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Chapter 5

Slim Foltz was looking at me.

I said, Harlan Scovil? Sure. He was here this afternoon.

Foltz got in his pocket again and fished out a little black memo book and a pencil stub. What time?

He got here around four-thirty, a little before maybe, and left at fivetwenty-six.

What did he want?

He wanted to see Nero Wolfe.

What about?

I shook my head regretfully. There youve got me, mister. I told him hed have to wait until six oclock, so he was waiting.

He must have said something.

Certainly he said something. He said he wanted to see Nero Wolfe.

What else did he say?

He said there seemed to be very little spittin done east of the Mississippi River, and he wanted to know if there were any honest men this side of the mountains. He didnt say specifically what he wanted to see Mr. Wolfe about Wed never seen him or heard of him before. Oh yes, he said he just got to New York this morning, from Wyoming. By the way, just because that license was in his pocketwas he over six feet, around sixty, blue serge suit with sleeves too short and the lapel torn a little on the right side, with a leathery red face and a cowboy hat.

Thats him, the dick grunted. What did he come to New York for?

To see Nero Wolfe, I guess. I grinned. Thats the kind of a rep weve got If you mean, did he give any hint as to who might want to bump him off, he didnt.

Did he see Wolfe?

No. I told you, he left at five-twenty-six, Mr. Wolfe never comes down until six oclock.

Why didnt he wait?

Because he got a phone call.

He got a phone call here?

Right here in this room. I wasnt here. I had gone out, leaving this bird here waiting for six oclock. The phone was answered by Fritz Brenner, Mr. Wolfes chef and household pride. Want to see him?

Yeah. If you dont mind.

Wolfe rang. Fritz came. Wolfe told him he was to answer the gentlemans questions, and Fritz said Yes, sir and stood up straight All Foltz got out of Fritz was the same as I had got. He had put down the time of the phone call, 5:26, in accordance with Wolfes standing instructions for exactness in all details of the household and office. It was a roan phoning, and he had not given his name and Fritz had not recognized his voice. Fritz had not overheard any of the conversation. Harlan Scovil had immediately left, without saying anything.

Fritz went back to the kitchen.

The dick frowned at the piece of paper. I wasnt expecting to draw a blank here. I came here first. Theres other names on this paperClara Fox, Michael Walsh, Michael spelled wrong, Hilda Lindquist, thats what it looks like, and a Marquis of Clivers. I dont suppose you

I homed in, shaking my head. As I said, when this Harlan Scovil popped in here at half past four today, I had never seen him before. Nor any of those others. Strangers to me. Im sure Mr. Wolte hadnt either. Had you, sir?

Seen them? No. But I believe I had heard of one of them. Wasnt it the Marquis of Clivers we were discussing yesterday?

Discussing? Yes, sir. When you dropped that javelin. That piece in the paper. I looked at Foltz helpfully. There was an article in the Times yesterday, magazine section

He nodded. I know all about that. The sergeant was telling me. This marquis seems to be something like a duke, hes immune by reason of a foreign power or something. It dont even have to be a friendly foreign power. The sergeant says this business might possibly be an international plot. Captain Devore is going to make arrangements to see this marquis and maybe warn him or protect him.

Splendid. Wolfe nodded approvingly. The police earn the gratitude or all of us. But for them, Mr. Foltz, we private investigators might sit and wait for clients in vain.

Yeah. Foltz got up. Much obliged for the compliment, even if thats all I get. I mean, I havent got much information. Except that telephone call, that may lead to something. Scovil was shot only four blocks from here, on Thirty-first Street, only nine minutes after he got that phone call, at fivethirty-five. He was walking along the sidewalk and somebody going by in a car reached out and plugged him, filled him full. He was dead right then.

It was pretty dark around there, but a man nearby saw the license, and the cars already been found, parked on Ninth Avenue. Nobody saw anyone get out of it

Well, thats something. I was hopeful. That ought to get you somewhere.

Probably stolen. They usually are. The dick had his hat in his hand. Gang stuff, it looks like. Much obliged to you folks anyhow.

Dont mention it. Slim.

I went to the hall with him, and saw him out the front door, and shut it after him and slid the bolt. Before I returned to the office I stopped at the kitchen and told Fritz that Id answer any doorbells that might ring for the rest of the evening.

I crossed to Wolfes desk and grinned at him. Ha-ha. The damn police were here.

Wolfe looked at the clock, which said ten minutes past seven. He reached out and pushed the button, and, when Fritz came, leaned back and sighed.

Fritz.

Yes, sir.

A calamity. We cannot possibly dine at eight as usual. Not dine, that is. We can eat, and I suppose we shall have to. You have filets of beef with sauce Abano.

Yes, sir.

Wolfe sighed again. You will have to serve it in morsels, for five persons. By adding some of the fresh stock you can have plenty of soup. Open Hungarian petits poissons. You have plenty of fruit? Fill in as you can. It is distressing, but theres no help for it.

The sauce is a great success, sir. I could give the others canned chicken and mushrooms

Confound it, no! If there are to be hardships, I must share them. Thats all. Bring me some beer.

Fritz went, and Wolfe turned to me. Bring Clara Fox.

I unlocked the door to the front room. Fritz hadnt turned on all the lights, and it was dim. The two women were side by side on the divan, and Mike Walsh was in a chair, blinking at me as if he had been asleep.

I said, Mr. Wolfe would like to speak to Miss Fox.

Mike Walsh said, Im hungry.

Clara Fox said, To all of us.

First just you. Please. Therell be some grub pretty soon, Mr. Walsh. If youll wait in here.

Clara Fox hesitated, then got up and preceded me. I shut the door, and she went back to her chair in front of Wolfe, the one the dick had sat in. Wolfe had emptied a glass and was filling it up again.

Will you have some beer. Miss Fox?

She shook her head. Thank you. But I dont like to discuss this with you alone, Mr. Wolfe. The others are just as much

To be sure. Permit me. He wiggled a finger at her. They shall join us presently. The fact is, I wish to touch on something else for a moment. Did you take that money from Mr. Muirs desk?

She looked at him steadily. We shouldnt let things get confused. Are you acting now as the agent of the Seaboard Products Corporation?

Im asking you a question. You came here to consult me because you thought I had abilities. I have; Im using them. Either answer my question or find abilities elsewhere. Did you take that money?

No.

Do you know who took it?

No.

Do you know anything about it?

No. I have certain suspicions, but nothing specific about the money itself.

Do you mean suspicions on account of the attitude of Mr. Perry and Mr. Muir toward you personally?

Yes. Chiefly Mr. Muir. Good. Now this: Did you kill anyone this evening between five and six oclock?

She stared at him. Dont be an idiot

He drank some beer, wiped his lips, and leaned back in his chair. Miss Fox. The avoidance of idiocy should be the primary and constant concern ot every intelligent person. It is mine. I am sometimes successful. Take, for instance, your statement that you did not steal that money. Do I believe it? As a philosopher, I believe nothing. As a detective, I believe it enough to leave it behind me, hut am prepared to glance back over my shoulder. As a man, I believe it utterly. I assure you, my reason for the questions I am asking is not idiotic. For one thing, I am observing your face as you reply to them. Bear with me; we shall be getting somewhere, I think. Did you kill anyone this evening between five and six oclock?

No.

Did Mr. Walsh or Miss Lindquist do so?

Kill anyone?

Yes.

She smiled at him. As a philosopher, I dont know. Im not a detective. As a woman, they didnt.

If they did, you have no knowledge of it?

No.

Good. Have you a dollar bill?

I suppose I have.

Give me one.

She shook her head, not in refusal, but in resigned perplexity at senseless antics. She looked in her bag and got out a dollar bill and handed it to Wolfe. He took it and unfolded it and handed it across to me.

Enter it, please, Archie. Retainer from Miss Clara Fox. And get Mr. Perry on the phone. He turned to her. You are now my client.

She didnt smile. With the understanding, I suppose, that I may

May sever the connection? His creases unfolded. By all means. Without notice.

I found Perrys number and dialed it. After giving my fingerprints by television to some dumb kluck I finally got him on, and nodded to Wolfe to take it.

Wolfe was suave. Mr. Perry? This is Nero Wolfe. I have Mr. Goodwins report of his preliminary investigation. He was inclined to agree with your own attitude regarding the probable innocence of Clara Fox, and he thought we might therefore be able to render some real service to you. But by a curious chance Miss Fox called at our office this eveningshe is here now, in factand asked us to represent her interests in the matter. No, permit me, please. Well, it seemed to be advisable to accept her retainer Really, sir, I see nothing unethical

Wolfe hated to argue on the telephone. He cut it as short as he could, and rang off, and washed it down with beer. He turned back to Clara Fox. Tell me about your personal relations with Mr. Perry and Mr. Muir.

She didnt answer right away. She was sitting there frowning at him. It was the first time I had seen her brow wrinkled, and I liked it better smoothed out. Finally she said, I supposed you had already taken that case for Mr. Perry. I had gone to a lot of trouble deciding that you were the best man for usMiss Lindquist and Mr. Walsh and Mr. Scovil and meand I had already telephoned on Saturday and made the appointment with you, before I heard anything about the stolen money. I didnt know until two hours ago that Mr. Perry had engaged you, and since we had the appointment I thought we might as well go through with it. Now you tell Mr. Perry youre acting for me, not the Seaboard, and you say Ive given you a retainer for that. Thats not straight. If you want to call that a retainer, its for the business I came to see you about, not that silly rot about the money. Thats nonsense.

Wolfe inquired, What makes you think its nonsense?

Because it is. I dont know what the truth of it is, but as far as Im concerned its nonsense.

Wolfe nodded. I agree with you. Thats what makes it dangerous.

Dangerous? How? If you mean Ill lose my job, I dont think so. Mr. Perry is the real boss there, and he knows Im more than competent, and be cant possibly believe I took that money. If this other business is successful, and I believe it will be, I wont want the job anyhow.

But you will want your freedom. Wolfe sighed. Really, Miss Fox, we are wasting time that may be valuable. Tell me, I beg you, about Mr. Perry and Mr. Muir. Mr. Muir hinted this afternoon that Mr. Perry is enjoying the usufructs of gallantry. Is that true?

Of course not. She frowned, and then smiled. Calling it that, it doesnt sound bad at all, does it? But he isnt. I used to go to dinner and the theater with Mr. Perry fairly frequently, shortly after I started to work for Seaboard. That was during my adventuress phase. I was going to be an adventuress.

Did something interrupt?

Nothing but my disappointment. I have always been determined to get somewhere, not anywhere in particular, just somewhere. My father died when I was nine, and my mother when I was seventeen. She always said I was like my father. She paid for my schooling by sewing fat womens dresses. I loved my mother passionately, and hated the humdrum she was sunk in and couldnt get out of.

She couldnt find George Rowley. She didnt try much. She thought it was fantastic. She wrote once to Harlan Scovil, but the letter was returned. After she died I tried various things, everything from hat-check girl to a stenographic course, and for three years I studied languages in my spare time because I thought Id want to go all over the world. Finally, by a stroke of luck, I got a good job at the Seaboard three years ago. For the first time I had enough money so I could spend a little trying to find George Rowley and the others mentioned in fathers letter1 realized Id have to find some of the others so there would be someone to recognize George Rowley. I guess mother was right when she said Im like father; I certainly had fantastic ideas, and Im terribly confident that Im a very unusual person. My idea at that time was that I wanted to get money from George Rowley as soon as possible, so I could pay that old debt of my fathers in California, and then go to Arabia. The reason I wanted to go to Arabia

She broke off abruptly, looked startled, and demanded, What in the name of heaven started me on that?

I dont know. Wolfe looked patient. Youre wasting time again. Perry and Muir?

Well. She brushed her hair back. Not long after I started to work for Seaboard, Mr. Perry began asking me to go to the theater with him. He said that his wife had been sick in bed for eight years and he merely wanted companionship. I knew he was a multi-millionaire, and I thought it over and decided to become an adventuress. If you think that sounds like a loony kid, dont fool yourself. For lots of women it has been a very exciting and satisfactory career. I never really expected to do anything much with Mr. Perry, because there was no stimulation in him, but I thought I could practice with him and at the same time keep my job. I even went riding with him, long after it got to be a bore. I thought I could practice with Mr. Muir, too, but I was soon sorry I had ever aroused his interest.

She drew her shoulders in a little, a shade toward the center of her, and let them out again, in delicate disgust. It was Mr. Muir that cured me of the idea of being an adventuress, I mean in the classical sense. Of course I knew that to be a successful adventuress you have to deal with men, and they have to be rich, and seeing what Mr. Muir was like made me look around a little, and I realized it would be next to impossible to find a rich man it would be any fun to be adventurous with. Mr. Muir seemed to go practically crazy after he had had dinner with me once or twice. Once he came to my apartment and almost forced his way in, and he had an enormous pearl necklace in his pocketl Of course it was disgusting in a way, but it was even more funny than it was disgusting, because I have never cared for pearls at all. But the worst thing about Mr. Muir is his stubbornness. Hes a Scotchman, and apparently if he once gets an idea in his head he cant get it out again

Wolfe put in, Is Mr. Muir a fool?

Why yes, I suppose he is.

I mean as a businessman. A man of affairs. Is he a fool?

No. Not that way. In fact, hes very shrewd.

Well, you are. Wolfe sighed. You are quite an amazing fool, Miss Fox. You know that Mr. Muir, who is a shrewd man, is prepared to swear out a warrant against you for grand larceny. Do you think that he would consider himself prepared if preparations had not actually been made? Why does he insist on immediate action? So that the preparations may not be interfered with, by design or by mischance. As soon as a warrant is in force against you, the police may search any property of yours, including that item of it where the thirty thousand dollars will be found. Couldnt Mr. Muir have taken it himself from his desk and put it anywhere he wanted to, with due circumspection?

Put it She stared at him. Oh, no. She shook her head. That would be too low. A man would have to be a dirty scoundrel to do that.

Well? Who should know better than you, an ex-adventuress, that the race of dirty scoundrels has not yet been exterminated? By the eternal, Miss Fox, you should be tied in your cradle! Where do you live?

But, Mr. Wolfe you could never persuade me

I wouldnt waste time trying. Where do you live?

I have a little flat on East Sixty-first Street.

And what other items? We can disregard your desk at the office, that would not be conclusive enough. Do you have a cottage in the country? A trunk in storage? An automobile?

I have a little car. Nothing else whatever.

Did you come here in it?

No. Its in a garage on Sixtieth Street.

Wolfe turned to me. Archie. What two can you get here at once?

I glanced at the clock. Saul Panzer in ten minutes. If Fred Durkins not at the movies, him in twenty minutes. If he is, Orrie Gather in half an hour.

Get them. Miss Fox will give you the key to her apartment and a note of authority, and also a note to the garage. Saul Panzer will search the apartment thoroughly. Tell him what hes looking for, and if he finds it bring it here. Fred will get the automobile and drive it to our garage, and when he gets it there go through it, and leave it there. This alone will cost us twenty dollars, twenty times the amount of Miss Foxs retainer. Everything we undertake nowadays seems to be a speculation.

I got at the telephone. Wolfe opened his eyes on Clara Fox. You might learn if Miss Lindquist and Mr. Walsh will care to wash before dinner. It will be ready in five minutes.

She shook her head. We dont need to eat. Or we can go out for a bite.

Great hounds and Cerberus! He was about as dose to a tantrum as he ever got. Dont need to eat! In heavens name, are you camels, or bears in for the winter?

She got up and went to the front room to get them.


Chapter 4 | The Rubber Band | Chapter 6







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