The Dickinson Thing
A Nero Wolfe Mystery
Emmanuel John Winner
A tribute to Rex Stout
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 -”
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.”
“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: