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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

A Well-Timed Murder

An Agnes Lüthi Mystery

Agnes Luthi Mysteries (Volume 2)

Tracee de Hahn

Minotaur Books

MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK

One


There was a crowd but none of them mattered. Agnes Lüthi had eyes for only one man, the one she’d nicknamed the Roach. The one she’d only dreamt of finding in Switzerland.

She moved quickly despite her injured leg, focused on her destination, closing her umbrella when she reached the high canopy. A chain of buses discharged passengers in front of the Messe Basel Exhibition Halles, and they flowed past her toward the doors as if the world’s premier watch and jewelry show might sell out of goods if they dallied. She had never before been to Baselworld, but from the look of the well-dressed crowd judged it was a fitting place to find this particular man.

She was within grasping distance of a door handle when Marcel Aubry appeared from behind a kiosk. He was cloaked in a long, belted raincoat and had a finger pressed to his ear, listening. Before she could speak, he grasped her wrist with his free hand and pulled her behind the advertising stand, out of sight of the glass front of the lobby.

“Slight change of plan,” Aubry said, his voice low and hurried. “The Roach is headed this way.” He frowned, listening to the voices in his earpiece.

Agnes moved closer to Aubry; it felt like stepping into a shadow. He was a big man, not exactly fat, but big enough to make her feel slim. She could hear the scratch of a voice broadcast from his earpiece, but not the words. Her pulse quickened. They’d worked together for years in Financial Crimes. Despite that, she’d never seen him run a field operation. This was an important arrest for him, one he’d not leave to others. She was thrilled to be included.

“Did you ever think you’d see us catch him?” Aubry said to her, still focused on the chatter in his ear.

“No, and I don’t believe it yet today.” She’d had the Roach in her grasp three times, only to have him scurry back into a crack at the last moment. All of Europe and half of Asia was looking for him. In addition to Swiss francs, he’d stolen millions of euros, yen, dollars, and pounds—all electronically. Despite his methods, she’d always believed that he occasionally appeared in person at a place he’d targeted. Now it looked as if her suspicions were proving true.

“This time he’s definitely here,” said Aubry. “Problem is, the place is littered with exits and there’s a record crowd. Feels like half the world’s come to Baselworld. Good for the economy, bad for us, since on-site security doesn’t want a fuss disturbing their clientele.” He nodded. “Anyway, I’m glad you’re here to see it.”

“I was nearby when you called. I left my mother-in-law at the Beyeler Museum like a bride at the altar. She may not forgive me.” Agnes watched the crowd stream into the building, oblivious of the police operation. Aubry had orchestrated a smooth intervention despite having to move quickly.

“Your call was the best news I’ve had in weeks,” she added. “A few days ago one of my kids accused me of missing the criminals.”

Vincent—her oldest—had phrased it more bluntly: that she liked spending time with the bad guys more than with them. Before she could protest, her youngest son had added that at least she wasn’t a criminal herself. They’d all laughed. It was true, she did miss work. Surely that wasn’t a bad message for the boys? Their father had had a strong work ethic.

Aubry pulled his wrist up and spoke into a microphone, asking a question. He looked at her. “When are you officially back on the job?”

“Three days. Monday.” She gave her wool jacket a downward tug and straightened the matching skirt. Her stint in hospital had melted a few kilos away. Nearly being killed wasn’t the easiest diet, but it was no doubt effective. A few more kilos and she would consider thanking the man who had knifed her.

Aubry held up his hand, listening to chatter in his earpiece. “Any minute now,” he whispered, as if they could be overheard. “He’s heading to the lobby. It’s perfect. Fewer civilians and more space gives us an advantage.”

“He’ll run.” Agnes shifted weight off her bad leg. Critically, she eyed the long bank of doors. The building’s sleek overhang soared across the street, sheltering trams, taxis, a restaurant, and a flower stall. She hoped Aubry really did have all exits covered. She had a vague notion that the five or six halls of the Messe Basel facility were connected by upper corridors and enclosed walkways. It was a large complex.

Aubry tapped his thigh impatiently. His gaze strayed to her leg. “How’s life in Violent Crimes?”

A voice sputtered in his ear and Aubry listened, sparing her the need to answer. “He’s on the move,” Aubry said quietly.

Agnes tensed.

“Now,” Aubry shouted, running to the doors and yanking one open.

Two men in suits moved from another angle and Agnes spotted their earpieces. The men broke into a half run, and a few bystanders gasped while others pulled out mobile phones set to record video. The officers pushed ahead toward the turnstiles leading to the show, and Agnes followed. Aubry put a hand to his earpiece and stopped her. He angled his head down and she could hear voices talking on top of one another. Someone yelled and Aubry flinched.

Suddenly, in the distance, car tires screeched. There was a loud thump and a scream, followed seconds later by other shouts. Agnes turned toward the noise and Aubry followed. They ran to the right side of the building, ignoring the drizzle. The side street was closed to all but exhibitors’ vehicles, and Agnes pushed her way through the gathered crowd. What she saw stopped her in her tracks. Aubry, close behind, collided with her.

The street was dedicated to instruments of luxury and speed, and in the middle of the road a gleaming red Ferrari had struck a man. He lay in a shallow pool of rainwater a meter from the front bumper. Both car and man were broken. The hood of the car was dented and smeared with blood. The man’s leg was angled midcalf, and the fabric of his pants was split by a bone. Blood spilled from the back of his head, pooling around his hair, mixing with rain and running in rivulets to the curb. Agnes recognized the man immediately. She put a hand to her mouth. A second glance at the unique shape of his ears confirmed it: the Roach.

Aubry cursed under his breath and darted around her. Other officers were already there. A security guard leaned over the body; a quick check confirmed the obvious. The man was dead.

Agnes stepped back a pace, memories overlaying what was in front of her. Three weeks ago, a man had knelt beside her, spoken to her, and touched her neck for a pulse when she lay twisted on the floor with her leg and chest dripping blood. She remembered the blackness closing in, the numbness, the ringing in her ears. The memory bled into reality and she touched her side, feeling off-balance. She stumbled away, needing room to breathe.

Outside the press of the crowd, the scent of blood receded, the memories faded, and her pulse slowed. The rain had stopped and she leaned heavily on the tip of her furled umbrella. The Roach dead? He wasn’t a murderer. This wasn’t a fitting end to his crimes or to their investigation. There should have been an arrest. A trial. She glanced back in his direction. Officers were huddled over the body. She felt they’d been cheated out of the end. She’d wanted to interview him. To learn more about how he operated. Maybe even understand what motivated him. Why keep stealing when you’ve already made a fortune?

Her phone buzzed and she glanced at the screen. The feeling of uncertainty shifted when she read the caller ID. Julien Vallotton. He had saved her life, yet she’d ignored him in the past weeks, not ready to talk. Not trusting her judgment or her feelings.

This time the message was different.

She looked toward the dead man again. There were enough officers on-site to handle a situation far more complicated than this, and technically she was an observer to Aubry’s operation. She pushed through the next layer of gathering crowd until she reached the building. There, she leaned against the cold black metal façade.

She reread the message: Please call me. Urgent.

She had seen Julien Vallotton only once since leaving hospital. Since then, he’d texted her twice. The first time to see if she was recovering. The second, to ask if she would like to go to dinner. She’d not replied the second time. How could she go to dinner with him? What would she tell her boys? Or her in-laws? With her husband dead only four months, what would she tell herself? She glanced at the message again. He wasn’t the kind of man to say something was urgent as a ploy to prompt a response.

Baselworld security guards were dispersing the crowd, and Agnes could see past the dented Ferrari to its well-dressed driver. He was vomiting into a potted plant, and she hoped he would feel better once he realized he’d killed a master criminal and not a family man. She took another look at his car. Julien Vallotton had one like this. A Ferrari Pininfarina Sergio. What had he said, that it was one of only six in the world? Possibly the man was vomiting because he’d dented his hood.

She took a deep breath and called Vallotton. It only took one sentence to change the course of her day.

“We buried a friend yesterday. Police say it was an accident.” He paused and his tone altered. “I think it was murder.”


Copyright © 2018 by Tracee de Hahn