A Family Affair by Rex Stout

“So did I. Lon Cohen phoned. Lucile Ducos was shot and killed about an hour ago on the sidewalk a few steps from her house. That’s all Lon knew.”

“I don’t believe it.”

“That’s exactly what I said. I didn’t either until I sat and went through the multiplication table. I beg your pardon for breaking a rule and interrupting you up here.”

“Confound it, go.”

I nodded. “Of course. Also of course Stebbins will [104] be there and will take me down. You probably won’t see me for-” “No. Go to the country. Have your weekend. Tell Fritz to put the bolt on and ignore the telephone. I’ll call Saul and tell him to call Fred and Orrie.”

“Uhuh. You haven’t sat and thought. For you two minutes should be enough. If the white apron-the maid-if she hasn’t talked, she will. They’ll know we were there. They’ll know she found me in Lucile’s room. They’ll know Lucile sat and watched me for an hour while I did Pierre’s room. So I know things about her they should know, and what I know, of course you know. If I disappear for the weekend and you bolt the door and don’t answer the phone, that will only make it worse. I have phoned Miss Rowan.”

Up there, when he sits it’s usually on one of the stools at a bench, but there’s a chair nearly big enough over in a corner, and he crossed to it. Since he hates to tilt his head to look up at someone standing, I went and got one of the heavy boxes for shipping plants in pots and brought it over and sat.

“It’s Saturday,” he said.

“Yes, sir. Parker will be somewhere playing golf, and even if I found him, judges won’t be available, and Coggin almost certainly has still got those warrants. If you want to sleep in your house tonight, you have got to count ten and consider letting go. Don’t scowl at me. I’m not trying to sell it, I’m not even suggesting it, I’m just telling you where I was when I finished the multiplication table. It seemed to me that even if we unloaded we could still go right on making inquiries about the commission of a capital crime on our private premises.”

He growled, “You are trying to sell it.”

“I am not. I’m game if you are. It’s eleven o’clock, time to go down anyway, so come and sit in that [105] chair and lean back and shut your eyes and work your lips. Cramer may be on his way here now. If not, he soon will be, and he may actually have handcuffs. We have been getting away with murder, and you know it and he knows it. Now three murders, because if the white apron is talking he knows about that dinner and the slip of paper Pierre did not tell me about.”

He got up and walked out. Marched out. He always moves as if he weighed a twelfth of a ton instead of a seventh. When the door to the warm room had closed behind him, Theodore said, “It’s always bad when you come up here.”

I concede that as an orchid man Theodore may be as good as he thinks he is, but as a boon companion -a term I once looked up because Wolfe told me it was trite and shouldn’t be used-you can have him. So I didn’t bother to answer, and I would have liked to leave the box there for him to put back where it belonged, but that would have been like him, not me, so I didn’t. I picked it up and returned it before leaving.

Wolfe had of course taken the elevator. When I entered the office he was standing over by the big globe, slowly turning it. Probably deciding where he wished he was, maybe with me along. I went to my desk and sat and said, “When Saul or Fred or Orrie hears the news he’ll probably call, especially Saul. If so, what do I tell him?”

He turned the globe a few inches with his back to me. “To call Monday morning.”

“He may be in the can Monday morning.”

“Then call when Mr. Parker has got him out.”

I got up and marched out. To the stairs and up to my room. One, the desire to kick his ample rump was so strong it was advisable to go where I couldn’t see him, and two, what I had put on for a weekend in the country was not right for a weekend where I [106] might spend it. While I got out more appropriate items and stripped, I tried to remember a time when he had been as pigheaded as this and couldn’t. Then there must be a reason, and what was it? I was still working on that and putting on one of my oldest jackets when the phone rang and I went and got it “Nero Wolfe’s.”

“You there, Archie? I thought you were going-” “So did I. I got a piece of news.”

Saul Panzer. “Evidently you did too.”

“Yes. Just now on the radio. I thought you were gone and he might need something.”

“He does. He needs a kick in the ass and I was about to deliver it, so I came upstairs. I asked him what to say if you called, and he said tell you to call Monday morning.”



“My god, doesn’t he realize the cat’s loose?”

“Certainly. I remarked that if he wanted to sleep here tonight he’d have to unload, and he just scowled at me. What did the radio tell you?”

“Only that she got it and the police are investigating. And that she was the daughter of Pierre Ducos. I called not only to ask if he needed something but also to report. I phoned her this morning at nine o’clock and told her that Nero Wolfe wanted me to see her and ask her a couple of questions. She said go ahead and ask them, and I said not on the phone, and she said to call her around noon. When I called at nine o’clock a woman answered, I suppose the one you call the white apron, and I told her my name and I was working for Nero Wolfe.”

“Good. That helps. That makes it even better. You’d better stick a toothbrush in your pocket.”

“And a couple of paperbacks to read. If I’m going to stand mute I’ll have plenty of leisure.”

“Happy weekend,” I said and hung up.

[107] There’s a shelf of books in my room, my property, and I went to get one-1 don’t know why, since I wasn’t in a mood for any book I had ever heard of -but realized that Fritz was probably wondering what the hell was going on. So I left, descended the two flights, and turned right at the bottom instead of left In the kitchen Fritz was at the big table doing something to something. Normally I would have noticed what, but not that time. AH the walls and doors on that floor are soundproofed, so I don’t know why he wasn’t surprised to see me. He merely asked, “Something happened?”

I got on a stool. “Yes, and more to come. A woman got killed, and it should mean a change of program, but he’s trying to set a new world record for mules. Don’t bother about lunch for me. 111 chew nails. I know you have problems with him too, garlic and juniper berries and bay leaf, but-” The doorbell. I slid off the stool, went to the hall, took one look through the one-way glass panel, and entered the office. Wolfe was at his desk with the middle drawer open, counting beer-bottle caps.

“Sooner even than I expected,” I said. “Cramer. Saul called. He phoned Lucile Ducos at nine o’clock this morning. The maid answered and he told her his name and said he was working for you. He told Lucile Ducos he wanted to see her and ask her some questions, and she told him to call her around noon.”

The doorbell rang.

He said, “Grrrhh.”

“I agree. Do I let Cramer in?”

“Yes” I went to the front and opened the door, swung it wide, and he stepped in. I stood on the sill and looked out and down. His car was double-parked, with the driver in front at the wheel and one in the back seat I had seen but had never met. When I turned, no Cramer. I shut die door and went to the office.

[108] He was standing at the edge of Wolfe’s desk, his hat and coat on, talking.

“… and I may sit down and I may not. I’ve got a stenographer out in the car. If 1 bring him in, will you talk?”


It’s barely possible that I have news for you. Do you know that Pierre Ducos’s daughter was shot down in front of her house four hours ago?”

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