It was a clear, cool, dry day, rare for the last week in August in New York. But I was in no frame of mind to enjoy it as I walked up the 8 steps of the old brownstone on West 35th street. I had taken an assortment down to Malden’s apartment on Arbor street, but after half an hour couldn’t get in. He had a Yale lock. Worse, as I was kicking and banging on the door a woman down the hall opened the door a crack, and from the expression on on her face clearly made me as Archie Goodwin.
Fred Durkin had been shaken on tails yesterday and today. Saul was somewhere in a cell deep in the Tombs, having been nabbed by a security guard at 3 A.M. in an office in the Chrysler building. McInerny had a piano moved into his cell, but Saul was not the kind of guy who would be happy playing Chopin etudes for muggers, pimps and drug pushers in the bowels of Centre street. He would mope and fester, longing to be on a surveill- ance job up in Central Park, laying motionless in the bushes for 3 hours, catching some unsuspecting conver- sation near by.
The chain was off, so I let my self in with my key, paused and stared down the long hall at the office door at the end. I took a deep breath, strode down the hall, opened the door and walked in. Wolfe sat there with one foot up on his desk, leaning back and reading the Police Gazette. A McDonald’s bag was open on his desk with wrappers scattered around and a container of coffee, almost empty, sitting perilously close to the edge. He twisted around in his chair to get the light of the window and held up the centerfold. “What in hell is going on here?” I said “Couldn’t Fritz flip a few burgers for you?” Wolfe glanced up “Pah! No hamburger in the ice box, no bologna, not a can of Chef Boyardee in the pantry. That Swiss cheese is over at Al’s Diner right now eating his own lunch. Report.” “Well, a snag down on Arbor street, I barely got started when some kids started playing in the hall, so I played safe and post- poned it til tomorrow.” Wolfe’s eyes lowered, “Archie, the tiger’s eye only reflects light, it does not see it.” Pleased to get out of that so easy I switched the subject, “Anything on Saul?” “Parker’s working on it but is not optimistic. All the money I’m paying Nat he’d better produce. Without Saul we’re out of business within a year.” Wolfe looked forlorn, so I put on my happy grin and said “Why not go up to Mrs. Colucci’s in Katonah? Isn’t she an old friend of yours? Bet she could provide an angle or two.” Wolfe perked up. “Excellent idea.” He swung his foot around to get up and knocked the container of coffee off the desk. The container rolled around and coffee dribbled out all over the Kerghan rug. I took out my handkerchief and cleaned it up, throwing the cup and my wet chief into the wastebasket. Wolfe walked over to the large cabinet and took out a shoulder holster and strapped it on. He took the silver-plated .45, checked the clip, and stuck it in the holster and put on his jacket. “If we’re going all the way to Katonah” he said “I’d better make a pit stop first.” He walked back to the door and I sat down calling Theodore to tell him the phone was being switched up, then called Steve at the garage to tell him we’d be over in 10 minutes. A shot came from the bathroom. When the adrenaline rush stopped I pulled the Marley .32 and edging along the wall, moved to the door. I heard nothing, so slowly I pulled it open. Wolfe sat there looking up at me. “Everything’s OK, Archie. Just powder burns, but the toilet won’t flush until we get the plumber in.”
We walked over to the garage on 10th and 36th and just as we reached the door the 58 El Dorado came down the ramp, glided up to us and stopped on a dime. Steve stepped out in a quick, graceful movement leaving the pink and white Caddy with the door open and rocking gently. I walked around and got in the other side, preparing for a moment I always got a kick out of. Wolfe got in. I’d timed it many times with my wrist watch and it had never taken less than 1 minute and 20 seconds for him to squeeze, twist, grunt, shift, fidget and get into posit- ion behind the wheel. He slipped into gear, headed up Tenth, and took the 56th street cutoff. When we hit the Saw Mill River Parkway we immediately got stuck behind an old couple probably returning home from an early matinee at Radio City Music Hall. I hoped they didn’t glance in their rear view mirror, they would probably think they were being tailed by Jabba the Hutt and a sidekick. Wolfe growled for five minutes, finally saw an opening and as we zipped past them put 2 fingers out the window in the old Neapolitan salute. Wolfe didn’t like to talk business when he drove so the rest of the way to Katonah I had to listen to a treatise on double-entry bookkeeping in ancient Sumeria and it’s impact on Western civilization. Mrs. Colucci’s place was one mile this side of Katonah, a brick colonial about a quarter mile back from the road, hidden behind groves of Acacia trees. Wolfe wended the Caddy down the lane, and seeing a carport next to the house honked 3 times and pulled in to it. As we reached the porch a woman looking like the maid had the door open and closely behind her was apparently Mrs. Colucci who swept on out. “Oh, Nero, the last 3 days have been awful.” Wolfe enfolded her in his big arms with her head on his shoulder and patted her back gently. “Grief is the balm which brings our soul back to normalcy.” She looked up at him, “Montaigne?” “No, Homer.” “Nero, I had just sat down to lunch, will you join me?” “No, I just ate. Archie hasn’t, but he can wait til dinner.” “Nonsense, Hettie, please get some sandwiches for Mr. Goodwin and a salad for Mr. Wolfe.” She turned to Wolfe “It was just picked from the garden this morning, you must have some.” We went into the dining room, I sat at the far end of the table and Wolfe on the side next to Mrs. Colucci. We made small talk for a while, Mrs. Colucci refraining from her food out of courtesy. Then Hettie swept in with a plate of sandwiches for me and a wooden bowl of salad, nicely cut, for Wolfe. As I removed the green, beribboned toothpicks from a sandwich and Wolfe doused his salad with oil and vinegar, he turned to Mrs. Colucci and got serious. “Vivian, when have you seen your daughter last?” She sneered “Susan is not welcome in this house since she murdered Frank!”. “But, my dear Vivian, that is why I’m here. Susan is my client and I’m convinced she is innocent.” Mrs. Colucci had a forkful halfway to her mouth, set it down and gave Wolfe a look that was half contempt and half astonishment. “Good God, Nero, I was sitting here in the living room 3 nights ago talking to Frank when Susan walked thru the French doors smiling sweetly, walked over to Frank, pulled from the folds of her skirt a sawed-off double-ought shotgun and blew his brains all over the curtains. They were new curtains, too. Brannon silks from Fields, 2 months ago.” Wolfe grunted, “Are you sure it was Susan?”
Mrs. Colucci looked at me, then looked at Wolfe, then took a breath and sighed. “Nero, you haven’t changed a bit in 32 years.” She shrugged. “It was Susan.” Wolfe took a bite of salad and closed his eyes. After a minute he said “I’m going to accept what you say as fact. But sometimes a conjecture is much more valuable than a fact. I would like to ask you a few questions. They may seem nonsensical or irrelevant, but please humor me.” Mrs. Colucci shrugged again. “OK”. Wolfe took a drink of water. “What is Susan’s favorite color?” “I don’t see what … Oh … well, blue, I remember in kindergarten she painted a …” “That’s fine, now what is her astrological sign?” She smiled. “Susan’s a Virgo, quite ironic considering since she was 14 …” “Good. Now how much is Susan worth today?” “About 9 million dollars since Frank died, but a murderer can’t profit from …” Wolfe put a palm out “Please, Viv, I am going to take care of that end. Actually, I think that’s all the questions I have. We all chatted small talk awhile, then Wolfe wanted more salad, So Mrs. Colucci and I went to the living room with coffee. I sat down on the couch, looked at the new curtains behind me, looked over the end of the couch, looked between the cushions. She smiled. “Don’t worry Mr. Goodwin, everything has been cleaned up since Monday.” In about 10 minutes Wolfe came into the living room. “Wonderful salad, Viv. I have an overdue date with my orchids so we’d better leave you. Don’t worry, from your answers to my questions I’m sure Susan is innocent.” She just shrugged again, smiled and gave Wolfe a kiss on the cheek. We walked out to the car- port and got in the car. 2 and 1/2 minutes later (by my Timex) Wolfe started the car and we headed back to the city. Wolfe was silent all the way, but I knew what was going on in his mind. I knew of at least 4 innocent men and 1 innocent woman who had sat down in the chair at Greenhaven and taken 1200 volts at high amps because of Wolfe’s silent thinking.
When we got back to the brownstone it was well after 4 P.M. but Wolfe just went to his chair, leaned back with his thumbs in his belt, put his head back and closed his eyes. I went to the bathroom, oops, I went upstairs to the second floor bathroom, came back down and started working on classifying hybridization records. The doorbell rang. I went out and looked thru the one way panel. There were 4 gentlemen all dressed in black suits with pearl-grey borsolino hats and a young woman. I opened the door. “Yes?” The young woman said “We have an appointment with Nero Wolfe.” “Just a minute.” I walked back to the office. “Four men in …” Wolfe growled “Bring them in.” I open- the door and they all filed in. I made a few light remarks and got glares in return. The smallest man looked like Paparozzalino, but I knew that was nuts. I got the 4 borsolinos all neatly aligned on the rack and we all went into the office. The young woman headed straight for the red chair and the 4 men in black all took yellow chairs sitting down almost simultaneously. I went to my desk. The young woman looked exactly like Little Orphan Annie only bigger. Wolfe looked at the young woman from head to toe and the corners of his mouth went down 1/32 of an inch, for him a severe frown. He then looked at the four men from left to right. Finally Annie spoke up, “Mr. Wolfe I am Ann (I grinned) Drew. I am an attorney representing these four men.”
“I would like to introduce my clients to you from left to right.” She must have taken her cue from Wolfe’s sweeping glance. “They are Vito Santamaria Paparozzalino (my left eyebrow went up), Salvatore Scalise Anselmagino, Bartolo Vincenzo Scaramagelli and Ed Hall.” Wolfe nodded. “May I offer refreshments, we have most amy- thing?” Annie turned to the front row and said something rapid in a new lingo to me. They gibbered among themselves in the same language. Annie turned to Wolfe “They would all like expresso if you are provided. I will have nothing.” Wolfe nodded to me and I headed for the kitchen. Fritz was sitting on the stool in his slippers reading the National Enquirer. I said “4 expressos, front and center!” Fritz glanced up “Sure, and an egg in each one.” and went back to his paper.” I grinned “Paparozzalino and 3 other mafiosi are now sitting in our office just parched for expresso.” Fritz moved. The cabinet flew open. A long unused expresso machine came out. I went back to the office. “Archie”, Wolfe smiled, “Please get out your note- book.” “No!” shouted the orphan girl. “Please, Mr. Wolfe, I am going to tell you things that must NOT go beyond these office walls.” “Miss Drew, be assured that where Mr. Goodwin is concerned his discretion is the twin of his obsequiousness.” “OK” said Annie “I’m sure when I have spoken there will be no revelation from you or Mr. Goodwin.” Fritz came in with 4 cups of what looked like perfect expresso, smiled and bowed as he passed down the row and left. Annie looked at Wolfe with her vacant eyes, she had not blinked once since walking in the door, and said “I would like to tell you of my clients. First, I must converse with them in Sicilian, as two of them are Zips, and the others speak little English. I will act as translator.” Wolfe leaned over and gave the ring for beer, 4 longs and 7 shorts. She went on “Mr Paparozzalino is the head of the Barzalini family. He came here with no money and he …” The phone rang. “Nero Wolfe’s office, Archie Goodwin speaking. Uh oh.” I raised a hand and smiled my excuses to the 4 hoods and walked over to Wolfe, bending to his ear. “Fritz. No beer.” Wolfe’s head swiveled and he looked up at me. When I saw the look in his eyes a mouse ran up my spine. I sat down. Wolfe took in a bushel of air and left it out “Go on, Miss Drew”. “OK, Mr. Paparozzalino is the capo di tutti capi. This means he is the boss of all bosses. He is the boss of his own family, but among the bosses of the 5 families in New York he is first among equals.” Annie was getting intense. She raised a finger. “Only equal to him in power are the boss in Palermo, the boss in Chicago, and Walter Winchell. Mr. Anselmogino is consigliere. Mr. Scaramagelli a capo. Ed Hall is a bartender in Brooklyn.” Wolfe raised his own finger. “What do you mean by ‘families’?” It always amazed me that Wolfe was the best detective east of the Continental Divide, licensed and operating in New York City, and he did not know the first thing about organized crime. The phone rang. “Nero Wolfe’s office, Archie Goodwin speaking. Uh oh.” I raised my finger again and walked over and leaned down to Wolfe’s ear. “Theodore. Thrips.” I saw the corner of Wolfe’s mouth twitch slightly. His face got pink. Suddenly I remembered he was still packing the .45. With a tutti, a consigliere, a capo and Little Orphan Annie sitting here, this could make the St. Valentine’s day massacre look like a turkey shoot.
Wolfe placed his fingers on the edge of his desk and started to rise. He then sat back and raised his head closing his eyes. The hoods were all staring. Little Orphan Annie was staring (she appeared normal). Finally Wolfe opened his eyes and turned to Annie. “You were going to tell me what ‘families’ meant.” She turned to the 4 hoods and said something fast in Sicilian. They looked left and right at each other, talking and gestic- ulating. Finally they stopped. Annie who had her ear cocked closely as they spoke turned to Wolfe. “Bartolo is the 4th cousin, once removed, of Mr. Paparozzalino. Salvatore is a 5th cousin, twice removed, of Bartolo. Ed Hall is the illegitimate son of Salvatore’s sister.” Wolfe raised his eyes “Indeed. Why are you here today?” Annie’s eyes finally blinked. “It’s like this. Yesterday Bartolo hit Eduardo Manzarelli over on Ocean Parkway. Mr. Manzarelli was at the Colucci home last Monday when Frank Langellorini’s wife shot him. Why he was there is not your business. He put the body in the trunk and took it over to Ward’s Island, weighted it and put it in the East river. When he was driving home he stopped to get some cannoli for the wife and kids. He saw the New York Post on the stand with your picture, and it said Susan Langellorini was your client. The upshoot is this. My clients want you off the case.” Wolfe looked at her for a minute and said “I am not easily intimidated.” Annie smiled and said “None was intended. My clients do not harm innocent people. They are businessmen. What people want, they supply. It is only that Bartolo controls all the beer distribution in this area. And his connections to other capos nationwide and retailers insures that ..” Wolfe said “Thank you. But I must excuse myself now, and bid you goodbye, because I must call Mrs. Langellorini and tell her she is no longer my client.” Annie turned to the hoods and said something rapid. Everyone smiled. We all shook hands and I showed them out the door. Wolfe passed me in the hall moving rapidly towards the elevator to the orchid rooms. On the way by me he growled “Get a case of Remmers and be back here soon. Dinner is at 7:15”.
“Too Many Capos”
“The parsley was not very good to
begin with. Then the cat went and
peed on it.”
Old Sicilian Proverb