Authors: Timothy Hallinan
Tags: #caper, #detective, #mystery, #humor
The Junior Bender Series
The Fame Thief
The Poke Rafferty Series
A Nail Through the Heart
The Fourth Watcher
The Queen of Patpong
The Fear Artist
For the Dead
The Simeon Grist Series
The Four Last Things
Everything but the Squeal
The Man With No Time
The Bone Polisher
Copyright © 2014 by Timothy Hallinan
All rights reserved.
Published by Soho Press, Inc.
New York, NY 10003
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Herbie’s game : a Junior Bender Mystery / Timothy Hallinan.
1. Thieves—Fiction. 2. Private investigators—California—LosAngeles—Fiction. I. Title.
Interior design by Janine Agro, Soho Press, Inc.
Illustration by Katherine Grames
creator, scorekeeper, and team captain of
which I have played happily
for thirty years
Eighteen minutes in—just two minutes short of my limit—I was ready to write the place off.
It was a very nice house in a very nice part of the Beverly Hills flats. A very nice car was usually standing in the driveway, a BMW SUV so new the odometer hadn’t hit the hundreds yet, and I could smell that canned new-car fragrance through the closed windows. The locks on the house’s doors, it seemed to me during my week of taking the occasional careless-looking careful look, would yield to a persuasive argument. No bothersome alarm tip-offs. Inside, I was sure, would be a lot of very nice stuff.
And I was right: there
a lot of nice stuff, although most of it was too big to lift. A European sensibility had expressed itself in a lot of stone statuary, some of it very possibly late Roman and some of it, for variety’s sake, Khmer, plus a gorgeous polychrome German Madonna in painted linden wood, possibly from the sixteenth century. As tempting as these pieces were, they were all too heavy to hoist, too bulky to carry, and too hard to fence, especially since my premier fence for fine art, Stinky Tetweiler, and I were on the outs.
So I was adjusting to the idea that the evening would be a write-off as I went very carefully through the drawers in the
bedroom, putting everything back exactly where I’d found it and counting down the last ninety seconds. And, as is so often the case, the moment that I gave up was also the moment that fate, with its taste for cheap melodrama, uncoiled itself in the darkness, and my knuckles bounced off one of the things that sends a little sugar bullet straight through a burglar’s heart: a jewelry box. It was cardboard, not velvet, but it
a jewelry box, and it rattled when I picked it up.
Ever since my mentor, Herbie Mott, taught me the rules of burglary, I’ve practically salivated at the sound of something rattling in a small box.
But … the lid was stuck. It felt like it hadn’t been popped in years, and the accumulation of humidity and air-born
had created a kind of impromptu mucilage. The word
, I reflected as I ran a little pen-knife in between the box and the lid, had entered Middle English via Yiddish and German, where it meant, as it means now,
, specifically, a kind of sticky, yank-your-fingers-back-fast dirt.
The top pulled free from the box with a faint sucking noise, like an air-kiss. I shook out one—no, two—objects and aimed my little penlight at them.
And heard the hum of an engine: a car, coming up the driveway.
Hurrying will kill you more often than taking your time will. I looked at the two objects closely, listening for the motor to cut out, listening for the slam of a car door.
One of the pieces I recognized immediately, a glittering little slice of history and bravery—valor, even—in platinum, rubies, sapphires, and diamonds. It looked real, it looked fine, it looked like about $12,000 from a good fence.
The brakes let out an obliging soprano note as the car stopped, and the engine cut out.
The other piece, well …
The other piece looked like something that had been made in the dark by someone who was following directions over the radio or some other medium with no
button. Slap it together from whatever was at hand, don’t make a second pass, don’t look at it too closely. It bore a sort of ur-resemblance to the $12,000 one, in the same way that a supposedly crude revenge play that scholars call the
is thought to be the direct ancestor and inspiration of Shakespeare’s greatest hit, but this piece wouldn’t have fooled an inanimate object at forty paces.
A car door closed. Then I heard another.
The two pieces were in the same box for a reason. I replaced the lid, slipped the box into my pocket, put the drawer back in its original order, and let myself out the back just as the front door opened.
Wattles once told me he was always happy in the morning because he hadn’t hurt anybody yet.
So it’s easy to imagine him singing something late-sixties/early-seventies—“Take It Easy,” maybe, or “Born Free”—as he clumped out of the elevator in the black-glass, medium-rise office building where he did all the bad things that comprised the business of Wattles, Inc. Easy to imagine him, sport-jacketed and red-faced, following his beach-ball gut down the hall, dragging his left leg behind him like a rejected idea and looking, as he had for twenty years, like he’d be dead in fifteen minutes.