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Authors: John Lutz

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BOOK: Switch
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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. It—”
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 wondered—was 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
Dragnet
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 have—”
“I
want
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 daughter—” 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 want—and are going to get—are 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.”
“Arrangements?”
“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.
E
PILOGUE
May 16, 11:37 p.m.
Jody wasn't along on this one. Fedderman and two uniforms had the front door of Willard Ord's house in the Village covered. The back door was being watched by two more uniforms and a plainclothes detective from the nearby precinct house. In the front and back of the building were also Emergency Service Unit sharpshooters, the NYPD equivalent of a SWAT team. In dangerous situations, the safest strategy was to overwhelm the suspects.
Pearl and Quinn stood to the side, and Quinn reached over and rang the doorbell.
Within a few moments, floorboards creaked softly inside the old brick building in the Village. A yellow porch light to discourage bugs flickered on, and the door opened.
Willard Ord stood in the doorway. He was wearing what looked like a white bathrobe and glossy black wing-tip shoes with black socks.
“You're police,” he said with a smile. “You don't need any identification other than your eyes.”
Quinn could see beyond Willard a table covered with cards and poker chips. There were three chairs at the table, and three beer cans on it.
“Are you alone in the house?” Quinn asked.
“Yes. In fact, I'd just gone to bed when I heard the doorbell.”
There were shouts from around the back of the house, and several gunshots. Most of the shots, and the last of them, sounded as if they came from ESU sniper rifles. ESU snipers always hit what they aimed at, and they shot to kill.
Quinn and Pearl both had their handguns aimed at Willard, who shrugged.
“I'm alone now,” he said.
Don't miss John Lutz's next compelling thriller Featuring Frank Quinn
Pulse
Coming from Pinnacle as a print and electronic book, July 2012.
Keep reading for an exciting excerpt ...
 
Highway 72, Central Florida, 2002
It gave Garvey the creeps, transferring somebody like Daniel Danielle. The sick bastard had been convicted of killing three women, but some estimates had his total at more than a hundred.
They were the women who lived alone and let their guards down because the sicko could be a charmer as a man or a woman; the single women who disappeared and were missed by no one. Those were the kinds of women Daniel Danielle sought and tortured and destroyed.
Nicholson was seated next to Garvey. Like Garvey, he was a big man in a brown uniform. Their job was to transfer Daniel Danielle to a new, and so far secret, maximum security state prison near Belle Glade, on the other side of the state from Sarasota. It was in Sarasota where Danielle Daniel (he was dressed as a woman then) had been arrested while crouched over the body of one of his victims, and later convicted. The evidence was overwhelming. As a “calling card” and a taunt, he had put his previous victim's panties on his present victim, panties he had apparently worn to the murder. He was damned by his DNA.
Daniel was all the more dangerous because he was smart as hell. Degrees from Vassar and Harvard, and a fellowship at Oxford. Murder should have been a piece of cake, like the rest of his life. But it hadn't been. When his appeals were exhausted, he would be executed.
No one was visible on State Highway Seventy-two. This part of Florida was flat, undeveloped, and mostly green vistas streaked with brown. Cattle country, though cattle were seldom glimpsed from the road except off in the distance. Wind and dust country for sure. Dust devils could be seen taking shape and dissipating on both sides of the road. Miles away, larger wannabe tornados threatened and whirled but didn't quite take form.
The latest weather report said the jet stream had shifted. Hurricane Sophia, closing in on Florida's east coast, now had a predicted path to the south, though not as far south as the dusty white van rocketing along the highway. Taking time to replace a broken fan belt ten miles beyond Arcadia had slowed them down. They were still okay, if the hurricane stayed north. If it didn't, they might be driving right into it.
Now and then a car passed going the other way, with a Doppler change of pitch as the boxy van rocked in the vehicle's wake. Off to the east there were more dust devils, more swirling cloud formations. The insistent internal voice Garvey often heard when some part of his mind knew something bad was about to happen wouldn't shut up.
Suddenly it began to rain. Hard. Garvey switched on the headlights. Hail the size of marbles started smacking and bouncing off the van's windshield and stubby hood.
“Maybe we oughta go back,” Nicholson said. “See if we can outrun whatever's headed our way.”
“Orders are to deliver the prisoners.” Garvey drove faster. The hail slammed harder against the windshield, as if hurled by a giant hand.
The prisoner chained in the back of the van with Daniel Danielle was a young man with lots of muscles and tattoos under his orange prison jumpsuit. He was scarred with old acne and had a face like chipped stone, with a crooked nose and narrow, mean eyes. He was easy to take for a hardened ex-con, but he was actually an undercover cop named Chad Bingham, there for insurance if something weird happened and Daniel Danielle made trouble.
Bingham would rather have been someplace else. He had a wife and two kids. And a job.
The easy part of the job was just sitting there sulking and pretending he was someone else. But the way things were going, he was afraid the hard part was on its way.
The hail kept coming. Nicholson was on the edge of being downright scared. Even if it didn't make landfall nearby, Sophia might spawn tornados. Hurricanes also sometimes unexpectedly changed course. He reached out and turned on the radio, but got nothing but static this far out in the flatlands, away from most civilization.
Garvey could see his partner was getting antsy so he tried to raise Sarasota on the police band. The result was more static. He tried Belle Glade and got the same response.
“Storm's interfering with reception,” he said to Nicholson, looking into wide blue eyes. He had never seen the man this rattled.
“Try your cell phone,” Nicholson said in a tight voice.
“You kidding?”
Nicholson tried his own cell phone but didn't get a signal. Both men jumped as a violent thumping began under the van.
“We ran over a branch or something that blew onto the road,” Garvey said.
“Pull over and let's drag it out.”
“Not in this weather,” Garvey said. “That hail will beat us to death.”
“What the hell was that?” Nicholson asked, as a huge many-armed form crossed the road ahead of them, like an image in a dream.
“Looked like a tree,” Garvey said.
“There aren't many trees around here.”
“It's not around here anymore,” Garvey said, as the wind rocked the van.
The van suddenly became easy to steer. Garvey realized that was because he was no longer steering it. The wind had lifted it off the road.
They were sideways now, plowing up dirt and grass. Then they bounced and were airborne again.
“What the shit are you doing?” Nicholson screamed.
“Sitting here just like you.”
The van leaned left, leaned right, and Garvey knew they were going to turn over.
“Hold tight,” he yelled, checking to make sure both of them had their seat belts fastened.
The wind howled. Steel screamed. They were upside down. Garvey could hear Nicholson shouting beside him, but couldn't make out what he was saying because of the din.
The van skidded a long way on its roof and then began to spin. Garvey felt his head bouncing against the side window.
Bulletproof glass came off in sharp-edged, milky strips, and he was staring at the ground. With a violent lurch, the van was upright again, then back on its roof. Garvey realized that as addled as his brain had become, his right foot was still jammed hard against the brake pedal.
The van stopped. Hanging upside down, Garvey looked out the glassless window and saw that they were wedged against one of the rare trees Nicholson had mentioned. He looked over and saw that Nicholson was dazed and wild-eyed. And beyond Nicholson, out the window ...
“Looks like a kind of low ridge over there,” he shouted at Nicholson. “We gotta get outta the van, see if we can burrow down outta the wind.”
“Everywhere!” Nicholson yelled. “Wind's everywhere!”
Garvey unhitched both safety belts, causing the weight of his body to compress onto his internal injuries. Ignoring the pain, he leaned hard to his right, against Nicholson, and kicked at the bent and battered door. It opened a few inches. The next time it opened, the wind helped it by wrenching it off one of its hinges and flattening it against the side of the van.
“Wind's dying down a little,” he lied to Nicholson, and then was astounded to notice that it was true. The roaring had gone from sounding like a freight train to sounding like a thousand lonely and desperate wolves. A hurricane-spawned tornado, Garvey guessed. Moving away from them, he hoped.
He wormed and wriggled out of the van. The hail had stopped, but rain was still driven sideways by the wind. Garvey was sore all over. Later he'd have to take inventory to see if he was badly injured. With great effort he could stand, leaning into the wind. Nicholson was near him, on hands and knees, his head bowed to Sophia's ferocity.
The overturned van's rear doors were still closed, though the roof was crushed and the wire-enforced glass was gone from the back windows. A pair of orange-clad legs and black prison shoes extended from one of the windows, and a voice was screaming.
 
Inside the back of the van, Chad Bingham was cut and bleeding from the long shard of glass in Daniel Danielle's hand. Daniel was bleeding himself, from cuts made by sharp glass or metal. Bingham's scalp was laid open and his face was covered with blood. In the wild tumble of the van, Daniel Danielle had managed to wrench the .25 caliber handgun from where it was taped to Bingham's ankle. Bingham, with his outside-the-walls complexion, hadn't fooled Daniel for a second.
Daniel held the small handgun against Bingham's throat. Bingham's legs were twisted backward, under him. The steel rail both men had been cuffed to had broken at the weld. They were free, though their wrists were still cuffed.
It was Daniel's legs protruding from the van's window. Both men knew the gun had hollow-point bullets and would kill easily and messily at close range. Daniel dropped the shard of glass, then used the hand without the gun and rubbed some of Bingham's blood over his, Daniel's, face and into his hair. Both men had prison haircuts. Bloodied up as they were, they could be mistaken for each other. Daniel needed only a moment of mistaken identity, and he would act.
He dug the gun's barrel into Bingham's throat. “Yell that I'm dead, and you want outta here. Do it if you want to live,” he said to Bingham. “Don't do as I say, and bullets start slamming around your insides.”
Bingham's eyes rolled with fear. He knew Daniel's reputation, and knew the killer had earned it.
“It's me!” he yelled. “It's Bingham. Daniel's dead. Get me the hell outta here!”
All the time he was yelling, Daniel was kicking with his free lower legs.
It seemed a lot of time passed. He jabbed again into Bingham's neck with the gun barrel. “Hey!” Bingham yelled, “Help!” While Daniel kicked.
Finally Daniel felt strong hands encircle his ankles, exert pressure. Pulling, pulling. As his body began to slide out of the van he stared into Bingham's eyes and kept the gun pointed directly at his testicles. Bingham didn't make a sound.
And then Daniel was free—like a cork out of a bottle.
“Thanks!” he kept repeating, as he faced into the wind and gained his feet. “You guys okay?”
“We're—”
Garvey shut up when he realized the mistake they'd made.
Daniel stepped close and shot him in the forehead.
Nicholson wheeled to run and Daniel shot him twice in the back of the neck. He fell and the wind rolled him a few feet and then lost interest. Daniel bent low into the wind and made his way back to the van. Bingham was still inside, curled into a ball and playing dead. Daniel shot him in the testicles and Bingham began to wail. Daniel knew no one would hear even if they were nearby.
Still cuffed, he began his search for keys.
Five minutes later Bingham watched through the van's distorted rear window as a limping Daniel Danielle disappeared into the rain and wind.
Within minutes the hurricane sweeping across the state hit the area in earnest.
Chad Bingham would later testify in his hospital bed that Daniel almost certainly died from his wounds or from Hurricane Sophia. There was no way he could have survived out in the open as he'd been, without any nearby shelter.
It was Bingham who died from his wounds.
BOOK: Switch
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