Into The Night
At the little table in the kitchen where I eat breakfast, with the Times on the rack facing me, I poured Puerto Rico molasses on a buckwheat cake and told Fritz, "it would be a good murder to work on. Walking distance."
At the big table inspecting dried mushrooms, with an eye on me to know when to start the next cake, he shook his head and said, 'No murder is good to work on. When it’s a murder the doorbell scares me and I never know if you’ll come back alive.'
I told him he was just blowing, I had yet to see him scared.
-Rex Stout, Death of a Doxy
I know that Archie took a gun because I was there in the office when he left. I was bringing Mr. Wolfe his beer when the telephone rang and Archie answered it. Mr. Wolfe’s business is between Mr. Wolfe and Archie so I do not listen when they talk about a case. I didn’t listen when Archie spoke on the telephone but I knew it was a murder case. I was glad Mr. Wolfe was working and earning money, but I don’t like it when there are murders. When it is a murder, I don’t like to answer the door and also I don’t like for Archie to leave.
When Archie finished with the telephone he told Mr. Wolfe he needed to go to help Mr. Johnny Keems. Mr. Keems is a young man who Mr. Wolfe sometimes hires to help him. Mr. Wolfe does not like him. I have fed him twice.
“Take your gun.”
“Yeah, I know. Do you want to check and see if it’s loaded?”
This now is the way things are. When Archie leaves the house for a murder he must take a gun. And this now is the first time he has had to leave the house with a gun since that terrible night when he left without a gun and did not come home.
Tonight Archie took that gun and now I worry because he left long ago and there has been no telephone call. Mr. Wolfe is also worried. He sits in that office with a book but he does not read. I know because I have gone in there bringing his beer and I can see he is waiting for Archie.
Mr. Wolfe and I, I think we both remember how bad it was that night when Archie was shot by that man. After being shot, for a long time, Archie could not come home. Mr. Wolfe and I we saw him in the hospital. Mr. Wolfe went more often than I did because I sometimes could not leave the house. Archie was very bad and I thought that maybe he would die and never come home. I did not like to think this and I didn’t say this to Mr. Wolfe. Mr. Wolfe may also have thought this, but he would not want it said.
When Archie woke up, at first he could not talk. He would look at Mr. Wolfe and Mr. Wolfe would know to talk. Mr. Wolfe talks well. One time, I remember, He talked about the fishing boats in Dalmatia. This I remember because Mr. Wolfe talked about the fishing boats that he himself saw. He does not like to talk about Europe. There are too many hard things about Europe for Mr. Wolfe. But for Archie he talked about Dalmatia and the boats and the sea. And Archie looked like he liked to hear this.
I visited Archie twice by myself. By then he could talk a little and he asked about Mr. Wolfe so I told him about how Saul was helping him. I did not tell him that Mr. Wolfe was not eating well because Mr. Wolfe would not like for Archie to know this.
When Archie came home he was taken to his room and couldn’t leave it until he was stronger. I brought him food on trays. He does not like for me to do this when he is well, but there, in his room, he could not help it. I made him the food he most liked because he needed to eat and Mr. Wolfe said he was too thin to be tolerated.
There in his room, eating his food, Archie would talk to me. It was me who told him that the man who shot him was taken by Mr. Cramer and that Saul had helped Mr. Cramer do this. Mr. Wolfe would not talk about that man so Archie asked me and I am not so quick tongued as he is so I could only tell him.
I brought him newspapers with his trays, but he wanted most not to read, but to talk. Many times he wanted me to talk about the war. Where had I been? Did I shoot any Germans? Was I shot at? Was I hurt? Did I know people who were shot? Did I know people who died? These were hard things to say, but for Archie I talked about the war and he liked to hear it. Later, I was glad I had said these things because there was now this talk between just us.
This talk between us became a joke on me. Archie became well enough to come downstairs and be with me in the kitchen. He still did not have good color and he was too thin, but it was more tolerable and he could come downstairs and talk to me in the kitchen. His joke on me was that I was a brave war hero and that nothing frightened me. That I could, he said, “stare down Dillenger.”
I know I am not so brave. The war was not about being brave. It was about mud, and blood, and little food, and bad stomachs. But still, it was flattering to be told I was so brave. Even though he was joking it was flattering. It is always flattering to have his attention. He is kind to me.
When Archie first came to us, Mr. Wolfe asked me what I thought of him. I said that I had fed him four times and that he was a nice boy. Mr. Wolfe smiled in his very small way and said, “Ah Fritz, he has you fooled. He is not a nice boy.”
But Archie is nice to me. And always we have our own talk and our own jokes. But my favorite talk between us was about the war when he was so sick. And my favorite joke was that I was so brave.
Now this night I am not so brave. And I know that Mr. Wolfe is also not so brave. It is after midnight and Archie is not home from this errand on a murder.
I put another bottle of beer on a tray to take to the office. Mr. Wolfe has not rung for beer, but he is alone in that office and I am alone in this kitchen. When I enter, he is looking at Archie’s desk and is not trying to read.
“Frtiz, it’s 12:26.”
“Yes sir. It is late.” I do not talk to Mr. Wolfe about his cases. He would not like me to talk about his cases like he would not like Theodore to talk about the menus. But this night I must stare at Dillenger.
“Perhaps Saul should go and get him?”
He was surprised, but he answered. “Can you imagine what he would do if I sent Saul after him?”
“Yes sir. I only meant that it is 12:26.”
“Yes. Very well. One hour. If I hear nothing within an hour I will summon Saul. Will that satisfy you?”
“Yes sir.” I was relieved, but I did not leave the office because I could see then that Mr. Wolfe liked me to be there. We talked, but not about Archie’s errand because that was between Mr. Wolfe and Archie. We talked about the menus for the next week. Mr. Wolfe requested many of the things that Archie liked so I knew he was still worried and I wondered if he would wait until 1:26 to call Saul.
It was after 1:00 when we heard the front door and we knew Archie had come home. Archie came to the office. I wanted to bring him milk, but he does not like for me to bring him things. Mr. Wolfe watched him take off his gun but he kept talking to me about the menu while Archie sat at his desk.
“Well, a charming idea these midnight grocery summits.”
“Bah. It is well past midnight Archie. You might have telephoned.”
“There was no urgency. Besides, if I called I might have interrupted a conference committee on the marmalade question.”
Then Archie sat back in his chair and nodded at me. “You shouldn’t be so damn antsy. Take a cue from Fritz. Nerves of steel. It comes from being a war hero.”
“And what do you know of the war?”
“About your war, not much, but I could tell you a lot about a little war Johnny started.”
“Confound him. You had better report.”
“Sure, since you happen to be awake.”
I left as they started to talk about business. They both told me good night. I went to go to bed so I could wake up to serve Mr. Wolfe breakfast at 8:00. Archie would be late so that he might sleep. But he would come to the kitchen and he would talk to me. It might be that he would pull my nose again about how brave I am. It might be that he would start another joke between us. But he would be there in the morning at home and in my kitchen.
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