Prisoner's Base

Free Prisoner's Base by Rex Stout

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Authors: Rex Stout
“He’s no reporter. His name is Archie Goodwin, and he’s the confidential assistant of Nero Wolfe, the private detective. Did he say he was a policeman?”
    Three of them said yes. He shifted his fishy popeyes to me. “I’m taking you in the act of impersonating an officer of the law, which is a felony and justifies severity. Handcuff him and search him, Doyle.”
    His two colleagues came toward me. I thrust my hands deep in my pants pockets, slumped, and slid forward in my chair, so that more than half of me was beneath the table. To frisk and cuff a 180-pound man relaxed in that position takes a determined attitude and plenty of muscle, and I was sure that the colleagues would halt at least to take a breath.
    “You may remember,” I told Rowcliff, “that on April third, nineteen forty-nine, by order of Commissioner Skinner, you signed a written apology to Mr. Wolfe and me. This one will be only to me, if I decide to accept one instead of hanging it on you.”
    “I’m taking you in the act.”
    “You are not. These people are nervous. Both downstairs and up here I identified myself with just two words, my name and the word ‘detective,’ and I showed my license, which no one took the trouble to examine. I didn’t say I was a policeman. I am a detective, and I said so. I asked questions, and they answered. Apologize now and get it over with.”
    “What were you asking questions about?”
    “Matters connected with the death of Priscilla Eads.”
    “About a homicide.”
    I conceded it. “Yes.”
    “As an interested citizen.”
    “What kind of interest? You lied to Inspector Cramer. You told him that Wolfe had no client, but here you are.”
    “It wasn’t a lie. He had no client.”
    “Then he’s got one since?”
    “No. He has none.”
    “Then what are you here for? What kind of interest?”
    “My own. I am interested for personal reasons, and Mr. Wolfe has nothing to do with it. I’m strictly on my own.”
    “For God’s sake.” From the tone of Rowcliff’s voice, he had reached the limit of exasperated disgust. From my slumped position I couldn’t see his face, but from a corner of my eye I had a view of his hand tightened into a fist. “So Wolfe
got a c-c-client.” When he reached a certain pitch of excitement he was apt to stutter. I usually tried to beat him to it, but this time missed the chance. “And a client he doesn’t dare to acknowledge. And you actually have the gall to try to cover for him by telling another outrageous lie, that you’re here on your own. Your insolence—”
    “Look, Lieutenant.” I was earnest. “It has always been a pleasure to lie to you, and will be again, but I want to make it clear and emphatic that my interest in this case is strictly personal, as I said, and Mr. Wolfe is not concerned. If you—”
    “That’s enough.” The fist was tighter and was quivering a little. Some day it would be too much for him and he would let fly, and my reaction would depend on the context. It couldn’t be taken for granted that I wouldbreak him in two. He went on. “It’s more than enough. Giving false information, withholding evidence, material witness, obstructing justice, and impersonating an officer of the law. Take him, Doyle. There’ll be someone here soon to t-t-t-turn him over to.”
    He meant it. I considered swiftly. In spite of the current situation, I hoped and expected to have further dealings with some or all of the Softdown quintet, and it wouldn’t help any to have them sit and watch while a pair of bozos dragged me from under a table, unavoidably mussing me up. So I arose, sidled around to the back of my chair, and told Doyle, “Please be careful. I’m ticklish.”

Chapter 6
    A t a quarter to six that afternoon I sat on a chair in a smallish room in a well-known building on Leonard Street. I was bored, disillusioned, and hungry. If I had known what was going to happen in sixty seconds, at fourteen minutes to six, my outlook

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