ELAINE’S, LATE. Stone Barrington arrived at his table at the same time as his usual Knob Creek on the rocks and made a mental note to increase the waiter’s tip. This generosity was blown right out of his mind as he took his first welcome sip, because entering the restaurant immediately after him, as if she had been following him in another cab, was his girlfriend, Tatiana Orlovsky.
Stone was surprised to see her, because earlier in the day he had asked her to dinner and she had declined. Her excuse had been better than the I-have-to-wash-my-hair standby, but not much, and she had declined an invitation the evening before as well. They had been seeing each other for some months, and she pleased him more and more. He stood up to greet her.
“Hello,” she said.
“May I take your coat and get you a drink? I have a business dinner in a few minutes, but we have time.”
She sat down without removing her coat, a bad sign. “No,” she said, “I’m not staying. There’s something I have to say to you.”
Very bad sign: “Say to you,” not “talk with you.” His inference was that a response would not be entertained. “All right,” he said, taking a long drag on his bourbon. He had a feeling he was going to need it.
“Henry is moving back in,” she said. Henry Kennerly was her estranged husband, and in Stone’s experience and from her stories, he was an unreconstructed drunk and bully.
“Tati,” Stone said, as gently as possible, “are you out of your fucking mind?”
“He’s been sober for ninety-one days,” she replied, choosing not to address the issue of her sanity. “He’s never done that before.”
“And how long do you expect him to remain in that condition?”
“He’s a new man, or rather an old one, the one I knew when I first met him. He has melted my heart.”
Stone felt his sex life leaving his body, like a departing spirit. “Tati...”
“Stop,” she said, holding up a hand like a traffic cop. “It won’t do any good to talk about it. Our time together has been wonderful, and I’ve enjoyed every moment of it, but it’s not going anywhere, and besides, this is my marriage I’m talking about.”
Stone wanted to remind her that it had been an unpleasant and abusive marriage for years, but he uncharacteristically managed to sense the obvious, that she was in no mood to talk. He shrugged.
She stood up, and he stood up with her. She walked around the table, gave him a light, sweet kiss on the lips, then walked out of the restaurant. As she made her way through the tiny vestibule, one man flattened himself against the wall to let her pass, while another held the outside door open for her. Stone could see a cab waiting with the rear door standing open; she got into it and rode away down Second Avenue into what had become a blowing snowstorm.
The two men entered the restaurant and walked toward Stone. The taller of the two was Bill Eggers, his law school buddy and currently the managing partner of the prestigious law firm of Woodman & Weld, to which Stone was of counsel, which meant that he was hired to handle the cases the firm did not wish to be seen to handle.
The other man was a stranger, shorter, heftier and squarer-shaped than Eggers. Stone did not know him but presumed he was the client Eggers wanted him to meet with.
“Evening, Stone,” Eggers said, shaking his hand. “This is our client, Warren Keating.”
Stone shook the man’s hand and offered them both a chair. “How do you do?” he said.
“Ordinarily I do very well,” the man said, sitting down, “but . . .”
“Warren has a problem I think you can help him with,” Eggers interrupted.
“I hope so,” Stone replied. “Can I get you a drink?”
“Scotch,” Keating replied quickly. “Laphroaig, if they have it.”
“Two,” Eggers said.
“They have it,” Stone replied, lifting an eyebrow in the direction of a waiter, who scurried over and took their order.
“And another for me,” Stone said, tossing off the remainder of his bourbon.
Eggers looked sharply at Stone but didn’t comment.
“How can I help you, Mr. Keating?” Stone asked.
“It’s Warren,” the man said. “I . . .”
“Do you mind if I sum this up for you, Warren?” Eggers said, interrupting again.
Stone reflected that Eggers did not interrupt clients without a good reason.
“All right, Bill,” Keating said wearily.
“Warren runs a multigenerational family business,” Eggers began.
“Elijah Keating’s Sons,” Keating said. “My great-grandfather started it when he got home from the Civil War.”
Stone nodded, but he had never heard of it.
“This is not what you would call a mom-and-pop business,” Eggers continued. “The company manufactures industrial equipment and tooling; they operate nineteen factories around the world.”
“We’ve run out of Elijah Keating’s sons,” Keating said. “My only son is the most recent generation, and he . . . has no interest in coming into the business. I’m getting on, and I’m weary of the travel involved in running a worldwide operation.”
“Warren has accepted an offer from a multinational company—a very, very substantial offer.”
“Congratulations, Warren,” Stone said.
“Not yet,” Keating replied. “I need my son’s consent.”
“Warren’s great-grandfather’s will was very specific,” Eggers said. “Each living heir must agree to a sale of the business.”
“My father has already signed off on the sale,” Keating said. “He’s old, and he was initially against it, but he’s finally seen the wisdom of the sale.”
“I see,” Stone replied. “And your son hasn’t consented?”
“He doesn’t know about it,” Keating replied. “At least not to my knowledge.”
“Warren and his son have not been in touch in recent days,” Eggers said.
Stone figured he was being diplomatic. “I see,” he replied, though he didn’t.
Warren Keating reached into an inside pocket, produced a postcard and handed it to Stone. “This is Evan’s most recent communication,” he said.
Stone perused the card. On one side was a photograph of a bar, labeled “Sloppy Joe’s, Key West.” Stone turned it over and read the message, which was written in block capitals.
“DEAR OLD DAD,” it read, “HAVING A WONDERFUL TIME, GLAD YOU’RE NOT HERE. GO FUCK YOURSELF.” It was signed with a flourish, “Evan.”
Stone returned the card, and Keating handed him a photograph. It was black-and-white, like something from a college yearbook, and featured a slim, handsome young man in a blue blazer, with close-cropped hair.
“How old was he then, and how old is he now?” Stone asked.
“He was nineteen or twenty then, and he’s twenty-six now,” Keating replied.
“And how long is it since you’ve seen him?”
“Not since his graduation, and we—his mother and I—sort of missed him then. We made our way over to where his class was sitting, and there was just his cap and gown on a chair with his name on it. He had only recently come into a nice little trust fund from his mother’s side of the family, which gave him a certain amount of freedom.”
“I see,” Stone said, seeing for the first time. “The postmark on the card was smudged; when did you receive it?”
“Five days ago,” Keating replied. “I had heard he was in Miami, and when we started negotiating the sale of the business I sent a private investigator looking for him. He was contacted but rebuffed the investigator and disappeared from his hotel there. I took the, ah, tenor of his message on the card to mean that he did not wish to be contacted by me.”
Stone nodded. “I should think this is a job for a skip tracer, Bill,” he said to Eggers.
“No,” Eggers said, pulling a thick envelope from an inside pocket and handing it to Stone. “It’s a job for an attorney. This is the form of consent to the sale; I wrote it myself. His great-great-grandfather’s will requires that it be explained to him by an attorney and that he be given an opportunity to engage a lawyer of his own to review it. If he chooses not to have it reviewed, there’s a second document to be signed, waiving that right.”
“If you can get this done for me, Stone,” Keating said, “I’m prepared to be generous.”
“What sort of time frame are we talking about?” Stone asked.
“A week, give or take,” Eggers said.
“And that postcard is the only reason to think he’s in Key West?” Stone asked.
Keating shrugged. “He could be anywhere.”
“I’ll leave tomorrow morning,” Stone said, glancing through the restaurant’s front window. “Weather permitting.”
EGGERS AND KEATING had just left when Dino Bacchetti, Stone’s former partner in his days on the NYPD, walked into Elaine’s, shucking off and shaking his overcoat. Dino was still on the force, a lieutenant now running the detective squad at the 19th, the Upper East Side precinct.
“It’s coming down out there,” Dino said, hanging up his coat and taking a seat, while making drinking motions at a waiter, who was already in gear. He stopped and looked at Stone. “You look like you’ve just been dumped again.”
“Again? What’s that supposed to mean?” Stone asked.
“Well, you’re always getting dumped,” Dino said.
“I have to go to Key West tomorrow; you want to come along?”
“What about this weather?” Dino asked.
“The snowstorm is supposed to pass off the coast early in the morning, followed by clear weather.”
“Yeah,” Dino said, “I’d like to take a trip to Key West in the dead of winter, and I’ve got some time off coming.”
“You’re on,” Stone said, sipping his drink and reaching for a menu.
Elaine got up from a nearby table, walked over and sat down. “So,” she said, “Tati dumped you?”
“I knew it,” Dino chimed in.
“We had a conversation,” Stone said.
“It looked to me like she was doing all the talking,” Elaine pointed out.
“All right, all right; she’s taking her husband back.”
“That ass?” Dino said, incredulous. “He’s a drunk, and he beat her.”
“She says he’s been sober for ninety-one days, and he’s a changed man.”
Elaine spoke up. “When they have to count the days, they haven’t changed yet. Sounds like he’s in AA, though, and that can’t be a bad thing.”
“Forgive me if I view anything that would get him back into her house as a bad thing,” Stone said.
“Don’t worry,” Dino said. “You haven’t heard the last of her.”
“What kind of job did Bill Eggers stick you with?” Elaine asked.
“Actually, it’s not so bad. Dino and I are flying to Key West tomorrow morning.”
“This is work?”
“This is work.”
“You’re a lucky son of a bitch, aren’t you?” she said.
“Later,” Elaine said, getting up to greet some regulars who had just wandered in.
“So what is it we have to do down there?” Dino asked. “I take it we’re not going to spend all our time on the beach.”
“I hate the beach,” Stone said. “It’s hot and sandy and uncomfortable. Have you ever made love on a beach? Sand gets into everything, and I mean everything. Even your ears.”
“I guess I’ll have to. You know anybody in Key West?”
“I met a lawyer from there once, at a meeting in Atlanta, but I can’t remember his name. Jack something, I think; nice guy.”
“You remember Tommy Sculley, from the old days?”
“Yeah, he was a few years ahead of us on the squad.”
“He put in his thirty and retired down there a few years ago, but he couldn’t stand it, so he got a job on the local force.”
“Good. Let’s look him up.”
“You didn’t answer my question: What do we have to do down there?”
Stone handed him the photograph. “Find this kid.”
“What, he didn’t come back from spring break last year?”