The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Nero Wolfe – Stamped for Murder
The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe radio show aired in 1950 and 1951, starring Sidney Greenstreet. I mentioned it in a prior post. I’ve taken one of the episodes, Stamped for Murder, and turned it into an 11,000 word story. I kept most of the dialogue and the original scenes, since I wanted to adapt the show. I’ve tried to make it more Stout-like, as I don’t think that the series was very true to the original stories. So, some liberties here and there. But hopefully you’ll enjoy a “new” Wolfe pastiche!
Nero Wolfe had just settled his seventh of a ton into the only chair that really fit him. Made of Brazilian Mauro wood, it was in this room, the office: as opposed to the dining room, kitchen or the front room because he spent about nine hours a day here. You read that right: nine hours. More on that later.
Down from his two hours in the plant rooms on the roof, he had greeted me with the standard “Good morning” and placed a spray of Miltonia Charlesworthi in the vase on his desk. After going through the usual ritual, which includes drinking beer, brought by our chef, housekeeper and doorman, Fritz, going through the morning mail and checking his pen (which I’ve already done), he looked up at me.
“Your notebook please, Archie.”
It was there on my desk, ready for use. I took a pen from the middle drawer and swiveled my chair, not made of Mauro wood but under much less pressure, to face him.
“Inform Mister Salzenzbach that the recent Long Island pea fowl he provided was most unsatisfactory. Pea fowl’s breast flesh is not sweet and tender unless it is well protected from all alarms. Especially from the air, to prevent nervousness. Long island is full of airplanes.”
“About Salzenzbach…” I interjected, but he continued.
“I shall want a dozen chickens fed on fresh blueberries. And a fresh killed lamb for tomorrow.”
“Yeah. There’s not going to be any lamb tomorrow.”
He grunted at me. “Don’t be ridiculous. Of course there will be. Please wait until after lunch to begin aggravating me.”
I put down my notebook and pen. That got his attention. “Are you ready to listen?”
The silence he showered upon me was a good enough answer for me.
Shen Salzenbach’s man delivered that last load of grub…”
“Archie!” I have told you that word is not to be used in this house. Nor will chow, feed and the like.”
I should have known better than to give him a reason to interrupt, since I had his attention.
“Okay. Delivery of provisions. Anyhow, he’s not going to give us any more credit. We need to pay him what we owe.”
He took in no more than a bushel full of air and let it back out. “So be it. You are responsible for preparing the checks, are you not?”
I nodded my assent. “I am, as you darn well know. And I’m also responsible for keeping an eye on the bank balance before writing those checks. And we’re running low.”
“Saying it won’t make it so. You just had to have those Dendrobium bulbs last week. And they weren’t cheap.”
I eyed him sternly. “You’ve pointed out my duties around here. And you were kind enough not to disparage my performance. Another duty is to remind you that it is your responsibility to solve cases and make the money that pays Fritz, Theodore and myself, and the orchids, the food, the books, the…”
“You’ve made your point, Archie. I will consider the next case presented to me, if only so you will stop badgering me and I can do my crossword puzzle in peace.”
I looked at my watch, which read 11:15. At that moment, the doorbell rang and he stared at me with suspicion. I ignored him before he could hurl an accusation and I rose and went to the front door, waving Fritz back into the kitchen. Looking through the one way glass, I saw an unfamiliar woman and a man on the steps. I pulled the door open and she spoke before I could.
“Mister Goodwin? I’m Gloria Kent. You said to be here at 11:15. So here I am.”
Under normal circumstances she might have been in the neighborhood of pretty, but you didn’t have to be a first rate detective like me to see that she was under a heavy load. Rodman was a mousey little guy with sloped shoulders, a wispy moustache and thin hair that would probably be all gone before too long.
“And so you are. Who’s the escort?”
His voice matched his looks. “I’m Gerald Rodman. I had some information that helped Miss Kent with her…difficulty.” She nodded approvingly, so I let them in. I took their coats and stepped ahead of them to the office.
Wolfe looked up as I ushered Miss Kent to the red leather chair. Rodman took a yellow chair next to her. I moved around to my desk and introduced them to Wolfe.
“Miss Gloria Kent and Mister Rodman. Meet Nero Wolfe.” I looked at him meaningfully. “She has a pressing problem that needs your special talents. For a fee.”
Wolfe glared at each in turn, then shifted his gaze to me. I resisted the impulse to grin and looked back placidly.
Miss Kent was clearly uncomfortable and turned her attention to me, then back to Wolfe. “Is something wrong? Did I make a mistake about my appointment time? I thought that Mister Goodwin said…”
“You people are here by sufferance only. I shall speak to Mister Goodwin about your ‘appointment’ later. Yes indeed, I shall.” Oh boy.
“I don’t like pressing problems. What are yours?”
She grasped the fingers of her left hand with her right hand, trying to compose herself.
“My father.” She hesitated for a moment and Wolfe jumped into the breach.
“Indeed, I’m not a court of domestic relations Miss Kent. What does your father do? Beat you, hold your earnings, discourage your suitors? Mister Goodwin should have informed you that this office does not undertake cases involving marital or family problems.
“But that’s not it,” she said in a plaintive voice. I was afraid she wasn’t going to be able to hold her ground in the face of Wolfe’s personality onslaught. Braver folks than her have failed to do so.
“If Mister Goodwin had not been beguiled by your pretty face, you could have avoided this embarrassment to you and annoyance to me.”
He was being more petty than normal and I tried to slow him down. “Now, now, take it easy. How many times have I told you that you don’t know how to handle women?”
“Yes. That is your specialty. Or rather, your Achilles heel. Would that Paris was here with his bow. Suppose you let Miss Kent handle me then?” He leaned back in his chair and gazed at her with eyes half closed.
I’ve got to give her credit. She squared her shoulders, took a deep breath and did her best. I wanted to give her a pat on the shoulder, but it wasn’t the time or place for it.
“It’s simply this mister Wolfe. I had some money my mother left me and my father’s just spent it. Without my permission. I want it back without a scandal.”
“How much? How was it spent?” His immediate response was a good sign that she might be able to hang on a bit longer.
“$10,000.” She paused and looked down at her lap. “Father bought a treasure map.”
Wolfe opened his eyes. “A map, indeed. From whom?”
“A pair of despicable swindlers named Cross and Halleck.” Her emotions were rising again.
“They’ve driven him crazy, Mister Wolfe. Talking about fortune that they’ve salvaged from the SS this and the SS that. Father’s got a map and old letters he studies, as if he’s going to find some treasure chest full of gold coins! He’s childish.”
“Many fortunes have been recovered while many more await on the sea bottom. How do you know your father’s been duped, Miss Kent?”
“Well, I know.”
It was the first peep from Rodman since he had joined us. I had to say, that having him as my backup wouldn’t exactly inspire confidence in my situation.
Wolfe shifted his attention to the man without moving his head in the slightest. I’ve seen lizards basking on rocks that exerted more energy than he does. “You do, Mister Rodman?”
He cleared his throat weakly. Nothing about this guy indicated he had much substance.
“Yes. Cross and Halleck bought some old letters from me, written by my grandfather from Hawaii. They used them to manufacture the map and evidence. And that’s what they sold to Miss Kent’s father.”
He had leaned forward in the chair but now slumped back.
“Father thought he was being so clever. He had the papers analyzed.” Her voice wavered.
“Of course the document research laboratory said the letters were genuine. Because they were. But something new had been added.” She gulped air.
“I’d have never known if Mister Rodman hadn’t told me.” She took a cloth from her purse and wiped moisture away from her eyes.
“You are a party to the swindle, Mister Rodman.” It was not delivered as a question.
“I was not.” He actually squeaked. “I never knew what they were up to.”
Mister Wolfe you’ve got to help me. I can’t do anything with father. I can’t convince him. Even Mister Rodman can’t.” There was no doubt that the floodgates were about to open. She had had held off as long as she could.
“No Miss Kent, I’m sorry, this is not for me.” Brusque doesn’t even begin to cover it.
“But you must, you must.” And that was all it took for the tears. If there is anything Wolfe cannot abide in his presence, it is a hysterical woman.
He was already up and moving to the door. “Not in my office madam. No tears. Please, please. Archie, stop her!”
“Okay, okay.” I moved out from behind my desk and proffered her my handkerchief, though she was sobbing into her hands.
“Archie, When Miss Kent has finished her graceful exhibition, show them out.” His voice trailed off as he went to the kitchen.
The pint sized knight jumped out of his chair. “How dare you walk out on a..”
I held both hands up to him, palms outward. “Easy there tiger, easy. I know him and you don’t. He gets into a panic when women cry. Or maybe he’s curious about what Fritz is making for lunch. Now, wait a minute please. Let me handle this. You tend to Miss Kent.”
With that, I left them in the office and went to find my cowardly employer.
Wolfe was standing at the counter in the kitchen, watching Fritz shredding carrots.
“Doesn’t that beat all. Aren’t you ashamed of yourself, walking out on that poor kid?”
He didn’t even bother to look up at me. “That hysterical female? Pfui.”
“She’s lost all of her money. She needs help.”
“I charge high fees, Archie. How do you propose she pay for our services?”
“So charge a small fee. Do you want her to starve?”
“Good heavens. Starve? How monstrous.”
“I’m not kidding. While you’ll be in here smelling your dinner, she and her father will be starving.”
“I thought you were bringing me a paying client.”
“Well, this is different. She’s, uh..
“Beautiful. Archie, you’re impossible.”
“Oh, very well. Go back in to them. Get names, addresses, facts. I am not committed to Miss Kent’s case. But we’ll see.”
“I pay for your weakness for a pretty face. Pfui.”
They were gone when I returned to the office. All I had were the few facts she’d given me over the phone and jotted down in my notebook. I felt guilty about that when he came back into the office. He closed his eyes, fat and content and I glared at him.
“How much of you is awake?”
Bah. What Archie?
“Well, they disappeared. Did you tell me you’d help this girl just to get her out of the office or did you mean it?
“You’re a gadfly.”
“No sir. You’re stuck on this one. Start using your genius.”
There’s not a man on earth who can get such a wide range of emotions out of a sigh.
“Did something about Mister Rodman get your attention, Archie?”
“He could use some lessons from Charles Atlas, but other that, not really.”
“How did Rodman discover that the letters he sold were being altered by forgery and used for a swindle. How did he locate the duped Mister Kent?”
He stared at me from under half-closed lids. There could be any of a half-dozen explanations, but neither of them had explained his entry into the situation. And happenstance was too much of a stretch since without him, Gloria wouldn’t know the whole thing was definitely a fake.
“Yeah. I guess you’re right. But what about now. Are you going to get Gloria’s money back?”
“I assume you call Miss Kent Gloria solely in order to annoy me. It does. Stop it. Get Cross & Halleck.”
“Now you’re on the job. Got it.”
“You’ll find them at the Hotel Bogaart.”
Huh uh. Wrong. I looked up their address after I came back in here…”
“Never mind their address. The Hotel Bogaart is the headquarters of successful confidence tricksters. They celebrate their victories there while the money lasts. You will probably find Cross and Halleck drinking whiskey or lunching. Probably both. Now go get them and let me in peace.”
I located Cross and Halleck in the hotel bar and lured them back to our place on 35th Street. Remind me sometime to tell you about that little trip. When I described the place to Wolfe, he called it a ‘den of reprobates.’ Using my charm and intelligence, I convinced them I was a sucker looking to find someone to assist in spending a recently acquired windfall.
When I escorted them into the office, Wolfe was sitting behind his desk, with his hands crossed on his impressive middle, at peace with his lunch and the world. He sat bolt up and scorched me with a look. He hates to work before the 4:00 session with the orchids.
“Good afternoon Mister Wolfe. The tall one’s name is Cross and the short one is Halleck. They, uh, want to help me invest my money.”
I waved a hand expansively. “Gentlemen, Mister Nero Wolfe.”
They had been celebrating at the hotel but weren’t so far gone that they didn’t recognize the name. They sputtered and protested. It was really rather pitiful.
Wolfe was not amused. “Confound you, Archie! How drunk are they?”
“Not too drunk for discussing business.”
Cross was the first one whose muddled brain found a handle on the situation. “Let’s get out of here. C’mon.”
I darted over and put my back to the door. “You want me to keep them here, Mister Wolfe?” There were two of them, but in their present state I could keep them here without too much strain.
“Not by violence, Archie.”
They were deciding whether or not to try and push their way past me and out into the hall when Wolfe made the decision for them.
“Come back here, gentlemen, unless you want seven years in the state penitentiary.” His words and the tone of voice got their attention and they turned to face him. Cross spoke.
“You got nothin’ on us Wolfe, nothin’ at all.”
“Oh, I do, sir. I have the Kent Case.”
Halleck peered at him. “The Kent Case?”
Wolfe had spent hours trading jabs with some of the coolest customers I’d ever seen. These two weren’t going to be any trouble at all.
“Please sit down. I like eyes at a level.”
They looked at each other and then back to me, still blocking their exit. With a shrug, Cross took the big red chair and Halleck plopped down in a yellow one next to him. Halleck seemed to be in the worse shape of the pair and willing to follow his partner.
Wolfe nodded his head an eighth of an inch and I went back over to my desk and sat down.
“That’s a laugh. We’re sittin’ pretty.”
“You are not, Mister Cross. Not at all. You imagine that you possess legal immunity.”
A grin appeared on Cross’ face. “Yeah, sure.”
Wolfe had an amazing ability. Without raising his voice, his words could cut as if he were yelling. They sliced through the person he was talking to like a sharp sword, but his volume was suitable for the dinner table. I still hadn’t figured it out.
“You do not, sir. Mister Kent believes your grotesque balderdash and will not sue you for fraud. He is manifestly a dolt. Miss Kent cannot sue because she is reluctant to accuse her father of wrongfully obtaining her money. Ergo, you think you are invulnerable.”
Cross leaned forward. “Now listen, you overweight…”
Wolfe cut him off. “But You forget me. I am a detective with a fee to earn.”
Halleck started to say something but didn’t get a word in.
“I am determined to get that fee. Therefore, as Miss Kent’s agent I can and will bring actions against you. I am indifferent to her tears or her father’s disgrace. I am indifferent to anything outside of money. Your ill-gotten money. You will return the $10,000 to me at once, sir, or you will be in jail by morning. As will your partner!”
“You mean that?” Cross’ voice didn’t quite shake, but he was losing his mental footing.
“I would not have said it had I not.”
That was a bit too complex for our somewhat inebriated guests. Wolfe stared at their confused expressions, looked at me and followed up to them.
“Yes, I do.”
Cross rose and moved over to the giant globe in the corner. “Halleck, c’mere,
Halleck did as instructed and they mumbled quietly. This went on for a minute or so before Wolfe prompted them. I was surprised he waited that long.
“Come on. Hurry. I don’t have all day and you are in my office.”
They moved back to stand in front of his desk. “Ok. Here Mister Wolfe. We’ve decided we don’t want to get in any trouble with you. Here’s the ten grand.”
I got up and moved next to Halleck and reached out. “I’ll take that.”
“Give the dough to Kent, Mister Wolfe, and get the letters and map back for us. You’ve got a reputation for being tricky, but honest. We trust you.”
They turned and marched out. I didn’t follow them to the front door but let them go on their own. I smiled at Wolfe, sat at my desk and began counting the money.
I must have chuckled.
“No sir.” I held up a wad. “Take a look. Genuine coin of the realm.”
“That man Cross is a nitwit. Does he imagine I am to be fooled so easily?”
“What do you mean? He left the money.” I’m sure the puzzlement showed on my face.
Wolfe leaned back in his chair. “He surrendered too quickly, Archie. Too easily. And that money in the envelope. He was carrying it, all ready to refund. Why?”
He had me there. “Well, maybe he’s got a better sucker. I heard him mention a Ben Sandford while we were at the hotel.”
“Nonsense. Does he need Kent’s forged letters and map to cheat this Ben Sandford? Couldn’t he prepare another set, rather than give up $10,000 already in hand?”
In my excitement at having filled Gloria’s order so quickly, I hadn’t looked too deep. “I guess you’re right. Something’s fishy.”
“In any event, it’s no concern of mine, thank heaven.”
Uh oh. “Why not?”
He sighed. “I’m not committed to Miss Kent in any way. As a favor to you, I undertook to regain her money. I have done that. You may take it back to her and obtain the forged papers in return.”
“Silence, Archie. Go to your red-headed charmer and leave me in peace. I intend to spend the afternoon with my new world atlas.”
He looked down into that large tome and I knew he was done with me. I couldn’t really argue, as he’d done what she’d asked. And it wasn’t even clear we’d get paid a dime out of it. Sometimes, when you go against a genius, you’re going to come up short.
So, I left him three thousand miles up the Amazon with his magnifying glass, grabbed the Heron sedan from the garage around the corner and drove up to East 69th Street. Sometimes, I missed having the roadster, but since Wolfe pays for the cars and he wouldn’t ride in a roadster, even under duress, he had sold it. Fritz has been pretending he doesn’t know how to drive for so long, he may really have forgotten how, so the Heron is all but mine anyways.
The Kent house was a broken down little brownstone. Not a lot of effort had been put into upkeep and chipped masonry and a rusted railing greeted me out front. As I went up the stoop, the door opened and Gloria Kent burst out like a rocket. I grabbed her shoulders before she could bounce off of me.
“Hey Miss Kent, easy, easy.”
She struggled to get loose, her eyes not even seeing me. “Let go of me. Let go!”
I got her to look at me. “It’s me, Archie Goodwin. What’s wrong?”
What’s wrong? Wrong? Wrong? Nothing is wrong. Nothing at all!”
“I came to see your father. Is he here?” I wanted to calm her down enough to get her inside and sitting down. She looked on the brink of completely losing control.
“You want to see my father. Come inside. Come inside.”
“For the love of heaven…”
She turned and went inside. I followed. Her voice remained pitched on the edge of hysteria.
“I’ll introduce you. He’s in a back room. Come back through the living room.”
I went into alarm mode. The room had been thoroughly tossed: It was a total mess. After a bad experience years ago, I had decided to never go on a murder case without a gun. But this wasn’t murder, so I had come unarmed.
“What else came through this living room. A hurricane?”
“No, Mister Goodwin. Something else.” She continued on, stopped in the doorway and pointed in to the next room.
“There’s my father Mister Goodwin.”
I took a step and stopped. “What in…”
She was right. What must have been a small office had also been searched. But it was the body of a thin, older man, laying on the floor to the side of a worn desk, that caught my eye. With that gash across his throat, there was no doubt what had killed him.
She continued on. “Father, this is Archie Goodwin from Nero Wolfe’s office. He and his boss refused to help while they could. Maybe he can help you now.”
She was all but gone. I took her face in my hands and held her firm. I stared into her eyes, my face about six inches from hers. “Stop it.”
She tried to shake her head, but I had it tight. “All I’m good for now is revenge. That’s all.”
“Stop it. Stop it and look at me. When did it happen?”
“I don’t know,” she wailed.
“When did you find him?”
I didn’t loosen my grip. “Keep looking at me. Who went through this house like a hurricane? You?”
“Where did you go after you left the office?”
She was in shock, but had moved away from the ledge. I let go of her face but kept a wary eye on her. “What lab?”
“Documents Research. The place that checked the map.” She pushed some stray hairs away from her eyes. That was a good sign.
“How long were you there?”
“Until an hour ago. With Mister Rodman.”
“Keep looking at me. And then?”
“I went to lunch.”
“No, alone. Then I came home.”
“All right. All right, now listen to me. I want you to go to Mister Wolfe’s house, right now. Have you got cab fare?”
“Take a cab. I’ve got to stay here, but I’ll call Mister Wolfe and tell him you’re on the way. Now get.”
First thing, I called her a cab. While waiting for it to arrive, I called the number I knew best.
What a way to answer the phone. “It’s me. I’m at Gloria Kent’s house.”
“Good for you.”
“Her father’s dead. Somebody put a knife to his throat. I’m sending her to see you.”
I let out a growl. “Really? She’s on the way. Have Fritz give her some soup or something and put her in the south room. She’s in shock. I’ll handle her when I get there. But if Cramer gets a hold of her first, he’ll keep her until the case is over.”
“Pfui. Anything else to report?”
“Do I call Cramer?”
“Yes. Goodbye.” He hung up. I’ve had deeper telephone conversations with cemetery plot salesmen than I’ve had with Wolfe.
The cab arrived and I packed her inside, told her I’d meet her as soon as I could and gave the driver the address on West 35th Street. Then I went back inside, took a deep breath and called Homicide West and got Purley Stebbins. Once he decided I was on the level, he told me not to touch anything and clicked off in a hurry. Hanging up on me seemed to be the day’s leading activity.
I stood out front and a patrol car arrived in less than five minutes. Almost immediately after that, two plainclothes rolled up. Proving what kind of a day I was having, Inspector Rowcliff followed. Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner were boon companions compared to me and Rowcliff. If anyone ever conclusively proved to me that he was human, I’d have to find another race to join.
He couldn’t decide whether he wanted to chew my face off or run the show inside. Finally, he ordered me into the doorway of the living room where he could do both. I told him that I was visiting on behalf of a client of Wolfe’s and didn’t know what had happened in the house.
He was still clearly unhappy with my ignorance when Stebbins and the head of Homicide, Inspector Fergus T. Cramer, arrived. Cramer brushed past me without even a hello and looked over the office. I followed to the doorway and he turned back to me. “Cheese and Rice, Goodwin, go stand in that room and stay out of the way. Purley, make sure he does.”
“I straightened up. That is no way to treat a civic-minded citizen who happened to wander upon a dead body and immediately called the police.”
Rowcliff started to open his mouth but didn’t get a sound out. “Can it, Rowcliff.” I admired Cramer a bit. He hadn’t even taken his eyes off of me to shut down the lieutenant.
“I’ll just bet you called it in immediately. You probably called that fat boss of yours and then tossed the joint yourself. Search him, Purley.”
Rowcliff barked like a seal. I’m certainly not above disparaging the man, but that’s what it sounded like.
Boy, am I glad I didn’t have the ten thousand in my coat pocket. I let Purley do his job and frowned at Cramer.
More city officials arrived and after a while of watching disinterestedly, I sat on the edge of a sofa.
“Hey, Goodwin, this is a crime scene. Get up!”
I arose. “Well, I’m sorry about that, Purley. I mean, I’d hate to mess up the cushions or anything.”
The various employees photographed, measured, printed and dusted with no input from me.
A little later, Cramer took me out front, Stebbins tagging along. I had to use all of my powers of persuasion to keep him from taking me downtown as a material witness. They might keep me until daybreak and dinner would be no treat. I pointed out I was the reason they even knew there had been a murder. Even though it placed me in imminent peril, what finally saved me was that I told him I’d put Gloria Kent in a cab and sent her to Wolfe’s office.
I much preferred to be sitting behind my own desk when Cramer’s face turned that shade of crimson. I had to step backwards to keep him from throwing me in the back of a black and white and sending me to the precinct for a long, lonely wait.
I finally got him calmed down enough to realize that his best play was to take me home and confront Wolfe. He did so, with Stebbins riding along.
The front door wasn’t latched, so I opened up and took a step in. Cramer shouldered past me and marched down the hallway towards the office. I called out but he didn’t slow a stride. Stebbins smiled at me as he went by. I hung up my coat and hat in a hurry and hot stepped it to the office.
Wolfe had already bellowed at Cramer and slowed his assault. “Now take off your hat and coat like a civilized visitor, sit down and ask your questions, sir!” Cramer had charged into that room dozens of time under full steam and not once had he bulldozed Wolfe. He’d never learn.
I moved to his side and held out my hand. He glared at me, then at Wolfe, then back to me.
“You and your ‘civilities.’ Sure, why not?” He tossed his coat into my chest and handed me his hat. I laid them on the sofa, not wanting to the rack by the front door. Stebbins remained standing not far from the doorway, keeping his coat. With the situation under control, I took my normal position at my desk and waited.
Cramer got across his point that a man had been murdered. And that I had aided and abetted the woman who discovered the body, that man’s very daughter, in fleeing the scene. I wanted to get her to Wolfe so he could ask her questions before the police did. As theories go, from his point of view, it wasn’t a bad one.
It looked like things were going to explode again at that point, but Wolfe was more restrained than normal and I interjected myself into the proceedings to try and snuff out the fuse. Turns out my help wasn’t needed.
“Inspector. The woman had just found her father murdered. Mister Goodwin has informed you that she was on the edge of breaking down. He knows the female sex better than I do. You know that I cannot abide a woman in that mood. Their moments of lucidity are merely short breaks from their natural state of hysteria.”
Cramer had taken a cigar out of his pocket and was rolling it between his hands. I knew he wasn’t going to light it up. Early in my acquaintance with the man, he had been known to smoke one. But I could count on one hand and have a finger and a thumb left over the number of times I had seen him light up in several years. When dealing with Wolfe, instead of counting to ten, he clamped his teeth down on a cigar to try and get himself under control. It did help some, though certainly not enough. With what he spent on them, it was a good thing he didn’t actually smoke them. The damage to his health might be beyond repair.
And in his mouth the cigar went.
“Yeah. You could stare down a charging rhino, but the second a dame starts to shed some tears.” He stopped and chewed.
“I know your feelings towards my involvement in a murder case, inspector. I have not spoken a word with Miss Kent. I no more wished her here than I do you.”
Ouch. That had to hurt a little.
“I have often told you that the burden of proof is on you to convince me that what I know is germane to your investigation. It is my decision on whether or not to share any or all information with you.”
Cramer took the cigar out of his mouth. “Now wait just a minute damn minute.”
Wolfe held a hand up. “Do not attempt to browbeat me. I assure you, it is useless. What I know is certainly relevant to your murder.” And I’ll be darned if Wolfe didn’t open the bag and tell him everything, from Kent and Rodman’s visit to my phone call from the Kent house.
Leaving Cramer to think it over, he took a break, ringing for Fritz to bring beer. He didn’t offer Cramer any, which was neither usual or unusual. I don’t think the inspector cared, as he was paying attention to Wolfe’s account and figuring angles. Stebbins had moved forward and taken a yellow chair. He looked as if he suspected Wolfe of holding something back, which he did anytime Wolfe was talking.
Cramer wasn’t angry anymore. He was trying to piece things together. His tone was almost conversational.
“It’s a great story, Wolfe. Great. Kent buys a phony treasure map. Everybody knows it’s fake but Kent. Cross and Halleck try to buy it back and Kent gets himself murdered.”
“Yes. Events do seem to have occurred in a rather linear matter.”
Cramer just grunted.
“If you would perhaps share information with me. Did you find the map and letters in the house, inspector?”
“We weren’t looking for them. If you had told us beforehand…”
“That is fatuous and you know it. I was hired by a client to investigate a simple case of fraud. If she chose not to consult the authorities, there was no reason for me to do so, either.”
Cramer growled. “I suppose that’s a point.” A little more cigar chewing took place.
“We wouldn’t find any map or letters if Goodwin did first.”
The corners of Wolfe’s mouth went up a full quarter of an inch. That was a broad smile for him. “Really, inspector. Do you expect me to believe that you didn’t have him searched almost immediately?”
“Of course we did. And before you ask, he didn’t have anything on him. He could have hidden…Oh, what’s the damn use?” He looked at me. I grinned back.
“No. We didn’t find what you described.”
“The killer was after the map.”
“The phony map?”
Purley was watching intently but still hadn’t spoken. When he tackles Wolfe on his own, he gets too nervous and botches it. When he follows Cramer here, he usually doesn’t get involved in the discussion. I don’t want to give the impression he’s a bad cop. He and I have even shared a steak before. He just doesn’t like private detectives and he knows he isn’t a match for Wolfe.
“Yes. That is certainly the question, inspector. If we knew that, we would know why Cross and Halleck were so willing to pay back the money and why Mister Kent was murdered.”
I tossed in, just for something to say, “Maybe it’s not phony.”
That made no impression on Wolfe or Cramer. Purley didn’t even bother to look over at me. I clammed up.
“Okay Wolfe, tell me this. Suppose it was the daughter? She admitted to you her father took her money for a fairy tale map. What if she’s at home and confronts him? Who knows what he says? But she can’t take it and she kills him. How about that?”
Wolfe took in a bushel of air and let it out. “Come now, inspector. That’s a simpleton’s approach, and you are no simpleton. She cuts her father’s throat, hours after hiring me to get her money back? That ignores the map entirely. You can do better than that, surely.”
Cramer rose from the chair without using his arms, something he does because he knows that Wolfe can’t.
“Maybe so. But I’m not ruling it out. I’d better see the girl now.”
“You think that will pin her for the murder?”
“I’ll know better after I ask a few questions.”
“Tonight. She’s had a shock, Mister Cramer. She needs rest.”
The cheeks started to flush again. “Look, Wolfe. I want her. Don’t start your tricks.” Stebbins was standing now as well.
“Why bother with her when there is so much to be done?”
Cramer had started walking towards the doorway, intending to mount the stairs, but he stopped and turned. “Yeah, such as?”
“Cross and Halleck. Find them. And the mystery man they spoke of, Ben Sandford. He’s the man you want now, not this poor, overwrought girl.”
Cramer eyed Wolfe, me and Stebbins. He wasn’t sure what to do.
“Well…all right. The girl will be here for questioning tonight, huh?”
“Tonight, Mister Cramer.”
“Ok. You’ll hear from me later.”
He tossed his now well-chewed cigar at my trash can, surprisingly missing by less than a foot. He reclaimed his hat and coat from the sofa and left the office without saying anything else. Stebbins followed and I trailed behind. I locked the door behind them and went back into the office.
“Well, you certainly buffaloed him out of that.”
“Bah. He only came out of pique. You disposed of Miss Kent and had the gall to send her here. He knows there are the usual avenues to explore beyond the girl.”
“Why don’t you want her questioned. Is she guilty?”
“I haven’t the faintest idea.”
“Well, what did she say when she got here?”
“She said nothing. She never arrived.”
I goggled at him. “She never what?”
“She never arrived.”
I was amazed. “Then why did you tell Cramer she was resting?”
“Would he have believed the truth? Bah. She must be found. More important, we must learn why forged letters and a forged map have produced this turmoil. I wish to end this aggravation!”
“Find the killer and you find the map. You said so yourself.”
He gazed at me without blinking. “I said the reverse, which is an altogether different statement. Words are important. It’s why I am careful which ones I choose and how I use the ones I do.”
“Yes, I’ll try to remember that. Great tip. Thanks.”
“I want a photograph of that map. Get it.”
I slapped my palms down on the desk. “Oh, sure. Any particular camera you want me to use?”
“You’ll find the photograph at 200 Vanderbilt Street.”
Sometimes I felt like I was in some weird dream. “Are you kidding me?”
He looked forlornly at the empty beer bottles still on his desk. “A laboratory cannot check the authenticity of old papers without photographing them in ultraviolet light, infrared light and so on. If this document research lab has examined these papers, they will have photographs. Get them.”
“And how do I do that?”
He got out of his chair and headed to the house elevator. It was 4:00 and time for his afternoon session with the orchids. I followed him out. Before the elevator door closed, he said, “Use your intelligence, guided by experience.”
The doors closed. I said to them, “Of course. Thanks. I never would have thought of that myself. I wish you’d given me that advice before.”
Putting on my hat and coat, I told Fritz I was going out and to lock up behind me, now that murder was in the mix. I hadn’t gone half a block before I remembered that the Heron was still at Kent’s house. I was legally parked, but who knew when I’d need it in a hurry? So, I walked over to 11th and got a cab. There were a couple cops out front of Kent’s place to keep the curious at bay, but I didn’t see any indoor activity. I ignored the scene and reclaimed the car. I’d spent enough time there for one day.
From there, I drove down to the document research laboratory on Vanderbilt. After a few minutes talking to the guy in charge, I dialed Wolfe, even though I knew he was with the orchids.
“What’s the matter? Are you lost?”
No sir. But I found something.”
“No. I don’t think you’ll ever see any photographs of the Kent map. I don’t think any were taken.”
“But guess who runs the document research laboratory?”
I didn’t let him answer.
“No, don’t guess, you probably know. A man named Ben Sandford and he’s sitting right here, looking at me.”
“Bring him here.”
“But you’re with the orchids.”
“Archie, bring him.”
Something really was bugging Wolfe if he was going to let me take a visitor – maybe a killer – up to the plant rooms to talk to Wolfe. I think it had something to do with having promised Gloria to Cramer with no idea where she actually was.
“Hey, how about this place. Must be a million flowers up here.”
We were walking through the cool room. I wouldn’t have taken Sandford for a flower fancier. But Wolfe has more than once referred to the ‘insidious charms’ of the orchids and I haven’t encountered too many people who fail to notice their beauty.
“No, not flowers. Orchids only. Mister Wolfe has 10,000 of them.”
His head swiveled back and forth, trying to take it all in as we moved into the tropical room. “Never seen anything like them.”
“And you never will again, brother.”
We had reached the potting room. “Say, what kind is that on the bench?”
“Oh that. That’s our pride and joy. Odontoglossum harryanum. And above them the Vanda petersiana.”
I pointed to my left. “And the black ones are the Coelogyne pandurata. Common to Borneo and Malaysia, I believe.”
Wolfe was sitting at the bench. Theodore Horstmann, whose chief job was to baby him in all matters related to the plants, hovered over his shoulder, glaring at me for interrupting. He’s no Rowcliff, but some day I’d like to tie Horstmann up and kick him to the curb.
“The large object mulching flower pots is Nero Wolfe.”
Wolfe looked up. “Mister Wolfe. Ben Sandford.”
Wolfe would have loved to unload on me for bringing Sandford up, but since he had told me to do that very thing, he had to swallow it. Instead, he got up, walked over to the sink and washed his hands, drying them on his smock.
“We will finish this later, Theodore. Go check the supplies of pots.”
Theodore nodded, gave me another dirty look and left the room. Wolfe sat in the only real chair in the room and turned his attention to Sandford. “Good afternoon, sir.”
“Hi. I came along to be obliging. I got nothing to say about anything.”
The initial attraction of the orchids had worn off. Apparently, he had realized where he was and who he was about to talk to.
“How much have you offered Cross and Halleck for their treasure map?”
Wolfe stared silently at him through half-closed eyes, frowning. I waited for the show to really get started.
“Mister Sandford, I’m going to make some assumptions. I assume you are not in fact a document expert but an accessory to the fraud of Halleck and Cross.”
“That you actually prepare fraudulent maps for those swindlers and then in the guise of an expert, guarantee their authenticity.”
Sandford, who had struck me as being as much of a documents research expert as I was, had picked a line and was going to stick with it. That probably wasn’t a bad idea, but since we already knew the documents were fakes, there was nowhere for him to go with it.
“I see.” Wolfe adjusted himself. While the chair was big enough to fit him, it was not one of the most comfortable in the house. He didn’t come to the plant rooms to sit in that chair.
“This you must answer. You did guarantee the authenticity of the map and letters Kent bought. It’s on record.”
He thought that one over. “All right, I did.” He seemed a little uncomfortable that he’d said something other than ‘No comment,’ though there hadn’t really been any choice.
“Then, will you admit, they were forged?”
That seemed to surprise him. “What, are you a comic? No. I don’t admit that.”
I think I saw where Wolfe was going. Sandford was in for a surprise.
“You guarantee the value of the Kent map?”
“Yes.” The noose was just about in place.
“As an expert?”
“Then you’ve convicted yourself of murder.”
Pow! His eyes shot open like they do in those Bugs Bunny cartoons. “What? Murder? What is this?”
Wolfe bored in. “Mister Kent was murdered, sir. Evidently for the map and letters he bought. And of all the persons involved, you alone believe in the value of the map. No one else does. Therefore, you alone would have murdered Kent for said map. Archie, take Mister Sandford down to the office and call Inspector Cramer to come get him.”
“Well for the love of. Wait a minute, wait a minute!”
I had grabbed his forearm, not tightly, and he shrugged loose.
“Chew it over, brother. Chew it over. He’s got you.”
Sandford took a handkerchief from his breast pocket and wiped his brow. “Okay. Okay. You want me to level. Here it is.”
Wolfe’s eyebrows rose. “Level, Archie?”
“Thief talk. It means ‘tell the truth.’”
Sandford looked curiously at Wolfe, finding it hard to believe he didn’t know the meaning of the word, but this wasn’t the time to discuss that type of thing.
“It’s like you say. The letters were bought from Rodman. Then I forge the map and evidence on them. I guarantee them to Kent. That’s the swindle.”
“And the letters are without value?”
“They’re old, that’s all. From 1851. Just tired family gossip and stuff. Nobody would pay much for them. I don’t know anything about murder.” More sweat was wiped away.
“Indeed. There we have the problem again, Archie. Mister Kent is swindled with a map and letters known to be worthless. He alone believes the fantasy of the treasure.”
“There isn’t any treasure. There never was.” Sandford would certainly know.
“Yet Cross and Halleck refunded the swindled money so eagerly. It is obvious they want those worthless documents back. Someone else wants them so badly he murdered Mister Kent. Why?”
More work with the handkerchief. “I don’t know. Really, I can’t think of a reason.”
“Nor can I. You are free to go sir.”
Sandford must have thought his ears were out of order. “I can leave?”
“You can, sir. But if I find the need to summon you back here, you will come, without demur. Am I clear?”
“Yeah, sure, whatever you say.”
“I want you to understand that it will not be a request. If you refuse to return upon summons, you shall find yourself in great peril.”
“Right, right. You just call me at the office and I’ll be on the way.”
“Archie, escort Mister Sandford out. Then return here.”
From the admiration of the orchids, to the initial defiance of Wolfe, to the murder accusation to being set free, Sandford’s emotions had gone up and down like a roller coaster at Coney Island. He didn’t say anything at all on the stairs and only muttered thanks as I started him walking down the street to flag a cab.
I got my instructions back up in the plant rooms. “Archie, we must find the girl. Clearly, she’s not at her home. There’s a chance that she turned to Mister Rodman for refuge. You must go there at once. If she’s not there, bring Rodman. And send Theodore back in when you go.”
Back to the garage and the Heron. Al told me we should just park it up on the curb at the brownstone for the rest of the day when I thanked him again and rolled out. I was certainly getting in some legwork today.
Rodman lived on the first floor of a plain-looking walk in. Everything about this guy seemed to be plain. The hallway wasn’t dingy, but it wouldn’t be long before I could say that it was a bit worn. I rang the buzzer, gave it a second, rang it again and repeated one more time. I heard something from inside that might have been, “Yes, yes, I’m coming.”
The door opened. He didn’t look any more impressive in his home surroundings than he had at Wolfe’s office.
“Hello Rodman, remember me? I’m Archie Goodwin from Nero Wolfe’s office.”
“Oh, yes, of course.”
“I came to get Gloria Kent. There’s been a change in plans. Tell her to come out, please.”
“Gloria? She’s not here. Why should she be?” If he was lying, he was far better at it than I would have credited him for. I pressed on.
“Haven’t you heard?”
“Well, I guess you’d better come down and see Wolfe.”
“I really can’t. I’m quite busy.” He looked harried, not guilty.
He hadn’t invited me in and I didn’t want to push through him. Yet. If he went skittish, he might be completely useless. It was time to shock him into line.
“Look Rodman, maybe you ought to know. Old Man Kent was murdered.”
“What?” His bones went loose. He probably wouldn’t have noticed if I walked in and sat down on the sofa. I stayed put but also stayed after him.
“Yes. Just after you and Gloria left us.”
“Kent. Murdered? Well…this is awful, Mister Goodwin.”
He was pale, no doubt about it. It was time to close up shop.
“You want to see Mister Wolfe now? Get your hat.”
“Believe me, I never wanted this. I’m going to tell Mister Wolfe the whole mess. Every word of it.”
He moved back and looked around the room. He was trying to gather his wits but they were scampering around like a pack of poodles.
“Let me get my hat. Murdered. I never dreamed.”
I took a step in and looked around as he walked into the bedroom and closed the door. It was the type of place you expected a meek librarian to inhabit. I bet it really impressed the girls. If any ever actually came here.
There was a sound from the bedroom but I didn’t recognize it.
“What did you say?”
No reply, so I walked over and opened the door. Rodman was lying on the bed, his throat cut. The strangest details hit me at moments like this and I saw his hat on the floor. He wouldn’t be needing it any more.
There was a window on the far wall. It was open. I stuck my head out and looked in every direction, including up, but there was nothing for me. The killer had gotten away before I even came into the room.
Feeling as if I were walking through molasses, I went out into the front room and picked up the phone, using a handkerchief to avoid leaving fingerprints.
The phone rang several times before anyone picked up. It was Wolfe.
“Who is this?”
I’m telling you. This guy could use a course in telephone manners. “Archie here. We got a tough break.”
“While I was waiting for Rodman at the front door, he went to the bedroom to get his hat. The killer was there.”
“How do you know?”
“He cut Rodman’s throat. The back window was open. It’s a ground floor apartment. He was gone before I had a chance.”
“Archie, where were your wits?”
“Let me alone. I’ve had a man murdered twenty feet from me. You think I’m cheering?”
“No, I do not. Inspector Cramer is here. He has news for us. He could not locate Cross and Halleck at their apartment. They had not been home all day. The maid was there and informed him she was waiting for her weekly salary.”
“Well, so what? Did you understand what I’m telling you?”
“She was most angry. And peppery.”
Understanding slowly dawned. “Red pepper?”
“Okay. I think I know what you mean. I’ll try to deliver the goods this time.”
“I certainly hope so. Don’t forget to report in on your present circumstance.”
“You mean, an anonymous call to the police?”
“Certainly. Goodbye.” He hung up. I’m sure that Cramer was giving him the fish eye across the desk.
In less than a minute, I had told the cops that there was a body and given them the address. I politely declined their request for additional information and got out of that place. I hoped I’d get to my destination this time before somebody got their throat cut. It was becoming an annoying habit and not one to enhance a private detective’s professional standing.
I drove down to the apartment house on Grammercy Square where Cross and Halleck lived. There was no operator for the elevator so I took it up to the tenth floor, found the right door and slipped in with a pass key I kept in the Heron for emergency situations. It took a little jiggling, but the key worked.
I closed the door behind me. The place wasn’t as much of a mess as Gloria Kent’s house, but it was closer than it should have been. Cross and Halleck weren’t investing their earnings in maid service.
“Come on out. Come out, wherever you are. I know you’re in here. You fooled Cramer pretending to be the maid, but you didn’t fool Wolfe. You’d better…”
I caught movement out of the corner of my left eye and turned. The retort of a gun came just after a bullet passed by me and thudded into the wall behind me. Gloria Kent had jumped out of a closet, gun in hand. The only thing that had saved me was the fact that her eyes were closed as she squeezed the trigger. They were still closed for the second shot.
I quickly realized that she was blasting wide right, so I moved towards her, sliding left. I got a hold of her gun arm as a third shot went off.
“You crazy fool. Stop it. Stop it!”
She struggled but I had that arm good. I held on with my left and chopped her wrist, hard, with the right. The gun fell from her hands.
“It’s me, Archie. Archie Goodwin. Get a hold of yourself.”
She opened her eyes and stared glassily at me.
“Who did you think I was?”
“Halleck,” she mumbled.
“Oh, brilliant. You certainly are a brave girl. They killed your father so you came up here and you were going to kill them right back. Oh, that red headed temper.”
She didn’t say anything, but her eyes focused enough to take me in.
“And you bluffed Cramer into thinking you were the maid. He’s going to love that one.” I gave a chuckle.
Her voice was feeble. “I had to do something. The only thing I could think of was to kill them.”
“That was certainly one option. Not the best one. Well, you’re coming home with me.”
I picked up the gun and put it in my pocket. Then I thought about prints. But the murders in this case were all done with a knife, so I guess I was okay in handling her gun.
She was a mess of nerves. I grabbed a coat from the closet she’d been hiding in and wrapped it around her. “And just remember one thing. Don’t try to do any thinking. It only gets in Wolfe’s way.”
She didn’t say a word on the way to the brownstone. She just sat, leaning against the door and staring blankly out the windshield. I couldn’t think of anything to say that would improve the situation, so I drove, wondering how I was going to have her ready to talk to Cramer soon.
The chain was on and Fritz let me in. The Heron was at the curb, since she was in no condition to walk from the garage. I’d return it after she was settled and Wolfe briefed. An unmarked police car was out front and I guessed Cramer was there, ready to talk to Gloria. What a day.
I heard voices from the office. “We have several guests, Archie,” Fritz told me.
I parked Gloria in the front room and left Fritz to keep an eye on her. Then, ignoring the door into the office, I went back out into the hall and in from there.
Color me surprised. Sandford was there, sitting in the red chair. Cross and Halleck were in in yellow chairs, one row behind Sandford. Cramer was sitting in my chair, with Purley Stebbins over on the sofa. Quite a party. I hadn’t been invited.
Wolfe was behind his desk, listening to Halleck talking. He saw me and interrupted.
“Archie. The red pepper?”
“Yes, it was where you thought. I brought it home.”
All heads had turned to me.
“Bring her in.”
“Are you sure? Perhaps we could speak in the kitchen for a moment?”
Cramer stood up, suspicion crossing his face.
“That is not necessary. Bring her.”
I shrugged and opened the door to the front room and did as I was instructed. Fritz returned to the kitchen with a nod.
When Cramer saw Gloria, first he scowled at her, then he transferred it to Wolfe.
“So, it was a slick one after all, Wolfe. You didn’t have the girl. You had no intention of producing her.”
“Please Mister Cramer, that can wait. Other matters are more important. I dine at eight. That gives me one hour to solve your murders.”
“Murders? I’ve only got one murder. Miss Kent’s father.”
I spoke up. “Two. Elmer Rodman is dead. Throat slit. I found the body and called it in.”
“Cheese and rice, Goodwin. Can you go anyplace in this town without finding a dead body?”
“I don’t see any here, yet. Purley. Look behind the sofa for me.”
Wolfe cut that banter off. “Please, Inspector, not now. First, Miss Kent.”
“Good evening Miss Kent. I assume you have met these gentlemen: Misters Cross, Halleck and Sandford.”
“I’ll take your purse, please.”
That got her attention. “Why do you…”
His voice was sharp. “Don’t think me as naïve as Mister Goodwin. When you left your home after the murder of your father, you took the map and letters with you. They’re in your purse now.”
“That’s not true.”
“Archie, her purse.”
I gave her an apologetic look as I took her purse and handed it to Wolfe. She didn’t resist and I parked her in the yellow chair by my desk. Then I stood next to my chair and cleared my throat. Cramer glared at me but moved over to a yellow chair next to Halleck.
All eyes were now on Wolfe. One hand was on the purse.
“We have an interesting situation, gentlemen There exist some old letters and a map. They are forged and fraudulent. That is agreed to by all in this room. Yet, they’re worth $10,000 and more to Cross and Halleck and worth two murders to a killer. Why? There must be something of great value in the letters.”
Nobody saw fit to respond, so Cramer said, “Yes. Such as?”
“Something which Mister Sandford could not see though he worked on the document closely. Yet something that could be made manifest in order to validate their value. What is the answer Miss Kent? Do you know it?”
“I swear I don’t.” She was having quite a day, all right.
“Secret writing. Archie, bring the chafing dish from the dining room.”
“Secret writing?” Cross’ voice didn’t convey a vote of confidence.
“I saw nothing when I worked on those letters.”
“Naturally, Mister Sandford. The writing is invisible. Heat is an agent. It makes most forms of secret writing visible.”
I caught sight of Stebbins’ face as I reentered with the chafing dish. He wasn’t buying this at all.
“The chafing dish,” I said, placing it on Wolfe’ desk.
I did so. If this was the best he had come up with, I had my doubts Cramer would be leaving with anybody in handcuffs.
“Now I open Miss Kent’s purse. As you see, I withdraw these aged letters which she took from her house after her father’s murder.”
“That’s not true.”
Wolfe looked directly at me. “Archie.”
He didn’t want a denial every time he addressed her. I said gently, “Gloria, that’s enough. It’s time just to listen.”
“We remove the letters from the envelope and toast them gently. The secret ink, vintage 1851, will easily succumb to the agency of heat.”
Cross and Halleck were not pleased. “Careful. Those envelopes will catch fire.”
“Don’t be upset Mister Cross, Mister Halleck. They’ll burn safely in the dish. We can concentrate on the writing. Watch closely. I don’t want to be accused of trickery.”
Cross started to lunge forward towards the desk. “You fat fool. The envelopes are everything.”
Halleck yelled urgently at Sandford. “Put them out Sandford. Don’t just sit there, put them out.”
Wolfe asked, “Why should he bother with these useless envelopes, Mister Halleck?”
“The stamps, the missionaries. They’re worth a fortune!”
Wolfe smiled. “The missionaries. Of course. You know of them. Mister Cross knows. Mister Sandford knows.
He looked at the partners. “Yet Mister Sandford is not alarmed.” He turned his gaze on the man “Why not, sir?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Fifty thousand or one hundred thousand dollars is burning up before your eyes. Cross and Halleck are burning their fingers putting out the flaming envelopes. And you sit there quite indifferently. Why?”
“You know the value of the missionary stamps on the letters you bought from Rodman. But you know these aren’t the real letters.”
“Not the real letters?” That was Cross.
Sandford could not have looked smugger. “I told you I’m tough to crack, Wolfe. You didn’t fool me with those dummies.”
“Indeed. Dummies. How do you know that? Mister Cross didn’t know. Mister Halleck didn’t know. How did you?” Sandford didn’t answer immediately.
Cramer had moved next to the desk to see the fire show and finally interjected.
“What are you up to Wolfe?” Wolfe ignored him.
“I’ll tell you, sir. Only one man could know that I was framing Miss Kent as a decoy. Only one man could know that I prepared these dummy letters and pretended to take them from her purse via sleight of hand. And that is the killer. The man who murdered her father and stole the letters and map this morning. You sir!”
“Here is the killer, Inspector. You’ll find the missing documents on his person or at his home or office.”
Sandford just glared at Wolfe. Cross muttered, “Why, you dirty double crosser.”
“Take him, Purley.” Stebbins hoisted Sanford out of the chair and marched him out of the office.
Cramer stared at Cross and Halleck. “I’m Homicide. I don’t give a damn about your fake maps. I’ll tell the bunko squad about it tomorrow and you may be hearing from them. But for now, you’re free to go.”
Those two were almost out the door before Cramer stopped speaking. I didn’t think they could move that fast.
Wolfe poured a glass of beer, watched the foam settle, then drained it in three gulps. Cramer, now sitting in the red chair, was having a glass as well. I’d gotten Gloria to swallow a few glasses of water and some color had returned to her cheeks. I was in my chair, nursing a glass of milk.
“Not a complicated case, Inspector. Rodman sold some old family letters to the swindlers for a small sum. They used the letters to perpetrate their fraud on Miss Kent’s father.”
“But the stamps on the letters were valuable, eh?”
“They were special Hawaiian issues, from 1851. Nicknamed missionaries because missionaries used them for writing home. They’re extremely rare stamps, worth upwards of $25,000 each.”
Cramer whistled. “Say. That’s why they were worth two murders. We found five of them on Sandford.”
“Excellent. Somehow or other Rodman discovered the value of the stamps after he sold them. In his effort to get them back, he communicated his discovery to the swindlers. I imagine he hoped they’d share the profits with him.”
“Fat chance,” I said.
Cramer nodded to himself. “That’s why they refunded the money so fast.”
“Precisely, in an effort to have the sale rescinded. Compared to my getting the stamps back, the $10,000 was small money.” Wolfe poured a second glass.
“Rodman sought out Kent and tried to convince him of the fraud. Alas, he would not listen to the truth.”
“Father was so desperate to find the treasure on that map. He wouldn’t have believed any silly story about stamps.”
Cramer said, “I get it. And while the others were running around Sandford tried to get it all for himself and resorted to murder.”
Cramer got up and headed out the door. I helped him on with his coat and he said, “Thank you, Goodwin.” That was about as friendly as he got after a case.
Back in the office, I stood behind our last remaining visitor.
“So, Gloria not only gets her ten-grand back, but another hundred and twenty-five thousand. Great job, boss.”
“Yes. Well. It is time for dinner.”
“Uh, I’ll be giving Miss Kent a ride home, sir. You can eat without me.”
She took my arm and I took her towards the front door.
Wolfe sighed and I heard him rise from behind his desk. With the case over and everyone gone, I knew he would enjoy dinner. But I still didn’t know how I was going to pay Salzenbach’s bill and get that lamb.
You can read Bob Byrne’s ‘The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes’ column here at Black Gate every Monday morning.
He founded www.SolarPons.com, the only website dedicated to the ‘Sherlock Holmes of Praed Street’ and blogs about Holmes and other mystery matters at Almost Holmes.
He has contributed stories to The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories – Parts III, IV and V (and the upcoming VI).
[…] you like Nero Wolfe (and why wouldn’t you?), swing on over and check it out. Then let me know what you think of […]
[…] adaptation of a Nero Wolfe radio play, starring Sydney Greenstreet. Here’s the first one, Stamped for Murder. Below is chapter one, which is mostly of my own devising. The radio play didn’t have […]