Authors: Ruthe Ogilvie
The crowd dispersed and went to the lobby where refreshments and drinks could be bought. Some of them looked up into the Stuart box, hoping to get a glimpse of the Stuart-Dubonnet family, but they had already gone into the private lounge on the second floor.
Courtney held on to Manny’s arm and gazed up into his eyes with adoration.
Zack turned his head away, but Courtney was unaware of anything but Manny.
The group sat at two tables. Hildy, Jay, Cammie, Jeremy and Fran sat at one, and Zack, Andre, Courtney, and Manny sat at the table beside them. The waiter approached them with flutes of champagne and petit fours on a tray.
Manny waited politely until the others had been served.
What nice manners! Courtney observed.
Zack rose and nodded to Jay to join him at the other side of the room.
“What is it, Zack?” Jay asked him when they were out of earshot of the others.
Zack came right to the point. “I don’t like to throw a damper on this celebration,” he told Jay, “but I don’t like the vibes I’m getting. Manny is a smooth character. Too smooth. He’s up to something. I wish I knew what it was.” He frowned. “I have an idea—”
Jay inhaled sharply as his eyes widened with dismay. “Oh, no! You don’t mean there’s—a connection—?!”
Zack smiled wryly. “You’re reading my mind.”
Jay nodded. “I’ve known you long enough.”
“It sounds crazy, I know, but—” Zack tapped his fingers nervously on the table, thinking, then looked directly at Jay. “I hope I’m wrong. It’s just a gut feeling—a suspicion. But we should be careful—very careful. We mustn’t let down our guard for one minute. I wouldn’t put it past—”
“No! It can’t be!” Jay interrupted.
Zack shook his head, but remained firm. “Stranger things have happened. Don’t discount it. I’ll try to question Manny in a casual way and find out what I can.”
The first buzzer rang, signaling them to return to their seats. The third act was about to begin.
If the music was beautiful before, it was even more breathtaking now. The performers were perfection itself, and Courtney’s musical finished with a grand flourish.
As the actors took their bows, an usher appeared at the balcony to take Courtney down to the stage. The audience was again calling for the author-composer and Courtney began to tremble. She could barely walk across the floor.
“I’ll go with you,” Cammie said. “I wouldn’t miss this for the world!”
She took Courtney’s hand. Together they followed the usher to the elevator.
“Don’t go away!” Courtney called back to Manny. “We’re going to Sardi’s for dessert, and you’re coming with us!” Her voice faded as the elevator door closed.
Zack looked grim as he glanced at Jay.
They remained in their seats in the balcony as the producer ushered Courtney on stage. The moment she appeared, the roar from the crowd was deafening.
Zack sneaked a peek at Manny, who sat poker faced. But the expression in his eyes gave him away—a look of utter triumph that was unmistakable! Most people would have missed it, but not Zack. What is he after? he wondered again.
Soon the curtain came down and the audience began to leave the theatre.
The group in the Stuart balcony rose and went to the elevator to join Courtney and Cammie at the stage door. The chauffeur was waiting, and they were on their way to Sardi’s.
Manny was the last one to enter the limo. Zack wished he could slam the door in his face! Instead, he sat expressionless.
They arrived just in time to be seated at a table in a secluded corner before the theatre crowd could descend on them.
Courtney sat on one side of Manny, and Zack deliberately sat on the other.
He smiled a friendly smile as he turned to Manny. “Tell me about yourself,” he encouraged him. “Where you come from, what kind of work you do—that sort of thing. I’m sure it must be very interesting.”
If Manny was surprised by Zack’s question, he covered it up well. His answer came so quickly it seemed to Zack that it must have been well rehearsed.
“I think you’ve guessed that I come from Spain. My accent always gives me away.” Manny paused. “I have worked as a security agent. You know, installing alarm systems in buildings that need extra security. It’s not very glamorous, but it’s a good living.”
He stopped and scanned the menu.
But Zack wasn’t letting him off that easily. “What particular places have you worked? I suppose you carry a gun?” It was more of a question than a remark.
Manny hesitated for just a second. “Well—yes. It’s in the rules and regulations of my job, but I’ve never used it. I hope I never have to. I get a little squeamish just thinking about it.”
Zack nodded, but was far from convinced. There’s something sinister about this young man, he determined, and I won’t rest till I find out what it is. He’s hiding something. He decided not to question him anymore—at least, for the time being.
As they left the restaurant and headed toward the limousine,
Courtney turned to Manny. Manny caught her and everyone else off guard by putting his arm around her and kissing her on the cheek. “I’ll call you,” he said, and was gone.
Countney stood transfixed. Her hand caressed the spot where he had kissed her. Her eyes shone with a combination of surprise and delight as she allowed Zack to usher her into the limo. She shivered and her hands shook as she settled into her seat and fastened the seat belt. For Courtney the limo never seemed to touch the ground as it made its way over the roads to Scarsdale.
“Isn’t he wonderful?” she exclaimed.
Zack answered for the others. “Courtney, you know nothing about him. Bide your time. You’re in no hurry.”
“Remember what we told you the other night,” Cammie warned her. “You can’t be too careful. Wait till you know him better before making any snap judgments. You know that old saying—’All that glitters—’”
“Mom!” Courtney interrupted. “Why are you so against him? He hasn’t done anything wrong!”
Zack sent Cammie a warning look as if to say—Don’t object too much. You could alienate her.
Cammie nodded, and said nothing more.
What a charmer he is! Zack mused, and his heart sank. This isn’t going to be easy. He has Courtney completely hypnotized. He determined to do some heavy investigating into Manny’s background. Zack’s former partner when he had his detective agency in Los Angeles—Gus Johnson—was teaching temporarily at a police academy in Spain for a few weeks, and Zack was sure he could find the time to do some research. Gus would have easy access to the records at police headquarters. I’ll get in touch with him first thing tomorrow morning, Zack promised himself.
They were all quiet on the ride home. What more could they say at this early stage? But deep concern was etched on all their faces.
They had left France to escape from danger.
But had they?
ack was up at five-thirty the next morning—the perfect hour with the time difference between New York and Spain for the call he wanted to make. As he sipped his coffee he dialed Gus Johnson’s number in Spain.
Gus answered in Spanish. “Buenos dias,” Zack heard him say.
“Gus, it’s Zack.”
“Zack!” Gus exclaimed. “I haven’t heard from you in ages! What’s up?”
“I have a special favor to ask,” Zack told him. “Do you know a young man by the name of Manfred Kasnov? Dark hair—brown eyes—handsome?”
Gus paused, thinking. “No—I can’t say I do. What’s up? You sound as though you don’t like him very much.”
“You remember my mentioning Hildy and Jay Stuart and their daughter, Cammie? Cammie’s daughter, barely twenty, is quite smitten with him. He singled her out and introduced himself just before we boarded the plane in Paris yesterday. She spent most of the flying time with him in Business Class. He seems to have exerted some kind of hypnotic control over her. She invited him to attend a performance of a musical she wrote. He came last night and I had a chance to observe him some more. I don’t like the vibes I’m getting. He’s much too smooth a character. Would you look into it for me? He says he works in security, but I don’t know what company. I need to know all about him before things go too far.”
“I’ll get right on it,” Gus promised him. “You called at just the right time. The students are away on target practice for the rest of the week, and I have some free time. Give me the number where you’re staying. It may take a few days, but I’ll call you as soon as I know anything.”
Zack gave him the number and hung up. He felt much easier now. Gus was an excellent detective, and he knew if he couldn’t find something, no one could. He sat there thinking—getting in touch with his intuition—making a few notes while sipping his second cup of coffee.
It was seven o’clock when Jay and Hildy joined him in the breakfast room. “Good morning, Zack,” Jay said in a low tone. “What are you up to? Anything to do with Manny?”
Zack smiled. “You know me well, don’t you? I just put in a call to my former partner, Gus Johnson. He’s in Spain teaching a course on how to be a detective. I thought he might be able to find out something about Manny.”
“Did he recognize the name?” Hildy asked him.
“No. He’s never heard of him. But Gus is an excellent detective. I’m sure he’ll find something.” Zack grew pensive. “Unless—I wonder—”
Jay leaned forward. “Wonder what?”
“Oh—it’s probably off the wall—not worth giving house room.” He hesitated, then frowned. “Still—”
Jay gave him a long, searching look, then told Zack what he was thinking. “He may be using a fake name?” he asked.
Zack looked at Jay in amazement. “You really do know me, don’t you? That’s precisely what I was thinking.” As he spoke, voices could be heard. The others were approaching the dining room, and Zack put his finger on his lips. “Let’s table it for now,” he whispered. “We’ll wait till we hear from Gus.”
Cammie, Jeremy, Courtney, Fran, and Andre entered the room.
“Good morning!” Zack greeted them. “Did you sleep well?”
“As well as could be expected,” Cammie answered.
Zack nodded understandingly.
They poured themselves some coffee and sat down at the table with Zack. All except Andre.
“Sir,” he said, addressing Jeremy, “what can I get for your breakfast?”
“Relax, Andre,” Jeremy told him. “Get yourself a cup of coffee and sit down. You’re not here to wait on us. The cook will take care of that.” He walked over and opened the side door that led out to the patio. As he stood there he looked out and breathed deeply. “What a beautiful day!” he exclaimed. “The cook must be planning to serve us outdoors. The table is all set up.”
Stuart Manor resided on a hilly knoll overlooking Long Island Sound. The view across the Sound was so clear it seemed that they could reach out and touch the hills across the bay. In the near distance the deep blue and white water of the Atlantic Ocean could be seen as the waves rushed in against the shore. As they made their way out to the patio a fresh, gentle breeze brushed across their faces. Birds were singing, doves were cooing, and the sweet perfume of blossoms from a nearby apple tree wafted over to them. Angus, the Stuart’s dog, a pure sable collie, wandered over and put his head in Jay’s lap. Angus, like the rest of them, had a title. He was registered at the American Kennel Club as the Earl Of Angus.
As Jay stroked his head, Angus made contented, purring noises in his throat.
Andre looked startled. It was the first time he had been to Stuart Manor, and his first encounter with Angus. “Sir,” he asked Jay, “is that dog purring? I thought only cats did that.”
Jay laughed and continued to stroke the dog’s head. “Angus has done that ever since we got him as a puppy from the kennel three years ago,” he told Andre.
Andre reached out his hand and Angus went over to him. He cocked his head to one side and stared, sizing Andre up for a minute or two, then wagged his tail, sat down in front of Andre, and extended his paw.
Zack chuckled. “You’re one of the family now, Andre. Angus just accepted you. It’s not surprising. Dogs have an uncanny sense about people. They know who the good guys are.”
Wonder how Angus would feel about Manny? he mused. He glanced at Jay. After all these years of friendship Zack’s uncanny intuition told him that Jay was wondering the same thing.