A Family Affair by Rex Stout

He gave me a funny look, as if he wanted to ask me a question but couldn’t decide how to put it. Then he looked around, at the marks on the wall and bench and rack, and the floor mat. I said, “The glass. You should have seen it.”

He said, “Yeah, I bet,” and headed down the hall. I followed.

He always goes straight to the red leather chair, but not that time. Three steps in he stopped and sent his eyes around, left to right and then right to left. Then he went to the big globe and turned it, in no hurry, clear around, first to the right and then to the left, while I stood and stared. Then he took off his coat and dropped it on a yellow chair, crossed to the red leather chair, sat, and said, “I’ve been wanting to [160] do that for years. I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned that it’s the biggest and finest globe I ever saw. Also I’ve never mentioned that this is the best working room I know. The best-looking. I mention it now because I may never see it again.”


Wolfe’s brows were up. “Are you retiring? You’re not old enough.”

“No, I’m not retiring. Maybe I should. I’m not old enough, but I’m tired enough. But I’m not. But you are. You could call it retiring.”

“Apparently you have been misinformed. Or are you guessing?”

“No, I’m not guessing.”

Cramer got a cigar from a pocket, not a Don Pedro, stuck it in his mouth and clamped his teeth on it, and took it out again. He hadn’t lit one for years. “It’s no go, Wolfe. This time you are done. Not only the DA, the Commissioner. I think he has even spoken to the Mayor. Is this being recorded?”

“Of course not. My word of honor if you need it.”

“I don’t.”

Cramer put the cigar between his teeth, took it out, threw it at my wastebasket, and missed by two feet. “You know,” he said, “I don’t really know how dumb you think I am. I never have known.”

“Pfui. That’s flummery. My knowledge of you is not mere surmise. I know you. Certainly your mental processes have limits, so have mine, but you are not dumb-your word-at all. If you were dumb, you would have in fact concluded that I am done-again, your word-and you wouldn’t have come. You would have abandoned me to the vengeance of the District Attorney-perhaps with a touch of regret that you wouldn’t have another chance to come and whirl that globe around.”

“Goddam it, I didn’t whirl it!”

“Spin, rotate, twirl, circumvolute-your choice. So why did you come? “You tell me.”

[161] “I will. Because you suspected that I might not be done, there might be a hole I could wriggle out through, and you wanted to know where and how.”

“That would be a wriggle. You wriggle?”

“Confound it, quit scorning my diction. I choose words to serve my purpose. Archie, tell Fritz he may bring the coffee. Three cups. Or would you prefer beer or brandy?”

Cramer said no, he would like coffee, and I went. Tired as I was after a long, hard day, including such items as telling Jill what had happened to Orrie, I didn’t drag my feet. I too wanted to know where and how. When I went back in, Wolfe was talking.

“. . . but I’m not going to tell you what I intend to do. Actually I don’t intend to do anything. I’m going to loaf, drift, for the first time in ten days. Read books, drink beer, discuss food with Fritz, logomachize with Archie. Perhaps chat with you if you have occasion to drop in. I’m loose, Mr. Cramer. I’m at peace.”

“Like hell you are. Your licenses have been suspended.”

“Not for long, I think. When the coffee comes-” It came. Fritz was there with the tray. He put it on Wolfe’s desk and left. Wolfe poured, and he remembered that Cramer took sugar and cream, though it had been at least three years since he had had coffee with us. I got up and served Cramer and got mine, sat and stirred and took a sip, and crossed my legs, hoping that by bedtime I would be at peace too.

Wolfe took a swallow-he can take coffee hotter than I can-and leaned back. “I told you nine days ago,” he said, “Tuesday of last week, that I was going to tell you absolutely nothing. I repeat that. I am going to tell you nothing. But if you care to listen, I’ll make a supposition. I’ll imagine a situation and describe it. Do you want me to?”

“You can start. I can always interrupt.”

Cramer [162] took too big a sip of hot coffee. I was afraid he would have to spit it out, but his mouth and jaw worked on it and he got it down.

“A long and elaborate supposition,” Wolfe said. “Suppose that five days ago, last Saturday, an accumulation of facts and observations forced me to surmise that a man who had been associated with me for years had committed three murders. The first item of that accumulation had come the morning Pierre Ducos died in my house when Archie-I drop the formality-Archie told me what Pierre had said when he arrived. He refused to give Archie any details; he would tell only me. Perhaps it was my self-esteem that made me give that item too little thought; Pierre said I was the greatest detective in the world. All is vanity.”

He drank coffee. “The second item of the accumulation came Wednesday evening, a week ago yesterday, when Orrie Gather offered to donate his services, to take no pay. He made the offer first, before either Saul Panzer or Fred Durkin. That was out of character. For him it was remarkable. Shall I iterate and reiterate that this is merely a series of suppositions?”

“Hell no. You’re just imagining it. Sure. Go ahead.”

“The third item was an old fact. The best opportunity-the only one I knew of-for someone to put the bomb in Pierre’s pocket had been when he was at work and his coat was in his locker at the restaurant. Orrie Gather was familiar with that room; he had once helped with an investigation there, and the lock would have been no problem for him. The fourth item was that Mrs. Harvey Bassett questioned a friend of hers about Archie Goodwin-had she seen him, and had he learned who had killed Pierre Ducos. The fifth item was that Mr. Bassett had an obsession about his wife-information supplied by two of the men who were at that dinner. It was at that point that I first thought it possible that Orrie Gather was some- [163] how involved, for the sixth item was my knowledge of Orrie’s contacts with women and his habitual conduct with them.”

He emptied his cup and poured, and I took Cramer’s cup and mine and got refills.

“As I said,” Wolfe resumed, “it’s a long and elaborate supposition. The seventh item was another mention of Mrs. Bassett by one of those men. The eighth item was another action out of character by Orrie Gather. With him present, I told Saul Panzer to see Lucile Ducos and try to learn if she knew anything and if so what, and Orrie suggested that he should see her instead of Saul. It was unheard of for him to suggest that he would be better than Saul for anything whatever. And the next day, last Saturday, came the ninth and last item. Lucile Ducos was shot and killed as she left her home that morning. That was conclusive. It pointed up all the other items, brought them into focus. It was no longer a conjecture that Orrie was implicated; it was a conclusion.”

It certainly was a conclusion, the way he told it. Lucile had been killed five days ago. I should have known. We all should have known. I said some chapters back that you probably knew, but, as I also said, you were just reading it and we were in the middle of it. It was like getting the idea that a member of your family had committed three murders. A family affair. Would you have known? Wolfe was going on. “One more supposition. Suppose that yesterday Archie and Saul, having arrived at the same conclusion, went to that apartment on Fifty-fourth Street and searched the room of Lucile Ducos and found something that your men had failed to find. Hidden in a book on her shelves was a slip of paper on which she had written Orrie Gather’s name and address. That made it-” “By God. I want that. You can’t-” “Pfui. This is supposition. That made it unneces- [164] sary for them to spend time and energy seeking further support for their conclusion. They went to Saul’s apartment, got Fred to join them, discussed the situation, asked Orrie Gather to come, and when he came they told him how it stood and that they intended, with my help, to make it impossible for him to live. Also they took his gun and kept it.”

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