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Authors: Medora Sale

Murder in a Good Cause (21 page)

BOOK: Murder in a Good Cause
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“Let's start with the robberies,” prompted Volchek. “And we can go on from there.”

Don rearranged his rodent-like features into an expression of injured innocence and produced his formal disavowal of responsibility. “Yeah, well, I just followed along, like. It wasn't my idea.”

“But they couldn't have done them without you, could they, Don?” said Volchek in a silky tone. “You were the one who knew how to get through the security systems.”

“Uh, yeah, maybe. See, when you're installing a system, it really costs to make it break-in proof. Like in a house, I mean. With all kinds of windows in stupid places and crap like that. So when someone says to me that no one's gonna try to get in through that little window over the garage, say, it's too small, and it's going to cost a lot more to take the wiring over there, I say okay, and we don't do it, and then we use that window to get in. We're all pretty skinny guys. Then maybe we turn off the system and break a window somewhere else so it looks like
they
forgot to turn the alarm on. You'd be surprised how many people forget to turn on their alarms, anyway.” Don was beginning to expand as he worked his way into his narrative. “Rich, stupid assholes.”

“What about the house on Rosefall Road?”

“Oh, them,” he said dismissively. “They had the whole house done. A fucking cat couldn't have got in there. They had a lot of valuable stuff, I guess. I told those guys not to try that house,” he added with an air of righteousness. “And I didn't want to have anything to do with it. I wasn't in on all the jobs, you know. I might've told them how to get in and stuff like that, but I wasn't there.” Little beads of sweat were beginning to form on his temples and across his hairline.

“So who ran things if it wasn't you?” asked Volchek.

“It sure as hell wasn't me,” said Walker with too much emphasis. “It was the buru.”

“The what?” said Dubinsky, who was taking rapid notes as Walker spoke.

“The buru. It means the boss. In their language. They all called him that.”

“How do you spell that?” asked Dubinsky. “Buru.” Walker shrugged his shoulders. Spelling wasn't part of his bargain with the Crown. “And what language are we talking about anyway?”

“Oh . . . Basque,” said Walker. “They all spoke Basque.”

“What's that?” asked Dubinsky, looking around.

The various police officers in the room looked at each other. “‘It's kind of like Spanish, I think,” said Volchek, finally, with more goodwill than accuracy.

“Yeah, kind of,” said Walker. “That's where they're from. Spain. Anyway, the buru—he's this kid, really smart kid. Reads all the time. Philosophy and stuff like that. He figured out what to do. And when. And he knew the guy who fenced it all for us.”

“And who's that, Walker?” asked Volchek softly. “Where did you get rid of it all? We were wondering about that. And we were wondering just where we could find it, too. It's gonna make things a lot easier on you when we find all the goods.”

A line of sweat trickled down the side of Walker's face. “I don't know what happened to it.” Real anguish shook his voice. “We took it to the buru, and he stored it at this house he had until he could get to the fence. And I never knew where the house was, so there's no use asking me,” he added vehemently. “I was only inside it once, when we had to pick up a vanload of stuff, and Carlos and me, we were riding in the back of the van and never saw where we were going. And it was dark out. But it was a really big, new-looking house, like in Thornhill or Aurora. Places like that. You could hear all these animals around and stuff. It was in the country, sort of. That's all I know about it.” More sweat gathered on his forehead. “Then he got rid of it in New York, or at least in the States somewhere. I think New York. But listen, I never even saw the guy.”

“And does the buru, the boss, have a name?”

“Not that I know,” said Walker. “No one ever said his name.”

“How about an address?”

Walker shrugged.

“So,” said Dubinsky, “who shot Constable Underhill? You, Walker?”

“Listen, I never killed no one.” His hand jerked spasmodically, and he grasped it tightly with the other one. “Especially not a cop. You gotta be crazy to do that. I wasn't even there that night. I was working. I told you, I never liked that house. I wouldn't have gone if I could. You guys already asked me about that weeks ago. And you checked it out. You go look at your records.” His voice began to rise in pitch, and he paused to pull himself back in control. “I was working. Carlos would've done that. He's crazy. Real crazy. I dunno, I think he saw too many Rambo movies or something. He can't keep his hands off of a gun. But I dunno who did it, because when they were talking about it, it was in goddamn Basque, and I never knew what they were saying. But it must have been Carlos. It can't have been Manu. Jesus, he's so scared, if he saw a gun, he'd piss himself.” Walker paused uneasily for a moment as he remembered Manu's knife, but he shoved the humiliating picture back into the deepest recesses of his brain. “It must have been Carlos.”

“And Mrs. Wilkinson?”

“I wasn't there neither. You guys checked me out on that one, too. I was clean. I was in on a game that went on all night.”

“So where did you get her ring, Walker? Someone mail it to you?”

There was a panic-stricken pause. “Manu took it,” he blurted finally. “And asked me to raise money on it. He thought he'd make people too suspicious. With him having an accent, you know.”

“So tell us about this, uh, Manny. Is that his name?” said Dubinsky.

“Yeah. Something like that. He's a Basque. Real patriotic,” he added, remembering the knife once more. “He's kinda tall, skinny, not real dark, but he's got this long black hair. And a mustache. One of those little ones. And he's twitchy as hell.”

“And Carlos? What does he look like?”

“I dunno. Nothing special. He's shorter than Manu. And he's got black hair. And a tan. I guess he's about thirty, maybe.” Walker was beginning to sweat profusely.

“And where do we find these guys?” asked Dubinsky softly. “Because unless we can find them, your story isn't worth a pinch of shit. Or two days off a sentence. Think about it, Walker. Armed robbery. Murder. Very big words. Long words. Fifteen, twenty, twenty-five years long.”

“Christ,” muttered Walker. He seemed to be counting. “I don't know where the fence lived. I think he was an American or something. And the other guys . . .” His eyes shifted sideways in panic, and Dubinsky jotted an extra note on his page. “We used to meet in an apartment on Lippincott Street, a third-floor apartment. It was 1872 Lippincott Street. I think Manu and Carlos lived there. And look, you gotta give me protection. These guys aren't just stealing stuff. They're terrorists. They don't give a damn what happens to anyone; they'll have me killed. Tortured to death.” By now the sweat was pouring off Walker's face and collecting in unpleasant pools around his flannelette shirt.

Veronika put down the last piece of pottery in the museum shop and walked over to the door. The lobby was even quieter than it had been when she entered, almost deserted except for two security guards chatting to a third man, dark haired and handsome, with an ominously familiar air. And that meant it was time she left for Munich. When security guards and their friends in a foreign city start to look familiar, it is time to go.

She wandered back inside the shop and drifted over to the jewelry counter. Her eye was caught by a medallion, enamel on copper, in brilliant greens and the amethyst of her new tweed suit, which depicted a ferocious bird with red garnet eyes. “How much is this?” she called to the shop assistant, who was wandering about in a desultory fashion, tidying up piles of sweatshirts and stacking boxes that had been knocked over.

“The copper medallion?” she answered, pausing to put down the boxes in her hand. “Two hundred. No, sorry. Two hundred and ten. That's because the garnets—”

“I'll take it,” said Veronika. “Don't wrap it up. I'll wear it. Here,” she said, dropping a pile of bills on the counter. “I just want to see if my friend has arrived. I'll be back for the medallion and my change in a second.”

But the lobby remained deserted except for the bored-looking staff and two little girls clutching sketch pads who came giggling down the broad staircase, followed more slowly by a weary-looking mother. For the first time, it occurred to Veronika that Harriet might not have found her message on the machine yet, might not have remembered that she had promised to visit the museum with her today. She had promised, hadn't she? Nikki tried to remember exactly what had been said, but the words were blocked out by the haze of exhaustion and sorrow that lingered just below her excitement. Tears sprang to her eyes.

“Miss? Oh, miss?” said a tired voice behind her. “Your medallion. And your change. Are you sure you don't want a box?”

“No,” she said abruptly, and winced at her discourtesy. “This is fine. Thank you very much.”

She fastened the heavy piece of jewelry around her neck and looked at her watch. It was past four-thirty. Now that she was here, it would be silly to leave without looking at the exhibits. Biting her lip to hold back the tears, she returned to the admissions booth. “Where are the Greek and Roman collections?” she asked.

The attendant looked up from her novel, yawning. “Third floor at the back.”

“If my friend comes in and asks for me, could you say I'm up there?”

“Sure,” she replied. “What name—”

But Veronika was already gone, running up the staircase.

Carlos moved from the coat-check counter where he had been half-leaning, half-sitting, and raised a farewell hand at the woman seated there. “See you later, Bettina,” he said. “I'd better go see if I can round up the boss. Don't work too hard.”

“Never fear,” she said, and plucked her novel out from a carton on the rack beside her.

Carlos strolled over to the telephone and dropped a quarter in the slot. After a brief murmured conversation he hung up and started up the staircase in long, easy strides.

Veronika stopped at the head of the stairs to catch her breath. She was offered a choice at this point between Truth and Beauty on her right, and the Classical World on the left. “Truth and Beauty later,” she said firmly, and plunged into the other corridor.

Roman pottery and statuary took up the first gallery, all fascinating, no doubt, but she found that she could not force herself to stop long enough to look at anything. She walked rapidly along, unsettled at being in the centre of a huge space where all the sight lines were broken up by pillars and false walls. She shivered. She shouldn't have come here alone. Not now. This was worse than being alone in her mother's house, with her mother's ghost murmuring sorrowfully no matter where she went. Here there were thousands of ghosts sighing and shuffling along the marble floors. And invisible footsteps, always near her, belonging to no one.

The ambient lighting became darker as she penetrated farther into the classical exhibits, until she turned a corner and stopped, almost blinded by the sudden brilliance. To her left, a stone bridge crossed a vast, light-filled space in the centre of the building. She walked across it, giddy from a sense of floating precariously three stories above the ground, but the door at the other end of the bridge was locked, and she turned back to the dark enclosure of the exhibit area.

Right in front of her was the Etruscan collection, housed in its own set of walls, leaned on by the Greeks from one side and the Romans from the other. And a strange device, the gentle powdery green of old copper, hung on the wall directly before her eyes, in the centre of the collection. Some long-dead Etruscan artisan with a malevolent sense of humor had decorated its handle prettily in graceful spirals; and then he had finished it in a circle out of which protruded half a dozen or more curving spikes, each one viciously long and sharp. Veronika stared at it, unable to turn her eyes away. She moved forward toward the monstrous thing, drawn by curiosity and grim fascination, until she could read the neat card beneath it. “Etruscan meat hook,” it said primly, “or
kreaga
.” Her stomach turned; she gagged and turned rapidly to study a large amphora, decorated with the more disciplined swirling designs that she associated with the Etruscans, breathing deeply until her stomach calmed.

She turned to the case opposite the amphora and conscientiously studied each vase, each utensil, each painted pot, as if her life depended on it, finally letting her gaze drift over the passageway, out onto the stone bridge, where there was light and an absence of nightmarish visions. But in a cloistered passageway on the other side of the atrium, leaning on another stone parapet, watching her, was the man, the dark-haired man with large dark eyes, whom she had seen in the lobby. And suddenly the description of her “husband,” the person who had asked after her at the hairdresser's, leapt into her mind.

“For God's sake, Veronika,” she said aloud in the empty room. “Don't be stupid. The man probably works here. And there are thousands of men in this city with dark hair and eyes. As many as there are in Munich.” Resolutely, she turned to her right and headed for classical Greece. The exhibit was much more brightly lit than the Etruscan gallery had been, and the pale statuary gleamed reassuringly in the artificial day. She stopped in front of a collection of copper pans from Grecian south Italy, transfixed between amusement and admiration. The handle of each one consisted of a delectable nude male, lying face-up, toes pointed, arms stretching panward. Now, if reproductions of those were available in the museum shop, she thought with a grin, they would be worth paying for. Somewhat cheered, she wandered without noticing where she was going through the darkened galleries behind the Etruscans.

BOOK: Murder in a Good Cause
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