NERO WOLFE’S FINAL STRATAGEM: A Parody by Robert J. Schneider Copyright 2003
I was walking down the hallway toward the room Nero Wolfe uses as an office in his West 35th Street brownstone house when I heard the loud crack and then the even louder crash. My employer, the world’s fattest private detective, must have just broken another chair. The last time it happened I burst out laughing. Needless to say, he did not appreciate that. I slowed my pace because I knew that as soon as I saw his immense bulk lying on the floor, blubbery arms flailing helplessly like an upturned turtle, I would be hard pressed to hold back the laughs. “Archie, confound it, I know you are lurking out there in the hall. Come in here and help me.” I entered the office with a look of concern on my face and asked, “Inferior wood again?” “Undoubtedly,” the behemoth answered. “Here, grab my hand.” I am still in pretty good shape considering I’m eligible to collect social security but lifting Wolfe up off the floor was a bit too much for me. I stepped over to the wall behind Wolfe’s desk and pushed one of the many buttons installed throughout the brownstone. They all connected to a buzzer contraption meant to summon Wolfe’s attending nurse. The current holder of that title is a hulk-like giant of a man named Bruno, ethnic descent unknown. When I noted his bulging muscles on the first day he reported for work I informed Bruno that one of his duties would be the lifting of his employer off the floor whenever these chair mishaps occurred. I had been arguing with Wolfe for a year and a half to wear one of those necklace panic buttons. He refuses. He claims that he wore one for ten minutes during one of his innumerable hospital stays and found it uncomfortable. What in God’s name could feel more uncomfortable than carrying around two sevenths of a ton is beyond me. Bruno sauntered in and, with a smirk on his puss, roughly lifted our boss onto his feet. He glanced at the splinted fragments of the custom built chair, let out a snide chuckle and sauntered out of the room. As he passed the big coat rack in the hall he picked up the medical supply package the UPS deliveryman had dropped off earlier and headed back to his room on the second floor. Wolfe glared at Bruno’s back but waited till he was out of earshot before saying, “That man is impertinent. Get rid of him.” “We’ve been over this before,” I said wearily. “You’ve gone through seventeen nurses in the past four years. Bruno is the only one who hasn’t quit on you within days of starting. The agency said that he was your last chance. He seems to know what he’s doing when it comes to your medications and he has a knack for getting those insulin needles through your numerous layers of fat. Besides, he’s probably one of the few people in this city who can single handedly pick you up off the floor.” “Pfui.” “Phooey yourself. Don’t forget, you kept complaining about all the female nurses the agency sent. We’re lucky that a man showed up. Remember, this is the Twenty-first Century. We can’t run an ad stating "Help Wanted, Male Nurse’.” Wolfe murmured something under his breath and waddled toward his specially built wheelchair (titanium/chromium/aluminum/carbon/steel alloy), somehow lowered himself into it and barked, “Get Saul here as soon as possible.” Well, this was news. Wolfe finally decided to take the Rutherford case. I dialed Saul’s number from memory and left a message on his voice mail. Saul Panzer was no longer the premier op in the city but he was the oldest and he still was effective. Since he was the only independent op willing to work for Wolfe, Orrie Cather having died and Fred Durkin retired, we didn’t have much choice. Wolfe refuses to pay more than fifty bucks a day even though current rates are closer to one hundred a day. Wolfe thinks it’s still 1962. Saul is semi-retired but works for Wolfe out of loyalty and respect but only from March through November, since he winters in Boca. I sat at my desk and continued to work a spreadsheet program on the Mac. There it was in black and white. The bank account would be exhausted within weeks. Paying clients had been few and far between the past few years. Wolfe’s medical problems combined with the deterioration of his mental faculties had chased most business away. We were considered old fashioned now. All the juicy, high-profile, well paying cases were going to the big uptown agencies. Aside from some pity work Lewis Hewitt occasionally threw our way the only cases we’ve been seeing lately were divorce related, which Wolfe won’t accept. I was planning to print out the figures and leave them on Wolfe’s desk but I thought I’d hold off for a while since he apparently decided to accept the Rutherford case. I walked over to Wolfe’s desk and picked up the check Violet Nicole Rutherford had left earlier this morning. It was for $10,000 dollars. Mrs. Rutherford was a big, brassy, blonde who had managed to hook a rich old geezer named Alfred Rutherford. Alfred's family (read ex-heirs) had opposed the marriage. Violet Nicole, age unknown-probably late thirties, married the rich old coot anyway in Las Vegas last year. He was found dead in their bed two nights ago of, apparently, natural causes. Rutherford’s family raised a big stink--flat out accusing Violet of killing him. I bet she did kill him but not by holding a pillow over his face. Violet came to hire Wolfe to prove her innocence before a police investigation began. Wolfe, forgetting that these are not the good old days, flatly refused to touch the case, mainly because he took an instant dislike to the widow Rutherford. I had been goading him to take the case since the moment Violet left the brownstone. He claimed the check was probably no good. I called the bank and verified it was good. I was interrupted mid goad by the UPS delivery. Wolfe must have used that opportunity to struggle out of his chair and stretch to the edge of his desk to reach for the check. He probably examined it, decided to take the case, dropped the check on the desk, plopped his bulk back into the chair and smashed it to pieces. Saul Panzer arrived at 3pm. He was smaller and even more wiry than he was in his prime. He had to use a walker now but it was outfitted with a hidden gun mechanism. Saul didn’t really need the device because he was still a tough customer in a fight. Just whacking hoodlums over their heads with the walker was usually enough to get his point across. After receiving instructions from Wolfe, which I couldn’t quite pick up since my hearing aid was on the fritz again, Saul hobbled out of the office. I asked Wolfe for instructions but he said that there was nothing more to be done until Saul reported back. Seeing as it was still early, I gave Lily Rowan a call. The call went well so after dinner I popped a Viagra, left the brownstone and hailed a cab on Ninth Avenue. I would normally have taken the Heron but my driver’s license had been revoked after an unfortunate incident on 34th Street last month; the car suddenly and unaccountably had accelerated right up onto the sidewalk and into one of Macy’s plate glass show windows.
* * *
Early the next morning I fielded a call from Lon Cohen who was now working for one of the tabloids. “Archie, why didn’t you give me the scoop?" “What scoop?” I asked. “That Violet Nicole Rutherford hired Wolfe to prove that she had nothing to do with her husband’s death.” “Didn’t think it was newsworthy. How did you find out about it?” “Are you kidding? She announced it on her reality television show last night. Don’t you guys watch TV?” I didn’t dignify that crack with an answer. I verified that Mrs. Rutherford did engage us and I promised to update Lon on any major developments. After hanging up I sat there a minute wondering if I had lost a step or two. I had no idea that our client had her own television show. The widow Rutherford telephoned the office at 9AM to ask about our progress. I was in the middle of making excuses when she interrupted me to say that she had new information that might help with our investigation. She said that she’d be at the brownstone in an hour. I didn’t bother telling her that Wolfe would be up in the plant rooms. I don’t worry anymore about appointments clashing with Wolfe’s flower time. I just go up to the plant rooms and turn the clock ahead to whatever time I find useful then I come back down and ring the plant room extension from the office phone. Theodore had to be let go some years ago and Wolfe is usually dozing up there anyway. He hasn’t bred a prizewinning orchid since the second Reagan administration. I was returning from the plant rooms when I heard the doorbell ring at 9:50. Our client was early. I peered through the one-way glass panel and saw not the overly voluptuous shape of Violet Rutherford but a mound of disheveled clothing. I opened the door. The mound spoke: “Buster, you’re still blocking the doorway.” I shook my head in disbelief. Only one person has ever called me Buster and gotten away with it. “Hattie? Hattie Annis?” “Yeah, that’s right Buster. Make way for the lady.” I stepped aside to let her enter. I tried to make some quick mental calculations. It couldn’t be. She’d have to be over a hundred years old. I must have taken too long with my calculations. “Man alive, you’re staring at me like I was a booby trap. If you’re wondering, I’m ninety-eight and can still get around. Where’s Falstaff?” She meant Wolfe, of course. She’s the only person who ever called him that. “He’ll be down in a few minutes. Give me your coat. You can wait in the office.” She handed me her coat and said, “I didn’t think he was still alive. When I saw that fat hussy mention him last night I thought she was crazy or hallucinating or something. Then I read it in the morning paper. I just had to come down and see you two with my own eyes.” She eyed me up and down. “You look pretty well preserved, Buster. I bet Falstaff don’t look so good. What’s he weigh now, 500 pounds?” “Five hundred seventy-nine.” “Jeez, how can his heart take it?” “It couldn’t. Heart transplant. His big problems now are diabetes and, err, ah . . .” “Spit it out Buster. What is it, STD’s?” I must have blushed judging from the smile Hattie gave me. “Err, no. No STD’s. Actually it’s a, um, well he has a flatulence problem.” “Doesn’t surprise me, all the rich food he eats. You still have that chef around?” “Fritz. Sure. He’s in the kitchen.” “Maybe he can brew up some of his special coffee. I haven’t forgotten how good it tasted. What’s it been, twenty years?” “More like forty.” “That so, Buster. Well, I ain’t counting. The office is down the hall and to the left, isn’t it?” I escorted her into the office and tried to make her comfortable in one of the yellow chairs. “Don’t I rate the big red leather chair?” “Actually we’re expecting a client and . . .” “Is it her, that Rutherford hussy?” “As a matter of fact . . .” “No problem, Buster. I’ll make myself unobtrusive right here, quiet as a mouse. I’ve got to see this. And don’t forget about that coffee.” “Miss Annis, eh, Hattie, why exactly are you here?” “Just wanted to see you two again. When that fat hussy mentioned Falstaff and you on the TV it brought back memories of when I was your client. It was an exciting few days. I decided I wanted to re-capture some of that excitement.” I didn’t quite know how to explain that paying clients and excitement have been in short supply lately. Still, having Violet Nicole Rutherford, Hattie Annis and Nero Wolfe in the same room together ought to be quite entertaining. I picked up the phone, dialed the plant room extension, let it ring a few times then hung up. That was to wake up Wolfe. I turned and said to our guest, “So Hattie, you look well. How have you been the last forty years?” “Can’t complain.” “Do you still own that boarding house on 47th Street?” “You bet and still taking in show biz strays, has-beens and youngsters just starting out.” “I’m surprised you didn’t sell out after the big run up in property values.” “Nah, money never really was a problem for me.” “That’s right. I remember you had invested in municipal bonds.” “That was back then. Still got some of those bonds but they wouldn’t have been enough to keep me going what with all that inflation. I ran into some good luck back in 1979. One of my aspiring actor tenants invited his nerdy cousin to visit. He had just dropped out of MIT and was heading back to Seattle to start up some type of computer business. We all sat around the dinner table one night and he talked us silly about personal computers, operating systems, software, programming code and all kinds of other stuff. Understood hardly anything he said but I remembered his name. When he brought his company public a few years later I had my broker sell some of those bonds and buy 2000 shares of stock. The whippersnapper said that I’d do better in oil drilling partnerships. Bull. I made him buy the stock and I still have the original certificate.” I’m no stock market genius and I’m no math wizard but if that nerdy cousin was who I think he was and the stock was of the company I was thinking of, well, she must have read my mind because she said: “That’s right Buster, it was Bill Gates and my 2000 shares of Microsoft, after all the splits, is worth about two million bucks. Money hasn’t been a problem for the lady for a long time.” Just then Wolfe rolled into the office in his custom built wheel chair, looked at Hattie, inclined his fat head 1/8th of an inch in recognition, whirled around, rolled back toward the hall and said, “Archie, I thought I told you to take care of the matter of Miss Annis’ bill. Call me when you’re finished. I’ll be in the kitchen consulting Fritz on tonight’s meal.” “No, sir. I mean yes, sir. I did take care of that matter...in 1962. Miss Annis had thought we were dead. Once she discovered we were still among the living she decided to pay us a visit, for old times sake." Wolfe halted his wheelchair, turned it around and maneuvered the bulky contraption into position behind his desk but before he could say anything the doorbell rang. Even from the middle of the hallway, I could see Violet Rutherford’s voluptuous curves through the glass panel of the front door. Before I die, I’d like to try a woman like that on for size. I let her in, escorted her into the office and seated her in the big red leather chair. After I made the introductions my plan was to lure Hattie into the kitchen with a promise of unlimited cups of Fritz’s coffee. As I began my attempt to escort Hattie to the kitchen Violet said, “That’s ok, Mr. Goodwin. Your grandma can stay if she wants.” Hattie and I exchanged glances. I hadn’t said that Hattie was related to me. Hattie said, “I knew this would be fun, Buster.” She turned to Violet and said, “Thanks honey, only I’m not his grandma. I’m his mother.” “Oh, I’m sorry,” replied Violet. Then after a moment's thought Violet said, “Who’s Buster? I thought his name was Archie.” “Don’t worry about it dear,” Hattie replied. To me she said, “How about that coffee, Buster?” As I got up to go to the kitchen I heard a loud noise emanating from Wolfe’s vicinity. Knowing what would follow made me quicken my pace. When I returned with two cups of Fritz’s coffee I spotted Hattie and Violet out in the hall near the front door. Hattie called out, “Hey Buster, Falstaff just let loose with a nasty one.” Violet added, “Yeah, he cut the cheese and wouldn’t even admit to it. He tried to blame some dog named Jet. There’s no dog in that room.” I apologized for Wolfe’s behavior, sprayed some room deodorizer in the office and herded them back to their chairs. Just when we all got comfortable the doorbell rang. I left Wolfe with the females and went to answer it. I looked through the panel of one-way glass and saw an unmistakable red face and two beady blue eyes. I opened the door to admit Inspector Cramer or more accurately, former Inspector Cramer. He had retired some years ago. Last I heard he was living in a retirement community in New Jersey. Purley Stebbins, formerly Sergeant Purley Stebbins, followed him in. Purley retired the same year as his former boss and shortly thereafter opened a sports bar across the street from City Hall. “Inspector,” I asked, “what brings you here?” “Cut the crap Goodwin. I watch television. I read the papers. You and Wolfe are involved in the Rutherford case. I’ll nail you on this one. Murder is no joke.” “But Inspector, you’ve been off the force for some time now,” I said. Cramer seemed puzzled. I looked at Purley. He just shrugged then did that circling finger motion around his ear while looking at Cramer then pointed toward Wolfe’s office and gave me a wink. I got the message and said, “Sure Inspector, Mr. Wolfe has been expecting you.” I ushered them into the office and made introductions. No one questioned their presence so I seated them in the yellow chairs. I noticed that Cramer eyed the big red chair but Violet did not look as though she had any intention of giving it up. As soon as everyone was settled, the doorbell rang again. Since Fritz is too frail to answer the door and since Bruno won’t leave his room and TV programs unless one of the panic buttons is pressed, I had to answer it myself. The glass panel revealed two well-dressed women flanking Saul Panzer. I opened the door and recognized Dol Bonner and Sally Colt. “Saul, what charming gifts you brought me.” “They are charming, Archie, but I didn’t bring them. We met on the sidewalk. They helped me up the steps.” I smiled and held my hand out for Dol Bonner. She brushed it aside and said, “A handshake is all I get after all these years. Well, forget that.” She hugged me and planted a kiss on my cheek. “You look well Archie.” “You look great yourself, Dol”. Sally Colt nudged herself between us. “What about me, big boy?” She wrapped her arms around me and kissed me on the mouth. I believe I am quite suave around women but her passionate greeting surprised me. In a moment I recovered my composure enough to say, “Sally, you’re still as lovely as ever.” Then turning back to Dol I said, “To what do I owe the pleasure?” “Sally saw your client’s show last night and called to tell me. We both decided to pay a visit to the old brownstone.” Sally added, “Frankly, it’s been so long, we assumed you were both retired . . . or worse.” The ladies and I noticed that Saul began hobbling toward the office. “Let’s go,” I said. “Things are really jumping today, just like in the old days.” While following Saul I thought back to when we first met Dol and Sally. Contrary to Wolfe’s initial opinion, they had proved themselves excellent detectives over the years both as competitors and occasional collaborators I made more introductions and seated Dol and Sally on the couch. Saul whispered his report into Wolfe’s ear then retreated to his usual spot next to the big globe in the corner. The room was jam-filled with too many detectives. Wolfe spoke. “Mr. Panzer has completed his investigation into the death of Alfred Rutherford. He has uncovered no conclusive proof but has collected enough evidence to cast grave suspicion on Mrs. Rutherford’s innocence. Since I lack the proof necessary for a conviction I must devise a stratagem, an elaborate charade, a gambit, a trick if you will, to trap Mrs. Rutherford.” I interrupted. “Err, boss, a consultation please.” I stood up and walked beside the fat fool, leaned over and spoke into his ear. “The suspect, our client, Violet Nicole Rutherford, the grieving widow, is sitting right across from you. She can hear every word you’re saying.” Wolfe seemed perplexed and puzzled. He looked at Violet then glanced at each of the others seated around the office. He closed his eyes. His lips began pushing out and in, out and in. His index fingers were drawing little invisible circles on the arms of his wheelchair. “Look, he’s thinking, he’s thinking,” exclaimed Hattie Annis. Everyone, including our client, leaned forward in anticipation. Anticipation of what, I didn’t know, but they were certainly on the edge of their seats. Finally, Wolfe opened his eyes and spoke. “Mrs. Rutherford, please accompany Mr. Goodwin to the kitchen. My chef will prepare anything you desire. You must not be aware of the brilliant stratagem I have devised to entrap you into a confession.” Violet said, “I once saw an old TV show where a lawyer named Perry Mason said that wives were immune to murder.” Sally Colt broke the stunned silence by saying, “I think Perry meant that wives cannot be forced to testify against their husbands. That is obviously a moot point in your situation Mrs. Rutherford since your husband is dead.” Violet shrugged her big shoulders, heaved her ample bosom, stood up and looked at me. She was going along with it. Well, maybe she was real hungry or had heard of Fritz’s culinary talents. Judging from her figure she was certainly no stranger to high calorie meals. I escorted Violet to the kitchen, relayed Wolfe’s instructions to Fritz and returned alone to the office. Wolfe was in the middle of describing his elaborate plan to trap our client. It involved wiretapping her table at her favorite restaurant, sending anonymous letters, putting a rubber band around a red box, a fishing expedition to the Adirondacks, opening a window for death during a snowstorm and stealing a corsage of black orchids during the annual Easter parade. Only Dol and Sally looked puzzled. Hattie, Cramer and Purley were mesmerized by Wolfe’s speech. Finally, after Wolfe mentioned taking our client to a ball game at the Polo Grounds I had to intervene: “Boss,” I said in a low, calm voice, “the baseball stadium known as the Polo Grounds was demolished forty years ago. The Giants now play baseball in San Francisco.” Wolfe seemed surprised by that information. He closed his eyes again and started that out and in lip puckering motion. It lasted a full two minutes. I was about to press the button to summon Bruno with the insulin when Wolfe suddenly opened his eyes, looked around the office, leaned forward in his wheelchair and knocked over the pencil holder cup with his fat hand. He then pointed to the twenty or so scattered pencils and said, “There. There it is. Look at the pattern formed by the pencils. They form the ancient Hindi numbers that correspond to Mrs. Rutherford’s birthday, October 10th, 1970. It is the zero clue.” I looked at the scattered pencils on the desktop. They formed no discernable pattern, Hindi or otherwise. I told him so. He flashed me a scowl, looked back down at the pencils and quickly re-arranged some of them to look like this:
/ // / // / //
I shook my head in disbelief. Wolfe sighed, broke the eraser tips from three of the pencils and placed them like this:
/ // - / // - 7 //
Wolfe said, “There, now it must be obvious even to you, Archie.” That was a low blow and I might have responded unkindly had the doorbell not rung. As I left the room I looked back at Wolfe’s desk. Everyone except Saul had gathered around the desk to examine the bogus pencil clue. I noticed Dol and Sally shaking their heads. Hattie, Cramer and Purley seemed intrigued by Wolfe’s pencil pattern. When I got to the front door I peered through the glass panel and saw a crowd of old people on the stoop. No one looked familiar. I put the chain latch on and opened the door the few inches allowed by the chain. “The senior social center,” I said to the group gathered on the stoop and steps, “is about five doors down on the other side of the street.” I smiled but no one smiled back at me. A woman elbowed her way to the front. She said: “You don’t remember me, do you? You don’t remember any of us.” I gave her the once over. She was probably about 60 years old and must have been quite a looker in her heyday. She had blond hair, colored. The woman continued. “The dinner at the gourmet club. A bunch of us girls had to dress in purple stolas to serve that special meal.” I just stared at her. She said quite angrily, “I poisoned that bastard, Vincent Pyle.” I blurted out, “Carol Annis. From the Poison a la Carte case. Say, I’ve always wondered, are you related to Hattie Annis?” A man stepped in front of Carol and shoved a .44 Magnum in my face. “Enough of this stalling. Open up Goodwin or I’ll blow your head off. And don’t pull any of your fancy stuff when you close the door to unlatch the chain. We have enough firepower here to blast right through the door.” On that cue all those gathered on the stoop drew some type of firearm and aimed at me. I nodded and did exactly as instructed. I wouldn’t be of much use to anyone without my head. The crowd pushed through the doorway and backed me into the hall. The guy with the .44 said, “Still don’t recognize me, do you Goodwin?” I shook my head. “Jules Khoury is my name; from what you called the “Death of a Demon” case.” By now the whole bunch had pushed their way inside. A woman held a soiled necktie in her hands. A big, fat guy held a small pistol. Now I got it. I pointed to the woman with the necktie and said, “Rita Ramsey Sorrell from “Eeny Meeny Murder Mo”. She nodded. I turned and pointed to the fat guy: “H. H. Hackett aka Thomas Root from “Help Wanted, Male”.” He waved his pistol in my face and said that I was right. A foreign looking man grabbed my hands, pulled them behind my back and tied them together with what felt like trout fishing line. I twisted my head backward and said, “Spiros Papps, from the “Immune to Murder” case.” The ex-diplomatic advisor nodded his head and continued tying. With the help of a few others he dragged me over to the big coat rack and used some rope to tie me to it. A skinny little old guy with a crooked nose called out from the crowd, “It’s me, Beaky Durkin from the World Series Murder case. You called it “This Won’t Kill You”. Hell, we will kill you along with Wolfe if we have to.” “I always wondered,” I said to the ex-baseball player and coach, “are you related to a guy I know named Fred Durkin?” The woman with the necktie cut me short, “One more thing Goodwin. You and Wolfe aged maybe five or six years during your long careers. What the hell, are you two in some kind of time warp? What were you thinking when you wrote up your cases?” She had me there so I thought fast. “It was Rex Stout, my literary agent. I aged Wolfe and myself correctly but he kept changing us back. He said the publishers and readers liked to visualize us as younger men.” They all laughed derisively, then the woman with the necktie rudely shoved it in my mouth. Five or six of the villains marched past me and headed toward the office. Seven or eight stayed behind to guard me. Four minutes later the squadron of murderers returned pushing Nero Wolfe in his wheelchair, a twisted scarf protruding from his mouth. I shook my head and made some motions with my shoulders and succeeded in getting Carol’s attention. She pointed her gun at my head, pulled the necktie out of my mouth and said, “No tricks.” “No tricks," I promised. "What’s going on?” “We’re kidnapping Wolfe. He ruined our lives and now we’re going to get even.” “He has no money. This house is mortgaged to the hilt. I have no money to speak of. Who do you think will pay Wolfe’s ransom?” “Oh,” she answered. “We’re not looking for money. We just want to kill him, after a suitable amount of torture. It’s going to be the bitter end for him.” The parade of killers paused to listen to my conversation with Carol. My goal was to stall them long enough for Dol, Sally, Saul or Purley to come to our rescue. The wild bunch soon moved past me on their way to the front door leaving a clear view down the hall. One of the murderers was standing guard at the doorway to the office pointing a nasty looking automatic weapon into the room. Another one was pointing his weapon into the kitchen, presumably at Fritz and Violet. I decided to keep stalling. “I thought most of you would have been given the chair or at least life in prison.” The crowd murmurred then someone spoke up: “You’re an idiot Goodwin. You’re both idiots. New York got rid of the death penalty back in the 60’s. We were either paroled for good behavior or released because the jails got too full with low-level drug dealers. We are no longer considered threats to society.” Another murderer spoke up, “Don’t you and Wolfe keep up with these things?” “When a man murders . . .” I didn’t get to finish my statement because a commotion had begun near the door. The two guys pushing Wolfe’s wheelchair realized they couldn’t fit it through the doorway. I could have told them that even if they removed the door and the frame it still wouldn’t fit through. But forgetting the wheelchair, I doubt Wolfe himself could fit through the doorway. The last time he went to the hospital we had to remove the front room window and get an industrial wench to lift him out and down to the awaiting ambulance. Before I could tell them that, Carol stuffed the necktie back into my mouth and walked toward the door. One of the killers got the bright idea to dump Wolfe out of the wheelchair and try to shove him through the doorway. Some of them stepped out on the stoop and began pulling his arms while the rest started pushing from the inside. Boy, was Wolfe putting up a fuss. He was making all sorts of noises and gestures even though his feet and hands were tied up. Before long they started kicking and smacking him. Wolfe then really started squirming and bucking. He stopped those antics pretty quick when Beaky gave him a swift kick to the family jewels. After that he just sort of lay there and moaned. The killers started arguing with each other. Some were for taking Wolfe’s clothes off and greasing him like a pig with cooking oil to squeeze him through the doorway. Some just wanted to shoot him right then and there. The latter faction won out. They drew their weapons. I thought this was going to be the death of a fat dude. Beaky yelled out, “Die like a dog, fatso!” It looked like Wolfe was going through the door to death one way or another. Just then Wolfe came up with his final stratagem. He lifted his fat head, rolled over on his side and let loose with the loudest one I ever heard this side of the Bronx Zoo. Hackett/Root asked, “What the hell was that?” Most of the killers laughed derisively. They won’t be laughing for long I thought. I was right. The women started coughing. One keeled over. The men started coughing. The ones in the hall began backing away from Wolfe. The ones on the stoop had the benefit of fresh air. The odor hadn’t reached them to its full effect. They all peered through the doorway to see what the ruckus was all about. By now the odor was even reaching me. No one was paying attention to me so I figured this might be my only chance. They’d kill Wolfe over my dead body. I braced my back against the coat rack, twisted my body and lifted my legs and extended them toward the buzzer button mounted on the wall a few feet to my right. I managed to tap the button with the tip of my shoe. No noise or commotion would stir Bruno from his room but he would answer that buzzer call. I looked back toward the open doorway. Some of the murderers were now trying to climb over Wolfe to get outside for fresh air. Others were advancing toward Wolfe, handkerchiefs covering their mouths and noses, guns aimed at his fat gut. I finally heard the sound I was waiting for--the elevator. The elevator door opened and Bruno stepped out. I had to think fast before Bruno grasped the full danger of the situation. Luckily, the two guards watching over the groups in the office and kitchen were too busy holding hankies over their faces to notice Bruno’s arrival in the hall. I called out, “Bruno, Mr. Wolfe had a heart attack. There’s an ambulance waiting at the curb but he’s stuck in the doorway. All those people are just making things worse. Ram him through the doorway so he can be saved.” Have to say one thing for Bruno, when it came to Wolfe’s health he was a dedicated nurse. He ran full tilt toward the front door bowling over the two guys guarding the office and kitchen. He ran past me at an alarming rate of speed. He bent over and crashed, shoulder first, into Wolfe and his kidnappers. There was a tremendously loud crashing sound. The entire doorframe shattered. Wolfe, the murderers and Bruno all tumbled out the doorway and down the steps. Sally Colt was the first one out of the office. She gave the still dazed guards karate chops to the backs of their heads. She picked up their weapons, tossed one to Dol and ran toward me with the other. She pulled the necktie out of my mouth and cut my hands loose with her pocketknife. That was Sally, always prepared for anything. By the time I had shaken the blood back into my hands everyone had joined us in the hall. Dol, Hattie, Purley, Cramer and Saul, who sheepishly admitted that his hidden gun mechanism had jammed when he tried to use it on the guard, from the office and Violet and Fritz from the kitchen. The shattered doorframe and the moaning and groaning we heard from outside told only part of the story. Sally was at the stoop first. We soon joined her and beheld an astonishing site: Bodies were strewn on the seven steps, on the sidewalk and even into the street. Some were moving, some weren’t. Wolfe was writhing in agony on the sidewalk near the curb. Bruno was rubbing his head with his hands while sprawled on the bottom step. The steps and most of the bodies were covered with wood fragments and plaster and mortar dust. It was quite an assault on a brownstone. I was about to tell someone to call 911 when I heard sirens. Purley must have already called from the office phone. Three squad cars and two ambulances pulled up. I heard a cop request backup and more ambulances. Wolfe was carted off, with great difficulty, to the first ambulance. Bruno was put into the other. As those two ambulances sped away and turned the corner northward, four others arrived. The murderers/kidnapers were piled into them and whisked away with police following. Hattie Annis tugged on my arm and said, “Wow, Buster, what a show. I won’t let another twenty years pass between visits.” “That would be forty years, Hattie,” I replied. “Whatever.” She turned around, grabbed Fritz’s arm then grabbed Violet’s arm and marched them back inside. As they walked down the hall toward the kitchen I heard her say, “Yes, dear I’ll explain it all to you over a cup of Fritz’s coffee.”
* * *
That all happened four months ago. A lot has changed since then. Turned out, two pedestrians were injured by the explosion of wood, stone, plaster and humanity. They sued Wolfe. Wolfe’s insurance company denied the claim because, as their letter stated ‘your policy does not cover hooliganism and circus stunts’. Since Wolfe was left nearly penniless after the brownstone was sold and the banks paid off, Hattie Annis stepped up and paid the claims out of her own pocket. She extracted a high price for her generosity. Nero Wolfe now occupies the first floor front of Hattie’s boarding house. He needs the wheelchair full time now. Bruno recovered from his injuries and was hired by Hattie to continue as Wolfe’s full time live-in nurse. Wolfe now spends his days not solving exotic murder mysteries for obscenely high fees but in front of the television set watching Hattie’s favorite reality shows, game shows and daytime soaps. Wolfe, of course, hates them all; except maybe Jeopardy. He even has to endure Hattie’s cooking since Violet Rutherford hired Fritz away to be her personal chef. Now Wolfe gets to see Fritz prepare what were once his favorite meals on TV once a week, for Violet and her strange entourage. Wolfe might as well be dead. As for me, well, a more pleasant retirement beckoned. I finally allowed Lily Rowan to make an honest man of me. We hosted a magnificent wedding reception at Tavern on the Green. It was the social highlight of the season. Wolfe, Hattie, Bruno, Fritz, Violet, Saul, Cramer, Purley, Lon, Fred, Dol, Sally and Lewis Hewitt were among the three hundred guests. I try hard to visit Wolfe at least once a month, to keep his spirits up. But I always make it a point to get back home to Lily before midnight. Hattie had special bookshelves installed to hold Wolfe’s book collection but he has little time for reading since she makes Bruno wheel Wolfe into the main sitting room whenever she watches her favorite shows on the big screen TV. As a favor to Wolfe, she ordered a complete set of the Nero Wolfe A&E series on DVD. We watch two episodes whenever I visit. Wolfe claims he is much more handsome than Maury Chaykin. He also claims that Chaykin exaggerates his mannerisms. I say bunk to that. Chaykin nailed Wolfe dead on. Now, as to Timothy Hutton’s portrayal of me, well, I’ll let Hattie have the last word. “Hutton, oh he’s not too bad, Buster, but he’s no stud like you were in those days.”
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