The Cassandra Sanction (10 page)

The waiter had reached them and was waving his hands frantically. ‘You, back off,’
Ben warned him in German, aiming a finger at his chest.


Ich werde die Polizei anrufen
,’ the waiter said, drawing back a step as if Ben’s pointed finger were a pistol.

Raul picked up on the word ‘Polizei’ and said, ‘That’s right, you go right ahead and call them.’ He aimed a finger at the terrified woman. ‘We’ve got a kidnapper here.’

Ben turned away from the waiter and snatched Raul’s
hand. He dug a thumb into the nerve point in Raul’s wrist. Just a little pressure was enough to make the muscles spasm and let go.

‘I said, enough,’ Ben told him seriously. ‘Look at her. She’s going to have a heart attack.’

The woman was bawling now, her face bright purple and wisps of hair coming loose from her pinned-up helmet. Most of the good citizens in the place had turned to gape
in alarm. Two or three other men were half out of their seats, hesitating to weigh in. If enough of them rushed forwards at once, things could get messy. The waiter had raced back behind the bar to grab a phone and call the cops.

Raul’s eyes bugged. ‘I’m telling you, this bitch is wearing my sister’s necklace.’

‘It’s just a necklace,’ Ben said.

‘No, it’s not just a necklace, Ben. It’s
her
necklace. There’s no other like it in the world. It’s a diamond and sapphire spiral galaxy made just for her by a top jewellery designer. It was a gift from that bastard Austin Keller.’

Austin Keller again. ‘The one who broke her heart, I remember.’

‘She stopped wearing the necklace when they split up. It’s engraved on the back,
All my love, A.J.K
.’

‘It is mine!’ the woman shouted
in heavily accented English, speaking for the first time. She clutched protectively at the spiral pendant with both hands, as if you’d have to break all her fingers to take it from her.

‘Ah, so she does understand,’ Raul sneered at her. ‘Fine. So you can tell that to the police.’

‘We’re not waiting for them,’ Ben said. ‘Let’s go.’ He grabbed Raul’s arm again, but this time Raul was ready
for him and elbowed him sharply backwards in the ribs before tearing free of Ben, lunging after the woman a second time. Raul knocked her hands out of the way and clawed the pendant from her neck. The woman let out a cry as the flimsy silver chain snapped.

Raul clutched the diamond cluster in his fist, turned it over to examine the shiny silver mounting plate on the back and let out a ‘Ha!’
of satisfaction. ‘There. I knew it! I told you! Look!’

Raul turned triumphantly to Ben and showed him. Up close, the exquisite craftsmanship of the piece was unmissable. It was a beautiful thing. The glittering white diamonds radiated in an elliptical spiral from the bluer stones in the centre, the outer jewels delicately mounted on tiny silver arms to give the impression that they were floating
freely in space. You could almost see the galaxy slowly rotating on its axis.

As Raul flipped the piece over on the palm of his hand, Ben could clearly see the fancy engraved lettering on the backplate.

All my love

A.J.K.

Ben looked sharply up at Raul. The Spaniard was grinning a nasty grin and his eyes were glittering almost as brightly as the stones. ‘How did I know that, hmm?
How did I know that? This bitch took it from her, that’s how.’ He wheeled back to glare at the woman.

Unless Raul Fuentes was clairvoyant, Ben couldn’t see any other explanation either. In the blink of an eye, the situation had totally reversed.

Two men from nearby tables had eased from their seats and were slowly advancing. Ben gave them another warning stare and said in German, ‘Easy.
Nobody’s getting hurt here.’

Raul was still questioning the woman. Now that she realised she wasn’t about to be murdered, she was coming out more freely with answers.


Ich habe es mir gerade gekauft
… I – I buy it!’

‘When?’ Raul demanded.

‘She says recently,’ Ben said. She looked too frightened to be lying. In a gentler tone than Raul’s, he asked her in German to tell him exactly
when and where she had purchased the piece of jewellery.

‘Not long ago … I think three weeks. I saw it in a window for sale … A pawnshop. I wouldn’t normally go into those places but it was so beautiful I—’

Ben said to Raul, ‘She says she bought it from a pawnshop three weeks ago.’

‘Bullshit!’ Raul spat, enraged. ‘Now, listen, you—’

‘Cool it, Raul.’ Ben was still holding up a hand
to warn away the heroes from the nearby tables. It wasn’t easy to smile reassuringly in that position, but he needed to put the woman at her ease. ‘Please, Fräulein, tell me the name of the shop where you found it.’

The woman gave an address, and Ben repeated it back to her twice. She was crying, partly from shock and fear, and probably also partly because she thought she’d lost her precious
pendant.

‘Let her have it,’ Ben said.

‘No way she’s getting it back. It’s Catalina’s.’

‘You can’t steal it from her. She’s telling the truth. For Christ’s sake, look at her. She’s scared to death.’ Ben held out his hand. Reluctantly, after a beat, Raul dropped the pendant into his palm. Ben returned it to the woman. ‘There. Everything’s fine. Please sit down and finish your tea. We’re
leaving.’ He repeated it more loudly for the rest of the room to hear. ‘Okay? No problems here. We’re going now.’ He pulled a few euros from his pocket to pay for their drinks and left them on an empty table as they retreated towards the door. Then they spilled back out into the rainy street and ran for the car before the police arrived.

‘This is getting to be a habit since I met you,’ Ben
said as he accelerated the Kia up the street.

Chapter Twelve

Around the corner, Ben squealed the car sharply into the kerbside and punched the address the woman had given him into the on-board satnav.

‘I was right,’ Raul was saying over and over. ‘I was right. Something happened to her.’

‘Let’s take this one step at a time, okay?’ Ben said.

Raul turned to face him with liquid eyes. ‘You see I was right, don’t you?’

‘About
the diamonds,’ Ben said. ‘That’s all we know for now. Stay calm.’

‘How can I stay calm, damn it? A
pawnshop
. Can’t you see? It proves she was kidnapped. Whoever took her sold the jewels for some quick cash. Bastards!’ Raul punched the dash so hard that he cracked the plastic and left a smear of blood.

‘Don’t wreck the car,’ Ben said.

The address was just a few blocks away. If the woman
lived in the area, it increased the chances of her frequenting both the shop and the café. Which meant it wasn’t the impossible coincidence Ben had first thought. How Catalina Fuentes’ pendant had ended up there, and what this turn of events signified, were questions still to be answered.

As they pulled up outside ten minutes later, Ben could see why a respectable middle-class denizen of Munich
might not readily admit to shopping in the place. He’d seen shabbier pawnshops, but he really couldn’t remember when.

‘Are you coming in?’ he said to Raul.

‘Are you joking with me?’

‘Fine. Then try not to beat the guy up, all right? I’ll handle it.’

A bell tinkled as Ben pushed open the door, and a hanging sign saying
GEÖFFNET
slapped against the glass. There were no other customers.
The pawnshop smelled stuffy inside, and there was so much clutter in the windows that it blocked much of what little light the grey sky was throwing down. Ben wondered if the murky ambiance was also meant to camouflage the crappy quality of most of what was on sale in the place. The usual assortment of golf clubs and hockey sticks and electric guitars and saxophones and exercise machines and
dinner sets and racks of clothing and air rifles and a thousand other dingy-looking items traded for ready cash by their former owners stood, hung or were stuffed inside crowded shelves around the walls. A closed office door marked
PRIVÄT
lay behind the counter, which housed a glass-topped display cabinet that constituted the pawnshop’s jewellery wares not displayed in the window, consisting mainly
of watches, along with a few brooches and earrings, bracelets and strings of fake pearls nestling in velvety little presentation boxes.

Whoever Catalina Fuentes’ ex-boyfriend Austin J. Keller was, Ben thought, he’d have to be pretty seriously rich to be able to afford a bobby dazzler like the spiral galaxy pendant. All the weirder, then, that it should have ended up in a dump like this, sitting
among a pile of third-rate trinkets. Either Catalina must have hated the guy so much after they split up that she didn’t give a damn, or else she had to be desperate. Desperation oozed from every crack of this place.

Ben was gazing at the jewellery when the office door opened and a squat man with a scrappy beard, a flowery shirt and a pronounced leg length discrepancy limped through it.

Ben decided to skip the preliminaries. ‘
Sprechen Sie Englisch?

The guy shrugged, like saying, ‘So-so.’

Switching from German, Ben asked him, ‘Are you the owner?’

The guy’s eyes narrowed to slits. ‘I am the proprietor. What is this concerning?’

‘We’re here to inquire about an item of jewellery you sold about three weeks ago. A pendant made of diamonds, shaped in a spiral, blue at
the centre, about so big, with a silver mount. Very distinctive. I think you know the one I mean.’

The guy made a big deal of trying to remember, but Ben could tell he knew exactly what piece he was talking about. ‘
Ja
. What about it?’

‘We’d like to know who sold it to you.’

‘Are you cops?’

Ben shook his head.

The guy pulled a face. He probably would have spat on the floor if
he hadn’t been in his own premises. ‘Then is none of your fucking business who sold it to me. I do not remember anyway. Now I have business to run. You are not here to buy, the door is that way.’

Ben nodded. ‘Fine,’ he said. He turned and walked towards the door.

Raul stared at him. ‘Just like that?’

Ben said nothing. He reached the door, flipped the open sign around so that it read
GESCHLOSSEN
, then popped the latch. Then he walked back to the counter and said, ‘Your business is now closed until we say it isn’t.
Ist das klar, mein dicker Freund?

Three shades paler, the pawnshop owner raised his hands. ‘I want no trouble.’

‘That’s good,’ Ben said. ‘Because my associate here has a tendency to get extremely violent when people piss him off. Once he starts, I can’t stop
him. The last person who pissed him off, he—’

‘Okay, okay.’ The guy glanced nervously at Raul, suddenly all eager to help.

‘What’s your name?’ Ben asked.

‘Mattias. Mattias Braunschweiger.’

‘Okay, Mattias. Now let’s rack our brains and see if we can’t remember who sold us that diamond cluster. I don’t believe pieces like that come your way every week.’

‘A woman sold it to me.’

Raul and Ben exchanged looks.

‘Description,’ Ben said.

‘Very beautiful woman. Dark. She looked familiar to me. I think afterwards, she is a movie star. Or singer.’

Ben smiled. The pawnshop had ‘haunt of the rich and famous’ written all over it. ‘Would you remember her face?’

‘You would not forget her,’ Braunschweiger said, showing yellow and grey teeth.

‘Is this her?’ Raul
asked. He took a photo from his wallet. It was a duplicate of the one framed over his desk at home, showing himself and Catalina on a sandy beach. He’d folded it in half so that only she was visible.

Braunschweiger squinted at the picture and nodded. ‘
Ja
. That is the woman.’ His eyes darted back up at Ben and Raul. ‘You are not cops?’

‘Just tell us about the woman.’

‘She had lot of
things to sell. Very good stuff. I show you.’

He limped back through the door that said
PRIVÄT
. Ben watched him in case he tried to run, though he wouldn’t have got far on that leg. Braunschweiger reappeared a moment later, carrying a tray that glittered even in the dingy light. There was a delicate gold watch with a tiny rectangular case, several pairs of diamond earrings and a bracelet studded
with small emeralds. The stuff was on a different planet to the trash in the display cabinet.

‘I have to revalue,’ he explained. ‘I think after I sell the other, price is too small.’

Braunschweiger laid the tray on the counter, and Raul stepped close with a deep frown on his face to examine the things on it. He recognised them immediately. ‘This is Catalina’s,’ he said, holding up the
small gold watch. Its rectangular face was studded with minute diamonds.

‘You’re sure?’ Ben said.

‘No question. It’s hers. A Cartier Tank Américaine. She’d always wanted one. I was with her when she bought it. And these earrings. You can see them in a lot of photos of her. And this bracelet—’

‘All right,’ Ben said, convinced. He turned to Braunschweiger. ‘When exactly did she bring
you these things?’

‘Exactly? You want date?’ Braunschweiger considered for a moment, then grabbed a thick, well-thumbed ledger from beneath the counter and started flicking back through its pages, which were covered in entries: description of goods, date of transaction, price paid. After a few moments he tapped a page with his thick finger. ‘I find it. She come here
Zwölftel Juli
.’

July
twelfth. Just four days before Catalina’s car had gone over the cliff. Ben and Raul exchanged glances. Raul’s brows were knitted and his jaw was clenched. ‘Are you certain this is right?’ Ben asked Braunschweiger.

‘You want see security recording? This prove it,
ja
?’

‘Get to it,’ Ben said.

The German led them behind the counter into his office, a poky room that smelled of stale body
odour and was choked with clutter and stacked paperwork. On a scarred pine table that served as a desk was Braunschweiger’s grimy computer, hooked up to wires that ran up the wall, attached by duct tape, and disappeared through a hole to connect up to the security camera Ben had noticed in the corner of the ceiling overlooking the counter.

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