sam_storyteller: (Default)
sam_storyteller ([personal profile] sam_storyteller) wrote2005-07-03 06:33 pm
Entry tags:


Summary: Archie can't tell the stories anymore.
Rating: PG13 for violence.
Warnings: Multiple character death, including suicide. This is not a happy story.
Notes: I wrote this a couple of years ago and recently located some fellow Wolfe fans online, so I thought I'd share. Eruthros will, I think, recall this, she was the catalyst for it.

First Posted 4.22.04

Also available at AO3.


Archie was always the one who wrote the stories about us so, by rights -- since this is a story about Archie Goodwin and Nero Wolfe, and me, Saul Panzer, and all the gang -- then Archie ought to be writing it. It ought to be written down, anyhow, but he can't write it, so I am.

Nero Wolfe has Archie on the payroll full time, as bodyguard and secretary and I don't know what else, and he hires me and Fred Durkin when he needs extra help. Sometimes, when business is slow, I'll tag along with Archie anyway, since in this job you can't ever afford to get rusty.

We were doing that once, watching an apartment, when we got to chinning. Specifically, I asked Archie why, if he had such a sweet number and she was rich and smart too, he didn't put a ring on her finger in a minute.

"Lily thinks marriage is an economic convenience she doesn't need," he said, "and so do I. Course, I wouldn't mind kids, but I won't have 'em, and I'll tell you why."

"Is it coz of Wolfe's hellion kid? Not all kids get themselves embroiled in international intrigues, you know."

"Nah." He looked out the window. "I figure, in this life, you and I are both gonna die young. We carry guns and we get shot at, and both of those things are dangerous. Now imagine me with a wife and two little kids. I've moved out of the brownstone and I'm living not too far away, maybe on 34th so that if Wolfe has nerves in the middle of the night, I can go over and badger him. Anyhow, here I am with my happy family, a little girl named Flora and a kid named--"

"Archie Junior?" I asked, just to bug him.

"No kid oughta be named Archie, really. It's against nature. Maybe Lew."

"Lou? What the hell kind of name for a kid is Lou?"

"Not Lou, Lew, with an eeh and a doubleyou."

"Lew? Just Lew?"

"Lewis. Llewellyn. I don't know. The point is, I've put Flora and Not-Archie-Junior to bed, and the telephone rings, and it's you saying get over to Wolfe's, there's trouble, and so I kiss my wife goodbye and ride into the sunset to help out. I get to the brownstone and guess what, there's a bunch of mobsters there and they've shot Wolfe, and now they've shot me. And my kids wake up in the morning and ask where daddy is, and they all go down to the brownstone to surprise me, and there I am under a sheet."

Archie lit a cigarette and stared out across the street. "Nope, no kids. Just me and Fritz and Wolfe and Theodore, you and Fred, and Lily on weekends."

I didn't think much about it at the time, but it's those kinds of things you remember later on. It's years later now, of course, and Archie and Lily never did marry; I guess Lily doesn't mind, or if she does, she never showed it.

I wasn't working for Wolfe when he first took the Brandon case, but he hired me about halfway through it to run a sort of a con with Archie, and the con went wrong. Wolfe never tells us any more than we need to know, sometimes not even what we DO need to know, so I guess I won't ever have the full story behind why I was there and who I was shooting at when I got brained from behind. Archie was behind a couch next to me, between the bad guys and the door, and I guess it was him that held them until the police got there.

They found Archie covered with his own blood, staring down two guys with his Colt on one and mine on the other, and it was Cramer himself who drove Archie to the hospital, and closed his eyes for him when the docs shook their heads and said it was over.

I knew pretty early, once the crack to my head wore off. Just across the room, there was the Inspector, chewing thoughtfully on a cigar and looking at the bloody lump on the bed like it was responsible for a part of the world coming unglued. Nero Wolfe showed up five minutes later to identify the body, not that it needed it. I don't forget much, so it would be worthless to say I'll never forget the scene I saw, but if I'd been an ordinary man it would still be burned in my memory.

Fritz had driven Wolfe at breakneck speed across the city to the hospital, and they came in brushing off doctors and nurses who were telling them they weren't allowed.

"Nero," Cramer said roughly.

"Cramer," Wolfe replied, in the same tone. Fritz turned away quickly when Cramer pulled the sheet back, and even Wolfe's enormous frame shuddered.

It wasn't pretty. Archie Goodwin was a handsome man but even his face had blood on it, and he'd taken three or four shots otherwise. His snappy suit was shiny with dried blood, sticky-looking. Wolfe flicked a flake of blood from Archie's forehead, smoothing down his hair with the same deftness he might have used straightening an orchid petal.

"Are they incarcerated?" he asked, and Cramer said yes, they were. It'd be murder, he said, and he was sure they'd get the chair.

"That will be a merciful end for them, comparatively." Wolfe turned away from the body, and Cramer covered it back up. "We are born to die, after all. No..." he seemed to be talking to himself, "they will not have the dignity of dying for a worthy cause. Archie believed very strongly in worthy causes. Perhaps too strongly, but every hero has a fatal flaw...there must be arrangements made. Saul, are you well?"

"I am, sir," I answered.

"Good. We will take you out of this...this place. Come."

Cramer paved the way through the paperwork, and we found ourselves back at the brownstone with the sun setting through Wolfe's window outside. I helped him out of his coat and hat and put them out of the way. Neither of us looked at Archie's desk. Wolfe settled into his chair, folded his hands across his belly, and fixed his eyes on me.

"How are you?" he asked, which was about the last thing I was expecting. A rage, maybe, or why I couldn't help Archie out, or why couldn't it have been me shot -- the kinds of things I was asking myself.

"My head hurts," I said. Wolfe looked at Fritz, who nodded and vanished into the kitchen. He reappeared a minute later, carrying a bottle of beer, a glass, and a second glass of gin on a tray. I took the gin; Wolfe poured the beer deliberately, like he always did.

"How long has it been?" he asked. "We become set in our ways, and the world sometimes passes us by. How many years, Saul?"

I don't know what came over me, but for the life of me I couldn't recall when we'd started in this business. For a second it seemed like maybe Wolfe had started up during the depression, but other times it seems like Archie and I had a lot of work through the fifties. And Orrie had died in '74. But if that was true, we couldn't have started in '30...

"A long time," I said finally.


We sat there, him staring at nothing in particular and me watching him and Fritz making quiet noises in the other room, although God knows we wouldn't have expected him to cook dinner. I was worried; I knew that no matter how screwy my memory was it had been a damned long time since Archie first started work for Wolfe, and he was a part of our lives so ingrained it was like breathing. If the president of the United States had died, we wouldn't have been this silent. We hadn't, when Kennedy had died. Archie had been sober and solemn, and Wolfe forbidding, and me mostly drunk, but there hadn't been this oppressive weight -- like an emptiness bearing down on a man.

"It was how he wanted to die," I said finally, because I couldn't stand the weight any longer. "He didn't want to die, I mean, but if he had to die, he wanted it to be like that. He expected it."

"I know," Wolfe rumbled. "Foolish man. He was not cautious, he was -- " his fist thumped the table, so hard I jumped. "Foolish man! Headstrong, like Marko, like Carla." He said something in another language. "He was a stupid, stubborn man."

He looked up to see Fritz standing in the doorway, a sudden look of horror on his face. He must have been standing there for five minutes or more; on his tray was another bottle of beer, a glass of gin, and a chilled glass of milk. The tray was shaking slightly.

"Mon dieu." Fritz said softly. "I am so sorry. I did not think..."

"Fritz." Wolfe took the glass from him, and waved him into a seat. "I will do it. We are all human."

He rose and looked right at me and his eyes were blank, almost empty.

"Saul, never blame yourself," he murmured. "It was not your fault. I cannot forgive a nonexistent trespass. But if it will balm your wounds, whatever else you believe, believe that if it had been your fault, I would forgive you."

"Yes sir," I said heavily, because it was a heavy moment. Neither Fritz nor I knew how heavy, until afterwards. Wolfe turned to take the milk back to the kitchen and Fritz wiped his nose with a handkerchief. It was so quiet you could have heard a pin drop, so we both heard what came next -- the doors to the kitchen opened, then closed again, opened for a second time. At the same time they closed there was a thump, like a rock landing in soft soil, and both of us were on our feet. We couldn't have done anything; it was already too late for Nero Wolfe.

The doctors said it was a heart attack, that it wasn't unusual for a man in his shape and he probably never felt a thing, it happened so fast. But I know, and probably Fritz does, that he had a heart a lot bigger than he ever showed, and his heart was broke clear through. Archie was one-half of him, we all knew that; when Archie died, Nero Wolfe didn't have much to live for.

I won't go through everything we did, the hospital and the police, the funeral arrangements, because there are some things a man shouldn't have to share. I can only give you pictures like I see them in my mind: Lily Rowan was in yellow, but her face was streaked with makeup and tears when I saw her after she'd heard. Cramer shouted like a madman, and Stebbins had to hold him back from murdering the killers with his bare hands. Fred Durkin got roaring drunk with me, and we told everyone we knew about the good old days, and how there'd never be another Nero Wolfe, nor an Archie Goodwin, God bless 'em.

Theodore might have been the worst; Wolfe's will said he was to give away every orchid, and who to give them to, but he killed most of them. Except the black ones.

The funeral, the one for two men, was rich in black and red foliage. Fred and Dol Bonner, Lily Rowan and me, Sally Corbett and Lon Cohen carried Archie; Wolfe was cremated, and his ashes went back to the Black Mountain he'd come from. It wasn't legal, of course, but we managed it anyway.

The reception afterwards was in a hall that couldn't hold all the people who came; they spilled out onto the lawn in front, each with a black orchid Theodore gave them from the last plants. There were newspaper reporters, upper-society and lower, and most of the New York police. Cramer didn't come; he didn't like funerals.

I was standing with a drink in one hand and a fading orchid in the other, listening to Lily try to tell me she was doing just fine, and was glad Archie had at least done the right thing, and not believing a word of it, when it happened. She said something, but a flash of yellow from behind her caught my attention; a dark-haired man in a black suit and yellow shirt had passed by. I left Lily standing there, and pushed through the crowd after him.

"Hey--" I wanted to know who would wear yellow to a funeral, and how he knew, but he wouldn't turn around. Finally I grabbed his arm, across two people, and he turned around.

Archie grinned down at me, put a finger to his lips, and dashed away.

I gave chase, naturally, but there were so many people, and I was so shocked, that I didn't do very well. I cried after him, of course, but nobody else seemed to see him, and they all thought I'd lost it.

I caught another flash and followed it again. He whirled like he was dancing, waved to me, and cocked his head towards the back of the hall. I gaped, and he laughed. Nobody even turned around.

Of course, I haven't got any too firm opinion of my own sanity, but I like to think when I see a dead man laughing at me, something's going wrong. I made time for the back and ducked behind a curtain. I just caught his back as he was turning away, still as if he wasn't walking so much as dancing. Archie loved to dance.

Another dark room; light flared for a minute, and I swore I saw Wolfe seated on a couch, Archie crossing the room to say hi and bug him like he always did. I groped for a switch, but the room was empty when the lights came up. Archie's laughter faded off.

I thought I must be bughouse for sure, and turned back to the reception. Lily had followed me, and she grabbed me by the arms.

"Saul, what are you doing?" she asked. "You look like you've lost your mind."

I answered something, I don't remember what, and shook it off. I could only see a yellow silk shirt, which was more Wolfe, but Archie did wear them, and a dark suit like Archie liked.

I can't swear I'm not crazy. It's been two weeks since the funeral, but I still see Archie looking down at me, his finger on his lips as if he's got me in on some big secret that only him and me and Wolfe share, and it's something terribly funny. Then again, Archie thought life was a pretty funny thing anyhow. Wolfe did too, only in a different way. Maybe this is their practical joke; I don't know anymore.

Wolfe had something when he said the men who killed Archie weren't going to die from bleeding to death, slowly and painfully like Archie did. Oh, he was wrong, but if he hadn't said that...well, the cops are looking for me now, too, because they know I'm the only one who could have broke in and done what I did and got out again without being caught. They think Lily helped, but she didn't; don't believe she'd do something like that. She hadn't any blood on her hands. I had two men's on mine, so what was two more, and murderers at that? They only got what they deserved. Less than they deserved, really.

I've seen Archie and Wolfe, and I know they're not really dead, not anymore. I think it was a coincidence they were at the funeral; there was some mystery, and they just happened to be there.

I'm not talking clearly anymore, but I'm not talking for anyone else anyhow. I can see Archie again, and he's still laughing. The joke's on everyone else -- even Wolfe's chuckling now. How great it all is; nobody, not us heroes, we don't really ever die. There's always someone who believes in us and that's all we really need. That's why Archie wrote, you know -- because people believed, and people have gotta have something to believe in. I know I do.

And they still believe, so they still know in some little unconscious corner that Archie's sitting in the brownstone, at a quarter to eleven, waiting for Wolfe to come down with his orchids and test his fountain pen. And Wolfe's sitting in his chair, talking on the telephone to Archie, who's just found some fascinating new clue they have to decipher. And Archie's running in to do battle, guns blazing. I'll be right beside him, too.

I'm tired of freelancing life. It's time I settled down, got myself a steady job. Fritz already got himself hired by Lily -- they need each other, anyhow, especially with Lily...with Archie's little Not-Archie-Junior on the way. They're the only other ones who really understand what it's like, losing Wolfe and Archie. Except Fred maybe, and I don't know where he went. Theodore...well, he isn't sad anymore, but I wouldn't want his kind of happiness for the world, full of padded walls and white coats.

I bet Wolfe'd take me on as an errand boy. Archie and I could have some real adventures together, much more real than anything we ever had yet. Maybe I'll tell you some, sometime.

Wolfe's getting impatient, and I can see Archie waving at me. The poison works pretty slowly, until the very end, but it's got a good head of steam now. I took it at least an hour ago. I can't write much longer.

I'm crossing past, Archie. Tell Wolfe I'm coming. It's not long; we've got all the time in the world. Heroes don't die, they don't. We'll have a time of it, soon enough.

Won't we have a time of it!


Inspector Cramer looked up from the third page, and his eyes met the beady little ones of Purley Stebbins, still bloodshot.

"I think it's safe to call it a suicide. This note's pretty explicit."

"I always knew Panzer was a little nuts," Stebbins said, but his heart wasn't in it. Cramer blew his nose and found a cigar to chew on.

"I don't know. Don't you think there's any sense in it?" he asked. "Just some?"

"Sure, I guess. If you want to believe it."

Cramer looked back at the crumpled paper. Saul hadn't even signed it, but it sounded like him.

"I dunno, Stebbins." Cramer rubbed his chin. "I dunno."

Out of the corner of his eye, he could have sworn he saw Archie Goodwin, laughing at him.

ext_22618: (Default)

[identity profile] 2008-05-22 05:36 am (UTC)(link)
<3. I would leave a proper review, but this has me so gobsmacked that I honestly don't know what to say. I didn't even know other Nero Wolfe fans existed. (Um, confession time - never read the books, but used to adore the TV show when it was on - am I still a proper fan?)

Anyway, this was fantastic and is going in my memories.

[identity profile] 2008-05-22 11:11 am (UTC)(link)
LOL, I think we'll allow it. Though you really should try the books, they're by and large awesome. :D Glad you enjoyed the fic!
ext_22618: (Default)

[identity profile] 2008-05-22 12:33 pm (UTC)(link)
*Sigh of relief* That's good, then! Hmmm, I'll definitely look into it - they do sound like awesome books.

(Anonymous) 2008-05-23 01:17 pm (UTC)(link)
Before I comment, let me inform you that I am a huge Nero Wolfe fan. I have every book and novella, and I acquired most of them in the days before alibris and abebooks, when the only way to get them was to comb through countless used book stores.

Okay, that out of the way:

I thought this was an excellent story. There are some great writers who are continuing the Wolfe series right into our time, like Glenn Dixon ( and Alan Vanneman (, but if the series ever needed closure, then I would want it to happen just the way it did in your story. Some have imagined that Archie and Wolfe have retired, with Archie finally marrying Lily and Wolfe moved to his home in Egypt, but that's... inconclusive. On the other hand, their dying seems... inconceivable. Your story somehow bridged the gap between the two. You called it sad and depressing, but I would call it bittersweet. To end on Archie's laugh can't be all bad.

Okay, that said, a few specifics: I liked that the story was not told by Archie, because that avoids the most serious obstacle anyone wanting to continue the series faces, which is getting Archie's voice right.

I also liked, very much, the way you pulled together a scene set early in the original series -- where, for example, Archie still smokes -- and also scenes set late in the series. That sort of gives the story a completeness, as though paying homage to the overarching series. In the same vein, I liked how Saul and Wolfe struggled to remember how long they had actually worked together, and in the end couldn't conceive it. Nice touch.

Although you avoided having to mimic Archie's voice, you didn't avoid the challenge of having to portray Wolfe -- probably the second hardest thing to do -- and you did that very well. In particular, the place where Wolfe surprises Saul by asking "How are you?" That seemed exactly what Wolfe would say at that moment. Nicely done.

Sorry to post anonymously, but I've never been able to get that OpenID thing to work. I'll include my URLs below just so you don't think I'm really trying to be anonymous.

Thanks for the story.


P.S. If you were young and foolish in 2004, you cannot possibly be old and foolish now, just four years later. You have to pass through middle-aged and foolish first. :)

(Anonymous) 2011-01-04 10:00 am (UTC)(link)
I'm the fourth Nero Wolfe fan still inhabiting the web, but it is too late at night to log in. I enjoyed this story very much; Archie would approve, and Wolfe might even say, "Satisfactory."

You are a wonderful writer, but of course you know that. I would like to (an abomination, Wolfe would doubtless say) friend you on LJ, where I mostly hang out.

Thank you for bringing me a great deal of pleasure with your stories.

vamysteryfan: (Default)

[personal profile] vamysteryfan 2011-06-05 09:20 pm (UTC)(link)
I've been reading your stories on a rainy Sunday afternoon. I owe you tons of kudos but this one was amazing. I'm such a fan of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe books. This is a great way to look at the ending. They aren't really gone.

[personal profile] chironsgirl 2011-11-24 05:48 pm (UTC)(link)
Like Cohen the Barbarian and all his ilk, these heroes just keep going on.
hardboiledbaby: (archie suave)

[personal profile] hardboiledbaby 2012-04-10 09:01 am (UTC)(link)
Aw. Sad, to be sure, but these heroes do live on for us. Such a lovely story, thank you.