Helen of Marlowe's Blog

Nero Wolfe’s Income Taxes

Posted in "North Carolina", Literature, Politics by helenofmarlowe on August 25, 2012

Nero Wolfe, detective extraordinaire who sprang from the imagination of Rex Stout in the 1930s, is in the 90%  (marginal) tax bracket.

I was reminded of today’s conflict between Tea Party Republicans and the Occupiers, and almost everyone in between, when I recently read a Nero Wolfe mystery.

Most of Nero Wolfe’s clients come into his office with a $10,000 deposit. And with assurance that this is only a deposit, and that after the job is completed, Wolfe can make out the bill for whatever he wants it to be. Wolfe usually replies something to the effect that he always makes out his bill for whatever he wants it to be.

But in “Instead of Evidence” (1946) Wolfe is about to turn down a job. Not just because he doesn’t like the job, but also because the fee being offered is absurdly low, only – at least for deposit – $5000.

The client stuck his cigar in his mouth, took it out again, and asked, “What’s the matter, don’t you want five thousand dollars?”

Wolfe said gruffly, “I wouldn’t get five thousand dollars. This is October. As my nineteen forty-five income now stands, I’ll keep about ten per cent of any additional receipts after paying taxes. Out of five thousand, five hundred would be mine. If Mr. Blaney is as clever as you think he is, I wouldn’t consider trying to uncover him on a murder for five hundred dollars.”

The prospective client is not so easily deterred. His hand went into a pocket and came out full of folded money, and he began to speak to Mr. Wolfe of the advantage of taking cash, thereby allowing the detective to keep the full amount. No receipt required.

But, as narrator and Wolfe sidekick Archie Goodwin reports,

Wolfe’s look stopped him. “Pfui,” Wolfe said. He hadn’t had as good a chance to show off for a month. “I am not a common cheat. Not that I am a saint. Given adequate provocation, I might conceivably cheat a man – or a woman or even a child. But you are suggesting that I cheat, not a man or woman or child, but a hundred and forty million of my fellow citizens. Bah.”

No Swiss bank accounts or off-shore investments or hedge funds for Nero Wolfe.  No hiding assets in the Cayman Islands.  Cheat a hundred and forty million of his fellow citizens? Bah!

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