A Family Affair by Rex Stout

“Here. At my office.”


“You know the address.”


“You said four others. Who are they?”

[79] “You have their names. Mr. Igoe gave them to Goodwin.”

“Yes. We’ll expect you at nine o’clock.”

Wolfe hung up. So did I.

“I want a raise,” I said. “Beginning yesterday at four o’clock. I admit it will be more inflation, and President Ford expects us to voluntarily lay off, but as somebody said, a man is worth his hire. It took me just ten minutes to get Igoe to spill that.”

” “The laborer is worthy of his hire.’

The Bible. Luke. They offered to work for nothing, all three of them, and you want a raise, and it was you who took him up to bed.”

I nodded. “And you said to me with him there on the floor and plaster all around him and on him, 1 suppose you had to.’

Someday that will have to be fully discussed, but not now. We’re talking just to show how different we are. If we were just ordinary people we would be shaking hands and beaming at each other or dancing a jig. It’s your turn.”

Fritz entered. To announce a meal he always comes in three steps, never four. But seeing us, when he stopped, what he said was, “Something happened.”

Damn it, we were and are different. But Fritz knows vs. He ought to.

Before going to the dining room I rang Saul’s number, got his answering service, and left a message that I couldn’t make it to the weekly poker game and give Lon Cohen my love.

[80] 9 The only visible evidence in the office that we had company was six men on chairs. Since this was a family affair, not business, it could be mentioned at the table, and after the cognac flames on a roast duck Mr. Richards had died, and Wolfe had carved it, and Fritz had brought me mine and taken his, we had discussed the question of setting up a refreshment table and had vetoed it. It would have made them think they were welcome and we wished them well, which would have been only half true. They were welcome, but we did not wish them well-at least not one of them.

To a stranger entering the office it’s obvious at a glance that the red leather chair is the place. I had intended to put Benjamin Igoe in it, but a bishop with a splendid mop of white hair and quick gray eyes went to it even before he pronounced his name. Ernest Urquhart, the lobbyist. They all pronounced their names for Wolfe before they sat-the other five or two rows of yellow chairs facing Wolfe’s desk, three in front and two back. Like this: WOLFE URQUHAOT Me JUDD ACKERMAN VILAB IGOE HAHN “I’m not really arrogant or impudent, Mr. Wolfe,” [81] Urquhart said. “I took this chair only because these gentlemen decided that, since we are all willing talkers, it would be wise to name a spokesman, and they chose me. Not that their tongues are tied. Two of them are lawyers. I can’t say with Sir Thomas More, ‘and not a lawyer among them.’

” Not a good start. Wolfe didn’t like quoters, and he was down on More because he had smeared Richard III. I was wondering whether Urquhart was a lobbyist because he looked like a tolerant and sympathetic bishop, or looked like that because he was a lobbyist. He had the voice for it, too.

“I have all night,” Wolfe said.

“It shouldn’t take all night. We certainly hope not. As you must have gathered from what Mr. Vilar said on the phone, we’re concerned about what Mr. Igoe told Mr. Goodwin about Mr. Bassett-and what Mr. Goodwin told him. Frankly, we think it was unnecessary and indiscreet, and-” “Leave that out! Goddam it, I told you.”

It was Igoe’s strong baritone, even stronger.

“That was understood, Ernie.”

Ackerman. Francis Ackerman, lawyer, Washington. I am not going to drag in Watergate, it certainly doesn’t need any dragging in by me, but when they had single-filed in from the stoop he had struck me as a fairly good take-off of John Mitchell, with his saggy jowls and scanty chin. His calling Ackerman “Ernie” showed that he was the kind of Washington lawyer who is on nickname terms with lobbyists. Anyhow, one lobbyist.

Urquhart nodded. Not to Ackerman or Igoe or Wolfe; he just nodded. “That slipped out,” he told Wolfe. “Please ignore it. What concerns us is the possible result of what Mr. Igoe told Mr. Goodwin. And he gave him our names, and today men have been making inquiries about two of us, and apparently they were sent by you. Were they? Sent by you?”

“Yes,” Wolfe said.

[82] “You admit it?”

Wolfe wiggled a finger. That was regression-1 just looked it up. He had quit finger-wiggling a couple of years back. “Don’t do that,” he said. “Calling a statement an admission is one of the oldest and scrubbiest lawyers’ tricks, and you’re not a lawyer. I state it.”

“You’ll have to make allowances,” Urquhart said. “We are not only concerned, we are disturbed. Apprehensive. Mr. Goodwin told Mr. Igoe that at that dinner at Rusterman’s one of us handed Mr. Bassett a slip of paper, and-” “No.”


“He told Mr. Igoe that Pierre Ducos had told him that he had seen one of you hand Mr. Bassett a slip of paper. Also that that was the one fact that Pierre had mentioned, and that therefore we considered it significant.”

“Significant of what?”

“I don’t know. That’s what I intend to find out. One week after that dinner Mr. Bassett was shot and killed. Ten minutes after Pierre told Mr. Goodwin that he saw one of you hand Mr. Bassett a slip of paper at that dinner-told him that and nothing else-he was killed by a bomb in his house. Mr. Urquhart, did you hand Mr. Bassett a slip of paper at that dinner?”

“No. And I want to make-” “No is enough.”

Wolfe’s head turned. “Did you, Mr.Judd?”


“Did you, Mr. Ackerman?”


“Did you, Mr. Vilar?”

“No. I am -” “Did you, Mr. Hahn?”


[83] “You told Mr. Goodwin no, Mr. Igoe. I ask you again. Did you?”

“Huh. No” Wolfe’s head went left and right to take them in. “There you are, gentlemen. Rather, there I am. Either Pierre lied to Mr. Goodwin or one of you lies. I don’t think Pierre lied; why would he? Another question: did any of you see one of the others hand Mr. Bassett a slip of paper? I don’t need another round of nos; I invite a yes. Any of you?”

No yes. Roman Vilar said, “We can’t ask Pierre about it. He’s dead.”

Vilar, euphemistic security, was all points-pointed chin, pointed nose, pointed ears, even pointed shoulders. He was probably the youngest of them-at a guess, early forties. His saying that they couldn’t ask Pierre also pointed, for me, to the fact that when Wolfe had told me Wednesday morning what to say to them, or one of them, if I got the chance, I hadn’t fully realized how much dust could be kicked up by one little lie. One more mention by anybody that Pierre had told me that he had seen one of them hand Bassett a slip of paper and I would begin to believe it myself.

“Yes,” Wolfe said, “Pierre Ducos is dead. I saw him, on his back, with no face. I can’t ask him either. If I could, almost certainly you would not be here, not all of you. Only one.”

He focused on Urquhart. “You said you are concerned not only about what Mr. Goodwin told Mr. Igoe but also about what Mr. Igoe told him. So am I. That’s why I am having inquiries made about you-all of you. Mr. Igoe used the term ‘obsession.’

I don’t have obsessions, but I too am attentive to the skulduggery of Richard Nixon and his crew. And the purpose of that gathering, arranged by Mr. Bassett, was to discuss it. Yes?”

“I suppose you might-” “Hold it, Urquhart. Is this being recorded, Wolfe?”

[84] Albert 0. Judd, the other lawyer. He was about the same age as Vilar. He looked like a smoothie, but not the oily kind, and he had paid somebody a good four C’s for cutting and fitting his light-gray coat and pants, the kind of fabric that suggests stripes but doesn’t actually have any. Marvelous.

Wolfe eyed him. “You must know, Mr. Judd, that that question is cogent only if the one who asks it can rely on the one who answers, and why should you rely on me? It isn’t to be expected that I’ll say yes, and what good is my no? However, I say it. No.”

His eyes took them in, from Judd around to Urquhart. “Mr. Vilar asked me on the telephone if I had told the police or the District Attorney what Mr. Igoe told Mr. Goodwin, and I said no. He asked me if I intended to but withdrew the question because he couldn’t expect me to answer. But I will answer. Again no. At present I intend to tell no one. I do intend to learn who killed Pierre Ducos, and I have reason to surmise that in doing so I’ll also learn who killed Harvey Bassett.”

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Categories: Stout, Rex