Chapter 1: A House in the Brownstone
"All genius is distorted. Including my own." Nero Wolfe, The League of Frightened Men.
It was poker night at Saul Panzer's when I first heard about the case. Saul and Lon Cohen were pretty even until Lon got the phone call. Lon left the table to answer, and came back a few minutes later.
"A murder," he said, in answer to our enquiring looks. "Woman stabbed in the heart at her own engagement party, possible front page. Don't think so, though." There was a big city corruption scandal going on at the moment which was occupying most of the headlines.
"Suspects?" Fred Durkin asked.
"Ex-husband arrested as a material witness," Lon said, and we all nodded solemnly.
Lon never did get back into the swing of the game, and Saul cleaned us all out soon after midnight.
It was ten-thirty on Sunday morning, Wolfe was upstairs getting his first orchid fix of the day, and I was entering germination records onto the computer, when the phone rang. It was Nathaniel Parker, our friendly neighborhood lawyer.
"Archie, I'm calling to warn you, there's a prospective client on his way over," he said.
I swiveled in my chair to grab a pen and pad. This sounded promising: we hadn't had a case for a couple of weeks. The bank balance was reasonably healthy, but could always do with a boost, the operating costs of the brownstone being what they were. Fritz had just got to the point of starting to worry about the lack of work, and Wolfe was getting too comfortable spending all his time with orchids and books. A client was just what we needed.
"Shoot," I said.
"Dr. Gregory House. Actually the potential client is his friend, Dr. James Wilson. Dr. Wilson is currently in jail--he was arrested last night as a material witness in a homicide. You probably saw the story in the papers this morning--the woman stabbed at her own engagement party."
"Really." My eye flew to the Gazette on my desk. The story had made the front page, though only as a sidebar; it hadn't quite nudged the current political scandal from the main headline, at least not in the Gazette. "He's the ex-husband?"
"That's right. I'm working on bail at the moment. In the meantime, Dr. House thinks he needs a private detective."
"How did Dr. House get involved?" I asked.
"Actually, House involved me," Parker explained. "When Dr. Wilson got charged last night, he called House; House called his own lawyer, a guy called Howard. You won't know him, but if I needed a criminal attorney in Princeton, I'd call Howard. Except being in Princeton, Howard called me. House came up to New York and was in my office first thing this morning demanding to know what was happening. He's quite a--demanding character--eccentric."
Just what Wolfe needed; a demanding character. "In what way?"
"I hesitate to say this to you, Archie, but the man has the most monumental ego." Parker laughed and I laughed too. After all, I already shared an office with the most monumental ego in New York State, possibly the country, perhaps the world.
"Perhaps deservedly so," Parker carried on. "He's a very famous diagnostician. I recognized the name, and I looked him up after he left. Do you remember the story a while ago about that famous TB doctor who was ill himself? Dr. House correctly diagnosed him."
I did remember the story. I had seen the item on TV; Wolfe had taken an interest as Dr. Sebastian Charles had been on the cover of Newsweek. At that moment the doorbell rang; I shouldered the phone and headed into the hallway. There was a man standing on the stoop. I looked through the one-way glass.
"Is Dr. House about six-two, blue eyes, with stubble, walks with a cane?"
"That's him," Parker confirmed.
"He's at the door. I'll call you back." I hung up and opened the door.
Dr. House walked in, leaning on his cane. It wasn't a standard wooden walking stick like the ones Wolfe uses, on the rare occasions he leaves the brownstone; it was black and had flames painted up from the bottom. I figured this was part of the eccentricity Parker had mentioned. House was resting his weight properly on the cane too, not just using it for balance; the doctor was himself a cripple. He didn't look like a doctor; not that I expected him to be wearing a white coat and a stethoscope out on the street on a weekend, but our own doctor, Dr. Vollmer, was never seen in anything other than suit and tie, even off-duty. In contrast, House was wearing sneakers, jeans, a colorful T-shirt and a fitted jacket which had been stylish once upon a time, but now looked distinctly scruffy.
He scowled at me. "This place is seriously cripple-unfriendly. Those seven steps up nearly killed me. Get a ramp."
I briefly considered tossing Dr. House down the seven steps, but remembered the prospective client, and decided to wait until I had at least heard about the case.
"You must be Dr. House. Parker just called."
"Well I didn't suppose you guessed," House said witheringly. "I want to see Nero Wolfe."
The man was a charmer. I ushered him into the office. House crossed the room and sat in the red leather chair as if by divine right.
"Mr. Wolfe is engaged until 11 o'clock," I explained, sitting behind my desk. "I'm Archie Goodwin, his confidential assistant. Why don't you explain what you want to me. I understand you're here on behalf of your friend, Dr. James Wilson?"
House didn't even look at me; he leaned back in the red leather chair and surveyed the room. His eyes flicked over Wolfe's desk, the bookcases, the globe. "I'm after the organ grinder, not his monkey."
I loved this man already. "Mr. Wolfe won't take your case unless I persuade him it will interest him. You want to get to the organ grinder, you have to get by the monkey." I picked up the Gazette and looked at the story. "For a start, this headline here. 'Murdered at her own engagement party! Ex-husband arrested.' It's not exactly Wolfe's favorite kind of case. He won't touch marital disputes."
House bristled immediately and swung round to look at me.
"For Christ's sake, I've never read such garbage! That rag implies they got divorced yesterday and Wilson was jealous of her engagement." House jabbed a finger in my direction. "When in fact they got married twenty years ago and divorced nineteen years ago. And he's been divorced twice more since then. The whole thing is ridiculous."
I noted House's correct use of imply, which would have gone down well with Wolfe, as well as the interesting facts about Dr. Wilson's matrimonial history.
"But the circumstantial evidence sounds fairly convincing," I suggested, flicking through the Gazette pages. "Discovered in the kitchen, stooped over her dead body, bloody knife in his hand--"
"He's a doctor. He would have been trying to help her." House gripped the arms of the red leather chair. "But that's the problem. It looks bad. The police have a nice handy suspect and they're not going to look at anyone else. That's why I need Nero Wolfe." He paused, then added, "I don't trust the cops."
I recalled that House apparently had a hotline to the best criminal attorney in Princeton. Presumably there was a reason for that.
There was no denying that Dr. House would be an interesting client. He would certainly wake Wolfe out of his current stupor. There was a danger he might drive me nuts in the process. Actually, I decided, I didn't really care if Wolfe took House's case or not; I just wanted to see them in the same room together. It was possible the room might spontaneously combust, or something equally entertaining.
I explained that Wolfe would be down from the plant rooms shortly, and asked House to wait in the front room while I talked to Wolfe. House didn't like it. He really didn't like it. Eventually, after I had assured him that Wolfe would undoubtedly just walk out of the office if he found House in there unannounced, House allowed me to propel him into the front room.
Wolfe appeared in the office at eleven on the dot, wished me a good morning, and took a few moments arranging an orchid on his desk and glancing through his mail. Recently emails had started to outnumber letters; he was still making me print them all out before he read them. I was hoping to break him of that habit soon.
"We have a prospective client in the front room," I ventured. "Dr. Gregory House."
Wolfe looked distinctly unenthusiastic. I was threatening him with work, after all.
I held up the Gazette and pointed at the story. "This is the case. Catherine Wilson, murdered at her own engagement party last night. Dr. James Wilson, her ex-husband, who's been arrested, is Dr. House's friend."
Wolfe scowled. "A marital dispute?"
"House says not. He says that the Wilsons were married twenty years ago and divorced nineteen years ago. Also that Dr. Wilson has been married and divorced twice since then."
Wolfe shuddered. "To be married not once, not twice, but three times--all unsuccessfully--the man must be an imbecile. I am not taking such a client."
"Shame. I thought you'd find it interesting to meet Dr. House," I said brightly. "Eccentric, demanding, and a world famous diagnostician, apparently. Other famous sick doctors go to him to get cured. Parker sent him to us; Parker thinks he may be the only person in the world with a bigger ego than you."
Wolfe grunted. "Other doctors consulting Dr. House may indicate his fame, or notoriety, or their desperation. It says nothing about his professional ability." But I had caught his interest. He frowned. "A diagnostician, you say?"
"A most unusual specialty, surely. There was an article a year or so ago by the journalist Fletcher Stone--he was ill, and also had aphasia, so he was unable to describe his symptoms. He was diagnosed by a doctor who was in another city and never even met him." Wolfe started to rummage around in a desk drawer. "A very interesting case. The doctor used word association to determine what Mr. Stone was trying to say. I'm sure I kept the article. --Ah, here it is."
"I'll google Dr. House, shall I?" I asked innocently.
Wolfe glared at me. "Don't goad me, Archie. You know perfectly well that word is not a verb in this house."
"Darn, forgot again." I turned to my computer and googled Dr. Gregory House, while Wolfe re-read his article. House featured a few times in the news for treating people, including a senator and a jazz musician. Although House didn't seem ever to have given a media interview himself, he clearly had some high-profile patients. I was intrigued to see he had treated Hank Wiggen, who had struck out Sammy Sosa on three pitches.
Wolfe finished reading the article and said, "Archie, get Dr. Vollmer on the phone."
Wolfe would always trust a personal opinion from someone he respected before any media report, even ones by Fletcher Stone, who had exposed three administrations. I dialed. Vollmer came on the line promptly.
"Dr. Vollmer. I am sorry to disturb your Sunday morning," Wolfe said courteously. "I would like to know if you have heard of a Dr. Gregory House, a diagnostic specialist from Princeton Plainsboro Teaching Hospital in New Jersey."
"House? Everybody's heard of House," Vollmer's voice boomed down the line.
"Can you tell me anything about him, professionally or personally?"
"He knows his stuff, but is notoriously difficult to get along with. An eccentric genius, they say. I've never met him myself. But a colleague of mine once referred a patient to him. House doesn't take many referrals, so it was quite a coup. Patient was diagnosed and cured within a few days. Although I remember my colleague was somewhat upset afterwards to hear his patient had never even met House--House did all his work through his staff."
"Really." Two folds appeared in Wolfe's face, which meant he was smiling. "I would that I too could solve cases without meeting clients. Dr. Vollmer, I am much obliged. You must come round to dinner some time. In fact, if you are free tonight we are having shad roe in casserole."
Vollmer accepted with enthusiasm, and hung up. Wolfe sat back in his chair and said, "Get Dr. House."
I found Dr. House sitting in the front room with iPod ear buds in and his eyes shut. He opened his eyes when I came in and raised his eyebrows; I nodded and he heaved himself to his feet and followed me into the office.
"Good morning, Dr. House," Wolfe said cordially. "I am Nero Wolfe. Forgive me if I do not stand up or shake hands."
House plumped himself down in the red leather chair. "I don't like shaking hands either; and once I'm sitting down I try not to get up unless I have to." He propped his cane up against the side of the chair and eyed Wolfe's bulk. "Though for different reasons. What do you weigh? Three hundred pounds?"
"A little less." Wolfe's eyes narrowed at the direct question, but he chose not to take offence. Instead he too went straight for what interested him. "You're a diagnostician, I understand? I have not encountered this as a specialty before."
"There aren't many of us." House took his cue from Wolfe. "I'm double board certified in infectious diseases and nephrology, but the diagnosis has always been what I've been good at. I run a department created just for me at Princeton Plainsboro."
"All doctors diagnose, of course," Wolfe prodded.
"Of course," House agreed. "I get the difficult cases, the ones nobody else can solve." He paused, looked carefully at Wolfe, and went on. "I have tenure; I can do pretty much what I want. I pick and choose the patients that interest me. I'm habitually lazy and take as few cases as I can. And then I get my staff to do as much of the work as possible; they do the running around, I do the thinking."
All this sounded eerily familiar as a way of working to me. Wolfe was looking at House as if suspecting House was making fun of him, but House looked back with equanimity.
"Dr. House," Wolfe said, at length. "I understand you wish to engage me on behalf of your friend Dr. Wilson, who is suspected of murder."
The muscles bunched in House's jaw. "That's right."
"I will not commit to that, but I will agree to meet Dr. Wilson and hear what he has to say. If I decide to take his case, he will be the client, not you. Also I hope you know that my fees are large."
"Fine. Great. Agreed." House perked up considerably. "Wilson's got money--it's not like he pays alimony to any of his ex-wives any more. So--I'll tell you what we need to do first. We need to get Wilson the hell out of jail."
Wolfe looked at me. "Parker's working on bail," I said.
"Parker needs a kick up the ass," said House. "I gave him one this morning. He needs another from you."
The corner of Wolfe's mouth twitched. "Archie, call Mr. Parker and ask for a progress report."
I gave Wolfe a look and dialed. Parker came on the line.
"I'm still working on it," Parker reported. "The judge is under pressure from the D.A. It's Coggin, he wants to hang onto Dr. Wilson, presumably thinks he'll be filing charges in a few days. He's arguing that Wilson might flee New York at the first opportunity. Ridiculous, as a respectable doctor--anyway, it won't hold water, it's nothing but delaying tactics. We'll get there. It might not be until tomorrow, though."
Assistant D.A. Daniel F. Coggin had caused us problems before. I relayed Parker's news to the room.
"That's not good enough!" House said sharply. He picked up his cane and brought the tip down to the floor for emphasis. "If he's in there another night they might move him from the police holding cell into the general prison population. We can't let that happen. He's too pretty for that."
Parker had heard what House had said, and had evidently heard it before. "Tell Dr. House that I've already instructed that Dr. Wilson not be moved. There's nothing more I can do."
Parker hung up. House glowered at Wolfe, who was observing House with quiet interest. Then House swung round and stabbed a finger in my direction.
"You. Come with me to the police station. Talk to the desk sergeant and tell him Wilson mustn't be moved. I told him that this morning, but he wouldn't take it from me. You must have police contacts, you can get the message across." House stopped, then added, "And I want to see Wilson. You can smuggle me in."
House clearly had had a busy morning. And what he was asking was preposterous. I opened my mouth to protest, but to my surprise, Wolfe cut in.
"Go with Dr. House, Archie, and see what you can do. Keep me informed."
He was looking at the clock, and I seethed. Wolfe was sending me out on this ridiculous errand because there was only a half hour to lunch, and he wanted to avoid having to start work himself before then. The fat lump. I gave him a look to show I knew exactly what he was doing, and stood with bad grace.
In the cab with House on the way to the police station, I reflected on what Dr. Vollmer had said; notoriously difficult to get along with. He hadn't been kidding. House raged about the stupidity of the cops, the rapaciousness of lawyers, and the arrogance of private detectives who preferred to play with plants rather than help innocent people get out of prison. I decided I would be interested to meet Dr. Wilson myself, if only to see what human being could possibly put up with House as a friend. I had started to notice that House's voice went up ever so slightly in tone when he mentioned Wilson. It was only very slight, and he spoke as harshly and critically as ever otherwise, but it was there.
I got House to hang back when we arrived at the station, and we caught a break; the desk sergeant was a different one from the one House had harassed that morning, and was also a guy I was on vaguely friendly terms with. I got an assurance that if Wilson got moved Parker would at least be phoned and informed in advance, and once the sergeant learned that bail was imminent, he gave me the nod to go through to the cells to see him.
Dr. Wilson wasn't difficult to spot; the cell was empty apart from him and a couple of drunks sleeping down the far end. He was sitting on the floor, leaning against the wall, hands resting on his knees, looking despondent. Although disheveled and grubby after a night in jail, he was wearing what had previously been a stylish suit jacket and pants, with a white dress shirt, and I would have bet money that the police had confiscated an expensive silk tie along with the shoelaces from his black patent leather shoes. I recalled that he had been a guest at the engagement party and had presumably been dressed for that. However I also thought it likely that he habitually dressed like this. This was good; if he ever had to take the stand in court, he would clean up nicely.
He looked up as I approached, then stood up.
"Dr Wilson? I'm Archie Goodwin." I proffered a hand through the bars, and he reached out and shook without hesitation. "I work for Nero Wolfe."
"Pleased to meet you," he said politely. "Parker said House went to see Nero Wolfe?"
"That's right. Wolfe hasn't decided whether to take your case, but he has agreed to see you, once you're out," I explained. "We're working on getting you out right now."
I stopped, because Wilson was looking over my shoulder. I looked round, and Dr. House was striding into the room. How he had conned his way past the desk sergeant I had no idea; but there he was. House paused next to me, leaning on his cane, looking at Wilson. I looked back and forth between them. The two of them stared at each other through the bars, a few feet apart. They didn't touch, nor did they need to. I wasn't there, the guard in the corner wasn't there, those bars weren't there. Hell, the whole world didn't exist any more.
"Wilson, you look like crap," House eventually rasped.
"Good to see you too, House," Wilson said, deadpan. "Funny to have you bailing me out for once."
House snorted. "Yeah, it's hilarious." There was a pause, then House said unexpectedly, "I should have come to the party with you."
"Then you'd have probably ended up in here with me," Wilson said lightly. "And then Cuddy would have had to bail us both out. Best to avoid that if possible, don't you think?"
House looked down and smiled, and it was the first time I'd seen him smile, a real smile that lit up his craggy face. "Wilson, you're an idiot."
"House, do me a favor," Wilson said. "My stuff is at the hotel I was supposed to be staying at, and I should have checked out of there by now. Would you mind going and seeing what's happened to my things? Also I guess they might want to be paid. They have my credit card, so they can take it off that."
House threw up his free hand in exasperation.
"Wilson, only you would be worried about your hotel bill when you're in jail suspected of murder. You might as well let them toss whatever crap you left there anyway."
"Thanks, House," Wilson said, straight-faced.
At that moment the desk sergeant appeared, red-faced and sweating. "You shouldn't be here."
"Okay, okay, we're going." House sighed theatrically, and turned towards the door. He looked back at Wilson. "Don't let them move you before you get bailed out. Throw a fit and sue them first."
Wilson nodded solemnly, and seeing the sergeant's expression, I hastened to usher House out of the door.
Out on the sidewalk, I gave House a piece of my mind for following me to the cell, but it was like water off a duck's back. He let me rage for a moment, then said, as if I hadn't said anything, "I'm starving. I never had any breakfast. Is there a place to eat around here?"
Wolfe would never have let House leave the brownstone if he'd known about the breakfast. It was well past lunchtime by now and I was hungry too, so we went and ate ham and eggs at a diner on the corner.
"Why don't you trust cops?" I asked, as we ate, to make conversation. Also I thought it might be advisable to know.
"I was persecuted by a bent cop in Jersey," House squirted ketchup on his fries. "Arrogant son-of-a-bitch stopped me on my motorcycle and took me in for possession." He took a pill bottle from his pocket, opened it and shook out a pill. "Vicodin. Legal. Prescribed. For the leg. I'm a cripple, in case you haven't noticed." He swallowed the pill with a mouthful of coffee.
"Spent a night in jail before Wilson bailed me out. And another night for contempt of court later on, but the judge threw out the charges." House gobbled fries.
Somehow I wasn't the slightest bit surprised to hear about the contempt of court. I thought about the prospect of a trial where House got called for some reason, any reason, say as a character witness for Wilson. It was obviously a situation to be avoided if at all possible. I could only hope that House didn't turn out to be involved in this murder.
At that moment my cell phone rang. It was Parker. "Archie, is Dr. House with you?"
"Yes, he's right here." I looked at House and mouthed Parker. House reached out for the phone with a gimme gimme action. I ignored this but shifted closer so he could hear Parker speak.
"We have bail. But there are two issues we need to settle. Firstly, Dr. House ought to know that the bail was set very high." Parker named a figure which was certainly the highest I'd ever heard for a material witness.
House blanched slightly, but leaned forward and barked into the phone as I held it, "Fine. What's the other problem?"
"He can't go back to New Jersey. There's a strict condition that Dr. Wilson has to stay at a named address in New York, and he mustn't leave it without informing the police. They won't release him until I give them an address. What should I say?"
Without missing a beat, House leaned forward again and said clearly into the phone, "Tell them West 35th Street. Nero Wolfe's house."
"Now hold on a second," I said indignantly.
House fixed me with a steely glare. "What's the problem, Goodwin? You've got a spare room somewhere in that big brownstone, haven't you?"
"You can't just--"
"Then find another address. Now," House snapped.
House had me on the spot. Parker was waiting on the line for an answer. Wilson was waiting forlornly in his cell. I zipped through various possibilities in my mind. None were ideal.
"Parker, can we change the address later?" I asked.
"Sure. But I need to tell them something now, if you want him out now."
"Okay then. Tell them Nero Wolfe's house. For now." I shut the phone.
I looked at House. "You're way out of line and you're lucky I don't hit cripples. Don't you ever do anything like that again."
"Oh, lighten up, Goodwin," House sneered. "It's probably for, what, one night until you find somewhere else. Or until you solve the case. Hey, maybe it'll encourage you and Wolfe to get on and actually do some work." He stood up, and leaned ostentatiously on the cane. "I'm going to the bank to transfer some money around to cover this extortion Wilson has landed me with. And then I'm going to Wilson's hotel to tell them to throw his stupid stuff out and charge his card. And to get a room there myself for tonight. You're going back to that police station to get Wilson; I'll see you back at Wolfe's." Seeing me rendered temporarily speechless, he added, "You might want to reconsider that not hitting cripples thing," and left.
I reconsidered, and decided that at the next possible opportunity I would knock House out with his own cane and toss him down those seven steps.
Chapter 2: Wilson Tells His Story
I phoned Wolfe to report in. Wolfe was unexpectedly sanguine about having an unforeseen houseguest and said he would get Fritz to air the South Room. I suspected he was enjoying hearing about House riling me, in the same way I'd hoped to enjoy the sight of House riling him. There was plenty of time for that, of course; Wolfe hadn't even met our potential client yet. I really wanted to see Wolfe put House in his place at some point. I went back to the jail, met Parker, collected Wilson, who was very polite and grateful for everything, and took him back to the brownstone in a cab.
We got back about 5 o'clock, so Wolfe was in the plant rooms. I showed Wilson the South Room, and left him to take a shower. His clothes were fairly disgusting after his night in jail so I lent him an old shirt and pair of pants to wear. They were slightly big on him, but not ridiculously so. Wilson was sitting in the red leather chair in the office, looking clean and more relaxed, when House arrived shortly before six. House looked tired and was limping more heavily than he had been earlier. He didn't mention the steps when I let him in though, so I was deprived of an opportunity to toss him.
House walked into the office, threw himself into a yellow chair next to Wilson, and dropped a small suitcase on the floor. Wilson looked at the bag, then at House, and said, "Thanks."
"I took your hotel room for myself. Damn hotel hadn't even cleared it out yet," House said in a wounded tone. "I had to gather together your useless possessions. Don't know why I bothered, especially as you seem to have found some clothes anyway." His clear blue eyes swept Wilson up and down carefully, lingering on his face and hands; he wasn't just looking at the clothes. I thought perhaps House was looking for any injury, any damage, from Wilson's night in prison; but there wasn't a scratch visible.
"Mr. Goodwin was kind enough to lend them to me," said Wilson. His face was turned slightly away from me, so I couldn't see his expression.
"And here was I thinking you'd abandoned your accountant look-alike fetish." House leaned back in the yellow chair, and frowned. "Gimme that red chair. It's more comfortable."
"I was here first," Wilson said indignantly.
"Prospective client gets the red chair," I chimed in, just to be unhelpful to House.
House turned his steely eyes on me. "Actually, that's not the most comfortable chair in the room." And he switched his gaze to the chair behind Wolfe's desk, the one specially engineered for Wolfe's seventh of a ton.
"Wolfe will have me skin you alive if you sit in his chair," I said, as casually as possible. "Don't let me stop you."
House looked tempted, but by now it was six, and Wolfe walked in the door. Nobody switched chairs. Damnit, I would have to wait for another opportunity to sock House. Wolfe settled himself at his desk, and inclined his head regally towards Wilson.
"Dr. Wilson. A pleasure to meet you. You seem to have survived your night in jail."
"Thanks, I'm glad it was just the one night though," Wilson said. "I'm grateful to you for letting me stay here too."
Wolfe inclined his head one eighth of an inch again: don't mention it. A guest was, after all, a jewel resting on the cushion of hospitality.
"To avoid any misunderstanding, let me say first that I have not committed to take your case, only to hear it," Wolfe got down to business, and Wilson nodded. "Can we begin at the beginning? Tell me about your marriage to Mrs. Wilson, which I understand was twenty years ago."
Both House and Wilson winced at the Mrs. Wilson, and Wilson asked, "Can we call her Catherine, please? It sounds too much like we were still married otherwise. She only kept the name because she'd started to establish herself in her career when we split up, and it was easier that way."
"We met at McGill. I was in my final year, she was a freshman." Wilson settled back in the red chair. "She was a long way from home, didn't know anyone, wasn't happy with the program she was doing then. I took her under my wing, tried to look after her, and well, we ended up going out." He sighed. "With hindsight, we were both too young. She was only eighteen, I was twenty-one. She was looking out for a fairytale romantic marriage. We got engaged just before I left at the end of the year. I had a place at med school at Columbia, she had to stay back a bit in Canada as she was doing a short course which took another six months, and to be honest, if I hadn't been leaving then, we probably wouldn't have got engaged when we did. It was a mistake." He shrugged. "But it wasn't a mistake either of us willing to admit at the time." He glanced at House, who was sitting impassively with a blank expression.
"So you went to Columbia," Wolfe prompted.
"Yes. She followed me to New York when her course finished, spent the next six months planning our wedding, and we got married the following summer." Wilson paused. "Once the wedding preparations started, it was like a juggernaut that couldn't be stopped. The wedding got bigger and bigger and more and more elaborate. And our families were so enthusiastic. Her parents loved me. My parents loved her. We even loved each other, but not enough."
He rubbed a hand over his eyes.
Wolfe looked at House. "Did you know Catherine too, Dr. House?"
"House was best man at our wedding," Wilson informed us.
"At all three of your weddings," House grumbled. "Count 'em. And people say you're the enabler."
"How long have the two of you known each other?" Wolfe enquired. I was pleased because by now I really wanted to know too.
"Twenty years. We met at Columbia," said Wilson.
"You were at medical school together?" Wolfe queried, surprised. There was an obvious age gap between House and Wilson. Or perhaps it was just that Wilson was naturally baby-faced while House cultivated the grizzled look.
"Oh no, House was a resident," Wilson said. "We lived in the same shared house for a bit when I first moved to New York, before Cath arrived."
Wolfe nodded and moved the conversation back to topic. "So you married Catherine. How long did the marriage last?"
"Less than two years," Wilson replied. "There were lots of reasons why it didn't work out. Catherine established her own career after we were married, and got very absorbed by it, and became much more independent, much more confident, didn't seem to need me in the way she used to. I was working really hard in med school, but I have to admit--" He held up his hands, "I wasn't faithful, I'm not making excuses, but after the dust settled after the wedding, we found we really didn't have much in common with each other, and we just didn't work on it. She put up with a lot of crap from me, but eventually she reached the end of her tether, and booted me out. Then we got divorced."
"It sounds remarkable that you kept in touch and were still on friendly terms twenty years later," Wolfe observed.
"Yes, I suppose it is." Wilson hesitated. "We argued a lot at the start, but the divorce wasn't acrimonious once we'd both decided it was the best way forward. I didn't contest, there wasn't any money to haggle over as neither of us had any, no kids, clean break, it was just your classic early short-lived unsuccessful marriage by two people who were too young to know better."
House's expression was still splendidly blank. I wondered if he had a different take on all this.
"I moved around a lot after med school, different jobs," Wilson continued. "Boston, Penn, Princeton. But she stayed in New York and was always in the phone book for her work, so I could find her if I wanted, and I did want to stay on good terms, so I did occasionally look her up if I was in New York. Which wasn't often. Years went by and we didn't see each other, didn't hear from each other. But then, recently--literally only a few months ago--she found me on Facebook and friended me. I friended her back, it would have been rude not to--" House let out a contemptuous snort at this-- "so after that we were kind of more in touch than at any time since we'd got divorced."
"Facebook," Wolfe said disdainfully. I grinned. I take it as part of my job to keep Wolfe up-to-date with new technology and social trends. I'd shown him Lily Rowan's Facebook profile a while back. Wolfe had despaired of humanity for a long time afterwards. The name and concept were bad enough, but the terminology offended him deeply, his greatest ire being reserved for the concept of friending. Lily Rowan had hundreds of friends, most no more than bare acquaintances and including many people she had never met. Wolfe had declared this an abuse of the grand old word friend with its thousand year etymology from the Old English.
"Er, yes, sorry." Wilson had the grace to blush. "Anyway, soon after that she emailed me--" Wolfe looked pained again-- "to say she was coming to Jersey with her boyfriend and would like to detour via Princeton to meet up for lunch. I wasn't particularly enthusiastic about it, but I didn't want to be rude, and I was curious. We hadn't met in at least six or seven years."
"Indeed." Wolfe looked interested. I could see why. What had moved Catherine Wilson to get in contact with her long-divorced husband after such a long period?
"I thought conversation could be awkward so I dragged House along," Wilson went on.
House groaned, apparently at the memory.
"So the two of you had lunch in Princeton with Catherine and her boyfriend three months ago." Wolfe pinned this one down firmly. "This boyfriend would be the fiancé, Mr. Scott Darby? It was their engagement party you were at last night?"
Wilson had been relaxed and chatty, but at the mention of last night he looked suddenly stricken. "Yes, that's right. They weren't quite engaged then, but Cath did tell me she thought they would be soon. The lunch was--pretty awkward."
"Hell on earth might be another way of describing it," House put in.
"Scott didn't want to be there. He didn't want to meet me," said Wilson. "And who could blame him? He was there because she was eager and he was trying to please her. In the end I talked mostly to her, about her job and family, and he mostly argued with House, about life, the universe and everything."
"He's a Grade-A loser and an idiot," House said.
"You didn't have to be so rude to him," Wilson admonished.
"I wasn't," House protested. "No more rude than I am to anyone."
"Afterwards I thought, I've been polite, done the right thing, never again," Wilson continued. "But then I got the invite to their engagement party, a month ago. I emailed her to say congratulations but I couldn't go. But she was insistent--really wanted me to come, felt she wanted my blessing now she was moving on--" He threw up his hands in a gesture of helplessness. "I caved. I said I'd go. So I did. And here I am."
"So the engagement party was last night, and it was there that Catherine was murdered," Wolfe ascertained.
House sat forward a little in his chair; the story from here on would be new to him, too. Wilson leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees and his chin on his hands. "I went over and over this with the police."
"You need to go over it again," Wolfe stated.
"Right." Wilson shut his eyes for a minute, then opened them again. "It was a nightmare. It was a big party, more than a hundred people there, I think. I hardly knew anyone. I did ask House to come, but he wouldn't."
House flinched slightly. I recalled what he'd said to Wilson through the prison bars: I should've come to the party with you.
"You can't blame me," House said, a trifle defensively. "Anyway, I had a patient. And clinic duty."
"You volunteered to do Saturday afternoon clinic duty!" Wilson rolled his eyes. "Anyway, I didn't mind not knowing anyone at the party, but of course whenever I introduced myself to anyone they asked how I knew Cath. And when I explained I was the ex-husband they looked at me very oddly, and after a while I just got fed up. I figured I'd shown my face and that was enough. I went to find Cath to say hi before leaving, but she said she wanted to talk to me about something privately first. So she took me up to her apartment."
"Wasn't the party at her apartment?" Wolfe queried.
"Yes. It's on two floors, and the lower floor is the one she uses for entertaining and work, a nice suite of rooms, all set up for serving food and drink and so on. She's an event planner, you see, it's important she does events well herself," Wilson said, unconsciously slipping into the present tense when talking about her.
Wolfe looked pained. "An event planner?"
"Yeah, she organizes weddings, parties, that sort of thing. She's very good at it," Wilson said brightly. "Anyway, there's a staircase up from the suite downstairs to the upper floor, which she keeps as her private apartment. We went up and sat in her living room." He hesitated. "It turned out she wanted to ask my advice. As a medical doctor."
House raised his eyebrows, but didn't say anything. We all waited expectantly.
"You must have already told the police about this," Wolfe prompted.
"It just seems wrong talking about it." Wilson put a hand on the back of his neck. "She said--she and Scott had been trying to conceive for the last six months, and hadn't had any success yet, and she wanted my advice. She was a little old to be having a first child, she was worried she might have left it too late. I said lots of older women have no problem, it might just need more time. Of course its not my area, so I offered to look into it, and give her names of some specialists in New York if she wanted to see someone about it."
This was interesting, and explained why Catherine Wilson had been eager to get back in touch with her ex-husband the doctor.
"Then we got interrupted by the waitress," Wilson continued. "The waitress had been standing at the bottom of the staircase, to stop anyone coming up. She put her head round the door and told Cath there were two women to see her and they were being loud and disruptive. Cath looked annoyed and said she'd have to see them just to shut them up."
"Sandra Jenner and Tammy Marchant," Wilson said promptly. "I wouldn't have remembered that at the time, but the police asked if I knew either of them. I didn't. I don't. I never even saw them. I think they both had some kind of professional dispute with Cath."
This was good; other people with possible motives there at the scene of the crime. We would have to find out more.
"I offered to go, but Cath said she'd see them in her kitchen if I'd wait, and we could talk more afterwards. I didn't want to go back down to the party, so I stayed in her living room. I must've been there half an hour. I watched TV." Wilson looked a little embarrassed. "I channel hopped for a bit, then found Moulin Rouge was on."
House snorted, and said to Wolfe and myself, "If that's supposed to be an alibi it's no use whatsoever. Wilson knows every word of that damn movie."
"Anyway," Wilson said hastily. "Eventually I thought it had been a while, so I went out to the hall to look for her, and saw the kitchen door open... and I went through... and I saw Cath lying on the floor." He swallowed. He had turned pale. "With a knife sticking out of her chest. Oh God." He put his head in his hands.
I had long since given up the idea that I could tell when a murderer was in the room. That never stopped me from trying though. I looked at Wilson and thought that one would get you fifty that he wasn't. He wasn't crying, but then the men rarely did. He did look seriously choked up. House was sitting absolutely still in the next chair. His gaze was fixed on Wilson, but he didn't move and he didn't say anything.
"I rushed over, and shouted for help," Wilson continued in a muffled tone. "And tried to save her... but she was already dead. Poor Cath."
Wolfe hates emotion being displayed in his office, and his tone was gruff. "You must have seen many dead bodies in your line of work, Dr. Wilson."
Wilson looked up, and said a little wryly, "It's not quite the same."
"You're a doctor." Wolfe was brusque. "In your opinion, what had happened?"
"Direct trauma to the heart?" House asked, the medical query apparently overcoming his inclination to sit still and watch Wilson like a hawk.
Wilson nodded. "I think so. She looked dead--there was pallor mortis, she was absolutely white--but I thought...maybe I could save her. There wasn't much blood from the wound that I could see, though she was wearing a red top and I think that it must have absorbed a lot of it. I checked the carotid pulse and her airway, then I tried CPR, though it was difficult, what with the knife handle--it was a kitchen knife, you could see the gap in the knife block on the counter. The waitress came when I shouted, and she screamed and ran off to call 911...and I carried on for a few minutes until another doctor arrived, he was at the party downstairs...and he took over until the paramedics turned up, which was very quick... but it was all no good. She was dead."
"How long had she been dead?" Wolfe asked.
"Oh..." Wilson shook his head and took a couple of deep breaths. "I don't know. She was very warm. But then the kitchen was warm, the apartment was warm. I would say not more than five, ten minutes. I think she must have died pretty quickly after she was stabbed, maybe instantaneously." He looked a little hopeful at this.
The rest of the story was covered swiftly. While Wilson and the other doctor had been trying the CPR, partygoers including the fiancé Scott Darby had arrived. Scott had seen Catherine dead on the floor, Wilson kneeling next to her, sweating and with hands covered in blood. Scott had grabbed Wilson by the arm and forcibly dragged him away from Catherine, accusing Wilson of killing her; Wilson shook slightly as he related this, and I saw House's expression darken. The police had arrived, taken one look at the situation, heard Scott's accusation, found out that Wilson was the ex-husband, and hauled him in for questioning right there and then. I was sorry to hear that Lieutenant Rowcliff had been the arresting officer.
There were of course many questions still to ask. However Wilson was showing signs of distress: his face was chalk white as he related his experience of being questioned by Rowcliff, and he kept putting a hand on the back of his neck, and then pinching the bridge of his nose. More importantly, it was after seven and dinner time was approaching. Wolfe looked at the clock, considered for a moment, and then spoke.
"Dr. Wilson, as you are our guest and indeed obliged to remain in this house tonight, I hope you will join us for dinner, which will be served at eight o'clock. Dr. House, I hope you will join us also." Wolfe rose to his feet. "Please take a few minutes to compose yourself, Dr. Wilson. Archie?"
It took me a second. Wolfe had walked out before on crying women, this wasn't quite the same. But I got it, and followed him out of the room. Wolfe turned and strode down the hall towards the alcove where the waterfall picture was. For such a big man he can move quickly and silently when he wants to. We both stood by the picture and peered into the office.
Wilson was sitting with his head in his hands, we could see him quite clearly. We didn't have such a good view of House, who was angled away from us. But we could hear House quite distinctly when he spoke.
"Wilson, were you fucking her?"
Wilson lifted his head out of his hands and looked at House, dead in the eye as far as I could tell. "No, I wasn't."
"It wasn't a case of come up and see me, make me smile?" House said, his tone skeptical. "She really asked you up to her parlor, as the spider said to the fly, to get your advice as a doctor?"
"Yes." Wilson spoke through gritted teeth. "For Christ's sake, House, it was her engagement party!"
"Well, knowing what you got up the night before all three of your marriages--"
"House!" Wilson slammed a fist down onto the arm of the chair. "She was in love with Scott, was going to marry him, and wanted to have his children. It was their engagement party and he was there. She wasn't interested in me like that, and God knows I wasn't interested in her like that either. I've been saying so all night to the police and I'd really hope you'd understand better than them."
"All right, all right." House held up a pacifying hand, and Wilson subsided back into his chair. "I believe you."
"Thanks." Wilson buried his head in his hands again.
And then House rumbled us. I couldn't see how; maybe he just thought it was odd we had left the room just then--which it was--and now he'd asked Wilson what he wanted to know, his mind had switched back to us. Abruptly he looked round the room, his eyes sweeping Wolfe's desk. Then he frowned, grasped his cane and stood up.
"Gotta pee," he said to Wilson, and strode out of the room.
I could only marvel that a cripple with a cane could move as fast and as quietly as House did. He came out into the hallway, peered round the corner, saw us in the alcove, and walked down to join us. Wolfe and I looked at him, Wolfe impassive. House stared first at us, and then at the back of the waterfall painting. He then stepped past us and peered through the waterfall painting, at Wilson in the office. Wilson was still sitting with his head in his hands. Then House looked back at us, with a look not of anger but grudging admiration.
"You cunning bastards," House said. "Perhaps you do know how to do your jobs after all."
Then he turned on his heel and added, "I really do need to pee," and strode off down the hall again.
I looked at Wolfe and shrugged. Wolfe still looked impassive, but I thought I saw a small twitch in the corner of his mouth.
Chapter 3: House Sticks His Nose In
Despite low expectations on my part, dinner that evening was very successful. Dr. Vollmer was there--I had completely forgotten about Wolfe's invitation, but fortunately Fritz hadn't. Vollmer was most intrigued to meet Dr. House, and when he heard who Dr. Wilson was, a connection was found. They'd never met, but it turned out Vollmer had once referred a patient to Wilson. An old Manhattan family who'd been patients of his for years had a daughter with leukemia; she'd won a place at Princeton and been desperate to go. Vollmer had referred her to Princeton Plainsboro for her continuing treatment. Wilson immediately recognized her name and was able to discuss the case. Apparently she was doing well.
Wilson also proved to be a bit of a gourmet--his palate was good enough to spot chervil in the sauce, very subtle, and he asked Fritz about it. Fritz lit up like a sunbeam, and he and Wilson and Wolfe discussed the pros and cons of onions for the next five minutes. Fritz and Wolfe never had been able to agree about onions in the shad roe casserole; Fritz had left them out as a concession to Wolfe, but reluctantly. Wilson could see both sides, though opined that the casserole was excellent as it was, which pleased both Fritz and Wolfe.
But it was the conversation between House and Wolfe that really stole the show. House was a peculiar mix of cultured and uncouth; he would show an unexpected knowledge of art on the one hand and complete ignorance of literature with another. A pattern started to emerge, where Wolfe would introduce a topic to see what reaction he would get; House would deliberately take a position on the opposite end of the spectrum to wherever he perceived Wolfe would be; they would argue for a moment, and move on. There was a great moment when Wolfe flabbergasted House with one of his favorite controversial opinions, which never failed to get a rise out of Saul Panzer; "All music is a vestige of barbarism." House was on one side of a divide so big on this one he couldn't even make out Wolfe's position on the other side. It could've been a fight to the death. But they weren't interested in that; they were interested in sparring, taking hooks and jabs at each other and then circling for another chance.
And then unexpectedly they found a subject they could both wax lyrical on. It transpired that House had been an army brat and lived all over the world when he was younger. His father, a Marine, had been stationed for a couple of years in Eastern Europe, and Wolfe and House fell into an in-depth conversation about childhoods in Montenegro which lasted all through the walnut pudding.
"So have you gone back to Montenegro, since you came to the USA?" House eventually asked.
"Once." Wolfe explained briefly how he had gone back to solve the murder of Marco Vukcic.
This set me on my own train of thought; Marco had been Wolfe's long-standing best friend, one of only five men to call Wolfe by his first name, and Wolfe had gone halfway round the world to avenge his murder. I looked across the table at House and Wilson, and thought about how House had dropped everything to come to New York to help Wilson. Not quite on the same geographical scale, but there was clearly a similar intensity to their friendship. I thought it likely that Wolfe was thinking along the same lines.
There was never any business discussed over dinner, of course. After dinner Dr. Vollmer bade us goodnight, and the rest of us went back into the office, where Fritz served coffee and brandy. House was quick and nabbed the red chair this time. Wolfe settled into his own chair, and announced he would undertake to discover the murderer of Catherine Wilson; I should get Saul and Fred round first thing tomorrow. House and Wilson looked at each other, and seemed relieved. I wondered what had swung it for Wolfe; Wilson knowing his onions, or House on Montenegro? Probably both.
"You may need a New York address for a few more days," Wolfe added to Wilson. "You are welcome to stay here, although you may of course prefer to find somewhere else."
"I would like to stay here, thank you," Wilson said immediately.
"You will presumably need more clothes," Wolfe pointed out. Wilson was still wearing the things I'd loaned him. The bag House had retrieved from the hotel had only contained what Wilson had thought he would need for one night. "Perhaps someone in Princeton could bring you some?"
Wilson looked at House, who scowled.
"What, I have to go back to Jersey to get more stuff for you? Can't you borrow more stuff off Goodwin?"
"No," I said immediately.
"No," said Wilson. "I suppose I could go shopping. Except I'm not supposed to leave the house."
"Oh for God's sake. I'll go back to Princeton tomorrow." House threw his hands up. "I'll go plead your case with Cuddy too, shall I?"
By this time both House and Wilson were looking exhausted; both had had a long day with little sleep the previous night, of course. House left to go back to his hotel; Wilson retired up to the South Room. Wolfe and I stayed up discussing how to proceed with the case.
The following morning I arrived in the kitchen for breakfast to find Wilson already up and sitting at the table, and Fritz serving some pancakes which I hadn't seen him serve before.
"Macadamia nut pancakes," Fritz explained. "Dr. Wilson's recipe. They're very good."
Wilson looked apologetic. "It was only a suggestion. I didn't mean Fritz to actually make them this morning."
I bit into one. It was good. And I'm spoiled every day by Fritz's cooking.
"That's fantastic." I looked at Wilson and blew him a kiss, same way I do Fritz when he serves me up a treat. Fritz blushes. Wilson didn't blush, but he grinned back and dipped his eyelids. I recalled House's comment that Wilson was way too pretty for prison.
Saul and Fred arrived, and I left Wilson and Fritz in the kitchen. I explained the plan to them. Saul and I would go and see Catherine Wilson's apartment, mainly to get a better idea of the layout, which was clearly important. Fred would go get information about the police work so far and the party guests, in particular the fiancé Scott Darby, and the two women who had turned up to cause trouble, Tammy Marchant and Sandra Jenner. Once we had contact details we would get these three back to the brownstone so Wolfe could talk to them.
Saul and I showed up at Catherine's apartment, and got into the building easily by grabbing the door as someone left. Catherine's apartment was on the top floor. As we went up the stairs, it was obvious that something was wrong. The police tape had been broken, and a small glass panel by the doorframe had been smashed.
Saul and I looked at each other. I reached inside my jacket for the Marley. Saul stood on one side of the door, his own weapon drawn, and nodded; I grasped the door handle and opened the door quietly. No sound. I walked in cautiously, gun in hand, through a small hallway and into the living area, and froze.
There was a man sitting in a chair in the middle of the room. It was House. He turned his head to look at me, and raised his eyebrows at the sight of the gun. I holstered it in disgust and said, "It's OK," to Saul, who followed me in.
"What the hell are you doing here?" I demanded.
House looked at Saul. "Who's the Yid?"
"Who's the lop?" Saul responded, quick as a flash.
House looked at Saul in astonishment, and then smiled very briefly.
"Saul, meet Dr. Gregory House. Friend of our client and interfering busybody." I was still disgusted. "House, this is Saul Panzer, he works for Wolfe."
"I'm glad to see Wolfe is spending Wilson's money sending two men with guns to break into an empty apartment," House snipped.
I bridled. "You broke in, didn't you? You broke that pane there?"
"So sue me," House retorted.
I was pissed. The asshole had broken into a crime scene. Who knew what he had messed up. I wouldn't have put it past him to start interfering with anything he thought might incriminate Wilson. I'd have to bear that one in mind when looking around.
"You are way over the line here, House, and I should be handing you over to the police right now," I warned House. "They'd lock you up in an instant. Interfering with a crime scene. Breaking their seal. Tampering with evidence. What the hell have you been doing here, anyway? And shouldn't you be on your way back to Princeton?"
"Yes, I'm going," House said sharply. "I wanted to come here first. Watch the great detectives at work. You might want to look in her bathroom cabinet, by the way."
I gave up trying to talk to House, he was clearly only going to drive me nuts even quicker than he already was. And it wasn't like I was getting any help from Saul, who was looking amused. I left House sitting in his chair while Saul and I went through the apartment. It didn't take long, we were getting a feel for the layout, we weren't trying to look for anything specific.
As Wilson had described, the downstairs rooms were set up for entertaining. It was furnished neutrally and tastefully with plenty of space, small side tables, comfy chairs in groups, and a professional looking kitchen with a couple of huge fridges. It was a complete mess, as the partygoers from Saturday night had abandoned their glasses and plates on all available surfaces, and nobody had been in to clear up since.
There was one obvious doorway with a wide staircase leading upstairs to the private apartment. These rooms were much more individual, full of dark woods and heavy fabrics. A hallway ran right through, and off it was the living room where Wilson had watched TV, plus dining room, kitchen, bathroom, bedroom. The kitchen had the outline on the floor where the body had been, and fingerprint powder was everywhere. I had a look in the bathroom cabinet, and I could see what House meant--it was full of family planning stuff. Charts, calendars, thermometers. Some support for Wilson's explanation that she was consulting him about problems having a child.
"There's a back staircase too," House called as Saul and I moved around upstairs. I looked at Saul and rolled my eyes; he smiled gently at me. It was all right for Saul, he'd only just met House, he hadn't had his patience tested yet. We soon found what House meant; the bedroom, at the end of the apartment, had a door with a Yale lock. Behind it was another staircase leading to the downstairs rooms, narrow and carpeted but otherwise bare.
"So someone could have come up this way instead, but they'd have needed a key," I stated the obvious. "Otherwise it would have to be up that main staircase. And the waitress says nobody went up there except Wilson and the two women."
"The fiancé might have a key," Saul said as we made our way downstairs. This looked good, we seemed to be down to a suspect list of three.
There didn't seem to be much more we could do here. As we had acquired House, and he was obviously going to tag along and get in the way, I parked him with Saul, and made sure I was standing out of earshot as I phoned home for instructions. Wolfe was in the plant rooms at this time in the morning.
I explained briefly what had happened. Wolfe snorted, but didn't join me in criticizing House. I suspected Wolfe was still getting a kick out of House pissing me off.
"How's Wilson?" I asked.
"Dr. Wilson is up here with me admiring the orchids," Wolfe said. "He seems most interested and has made some perceptive comments, for someone who knows nothing about horticulture. He's at the odontoglossoms talking to Theodore at the moment."
No sweat. Theodore rarely deigned to have a conversation with anyone except Wolfe. Hell, Theodore barely even spoke to me. I thought I should sick Theodore on House at some point if I could. They could grump each other out.
"I have a new job for you, Archie," Wolfe said unexpectedly. "I want you to go back to New Jersey with Dr. House. Saul and Fred can locate the suspects."
I was so mad I couldn't speak for a moment. When I did, I said, "You're making me House's babysitter?"
"Someone has to be. Your encounter with him this morning makes that clear."
Now it was Wolfe who was pissing me off. "I don't want to go to Jersey. I hate Jersey. You know that. Saul or Fred can go."
"It's Princeton. Princeton is a nice part of New Jersey. Dr. House has to go there, and his chances of surviving the journey will be higher with you doing the driving." And then, knowing he might push me too far on this, Wolfe added, "There are two other reasons."
"Firstly, in conversation with Dr. Wilson this morning, I discovered there was an email correspondence between himself and Catherine, which Dr. Wilson now thinks refers in passing to each of the two women who interrupted the party. They could be useful evidence. I want you to go to Dr. Wilson's office at the hospital, find those emails and print them out."
"Or I could just forward them," I couldn't help but say. "Emails? We'll need a password or something."
"Dr. Wilson is quite happy for you to access his email. He also says that Dr. House will know his password."
"Right." I could believe this. House was a control freak of the highest order. "What's the second reason?"
Wolfe dropped his voice slightly. "I want you to check that Dr. House really was working at the hospital on Saturday night when the murder occurred."
Somehow I hadn't anticipated this. "Seriously?"
"I have given much thought to the possible innocence or guilt of both Dr. Wilson and Dr. House, yesterday evening and this morning," Wolfe said. "I'm quite sure Dr. Wilson would be capable of murder in certain circumstances; relieving a terminal patient, perhaps, or to defend himself or his friend if cornered. I refuse to believe that he would stab his ex-wife of nineteen years ago in the heart out of jealousy, or for any other reason I can conceive of, and Rowcliff is even more of an idiot than I have hitherto thought, for even dreaming this is the case. However, I do believe that Dr. House would be capable of stabbing the former Mrs. Wilson, if he believed he was helping his friend in some way. I don't think it likely; but I think it would be neglectful for us not to at least check his whereabouts."
I shut my cell and started to look forward to seeing House's face when he realized he was a suspect.
Chapter 4: Archie Goes To Princeton Plainsboro
The drive to Princeton wasn't as bad as I had feared. We took the Heron, and House was happy to be driven, snoozing most of the way. I was apt to forget he was a cripple, he was so abrasive and forceful all the damn time, but I noticed now that he was still tired despite what should have been a decent night's sleep. I also noticed him popping his little Vicodin pills periodically, more so than I had noticed the day before.
We arrived at Princeton Plainsboro Teaching Hospital, and went up to Wilson's office first. The door was locked, but House had a key, on his regular key ring along with what looked like his own door key, office key and other significant keys. House then booted up Wilson's computer and guessed the password on the third try. We could have phoned Wilson to get the password, of course, but House clearly took a smug pleasure in being able to do it himself.
I took the desk chair to look at Wilson's email account. It was interesting browsing Wilson's inbox, though there was very little personal stuff. Lots of work emails--patients, treatments, meetings, admin. Nothing from House ("I only send him spam," House explained.) It wasn't hard to find the email string from Catherine. I glanced at it enough to see what it was, printed it all out, and forwarded it to Wolfe for good measure. Not that Wolfe would find it before he saw the printouts.
Then we went to see Dr. Cuddy, the Dean of Medicine. I'd never met a Dean of Medicine before, so I didn't know what to expect, but it wasn't the glamorous brunette with flowing hair, tight sweater and cleavage you could ski down, who was sitting behind the big desk in the big office.
"Cuddy!" House greeted her as we walked in. He openly ogled her chest. "Glad to see the twins are doing fine. Looks like you need to let them out for a bit of exercise though, the way they're straining at the leash there."
"Dr. House, I'm so glad you decided to find time to come into work at last this Monday afternoon," Cuddy said in an acid tone.
"I've been busy trying to keep your Head of Oncology out of jail," House protested, sitting down.
"Wilson phoned me this morning and explained everything that happened, and asked me to rearrange all his work for a week," Cuddy said pointedly. "You, on the other hand, just didn't show up when you should have. Cameron did your clinic duty this morning."
"She loves doing that," House said to me, in a blatantly insincere tone. "Cuddy, this is Archie Goodwin. Nero Wolfe's lackey."
"Lackey, flunkey, right-hand man, all round dogsbody, that's me. Very pleased to meet you, Dr. Cuddy," I said cheerfully.
"Likewise, Mr. Goodwin," Cuddy said with warmth. "This whole thing with Wilson is ridiculous. I hope you and Mr. Wolfe can clear it up quickly."
"We'll certainly try," I assured her, trying not to stare at her cleavage. It was difficult. It kind of drew the eye.
"I need some time off," House announced. He and Cuddy bickered for a few minutes about why House had to be in New York just because Wilson was. However it was obvious that Dr. Cuddy wasn't going to say no, merely trying to score a few points.
They agreed on a week, then House looked at me and said, "Okay, Goodwin, let's go."
"Not just yet," I said smoothly. "Dr. Cuddy, can I have a word with you in private?"
House's eyes narrowed as he thought for a few seconds, and because he wasn't stupid, he figured it out. "You want to talk about me. You think I'm a suspect? You're checking up on me?"
I ignored him and said to Cuddy, "Just a quick word."
"Of course," Cuddy said. "And congratulations, Mr. Goodwin. Even though you've only known House for a couple of days, you already realize that you always need to check up on him. House--go and find your staff. Mr. Goodwin will want to see them too. And they might even need some kind of direction from you."
House snorted, stood up and stalked out.
Cuddy vividly remembered that House had volunteered for the Saturday afternoon clinic duty shift. Clearly House volunteering for anything was a once in a lifetime occurrence. She had been in the hospital on Saturday herself--a Dean's work was never done--and was sure she had seen him, both in the clinic and around the hospital afterwards.
"But you don't need to take my word for it," she added. "We'll go check with Nurse Previn, who was working the desk in the clinic that day. Anything else you need to know, before we do that?"
"Did you know Catherine Wilson?"
"No." Cuddy shook her head. "I know Julie, and I met Bonnie once, but never Catherine."
"Julie and Bonnie being Dr. Wilson's other wives?" I asked. Just call me the Great Detective.
"That's right," Cuddy confirmed. "I don't know when Wilson was married to Catherine, but it must have been long before I met him."
"How long have you known Dr Wilson?" I was curious.
"Since I hired him here as an attending, eleven years ago," Cuddy said briskly. "First appointment I made after I became Dean. One of the best, too."
"Ah, that's a lot more complicated. Shall we go see Brenda?" Cuddy was evasive. I would have liked to have pressed, but it didn't seem justified. I suspected she and House had some sort of past. She had looked at House as if she didn't know whether to damn him or date him.
We went out and found Nurse Brenda Previn. Brenda clearly disliked House--her lip curled every time his name was mentioned--and I believed her implicitly when she said with the greatest reluctance that House had been around all that afternoon, and had certainly done his own clinic duty. She also recalled that he had gone back towards his office afterwards, and she'd seen him leave the hospital a couple of hours later. And what really clinched it was that she pointed out there would be a record on the CCTV cameras, which pointed both at the clinic station and also at the main door.
"We had those put in after House got shot," Cuddy explained.
"House got shot?" I was fed up being surprised by new information about House. Not that it was particularly surprising that someone would want to shoot House, actually. I'd been strongly tempted myself just this morning.
"A guy just walked in, shot House in his own office, and left before anyone thought to stop him." Cuddy sighed. "I'll get you the tapes for Saturday."
She walked me up to House's office first. I wasn't surprised it was next door to Wilson's; in fact, I would have been surprised if it hadn't been. The door and walls were all glass, and I wondered if this was part of Cuddy's strategy of always checking up on House. Certainly we were able to see clearly from outside that House was hard at work, playing a retro-style game on his computer. Lemmings, from the look of it. Cuddy opened the door to the adjoining conference room, also with glass walls, where three doctors in white coats were sitting waiting for us.
"Mr. Goodwin, these are House's fellows; Robert Chase, Allison Cameron and Eric Foreman," she introduced us. "Guys, this is Archie Goodwin from Nero Wolfe's office. I don't know what House has said to you, but I'm ordering you all to give Mr. Goodwin all the help you can, and tell him the truth. Mr. Goodwin, I'll go get you the tapes."
Cuddy left, and I immediately forgot about her cleavage, because sitting there in the middle was a girl who was easiest on the eye of any doctor I ever saw. In fact, she was the girl who I was going to marry. I envisaged the phone call I would have to make to Wolfe after this meeting. I'd have to explain that Jersey had more attractions than I'd realized. The commute from Princeton to the brownstone would be a drag, though. Actually, as she worked for House, and as House had to be old enough to be her father, that would kind of make House my father-in-law. This might need a bit more consideration.
The three of them were looking at me expectantly. I dragged my attention away from Cameron to take in the other two. Robert Chase, smiling; Eric Foreman, suspicious glare. I then looked back at Cameron again and smiled, and noticed out of the corner of my eye that Chase's expression changed to suspicious too.
I asked the three of them about Saturday, and the picture that emerged confirmed that House had been around all day and into the evening. As well as the notoriety of House's Saturday afternoon clinic duty, they had gotten a patient that morning, and although House had diagnosed him swiftly with vasculitis, none of the three of them had believed it, and had spent the afternoon and early evening running tests for other things. Apparently, it was never vasculitis. Except it had been, this time. They'd called it a day when the last test came back about nine PM, when all three of them had seen House in his office.
"Does he usually stay that late?" I asked. House didn't strike me as a workaholic.
"No," said Foreman. "He's outta the door at five. Earlier, if he can get away with it."
"Not when we have a patient," Cameron protested. "He might stay all night."
"Not after the patient's been diagnosed," Chase pointed out, and Cameron reluctantly agreed.
"So why'd he hang around this time?" I pressed.
"Presumably for the same reason he did the clinic duty," Chase suggested. "He was trying to get out of something else that evening. We didn't know what at the time, but I guess now we know it was the party Wilson was at."
They had seen the papers, of course, and were unanimous in their surprise and shock at Wilson's arrest. Wilson would never have murdered anybody.
"Except House sometimes, but then we could all murder House sometimes," said Foreman. "If House ever gets offed, you'll have a wide circle of suspects."
"That's not funny," Cameron said reprovingly. "You know House nearly was murdered." She looked at me. "He was shot. It was terrible. We were all right there." She paused, and added, "Thank goodness he didn't die, it would have been a terrible loss."
I was starting to sense some hero worship here. Maybe Cameron didn't just see House as a father-figure.
Chase offered another opinion. "House didn't murder this woman, he'd never let Wilson take the blame."
I thought that was a pretty convincing argument, but Cameron looked dubious and Foreman downright skeptical.
"Remember Tritter?" Foreman asked, and looking at me, explained, "Cop. Went after House. House forged prescriptions in Wilson's name, Wilson could've gone to jail. House dumped on Wilson, big-time, and never lifted a finger to help him."
"That's not true," Cameron burst out, and an argument ensued, Cameron apparently taking the line that Wilson had betrayed House somewhere along the line and it was very generous of House to have forgiven him. I couldn't follow the detail, much as I would have liked to. It transpired during the course of the conversation that Foreman had resigned from House's employ a week ago, and was currently working out his notice. Hey, somebody here had the sense to be getting out from under House after all.
The conversation ended when Cuddy appeared with CCTV tapes. We went through to House's office, where House had a TV and VCR; Cuddy stuck a tape in and we all solemnly sat and watched images of House (and Chase, Cameron, Foreman and Cuddy herself) moving around the hospital last Saturday afternoon and evening, well after the point where any of them would have had to have left to get to New York in time to kill Catherine Wilson. I thanked Cuddy for the tapes and gave her a receipt.
I said goodbye to Cuddy, Cuddy's cleavage, my future wife, and House's other staff, and left with House to go to Wilson's.
"Have fun with my staff?" House asked in the car.
"They seem like a nice bunch."
"I've got the smallest department in the hospital but it shows up damn well in the diversity stats," House said cheerfully. "Twenty-five per cent disabled, twenty-five per cent black, twenty-five per cent female, twenty-five per cent British. If I could just persuade Prince Charles to discover his inner gayness I'd hit the equal opps jackpot. Unfortunately he seems more focused on banging Cameron in the broom closet."
I was sorry to hear that about Cameron, though not surprised. I supposed marriage to her would never have worked out anyway. Actually, the thought of being attached to anyone near House was discouragement enough.
Wilson lived in a hotel. I might have vowed not to be surprised about anything with House anymore, but I could clearly still be surprised about Wilson. I wasn't surprised that House had a key to Wilson's room. I wandered around, musing on how few possessions Wilson seemed to have. There had been more personal items in his office--hell, on his desk--then there were at his home.
"So why does Wilson live in a hotel?" I asked, as House moved around, opening and shutting closets, flinging a random selection of clothes into a bag.
"You'd have to ask him that," House said shortly.
I'd hit a nerve. One of House's nerves, too. "How long has he lived in a hotel?" I altered my angle of enquiry.
"Since his third marriage ended, more than a year ago," House said, turning to open a drawer so I couldn't see his face.
"More than a year in a hotel," I mused. "Must be expensive."
"Wilson's a department head, he can afford it," House said in a tone of dismissal. "Why do you live with Wolfe, anyway? And Fritz, too?"
"Goes with the job," I said breezily. "Wolfe never leaves home, remember. And you had dinner with us last night--if you could eat Fritz's cooking at every meal, would you live anywhere else?"
I expected a smart comeback, but House didn't reply.
We were back in the Heron heading towards New York when Wolfe called me on my cell. He was hoping to hear about the emails we had found. Saul and Fred had rustled up the two troublemaking women, Tammy Marchant and Sandra Jenner. Wolfe was about to see them both, and he thought it might be useful to know the information in the emails first. When he realized I was driving, however, Wolfe backed off immediately. Wolfe thinks I put myself in mortal peril every time I step in a car. He also hates cell phones, and the idea of taking a call on a cell in a car amplified these two anxieties way beyond the sum of their parts.
"I'm on hands free!" I said, annoyed.
"You should be concentrating on the road," Wolfe said firmly.
"Mr. Wolfe," House butted in. "I'm not driving, I'm just sitting here. I could read you the emails."
The man just couldn't help sticking his nose in. I glared at House. House looked back innocently. Wolfe was silent for a few seconds, then agreed. House found the emails, spent a minute rustling pages, then started to read them out. There were seven emails in all; House started reading from the bottom of the string, so we got them in chronological order.
Sorry I haven't been in touch for a while. And yes, there's a reason I'm emailing now! I'm coming through Jersey with Scott next week on the way to Atlantic City, and I thought maybe we could detour via Princeton and say hi, perhaps meet for lunch?
Hope you're well. In other news, I'm thinking about branching out into conference event planning. It's got a lot of potential. The only trouble is there's this other woman who does the same thing, thinks I'm invading her turf. She's pretty hostile, keeps badmouthing me to potential clients. I'm hoping I don't wake up one day and find a horse's head in my bed.
Hope to see you soon,
Nice to hear from you. Interested to hear about the conference planning, must be a good line to go into, I go to so many conferences! Does this mean business is good? Sure, lunch would be fine, I'll be interested to meet Scott. BTW you remember House--he'll be coming along too.
"You should know," House interrupted his own reading to interject here, "Wilson really didn't want to meet them, but felt he should, the idiot. He couldn't face it on his own so he bribed me to come along."
"What did he bribe you with?" I said, curious.
"He did a week of my clinic duty. Afterwards I said it should have been two weeks." House paused, thinking. "He paid for lunch too, of course. Lunch for four at Cafe Spiletto, must've cost a pretty penny. Anyway..."
Yes, work is going well. Lots of bookings, keeping me busy, happy clients making personal recommendations which is always the best way. There's just one pain in the ass client at the moment, this woman who thinks I wrecked her wedding when she basically wrecked it herself. She won't stop phoning and faxing and emailing me, demanding compensation. She can go to hell, she's not getting anything out of me.
Of course I remember House, and I'm sure we'll all have a lovely lunch together. I'll call you nearer the time to arrange a time and place. Looking forward to seeing you!
"Lovely lunch my ass. It sucked big time," House pronounced. "Awkward as hell. Conversation impossible. Boyfriend was an idiot. I'd have left in a heartbeat but Wilson struggled through, being a sucker for punishment." A thought occurred, and he tapped the sheaf of papers on the dashboard for emphasis. "I tell a lie. It was a lovely lunch, in that the food was fan-tas-tic." He smacked his lips together. "I had the foie gras and the lobster. And we had this very nice bottle of Bordeaux which I pretty much drank on my own. Cath and Scott couldn't have much of it because they were driving, and Wilson didn't have much of it because he had a patient or something that afternoon. I don't know, scheduling patients after lunch, he should know better."
I mused that Wilson really had had to bribe House with that lunch.
We now had the references to both the trouble-making women which Wolfe had wanted, which was good. Actual documentary evidence of other suspects. There were still a few more emails in the string, so House continued reading.
It was very nice to see you the other day and to meet Scott. Sorry House was being a bastard, but you know what he's like. Anyway I hope you enjoy the rest of your trip.
I looked at House to see what his reaction was to that one. He had a satisfied smirk on his face.
I just got the invitation to your engagement party, congratulations! I don't think I'll be able to come unfortunately, but sure I'm it will be a great event.
Say hi to Scott from me. All the best!
"He showed me the invite," House remembered. "Very fancy, heavy cream card and calligraphy. I said, I hope you don't expect me to come to that, it'll cost you the rest of the year in clinic duty. He laughed and said even he drew the line at that." House sighed and looked down for the next email.
PLEASE come, I really want you to be there, I know it might seem a bit weird but it would be great to feel I kind of had your approval. It's like a whole new start for me, and I'd be so happy to see you there.
I'm sorry, I didn't realize it was so important to you. Of course I'll come. I'll be leaving House at home this time, I imagine that will come as a relief to you!
"Idiot couldn't say no," House said shortly. "Damsel in distress needs him, he has to go try to help. Story of his life."
Wolfe thanked House for reading the emails, said rather curtly that he hoped I still had my full attention on the road, and hung up.
As we approached the city half an hour later, I noticed that House appeared to be increasingly uncomfortable. He started to shift around in his seat, moving his bum leg around. I asked if he was okay. It was a mistake.
"Of course I'm okay," House snarled. "I'm a cripple who's been cramped in this stupid car for a pointless hundred mile round trip."
I dropped House at his hotel. "Tell Wilson I'll see him tomorrow," House muttered as he clambered out of the car. I watched him climb the few steps up to the hotel door, leaning heavily on his cane; it looked like it was a big effort for him.
I got home to find Wilson playing pool in the basement with Fritz. They looked like they were having fun, but Fritz had to go prepare dinner, so I offered to finish the game. Wilson wasn't bad. I beat him with no problem, but it was a good game.
"I'm rusty," he said afterwards. "House and I used to play a lot, years ago...his leg means he can't really stand steady enough to line up the shots properly any more." He smiled self-consciously. "These days we play foosball instead."
"What happened to his leg?" I was curious. "He hasn't always been crippled?"
"Oh, no. God no." Wilson put the cue down and leaned against a bookcase. "He had an infarction--a blood clot in his thigh--about eight years ago. It wasn't diagnosed for three days, until he figured it out himself, and he suffered muscle cell death in the meantime. It's left him in chronic pain. As you might have noticed." Wilson sighed. "Before that he used to do everything. He played lacrosse, he played golf, he ran, he swam, he skated, anything he tried he was good at." He looked at me. "Where'd he go, anyway? Back to his hotel?"
"Yeah," I said. "He said he'd see you tomorrow. It looked like his leg was playing up a bit. I guess he wanted to rest."
Mistake. Wilson stiffened and looked sharply at me. "What do you mean, playing up a bit?"
I tried to describe how House had looked. I played it down as far as I could, but could see I wasn't fooling Wilson. He asked a few questions and then went quiet. A minute later he excused himself to go back to his room.
Twenty-four hours earlier I wouldn't have thought anything of it, but I had a pretty good handle now on House and Wilson and what made them tick. Wilson wasn't an obvious psycho like House, but they had a lot more in common than appeared at first glance. I went and lurked in the hallway, out of sight behind the coat stand, and a few minutes later Wilson came creeping down the stairs, wearing his overcoat. Wilson glanced around, then walked swiftly towards the front door.
I stepped out to intercept him. "Whoa there, sonny Jim. You're not leaving this house. The police will arrest you and fling your ass in jail if they catch you." Wilson stepped sideways; I stepped with him, grabbed his lapel, and propelled him backwards a few paces. "And if you end up back in jail, Mr. Wolfe will not be happy, and House might actually kill me."
"I've got to see House." Wilson was adamant. "His leg has gone into spasm. He'll be in agony. He's on his own in a crappy hotel room, miles from home, away from the hospital."
"He's got his pills, hasn't he? Won't they have kicked in by now?"
"Archie, you don't understand." Wilson was vehement. "The Vicodin keeps him functioning, but sometimes they're not enough." Wilson caught my eye and held my gaze.
I caved. It was that or lock Wilson in his room. And bastard that he was, I didn't like the idea of House suffering on his own either. I told Wilson firmly that I was coming too and we were going out the back way. I gave Herb Aronson a call, and got him to meet us in his cab at the back of the brownstone in five minutes. On the way to the hotel I called Wolfe on my cell and explained briefly where I was and what had happened. Wolfe, grumpy at being disturbed in the plant rooms, merely grunted.
We arrived at House's hotel room. As the previous occupant, Wilson still had his own key card, and it still worked. Wilson knocked on the door in a perfunctory manner, and let himself in without waiting for an answer.
House was lying in bed, body hunched up, his face covered in sweat. His voice when he spoke, though, had lost none of its acid. "What the fuck? --Wilson, what the hell are you doing here?"
Wilson ignored the question and went over to House. I lingered by the door. Wilson didn't touch House, just stood a foot or so away, looking down at him.
"Looks like you need a session with Ingrid," Wilson said, his voice deliberately light.
"Yeah, she's only in the next state. Call her, will you, get her to drive fifty miles." House had shut his eyes. His breathing was ragged. "I can ride this out."
Wilson pinched the bridge of his nose, then turned and walked back towards me. He nodded at the door, and we both stepped out into the corridor. I flipped the lock on the door so it closed but didn't lock. Wilson pushed it shut behind him.
"Archie, do me a favor, take a walk. Go sit in the bar for half an hour," he said quietly.
"No way." I didn't want to let Wilson out of my sight.
"Archie, House is in really--bad--pain." Wilson spoke with emphasis. "He's obviously taken all the Vicodin he dares--which is way too much anyway--and he'd probably take more than that if he was at home. But he's not at home, he's here in New York because of me, and he's not risking overdosing while he's out here. And there's nothing I can do, except try and get him to let me massage his leg. And he hates that, and he's sure as hell not going to allow it while you're around. Please, Archie."
I caved again. "Twenty minutes," I said. Wilson looked grateful. "I'll be right outside."
Wilson went back into the room. I stood outside for a few minutes, then figured the odds on Wilson absconding out the fire escape were low, as House would not be going with him in that state. I walked down to the hotel bar and ordered a glass of milk. No sooner had I taken a sip then my cell rang. It was Wolfe.
"Lieutenant Rowcliff was here looking for Dr. Wilson," Wolfe said. He sounded furious. "Fritz denied him entry. Rowcliff was verbally abusive and shouted through the door. He suspects Dr. Wilson is not in the brownstone. He knows Dr. Wilson has a friend in New York, who stood bail, and it will take only one phone call for him to find out who Dr. House is and where he is staying."
"I'm on my way." I was already half way up to House's room. There was a police siren in the distance, getting louder and louder. It stopped right outside the hotel. I flipped my cell shut and ran the rest of the way.
"We have to go--" I burst in the door and stopped a couple of feet into the room, taken aback. House was sitting up on the bed, he wasn't wearing his pants, and there was a huge, ugly gash running the length of his right thigh. The scar was enormous and black, and deep. I looked at House's leg, and I couldn't imagine how he could even walk, let alone do anything else.
Wilson, sitting next to the bed, raised his head and glared at me. House, apparently past caring too much, didn't react.
"Wilson, we have to go right now," I said, trying not to look like I had been staring at House's leg. "Lieutenant Rowcliff is looking for you, there's a police car right outside and they'll be up here any minute."
Wilson hesitated. House rasped, "For fuck's sake, go, Wilson. Do you want to end up in jail again? And you are not losing me that bail money."
Wilson stood up reluctantly.
"I'll handle Rowcliff," House said, reaching for his pants as I opened the door to leave.
"Get him stuttering," I advised over my shoulder.
I raced towards the back stairs and Wilson followed. We were just in time. I heard the elevator ping behind us as it arrived on our floor just as we entered the stairwell.
Back in Herb's cab, heading back to the brownstone, Wilson said abruptly, "Archie, is it possible that House could come and stay at Mr. Wolfe's house? You've got another guest room, haven't you?"
I was reluctant to land Wolfe with a second houseguest, having never actually asked before taking in the first one. "Talk to Wolfe."
We arrived back at the brownstone, came in the back way, and found Wolfe in the office. Wilson came and sat in the red chair, and apologized for the trouble he'd caused. He then pitched his request for House to stay.
"We can get a doctor to see Dr. House," Wolfe said, seeking another solution. "Any medication he might need prescribed--Dr. Vollmer could--"
Wilson sighed. "I'm a doctor. House is a doctor. Mr. Wolfe, House is a self-confessed drug addict. He's addicted to Vicodin, and no other medical professional would prescribe the amount that I do, not without knowledge of House's medical history. And anyway, right now even the Vicodin isn't enough, nothing short of morphine would help, and even House knows that's really not a good idea."
Wolfe was seeking to understand. "Drug addict is a strong statement. I can see he could be dependent on the Vicodin to function. But addicted?"
"House is both chemically dependent and addicted," Wilson stated unequivocally. "Part of the problem is that he has an addictive personality, he's a thrill-seeker--never afraid to experiment, always after new highs, and he'll lie and cheat to get what he wants. But he also has good reason for it--he's missing most of the thigh muscle in that leg, and he suffers from chronic pain. No medication can wholly relieve chronic pain, it can only manage it. House has tried many medications and only opiods have ever made a difference to him."
"There must be other options open to him, apart from medication?" Wolfe queried.
"Rehab? He's tried it. Kind of. When it was that or jail. I've seen him detox a few times--once in a managed way in rehab, a couple of times cold turkey--it's not a pretty sight, and fundamentally he doesn't want to do it enough." Wilson ticked off on his fingers. "Experimental treatments? --House is first in line, he once faked brain cancer to try and enter an experimental trial. Physical therapy? It got him out of a wheelchair and walking again in the first place, it doesn't help now with the pain. Massage, heat treatment, that can help a bit, but he's out of his comfort zone here. I know you only met him yesterday but you can see what he's like. He's terribly proud, very independent, has to be practically at death's door before he asks for help from anyone, including me. Especially me. He won't accept pity, or what he perceives as pity; he once catheterized himself rather than get me or any other doctor to do it. He's never comfortable in hotels, certainly not in the one he's in at the moment, the bed there is really not providing enough support."
Once he was sure that he understood the situation, Wolfe swiftly came to a decision.
"Dr. Wilson, I will be honored if Dr. House comes to stay in this house while he is in New York." Wilson looked relieved. Wolfe looked at me. "Archie, please ask Fritz to air the North Room and then go and fetch Dr. House. You are not going too, Dr. Wilson," Wolfe added sternly. "I think it very likely that the police will return to check your whereabouts, having failed to see you this afternoon."
I went to get House. At least this time, on my own, I was able to walk down the front steps and get in a cab openly. I found House in his hotel room, fully dressed, on his feet, apparently trying to walk off the pain. Although he was evidently suffering, he was actually chipper after his encounter with Rowcliff. House had picked up on my tip and managed to get Rowcliff stuttering within a minute or two of bursting into the room; very satisfactory, as Wolfe would have said.
I'd wondered if House might be too pig-headed to come back to the brownstone with me, but instead he graciously accepted the invitation, remarking that the hotel mattress was the worst he'd ever tried to sleep on, and that included the camping mat he'd had as a kid and the bed in the room of a seriously cheap hooker in Shanghai. He didn't have a lot of stuff to pack, fortunately, just one small knapsack. We were soon ready to go and House checked out of the hotel.
By the time the cab pulled up outside the brownstone I was afraid that I'd have to carry him. Not that House would have allowed such a thing while he was still conscious. He got out of the cab and headed up the seven steps with a look of grim determination. I could see the muscles in his hand and arm bulging and flexing, as he leaned almost all his weight on the cane. There was no point offering to help, although I did pick up his bag and he pretended not to notice. I went up ahead of him to open the door, and then down again to the street to pay off the cab. I headed quickly back up the steps, and paused on the top of the stoop. I looked into the brownstone through the front door.
House was in the hallway swaying heavily on his feet, and I realized he'd been waiting for me to get out of sight before he'd let himself show this sign of mortality. For a second I thought he was going to fall, but then Wilson was there, grabbing his arm, and House actually let him take it. He must have been bad. Wilson led House to the elevator, and they went on up to the North Room.
I came back inside the brownstone and shut the front door behind me. I then spotted Wolfe, standing in the office, peering into the hall. He'd seen the same as I had.
"It beggars belief in this day and age that a man, a medical doctor, can be in such pain," Wolfe expounded. "It seems ludicrous that modern medicine can be so inadequate."
Chapter 5: Wolfe's Home for New Jersey Waifs and Strays
We didn't see House the rest of the evening. Wilson came down a short while later and said that House was resting and didn't want any dinner. Wolfe was offended at this idea, of course, and insisted that a tray of the devilled grilled lamb kidneys was sent up. Wilson ate with us, ate well and made polite conversation, congratulating Fritz on the sauce and commenting favorably on the Tabasco, which pleased Fritz no end. But Wilson was also clearly distracted, and he excused himself straight afterwards to go check on House.
After dinner I reported on my trip to Princeton Plainsboro. I related my interviews with Cuddy, Brenda and House's staff, and we had a look at the CCTV videos. "Satisfactory," was Wolfe's verdict.
Wolfe told me about the visits from the jealous conference planner, Sandra Jenner, and the woman who had her wedding spoiled, Tammy Marchant. Both in his view were promising suspects. As Cath's emails had shown, they certainly had motives. Sandra Jenner ran a small business organizing corporate events such as conferences, and her opinion, vociferously expressed to Wolfe, had been that Cath Wilson had no business trying to move into her area and should stick to weddings and birthday parties. Tammy Marchant had spent her entire life planning her own perfect wedding, and spouted a long list of what had gone wrong and ruined it: she had been eager to go into detail and tell Wolfe exactly what Cath had done wrong. Most of it sounded pretty minor to me, but hey, what did I know?
They also had opportunity. Both admitted having been up to Cath's apartment that evening. They'd arrived at the same time and been shown up together by the waitress. Tammy had gone in to see Cath in the kitchen first. Sandra had seen Tammy leave the kitchen before going in herself, but there was nothing to have stopped Tammy having hidden elsewhere in the apartment (the bathroom was nearby) and going in to stab Cath after Sandra had left. Equally, if Tammy had simply left the apartment right away, there was nothing to have stopped Sandra from going in the kitchen and stabbing Cath during their conversation. Sandra's opportunity was better, but Tammy was left-handed.
"The killer was left-handed?" I hadn't heard this before.
"It is not clear cut, but the police pathologist is 75% sure that the fatal blow was struck with the left hand." Wolfe sounded disgusted. "Fred saw the report this morning."
I thought back to the dinner we'd just had. Wilson had eaten enough meals with us now that Fritz had started to put the knife on the other side of his place setting. "Wilson's left-handed." I stated the obvious.
"Indeed." Wolfe was brusque.
At that moment the doorbell rang. I went to look through the one-way glass, and there was the familiar figure of Inspector Cramer, cigar clamped in his jaw as usual. I opened the door and greeted him, but he wasn't in the mood to respond; he walked right past me into the office to confront Wolfe across his desk.
Wolfe looked at Cramer without enthusiasm. "Good evening, Inspector."
"Nuts." Cramer waved an arm. "Your man Goodwin here led Rowcliff on a snipe hunt earlier. Rowcliff's mad as hell. He doesn't believe James Wilson is staying here any more. He wants to revoke Wilson's bail, and he also wants a warrant to search this house. You got me instead, one chance to make good. Make the most of it."
"Archie." Wolfe turned his eyes on me. "Please would you be so kind as to fetch Dr. Wilson."
I found Wilson in the South Room, sitting on his bed and reading a medical journal. "Come on sunshine, the fuzz are here to see you."
He looked alarmed. "Do I have to see them?"
"They have to see you. Or they won't believe you're here, and House will lose his bail money. Don't worry, it's not Rowcliff," I assured him. "It's Inspector Cramer, who is at least half-human."
We went downstairs. Wilson sidled into the office and Cramer stared at him.
"Okay, you're still here," he said ungraciously. "But you weren't earlier. What the hell happened?"
"Dr. Wilson, as my client, I would advise that you are under no obligation to talk to the police at the moment," Wolfe put in. Wilson nodded and didn't say anything.
Cramer snorted and threw up his hands. "Fine. Have it your way. I'll tell you for free though, that if Rowcliff ever gets his hands on your friend Dr. House, I won't be responsible for the consequences."
"I'm sure that Dr. House is more than a match for Lieutenant Rowcliff," Wolfe said disdainfully. "Have you quite finished, Inspector?"
"One question." Cramer took the cigar out of his mouth and studied it. "Has Dr. House gone back to Princeton? I dropped by his hotel to see if Wilson was there before I came here, but he'd checked out."
"I don't see that the whereabouts of Dr. House is any of your business, Inspector," Wolfe said politely. "But I will tell you. Dr. House is staying here in this house, and will do so for the duration of this case."
Cramer stared at Wolfe and laughed incredulously. "I don't believe it. What is this, Wolfe's home for New Jersey waifs and strays? I know you've had a few clients as houseguests over the years--a few murderers, too--but since when do you start taking in their friends? All that disruption to your precious routines!"
"Mr. Cramer." Wolfe stood up regally. "Dr. Wilson and Dr. House are guests under my roof until I solve the murder of Catherine Wilson. Which I intend to do as soon as possible. Good evening."
Cramer stared at Wolfe for another moment, then shrugged, and walked out. I followed him out to the hallway but he didn't stop to talk to me, just left, banging the door behind him. I slid the chain bolt shut and went into the office. Wolfe was still on his feet, hands on hips.
"Archie. Have Saul and Fred here first thing tomorrow."
Of course after what Wolfe had just said to Cramer, we were stuck with our two houseguests until he solved the case. That made it urgent. Wolfe really had an incentive to solve this case now; I wasn't sorry.
The following morning, the kitchen was positively crowded with both Wilson and House eating with Fritz and me. House was clearly much better, being loud and demanding, feasting on the poached eggs Burgundian, and occasionally swiping griddle cakes off Wilson's plate.
Wilson went up to his room after breakfast, having lined up some work that he could do from the brownstone. He had borrowed an old laptop of mine which didn't have internet access, but which he could do paperwork on using his memory stick. He'd scheduled a telephone consultation on a patient for mid-morning, and also had a large number of medical journal articles to read, which he had downloaded using my computer and printed out the previous day.
House, in contrast, showed no signs of wanting to work at all, and every sign of interfering with my work instead. He was hanging around the office when Saul and Fred arrived for instructions.
"House, you do know you're not confined to here, like Wilson," I said, pointedly. "You can go out and sightsee. Go walk round Central Park or take in a show or something."
"I'll just sit in a corner and listen," House said innocently.
I thought Wolfe might eject House when he came in, but although Wolfe raised an eyebrow he didn't say anything. He said good morning to Saul and Fred, and we updated each other on events. It was obvious that there was one person we hadn't seen yet that we should; the fiancé, Scott Darby. Saul and Fred had tried to find him without success yesterday. He hadn't been in his apartment. They'd tried his workplace--he worked for a wine merchant--and learned he'd been given compassionate leave for a few days. A co-worker of his had seen him briefly, and told Saul that there was no way Scott would talk to detectives.
"Bring him," Wolfe proclaimed, glancing up at the clock; it was time for the morning session in the plant rooms. "I would like to see him today, at eleven if possible."
Wolfe went off to the plant rooms. I started to plan how to approach Scott with Saul and Fred, and wouldn't you know it, House piped up. "Scott might not see you, but he'll see me."
I looked at him. "What makes you think you'd have better luck than us? Scott hated your guts, didn't you say? And he thinks Wilson killed Cath."
"Yeah. He'd still see me." House was confident. "He'd want to gloat about Wilson. He's also the type who wouldn't think he had anything to fear from a cripple."
I could believe people might fall into that trap. Saul had no objection, so we ended up taking House with us after all. It didn't seem to need all of us (I figured I could handle House and Saul could handle Scott) so Fred went off to gather more information on the party attendees instead. Wolfe had decided that we needed a complete list of guests, and also a steer on which ones we might want to focus on, as there would be far too many for us to see in all.
We arrived at Scott's apartment, which had an intercom at the front door. House stabbed the buzzer without hesitation.
"Hello?" a suspicious voice came crackling through.
"Scott? It's Greg House."
"House? Wilson's friend?" Scott sounded incredulous. "What the fuck are you doing here?"
"I need to see you. Wilson's been arrested. The cops are all bastards who won't tell me anything." House's tone was bitter. "I want to know what the hell happened."
"I bet you do." There was a click as the door unlocked. House favored Saul and myself with a revoltingly smug smile, and pushed it open.
As we waited for the elevator, House said, "As I'm doing your job for you, I expect to see a reduction on Wilson's bill from Wolfe. No, actually, I'll take a cut."
Scott Darby lived on the fifth floor. House knocked on the door, and when it opened he placed the tip of his cane inside immediately and stepped in rapidly, before Scott could see he wasn't alone.
A tall, broad-shouldered man with a shock of corn-colored hair stood gaping in surprise. "What the hell?" he demanded, as Saul and myself shouldered our way in behind.
"They're detectives," House said, with a wave. "They work for Nero Wolfe. Wolfe is working for Wilson. They want you to come and talk to Wolfe."
"Like hell I will." Scott was outraged. "Wilson killed Cath, the fucker. I'm not doing anything to help him."
House said deliberately, "If you don't come with us, Scott, then our next stop will be that wine company you work for, where I'll be telling your boss about the fourteen crates of champagne that ended up in your garage instead of at the bottom of the drink, like you told him. Damn shame, Scott, I'd hoped you'd be a bit more co-operative."
"You bastard blackmailer." Scott stared at House in disbelief. "You remember me talking about that? From that lunch in Princeton?"
"Oh, you were only too happy to brag about it then, weren't you?" House mocked. "Anyway, why do you care about seeing Wolfe? What've you got to be afraid of, if you're so sure that Wilson did it?"
"Fine." Scott went to a hat stand and snatched a jacket. "Let's get this over with."
Saul grinned at me. Neither of us had said a word. House was doing our job for us.
We arrived at the brownstone at eleven, just after Wolfe was down from the plant rooms. I seated Scott in the red leather chair and House sat unobtrusively in a corner at the back of the office.
"I'm here under duress," Scott immediately informed Wolfe. "James Wilson killed Cath and I hope he hangs for it."
"Noted," Wolfe said dryly. "As you're here, perhaps you could expand on how you came to be convinced of this. But first, please could you tell us about your relationship with Catherine Wilson, starting with when you met."
Once he got started, Scott actually seemed eager to talk. "We met two years ago. You know I'm a wine merchant--Cath was a customer of ours. We like event planners, they order a lot of wine. Anyway I got her account, and I fell for her right when I met her. I asked her out, we got along really well, we started dating seriously. Couldn't believe she hadn't been snapped up long ago--she was so pretty, smart too. She used to say she had a knack for dating men who turned out to be cheaters, starting with her goddamn ex-husband, of course--but I'd never have done that. Once I had her, I knew I'd never want anyone else." Scott's voice cracked a little. "I'd have done anything for her."
"And you got engaged," Wolfe prompted him.
"I proposed on the second anniversary of our first date. We went back to the same restaurant, I did the bended knee thing, she was happy. I was too." Scott stared at the floor.
Wolfe moved the conversation on to the engagement party. He asked Scott some questions about the layout of Cath's apartment, both the downstairs entertainment area and the upstairs private area. Scott confirmed there were only two ways upstairs, via the front stairs which the waitress had been guarding, and the back stairs which would have been locked.
"Do you know for a fact that the back door was locked?" Wolfe asked.
Scott considered for a moment. "The cops asked the same and I'll tell you what I told them. It should have been locked, and I don't know any reason why it wouldn't have been locked. Cath usually checked the door before an event downstairs, to make sure nobody could go wandering up, and I guess she'd have done the same then. But I didn't use the back door myself that evening, so I didn't actually see if it was locked myself."
"How many keys are there to that door and who keeps them?"
"Again, like I told the cops. Three. Cath had one, I had one, and the building super had one." Scott shrugged. "I know Cath's key was on her key ring in her purse, and I've still got mine. Building super came up once in a blue moon, hadn't seen him in months. I'd be amazed if his key wasn't just sitting with all the rest in his room."
Wolfe moved the subject on. "Perhaps you could tell us about your contact with James Wilson."
Scott took a deep breath and scowled. "I guess it all started to go to shit when we took that trip to Princeton. I didn't want to go, Christ, meet her ex-husband from twenty years ago, what was the fucking point? But she was eager, and I went along with it. Goddamn nightmare it was too, hours of polite and not-so-polite conversation with fucking James Wilson and that bastard House." Scott was deliberately ignoring House's presence in the room. Scott looked at Wolfe and waved a finger in the air. "I'll tell you, when I walked in that restaurant and saw them waiting for us, I thought great, that's all we need, a pair of fucking faggots."
I couldn't help but look at House to see his reaction to this. He looked completely impassive apart from a slightly raised eyebrow.
"But then I realized I was wrong," Scott continued. "Because I found out why James had brought House along. It was so House could talk to me, keep me occupied, while James talked to Cath. Him and Cath, chatting merrily away while House needled the hell out of me all through lunch... Afterwards I said to Cath, 'James was hitting on you.' And she said, 'no he's not, he's just nice, he's being friendly.' 'Friendly my ass,' I said. When I saw his name on the guest list I went ballistic." He threw up his hands. "I should've put my foot down. Should've said he's coming over my dead body." Scott realized what he'd said and colored slightly. "Anyway, she said she wanted him to come, felt it would be nice, give her closure... 'how much closure d'ya need after twenty years?' I said. Then I thought he probably wouldn't dare to come anyway, so I said fine, invite him. But I was wrong. The fucker showed." Scott shook his head.
House no longer looked impassive, he was now biting his lip as if he was itching to say something but was prevented from doing so by Wolfe's steely glare from across the room.
"'Course he says now it was advice on getting pregnant she was after," Scott carried on. "It's true Cath wanted kids, and it was taking a while, but I kept saying, give it time. It had fuck all to do with James Wilson. Like he's an expert. He's a cancer doctor, for Christ's sake. Doesn't even have kids himself--married three times and closest he's got is a dog. And he came all the way from Jersey to our engagement party--he was trying to get into her pants. No other reason."
House was apparently trying to burn holes in Scott's back with his eyes.
Wolfe asked some questions about Scott's own movements at the party. Scott had been circulating, talked to a lot of people, he'd related all this to the cops in detail. He hadn't seen either Sandra Jenner or Tammy Marchant, although he was aware of them and their disputes with Cath. He'd been mid-conversation with someone when the shout had gone up through the room. Was there a doctor in the house? It took Scott a moment to realize the problem was upstairs, and as soon as he realized, he bounded up the stairs and through to the kitchen.
"My Cath on the floor, all limp and still, and this... knife sticking right out of her... This other man, the doctor, pressing her chest... And there he was too, James fucking Wilson, all covered in blood. I knew he'd done it. Maybe he tried to jump her in the kitchen, she resisted, he wouldn't take no for an answer. Wouldn't surprise me at all."
This was too much for House, now on his feet and next to Scott's chair. House shook a menacing cane in Scott's face. "Wilson gave her CPR, he was trying to save her for Christ's sake!"
"Your friend," Scott said, with conviction, "is a goddamn cheating lying murdering bastard who deserves everything he's got coming to him--"
And House lunged at Scott, who ducked and avoided him. Scott straightened up, jumped to his feet, and threw his own punch--a good one, though off-centre, catching House on the ear and making House stumble. Then Saul had Scott by the arms, pinning them to his sides, and I had House by one arm. Before I could grab the other, House turned with rage flashing in his eyes, leaned hard on his cane with one hand and threw a punch at me with the other. I dodged, delighted that someone had answered my prayers; I finally had an excuse to hit him. I made it soft, clipping him lightly on the jaw, just enough to topple him, not enough to actually hurt him. House sat on the floor and stared up at me, his bright blue eyes nearly popping out of his head with indignation.
Wolfe was actually on his feet. "Confound it, I will not have this ruckus in my office! Archie, get Dr. House out of here. Mr. Darby, kindly sit down and be quiet."
I grabbed House's cane, and hauled him unceremoniously to his feet and out to the front room. He dropped into an armchair and glared at me.
"Hit a cripple, why don't you," he said eventually.
"Half a chance and I'll do it again," I said brightly. "Now are you going to stay here and be quiet or do I have to knock you out?"
But then there came the sound of footsteps in the hall; Scott leaving in a huff. House and myself rejoined Wolfe, Saul and Fred in the office. House sat in a corner, actually seemingly subdued, although I wasn't taking that for granted.
"You noticed?" Wolfe asked as I sat at my desk.
I leaned back in my chair. "Scott threw the punch with his left hand. He might not be left-handed, but he's ambidextrous enough to have stabbed someone with his left hand."
House actually looked impressed. I suspected that didn't happen often.
"Guess we should be grateful to Dr. House for throwing the first punch," Saul said, straight-faced. I glared at him.
"Happy to help," House growled.
We moved to discuss the big picture. Wolfe was decisive about our strategy.
"We will proceed on the assumption that apart from Dr. Wilson, only Ms. Jenner and Mrs. Marchant had access to Catherine Wilson's flat through the front staircase, and only Mr. Darby could have had access via the back staircase. All else is futile. If the back staircase was in fact unlocked, then the police have a much better chance of uncovering this than we do. They doubtless have a dozen men interviewing all the party attendees right now, reconstructing who was where and when. We will focus on the three who we know had access. We need to know more, much more about all of them."
The rest of the day was grunt work, and the only good thing about it was that once House figured out it was grunt work, he showed no more interest in tagging along. He went off to interfere with the work that Wilson was trying to do.
We found out a lot. For example, Sandra Jenner's conference planning business was going through a rough patch, she was living off a large loan and depending on a few big jobs to come through to stay afloat. Tammy Marchant had screamed, 'Die Bitch,' at Cath over the phone (as overheard by a secretary) a couple of days before the engagement party. And Scott Darby hadn't remembered to declare all his income to the IRS a couple of years ago, and had gotten into trouble over it. But we didn't learn anything that advanced our knowledge of what had happened the night Cath Wilson was murdered.
Saul, Fred and I reconvened with Wolfe in the evening before dinner, and decided we needed to know more about Cath Wilson. Wolfe asked if there was anyone else at the party who was a genuine friend of Cath's, as opposed to an acquaintance from the event planning business. Fred had a new list of party attendees which he had obtained from the catering company. This one was a complete list not only of who was coming, but also those who had been invited and not able to come; their names were on the list, crossed out.
At Wolfe's suggestion I went to find Wilson to get him to come look at the list, on the off chance he might be able to tell us anything about anyone on it. I found him in the South Room, sitting in an armchair, reading a medical journal, brows furrowed in concentration. House was there too, sprawled across the bed, reading one of Wolfe's books. I had a look at the title; it was about Egypt.
"I didn't know any of Cath's friends," Wilson protested, when I asked him to come see the list, but he followed me downstairs, and House was sufficiently interested, or perhaps sufficiently bored, to haul himself up and come along too. I followed the two of them as they walked into the office together, and noticed they walked in perfect unison, Wilson's stride somehow matching House's lolloping gait.
Wilson sat in the red leather chair, House on the yellow one next to him. Wilson ran a finger down the list of names. Suddenly he stopped and smiled. "Actually I do know one person on this list, but her name's crossed out, she wasn't actually at the party. Are you still interested?"
"Yes," Wolfe said emphatically.
"Eloise Pickering. House knows her too," Wilson said, and there was a mischievous edge to his voice.
House looked surprised. "I didn't know any of Cath's friends."
"Oh, you knew this one," Wilson said, with certainty, and grinned. "In the biblical sense."
Now House looked startled. Wilson looked at Wolfe, dropped his eyes and then looked at me. "Eloise is—was--Cath's oldest bestest friend, they knew each other since they were knee-high. When Cath and I got married, Ellie was the maid of honor."
I saw a look of slowly dawning comprehension on House's face. "Her?"
Wilson settled back in the red chair and continued with obvious relish, "House was my best man, and he faithfully fulfilled all the duties of a best man, and he did it all really well. He made a speech, which wasn't quite as risqué as he hinted it would be. He organized the bachelor party, and didn't get me tarred and feathered like he threatened to. He kept the ring and didn't lose it, although he tried to convince me that he had. And to cap it all, he also screwed the chief bridesmaid at the reception." Wilson blushed faintly as he spoke. "Pardon my French."
"She had great breasts and she made sure I noticed," House said, apparently feeling the need to justify himself. "Followed me round all day, ambushing me with breasts whenever I turned around."
"Have either of you seen her since?" Wolfe enquired.
"Never saw her before the wedding and haven't seen her since." House was firm.
"Not since Cath and I got divorced, no. I've no idea where she lives now." Wilson raised his hands in a helpless gesture. "She could be near her family still, they lived out west."
"Saul, you will find Eloise Pickering." Wolfe looked at the clock. It was time for dinner. "Tomorrow."
I knew Wolfe had asked Saul to do this because this one might involve travel, and Wolfe hates me going too far away from home. Heck, he might actually need me for something and I wouldn't be there. I was sorry that I probably wouldn't get to see Eloise.
We had sausage with ten herbs for dinner, and Wilson amused Fritz by trying to guess all the herbs. House and Wolfe conversed animatedly about Egypt; Wolfe had a house there, of course, and it turned out to be another country that House had lived in as a child.
I had a date with Lily Rowan that evening at the Flamingo; I'd warned her we were on a case and I might not be able to make it, but in fact we'd reached a convenient stopping point and there didn't seem to be much more to be done tonight. So I called her and said we were on.
"Archie, your case, it's the woman killed at her engagement party, isn't it?" Lily asked. "Is your client the ex-husband?"
I confirmed this was so, and she then insisted on coming by the brownstone in a cab, as she had seen a photograph of Dr. Wilson in the Gazette and been intrigued enough to want to meet him. She thought he looked terribly cute, but sad. Or something. I told House and Wilson about my dancing partner, and they were sufficiently interested to want to meet her too. "Nice to have some female company in this house of men," House said darkly. We all had a drink in the front room, so as not to disturb Wolfe in the office.
Lily sashayed into the room in a red dress, that was possibly cut a little lower and fitted a little tighter than might have been necessary, and I was amused to see House's eyes and Wilson's eyes move in perfect harmony as they followed her ass across the room. I did the introductions, then House stuck his oar in.
"The Flamingo must be a sleazier joint than I realized," he said, eyeing Lily in the dress.
I was ready to be outraged but Lily took House in her stride. She looked right back at him and said, "Absolutely. You should come along, Dr. House, I'm sure you'd fit right in."
That made the corner of House's mouth twitch, and Wilson let out a small snort of laughter.
"My dancing days ended some time ago," House said, gesturing towards the cane which was propped up against his armchair.
"Damn shame." Lily wasn't about to be embarrassed. "What about you, Dr. Wilson? Do you dance?"
"I haven't for a while," he said, smiling. "And I'm not really in a position to now."
"Wilson's confined to barracks," House put in. "What with being accused of murder 'n'all."
Lily let out a mock sigh and said to me, "A cripple and a murder suspect. Archie, next time you go looking for dance partners for me you have to do better than this."
Lily stayed about half an hour, charming the pants off both House and Wilson, and by the time we left I could see they were both smitten with her.
As we were leaving, House remarked to me casually, "Shame you're going out, Goodwin, you'll miss the poker game."
"What poker game?" I asked suspiciously.
It transpired that Saul and Fred had arranged to play House and Wilson later on, and as Wilson couldn't leave the brownstone, they were coming to have a game down in Fritz's den. I was mildly pissed that nobody had told me, but told House that the Flamingo was calling, and left.
It was a good evening but I came home a bit earlier than I might have done otherwise, as I wanted to see House play poker if I could. I got back just in time to see the end of the game. Saul told me later how it had all panned out. Saul had never heard so much off-putting crap coming out of anyone's mouth as came from House at the poker table. Fred couldn't cope with it, bled chips rapidly and left the game. Wilson could cope with House, and Saul reckoned that Wilson could call House's bluff better than Saul thought possible for anyone to do. But Wilson went all in against Saul, who bluffed him big-time.
That left House and Saul, and they were facing off when I arrived, with Wilson and Fred watching, riveted. House had a cigar in his mouth and was puffing vigorously; Saul looked as cool as a cucumber. It was Saul who came out on top in the end, though it was close. They both finished up with a full house; Saul just edging House out.
"Good game," Saul said handsomely to House, as myself, Fred and Wilson applauded Saul.
House sat back and breathed out a smoke ring. "Durkin, if you're ever in Princeton on a Thursday evening, come and join my poker night."
Fred looked startled; Saul surprised, but amused.
"Don't take it personally," Wilson said to Saul, smiling. "I'm not in that sacred circle."
House rolled his eyes with a not this again expression, then glanced at Wilson. Wilson caught his eye, and then I saw House smile too. I hadn't seen much of that before. A scowl was pretty much House's default expression. But this was a large, genuine smile, the sun shining out from behind his blue eyes. The two of them locked eyeballs for no more than a few seconds, though the intensity of the exchange blindsided me for a few more.
Fred left, saying he had to get back or Mrs. Durkin would lock him out for the night. Wilson excused himself gracefully to go up to bed. I lingered a few minutes watching Saul and House smoke and discuss cards, then headed upstairs myself.
Chapter 6: Denouement Time: Wolfe's Differential Diagnosis
The following morning when I got to the kitchen I found I was so used to company over breakfast now that I thought I might actually miss it when they left. Wilson was already there, chatting to Fritz about dinner the previous evening, and making recipe notes on a scrap of paper. House came down about fifteen minutes after me, piled eggs au beurre noir and Georgia ham high on his plate, and took a blueberry muffin off Wilson's plate for good measure. Wilson barely blinked.
"More spade work today, Goodwin?" House enquired with his mouth full.
"Yeah." I wasn't looking forward to it. "I'm sure you can occupy yourself. Maybe do some work, even."
"I'm getting more work done here than I would at the hospital," Wilson said brightly. "I'm almost through all my staff appraisals, way ahead of time."
"You doing these appraisals too, House?" I asked, thinking of Chase, Cameron and Foreman, and wondering how House might evaluate them.
"Naw." House chugged a mouthful of coffee. "My staff write their own. It's amazing how quickly they shift from outraged indignation at the idea to exaggerating the hell out of their pathetic little achievements."
"You mean you actually read them?" Wilson asked, his voice tinged with irony. "I thought you just signed the bottom of the form."
"I like to know exactly how big their lies are each year," House said judiciously. "Mr. Wolfe's got the right idea. None of this bureaucracy crap, he sits at home and has his very own Chase, Cameron and Foreman to go running around the city for him."
"I imagine Mr. Wolfe doesn't spend that time at home getting to the next level of Super Mario," Wilson said dryly.
"No, he spends hours playing with flowers," House shot back. "Maybe I should play the eccentric genius card a bit more, develop a hobby requiring two hour breaks in the morning and the afternoon. Do you think Cuddy would go for it?"
"Oh yeah, make sure I'm around when you ask," Wilson said, deadpan. "Actually, why not go the whole hog and refuse to leave your apartment as well? It's not like you see your patients or anything."
"Brilliant idea. Except I couldn't eat your lunch." House thought for a moment. "You would have to be Fritz. You'd have to move out of that hotel of yours and come do the cooking."
"That's a tempting offer." Wilson threw his hands up with a smile. "But wouldn't you need a live-in Archie too, to do the work? Who'd you have, Chase, Cameron or Foreman?"
"Oh now there's a question." House's eyes gleamed. "Gotta be Chase, don't you think?"
It was with regret that I dragged myself away from their conversation to go do the spade work.
We hit pay dirt, mid-morning. Saul found Eloise, much more quickly than we had anticipated. I hadn't even hit the streets--I was still at home, dealing with a large pile of mail that had stacked up over the last couple of days, when Saul called me on his cell. She wasn't out west after all; she was right here in New York Mercy, with a broken leg. She'd broken it two days before the engagement party. Saul had seen her briefly through a ward door, but not spoken to her.
"She's in traction," Saul explained. "She won't be coming to Mr. Wolfe like that. I thought you might want to come along and we'd talk to her together. In fact," he hesitated, then went on with a smile in his voice, "I thought maybe Dr. House could come along too."
"No way." House thought he was running this case as it was. I wasn't going to encourage this.
"He's a doctor, Archie. He can walk in that ward like he belongs there," Saul said reasonably. "And he knows her. She might even want to talk to him, break the ice. Might open up to him more than she would with us."
Unspoken was and don't you really want to see that? I did. I went to find House. I found him in Wilson's room again. Wilson in the armchair, laboriously tapping away at my laptop; House apparently dozing on the bed, flat on his back, with another one of Wolfe's books covering his face. I couldn't read the title of this one but it was about chess.
"House," I said. "We need you."
House took the book off his nose and regarded me suspiciously. Wilson stopped typing and looked at us with interest.
"We've found Eloise," I explained. "She's in hospital with a broken leg. We need you to pull doctor privileges and get us in to talk to her."
"No fucking way," House said immediately.
"Yes fucking way," Wilson broke in swiftly.
House pulled himself into a sitting position and glared at Wilson. "You do it. Swipe a white coat at the door and turn on the charm."
"House," Wilson said patiently. "First, I'm not supposed to leave this house. Secondly, the last time I saw Eloise, Cath was crying on her shoulder and Ellie called me a cheating bastard. Whereas the last time you ever saw Ellie, she would've been all post-coital and mushy. She might even remember you fondly. Right? Or were you supposed to call her and never did?"
"No. Would I ever do a thing like that?" House asked, feigning indignation. "All right, I'll do it." He grasped his bad leg and hauled it over the side of the bed. "My rates are very reasonable."
House didn't need a white coat. Which was just as well because I was sure he would look odd in one. We got to Mercy and found Saul. Saul told House which ward Eloise was in and where it was. House stalked off down the corridor like he owned the place, snapped some medical jargon at a nurse who looked as if she might challenge him (she didn't) and barged in through the door.
Eloise was lying in bed, her leg lifted high in the air. Her eyes were shut. House picked the chart and glanced at it.
"Broken leg. Diagnostically boring," he said.
At the sound of his voice, Eloise opened his eyes and shifted her head to look at him. She had large grey eyes and mousy hair with blonde streaks in it. She looked utterly fed up, but of course she was stuck in bed in a hospital gown with her leg hanging suspended from the ceiling.
"Greg?" she said incredulously. Her voice was a little husky. "Greg House? What the hell are you doing here?"
"You've died and ended up in the circle of hell reserved for your one-night stands," House said, sitting down next to her bed. I was startled, but apparently he'd hit the right note, because she chuckled, deep in her throat.
"Not as big a circle as you might think. Glad to see you're still a bastard after all these years. Hey, I saw you on TV a while ago, y'know? Some cyclist was on the news--you were treating him. I said to my son, I used to know that doctor man there." Eloise smiled a little, and reached up to rub behind her ear. "I didn't tell him how I knew you. He's fourteen, he's a bit young for all that. I hope. Anyway he was impressed, he follows these cyclists, was quite a fan of that guy."
Suddenly her face fell. "I guess you're here because of Cath, right? God, I still can't believe she's dead--it just doesn't seem real. Poor Cath, what a way to go. They arrested James, didn't they? I saw it in the papers."
House said gruffly, "He didn't do it, Ellie."
She looked a little surprised. Apparently it hadn't occurred to her that there was any doubt. "It sounded bad for him," she said cautiously.
"He didn't do it, Christ, Ellie, just think about it." A strained note crept into House's voice.
"He didn't do it, who did?" she asked, straight.
"That's why I'm here." House looked around at me and Saul. "These men are detectives--they work for Nero Wolfe. They're trying to find out who did it and clear Wilson's name. We thought maybe you could help."
"How?" she said. "Couldn't even go to the party. Stuck in here with this stupid leg." Her eye fell on House's cane. "Uh, didn't mean to be insensitive. You had an accident or something?"
House wasn't about to be drawn into this. He waved a hand, dismissing it, and addressed me. "Goodwin. Do your job."
I stepped up and did my job.
Over the next half hour, we learned that Eloise and Cath had not been as close as they used to be, Eloise having gotten married and had a family while Cath built up her event planning business, but they'd kept in touch and remained friends for old time's sake. She didn't come up with any new suspects, couldn't think of anyone else who might have wanted to kill Cath, and just reinforced the impressions we already had of our current suspects. Ellie knew all about the vendettas of Sandra Jenner and Tammy Marchant, and had harsh words about them both, the words fucking bitches cropping up repeatedly. She was also fairly contemptuous about Scott, who she thought was arrogant, although admitted she hadn't been too critical of him to Cath. "Because Cath had fallen in love, she really had, so happy, hadn't seen her that happy for a long time." She knew that Cath had wanted children and been trying to start a family for a little while.
It wasn't until the end, when I was thinking we'd spent long enough here and should be going, that she hesitated and said, "There's one thing Cath told me about Scott, said it was a secret. Guess it can't matter now she's dead."
We looked suitably attentive.
"Cath came by, day before the party, tried to cheer me up, told me I might have gotten out of her engagement party but I had to get my leg fixed for her wedding. I hadn't seen her for a while, and I asked if there was any progress on the baby front... and she dropped her voice right down and said, 'Don't tell anyone, but we got some test results back a few weeks ago. I might have some problems with the age thing, but Scott, he's got problems too, in fact he's shooting blanks.' I said wow, so what you gonna do? and she said, 'I'm thinking about it, I've got an idea, ask me after the party Ellie. Scott's kinda in denial about it all though, he even tore up and threw away the letter that told us about it. So please don't tell anyone.' And I said cross my heart and hope to die..."
Tears welled up in her eyes, as she added, "'cept it was Cath who ended up dying."
I looked at Saul, and saw he'd had the same thought as me.
I looked at House; House looked interested, but puzzled. He hadn't spotted it. I was surprised, but House's next words showed he was thinking of something else. He asked abruptly, "How'd you break the leg, Ellie?"
"Fell down the stairs," she replied, and scrunched her face up comically. "Stupid of me. No reason for it. Wasn't even drunk. I'm just getting clumsy in my old age."
"Well, obviously you are getting on a bit..."
"Oh, thanks. Great bedside manner you have, Dr. House."
House turned his head slightly on one side, looking at her. "But it could be something else. I think early stages of Bell's Palsy. You're not moving the left side of your face quite as much as your right side, and you keep rubbing your left ear."
I remembered that House was a diagnostician. I'd noticed the ear-rubbing. Now that he mentioned it, I could see she did seem to have ever so slightly reduced movement on that side of her face. I would never have thought anything of it.
"Bell's Palsy?" she repeated, sounding surprised and worried. "What's that?"
"Paralysis of the facial nerve," House explained. "Can include other neurological symptoms, including balance problems and clumsiness. Tell your doctor; prognosis is usually good, but it helps to start treatment as early as possible."
I left House with Saul, explaining Bell's Palsy to Eloise, and stepped out into the corridor to call Wolfe. I gave him a brief summary of the conversation as a whole, and the bit about Scott and his infertility verbatim.
Wolfe got it immediately. He asked, "Has Dr. House realized the possible significance?"
"Nope," I said. "He's distracted by her medical condition. His lips don't move in and out, but he might as well have a sign round his neck; Warning: Genius At Work. I'm still surprised; he's the first person to say everybody lies, but he can't see it might have happened here."
Wolfe harrumphed. "Dr. House is undoubtedly a genius, but his judgment is distorted when it comes to Dr. Wilson."
"You once told me that all genius was distorted," I said, taking an opportunity to show off my powers of recall. "Including your own."
"I did. You will remember the case."
"Paul Chapin," I said promptly. "Another cripple. Funny, that. Does being crippled intensify sheer genius?"
"In the case of Dr. House it assists him in the eccentricities he affects, but I believe he was always a genius. Come back immediately," Wolfe decided. "I will have Dr. Wilson in the office when you arrive. We will see him without Dr. House."
"Got it." I hung up.
We got a cab back to the brownstone. None of us talked much: House merely said as we left the hospital, "Well, that was a complete waste of fucking time." Back home, House stomped off towards the elevator without even glancing towards the office. I lingered slightly to see the doors close behind him, then went to join Saul in the office.
Wolfe was at his desk. Wilson, looking a little surprised to be there, was in the red chair. He was asking Saul about Ellie and her broken leg; Saul was telling him what she'd looked like.
I sidled over to my desk and dropped into my chair.
"All fine," I said to Wolfe, meaning House was out of the way.
Wolfe waited for Saul and Wilson to finish talking, then asked Wilson without preamble, "Dr. Wilson, when were you planning on telling us that Catherine had asked you to be her sperm donor?"
It was a guess, but an educated one. Borne of intelligence guided by experience, as Wolfe would say. Cath had discovered her fiancé was infertile a few weeks ago. This had coincided with her resuming a friendship with her ex-husband. A man she knew well, with whom she was on good terms. Intelligent, good-looking, successful.
It could have been a bust; she really might have just been asking Wilson for medical advice. But color flushed into Wilson's face and stained his cheeks; it was true. He didn't immediately reply; he sat and opened his mouth, then shut it again.
Wolfe waited for a minute and was about to speak again when House burst into the office. He stormed up to Wilson, struck his cane against the back of the red chair, and shouted, "Wilson, you idiot!"
I closed my eyes and gritted my teeth. The jerk of a genius had obviously been watching us through the waterfall picture. He must've let that elevator door close behind him, waited just long enough to fool me, then come right out and gone straight to the picture. The goddamn nerve. I saw a look of amusement on Saul's face. I might not live this one down for a while.
House was continuing to shout. Wolfe was letting him have his head, seeing what information we could get.
"When did this happen?" House demanded. "Not on that Princeton visit! Not at that goddamn lunch!"
"No," said Wilson, dropping his head into his hands and briefly covering his face. "But she did drop hints there. She told me she was afraid she was having trouble conceiving; she even hinted it might be Scott as well as her. I realized later that was why she wanted to do the lunch in the first place..."
"She was checking you and your personal life out. Mr. Potential Sperm Donor," House stood up straight and looked at the ceiling. "I guess you passed the test. And that's why she was so eager for you to go to the party. She was going to ask you there."
"Yes," Wilson confirmed unhappily, pinching the bridge of his nose. "But I didn't know that. Not until I got there. She took me upstairs to her apartment, and asked me then. Said Scott's shooting blanks, I need a donor... and I was taken by surprise, maybe a bit flattered, just got caught up in the moment--she was so eager, so desperate, really seemed to need me to say yes... so I did..."
"You fucking idiot!" House practically spat.
Wolfe interjected smoothly. "Dr. Wilson, can you tell us more precisely what you said to her?"
Wilson hesitated. "I said... I supposed it was a huge compliment, but she should realize I had no idea how, um, successful I would be as a donor... not having had any kids myself...she said, but have you ever actually tried to have children? I said, not really...to be honest my marriages all turned bad sufficiently quickly that it was never really an issue. Closest was when I married Bonnie--my second wife--I guess at the start we sort of tried, but Bonnie was never really worried about it as we got a cute puppy and she put all her maternal instincts into that...Cath laughed at that, said no kidding, you had a puppy? so I told her about Hector--he's still alive and kicking, though a bit slow in his old age..."
House was rolling his eyes. "This is so not fucking relevant."
"Anyway, she said if you're willing to give it a go, that would be great. And she went away so happy," Wilson continued. "But I sat there in her living room, and thought about it, and changed my mind almost immediately...realized it was a bad idea...went to try and find her, and found her dead on her kitchen floor. Later I thought, why tell anyone? What can it possibly matter now?"
House looked as if he would have had something to say about that, but he didn't, because something had caught his eye; Wolfe sitting back in his chair, lips going in and out. House and Wilson looked at me; Wilson in bemusement, House frowning. I motioned to them to keep quiet.
A couple of minutes later, Wolfe opened his eyes and sat up. He looked at me. "Archie. Have everyone in my office this evening."
It was denouement time.
Wolfe didn't want House in the office; he was too much of a loose cannon. Wolfe broke this to him as we sat and planned events before dinner. House threw a fit, of course, and it was only with great effort that we managed to persuade him that he should watch from behind the waterfall picture, stay there and keep quiet.
"This is my differential diagnosis, Dr. House, not yours," said Wolfe, with finality. "You will have a ringside seat. But you will not interrupt. I must run my diagnosis as I see fit."
House looked at Wilson, blue eyes shining darker than usual. Wilson looked back with equanimity. They didn't speak, but House tilted his chin a little, and Wilson raised his head a little, and House shrugged and said, "Fine. Make the cripple stand for God knows how long, peering through the back of a painting."
"We'll get you a stool, Dr. House," I said.
I made sure House was settled behind the painting promptly after dinner. Everyone else arrived soon afterwards. Wilson, as the client, got the red leather chair. When Scott arrived he glared daggers at Wilson; I was careful to seat Scott a little way away, putting Sandra Jenner and Tammy Marchant in between. Inspector Cramer and Sergeant Purley Stebbins turned up last, Cramer taking a seat, Purley standing at the back. Wolfe made his entrance once everyone was settled. He sat at his desk and inclined his chin one-eighth of an inch towards Wilson, who nodded back. Wolfe then addressed the room.
"Good evening. I am grateful to you all for coming here tonight on short notice."
"As you all know, I was hired to investigate the murder of Catherine Wilson by her ex-husband, James Wilson," Wolfe began. "I was initially approached by Dr. Wilson's friend, Dr. House, a renowned diagnostician. I found it instructive to learn about the process of a differential diagnosis carried out by doctors, in particular the method employed by Dr. House. In essence, it is not dissimilar from that of deductive reasoning carried out by detectives. Instead of a list of symptoms, factors and phenomena, the detective has a list of premises: means, motives, opportunity. Dr. House lists symptoms on a whiteboard; I have no whiteboard, but the mental process of elimination is similar."
Wolfe paused to drink beer, then continued. "The police had decided that Dr. Wilson was the prime suspect on the assumption that he was jealous of his ex-wife's engagement. I rejected this discussion after conversations with Dr. Wilson, and looked elsewhere. After some investigation I decided to work on the assumption that the murderer was one of the few with the opportunity; the access to the upstairs apartment. Only three people were known to go up there that evening; Ms. Jenner, Mrs. Marchant, and Dr. Wilson. One other person had access via the locked back staircase, Mr. Darby. I initially preferred the possible motives of Ms. Jenner and Mrs. Marchant, professional rivalry and a ruined wedding respectively. Both seemed sufficiently angry and tempestuous enough in temperament to have done such a thing."
Wolfe paused to drink beer again. Sandra Jenner and Tammy Marchant both looked as if they would have liked to start shouting and swearing, but were curbing their tempestuous temperaments in order to prove Wolfe wrong.
"As for Mr. Darby, one could conjure up a number of possible reasons why he might have murdered his fiancée in a fit of rage," Wolfe continued, and Scott jerked in his chair. "He has a bad temper and a tendency to jealousy. He also has physical strength and ambidexterity."
I saw Cramer look surprised at Wolfe's last word. Looked like the police hadn't picked up on that one, and it wasn't like Scott would have volunteered it.
"But he was without a clear motive," Wolfe went on. "Until my investigation uncovered the fact that he was infertile."
It was a red rag to a bull. Scott was on his feet, pointing a finger at Wolfe. "You goddamn liar. You fat fuck. Take that back."
"Will you please sit down, Mr. Darby. I prefer eyes at a level." Wolfe was commanding. Scott hesitated, then sat down again.
"It's pointless to deny it, Mr. Darby," Wolfe continued. "You tore up the letter, but we have a copy of your test results right here." Wolfe tapped a piece of paper on his desk.
Scott stared at it. "How the hell did you get that?"
We had House and Wilson to thank for that. We couldn't drag Eloise away from her hospital bed, and a statement from her wouldn't have the same impact. Wolfe had decided we needed physical evidence, something that would at least stand up to a swift read. Wilson had been pretty sure which clinic Cath and Scott would have been tested at: a couple of phone calls, pulling in some favors from New York doctor colleagues, had established it. They knew what the test results would have looked like in terms of format, and House had skillfully mocked up a copy on my PC that afternoon incorporating the clinic logo. I suspected it wasn't the first time House had forged medical documentation. I suspected it wasn't the hundredth, either.
"That is not important," Wolfe said smoothly. "What is important is that we established Mr. Darby was infertile, enraged, and in denial on the subject."
"This is all bullshit," Scott said loudly. "This is a smokescreen to try and protect your precious client."
"Whereas we also knew that Catherine Wilson was desperate to have children, and felt her biological clock was fast running out," Wolfe carried on as if Scott hadn't spoken. "And this morning we obtained a crucial clue from her best friend, Eloise Pickering. Catherine Wilson had an idea, and she was going to try this idea out at her party."
This was a slight exaggeration, but then this was the tricky bit. Scott and his test results could be established as a fact, one way or another, in the end. But it would be Wilson's word against Scott's on the sperm donation thing.
"I deduced Catherine's idea," Wolfe continued. "She required a sperm donor. She cast around her male acquaintances for a suitable person to approach, and she decided on her ex-husband. Dr. James Wilson, a respectable, intelligent, professional man, whom she had remained on friendly if distant terms with for the last nineteen years. She ascertained over a lunch in Princeton that he was helpful and well-disposed to her, and without family complications of his own. She invited him to her engagement party, and asked him to be her donor there during their conversation in the upstairs apartment, and he agreed. This has been confirmed by Dr. Wilson."
"And you didn't think this was worth mentioning to us?" Cramer, outraged, addressing Wilson. Wilson looked distinctly ill-at-ease.
Wolfe was not about to let the police start bludgeoning the client. "Mr. Cramer, please, that is not important. The importance of this information is that it gives Mr. Darby a motive, having already had the means and the opportunity. Mr. Darby was and remains extremely jealous of Dr. Wilson, and suspicious of his intentions towards Catherine. It is my conclusion that after Catherine Wilson had her discussion with Dr. Wilson, and met Mrs. Marchant and Ms. Jenner, Mr. Scott Darby came up to the kitchen via the back stairs, and when she told him what she had done, he murdered her."
"This is fucking outrageous," Scott shouted. "You've got no proof."
"Once the police start focusing the investigation on you, I am sure physical evidence will abound," Wolfe proclaimed. "For a start, it would be most surprising if nobody at the party saw you depart through the door to the back stairs, or return; I think people may recall this if they are specifically asked. But the evidence which convinced me came from your own mouth. Yesterday in this office you said to me that Dr. Wilson 'doesn't even have kids himself--married three times and closest he's got is a dog.' The existence of the dog had not been mentioned to you by either Dr. Wilson or Dr. House on any past occasion. I then discovered that Catherine Wilson had also not known about it, not until Dr. Wilson mentioned it to her during the conversation when she asked him to be her sperm donor. But you had known, therefore you must have had a conversation with her after this point."
The look on Scott's face was like a rabbit in headlights.
"The sequence of events is plain," Wolfe hammered home remorselessly. "You were at the party, you wondered where your fiancée was. Perhaps you also noticed Dr. Wilson was absent and wondered if they were together, thus putting you in a suspicious and jealous frame of mind. You came to the upstairs apartment via the back stairs, and found Catherine in the kitchen, Ms. Jenner and Mrs. Marchant having left. I think you found Catherine radiant and excited by the conversation with Dr. Wilson; she was delighted by his assent to her idea, and she couldn't wait to tell you about it. But instead of being pleased, you were furious. She had gone behind your back to seek a solution to a problem you were denying existed, and to add insult to the injury, she had sought a solution from her ex-husband. A man who you believed still had a romantic interest in her, the subject of intense resentment and jealousy on your part. Maddened by rage, you picked up a knife from the nearby block, and plunged it into her heart--"
With a roar, Scott launched himself at Wolfe. I moved, but Saul was closer, and grabbed him easily, and then Purley Stebbins was there to help.
That was the end of the showdown.
One other thing to mention, though. As Scott was collared by Cramer and Stebbins, I saw Wilson leave the room quietly. Everybody else except Wolfe was talking among themselves or otherwise occupied, and didn't notice. Wolfe glanced at me, and I got up and followed. Wilson went round the corner and down the hallway to the alcove where the back of the waterfall picture was. House was there, looking out from behind the curtain. Wilson went straight up to House, and before the curtain closed behind him, I saw House reach out and wrap his arms around Wilson, and Wilson leaned in towards House, and their mouths met.
I was a bit taken aback. I hadn't even seen them touch before, apart from when Wilson had been looking after House's leg. But it all seemed to make perfect sense.
When I mentioned it afterwards to Lily, she said, "Archie, of course they were together, anyone could have seen that."
When I related what I'd seen to Wolfe later, he seemed singularly uninterested. And when I commented on this, he said, "Archie, in our short acquaintance with Dr. House and Dr. Wilson we saw ample evidence of their regard for each other, which went far beyond the average friendship and indeed bordered on the obsessive. We also saw how this affected their actions. Would it really have made any difference to know they also shared a bed?"
Later I figured I'd known all along, on some level.
The performance in Wolfe's office had convinced Cramer and Stebbins. The police took the heat away from Wilson and applied it to Scott. As Wolfe had predicted, once they knew where to look they found supporting evidence, including several people who remembered seeing Scott leave the party via the back staircase at roughly the right time, and one who had noticed him come back afterwards. He was convicted and imprisoned a year later.
Wilson came back to New York to give evidence at the trial. He and I celebrated with lunch at Rusterman's after the guilty verdict. Wilson told me in passing that Eloise Pickering had indeed developed Bell's Palsy, just as House had predicted. She'd gotten early treatment and recovered fine.
Wilson also told me that House had solved a complicated medical case without leaving his own living room, to win a bet with Chase. It hadn't become a trend as Cuddy had put her foot down and insisted he come into the hospital or he wouldn't get paid. House had also tried being unavailable at work between the hours of 9 and 11 AM and 4 and 6 PM, on the grounds that he needed the time to practice his guitar, but Cuddy wasn't having it.
"House has plenty of his own eccentricities, anyway. He doesn't need to borrow Wolfe's," Wilson concluded with a smile.
I concurred, and decided not to tell Wilson about an experiment Wolfe had undertaken a while back. Wolfe had tried moving around the brownstone while leaning all his weight on one of his walking sticks, his largest and heaviest one, which he says is made from Montenegrin applewood. After a few hours he had given up, complaining of acute pain in his hand and shoulder. He had pontificated that evening, over curried beef roll, on how having to live with chronic pain might affect the intellect.
"Distort the genius, you mean?" I asked.
"Precisely. It is interesting to speculate what Dr. House would be like were he not a cripple. One imagines he would still be a renowned diagnostician. But one also assumes he might not have such an...abrasive personality." Wolfe shrugged. "Without knowing what he was he was like before his infarction, it is impossible to say."
I offered the opinion that House had probably always been a difficult son-of-a-bitch to deal with.
Wolfe considered this and responded, "I would not disagree with that assessment. However, Dr. Wilson knew Dr. House well before the infarction, of course, and whatever Dr. House was like back then, they formed a deep and lasting bond which has kept the two of them friends and supportive of each other for twenty years. And although I suspect there are some things Wilson would like to change about House if he could, and vice versa, I can nonetheless visualize them together for the next twenty years." Wolfe paused, and then added, "Assuming Dr. House doesn't get himself murdered in the meantime, of course, which would not be wholly surprising."