Authors: Stuart Woods
Stone had just finished his lunch when the phone rang, and Joan was at lunch. He picked up. “This is Stone Barrington.”
“Oh, I had hoped it would be,” Kitty said. “I realized after our last conversation that I had forgotten to mention something important.”
Stone managed not to groan. “What is it, Kitty?”
“I want to sue Viktor Zanian,” she said.
wants to sue Viktor Zanian.”
“Not Mr. Zanian, exactly. I want to sue Harry.”
“Sue him for what?”
“It was he who urged me to put all my money with Zanian.”
“Well, you might have some sort of case, but you’ll need to speak to your attorney about that.”
“I want you to be my attorney.”
“I’m afraid that would be unethical,” Stone said.
“How would it be unethical? I need an attorney, you’re an attorney.”
“Yes, but the bar association frowns on attorneys who have, ah, a relationship with the client.”
“Do you mean because we’re fucking?”
“That’s exactly what I mean.”
“Well, that’s very old-fashioned of them.”
“I suppose it is. Why don’t you talk to Herb?”
“Oh, he’s just for divorces, and Harry and I are already divorced.”
“No, Herb handles all sorts of legal cases. He’s an excellent attorney, and I’m sure he would be happy to represent you in the matter.”
“He’s my law partner at Woodman & Weld. I’m sure.”
“You know,” she said, “when I mentioned that word—you know the one—I got a twinge, you know?”
“I think I do. I got a twinge, too.”
“Sort of like an itch?”
“Very well put.”
“Why don’t we scratch that itch?” she asked.
“What a good idea. How about dinner at my house this evening?”
“Perfect. What time?”
“Drinks at six-thirty, scratching after dinner.”
“See you then,” she sang, and hung up.
Stone called Herbie Fisher.
“It’s Stone. You’re going to get a call from Kitty Crosse about suing her ex-husband.”
“I thought he was about all sued out.”
“She has a new grievance: old Harry persuaded her to invest all her money with Viktor Zanian.”
“Does she have anything left?”
“She mentioned a figure of $245, give or take.”
“You’re sending me a penurious client? Thanks a lot.”
“She’s already your client. How much is Harry worth?”
“According to his financial statement submitted to the court, in excess of sixty million dollars.”
“There you go,” Stone said. “Perhaps, in light of events, you can reopen the settlement negotiations.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to handle this yourself?” Herb asked.
“You’ve already pointed out it would be unethical for me to do so.”
“Have you stopped yet?”
“Oh, all right. I’ll take her call.”
Stone hung up and breathed a sigh of relief. He called Fred’s wife, Helene, who was the cook and housekeeper, and ordered dinner for two in the study at seven o’clock.
The phone rang again. Stone hoped Kitty had not changed her mind. “Stone Barrington.”
“Don’t you have a secretary?” a man’s voice said with a British accent.
“She’s at lunch. Who is this?”
“It’s Harry Hillman. I’d like to arrange an appointment with you.”
“For what purpose?”
“I’d like to discuss you handling a legal matter for me. My ex-wife is suing me.”
“Stop right there,” Stone said. “I have no interest in representing you in any matter.”
“It’s because you’re fucking her, isn’t it?”
“Mr. Hillman, I have no interest in representing you.”
“And I was going to apologize to you!”
“For what?” Stone asked.
“Well, I did treat you rather roughly, didn’t I?”
“That’s not the way I remember it,” Stone said.
“I mean at the bar at Clarke’s. That poke in the back I gave you. I apologize for doing that.”
“Apology accepted. Good day.” Stone hung up.
Joan came into his office. “Anything new?” she asked.
“Nothing whatever. If a person named Harry Hillman calls, on no account put him through to me. You can say that I do not wish to speak to him.”
“I understand. It’s the ex-husband, isn’t it?”
“Lordy, how I wish you would stay away from women with ex-husbands.”
“You want me to take up celibacy? Virtually every attractive
woman over thirty in the city has at least one ex-husband. They’re a standard liability, and not all of them are violent or crazy or both.”
“It just seems that way, I suppose,” Joan replied. “Okay, no calls from a Mr. Harry Hillman. How about Mrs. Hillman?”
“The former Mrs. Hillman. I believe you’re referring to Ms. Crosse.”
“Ah, that I am.”
“Her calls are welcome.”
Stone spent a little time tidying up his study and opened the folding table, so that Fred could set it. When it was all done, he went upstairs to shower and change, considering his wardrobe along the way. It didn’t seem necessary to wear a jacket, underwear, or socks; they would just be impediments. He buttoned every other button on his shirt.
Kitty was only a few minutes late, and it was immediately apparent to Stone that she had made wardrobe choices that very much followed his thinking: a pretty dress, short with straps, no underthings that he could detect. He fixed them drinks.
“Oh,” Kitty said, taking an envelope from her purse. “I have a little present for you.”
He handed over her martini, and they toasted each other, then
sat down. Stone opened the envelope and found that it contained a cashier’s check from her bank, made out to him in the amount of $266,000. “Oh,” he said, placing a hand on his chest, “that makes my heart go pittypat.”
“Herb Fisher called this afternoon to say that his office had received the final payment from Harry for our divorce settlement, which was wired to his firm’s account. It was a little over seven million dollars. I had quite forgotten about it. Herb asked me to give you the news.”
“My God,” Stone said. “A woman who can forget she has a seven-million-dollar payment coming! You are extraordinary!”
“Just a little untidy about financial matters.”
They had a second drink before dinner, which was veal scallopini. Stone felt that something light would be best.
After dinner they went to the master suite, Stone following Kitty up the stairs. The view was marvelous, he thought.
Kitty pushed the straps off her shoulders, and her dress collapsed around her ankles, revealing all. Stone was nearly as fast, kicking his trousers across the room. She pushed him onto the bed and stroked him erect, then did wonderful things with her lips and tongue. Stone reciprocated.
They made love slowly, drawing out the orgasm to its maximum extent before letting go.
“That was everything I remember from before,” she said, cradling his head in her lap and stroking his hair.
“Same here,” he said. After a little rest, he took two dishes of
ice cream from the freezer in his little fridge. “I thought we’d have dessert after dessert,” he said.
“Yum,” she said. “What is it?”
“Macadamia brittle,” he replied. “My favorite.”
“Stone,” she said, setting aside her bowl, “have you ever had fellatio from someone who’s been eating ice cream?”
“I can’t say that I have,” Stone replied.
“Hang on,” she said, bending to her task.
Stone made appreciative noises, with no effort at all.
Viv was traveling again, so Stone and Dino had dinner at Café Un Deux Trois, a brasserie on West Forty-Fourth Street, the sort of traditional French restaurant that specialized in Steak Frites, a steak with French fries. The best bottle of wine on the
carte du vins
wasn’t expensive, so they ordered that.
“What’s new on the Kitty front?” Dino asked.
“She has, amazingly, repaid her debt to me for the car.”
“How many rolls in the hay did that take?”
“You defame her. She repaid last night with a cashier’s check.”
“My apologies to the lady. You wouldn’t be walking and talking if she had worked it off.”
“Crudely put, but not inaccurate,” Stone said.
“What’s she like in the sack?” Dino asked. When Stone frowned and shook his head, Dino said, “After all, she told Viv what you are like.”
“That’s right, she did. Does that relieve me of confidentiality regarding her charms?”
“I think the bar association would buy that,” Dino said.
“All right, she is, in a word, spectacular.”
“I guess that about covers it.”
“I guess it does.”
“Where’d she get the money to repay you with a cashier’s check?”
“She forgot that her ex’s final payment on her divorce settlement was due, and he coughed up on schedule.”
“Coughed up how much?”
“Since she’s not my client, I guess I can tell you: upward of seven mil.”
“I am reliably informed that ol’ Harry is worth north of sixty mil, so it wasn’t a strain for him.”
“How does an Englishman get to be worth sixty mil?” Dino asked.
“The old-fashioned way: he inherited it. I’m assuming that, since he has no visible means of support—certainly not from Kitty, who got scalped for more than three mil by Zanian.”
“Speaking of Zanian, I heard a rumor today.”
“Lay it on me.”
“I stress that it’s just a rumor. I have no evidence to back it up.”
“Tell me anyway, just for the fun of it.”
“There are those who say that our boy Viktor isn’t in Rio at all, that he never left the States.”
“And the film of him getting off the plane in Rio?”
“How substantial a rumor is this?”
“On what scale?”
“Zero to ten—ten is irrefutable.”
“Maybe a four.”
“That substantial? Really?”
“The guy I heard it from is not usually given to fantasy.”
“And it’s on that basis alone that you rate the rumor a four?”
“If I didn’t think it could be true, I would have given it a zero, or maybe a one.”
“That’s interesting. Does the rumor contain a location?”
“He could still be in New York City.”
“And you find that plausible?”
“Wouldn’t you?” Dino asked. “If he were in Rio, this is the last place anybody would look for him.”
“Have you got people on this?”
“Nah, it’s a federal case. We couldn’t care less.”
“Except to start rumors. Is it a federal rumor or local?”
“Do you give more weight to federal rumors than local ones?”
“Well, if it was local, I’d expect more backup.”
“I see. So, how would somebody fake the Rio film?”
“Are you kidding? Haven’t you seen any movies lately? They can make anything appear to be anything else. I saw one the other night that made the White House explode. They can do that, they can put Zanian in Rio, no problem.”
“You have a point,” Stone said.
“Of course, you no longer have an interest in Zanian, because you got your money back.”
“I didn’t get it back from Zanian, so he’s fair game. Is there a reward for the guy?”
“There’s a rumor that somebody has come up with ten million bucks for arrest and conviction, but it hasn’t been posted yet.”
“Maybe not,” Stone said, “but your rumors are getting more interesting.”
“I thought that, too. I’d rate this one as an eight.”
“To find out if it’s true, all you have to do is wait until tomorrow. That’s when they’re supposed to make the announcement.”
“I’ll try and be patient.”
“And, of course, you still have a personal interest in seeing Zanian caught.”
“Ah, yes,” Stone said. “Tink.”
“I take it she has not been visiting you since Zanian ran off with her money.”
“You take it correctly. She was even behaving as if it were my fault, even though I warned her off—even put it in writing.”
“Some people resent it when people who give them dire warnings turn out to be right.”
“They do, don’t they? You’d think they’d be more appreciative, wouldn’t you?”
“Nah, they resent being told, ‘I told you so.’ ”
“You’re rich enough to cover her loss,” Dino said. “That would secure you a warmer place in her, ah, heart.”
Stone shook his head. “No, it would be like paying for sex. I’d rather preserve my amateur standing.”
“You’ve never paid for sex?”
“Well, once, in college when it seemed to be the only way I’d ever get laid. Since then, my record is right up to Olympic standards.”
“Well, I hope, for your sake, that Tink gets her money back and gives you credit for it.”
“I don’t see that happening, do you?”
“Nah,” Dino said. “It’s not how women think.”
“That’s a sexist remark,” Stone said.
“I don’t care. My wife’s not listening.”
The following morning Stone called Bob Cantor, who was his go-to tech guy for just about everything.
“What’s up, Stone?”
“Hey, Bob. Have you been following the Viktor Zanian story?”
“Just when it comes on the news.”
“Did you see the shot of him getting off his Gulfstream in Rio?”
“Yeah, I did.”
“Did you notice anything odd about it?”
“Funny you should mention that,” Bob said. “I thought it looked a little hinky.”
“Can you take a closer look at it and see if it could have been taken somewhere else?”
“Okay, I’ll have to dig up a copy of the film or tape. Let me call you back later.”
Stone hung up and went back to doing what passed for work. Just before lunch, Joan buzzed him.
“Are you taking calls from Tink Dorsey?”
“Sure,” Stone said, pressing a button. “Hello, Tink.”
“Hi, Stone. Are you speaking to me?”
“I never stopped.”
“I know, I know. It was me. I screwed things up.”
“Don’t be too hard on yourself. You had just had a very bad shock.”
“I read your letter again. It was exactly what a good friend would say to me, and it’s my fault for not paying attention to it. It’s all on me.”
“Have you heard anything encouraging about Zanian?”
“Just form letters from the SEC.”
“You signed up with them?”
“I did. Who knows? I might see some of my money again someday.”
“I hope so.”
“Have you, ah, missed me?”
“Can you be more specific?” he asked, teasing.
“All right, have you missed the fucking? I know I have.”
“Why don’t we see what we can do about that?”
“Well . . . as nice an idea as that is, I’ve told you I’ve been seeing somebody.”
“Where’d you meet her?”
“A blind date.”
“You think blind girls are a turn-on? That’s sick!”
“You know what I mean.”
“Is she as good as me in bed?”
“Comparisons are odious.”
“I’m prepared to overlook the presence of another woman in your life.”
“That’s generous of you, but I’m not sure she would share your generosity.”
“You mean share you?”
“Well, yes, and I don’t want to raise the subject. It would make me sound greedy.”
“Well, under some circumstances, I suppose so.”
“Tell you what, let’s leave the offer open. You never can tell.”
“No, you can’t, can you? Let’s do that.”
“Bye.” Stone hung up wondering if he had done the right thing. Then he realized what had been worrying him. Did he have the stamina to keep up with both of them? Probably not, he conceded to himself. That could lead to an early death.
After lunch, Joan buzzed. “Bob Cantor is here. Do you want to see him?”
“Yes, please. Send him in.”
Bob walked in carrying a laptop. “I’ve got something for you,” he said, setting his laptop on Stone’s desk and turning it on. “Look, here’s the shot of Zanian getting off the airplane in Rio. It’s shot from inside his airplane, over his shoulder. And the view is
Landmark Aviation, Rio de Janeiro, as it says on the building ahead of him, right?”
“Right,” Stone replied.
“Wrong,” Bob said. He tapped a few more keys. “Look familiar?”
Stone looked at the shot. Everything was the same, except the building he could see had Jet Aviation, Teterboro, written on it. “That’s where I keep my airplane,” Stone said.
“I thought you’d recognize it.” Bob tapped some more keys, and the Rio shot came up again.
“I did some checking on the FAA website. On the day Zanian took a powder, his airplane filed a flight plan to Rio.”
“Did they cancel later?”
“No, the airplane actually flew to Rio and landed. The manifest listed only Viktor Zanian and a Ms. Shelly Summers. I ran her name and she worked at an expensive escort service, called Company On Call, and she quit the day before the feds clamped down on Zanian’s business.”
“And she went along for the ride to Rio?”
“No, neither of them did. There were two other people who took the ride, and came back with the airplane to Teterboro.”
“So, Zanian had all the time it took for the airplane to reach Rio to get lost somewhere else.”
“And five’ll get you ten, the airplane was sold the next day to a Delaware corporation.”
“You check on that. Let’s be sure.”
“And we’ll see, too, if the airplane has flown anywhere since the transfer. I’ve signed up his tail number with an online service that will alert me whenever they file a flight plan.”
“Question, Bob: If you can figure this out in a day, have the feds figured it out, too?”
“I can ask around, but they may be sitting tight on that info. Why don’t you ask Dino to take a look at it, too? Cops don’t like the feds. They like to see them embarrassed.”
“Good idea. You stay on where the airplane has gone, and who’s flying on it.”
“I can do that,” Bob said.