A Family Affair by Rex Stout

I had finished my sandwich. “I doubt if he’ll get in,” I said. “Certainly not at eleven, and probably not at six. He may not be speaking even to me. A man murdered here in his house, within ten feet of him? You know him, don’t you?”

“Do I. So does the inspector. I know you too. If you think you can-” I slapped my desk with a palm. “Don’t start that again. I said in my signed statement that I went over him. There might have been something that I should have included when I phoned. But I took nothing.

[11] One thing that’s not in my statement? I admit I’m withholding evidence. Knowledge of something that would certainly be used at the trial, if and when.”

“Oh. You are. You are?”

“I am. Of course you’ll send everything you found to the lab, and it won’t take them long to get it, maybe a couple of days. But you might like to have the pleasure of supplying it yourself. I know what the bomb was in.”

“You do. And didn’t put it in your statement.”

“It would have taken about a page, and I was tired, and also I prefer to tell you. Have you ever seen a Don Pedro cigar?”

He finished swallowing the last bite of the sandwich, with his eyes glued to me. “No.”

“Cramer wouldn’t buy them to chew. Ninety cents apiece. Rusterman’s has them. They come in aluminum tubes. DON PEDRO is on the tube in capital letters, dark green, and Honduras is on it, lower case. In the stuff you collected is a piece of aluminum with DO in caps on it, and one with du in lower case, and a bigger one with EDR in caps. So this is what happened. When I left the room, he sat or stood or walked around for a few minutes and decided he might as well undress and go to bed and went and opened the closet door. When you take your coat oft to hang it up, do you automatically stick your hands in the pockets? I do. So did he. And in one of them was a Don Pedro cigar aluminum tube, which of course he recognized. He had no idea how it got there, and he screwed the cap off, holding it fairly close to his face-say ten inches. It was a piece of aluminum that made the gash on his jaw. There’s a word for the force that pushed his face in, but I’ve forgotten it. If you want to include it in your report, you can look it up.”

Purley’s mouth was shut tight. He didn’t open it. His eyes looking at me were half shut. There was half an inch of milk left in my glass, and I lifted it and [12] drank. “What those pieces of aluminum were-” I said, “I had that figured before I phoned, but the rest of it, where it had been and exactly how it happened-I doped that out later to occupy my mind while I sat around. Also I considered what would have happened if I had frisked him before I took him upstairs. Of course I would have wanted to see what was in the tube. Well, I’m still here. I have explained why I didn’t frisk him. Since I left this out of my statement, leaving it for you, you ought to send me a box of candy. I like caramels.”

He finally opened his mouth. “Ill send you an orchid. Do you know what would happen if Row-cliff got on this?”

“Certainly. He would send a squad out to dig up where I recently bought a Don Pedro cigar. But you have a brain, which you sometimes use.”

“Put that in a statement some day. My brain tells me that he might have said something which gave you a hint how the tube got in his pocket, but that’s not in your statement.”

“I guess I forgot. Nuts.”

“Also my brain tells me that the DA will want to know why I didn’t bring you down as a material witness. The bomb went off at one-twenty-four, and you were in the room and found him two or three minutes later, and you phoned at two-eleven. Forty-five minutes, and you know what the law says, and you’ve got a license.”

“Must we go back to that again?”

The DA will want to know why I didn’t bring you.”

“Sure, and you’ll tell him. So will I after I get some sleep. It was obvious that there was no’ rush. Whatever had killed him, he had brought it himself. It was the middle of the night. If you had got here in two minutes there wasn’t a damn thing you could do that [13] wouldn’t wait. You can’t do anything now until morning, like finding out where he was and who he saw before he came here. There’s nobody at Rusterman’s but the night watchman, and he’s probably asleep. I have a suggestion. Instead of sending me an orchid, give me permission in writing to break the seal on that room and go in and cover the windows with something. It’s not sealed anyway. One of the windows, anyone could come up the fire escape and climb in. I admit there’s no hurry about the rest of it, the plaster and other stuff.”

“The plaster is gone.”

He looked at his watch and got to his feet, gripping the chair arms for leverage, which he seldom does. “By god, you admit something. You’re going soft. That window’s blocked. You let that seal alone. Someone will come for another look, someone who knows about bombs. Also someone will come to see Wolfe.”

“I told you, he probably won’t-” “Yeah. Do you know what I think? I think he made a hole in his ceiling and pushed the bomb through.”

He headed for the door.

I got up and followed, in no hurry. There was no hurry left in me. There wasn’t much of anything left in me. When he was out and the door shut, I went and put the chain bolt on, put out the lights in the office and hall, and went up the two flights to my room, actually leaving the plates and glasses there on my desk, which is hard to believe. Fritz had gone to bed nearly an hour ago, when all the mob had cleared out except Purley, after bringing sandwiches without asking if they were wanted.

Of course I was asleep two minutes after I got flat, and I stayed asleep. I don’t brag about my sleeping because I suspect it shows that I’m primitive or vulgar or something, but I admit it. But I also admit I set the alarm for ten o’clock. Anyway I would [14] probably be interrupted before that, although I turned my phone switch off. I left the house phone on.

But I wasn’t. When the radio said, “And you’ll never regret that you obeyed the impulse and decided to try the only face cream that makes you want to touch your own skin,” I reached for it without opening my eyes. I tried to argue that another hour wouldn’t hurt, but it didn’t work because it came to me that there was a problem that wouldn’t wait. Theodore. I opened my eyes, reached for the house phone, and buzzed the kitchen.

In five seconds Fritz’s voice came. “Yes.”

He claims that he is not copying Wolfe, that Wolfe says “Yes?”

and he says “Yes.”

I said, “You’re up and dressed.”

“Yes. I took his breakfast.”

“Did he eat?”


“My god, you’re short and sweet.”

“Not sweet, Archie. Neither is he. Are you?”

“No. I’m neither sweet nor sour. I’m done. How about Theodore?”

“He came and went up. I told him he wouldn’t come.”

“Ill be down, but don’t bother with breakfast. I’ll eat the second section of the Times. With vinegar.”

“It’s better with ketchup.”

He hung up.

But when I finally made it down to the kitchen the stage was set. Tools and cup and saucer and the toaster and butter dish were on the little table, and the Times was on the rack, and the griddle was on the range. On the big center table was a plate of slices of homemade scrapple. I got a glass and went to the refrigerator for orange juice, poured some, and took a sip.

“As far as I’m concerned,” I said, “you and I are still friends. You’re the only friend I’ve got in the [15] world. Let’s go somewhere. Switzerland? That ought to be far enough. Have there been phone calls?”

“There have been rings, four, but I didn’t answer. Neither did he.”

He had turned the heat on under the griddle. That thing on the door of that room, NEW YORK POLICE DEPARTMENT, how long will it Stay?”

I drank orange juice. That’s a good idea,” I said. “Forget all the other details, such as headlines like GUEST EN NERO WOLFE’S HOUSE KILLED BY BOMB Or ARCHIE GOODWIN OPENS DOOR TO HOMICIDE, and concentrate on that door. Wonderful idea.”

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