Whirligig

Whirligig

by Robert L. Fish

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Overview

To keep his wife in furs, a smuggler sneaks a painting across the Spanish frontier

It is 1948, and few in Belgium live comfortably enough to haggle over payment—particularly those who make their living outside the law. Kek Huuygens is an exception. As far as his wife knows, this dapper gentleman is an art appraiser who moves in the finest circles. But although Kek knows all there is to know about art, he does not appraise it. He moves it—from one thief to another. Kek is the finest smuggler in Europe, and he charges accordingly. After all, his wife has expensive taste.
 
A miniature masterpiece by the Dutchman Frans Hals has gone missing from Sotheby’s. Kek has twenty-four hours to move it from Brussels to Madrid, avoiding all the police of Western Europe and a murderous thief who feels he has been double crossed. The job will make him a fortune—if he survives long enough to collect it.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781453293508
Publisher: MysteriousPress.com/Open Road
Publication date: 04/28/2015
Series: The Kek Huuygens Mysteries , #2
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 206
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

Whirligig


By Robert L. Fish

MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media

Copyright © 1970 Robert L. Fish
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4532-9350-8


CHAPTER 1

"Good-bye, my darling."

"Good-bye, my sweet."

"Good-bye, my love."

"Good-bye, dear."

"I hate to go, my darling."

"I know, sweet."

"How will you ever manage without me?"

"I have no idea. Your cab is waiting, dear."

"Are you sure you'll be all right, darling?"

"Your cab is still waiting, sweet. And cabs are hard to come by in Brussels. If that one downstairs gets tired of wasting gasoline, you'll miss your train."

"But what will you do without me to take care of you?"

"My dear Lisa," Kek Huuygens said with smiling patience, "you will only be gone three days. I shall struggle through that endless period in some manner, difficult though it be. And you are only going to Maastricht to visit your mother, and that is roughly two hours by train from here, and probably even less by bicycle. You are not going to the South Pole for a three-year tour of duty. Although," he added dryly, "you seem to have packed for it."

"You are a beast," Lisa said calmly, and pulled on her gloves. "Before we were married you took quite a different tone, my lad."

"Before we were married," Kek said reasonably, "the Walloonian blood you inherited from your father would never have permitted you to leave a taxi waiting for an hour, running up bills. Nor would it have permitted you to keep your husband from important business meetings which would enable him to keep you in bonbons and taxis running by the hour!" Lisa pouted. "But Willi promised we could keep the apartment for a month."

The apparent non sequitur did not disturb Kek. He was quite used to them.

"And Willi found he had to come back to Brussels for a few days, which fitted in perfectly, since you were planning on visiting your mother later in any event. After all, sweet, we can scarcely keep a man out of his own apartment." Kek Huuygens smiled. He picked up one of her three suitcases, tucked it under one arm, managed the others, and led the way to the door. "Come along, my sweet."

Lisa took her purse and travel case and followed him to the elevator. They rode in silence to the ground floor and emerged to the street. She waited while her bags were stowed in front beside the driver, climbed in the back, closed the door and ran down the window.

"You did say you'll be at the Colonies Hotel, darling?"

"I did. I'll be there the entire interminable three days. Unless this meeting today means a trip," he added.

Lisa sighed; it was a half-pout. "I never knew art appraisers traveled so much! I should have married a postman. Or a policeman."

"What a thought!" Kek said fervently.

"A floorwalker, then," Lisa said. She opened her purse and checked her appearance in the mirror fastened to the cover. It seemed to satisfy her; she snapped it shut and leaned toward him through the open window.

"Good-bye, my darling."

"Good-bye, my sweet." He kissed her tenderly and stood away, bringing a cigarette from a packet stowed in his pocket, and lighting it.

"And Kek, darling—try and cut down on your smoking."

He glanced down at the cigarette in his hand a bit guiltily, as if surprised to see it there. "Yes, sweet."

"And if it gets any colder, wear your topcoat."

"Yes, dear."

"And eat well."

"I always eat well."

"And you'll write, won't you?"

"Write? To Maastricht? You'll be gone three days and it takes a week for a telegram to be delivered there?"

"I mean, call."

"Yes, dear. You'll miss your train. You really will."

The taxi window was finally rolled up reluctantly; the cab pulled away from the curb, its driver glancing back sympathetically. Kek stood on the sidewalk, looking after it affectionately. Dear Lisa! A bit of a scatterbrain like those she so often was called on to portray on the stage. They had been the roles in which she had achieved her greatest success, and she sometimes had a tendency to carry the pose into her private life. If it was a pose, that is....

Kek glanced at his watch and hurriedly started up the walk toward the apartment entrance, flipping away the cigarette. He had one hour in which to pack his one small suitcase, leave a note for Willi, check into the Colonies Hotel, and make his business appointment. With luck in getting a second cab—Lisa's had almost been a miracle—he could arrive at his destination with a good several seconds to spare.

"Two thousand. That's the deal," said the fat man, drumming his pudgy fingers on the veined-marble tabletop. If he was irritated at Kek for having arrived ten minutes late, he did not show it. His voice was soft, slightly lisping, but not in the least feminine for that. His face was round and white and soft and doughy; looking into his eyes one was faintly surprised not to find raisins peering back. A second glance and one was not so sure; some dark and wrinkled things were embedded there.

"Two thousand," he repeated quietly.

"Pounds sterling, of course," Kek Huuygens said genially.

"No, not pounds sterling, of course. Dollars, of course," the fat man said. His name was Thwaite and he was English with parents and grandparents from Hull, though he would have denied it. He was dressed in a bilious green tweed much too heavy for the day and far too ancient for the style. There was a faint trace of amusement in his soft voice at this pitiful—but not unexpected—attempt to raise the price.

It was in the year 1948 that these events took place, and much has changed in the world since then. But in 1948, in those difficult days following the Second World War, there were few men who could afford to argue the conditions of offered employment, and particularly in Europe and especially men who—like Kek Huuygens—lived on the outskirts of the urbanity known as the law. His wife Lisa may well have been taken in by the fiction of Kek being an art appraiser, but those who knew the man well were quite aware of his true profession. And Kek Huuygens had long since set a high value on his rather unique services and was determined not to scab; or at least not on himself.

"Then I'm afraid that this time you have the wrong man," he said, with what sounded like true regret.

He was an athletic young man in his late twenties, with shoulders of a bulk that seemed to partially negate his height of six feet. His neat, discreet double-breasted suit seemed to point up the basic error of the tweed. He had an unruly mop of dark brown hair set above a strong, handsome face with a broad forehead and widespread intelligent gray eyes. At the moment, despite his tone of voice, his eyes shared the other's secret amusement.

"After all," he went on, a sudden flash of smile revealing strong, white teeth, "I'm a newlywed; I'm sure you must have known. And wives—at least mine—are expensive to support."

The fat man's shrug indicated that he, himself, was not without financial responsibilities caused by feminine companionship, nor did he know very many people who were. His attitude also subtly suggested Huuygens should appreciate his leaving unmentioned the question of Lisa's earning capacity.

"Two thousand dollars, American," he said, sounding inflexible, and then moderated his tone slightly, making a concession. "Plus expenses, of course."

"Two thousand pounds sterling," Huuygens said, determined to prove equally cooperative. He considered the other in kindly fashion. "Naturally, plus all expenses."

"There are other people who can handle the job," Thwaite said, his soft voice turning surly.

"I'm quite sure," Huuygens agreed equably, and came to his feet in one lithe move. He glanced across the cobbled square to the ancient clock set high in the filigreed rococo stone tower there, and then checked his wristwatch. The two were exact, as always.

"Fifteen hundred pounds," the fat man said finally, sullenly.

"Two thousand."

"But no expenses!" A puffy white finger was lifted for emphasis.

"With all expenses, naturally," Kek said, his tone asking the other to stop being foolish.

"Sit down," the fat man said, defeated.

Actually, he did not sound as bitter as one might have expected. Rather, his tone seemed to say that in this less-than-perfect life one had to learn to give and take if one were to survive, and survival had been his specialty for years. Kek suspected, quite correctly, that Thwaite also took a lot more than he gave. The fat man looked up.

"Payment on delivery, of course."

"Of course."

Huuygens lowered himself obediently into his chair again, beckoning to a waiter. The two men were sitting at a sidewalk café in the Grand' Place in Brussels, the warm late-morning sun was glinting spectacularly from the copper-greenish hands of the steeple clock across from them, and their filtres were empty and pushed to one side together with the wicker bun basket. Behind them the heavy oaken doors of the main bar had been thrust wide, embracing the last of the glorious early October weather; through the opening at the top of the steps a copper chimney could be seen, gleaming brightly, rising above an empty circular fireplace to disappear through the beamed ceiling. A stuffed horse unaccountably stood beside it.

Kek reached under his jacket to his cigarette pocket, brought out the package and slid it across the table in silent invitation. The fat man shook his head sadly and tapped his chest. Kek took back the packet, lit a cigarette, and tilted his head toward the waiter who was finally responding to his signal.

"Have a drink, then," he said, and added with a faint smile. "On me."

Thwaite waggled a swollen finger again in reluctant self-denial, and this time patted his overflowing stomach for explanation. Huuygens raised his hand abruptly, stopping the approaching waiter in his tracks. The white-aproned figure, unperturbed, went back to flicking invisible motes from spotless tables.

"All right," Kek said quietly, returning his attention to the business at hand. "What is it this time?"

There was a moment's silence; then Thwaite spoke proudly, quietly.

"A Hals," he said.

He didn't hestitate. Who hired Huuygens hired reliability above all else; nor had it been the first time the two had done business together. One paid highly but one received service. The fat man had lowered his already-soft voice to little more than a whisper, but he was practiced enough in the art not to lean forward in compensation. Nor did Huuygens in any way appear to strive to hear. To a casual observer the two were maintaining a desultory conversation. It was merely habit, however; they were quite alone at the outside tables. The raisin eyes studied the younger man above a yeasty ridge of flesh.

"Which Hals?" Kek asked.

While it was true he was not the art appraiser he sincerely hoped Lisa believed him to be, he could well have qualified among the best. His early training had been in art; his knowledge in the field was almost legendary among those who dealt in his services. On occasion he had even offered his help to friends facing a difficult choice in purchasing a rare painting, but this had only been in the manner of a favor. His interest was quite another.

"Which Hals?" he repeated quietly.

"The Innkeeper of Nijkerk," the fat man said softly, watching him.

Huuygens' eyebrows raised the merest fraction of an inch and then returned to their normal, slightly saturnine angle as he considered this quite startling bit of information.

"The Innkeeper of Nijkerk ..." He thought for several moments, slowly nodding. "Sotheby's made over fifty thousand pounds just handling the auction, as I recall. And I recently read that the picture was being loaned by the Frick Museum in New York for the Hals exhibit at the Clouet Gallery here next week."

He paused a moment. A wide smile crossed his face.

"Did I drive a bad bargain? Did I charge too little?"

"I don't rate the Sotheby's prices," Thwaite said sourly.

"True," Huuygens conceded genially, and grinned his apology. "Incidentally, a very good lesson for both the Frick and the Clouet Gallery of the ultimate wisdom of Hamlet."

"Eh?"

"'Neither a borrower nor a lender be,'" Huuygens quoted, and smiled at his own sententiousness. His smile faded; he became practical. "I've seen the painting at the Frick many times since I moved to New York. I like it; I consider it one of the best Hals of his middle period, which was by far his best—or at least his most exuberant—period." He frowned a moment in recollection. "As I remember it's roughly sixty centimeters by one hundred and twenty; I don't recall the exact catalog dimensions. About two feet by four feet, more or less." He studied the other impersonally. "Scarcely a postcard ..."

Thwaite made no reply but continued to wait. Huuygens crushed out the cigarette that had been wasting away in the ashtray and immediately lit another, frowning off into space, considering the problem. The fat man's patience was not disturbed. The sharp gray eyes finally came back from their thoughts to the realities of the Grand' Place and his companion.

"One question, Thwaite: is the Clouet Gallery aware that come next Tuesday—the exhibit does start on the Tuesday, does it not?—there will be an unfortunate hiatus in their presentation? A certain pristine virginity on one deprived wall or another?"

The fat man frowned at this lightness of tone; he seemed to consider it in poor taste, especially when speaking of an object worth many hundreds of thousands of pounds. Huuygens seemed to appreciate a bit of the other's feelings, for he added with a touch of apology:

"What I am trying to say is this: at what point in its travels from New York was the borrowed painting—ah, reborrowed? Had it arrived? Had it been unpacked?"

"They know it's gone, if that's what you're trying to say," Thwaite said flatly, and glanced at his watch. "They will have known at least twelve hours by now. Why?"

"Twelve hours ... Not too bad. Certainly not the greatest length of time in the world." Huuygens nodded thoughtfully, as if to himself. "Yes. And the Clouet people are keeping it a deep, dark secret between themselves and the Sûreté in the sincere hope that the painting will be recovered before they are forced to make a most embarrassing disclosure to the Frick Museum, and, of course, the poor insurance company ..."

His eyes came up speculatively, watching a gaggle of tourists pose for photographs across the cobbled square, shifting back and forth before the cameraman that haunted the area, but not seeing them at all. He looked back at the fat man, his voice merely curious.

"Do they have any idea as to how the picture was taken?"

"They do not. Nor," Thwaite added, his soft voice suddenly harsh and cold, "is it any of your concern. Your job is to see that the canvas is delivered in Madrid—"

"Madrid?"

"Yes. Any objections?"

"None. I was merely asking. I like Madrid; I have quite a few friends there. Although," he added, wishing to be accurate, "I do prefer Barcelona. Weather, for one thing."

Thwaite was not interested in the other's preferences.

"As I was saying, your only concern is to deliver the canvas to me in Madrid at the address I will give you." He hesitated a moment before continuing, but it was only to be sure the other was paying close attention. "By ten o'clock tomorrow night ..."

"Tomorrow?" Huuygens sat straighter in his chair, staring at the other in surprise, and then shook his head. "Impossible."

"By ten o'clock tomorrow night," the fat man corrected gently. "That's not quite the same thing as merely 'tomorrow.'" He smiled sardonically. "And since when is anything impossible for the great Kek Huuygens? Especially where a sum like two thousand pounds sterling is involved?"

Huuygens disregarded the sarcasm. "Why the rush?"

"Let us say that while I trust you, I don't want the painting out of my hands any longer than necessary." The fat man shrugged, his tiny raisin eyes fixed on the other. He spread his puffy hands. "Or, if you prefer, let us say that my customer is an impatient person. He takes delivery at midnight tomorrow."

Kek's fingertips drummed an unconscious tattoo on the table as he considered this added problem. One thing was certain: it would not be easy. Another thing was equally certain: somehow he would make it. Not that there was the slightest chance that anyone in the world could do the job if he could not, but it was the challenge. He smiled to himself. And the two thousand pounds would come in very handily with the present state of his newlywed finances.

A second thought suddenly struck him, wiping away the lightness. It was impossible that Thwaite had not had a customer lined up before the theft. One didn't steal a painting as valuable as the Hals and then hope to peddle it on the nearest street corner. And certainly no priorly arranged customer would expect delivery within a day or two. Ridiculous! Which only meant one thing: the fat man was up to some of his old tricks. His need to get it out of Belgium immediately was undoubtedly due to a double cross of some partner; such tactics were not unknown in Thwaite's past. Not that it would affect Huuygens or his payment, but still ...

He looked up, staring directly into the tiny eyes.

"Who worked with you on this job?"

"I beg your pardon?" The fat man sounded honestly shocked by what he truly considered a bad breach of professional etiquette. "What possible business is that of yours?"


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Whirligig by Robert L. Fish. Copyright © 1970 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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