It was an early afternoon in late spring, just after lunch. I knew Wolfe still wasn't doing well because he had only helped himself to two servings of Tournedos Rossini with Sauce Périgueux. I understood. I could barely finish one myself and I had learned to love truffles under Wolfe and Fritz's tutelage . He closed his current book, "Burr" by Gore Vidal on his finger and sighed. I did too.
"Archie," he snapped. "must you mock?" Now, that wasn't fair, I had meant the sigh, it had only been about a month since the family affair, where Orrie Cather had made monkeys of us all.
"It was sympathetic." I answered.
"Of course. You are nonpareil at empathy and altruism. My mistake." He said, attempting to read again. He had spent far too long on the same page. At least I had needled him into being sarcastic at my expense.
The doorbell rang. As I went to answer it, as part of my duties as the guardian of Wolfe's sanctum sanctorum, I wasn't sure what I wanted. Cramer, come to arrest us? J. Edgar again, come to beg for help? Little green men from Mars? Whatever it was, it probably wasn't the bird I saw through the one-way glass. He was an odd duck, tall and dark, wearing a double-breasted gray worsted wool suit with a gray striped silk four-in-hand tied in a perfect full-windsor knot. He had on a black trench coat and a black snap-brim fedora pulled low on his head. He must've been stifling in the heat. You hardly ever saw anyone wearing a hat anymore. There was something about his eyes, what I could see of them in the shadows cast by the fedora, that made me feel uneasy. I opened the door.
"Mr. Wolfe isn't entertaining clients at this time. Sorry." I said to the man. I was beginning to wonder if he would ever entertain clients again.
The man handed me a card. An actual calling card! I hadn't seen one in years! "He'll see me." He asserted and stepped back from the door. The card simply read 'Lamont Cranston, Esq.'
"I'll be right back." I said and locked the door behind me. I went down the hall to the office and placed the card on Wolfe's desk. "There's a man at the door who just stepped out of a film noir to see you. What do I tell him?"
Wolfe looked at the card and moved his head an eighth of an inch. An emphatic nod. "I've been expecting him. Show him in, by all means." I returned to the door and let the fellow in, taking his hat and coat. He strode down the hall and into the office as if he knew the way. He made himself comfortable in the red leather chair. He looked around the office.
"Still have the globe I see, Nero. Nero, it's time. We've nearly overstayed our welcome, you and I." I was taken aback. I hadn't heard anyone refer to Wolfe by his first name since Marko Vukčić was murdered.
"I agree, Mr. Cranston. We don't exactly fit in anymore, do we? Not the way we are, now." Wolfe said. I saw the small crease at the corner of his lip that meant he was smiling.
"Thank goodness!" The stranger exclaimed. "I thought you would put up an argument."
"That would be otiose, Mr. Cranston. Mr. Goodwin will be joining me?" Wolfe asked. Nice of him to think of me, I had no idea what was going on.
"Naturally! You're a set! I believe that Mr. Brenner will be along for this outing, as well."
"Good, good. Theodore?"
"I'm afraid he'll have to take up with Mr. Hewitt. They'll both probably die or simply fade away. They're not as strong as we are, Nero." The Cranston person said. I was completely lost at sea.
"Theodore will turn up. Genius will always find a place." Wolfe replied.
"Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go to One Police Plaza and have this same discussion with Cramer and Purley." The Cranston explained.
"Good luck, Mr. Cranston!" Wolfe expressed. "Inspector Cramer will be difficult, he firmly believes that Manhattan South would be awash in murder if not for him."
"He'll see the light when I remove the fog. A man can only stay fifty years old for so long."
I still had no idea what was going on. I had a question, though and I asked it. "What about Rowcliff?"
The dark stranger's response was swift. "He can go to hell!" I decided I liked him. I joined him at the door, and helped him with his coat and hat. Before he left, he touched my forehead and said "See." I watched him descend the seven steps of the stoop and head west on 35th Street. Despite his outlandish garb, more in keeping with 1948, none of the few passers by on the street seemed to notice him. He passed like a shadow in the night.
I returned to the office, having re-locked the door and sat down at my desk. Wolfe looked at me and asked "Have the winds of clarity removed the miasma of uncertainty?"
"You probably shouldn't read so much poetry." I answered. "Wait a minute! I've been thirty-five years old for forty-two years, haven't I? 'A man can only stay fifty years old for so long!' How is this possible?"
"We're not exactly human, Archie. We're Archetypes. It's your name for goodness sake! Mr. Cranston has some abilities that kept people from noticing. But, Mr. Cranston is right, we're through here. We are going to have a pleasant afternoon, I'm going to try to finish this confounded book, Mr. Vidal has a deft hand at fiction, but a heavy hand at politics, we will have a nice dinner, saucisse minuit one last time, I think, and go to bed. And wake up... someone else."
"So that's it? No more brownstone, no more Manhattan, no more us?" I demanded. It's very disheartening to realize that you're a metaphorical construct.
"I'm afraid so." Wolfe replied. He glanced at the picture of Sherlock Holmes next to the portrait of Escoffier and continued. "It wouldn't be the first time. If it's any consolation, we will return to New York later. I can already see some of it. 'You are being watched. The government has a secret system: a machine that spies on you every hour of every day. I know because I built it. I designed the machine to detect acts of terror, but it sees everything. Violent crimes involving ordinary people, people like you. Crimes the government considered irrelevant. They wouldn't act, so I decided I would. But I needed a partner, someone with the skills to intervene. Hunted by the authorities, we work in secret. You'll never find us, but victim or perpetrator, if your number's up...we'll find you.' We'll be back. But first... somewhere very different." So we had that pleasant afternoon, he finished his confounded book, we dined on the best sausage in the world and I went to bed.
I woke up early for once, I'm not usually a morning person. I walked into the kitchen and said to the chef, "Good morning, Fritz! Himself awake? Take him breakfast yet?" Dean looked at me as if I'd grown a second head (a distinct possibility in TunFaire) and asked "You all right, Garrett? Why would I take the Dead Man breakfast? He's dead!"
"Sorry, Dean! I was confused! I had the most vivid dream, I was in a better world! No sorcerers on the Hill, no royalty, damn near no gods-damned horses! No magic, and best of all, no Cantard War!"
"Nice!" Said the old softie. "A world at peace!" Like every other male in the land, Dean had done his five years.
"I wouldn't go that far! I said a better world, not a perfect world. With no magic, no elves, no trolls, no gnolls, no dwarfs, no breeds, but people being people they killed each other over the color of their skin and the gods they worshipped. Love and money still topped the list, though. I was still stuck working with an insufferable know-it-all who never left the house. He wasn't a Loghyr, but damn close! He was alive, though. I was still a detective, figuring out why they killed each other. They kept feeding me green peppers, like a pig wouldn't eat, they even put it in sausage! Best sausage in the world, my scarred Marine's butt!"
I heard the voice in my head, Old Bones wanted me in his room. I went in."Garrett," he said "do you have any idea how annoying this is? I am still in a household with a superlative chef and I do not eat? SOMEONE has a finely tuned sense of irony. I am afraid that I will need to remove the memories for your continued well-being."
"Wait, it was true?!"
"As true as anything is in TunFaire. As I told you last night, we are Archetypes. Now, go, have some beer, just another thing I will miss, argue with Dean, get your mind ready for the arrival of Miss Tate later. We have a whole series of adjective/metal/noun adventures to get through before we can move on! In the meanwhile, forget all about Archie Goodwin and Nero Wolfe!"
I remembered the dream later, I had long talks about it with Eleanor when Himself was asleep. She never said anything, she never does, but I caught her giving me a sad smile afterwards, several times.