Too Many Goodwins
Really it was my own fault. I should have known to stay out of the central time zone. Failing that, I should have made arrangements to keep my itinerary out of the hands of my family.
I was in a hotel room in Chicago when the call came. I was on my way home to New York after putting the finishing touches on a little chore for Nero Wolfe. The case, a particularly difficult and lucrative one, was now sewn up. Along the way, I had garnered two “satisfactories” from the above mentioned genius.
So all was rosy with the world. The only hang up was my inability to get a direct flight home from San Francisco. I had an overnight layover in Chicago. I checked into a hotel near the airport to wait it out. I ordered a late dinner from room service and debated whether I could place items from the mini bar on the expense account. The phone call came as I was pondering.
“Archie? I found you! I can’t believe it. You’re deliberately avoiding me.”
I grinned into the receiver. The voice was a welcome one. “It’s not deliberate. It’s just a happy by-product of my rich and fulfilling life.”
“If you think it’s rich and fulfilling now, just you wait. Listen, I know you’re trying to sneak out of Chicago with me none the wiser, but the jig is up. Tag, you’re it. I want you to come down here for a few days.”
The question was how to get out of it. I had no objections to my sister. Ann and I got along fairly well. We didn’t often intrude on each other’s lives. I stayed in New York providing indispensable assistance and annoyance to Nero Wolfe. She stayed in Ohio doing the same for her husband, Joe. We spoke occasionally and wrote, more than occasionally.
So I had no serious objection to seeing her. The problem was partly the timing. I had already been away from New York for over a week. In that time, Nero Wolfe had installed Orrie Cather in my place. It was no secret that Orrie would prefer to make the situation permanent.
I had an additional concern aside from the timing. I simply didn’t want to go back to Chillicothe. It was a fine place to grow up, foothills, a river, and all the accompanying scenery. The trouble was, I was already grown up. “Tempting as it sounds, I have to pass. I’m expected in New York tomorrow.”
“No. Now you listen. I know you must have reams of vacation time stored up. Don’t you have a union? This is not a whim of mine. Did I track you down because I had a sudden urge to see your face? I need you here.”
I had walked right into it. “I’m so glad you asked. Seriously, something is up with Mom and I need you.”
That should have decided me right there. My mother and I are not adversaries because in order to be an adversary you have to confront someone. As far as I knew, my mother had never confronted anyone in her life. Her existence consisted of keeping her head down. She always looked as Ann and I as if she were a rabbit that had somehow given birth to two hounds. It must have been unsettling for her. Certainly she seemed to spend her whole life as if she were vaguely bewildered.
“Why do you need me?”
“I told you, something’s up with Mom. I need a detective. I happen to know one.”
“You can’t afford me. I have to get back to New York.”
There was a pause at the other end of the line. “Really, Archie, can you come?”
That made it different. Up until now, we were just bantering. It was sometimes hard to tell when Ann was in earnest. She tended to talk more or less continuously so it was always safe to ignore at least half of her output. But now she sounded serious. And a little frightened. I sat down on the bed and sighed.
“You will owe me a debt beyond payment.”
“I will. The sound you hear is me falling to the floor, prostrating myself in front of you.”
“That’s as it should be. I’ll call you back with my flight information.”
We hung up and I spent a good five minutes staring at the wall. The first thing to do, of course, was to square it with Wolfe. I picked up the phone again.
“Nero Wolfe’s residence, Orrie Cather speaking.” I checked the clock. It was after ten in New York, so he was perfectly correct in saying “residence”.
“I’ve called to say goodbye. I’ve been offered a position as a guard at Alcatraz. The sea air will do wonders for my constitution.”
“We’ll remember you always, whatever your name was.”
“Put the genius on. I don’t talk to underlings.”
There was a pause and Wolfe came on. “Yes?”
“I’ve told you, that’s no way to answer a phone.”
“Pfui. Where are you?”
“Chicago, for a few more hours.” I then told him about Ann’s phone call. “So I’m stuck for few more days. I’ll make it as quick as I can, but as of right now, I’m officially on vacation.”
“You are aware that you were to have driven me to Mr. Hewitt’s on Saturday. But no, it is a family obligation and you must go. Do not prolong your stay without notice. You know Orrie does not type.”
“It’s tough getting good help.”
We said our good-byes and hung up. I then dialed the number for the airline.
I landed in Columbus at ten the next morning, a Friday. I had barely entered the terminal before I was tackled from the left. When I straightened up, I had a sister hanging from my neck. She squeezed me a good one and let go.
“You used to see that coming.”
“I’m rusty. Girls seldom maul me before lunch.”
She threaded her arm through mine. “But enough about you. Let’s get your luggage. I need to talk to you.”
I became aware of a silent figure standing apart from us. It was typical of her that she didn’t acknowledge his presence to me. Her husband, Joe, always seemed to be simply towed along in her wake. I remembered him as one of the high school boys who followed Ann like ducklings. When the others moved on, he stuck around. He was still happily sticking around.
I stepped forward and offered a hand to Joe. He gave me a shy smile and shook. Joe was tall and stocky. He had a deep tan and could have posed for a Norman Rockwell painting called, “The Salt of the Earth.” In fact, he wasn’t a farmer. He was an engineer with the City.
We picked up my luggage while Ann chattered away in her magpie fashion. She didn’t seem concerned about our mother, or about anything in particular. I began to wonder if I’d been had.
In the car, headed south toward Chillicothe, I found our different. Joe drove and I was in the back seat. Ann sat next to Joe and rode facing backwards, talking to me. “This thing with Mom, I don’t know what to make of it.”
“Start by not referring to it as a thing. Tell me exactly what’s happening and use actual words.”
She made an exasperated noise. “If I knew exactly what was happening, why on earth would I need you?”
With Ann, this could go on indefinitely. When we started going back and forth with each other my mother used to say we were a trial to her. When it became particularly heated, we pranced right through the trial, bypassed the verdict, and became a judgment against her. I held up a hand to stop her. “Just tell me what you know.”
“There’s a man who keeps visiting her. I keep asking her what he wants and she won’t say. She’s upset, though.”
“That’s it? You dragged me down here because she has a visitor?”
“But Archie, now that you’re here you can look into it and see if it was worth bringing you here.”
She may be my sister, but she was still a woman. I caught Joe’s gaze in the mirror and he gave me a rueful look. Then, uncharacteristically, he broke in. “Archie, I don’t agree with dragging you down here. You have your own life. But now that you’re here, it sure wouldn’t hurt for you to look into it. The thing is something strange is going on and we’re just at a loss what to do.”
That put a different face on it. Joe was no alarmist. I spoke to both of them. “Tell me what you know about this guy.”
They gave me the crop. Mom’s visitor wasn’t a new face, but he was a face that had been long absent from town. His name was Jonah Kane. He was an older man and he kept to himself. He had been in town about a week and was staying at a hotel on River Street. According to Ann, he had visited our mother at least twice. Each visit had left her agitated, but she refused to discuss the matter.
“Did anyone try to talk to this guy? He might just tell you what you want to know.”
Ann shook her head. “Here you go all the way to New York to learn to be this great detective and that’s all you can come up with. Of course I tried to ask him. I went to his hotel and told him to leave Mom alone. He just said he had business with her and told me to butt out.”
I nodded sagely. “For the record, great detectives often start by eliminating the obvious. Okay, so you’ve done the obvious and hit a brick wall. I’m not surprised. Amateurs tend to stub their toes on that kind of elementary questioning. As a licensed professional, I suggest that our next move is to go back to Mom.”
Ann snorted. “Licensed professional. What was the test like, multiple choice?”
“In fact it was. I remember it like it was yesterday. Question One, what’s the best way to kill someone in order to avoid detection? A) poison them; B) shoot them from afar; or C) strangle them from the backseat of a moving car.” Ann just huffed and turned around to face the front.
The landscape became more familiar as we headed south. In my memory, the place had shrunk. It was slightly jarring to see it at actual size, all river, fields, and foothills. Every so often a house would appear as something for the fields to surround. Ann and Joe lived on the outskirts of town.
As we passed through the town of Chillicothe, I started to recite. “The City of Chillicothe was one of the earliest cities in Ohio. For a time it served as the state capitol. Chillicothe is noted for its lovely parks and scenic river views.”
“And don’t you forget it. We hicks are so grateful you could join us.”
We were both more or less kidding, but Joe looked nervous and stuck in an oar. “Play nice, kids.”
Ann patted his arm. “I’m always nice when I need him.”
We pulled in to the driveway of their place. They were about five miles outside of town and about ten miles from my mother, who lived even further from town. Their house was a small, unassuming affair, gray clapboard with a few trees close to the house. It sat on about an acre of land. I surveyed it from the driveway and shot a sidelong glance at Joe. “Well, it’s rustic, but I suppose it will have to do.”
Ann entered right into the spirit of things. “Yes, we think we’ll like it quite well once we get some plumbing installed.”
Joe relaxed and chuckled slightly as he opened the door. “Come on in, city mouse.”
After I cleaned up and settled in, Ann was all for hustling right over to Mom’s to watch a professional detective at work. I saw no reason to delay. The sooner the matter was attended to, the sooner I could go back to New York where I belonged. Joe declined to go with us. He was either being delicate or, more likely, he had learned to lie low when Ann was on a tear. Ann and I headed to the car and, after a brief fight for the keys during which she cited both ownership and seniority, she drove us over to our mother’s house, our old home.
The trip over became increasingly silent as we neared our mother’s house. I was aware that Ann was furtively watching me for my reaction. That was futile because I couldn’t decide on a reaction. My mind would briefly settle on anger and then switch over to sorrow. I aimed for indifference, but I couldn’t get that to stick either. I flip flopped a dozen times, but I’d spent years facing Saul Panzer over a poker table. Nothing showed on my face. There was no way Ann could tell what I was thinking.
“You know, another thing amateurs can’t quite get the knack of is surveillance.”
When she answered, her voice was serious. “Archie, I want you to know that I didn’t ask you to come down here just on a whim. I know it’s hard for you to be here. I would never ask if I didn’t think it was important.”
I nodded. I knew. Ann patted my leg. “She doesn’t know you’re here. When she sees you she’ll probably have a heart attack and then we’ll inherit. All this could be yours.”
Like she intended, I laughed as we pulled up to our mother’s place. It had a new coat of paint. When I left it was white. It was now gray, just like Ann’s place. The rest of it was pretty much the same, a two story house with a wide front porch. There were three acres of land, bounded on the east by the Scioto River. A small old barn stood empty behind the house.
Ann and I climbed the porch steps and Ann hollered once for my mother, pushed open the screen door, and walked in. Another thing I’d forgotten about Ohio. No one locks their doors.
“In here Ann.” It was my mother’s voice. It almost brought me up short. I had spoken to her on the phone on occasion, but of course hearing it in person was different.
Ann and I threaded our way through the living room and headed towards the kitchen. “I have a surprise for you, Mom.”
We turned a corner to enter the kitchen and there she was. She was running a sponge over the counter top when we saw each other. She didn’t have a heart attack. When she saw me, her eyes widened and she stopped wiping. “Archie. Oh, dear.”
That was a typical reaction from my mother. She was born subdued. She spent most of her life trying to smooth things over. A lot of people described her as diplomatic. If Neville Chamberlain was diplomatic, then she was diplomatic.
All our lives, both Ann and I were told that we resembled our father. We were both tall and fair. We both had the Goodwin gray eyes. Ann was a true red head, whereas with me, someone had changed their order at the last minute. My mother was smaller than either of us. She had a soft figure and dark eyes. Her dark hair was shot with gray. She stood staring at me with slightly uncomprehending eyes. Then she put the sponge down, came up to me and patted me on the arm. “Well, Archie.” She added more pats and looked at Ann. “Ann! You called him!”
“He was in the neighborhood.”
“Oh Ann, you shouldn’t have bothered Archie.”
It was time to say something. “It was no bother. I was glad to come.”
My mother recollected herself. She clutched my hand with some enthusiasm. “Well, come. Come sit and visit.”
We went to the living room and sat. My mother kept hold of my hand. Her eyes stayed wide and on me. After some inconsequential chit chat and various catching up noises, it was time to start acting like a professional detective. There was simply no subtle way to approach it. I manipulated our hands so that I clasped her fingers. “Now all this has been just lovely. But you know I’m not here to discuss Mrs. Otten’s pullets. Ann tells me you’ve been keeping company.”
She sighed and looked at Ann. “Now Ann. I’ve told you and told you not to worry about it.”
“Well it didn’t sink in. I’m worried. You won’t talk to me, so here’s Archie. Talk to him.”
My mother again gave me her dark eyes. “Archie, don’t misunderstand. I love to see you, but you shouldn’t have come. Ann is overreacting. You know Ann.”
“Well that’s nice to know. It sets my mind at ease. If there’s nothing to worry about then you won’t mind telling me what’s going on.”
She pulled her hand away and clasped both hands in her lap. “Archie. Ann. Everything will be all right. I just-I just don’t want you two involved.”
I shook my head. “You’re making a poor job of reassuring us.”
“You and Ann with your words. This isn’t a thing for words. You just have to be patient. Things will work themselves out.”
Someday she will embroider those words on a pillow. I looked at Ann. Her lips were compressed to a thin line. I stood and shook out my pants leg. “I’ll be here for a few days. We’ll get together.”
“Must you rush off?”
“I have a matter to attend to this afternoon.”
Ann stood. “You come for dinner tonight. Archie is staying with us. We can all visit some more.”
Mom murmured agreement and trailed us out to the porch. As Ann and I drove away, we could see her standing there on the porch, her hands twisting in her skirt.
“I must say, watching you at work is quite educational.”
“Hush dear, I’m engaged in reflection.” Ann had been right. It wouldn’t be easy getting anything out of Mom. That left the party of the second part. I would have to approach Mom’s visitor. The only problem was that I had no lever. It was likely that he would simply tell me to get lost, just as he had told Ann.
So it took some thought. I told Ann to head towards town and considered. By the time we reached the outskirts of Chillicothe, I had decided that all this mental activity was fine and dandy, but really I was just entertaining myself. There were only two approaches, ask him politely or threaten him. Ann had already tried the first.
We pulled on to River Street and I asked Ann to drop me at the hotel. She, of course, raised objections. She subsided when I pointed out that she had already had a solo crack at him. It was only fair that I take a turn.
Ann had told me his room number so I didn’t bother with the front desk. I knocked at his door and a gruff voice responded. “What is it?”
“Hotel security, Mr. Kane. I need to speak to you.” There were some shuffling noises and then the door opened. I found myself confronted with a runt. Kane was, at most, 5’7”. He was spare and wiry with sharp brown eyes and a fringe of gray hair.
“What is it?”
I stepped into the room. “I’m not really hotel security. I just said that to get in. Feel free to call the police.”
“Who the hell are you?”
“Archie Goodwin. The last name may be familiar.”
“Jesus.” He ran his eyes over me. “Jesus. I should have known. You look like him. What do you want, kid? Big sister send you?”
I surveyed the room and sat on one of the low chairs. “Well of course you already know what I want. The only question is how aggressive do I have to be to get it. Right now I’m sitting here peacefully. A happy state of affairs. What would happen to disturb my repose, I wonder.”
He shook his gray head. “Is that a fancy way of saying that you’re going to beat me up? I’ll tell you what I told your sister. You want to know why I’m here, then ask your mother.”
“I think I’d rather ask you. You see, questioning someone is an art form. It takes practice to stay sharp. For example, let’s take this situation. You have information that I want. You’ve rightly deduced that I can offer you nothing in exchange for this information. So what’s our next step? No, don’t answer, that was rhetorical. The next option is force. The police recognize this progression. Thus, you have the whole history of rubber hoses and the like. But I find violence distasteful. There are other, more sophisticated forms of coercion. Threats, for example. See, my theory is that you are not a model citizen. I have a lot of connections. I tell them to start checking you out. They give me the low down and we all head down to the sheriff’s office to discuss the matter. That would be one form of coercion.”
I stopped because it was fizzling. A threat of exposure should have produced some apprehension. Instead, he was smiling at me. “You talk just like a Goodwin. You go right ahead, Archie. Talk to the sheriff. This is between your mother and me.”
There was a lot to be said for good, old fashioned use of force. I was tempted to throw him out the window. Unfortunately, he’d probably land on someone worthwhile. I stood up. It would be an exaggeration to say that I slunk out. I had so far struck out with both Mom and Kane, but I wasn’t brooding when I left. Kane had inadvertently given me something to think about and I wanted to get out of there and consider it.
I left him and headed down the street to meet Ann at the park. I found her sitting at a bench pointedly not feeding two pigeons that were strutting about near her feet. “They call them flying rats in New York.”
“And well they should. How did it go?”
I sat. “You think you’re changing the subject, but you aren’t. He too is a rat. A pedestrian rat. What exactly did he say to you?”
She looked at me and one corner of her mouth went up. “Exactly, huh? Well, I haven’t done that in a while. Okay, exactly.” She folded her hands in her lap and tilted her head back to look at the sky. “He opened the door and said, “who are you?” Then I said, “I’m Ann Goodwin Landry, Helen Goodwin’s daughter. I want to know why you’re bothering her.” Then he laughed at me and said, “Little Ann, sure. You want to know, you ask her. I ain’t saying.” And then he shut the door right in my face. That was it.”
“Okay, satisfactory. You may have a future as a tape recorder after I retire.”
“Retire from what?”
We bantered lightly on the way back to her house. She got the better end of it. My mind was on what Kane had said. I kind of look like him. There was only one person he could be talking about. This had to do with my father.
I kept my suspicions to myself. There was no point in raising Ann’s temperature without something more conclusive than Kane’s slip of the tongue. If his presence was related to my father, it explained my mother’s reluctance to talk about it. My father was always the elephant in the room. He overwhelmed our memories, but none of us would ever speak of him.
By the time my mother arrived for dinner, I had resolved to proceed on my own without involving the distaff side of the family. That meant poking around town and asking questions about my father. All in all, it looked like I was in for a bleak time. We all gathered in the little dining room off the kitchen and started in on the meal that Ann had prepared. It said a lot about my state of mind that I didn’t even ride her about her cooking. In fact, it was perfectly edible.
The meal was somewhat strained. We were all conscious of the fenced off subjects and tried to converse around them. Eventually, Joe started talking about baseball and we got into a discussion about the Yankee’s prospects. Ann joined in and Mom looked relieved. At one point, it struck me that it was the first time the three of us had sat down at a table together in years. Strangers always guessed that Ann and I were related. We did look somewhat alike, but it was more that we had similar mannerisms. When we were growing up, we were both constantly sent home from school with notes from teachers who objected to our talking too much. I noticed now that Ann had the same trick as I did of raising one eyebrow. It annoyed Wolfe when I did that, so I did it often.
People were much less apt to see any resemblance between my mother and her children. We didn’t look much like her, but again, it wasn’t the physical differences that really set us apart. I would lay odds that in my mother’s entire scholastic career, she was never sent home with a note. She had a sort of reticent politeness that was difficult to penetrate. Throughout dinner she spoke little, but smiled and nodded at appropriate places. Despite her silence, she seemed genuinely happy to be there. Whenever her eyes strayed towards me, they would widen slightly as if she were wondering again how I came to be there. Then she would smile at me and nod to herself. It was actually a bit flattering.
After dinner I offered to drive her home. We climbed into Joe’s car and headed into the night. There were no street lights. The road was bordered by fields with an occasional farm house. Mom leaned back in her seat and let her eyes close. After a few minutes, she straightened, shook herself and turned her head towards me. “Is it very odd to be back?”
“I’d forgotten about all these open spaces. Mr. Wolfe once said that the formative role of landscape is neglected by biographers. He claims that there are clear differences between people who were raised in the mountains and those who were raised by the sea.” I shrugged. “Of course, he might have said that just to hear himself talk.”
“Mr. Wolfe. Your letters are full of him. You like him.”
That actually gave me pause. I didn’t think of Wolfe in terms of liking him or not liking him. It would be like asking me if I liked my rib cage. “He’s a good boss when he’s being a good boss.”
She chuckled slightly. “Yes, you described him in your letters. I’d be terrified of him. He doesn’t like women.”
“Well, it’s more complicated than that. He claims he doesn’t dislike them. I think it’s just that he finds their continued existence incredible. He can’t understand it and naturally that annoys him. But who knows? He has found some women tolerable. If he met you, he might even approve. Just think, he could sit out on the porch and you could bring him lemonade. In the winter you could make snow angels on the front lawn.”
She chuckled softly. “Snow angels. Oh, dear.”
For the first time, I relaxed in her presence. I had not heard her laugh in years. It was a pleasant sound. For the rest of the ride I entertained her with stories about Wolfe.
We were both sleepy and relaxed when I pulled into her driveway. She frowned up at the house. “Didn’t I turn those lights out?”
I immediately woke up. I told her to stay in the car while I stepped slowly towards the house.
“Archie, what is it?”
I ignored it and crept up the porch. As usual, the house wasn’t locked. I turned the knob and slowly pushed the door in. the entrance opened up into the living room. Beyond the living room, to the right was the kitchen. On the left side of the living room were the stairs leading up to the bedrooms. The living room and kitchen lights were on.
I scanned the living room, but nothing seemed amiss. I moved quietly towards the kitchen. There was no door to the kitchen, but only part of the kitchen was visible from the living room. There was an island in the middle of the kitchen that blocked the view. I stepped into the room. At first, I didn’t see anything, but as a I stepped around the island, there he was. Lying on the floor and not about to ever get up again was Jonah Kane, the pedestrian rat. I knelt to make sure and heard a commotion behind me.
“Archie, what on earth- Oh, dear.”
It was a new experience for me trying to talk a sheriff out of charging my mother with murder. At that, I had my hands full trying to keep him from charging me. Mom only just nosed me out by virtue of owning the house.
Sheriff Don Blakely was an old timer. He had been sheriff as far back as I could remember. Blakely was a few years older than my mother, my height, and twice my width. He wore a thick mustache, which is always a bad sign. He was fairly gentle with my mother, but of course the people of Ohio expected him to do his job and he was sure we understood.
“Now Helen you know I don’t think you intended to hurt anyone, but you understand what it looks like. He was killed with a frying pan to the head. In your house. Now I know he was bothering you. Ann came here and asked me to put a stop to it. I looked into it, but there was nothing I could do. If he was threatening you, you had every right to defend yourself.”
I stepped in. “Now that’s generous. I’m glad the people of Ohio are so understanding.” I turned to my mother. “I’ll translate. Knowing that he can’t possibly make a murder charge stick, he’s offering you a chance to claim self defense. This way he doesn’t have to prove anything and you can save him all that wear and tear on his brain cells.”
“Now Archie, you are completely mischaracterizing the situation.”
“Phooey. Your theory is that she let this man into her kitchen, belted him with a frying pan and then calmly went out to have dinner with her family. Nuts.”
“Really Archie, I didn’t hit anyone.”
“I know. I suspect Sheriff Blakely knows too. But here you are all nicely packaged in front of him, so it’s a great temptation.” I went back to Blakely. “Do you even know the time of death? We were with each other all evening.”
Blakely was stubborn. “It could have happened before then.”
I stood. “Then I suggest you establish that. Right now you have a man found dead in a house that had an unlocked door. Anyone could have walked in. Were there prints on the skillet?”
He was grudging. “I don’t know yet. There were oven mitts nearby.”
“So you have nothing.”
He stood too, the better to be firm. “It’s her house and she had a motive. He was bothering her. The people of Ohio-“
“Nuts. That’s enough. My sister complained to you about Kane and you did nothing. We know next to nothing about him. Plenty of people may have wanted him dead. And now you want to lock up an elderly widow who you refused to help in the first place. Try it and see what the people of Ohio think.”
It disintegrated from there. Blakely didn’t really have more than motive and location. Because Mom had a solid alibi for the evening, he needed more than that and he knew it. He let us both go with a warning to stay in the jurisdiction.
It was nearly three in the morning by the time we staggered out of the sheriff’s office. Waiting to greet us in the reception area were Ann and Joe. Ann rushed up. “He’s dead? What happened? Why were they holding you?”
I held up a hand. “No. I realize you want to know what’s going on, but not here. We are in the den of the enemy. Let’s go home. All will be made clear to you.” Ann made exasperated noises, but Joe just nodded and led us out to the car.
Despite plenty of material for my brain to work on, I nearly fell asleep on the way back to Ann and Joe’s. I sat up front with Joe while Ann and my mother nattered on to each other in the back seat. By the time we got home, Mom had filled Ann in about our little adventure. Ann quickly installed her in the second guest room and then pounced on me. “How bad is it?”
“It’s not good. She had motive. How far it goes will depend on what physical evidence they get. I hate to see it come to that though.”
Ann bit her lip. “No. I’m sorry I dragged you into this, but I’m glad you’re here. What do we do now?”
“You keep Mom occupied while I go detect. She needs to tell us why Kane was here.”
“I don’t know why she’s so reluctant.”
I shrugged. I had a pretty good idea. I told Ann I didn’t know and we both headed off to bed.
I slept until nine, which wasn’t enough, but I had a chore to attend to. I placed a long distance call to the number I know best. After two rings, Fritz answered. “Nero Wolfe’s residence, Fritz Brenner speaking.”
“I knew one day he would wise up and get rid of Orrie.”
“Ah! Archie! Orrie is out on an errand. Where are you?”
“I’m in beautiful Chillicothe, Ohio, just south of Columbus.”
“When are you coming home?”
I swallowed. Fritz was always my favorite person to talk to in the morning. “As soon as I can. Is he available?”
Fritz said yes and there was a pause. “Archie?”
“Yeah, it’s me. I’m calling to wish you a happy new year since I won’t be there in person.”
“It is August 19.”
“I know it is. I’m stuck. I’ve got a family situation that must be addressed.”
“What type of situation?”
I stared at the receiver. That was not a question that he would usually ask. We have never really discussed my family. He did seem to have some knowledge of them. Whether it came from various remarks I had made, or whether he did a background check on me, I didn’t know. I had never asked. I hesitated, but he might have a suggestion. “The Chillicothe sheriff’s office thinks that I’m the son of a murderer.”
That was a good guess, except my father was dead. “No. Wrong parent.”
“Nonsense. Are they witlings?”
“Yes.” I outlined what had happened. “So as you see, I’m stuck. I’m stuck by official request. I have no idea whether the coroner will be able to eliminate my mother, but I’d rather not wait and see. I’m going to get started on Kane. I’ll make it as quick as I can. Until then I wish you and Orrie every happiness.”
“I have told you that Orrie can not type.”
“I know, but it’s cruel to hold a disability against him. I’ll finish as quickly as I can.”
“Very well.” He hung up abruptly, which I hate.
With that accomplished, I headed to the kitchen for some food. Ann was sitting at the kitchen table sipping coffee. She straightened when she saw me. “I can do eggs.”
“Do so and you will have a friend for life.”
She snorted and went to the stove. “All that time with Nero Wolfe and you still can’t cook.”
“I have a very straightforward relationship with food. Someone else cooks it and I eat it. The beauty is in the simplicity.”
“If simplicity were beautiful, you’d be gorgeous. When do we tackle Mom?”
“As soon as possible. She’s first on the list.”
“She should be down soon. I heard her stirring a little while ago. Joe ran over to her place to pick up some supplies. She shouldn’t go back there now.”
“No. Especially with a murderer on the loose.”
“Geez. You know, this town probably hasn’t seen a murder in decades. You’re here one day and whammo.”
“I refrain from pointing out that I’m only here because I was summoned.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Ann dished me up some eggs, toast and coffee and then sat next to me to annoy me while I ate. As I was finishing, Mom wandered in. Ann rose up. “St down Mom, I’ll fix something for you.”
“Don’t be silly Ann. I can cook.”
“No, sit down. Archie needs to talk to you.”
“Archie? It will be all right. I don’t know what got into Don yesterday, but he’ll find out who really did it.”
“No,” I said firmly. “We are not going to rely on Don Blakely to get you out from under. I wouldn’t rely on him to tie a shoelace. We are going to look into this on our own. And we need to start with you. What did Jonah Kane want?”
“I really don’t think it’s important Archie. After all, couldn’t a crazy person have just come into the house and killed him?”
“No. Now really, this has gone far enough. I need information so I can get started. I need to know what he wanted. I already know it had something to do with Dad.”
There was a clatter from the stove. “Dad? What does it have to do with Dad?”
“I don’t know, but I need to.”
My mother was looking at me despairingly. “I don’t want to dig all this up again.”
“I don’t want to either, but I don’t have a choice.” I softened my voice, “It’s okay, Mom.”
Ann added, “Really Mom, we’re okay. Just tell us.”
Mom sighed and dropped her eyes to the tablecloth. “I really don’t know much. Jonah Kane was a friend of your father’s.”
“I gathered that much. How did they know each other?”
“You know I tried to keep out of your father’s business. It was just easier that way. Jonah Kane and your father were both in the Civic Club for awhile. That’s all I know.”
“What did he want from you?”
“Well I wouldn’t let him tell me. He said he wanted to talk to me about your father and I said I didn’t want to talk about him. He wanted to know if I had heard from your father after he left. I told him the only news I ever got about your father was that he was dead. That was it. I wouldn’t listen any more.”
“Well for heaven’s sake,” Ann said, “why didn’t you just tell us that was what he wanted?”
“I didn’t want you to have to think about your father. I just thought he’d give up and go away.”
I should have guessed that was her reason for not talking. It was another example of her belief that if you just lie low, everything will be all right. In her own way, she was trying to protect us. At least she had given me a starting place.
“Who else was in the Civic Club?”
“Oh Archie, that was years ago. A few of them are still around, but some have moved on or passed away.”
“I need names.”
“Oh my. Mike Abernathy was one. He’s still around. Bert Winslow. George Newman.” Her brow furrowed. “That’s all I know of.”
“Okay.” I stood. “I want you to stick around here today. Both of you.”
Ann, of course, objected. “That’s silly Archie. I want to help you. Nothing’s going to happen to us.”
“You’re darn right nothing’s going to happen to you. You will stay here. You will watch Mom and you will not turn your back on any kitchen implements.”
Ann tried to insist, but I stayed firm, successfully arguing that an amateur would cramp my style. I then went to the phone book to look up Abernathy, Winslow and Newman. On a Saturday morning, it was likely they would be home. I took a minute to consider my approach. It actually took less than a minute. There was no way I could dissemble. They knew who I was. They would soon know the situation if they didn’t already. I could only present matters to them and ask for their help.
Abernathy answered his phone after three rings. I explained who I was and asked if I could meet with him to talk over a family matter. He was confused, but agreeable. “Sure kid. I guess so. Can you come here?” I agreed to come to his home that afternoon. I struck out on Winslow. There was no answer at his home. Newman’s wife answered and put him on. He grumbled a little and tried to demand details but I told him that I’d rather tell him in person. He agreed to meet me for lunch at the Paint Street Diner.
By the time I had finished, Joe had returned with a suitcase for Mom. He agreed to lend me the car that afternoon. I spent the rest of the morning trying to coax more information about the Civic Club out of Mom. It was essentially a booster club and fundraising organization for city projects. Joe remembered that his family had contributed funds to the building of the new library and to the old capitol restoration project.
Noon found me at the diner. I was scanning the menu trying to decide between corned beef sandwiches and pot roast when a man walked up to my table struck out his hand. “You must be Archie, all grown up. I’m George Newman.”
George Newman was a bear. He was built like a bear, he walked like a bear, and if bears could talk, they would sound like him. He had a deep husky voice. He sat down and stared at me.
“My God. You do look like Jim. But I can see some of your mother in there too.”
That wasn’t the most flattering thing to say to me, but he didn’t know that. “I know I look like them. I try to make up for it by acting like myself.”
He gave me a broad smile. “And you sound just like Annie.”
This was shaping up to be a long lunch. I ordered the sandwiches, which he approved of. He ordered chicken and settled back in his seat, a bemused smile on his face. “Little Archie. What did you want to talk about?”
“I wanted to talk about my father.”
“Your father’s dead.”
I nodded. “So I’ve been told. I still want to talk about him.”
“Well, okay. What do you want to know?”
“Everything you can tell me.”
“That’s not actually much. He mostly kept to himself. We were in the Civic Club together.”
“Tell me about that.”
“Oh Lord, that was years ago. We basically met a few times a month to be do-gooders. If the city had some project it wanted done, we’d support it. Mostly we raised money. In fact, your dad was treasurer.”
“How did you raise money?”
“Oh donations mostly. People are pretty good about giving when its for a community project.”
“Who were the officers?”
“Mike Abernathy was president. Carl Yates, but he’s dead. Your dad. After your dad left, it kind of dissolved.”
“What about Bert Winslow?”
“”Yeah, he was a member. He’s still around.”
Our food came. Once he started eating, Newman relaxed even more. Typical bear. He filled me in on what he knew, none of which was particularly startling. My father had a temper, but he was good at talking to people so he brought in a lot of donations. Then one summer he disappeared. The next thing anyone heard, he was in Detroit, killed in a mugging.
We finished up and I thanked him for talking to me. He offered me his paw. “Anytime son. Archie Goodwin. My God. You make me feel old.”
I had a good hour before I had to meet Abernathy. I spent it wandering around town. Nothing had changed much. Few people were in town on a Saturday.
Mike Abernathy lived a few miles west of town. I got to his place at 2:30. In the yard, an ancient dog looked at me curiously, but decided to live and let live. I knocked on the front door and it was immediately opened by a man who could only be Mike Abernathy.
If Newman was a bear, Abernathy was a squirrel. He was a few inches shorter than I, bald, with glasses. His voice was a surprise. I expected it to squeak, but it was almost as deep as Newman’s. He held the door open and asked me in. “Even if you hadn’t said who you were, I would have known. I remember you.”
I raised a brow. “Good memories, I hope.”
He chuckled. “You were no worse than any other red-headed hellion.”
Abernathy and I sat down in the living room. He was, I quickly learned, a widower. He was quite willing to talk about my father, although I learned little more from him than I did from Newman. My father didn’t seem to have any close friends. Abernathy did add that he was surprised when my father disappeared. They had been in the middle of the library fund raising effort. “Not that the library really needed any money that we could raise, but your dad generally liked to finish what he started.”
I left Abernathy’s with little more than I had arrived with. Both Newman and Abernathy knew Jonah Kane, but could tell me little about him. He had lived in Chillicothe for awhile while working for the bank. He had left shortly after my father had.
My spirits weren’t exactly low when I headed back towards Ann and Joe’s, but I wasn’t dancing a jig either. If this was to be the pace of the investigation, then I was in for a long exile.
The minute I stepped in the door, I was mobbed. Both Ann and my mother wanted to know if I had learned anything. Even Joe came over to inquire. I held up a hand. “Now wait. I’m not used to reporting to such an animated audience. You’ll all have to sit down and glare at me until I acclimate.”
“Come on Archie, give. I was a good girl all day. All our pots and pans are under a restraining order.”
“You’re a fine little operative. It pains me to disappoint you, but I haven’t caught the murderer yet. He’s a crafty one. He ducked into an alley and doubled back at the last minute.”
“Archie! Are you chasing people in Chillicothe?”
“He’s kidding, Mom. You know what he’s like.”
“Did you get anything?” Joe asked.
I answered him seriously. “Not really. Just more information about the Civic Club. I don’t see how it’s helpful though.”
Joe and my mother just nodded. Ann looked disappointed. I was disappointed myself. She had appealed to me for help and so far I’d done nothing but flounder around. Ann caught my eye and gave me a slight smile. “Never mind. You just started. You’ll get something soon.” She stood and headed for the kitchen. “Now come and intimidate me with stories about Fritz.”
Dinner was a quiet affair. We got Joe to talk about his work and let him carry the conversation. “I don’t believe it. Awash in a sea of Goodwins and I have the floor.”
After dinner, the sea parted. I was pretty well pooped so I went up to bed. I lay in bed and told myself to review everything I knew. That worked for about twenty seconds. The next thing I knew, the sun was slanting through the window.
That morning, both Joe and Ann joined me for breakfast. The first item on my agenda was Bert Winslow. If he didn’t answer his phone, I would have to drive out to his house. I was putting my dishes in the sink when I heard a car pull up. My first thought was that Sheriff Blakely had the coroner’s report. Joe went over to the front door and looked out the screen. “What on earth. Archie! Come here.”
I strode over and looked. It was astonishing, but not unprecedented. Nero Wolfe was climbing out of a taxi.
It was certainly a tableau worth remembering. We were all gathered in the living room. Wolfe was in an upholstered chair that was fortunately large enough for him. I sat in smaller chair to his right. The others sat on the sofa facing him. Ann was staring at him as if she expected him to perform tricks. Wolfe was scowling and addressing her. “It is true, Mrs. Landry that I don’t leave my house on business. However, I reserve the right to conduct my personal affairs as I see fit. Mr. Goodwin’s prolonged absence would, of course, disrupt my business. It would also, however, take a personal toll. His duties in my home are not confined to the detective business.”
“Well, once this mess is straightened out, you’re welcome to him.”
“Thank you. As you have guessed, I am here to assist in straightening out this mess, as you call it. I will undoubtedly need your help. I will need to speak to all of you. But first I must speak with Mr. Goodwin.”
Joe stood. “We’ll make ourselves scarce for awhile. Where’s your luggage?”
“At a hotel in town.”
Ann shook her head vigorously. “No, no. Of course you have to stay here. Archie’s already here. If you stay in town he’ll just spend all his time driving back and forth.”
Wolfe hesitated. “Your point is well taken, but I have no wish to further impose.”
“Oh, it’s not an imposition. It’ll be fun. A real detective in our home. And Archie, too.”
“Ann, it’s not at all fun.”
“I didn’t mean fun, exactly Mom, but exciting. You know I don’t like it when things are too quiet.”
Wolfe swung his eyes at me. “Good heavens. Two of you.”
It was settled that Wolfe and I would have some time to ourselves while the others went to retrieve his luggage and then bring Mom’s car from her place. As soon as they left, Wolfe closed his eyes and sighed with gusto.
“Welcome to the Buckeye State.”
“Shut up.” His eyes opened. “In the future I will use greater discretion in sending you away. You have a positive talent for becoming entangled in ludicrous situations. It is easier to extricate you when you’re closer to home.”
“Yeah. It saves airfare too. I at no time asked you to come.”
“Bah. Did you need to ask? How much time have we got?”
“Oh, they’re being solicitous. We have a few hours. Did you really take a cab from Columbus?”
“Yes. Your telephone explanation was brief. I need more information.”
I reported. It was certainly an odd venue. He sat back in the chair with his hands clasped across his middle and watched me through slitted eyes. I started with the phone call from Ann and ended with my conversation with Abernathy. I gave him the conversations with Kane, Newman, and Abernathy verbatim.
“Archie. You have never spoken about your father.”
“No.” I cleared my throat. “I’m dry. I’m going to get some milk. Would you like something. I believe there’s beer.”
“Very well. It is after 1:00 in New York.”
“I should have asked, have you eaten?”
“I ate at the hotel before I came. I can wait until lunch.”
“Ann is actually a pretty good cook.”
“No doubt. Would she allow me to use the kitchen?”
“Sure. She’d probably welcome it.”
“I did not mean to impose upon your family.”
I shrugged. “You heard them say it’s not an imposition. They meant it. Anyway, they’re curious about you.”
“Indeed. You and your sister look somewhat alike.”
I ambled towards the kitchen. “So I’ve been told.”
There was beer. It wasn’t Wolfe’s brand, but he didn’t fuss. “That man, Bert Winslow. You will see him today.”
“That was my plan. He hasn’t been answering his phone.”
“Try him again. If he doesn’t answer, you’ll need to go there.”
It was on the tip of my tongue to remark that it was a good thing he had come all this way to tell me what to do. I held back because he had come all this way to tell me what to do.
I tried Winslow’s number again and lo and behold someone picked up. “Is this Bert Winslow?”
“Mr. Winslow, this is Archie Goodwin. You know my family.”
“Oh, the boy. I’d heard you were in town. How is your mother?”
“She’s been better.”
“I heard. Everyone’s heard. It’s all over town.”
“I imagine it is. There is a way you can help. I’d like to talk to you, if you don’t mind.”
“Oh, various things. I’d prefer to tell you in person.”
“Is it-well, I guess I can spare the time. Will you come here?”
I agreed and took down his address. We would meet at three. By then, the others should have returned with the cars.
To pass the time, I gave Wolfe a quick tour of the house. There was a question about sleeping arrangements. Ann and Joe had two spare bedrooms. Mom was in one and I was in the other. Obviously, Wolfe would need a bedroom. I would either have to bunk with him, or make do on the couch.
The problem was solved when Joe arrived in my mother’s car. He brought with him a roll away bed. It had been in the basement of my mother’s house. Together we wrestled it upstairs. “Ann says it’s for you because you don’t care what you sleep on.”
“Ann is right.”
Joe chuckled. “You’re alike there. I’ve found her sound asleep in the darnedest places.”
Wolfe had followed us into the bedroom and was listening to the conversation with interest. “I believe Mrs. Landry is several years older than Mr. Goodwin.”
“Yeah. Ann is, what, about four years older? She was just finishing high school when Archie started. The teachers had no time to recover.”
Wolfe actually chuckled. I let him have his fun. After a harrowing plane ride and a trip in a taxi cab, he deserved it. Also, I would have plenty of opportunity to even things up. I could have Mom make jello.
We heard the other car pull up and Mom and Ann entered with groceries. I was amused to see that they had bought enough to feed a family of twelve for a month. They had also bought two kinds of beer. I had no idea my letters had been that revealing.
Ann edged up to me. “I was going to make lunch.”
“By all means. I think there’s some food around here somewhere.”
“But what do I make?”
I patted her arm. “Make anything you like. He’s roughing it. He won’t expect fine dining here among the natives.”
At that, lunch was a success. Ann fried chicken, which is something Fritz doesn’t do, so it was a novelty. Wolfe ate enough to ease her anxiety. He also offered to make dinner.
“But you’re a guest.”
“No, Mom, let him. One lunch and I’m a nervous wreck.”
“Mrs. Landry, I have no wish to discompose you.”
Ann waved it off. “No, no. I’m delighted at the offer. I’m abandoning the field. My kitchen is your kitchen. Make yourself at home.”
I let them talk as I got ready to head out to Winslow’s.
“Archie are you off to investigate?”
“Yes, and you still can’t come.”
“I used to let you tag along after me.”
“You never even knew I was there.”
“Sure I did. You were about as stealthy as an elephant. I hope you’ve learned some tricks since then.”
“I’ve learned plenty . New York is strewn with the bodies of those who have tried to tail me.”
“I know, I know, I’ll stay put.” She suddenly smiled. It was unnerving. “I’m sure Mr. Wolfe would enjoy hearing more about your childhood.”
“I leave you with the reminder that I am licensed to carry firearms.” I left. Wolfe was looking slightly alarmed at the prospect of being left with two females, but he could always claim exhaustion and take a nap. Anyway, he had Joe as a cushion.
Winslow lived about half an hour away. I arrived a little early, but he was waiting for me. If Newman looked like a bear and Abernathy a squirrel, Winslow looked like exactly what he was, a retired accountant for the city.
We shook hands. Refreshingly, he didn’t tell me I looked like my father. We sat it his kitchen table. “I’ve been trying to get a hold of you.”
“I was out of town for a few days. I have relatives in Dayton. I’m at something of a loss to understand why you want to talk to me. I assume it has something to do with what happened at your Mom’s.”
I nodded. “How did you hear about it?”
“Oh, it’s all over town. You know how people talk.”
I did at that. If you want everyone to know your business, live in a small town. “I’m trying to find out exactly what happened. You knew Kane?”
“Oh, it’s been years. He used to live here.”
“So I’ve heard. The Chillicothe Civic Club.”
Winslow chuckled. “Oh, that. That was mostly an excuse to get together and hang out with the boys.”
That was certainly a new slant. “Was it purely a social club? Did you ever do anything civic?”
“Oh, a little maybe. We were small potatoes. A couple hundred dollars in donations here and there. Your dad was good at that. He was a genius at getting people to donate. When he left, we kind of slowly disbanded. Really, Archie, it was just a little club. Me, your dad, Jonah, Mike, George, a few others who are long gone.”
“Were my dad and Kane particularly close?”
“You tell me. As far as I know, your dad wasn’t particularly close to anyone.”
That was as far as I knew too. Winslow could offer me little else. There didn’t seem to be any special connection between Kane and my father. There didn’t seem to be any reason why Kane was asking questions about my father. When I left I was discouraged. The problem was that all of this happened so long ago. The only two people who would likely have any information were Kane and my father, now both dead.
Ann was in the yard when I pulled up. She had her hands on her hips and was glaring at the flower beds. “He said they’re getting too much sun. What the heck am I supposed to do about that?”
“Invest in a greenhouse.”
She nodded. “Then we can move to Manhattan when we’re laughed out of Chillicothe. One big happy family. He’s making dinner.”
“Thank God someone is.”
We went inside and I sauntered into the kitchen. Wolfe was there fearlessly wielding several potential murder weapons. I got a glass of milk and sat at the table.
“Not well at all. Do you want the whole thing?”
He scowled, checked a few pots and then came and sat down across from me. “Report.”
I did. It didn’t take long. When I finished he had no questions. He simply went back to the stove. “That’s it? No suggestions?”
“Not now. After dinner.”
Dinner was some type of pasta. Wolfe was gratified when Joe took a third helping. Of course we didn’t talk shop at the table. Encouraged by my mother, Wolfe talked about orchids. My mother not only understood him, she also asked several intelligent questions about pollination. I had no memory of her ever showing an interest in flowers, much less orchids. She was still subdued around him, but he was actually making an effort with her.
Once the dishes were cleared, Wolfe turned his mind to business. He asked us all to join him in the living room. My mother shot me a slightly alarmed look, but I could only shrug. I had no idea what was up his sleeve. We assumed our seats with Wolfe once again in the largest chair and me to his right. Wolfe regarded all of us. “We’re in a pickle.”
“I didn’t kill that man. I didn’t hurt anyone.”
“I have already eliminated you, Madam. You are Archie’s mother. Archie has spent the past two days probing in the dark. You all know that he has spoken to the surviving members of the Chillicothe Civic Club. We are proceeding on the assumption that the death of Mr. Kane had something to do with his tenure on that club. It may be an erroneous assumption, but at present it seems reasonable. Mr. Kane had no other connection to Mr. James Goodwin. Archie and I will continue to examine that connection in the hope that some tidbit will reveal itself.”
Joe spoke up. “Most people don’t remember the club. Some of the old timers might, though.”
“Then we will consult them if necessary. You will give Archie the names of those who might remember the club.” Wolfe briefly hesitated and then continued. “As I say, we will continue on that path. However, I would be remiss if I did not explore other sources of information that might prove fruitful. For example, I need information about Mr. Kane.”
My mother answered. “I didn’t know him well. He left town years ago. I never heard where he went. When he showed up again I didn't even recognize him, he had to introduce himself."”
“I accept that none of you can tell me anything of value about Mr. Kane. I will seek information about him from other sources.”
Ann spoke. “Well then, what can we do?”
“I’m coming to that. I need to know about Mr. Kane, but I also need to know about Mr. James Goodwin. You are all in a position to tell me about him, so I now ask. What type of man was he? What were his activities?”
I felt ambushed. I had no idea he was going to spring this, although, of course, I should have guessed. I scrambled around for a reply that would satisfy him. It was tricky. He was right to ask for the information. Kane was killed asking about my father. It was reasonable to assume that my father’s background would be relevant. So I owed him an answer.
My mother beat me to it. She had dropped her eyes to her lap. “We don’t talk about him.”
“That much is manifest. Come, Madam, you are involved in a homicide. If the local law enforcement decides to become more aggressive, you will have few secrets left.”
“It’s not a secret,” Ann said, “and anyway, Sheriff Blakely knew my dad.”
“Then I would like to be on a par with Sheriff Blakely. Archie?”
I knew it was coming. I cleared my throat. “What was he like? Most of the time he kept to himself. He was a farmer so he worked the farm. When he wanted to, though, he could socialize.” I shrugged. “He could be charming when he wanted to be. As for his activities, he was a farmer. That was what he did. I hardly ever heard about the Civic Club. None of us did.”
Ann was nodding vigorously. “That’s right. He just stayed apart from everything.”
“Pfui. You are describing a cipher.”
Ann shook her head. “I don’t know what else to tell you.”
I again tried to come up with something to say. I was in a funny position. Was I there as Wolfe’s employee, or as a member of the family? As an employee, I should certainly be helping Wolfe to collect as much information as possible. But as a member of the family, there were other considerations. My mother looked stricken.
Up to this point, Joe had said nothing. He was sitting next to Ann on the couch. He was scowling, not at Wolfe, but at the world. “I can’t take this anymore.”
“Joe.” Ann touched his wrist.
“No. I’ve had enough. You all forget I was there too. I saw. Everyone saw and no one did anything. And now we’re covering it up. Why should we? People should know the truth.”
“Joe,” I started, “really, there’s nothing relevant to say.”
“Archie, be silent.”
I opened my mouth to protest Wolfe’s remark and then shut it again at his look. Many is the time he has told me to shut up. Usually I ignore it. This time he meant it. His eyes were not angry or irate, but they were dead serious. Once he saw that I would obey, he went back to Joe. “Please continue, Mr. Landry.”
“No Ann, he should know. Maybe Archie’s right and it isn’t relevant, but he should know.” He addressed Wolfe. “James Goodwin was one of the nastiest bastards who ever lived.”
“Indeed? How did this nastiness exhibit itself?”
I was glad Wolfe’s attention was on Joe. I had no idea how to manage my face. It felt tight and frozen. Ann was having a similar problem. My mother was staring fixedly at her lap, her right hand was clenching and unclenching.
“It exhibited itself through his fists. I don’t know about Helen, but I know about Ann. Those times she’d come to school with marks on her body.”
When it finally came, Ann’s voice was quiet and dull. “It was only sometimes me. Mostly it was Archie. He was the boy.”
Now Wolfe looked at me. “Archie?” For the first time in our association I was unable to look at him. I stared at a point on the carpet near my shoe and shrugged. “It happened.”
“Yeah, it did. And nobody did anything. Everyone knew. I was there when Ann was hurt. She wouldn’t let anyone do anything. We married early to get her out. But that left Archie still in. I knew about him too. I knew there were a few times he couldn’t even make it to school. We should have done something.”
At this point, my mother stood up. She looked at me and I could see she was crumbling. She shook her head and left the room. I rose to go after her, but Ann stopped me. “Let her go, she’ll be okay.” I sat.
Wolfe was watching me with half closed eyes. I was now able to stare back at him. I spoke briskly. “This is all in the past. Interesting, to be sure, but I don’t see how it helps us now. I doubt Kane was poking around here because my father had a bit of a temper.”
Wolfe let it drop. “No, but we don’t yet know what is relevant. I ask you all again to search your memories. Do you recall anything of his interaction with the Civic Club?”
Ann answered. She was trying to catch my eye. “They met in town a few times a month. We never asked about it.” Her lips twisted. “As you might guess, questioning our father wasn’t a good idea.”
“I see. Very well. I respect your reluctance to discuss him.” He began procedures for standing. “Archie and I are going to bed. There is nothing else to do tonight.”
Just on general principle, I should have protested being ordered to bed, but I had no good alternatives. And I was tired. I wanted to be unconscious for awhile.
Wolfe and I headed upstairs. By the time I finished my nightly routine, he was already in bed. I turned out the lights and climbed into the roll away bed. It usually takes me all of thirty seconds to fall asleep. Even with the events of the evening, that night was no exception. I felt myself falling away when Wolfe’s voice floated over. “You do understand, Archie, that it was professional necessity that compelled me to ask about your father.”
I turned to face him. I could dimly make out his mound in the next bed. He appeared to be lying on his back addressing the ceiling. “I know. I would have done the same.”
“Yes. My motive is different now. Before, I asked for professional reasons. Now I ask for personal ones. How badly were you abused?”
I stared across at him for a few moments. Over the years he has asked me thousands of personal questions. It was rare for him, however, to actually acknowledge that fact. “I was smacked around some, but it was a long time ago.”
“You know something of my experiences in the Balkans before I came to New York.”
“If by “something” you mean “very little,” then yes.”
“I fought Germans. I do not speak of my experiences because I do not wish to recall them. To say they were unpleasant would be a gross understatement.”
“I know. Marko told me a little.”
“Did he? No matter. I wish only to say that no matter how unspeakable my situation became, there was never any pretense. I knew my enemy and I was free to use all of my abilities against him.”
“Is that in contrast to me? Many thanks for the sympathy, but I think you had it rougher.”
“There are conventions of war just as there are conventions of family. A parent should not be allowed to brutalize a child.”
“I guess with sufficient provocation, the parent might feel justified.”
“Nonsense. You forget whom you are speaking to. I know you. You can certainly be provoking and exasperating, but your other traits would make it impossible to brutalize you.”
“It turned out to be pretty possible.”
“Only because your father was a savage. I make no apologies for that statement.”
“Okay. None accepted. He wasn’t my favorite person either.”
“These admonitions seem insufficient. And yet, he is dead. No doubt he deserved his fate.”
No doubt he did. “He left when I was fifteen. We never knew where he went. Ten years later he turned up dead in Detroit. They said it was a mugging.”
“He has not been dead long.”
“I didn’t realize.”
“I didn’t mention it. There was no reason to.”
“I see. I was aware that there was a temporary estrangement between you and your mother.”
So apparently we were going to trudge through my entire family history. Well, if he was going to help clean up this matter, then I couldn’t protest too loudly. Anyway, he already knew some of this part of the story. “You want to know what my mother did to cause it? Or what I did?”
“My mother didn’t do anything. She never did anything at all.”
He paused before answering. “Yes, I see.”
“You’ve met her. That’s how she is. She wouldn’t stand up to him. Not for me. Not for Ann. Luckily Joe came along and took Ann away.”
“You had no such protector then.”
“No.” He didn’t say anymore. Eventually his breathing evened out as he fell asleep. It was only as I too was drifting off that I realized the significance of his last word.
I was alone in the room when I woke the next morning. I made it snappy and headed downstairs. Wolfe was at the stove and Joe was sitting at the table finishing breakfast. When he saw me, Wolfe started cracking eggs. I nodded at him and went to the refrigerator for a glass of milk. I sat next to Joe. Well used to the Goodwin morning fog, Joe waited a few minutes before speaking.
“Archie, I wanted to apologize for spouting off like that last night.”
I set my glass down. “No. You had the right. Like you said, you were there.” To change the subject I looked towards Wolfe. “Do we have an agenda?”
He set a plate of eggs in front of me. “Eat first.”
I shook my head. “You forget that unlike you, I can talk business and digest at the same time. Anyway, this isn’t really business.”
Joe stood up and picked up his dishes. “I need to get to work. Ann is taking your mother shopping. That should keep them occupied. They’ll drop me off, so you can use your mom’s car.”
I thanked him and he left.
“Your brother-in-law seems sensible.”
“Yeah.” I swallowed egg. “So where do we start?”
“We are still operating under the assumption that Mr. Kane’s death was somehow connected to the activities of the Civic Club. We will further explore the activities of the club. This town has a library. We will go there.”
“I can leave in half an hour.”
“I’m coming with you.”
I stared. “You are? In a car?”
He made a face. “I have already submitted to worse hazards to arrive at this place. Before we go to the library, you will take me to your mother’s house. I wish to see where Mr. Kane was found.”
If I stared before, I goggled now. “You want to visit a crime scene?”
“I believe I said so.”
“You did. Forgive me if it take awhile to adjust to this adventuresome side of your personality. Plane trips, car rides, crime scenes. Next thing you know, you’ll be carrying a gun.”
He snorted. “It might be helpful if one of us were. This is a murder.”
I sobered at that. It was one of my regrets that I wasn’t armed. I hadn’t bothered to take a weapon to San Francisco. I wasn’t working a murder case and it would have caused problems at the airport. Now I was stuck without one. A few years ago, I had been shot while working on a murder case. It was bad enough that I made a promise to myself never to leave the house on a murder investigation without a gun. Wolfe not only endorsed this idea, he adamantly insisted on it. But now here I was without a gun. On the other hand, if the best our murderer could do was hit people with frying pans, then I might be able to defend myself with a handy spatula.
Armed with only our virtue, Wolfe and I set off for my mother’s house. As usual, he sat in the back seat and braced for impact. I pulled into my mother’s driveway and hopped out in front of the house. Wolfe clambered out of the back and looked around. “There’s a barn.”
“Yes. Cows and I go way back. It’s empty now.” I led him up the porch steps. The front door was still unlocked. I wondered if the lock even worked. We crossed the threshold and Wolfe stopped to look. I headed towards the kitchen where Kane had been found. I stopped when I realized that Wolfe wasn’t following. I turned and saw him walking around the living room. He stopped in front of the fireplace. There were two picture on the mantelpiece, one of me and one of Ann and Joe. He picked up the picture of me, stared at it, and put it back.
“That was high school graduation.”
He nodded and continued around the room. He halted at the foot of the stairs and said, “the bedrooms are upstairs?”
“Yes, but I doubt Kane was ever up there.” I should have saved my breath. He was already moving up the stairs. I trailed after him. Upstairs, he glanced into Ann’s old bedroom, but didn’t stop. At the next room, however, he stopped and entered. I was right behind him. It was my old room.
I hadn’t seen it since I left. My mother had stripped the twin bed down to the mattress, but otherwise hadn’t touched it. It was smaller than my room at the brownstone. It had a slanted ceiling and two north facing windows. There was a small desk and a bookshelf. Somewhat embarrassingly, a good percentage of the books were dime store detective novels. A few high school swimming trophies stood on the top shelf. Wolfe walked to the center of the room and turned slowly around to take it all in.
“Home sweet home.”
He grunted and went to the bookshelf. “I thought you played football.”
“I did. I did a lot of things.”
He nodded, took another look around and walked out. Apparently he wasn’t interested in the other bedroom because he headed downstairs and into the kitchen. At that, he didn’t seem terribly interested in the kitchen either. I showed him where I found Kane, but he barely glanced at the area. He took one circuit of the kitchen and announced he was ready to leave.
“You forgot to dust for fingerprints. Remind me again why we came here.”
“Pfui. I wished to see the house.”
“And now that your ambitions have been realized?”
“Now we may leave.”
I refrained from muttering as we climbed back into the car and I pointed it towards town. There was just no arguing with eccentricity.
One point in favor of small towns, it’s easy to park. I found a slot right in front of the library. We were there to look for newspaper articles that discussed the Civic Club or any of its projects. We located the archives section which was presided over by a woman who could probably claim status as an archive herself. She looked a bit familiar, but all librarians tend to look alike. I explained what we were after and she shook her head. “We don’t keep newspapers for more than a few years. We just don’t have the room.”
Wolfe spoke. He was certainly roughing it, asking questions while standing up. “Madam, how long have you been employed here?”
“Why since the library opened. Before that I taught at the grade school.” She tipped her chin at me. “I didn’t have you, but I had your sister.”
So that’s why she looked familiar. I was several years behind Ann in school. Throughout my scholastic career I’d run into her former teachers. They would immediately recognize the last name. Invariably, their first words to me were an admonition to keep quiet and pay attention. This specimen was eyeing me as if she expected me to break out into song in the middle of the library. To disappoint her, I merely nodded at her and let Wolfe talk.
“Perhaps you can help us. Is there somewhere we can sit down?”
She had no objections. She led us to a small table with several chairs around it. Wolfe made a face. None of the chairs would be comfortable for his bulk. He took it like a man and sat down. “If you have been employed by the library since it first opened, then you may be able to help us. I’m interested in the genesis of the library. Whose idea was it? How was it funded?”
“My goodness. I suppose I can help a bit, but it’s not terribly interesting.”
“It is of interest to me.”
Generally speaking, librarians are good sources of information. This one was apparently so used to requests for data, that ours didn’t bother her at all. She had a good memory. She explained that, the City Council, under pressure from the schools, had decided to build a library. “Of course, funding it was a big problem. It took two years for the state legislature to agree to a bond issuance.”
“A long time, to be sure. And private donations?”
“Oh, I seem to recall there was some attempt at that, but when the legislature came through it wasn’t that necessary anymore.”
“I see.” Wolfe kept at it, but all he got was an explanation of the bond issuance process. She didn’t even mention any support by the Civic Club. We wrapped it up and headed outside. It was after 1:00 p.m. I recommended a visit to the Paint Street Diner.
“You know I don’t like to eat out.”
“I know. I also know that you don’t like to travel in airplanes or ride in cars. But since we’re shattering precedents, what’s one more?”
His lips were tight. “Very well. You are enjoying this.”
I fell into step with him as we headed towards Paint Street. “Actually, I’m not. I know you want to go home. So do I.”
“You don’t regard this place as home?”
“No. That’s why I left.”
The diner was crowded, but we found a booth. Wolfe frowned over the menu and ordered stew. I once again ordered sandwiches. As a concession to routine, I avoided discussing the case. My good intentions were destroyed when a figure stopped at our table. I looked up and saw Sheriff Blakely.
“I had to see for myself. I heard Nero Wolfe was in town.”
I quickly introduced Wolfe to Blakely. Blakely stood in the aisle and looked down at us. “I’m curious. What’s the great Nero Wolfe doing in Chillicothe?”
“I’m here on a personal matter,” Wolfe muttered.
“I’ll bet. A personal matter involving Jonah Kane.”
“Sheriff Blakely, I dislike trying to converse in this hubbub. I will only say that I decline to indulge your curiosity. I’m here on a personal matter. If you wish to talk to me, then I suggest that you make an appointment to see me at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Landry.”
“I don’t have anything to discuss with you.” His eyes went to me. “You, on the other hand, might like to know that the coroner could only say that Kane died within twelve hours before you found him. That’s plenty of time.”
“Much obliged. You know that proves nothing.”
“We also found her prints on the frying pan.”
“Of course you did. It’s her frying pan.”
“Damn it Archie! Do you think you’re helping? You’re making it worse. I like your mother. Tell her to plead self defense. No jury in Ohio would convict her.”
I shook my head. “It’s still no sale, but thanks for the good wishes.”
He threw up his hands and stalked away. “You damn Goodwins.”
Wolfe regarded me across the table. “Archie, you were correct. He is a witling.”
Ann and my mother were seated in the kitchen when we got home. Ann immediately jumped up. “Well? Did you crack the case?”
I patted her shoulder. “Patience my girl.”
“Oh for crying out loud. Do people actually pay you for this kind of work?”
“Ann, leave your brother alone.”
Ann and I both stared. My mother never intervened like that. Ann nudged me into the living room leaving my mother alone with Wolfe in the kitchen. “People kept staring at her in town. First dad, now this. This damn town.”
“People would talk anywhere. We’ll figure it out. I’ve told you about Mr. Wolfe. You know he bats about a thousand.”
One corner of her mouth turned up. “Will you give me odds?”
I told her not to be vulgar.
Mom entered and told me Wolfe wanted me. I went back into the kitchen. Wolfe was at the table with a beer. I sat. “Archie, I’m under the impression that Mr. Abernathy and Mr. Newman are inclined to be forthcoming.”
“They certainly seemed to be.”
“Good. Get them here. I wish to speak to them.”
“Yes. This evening.”
“I could probably get Winslow too.”
“No. I wish to reserve him. He told you that your father collected only a de minimus amount of donations for the Civic Club.”
“So that’s where we’re going.”
“It is worth exploring.”
I went to use the phone in the living room. Ann stared at me curiously as I picked up the receiver but decided to leave her brother alone. I tried to concoct a way to get Abernathy and Newman to come. As it turned out, however, there was no need for me to be clever. Nero Wolfe may be only half as famous as he’d like to think, but he was an object of curiosity in Chillicothe. Both of them were quite willing to come over and gaze at him. I set it up for eight o’clock and went back into the kitchen to inform Wolfe.
Abernathy and Newman arrived together a little before eight. I led them into the living room. I had already chased the others upstairs so it was just Wolfe and me. They both took seats on the couch and proceeded to gawk as I pronounced names.
“Gentlemen. I thank you for coming. You have already spoken to Mr. Goodwin, now I wish to speak to you. Mr. Abernathy, you shake your head. Do you have an objection?”
“Oh no. I’m sorry. It’s just that when you say Mr. Goodwin I think of Jim, not Archie.”
“Mr. James Goodwin is dead.”
“Yeah, I know. I went to his funeral.”
“How intimate were you with the senior Mr. Goodwin? I ask both of you.”
They looked at each other. Abernathy went first. That was only fitting, he had been president. He spoke carefully, as befitted a squirrel. “I really only knew him from the Civic Club. We weren’t that close. I never went to the house or anything.”
Newman was nodding in agreement. “Jim didn’t have close friends. We told Archie all this.”
“Yes. You have now had two days to ponder what you told Mr. Goodwin, Very well, what you told Archie. Have you anything to add?”
Abernathy said no and Newman shook his head.
“We’ll move on then. Your only association with Mr. Goodwin was through the Civic Club. I need to know more about the club. You told Archie that it supported public works projects. This support was monetary?”
This time Newman answered. “Mostly monetary. Mike here did some lobbying in Columbus once.”
“This was for the library?”
Abernathy nodded. “That’s right. I went up with the mayor. We got the state to agree to a bond issue.”
“How much of the library was funded by the bond issuance?”
“Just about all of it.”
“The Civic Club made no contribution?”
“It did. Jim got some donations. It just wasn’t that much. It turned out it wasn’t necessary.”
“Was that unusual? Was Mr. Goodwin normally effective in obtaining donations.”
“He was, “Abernathy said. “When he set his mind to it, Jim could charm the wallet out of anyone. Not just regular people. He’d hit up the big companies too. Made them feel it was their duty to give back to the town. He was a good talker.”
“Who contributed to the library project?”
Abernathy looked flabbergasted. “Lord, I don’t know. It was so long ago.”
“Jim did all that. He was the treasurer.”
“Were there no records kept?”
“If Jim kept records, he didn’t tell us about them. We just had the bank records.”
Wolfe compressed his lips. “Mr. James Goodwin left Ohio rather abruptly. How did his departure affect your finances?”
Newman gave me an apologetic look. “When he left, well, it did leave the finances in a mess. Bert, you know, Bert Winslow helped to straighten them out. He’s an accountant. So that was okay. I know the Sheriff poked around for a bit looking for Jim, but nothing ever came of it.”
“Did the sheriff speak to you?”
“Yeah. Mike and Bert too. I think Bert’s interview was a lot more informal.”
Abernathy was nodding in agreement. “Yeah. He spoke to George and I and Carl Yates after a Civic Club meeting. I think he just spoke to Bert at Sunday dinner. None of us knew anything”
Wolfe perked up. “Does Mr. Winslow socialize with Mr. Blakely?”
Newman chuckled. “Bert can’t avoid it. Don’s his brother-in-law, married his sister.”
“I see. Gentlemen, I thank you for coming. You have provided me with something to think about.”
That was their cue to leave and they picked up on it. As he stood, Newman spoke. “If you’re looking for people who could tell you about Jim, You’re out of luck. Mike used to call him ridiculously aloof. Mike is polite like that. Most people used different words.” He tipped his chin at me. “Forgive me for being blunt.”
“You’re forgiven.” I escorted them out. On the way back to the living room I detoured into the kitchen and brought back beer and milk. I sat sipping milk and watched Wolfe. “You know, I told my family I was a detective, but anymore of this floundering around and the jig will be up.”
“Shut up Archie. This is extraordinarily difficult. Bring your mother.”
I got to my feet. I thought a little bit of unquestioning obedience was called for. I had been riding Wolfe, but he was right. It was difficult. My mother, Ann and Joe were all waiting in Ann and Joe’s bedroom. I told my mother that Wolfe wanted to see her. Ann made an exasperated noise and flopped on to the bed. I ignored her because I knew it would annoy her. My mother meekly followed me to the living room and sat in the spot that Newman had recently vacated. Wolfe eyed her unenthusiastically. “Mrs. Goodwin, you have already been asked about your husband’s activities with the Civic Club. You denied any specific knowledge. Is that still your position?”
“It’s not a position. It’s the truth. I stayed out of Jim’s business.”
“I concede that you had good reason to do so. Nonetheless, you lived with him during this time. He was treasurer of this organization. He must have spoken of it.”
She was shaking her head. “Really Mr. Wolfe, he didn’t. I never asked him. I wouldn’t.”
Wolfe closed his eyes briefly and then opened them again. “I have been in your home. You are a tidy housekeeper. When your husband died, did you dispose of his artifacts?”
“Artifacts? I threw out most of his things. I did that when he left, not when he died.”
I remembered that. For awhile we expected my father to return. We didn’t quite dare to change anything. My mother and I walked around as if he were still there, ready to leap out from the closets. It took almost a year before we stopped jumping at shadows. At that point, my mother started giving away his clothes and throwing things out.
“When he left then.” Wolfe was being patient. “Did he leave behind any documents?”
My mother shook her head. “The only thing he left behind was bills.”
“I see. Mr. Newman informed us that when your husband disappeared, the sheriff made inquiries.”
“He did. I know he talked to Mike and George and some of the others. Nothing ever came of it.”
Wolfe put his hands on the chair arms and started to lever himself up. “I appreciate your indulgence, Mrs. Goodwin. You must resent personal questions as much as I do.”
My mother gazed calmly at him. “I don’t resent it. I don’t have any call to resent you. You’re helping me. I know it’s for Archie’s sake and not mine, but I appreciate it. You can ask me anything you like, I won’t resent it.”
“Thank you. Unfortunately, I have no questions to ask you. I’m going to bed. Goodnight Madam, Archie.”
He left and I started collecting glasses.
“It must sound so strange to him, me knowing so little about what Jim was up to.”
“He’s heard stranger things.” She looked as if she should be going to bed too. “Don’t worry so much about what everyone thinks. They weren’t there.”
“Ann’s been talking to you. It wasn’t so bad in town. No one actually said anything. Anyway, I don’t fret too much about them.”
I caught the faint emphasis on the pronoun. “I don’t want to go through all this again. It’s all in the past.”
She stood and headed towards the stairs. She paused at the banister. “I know. I won’t dredge it all up again. I just want you to know that I’m glad you’ve forgiven me. I wonder if I deserve it, though. Even now I look back and I know I wouldn’t have done anything different. I should have, but I wouldn’t. I was just too afraid.”
“We all were.”
“I know. But you and Ann weren’t like me. I’m a coward. I couldn’t stand up to him for my own sake and I couldn’t stand up to him for your sake. So I just wanted to thank you for forgiving me. Everyone else can think what they want. You and Ann are on my side.”
“And Nero Wolfe.”
She started to climb the stairs. “And the great Nero Wolfe. And he can ask me anything he wants.”
When I went upstairs, the great Nero Wolfe was sitting up in bed reading a book on Tecumseh. He was certainly getting into the spirit of things. He bent a page and put the book down when I entered. I sat on the other bed and waited.
He spoke. “You realize what must have happened.”
I nodded. “My father was an embezzler. When we get home you’ll have to audit the books. Blood will tell.”
“Nonsense. Neither you nor your sister are anything like him.”
“Oh, you never know. One day I may pick up a razor strap and go crazy.”
He looked startled. “What?”
“Never mind. He took the library money and skipped. Why is Kane dead?”
“Mr. Kane worked at the bank. Mr. Newman informed us that the Civic Club had its own bank account and indicated that it was in order. I presume, therefor, that Mr. Kane was an accomplice. He was able to reconcile the bank records”
“We need to know if Kane was in Detroit.”
“Yes. We have neglected Mr. Kane. In the morning, you will call Saul and start him on Mr. Kane.”
“Saul is in New York.”
“And we are in Ohio. He can make initial inquiries from New York. If we need more, then we’ll see.”
“So now Saul has something to do. Do we?”
“Yes. You head me asking about records.”
“There are none. Okay, we’re presuming that Kane was in on it, that at least one of the others, call him X, was also aware of it, and that X killed Kane. If Kane started stirring things up, life could get difficult for X.”
“Threat of exposure is a motive for murder. Mr. Kane could expose X. If your father kept records, then those records could also expose him.”
“Apparently, he didn’t keep records.”
“No. If they are not in existence, then we will have to invent them.”
“I’ll be damned. You want to pull a charade over on the good people of Chillicothe.”
“We will need your family’s help. Can they dissemble?”
“Ann, definitely. My mother, somewhat. Joe, no.”
“Then it will have to be Mrs. Landry with perhaps some assistance from your mother.”
“So we actually found something at the house.”
“For appearance’s sake, we will go there again tomorrow with Mrs. Landry. During this time Mr. Landry will take your mother to breakfast at that diner. Your mother will explain to all who are curious that he is keeping her company while we are searching the house. As far as he knows this will be the truth. We will then meet them in town in triumph. We will have found the documents we were looking for.”
I nodded. “I like it. It puts town gossip to good use. I never thought I’d see the day.” I stood. “I’ll need to make arrangements.” Wolfe nodded and went back to Tecumseh. I went across the hall and knocked on the door. Joe opened it. He was still dressed. Ann was in bed but awake. She sat up when I entered.
“A bulletin from the field?”
I waved a hand at her. “At ease. I merely have a request. You and I and Mr. Wolfe are going on a field trip tomorrow. This is your chance to watch professionals operate. We’re going to search Mom’s house.”
“For what? More dead bodies?”
“No, now pay attention.” I explained that we were after documents that would provide any information on our father’s involvement with the Civic Club. Then I turned to Joe. “I also have a favor to ask of you.”
I explained that I didn’t want Mom to have to go back to the scene of the crime just yet and asked him to take her to breakfast. He readily agreed although he would have to abandon her after breakfast to get to work. I told him that she could amuse herself in town and that we would pick her up when we were finished. Ann was looking at me suspiciously so I got out of there before she said anything in front of Joe.
I next went to my mother’s room. Like Wolfe, she was reading in bed, a magazine, not Tecumseh. I explained what was up. “Your role is to let people know what we’re doing. We are trying to advertise this search, so tell anyone who appears interested.”
“But I don’t understand. I told you there were no documents.”
“No. In this case honesty isn’t the best policy. You don’t know whether there are any records about the Civic Club. Dad left a lot of papers and you could never bring yourself to sift through them. We are creating a situation here. We need to pretend the records exist.”
“We’re setting off a firecracker to see who jumps. Someone will get nervous and do something. Just remember, you know there are documents, but you don’t know what’s in them.”
“Well, all right. It’s a lie, but I guess I can lie.”
“Of course you can, you’re a Goodwin.”
Wolfe was still reading when I returned to our room. I told him it was all set and started disrobing. I had my shirt off when there was a quick knock on the door and Ann bounced in. I tried to bounce her right back out. “The office is closed. We’re sleeping here.”
Nothing doing. She brushed right by me and hopped on to my bed. “What’s going on? Why are we searching the house?”
“I’m in bed, Madam,” Wolfe snapped.
“Yes, and I should be. But I won’t sleep if I don’t know what’s going on.”
Wolfe transferred his glare from her to me although I certainly didn’t deserve it. Guilt by association. I sat next to her. “We’re cooking up a scheme. The idea is to stir things up.” I explained to her that we were going to let people believe that our father kept records on the Civic Club.
“You’re going to let people think that something in the records names the murderer?”
“That’s pretty much it. It may fizzle, but we like it. Whoever did it will want those records.”
“Those non-existent records.”
“Yeah. He won’t know they’re non-existent.”
“No.” She rose up. “You were right not to tell Joe. He can’t lie to save his life.” She grinned at me and expanded it to include Wolfe. “Opposites attract. Good night Archie, Mr. Wolfe.”
After she left, Wolfe eyed me balefully. “She is too exuberant. Can she be relied upon?”
“Exuberant is a good word. I would have said enthusiastic, but exuberant is better. Can she be relied upon? I wouldn’t say she’s as good a liar as I am because I’ve had more practice, but she does have a certain innate ability. She’ll pull it off.”
I finished preparations, turned off the light and crawled into bed. Wolfe spoke again. “Your sister is a woman, but I did not ask you if she could keep a secret. She is obviously able to do so.”
“Yeah, we’re all pretty good at it. Lying and keeping secrets. You should be more careful about the company you keep.”
“Pfui. You know quite well how selective I am.”
“I do know. I just sometimes wonder about the bases for you selections.”
“Who do you question? Marko? Fritz? Yourself?”
“Marko I understand. You were boys together. Fritz too. There’s nothing objectionable about Fritz. I miss him. Me, sometimes I wonder. You’ve frequently said that I vex you.”
“You are fishing for compliments. Could I function without you?”
“You could, but you don’t think you can. You were a licensed detective before you ever met me.”
“I practiced with great difficulty and inconvenience. However, I don’t pretend that you are merely a professional convenience. Would I travel on an airplane for professional reasons?”
“No. I guess not. I know I have a regard for you that is beyond professional. If you have a similar regard for me, then okay. Like I said, I’m not certain why you do, but that’s your business.”
“Having invited your confidence, I do not retreat. You mentioned that you can lie and keep secrets. I know you can. But I also know that you do not lie to me or keep secrets from me. I know that if I had asked you whether your father beat you, you would have told me just as if you asked me directly about my childhood, I would tell you. We would tell each other these things because we both know that they change nothing. It’s simplistic twaddle to say that the child is the father of the man. It’s more accurate to say that the man overcomes the child. You’ve no doubt noticed that I have displayed some curiosity about your childhood. I do so not in any belief that it will enlighten me as to your character. I already know your character, as you know mine. If I inquire into your childhood it is only because it gives me insight into the hurdles you surmounted to achieve that character. Knowledge of these obstacles only increases my respect for you.”
“I’m not sure I deserve that.”
“I am. Your sister intimated that you bore the brunt of your father’s tirades.”
“I guess. I don’t regret that though.”
“I did not suppose that you did.”
I settled deeper under the covers. For the first time it occurred to me that Wolfe intentionally initiated these conversations when I was half asleep and unlikely to vigorously respond. I decided to take a stab at turning the tables. “So you would tell me about Montenegro if I asked you directly?”
“Do you find it necessary to know? Would the knowledge hatch a revelation?”
“No, I guess not.”
“Just so. You already know me.”
At that I dropped it and let sleep come.
Ann was waiting for us in the morning. She had made breakfast, including perfectly adequate poached eggs. Joe and my mother had already left. At breakfast we discussed how much time we should spend at the house in order to make the charade look convincing. We settled on three hours and I advised Wolfe to bring his book. I was joking, but he nodded in agreement. While he was retrieving his book, I got on the phone and tried to call Saul. There was no answer. He was probably out on a job. Usually the best time to get a hold of him is in the early evening. I would have to try again.
We arrived at the house a little before nine. In the living room, Wolfe immediately found an acceptable chair and started reading. Ann wandered around for a few minutes and then asked me, “should we do anything?”
“There’s nothing to do. We should have brought a deck of cards.”
“Ah ha. I know there are cards here somewhere.”
“You’re right. Unless Mom moved it, there should be a deck in my room”
“Let’s go. I don’t think she’s touched your room.”
We clambered upstairs and sure enough there was a deck in my desk drawer. I pulled it out and heard Ann chuckle next to me. She nodded at the contents of the bookshelf. “Prophetic, aren’t they?”
“More like embarrassing. Wolfe saw them.”
Ann laughed. “What did he say?”
“Nothing. Which is no guarantee that he won’t later make comments at the most inopportune times.”
She pulled out a volume and read, “Nick Rhodes and the Case of the Purloined Diamonds.” She examined the cover. “Do you often rescue blondes in their nightgowns?”
“No. I do all my blonde rescuing after lunch when they’re decently attired.”
She put the book back and we headed out. “You know, I think for Christmas every year I’ll send Mr. Wolfe one of those books. He likes to read.” I objected and we discussed it on the way back down.
The morning passed quietly. I nicked Ann for 75 cents at gin rummy. I could have increased it, but she was fully capable oft mailing those books. We bantered back and forth while Wolfe read. Several times I sensed him listening to us blather, but each time I looked up he was engaged with his book.
Finally we quit the house and headed into town to spread the glad tidings. We congregated in the diner where Joe and my mother were waiting to have lunch with us. Ann put on a performance as soon as we entered. She spotted Joe and Mom and dashed over to them with exuberance. “We found something! We haven’t read it through yet, but Dad kept records. They were all there.” She then proceeded to loudly relate a highly plausible and completely fictitious story about how we tediously searched the house until we discovered the documents in a forgotten box in one of the closets. She kept up the narration while we ordered. It would be all over town by nightfall.
We broke up after lunch. I would take Wolfe and my mother back to the house. Ann would remain in town to gossip some more. Before we left her, I reminded Ann that she was to say that she hadn’t read the documents, she was leaving that to Wolfe and me.
Once home, my mother went upstairs. She said she wanted to rest, but ore likely she wanted to give us room to work. Wolfe settled into his now favorite chair and told me to try Saul again. I looked at the clock. It would be late afternoon in New York, a good time to try.
I got lucky. Saul was home. He picked up immediately. “Hello, Saul. I speak to you from exile.”
“From what I understand, you’re not the only one in exile. He’ll give Orrie a complex, abandoning him like that.”
“Somehow I think Orrie’s ego will survive. Right now we need less talk about Orrie and more talk about what you can do for us. He’ll tell you.” I handed the phone off to Wolfe and listened as he outlined the situation. He asked Saul to do a check on Jonah Kane. They exchanged a few pleasantries and Wolfe hung up.
“Saul said he should have some information for us sometime tomorrow.”
“Saul knows many people.”
“So now we wait.”
“Yes.” Wolfe picked up his book and settled in for the duration. It was all well and good for him. He could pass time with the Indians. I had nothing to do. If we were in New York I would have gone out for a walk. Here, however, there was no place to walk to. Wolfe, of course, gave no indication that his mind was on anything other than his book. I draped myself on the sofa opposite him and watched him read. It didn’t take long to get a reaction.
“Archie, you are fidgety. Go and pester your mother. I’m reading.”
I grinned. “Nothing doing. I pestered her for seventeen years. The novelty has worn off. Tell me about Tecumseh.”
He snorted. “You grew up here. You know the history.”
“Then tell me about something else or I’ll ask you directly about Montenegro.”
“Confound it, leave me in peace.”
“No. I’m bored. Who do you think will crack first? Abernathy, Newman, Winslow, or none of the above?”
Wolfe dog eared a page, put the book down, and glared at me. “If we were home I would send you to a movie.”
“We’re not home. What do you suppose Fritz does when we’re not there? He has no one to cook for unless you count Theodore.”
“I doubt Fritz counts Theodore, as you put it. Theodore’s tastes are perverse.”
“That’s true. He eats bran flakes. Still, unless Orrie is staying over they are the only two people in the house. They might get chummy.”
“They have little in common. You know I have no great affection for Theodore. I accept his presence because he is competent and useful.”
“That’s my platform too. I don’t know how Fritz feels though. I suppose Fritz thinks it’s up to you who you have in your house.”
“To a point. Neither he nor I would put up with a repellent personality. Some degree of harmony must be maintained.”
That was a sentiment I wholeheartedly endorsed. When I first moved into Wolfe’s house it took awhile to adjust to the lack of tension. Any disputes were settled fairly quickly and, usually, reasonably. Even Theodore, who could be cantankerous, seldom created any storms that affected anyone other than Wolfe. In fact, if anyone was inclined to disturb the harmony it was me.
“I really didn’t intend for you to get entangled in this mess. I know you’d rather be home reading books in your own chair. If we don’t get a nibble from this stunt it would be entirely acceptable for you to head back to New York. I’d follow as soon as I could. You have Orrie.”
Wolfe merely picked up his book again. “Bah. Would I leave you here alone? Orrie’s personality may not be repellent, but neither is it sympathetic. And I have already told you he can’t type.”
I stood up. “Poor Orrie. We’ll have to send him to secretarial school.” Wolfe ignored me and I wandered outside to look at flowers that got too much sun.
Wolfe was still reading when I went back inside much later. He had obviously stirred at one point because there was an empty bottle of beer at the table near his elbow. I headed to the kitchen for milk and snagged him another bottle while I was there. After enduring diner food without a peep, he deserved a little indulgence. When I reentered the living room, my mother was coming down the stairs. She smiled at the glass in my hand.
“I miss the cows.”
“Without me, you don’t need them.”
“I still miss them. Very serene, restful creatures.”
We passed the time chatting and Wolfe put down his book and joined in. They got to orchids again. Wolfe seemed pleased at her questions. I was surprised at her. “Since when have you been interested I orchids?”
“Oh, I read about them some after you started writing.”
How do you like that.
Ann and Joe eventually came home and Wolfe wandered into the kitchen to start dinner. Ann was full of accounts of the effectiveness of her babbling to all and sundry. I was less than impressed. It was certainly no secret that Ann had a big mouth. Our plan merely put it to good use.
I was no good for conversation that night. I kept waiting for the phone to ring, which was silly. We couldn’t expect a response that soon. Even small town gossips have to work through the proper channels and all this takes time. Nonetheless, I was strung pretty tightly by the time we said our goodnights. Wolfe, in contrast, was a serene and restful creature. He allowed me to fall asleep without another ambush.
It was 10:40 the next morning when the call came. It had been agreed that I would answer all phone calls. I let two rings go by and picked up the receiver. “Hello, Landry residence.”
There was a pause. “Is this Archie?”
I gripped the phone tighter and looked over to where Wolfe was seated. “Yes, it is. Bert Winslow? How are you?”
“Good, good. How are you?”
“Just fine. I’m a bit busy right now, though. Was there something I could do for you?”
“Archie, I heard something that concerns me a bit.”
“You found some of your father’s records?”
“I’m not sure how you know that, but yes, we found some documents. I’m reading through them now.”
“I see. Have you spoken to anyone about them? The sheriff?”
“No. Is there a reason why I should?”
“The thing is, I’m a bit concerned that some of the information in there might be misconstrued.”
“I suppose anything is possible, but I don’t plan on leaping to any conclusions.”
“Good, good. Listen, I’d like to talk to you. I remembered some more things about your father that might help you.”
“Really? I’m all in favor of you helping me.”
“Good, good. You have a car? Can you come to my home?”
“Sure. I can come this afternoon.”
He was all in favor of my setting off at once, but I saw no reason to oblige him. The more off balance and agitated he was, the better for us. We settled for 3:00 p.m. and he rang off.
Wolfe spoke, “well?”
“Good, good.” I gave him the whole conversation.
“Satisfactory. It is apparent that he is involved. He said he was out of town when Mr. Kane was killed. That will have to be checked.”
“I’ll ask questions this afternoon.”
“Yes. We should confer.”
I sat and we conferred. It was fairly simple. We needed confirmation that Winslow was involved in my father’s embezzlement, that Kane knew about it, and that Kane might have threatened to expose it, or otherwise implicate Winslow. I was also to ask questions about Winslow’s alibi. We decided to approach Winslow as if we already knew about his role. The entire meeting would be one big bluff. Fortunately, I was well practiced at throwing in all my chips while holding a measly pair of twos.
One issue that came up was the fact that I would not be armed. I maintained that there was little danger so long as I stayed out of the kitchen. Wolfe was less comfortable. We wrangled on about the point.
“I really don’t see as I have a choice. Joe’s got an old hunting rifle, but I can’t really walk into his house holding a shot gun. It doesn’t project the right degree of sang froid.”
“You pronounce it wrong. I concede that we have no alternative. You will keep your wits about you.”
“That’s a cinch, I always do.”
While we were conferring, Ann and my mother were carefully staying out of our way. When Wolfe went into the kitchen to start preparations for lunch, Ann emerged. “How thick is the plot now?”
“It’s positively gelatinous.” I explained to her that Bert Winslow had reacted to her performance.
“So he’s afraid of something he thinks is in the records.”
“But what? Why is everyone so hot and bothered about the Civic Club?”
Wolfe and I hadn’t mentioned our suspicions about my father’s accounting practices. She would have to be told, but at this point, the fewer the people who knew about it, the better for us. “I don’t really know for sure. I’ll see what Winslow says.”
“Bert Winslow. I can’t believe it.”
As I pulled into Winslow’s driveway that afternoon, I could see her point. It was difficult to believe. Winslow lived in the same modest type of house that I had been used to throughout my childhood. If he was an embezzler, then he was a damned unsuccessful one.
I mounted the porch steps and knocked. I waited a few moments and knocked again. Finally, I turned the door knob. Like my mother’s house, it was unlocked. I poked my head in and called for him. No answer.
It was either intuition or experience that caused me to enter the house and head for the kitchen. Lying there on the kitchen floor was proof of the value of intuition and experience. Winslow was in a heap. There was a large pool of blood around him. There was no question, but I checked anyway. He was already stiffening up. I explored a bit and saw the hilt of a large carving knife sticking out of his belly. At that point, I went back out to the living room and found the phone. Ann answered and I had her put Wolfe on.
“Me. The kitchen really is the most dangerous room in the house. No one responded to my knocks so I entered the house. Lying on the kitchen floor was the body of Bert Winslow. He is there now. There is a carving knife in him. He’s been dead for a little while. The next time someone wants to see me right away, I’ll see them right away.”
“I agree. Do I call Blakely?”
“Are we reserving anything?”
“Yes. You may reveal our suspicions about the embezzlement scheme, but reserve the fact that the records are imaginary.”
“Sure. I’d hate to paint my sister a liar. I’ll see you when I see you.” I hung up and then dialed the Sheriff’s office.
The Chillicothe Sheriff’s Office has this in common with the New York Police Department, they both don’t like private detectives. They especially don’t like private detectives that match my description. Blakely arrived promptly at Winslow’s, confirmed that Winslow was, in fact, dead, and noted that the presence of a large knife sticking from the body indicated possible foul play. As soon as the coroner arrived, Blakely hustled me to his office in town to get my statement.
It was past seven when I finished typing my statement and handed it off to Blakely. I was sitting at a small corner desk in his office. Blakely was behind his own large desk, kitty corner to the one I was at. He spent a few minutes reading my statement . It would not be accurate to say that his lips moved, but he certainly gave that impression. Finally, he put the pages down and stood up.
“Okay, that’s helpful. Archie Goodwin, you’re under arrest for the murders of Bert Winslow and Jonah Kane.”
I suppose I squeaked. “What?”
“It hurts me to do this Archie. I’ve known your family a long time. I understand you probably thought you were protecting your mother, but I have to do my duty.”
I shook my head. “First my mother killed Kane out of self defense and now I killed Kane and Winslow to protect her. A noble bunch, we Goodwins. You can’t possibly be serious. It’s all in my statement. Winslow and my father and possibly Kane conspired to steal Civic Club money intended for the library. Winslow called me to discuss records we said we’d found. Someone else killed him before he could talk.”
“It’s a nice story, but there’s no proof of any of this.”
“I have no motive for killing Winslow.”
“I guess we’ll see about that. In the past couple of days there have been two dead bodies and you found both of them. That’s a hell of a coincidence.”
I bit my lip. I was it as far as he was concerned. There was no logic to it. Apparently I was now a bad influence come in from the big city to wreak havoc on the locals. “I want to make a phone call.”
“You’ll get a lawyer.”
“I don’t want a lawyer,” I said, patiently, “I want a phone.”
“Are you calling Wolfe?”
“At present I’m not calling anyone. I’m too busy having my right to a phone call violated.”
“Oh all right. I guess you know it all now.”
“I know enough to see that you’re botching this.”
“You’re just like your father. Too good for the rest of us. Make your call. Wolfe can’t help you.”
I went to the phone and lifted the receiver. When I noticed that my knuckles were white, I forced myself to count to ten before dialing.
I found out there was no need to call Wolfe. I let the phone ring, but there was no answer. He certainly wasn’t off walking by the river. That meant he was probably on his way here. I hung up and turned to face Blakely. “So what is the procedure in Ohio? Handcuffs? A back room?”
“So you’re an old pro at this. For now we have a holding cell. We’ll transfer you to Columbus in the morning.”
Except that Blakely never got a chance to show me an Ohio holding cell. Wolfe walked in at that minute. He was accompanied by my mother. Blakely’s expression on seeing Wolfe was not welcoming. Rather than deal with Wolfe, he turned his attention to my mother.
“Helen, really, this is no place for you. I have some business with Archie. When we’re finished I’ll call you and let you know what your options are.”
My mother’s face was tight and pale. “I’m here with Mr. Wolfe.”
I pushed a chair up for Wolfe who took it and sat. “Thank you, Archie. Will the rest of you please sit. I prefer eyes at a level and I have something to say.”
My mother quickly sat. I waited until Blakely grudgingly took a seat before I too sat.
“Thank you. Sheriff Blakely we have things to discuss. Your detention of Mr. Goodwin was fatuous. All you have done is force me to act more quickly.”
“What are we playing at? Archie is under arrest.”
“A poor decision. Let us come to an understanding. I will be allowed to talk. If, at the conclusion of my presentation, it is still necessary to detain Mr. Goodwin, then you may take him without protest from me. In exchange for allowing me to speak, I will name your murderer.”
“So you’ve been withholding evidence.”
“Pfui. Try not to flaunt idiocy. It does a disservice to your office.”
“So I’m just supposed to shut up and let you take over.”
“This is baloney.”
“Then let me frame it another way. You do not respond to a bargain. Perhaps you will respond to a threat. If you do not let me say my peace here, then I will say it to the mayor and the newspapers.”
“I see. Blackmail.”
Wolfe was unperturbed. “If you wish.”
“Can you prove anything you say?”
“Perhaps we can table that issue until I’ve had my say.”
“I apparently don’t have a choice. Just remember, without proof, you’ve got nothing and Archie goes to Columbus.”
“We shall see. As you may know, I came here to assist Mr. Goodwin in extricating his mother from a predicament. A man, Jonah Kane, had been found dead in her home. According to Mrs. Goodwin, he had been inquiring after her late husband, Mr. James Goodwin. Mr. Kane’s murder left Mrs. Goodwin with a difficulty. She had been annoyed by him. He was now dead. In your eyes, she was a suspect.”
“That was a reasonable suspicion.”
“Perhaps, but I rejected it, as did her son. Archie began making inquiries. He had briefly spoken to Mr. Kane before his death. He now spoke to those who were associated with Mr. Kane, the members of the Chillicothe Civic Club.”
“Yeah, I heard you were stirring all that up. That club is ancient history. You had no call to be bothering those folks.”
“On the contrary, that club was the only connection between Mr. Kane and the senior Mr. Goodwin. Any competent investigator would have probed that connection. Mr. Goodwin and I are both competent investigators. We spoke to the remaining members of the club. It became almost immediately apparent that there were discrepancies in the club’s finances. I will put it plainly. Mr. James Goodwin embezzled from the club. I do not know the exact amount, but I assume it was significant.”
“Helen, are you just going to let him run on like this?”
I opened my mouth to intercede for her, but she didn’t need it. “I’m here with Mr. Wolfe. I’ve decided to let him talk. He’s talking for me.”
“Thank you, madam. To continue, It was evident that Mr. Goodwin had taken money from the club. Mr. Kane worked at the bank and was in a position to abet him. It is likely that Mr. Kane altered bank records to hide Mr. Goodwin’s activities. When Mr. Goodwin left town, Mr. Kane left on his heels. Now a surmise. Something happened to sever Mr. Kane’s agreement with Mr. Goodwin. Mr. Kane came to Chillicothe in an attempt to track down Mr. Goodwin or the money that had been taken. However, Mr. Kane’s presence alarmed others. One of the ones who was alarmed was Mr. Winslow. Mr. Winslow was an accountant. He had examined the Civic Club’s books and was presumably aware of the improprieties. He remained silent about them. Mr. Winslow was threatened by Mr. Kane’s presence. But Mr. Winslow was not of the temperament to confront Mr. Kane and murder him. Instead, Mr. Winslow fled town until someone else had slain Mr. Kane. We will call the murderer X. X, too, was threatened by Mr. Kane’s resurrection of the past. By killing Mr. Kane, he hoped to preserve secrecy.
“This was not to be, however. Mr. Goodwin and I did not desist in our investigation. We began to search for records of the Civic Club. Our search was rewarded yesterday. Mr. James Goodwin was treasurer of the Civic Club. He kept records. I am now in possession of those records.”
“Then I want them.”
“No doubt. Indulge me for a few minutes more. My review of this situation left me with a number of questions. First, why had Mr. Kane waited so long to track down Mr. Goodwin? I received the answer to that just this evening from one of my operatives. Mr. Kane was in jail until a month ago. Mr. Kane’s incarceration had been the event that severed his relationship with Mr. Goodwin.
“Mr. Kane’s status as a former felon raised a second, more important question. When Mr. Archie Goodwin first spoke with Mr. Kane, he threatened Mr. Kane with the sheriff, you Mr. Blakely. Mr. Kane was completely unmoved by this threat. This was extraordinary behavior for someone who had just come out of prison. Why wasn’t he afraid?”
“My third question concerned the records of the Civic Club. The records reveal an embezzlement scheme that was ludicrously amateurish. The most cursory review of the Civic Club should have discovered it. Mr. Newman informed me that, when James Goodwin disappeared, you looked into his disappearance. Mr. Kane disappeared at the same time. Yet you made no attempt to link their departures and you did not discover any problems with the club’s finances. This was either unfathomable stupidity or willful blindness.”
I became aware that I didn’t like the way Wolfe had staged this. Blakely was the only one in the room with a gun. I pulled my feet back to get them under me and kept my eyes on him.
“This is preposterous. You’re accusing me. This is all just speculation.”
“Not so. Mrs. Goodwin has something to say.”
My mother swallowed and looked hesitatingly at me. Then she turned her gaze to Blakely. “I’ve seen those records too. We’ve been reading them all day. They’re not all just numbers, there are notes too. Your name is in the notes.”
“I didn’t take anything from that club!”
Wolfe answered, “I believe you. You didn’t need to. Here is what Mr. Goodwin’s notes confirm, you became aware of the scheme. Rather than thwart it, you allowed it to proceed. Once Mr. Goodwin and Mr. Kane were thoroughly implicated, you began asking them for money. In desperation, they left town. Mr. Kane dried up as a source of income when he was incarcerated. However, Mr. Goodwin was forced to keep paying you. He died, however, and once again you were left without a source of funds.”
“When Mr. Kane was released, he came here hoping to track down the remainder of Mr. Goodwin’s share of the money. I do not know if you once again attempted to extort Mr. Kane. If you did, you failed. The person Mr. Archie Goodwin spoke to would not have meekly turned over money to you. He would be more likely to expose you than to capitulate.”
“With Mr. Kane in Chillicothe, the likelihood of your exposure was high. You killed him to eliminate this threat. You did not anticipate that we would find records, and that our discovery would so alarm Mr. Winslow. Another threat of exposure, and another murder.”
“This is all a fairy tale.”
“Your name is in those records.”
Blakely sprang to his feet, I was right with him. The problem was he was too far away for me to grab before he got his hand on his gun. He swung it around to point at me before I got within two steps of him.
“Just stop right there Archie. You’re all crazy if you think I’m going to jail.”
Blakely kept his gun square on my chest. I kept my gaze on him, but out of the corner of my eye, I saw my mother get up slowly. “Don, put that down. Don’t threaten him. Don’t hurt him.”
“Then tell him to back off. I’m not going to jail.”
I spoke up. Having a gun pointed at me was doing nothing for my mood. “It’s all in the records, Blakely. What else will we find? Will we find big deposits in your bank records? Will we find out you were in Detroit when my father was killed?”
Blakely went white and the gun shook. I heard Wolfe bellow, “Archie, be silent!” At the same time, my mother was pleading, “Don, put it down.” Blakely and I stared at each other over the barrel of his gun. My mother was still pleading, but it was Wolfe’s voice that I heard.
“It’s no good Mr. Blakely. You can not imagine that I was simpleton enough to come here without preparation. Mrs. Goodwin, if you would open the door now.”
“Do you intend to shoot her? Nonsense. Mrs. Goodwin?”
My mother headed towards the office door. Blakely made no move to stop her. He couldn’t turn his attention to her without taking it off me and he knew I was waiting for that. My attention was on him as well, so I heard rather than saw what happened next. What I heard was Ann’s voice saying, “you better put that down right now.”
Blakely and I both slid our eyes to the door. There was Ann. More importantly, there was Joe with his shot gun trained on Blakely. Blakely went whiter than ever and took a step back.
“You see, it is hopeless Mr. Blakely. I suggest you submit before you are hurt.”
I could tell from his eyes the moment Blakely submitted. His gun dropped and I stepped forward to take it. There was a dazed look in this eyes. “You damn Goodwins.”
After all the excitement died down we all congregated in Ann and Joe’s living room. Don Blakely was on his way to Columbus. He was under arrest for the murders of Jonah Kane and Bert Winslow. Wolfe presided over our little group.
“Saul called soon after you left. He informed me that Mr. Kane had been released from prison in Detroit three weeks ago. That explained why he had not sought out your father before this time. He had been incarcerated shortly after he left Ohio. He was convicted of multiple instances of theft. He was out on parole when he was killed.”
“Parole? And he came here?”
“Yes. That was my reaction as well. Mrs. Landry, you asked Mr. Blakely for help in preventing Mr. Kane from annoying your mother. He told Archie and your mother that he looked into the matter but could do nothing about it. This was, of course, ridiculous. With only minimal effort, my operative discovered that Mr. Kane was out on parole. Mr. Blakely had the resources of a law enforcement agency behind him. It should have been the work of a moment for him to discover this fact as well. It would have been a violation of his parole for Mr. Kane to leave Michigan. It should have been a simple matter for Mr. Blakely to put a halt to his pestering of your mother. He had only to pick up the phone and inform the Michigan authorities. He did not, however, do this.”
“I now had a suspicion that Mr. Blakely may have been involved in Mr. Kane’s murder. I reviewed what I knew. When Archie first confronted Mr. Kane, he threatened Mr. Kane by invoking the authority of the sheriff’s office. Mr. Kane was unmoved. This was extraordinary for a felon on parole. Why was he not concerned about the Sheriff? Next, I was informed by Mr. Abernathy and Mr. Newman that Mr. Blakely had made inquiries into the Civic Club after James Goodwin had disappeared. Yet he had not alerted anyone of the fact that a substantial amount of money was missing from the Club’s treasury. It should have been apparent to him. It was immediately apparent to Archie and me.”
“Based on this information, I constructed a theory. Mr. Blakely not only became aware that James Goodwin and Jonah Kane had conspired to take money from the Civic Club, he also was able to use that knowledge for his own benefit. They were at his mercy. I believe a check into Mr. Blakely finances would reveal a number of large deposits commencing prior to Mr. Goodwin’s and Mr. Kane’s disappearance and lasting for several years. He extorted money from them.”
“He believed he was safe. Mr. Kane was soon in jail and was no threat. James Goodwin could not protest without implicating himself. Mr. Winslow knew of the scheme, yet he kept silence in deference to the familial bond between them. Unfortunately, a few years ago James Goodwin was killed and Mr. Blakely could no longer obtain money from him. Still he had collected enough over the years to be satisfied.”
My mother spoke. “Did Don kill Jim?”
“I considered that. I think it unlikely. It would seem counterproductive. James Goodwin was a source of income to him. Why cut it off?”
“Mr. Blakely had likely put the matter to rest in his mind when Mr. Kane showed up, no doubt attempting to trace the money held by Mr. Goodwin and now in Mr. Blakely’s possession. His inquiries were a threat to Mr. Blakely. Mr. Blakely confronted Mr. Kane at Mrs. Goodwin’s home. An altercation resulted and Mr. Blakely struck and killed Mr. Kane. He attempted to deflect attention from himself by focusing suspicion on Mrs. Goodwin. He even pressured her to admit to killing Mr. Kane in self defense. He did not reckon on Archie’s refusal to allow his mother to take this option.”
“See, Archie, I told you we needed you here.”
Wolfe frowned at Ann. He didn’t like being interrupted in the bottom of the ninth. “Yes. It is fortunate that he was here and that his presence brought me here as well. We began inquiries. As you all now know, the embezzlement scheme became evident. Mr. Abernathy and Mr. Newman had told me that Mr. Winslow had examined the books of the Civic Club yet had not alerted them to any improprieties. Thus, it was apparent that Mr. Winslow was protecting someone. In order to flush this person out we concocted the idea of pretending that James Goodwin kept records and that these records gave us a clue as to who was involved in the scheme.”
“Our plan had the desired effect. Mr. Winslow telephoned Archie in a panic. He insisted on meeting with him. However, before Archie could meet him, Mr. Winslow was murdered. Archie was taken into custody by Sheriff Blakely. It then became necessary to act before Sheriff Blakely sent Archie away.”
“Archie, you do not know this part. After you called me, I summoned your family and explained to them where you were and what had happened. I explained my theory to them. I omitted nothing. I then recruited your mother to join me in a lie. You witnessed that lie. We attempted to convince Mr. Blakely that, with the help of those non-existent records, we could prove that he had been involved in the embezzlement scheme and had murdered Mr. Kane and Mr. Winslow.”
“I witnessed that all right. Next time you stage a scene with a murderer, make sure one of the good guys is armed.”
“I did. I had hoped that Mr. Blakely would not be ass enough to resort to his weapon, but I had Mr. Landry waiting just in case.”
“He was waiting on the other side of the door.”
“Could he have earlier marched in with a rifle? You previously expressed concern for the sang froid of a rifle bearer.”
“There are times when style should bow to substance. This was one of them. By the way, I don’t think I thanked you, Joe.”
“You’re welcome. I guess this isn’t the time to mention that I don’t own any bullets for that thing.”
“Oh good lord. Amateurs.”
This morning I got a package from my sister. In it was a letter addressed to me and small wrapped packet addressed to Wolfe. The letter read:
Merry Christmas Archie,
I have news. Get ready to rejoice. You don’t have to come back here for a trial. Don Blakely cut a deal with the prosecutor. He pled guilty to murdering Bert and pled manslaughter for Kane. He’ll go to prison for the rest of his life, but no death penalty. Joy to the world.
The town’s interest in us is gradually dying down. Mrs. Conrad’s daughter was sent away for three months and came back with a baby. Her cousin’s child, we’re told. This nicely deflected the gossip away from us and back to the more prurient aspects of life, where it belongs.
You would have been proud of the way Mom has handled things. She has stood right up to all the curiosity seekers. I think confronting Blakely did her a world of good. “No” is now part of her vocabulary. It’s actually kind of annoying.
Speaking of annoying, I can almost see you scowling at that package. It is Mr. Wolfe’s Christmas present from me so don’t you dare touch it. If I find out he didn’t get it, there are many more where that came from. Your present is on its way. It took a great deal of ingenuity to wrap a cow.
P.S. Joe says to thank you for the bullets.