Nero Wolfe: The Dickinson Thing: Chapter Thirty-four


The Dickinson Thing
A Nero Wolfe Mystery
Emmanuel John Winner
A tribute to Rex Stout

Chapter Thirty-four

That just about ended the Dickinson thing. But I know there must be someone wondering if I ever went dancing with Mira Baier. The answer is, I did. She called me, and I decided to take a chance and we wound up at the Seabreeze, where no one treated us as any different from the rest of the dancers. The band was just as hot as Carl Fox had said they were.

But there probably won’t be a sequel to it. When I dropped her off at her apartment, she gave me a peck on the cheek and told me, “Archie, you’re so kind to a woman, and so attractive, and such a wonderful dancer – you’re just too good for me.” Then she shut the door in my face.

That had me worrying a couple days, until I got a call from my most frequent, and favorite, dance partner, Lily Rowan, inviting me out to her ranch in Montana for a week. Tomorrow I’m heading out there to find out if I’m too good, not good enough, or just about right. I think a week’s long enough to try the matter out, and I trust Lily’s judgment on it.


8/23/15, Upstate New York.


Begin at the beginning:


The Dickinson Thing
A Nero Wolfe Mystery
Emmanuel John Winner
A tribute to Rex Stout



The Dickinson Thing is a pastiche of the Nero Wolfe detective stories by Rex Stout. It was written as an act of love for these stories, which gave me great happiness at otherwise miserable times in my life, and helped clarify my thinking when my thoughts were unclear. I admit that Rex Stout was a much better writer of detective stories than I could ever be; I am not competing with him on his own turf, but hoping to broaden that turf in a manner that, hopefully, honors the original.

This text is not intended for profit. Hopefully some reader may be as entertained reading it as I was writing it. However, anyone attempting to profit from it in any way should be aware that this would not only violate what little right I have in the matter, but more importantly violate the rights and interests of the inheriting family of Rex Stout and his legitimate estate.

In respect of that family and estate, I note that should they find public presence of this text threatening or offensive to their rights, it will be removed from public view immediately upon proper notice.


Nero Wolfe: The Dickinson Thing: Chapter Thirty-three


The Dickinson Thing
A Nero Wolfe Mystery
Emmanuel John Winner
A tribute to Rex Stout

Chapter Thirty-three

If you’re wondering how well we finally made out on the Dickinson case, after expenses and taxes it came to a little less than three thousand dollars. Some will say, ‘hey, that’s not bad for a week’s work,’ but remember we’re talking about the world’s greatest living detective with the world’s most expensive tastes, and that the profit from eeking out confessions from two different murderers in a single night was considerably less than we were expecting. Let’s just say we had an interesting educational experience, and that we would look back on it and laugh. No; let’s not say that, because that didn’t really happen, and we never would.

It was Anstrey who finalized the deal. He was the cool professional, and his investment in the whole affair had been paid with interest, so he could afford the generosity of turning it back over to Wolfe. “Well, Mr. Wolfe, it’s up to you. If you want we can tell Klause; or, if you agree with Mr. Louis, we’ll just announce that Ames was captured by independent agents working with the FBI. We’ve done that for undercover policemen, mob informers, others seeking anonymity….”

Of course, that wasn’t really doing Wolfe any favors, because now he had to come out and say it. Wolfe let out a deep sigh. “Mr. Louis is quite right. I am a man of honor, when reminded of it. I will leave the instructions concerning the suppression of my involvement in this case, for you and Mr Cramer, to Mr. Louis’ adequate powers of invention. Indeed, I’m sure he’s already prepared them in his head.”

Cramer gave a whoop! of a laugh. “I’ll be damned! Wait until I tell Stebbins -”

“Oh, no sir.” Wolfe wiggled a finger at him threateningly. “You will tell no one. You will simply instruct your men to say nothing of the case, and you will not tell them why. Remember that you and I have a history going back many years, and that history has a future proceeding any number of years. You will do nothing to jeopardize our working together in cases that may appear henceforth.” He looked at Louis suggestively. “Otherwise, should my own reputation suffer on account of our discussion here tonight, I may feel that the contract has been effectively breached -”

Louis got the message. “It won’t be. Mr. Cramer, if you agree to instructions on behalf of Mr. Wolfe and myself, you stand to reap the benefit of improved repute among your fellow officers and the community. If you overstep those instructions, you’ll only get involved in a nasty lawsuit.”

Cramer chewed on his cigar. Then he chuckled. “Hell. Of course. But it was fun for a few minutes. The great Nero Wolfe -”

“Shut up.” Wolfe cut him off as firmly, as sternly, as I’d ever heard him do it. He turned toward me. “Archie, your notebook. I’ll want a record of it for our files.” He then rose with considerable dignity – even, one might say, aplomb. “But now this is Mr. Louis’ show, and I believe I have played my part. It is getting rather late. I am going to my room. Good night, gentlemen. Mr. Goodwin will look after you and see you off.” He strode to the door with his back as straight as it had ever been and his chin up, head held high. I’ve always remarked his magnificent entrances, but he could stage an impressive exit as well, when he wanted to. The ham.

There’s no point in reporting Robert Louis’ instructions to Cramer and Anstrey for suppression of the fact that their cases had been handed to them on a silver platter by Nero Wolfe. They were effective. I waited three whole weeks before typing this up, and so far there hasn’t been a single leak, not the drip of a word in public, revealing Wolfe’s involvement in the Dickinson thing or in the capture of the Midnight Runner. Yesterday it was announced Mr. Karl Klause of Kansas City was donating his portion of the offered reward to the University of St. Louis, in support of a scholarship in his daughter’s name.

To return to that final night of our non-involvement in any murder case: After receiving instructions from Robert Louis, Cramer went to the front room and collected Stebbins and his prisoner, Cy Harrington. Francis Anstrey shook my hand, and offered me thanks. Robert Louis had nothing further to say, and walked out on his own. I sent a bemused Saul Panzer home, telling him I would explain everything the next day. Then I showed him and the others to the door, gave them their hats and bid them goodnight. Even though I didn’t need to, I bolted the door. I didn’t want any interruptions the rest of the night.

I sent Fritz off to bed, tidied up the office, and headed upstairs to my room on the third floor. That meant I would pass Wolfe’s room on the second, and I gave in to an impulse to stop and knock on his door. His voice told me to come in.

Wolfe was sitting in his second favorite chair in the world, across from his bed, fully dressed. On the stand beside him was a reading lamp, his book of the week, Gunther’s “Death Be Not Proud,” and a telephone.

He gestured to the telephone. “While you were finishing up downstairs, I went ahead and called Lon Cohen at home.”

“I thought you didn’t have his number.”

“I always prefer you making that call. You play poker with him, he feels more comfortable with you. But I had an obligation to provide him with an exclusive on the solution to Phillip Dickinson’s murder.”

“You woke him up for that?”

“I wanted nothing left of this matter hanging over my head for tomorrow.” He looked down at his hands. “I told him that Mr. Cramer had beaten us to the finish line. The police will announce a confession from the murderer, apparently an employee at the Cosglow Agency named Cyrus Harrington. I admitted my embarrassment in the matter and asked him to keep my name out of it, and he agreed. He said he would call his office immediately and that something called a ‘splash’ might still be inserted on the front page for the noon edition.”

I nodded. “That’s a couple lines on a breaking story. Not much information, but it sells copies.”

“Yes.’ He turned his hands over and looked at them again.

“Look,” I told him, “it’s past three. You should get some sleep. If you want, we can call Nathaniel Parker in the morning and go over the contract with him. We might still get the better of that dirty little shyster -”

He held up a hand and looked at me, eyes wide open. “Oh, no. No, Archie. Robert Louis is a remarkably clever lawyer, but what does one want from a lawyer if not cleverness? To the end he not only protected his own reputation, but that of his client. He performed the duties with which he was charged, and performed them admirably.”

“To our loss.”

We sighed. “Fortunately, we cannot lose what was never really in our possession. The reward was mere speculation, born of my cupidity, and we are justly disappointed in it. But we lose nothing by that. And, we have earned a fee and it was payed. Such are the vagaries of our profession. Now: never mention that attorney’s name again. All accounts are closed on this case, and I do not wish to be reminded of it.” He picked up his book and settled back to read from it.

“That’ll be easy,” I told him, and turned to leave.

“Archie,” I heard his voice behind me and looked back again. He was staring somewhat wistfully off into space. “We have heard the chimes at midnight, Archie.”

“It’s nearing four a.m.”

He sighed again. “Go to bed, Archie.”

I shrugged. I thought I deserved a parting shot. “The gods look down and laugh,” I reminded him.

“Indeed. The universe is so filled with impossible things, I hardly ever doubted that.” He went back to his book.

Huh! I thought, closing the door behind me. His ego demanded to have the last word. But I let him have it that night, considering what he’d been through. Robert Louis was the only person I ever knew to get the last word in with Nero Wolfe.


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Nero Wolfe: The Dickinson Thing: Chapter Thirty-two


The Dickinson Thing
A Nero Wolfe Mystery
Emmanuel John Winner
A tribute to Rex Stout

Chapter Thirty-two

When Wolfe caught the dry look in my eye and thought I was thirsty for milk… Well, I didn’t say no to it. But I was also wrestling with more mixed feelings than I think I’d felt in a single moment, in quite a while. It was a veritable heated chaos of response, no wonder I was dry.

First, Wolfe had played his suspects and witnesses as deftly as Harpo Marx plays the strings of a harp, and while I understand that’s part of Wolfe’s game, and indeed part of his genius, it can be a little unsettling at times. True, in a murder investigation, sometimes one has to coax, trick, or claw the psyche of one’s potential suspects, who are understandably reluctant to part with useful information, especially if one of them happens to be the murderer. Still, there’s sometimes something cruel about dragging out a truth that effectively condemns someone to the possible extremes of punishment the law frequently demands.

Then, too, we were about to confront a very unhappy client. True, we had solved his case for him, but not in anything like the manner he’d expected, nor with the result he had clearly wanted. I supposed Wolfe expected to be able to coax, trick, or claw his psyche into some sort of acceptance of the fact that we had essentially used him to get to the Midnight Runner, and I thoroughly expected Wolfe to resort to a defense of the nobility of that cause, since if any criminal deserved getting to, it was Warren Ames. Nonetheless, I had not felt comfortable when it had become clear to me that Wolfe was headed down that path, and it was distinctly less comfortable now that Louis was aware of it and in the same room.

On the other hand, I admit to being reconciled to that as a necessary maneuver for acquiring that $300,000 reward. Even among the most nobly intentioned, a near third of a million goes a long way to mollifying disillusionment of one’s ideals.

But there was a problem even with that. Eying Wolfe, what I saw was the perfect image of a lion who had eaten an entire antelope. It wasn’t just smug satisfaction. I thought, that must be how some Hindu god looks after he’s devoured a world. After that night, with the remains of that $300,000 (after taxes) keeping us comfortably unemployed for a year, Wolfe would be impossible to live with.

However, there was some good even in that – namely that I could escape for a time on a much needed vacation. That year had so far been among our busiest, and this case had proven especially exhausting. Lily Rowan had made one invitation to spend a week or even a month at her ranch in Montana that I’d had to turn down; I would see if I could persuade her to renew that invitation and perhaps even extend it.

So, as we entered the final act of the play as written, produced, directed by, and starring Nero Wolfe, I had to deal with a grab bag of mixed emotions – a slight sense of guilt, contentment, exhaustion, expectations, general irritability – all the emotions I usually have to deal with when on a job for Wolfe, but all happening at the same time.

After Fritz brought the milk for me and a bottle of beer for Wolfe (which also had me concerned, he seemed to be really pouring it down that night), it was Cramer who began the conversation in typical Cramer fashion. He had been studying the cigar that he’d dropped to the floor, finally picked it up and tossed it at my wastebasket, missing, and letting it stay on the floor. Then he pulled out another cigar and stuck it between his teeth and said:

“Comrades, huh? When did you really let us in on any of it that was really useful?”

Wolfe poured beer, then looked at him. “Mr. Cramer, please. You had more of it than you were really letting me know, weren’t you. I pulled a feather from your cap when I remarked that the poisoned candy bar could only have been placed after Dickinson’s arrival at the office, but you surely knew of it; yet did you relay that to me the other day? You wanted to play a high card close to the chest, and I understand that. Surely you will grant me the same understanding. You may want what I have before I am willing to give it, but I always do give it to you, eventually.”

“All merrily gift wrapped and bound with ribbons!” Cramer said in a derisive tone. But Wolfe acknowledged it as though spoken straight: “Indeed.”

Francis Anstrey, the FBI agent, who had long demonstrated that he could keep his remarks to himself, at last spoke up. “Mr. Wolfe, you’ve done a remarkable job. I will certainly give it my highest commendations in the report I’ll send to Washington. But that report can’t be written while I’m sitting here chewing the fat. It’s after two in the morning; if you don’t mind –“ and he prepared to rise from his chair.

Wolfe held up his hand. “But, Mr. Anstrey. There is a certain communication that needs to be made beyond your official report, don’t you think? And I’d like to consult you on the wording of that, if you could just wait a few minutes so we can clear up some intervening issues between Mr. Cramer, Mr. Louis and myself.”

Anstrey permitted himself a sigh and sat down and crossed his legs.

“Thank you, agent – Anstrey, is it?” Robert Louis told him, “I too welcome your remaining while we discuss further communications on this matter.”

Something in that remark caused the hairs on the back of my neck to stand up, though I couldn’t tell why. Wolfe went on as though he hadn’t noticed. He drank beer, carefully placed the half-full glass on the desk before him, and surveyed his audience with a comrade’s smile.

“Now, gentlemen, let us admit that our various missions have been accomplished. Mr. Louis: I understand the sullen scowl you are giving me, I really do, but it couldn’t be helped. There was no way to salvage the memory of Mr. Dickinson, his guilt was manifest. But take heart that the police investigation into the murders of Michael Tell and Mrs. Dickinson will now be relegated to the unsolved crimes file, for the simple reason that the likeliest suspect no longer exists. Am I right on that Mr. Cramer?”

Cramer nodded slowly. “The DA could press for a full concluding inquest, but I admit that the cost of that, since there’s little benefit to it, probably means he’ll let the case go. Of course some of it may come up at Harrington’s trial, but –“

“But that trial will be purely a formal matter preparatory to sentencing. A man confessed and pleading guilty, throwing himself on the mercy of the court –“ he turned to Robert Louis, the attorney, “What do you say sir, do you not think that can all be completed in chambers?”

Louis nodded slowly, warily. “Some of it; perhaps most of it. And that of course could also prevent any mention of your involvement in the affair.”

Cramer snorted. “Wolfe declining public mention of his involvement with a murder? With his ego? Why not expect a junkie to decline a free hit of smack.”

Wolfe frowned and made a puffing noise. “Mr. Cramer. I could list innumerable times I have humbled myself to further the interests of justice, as when I asked Mr. Goodwin to ‘take the rap’ for the self-defense shooting of Rubber Coleman, to protect the British diplomat Lord Clivers.” (Yep, that was Wolfe all right, always ready to humble himself by having me take the rap.) “But in this case, the matter is rather cut-and dry, and does not involve my ego. It is a matter of contract. In order to remain on the Dickinson case, to solve all immediate murders involved, I contracted with Mr. Louis to agree, and assure, that no public mention of my name or of the involvement of myself in the case, be made or even suggested.”

Cramer nearly dropped his cigar again. “You’re kidding!”

“No, sir. Mr. Louis hired me to solve the murders on the expectation that such solution would vindicate his client – and later, his memory – from any charge of criminal action. To do justice to Mr. Louis’ efforts in his quite proper defense of his client – and then his memory – regardless of the possible outcome of the investigation – which I admit that, at the time I signed the contract, I felt was quite likely – I agreed to complete silence on the case and refusal of any publicity in any form for some few decades.”

Anstrey the FBI man was frowning at Robert Louis. “You agreed to an open investigation of your own client? It’s been a few years since I graduated law school, but that strikes me as a little unethical –“

“I feared the possibility,” Louis admitted, “But at the time I was convinced my client was innocent, and expected my hired investigator would find evidence of it.” He turned his own frown on Wolfe. “But you, sir, when you argued the necessity of an ‘open investigation,’ as agent Anstrey calls it, you did not give me even a glimmer that you thought it likely my client was guilty.”

Wolfe shrugged. “I admit that was one of the high cards I played close to my chest. The stakes of the game – or rather games, there was more than one – in which Mr. Dickinson was involved were rather high, and I needed purchase on the right to play for them.”

“Yes, and I know why! The Midnight Runner.”

“Indeed,” Wolfe agreed, nodding, “A notoriously brutal purveyor of the most perverted murders –“

“And worth three hundred thousand dollars on the hoof.”

Wolfe raised his eyebrows trying to appear innocent. “Indeed?” He looked at his half empty glass and reached for it, then decided better. “I believe I did read something about that, was it yesterday?”

“For anyone involved in law or law enforcement, even in a private capacity, it was difficult not to notice it. And when I read the newspaper’s recital of the Midnight Runner story, I was reminded of the part of Warren Ames’ story about a man in a red plaid jacket, and how you had gone over that with Phillips Dickinson -”

“But, Mr. Louis,” he held out his hands beseechingly, and I knew what was coming, “You will certainly agree that Mr. Ames ranks amongst the most vile and reprehensible criminals of our day! Think of the lives that will now continue without the threat of his violence, think of the young lovers who may now walk the streets, secure in the knowledge that no maniac follows them prepared to send them to an early and unjustified doom! I admit I maneuvered involvement in your case to pursue the Midnight Runner; but now that we have him and have removed him as a threat to our community, surely you will agree that the end, in this case, justified a means that put you or your reputation at little risk – think of the benefit!”

“Think of your bank account!” snorted Cramer.

Wolfe ignored him, but Louis didn’t. “Inspector Cramer’s right, Mr. Wolfe. You used me. You used me and my client, you used the people at the Cosglow agency, you used the Federal Bureau of Investigation. One end certainly justified some of those means, but making you the richer for it does not.”

Wolfe folded his hands and sighed, adopting the attitude of an adult whose patience was getting strained by an overly demanding child. “Sir,” he said, “let us then cut to the quick – namely, our contract. I warned you that I would hold you to it absolutely. And I have performed according to the strict interpretation of that contract, I have rendered the service contracted therein. If you would begrudge my fee, if you wish not to pay me the price contracted for, despite the rendering of that service, then I won’t haggle; I will wave payment entirely –“

“Oh, no,” Louis said softly but firmly, “I abide by my part of the contract.” He pulled out a black leather billfold and from that extracted a blue slip of paper. “Ten thousand dollars. I had the check certified this afternoon. Payable to Nero Wolfe. For ‘services rendered.’” He placed it on Wolfe’s desk.

Wolfe eyed it cautiously. “Indeed.”

“Indeed,” said Louis, “that is, in the performance of the deed. See, I do sometimes trust my feelings rather than my reason. I felt something was in the works, and decided I best be prepared for it. Then when Mr. Cramer called for me tonight, I was glad I had payment at hand. I do believe the contract between us should be observed absolutely. Do you?”

Wolfe picked up the check, looked at it, let it drop. “I have said so. And now all accounts are closed.”

“Oh, no, not all,” Louis said. He turned his gaze at me; and I had been so much a spectator that evening that I was a little startled by it. “Mr. Goodwin. Do you have the contract on hand?”

I cleared my throat. “I believe I put it in the safe. For safe-keeping.”

“I could ask you to bring it out. Or I could show you my own copy to read. But I believe I’ve heard it reported of you that you have a remarkable memory. Could you please recite the amendment I asked you to write into the contract, that I and Mr. Wolfe both signed?”

My throat was suddenly dry. I finished my glass of milk and closed my eyes, recovering that Monday evening. At last I cleared my throat and giving it the full sing-songy legalese diction it deserved, recited:

“’It is understood by both parties that absolutely no word or hint or information concerning this agreement, or the investigation it initiates, or any results of that investigation, may be made public or otherwise shared beyond those concerned, without the agreement and concurrence of Robert Louis, counsel for Phillip Dickinson, for a period of at least 50 years.’”
I opened my eyes and looked at Louis and concluded: “There!”

Suddenly two words reverberated sharply in my inner ear, and I felt as if my chest crashed inward of its own weight. ‘Any result.’ The word ‘any’ covers a lot of territory. Far more territory than I was thinking of that Monday, when I’d typed up the contract for signatures, and clearly more than had occurred to Wolfe.

I looked at Wolfe, His cheeks had fallen, not into a frown but something worse, a look of the most profound disappointment. Instead of the meat-engorged lion of only minutes before, he now looked like a lost puppy huddling in a doorway on a dark and rainy night. I knew he had as good a memory as I do, but whether those two words had rung in his ears before I uttered them, or at the same time they did in mine, I don’t know. I do know that the full meaning of their ringing together so sharply had been heard in that big skull of his.

“Mr. Louis,” he said quietly, “I think I asked you if you would agree that the capture of the Midnight Runner, a notorious criminal –“

“Worth three hundred thousand dollars, as I noted.”

“Surely, the capture of such a criminal is a good in itself –“

“And your civic responsibility which you have fulfilled admirably. To be sure, you acted on it in a manner heroic – even saintly! Why, in someone’s heaven, I have no doubt, choirs of angels will sing your praises to whatever god you choose.” He leaned forward with all his weight. “But you are not going to profit a penny off of it.” He leaned back. “Mr. Anstrey – no one in the FBI – can release any public knowledge of your involvement in the Midnight Runner’s capture without my agreement and concurrence. And I do not give it. Mr. Klause, the principle offering the reward for the Runner’s capture is public as far as we are concerned. That is my understanding, and the use of the word ‘concurrence’ implies my understanding, my interpretation. Of any situation that could be considered public according to that contract. Therefore any communication concerning your involvement to Mr. Klause, for whatever purposes, cannot have my concurrence. I forbid it.”

Wolfe inhaled a bushel of air and bellowed it out: “You’re insane!”

Louis shook his head. “No sir. I didn’t suspect this particular outcome, when I had that amendment attached to the contract, but you were just a little too coy when you offered the contract to begin with – a contract I warned you might endanger my reputation as an attorney. So I certainly suspected that you contemplated some action that could put me or my client at risk. And it still could – you let it become public knowledge that you helped capture the Runner, and the hows and wherefores are bound to leak, and soon enough we’ll be reading about how I hired a detective to crucify my own client! No, sir! Bellow all you will, you’re not budging me one inch on this.”

Wolfe slapped his hand on the desk. “That contract speaks of the results of a particular investigation, not of those of a separable inquiry congruent to it.”

“Ah,” said Louis, pouncing, “But that’s where you tripped yourself up, Mr. Wolfe. It is easy to see that you kept trying to pull Warren Ames first into the Dickinson investigation and then out of it, only to bring him into it again, and irrevocably, at the last. Truly, he did not witness a third man coming from the Dickinson bedroom – but only because he was that third man – which makes him material witness to the Dickinson- Tell murders. You made him so by having him confess tonight. That confession, which announces his identity as the Midnight Runner murderer, is therefore also a result of your investigations into the murders of Michael Tell, Clarra Dickinson, and then that of Phillip Dickinson – whose murder could not be solved, except by revealing that he was the murderer of Tell and his wife, since that formed a basis of his murderer’s motivation; but that revelation, of Dickinson’s guilt, could not be made manifest without the testimony of Warren Ames, pursuant to his confession of being the Midnight Runner.” He crossed his legs comfortably and smiled. He didn’t look like the lion who had eaten the antelope – he was still eating it. “Ergo, your accomplishment in the capture of the Midnight Runner is a direct result of your investigation of the Dickinson-Tell murders, for which I contracted your services, and the amendment to that contract clearly states that making knowledge of any result of that investigation public in any way is dependent on my agreement and concurrence – and I do not grant it.”

Wolfe studied the lawyer long and hard, and then stole glances at Cramer, Anstrey, and me. Cramer was looking somewhat like a vulture smelling blood; he was waiting for the lion to finish with the carcass so he could peck at it. Anstrey, the cool professional agent, remained impassive, expressionless. I tried to look like him, but I knew I was failing, the frown-muscles in my face were just too heavy to prop up much.

Wolfe leaned back, eyeing Louis like an opponent across a chess board. At last he sighed. “I certainly see the reasoning behind your refusal, and though I might not agree with it, I think it strong enough, in light of the broad wording of our contract and its amendment, that I am quite willing to abide by it and make no public utterance whatsoever concerning any of the related investigations for which we contracted.” He tilted his head slightly. “However, neither of us have any agreement, contractual or otherwise, with the employees of the Cosglow Agency, and not with either the New York City police or the FBI, such that they would have any reason to remain silent about my involvement –“

“Of course they do. The Cosglow employees? up to their necks in adultery, homosexuality, murder? I don’t see them running to the press anytime soon. As for our legitimately appointed official law enforcement agents, well… they need all the good publicity they can get. Major solutions to major crimes, for which they bear the major burden of solution, and for bringing the criminals to justice? Certainly they do. And if you ask them politely, I am sure that Inspector Cramer and Agent Anstrey would gladly take the necessary steps to suppress all knowledge of your involvement in these matters.”

“If I did?” Wolfe asked incredulously. “If I asked them that? Pfui! Why would I do that, why would I ask them that?”

Louis leaned forward and spoke very carefully. “The short form is, that I’ve heard you are a man of honor. Having given your word contractually, your honor would seem to require that you do everything you can to see it completely fulfilled.

“But if that’s too simple, or even simple-minded on my part, to believe what has been said of you, then of course I’ll just have to take you to court for breach, for performance, and for damages. As I believe you said, no one could mistake that a sane and reasonable adult would understand that contract before entering into it. That means that, while I would most likely lose my case, I certainly have a strong enough basis for it to push it all the way into court, and I would make it the longest, most drawn out, messiest affair this city’s ever seen: ‘Nero Wolfe, the confidential agent who cannot keep his word!’ I’d have you up on that witness stand, describing every moment of your investigation, every chance thought that seemed to suggest you intended to use me to enrich yourself at the expense of my client’s reputation and possible acquittal….”

Louis continued on with his threats for another minute, but I stopped listening. I knew that was the turning point. The notion that he would find himself at the defendant’s table, and then on the witness stand, hour after hour, possibly day after day, far from his orchids, his beer, his food, his favorite chair, was more than Wolfe could bear.


I looked at Wolfe. His face flushed more darkly with evident rage than I’d ever seen, and for a moment I thought he might lash out uncontrollably. Then the blood drained from it, leaving it a pale yellow in the light of the office lamps. At last Louis stopped his tirade. There came a long pause of nothing being said and only quiet breathing heard.

Finally Wolfe looked at his glass of beer, drained it of its dregs, put it down and studied it.

“I do not believe I actually drank six bottles since dinner,” he remarked, softly. I think that was directed to me; he had to be speaking to somebody.

I looked at my hands and saw they were empty, so I picked up my notebook off the desk, just so I could slam it down again.

“Lovin’ babe!” I exclaimed.

Cramer looked at me and exploded with a wild laughter. Anstrey, the cool professional, looked at me and made no sound, did not change his expression. Louis did not look at me, he looked at Wolfe. Wolfe studied his empty glass.


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Rights Disclaimer:

Nero Wolfe: The Dickinson Thing: Chapter Thirty-one


The Dickinson Thing
A Nero Wolfe Mystery
Emmanuel John Winner
A tribute to Rex Stout

Chapter Thirty-one

The telephone rang. It was Fred, to report that the sandwich cart vendor had returned the cart and he had the information we had wanted from him – if we ever needed it, though it didn’t look as though we ever would, with Ames spilling all to the cop and the g-Man in the front room. I told Fred to go on home, put the receiver down and said to Wolfe, “Fred. Information acquired, if needed.” He merely nodded.

Just then Rider decided he wanted another scotch and soda. “Quite a story that man has to tell,” he remarked.

Wolfe shrugged. “Not one that interests me greatly. The stories told by those addicted to murder, in attempted justification of their distorted motivations, are rather like the supposed explanations generals give for fighting useless wars – mere rhetoric to excuse an unstoppable impulse for destruction.” He rang for Fritz, then turned to Ruth Brady.

“Miss Brady, your services are most appreciated. What follows will not concern you. Ah, here’s Fritz. Fritz, please show Miss Brady to the door. And then Mr. Rider would like another scotch and soda.” He noted the looks of curiosity his guests were giving him, responded, “Miss Brady has been in my employ, specifically engaged to act as decoy in the capture of the notorious murderer known as the Midnight Runner. That capture has inherent worth, obviously; but for our purposes it was clearly necessary to remove a distraction from the matter at hand, the murders of Michael Tell and Mrs. Dickinson, the murder of Phillip Dickinson. Miss Brady, again you have my gratitude, and have a safe journey home and a pleasant night.”

Ruth smiled, winked at me, and said, “Mr. Wolfe, any time you want the bejeezbus beat out of some guy gone loco, you give me a holler.”

Wolfe’s lips tightened – that was far too much colloquialism for his delicate ears – but he merely nodded and said, “Hopefully such a situation will not again arise.” Then he closed his eyes so he could savor the departing of a dangerous female.

While that was going on, and in the time it took for Fritz to return with Rider’s drink, I kept stealing glances at our client, Robert Louis. To say he looked unhappy would be understatement, yet he was too in control of his own expression to be described any other way. Let’s say he looked like a cross between an angry high-school coach and a woman holding back her tears. And it was easy to guess why. Although everyone was recovering from the unpleasant awareness that we had just spent time sharing space with someone who had murdered 18 people, the implication of Ames’ confession, regarding the night of August 5th, could not be missed. It hung over us like a cloud we all knew to be there, awaiting someone to state the obvious.

That of course was Inspector Cramer, who could detect the obvious better than any cop I know.

“So Dickinson did kill Tell and his wife, huh?”

Wolfe nodded. “Yes.” Suddenly there came a thump from the back of the room. Robert Louis had uncrossed his legs and stamped a foot on the floor. “Please, Mr. Louis,” Wolfe said to him firmly, “Remember our contract. I know what you must be feeling right now, but let me complete the job you hired me for.”

“You may know what I’m feeling, but not what I’m thinking,” Louis said in a low but cutting voice. He waved a hand at Wolfe. “Go ahead, finish the job. I do remember our contract.”

“Thank you.” Wolfe returned to Cramer. “When we were discussing the case the other day, I did not deny the strength of the circumstances pointing to his guilt, I said only that circumstances do not convict anyone. And they would not have done so in this case. Certainly not without one fact that your men had not acquired. You assumed on the basis of Mr. Dickinson’s testimony that the gun must have been in the apartment when he got there home from work. You didn’t see that such an assumption would lead to ridicule of your case against him. If the gun had been outside of the bedroom, how could he have groped around for it in the dark without making a sound announcing his presence? If it was in the bedroom, then of course he could only have gotten it in the course of an ugly scene between himself, his wife, and Tell. But of course both such scenarios assumed that Dickinson believed his wife to be having an affair with Michael Tell, which was hardly likely given Tell’s – let us say, his romantic preferences – and Dickinson’s almost certain knowledge of that. Ames’ testimony, and now his confession, fully explain Mr. Tell’s nakedness, and I suspected it as soon as I realized that Ames’ original story was an attempt to draw attention to the Midnight Runner’s involvement in the matter – an involvement that would have been meaningless to Ames unless he knew of the Runner – or was himself the Runner. The specificity of his testimony – given the darkness of the street that night – made that all too clear. Since Ames made no reference to the Runner, it was therefore likely he was the Runner. Except, of course that the Midnight Runner never used fire arms. Therefore, though he had knocked Tell unconscious and stripped him in the process of pursuing his morbid fascination for posing victims, he certainly hadn’t killed him.

“Then, how had the gun gotten into that bedroom? who could have used it? The answer to the first question would make the answer to the second almost certain, given the supporting circumstances. So, testing a hypothesis, I sent Mr. Panzer to find a way into Cosglow Agency offices and inspect Mr. Dickinson’s desk and cubicle. There he found traces of oil used in maintenance of revolvers – Saul?”

“It was on a napkin in a small box in the top drawer of Dickinson’s desk,” Saul reported.

“So,” Wolfe went on, “clearly Dickinson was keeping the gun at his office; and just as clearly, the only way it could have gotten back to his apartment is if he himself brought it there, in his pocket. So it was quite possible that the gun was in his hand when he entered the bedroom. Ames knocked the lamp out, Dickinson shot blindly -”

“Ah,” Cramer interrupted him, “But why? why was he going home armed? You’re suggesting he was looking for trouble. The way you’re telling it, Dickinson shot Tell almost by accident; but if we believe Ames, he then strangled his own wife, and that’s obviously no accident. That’s a very angry man. But why? If he knew Tell wasn’t having an affair with his wife -”

Wolfe held up a hand to interrupt him. “Because his wife was not having an affair with Michael Tell, doesn’t mean she was not having an affair.” He turned to the Cosglow employees, who were starting to squirm in their seats. They, after all, knew where this had been going all along. And now it was coming at them, and there was no way to back away from it.

Wolfe addressed them directly. “It is an odd thing, how information surfaces during investigations into murder. When the police first investigated the murders of Tell and Mrs. Dickinson, they did not ask the right questions, and of course you offered them no information they did not ask for. Undoubtedly you feared involvement in an embarrassing court case with Phillip Dickinson as defendant. Then when I sent Archie up to make inquiries, armed with information you could not deny, your friendship with Mr. Tell, and a revelation for which you were unprepared – that Dickinson was to be released and that there was a possibility he would not be brought to trial for the murders – you people used the opportunity and its consequences to cast aspersions on each other. Then came the murder of Dickinson himself. Once again, you attempted to hold back information from the police, although your involvement in that murder – at least one of you – is plain. Then the other day when Mr. Cramer invited you here, you opened up your various bags of antipathy towards one another again. And I let you play that game, in order to sound you out. Now the time for games is done.

“Mr. Rider. Were you not having an affair with Clarra Dickinson?”

Rider gripped his glass very tightly in one hand, a smoldering cigarette very tightly in the other.

Finally, he took a sip of scotch and soda and inhaled smoke, and said: “I loved Clarra Bell very much. And I think she loved me too. Her marriage to Dickinson was a mistake. But I am not….” He shook his head.

Wolfe sighed. “I see we must take the high, rocky road to get to our inevitable destination. Very well. Miss Baier and Mr. Harrington. Agents of mine have discovered witnesses at restaurants where you met with Michael Tell and Mrs. Dickinson. There you would wait until yet a third man appeared, who would then go off with Mrs. Dickinson, leaving the three of you to finish the night’s entertainment without her. Was that third man Mr. Rider?”

Mira Baier looked sheepishly at Cy Harrington. But he wasn’t looking at her. He was looking down at the front of Wolfe’s desk, as if admiring it. I admit it was a well built desk, but I thought Harrington’s interest inappropriate for the occasion.

It was Mira Baier who responded first. “You can’t just throw around accusations willy-nilly! You say you have witnesses? Let me talk to them!”

Wolfe closed his eyes. I bet the others missed it, but he gave a very slight shake of the head. I knew he was thinking, another woman to deal with! “Miss Baier, you know who they are, the waiters and waitresses at the restaurants you attended. You can find them and speak with them at leisure. But the fact of their collective report will remain unchallenged, I have little doubt. Was that man who joined you in those restaurants, to then go off with Mrs. Dickinson, Mr. Rider or not? The question is simple. You can choose to lie, you can choose not to answer, but you cannot choose to have the witnesses change the facts for you. I am sure some men find you appealing, even fascinating. But will the waitresses also be so taken in with your charm that they would agree, suddenly, to change their stories? I think not.” He took a breath and opened his eyes. But he didn’t look at Mira Baier. Instead, he fixed his eyes on Sandra Birnbaum.

“Miss Birnbaum, did you not tell Mr. Goodwin here that on the night of August 5th, you found yourself in a cubicle in Phillip Dickinson’s office at the Cosglow Agency, and that you heard a raging argument between Mr. Rider and Mr. Dickinson, during which Rider told Dickinson he was sleeping with Clarra Dickinson and concluding with Dickinson knocking Rider down?”

No one was more pleased to find herself put on the spot. She smiled cruelly and looked at Ben Rider. “I sure did.” she said.

“And you hold to that?”

Rider shot her a glare. “Be very careful, Sandra -”

“I do,” she said.

“And you know that Michael Tell was involved in an arrangement with Mr. Rider in the performance of a favor – a romantic favor – to persuade Phillip Dickinson that his wife would be going out for an occasional entertainment with Mr. Tell – harmless and unthreatening to Phillip Dickinson because known to be homosexual – when in fact she was going out to meet her lover, Ben Rider?”

She frowned. “When you put it that way, it sounds so… conspiratorial.”

“Indeed it should. It was. Was Mr. Tell involved in such a conspiracy? Were Mr. Harrington and Miss Baier?”

She pouted thoughtful. The commitment to it probably didn’t appeal to her. But she gave it: “Yes. Michael, Cy, Mira; we all knew it. The only one who didn’t was Phillip Dickinson. Until Ben here got angry and let the cat out of the bag.” She gave a humorless laugh. “Which was truly pathetic. It was his cat, and we had all played our parts keeping it in the bag, and then he dumps it himself!” She gave him a scathingly contemptuous look. “I don’t know what I ever saw in you. You don’t know the good thing when you have it, and then when you get another you get rid of it.”

Rider calmly finished his drink and his cigarette, folded his hands, looked at Wolfe. “Okay. You’re right. I was having an affair with Clarra Dickinson. And I did have that fight with Phillip on August 5th. That’s what you needed? Yes, Dickinson was utterly furious. He called his wife names – ‘a two bit wipe cloth,’ he called her – his own wife! One of the most beautiful women I’ve ever met.” At that Sandra Birnbaum snorted. “Yes, she was, Sandra. There was a side to her you never could understand.” He turned back to Wolfe. “Anyway, that’s what you wanted, wasn’t it? The reason why he went home armed. Why he might have killed her. He didn’t love her. But she was his, his possession, a thing he owned, the ‘wipe cloth’ he used, and he couldn’t stand the thought of another man enjoying the affection she could no longer give him and he didn’t really want. He had a violent temper -”

“He was cruel.” It was Mira Baier. “Phillip could be impossibly cruel when he got angry -” Instinctively reliving a memory, he held her hand to her left cheek, and I could almost hear the echo of the slap he must have given her.

Wolfe leaned back, drew in a bushel of air and let it out. “Yes, that certainly explains Mr. Dickinson’s bringing his gun home; and it explains why, once he realized he had the opportunity, with his wife lying there with a rope around her and another man to blame it on, he strangled his wife. But it doesn’t yet explain why Mr. Dickinson himself was killed, nor who it was that killed him. Miss Baier, who suggested that you accompany Mr. Harrington and Mr. Tell on the nights they met with Clarra Dickinson, when she would then be taken off by her lover for a tryst?”

“Why, Cy came to me -”

“Of course. It would be.”

“Mr. Harrington is… he and I -”

Wolfe held up his hand. “Please say nothing you’ll regret later. Mr. Harrington is only as safe as the truth will make him. Aren’t you, Mr. Harrington? When did Mr. Rider come to you and suggest that you recruit Mr. Tell and Miss Baier to his cause?”

He slowly raised his eyes to meet Wolfe’s. “It was… in April, at the Easter office party… I was a little… drunk.”

“He told you he was madly in love with Clarra Dickinson, and that she was then ready to return his affections? Or how did he put it?”

Harrington tried a smile, could only come up with a grin. “He didn’t use the word madly, but, yes, he said he was still very much in love with Clarra. He asked if there wasn’t some way to convince Phil that nights she left the apartment without him could be spent in the company of a few friends….”

“Yet he included Miss Baier in those plans. Despite or because she had once been involved with Phillip Dickinson?”

“I can answer that,” chimed in Mira, “It was because. Phillip knew I feared him. He would never expect I would be involved in anything that challenged him.”

“Well put. And of course, the reason for asking Mr. Tell into the venture is obvious and has been discussed. Why did Mr. Rider ask you to go to Mr. Tell, Mr. Harrington?”

Harrington only blinked at him.

“Why did not Mr. Rider go to Mr. Tell directly, Mr. Harrington? To whom was Mr. Tell granting this ‘romantic favor’ in conspiring to cuckold Mr. Dickinson?”

“We all knew Michael Tell!” Mira Baier yelped, “you can’t lay it at the door of any one man! Cy Harrington is -”

“Hush!” Wolfe held up a hand. “I know. Mr. Harrington is a beautiful man. So was Mr. Tell. We’ll come back to it. Let’s get to the core of the matter, then. Mr. Rider. You were deeply in love with Clarra Bell Dickinson, were you not?”

“I… was very much in love.”

“First you lose her to Phillip Dickinson; briefly, if surreptitiously, you recapture her; and then, through Dickinson, you lose her again, to the grave – a final loss, beyond revocation. No conspiracies will resurrect her for you, she is gone for good. I would suppose that would sting.”

“Of course!”

“Beyond endurance? Beyond the bounds of reason? Did it light a fire in your soul, a thirst needing to be quenched?”

Rider frowned at him. “What are you getting at?”

“Any murder is committed for one of only three motivations.” He counted them off with his fingers. “Madness, either temporary or sustained; money; or passion. Of these, the most interesting and least easy to be restrained is passion. It could be fear, it could be loathing, it could be revenge, it could be love. It is a drive that blinds one to the durability and imminence of possible consequences. It is the motivation assured of its own correctness and with force behind it beyond the capacity of reason to deny it.” He flipped a hand up. So it seems reasonable to ask – how much did you love Clarra Bell Dickinson? Was her death such a loss that you could do no other but avenge it?”

Rider’s eyes narrowed. “Are you accusing me of Phillip Dickinson’s murder?”

Wolfe raised his shoulders then let them drop. “Surely that leads among the list of possibilities. Who had stronger motive to kill Phillip Dickinson? What stronger motive could there be but outrage at the murder of one’s deepest love?” He leaned forward. “How painful it must have been for you to learn that not only was the one you most loved gone for good but that the man who surely took her from you – twice – could possibly be set free – not only briefly, awaiting further investigation, but permanently, as a result of that investigation.”

“I knew nothing of the sort!”

“Of course you did – you certainly read the newspaper account of Phillip Dickinson being let go on bail, and when Cy Harrington came for you with his report of Dickinson’s arrival at the office this Tuesday -”

“No! You’re twisting everything around! I didn’t -”

“It is the motive that revealed you, Mr. Rider. Do you know Homer? Book Eighteen of the Iliad. I prefer Butler’s prose translation for our purpose here; Achilles’ response to the discovery that the Trojan Hector has slain his lover Patroclus ‘he whom I valued more than all others, and loved as dearly as my own life?’ – he goes on to throw himself completely into his revenge:

“‘I will pursue Hector who has slain him whom I loved so dearly, and will then abide my doom when it may please Jove and the other gods to send it.’

“That is the real love, the passionate love, the love that blinds one to the claims of reason -”

Rider, waving the whole matter away distastefully, muttered, “That’s about two men, for Christ sakes, they don’t know how -” He flushed and shook his head.

“What, two men don’t know how to love? As Miss Birnbaum claimed the other night. Yet, perhaps the Greeks knew better. For myself, any passion is a matter for the past, so I wouldn’t know. But I do know I have heard too many confessions of passionate murder in this very office to mistake its signature, You heard it yourself, remarking the story Mr. Ames had to tell. Yet it wasn’t his story, surely, that brought him finally to admit his deeds, but some dark passion fueling them, a passion for women he could never possess – is that your kind of passion as well, Mr. Rider? Not just the realization that you had lost Clarra Bell’s love forever, but that you could never possess it.”

“I didn’t love any woman that much!” It was virtually a shout, and there came a pause while the reverberations died down. Rider took a deep breath, lowered his head in his hands. “For heaven’s sake. Okay. I admit it – I didn’t love Clarra Bell.” There came an audible gasp from Mira Baier, while Sandra Birnbaum smiled as smugly as I’ve seen any woman do. Rider went on. “I mean I thought I loved her, I enjoyed her, I know she enjoyed me too. I guess I wanted to love her. Maybe I just wanted to love someone. All my life I’ve had to work hard and do – whatever it took to get ahead – and still I seem to swim around in circles. Clarra Bell gave me moments of pleasure that suggested there could be something – well, more to it all, however brief.” He looked plaintively up at Wolfe. “But by god you don’t kill for that. It’s not what you call a passion.”

“No?” said Wolfe. He reached into his drawer and pulled out a pair of vinyl gloves. “How do you explain these?” He tossed them on the desk before Rider. “Two days ago, I had Mr. Panzer return to the Cosglow offices, late at night, to search your office.” I raised a brow, frowning. I had heard nothing of that. I looked at Saul, but he wore the same face he wears at poker, impossible to read. “He found those gloves in the bottom drawer of your desk. One finger tip presented the faint trace of a smudge – of chocolate. Remember how the holes in the Dinky’s bar into which the cyanide was dripped needed to be covered over? No doubt, on analysis, the chocolate on the glove will be revealed as the brand of chocolate used to coat Dinky’s bars. Perhaps a trace of cyanide will also be found, don’t you think?”

Rider leapt to his feet. “You can’t prove -”

Suddenly, although Rider’s voice was loud, a burst of laughter cut above it. It was Cy Harrington. Everyone stared at him but Wolfe, who was picking up the gloves and carefully folding them.

Finally, Harrington, an odd smile of relief on his face, said: “Enough, Mr. Wolfe. Of course those aren’t the gloves used while poisoning the Dinky’s bar. I threw those away.”

“Indeed, Mr. Harrington. Perhaps they are the same brand to be found in your Agency’s sample storage room. But they were not discovered there. Sometimes I need to use thin surgical gloves when caring for my orchids. They are delicate and demanding creatures. They insist on tender treatment and threaten premature death if handled too roughly. You’re quite right, these gloves are mine.” He dropped them into his desk drawer and closed it softly.

I watched Saul – who had never gone back to the Cosglow Agency a second time, of course – move his chair behind that of Cy Harrington and sit down again. So did Purley Stebbins.

Harrington seemed unaware of the motion behind him, or he no longer cared. He sat perfectly at ease, looking at Nero Wolfe.

“Oh, Cy!” Mira Baier said, and reached for him.

He held up a hand to stop her. “No, Mira, it’s far too late for that. It always was.” She buried her face in her hands. But only the occasional movement of her shoulders suggested she was sobbing. She made no sound of it.

Harrington said to Nero Wolfe: “Was it so obvious?”

Wolfe shrugged. “It should have been. Just as Mr. Dickinson was entering the office, before you were aware of his presence, Mr. Cravitz threw a Dinky’s bar at you, and you caught it. Then you looked up and there was Phillip Dickinson. You said nothing, you got up and left – with the candy bar still in hand. You were therefore the only one with a candy bar to poison, alone and unobserved. It did not occur to the police immediately, but it would have eventually, that of course that poisoned bar could not have been placed on Dickinson’s desk until after his arrival. First, the news of his release from jail was too recent, his visit to the office uncertain until he actually appeared. Second, and on account of that, it would be dangerous to leave an edible product on a desk so readily accessible, anyone might have eaten it. No, it had to be poisoned and placed to tempt him only once Mr. Dickinson was near his desk, almost certain to take a bite. If he had not, if he had resisted the temptation, the bar could be removed quickly before anyone else had a chance to take it.”

He held up his hands as if holding time between them. “Some twenty minutes later, when anyone noticed your return to the office, you were in the company of Mr. Rider. The assumption seemed to be that you had left the office to go get Mr. Rider, but I did not make that assumption, there seemed no sense to it, unless the murder was the result of a conspiracy between the two of you; but it was simpler to assume that the two of you meeting at the office was fortuitous for you, and that Mr. Rider had arrived on his own recognizance – Did you, Mr. Rider?”

Rider, hang-dog look on his face, nodded. “The receptionist called to tell me that Dickinson was in. I don’t know why I wanted to see him, I don’t know what I was going to say to him…. At the last moment, I didn’t say anything.”

“There.” He let the time go from his hands and folded them on the desk before him. “So only you, Mr. Harrington, were out of the office, with candy bar in hand, alone, long enough to carry out a plan that you probably developed the night before, and for which you were suddenly presented with an opportunity to carry out.”

Inspector Cramer, who had been listening with rapt attention, hardly even chewing his cigar, finally took it out of his mouth to speak. “Harrington killed Dickinson? I don’t believe it. Why?” He pointed the cigar at Cy Harrington. “Did you also love Clarra Dickinson with this ‘blinding passion’ Wolfe loves to yammer about?”

Harrington closed his eyes. He was clearly trying to find the words for it. They didn’t come easy. “I was a Marine in the war, inspector. I was on Iwo Jima. Of my squad only me and Eddie Wood survived. I saw a lot of men die on Iwo Jima. Good men. Phillip Dickinson was not a good man.”

“That was a reason to kill him?”

He smiled grimly. “I just didn’t want you to get the wrong idea.” He looked at Cramer directly. “I didn’t love Clarra Dickinson. I couldn’t. I loved Michael Tell. I was Michael Tell’s lover. I still am; though he be buried, his soul still lives in me.”

When he got it, which was rather quickly, Cramer dropped his cigar. “Oh, Jesus!” he exclaimed.

“Yes,” Harrington said, “I think Jesus would understand, at least the love Michael and I shared. He was so smart, so understanding, so gentle. He was fun to be around, and he was always there, would always be there, when he was needed. He was the truest lover a man could ever know – and Phillip Dickinson shot him in the back.”

“Well, if you want to call him a man -”

“Tut, Mr. Cramer!” snapped Wolfe, cutting him off. “Let us pay respect for the dead. A great deal of your confusion in this case, from the beginning, has arisen from your failure to grasp the multiplicity of possible human responses to unexpected situations created by other human responses to other human beings. A round-about way of saying that you left yourself unprepared for the heated chaos of human interaction. Of course Mr. Tell was a man, and so is Mr. Harrington. Whatever a human can do, some human has done, and no act is as foolishly human as to fall in love. Only so foolish a creature could become so intoxicated with the passionate fascination with another we call love.

“I, on the other hand, depended on it, on the basic reliability of the human heart, always losing itself to its own disorders. That is how I called Mr. Harrington out, with that feint in Mr. Rider’s direction, including the rather obvious ploy with the gloves. I depended on Mr. Harrington’s essential nobility -”

“Nobility?!” yapped Cramer.

“Did you not pay attention to that quote from Homer? Lines spoken by the ‘noble Achilles,’ as the poet dubs him. What greater nobility than to risk everything to avenge the murder of one’s lover? So, of course, Mr. Harrington, you would not be able to sit there and let the innocent Mr. Rider be railroaded into prison for the crime you committed. After all, the risk had been yours. Now the consequences must also be yours.”

Harrington looked back at Wolfe and nodded. “He was a bad man. He deserved to die.”

“Perhaps. That judgment is not in my hands, thank heaven. The pity of it is, had you awaited the investigation to take its course, the People of the State of New York may very well have agreed with you. Now it is you who must face their legitimated wrath.”

Harrington nodded again. “In the last battle on Iwo Jima, the Japanese charged us with swords and bayonets, having run out of ammunition. If I am to meet fate swiftly, I pray to find such courage.”

The door opened. Fritz appeared to announce that “The gentlemen in the front room have left. Mr. Carella wished it be known that the matter is, how did he put it? – ‘all wrapped up.'”

“Thank you, Fritz,” Wolfe told him, “Stay a moment.” He turned to Cramer. “I suggest having Mr. Stebbins take Mr. Harrington to the front room. Mr. Panzer can accompany them. There are some little matters I wish to discuss with you and Mr. Anstrey.”

“And me!” Robert Louis’ voice piped up from the back, louder than it needed to be.

“Of course, Mr. Louis, you are right to be included in it. Mr. Rider, Miss Birnbaum, Miss Baier. Mr. Brenner will call a cab for you. Your patience, your indulgence, your participation are well appreciated, I assure you.”

Mira lifted her face from her hands. It was streaked with tears. “I want to stay,” she insisted in a trembling voice.

Wolfe frowned. There is nothing he hates worse than sharing space with a woman who is crying.

“Absolutely not,” he said brusquely. “Go, Miss Baier. There is nothing more for you here.”

She looked at Harrington, who nodded agreement with Wolfe.

Wolfe called to Fritz, “Will you take care of our departing guests? And when that is done, please bring me another bottle of beer. Will none of you have anything? Yes, Archie? And a glass of milk for Archie.” He waited until Harrington, Saul and Purley Stebbins had exited to the front room, and Rider, Baier, and Birnbaum had exited to the hall with Fritz. With the doors closed behind them, he gestured to the chairs fronting his desk. “Mr. Louis, Mr. Anstrey, will you come forward to sit with Mr. Cramer and myself? I like eyes at a level, and prefer our voices need not be raised to cover great distances. A difficult undertaking has been accomplished, and now, as comrades, we may consider the easiest means of closing our accounts on it.”


Begin at the beginning:

Rights Disclaimer:

Nero Wolfe: The Dickinson Thing: Chapter Thirty


The Dickinson Thing
A Nero Wolfe Mystery
Emmanuel John Winner
A tribute to Rex Stout

Chapter Thirty

I didn’t follow Wolfe’s instructions to the letter.  After all, he hadn’t waited for a full report and didn’t know the whole score down at Bleecker Street.  So, using my intelligence guided by experience (as Wolfe frequently insists I must), I told Fred to go wait by the sandwich cart for the hawker to come back for it, as he was certainly to do if it was any kind of investment for him, and to get his story and name and address.  I supposed Wolfe would complain about the added expense of paying Fred for an additional hour, but having available an independent witness of Ames’ scramble up and into the window seemed like a good idea, if the matter ever got to court.

It was around midnight when we arrived at West 35th Street in Saul’s car.  I found the door unbolted, but rang the bell anyway, to announce our arrival to Wolfe and Fritz.  Saul and Ruth brought Ames into the front hallway.  I went to Wolfe in the office where he was busy reading, his way of expressing anxiety and concern.

“He’s here,” I announced, “you should have a look at him.  You know that dark shirt of his?  You’ll be surprised to learn -”

“A tattoo.  I expected as much.”

I blinked at him.  “What?  You knew?”

He bookmarked and put down the book.  “A worthy supposition.  The Japanese underworld is known for its members’ identifying full-body tattoos.  And one of the great shames of the American military was the prevalence of black-marketeering connections between Americans there for the Occupation and the Japanese underworld.  It occured to me when you mentioned his pride in having played saxophone in night-clubs in Japan as a sailor.  A mediocre player, his being allowed to play in such venues suggested connections with the underworld figures managing those night-clubs.”

So, Wolfe had stolen my thunder again.  “You might have told a guy.”

“And risk even hinting it to the FBI?  We wanted this capture for ourselves.”  He rose to his feet and came to the door.  “Are his hands bound behind his back?  You may as well free them, he isn’t going to be doing anything aggressive any more tonight.”  He confronted our prisoner. “You’re not doing anything aggressive tonight, are you, Mr. Ames?  No, of course not.  Look at him – a puppy whose nose has been swatted with a newspaper.  Take him to the front room, Saul, you and Miss Brady.  Will you have anything to drink?”

Saul said a beer would be nice, and Ruth asked for a high-ball.  Wolfe assured them Fritz would soon bring these, and they nudged Ames through the door of the front office.  He was still saying nothing, still merely looking.  I don’t know that he looked like any kind of puppy.  He kept his face expressionless.  To me he looked more like the Cheshire cat without the smile.

“Archie,” Wolfe said, “the office.”

We went into the office.   He made a bee-line for his favorite chair, and pressed the buzzer for Fritz.  I took a seat at my own desk.  “Report?” I asked him.

“In a moment.”  Fritz appeared.  Wolfe ordered beer, I asked for milk, and Wolfe relayed the requests from Ruth Brady and Saul.  “There is a man with them in the front room,” he told Fritz, “If he asks for anything, ignore him.  He gets nothing.  How are our guests in the dining-room?”

I raised an eyebrow.  “We have guests in the dining-room?” I asked.

“Archie, let Fritz respond.”  Wolfe rebuked me.

“They are all quite uncomfortable,” Fritz told him.  “Miss Birnbaum continues to nurse her glass of Merlot, Mr. Rider has finished his second scotch and soda, and smokes like an open-pit barbecue.  The others continue to refuse refreshments.”

Wolfe frowned.  “It will take forever to get that confounded cigarette odor out of the dining-room.  I should have forbidden it.  Well, there is nothing for it.  The windows are wide open?”

“I have also placed a small fan in the room, explaining that the heat….”

“Quite right.  Very well.”  He gestured Fritz off, and when he’d gone, Wolfe looked to me and nodded.  “You are not surprised we have guests, only that they arrived so quickly.  You were expecting them to come later.  But I called for them as soon as you left.”

“Then you did know it would be tonight.”

“It was by far the likeliest possibility.”

“What if it really had been just a dress rehearsal?”

Wolfe snorted.  “It wasn’t.  Why speculate?”

“Just to pretend I can keep up with you, almost,” I said rather dryly, “Who do we have?”

“Cramer had Stebbins and another officer round up Miss Baier, Miss Birnbaum, Harrington and Rider and bring them here.  Mr., Anstrey is also there, with another agent, a Mr. Helm from an office out west who has been on the Runner case since it first attracted the FBI’s attention.   And of course, Mr. Louis is there, still representing Mr. Dickinson’s interests.  They’ve been here about half an hour, maybe more.  Cramer explained to the Cosglow employees that this semi-official gathering would at last resolve the difficulties surrounding the murders of Dickinson, his wife, and Mr. Tell.  Of course that is all they have been clamoring for since they arrived, but I assured them such a resolution awaited the arrival of important evidence.  I’ve tried to engage them in a discussion concerning our recent experiments in Creole culinary, but I fear not a one of them has any taste.”

I shook my head in sympathy.  “The world is filled with unremarkable people.”

“Quite.  So I excused myself with the need to take care of pressing business on the issue at hand -”

“Your book.”

Wolfe frowned.  “Would you slight me escape from that pack of mewling puppies?”

“No; relax.  I’m just a little sore that you planned it so well, without letting me in on it.”

“Why should I have?  You had a part to play, and played it with satisfactory acuity.  Very satisfactory.”

I didn’t quite blush, but I admitted my ego was considerably soothed.  “Thanks,” I replied, trying to make it sound more ironic than it was.

Fritz returned with a tray with refreshments, handed me a glass of milk, and Wolfe a bottle of beer and a glass, took the remainder to the front room and closed the soundproof door behind him.  Wolfe poured beer, drank, sat back and closed his eyes.  “Report,” he told me.

I reported.  Occasionally Wolfe grunted or shrugged his shoulders in response.  When I repeated Ruth Brady’s description of how she handled Ames’ attack, he opened his eyes wide, looked at me and shivered.  He shook his head and closed his eyes again.  I knew he was thanking whatever divine being he might believe in that there weren’t any women in his life.

When I was done, he opened his eyes and kept them open.  “Your worry that I might object to having to pay Fred to discover the sandwich seller and acquire his name and address was unfounded, and shows little faith in my ability to recognize appropriate responses to immediate situations – less faith than I have in yours.  Well.  We’ll discuss that another time.  Our guests in the dining-room have waited long enough.  Bring them in.  And also get an extra chair from the kitchen.”

“Why not the dining room, or the front room.”

“No.  I mean one of those simple straight-backed ones, as uncomfortable as possible.”

I grinned.  “Just because a chair can’t accommodate your own comfort doesn’t make it -”

“Archie.  It’s getting late.  Bring in the guests.”

I followed instructions.  Soon there were nine additional people seated in the office.  Anstrey and Helm – muscular, dark hair, in a light jacket, his shirt collar open – sat in the sofa in the back, along with the officer Cramer and Stebbins had brought with them, a Sergeant Carella, young, slender, dark, in a suit slightly too loose.  In a chair beside them, looking gloomy and uncomfortable, sat Robert Louis.  He kept his eyes on Wolfe throughout most of what followed.

Per our standing deference for him, Cramer sat in the red leather chair, Purley Stebbins behind him.  The four Cosglow employees sat in yellow chairs to his left.  I placed a stand beside Rider, for ashtray and his glass of scotch and soda, and another stand beside Birnbaum, who was still nursing her Merlot, though it was getting close to the end of any useful life.  Then I went for the chair from the kitchen, which I placed to Cramer’s right; and on Wolfe’s signal, I placed two yellow office chairs behind that.  I arrived at my own desk just as Wolfe was beginning his opening spiel:

“Ladies and gentleman -”

Suddenly Cramer was on his feet.  “Let me remind you all that this is only a semi-official inquiry.  Nero Wolfe has assured me that he will produce evidence contributing to the solution of a crime.  He possibly wants to get it out of you.  But let me assure you – you don’t have to answer any of his questions.  But if you do have any evidence to give, you need to give it to me, as officer of the law, as soon as possible, because, by god, I’ll get it out of you eventually.”  He looked at Wolfe defiantly.  “I just wanted to clear the air on that before you started getting everything mixed up about why I’m here.”  He took a cigar out from his pocket, shoved it between his teeth, sat down.

Wolfe eyed him narrowly.  “Mr. Cramer.  We will never get anywhere if you choose to use this meeting as an opportunity to wave your ego about.  I have indeed offered you the solution of a crime, and you charge me with ‘mixing everything up’?  Bah.  If you have your own solution to offer, do so.  If you think continued police interrogation of the witnesses will provide you that solution, then why bring them here, why not take them all to the station house and drill them under the lamp?”  He paused, seeming to wait on Cramer, who said nothing and glared at him.  “No?  Then be so good as to allow me to make a case before you criticize it.”

“I’m just letting my position here be known -”

“By now, none have any doubt on it.  I appreciate your cooperation so far, I really do.  But don’t turn this into a contest of egos.  Mine is, as you well know, much larger than yours, and I suspect more durable.  May I proceed without interruption?”  Cramer tried to keep it short and curt, but nodded agreement.   “Very well.”  He looked at the Cosglow employees.  “Ladies and gentlemen.  You all know why you’re here.  Some two weeks ago, Clarra Bell Dickinson and Michael Tell were murdered.  This week, Phillip Dickinson was poisoned, and died.  First, the obvious – does anyone doubt that  those events were unconnected?  No?”

“I don’t doubt they’re connected,” Rider said, lighting a cigarette, “I just don’t see how it’s connected with me.”

“It may be more connected with you than you know, Ben,” Sandra Birnbaum, seated between Rider and Harrington, told him.

Rider swung his right leg away from her, crossing it onto his left, whether to pull his anatomy as far from her as he could or preparing to give her a swift kick was unclear.  “Just what do you mean by that, Sandra?  What are you implying?  What have I -”

“You would know what -”

Wolfe held up a hand.  “Mr. Rider, Miss Birnbaum!  Please.  Let me continue, or we’ll be here all night.  And do not bother yourselves with unraveling implications.  I will state categorically that I believe that one of you four is the murderer of Phillip Dickinson, and that at least one other of you knows who it is.  And that is why you are here.”

Mira Baier inhaled audibly, put a hand to her mouth.  The others froze for a good 20 seconds. Then Sandra Birnbaum said, simply, “Hah!” and finished her wine with a bravado swig that was unnecessary, give what little there was of it, then put the glass on her stand with a visibly shaky hand.  Rider took a last drag from his half-finished cigarette, snubbed it out.  His face was frowning aggressively or defensively, which wasn’t clear from the profile view I had of him.

“You’re on dangerous territory here Wolfe,” he warned.

Wolfe told him, “I am perfectly aware that such a strong claim requires support or I am at the mercy of those I might accuse.  But Mr. Cramer, here, is well aware that I have some reputation for making such claims stick.  That is why he has cooperated with me tonight, otherwise he would certainly have continued the police investigation without my assistance.”   He sat back with a slightly smug air of self-confidence.  “But why don’t you let me continue, just to see how deeply into the danger I can get myself before the trap closes over me?”

Rider glanced back at the other Cosglow employees, in a manner reminding them that, thanks to his promotion, he was now their superior.  Then he looked back at Wolfe and nodded.  “All right, Wolfe,” he said, “Go ahead.  But when the trap shuts don’t expect any pity.”

Wolfe chuckled.  “Thank you sir.  I have been properly warned.”  He emptied his glass and looked at it, probably debating whether he was ready for another one.  He set it aside.  “Let us get on with it.

“Of course, the murderer of Phillip Dickinson was committed by someone working at the Cosglow Agency, there can be no doubt of that.  Unless anyone wants to accuse Mr. Louis of poisoning his own client, a suggestion ludicrous beyond entertainment.  How I came to decide that it could be one of you four I hope will become clear as we go along.  But since we have agreed that Mr. Dickinson’s murder is connected with the murders of his wife and Mr. Tell, that is where we must begin, that night of August 5th, when Mr. Dickinson walked in on Mr. Tell and his wife, and a third man, in his bedroom -”

“There was no third man!”  Rider snapped derisively.

“You would know, wouldn’t you, Ben?”  Birnbaum averred.

Before Rider could reply, Wolfe called.  “Enough!  Let me continue or by heaven Mr. Cramer will take you to the station house!”  He straightened in his chair.   “There was indeed a third man, Mr. Rider; but no, Miss Birnbaum, contrary to your attempted implication, it was not Ben Rider.  Archie, bring in our other guests from the front room.”

I went around the crowd to the office door of the front room, opened it, signaled Saul.  The three of them came out with Ames in the lead; his hands, still in white cotton gloves, now untied, hung uselessly to his sides.  Saul kept his left hand in his jacket pocket, and I knew he was holding a gun there, kept on Ames’ back.  I quickly glanced at the row in the back.  Anstrey’s eyes widened when he noted the tattoo, and he exclaimed “Oh, jeez!”   Helm just shook his head, but kept his eyes narrowly focused on Ames.  Robert Louis, seeing the man he still thought of as Dickinson’s star witness – half-naked, and obviously a prisoner – straightened stiffly and began crossing his legs nervously.

Ames went to sit in one of the yellow office chairs, but Wolfe snapped “No!  Those are for people I respect.  You sit there.”  He gestured toward the kitchen chair.  Ames paused and I thought he might speak at last, but he simply swung around the chair and sat down in it.  Ruth Brady and Saul sat behind him.

Wolfe turned to the Cosglow employees.  “Allow me to introduce Saul Panzer, who works for me on occasion; Miss Ruth Brady, a, uh, friend of Mr. Goodwin’s,” which let me know we were still playing that part for now, “and Mr. Warren Ames.  Mr. Ames, you know Mr. Louis, and Mr. Cramer and Mr. Stebbins of the police; the other gentlemen in the back are also law enforcement officers.  These four guests are all employees of the Cosglow Advertising Agency, they worked with Phillip Dickinson, and they knew Mr. Dickinson’s wife and his neighbor, Mr. Michael Tell, who were murdered in Mr. Dickinson’s apartment some two weeks ago.  Miss Baier, Mr. Harrington, Miss Birnbaum, Mr. Rider.

“Now, I have something to explain about Mr. Ames.  Shortly after the newspapers reported the murders of Clarra Dickinson and Michael Tell,  Mr. Ames came to Robert Louis, Phillip Dickinson’s attorney, and said that he had been on the street outside the Dickinson’s 89th Street apartment, and had watched the third man Phillip Dickinson claimed to have seen, spring from the Dickinson’s window and down the fire escape and away down an alley.”

There was a bubble of murmured surprise from the Cosglow crowd, including Rider’s hoarse “Rubbish!”

“Oh, no, Mr. Rider,” Wolfe assured him.  “Not rubbish.  Yet, not quite the truth, either.  I had the lighting situation of the street outside the Dickinson apartment at night verified to my satisfaction.  Then, something happened tonight which left no doubt in my mind.”  He looked sharply at Ames.  “Would you like to tell the story as it really happened, Mr. Ames?”  Ames’ lips almost creased into a smile, but he remained silent.  “No?  Trying to determine what role you are to play in tonight’s performance?  Abandon that hope, your part has already been written for you.”  He leaned toward Ames and wagged a finger at him.  “Sir, you’re a scoundrel.  You invested yourself into this case in the mere hopes of finding new victims for your paltry predatory proclivities.  The lighting outside the Dickinson apartment was far too dark for you to have seen the man you described as you described him.  But you described him so well, because you knew him well – because you are that man.  It was you Phillip Dickinson found in his bedroom with his wife and Michael Tell, you who fled down the fire escape and off into the night, like the common cowardly criminal you are.  Isn’t that true?”

Ames said nothing.  But he was at last beginning to show something of a human response, lowering his head and glowering darkly at Wolfe.

Wolfe went on, showing a bit of a sadistic streak I didn’t much care to see from him.  “What a pitiable little common thief you are.  What did you take from the Dickinson apartment that night?  Mr. Cramer can of course commit further research there and discover it -”

Ames raised his head up and at last cleared his voice to speak.  “What are you talking about?!”

“The discovery of your crimes, sir.  Your actions tonight made clear the kind of petty criminal you are.”  He looked at Cramer.  “Mr. Cramer, tonight when Mr. Goodwin went to spend the night with his friend Ruth Brady -” (I didn’t like the wording of that, but I was rather stuck with it.  I glanced impulsively at Mira Baier, but her eyes were fixed on Nero Wolfe.)  “… when Mr. Goodwin went to spend the night with his friend Ruth Brady, Mr. Ames was discovered having broken in through a window to their apartment; he then assaulted Mr. Goodwin as he entered and knocked him down.  Apparently he attempted the same with Miss Brady, but of course, she was not taken by surprise as Mr. Goodwin was, and given his obvious weakness and insufficiency as a man, he let himself be beaten to the ground by this mere slip of femininity, Miss Brady.”  Ruth nodded and tried to look as demure as an Olympic-class athlete could.  “Apparently the idea was a simple commonplace robbery, Mr. Goodwin reports there was some money left on the kitchen counter missing -”

“What are you talking about?!” Ames demanded again.  He nearly got up, but Saul put a hand on his shoulder and pushed him down.

“Why, you sir.  A simple smash-and-grab artist of the lowest kind.  Mr. Cramer’s further investigations will no doubt reveal what precisely you took from the Dickinson apartment -”

“This is all lies!”

“Unfortunately for you, several friends of Mr. Goodwin and Miss Brady were arriving to play cards, just as Miss Brady was knocking you down.  And besides them, we have as witness a sandwich cart vendor who saw you enter the window -”

“A nigger!  A rotten nigger.  He would!”

“Of course he would.  The color of a man’s skin has little to do with his intelligence, perception, or veracity.  Nothing does but his basic humanity.  Something you apparently lack.”  He at last rang for another bottle of beer, but I think it was largely to have something to do while he let Ames stew, for he waited for Fritz to bring him a bottle before continuing.  “Perhaps,” he said, as he poured the beer into his glass, “you will learn some after a few short years in prison.”

“You’ll never get me to prison,” Ames said darkly.

“Oh, but we will, Mr. Ames.  Those gloves on your hands prevented fingerprinting at the Dickinson apartment, but, as I say, we have witnesses to your assault tonight.  No, you shall certainly be convicted for breaking and entry, assault with a deadly weapon, petty larceny – at least two years imprisonment, even with good behavior.  I suppose there’ll be some mention of it in the papers, but I doubt they will even include your name.  Petty thieves are not worthy of public notice, there’s too many of them.”  He shook his head.  “No wonder you have no friends – certainly no female friends.  Why would anybody admire you?  You are one of a silent multitude of lesser beings haunting dark streets, unable to confront man or woman. Have you ever had any real interest in a woman? no wonder she dismissed you.”

Ames’ fists clenched and he seemed about to raise them.  He started to hiss “She paid – they all -“   But he suddenly caught it between his teeth, thinking better of it, and said no more.

Wolfe smiled superciliously.  “Alas, no one will ever know of that, while you rot in your cell with pickpockets, and muggers, and like nameless denizens of the gutter.”  It was one of Wolfe’s most unpleasant performances, but I knew where he was going with it; I think the cops and the feds did too.

Then he drank some beer, put the glass down and frowned.  “The confounded thing about it is, we may not be able to find the evidence to convict you for the murders of Mrs. Dickinson and Mr. Tell.”

There came another bubble of murmurs from the Cosglow crowd, their faces whitening at the prospect that Phillip Dickinson hadn’t killed Clarra or Tell.  Wolfe held up his hand.  “Oh, ladies and gentlemen, that was surely one reason you are here tonight, to discover the murderer of your friends.  And here he seems to be, yet how can we prove it?”  He looked to Ames.  “Sir, won’t you yet make the claim to the real notoriety you have earned, and set the minds of Mr. Dickinson’s friends to rest?  You did kill Michael Tell and Clarra Dickinson that night, while trying to rob that apartment, didn’t you?”  Cramer growled something, but Wolfe went on, “But why did you feel the need to kill them?  Was it a need?  Or was it mad impulse?”  Ames did not reply.  He tried to get back his expressionless smile and almost made it.  Wolfe shrugged.  “Perhaps we’ll never know.  Yet the question remains, because clearly the situation was rather odd.  Mr. Tell must have just come out of the bath – why else would he be naked?  A common occurrence in such buildings, his own shower undoubtedly wasn’t working, he asked to use his neighbor’s, comes out toweling, and then – but being naked, he could hardly have presented such a threat to you to lead you to shoot him in the back.”

Ames let out a weird cackle of a laugh.  “Shower?  That’s what you think it was.  There’s another reason a man might be caught naked in a bedroom with a woman!”

Wolfe shook his head.  “Oh, no.  Not in this case.  Mr. Tell was incapable of any intimacy with a woman.  He was an avowed and well known homosexual.”

Ames started.  “A what?!”

Wolfe nodded.  “That is why I wanted you to meet these four friends of Tell and the Dickinsons.”  He gestured to them and they nodded.  “So they could inform you of the reason we know Tell was in that apartment quite innocently.”

Ames shot them a glance, and they nodded more vigorously.  “Michael Tell was queer,” said Sandra Birnbaum, “Everybody knew that.”

Ames’ face fell into a shocked frown like a sack of potatoes tossed from a dump truck.  All right, I’m not sure that’s the right metaphor, but he was taking it hard.  Obviously whatever he had wanted to accomplish that night of August the 5th, he had started out a failure, there had been no way to accomplish it.

Wolfe continued, “Mr. Tell had no interest in women, he was simply a friend of the family – so if perchance you killed him for acting in some depraved, unjustifiably immoral intimacy with Mrs. Dickinson – Is that all you can do, attack harmless inverts simply because they happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time? – well, that only reminds us what a small minded, unimaginative, insignificant little -”

He stopped.  Ames was shaking all over. He rose to his feet and Saul had to push him down again.  He thumped his knees with his fists.

“I don’t kill perverts, that’s not what I do!” he rasped between clenched teeth.  “And I am not a goddam thief!”

Wolfe leaned back, his eyes, still focused on Ames, narrowing into slits.  “Indeed.  Mr. Ames, what is it that you do?  What is it that you are?”

Ames was panting; he inhaled deeply to ease his breathing.  He grabbed his knees and looked straight ahead.

He unclenched his teeth and said, very calmly, “I bring love forever to those who would only pretend to love.  I am the cupid of eternal rest.”  He smiled his watery thin smile and stated bluntly, “I’ve killed 18 people.  Two no one even knows about, out in a ranch house in Indiana.  But where I best breed my hope is among the people.  Lots of people.  I’ve baffled the police of ten cities.  I follow lovers to their homes and bind them forever and send them to eternity in each others’ arms.   How many hope to have me seal their fate?  The newspapers report me.  I know I have followers.  I’ve earned a name for myself -”

“You are the one they’ve called the Midnight Runner?”  Wolfe interjected softly.

Ames looked at Wolfe with eyes dull as smoked glass.  “I am.”

There came a gasp from one of the Cosglow crowd, I think Birnbaum, and another sound, more like a grunt, from the back – I think Robert Louis.

Wolfe ignored them.  Instead he frowned as though not quite believing what he’d heard.  “Forgive us some doubt.  The Midnight Runner has certainly earned some notoriety, but is it Warren Ames who earned it?    Can you prove that to our satisfaction?  Can you describe the hows, the whens, the instruments used?  Well, sir, will you make claim to your proper place in history, let us say – your legend?”

“I can.  I do.”

Can the air be thick with silence?  Or is the silence merely the audible quality of a vacuum?  I’ve wrestled with that question quite a bit trying to describe the atmosphere in that office when everyone was at last aware they were in the presence of a mass murderer.  I don’t think it can be properly described.  It would be like discovering that the rock you’ve been sitting on for the past couple hours, in the middle of a flood, is highly radioactive – and crawling with scorpions.  You can’t wait to get off of it, but you’re not sure how.

“You were the third man in that apartment?”  Wolfe pressed him.

“I was.  But I didn’t kill that pervert or that woman.”

“Describe it.”

“I followed them from the restaurant -”

“No one’s interested in that.  Tell us how it is you did not kill that couple, that woman, that homosexual – when clearly you intended to.”

Ames swallowed hard.  “I had them unconscious.  I knew – I thought I knew – how they wanted to enter heaven, together for always – I was placing them together on the bed – then the door flew open – I knocked the lamp out – in the dark I could only see the window, and jumped through it  – behind me I heard a shot – then I was down the fire escape -”

“And then a scream?”

“Yes.  Yes.  But I was swift, too swift for anyone -”

“Enough.”  Wolfe cut him off sharply.  “And then, when you read of the investigation, you reported yourself.  Because everyone must know, must be made aware, when the Midnight Runner strikes again.”  He pointed to the FBI agent, Helm, and signaled him to come forward.  Helm did so, coming to stand by Ames with a hand on his shoulder.  “This man is a federal investigator,” Wolfe told Ames, “He will take you to the front room.  You can tell a fuller story to him, or you can save it until later.  Eventually they will take you away, to where you can enjoy the inevitable fruits of your endeavors without fear of disregard.”

Ames, now merely staring into space, and giving the best damned impression of a zombie I’d ever seen a white man give, rose to his feet and began following Helm, still holding on to him.  Wolfe turned away from them as if they no longer existed.

“Mr. Cramer,” he said, “I suspect you’ll want a man there, to verify the recorded narration if any, and to represent the city; shall it be Mr. Stebbins?”

Cramer pulled his cigar from his mouth, only discovering then that he had bitten it in two.  He nearly tossed it to the carpet, but thought better of that and put the two pieces gingerly into a side jacket pocket.  “No, that’s why I brought Sergeant Carella.”  At that Carella stood up and went to wait for Ames and Helm by the door to the front room.

“Of course.  But I know you will want to stay, and I believe Mr. Anstrey will, to see this out to its conclusion.”

“Damn right,” said Cramer hoarsely.

“Mr. Louis,” Wolfe called to the back.  “Will you pull your chair to the front here?”  But Louis, legs crossed tight, hands folded tightly over one knee, only gave a short swift shake of the head.  Wolfe shrugged.  “As you please.”

He waited until Ames, Helm, and Carella had exited into the front room and closed the door.  Then he turned his full attention to the Cosglow employees.  “Now, ladies and gentlemen,” he announced, “the curtain opens on the final act of this pathetic domestic tragedy.  You see most of the stage as having been set for it.  Now you – one of you – must play the leading role.  Are you sure none of you will have further refreshment?  Some beer?  No?  Then we will continue.”


Begin at the beginning:

Rights Disclaimer:

Nero Wolfe: The Dickinson Thing: Chapter Twenty-nine


The Dickinson Thing
A Nero Wolfe Mystery
Emmanuel John Winner
A tribute to Rex Stout

Chapter Twenty-nine

People who write mystery fiction and Westerns and other types of adventure stories, have long misled readers on a subject I happened to know something about. Very often in those stories you have a narrator get clunked on the back of the skull, and as they go down for the count, they have a ‘last thought before all went dark.’ You always read them saying things like, ‘I felt a blow to my head, and my last thought was, how could this happen to me?’ Or, ‘suddenly I felt the blow and as I dove into the darkness I remembered I should have been looking over my shoulder.’ Or even ‘I heard a thud at the back of my head, felt a sharp pain, then as everything was going dark, I wondered if I’d turned off the gas before I left home.’

Well, here’s how it really goes down. You don’t feel it, you don’t hear it, you don’t know it happens. First you’re perfectly aware of everything around you, and then… the next thing you know you’re waking up and everything is kind of fuzzy, but at least, surprisingly, you’re alive.

When I talked about it with Wolfe sometime later he said that would probably be what death was like, too. I asked if that included a later awakening, and he said, “I doubt it, but the universe is filled with mean tricks.”

Me, I like getting tricked into thinking I’m still alive.

But rather than get all philosophical here, I should probably tell you how this ever came up for review.

That Thursday night, Ruth Brady and I had our first lover’s spat, as she met me at the brownstone. She did not want to take the subway. Wearing blue slacks and a tight red wrap of a blouse that certainly reminded one of her femininity despite the muscles, she had come to 35th Street by taxi cab. She insisted it was a perfectly good cab with adequate upholstery and cushions on the seats, and sound springs underneath. She liked taxis, she took them all the time. She liked the driver of this particular cab, because he could recite poetry while pointing out the local sites. I told her that no one could recite poetry as well as Nero Wolfe, and that he would recite volumes to her after this was all over, but he wanted us to take the subway that night. She asked if Wolfe could drive a cab.

“Wolfe,” I explained to her, “loathes to be near anything with parts that move under electric power, gas power, water power, nuclear power, or the power of hamsters spinning wheels in a cage. In fact he’s usually very upset that he has to use his own power to get up and walk around.”

“I thought he owned a car.”

“That’s just for show. And every now and then he lets me drive it around so the neighbors don’t suspect him of being an anarchist or something.”

“Now that wouldn’t be so bad, being an anarchist. I bet Mister Wolfie would like the wild life if he tried it.”

You might think I was going to save that up and spring that on him, someday, her calling him ‘Mister Wolfie,’ but I know the limits of his tolerance for familiarity. He wouldn’t only have taken my head off for repeating it, he’d have hunted her down and burnt her at the stake for originating it.

So despite her protestations, we ended up on the A-Train south, getting off just slightly southwest of Washington Square Park. The streets were more crowded than I thought for a Thursday – there were plenty of food venders of various ethnicities, students and tourists buying their wares, and there were plenty of street musicians as well. Of course I was particularly sensitive to these. I would stop us before them and listen to eight bars and toss them each a quarter. As I stood before the fourth such, I felt Ruth squeeze my arm. She gave me a serious look. “Toss him your two bits and let’s talk,” she said, tugging me away from the young banjo player wailing something bluesy about his baby leaving him again.

“Wait, I think that’s some guy named Seeger, I saw him in a movie Lily Rowan dragged me to -”

“I don’t care if it’s Sinatra, we need to talk.”

We started slowly down McDougal.

“It’s tonight, isn’t it.” She asked, though it sounded more like a statement.

“Could be,” I admitted.

She stopped us in front of the Caffe Reggio. “Time enough for an espresso?”

I glanced at my watch. “Sure. And a pastry.”

We sat in there for some fifteen minutes. I sipped an espresso, she nibbled a cannoli. We split a cigarette. We tried some small talk about DiMaggio and the Yankees, but it didn’t gell into anything like a real conversation. Finally we both looked at the clock. It was eleven ten.  “Oh, hell,” she said, “let’s get it over with.”

I paid the tab and left a healthy tip. We headed down MacDougal for Bleecker.

By the time we got to that corner, the people on the street had thinned out considerably, and I felt every nerve in my body tingling. The fewer the people the greater the chance of meeting him. I knew he must be somewhere nearby, and it was a deep inner struggle to keep from sweeping the area again and again with my eyes to look for him. After all, I was just there with my sweetheart, headed home from a long day’s work. Why would I be looking for any mass murderers on the block? Even those pretending to be street musicians….

But there were no street musicians at MacDougal and Bleecker.

Up Bleecker near Sullivan, however, in the scattered lighting on the street, poorly reflected from the dark brick of the buildings, I could see a man with a horn; he was wearing a loose dark shirt, and he played a plaintive melody I couldn’t recognize, on a saxophone. We walked along in his direction, but on the opposite side of the street, the side with Ruth’s apartment building. I couldn’t contain myself any longer, I had to have a look, however brief. I glanced at him from under the brim of my hat, just as he was swinging his head to the time of the music, presenting his face to the light from the streetlamp.

I caught my breath and almost stopped still. It wasn’t Ames! Not unless Ames had darkened his skin, pushed his nose flat, and grown a mustache. But I kept myself going. He could have donned a disguise, no doubt. Certainly if that wasn’t Ames, he could still be in the area. I put an arm around Ruth’s shoulders and urged her forward. Every muscle in those shoulders was tense and I knew she was feeling the same way I was. But somehow we forced smiles, as we passed an overweight man in a rumpled suit stepping with tipsy uncertainty from the narrow doorway of a pub, two students in neat white shirts debating something in a foreign language, a sandwich vendor in a body length white lab-style coat, a meat-packer’s coat, kneeling by his cart, and at last passing under the canopy overhanging the bootery next to the entrance to Ruth’s apartment building. I fought down the urge to give one last glance at the saxophone player across the street. As Ruth unlocked the front door, the sax player’s tune wound down into some sour notes, and the foreign students were starting to raise their voices at one another. We climbed the stairs to Ruth’s apartment, and suddenly, as we approached her door, I felt very tired. Maybe tonight had just been a dress rehearsal for Ames after all. And now I had another night of fending off a blood thirsty sofa spring to look forward to.

Ruth unlocked her door and swung it inward. “Age before beauty,” she said. Since I had no comeback for that I stepped inside and.

‘And.’ That’s as far as it went.

When I opened my eyes next, I didn’t have any sense that I’d died and gone to heaven, or anywhere else, for that matter. Adventure fiction writers are wrong about that, too. I didn’t even know where I was at first, I didn’t think at all. I just saw light, then shapes, then faces unrecognizable at first, then they came into focus. Especially the guy leaning over me – Saul Panzer.

“He’s coming to,” he announced to the others in the room, and soon I recognized them too – Johnny Keems and Bill Gore, and Orrie Cather and Fred Durkin. Ruth Brady was standing beside the table where a thin man in what looked to be a dark shirt lay on his side, mostly face upward, his arms behind his back.

“Quite a party -” I started to say. Then the pain stabbed at the back of my head. I was lying down on the sofa, but even the slight motion of the head I had used to look around had been too much. I was suddenly stricken with fear about what it would be like to have to sit up, because I knew I had to.

“Archie, you should take it easy,” Saul told me.

“We got him?”

He nodded. “Looks like.”

I felt a drizzle of cold water run down my brow and realized there was a compress on my forehead. I took it and pressed it to my forehead and grabbed the sofa with the other hand and pushed my way up into a half-sitting position. The pain was becoming a dull throb.

“Archie, you should see a doctor,” came Fred’s voice.

I groaned. “If I can sit, I can stand, If I can stand I can walk, if I can walk I can get him down to Wolfe’s office.” I made the extra effort to sit up straight. “He’s had enough practice to know what he’s doing. If he wanted to kill me that way, I’d be dead.” I looked around at the party. “So what happened?

Saul looked at Orrie and Orrie looked at Saul. Orrie shrugged, then said, “He started drifting down Bleecker, pushing his sax case in front of him with his foot. From where I was positioned, I nearly lost him. But Saul picked him up.”

Saul nodded. “Now here comes the fun part. He gets to where he’s right across the street from here, and just before the awning of the shoe shop downstairs, there’s a black guy in a white meatpacker’s coat, selling sandwiches form a cart.”

I tried to think back. “Yeah, I seen him, but he wasn’t black -”

“Yeah, he was. After blowing a tune, Ames leaves his sax case, crosses the street and talks to the guy. Any money it was about music and business, and how slow the night was going. Because then -”

“The sandwich guy gives Ames the white coat and Ames gives him the saxophone?”

“Bingo. The black guy starts to play but Ames waves him across the street. Then you two round the corner and Ames makes like he’s doing something with the cart, kneels down while you pass.”

“Brother,” Orrie piped in, “Then you should hadda seen him move!”

“Am I telling this?” Saul snapped. Then he went on as though there’d been no interruption, “You guys get to the front door and start going in, and then like Zorro in the movies, what do you think he does? He jumps, catches the awning above the shoe shop, pulls himself up to the fire-escape which he clambers up like a mouse up a toy ladder, and slips into the open window to this apartment, all in maybe ten seconds flat.”

“The window was open?” I asked.

Saul shrugged. “That was part of the plan – to make it easy. So was Ruth’s leaving the front door open behind you so to make it easy we could get in. Don’t worry, it came off smooth as silk.”

I applied the compress to the back of my head, where I could feel a large lump swelling. “Parts of me don’t agree with you.” Despite the pain, I was able to turn my head and look at the man by the table. “But I see you got him.”

“Well,” said Saul, a little shame-faced, “No.”


Ruth raised a hand. “Me. I got him.”

I looked at her. “You did.”

“Yessiree bob! I opened the door and you went in. There came a swooshing sound and something flew down and struck you a good one on the back of the head. You groaned and dropped like a sack of rotten tomatoes from a dump truck. A claw reached out for me, I ducked back while throwing a hand around his wrist. I yanked him out into the hall and threw him against the wall. He went splat against the plaster, backed up, swung around, ready for more – well, so was I! He came forward, trying to raise the sap with one hand and grab me with the other. I kicked him in the belly. Air gushed out of him like from a sat-on whoopee cushion. He doubled over, I grabbed him around the neck, spun around, threw him over my shoulder. He flattened to the floor, maybe looking to hear a choir of angels. Just for the hell of it I kicked him in the head. He tried sitting up, so I stooped and slammed a fist against his jaw. He spat blood, a water pistol squirting ketchup. That was impolite that so I slammed him with the other fist to teach him a lesson. Shocked? he must have been, ’cause his eyes rolled up at me and closed. He fainted; I wasn’t even breathing hard.”

The air went still. All the guys just stopped and stared at her, like we were a bunch of boys in a Catholic school, caught shooting craps by the toughest nun on the staff.

Finally, “You did,” I said: “You did that.”

She gave me the most serious look I had ever gotten from a woman. She said, “As my Uncle Race would say, it was easy.”

I nodded, because shaking my head would have hurt more. “I’m in the wrong profession,” I muttered, mostly to myself.

I wiped my face once with the compress, set it on the sofa arm. Then I struggled to my feet. I was just a bit shaky, but I could mimic an able biped pretty well. I wanted a closer look at the man who’d slugged me. I didn’t want to slug him back – Ruth had done a pretty good job of that, from the sounds of it. I was just curious. I approached him slowly, Saul and Ruth making room for me.

“What happened to the white coat?”

“He ditched it by the sandwich cart,” Saul told me, “- and don’t worry, Fred tied his hands behind his back, he’s harmless.”

“I cut off some of his own rope,” Fred said. He held up the remaining coil of clothesline. “I hope that don’t spoil the evidence.”

“The sandwich hawker call the cops?”

“No,” said Johnny Keems, “He took off as soon as Ames got to the window.”

I looked at him. “There were a couple of foreign student types -”

“Yeah, I nearly knocked them over coming in. By then they were just laughing. Probably thought it was all a domestic squabble.”

“No one called the cops.”

“Hear any sirens? I’m beginning to think no one cares in this city anymore.”

I looked down at Ames, lying still on the floor, in his dark slacks and notorious dark tee-shirt. He was still out cold. His face was bruised at the right temple and just to the left of his chin. His lips were crusted with dried blood, and Ruth was right, it did look like ketchup.

“He doesn’t look so mean like this,” I said.

“They never do,” Ruth told me.

Then I looked first at his rope-bound hands, in white cotton gloves, and up his arms, finally to focus on the shirt he was wearing – dark blue, with grey highlights suggesting the waves of a sea, and some strange grey and black design of what appeared to be an Oriental dragon twisting ’round to strike – and caught my breath. “What the hell?! It’s not a shirt. It’s his goddam skin!”

“It’s a goddam tattoo, is what it is.”

I knelt and touched it gingerly. “That’s why the feds could never find the ‘shirt’ when they searched his rooms or belongings, he was living in it.” I rose, turned to Ruth. “Telephone?” I asked. She pointed. “You guys wake him out of it, I’ll call the boss. And don’t slug him anymore, he won’t do much confessing with a broken jaw.”

I went to the wall phone above the kitchen counter and dialed the number I knew only too well. When Fritz answered, I told him to get Wolfe. When Wolfe came on the line, he said, “Well?”

“Bow wow,” I said, “I’m barking.”

“You have him?”

“Of course. As Ruth’s uncle would say, it was easy.”

“Are you intact?”

“I have a sore head. But thinking of a large reward helps get rid of that fast.”

“Satisfactory. Bring him in. You, Saul, and Miss Brady. The rest can go home.”

“That’s a cinch; any other -” there came a click on the other end “- instructions?” Before I’d gotten the last word out, he’d hung up. That was Wolfe, all right, Mister Civility.

I turned around. Ames was conscious – they had splashed water in his face and given him a good shaking. The tattoo covered his torso, across his sides, up to and over his shoulders; I could see it continued without break onto his back, probably covering that as well. Sitting on the floor, his head was bent upward, and his dull grey eyes were looking at me without expression.

“What are you looking at?” I demanded.

He didn’t say. He just kept on looking.


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Nero Wolfe: The Dickinson Thing: Chapter Twenty-eight


The Dickinson Thing
A Nero Wolfe Mystery
Emmanuel John Winner
A tribute to Rex Stout

Chapter Twenty-eight

When I finally got into the office, there was a good twenty minutes before dinner, time enough for a summary report, but Wolfe nixed that, saying he wanted a clear mind to eat with, and he finished the section of “Death Be Not Proud” he was reading before we both sat down to a sound dinner of Creole crab cakes and Cajun okra soup. The discussion avoided business, of course, revolving around the problem of gifted people dying too young. I never know exactly how to take Wolfe when he’s off on a truly philosophical tangent. I like subjects I can see or touch if they’re present. Discussing, say, life among Australian aborigines can be interesting, because I know that there is such a place as Australia, and that if I ever visited it I would probably bump into an aborigine in the street. On the other hand, talk about what if a possible genius had died before accomplishing anything seemed to me to be kind of airy, rather like wondering what if my mother owned a cat instead of a dog, would that have improved my grades at school? Besides, the only genius I ever knew was Nero Wolfe, and it was too late for him to die before accomplishing anything. He had accomplished; and anyway, the likelihood of him ever dying somehow seemed remote, even though I knew the odds on immortality were next to nil.

Still, the subject must have had considerable appeal for Wolfe, because after we finished our coffee and headed into the office, he continued arguing for it.

“I know you find little substance to the matter, Archie, but when I went west to fight for the British in the last years of the war, the commander of my unit had been formerly an electronics engineer, working on a system for broadcasting images across great distances. He was blown to pieces during an air raid on our trench work, along with the plans for his system which he kept in his backpack. So television needed to wait some years before proper invention and development by others.” He gently lowered his massive rear end into his favorite chair behind the desk, folded his hands across his middle and closed his eyes. We passed through a moment of awkward silence, but I knew what he was thinking. He was trying to decide whether to continue that conversation, which would benefit his digestion, a process he always enjoys, or to get down to business, which might disturb it. Finally he frowned, and I knew the philosophy seminar had come to an end. “Report,” he said.

I took out my note book. “Maybe I should summarize. I only got one piece of information that was useful -”

“No. Verbatim. I need to hear Miss Baier’s words.”

“After hearing them, you may change your mind.”

“I may; but to determine that I would need to hear them in any case.”

“Very well,” and I began telling him everything from the moment I had made contact with Mira Baier as she came out from her office building. Wolfe only interrupted once – pretty much where I knew he would, when I was repeating Mira Baier’s remarks about how we all bring our work to home and vice versa. He grunted and remarked “and you wonder why I wouldn’t brook living under the same roof as a woman – or working with one.”

“She’d be perfectly happy here,” I pointed out, “since she could work here and call it home at the same time -”

He shot me a withering glare, then closed his eyes. “Continue!” he barked.

I did so.

When I was done, he took a couple minutes to digest it, then inquired, “That is your new information, that Miss Baier and Mr. Harrington were the couple assisting Mr. Rider in his affair with Mrs. Dickinson?”

“Well, it puts Baier into the picture, specifically the photograph I just put in front of you-”

He opened his eyes, picked it up, glanced at it, dropped it to his desk, closed his eyes. “It does indeed. However, how important is it that we know the woman involved with the man in that couple?”

I sighed. “Well, I warned you I didn’t really have much.”

He opened his eyes. “That question was not rhetorical. It could be very important.” He rubbed his nose. Suddenly he frowned, slapped a hand on his desk and rasped “That addle pated accoucheuse for cuckoldry!”

I let my mind try to find meaning for that, gave up and shook my head. “If I knew what that meant I could certainly respond to it. Can I have a day in a library before I answer?”

“Mira Baier. A befuddled midwife to adultery. A woman so beguiled by unfocused longings, she has lost her sense of decency, and only respects herself because she feels assured her commitments are inherently bent toward a good superior to common morality.” He looked at me. “I sent you there to read her, to sound her out. Well? Does she love Cy Harrington?”

I shrugged. “I know you value my judgment and appreciation concerning females, especially those easy to look at; but there are some who play their cards too close to the bosom. I spent more than three quarters of an hour with her, and every time I got close to an opening, she acted as though it never happened. I know she feels something for Cy Harrington, but is it friendship and loyalty? love or lust? She may think she’s sacrificing for a dear friend -”

“And what precisely do you think she’s sacrificing?”

“Well; she tried awful hard to convince me that Cy Harrington isn’t just another faggot.”

Wolfe cringed. “Archie; some slang is just painful to the ear. If you must use a shortened term for it, I suggest ‘invert,’ in keeping with the first scientific treatise on that subject, by Ellis and Symonds.”

“If you mean is Harrington just inside out as regards men and women, sure. But queer faggoty fairies are still fags in my book.”

He sighed. “Oh, very well; remind me not to read that book. You concern yourself with trivialities – a man’s skin color or country of origin, his choice of partners, what heaven he chooses to prepare for – all these matters are finally irrelevant to his actions, those that really matter.” He waved it away. “Let it go. One might as well try to teach a dog not to bark. Does Mira Baier know that Harrington’s interests are inverted?”

“I think so. They probably all do; that I got from Fred’s notes – eventually they started talking to him the way they talked about Tell – talking around about it so they don’t have to say it, but they know it. They knew about it with Tell.”

“Yes, I heard their voices, so I am even more convinced of that than you. Even Miss Benz’s negative remarks indicated a positive awareness that some invert worked in the office with her.” He nodded. “So Mira Baier knows that about him, yet still strives to protect his secrets; therefore she may be sacrificing her hopes for a physically satisfying relationship for the greater good of a promising emotional bond, what I believe is commonly called a ‘platonic relationship.’ Is that what you have sensed about her?”

I gave it a good hard look. “I don’t know about relationships like that, but…. I suppose that would go to explain a lot.”

“Indeed it would.” He closed his eyes. “And did you also note that she is trying, in advance, to explain away any involvement with Mr. Tell?”

I flipped a hand over. “Well, since she knows we know Tell was a fag -”

“She also knows we are investigating the murder of Phillip Dickinson.”

I flipped the hand back over. “She knows we’re making the connection between Harrington and Rider. And if we get too close to Rider, of course we’ll find out about Harrington.”

He opened his eyes narrowly and glanced at me. “And are we getting any closer to Mr. Rider?”

“I didn’t want to jump on it, but when you started talking to Cramer and Anstrey about the passions in this case – well, if I read him right, he lost the love of his life to Dickinson.”

“Yes,” sighed Wolfe, “if he wanted sweetness, he could have found it in a candy bar. But that wasn’t his job anymore.”

I tried a withering glare at Wolfe, but his ego is impermeable, so it just bounced back and made me feel a little foolish. “So you think it was Dickinson endangering his career somehow?”

“Certainly when a man takes from another that which he most dearly prizes -”

The telephone rang. It surprised me to see Wolfe picking it up at the same time as me, and I wondered if he was waiting for a private call, and would signal me off. But he let me respond first.

“Nero Wolfe’s residence -”

“Archie, is Mr. Wolfe there?” It was Saul Panzer.

“Yes, Saul,” Wolfe broke in.

“I should have called earlier, but I couldn’t get away to do so. This guy is good, Mr. Wolfe – really good. At approximately seventeen minutes past three, I followed him to a dry goods store on Third Avenue, passed the shop window to see if I could catch what he was buying – then suddenly he was just there, stepping toward the window from the counter, stretching and yawning, or making a good try at it. I walked past and continued up the street, but I swear I felt his eyes on me. I kept going until I could walk into a diner, and called Orrie first thing. Then I sat down and ordered a large luncheon plate, so if he looked in, he’d see I was stuck there a good half hour, eating.”

“You lost him?” I asked, disbelievingly.

“Archie!” Wolfe snapped, “Let Saul tell it!”

“I had to let him go, Archie,” Saul lectured me, “that’s not the same thing. Anyway, Orrie was a little upset that I called him back on the job so early -”

“Where did you pick him up again, Saul?” That was Wolfe. He was sure if anybody could find his man again, it would be Saul Panzer.

“I sent Orrie to his hotel. He got there just as our mark was going in. From the timing, I’m guessing that he didn’t make me, or he thought he might have then decided against it, then went straight home from there. Orrie wanted to leave as soon as I could find him, but I thought we better double up after that performance at the store. And I was right – although he did it as casually as though he did it every day, at 8 pm he walked out the back door and down the rear alley. It was touch and go, but we kept him guessing, and I’m pretty sure that if he thought he had a tail, he thinks he lost it. For the past hour he’s been standing at the corner of MacDougal and Bleecker blowing sax for passers-by. Orrie’s got himself fixed in a hallway on the third floor of a building across the street keeping an eye on him so I could make this call.”

“A difficult finesse, Saul,” Wolfe told him, “I congratulate you.”

“Yes sir.”

There came a pause, while Wolfe looked like he was choosing his next words with care, but they were simple words, and probably the words Saul was expecting from him. “I doubt that his gesture at the store so surprised you that you didn’t notice what he was buying there.”

“No sir. A coil of rope. Common clothesline type, cheap but efficient.”

Wolfe nodded imperceptibly. “Satisfactory. Do you have a position you can maintain watch on him and still call Johnny and Bill Gore at the restaurant?”

“Yes. It was too close for the comfort of this call, but I can be there unobserved until that call has to be made.”

“Get to that position and hold it.” He glanced at the clock. Archie and Miss Brady should be starting out from here in a quarter hour. They will be taking the subway. That will give them an excuse to walk the neighborhood close enough to be spotted by him. It may be a dry run, a kind of rehearsal for him. But this may be the night.”

“Yes, sir. We’re ready for him.”

“Oh, and Saul,” I piped in.

“Yeah, Archie?”

“Don’t be late.”

“Got my watch wound tight, my man. Leave everything to Uncle Saul.”

“I was hoping to leave it to my kids, if I ever had any.”

“Don’t worry about that until you grow up, young man!”

We all three hung up at the same time. I looked at Wolfe. Wolfe stared at the globe across the room.

At last he breathed deeply and rang Fritz for beer.

“I told Saul that it might be a dry run – a dress-rehearsal, for Mr. Ames, to prepare him for contingency. But I must prepare you in a different way. I believe that he will make his move tonight. His blood is up. That gesture suggesting he suspects he’s being followed – that’s not about the FBI. I have more faith in Saul than he has in himself. He was not spotted. Looking over his shoulder is a natural inclination for Ames if he is thinking of striking tonight. That news report concerning the reward’s increase, it did not soothe him, it lit a fire for him, and now he must catch it before it goes out, if he is to use it for the footlights of the stage of national attention.”

Fritz entered with a bottle of beer. The air must have been heavy with some sense of gloomy premonition, because Fritz stopped at the door and looked at Wolfe, and then at me. I shook my head and smiled, letting him know I thought it was all an act on Wolfe’s part, even though I knew it wasn’t. Fritz placed bottle and glass on the desk, and Wolfe thanked him politely, and pulled out a bottle opener for the beer. After Fritz left, Wolfe poured beer and drank it – a healthy swallow. Then he looked at me.

“Archie, I have rarely asked you to put yourself so firmly in harm’s way -”

“Skip it,” I told him, sounding rougher than I intended. “No one deserves putting down more than this guy.”

“Please don’t ‘put him down,’ that must be left to the courts. I want him here, I have much I want to say to him. To prime him for confession, of course, but also much he needs to hear. I want him in those last moments to feel the poor player who struts and frets his way across the stage and then is heard no more.”

“If it’s him or me -”

“Of course. You are armed?”

I stood up, opened the desk drawer, pulled out the Kolby .25 and slipped it into my hip pocket.

“Is it loaded?” he asked.

“A gun ain’t useful if it ain’t loaded,” I said, quoting some cowboy I’d heard in a movie once.

“Their use is frequently of no use even when they are. Be prepared for anything, everything. I couldn’t imagine offering your position to Orrie Cather -”

“I’m imagining you giving it to Fred Durkin – now that would be a comedy to look down from heaven and watch.”

“Don’t presume to get to heaven,” he grunted, “Just get back here alive.” He finished his beer and rang for another bottle.

Of course the idea of having to rely on Fred for secretarial aid – or anything else beyond legwork – did not appeal to him. I gave him a grin; “I’ll bark when I’ve got him,” I assured him. then I looked at the clock, and started to the door. It was ten on the nose when I stepped outside.


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