A Family Affair by Rex Stout

I went easy all right. It took a good five minutes to make sure that it was glued down tight except for a small part in the- middle, a rectangle about one inch by an inch and a half, where the little bulge was. Then came the delicate part, getting under to the edge of whatever made the bulge. That took another five minutes, but once I had the edge it was simple. I slit along to the comer, then across the end and down the other side, and across the other end. And there it was. A piece of thin paper glued to the paper that had bulged, with writing on it in ink. I am looking at it right now, and the other day I took a [144] picture of it with my best camera to reproduce here: I handed it to Saul, and he took a look and handed it back and said, “She wrote it.”

“Sure. The one Pierre found on the tray, Orrie gave him a hundred dollars for it. That was four days after the dinner, so Pierre had it four days. I said a week ago that she found it and made a copy of it, and she would try to put the squeeze on him and would get killed. ESP.”

I got out my card case and slipped the piece of paper in under cellophane.

I stood up. “Have you got a program? I have. I’m not going to report in person. I’m going to the nearest phone booth.”

“I don’t suppose I could listen in?”

“Sure, why not?”

We took a look around. Everything was in order except the table, which was still by the bed, and we put it back where it belonged. Saul took our coats and the book, and I took the tray. We found Marie in the kitchen, which was about one-fourth the size of Wolfe’s. I told her the bread and wonderful head cheese had saved our lives, that we hadn’t found what we had hoped to find, and that we were taking just one thing, a book that we wanted to have a good look at because it might tell us something. She wouldn’t let me pay for the book, because Miss Ducos was dead and they didn’t want it. She declined my offer to let her go through our pockets and came to the door to let us out. All in all, we had got my money’s worth.

Out on the sidewalk I told Saul, “I said the near- [145] est phone booth, but if you listen in it will be crowded. How about your place?”

He said fine, and that his car was parked in the lot near Tenth Avenue, and we headed west. He doesn’t like to talk when he’s driving any more than I do, but he’ll listen, and I told him about the uninvited guest who had come that morning, and he said he wished he had been there, he would have liked to have a look at her.

We left the car in the garage on Thirty-ninth Street where he keeps it and walked a couple of blocks. He lives alone on the top floor of a remodeled house on Thirty-eighth Street between Lexington and Third. The living room is big, lighted with two floor lamps and two table lamps. One wall had windows, one was solid with books, and the other two had doors to the closet and hall, and pictures, and shelves that were cluttered with everything from chunks of minerals to walrus tusks. In the far corner was a grand piano. The telephone was on a desk between windows. He was the only operative in New York who asked and got twenty dollars an hour that year, and he had uses for it.

When I sat at the desk and started to dial, he left for the bedroom, where there’s an extension. It was a quarter past four, so Wolfe would be down from the plant rooms. Fritz might answer, or he might; it depended on what he was doing.



“Me. I have a detailed report. I’m with Saul at his place. I didn’t take Mrs. Bassett home. At “a quarter past twelve I started to search the room of Lucile Ducos. At half past, Saul came and offered to help me. Marie Garrou brought us a plate of marvelous head cheese, for which I paid her a hundred and twenty dollars. I mention that so you won’t have to ask if I have eaten. At half past three we found a slip of paper which Lucile had hidden in a book, on which [146] she had written Orrie’s name and address. I knew it was Orrie last night when you mentioned what Hahn and Igoe had said about Bassett’s obsession on his wife. Saul says you thought I would kill him-that you knew I would. Nuts. You may be a genius, but nuts. I once looked genius up in that book of quotations. Somebody said that all geniuses have got a touch of madness. Apparently yours-” “Seneca.”

“Apparently your touch of madness picks on me. That will have to be discussed someday. Now there is a problem, and finding that slip of paper in one of her books-it was The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan, and I’ve got it-that settles it, and Saul won’t have to do any more digging. As I said, I’m at his place. Fred will be expecting word from you; he won’t be working. We’re going to have him come, and we’ll decide what to do, us three. I have an idea, but we’ll discuss it. As far as I’m concerned, you’re out of it. You told us your emotions had taken over on Nixon and Watergate, and they have certainly taken over on this-what you thought you knew about me. So. I won’t hang up; I’ll listen if you want to talk.”

He hung up.

I went to the piano and spread my fingers to hit a chord that shows you’ve decided something, according to Lily. When I turned, Saul was standing there. He didn’t say anything, just stood with his brows raised.

I spoke. “I was just following instructions. He instructed us to ignore his decisions and instructions.”

“That’s a funny sentence.”

“I feel funny.”

“So do I. Do you want to call Fred, or shall I?”

I said that since Fred was being invited to his place, I thought he should, and he went to the desk and dialed, and didn’t have to wait for an answer.

[147] Fred must have been sticking near the phone. He would; he hates unfinished business more than either of us.

. Saul hung up. “He’s on his way. Half an hour, maybe less. Milk or bourbon or what?”

“Nothing, thanks, not right now. You heard me say I have an idea, but I need to take a good look at it before I share it. It’s one hell of a problem. Have you got a script?”

“No. Not even a first draft. I want to give it a look too.”

Daylight was about gone, and he went and turned on lights and pulled the window drapes. I went and sat on a chair at the table where we played poker. It was by far the worst mess I had ever looked at. If you went at it from one angle, some other angle tripped you up and you had to go back and start over. For instance, Jill, the airline hostess Orrie had married a few years ago when he had decided to settle down and quit trying to prove that Casanova had been a piker, as Saul had once put it. She still had a strong hold on him, and since she was now going to get a hell of a jolt, no matter how we handled it, why not use her? For another instance, Dora Bassett. I didn’t know how she felt about him now, but we could find out, and maybe we could use her. And three or four other angles. With any and all of them, of course the bottom question was could we possibly come out with a whole skin, all four of us? It was only when the doorbell rang and Saul went to let Fred in that I realized that I had just been shadow-boxing. No matter how we played it, one thing had to happen, and the surest and quickest way to that had to come first.

Saul, always a good host, had a couple or chairs in place in front of the couch and liquids on the coffee table-Ten Mile bourbon for Fred and me and brandy for him-and we sat and poured, Fred on the couch.

[148] “I said on the phone,” Saul told Fred, “that it’s a powwow. Actually it’s, a council of war. Tell him, Archie.”

“You tell him. You knew before I did.”

“Only because Mr. Wolfe told me. But all right Fred, Orrie Gather killed all three of them.”

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Categories: Stout, Rex