A Family Affair by Rex Stout


“Yes, sir.”

“How did you know he was dead?”

“It had been on the radio and in the paper. Pierre had told me it was Mr. Bassett who left the paper on the tray. We all knew about Mr. Bassett because he always paid in cash and he was a big tipper. Very big. Once he gave Felix a five-hundred-dollar bill.”

I suppose I must have heard that, since I just wrote it, but if I was listening it was only with one ear. Millions of people knew about Harvey H. Bassett, president of NATELEC, National Electronics Industries, not because he was a big tipper but because he had been murdered just four days ago, last Friday night.

Wolfe hadn’t batted an eye, but he cleared his throat and swallowed. “Yes,” he said, “it certainly couldn’t have been Mr. Bassett. But the man whose name was on the slip of paper-what was his name? Of course Pierre showed it to you.”

“No, sir, he didn’t.”

“At least he told you, he must have. You said he knew the name and wondered about it. So unquestionably he told you what it was. And you will tell me.”

“No, sir, I can’t. I don’t know.”

Wolfe’s head turned to me. “Go and tell Felix he may as well leave. Tell him we may be engaged with Philip all night.”

I left my chair, but so did Philip. “No, you won’t,” he said, and he meant it. “I’m going home. This has been the worst day of my whole life, and I’m fifty-four years old. First Pierre dead, and then all day knowing I ought to tell this, first Felix and then you [45] and then the police, and wondering if Archie Good-win killed him. Now I’m thinking maybe I shouldn’t have told you, maybe I should have told the police, but then I think how you were with Mr, Vukcic and when he died. And I know how he was about you. But I’ve told you everything- everything. I can’t tell you any more.”

He headed for the door.

I looked at Wolfe, but he shook his head, so I merely went to the hall and the front, no hurry. Probably Philip wouldn’t let me help him on with his coat-but he did. No good nights. I opened the door, closed it after him, returned to the office, and asked Wolfe, “Do you want Felix?”


He was on his feet. “Of course he can tell us about Bassett, but I’m played out, and so are you. One question: Does Philip know the name on that paper?”

“One will get you ten, no. He told me to my face that I may be a murderer and called me Archie Good-win. He was unloading.”

“Confound it. Tell Felix he’ll hear from me tomorrow. Today. Good night.”

He moved.

[46] 5 The dinner paid for by Harvey H. Bassett in an upstairs room at Rusterman’s Friday evening, October 18, had been stag. The guests: Albert 0. Judd, lawyer Francis Ackerman, lawyer Roman Vilar, Vilar Associates, industrial security Ernest Urquhart, lobbyist Willard K. Hahn, banker Benjamin Igoe, electronics engineer Putting that here, I’m way ahead of myself and of you, but I don’t like making lists and I wanted to get it down. Also, when I typed it that Wednesday to put on Wolfe’s desk, I looked it over to decide if one of them was a murderer and if so which one, and you may want to play that game too. Not that it had to be one of them. The fact that they had been present when Bassett left the slip of paper among the bills on the tray didn’t make them any better candidates than anyone else for who could have been with him in a stolen automobile on West Ninety-third Street around midnight a week later with a [47] gun in his hand, but we had to start somewhere, and at least they had known him. Possibly one of them had given him the slip of paper.

I got to bed Tuesday night at twenty past one, almost exactly twenty-four hours after the bomb had interrupted me before I got my pants off. It was a good bet that I would be interrupted before I got them on again Wednesday morning by an invitation from the DA’s office, but I wasn’t, so I got my full eight hours, and I needed them, and it was ten minutes to ten when I entered the kitchen, went to the refrigerator for orange juice, told Fritz good morning, and asked if Wolfe had had breakfast, and Fritz said yes, at a quarter past eight as usual.

“Was he dressed?”

“Of course.”

“Not of course. He was played out, he said so himself. He went up?”

“Of course.”

“All right, have it your way. Any word for me?”

“No. I’m played out too, Archie, all day the phone ringing and people coming, and I didn’t know where he was.”

I went to the little table and sat and reached to the rack for the Times. It had made the front page, a two-column lead toward the bottom and continued on page 19, where there were pictures of both of us. Of course I was honored because I had found the body. Also of course I read every word, some of it twice, but none of it was news to me, and my mind kept sliding off. Why the hell hadn’t he told Fritz to send me up? I was on my third sausage and second buckwheat cake when the phone rang, and I scowled at it as I reached. Again of course, the DA.

But it wasn’t; it was Lon Cohen of the Gazette.

“Nero Wolfe’s office. Arch -” “Where in God’s name were you all day yesterday, and why aren’t you in jail?”

[48] “Look, Lon, I-” “Will you come here, or must I go there?”

“Right now, neither one, and quit interrupting. I admit I could tell you twenty-seven things that your readers have a right to know, but this is a free country and I want to stay free. The minute I can spill one bean I know where to find you. I’m expecting a call so I’m hanging up.”

I hung up.

I will never know whether there was something wrong with the buckwheat cakes or with me. If it was the cakes, Fritz was played out. I made myself eat the usual four to keep him from asking questions and finding out that he had left something out or put too much of something in.

In the office I pretended it was just another day-dusting, emptying the wastebaskets, changing the water in the vase, opening the mail, and so forth. Then I went to the shelf where we keep the Times and the Gazette for two weeks, got them for the last four days, and took them to my desk. Of course I had read the accounts of the murder of Harvey H. Bassett, but now it was more than just news. The body had been found in a parked Dodge Coronet on West Ninety-third Street near Riverside Drive late Friday night by a cop on his rounds. Only one bullet, a .38, which had entered at exactly the right spot to go through his pump and keep going, clear through. It had been found stuck in the right front door, so the trigger had been pulled by the driver of the car, unless Bassett had pulled it himself, but by Monday’s Times that was out. It was murder.

I was on Tuesday’s Gazette when the sound came of the elevator descending. My watch said 11: 01. Right on schedule. I swiveled and as Wolfe entered said brightly, “Good morning. I’m having a look at the reports on Harvey H. Bassett. If you’re interested, I’m through with the Times.”

He put a raceme of orchids which I didn’t bother [49] to identify in the vase on his desk, and sat. “You’re spleeny. You shouldn’t be. After that night and yesterday, you might sleep until noon, and there was no urgency. As for Mr. Bassett, I keep my copies of the Times in my room for a month, as you know, and I took -” The doorbell. I went to the hall for a look and stepped back in. “I don’t think you’ve ever met him. Assistant District Attorney Coggin. Daniel F. Coggin. Friendly type with a knife up his sleeve. Handshaker.”

“Bring him,” he said, and reached for the pile of mail.

So when I ushered the member of the bar in after giving him as good a hand as he gave and taking his coat and hat, Wolfe had a circular in one hand and an unfolded letter in the other, and it wouldn’t have been polite to put him to the trouble of putting one of them down, so Coggin didn’t. Evidently, though he hadn’t met him, he knew about his kinks. He just said heartily, “I don’t think I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting you, Mr. Wolfe, so I welcome this opportunity.”

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