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Vanity and Vexation

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After Wolfe spent five months taking down Arnold Zeck's organization from the inside, it took another seven months for him to get back to work, including the month I was on vacation. I expected it, of course. It was a combination of laziness and the kind of stubbornness normally seen in mules. If it had taken him 148 days to bring down Zeck, all that time spent without his orchids and his meals and his schedule and his custom-made chair, then by God, he was going to spend at least 149 doing everything he wanted, and nothing he didn't.

I admit I spent some of my own time being lazy after I'd been back for a while, but I guarantee you that being lazy in New York is different from being lazy on a Norwegian vacation. I played a lot of poker, did a lot of dancing, and gave Wolfe some competition in eating everything Fritz could dream up. But around the third month, I was making serious preparations to go stir-crazy. There's only so much dancing you can do before your feet start to get blisters in inconvenient places, and I was going to need those feet for detecting once we got back in the detecting business.

Normally the bank balance is what pushes him to start working, but he'd saved on expenses for almost half a year. Between me, Fritz, Theodore, the orchids, and chickens fed on blueberries, that was a lot of scratch he hadn't spent.

I didn't disagree that he was entitled to a vacation, same as me. I even left it alone for three months. At three months, I started the gentle reminders. You know what I got back?

"I am perfectly capable of deciding when I want to pursue gainful employment, Archie."

It was enough to remind me that I'd supported myself as a perfectly independent detective, answerable to no one but myself and with my name on the door. The situation was starting to look pretty good again, which I mentioned to him after five months.

"It's a shame I let you sell all my office furniture. I had a pretty good deal set up there. Of course, I understand that if I quit working for you, I'd have to give up my room here, which is not much of a hardship, and Fritz's cooking, which is, and your company, which is definitely not on the positive side of the ledger."

He didn't even look up from his book. I gave up and went out to a show.

If anyone had asked me to explain why I was sticking with him, I would have had a hard time coming up with that explanation, so it was a good thing no one asked me. They did ask me when he was going to start working again. Cramer asked me, Stebbins asked me, Fritz asked me, strangers on the street started every conversation with, “You’re Archie Goodwin, right?”

My regular poker nights were the worst, because Saul Panzer, Orrie Cather, Fred Durkin, and Lon Cohen are about the most inquisitive group of guys ever assembled in one place, and three of them missed getting regular income from Wolfe. Lon just wanted a scoop for the Gazette.

“I don’t know,” I said one more time. “When I find out, you guys will be the first ones I call, right after my mother and the Pope.”

That shut them up, but without looking, I could tell Saul was eyeing me. If anyone knew why I hadn’t left Wolfe yet, it would be Saul, but he didn’t say anything, and I wasn’t desperate enough yet to ask him to explain it to me.

At seven months, I made my stand. I figured he'd earned back his five months, plus two to grow on, and two months is as much of a vacation as any person, decent or indecent, deserves. Also, I was getting flabby, figuratively speaking, and trying to predict his behavior wasn’t cutting it any more.

"I have an announcement to make," I said. Phrasing it that way meant that he couldn't ignore me without being rude, so he dog-eared his book, placed it on his desk, and gave me his full attention, which just made me angry.

“I’m going to report you to the Guinness Book of World Records for being the biggest, fattest, laziest son of a bitch that ever wasted his talents and mine at the same time.”

“Flummery,” he snapped.

“The hell it is. You may be an artist and a genius, but I’m a regular Joe, and we regular Joes are entitled to earn a living. If I can’t do it here, I’ll have to take my non-genius self somewhere else.”

Wolfe sniffed. “I won’t hear of it.”

“It’s not your goddamn decision!” I hadn’t told my legs to stand, but when I checked, I was on my feet, leaning forward over my desk like it was the only thing keeping me from going for his throat.

“You know very well that you are essential to my continued ability to function,” he said, folding his arms across his middle.

When he put it like that, I almost calmed down. It wasn’t very often that Wolfe came out and said it, whatever it was. And whatever it was, it had a lot to do with why I’d sat around twiddling my thumbs for so long waiting for him. But I was still sore.

“The only thing you’re functioning at is sitting on your posterior, and you don’t need me for that.”

He sighed. “Archie. As a young man, I knew deprivation, starvation, cold, and exhaustion. Once I was in a position to decide my own fate, I determined that I would have routine, comfort, good food, and the satisfaction of indulgence.”

“Determined is right,” I said.

“Please don’t interrupt,” he said, holding up a finger. “Stopping Arnold Zeck required that I put myself into that uncertain position again, something I had no intention of ever doing. It was not only physically and mentally taxing -- it was spiritually taxing, if we can admit to the possibility of my having a spirit.”

The dendrophylax lindenii, which Wolfe and Theodore had nursed back to health and nurtured like a child, gleamed in its vase on his desk. I had missed the orchids far more than I realized I would, when I didn’t have them to look at every day.

“Consider that I needed time for my spirit to heal, if that helps soothe your anger,” he finished. The bastard.

“You could have said something. We might be able to take a deduction on the next tax return for your injured spirit.”

“I thought you were perceptive enough to know without being explicitly told,” he said, not looking at me as he picked his book back up and pressed the bell for beer.

I didn’t admit that he’d scored a hit with that one, but I still had my own shot to take. “Nothing wrong with hearing it explicitly said.”

“Very well,” Wolfe acknowledged. “I will keep it in mind for the future.”

“For next time you put both of us in mortal danger? You better.”

He sniffed. Fritz brought in the tray with two bottles of beer, and I pulled the phone towards me. “You know, if I call Lon Cohen and tell him you’re back in business, we could get a hell of a deal on free advertising.”

“Shut up,” he said, and just like that, everything was back to normal. I dug in my desk for the germination records; Wolfe would head upstairs for his afternoon session soon, and maybe I would go with him, just to look around.