A Family Affair by Rex Stout

[113] 12 “Stand mute” sounds simple, as if all you had to do is keep your mouth shut, but actually it’s not simple at all. Assistant District Attorneys have had a lot of practice using words. For instance: “Why did you compel, physically compel, Lucile Ducos to stay with you in her father’s room while you searched the room?”

“In the signed statement you gave Sergeant Stebbins you said you included everything Pierre Ducos said to you. But you left out that he saw one of the men at that dinner hand Bassett a slip of paper. Why did you tell that lie?”

“If Ducos didn’t tell you who had been at that dinner meeting, how did you learn about Benjamin Igoe?”

“If Ducos didn’t tell you about that dinner meeting, who did?”

“Why did you tell Saul Panzer that Lucile Ducos must be kept from talking?”

“When did you learn that Nero Wolfe had persuaded Leon Ducos not to talk to the police?”

“What did you take from the pockets of Pierre Ducos before you reported your discovery of his body?”

“What did you find concealed in a book in the room of Lucile Ducos?”

That’s just a few samples. I haven’t included a [114] sample of some asked by an assistant DA I had never seen before, a little squirt with gold-rimmed cheaters, because they were so damn ridiculous you wouldn’t believe it-implying that Nero Wolfe had opened up. Implying that Saul and Fred and Orrie had talked, sure, that was routine. But Wolfe-now, really. As for me, I don’t suppose I set a record for standing mute, but between three o’clock Saturday afternoon and eleven-thirty Monday morning I must have been asked at least two thousand questions by three assistant DAs and Joe Murphy, the head of the Homicide Bureau. Most of Murphy’s questions had nothing to do with murder. He wanted to know exactly why it had taken so long for Wolfe and me to get our coats on Saturday afternoon, and how the Gazette had got the news in time for the late edition that day. It was a pleasure to stand mute to him because I was glad to give Black and White a break, but with the others it wasn’t easy and my jaw got tired from clamping it. The trouble was I like to be quick with good answers, and they knew it and did their best to get me started, and two of them were good at it. But mute doesn’t mean pick and choose, it means mute, tongue-tied, aphonous, and don’t forget it.

Of the lock-ups I have slept in, including White Plains, only thirty miles away. New York is the worst. The worst for everything-food, dirt, smell, companionship, prices of everything from newspapers to another blanket-everything. I hadn’t seen Wolfe. I will not report on my feelings about him during that fifty-one hours, except to say that they were mixed. It was harder on him than on me, but he had asked for it. I hadn’t used my right to make one phone call to ring Nathaniel Parker because I assumed Wolfe had, and anyway Parker had certainly seen the Sunday Times, no matter where he was. But where was he now? “Now” was ten minutes to six Monday afternoon, and I sat on my cot trying to pretend I wasn’t [115] stewing. The point was, at least one point, that tomorrow would be Election Day and judges might not be available-another reason to stew: an experienced private detective should know how many judges are available on Election Day, and I didn’t. I was thinking that, in addition to everything else, Election Day had to come up and I might not be able to vote for Carey, when footsteps stopped at my door, a key scraped in the lock, the door opened, and a stranger said, “You’re wanted downstairs, Goodwin. I guess you’d better take things.”

There wasn’t much to take. I put what there was in my pockets and walked out. My next-door neighbor on the left said something, but he was always saying something, and I didn’t listen. The stranger herded me down the hall to the door at the end with steel bars about the size of my wrist, on which he had to use a key, on through, and across to the elevator. As we waited for it to come, he said, “You’re number two hundred and twenty-four.”

“Oh? I didn’t know I had a number.”

“You don’t. My number. Guys I’ve had that I seen their pitcher in the paper.”

“How many years?”

“Nineteen. Nineteen in January.”

“Thanks for telling me. Two hundred and twenty-four. An interesting job you’ve got.”

“You call it interesting. It’s a job.”

The elevator came.

In a big room on the ground floor with ceiling lights that glared, Nathaniel Parker sat on a wooden chair at one end of a big desk. The man behind the desk was in uniform, and another one in uniform stood at the other end. As I crossed over, Parker got up and offered a hand and I took it. The one standing pointed to a little pile of articles on the desk, handed me a 5-by-8 card, and said, “If it’s all there, sign on the dotted line. There’s your coat on the chair.”

[116] It was all there-knife, key ring, wallet with no money in it because I had it in my pocket. Since I had been standing mute, I made sure the card didn’t say anything it shouldn’t before I signed. My coat smelled of something, but I smelled even worse, so what the hell. Parker was on his feet, and we walked out. The one behind the desk hadn’t said a word. Neither did Parker until we were out on the sidewalk. Then he said, “Taxis are impossible, so I brought my car. It’s around the comer.”

I said firmly, “Also there’s a bar around the comer.”

My voice sounded funny, probably rusty and needed oil. I’d like to hear you talk a little, and not while you’re driving.”

The bar was pretty full, but a couple were just leaving a booth and we grabbed it. Parker ordered vodka on the rocks, and when I said a double bourbon and a large glass of milk he raised his brows.

“Milk for my stomach,” I told him, “and bourbon for my nerves. How much this time?”

“Thirty thousand. Thirty for Wolfe and the same for you. Coggin pushed hard for fifty thousand because you’re implicated, so he says, and you’re standing mute. He said the charge will be changed to conspiracy to obstruct justice, and of course that was a mistake, and Judge Karp called him. You don’t go to court with a threat.”

“Where’s Wolfe?”

“At home. I took him an hour ago. I want to know exactly what the situation is.”

“It’s simple. There have been three murders, and we’re standing mute.”

“Hell, I know that. That’s all I know. I have never known Wolfe like this. He’s practically standing mute to me. I’m counting on you to tell me exactly where it stands. In confidence. I’m your counsel.”

The drinks came, and I took a sip of milk and then one of bourbon, and then two larger sips. “I’ll tell you [117] everything I know,” I said. “It will take an hour and a half. But I can’t tell you why we’ve dived into a foxhole because I don’t know. He’s standing mute to me too. We could give them practically everything we’ve got and still go right on with our knitting -we’ve done that a thousand times, as you know-but he won’t. He told Roman Vilar-you know who he is?”

“Yes. He told me that much.”

“He told him he’s buying satisfaction. Goody. He’ll pay for it with our licenses. Of course-” “Your licenses have been suspended.”

“We won’t need them if we’re behind bars. Where are Saul and Fred and Orrie?”

“They’re behind bars now. Ill get them out tomorrow morning. Judge Karp has said he’ll sit You honestly don’t know why Wolfe has holed in?”

“Yes, I don’t. You’re my lawyer?”

“Of course.”

“Then I can give you a privileged communication. Have you got an hour?”

“No, but go ahead.”

I took a swallow of bourbon and one of milk. “First a question. If I tell you everything as your client, III also be telling you things about your other client that he is not telling. What about conflict of interest? Should I get another lawyer?”

“Not unless you want a better one. He knows I’m acting for you. He knows you can tell me anything you want to. If he’s willing to risk a conflict of interest, it’s up to you. Of course, if you want another lawyer -” “No, thank you. You’ll be famous. It’s a coincidence -Wolfe will like that. Five men being tried now in Washington for conspiracy to obstruct justice-Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell, Mardian, and Parkinson. Five being charged here with conspiracy to obstruct justice-Wolfe, Goodwin, Panzer, Durkin, and Gather.

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