Been writing and reading a lot of Nero Wolfe lately (when I’m not re-watching Columbo before bed).
Just to channel Archie, I like to have favorite detectives visit Wolfe’s office. For some fun, I’m well over 5,000 words into a story with Groucho (Rufus Flywheel) and Chico on a case with Archie (and Wolfe) at The Big Store. I’ve tinkered with Dirk Gently (my favorite Douglas Adams character) using Zen navigation and Archie confronting him in front of the Brownstone.
I have toyed with a solo Poirot adventure, based on a non-Poirot story written by Agatha Christie. My Poirot is very much David Suchet’s portrayal, and it’s fun to write.
So, I had Poirot visit the Brownstone. I may add a scene during lunch, with them talking about another subject; the conversation mildly annoying Archie. That could be fun.
The fussy little Belgian was so far forward in the red chair that it barely qualified as sitting. His back was perfectly straight, and there couldn’t have been a centimeter of space between his shoes. I had never seen a man take off a pair of gloves so deliberately. I don’t know how he could possibly be comfortable, but he didn’t seem to be bothered at all. It’s as if that were the only natural way to sit. And I’m telling you, it definitely wasn’t natural.
I had received a call three weeks before from a Captain Arthur Hastings, in London. Wolfe had used a competent operative named Ethelbert Hitchcock over there. And I’m not making that first name up. I started calling him Geoffrey to keep from laughing as I typed these little accounts. I don’t think he’d mind too much.
But I didn’t know any Hastings. He said that we were actually kindred spirits, in that he also assisted one of the greatest detectives in the world. He chuckled, “Or so he tells people.” His employer, Hercule Poirot, was going to be in New York City and had heard about Nero Wolfe’s orchids, and also about his excellent meals. Would it be all right if Mister Poirot visited Mister Wolfe while he was there?
Wolfe had heard of Poirot and had me tell Hastings that certainly, he could come and dine with us. And of course, he could see the orchids. I duly passed on the information, asking if Hastings himself would be coming as well.
“No, no. I’ve got a golf tournament, old sport. My drive is spot on lately, though I need to work on my chip shots. I seem to have trouble…” He went on for another two minutes before I got him to stop talking about his golf game. I never saw the point in the sport. And listening to some foreigner talk about it was even less interesting.
“Oh, by the way, I read your account of that fer-de-lance thing. Using a golf club to inject a poison needle into a man. Ghastly. Just ghastly.”
I agreed that the Marquess of Queensbury wouldn’t approve, and he made the appointment for Hercule Poirot to join us. I wished him luck with his tournament and hung up before he could start on it again.
And now, a short, impeccably dressed man with a head shaped like an egg was in the office, talking with Wolfe. And don’t think I’m exaggerating the egg aspect. It wouldn’t surprise me if eagles tried to sit on his head.
When I offered a drink, he asked for tisane. I looked at Wolfe with raised brows. He nodded a third of an inch, which meant that Fritz would know. Good thing, since I sure didn’t. Turns out it’s a kind of herbal tea. Sort of. Fritz’ Swiss upbringing comes in handy sometimes. And he had far more cookbooks in the basement than the New York City Library had on the shelves. He began preparing a cup while I went back into the office. If I were betting Saul Panzer on what this Poirot drank at a bar, my money would be on something like a crème de menthe. Arriving back in the office, our guest had not relaxed at all. Or maybe this was him relaxed. He certainly hadn’t loosened up in the chair.
I am not going to try and write the way he spoke. Whatever difference there is between French and Belgian accents, I didn’t hear it. So just make him sound French as you read this.
“I have read accounts of your wonderful crime solving, Monsieur Wolfe. Like me, you rely on the little gray cells. The running around, the crawling on the ground, the analyzing shades of mud on shoes; no no, that is not for you.”
It is quite possible that Poirot was every bit as good a detective as Wolfe. But I don’t think the two were wired the same way. So while Wolfe surely understood what the man was saying, he had to process what he meant.
“Indeed, no. Unnecessary physical exertion is a waste of energy. The mind merely needs facts, data, information. And if one is intelligent enough, and has enough intrinsic ability, they lead inevitably to the proper solution.”
I interjected from my desk, “Sure. But somebody has to get you all those facts and bits of information. Somebody has to do the actual work.”
Poirot turned to me and smiled. He spoke softly, but clearly. “Oui, monsieur. Exactement. Even the greatest detective must have an associate of energy and resolution, to help in solving the case. I have Captain Hastings. Mister Wolfe has you.”
He was certainly nicer about that point than Wolfe ever was. He continued on.
“A man who drives the automobile.” A doubtful look came over his face. “Though in that regard, Captain Hastings, he could take some lessons. Always with the speed, and the hitting of the bumps in the road.” He shook his head in disapproval.
“Indeed. I share your pain, sir.” I ignored him.
“Yes, yes, the gathering of the data has its uses. But walking through a muddy field, staining the shoes; no, no, that does not take genius.”
I started to understand why this Hastings fellow liked to get out on the golf course. Without his employer.
“The malefactor must be outwitted, is it not so, monsieur Wolfe?”
“Certainly.” Wolfe wasn’t wasting too much energy on speaking so far. I suspect he found the man to be something of an agreeable popinjay, but seemed to not find him bothersome. Good manners and civility go a long with Wolfe.
“That is a lovely orchid you have on your desk.”
Wolfe beamed. He referred the 10,000 orchids up on the roof as his concubines, and grumbled at their care and cost. But his vanity loved to have them complimented by others. “Thank you, sir. It is a dendrobium of my own cultivation. The only three plants in the world of this specific shade of orange are upstairs in my plant rooms.”
No peacock ever preened more. Though Poirot could probably give him a run for it.
Wolfe returned the compliment. “I see that your brooch is the image of a vase with a cut flower. A fine choice.”
He looked down and gently rubbed it between finger and thumb. A soft look came over his face. “Oui. It is a tussie mussie. How you say, posey? It was given to me by a very dear friend long ago.”
It didn’t take a world-class detective to know that was some kind of friend. And one that was part of the past, not the present.
“It is quite comely, sir.”
“I thank you.”
It wasn’t long before Fritz came to the door to announce lunch. The two detectives engaged in a detailed discussion of chocolates, including more than you ever wanted to know about cocoa beans. I’ve certainly forgotten nearly all of it. Afterwards, our guest spent three hours in the plant rooms, Wolfe forgoing part of his daily 4-6 session of ‘working’ with the orchids. It was obvious that Poirot took a real delight in them, and Wolfe certainly enjoyed showing them off.
I think that Wolfe would gladly have had our guest stay for dinner and more conversation, but the man had other things to attend to. He did tell Wolfe and I that if we were ever in London, to look him up. I assured him that if Nero Wolfe traveled to England, he would visit. I even managed it with a straight face.
However, when I chanced to be over there some years later, I did call upon Hercule Poirot at his apartment, where I got to meet Captain Hastings. Fortunately, his golf fad had passed and I wasn’t dragged out onto the links, or whatever it is they call courses over there.
And I wasn’t exactly dragged into helping the two men solve a mystery that had clearly baffled what I believe is called the local constabulary, and a decent enough chap named Japp. Poetic, eh? Maybe I’ll put that one through the typewriter some day. Although, Wolfe might not care to read an account of a detective as good as he is. At least as good.
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: Stay at Home – Day 36
Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: Stay at Home – Day 37
Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: Stay at Home – Day 38
Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: Stay at Home – Day 39
Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: Stay at Home – Days 40 & 41
Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: Stay at Home – Days 42 & 43
Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: Stay at Home – Days 45 & 46
Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: Stay at Home – Days 50 and 52
Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: Stay at Home – Day 55
Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone
Meet Nero Wolfe
The R-Rated Nero Wolfe
Radio & Screen Wolfe
A&E’s ‘A Nero Wolfe Mystery’
The Lost 1959 Pilot
The Mets in “Please Pass the Guilt”
A Matter of Identity (original story)
Death of a Doxy; and Koufax or Mays?
3 Good Reasons
The Greenstreet Chronicles (Pastiches based on the Radio Show)
Bob Byrne’s ‘A (Black) Gat in the Hand’ made its Black Gate debut in 2018 and has returned every summer since.
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.