Not Quite Dead Enough. | Chapter 23 of 30 - Part: 1 of 4

Author: Rex Stout | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 2955 Views | Add a Review

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Chapter 5

About ten years ago a guy named Hallowell showed up at the office one evening with a canvas zipper bag containing a hundred and fifty thousand simoleons in fifties and centuries, with which he intended to short-circuit an electric current of two thousand volts which Wolfe was arranging for him to take sitting down, but that was only chicken feed compared to this. And, considering the secluded nature of the transaction, no income tax. A million dollars would buy four million bottles of the best beer.

Wolfe was leaning back in his chair, his eyes closed, his lips pushing out and in, out and in again. I was gazing straight at Bruce’s face, impersonally, pondering the soundness of her assumption that Wolfe was worth a hundred times as much as me.

“I shouldn’t think,” the lovely innocent creature said in a matter-of-fact tone, “you would want to waste time on trivialities. Major Goodwin’s guess happens to be correct—I typed that poem on my portable, from a book I had borrowed, because I liked it. And I suppose—Would you care to tell me what you were comparing it with?”

Wolfe muttered, without opening his eyes, “A letter Mr. Shattuck received.”

She nodded. “Yes, that was typed on the same machine. And over thirty letters just like it, to different people in key positions. As you have doubtless already discovered, this affair is extremely complicated. It goes high, and it spreads wide. It really isn’t worthy of you, Mr. Wolfe, to be wasting your talents on little details like that letter and Colonel Ryder’s suitcase. We have been intending for some time to have a talk with you, awaiting the proper moment—and now of course you’ve forced us, with this suitcase business. We realize it will be very difficult to arrange. There will have to be mutual guarantees. Commitments of a kind that will make reconsideration impossible on either side. We’re ready to discuss it whenever you are.”

Wolfe’s eyelids raised enough to show slits. “I like your dismissing the suitcase as a triviality, Miss Bruce. But if that’s your whim—I suppose it would be futile for me to question you about it, or about this letter?”

“Such a waste of time,” she protested.

“I presume it would be,” he agreed. “But the suitcase is in my possession, and you admit that’s what forced your hand. As for your offer to hire me, the difficulties seem almost insurmountable. For instance, you speak of ‘we.’ Much too vague, that is. I could discuss such a matter only with the principals, and how can they be disclosed to me, with the risk that as soon as I learn their identity I’ll betray them?”

She shook her head, frowning at him. “You don’t understand, Mr. Wolfe. The principals, as you call them, are above any risk of betrayal. As I said, this goes high. But even so, we have to use discretion, because we don’t want—”

The phone ringing interrupted her. I got it at my desk, and was informed that Washington was calling Nero Wolfe. I asked who was calling, and after a wait was told General Carpenter. I said to hold the wire, scribbled Gen. Carp. on my pad, and got up to hand it to Wolfe.

After a glance he turned it face down on his desk, and said politely to Bruce, “Mr. Goodwin will take you up and show you the orchids.”

“If it’s Lieutenant Lawson—” she began.

“Come on,” I told her, “maybe you can worm it out of me.”

It was hot in the plant rooms. I was sweating and she was a little flushed from the climb. Horstmann came trotting out, and I explained I was showing a guest around. I told her it was a little cooler in the potting-room, but she said no, she wanted to look at the plants, so I decided the best way to keep my mind off of the pleasing possibility of wringing her neck was to tell her the Latin names of the orchids. I did state that I would personally prefer to go to the potting-room, but couldn’t, because if I left her alone she would swipe some of the plants to bribe people with. She flashed an appreciative glance at me and made her little noise, half gurgle and half chuckle, as if she did so enjoy my amusing remarks.

We were in the third room, where the germinating flasks were, when I heard the phone ringing in the potting-room, and went there to get it. I told it, “Goodwin speaking.”

Wolfe’s voice said, “Send Miss Bruce down here.”

“You mean bring her down?”

“No. You are under the handicap of having sworn your oath as an officer in the Army. I am not. This may turn out to be a little delicate. I’d better talk with her privately.”

Something more for me not to know. I sure was on the inside. I went and passed the word to Bruce and opened the doors for her through to the stairs. She descended. Going down one flight to my room, I couldn’t see anything to interfere with rinsing the figure, so I stripped and stepped into the shower. Ordinarily I find that a good environment for sorting out my mind and fitting pieces together, but since in this case I was being stiff-armed clear off the field into the bleachers, I left the brain at ease and had a good time admiring my muscles and the hair on my chest. I was tying my good shoe laces when Fritz called up to say dinner was ready.

When I got downstairs, Wolfe was standing in the hall just outside the dining-room door. He waited till I approached, then turned and entered. We sat at the table.

“No company?” I inquired courteously. “Our new employer?”

“Miss Bruce went,” he said.

Fritz came in with an earthenware pot on a serving platter, deposited it on the table in front of Wolfe, and lifted the lid. Steam and smell emerged and floated with the currents of air. Wolfe sniffed, leaned forward and sniffed again.

“Creole tripe,” he said, “without the salt pork and pigs’ feet. I’m anxious to see what you think.” He inserted a serving spoon, releasing a fresh spurt of steam.

We had got started late, so it was along toward ten o’clock when we finished with coffee and went to the office. The stuff from the carton that I had piled on my desk was gone, and so was the carton. The map of Russia had been put away. The suitcase was still there on the chair. Instructed by Wolfe to put it in a safe place, I locked it in the closet, since it was too big for the safe. Wolfe was in his chair behind his desk, leaning back with his finger tips meeting at the spot where the ends of no one-yard tape measure would ever meet again. A book he was reading, Under Cover, by John Roy Carlson, was there on his desk, but he hadn’t picked it up. I took a seat at my own desk and spoke.

“I’d hate to spoil anybody’s fun,” I said, “and I don’t like to intrude a personal note, but it occurred to me some time ago that if Lawson is on the square and reports to his superiors that I called on Sergeant Bruce and kidnapped that carton, there’ll be hell to pay.”

Wolfe sighed. “You caught him hiding in a closet.”


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Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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