A big night – a couple of directors, a couple of movie stars, half a dozen writers, an assortment of journalists, editors, publicists, cops, wise guys, drunks, hangers-on, women of substance, and some of considerably less substance. And this was just at the tables; the bar was a whole other thing.
Stone Barrington pushed his plate away and sat back. Gianni, the waiter, snatched it away.
'Was it all right?' Gianni asked.
'You see anything left?' Stone asked.
Gianni grinned and took the plate to the kitchen.
Elaine came over and sat down. 'So?' she said.
She did not light a cigarette. To Stone's continuing astonishment, she had quit, cold turkey.
'Not much,' Stone replied.
'That's what you always say,' Elaine said.
'I'm not kidding, not much is happening.'
The front door of the restaurant opened, and Bill Eggers came in.
'Now something's happening,' Elaine said. 'Eggers never comes in here unless he's looking for you, and he never looks for you unless there's trouble.'
'You wrong the man,' Stone said, waving Eggers over to the table, but he knew she was right. For ordinary work, Bill phoned; for more pressing tasks, he hunted down Stone and usually found him at Elaine's.
'Good evening, Elaine, Stone,' Eggers said. 'Your cell phone is off.'
'It didn't work, did it?' Stone replied.
'I gotta be someplace,' Elaine said, getting up and walking away. She got as far as the next table.
'Drink?' Stone asked.
Michael, the headwaiter, materialized beside them.
'Johnnie Walker Black, rocks,' Eggers said.
'I have a feeling I'm going to need a Wild Turkey,' Stone said to Michael.
'How's it going?' Eggers asked.
'You tell me,' Stone said.
'If I had to guess,' Stone said, 'I'd say, not so hot.'
'Oh, it's not so bad,' Eggers replied.
'Then what drags you away from home and hearth, into this den of iniquity?'
'You remember that big Irish ex-cop, used to do little chores for you from time to time?'
'Teddy? He dropped dead in P. J. Clarke's three months ago.'
'How many things can an Irishman in an Irish bar drop dead of?' Stone asked, rhetorically.
'Yeah,' Eggers admitted.
'And why would I need somebody like Teddy?' Stone asked.
'You remember telling me about that thing Teddy used to do with the water pistol?' Eggers asked.
'You mean, after he kicked down a door and had his camera ready, how he squirted his naked subjects down low, so they'd grab at themselves and leave their faces open to be photographed in bed with each other?'
Eggers chuckled. 'That's the one. I admire that kind of ingenuity.'
The drinks came, and they both sipped for a long, contemplative moment.
'So, you're in need of that kind of ingenuity?' Stone asked at last.
'You remember that prenup I tossed you last year?' Eggers asked. Bill Eggers was the managing partner of Woodman amp; Weld, the very prestigious New York law firm to which Stone was of counsel, which meant he sometimes did the work that Woodman amp; Weld did not wish to appear to be doing.
'Elena Marks?' Stone asked.
'The very one.'
'I remember.' Elena Marks was heiress to a department store fortune, and she had married a member in high standing of the No Visible Means of Support Club.
'You remember that funny little clause you wrote into her prenup?'
'You mean the one about how if Larry got caught with his pants around his ankles in the company of a lady other than Elena, he would forfeit any claim to her assets or income?' Lawrence Fortescue was English – handsome, well educated, and possessed of every social grace, which meant he didn't have a receptacle in which to relieve himself.
'The very one,' Eggers said.
'Has Larry been a bad boy?' Stone asked.
'Has been, is, and will continue to be,' Eggers replied, sipping his Scotch.
'I see,' Stone said.
'Now that Teddy has gone to his reward, who do you use for that sort of thing?'
'It's been quite a while since that sort of thing was required of me,' Stone replied edgily.
'Don't take that tone with me, young man,' Eggers said, raising himself erect in mock dudgeon. 'It's work, and somebody has to do it.'
Stone sighed. 'I suppose I could find somebody.'
Eggers looked at him sharply. 'You're not thinking of doing this yourself, are you? I mean, there are heights involved here, and you're not as young as you used to be.'
'I am not thinking of doing it myself, but I'm certainly in good enough shape to,' Stone said. 'What kind of heights are we talking about?'
'The roof of a six-story town house, shooting through a conveniently located skylight.'
'There is no such thing as a conveniently located skylight, if you're the one doing the climbing,' Stone said.
'You'd need someone… spry,' Eggers said, 'and the term hardly applies to the cops and ex-cops you mingle with.'
At that moment, as if to make Eggers's point, Stone's former partner from his NYPD days, Dino Bacchetti, walked through the front door and headed for Stone's table.
'If you see what I mean,' Eggers said.
Stone held up a hand, stopping Dino in his tracks, then a finger, turning him toward the bar.
'I get your point,' Stone said. 'I'll see who I can come up with.'
'You don't have a lot of time,' Eggers said. 'It's at nine o'clock tomorrow night.'
'What's at nine o'clock tomorrow night?'
'The assignation. Larry Fortescue has an appointment with a masseuse who, I understand, routinely massages more than his neck muscles. Elena would like some very clear photographs of that service being performed.'
'Let me see what I can do,' Stone said.
Eggers tossed off the remainder of his Scotch and placed a folded sheet of paper on the table. 'I knew you would grasp the nettle,' he said, standing up. 'The address of the building is on the paper. I'll need the prints and negatives by noon the day after tomorrow.'
'What's the rush?'
'Elena Marks is accustomed to instant gratification.'