloth ruined. I’m sorry not to see more of your orchids. You, Francis! Come on.”
Horrocks was murmuring something in a molasses tone to Clara Fox and she was taking it in and nodding at him. He finished, and got up. “Right-o.” He moved across and stuck out his paw at Wolfe. “You know, I want to say, it was devilish dever, the way you watered Miss Fox yesterday morning and they never suspected. It was the race you put on that stumped them, what?”
“No doubt.” Wolfe got his hand back again. “Since you gentlemen are sailing Saturday, I suppose we shan’t see you again. Bon voyage.”
“Thanks,” Clivers grunted. “At least for myself. My nephew isn’t sailing.
He has spent a fortune on cables and got himself transferred to the Washington embassy. He’s going to carve out a career. He had better, because I’m damned if he’ll get my tide for another two decades. Come on, Francis.”
I glanced at Clara Fox, and my dreams went short on ideals then and there.
If I ever saw a woman look smug and self-satisfied …