Authors: Stuart Woods
Stone’s doorbell rang at six-thirty. He pressed the intercom button. “Is that the FBI?”
“It is. Sorry I’m late.”
“Come straight ahead, I’ll meet you.” He pressed the button that opened the door and walked into the living room. He had just a moment to size her up, and the report was favorable. “I’m Stone Barrington.” He offered his hand.
She took it. “I’m Brio Ness. It’s a nice hand, but why doesn’t it have a drink in it?”
“I’ll lead you to the watering hole,” Stone said, walking her to the study.
“Nice living room,” she said, while passing through. “Nice study,” she said, when they had arrived.
“Thank you. We make a nice drink, too. What would you like?”
“A single malt Scotch on the rocks. It’s been that kind of day.”
“Whatever perfect is in Gaelic.”
He poured and handed her a thick Baccarat whiskey glass, then poured himself a Knob Creek and waved her to the sofa.
“Ahhhh,” she said, sinking in. “Your friend Zanian is getting me down.”
“We’re not friends. We’ve never met.”
“What shall I call him, your meal ticket?”
“I eat quite well without his help. Call him my quarry.”
“Done. God, this is wonderful Scotch.”
“I tend to agree, but I’m a drinker of bourbon, by habit.”
“I can’t stay for dinner,” she said.
“Of course, you can. I’ve already ordered, and it will be served shortly.”
“Well, since you put it that way.” She emptied her glass.
“There’s time for one more before dinner,” he said, repairing the damage.
“I just don’t want you to think that I’m that kind of girl,” she said.
“The kind who eats?”
“I don’t do that on a first date.”
“Eat? I recommend it three times daily.”
Fred appeared at the door with a dusty bottle of wine in his hand. Stone introduced him to Brio. “Will this do for dinner, sir?”
“What are we having?”
“That will do very nicely with beef. Please decant it, and a chardonnay with our first course.”
“You have a butler?”
“We call him a factotum. He’s so much more than a butler: drives, decants, shoots bad people.”
“You get a lot of those in the house?”
“They turn up now and then. Fred was the national pistol champion of the Royal Navy, two years running. He was a Marine.”
“Pretty small for a Marine,” she said.
“He beats up larger opponents all the time.”
“I suppose that’s handy, if you’re in the wrong neighborhood.”
“It is. I don’t have the Federal Bureau of Investigation at my disposal. How did you make a career in the Bureau?”
“I figured out my last year in law school that I didn’t want to practice law, and it seemed an interesting refuge.”
“How long ago was that?”
“Are you satisfied with your career progress?”
“No, but they wouldn’t want me if I were. I’m doing okay.”
“Reporting directly to the director on the Zanian thing.”
“Once in a while something turns up that interests the higher-ups, but they don’t want to do the work, of course.”
“You do the work, and they take the credit, right?”
“Fairly right. I’ll get a notation in my record if I make them look good enough.”
“What, no decorations?”
“On rare occasions.”
Fred reappeared with the wines. “Dinner is served, sir.”
They started with a thick slice of smoked salmon, and a glass
of a good Meursault. “The salmon is for the Scot in you,” Stone explained.
“And how did you come into all this?” she asked, waving a fork.
“I had the same feeling as you did about the practice of law,” Stone said. “So, I chose the NYPD and did fourteen years before they released me into the wild, working homicide the last few years.”
“Well,” she said, “maybe someone will murder Zanian, and you can put your old skills to work.”
“From what I’m hearing,” Stone said, “they’re waiting in line to do just that, once they’ve got their money back.”
“Not much chance of that, is there?”
“Is that what you’re telling the director?”
“No, but that’s what he believes. So, if I lay my hands on the guy, he’ll be thrilled, never mind the money.”
“The last big Ponzi guy was arrested in his office,” Stone said. “Zanian was better prepared, his Gulfstream at the ready.”
“My people are canvassing the Hawaiian airports,” she said.
The porterhouse arrived, beautifully sliced, with a baked potato and asparagus. Fred poured the red for tasting, and Stone approved, so Brio got some, too.
They had an apple tart for dessert, with a glass of port from a decanter, then they repaired to the sofa.
“Now,” Stone said, “we were discussing the kind of girl you’re not.”
“I’m reassessing my position on that,” she replied. “You’ve gone to such lengths. Perhaps another time, when Zanian has not tired me out so.”
“I understand,” Stone said.
“Also, I think that will have to wait until Mr. Zanian sees the inside of a federal detention center, and the money for that reward has been distributed. It wouldn’t look good for me to be associated with the collector of the money.”
Fred drove her home in the Bentley.
Stone was having breakfast when Bob Cantor called.
“Sorry it’s so early, but I thought you’d want to know that Zanian’s Gulfstream is down at San Jose. They’re having to replace the auxilliary power unit.”
“Good, that will slow him down for the FBI.”
“The FBI has already raided the FBO: Zanian was not there, and neither were his pilots, and they were unable to connect the aircraft with him. They’ll sit on the airplane until Zanian shows up and tries to fly away.”
“How long before the unit can be replaced?”
“Late this afternoon eastern time.”
Stone thought for a moment. “I want to be there,” he said. “You want to go?”
“To San Jose? I’ve got no business there.”
“How about Hawaii?”
“No time. Too much work.”
“I’ll let you know how it turns out.”
Stone hung up and called his pilot, Faith. “We’re headed for San Jose, California, ASAP,” he said.
“We may go as far as Hawaii. Put together a long-distance crew.”
“What time can we take off?”
“With luck, eleven
, if the right crew is available on short notice.”
“I’ll be there for wheels up at eleven. Let me know if there’s any delay.”
Stone hung up and called Dino.
“You want to have some fun?”
“How much fun?”
Stone explained the situation.
“That sounds like a
of fun—and possibly profitable, too! See you at ten forty-five.”
“Bring tropical clothing.”
“I’ve got a Panama hat somewhere.” Dino hung up.
Stone showered, shaved, dressed, and packed a couple of bags. When they arrived at the airport, Stone was amused to find that Faith had assembled an all-female crew, three pilots and two flight attendants.
They set down at San Jose at midafternoon and taxied to Landmark Aviation. While Faith ordered fuel, Stone and Dino went inside and found the manager.
“How can I help you?” the man asked.
“You have a Gulfstream in your shop to change the auxiliary power unit, don’t you?” Stone asked.
“We did. It took off late this morning.”
“Didn’t you have a visit from the FBI?”
“We did, but the airplane was already gone.”
“I’m not sure where they filed for. Check with the tower.”
“How did you turn it around so fast?”
“We discovered that the unit was fine. The problem was a relay, and that was easily replaced.”
“Thank you,” Stone said. “Could you ask the tower where they filed for?”
“Sure.” The man picked up a phone, spoke to somebody, and hung up. “Acapulco, Mexico.”
“Thank you,” Stone said.
“So, we’re going to Acapulco?” Dino asked.
“Not yet,” Stone said. He found Faith signing for the fuel. “Faith, will you go up to the tower and speak to the duty officer? Our Gulfstream filed for Acapulco this morning and took off, but I want to know if they’ve changed their destination, and if so, to where.”
“Sure,” Faith said, then left the airplane.
“Why didn’t you ask the FBO manager to find out?”
“Faith is prettier,” Stone replied. “She gets information out of people who didn’t know they were going to give it to her.”
Faith was back shortly. “They changed their destination to Hilo, Hawaii.”
“File for Hilo, and let’s get out of here. When we’re an hour out, ask ATC if they changed their destination again.”
“What do you think Zanian is doing for passports?” Dino asked, as they taxied to the runway.
“You don’t need passports for Hawaii,” Stone said, “but I’m sure he took care of the passport problem a long time ago. He certainly took care of everything else.”
“Are you going to let the FBI know about this?”
“I’ve already done my duty in that regard,” Stone said. “As far as I’m concerned, they’re on their own now.”
“Did you impart that to Brio Ness personally?”
“I did. She told me she was no longer interested in speaking to me about the matter of Zanian, and I’m going to take her at her word.”
“What else did she tell you?”
“She told me that the Honolulu AOC doesn’t have enough agents to cover all the Hawaiian airports, so maybe we’ll get lucky.”
“I know a guy who might be helpful when we get there,” Dino said.
“We’ll take all the help we can get,” Stone said. “Right now, let’s get some sleep.”
Stone was wakened from a sound sleep by Faith, who was standing over him and talking.
“What?” he muttered.
“They’ve diverted to Honolulu. Shall I follow?”
“Yes. But check again with ATC to make sure they haven’t changed airports again. And when we’re down, ask which FBO the previous Gulfstream went to and go there.”
“Will do,” Faith said, then returned to the cockpit.
An hour later they touched down and rolled out, then Faith taxied to Signature Aviation. Stone went forward to speak to her. “Ask the FBO which hotel the other Gulfstream crew were booked
into, then book us in wherever that is. Dino and I will share a two-bedroom suite. And refuel now rather than later.”
“I’ll do whatever I can,” Faith said, running through her after-landing checklist and shutting down the engines.
As the aircraft’s door opened, the air was filled with singing and ukuleles. Stone and Dino walked down the airstairs to be greeted by young women in grass skirts, who festooned them with leis and kisses.
“So far, so good,” Dino said.
Stone turned to Faith. “Where are we staying?”
“At the Royal Hawaiian,” she said. “It’s old but said to be nice. I’ve ordered a van.”
The van pulled up and everyone and their luggage got aboard.
“It’s hot,” Dino said, fanning himself with his Panama hat.
“It’s supposed to be,” Stone said.
“Have you ever been to Hawaii?”
“Nope, but I’m told it’s hot.”
“That was good information,” Dino replied.
Stone leaned forward to talk to Faith. “What did you find out about the occupants of the other Gulfstream?”
“They’re loaded same as us, two crews and two passengers, plus a dog.”
“What kind of dog?”
“Does it matter?”
“I didn’t ask.”
“Did you get the names of the passengers?”
“Dickens,” she said.
“Charles and Emma. Americans.”
“Are we near them in the hotel?”
“I’ve no idea. That wasn’t on your list of requests.”
“Do you have any idea what they look like?”
“None at all. It wasn’t . . .”
“On my list, I know.”
Stone took out a notebook, looked up a number, and dialed it.
“Who are you calling?” Dino asked.
“The FBI tips hotline for Zanian. I want to get this out of the way.”
“Do you want them to get to the hotel before we do?”
“Are you kidding? The hotline will take hours to get that to Special Agent Ness. I’m on hold right now.”
“Whatever you say.”
“I wish everybody said that all the time,” Stone said.
The hotel was big and splashy and right on the beach, with Diamond Head in sight.
“That’s Diamond Head,” Stone said to Dino.
“How do you know? You’ve never been here.”
“I saw it in a movie of the same name, which starred Charlton Heston.”
“How old were you at the time?”
“It was on TV.”
“I recognized it from
,” Dino said.
They checked in. “By the way,” Stone said to the desk clerk, “is there a Mr. Charles Dickens registered here?”
She smiled. “I believe you’ll find him in our library,” she replied, then went on to the next customer.
“You should have been a detective,” Dino said.
They followed a bellman to the top floor of the hotel and were admitted to a spectacular suite.
“Good God!” Stone said. “I didn’t ask for the presidential suite!”
“It was all they had,” Faith said from behind him. “I just wanted to see it. I’m next door, that way.” She pointed. She and her bellman left.
Stone tipped his bellman. “Do you know a guest named Dickens?”
The man shook his head. “No, sir.”
“Did you ever get through to anyone on the FBI hotline?” Dino asked.
“No, I left a message.”
“I’m sure when they hear the name you left, they’ll hang up.”
“Good,” Stone said.
The bellman threw open the doors to the terrace, and they walked outside. “This is about twenty-five knots of wind,” Stone said, leaning into it.
“It must be the altitude,” Dino replied, securing his Panama hat before it could blow away.
“We’re at sea level,” Stone said.
They went back inside and managed to get the doors closed.
“What now?” Dino asked.
“I’m still sleepy,” Stone replied.
They both headed for their respective beds.
Stone was awakened late in the day.
“We’re hungry,” Faith said on the phone.
“You take the girls to dinner but keep them sober. We may be headed for Midway or Christmas Island next, and I don’t want a hungover crew. And if you see any group that looks like another air crew, cozy up to them and find out who they are, what they’re flying, who they’re flying, and where.”
“Gotcha, boss.” Faith hung up.
Dino came into his room wearing a hotel robe and looking freshly showered and shaven. “How about some dinner?”
“Call downstairs and book us a table in the main dining room,” Stone said, “while I get cleaned up.”
Stone went and got cleaned up.
He came into the living room, dressed in a white linen suit.
“Didn’t Sydney Greenstreet dress that way in
?” Dino asked.
“Maybe, but not in my size,” Stone replied. “Let’s go.”