Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: 2020 Stay At Home – Days One and Two

Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: 2020 Stay At Home – Days One and Two

Assuming you’re one of the eight people (three of whom are not related to me) who regularly read my posts here at Black Gate, you know that my favorite series of all is Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe. I love John D. MacDonald and Robert E. Howard and harboiled and Solar Pons and Glen Cook and a LOT more: but Wolfe and Archie Goodwin are number one.

When Ohio issued its ‘Stay at Home’ order, it got me to thinking about how Archie and Wolfe would do under New York’s order, which had been issued a day or two earlier. Now, all of the Wolfe fiction I’d written had been set somewhere between the thirties and the sixties. Modern-day Wolfe, with cell phones and whatnot, just doesn’t interest me. But I thought that it made sense to be contemporary, for the lockdown. For the characters, and for us to relate to them. So, here we go!

I’m posting these over on Facebook at The Wolfe Pack’s group page. If you’re on FB, and you like Nero Wolfe, you really should join this group. I’m going to combine two at a time and run them as posts here at Black Gate. Hopefully folks will find something to smile about. And maybe you’ll even become a new Wolfe fan. They’re really great books.

I’ve decided to daily update my notebook with thoughts on Stay at Home (henceforward, SaH). We’ll see which happens first: life returns to normal, or I kill Nero Wolfe in his office.

DAY ONE – 2020 Stay at Home

I don’t think Wolfe even noticed that SaH has begun. Newspaper and mail delivery continued, so his morning routine was unchanged. While special deliveries of some ingredients that Fritz uses to do his magic are going to impact the variety of offerings, the larder is loaded, as it were. The groceries and markets are still open, so Fritz will be able to resupply for at least a while. I may go with him to get supplies as a way to not be stuck here in the brownstone.

While Wolfe was up in the plant rooms with Theodore, I spent some time on various financial scenarios. When the bank balance has run dangerously low in the past, and with his aversion to work and propensity to spend on his orchids (not to mention my paltry pay check) forcing the issue, he’s been able to use his genius to quickly take on and solve a case to fatten up the checking account. But conjuring a case out of thin air was pretty unlikely in the new normal of SaH. And since I do all of the legwork, with most businesses closed, I wouldn’t be able to get out and gather information anyways. Since I write the checks and do the online bill-paying, I’ll be keeping an eye on this one.

I worked on the propagation records after he came down from the plant rooms at 11. He thoughtfully brought them with him, which was unusual. He was forestalling me bothering him about not having anything to work on.

Lunch was excellent, as usual, though I wondered if the supply of shad roe would dry up. Wolfe never tires of it, and Fritz always makes it tasty, but a little less of it in season wouldn’t bother me.

Not much else to report. Since we don’t constantly have a case anyways, I’m on my own many afternoons, between lunch and dinner. I did take a walk just to get some fresh air. I saw people here and there, and there was some traffic on the roads, but it was eerily empty. The energy of the city just wasn’t there.

Dinner was fine, with Wolfe holding forth on the Black Plague. It had been the Spanish flu last night. I won’t deny he knew some interesting things, but they were depressing topics. Maybe tomorrow would be something more cheery, like the Titanic.

After we finished coffee, I was bored. In normal circumstances, I might have gone to a movie, or a show, or seen some baseball or hockey. But sports were cancelled. And clubs and dance halls were closed. I could visit Lily Rowan, but we had both agreed to stay apart, at least for a week, to minimize the risk of infecting the other. Neither of us showed any symptoms, but better safe than sorry.

Wolfe was perfectly content to read his book in the office. Some years back, we had put a television in the front room, which allowed me to catch the Mets or a Bogart movie once in awhile. I spent most of the evening watching an episode of Ken Burns’ Baseball. I loved to see Willie Mays play ball.

We had survived Day One of SaH with no trouble. In this crazy world, I was gonna take any victory I could get, no matter how small.

DAY TWO – 2020 Stay at Home (SaH)

Another day was survived in the brownstone. I’m going to have to come up with a name for this place – something more clever, like ‘The Bunker.’

We got a phone call from an enterprising media arts major at NYU. Wolfe was up with Theodore for the morning session with the orchids. I was scouring the paper for something non-political, non-hysteria, non-whatever to read. This student, obviously with time on his hands and a huge untapped audience out there just waiting to be exposed to his brilliance, had a lulu of a pitch. He wanted to come over and do a reality web series about Wolfe. He would film most of the day, leaving after dinner started, edit the footage for posting on the internet the next morning, and then film a new day of activity. And he as going to make us web stars without even charging us!

You already know how many things there are wrong with that proposal. Wolfe wouldn’t let him shoot for even one second. But supposing that this crazy idea happened, can you imagine the kid saying something like, “What does ‘Pfui’ mean?” Or, “how many beers a day do you drink?” And following Wolfe and I around with the camera; or his phone – whatever. He was persistent to the point of annoying and I had to get rude with him. I didn’t even bother to tell Wolfe about it.

Better phone time was spent with Lily Rowan. She is keeping busy teleworking and conferencing for the many boards and organizations she does philanthropy for. Lily is a social animal and while there are worse fates than being cooped up in her penthouse, she would rather be out and about. It was nice hearing her voice.

Fritz went out after lunch to a local specialty market to get a juniper berry. You read that right: just one. It’s going to take more than two days of lockdown to change his cooking habits. Though, remembering the terrific job he did during the War, he’ll be challenged.

I watched some news, though that wasn’t very edifying. I surfed the web, something I don’t enjoy outside of work purposes. With all sports except the BelaRus Premier soccer league on hiatus, – and I will never be that desperate – it was a short venture into cyberspace.

In one way, I envy Wolfe. The man would read a dozen hours a day if he could. Of course, now, he can. But reading never did much for me. Fiction, nonfiction, books related to my trade – my mind just doesn’t stay focused. After post-dinner coffee with Wolfe, I went into the front room and watched All Through the Night. Humphrey Bogart led an all star cast in an amusing movie that saw a NYC mobster turn his organization against the Nazis, who were going to blow up a ship in the harbor. If you’ve never seen it, it’s worth watching. I love the supporting actors.

I chinned with Fritz in his basement rooms for awhile. He talked about some of the hardships he faced in the war. With what I already knew he went through, I cannot understand how he is such a gentle soul. I couldn’t be. There’s nobody else I’d rather have in the brownstone than Fritz.

There wasn’t a lot of need for Wolfe and I to talk much, so we didn’t. Nothing bad, we’re just not going out of our way to converse. There will be plenty of opportunity for that in the days ahead. At dinner, he talked about Jackie Robinson, which was a surprise. But not for what he did on the ball field, where he was a Hall of Famer. I did not know that the army tried to court martial him for not obeying a racist base bus driver. Years before Rosa Parks, Robinson refused to move to the back of the bus. I think Wolfe, knowing I already miss baseball, was being nice.

Well, two days down and I’m getting a little restless at not working on a case. I think I’ll stretch my legs tomorrow and get some fresh air.


The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes

Meet Nero Wolfe
The R-Rated Nero Wolfe
Radio & Screen Wolfe
A&E’s ‘A Nero Wolfe Mystery’
A Sidney Greenstreet Nero Wolfe Pastiche – ‘Stamped for Murder’ (The Greenstreet Chronicles)

Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone

3 Good Reasons – ‘Not Quite Dead Enough’
3 Good Reasons – ‘Murder is Corny’
The Careworn Cuff – Part One (The Greenstreet Chronicles)
The Careworn Cuff – Part Two (The Greenstreet Chronicles)
The Careworn Cuff – Part Three (The Greenstreet Chronicles)
3 Good Reasons – ‘Immune to Murder’
The Lost 1959 Pilot

Bob_Houston_HatCroppedBob Byrne’s ‘A (Black) Gat in the Hand’ was a regular Monday morning hardboiled pulp column from May through December, 2018 and again from August through December, 2019. 

His ‘The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes’ column ran every Monday morning at Black Gate  from March, 2014 through March, 2017 (still making an occasional return appearance!).

He organized ‘Hither Came Conan,’ as well as Black Gate’s award-nominated ‘Discovering Robert E. Howard’ series.

He is a member of the Praed Street Irregulars, founded (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,  V and VI.

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What a brilliant idea – writing about lockdown as experienced by somebody who refuses to leave the house anyway!

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