Authors: Stuart Woods
Stone sat in the booth at Patroon and waited for the Bacchettis and Viv’s friend Kitty to arrive. God knew it was not his first blind date, but it had been a while, and he was a little nervous.
Then Viv walked through the door, and behind her, mostly concealed by Viv, was someone taller, with darker hair and a bare shoulder. That was all he could see.
He slid across his seat and stood up out of courtesy and for a better view. He took in a quick breath. Viv had moved in such a way as to reveal a tall, dark-haired woman in a low-cut, strapless dress and, probably, very high heels, since she was half a head taller than Viv, who wasn’t short.
“Stone,” Viv said, smiling gleefully, “I want you to meet Kitty Crosse.”
,” Kitty said, reaching out for Stone’s hand, giving him a glimpse of red nail polish that matched her lipstick.
Dino stood behind her, laughing at Stone’s reaction.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Kitty,” Stone managed to say. Her long fingers encircled his hand.
“Please have a seat.” Everybody did, then ordered drinks.
“A Moscow Mule,” Kitty said.
“I’ve forgotten what that is,” Stone said as the waiter wrote it down.
“Vodka, ginger beer, and lime juice,” Kitty said. “Maybe a couple of other things. I can’t remember.”
“The bartender will know,” Stone said.
“Viv tells me you’re an attorney,” Kitty said.
“For my sins. What about you?”
“For a living?”
“Divorce pays very well, if you do it right,” she replied.
“Who was your attorney?”
“Herbert Fisher—a partner of yours, I hear.”
“You were certainly in good hands,” Stone said, trying not to look down her cleavage.
“It’s all right,” she said.
“You read minds, do you?”
“I follow gazes. If I didn’t want you to admire my breasts, I wouldn’t have worn this dress.”
“That’s frank and forthright,” Stone said.
“Two of my better qualities, though some men are put off by them. The qualities, not my breasts.”
Viv spoke up, “Perhaps you two can arrange a private viewing, later.”
“That’s certainly a possibility,” Kitty said, while Stone quietly choked on his bourbon.
“I look forward to it,” he finally managed to say. He was saved by the arrival of the menus.
After dinner they made their way out of the restaurant.
“I have my car,” Stone said. “May I drive you home?”
“It’s early,” she said. “I understand you have a handsome house. May I see it?”
“You may,” Stone said, helping her into the Bentley.
“This is a beautiful car,” Kitty said, stroking the leather seat. “I’ve been thinking of buying something I can be chauffeured in. Do you recommend it?”
“I do, unreservedly. You can even order it armored—if your divorce was an unpleasant one. Home, Fred.”
“I have a dog named Fred,” Kitty said, quietly.
“Mine is named Bob,” Stone said.
“And where is he tonight?”
“Where he is every night, asleep by the fire.”
They pulled into the garage. “Now, I don’t have one of these,” Kitty said, looking around.
“Buy the house next door, or I’m sure there’s a good garage in your neighborhood that would be proud to have a Bentley as a tenant. They like parking them up front, where the other tenants can see them. An attempt to justify their prices, I expect.”
They got off the elevator and walked into the living room.
“How very nice,” Kitty said. “Viv didn’t overstate your virtues.”
“I don’t claim to be virtuous,” Stone said, showing her into the study.
“Living well is the best virtue,” Kitty said. “You seem to have mastered that.”
“I do the best I can,” Stone said, handing her the requested martini.
She followed his gaze. “I see I’m holding your attention,” she said.
“You certainly are.”
“I promised you a viewing, I believe.”
“You did, but I won’t hold you to it.”
She stood up, reached behind her, and pulled down the zipper. Her dress made a puddle at her feet. She was wearing only a thong now, and her shoes.
“I’m impressed,” Stone said.
Kitty sat down and crossed her legs. “I’d be worried about you if you weren’t. Do you sleep on this sofa?”
“There’s a master suite upstairs,” he said.
“Let’s have a look at that.” She picked up her dress, slung it over a shoulder, and followed him upstairs, then looked around. “Just the sort of thing I expected.” She handed him her dress. “Hang this somewhere, please.”
Stone relieved her of the garment and hung it in the dressing room. By the time he returned, the thong and her shoes had been dealt with, too.
“I promised Viv I’d tell her what you’re like in bed,” she said, working on his buttons.
Stone gave her every assistance.
Half an hour later, Kitty said, “I’ll give Viv a good report on you.”
“I’m flattered,” Stone replied.
She threw a leg over and mounted him. “Are you good for another round?” she asked.
“Let’s find out,” Stone said, as she slipped him inside her.
Stone next knew consciousness when the dumbwaiter bell went off.
“Are we under arrest?” Kitty asked sleepily.
“Not yet. That means that breakfast is on the way up.”
“When did you order breakfast?”
“Last night. I sent a note to the cook in the dumbwaiter.”
“How clever of you. About a lot of things,” she said.
“I just followed your lead,” he replied, “and I enjoyed where it went.”
“So did I,” she replied.
Stone set the breakfast aside and reengaged.
Stone lay back with Kitty’s head resting on his chest. “It’s Saturday,” he said. “You don’t have to go to work, do you?”
“Being a divorcée doesn’t make a lot of demands on my time. Would you go shopping with me today?”
“I’d be delighted. What will you be shopping for?”
“A Bentley,” she said.
“I expect you’ll want to go home and change.”
“Not really,” she said, picking up her handbag, reaching inside and coming out with a silk dress. “I’ll borrow a shower, though.”
“Right through there,” Stone said, pointing. “Let me know if you need anything.” He got up and headed for his own shower. He shaved, dried his hair, and put on khaki trousers, loafers, and a checked shirt, then got into a blue blazer. He emerged as Kitty did. She looked fresh and new, and he liked the dress.
Fred had the car out front, and Stone installed Kitty in the rear
seat next to him. As he got into the car he saw a black Mercedes parked half a block down the street with the motor running. It didn’t mean anything, he thought, but it was noticeable, for reasons he couldn’t entirely fathom.
They were driven over to Eleventh Avenue, where the car dealerships had collected, and to the Bentley showroom. “I like that one,” Kitty said as they entered. The car was parked in the center of the showroom.
“It’s a Flying Spur, like mine.”
Kitty walked slowly around the car and paused at the window sticker.
A salesman materialized at her elbow. “May I help you, ma’am?”
“You may sell me this car, if we can agree on a price.”
“Will you require bank financing, ma’am?”
“I’ll write you a check.”
“One moment, please.” The man went to a phone and spoke briefly. He jotted something on a piece of paper, hung up, and handed it to her. “That includes a generous discount, and all taxes and other charges.”
“Done,” she said. She walked over to his desk, sat down, produced an alligator-bound checkbook from her purse, wrote a check, and signed it. “There you are,” she said. “I’ll have to move some money on Monday morning, but you can cash it by noon, I expect.”
Stone knew the salesman and saw him hesitate. “I’ll vouch for Ms. Crosse,” he said.
“I can have it cleaned and ready to go in an hour,” he said to Kitty.
She handed him a card. “Just drop it off at my building and
leave the keys with the doorman,” she said. “Nice doing business with you.”
“A pleasure, ma’am. Mr. Barrington, thank you for the referral.”
Stone walked her back to his car, where Fred stood, braced, with the door open. “That was quickly done,” he said to Kitty.
“If you want something,” she said, “why fuck around?”
Stone hoped her check would clear. As they pulled into traffic, Stone looked at the front rearview mirror and saw a black Mercedes pull in behind them, a few car lengths back.
“Does your ex-husband drive a black Mercedes?” he asked.
She looked at him askance. “How would you know that?”
“Because there’s a black Mercedes following us a ways back. It was waiting outside my house when we left.”
“How many people in it?” she asked without looking back.
“Two,” Stone replied.
“He’s been abroad,” she said. “I guess he’s back.”
“How concerned should I be about that?”
“What do you mean?”
“When people follow other people around, they usually have some sort of intent. Does he go around armed?”
“He has a license to do so, but I’ve no way of knowing if he is at the moment.”
“Did he have the habit of carrying?”
“Now and then. He would never tell me why.”
“What’s his name?”
“Harry Hillman,” she replied. “He’s British.”
“Is he an American citizen?”
“No, he’s far too snobbish about being an Englishman.”
“Would you like to have him thrown out of the country?”
“He’s been pretty decent about the divorce, so I don’t think so. If he gets to be a nuisance, I may ask your help in that regard. Can you really do that?”
“I might be able to assist him on his way. I just don’t want him to shoot me between now and then. Has he ever shot anyone?”
“He used to brag about having shot a man when he was in the army, but I never knew whether to believe him.”
“Did he brag about other things you doubted?”
“He certainly had a tendency to brag, but never to the extent that I doubted him. It was always something schoolboyish like a fistfight. He would brag that he had knocked a man out with a single punch, that sort of thing.”
“I must remember not to let him land a punch,” Stone said. “What size is he?”
She looked at him. “Size? Really?”
“Oh, please. Height and weight will do.”
“Sorry. Six feet four, two-twenty, or thereabouts.”
“I’m sorry to hear it,” Stone muttered. “Where will you park the car?” he asked, seeking to change the subject.
“There’s a garage in the building, and I own two spots. The doorman will know.” She got out her cell phone. “I’ll give him a heads-up.” She did so.
“How did you come to marry an Englishman?” Stone asked.
“Well, I was in England,” she replied, “and it just sort of happened. He can be quite charming if he feels like it.”
Stone kept checking the rearview mirror. They might have been towing the black Mercedes, he thought. “Where to now?”
“You can let me off at Bloomingdale’s. I can find my way home from there.”
“You don’t want company?” He glanced over his shoulder.
“Still there,” he replied.
“I’ll manage,” she said.
“Ask your doorman to recommend a driver for your new car.”
He dropped her at Bloomingdale’s and, as he drove away, got a pretty good look at the large man in the passenger seat. It would be harder for the man to sneak up on him now.
Stone called a familiar number.
“Hi, it’s Stone.”
“Hi, there. It’s been a while. What’s up?”
“Kitty Crosse is up.”
“She’s something, ain’t she? Too bad the bar association frowns on sex with clients.”
“Fortunately, she’s not my client.”
“I envy you your availability.”
“What kind of divorce did she have?”
“She got it done. I think her husband was a little afraid of her. His attorney certainly was. Meetings were short.”
“What do you think of the husband?”
“I think he’s the kind of guy who likes to beat up smaller guys, which in his case, includes just about everybody.”
“He’s a bully, then?”
“That’s what we used to call them in the neighborhood.”
“Is he also a coward?”
“They say that bullies are really cowards.”
“Probably some truth in that.”
“Any advice on dealing with the husband?”
“Yeah, get in the first punch, and give it all you’ve got. If he gets up, he’ll be dangerous.”
“That sounds like good advice.”
“Or, alternatively, you could just leave his ex-wife alone, before he knows about you.”
“Too late for that,” Stone said. “He was waiting outside my house this morning when we left to go car shopping, and he followed us all the way to Bloomie’s.”
“What did you buy?”
“Not I, she. A Bentley Flying Spur. Is her check going to clear? I vouched for her.”
“No problem there. Harry Hillman is a rich man—or was before he met Kitty.”
“I can relax, then.”
“I wouldn’t do that, not with Harry on my tail.”
“Noted. Any thoughts on how to discourage him?”
“I mentioned getting in the first punch, didn’t I?”
“After that, you’re on your own. If you have a pair of brass knuckles tucked away, you might tuck them into a pocket.”
“They ruin the line of a suit.”
“Not as much as rolling around on the pavement.”
“Point taken. See you soon.”
They both hung up.
“Fred,” Stone called out.
“Do you have some brass knuckles?”
“Not on me, sir, but just a moment.” He rummaged in the armrest compartment, then handed Stone something: two rolls of quarters. “They’ll have much the same effect as the knuckles, sir, but they’re worse on the hands. You might think of wearing gloves. There are some in your seatback pocket.”
“Right.” Stone reached into the pocket, pulled out some fur-lined gloves, and slipped into them. “Is the Mercedes still with us, Fred?”
“He is, sir. Like he was bolted to our bumper.”
“Pull over somewhere along here, and keep the engine running.”
Fred pulled over. “You need some backup, sir?”
“You might keep an eye on his driver.”
“Righto.” Fred put the car in park, got out, and stood by his door.
The Mercedes passed, then pulled over in front of the Bentley. Harry Hillman got out, and he was, Stone reflected, as advertised. Stone leaned on the Bentley’s rear door, crossed his arms, and waited.
“I’d like a word with you, my friend,” Harry Hillman said and continued toward Stone without breaking his stride.
Stone pushed off the car and, grasping a roll of quarters in each hand, keeping his left side toward Hillman, waited another step,
then hit the big man hard, with a straight left to the nose. Then, while Hillman took a moment to figure out why he was in pain and bleeding, Stone delivered a hard right to a spot just under the man’s heart, which dropped him to one knee. Without hesitating, Stone swung a roundhouse right to his head, catching him under the ear.
Hillman lay on his back, gasping and staring at the sky. Out of the corner of his eye, Stone saw Hillman’s driver start to step forward, when Fred, moving faster, stepped between Hillman and the driver. “Now, son,” Fred said gently. “All you want to do is to get him up, into the car, and out of here with no further fuss.”
The man stopped and nodded. Stone got back into the Bentley, and so did Fred. In a moment, it was all behind them.
“I don’t think you’ll have any more trouble with him, sir,” Fred said.
“Not if I see him coming,” Stone replied.
“Keep the quarters, just in case.”
“I’ve got a blackjack somewhere,” Fred said. “You’re welcome to that, too.”
“A blackjack will get you put in jail in New York,” Stone said. “Quarters are just pocket change.”
“Well, there is that,” Fred replied, then drove on.