Introduction by John Lutz
“It is always a treat to read a Nero Wolfe mystery. The man has entered our folklore.”—The New York Times Book Review
A grand master of the form, Rex Stout is one of America’s greatest mystery writers, and his literary creation Nero Wolfe is one of the greatest fictional detectives of all time. Together, Stout and Wolfe have entertained—and puzzled—millions of mystery fans around the world. Now, with his perambulatory man-about-town, Archie Goodwin, the arrogant, gourmandizing, sedentary sleuth is back in the original seventy-three cases of crime and detection written by the inimitable master himself, Rex Stout.
About the Author
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NOT QUITE DEAD ENOUGH
We swooped down and hit the concrete alongside the Potomac at 1:20 p.m. on a raw Monday in early March.
I didn’t know whether I would be staying in Washington or hopping a plane for Detroit or Africa, so I checked my bags at the parcel room at the airport and went out front and flagged a taxi. For twenty minutes I sat back and watched the driver fight his way through two million government employees, in uniforms and in civies, on wheels and on foot, and for another twenty minutes, after entering a building, I showed credentials and waited and let myself be led through corridors, and finally was ushered into a big room with a big desk.
It was the first time I had ever seen the top mackaroo of United States Army Intelligence. He was in uniform and had two chins and a pair of eyes that wasted neither time nor space. I was perfectly willing to shake hands, but he just said to sit down, glanced at a paper on top of a pile and told me in a dry brittle voice that my name was Archie Goodwin.
I nodded noncommittally. For all I knew, it was a military secret.
He inquired acidly, “What the hell is the matter with Nero Wolfe?”
“Search me, sir. Why, is he sick?”
“You worked for him for ten years. As his chief assistant in the detective business. Didn’t you?”
“All of that. Yes, sir. But I never found out what was the matter with him. However, if you want some good guesses—”
“You seem to have done pretty well with that mess down in Georgia, Major Goodwin.”
“Much obliged, sir. Speaking of Nero Wolfe—”
“I am about to.” He shoved the papers aside. “That’s why I sent for you. Is he crazy?”
“That’s one theory.” I looked judicious and crossed my legs, remembered who I was now, and uncrossed them. “He’s a great man, I grant that, but you know what it was that made the Australian wild dog so wild. Assistant is not the word for it. I was a combination accelerator and brake. I may mention that my pay was roughly three times what it is at the moment. Of course if I were made a colonel—”
“How long have you been a major?”
He pronounced a certain word, just one word, very snappy.
“Yes, sir,” I said.
He nodded curtly, to signify that that was settled for good, and went on. “We need Nero Wolfe. Not necessarily in uniform, but we need him. I don’t know whether he deserves his reputation—”
“He does,” I declared. “I hate to admit it, but he does.”
“Very well. That seems to be the prevailing opinion. And we need him, and we’ve tried to get him. He has been seen by Captain Cross and by Colonel Ryder, and he refused to call on General Fife. I have a report here—”
“They handled him wrong.” I grinned. “He wouldn’t call on the King of China even if there was one. I doubt if he’s been outdoors since I left, two months ago. The only thing he has got is brains, and the only way to go is to take things to him: facts, problems, people—”
The mackaroo was shaking his head impatiently. “We tried to. Colonel Ryder went to try to get him to work on a certain matter of great importance, and he flatly refused. He’s no fascist or appeaser, according to his record. What’s wrong with him?”
“Nothing sir. Nothing like that. He’s probably in a bad mood. His moods never are anything to brag about, and of course he’s dejected because I’m not there. But the main thing is they don’t know how to handle him.”
“Do you know how to handle him?”
“Then go and do it. We want him on a day basis under Schedule 34H. We want him immediately and urgently on a matter that Colonel Ryder went to him about. Nobody has even been able to make a start on it. How long will it take you?”
“I couldn’t say. It all depends.” I stood up with my heels together. “An hour, a day, a week, two weeks. I’ll have to live in his house with him as I always did. The best time to work on him is late at night.”
“Very well. On your arrival, report to Colonel Ryder at Governor’s Island by telephone, report progress to him, and tell him when you are ready for him to see Mr. Wolfe.” He got up and offered me a hand, and I took it. “And don’t waste any time.”
In another room downstairs I found they had got me a priority for a seat on the three o’clock plane for New York, and a taxi got me to the airport just in time to weigh my luggage through and make a run for it.