So, last year, as the Pandemic settled in like an unwanted relative who just came for a week and is still tying up the bathroom, I did a series of posts for the FB Page of the Nero Wolfe fan club, The Wolfe Pack. I speculated on what Stay at Home would be like for Archie, living in the Brownstone with Nero Wolfe, Fritz Brenner, and Theodore Hortsmann. I have already reposted days one through fifteen. Here are days sixteen (April 6) and seventeen (April 7). It helps if you read the series in order, so I’ve included links to the earlier entries. I enjoy channeling Archie more than any other writing which I do.
DAY SIXTEEN– 2020 Stay at Home
Wolfe came down from the plant rooms at the usual time Monday morning, preceded by the sounds of the elevator straining under his one-seventh of a ton. As always, he glanced at me as he walked to his desk, fresh orchid in hand. “Good morning-” He stopped. “WHAT is that?”
I intentionally muffled my voice. “It’s a mask.”
He continued to his desk, placed the orchid in the vase and sat down. “I know it is a mask. What is this flummery?”
I spoke normally. “Flummery? No, sir. You are one of the most atypical human beings on the planet. How do I know you’re not also asymptomatic as well? We spend hours across from each other, here and in the dining room.”
He frowned at me.
“You know, I was on the fence about this thing. It certainly detracts from my charming good looks. Not that anybody is really seeing them nowadays. But then I saw that our very own President, immediately after saying that his administration recommended wearing them, said he wasn’t going to do so himself, without anything resembling a valid reason. That was all I needed, so I voted yes.”
“Perhaps you could find one that mutes you as well.”
I gave him a sarcastic grin, which I then realized was completely wasted under the mask. I sat quietly after that, working on some germination records, and then reading the paper. Wolfe couldn’t seem to get comfortable in his chair, and he snuck glances at me, which I ignored, every so often. He could not get past the mask. Frankly, I was getting a little tired of just sitting there wearing it. But I wasn’t about to take it off.
He finally snorted in disgust, got up, and left the room. I rarely made Wolfe skedaddle. I heard the elevator, so he had retreated to his room. When I was sure that he wasn’t just generating steam for a few minutes, I unmasked. I only intended to wear it when I went out in public, which was the recommendation. But I’d certainly gotten my money’s worth out of it already.
I left him alone in the office after lunch and went for a walk. I’d already purposely annoyed him enough for one day. If I went on aggravating him, he would become unbearable. And I’d already gotten a win for today.
Of course, that was the highlight of the day. Nothing much else to relate. Fritz wasn’t in the mood for a movie, which was okay, because I wasn’t, either. I sat on the stoop for a while and talked to Lily on the phone. There were a lot of stars and no people around. It wasn’t a bad way to spend the evening.
DAY SEVENTEEN – 2020 Stay at Home
I can’t give you a definite reason why, but Fritz makes the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had. And it’s perfect every time. I finished my second after-dinner cup and looked at the bank statement sitting on my desk. It didn’t look any better printed out that it had on my computer screen. It showed all of the transactions since March 1st. Of course, the last few weeks, they were debits. You might suppose that with most of America quarantined and no clients visiting our doorstep, the head of the firm might cut down on unnecessary expenses. You might suppose wrong.
Nero Wolfe was at his desk reading Mark Cuban’s book on business. That reminds me: I still need to write about Wolfe’s one experience watching Shark Tank. There won’t be a repeat viewing.
“I said, ‘Ahem.’”
He put the book face-down on his desk, open. That told me it wouldn’t be going on the shelves when he finished it. “You wish to say something, Archie?”
“How perceptive of you. You observed a clue, then made an accurate deduction, based on said clue.”
“Must you be so, yourself? I look forward to the end of this state of siege. Anyone who believes that I have not suffered has never spent any amount of time closeted with you. Even Miss Rowan has remained clear-headed enough to avoid entering into a state of matrimony with you.”
I’d attribute such snarkiness to our extended time together due to the Stay at Home order, but this was just his normal churlishness. I learned that word from him. Which was fitting, since it often applies to him.
“Yes, you are truly an inspiration to us all in these trying times. A real American hero. But we need to discuss the bank balance.”
“No, not at all. Not even ‘Phoo.’ We haven’t had a client in about a month. In that time, we did receive a few checks in payment of service satisfactorily completed beforehand, but the revenue stream has dried up.”
He closed his book, not using a bookmark. It wasn’t a keeper. He leaned back and closed his eyes. He knew I meant for us to have a talk.
“That is not to say, however, that there has not been activity. The outgoing side has plenty of entries.”
“Really, Archie. Should we stop buying food? Turn off the electricity and the phones?”
What a ham. “Knock it off. That’s not what I’m talking about and you know it. You’re spending money like it’s business as usual. Meaning, this business has clients, is solving cases for them, and then is collecting money from them.”
“And how many clients have called us in the last three weeks?”
I was getting warm. “Nuts. I’m talking about expenses, not revenues, which you are very well aware of.” I looked down at the statement. “That soil you had to have, all the way from Chile, cost $6,000. You bought an orchid from Malaysia for $35,000. I don’t even want to know how you managed to get it shipped here. You probably called General Carpenter.”
The corners of his mouth twisted up a quarter of an inch, which was a smile for him.
“We WERE in okay shape before they basically closed down the state.” I shook the paper at him. “But I do the books around here, and I’m pretty good at it. You keep spending like this and you’re going to have to sell some stocks. And they’re going for cents on the dollar most days. You should avoid that.”
He opened his eyes. “Suggestions?”
“Suggestions? You want suggestions? All right. Cut out the non-essential spending for a month or two. When we’re open for business and your genius is making money again, you can go back to buying whatever you want.”
I glared at him, and then took a deep breath. “Or limit it to one unneeded luxury every three or four weeks. It wouldn’t be so bad if everything you bought wasn’t expensive.”
His silent stare said, “And?”
“Fritz will keep the food coming. You know that he’s a wizard. The postal service and the utilities are on the job. We’re even still getting newspapers delivered, though you could read them online in a pinch.”
He snorted in disgust.
“Look. I know you like to just ignore unpleasant things. And more often than not, that works for you. But the whole world is struggling with this pandemic. In a lot of different ways. Yours happens to be no fees coming in. It helps that there’s no mortgage on this place. But you just need to rein in the extravagant spending while this thing plays out. My guess is we may have some clients come calling in
“I know that’s two months away. But the next time we have this talk, you’ll do most of the talking, because you’re going to be telling me what to sell. I’d rather not have that discussion at all.”
He eyed me levelly and I gave him my Grade A ‘I mean it’ look. “One of my key duties here is badgering you into working when our cash is low. Am I badgering you about working right now?”
He didn’t have a leg to stand on, and he knew it. “No, you are not.”
“So take it to heart that I’m worried about the bank account. Slow down on the non-essential spending for a while. Please.”
He sat up, took in about a half a bushel of air, and let it back out. “Very well. I concede that you are not merely trying to irritate me. It is true that we have no clients. In light of current circumstances, I shall exercise prudence and restraint for some time.”
I took a deep breath and let out a big exhale of relief. There wasn’t much wiggle room in this topic. And with our enforced living situation, it could turn into a very ugly issue. “Good. I’ll come up with a list of adjustments we could make to help.”
“Yes, do so.” He pressed the buzzer under his desk, telling Fritz to bring him beer. “I shall also think of some reductions.” There was just a hint of something in that, but I let it go.
Over 700 people died yesterday here in New York City. Only five places in the world had more deaths than we’ve had here in the City, and those were entire countries. Fritz only goes out for supplies once a week now. And if he can get by with just deliveries, and stretching what we’ve already got, he skips the trip entirely. Other than my much-needed walks, I have limited my excursions. We can dot every I and cross every T here at the brownstone, but that doesn’t protect us from careless people out there. I like my fellow man – and woman – more than Wolfe does. But I wouldn’t bet my life on all of them. I heard Ohio’s Doctor Amy Acton call it a pernicious disease. I liked that. I think Wolfe would approve of the term, too.
Theodore joined us for dinner. Believe it or not, I suggested it to Wolfe. I know that he’s having a tough time not being able to visit his sister. And I’d never really thought about Wolfe unloading on him, like I caught him doing the other day. I’m a lot better equipped to take that than Horstmann is.
He seemed a little uncomfortable at first, but then he started enjoying it. Fritz made a lobster gumbo that I believe is his own recipe. And his home-made cornbread could be a meal to itself. Same with the blueberry cobbler we had for dessert. I don’t spend much time with Theodore, and little of that outside of the plant rooms. I have to say, he looked happy. Wolfe’s dinner conversation was about the evolution of Indian tribes in the west from a hunting/gathering culture to an agricultural one. It was probably one of the highlights of Theodore’s time living here.
Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: Stay at Home – Days 1 and 2
Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: Stay at Home- Days 3 and 4
Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: Stay at Home- Days 5, 6, and 7
Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: Stay at Home- Days 8, 9, and 10
Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: Stay at Home- Days 11, 12, and 13
Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone:
3 Good Reasons
The Greenstreet Chronicles (Pastiches based on the Radio Show)
Bob Byrne’s ‘A (Black) Gat in the Hand’ made it’s Black Gate debut in the summer of 2018 and returned in 2019 and 2020. Bet on a 2021 sighting.
His ‘The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes’ column ran every Monday morning at Black Gate from March, 2014 through March, 2017. And he irregularly posts on Rex Stout’s gargantuan detective in ‘Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone.’
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 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, V, VI and XXI.
He has written introductions for Steeger Books, and appeared in several magazines, including Black Mask, Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, The Strand Magazine, and Sherlock Magazine.