This month's edition of Heidi Peterson's Inkling Explorations is focused on "A Funny Story Opening in Literature." I'm going to share the beginning of Gambit, one of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe Mysteries.
At twenty-seven minutes past eleven that Monday morning in February, Lincoln's Birthday, I opened the door between the office and the front room, entered, shut the door, and said, "Miss Blount is here."
Without turning his head Wolfe let out a growl, yanked out some more pages and dropped them on the fire, and demanded, "Who is Miss Blount?"
I tightened my lips and then parted them to say, "She is the daughter of Matthew Blount, president of the Blount Textile Corporation, who is in the coop charged with murder, and she has an appointment with you at eleven-thirty, as you know. If you're pretending you've forgotten, nuts. You knew you couldn't finish that operation in half an hour. Besides, how about the comments I have heard you make about book burners?"
"They are not relevant to this." He yanked out more pages. "I am a man, not a government or a committee of censors. Having paid forty-seven dollars and fifty cents for this book, and having examined it and found it subversive and intolerably offensive, I am destroying it." He dropped the pages on the fire. "I'm in no mood to listen to a woman. Ask her to come after lunch."
"I have also heard you comment about people who dodge appointments they have made."
Pause. More pages. Then: "Very well. Bring her here."
I returned to the office, shutting the door, crossed to the red leather chair near the end of Wolfe's desk where I had seated the caller, and faced her. She tilted her head back to look up at me. She was a brownie, not meaning a Girl Scout -- small ears and a small nose, big brown eyes, a lot of brown hair, and a wide mouth that would have been all right with the corners turned up instead of down.
"I'd better explain," I told her. "Mr. Wolfe is in the middle of a fit. It's complicated. There's a fireplace in the front room, but it's never lit because he hates open fires. He says they stultify mental processes. But it's lit now because he's using it. He's seated in front of it, on a chair too small for him, tearing sheets out of a book and burning them. The book is the new edition, the third edition, of Webster's New International Dictionary, Unabridged, published by the G. & C. Merriam Company of Springfield, Massachusetts. He considers it subversive because it threatens the integrity of the English language. In the past week he has given me a thousand examples of its crimes. He says it is a deliberate attempt to murder the -- I beg your pardon. I describe the situation at length because he told me to bring you in there, and it will be bad. Even if he hears what you say, his mental processes are stultified. Could you come back later? After lunch he may be human."
She was staring up at me. "He's burning up a dictionary?"
"Right. That's nothing. Once he burned up a cookbook because it said to remove the hide from a ham end before putting it in the pot with lima beans. Which he loves most, food or words, is a tossup."
(Gambit by Rex Stout, p. 1-2)
I always get a big kick out of Archie Goodwin and Nero Wolfe, and these books routinely make me laugh, which is why I often refer to them as "nice, cheerful murder mysteries." This opener is one of my favorites, because I love how much Wolfe loves words, that he would burn a dictionary in their defense -- but it's so ridiculous too, and so I laugh with glee.
Don't forget to visit Heidi's writing blog, Sharing the Journey, to read other people's entries into this month's Inkling Explorations and to link up your own!