A Family Affair by Rex Stout

He was moving. They sidestepped to let him by and followed him out. I stayed put. Experts wouldn’t need help opening a door. When the sound came of the front door opening and closing, I went for a look down the hall, came back, and said, “What a break for him. He couldn’t have left without us. He ought to move them up a peg. Of course it was a break for us too, with you out of control.”

“Grrrh,” he said. “Sit down.”

[35] 4 At ten o’clock that evening I was standing by a reading lamp, flipping through the pages of a book entitled Les Sauces du Monde. Going through a room trying to find something doesn’t take long if you’re after a diamond necklace or an elephant tusk or a gun. But if it’s a twenty-dollar bill, anything at all that could be between the pages of a book without bulging it, that takes time if there are books in the room. For the Library of Congress, I would say 2748 years.

Most of the forty-some books on shelves in Pierre Ducos’s room were about cooking. What I was after didn’t have to be a piece of paper, but that was the most likely, since I wanted something, anything, that could lead to either the man who had left the slip of paper on the tray or the one who had paid a C for it. One item that had seemed possible was a notebook I found in a drawer that had lists of names on several pages, but Lucile Ducos had told me they were the names of men who gave big tips. She said Pierre hadn’t been good at remembering names and he had written them down for twenty years.

I hadn’t been in her room. When, arriving, I had told her grandfather, with her as interpreter, that I wanted to take a look in Pierre’s room, and why, I [36] had got the impression that she didn’t like it, but he had got emphatic and it took. I had also got the impression that she was staying with me to see if I took anything and if so what. Getting impressions from her wasn’t difficult, beginning with the impression that it didn’t matter whether I had two legs or four legs, or whether I wore my face in front or behind. But she mattered-I mean to her. Her face, which wasn’t bad at all, was well cared for, also her nice brown hair, and the cut and hang of her light-brown dress were just right. It was hard to believe she went to all that trouble just for the mirror.

She was seated in an easy chair the other side of the reading lamp. When I did the last book and put it back on the shelf, I turned to her and said, “I suppose you’re right, if he put something somewhere it would be in this room. Have you remembered anything he said?”


“Have you tried to?”

“I told you I knew I couldn’t because he hadn’t said anything.”

Her voice had a little too much nose. I looked down at her. Up to a few inches above her knees, she had good legs. A pity. I decided to try another approach. “You know. Miss Ducos,” I said, “I have tried to be polite and sympathetic, I really have. But I wonder why you don’t give a damn who killed your father. That doesn’t seem very-well, natural.”

She nodded. “You would. You think I should be weeping and wailing or maybe doing a Medea. Bullshit, I was a good daughter, good enough. Of course I give a damn who killed him, but I don’t think you’re going to find out the way you’re going at it, all this about a man who gave him some money for a piece of paper. Or if you do, it won’t be by nagging me to remember something that didn’t happen.”

“What would you suggest? How would you do it?”

[37] “I don’t know. I’m not a great detective like Nero Wolfe. But you say what killed him was a bomb put in his pocket by someone. Who put it there? I’d find out where he was yesterday and who he saw. That would be the first thing I would do.”

I nodded. “Sure. And have your toes tramped on by a few dozen homicide experts who are doing just that. If he can be tagged that way, they’ll get him without any help from Nero Wolfe. Of course one person your father saw yesterday was you. I haven’t asked you about your relations with him, and I’m not going to, because the cops certainly have. And they’re asking around about you. You were at the District Attorney’s office five hours, you said, so you know how that is. They know all about people killing their fathers. Also, of course they asked you if there was anyone who might have wanted him dead. What did you say?”

“I said no.”

“But someone did want him dead.”

She sneered. I admit I didn’t like her, but I’m not being unfair. She sneered. “I knew you’d say that,” she said. “They did too, and it’s not only obvious, it’s dumb. Somebody might have thought his coat belonged to someone else.”

“Then you think it was just a mistake?”

“I didn’t say I think it. I said it might have been.”

“Didn’t your grandfather tell you what Nero Wolfe told him your father told me?”

“No. He never tells me anything. He thinks women haven’t any brains. You probably do too.”

I wanted to say that I merely thought some women were a little shy on brains, present company not excepted, but I skipped it. I said, “Your father told me that a man was going to kill him, so it wasn’t a mistake. Also it wasn’t you, since you’re not a man. So let’s go back. Evidently your father didn’t agree with your grandfather about women, because your grand- [38] father told Mr. Wolfe that your father often asked your advice about things. That’s why I think he might have told you something about a man who gave him a hundred dollars for a slip of paper.”

“He never asked my advice. He just wanted to see what I would say.”

I gave up. I wanted to ask her what the difference was between asking her advice and wanting to see what she would say, just to see what she would say, but we were expecting company at the office at eleven o’clock or soon after and I should be there. So I gave up on her, and I had finished the job on the room, since it wasn’t likely that he had pried up a floorboard or taken the back off a picture frame. I will concede that she had fairly good manners. She went to the hall with me and opened the door and told me good night. Apparently Mr. Ducos and the white apron had both gone to bed.

It was ten after eleven when I mounted the stoop of the old brownstone, found the bolt wasn’t on so I didn’t need help to get in, and went to the office. Wolfe would be deep in either a book or a crossword puzzle, but he wasn’t. In one of my desk drawers I keep street maps of all five New York boroughs, and he had them, with Manhattan spread out covering his desk blotter and then some. To my knowledge it was the first time he had ever given it a look. It might be supposed that I wondered what he was after, but I didn’t because I had learned long ago that wondering what a genius was after was a waste of time. If it really meant anything, which I doubted, he would tell me when he felt like it. As I swiveled my chair and sat to face him, he started folding it up, his fingers quick and nimble and precise, as they always were. Of course they had a lot of practice up in the plant rooms, from nine to eleven mornings and two to four afternoons, but that day he hadn’t been there at all [39] As he folded he spoke. “I was calculating distances -the restaurant, and Pierre’s home, and here. He arrived here at ten minutes to one. Where had he been? Where had his coat been?”

“I’ll have to apologize,” I said, “to his daughter. I told her that if that kind of detecting will do it they won’t need your help. Does it look that bad?”

“No. As you know, I prefer not to read when I may be interrupted at any moment. What did she tell you?”

“Nothing. It’s possible she has nothing to tell, but I don’t believe it. She sat for an hour with her eye on me while I went over Pierre’s room, to make sure I didn’t pinch a pair of socks. She’s an anomaly-I think that’s the word I want. Or make-” “It isn’t. A person can’t be an anomaly.”

Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34

Categories: Stout, Rex