Eeny Meeny Murder Mo
Wolfe gets a spot on his necktie and removes it, laying it on his desk. Archie and Fritz confer on whose responsibility it is to remove the offending tie, but each agrees they are not responsible. Meanwhile, a woman rings the bell of the brownstone one morning and says she needs to talk to Wolfe. Of course it isn’t that easy, so Archie gets a few details. She is Bertha Aaron, legal secretary for the senior lawyer at a small firm. They represent a man in his divorce. A few days earlier, Miss Aaron saw one of the members of the firm in a meeting with the client’s wife. Because this is highly unethical behavior, Miss Aaron concluded the attorney was betraying the firm’s interest. She says she can’t tell her boss, because he is elderly and has a bad heart.
All readers of the adventures of Wolfe & Archie know that Wolfe will not touch divorce work. Archie feels this issue is distinguishable from a divorce investigation. He leaves Miss Aaron in Wolfe’s office and goes up to the plant rooms to try to convince Wolfe to see her. It’s no go, so Archie goes back to tell her Wolfe won’t see her. Miss Aaron is lying on the rug with Wolfe’s soiled necktie tightly around her neck. Alive, Miss Aaron was a nuisance to be rid of; dead, she is a stain upon Wolfe’s escutcheon. To regain his self-respect, he must expose the murderer even though it makes Cramer livid.
This is one of several “law-related” cases, and as a paralegal, I always enjoy these. 4 stars.
Death of a Demon
A woman makes an appointment with Wolfe, saying she just needs 30 minutes of his time and that she just needs to tell him something; for this she will pay him $100. At the appointment, she pulls out a gun, a .32 revolver, and announces that this is the gun she will not shoot her husband with. She goes on to say that she has discovered she despises her husband, that she found a gun in his desk and since then, she has obsessed over killing him with it. (Hey, I just read Crime and Punishment,
so I believe it.) Anyway, she decided, after many sleepless nights, that if she told someone her idea, she wouldn’t actually carry it out. She makes Wolfe promise that if he hears her husband has been murdered, he will tell the police about her visit. She gives Wolfe a check for $100, so there will be a record of her payment.
Then since 10 minutes still are left of her 30, she asks to see the orchids. While she and Wolfe are on the roof, Archie turns on the news. You guessed it — her husband’s body has been found, shot to death with a .32 revolver.
This is one of the more interesting set-ups in the Wolfe canon. It turns out the murder victim was a blackmailer. Wolfe lays a clever trap to expose the murderer. 4 stars.
Counterfeit for Murder
The plot of this story isn’t that interesting — the murder of an undercover Treasury agent investigating a counterfeiting ring — but the client is a fascinating character. In fact, she quickly became one of my favorites of all of Wolfe’s clients.
It starts off like this: Archie is about to leave the brownstone to take a deposit to the bank. When he opens the door, a woman is on the stoop. I’ll let him describe her:
. . .when I looked through the one-way glass panel of the front door and saw her out on the stoop, my basic feelings about the opposite sex were hurt. Granting that women can’t stay young and beautiful forever, that the years are bound to show, at least they don’t have to let their gray hair straggle over their ears or wear a coat with a button missing or forget to wash their face, and this specimen was guilty on all three counts. So, as she put a finger to the button and the bell rang, I opened the door and told her, “I don’t want any, thanks. Try next door.“ I admit it was rude.
“I would have once, Buster,“ she said. “Thirty years ago I was a real treat.“
Now, on the face of it, Archie’s comments sound both sexist and ageist. But by the next page, after further conversation with the woman, whose name is Hattie Annis, Archie is, well, not smitten in the sense that we usually see him smitten, but Hattie has definitely made an impression on Archie.
I took [the package] because I liked her. She had fine instincts and no sense at all. She had refused to tell me what was in it, and was leaving it with me and telling me not to open it – my idea of a true woman if only she would comb her hair and wash her face and sew a button on.
Hattie turns out to be quite a character. She hates cops because one shot her father years earlier. She has her own ideas about things and life and cannot be convinced otherwise. She owns a run-down house near the theatre district and she takes in “stage people,” as she calls them, as roomers whether or not they can pay any rent. When the young female agent is murdered in Hattie’s house, Hattie locks herself in her room and refuses to let the police in. Archie tried to convince her that she has to talk to the police, but it’s no go. Even after the police bust in the door and carry her — literally — downtown to the station, she refuses to speak a single word. Even Wolfe develops a grudging respect for her, in spite of her calling him Falstaff (she continues to call Archie “Buster” for the entire story).
This one deserves 5 stars simply for the character that Rex Stout creates.