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"The Events of my Death" By Cindy

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Nero Wolfe

"The Events of my Death"

Summary: Archie must fake his death in order to protect Nero from an escaped murderer that they put away

 

It would have to be on a Monday morning that he was doing this, Saul Panzer thought sadly as he stood in the doorway to Nero Wolfe's orchid room. Through the greenhouse's ceiling the sky was gray and threatened rain.

To an outsider it didn't seem that Nero had noticed Saul's enterance but Saul knew Wolfe knew he was there. Wolfe was postponing the inevitable just like Saul was. Saul never thought this day would come but here it was and they all had to face it.

Archie Goodwin had been missing for nearly two days before Saul received a call from Inspector Cramer saying a body, badly burned had been found three blocks from the brownstone.

Taking a deep breath Saul walked down the main isle of the plant room and came to stand at Wolfe's right. "Sir?"

"It's true then?"Wolfe asked in such a carefully controlled voice that it was almost stoic.

Nodding Saul produced a small plastic bag containing a burned leather wallet from the inside pocket of his jacket and handed it to his boss. Kramer had let it out of evidence lock up solely for one purpose.

"Yes."Saul replied fighting to keep his voice even."Archie's wallet and license was found in what was left of the body's pants."

Wolfe looked solmenly down at the plastic bag. Without opening the bag Wolfe gingerly opened the wallet and stared down at Archie's private investigator license. He closed his eyes briefly before shutting the wallet and handing it back to Saul.

Wolfe leaned back against the table gripping it tightly with both hands but that was the only outward sign of grief the detective showed.

"Thank you, Saul, you are dismissed."Wolfe stated quietly before turning his attention back to the orchids. "Return the wallet to Inspector Cramer. I'm sure he didn't loan that willingly."

Saul hesitated knowing that with Archie gone the brownstone would be surrounded by the press and the cops. "Sir, Fred, Orrie and I can stay as long as you need."

Wolfe's gaze didn't move from the orchids. "That won't be necessary."

"Okay."Saul replied as he left the plant room.

********

Archie Goodwin sat cross legged on a bed in a rented room just a block off of Broadway. The room was small, painted at one time in light blue, sparsely furnished and badly heated. But all that mattered to Archie right now was the notes he had scattered across the bed in front of him. However the notes weren't making the current situation make any sense.

Forty-eight hours early Archie never would have thought he'd be sitting in a cold drab room with the rest of the world

thinking he was dead. Faking his death had not been a decision he had come to easily but it was the only choice he had at the time. Bottom line his job, his duty was to protect Nero Wolfe.

Preston Sanders had been a high powered attorney before his gambling addiction turned him insane enough to think that killing his wife, Colleen was the only way out of debt. Wolfe had put him away three years ago and now Sanders had some how escaped the confines of prison.

Now Sanders wanted his revenge against Wolfe and Archie had to stop that no matter what it took.

********

Just before eight the next morning Saul rang the bell of the brownstone. Nobody had summoned him but Saul felt that he owed it to Archie to make sure Wolfe was alright.

A pale and weary looking Fritz Brenner opened the door and stepped aside to let the younger man in.

"How is he?"Saul asked quietly as Fritz closed the door behind them.

Brenner shook his head sadly as he took Saul's hat and coat. "Not well. He hasn't stepped foot in the office since....we heard.....he's locked himself in either the plantroom or his bedroom."

Saul nodded. "What about the cops and the press?"

Fritz sighed. "The reporters have been persistant but not overwhelming. The police have only called once, even Inspector Cramer is keeping a respectful distance."

"He won't like it but I'll call Orrie and have him come over and run interference with the press."Saul replied as he glanced down at his watch. "I can't stay that long I just stopped by to see how things were."

Fritz smiled briefly. "Your concern is appreciated. Honestly, I don't think it's sunk in for him yet."

Saul glanced around at the familiar hallway and rooms beyond. "I know....I expected Archie to answer the door just like always."

"This house has been too quiet."Fritz agreed sadly.

After a few moments of silence Fritz turned to face Saul. "Do you have any idea at all who did this?"

Saul shook his head as he reached for his hat and coat. "We had a couple leads when Archie was first missing but nothing solid. I don't care if I step on Cramer's toes....I will find Archie's killer."

*******

Trying to ward off a stiff neck Archie got up off the bed and walked over to the tiny window. He had gotten maybe three hours of sleep tops. Between the mattress with three broken springs and his mind going on overdrive it'd been a rough night.

Archie sighed as he leaned against the window frame. Two days ago he thought he had a plan, now he wasn't so sure. Maybe if he had been thinking straight he would've taken Sanders's threats straight to Cramer, but he hadn't. Archie hadn't even alerted Wolfe to the danger which was the first rule of working for Wolfe you tell him everything that's going on no matter what.

The only explaination Archie could come up with was one simple fact, he had been scared. In their line of work he and Wolfe dealt with killers all the time but few got under his skin; Sanders had. When Cramer had finally taken Sanders away he had completely gone insane.

Not your normal 'I'm going to kill you.' insane but the 'I'm going to kill you, chop your body into tiny bits and then mail them.' insane.

Archie's orginal plan had been to throw Sanders for a loop by faking his death. Archie had thought that maybe just maybe if everyone thought he was dead Sanders would think justice was done and move on.

No such luck.

Sanders was on the move and Archie needed help to stop him. Now Archie had to figure out how to get help without letting on that he was still alive.

Straightening Archie looked at the clock on the wall, barely nine. It was going to be a very long day.

*******

At ten o'clock Inspector Cramer knocked politely on the front door of Wolfe's residence. Cramer stared at his closed fist for a moment as he lowered it from the door. He couldn't remember the last time he had knocked quietly on Wolfe's door.

Must be the lack of sleep getting to him. Cramer thought or he was getting soft in his old age.

Cramer straightened as the door opened revealing Fritz Brenner. "Tell Wolfe I need to talk to him."

Brenner shook his head. "He's not down yet."

"It's ten o'clock."Cramer replied. "He doesn't tend to the damn plants until eleven."

Fritz's eyes narrowed. "Things in this house are not what they were, Inspector."

Cramer nodded solemnly. "If he wants Archie's killer caught I need to talk to him."

Fritz sighed and stepped aside to allow Cramer enterance into the brownstone. "Very well."

********

Lon Cohen sat on the sofa in his living room. The apartment he rented was just off fifty-third street. Normally by this time he'd be in the office. But with what he had to write today Cohen figured he'd be better off doing it at home.

Lon stared at the typewriter sitting on the coffee table in front of him and sighed. Writing Archie Goodwin's obiturary

was something he'd never thought he'd do. Goodwin had been like a cat, always coming out of ugly situations landing squarely on his feet. Lon never thought Archie's luck would run out.

But it had and now Lon had to write an obituary for someone he had considered a friend.  Cohen leaned forward and rested his hands on the familiar keys for a moment before he began to type.

'Archie Goodwin: A true Knight in Shining Armor'

By Lon Cohen, editor

If King Arthur had needed one more knight for his round table there is no doubt that he would've picked Archie Goodwin. Goodwin was a hero in every since of the word. He never turned anybody away who asked for his help.

Goodwin, who was murdered two days ago was Nero Wolfe's right hand man. During his tenure with Wolfe, Archie touched a lot of lives.

Lon paused and settled back into the sofa staring at the words he had written. He wrote about unfinished lives all the time so why was this one so hard?

Just as Lon reached once more for the typewriter he saw movement out of the corner of his eye. Turning toward the window he was just in time to see a human shape scurry past.

Slowly Cohen rose from the sofa and picked up the nearest heavy object: a lamp.

"Who's there?"Lon called out as he moved around the coffee table and toward the window. When no one answered the newspaper reporter raised the lamp above his head and started toward the spot where he had seen the person last.

"I'm armed!"Cohen shouted hoping the intruder would buy his bluff and leave.

"What are you going to do with that? Turn it on and show me the errors of my ways?"

The lamp slipped from Cohen's hands and hit the floor hard shattering instantly. He was losing his mind that was the only explaination. Because he couldn't have heard what he thought he just heard.

"Now you didn't have to go and waste a perfectly good lamp on my account."Archie Goodwin stated with a smile as he came to stand at the reporter's left.

Lon jumped three feet before turning to face a man he thought he'd never see again. "Archie!! Are you tryin' to give me a heart attack?"

Archie sheepishly took his friend by the shoulder and helped him back to the sofa. "Sorry, didn't mean to sneak up on you but I didn't want to use the front door."

Once his breathing returned to normal Lon asked. "How the hell did you get in here anyway?"

Archie gestured toward the window. "Fire escape. You should get a better lock on that window."

"I'll keep that in mind next time ghosts decide to break in."Cohen replied as he sat up.

Archie grinned. "I'm not a ghost."

Cohen glared at the younger man. "You're supposed to be. So are you going to tell me what's going on or am I going to have to guess?"

Archie sat down. "I need your help."

"That much is obvious."Lon replied dryily. "So what case is it this time?"

Archie shook his head. "It's not a case."

Cohen blinked in surprise. "Are you telling me you faked your death for the hell of it?"

"Of course not!"Archie snapped. "You think I enjoy this?"

Cohen shook his head. "No. So what's going on? Does Wolfe know you're alive?"

"No he doesn't and I plan to keep it that way."Archie replied quietly.

"Why?"

"It's the only way I can protect him."Archie stated as he ran a weary hand along the back of his neck. "Do you remember Preston Sanders?"

"How could I forget?"

"Exactly."

The pieces came together as Cohen turned to face Archie. "Are you telling me Sanders is out?"

"Yep and he wants revenge any way he can get it."

******

"Speak quickly and efficently."Wolfe ordered as he stalked into the kitchen and took a seat at the head of the small table.

Cramer fought the almost overwhelming urge to roll his eyes. The man infuriated him on the best of occasions. "I'm here as a favor to you, Wolfe! I could just as easy turn around and leave!"

"Go then."Wolfe retorted his voice quiet and firm.

Cramer sighed as he took off his hat and sat down in the chair oppisite Wolfe. "I need to know what Goodwin was working on."

On the other side of the kitchen counter Fritz winced and prepared himself for the coming storm. He busied himself by taking out the items he needed for the lunch menu.

Wolfe turned his gaze toward the window and for several long moments Cramer thought the private dectective wasn't going to answer him.

"Archie wasn't working on any open cases."Wolfe replied sadness etched in his voice.

Cramer blinked in surprise. He hadn't been expecting that answer. "Nothing?"

"No."

"No blackmail cases? No murders? No embezzlement? No cheating husbands?"Cramer asked as he stood.

"None."Wolfe acknowledged his gaze never leaving the window.

"What about something personal?"Cramer suggested. "Was he working on anything on his own time?"

"Not that I was aware of."

"Damn it, Wolfe! Give me something to work on."

Wolfe whirled away from the window. "Don't you think if I had something to give I would have already given it?"

Cramer looked at his advisary with empathy. "Look, I know Goodwin was family to you....."

Wolfe stood he hadn't slept well since Archie had disappeared and Inspector Cramer was wearing on his last nerve. "Good day, Inspector. I've induldged you more than I should have."

Cramer snatched his hat off the table as Wolfe headed toward the door. "I know you don't have any leads or Panzer would've tossed the killer in a cell already. At least let me look through his desk you owe Goodwin that much."

Wolfe paused in the doorway his back to the police dectective. "Do as you wish, Inspector."

After Wolfe left Fritz turned to Cramer. "Would you like something to drink?"

Cramer stared at the space Wolfe had been for a long moment before shaking his head. "No thanks. And don't worry about escorting me to Wolfe's office.....I know the way."

"Very well."The Chef replied before returning his attention to his duties.

********

Cohen returned from the kitchen carrying two steaming mugs of coffee. He handed one to Archie before retaking his seat.

"Thanks."Archie stated as he took a gulp of the dark liquid.

"No problem."The reporter replied as he set his own mug down in front of him untouched."When was the last time you ate?"

Archie shook his head. "Don't remember."

"I'll fix us some lunch in a few minutes."Lon said as he reached toward his typewriter and removed Archie's obituary and replaced it with a fresh piece of paper.

"You can cook?"Goodwin asked with a grin as he leaned forward.

"Not all of us have a Fritz."Lon retorted. "Start from the begining. Tell me everything you know about Preston Sanders and then tell me about the threats."

Archie sighed and rubbed a weary hand over his face. He really didn't want to relive that case he'd been doing just that for the past two days straight. But then Archie realized rehashing things one more time might shed a new prospective on things.

"Okay."Archie said as he stood. "Preston Sanders age thirty nine. At one time he had been one of the most saught after attorneys in New York City representing everyone from CEO's to high profile actresses. Then his gambling addiction took over and his wife Colleen paid the price."

********

Over his years as a homicide detective Fergus Cramer had sifted through a lot of personal items belonging to the deceased. It never got easier. As he sat in Archie's chair Cramer paused and looked around the office he had been in so many times.

There was now a definete errie almost tomb like atmosphere to it now.

Cramer shook off the feeling and concentrated on the task at hand. Goodwin had always been a creature of habit. There had to be something here that could lead him to what case Goodwin had been working on. A notebook, a file, a piece of mail.....

After going through all the drawers Cramer got down on his knees and crawled under the desk his hands feeling along the underside of the drawer.

Just as he was about to give up Cramer felt something taped to the far right back corner of the drawer.

********

"Didn't Shakespeare say that we should kill all the lawyers?"Cohen asked with a grin as Archie finished telling the events of the last few weeks.

A withering glare from Goodwin caused the reporter to clear his throat.

"Sorry, bad joke."Lon acknowledged as he looked back at the notes he had taken while Archie had talked. "So what are you going to do now?"

Archie sighed as he stood and walked over to the window. "I honestly don't know, Lon. I thought faking my death would force Preston out into the open and we could nab him. But from what I can find out he's still underground and a threat to Wolfe."

"You'll figure something out, you always do."

Archie turned to face his friend. "I'm not so sure. I need to think to come up with another plan but my mind won't stop spinning."

Lon leaned forward. "Probably because you're without your better half."

"I can't go to Wolfe with this."Archie protested. "It's too dangerous."

"It's his life shouldn't he have a say in it?"

Archie shook his head. "Not this time."

Lon sighed as he shook his head. "You didn't ask....but he's a mess."

"Have you seen him?"Archie asked quietly.

Lon shook his head. "No. From what I've heard only Fritz, Panzer and Cramer have seen him."

"I have to do this my way, Lon."Archie stated as he walked back to the sofa. "It's the only way to keep him safe."

********

Carefully as to not smack his head on the bottom of the drawer Cramer manuvered his frame so he was kneeling in front of the desk. The police detective pulled the drawer, contents and all out and placed it on the desk chair.

Cramer turned the drawer so he could reach the taped item. He peeled the clear tape off and revealed an envelope folded in threes. Cramer sat down on the floor with his back against Goodwin's desk and began to examine the envelope.

There was no return address just Goodwin's name and the address of the brownstone. No postmark either.

Gingerly Cramer slid a thumb under the flap of the envelope and opened it. Inside was a piece of paper perhaps half the size of a standard piece of typing paper.

There was writing on one side....very neat handwriting, no smudges.

Cramer held the paper up to the light so he could read it better:

'Archie,

You may bring this to the police if you wish. It will be no help to you or Wolfe. The police anaylise will not lead them to me I've made sure of that.

Time is short. Death won't be where you expect it to be. You won't be able to predict it or protect yourself or your boss from it.

Fate is fate.

 

Cordially,

Preston Sanders.

 

Cramer let the letter slip to his lap as he slumped back against the desk. Sanders....crazy Bastard. Damn it, he should've put the clues together sooner. Cramer had heard a few days before Goodwin disappeared that Sanders had escaped, he had assumed that Wolfe being Wolfe with ears everywhere had heard.

If Goodwin's only warning had been this letter......Cramer shook his head sadly as he stood.

At least now they knew who had killed Goodwin. Cramer reasoned as he walked out of Wolfe's office. Now they just had to find Sanders.

Cramer walked into the empty hallway and headed toward the front door of the brownstone. Each step echoing loudly in the quiet home. As he opened the door Cramer paused and turned back to look at the familiar hallway. Perhaps he should find Wolfe and tell him about the letter.

Cramer shook his head as he turned back and exited the brownstone closing the door behind him. Telling Wolfe would wait, he was safer not knowing.

Once they located Sanders.....Cramer would tell him.

********

Saul Panzer sat on a cold bench on the east side of Central Park pretending to read the Times. He was there on a job. Had been sitting there since he left Wolfe's actually. The guy he was tailing was a cheating husband. Not exactly the exciting cases Wolfe gave him but this wasn't a Wolfe case and it paid the bills.

Saul shifted as he turned a page of the paper trying to get more comfortable. He'd been antzy since he got here. Watching this guy was the last thing he wanted to do. Saul wanted to knock down every door in New York City until he found the person who had killed Archie. But they didn't have any leads. When Archie had first disappeared there hadn't been any contact....no demands, no nothing.

Cramer had told him the body....Archie.....had been bound by rope hand and foot. But to Saul that didn't necessarily mean that Archie had been kidnapped before he had been killed. The killer could've just as easily grabbed Archie, bound him, and then killed him.

As he shook the images of Archie's last moments away; Saul looked across the street. The cheating husband in question ducked out of a diner with a red head on his arm.

Time to move.

*********

Cohen took a sip of his coffee as he absently twirled the pen between his fingers. "Explain this to me. Who's the stiff?"

Archie shifted uncomfortably. The poor soul in the warehouse had to be the worst part of this mess. But he had been

desperate and short on time. "I have a friend in the morgue."

"And?"Lon prompted setting his coffee mug down.

Archie looked down at his folded hands. "I asked him if there had been any John Does brought in that were my height and weight."

Lon raised an eyebrow. "What did you tell him you needed the corpse for?"

"A ruse Wolfe and I were doing for a case."Archie replied quietly. "I told him he'd have it back."

"Well he did get it back it just had your name on it."

"So I rented a car, didn't want it traced back to Wolfe."Archie continued."Placed the body in the backseat. Drove to the warehouse drug the body inside. Placed it near a wall, bound the hands and feet. Put my wallet in the pocket.

Then I doused the walls with gasoline, walked outside and lit a match."Archie shook his head. "Still can't believe I did it."

"You were backed into a corner by a madman, Archie."Cohen stated seriously."You had no choice."

"Maybe I could've handled this differently."

Cohen shook his head. "I don't see how. Why don't you take the sofa and get a few hours of sleep?"

Archie was about to protest there was so much to be done. But he could feel the exhaustion creeping in. "Okay."

Lon stood and picked up the coffee mugs. "I'll run to the store and get a few groceries and other things. Get some rest."

"Thanks."

"Just promise me an exclusive when this is all over."

"You got it."

*********

It was three thirty by the time Saul Panzer had wrapped up his cheating husband case and had gotten Cramer's message to meet him. So in consequence it took him another twenty minutes to get from his apartment down to the police station.

When he entered the precint Saul was immeaditely waved into Cramer's office.

"Sorry."Saul apoligized as he sat down. "I didn't get your message until about a half hour ago."

Cramer waved off the apology. "I wanted to keep Wolfe's people in the loop about this. The information we discovered I don't want to bring to Wolfe quite yet."

Panzer leaned forward, there had been a break in Archie's case, he could feel it. "You found Archie's killer?"

Cramer nodded as he handed Sanders letter to the younger man. "I found this taped under Goodwin's desk drawer. Don't worry it's already been dusted for prints and the only ones on it are mine and Goodwin's."

As Saul read the letter chills went up and down his spine. He remembered Preston Sanders all too clearly. "Sanders, I should have known."

"Sanders escaped a few days before Goodwin disappeared."

Saul's head shot up. "He always wanted Wolfe and Archie dead. Blamed them for his life going into the sewers."

Cramer leaned forward. "What I don't get is why Sanders didn't contact Wolfe when he took Goodwin. Wouldn't crazies like Sanders want some kind of satsification? I mean what's the point of taking Goodwin if he didn't want to rile Wolfe?"

Saul placed the letter back on Cramer's desk as he said. "Maybe that was the point. That he could get to Archie no matter what. Sanders knew Archie's death would shatter Wolfe."

"That's why I didn't tell Wolfe about the letter just yet."Cramer explained. "I don't want him getting worked up over Sanders until we can find him."

Panzer stood. "I'll tell Orrie and Fred and set up a schedule to watch the brownstone."

Cramer rose. "I'll let you know as soon as we find Sanders. And we will find him if I have to pull in every cop in New York state to do it."

********

When Lon returned to his apartment he found Archie sitting on the sofa a stack of newspapers next to him.

"Never realized I was so popular."Archie commented wryly as he set an issue on the table

"You and Wolfe have helped a lot of people over the years."Cohen replied as he carried the groceries into the kitchen. "Your disappearence and death were news. People wanted to know what happened. Where did you get those anyway?"

"Bought them from the newsstand a few blocks over."Archie replied as he stood.

"You went out?"

Archie held up a hand. "Relax. I'm a P.I. remember? I know how to make people not see me."

"Okay."Lon replied not entirely convinced.

Archie moved into the kitchen. While Cohen had been gone a plan had started to form. A way to end this mess and get his life back. "Do you know if Wolfe's planned my funeral yet?"

Lon's hand halted mid reach into the bag. "I haven't heard anything but I can make a few calls. Why planning on crashing your own funeral?"

"Something like that."Archie replied with a grin. "Might be the only way to draw Sanders out of the woodwork."

********

Saul had the cab let him out three blocks from the brownstone. He had a couple of errands to run and the walk back to the Brownstone would give him some time to think. Saul still couldn't figure out why Archie hadn't told anybody about Sanders's threat.

Yes Archie had always been an independent soul but he would never take stupid risks to keep a case to himself. Something else had to.....

Saul paused outside a bookstore. Something had broken his train of thought. Too late he felt a presence behind him.

Too late he turned.

Saul never had time to protect himself as the assislant swung a broken piece of pipe toward him.

********

Fritz balanced a tray in one hand as he pushed open the door to the plant room. He knew it was too early for dinner but he hoped he could get Wolfe to drink something hot. The days were growing shorter with the rapidly approaching winter. Fritz was concerned about Wolfe's health. Since Archie's death his boss hadn't been eating very well if at all.

"Take it back, Fritz."Wolfe ordered without turning away from his orchids.

Fritz continued into the room undaunted."You barely touched your lunch and you missed breakfast all together."

"I haven't been hungry."

"Archie would not want this."

"This has nothing to do with Archie. I am simply not hungry."

Fritz set the tray down on the counter by the window and folded his arms across his chest. "It is merely broth .I am not leaving until you at least drink some of it."

The two men glowered at each other, neither moving.

*********

"Well?"Archie prompted when Lon hung up the phone.

Cohen grinned he was starting to like this crazy plan. "Your funeral is scheduled for

Friday morning at eleven."

"Good that gives me time to draw Sanders out."Archie replied as he stood.

"And how are you going to do that without letting Sanders know you're still among the living?"Lon asked

as he sat in a chair by the window.

Archie shrugged as he started to pace. "Not sure yet. Maybe if we start looking for him find out where

he is. It'll shake him up."

Cohen nodded. "If he thinks somebody's on his tail he might make a mistake."

"And we'll get him."

*********

"Hey buddy you can't sleep here."

The noise jolted Saul Panzer out of the black void and back into a world of pain.

A hand grabbed Saul's right shoulder turning him over. "You hear me, buddy? I said you can't sleep here. There's

a shelter two blocks down."

Saul groaned and struggled to open his eyes. His head felt like it had been split in two. Finally Saul forced his eyes open

and focused on the beat cop standing above him.

"I'm a P.I."Saul stated as he sat up slowly. Once the world stopped spinning He fished his license out of his

jacket pocket and handed it to the officer.

The cop held the small piece of paper up to the street lamp to read it. "Panzer. Aren't you one of Wolfe's boys?"

"Sometimes."Saul replied as he gingerly touched the large bump on the back of his head. It'd been a long time since

somebody had hit him hard enough to make him see stars. "Where am I?"

The cop handed the license back to Saul as he replied. "On a bench in central park west. You must've really ticked

somebody off."

Saul forced a smile as he pocketed his license. "Must've been the cheatin' husband I was tailing."

"That'll do it."The officer replied with a laugh. "You alright to get home?"

"Yeah. What time is it?"

"Almost seven."

"Thanks."Panzer replied as he shakily rose to his feet.

The cop nodded and left.

Saul shook his head to clear the cobwebs out and instantly regretted the movement. He placed his right hand in his right

coat pocket and was surprised to find a piece of paper. Saul walked over to the street light and pulled the paper out

to read.

'See how easily I can get to you?

Think Wolfe is safe?

Think again.'

It wasn't signed but Saul had seen the handwriting before. It was exactly the same as the letter Cramer had showed

him earlier that day.

With a muffled curse Saul shoved the note back into his pocket and took off at a run for the park's enterance. If

Wolfe was alright when he got to the brownstone Saul knew he would have to tell him the truth about Sanders.

It was the only way to keep them all safe.

*********

In a renovated office off the back of an abandoned night club near Time square Preston Sanders sat behind a desk. The

red haired man casually flipped through back issues of local newspapers as he sipped a cup of brandy.

Every part of his plan was going just splendidly.

Sanders leaned back in the chair and kicked his feet up on the desk. He had inacted his revenge against Wolfe by

killing Goodwin.

Now all he had to do was sit and wait for the right time to put Wolfe out of his misery.

*********

Saul reached the brownstone and let himself in through the front door with the use of his key. He met Fritz half

way to Wolfe's office.

"Mr. Panzer, you look white as a sheet."Fritz exclaimed as Saul came to a stop. "What happened?"

As soon as Saul stopped the world started spinning again. He blinked his eyes to make it stop. "I'm fine, Fritz. Is

Wolfe here?"

Fritz took Saul by the right elbow and lead him into the kitchen. "Yes. You know he hasn't left the brownstone since

Archie's death."

"When was the last time you saw him?"Saul inquired as Fritz ushered him into the closest chair.

"Five minutes ago."Fritz replied as moved to the freezer to pull out an ice pack. On the way back from the freezer

he placed kettle on the stove. "Is this something I should be concerned about?"

Saul nodded and then winced as new pain richochetted through his skull. "Yeah, but not tonight. If he hasn't done

anything while I was knocked cold he won't."

"Who won't?"Fritz asked as he returned to Saul and handed the younger man the ice. He had never seen Saul this

anxious and it worried him.

Saul gingerly placed the ice on the back of his head and closed his eyes. "Preston Sanders."

********

"So that's really your big plan?"Lon asked through a mouthful of rice. "Crash your own funeral and Sanders will

just fall into Cramer's handcuffs?"

Archie glared at his friend as he picked at the chinese food in front of him. He wasn't hungry at all. Might be something

to do with his stomach being in knots.

"You know it won't be that easy."Archie replied quietly as he took a sip of water.

Cohen nodded. "I know that's what worries me. With you and Wolfe things are never simple."

*******

Wolfe walked past the kitchen doorway and backtracked when he saw Saul sitting in a chair with an ice pack to the

back of his head.

"Fritz, call Doctor Volmer."Wolfe ordered as he walked into the kitchen.

Saul immeaditely pulled the ice away from his head and stood. "That's not necessary, Sir. I'm fine. Just a bump."

"Nonsense. Head injuries can be....."

"Sir, we need to talk. I know who killed Archie and he's going to come here."

Wolfe nodded and sat down at the kitchen table. Saul pulled the chair he had been sitting in over to the table and

joined his boss.

Fritz put the tea kettle on the stove. He had a feeling it was going to be a long night.

********

"Thanks."Lon Cohen replied as he hung up the phone in his living room and turned back to Goodwin. "Your funeral

announcement will be in tommorrow morning's addition."

Archie nodded as he leaned back against the sofa. "Good."

"You sure there's nothing else I can do?"Lon asked feeling like he hadn't done anything to help.

Archie grinned. "You've done more than enough with hiding me here."

"Okay."Lon replied. "But I still get the exclusive and I want a new lamp."

"Done."

******

"Sanders."Wolfe repeated as Fritz set two mugs of tea on the table.

Saul nodded solemnly. "Cramer found a letter from Sanders in Archie's desk."

"How long ago was it written?"Wolfe asked the mug in front of him untouched.

"Almost a week before Archie disappeared."Saul replied as he picked up the ice pack his head was

beginning to throb again.

"Why did he keep this to himself?"Wolfe wondered. It was so unlike Archie not to confide in him about case

related matters.

"He was protecting you."Saul replied as he took a sip of tea.

"By sacrificing himself?"Wolfe asked with a hint of bitterness.

"I have to believe that Archie was going to tell us. Sanders just got to him before he could."

"Call Inspector Cramer."Wolfe ordered."I want to meet with him."

"Now?"Saul asked as he glanced at the clock it was nearly ten.

"Yes,now."Wolfe replied as he stood. "I don't want Sanders getting any farther away. You will stay here

tonight."

"Yes,Sir."Saul acknowledged gratefully. He didn't think he'd be able to make it home under his own power anyway.

Wolfe quietly left the kitchen hands in his pockets head bowed.

Saul watched him for a moment then stood and walked over to the phone to call Cramer.

*******

Cramer arrived at the Brownstone at ten fifteen surprisingly without a complaint.

"How's your head?"Cramer asked Saul as Panzer led him to the office.

Saul stopped and looked at the older man with surprise. "How'd you know?"

Cramer grinned. "Word travels. Did you see who hit you?"

Saul started to walk as he said. "No, came at me from behind. Just left this in my pocket."

Cramer took the small piece of paper. "Sanders?"

Saul nodded as they reached Wolfe's office. "Or somebody that works for him."

"Thank you for coming."Wolfe said in way of greeting as Cramer entered the office.

Saul moved to leave but Wolfe halted him. "Saul, please stay. We'll need your input on this as well."

Saul nodded and moved to sit in the chair to Cramer's right.

"I assume you have no leads on the location of Preston Sanders."Wolfe began as he sat down behind the desk.

Cramer shook his head as he leaned forward. "No but his description is out to all cars."

Wolfe pursed his lips. "Obviously Sanders wants revenge and he'll want it in a public way. But his attack on

Saul shows he's getting impaitent. He'll make his move soon."

"We just have to figure out when that will be."Cramer stated.

*********

The day of Archie's funeral was dark and pouring down rain. Saul shook water off his trenchcoat as he stepped

into the church. Orrie and Fred were driving Nero over in about an hour. Saul had arrived early because he had wanted

to make sure the perimiter was secure and he wanted to say goodbye to his friend before everyone arrived.

Saul was halfway down the main isle of the church before he heard the front door open and close. Thinking it was the priest

Saul turned around. He was surprised to see Cramer walking toward him.

"I thought you weren't coming until later."Saul stated.

Cramer nodded. "I wanted to check things out before hand. Guess you had the same idea."

Saul sat down in one of the pews as he looked back at the casket. "Part of me still can't believe that this is

Archie's funeral. He was always the survivor no matter what the situation."

"I know but everybody's luck runs out sometime."Cramer replied grimly. "I have six officers watching the church. When

Sanders shows we will get him."

Saul shook his head. "Sanders isn't going to make this easy. He's definetely going to try to kill Wolfe before this

is over."

"That won't happen."Cramer promised. "There's no way he'll get by all of us."

**********

Preston Sanders hummed softly to himself as he moved around the back office of the abandoned night club. One of his

men was out picking up his suit from the dry cleaners. It was a funeral after all proper attire was proper attire.

Sanders walked over to the small desk and glanced down at the assortment of weapons laid out.

"So many choices."Sanders mused as he fingered the handle of a knife. "Which one of you will I use to make

history, hmmm? This is Nero Wolfe after all the weapon has to be dignified."

A knock on the door drew Sanders attention. "Yes?"

"Here is your suit, Sir."The man replied as he stepped into the room. "Is there anything else you need?"

Sanders took the suit and inspected it before nodding his approval. "No, that will be all. Just make sure the car

is ready."

"Yes, Sir."The man replied as he left.

Sanders placed the suit on a nearby chair and walked back to the desk and looked down at the weapon assortment. "Now

where was I? Oh yes, about to make history. The man who brought down the great Nero Wolfe has to have the right

weapon."

After several moments Sanders picked the weapon he wanted and reached into the desk drawer. He took out a small

jar of polish and a rag. Sanders sat down in the chair and began to lovingly polish the gun.

"A life for a life."Sanders said softly to himself as he turned the gun over. "Or in this case two. I had a very

good life.....I was respected, famous.....then Wolfe got nosy. Now its time for my very sweet revenge."

*******

It was ten thirty by the time Orrie and Fred arrived at the church with Nero and Fritz. Mid day traffic had been

unusually horendous. Saul met them at the door as Fritz hung Wolfe's coat and umbrella on the coat rack.

"Sir, Father Bartley would like to speak with you before the service starts."Saul reported trying to read Wolfe's

mood.

"Very well."Wolfe replied quietly as he moved away from the group. Weather had prevented any of Archie's family from

making the trip to the funeral so Wolfe was representing them.

Saul kept Wolfe in sight as he motioned Orrie and Fred closer. "Fred stay back by the door, Orrie take the upper

floor. I don't want any part of this room not to be covered."

"Right."

"Okay."

Both men replied before moving into their assigned positions.

Saul turned and hurried to catch up with Wolfe. One way or another they were going to make things

right by Archie. No matter what it took.

********

Twenty minutes later Saul led Wolfe to a first row pew just as the rest of the guests began to file in. Saul caught Fred's

gaze who nodded. So far all the guests were accounted for.

After making sure Wolfe was comfortable Saul moved to stand by the right wall of the room. He positioned himself near

the center of the wall so he'd have a clear view. As he stood there Saul looked up to make sure Orrie was in

position.

Orrie nodded signalling that the upper floor was secure.

Father Bartley called for quiet as he began the service. The late arriving guests quickly took their seats.

"Thank you all for coming on this sad day."Bartley said as he looked out at the crowd. "We are all here to remember

a friend. A brave man who's life was cut short."

Something made Saul look at the upper balcony. He did a doubletake......Orrie was nowhere in sight. Saul stiffened and

pulled out his gun. He glanced over at the door and was mildly relieved to see that Fred was still in position.

Saul caught Cramer's gaze and motioned to the balcony. Sanders had somehow made it into the church.

*********

The age old question of attending your own funeral flashed through Archie's mind as he slipped into a side door

of the church. Lon had wanted to come with but Archie had insisted that the reporter stay behind. The last thing Archie

needed was a friend killed.

As Archie turned a corner and entered a main hallway he heard a scuffle and the distinct thud of a human body hitting

the floor above. With a frown Archie took out his gun and quickly found the nearest stairway.

Sanders was already here he could feel it. Somehow Archie had to prevent the madman from causing any more harm.

**********

Sanders settled himself into one of the alcoves usually resevered for a relgious statue. It was situated just above

the church's front enterance giving Sanders the perfect vantage point of the room below. Sanders reached into his coat

pocket and pulled out several bullets. Whistling softly the former lawyer began to load the gun.

Soon, very soon he would be famous again.

***********

Archie reached the second floor balcony and immeaditely saw Orrie's prone form lying a few feet away. Archie glanced

around the area before he made his way toward Orrie. When he reached his friend Archie quickly felt for a pulse.

Orrie was alive just knocked out. He'd have a nasty bump on his head when he woke up but otherwise Archie could find no other

injuries.

Just as he was about to move back to the stairway Archie heard a startled gasp behind him. He turned to see the shocked

faces of Saul Panzer and Inspector Cramer.

"He's fine, just knocked out."Archie stated breaking the silence.

Neither man moved.

Archie stifled a sigh as he rose to his feet. "Look, I'm not a ghost. I'll explain my return from the dead act later.

We need to move Sanders is here."

"How....."Saul started to ask but his question was interupted by the sharp sound of a rifle firing.

Archie and the others instantly crouched down before they realized the shot wasn't coming from their area. Saul moved

toward the railing as screams from the paniaced crowd began. Saul strained to see Wolfe but all he saw was Fritz and

Fred covering Wolfe as they stayed low to the ground.

"I can't tell if anybody's hurt."Saul reported as Cramer and Archie moved toward him.

"Where the hell is he?"Cramer asked as another shot was heard.

"There!"Archie shouted as he spotted Sander's hiding spot above the front door. "Go cover Wolfe, get him out of here.

I'll get Sanders."

Saul shook his head. "Archie...."

The tone of Goodwin's voice left no room for arguement. "Go!"

Saul nodded and he and Cramer ran to the stairs and down to the first level.

**********

Archie remained by the railing for a moment trying to figure out the best way to neutralize Sanders. The alcove he was in was

above and to the right of the main door. Only access to it appeared to be from a tiny ledge from the balcony to the

alcove. Sanders would surely see him.

Making a decision Archie leveled his firing arm against the railing and took aim. Just as he was about to squeeze the

trigger there was a shot from below.

Archie looked down to see Saul had taken cover behind a pew and had gotten off a shot at Sanders. Unfortunately the

shot had missed causing tile to shatter behind Sanders. Sanders calmly leveled the rifle at Saul and before Archie could

get a shot off Sanders fired.

Archie heard Saul cry out in pain but he didn't look down. Instead Archie squeezed the trigger of his gun. The shot hit

Sanders just above the heart but below Sanders's collar bone. Sanders grunted in pain and tried to turn to return

fire at Archie instead he toppled backward off the alcove hitting the ground hard.

Cramer and his officers along with Fred instantly surrounded Sanders. Cramer kicked the rifle out of the way and yanked

the injured man to his feet.

Cramer looked at Fred. "Check on Panzer."

Fred nodded and scrambled over to the pew where Saul had been. Saul was already on his feet one hand on his bleeding

left shoulder.

"I'm okay."Saul replied to Fred's unasked question.

Cramer personally put handcuffs on Sanders as he said. "Preston Sanders you're under arrest for the attempted murder

of Nero Wolfe and Saul Panzer not to mention all the people in this church. Illegal use of a firearm and anything

else I can think of. Get him out of here."

"I was so close to my revenge."Sanders muttered as the officers dragged him out of the church. "So close."

From the balcony Archie looked past Saul and Fred to see Orrie and Fritz bringing Wolfe out from behind the altar. Wolfe

met Archie's gaze and his eyes widened.

"Fritz, is that...."Wolfe asked his voice hoarse.

Fritz smiled. "Yes, Sir, it is."

"I'm going to fire him."Wolfe stated though a smile was starting to work it's way in.

"You might wait until we've heard his side of the story, Sir."Fritz replied as they watched Archie leave the balcony and

make his way down to the first floor.

Cramer joined Archie as they made their way to Fritz and Wolfe.

"There's an ambulance on it's way for Panzer and Sanders."Cramer stated as the group came to a stop.

Wolfe nodded as he looked Archie up and down. "Fritz says I shouldn't fire you."

Archie smiled. "I owe him one then."

"I haven't made up my mind yet."Wolfe replied as he started to walk past Archie. "I'll expect you back at the house

in half an hour for a full report."

"Yes,Sir."Archie acknowledged.

As Wolfe passed him Archie heard him say very quietly. "Good work."

Archie watched Wolfe leave for a moment before he walked over to Saul. Together they waited for the paramedics.

"How are you doing?"Archie asked.

"Hurts like hell."

"I know."

Saul looked over at him. "You sure you're not a ghost?"

Archie smiled. "Positive. Though I might be once Wolfe gets through with me."

Saul shook his head wincing as that movement sent pain through his injured shoulder. "He's been a wreck."

"I know. I had no choice."Archie replied quietly as he looked out the open doorway.

"I can't wait to hear this one."Saul stated with a smile just as the ambulance pulled up.

Archie grinned and clasped his friend on the good shoulder. "You will as soon as the docs are done. I'll see you

back at the brownstone."

"Okay."Saul replied just as the paramedics walked into the church armed with a stretcher.

**********

Two days later a happy and content group gathered around Wolfe's dinner table for a celebatory dinner. They had many

things to celebrate; Archie's return, Saul's release from the hospital that morning and Sanders arrainment the day

before.

"What I don't get."Saul stated as he waited for laughter from a previous conversation to die down. "Is who the

stiff was in the warehouse?"

Archie shifted uncomfortably in his chair as he reached for his fork. "He was a homeless man who had died from

exposure. A friend of mine in the morgue allowed me to take the body since I told him it was for a ruse Wolfe and

I were using for a case."

"You did what needed to be done."Wolfe stated from the head of the table. "I've talked to the district attorney and

no arson charges will be filed."

"That's reassuring."Archie replied as he took a bite of food.

"Do we know how Sanders escaped in the first place?"Fred asked through a mouthful of pasta.

"I can answer that one."Lon replied from his seat next to Saul. "He knocked out the guard that came to deliver the

morning meal. He took out three more guards before he reached the lower level where the laundry was being loaded

into a truck to be taken to an offsite facility. Sanders slipped into one of the laundry bags and rode out of

the prison with the dirty laundry."

"The department of corrections have been reminded to put more security on the delivery area."Cramer added.

"Wouldn't it be ironic if they put Sanders on laundry detail when he gets back to prison?"Orrie asked

with a wide smile.

"I don't care what he does as long as he never gets out."Fritz commented as he removed empty plates and refilled

water glasses.

"He's not getting out this time, Fritz."Archie assured the chef as he looked down the table at his boss.

Wolfe raised his glass. "If I can have everyone's attention, thank you. Though Archie went about protecting

me in an unusual manner he did accomplish what he set out to do. For that I am grateful as I am to all of you

for your assistance in this matter."

Glasses clinked and the conversation slowly drifted to other matters. Fritz stood by the wall observing the

group with a smile.

It warmed his heart to hear laughter and happy voices in the house once more. Things were slowly returning to

normal or whatever passed as normalacy.

 

end