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Authors: Stuart Woods

Tags: #Suspense, #Thriller, #Mystery

Swimming to Catalina (8 page)

BOOK: Swimming to Catalina
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He opened the door to his room and found two little envelopes on the floor containing his day’s messages. The first was from Bill Eggers.

“So how’s the movie star?”

“Exhausted. You wouldn’t believe how hard actors work.”

“Yeah, sure.”

“What’s up?”

“I made a few calls about Onofrio Ippolito.”

“What did you find out?”

“It was really weird;
would say anything about him, good or bad.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, every time I asked somebody about Ippolito he’d say, ‘Oh, he’s a banker, I think,’ and then he’d get Alzheimer’s. And these are people who should know stuff about him, people who know stuff about

“So they’re protecting him?”

“More likely, they’re scared shitless of him.”

“Maybe I should have been nicer to him at dinner.”

“I hope you didn’t spill anything on him.”

“I hope so, too.”

“It worries me, Stone. I’ve never run into anything quite like this before. Usually I can find out anything about anybody with three or four calls.”

“Well, there’s nothing to be worried about. I sat next to him at dinner, and that’s it. There’s no reason why I should have any further contact with him.”

“I’d keep it that way, if I were you.”

“I’ll try; thanks for your help.” Stone said goodbye and hung up.

He opened the second little envelope and the message froze him in his tracks.

it read.
It was signed “A.”

Chapter 11

tone immediately called the hotel operator. “I got a message signed ‘A.,’” he said. “What time did the call come in?”

“It should be written on the message, Mr. Barrington,” the woman replied.

“Oh, yes; less than half an hour ago.”

“I’m double-checking…yes, that’s right.”

“She didn’t leave a number?”

“No, sir, just said she’d try and call later.”

“Do you have caller ID on your phone system?”

“Yes, sir, but we rarely use it.”

“Would you please make a note that on all the calls I receive to make a note of the caller ID number?”

“All right, I’ll do that; and I’ll let the other shifts know.”

“Thank you.” Stone hung up. Vance had been right; getting his name into the trade papers had produced results. If only he’d been at home when she called. He fixed himself a drink from the bar, switched on the television
news, and watched it blankly, absorbing none of it. When his glass was empty, he got into the shower and stood under the very hot water, letting his muscles relax. Then, as he turned off the water, he heard the phone ringing. Grabbing a towel, he raced into the bedroom, but just as he reached for the instrument, it stopped ringing; all he heard was a dial tone. “Dammit!” he yelled at nobody in particular. He called the operator. “You just rang my suite, but I was in the shower. Who called?”

“Yes, Mr. Barrington, it was the young lady again; she wouldn’t leave a number, but I got it on the caller ID.” She read out the number, and he wrote it down. “The name that came up on the screen was Grimaldi’s; I think it’s a restaurant. The concierge would know.”

“Please switch me to the concierge.”

“Concierge desk.”

“This is Stone Barrington; do you know a restaurant in L.A. called Grimaldi’s?” He gave her the number.

“Yes, sir; it’s on Santa Monica Boulevard, I think, though I haven’t booked a table there for anyone in a long time. It’s sort of an old-fashioned place, not exactly chic.”

“Could you book me a table there at eight?”

“Of course, sir; for how many?”

“Ah, two.”

“I’ll book it and call you back if there’s any problem.”

“Thanks; I’ll stop by the desk on the way out and pick up the address.” He hung up, thought for a moment, then dug in his pocket for a number and dialed it.


“Betty? It’s Stone.”

“Hi there; I was just thinking of you.”

“Telepathy at work. You free for dinner this evening?”


“Where do you live?”

“In Beverly Hills; why don’t I meet you at the Bel-Air?”

“Seven forty-five?”

“Perfect. I’ll meet you in the car park. You want me to book something for us? I can always use Vance’s name.”

“Not necessary; I’ll see you at seven forty-five.” He hung up and started to get dressed.


Betty climbed into the passenger seat and gave him a wet peck on the cheek. “Where are we going?”

“A place on Santa Monica called Grimaldi’s.”

“Don’t think I’ve ever heard of it,” she said, “and I didn’t think there was a restaurant in L.A. I’d never heard of.” She looked at the address on the card in his hand. “That’ll be somewhere down near the beach; let’s take the freeway.”

Stone followed her directions, and they found the restaurant, its entrance tucked in a side street off Santa Monica.

“How’d you hear about this place?” Betty asked as they approached a glass door, which was covered with credit card stickers.

“I’ll tell you later,” he said, opening the door for her.

They descended a staircase which emerged into a large basement dining room, half full of diners, with low ceilings and elaborate decor—textured wallpaper and heavy brocade drapes much in evidence. Stone
gave his name to the headwaiter, and they were shown to a banquette table in the middle of the room, where they sat beside each other with their backs to the wall.

“The decor is right out of the fifties,” Betty said, looking around her. “It looks like a set from an old black-and-white Warner Brothers movie.” A waiter appeared, took their drinks order, and left them a heavy velvet-bound menu. “This thing must weigh ten pounds,” she said.

Stone opened the menu and was astonished at the range of dishes, which were from every region of Italy. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like this,” he said. The waiter came with their drinks. “Give us a few minutes,” Stone told him. “It’s such a big menu.”

“Would you like some recommendations?” the waiter asked.


“The specialty of the house is the rabbit in a cream sauce, and any of the pastas are excellent.”

“Thanks,” Stone said. “I’ll try the rabbit.”

“I’ll try the pasta,” Betty said, grimacing. “Which one.”

“The bolognese is good,” the waiter replied.


“Shall I leave you the wine list?”

“Suggest something,” Stone said. “A big wine.”

“Try the Masi Amerone, the ’91.”


“Something to start?”

“A Caesar salad,” Stone said.

“Make it two,” Betty echoed.

The waiter departed, leaving them with their drinks.

“Okay, so how did you come up with this place?” Betty asked.

“Arrington called me from here earlier this evening.”

“But she’s still in Virginia,” Betty said. “I made her flight reservations.”

“I’m going to have to trust your discretion.”


“She’s not in Virginia; she disappeared nearly a week ago.”


“Vance called me and asked me to come out here and find her.”


“That’s right; he doesn’t know where she is.”

“I can’t believe this could have happened and I wouldn’t know about it.”

“He’s keeping it very quiet, because he doesn’t know what’s going on.”

“She just ran out on him?”

“He doesn’t know; she hasn’t been in touch with him.”

“And she called you?”

“Arrington must have read the piece in the trade paper; that’s why Vance invited the reporter to the party.”

“Well, I must say, I thought there was something weird about that; it was very unlike Vance. What did Arrington say to you?”

“I was in the shower; the hotel operator got the calling number from caller ID.”

“Well, this is very mysterious, isn’t it?”

“It certainly is.” Stone looked around the restaurant at the other diners. “Wait a minute,” he said, half to himself.


“You notice anything about the other customers?”

Betty looked slowly around the restaurant. “I guess a lot of them look Italian. That speaks well of the restaurant, I suppose.”

“It’s a wiseguy joint,” Stone said, keeping his voice low.

“You mean

“Not so loud. That’s exactly what I mean. It’s just like a New York wiseguy joint; just
at these people.”

“Well, the women are a little flashy.”

“Yes, they are.”

“And I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many Italian suits outside of Rome.”


“Does this make me a racist pig or something?”

“No, it just makes you observant. I’ll bet half the faces in this place are in the mug books down at the LAPD.”

“But what could Arrington possibly have to do with the Mafia?”

“I don’t know, but there’s got to be some kind of connection.” As he spoke, Stone looked up and saw four men coming down the stairs into the dining room. “Look who’s here,” he whispered.

She followed his gaze. “You know those guys?”

“One of them,” Stone said. “I met him at Vance’s.”

Chapter 12

tone pretended to consult the wine list, covering his face. “Don’t look at him,” he said. “I don’t want him to see me.”

“Look at who?” Betty asked. “I can’t see a thing.” She leaned back and looked behind him. “One of those backs looks familiar,” she said.

“His name is Ippolito.”

“I remember his name on the invitation list, but he was the only one I didn’t know.”

“Stop craning your neck.”

“It’s okay, he’s sitting at the round corner table with his back to us.”

Stone peeked over the wine list. “Do you know any of the other three?”

“Nope; they don’t even look familiar. A lot of beef on the hoof, though.”

The waiter arrived with their salad, and they tucked into it.

“This is the best Caesar I ever had,” Betty said.

“If the goombahs can’t make a Caesar salad, who can?”

“It isn’t an Italian dish, you know.”

“I thought it was.”

“Nope, it was invented by a Mexican at some famous restaurant in Acapulco, or someplace like that. I can’t remember his name.”

“Caesar, maybe?”

“Nobody likes a smartass, Stone.”

Their main courses came, and Stone tasted the wine. “Absolutely perfect,” he said to the waiter.

“Of course,” the waiter replied, pouring the wine.

Stone tasted the rabbit. “Words fail me,” he said.

“Me, too,” Betty said, tasting her pasta. “Why does nobody know about this place?”

“We like it that way,” the waiter said, then he left them alone.

“I think everybody knows about this place that they want to know about it,” Stone said.

“God, the wine is good!”

Stone made a note of it. “I want some for home,” he said.

“I want the chef for home,” Betty cried, stuffing more pasta into her mouth. “I could make him very happy.”

“Heads up,” Stone said. “One of them is coming this way.” He addressed his rabbit as the man walked past and entered a hallway at the rear of the restaurant. “He was looking right at me; do you think he recognized me?”

“Really, Stone,” she replied, “he was looking at

“Oh. I wonder what’s in the rear hallway.”

“The men’s room. See the sign?”


Stone watched as the man returned to his table. “You’re right, he was looking at you.”

“I’m accustomed to that,” she said, twirling the last of the pasta on her fork. “That is the first time in ten years I have finished a whole meal in a restaurant,” she said, swallowing. “If you bring me here again I’ll be able to audition for Roseanne’s replacement.”

The waiter appeared and began gathering their dishes. “How about some of our cheesecake?” he asked.

“Don’t say that,” Betty said, throwing up a hand. “I could gain weight just listening.”

“A double espresso for me,” Stone said.

“I’ll have a cappuccino,” she said.

The waiter left.

“I want to have a look around the back,” Stone said, rising.

She caught his sleeve. “Are you nuts?”

“I’m just going to the men’s room; I’ll be back in a minute.” He walked into the rear hallway, looking to the right and left. He passed the kitchen and came to the men’s room door, looked inside, found it empty, and continued down the hall, where he found a door marked
He looked over his shoulder, then walked in.

It was a good-sized storeroom, with refrigerators lining one wall and steel shelving lining the other. In the middle of the floor were empty crates with the remnants of vegetables stuck to them. Stone walked to the rear of the room and found a toilet and, across from that, a small office.

“Hey!” a deep voice yelled.

Stone spun around. A large man in kitchen whites was standing a few feet behind him. “I was looking for
the men’s room,” he said, and he caught sight of something familiar on the floor between him and the man.

“You walked right past it,” the man said. “Come on, I’ll show you.” He turned and walked toward the door.

Quickly, Stone stooped and picked up the small object, tucking it into a pocket.

“It’s right here,” the man said.

“Thanks, sorry for the trouble,” Stone replied, turning into the men’s room.

“No trouble.”

Stone opened the men’s room door and found another of Ippolito’s party standing at one of the two urinals; he took his position at the other one. The man ignored him, in the way of strangers standing at urinals. Stone washed his hands and went back to his table.


“I got caught in a storeroom,” he said.

“Drink your coffee, and let’s get out of here,” Betty said under her breath.

Stone sipped his espresso, then dug into his jacket pocket. “I found something, though.” He held it up her to see.

“A matchbook? Congratulations, you’ve won the California lottery.”

BOOK: Swimming to Catalina
8.04Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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