A Family Affair by Rex Stout

Wolfe took in a bushel of air through his nose and let it out through his mouth. Felix, and now Philip, and they knew him. “He came to ask me something,” he said, “but I was in bed. So I don’t know what he wanted to ask, and that’s why I need information from you. Since you were his friend, since you wept, it may be assumed that you want the man who killed him exposed and punished. Yes?”

[21] “Of course I do. Have you-do you know who killed him?”

“No. I’m going to find out. I want to tell you something in confidence and ask you some questions. You are to tell no one-no one. Can you keep it to yourself?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Not many people are sure of themselves. Are you?”

“I’m sure I can keep a secret. I’m sure I can keep this kind of a secret.”

“Good. Pierre told Mr. Goodwin that a man was going to kill him, but that’s all he told him. Had he told you?”

“That a man was going to kill him? No, sir.”

“Had he spoken of any threat, any danger impending?”

“No, sir.”

“Had he mentioned any recent event, anything done or said by somebody, that might have suggested a possibility of danger?”

“No, sir.”

“But you have seen him and spoken with him recently? Yesterday?”

“Of course. I’m in the kitchen, and he’s in front, but we usually eat lunch together in the kitchen. We did yesterday. I didn’t see him Sunday; of course, we’re not here Sunday.”

“When did you hear-learn of his death?”

“The radio this morning. The eight-o’clock news.”

“Only five hours ago. You were shocked, and there hasn’t been much time. You may recall something be said.”

“I don’t think I will, Mr. Wolfe. If you mean something about danger, about someone might kill him, I’m sure I won’t.”

“You can’t be sure now. Memory plays tricks. This next question is important. He told Mr. Goodwin a man was going to kill him, so something had hap- [22] pened that put him in fear of his life. When? Just last evening? It would help to know when, so this is important. What was he like yesterday at lunch? Was he completely normal? Was there anything unusual about his mood, his behavior?”

“Yes, sir, there was. I was remembering that when you asked if he said anything about danger. He didn’t seem to hear things I said and he didn’t talk as much. When I asked him if he would rather eat alone he said he was sorry, that he had got orders mixed at lunch and served people wrong. I thought that explained it. Pierre was a very proud man. He thought a waiter should never make a mistake, and he thought he never did. I don’t know, maybe he didn’t. You can ask Felix. Pierre often mentioned that when you came you always liked to have him. He was proud of his work.”

“Had he actually done that? Got orders mixed?”

“I don’t know, but he wouldn’t have said that if he hadn’t. You can ask Felix.”

“Did he mention it again later?”

“No, sir. Of course I didn’t.”

“Had he been like that Saturday? Distraught?”

“I don’t -” Philip frowned. “No, sir, he hadn’t.”

“I suggest that when opportunity offers you sit and close your eyes and try to recall everything he said yesterday. If you do that, make a real effort, you may surprise yourself. People frequently do. Will you do that?”

“Yes, sir, but not here. I couldn’t, here. I will later.”

“And tell me or Mr. Goodwin.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good. We’ll hope to hear from you.”

Wolfe cocked his head. “Now. Another important question. If he was killed by someone who works here, who was it? Who might have had reason to want him dead? Who feared him or bated him or might have profited by his death?”

[23] Philip was shaking his head. “Nobody. Nobody here. Nobody anywhere.”

“Pfui. You can’t know that. Obviously you can’t, since someone killed him.”

He was still shaking his head. “No, sir. I mean yes, sir. Of course. But I can’t believe it. That’s what I thought when I heard it-who could have killed him? Why would anybody kill Pierre? He never hurt anybody, he wouldn’t. Nobody hated him. Nobody was afraid of him. He was a fine man, an honest man. He wasn’t perfect, he had that one fault, he bet too much on horse races, but he knew he did and he tried to stop. He didn’t want to talk about it, but sometimes he did. I was his best friend, but he never tried to borrow from me.”

“Did he borrow from anyone?”

“I don’t think so. I don’t think he would. I’m sure he didn’t from anybody here. If he had, there would have been talk. You can ask Felix.”

Apparently the idea was that Felix knew everything.

“Did he bet large amounts?”

“I don’t really know. He didn’t like to talk about it. Once he told me he won two hundred and thirty dollars, and another time a hundred and something, I forget exactly, but he never spoke about losing.”

“How did he bet? Bookmakers?”

“I think he used to, but I’m not sure. Then OTB. He told me when he started at OTB.”


“Yes, sir. Off-Track Betting.”

Wolfe looked at me. I nodded. The things he doesn’t know, and he reads newspapers. He went back to Philip. “Of course you saw him elsewhere, not only here. Have you ever been in his home?”

“Yes, sir. Many times. His apartment on West Fifty-fourth Street.”

“With his wife?”

“She died eight years ago. With his daughter and [24] his father. His father had a little bistro in Paris, but he sold it and came over to live with Pierre when he was seventy years old. He’s nearly eighty now.”

Wolfe closed his eyes, opened them, looked at me and then at the wall, but there was no clock. He got the tips of his vest between thumb and finger, both hands, and pulled down. He didn’t know he did that, and I never mentioned it. It was a sign that his insides had decided that it was time to eat. He looked at me. “Questions? About betting?”

“Not about the betting. One question.”

I looked at Philip. “The number on Fifty-fourth Street?”

He nodded. “Three-eighteen. Between Ninth Avenue and Tenth.”

“There will probably be more questions,” Wolfe said, “but they can wait. You have been helpful, Philip, and I am obliged. You will be here for dinner?”

“Yes, sir, of course. Until ten o’clock.”

“Mr. Goodwin may come. Felix knows about lunch for us. Please tell him we are ready.”

“Yes, sir.”

Philip was up. “You will tell me what you find out.”

He looked at me and back at Wolfe. “I want to know. I want to know everything about it.”

Well, well. You might have thought he was Inspector Cramer. Wolfe merely said, “So do I. Tell Felix to send our lunch.”

And Philip turned and walked out without saying yes, sir, and I said, “The question is, was it you or me? He probably thinks me.”

Whenever he eats at Rusterman’s, Wolfe has a problem. There’s a conflict. On the one hand, Fritz is the best cook in the world, and on the other hand, loyalty to the memory of Marko Vukcic won’t admit that there is anything wrong with anything served at that restaurant. So he passed the buck to me. When about a third of his portion of the baked scallops was down, he looked at me and said, “Well?”

“It’ll do,” I said. “Maybe a little too much nutmeg, of course that’s a matter of taste, and I suspect the [25] lemon juice came out of a bottle. The fritters were probably perfect, but they came in piles and Fritz brings them just three at a time, two to you and one to me. That can’t be helped.”

“I shouldn’t have asked you,” he said. “Flummery. Your palate is incapable of judging the lemon juice in a cooked dish.”

Of course he was under a strain. Business is never to be mentioned at the table, but since there was no client and no prospect of a fee, this was all in the family and therefore wasn’t business, and it was certainly on his mind. Also the waiter wasn’t Pierre, whom he would never have again. He was some kind of Hungarian or Pole named Ernest, and he was inclined to tilt things. However, he ate, including the almond parfait, which I had suggested, and had a second cup of coffee. As for conversation, that was no problem. Watergate. He probably knew more about every angle of Watergate than any dozen of his fellow citizens, for instance the first names of Haldeman’s grandparents.

He had intended to have another talk with Felix, but as we pushed our chairs back and rose he said, “Can you have the car brought to the side entrance?”

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Categories: Stout, Rex