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The Plain Dealer (Cleveland) Tight plotting, crackling police work, and bizarre people...a witty tale of counterfeit money that grows before the reader's eyes.
St. Petersburg Times (FL) Captivating stuff.
The San Diego Union-Tribune Chock-full of his customary crisp plotting, colorful characters, and wry humor....May [McBain], like his 87th Precinct, stay young forever.
The Post and Courier (Charleston, SC) An instant classic....It's McBain at his best. And there's none better.
The Calgary Sun It's vintage McBain, fast, funny, and far-fetched....
Publishers Weekly McBain's "Money" is a sure bet....[His] writing remains young, vigorous, sharp, and entertaining.
Kirkus Reviews The complications flow so effortlessly and the tone is so irresistibly ebullient that you can relax in the hands of a master. Merry Christmas.
The two men on the narrow dirt strip were both wearing white cotton pants and shirts. They stood beside the Piper Warrior III in broad daylight, waiting for Cass to hand over the locked aluminum suitcase. She gave it to the larger of the two men, and watched as they walked to a dark blue Mercedes-Benz glistening in the sun alongside the cornfield. The doors on either side slammed shut into the stillness, and then there was only the sound of insects racketing in the scraggly woods nearby.
Today was Pearl Harbor Day, the seventh of December, though it didn't much feel like it here in Guenerando, Mexico. Cass stood beside the airplane, sweating in the afternoon heat. She assumed there was money in the aluminum suitcase. She further assumed they were counting it over there in the Benz. She guessed that the cargo they'd be turning over in exchange for the money would be dope -- either heroin or cocaine. She didn't care much either way. She stood in the shade of a spindly eucalyptus for almost forty minutes. At last, the two men came out of the Benz and handed the aluminum suitcase back to her. The one with the mustache was grinning. He handed her a long white business envelope with a rubber band around it. The other one watched solemnly, expectantly.
"Open it, por favor," the one with the mustache said.
She slipped the rubber band over her wrist, opened the envelope. There was a whole bunch of hundred-dollar bills in it.
"Count them," the serious one said.
She counted them.
There seemed to be ten thousand dollars in that envelope.
"For me?" she asked.
"Para ti," the one with the mustache said.
Damn if they weren't tipping her!
"Well thanks," she said. "Muchas gracias."
"Muchas gracias," the one with the mustache said, grinning.
"Muchas gracias," the other one said. He was grinning now, too.
She couldn't help grinning herself.
The Baboquivari mountains stretched northward to Kitt Peak. She flew low behind them. There was an anti-drug radar blimp in the sky over Fort Huachuca, but she had talked to other pilots who'd made the identical run dozens of times and who knew there was a so-called radar deficiency within plus-or-minus four degrees of the Kitt Peak Observatory. If she flew northward through "Gringo Pass," as the security gap was called, she could avoid detection. Besides, she'd be on the ground again near Avra Valley in eighteen minutes, so even in the unlikely event that she did show up on radar, there wouldn't be enough time for Customs planes to take off and chase her.
She didn't even know the last name of the man who was paying her $200,000 to do this little job for him, a quarter of it already in a bank account back East, where she'd rented an apartment within ten minutes of laying her hands on all that cash. She'd first met him in Eagle Branch, Texas, after one of her whistle-stop hops. What she did was fly light machinery, chickens in crates, melons, computer parts, sandals, what have you, all over Mexico in single-engine planes that were new when Zapata was still a boy. She'd occasionally been dating a Texas Ranger named Randolph Biggs, who made frequent trips to the Rio Grande where he helped the border patrol dissuade wetbacks from entering the sacred shores Cass had gone to the Persian Gulf to preserve and protect. In a bar one night, he'd introduced her to this guy named Frank. Kind of cute, but no last name. Just Frank. Frank's enough, he'd told her. She wondered now how much Randy had got for introducing him to a good pilot willing to take risks.
Instruments on the Warrior -- such a mighty name for a single-engine light aircraft -- were kindergarten compared to the Chinook helicopter Cass had flown during the Gulf War. Way they played it on television back home, everything was a surgical strike and nobody but the enemy suffered any casualties, which of course was a crock. More hardware up there in the Iraqi skies than she'd care to fly through ever again in her lifetime. Little different here in Arizona. Better pay, too.
She could see the lights of some quiet little desert town down below in the near distance. What's a bad girl like you doing in a nice place like this? she wondered. Don't ask, don't tell. Man says fly four shipments for me from Texas to Mexico, I'll give you fifty grand a trip, two hundred total, you tell him Mister, you've got a deal. This was the last of the four trips. Rented the Warrior in San Antone, nice little rig that handled like a dream. She'd drop the plane off at the Phoenix airport later tonight, as pre-arranged, hop a commercial liner back East, be snug in her own apartment long before Christmas.
The signal light.
She flashed her own wing lights, dipped in lower for a better look. When you came in low over Baghdad, it was to drop a smart bomb down Saddam Hussein's chimney. Only trouble was they'd never got to him, ended the war too damn soon. Well, some you win, some you lose. She guessed.
She made a pass over the site, and then swung around for her actual approach into the wind. A car's headlights came on, illuminating the strand of sand more fully. It was long and narrow. She watched the altimeter, pulled back on the flaps, leveled the pedals, glanced at the speedometer, this would be a piece of cake, douse your lights, boys, who needs them?
The strip here was level and flat, she felt the wheels touching, hit the brakes, lowered the flaps, and rolled along the beach to a full stop some twenty yards from where she'd seen the headlights. She cut the engine. The night was still. Immediately, she took the forty-five from the flap pocket of her jump suit.
She waited inside the cockpit, in the dark.
In the Gulf, she'd packed a forty-five automatic in a holster at her waist, case she got shot down, a distinct possibility. Lots of unfriendly people down there, waiting to get their hands on an American pilot, well, who could blame them? A female pilot, no less. Cassandra Jean Ridley, Lieutenant, U.S. Army, 714-56-32, that's all she was obliged to tell them. Didn't even have to say she was with the 101st Airborne. Here, she didn't know who'd be waiting for her. But she knew she had a hundred and fifty thousand coming for delivering this last suitcase. Money like that, a girl couldn't be too careful.
The rap on the window startled her.
She slid it back, right hand tight around the walnut grip of the Browning in her lap. She had to pee. First thing you did when you got back to base was rush to barracks to pee. The male pilots just unzipped and pissed right where they'd landed.
"Welcome to Arizona," someone said.
Cheerful voice, the speaker nothing more than a blur in the dark. Two other men with him. She did not loosen her grip on the automatic. She was waiting for the single word that would tell her these were the people expecting the shipment. Buried any which way in whatever sentence they chose to use. But until she heard it, she sat right where she was with the gun in her hand and her finger inside the trigger guard.
"Nice night," one of the men said.
Try again, sweetheart.
"Hasn't been much rain."
"Who's got my money?" she asked.
"Where's the suitcase?"
She released the door lever, climbed out onto the wing, and dropped to the ground, the gun dangling lazily, familiarly at her side.
"You won't need that," one of the men said.
"Gee, I hope not," she answered.
The desert air was a bit chilly. She wished she had on her flight jacket. One of the men was carrying a small leather case the size of a laptop. He placed it on the rim of the door, snapped it open. Another man turned on a penlight. She was looking at a lot of U.S. currency.
"A hundred and fifty thousand," one of the men said. "Final payment. As agreed."
"Where's the suitcase?" another man said.
"Mind if I count it first?" Cass said.
"Why don't we all just sit out here in the open till Customs spots us?" the third man said.
"Count it out for me," Cass said.
"Count it out for her," the first man said.
He was the one with the cheerful voice. He sounded a trifle impatient now, but she didn't give a damn how he sounded. One thing she'd learned in the Army was you didn't back off. Not on the ground, not in the air. So far all the risk these guys had taken was to sit here in Shit Wallow, Arizona, waiting for her. She was the one carrying the cargo, she was the one who still had the cargo sitting in a plane she'd rented. So go right ahead, she thought, get impatient. That's my money you're treating so casually there.
The one who'd mentioned Customs slipped the thick rubber band from one of the packets and looped it over his wrist. There was a small tattoo on the back of his left hand. Some kind of bird, looked like a hawk, wings spread wide, claws gripping a fish. He spread the bills to show her there weren't any pieces of newspaper cut to size in the bundle. Then he began counting them out loud, one by one, "...five, six, seven," Cass holding the gun, watching, listening, "eight, nine, ten, a thousand. One, two, three, four..."
On and on. There were fifty bills in the packet, all of them hundred-dollar bills. When he counted out the last bill, he rubber-banded the stack again, and dropped it back into the leather case. There were thirty packets of bills in all, each of them about three-quarters of an inch thick. It took the man less than fifteen minutes to count them all out. He snapped the lid on the case shut, and handed it to the first man, who folded his arms across it and held it against his chest like a schoolgirl carrying books. She suddenly thought of Fall River, Massachusetts, where Lizzie Borden had got away with killing her father and her stepmother and where, coincidentally, Cassandra Jean Ridley had spent the first fifteen years of her life, my how the time did fly. What am I doing here? she wondered.
"The suitcase," he said.
Cass climbed back into the plane and pulled out the suitcase from where she'd stowed it. She carried it out again in her left hand, the gun in her right, still hanging loose. She was thinking they could shoot her dead the minute she dropped to the ground again, grab the suitcase full of dope, she was sure it was, ride off into the night with the dope and the money they'd so patiently counted out for her.
It didn't happen.
She revved up the engine again, the little leather case with $150,000 sitting on the seat beside her, another ten grand in the flap pocket of her jump suit. Tonight I'll be back in the big bad city, she thought. Her heart was pounding as fiercely as it had over the sands of Iraq.
Hanukkah would start at sundown today, the twenty-first day of December. Will didn't much care. He wasn't even Jewish.
This was always the most dangerous time, going in. Well, coming out was no picnic, either, but then you could march right through the front door, say you'd been there to fix the toilet or the sink, nice day, ain't it? Somebody saw you going in, though, that was another story. Specially when you were going in through a window on a fire escape, now that was a little difficult to explain.
He'd been watching the apartment from the roof across the way for the better part of a week now, knew when the lady came and went, even had an opportunity once to see her in the altogether, though inadvertently, he wasn't no damn Peeping Tom. Redheaded as a cardinal, she was, carpet matching the drapes, a fair sight to behold and a rarity in this day and age. He always so-called cased a joint, he hated criminal jargon, for at least a week before he went in, sometimes two or three, because the one yearning he did not have was to spend any more time behind bars.
Lady was putting on a short red fox jacket now, which meant maybe there were more furs in there than he'd figured. Thing that had first attracted him to her when he was scoping all the apartments across the way was a sable coat came down to the floor, had to be worth fifty large at least. You could always tell a woman with a new fur coat, she pranced in front of the mirror with it all day long. He decided that going into the apartment for just the sable alone might be worth it, plus whatever other little goodies he might find in there. The building was on South Ealey Street in a section of Isola called Silvermine. It was a doorman building, which usually meant any other kind of security was lacking. The lady was heading for the front door now --
"There we go," Will said out loud.
He still spoke with a Texas twang he should've lost after thirty-seven years on this planet, especially since he'd left the state when he was eighteen and never did go back except for his mother's funeral. He was still a sophomore at UCLA when she died. He guessed maybe her death had something to do with him flunking out the very next year. Her dying so young and all. He sometimes wondered if his life might've turned out different if she hadn't died and he hadn't flunked out of college. He wondered if he'd've become a burglar, anyway. He guessed maybe he would've.
Will gave her ten minutes to get clear.
Then he jumped the airshaft to the roof of her building, and came down the fire escape to the ninth floor. He wasn't expecting any kind of burglar alarm, and there wasn't any. He jimmied the turnbolt lock on the window, and was inside the apartment in ten seconds flat. No need for a flashlight here in the living room at ten in the morning. Anyway, there was nothing to steal in this room but a TV set and a stereo and he wasn't any junkie burglar, thank you. He went into the bedroom, went to the windows first to pull down the shades so nobody would look in and see a guy six feet tall at a buck-ninety roaming a bedroom where a lady lived alone. Only when the shades were down did he go to the wall switch and snap on the overhead lights. Bed nicely made, he surely did appreciate neat people. He yanked back the cover, stripped both pillows of their pillow cases, and then went to the closet. The door was closed. He opened it and found -- well, oh my stars -- not only the long sable coat but a mink stole as well, the lady really had been on a shopping spree. Both were too bulky to fit inside the pillow cases, he tossed them on the bed for now, and went to the dresser.
Everything neatly laid out here, too, rolled nylons and pantyhose in one drawer, tank tops and cotton panties in another, T-shirts and sweaters, all precisely put away as if they were color-coded or something, he figured all at once that either the lady was a nurse or else she'd been in the military. In the top drawer, there was a jewelry box. He opened it. Nothing in it but a bunch of cheap costume jewelry and a long white business envelope with a rubber band around it. He slid the rubber band off, opened the envelope. What he was looking at was a whole big bunch of U.S. currency. He fished in his jacket pocket for his eyeglass case, slipped the glasses out of it, hung them on his nose and his ears, and looked into the envelope again.
The money in there was hundred-dollar bills.
He didn't stop to count them till he was safe at home again in his apartment on South Twelfth Street, just off Stemmler Avenue. This was now close to twelve noon, and it had begun snowing outside. He sat in an easy chair under a lamp with a lamp shade that somehow had ketchup stains on it, and took the white envelope out of his jacket pocket, and then took the rubber band off the envelope again, and took out the bills and began counting them.
What it turned out to be was $8,500 in hundred-dollar bills.
Will hadn't expected such a big haul, and the very idea of sitting alone here four days before Christmas, in an apartment even he admitted was dingy, seemed illogical for a suddenly wealthy individual. He took $500 from the stack of hundreds, put on his coat, and went out whistling.
It was snowing quite heavily by the time Cass got back to the apartment at two-thirty that afternoon. She went into the living room, tossed the red fox jacket over the arm of the sofa, turned on the Christmas tree lights, and then poured herself a Courvoisier on the rocks. Sitting alone in a chair by the window, she sipped the cognac and basked in the winking glow of the Christmas tree, thinking how lucky she was to have a nice apartment like this one in this wonderful city at this very special time of the year. She wondered what she might like to buy next. Or should she wait till after Christmas, when she could get everything on sale? Today was the twenty-first. Christmas wasn't too far off.
She eased out of her pumps, $400 at Bruno Magli, stretched her legs, and suddenly realized just how tired she was. Rising, carrying the shoes in one hand and the brandy snifter in the other, she walked into the bedroom, snapped on the light switch, and almost spilled cognac all over her brand-new dress, $2,100 at Romeo Gigli. The closet door was open. She saw in a single eye swipe that the sable and the mink were gone. All the dresser drawers were open, too. Her envelope with what was left of the Mexican tip money was gone. She felt an immediate sense of violation, someone had been in here, someone had taken her things, gone through her private possessions, taken her goddamn things! She felt as angry as she had when some twerps in Basic pissed in her footlocker, felt like rushing to the still-open window and screaming at the top of her lungs, "You goddamn thief!," a lot of good that would do. Calming herself slightly, but only slightly, she checked the closet and the dresser more closely, trying to ascertain if he'd taken anything more than the obvious. It seemed that was it. Hadn't bothered with the Angela Cummings bracelet she'd bought last week, all shiny and bright in its aqua blue box. Hadn't been lured by the Hermès scarf, or the cashmere sweater, or the pre-Hellenic winged Eros pendant from an antiques shop on Jefferson, had satisfied himself merely -- merely! -- with the sable and the mink and what was $8,500 in cash the last time she'd counted it, the son of a bitch!
She actually pounded the dresser top in anger, pounded it again and again with her closed fist, screaming, "You mother-fucking son of a bitch bastard!," obscenities she hadn't used since the war, and then calmed down just a little bit and went to the phone and dialed 911.
Will was telling the blonde that he'd been born and raised in San Antonio, Texas, but that he hadn't been back there in quite a while.
"What's the Will for?" she asked. "William?"
"No, Wilbur," he said.
"Wilbur Struthers is what it is, ma'am."
She almost burst out laughing. She didn't. She even managed to keep herself from smiling, which he certainly appreciated. They were sitting in a booth in a bar called Flanagan's, on Twenty-first and Culver. Will had first ordered a bottle of Veuve Cliquot, which the waiter didn't know what it was, or care to know, it was that kind of bar. So he had asked Jasmine -- that was her name -- what she might prefer instead, and she had ordered a Harvey Wallbanger, and he had ordered a bourbon and water for himself, and they were now on their third drink each, with their knees touching under the table, and their heads very close together above the table. He figured if he played this one correctly, she would soon be in his bed back at the apartment.
He told her how he'd booked onto a tramp steamer after he quit college, headed for the Pacific Rim, found himself in Cambodia just about when the Khmer Rouge were rampaging there, got himself taken prisoner, and spent two years waiting for them to blow his brains out before he attempted a daring escape that landed him first in Manila and next in Singapore. Jasmine figured he was full of shit, but he had the tall rugged look of a cowboy, wearing a dark blue turtleneck that complemented the lighter blue of his eyes. Gray sports jacket, darker gray slacks. His hair a sort of sunwashed brown, rather than truly blond. Good strong face, good strong hands. Southern accent -- or whatever it was -- that didn't hurt the Home-on-the-Range image. Too bad he's a trick, she thought, although he hadn't yet asked her how much this would cost him, or anything so crass as that, which she considered the sign of a true gent. She figured he'd get around to it sooner or later, but meanwhile she enjoyed listening to him tell her about the time a Khmer Rouge soldier put the barrel of a pistol in his mouth, which only happened to her every night of the week, more or less.
When it got time to pay for the drinks, Will handed the waiter a hundred-dollar bill, and then asked her if she'd made any other plans for the night. If she hadn't, did she think she might enjoy accompanying him back to his place? Perhaps they could find a liquor store that sold Veuve Cliquot, a truly astonishing champagne, he told her, which they could drink while watching a movie on HBO. She still figured he was full of shit, but she thought this might be a good time to mention that she got five bills for the night, Around-the-World understood, of course.
"I'm a working girl," she said. "I thought you knew."
"I'm sorry, ma'am, I surely didn't."
"So what do you think?"
"I never paid for a lady's favors in my life," Will said.
"Always a first time, cowboy. Teach you things you never dreamt of."
"I dreamt most everything," he said.
"Does that mean yes or no?"
"I guess it means no," he said. "I'm sorry."
"No sorrier'n I am," Jasmine said, and picked up her handbag and said, "Have a nice Christmas," and threw her coat over her shoulders and went swiveling toward the front door, passing within a few feet of where the waiter was handing Will's hundred-dollar bill to the cashier.
The cashier, a woman named Savina Girasole, held up the bill to the light to check the otherwise invisible polyester strip. The embedded security tape revealed itself at once, the upside down USA 100 USA 100 USA 100 repeating itself over and over again down the left hand side of the bill. So it's genuine, Savina thought. But there was something about the feel of it -- well, not exactly the feel, the paper certainly felt as reliable as any other U.S. bill. But...
Well...the look of it.
The funny writing in ink across Franklin's face, for one thing. The smell of it, too. It had a sort of sweet smell. Savina didn't normally go around sniffing money that came in, but this bill really did have an odd aroma. Not like marijuana, nothing like that. More like some kind of cheap perfume. As if it had been between the breasts of some girl who bought her brassieres off downtown pushcarts.
The guy whose bill it was sat in the booth all alone now, nursing his drink as sad as could be. He looked like an all-American back yard barbecue champ, which didn't mean he was above passing a phony hundred-dollar bill, which if it ended up in her cash register would cause Mr. O'Brien to fire her. Ronnie O'Brien was the owner of the place and not anybody named Flanagan, no matter what it said on the sign outside. Savina didn't want to lose her job. So she picked up the phone resting alongside the credit card machine, and called the number she had Scotch-taped to the side of the cash register.
"So as I understand this," one of the detectives was telling Cass, "all this guy took is two expensive furs, is that it?"
"Yes, that's it," Cass said.
She hadn't mentioned the missing cash, and she didn't intend to.
"One of them a full-length sable coat..."
"Yes, from Revillon."
"How much would you say it's worth, Miss?"
"Forty-five thousand dollars," she said.
"And the mink stole? How much was that worth?"
"You should insure things, Miss."
"I intended to."
"Your initials in either of them?"
"Both of them."
"And what would those initials be?"
"Cassandra Jean Ridley."
"Could you please spell Ridley for us?"
"R-I-D-L-E-Y," she said. "What are the chances of getting them back?"
One of the detectives was redheaded. With a white streak in his hair. The other was short. She figured the chances were nil.
"We have a very good recovery record, don't we, Hal?" the redheaded one said.
"Well, so-so," the short one said, and smiled.
Which confirmed Cass's doubts.
"We'll let you know if we come up with anything," the redheaded one said. "Here's my card, I'll write my beeper number on the back in case you think of anything else." The card said he was Detective/Second Grade Cotton Hawes of the Eighty-seventh Detective Squad.
"Thank you," Cass said, though she couldn't imagine what else she might think of to call them about.
"We know just how you feel," the short one said.
"Oops!" the redheaded one said, and stopped dead in his tracks and bent to pick up a black eyeglass case on the floor near the dresser. "Almost stepped on them," he said.
Cass did not wear eyeglasses.
"Thank you," she said at once, and took the case.
"Have a nice Christmas," the short one said.
"You, too," Cass said.
She led them to the door, and locked it behind them. The minute they were gone, she looked at the name and address imprinted on the case in barely legible gold letters:
Eyewear Fashions, Inc.
1137 Stemmler Avenue
(corner of 22nd Street)
Cass went to the closet for her red fox jacket.
The knock on the door came at a little past four that afternoon. Will went to the door and said, "Yes?"
"Secret Service," a voice said. "Mind opening the door for us?"
Secret what? Will thought.
"Say again?" he said.
"Special Agent David A. Horne," the voice said. "Few questions I'd like to ask you, sir. Routine matter."
Which to Will meant he ought to go out the window this very minute. Trouble was, there was no fire escape outside the window.
"Just a minute, let me put something on," he said, even though he was fully clothed. In the next thirty seconds, he debated whether he should go hide the stolen hundred-dollar bills in the toilet tank or the freezer compartment of the fridge, both of which places would be searched at once if this was related to the burglary he'd committed on South Ealey. He decided to play it cool.
"Just a minute," he said again, and went to the door and opened it.
The man standing there was tall and thin and blue-jowled, wearing a neon blue parka and a woolen hat with ear flaps. "Special Agent David A. Horne," he said again, "with an 'e,' " and opened a little leather case to show a gold star that looked like the ones the Texas Rangers carried back home. Will tried to think if there were any outstanding warrants on him back home. He couldn't think of a single one.
"Good evening," he said. "What can I do for you?"
"It's still afternoon," Horne corrected. "Is your name Wilbur Struthers?"
"Ask me in," Horne said, and smiled.
"Sure, come on in," Will said.
He was somewhat frightened now, but he spoke calmly and politely because it was always best to be polite to policemen. Even back home in Texas, Will spoke politely to policemen, whose long suit was definitely not courtesy. But Horne was a Secret Service agent with considerably more sophistication, he hoped. He stepped into the room now, looking around as if there might be an accomplice or two lurking about.
"You were in Flanagan's earlier today," Horne said. It was not a question.
"That's right," Will said.
The hooker, he thought at once. Something happened to the hooker, so now the Secret Service is here to question me about her. He hoped it was nothing serious. He hoped nobody had killed her or raped her.
"You had some drinks there," Horne said.
Had she been poisoned?
"You paid for them with a hundred-dollar bill," Horne said. "This bill," he said, and removed from the inside pocket of the bulky blue parka a narrow folder that looked like the kind you put money in for a Christmas gift to your mailman or your doorman, except that it had a gold star embossed on the front of it. Horne opened the folder and took a hundred-dollar bill from it. "Recognize it?" he asked, and handed it to Will.
"All hundred-dollar bills look alike to me," he said.
"Where'd you get this hundred-dollar bill?" Horne asked.
"I won it in a crap game," Will said.
"Won a hundred dollars in a crap game."
"Yes, I did."
"Where? What crap game?"
"Pickup game on Laramie," he said.
"Where on Laramie?"
"Don't recall the address," he said.
Two different agendas here, he was thinking. Man here wants to know all about this hundred-dollar bill, I want to make sure he don't find out I stole it.
"This all you won in the crap game?"
"Just the hundred, that's all."
"Went out to spend it, is that right?"
Listen, he thought, why the fuck are you asking all these questions?
But knew better than to say.
Two different agendas here.
"I talked to a girl named Jasmine before I came up here," Horne said.
"Got your name from her."
"Ran a computer check."
Will said nothing.
"Seems you ran into a little trouble here in this city, is that right, Wilbur?"
"It's Will, by the way."
"Sorry, I didn't know that, Will."
"That's okay," Will said.
He was thinking it still didn't take the curse off the oldest cop trick in the world, calling a suspected perp by his first name, which reduced him to the status of a menial. What this was here was Will and Mr. David Horne.
"Burglarized a gas station seven years ago, did time for the deed up at Castleview. That the only burglary you ever committed, Will?"
"The one and only," Will lied.
"That's commendable," Horne said. "But nonetheless, on the basis of this hundred-dollar bill here, I was able to obtain a search warrant."
"I believe you heard me," Horne said, and handed Will a court order with a judge's signature and all on the bottom of it, authorizing a search of this very apartment for monies paid as ransom...
"Ransom?" Will said.
"Ransom in a kidnapping, is what it says. Ransom money, Will."
"That's not my bill," Will said at once. "I told you. I won it in a crap game."
"Well, that's good, Will, because the serial numbers on this bill match the serial numbers on one of the bills paid as ransom in a kidnapping case we're investigating. Do you understand the implications of that?"
"I'm not a kidnapper," Will said.
"That's good, too, Will, because I have a search warrant to look for any other bills that may have been part of the ransom payment," Horne said, and took off the blue parka to reveal a dark blue suit, a white shirt, and a red tie. The suit jacket was taut over bulging pectorals and broad shoulders. The man was a fitness freak. He took off the hat with the ear flaps, revealing a head of very black, very thick hair.
"Is it the President?" Will asked.
"Is what the President?"
"Who got kidnapped?"
"I have to warn you not to say anything that might prove incriminating," Horne said.
Oh, Jesus, it's the President, Will thought. Because if it wasn't the President, then what was the Secret Service doing in this? It was the FBI who investigated kidnappings, wasn't it? All the Secret Service did was protect the President of the United States. And his family. So it had to be somebody in the White House who'd got kidnapped.
Horne was moving over to the closet now, where the bills sat in a shoe box on the shelf over the hanging sable coat and mink stole, both of which Will had also stolen. I can run right this minute, he thought, go visit my cousin Earl living in Fort Worth with a girl used to be Miss Texas in the Miss America contest, came within a curly blond crotch hair of winning it. Spend a few weeks down there till this whole kidnapping thing blew over, which he hadn't done anyway, damn it! All he'd done was burglarize a fucking apartment!
"Well, well, what have we here?" Horne said.
He was looking in at the sable coat and the mink stole.
"Your search warrant says you're supposed to look for money," Will said.
"These are in plain view," Horne said.
"In plain view" was an expression the police used when they appropriated something without benefit of a search warrant.
"They're my girlfriend's," Will said.
"What's her name?"
"Jasmine. Who you talked to."
"She told us you only just met," Horne said.
"Well, that's true."
"And she left her furs here?"
"She trusts me."
Horne gave him a look. But he didn't pursue the matter of the furs any further, perhaps because his mind was on the President's kidnapping, who it had to be, or else someone in his family, otherwise why the Secret Service? I ought to run for it right this minute, Will thought. Horne was reaching for a shoe box on the shelf. Run for it or not? Will thought. Horne took down the box. Which? Horne took the lid off the box and looked into it. He reached in for a white envelope with a rubber band around it. He took the rubber band off the envelope. He opened the envelope.
"Well, well," he said again.
"That's not plain view," Will said.
"Now it is," Horne said, and fanned the bills. "Where'd you get these little mothers?"
"Same crap game," Will said.
Horne began counting.
"This is a lot of money here," he said.
"Yeah, it was a big crap game."
"Looks like five, six thousand dollars here."
"More like eight," Will said.
"You won eight thousand dollars in a crap game?"
"I got lucky."
"Who was in this game?"
"Bunch of guys I never saw in my life."
"So let me get this straight, Will," Horne said. "You're asking me to believe that one or more of the men in this crap game of yours could have been the kidnappers to whom these bills were paid as ransom, is that it?"
"I guess that's it," Will said.
He knew he was already in the toilet. He knew Horne would yank out a gun and a pair of handcuffs in the next minute. He'd be spending Christmas Day in jail for a goddamn kidnapping he didn't do.
"Listen," he said, "you really do have the wrong person here."
"Maybe so," Horne said, and gave him a long, hard look.
Will's hands were shaking. He put them in his pockets so Horne wouldn't see. He hated himself for being so goddamn scared here, but he couldn't help it. A kidnapping was serious stuff.
"Tell you what," Horne said.
"What I think I should do is confiscate this money here," Horne said. "Give you a receipt for it, check the serial numbers downtown, get back to you later today."
Sure, Will thought.
Secret Service or not, every cop in the world was identical to every other cop, and they were all fuckin crooks. Next thing you knew, eight thousand bucks would find its way into a fund for the widows of Secret Service men who had died in the line of duty. Only thing he didn't understand was why Horne was granting a possible kidnapper the opportunity to flee. He watched as the man meticulously copied the serial numbers on all the bills, signed the sheet of paper with the numbers on it, and handed it to Will. He looked for his parka, found it where he'd draped it over one of the chairs, and put it on.
"I don't have to warn you not to leave the city," he said.
"Not while you've got all my money," Will said.
"See you later," Horne said, and put on the hat with the ear flaps, and walked out of the apartment.
It was twenty minutes to five.
So what do I do now? Will wondered.
Hell, I'm an innocent man here!
Except for the burglary.
But Horne hadn't been interested in any burglary, Horne didn't even know any burglary had happened. Horne had been interested only in the hundred-dollar bills that had maybe or maybe not been paid as ransom in a kidnapping case he was investigating -- but how come the Secret Service? Anyway, that was the entire scope of Special Agent David A. Horne's interest. The money. Check the serial numbers. If they match, come fetch old Wilbur here.
But let's say the serial numbers do not match. I mean, out of all the millions of apartments in this city, what are the odds on my breaking into the only one that happens to be the apartment of a redhead who'd done a kidnapping and stashed the ransom money there? What are the odds on that kind of thing happening? I mean, really. A thousand to one? A million to one? I'll take odds like that on a horse any day of the week.
So the odds have got to be in my favor, right? The serial numbers will not match, Horne will come back with my money, I'll sign off on the receipt, and he'll apologize for having taken so much of my time.
I hope, he thought.
At five minutes to six that Thursday evening, Cass walked into Eyewear Fashions, Inc. on Stemmler Avenue and Twenty-second Street. The evening was clear and cold. Pinprick points of stars dotted a black sky, and the streets and sidewalks glistened with fresh snow, but Cass did not have a white Christmas on her mind. All she wanted to do was find the man who'd taken her money and her mink stole and her long sable coat, which should have been keeping her toasty warm on this frighteningly cold day. She'd been a cold puppy all her life, and the first thing she'd purchased from the money she'd earned on the Mexico job was the sable. Hell with people who went around in the nude protesting the wearing of furs. Anyone ever tried to spray paint on her furs was somebody who'd better already own a funeral plot.
Instead of the stolen sable, she was wearing the short red fox jacket over blue jeans and a green turtleneck sweater, freezing her ass off nonetheless. One of the reasons she'd left Fall River, Massachusetts, was that it had been so damn cold up there. That and her father shouting hell and damnation at her day and night. Her mother was a mathematics teacher. Cass guessed she thought it made sense to marry a Presbyterian minister and then present him with two daughters, one of whom grew up to be a holy person like Papa. The second and youngest, Cassandra Jean Ridley herself, fed up to here, ran away from home instead. Went to live on a commune in New Hampshire, which was even colder than it was here on this street corner in Isola. Left there when the group's youth advisor came into her room naked one midnight clear, determined to read to her out loud a short story from Hustler magazine. Cass clobbered him with a frying pan.
"Hi," she said to the man behind the counter, "my name is Harriet Daniels," which was the name of the woman who'd run the rooming house she'd lived in down in Eagle Branch, Texas. "I found an eyeglass case with your store name on it, and I was wondering if you could help me locate the owner of the glasses."
"Well, gee, I don't know," the man said.
"You are?" she asked.
"Wesley Hand," he said.
He was perhaps twenty-eight or twenty-nine, a round little man with moist blue eyes and a pleasant looking face except for the complexion. He looked sincerely concerned about the eyeglass case she now put on the counter top. He also looked bewildered. She guessed that was his natural expression.
"Is there some way you could do that for me?" she asked. "Help me locate the owner?"
"That might be difficult," he said. "Except for some very special prescriptions, most eyeglasses..."
"Isn't there some machine or something you can put them on?" she asked. "To see what the prescription is?"
"Well, sure, but..."
"Because maybe it's one of the special ones, you see."
"I would appreciate it," she said, and flashed what she hoped was a warm and convincing smile.
"I close at six," he said, and glanced up at the clock.
"Well, how long would it take...?"
"And I have to be someplace."
"The thing is, I found them earlier today," she said. "So chances are he'll be missing them by now."
"So could you put these on your machine and see if...?"
"Not now," he said. He was already moving around the counter toward a small closet on the side of the shop. "Call me tomorrow morning," he said.
"Thank you," she said. He was putting on his coat. "I appreciate it," she said, and smiled sweetly.
You prick, she thought.
Horne came back to see Will at ten-thirty that night. He came unannounced, and when he pressed the buzzer downstairs to say he was there, Will was enormously surprised. He'd never expected to see those hundred-dollar bills again. Tonight, Horne was wearing a blue car coat with a faux fur collar, wide wale, dark brown corduroy trousers, and a brown fedora. By comparison to this afternoon, he looked positively dapper.
"Will, I must apologize," he said.
"Why's that?" Will asked.
"These are not the ransom bills."
"I didn't think they were," Will said, but he was tremendously relieved nonetheless.
"We checked the serial numbers, and except for that one bill they simply didn't match. So...I'm sorry for whatever inconvenience the Department may have caused you..."
"What department is that, by the way?"
"Why, the Treasury Department," Horne said, looking surprised. "The U.S. Secret Service is part of the Treasury Department."
"I didn't know that," Will said.
"Not many people do," Horne said. "So if you'll just let me have that receipt I gave you earlier today..."
"Okay," Will said, and fished in his wallet for it.
Horne carried the receipt to the kitchen table, sat, removed from his briefcase a sheaf of hundred-dollar bills, and handed them to Will.
"If you'll just count these," he said.
"I'm sure I can trust the Treasury Department," Will said.
"Even so," Horne said, "I'd feel safer if you counted them."
Will sat across from him at the kitchen table, and began counting the bills. Horne took out his pen and drew a straight line under the list of serial numbers on the receipt. Just below the line, he wrote the words Receipt of $8,OOO acknowledged in full. It took maybe a minute and a half for Will to count all eighty bills. They were all there.
"If you'll just sign this," Horne said, and handed him the pen, and passed the receipt across the table to him. Will signed his name to it. Horne folded the receipt and put it into his briefcase.
"Mr. Struthers," he said, and extended his hand. "Please keep your nose clean."
"You, too, David," Will said, and opened the door for him. Horne stepped out into the hallway. Will closed and locked the door behind him. He listened at the wood until he could no longer hear Horne's footfalls in the hallway or on the steps. Then he whirled away from the door, grinning, and slapped his hand on his thigh and shouted, "Will Struthers, you are one lucky son of a bitch!"
Cass's phone rang at precisely two minutes past ten on Friday morning. Today was the first full day of Hanukkah, the twenty-second of December, three days before Christmas. The man calling was Wesley Hand.
"The optician?" he said.
"Yes, Mr. Hand?"
"I checked the glasses..."
"And?" she said at once.
"As I told you, most prescriptions fall into routine categories," he said, "what we call plus-one biopters, absolutely commonplace. That was the case here. But I remembered the frames. He insisted on the mocha brown frames, even though I said they wouldn't go well with his coloring."
"What was his coloring?" Cass asked.
"Dirty blond hair, blue eyes, the mocha brown frames were all wrong. He'd have done much better with the midnight blue."
"But he insisted on the brown."
"Which is how you remembered him."
"What was his name?" she asked at once.
"I have it right here," he said. "It's Wilbur Struthers."
"Do you have an address for him?"
"I do," Wesley said. "Are you sure it's okay for me to give this to you?"
"Oh, yes, I'm positive. May I have it, please?"
"Please?" she said.
"Well," he said again, and read off the address like a prisoner of war revealing under torture the location of an infantry division.
"I can't thank you enough," Cass said.
"Yes?" a man's voice said.
"Delivery," she said.
"What kind of delivery?"
"Pair of eyeglasses," she said.
"I'm from Eyewear Fashions. Somebody found your glasses, brought them in this morning. Did you want me to bring them up?"
"Thank you, yes, come on up. Hey, terrific. It's 2C, on the second floor."
The buzzer sounded. Cass opened the entry door at once and felt in her tote bag for the reassuring grip of the Browning automatic. No elevator, of course. She climbed the steps to the second floor and yanked the gun out of the bag as she came down the corridor. She used the muzzle to tap gently on the door to 2C.
When Will opened the door, he saw the redheaded woman whose apartment he'd ripped off. Moreover, she was holding in her fist what appeared to be a .45 automatic. He tried to slam the door shut on her, but she hit it with her shoulder at once, shoving it in against him, almost knocking him off his feet, he hadn't realized she was that strong. She was in the apartment in a wink, slamming the door behind her, and whirling on him with the automatic pointed at his head.
"Where's my money?" she asked.
"Don't get excited," he said.
"My money," she said. "My furs," she said. "You're a thief," she said. She kept using the gun for punctuation, which made Will believe she was somewhat unstable and therefore capable of hysterically pulling the trigger.
"Don't get excited," he said again. "Everything's here, all of it's here, no need to go waving the gun around like that."
She was maybe five-eight, five-nine, taller than she'd looked from the rooftop across the way, a tall good-looking redhead wearing a red fox jacket open over blue jeans and a bulky green turtleneck sweater that made her look like Christmas although it was still three days away.
"Get it," she said.
"Would you mind putting up the gun?" he said. "Makes me nervous, you standing there with a gun in your hand."
"Get my stuff," she said.
"Right away," he said.
"You fucking crook," she said.
He wanted to tell her that a Khmer Rouge soldier had once pistol-whipped him with a weapon just like the one in her hand, but instead he went to the closet and took from it the long sable coat and the mink stole, and carried them to where she was standing alongside the sofa, the gun still in her hand, and dumped them onto the cushions, and then went back to the closet to take down from the shelf the shoe box containing what he'd last counted out for Horne as $8,000 dollars in hundred-dollar bills. He was hoping she knew how to handle that big gun in her fist because he sure didn't want to get hurt here.
"Take off the lid," she said, and waved the gun again.
"It's all here, I just counted it last night."
"That what you do in your spare time, you crook? Count other people's money?"
"I'll be happy to count it for you now," he said, taking the rubber-banded white envelope from the box. "Or you might want to put down the gun and do it yourself."
"You count it," she said.
He removed the rubber band, took the bills from the envelope, began counting the money for the second time in as many days, a hundred, two hundred, five hundred, six hundred, seven hundred, eight hundred, nine hundred, a thous...
"Stop!" she said.
"What?" he said.
"Hold it right there!"
"That isn't my money," she said.
"What do you...?"
"That is not my money! What are you trying to pull here?"
"Ma'am, I can assure you..."
"That is not my money! My money had funny marks on it. And it smelled sweet."
"Lady, all money smells sweet."
"Where are the marks?"
"The writing, the funny writing!" She picked up a handful of bills, spread them open like a fan. "Do you see any writing on these bills? These bills are clean! Smell them! Do you smell anything sweet?"
"No, ma'am, but..."
"What did you do with my money?"
"This is your money."
"It is not my money! What'd you do with my money?"
"Lady, I'm telling you for the last time, this is your money. In your envelope. They even gave me a receipt with the serial numbers on it. I had to sign it to..."
"What do you mean? Who?"
"To get the money back. I had to sign the receipt."
"Get it back? Where was it?"
"At the Department."
"What department? What are you talking about?"
"The Treasury Department. A Secret Service agent took the money to check the serial numbers."
Oh Jesus, she thought. Those Mexicans tipped me with hot money. Slowly, trying not to lose control, reminding herself that she had been in worse situations than this -- she had once flown a Chinook helicopter over a desert blooming with black shrapnel, she had flown through horrific firestorms from below and had not lost it, she was not going to lose it now -- slowly, carefully, she asked, "Why did they want to check the serial numbers?"
"Don't worry, they didn't match," he said.
"But why did they want to check them?"
"They thought they were ransom bills."
Calm, she thought. Stay calm. Just hear him out. Just try to get to the bottom of this.
"What ransom?" she asked calmly.
"There was a kidnapping," he said. "The ransom was paid in hundred-dollar bills. They thought these might be the bills."
"What made them think that?" she asked evenly, calmly.
"Because the serial numbers on a bill I cashed..."
"You cashed my money?"
"Just that one bill. I didn't spend any more than that. And the serial numbers on it did match."
Don't shoot him, she thought. Just remain extremely calm.
"Did match what?" she asked.
"Did match the numbers on one of the ransom bills."
"A bill the Secret Service was looking for."
"Why the Secret Service?"
"I don't know."
"And you say they took the rest of the money..."
"Yes. To check the serial numbers. Which did not match. So they brought all of it back."
"Brought back this money here on the table."
"Yes. Your money. In your very envelope. Right there on the table."
She stood there nodding, looking down at the money, trying to make some sense of everything he'd told her. Then she said, "This is not my money."
Will wished she would stop repeating the same words over and over again when her goddamn money was sitting right there on the kitchen table, in plain view for the entire world to see. Why wouldn't she just let him count it, for Christ's sake, and then get out of here with her goddamn furs and her gun?
"Ma'am," he said, "I am telling you for the last time that this is your money that the Treasury Department returned to me. I gave them a signed receipt with all the serial numbers on it, stating that the money was all here because I counted it last night and there was indeed eight thousand dollars here. Now if you'll let me count it for you now, ma'am, I'm sure it will come to eight thousand dollars all over again because nobody has touched a cent of it since Mr. David A. Horne, with an 'e,' left here."
"I'll let you count it for me," she said. "But it isn't my money."
Goddamn broken record, he thought, and began counting all over again. She kept watching the bills as he passed them from one hand to the other, counting, "twenty-one, twenty-two, twenty-three...," shaking her head as if trying to dope out the great mystery of what had happened here, when it was all so simple a caterpillar could grasp it, "thirty-four, thirty-five" and on and on, money, money, money, "fifty-seven, fifty-eight, fifty-nine, sixty," if he had to count these damn bills one more time, "seventy-one, seventy-two..." and at last he counted the eightieth and last bill, and looked up at her and said, "Satisfied?"
She did not answer him. She rubber-banded the bills again, and dropped the wad into her tote, leaving the white envelope on the table. Then she took off the red fox, put on the sable, draped the fox and the mink over her arm...
"Would you like something to carry those in?" he asked.
She looked at him.
"Little bulky that way," he said. "Let me see if I've got anything."
Not trusting him for a minute, she followed him into a bedroom with an unmade bed and what looked like a week's laundry strewn all over the floor. He opened a closet door, rummaged around inside there, and came up with a duffel that looked like the one she'd carried in the Army, except her name and rank weren't stenciled in black on the side.
"Thanks," she said, and folded her furs into the bag, first the fox jacket and then the mink stole. Pulling the drawstrings tight through the grommets, she wondered if she should offer to pay for the duffel, and then asked herself if she was losing her mind, the man here was a thief who'd caused her a great deal of unnecessary trouble. She slung the duffel over her shoulder, backed toward the front door with the gun still in her hand, and without saying another word, walked out.
Will still considered himself lucky.
She'd forgotten to ask for the four hundred dollars and change he still had left over from the five he'd borrowed yesterday.
She stopped at a bank ostensibly to change three of the hundreds into twenties, tens, and fives, but actually to test the bills. She was still wondering why a Secret Service agent had exchanged her own world-weary hundreds for these obviously used but relatively fresh ones, and she was relieved when the teller held them up to the light to check the security strip, and then changed them without raising either an eyebrow or a fuss. It was close to three when she came out of the bank but yesterday had been the shortest day of the year, and with the heavy clouds overhead, the afternoon seemed already succumbing to dusk. The day was still piercingly cold. She was grateful for the sable, luxuriating in its long silken swirl, feeling like a Russian empress all at once, $8,000 in cash in her handbag, the city all aglitter for Christmas, what more could a person wish for?
How about caviar and champagne? she thought.
The two men were sitting in their overcoats, one on either side of the Christmas tree in her living room. They popped out of the dusky gloom the moment she turned on the lights. The larger of the two men had a gun in his hand and it was pointing up at Cass's head.
"Buenas noches," he said and smiled. "We are here for dee money."
She thought at once that it was really shitty of Wilbur Struthers to recruit two Latino goons to reclaim the money he'd stolen from her in the first place, the son of a bitch. But here they were, both of them smiling now, somewhat apologetically it seemed to her, but perhaps she was mistaken. She put down the brown paper bag with the caviar she'd bought at Hildy's Market and the Dom Perignon she'd bought in the liquor store on Twenty-sixth Street.
"What money?" she said.
"One million seven hun'red t'ousan dollars," the one on the other side of the tree said.
"I think you're in the wrong apartment," she said.
"I don't theenk so," the first one said.
Very heavy Spanish accents on both of them, something suddenly clicked. The men on the narrow dirt strip in Guenerando, Mexico, except that earlier this month they'd been wearing baggy white cotton pants and wrinkled shirts.
"I don't know what money you're talking about," she said.
"Dee money we paid you for a hun'red kilos of pure cocaine," the one with the gun said.
"I don't want to know anything about that cargo," she said.
"You delivered the money, we gave you dee fockin cocaine..."
"I didn't know what the cargo was. I don't know anything about the money, either. All I did was hand it over."
"We know that."
"We know you were only dee messenger."
"We want to know who gave you dee money."
"I don't know his name. Look, if the money was short, I'm sorry. You should have counted it more carefully. Anyway..."
"We did coun' it carefully."
"It took us a fockin hour to coun' it."
"We counted it very carefully."
"Dee money wassen short," the one with the gun said. "Who gave it to you?"
"I told you, I don't..."
"His name, por favor."
The gun was in her face now.
"He called himself Frank. But I'm sure that wasn't his real name."
"All he gave me was Frank."
"Where wass this?"
"I was living in Eagle Branch at the time. He was introduced to me by someone I know."
"And his name? The one who introduce you?"
"I don't want to get anyone in trouble. If the money was short..."
"Dee money wassen short."
The gun in her face again.
"We delivered quality cocaine. We expected..."
"I don't want to know about it."
"Where wass this in Eagle Branch?"
"Tell us his name. The one who introduce you."
She suddenly wondered how much Randy Biggs had got for introducing her to the man who'd paid her $200,000 for making four trips to Mexico, to transport -- at least on the last trip, anyway -- what now turned out to be cocaine.
"Wha' wass his name?" the one with the gun said again.
"I told you..."
"We don' want to kill you," the other one said.
"Then tell him to put the gun away."
"Su nombre," the one with the gun said.
She knew with absolute certainty that he would kill her in the next instant if she did not give up Randolph Biggs. She wondered what she owed Randy, wondered what she owed the one who'd called himself Frank and who seemed to have offended these men in some unspeakable way. She decided this was not the Persian Gulf. She was not sworn to tell them only her name, rank, and serial number.
"His name was Randolph Biggs," she said.
Copyright © 2002 by
Posted December 18, 2002
Great book! Quite a different twist with the lions. This book keeps you guessing all the way through. I have been an Ed McBain fan since the late 1960's and have ALL the 87th Precinct series books, except one (out of print). I reread the books and thoroughly enjoy them all over again!
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Posted September 10, 2001
Great characters and good writing move this novel at a strong pace. Enjoyable to read. The first book written by Mr. McBain I have read, but am headed back to BN.com for more. I liked the flying connection.
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Posted December 9, 2008
It may be Christmas time, but for the cops of the 87th Precinct, crime remains the same year round. The season to be Jolly presents the police officers with the case of drug pilot Cassandra Ridley, found to be a Yuletide snack for the lions living in the Grover Park Zoo. Cassandra was carrying $10,000 all counterfeit. The case crosses precincts since one of her legs was chewed on in the 88th while the brunt of the corpse resided in the 87th. Detectives Steve Carella and Oliver Wendell Weeks share the investigation. <P>The two cops follow the money trail that apparently is somewhere between 1.7 and 1.9 million. However, other individuals from a less savory side of life also trail the cash including government men and hit women. With their personal problems and desires also at the forefront, the police find this investigation keeps turning screwier as Carella and Weeks get closer to the truth. <P> For this reviewer¿s money, Ed McBain¿s 87th police procedural novels are the yardsticks that every other sub-genre author strives to match, but few come close. His fifty-first tale in the long running series, MONEY, MONEY, MONEY, shows why he¿s the MAN even though the well written story line requires a stretch to believe in a conspiracy. The cops are human with troubles and desires outside the precinct and a struggle with the case, which is serious yet deftly, includes humor. Anyone, who wants a smooth ride in a police cruiser, Mr. McBain¿s investigative trip is the ticket to enjoyment as it has been since the mid-fifties. <P>Harriet Klausner
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