May 11, 1:19 p.m.
“Jack is dead?”
Ida seemed astounded.
Craig Clairmont looked suddenly out of breath and sat down hard enough in a patched vinyl wing chair to move the heavy piece of furniture six inches across the hardwood floor.
“We don't know that for certain,” Quinn said. “We only have the finger.”
Ida French went to stand at the back of the chair, over Craig's right shoulder. She appeared ill. “And you know it's Jack's finger?”
“Yes,” Pearl said. “Fingerprints. Print.”
“Jack would never harm anyone,” Craig said. “Not physically, anyway.”
Quinn thought that an odd thing to say but let it pass. Jody was seated off to the side, observing. She'd wanted to come with them, actually meet these people. She viewed it as research for her own fledgling career in criminal law. You couldn't know too much about the criminal mind.
“It could be theorized,” Quinn said to Craig, “maybe even proved, that you stole Alexis Hoffermuth's bracelet and were also implicated in her death.”
Craig appeared to have been struck a glancing blow. “Wow! That's wild.”
“Jewel theft and homicide are wild.”
“First Jack, then that poor Mrs. Hoffermuth,” Craig said, pacing. “Or maybe it was the other way around.” He seemed unable to sit down.
Jody looked at Quinn and smiled slightly, appreciating the performance.
“Mrs. Hoffermuth was a number of things,” Quinn said, “but not poor.”
“I meant, what she must have gone through.”
“Do you know something about it?”
“How she was tortured. It was on the news. Itâ”
There was a scratching on the door to the hall. Craig exchanged glances with Ida French.
More scratching. Insistent.
The kitchen window must be completely closed.
Both of them leaped toward the door, bumping into each other. It was Craig who wrestled the door open.
A large black tomcat strutted in, arched its back, stretched, then continued toward a hall leading to what Quinn assumed were bedrooms and a bathroom. It had three white boots and the slightest touch of white between its eyes.
On the welcome mat behind him the cat had left a glittering jeweled bracelet.
This time Ida French managed to elbow Craig aside and snatched up Boomerang's offering.
“Boomerang?” Pearl asked, to make sure.
“There isn't any doubt,” Craig said, staring at the bracelet in Ida's cupped hand. “But that bracelet looks like an imitation.”
“Sure does,” Ida French said, after a slight hesitation.
Quinn and Pearl got up and went over to examine the bracelet. Ida never offered to release her grip on it. The jewels might have been fake, but then no one there was an expert.
“It has to be imitation” Ida French said.
“Unless Alexis Hoffermuth was trying to pull off an insurance scam,” Craig said.
Quinn guessed that Craig, inspired, was trying to set up a scenario wherein he could convince everyone the bracelet was paste jewelry and it might as well stay with him and Ida French. But if that didn't work, blame might be shifted to Alexis Hoffermuth, dead and unable to defend herself.
“You would know about scams,” Quinn said.
Craig looked at him, surprise on his handsome features. Then he smiled. “Part of your job, I guess, looking into people's unsavory pasts.”
“ 'Fraid so,” Quinn said.
He saw that Jody was leaning forward in her chair, the only one in the room more interested in what was being said than in the half-million-dollar bracelet. She was a people person.
“Where is your daughter, Miss Beene?” Pearl asked.
Ida French seemed not at all fazed. Pearl had to hand it to her.
“Eloise is with my sister in Queens.” She gave a wistful smile. “I didn't think you set up this appointment for just a chat.”
“You planned the theft of the bracelet from the limousine,” Quinn said to Craig, “executed when Alexis Hoffermuth was being driven home from the auction. Ida is the one who actually stole the bracelet, using a confusing exchange of identical purses and a paste copy of the real Cardell bracelet. You and your brother Jack planned to turn the bracelet over to a fence in exchange for cash, only you were greedy. You were going to slip the fence a second worthless replica of the bracelet. Double crossing somebody like that got Jack killed, after his killers amputated his finger.”
“It didn't happen exactly like that,” Craig said.
“The details will be tended to later in court,” Quinn told him. “Ida, here, judging by the expression on her face, didn't know you and Jack were going to take the money from the sale of the second replica and disappear with that and the real bracelet. Boomerang upset that plan when he ran away after Eloise had mistaken the bracelet for a cat collar and put it on him.”
Quinn exchanged a look with Jody.
Divide and conquer
“Everything was going to be split three ways!” Craig said.
Ida French appeared dubious.
“The fence spotted the makeshift cat collar at the pickup point, as Boomerang was running away. It looked exactly like the bracelet he'd just bought. That was when Jack ran afoul of the lawless. The fence also came to wonder what we wonderedâwas Alexis Hoffermuth working an insurance scam from the beginning?”
“Maybe we can work a deal as to who that fence was,” Craig said. “Who killed my brother. Along with whatever else you need to know.”
Ida French stared at him in disgust. She knew he'd give her up in a minute. Even a New York one.
Pearl's phone played its four musical notes from the old
TV show theme.
She checked to see who was calling.
“That Grandma?” Jody asked.
Pearl nodded, furious at her mother. She could pick the damnedest times to call.
“Can I talk to her?” Jody asked.
“You don't haveâ”
to,” Jody said. “You never know when it might be important.”
Pearl tossed her the cell phone. Jody caught it and went out into the hall.
“You can do your plea bargaining with the prosecutor,” Quinn said to Craig. “As can you, Miss Beene.”
“My daughterâ” Ida said in a choked voice. But not before Quinn had seen the calculation in her eyes. Eloise was a bargaining chip.
“The people we wantâand are going to getâare the ones who killed Jack Clairmont and Alexis Hoffermuth.”
“I can tell you who they are!” Craig said.
“Don't be an idiot,” Ida said. She'd apparently thought this out. “We didn't kill anyone. Didn't have the real bracelet for very long. There might not even be enough evidence to convict us. Especially if I keep quiet and don't testify against you. They can't make a wife testify, you know.”
“You two are really married?” Pearl asked.
Ida grinned. “In Las Vegas, two years ago. We did it so we could file jointly and not pay so much tax on some gambling money we won.” She glared at her husband. “Alexis Hoffermuth can't identify that woman who got into her limo; she's dead. And we don't know where the hell that cat got that bracelet. Or who killed Jack or cut off his finger.” She laughed, staring directly at Quinn. “They don't even have enough evidence to arrest us.”
Quinn wasn't sure if what she said was true, but he didn't have time to give it the test of reasonableness.
Boomerang strutted into the room, and when Quinn and Pearl were looking at him, Craig and Ida broke for the door to the hall. Boomerang got in the spirit and dashed with them. Caught up with them in two large bounds. Quinn and Pearl followed.
The door to the hall burst open. Jody was there, still talking on Pearl's cell phone with Pearl's mother. She extended her foot daintily and tripped Craig Clairmont. Ida tripped over Craig. Quinn tripped over Ida. Pearl managed to leap over them all but fell and skidded to a halt near the stairs. She caught a glimpse of Boomerang streaking down the hall toward God and cat knew where.
She quickly struggled to her feet, and staggered over to help Quinn handcuff Craig and Ida before they could gather their senses.
Jody took several steps backward, the phone still pressed to the side of her head.
“So now you can go back to sitting with the same people for dinner?” She was asking her grandmother.
She grinned at the obviously affirmative answer on the other end of the connection.
If a person was persistent enough, things had a way of working out.
“The insurance company has agreed to let the heirs cancel their claim and place the bracelet in a vault,” Quinn said to Ida Beene and Craig Clairmont in an interrogation room at the precinct house. “We won't make any media statement about that.”
Craig and Ida silently nodded in unison. They both looked small and pale.
“It's possible that we haven't enough to charge you, or to get a conviction, but the people who cut off your brother's finger and killed him in an attempt to make him talk, probably the same ones who tortured and killed Alexis Hoffermuth, are still out there. There isn't enough evidence against them, either, to trigger an arrest.”
“Damned legal system!” Craig said.
“You want some advice?”
Craig shrugged. “Why not?”
“You and Ida should make arrangements for the kid, maybe with Ida's sister or Social Services, and then move far away.”
“I'm thinking long term,” Quinn said. “You wouldn't want Eloise to talk about what she might have overheard. You need to cut ties completely to guarantee her safety.”
He didn't say Eloise would be better off with a family that didn't deal in jewel theft.
“My sister's place in Queen's is no good,” Ida said. “I have an aunt back in Ohio.”
“That'd work,” Quinn told her. “And there's one more condition. Eloise takes Boomerang with her to Ohio.”
“Done,” Craig said. “But the damned cat will probably find its way back.”
Later, in the brownstone, Jody questioned whether the deal Quinn had made was entirely legal.
“Maybe the outcome isn't exactly legal,” Quinn said. “But it's just. And it gives the kid a chance.”
Jody looked to her mother.
But Pearl was as impossible to read as Quinn.
Jody shook her head and grinned. “You two!”
“Three,” Pearl said.