It happened in the Spring, that wonderful time of year when a young man's fancy turns to love. Or in the case Wolfe was currently consulting on, homicide.
My thoughts, for the past few hours, were not occupied with love. They may have been just a little occupied with homicide, but under the circumstances, I find that perfectly normal. And the spring I was thinking of had less to do with flowers and pretty girls, and more to do with lockpicks and getaway cars.
Finally, the door slid open and a uniformed officer growled at me to get out. On the street in front of the station, I saw Saul Panzer.
"Hey. You get called in to work this one?"
"Well, Wolfe had to have somebody out there if you were going to get yourself arrested." He opened the door of the cab he'd been leaning against, and motioned me inside. We rode in silence until we reached a small diner.
Saul paid the hackie, and we retreated to a back booth.
"So. You were sent to bail me out, I gather?" It rankled, I won't lie to you. Then again, the fact that I'd gotten myself thrown in rankled more.
"Half that bail is being docked from your paycheck," he informed me, smiling.
"You don't have to look so pleased."
"Sorry. It's just that-- a couple of us happen to have a running bet on your criminal record."
I snarled something wordless and faked a smile for the waitress. We ordered, and she left.
"So what was it this time?" He continued. "Aiding and abetting some suspect or other? Obstruction of justice?"
"I socked Stebbins one in the eye."
"Come on, Archie, rea-- Really..." He looked as though he might be impressed in spite of himself. "What did you go and do that for?"
"Let's just say there are some things you don't say to a guy." I growled, rearranging the salt and pepper shakers on the table to give me something else to focus on.
"Well what'd Stebbins do? Insult your mother?"
I made it as clear as possible in my expression that what Purley Stebbins had done was far worse. Saul raised his eyebrows.
"What did he say?"
"Several things I'm not going to repeat," I answered tersely. The waitress came back with our drinks, and I pretended not to be a very irate man just out of police custody. "Things I don't let other people say-- people who don't have any business--"
He took the salt shaker away from me, and I stopped, taking a drink. Finally, I met his eyes.
"Did you stop to think that assaulting an officer of the law was probably not the smartest move to make?"
"It's what I've been thinking for about an hour." I shrugged. "But if that shiner I gave him doesn't teach him when to keep his mouth shut, I'll do it all over again."
"Archie, Cramer is going to start inflating your bail." He laughed quietly, sipping his coffee. Then he fixed me with a steady look. "I'll bet he thinks you and Wolfe cost him more trouble than all the murderers in Manhattan combined."
I shrugged again, and looked out the window. Across the street was a girl selling flowers. My fancy strayed back to love, and the general jauntiness of April. My expression must have showed it, because Saul nudged me.
"You tell me."
"Not about Stebbins."
I smiled viciously. "I kind of liked hitting him, but you're right. Not about Stebbins." I surveyed the flower girl a little longer.
"I'm thinking about Love, Saul. Do you ever think about love?"
"Usually not after being arrested," he replied flippantly, adding more sugar to his coffee. "Why?"
"Because that girl out there is selling flowers, and the people buying them are doing so as tokens of love. And because if I buy any flowers, they shall be looked upon with derision and I shall be insulted, but I want to nonetheless."
He smiled knowingly and picked up his hat. "Come on, Romeo. If I don't save you from yourself, you're going to be in even hotter water when we get you home."
I allowed him to steer me home, fancies now firmly set on love, with nary a thought for homicide in my head.
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