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Rex Stout

Too Many Women

CHAPTER One

It was the same old rigmarole. Sometimes I found it amusing; sometimes it only bored me; sometimes it gave me a pronounced pain, especially when I had had more of Wolfe than was good for either of us.

This time it was fairly funny at first, but it developed along regrettable lines. Mr. Jasper Pine, president of Naylor-Kerr, Inc., 914 William Street, down where a thirty-story building is a shanty, wanted Nero Wolfe to come to see him about something. I explained patiently, all about Wolfe being too lazy, too big and fat, and too much of a genius, to let himself be evoked. When Mr. Pine phoned again, in the afternoon, he insisted on speaking to Wolfe himself, and Wolfe made it short, sour, and final. An hour later, after Wolfe had gone up to the plant rooms, just to pass the time I dialed the number of Naylor-Kerr, Inc., managed to get through to Mr. Pine, and asked him why he didn’t come to see us.

He snapped that he was too busy, and then he wanted to know, “Who are you?” I told him I was Archie Goodwin, the heart, liver, lungs, and gizzard of the private detective business of Nero Wolfe, Wolfe being merely the brains. He asked sarcastically if I was a genius too, and I told him no indeed, I was comparatively human.

“I could run down now,” I said.

“No.” He was curt but not discourteous. “I’m filled up for today. Come tomorrow morning at ten o’clock. Better make it ten-fifteen.”

CHAPTER Two

Those pyramids of profit down in the Wall Street section, sticking straight up nine hundred feet and more, are tenanted by everything from one-room midgets to ten-floor super-giants. Though the name of Naylor-Kerr, Inc., was vaguely familiar to me, it was not a household word, and I lifted the brows when I learned from the lobby directory that it paid the rent for three whole floors.

The executive offices were on the thirty-sixth, so up I went. The atmosphere up there was of thick carpets, wood panels, and plenty of space, but as for the receptionist, though she was not really miscast she was way past the deadline, having reached the age when it is more blessed to receive than to give.

She received me at ten-fourteen, and at ten-nineteen I was escorted down a corridor to the office of the president. Naturally he had a corner room with batteries of big windows, but I had to admit that in spite of more panels and carpets and the kind of office furniture you see in Sloane’s window, it gave me the impression of a place where somebody got some work done.

Mr. Jasper Pine was about the same age as the receptionist, a little short of fifty maybe, but on him it looked good. Except for his clothes, with the coat obviously cut for the stoop of his shoulders, he had more the appearance of a foreman or a job boss than a top executive of a big corporation. In the middle of the room he shook hands as if he were comparatively human too, and, instead of fencing himself off behind his desk, assigned us to a couple of comfortable chairs between two windows.

“My morning’s a little crowded,” he told me in a deep voice that sounded as if all it needed was more breath to reach to Central Park, and he could furnish the breath when necessary. I was sizing him up, not knowing then whether the job was a lead pencil leak in the supply room, which would have been beneath our notice, or wife-tailing, which was out of bounds for Nero Wolfe. On the phone he had refused to specify.

“So,” he was going on, “I’ll sketch it briefly. Looking over some reports recently, I noticed that our employee turnover here in the home office, exclusive of the technical staff, was over twenty-eight per cent for the year nineteen forty-six. That was excessive. I decided to look into it. As a first step I had a form drawn up and two thousand copies of it multigraphed, and sent a supply of it to all heads of departments, with instructions that one be filled out for each person who had left our employ during nineteen forty-six. The forms were to be returned direct to me. Here’s one that came from the head of the stock department.” He extended a hand with a paper in it. “Take a look at it.

Read it through.” It was a single sheet, letter size, with a neat job of multigraphing on one side. At the top it said: RETURN TO THE OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT BY MARCH TENTH

The blank spaces had been filled in with a typewriter. First came the name of the ex-employee, which in this case was Waldo Wilmot Moore. Age: 30. Unmarried.

Home address: Hotel Churchill. Employment began: April 8,1946. Hired through: Applied personally. Job: Correspondence checker. Salary: $100 weekly. Rises: To $150 weekly September 30, 1946. Employment ended: December 5, 1946.

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