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Authors: John Lutz

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BOOK: Switch
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May 7, 4:48 p.m.
It hadn't occurred to Ida and Craig that Alexis Hoffermuth not only regarded the police as public protectors; she saw them as her personal servants. Through taxes and contributions, she paid a large portion of their salaries, and she wanted a return on that investment.
Her call to the police had been prompt, distraught, and demanding. When Alexis Hoffermuth spoke, people listened. When she was upset, they listened extra hard.
The bracelet in the imitation Gucci purse had itself been an imitation. Even though it wasn't the
real
Cardell bracelet, it was a pretty good paste facsimile. Some smartass crooks were playing with Alexis Hoffermuth's mind to keep her off balance and buy time, toying with her, toying with the police, making a fool of her and the police commissioner—Harley Renz.
Renz wouldn't have that. Absolutely wouldn't.
Neither would Alexis Hoffermuth.
So here Quinn was with Pearl to see Alexis in her apartment in the exclusive Gladden Tower, an impressive edifice her late husband had constructed.
Rather, paid to have constructed.
An unctuous doorman met them in the marble lobby and interrogated them as if they really didn't belong in the building, but maybe, just maybe, he would permit their temporary presence. Quinn made a mental note of the fact that the marble desk where the doorman usually sat had a brass plaque on it identifying him as Melman. No first name, unless it was Melman.
Quinn would remember Melman.
After they'd passed inspection in the lobby, they were given the privilege of riding the private, walnut-paneled elevator to the fifty-ninth-floor penthouse. They stood side by side, their bodies touching, as they rocketed up the core of the building. The back wall of the narrow elevator was lined with tufted taupe silk. There was no sound.
“Zoom,” Quinn said.
“Reminds me of a vertical coffin.”
“You
can
take it with you.”
Quinn had been expecting a butler, but when the elevator finally settled down, rather than enter near space, its paneled door opened, and Alexis Hoffermuth herself met them.
The widow had the immediate commanding presence that sometimes accompanies great wealth. She was in her early fifties, lean, cosmetically enhanced, and attractive. When twenty years younger, she'd probably been stunning. She was wearing a sleek black dress and black high heels, and looked as if she might be ready for a luncheon date to discuss a million-dollar endowment. Society page newspaper photos Quinn had seen came to mind. Alexis was active in the city's social as well as political life and would usually be on the arm of a younger, handsome escort.
More accurately,
he
would be on
her
arm. Alexis was what the current flock of society journalists called a cougar. Quinn thought she looked the part. She even moved like a—
—
Cat
, Pearl thought. The woman looked and moved more like a cat than any human she'd ever seen. She gave Pearl the creeps.
“Please do sit down,” Alexis said, gracefully gliding to the side. She motioned toward a sitting area defined by a large Persian rug, matching cream-colored sofas, and easy chairs. One wall of the vast penthouse was glass, affording a stunning view of the buildings to the east and then the river. The high, high ceiling was also partly glass. Beyond it clouds floated past like lost souls of the city. All in all, the apartment reminded Pearl of an airport terminal. If dirigibles were still in fashion, surely they would dock here.
Looking as if any second she might pause and arch her back, Alexis moved to a small mirrored table. She opened the drawer and drew out a handful of glitter.
Pearl and Quinn were seated side by side on the soft leather sofa facing the glass wall. Quinn thought they must look like the pilot and copilot of the
Enterprise.
Alexis glided over and showed them the two bracelets.
“They're beautiful,” Pearl said, staring at the glinting clear diamonds and gleaming rubies.
“But they're imitations.” Alexis pointedly turned her attention to Quinn. He was the power half of the duo that had come to see her. “Good imitations, for sure, but I want the genuine bracelet back.”
“Tell me how it was stolen,” Quinn said.
Alexis recounted how some blond woman had piled into her parked limo, yammering and pretending she'd made a mistake and entered the wrong vehicle. Black limos looked so much alike. Oh, she was always screwing up. “Bad girl! Bad girl!” she had actually said.
During all the apologies and confusion, she'd switched purses.
“She apologized a dozen more times as she clambered out of the car, and left me with an imitation Gucci purse containing an imitation Cardell bracelet,” Alexis said. “Later, my actual purse was returned to me by the postal authorities. Someone had dumped it in a mailbox. Either the person who stole it, or someone who found it after the thief had disposed of it. Miraculously, it still contained all its contents, and something else—what appeared to be the Cardell bracelet. Closer inspection revealed it to be almost worthless paste, yet another imitation.”
“Somebody went to a lot of trouble,” Quinn said.
Alexis Hoffermuth nodded sagely. “People will do that,” she said, “for a lot of money.”
“But it's an odd way of stealing,” Pearl said.
Alexis stared at her as if offended. “Why? It caused confusion and misdirection, bought time, and by now the crooks might be in some other country, toasting their success and each other.”
“Or that might be what they want us to think,” Quinn said.
Alexis looked at him not at all the way she'd looked at Pearl. The handsome-homely Quinn filled his space and could inspire confidence and give hope, sometimes just by being present. He gave the impression he'd wandered down from Mt. Rushmore to become a cop.
Alexis smiled dazzlingly at him. Cougarishly, Pearl thought. “Do you really think, Detective Quinn, that we have a decent chance of recovering the real Cardell bracelet before it's disassembled and sold by the stone?”
“It's enough of a chance that it's worth taking, dear,” Quinn told her.
Bastard!
Pearl thought.
Dear!
Why did women fall for his bullshit?
Why did I?
“Commissioner Renz spoke very highly of you and your agency,” Alexis said. “Of course, he's as much a politician as he is a policeman. I would go so far as to say he can't be completely trusted.”
“I would go so far as to say you might be right.”
Alexis favored him with another predatory smile. “I appreciate the restraint of your reply.” She repositioned herself about five feet to her left, slim hips moving like silk, so she was facing Quinn directly and placing Pearl on the periphery. “Shall we talk fee?”
“I appreciate your directness,” Quinn said.
And fee they talked, as if Pearl didn't exist.
But Pearl listened, and was astounded by how much Alexis Hoffermuth would pay for the return of the genuine Cardell bracelet.
Pearl didn't look at Quinn as they were shown back to the private elevator, fearing that they both might break out in grins. As the elevator descended she could imagine Alexis Hoffermuth upstairs cleaning herself with her tongue. She decided not to mention that imagery to Quinn. Men and women saw the Alexis Hoffermuths of the world differently.
When they'd left the elevator and exited the lobby, both of them did smile.
 
“I can still smell the money,” Pearl said, as they walked away from the stone and glass tower where Alexis Hoffermuth lived like Rapunzel with a short and stylish do. She glanced over at Quinn. “You weren't shy about asking for our share.”
“Alexis is the type who isn't shy about giving.”
“I sensed that about her, too.”
“I was thinking about her charity events.”
“Me, too.”
There was a break in traffic, so they jaywalked.
“You've got Jody pissed off now,” Pearl said, as they gained the curb on the other side of the street. “First you put her on the cat case because it wasn't important, and now you've got her back at the office doing paperwork and missing cat research while we go talk with Alexis Hoffermuth.”
“The case got more important,” Quinn said. “I know that because Renz is bugging the hell out of me to get it solved.”
They came to where Quinn's aging but gleaming Lincoln was parked in a loading zone.
“Back in the real world,” Pearl said, when they were in the old car's quiet interior and buckled up.
“You sure?” Quinn asked.
“Never.”
She smiled. She liked it when Quinn got all metaphysical.
“Seldom,” she amended, hoping to draw him into a complex, philosophical discussion. That was always good for some smiles.
But he drove in near silence, his usual taciturn self. Complicated yet simple in way and deed. Smart enough to be direct and unerring in his aim.
She wouldn't love him nearly so much if she could figure him out.
P
ART
T
WO
May 7, 5:12 p.m.
But what was time to a cat?
It took so little of it to extend a paw and lift the latch on the metal cage wherein Boomerang had been tossed after the ride in the dark car trunk.
Then, of course, a cat could find a window open a crack, or a door slightly ajar. Easy egress for the sleek and the furred.
And underlying it all, the mission.
Boomerang planned to get back home with his find eventually. He was named Boomerang because, when left to roam, he invariably, sooner or later, came back—and with some kind of offering. He seldom left and returned without having accomplished something important. His proffered souvenirs were a point of feline pride. The object clasped in his jaws now was especially prized.
He peered around a corner with cat elasticity, then detoured into a narrow passageway that was one of his favorite haunts. The dim brick and concrete corridor ran between two apartment and commercial buildings, where trash bags were piled like lumpy pillows.
This looked interesting.
Boomerang paused and struck a pose, alert to traffic and voices and the stirring of garbage-sweetened air in the fetid alley. Nothing unusual. Nothing dangerous.
Temporarily losing interest, he dropped his future offering alongside a dented metal trash can and moved smoothly as a miniature panther to the nearest black plastic bag.
With the delicacy of a surgeon, he extended a claw and made an incision in the bag. Ah! He withdrew a foam take-out container with leftovers that contained some sort of sea food. A real find!
He glanced back at his intended offering, to make sure it was safe, then began maneuvering the take-out container so he could lick its interior.
He was in a secluded place where he wasn't in any rush to finish his meal. The trophy he was transporting could wait until he was good and ready to continue his journey back to where he'd come from. What was the hurry? It wasn't as if he had an appointment; and if he had one, he might not bother to keep it. He was, after all, a cat.
And a handsome one at that.
May 8, 2:02 p.m.
Quinn decided that to mollify Jody he'd go with Pearl for an initial interview concerning the missing cat. That they would do this should send the right parental message.
“You reported your cat missing?” Quinn asked Craig Clairmont. At least he assumed it was Craig Clairmont. The guy fit the description Fedderman had given him, but Quinn was to the point where he was taking nothing for granted. If he were a cat, he'd find something jarringly wrong with Clairmont. As it was, he felt only a vague unease.
Quinn was standing. Pearl was seated in a stiffly upholstered chair that looked as if it should be behind a desk rather than in a living room. The apartment was furnished that way, mismatched and mostly functional. An interior decorator would puke.
“We only rent here,” Clairmont said, as if reading Quinn's mind.
Quinn found that disconcerting. “Your cat,” he reminded Ida French.
“Boomerang,” she said.
Pearl smiled. “Because he always comes back?”
“Yeah. Only this time he didn't,” Ida French said. She was a sleek dishwater blonde, almost beautiful. But there was something about her blue eyes, an intensity that was unbecoming.
Clairmont seemed embarrassed. “I guess you think it's foolish, contacting a private investigation agency to search for a missing cat.”
“They can be like part of the family,” Pearl said.
As if on cue, a small child with hair exactly the color of her mother's sidled into the room. She was wearing blue shorts and a color-keyed blue and white blouse. Blue socks and jogging shoes. About nine years old, Pearl estimated. Cute, cute, cute.
“This is Eloise,” Ida French said. “My daughter.” The girl went to her and clung. She completely ignored Clairmont.
“About nine?” Pearl asked.
“Eight.”
Pearl smiled at Eloise. “A big girl for eight. And so pretty!”
Eloise smiled back.
“Now I understand the urgency about getting Boomerang back,” Quinn said. But he wondered. How many kids must there be in this city with missing cats, and nobody was phoning detective agencies about them?
Pearl must have been thinking the same thing. “If you give us a better description,” she said, “we can put out an ACB.”
The Clairmont-French family appeared puzzled.
“All Cat Bulletin,” Pearl explained, with not a trace of a smile.
Quinn felt like twisting her nose. Maybe he would, in the elevator.
Nobody else seemed to think Pearl was less than serious.
“He's black with three white boots,” Ida French said to Pearl. “A good-sized cat. Likes to roam, but always returns. Only not this time. And, oh, yeah, he's wearing a cheap kind of bangle collar. Looks like jewels.”
Pearl thought,
Huh?
“You like to dress up your cat?” she asked Eloise.
“Not much,” Eloise said.
“The collar was a gift,” Ida French explained.
Craig Clairmont spread his hands hopelessly. “That's about all we can give you by way of description.”
“He's a handsome cat,” Eloise said defensively.
Ida French patted her daughter's head. “No one says otherwise, dear.”
Quinn pretended to write it down in his notebook. “Handsome cat ...” Then he looked more seriously at Clairmont and Ida French. “We'll do what we can, send some people around the neighborhood to talk with folks, keep an eye out for Boomerang.”
“Cats don't usually go far from home,” Pearl said.
Quinn wondered how she could know. Or if she really did know. He wanted to get out of there before she mouthed off.
“We'll be getting busy,” he said, and moved toward the door.
Pearl stood up and moved with him.
The Clairmont French family stirred. Craig Clairmont and Ida French thanked them. Eloise said good-bye.
In the elevator Pearl said, “Jesus H. Christ!”
Quinn reached for her nose, but the elevator stopped its descent on the second floor and a woman walking with a metal cane entered.
Pearl started to say something else, but Quinn raised a finger to his lips, cautioning her.
“Renz must have his reasons,” he said.
Pearl said, softly, “And Clairmont must have his reasons for wanting Boomerang back.”
“Jeweled collar,” Quinn said.
Or maybe a bracelet.
“See it all the time in New York,” Pearl said. “Cats decked out like fashion plates. Accessories aren't just for people.”
The elevator lurched and continued its controlled fall.
“World like a puzzle,” Quinn said.
The woman with the cane ignored them.
 
When they got back to the office, Quinn phoned Renz to try to find out more about who and what they were investigating. What was the motivation for this concern about a missing cat?
“I've got my reasons,” Commissioner Harley Renz said, when Quinn had finally gotten through on the phone. He recognized Renz's clipped, official voice.
“I need to know those reasons,” Quinn said, “if I'm going to waste valuable hours and shoe leather because of a missing cat. Even if he is handsome.”
“You need to take this seriously, Quinn. I certainly do.”
“I need to have a reason. Probably it would be the same as yours.”
“No, no ...”
“Try me, Harley. I do understand that you place some importance in this. It would make it seem more worthwhile if you'd condescend to share.” Quinn also understood that Harley Renz valued information as the currency that bought power. Not to mention more actual currency. “I don't need to know it all, Harley. Just some of it.”
There was a long silence on the phone. Quinn thought at first that the call had been dropped. Then Renz said, “Craig Clairmont has a sheet. He's a jewel thief.”
Big surprise.
“And Ida French?”
“Nothing on her. But that just means she hasn't been caught yet.”
“Eloise?”
“Who the hell is that?”
“Their eight-year-old daughter.”
“Oh, yeah. Ida's kid.”
“Is Clairmont the father?”
“It's possible,” Renz said. “Conjugal visits and such.”
“Jewels ...” Quinn said thoughtfully.
“And we both know some jewels have been stolen,” Renz said.
“Belonging to Alexis Hoffermuth.
The
Alexis Hoffermuth.”
“What are you getting at, Quinn?”
“The missing cat, Boomerang, was wearing a cheap jeweled collar when he disappeared.”
There was silence except for the gears in Renz's brain meshing.
“You're shittin' me!” he said.
“No,” Quinn said, “and a cat might slip a loose collar off, even back on again. Over and over. They like to play around with things.”
“Like certain people. Mostly of the female persuasion.”
“We got some kinda connection,” Quinn asked, “between Alexis Hoffermuth and Clairmont-French?”
“It looks like we do,” Renz said. “A half-million-dollar jeweled bracelet. And of course, little old me. It's a connection, but it isn't proof. You receiving the message?”
“Received,” Quinn said, and hung up the phone.
He wondered if Renz had already known about the cat wearing the bracelet around its neck. Maybe even Alexis Hoffermuth had known. Maybe she'd pressured Renz into using NYPD resources to search for a missing cat, even while she wanted him to pull out all the stops trying to recover a bracelet. Money could addle people's thinking.
Half a million dollars ...
Pearl was at her desk, staring at him. She knew he'd been talking to Renz.
Quinn looked back at her. Said, “We gotta find that cat.”
May 8, 3:32 p.m.
The cat, the bracelet, Alexis Hoffermuth.
Only one of them could talk.
Quinn and Pearl returned to the palatial penthouse where, with Alexis Hoffermuth, they discussed again the day of the theft.
“I only glimpsed the man,” Alexis Hoffermuth said. “And it all happened so fast, I'm not sure I could identify the woman.”
“You have some sense of their respective sizes?” Quinn asked.
“Average. Both of them.”
“Hair or eye color?”
“The woman had blond hair streaked with dark. Blue eyes. The man's hair was dark. I think very dark. I seem to recall that he had blue eyes, too.”
“Any distinguishing marks? Tattoos, scars, moles ...”
“Not that I noticed.” Alexis Hoffermuth shook her head in frustration. “It all went down so fast.”
“Went down?”
“You know—
happened
. Like on TV cop shows.”
“Ah.” Quinn shifted position in his chair. Leather creaked. “What about another vehicle? What were they driving?”
“If the perps had a car, it was parked out of sight. And to tell you the truth ...”
“What?”
“It all went down so fast, I'm not even sure if the man was with the woman. At the time I thought she was this ditsy tourist or something who thought the limo might be for hire. I didn't expect jewel thieves.”
“Or thief, singular.”
“No, wait! On second thought, I'm certain the man
was
with her. They hurried from the scene together.”
“What about the cat?”
“I saw no cat.” She arched an eyebrow. “Police Commissioner Renz told me a couple called to report that their cat had run away. I thought that odd. Isn't that what cats do? Run away?”
“My cats always do,” Pearl said. She was seated on the sofa, facing Quinn and taking notes. They were both taking notes, making a bit of a show of it.
“Boomerang,” Quinn said. “That's what they call this cat, because he roams but he always comes back.”
“A tomcat,” Alexis Hoffermuth said. “Just like the male human species.”
Amen
, Pearl thought.
“There's something else interesting about Boomerang,” Quinn said. “He's wearing a jeweled collar that might be a bracelet. And he belongs to a professional jewel thief.”
“The man
and
the woman?”
“Just the man is a pro, as far as we know.”
Alexis Hoffermuth shook her head again. “Men get women to do things ...”
Quinn nodded. “Keeps us busy.”
BOOK: Switch
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