A Family Affair by Rex Stout

Fred nodded. “I know he did.”

Saul stared at him and said, “What?”

I stared and said, “That’s the first time I ever heard you tell a double-breasted lie.”

“It’s not a lie, Archie. I knew it when he asked Mr. Wolfe tor give him Lucile Ducos instead of Saul. Why didn’t he know Mr. Wolfe wouldn’t? That was crazy. Of course there was another thing too, he knew all about that room at Rusterman’s. But it was his asking to take Lucile Ducos. That was absolutely cockeyed. Of course I knew I was wrong because Mr. Wolfe didn’t know.”

“I pass,” Saul said. Tin with Alice in Wonderland. First Archie follows instructions by ignoring instructions, and now you knew it was Orrie but you knew you were wrong.”

“I pass too,” I said. “All of you knew before I did. I’m out of my class. You talk, and I’ll listen.”

“You had a hurdle we didn’t have,” Saul said. “You knew Orrie wanted your job and thought he might get it. You’ve always gone easy on him, made allowances for him that Fred or I wouldn’t make. It’s in your reports. You had blinders that we didn’t. I should have known. You said you had an idea and wanted to give it a good look, and the bunders are off now. Let’s have it.”

I took a sip of bourbon and a swallow of water. “I just thought I had an idea. I was just slashing around. Actually all I’ve got is facts. Two facts. One, Orrie has asked for it and has to get it. He has bought it, and it has to be delivered. Two, Nero Wolfe, the great detective, the genius, is hogtied. He [149] can’t make a move. If he goes by the book, collects the pieces and hands Cramer the package, he will have to get on the witness stand and answer questions under oath about a man he has used and trusted for years. He wouldn’t do that, he would rather spend ten years behind bars than do that. You know damn well he wouldn’t, and I’m glad he wouldn’t. All of us would have to answer questions in public about a guy we have worked with and played pinochle with.”

I swallowed bourbon, too big a swallow, and had to swallow air for a chaser. “I don’t think he could stand the sight of Orrie Gather. That’s why we had to meet here instead of at the office. An hour ago on the telephone I told him we were going to get Fred and decide what to do, and I asked him if he wanted to talk, and he hung up. If we walked into the office with Orrie, he would walk out. He couldn’t take it. So we-” “111 tell you something,” Fred said. “I don’t think I could take it either. If he walked in here right now, I wouldn’t walk out, I would kill him. I’ve got my gun, I always carry a gun at night now, but I wouldn’t shoot him, I’d break his neck.”

“We would all like to break his neck,” Saul said, “but we’ve got necks too. Of course he has to get it, and it’s up to us to deliver it, the question is how.”

He looked at me. “I thought that was the idea you wanted to look at.”

I nodded. “We’ll all look at it.”

I looked at my watch: 5: 22. “I suggest that you ring him and invite him to come at nine o’clock. Just for a powwow. Okay, Fred?”

He lifted his glass, looked at it, and put it down. “I guess so. Hell, we have to, don’t we?”

Saul got up and went to the desk and picked up the phone.

[150] 16 I wouldn’t want to go through that again. I don’t mean the three hours while we discussed it and decided what to do. The hour after he came, while we did it.

I’m not even sure we would have gone through with it if it hadn’t been for the bomb. We felt silly, at least I did, standing there at the door of the apartment while he was on his way up the three flights, standing so he could only see Saul as he approached -Saul in the doorway to greet the arriving guest.

As I think I mentioned, Orrie was half an inch taller than me and fully as broad, without a flabby ounce on him. As he stepped in, we jumped him, Saul from the back and Fred and I from the sides, and pinned him. His reflex, his muscles acting on their own, lasted only half a second. Saul’s arm was around his neck, locking him. No one said anything. Saul started to go over him from behind, first his right side and then his left. His topcoat wasn’t buttoned. From under his left arm Saul took his gun, which was of course to be expected, and dropped it on the rug. Then from his inside breast pocket Saul’s hand came out with something that was not to be expected because Orrie didn’t smoke: an aluminum cigar tube. Don Pedro.

Fred said, “Jesus Christ.”

[151] As I said, without that I’m not sure we would have gone through with it. Saul made sure the cap was screwed on tight and put it in his own breast pocket and finished the frisking job. Fred and I turned loose and moved back, and Orrie turned and took a step. Going to leave. Actually. Saul was there and kicked the door shut. I said, “Hell, you might have known, Orrie. You should have known. Coining here with that in your pocket? What do you take us for?”

Fred said, “You said it, Saul. You said we had to jump him. Jesus Christ.”

Saul said, “On in, Orrie. Ifs our deal.”

I had never had the idea that Orrie Gather was dumb. He was no Saul Panzer, but he wasn’t dumb. But he was dumb then. “What for?”

he said. “All right, you’ve got it.”

His voice was almost normal, just squeezed a little. “I’m not going to blow. I’m going home.”

“Oh, no you’re not,” Fred said. “My god, don’t you know it’s coming and you’ve got to take it?”

Saul had picked up the gun, an old S & W .38 Orrie had had for years, and stuck it in his pocket. “On in, Orrie. Move. We’re going to talk.”

I took hold of his left arm. He jerked loose and took a step and kept going, to the arch and on into the big room. Saul got ahead of him and led the way across to the couch. The four of us had played pinochle in that room. We had tagged Paul Rago for murder in that room. Orrie took the chair in the middle, with Saul on his left and Fred on his right, and me on the couch. As Saul sat, he said, “Tell him, Archie.”

“Fred has already told you,” I told Orrie. “You’ve got to take it. We’re not going to turn you in. I don’t have to explain why that wouldn’t-” “You don’t have to explain anything.”

“Then I won’t. I’ll just tell you what we’re going to do. We’re going to make it impossible for you to live. I’m going to see Jill tomorrow, or Saul is. You’re [152] through with her. You’re through with any kind of work, not only in New York. Anywhere in the world. You’re through with any kind of contact with people that means anything. You know us and you know Nero Wolfe. We know what it will cost us, Nero Wolfe in money and us in time and effort, but that’s what we have to pay for not realizing long ago that someday, somehow, we would be sorry we didn’t cross you off. Exactly how-” “You didn’t have any reason to cross me off.”

“Certainly we did. For instance, Isabel Kerr. Eight years ago. You got yourself in the can on a murder rap, and it was a job to get you out. And-” “That was Just a bad break. You know damn well it was.”

“Skip it. It isn’t just a bad break that you have killed three people. It isn’t just-” “You can’t prove it. You can’t prove a damned thing.”

Fred said, “Jesus Christ.”

I said, “We don’t have to prove it. We don’t want to prove it. I told you, we’re not going to turn you in, we’re going to make it impossible for you to live. You’ve bought it, and we’re going to deliver it. Actually, we could prove it, but you know what it would mean, especially for Nero Wolfe. We could probably prove the first one, Bassett. As you know, they have got the bullet that killed him, a thirty-eight, and the gun that fired it is probably now in Saul’s pocket. And Pierre-” “That was self-defense, Archie. Bassett was going to ruin me.”

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Categories: Stout, Rex