I remember that day very clearly. We were in the middle of an investigation of the murder of a wealthy, young socialite. After two weeks, Wolfe was finally ready to unmask the murderer. He had me invite all the participants in our little drama to the house.
"Are we almost ready to begin?" fussy, old Mrs. Cahill asked impatiently.
"Almost," Wolfe answered. "I'm just waiting for the police to arrive."
Wolfe's statement put them all on edge. They were all suspicious of each other and Wolfe. I was anxious myself about the police coming. For one thing, I was curious as to who the murderer was. For another, I wanted to see Inspector Cramer. Yes, crusty Inspector Cramer. Don't ask me why, but he fascinated me, much like he still does.
I jumped up when I heard the doorbell ring. I quickly made my way out of Wolfe's study and down the hall to the door. I opened it to see Sergeant Purley Stebbins and Cramer on the doorstep.
"Goodwin," Stebbins greeted, trying to hide his strong dislike of me.
"Won't you come in Sergeant, Inspector," I said and stepped out of the way. They came in and took their hats off. Stebbins glanced at Cramer and started walking in the direction of the study and Cramer followed at a slower pace.
I immediately noticed that. Cramer was usually a take-charge type of guy. People followed him, not the other way around. His whole manner was usually energetic and purposeful, but that day he seemed drained. Even the cigar in his mouth wasn't waggling in constant irritation like it normally was.
Cramer didn't say anything when I fell into step beside him. We went into the study and Cramer took the seat in front of Wolfe's desk, that Wolfe saved for him, and Stebbins stood against the wall. I sat down behind my desk and Wolfe began to unfold the mystery.
Cramer listened quietly the whole time, not asking a single question. I wondered what was wrong with him. The Cramer I knew always had questions. I guess that's what helps make him good at his job.
Wolfe finished presenting the case with a flourish. Most people wouldn't think so, but he has an over-developed sense of the dramatic. Cramer nodded, apparently satisfied, and motioned for Stebbins to arrest Mrs. Cahill. The old woman stood up proudly and scowled at everyone. "She was a slut and deserved what she got," she declared as Stebbins took her by the arm.
Cramer stood up and nodded to Wolfe. "You've done it again."
"You had the same clues as I, Inspector."
"Don't I always," Cramer replied and left without looking at another person in the room.
I couldn't help staring after him. What has gotten into him, I thought and looked at Wolfe, who just shrugged. After that, the rest of the people went home and Wolfe and I sat alone in the study.
"Did you notice Inspector Cramer's odd behavior?" Wolfe asked.
"Yes. He seemed," I paused, searching for the right word. "Depressed," I finally came up with.
Wolfe nodded. "There's definitely a problem with the good Inspector."
He was staring at me and I didn't know why. What did he expect me to say? After a moment, he gave a frustrated, slightly annoyed, sigh, picked up a book from his desk, and started reading.
That was Wolfe's signal that he wouldn't be needing any more from me that night. I stood up and wandered into the hall. I wasn't quite sure what to do. I wasn't really in the mood for anything special and decided to go out for a while. I told Fritz that I was leaving, grabbed my coat and hat, and went out the door.
I spent a couple hours at different clubs. I danced and should have had a great time, but something was missing. I looked at the pretty blonde in my arms, smiled, and excused myself.
"What's wrong Archie?" she asked.
"Nothing Monica. Suddenly I don't feel very well."
"Okay then," Monica said. "Are you going to be all right?"
"Sure," I answered and stepped away from her. Soon another man took my place and she gave me a grin and a wave as he swept her away.
I left the club and began walking. I had no idea where I was actually going. I just needed to clear my head of thoughts about Cramer. An hour later, I found myself in front of a known policeman's pub. Those type of places normally weren't my style but I thought I'd go in and see what it was like.
I went in and stopped just inside to let my eyes adjust to the light. There was a long, wooden bar with rows of different bottles of alcohol behind it. A pool table sat across the room and the air was thick with smoke.
I looked around and saw Cramer sitting alone at the bar. He had a beer in front of him, but wasn't drinking out of it. He pulled his cigar out of his mouth and tapped the ash into an ashtray before putting it back. I couldn't help but notice how miserable and lonely he looked and cautiously approached him.
"Goodwin?" Cramer said when he saw me.
"Inspector," I answered and was surprised that he didn't look annoyed to see me. "Is anyone sitting here?" I asked, gesturing to the stool next to his.
I nodded and sat next to him. I ordered a beer and watched him puff on his cigar. He was staring straight ahead and I didn't know what to say. For once, I was at a complete loss for words.
Finally Cramer broke the silence. "I didn't think this was your type of place Goodwin."
"I like to try everything once," I said, hoping this would be the start of a conversation but he stayed quiet. I should have felt uncomfortable and I did, but being this close to him was worth it.
Suddenly a drunk Stebbins sat on my other side. "What have we got here," he slurred.
"Leave him alone Purley," Cramer ordered.
"But boss," Stebbins protested.
"Go finish your pool game."
"Oh, that's right," Stebbins said and walked unsteadily back to the table.
"Thanks," I whispered.
Cramer stared at the end of his cigar before putting it out. "No problem," he replied and stood up. I followed him out of the pub.
"Where's Wolfe's car?" Cramer asked.
"I walked here."
"That was quite a walk," Cramer said with a small smile. "Come on. I'll give you a ride back to it."
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah. Come on."
I stared out the window of Cramer's car, trying to ignore what I felt by being in such an enclosed space with him. He was silent, concentrating on the road and I got up the courage to ask, "Is there something wrong, Inspector?"
"Why do you ask?"
"You were acting a little strange today."
"I'm feeling a little strange right now."
"Is there anything I can do?" I pressed.
Cramer gave me a quick, odd look, like he wanted something from me but was afraid to ask. "I don't think so."
When we got to AJ's, Cramer dropped me off by Wolfe's car. "Good night Goodwin."
Just as I turned my back, he called, "Goodwin."
Cramer was about to say something but, in the end, gave up. "Never mind."
Now I knew there was something he wanted to say to me and I was determined to find out what it was. That desire over-ruled everything including common sense, which told me to go home. I quickly got into Wolfe's car and tailed Cramer to a small hotel. I parked, turned off the headlights, and watched him go into one of the rooms.
Cramer was married and I wondered why he went to a hotel. Shouldn't he be going home to his wife? I probably should have left right then but ignored my common sense again and went to knock on the door. He opened the door and stared at me. "Goodwin, what are you doing here?"
"I came to finish our discussion."
I pushed my way in. "Let's start by why you're staying here." I thought he might throw me out, but closed the door instead.
"You've got some nerve," Cramer said.
"Yes, I do. It's one of my talents. Now, why are you here?"
Cramer's shoulders slumped as he walked over to the bed and sat down. "All right," he sighed and ran a hand through his hair. He swallowed and said, "She's leaving me."
"Amanda. She says she can't live as a cop's wife anymore."
Without thinking, I sat next to him. "She can't mean it."
"She does. She's been seeing a doctor for the past eight months. She says he's stable," Cramer explained with only a slight hint of bitterness.
"Don't be. Our relationship was over a long time ago."
"Is that why you were so...." I searched for the right word that wouldn't offend him.
"I wasn't at my best today. I know that, but don't think that's going to last. You and Wolfe aren't getting off the hook that easy."
I smiled and put a hand on his shoulder. "I'm glad to hear it."
Cramer looked at the hand and then at my face. Then he quickly shifted his gaze to the floor. "Maybe you should be going," he suggested weakly.
"It's not right for you to be here."
"Why?" I asked again.
Cramer shook my hand off and stood up. "Because I shouldn't be thinking about you this way," he snapped and realized that he'd said too much.
"What kind of thoughts?" I asked, standing so that we were only inches apart.
"You don't want to know."
"I think I do," I said and pulled his chin to face me. Cramer looked at me in confusion. He was as surprised by my reaction as I was to what I was sure he was telling me. "Why aren't you that upset about Amanda?"
"Because there's someone else I want," Cramer whispered.
That was the first time I saw fear in Cramer's eyes, but it was coupled with desire. I forgot my own fear and needed to spark the fire inside of him. I leaned close, pressed my lips to his, and felt his momentary hesitation before he pulled me close to his body.
I began kissing his neck and Cramer pushed me away but kept his hands on my shoulders. "Are you sure about this?" he asked.
I grinned. "Absolutely."
"I never thought..."
I put my finger to Cramer's lips. "This is not the time for thinking. There will be plenty of time for that later. Just be with me tonight and forget about everything else."
I saw the usual energy and drive come back into his face. "We'll probably both regret it in the morning," he said with a grin.
"I'm willing to chance it," I answered before surrendering myself to him and getting lost in the sensations he provoked in me. "Thanks, Inspector," I said as I drifted off to sleep, sated and happy, in his arms.
"Thank you, Goodwin."