Teddy Fay didn’t like the way the man was looking at him. He pushed his cart around a bend, then trotted halfway down the next aisle in the supermarket and stopped. The man appeared behind him and glanced at Teddy in what he perceived to be a furtive manner. Teddy didn’t like it. He especially didn’t like that the man was uniformed as a deputy sheriff.
Teddy didn’t think of himself as an unnaturally paranoid person; still, after years as a fugitive, albeit now a forgotten one, his sense of self-preservation had become honed to a fine point, and he could not ignore that. He ducked around the next corner, abandoned his shopping cart, and moved quickly toward the rear exit of the big store. He passed through a stockroom and out into the alley behind the store, then he broke into a trot. Before the deputy had had time to miss him and start looking, Teddy had arrived back in the parking lot in front of the store, started his car, and driven away.
He drove away from the store in the opposite direction from his house, then started to work a pattern of turns that took him in a circle, back to his neighborhood, always checking his rearview mirror and occasionally stopping for a minute or so to see if a sheriff’s cruiser would pass him. He took forty minutes to make the ten-minute trip to his house, and he had the garage door open with the remote as he turned into the driveway, so that he didn’t have to slow down until the car was inside and the door down. He had enjoyed living in the North Carolina mountain town, but the time had come to move on.
Once inside, Teddy checked the living room window to be sure he had not been followed, then he went to his laptop, entered the eighteen-digit password, found his departure checklist, and printed it. He went to the kitchen, looked under the sink and found the box of surgical gloves he kept there. He donned a pair then went to his bedroom and packed his two duffels with the clothing and belongings he did not want to leave behind. That done, he put all his remaining clothing into a big plastic leaf bag, then vacuumed the house and furniture thoroughly and put the vacuum bag into another leaf bag, followed by every remaining item that he owned, including the used sheets and towels and everything in the refrigerator and freezer. The house had now taken on a bare look, containing only the furnishings that had come with the rental.
When he was satisfied that he had packed everything he was going to take with him he put his belongings and the two leaf bags into the back of the old station wagon he had been driving for the past ten months, then he returned to the house, found a spray bottle of alcohol-based window cleaning fluid, and spent nearly four hours wiping down every door and door handle, piece of furniture, kitchen cabinet, and surface in the house that could retain a fingerprint.
He spent half an hour at his computer, first logging onto the CIA mainframe, then finding his way to the FAA website and creating a new registration for his airplane, using a tail number from a list he had already reserved and had had stick-on numbers made for.
He then packed his laptop and the contents of his safe, including some $400,000 in cash, into a hard suitcase, then he counted out three months’ rent, put it into an envelope addressed to the real estate agent, along with a note in childish block capitals explaining his departure, and left it on the kitchen table. Since he didn’t have a cleaning lady, it might be weeks before someone found it.
He made a final sweep of the house, then put the suitcase into the rear of the station wagon and, using a yard rake, broke the lightbulb that automatically came on when the garage door was opened. It was past one in the morning, now, and as he closed the garage door with the remote, he checked the block once again for any threat. That done, he tossed the remote into a rosebush in front of the house and left the neighborhood.
He drove several miles across town then tossed the leaf bag containing the useful items he no longer wanted into a Salvation Army collection bin, then, a couple of blocks away, he threw the other leaf bag into a building-site dumpster.
Now clear of the town, he drove to the Asheville Regional Airport and tapped in the code that opened a gate on the back side of the field. He drove to his hangar, opened it, and drove inside. He packed the Cessna 182 RG with his belongings, wiped down the station wagon thoroughly, and left another envelope with three months’ hangar rental and a note under a windshield wiper.
He stripped off the plastic, stick-on tail numbers on the airplane and replaced them with the new number. Finally, using the tow bar, he moved the airplane out of the hangar and closed the hangar door. He stripped off the surgical gloves and ran quickly through his checklist, then started the airplane and turned off the master switch, darkening the instrument panel and the interior lights. With only a quarter of a moon and the runway lights to show him the way, he taxied to runway 34 and, without slowing, started his takeoff roll. He thought it likely that, at this time of night, the controller on duty in the tower was probably occupied with some task or reading a magazine and would not notice the small, unlit airplane leaving the airport.
Teddy kept the airplane as low as was safely possible until he was a good twenty miles from the airport, then he turned west and began his climb. Not until he had reached 8,500 feet did he turn on the master switch, the exterior lights, the instrument panel switch, and, finally, the autopilot. He had no specific destination in mind; he would think about that after daylight.
He set his traffic avoidance equipment to a range of twenty miles; an alarm would alert him to other aircraft at or near his altitude. He inclined his seat a few notches, pulled a light blanket over himself, and sought sleep.
• • •
Teddy woke with the dawn and looked around him. The American mid-South lay before him, and so did the Mississippi River. He checked his fuel supply and figured he could make Fort Smith, Arkansas, in an hour or so. He landed there, refueled, paid in cash, and had breakfast from a vending machine, washing it down with the free coffee. In half an hour he was back in the air.
Then a wonderful thing happened: the light headwind he had been bucking all night changed, first, to a stiff breeze off his beam, then to a fifty-knot tailwind. He began to put real distance behind him.
He was west of Albuquerque near Gallup when he saw it ahead of him. He started a descent until the object revealed itself in the clear, desert air: a Stearman biplane, parked at one end of a dirt strip nestled against a collection of buildings—a motel, a store or two, and a gas station backed up against the landing strip. He circled the little town once and saw what he was looking for: a fuel tank sitting on a wooden cradle near the Stearman. He checked the windsock and put the Cessna down on the dirt.
A man came strolling out the rear door of what appeared to be a garage adjoining the gas station, and he stood by until Teddy had turned everything off and shut down the engine. “Good day to you,” the man said, as Teddy got out of the airplane and stretched. “My name’s Tom Fields. What can I do you for?”
“You can top me off,” Teddy said, offering his hand. “I’m Billy Burnett. Is there someplace where I can get a hamburger?”
“Sure thing,” Fields said. “Right across Main Street at the motel.” A teenaged boy came out of the garage wiping his hands on a rag. “This is my grandson, Bobby.”
“What’s this place called?” Billy asked. “I didn’t see it on the chart.”
“No, you wouldn’t. This is Mesa Grande, New Mexico. The world pretty much passed us by when they opened up I-40.”
Billy followed Tom Fields into his auto shop and looked around: clean, everything in good order, well equipped—all he required in a workshop. “Nice place you’ve got here,” he said.
“Thanks. Right through that door there is my equipment-rental business. I’ve got a forklift and a backhoe and some pneumatic drills, plus a lot of smaller stuff. I’ll pass both businesses on to Bobby, if I can live until he grows some more. Right now, he’s just changing oil and fixing flats. I’m going to send him to mechanic’s school when he graduates from high school.” He pointed out the front door. “There’s your hamburger,” he said.
“Thanks, Tom,” Billy replied. “Will you join me?”
Tom looked at his watch: “I reckon I will.”
Billy was introduced to Sally, a handsome woman of fifty who owned the motel and kept the lunch counter, and the two men had a leisurely lunch, while Teddy shot an occasional appraising glance at Sally, who frankly returned his interest.
• • •
“What brings you out our way?” Tom asked over coffee.
“Oh, I just sold my business back in upper New York State, and I thought I’d see some of the country. I lost my wife a year and a half ago, so there was nothing holding me back.” Teddy had already adopted Tom’s manner of speaking and a little of his accent. It was the natural actor in him.
“What kind of business?”
“Machine shop. Tom, do you reckon I could borrow enough tools from you to change my alternator? It’s been erratic, and I’ve got a spare aboard.”
“Sure you can. I’ll help you.”
• • •
The two men changed the alternator, then Tom looked at his watch. “I’ve got to run home,” he said. “My wife, Nell, had a little stroke last week, and she’s coming home from the hospital in Albuquerque in an ambulance. Due in half an hour.”
“You go ahead,” Billy said. “Anything I can help you with while you’re gone?”
Tom scratched his head. “That’s good of you to offer. I’ve got a Ford over there needs a new water pump. You reckon you could handle that during my absence? I’ll pay you for your time.”
“I’m glad to help,” Billy said. “Don’t worry about paying me, I’m right well off these days.”
Tom left, and Teddy changed the water pump, teaching Bobby what he was doing. Twice they paused to sell some gasoline to passing cars and clean the windscreens.
• • •
It was close to six o’clock before Tom came back. He glanced at the Ford. “Nice job,” he said. “Billy, it’s too late in the day to start off somewhere. Why don’t you come stay with us tonight? My daughter, Bobby’s mother, is fixing supper, and we’ve got a big old house.”
“I’d like to have dinner, Tom, but if you don’t mind, I’ll get a room over at the motel.” Before dinner was over, he had offered to stay on for a week or two, until Tom felt comfortable about coming back to work full-time.
• • •
After dinner he accepted a drink, then excused himself and drove back to the motel. As he walked through the diner door, Sally was ringing up the check of her last customer of the day.
“It’s Billy, right?”
“That’s right,” Teddy said, sliding into a booth.
“Can I get you something?”
“I’ll take a cup of coffee if you’ll have a drink with me,” he said, placing half a bottle of bourbon on the table before him.
“I’ll get us some ice,” Sally said. She did that, then slid into the booth with him and watched as he poured.
“I could also use a nice room for a week or two,” Teddy said, lifting his glass to her.
Sally clinked glasses and took a deep pull on her whiskey. “I reckon I can find you a place to sleep,” she said.
It was as easy as that: he had a job, a bed, and someone to share the latter with. Once again, Teddy Fay had effectively vanished in a puff of smoke.
Stone Barrington sat in the fourth row of the University Theater for the winter graduation ceremony of the Yale School of Drama. On one side of him sat Dino and Vivian Bacchetti; on the other side, as far as possible from Viv, sat Mary Ann Bianci Bacchetti, Dino’s former wife and the mother of his son, Ben.
Peter Barrington and Benito Bacchetti, the graduating sons, stood on either side of Hattie Patrick, Peter’s girlfriend, and, as their names were called, each stepped forward to accept their diplomas from the dean of the School of Drama.
There followed a slightly overlong address to the graduates by a Famous Broadway Director, himself an alumnus, then the ceremony was ended, and everyone involved made for the exits.
As the crowd shuffled toward the doors, Stone saw a familiar face just before it disappeared through the exit. He couldn’t place it, but the face had somehow induced a small trickle of anxiety in his guts. Troubled by the feeling, he dismissed it, filed away the face in his mind, and resolved to pull it up later, when he was not so occupied with the matters at hand.
• • •
Half an hour later, Stone, Dino, and Viv, but not Mary Ann, who could not tolerate sharing any social occasion, even this one, with her husband’s new wife, had said goodbye to her son and vanished. Nobody said “good riddance,” but the words were written on the faces of both Dino and Viv, and Ben looked decidedly relieved.
Hattie sat at the concert grand Steinway, playing Chopin waltzes for background music, as Peter’s entire graduation class, an even dozen, and their parents and friends sipped champagne, a Veuve Cliquot Grande Dame, supplied by Stone, who now sidled up to his son.
“That went well, I thought,” Stone said.
“I know what you want to know,” Peter said. “What are my plans?”
“Are you coming back to New York for a while?” Stone asked his son.
“We’re leaving for California at dawn,” Peter said. “We decided to drive.”
“You’re going to drive your Prius all the way across America?” Stone asked, incredulously.
“Nope, I traded it for a Porsche Cayenne Turbo,” Peter replied. “And we’ve rented a U-Haul trailer.”
“You can’t get all this,” Stone said, indicating the well-furnished apartment, “into a trailer.”
“You’re right, Dad. That’s why the movers are coming tomorrow and packing and shipping everything to L.A., where it will be stored while we look for a place to live. The U-Haul will hold the stuff we absolutely have to have with us for a couple of weeks.”
“That makes sense,” Stone said. “Where will you stay when you arrive?”
“Our cottage, Vance’s old one on the Centurion Studios lot, is being renovated for us. We can camp out there.”
“At the risk of intruding into your personal life,” Stone said, “may I point out that we have a perfectly good, five-bedroom house on the grounds of The Arrington, your mother’s namesake hotel? You might be a great deal more comfortable there, and there’s room service for more than pizza. I’d be happy to give them a call and let them know you’re coming.”
“Thanks, Dad,” Peter said, as if this alternative had never occurred to him, “we’ll take you up on that.”
“When will you be arriving?”
“Next Friday. We start at the studio the following Monday. Our script has already been approved for production.”
“So you’re jumping in at the deep end, then?”
“You could put it that way, I guess. Having a shooting script already approved gives us a head start.”
So did the ownership of forty-five percent of the studio’s stock by himself and Peter’s trust, Stone mused. “I expect you’ll get a warm reception from Leo Goldman Jr.,” he said.
“Leo told me he’s going to treat us just like everybody else at the studio,” Peter said. “No favoritism.”
“Okay,” Stone said, “and if he fails to do that, we can always muster enough votes on the board to fire him.” Stone and his friend, Mike Freeman, CEO of Strategic Services, Stone’s principal law client, both served on the board and together voted a majority of the shares.
Peter laughed heartily. “I hope it won’t come to that, Dad.”
“You never know what can happen when you’re doing hard time in Hollywood,” Stone said.
“What do you mean by that?” Peter asked, sounding genuinely curious.
“After a few weeks at Centurion Studios, you won’t need to ask,” Stone said. “By the way, I know this will sound odd, but I’d like for you to call me if you meet anyone out there who is Russian.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I know. I just saw someone at your graduation ceremony who looked familiar, and, on reflection, I somehow think he’s Russian.”
“Dad, I know you’ve recently had some serious troubles with a Russian Mob, but why would any of them be at my graduation ceremony?”
“I don’t know, but I want you to be alert to the possibility that, if you meet someone who is Russian, he may not be a friend. Please, just call me.”
“All right, I will.”
Dino wandered over, Viv in tow. “Now that we’ve outlasted Mary Ann, why don’t we get out of here and leave these kids to get drunk and have a good time?” Dino always worried when his ex-wife had too much access to his son. He said she had a way of eating people’s brains.
“The car’s parked out front,” Stone said. “Let’s say our goodbyes.”
There was a round of hugs, kisses, and standard advice, then they were in Stone’s car, headed from New Haven back to New York.
It was very quiet for a while, then Dino finally spoke. “I don’t know why,” he said, “but I feel like crying.”
“Oh, Dino,” Viv said, “get a grip.”
“I feel like crying, too,” Stone said.
But neither of them did.
Stone pulled into his garage, which had been enlarged into the basement space of the house next door. He had recently purchased and remodeled the house, and it now contained a duplex flat for guests and three other apartments, into which he had moved his secretary, Joan, his cook and housekeeper, Helene, and his newly acquired houseman or butler, Frederick Flicker, known as Fred. Stone had received a year of Fred’s service as a gift from his Parisian friend, Marcel duBois, and the man had quickly made himself indispensable.
Fred greeted them and took their coats as they let themselves into Stone’s house from the garage. “Good evening, Mr. Barrington, Chief, and Mrs. Bacchetti. Dinner will be served in about an hour. May I fix you all a drink?”
“You may, Fred,” Stone said, following him into the study. They sank into comfortable chairs and received their usuals from Fred’s silver tray. Fred inquired if they required anything else, was told no, then vanished.
“I want one of those,” Dino said, raising his scotch in Fred’s general direction.
“I don’t think there is another one of those,” Stone replied.
“Dino,” his wife said, “we have two unoccupied maid’s rooms in our new apartment. Why don’t you find yourself a nice retired cop and install him there?”
“I don’t think retired Irish or Italian cops fall into the employment category of butler,” Dino said. “I can just see one now, stumbling around the apartment, spilling drinks.”
“All right, I’ll look into it then,” Viv said.
Stone laughed. When Viv said she’d look into something, that meant it was practically done. “I predict you’ll have a houseman inside of a week,” Stone said.
“Now, wait a minute, Viv,” Dino said. “I don’t know if I can afford a houseman on my salary.”
“You forget, my darling, that we have two salaries now. We can’t afford a Rolls-Royce, but we can afford a houseman.”
“Dino,” Stone said, “shut up and leave this to Viv. Haven’t you learned to do that yet?”
“Awright, awright,” Dino said. “Don’t the two of you gang up on me.”
“Dino,” Stone said, changing the subject, “did you see anybody at the graduation ceremony that you made as Russian?”
Dino frowned. “Gimme a hint.”
“Tallish, pale hair and skin, hefty, decent suit.”
“Got him,” Dino said. “I didn’t read him as Russian, but you’re right, he could be. You worrying about Russians?”
“After the past few weeks,” Stone said, “I’ll worry about Russians for the rest of my life.”
“What would one of that mob be doing at Peter’s and Ben’s graduation?”
“That’s what worries me,” Stone said.
“Excuse me for a moment,” Viv said, rising. “I’ll be right back.”
“Dino,” Stone said when she had gone, “you don’t know how lucky you were to find that woman.”
“Oh, yes I do,” Dino replied, “and if I forget for a moment, she’ll remind me.”
“How’s the city’s new chief of detectives doing?” Stone asked, referring to Dino’s new job.
“He’s scared shitless that he’s going to make some big mistake and embarrass the commissioner when the guy’s about to announce his run for mayor.”
“You’ll do fine,” Stone said, “because you have good instincts—both cop instincts and political instincts.”
“There are a lot of unhappy captains who didn’t get the job,” Dino pointed out.
“You’re going to have enemies no matter what job you’re in,” Stone said. “You had enemies when you were running the detective squad at the Nineteenth Precinct, and you always handled them with aplomb.”
“Aplomb? That’s a word I’ve never associated with myself,” Dino said. “I like it.”
“It comes naturally to Italians.”
Viv returned to the study and sat down. “We have an interview tomorrow at six PM,” she said.
“Who’s interviewing us?” Dino asked, looking mystified.
“We’re doing the interviewing: I spoke to Eduardo Bianci, and he spoke to his man, Peter, who recommended a nice couple.”
“If I wanted to find a guy to slip a knife into somebody’s liver, then I’d ask Peter’s advice.”
“Can’t a person have more than one talent?” Viv asked.
“Eduardo is in love with you,” Dino said. He had introduced her to his former father-in-law at their wedding.
“Maybe a little,” she admitted.
“Hey, wait a minute! You said ‘couple’?”
“We need a housekeeper,” Viv said. “That daily cleaning lady isn’t cutting it—nothing gets really clean. And anyway, we have two maid’s rooms—they can use one for a sitting room and the other for a bedroom.”
“You’ve got this whole thing worked out already?”
“Dino,” Stone said, “I told you: shut up and get out of her way.”
Fred appeared. “Dinner is served in the kitchen, as requested,” he said.
They polished off their drinks and went downstairs.
“I’ll see what I can learn about the Russian guy at graduation,” he said to Stone as they started down the stairs.
• • •
After a first course of smoked salmon, Fred set three plates in front of them, each covered with a slab of meat that hung over the edges.
Dino cut off a chunk and ate it. “Interesting,” he said.
Viv tried it, too. “A little gamy, but nice, even tender. What is it?”
“Moose,” Stone replied.
The Bacchettis set down their knives and forks and stared at Stone. “What?” Dino said. “Did you find that at Grace’s Market?” he asked, referring to a tony East Side grocery.
“Bill Eggers shot it. He sent me fifteen pounds of it.”
“And you thought you’d feed it to us?” Dino asked incredulously.
“What have you got against moose?” Stone asked.
“Nothing that would make me want to kill it and eat it.”
“It’s like when you’re eating venison you’re eating Bambi,” Viv said.
“There is no moose equivalent of Bambi,” Stone said. “At least I don’t think there is. Anyway, Bambi is a baby deer. Eggers shoots only grown-up moose. Or meese. What is the plural of moose, anyway?”
“Mice?” Dino offered.
“Dino,” his wife said, “you’re just making it worse.”
Reluctantly they re-attacked their moose. Finally, Dino had had enough and dropped his utensils. “Maybe it’s more like horse,” he said.
“A moose is almost as big as a horse,” Stone said. “And the French eat horse.”
“I give up,” Viv said, putting down her fork. “Too many comparisons. Next time you serve us moose, Stone, disguise it in a stew or something.”
“I’ve still got twelve pounds of it,” Stone said.
“Is that a threat?” Dino asked.
“I didn’t want to know that.”
Hattie was driving. “Look, a hill,” she said, pointing ahead.
“I don’t believe it,” Peter said from the backseat.
“No,” she replied. “Upon reconsideration, it’s not a hill, it’s a landfill. There was a sign back there.”
“Where are we?”
“Somewhere in western Kansas, according to the GPS map.”
“How can people live here?” Ben asked from the front passenger seat. “There are no hills and no trees.”
“I saw a tree about an hour ago,” Hattie said.
“That one doesn’t count,” Peter said. “It was in somebody’s front yard. They probably imported it from someplace with a surfeit of trees.”
“Like North Carolina,” Ben said. “They have a surfeit of trees.”
“Can’t you guys think of anything to talk about?” Hattie asked.
“We’re talking about trees,” Ben said.
“And very earnestly,” Peter added.
“Talk about ideas, not plants.”
“Yeah,” Ben said. “Anybody got an idea for a movie we can make?”
“We’ve already got a movie to make,” Peter said.
“But what do we make after that?” Ben asked.
“How about a musical?” Hattie suggested. “I love musicals.”
“Leo Goldman Junior says musicals lose money,” Ben said.
“Okay, then let’s make a moneymaking musical.”
“A musical with old music or new music?” Peter asked.
“Old music,” Hattie replied. “It’s a lot better than new music.”
“With dancing?” Ben asked. “I mean with real dancing, like Fred Astaire, not dancing like boogieing.”
“Then we’ll have to discover a new Fred Astaire,” Peter pointed out. “The old one died.” He looked over his shoulder. “Is there a car following us? All I can see is the U-Haul trailer.”
Hattie checked the rented mirror that was clipped onto their SUV. “There’s a dot in my mirror. I don’t know if it’s a car.”
“What else could it be?” Peter asked.
“Then it would be a bigger dot. Anyway, it’s been following us all day.”
“Maybe it’s the only other car in Kansas besides ours,” Ben said.
“But why is it following us?”
“Maybe it wants to mate with our car,” Ben offered.
“Oh, come on, guys,” Hattie said. “When are you going to stop talking about a car following us? You’re just being paranoid.”
“We’re not paranoid if there’s an actual car following us,” Peter said.
“Well, I’ll give you this,” Hattie said. “It never seems to catch up, and it never drops out of sight.”
“It’s following us,” Peter said.
• • •
Back in New York, Stone called Mike Freeman, CEO of Strategic Services, the second-largest security company in the United States, and a partner in The Arrington. “You feel like a trip to L.A. to see how the hotel is doing?” Stone asked.
“You just want to check up on Peter,” Mike said.
“It could be like spring break,” Stone said.
“You forget I’m British. What’s spring break?”
“It’s a week or two of vacation, when college kids go somewhere and get drunk.”
“You make it sound like such fun,” Mike said. “When do you want to go?”
“We can go anytime we like,” Stone said. “You have a big, fast airplane.”
“That’s true,” Mike said. “It does kind of sound like fun, and we can check up on our movie studio and see how it’s doing. How about tomorrow morning?”
“Perfect,” Stone said. “That’ll give me a chance to clean up my desk before we go. And we’ll get there right after Peter.”
“You sure you don’t want to take your airplane?” Mike asked.
“It’s a lot slower than your airplane,” Stone pointed out. “And we’d need to stop at least twice for fuel. We could overnight in Santa Fe and check up on how Ed Eagle is doing.”
“Let’s take my airplane,” Mike said. “Two days of traveling is too long.”
“Especially when you’ve got a Gulfstream Five,” Stone said.
“All right, pick me up at nine tomorrow morning.”
“Where, home or office?”
“It’s the same place. Call me when you’re five minutes away.”
“Done.” Stone hung up and buzzed Joan. “Mike and I are going to L.A. tomorrow morning.”
“To work or play?”
“Some of both. We have to find a way to make the trip tax-deductible.”
“You’re just going to check on Peter and Ben and Hattie, aren’t you?”
“What, you think I’m an overprotective father?”
“Let’s clean up any work I have left, so I won’t have to worry about it.”
“You never worry about work. Hang on, call coming in.” She put him on hold, then came back. “Dino on two for you.”
Stone pressed the button. “Hey.”
“I was just thinking,” Dino said, “I’ve got some vacation time coming. Why don’t we go out to L.A. and have some fun?”
“What about Viv?”
“She’s running a protection detail for some business guy who’s headed to Miami for a few days.”
“That’s convenient. Actually, I was about to call you. Mike and I just talked about going to L.A. You want to go to check up on Ben, don’t you?”
“Well, as long as we’re out there, we can check up on the kids.”
“Yeah, okay, as long as we’re going to be out there anyway, why not?”
“Be here at eight-thirty tomorrow morning. We’ll pick up Mike on the way.”
“We taking your airplane or his?”
“Right, you’re on.” Dino hung up.
Hattie checked her rearview mirror for the thirtieth time in the past two hours, and the dot was still there. Abruptly, she turned off at the next exit.
“Where are you going?” Peter asked, waking from his doze.
“Route 66,” she replied.
“Like the jazz tune?”
“Right. We’ll pick it up somewhere around Amarillo.”
“Then Gallup, New Mexico,” Peter said, remembering the lyric. “But wouldn’t we make better time on the interstate?”
“No doubt, but the dot in the mirror has been there all morning, and I’m tired of looking at it. If it’s a semi it will stick to the interstate, and we’ll be rid of it.”
“And if it isn’t?”
“A car would probably still stick to the interstate, too,” she said, “but if it follows us I’m going to stop and buy a gun.”
“Where would you buy a gun?”
“How about at a gun store?”
“Isn’t there a waiting period?”
“Then we’ll look for a gun show, where the waiting period doesn’t apply, according to every news report I hear.”
“Hattie, aren’t you being just a tiny bit paranoid?”
“More than a tiny bit.”
“Okay,” Peter said, and tried to go back to sleep.
• • •
In the late afternoon, Ben was driving and Hattie was asleep in the backseat. Peter awoke from a doze. “Where are we?”
“Almost to Gallup,” Ben said. “I got off Route 66 a couple of miles back and turned south, to see if the dot follows us.”
“The dot is still there?”
“It turned up an hour ago, as if it had been waiting just over the horizon.”
“I’m beginning to think that Hattie’s idea of buying a gun isn’t such a bad one.”
“I’ve got my dad’s old .38 Special in my bag,” Ben said.
They hit a bad pothole in the old two-lane highway, and there was a pop, followed by a fluttering noise.
“Shit!” Ben spat. “I didn’t have time to avoid that one. Now we’ve got a blowout.” He pulled over at a wide place on the shoulder, and they got out of the car.
Hattie sat up. “What’s going on?” she asked.
“We’ve got to change a tire,” Peter answered. “Go back to sleep.”
“Gladly,” she said, and sank back into the seat.
They had to unload their suitcases to get at the spare, which turned out to be a strange-looking emergency tire.
“How far do you think we can get on that thing?” Ben asked.
“I don’t know. I’ll look it up in the manual when we’re done,” Peter replied.
They changed the tire and put the old one in the U-Haul, then returned their luggage, but not before Ben had taken a long look down the highway behind them, then retrieved the .38 from his suitcase and tucked it into his belt. “The dot is still back there,” he said, “but it stopped when we did.”
Peter was looking in the driver’s manual.
“How far is the tire good for?” Ben asked, starting the car.
“A hundred miles,” Peter replied, “at fifty miles per hour.”
Ben sighed and pulled back onto the highway. “We’ll try to replace the tire at the first place we come to. We need gas, too,” he said.
“We just passed a sign for an Esso station.”
“An Esso station?”
“Yep. We should be able to get some very old gasoline there. It’s five miles ahead.”
Shortly they passed a sign announcing their entry into Mesa Grande, New Mexico. The Kiwanis Club met at Sally’s Diner on Tuesday evenings, it said.
“Up ahead, on the right,” Peter said.
Ben pulled into the service station, which had a sign on the pumps saying, “Independent.” A wiry-looking man in his fifties strode out of the office and walked around to the driver’s window.
“Yessir?” he said.
“Fill ’er up,” Ben told him, and they got out of the Cayenne to stretch their legs. Hattie woke up and went to the ladies’ room. The tank full, the man began to clean the bugs off the windshield.
“You had a flat, did you? We can fix that for you,” he said as he worked.
“A blowout,” Peter replied. “Can you fix that?”
“I guess not,” the man said. “Let’s take a look at it.”
Peter opened the U-Haul and took out the wheel with its ruined tire.
The man looked at it closely. “That would be from that pothole about five miles back,” he said.
Peter and Ben laughed aloud. “Must be good for business,” Peter said.
“I’ve hit it myself,” the man said. “I reported it to the county, but they’re slow to move.” The man pointed across the road. “I suggest you go over to the diner and speak to Sally, who can fix you up with some rooms.”
“Can you replace the tire?” Peter asked.
“No, and neither can most tire dealers in the state,” the man replied. “It’s a high-performance Pirelli.” He glanced at his watch. “If I hurry, I can get the Porsche dealer in Albuquerque on the phone before they close at six, and they can put a tire on the Greyhound bus to us tomorrow morning. I can have you out of here by noon.”
“Sounds good,” Peter said, eyeing the motel across the road with doubt. “Tell me about the motel,” he said.
“It’s the cleanest, homiest, most comfortable motel in town,” the man said. “It’s also the only motel in town, but don’t be put off by that. Sally will take care of you, and she’s a good cook, too.”
“Great,” Peter said. “You order the tire, and we’ll walk across the road.”
He followed the man’s directions to pull the car over and unhook the U-Haul, then handed him the keys. “My name is Peter Barrington,” he said, offering his hand.
The man wiped his palm on his coveralls and shook Peter’s. “My name’s Billy,” he said.
The three young people each grabbed a suitcase and walked across the road, while Billy phoned the Porsche dealer and ordered the tire.
• • •
The call made, Billy drove the Cayenne into the garage and onto the hydraulic lift. Might as well get that wheel taken care of now, he thought. He hosed it down to wash the dust away, then spun off the studs and set the wheel on the shop floor. There was some mud and dirt caked in the wheel well, and he turned his hose on that, too, dissolving it to run down the drain.
Then Teddy saw something he didn’t expect. Way forward in the wheel well, the hose had revealed a black box, perhaps one inch by two and an inch thick. A two-inch antenna sprouted from the upper end of the box.
He knew what that was, because he had invented a GPS transmitter very much like it in his time at the CIA and installed many of them. The question was: Where and in whose hands was the receiver?
Stone sat in the jump seat of the Gulfstream jet and watched the two pilots join the VOR A instrument approach for runway 21 at Santa Monica Airport. He knew from experience that the controllers usually vectored you onto final approach a couple of thousand feet high, and he wanted to see how the two pros would get the airplane down to final approach altitude while, at the same time, slowing it to final approach speed. He always had a hard time with that in his own airplane, but the Gulfstream pilots did it brilliantly, and they touched down exactly where they were supposed to at the exact speed they were supposed to.
A quick turn into Atlantic Aviation, and they were there. As the engines shut down, one of the Arrington’s fleet of Bentley Mulsannes eased to a stop near the foot of the airplane’s airstair door, and the trunk lid silently opened.
With their baggage unloaded into the car, the three men piled into the Bentley, and they started for the hotel. They had not reckoned on what the widening of I-405 would do to the afternoon traffic, and they crept along the few miles to the Sunset Boulevard exit. Once there, they were on Stone Canyon Road in a flash, then turning through the gates of the splendid new hotel. An Arrington security guard was there to identify them and wave them through without the usual stringent procedures, and they arrived at Stone’s house five minutes later.
The grounds were laid out among gardens, and no building was more than two stories high. The effect was more of a luxurious neighborhood than a hotel, and it was more inviting.
The Arrington was built on a large tract of land that had been assembled over several decades by the late movie star Vance Calder, to whom Arrington had been married before his death. Stone had helped Arrington turn what had been her home and property into America’s premier super-luxury hotel, and one of the provisions in the initial contract was that the hotel company would build her a new house on the property. After their marriage and her death, Stone had inherited the house.
The butler quickly directed the three hotel bellmen in distributing their luggage. In his suite, Stone unpacked and hung up his suits, then changed into cotton trousers and a short-sleeved shirt and took a glass of iced tea out to poolside behind the house.
He read the day’s L.A. Times while sipping his iced tea and soon fell into a doze in the comfortable high-backed wicker armchair. A moment later he was half-awakened by a splash behind him, then by the sound of someone doing laps in the pool. That would not be Dino, he thought, and probably not Mike Freeman, either. He swiveled the chair slowly around to face the pool and was greeted by the sight of a woman’s legs disappearing under the water. There had been a flash of her body above the legs, and it wasn’t wearing a swimsuit.
He watched until she surfaced and began breaststroking toward him, apparently not noticing his presence.
“Good afternoon,” he said finally.
She stopped dead in the water and her gaze found him in his chair. “Who are you?” she demanded. “And what are you doing here?”
“I am Stone Barrington, and I am sitting, drinking iced tea, and reading the newspaper. It’s clear what you are doing, but not who you are or why you are swimming in my pool.”
“Your pool?” she asked, with the withering certainty of someone who knows herself to be in the right.
“All right, I’ll repeat myself: my pool.” He nodded toward the house. “Right behind my house.”
“Well then,” she said, “I will get out of your water, if you will be kind enough to turn your back.”
Stone smiled. “Certainly not. I intend to enjoy all the fruits of my property.”
“Swine!” she said, then turned, swam to the steps, and regally climbed them, displaying broad shoulders and slim hips in all their glory. She walked to a chair where she had left her things, dried herself and her blonde hair slowly with a small towel, then slipped into a terry robe. Ignoring him, she turned to go.
“As long as you’re decent, you may as well join me for a drink,” Stone said.
She stopped and turned toward him “Oh, now I understand. You’re Arrington Barrington’s husband.”
“Widower,” Stone corrected her.
“All right,” she said, and began to walk around the pool toward him. “I’ll have a piña colada.”
Stone picked up the phone beside him and said, “Two piña coladas,” then hung up and rose to greet her, offering his hand. “And your name?”
“Emma Tweed,” she said, and her accent was British.
“Please sit down. Your drink will be here shortly. What brings you to The Arrington, Emma?” he asked. “And all the way from London?”
“I was tired of the London winter, and I was reliably informed that this is now the best hotel in the United States.”
“I like to think of it as the best hotel in the world,” Stone said, “but thank you.”