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Lawrence Sanders

McNally's Luck


The cat's name was Peaches, and it was a fat Persian with a vile disposition. I knew that because the miserable animal once upchucked on my shoes. I was certain Peaches wasn't suffering from indigestion; it was an act of hostility. For some ridiculous reason the ill-tempered feline objected to my footwear, which happened to be a natty pair of lavender suede loafers. Ruined, of course.

So when my father told me that Peaches had been catnapped and was being held for ransom, I was delighted and began to believe in divine retribution. But unfortunately the cat's owner was a client of McNally amp; Son, Attorney-at-Law (father was the Attorney, I was the Son), and I was expected to recover the nasty brute unharmed. My premature joy evaporated.

"Why don't they report it to the police?" I asked.

"Because," the sire explained patiently, "the ransom note states plainly that if the police are brought in, the animal will be destroyed. See what you can do, Archy."

I am not an attorney, having been expelled from Yale Law, but I am the sole member of a department at McNally amp; Son assigned to discreet inquiries. You must understand that we represented some very wealthy residents of the Town of Palm Beach, and frequently the problems of our clients required private investigations rather than assistance from the police. Most denizens of Palm Beach shun publicity, especially when it might reveal them to be as silly and sinful as lesser folk who don't even have a single trust fund.

Peaches' owners were Mr. and Mrs. Harry Willi-gan who had an estate on Ocean Boulevard about a half-mile south of the McNally manse. Willigan had made a fortune buying and developing land in Palm Beach and Martin counties, and specialized in building homes in the $50,000-$100,000 range. It was said he never took down the scaffolding until the wallpaper was up-but that may have been a canard spread by envious competitors.

With wealth had come the lush life: mansion, four cars, 52-ft. Hatteras, and a staff of three servants. It had also brought him a second wife, forty years younger than he.

The McNallys had dined at his home occasionally-after all, he was a client-but I thought him a coarse man, enamored of conspicuous consumption. He seemed to believe that serving beluga caviar on toast points proved his superiority to old-money neighbors, many of whom served Del Monte tomato herring on saltines. Laverne, his young wife, was not quite as crass. But she did flaunt chartreuse polish on her fingernails.

Willigan had children by his first wife, but he and Laverne were childless and likely to remain so if her frequent public pronouncements on the subject were to be believed. Instead of a tot, they had Peaches, and Harry lavished on that cranky quadruped all the devotion and indulgence usually bestowed on an only child. Laverne, to her credit, tolerated the cat but never to my knowledge called it Sweetums, as Harry frequently did.

And that's how the entire affair began, with the snatching of a misanthropic cat. It almost ended with the untimely demise of yrs. truly, Archibald McNally: bon vivant, dilettantish detective, and the only man in Palm Beach to wear white tie and tails to dinner at a Pizza Hut.

I left father's office in the McNally Building and drove my fire-engine-red Miata eastward toward the ocean. I had a brief attack of the rankles because my unique talents were being used to rescue a treacherous beast whose loathing of me was exceeded only by mine of her. But I am a sunny bloke, inclined to accentuate the positive, and my distemper did not last. It happened to be June 21st, and when Aristotle remarked that one swallow does not make a summer, he obviously wasn't thinking of frozen daiquiris. That was my plasma of choice from the June solstice to the September equinox, and I was looking forward to the first of the season.

Also, my regenerated romance with Consuela Garcia was going splendidly. Connie had made no alarming references to wedlock-the cause of our previous estrangement-and we had vowed to allow each other complete freedom to consort with whomever we chose. But we were so content with each other's company that this declaration of an open relationship had never been tested. As of that morning.

Finally, my spirits were ballooned by an absolutely smashing day: hot sun, scrubbed sky, low humidity and a fresh sea breeze as welcome as a kiss. I thought God had done a terrific job and I thanked Him. As my mother is fond of saying, it never hurts to be polite.

The Willigans' mansion was a faux Spanish hacienda with red tile roof, exposed oak beams, and a numbing profusion of terra-cotta pots. The place was called Casa Blanco and when you tugged the brass knob on the front door, you expected a butler to appear wearing sombrero and serape.

Actually, the butler who opened the door was wearing a black alpaca jacket over white duck trousers. He was an Australian named Leon Medallion, and when he came to work for the Willigans he had to be restrained from addressing all guests as "Mate."

"Good morning, Leon," I said. "How are you this loverly day?"

"Great, Mr. McNally," he said enthusiastically. "Couldn't be better."

That was a shock. Leon usually took a dour view of existence in general and life on the Gold Coast in particular. More than once I had heard him mutter, "Florida sucks."

"And how are the allergies?" I asked.

He looked about cautiously, then stepped close to me. "Would you believe it," he said in a hoarse whisper, "but since that rotten cat's been gone, I haven't sneezed once."

"Glad to hear it," I said, "but I'm sorry to tell you that's why I'm here. I've been ordered to try to find Peaches."

He groaned. "Please, Mr. McNally," he said, "don't try too hard. I suppose you want to see the lady of the house."

"If she's in."

"She is, but I gotta go through all that etiquette shit and see if she's receiving."

He left me standing in the tiled foyer and shambled away. He returned in a few moments.

"She's at the pool and wants you to come out there," he reported. "She also says to ask if you'd like a drink."

I glanced at my watch: almost eleven-thirty. Close enough.

"Yes, thank you, Leon," I said. "Can you mix me a frozen daiquiri?"

"Sure," he said. "My favorite. Mother's milk."

I walked down the long entrance hall, the walls unaccountably decorated with swords, maces, and a few old muskets. The hallway led to a screened patio, and the rear door of that opened to a lawned area and the swimming pool.

Laverne Willigan was lounging at an umbrella table on the grass, her face shaded by a wide-brimmed planter's hat. It may not have been the world's smallest bikini she was wearing, but it wouldn't have provided a decent meal for a famished moth. Her tanned legs were crossed, and one bare foot was bobbing up and down in time to music coming from a portable radio on the table. A rock station, of course.

She had the decency to turn down the volume as I approached, for which I was grateful. I am not an aficionado of rock. I much prefer classical music, such as "I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate."

"Hiya, Archy," Laverne said breezily. "Pull up a chair. You order a drink?"

"I did indeed, thank you," I said, doffing my pink linen golf cap. I moved a canvas sling to face her. "You're looking positively splendid. Glorious tan."

"Thanks," she said. "I work at it. What else have I got to do?"

I hoped she wasn't expecting an answer, but I was saved from replying by the arrival of Leon bearing my daiquiri on a silver salver. It was in a brandy snifter large enough to accommodate a hyacinth bulb.

"Good heavens," I said, "that must be a triple."

"Nah," Leon said, "it's mostly ice."

"Well, if I start singing, send me home. Aren't you drinking, Laverne?"

"Sure I am," she said and picked up a glass as large as mine from the grass alongside her chair. "Bloody Mary made with fresh horseradish. I like hot stuff."