There was no reason why I shouldn’t have been sent for the beer that day, for the last ends of the Fairmont National Bank case had been gathered in the week before and there was nothing for me to do but errands, and Wolfe never hesitated about running me down to Murray Street for a can of shoe-polish if he happened to need one. But it was Fritz who was sent for the beer. Right after lunch his bell called him up from the kitchen before he could have got the dishes washed, and after getting his orders he went out and took the roadster which we always left parked in front. An hour later he was back, with the rumble seat piled high with baskets filled with bottles. Wolfe was in the office – as he and I called it, Fritz called it the library – and I was in the front room reading a book on gunshot wounds which I couldn’t make head or tail of, when I glanced through the window and saw Fritz pull up at the curb. It was a good excuse to stretch my legs, so I went out and helped him unload and carry the baskets into the kitchen, where we were starting to stow the bottles away in a cupboard when the bell rang. I followed Fritz into the office.
Wolfe lifted his head. I mention that, because his head was so big that lifting it struck you as being quite a job. It was probably really bigger than it looked, for the rest of him was so huge that any head on top of it but his own would have escaped your notice entirely.
“Where’s the beer?”
“In the kitchen, sir. The lower cupboard on the right, I thought.”
“I want it in here. Is it cold? And an opener and two glasses.”
“Mostly cold, yes, sir. Very well.”
I grinned and sat down on a chair to wonder what Wolfe was doing with some pieces of paper he had cut into little discs and was pushing around into different positions on the desk blotter. Fritz began bringing in the beer, six at a time on a tray. After the third trip I had another grin when I saw Wolfe glance up at the array on the table and then around at Fritz’s back going through the door. Two more trays full; whereupon Wolfe halted the parade.
“Fritz. Would you inform me when this is likely to end?”
“Very soon, sir. There are nineteen more. Forty-nine in all.”
“Nonsense. Excuse me, Fritz, but obviously it’s nonsense.”
“Yes, sir. You said one of every kind procurable. I went to a dozen shops, at least that.”
“All right. Bring them in. And some plain salt crackers. None shall lack opportunity, Fritz, it wouldn’t be fair.”
It turned out that the idea was, as Wolfe explained to me after he had invited me to draw my chair up to the desk and begin opening the bottles, that he had decided to give up the bootleg beer, which for years he had bought in barrels and kept in a cooler in the basement, if he could find a brand of the legal 3.2 that was potable. He had also decided, he said, that six quarts a day was unnecessary and took too much time and thereafter he would limit himself to five. I grinned at that, for I didn’t believe it, and I grinned again when I thought how the place would be cluttered up with empty bottles unless Fritz ran his legs off all day long. I said to him something I had said before more than once, that beer slowed up a man’s head and with him running like a brook, six quarts a day, I never would understand how he could make his brain work so fast and deep that no other man in the country could touch him.
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Rex stout – nero wolfe – 01 (1934) – fer-de-lance