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Authors: Sam Stewart

Payback (22 page)

BOOK: Payback
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The barroom was snug. Fireplace cold now but waiting for a match. Pine-paneled walls. Photographs of champions in various positions, on ski slopes and off. Killy; Heuga; Zimmermann; Gros. The redheaded bartender leaning on the counter in his down-home Wranglers and a blue-checkered shirt. The guy with the arm cast, twentyish, accent melodiously French, very serious and straight, saying, “How many medals? Going back to the beginning, how many?”

The bartender yawning in his hand. “You mean the start of the Olympics?”

“Voilà.”

“Okay—in the downhill you said, not the slalom. And we're counting both the females and the males.”

“Just American, I ask. I don't care about their sex.”

The bartender grinning. “I've been hearing that, Alain.” Putting down his glass now and thinking. “Okay. We got Johnson. Eighty-four, Sarajevo. Took the gold.”

“Go on.” The boy turning now and showing off a sullen-eyed ladykiller face.

The bartender shrugging. “That exhausts it for the men. We got Susan Corrock took the bronze at Sapporo and whatshername. Nelson. Cynthia Nelson at Innsbruck.”

“Right. Okay.
D'accord et voilà
. So that's three,” the boy said. “Making three whole medals in the fifty-nine years.”

“Make it four,” Mitchell said. “Penelope Pitou took the Squaw Valley silver.”

“Four,” the boy snickered, “is the same thing as three.”

Mitchell said, “Not if you're Penelope, it isn't,” and the bartender laughed.

“Frog here's been telling me it's something in the genes. Like he's telling me you gotta be an Austrian or French. I'm telling him it's bullshit. It's something in the jeans. I'm telling him you fuck around nights, you don't win. Am I right?”

Mitchell laughed.

The bartender nodded. “He's a busy little fucker.”

“You can talk,” the boy said.

“But I never got hurtled out of anybody's window.”

“I jumped,” the boy said.

“Naked. Running quickly from a husband with a gun.”

“From a husband with a knife. His saber had a seven-inch jewel-crusted hilt.”

“Say one thing, it's sexier than Aspen,” Mitchell said, and the topic turned around.

Aspen. Then Vail. Then Killington and What's the best place you've ever skied, and then moving on to What's the best trail you've ever skied.

Adios, Mitchell said.

Or Corbet's Corridor at Jackson Hole.

Or the Parsenn at Davos.

Or what about The Plunge?

The bartender, hooked: You ever skied in competition? Oh yeah? Me too.

The bartender, Rusty Oswego was his name, having gone from New Hampshire to the Northeastern regionals and on to the Olympics. Mitchell could listen as he talked about Grenoble—being there, being like the extras on a set. “We weren't even bridesmaids, man, we were nothing.” Mitchell on a Scotch now and Rusty on a straight Pelligrino with a twist; the French kid, departed. “I can tell you, man,” Rusty shook his rust-colored head. “We shoulda boycotted
that
one. Killy. Oh shit. You want to talk about genetics, man? Three fucking golds. My wife at the time, she said, Gaudy.” He laughed.

He'd traveled the circuit; he'd done all the tournaments and paying competitions and his wife had dropped out—told him he was married to a couple of ski poles and where he could put them. “So now I got kids, two boys and they're living up in Shitsville, New Jersey. Stepfather Joey. He's a Cadillac dealer. Jesus, what a scene. I got flat-footed kids they think physical exercise is signal for a left. They think,
talk
ing very fast. I don't know,” Rusty said. “What the hell,” Rusty said. It was fun, he said. Christ. He'd had movie stars. Living up in Klosters for a time. He'd been instructor at the Palace, not here, the one in Gstaad. You want to talk about the mogul scene? “Guys'd drop a thousand if you got 'em down a hill. Call 'em sir, they say no-no-no, call me Jacques—or Antonio—or Kyle. Okay? ‘Pull your ass in, Kyle.' ‘Put your second left foot so it doesn't turn around.' And then watch how they love it. These're lonelies at the top. These're guys'll go Boo, they make an empire crumble. ‘Pull your ass in, Kyle.' What a joke,” Rusty said. “We could talk about the pussy but it isn't even subtle. Point is, I got to be forty one morning and I ask myself, Listen man, you want to grow up? I said, no. No way. I said, ask me again another ten twenty years. On the other hand I'm just about to
kick
Kyle's ass, so I bought myself a bar.” He made a gesture at the room.

Mitchell looked around again. “You need any help?”

“Not yet,” Rusty said. “Are you looking for a job?”

“Not yet,” Mitchell said.

What he was looking for, he said, was a couple of Americans're staying with a count. “Blond, six foot, about forty,” Mitchell said. “Another guy, dark, same height, he's called Jackie. Got a mustache. I think he's got a hard-on for clothes.”

Rusty said carefully, “You mean Jackie Lee.”

“Sounds right,” Mitchell said, and then waited while Rusty looked over at him.

“Means you don't know him,” Rusty said.

“I know he sells hash, hangs a pistol,” Mitchell said.

“And I think you better think of it as heavier than hash.”

“But is it heavier than pistol.”

Rusty didn't know. Also he didn't know if Jackie was around. And The Count meant nothing. “You think that's a clue and you're mistaken,” Rusty said. “We got more Italian counts in this town than you can count. What I heard about your friend, though, he's more or less involved in the Industrialist scene.”

“Which is what?” Mitchell said.

“That's everything, pal. That's the maritime Greeks and the Krupp munitions and the real estate types. What I heard about, though, he's kind of thick with Frangelli.”

“Go on,” Mitchell said.

“Where the hell you want to go? What you want him for?”

“How about a sunbeam,” Mitchell said.

Rusty shook his head. He said, “Right. None of my business, man. Other hand, watch it. These're guys're in the news. They could shoot you in the back and it'd come out a suicide.”

“Meaning?”

“Don't fuck with Frangelli,” Rusty said.

“Mafia?”

“No. Try the other end of town. They're the largest banking family in Italy. What you're talking now's the son, they call him Frangie-rhymes-with-Angie. He's about thirty. He's a playboy and we aren't talking Hefner's Chicago this is thoroughbreds and yachts. He's got a mountaintop villa, got a quarter of an Alp, and he gives a lot of parties. Guy I know—Frangie's pilot—you mind?” He bummed a cigarette. “Talks about decapitated chickens on the lawn. Goat-fucking. Name it.”

“Drugs.”

“Enter Jackie. Paolo—that's the pilot—kind of wings Jackie in like he also brings the chef. He says Jackie goes into the wine cellar and locks the door. Plop-plop, fizz-fizz. He cooks base up for Frangie.”

“Freebase.”

“Right.”

“Count Basie,” Mitchell said. “Keep going.”

“He also cooks exotic little treats. You want to hear the end of it, the morning after Christmas there's a pretty little number going na-na on the mountain. Going naked, okay? She goes screaming through the forest,
‘Au secours! Au secours!'
‘Help me,' okay?—That's a party,” Rusty said.

“Christmas party.”

“Right.”

Mitchell sipped his Scotch. “So what happened?”

“Who knows? You mean officially …? Nothing,” Rusty said. “Only meanwhile the lady's in a basket at the farm. There is stuff in her system hasn't even been invented, isn't even in the books. Are you catching me?”

Mitchell looked over at the wall: Jean-Claude Killy with his arm around a girl. He said, “Three fucking golds.” He said, “Yeah.” He said, “Jackie's an advanced biochemist.”

“With an Ivy League degree. Paolo talks to him on the plane. He likes to brag—are you ready? Jackie goes, ‘Listen—I'm the only guy I know that's been to Princeton and Attica.'”

Bwang
. Like that.

“Something the matter?” Rusty said.

Mitchell shook his head. Not that it was good, but it was satisfying.
Bwang
. Jackie and Mack had been together in Attica. Working on the plan. Even possibly, Jackie was the guy Mack had seen before he'd left for California. At least it was neat. Like the old joke about the shitpile: “at least it was neat.”

Rusty said, “Oh … my …
my
…” Staring at the door. “What I think you want to do, you want to turn, very slow, you want to make no sudden nor frightening noise.”

Mitchell turned around. There were three little snow bunnies standing at the rail. Rusty said, “'Scuse me. The witching hour's here,” and then louder, “Well hi there, Chou-Chou.
Ça va
?” The girl in the cabbage-colored jacket said, “
Oui. Ça va, ça va
.” Pulling off her cap and then tossing off a sexy little number with her hair; Rusty going over with a “
Qu 'est-ce que tu veux?

Mitchell turned around again, looking at his watch—4:27—then finishing his drink. Outside through the windows it was already purpling and fading into night, the sky in a deepening funk. There was Rusty at the bar again, tugging at his hair and making Irish espressos, the machine going
wheeeeeeee
so he couldn't really hear. He turned around and said, “
What?

Mitchell said, “I'd like to get directions to the house.”

“You mean to
Frangie's
?” Rusty said. “Come on, man. You outta your gourd? Did you listen to what I said to you?”

Mitchell raised his eyes. “He's a millionaire Italian. He's a kidnap target for every wacko in the world.”

“Exactly on the nose. He's got an army,” Rusty said. “The man owns the mountain and the man owns the cops. You want to test the situation?”

“Not particularly, no.” Mitchell looked away again, glancing at the snow bunnies huddled in the booth, half-watching him. “Then on the other hand,” he said, “I'd like directions to the house.”

24

He rented a Mercedes from the Hertz at the Kulm. At a shop called Götte, he bought a pair of 9 x 25 Nikon binoculars adapted for nightwork and tossed them in the car. He made half a dozen stops. He bought a Swiss hunting knife and a Swiss throwing knife and a couple of tubes of black liquid eyeliner (“Guaranteed Waterproof/Lasts All Day”). He bought black warm-ups that he pulled over his jeans and a black turtleneck sweater and a black sweatshirt and a black woolen cap.

He looked at his watch again—quarter of six and he was heading out of town, passing Suvretta Haus and turning to the north along a snow-covered passageway that tilted at the stars. There were no landmarks here; there was forest on the right and a sheer drop of mountain to the valley on the left. Ten minutes of that and the road turned in again and sucked him into woods.

It was fairy-tale turf. There was silence; owl-eyes glittered in the trees. A deer stood frozen like a lawn ornament on the road, then started and fled. Ten minutes of that. Doing twenty-five an hour over deep rutted snow and then arriving at the juncture—a place where the road angled sharply to the left. “You make a right,” Rusty said. “You go right off the road, you go right through the trees.”

Mitchell took his time and then shrugged, made the turn, expecting to find a road, seeing only the high-up giveaway of telephone wires and the tire tracks chewing out a pattern in the snow like fork tines on a wedding cake. Fifty yards of that, doing automotive slalom, going right around the trunks, and then the road picked up again, relatively clean. A sign popped up:
VIETATO L'INGRESSO/ DEFENSE D'ENTRER/ NO TRESSPASSING/ UNBEFUGTES VERBOTEN.

Right; that was it.

Quarter-mile later and another sign jumped up smiling on the road:
L'INTRUS PROCEDE A DANGER DE MORT
/
THE TRESPASSER PROCEEDS AT MORTAL RISK
/ …
PERICOLO DI MORTE
/ …
LEBENSGEFAHR.

Well, okay, if that's the way they felt …

He pulled off the road again and threaded through the trees, then parked, walked back and kicked over all his tracks. Sitting in the car it took him less than five minutes to blacken up his face. Get the cap down tight and he looked like a coal miner. Get the hood up over the cap and he looked like Death. Or a nightfighter. Couple of knives up his sleeve, a .38 down his belt.

He felt calm, kind of weird. It occurred to him slowly as he headed through the trees that he felt closer to himself than he had in a long time. No. He felt closer to Catlin. The Kid. The last time he'd seen the kid, what had he been doing? he'd been tramping through the trees. Give or take a hundred and twelve degrees Fahrenheit, it seemed to be the same. Well … or at any rate the odds seemed the same.

He walked about a mile. Quietly. Avoiding branches. Stopping every once in a while just to listen. Nothing; an owl. A playful raccoon. Then tire-sounds, lights, and he backed against a tree, going stiller than a shadow till the car, about twenty feet over, pulled ahead, leaking French conversation and the sound of a woman's laugh.

He was getting pretty close; he saw a clearing in the trees, lights in the distance, and became aware of the faint beat of music. He stopped, climbed a tree and turned the glasses on the house. There. About a hundred and fifty meters up, sitting in a white field like a castle in a moat. A stone chalet, an Alpine lodge with a peaked wooden roof, a little annex jutting out, a few wraparound balconies, a terrace on the side. There were cars in a shed. He could count about seven. Lights all over. A matched set of rockbusters moving toward the car that was idling at the walk. One of them smiling now and reaching for the door.
Ciao … Grazie
…
Prego
… The car was a red Lamborghini. The girl was a blonde, a Miss Norway kind of blonde, about six foot of girl in a five-two chinchilla that was dripping on her boots. The guy who was with her had a sporty little toup and came nearly to her shoulder. The house door opened. Mitchell caught a glimpse of a heavyset butler.
Ciao
…
Grazie
… The door closed behind them but the sentries stayed put, one of them leaning near a lantern on the wall. Yawning. Bored. Just hanging around like a full side of beef.

BOOK: Payback
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