A Family Affair by Rex Stout

I jumped to the door and opened it and turned the hall light on. The door to the South Boom was shut. I ran to it and turned the knob. No. He had bolted it. I ran down one flight, saw that the door to Wolfe’s room was intact, and went and knocked on it. My usual three, a little spaced. I really did, and his voice came.


I opened the door and entered and flipped the light switch. I don’t know why he looks bigger in those yellow pajamas than in clothes. Not fatter, just bigger. He had pushed back the yellow electric blanket and black sheet and was sitting up.

[6] “Well?”

he demanded.

“I don’t know,” I said, and I hope my voice didn’t squeak from the pleasure of seeing him. “I put a man in the South Room. The door’s bolted. I’m going to see.”

Of the three windows in the south wall, the two end ones are always open at night about five inches, and the middle one is shut and locked and draped. I went and pulled the drape, slid the catch, opened it, and climbed through. The fire escape is only a foot wider than the window. I have tried to remember if my bare feet felt the cold of the iron grating as I went up but can’t. Of course they didn’t when I got high enough to see that most of the glass in the window was gone. I put my hand in between the jagged edges and slipped the catch and pushed the window up, what was left of it, and stuck my head in.

He was on his back with his head toward me and his feet toward the closet door in the right wall. I shoved some glass slivers off the windowsill, climbed through, saw no pieces of glass on the rug, and crossed to him. He had no face left. I had never seen anything like it. It was about what you would get if you pressed a thick slab of pie dough on a man’s face and then squirted blood on the lower half. Of course he was dead, but I was squatting to make sure when something hit the door three hard knocks, and I went and slid the bolt and opened it and there was Wolfe. He keeps one of his canes in the stand in the downstairs hall and the other four on a rack in his room, and he was gripping the biggest and toughest one with a knob the size of my fist, which he says is Montenegrin applewood.

I said, “You won’t need that,” and sidestepped to give him room.

He crossed the sill, stood, and sent his eyes around.

I said, “Pierre Ducos, Rusterman’s. He came just after I got home and said a man was going to kill [7] him and he had to tell you. I said if it was urgent he could tell me or he could come and tell you at eleven o’clock. He said a car had tried to run him down and -” “I want no details.”

“There aren’t any. He wanted to wait for you there on the couch, and of course that wouldn’t do, so I brought him up here and told him to stay put and went to my room, and in a few minutes I felt it and heard it and went. He had bolted the door, and-” “Is he dead?”

“Yes. The windows blew out, to the outside, so ft was a bomb. I’ll take a look before I call for help. If you-” I stopped because he was moving. He crossed to Pierre, bent over, and looked. Then he straightened and looked around, at the closet door, which had been standing open and had hit the wall and was split, at the ceiling plaster on the floor, at the table wrong side up and the pieces of the lamp that had been on it, at the chair that had been tossed dear across to the foot of the bed, and so on.

He looked at me and said, “I suppose you had to.”

That remark has since been discussed at length, but then I merely said, “Yeah. I’m going to-” “I know what you’re going to do. First put your shoes on. I am going to my room and bolt the door. I will stay there until they have come and gone and I will see no one. Tell Fritz that when he brings my breakfast he will make sure that no one is near. When Theodore comes, tell him not to expect me. Is there anything you must say?”


He went, still gripping the Montenegrin applewood by the small end. I didn’t hear the elevator, so he took the stairs, which he rarely does. Barefoot.

He had not known what I was going to do. He hadn’t known that I would go down to the basement, [8] to Fritz’s room. First I went and put on socks and shoes and a jacket, then down two flights to the office to turn the thermostat up to 70, and then on down to knock on Fritz’s door and call my name, loud. He’s a sound sleeper, but in half a minute the door opened. The tail of his white nightshirt flapped in the breeze from the open window. Our pajamas-versus-nightshirt debate will never be settled.

“Sorry to intrude,” I said, “but there’s a mess. A man came, and I put him in the South Room, and a bomb that he brought along went off and killed him. All the damage is in that room. Mr. Wolfe came up for a look and is now in his room with the door bolted. You may not get much more sleep, because a mob will be coming and there will be noise. When you take his breakfast up-” “Five minutes,” he said. “You’ll be in the office?”

“No. Upstairs. South Room. When you take his breakfast, be sure you’re alone.”

“Four minutes. Do you want me upstairs?”

“No. Down. You can let them in, that’ll help. There’s no rush. I have a couple of chores before I call them.”

“Who do I let in?”

“Anybody. Everybody.”

“Bon Dieu.”

“I agree.”

I turned and headed for the stairs and on the way up decided not to get rubber gloves from the office because they would make it take longer.

He was still on the floor, and the first question was what had put him there. I couldn’t qualify as an expert on that, but I might get an idea, and I did. Here and there among the pieces of plaster on the floor I found several small objects that hadn’t come from the ceiling, which I couldn’t name. The biggest one was about half the size of my thumbnail. But I found four that I might name, or thought I might – four little pieces of aluminum. The biggest one was [9] a quarter of an inch wide and nearly half an inch long, and EDR was printed on it, dark green. A smaller one had DO printed on it, and another one had do. One had no printing. I left them there, where I found them. The trouble with removing evidence from the scene of a crime is that someday you might want to produce it and have to tell where you got it.

The second question was what had made me consider rubber gloves: was there anything on him that would supply a name or other fact? I got on my knees beside him and did a thorough job. He still had the topcoat on, but there was nothing in the pockets. In the jacket and pants pockets were most of the usual items-cigarettes, matches, a couple of dollars in change, key ring, handkerchief, penknife, wallet with driving license and credit cards and eighty-four dollars in bills-but nothing that offered any hope of a hint. Of course there were other possibilities, his shoes or something taped to his hide, but that would take time, and I had already stretched it.

I went down to the office, and Fritz was there, fully dressed. I sat at my desk, pulled the phone around, and dialed a number I didn’t have to look up.

[10] 2 The attitude of Sergeant Purley Stebbins toward Wolfe and me is yes-and-no, or make it no-but-yes. When he finds us within ten miles of a homicide, he wishes he was on traffic or narcotics, but he knows that something will probably happen that he doesn’t want to miss. My attitude toward him is that he could be worse. I could name a few that are.

At 4: 52 A.M. he sat on one of the yellow chairs in the office, swallowed a bite he had taken from a tongue sandwich made with Fritz’s bread, and said, “You know damn well I have to ask him if Ducos or anyone at the restaurant has ever said anything that could be a lead. Or someone does. Someone will come either at eleven o’clock or six.”

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Categories: Stout, Rex