EDWARD D. HOCH “The Theft of the Brazen Letters.” Short story. Nick Velvet #4. First published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, November 1968 (their 300th issue). First collected in The Spy and the Thief (Davis, digest-sized paperback; 1st printing, December 1971).

   The reason I like Hoch’s Nick Velvet series so much is that there’s always a twofold mystery to be solved in them. Nick’s fee is $20,000 per each commissioned theft he agrees to take on, and each time it is always for some insignificant object that no one would ever think worth stealing. Mystery number one: How does he mange to steal that very insignificant object? Mystery number two: Nick is also a very inquisitive guy, and of course he’s always also interested as to why he was asked to steal the item he does.

   For example, from the introduction to this story in EQMM, previous thefts he’s taken as assignments include stealing a tiger from a zoo, water from a swimming pool and a toy mouse from the prop room of a movie studio. In “The Theft of the Brazen Letters,” he asked to steal three of seven neon letters from the outside of a commercial building. The seven letters are SATOMEX. I think you can deduce on your own which three letters Nick’s client wants stolen, but I don’t think you’ll have any more idea than I did as to why.

   As is usual for Ed Hoch’s stories, this is purely a puzzle tale. Nothing more nor anything less, and that’s super fine for me. There’s even a bonus in this one, as Nick has the local cops to contend with, and as a surprise to me, he’s one up on them as well. The zinger at the end is simple, but a zinger nonetheless.