Rex Stout: Black Orchids

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Rex Stout Black Orchids
  • Название:
    Black Orchids
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    Farrar & Rinehart
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    Классический детектив / на английском языке
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    New York
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Black Orchids: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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Wolf’s lust for a unique black orchid combined with his envy of the orchid fancier who hybridized it impel him to attend the annual New York flower show. A nursery/seed company employee is murdered at the show. Wolfe offers to solve the murder in exchange for the rare plant; and he does solve it with some clear thinking and a dramatic stratagem.

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Rex Stout

Black Orchids

I don’t know how many guesses there have been in the past year, around bars and dinner tables, as to how Nero Wolfe got hold of the black orchids. I have seen three different ones in print — one in a Sunday newspaper magazine section last summer, one in a syndicated New York gossip column a couple of months ago, and one in a press association dispatch, at the time that a bunch of the orchids unexpectedly appeared at a certain funeral service at the Belford Memorial Chapel.

So here in this book are two separate Nero Wolfe cases, two different sets of people. The first is the low-down on how Wolfe got the orchids. The second tells how he solved another murder, but it leaves a mystery, and that’s what’s biting me. If anyone who knows Wolfe better than I do — but wait till you read it.

Archie Goodwin

Chapter 1

Monday at the Flower Show, Tuesday at the Flower Show, Wednesday at the Flower Show. Me, Archie Goodwin. How’s that?

I do not deny that flowers are pretty, but a million flowers are not a million times prettier than one flower. Oysters are good to eat, but who wants to eat a carload?

I didn’t particularly resent it when Nero Wolfe sent me up there Monday afternoon and, anyway, I had been expecting it. After all the ballyhoo in the special Flower Show sections of the Sunday papers, it was a cinch that some member of our household would have to go take a look at those orchids, and as Fritz Brenner couldn’t be spared from the kitchen that long, and Theodore Horstmann was too busy in the plant rooms on the roof, and Wolfe himself could have got a job in a physics laboratory as an Immovable Object if the detective business ever played out, it looked as if I would be elected. I was.

When Wolfe came down from the plant rooms at six P.M. Monday and entered the office, I reported:

“I saw them. It was impossible to snitch a sample.”

He grunted, lowering himself into his chair. “I didn’t ask you to.”

“Who said you did, but you expected me to. There are three of them in a glass case and the guard has his feet glued.”

“What color are they?”

“They’re not black.”

“Black flowers are never black. What color are they?”

“Well.” I considered. “Say you take a piece of coal. Not anthracite. Cannel coal.”

“That’s black.”

“Wait a minute. Spread on it a thin coating of open kettle molasses. That’s it.”

“Pfui. You haven’t the faintest notion what it would look like. Neither have I.”

“I’ll go buy a piece of coal and we’ll try it.”

“No. Is the labellum uniform?”

I nodded. “Molasses on coal. The labellum is large, not as large as aurea, about like truffautiana. Cepals lanceolate. Throat tinged with orange—”

“Any sign of wilting?”


“Go back tomorrow and look for wilting on the edges of the petals. You know it, the typical wilting after pollination. I want to know if they’ve been pollinated.”

So I went up there again Tuesday after lunch. That evening at six I added a few details to my description and reported no sign of wilting.

I sat at my desk, in front of his against the wall, and aimed a chilly stare at him.

“Will you kindly tell me,” I requested, “why the females you see at a flower show are the kind of females who go to a flower show? Ninety per cent of them? Especially their legs? Does it have to be like that? Is it because, never having any flowers sent to them, they have to go there in order to see any? Or is it because—”

“Shut up. I don’t know. Go back tomorrow and look for wilting.”

I might have known, with his mood getting blacker every hour, all on account of three measly orchid plants, that he was working up to a climax. But I went again Wednesday, and didn’t get home until nearly seven o’clock. When I entered the office he was there at his desk with two empty beer bottles on the tray and pouring a third one into the glass.

“Did you get lost?” he inquired politely.

I didn’t resent that because I knew he half meant it. He has got to the point where he can’t quite understand how a man can drive from 35th Street and Tenth Avenue to 44th and Lexington and back again with nobody to lead the way. I reported no wilting, and sat at my desk and ran through the stuff he had put there, and then swiveled to face him and said:

“I’m thinking of getting married.”

His half-open lids didn’t move, but his eyes did, and I saw them.

“We might as well be frank,” I said. “I’ve been living in this house with you for over ten years, writing your letters, protecting you from bodily harm, keeping you awake, and wearing out your tires and my shoes. Sooner or later one of my threats to get married will turn out not to be a gag. How are you going to know? How do you know this isn’t it?”

He made a noise of derision and picked up his glass.

“Okay,” I said. “But you’re enough of a psychologist to know what it means when a man is irresistibly impelled to talk about a girl to someone. Preferably, of course, to someone who is sympathetic. You can imagine what it means when I want to talk about her to you. What is uppermost in my mind is that this afternoon I saw her washing her feet.”

He put the glass down. “So you went to a movie. In the afternoon. Did it occur—”

“No, sir, not a movie. Flesh and bone and skin. Have you ever been to a flower show?”

Wolfe closed his eyes and sighed.

“Anyway,” I went on, “you’ve seen pictures of the exhibits, so you know that the millionaires and big firms do things up brown. Like Japanese gardens and rock gardens and roses in Picardy. This year Rucker and Dill, the seed and nursery company, have stolen the show. They’ve got a woodland glade. Bushes and dead leaves and green stuff and a lot of little flowers and junk, and some trees with white flowers, and a little brook with a pool and rocks; and it’s inhabited. There’s a man and a girl having a picnic. They’ve there all day from eleven to six thirty and from eight to ten in the evening. They pick flowers. They eat a picnic lunch. They sit on the grass and read. They play mumblety-peg. At four o’clock the man lies down and covers his face with a newspaper and takes a nap, and the girl takes off her shoes and stockings and dabbles her feet in the pool. That’s when they crowd the ropes. Her face and figure are plenty good enough, but her legs are absolutely artistic. Naturally she has to be careful not to get her skirt wet, and the stream comes tumbling from the rocks into the pool. Speaking as a painter—”

Wolfe snorted. “Pah! You couldn’t paint a—”

“I didn’t say painting as a painter, I said speaking as a painter. I know what I like. The arrangement of lines into harmonious composition. It gets me. I like to study—”

“She is too long from the knees down.”

I looked at him in amazement.

He wiggled a finger at a newspaper on the desk. “There’s a picture of her in the Post. Her name is Anne Tracy. She’s a stenographer in Rucker and Dill’s office. Her favorite dish is blueberry pie with ice cream.”

“She is not a stenographer!” I was on my feet. “She’s a secretary! W. G. Dill’s!” I found the page in the Post. “A damn important job. I admit they look a little long here, but it’s a bad picture. Wrong angle. There was a better one in the Times yesterday, and an article—”

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