Black Orchids by Rex StoutBlack Orchids by Rex Stout

Black Orchids

byRex Stout

Mass Market Paperback | May 1, 1992

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Nero Wolfe has left his comfortable brownstone for the promise of a remarkably rare black orchid at a flower show—but before Wolfe and his perennially hardy sidekick, Archie Goodwin, have a chance to stop and smell the roses, a diabolically daring murder takes place right under their noses and puts a blight on the proceedings. Now Wolfe's fancy turns to thoughts of weeding out a murderer—one who's definitely not a garden-variety killer. Only then will Wolfe be ready to throw his weight into a second  thorny case, involving a rich society widow bedeviled by poison-pen letters—and a poisonous plot as black as Wolfe's orchids . . . with roots that are even more twisted.

Introduction by Lawrence Block

“It is always a treat to read a Nero Wolfe mystery. The man has entered our folklore.”—The New York Times Book Review
A grand master of the form, Rex Stout is one of America’s greatest mystery writers, and his literary creation Nero Wolfe is one of the greatest fictional detectives of all time. Together, Stout and Wolfe have entertained—and puzzled—millions of mystery fans around the world. Now, with his perambulatory man-about-town, Archie Goodwin, the arrogant, gourmandizing, sedentary sleuth is back in the original seventy-three cases of crime and detection written by the inimitable master himself, Rex Stout.
Rex Stout (1886–1975) wrote dozens of short stories, novellas, and full-length mystery novels, most featuring his two indelible characters, the peerless detective Nero Wolfe and his handy sidekick, Archie Goodwin.
Title:Black OrchidsFormat:Mass Market PaperbackDimensions:208 pages, 6.9 × 4.2 × 0.6 inPublished:May 1, 1992Publisher:Random House Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0553257196

ISBN - 13:9780553257199


Read from the Book

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?”   “No.”   “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’re 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—”   “I saw it. I read it.”   “Then you ought to have an inkling of how I feel.” I sat down again. “Men are funny,” I said philosophically. “That girl with that face and figure and legs has been going along living with her pop and mom and taking dictation from W. G. Dill, who looks like a frog in spite of being the president of the Atlantic Horticultural Society—he was around there today—and who knew about her or paid any attention to her? But put her in a public spot and have her take off her shoes and stockings and wiggle her toes in a man-made pool on the third floor of Grand Central Palace, and what happens? Billy Rose goes to look at her. Movie scouts have to be chased off the grass of the woodland glade. Photographers engage in combat. Lewis Hewitt takes her out to dinner—”   “Hewitt?” Wolfe opened his eyes and scowled at me. “Lewis Hewitt?”   I knew that the sound of that name would churn his beer for him. Lewis Hewitt was the millionaire in whose greenhouse, on his Long Island estate, the black orchids had been produced—thereby creating in Wolfe an agony of envy that surpassed any of his previous childish performances.   “Yep,” I said cheerfully. “Lew himself, in his two hundred dollar topcoat and Homburg and gloves made of the belly-skin of a baby gazelle fed on milk and honey, and a walking stick that makes your best Malacca look like a piece of an old fishing pole. I saw her go out with him less than an hour ago, just before I left. And pinned to her left shoulder was a black orchid! He must have cut it for her himself. She becomes the first female in captivity to wear a black orchid. And only last week she was typing with her lovely fingers, ‘Yours of the ninth received and contents noted.’ ”