Read Swimming to Catalina Online
Authors: Stuart Woods
Tags: #Suspense, #Thriller, #Mystery
tone was gently wakened by the flight attendant, and he brought his seatback forward. He looked at his watch, then out the window; dawn was on its way.
“Mr. Regenstein asked if you would join him for breakfast,” the young woman said.
“If you’d like to freshen up first, you can go just there,” she said, pointing to a door.
Stone went into the washroom, which was bigger than any he had ever seen on an airplane. There was even a shower. He chose a toothbrush from a selection and scrubbed his teeth, then combed his hair, slipped on his jacket, and walked down the aisle to where Louis Regenstein was already consuming a large breakfast of scrambled eggs and lox.
“Good morning,” Regenstein said with some gusto. “Did you sleep well?”
“I got a few winks,” Stone replied.
The attendant appeared. “What would you like, Mr. Barrington?”
“Just orange juice and coffee,” he replied. “I had a late dinner.” Moments later, both beverages were on the table.
Regenstein glanced at his watch. “We should be on the ground in half an hour,” he said. “Where are you staying? May I offer you a lift?”
“At the Bel-Air, and thank you, but Vance said I would be met.”
“How long have you known Vance Calder?” Regenstein asked.
“A year or so, I guess; actually, I’ve met him only once, at a dinner party in New York.”
“So that would be when you met Arrington?”
Stone was surprised. “Yes.”
“You and Arrington were close for a time.”
More surprise. “Yes.”
Regenstein seemed to take a cue from Stone’s reticence. “Vance is a most remarkable man, for an actor,” he said. “I’ve never known a movie star so in control of his career. That would drive many studio executives crazy, but I prefer dealing with people who know what they want and insist on having it. Vance always has a keen perception of what is available in a deal and what isn’t—of what’s reasonable, you might say.”
“That’s a rare attribute in any field,” Stone said.
“I suppose it is.” Regenstein put down his fork and napkin. “Well, if you will excuse me, I want to get in a quick shower before we land; that way, I can go directly to the studio.” He left Stone to finish his coffee.
The big Gulfstream landed at Santa Monica
Airport and taxied to a Fixed Base Operator called Supermarine. As the door opened, Stone saw two cars waiting on the ramp—a limousine-sized Mercedes and a little convertible, a Mercedes SL 600. He followed Regenstein from the airplane, and they shook hands.
“I expect I’ll see you at Vance’s tomorrow evening,” the studio head said.
“I hope so.”
“I’ll look forward to seeing you again.”
“Thank you, so will I”
Regenstein got into the limousine and was driven away, then a young man handed Stone a sealed envelope. He tore it open.
My dear Stone,
Rather than having a driver, I thought you might like the freedom of driving yourself. I’ll call you later in the day, when you’ve had some rest.
There followed typed directions to the Bel-Air Hotel. Stone put his bags in the open trunk and settled behind the wheel. He adjusted his seat and started the twelve-cylinder engine. He had been thinking of buying a Mercedes, but this was out of his reach—something like a hundred and thirty-seven thousand dollars, he remembered. He drove out the gate, made a couple of turns, and found himself on the freeway. At that early hour traffic was busy, but not heavy, and he drove quickly, enjoying the open car, which made a pleasant noise, like a distant Ferrari, he thought. He
turned off the freeway onto Sunset Boulevard and followed the winding road toward the hotel, looking around him at Beverly Hills. He had been to L.A. only once before, when he and Dino had retrieved an extradited felon, and that had been a brief trip. He turned left on Stone Canyon Road and drove another mile to the hotel. Even at this early hour there was someone to unload his luggage and park the car.
The bellman didn’t stop at the front desk, but led him through the small lobby and down a walkway. The hotel was set in a garden, and the cool morning air was scented with tropical blossoms. Shortly the bellman let him into a handsome suite overlooking the hotel’s pool, accepted a tip, and left him alone. Stone walked around the place; it seemed more like the apartment of a friend than a hotel suite. He liked it. He could get used to it, he thought. He ordered breakfast, had a shower, then stretched out on the bed for a moment.
He was awakened by the phone. A glance at the bedside clock showed that it was half past two in the afternoon. He grabbed the phone. “Hello?”
“Stone, it’s Vance; I hope your flight out was pleasant.”
“Yes, Vance, thank you.”
“Are your rooms all right?”
“Better than that; thank you.”
“Not at all. Why don’t you relax this afternoon, and we’ll have dinner this evening.”
“I’ll pick you up out front at seven; that all right?”
“That’s fine, Vance. And thank you for the car.”
“It’s a wonderful car, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is.”
“Drive it anywhere you like while you’re here. See you at seven. Goodbye.”
“Goodbye.” Stone hung up and sat on the bed, trying to wake up. Could he possibly have jet lag with only a three-hour time difference? Possibly. He had to do something to wake up. He called the desk and asked if they could provide him with a swimsuit.
Fifteen minutes later he sat down at a table by the pool and ordered a club sandwich and a Heineken. Perhaps half the available lounges were occupied, a dozen of them by quite striking women.
he thought. He shucked off his robe, dove into the pool, swam a couple of laps, then walked back to his table. Moments later, his sandwich arrived, and he ate hungrily. Then he found a lounge and fell asleep in the afternoon sun.
It was nearly six when he woke, feeling refreshed. Maybe he’d finally adjusted to the time difference, he thought. He went back to his suite, showered, and dressed in a tropical-weight blazer and gray slacks. After a moment’s debate with himself, he put on a knitted necktie.
Stone was standing under the awning at the entrance to the hotel when, precisely at seven, a dark green Bentley swung in and stopped before him. The parking lot attendant ran around the car and opened the driver’s door. “Good evening, Mr. Calder,” he said.
“Thanks, Jerry, but I’m just picking up a friend,” Vance Calder replied.
Another attendant opened the door for Stone. He got in, and received a warm handshake from his host.
“Ever been to Spago?” Calder asked.
“Let’s go there, then.”
“Sounds good. Have you heard anything from Arrington?”
“No. We’ll talk about it over dinner.” Calder drove out of the parking lot and into Stone Canyon.
Stone leaned back in his seat. He was on his way to Spago in a Bentley with a major movie star. He liked it.
ance Calder drove the Bentley smoothly down Sunset Boulevard, chatting amiably about the California weather and flying on a corporate jet, then turned left, went up a steep hill for a short distance, and turned right into a parking lot. Before the car stopped, it was surrounded by photographers.
Calder took it well. “Good evening, fellows,” he said to them, waving and smiling.
Stone followed along in his wake, marveling at his aplomb in the circumstances. The doors closed behind them, and the photographers were gone. Stone noticed two heavy-set young men enter after him.
Calder was greeted effusively by the young woman at the desk, who hardly gave Stone a glance before escorting them to a corner table at the window. Along the way, Stone had an experience he had previously had only in the company of a beautiful woman: he was ignored by everyone in the restaurant; they were all looking at Vance Calder.
They stopped at a few tables so that Vance could say hello to a few people—Billy Wilder, Tony Curtis, and Milton Berle. Stone shook their hands, marveling at the facts of Wilder’s youthful looks, Curtis’s age, and that Berle was alive at all. Finally they were settled in the corner, with Stone in the gunfighter’s seat, facing the room, and Vance with his back to the crowd.
“I hope you don’t mind sitting there,” Calder said, shaking out his napkin. “My back will discourage unwelcome callers.”
“Not at all,” Stone replied. “It must be difficult for you to go out in public like this.” Stone noticed that the two men who seemed together when they had followed him into the restaurant were now sitting in different places, one at the bar, the other at a small table.
“One learns to handle it,” Calder said, gazing at the menu. “Fame is a two-edged sword; it gets one lots of things, like this table, but it exacts a price, the photographers. I reconciled the two sides of the blade long ago. By the way, don’t order a starter; that will be taken care of.”
As if by magic, a waiter appeared with a small pizza decorated with smoked salmon, capers, and onions. “Compliments of Wolfgang,” the waiter said. “May I get you a drink, Mr. Calder?”
“Stone?” Calder asked.
“I’ll have a Beefeater’s and tonic, please.”
“Bring me a very dry Tanqueray martini,” Calder said pleasantly. “A twist, no olive.”
The waiter vanished, then reappeared faster than Stone had ever seen a waiter move.
They ordered, then sipped their drinks.
“I met Louis Regenstein on the airplane,” Stone said. “A charming man.”
“That he is,” Calder agreed, “and one of the three smartest men I’ve ever dealt with.”
“Who are the other two?”
“David Sturmack and Hyman Greenbaum.”
“I’ve heard of Greenbaum, I think; an agent, isn’t he?”
“Was; he died nearly ten years ago.”
“David Sturmack? Of course, you’ve never heard of him—that would have pleased him—but along with Lou Regenstein and Lew Wasserman at MCA, he has more personal influence in this town than anyone else. You’ll meet him tomorrow night.”
Stone wondered why Calder was entertaining while his wife was missing, but before he could ask, Calder began talking again.
“Hyman Greenbaum was my first agent—in fact, my only one—and he gave me the best advice a young actor could ask for.”
“What was that?”
“He taught me the relationship between money and good work.”
“You mean, if you’re paid better, you do better work?” “No, no. When Hyman signed me, he sat me down over a good lunch and talked to me like a Jewish Dutch uncle. He said, ‘Vance, you’ve got everything going for you in this town, but there is something you have to do.’ What’s that, I asked. He said, ‘Pretty soon you’re going to begin to make some real money; what you have to do is not spend it, at least, not at first.’ He went on to explain. He said, ‘I’ve watched talented young actors come to this town for a long time, and this is what they do: they get a good part that pays
pretty good money, and the first thing they do is move out of the fleabag where they’ve been living, take a nice apartment and buy a convertible. They make a couple more pictures, getting even more money, and they buy a house in the Hollywood Hills, then, after a couple more pictures, in Beverly Hills, and they buy a
convertible. Then there’s a pause, and nothing good comes along. Then a script comes in that’s not good, but there’s a good co-star, and it’s being shot in the south of France, so what the hell—there’s a mortgage on the house and a loan on the car, and expenses have to be met, so they take it. The picture bombs, and after a couple like that, they’re overlooked for the best scripts. After that, it’s a TV series and some movies of the week, and once they start doing those, it’s almost impossible to get a good feature part again. Don’t behave that way.’”
“And you didn’t?”
“I certainly didn’t. I was sharing an apartment with two other actors, and I stayed right where I was. I drove a motor scooter to and from the studio, and I let Hyman invest my money. After two years of this, I was getting first-class supporting parts and learning my trade, and the money was good, too. I moved into a nicer apartment, but small and cheap, and I bought a used car. After five years I was hitting my stride, and when I brought my first house it was in Beverly Hills, and I paid
for it, and when the bad scripts shot in nice places came along, I was able to turn them down and wait for the good stuff. I learned never to do a movie for money alone, or because it was being shot in Tahiti or some other paradise. You have no idea how many actors have made those mistakes and how much it cost them.”
“I see your point,” Stone said. “Vance, what have you heard about Arrington?”
Vance glanced to either side of him. “Is anyone listening to us?”
Stone looked around. “Everyone seems to be trying to.”
“Let’s not talk here.”
“I take it you’re entertaining tomorrow night?”
Calder lowered his voice. “I am. It’s been planned for nearly a month, and if I cancel, people will start to talk. When people start to talk, somebody tells somebody in the gutter press, and the next thing I know, I’m all over the tabloids, and I have a battalion of paparazzi camped at my front gate. It’s important that I behave as I normally do, no matter what’s happening in my personal life, and it’s important that you understand this.”
“One other thing: I expect all our conversations on that subject to be conducted under the attorney-client privilege.”
“As you wish.”
“Good, now here’s our dinner; let’s enjoy it, then we’ll talk on the way home.”
Back in the Bentley, Calder finally opened up. “It’s been three days now, and I haven’t heard anything from her.”
“What precipitated this?” Stone asked.
“I don’t know. I came home from the studio, and her car was gone. It was seven in the evening, and it was unusual for her not to be waiting for me. She hadn’t given any instructions to the cook for dinner, and the houseman, who usually has a nap in the afternoon, hadn’t seen her leave the house.”