A Family Affair by Rex Stout

I swiveled to get it from my desk, swiveled again, and got up and handed it to him.

Three pages. He read the last page twice, looked at me with his eyes half shut and said, “By God.”

I stared at him. I may have gaped. He never says by god, and he said it with a capital G. So I didn’t say anything.

He did. “Was he gibbering? Was it flummery?”

“No, sir. It was straight.”

“He gave you their names.”


It was in my hand, the one he had written, not a typed copy, and I passed it to him. He read it twice too. He put it down on his desk and then picked it up for another look. “I am not easily overwhelmed,” he said. “If I could have them here now, all of them, I would pretermit dinner. I have occasionally asked you to bring people when I knew no one else could, but this-these six-not even you.”

“I agree. So before I typed that conversation I did something. I used the telephone. More than once. And got results. You may have one guess.”

He looked at me, straight, then closed his eyes. In about a minute, maybe a little more, he opened them and asked, “When will they come?”

“Nine o’clock. Fred sure, and Saul and Orrie probable. As you know, they like doing errands for you.”

“Satisfactory,” he said. “I’ll taste my dinner. I haven’t tasted food for two days.”

[69] 7 I forget who once called them the Three Musketeers. Saul was in the red leather chair, and Fred and Orrie were in the two yellow ones I had moved up to face Wolfe’s desk. Saul had brandy, Orrie had vodka and tonic, Fred had bourbon, I had milk, and Wolfe had beer.

Saul Panzer was two inches shorter, much less presentable with his big ears and unpressed pants, and in some ways smarter than me. Fred Durkin was one inch shorter, two inches broader, heavier-bearded, and in some ways a little more gullible. Orrie Gather was half an inch taller, a lot handsomer, and a little vainer. He was still sure he should have my job and thought it was conceivable that someday he would. He also thought he was twice as attractive to all women under forty, and I guess he was. He could say let’s look at the record.

I had been doing most of the talking for more than an hour, and their notebooks were more than half full. I had given them the crop, saving nothing, with a little help from Wolfe in spots, but of course omitting irrelevant items such as the luncheon menu at Lily Rowan’s. That had also been skipped when reporting to Wolfe before dinner. His real opinion of her wasn’t anything near as low as he liked to pretend it was, but he didn’t need another minus for her.

[70] I took a sip of milk and said, “Now questions, I suppose.”

“No,” Wolfe said. His eyes moved left to right and back, to take them in. “I must first tell you the situation. Archie doesn’t need to be told; he was aware of it before I was. What Mr. Igoe told him. He sees me every day, and hears me. He knew that for the first time in my life I had an itch that could not be relieved-that I hankered for something I couldn’t get. He knew that I would have given all of my orchids-well, most of them-to have an effective hand in the disclosure of the malfeasance of Richard Nixon. I once dictated to him a letter offering my services to Mr. Jaworski, and he typed it, but it wasn’t sent. I tore it up.”

He picked up the bottle, decided not to pour, and put it down. “Well. Mr. Nixon is now out, no longer in command of our ship of state, no longer the voice of authority to us and of America to the world, but the record is by no means complete. History will dig at it for a century. It is now possible that I may be able to make a contribution. You heard what Mr. Igoe told Archie. Was he merely babbling, Archie?”

“No, sir. It was square.”

“So I accept it and I expect you to. I trust Archie’s eyes and ears, and I think you do. I am assuming that there was some connection between the name on that slip of paper, if it was a name, and the web of events and circumstances that is called Watergate; and further, that it resulted in the death by violence of Harvey Bassett and Pierre Ducos. Of Pierre, in this house. That’s what I expect to establish, with your help. I have no client, so there will be no fee. Your usual rates will be paid, and of course expenses. I instruct you not to stint. It’s nearing the end of a good year for me, even this year of a delirious economy, and it won’t pinch me.”

[71] He sat straighter and palmed the chair arms. “Now. You have always trusted my judgment and followed instructions without question. Now you can’t. I don’t. On this I can’t be sure my intellect will ignore the goad of my emotions. It may already have been gulled. The assumptions I have made-are they witless? I have asked Archie. Saul?”

“For a try, no.”


“No, sir.”


“I agree with Saul. Good enough to work on.”

Wolfe nodded. “I’m not convinced, but in any case I am going to get the man who killed Pierre-and might have killed Archie. But don’t trust me blindly. If you doubt the soundness of my conclusions or instructions, say so. I would like to come out of this with my self-esteem intact, and so would you.”

He leaned back. “To the job. If one of those six men is the culprit, he was with Bassett in an automobile last Friday night, and he had access to Pierre’s coat Monday, day before yesterday, no matter what his motive was. To that the soundness of my assumptions is immaterial, and my emotions are not involved. Archie has given you lists of their names and has told you that five of them are in the Manhattan telephone directory. One of the lawyers, Mr. Ackerman, is in the Washington directory. Saul, you will start with the other lawyer, Mr. Judd. What is he? Where was he? Of course you won’t ask him. If he learns you are inquiring about him, he may ask you, and if you need to consult with Archie, he will be here. Better Archie than me; on this I am suspect. As I said.”

“Yes, sir. A question?”


“You have told us not to follow your instructions [72] without question. Lucile Ducos, Pierre’s daughter. What Igoe said and the names he gave may have made you forget her.”

He looked at me. “You think he may have shown her the slip of paper?”

“May have, certainly.”

“Could I open her up?”

“Possibly. If anybody could. I doubt it.”

Back to Wolfe. “The name may not be one of those six men. It may have no connection with Watergate or Nixon. That may be why you forgot her. I could give it a try. Archie looks like a male chauvinist, and I don’t.”

Wolfe’s lips were tight. He had asked for it, but even so it was hard to take. I am supposed to badger him, that’s one of the forty-four things I get paid for, but not them, not even Saul.

Til discuss it with Archie,” Wolfe said. “In asking about Mr. Judd, if you reveal that I sent you, so much the better. He may resent it and want to tell me so. Fred, you will start with Mr. Vilar. Since he deals with what is euphemistically called security, you will be familiar with those around him. My comments to Saul apply to you. Questions?”

“No, sir. Archie will be here?”

“Yes. He will see Mr. Igoe again and bring him if possible, but that will have to wait. At least he will be here tomorrow. Orrie, I believe you are known at Rusterman’s.”

“Well . . .”

Orrie let it hang five seconds. “I have been there, sure. With my wife. Not often; I can’t afford it.”

“You were there two years ago, when money was taken from one of the men’s lockers and Felix asked me to investigate. I sent you.”

“Oh, that, sure.”

“So you have seen that room, and many of the men have seen you. Pierre’s coat could have been anywhere that he was that day or evening, but that room is the [73] most likely. Was a stranger seen there that evening? Go and find out. Archie will tell Felix to expect you. Don’t go until eleven o’clock, and interfere with the routine as little as possible. Have in mind another possibility, that the bomb was put in the coat by one of them. Archie and I think it unlikely, but it isn’t excluded. You will not mention the slip of paper; you know what we promised Philip. Questions?”

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Categories: Stout, Rex