A Family Affair by Rex Stout

He sat and surveyed them. “Nothing?”

They nodded. Saul said, “Never have so many done so little. You and Archie have at least looked at them.”

[99] “And seen nothing. Nothing that helps. Now. Weekends are always difficult, and don’t try. Archie won’t be here. Resume Monday morning. Fred, you will continue with Mr. Vilar. He’s uneasy, and you may learn why. Call Archie Monday morning as usual. Orrie. How many of them have you seen?”

“All but three. They weren’t there. One busboy saw someone in that room Monday he had never seen before, but he has only been there a week and anyway he’s not too bright. Also, most of them were cagey. They knew what I was after, about Pierre, and, like everybody else, they don’t want to be dragged in on a murder case. It’s just possible that you might get something if you saw all of them yourself, but I doubt it. I could bring them in batches.”

Of course he knew Wolfe wouldn’t. Neither Saul nor Fred would have said that. Wolfe ignored it. “You may as well continue with Mr. Igoe, but call Archie Monday morning. Saul. You could see Mr. Judd himself. Should you?”

Saul shook his head. “I doubt it. I even doubt if you should. I have covered him pretty well. You have seen him, here with the others.”

“Yes. I suppose Archie has told you that Mr. Hahn offered to pay me a hundred thousand dollars. I’ll have to see him myself. I have seen Mr. Ackerman, and Mr. Urquhart is in Washington. You suggested Wednesday evening that you should see Miss Ducos.”

“I said I could give it a try. I said Archie looks like a male chauvinist and I don’t.”

“Yes. See her. She feeds facts to a computer at New York University. Will she go to work tomorrow, Saturday?”

“Probably not, I’ll find out. I’ll want to ask Archie about her.”

Saul turned to me. “Any suggestions?”

“If I were a male chauvinist pig in good standing I’d say you might try raping her. As I said, she has good legs.”

“I’d like to have a try at her,” Orrie told Wolfe. “And Saul would be better with Igoe. Igoe’s very brainy. He’s a Ph.D.”

We looked at him, surprised. He was good with women all right, we all knew that, but suggesting to Wolfe-to Wolfe, not just to me-to switch an errand from Saul to him, that was a surprise.

Wolfe shook his head. “Saul offered first. Has Archie told you that two of them-Ackerman and Vilar have threatened to go to the District Attorney? We don’t think they will, but they might, and if they do we’ll have a problem. Mr. Cramer’s attention will be directed at those six men, and he will learn that I have sent you to inquire about them. You will be questioned. You know the stand Archie and I have taken with both Mr. Cramer and the District Attorney. That will be futile unless you take the same stand. Tell them absolutely nothing. Stand mute. You will probably be held as material witnesses, possibly even charged with obstruction of justice. Mr. Parker will of course arrange for your release on bail. It’s conceivable that eventually you’ll be on trial for a felony and convicted, but I’ll do everything in my power to prevent it.”

He tightened his lips, then: “I suggest an alternative. Either you stay and take the risk, or you leave the jurisdiction immediately. The country. Either Canada or Mexico. Of course, at my expense. If you go, you shouldn’t delay. At once. Tonight.”

“I’ll stay,” Fred said. “I’ve got an idea about Vilar.”

“What the hell,” Orrie said, “Of course we stay.”

“I won’t say that,” Saul said, “but I want to say something.”

He said it to Wolfe. “I’m surprised, really surprised, that you thought we might go.”

“I didn’t,” Wolfe said.

Nuts. Saul knew damn well he didn’t. They were all just putting on a charade.

[101] 11 I admit that, like everybody else, I like to think that I have hunches. For instance, the time that I was in the office of the head of a Wall Street brokerage firm and he brought in four members of his staff, and after talking with them five minutes I thought I knew which one of them had been selling information to another firm, and two weeks later he confessed. Or the time a woman came and asked Wolfe to find out who had taken her emerald and ruby bracelets, and when she left I had told him she had given them to her nephew, and he had taken it on anyhow because he wanted to buy some orchid plants, and had regretted it later when he had to sue to get his fee. By the way, that was one of the reasons he thought I could size up any woman in ten minutes.

But I’m not going to say it was a hunch I had that Saturday morning, because I don’t see how it could have been. It might have been just something I had for breakfast, but I don’t see how that was possible either, because Fritz had catered it as usual.

Whatever caused it, I had it. When I am dressing and getting packed for a weekend at Lily Rowan’s pad in Westchester, which she calls The Glade, I thoroughly approve of the outlook. I enjoy shaving. I think my hair looks fine, and my zipper works like a dream. I’m willing to admit that being [102] away from him for forty-eight hours is a factor-a change is good for you-but also I would breathe some fresh air and so forth.

But not that time. The electric shaver was too noisy. My fingers didn’t like the idea of tying shoestrings. The tips of my necktie didn’t want to come out even. I could go on, but that’s enough to give you the idea. However, I made it. At least I didn’t trip going downstairs.

Lily was expecting me out in front with the Heron at eleven o’clock, and it was only ten-twenty-five and there was no hurry, so I put my bag down in the hall, went to the kitchen to tell Fritz I was off, and to the office for a glance around. And as I was trying the knob of the safe, the phone rang. I should have left it to Fritz, but habit is habit, and I went and picked it up. “Nero Wolfe’s resid-” “I want to ask you just one question.”

Lon Cohen.

“If it can be answered yes or no, shoot.”

“It can’t. Where and when did you last see Lucile Ducos alive?”

I couldn’t sink onto my chair, because it was turned wrong. I kicked it to swivel it and sat on the edge. “I don’t believe it. Goddam it, I do not believe it.”

“Yeah, they always say that. Are your eyes pop-” “Quit clowning. When?”

“Forty minutes ago. We’ve just got a flash. On the sidewalk on Fifty-fourth Street a few yards from the house she lived in. Shot somewhere in the middle. Freebling is there, and Bob Adams is on the way. If -” I hung up.

And my hand started for it to pick it up again. Actually. To pick it up and ring Homicide South to ask questions. Of course I pulled it back and sat and stared at it, first with my jaw set and then with my mouth open. Then I shut my eyes and my mouth.

[103] Then I did pick the phone up and dialed a number.

After six rings: “Hello?”

“Me. Good morning, only it isn’t. Just as I was leaving, Lon Cohen phoned. There has been another murder, less than an hour ago. Lucile Ducos, Pierre’s daughter. I’m stuck. I’m worse than stuck, I’m in up to my neck, and so is Wolfe. I hope you have a nice weekend. We don’t say. I’m sorry,’ so I won’t say it and neither will you. I’ll think of you every hour on the hour. Please think of me.”

“I don’t ask if I can do anything, because if I could, you would tell me.”

“I sure would. I will.”

We hung up. I sat another three minutes, and then I got up and went and mounted the three flights to the plant rooms, taking my time. That was the third time, or maybe the fourth, I went down the aisles through those three rooms-the cool, then the moderate, then the warm-without seeing a thing. The benches could have been empty.

In the potting room Theodore was sitting at his little desk, writing on his pad of forms, and Wolfe was standing at the long bench, inspecting something in a big pot-presumably an orchid plant, but at that moment I wouldn’t have known an orchid from a ragweed. As I crossed over he turned and scowled at me and said, “I thought you had gone.”

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Categories: Stout, Rex