A Family Affair by Rex Stout

He was getting bacon fat on the griddle. I went to my chair at the little table and picked up the Times. President Ford wanted us to do something about inflation. Nixon was in shock from the operation. Judge Sirica had told Ehrlichman’s lawyer he talked too much. The Arabs had made Arafat it. Items which ordinarily would have had me turning to inside pages, but I had to use will power to finish the first paragraphs. I tried other departments-sports, weather, obituaries, metropolitan briefs-and decided that it’s possible to tell your mind what to do only when your mind agrees with you. I was going on from there to decide if that meant anything and if so what, when Fritz came with two slices of scrapple on a plate. As he put it down he made a noise which I’ll spell Tchahh!”

I asked him why, and he said he forgot the honey and went and brought it.

As I was buttering the third slice of toast the phone rang. I counted. It rang twelve times and stopped. In a couple of minutes Fritz said, “I never saw you do that before.”

“There’ll probably be a lot of things you never saw me do before. Did you get the plates and glasses I left in the office?”

“I haven’t been to the office.”

“Did he mention me when you took his breakfast up or went for the tray?”

[16] “No. He asked me if I had been up during the night. I started to tell him about it, how many of them had come, and he stopped me.”

“How did he stop you?”

“By looking at me and then turning his back.”

“Was he dressed?”

“Yes. The dark brown with little stripes. Yellow shirt and brown tie.”

When I put the empty coffee cup down and went to the office it was ten past eleven. Since he hadn’t come down at eleven, he probably wasn’t coming. I decided it would be childish not to do the chores, so I dusted the desks, removed yesterday’s calendar sheets, changed the water in the vase on Wolfe’s desk, took the plates and glasses to the kitchen, and put the chair Purley had sat on where it belonged, and was opening the mail when the house phone buzzed. I got it and said, I’m in the office.”

“Have you eaten?”


“Come up here.”

I got the carbon of my statement from the drawer and went. Since I had been summoned, of course I didn’t knock on his door. He was seated at the table between the windows, with a book. Either he had finished with his copy of the Times or his mind had refused to cooperate, like mine. As I crossed to him he put the book down-The Palace Guard by Dan Rather and Gary Gates-and growled, “Good morning.”

“Good morning,” I snarled.

“Have you been downtown?”

“No. I don’t answer the phone.”

“Sit down and report.”

Of course he had the big chair. I brought the other one over and sat and said, “The best start would be for you to read this copy of the statement I gave Stebbins.”

I handed it to him. It was four pages.

[17] Once through is usually enough for him, but that time he went back to the first two pages-what Pierre and I had said, which I had given verbatim. He eyed me. “What did you reserve?”

“Of my talk with Pierre, nothing. Every word is there. Of the rest, also nothing, except that you were armed when you came, with that club, and that you told me you supposed I had to. It’s all there, what was said and what happened, but I didn’t include a guess I made. I saved that for Stebbins. When I left Pierre there, he felt something in his topcoat pocket and took it out. It was an aluminum tube, the kind Don Pedro cigars come in. When he unscrewed the cap, he was holding it only a few inches from his face. You saw his face. There were pieces of aluminum on the floor, and I recognized the printing on them. Of course they had been collected and Stebbins had seen them. Also of course, they would soon make the same guess, so I thought I might as well give it to Stebbins.”

He shook his head, either at Purley or at me, I didn’t know which. “What else did you give him?”

“Nothing. There was nothing else to give. Nothing to anybody, including the medical examiner and Lieutenant Burnham, whom you have never met. I didn’t count, but Fritz says there were nineteen of them altogether. The door of the South Room is sealed. A bomb specialist is coming to get clues, probably this afternoon.”

When he wants to give something a good look and is in the office at his desk, in the one chair that he thoroughly approves, he leans back and shuts his eyes, but the back of that chair isn’t the right angle for it, so he just squinted and pulled at his ear lobe. A full two minutes.

“Nothing,” he said. “Nothing whatever.”

“Right. Because you’re the greatest detective in the world. Stebbins doesn’t believe it. He thinks he told [18] me something, maybe not a name but something, and I left it out because we want to get him ourselves. Of course we do, at least I do. I might have unscrewed the cap of that tube myself. So I owe him something.”

“So do I. In my own house, asleep in my own bed, and that. That-that . . .”

I raised my brows at him. That was a first. The first time in my long experience that he had ever been at a loss for words.

He hit the chair arm with a fist. “So. Call Felix. Tell him we’ll be there for lunch.”

He looked at the wall clock. “In half an hour. If no upstairs room is available, perhaps on the top floor, if that’s convenient. Do you know of any source of information about Pierre other than the restaurant?”

I said no, got up, went to the phone on the bed-stand, switched it on, and dialed.

[19] 3 The top floor at Rusterman’s restaurant was once the living quarters of Marko Vukcic, its owner, who had been Wolfe’s boyhood friend in Montenegro and one of the only three men I knew who called him by his first name. For a year or so after Marko’s death it had been unoccupied, and then Felix, who had left a one-third share and ran the restaurant under Wolfe’s supervision as trustee, had moved in with his wife and two children. Soon the children had got married and left.

At twenty-five minutes to one, Wolfe and I were Seated at a table near a window on that floor which looked down on Madison Avenue. Felix, slim and trim, elegant in blue-black and white for the lunch customers, standing at Wolfe’s left and my right, said, “Then the scallops. Fresh from the bay, I never saw finer ones, and the shallots were perfect. They’ll be ready in ten minutes.”

Wolfe nodded. “And the rice fritters. I’ll tell his name is Philip?”

“Philip Correla. Of course everyone knew Pierre, but Philip knew him best. As I said, I don’t think I ever saw Pierre except here. We’ll miss him, Mr. Wolfe. He was a good man. It’s hard to believe, there in your house.”

He looked at his watch. “You’ll ex- [20] cuse me-Ill send Philip.”

He went. The early ones would be coming down below.

“Uhuh,” I said. “A million people will be saying that, it’s hard to believe, there in Nero Wolfe’s house. Or some of them will say it’s easy to believe. I don’t know which is worse.”

He glared at me.

Of the seventy-some at Rusterman’s altogether, there were few that Wolfe had never seen, only seven or eight who had come since he had bowed out as trustee. When Philip Correla appeared, white apron and cap, he crossed to us and said, “You may remember me, Mr. Wolfe. And Mr. Goodwin.”

“Certainly,” Wolfe said. “You once disagreed with me about Rouennaise sauce.”

“Yes, sir. You said no bay leaf.”

“I nearly always say no bay leaf. Tradition should be respected but not sanctified. I concede that you make good sauces. Will you sit, please? I prefer eyes at a level.”

He waited until Philip had moved a chair to face him and was on it. Then: “I presume Felix told you what I want.”

“Yes, sir. To ask me about Pierre. We were friends. Good friends. I tell you, I cried. In Italy men cry. I didn’t leave Italy until I was twenty-four. I met Pierre in Paris.”

He looked at me. “It said on the radio you found him.”

He looked at Wolfe. “In your house. It didn’t say why he was at your house or why he got killed.”

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