A Family Affair by Rex Stout

He not only admitted it, he even put the N in. I liked that.

“I have been told,” Wolfe said, “that you are a reputable and respected member of the bar.”

[89] “Certainly. I haven’t been indicted or disbarred. I have had an office in Washington for twenty-four years. I’m not a criminal lawyer, so I haven’t been invited to act for Dean or Haldeman or Ehrlichman or Colson or Magruder or Hunt or Segretti. Or even Nixon. Do you actually expect to put me through that catechism you dictated?”

“Probably not. Why were you included in that gathering?”

“It’s complicated. Albert Judd was and is chief counsel for NATELEC. Five years ago he was acting on a tax matter for them and needed a Washington man and got me. That’s how I met Harvey Bassett. Bassett thought he needed a good lobbyist, and I got Ernest Urquhart, one of the best. I have known him for years. He disappointed me here tonight. He is usually a wonderful talker, I know that, but I guess this wasn’t his pitch. I had never met the other three -Hahn, the banker, or Vilar, the security man, or Igoe. I knew Igoe is a vice-president of the corporation.”

“Then you know nothing about Hahn’s comment about Mrs. Bassett. And Igoe.”

I raised a brow. What did that have to do with Watergate and tapes? “No. Yes, nothing. I -” He flipped a hand. “Except hearsay.”

“Whom did you hear say what?”

I have tried to talk him out of that “whom.”

Only highbrows and grandstanders and schoolteachers say “whom,” and he knows it. It’s the mule in him.

Ackerman’s chin was up. “I’m submitting to this, Wolfe, only because of them. Especially Urquhart and Judd. Judd called me last night-Igoe had talked to him-and I took a plane to New York this mom-ing and we had lunch. He told me things about Basset that I hadn’t known, and one of them was his- he didn’t say ‘obsession,’ he said ‘fix’ about his wife.

[90] I don’t peddle hearsay; you can ask Judd.”

“I shall. Did you know how Bassett felt about Nixon and tapes?”

“Yes. A few months ago he and Judd were in Washington about some patents-1 know something about patents-and we spent a whole evening on Nixon and tapes. Bassett had the wild idea that Nixon could be sued for damages-ten million dollars-for slandering and defaming manufacturers of electronic recorders by using them for criminal and corrupt purposes. We couldn’t talk him out of it. He was a nut. I don’t know if he was balmy about his wife, but he was about that. Of course that was a part of how he made it big in business-his drive. He had that.

“What was said-decided-about it at that meeting?”

“Nothing was decided. Bassett wanted Vilar to say that it was difficult to persuade corporation executives to contract for security appliances and personnel because they thought Nixon had given electronic equipment a bad name. He wanted Urquhart to say that if you tried to lobby for anybody connected in any way with electronics, no one on the Hill would listen to you. He wanted Igoe to say that men working in electronics-all levels, top to bottom-were quitting and you couldn’t get replacements. He wanted Judd and me to say that all of that was actionable and we would act. God only knows what he wanted Hahn to do-maybe lend him a couple of million without interest to back the crusade.”

Wolfe was eying him. “And you grown men, presumably sentient, soberly discussed that drivel? Or were you tipsy?”

“No. Judd and I hadn’t even had martinis, because we knew Bassett would buy Montrachet and Chateau Latour. He always did. But you didn’t know [91] Harvey Bassett. He could sell ice cubes to an Eskimo. Also, of course, he was a source of our income – for at least two of them a major source-and you don’t spit in the eye of the source of your income. You take a bite of roast pheasant and a sip of La-tour and pretend to listen hard. Most men do. I do. From what I’ve heard of you, maybe you don’t.”

“It’s a matter of style. I have mine. I have due regard for my sources of income. Is one-” “Like me, you have different clients for different cases. Who’s your client in this one?”

“I am. Myself. I have had my nose pulled. Spat upon. Pierre Ducos was murdered in a bedroom of my house. The man who did it will pay. Is one-” “Then why are you withholding evidence from the police?”

“Because it’s my job. And it may not be evidence; I’m finding out I start a question the third time: Is one of your clients connected in any way with Water-gate?”

“Everyone in Washington is connected in some way with Watergate. That’s stretching it, but not much. The members of all those juries have thousands of relatives and friends. No present or former client of mine is or has been actually involved in Watergate. You’re supposed to be asking the questions, but 111 ask another one. Do you really believe one of us six men killed Harvey Bassett? Or was implicated in his murder or the other one?”

“Of course I do. I’m paying three men forty dollars an hour to inquire about you. To your knowledge, have any of them been connected in any way with Watergate?”

“To my knowledge, no. If I were Haldeman, I would say not to my recollection, but I’m not Haldeman.”

[92] “Where were you and what were you doing last Friday night, October twenty-fifth, from six P.M. to two A.M.?”

“By god, you ask it. I remember because that was the night Bassett died. I was at home in Washington. From nine P.M. on I was playing bridge with my wife and two friends until after midnight. I sleep late most Saturdays. At nine o’clock my wife woke me to tell me that Bassett had been murdered. What was the other one? Monday? I was at my office. In Washington. Next question.”

Wolfe likes to say that no alibi is impregnable, but I hoped he wouldn’t send me to crack that one. Wives and bridge-playing friends can lie, but there was Monday too, and for us that was the one we really wanted.

He looked at the wall clock. Eight minutes past eleven. “I’m short on sleep,” he said. “Are you going to see the District Attorney?”

Ackerman shook his head. “You heard what they said, especially Judd. He agrees with you; all we have is hearsay-from you. I’ll be short on sleep too. I’d like to make the midnight to Washington.”

“Then you’ll excuse me.”

Wolfe pushed his chair back and rose. “I’m going to bed.”

He headed for the door. Ackerman got up, told me, “He’s a goddam freak,” and walked out.

[93] 10 When Wolfe came down to the office at eleven o’clock Friday morning, Roman Vilar was sitting in the red leather chair. It had been a busy morning-for me-starting with the routine phone calls from the hired hands. I told them about the party we had had-that nothing had been learned to change the program, they were to carry on, Saul on Judd and Fred on Vilar. Orrie’s day at Rusterman’s had been a blank; no one had seen a stranger in the dump room Monday, day or night. Having been instructed by Wolfe-summoned on the house phone when I went to the kitchen for breakfast-I sicked Orrie on Benjamin Igoe.

There had been three phone calls. From Lon Cohen to say that they had been sorry not to get my usual contribution at the poker game-which was libel, since I win as often as he does and nearly as often as Saul Panzer-and to ask when I would spill a bean. From Bill Wengert of the Times to insinuate that he might let me have a short paragraph on page 84 if I would bring it gift-packaged, addressed to him personally. From Francis Ackerman in his Washington office to say that if Wolfe wanted to see him again, tell him a day in advance, and to warn us that our phone might be tapped or our office bugged. Watergate had certainly got on lawyers’ nerves.

Not a peep from Cramer or the DA’s office. I had [94] got Roman Vilar the third try, a little before ten, and he said he would have to cancel two appointments to come at eleven, and he would.

I had also done the chores, including drawing a check for three grand for Wolfe to sign because the fifteen hundred had about cleaned out the reserve cash box, and clipping November 1 coupons from some municipal bonds-in the tidy pile in the upper compartment of the safe with its own lock. I made a face as I clipped, because the rate on those bonds was 5.2 per cent, and high-grade tax-exempt municipals then being issued returned close to 8 per cent. Life is no joke if you’re in or above the 50-percent bracket, as Wolfe was. Equal to 15 per cent on your money, and you only have to clip coupons-or have Archie Goodwin do it if you’re busy nursing orchids.

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