Wolfe and the inspector exchanged greetings. Cramer sat down and got out a cigar and bit off the end, and held a match to it. Wolfe got a hand up and pinched his nostrils between a thumb and a forefinger to warn the membranes of the assault that was coming. I was in my chair with my notebook on my knee, not bothering to camouflage.
Cramer said, “You know, you’re a slick son-of-a-gun. Do you know what I was trying to decide on my way over here?”
Wolfe shook his head. “I couldn’t guess.”
“I bet you couldn’t. I decided it was a toss-up. Whether you’ve got that Fox woman here and you’re playing for time or waiting for daylight to spring something, or whether you’ve sent her away for her health and you’re kidding us to make us think she’s here so we won’t start nosing for her trail. For instance, I don’t suppose it could have been this Goodwin here that phoned my office at half past eleven?”
“I shouldn’t think so. Did you, Archie?”
“No, sir. On my honor I didn’t.”
“Okay.” Cramer got smoke in his windpipe and coughed it out. “I know there’s no use trying to play poker with you, Wolfe. I quit that years ago.
I’ve come to lay some cards on the table and ask you to do the same. In fact, the Commissioner says we’re not asking, we’re demanding. We’re taking no chances—”
“The Police Commissioner? Mr. Hombert?” Wolfe’s brows were up.
“Right. He was in my office when I phoned you. I told you, this is more important than you think it is. You’ve stepped into something.”
“You don’t say so.” Wolfe sighed. “I was sure to, sooner or later.”
“Oh, I’m not trying to impress you. I’ve quit that too. I’m just telling you. As I told the Commissioner, you’re tricky and you’re bard to get ahead of, but I’ve never known you to slip in the mud. By and large, and of course making allowances, you’ve always been a good citizen.”
“Thank you. Let us go on from there.”
“Right.” Cramer took a puff and knocked off ashes. “I said I’d show you some cards. First, there’s the background, I’d better mention that. You know how it is nowadays, everybody’s got it in for somebody else, and half of them have gone cuckoo. When a German ship lands here a bunch of Jews go and tear the flag off it and raise general hell. If a Wop professor that’s been kicked out of Italy tries to give a lecture a gang of Fascists haul him down and beat him up. When you try your best to feed people that haven’t got a job they turn Communist on you and start a riot. It’s even got so that when a couple of bank presidents have lunch at the White House, the servants have to search the Boor for banana peels that they may have put there for the President to slip on. Everyone has gone nuts.”
Wolfe nodded. “Doubtless you are correct. I don’t get around much. It sounds bewildering.”
“It is. To get down to particulars, when any prominent foreigners come here, we have to watch our step. We don’t want anything happening. For instance, you’d be surprised at the precautions we have to take when the German Ambassador comes up from Washington for a banquet. You might think there was a war on. As a matter or fact, there isi No one’s ready for a scrap but everyone wants to hit first. Whoever lands at this port nowadays, you can be sure there’s someone around that’s got it in for him.”
“It might be better if everybody stayed at home.”
“Huh? Oh. That’s their business. Anyway, that’s the background. A cou pie of weeks ago a man called the Marquis of Clivers came here from England.”
“I know. I’ve read about him.”
“Then you know what he came for.”
Wolfe nodded. “In a general way. A high diplomatic mission. To pass out slices of the Orient.”
“Maybe, I’m not a politician, I’m a cop. I was when I pounded the pavement thirty years ago, and I sdll am. But the Marquis of Clivers seems to be as important as almost anybody. I understand we get the dope on that from the Department of State. When he landed here a couple of weeks ago we gave him protection, and saw him off to Washington. When he came back, eight days ago, we did the same.”
“The same? Do you mean you have men with him constantly?”
Cramer shook his head. “Not constantly. All public appearances, and a sort of general eye out. We have special men. If we notice anything or hear of anything that makes us suspicious, we’re on the job. That’s what I’m coming to. At five-thirty-five tnis afternoon, just four blocks from here, a man was shot and killed. In his pocket he had a paper—”
Wolfe showed a palm. “I know all about that, Mr. Cramer. I know the man’s name, I know be had left my office only a few minutes before he was killed, and I know that the name of the Marquis of Clivers was on the paper. The detective that was here, Mr. Foltz I believe his name was, showed it to me.”
“Oh. He did. Well?”
“Well… I saw the names on the paper. My own was among them. But, as I explained to Mr. Foltz, I had not seen the man. He had arrived at our office, unexpected and unannounced, and Mr. Goodwin had—”
“Yeah.” Cramer took his cigar from his mouth and hitched forward. “Look here, Wolfe. I don’t want to get into a chinning match with you, you’re better at it than I am, I admit it. I’ve talked with Foltz, I know what you told him. Here’s my position: there’s a man in this town representing a foreign government on important business, and I’m responsible both for his safety and his freedom from annoyance. A man is shot down on the street, and on a paper in his pocket we find the name of the Marquis of Clivers, and other names. Naturally I wouldn’t mind knowing who killed Harlan Scovil, but finding that name there makes it a good deal more than just another homicide. What’s the connection and what does it mean? The Commissioner says we’ve got to find out damned quick or it’s possible we’ll have a first-rate mess on our hands. It’s already been bungled a little. Like a dumb flatfoot rookie, Captain Devore went to see the Marquis of Clivers this evening without first consulting headquarters.”
“Indeed. Will you have some beer, Mr. Cramer?”
“No. The marquis just stared at Devore as if he was one of the lower animals, which he was, and said that possibly the dead man was an insurance salesman and the paper was a list of prospects. Later on the Commissioner himself telephoned the marquis, and by that time the marquis had remembered that a week ago today a woman by the name of Clara Fox had called on him with some kind of a wild tale, trying to get money, and he had had her put out. So there’s a tie-up. It’s some kind of a plot, no doubt about it, and since it’s interesting enough so that someone took the trouble to bump off this Harlan Scovil, you couldn’t call it tiddly-winks. Your name was on that paper. I know what you told Foltz. Okay. What I’ve got to do is find those other three, and I should have been in bed two hours ago. First let me ask you a plain straight question: What do you know about the connection between Clara Fox, Hilda Lindquist, Michael Walsh, and the Marquis of Clivers?”
Wolfe shook his head, slowly. “That won’t do, Mr. Cramer.”
“It’ll do me. Will you answer it?” Cramer stuck his cigar in his mouth and tilted it up.
Wolfe shook his head again. “Certainly not. Permit me, please. Let us frame the question differently, like this: What have I been told regarding the relations between those four people which would either solve the problem of the murder of Harlan Scovil, or would threaten the personal safety of the Marquis of Clivers or subject him to undeserved or illegal annoyance? Will you accept that as your question?”
Cramer scowled at him. “Say it again.’
Wolte repeated it.
Cramer said, “Well … answer it.”
“The answer is, nothing.”
“Huh? Bellywash. I’m asking you, Wolfe—” Wolfe’s palm stopped him, and Wolfe’s tone was snappy. “No more. I’ve finished with that. I admit your right to call on me, as a citizen enjoying the opportunities and privileges of the City of New York, not to hinder—even to some extent assist—your efforts to defend a distinguished foreign guest against jeopardy and improper molestation. Also your efforts to solve a murder. But here are two facts for you. First, it is possible that your two worthy enterprises will prove to be incompatible. Second, as far as I am concerned, for the present at least, that question and answer are final. You may have other questions that I may be disposed to reply to. Shall we try?”
Cramer, chewing his cigar, looked at him. “You know something, Wolfe? Someday you’re going to fall off and get hurt.”
“You said those very words to me, in this room, eight years ago.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised if I did.” Cramer put his dead half-chewed cigar in the ash tray, took out a fresh one, and sat back. “Here’s a question. What do you mean about incompatible? I suppose it was the Marquis of Clivers that pumped the lead in Harlan Scovil. There’s a thought.”
“I’ve already had it. It might very well have been. Has he an alibi?”
“I don’t know. I guess the Commissioner forgot to ask him. You got any evidence?”
“No. No fragment.” Wolfe wiggled a finger. “But I’ll tell you this. It is important to me, also, that the murder of Harlan Scovil be solved. In the interest of a client. In fact, two.”
“Oh. You’ve got clients.”
“I have. I have told you that there are various questions I might answer if you cared to ask them. For instance, do you know who was sitting in your chair three hours ago? Clara Fox. And in that one? Hilda Lindquist. And in that? Michael Walsh. That, I believe, covers the list on that famous paper, except for the Marquis of Clivers. I am sorry to say he was absent.”
Cramer had jerked himself forward. He leaned back again and observed, “You wouldn’t kid me.”
“I am perfectly serious.”
Cramer stared at him. He scraped his teeth around on his upper lip, took a piece of tobacco from his tongue with his fingers, and kept on staring. Finally he said, “All right. What do I ask next?”
“Well … nothing about the subject of our conference, for that was private business. You might ask where Michael Walsh is now. I would have to reply, I have no idea. No idea whatever. Nor do I know where Miss Lindquist is. She left here about two hours ago. The commission I have undertaken for her is a purely civil affair, with no impingements on the criminal law. My other client is Clara Fox. In her case the criminal law is indeed concerned, but not the crime of murder. As I told you on the telephone, I will not for the present answer any question regarding her wherea bouts.”
“All right. Next?”
“Next you might perhaps permit me a question. You say that you want to see these people on account of the murder of Harlan Scovil, and in connection with your desire to protect the Marquis of Clivers. But the detectives you sent, whom Mr. Goodwin welcomed so oddly, had a warrant for her arrest on a charge of larceny. Do you wonder that I was, and am, a little skeptical of your good faith?”
“Well.” Cramer looked at his cigar. “If you collected all the good faith in this room right now you might fill a teaspoon.”
“Much more, sir, if you included mine.” Wolfe opened his eyes at him.
“Miss Fox is accused of stealing. How do you know, justly or unjustly? You thought she was in my house. Had you any reason to suppose that I would aid a person suspected of theft to escape a trial by law? No. If you thought she was here, could you not have telephoned me and arranged to take her into custody tomorrow morning, when I could have got her release on bail? Did you need to assault my privacy and insult my dignity by having your bullies burst in my door in order to carry off a sensitive and lovely young woman to a night in jail? For shame, sir! Pfui!”
Wolfe poured himself a glass of beer.
Cramer shook his head slowly back and forth. “By God, you’re a worldbeater. I hand it to you. You know very well, Wolfe, I wasn’t interested in any larceny. I wanted to talk with her about murder and about this damned marquis.”
“Bah. After your talk, would she or would she not have been incar cerated?”
“I suppose she would. Hell, millions of innocent people have spent a night in jail, and sometimes much longer.”
“The people I engage to keep out of it don’t. If what you wanted was a talk, why the warrant? Why the violent and hostile onslaught?”
Cramer nodded. “That was a mistake. I admit it. I’ll tell you the truth, the Commissioner was there demanding action. And the phone call came. I don’t know who it was. He not only told me that Clara Fox was in your house, he also told me that the same Clara Fox was wanted for stealing money from the Seaboard Products Corporation. I got in touch with another department and learned that a warrant for her arrest had been executed late this afternoon. It was the Commissioner’s idea to get the warrant and use it to send here and get her in a hurry.”
I went on and got the signs for that down in my notebook, but my mind wasn’t on that, it was on Mike Walsh. It was fairly plain that Wolfe had let one get by when he had permitted Walsh to walk out with no supervision, considering that New York is full not only of telephones, but also of subways and railroad trains and places to hide. And for the first time I put it down as a serious speculation whether Walsh could have had a reason to croak his dear old friend Harlan Scovil. Seeing Wolfe’s lips moving slowly out and in, I suspected that the taste in his mouth was about the same as mine.
Cramer was saying, “Come on, Wolfe, forget it. You know what most Police Commissioners are like. They’re not cops. They think all you have to do is flash a badge and strong men burst into tears. Be a sport and help me out once. I want to see this Fox woman. I’ll take your word for Walsh and Lindquist and keep after them, but help me out on Clara Fox. If you’ve got her here, trot her out. If you haven’t, tell me where to find her. If you’ve turned her loose too, which isn’t a bad trick, show me her trail. She may be your client, but I’m not kidding when I say that the best thing you can do for her right now, and damn quick, is to let me see her. I don’t care anything about any larceny—”
Wolfe interrupted. “She does. I do.” He shook his head. “The larceny charge is of course in charge of the District Attorney’s office; you haven’t the power to affect it one way or another. I know that. As for the Marquis of Clivers, he is in no danger from Clara Fox that you need to protect him from. And as regards the murder of Harlan Scovil, she knows as little about that as I do. In fact, even less, since it is barely possible that I know who killed him.”
Cramer looked at him. He puffed his cigar and kept on looking. At length he said, ‘Well. It’s a case of murder. I’m in charge of the Homicide Squad. I’m listening.”
“That’s all. I volunteered that.”
Cramer looked disgusted. “It can’t be all. It’s either too much or not enough. You’ve said enough to make you a material witness. You know what we can do with material witnesses if we want to.”
“Yes, I know.” Wolfe sighed. “But you can’t very well lock me up, for then I wouldn’t be free to unravel this tangle for my client—and for you. I said, barely possible.”
He sat up straight, abruptly. “Barely possible, sir! Confound all of you! You marquises that need protection, you hyenas of finance, you upholders of the power to persecute and defame! And don’t mistake this outburst as a display of moral indignation; it is merely the practical protest of a man of business who finds his business interfered with by ignorance and stupidity. I expect to collect a fee from my client. Miss Fox. To do that I need to prosecute a claim for her, for a legal debt, I need to clear her from the false accusation of larceny, and I fear I need to discover who murdered Harlan Scovil. Those are legitimate needs, and I shall pursue them. If you want to protect your precious marquis, for God’s sake do so!
Surround him with a ring of iron and steel, or immerse him in antiseptic jelly! But don’t annoy me when I’m trying to work! It is past one o’clock, and I must be up shortly after six, and Mr. Goodwin and I have things to do. I have every right to advise Miss Fox to avoid unfriendly molestation.
If you want her, search for her. I have said that I will answer no question regarding her whereabouts, but I will tell you this much: if you undertake to invade these premises with a search warrant, you won’t find her here.”
Wolfe’s half a glass of bear was flat, but he didn’t mind that. He reached for it and swallowed it. Then he took the handkerchief from his breast pocket and wiped his lips. “Well, sir?”
Cramer put his cigar stub in the tray, rubbed the palms of his hands together for a while, pulled at the lobe of his ear, and stood up– He looked down at Wolfe.
“I like you, you know. You know damn well I do. But this thing is to some extent out of my hands. The Commissioner was talking on the telephone this evening with the Department of Justice. That’s the kind of a layout it is. They might really send and get you. That’s a friendly warning.”
“Thank you, sir. You’re going? Mr. Goodwin will let you out.”
I did. I went to the hall and held his coat for him, and when I pulled the curtain aside to survey the stoop before opening the door he chuckled and slapped me on the back. That didn’t make me want to kiss him. Naturally he knew when an apple was too high to reach without a ladder, and naturally there’s no use letting a guy know you’re going to sock him until you’re ready to haul off. I saw his big car with a driver there at the curb and there was a stranger on the sidewalk. Apparently the tenor had been relieved.
I went back to the office and sat down and yawned. Wolfe was leaning back with his eyes wide open, which meant he was sleepy. We looked at each other. I said, “So if he comes with a search warrant he won’t find her here. That’s encouraging. It’s also encouraging that Mike Walsh is being such a big help. Also that you know who killed Harlan Scovil, like I know who put the salt in the ocean. Also that we’re tied hand and foot with the Commissioner himself sore at us.” I yawned. “I guess I’ll prop myself up in bed tomorrow and read and knit.”
“Not tomorrow, Archie. The day after, possibly. Your notebook.”
I got it, and a pencil. Wolfe began.
“Miss Fox to breakfast with me in my room at seven o’clock. Delay would be dangerous. Do not forget the gong. You are not to leave the house. Saul, Fred, Orrie, and Keems are to be sent to my room immediately upon arrival, but singly. Arrange tonight for a long-distance connection with London at eight-thirty, Hitchcock’s office. From Miss Fox, where does Walsh live and where is he employed as night watchman. As early as possible, call Morley of the District Attorney’s office and I’ll talk to him. Have Fritz bring me a copy of this when he wakes me at six-thirty. From Saul, complete information from Miss Lindquist regarding her father, his state of health, could he travel in an airplane, his address and telephone number in Nebraska. Phone Murger’s—they open at eight-thirty—for copies of Metropolitan Biographies, all years available. Explain to Fritz and Theodore procedure regarding Miss Fox, as follows.. “
He went on, in the drawling murmur that he habitually used when giving me a set-up. I was yawning, but I got it down. Some of it sounded like he was having hallucinations or else trying to make me think he knew things I didn’t know. I quit yawning for grinning while he was explaining the procedure regarding Miss Fox.
He went to bed. After I finished the typing and giving a copy to Fritz and a few other chores, I went to the basement to take a look at the back door, and looked out the front to direct a Bronx cheer at the gumshoe on guard. Up the stairs, I continued to the third Boor to take a look at the door of the south room, but I didn’t try it to see if it was locked, thinking it might disturb her. Down again, in my room, I looked in the bottom drawer to see if Fritz had messed it up getting out the pajamas. It was all right. I hit the hay.