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HERE'S AN ANECDOTE YOU may find difficult to believe. Even I can scarcely give it credence although I was witness to what occurred.
Early in December two Boston villains decided to jaunt to south Florida to escape the rigors of winter and enjoy the sunshine and thong bikinis of Miami Beach. It wasn't long before they were tapped out, a rapid decline of their operating funds accelerated by a visit to the casinos in the Bahamas.
Determined to avoid an ignominious and cash-poor return to their hometown, they decided a criminal enterprise in Florida was the answer to their financial problems. The two wetbrains resolved to kidnap the young child of a wealthy Palm Beach resident, hold him or her just long enough to collect a sizable ransom, and then skedaddle northward.
With no more planning they immediately launched their caper. They slowly toured the boulevards and back roads of the Town of Palm Beach, marveling at the endless rows of mansions they passed. I'm sure visions of sugarplums danced through their tiny, tiny minds, each sweetmeat printed with a dollar sign.
On the second day of exploration they espied a young lad trudging along by himself on the verge of South County Road. No cars or witnesses being nearby, the two improper Bostonians brought their rental car to a screeching halt, grabbed the startled kid, and hustled him into the back seat, where he was threatened with instant annihilation if he uttered a single word or attempted to attract the attention of anyone to his plight.
I imagine the moronic thugs figured if the boy lived in Palm Beach his parents must have a gazillion bucks. Wrong! The boy's father, Maurice Franklin, was moderately well-to-do but a Croesus he was not. He owned a medium-sized pest control business and earned a steady annual profit, but nothing to justify a front-page article in The Wall Street Journal. His wife had died of cancer the previous year. His son, the kidnapped Timmy, was his only child.
I knew these details because Maurice Franklin was a client of McNally & Son. When Timmy did not return from school, Franklin's Haitian housekeeper called him at work. In turn he called Timmy's school, his friends, and then, becoming increasingly worried, phoned the police and my father, Prescott McNally, sovereign of our law firm. The pater ordered me to liaise with the Palm Beach Police Department and keep him informed. I do not believe anyone was unduly concerned at that stage of the affair.
Things took a more somber turn the following morning. Timmy had not appeared. The case was assigned to Sgt. Al Rogoff of the PBPD, which heartened me since Al is an old confrere and I trust his professional expertise. I knew he would attempt to trace Timmy's movements after the boy left school, check hospitals, accident reports, and shelters for runaway children. Finally, I learned later, the FBI was informed about noon that a possible kidnapping might be in progress.
I thought I better put in a personal appearance to show the McNally & Son flag, so to speak, and offer what help I could. I arrived at the Franklin home to find the Feds in command and I was allowed entry only after Sgt. Rogoff vouched for my bona fides.
FBI techs were busily installing a variety of electronic devices. One would amplify all telephone conversations so everyone could hear clearly both sides of a phoned dialogue. A voice- activated deck would make a taped record of all calls. A third dingus was designed to trace the source of incoming calls within minutes, obviating the need of searching phone company logs.
While this work was in progress I went over to a couch where our client, Maurice Franklin, was sitting upright, gripping his knees with white knuckles. I identified myself, expressed my sympathy and that of McNally & Son. I assured him we stood ready to offer whatever assistance we could.
He was a bulky man, massive through the neck and shoulders, with an indoor complexion made paler by stress. "If Timmy's been kidnapped," he said, his voice thick, "and I get to them, I'll kill them. I swear it. Putting their hands on my son. I'll destroy them. I don't care what happens to me afterward."
"Understandable, Mr. Franklin," I said as soothingly as I could. "But we don't yet know for certain he has been kidnapped."
"They'll probably want a lot of money," he went on, not listening to me. "Maybe a million. Maybe more. How can I come up with that?"
"Don't even think about it," I urged. "If a ransom demand is made, believe me, sufficient funds will be available."
I was still trying to comfort him and the technicians were still at work wiring their black boxes when the telephone rang. There must have been a dozen men in the room at that time and I think we all froze and stared at the shrilling phone. The FBI special agent in charge beckoned to Maurice Franklin.
"Answer it," he commanded. "If it's a ransom demand, keep them talking as long as possible. Follow the script we suggested."
Our client nodded and staggered to his feet. I assisted him. The amplifier had been connected and we all heard the ensuing conversation.
Boston-accented masculine voice: "You Morry Franklin?"
"Maurice Franklin. Yes, I am Maurice Franklin."
"You got a son named Timmy?"
"We got him."
"Let's not play games, Morry. This is a snatch. You want to see your kid alive again? Home and happy?"
"How do I know what you're saying is true?"
"Bosco, bring him over here. Timmy, say hello to your pop."
"Timmy, are you all right? They haven't hurt you?"
"I'm okay. They gave me a Twinkie."
"Don't be frightened, son."
"I'm not scared but I do want to come home, dad."
"Of course you do and I want you home. Put the man back on the phone."
"See? We got the kid and he ain't hurt. Satisfied?"
"How much do you want?"
"Whoa! Wait a minute. This is just the first call. You bring in the cops and your kid is gone. You understand?"
"You'll be hearing from us again. About how much it will cost and how to deliver it. Meanwhile sweat a little."
The phone went dead. It was then I believe we all became aware of incredible good fortune. Maurice Franklin had Caller ID. In Florida this is a small device attached to your personal phone which, on an illuminated screen, reveals the name and telephone number of the most recent caller. In this case the screen displayed the name and phone number of a well-known West Palm Beach motel, one of a national chain.
There was a great hoot of triumph and relieved laughter. Apparently the Beantown lamebrains were not aware of Caller ID and had made their threatening call from their current residence. I remember Sgt. Rogoff once told me ninety percent of successful law enforcement is not due to clever investigation but to the rank stupidity of the criminals. For every Professor Moriarty there are many galoots who rob a bank and attempt to make their getaway on a bicycle.
Within twenty minutes a plan was devised and all the officers, Feds and locals, rushed outside to their cars. I was ordered to stay with the father. We were assured we would be informed as soon as possible of the result of the rescue attempt.
I saw Maurice Franklin had a severe attack of the shakes and asked him if any strong spirits were available. He pointed to a sideboard, where I found a modest collection of bottles including a liter of Sterling vodka. Mother's milk! I scouted about, discovered the kitchen, and poured two tumblers of iced vodka. I brought our distraught client his drink and he took a ferocious gulp, shuddered, drew a deep breath.
"They'll find Timmy?" he asked me, pleading.
"Of course they shall," I said firmly. "Tell me about the boy."
For the next hour or so he talked nonstop, relating what a wonderful son he had, how fortunate he was to be blessed with a child like that, how teachers and friends adored him, how intelligent and talented he was, what a wonderful future lay in store for him. Meanwhile I sipped my drink and just listened, nodding and smiling, not speaking but praying silently this affair would end happily.
It did. The front door was flung open, Sgt. Rogoff entered. His beefy arm was about the shoulders of a handsome, fair-haired lad, and Al's face was cracked in a grin from here to there.
"Timmy!" Maurice Franklin shouted, lurched to his feet, rushed to his son, weeping. He flopped to his knees, gathered the boy into his arms. They embraced tightly. Bliss on a stick.
"Are you all right?" the father asked, his voice choky.
"I'm hungry, dad," I heard Timmy say.
I laughed and pulled Rogoff into the kitchen. I poured him a small vodka and another for myself. I deserved it; I had endured an hour without talking.
"Any problems?" I asked the sergeant.
"Nope," he said. "We got the key from the manager and waltzed in. The kid was watching TV and the two master criminals were playing high-card for nickels."
"Beautiful. Did they say anything?"
"Yeah. One of the imbeciles asked me, 'How did you know where we was?' I told him we employed a Gypsy fortune-teller who used a crystal ball. She saw everything, knew everything, told us everything."
"What did he say to that?"
"He said, 'No shit?'"
We finished our drinks. I left Sgt. Rogoff with the Franklins. Before I departed I phoned Mrs. Trelawney, my father's private secretary, and asked her to inform the seignior Timmy had been rescued from his inept abductors and all was well.
I told you the entire incident was incredible and so it was. But it did happen and I know you have the utmost faith in my veracity. Thank you.
The thwarted offense reinforced my belief that kidnapping is one of the most despicable misdeeds in the sad gamut of human transgressions. But the events of the next few weeks were to prove there are more heinous crimes.CHAPTER 2
ARE YOU FAMILIAR WITH the name William Claude Dukenfield? No? Then perhaps you know him under the name of W.C. Fields, the author of almost as many bons mots as Oscar Wilde. During a period of dreadful inflation in the 1920s Fields remarked, "I can't see how the human race is going to survive now that the cost of living has gone up two dollars a quart."
I was reminded of Fields's quip on the December afternoon after leaving the Franklin home. I was seeking a birthday gift for my father at a Palm Beach liquor store. Prescott McNally was not only mein papa but he was also ur boss of the legal firm of which I am a loyal if habitually tardy employee. I am the son, Archibald McNally.
Although I do not possess a degree, having been ejected from Yale Law for an escapade too outrageous to retell, I had been granted gainful employment and assigned the task of making Discreet Inquiries when our clients' problems required investigation before their distress came to the attention of the gendarmes or a supermarket tabloid which might feature the matter next to an article entitled "Extraterrestrial Accused of Flashing!"
I finally chose a graceful decanter of XO Courvoisier cognac for the sire's seventy-something year, consoling myself for the cost with the hope I might be granted a sip on special occasions.
I had it gift-wrapped and enclosed a card stating, "Happy Birthday and many of them." I knew my father would be offended by any greeting more affectionate. He is an austere man who values reason over emotion. I, on the other hand, believe the heart commands and the mind obeys. (The glands may cast their vote as well.)
I drove my fire engine-red Miata back to our ersatz-Tudor manse on Ocean Boulevard. I pulled into my slot in the three-car garage, disembarked, and started for the back door leading to the kitchen. But then Hobo, our crossbred terrier, came bouncing from his gabled house to greet me. I gave him an expected pat and ear tweaks and assured him he was the doughtiest dog who ever lived. I believed it; family and friends concurred: Hobo was one fearless canine. But modest. Praise him and he yawned.
I found Ursi Olson working in the kitchen. She is the distaff side of the Scandinavian couple who keep the McNally ship afloat. Her husband, Jamie, is our factotum, a taciturn character with a fondness for aquavit and pipe tobacco with an odor distressingly similar to asafetida.
Ursi was in an understandably peckish mood. My father had refused to approve a celebratory birthday dinner party with several close friends as guests. And when Ursi began to plan a scrumptious family-only feast, the lord of the manor informed her he would much prefer a simple meal of pot roast with potato pancakes and dilled green beans—hardly a challenge to Ursi's culinary skills.
However, she declared triumphantly, he hadn't mentioned dessert, and she had constructed a confection known in New York as seven-layer cake although I think it is rightfully called Dobos Torte. It consists of fifteen thin alternating layers of cake and milk chocolate crème, the whole covered with dark chocolate icing. One taste is enough to make you roll your eyes and swear to begin dieting—tomorrow.
The guv's birthday dinner went delightfully. The crew always takes its cue from the captain and that evening the skipper was in a genial mood and we responded. He even consumed two slender slices of the torte (I had three) and expressed hearty thanks for his gifts: a James Upshall pipe from the Olsons, my cognac, and from my mother, Madeleine, a V-necked sweater she had knitted in an argyle pattern. Pops was especially pleased with her present and forbore to mention one sleeve appeared to be two inches longer than the other.
Dinner concluded, my parents and I moved into his study and I hoped it might be for a postprandial birthday toast with the XO Courvoisier I had given him. No such luck. Father seated himself in the leather throne behind his monumental desk, motioned mother and me to club chairs, and posed a question that was to ignite a devilish Discreet Inquiry testing the sagacity and deviousness of yrs. truly. What a doozy it was!
"Archy," he said, "are you acquainted with Mrs. Edythe Westmore?"
"I've met the lady once, sir, at a charity bash at The Breakers."
"Oh?" he said, and elevated one of his gnarly eyebrows, a display of legerdemain I've never been able to master. "And how did you happen to meet?"
"Her necklace of garnets broke and I helped her retrieve them."
"Do you also know her son and daughter?"
"No, father, I do not."
"Are you aware Mrs. Westmore, a widow, is on our client list?"
"No, I didn't know that." I turned to mother. "She is a close friend of yours, is she not?"
The mater smiled. She is a rather large woman who succeeds in being simultaneously imposing and soft. Her complexion is a bit florid (the poor dear suffers from high blood pressure) but I think her uncommonly attractive. When I was a mere whelp and became addicted to attending revivals of old movies I was amazed at how mother resembled Mary Boland: same good looks, more pleasing than striking, and a similar ditsy manner.
"Perhaps not a close friend, Archy," she replied. "But we do see each other frequently. Edythe belongs to both my bridge and garden clubs. Her African violets are simply unpareil. Is that the right word?"
"Nonpareil," I corrected gently.
Father stirred restlessly and I knew he was becoming impatient with our gibble-gabble. "Maddie," he said, "suppose you repeat to Archy what you told me last night concerning Mrs. Westmore."
"Well, our bridge club met at Suzy Longhorne's two days ago and after we finished playing, refreshments were served: cucumber sandwiches and some lovely petits fours Suzy bought at a new bakery in Boca. They were so good, especially the ones with mint icing."
A sigh from behind the desk. "Mother, please get on with it."
"Anyway," she continued, "we started talking about the stock market and real estate, and Edythe Westmore said she had recently consulted an investment adviser who is a real expert and is making her a lot of money in unusual things."
"Oh?" I said. "Such as?"
"Stocks that aren't even listed in the paper. And a tin mine in Bolivia and oil wells in Texas."
Mon pere and I exchanged a quick glance.
"And now," she went on, "Edythe said he has a wonderful deal for her. He says she could make a small fortune."
I knew the retort to that: "If she starts with a large fortune." But all I said was, "Did Mrs. Westmore give any details about this wonderful deal?"
"Yes, he wants her to buy a Fabergé egg from a man in Paris. This man needs cash and is willing to sell the egg for half a million dollars. Edythe's financial adviser says she could easily get more than a million for it at auction, even two or three million."
Excerpted from McNally's Gamble by Lawrence Sanders. Copyright © 1997 Lawrence A. Sanders Enterprises, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Posted March 17, 2006
This one opened with a fast-moving, jazzy rescue of a kidnaped child, capturing me with Archy¿s warmth to the victim¿s father, and the hint of a crime to come which was billed to be more heinous than a child kidnaping. Following quickly on the heals of the rescue, I settled into the main plot, riding along with Archy¿s loving machinations in prep for his father¿s birthday dinner, after which the family cocktail hour sported the pater¿s introduction to Archy of his new assignment. The mater was invited into the act by a request from her husband to describe how her friend and contemporary, Edythe Westmore, a client of the McNally law firm, seemed to have been taken in by a flimflam financial advisor with egg on his agenda, which would eventually be on his face, if justice prevailed and Archy¿s Discrete Investigations got a clue. No unsettling, Gothic castle with Adams family cast offs in this one. Whereas McNally¿s CAPER captured like a dark, luxuriously rich ale, GAMBLE captured with quality champagne easing the pain of a soured budget diminishing in a cash flop (executed by the financial wizard fop). Archy fizzed nicely through this plot with just the right amount of bubble and bounce, keeping the light hearted intrigue moving until the enigma-of-the-egg enhanced entertainment to arrive at an all time high in this series. One of Archy¿s enduring and endearing characters, the old, moldy, Antique shop owner, Sydney Smythe warmed his way into my heart in this one, worming in through a few choice words from Sanders describing Mr. Smythe¿s actions and reactions to Archy¿s interjections. It¿s amazing how much empathy for a character Sanders develops with light, limited touches of syntax, especially in contrast to the heavyweight, plethora of mouth-fulls he pours through Archy¿s mug. Given the entertaining way Archie danced his way through this plot labyrinth and its resolution, if GAMBLE were to become a movie, it may have to be billed as a complexly delightful musical, no con intended.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 12, 2008
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Posted December 18, 2010
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