The Goodwin Manuscript

Note: Unlike the similarly-named Spenser novel, this story does not contain heroin, radical politics, or damsels in distress. (You'd think Archie could at least have put in a damsel.)

Let every ear be eager now to apprehend this artful tale of how the haughty house of Wolfe, with tow'ring walls of tawny stone, and able agents armed within, was harried by a hellish foe, though up till then the ugly cuss had ne'er come near to Nero's place.

The day at first seemed dull. When Wolfe said, "Archie, are the Anguloa germination notes complete?" I duly grabbed the detailed cards, all typed a treat and triple-spaced, and handed him the hefty stack; but as he read a ringing sound reechoed from the entryway.

Some oaf was on our outside stoop; he asked me, rather anxiously, to please announce to Nero Wolfe that Danes faced doom and death unless a terrifying troll were stopped at Hrothgar's Hall. I'd heard of it -- a restaurant near Rusterman's. I let him in and, ill at ease, he told the tragic tale to Wolfe -- an interview that irked my boss.

"To stop this goblin, Grendel, sir, you ought to seek the officers that teem in troops of twenty in the stationhouses hereabout; that army should be able, then, to end the monster's escapade." The fellow's anguished answer came: "No weapon harms the horrid thing; no tool can pierce his toughened hide. So on my word, the only way to trounce the type of terror that now daily harrows Hrothgar's is some artful scheme, like all of yours." Wolfe charged him eight-and-eighty gees (those Anguloas aren't cheap), and having sent him hence I then returned; but it was time for lunch, and Fritz's airy apple tarts meant Hrothgar's Hall would have to wait. You understand it's utterly taboo, when Nero's nourishing, to deal with work.

We did discuss the Anglo-Saxons. All their verse, though neat, claimed Nero, never matched the "damsel with a dulcimer" that Sam had seen. I said I much preferred those early English scops, whose oddball olden opuses had four uneven feet per line then, over, say, our own day's bards, who try to imitate the form but have to hew to harsher rules. Wolfe argued with my airy claim, and thus we yacked and yammered on.

By ten past two the tarts that Fritz had made were eaten, every one. That meant we had to make a stab at earning eight-and-eighty grand. "Call Saul and Fred," Wolfe said at last, "and tell them both, by ten tonight assemble here. Then send this ad to each and every evening paper: "Overbearing ogre sought, for fiendish feast on fattened man. Come out to -- (put in our address) -- at twelve to taste a treat indeed."

Our hired hands, at half past nine, were at the door -- both armed, of course. I mulled what odds I ought to give that thirty-twos would touch the beast that harried Hrothgar's Hall at will. They entered, and I educated both arrivals right away on how we sought to snare the thing without it eating each of us. Then onward to the office where both Fred and Saul got fine details; an overview, in other words, of what we'd need that night from them at twelvish when the troll appeared.

Fritz entered with some edibles, and over onion omelettes we three 'teers all talked of trolls and such. Saul held that if we harmed the fiend, then as with any animal, its mother'd try to tear us up.

"It wouldn't work, 'cause Wolfe would never let," I argued affably, "a ticked-off trollwife take him on. He's hardly handles human femmes; an ultra-wrathful underworldly female sort? He'd simply make an exit when she entered, and he'd nip upstairs and never more come down until the dam was gone."

While all we agents ate and gabbed there, Nero Wolfe was now upstairs to do his part and don the garb he'd need to wear to nab the fiend. No iron mailcoat, I observe, for Grendel's grasp, we'd gathered, would just overwhelm such outerwear. No, Nero'd need the nattiest and highest-class of handmade suits to undertake this urgent task.

When midnight neared, then, Nero Wolfe was dozing at his desk, it seemed -- at least, the aim was, anyone who came that night and noticed him would duly deem him dormant, there.

At twelve the troll, with talons bared, made wooden shards of Wolfe's front door, more fine than any axe would leave, and filled the air with angry cries. His nose then scented Nero's flesh; the demon didn't dally long, but trotted towards the tasty meal -- but hesitated half a tick on reaching Wolfe, so richly dressed. He wondered if (so I assume) a tie and tux or tailcoat were required herein. Then I and Saul and Fred all grasped our guns and charged. We overtook the ogre and we took those tools of tin-clad steel in hand. We hoped to have the fiend well-awed with all those arms, although in truth those thirty-twos might not raise welts on Grendel's woundproof hide.

And as we did, Wolfe archly said, "An admirable appetite you have! But now I need to ask: How dare you dine on Danes just raw? You have to heat a human being up with figs and ugli fruit -- and add some nutmeg, naturally." The demon looked quite dazed at this. "Or taking twine and trussing him, add Worcestershire and . . . well, I'm sure that you who eat so eagerly could likely learn a lot of ways to fix the flesh you feast upon, in time. Just take that tome, To Serve Mankind."

The irksome impspawn roared and grabbed the grand, ungainly book Wolfe offered from the office shelves, then trotted through the torn-out door and hurried, heedless, Hudsonward.

I'm sure you're all aware, of course, of how that hellbeast helps the sick and undertakes all urgent tasks that folks have need for, nowadays. Why does the demon do those things? I asked Wolfe that, one afternoon. "It's not a cookbook," Nero said. I dropped it then, at dinner time, and sat through supper saying how uninteresting the iambs were in Xanadu.

The xylous door the troll had torn, in time, was fixed, while inside I thought idly how the goblin gourmand Grendel could have only been knocked off by him who took no two-edged tool of war in hand to hack that hellfiend, but was armed instead with appetite.