Wolfe looked at our visitor with his eyes wide open-a sign, with him, either of indifference or of irritation. In this case it was obvious that he was irritated.
“I repeat, Mr. Frost, it is useless,” he declared. “I never leave my home on business. No man’s pertinacity can coerce me. I told you that five days ago. Good day, sir.”
Llewellyn Frost blinked, but made no move to acknowledge the dismissal. On the contrary, he settled back in his chair. He nodded patiently. “I know, I humored you last Wednesday, Mr. Wolfe, because there was another possibility that seemed worth trying. But it was no good. Now there’s no other way. You’ll have to go up there. You can forget your build up as an eccentric genius for once – anyhow, an exception will do it good. The flaw that heightens the perfection. The stutter that accents the eloquence. Good Lord, it’s only twenty blocks, Fifty-second between Fifth and Madison. A taxi will take us there in eight minutes.”
“Indeed.” Wolfe stirred in his chair; he was boiling. “How old are you, Mr. Frost?”
“Hardly young enough to justify your childish effrontery. So. You humored me! You speak of my build-up! And you undertake to stampede me into a frantic dash through the maelstrom of the city’s traffic-in a taxicab! Sir, I would not enter a taxicab for a chance to solve the Sphinx’s deepest riddle with all the Nile’s cargo as my reward!” He sank his voice to an outraged murmur. “Good God. A taxicab.”
I grinned a bravo at him, twirling my pencil as I sat at my desk, eight feet from his. Having worked for Nero Wolfe for nine years, there were a few points I wasn’t skeptical about any more.
For instance: That he was the best private detective north of the South Pole. That he was convinced that outdoor air was
apt to clog the lungs. That it short-circuited his nervous system to be jiggled and jostled. That he would have starved to death if anything had happened to Fritz Brenner, on account of his firm belief that no one’s cooking but Fritz’s was fit to eat. There were other points too, of a different sort, but I’ll pass them up since Nero Wolfe will probably read this.
Young Mr. Frost quietly stared at him. “You’re having a grand time, Mr. Wolfe. Aren’t you?” Frost nodded. “Sure you are. A girl has been murdered. Another one – maybe more – is in danger. You offer yourself as an expert in these matters, don’t you? That part’s all right, there’s no question but that you’re an expert. And a girl’s been murdered, and others are in great and immediate peril, and you rant like Booth and Barrett about a taxicab in a maelstrom. I appreciate good acting; I ought to, since I’m in show business. But in your case I should think there would be times when a decent regard for human suffering and misfortune would make you wipe off the make-up. And if you’re really playing it straight, that only makes it worse. If, rather than undergo a little personal inconvenience -“
“No good, Mr. Frost.” Wolfe was slowly shaking his head. “Do you expect to bully me into a defense of my conduct? Nonsense. If a girl has been murdered, there are the police. Others are in peril? They have my sympathy, but they hold no option on my professional services. I cannot chase perils away with a wave of my hand, and I will not ride in a taxicab. I will not ride in anything, even my own car with Mr. Goodwin driving, except to meet my personal contingencies. You observe my bulk. I am not immovable, but my flesh has a constitutional reluctance to sudden, violent or sustained displacement.