A Family Affair by Rex Stout

There were a couple of swallows left of my second cup when the doorbell rang and I went for a look. It was a gang, and I went part way down the hall to make sure before I returned to the office and said, “It’s four of the six. Vilar, Judd, Hahn, and Igoe. No Ackerman or Urquhart.”

“None of them telephoned?”

“Yes. None.”

“Bring them.”

I went. I couldn’t tell, as I swung the door open and they entered and got their coats off, what to expect. Evidently they hadn’t come merely to deliver an ultimatum, for in the office Judd went to the red leather chair and the others moved up yellow ones. And Judd told Wolfe, “You don’t look like you’ve just spent time in jail.”

“I have spent more time in a dirtier jail,” Wolfe said. “In Algiers.”

“Yes? I have never been in jail. Yet. Two of us wanted to come this morning, but I wanted to get more facts. I haven’t got them-not enough. Perhaps you can supply them. I understand that you and Good-win aren’t talking, not at all, and neither are the men [124] A FAMILY AFFAIR .

you hired, but we are being asked about a slip of paper one of us handed Bassett at that dinner, and there has been another murder, and we are even being asked where we were Saturday morning, when that woman was killed. You said you wouldn’t go to the District Attorney, and apparently you haven’t. You didn’t go, you were taken. We want to know what the hell is going on.”

“So do I.”

“Goddam it,” Igoe blurted, “you’ll talk to us! “I will indeed.”

Wolfe sent his eyes around. “I’m glad you came, gentlemen. I suppose Mr. Ackerman and Mr. Urquhart didn’t want to enter this jurisdiction, and I don’t blame them. As for the slip of paper, Lucile Ducos knew about it, but she was killed. Evidently Marie Garrou, the maid, also knew about it, possibly by eavesdropping, and she has talked. So you are being harassed, and that’s regrettable. But I don’t regret hunting you up and entangling you, because one of you supplied information that I may find useful. Two of you. Mr. Igoe told Mr. Goodwin that Mr. Bassett had obsessions- his word-and Mr. Hahn told me that one of his obsessions, a powerful one, centered on his wife.”

When I heard him say that, I knew. It came in a flash, like lightning. It wasn’t a guess or a hunch, I knew. I’m aware that you probably knew a while back and you’re surprised that I didn’t, but that doesn’t prove that you’re smarter than I am. You are just reading about it, and I was in it, right in the middle of it. Also, I may have pointed once or twice, but I’m not going back and make changes. I try to make these reports straight, straight accounts of what happened, and I’m not going to try to get tricky.

I’ll try to report the rest of that conversation, but I can’t swear to it. I was there and I heard it, but I had a decision to make that couldn’t wait until they had gone. Obviously Wolfe was standing mute to [125] me. Why? Damn it, why? But that could wait, and the decision couldn’t. The question was, should I let him know that I now knew the score? And something happened that had happened a thousand times before; I discovered that I was only pretending to try to decide. The decision had already been made by my subconscious-I call it that because I don’t know any other name for it. I was not going to let him know that I knew. If that was the way he wanted to play it, all right, it took two to play and we would see who fumbled first.

Meanwhile they were talking, and I have changed my mind. I said I would try to report the rest of that conversation, but I would be faking it. If anyone had said anything that changed the picture or added to it, I would report that, but they didn’t. Wolfe tried to get Hahn and Igoe started again on Mrs. Bassett, but no. Evidently they had decided they shouldn’t have mentioned her. They had come to find out why Wolfe had dragged them in, and specifically they wanted to know-especially Judd and Vilar-about Pierre Ducos, who had died there in Wolfe’s house when no one was there but us, and about his daughter. At one point I expected Wolfe to walk out on them, but he stuck and let them talk. He had admitted- stated-that it was regrettable that they were being harassed and that they had supplied useful information. Also, of course, they might possibly supply more, but they didn’t. I knew they didn’t, now that I had caught up.

It was a little past ten o’clock when I returned to the office after seeing them out, and I had made another decision. It would be an hour before he went up to bed, and if he started talking, it would be a job to handle my voice and my face. So instead of sitting I said, “I can catch the last half-hour of a hockey game if I hurry. Unless I’m needed?”

He said no and reached for a book, and I went to the hall and [126] reached for my coat. Outside, the wind was playing around looking for things to slap, and I turned my collar up, walked to the drugstore at the comer of Eighth Avenue, went in and to the phone booth, and dialed a number.


“This is the president of the National League for Prison Reform. When would it be convenient to give me half an hour to discuss our cause?”

“Have you bathed and shaved?”

“No. I’m Exhibit A.”

“All right, come ahead. Use the service entrance.”

I got a break. Getting a taxi at that time of night may take anything from a minute to an hour, and here one came as I reached the curb.

Of course it was also a break that Lily was at home with no company. She had been at the piano, probably playing Chopin preludes. That isn’t just a guess; I can tell by her eyes and the way she uses her voice. Her voice sounds as if it would like to sing, but she doesn’t know it. She told me to go to the den and in a couple of minutes came with a tray-a bottle of champagne and two glasses.

“I put it in the freezer when you phoned,” she said, “so it should be about right.”

She sat. “How bad was it?”

“Not bad at all. I sat on the cot and shut my eyes and pretended I was in front of the fire at The Glade with you in the kitchen broiling a steak.”

I pushed on the cork. “No glass for Mimi?”

“She’s gone to a movie. How bad is it?”

“I wish I knew. I think we’ll come out alive, but don’t ask for odds.”

The cork came, and I tilted the bottle and poured. The den has a door to the terrace, and I went and opened it and stood the bottle outside. She said, “To everybody, starting with us,” and we touched glasses and drank.

[127] I sat. “Speaking of odds, if florist shops had been open I would have brought a thousand red roses. I gave you a thousand to one that Doraymee wouldn’t regret telling you about Benjamin Igoe, and I’m pretty sure it was a bad bet. So I owe you an apology.”

“Why will she regret it?”

“I’ll tell you someday, I hope soon. I phoned and asked if I could come for three reasons. One, I like to look at you. Two, I had to apologize. Three, I thought you might be willing to answer a question or two about Doraymee.”

“She doesn’t like to be called that.”

“All right, Dora Bassett.”

“What kind of a question? Will she regret it if I answer?”

“She might. It’s like this. Her husband was murdered. Your favorite waiter was murdered. His daughter was murdered. It’s possible that it would help to find out who did it if you would tell me exactly what Dora Bassett said when she asked you about me. That’s the question I want to ask. What did she say?”

“I told you. Didn’t I?”

“Just if you had seen me since her husband died. And the second time, had I found out who put the bomb in Pierre’s coat.”

“Well, that was it.”

“Do you remember her exact words?”

“You know darned well I don’t. I’m not a tape recorder like you.”

“Did she mention Nero Wolfe?”

“I think so. I’m not sure.”

“Did she mention anyone else? Saul Panzer or Fred Durkin or Orrie Cather?”

“No. She was asking about you. Listen, Escamillo. I don’t like this, and you know it. I told you once I don’t like to think of you as a private detective, but I realize I wouldn’t like to think of you as a stock- [128] broker or a college professor or a truckdriver or a movie actor. I just like to think of you as Archie Goodwin. I like that a lot, and you know it.”

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