When Homicide Detective Harry Stark begins to investigate a lethal jewel robbery, he suspects that all is not as it’s supposed to be and he’s led down a twisted path of deceit that leads to dark corners and death. Meanwhile, his girlfriend, Carol Weems, has a cold crime to solve, one that quickly turns hot with what appears to be a copy-cat killing. Murder for two.
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|Series||A Harry Stark Mystery #2|
|Author||John W. Simpson|
|Tags||Murder, Crime, Mystery, Robbery, Rape, Jewellery, Fraud, Mobster, Gangster|
Howard Stokes was a nondescript sort of man, so ordinary-looking that his ordinariness was itself remarkable. His face was disarmingly plain—disarming because the lack of distinguishing features made him look innocent. There was no squinty eye, or twitching cheek, or twisted mouth, no scar or blemish or hairy mole—in short, no displeasing imperfections to make you want to be suspicious of him. He was neither handsome nor ugly, neither attractive nor repulsive. Short, trim and well-built, he looked as if he might work out. He was trying too hard to appear calm, which made him seem more nervous. Stark wanted to dislike him, but he couldn’t.
“Let’s go through to the back,” Stokes said, and led Stark into a cluttered office not much bigger than a ticket booth. The desktop was scattered with jewellers loupes. There was a scale and an assortment of weights in a wooden box, a large magnifier, books on gems, jewellery catalogues, a row of pigeon holes filled with tiny tools, little balls of crumpled paper that hadn’t made it to the wastebasket, the basket itself overflowing.
Stokes took a pile of newspapers from a black vinyl-and-chrome office chair—Stark thought he saw a slight wince with the weight of the papers. Stokes dropped the pile to the floor noisily. His hands were shaking—just a little.
“Take a seat, lieutenant.” Stokes pronounced it loo-tenant. Stark’s face twitched.
Stokes sat in an ancient, wooden, armed swivel chair by the desk, leaning to one side.
“Terrible this thing, terrible. My poor wife. Take a seat.”
Stark remained standing.
“I’m sorry—your wife?”
“Saul, poor Saul. He was my wife’s uncle, her mother’s brother-in-law, married her mother’s sister. Poor Saul. It’s terrible, terrible. Such a thing. Nothing like this has ever happened. Not here, not to us. This city. I ask you. It’s terrible.” His legs curled under the chair, one ankle on top of the other, shaking. He was wearing a cardigan, which wasn’t surprising, since despite the oppressive heat outdoors, the shop felt like a cold-storage locker. The elderly female clerk at the counter was also wearing a sweater. The perspiration on Stark’s body was beginning to feel like a coating of ice.
“This bag of diamonds that the old man was carrying. How much?”
Stokes hesitated, looked at Stark, then looked at the floor and said heavily, “About four-million dollars. And they weren’t diamonds.”
Stark stared in disbelief.
“What did you say? Four million?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“I know it sounds like a lot, but I’m a wholesaler, you see, as well as a retailer. I buy estate jewellery, you see. I’ve got a big safe in the back, a vault really, and normally I don’t have that much, but I just bought from three big estates. That’s not anything like what I paid for them, but that’s what they’re worth. It takes time to write the descriptions of all the pieces for a mailer, photograph certain pieces and so on. I make up a mailer that I send out to clients, major retailers, some individuals. It’s risky to keep everything here while I’m doing that, and I was just thinking, ‘Howard, you’ve got too much stuff here, you could be robbed, send the stuff to the bank.’ I called Saul and he came down this morning early and was taking them to the bank, but I don’t know why he went to that building. It makes no sense, you know. Christ, I hope to hell the insurance will pay off. But you watch, they won’t even give me what I paid for the pieces. You watch.”
“How much was that?”
Stokes shrugged. “About nine-hundred thousand.”
“But you want four million from the insurance company?”
“No, no. That’s what I would have got, I figure, from selling the pieces. The insurers will give me my nine-hundred grand back, if I’m lucky.”
“You have a list of this stuff?”
“Oh yeah, your Pawn Squad insists on that. You want to see the list?”
“No, that’ll be Detective Coulson from the Hold-up Squad.”
“You’re not in the Hold-up Squad?”
“Oh, I see.”
“So, tell me, Mr. Stokes, why would you send an old man out with that kind of value of jewellery, for Pete’s sake?”
“Not so old.” Stokes shrugged. “He’s—he was seventy-three. He was in the Israeli army for years, in good shape. Who would suspect a man like that would be carrying a bag of precious jewellery? I ask you? No one. The bank is two blocks away, for God’s sake. Downtown, the big banks, they use couriers like that all the time, a lot of older guys. They might have a couple of million bucks’ worth of bearer bonds in a briefcase. Saul has carried—well, not this much, but lots of stones before. Nobody looks sideways at the guy. Who would know?”