Stone Barrington spotted the Santa Fe airport ten milesout. “Albuquerque Center, November One, Two, Three, Tango Foxtrot has theairport in sight.”
“N123TF, contactthe tower on 119.5. Good day to you.”
“Good day.” Hetuned into the channel. “Santa Fe tower, N123TF nine miles to the north at tenthousand. Request straight in for runway two zero.”
“N123TF, I haveyou in sight. Cleared for the visual to two zero.”
“Tango Fox,cleared for the visual.” Stone lined up on the runway, reduced power, put inhis first notch of flaps, and dialed in eight thousand feet. The autopilotbegan the descent. Five miles out, he dropped the landing gear, slowing theairplane further, then put in 35 degrees of flaps and let the airplane slow toapproach speed.
At the sound ofthe gear lowering, Bob, Stone’s trusty yellow Labrador retriever, left his bedin the passenger compartment, jumped up on a seat, and looked out the window.
At five hundredfeet above ground level, Stone slowed to reference speed of 107 knots, crossedthe runway threshold, and settled smoothly onto the tarmac. As he put in thefinal notch of flaps to dump lift and began to brake, he spotted the AstonMartin parked on the ramp outside Landmark Aviation and the tall blond woman insweater and slacks leaning against it.
He turned off therunway, stopped, and ran his afterlanding checklist, then called the tower andwas cleared to taxi to the ramp. A lineman waved him in next to the AstonMartin, then chocked the nosewheel. Stone pulled the throttles to the shutoffposition and waited for the engines to spool down before turning off the mainswitch, which shut down the instrument panel. He struggled out of his seat,opened the cabin door, grabbed his briefcase, kicked down the folding stairs,and allowed Bob to deplane first.
Gala Wilde metthem at the bottom of the steps, planted an enthusiastic kiss on Stone’s lips,and scratched Bob’s back. “Welcome back,” she said. “We’ve got dinner at sevenat the Eagles’ house.” Gala was the sister of Mrs. Ed Eagle, Susannah Wilde.
Stone retrievedhis overnight bag from the forward luggage compartment and tossed it into therear of the Aston Martin along with his briefcase, which used nearly all of theavailable luggage space, then got into the passenger seat and let Bob crowd inbeside him. “I’m ready for a drink,” he said.
“Sadly, I don’tkeep the stuff in the car, so you’ll have to wait another twenty minutes.”
“I’ll try, but Imay get the shakes. Flying always makes me thirsty.”
She started theengine, which emitted a pleasing, guttural noise, then waited for the gate toopen. “Good flight?”
“Boringflight—the best kind. I read the Times and did the crossword.”
“Saturdays arealways a bitch. They’re the most fun.”
“Thank you, Ithink.”
Stone laughed.“That wasn’t a personal reference.”
Twenty minuteslater they pulled into the driveway of her house in the village of Tesuque, onthe northern rim of Santa Fe. He grabbed his luggage and followed her to themaster suite, while Bob paused to inspect the grass, then followed. Stonedumped his bags in the master bedroom and followed her into the kitchen sittingroom, where a leather-covered rolling bar held a nest of bottles. Bob settledfor Tesuque well water.
“Have you triedtheir rye?”
“Didn’t knowthere was one.”
“There is. ShallI pour you one?”
“Go ahead, I’llbe brave.”
She handed him aglass and poured herself one. They both sipped.
“That’s reallygood,” Stone said. “I haven’t drunk a lot of rye.”
“I hadn’t either,until I discovered it at a bourbon bar at a restaurant in town.” She sank downbeside him on the sofa. A cheery fire of piñon wood crackled in the fireplace.
“A bourbon bar?Never seen one of those, but it sounds like a good idea. What’s happening withyour screenplay?”
“The plan is forBen Bacchetti to sign his first production order on Monday morning, and it’s myscreenplay.”
“He’ll be signingit as head of production,” Stone said. “Leo Goldman isn’t quite ready torelinquish his title as CEO. He’s unwell, though, so it might only be a matterof months before he moves over.”
“How does Peterfeel about losing his production partner?”
“He’s not losinghim, Ben will still produce their pictures personally, at least until hebecomes CEO.”
“He’ll be a busyfellow.”
“He seems to likeit that way. Peter says Ben always got bored while they were waiting for productionapproval. That won’t be a problem anymore. By the way, I’m joining theCenturion board on Monday morning.”
“What do you knowabout motion pictures?”
“Well, I’ve seena lot of them. That seems to be the only qualification of half the movie executivesin L.A.”
“You’re rightabout that.”
“Of course,Peter’s trust and I, combined, are the largest stockholders of the company.”
“I suppose heinherited his stock from Vance Calder.” Calder was the late movie star who hadbeen Peter’s stepfather. His mother, Arrington, had married Calder whilepregnant with Stone’s son.
“How about you?”
“I’ve been buyingthe stock for years from people who were required to divest on retirement. Itadds up over time.”
“What are theduties of a director of the company?”
“Four boardmeetings a year, plus an occasional special meeting, when circumstancesrequire.”
“And for that youget what?”
“Money and theuse of the corporate jet at half the company’s cost.”
“But you haveyour own jet.”
“True, but it’snice to have access to a brand-new Gulfstream 650 when traveling longdistances, and they might even let me fly right seat sometimes. I’m gettingqualified in it.”
“And how longwill that take?”
“A month or more,but it will be fun, as well as hard work. I’ve already done three weeks of it.They’ll let me finish up when I can find the time.”
“I get theimpression that your time is pretty much your own,” she said.
“It’s surprisinghow much law you can practice with an iPhone and a computer. I’ve even attendedboard meetings on Skype, while at my house in England.”
“I’m lookingforward to seeing that house.”
“That can bearranged.”
“Well, it’s notas though the production company is glad to see me after they’ve startedshooting. They regard the writer as excess baggage once the production order issigned.”
“Will you start anew one soon?”
“I’m alwaysworking, and I have a good idea for a new one.”
“Think you canwrite in England?”
“I don’t see whynot.” She looked at her watch. “We’ve got an hour before dinner. Do you thinkwe could find something to do until then?”
“My intentionsare thoroughly dishonorable,” he said, kissing her.
“Sofa or bed?”
“It’s a bigsofa.”
Buttons, snaps,and garments came undone.
Stone was asleep, curled up behind Gala, when a noisewoke him. It wasn’t much of a noise, so he began drifting off again, then therewas a loud crash. Bob was snoring away, ignoring his role in securitymanagement.
Gala woke, too.“What was that?”
“I don’t know. Doyou have a gun in the house?”
“Bedside table,top drawer. There’s one in the chamber.”
There was anothernoise, loud enough to waken even Bob. He began growling, but he didn’t move.
Stone got up andtrotted noiselessly across the kitchen and into the master suite. He found thegun, a Colt Government .380; he opened the slide slightly to be sure there wasa round chambered. The noise came again. He tiptoed to the door opening onto apatio and silently opened it, stepping outside in his bare feet.
A scraping noisecame from his left, sounding like somebody trying to get in through a window ordoor. The evening desert chill hit him, and he realized he was naked. He creptto the corner of the house and looked around it, just as an outdoor securitylight came on. The intruder blinked in the harsh light, then stared at Stone.
Stone foundhimself staring back at a large black bear, no more than ten feet from where hestood. The bear uttered a low, threatening noise. Stone screamed wordlessly athim, while jumping up and down and waving his arms. The bear seemed toreevaluate his threat, while watching Stone with curiosity.
“Okay,” Stonesaid to the bear, “I can’t shout any louder than that. How about this?” Hepointed the gun and pulled the trigger twice, hitting the tree he had beenaiming at.
The bear thoughtbetter of things, spun around, and hurried off into the darkness.
“Well done,” avoice behind him said.
Startled, Stonespun around. Gala stood in the door, as naked as he. Bob peeked out from behindher. “Did you invite that guy over for drinks?”
Gala laughed.“They sometimes come down the mountain and into the village. When I had the newroof put on, the roofers found bear scat up there.”
Stone suddenlyrealized he was cold and stepped inside, shivering.
“Dinner is intwenty minutes,” Gala said. “We’d better get dressed.”
They arrived atthe residence of Ed and Susannah Eagle fashionably late.
“I’m sorry wewere late,” Stone said, “but we had an intruder.”
“An intruder?” Edasked.
“Biggest blackbear you ever saw.”
“Did he get intothe house?”
“No, I fired acouple of shots into a tree, and he thought better of it.”
Ed handed themboth a Knob Creek on the rocks. “Susannah is finishing dinner. Use this as astopgap.” He waved them to a living room sofa. “You don’t ever want one ofthose things to get into the house, Gala, they can destroy it in minutes.”
“I’ll keep thatin mind, Ed.”
“Didn’t you bringBob?”
“I thought heneeded his rest. I think the bear scared him to death.”
“Stone, can wehitch a ride to L.A. with you tomorrow? My airplane blew a couple of currentlimiters, and we had to order replacements from Wichita.”
“Anyway, I’vewanted a chance to fly your airplane.”
“You’ll love it.My cockpit is identical to your M2’s, except for a single cockpit switch.”
Susannah cameinto the room and greeted them both with hugs and kisses. “Dinner will be readyin half an hour,” she said, accepting a drink from her husband. “We’re lookingforward to your party Monday night, Stone.”
Stone wasthrowing a large party at his house at the Arrington for Ben Bacchetti. “It’sgoing to be mostly studio people,” he said.
“Why aren’t Dinoand Viv with you?”
“Dino had a thinghe couldn’t avoid. They’re flying in commercial tomorrow.”
“Will Mary Ann bethere, too?”
Mary Ann Bianciwas Dino’s ex?wife and Ben’s mother.
“That should beexciting.”
“Mary Ann hasbeen behaving herself, since her father died. The experience seems to havemellowed her.”
“I’m so glad tohear it. I remember when she could be a horrible bitch.”
“If she getsstarted, we’ll throw a bag over her and push her into the pool.”
“That, I’d liketo see. Who from the studio is coming?” Susannah asked.
“I left that toBen and Peter. They tell me we’ll be thirty for dinner. We’ll do a buffetaround the pool.”
“Will thePresident and the President be there?”
“The Lees will bein town to meet with the Japanese prime minister. They’ll be occupying thepresidential cottage, but I don’t expect to see them during their visit.”
“How’s their babydoing?”
“I’ve met himonly once, and he seems to be behaving like a baby should. He’s cheerfulenough.”
Dinner was beef and plenty of it, washed down with acouple of bottles of the Caymus Special Selection Cabernet. It was nearlymidnight when the party broke up, and Stone and Gala returned to her house.
“Shall I inspectfor bears?” Stone asked as they got out of the car.
“Not without thegun,” Gala replied. “It’s back in the bedside drawer.”
She let them intothe house. Stone collected the gun and walked back onto the patio off themaster suite. The outside lights automatically sensed his presence and came on.He moved carefully around the rear exterior of the house. Something rustled inthe bushes, but nothing big enough for a bear; however, he managed to step insomething that was too much for a dog or a coyote. He had to get paper towelsfrom the kitchen to clean it off his shoe.
Gala was lookingout of sorts when he returned. He cleared the weapon and returned it to itsdrawer. “I’ll clean the gun for you tomorrow.” He looked at her closely.“Something the matter?”
“A phone messagefrom my ex?husband,” Gala said wearily. “He wants to see me when we’re in L.A.”
“You don’t haveto see him.”
“If I don’t,he’ll just keep calling. I’ll have a drink with him and get it over with.”
“I just can’timagine what he could want. He’s gotten everything the settlement entitled himto. The last thing he demanded was a case of old wine that he forgot toinclude.”
“I hope you drankit.”
“No, I shipped itto him.”
“But he keepsasking for things?”
“You’ll have tocall an end to that. I’ll help, if I can. You can introduce me as your newattorney.”
“That’s athought. Let’s see how it goes in L.A.”
They made loveagain and were soon asleep. Why did beautiful women always seem to have grumpyex?husbands? he wondered as he drifted off.
Stone was served a sumptuous breakfast in bed, whilewatching his favorite Sunday-morning shows, which Gala had TiVo?ed for him. Tohis surprise, CBS News Sunday Morning had a feature on Boris Tirov, Gala’sex?husband.
“I heard aboutthis a couple of weeks ago,” Gala said, “but I forgot about it. We may as wellwatch it.”
In an interviewconducted next to his large pool overlooking Malibu Beach, Tirov, a handsome,fit-looking fellow of around fifty, waxed eloquent about his success in thefilm business, commenting graciously on some of the people he’d worked with.
“I understandyou’re leaving Sony and taking your production company to Centurion,” theinterviewer said.
“I’m afraid Ican’t comment about that,” Tirov replied.
“Would such anannouncement come as a surprise to Sony?” he was asked.