Read The Burglar Who Studied Spinoza Online

Authors: Lawrence Block

Tags: #Fiction, #Library, #Mystery Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #Rhodenbarr; Bernie (Fictitious character)

The Burglar Who Studied Spinoza

BOOK: The Burglar Who Studied Spinoza
5.12Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

For Caryl Carnow


Chapter One

Around five-thirty I put down the book I’d been reading…

Chapter Two

Illegal entry is a good deal less suspicious beneath the…

Chapter Three

Abel Crowe lived in one of those towering prewar apartment…

Chapter Four

He didn’t say anything else until he’d looked long and…

Chapter Five

I’m not entirely sure why I wound up spending what…

Chapter Six

Herbert and Wanda Colcannon had not stayed in Pennsylvania overnight…

Chapter Seven

Carolyn and I usually have lunch together. Mondays and Wednesdays…

Chapter Eight

Denise Raphaelson is long-legged and slender, although Carolyn insists on…

Chapter Nine

I woke up around seven to let her out. I…

Chapter Ten

“You’re not a suspect,” Ray assured me. “Nobody on the…

Chapter Eleven

Carolyn came over around twelve-fifteen with a sack of carry-out…

Chapter Twelve

Murray Feinsinger’s goatee had just a touch of gray in…

Chapter Thirteen

I would have taken the stairs as far as Murray…

Chapter Fourteen

I stayed right where I was, and she stayed right…

Chapter Fifteen

Marilyn wanted to leave right away. She had to see…

Chapter Sixteen

One of the things I’d found time to do between…

Chapter Seventeen

I got to Carolyn’s house around noon. I sat there…

Chapter Eighteen

The dart went right where I’d aimed it, taking Astrid…

Chapter Nineteen

“I dunno, Bern. What it sounds like to me is…

Chapter Twenty

“He had European manners,” Mrs. Pomerance said. “Always a smile…

Chapter Twenty-one

“Good afternoon,” I said. “My name is Bernard Rhodenbarr. I’m…

Chapter Twenty-two

For a moment no one said anything. Then Colcannon told…

Chapter Twenty-three

“What we want is Irish coffee,” Carolyn said, “and where…

round five-thirty I put down the book I’d been reading and started shooing customers out of the store. The book was by Robert B. Parker, and its hero was a private detective named Spenser who compensated for his lack of a first name by being terribly physical. Every couple of chapters would find him jogging around Boston or lifting weights or finding some other way to court a heart attack or a hernia. I was getting exhausted just reading about him.

My customers shooed easily enough, one pausing to buy the volume of poetry he’d been browsing, the rest melting off like a light frost on a sunny morning. I shlepped my bargain table inside (“All books 40¢ / 3 for $1”), flicked off the lights, let myself out, closed the door, locked it, drew the steel gates across the door and windows, locked them, and Barnegat Books was bedded down for the night.

My shop was closed. It was time to get down to business.


The store is on East Eleventh Street between University Place and Broadway. Two doors east is the Poodle Factory. I let myself in, heralded by the tinkling of the door chimes, and Carolyn Kaiser’s head emerged from the curtain at the back. “Hi, Bern,” she said. “Get comfy. I’ll be right out.”

I arranged myself on a pillow sofa and started leafing through a copy of a trade journal called
The Pet Dealer,
which was about what you’d expect. I thought maybe I’d see a picture of a Bouvier des Flandres, but no such luck. I was still trying when Carolyn came in carrying a very small dog the color of Old Crow and soda.

“That’s not a Bouvier des Flandres,” I said.

“No kidding,” said Carolyn. She stood the little thing up on a table and commenced fluffing him. He looked fluffy enough to start with. “This is Prince Valiant, Bernie. He’s a poodle.”

“I didn’t know poodles came that small.”

“They keep making them smaller. He’s a miniature, but he’s actually smaller than the usual run of minis. I think the Japanese are getting into the field. I think they’re doing something cunning with transistors.”

Carolyn doesn’t normally do short jokes for fear of casting the first stone. If she wore high heels she might
hit five-one, but she doesn’t. She has Dutch-cut dark-brown hair and Delft-blue eyes, and she’s built along the lines of a fire hydrant, no mean asset in the dog-grooming trade.

“Poor Prince,” she said. “The breeders keep picking out runts and cross-breeding them until they come up with something like this. And of course they breed for color, too. Prince Val’s not just a mini poodle. He’s an apricot mini poodle. Where the hell’s his owner, anyway? What time is it?”

“Quarter to six.”

“She’s fifteen minutes late. Another fifteen and I’m locking up.”

“What’ll you do with Prince Valiant? Bring him home with you?”

“Are you kidding? The cats would eat him for breakfast. Ubi might coexist with him but Archie’d disembowel him just to keep in practice. No, if she doesn’t show by six it’s Doggie Dannemora for the Prince. He can spend the night in a cage.”

That should have been Val’s cue to give a cute little yap of protest, but he just stood there like a dummy. I suggested his color was less like an apricot than a glass of bourbon and soda, and Carolyn said, “Jesus, don’t remind me, I’ll start drooling like one of Pavlov’s finest.” Then the door chimes sounded and a woman with blue-rinsed gray hair came strutting in to collect her pet.

I went back to
The Pet Dealer
while they settled Val’s tab. Then his owner clipped one end of a rhinestone-studded leash to the beast’s collar. They walked off together, turning fast when they hit the pavement and probably bound for Stewart House, a large co-op apartment building that runs heavily to blue-rinsed gray hair, with or without an apricot poodle on the side.

“Poodles,” Carolyn said. “I wouldn’t have a dog because of the cats, and if I didn’t have the cats I still wouldn’t have a dog, but if I did it wouldn’t be a poodle.”

“What’s wrong with poodles?”

“I don’t know. Actually there’s nothing wrong with standard poodles. Big black unclipped standard poodles are fine. Of course if everybody had a big black unclipped poodle I could hang up my shears and go out of business, and that might not be the worst thing in the world, anyway, come to think of it. Would you live with one of those, Bernie? A miniature poodle?”

“Well, I don’t—”

“Of course you wouldn’t,” she said. “You wouldn’t and neither would I. There are only two kinds of people who’d have a dog like that, and they’re the two classes of human beings I’ve never been able to understand.”

“How’s that?”

“Gay men and straight women. Can we get out of here? I suppose I could have an apricot brandy sour. I
had a lover once who used to drink them. Or I could have that bourbon and soda you mentioned. But I think what I really want is a martini.”


What she had was Perrier with lime.

But not without protest. Most of the protest was vented on the open air, and by the time we were at our usual table around the corner at the Bum Rap, Carolyn was agreeable if not happy about it. The waitress asked if we wanted the usual, whereupon Carolyn made a face and ordered French seltzer water, which was not her usual by any stretch of the imagination. Neither was it mine at the end of the day’s work, but the day’s work was not yet over. I, too, ordered Perrier, and the waitress went off scratching her head.

“See, Bern? Uncharacteristic behavior. Arouses suspicion.”

“I wouldn’t worry about it.”

“I don’t see why I can’t have a real drink. The thing tonight is hours in the future. If I had a drink it would wear off in plenty of time.”

“You know the rules.”


“Without them, society would crumble. We’d have anarchy. Crime in the streets.”


“Of course,” I said, “I could always do a single-o tonight.”

“The hell you could.”

“The job wouldn’t be that much harder with one than with two. I could handle it.”

“Who found it in the first place?”

“You did,” I said, “and you’re in for fifty percent whatever happens, but you could stay home tonight and still collect it. Why run extra risks? And this way you can have your martini, or even three or four of them, and—”

“You made your point.”

“I just thought—”

“I said you made your point, Bern.”

We stopped talking while the waitress brought two glasses of Perrier to the table. On the jukebox, Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty were singing a duet about a Mississippi woman and a Louisiana man. Perhaps it was the other way around. No matter.

Carolyn wrapped one hand around her glass and glowered at me. “I’m coming,” she said.

“If you say so.”

“Damn right I say so. We’re partners, remember? I’m in all the way. You think because I’m a goddamn woman I should sit home keeping the goddamn home fires burning.”

“I never said—”

“I don’t
a goddamn martini.” She lifted her glass. “Here’s to crime, dammit.” She drank it like gin.


The whole project had gotten underway at the Bum Rap, and at that very table. Carolyn and I generally get together for a drink after work, unless one or the other of us has something on, and a couple of weeks earlier we’d been raising a couple of glasses, neither of them containing Perrier water.

“It’s funny how people pick dogs,” Carolyn had said. “I have this one customer, her name’s Wanda Colcannon, and she’s got this Bouvier.”

“That’s funny, all right.”

She looked at me. “Don’t you want to hear this, Bern?”


“The thing is, when she came in with the dog I figured they were a natural combination. She’s a tall stern blonde out of a masochist’s dream. Wears designer dresses. Cheekbones straight out of the Social Register. Yards of class, you know?”


“And the Bouvier’s a very classy dog. Very trendy these days. It’s only been an AKC recognized breed for a couple of years now. They’re expensive dogs, and they look pretty classy even if you don’t happen to know how much they cost, and here’s this leggy blonde in a leather coat with this jet-black Bouvier at her side, and they looked right for each other.”


“She picked the dog because of its name.”

“What was his name?”

“Her name, not his name. The dog’s a bitch.”

“That’s pretty trendy, too. Being a bitch.”

“Oh, it never goes out of style. No, the dog’s name is Astrid, as a matter of fact, but that’s the name Wanda gave her. What made her pick the dog was the name of the breed.”


“Because Wanda’s maiden name is Flanders.”

“Jackie Kennedy’s maiden name is Bouvier,” I said, “and I don’t know what kind of a dog she has, and I’m not sure I care. You lost me somewhere. What does Flanders have to do with Bouvier?”

“Oh, I thought you knew. The Bouvier originated in Belgium. The full name of the breed is Bouvier des Flandres.”


“So that’s what got her interested in the breed, and she wound up buying a puppy a couple of years ago, and it turned out to be the perfect choice. She’s crazy about Astrid, and the dog’s incredibly devoted to her, and in addition to being a classy animal Astrid’s also extremely intelligent and a great watchdog.”

“I’m really happy for them,” I said.

“I think you should be. I’ve been grooming her dog for about a year now. She’ll bring her in for routine bathing and grooming every couple of months, and then she’ll get the full treatment before shows. They
don’t show Astrid all that often but now and then they’ll hit a show, and she’s picked up a couple of ribbons along the way, including a blue or two.”

“That’s nice for her.”

“For Wanda and Herb, too. Wanda loves to walk the dog. She feels safe in the streets when she’s got Astrid with her. And she and her husband both feel safe with the dog guarding the house. They don’t worry about burglars.”

“I can understand that.”

“Uh-huh. Astrid’s their burglar insurance. She’s due to go into heat in a couple of weeks and this time they’re going to breed her. Wanda’s concerned that the experience of motherhood might undercut her abilities as an attack dog, but she’s going ahead with it anyway. The stud dog is a famous champion. He lives out in the country in Berks County, Pennsylvania. I think that’s around Reading. They ship bitches to him from all over the country and he gets paid for it. The dog’s owner gets paid, I mean.”

“It’s still a pretty good life for the dog.”

“Isn’t it? Wanda’s not shipping Astrid. She and her husband are taking her out there. When you breed dogs you put the animals together two days in a row, to make sure you hit the peak ovulation period. So they’ll drive out to Berks County with Astrid and stay overnight and have the second breeding the next day and drive back.”

“Should make a nice trip for all three of them.”

“Especially if the weather’s nice.”

“That’s always a factor,” I said. “I just know there’s a reason you’re telling me all this.”

“Sharp of you. They’ll be gone overnight, and so will Astrid, and Astrid’s their burglar protection. They’re rich enough to afford designer dresses and trendy purebred dogs. And for him to indulge his little hobby.”

“What little hobby?”

“He collects coins.”

“Oh,” I said, and frowned. “You told me his name. Not Flanders, that was her maiden name, like the dog. Colcannon. But you didn’t say his first name. Wait a minute. Yes, you did. His first name’s Herb.”

“You’ve got a great mind for details, Bern.”

“Herb Colcannon. Herbert Colcannon. Herbert
Colcannon. Is he
Herbert Colcannon?”

“How many do you figure there are?”

“He was buying proof pattern gold at a Bowers and Ruddy auction last fall and he picked up something a few months ago at a sale at Stack’s. I forget what. I read something about it in
Coin World.
But the odds are he keeps the stuff in the bank.”

“They’ve got a wall safe. What does that do to the odds?”

“Shaves them a little. How do you happen to know that?”

“She mentioned it once. How she’d wanted to wear a piece of jewelry one night and couldn’t because it was locked up and she’d forgotten the combination and he was out of town. I almost told her I had a friend who could have helped her, but I decided it might be better if she didn’t know about you.”

“Wise decision. Maybe he doesn’t keep everything in the bank. Maybe some of his coins keep her jewelry company.” My mind was starting to race. Where did they live? What was the security like? How could I crack it? What was I likely to walk out with, and through whose good offices could I most expediently turn it into clean anonymous cash?

“They’re in Chelsea,” Carolyn went on. “Tucked away off the street in a carriage house. Not in the phone book, but I have the address. And the phone number.”

“Good to have.”

“Uh-huh. They have the whole house to themselves. No children. No servants living in.”


“I thought so. What I thought is this sounds like a job for the Dynamic Duo.”

“Good thinking,” I said. “I’ll buy you a drink on the strength of that.”

“It’s about time.”

BOOK: The Burglar Who Studied Spinoza
5.12Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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