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“Yes, ma'am.”

“But is that necessary?”

“Mr Wolfe thinks so. This is him talking through me, to Miss Fraser through you.

I ought to warn you, he can be an awful nuisance when a good fee depends on it.

Usually when you hire a man to do something he thinks you're the boss. When you hire Wolfe he thinks he's the boss. He's a genius and that's merely one of the ways it shows. You can either take it or fight it. What do you want, just the publicity, or do you want the job done?”

“Don't worry me, Mr Goodwin. We want the job done. I don't know if I can get Professor Savarese. And that Shepherd girl-she's a bigger nuisance than Mr Wolfe could ever possibly be.”

“Will you get all you can? Half-past eight. And keep me informed?”

She said she would. After I had hung up I buzzed Wolfe on the house phone to tell him we had made a sale.

It soon became apparent that we had also bought something. It was only twenty-five to six, less than three-quarters of an hour since I had finished with Deborah Koppel, when the doorbell rang. Sometimes Fritz answers it and sometimes me-usually me, when I'm home and not engaged on something that shouldn't be interrupted. So I marched to the hall and to the front door and pulled it open.

On the stoop was a surprise party. In front was a man-about-town in a topcoat a duke would have worn any day. To his left and rear was a red-faced plump gentleman. Back of them were three more, miscellaneous, carrying an assortment of cases and bags. When I saw what I had to contend with I brought the door with me and held it, leaving only enough of an opening for room for my shoulders.

“We'd like to see Mr Nero Wolfe,” the topcoat said like an old friend.

“He's engaged. I'm Archie Goodwin. Can I help?”

“You certainly can! I'm Fred Owen, in charge of public relations for the Starlite Company.” He was pushing a hand at me and I took it. “And this is Mr Walter B. Anderson, the president of the Starlite Company. May we come in?”

I reached to take the president's hand and still keep my door block intact. “If you don't mind,” I said, “it would be a help if you'd give me a rough idea.”

“Certainly, glad to! I would have phoned, only this has to be rushed if we're going to make the morning papers. So I just persuaded Mr Anderson, and collected the photographers, and came. It shouldn't take ten minutes-say a shot of Mr Anderson looking at Mr Wolfe as he signs the agreement, or vice versa, and one of them shaking hands, and one of them side by side, bending over in a huddle inspecting some object that can be captioned as a clue-how about that one?”

“Wonderful!” I grinned at him. “But damn it, not today. Mr Wolfe cut himself shaving, and he's wearing a patch, and vain as he is it would be very risky to aim a camera at him.”

That goes to show how a man will degrade himself on account of money. Meaning me. The proper and natural thing to do would have been to kick them off the stoop down the seven steps to the sidewalk, especially the topcoat, and why didn't I do it? Ten grand. Maybe even twenty, for if Starlite had been insulted they might have soured the whole deal.

The effort, including sacrifice of principle, that it took to get them on their way without making them too sore put me in a frame of mind that accounted for my reaction somewhat later, after Wolfe had come down to the office, when I had explained the agreement our clients had come to, and he said: “No. I will not.” He was emphatic. “I will not draft or sign an agreement one of the parties to which is that Sweeties.”

I knew perfectly well that was reasonable and even noble. But what pinched me was that I had sacrificed principle without hesitation, and here he was refusing to. I glared at him: “Very well.” I stood up. “I resign as of now. You are simply too conceited, too eccentric, and too fat to work for.”

“Archie. Sit down.”

“No.”

“Yes. I am no fatter than I was five years ago. I am considerably more conceited, but so are you, and why the devil shouldn't we be? Some day there will be a crisis. Either you'll get insufferable and I'll fire you, or I'll get insufferable and you'll quit. But this isn't the day and you know it. You also know I would rather become a policeman and take orders from Mr Cramer than work for anything or anyone called Sweeties. Your performance yesterday and today has been highly satisfactory.”

“Don't try to butter me.”

“Bosh. I repeat that I am no fatter than I was five years ago. Sit down and get your notebook. We'll put it in the form of a letter, to all of them jointly, and they can initial our copy. We shall ignore Sweeties”-he made a face-“and add that two per cent and that five hundred dollars to the share of the Federal Broadcasting Company.”

That was what we did.

By the time Fritz called us to dinner there had been phone calls from Deborah Koppel and others, and the party for the evening was set.

Chapter Five

There are four rooms on the ground floor of Wolfe's old brownstone house on West Thirty-fifth Street not far from the Hudson River. As you enter from the stoop, on your right are an enormous old oak clothes rack with a mirror, the elevator, the stairs, and the door to the dining-room. On your left are the doors to the front room, which doesn't get used much, and to the office. The door to the kitchen is at the rear, the far end of the hall.

The office is twice as big as any of the other rooms. It is actually our living-room too, and since Wolfe spends most of his time there you have to allow him his rule regarding furniture and accessories: nothing enters it or stays in it that he doesn't enjoy looking at. He enjoys the contrast between the cherry of his desk and the cardato of his chair, made by Meyer. The bright yellow couch cover has to be cleaned every two months, but he likes bright yellow. The three-foot globe over by the bookshelves is too big for a room that size, but he likes to look at it. He loves a comfortable chair so much that he won't have any other kind in the place, though he never sits on any but his own.

So that evening at least our guests were at ease, however the rest of them may have felt. There were nine of them present, six invited and three gate-crashers.

Of the eight I had wanted Deborah Koppel to get, Nancylee Shepherd hadn't been asked, and Professor F. O. Savarese couldn't make it. The three gate-crashers were Starlite's president and public relations man, Anderson and Owen, who had previously only got as far as the stoop, and Beech, the F.B.C. vice-president.

At nine o'clock they were all there, all sitting, and all looking at Wolfe.

There had been no friction at all except a little brush I had with Anderson. The best chair in the room, not counting Wolfe's, is one of red leather which is kept not far from one end of Wolfe's desk. Soon after entering Anderson had spotted it and squat-claimed it. When I asked him courteously to move to the other side of the room he went rude on me. He said he liked it there.

“But,” I said, “this chair, and those, are reserved for the candidates.”

“Candidates for what?”

“For top billing in a murder trial. Mr Wolfe would like them sort of together, so they'll all be under his eye.”

“Then arrange them that way.”

He wasn't moving. “I can't ask you to show me your stub,” I said pointedly, “because this is merely a private house, and you weren't invited, and my only argument is the convenience and pleasure of your host.”

He gave me a dirty look but no more words, got up, and went across to the couch.

I moved Madeline Fraser to the red leather chair, which gave the other five candidates more elbow room in their semi-circle fronting Wolfe's desk. Beech, who had been standing talking to Wolfe, went and took a chair near the end of the couch. Owen had joined his boss, so I had the three gate-crashers off to themselves, which was as it should be.