A Family Affair by Rex Stout

“All right, she’s a phony. A woman who has those books with her name in them wants men to stop making women sex symbols, and if she really wants them to stop she wouldn’t keep her skin like that, and her hair, and blow her hard-earned pay on a dress that sets her off. Of course she can’t help her legs. She’s a phony. Since Pierre said it was a man, I admit she probably didn’t put the bomb in his pocket, but I would buy it that he told her about the slip of paper and showed it to her, and she knows who killed him and is going to put the squeeze on him, or try to. And she’ll get killed and well have that too. I suggest that we put a tail on her. If you have other plans for me, get Fred or Orrie, or maybe even Saul. Do you want it verbatim?”

“Do I need it?”


“Then just the substance.”

I crossed my legs. “First she interpreted for me with her grandfather while I asked for permission to take a look at Pierre’s room, and the other points you [40] wanted covered. Of course she could have hashed that-with an interpreter you never know for sure. Then she went with me-” The doorbell rang, and I got up and went. We had expected Philip around eleven and Felix a little later, but they were both there. And from the look on their faces, they weren’t speaking. They spoke to me as I let them in and took their coats, but apparently not to each other. In the office, when they were seated after being greeted by Wolfe’s most exaggerated nod, a full half-inch-of course Felix in the red leather chair near the end of Wolfe’s desk-Philip sat stiff with no mouth showing on his dark-skinned square face because his lips were pressed so tight, and Felix didn’t really sit, he just got his rump on the edge of the chair and blurted, “I kept Philip there, Mr. Wolfe, because he lied to me. As you know, I-” “If you please.”

Of course Felix had often heard that tone when Wolfe had been his boss as trustee. “You’re upset. I suppose you’ve had a hard day, but so have I. I’ll have beer. Brandy for you?”

“No, sir. Nothing.”


Philip shook his head. I detoured around him on my way to the kitchen. When I came back, Felix was sitting, not perching, and was talking: “. . . eight of them. They kept coming and going all afternoon and evening. I got their names. It was the worst day we have ever had since the day Mr. Vukcic died. The first two came just at the end of lunch, three o’clock, and it never stopped, right on through dinner. It was terrible. Everybody, even the dishwasher. The main thing with them was the dump room-you know, Mr. Vukcic called it that, so we do-the room in the back where the men leave their things. They took everybody there, one at a time, and asked about Pierre’s coat. What is it about Pierre’s coat?”

“You’ll have to ask them.”

The foam in the glass [41] had reached the right level, and Wolfe picked it up and drank. “You have me to thank for the day they gave you. Because he was killed here, in my house. But for that it would be mere routine for them. Did they arrest anyone?”

“No, sir. I thought one of them was going to arrest me. He said he knew there was something special between you and Pierre, and Mr. Goodwin too, and he said I must know about it. He told me to get my coat and hat, but then he changed his mind. He was the same with-” “His name was Rowcliff.”

“Yes, sir.”

Felix nodded. “It may be true that you know everything. Mr. Vukcic told me that you thought you did. That man was the same with Philip because I told him that he was Pierre’s best friend.”

He looked at Philip, not as a friend, and went back to Wolfe. “Philip may have lied to him, I don’t know, I know he lied to me. You remember what Mr. Vukcic told Noel that time when he fired him. He told him it wasn’t because he stole a goose, anyone might steal a goose, it was because he lied about it. He said he could keep it a good restaurant even if some of them stole things sometimes, but not if anybody lied to him, because he had to know what happened. I always remember that and I will not permit them to lie to me, and they know it. If I don’t know what happened, it won’t be a good restaurant. So when the last one left, I took Philip upstairs and told him I had to know everything about Pierre that he knew, and he lied. I have learned to tell when one of them is lying. I’m not as good at it as Mr. Vukcic was, but I can nearly always tell. Look at him.”

We looked. Philip looked back at Felix and unglued his mouth to say, “I told you I was lying. I admitted it.”

“You did not. That’s another lie.”

Philip looked at Wolfe. “I told him I was leaving [42] something out because I couldn’t remember. Isn’t that admitting it, Mr. Wolfe?”

“It’s a nice point,” Wolfe said. “It deserves discussion, but I think not here and now. You were leaving out something that Pierre had done or said?”

“Yes, sir. I admitted I couldn’t remember it.”

Wolfe grunted. “This afternoon I asked you to try to recall everything he said yesterday, and you said you would but you couldn’t do it at the restaurant. Now you admit there was something you can’t remember?”

“It wasn’t that, Mr. Wolfe. It wasn’t what he said yesterday.”

“Nonsense. A rigmarole. You’re wriggling. Do you want me to form the conjecture that you killed him? Do you or don’t you want the murderer exposed and punished? Do you or don’t you know something that might help to identify him? You said you wept when you learned he was dead. Did you indeed?”

Philip’s mouth was closed, clamped again. His eyes closed. He shook his head several times, slow. He opened his eyes, turned his head to look at Felix, turned it back and on around to look at me, and back again to Wolfe, and spoke. “I want to talk to you alone, Mr. Wolfe.”

Wolfe turned to Felix. “The front room, Felix. As you know, it’s soundproofed.”

“But I want-” “Confound it, it’s past midnight. I’ll tell you later, or I won’t. Certainly he won’t, I’m spent, and so are you.”

I got up and crossed to open the door to the front room, and Felix came. I stuck my head in to see that the door to the hall was closed, shut that one, and returned to my desk. As I sat, Philip said, “I said alone, Mr. Wolfe. Just you.”

“No. If Mr. Goodwin leaves and you tell me any- [43] thing that suggests action, I’ll have the bother of repeating to him.”

“Then I must-you must both promise not to tell Felix. Pierre was a proud man, Mr. Wolfe, I told you that. He was proud of his work and he didn’t want to be just a good waiter, he wanted to be the best waiter. He wanted Mr. Vukcic to think he was the best waiter in the best restaurant in the world, and then he wanted Felix to think that. Maybe he does think that, and that’s why you must promise not to tell him. He must not know that Pierre did something that no good waiter would ever do.”

“We can’t promise not to tell him. We can only promise not to tell him unless we must, unless it becomes impossible to find the murderer and expose him without telling Felix. I can promise that, and do. Archie?”

“Yes, sir,” I said firmly. “I promise that. Cross my heart and hope to die. That’s American, Philip, you may not know it. It means I would rather die than tell him.”

“You have already told us,” Wolfe said, “that he told you about getting orders mixed and serving them wrong, so that can’t be it.”

“No, sir. That was just yesterday. It was something much worse. Something he told me last week, Monday, a week ago yesterday. He told me a man had left a piece of paper on the tray with the money, and he had kept it, a piece of paper with something written on it. He told me he had kept it because the man had gone when he went to return it, and then he didn’t give it to Felix to send it to him because what was written on it was a man’s name and address and he knew the name and he wondered about it. He said he still had it, the piece of paper. So after you talked to me today, after you told me he said a man was going to kill him, I wondered if it [44] could have been on account of that. I thought it might even have been the man whose name was on the paper. I knew it couldn’t have been the man who had left the paper on the tray, because he was dead.”

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Categories: Stout, Rex