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I divide the books Nero Wolfe reads into four grades: A, B, C, and D. If, when he comes down to the office from the plant rooms at six o’clock, he picks up his current book and opens to his place before he rings for beer, and if his place was marked with a thin strip of gold, five inches long and an inch wide, which was presented to him some years ago by a grateful client, the book is an A. If he picks up the book before he rings, but his place was marked with a piece of paper, it is a B. If he rings and then picks up the book, and he had dog-eared a page to mark his place, it is a C. If he waits until Fritz has brought the beer and he has poured to pick up the book, and his place was dog-eared, it’s a D. I haven’t kept score, but I would say that of the two hundred or so books he reads in a year not more than five or six get an A.
At six o’clock that Monday afternoon in May I was at my desk, checking the itemization of expenses that was to accompany the bill going to the Spooner Corporation for a job we had just finished, when the sound came of his elevator jolting to a stop and his footsteps in the hall. He entered, crossed to the oversized made-to-order chair behind his desk, sat, picked up Why the Gods Laugh, by Philip Harvey, opened to the page marked with the strip of gold, read a paragraph, and reached to the button at the edge of his desk without taking his eyes from the page. As he did so, the phone rang.
I got it. “Nero Wolfe’s residence, Archie Goodwin speaking.” Up to six o’clock I say “Nero Wolfe’s office.” After six I say “residence.”
A tired baritone said, “I’d like to speak to Mr. Wolfe. This is Philip Harvey.”
“He’ll want to know what about. If you please?”
“I’ll tell him. I’m a writer. I’m acting on behalf of the National Association of Authors and Dramatists.”
“Did you write a book called Why the Gods Laugh?”
“Hold the wire.” I covered the transmitter and turned. “If that book has any weak spots here’s your chance. The guy who wrote it wants to speak to you.”
He looked up. “Philip Harvey?”
“What does he want?”
“He says he’ll tell you. Probably to ask you what page you’re on.”
He closed the book on a finger to keep his place and took his phone. “Yes, Mr. Harvey?”
“Is this Nero Wolfe?”
“You may possibly have heard my name.”
“I want to make an appointment to consult you. I am chairman of the Joint Committee on Plagiarism of the National Association of Authors and Dramatists and the Book Publishers of America. How about tomorrow morning?”
“I know nothing about plagiarism, Mr. Harvey.”
“We’ll tell you about it. We have a problem we want you to handle. There’ll be six or seven of us, members of the committee. How about tomorrow morning?”
“I’m not a lawyer. I’m a detective.”
“I know you are. How about ten o’clock?”
Of course that wouldn’t do, since it would take more than an author, even of a book that rated an A, to break into Wolfe’s two morning hours with the orchids, from nine to eleven. Harvey finally settled for a quarter past eleven. When we hung up I asked Wolfe if I should check, and he nodded and went back to his book. I rang Lon Cohen at the Gazette and learned that the National Association of Authors and Dramatists was it. All the dramatists anyone had ever heard of were members, and most of the authors, the chief exceptions being some scattered specimens who hadn’t decided if they cared to associate with the human race—or had decided that they didn’t. The Book Publishers of America was also it, a national organization of all the major firms and many of the minor ones. I passed the information along to Wolfe, but I wasn’t sure he listened. He was reading.
That evening around midnight, when I got home after taking a friend to a show, A Barrel of Love, by Mortimer Oshin, Wolfe had just finished his book and was making room for it on one of the shelves over by the big globe. As I tried the door of the safe I spoke.
“Why not leave it on your desk?”
He grunted. “Mr. Harvey’s self-esteem needs no sop. If he were not so skillful a writer he would be insufferable. Why curry him?”
Before I went up two flights to my room I looked up “curry” in the dictionary. Check. I won’t live long enough to see the day when Wolfe curries anybody including me.