The second fast-moving thriller by Brian Coffey featuring Mike Tucker, art dealer, heir to a vast unobtainable fortune and highly successful professional thief. He is persuaded to lead Meyers and Bates in the robbery of an exclusive California shopping mall containing a bank crammed with cash, an expensive jewellers and eighteen other shops catering for super-extravagant tastes. The job is expected to take little more than an hour and is seemingly a walkover. But something is bugging Tucker: something Meyers has not told him. The operation has hardly begun when an alarm is sounded - too soon. They are surrounded. There is no way out. Yet when the police finally break in the three men have vanished with the loot into thin air.
Jacket illustration by William Rankin
(in UK only)
Arthur Barker Limited London
A subsidiary of Weidenfeld (Publishers) Limited
Copyright (c) Brian Coffey 1974
First published by the Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc.,
Indianapolis/New York, in 1974
Published in Great Britain in 1975 by Arthur
Barker Limited, 11 St John's Hill, London
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner.
isbn 021316538 4
Reproduced and printed by photolithography and bound in Great Britain at The Pitman Press, Bath
The slim, tousle-haired man entered the lobby of the Americana Hotel, leaving the cacophony of the Seventh Avenue traffic behind him. Well dressed and quietly handsome, obviously sure of himself and in control of his world, he had a trace of aristocracy in his fine-boned face. And a vague but unmistakable touch of fear lay in his dark eyes.
It was one thing for the son of a respectable family to carve out a successful career as a criminal entrepreneur, but quite another for him to come to accept this unconventional way of life on a visceral level. He knew he was a good thief, a master planner, but he always expected to get caught. He was not yet working on the new job, was not currently engaged in anything illegal, but already he was wary and on edge.
Pushing through a mob of conventioneers and their wives, he crossed to the seedily elegant marble staircase that led down to the hotel restaurants. At the bottom of the steps he glanced at the ranks of public telephones but decided against using any of them. He passed the entrance to the Columbian Coffee Shop, turned the corner, and walked the length of the long corridor to the second set of telephones at the back of the hotel. These were used far less than those phones positioned more conveniently at the base of the main staircase. Here he was alone. The dead-end hall was quiet, an unexpected pocket of serenity in the center of the city.
Here he would not be overheard. And privacy was essential, more for his own peace of mind than for any real danger that the pending conversation would reveal his criminality.
He deposited a dime and dialed the operator. She waited through eighteen rings before she deigned to answer, and then she placed his call to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, as if she were doing him a favor instead of performing a service.
"Felton's Bookshop," the Harrisburg connection said. It was an old man's voice: cracked, dry, weary.
"This is Mike Tucker," the dark-eyed man said. He leaned in toward the phone, sheltered between the Plexiglas soundproofing wings on both sides.
Felton hesitated. When he did speak, he unconsciously lowered his voice. "Look, I'm busy right now, Mike. The place is full of customers. Maybe
Can I call you back in five minutes?"
"Of course," Tucker said. The call back was part of the routine they went through every time it was necessary for them to communicate. "I'll give you the number I'm calling from. You have something to write with?"
Yeah, here's a pencil. Go ahead, Mike."
After Tucker gave him the number, the old man read it back. Neither of them had mentioned the area code, an omission that would have made the number meaningless to anyone who might be listening in on the line.
"I don't want to wait here too long," Tucker said.
"I'll get back to you in five minutes. Promise."
The dark-eyed man hung up.
All the papers that he carried-driver's license, credit cards, museum membership-identified him as Michael Tucker, although Tucker was not his real last name. His legal surname was well known to readers of the Times society and financial pages because his father's wealth commanded both respect and envy. However, he felt more comfortable with his alias because the Tucker identity had not been contaminated by his father. He did not merely hate the old man, he loathed him. When he was masquerading as Michael Tucker, he felt fresh and clean; and he could almost convince himself that there was no blood tie between him and his father. The Tucker identity was a release from unpleasant associations and certain burdensome responsibilities. Besides, when you broke the law to earn your living, you were wise to use a name that could not be traced back to you.
The hotel corridor remained quiet. Far down at the other end, past the public restrooms and the entrance to the bar that would open later in the day, dishes rattled in the coffee shop. Someone laughed, voices rose in good humor, but no one turned the corner and came Tucker's way.
Finally the telephone rang.
"Hello, Mike. How are things with you?" He had left the bookshop for a public phone. Traffic noises filled the air behind him.
"Not bad," Tucker said. "How's Dotty?"
"Couldn't be better," Felton said. "She's taking belly-dancing lessons."
Tucker laughed. "What is she-sixty-four?"
"Sixty-three," Felton said. "I told her she'd be making a fool of herself. But you know something? When she comes home from the lessons and shows me what she's learned, she gets me so excited I'm like a honeymooning bridegroom again." His own chuckle complemented Tucker's laugh. "But this isn't what you called about. You got my letter?"
"An hour ago," Tucker said.
The letter had been in the morning's mail at Tucker's midtown Manhattan post-office box: a white envelope with no return address. He knew it was from Clitus before he opened it because he received letters exactly like it once every month or so. Half that often, it was something worth following up. Clitus Felton earned his way as liaison between criminal free-lancers on the East Coast. Once he had been in the business himself, pulling off two or three big robberies a year. But he was old now, sixty-eight, nearly forty years older than Tucker. And he had retired because Dotty was afraid that his luck was running out. However, after six months in the bookstore, he had known he would be unhappy as long as he was permanently estranged from the old life, the old excitement. Therefore, he had contacted friends and offered his middle-man services. He kept names, aliases, and addresses all in his head, and when someone contacted him to find the right partners for a job, Felton considered the possibilities and wrote a few letters and tried to help. In return, he got five per cent of the take if the job went as planned. It was second-hand excitement, but it kept him going.
"Your letter mentioned bank work," Tucker said. "You know I don't like bank work."
"The letter also mentioned that it was different from your usual bank work," Felton said. "It's very different. Safer, surer, with a bigger-than-average reward."
"That's a long way from home," Tucker said.
"It's always best to work that way," the old man said. "Don't you agree?"
"I guess I do."
At the far end of the corridor a young couple turned the corner and started down the long hall toward Tucker. The girl was searching the bottom of her purse and passing change over to the young man with her. Clearly they were going to use one of the pay phones.
"I can't talk much longer," Tucker said. "Can we get down to basic facts?"
"You should get in touch with Frank Meyers," Felton said. "You know him? Ever worked with him before?"
"He's right there in your city."
"Is this his job?"
"Yeah. He lived in California for a while-that's where he got the idea," Felton said. "He's a good man."
"We'll see," Tucker said, watching the young couple as they drew nearer. The boy had hair to his shoulders and looked out of place in a well-cut business suit. The girl was dark and pretty. "When can you set up a meeting?"
"I'll give you his home address," Felton said.
Tucker frowned. "He doesn't mind my knowing it? He's that careless?"
"He isn't careless," Felton said. "He-"
"I don't like working with a man who can't separate his professional and private lives."
"Not everyone's as fanatical about that as you are," the old man said. "Lots of guys have been in the business for years and years, not separating anything, and they haven't taken any falls. I can name dozens."
"Sooner or later they'll get bitten," Tucker said.
"Then you aren't interested in this?" Felton asked.
"I'm interested," Tucker said. He had to be interested because he needed the money. He took a note pad and pen from his jacket pocket and copied down Frank Meyers' address.
"I'm sure you'll like the setup once Frank explains it to you," Felton said. "If you don't
Tell Frank to let me know if you aren't interested. I know I can find someone else for him."
"I'll do that," Tucker said.
"It really is a sweet job, Mike."
"I hope so. I need it right now. Otherwise, I wouldn't even give this one a second thought."
"He's good. I guarantee it."
"Give Dotty my love," Tucker said as the young couple stopped at the telephone next to his.
"Good luck, Mike."
"Sure," Tucker said, hooking the receiver in its cradle. He smiled at the girl, nodded at the boy, and walked back toward the main stairs.
The apartment house on Seventy-ninth Street was not yet unfit enough to be slated for demolition, but it was getting there. The front steps were badly cracked and hoved up, the concrete eroding away as if it were not much sturdier than loose sand. Scarred, badly weathered, the outer foyer door was centered with a sheet of heavy, cracked, grime-smeared glass. The foyer itself, dirty and dimly lighted, boasted a rather complex mosaic floor, but more than a hundred of the tiny tiles were missing.
Tucker checked the mailboxes against the address that Clitus Felton had given him: Meyers, 3C. He did not have to ring Meyers to get inside the building because the security lock on the inner door was broken. Anyone could walk in and out as he pleased. Tucker went in and climbed the steps to the third floor.
The man who answered the door of 3C looked more like cheap muscle than an idea man. He was about six feet, weighed maybe two-twenty, giving him three inches and sixty pounds on Tucker. His face was square and hard, framed by short yellow hair and enlivened by a pair of intensely blue eyes.
"Meyers?" Tucker asked.
"Yeah?" His voice was low and rough. Tucker knew the sound of it and what it meant. Someone had once stomped on the big man's throat, giving him an Andy Devine imitation for a voice. His neck was not inflamed or swollen, which meant it had happened a long time ago.
Meyers blinked, surprised. He wiped one hand across his face, trying to pull off his confusion as if it were a mask. His bright blue eyes seemed slightly unfocused. "But
You just called a couple of minutes ago."
"I used the telephone booth on the corner."
Standing there in the shabby hallway where he might be seen by anyone entering or leaving another apartment, Tucker was getting impatient with Meyers. "Do I have to say a secret password or something?"
"What?" Meyers asked.
"To get in. I need a secret word?"
"Oh, no. Sorry," the big man said, stepping back out of the way. "Didn't expect you so soon, that's all. You caught me off guard."
Tucker was uncomfortably certain that it did not take much to catch Frank Meyers off guard. How in the hell had a sound head like Clitus Felton become involved with an ox like this?
He entered the apartment, sidled past Meyers, and went on through the dingy little reception area. The living room measured ten by twenty feet and had four large windows, yet it seemed like a closet. The walls had once been clean and white but had since yellowed and now were gradually turning brown at the edges as if subjected to a great and relentless heat. Like lumps of charred matter, the furniture was all dark and heavy and ugly. Everything was overstuffed, shapeless. And there was too much of it: a pair of squat gray sofas, three unmatched easy chairs, a low-slung coffee table, end tables, pole lamps, table lamps, a desk, a hutch, a television set
Tucker thought the place must have come furnished and that Meyers had added considerable belongings of his own to what the landlord provided.
"Sit down, sit down!" the big man said, motioning to the easy chairs. Tucker sat on one of the sofas. "Can I get you something to drink?"