A Family Affair by Rex Stout

“I’m not going to stay,” she said “I have things to do, and you’re Archie Goodwin, and I told you, I know about you and Nero Wolfe from him. Do you want a cup of coffee.?”

I said no thanks, and she left.

If it was a slip of paper, the most likely place was the books, but after seeing me doing her father’s room she might have put it somewhere else. There was a desk with drawers by the right wall, and I went and opened the top drawer. It was locked, but the key was sticking in the lock, probably left there by a city employee. It held an assortment-several kinds of notepaper and envelopes, stubs of bills, presumably paid bills, pencils and pens, a bunch of snapshots with a rubber band around them. Five minutes was enough for that. The second drawer was full of letters in envelopes addressed to Miss Lucile Ducos, various sizes and shapes and colors. A collection of letters is always a problem. If you don’t read them, the feeling that you may have missed a bus nags you, and if you do read them it’s a hundred to one that there won’t be a damn thing you can use. I was taking one out of the envelope just for a [139] look when a bell rang somewhere, not in that room. Not the telephone, probably the doorbell, and I made a face. It probably wasn’t a Homicide man, since the murder was four days old, but it could be, and I cocked my ear and heard Marie’s voice, so faint I didn’t get the words. The voice stopped, and there were footsteps.

She appeared at the door. “A man down there says his name is Sol Panzaire and Nero Wolfe sent him. He wants to come up.”

“Did you tell him I’m here?”


“You told him my name?”


“I guess Nero Wolfe sent him to help me.”

I got the rest of the bills from my pocket and crossed over to her. “He does that sometimes without telling me.”

Her apron pocket was empty, and I folded one of the twenties and reached to put it in. “Saul Panzer is a good man, Nero Wolfe trusts him. With him to help, it won’t take so long.”

“I don’t like it.”

“We don’t like it either, Marie, but we want to find the man that killed Pierre.”

She turned and went. I started to follow her, decided not to, went back to the desk, listened for the sound of the elevator, and didn’t hear it until it stopped on that floor. I opened the drawer and was taking a letter from an envelope when there were footsteps and then Saul’s voice. “Any luck, Archie?”

He would. Saving his surprise until there were no other ears to hear it. “Don’t push,” I told him. “I just got started.”

I walked to the door for a look in the hall. Empty. I shut the door. He was putting his coat on the chair with mine. “So that’s where he was yesterday afternoon,” I said. “He went to see you. I’ll [140] try not to get in your way, but I’m not going to leave.”

We were face to face, eye to eye. “You’re on,” he said.

“You’re damn right I’m on. I’m on my own.”

He laughed. Not with his mouth, no noise; he laughed with bis eyes, and by shaking his head. And he didn’t stop. “Laugh your goddam head off,” I said, “but don’t get in my way. I’m busy.”

I went to the desk and reached to the drawer for a letter, and my hand was trembling. Saul’s voice came from behind.

“Archie, this is the first time I ever knew you to miss one completely. I supposed you had it figured and was enjoying it. You actually didn’t know that he thought you’d kill him? That he thinks he knows you would?”

The letter dropped from my hand, and I guess my mouth dropped open as I turned. “Balls,” I said.

“But he does. He says you wouldn’t do it with a gun or a club, just with your hands. You’d hit him so hard you’d break his neck, or you’d throw him so hard and so far he’d break his neck when he landed. I didn’t try to argue him out of it, because he knew it.”

“I thought he knew me. And you think it’s funny.”

“I know it’s funny. He does know you. I thought you knew him. It’s just that he wants to kill him himself. So do I. So do you.”

“Were you on?”

“Wot till he came yesterday, but I should have been. A lot of things-Pierre not telling you, that room at Rusterman’s, her asking Lily Rowan about you, him and women, him offering to work for nothing, him wanting to take Lucile Ducos-1 certainly should have been on.”

He tapped his skull with his knuckles. “Empty.”

“Mine too, until last night. Have you got anything?”

“Nothing solid. I only started to look yesterday at half past five. I’ve got an idea how he might have [141] met her. As you know, he often does jobs for Del Bascom, and Bascom took on something for Bassett, for NATELEC, about a year ago. At noon I decided to take a look here, and here you are ahead of me.”

“Not much ahead, I just started. Okay. I came for myself, and you came for him. Who’s in charge?”

He grinned. “It’s a temptation, sure it is, but I’m not like Oscar Wilde, I can resist it. Where do you want me to start?”

I was returning the grin. Saul doesn’t often drag in such facts as that he knows about people like Oscar Wilde and I don’t. “You might try this desk,” I said I’ve only done the top drawer. There’s a lot of books, and I’ll start on them.”

[142] 15 Two hours later, when Mane came, we had covered a lot of ground at least Saul had, and had found exactly nothing. He had done the desk, chairs, closet, bed, floor, dresser, pictures on the wall and a stack of magazines, and had really done them. Flipping through the hundred and some books had taken me half an hour, and then I had settled down to it starting over and turning the pages one by one, making sure not to skip. Saul was having another go at shoes from the closet, examining the insides, when the door opened and Marie was there with a loaded tray. She crossed to the table and put the tray down and said, “I went out for the beer. We only drink mineral water. I hope you like fromage de cochon. Monsieur Ducos makes it himself. His chair won’t go in the kitchen, and I put things in the hall for him.”

I had joined her. “Thank you very much,” I said. “I admit I’m hungry. Thank you.”

My hand came out of my pocket, but she showed me a palm. “No,” she said, “you are guests”-and walked out.

There was a plate with a dozen slices of something, a long, slender loaf of bread, and the beer. Of course Pierre had told her that Nero Wolfe liked beer, and we were from Nero Wolfe, so she went out for beer. I would remember to tell him. We moved the table over by the bed, and I sat on the bed and Saul on [143] the chair. There was no bread knife. Of course; you yank it off. No butter. The slices, fromage de cochon, which I looked up a week later, was head cheese, and I hope Fritz doesn’t read this, because I’m going to state a fact: it was better than his. We agreed that it was the best head cheese we had ever tasted, and the bread was good enough to go with it. I told Saul I was glad we were getting something for the six double sawbucks I had given her.

Half an hour later it was looking as though that was all we were going to get. We looked at each other, and Saul said, “I skipped something. I didn’t look close enough at the inside of the covers. Did you?”

I said maybe not, and we each took a book, he from the top shelf and I from the middle one, and the third book I took, there it was. The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan. The inside of the back cover was pasted-on paper like all books, but it bulged a little in the middle and at the outside edge the edge of another paper showed, about a sixty-fourth of an inch. I got out my knife and opened the small thin blade Saul put his book back on the shelf and said, “Easy does it,” and I didn’t even glance at him, which showed the condition we were in. We never say things like that to each other.

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Categories: Stout, Rex