A Family Affair by Rex Stout

I looked at my watch. “It’s twenty minutes to noon. Things will be all set for lunch and the customers won’t start coming until nearly one. Or have you a better place to start than Felix?”

“You know I haven’t. We want everything he knows about Mr. Bassett and his guests that evening. Unless-you have slept on it, so I ask again, does Philip know what was on that slip of paper?”

“It’s still no. As I said, he was unloading. He thinks the name on it might have been Archie Goodwin. Pierre told him he wondered about it. All right, I probably won’t be here for lunch.”

“A moment. One detail. If Felix supplies names, even one, and you get to him, it might serve to tell him that Pierre told you that he saw one of them hand Mr. Bassett a slip of paper. It might. Consider it.”

“Yeah. And Pierre’s dead.”

I went to the hall and to the rack for my coat. No hat. The thermometer outside said 38, more like December than October, no sun, but I have rules too. No hat before Thanksgiving. Rain or snow is good for hair.

[55] 6 With felix it was all negatives, and negatives are no good either to write or to read. Except for preferences and opinions about food and how it should be served, I knew more about Harvey H. Bassett than he did, since I had read the newspapers twice and he may not have read them at all. Television and radio, and his working day was a good twelve hours. On the big question, the names of the guests at the dinner on October 18, nearly two weeks ago, he was a complete blank. He had never seen any of them before or since. All he knew was that it had been stag. Evidently he thought better of me than Philip did; he said he had some fresh pompano up from the Gulf and wanted to feed me, but I declined with thanks.

It was 12: 42 when I left by the front door and headed uptown. One of my more useless habits is timing all walks, though it may be helpful only about one time in a hundred. It took nine minutes to the Gazette building. Lon Cohen’s room, two doors down the hall from the publisher’s on the twentieth floor, barely had enough space for a big desk with three phones on it, one chair besides his, and shelves with a few books and a thousand newspapers. It was his [56] lunch hour, so I expected to find him alone, and he was.

“I’ll be damned,” he said. “You still loose?”


I sat. “I’m a fugitive. I came to bring you a new picture of me. The one you ran Sunday, my nose is crooked. I admit it’s no treat, but it’s not crooked.”

“It should be, after Monday night. Damn it, Archie, I’m an hour behind. I’ll get Landry, there’s a room down the hall, and-” “No. Not even what I had for breakfast. As I said on the phone, when I can spill one bean you’ll get it.”

I rose. “Right now we could use a fact or two, but if you’re an hour behind-” I was going.

“Sit down. All right, I’ll be two hours behind. But I’m not going to starve.”

He took a healthy bite of a tuna-and-lettuce sandwich on whole wheat.

“Not an hour.”

I sat. “Maybe only three minutes if you can tell me the names of six men who ate dinner on Harvey H. Bassett at Rusterman’s, Friday, October eighteenth.”


He stopped chewing to stare. “Bassett? What has that got to do with a bomb killing a man in Nero Wolfe’s house?”

“It’s connected, but that’s off the record. Right now everything’s off the record. Repeat, everything. Pierre Ducos was the waiter at that dinner. Do you know who was there?”

“No. I didn’t know he was there.”

“How soon can you find out and keep me out of it?”

“Maybe a day, maybe a week. It might be an hour if we could get to Doh Ray Me.”

“Who is Doh Ray Me?”

“His wife. Widow. Of course you don’t call her that now, not to her face. She’s holed up. She won’t see anybody, not even the DA. Her doctor eats and sleeps there. They say. What are you staring for? Is my nose crooked?”

[57] “111 be damned.”

I stood up. “Of course. Why the hell didn’t I remember? I must be in shock. See you tomorrow night-I hope. Forget I was here.”

I went.

There was no phone booth on that floor, so I went to the elevator. On the way down I pinched my memory. Having met only about a tenth of the characters -poets from Bolivia, pianists from Hungary, girls from Wyoming or Utah-who had been given a hand by Lily Rowan, I had never seen Dora Miller. Arriving in New York from Kansas, she had been advised by an artist’s agent to change her name to Doremi, and when nobody had pronounced it right, had changed it again to Doraymee. You would think that a singer with that name would surely go far, but at the time Lily had told me about her she had been doing TV commercials. Though the Times may not have mentioned that Mrs. Harvey H. Bassett had once been Doraymee, the Gazette must have, and I missed it. Shock.

I entered one of the ten booths on the ground floor, shut the door, and dialed a number, and after eight rings, par for that number, a voice came. “Hello?”

She always makes it a question.

“Hello. The top of the afternoon to you.”

“Well. I haven’t rung your number even once, so you owe me a pat on the head or a pat where you think it would do the most good. Are you alive and well? Are you at home?”

“I’m alive. I’m also ten short blocks from you. Only a ten-minute walk if you feel like company.”

“You are not company. As you know, we are still trying to decide what each other is. I speak English. Lunch is nearly ready. Cross on the green.”

We hung up. That’s one of the many good points: we hung up.

Even with another tenant, it would be a pleasure to enter that penthouse on East Sixty-third Street, but [58] of course with another tenant it wouldn’t be furnished like that. The only two things that I definitely would scrap are the painting on the living-room wall by de Kooning and the electric fireplace in the spare bedroom. I also like the manners. Lily nearly always opens the door herself, and she doesn’t lift a hand when a man takes his coat off in the vestibule. We usually don’t kiss for a greeting, but that time she put her hands on my arms and offered, and I accepted. More, I returned the compliment.

She backed up and demanded, “Where were you and what were you doing at half past one Monday night, October twenty-eighth?”

“Try again,” I said. “You fumbled it. Tuesday morning, October twenty-ninth. But first I want to confess. I’m here under false pretenses. I came because I need help.”

She nodded. “Certainly. I knew that when you said the top of the afternoon to me. You only remind me that I’m Irish when you want something. So you’re in a hurry and we’ll go straight to the table. There’s enough.”

She led the way through the living room to the den, where the desk and files and shelves and typewriter stand barely leave room enough for a table that two can eat on. As we sat, Mimi came with a loaded tray.

“Go ahead,” Lily said.

I want to like my manners too, so I waited until Mimi had finished serving and gone and we had taken bites of celery. Also, at Lily’s table, especially when no guest had been expected, often not even Fritz would have known what was on his plate just by looking at it, so I looked at her with my eyebrows up.

She nodded. “You’ve never had it. We’re trying it and haven’t decided. Mushrooms and soy beans and black walnuts and sour cream. Don’t tell him. If you can’t get it down, Mimi will do a quick omelet.

[59] Even he admitted she could do an omelet. At the ranch.”

I had taken a forkload. It didn’t need much chewing, not even the walnuts, because they had been pulverized or something. When it was down I said, “I want to make it perfectly clear that-” “Don’t do that! I’ve told you. Even a joke about him turns my stomach.”

“You’re too careless with pronouns. Your hims. Your first him’s opinion of your second him is about the same as yours. So is mine. As for this mix, I’m like you, I haven’t decided. I admit it’s different.”

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Categories: Stout, Rex