The Last Coincidenceby Robert Goldsborough
After the heir to a frozen-food fortune gets iced, Wolfe's right-hand man, Archie Goodwin, becomes a suspect.
When Lily Rowan doesn't laugh at his jokes, Archie Goodwin knows something is wrong. Her niece Noreen has been running around with Sparky Linville, a club-hopping bad boy who is the terror of Manhattan nightlife. And the last time she went/p>/b>
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After the heir to a frozen-food fortune gets iced, Wolfe's right-hand man, Archie Goodwin, becomes a suspect.
When Lily Rowan doesn't laugh at his jokes, Archie Goodwin knows something is wrong. Her niece Noreen has been running around with Sparky Linville, a club-hopping bad boy who is the terror of Manhattan nightlife. And the last time she went out with him, Noreen wasn't herself when she came home. All she would tell her aunt was that she had been assaulted.
Springing into action, Goodwin waits for Linville outside of Morgana's, a chrome-and-glass palace that sits like a wart on Second Avenue. They nearly come to blows, but Linville's bodyguard intervenes, and Goodwin retreats to plan his next move. In the morning Linville is dead, and Goodwin is the chief suspect. For years he has helped rotund genius Nero Wolfe out of jams, and now it is time for the master detective to return the favor.
“Fans of that fat genius, Nero Wolfe, and his indomitable sidekick, Archie Goodwin, will be gratified by this stylish revival.” —Publishers Weekly
“Robert Goldsborough brings Nero Wolfe, late of Rex Stout, gloriously back to life.” —Chicago
“Goldsborough does a masterly job with the Wolfe legacy.” —Booklist
Read an Excerpt
The Last Coincidence
A Nero Wolfe Mystery
By Robert Goldsborough
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1989 Robert Goldsborough
All rights reserved.
Okay, so the times called it the best Broadway musical of the year; this wasn't the first instance where that esteemed journal and I found ourselves on opposite sides of the fence. I had gone only because Lily Rowan was aching to see the show, and as it turned out, she didn't enjoy it all that much either.
The way Lily was acting that night, though, she probably wouldn't have enjoyed Caruso at his peak. She'd been uncharacteristically quiet all through a superb dinner at Rusterman's—we each had the trout Montbarry that Nero Wolfe introduced to the menu years ago when he was overseer of the restaurant following his old friend Marko Vukcic's death. And even during what I thought were the show's few good moments, the best she could generate was halfhearted applause or a weak chuckle. She never even gave my ribs a gentle jab with her elbow, which is one of her trademarks when she's having fun at the theater.
"At the risk of stating the obvious, you're a long way from the vivacious and scintillating companion I have grown to respect, revere, and, yea, even adore," I told her in the taxi headed for her apartment on East Sixty-third just off Park. The response I got was a faint smile.
"Oh ... I know, Archie, I'm out of sorts. I was hoping the show would jolt me out of it—no such luck. Sorry."
"Whoa, you don't have to apologize to me, of all people. Think of the many times when I've been preoccupied because of some case the Great Man and I were buffaloed by. Do you want to talk about it?"
She screwed up her face and shrugged. "No, I ... Oh, why not, for Lord's sake? Come on up for a nightcap."
I paid the driver and we breezed into the lobby of Lily's building, which looks like it was furnished by somebody with a brother who owned a white-marble quarry. The hallman, who's been working there for all of a hundred years, gave his usual salute and his usual "'Evenin', Miz Rowan ... 'evenin', Mr. Goodwin," making a big flourish out of running over and punching the elevator button for us. A clear-cut example of Lily's lavish Christmas tip paying off.
As many times as I've been in Lily's palace, I still find myself gawking like a rube at the artwork and the rest of the decor. Lily Rowan and I are what the gossip columnists would probably term "old friends," which is true as far as it goes. The fact is, we are old friends, although that's never stopped either of us from enjoying the company of other members of the opposite sex. If you're looking for any more details about our relationship, you've come to the wrong place. And if you think she'll give you any more details than I will, forget it.
Anyway, to get back to Lily: Her late father ventured over from Ireland long before I'd left Ohio in search of fame and fortune in Manhattan, and he quickly got himself involved in both Tammany Hall—that's the old Democratic organization—and the construction business. As I've pieced it together from Lily and from Lon Cohen of the Gazette, Rowan made a mint building sewers in New York. A sizable chunk of that fortune dropped on Lily, who has shown she knows how to use it. A few examples are her weekend hideaway up in Katonah, her ranch in Montana, and some pricey pieces of French Impressionist art in her New York apartment. To give you an idea what I mean, before I knew Lily, names like Monet, Renoir, and Cézanne meant about as much to me as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
One more thing: Despite Lily Rowan's money, however much that is, when she's out with me, I pay. Just so that's on the record.
I got myself settled on one of the three white couches in her living room with the Scotch and water I'd mixed at the bar in the corner of the room, while Lily sat opposite me, tucked her luscious legs under her, and took a deep breath, contemplating her own Scotch. Then she looked up with those dark blue eyes.
"Escamillo," she said, using a nickname that dated to when she watched me make the acquaintance of a bull in a pasture, "I need to talk to somebody—you, really—but it means breaking a confidence."
"That's got to be your call, but I think you know that I'm walking around with a lot of secrets that never got any further than here." I tapped the side of my head.
"I know, and I can't tell you why I'm hesitating except that this involves Noreen."
Lily nodded, chewing on her lower lip. Noreen James is the daughter of Lily's half-sister, Megan James. I'd only met her a few times, but that was enough for me to form a very positive impression of the young woman, who was now a couple of years out of college.
"Drugs?" I asked.
"No—at least not that I'm aware of. Please let me ... go slowly with this," she said, stopping to take a healthy swallow of her drink. She contemplated the Renoir on the opposite wall before going on. "I think you know Noreen and I are pretty close. For one thing, she's nicer by miles than her mother, but then, you're well aware of how I feel about her."
I am indeed. Lily and her somewhat-older half-sister have never made a pretense of relishing each other's company, and it's easy to see why. While Lily is outgoing, free-spirited, flip, irreverent, and—by her own admission—lazy, Megan is brittle, tense, bustling, and generally disapproving of others. I have been around the lady just enough to know that she's about as much fun as being stuck in traffic with a New York cabbie who has opinions about everything and is determined to share them.
"Anyway, Archie, Noreen and I get together every so often, just to talk. She's always confided in me more than in her mother, which hasn't improved what's left of my relationship with Megan—not that I much care, of course. We usually meet about once a month."
"So you've mentioned before—at the Plaza, right?"
Lily allowed herself the slightest shadow of a smile. "Noreen loves the Palm Court. But the last two times we've had lunch, she's been a different person than anything I've ever seen before. You know how bubbly and alive and rosy-cheeked she is, or rather, was. When I saw her a month ago—it was the last Saturday in June—I couldn't believe it. She looked ... haggard—that's the only word I can think of. Like she hadn't been sleeping. And she was distracted. She usually loves to hear the latest dirt about what you insist on referring to as the 'chichi crowd'—actually, I think she looks to her good old Aunt Lily as comic relief. We usually laugh our way through the Chablis and salad. But not that time. She didn't seem to want to talk at all, and when I asked her if anything was bothering her, she just said the job was unusually hectic."
"At the publishing house, isn't it?"
"Melbourne Books, yes. She's always loved being an editor. But when I questioned her on what was wrong there, all she would say was that she didn't want to go into it, so I backed off. She gets more than enough prying from her mother.
"But when I saw her again last Saturday, it was a repeat of the month before. She looked just as bad as she had before—maybe even a little worse. She wasn't the least bit interested in my stories, and believe me, at least a couple of them were dandies. For that matter, she wasn't inclined to do any talking herself. This time, though, I decided to press her. At first, she stuck to her earlier story about job pressures, but I wasn't buying any more of that. I have to confess that I really bore in on her—like her mother might have done if she hadn't been vacationing on the Riviera for the last six weeks. In fact, Megan is due home today, although I haven't heard from her. Anyway, then it came out like a flood, and with lots of tears."
Lily leaned back and closed her eyes. I refilled both our drinks, then sat down, ready to give her all the time she wanted.
"At this rate, I'll keep you here till dawn waiting for me to finish," she said ruefully, blinking. "Well, you've probably figured it out by this time, but Noreen was ... she got ... attacked." She shook her head and ran a hand through her dusty-blond hair. "And the worst part, it was somebody she knew—she was out with him when it happened, for God's sake!"
"Date rape," I said quietly.
She cringed. "What a hideous term."
"For a hideous act. Who the hell did it?"
"She wouldn't tell me. I had enough trouble getting as much out of her as I did, but I can make a pretty good guess. She's been seeing at least a couple of guys. One's a nice boy—at least I think he's nice ... now I'm not so sure about anybody—she met through her brother Michael and who works down on Wall Street. The other is ... I hate to say it—Sparky Linville."
"The wild one who's in the news a lot?"
For an answer I got a quick nod and a grimace. "In the last few months, Noreen's occasionally been with a 'too-rich-too-soon' crowd—Linville among them, although I don't think they went out very many times. You asked about drugs; I can't say for sure, of course, but I don't believe Noreen's into coke, or whatever else the high-livers are destroying themselves with these days. I wouldn't bet on some of the others, though, including Linville. I've met him only two times, and, Archie, we're talking world-class jerk here. His arrogance gives the term 'self-assured' a bad name. But I think Noreen liked the excitement of being with him, of going to the hot clubs, that sort of thing. It had to be fun being with someone who's recognized by every doorman and maître d' in town."
"And I gather you think he's the one who—"
"I'm sure of it. After Noreen spilled out what happened, I tried to get a name. She clammed up—she was almost hysterical until I promised not to tell a soul. By this time, damn near everybody in the place was staring at us. She said nobody else knows anything about it, not even Megan. But the way she reacted when I mentioned Linville's name—I know it was him."
"Obviously Noreen isn't about to bring any charges."
Lily shook her head again. "From what little I was able to worm out of her, she seems to think that what happened was somehow her fault."
"What do you think?"
"I think her reaction is what you would naturally expect in a male-dominated society where women who get attacked end up being accused of leading men on by their dress or their gestures or simply by breathing. Try to deny that." She glared at me.
"I can't. You're absolutely right."
"Oh, didn't mean to come down on you, of all people," she said softly. "But I'm livid about this, and I feel so helpless. Noreen is a great girl, so bright and enthusiastic and full of life, and it's as if she's been destroyed."
"In a sense, part of her probably has. Certainly her level of trust will never be the same, and that's only for starters."
"Which is just as well," Lily said bitterly. "Men can't be trusted, present company more or less excluded."
"Thank you for that, anyway." I gave her a lopsided grin. "Now that you've gone on record, I'll say something that may cause you to reassess me and my sensitivity: Are you absolutely convinced that your niece is an innocent victim?"
I got a long, fierce look from under lowered eyebrows. "Okay," Lily said, setting her chin, "I suppose you had to ask. After all, you are a detective: the need for facts and all."
"Do you think for an instant if I felt Noreen had been leading that ass on, I would have brought this up to you in the first place?"
"Point taken. But as you so articulately remarked, I had to ask," I said, getting to my feet. "I must be going. If it makes you feel any better, it probably did Noreen a world of good to finally share this nightmare with somebody—particularly you."
She sighed. "Well, I know it did me a world of good to share it tonight, even if I did violate a trust in the process. But that doesn't bother me in the least, given my confidante. Speaking of which, my confidante—and I ask this, still having complete faith in your sensitivity: Do you have any advice?"
I stood in the foyer and shrugged. "For you? I'm afraid not, at least at the moment. I do have some for somebody else, though, and I'm going to deliver it in person."
"Not to Noreen?" Lily said, a shocked expression on her face.
"No, not to Noreen—I wouldn't do that, and you know it. But tomorrow I plan to pay a visit to a Mr. Sparky Linville."CHAPTER 2
The next day began quietly enough. At seven-forty-five I was at my small table in the kitchen of Nero Wolfe's brownstone on West Thirty-fifth Street near the Hudson, which is the place I've called home for more than half my life. And that small table is just about the only spot I ever have breakfast unless I'm with Lily at her Katonah retreat or find myself in jail, which, truth to tell, has happened more than once in the years I've been collecting paychecks signed by Nero Wolfe. I had finished a tall glass of freshly squeezed orange juice and one cup of black coffee and was starting in on a second cup, to go with the Canadian bacon and pancakes with wild-thyme honey that Fritz Brenner was preparing for me.
Wolfe, true to his morning custom, took nourishment on a tray up in his room, and my meal company, as usual, was the Times, which was propped up on the rack I had had made so I could read and still have both hands free to tackle the meal. Fritz, chef extraordinaire and the one indispensable cog in the machinery of the brownstone—with the possible exception of Wolfe himself—quietly scurried about making preparations for lunch: baby lobsters with avocados.
Fritz and I have worked out a series of accommodations over the years that allow us to coexist beautifully in the brownstone. One is that he doesn't talk to me during breakfast, and I don't tell him how to cook; simple, but it works. The Times wasn't holding my interest, especially with the Mets wallowing in fifth place and the Yankees doing no better and also behaving as if they actually were fond of their current wimp of a manager.
After the events of the previous night, though, nothing less than an article on the latest adventures of Sparky Linville would have satisfied me. Lily had done her best to talk me out of seeing him, but I tried to assure her I wasn't going to involve her niece in any way. She had frowned and remained doubtful about the undertaking, and before we parted made me promise that Noreen's name would under no circumstances be mentioned.
I finished breakfast and carried a cup of coffee down the hall to the office. Wolfe wasn't there, of course, and wouldn't be until eleven. His unvarying Monday-through-Saturday schedule calls for him to spend four hours daily—nine to eleven in the morning and four to six in the P.M.—playing with his ten thousand orchids in the greenhouse on the fourth floor, along with Theodore Horstmann, the crotchety old orchid tender who's worked for Wolfe even longer than I have.
I touched down at my desk and contemplated the day's work, which consisted primarily of paying the bills and updating the orchid-germination records on the personal computer. We didn't have any cases at present, which suited Wolfe just fine, what with his case of terminal laziness. The bank balance was reasonably healthy, though, in the main because of the fat fee our fat resident genius got for figuring out—with some incidental help from yours truly—which of a Scarsdale millionaire's domestic staff of seven had filched a coin collection valued in the high six figures.
After contemplating the day's chores some more, I put them aside and dialed Saul Panzer's number. For those of you new to these narratives, Saul is a freelance operative, or detective if you prefer, the best of his kind in New York City and, for my money, in the western hemisphere, maybe the eastern too. Anyway, Nero Wolfe has hired him for everything from a basic tailing job to putting together extensive dossiers on people who are so secretive that their names have never even appeared in the Times or any other paper.
Saul gets at least double the going day-rate for free-lancers and still rejects more work than he accepts, but he almost never turns Wolfe down. And he never turns down a chance to take my money, either, in our weekly poker games.
"'Morning," I said when he answered on the second ring. "I thought you'd be out combing the streets of this great metropolis by now."
Excerpted from The Last Coincidence by Robert Goldsborough. Copyright © 1989 Robert Goldsborough. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Robert Goldsborough (b. 1937) is an American author best known for continuing Rex Stout's famous Nero Wolfe series. Born in Chicago, he attended Northwestern University, and upon graduation went to work for the Associated Press, beginning a lifelong career in journalism that would include long periods at the Chicago Tribune and Advertising Age.
While at the Tribune, Goldsborough began writing mysteries in the voice of Rex Stout, the creator of iconic sleuths Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. Goldsborough's first novel starring Wolfe, Murder in E Minor (1986), was met with acclaim both from critics and devoted fans, winning a Nero Award from the Wolfe Pack. Seven more novels followed, including Death on Deadline (1987) and Fade to Black (1990). In 2005, Goldsborough published Three Strikes You're Dead, the first in an original series starring Chicago Tribune reporter Snap Malek. His most recent novel is Terror at the Fair (2011).
Robert Goldsborough (b. 1937) is an American author best known for continuing Rex Stout's famous Nero Wolfe series. Born in Chicago, he attended Northwestern University, and upon graduation went to work for the Associated Press, beginning a lifelong career in journalism that would include long periods at the Chicago Tribune and Advertising Age. While at the Tribune, Goldsborough began writing mysteries in the voice of Rex Stout, the creator of iconic sleuths Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. Goldsborough's first novel starring Wolfe, Murder in E Minor (1986), was met with acclaim both from critics and devoted fans, winning a Nero Award from the Wolfe Pack. Seven more novels followed, including Death on Deadline (1987) and Fade to Black (1990). In 2005, Goldsborough published Three Strikes You're Dead, the first in an original series starring Chicago Tribune reporter Snap Malek. His most recent novel is Terror at the Fair (2011).
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