Authors: Stuart Woods
Stone called Kitty on Monday morning. “Did you successfully sack Bloomingdale’s?”
“You might say that. I got a few things that will go nicely with the car.”
“I never thought of the car as a fashion accessory.”
“The car is the object. The clothes are the accessories.”
“Thank you for clearing that up for me.”
“I fear you may not have told me enough about your ex-husband.”
“What more could you possibly want to know? How he is in bed?”
“No, what concerns me is how he is on the street, or rather, in the gutter.”
“Do you mean, is he a street fighter?”
“That’s the idea. And, perhaps, if he enjoys it a little too much.”
“Have you engaged with him in a street fight?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“Are you calling from the emergency room?”
“No, but our boy, Harry, may be seeking solace there.”
“You mean, you fought him and won?”
“Let’s say I avoided losing, and he did not.”
“My goodness, Stone, I have underestimated you.”
“I’m sorry I came up short in your prior assessment.”
“Perhaps you could render an opinion on whether Harry will come back for more.”
“I’d say that is highly likely,” she replied. “Especially if he lost. And next time, he’ll be ready.”
“I don’t think you and I should see each other anymore.”
“Heavens, Stone, how could I have been more cooperative?”
“It’s not that. It’s that I suspect you of encouraging a fight with Harry without telling me what to expect.”
“Did that hurt your feelings, dear?”
“Not as much as it hurt Harry’s.”
“Well, let me tell you that I had no intention of bringing that about. I never thought Harry would be a problem for you, and I figured that, if he were, you could handle it, which you have. Besides, I so enjoyed you in bed. Harry is certainly no match for you there.”
“Flattery might get you somewhere,” Stone said. “I’ll call you, after I’ve survived my next encounter with Harry.” He hung up.
Five minutes later, the phone rang again.
“Stone, it’s Viv.”
“Hi, Viv. You know, you should rent out your matchmaking skills to the Heavyweight Division of the American Boxing Association.”
“I heard about your tiff with Harry.”
“ ‘Tiff’? Ask Harry about that.”
“I called him, but he wasn’t picking up.”
“And what had you planned to say to him?”
“I was going to upbraid him for picking a fight with Kitty’s new boyfriend.”
“Harry didn’t pick the fight. I did.”
“Oh, dear, did he hurt you?”
“Let’s just say that he was slow getting up.”
“You hurt Harry?”
“I showed him the view from the gutter, before he could show me.”
“This is all my fault,” Viv said.
“You may rightfully share the blame with Kitty.”
“I’ve no problem with that,” she said.
“You know, if I hadn’t done a little research on Harry, I might be speaking to you now from a hospital bed, or perhaps even from a slab at the morgue. Either of you could have warned me, but nobody said anything.”
“Research? What kind of research?”
“I spoke to a mutual acquaintance, with some knowledge of Harry’s temperament.”
“And who was that?”
“It was a confidential source and will remain so.”
“Well, I apologize for whatever role I might have played.”
“If you want to get back in my good graces, do it with information.”
“What kind of information?”
“Well, at some point I imagine that Harry’s ego is going to demand a rematch. I would like to know when that is.”
“I’ll do what I can, Stone. That’s all I can do. Ear to the ground, I promise.”
“I’d like to see that,” Stone said, but Viv had already hung up.
Stone’s next call was to Dino.
“Hi, there. I hear you and Harry Hillman did a little dancing.”
“Harry did the dancing. I just kept him moving.”
“You saw him coming, then?”
“Yes, and he didn’t see me, until it was too late. Did you know about Harry’s tendency toward violence?”
“There were times when there was a whiff of it in the air.”
“The next time your nose knows, I’d like to hear about it.”
“I’ll keep that in mind. Did you incur any damage?”
“Well, my knuckles are a little sore.”
“Did you have any weapons?”
“Fred loaned me a couple of rolls of quarters.”
“That would add some weight to your punch.”
“They achieved the desired effect.”
“Do you think Harry is going to take it lying down?”
“Well, he was lying down when I last saw him, but I am reliably informed that when he figures out what happened he’ll be back, and on his feet.”
“And how are you preparing for that?”
“I don’t know. Can you still buy an axe handle in this city?”
“Probably, but it’s a little obvious. Doesn’t conceal well. Don’t you still have your old police baton?”
“Somewhere, I guess. I’ll have to look around.”
“Do it before you leave the house again.”
“You haven’t encouraged me to go armed. Why is that?”
“Shooting deaths are already up this year over last, and I wouldn’t want you to add to the numbers.”
“That’s sweet of you.”
“My advice on that front, if you decide to carry, is to use the .380, not the .45. The cleanup is easier.”
“I’m not sure the .380 would stop him; he’s something of an ox.”
“A head shot with the .380 will drop him in his tracks. God, I hope nobody is listening to me telling you how to murder somebody.”
“I believe we were discussing self-defense,” Stone said.
“Of course we were. Dinner at Clarke’s?”
“Six-thirty.” They both hung up.
Stone went looking for his police baton.
Stone arrived at P.J. Clarke’s on time, and the mob at the bar had thinned out just enough for him to grab a stool. The bartender saw him coming and got his Knob Creek on the bar just as he sat down. He had just taken his first sip when he glanced at his reflection in the mirror behind the bar and saw a very large person standing behind him. Stone unbuttoned his jacket for easier access to the baton.
“I want a word with you,” an English accent said from behind him.
“Cat got your tongue?” Stone asked, without looking at him.
There was a kind of gargling noise.
“Speak up,” Stone said.
“My name is Harry Hillman, and all I want from you is a fair fight.”
“There’s no such thing as a fair fight,” Stone said. “You must be thinking of a boxing match, in a ring, with a referee.”
“You’ve been tampering with my wife.”
“You don’t have a wife,” Stone said. “The State of New York says so.”
“Never mind her. This is between you and me.”
“I believe we’ve already had that conversation,” Stone said. “As far as I’m concerned, that settled anything between you and me, so take a hike.”
Stone looked up and saw Dino step into the reflection, and he was holding up his badge. “Stand still,” Dino said, frisking the larger man and coming up with a nine mm. “Do you have a license to carry this in the City of New York?”
“I certainly do,” Hillman replied.
“Then let’s see it.”
“I don’t have it on my person,” Hillman said.
“Then you may consider this weapon confiscated, and unless you can present your carry license to the desk sergeant at the Nineteenth Precinct before nine
tomorrow, you’ll be confiscated, too. Now go away.”
Hillman poked Stone hard in the back with a finger. “I’ll speak to you later.”
“I believe that constitutes battery. Can you arrest him, please, Officer?”
“I missed that,” Dino said. He turned to Hillman. “Do it again, so I can arrest you.”
Hillman had vanished from the reflection.
“Mr. Barrington,” Dino said, “your table is ready.”
Stone followed Dino into the dining room where they sat down and were given menus.
“So,” Dino said. “Am I going to have to keep rescuing you from the clutches of the angry ex-husband?”
“Don’t worry,” Stone said. “I’m carrying a .380 and my trusty—make that rusty—telescopic baton, so I should be able to fend him off.”
“Then stop turning your back on him.”
“My back was there first. He sneaked up on me.”
“I hate to think what’s going to happen to you, if he connects with a punch.”
“Let’s talk about something else,” Stone replied uncomfortably.
“Okay, let’s talk about Kitty. What’s her part in all this?”
“Innocent bystander,” Stone said.
“There’s nothing innocent about Kitty. I think she’s trying to punish somebody, but I can’t figure out if it’s the ex or you.”
“She has no reason to punish me,” Stone said. “I’ve given her nothing but pleasure, by my reckoning. Don’t mention that to the ex, if you meet him again.”
“Did her check for the Bentley clear the bank?”
“I haven’t had any calls from bank managers or the dealer, so I would assume so.”
“Maybe the bank just deducted it from your account.”
“I thought of that. Different banks.”
“I guess you’re in the clear, then.”
They ordered another drink and some food, then Stone’s phone rang. “Hello?”
“It’s Kitty. How are you, my darling?”
“As well as can be expected,” Stone replied.
“Uh-oh, have you had further, ah, contact with Harry?”
“He appeared, standing behind me at the bar at P.J. Clarke’s a few minutes ago, but Dino waved his badge at him and scared him off.”
“I’m so sorry about that. I thought that he would take my seeing somebody better than he has.”
“I’m sorry you were disappointed,” Stone said. “As things stand, this isn’t going to end until one or both of us is mortally wounded, or worse.”
“I’ll have a word with Harry.”
“It’s going to take many words, I fear, and if you could slip in a mention of grievous bodily harm or even death, that might help.”
“As you wish. Oh, the reason I called was to apologize about that cockup at the bank.”
Stone’s stomach made some sort of sideways movement. “Whose bank?”
“Mine. It seems that my broker didn’t move the requested funds into my account quickly enough, and so my check has been returned to the dealer, unpaid.”
Stone struggled for words.
“It sounds as if you’re struggling for words,” Kitty said.
“Ah, yes. So now, the dealer is coming after me to make your check good?”
“It won’t come to that, sweetie,” Kitty purred. “All will be made right tomorrow.”
“Please say that you will make it so.”
“I’d hate for the dealer to show up at your building, seeking the return of the car,” Stone added for emphasis.
“Could they do that?”
“They could. Have another chat with your banker first thing tomorrow and ask them to see that the funds are available to cover your check.”
“I’ll do that very thing,” Kitty said. “And I’ll have that word—ah, words, with Harry.”
“Thank you, Kitty. I have to eat a steak now. Goodbye.” He hung up.
“You guaranteed her check for a Bentley?” Dino asked. “Really?”
“It wasn’t like that. I just told the dealer that I would vouch for her.”
“You’re the lawyer. Doesn’t that mean you’ll cover her check?”
“Vouching is just expressing an opinion that she’s good for it,” Stone said.
“Would a judge buy that?”
“It won’t go that far. Her broker was just slow at moving money to her checking account.”
“It was what? A quarter of a million dollars?”
“Give or take.”
“I can loan you a few thousand, but not the whole melon.”
“There’s no melon, Dino. The check will be paid tomorrow morning.”
“Well, if you have to pay it, that will do wonders for your reputation.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that the dealer, for one, will be very impressed that you made good on the check.”
“None of that is going to happen, Dino. It was just a glitch.”
“What if Harry kills Kitty before the check clears?”
“Harry wants to kill me, not Kitty.”
“You never know when you’re dealing with someone in that frame of mind. Will the check get paid if she’s at the bottom of the East River?”
“Well, maybe her banker doesn’t read the tabloids or watch local TV news. I’m sure it will be fine.”
“Thank you for your confidence.”
“Of course, if . . .”
“Dino, if you say another word, I’m going to hit you with a steak.”
Dino took a big bite of his steak and managed to chew and grin at the same time.
Stone had just tied his necktie and was about to go downstairs when his phone rang at the stroke of nine o’clock. “Hello?”
“It’s Stephen, at Bentley. I’m afraid Ms. Crosse’s check didn’t clear this morning.”
“Perhaps you should speak with her bank manager?”
“I just spoke to him. She can’t cover the check.”
“Please don’t worry about it. It will happen this morning.”
“Oh, I’m not worried about it, Mr. Barrington. We’ve dealt with you for some years, and I know we can expect you to do the right thing.”
“What’s the ‘right thing’?” Stone asked.
“Just wire transfer us the funds, and when Ms. Crosse’s check clears, we’ll wire it right back to you.”
“Well, ah . . .”
“You did say you vouched for her.”
“Right, I did. Give me your wiring information.” The man had it ready, and Stone wrote it down. “I’ll wire it straightaway,” Stone said. “Oh, what’s the exact amount?”
“Let’s call it an even $266,000. That car has a lot of options bolted onto it.”
“Right. Sit by your phone.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll be right here.”
Stone hung up and called Joan.
“I’d like you to wire transfer some funds to the Bentley dealer right away. Got a pencil?”
Stone gave her the wiring information.
“What’s the amount?”
“An even $266,000. Do we have that much in my account?”
“And do it right now, please.”
“Yes, sir, right away.”
Stone went downstairs and settled in behind his desk. The phone rang. “Yes?”
“Stephen, from Bentley on one for you.”
Stone picked up. “Yes, Stephen?”
“The funds arrived,” the man said. “Don’t worry, we’ll get the sum right back to you as soon as we hear from Ms. Crosse’s bank.”
“Thank you, Stephen.” He hung up and grabbed his coffee mug. At nine-thirty, Joan buzzed him. “Kitty Crosse on one for you. Is that a real person?”
“Yes, it is.” He took a deep breath and pressed the button. “Yes, Kitty?”
“Oh, hello, Stone.”
“I trust you’ve heard from your bank. I had to wire the dealer the funds to cover you.”
“Oh, that was so sweet of you, Stone.”
“Everything okay now?”
“Well, it should be.”
“I’ve been calling my broker, but they’re not answering. The phone just rings and rings.”
Stone frowned. “Who is your broker?”
“Viktor Zanian, with a
Stone clapped his hand over his mouth, so if he vomited, it wouldn’t go all over his desk.
“How much do you have in your account there?” he managed to ask.
“Oh, several million. More than enough to cover the Bentley.” He could hear a ringing noise in the background. “I’ll have to call you back, Stone. My other line is ringing.”
“Kitty . . .” But she had already hung up. Stone plucked a fistful of tissues from the box on his desk. He mopped his brow and took deep breaths to dispel the nausea. The phone rang. “Yes?”
“It’s that Ms. Crosse again.”
“Right.” He pressed the button. “Yes, Kitty?”
“Oh, Stone, I’ve just had some awful news,” she said. “A woman from the Zanian Fund just called and said that there was some sort of glitch, and they don’t have access to my funds. What do you suppose that means?”
Stone took another deep breath. “It very likely means that your funds are in an offshore account somewhere—who knows where.”
“Why would Mr. Zanian take my money offshore?”
“Kitty, do you read the newspapers or listen to the news on TV? Ever?”
“Well, hardly ever. What kind of question is that?”
“If you paid any attention at all, you wouldn’t have to ask that question.”
“Stone, do please try and make some sense.”
“Sit down and listen to me, and I’ll explain it to you. Viktor Zanian, when last seen by anyone, was getting off a private jet in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, with several pieces of luggage.”
“Well, when one travels, one takes luggage, doesn’t one?”
“Yes, but Mr. Zanian’s luggage contains all the funds you deposited with him, and those of many other unfortunate clients, as well. Mr. Zanian’s offices have been padlocked by the U.S. government, and the FBI is looking for him, which is why no one is answering his phone.”
“Stone, that is just not possible. Viktor Zanian is an upstanding gentleman.”
“Mr. Zanian is neither upstanding, nor is he a gentleman, Kitty. He is a confidence man and a thief. Do you possess a computer?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Do you know how to use Google?”
“Yes, do you think I’m some sort of dummy?”
“No, but Mr. Zanian does. Google him.”
“I’ll call you back.”
Stone took the moment to remember that he could afford the loss he had just taken. That was of no comfort whatsoever.
Joan buzzed him.
“Is it Ms. Crosse?”
“How did you guess?”
Stone pressed the button. “Yes, Kitty?”
“Well, now I don’t know whom to believe.”
“What are the choices?” Stone asked.
“You or Google.”
“Believe either. Google and I are not at odds.”
“Well, Google has never lied to me,” she said.
“Neither have I,” Stone pointed out. “Kitty, you didn’t deposit all your funds with Zanian, did you? I mean, you have other accounts. At your bank and, perhaps, at other institutions, for instance.”
“Well, of course.”
“I’m relieved to hear it,” Stone replied. “Now, will you please wire transfer $266,000 to me immediately? My secretary will give you the account information.”
“You mean the money I owe the Bentley people?”
“Then I should wire it to them, shouldn’t I?”
“I have already done so,” Stone replied. “Now I would like you to reimburse me.”
“What was the amount again?”
“Oh, dear, I don’t think I have that much in the bank at the moment.”
“Then why did you write a check in that amount to the Bentley people?”
them I needed to move the money into my
checking account. I don’t believe there’s that much in the account at the moment.”
“How much is in the account?” Stone asked.
“Just a minute, I have a statement here somewhere.” There was a rustling of papers, then the tearing of an envelope. “Here we are,” she said. “Let’s see. The current balance is $245.12.”
“Is that after deducting the check to Bentley?”
“Oh, no, before.”
both you and the Bentley people that I had to move money to the account.”
“Kitty, I need to think about our next move. I’ll call you back later.”
Stone hung up and pressed his forehead to the glass top on his desk.