Stone Barrington set down his Citation CJ-3 Plus smoothly at Key West International Airport and taxied to the ramp. The lineman waved him to the right, toward a large hangar next to the Fixed Base Operator’s own huge hangar. Stone followed the lineman’s hand motions until he got the crossed-arm signal from the lineman, then he shut down the engines, ran through his final check list, turned off the main switch and struggled out of his seat.
He opened the door and put down the folding stairs.
“Afternoon, Mr. Barrington,” the lineman said. “Do you want her in your new hangar?” He pointed to the large one, now behind the airplane. Stone had closed on the sale a few days before.
“Yes, please,” Stone replied.
“And your car was delivered,” the lineman said. “They have the keys at the front desk.” Raul, the caretaker of the house Stone had just bought, had left it there for him.
“If you want to drive your car onto the ramp, you’ll have to stop in at the sheriff’s office near the main entrance and get yourself a security badge that will allow you and your car onto the ramp. Right now, I’ll cart your luggage out there for you.”
“Thanks very much,” Stone said. “I’ll pick up the key and meet you there.”
“You want fuel now or later?”
“Later, please.” It would be hot in the hangar, and he didn’t want the fuel to expand and leak out of the vents. Stone walked into the FBO lobby, introduced himself and retrieved his car key, then met the lineman outside at his car, a Mercedes 550S Cabriolet, which had been included in the purchase of the house from his business associate, Arthur Steele of the Steele Group of Insurance Companies. Arthur had cleverly rented him the house through an agent, knowing that once Stone had stayed in it, he would want to buy it. Stone’s great weakness, along with attractive women and 100-proof bourbon, was houses, of which he now had too many.
He tipped the lineman generously, to make a good first impression.
The lineman closed the trunk. “Just give us a call when you want your airplane, and we’ll roll her out for you.”
“Thanks very much.” Stone got into the car, started it, turned on the air conditioning and put down the top. He drove out of the airport and turned down South Roosevelt Boulevard, along Smathers Beach. A ten-minute drive later he was turning into his driveway, which was right next door to a “gentleman’s club” called Bare Assets. He pulled into the carport, as opposed to the garage, and Raul came out of his small house and helped him in with the luggage. They had first met on Stone’s last visit to Key West for the Steele Group’s board meeting, when he had been a tenant. A housekeeper, Sara, was also part of the deal.
The house had once been three small houses on separate lots. A previous owner had moved the smallest one over a dozen feet or so and bolted it to the center house, which contained his study, the dining room, living room, kitchen and bar. The master suite was in the free-standing third house, which had been completely renovated.
Stone had just deposited his luggage in the master suite when his builder, Karl Walters, turned up to walk him through the house and show him the projects he had completed since Stone had bought it. He showed Stone the new laundry room, the alterations to the kitchen, his study, with its new bookcases, one of them being a secret door to a kitchenette, where there was room for the safe he had ordered. Then he saw the new bar and video room, just completed.
“It’s beautiful, Karl,” Stone said, and I appreciate your fast work on the place.” Karl was semi-retired and their mutual attorney, Jack Spottswood had persuaded him to do the project.
“We aim to please,” Karl said. “Your boat has had her bottom cleaned and repainted and is back in her berth at the Key West Yacht Club.” Jack had just happened to have a recently-widowed client whose late husband’s newish Hinckley 43 Jetboat was for sale, and Stone had fallen for that, as well as the house.
Karl took him into the study and showed him how the hidden television set rose out of a cabinet, and switched it on. “Same thing in the master bedroom. By the way, have you seen the weather lately?”
“Nope,” Stone said, “Just my flight weather for the trip down, which was beautiful.”
Karl switched to the weather channel. “This isn’t so beautiful,” he said. Way down the islands somewhere was a large, angry red spot, labeled Hurricane Irma.
“Well, that’s a long way off, isn’t it?”
“About a week, maybe less,” Karl replied. “There are several possible routes showing, and at least one of them is right toward Key West. You’d better call your insurance broker and make sure you’re coverage is in effect. Same for your boat.”
“I’ll do that,” Stone said, staring at the monster, whose winds were labeled 185 mph.
Karl shook his hand and left, and Stone wandered through the house again, thinking about what a great decision he’d made. Except, maybe, for the fucking hurricane. He went back into the study and looked at the hurricane again. It didn’t look any better. He switched off the TV, and it sank back into its cabinet.
Stone’s cell phone rang and he took it from his holster. The caller’s name was blocked. “Hello?”
“Hello from Havana,” Holly Barker said. Holly was Secretary of State in President Katharine Lee’s administration and was there for the ceremonial opening of the remodeled and enlarged United States Embassy.
“I hope you’re still on schedule,” he said.
“I am. I’ll get dropped off around noon tomorrow. I’ll call you just before takeoff. Say, how long is the runway there?”
“4800 feet,” Stone said. “I just landed on it.”
“I guess it can take a government Gulfstream, then.”
“It can take a Boeing 737,” he replied, “so yeah, I guess it can handle a Gulfstream.”
“I assume I won’t need much in the way of clothes in Key West, so I’ll be traveling light.”
“As far as I’m concerned, you won’t need anything in the way of clothes. “Maybe a bikini, in case we have guests.”
“You sound just the tiniest bit randy,” she said, “though I probably shouldn’t mention that on this line. The ears of the fellas at Cuban intelligence are now pricked up, you should excuse the expression.”
“We’ll continue this discussion later,” he said. “I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”
“When are Dino and Viv arriving?”
“Couple of days,” he said.
“Good. Bye-bye.” She hung up.
He took one more stroll around the place, then decided to have dinner at the yacht club bar. He’d stop and have a look at Indian Summer, his new Hinckley, on the way to dinner.
Stone drove to the Key West Yacht Club as the sun was setting. The air was warm and humid, but driving with the top down kept him comfortable. He parked in the club’s lot, then walked to the outer dock where his Hinckley 43 was berthed. She was well-moored to two pilings on either side, and her electrical cord was plugged into the dock’s supply. He stepped aboard and unlocked the sliding glass door and stepped into the cherry-paneled saloon, which contained seating and two tables that could take six for dinner. Beyond that to the left was the galley with drawers for refrigeration and freezing. To the right were two comfortable, raised chairs facing the instrument panel, which contained two large Garmin screens and all the switches for everything electrical on the motor yacht. Below and forward was a generous head with a glass-enclosed shower. Across the companionway was a small guest cabin that could sleep two friendly people in comfort, and forward was the master cabin, with its large bed, cupboards and a bulkhead-mounted TV.
He went back to the center of the boat and inspected the large circuit-breaker panel, to be sure the switches were in the right positions, then he had one more look around, discovering the TV that lowered into position for viewing, then he locked the glass door and walked up to the club, feeling a terrible thirst.
Music greeted him as he entered the crowded bar: a man whose sign introduced him as Bobby Nesbitt, was playing a grand piano and singing Cole Porter. Cal Waters, the builder who had done work on his house, waved him to a stool at the bar and introduced him to his wife, Stacy, a beautiful blonde, and bought him a drink.
“I trust you found your new house and boat in good order,” Stacy said.
“In perfect order, thanks to Cal, Raul and Sara. Raul, he knew, worked with Cal on his various projects. The good news was that the yacht club bar stocked Knob Creek bourbon, and he soon found one in his fist.
“Are you all alone down here?” Stacy asked.
“Now, don’t start fixing Stone up,” Cal said.
“You won’t need to,” Stone said. “A lady friend is arriving tomorrow and will be here for as long as I can talk her into staying.
Cal pointed an one of the two TVs in the bar, which was tuned to the Weather Channel with the sound muted. “That might run you both out of town,” Cal said. “They’re saying she’s due this weekend.” The TV was displaying a red-coned area that was predicted to contain the hurricane, and Key West was well inside it.
“I hadn’t planned on that; are you getting out?” Stone asked.
“Nope,” Cal replied. “We’ll ride it out at our house. I built it myself, and it’s framed in steel. How about you?”
“I’m not as brave as you, Cal,” Stone replied. “When it starts threatening, I’ll jump into my airplane and leave for someplace dry. I’ll be glad to give you two a lift.”
“We have our own airplane,” Cal said, “and if we change our minds we’ll head for our brother-in-law’s house in Santa Fe or our own house in Aspen. We had a bad one, Wilma, a few years ago that flooded this yacht club and most of this side of town. The main road over there was under four feet of water, and the yacht club was a mess. Have you made arrangements to haul your boat?”
“What do you advise?” Stone said.
“Well, we have a fifty-foot trawler that Raul and I converted to a motor yacht, and its berth is up by the club entrance. I think it’ll be all right there. I think yours will be all right, too, if you double up on the lines and put some big fenders out. I’ll find you some space ashore, though, if you’d rather haul her.”
“I think your advice sounds good,” Stone said. “I’ll stop into the chandlery and pick up some extra gear.”
“Will you join us for dinner?” Cal asked. “We have a table booked over there.” He nodded to the adjoining room where the piano rested.
“Thank you, I will,” Stone said.
They occupied their table and ordered dinner and wine.
“Tell me about your girl who’s coming,” Stacy said.
“Her name is Holly; she’s ex-army, and she used to be chief of police in a town called Orchid Beach, up the east coast, which is where we met some years ago. She went to work for the government after that. I live in New York, and she’s in Washington, now, so we don’t see each other as often as we’d like.”
“Stacy regards any unmarried man as a challenge to her match-making skills, so watch out.”
“Any more like you at home, Stacy?” Stone asked.
“Three sisters, but I married the last one off to the guy with the house in Santa Fe. Sorry about that.”
“Oh, well.” Dinner came, and as they were eating, Stone saw two men walk into the club, stop and look around. They were both in their late thirties or early forties and had a hard look about them.
“Who are they?” Stone asked.
“I don’t know,” Cal said. “I was over at the Galleon Marina this afternoon, and they came in aboard a cigarette-style boat, what the drug runners around here used to use. There aren’t so many of them anymore, though. Those two don’t look friendly.”
The two men were approached by another, younger man, who conversed briefly with them, and they turned and left, looking sour.
“I guess the commodore didn’t like the look of them, either,” Cal said. “I think they just got the members-only brush-off. Normally, if visitors are members of another yacht club, they’ll be given club privileges for a few days. I had the feeling those guys were looking for somebody but didn’t find him.”
“Cal is a pretty good judge of human nature,” Stacy said.
Bobby Nesbitt came back from a drink and asked them for requests.
“How about some Noel Coward?” Stone asked.
“Done,” Bobby said. He sat down and started to play “Mad Dogs and Englishmen,” then segued into “I’ll see you again.”
“He’s good,” Stone said to the Waters.
They finished dinner, had a nightcap, then Stone excused himself. “I think I’ll turn in,” he said. “Long flight from New York today.”
Cal grabbed the check, and Stone said, “Next time is mine.”
As he walked to his car he heard the throaty rumble of a boat that sounded too big for Garrison Bight, where the yacht club was located. He drove out of the club lot, and as he turned right onto North Roosevelt Boulevard, which ran along the water, he saw a cigarette-style boat of, maybe, fifty feet moving around the bight, looking at boats. There were two men aboard, but Stone couldn’t see them well enough or long enough to know if they were the two men who’d attempted to crash the club.
As he drove away, he heard a roar as the boat’s engines were briefly revved. It sounded angry.