This very short story takes place after the Major Goodwin stories but before Murder at the Gazette. -AH
"Confound it, Archie! How many times must I tell you? The answer is no. Now leave me. Ask Fritz to bring some tea and honey." Wolfe's head was all that was visible. The rest of him was covered up but there was no mistaking the mound of humanity under the two blankets in addition to his usual bedding.
At least that's what I think he said. He hadn't reverted to one of his other six languages in order to vex me. Instead, his voice was so raspy that it was difficult to make out all the words. But I plunged ahead anyway.
"No, sir. It's no longer a suggestion or even a question. You need a doctor. Period. End of sentence, end of paragraph, end of discussion. Aside from the fact that you are getting worse, you stand a good chance of infecting the rest of us. Of course I use the word 'stand' loosely since you are barely able to get on your feet."
The rest of us consisted of me, Archie Goodwin, licensed detective; Fritz Brenner, chef extraordinaire; and Theodore Horstmann, keeper of the orchids.
Wolfe just glared at me. I knew it had become painful for him to talk so I kept going.
"I don't have your expertise in horticulture, but what if whatever you have gets passed around and attacks the orchids. Didn't they suffer enough when Arn . .. okay, the guy whose name I'm not supposed to say sprayed them with machine gun fire?"
"There is no longer a prohibition on uttering his name. He's dead." Wolfe was still raspy but this I heard clearly.
"You must really be sicker than you realize. Descending into superfluosity. I know he's dead. Remember, I helped you kill him."
Wolfe just glowered. I knew that my making up a word would rile him, but it obviously hurt his throat too much for him to talk further.
"The doctor will be here in half an hour. Do you need Fritz to come up and help you make yourself presentable?"
"Get out!" It wasn't a roar, but the sentiment was unmistakable.
It was even money whether Wolfe would cooperate once the doc arrived. But I figured he wouldn't have much choice. I didn't think he had the strength to get himself up and dressed, and I knew he wouldn't leave the brownstone even if he wasn't sick. Wolfe's world revolved around drinking beer, reading, overseeing Theodore nurture the world-class orchid collection on the top floor of the brownstone, and enjoying the meals that Fritz prepared. Don't get me wrong; I'm not complaining. Because one other element of his life was agreeing to work when I could push him into it. And no one, and I mean no one, can match Wolfe's genius when it comes to solving crime.
He might not have been so resistant to accepting medical attention if Doc Vollmer had been available. But the doc was away on a long overdue vacation and Wolfe was content to suffer until his return. I knew things would only get worse when he met the nearest available replacement I could find.
When she arrived the doctor and I exchanged dirty looks and instead of offering the elevator I let her lug her equipment up the stairs to Wolfe's bedroom. It had taken all of my persuasiveness to get her to make a house call; I'm not lacking in the charm department but it had become readily apparent that she was impervious to any appeals of a personal nature. It got pretty heated between us but eventually I prevailed, pointing out that an occasional house call wouldn't kill her, and that once it became known that she had a celebrity as a patient her obviously sparse practice might pick up. She didn't like my crack about her failing practice, and we exchanged a few more un-pleasantries before taking a breather.
I explained again that Wolfe would not consent to be transported to an emergency room, even if the ambulance attendants could manipulate his avoirdupois from his bedroom down to the main floor and then down the front stoop. But I think what sold her was my explanation that as Wolfe's bodyguard I couldn't guarantee his safety once out in the world. He had been stabbed once that I knew of, attacked and shot at on numerous other occasions, and I really did mean it that a commitment to her patients' well-being argued in favor of a house call.
So there we were, and the look Wolfe gave me when I showed up with a female doctor in tow was a beaut. He was too gallant, if that's the right word, to complain in front of her, but I knew I would pay for this once he got better. But she was the closest available physician, had excellent bona fides, and I was way past being willing to indulge his predilections and prejudices. He needed medical help, and he needed it now.
She shooed me out of the room, declining my offer to help her assemble the various diagnostic tools she had brought. I recognized a portable X-Ray machine, and the gear for an EKG, along with the usual paraphernalia for administering injections and taking vital signs.
I used the time to try to calm Fritz. Wolfe ill, with no appetite, was enough to cause him to fret, and the appearance of any female into our domain always upset him. I turned a deaf ear to Theodore's querulous pestering about when Wolfe would be able to rejoin him in caring for the orchids. I guess I could have been more sympathetic, but as I've said, I was already on edge and Theodore had a knack for getting under my skin.
When Wolfe buzzed me to come up I found him sitting up in bed and the doc packing up her things.
"Ordinarily I don't discuss a patient's condition with a third party but in this case, as his private secretary, there are things you should know."
She knew damn well I was a lot more than a private secretary. I hadn't been shy about sharing my bodyguard duties as well as my credentials as a licensed private investigator, and I wasn't going to let her get away with that dig.
"Thank you, Nurse," I said in my most unctuous tone.
I had a feeling she was telling herself "another place, another time" for round two, or maybe we were up to round three by now. She sighed, not Wolfean, but not minor, and came to the point.
"Mr. Wolfe needs to continue with bed rest. It is important that he remain hydrated. That does not include beer." So obviously she had done her homework or perhaps Wolfe had given her an accurate description of his lifestyle.
"He needs to limit his physical activity until he is better." I stifled a smirk. It would be almost impossible for a sentient human being to be less active than Wolfe.
"I want to see him - in my office - in 72 hours." There was no mistaking the emphasis when she said "in my office."
"By then the medicine I have prescribed and the injection I administered should have provided some relief. The good news is that I can rule out pneumonia as well as a viral infection, and I note that his flu vaccination is up to date.
"However, we are going to have to address overall wellness issues. I will be prescribing some dietary rules as well as a moderate exercise regimen for him to follow in order to bring his weight under control. I want to speak to your chef; his cooperation will be critical and I believe he can continue to prepare tasty and satisfying meals that will not impede the patient's progress. I don't believe in crash diets; a temporary weight loss won't last if cravings remain."
Turning to Wolfe, "It is fortunate that you exhibit no signs of diabetes; I would have expected that and I want to follow you for any increase in your blood sugar levels.
"Aside from all this, you appear to be in good health. I'll show myself out."
"One question please, Doctor." She might be a pain in the posterior but she had earned my respect. "I'm not questioning your diagnosis or your treatment, but the patient told me his illness started with a digestive problem. What accounts for the fever and the throat problem?"
I thought she might bridle but she almost smiled. "We doctors know a lot, but the human body still contains many mysteries. Think of his infection as an elevator going up and down his body; it drops off a germ in the digestive tract, later it goes up to the head and does some harm there. You and the staff are to be commended for the excellent care you've provided, and I'm confident the antibiotic will knock out the infection. But I want to see him in 72 hours, and if I’m wrong we'll pursue other avenues. The fact is, even if the medicine doesn't work there is a good chance he will recover on his own. He has a sound constitution. I'll put a rush on the blood work when it goes to the lab just in case.
"Mr. Wolfe, I look forward to seeing you in a few days and to working with you to ensure good future health. I will provide Mr. Goodwin with my emergency contact information."
Neither Wolfe nor Fritz would have overlooked my rudeness if I hadn't hauled her equipment for her, and I figured she had earned a trip in the elevator.
Wolfe recovered, and actually consented to brave the elements for a follow-up appointment at her office. I didn't have to insist on driving him; much as he hated to be subject to the perils of being trapped in a moving vehicle, the thought of traversing two whole city blocks on foot was far less palatable.
Things got back to normal at the brownstone, Wolfe spending two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon with the orchids, with Theodore by his side. Fritz confided in me that he would try to prepare meals in accordance with the doctor's directions, but his first efforts met with Wolfe categorically rejecting what was offered.
"She knows nothing of gastronomie," Fritz complained, emphasizing his point by using his French-Swiss pronunciation.
The bank balance had seen better days but we weren't facing any major problem. Before he became ill, Wolfe had accepted a huge retainer from a former client, the head of one of the big brokerage houses downtown. His company was under investigation for something called "insider trading;" the Securities and Exchange Commission and the FBI were all over them with subpoenas, search warrants, and grand jury appearances. Wolfe had been reluctant to become involved: the firm had a full complement of security specialists, some of whom were former Feds, and they had been unable to plug the leak, assuming there was one.
The nub of the case was that one of their investment advisers seemed to have a knack for discovering companies poised on the verge of taking off and earning huge profits. They included a wide range, including a soft drink company, a defense contractor specializing in bombsights, and several others. In and of itself that was no problem; that was the mark of success and others on Wall Street could make similar claims, if not as dramatic. The issue was that another broker in the same building, working for a different company, regularly invested in those companies and was reaping huge profits. The government was asserting that the two of them, the guy who was finding these great investment opportunities, and the guy investing in them contemporaneously with the discoveries, were in collusion, and that would constitute insider trading on the part of both individuals, and through them it would establish vicarious liability on the part of their employers as well.
In a rare instance of cooperation between rival companies, our former client had brought in the head of the second company, and to protect their privacy I'll call them Schmidt and Calhoun. Schmidt was a big, rangy guy, and I was always surprised by his squeaky high-pitched voice. Calhoun was short, skinny as a rail, but made up for it by speaking in a big, booming, baritone. I wondered if he wasn't straining his vocal chords to achieve a desired effect. He also had the annoying habit of ending sentences with "Okay? Okay!" I guess he had become accustomed to people agreeing with him and liked the sound of it. Anyway, they jointly underwrote Wolfe's fee. Wolfe stipulated that he would be paid to undertake to prove collusion or dispel allegations of wrongdoing, but would not guarantee either, and in fact we had been able to do neither.
Wolfe decided early on that there was little point to plowing over the forensic work the inside experts had performed. None of the investigators Wolfe uses possesses that level of expertise, not even Saul Panzer, and once we were satisfied that the inside experts had energetically and honestly tried to ferret out wrongdoing Wolfe decided on a different approach. He put a good team on it, Saul and Fred and Orrie and me, and we were tasked with discovering any links between the two investment geniuses. Despite our best efforts, including straight tail jobs, some discreet intrusions into telephone communications, and a deep dive to find any common acquaintances, places frequented, or even shared interests or hobbies, we were unable to unearth a single lead.
Wolfe eventually called in the two clients and explained that there was no point in continuing to run up expenses. He did not offer to return the fee, since he had met his part of the bargain, i.e. undertaking but not guaranteeing that he could prove one of two possibilities.
"I will not presume to offer legal advice, since I am not a member of the Bar. But if your assumption is correct that the government, with all its resources, has also been unable to prove that any connection exists, I suggest that at worst your situation is that of stalemate. Vexatious as the investigation is, it is unlikely that any prosecution would go forward on speculation and coincidence. I can recommend a good lawyer, Nathaniel Parker, but beyond that I can do no more."
The clients were not happy, and there was some grumbling on the part of Calhoun, who had not dealt with Wolfe before, but that was where things stood, until shortly after Wolfe recovered from his illness.
I was updating the germination records one morning when Wolfe entered the office and we exchanged our customary salutations. He rang for beer (so much for the doctor's advice about hydration), and after the foam had settled and he had imbibed a healthy swallow I noticed that he was barely looking at the mail I had assembled on his desk. Then it happened. You might not think it dramatic, but then you don't know Wolfe the way I do. He doesn't jump up, or pace, or exclaim "I've got it!" or "Egads!" No, he leans back in his chair, his eyes closed (I don't know if he closes them or it is an involuntary reaction to whatever his brain is doing) and his lips begin to move - no sound - in and out, in and out. I know better than to interrupt; wherever he is at that moment, it isn't in his chair in the office, he is somewhere on some planet which will never be discovered.
"Archie." He was back to earth.
"That matter of insider training. You never badgered me when I terminated our investigation. Why not? That was very unlike you."
"I saw no point to it. The scratch was good but we weren't getting anywhere and I couldn't see a wedge."
Wolfe grimaced slightly at my slang but I could tell he was on to something and he would let it slide.
"Could you call Messrs. Schmidt and Calhoun and find out if there have been any developments of note, and if not, whether they would accept our resuming the investigation?"
"Sure thing, Boss. Care to tell me why?"
"I think not, Archie, at least not at this juncture. Let us first see if we are to expend our energy and resources."
I suspected it would be Wolfe's resources but my energy but this was no time to argue. I wanted to get back to work!
I called ahead and had no difficulty securing appointments. I wanted to see them separately, Schmidt first. I figured he was still impressed with the work we had done for him before and would be an easier sell. Of course it wouldn't be the first time that a crook had hired Wolfe on the theory that if he could fool Wolfe he'd be invulnerable to probes by lesser minds, but I couldn't see it in this case. Even though his company hadn't been hauled into court to face charges, word on the street moves fast and he was hemorrhaging clients. Calhoun's company was only slightly better off.
I had the cabbie drop me a few blocks before we reached our destination. It was a clear spring day, with just enough snap in it that I debated adorning myself with my new London Fog topcoat. I won the debate, by the way, I always do, and used the time on foot to plan out my approach with these two luminaries. I was also breaking in a new pair of Italian hand-made brogans, not my usual style but they were a gift from Sal deLuca, the shoemaker around the corner, who took care of shoe repairs for the denizens of the brownstone and kept Wolfe's polished to a fare-thee-well. As I've pointed out before, Wolfe may be oversized but there is nothing casual about his appearance, from head to toe.
The shoes had been a gift. Sal had been subject to some petty extortion by a couple of neighborhood toughs who thought they were big-time. I was able to point out the error of their ways. I wouldn't accept any compensation, so Sal had presented me with these handcrafted beauties. Wolfe, who misses nothing, had arched his eyebrows the first time I wore them, but managed to contain his curiosity, and I didn't think he needed to know about my extracurricular activities.
It turned out that I needn't have given any thought to persuasive stratagems; both Schmidt and Calhoun were all too willing to continue as before, paying Wolfe for his efforts, and each agreed to a sizable bonus if Wolfe actually solved it, one way or the other. Wolfe's ego is as big as his girth, and his standard arrangement was that the clients would decide whether he had earned that part of the fee. To Wolfe's credit, we had never had a case where a client cavilled once Wolfe declared success. The only dissonant note was that they had followed Wolfe's advice about hiring Nat Parker, who had turned them down flat without even letting them finish explaining why they wanted to hire him.
I welcomed the opportunity to take another look around, hoping that inspiration would strike, but all I saw was what I had seen before and what had been reported to Wolfe. The two companies were separated by several floors. They were located in one of the pre-war buildings, not one of the new skyscrapers. Nothing had changed since my last visit. The uniformed elevator jockey who transported me up to Schmidt, down to Calhoun, and then back to the ground floor, was the same attractive middle-aged woman I remembered from earlier visits. The receptionists were from central casting: young, blonde, with a hint of a British accent. In other circumstances I might have felt a need to do some personal detecting, just to verify the authenticity of the accent of course, but all hands had been thoroughly vetted. There was no way to connect the two brokers, the presumed leaker and the putative leakee, either directly or through any other employees or any outside relationships the two men had. There was simply no inter-connectivity to be found, and we had the best operatives search for it to no avail. This, coupled with no results from electronic probing and telephone records, left me scratching my head and wondering what Wolfe had glommed onto.
When I returned to the brownstone Wolfe was just coming down from his afternoon session with the orchids. As I said, things had retuned to normal. He settled into the only chair that will do, rang for beer, indulged in a generous helping, and sighed. Contentment? Resignation that he would have to go to work? It was almost impossible to predict so I didn't try.
His first words were, "Have you eaten?" This was not any kind of game for Wolfe; I'd have been surprised if he didn't start with that. Even an investigation paled into insignificance if anyone had missed a meal on his account. I assured him that I had, and he instructed me to report in full. I liked the sound of that. He's been known to lose interest and pay scant attention to information I gathered, but it was clear he was still fully engaged.
I've had lots of practice reporting verbatim, and the two conversations were duck soup compared to some. I gave him a full accounting of my meandering around the building, and when I finished I was rewarded with "Satisfactory," which is high praise from Wolfe.
"Your notebook please, Archie. It occurs to me that while we, and the other forces marshalled to investigate this matter, have done everything possible, we have overlooked one obvious alternative. Assume arguendo that investment adviser number one is exceptionally talented at his job. This is a fair assumption, proved by the fact that he has a notable record of discovering valuable investments. He is not unique; this is the sine qua non for success in his field.
"Assume further that it is not feasible that the adviser at the competing firm has duplicated the research of number one and independently comes to the same investment conclusions. Again, a safe assumption: the records reveal no similar research or outreach on his part; there is only the pattern that almost immediately after number one identifies a lucrative investment, combining innate shrewdness with intense research, number two invests in those companies. That is why the authorities believe there is ‘insider trading’ going on. It is both legitimate and indeed appropriate for number one to advise his clients to make these investments, but sharing them with a competitor, especially since that competitor is not a client of the firm, may be a violation of the law.
"I would like you to send orchids to the physician who attended me. Have Theodore help you select an arrangement large and colorful enough to adorn her waiting room. The card should read, 'With great appreciation.'"
"Gee, Boss, if you plan on courting her, why not just bring them to your next appointment?"
"Archie, some day you will go too far. I believe I have made it abundantly clear that any future medical issues will be attended to by Dr. Vollmer. And 'courting,' as you so inelegantly put it, would be in your domain, although one could not help notice the good doctor was manifestly immune to your charms."
I didn't see the point to pursuing this any further, for two reasons. One, I really didn't have any rebuttal, and two, I couldn't see the connection between our investigation and sending the doctor a gift. Wolfe wasn't one to go off on a tangent and in fact the instructions he proceeded to give me told me he was fully focused on earning every part of his fee.
"Please arrange for Saul to call on me at his earliest convenience today if he is available; if not, ask him to telephone. There is one matter that has been overlooked which may prove fruitful and indeed dispositive. If I am correct, we will need two, no, make it three operatives, men we haven't used before who will not be recognizable by our estimable adversaries. They must be able to blend in, clean-shaven, dressed in stylish but not garish business attire. They must have excellent auditory ability; this is a crucial requirement. I trust you to recruit them and have them available on short notice, some time within a few days I expect."
It was obvious to me that Wolfe had more of a handle on how the information was being passed than I did, but he wasn't ready to pounce. He was sending Saul for some missing piece of the puzzle, and I knew better than to ask what it was. So I asked. And got the standard reply. "Thank you, Archie, that will be all for now. Use your intelligence guided by experience in finding operatives who fit the bill."
Saul was working on a case of his own but he wasn't hard to reach. The best freelance operative I know or ever expect to meet, he had more work than he could handle, but whenever possible he left a number where he could be reached and if that wasn't feasible he called his answering service for messages. I got a call back even before I started my recruitment project.
"Thanks for the call back, bud. Mr. Wolfe is in the plant rooms but I think he'll accept an interruption. He knows how needy you are."
I buzzed Wolfe. After two rings he picked up with his usual "Yes?!" Not a snarl, not a full-throated growl, but hardly a model of etiquette.
"I have Saul on the line."
"Put him through, and be ready to provide him with adequate funds from petty cash if he so requires. There is no need for you to stay on the line."
I never get used to Wolfe brushing me back from the plate. While it has never resulted in a disaster, we had come mighty close on occasion, saved only by my brilliant ability, also known as dumb luck, to play catch-up. It always rankled, so I responded, "How the hell am I supposed to know how much cash?""
Wolfe can be even more annoying when he adopts what he thinks is a soothing tone. "Saul will let you know as circumstances dictate."
I know when I'm licked, and there was no point taking it out on Saul. "Saul, the great man deigns to speak with you. He has an errand for you and the kid we usually use has the measles." I connected them and rang off.
A few days passed without anything worth reporting, except that Saul called and asked me to tell Wolfe that he was making significant progress and would wrap it up in another day or two and that there would be no expenses, "it's all local."
I decided to bide my time but I was going to insist that I be present when Saul briefed Wolfe. I needn't have bothered. A few minutes later the phone rang and I answered, "Nero Wolfe's office, Archie Goodwin speaking."
"Hello, Archie, this is Nat Parker. I would like to see Mr. Wolfe this evening. I know he doesn't like to work after dinner but this is rather pressing and it won't take long. I will be bringing a client, my client that is, and I suggest Mr. Wolfe invite Mr. Schmidt and Mr. Calhoun. And by the way, please convey my admiration for a job well done by Saul Panzer, and of course to Mr. Wolfe for having puzzled this matter out."
One of the things we like about Parker is that unlike some members of his profession he doesn't waste time or words. I reported to Wolfe verbatim on both conversations when he came down from the plant room.
"Indeed." That was all he said. I gave him a minute or two to mull it over but he clearly wasn't going to the lip routine, so either he wasn't surprised or wasn't concerned. Either way, I was close to the boiling point.
"If you're not going to enlighten me, I guess I'll just take the afternoon off too. As I told you earlier this week, I'm going to the fights tonight."
"There is no need to be peevish, Archie. I remember your enthusiasm for this evening's event, I believe you said it was Joe Louis versus 'Kayo' Kaminsky. I believe Mr. Louis is referred to as 'the Brown Bomber.' Instructive nomenclature, and in fact this was one of reasons I employed Saul, apparently to good effect.
"Mr. Parker said his visit won't take much time and he is a man of his word. Perhaps you will be able to get to the arena in time, but if you care to remain I think we will achieve a satisfactory resolution of this matter, and I would of course welcome your presence."
"Okay, you got me. I'll stick. I don't suppose you care to tell me just how or what or why . . ."
"No need, Archie, but I know as a man of action this entire matter must have been frustrating for you, and I commend your self-restraint. Perhaps you can burn off some of that excess energy by making contact with the three operatives you hired and telling them their services will not be required. And of course please ensure that Messrs. Calhoun and Schmidt are present at the appointed time." With that he picked up a book he was reading, Wittgenstein's Place in Twentieth Century Analytic Philosophy, and muttered something about pernicious pleonasms. Wolfe will not discuss work au table, and one evening he asked if I was familiar with Isaiah Berlin's essay, “The Fox and The Hedgehog”. I made the mistake of cracking wise, to the effect that my taste ran more to Irving Berlin, so Wolfe treated me to a monologue about various philosophers who had expanded on Berlin's thesis. I beat a hasty retreat and instructed Fritz to have refreshments available for our guests.
Schmidt and Calhoun, the investment tycoons, were not accustomed to being summoned anywhere on short notice, much less without so much as an explanation. I calmed them down with drinks, and peace had been restored when Parker arrived. He was in formal evening wear, accompanied by a bejeweled and be-stoled woman who looked vaguely familiar. I took their drink order, and once I heard her voice I knew who she was. Of course she looked quite different out of uniform, and all I'd ever heard her say was "Floor, please," but that was enough.
Wolfe nodded to Parker to begin.
"Gentlemen, I appreciate that your time is valuable and that you have been under considerable strain. I'll get right to the point. Miss Loomis and I are also under time constraints. We have a cast party to attend, for the Broadway show she is backing. Perhaps you've seen it? It's called ‘Fighting Chance.’ As you've met Ms. Loomis before, I will forego any lengthy introductions."
Like leopards that don't change their spots, a cagey lawyer like Parker will always use surprise and deception to dominate, and he sure nailed it this time. The corporate tyros were expostulating all over the place: they had no idea who Loomis was. I decided to take a hand; although still a spectator I was now pretty sure I had it figured. Actually I was missing a big part of it but that surprise was yet to come.
"Ms. Loomis is the elevator operator in your building, and I think Mr. Wolfe, with Mr. Parker's help, is about to earn his fee." I knew Wolfe would appreciate that plug.
"More than that." She fairly spat it out. “Mr. Schmidt interviewed me for a position as a stockbroker a year ago. Mr. Calhoun didn't even bother to respond to the application I sent him. Did you even read my resume? Or did you discard it because I'm a woman?!"
Loomis had a nice enough voice, but she put an edge into it.
Parker put a restraining hand on her shoulder. "Ms. Loomis hired me when she learned that Nero Wolfe had been retained to investigate this so-called insider trading. That's why I summarily rejected accepting you gentlemen as clients. It would have been a conflict-of-interest, a concept with which I'm sure you are familiar." Parker was as smooth as silk, and clearly enjoying himself. He looked at his watch.
"But to the matter at hand. It was only a matter of time before Nero Wolfe would discover that Ms. Loomis was the key to passing the investment advice between the two stockbrokers. By the way, congratulations, Mr. Wolfe. Ms. Loomis had devised what seemed to be a foolproof scheme. How were you able to deduce what was happening, you sly old fox?"
If I didn't know better I would think Wolfe and Parker had rehearsed it. Wolfe's expression didn't change; he wasn't one for preening.
"In this case I would prefer the term ‘hedgehog,’ and it was more an example of inductive, rather than deductive reasoning. But no matter. Coincidence was too far-fetched, and there was no connectivity between the two culprits, except for the fact that they rode in the same elevator. Since they were never there at the same time it was obvious they had devised a code for passing the information through Ms. Loomis.
"As to the code itself, I was confident I could ‘break’ it by the surreptitious use of operatives who would report to me whatever pleasantries were exchanged between the stockbrokers and Ms. Loomis. Mr. Goodwin, who is essential to whatever success I achieve, may have provided the key, coupled with a comment by a physician of my acquaintance about the course that germs take throughout one's body.
"Ms. Loomis, would you care to confirm that for some of the recommendations you used prizefighting terminology? I note that one of the companies recommended was Coca-Cola, the "street" name for which is KO. Another company was Browning Bombsights. Surely a reference to Joe Louis, ‘The Brown Bomber,’ would have been easy to understand."
"You are correct, Mr. Wolfe. And it wasn't restricted to prizefighting. It was easy to come up with an innocuous greeting which would not arouse the suspicion of other passengers, incorporating a reference to an up and coming company. For example, if you were to become a publicly traded company, I would definitely recommend buying shares, and all I would have to do is say something like, ‘My date last night turned out to be a wolf in sheep's clothing.’ But you're missing one important element."
"Perhaps not, madam. Would I be correct in surmising that you, not the latest boy wonder of Wall Street, are responsible for all of these successful investments? That it was your research, not his, and that you passed the coded information to him and not the other way around?"
The two executives had remained silent but now there was a veritable explosion from both of them. "What are you saying / that's impossible" and so forth. Wolfe silenced them with a raised hand, an unusual exhibition of energy for him. Maybe he thought this qualified as exercise.
Loomis positively beamed. Schmidt, who struck me as quicker on the uptake than Calhoun, piped up to say that she, and not the two companies, along with her co-conspirators would bear the brunt of any prosecution.
"I wonder," Wolfe continued smoothly. "You see, the rules are a bit opaque. For example, your employee would have violated the rules had he recommended to clients that they buy shares in a company in which he had an interest. He never did so. And your employee, Mr. Calhoun, well, all he did was accept advice which emanated from Miss Loomis."
With that, Parker and his date departed. I decided another round of drinks was called for. Both men wanted to know what would happen next. Wolfe smiled, at least the narrow crease in his lips was what amounted to a smile for him.
"I suggest, gentlemen, that I have earned my fee in full. I give you one piece of advice, gratis. I suggest that a talent such as Ms. Loomis' ought not to go unrecognized. And, Archie, please have Theodore send her an arrangement suitable for her new office."
If you're wondering why I haven't named Loomis' errand boys, I don't see the need to pile on. It was clear that they were out of a job as soon as their respective bosses returned to work.
So, two satisfied clients, not unique, but two orchid arrangements to two women! Unprecedented.
Recently I read Berlin's essay about the fox and the hedgehog. I also did some research on the SEC rules. You have to hand it to old man Kennedy. In between having kids he wrote some pretty good regulations; strong enough to protect the public, but always with an eye out for buccaneers like himself.
I never did get to the fights that night. Just as well. The Bomber by a kayo in the first round.