A Family Affair by Rex Stout

He sat, in the red leather chair, and sent his eyes around. “Nice room. A good room. That’s a beautiful rug.”

“A gift from the Shah of Iran,” Wolfe said.

Coggin must have known it was a barefaced lie, but he said, “I wish he’d give me one. Beautiful.”

He glanced at his wristwatch. “You’re a busy man, and I’ll be as brief as possible. The District Attorney is wondering why you and Mr. Goodwin were-well, couldn’t be found yesterday, though that isn’t how he put it-when you knew you were wanted and needed. And your telephone wasn’t answered. Nor your doorbell.”

“We had errands to do and did them. No one was here but Mr. Brenner, my cook, and when we are out he prefers not to answer bells.”

Coggin smiled. “He prefers?”

[50] Wolfe smiled back, but his smile shows only at one corner of his mouth, and it takes good eyes to see it. “Good cooks must be humored, Mr. Coggin.”

“I wouldn’t know, Mr. Wolfe. I haven’t got a cook, can’t afford it. Now. If you’re wondering why I came instead of sending for you, we discussed it at the office. What you said to Inspector Cramer yesterday. Considering your record and your customary-uh-reactions. It was decided to have your license as a private investigator revoked at once, but I thought that was too drastic and suggested that upon reflection you might have realized that you had been -uh-impetuous. I have in my pocket warrants for your arrest you and Mr. Goodwin, as material witnesses, but I don’t want to serve them. I would rather not. I even came alone, I insisted on that. I can understand, I do understand, why you reacted as you did to Inspector Cramer, but you and Goodwin can’t withhold information regarding the murder of a man in your house-a man you had known for years and had talked with many times. I don’t want you and Goodwin to lose your licenses. He can take shorthand and he can type. I want to leave here with signed statements.”

When Wolfe is facing the red leather chair he has to turn his head a quarter-circle to face me. He turned. “Your notebook, Archie.”

I opened a drawer and got it, and a pen. He leaned back, closed his eyes, and spoke.

“When Pierre Ducos died by violence in a room of my house at- The exact time, Archie?”


“One-twenty-four A.M. on October twenty-ninth, comma, nineteen seventy-four, comma, I knew nothing about him or any of his affairs except that he was an experienced and competent restaurant waiter. Period. Archie Goodwin also knew only that about him, comma, plus what he had learned in a brief con- [51] versation with him when he arrived at my house shortly before he died. Period. All of that conversation was given verbatim by Mr. Goodwin in a signed statement given by him to a police officer that night at my house. Period. Therefore all knowledge that could possibly be relevant to the death by violence of Pierre Ducos known to either Mr. Goodwin or me at the moment his body was discovered by Mr. Goodwin has been given to the police. Paragraph.

“Since that moment-dash-the moment that the body was discovered-dash-Mr. Goodwin and I have made various inquiries of various persons for the purpose of learning who was responsible for the death of Pierre Ducos in my house, comma, and we are going to continue such inquiries. Period. We have made them and shall make them not as licensed private investigators, comma, but as private citizens on whose private premises a capital crime has been committed. Period. We believe our right to make such an inquiry cannot be successfully challenged, comma, and if such a challenge is made we will resist it. Period. That right would not be affected by revocation of our licenses as investigators. Paragraph.

“Information obtained by us during our inquiry may be divulged by us, comma, or it may not, comma, either to the police or to the public. Period. The decision regarding disclosure will be solely at our discretion and will. Period. If the issue is raised of our responsibilities as private citizens it will of course be decided by the proper legal procedures. Period. If our licenses have not been revoked our responsibilities as private investigators will not be involved. Period. If they have been revoked those responsibilities will not exist. Paragraph.

“We will continue to cooperate with the police to the extent required by law-dash-for instance, comma, we will permit entry at any reasonable time to the room where the crime occurred. Period. We ap- [52] prove and applaud a vigorous effort by the police to find the culprit and will continue to do so. Period.”

He opened his eyes and straightened up. “On my letterhead, single-spaced, wide margins, four carbons. All to be signed by me, and by you if you wish. Give the original to Mr. Coggin. Mail one carbon to Mr. Cramer. Take one to Mr. Cohen and offer it as an item for publication in the Gazette tomorrow. If he rejects it, make it a two-column display advertisement in ten-point. Take one to the Times and offer it, not as an advertisement. If Mr. Coggin interferes by serving his warrants and arresting us before you get it typed, on being taken into custody I will exercise my right to telephone a lawyer, dictate it to Mr. Parker’s secretary, and tell him what to do.”

He turned his head the quarter-circle. “If you wish to comment, Mr. Coggin, you’ll have to raise your voice. Mr. Goodwin will not use a noiseless typewriter.”

Coggin was smiling. “It’s not up to your usual standard. A lousy cheap bluff.”

“Then call it. I believe that’s the idiom for the proper reaction to a cheap bluff.”

Wolfe turned a palm up. “Surely it’s obvious; it was to Mr. Cramer. I do approve and applaud the effort by the police to do their duty under law, but in this case I hope they fail. I invite you to have a look at the room upstairs directly over my bedroom. A man was killed in it as I lay asleep. I intend to find the man who did it and bring him to account, with the help of Mr. Goodwin, whose self-esteem is as wounded as my own. He took him to that room.”

His fingers curled into the palm. “No. Not a bluff. I doubt if I am taking a serious risk, but if so, then I am. The constant petty behests of life permit few opportunities for major satisfactions, and when one is offered it should be seized. You know what I told Mr. Cramer we will do if we are charged and taken, [53] so there is no need to repeat it.”

His head turned. “Type it, Archie.”

I swiveled and swung the machine around and got paper and carbons. Much of the room shows in the six-by-four mirror on the wall back of my desk, so I knew I wasn’t missing anything while I hit the keys, because Coggin’s mouth stayed shut. His eyes were aimed in my direction. The amount of copy was just right, wide-margined, for a nice neat page. I rolled it out, removed the carbon paper, and took it to Wolfe, and he signed all of them, including the one we would keep, and I signed under him without bothering to sit and when I handed the original to Coggin he said, “I’ll take the carbons too. All of them.”

“Sorry,” I said, “I only work here and I like the Job, so I follow instructions.”

“Give them to him.”

Wolfe said. “You have the notebook.”

I handed them over. He put the original with them, Jiggled them on the little stand to even the edges, folded them, and stuck them in his inside breast pocket. He smiled at Wolfe. Of course the typing and signing had given him seven minutes to look at all angles. “Probably,” he said, “you could name him right now and you only have to collect the pieces.”

He palmed the chair arms for leverage and got to his feet. “I hope there’ll be other warrants, not for material witnesses, and I hope I have it and you get ten years with no parole.”

He turned and stepped, but halfway to the door he stopped and turned to say over his shoulder, “Don’t come, Goodwin. You smell.”

When the sound came of the front door closing, I crossed over for a look. He was out. I crossed back and said, “So you didn’t give me an errand because you knew one of them would come. Wonderful.”

He grunted. “I have told you a dozen times, sarcasm is the most futile of weapons. It doesn’t cut, it [54] merely bounces off. Why did he want the carbons?”

“Souvenirs. Autographs. Signed by both of us. Someday they’ll be auctioned off at Sotheby’s.”

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Categories: Stout, Rex