I said, “What do you mean, officers? Army or navy?”
He looked down at me. He was an inch taller than me to begin with, and he was stretching it. He made his voice hard enough to scare a schoolgirl right out of her socks. “Listen, bud. I’ve heard about you. How’d you like to take a good nap on some concrete?”
The other officer was back on his ankles too, but he was a short guy. He was built something like a whisk broom, at that. I undertook to throw oil on the troubled waters. Ordinarily I might have enjoyed a nice rough cussingmatch, but I wanted to find out something and get back inside. I summoned a friendly grin.
“What the hell, how did I know you bad badges? Okay, thanks, sergeant. All I knew was the door bumping me and a cyclone going by. Is that a way to inspire confidence?”
“All right, you know we’ve got badges now.” The sergeant humped up a shoulder and let it drop, and then the other one. “Let us in. We want to see Nero Wolfe.”
“I’m sorry, he’s got a headache.”
“We’ll cure it for him. Listen. A friend of mine warned me about you once. He said the time would come when you would have to be taken down. Maybe that’s the very thing I came here for. But so far it’s a matter of law. Open that door or I’ll open it myself. I want to see Mr. Wolfe on police business.”
“There’s no law about that. Unless you’ve got a warrant.’
“You couldn’t read it anyhow. Let us in.”
I got impatient. “What’s the use wasting time? You can’t go in. The floor’s just been scrubbed. Wolfe wouldn’t see you anyhow, at this time of night. Tell me what you want like a gentleman and a cop, and I’ll see if I can help you.”
He glared at me. Then he put his hand inside to his breast pocket and pulled out a document, and I had a feeling in my knees like a steering wheel with a shimmy. If it was a search warrant the jig was up right there. He unfolded it and held it for me to look, and even in the dim light from the street lamp one glance was enough to start my heart off again. It was only a warrant to take into custody. I peered at it and saw among other things the name Ramsey Muir, and nodded.
The sergeant grunted, “Can you see the name? Clara Fox.”
“Yeah, it’s a nice name.”
“We’re going in after her. Open up.”
I lifted the brows. “In here? You’re crazy.”
“All right, we’re crazy. Open the door.”
I shook my head, and got out a cigarette, and lit up. I said, “Listen, sergeant. There’s no use wasting the night in repartee. You know damn well you’ve got no more right to go through that door than a cockroach unless you’ve got a search warrant. Ordinarily Mr. Wolfe is more than willing to cooperate with you guys; if you don’t know that, ask Inspector Cramer. So am I. Hell, some of my best friends are cops. I’m not even sore because you tried to rush me and I got excited and thought you were mugs and pushed you. But it just happens that we don’t want company of any kind at present.”
He grunted and glared. “Is Clara Fox in there?”
“Now that’s a swell question.” I grinned at him. “Either she isn’t, in which case I would say no, or she is and I don’t want you to know it, in which case would I say yes? I might at that, if she was somewhere else and I didn’t want you to go there to look for her.”
“Is she in there?”
I just shook my head at him.
“You’re harboring a fugitive from justice.”
“I wouldn’t dream of such a thing.”
The short dick, the one I had swept the hall with, piped up in a tenor, “Take him down for resisting an officer.”
I reproved him. “The sergeant knows better than that. He knows they wouldn’t book me, or if they did I read about a man once that collected enough to retire on for false arrest.”
The big one stood and stared into my frank eyes for half a minute, then turned and descended the stoop and looked up and down the street. I didn’t know whether he expected to see the Russian Army or a place to buy a drink. He called up to his brother in arms, “Stay here, Steve. Cover that door. I’ll go and phone a report and probably send someone to cover the rear. When that bird turns his back to go in the house give him a kick in the ass.”
I waved at him, “Good night, sergeant,” pushed the button three shorts, took my key from my pocket, unlocked the door, and went in. If that tenor had tickled me I’d have pulled his nose. I slid the bolt in place. Fritz was standing in the middle of the hall with my automatic in his hand. I said, “Watch out, that thing’s loaded.”
He was serious. “I know it is, Archie. I thought possibly you might need it.”
“No, thanks. I bit their jugulars. It’s a trick.”
Fritz giggled and handed me the gun, and went to the kitchen. I strolled into the office. Clara Fox was gone, and I was reflecting that she might be looking at herself in the mirror with my silk pajamas on. I had tried them on once, but had never worn them. I had no more than got inside the office when the doorbell rang. As I returned to the entrance and opened the door, leaving the bolt and chain on, I wondered if it was the tenor calling me back to get my kick. But this time it was Saul Panzer. He stooc? there and let me see him. I asked him through the crack, “Did you find her?”
“No. I lost her. Lost the trail.”
“You’re a swell bird dog.”
I opened up and let him in, and took him to the office. Wolfe was leaning back in his chair with his eyes closed. The tray had been moved back to its usual position, and there was a glass on it with fresh foam sticking to the sides, and two bottles. He was celebrating the hot number he was putting on.
I said, “Here’s Saul.”
“Good.” The eyes stayed shut. “All right, Saul?”
“Of course. Satisfactory. Can you sleep here?”
“Yes, sir. I stopped by and got a toothbrush.”
“Indeed. Satisfactory. The north room, Archie, above yours. Tell Fred he is expected at eight in the morning, and send him home. If you are hungry, Saul, go to the kitchen; if not, take a book to the front room. There will be instructions shortly.”
I went to the kitchen and pried Fred Durkin out of his chair and escorted him to the hall and let him out, having warned him not to stumble over any foreign objects that might be found on the stoop. But the dick had left the stoop and was propped against a fire plug down at the curb. He jerked himself up to take a stare at Fred, and I was hoping he’d be dumb enough to suspect it was Clara Fox with pants on, but that was really too much to expect. I barricaded again and returned to the office.
Saul had gone to the front room to curl up with a book. Wolfe stayed put behind his desk. I went to the kitchen and negotiated for a glass of milk, and then went back and got into my own swivel and started sipping. When a couple of minutes passed without any sign from Wolfe, I said indifferently, “That commotion in the hall a while ago was the Mayor and the Police Commissioner calling to give you the freedom of the city prison. I cut their throats and put them in the garbage can.”
“One moment, Archie. Be quiet.”
“Okay. I’ll gargle my milk. It’ll probably be my last chance for that innocent amusement before they toss us in the hoosegow. I remember you told me once that there is no moment in any man’s life too empty to be dramatized. You seem to think that’s an excuse for filling life up with—”
“Confound you.” Wolfe sighed, and I saw his eyelids flicker. “Very well. Who was it in the hall?”
“Two city detectives, one a sergeant no less, with a warrant for the arrest of Clara Fox sworn to by Ramsey Muir. They tried to take us by storm, and I repulsed them single-handed and single-footed. Satisfactory?”
Wolfe shuddered. “I grant there are times when there is no leisure for finesse. Are they camping?”
“One’s out there on a fire plug. The sergeant went to telephone. They’re going to cover the back. It’s a good thing Walsh and Hilda Lindquist got away. I don’t suppose—”
The phone rang. I circled on the swivel and put down my milk and took it. “Hello, this is the office of Nero Wolfe.” Someone asked me to wait. Then someone else: “Hello, Wolfe? Inspector Cramer.”
I asked him to hold it and turned to Wolfe. “Cramer. Up at all hours of the night.”
As Wolfe reached for the phone on his desk he tipped me a nod, and I kept my receiver and reached for a pencil and notebook.
Cramer was snappy and crisp, also he was surprised and his feelings were hurt. He had a sad tale. It seemed that Sergeant Heath, one of the best men in his division, in pursuance of his duty to make a lawful arrest, had attempted to call at the office of Nero Wolfe for a consultation and had been denied admittance. In fact, he had been forcibly ejected. What kind of cooperation was that?
Wolfe was surprised too, at this protest. At the time that his assistant, Mr. Goodwin, had hurled the intruders into the street single-handed, he had not known they were city employees; and when that fact was disclosed, their actions bad already rendered their friendly intentions open to doubt. Wolfe was sorry if there had been a misunderstanding.
Cramer grunted. “Okay. There’s no use trying to be slick about it. What’s it going to get you, playing for time? I want that girl, and the sooner the better.”
“Indeed.” Wolfe was doing slow motion. “You want a girl?”
“You know I do. Goodwin saw the warrant.”
“Yes, he told roe he saw a warrant. Larceny, he said it was. But isn’t this unusual, Mr. Cramer? Here it is nearly midnight, and you, an inspector, in a vindictive frenzy over a larceny—”
“I’m not in a frenzy. But I want that girl, and I know you’ve got her there. It’s no use, Wolfe. Less than half an hour ago I got a phone call that Clara Fox was at that moment in your office.”
“It costs only a nickel to make a phone call. Who was it?”
“That’s my business. Anyhow, she’s there. Let’s talk turkey. If Heath goes back there now, can he get her? Yes or no.”
“Mr. Cramer.” Wolfe cleared his throat. “I shall talk turkey. First, Heath or anyone else coming here now will not be permitted to enter the house without a search warrant.”
“How the hell can I get a search warrant at midnight?”
“I couldn’t say. Second, Miss Clara Fox is my client, and, however ardently I may defend her interests, I do not expect to violate the law. Third, I will not for the present answer any question, no matter what its source, regarding her whereabouts.”
“You won’t. Do you call that cooperation?”
“By no means. I call it common sense. And there is no point in discussing it.”
There was a long pause, then Cramer again: “Listen, Wolfe. This is more important than you think it is. Can you come down to my office right away?”
“Mr. Cramer!” Wolfe was aghast. “You know I cannot.”
“You mean you won’t. Forget it for once. I shouldn’t leave here. I tell you this is important.”
“I’m sorry, sir. As you know, I leave my house rarely, and only when impelled by exigent personal considerations. The last time I left it was in the taxicab driven by Dora Chapin, for the purpose of saving the life of my assistant, Mr. Goodwin.”
Cramer cussed a while. “You won’t come?”
“Can I come there?”
“I should think not, under the circumstances. As I said, you cannot enter without a search warrant.”
“To hell with a search warrant. I’ve got to see you. I mean, come and talk with you.”
“Just to talk? You are making no reservations?”
“No. This is straight. I’ll be there in ten minutes.”
“Very well.” I saw the creases in Wolfe’s cheeks unfolding. “I’ll try to restrain Mr. Goodwin.”
We hung up. Wolfe pushed the button for Fritz. I shut my notebook and tossed it to the back of the desk, and picked up the glass and took a sip of milk. Then, glancing at the clock and seeing it was midnight, I decided I had better reinforce my endurance and went to the cabinet and poured myself a modicum of bourbon. It felt favorable going down, so I took another modicum. Fritz had brought Wolfe some beer, and it was already flowing to its destiny.
I said, “Tell me where Mike Walsh is and I’ll go and wring his neck. He must have gone to the first drug store and phoned headquarters. We should have had Fred tail him.”
Wolfe shook his head. “You always dive into the nearest pool, Archie. Some day you’ll hit a rock and break your neck.”
“Yeah? What now? Wasn’t it Walsh that phoned him?”
“I have no idea. I’m not ready to dive. Possibly Mr. Cramer will furnish us a sounding. Tell Saul to go to bed and come to my room for instructions at eight o’clock.”
I went to the front room and gave Saul the program, and bade him good night, and went back to my desk again. There was a little white card lying there, fallen out of my notebook, where I had slipped it some hours before and forgotten about it. I picked it up and looked at it. Francis Horrocks.
I said, “I wonder how chummy Clara Fox got with that acquaintance she made. The young diplomat that sent her the roses. It was him that got her in to see his boss. Where do you suppose he fits in?”
“Fits in to what?”
So that was the way he felt. I waved a hand comprehensively. “Oh, life. You know, the mystery of the universe. The scheme of things.”
“I’m sure I don’t know. Ask him.”
“Egad, I shall. I just thought I’d ask you first. Don’t be so damn snooty. The fact is, I feel rotten. That Harlan Scovil that got killed was a good guy. You’d have liked him; he said no one could ever get to know a woman well enough to leave her around loose. Though I suppose you’ve changed your mind, now that there’s a woman sleeping in your bed—”
“Nonsense. My bed—”
“You own all the beds in this house except mine, don’t you? Certainly it’s your bed. Is her door locked?”
“It is. I instructed her to open it only to Fritz’s voice or yours.”
“Okay. I’m apt to wander in there any time. Is there anything you want to tell me before Cramer gets here? Such as who shot Harlan Scovil and where that thirty grand is and what will happen when they pick Mike Walsh up and he tells them all about our convention this evening? Do you realize that Walsh was here when Saul took Hilda Lindquist away? Do you realize that Walsh may be in Cramer’s office right now? Do you realize—”
“That will do, Archie. Definitely.” Wolfe sat up and poured beer. “I realize up to my capacity. As I told Mr. Walsh, I am not an alarmist, but I certainly realize that Miss Fox is in more imminent danger than any previous client I can call to mind; if not danger of losing her life, then of having it irretrievably ruined. That is why I am accepting the hazard of concealing her here.
As for the murder of Harlan Scovil, a finger of my mind points straight in one direction, but that is scarcely enough for my own satisfaction and totally insufficient for the safety of Miss Fox or the demands of legal retribution.
We may leam something from Mr. Cramer, though I doubt it. There are certain steps to be taken without delay. Can Orrie Gather and Johnny Keems be here at eight in the morning?”
“I’ll get them. I may have to pull Johnny off—”
“Do so. Have them here by eight if possible, and send them to my room.”
He sighed. “A riot for a levee, but there’s no help for it. You will have to keep to the house. Before we retire certain arrangements regarding Miss Fox will need discussion. And by the way, the letter I dictated on behalf of our other client. Miss Lindquist, should be written and posted with a special-delivery stamp before the early-morning collection. Send Fritz out with it.”
“Then I’d better type it now, before Cramer gets here.”
“As you please.”
I turned and got the typewriter up and opened my notebook, and rattled it off. I grinned as I wrote the “Dear sir,” but the grin was bunk, because if Wolfe hadn’t told me to be democratic I would have been up a stump and probably would have had to try something like “Dearest Marquis.” From the article I had read the day before I knew where he was. Hotel Portland.
Wolfe signed it, and I got Fritz and let him out the front door and waited there till he came back. The short dick was still out there.
I was back in the office but not yet on my sitter again, when the doorbell rang. I wasn’t taking any chances, since Fred had gone home and Saul was upstairs asleep. I pulled the curtain away from the glass panel to get a view of the stoop, including corners, and when I saw Cramer was there alone I opened up. He stepped in and I shut the door and bolted it and then extended a paw for his hat and coat. And it wasn’t so silly that I kept a good eye on him either, since I knew he had been enforcing the law for thirty years.
He mumbled, “Hello, son. Wolfe in the office?”
“Yeah. Walk in.”