“Your friend’s heart is a forest”
It nears midnight in Manhattan, but the city does not sleep. In July, around midnight, the heat finally begins to ease. The streets are still crowded with cars and pedestrians jostle along the sidewalks of the theater district. The hectic neon light from signs and advertisements paints the faces of the passers-by with unexpected colors and music spills out in erratic bursts of impassioned syncopation from the open doors of the restaurants and nightclubs. All is still, though, in the narrow, dingy alley behind the Ten Palms Club, except for the feral cat that prowls around the stained bottoms of the garbage cans lined up by the kitchen door. Suddenly, disturbed by footsteps, the cat first freezes and then scrambles rapidly up the high wooden fence that blocks one end of the alley.
His departure does not alarm his successor, although the two creatures share much else in common. Like the cat, the man is scrawny and furtive, a less-than-successful denizen of the night. Like the cat, the man is cautious but alive to the main chance. But, unlike the cat, “Shiv” Fruett does not have enough street sense to flee predators bigger and more deadly than himself. This is why, soon after midnight, the cat will sniff delicately at the blood around the body of the man he had fled not long ago.
For now, though, Shiv skulks awkwardly past the cans full of garbage to try the rear door of the store across from the Ten Palms. It is locked, and he sighs, inaudibly. He did not really want to get in, but he tries all locked doors in much the same spirit that a small boy checks all slots in gumball machines. This habit is typical of the artlessness about Shiv that might lead the idle observer to suppose him nothing more than an ineffectual burglar. The idle observer would be wrong. Shiv is, in fact, an ineffectual murderer, a prowler who has killed three people while escaping from jobs that he botched. Two elderly shopkeepers and a night watchman could tell you that Shiv is not as harmless, if as hapless, as he seems. They are not here, though, to present their cases, and neither is the former girlfriend who learned too late that Shiv was clumsy nor the man who discovered the hard way that Shiv obeys even the most gruesome instructions for pay. Another will have to appear in their stead tonight, to deliver a final judgment on Shiv.
In a thick patch of shadows by the garbage cans, someone coughs. Shiv whirls and his hand moves, but there is no light in the alley to glint off what he now holds low by his hip. His confidence shored up by the knife, he licks his lips before he asks, too loudly, “Who’s there?”
“Shiv?” a sardonic tenor inquires.
“Yeah? That’s me. Are you the guy I’m here to meet?”
The only response is a single gunshot. The feral cat, about to return to the hunt, reconsiders and crouches low on the fence. Shiv topples, taking a can over with him. His death is quieter than the sounds of garbage cascading into the alley.
The gunman waits with his head tilted to one side for a few seconds, listening, before he pads forward and rapidly rifles through Shiv’s pockets. He avoids the blood spreading from the ruin of Shiv’s head as he avoids the mess scattered from the can, with the ease of much experience. He seems unhindered by the lack of light, except to twice hold slips of paper out at arm’s length, as if seeking illumination. At last he tucks one piece of paper and the money from Shiv’s wallet away in his own breast pocket. He takes out a pen and sketches on the other piece of paper, before he tosses it, now marked with the rough sketch of a fox, back down onto the chest of the dead man.
He walks to the mouth of the alley. There he pauses for a time in the shadows by the street, waiting for some inaudible signal before he emerges, unobserved by the doorman and the patrons of the Ten Palms Club, to join the late theater crowds jostling down the sidewalks. Fifteen minutes later, Archie Goodwin is dancing amid the members of café society, beneath the Art Deco chandeliers of the Crystal Ballroom.
It’s a hard thing to describe, as long ago and far away as it seems to me now. He’s as much a mystery to me as he was to the rest of Manhattan during that murky mid-thirties year, and yet I know what so many people - cops and reporters, criminals and the curious - would have given their collective eyeteeth to have known. I know the name and the face of the man who left behind the sketch of the running fox on so many still chests. His name was mine and his face was mine, and both belonged to Archie Goodwin. Was it Archie inside the skin, though? I’m not quite sure to this day.
It seems, looking back, that I never took up as much room inside myself as I should have. Oh, sure, the tough guy role fulfilled its purpose, to protect me and give me a face to show the outside world. However, behind the mask I felt soft as clay, as if I would change shape if life pressed on me too hard. It had been a useful trait when I was being passed from relative to relative as an orphan kid in Ohio, but it was a dangerous flaw in a guy who carried a gun. Sometimes I feared what I might see when I shaved in the mornings. There were eyes I had seen in other faces I didn’t want looking back at me out of a mirror.
My boss, Nero Wolfe, knew all about my problem. We had swapped enough stories over the dining room table the past decade to trace the outlines of the shadows on each other’s lives. He seemed to understand, better than I did, the danger I was in. I know now it was the main reason that he let me write my “case reports,” even given all the work it caused him checking my manuscripts to make sure I wasn’t giving too much away about our real clients. He knew that the more others believed in the wise-cracking P. I., the more I would, too. It was a role that could support me as long as I didn’t get too introspective, so I didn’t get introspective. There was no reason be introspective: my life as a detective seemed real enough until I saw the blood splattered across the canvas tarp and on the dingy parlor rug of that tenement apartment.
I wouldn’t argue the fact that I warped when Wolfe died. It might not have been so bad if the Big Guy had kicked it over cleanly, maybe from busting a vein after a particularly fine indulgence at Fritz’s table. But then again, it might have been as bad in some other, subtler, way. That’s the problem with wearing a mask that muzzles your feelings. They get hostile and claw you up royally when they are finally set free. I don’t know what else I could have done apart from what I did, though: I needed that tough P.I. role to play and tough guys don’t want what I did from fat eccentrics.
Brooding over what never happened is a waste of time, anyway.
Wolfe’s death was obviously dirty, blatantly dirty. His murder was ugly enough to make a patrolman vomit. I know, because I was there when the police were handling the crime scene and two of the younger cops did just that. I didn’t lose it, myself. I smoked a cigarette and watched them all from very far away.
Once before a criminal had staked me out as the goat to lure the fat tiger out of his den, but that time everything had worked out okay. Wolfe got away clean and I paid for his freedom only with a concussion and a revelation; it was cheap at the price. I healed from the crack on the head I got when I passed out in front of him and smoothed over the chink in my heart that had opened when I though he was dead before I went back to business as usual. In February of ‘37, however, when I was scooped up by thugs while walking back to the Brownstone from a movie, intent on getting to Wolfe, our luck ran out.
To give him credit, Sergeant Purley Stebbins of Homicide tried to shield me from knowing how bad it had been at the end for Wolfe. He wanted to ship me off to the hospital and then, when that didn’t work, send me down to Homicide to talk with a detective or three. It wasn’t Purley’s fault that I ignored him. Somehow I had believed, until I saw the body, the cops had got it wrong. Somehow I had known that Wolfe had escaped.
He hadn’t escaped.
Wolfe had worked for the intelligence service of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire. He had fought on two different fronts during the Great War. He must have known what he was in for, once they got going. He had been a long time dying while they worked him over. All I could think of when I saw him was the pig we had for Christmas the previous year, while it was still in the kitchen and Fritz and Wolfe were cleaning out the carcass. I haven’t eaten pork since.
I didn’t know then why the three kidnappers hadn’t killed me once they were done with Wolfe. At the time, I really wished that they had. Later, I found out that they were supposed to dispose of me but were interrupted by the patrolman who had been called in by an indignant neighbor and went down the fire escape, instead. Every year I send her roses: she did her duty as a citizen, and it wasn’t her fault that the cavalry arrived too late. She fainted when she got a peek at the living room through the apartment door. I’m glad she didn’t see what was left of Wolfe.
The goons had tied a towel around my head after they roped me, gagged me, and taped my eyes. I guess they didn’t want me bashing my brains out on the tile floor of the john until they were done with Wolfe and were ready for me. Through the thick cotton and the thicker walls of the old tenement I couldn’t hear the noise. When the patrolman cut me free, I almost broke his nose before I realized who he was. He knew who I was, sure enough, and he and his partner kept me in that tiny room until someone could tell them what to do. I have to say, they never gave me any trouble later for swinging on them, maybe because it was easy to handle me in the state I was in. They finally let me loose when Stebbins came in to try and get me to leave without seeing Wolfe. I overruled him, though. I claimed that someone had to formally identify the body and it wasn’t going to be Fritz. Fritz shouldn’t have to look at a mutilated body just to tell them that they got it wrong.
They didn’t get it wrong, of course. I did.
I went cold and quiet when I saw the body. I don’t know what was on my face, but all the cops shut up and looked at me and the stillness spread out through the apartment. For a moment there was a silence, with me in the center of it. I wasn’t the one to break it. From somewhere a white light washed over and around me. The world roared but I didn’t say a word. I nodded once and then walked out the door of the apartment.
I leaned against the wall of the hallway and smoked, watching the neighbor have hysterics, the rookies vomit, the technicians go in and out, and the cops glance my way and mutter behind their hands to each other. All of it was nothing to do with me. I was far away and getting farther away by the minute, stretching out and tearing apart. Nearer to the guy who looked like me, something was going on but I wasn’t sure what it was. I didn’t know then that what I was feeling was the pain of being shattered from within by someone else, someone red, feral, and eager to hunt along the streets of a city that could allow such things to be, someone like a fox.
Wolfe likes to see him in evening clothes, Archie knows, so he is careful about the tailors he chooses. The matte black of the dinner jacket he wears as he moves effortlessly though the graceful steps of the foxtrot is perfect. The tie that his dinner companion toys with when they return to their table is a simple strip of raw silk dyed yellow and is impeccable. The gold cufflinks that shimmer faintly in the lamp light were once Wolfe’s and are above reproach. The money in Archie’s wallet, destined to pay for the expensive nightclub meal, was also once Wolfe’s. It is not being employed to the same good effect as the rest of Archie’s possessions since, for all the high prices here, the chef is mediocre. Wolfe, if he could, would have a few choice words to say about the food, especially about the pheasant. During the meal Archie will not look at the shadow on the wall to one side of the table.
Instead, he concentrates on his dinner partner. She is not a woman he would have bothered with in the old days; her capacity for martinis is amazing and he wasn’t much of a drinker, back then. Practice has increased his own capacity in the past year and a half, though, so he is less inclined to criticize than he once would have been. It is more important to him now that she can dance, and that alcohol makes her memory ductile and easily reshaped by deft words. Already, Archie knows, she would swear under oath in a court of law that he had been with her the entire evening.
She is charming and good company, but the alibi is barely worth the trouble to construct it. The police don’t concern themselves with Archie Goodwin now that he has ceased to be an insolent P. I. and become an insolent habitué of café society. Socialites with sharp tongues rarely cross the mental horizons of the police. Only Inspector Cramer and Sergeant Stebbins still drop by the Brownstone from time to time, their bloodhound instincts warning them that something is wrong, if not what. Nonetheless, Archie builds his alibi. Carelessness, as he has often proved to others this last year, is an invitation addressed to death. So, he dances and drinks and laughs with his companion, always making sure to ignore the shadow, the crouched shadow darker than the city night outside, on the wall next to the table.
It is not until he gets back to the Brownstone that he has a chance to examine the slip of paper he took from Shiv’s wallet. The money was easily enough disposed of in a poor box, but the paper has haunted him the entire evening. He unfolds it eagerly, reads it twice, and then holds it out at arm’s length for almost a minute before he wads it up and burns it in the ashtray on his desk. There was not much written upon it: only the name of Doctor William B. Graves.
He sits at his desk for perhaps a half an hour longer, cleaning his gun, drinking a single shot of rye, and talking softly to himself in the quiet of the office, before he goes upstairs. When he undresses in the bedroom that used to be Wolfe’s, he inspects the soles of his shoes and the cuffs of his pants, shirt, and jacket carefully before he sets them all aside to be laundered. Satisfied, he strips, washes, and goes wearily to bed. Once between the sheets, he turns off the light and stares out into the dark of the bedroom, seeking the one shadow that is darker than all the rest. When he finds it, he closes his eyes and sleeps.
Maybe I would have done things differently if those hadn't been the golden years of the costumed vigilante. It seemed back then as if you couldn’t pick up a newspaper or magazine without reading about yet another guy in a cape and mask slinking around the streets, bothering criminals and irritating the cops. Wolfe and I had always thought them something of a joke, if a joke that had nothing to do with us. We weren’t chasing around foiling master-mind criminals and mad scientists. Wolfe only took cases where the villains worked behind desks, wore suits, and had summer houses. Their victims had more money with which to pay us than the crowds of victims harvested on the streets by the super villains. Besides, these amateur crooks lacked the mad-dog behavior that characterized the enemies of the vigilantes and, some said, the vigilantes themselves.
When Wolfe finally ran into an enemy worthy of a rogue hero, he didn’t survive the first encounter. He left me behind and I went ga-ga, which was practically an engraved invitation to the vigilante party. It was probably inevitable, the role my new self would assume. The feral thing inside me walked me around and made me come up with all the right responses to my friends in the next few days, but he was only waiting for his cue.
He perked up a little when Wolfe’s will was read and it turned out Wolfe had been having me on all those years. No wonder the fat bastard always kicked so hard at the traces when it was time to get down to business: he hadn't really needed to work. It seems he had been taking cases only to pay for extra toys and to keep yours truly busy. There was quite a lot of money, in one form or another, locked up in his safe-deposit box and he left it all to me. Others got the orchids, so the only duty he saddled me with was to take care of Fritz. That was okay. Even the predator liked Fritz. Even foxes have to eat.
During those first days, the only person who could get past the fox to talk to Archie was Saul, but he had problems of his own. Wolfe’s death hit him hard, especially because he had been out of town, cleaning up some mug’s case for Del Bascom’s agency, when everything blew up. At the crematorium Saul wept, something I had never seen before. Closer to the world than me, the fox licked his chops. The tears only made him more eager to hunt.
I delayed no longer. A little research and a few careful questions snared me the names of all the meaner gunslicks in town. I picked one, not at random, and stalked him to see what would happen. He was known on the streets for having shot a rival’s wife “by mistake,” along with a brother-in-law who had dropped by to try for the loan of a sawbuck. When I coshed him I didn’t feel a thing, aside from irritation at the spattering of blood that forced me to dispose of one of my favorite summer suits. It was much more important to me that I got both of the cherished automatics he packed wherever he went, although fat lot of good they did him that day. He recognized me from the papers as Archie Goodwin, Nero Wolfe’s errand boy, and let me in close to hear what I had to say. Too much assuming can kill you.
As I slept, that night, I dreamt I had hunted. I was in a thicket in the woods, eating the fat rooster with leisurely relish, when I was disturbed by a slight change in the brightness of the moonlight. Predator-sensitive, I sniffed the air and then, involuntarily, whimpered. Without a sound, with nothing visible to cast it, a shadow now darkened the dead leaves beneath the trees: the shadow of a wolf.
Archie pages slowly through his copy of The Gazette as he consumes the omelette herbes. After reading the short article about the murder of a small-time criminal on the bottom of page eight, he closes the paper and asks the man by the stove, “Did it go well, last night?”
Fritz snorts. “It went as well as could be expected, when working with a Sous-chef who is so very green. The patrons seemed pleased, if that counts for anything.”
“They’re a tough crowd at Rustermann’s. The boys are lucky to have you down there three evenings a week and I hope they appreciate it.”
“It allows me to keep my hand in. Your palate has been educated, Archie, but you are not--“ Fritz trails off and shrugs eloquently.
“Yeah, I know. After all these years I still can’t tell whether it’s chives or green onion in your squab stuffing.”
“We all have our particular gifts,” Fritz allows, generous to a fault. “How is your book proceeding?”
“Okay, but I may have to go out to Westchester County in a few days. There’s a man who can give me some background on Judge Conway’s murder.” Archie is telling only part of the truth about his errand. It is not the murder in his book he wants information about but the murder in his dreams.
Fritz shakes his head but is silent. He has long ago stopped warning Archie of the privations and hazards of the wilderness that surround Manhattan. Archie sips his orange juice and gazes vaguely out through the rear window of the kitchen. Some trick of the morning sunlight has caused a dark shadow to fall across the windowsill outside, a shadow that the sparrows quarreling over crumbs carefully avoid.
In the beginning, not knowing exactly who I was searching for, I settled for eliminating anyone I thought deserved it. Wolfe and I had noted, over the years, quite a few predators that moved in the same circles as our clients. Some of them struck me as the sort to hire men to finish their enemies in slow motion. I visited them first. Several men and a few women departed Manhattan abruptly for an unknown destination, improving the atmosphere of both high and café societies no end, I’m sure.
As seemed to be the custom in my new profession, I took to leaving drawings on the bodies, just to keep innocent bystanders from being blamed for my rough justice. As was also the custom, I added to my bag the one man who thought he could murder his mistress under my trademark. The cops would have probably gotten him anyhow. Unlike mine, his fox sketch looked impressively vulpine. I never could draw worth a damn.
I was one busy dog fox those first few months. Even now it amazes me that no one caught on to my activities as I prowled the island, hunting. The timing alone should have given me away, but, even though I sometimes felt as if eyes were watching me, no one interfered with my kills. What I sensed may have been other hunters who were interested in my technique without objecting to my choice of prey. Once I thought I heard strange laughter from a near-by rooftop as I stood over the body of a nurse who had a brisk sideline in angel-making. Another time, I got a lift away from a neighborhood that had suddenly sprouted police in a taxi driven by a guy wearing an opera cloak and a mask. None of them ever said anything to me, so I never said anything to them. I refused to worry about any other predator but the one that prowled through my dreams.
Every time I killed, the shadow of the wolf visited me as I slept. I would wake up sweating and shaking in my bedroom and not get back to sleep until dawn. When I got haggard enough for Fritz to notice and worry, I took steps. On a hunch, I moved into Wolfe’s bedroom. I expected Fritz to protest, but, instead, he called our housekeeping service for the men to come and help me move. I found when I slept in Wolfe’s bed the nightmares didn’t wake me, and so there I stayed.
Ten months passed after Nero Wolfe’s death before I had my first lucky break. It took me that long to wrap up Wolfe’s last cases and get out of the P. I. business so I could do some real research into my problem, given all the time my new hobby consumed. I spent several days and nights with Saul in parts of the city so unsavory that I am still surprised he knew people there. Our patient trolling finally netted us the location of a man who loved his knives more than he loved his girlfriend and who had been throwing around a lot of money about a year back.
When I went to discuss the matter with Saul, he raised one hand and shut me down. I was blind-sided by what he said next.
“I’m heading out in two weeks, Archie. Pacific Ocean, here I come.”
I closed my mouth and blinked at him.
Saul sighed and patted my shoulder. “You’re not being obvious to anyone but me, if it worries you. Problem is, I can’t decide which way to jump on this. In fact, I’m so tired of trying to decide what to do that I’ve made up my mind to get some distance between us and resolve the matter that way.”
There wasn’t anything I could say. I nodded my head.
“Just be careful, would you? And write, and let me know how you’re going on.”
When we got up to get our coats and leave the diner, he suddenly pulled me into a rough embrace. I wrapped my own arms around him and, for a moment, the fox and Archie were one again. When we went outside, though, the fox was rejoicing at not having to worry about what Saul would think when Mike Berman disappeared.
It was Archie who lingered on the corner after the light had changed, to watch Saul’s retreating back. And, it was Archie who saw out of the corner of his eye, for the first time in broad daylight, a shift of shadows in the mouth of a storm drain.
Fred Durkin has more work now that Wolfe, Goodwin, and Panzer have all left the business. The jacket of his new suit fits him neatly across the shoulders. However, he still comes over to the Brownstone every two weeks to eat a lunch-sized plank steak with simple enthusiasm and to swap gossip for advice from Archie afterwards, over drinks. He and Archie are in the office in the Brownstone this Thursday in July with Fred finally ensconced in the red leather chair. Now that Wolfe is dead, Fred drinks the rye he, himself, prefers, rather than the beer he drank to show his respect for Nero Wolfe. Fred lifts his glass to admire the color of its contents before he moves down his roster of anecdotes about the vigilantes of New York.
“Yeah, the Fox got another one.” It is said with a mixture of admiration and disapproval that makes Archie grin. “You remember which one the Fox is, Archie?”
Archie leans back in the chair at his desk. Wolfe’s desk, aside from being dusted, is untouched since his death. “Let me see if I have it straight. He’s the one with the little drawings, right?”
“No, that’s the Strider--no, wait, you’re right. It’s the Fox who shot Daniello Maltesta and the Vanriesner dame, so he does drawings, too.”
“Okay, we’re talking about the same guy. What did he do this time, or, rather, who?”
“ ‘Shiv’ Fruett, back behind the Ten Palms club. One shot to the head. The cops were really mad.”
“How come? Sounds like business as usual for one of these jokers.”
“Well,” Fred crosses his legs with the satisfaction of a man with exclusive information, “I have a cousin-in-law over at the 45th precinct, a Desk Sergeant, and he says they had been following ‘Shiv’ for a couple of days. They got an anonymous tip that the Fox might be after him.”
Archie raises an eyebrow. “And, they screwed up?”
“Yup. Shiv slipped the tail. The bulls who were on him swore that he didn’t know he was being followed but he must have.” Fred snorts his disdain. His own ability to hold a tail is legendary and he accepts no excuses from those he considers his peers.
“Give them a break, Fred. Maybe this Fox character has the power to cloud men’s minds.”
“Yeah, right. More like a really deep wallet.” Fred holds out his glass. “Any more of that rye ready to go?”
“Sure, if you’ve left any in the bottle. Speaking of going, Fred, don’t forget the beach toys for the kids when you leave this time, all right? Otherwise, you know Fanny will send you back here to pick them up.” Behind the mask of Archie, the fox flicks the tip of an ear, amused.
Berman, the first of Wolfe’s murderers, died hard. He was one of a handful that I had to shoot more than once, and he took three bullets before he would stay still. I leaned against the brick wall, avoiding the blood on the snow, shaking my head as if he had hit me. I had made a mistake. It was obvious, thinking about it afterwards, that Berman knew me well enough to recognize my voice and realize how much trouble he was in. I hadn't planned on that, though, and had been forced to dispose of him before I had gotten to ask a single question. Whatever information had been locked up inside his skull was gone for good, now. My carelessness had lost the trail. I swallowed against what I felt welling up within me. My vision blurred.
A voice spoke from behind me. “It is time for you to leave.”
I whirled around and saw nothing in the moonlight but the shadows cast by a fire escape overhead. I licked my lips. Nothing was visible; nothing was there at all. I knew the voice. Years of habit overcame months of solitary prowling and I broke out of my paralysis and fled, just in time to avoid the patrolmen summoned by someone in the apartment house above. As I left the alley behind me, a gust of wind whipped down it, sweeping the marks of my passing from the snow.
That night I dreamt I was trotting through the forest. When the shadow loomed up from behind me and blotted out the moonlight on the path, instead of fleeing I froze and waited. Large, sharp teeth gripped me, first on the muzzle and then on the nape of the neck. I could not see the wolf but I could feel him, above me, all around me. His shadow was black and deeper than the space between the stars on a clear winter night in Ohio. My heart raced, and--instead of waking up shaking, I woke up panting. In the dark of the bedroom, one shadow stood out as darker than all the rest.
“I know it’s you,” I said, my voice raw in my own ears. Someplace very far away, the fox was screeching.
Even the silence was familiar. If we had been in the office, I knew that he would have had his fingers laced over the mound of his stomach and the corners of his lips would have been tucked up a sixteenth of an inch. His eyes, looking at me, would have been--
The silence stretched. Wherever he was, the fox was making odd, coughing noises. It was nothing to do with me.
“Archie.” One word. I wondered why I had never noticed how dark his voice was, like velvet swallowing light.
“Must you kill, and kill again? It is both egregious and hazardous.”
“Yes, sir, I must.” I meant it to be strong but it came out ragged and resentful, as if I was defending a rule I didn’t much like. There was another silence, punctuated by a sound like a bushel of air being shifted by a pair of lungs sighing. I could see, if I let my eyes relax, that the shadow was stretching slowly towards the bed. I waited, wondering if it would flow over me and consume me, so that I could finally get some rest.
“You must be careful. It is very easy to make a mistake.” Close, closer. The light was disappearing.
Where was my snappy answer? Out in the forest of night with the fox? “I am being careful. More than you were, at least.” Too close to the predator to be Archie’s words, that.
“Contumacious as ever.” Blackness: I closed my eyes. What did I need them for now? Something loomed over me, I knew, but then I sensed a hesitation. “You are weary and it weakens you. Go to sleep.”
I tried to protest but I was flowing away, as if consciousness was being stripped from me by gentle fingers.
When I woke the next day, there was a faint but familiar scent around the bed. That other me whined with the uncertain pleasure of a young dog fox winding the alpha male of his own den.
Archie strolls down the sidewalk enjoying the day, which is unexpectedly cool for July. The crowd on the street moves a little slower than usual, its pace an accumulation of individual urges to loiter and savor the sunshine. A fresh breeze snaps taut the flags on the buildings and then releases them to wrinkle, and the leaves of the trees in planters toss in rhythm like they are playing a children’s game. It will be a good drive out to Long Island. Archie considers whistling, but settles for grinning at the shadow beside him that comes and goes beside mailboxes, under automobiles stopped at intersections, between the feet of other pedestrians. It is strange having the odd companionship in the streets; on days like this, he vaguely senses he has gained a small something to console him for his tearing losses.
At the garage, he gives in to impulse and whistles while he waits for the roadster to be brought out. It is the final car Wolfe gave him; usually he would have traded it in for a new model by now, but he hopes this car will last him until he needs a car no longer. When it comes, he tips the attendant and settles his fedora firmly on his head before he drives down the ramp and emerges into the sunlight. Even for a Thursday the roads around the city are crowded; the summer tourists are out in force, taking pleasure in nature, ice cream bought from roadside stands, and the exhaust fumes of their fellows.
By the time the houses give way to patches of farmland, Archie is ready to open the picnic basket that Fritz insisted on providing. He turns off the highway onto a rural road and drives a few minutes longer before he parks the roadster beneath the shade of a tremendous and ancient oak tree. The pate and crackers, the ham sandwiches, the apricots and grapes, the bottle of mineral water all disappear before Archie puts his hat over his face and dozes. He does not awaken until the pick-up truck pulls up beside him and an abrupt voice asks, “Hey, you there. Your name Archie Goodwin?”
Archie takes his time removing his hat and his lazy smile has a hint of danger in it. “That’s me. Are you here from Thomas Jenkins?”
The hawk-faced man in a flannel shirt and denim overalls who leans out of the truck window scowls, as if he has been accused of an illegal act. “Yup. I’m Sam, Mr. Jenkins’ man. He asked me to meet you here because he’s busy with the irises. Follow me.” Without waiting for a reply, he works the pick-up truck, with several backing and forthings, around and onto the dirt track that leads away across the fields from the oak tree.
Archie’s smile is wry as he starts his roadster. He is smart enough to appreciate, without prompting, the irony of Archie Goodwin following a loyal employee to an interview with an eccentric and dangerous boss obsessed with flowers. The roadster bounces along the hard-packed ruts of the dirt track as they cross two pastures and a wood-lot. At the far side of the trees the handyman drives through a gate in a fence. He gets out, walks back, and holds the gate open until Archie has passed through, and then carefully fastens it shut again. Archie notices, as he drives by, that the fence is posted with warning and no trespassing signs. Down the far slope of the hill, at the edge of more woods, the road surface turns to gravel and then curves to loop past the portico of a sprawling Beaux Arts house.
Archie leaves the roadster parked in front of the house and climbs the tiled steps to the front door. It is a long wait from the time that he reaches the stoop to when Sam follows him up the stairs and, with a scowl, unlocks and opens the banded wooden doors. Without another word, he leads Archie down a long corridor, its white panels painted with vines and vases, to a pair of baize-covered doors. Sam opens the doors and, still silent, jerks a thumb for Archie to enter.
The man sitting in the armchair by the French doors open to the afternoon breeze rises politely to his feet as Archie enters. He is in his late fifties, broad-framed and tall, with cropped blond hair starting to silver. His face, between the lips and eyebrows, is a ruined mass of scars and flesh out of which a pair of calm blue eyes regard Archie, awaiting his reaction. Archie neither looks away nor stares. He has seen a sight much more hideous than this and it has burned revulsion out of him.
“Mr. Jenkins? Thank you for agreeing to see me.”
Jenkins’s handshake is firm and strong. “I like to be of help when I can, Mr. Goodwin. I was sorry to read about the death of Mr. Wolfe, by the way.”
Archie tries not to be distracted by the low, compact shadow that shifts between two of the tall walnut cases that line the room, although it is hard not to remark that, even now, someone can’t leave the books alone. “Thank you. I miss him.”
At Jenkins’ gesture, Archie takes a winged armchair placed at a right angle to Jenkins’ own. There is a pause while Sam brings drinks, during which the two men talk, in a desultory fashion, of the beauty of the summer and the gardens. When they have their glasses in hand and Sam, with a final scowl, has left, Archie says, “You were the only one of his ex-patients that would agree to talk about Dr. Graves.”
Jenkins bares his teeth in an expression that isn’t a smile. “I am the only one of his former patients that refuses to run scared of the bastard. It will take more than this,” he points to his face, “to make The Sentry afraid.”
March was wet that year, but I didn’t mind. I had Wolfe back with me now, which meant that one of my hunts through the muck, sooner or later, would yield results. I spent some time keeping track of the rest of the short list Saul and I had put together of characters who favored knives and would go past strong-arm work to murder for hire and torture. It’s a testament either to something decent about human nature or to the hard work of my vigilante colleagues that the list was very short.
It took me a while to make up the ground I lost when I shot Mike Berman. There were a lot of crooks I met along the way that I could have got rid of, but Wolfe was as lazy as ever, so I disposed of only the most obnoxious cases. Not that he ever said much; unlike the old days when he would talk my ears off, he tended to keep his comments to a minimum. Whenever he thought I was stepping out of line, though, which included my making him waft around bodies, I would hear the chuffing noise, like a sound from an exasperated Husky, which served him now for “Bah”.
He no longer filled my nights with fear. Instead, as I lay in my bed and waited to sleep, I would search for him amidst the shadows. After I spotted him I could doze off in the way I now liked best, curled into a ball amidst a rucked-up nest of the sheets and coverlet, like a fox curling up nose to tail in his earth. My rest would be long and dreamless.
One night I found out exactly why I was sleeping so well. As the rain blew with a steady rolling beat against the windows, I drifted along the border of awareness long enough to sense what was easing my way through the darkness. A subtle shift, and a sensation like warmth behind me, let me know that I had company in the bed. In the dark, unseen by anyone including myself, I grinned, yawned wide enough to show teeth, and slept.
Some part of me still hibernated as the nights grew shorter and the snow melted to slush. But, the coming of spring filled me with nervous energy. I had written several articles about crime for local magazines and papers, and was escorting a number of ladies around town, as well as following my night time routine, but I still seemed to have get-up-and-go to spare. As the days went by I was growing convinced that one man I was tracking, Stevie Lawell, had both the depth of cruelty and the approximation of brains necessary to direct the trio that had butchered Wolfe. I was very eager to talk with him.
Jenkins looks out the windows at the lengthening shadows of a summer evening creeping across the flower beds as he talks. “I’m something of an autodidact, Mr. Goodwin, and I’ve spent a lot of time the last few years studying psychology. Most of us vigilantes are technically insane, are you aware of that?” His keen eyes shift to Archie’s face and then back away. “Yes, I see that you are. I was damn well distressed when I finally figured that out and I decided to do something about it. I got a reference to the best nerve-doctor in the profession, to talk my life over. He was fascinated, just fascinated. No one told me he was doing a study for a book he intended to write, on the rogue hero and the master-mind villain, and where they come from, and how they are alike and how they are different.”
Archie snorts and Jenkins smiles grimly.
“Oh, yes. He found out one difference the hard way. Or, at least his wife and family found it out. Old Von Kreutzritter didn’t much fancy being the subject of a scientific study. As a scientist himself, if a mad one, he felt he should be the one doing the research. So, he sent instructions out of the Asylum to do a little research on Graves’ family. It sent the Doctor right over the deep end.”
Archie raises an eyebrow in polite interest. He knows he would be more upset by the obvious parallels to his own story if it were not for the long shadow by the French doors. If a shadow could bah at irises, Archie would be hearing it now.
“Graves was a lunatic but no one knew it at the time, he was so gentle in his hurt. I offered to hunt down Von Kreutzritter for him, but he said no. Said he hadn't decided if it made any sense to continue forging the chain of blood. Poetic, eh? The Doctor’s an educated man.”
“How long did it take you and the others to figure out that the Doctor was killing vigilantes?”
“Longer than it should have, but that was to be expected. I mean, he was my therapist, for Christ’s sake. You ever been psycho-analyzed, Mr. Goodwin?”
Archie, smiling, shakes his head no. The fox snaps his teeth, once.
“Well, if your therapist’s any good at all, you get to thinking he hung the moon and the stars. It wasn’t until he--“ he points at his face “that I realized why it was that all the ones Doc was studying had gone first.”
“I see.” Archie pauses. “So, if his grudge was against vigilantes, why did he kill Judge Conway?”
Jenkins snorts. “Not all vigilantes wear costumes and sneak around the city after dark, Mr. Goodwin. The Judge may have worked for the courts during the day, but on his own time he’d gather up information about unsolved crimes and the supposedly solid citizens involved, and dispose of it as he pleased. You knew that, of course, from the interviews for your book.”
Archie nods. Judge Conway’s death is not really the one that grips his interest, but his research into the Judge’s murder has taught him much of what he wished to know about another murdered investigator who used information as he pleased.
“Well, some of the Judge’s targets were arrested, some committed suicide, and some just plain disappeared. That was good enough for Dr. Graves. Conway went on his list.” Jenkins’ eyes narrow. “Come to think of it, are you sure you’re telling me everything about why you’re here, Mr. Goodwin?”
“Nope. I’m not.” Archie’s smile is charming. Jenkins shakes his head.
“Then I think I’ve said about enough for one day. I hope you have a pleasant drive back to the city.”
Archie makes his farewells as if nothing has happened and Jenkins plays along. Only Sam glares as he escorts Archie back to the front door, a glare with an odd light of fear behind it. The fox grins at him, just to see if he’ll flinch. He does.
It was a cruel April.
I preferred to hunt out of doors, but this time I needed to track my prey back to its hole, for the sake of the privacy it would provide me. Lawell had a place in the Village, which I thought would make my job difficult. It did make my job difficult, but not in any way I had imagined. When I let myself into his apartment, using the illegal ring of keys I’ve long owned, I made it to the bedroom door before I realized that Lawell wasn’t alone. He was entertaining his company on the big bed with the Indian throw coverlet and what he and his friend were up to wasn’t going to do that coverlet any good at all. I froze.
At that moment, the fox abandoned me.
Maybe it was because there was an innocent - or, at least, someone innocent of anything aside from perversion - entwined with my target. Maybe it was for some other reason: the shock, perhaps. All I know is that the fox going to earth left me, Archie, standing by a doorway holding a gun, watching an act I knew was illegal but that I wasn’t about to collect the fine on. Pain thundered in on me from all directions, as if it had only been waiting for this chance. I would have groaned out loud with it, I’d swear, if something insubstantial hadn't muffled me, something like the sensation left behind when a girl slides her hand away from your lips.
I stood, trying not to move, my eyes watering, watching the couple on the bed for about two or three minutes before I got myself under control. Then, as quietly as I had come in, I went out. I walked to the stairwell, intending to keep on going, and instead sat down on a riser and listened to the raucous music spilling out from a party down the hall. I told myself to leave. I shook, instead.
I had only enough control left to put my head down when Lawell’s friend came out of the apartment door and strolled along the hall. I thought he would take the stairs, but he chose the party, where he was greeted with enough good cheer to tell me that he was well known to them. Peering cautiously around the archway of the stairs, I could see that the party was, for the moment at least, stuffed inside the four walls of its apartment. The opportunity was too good to miss. I went back to Lawell’s place.
As I had half suspected, he was one of those guys who enjoy falling asleep the minute they are done. Men like that make the hunting easy for men like me. He didn’t expect to wake up with the muzzle of my automatic pressed against him, but I was still surprised by how quickly he talked. As he gave me the name and address I had hunted for so long, of the man who had hired the three of them, his eyes kept shifting from my face to over my shoulder and back again, growing wider with each trip. I don’t know what he was seeing and I don’t want to know, but, by the end, his pupils were like tunnels and he was panting harder than he had been ten minutes before. I felt no mercy, but it was enough to make me merciful. I moved the automatic from his crotch to his forehead before I pulled the trigger.
I don’t remember leaving. I don’t remember the trip home, aside from someone, probably a passer-by, calling me a god-damned drunk. I don’t remember much at all, in fact, until I found myself curled up, naked, in my nest of bedclothes. I was panting like Lawell. I was like Lawell. I was--
Someone cried out; don’t ask me if it was the fox or not. The room was so bright I couldn’t see my shadow in it. All around me was white and roaring, and I was far away and going farther away by the minute. Then, suddenly, I was being held back. The grip at my neck, the weight forcing me into the bedclothes was keeping me from shattering into a thousand pieces of uncomprehending light. Bucking against the burden above, I screamed.
What I heard in response is mine alone. It was a truth too precious and too brutal to share, although I hold it closely, if carefully, to this day.
The next morning, when I awoke, I ached as if I had been fighting a battle. On the bedside table, though, was a slip of paper with the name and address that Lawell had given up to me written on it in a familiar hand that was not my own.
During the drive back to the city, Archie talks to himself. He does not seem to find his own company entirely amiable; by the end of the trip, a definite note of exasperation has crept into his voice. He parks the roadster and walks to the Brownstone with the air of one who is fuming. Even the beauty of the long summer twilight fails to entirely erase the irritation from his features. Just in front of the Brownstone, he stops and says, “Okay, I get the message. You’re uneasy about Jenkins’ story. So, how about the details? If you can keep making that noise, you can muster the voice to explain yourself.” Across the street, a pug seated in a bow window yaps frantically but inaudibly behind the glass throughout Archie’s monologue. Archie waits, and then shakes his head and mounts the seven steps of the stoop to the front door. Behind him the pug scrambles back so abruptly it almost falls off the cushions, as if something it fears has unexpectedly pressed its face to the window.
That night, as he sleeps, Archie tosses uneasily. His hands work in the dark and he whines, unknowing, protesting. His expression is slightly sullen as he shaves the next morning and his eyes are heavy and weary, but when he goes to the office he begins making phone calls. He does not seem to like the information he receives. He sits for several minutes, scowling at the mahogany desk across from his own, before he goes to get his hat and coat and leaves the Brownstone. He is gone until late afternoon. When he returns, he speaks out loud in the empty office for more than a half an hour, recounting the conversations of the day in perfectly recalled detail. He sits nodding to himself, then flips through his desk calendar and checks a date. Then he opens the drawer to his desk, ignores the bottle it contains, and takes out a gun. As he lovingly cleans his Marley .35, his air is thoughtful, not sullen.
The noises he makes in his sleep that night are not protests.
Saturday he spends at a friend’s house on the Long Island shore. In the afternoon, the guests sit poolside on the bluff just above the Atlantic and Archie grins at the sardonic comments a sharp-featured, sharp-tongued, recently divorced female columnist makes about the social implications of using a swimming pool so close to the sea, so soon after returning from taking a skiff out onto the bay. Unusually for the past year, when he fetches them both fresh drinks his glass contains nothing stronger than ginger ale.
After brunch on Sunday he makes his excuses and drives back to the city. He stops by the penthouse apartment of his current favorite dancing partner. It is the maid’s day off. Her voice husky from last night’s cigarettes and martinis, she comes to the door herself to let him in, dressed only in a long silk negligee the color of clotted cream. After her three highballs at lunch she dozes gently off with a smile on her carmined lips, gracefully stretched out across a white leather sofa in the living room. He kisses her forehead and sees himself out the front door, exiting her apartment building by the stairs.
When I was ready to visit Doctor Graves that Sunday afternoon in July, my favorite Marley was in my shoulder holster. The automatics that I had been using for garbage disposal the past year I had wrapped up carefully before I left the Brownstone Friday. On the way out to Long Island, I detoured by a suburban building site where they went into a hole scheduled to be filled with several tons of concrete the next day. I wasn’t really worried about their being found, but it seemed appropriate to entomb them in the classic manner.
I had to take a deep breath before I knocked on the manager’s door at Dr. Graves’ apartments. My thoughts had circled around this address for months, and I was having problems adjusting to the idea that I was finally here. I wanted to whine with eagerness, which would have left the wrong impression and shut the super up.
He told me he didn’t know if Graves was home upstairs and he didn’t care. It didn’t take much to get him talking. The super was a small, ancient, stubbled man who viewed his tenant with a combination of envy and contempt. Every day, it seemed, Graves went to the reading room of the downtown library. Every evening he went to a diner, and then a bar. If the superintendent had the money to retire early like Mr. Graves, he sure wouldn’t spend it all on books, no siree. He knew a guy who would sell him--before he shared his ideas of what other people’s money should be spent on, I managed to disentangle myself and go upstairs.
When I was about to knock on the door to his apartment, Graves opened it. I almost stumbled; I hadn’t expected that. He smiled at me, a bit concerned, and reached out a hand in my direction, as if to steady me. That was the first time that I really believed, deep down inside, in spite of what my research had uncovered, that it wasn’t Dr. Graves who had commissioned the job to kill Wolfe.
“Can I help you?” His gaze sharpened. He was no dummy, as it turned out, just a little too nice for his own best interests. “You’re Archie Goodwin, aren’t you? I’ve seen your picture in the Gazette.” The hand that had been hovering settled on my arm and drew me inside. “Come in, please. My neighbors might be alarmed by William Graves having such a well-known visitor.”
He went to close the door to the bedroom, leaving me to shut the front door. I took the chance it offered to scan the apartment. It was about what you’d expect for a retired teacher who drank too much, except for the Smith Corona sitting on the kitchen table, a sheet of paper still on the roll, and the manuscript piled on the sofa.
I shook my head. “Nice job of camouflage, Doctor Graves. Hiding in plain sight is about the best way to do it, if you can manage to pull it off. Obviously, you’ve done it.”
It didn’t alarm him. His smile was unclouded and open, inviting me to share the joke. “Thank you, Mr. Goodwin. For almost two years now, I have lived the life of a small, dull man. It is the perfect disguise, I’ve discovered. Those who knew me, including my former patients, seemed to find it much easier to accept that I was a psychopath than to envision me living as a seedy retiree who drinks too much and has low tastes in intimate company.”
“Well, most amateur criminals only change their activities, not their style. When quiet people go bad they go bad quietly. You were vivid when you were good, so they could believe you as dramatic and bad. Pathetic and dull was too different to pick up on.”
Graves nodded approvingly. “Such was my assumption, and such has proved to be the case.” He sighed. “It restored some of my confidence in myself. I was shocked to find that I did not have the ability to persuade the authorities that it was Doctor von Kreutzritter and not I who committed all those murders.”
“That may be because you were wrong. The cops can be fairly bright that way, you know.”
The Doctor shook his head. “Of course it was von Kreutzritter. You must think that yourself, or you would not be standing here so unguarded.”
I snorted. “No ‘of course’ about it. Unless W - my friend’s - German is worse than I thought, this paper says von Kreutzritter was killed in Germany three years ago and this report by the Hamburg pathologist confirms it. I know these master-mind types are great at faking their own deaths, but the report and the picture still seem conclusive to me.” I handed the copies of the Beobacter Zeitung and the autopsy report to the Doctor, who perused it slowly, his lips moving. His German must have gotten rusty since he last read his Freud, Jung and Alder. By the time he was done, he has paled and his lips were pressed together so tightly that the blood had left them. “I guess you see the implications, Doctor Graves.”
“I - we all - have been taken for a ride.” I notice the years as an amateur barfly had left their mark; the slang came with ease.
“Yup. May I be allowed to hazard a guess that the old friend who helped you find this bolt hole was Thomas Jenkins, also sometimes known as The Sentry?”
The Doctor said nothing: his eyes, stricken, shifted to the door of the bedroom. I went for my gun, but it was too late.
Jenkins smiles as he stands in the open doorway, although it does not reach his eyes. “Drop the gun and kick it over here, Mr. Goodwin.” Archie does so, his attention never leaving the automatic in Graves’ hand.
“Tom,” Graves starts, with a barely detectable formality in his voice that makes Archie think this must be how he talked to his patients.
The gun turns to him and so does the ruined face. “I’m sorry, Dr. Graves. Please believe me when I tell you that I tried to avoid this.” The blue eyes are troubled, and for a moment Archie thinks Jenkins might be wavering, but then he shrugs. “I’ve put too much work into my alibis: Von Kreutzritter, you, and this.” He gestures with his free hand at his features. “It’s too much effort to give up. I guess it’s fate.”
Graves says nothing. A muscle tics by the corner of his left eye. Archie Goodwin is still, although his nostrils flair slightly, as if trying to catch some scent known only to himself.
I was too busy wondering who had been tailing me, and cursing myself for depending too much on the wolf keeping watch, to be upset. The fox kept me loose; Jenkins had been in the business long enough to read any cues I gave off that I was about to jump him. He swung the gun in my direction - smart, since I was the dangerous one - but I didn’t have time to wonder what he meant to do with it before he frowned. Someone was climbing the stairs.
Whoever was coming wasn’t bothering to sneak and Graves didn’t bother to hide the gun. His reaction, and something about the thumping steps, told me, even before he came through the door, that it was the handyman from the estate.
Jenkins didn’t take his eyes off of us when he spoke. “Sam, I told you it would be okay. Now that Goodwin is here I can take care of it by myself. Go on back down to the truck”.
Sam had a double-barreled shotgun slug over his shoulder. He looked around the room at the three of us, flushed a little, and a stubborn expression came over his face. “Heck, Tommy, you promised. No more killing, you said.”
“I only promised I wouldn’t get into any more trouble. This isn’t getting into trouble; it’s tying up loose ends.
“You said no more killing. After Judge Conway, you told me it was over.” It reads a little whiney on the page, but, if you were there, the words had great dignity. He seemed to feel he’d stood by the Sentry’s side in good places and bad for enough years to have his opinions respected.
Jenkins must have thought so, too. He didn’t try to bulldoze his sidekick. Instead, his voice was pitched to reasonable. “Except for a little cleaning up, it is over. I’ve almost got it all under control, Sam. Just the Fox, and only three more of them to go and I’ll have shut the whole business down. No more vigilantes. No more blood.”
“I know that, and I don’t give a rat’s ass about Goodwin, but what about the Doc? He didn’t do nothing but try and fix you, even after von Kreutzritter killed his people.”
“I warned him.” Jenkins’ face, as he watched us, was sad. “I told him what Vigilantes were really like. But when he started trying to study them, protect them, with him knowing what they were, he became one of them. And after what happened to his family. All that blood. There was so much it attracted flies; I had to kill them, too.”
Graves, like I said, wasn’t stupid. He went pale when he caught the implication and he swayed a little. It was my turn to put one hand out to support him but he shook it off, and then shot me a look of apology before he turned his attention back to the two arguing men.
“Well, I don’t know about all that. Maybe I’m not making a lot of sense, but the thing is--I’m sorry, Tommy, but I got to stop it here.” Tears stood out in Sam’s eyes as he leveled the shotgun, and maybe they blurred his vision. Or maybe he had been spending even more time than Jenkins thinking about irises and his reflexes had gotten rusty. In either case, he should have acted instead of talking. Before he could follow through Jenkins shot first, once. He didn’t need a second bullet to do the job: he was the Sentry, after all.
There was none of my nonsense of thinking his friend was still alive. Sam’s brains were on the wall paper, and Jenkins knew that he was dead. He pivoted slowly, completely around. I froze like a rabbit, watching him turn.
“You made me do that,” he said softly, reasonably. “That was your fault.” There was nothing left to say. In a twisted way, he was right.
He brought his automatic up smoothly, this time too fast for me to do anything, not that I could have moved. As I faced that black hole at the end of the barrel, bigger than the entrance to the Holland Tunnel, I felt, with perfect calmness, that this was what I had been waiting for all the past year. With distant hunger I watched his finger tighten on the trigger.
Events got between me and my fate, though, and shattered my world for the third and final time. Graves threw himself between me and the bullet. As his body jerked, the world around me seemed to slow and I watched from a distance as my arms crept out to intercept his leisurely trajectory towards the floor.
Everything flared white and the world shrieked out its protest, like a lunatic who knows he is insane. Slowly, slowly, Jenkins’ finger was tightening on the trigger again. The expression in Graves’ eyes was sad, not surprised. My mouth was opening to scream with agony. I was being crushed. The pressure of all the pain and hate and madness rushing in on me was too much, and something indescribable poured out of me. A figure, dark as the pit, surged from the shadows and onto Jenkins.
The world snapped back to normal. Jenkins screamed and screamed. I didn’t watch; I was too busy with Doctor Graves. It turned out the bullet didn’t kill him. Like something out of a bad war movie, it ricocheted off the cigarette case he kept in his breast coat pocket and away. It left him with an interesting bruise and some sore ribs, but that was all. Later, when I spent some time chewing the whole story over with him, he showed me the case. It was of heavy silver over gunmetal, and had been engraved with his name by a grateful patient, a former vigilante, not Graves, thank God. That would have been too much. The events of that afternoon were strange enough without props from the cosmic irony department.
When I went to turn over Jenkins on the floor, he was dead. His face was so calm that I thought that he had only been knocked out, but when I touched his skin it was as cold as if he had been gone for hours. I snatched my hand away and then hustled Dr. Graves out of the apartment. Graves told me Jenkins had nagged him into being careful about prints, so we didn’t bother with anything but the typewriter, the manuscript, and the suitcase Graves had been living out of. Jenkins I left by Sam, which, if he had been able to choose, is probably where he would have wanted to be.
We were never even interviewed by the cops. It turned out that we both had alibis: the Coroner’s report stated that Jenkins had a heart attack induced by the trauma of shooting his own sidekick. Both Jenkins and Sam had been dead for at least eighteen hours when the cops found them, after they responded to the anonymous call I made soon after we left from a drugstore phone booth. It made me think, when I finally heard about it.
I didn’t read it myself; Graves read me the Gazette a few mornings later. After I phoned, I had collapsed and he had taken me back to a Village hotel to nurse me through a couple of days of weakness. Then, when I felt better, it was my turn to coach him on how to ease himself back into his old life and what to tell people about his absence. He never made clear where he had been; he merely got his completed book about the Vigilantes published and let everyone make up their own stories, which is one of the few smart ways to lie. The papers and photos that turned up at Jenkins’ estate made anything more unnecessary.
It was easy to worry about people like Doc Graves again, now that I had the attention to spare. During the days and weeks that followed I finished my own book about Judge Conway and at nights I slept without dreaming. The killers were all dead: Wolfe’s murderers, Jenkins and Sam, the Fox and the Wolf. All that was left behind was the almost transparent husk of Archie Goodwin, who was finding things to fill himself up with. I didn’t feel grey, merely hollow, like a sun-lit, white-washed room waiting for the new furniture to be moved in. As I wrote Saul, in a letter I tore up before I mailed it, all the traumas seemed to have canceled each out and left me with a genuine ego.
“Or the physical structure of your brain has finally calmed after repeated disruptions. There is no need to employ puerile psychoanalytical theories to explain what is more likely to be an entirely natural phenomenon, Archie. As I have often pointed out, Freud--”
“Oh, that’s rich, coming from you. One would think--“ Archie abruptly breaks off and shuts the notebook he has been writing in. The elderly lady seated on the opposite end of the park bench turns a pair of pale blue, watery eyes on him in a look of mild inquiry. Then, before he can come up with a plausible excuse for talking to himself, she stares past his shoulder at something, nods to herself, and goes back to strewing peanuts before a plump feathered Lothario more interested in stalking the female pigeons the food has attracted than the food itself.
Archie turns slowly. Below the waving branches of the elm sapling next to him, between the bench and a wire trash can, is a shadow, one not fluid and pierced like a tree’s but still and solid like a man’s.
Later that same afternoon, Archie sits in the kitchen of the Brownstone, watching Fritz glaze a chicken. He clears his throat, and asks, “Have you ever been to the Pacific Coast?”
Only someone who knew Fritz well could tell that his shoulders relax slightly. His deft hands do not pause in their work; the timing of the application of the glaze is vital. After he slides the pan back into the oven, he turns and says, voice considering, “No, but I have heard that the local seafood can be magnificent.” His eyebrows rise slightly. “There are many interesting dishes that can be created with hard-shell crabs that I would not mind attempting, along with those involving the abalone and the northwest salmon”
Archie nods. “Sounds good, yeah.” He hesitates before asking, “What would you think about our moving?”
Fritz purses his lips thoughtfully. “I think, M. Archie, that it is time for you to have a house of your own.” He brings one finger to his lips and samples the remaining glaze. “It is always wise to be in balance. When the vital ingredient is changed, all must be adjusted or the savor will be lost.” He nods decisively. “Yes, this is the best that can be expected.”
Archie grins. He knows Fritz is not referring to cooking.
I got something like a happy ending, even though I sure as hell didn’t deserve it. Maybe that proves something deep about how unfair the world really is, and how we humans have to make our own justice, or maybe it doesn’t. I wouldn’t know. Ever since I confessed I was only hunting my own pain, I’ve been out of the justice business. Besides, the papers tell me there are a lot of people these days ready to punish the wicked and uphold the good in this modern world of ours, enough not to need my help. Too bad none of them agree with each other about who to target, but that’s not my problem. Not yet, it isn’t, anyway.
Instead of adding my two cents to the public debate, I called Saul. He was glad to hear from me, in his own particular style. “Hey, Archie. You ready to stop screwing around and get back to work?”
“Yup, but not in the P. I. business, so you don’t need to bother thinking up polite ways to remind me you always work alone. I do need something new to write about, though. How’s the underbelly out there?”
“You’d feel right at home: full of the Weeds of Crime bearing Bitter Fruits.”
“What a mouth you have on you, Saul. Well, forget about it. Someone else will have to do the gardening because I’m out of the business.”
His voice warmed. “Glad to hear it, Archie.” I found I was looking forwards to seeing that small, wrinkled face, again. “Will you need the number for the local Welcome Wagon?”
I told him what he could do with his welcome wagon and hung up. As I swiveled in my chair, I saw the shadow over by the yellow leather chair, by his desk, still larger than I was used to. I smiled dreamily and spun completely around once, before I stopped, facing his desk. It drives him batty when I do that.
“I’m completely insane but what the hell. The carpet is coming with us and the globe, and the Da Vinci sketch. What else do you want from the Office?”
He didn’t say anything. He just grunted. I knew, though, when I packed, I’d be able to figure it out.
When his books are published, the name on the title page is Archie Goodwin. When he dances with a beautiful woman or takes in a ball game with a friend, Archie is still his name. Even at night, the voice that shares his secrets calls him Archie in his dreams.
He is articulate and wry, handsome and rich, but nothing else is really unusual about him. Nothing, that is, except for his shadow, which, no matter how foggy the day, always seems much too large for a man of his build as it goes with him down the streets of the city by the sea.
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