Characters: Archie Goodwin, Nero Wolfe, Peggy Carter, Edwin Jarvis
Warnings/Triggers: some blood
Pairings: None, but some flirting happens
Word Count 3,407
Summary: Archie tells a tale with no beginning and no end, for posterity’s sake.
Author's notes: I had a really bad migraine over the weekend. And, while I was lying in bed with my brain fuzzy, it decided that Nero Wolfeand Agent Carter should be crossed over. I have literally no idea why I was even thinking about Nero Wolfe, but when I sat down to write it, I did the whole first draft in twenty minutes. So, here we are. Starting 2016 off with a weird crossover as my first story.
It’s been many moons since my Nero Wolfe fandom days, but I did a little brushing up on media, and I hope Archie’s voice sounds okay. I aimed it more toward the TV series than the books, just because it was easier to hear Timothy Hutton’s voice in my head.
Nero Wolfe is a tiny, tiny fandom, at best, so if you are unfamiliar with it, I’m not surprised, and you might be lost reading this, as it's all from Archie's POV. I highly recommend getting your hands on some of the books, or the A&E tv series. They are both fantastically entertaining.
Wolfe was sitting in his chair at his desk, eyes closed, hand clasped on his large stomach, lips pursing in and out.
Now, I know I usually start a story well ahead of this part of the investigation. I start with the client showing up at Wolfe’s door begging for help, or the body being found, or the crime being discovered. Begin at the beginning: those are the rules. And in this case, I did begin at the beginning. I wrote it, and you’ve probably read it. But I left out a part of the story because it didn’t have anything to do with that case. It was a strange interlude that happened in the middle, with no beginning or end, and that doesn’t jive well with the crime-loving audience. So, we’re beginning in the middle.
Wolfe was sitting in his chair, thinking. I was sitting at my desk waiting for him to think. The doorbell rang. Wolfe didn’t notice, because he’s dead to the world when his lips start going and isn’t alive again until they stop. I told him I’d get the door. He didn’t object.
Through the one-way glass, I could see a woman. A real nice one. Red lips, dewy brown eyes, and waves of brunette hair under her hat. She stared expectantly at the glass, and I didn’t want to keep her waiting, so I opened the door.
“Hello,” she said, before I could. “I’m being followed by five men, and I would very much appreciate it if I could step in for a few moments.”
You might think a person would say stuff like that in a voice like they were scared or upset or anxious. High-pitched, trembling, tears on the verge of falling, that sort of thing. Not this person. She said it all like she was asking me to buy a magazine subscription.
“Hello,” I replied, since that’s good form to start off with. I was going to ask for some clarification, but she turned to look over her shoulder and the back of her head was all blood, staining the collar of her coat. It’s also good form to let girls in when they come bleeding at you. “Come in.”
I stepped back. She stepped in, past me, and down the hall. I leaned out to see if I could catch the guys who were following her.
“Close the door,” she said, like a princess giving an order to her servant. She was British, and I decided she might very well be a princess.
I closed the door. “You don’t look like you should be upright,” I said. “That’s a nasty knock to the head. Maybe you should sit down. Do you need a doctor?”
She touched the back of her head and looked at the blood on her fingers. Some girls might have shown disgust or fear. Some might even have fainted. Not her.
“No,” she said. “I’m fine, thank you.”
She took a couple more steps forward. Then they went sideways and forwards and towards the wall. I stopped her before she met it.
“On second thought, sitting down might be a good idea,” she said. “I’m Betty Harper, by the way.”
“Archie Goodwin,” I replied, and nudged her upright again.
“Oh, good,” she said. “I hazarded at the address. Do you know you’ve listed ten different house numbers in your stories? One of them puts you right in the Hudson.”
“I like to keep people guessing,” I said. “How about we sit down while we talk real estate?”
I was going to put in her in the front room, but she took herself to the office, and it’s not polite to tackle a lady with a head injury, even if she was about to interrupt the world’s greatest genius in the middle of being a genius.
“Oh, and there’s Nero Wolfe,” she said, matter-of-factly.
“There’s Nero Wolfe,” I agreed.
Wolfe didn’t move. She could have come in naked and playing the trombone, and he probably wouldn’t have moved.
“This is Miss Harper,” I said, anyway. “She’s going to sit down.” No response. “Don’t worry, he’s fine. He’s just shy. Here, take a seat.”
I pulled my desk chair out for her, since it was the closest, and put her in it. She took off her hat and put it on my desk. “You sure you don’t want a doctor?” I said. “I know a good one; he lives a few houses down from here. Very discreet, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
“No, thank you, I’m quite all right,” she said. I was falling in love with her accent a little bit. Everything she said sounded like exquisite glass breaking. “But perhaps something to clean myself up with would be nice. And may I borrow a pen?”
“Sure,” I said. I reached across and got one, along with some paper in case she needed that, too. “I’ll get you a cloth.”
She smiled at me, and I fell deeper in love and started naming our children as I popped into the john to wet a facecloth for her. We’d tell the story of how we’d met to our grandkids, and they would laugh at the silly things Grandma and Grandpa used to do. I made sure the cloth was nice and cold and brought it out to her.
“It’s fine,” I said to Wolfe, who hadn’t moved. “I’m taking care of Miss Harper. Just stay put. I wouldn’t want you to hurt yourself.”
She was writing fast when I got back, but I couldn’t figure out the words. They weren’t in English. I don’t think they were in anything but some code only she could understand. Or maybe she got hit harder in the head than I’d thought.
“I’m going to touch your head, is that okay?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said.
I lifted some of her hair out of the way (I hoped our children would have her hair, it was nice) and got a look at the gash. It bled a lot. Head wounds did. It wasn’t serious, though. “I’m getting the idea you aren’t much for questions or details,” I said. “But if you’re in danger, we can help.”
“You are helping,” she said. “Immensely. Ouch!”
“Sorry,” I said. I eased off on the pressure I was putting on her. “Do you need me to call the cops?”
“No,” she said. “They would be entirely unhelpful in this matter.”
“They usually are,” I said. “But girls who run around with head wounds should either see a doctor or the police in my experience.”
“I’m perfectly fine,” she said. She finished writing and took over pressure herself. “I was merely looking for a place to stop through for a moment, and I know you did some work with us during the War.”
I didn’t do a whole lot during the War, thanks to Wolfe. He was considered necessary at home, and I was considered necessary to him. The only work I did was what he told me. Some of it was pretty vague, actually, and I wondered if she was part of that particular vagueness. It might explain a few things.
“Who’s ‘us’?” I asked, to confirm my theory.
"No one,” she said, and confirmed it. Her eyes twinkled like stars, and I considered proposing there, but I figured it was too soon. She didn’t look like a girl who scared easy, but you want your fiancée not to be bleeding when you propose. That’s good form.
She looked to Wolfe, who was still pursing. “Is he all right?”
“Yep,” I said. “Let’s talk about you. How does a nice girl like you get koshed in the head and chased by bad guys?”
“Who says I’m a nice girl?” she asked.
“You seem very polite,” I said. “Please and thank you and all that. Mothers like that. If I brought you home, you’d get along great.”
“Let me be very polite then and ask, respectfully, to please not look too hard at anything that’s happened today,” she said. “It’s for the best.”
“What am I gonna tell Mom?” I said. “She’ll be disappointed.”
“Send her flowers,” Miss Harper said. “I hear Mr. Wolfe grows some very fine orchids.”
The whole thing took ten minutes, maybe. Once her head stopped bleeding, she was up and off again, even though I begged and pleaded. Damsels in distress are a subject on which I consider myself to be very knowledgable, and I wasn’t pleased that this one was not letting me undistress her. I also felt like she should be more distressed than she was and, I have to admit, that put me on the back foot.
“Do you have an exit other than the front door?” she asked.
“Through the kitchen,” I said. “It’ll take you out onto 34th. I could drive you where you need to go.”
“No, thank you, I’d rather walk,” she said. “Which way to the kitchen?”
I showed her through. Fritz was there, getting lunch ready.
“This is Miss Harper,” I told him. “She just stopped in to bleed for a while, and now she’s leaving.”
“Oh, my,” Fritz said, looking up from his chopping board with wide eyes. “Hello, Miss.” He gave me the look that said ‘she’s very pretty, Archie’ and then the look that said ‘what sort of trouble is she causing for us, Archie?’. I shrugged back.
“Hello,” she said. She passed by the island and then came back, picking up a meat tenderizer. “May I borrow this?”
Fritz opened his mouth to object, but I was in before him. “Sure,” I said. “Knock yourself out.”
“That’s not quite the plan,” she said. “But thank you.”
She left, and I followed.
“But Archie, the steaks!” Fritz called after us, with all the grief that changing a meal plan would bring him.
“Be a gentleman, Fritz,” I said. “She’s hurt.”
We went out to the back garden, where Fritz’s herbs were doing what they could to grow, which wasn’t a lot. There was a gate back there, but she wasn’t having any of waiting for me to unlock it. She just took a run, jumped, and swung her leg over the top of the fence.
“Thank you very much, Mr. Goodwin,” she said. “You’ve been remarkable.”
“I often am,” I said. “I could be even more remarkable if you give me some direction.”
She gave me another twinkling smile and swung her other leg over. Then she was gone, taking Fritz’s meat tenderizer and my heart with her. Before you say I’m a jerk for letting her go off, I did try to follow. I was right there, at the gate, about to open it and tail her for her own safety, when she called back a very firm, “don’t follow me, Mr. Goodwin! You’ll only make things more difficult for me, and I will be forced to do something we’ll both regret to keep you put.”
That still didn’t put me off, and I unlocked the gate and went after her. But she was gone. By the time I came out of the alley, I couldn’t find her in any direction, and not for lack of trying. She’d disappeared like a dream.
Some dreams just aren’t meant to be followed, I guess, and there’s a word for guys who follow girls when they don’t want it. Besides, if she was part of what I thought she was, she’d be fine. Hopefully.
I went back inside. Wolfe had stopped pursing his lips.
“Where were you?” he asked.
“Helping Fritz with dinner,” I said.
“Get Saul, Orrie, and Fred here for 3PM,” Wolfe said.
I sat down and picked up the phone.
“Was there a woman here?” Wolfe said.
“Yes,” I said, as I dialed. “Don’t worry, she liked you. Which is good because, when we get married, you’re going to be seeing a lot of her.”
“Pfui!” Wolfe said.
The case kept me busy for the next twenty-four hours. If you’re interested in that, head to your local bookstore. You can read all about it. We got the murderer, all was well. Except for the girl who came through and left, and whom I wondered even existed, or if I’d just dozed off while Wolfe was thinking. Fritz’s lament for his tenderizer put a hole in that theory, but my call to Lon Cohen to see if he could find anything about a girl called Betty Harper came up empty. It was a common enough name but none of those Betty Harpers matched mine. Maybe it was a dream after all. My only consolation was that no girls matching her description showed up dead anywhere.
I was disheveled, and annoyed, and bewildered, and all sorts of unpleasant things that a guy gets when he’s been turned around by a dame. But only for twenty-four hours, because then the phone rang at 6:07PM the following night.
Wolfe was back down from his orchids, nose in a book that might be earning the golden bookmark but not quite yet. I picked up the phone and made noise into it and was rewarded with the sound of exquisite glass breaking:
“Hello, Mr. Goodwin.”
“Hey, I’ve been looking for you, Miss Harper,” I said.
“I know,” Miss Harper said. “That’s why I’ve rung. I appreciate the concern, but I’m quite fine. I want to thank you for your help yesterday.”
“My pleasure,” I said. “I wish I knew what I helped with.”
“Just be assured it was vital,” she said. “I’m afraid I can’t speak very long. Are you within view of the pot plant in the corner of your office?” I was. “Excellent. Could you go over to it and get something for me? I’m afraid I dropped it there yesterday.”
It was a heck of a long way from my desk to have dropped something. I picked up the phone and took it with me. Wolfe’s eyes came over the top of his book to watch me. I put the phone on a bookshelf and reached down. A little, cold square was down there. I took it out and looked at it. It was a metal box of some sort. It looked like it might open, but I couldn’t see how.
“If it looks like a cigarette lighter, I got it,” I said.
“Wonderful,” she said. “It will be collected shortly. Thank you once again, Mr. Goodwin.” She hung up the phone before I could say anything else.
I was left staring at the box with a dial tone in my ear until I managed to hang up the phone. As I did, the doorbell rang.
“Archie?” Wolfe said. “Who was that?”
“I don’t really know.”
“What is that you’re holding?”
“How did it get there?”
“You seem frazzled.”
The doorbell rang again. I went to get it. There was a man standing there, looking like someone had carefully starched and ironed him before he’d left the house.
“Good evening,” he said, when I opened the door. He was British, too. If they’re invading, you heard it here first. “I believe this belongs to a Swiss man who lives here.”
He handed me a meat tenderizer.
“Hey, you look different than how I remember, Miss Harper,” I said.
“Miss Harper sends her regrets,” he said, inclining his head with dignity. “My name is Jarvis. She’s asked me to come on her behalf. I believe you have something of hers?”
I looked down at the box in my hand. “How do I know she sent you?”
“She asked me to tell you that she hoped your mother enjoyed her orchids,” Jarvis said.
All right, well, that was specific enough, when paired with the meat tenderizer. I held out the box, and he wrapped it in a handkerchief and put it in his pocket.
“Thank you,” he said.
I tried to stare him down. He had the calm, pleasant expression of a man used to speaking to people he didn’t like and didn’t want them to know he didn’t like them.
“If Miss Harper needed something kept, we have a safe,” I said. “She could have asked. Putting stuff in people’s plants is rude, especially without telling them about it.”
“It’s no matter; it’s been kept safe anyway,” he said, amiably. He reached into his jacket and pulled out a piece of paper. “This is to compensate you for your trouble. And I believe it should cover the royalties you won’t have by not writing about your meeting.”
I get threats like that all the time, so I wasn’t intimidated. I was, admittedly, a little intimidated by the number on the cheque when I looked it over. A gentleman doesn’t report numbers like that, but there were a lot of zeros. Not surprising, considering the name there.
“Why does Howard Stark want to hamper my writing career?” I asked.
“In all honesty, I doubt Mr. Stark knows your books exist,” Jarvis said.
I admit that hurt. I don’t imagine the richest guy in the world has much time for literature, though. Even great literature, like the stuff I write.
“However, he has a vested interest in the affair and would consider it a matter of honor if you were to keep mum,” Jarvis went on.
I’m an honorable guy, so I agreed and shook on it.
“It’s been a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Goodwin,” Jarvis said. “My wife is a great fan of your stories.”
“Tell me what the hell is going on, and I’ll give her a signed advanced copy of my next one,” I said.
Jarvis’s pleasant look remained in place. “Miss Ca--erm--Harper, wants you to know your help has been invaluable,” he said. He gave me a little bow. “Good evening.”
He took himself on his merry way, jumping into a Daimler at the curb and driving off. I stared at the zeros for a while and tried to figure out how Miss Harper got a secret item into a plant when I was with her the whole time except for the five seconds I spent getting her a cloth. I have a good memory, and I knew I left her sitting at my desk, and she was in the exact same position when I got back. And she did it while Wolfe was sitting right there.
Yep. The only possible course of action was to marry her. There was no choice now.
Wolfe raised his eyebrows at me when I returned. “What’s going on?” he said. “Is there a client?” He made it sound as though that was the worst possible thing it could be. “We’ve just solved a case!”
“No client. But I made us enough to last for three months by escorting a girl through the house,” I told him. “I want a raise and a nameplate for my desk. Gold. With diamonds.”
“Flummery,” he said.
I put the cheque on his desk. “Not.”
It’s a rare sighting, seeing Wolfe that surprised. Visions of weeks without having to do work danced through his eyes.
“Put that in the safe for now and explain yourself,” he said.
“All right,” I said. “But I don’t know what’s going on, so don’t expect much.”
Once the money was locked away, I relayed the tale from start to finish, in excruciating detail, hoping maybe he could sort it out.
“You let a mysterious woman hide objects in this room?” he said, when I was done.
“I know, it’s not like me, is it?” I said. “And I don’t know how she did it, considering you were sitting there the whole time. Guess she’s pretty clever. I think we’ll name our first child after you. You’ll come to the wedding, right?”
Wolfe mumbled something that sounded like ‘confound the SSR’ and rang for his beer.
So, that’s my tale without a beginning and without a real end. I did some inquiries, and those inquiries were swiftly shut down by people who I was inclined to keep on the good side of. As per my gentlemen’s agreement, this won’t be published, but I’m writing it anyway for posterity. I’m going to put it in the file I’ve marked ‘Harper, B’.
After all, the grandchildren might want to read it someday.