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Crepes and Chevre

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Tomorrow Fritz is making dinner for guests, and tonight he has been warned of the possibility of Mr. Cohen joining them for the evening. But it is only half past 12, and Fritz is doing things simple and quick. Mr. Wolfe will be down from the plant rooms in a half hour or a little more.

Fritz doesn't need a clock in the kitchen any longer - just the little timer. Mr. Wolfe's schedule is so precise and consistent that it has sunk into Fritz's bones, taking up residence with his marrow. At half past 12, Fritz begins to make crepes. At 1:15, Mr. Wolfe arrives for lunch. Archie should be there today as well, though he's not back from his errands yet.

Fritz sifts the buckwheat flour into a mixing bowl, then folds the eggs in. Butter is melting on the stovetop, so Fritz pours in two cups of milk and two cups of lukewarm water. Then a pinch of salt and the melted butter. Fritz finds his whisk without looking at the array of kitchen tools laid out along his cutting board, his fingers picking the whisk up lightly from among a set of sharp knives. The mixture whisks easily into a thin batter. Crepe batter always seems too thin, until you get it over the flame and watch it hiss and fry into perfection.

"Fritz!" Archie breezes through the kitchen, carrying an enormous rectangular package, wrapped in plain brown paper. "Looks delicious."

"It looks like brownish water," says Fritz, smiling at the bowl.

"I can tell it’s delicious, on account of you being the person cooking it." Archie grins.

"You're very kind," says Fritz. He sets the batter to the side and locates the spinach, the left-over spiral-cut ham, and the chevre. "Did you need something, Archie? A glass of milk?"

"Not just now," Archie glances sideways and then starts to head for the stairs, up toward his bedroom or Mr. Wolfe’s. "If someone rings, can you answer the door? I'm not here."

"Absolutely," says Fritz, washing the spinach.

Archie leaves, and Fritz begins heating a pan, a thin sheen of olive oil coating the steel. He whisks the batter again, resolving the small lumps and separation that had begun to develop. The first crepe is a little too oily, but that always happens. Fritz made extra batter for this purpose. The second crepe is perfect, and Fritz loads it with the fresh baby spinach, cuts of the ham, and a few slices of the chevre. The cheese melts easily into the crepe, and Fritz smiles as he drizzles honey over the whole creation, letting a bit of it drip onto the hot pan and sizzle there.

The doorbell rings as Fritz is folding the crepe over. He frowns and turns the gas off. The crepe is far enough along to finish cooking just from the left-over heat, and a fire should never be left unattended. Fritz wipes his hands on his apron as he crosses through the office, into the entryway. He eases up on his toes to look through the peephole.

Inspector Cramer is at the door, chomping at his cigar and looking upset. His finger is hovering over the doorbell, waiting to ring it again. Fritz keeps the chain on as he opens the door.

"Inspector Cramer?"

"Hi, Brenner," says Inspector Cramer. "I need to see Archie. Open up."

"Archie isn't here," says Fritz.

"Then let me see Wolfe," says Inspector Cramer. He obviously doesn't believe Fritz, though Fritz thinks he has become better at lying, in his time with Mr. Wolfe.

"I'm afraid Mr. Wolfe is still with his orchids," says Fritz. "And then it's time for lunch. Perhaps you could come back after two?"

Inspector Cramer doesn't like that, but Fritz's mind is with his crepes and he doesn’t pay much more attention to whatever Inspector Cramer’s trying to threaten him with. After a few more words, he shuts the door on Inspector Cramer's face.

The doorbell keeps ringing through the second, third and fourth crepe, but Fritz doesn't bother going back to check it. If it was someone important, like a delivery boy or Mr. Panzer, they would come to the back door.

Fritz carries two plates, each with two crepes, to the dining room. He'll continue cooking through lunch, so that each crepe is fresh and warm.

Mr. Wolfe and Archie are already there. Archie is saying something, and Fritz can't help but overhear.

"I don't think that painting will be safe for long. Cramer will be back as soon as he thinks you'll let him in, and-"

"Archie." Mr. Wolfe holds up a hand, looking at Fritz. "Lunch."

"Right," says Archie, throwing himself back against his seat. Sometimes he tries to argue with Mr. Wolfe through lunch, but today he’s apparently willing to wait. "What've we got?"

"Buckwheat crepes, with spinach, ham, and chevre," recites Fritz. Mr. Wolfe nods, as they'd gone over the menus together just yesterday. Archie looks a little confused. "That's goat's cheese, Archie," says Fritz. "And a touch of honey."

Archie still looks a little confused, until he tries a bit. Then his face fills with that warm glow, the same one that Mr. Wolfe gets whenever he and Fritz finally agree about a recipe. It's the glow that Fritz loves best about cooking.

"This is amazing," says Archie, and his mouth is still a little full. Wolfe looks at Archie as if to scold him, but Fritz is pleased.

A trip to the kitchen for Wolfe's beer and Archie's milk, and then Fritz resumes cooking. Later he sets a few crepes aside for himself and for Theodore. Theodore hasn't come down from the plant rooms yet, but Fritz doubts he'll be much longer.

The doorbell starts ringing again at 2 PM, and continues until 2:05, when Archie manages to roust himself from the dining room and answer the door. Apparently he and Mr. Wolfe have decided what to do about the painting.

Luckily, that's not Fritz's concern. He's glad that the case appears to be progressing, though. Mr. Wolfe’s finances had been looking a bit poorer, of late, and Fritz had been hoping that things would improve soon enough that they could catch the autumn harvest from the farms upstate.

For now, Fritz stands in the kitchen, leaning against the counter. One hand holds his plate, the other holds his fork. He carefully cuts a piece of the crepe and ferries the bite into his mouth. The honey bursts over his tongue first, browned and crisp where it had contacted the pan. Then the chevre and ham, the spinach and the crepe itself providing the base note that holds it all together.

"A little less cheese, next time," he mumbles to himself, and cuts off a bit more.