Over My Dead Body
The bell rang and I went to the front and opened the door and there she was. I said good-morning.
“Pliz,” she said, “I would like to see Misturr Nero Wolfe.”
Or you might have spelled it plihz or plizz or plihsz. However you spelled it, it wasn’t Middle West or New England or Park Avenue or even East Side. It wasn’t American, and naturally it irritated me a little. But I politely invited her in and conducted her to the office and got her a chair, and then extracted her name, which I had to ask her to spell.
“Mr Wolfe will be engaged until eleven o’clock,” I told her, with a glance at the wall clock above my desk, which said ten-thirty. “I’m Archie Goodwin, his confidential secretary. If you’d like to save time by starting on me. “
She shook her head and said she had plenty of time. I asked her if she would like a book or magazine, and she shook her head again, and I passed her up and resumed at my desk, where I was heading up a bunch of hybridizing cards for use upstairs. Five minutes later I had finished and was checking them over when I heard her voice behind me:
“I believe I would like a book. May I?”
I waved at the shelves and told her to help herself and went on with the checking. Presently I looked up when she approached and stood beside me with a volume in her hand.
“Misturr Wolfe reads this?” she asked. She had a nice soft low voice which would have sounded all right if she had taken the trouble to learn how to pronounce words. I glanced at the title and told her Wolfe had read it some time ago.
“But he stoodies it?”
“Why should he? He’s a genius, he don’t have to study anything.”
“He reads once and then he is through?”
“That’s the idea “
She started for her chair
and then turned again. “Do you read it perhaps?”
“I do not,” I said emphatically.
She half smiled. “It’s too complicated for you, the Balkan history?”
“I don’t know, I haven’t tried it. But I understand all the kings and queens got murdered. I like newspaper murders better “
She turned off the smile and went and sat down with the book, and appeared to be absorbed in it a few minutes later when, the checking finished, I jiggled the handful of cards neatly together and departed with them, and mounted the two flights of carpeted stairs to the top floor and the steeper flight to the roof level, where the entire space was glassed-in for the orchids except the potting-room and the corner where Horstmann slept. Passing through the first two rooms, down the aisles with silver staging and concrete benches and thousands of pots holding everything from baby seedlings to odontoglossums and dendrobiums in full bloom, I found Nero Wolfe in the warm room, standing with his thumbs on his hips, frowning at Horstmann, who in turn was scowling reproachfully at an enormous coelogyne blossom with white petals and orange keels. Wolfe was muttering:
“A full two weeks. At the very least, twelve days. As Per Hansa says, I don’t know what God expects to accomplish by such management. If it were only a question of forcing. Well, Archie?”
I handed Horstmann the cards. “For that batch of miltonias and lycastes. The germination dates are already in where you had them. There’s a female immigrant downstairs who wants to borrow a book. She is twenty-two years old and has fine legs. Her face is sullen but well arranged and her eyes are dark and beautiful and worried. She has a nice voice, but she talks like Lynn Fontanne in Idiot’s Delight. Her name is Carla Lovchen.”