Ten Minutes





Archie lets go of the bars on the window and drops to the concrete floor.  “No good.  Given the right tools and an hour, I could do it.  We don’t have an hour.”

Wolfe nods, a tiny shift of his head.  “You are correct.  If he was not lying, and I saw no reason that he would have been, we have about ten minutes left.”  He grunts and turns away from the window in the door to the storage room.  “He parked a fully loaded fork lift outside to block this exit.  Unless it will relieve your feelings, I would not bother to attempt to force a way out through it.”

 “No, thank you.  I don’t really want to spend my last ten minutes on the planet contemplating a dislocated shoulder.”  Archie shrugs, and then, with the inevitability of habit, delivers the punch-line.  “There’s no ten minutes I’d want to spend doing that.”

Wolfe looks around the room, as if hoping a chair up to his standards will appear out of the ether.  After a brief search, he pulls the single hard-backed chair away from the table in the middle of the room and sits.  Archie’s look is both sardonic and sympathetic;  Wolfe’s lips twist in acknowledgement.

Archie circles the almost empty room one last time, but it is apparent his heart isn’t in it.  “Well, sir, here’s a chance to answer one of those classic party game questions.  With ten minutes left to live, what do you say?”

Wolfe snorts.  “At such a moment, all expression is reiteration.  You know you have my complete confidence, my respect, and my best wishes.  It would please me if the last was more effective at this moment, but it would be a waste of time to repine.”  He pauses and then adds, “A great deal of my pleasure in these years has come from your presence.”

Archie grins.  “Rank sentimentality, but it goes for me as well.”  He, too, pauses and then says, softly, “I hate to think about Fritz.”

“Yes.”  Wolfe sighs, deeply.  “I had never anticipated that we might both die at the same time and before he did.  I should have.”

“There always was a possibility but not one worth wagering on.”  Since the room’s one chair is taken, Archie leans on the table next to Wolfe.  “Saul will keep an eye on Fritz.”

“True.  It is a comfort.  And the contents of the safe-deposit box will keep him from being distracted by material concerns.”

“Lily’s never been distracted by material concerns, but she’ll still take it hard.”

“I would think less of Miss Rowan if she did not.”  Wolfe grunts, and adds, “I am sorry.”

“So am I, but only that it’s ending so abruptly.”  Archie shakes his head and stares off into the middle distance.

Wolfe examines Archie’s expression and says, “Saul will watch over Miss Rowan, as well.”

Archie’s lips stretch into an smile half-affectionate, half-sardonic.  “Yeah, and he’ll be a perfect gentleman about it.”  At Wolfe’s stir, he adds, “I’ve known you both play on the same team for years.  I’d hate to die with you thinking I’m that much of an idiot.”

“Never an idiot, Archie,”  Wolfe’s tone is dry.  “Merely one who does not wished to be forced into undesired action.  Lazy, perhaps.”

“You fat bastard,”  Archie says, admiringly.  He gets up and circles the room once more, his movement more restless than searching.  After he passes Wolfe, he turns and says, abruptly, “I wish we’d done it, now.”

His companion does not pretend to misunderstand.  “That is the extremity of our circumstances speaking through you.  In such matters I prefer honesty to a misleading compassion.”

“Well, then, I’ll split the blame with you.  How much can you hate being touched, when you’ll let Fritz, Saul, and I get all over you and you never even twitch?  How straight can I be, living in your household, with you three as my best friends?”

Wolfe’s lips quirk. “It is rather late to attempt to answer the second of your questions, but the first I can easily address.  I am finding dying a somewhat chilly proceeding, and this chair, although an instrument of torture, is quite sturdy.”

“Got it.”  Archie walks the short distance to Wolfe, and stands gazing down at him.

“Archie, you know I like--“

“Eyes at a level, yes sir, I know.”  Archie sits down in Wolfe’s lap and wraps his arms around Wolfe’s chest.  “I should know, having heard it five thousand--”

“Do not waste both our times attempting to persuade me that you have kept count.”  Wolfe wraps his own arms around Archie’s waist.  There is a moment of silence, and then Wolfe asks, “Well?”

“Not bad.  I’m glad you liked the aftershave I gave you two Christmases ago, when they discontinued your old brand.”  Archie rests his head against Wolfe’s shoulder, as if he is suddenly too weary to keep holding it erect. “I’m not exactly soft and cuddly.  How’d you know?”

“Respecting the current taboos of masculinity will no longer help you, and you are, above all, pragmatic.  You are also a natural dancer, an excellent typist, and an accomplished lover.  All three skills indicate that you are a deft and tactile person, which, in turn, implies your body will make certain demands on you in such a crisis.”

Archie grins.  “If this crisis was a little longer, my body would make certain other demands, and you’d be the only one around to receive them, sir.”

“I understand such is often the case in life-threatening situations.  None the less, still egregious flattery,” 

“Maybe.  I’d give you three to two.”  Archie turns his head and kisses Wolfe’s cheek.  “And here I thought you were the closet romantic.”

“You have always been responsive to your environment.” 

“The perfect little housewife.  If the cavalry arrives, you can buy me a ring,”  Archie says, all mock solemnity.

“Pfui.” Wolfe kisses Archie in turn, not on the cheek.  Their lips linger for a while, and then they sit together in comfortable silence.  They are still sitting together in silence three minutes later, when the plastique ignites.


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