A Brilliant Plan

Chapter 40

I WOKE UP after a short night’s sleep, my alarm clock pinging away. Mom and Dad were having breakfast in the kitchen.

“You were out late, Hon,” Mom said.

“Yeah, my policeman took me out,” I lied easily.

“Something developing?” Dad munched over his paper.

“Difficult to say with Mundy still around and all.” I poured an herbal tea and dipped a croissant into it, regretted it immediately.

“Will you be in for dinner tonight?”

“Can’t say yet. Have to catch a double killer first.”

We changed subjects after that.

Ron picked me up around ten and gave me the go-ahead.

“Our men are in position. You can start your little game,” he said. We drove toward the gallery and Ron let me out two blocks before we got there. “Break a leg,” he said and I walked the last few yards.

I took a breather, checked myself briefly in the gallery door reflection and entered the lion’s den.

The air was considerably cooler than outside, maybe it helped to sell the art. The assistant left another buyer for a second and walked over to me. His face didn’t register any recognition and I asked him to meet with Mr. Altward. He phoned up and Altward came walking down the stairs of the safe room a minute later.

I stepped forward and held out my hand.

“Good morning. My name is Calendar Moonstone. We met briefly a few weeks ago.”

“Ah, yes, the jewel craftswoman. Still looking for my Montenhaute? Still holding my Calder!” His voice had a slightly annoyed undertone as if he didn’t take me serious as he looked me up and down.

“Mr. Altward, I am calling on you because I have something that belongs to you.”


“I am in possession of an item from the Maximilian Set. And I am willing to sell it back to you.”

Altward looked left and right to check whether the other people in the room had noticed but I had spoken in a low tone. He moved me over to the opposite side of the room where we had more privacy. “The Maximilian Set? How interesting. I read everything in the paper about it.”

“Don’t play me for a fool, Mr. Altward. We both know that you know exactly what this is all about.”

Silence. “What is your role in it?”

“I am a thief, Mr. Altward, a very skilled thief. I have a method of acquiring things.”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“You will know, Mr. Altward.” I carefully undid the upper buttons of my blouse and Altward had a good look at my fake Maximilian necklace in all its glory. I silently counted to three and closed the buttons again. Altward’s hand came up slowly as if to hold the piece and keep it in view forever.

I handed him the envelope with the photo. Altward had grown rosy around the face and his moustache quivered slightly like a cat in front of a mouse hole. “Now, I do see what you mean. What are you proposing?” He asked carefully.

“I am willing to sell it back to you. Tonight or tomorrow. Two hundred thousand dollars for this piece.” My, my, was I getting cheap. But I wanted him to being able to buy it back without a credit problem. And for someone like Altward, 200K should be easy enough to organize quickly.

“Can I call you about the time?”

I coughed politely. “I will call you at noon. If you haven’t decided by then, I will think of another buyer.” And to twist the knife, “Perhaps Mr. Nakamoto is still around.”

I stepped outside into the sunshine of the San Diego noon and walked back to the corner where Ron had left me. He popped the car door for me and I got in.


“Line and sinker. I will call him at noon for details.”

The Seaport Village Mall was one of the nicer shopping spots in the San Diego area. We took our post on one of the parking levels, Juanita and Fowler arrived and we all squeezed into the small unmarked Toyota. Juanita and Ron were in front, and we civilians were in the back. Fowler’s and my non-aggression pact was still intact.

“Here we are, all together on a double date,” Juanita said with her overflowing optimism.

“I wonder who goes with whom,” I said, looking back and forth between Ron and Fowler.

I checked the time and called Altward from my mobile phone, the others listening in. He agreed on a meeting to hand over the money for the necklace. He named the food court of a suburb mall, tomorrow noon. I confirmed and hung up.

Juanita picked up the microphone of the radio and asked for a status report.

The radio crackled to life. “Topside One. Calder still in Haven.”

“Roger, Topside Two.”

I said, “Let me guess, Calder is Altward. And Haven is the gallery.”

Two other teams gave their standby status and the radio was silent again.

Juanita nodded. “We have two teams, one in front and one in the backyard of the gallery. Altward hasn’t left the gallery yet, made some phone calls, very suspicious—business stuff, lawyer, and his ex-wife.”

“What’s so suspicious about that?” Fowler asked.

“He didn’t call the bank to arrange for the exchange money!” I said.

“Oh!” That shut Fowler up.

Ron explained, “There are two other teams who will support us nearby. Top Three is near Altward’s San Diego penthouse. There is another Newport PD team near his other apartment. They will call-in as soon as there is any development.”

We waited on the parking deck and killed time. Ron and Juanita had books to read, they had obviously done observations before. Since we might suddenly have to leave quickly, Fowler and I were not allowed to leave the car, so we were twiddling our thumbs and making small talk about the latest diamond prices and the new Christie’s Auction catalogue. I made it a private joke to mention as many collectors’ items as possible to Fowler. He was probably mentally writing down each and every item I mentioned in case it was stolen in the next 18 months. This was really fun.

Finally, the radio came to life. “Topside Two.” The gallery team. “Calder leaving haven. Calder leaving haven.”

It was like an espresso coffee on a dry stomach, the blood was rushing through my head. Was that Altward’s move?

“Topside One. Calder going north. Lose trail.” Juanita grabbed the city map from the backrest pocket of the driver seat and put her finger on it.

“Topside One. Calder on Congress Street.”

I leaned forward. “Can you tell them to look out for other tails, please?”

Ron was already driving. Since we were south of the gallery, he didn’t want to be too far behind. He gave me a long look through the rearview mirror and then shook his head slightly to himself.

He took the microphone. “Topside Leader. Can you make out any other tailing parties?”

A second of silence. “Topside One. We will check.”

“Topside Two. There is a gray Ford Explorer that took the last three turns together with you. Four cars behind you, Topside One.”

“Topside One. See it. Will fall back even more. Topside Two, please take the front.”

The followers were in a complicated dance routine, shuffling back and forth. They not only had to manage to follow Altward but they also had to avoid being spotted by the other tail.

As it turned out, the chase soon ended. Altward made a slight loop around the city center but then he headed further north.

“Topside Two. Calder turned into a development named Acacia Blue. We won’t follow.”

Juanita’s finger pointed at a development near the ocean. As if the architect had decided that his development not only had to look good in print but from outer space as well, the symmetrically meandering roads clearly spelled artificial all over them.

“Topside One. Explorer is not slowing down, repeat, not slowing down. Drives on. Shall we follow? Or enter development?”

The Explorer didn’t seem to care or we had had the wrong tail. Ron looked expectantly at me via the rearview mirror but I gave a shrug. He picked up the microphone and said, “Follow Calder.”

“Topside Three. We’re here now. Will cover second exit.” Juanita’s finger traveled north, where the development had another exit at the northbound Pacific Coast Highway.

We were about three minutes behind the group.

“Do we enter the development?” Fowler asked. He was probably as excited as I was.

“Let’s hear it from the guys first,” Ron drove into an emergency bay on the highway, switched off the motor and opened the windows to let in the early afternoon air. We could hear the ocean in the distance, the sky shone blue and birds were singing. There was not too much traffic, only two or three cars a minute.

“Anyone of you ever been here before? Anything in relation to the case?” I asked.

Juanita and Ron both shook their heads. That was that.

The motor was clicking away and the radio rumbled. “Topside One. Found Calder’s car. 47 Sequoia Drive. Calder not in sight.”

I crossed my fingers and prayed that we hadn’t lost him.

“OK, let’s go,” Ron started up and we drove there. As it turned out, the development was some kind of resort for the city dweller in search of a weekend retreat near the ocean. Behind the outer perimeter wall stretched a small hill and when you drove over the peak, the hill sloped gently down toward the Pacific. The hillside location made it possible for each of the small houses to have an ocean view. Although there was a certain uniformity in the architecture, typical in corporate American house building, the location had its charm, definitely.

Juanita’s finger guided us through the labyrinth of drives and circles to Sequoia Drive. Topside One parked around the right corner, we could just see the car’s tail. Ron drove past number 47 and stopped around the left corner. Juanita got out and took a walk. From my rear seat, I could follow her with my eyes. I noticed that she was dressed in a plain black skirt, a white blouse and a large cheap handbag, hair pulled back. She looked exactly like an anonymous Hispanic cleaning lady, seen everywhere but never noticed. Good thinking.

Juanita’s voice came out of the radio. “A. Meyerson. The Goldsteins. No name. Filderman.” She was reading the mailbox names as she walked casually along Sequoia Drive. As she passed number 47 with the parked car, she continued reading. “Botowsky. Martinez.” No name so far rang a bell with any of us. She was walking outside my range of sight but we could hear her breathing and her steps over the radio. “Paul Fleur.” The actor? “Thomas and Jane Roberts.” Mentally counting down, she was at number 39 now. “Finkelstone. Bartholomew. Arthur. Shit.”

Ron pressed the handset button. “Was that a name?”

“M. Altward. Number 31.” We heard Juanita’s steps continuing down the road.

“Topside Two. We are covering Palm Circle.” The other team had arrived at the back of house number 47.

“M. Altward. Marion Altward. The ex. Son of a gun,” Ron said.

“Very convenient. She stays in the city most of the time,” Fowler reasoned.

“So ex-hubby stashes the loot in her house,” I continued.

“Shall we meet Mr. Altward?” Ron turned toward us.

I nibbled at my fingernails. “Could we wait a few more minutes?”

Ron gave me another long look. Sighed, looked back at the house, back at me.

“Topside Two. There is action in one of the houses, could be 31.”

Ron grabbed the microphone and shouted, “Juantia, Top Two and One engage. Top Three, you come down to 31 Sequoia. Two covers the back. Leader and One the front.” Ron scrambled out of the car, his gun in his hand. The policemen from the other car came running, too.

Ron ran over to number 31. Passing Altward’s parked car at number 47, he pointed his gun at the front wheel, shot and continued running. A loud bang and the car visibly sank lower.

“What about us?” Fowler asked.

“Are you the adventurous type, Fowler?”

“Not exactly, no. But then I wondered why you are still here?”

I showed him my tongue, made a face at him and crossed my arms.

“Parker, where are you?” The radio crackled, Juanita’s voice.

“Garden. Coming in. There is a fight in the living room.” Suddenly some shots rang out from the back of the house. “Parker, take cover.”

“Are you hurt?”

“He’s getting away.”

“Ron, over to the left.”

“Parker, the other one is in the house, running upstairs.”

“Top Two, where are you?”

“This is Top Lead. Don’t take chances.”

“Shit, where is the shooter?” Juanita shouted through the commotion.

“Top Three coming up, ETA 30 seconds.”

More shots.

“Take care, the walls are paper-thin.”

“He’s getting away.”

“Cover the living room.”

Fowler clenched his fists and hammered against the back of the driver’s seat while I bit my nails.

“Top Two, where are you? Where are you?”

Suddenly, Billy Bounce came running into Fowler’s and my view. He appeared from between houses 31 and 33, two guns in his hands shooting backwards over his shoulder, worth a scene from a John Woo movie. I hadn’t thought that he had this kind of agility in him. He dashed past us like an express locomotive and vanished between the houses on our side of the street. I briefly entertained the possibility of tripping him by opening the car door but the two smoking guns in his hands made me think twice.

“Topside Three. We are almost there.”

“He is out, he is out.”

“Where, where, where?”

“Take care of the Calder upstairs. Now!” Ron boomed into the radio.

“Care for a ride?” I asked Fowler and climbed over into the driver’s seat.

“What… ? You don’t dare… ” Fowler stammered. He wasn’t prepared for an American style car chase. I turned the key and revved up the motor.

“Last chance to leave!”

I switched into ‘Drive,’ did a kick-down that showed the animal in this Japanese rice bowl on wheels and the tires screamed through the quiet neighborhood as I did a one-eighty with the pedal on the metal.

“How do you know where to go?” Fowler whined, pressed into his seat.

“Follow the bad guy,” I said and drove through the garden of the model American weekend home, squashing nicely manicured mini-hedges and lawns, knocking away a mailbox and some trash bins. Fowler screamed from the back seat, blindly grabbing for the seat belt. I did the same and wondered briefly whether the pool was on this or the other side of the garden.

In the rearview mirror, I had a glimpse of Ron and Juanita coming around the bend, guns in their hands.

We broke through the final bushes and skidded on the tarmac of the next drive or circle or whatever. The gray Ford Explorer that had been following Altward from the beginning shot past us.

“Top Three, we are coming in.”

The police car that held team Topside Three was just coming around the curve when the Ford Explorer with Billy Bounce in it shot over the Stop sign. The Explorer rammed Topside Three from the side, immobilizing it immediately, spinning it into a lamppost. Billy Bounce kept speeding on. I barely managed to keep after him with the Toyota, had to break hard at the bends, kick-down again, giving it all we had.

“Cal, Cal, where are you?” Ron’s voice from the radio.

Fowler tapped my shoulder, “Don’t you want to answer him?”

“Fuck you, Fowler, why do you think I took you along.”

Fowler leaned over the front seat, pulled the microphone close and gave Ron a useless update, stuttering and jabbering.

I fought with the wheel as we approached the exit of the development. If Billy Bounce made it to the highway, he would get away. The Toyota was too weak to keep up on the straight road. But because of the height of the Explorer, the Toyota was faster in the meandering curves of the drives and circles. We were on the last bend when the exit came into view. The Explorer had to break hard not to shoot into the traffic of the highway at full speed. I decided not to break at all, Fowler howled beside me and in the last second before the impact, I hit the brakes with all my weight.

Tires screaming, the Explorer got bigger and bigger and with a forceful smash, we hit Billy Bounce just as he was accelerating again. Our Toyota skidded over the highway tarmac and came to a standstill on the other bank in a cloud of dust and burning rubber. The Explorer made a jump forward, started to spin, then somehow drove sideways for a second, before the laws of gravity and momentum took over and the SUV did a neat somersault and flipped over twice, sounding like a large tin drum being rolled on the tarmac.

I switched off the motor and suddenly there was complete silence. Even the radio had a quiet moment, I thought, until I realized that it had not survived the crash. Amazed, I glanced at the deflated airbags hanging limply on the steering wheel and the dashboard of the passenger seat.

“I am not saying anything,” Fowler muttered, more to himself than to me. He clenched his fists several times and hammered against his door in a futile attempt to open it. He took the useless microphone to his mouth. “We got him.” Then he dropped it and climbed out of the smashed car window on the other side.

He ranaround in circles and shouted at the sky, kicking the car and then the dust. Ididn’t listen.

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