The Hochmann Miniatures

The Hochmann Miniatures

by Robert L. Fish

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Overview

To repay a wartime debt, a master smuggler ventures out into the open in this Edgar Award–nominated short story

The customs agent’s eyes go wide when he reads the passport. It is Kek Huuygens, the notorious smuggler who has grown rich making border guards look like fools. Today he is returning from Switzerland, a box of chocolates packed in his briefcase. The guard confiscates the chocolates, which he is certain must contain diamonds, but he lets Huuygens keep the wrapper as proof of his purchase. Huuygens resists the urge to smile, for the wrapper contains a priceless piece of sheet music, written in Bach’s own hand. He has beaten them once again.
 
He is toasting his triumph when a call comes through from Lisbon: an old friend from the war, when Huuygens waged guerilla warfare against the Nazis. The call leads to a peculiar reunion, and a chance for a coup that will remind every border agent in Europe why he curses the name Kek Huuygens.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781480477117
Publisher: MysteriousPress.com/Open Road
Publication date: 06/16/2015
Series: The Kek Huuygens Mysteries , #1
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 175
File size: 5 MB

About the Author

Robert L. Fish, the youngest of three children, was born on August 21, 1912, in Cleveland, Ohio. He attended the local schools in Cleveland and went to Case University (now Case Western Reserve), from which he graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering. He married Mamie Kates, also from Cleveland, and together they have two daughters. Fish worked as a civil engineer, traveling and moving throughout the United States. In 1953 he was asked to set up a plastics factory in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He and his family moved to Brazil, where they remained for nine years. He played golf and bridge in the little spare time he had. One rainy weekend in the late 1950s, when the weather prohibited him from playing golf, he sat down and wrote a short story that he submitted to Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. When the story was accepted, Fish continued to write short stories. In 1962 he returned to the United States; he took one year to write full time and then returned to engineering and writing. His first novel, The Fugitive, won an Edgar Award for Best First Mystery. When his health prevented him from pursuing both careers, Fish retired from engineering and spent his time writing. His published works include more than forty books and countless short stories. Mute Witness was made into a movie starring Steve McQueen.
 
Fish died February 23, 1981, at his home in Connecticut. Each year at the annual Mystery Writers of America dinner, a memorial award is presented in his name for the best first short story. This is a fitting tribute, as Fish was always eager to assist young writers with their craft.
Robert L. Fish, the youngest of three children, was born on August 21, 1912, in Cleveland, Ohio. He attended the local schools in Cleveland and went to Case University (now Case Western Reserve), from which he graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering. He married Mamie Kates, also from Cleveland, and together they have two daughters. Fish worked as a civil engineer, traveling and moving throughout the United States. In 1953 he was asked to set up a plastics factory in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He and his family moved to Brazil, where they remained for nine years. He played golf and bridge in the little spare time he had. One rainy weekend in the late 1950s, when the weather prohibited him from playing golf, he sat down and wrote a short story that he submitted to Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. When the story was accepted, Fish continued to write short stories. In 1962 he returned to the United States; he took one year to write full time and then returned to engineering and writing. His first novel, The Fugitive, won an Edgar Award for Best First Mystery. When his health prevented him from pursuing both careers, Fish retired from engineering and spent his time writing. His published works include more than forty books and countless short stories. Mute Witness was made into a movie starring Steve McQueen.

Fish died February 23, 1981, at his home in Connecticut. Each year at the annual Mystery Writers of America dinner, a memorial award is presented in his name for the best first short story. This is a fitting tribute, as Fish was always eager to assist young writers with their craft.

Read an Excerpt

The Hochmann Miniatures

A Kek Huuygens Mystery


By Robert L. Fish

MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media

Copyright © 1967 Robert L. Fish
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4804-7711-7


CHAPTER 1

The year was 1954, the month was September, and the weather was hot.

Claude Devereaux, one of the large and overworked staff of customs inspectors at the incoming-passenger section of Orly airport, tilted his stiff-brimmed cap back from his sweating forehead, leaned over to scrawl an indecipherable chalkmark on the suitcase before him, and then straightened up, wondering what imbecile had designed the uniform he wore, and if the idiot had ever suffered its heavy weight on a hot day. He nodded absently to the murmured thank you of the released passenger and turned to his next customer, automatically accepting the passport thrust at him, wondering if there might still be time after his shift to stop for a bière before going home. Probably not, he thought with a sigh, and brought his attention back to business.

He noted the name in the green booklet idly, and was about to ask for declaration forms, when he suddenly stiffened, the oppressive heat—and even the beer—instantly forgotten. The bulletins on the particular name he was staring at filled a large portion of his special-instruction book. His eyes slid across the page to the smiling, rather carefree photograph pasted beside the neat signature, and then raised slowly and wonderingly to study the person across the counter.

He saw a man he judged to be in his early or middle thirties, a bit above medium height, well dressed in the latest and most expensive fashion of the boulevardier, with broad shoulders that seemed just a trifle out of proportion with his otherwise slim and athletic body. The thick, curly hair, a bit tousled by a rather bumpy ride over the Alps, was already lightly touched with gray; it gave a certain romantic air to the strong, clean-shaven face below. Mercurial eyebrows slanted abruptly over gray eyes that, the official was sure, undoubtedly proved very attractive to women. He came to himself with a start; at the moment those gray eyes were beginning to dissipate their patience under the other's blatant inspection. Claude Devereaux suspected—quite rightly—that those soft eyes could become quite cold and hard if the circumstances warranted. He bent forward with a diffident smile, lowering his voice.

"M'sieu Huuygens...."

The man before him nodded gravely. "Yes?"

"I am afraid...."

"Afraid of what?" Kek Huuygens asked curiously.

The official raised his shoulders, smiling in a slightly embarrassed manner, although the glint in his eyes was anything but disconcerted.

"Afraid that I must ask you to step into the chief inspector's office," he said smoothly, and immediately raised his palms, negating any personal responsibility. "Those are our instructions, m'sieu."

"Merde! A nuisance!" The gray eyes studied the official thoughtfully a moment, as if attempting to judge the potential venality of the other. "I don't suppose there is any other solution?"

"M'sieu?"

"No, I suppose not." The notion was dismissed with an impatient shake of the head. "Each and every time I come through French customs! Ridiculous!" He shrugged. "Well, I suppose if one must, one must."

"Exactly," Devereaux agreed politely. What a story to tell his wife! No less a scoundrel than the famous Kek Huuygens himself had come through his station in customs, and had actually tried to bribe him! Well, not exactly to bribe him, but there had been an expression in those gray eyes for a moment that clearly indicated.... The inspector dismissed the thought instantly. If his wife thought for one minute that he had turned down a bribe, she would never let him hear the end of it. Better just tell her.... He paused. Better say nothing at all, he thought sourly, feeling somehow deprived of something, and then became aware that he was being addressed. He came to attention at once. "M'sieu?"

"The chief inspector's office? If you recall?"

"Ah, yes! If m'sieu will just follow me...."

"And about my luggage?"

"Your luggage?" Claude Devereaux looked along the now vacant wooden counter, instantly brought from his dream, immediately on the alert. The bulletins had been most definite about this one! Watch him! Watch him constantly! Watch his every move! His eyes returned to the man before him suspiciously.

"You mean your briefcase? Or is there more?"

"It's all I have, but it's still my luggage." Kek suddenly smiled at the other confidingly, willing to let bygones be bygones, accepting the fact that the inspector was merely doing his job. "I prefer to travel light, you know. A toothbrush, a clean pair of socks, a fresh shirt...." He looked about easily, as if searching out a safe spot where no careless porter might inadvertently pick up the briefcase and deposit it unbidden at the taxi-rank, or where someone with less honest intent might not steal it. "If I might leave it someplace out of the way...."

The official glanced at the high-vaulted ceiling with small attempt to hide his amusement, and then looked down again. Really, there had to be some way he could tell this story to his wife, or at least to his girl friend! It was just too delicious! He shook his head pityingly.

"I'm afraid, m'sieu, that your briefcase must go with you to the chief inspector's office." He brightened falsely. "In fact, I'll even carry it for you."

"You're very kind," Huuygens murmured, and followed along.

Charles Dumas, chief inspector of the Orly section, looked up from his cluttered desk at the entrance of the two men, leaned back in his chair with resignation, and audibly sighed. Today, obviously, he should have stayed home, or, better yet, gone to the club. The small office was baking in the unusual heat of the morning; the small fan droning in one corner was doing so without either enthusiasm or effectiveness; he was beginning to get a headache from the tiny print which somehow seemed to be the only font size available to the printing office, and now this! He accepted the proffered passport in silence, indicated with the merest motion of his head where he wished the briefcase deposited, and dismissed Inspector Devereaux with the tiniest lifting of his eyebrows. Even these efforts seemed to exhaust him; he waited until the disappointed inspector had reluctantly closed the door behind him, and then riffled through the pages of the passport. He paused at the fresh immigration stamp and then looked up with a faint grimace.

"M'sieu Huuygens...."

Kek seated himself on the one wooden chair the small office offered its guests, wriggled it a bit to make sure it was secure, and then looked up, studying the other's face. He leaned back, crossing his legs, and shook his head.

"Really, Inspector," he said a bit plaintively, "I fail to understand the expression on your face. It appears to me if anyone has reason to be aggrieved, it's me. This business of a personal interview each time I come through customs...."

"Please." A pudgy hand came up wearily, interrupting. The chief inspector sighed and studied the passport almost as if he had never seen one before. "So you've been traveling again?"

"Obviously."

"To Switzerland this time, I see." The dark eyes came up from the booklet, inscrutable. "A rather short trip, was it not?"

Kek tilted his chair back against the wall, crossing his arms, resigning himself to the inevitable catechism. "Just a weekend."

"On business?"

"To avoid the heat of Paris for a few days, if you must know."

"I see...." The chief inspector sighed again. "And I also see that you have nothing to declare. But, then, you seldom do."

The chair eased down softly. Huuygens considered the inspector quietly for several seconds, and then nodded as if seeing the logic of the other's position.

"All right," he said agreeably. "If you people are sincerely interested in a soiled shirt and an old pair of socks, I'll be happy to declare them. What's the duty on a used toothbrush?" He suddenly grinned. "Not used as often as the advertisements suggest, but used."

"I'm quite sure you are as familiar with the duty schedule as anyone in my department," Inspector Dumas said quietly, and reached for the briefcase, drawing it closer. "May I?"

Without awaiting a reply he undid the straps, pressed the latch, and began drawing the contents out upon the table. He pushed the soiled clothing to one side, opened the shaving kit and studied it a moment, placed it at his elbow, and then reached further into the depths of the briefcase.

"Ah?" His voice was the essence of politeness itself. "And just what might this be?"

"Exactly what it looks like," Kek said, in the tone one uses to explain an obvious verity to a child. "A box of chocolates."

The chief inspector turned the package in his hands idly, admiring the patterned wrapping embossed in gold with the name of the shop, and the rather gaudy display of ribbon bent into an ornate bow. "A box of chocolates...." His eyebrows raised in exaggerated curiosity. "Which you somehow feel does not require declaring?"

Huuygens cast his eyes heavenward as if in secret amusement. "Good heavens, Inspector! A box of candy I faithfully promised as a gift to a lady, worth all of twenty Swiss francs!" He shrugged elaborately and came to his feet with a faint smile. "Well, all right. It's silly, I assure you, but if you wish it declared, I'll declare it. May I have my form back, please?"

The briefest of smiles crossed Inspector Dumas's lips, and then was withdrawn as quickly as it had come. He waved a hand languidly. "Please be seated again, M'sieu Huuygens. I'm afraid it is far from being all that simple."

Huuygens stared at him a moment and then sank back in his chair. "Are you trying to tell me something, Inspector?"

The inspector's smile returned, broader this time, remaining. "I'm trying to tell you I believe I am beginning to become interested in these chocolates, m'sieu." His hand remained on the box; his voice was suave. "If I'm not mistaken, m'sieu, while you were in Switzerland yesterday—to avoid the heat of Paris, as you say—you visited the offices of Ankli and Company. The diamond merchants. Did you not?"

Kek's voice was more curious than perturbed. "And just how did you know that?"

The chief inspector shrugged. "All visitors to diamond merchants are reported, M'sieu Huuygens." He sounded slightly disappointed. "I should have thought you would have known."

Huuygens smiled at him. "To be honest, Inspector, it never even occurred to me. I simply went there because M'sieu Ankli is an old friend of mine. We share an interest in—" his smile broadened "—pretty things. In any event, it was purely a personal visit."

"I'm sure. Probably," the inspector suggested innocently, "since you were merely avoiding the heat of Paris, you found his offices to be air-conditioned, which undoubtedly helped you serve the purpose of your trip." He picked the box up again, turning it over, studying it closer. "Suchard's, I see. A very fine brand. And from the famous Bonbon Mart of Zurich, too. I know the place. Excellent." His eyes came up, unfathomable. "Caramels?"

"Creams, if you must know," Huuygens said, and sighed.

"Oh? I prefer caramels, myself. Both, of course, are equally fattening. I hope the lady realizes that," the inspector added, and began to slip the ribbon over one corner of the box.

"Now, really!" Huuygens leaned forward, holding up a hand. "The lady in question has nothing to fear from fat, Inspector. Or from slimness, either. However, I rather think she would prefer to receive her chocolates with the minimum of fingerprints, if you don't mind."

"My personal opinion," said Inspector Dumas, sounding honest for the first time, "is that she will never see these chocolates," and he folded back the foil-lined wrapper and began to lift the cover of the box.

Kek frowned at him. "I still have the feeling you're trying to tell me something."

"I am," said the inspector succinctly, and placed the cover to one side. He raised the protective bit of embossed tissue covering the contents, stared into the box, and then shook his head in mock horror. "My, my!"

"Now what's the matter?"

"I'm rather surprised that a house as reputable as the Bonbon Mart would permit chocolates to leave their premises in this condition." Dumas looked up. "You say your lady friend prefers her chocolates without fingerprints? I'm afraid you should have explained that to the clerk who put these up...."

Huuygens snorted. "With your permission, Inspector, now you are just being ridiculous! Those are chocolates, and nothing more. Creams!" he added, as if the exact designation might somehow return the other to sanity. "And exactly the way they left the store." He studied the inspector's face curiously. "How can I convince you?"

"I'm not the one who has to be convinced," said the chief inspector. He continued to study the contents of the box a moment more, nodding to himself, and then with a sigh at the foibles of mankind, he replaced the tissue and the cover. "I'm afraid it's our laboratory which requires conviction. And that's where these chocolates are going." His eyes came up, steady. "Together, I might add, with your shaving kit."

"My shaving kit?"

"Tubes, you know," said the inspector apologetically. "Jars and things...."

"You're quite sure, of course," Kek said with a touch of sarcasm, "that the shaving kit isn't going to one of your sons? And the chocolates to your wife?"

Inspector Dumas grinned at him. "Those chocolates to my wife? I'd fear for her teeth. Which," he added, his grin fading slightly, "have already cost me a fortune."

Huuygens sighed. "I only have one question, Inspector. To whom do I send a bill for the value of a practically new shaving kit? Plus, of course, twenty Swiss francs?"

"If you honestly want my opinion," said the inspector, appearing to have considered the question fairly, "I would suggest you charge it up to profit and loss. After all, once our laboratory is through with its investigation, the cost to m'sieu may be considerably higher." His voice hardened perceptibly. "And may I add that it would be wise for you not to leave the city until our report is in."

Huuygens shook his head hopelessly. "I don't believe you appreciate the position you're putting me in, Inspector. Extremely embarrassing. How do I prove to the lady that I did not forget her? That I actually did buy her a box of Swiss chocolates, only to lose them to—if you'll pardon me—the muttonheaded bureaucracy of the French customs?" His voice became sarcastic. "What am I supposed to use for proof? The wrapper?"

"Now that's not a bad idea," said the chief inspector approvingly, and grinned at the other's discomfiture. "It has the name of the shop on it, and if you wish, I'll even stamp it with the date as further proof." He checked the briefcase to make sure it was unlined, running his fingers along the seams at the bottom, and then folded the ornate wrapper, stuffing it into the empty space, and shoving the soiled laundry on top of it. He unfolded his stout five-foot-seven and came to his feet, his smile completely gone, his voice once more official. "And now, m'sieu, I'm afraid I must ask you to submit to a personal search."

Huuygens rose with a hopeless shrug. He ran his hand through his already tousled hair and studied the inspector's face. "I don't suppose it would do much good to inform you that I consider a personal search an indignity?"

"I'm afraid not," said the inspector. "And now, m'sieu...."

"And not only an indignity, but one which becomes boring when it is repeated each time I come through customs?"

"If I might offer a solution," Inspector Dumas suggested, with a brief return to humor, "it would be for m'sieu to control his wanderlust. In this fashion, of course, the entire problem of customs would be eliminated."

"We are not amused." Huuygens shook his head. "Admit one thing, Inspector. Admit that this treatment is unfair in my case—you've never once found me in violation of the law. Nor has anyone else."


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Hochmann Miniatures by Robert L. Fish. Copyright © 1967 Robert L. Fish. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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