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Authors: Medora Sale

Murder in a Good Cause (19 page)

BOOK: Murder in a Good Cause
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“You idiots!” said the fence as an ominous bump from the hall outside testified to the probability that Manu meant exactly what he said. He flung open the door and began to haul the boxes into his apartment. The buru sauntered in, carrying the last box.

“Something wrong?” asked the buru.

“Something wrong?” he reiterated. “You're bloody right there's something wrong. You can't leave this stuff here. Look, you arrogant son of a bitch, I said I'd move it for you, but I never wanted to see you or it anywhere near this place. Remember? A helluva lot of good I'll be to you if I'm in jail. And that's where I'll be if they find all this in here. I'm moving it out again if you don't. I'm putting it out on the street, and they can haul it away with the rubbish.”

The buru sat down and stretched his legs out in front of him comfortably. “You do that, my friend, and I call the police and tell them where these boxes came from. You want me to do that?” He smiled. “You see, we're already in big trouble, Manu and I, aren't we, Manu?” The gloomy-looking man standing beside him nodded. “And Manu thought—Manu's very smart, my friend, more than you think—Manu thought it was time you shared just a little of the danger. In case you were planning to pull out and leave us. From now on, we're going to visit you every day—and many people will see us here, won't they?—until you pay us our share of the profits. And don't tell me there haven't been any profits. I know. I have friends in New York, and they've checked the galleries for me. We've sold a lot. So if your friend in New York—if he exists—hasn't paid out, you'd better start getting some money from him.”

The fence looked at him for a long time, as if trying to assess with absolute accuracy the likelihood that the buru knew what he was talking about and would carry out his threat. At last, he turned and opened a closet door containing shelves piled high with towels, sheets, and various oddments. He removed a stack of towels and handed them to Manu, who dropped them contemptuously on the ground, revealing a small gray safe. He leaned in to dial in the combination, shielding the workings of his fingers with his body.

In less than thirty seconds the gray door swung open, and he reached into the cavity. In a few more seconds, he slammed the door shut, backed out, and closed the cupboard door. He was holding several packages of bills. “Right,” he said, staring steadily at the buru and avoiding Manu's more ambiguous gaze. “This is roughly what the first two lots brought in.” He handed it over. “Minus my commission. But I'll have you know I haven't seen that money yet. It's being held in the States. You move it in here, and people start asking questions. This is my own money I'm giving you. The other two can take their share out of this.”

The buru looked at the money in his hand as if it were covered with some strange and vile growth. He opened his mouth to speak, thought better of it, and leaned back on the wall.

“And as for getting this lot over the border,” continued the fence, “for chrissake, two cops and a harmless old lady! You don't make it easy.”

“Us!” said Manu suddenly. “We didn't touch them. It was Don, and Carlos. Crazy bastard. Your crazy bastard, too. Not one of my people. He speaks our language like a child. What does he know about the fight for independence?” He shrugged. “Don't blame us.”

“How in hell was I supposed to know he was crazy?” muttered the fence. “You fools needed help. You were damned lucky I got someone who used to be in the antiques business. You look at that money in your hand. If you hadn't had Carlos, you'd have been picking up worthless trash, netting a few hundred a time for all that work. And Carlos wanted Don.”

“Well,” said the buru casually, “they can have their money when the next shipment pays out.” And with that he began carefully splitting up the contents of the packets between himself and Manu.

“Can I drive you somewhere?” asked the buru as the two men walked together toward the sidewalk.

Manu shook his head. “I have a visit to make,” he said. “It will be better to take the subway.”

“A visit?” The buru frowned.

“To Don. He and Carlos are preparing to run. That money was for them. I know it. I could feel it in the way he handed it over to us. Carlos is too busy right now to do anything, but Don— I will go find him at work. And say a few words.”

The buru nodded. If Manu smelled danger, they had all better look about them.

Veronika slowed down, at last, to consider where she was going and what she wanted. She was outside a bookstore, a bookstore that looked quiet, dark, and softly lit. She needed to think, and this seemed an excellent place for it. Once her eyes had adjusted to the darkness, she passed quickly by the racks of bestsellers lining the entry and stopped at the large sale table in the middle of the store, heaped high with outdated novels, odd cookbooks, and battered children's stories. She touched the spine of each with one delicate finger as she read the titles. Nothing. The next pile contained a selection of dog-eared “how-to” books, most of them involving losing weight or inhibitions or husbands without guilt. Not relevant. Then her finger touched
Become a New You in Eight Days
. That was it. She wanted to become a new her. A different Veronika.

She pulled it out. Chapter 1 counseled her to start with the easy part, to develop a new image from the skin out. In other words, new and different clothes. The idea seemed brilliant and persuasive in its simplicity. If you look like the person you want to be, you will become that person. Why not? She glanced at the price of the book and then took out her wallet. Her stomach growled as she stared at the single five-dollar bill inside it, and she realized that she needed two things before tackling her project: food and cash. She put the book back, grateful for its inspiration, doubtful that in its details it would do her much good, and moved briskly out the door and toward the corner.

The smell of hot dogs grilling at a stand near the corner reminded her how hungry she was. As she pulled out her wallet once more, a softly hesitant voice muttered, “Hey, lady, you got any spare change?” She shook her head, embarrassed, and took out the five.

“One,” she said to the vendor, handing him the bill.

“Mustard and relish beside you,” he answered in a bored voice, slapping the hot dog in a napkin on her hand and slipping her three dollars in change in beside it.

As she stepped back toward the curb, a man rushing to catch the light smashed into her, hitting her shoulder with his elbow and propelling her directly into the road. She twisted her well-muscled body in an attempt to change direction and fell hard against the panhandler, who was investigating the trash basket closest to the hot-dog stand. She grabbed the edge of the basket, pulled herself upright, and looked over at him in apology. He was thin, dirty, and cold looking, younger than she was and bent over in an effort to keep from being toppled into the traffic. As he straightened up, he reminded her of her cousin Klaus, fallen on hard times. The smell of food under her nose suddenly nauseated her. “Sorry about that,” she said. The panhandler looked up, suspicious. “You like mustard? Here, I haven't touched it.” She handed him the hot dog, and as an afterthought, the three dollars. Today was a day to start things new.

If the woman in the trust company where her mother had set up an account for her was surprised at a request for $2,500 in cash from a girl in tattered jeans and a sweater that clearly didn't belong to her, she was too inured to surprises to let it show. Veronika took the pile of brightly coloured bills and shoved them carelessly in a lump in her pocket, unable to overcome her sense that it was all play money. Not like marks. Marks were real; they bought serious things, like real estate and stocks. Canadian dollars were for splurging on anything you wanted.

“From the skin out,” muttered Nikki as she left the trust company and headed into a small lingerie shop where she scooped up panty hose and panties in a variety of colors and patterns. That was the easy part. Her clothing had always been, as it were, anti-clothing. Her mother, for all her wealth and elegance, bought her clothes from conservative shops in Munich and looked exactly like what she was: a well-dressed, middle-class Bavarian. For years, Veronika had refused to wear anything that looked even faintly like something her mother might buy. In consequence, her closet contained almost nothing but jeans. A new Veronika needed something more than that, but it mustn't look like Mamma's clothes, either.

Sanders was sitting in the study face-to-face at last with Clara von Hohenkammer's lawyer. It had been his first piece of luck that day. When he had arrived on the doorstep that morning, he had found Lohr alone in the house, working quietly on something or other in connection with the estate. Now he folded the flimsy white paper he had been reading and handed it back to Sanders. “Yes,” he said. “This is from me. It is my most recent letter to her.” He smiled affably. “Have you read the rest of our correspondence from this summer?”

Sanders shook his head.

“Then I can understand your confusion, Inspector.” Lohr paused expectantly.

“Maybe you could fill me in, then,” said Sanders impatiently.

Lohr gave him a puzzled look. “Ah, yes. Fill you in. With information, you mean. Yes, of course.” He leaned back in his chair. “I must think a minute. Yes, Clara left Munich on the first of March this year. That was early for her; she did not enjoy Canadian winters. But she intended to stay with friends in Majorca for a month before traveling to Toronto. That would bring her here at her usual time. Normally I would expect to receive one letter from her between the end of March and the middle of October. It would be filled with instructions about her property and investments in Germany and questions of all kinds.” Here he paused again, sorting out his ideas. “These letters were dictated to her secretary— that man Whitelaw—and signed by her after they had been typed. She always added a long and affectionate note in pen to both of us when she signed. That is what she had done the previous four summers that she spent in Canada.” Again he paused. “This summer was different. I received a letter from Toronto even before she was supposed to have left Majorca, which means that her visit to her friends had been cut short for some unexplained reason. That was odd. Then she requested that I sell a certain large block of shares and transfer the money to a new corporate account that she had established here. I was not happy about that, since I felt that these particular shares should not have been sold at that time, but I was not too alarmed. Then I received two letters in June.”

Sanders interrupted him for the first time. “Did you carry out her instructions?”

“Of course. But in my reply I mentioned that I was not sure she was taking the wisest course. But, as I was saying, I received two letters in June, one requesting the sale of a small block of shares and the other asking me to forward an account of her market position at the moment.”

“Did that seem reasonable to you?”

“No.” He shook his head. “She always has kept very close account of what she owned. I also found the letters odd. There were no handwritten notes, no news of the family. It was as though somehow we had offended her.” Lohr frowned. “And then, when I returned from my holiday at the end of August, I discovered a letter that had been written in late July requesting that I sell off several major blocks of shares, representing now the bulk of her liquid holdings in Deutschmarks. I was horrified. Marthe and I decided that perhaps she had fallen into the hands of an unscrupulous lover—although she was a sensible woman, you know, even the most sensible people do bizarre things when they are in love—and he was systematically using up all her funds.”

Something else occurred to Sanders as he listened to Lohr speak. “Could another person have written those letters?” he asked.

Lohr cocked his head. “We thought of that. The letters were unlike her, but the signature was hers. Or looked like hers. We didn't have it checked. Instead, I wrote that letter, insisting that I come and discuss all this in person. I was afraid, if she had a lover, that he might open my letters, and so I adopted that rather dramatic trick of sending this one in an envelope addressed in her sister's hand. She liked melodrama; anyway, I believed it would amuse her.” For a moment the lawyer looked humanly upset. “She must have received it shortly before she died. I don't know what she thought when she read it.”

“I think,” said Sanders thoughtfully, “that must have been when she called her accountant.”

“Indeed,” said Lohr. “Very interesting.” The words were spoken in the tone of one who is used to ending interviews and to having his agenda followed. He stood up, and Sanders followed suit.

Just as Sanders was reaching for the handle of the front door, there were rapid footsteps on the gravel outside, and it flew open. He scowled at the vision in front of him. “Oh, hello, Inspector,” said Klaus Leitner. “My cousin home yet?”

“Doesn't seem to be,” grunted Sanders.

“Oh, that's right,” said Klaus, looking at his watch. “She said she was having lunch with Harriet.” Sanders, who had been unsuccessful in his efforts to get in touch with the said Miss Jeffries over the past twenty-four hours, glared at Leitner. “But anyway, I was just about to call you, Inspector. I've been at my cousin Theresa's all morning . . . and . . .”

“Yes, Mr. Leitner?”

“Well, it's about her husband. Milanovich. He's gone. And his wife doesn't know where he is.”

Sanders headed back to the study and reached for the telephone.

Once returned to the haven of his desk, Sanders checked the time and tried to decide if the agony in his stomach was psychic or physical. Just as he had rather pragmatically concluded that it was probably hunger, the telephone rang. He listened intently to the voice at the other end of the line, scribbling notes as he went, until with a final “Thanks” he slammed down the receiver.

BOOK: Murder in a Good Cause
12.68Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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