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Authors: Medora Sale

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BOOK: Murder in a Good Cause
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Twenty minutes later, Sanders was looking at his pastrami sandwich as if he were contemplating arresting it for an offense against decency. He tried the dill pickle, put it down again, and shoved his plate away. “For chrissake, Ed, where in hell are they getting rid of the stuff? Nothing has turned up. They're not selling it back to the insurance companies. And there can't be a fence in town who'd touch any of it.”

“They're not hungry,” said Dubinsky philosophically. “Whoever they are, they can afford to wait. Besides, the stuff'll all be in the States by now. If it was sitting anywhere in Toronto, Volchek would know. He knows everybody and what they're up to.” By now he had finished his corned beef and was casually helping himself to Sanders's French fries. “Anyway, these guys are amateurs.”

“Amateurs?”

“Sure. You know. Pros always expect to be caught at some point. They keep their asses covered. I mean, look at them. They go into that house on Rosefall. They know it's alarmed and pay no attention. They plant someone outside to dispose of that poor bugger Underhill when he turns up, and then they stroll off with $350,000 worth of paintings and stamps. That wasn't a panic killing; they plucked him off like a crow on a fence.” He helped himself to another French fry. “Bastards.”

“What if Underhill hadn't turned up by himself? What if two cars had responded?”

“They wouldn't have, though, would they? You saw the report. That alarm system had gone off three, four times in the ten days before the robbery. Owner kept forgetting it was on, it malfunctioned in the heat, whatever. The dispatcher knew no one had broken in, didn't he? Minimal response guaranteed.”

“And how do these guys know that?” said Sanders. Only it wasn't a question. “If they aren't working for the security company. And they can't be. Volchek's been over there a hundred times. He's shaken every employee they've got until his teeth dropped out.”

“Yeah,” said his partner. Doubt oozed out of the syllable as he pronounced it. “And speaking of Volchek, a call came in just before I left. Wilkinson wants to know when he can have his wife's ring back.”

“What ring?”

Dubinsky pulled his notebook out of his pocket. “One woman's ring, gold, set with a large emerald flanked by two diamonds inside a knot-like design, valued at approximately eight thousand dollars.” He closed his book again. “He said he could get a more precise description from the jeweler who designed it. He had it made for his wife as a birthday present, and he would like it back so he can give it to his daughter.”

“I didn't see anything about a ring. Did you?”

Dubinsky shook his head. “I called Volchek, who knew nothing, and I called the morgue. The guys at the morgue swear there was no ring on either hand except for a narrow gold wedding band and that they can vouch for the honesty of everyone who works there. They're paranoid sons of bitches, those guys at the morgue. The detailed autopsy report indicates some damage to the knuckle—the ring might have been forced off her hand during the robbery. Anyway, I called Wilkinson back and asked him how come he waited so long to mention a missing eight-thousand-dollar piece of jewelry, and he said that when he'd asked the undertaker about it before she was buried, the bastard had said that we'd kept it as evidence. So I called the goddamn undertaker, and he said that he didn't
know
that, he just thought it was the sort of thing we'd be likely to do.”

“Wonderful. Add it to the list of stolen property,” said Sanders. “The more the merrier.”

“I did already,” said Dubinsky. “Here, have something to eat before we go over to Mid-City.” He pushed Sanders's lunch back in front of him.

Chapter 2

Harriet Jeffries stiffened uncomfortably as Irene's strong fingers massaged her scalp. The whole process of having her hair “done” seemed entirely too self-indulgent, almost decadent. Even if it was straggly and long and hung in her eyes every time she tried to work. Self-indulgent and time-consuming. She began to count up the projects she had to get finished before the end of September and chewed nervously on her lower lip as the list mounted. In her business, either you worked yourself to death, or you starved. Everyone wanted you, or no one did. And as her professional life flourished, her love life went to hell. She had spent an exuberant night with John after she had returned to Toronto in June, a magic night that swept away past doubts and hinted at a glorious future. Then a promise of a phone call and John Sanders had disappeared. As if he had never been. He hadn't called—not even an insincere “Sorry, I'm too busy” call—and he had been impossible to reach through his department. She burned with embarrassment at the memory of the snickering voice that had answered his telephone and of her cowardly refusal to leave a message. A jet of hot water on her head deflected her momentarily from her gloomy reflections.

Once she had been parked in the main part of the salon to wait for Rudi, she closed her eyes and tried not to think about the amount of time she was going to be spending in the darkroom this afternoon and tonight. One of her most important clients expected a hundred black-and-white prints by nine tomorrow morning; she had been up until one last night finishing the last phase of the shooting, and now the film was processed and dry, ready for printing. Of course, it was pure luck that they hadn't wanted the prints this morning. Except that she would have stayed up all night and been finished by now instead of putting off the agony until this afternoon. Why in hell hadn't she canceled the appointment and started printing right away? “Because you're a lazy, decadent sybarite, that's why,” she muttered to herself.

The mutter produced the receptionist, with an air of polished distress. “Terribly sorry, Miss Jeffries,” she murmured. “I think he's almost ready for you.”

“Don't worry about it,” said Harriet. After all, she thought sleepily, if you have zero hours to spare, then what difference does it make how you slice them up? As she puzzled over the mathematics of this, she was distracted by the sound of a throaty laugh followed by a flood of German. Harriet couldn't catch the words, but she recognized the voice and the impenetrable dialect. The speaker occupied a chair halfway down the row, and from it she dominated the entire room. She was an erect and handsome woman, lost somewhere in the indefinable recesses of middle age, with dark, clearly delineated features and a great deal of thick black hair slightly tinged with gray. Her name was Clara von Hohenkammer, and she was the current owner of a magnificently renovated house that Harriet had lovingly captured in both color and black and white, a project so successful that it had prompted her to consider putting together a book of interesting renovations. Maybe she should call the editor who was working on her current book and— No, Harriet, she said to herself, no more projects, and turned her attention back to the woman. Rudi was presently occupied in piling her hair up in an extravagantly Edwardian hairdo, apparently much to her amusement.

“It's Miss Jeffries,” she said, catching sight of Harriet in the mirror. “My dear, how delightful to see you.” Her English was fluent and graceful, although too mannered to be native; her accent fluctuated between controlled Oxbridge and recognizably German. “Is this not the perfect look to go mad and die in?” She gave a little pat to the ring of hair piled on the top of her head. “Tonight I read Lady Macbeth to finish my performance, and I must look the part, although I don't think I will appear in a nightgown.” Harriet gave her a blank and baffled stare. “You haven't heard of my great Toronto debut, then?” She shook her head mutely. “Never mind. Since it is almost entirely in German, I believe it was mentioned only in the German press. But I am giving a reading tonight at the Goethe Institute, and you, my dear, must come. Your German is certainly good enough, but even if it weren't, that wouldn't matter. The important thing is that I am giving an impromptu party afterwards. Rudi is coming, isn't he?” She cast an upward glance into the mirror.

The hairdresser nodded as he rearranged the last few drooping curls at her hairline.

“That's very kind of you, Frau von Hohenkammer,” said Harriet, moving automatically into refusal mode. “Unfortunately, I'm in the middle of a very time-consuming project—”

“Nonsense! Of course you must come. You can't work all the time. Your buildings will wait; they are not going anywhere.” There was a tinge of contempt in her tone. Harriet and Clara had already had a small and stubborn confrontation on the subject of architectural photography and Harriet's refusal to do portrait work. “The reading is at eight o'clock. There will be a brief reception after and then a not-so-brief affair at the house. You haven't had a chance to see what it looks like now that it's been lived in a little. I've left the Mondrian where you so cleverly put it, by the way.” She turned again to Rudi. “That house is marvelous. A wonderful bargain, and it's already increased greatly in value, you know. And it is such a”—she flipped hastily through her English vocabulary for the right word—“well, sympathetic house to live in. I don't know how else to put it.”

Harriet choked slightly at the thought that a house that cost $650,000 four and half years ago, when prices were much lower, could be considered a bargain. But she had enjoyed photographing Frau von Hohenkammer's art, and she was curious to see it all again. “Thank you very much,” she said at last, trying to look enthusiastic. “I would love to come. I didn't even know that you were back in town.”

“I came down early. I suddenly realized I had many things to do before the reading. Like coming here.” She frowned as she craned for a sideways glance at her hair. “And calling you. My nephew will be in town. . . . He, too, is a photographer. I need to talk to you about him a little.” She glanced sideways at Harriet and dropped her voice slightly. “So you understand, it is important that you come this evening. I shall stay until the season starts again in Munich,” she added loudly. “To see my grandchildren, you know. You will have to look at pictures of them when you come tonight. Even if you won't take pictures of people, you can't object to looking at them, can you?” She smiled and turned away in a definitive gesture of dismissal. She and Rudi retreated cozily into the dialect of the tiny corner of Bavaria they both came from.

Inspector John Sanders lifted a pile of reports and dropped them on the floor beside him. He sorted through the rest of the material still in front of him and took out four sheets of paper; these he placed carefully in a file folder under his right elbow. With his left arm, he pushed aside everything else on his desk until it piled itself up against the heating unit on the wall. With great deliberation, he moved the file folder from under his elbow over to the centre of the desk. “This is it,” he said. “Unless you have more. The rest is worthless crap.”

Dubinsky gave him a martyred look from the safety of his own desk but remained silent.

“I told you. We've been through those sons of bitches at Mid-City until we knew everybody's grandmother's maiden name,” said Sergeant Volchek resentfully. “And what she ate for breakfast. But if you bastards think you can find your way around better than we can, be our guest.”

“Sorry,” said Sanders wearily. “Of course you know what you're doing. But for chrissake, we can't just shrug our shoulders and say okay, you look after it. Not when it's an officer shot on duty. You know that. And it has to be connected with Mid-City. . . .” He shook his head. “Come on.” His voice quivered with impatience. “All but two of the big money break-ins since May were into houses that had just bought or updated their security systems from Mid-City. And except for the house on Rosefall Road, they were all entered at some weak point in their system. If you want me to believe that's a coincidence—”

“That house didn't have any weak points,” said Volchek. His voice was getting more sour. “Except that the system was too good. Mid-City's deluxe model. Too goddamn sensitive to function.”

“Anyway, what in hell are we supposed to think?”

“Believe it or not,” said Volchek, “we figured that out. We were the ones who fed you that information, remember?” He pulled his chair closer to Sanders's desk and hunched forward. “Only three guys had access to all those installations, and they all have alibis for most of the robberies. What in hell do you want us to do? Harrison has gone in undercover,” he added. “If there's anything sour in that company, he'll find out.”

“Well, maybe someone at Mid-City has just been setting them up,” said Sanders, “and—”

“Come on. If someone at Mid-City is just selling plans and stuff like that, it could be anyone of the people who work there,” said Volchek. “And Harrison will get him. I mean alibis don't come into it, then, do they? Besides, that would mean the person involved at Mid-City didn't kill Underhill or Wilkinson.”

“Of course not.” Sanders ran both hands through his hair and then began to massage his scalp. “I can't think anymore.”

“Have you checked out the people who quit recently?” said Dubinsky.

Volchek gave him a look of infinite long suffering. “Yes. Back to April third. After that week, two systems were installed into houses that have been broken into.”

“No one quit?”

“Just one. And he's left the country,” said Volchek. “But if we're not worrying about alibis,” he added, “then my money is on him.” One large hand hit the list sitting in front of Sanders, its index finger stabbing the name “Don Walker.”

“Who's he?” said Sanders, startled.

Volchek smiled. “A lousy little punk who was in and out of juvenile court until he was eighteen. No record, because he hasn't been caught once since. He sure learned a helluva lot in those detention homes. I damn near died laughing when I saw that Mid-City had hired him.”

Dubinsky and Sanders leaned over the file, staring down at it. “You think he's the organizer, then?” asked Dubinsky.

Volchek shook his head slowly. “I don't know. It doesn't figure, though. Don was never a great brain. A greedy little bugger, all right, but not the guy I'd pick to be running an operation like this one. I mean, where would he find the kind of fences you'd need to get rid of all this art and shit like that? We've been keeping an eye on him, but he couldn't have been doing anything but peddling information to someone else about how the Mid-City systems work. He had alibis for three of the robberies.” Volchek pulled out his notebook and extracted a folded piece of paper from it. “Okay. Forget the one on Post Road the twenty-fourth of May weekend. It wasn't the same crew; they took a lot of audio equipment and stuff like that. For the big one in Rosedale on the first of July weekend, no alibi. There was a second one that weekend up in Aurora that they probably did as well. But the second in our jurisdiction was the Wilkinson house, at the end of July, and for that one he was playing poker with four other guys. We interviewed two of them
and
the landlady, and it all checks out. And then for the one on the Scarborough Bluffs and that massive haul over by the Kingsway on the Civic Holiday weekend, August fourth or fifth, Walker was away for the long weekend at his sister's cottage and right under her nose all the time. Or so she says. And a couple of other people up there saw him around. So they say. No alibi for the eleventh. But the night Underhill was killed he was working. He had taken over for a friend whose wife was having a baby. On the phones, even though he was actually an installer.”

“And he worked on all the houses?” said Dubinsky. Volchek nodded. Dubinsky looked down at his own notes again. “I wonder what they were doing,” he said, “between July 4th and July 24th?”

Volchek shrugged. “Who knows? Taking a holiday. Now what happens?”

“We're taking four days off,” said Sanders. “That's what happens. For the last month we've been working eighteen-, twenty-hour days.”

“Lucky bastards,” said Volchek. “Give my love to your girlfriends.” Volchek stood up, stuffed his sheets of paper back into his pocket, and walked out the door.

Sanders gave his retreating back a vicious look. “Arrogant son of a bitch,” he muttered. The word
girlfriend
had scratched open an uncomfortable wound on his soul. “He can go to hell.”

An hour later, Clara von Hohenkammer's voice filled the sunny conservatory in her elegant house on the ravine, but someone who had heard her talking to Rudi might never have recognized it. The flow was just as overwhelmingly fluent, but the vowels and consonants were now precise and educated, the vocabulary extensive, and the tone very irritated. “Now let me see if I understand what you are trying to tell me, Theresa.” Clara stared unblinking for a few moments across the room at the tall, vaguely pretty woman who squirmed in the chair opposite her. “You are trying to tell me that Milan, that brilliant designer, that wonderful engineer, who is so clever with money—I am only trying to remember exactly the way you used to describe him to Papa—has managed to sink all his money, and all the money he could borrow, and the money your father left you, in a scheme so bad that he has lost it? All of it? And you want me to supply you with even more money so he can have a chance to lose all that, as well? And just why do you suppose I should do that, Theresa? If I might ask.” Her voice rose to second-balcony level, then sank again in pure scorn as her peroration came to an end.

Theresa's cheeks flamed in splotches of angry color.
“You
don't need to be so unpleasant about it, Mamma,” she said, sulking. “It could happen to anyone.
You
just don't know what interest rates were like here when we started the company. Or what's been happening to the Canadian dollar. And when the market went down, well, that wasn't Milan's fault. He couldn't foresee that. We should have made millions on this already, and we will, if we can keep the project going. But if he doesn't get some money quickly, he'll lose everything. We'll even lose the house. And the banks just won't listen to him right now. And Mamma, it would only be for a short while. He'd pay you back. He's got options on all the land for a major development—well, almost all the land—and once he gets started, he won't have any trouble getting investors. And the economic climate is improving here. He is sure that he can attract investors from the US.” She leaned forward in her chair, her voice throbbing with sincerity.

BOOK: Murder in a Good Cause
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