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 Horstmann. I have already re-posted days one through thirty. Here is thirty six (April 26). It helps if you read the series in order, so I’ve included links to the earlier entries.
Day Thirty Six – 2020 Stay at Home
Theodore took a cab to do some grocery shopping for his sister. I told Fritz to make sure he took a long shower when he got back, and to not touch anything, or spread his clothes around. We didn’t need him bringing anything into the house from his day out.
The Giants chose a tackle in the third round, on day two of the draft. After taking a tackle in the first round (with the fourth overall pick). That team makes me shake my head from the draft through the final game. Said final game rarely taking place in the playoffs.
After lunch, I asked Wolfe if he wanted to play pool. He ignored me.
Fritz didn’t go out today, so we played a few games of Yahtzee in the front room. His accent is almost adorable when he says ‘Yaht-zeeeee!’
Gloria Kent called to see how I was doing. We had gone out a few times after that affair with her father’s treasure map, and she had moved to Philadelphia to become a nurse. She was exhausted but healthy. She was working double shifts and making sure she didn’t come catch the virus. We didn’t talk too long, but it was nice. For those of you who never read about how Miss Kent became our client, let me tell you.
As usual, Nero Wolfe had been spending money like Fritz had a printing press in his basement room, and I was explaining to my employer that money was, in fact, limited. Very limited. And we reached this point:
I eyed him sternly. “You’ve just 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 for 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 and before he could hurl an accusation, I rose and went to the front door, waving Fritz back into the kitchen. Looking through the one-way glass, I saw a woman and a man, neither of them familiar, on the steps. I pulled the door open and she spoke before I could greet them.
“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.
“And so you are. Who’s the escort?”
He was a mousy little guy with sloped shoulders, a wispy moustache, and thin hair that would probably be completely gone before too long.
His voice matched his looks. “I’m Gerald Rodman. I had some information that helped Miss Kent with her…difficulty.” She nodded in agreement, so I let them in. I took their coats and stepped ahead of them into the office.
Wolfe looked up as I ushered Miss Kent to the red leather chair. Rodman took the yellow one 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 instead 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. I certainly 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.”
“Yes. Handling young women is your specialty. Or rather, your Achilles heel. Would that Paris was here with his bow. Suppose you let Miss Kent handle me and be quiet?” 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 fortunes 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 he has.” 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 have 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.” Wolfe did not deliver it as a question.
“I am 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 it’s all lies. Even Mister Rodman can’t.” There was no doubt that the floodgates were about to open. She had held off as long as she could.
“No Miss Kent. I’m sorry, this is not for me.” Brusque didn’t even begin to cover his tone.
“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. 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 disgraceful exhibition, show them out.” His voice trailed off as he went to the kitchen.
The pint-sized knight jumped out of his chair and yelled – well, for him – after Wolfe, “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 just curious about what Fritz is making for lunch. Now, just wait a minute. 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 julienning carrots.
“If that doesn’t that beat all. Aren’t you ashamed of yourself, walking out on her like that?”
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. I need to do so in order to pay your exorbitant salary. How do you propose she pay for our services?”
I made a mental note to discuss that blatant misstatement about my salary.
“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. You are far too predictable, Archie.”
I stood there silently while Fritz continued with the knife work.
“Oh, very well. Go back in there. Get names, addresses, facts. However, I am not committed to Miss Kent’s case.”
I turned and hurried out before he changed his mind, but I still heard his parting shot.
“I must pay the price for your weakness for a pretty face. Pfui.”
The map was a fake: but something else associated with the case wasn’t. And it was valuable enough to kill for.
Stay at Home
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: Stay at Home Days 14 and 15
Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: Stay at Home Days 16 and 17
Nero Wolfe’s Browsnstone: Stay at Home – Days 18 and 19
Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: Stay at Home – Days 20 and 21
Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: Stay at Home – Days 22 and 23
Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: Stay at Home – Days 24 and 25
Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: Stay at Home – Day 26
Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: Stay at Home – Day 27
Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: Stay at Home – Days 28 and 29
Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: Stay at Home – Day 30
Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: Stay at Home – Day 31
Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: Stay at Home – Days 32 and 33
Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: Stay at Home – Days 34 and 35
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 will be back yet again in 2022.
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 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 organized Black Gate’s award-nominated ‘Discovering Robert E. Howard’ series, as well as the award-winning ‘Hither Came Conan’ series.
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.