The Malted Flagon — Chapter 1
It was 10:58 when the doorbell rang, and I went to the front door and
spent a tenth of a minute taking in the motley contingent on the stoop
through the one-way panel of glass.
The appointment for 11:00 had been made the previous evening by a Mr.
Joel Cairo, who, in response to my direct query, assured me that the
matter he wished to consult Nero Wolfe about was in no way connected
with, as he put it, “the passions between the sexes.” Given the tone of
his voice, I agreed with him, short of telling him so, and I had no
trouble deducing which of the four people there on the stoop was the
impending meal-ticket I had spoken with the night before.
Or so I thought. Upon removing the chain-bolt and inviting the parade
to cross the threshold, Mr. Cairo weaseled himself to the front of the
pack and eagerly and nasally introduced Mr. Gutman, a portly specimen
worthy of the name, as the employer on whose behalf he had made the
Knowing that Wolfe would be down from his morning session with the
rooftop orchids any minute, and wanting the opportunity to properly line
up the lineup before any other surprises in the program were revealed to
me, I suggested to Cairo that we suspend further introductions until
comfortable in the office, and I began helping the entourage shed their
overcoats. It was then that I noticed the unmistakable heavy sag in the
pocket of the remaining man whose worried countenance commanded my
attention, attention equally divided between his furrowed brow and the
lone, but surely not lonely, woman who accompanied them.
I reflexively and expertly stabbed my fingers into the slit of the right
hand pocket of the worried man’s overcoat, and, in one motion, slipped
an index finger through the trigger guard of a mean little snubnose,
drawing it on out of the pocket, handle toward my beltline. The look on
the worried guy’s face ran the gamut from standard-worry-mode to
surprise to realization to wide-eyed determination to active hostility
in the less than two seconds it took me to complete the operation, and
he looked like he was getting ready to start a hook flying when he was
frozen by a bellow from Gutman that would have done Nero Wolfe proud:
Wilmer sheepishly put his hands in his pockets, searched for the gun
that was no longer there, and glared at me.
“Before we proceed to the office,” I said to the four as I swept a tight
arc of the pistol back and forth over them, “would anyone else like to
contribute to my collection?”
“By Gad, Sir, you are a card,” said Gutman, chuckling. “Wholly deserving
of your reputation. I commend you.” He raised his cane and gently
tapped the exterior of Joel Cairo’s breast pocket, creating a telltale
sound not quite metallic, but one that fabric alone is not supposed to
The Malted Flagon — Chapter 2
I had no sooner accepted Cairo’s handgun when the sound of the elevator
creaking under Wolfe’s seventh of a ton filled the hallway. Motioning
my pistol-laden hands impatiently toward the office, I followed the
queue inside and closed the door.
There was no danger of Wolfe entering the office prematurely because he
knew of the appointment and wouldn’t miss his opportunity for a grand
entrance, even for an alleged audience of one. It had been prearranged
that I was to summon Wolfe personally after depositing the caller, or,
in this case, callers, comfortably in the office.
But with a pair of gun-toting strangers under our roof, I was glad we
had opted for dramatic effect after all. Under the circumstances, I
would have to make certain of all of our guests before I could let Wolfe
enter the office, and I decided it would be better to buzz the kitchen,
where Wolfe would be perched on a stool like an elephant in a tree, than
to leave the office to summon him directly. Wilmer might still be
packing a penknife on his keychain with intent to do harm, and although
nothing short of a machete would be sufficient to penetrate one of
Wolfe’s vital organs, the rugs were expensive and blood is a nuisance to
Telling Gutman that I wanted to get the biggest part of the job over
with first, I frisked him and discovered yet another handgun in the
right-hand pocket of his suitjacket, this one a .38. I slipped it into
my right-hand pocket, and deposited Gutman in the red leather chair
nearest Wolfe’s desk, par for any client, with a promise to buy him a
box of caps if he behaved himself.
Next came Cairo. I patted him down extra thoroughly because I wanted to
see just how far those frog eyes of his could protrude from his skull
without popping out altogether, and frisking him caused them to want to.
Finally, I certified him free of additional hardware, and his gift of
sight survived the experience.
Naturally, at his turn, Wilmer balked.
“Get your hands off me!” he said menacingly.
“When you’re frisked, you’ll take it and like it,” I told him firmly,
then added “although I admit, probably not as much as Mr. Cairo here.”
“Keep ridin’ me and see what happens.”
I jerked a thumb over at Cairo and offered, “Isn’t that his line?”
Wilmer started for me saying, “Why, you…” and got no farther before I
pulled the shoulders of his jacket down over his elbows and shoved him
into a yellow leather chair with an open palm.
“Be a good dog and sit,” I said.
“Wilmer!” shouted Gutman. Then he turned on the schmooze. “We are
guests in Mr. Wolfe’s house.”
“And fine guests you are, too.” I said with a smile.
I turned to the woman, who had been fidgiting silently throughout the
proceedings, and asked her, “What’s your story, Sister?”
“They made me come,” she said.
“I’m not touching that one. You got a name?”
Gutman jumped in. “If I may be so bold, sir, allow me to introduce my
associates. This is Miss Brigid O’ Shaughnessy. You spoke to Mr. Cairo
on the telephone last night, I understand. You’ve already gotten
acquainted with Wilmer, sir, have you not?. He’s like a son to me.”
“Best argument for planned parenthood I’ve ever come across,” I
“Miss O’ Shaughnessy,” I continued, “I’m going to need a look in that
“But surely you don’t think I…”
“Look, precious. All I know is that Mr. Gutman here wants to see Mr.
Wolfe on what must be urgent business, if three heaters are to be
believed, and I’m going to search your handbag or it’s no soap. You can
say no, of course, but in that event I’ll have to call a policeman
friend of mine. I assume you all have permits for those guns?”
Brigid stood up from the other yellow chair she had been sitting in,
took a few steps toward me, and placed the handbag over my wrists, even
as her eyes met mine and continued pleading for me not to follow through
with my search.
After finding yet another gat within, I went to Wolfe’s desk and rang
The Malted Flagon — Chapter 3
Wolfe entered the office with his customary grace and good manners. He
scanned the crowd, nodded a general greeting a full eighth of an inch,
raised an eyebrow in my direction to chastise me for admitting a woman
to his domicile, and proceeded to his chair and stood behind it, my cue
to begin introductions in lieu of a seating chart.
I began, “Miss Brigid O’ Shaughnessy. To her right, Mr. Joel Cairo, the
gentleman who called for the appointment last evening. In the red
chair, Mr. Kaspar Gutman, the man for whom Mr. Cairo made the
appointment. The dapper laughing-boy with the nearsighted tailor goes
by the moniker, Wilmer–who, like Liberace, has no last name I can think
Gutman and Cairo rose to approach Wolfe in greeting, and, as I viewed
Gutman head-on, the thought occurred to me that he and Wolfe would make
one hell of a pair of Tweedledum and Tweedledee bookends. Of course,
the feed bill would quickly outweigh the value of the books themselves,
but, for a conversation piece, or pieces, you couldn’t beat it.
Wolfe interrupted the struggle against gravity. “Please remain seated.
I do not shake hands, and I like eyes at a level.”
“Excellent, sir, excellent!” exclaimed Gutman as he re-parked his
carcass. ” I like a man who likes eyes at a level. I don’t trust a man
who doesn’t. Every conversation should begin on a equal footing, as it
were. Don’t you agree?”
Wolfe held up an outstretched palm. “If you please. You wished to
consult me about a particular matter?”
“Ah, very good! No wasting of time. You’re the man for me, sir. I
like a man who doesn’t waste time. Direct and to the point. Very well,
then. To the point, I wish you to locate an object for me. An object
of considerable value, both intrinsically and aesthetically, not to
mention the personal time and expense I have invested in determining its
whereabouts to date. I will pay you 5,000.00 for procuring it for me.
Can you do it?”
Wolfe’s eyes scanned back and forth among the visitors, taking in the
whole ridiculous scene incredulously, but unusually patiently. Wilmer
rocking subtly, trying not to rip buttons, and with a perpetual sneer
that could scare off Billy Idol. Cairo’s bug-eyed foppery. The Oliver
Hardy sophiscation of the prospective client. The doe-eyed woman with
the forties haircut, O’ Shaughnessy, waffling between chronic ennui with
the proceedings and rapt attention, nervously chewing her nails
throughout. Wolfe should have scampered off the second he saw Brigid,
and I half expected him to, but here he was, actually working.
Wolfe responded, “If you mean, sir, can I pull rabbits out of thin air?,
the answer is no. I am an artist, not a magician. What is the object?”
“If I were to tell you, sir, you would not believe me.” Gutman.
“As it stands, I do not believe you. Let’s reserve that for now. What
is the value of the object?
“It is priceless, sir, priceless. To me, that is. I have spent the
last seventeen days looking for it, and I nearly had it within my grasp,
but I lost it again. It is somewhere within the city.”
“You’ll have to do better than that. This is futile. I decline your
offer of employment. Good day to you. Archie?”
Gutman kept at him. “By Gad, sir, you are quite a character. Decisive
and probing. I like that in a man. That’s why I sought you out. If
you must have it, have it then.
What would you say if I were to tell you of an object, a flagon, made of
purest silver and encrusted with rubies? That this object was a gift
from a District Manager of the Baskin-Robbins Corporation, given in
tribute to a worthy franchisee in 1998 in return for breaking all sales
records over the ten-year period prior. What would you say if I were to
tell you that this object has historical significance, in addition to
being not only beautiful, but priceless? That I had the object within
my grasp only this morning. That I have an idea of its whereabouts now.
That I need an agent to retrieve it and deliver it to me undamaged.
That for this small service, taking no more than an evening, I will pay
the princely sum of 5000.00. What would you say to that, sir? Does the
proposition interest you, and are you up to the challenge?”
The Malted Flagon — Chapter 4
“Before you answer that, ” I told Wolfe, “you should know that I
confiscated a handgun from each of them. Five to two this lulu of a
yarn is nothing more than a smokescreen to cover their real intent,
which is to paint a bull’s eye on your chest and then chip it off, a
slug at a time.”
Wolfe stared at me for a beat. “You accepted the appointment.”
“On your behalf.”
Wolfe waved it away. “What of it, Mr. Gutman? Am I in mortal danger?”
Gutman chuckled like Santa Claus on New Year’s Eve, tipsy after a hard
year’s work. “Upon my word, sir, I could hardly be more amused. You
are an astounding pair of characters. Truly astounding. But as to your
question, the answer is that New York is a large and dangerous city, and
we are in the throes of seeking valuable property that we hope to carry
home tonight. It would be a pity to go to all that trouble and expense
only to concede the treasure to a common street thug, don’t you agree?
No, no, my dear sir, the weaponry is for self-defense and self-defense
alone. In addition, Mr. Cairo and I do not trust each other, and Wilmer
trusts no one. I was unaware that Miss O’ Shaughnessy was carrying a
gun, however. Be that as it may, I can hardly make use of you if you
should cease breathing, and I find myself in the unenviable position of
needing you greatly at present.”
“Very well. You said you knew of the flagon’s whereabouts. I ask you
directly, where is it?”
“Ah, that would be telling. You see, an unscrupulous man might use that
information to acquire the flagon for himself, and where would that
Cairo chimed in, “You mean us.”
“But of course. We are united in purpose, are we not? Mr. Cairo is
right, however. Where would that leave us? No, sir, until you commit
yourself, I deeply regret that I can divulge no further particulars. It
would hardly be equitable. We can not do business along those lines.”
“And I would be a dunce to accept a job without first determining the
profit and the danger involved in advance. I am manifestly not a dunce.
As it is, your offer of 5,000.00 is barely sufficient to cover this
interview, much less the undertaking you so woefully described. I will
consider your proposition when you first provide me with 100,000.00 in
cash, when you tell me all you know, and when you desist from bringing
firearms into my home. Mr. Goodwin will now remove you. You may
retrieve the property Mr. Goodwin took from you at the nearest police
precinct–it will not be given to you here. Remove them, Archie.”
With that, Wolfe pushed back his chair and arose, glided through the
office door, and made his seventh of a ton disappear. A magician after
“That was a rousing success,” hissed Cairo.
As Gutman groped for his walking stick to propel himself out of the
deep, red leather chair, I grabbed Wilmer’s jacket and jerked him to his
feet, tearing the seam of his jacket at the left shoulder. “The gaudier
the crook, the cheaper the pattern,” I quipped as I eased off a little
on the right sleeve. All of a sudden, the gunsel had the use of his
“You’re gonna pay for that,” said Wilmer in what he must have thought
was a menacing drawl.
“Send me a bill,” I told him.
I marched the parade back to the coat rack and distributed the outerwear.
As the others were putting on their coats, Brigid touched my forearm and
pleaded, “Let me stay. I don’t want to go with them. I’m afraid.”
“How bad a spot are you actually in?”
“As bad as could be.”
“The fat one likes me.”
“Like I said, physical danger.”
I’m as chivalrous as the next guy when a woman in trouble asks for my
help, but I’ve also developed certain immunities over the years, and one
of them is a healthy distrust of women who pack pistols in purses. Out
of curiosity, I decided to kid her along, but only because I had her
gun. “Go in the front room and wait for me,” I ordered.
“Come, Miss O’ Shaughnessy,” said Gutman.
“She won’t be going with you,” I divulged.
“I must insist, my dear sir, for the same reasons that perturbed your
employer. The lady is too familiar with the situation, and I don’t want
her talking out of school.”
“It’s recess.” I swung the front door open wide. She’ll be back in
class later. Get a move on.”
“Wilmer!” shouted Gutman.
I was ready for that. Wilmer pivoted his torso rapidly and caught me in
the ribcage with a left elbow that must have just come out of a pencil
sharpener. He stung me pretty good, but he telegraphed the right hook he
followed up with, and I got a left block up. I hit him square on the
button with a right jab, crushed the right side of his body with the now
free left hand, heard the air go out of him, saw him double over, and
finished him with a right upper cut that sent him flying backward
through the open door and down the seven steps of the stoop just as our
old friend, Inspector Cramer got out of the police cruiser at the curb.
Gutman and Cairo, seeing the cruiser, rapidly descended the steps and
turned left on 35th in front of Cramer. They continued on down the
sidewalk with a gait I haven’t seen since that black cat walked in front
of the headlights of Wolfe’s Heron sedan one October night.
Cramer stood over Wilmer’s writhing body and cocked his head up at me,
asking the question, “What just happened here?”
“Insurance salesman and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Why? How do you handle
The Malted Flagon — Chapter 5
“I suppose you’re here to see Wolfe,” I told Cramer. “You can mop up
while I see if he wants to see you.”
“He’d better see me–he called me. And I got better things to do than
patch up your playmates. I’m Homicide, and this one’s not dead yet.”
“A slight oversight on my part. We need more steps. Come on in, but I
wouldn’t let go of that one just yet. I’m betting you want him for
something whether you know it or not.”
Cramer threw a thumb down at Wilmer for Sergeant Purley Stebbins,
standing in the street beside the cruiser, to come and clear our
sidewalk. Purley propped Wilmer against the vehicle, and started going
through the motions. Cramer scaled the steps.
Closing the door, I entered the front room to see what kind of mischief
Brigid was getting into. I caught her in the act of lifting sofa
pillows and generally rummaging around.
“Lose some change?” I asked her. “C’mon. You go where I go. Nero
Wolfe is also a fat man, so maybe we can dig up a new beau for you.”
Cramer was already in the office, parked in the red leather chair and
sniffing at the length of a new cigar. He never smoked them, but it
gave his hands something to do, and that was a good thing because the
one thing his hands wanted to do more than any other was to wring
Wolfe’s neck for all the stunts he’s pulled over the years.
I put Brigid back in a yellow chair and asked Cramer if he wanted to be
the best man at our wedding. That little question begged for a comment
like “Nuts,” and got it.
Entering the kitchen, Wolfe was perched on a stool eating some cheese
and crackers that Fritz, Wolfe’s chef and personal trainer, or rather,
body builder, had set out for him.
“You called Cramer?” I queried.
“Yes,” Wolfe replied.
“He’s in the office. Miss O’ Shaugnessy is there as well.”
“Confound it! I told you to get rid of them. All of them.”
“I had intended to pump her elsewhere when Cramer showed up.”
Wolfe stood up and raised an eyebrow a sixteenth of an inch, implying
that I had not lost my touch with the opposite sex. I’ll defend him to
the death as the world’s greatest detective and New York’s resident
genius, but certain beliefs of his, his idea that I’m some kind of
Svengali where women are concerned, for example, are downright
ludicrous. Fresh air is scarce in the city, so there’s no point in
wasting breath trying to change his mind.
We entered the office. Wolfe sat at his desk, and I at mine.
“Thank you for coming, Mr. Cramer,” began Wolfe. “Before I begin,
Archie, please give the firearms you confiscated to the Inspector.”
“They’ve got my fingerprints on them, and the numbers have been filed
off,” I told Cramer as I pulled three of the guns out of my locked desk
drawer, “so don’t get any ideas about what I’ve been up to lately.” I
handed Cramer the fourth handgun from my right pocket. “They were
taken, one apiece, from the two men you saw leaving, from the gunsel
you’ve got out on the street, and from Miss O’ Shaughnessy here.”
Cramer set them on the small table used for check writing, and began to
examine them visually, using a pen.
“If you please, Mr. Cramer. You can do that at your leisure. I have
something more interesting to show you.”
Wolfe reached beneath his desk and hauled up a parcel wrapped in plain
brown paper and twine, standing about ten inches tall, and set it on his
The Malted Flagon — Chapter 6
“Is that the dingus?” I asked Wolfe.
“But how did you…” Brigid. I got the impression that she was having a
hard time containing her surprise and disbelief, but that she knew more
about the situation than she cared to let on, and so her voice trailed away.
As for my surprise and disbelief, the magician had merely pulled another
elephant out of a hat. Ho hum.
“First, a little background,” said Wolfe. “Archie. You may remember that
you were dancing at The Churchill three weeks ago Saturday when a
conflagration broke out in a guest room there. The fire had been
deliberately set, and it thoroughly damaged that one room, but aside from
some slight smoke and water damage down the hall and in adjacent rooms, the
rest of the hotel was spared.”
“Sure I remember. Because of that alarm, the ballroom was evacuated and
someone other than Lily Rowan stepped on my shoes and scuffed them, top and
back. How did you get wind of that? I happen to know it didn’t make the
morning paper, and by the next day, it was old and unimportant news and
“Indulge me for a moment. The room in question was registered to a woman
under the name Miss LeBlanc. Inquiry by Saul at my direction showed that
name to be an alias belonging to a woman named Ruth Wonderly. Further
inquiry revealed that Ruth Wonderly has had numerous convictions for
managing and participating a, how to put it delicately?, an escort service.
It seems there was a large convention in the hotel sponsored by the
Baskin-Robbins corporation, and Miss Wonderly was there to ply her trade.
It is a matter of more than profound coincidence that one of the adjacent
rooms to Miss Wonderly was registered to a man by the name of Joel Cairo.
In the same hotel, on a different floor, a room with two beds was
registered to Mr. Kaspar Gutman.
You may well ask how I came to take an interest in all of this. I received
a visitor, the General Manager of The Churchill, a man named Floyd Thursby,
the following Monday around noon. Archie happened to be taking a check to
the bank at the time, but Fritz answered the door and I instructed him to
admit Mr. Thursby. Mr. Thursby asked that I look into the matter of the
arson at the hotel, and, because he has been instrumental in providing
permission and resources for numerous operations there, I considered myself
to be in his debt and accepted the job in order to dismiss the obligation.
Although the hotel employs a house detective named Sam Spade, Mr. Thursby
considered this particular matter to be outside his talents and abilities,
and so came to me.
Shortly after Mr. Thursby’s departure, and before Mr. Goodwin’s return, I
received another caller, this time a Captain Jacobi, the Bell Captain of
the hotel. Mr. Jacobi wove a convoluted tale about a ruby-encrusted silver
flagon that he had removed from Ruth Wonderly’s room in the confusion of
the fire. Apparently, Mr. Gutman and Mr. Cairo had designs on the item,
and somehow surmised how it disappeared from Miss Wonderly’s room just as
they were closing in on it. They had a fellow named Wilmer strongarm
Captain Jacobi in an attempt to usurp the flagon. Jacobi’s fear was so
strong that he felt the need to consult me about how best to handle it. I
had originally admitted Captain Jacobi to my office believing him to have
pertinent information regarding the fire. He provided a virtual gold mine
of information regarding the motive behind the arson and the principals
involved. Saving me so much work a scant hour after accepting the case
caused me to feel indebted to him as well, so without charge, I advised him
to bring me the flagon and told him I would manage things in such a way as
to remove the dual threats of danger to his person, and discovery of his
participation in the theft.
Two weeks passed with no communication from Captain Jacobi. Mr. Thursby
had provided additional documents such as guest ledgers and such, but until
I heard from Jacobi, I could not proceed on his behalf, and I had given my
word. Saul had discovered that Captain Jacobi had requested an emergency
leave of absence from work, and Mr. Thursby verified that fact.
Thursday night, while Mr. Goodwin was playing cards with Saul, Captain
Jacobi resurfaced here. His color was horrific, and he was sweating
profusely so I immediately referred him to Doc Vollmer, a very capable man
with a practice a few doors down the street. Jacobi said that he couldn’t
talk now, but he brought with him the parcel you see before you, and
departed. He never arrived at Vollmer’s.
Last night, when Archie advised me that a Mr. Joel Cairo wished to consult
me, I gave him the green light for this morning’s appointment. This was
fortuitous because I saved myself the trouble of admitting to Mr. Goodwin
that I had kept him in the dark about this matter for nearly three weeks.
Even more heinous, from the easily anticipated point of view of Mr.
Goodwin, was that I had accepted a package of dubious origin into my own
hands. Ever since a certain rather noisy delivery was made several years
ago, Archie has insisted on screening all mail and packages entering this
household. Having taken the parcel from Captain Jacobi, I simply found it
expedient to continue to deceive Mr. Goodwin and proceeded with Joel
Cairo’s appointment as arranged.
The Malted Flagon — Chapter 7
“Which brings us to the present day,” continued Wolfe. “Gutman, Cairo, and
Wilmer just left here, and I suggest you pick them up, Mr. Cramer. At the
very least, they are involved in the commission of a felony–the arson at
the hotel–and I suspect them of complicity in the disappearance of Jacobi,
whom, I fear, has become the victim of foul play. They are dangerous and
disagreeable characters, and I would not tolerate them under my roof another
instant. They can’t have gone far.”
“As a matter of fact, I’m sure Stebbins has that under control already.”
“I suppose you know nothing of the little fracas I walked up on. Goodwin
pummelled one of them, and the other two tried to walk off as if nothing
had happened. Stebbins and I both know that when there are witnesses to a
crime, however minor, leaving your house, those witnesses had better be
“In this case, I approve,” said Wolfe as his tone sharpened, “but you will
refrain from harassing departing individuals henceforth, or action will be
Cramer smiled about as often as he lit up cigars, but this time he broke
into a wide grin. He didn’t say a word, but I read his mind and I’m sure I
heard the word, “Gotcha!”
I broke in. “Well, this has been a most stimulating discussion, but as you
can see, I have a date for lunch. What say we open the package?”
“Allow me.” Wolfe began to rotate and inspect the parcel, and I jumped out
of my seat.
“Hey, nothing doing!” I shouted across the room, and made for Wolfe’s desk.
I spent a few minutes listening and feeling through the plain brown
wrapper, and I would have guessed it was a scale model of the Stanley Cup,
but only if my next job was to be that of an oracle, a position for which
detective is an entry-level position. The whole package was pretty
weighty, say about twenty pounds.
“Well, I’ll be damned,” I uttered after shuffling enough newspaper. “It’s
I set the blender on Wolfe’s desk for all to see. Cramer was smiling and
gnawing; Brigid sat there awestruck. It was a commercial variety, one of
those big green cast iron things. A milkshake maker. Not visible were the
two lengthy poles that point downward with blades on the bottom end for
digging through ice cream. Prominent on the front side and covering the
two poles were two stainless steel shakers, one clean, the other encrusted
with dried strawberry milkshake inside and out. Whoever had mixed the last
one had not done a good job, for there were large bits of sliced
strawberries that protruded from the smooth, silvery surface, and the
texture as I gripped it was gritty from all the dried strawberry seeds. It
reminded me of Theodore, all that sour milk. I slipped the dirty shaker
off of its supporting bracket and held it up for all to see, just like the
“Here it is. Pure silver and encrusted with rubies. Ladies and gentlemen,
I give you–the malted flagon!”
The Malted Flagon — Chapter 8
“You may put that down,” Wolfe said to me, “and I suggest you wash your
hands immediately. You are tampering with evidence and running the risk of
All of a sudden, Cramer wasn’t smiling any more. He hates it when I tamper
“To continue,” said Wolfe, “the night Jacobi brought me the parcel, I
noticed lipstick on his collar, and assumed he had been with a woman. The
color of his complexion, the sweating, the way he tugged his stomach, all
suggested poisoning to me. The man was a dunce for not heeding my
admonition to see a doctor, but he may have known that it was already too
late. At any rate, Saul had done a profile on Jacobi, and it was known
that he had no girlfriend to speak of, but he was known to have had a
preference for older women, and he indulged it frequently at the hotel. He
was also a sportsman who did not imbibe alcohol. For a working hypothesis,
I surmised that Jacobi had been invited in or up for a drink, had refused
an offer of alcohol from the object of his affection, and had asked for an
alternative instead, the alternative being, in this case, a strawberry
milkshake. But why a milkshake? Because the means to produce one, this
device, were handy, and because it satisfied this rather venomous woman’s
sense of irony.
Kaspar Gutman was a franchisee for the Baskin-Robbins corporation. He had
been presented with the silver flagon from the president of the
corporation, not for a gleaming ten-year sales record as he stated, but as
a personal tribute from Arnold Zeck for his efforts within that criminal
enterprise. Baskin-Robbins is merely another front for the operation that
Zeck once headed, remnants of which survive today under Gutman’s direction.
Obviously, Zeck was not inclined to show himself publicly at the time of
the presentation many years ago, but I knew of this custom of rewarding his
underlings during my charade as Roeder. At the time, Gutman was a D, and
Joel Cairo was a C, and I had heard of them. Ruth Wonderly was a B, with
minimal, but important responsibilities, not the least of which was getting
close to numerous prominent businessmen.
So who was the woman who seduced and murdered Jacoby? She is present in
this room, wearing the same shade of lipstick I saw on Jacobi’s collar
Thursay evening–Miss LeBlanc, aka Ruth Wonderly, aka Brigid O’
Shaughnessy. She was present in the hotel during the convention, she must
have had contact with Jacobi in his professional duties, she was intimitely
associated with Gutman and Cairo, and she had access to gadgets such as
Gutman made the mistake of trying to woo Miss Wonderly and tried to impress
her with his wealth and influence by showing her the flagon. Naturally she
separated the two, and Gutman was torn between winning her and killing her.
Archie was correct when he said that the lot of them had come to kill me.
Gutman was fond of Zeck, Zeck of him, and when it became known that I was
involved in impersonating Roeder, a contract within the crippled, but not
deceased, organization was placed on my head. Gutman saw himself as the
instrument of revenge.
There are other less important details I have, but what you have is
sufficient to begin your collection of evidence, Mr. Cramer, and I want
that woman out of my house. Please remove her.”
“I guess lunch is off, precious,” I told O’ Shaughnessy. “She invited me
out for a sandwich and milkshake, but I’m not taking the frappe for you.”
The doorbell rang. Stebbins. He strode into the office and Cramer
instructed him to take Brigid into custody. Noticing the blender on
Wolfe’s desk, he inquired, “What’s that?”
“The stuff that creams are made of, ” I told him.