A Family Affair by Rex Stout

Orrie shook his head. “About that, no. That’s simple. And Archie will be here. But I’d like to say-about the ante. Fred has a family and needs it, but my wife has a good job with good pay, and we won’t starve for a couple of weeks. Also I’ve got some feelings about Nixon too. If you pay the expenses, I’d like to donate my time.”


Wolfe clipped it. “This is my affair. When Archie said it’s all in the family, he meant merely that I have no client. No.”

“I live here,” I said. “I took him up to that room. It’s a family affair.”

Inside I was grinning. Orrie was so damn obvious. He thought my taking in a man with a bomb was a black mark for me, and offering to donate his time showed that he was fully worthy to step in when I stepped out. I’m not saying he was dumb. He wasn’t.

Fred said, “Hell, I wouldn’t starve either. I’ve got two families. I don’t live here like Archie, but I like to think this is my professional family.”

Saul said, “So do I. I raise. I’ll pay expenses-mine.”

Wolfe said, “Pfui. It’s my affair. Archie, five hundred to each of them. There may be occasion to buy some facts. Record it as usual; it may be deductible, at least some of it.”

I went and opened the safe, got the reserve cash box, and made three piles-ten twenties, twenty tens, and twenty fives, all used bills. When I finished, the members of the family were on their feet, including Wolfe. He had shaken hands with them when they [74] arrived, but they didn’t offer now because they knew he didn’t like it. They took the bills and went to the hall for their coats.

When I returned to the office after letting them out and sliding the bolt, Wolfe had the list of names and the conversation with Igoe in his hand. Taking them up to bed with him. “Still half an hour to midnight,” he said. “I’ll sleep, and so will you. Good night.”

I returned it and started collecting glasses and bottles.

[75] 8 At a quarter past ten Thursday morning I left the South Room and closed the door, which was no longer honored with the seal of the NYPD. Ralph Kerner, of Town House Services Incorporated, closed his imitation-leather-bound book and said, “I’ll try to get the estimate to you by Monday. Tell Mr. Wolfe to expect the worst. That’s all we get nowadays, the worst, from all directions.”

“Yeah, we expect it and we get it. Isn’t there a discount for a room where a man has just been murdered?”

He laughed. Always laugh at a customer’s joke, even a bum one. “There certainly ought to be. 111 tell Mr. Ohrbach. So you took him up and left him.”

He laughed. “Good thing you left.”

“It sure was. I may be dumb, but not that dumb.”

Following him down the two flights, I would have liked to plant a foot on his fanny and push but controlled it.

The office chores were done, but I had been interrupted on a job of research-a phone call to Nathaniel Parker to ask for a report on the lawyers, Judd and Ackerman, one to our bank for a report on Hahn, the banker, and one to Lon Cohen about Roman Vilar, security, and Ernest Urquhart, lobbyist. I had enough on Igoe unless there were developments. Huh. Also [76] one of the bottom shelves had seven directories, not counting the telephone books for the five boroughs and Westchester and Washington, and I had the Directory of Directors open at N to see if any of them were on the NATELEC list when Wolfe came down.

Three days’ mail was on his desk, and he went at it. First, as usual, a quick once-through, dropping about half in the wastebasket. Of course I had chucked most of the circulars and other junk. He answers nearly all real letters, especially handwritten ones, because, he once told me, it is a mandate of civility. Also, I said, all he had to do was talk to me and he loved to talk, and he nodded and said that when he had to write them by hand he hadn’t answered any. I said then he wasn’t civilized, and that started him off on one of his hairsplitting speeches. We answered about twenty letters, three or four from orchid collectors and buffs as usual, with a few interruptions, phone calls from Parker and Lon Cohen and Fred Durkin. When I swiveled to my desk I was surprised to see him go to the shelves for a book-Fitzgerald’s translation of the lliad. In the mail there had been an inscribed copy of Herblock’s new book. Special Report, with about a thousand cartoons of Nixon, but apparently he no longer needed to read or look at pictures about it because he was working on it. So he sat and read about a phony horse instead of a phony statesman.

He tasted his lunch all right. First marrow dumplings, and then sweetbreads poached in white wine, dipped in crumbs and eggs, sauteed, and doused with almonds in brown butter. I had had it at Rusterman’s, where they call it ris de veau amandine, and Fritz’s is always better. I know I haven’t got Wolfe’s ‘palate. I know it because he has told me.

After lunch you might have thought we were back to normal. Theodore brought down a batch of statistics on germination and performance, and I en- [77] tered them on the file cards. Week in and week out, that routine, about two per cent of which-the few he sells-applies to income and the rest to outgo, takes, on an average, about a third of my time. Wolfe, after listening to my reports on my morning’s research, which contributed absolutely nothing, worked hard at comparing Fitzgerald’s Illiad with the three other translations he brought over from the shelf. That was risky because they were on a high shelf and he had to use the stool. On the dot at four o’clock he left for the plant rooms. You might have thought we hadn’t a care in the world. There hadn’t been a peep from the members of the family. Wolfe hadn’t even glanced at Herblock’s Special Report. The only flaw was that when I finished typing the letters my legs and lungs wanted to go for a walk, and Saul and Fred and Orrie didn’t have walkie-talkies.

At six o’clock the sound came of the elevator complaining as it started down, but it only lasted four seconds. He had stopped off for a look at the South Room, which he hadn’t seen since one-thirty Tuesday morning. It was a good ten minutes before it started again, so he gave the ruins more than a glance. When he came and crossed to his desk and got settled, he said my guess of fifteen hundred dollars was probably too low with the bloated prices of everything from sugar to shingles, and I said I was glad to hear him having fun with words, tossing off an alliteration with two words that weren’t spelled the same. He said it had been casual, which was a lie, and started reading and signing the letters. He always reads them, not to catch errors because he knows there won’t be any, but to let me know that if I ever make one it will be spotted.

It was ten minutes to seven and I was sealing the envelopes when the phone rang and I got it.

“Nero Wolfe’s residence, Archie Goodwin speaking.”

Up to six o’clock it’s “office.”

After six, “resi- [78] dence.”

I don’t want people to think my nose is on the grindstone. Most offices close at five.

“May I speak to Mr. Wolfe, please? My name is Roman Vi-lar. V-I-L-A-R.”

I covered the mouthpiece and turned. “Fred has flushed one. Roman Vilar, euphemistic security. He asks permission to speak to Mr. Wolfe, please. Only he makes it Vi-lar.”


Wolfe reached for his receiver. I kept mine.

“Nero Wolfe speaking.”

This is Roman Vilar, Mr. Wolfe. You have never heard of me, but of course I have heard of you. But that isn’t correct-you have heard of me, or at least your man Goodwin has. Yesterday, from Benjamin Igoe.”

“Yes. Mr. Goodwin has told me.”

“Of course. And he told you what Mr. Igoe told him. Of course. And Mr. Igoe has told me what he told Goodwin. I have told others, and they are here with me now in my apartment. Mr. Igoe and four others. May I ask a question?”

“Yes. I may answer it.”

“Thank you. Have yon told the police or the District Attorney what Mr. Igoe told Goodwin?”


“Thank you. Do you intend to? No, I withdraw that. I can’t expect you to tell me what you intend to do. We have been discussing the situation, and one of us was going to go and discuss it with you, but we decided we would all like to be present. Of course not now-it’s your dinnertime, or soon will be. Would nine o’clock be convenient?”

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