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All the Spinach You Can Eat

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It's no small thing when a fellow hits the big three-oh. The wags amongst one's friends are apt to celebrate in predictably mortifying style. Thus it was that I found myself returning from the Drones in a thoroughly foul mood one soggy afternoon in November. I was rounding the corner into Berkeley Street when I collided with a fellow in a mustard-colored coat.

"Oh, I say!" I said.

I am not the most robust of chaps--this Wooster is more akin to the slender willow than the mighty oak--but I sent the fellow sprawling. His parcels splashed to the pavement.

"I do beg your pardon."

"Watch it," he muttered in an American accent, grasping the proffered hand and nearly bringing me down on top of him. The blighter was devilish heavy!

Self and blighter righted at last, I cast about for his parcels. They had flown a considerable way and were presently adding to the general soggy unpleasantness of the street. It was only after I had sent him on his way that I noticed a final parcel which had somehow managed to land behind me.

I picked the thing up. It was wrapped in brown paper, now quite damp, and seemed to be some species of reading material. I looked around, but the fellow in the mustard coat had beetled off as soon as he'd collected his other packages. It seemed rude to leave the thing in a puddle, so I slipped it into my overcoat pocket and toddled off home to Jeeves.

❧❧❧

"They had the nerve to give me a set of false teeth, Jeeves," I said. "False teeth!"

"Merely a youthful prank, sir," said that worthy, bustling round with the revivifying cocktail in hand.

"And then the fellow in the mustard coat," quoth I.

Until this point, I had been distracted by recounting the day's events, but now I perceived a certain something in Jeeves' manner. "I say Jeeves, are you quite all right? You look as though you'd had a bad bit of fish."

Jeeves raised an eyebrow. "Indeed, sir?"

"Tricky stuff, fish," I said. "Goes off in a trice, and then there you are, green about the proverbial gills."

"Indeed, sir."

"Well, how about it? A spot of the old indigestion?"

"On the contrary, sir, I enjoyed a most satisfactory lunch."

"No fish?"

"No, sir." He replaced my cocktail with a fresh one.

There was an expectant pause. One gets used to that sort of thing with Jeeves. "Yes, Jeeves?" I asked.

"There is a particularly fine exhibition of impressionist watercolor paintings opening this evening at the Gallery du Tournesol. I thought perhaps I might attend while you were at your club, sir..."

And then I'd come home early on account of the false teeth. "French, is it?" I inquired.

"The proprietress styles herself as Madame Tournesol. I am given to understand, however, that the lady was christened Esther Biggs."

"Hmm…" said I, eyeing Jeeves.

He had a dispeptic look about him, or the Jeevesian version thereof. To the untrained eye, he was as sleek and impassive as ever, but we Woosters are a canny lot. Not in vain has the Young Master observed his man. This was a Jeeves who was in fettle not at all fine.

"Better run along then," I said. "Wouldn't want the collector chappies to snap up all the best pieces before you got there."

❧❧❧

Jeeves had left me supper, but I thought I might dine out. The man had had spinach on the brain lately. Capital thing, spinach, until one is confronted with mounds of the stuff! Nor did it stop there: the chop and the cutlet had been banished from the Wooster abode in favor of light and healthful fish. In vain had I attempted to broach the matter. Jeeves shimmered out of the room every time I tried. I was left with the lowering feeling he found my physique not up to snuff. This business of turning thirty was a jolly rotten one.

It was not until I was donning the overcoat and preparing to sally forth into the damp that I was reminded of the package. It made its soggy presence known when I reached into my pocket for my gloves and gave me a nasty start. One isn't used to that sort of thing with Jeeves about: Normally, he extracts whatever I've forgotten in my pockets and puts it away. The fellow must have been quite put out to nearly miss his watercolors. I detected a heretofore unknown artistic bent to Jeeves' character. Perhaps I should seek out this Gallery du Tournesol and buy him one of the dashed things. Jeeves had been hinting that the painting over the sofa might perhaps find a happier home elsewhere. It was a hideous oil jobby committed by a deceased relation of my recent--and now former--fiancée. I'd had to pretend to love the bally thing, and serious misgivings had begun to penetrate the happy idyl of love's young dream.

Jeeves had brought that affair to a satisfactory close in his usual inimitable style. The oil excrescence alone remained to remind us of the incident. I suppose it had grown on me in the way of young ladies warming to their dastardly captors in a melodrama--the very scene, in fact, which the painting depicted. Possibly, it was a trifle racy for Jeeves' sensibilities. My valet, I was sorry to note, could be a bit of a stuffed shirt.

I wandered back to the sitting room to regard said painting. Yes, it could go. I would surprise Jeeves with a watercolor in its place.

Rain pattered on the glass, and I decided that fish and the dreaded spinach were just what was needed to put the Wooster corpus to rights. My brain needed feeding up, or perhaps it was my vitamin levels. I would beard the panther in his lair--viz. the kitchen--upon his return and get to the bottom of this fish business once and for all. Did panthers have beards? I thought not, but lions are straightforward sorts of coves: they hunt in packs in the sunshine and eat up the hapless wildebeest before an audience. My valet put me more in mind of a sleek, dark jungle cat waiting to pounce upon the unwary explorer's head from above.

I settled in at the kitchen table--formality not being required in the absence of Jeeves--and regarded the soggy package over my spinach.

I could have chucked the thing, I suppose, but I had the vague idea I could give it back to the man in the mustard coat if there were some sort of contact information inside of it. I removed the brown paper wrapping and found a small volume with a plain black cover. The Way of a Man with a Master was printed on the cover in red ink. I flipped the thing open. There was no contact information, not even a sales receipt. That's when I noticed a dashed odd thing: there was no author listed on the title page. There was no introduction and nothing at either end about the publisher.

Decidedly rummy.

I paged through the thing. It concerned a young man about town. This chap, one Eustace Carstairs, was a romantic sort: blue of eye and willowy of frame with hair the color of golden wheat--there was a good deal of this sort of rot on nearly every page. He got engaged to his lady love, a drippy damsel in pastels who equalled the young booby in "charm" and "innocence" as the book put it. Great jubilation was heard throughout the town, the banns were read, and the match was smiled upon by all and sundry--except for the reader who was reminded forcibly of the human equivalent of a spinach dinner.

But just as I was concluding this was some sort of improving literature suitable for the more terrifying species of aunt, an invigorating black pall was cast upon the life of young Carstairs. His faithful valet fell down the stairs to his untimely demise! I repressed a shudder. On top of this worst of all calamities, the replacement sent by the agency was a dark, malevolent sort with an effortlessly devilish mein. I spotted him at once as the villain of the piece. One had only to look at the insidious way he took over the young booby's life, divesting him first of his lady love and then of the family silver.

Soon Matthews was brewing him foul concoctions, forcing him into new and revealing clothing, and waking him at a truly hideous hour of the morning for exercise. The mind quailed! Any red-blooded master would have given the man the boot, but not so young Carstairs. I skimmed ahead, wondering exactly how far this "naivete" would stretch. Mathews loomed and slithered, always appearing out of thin air just behind the young master's shoulder. The word frisson was scattered liberally about. I turned the page.

Eustace felt a presence at his back, and the hair on his neck rose. From behind came the soft and ominous cough. "Yes, Matthews?" he replied, his gut churning with dread.

"If I may remind sir of the lady Clarissa's letters"

He gasped. "They were burned."

"Regrettably not, sir."

"What do you want from me?" Eustace cried.

An arm went about him like a band of iron. He felt hot breath upon his neck, but in his innocence, he knew not the depravities to which he would be subjected.

Good lord. That was a fruity passage. Quite the fruitiest, in fact. It didn't appear Carstairs would make it out of Chapter One with much innocence intact, and there was still the rest of the book to go.

I began to see why the end papers were so bafflingly blank. These publisher chappies were normally eager to get one's custom, but this sort of literature resulted in official visits and a citation for obscenity. Matthews was a dashedly creative villain, though I felt the use he put the kitchen table to was thoroughly unsanitary as well as anatomically improbable. Young Carstairs lived in a flat about the size of mine, and these kitchens were in no way large enough for this sort of acrobatics.

I skimmed some more. The whole thing seemed to have a pattern where Carstairs would cry himself to sleep, vowing revenge and escape, and then he'd end up in the soup again and give Matthews more blackmail material. It was all full of rot like:

Eustace smoothed the satin chemise into place. His rouged face stared back at him in the mirror, as lovely as a girl's. "I can't," he said again. "Please." But already, his traitorous body was responding, trained by months of captivity through no will of his own.

"Bend over the vanity." Matthews deep voice echoed from the darkness. He loomed suddenly into the lights of the dressing table. He pushed the satin up to Eustace's waist, baring him, and picked up the hairbrush. Eustace's skin prickled. He would remain strong. He would ignore the urgings of his body.

Rum. Very rum.

There were a full five pages of swatting with said hairbrush and Carstairs crying about it while Matthews brought him off with a leather-gloved hand. Personally, I couldn't see how anything in the departed Lady Clarissa's letters could have topped this lot. The fellow couldn't have objected that much if he kept at it. All he had to do was lie there and let Matthews do all the work, but realizing he had developed a permanent taste for the lash, the idiot eventually threw himself off a bridge in a fit of despair. I shook my head. Some fellows didn't know when they were well off!

❧❧❧

I hid the book in a box of old letters Jeeves would be too polite to look through so as not to give the old boy a shock and forgot all about it--that is, I forgot all about returning it. I read the bally thing cover to cover several times. Drippy ending aside, whomever had penned the tome was an imaginative chap. I might never look at an aubergine with the eye of innocence again!

I thought no more about the incident until December on a jaunt to the continent. I happened to be in a particular sort of French bookshop when I spotted a little volume with red printing on the cover. There was still no publisher's name, but it was indubitably the even fruitier sequel to the first specimen. The ill-fated Carstairs was replaced by another drippy hero, this one saddled with a martial sort of fiancée. Personally, I thought he ought to have thanked Matthews for giving her the heave-ho, but he, like his predecessor, spent most of the book bemoaning his fate. This one was a poet johnnie and gave himself a fatal overdose of laudanum.

Curiosity whetted, I beetled round to a similar shop in London where an old school chum, affectionately called "Knees" by his pals, put out works of dubious artistic merit but with a good deal of nostalgia for the birch. He'd heard of the books with the red print. It turned out there were dozens of the bally things. At the rate Matthews was going through the gentry, I was surprised he had any left on whom to practice his wiles. By book the twenty-whatevereth, he must have amassed more than enough capital to retire from the debauching and defrauding business, but perhaps he looked on it as something of a vocation.

It was into this peaceful holiday season--my Aunt Agatha being away--that the man in the mustard coat intruded.

There I was, sneaking a steak in a snug little restaurant safe from the prying eyes of Jeeves--the fish business still not having been explained to my satisfaction--when up popped that same fellow. I was considerably startled but inclined to look upon him with a friendly eye, he having been the instrument of my introduction into the aforementioned works of dubious literary merit. To my surprise, he slid into my booth without so much as a by-your-leave and proceeded to goggle at me like some sort of animal in the zoo--self being the animal, though the m. in the m.c. did have the look of a startled grouper.

"Mister Wooster," he said. "You're looking well… under the circumstances."

I glanced hurriedly around, but there was no sign of Jeeves. "Dash it, he's not here, is he?"

It puzzled me that he should be so familiar with my domestic circs, but Jeeves is apt to know all manner of characters in places both high and low. These sorts of encounters were by no means unheard of.

"No, no, you are quite safe for the moment. Allow me to introduce myself. I go by Smith."

"Pleased to meet you." I wiped a hand over my brow and commenced eating my steak at the pace of Man o’ War sighting the finishing line.

"There's no need to rush on my account," he said.

"It's not on your account. It's just that I'm bally tired of spinach."

"Ah… yes… spinach." He drew it out ominously. "It is about spinach that I wished to approach you, Mr. Wooster."

"Vile stuff. Can't see why you'd talk to me about it."

"But if there were a way for you to never have to… eat spinach again?"

"Taking it a bit far, what?" I said around a mouthful of steak.

He looked surprised. "You don't mean you want to?"

"Well, I wouldn't say want to precisely, but I shouldn't object so much if it weren't all the bally time."

He looked at me searchingly. "You want a say in when you eat spinach?"

"That's it exactly! I mean, a fellow ought to be able to choose his own diet, don't you think? Rather puts one off, being force-fed the stuff!"

"Quite. Quite. And perhaps a different… ah… preparation of spinach? A different… flavor, as it were?"

All spinach had heretofore seemed equally spinachy to me, but I supposed there was something to be said for sauteing in butter vs. lard and told him so. Smith got a constipated species of look on his face. It's an expression I witness often, usually just before my Aunt Agatha calls me a fathead.

After much hemming and hawing, he told me that if I wanted to get out of eating spinach, I should come to a particular location this Saturday, the address of which he would send me presently. I was unsure how he intended to curb Jeeves' interest in dietary fads, but Smith refused to elaborate. A rummy business all around! I elected to stay home, waited upon by my faithful valet--though as it happened, when Saturday came, he was off on that watercolor lark again.

❧❧❧

It was nearing Christmas, and I had yet to find a gift for the faithful retainer. Noblesse oblige demanded that I get him something exceptional, spinach or no spinach, but the man had already stuffed so many facts into his head that they were coming out his ears, and the incident with Florence Craye had taught me the danger of frequenting the more intellectual species of bookshop. One never knew when someone might get the wrong impression!

I decided to dispatch the lugubrious oil painting post haste. The Gallery du Tournesol, however, proved elusive. In a word, it didn't exist. I rang up Knees who rang up an artist chappie he knew, and neither of them had ever heard of the place. "Try leaving out the 'du'," I told him.

"It's no good, old thing. Between us, we know every gallery in London, including the private ones, and there isn't one called anything like that. Someone's been having you on."

That left me both stumped for a gift and wondering where on earth Jeeves had slinked off to the other night. I was frankly hurt. Hadn't I opened the Wooster bosom to him on multiple occasions? Was the young master such a tyrant that Jeeves could not do the same?

❧❧❧

More and more I noticed it during the following days: that best of valets was looking green about the gills.

"Jeeves," I said one morning, "You are looking green about the gills."

"Indeed, sir?" He placed the breakfast tray upon my bed and set about plumping the pillows behind me.

"Moreover, you're losing your touch. I went looking for this Tournesol place, and you've got the name entirely wrong."

He froze. "Indeed, sir," he said after a moment. "I must have misspoken." His face was an awful gray, not at all his usual robust self.

"Look here, Jeeves, if there's anything I can do…" I said in some alarm. "If there's something you need…"

"That will not be necessary, sir," he said straightening up at once. "I must prepare your lunch." And with that, he shimmered from the room before I could escape from my breakfast tray.

Something was wrong in the state of Wooster, and I meant to get to the bottom of it!

❧❧❧

Thus it was that I found myself following along after Jeeves on his next jaunt to his club. He'd given the watercolor wheeze a rest, but there was still something furtive about his manner, and I sensed that this was more of the same malady. I was rewarded when he turned not down the brightly lit thoroughfare of the upright citizen but into a noissome alleyway.

The man must have been profoundly off his feed. A regular sort of fellow could hardly get the drop on Jeeves in any other circumstance. Visions of hideous illness swam in my head.

At the end of the alley, Jeeves disappeared down a set of stairs. I waited a few minutes before descending. Before me was a door with a sign tacked to it reading 'Sunflower Club'.

If the place was a species of club, it was like no gentlemen's club I'd ever attended. It brought to mind a little speakeasy I had frequented in New York on an occasion when the vicissitudes of life--or at least the vicissitudes of Aunt Agatha--had driven me thither. One rapped at the door, and a rough customer pulled back a little slot to observe the potential visitor. The specimen at the Sunflower Club was one of the most daunting I had encountered.

"What ho," I told him. "Thought I'd come look about the place, what." I flapped a hand at the dingy stairwell in which we found ourselves.

To my surprise, the r.c. looked me over and pronounced me fit to enter without so much as a secret handshake or password. Inside, a singer was crooning something morose. Jeeves was nowhere in evidence. I ordered myself a scotch and leaned against the bar.

A pair of fellows swayed past me on the dance floor. Gradually, it began to dawn on me precisely why the r.c. had let me in. I prefer to think of myself as fashionable, debonair even, but on occasion, I give off a certain impression to the smaller-minded sort of chap who goes about wrestling tigers and conquering nations with his bare hands and such. Lack of spine my Aunt Agatha calls it. I prefer to think of myself as flexible.

Chaps danced. The singer sang. I finished my scotch with no sign of Jeeves. For a den of iniquity, it was disappointingly un-iniquitous.

I drifted towards the back rooms. However improbable, if Jeeves were not in the front room, then perhaps he was somewhere else about the place.

I was nosing around a room all done up in red velvet draperies and examining a contraption made of various wooden bars and leather straps when I heard voices approaching. "You owe me!" one said a voice I recognized as Smith. The quiet murmur that answered him was not intelligible at this distance, but I would know that voice anywhere. I glanced about me. Surely a room with this much red velvet would have--ah yes, alcoves behind the drapes. I nipped into one, stubbing my toe on a species of equipment concealed there. It was jolly difficult not to curse, but I flattened myself against the wall and listened.

"I believe I made myself quite clear, Mr… Smith," Jeeves said.

His icy tone gripped me to the core. This was not a Jeeves in the pink of health. In fact, I don't believe I'd ever heard him quite so un-pink--assuming one can hear pink. At last we came to the source of the illness.

"Now, don't be so hasty. I know Matthews wants to come out to play. I'll even bring you a new toy for inspiration."

"That episode of my life is closed," Jeeves said, frostily. "Our business is concluded."

"Is it?"

"Goodbye, sir."

Smith snickered. "I've seen him, you know. Spitting image of the guys in your books. Blond, blue-eyed, and dumb, just how you like 'em."

The angry hiss Jeeves let out was all that stopped them from hearing me. I slapped a hand over my mouth. The heavens parted, and realization dawned: Smith thought I was akin to the nitwits in the little volumes with the red titles.

I, who had never in my life evidenced the least tendency to commit poetry!

The sheer effrontery of it stopped my voice. That and the desire to hear what else this miscreant would say. That he was attempting to extort my valet, I had no doubt. Well, I would expose him to the finest of the Wooster fighting spirit--discretion being the better part and all that.

"Rich too. How much are you taking him for?"

"Mr. Wooster is none of your concern."

"And here I thought my trip would be a waste. If I go digging into your previous employers, I'll bet I'll find all sorts of interesting things, eh, Matthews."

Jeeves' silence was deafening through the curtain. Considering most of his previous employers were 80 if they were a day, I suspected Smith would be disappointed. Yours truly was the sole blue eyed booby who broke engagements and had his bow ties confiscated.

Light began to dawn on the subject of the spinach.

"One week," Smith said. "The full manuscript, or else."

"There is no manuscript. Good evening, sir."

"Well, then you'd better get writing. Sir."

Their footsteps retreated, Jeeves' sounding loud on the uncarpeted floor of the hallway. That paragon generally shimmers from place to place in a form of locomotion far above that of mere mortals such as you or I. For his steps to be audible at all, he must truly be in a bad way.

At last, when all was silent, I righted myself and nearly tripped over the piece of equipment again. In the alcove with me was a large camera, trained on the apparatus I had observed before. Observed from this angle, I saw that the leather straps were at appropriate distances for wrists and ankles. In fact, it reminded me of something in one of the books--one where the hero ended his adventures in a madhouse whose doctors were only slightly less perverse than Matthews himself. It all sounded a bit chilly to me. Drafty places, madhouses.

I surveyed the room, the camera. A nasty sort of suspicion was growing in my mind. It was time to call in an expert.

❧❧❧

"Sunflower?" exclaimed Knees over a bottle. We were ensconced in the basement of his bookshop where the fruitiest stuff was hidden. "Why didn't you just say so? Of course I know it. Everybody knows that place."

With a nickname like that, naturally, he would. Some of us, however, preferred a more genteel life, free from cameras and importuning Americans.

"Bah. I'll bet they don't get one usable photo in ten. That sort of smut is hard. Not many have the talent on the go, though I've got this one photographer you wouldn't believe..."

"For God's sake, what am I going to do about this Smith fellow?"

"Avoid doing anything racy in front of suspicious draperies? I'm afraid I don't see the problem, old thing. How did he even lure you there in the first place without realizing you'd arrived?"

"I may have been following another party," I said. "And party the first met party the second, this being Smith, in the room with the camera. Only party the first wouldn't have known about the camera, so if he were to go back there..."

Knees' eyes lit up. "Bertie, old man," he said in reverent tones. "You don't mean to tell me that this party the first has something to do with those books?"

"I don't mean to tell you anything of the sort," I said.

"No, no, that's too bad of you. Do you have any idea what a new one would be worth? A book a year and then, pfft, nothing! You don't mean to tell me the author is here."

"Dash it, Knees, this isn't the time," I said. "Wait, I say, how long has it been since he published one?"

"Eight years, nearly to the day! The man's a veritable legend in my world, Bertie. Why, the chance to shake his hand--"

"You won't be shaking anything if Smith exposes him. And if he doesn't get this bloody manuscript he was on about, he very well might."

Knees' eyes gleamed. "No American publisher is going to beat me to that book. Lead on, MacDuff."

❧❧❧

"I say! That's hardly sporting!"

"You're going to make me a very rich man, Mr. Wooster," Smith said.

Another week found me back in the Sunflower Club experiencing the contraption first-hand and wishing Knees to the devil. I remembered suddenly that there were reasons we had parted ways after school. Many was the scrape that had ended with me in the soup and Knees nowhere to be found. Here I was, out of the gazpacho and into the bouillabaisse as it were.

"Blast it all, come back here!" I yelled after Smith, but my words fell on deaf ears.

After a chilly interval in which I vowed to take up calisthenics and to biff Knees in the nose at some near future date, I heard a noise in the hallway outside. I craned my neck around.

Jeeves stood in the doorway, a look of horror replacing his usual noble mein.

"What ho," I said. "What ho, what ho." That might have been the brandy speaking. Smith had a liberal hand with the stuff.

Jeeves crossed to me at a trot, not much of the shimmer about him now. "Sir," he said in stricken tones. "You're here."

"Yes, I do seem to be here," I said. "Not sure about my suit. The gray one. Awfully sorry about that, old thing. Might have a devil of a time cleaning it once you find it."

His hand hovered over my shoulder, but he jerked away as if burned. "Sir, has he given you something?"

"Lovely, lovely brandy. I don't know why the room is so blasted cold," I said.

Smith re-entered, trailed by a couple of goons he'd sent to collect me earlier. I revised my estimation: the Sunflower Club was dashed iniquitous if it had let us through the door, though I seemed to remember coming in the back somewhere. Perhaps my suit wasn't lost after all. That was good. Jeeves would be pleased.

Currently, he was anything but. Strong words were being exchanged over by the doorway.

"You will tell me what you have given to Mr. Wooster, and you will allow me to escort him to his personal physician. Now."

"Not so fast, bucko."

Jeeves stumbled back towards me, movements uncoordinated as I felt. "I say," I started, but fell silent when I saw Smith's gun.

"That's right, Smart Guy," Smith was saying. "You're going to give me a little preview of your next book. If I like what I see, no one has to get hurt."

Jeeves quivered with rage. It was enough to warm a body, even in this blasted chilly room. It's one thing I simply couldn't understand about those books: everyone was always taking their clothes off in the draftiest, most inconvenient places. Though perhaps if one ran as hot as Jeeves…

"Impossible."

"I say, is this some sort of prank, Smith? I don't find it very amusing," I said.

"Spinach… Jesus. You really are every bit as dumb as he wrote you."

"I don't see why you have to bring my diet into this. Dashed rude." It all came out a bit slurred.

Smith laughed at me. "Christ. And to think I tried to bargain with you. Okay, Matthews, you can explain it to him. I'll give you two a minute to talk." He smiled nastily and retreated to the door with his goons.

"Sir, sir, can you hear me." I felt Jeeves' hands on my cheeks. He appeared to be examining my eyes.

"It's dashed cold in here," I told him. "I do wish you'd get on with it."

"Sir?"

"Where is the old feudal spirit, Jeeves?"

"Sir!"

He was white as a sheet and trembling slightly.

"Well, I mean to say, you've done the boring bit--the spinach and salmon--when are we going to get to the tabasco?"

Jeeves blinked at me. My valet is, as I have said, something akin to the large jungle cat lying in wait upon the tropical bough, ready at any moment to spring upon its unsuspecting prey. That evening, however, he more closely resembled a tabby confronted with a pack of ravening hounds. "Sir, you cannot be implying…"

"Dash it all, Jeeves, I am not implying a bally thing," I hissed. "Implying suggests there's some ambiguity, some shilly-shallying around the point, whereas I am asking what the devil you mean by giving me the spinach and not the stick, if that's the phrase I want…"

"I believe it more usually involves a carrot," said Jeeves weakly, but he smiled.

"Carrots!" I exclaimed. "Carrots I could have borne. No, nary a carrot-hater will you find upon the Wooster family tree, but spinach--"

"Sir, am I to understand that you desire to participate in the activities outlined for us by Mr… Ah… Smith?"

It was at that moment that Smith re-entered, cutting the conversation short.

❧❧❧

I gazed up at the ceiling. Creative, the author might be, but his books had not done him justice.

A curtain rustled on the far side of the room. From behind it stepped a nondescript young man with a camera he shot a nervous glance at us before beetling out of the room, equipment in tow. I felt Jeeves stiffen beside me.

"Goodbye, gents." Smith grinned. "I look forward to that manuscript. I have a feeling it will be your most inspired yet."

Jeeves watched him go, his shoulders slumped. Finally, he turned to me and began to undo the straps, massaging each limb as he freed it, studiously not looking at my face. He had that look again like he'd eaten a bad piece of fish.

"Dash, it, Jeeves," I said. "You'll give a fellow a complex looking like that." He eyed me dubiously. "Now, really, when has a Wooster failed to hold his liquor." Jeeves sighed. He seemed to be deciding between several answers, none of them likely to be flattering to yours truly. "I have it all under control," I said. "Except for the gun. I wasn't expecting a gun. I hope the cameraman is all right…"

"Sir?"

"I have a couple of pals waiting for Otis outside. He'll be fine." Knees slithered out from another curtain. How many bally alcoves did this den of vice have anyway?

"Ah, Jeeves, allow me to introduce you to my old school friend Mr. T--."

"Bertie, you dolt! Not here! Christ, how much did he give you?"

"I am acquainted with the gentleman by reputation, sir," interposed Jeeves, still looking g. about the g. Funny how much it looked like indigestion even to the eye of experience.

"I'll be damned," said Knees. "Murderous Matthews knows me!"

Jeeves' right eyebrow twitched in a way that suggested the name was both familiar and unwelcome. "I prefer to keep a modicum of distance between fiction and reality, sir," he said in his frostiest tones.

"Only about a modicum!" said Knees. Those photographs are going to be something else!" Jeeves stiffened, but Knees just laughed. "Oh, don't worry: my man kept your faces out of things. They're all of that idiot Smith and his gun. He'll really be in the soup if these ever get out."

"May I suggest, sir, that the danger to my employer is considerably greater than that to Mr. Smith, witness or not. Should the police receive copies of such pictures, there is a chance they would be able to identify him."

"Not bloody likely! Any copper who gets his hands on these will be dragging the Thames for unfortunate rentboys, not snooping around Berkeley Square for perverted toffs. No imagination at all, these police! Why, I once had to explain to a constable why a wealthy young lady would willingly pose for…"

❧❧❧

Some days later, after the publishing contracts had been worked out and Knees had departed to "put the screws" to his literary rival (with the aid, he assured me, of several heavily-armed pals), Jeeves and I were spending a relaxing evening at home--he with the stern look and the hairbrush in hand, I with self arranged artfully over an ottoman. (I vetoed the kitchen table. I mean, really! No padding at all on the things! Bally uncomfortable as well as unsanitary!)

"I'm afraid, sir, that with what you know, I cannot afford to let you go free," Jeeves was saying in a forbidding sort of voice. It was similar to the tone he used for my more adventurous choices of neckwear, only this time, it was my person he menaced instead of only my wardrobe.

"Do you promise?" I asked. "Err, that is, I'll escape you yet, you fiend!"

Jeeves laughed--a deep, throaty chuckle that would have been the envy of any villain on the stage. His hand was warm and solid on my back, pinning me in place. "You may try, sir."

"Going to punish rebellion like old whats-his-name with the whatsits?"

"I believe that to be the usual practice of tyrants, sir," replied Jeeves and proceeded to have his wicked way with the young master.

FIN