A Family Affair by Rex Stout


“You do. The old man still won’t talk, in any language, but a Homicide Bureau man and I have just spent an hour with Marie Garrou, the maid. Will you talk?”


“‘Goddam it, Wolfe, what’s eating you?”

“I told you three days ago that I was outraged and out of control. I am no longer out of control, but I am still outraged. Mr. Cramer. I respect your integrity, your ability, and your understanding. I even trust you up to a point; of course no man has complete trust in another, he merely thinks he has because he needs to and hopes to. And in this matter I trust only myself. As I said, I am outraged.”

Cramer turned his head to look at me, but he didn’t see me. He turned back to Wolfe and leaned over to flatten bis palms on the desk. 1 came here with a stenographer,” he said, “because I trust you too, up to a point I want to say something not as Inspector Cramer or Mr. Cramer to a private investigator or Mr. Wolfe, but just as Cramer to Wolfe. Man to man. If you don’t let go, you’re sunk. Done. Let me bring him in and talk to me. Now.”

Wolfe shook his head. “I appreciate this. I do. But even as Wolfe to Cramer, no.”

Cramer straightened up and turned and went.

When the sound came of the front door opening and dosing, I didn’t even go to the hall fox a look.

[109] If he had stayed inside, all right, he had. I merely remarked to Wolfe, “About any one little fact, I never know for sure whether you have bothered to know it or not. You may or may not know that the Homicide Bureau is a bunch of cops that don’t take orders from Cramer. They’re under the DA.”


So he might have known it and he might not. “And,” I said, “one of them helped him buzz Marie Garrou. I now know her name. And Cramer came straight here because he was sorry for you. That’s hard to believe, but he did, and you should send him a Christmas card if you’re where you can get one.”

He squinted at me. “You changed your clothes.”

“Certainly. I like to dress properly. This is my cage outfit. Coop. Hoosegow.”

He opened the drawer, slid the bottle caps into it, shut the drawer, pushed his chair back, rose, and headed for the door. I supposed to tell Fritz to hurry lunch, but he turned right, and the elevator door opened and closed. Going up to tell Theodore to come tomorrow, Sunday. But I was wrong again; it went up only one flight. He was going to his room to change to his cage outfit, whatever that might be. It was at that point that I quit. The only possible explanation was that he really had a screw loose, and therefore my choice was plain. I could bow out for good, go to Twentieth Street, to either Stebbins or Cramer, and open the bag, or I could stick and take it as it came. Just wait and see.

I don’t know, actually, why I stuck. I honestly don’t know. Maybe it was just habit, the habit of watching him pull rabbits out of hats. Or maybe it was good old-fashioned loyalty, true-blue Archie Goodwin, hats off everybody. Or maybe it was merely curiosity; what was eating him and could he possibly get away with it? [110] But I know why I did what I did. It wasn’t loyalty or curiosity that sent me to the kitchen to get things from the refrigerator-just plain horse sense. It would probably be Coggin, and he would like it even better if we were just sitting down to lunch, and I had had enough of the sandwiches they brought you at the DA’s office. As I got out sturgeon and bread and milk and cucumber rings and celery and brandied cherries, Fritz looked but said nothing. He knows it is understood that it’s his kitchen, and if I take liberties without asking, it is not the moment for conversation. My copy of the Times was still in the rack on the little table, and I opened it to Sports. I felt sporty. I was on the cherries when the sound came of the elevator. When I went to the office Wolfe was at his desk with a crossword puzzle.

I admit I have been working up to a climax, and here it is. Wolfe had gone up to change. But he had changed not to his oldest suit but his newest one-a soft light-brown with tiny yellow specks that you could see only under a strong light. He had paid Boynton $345.00 for it only a month ago. The same shirt, yellow of course, but another tie, solid dark-brown silk. I couldn’t see his shoes, but he had probably changed them too. As I went to my desk and sat, I was trying to prepare a suitable remark, but it didn’t come because I knew I should have just learned something new about him, but what? “The mail,” he said.

I hadn’t opened it. I reached to my desk tray, a hollowed-out slab of green marble, for the opener and began to slit, and for the next twenty minutes you might have thought it was just a normal weekday. I had my notebook and Wolfe was starting on the third letter when Fritz came to announce lunch, and Wolfe got up and went without a glance at me. I don’t know how he knew I had had mine.

I had typed the two letters and was doing (be en- [111] velopes when the doorbell rang. My watch said 1: 22, and the clock agreed. Evidently Coggin knew that Wolfe’s lunch hour was a quarter past one. I got up and went. But it wasn’t Coggin. It was a pair I had never seen before, standing stiff-backed shoulder to shoulder, and each one had a folded paper in his hand. When I opened the door, the one on the right said, “Warrants to take Nero Wolfe and Archie Good-win. You’re Goodwin. You’re under arrest.”

“Well,” I said, “come in. While we get our coats on.”

They crossed the sill and I shut the door. They were 5 feet 11, 180 pounds, very erect. I say “they” because they were twins, long narrow faces and big ears, but one was white and the other one black. “I’ve had my lunch,” I said, “but Mr. Wolfe has just started his. Could we let him finish? Half an hour?”

“Sure, why not?”

White said and started shedding his coat.

“No hurry at all,” Black said.

They took their time hanging up their coats. No hats. I showed them the door to the office and entered the dining room. Wolfe was opening his mouth for a forkful of something. “Two from the Homicide Bureau,” I said. “With warrants. I’m under arrest. I asked if you could finish your lunch, and they said sure, no hurry.”

He nodded. I turned and went, in no hurry, in case he wished to comment, but he didn’t. In the office, White was in the red leather chair with Wolfe’s copy of the Times, and Black was over at the bookshelves looking at titles. I went to my desk, finished the envelopes and put things away, picked up the phone, and dialed a number. Sometimes it takes ten minutes to get Lon Cohen, but that time it took only two.

“So you’re still around,” he said.

“No. Here’s that one little bean I said I would spill. Maybe in time for today. A scoop. Nero Wolfe and [112] Archie Goodwin are under arrest as material witnesses. Just now. We are being taken down.”

“Then why are you making phone calls?”

“I don’t know. See you in court.”

I hung up. Black said, “You’re not supposed to do that.”

He was on a yellow chair with a book.

“Of course not,” I said, “and I wonder why. ‘No hurry at all.’

I’m just curious. Do you feel sorry for me? Or for Nero Wolfe?”

“No. Why the hell should we?”

“Then you don’t like the guy who sent you.”

“Oh, hell do. He’s not the best but he’s not the worst.”

“Look,” White said, “we know about you. Yeah, you’re curious, more ways than one. Just forget it. It’s Saturday afternoon, and we’re off at four o’clock, and if we don’t get there too soon we’ll be off. So there’s no hurry. If you have no objection.”

He turned to another page of the Times. Black opened his book; I couldn’t see the title. I got my nail file from the drawer and attended to a rough spot on my right thumbnail.

It was twenty-five minutes past two when we descended the seven steps of the stoop and climbed into the cars, Wolfe with White and me with Black.

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Categories: Stout, Rex