GUEST BLOG / A short story by Rex Stout, which originally appeared in the January 4, 1957 edition of Collier’s Magazine.
I'm SORRY, SIR,” I said. I tried to sound sorry. “But I told you two days ago, Monday, that I had a date for Friday afternoon, and you said all right. So I’ll drive you to Long Island Saturday or Sunday.” Nero Wolfe shook his head at his colleague Archie Goodwin. “That won’t do. Mr. Thompson’s ship docks Friday morning, and he will be at Mr. Hewitt’s place only until Saturday noon, when he leaves for New Orleans. As you know, he is the best hybridizer in England, and I am grateful to Mr. Hewitt for inviting me to spend a few hours with him. As I remember, the drive takes about an hour and a half, so we should leave at twelve-thirty.”
I decided to count ten, and swiveled my chair, facing my desk, so as to have privacy for it. As usual when we have no important case going, we had been getting on each other’s nerves for a week, and I admit I was a little touchy, but his taking it for granted like that was a little too much. When I had finished the count I turned my head, to where he was perched on his throne behind his desk, and darned if he hadn’t gone back to his book, making it plain that he regarded it as settled. That was much too much. I swiveled my chair to confront him.
“I really am sorry,” I said, not trying to sound sorry, “but I have to keep that date Friday afternoon. It’s a Christmas party at the office of Kurt Bottweill—you remember him, we did a job for him a few months ago, the stolen tapestries. “You may not remember a member of his staff named Margot Dickey, but I do. I have been seeing her some, and I promised her I’d go to the party. We never have a Christmas office party here. As for going to Long Island, your idea that a car is a death trap if I’m not driving it is unsound. You can take a taxi, or hire a chauffeur from the agency, or get Saul Panzer to drive you.”
Wolfe had lowered his book. “I hope to get some useful information from Mr. Thompson, and you will take notes.”
“Not if I’m not there. Hewitt’s secretary knows orchid terms as well as I do. So do you.” I admit those last three words were a bit strong, but he shouldn’t have gone back to his book.
His lips tightened. “Archie. How many times in the past year have I asked you to drive me somewhere?”
“If you call it asking, maybe eighteen or twenty.”
“Not excessive, surely. If my feeling that you alone are to be trusted at the wheel of a car is an aberration, I have it. We will leave for Mr. Hewitt’s place Friday at twelve-thirty.”
So there we were. I took a breath, but I didn’t need to count ten again. If he was to be taught a lesson, and he certainly needed one, luckily I had in my possession a document that would make it good. Reaching to my inside breast pocket, I took out a folded sheet of paper. “I didn’t intend,” I told him, “to spring this on you until tomorrow, or maybe even later, but I guess it will have to be now. Just as well, I suppose.” I left my chair, unfolded the paper, and handed it to him.
He put his book down to take it, gave it a look, shot a glance at me, looked at the paper again, and let it drop on his desk. He snorted. “Phooey. What flummery is this?”
“No flummery. As you see, it’s a marriage license for Archie Goodwin and Margot Dickey. It cost me two bucks. I could be mushy about it, but I won’t. I will only say that if I am hooked at last, it took an expert. She intends to spread the tidings at the Christmas office party, and of course I have to be there. When you announce you have caught a fish it helps to have the fish present in person. Frankly, I would prefer to drive you to Long Island, but it can’t be done.” The effect was all I could have asked.
He gazed at me through narrowed eyes long enough to count eleven, then picked up the document and gazed at it. He flicked it to the edge of the desk as if it were crawling with germs, and focused on me again. “You are deranged,” Nero said evenly and distinctly. “Sit down.”
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