“And how did you respond?” she asked.

“My response was curtailed by the number of nefarious characters who were present.”

“We both beat a hasty retreat,” Dino said.

“Oh? You were there, too, and you didn’t come to the aid of your friend?”

“I came to his aid with my badge and gun, and by driving the getaway car.”

“Discretion was the better part of valor,” Stone said.

“That’s Shakespeare,” Dino explained. “Stone quotes people a lot.”

“Not a lot,” Stone said defensively.

“Just all the time.”

“Well, it’s a very nice quote,” Marilyn said, “and it sums up your reaction very succinctly.”

Stone nodded. “That’s why I used it. Dino would just have said, in his inimitable way, ‘We got the fuck out of there.’”

“And,” Dino said, “that would have summed up our reaction very succinctly.”

“You two are a sketch,” Marilyn said. “Did you used to be married?”

“We were partners when I was a cop,” Stone said. “It’s pretty much the same thing, except for the absence of sex.”

“What makes you think that’s different from marriage?” Dino asked.

“Dino is recently divorced,” Stone explained.

“Oooh,” Marilyn said, patting Dino’s hand.

“Your sympathy is misplaced,” Stone said. “Dino is a happier man these days, not that you can tell.”

“Then my congratulations,” Marilyn said. “What about you, Stone? Are you divorced?”

“No,” Stone said. “Never married.”

Dino staged a coughing fit.

“Well, for a couple of days, once; it was sort of annulled.”

Dinner arrived.

“I’m interested in your personal-injury case,” Marilyn said. “Who is the defendant?”

“A gentleman downtown.”

“What does he do?”

“Let’s just say he’s in a rather old-fashioned Italian business.”

“Like a deli?”

“More like a coffeehouse, among other things.”

“And how did he injure your client?”

“He hired two other gentlemen to beat him up.”

“Well, that wasn’t very nice.”

“That’s why I’m suing him.”

“What did he have against your client?”

“There was a gambling debt involved.”

“I think I’m beginning to get the picture,” Marilyn said.

“You’re very quick,” Dino interjected.

“Poker?” Marilyn asked.

“Sports,” Stone said.

“Like horse sports?”

“Very probably, though I wouldn’t exclude professional athletics.”

“Isn’t a lawsuit, ah, nontraditional in such a case?”

“You might say that.”

“You might say it’s never been done before,” Dino said.

“Wouldn’t calling the police be a better idea?”

“The police have failed in their duty where this defendant is concerned,” Stone said.

“Shame on you,” Marilyn said to Dino.

“It didn’t happen in my precinct,” Dino said. “Anyway, these things are usually settled privately, without resort to the courts.”

“By ‘settled privately,’” Stone said, “Dino means the plaintiffs are usually too badly injured to complain and are further discouraged from legal action by threats to their existence.”

“This does not sound like a very nice man you’re suing,” Marilyn said.

“I think that sums him up in a nutshell,” Stone replied. “He is not the sort of man most people want to tangle with.”

“Then why are you tangling with him? Are you so very brave?”

“It’s a long story,” Stone said.

Marilyn turned to Dino. “People say that when they don’t want to talk about something.”

“You are quick,” Dino replied.

There was a muffled ringing noise, and Marilyn dug a cell phone out of her purse. “Excuse me,” she said. “Hello? It’s difficult to say at the moment. If you insist. All right. Half an hour.” She closed the phone. “I’m afraid you gentlemen are going to have to excuse me,” she said. “I have kind of an emergency.”

“A massage emergency?” Dino asked.

“It’s a long story.”

Dino turned and glanced at Stone. “People say that when they don’t want to talk about something.”

Marilyn laughed. “You are quick, Dino. Stone, I’ll see you tomorrow morning at ten.”

“I’ll look forward to it.”

“I can’t wait to get my hands on you.” She gave a little wave and hurried away.

“Ask her if she makes calls at police stations,” Dino said.


Stone slept a little later than usual. At nine Joan buzzed him.

“Mmmf,” Stone said.

“Rough night?”

“No, I have a masseuse coming at ten, so it’s hardly worth getting out of bed.”

“A Mr. Bernard Finger called and left a message before I got in. Do you know him?”

“He’s a lawyer. I met him once, at the courthouse; he was defending a drug dealer. It’s probably about the Dattila thing.”

“So, Mr. Dattila is responding?”

“I’m not going to count on it. I’ll call him back later; don’t want to look too anxious.”


“Will you send the lady up when she arrives? Her name is Marilyn.”


“I love it when you talk pilot.” He hung up, turned over and went back to sleep. The phone buzzed again; Stone picked it up. “What?”

“It’s ten forty-five, and she hasn’t shown.”

“Ah, okay. I’ll deal with it.” He rolled out of bed, went to his dressing room, rummaged through the contents of his pockets dumped on the dresser top the night before and found Marilyn’s card. He went back, sat on the bed and dialed her number. There came back a loud squawk and a mechanical voice: “The number you have dialed is not in service; please check the number and dial again.”

He must have dialed a wrong digit, he thought, and he dialed again; same result. Very peculiar. By the time he had showered, shaved and dressed it seemed very, very peculiar. He went down to his office and called Bernard Finger.

“Stone Barrington!” Finger shouted into the phone, as if they were long-lost friends. Finger was a large, voluble

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