Stone Barrington finished his osso buco as Elaine wandered over from another table and sat down.
“So?” she asked.
“ ‘So?’ What kind of question is that?”
“It means, ‘tell me everything.’”
Stone looked up to see Dino struggling to shut the front door behind him. Dino was his former partner, now a lieutenant, head of the detective squad at the 19th Precinct.
Dino came over, sloughing off a heavy topcoat. “Jesus,” he said, hanging up his coat, muffler and hat. “There’s already six inches of snow out there, and there’s at least thirty knots of wind.”
“How are we going to get home?” Stone wondered aloud.
“Don’t worry. My driver’s out there now, putting the chains on the car.” Dino now rated a car and driver from the NYPD.
Stone shook his head. “Poor bastard. It’s tough enough being a cop without drawing you for a boss.”
“What do you mean?” Dino demanded, offended. “The kid’s getting an education working for me. They don’t teach this stuff at the academy.”
“What, how to put chains on a lieutenant’s car?”
“All he has to do is watch me, and he learns.”
Stone rolled his eyes, but let this pass. They drank their champagne in silence for a moment.
“So?” Dino asked, finally.
“That’s what I just asked him,” Elaine said.
“So, I’m back.” Stone had returned from an extended stay in LA a few days before.
“I knew that,” Dino said. “So?”
“Can’t either of you speak in complete sentences?”
“So,” Dino said, “how’s Mrs. Barrington?”
“Dino,” Stone said, “if you’re going to start calling her that, I’m going to start carrying a gun.”
“I heard,” Elaine said.
“I’m not surprised,” Stone replied. “Dino has a big mouth.”
“So, how is she?” Dino demanded.
“I talked to Eduardo today,” Stone said. “Her shrink doesn’t want me to see her. Not for a while.”
“That’s convenient,” Dino said.
“You bet it is,” Stone agreed.
“You feeling guilty, Stone?” Elaine asked.
“Sure he is,” Dino said. “If he had just taken my advice . . .”
“Mine, too,” Elaine echoed.
“All right, all right,” Stone said. “If I had only taken your advice.”
“Arrington is for you,” Elaine said.
“Arrington isn’t exactly speaking to me,” Stone said.
“What does that mean?”
“It means that if I call her, she’s civil, but if I try to reason with her, she excuses herself and hangs up.”
“How’s the boy?” Dino asked.
“Does he know who his father is yet?”
“Look, Dino, I don’t know who his father is. It could just as well have been Vance as me. Not even Arrington knows. Nobody will, until we do the DNA testing.”
“And when does that happen?”
“Arrington won’t discuss it.”
“Keep after her.”
“I don’t know if it’s worth it,” Stone said wearily. “I’m not sure it would make any difference.”
“Give her time,” Dino said. “She’ll come around.”
“You’re a font of wisdom, Dino. Know any other relationship clichés?”
“Every eligible man in the country is going to be after her,” Elaine said.
“What?” Stone asked.
“She’s Vance Calder’s widow, dummy, and as such, she’s very, very rich. Not to mention gorgeous. You’d better get your ass down to Virginia and win her back.”
“She knows where to find me,” Stone said.
Elaine rolled her eyes.
Another blast of frigid air blew into the room as the front door opened again.
“It’s your pal Eggers,” Dino said, nodding toward the door.
Bill Eggers came over to the table. He didn’t unbutton his coat. “Hi, Elaine, hi, Dino,” he said, then he turned to Stone. “I’ve been calling you all evening. I should have known I’d find you here.” Bill Eggers was the managing partner of Woodman & Weld, the extremely prestigious law firm with which Stone was associated, in a very quiet way.
“My home away from home,” Stone said. “What’s up?”
“I’ve got a client in the car that you have to see tomorrow morning.”
“Bring him in. I’ll buy him a drink.”
“He won’t come in.”
“Who is he?”
“No names, for the moment.”
“You have secrets from us, Bill?” Elaine asked.
“You bet I do,” Eggers replied. “Ten o’clock sharp, Stone?”
“Ten o’clock is fine; sharp depends on the snow. Your office?”
“Penthouse One, at the Four Seasons. He doesn’t want to be seen with you.”
“Tell him to go fuck himself,” Stone said.
“Stone,” Eggers said, “get this thing done and get it done right, and you could end up a rich man.”
“Ten o’clock, sharp,” Stone said.
STONE LEFT HIS HOUSE IN TURTLE BAY EARLY. EIGHTEEN inches of snow had fallen the night before, and the city was a mess. Cabs were few, and he would have to hoof it to 57th Street and the Four Seasons Hotel.
He was clad in a sheepskin coat, cashmere-lined gloves, a soft, felt hat and rubber boots over his shoes. The sidewalks on his block had not been cleared, but the street had been plowed, and he walked up the middle of it all the way to Park Avenue, unmolested by any traffic. The city was peculiarly quiet, the silence punctuated only by the occasional blast of a taxi’s horn and, twice, the sound of car striking car. He made it to the Four Seasons ten minutes early.
It was said to be the most expensive hotel in the city, a soaring, very modern skyscraper set on the broad, crosstown street between Madison and Park. A gust of wind propelled him into the lobby, and he was immediately too warm. He found a checkroom and unburdened himself of his outer clothing, and shortly, the elevator deposited him on a high floor. He rang the bell beside the double doors and, immediately, a uniformed butler opened the door.
“My name is Barrington. I’m expected.”
“Of course, sir, please come in.”
Stone was ushered through a foyer into a huge living room with a spectacular view of the city looking south, or what would have been a spectacular view if not for the clouds enveloping the tops of the taller buildings.
Bill Eggers came off a sofa by the windows and shook his hand. “Sit down,” he said, “and let me brief you.”
Stone sat down, and immediately he heard another man’s voice coming from an adjoining room through an open door. “Bill?” the voice said. “Come on in.”
Eggers stood up. “I’m sorry,” he said to Stone, “but there’s no time. Just listen a lot and follow my lead. Say yes to anything he says.”
“Not if he propositions me,” Stone said, but Eggers was already leading the way into the next room. Stone followed, and a very tall, very slender man in his mid-thirties came around a desk and shook Eggers’s hand. “How are you, Bill?”
“Very well, Thad,” Eggers replied. “Let me introduce a colleague of mine. This is Stone Barrington. Stone, this is Thad Shames.”
“How do you do?” Stone said, shaking the man’s hand. He knew just enough about him to know who he was, but no more than that. Software came into the equation, and multimillions. Stone didn’t follow finance or business very closely.
“Good to meet you, Stone,” Shames said. “Bill says you can solve my problem?”
Stone glanced at Eggers. “Yes,” he said, more confidently than he felt. Shames was dressed in a nicely cut dark suit, but his shirt seemed to have been laundered but not pressed. His tie was loose, and the button-down collar’s tips were not buttoned. Shames waved them both to a pair of facing sofas and, as he sat down and crossed his legs, revealed that he was also wearing a battered pair of suede Mephisto’s, a French athletic shoe. His blond, nearly pink hair was curly and tousled and had not been cut for months. He was clean-shaven, but Stone doubted that he could raise a beard.
“I’ve got a press conference at the Waldorf in an hour,” Shames said, “so I’ll make this as quick as I can.”
Stone and Eggers nodded automatically, like mechanical birds.
“I’ve met this spectacular woman,” Shames said, then waited for a reaction.
“Good,” Eggers replied.
“Yes,” Stone said.
“I think I’m in love.”
The two lawyers nodded gravely.
“Congratulations,” Eggers said.
“Yes,” Stone echoed.
“This is a lot more important than I’m making it sound,” Shames said, grinning. “I’ve never been married, and, well . . .”
Not getting laid, Stone thought. Horny. Vulnerable rich guy.
“Anyway, she’s just spectacular. I feel so lucky.”
He doesn’t realize yet she’s taken him, Stone thought.
“What’s her name?” Eggers asked.
“That’s just the thing,” Shames said, blushing. “I’m not sure I know.”
“When did you meet her?” Eggers asked.
“In the Hamptons.”
“At this time of the year?”
“Oh, it’s getting awfully chic out there in winter, now,” Shames replied. “All the most interesting people go out there on winter weekends. You don’t have to put up with the summer tourists and all their traffic.”
“Sounds great,” Eggers said. “Who introduced you to, ah, her?”
“Nobody, actually. We met at this big party at some movie guy’s house—I get those guys mixed up—and after talking for a few minutes, we got the hell out of there and went to Jerry Della Femina’s for dinner. We had a great time.”
“Good,” Eggers replied.
“Yes,” Stone said.
“She said her name was Liz,” Shames said.
“Maybe that’s her name,” Stone chanced, but shut up at a glare from Eggers.
“I’m not sure,” Shames said.
“Do you have some reason to think her name might not be Liz?” Eggers asked.
“Not really, just a feeling. She wouldn’t give me a last name or even tell me where she lives.”
“How can Stone and I help, Thad?”
“I want you to find her for me.”
This time, Stone glared at Eggers, but Eggers avoided the look.
The butler appeared at the door. “Excuse me, Mr. Shames, but your office is on line one.”
Shames stood up. “I’d better take this in the other room,” he said. “Please excuse me for a moment.” He left, closing the door behind him.
“I know you have some questions,” Eggers said.
“Just one,” Stone replied. “Are you out of your fucking mind?”
“Now, Stone . . .”
“What am I, some seedy shamus, tracking down women for rich men?”
“Stone . . .”
Stone stood up. “Call me when you’ve got something of substance, Bill.”
Eggers didn’t move. “The press conference he’s holding is to announce an initial public offering of stock in a new company he’s started. Shames has taken two other companies public in the past eight years, and they’re both multibillion-dollar, worldwide corporations now. How would you like to have ten thousand shares of the new company at the opening price?”
Stone looked at him warily. “Tell me about it.”
“I don’t know all that much, except that it’s supposed to be an astonishing new technology for the Internet, and that Thaddeus Shames is doing it.”
Stone knew enough to know how spectacular a lot of Internet stocks had been in the market. “What’s it going to open at?”
“The price hasn’t been set yet; probably around twenty dollars a share. Last week an Internet IPO happened, and the stock went up eight hundred percent the first day.”
Stone sat down.
Shames returned to the room, and Eggers stood up.
“Thad, Stone is going to take this on. I’ve got a meeting back at the office, so I’ll leave the two of you to continue.” He shook hands with Shames and Stone and left.
“Bill told you about my new IPO?” Shames asked.
“Yes,” Stone said. You bet he did. Stone had already calculated how much of his portfolio he’d have to liquidate to buy the new stock.
“This girl is really wonderful,” Shames said.
“I’ll help you in any way I can,” Stone said.
“Walk me to the car, and I’ll tell you everything I know on the way.”
I’ll bet we’ll have time left over, Stone thought. “Sure. And, Thad?”
“Why don’t you let me walk you across the street and get you a new shirt for this press conference.”
“Across the street?”
“Turnbull and Asser is right across from the hotel. Won’t take a minute.”
Shames looked down at his shirt. “Guess it couldn’t hurt,” he said.
“They have shoes, too.”
AS THEY PASSED THROUGH THE LIVING ROOM OF THE huge suite, a woman’s voice rang out.
Shames and Stone stopped and turned. An attractive young woman wearing a chef’s smock was waving from the adjacent dining room.
“Yes, Callie?” Shames replied.
“Do you have any idea how many for lunch, yet? I’m turning it over to the caterers, and they’d sure like to know.”
“Oh, I don’t know. Tell them to plan for a hundred. If there are leftovers we can donate them to a good cause.”
“Right,” she said. “See you in PB.”
Shames rang for the elevator. “Now, about Liz,” he said to Stone. “What do you want to know?”
“Describe her appearance.”
Shames held a hand across his chest. “She comes up to about here.”
“Was she wearing heels?”
“I’m not sure.”
“A dark brunette.”
“To her shoulders; maybe a bit longer.”
“How old was she?”
“Thirtyish, I guess.”
“Mediumish, I suppose.”
“Anything else distinctive about her appearance? Nose?”
“Blue, I think.”
Jesus, Stone thought, I’m glad the girl didn’t commit a crime; she’d get away with it.
The elevator arrived, and they got on.
“Let’s talk about her name again, Thad. What made you think that Liz might not be her real name?”
“Just a feeling.”
“Try to remember if she said anything specific about her name.”
“I asked her, ‘What’s your name?’ And she said, ‘Liz will do.’ And I said, ‘What’s your last name?’ And she said, ‘Just Liz.’”
“Well, she’s pretty cagey. Do you think she knew who you were?”
“If she did, she didn’t give any sign of it. She asked me what I did, and I told her.”
“What did you tell her?”
“I said I was a software entrepreneur. She said, ‘Like Bill Gates?’ And I said, ‘Well, not quite on that scale.’ That was the only time we talked about work.”
“You didn’t ask her what she did?”
“Oh, yeah, I did. She said, ‘I’m retired.’ And I said, ‘From what?’ And she said, ‘From marriage.’”
“So she divorced well?”
“How was she dressed?”
The elevator reached the ground floor, and they went to the checkroom.
“She was wearing this sort of dress.”
“Did it look expensive?”
“I guess. I mean, she looked beautiful in it, and it was a pretty expensive crowd at the party.”
“How about jewelry?”
“I think she was wearing earrings. Yes, diamond earrings. Those little stud things, you know? Except they weren’t all that little.”
“Wedding or engagement ring?”
“A big diamond, but not on her left hand.”
“So she didn’t return her engagement ring after the divorce.”
“I guess not.”
“A gold necklace and a gold bracelet, I think with diamonds. Nothing flashy, though.”
“How about her speech; any sort of accent? Southern? Midwestern?”
“American. No accent that caught my attention.”
Stone got into his coat, and they left the hotel. “Right across the street, there,” he said, pointing to the shop. He led the way, avoiding ice patches and slush in the gutters. “Don’t you have a coat?” he asked.
“It’s in the car,” Shames said, nodding at a stretched black Mercedes that was making a U-turn, following them.
Stone held the shop door open for Shames, then pointed the way upstairs. They emerged onto the second floor and went into the shirt and tie room.
“Gosh!” Shames said. “I’ve never seen so many colors. You pick out something for me.”
“Sixteen. The sleeves usually aren’t long enough for me.”
“These will be pretty long,” Stone said. A salesman showed them the sixteens. Stone riffled through them and picked out a blue-and-white narrow-striped shirt. “How about this?”
Stone picked out a tie and a complementary silk pocket square and handed them to a saleslady. “Send these down to the shoe shop, please.” He led the way back downstairs to the shoe shop.
“This is a really nice place,” Shames said, looking around.
“You’d never heard of it?”
“No, and it’s right across the street from the hotel, too.”
A salesman approached, and Stone helped the man choose some dignified oxfords and some socks.
Shames handed the man a credit card.
“There’s a dressing room,” Stone said, pointing. “Why don’t you put those things on?” He waited, and when Shames returned, he had made a mess of tying the tie. Stone retied it for him and stuffed the silk handkerchief into his breast pocket. “You could pass for a captain of industry,” Stone said. “That’s a really nice suit.”
“I had it made in London. This is the only time I’ve worn it.” Shames signed the credit card chit and checked himself out in a mirror. “Something doesn’t look quite right,” he said. “What is it?”
“There’s a barbershop at the Waldorf,” Stone replied, glancing at his watch. “Make the crowd wait for you.”
“Okay, I guess I could use a trim.”
They stepped back into the street, where the Mercedes was waiting. “Ride down to the Waldorf with me,” Shames said. “You can drop me, and the car will take you to your place to pack and then to the airport.”
“Sorry?” Stone said, getting into the car. He wasn’t sure he had understood.
“To Teterboro. My airplane is out there.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Well, you’ll have to go to Palm Beach.”
“Because that’s where she is. Didn’t I mention that?”
“I don’t believe you did,” Stone said. “Why do you think she’s in Palm Beach?”
“I ran into a guy I know at dinner last night who was at the party in the Hamptons. He recognized her at LaGuardia yesterday. She was boarding a flight for Palm Beach.”
“You think she lives in Palm Beach?”
“I’ve no idea.”
They drove down Park Avenue, then the driver made a U-turn and stopped in front of the Waldorf.
“Oh,” Shames said, reaching into an inside pocket and extracting an envelope. “Here’s some expense money.”
Stone took the envelope. “Thanks.”
“You can stay at my place down there,” Shames said, handing him a card. “Not in the house; the house is being renovated, and it’s a complete mess.”
“Guesthouse?” Stone asked.
“No, my boat is moored out back. You can stay aboard. There’s some crew aboard, I think. They’ll get you settled. Anything else I can tell you?”
“I can’t think of anything,” Stone said. “If you think of something, please call me.”
“Okay. You can reach me through my office. The number’s on the other side of the card. I’ll be down to Palm Beach in a few days. See you then.” He offered Stone his hand, grabbed a ratty-looking overcoat from the front seat, got out of the car and walked into the Waldorf.
“Where to, sir?” the driver asked.
Stone gave him the address. “I have to pack some clothes. Then I guess we’re going to Teterboro. Jesus, I didn’t ask him where in Teterboro.”
“Atlantic Aviation,” the driver replied.