EDWARD D. HOCH “The Theft of the Mafia Cat.” Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, May 1972. Collected in The Thefts of Nick Velvet (Mysterious Press, hardcover, 1978). Reprinted in Purr-Fect Crime, edited by Carol-Lynn Rösell Waugh, Martin Greenberg & Isaac Asimov (Lynx, paperback, 1989).

   The charm of the Nick Velvet stories to me is how clever they are, and in fact, they have to be. Not only does Nick have to figure out how to steal the essentially valueless objects he’s hired to obtain, but he also has to work out why he was hired to steal them in the first place. (In this story originally published in 1972, his fee is $20,000.)

   In this case Nick is hired by an old friend from the Italian neighborhood in which he grew up to steal the local Mafia don’s favorite pet, a cat named Sparkle, then return it a day later. Needless to say, Nick does both jobs with eclat and ease. Just another day at the office.

   What makes this particular story stand out a little more than some of Nick’s other adventures is that along the way he tells his friend how he got started in his unique way of making a living. The first job he was hired to do was to help someone break into a museum of fine art, which he accomplished by removing a stained glass window and climbing in.

   Turns out that window was worth $50,000 and that was all the woman who hired him wanted. After she was arrested and the window was returned, Nick decided from that point on his career in thievery consisted of stealing only things that were essentially worthless.