A Family Affair by Rex Stout

“It could have been later. Please bring beer. Milk, Archie?”

I said no, make it gin and tonic, and we went to the office. The mail was there under a paperweight [30] on his desk, but after he got his bulk properly distributed in the chair that had been made to order for it, be shoved the mail aside, leaned back, and shut his eyes. I expected, I may even have hoped, to see his lips start moving in and out, but they didn’t. He just sat. After four minutes of it, maybe five, I said, “I don’t want to interrupt, but you might like to know that the daughter, whose name is Lucile, is a Women’s Libber. Not just one of the herd, a real one. She has -” His eyes had opened. “I was resting. And you know I will not tolerate that locution.”

“All right, Liberationist. She has three books by Simone de Beauvoir, who you have admitted can write, in French, and a shelf full of others I have heard of, some of which you have started but didn’t finish. Also she wouldn’t want a man in her room. I’m talking because someone should say something, and apparently you don’t want to.”

Fritz came with the tray. There’s something I don’t like about my taking something from a tray held by Fritz, and as he reached Wolfe’s desk I went and got my gin and tonic. Wolfe opened the drawer to get the solid gold opener. When he had poured, he spoke.

“Miss Ducos feeds facts to a computer at New York University. She usually gets home about half past five. You will see her.”

“She may not speak to men.”

I settled back in my chair. He was going to talk.

He grunted. “She will about her father. She was attached to him but didn’t want to be. Mr. Ducos is perceptive and articulate-that is, he was with me. Pierre told you that I am the greatest detective in the world. He told his father that I am the greatest gourmet in the world. His father told me that was why he had told the police nothing, and wouldn’t, but he would tell me. He said that only after he teamed [31] that I speak French well. Of course that’s absurd, but he doesn’t know it. Most of what he told me about his son was irrelevant to our purpose, and I won’t report it. Or I will, I should, if you insist.”

That sounded better than it actually was. Yes, I usually reported in full to him, frequently verbatim, but that wasn’t why he was offering to. It was just that if and when he spotted the man who had killed Pierre before I did, he didn’t want me to say sure, his father spoke French.

But I kept the grin inside. “Maybe later,” I said. “It can wait. Did he tell you anything relevant?”

“He may have. He knew about Pierre’s habit of betting on horse races, and they frequently discussed it. He said that Pierre never asked him for money on account of it, but that was a lie. That was one of the few points, very few, about which he was not candid. Also it is one of the points on which you may want a full report later. I mention it now only because it was in a discussion about the betting that Pierre told him about a man giving him a hundred dollars. Last Wednesday morning, six days ago, Pierre told him that one day the preceding week-Mr. Ducos thinks it was Friday but isn’t sure there had been a slip of paper left on a tray with the money by a customer, and later when he went to return it the customer had gone. And the day before, Tuesday-the day before the talk with his father-a man had given him a hundred dollars for the slip of paper.”

Wolfe turned a palm up. “That’s all. But a hundred dollars for a slip of paper? Even with the soaring inflation, that seems extravagant. And another point Was the man who gave Pierre that hundred dollars the man who had left the slip of paper on the tray? Of course I tried to get the exact words used by Pierre in the talk with his father, and perhaps I did [32] -the important ones. Mr. Ducos is certain that he did not use the word rendre. Return. Give back. If he had been returning the slip to the man who had left it on the tray, a hundred dollars could have been merely exuberant gratitude, but if it was not the same man-1 don’t need to descant on that.”

I nodded. “A dozen possibilities. And if it was the same man, why did Pierre wait four days to return it? Or why didn’t he just give it to Felix and ask him to mail it to him? I like it. Is that the crop?”

“Yes. Of course other things that Mr. Ducos told me might possibly repay inquiry, but this was much the most likely.”

He turned his head to look at the clock. “Nearly two hours to dinner. If you go now?”

“I doubt it. Felix, I suppose, and maybe some of the waiters, but Philip is by far the best bet, and you know how it is in the kitchen at this hour, especially for a sauce man. Also I had four hours’ sleep and I’m not -” The doorbell. I went to the hall for a look, stepped back in, and said, “Cramer.”

He made a noise. “How the devil-was he across the street?”

“No, but someone was and phoned. Naturally.”

“You’ll have to stay.”

He rarely uses breath to say things that are obvious, but of course that was. I went and slid the bolt and swung the door open.

Inspector Cramer of Homicide South has been known to call me Archie. He also has been known to pretend he doesn’t remember my name, and that time maybe he really didn’t. He marched on by, to the office door and in, and when I got there he was saying, “… and every goddam minute from the time you woke up until now. You and Goodwin. And you’ll sign it.”

Wolfe was shaking his head, tilted back. “Pfui,” he said.

[33] “Don’t phooey me! Of all the-” “Shut up!”

Cramer gawked. He had heard Wolfe tell a hundred people to shut up, and I had heard him tell a thousand, including me, but never Cramer. He didn’t believe it.

“I don’t invite you to sit,” Wolfe said, “or to remove your coat and hat, because I am going to tell you nothing. No, I retract that. I do tell you that I know nothing about the death of Pierre Ducos except what Mr. Goodwin has told me, and he has told Mr? Stebbins everything he told me. Beyond that I shall tell you absolutely nothing. Of course I had to permit examination of that room by qualified men, and I left instructions to admit them. They are still up there. If we are taken in custody as material witnesses, by either you or the District Attorney, we’ll stand mute. Released on bail, we’ll still stand mute. I am going to learn who killed that man in my house. I doubt if you can and I hope you don’t, except from me when I’m ready to tell you.”

Wolfe aimed a straight finger at him, up at his face, another first. “If I sound uncivil, I do not apologize. I am in a rage and out of control. Whether you have warrants or not, arrest us now and take us; let’s get that over with. I have a job to do.”

He extended his arms, stretched out, the wrists together for handcuffs. Beautiful. I would have loved to do it too, but that would have been piling it on.

If Cramer had had cuffs in his pocket he might actually have used them, judging from the look on his big red face. Knowing Wolfe as well as he did, what could he do? His mouth opened and closed again. He looked at me and back at Wolfe. “Out of control,” he growled. “Balls. You out of control. I know one thing. I know-” “Oh! We didn’t know you were here. Inspector.”

Two men were there at the door, a tall rangy one [34] and a broad bulky one with only one arm. Of course I should have heard them; my ears must have been more eager to hear what Cramer would say than I realized. When he turned to face them they saluted, but he didn’t return it.

“It took you long enough,” he said.

“Yes, sir. It was a job. We didn’t know you were here. We -” “I came to see why it took so damn long. Did you -No. You can tell me in the car.”

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Categories: Stout, Rex