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Authors: John Lutz

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BOOK: Switch
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May 6, 8:15 p.m.
They were in the office late. Pearl and her daughter, Jody Jason, had come by to wait for Quinn to finish up so they could leave together and have a light supper and wine.
But Quinn wasn't interested in only finishing paperwork. He had something to say.
Pearl looked at Quinn, not knowing if he was kidding. “You're serious? This is a case for Q&A Investigations? You want me, personally, to look for someone's missing cat?”
Her jet black hair hung to her shoulders, framing a pale face and dark, dark eyes. Her teeth were large and white and perfect. Quinn thought, as he often did, that everything about her was perfect. She was a small woman somehow writ large, as vivid as poster art.
He nodded. “Boomerang.”
“Pardon?”
“That's the cat's name—Boomerang.”
“Is this cat an Aussie?”
Quinn made a face and shrugged.
“I was just wondering if this case was going to require international travel,” Pearl said.
Quinn sat quietly. It was the thing to do when Pearl was in this kind of mood. Ignore her. Best not to be in any way assertive. It was pointless to goad her.
Pearl said, “This cat business is coming to Q&A by way of Renz, right?”
“Well, yes.” It didn't do to lie to Pearl.
“You regard this as women's work, looking for a missing cat?”
“In this case, yes. Yours and Jody's.”
Something in his voice made Pearl understand that she'd bitched enough about this one.
Pearl's long-lost daughter, with whom she'd been reunited only recently, looked like a slimmer Pearl only with springy red hair. She lived with them in the West Seventy-fifth Street brownstone that Quinn was rehabbing. Jody had a mid-level bedroom, bath, and sitting room, where she spent much of her time when she was home. She had inherited a streak of independence from her mother.
“It's your case because you have a cat,” Quinn said. “You and Jody.”
“Snitch is your cat, too.”
“Come off it,” Quinn said. “The cat hardly looks at me. Tries to scratch me if I pick it up.”
“Cats are like that.”
“I don't see Snitch trying to scratch you or Jody.”
“We pick him up right. He knows we like him.”
“You think I
don't
like him?”
“I'm not so sure.”
“Whatever, the job is yours and Jody's. Feds and I are working the Hoffermuth bracelet case, and Sal and Mishkin are doing field work in Stamford on that truck hijacking.”
A missing bracelet and a truck hijacking, Pearl thought. Times were hard.
And now a missing cat case.
“I thought
we
were working the Hoffermuth case.”
“We are. How much time can a missing cat case take?”
“Did Boomerang just run away, or was he catna—stolen?” Pearl asked.
“All we know is that he's missing.”
“A male cat. It figures, name like Boomerang.”
Quinn didn't know what she meant by that and didn't want to get into it. “We're not sure yet. He's simply missing.”
“Maybe run over by a truck,” Pearl said.
“Damn it, Pearl!”
“Okay. But if the cat doesn't return in seven years, do we declare it legally dead?”
“Seven times nine,” Quinn said.
“Who's our client? Other than Renz?”
“A couple. Craig Clairmont and Ida French. They're the cat's owners.”
“Usually it's the other way around,” Pearl said.
Quinn sighed, losing his patience with her, insomuch as he ever really lost his patience. “We'd be wise to keep Renz happy.”
“You can't
keep
him happy unless he already is,” Pearl said. “And he isn't, ever.”
“Except when he's involved in something unethical, immoral, and contagiously corrupt.”
“You would stand up for him,” Pearl said.
Quinn reached into his top desk drawer, drew out a yellow file folder, and tossed it on the desk near Pearl. “For you and Jody to read.”
“The Boomerang file, no doubt.”
“Treat this like any other missing person case,” Quinn said without smiling.
She rolled the folder into a tight cylinder. “Renz give you this?”
Quinn nodded.
“I'd like to return it to him in a special way.”
“Behave, Pearl. Same goes for Jody.”
“We will,” Pearl said. “How, I won't promise.”
 
“This is weird,” Jody said.
She was slouching on the sofa in the living room of Quinn's brownstone. She and Pearl could have waited until morning, or returned to the office after dinner, to study the Boomerang files, but they didn't. That was Pearl's idea, making the Boomerang investigation a home project. Pearl didn't want to defile the office by using it as headquarters for a cat hunt.
Pearl agreed with Jody—the case was weird. Reading the file made that apparent.
The clients, the married couple—if they actually were married—used different names. The woman kept her maiden name. Ida French. The husband was Craig Clairmont. They lived in the West Eighties with their eight-year-old daughter, Eloise. They had faxed a photo of the errant Boomerang. He was a black cat with long whiskers and a direct stare into the camera that could only be described as haughty.
The clients themselves hadn't yet visited the office (or faxed photos of themselves). It turned out that Fedderman had interviewed them initially. He'd talked to them in their apartment, then phoned Quinn. Q&A had accepted the case, and just like that they were cat hunters.
Thinking about it, Pearl yawned and absently shook her head. The things a tight economy begot.
May 7, 2:06 a.m.
They were here to search.
Otto Berger and Arthur Shoulders carefully approached the passageway where they'd killed Jack Clairmont. Willard Ord, the fence and their boss, had a nose to smell a rat. He also had a multitude of sources, and years of experience in such transactions. A tongue had wagged; a word had been dropped. He knew Jack was going to try to pass off a paste imitation bracelet to them. In Willard's line of work, there was only one way to deal with that kind of betrayal.
Betray first.
That had worked out okay, for the most part.
So here were Otto and Arthur, sent to search the passageway to dispose of Jack Clairmont's body, and to make sure Clairmont's finger went with it. All under cover of darkness.
Clairmont's severed right forefinger was important. It might provide a print, which could lead to trouble. Of course the finger might have fallen
into
the trash truck, where it almost certainly wouldn't be noticed. But there was no guarantee of that.
Their first problem was Clairmont's body. It was gone. Someone seemed to have moved it.
They were secretly relieved. They might be killers, but neither man was fond of handling people once they'd been dead for a while. Otto wouldn't even touch raw hamburger.
There was nothing to do about this state of affairs except find what they'd come for, and let Willard Ord figure out what to do about the missing corpse. Willard would still want the severed finger. Its fingerprint might lead to Craig Clairmont, and then to Willard. It was also possible someone other than the law had taken the body. Like the brother. Craig might do their work for them and dispose of the body permanently. They hoped whoever
had
taken Jack Clairmont had also found and concealed his finger. It wouldn't do for it to turn up someplace when least expected.
They went about their task in workmanlike fashion, keeping their hands cupped over the lenses of their flashlights to direct the diffused beams downward.
Arthur happened to lift the lid of the Dumpster and shine his light into it. Still looking for the finger. And he found the rest of Jack Clairmont.
“What do you think, Otto?” he asked.
Otto was staring at the body, lying barely visible among trash bags, an old baby stroller, and some broken-down cardboard cartons someone had tossed in the Dumpster. It was possible—even likely—that Clairmont's body would be unnoticed and go into the trash truck's compactor to be dumped in a landfill. Then there would be no reason for Willard Ord to know what happened.
Or so Otto convinced himself.
“I think the brother,” Arthur said. “He musta known where Jack was going for the money-bracelet exchange, then came and found him dead and figured he had to get rid of him or he'd draw cops as well as flies.”
“I have no wish to get in there with all that yuk,” Otto said.
“Nor do I,” Arthur said. “If we cover him up some more, Jack Clairmont might never be seen again. He'll go unnoticed to a landfill.”
“We might as well wish for the best,” Otto said. “Safest thing would be to leave Jack right where he is. Pretend we never came across him.”
“Willard would accept that only if we find the finger,” Arthur said. “That would prove we came here and searched.”
Otto agreed.
They searched on.
“This is hopeless,” Arthur said, after a while. “If the finger did drop to the ground, some animal could have taken it away.”
“No way to know that for sure,” Otto said.
“Who knows anything for sure, Otto?”
“I do. You should, too. If we slack off on this job and that finger turns up for the cops, Willard will see that we lose some of
our
fingers. Or worse.”
“Worse?” Arthur didn't have much of an imagination when it came to subjects other than torture and assassination, but what he did have was working hard.
Both men knew that someone might have to get in the Dumpster and root around for the finger. They could flip a coin. But even that seemed too risky.
“I believe this is impossible,” Arthur said, after a while. “I have a suggestion. Since I thought of it, my belief is that you should do it.”
“What is
it
?” Otto asked.
“We satisfy Willard's wishes by returning with a finger. Jack's remaining forefinger.”
“Yuk, yuk, yuk,” Otto said, but he knew he was going to do it. Willard wouldn't know one finger from another. Arthur had come up with a solution to their problem.
“Easier than rooting through trash and garbage for a finger that probably isn't there,” Arthur said.
So Otto used his knife and did
it
. Then he let himself down out of the Dumpster with Jack's newly severed finger. Said, “Yuk!” again—and dropped the finger to the ground.
At the same time, in the corner of his vision, Arthur saw a flitting dark shape, like a moving shadow.
When he reached down for the severed finger, the dark form beat him to it, snatched it up, and whirled. The animal had its teeth and claws bared and looked very possessive. With grave misgivings, Arthur reached for the creature, was hesitant, and got only a brief feel of fur.
The cat shot between his legs and broke toward the far end of the passageway.
Otto was waiting, squatted down like a Sumo wrestler, and his huge, foreboding form caused Boomerang to halt for a moment.
Otto's right hand darted down, and his fingers closed on fur and loose flesh at the back of Boomerang's neck. He didn't like the feel of the animal, but he kept a good grip.
Boomerang thought something like
What the hell?
Before he could react, all four of his feet were off the ground.
The big human had him by the back of the neck. Boomerang hated to be lifted like that. He snarled, spat, windmilled with his legs, claws extended, tried to bite, to tear.
“Little prick is pissed off,” Arthur said. “I'll throw him in the Caddie's trunk and we'll take him with us so he won't come back here and hang around the Dumpster.”
Otto kept a strong grip on Boomerang and held him extended well out from his body so the cat couldn't inflict injury. The animal suddenly became still, but that didn't fool Otto.
They started back toward where their black Cadillac was parked.
Otto abruptly stopped and pointed.
“What?” Arthur asked.
“The finger,” Otto said. “What we came for. Get it Arthur.”
“Jesus!” Arthur said. “We almost forgot.”

You
almost forgot.”
“Oh, no! Don't try to hang that one on me.”
While Otto and Boomerang watched, Arthur soon found where the cat had dropped the newly severed forefinger. He stooped and gingerly inserted the finger into a plastic baggie of the sort that held sandwiches.
“It doesn't matter who almost forgot what, Arthur. Just so we give the finger to Willard.”
“You know, I always wanted to give Willard the—”
“Don't say it, Arthur. Don't even think it.”
They walked on toward the street. Mission accomplished. Confident now in attitude and stride.
Boomerang dangled limply in Otto's iron grip, eyes narrowed, almost shut, biding his time.
BOOK: Switch
13.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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