Read Severe Clear Online

Authors: Stuart Woods

Tags: #Terrorism, #Suspense, #Prevention, #Mystery & Detective, #Thriller, #Fiction, #Private Investigators, #Stone (Fictitious Character), #General, #Mystery, #Barrington

Severe Clear (5 page)

BOOK: Severe Clear
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Herbie instructed a waiter, and the drinks appeared. He raised his glass. “I know that single-malt scotch is delicious,” he said, “but it will eventually eat your liver.”

“You worry about your liver, I’ll worry about mine,” she replied. “What else do you want to know?”

“Let’s start with your name.”

“Harp O’Connor,” she said. “Call me Harpie or Harpo and I’ll show you that kick of mine in a painful place.”

“I perceive that you are Irish.”

“You are very perceptive. Both sides. I’m first generation. My mother is a nurse, my father, a bartender who owns the bar.”

“Why aren’t you drinking in his place?”

“The surveillance there is intrusive, and the old man won’t let me have more than one drink. And he’ll eighty-six any man I talk to.”

“All good reasons for drinking somewhere else,” Herbie said.

“Your turn, Herb.”

“Fisher, and I don’t like extensions of my first name, either. Born in Brooklyn thirtyish years ago, played hooky from the public schools, followed by NYU Law School.”

“What happened to college?” she asked.

“I finessed that.”

“How’d you get into law school without pre-law?”

“I passed the bar. That impressed the admissions committee enough to allow me to enter. I finished in two years with a three-point-nine GPA.”

“Okay, so you’re smart. Are you employed?”

“I’m a senior associate at the firm of Woodman & Weld.”

“Do they give you anything responsible to do there?”

“One of my clients is your former employer, Strategic Services, whose CEO, Michael Freeman, gave me the business.”

“Mike Freeman is a smart guy,” Harp said. “One of the reasons I left was that I couldn’t get anywhere near him.”

“You seem to have a history of quitting when your employers won’t give you responsibility quickly enough.”

“Well put. I decided I’d be happier if I had
all
the responsibility. That’s what being self-employed is all about.”

“Why a P.I.?”

“Because that’s what people were willing to pay me to do. One of Strategic’s clients asked me to investigate a couple of his employees in my spare time. As a result, both employees were fired, and I was hired. Word about me somehow got around that hiring me more than paid for itself, and other work appeared. Now I’m well afloat.”

“Admirable,” Herbie said.

They both ordered steaks and onion rings, and Herbie picked out a good red from the list.


W
ell,” Harp said, when they had finished dinner and reduced the bottle to half a glass. “I’m not tired, are you?”

“Nope.”

“Show me where you live,” she said.

“That’s direct.”

“Saves time. One of the ways I judge people is by how they occupy the spaces they live in. If you live in a rat hole, tell me now, and I’ll be on my way.”

Herbie signed the check and pulled the table out for her. “Come with me,” he said.

They took a cab over to Park Avenue, to Herbie’s building. They took the elevator up, and when they walked into his apartment she didn’t take her coat off until she had had a look around. Finally, she handed him her coat. “You’ll do, Herb,” she said.

 7 

H
erbie was awakened by the smell of bacon frying. He pried open an eye, stumbled into the bathroom, brushed his teeth and hair, and got into a robe.

He was salivating as he arrived in the kitchen and found her setting the table by the window. “Good morning,” he said.

“First kitchen I’ve seen in New York that has a window that doesn’t overlook an air shaft,” she said, raking eggs out of a skillet onto the plates as two English muffins popped out of the toaster.

“It’s a penthouse,” Herbie said. “The air shaft surrounds the apartment.”

She recovered the bacon from the microwave, buttered the muffins, poured orange juice, set the coffeepot on the table, and sat down. “Join me?”

“Don’t mind if I do.” Herbie sat down and tasted the eggs. “Wow,” he said. “What’s your secret?”

“If I told you my secrets, they wouldn’t be secret.”

Herbie was eating too fast to talk.

“I know what you’re thinking,” she said.

“Mmmmf?”

“You’re thinking, as my father would put it, ‘How did I fall into this pot of jam? How could I meet such a beautiful woman, experience the best sex of my life, and have the best breakfast ever, all in such a short time and with so little effort?’”

Herbie swallowed. “You’re a witch,” he said, then filled his mouth again.

Harp smiled. “There you have it. Tell me, how did you get rich enough at the age of thirtyish to live like this? Inherited wealth?”

“I inherited it from the New York State Lottery.”

Her mouth fell open.

“I kid you not.”

“So, you blew it on fast living, the way lottery winners always seem to?”

Herbie shook his head. “I got smart before it was all gone. Now I actually make more than I spend.”

“A good practice,” she replied, sipping her coffee. “I’m there, myself, and I like it.”

“Are you getting interesting work?” Herbie asked.

“I am. I like investigation, especially when people are trying to hide things, which they usually are. I’m a whiz on the computer, and that helps. I’m an urban girl, and I don’t really like fresh air all that much.” She cocked her head. “Ever been married?”

“Once,” Herbie said.

“How long?”

“Let’s say it was counted in months, not years. She and her brother ran off with a huge sum of money stolen from their father’s business and moved to a safe haven in the Pacific.”

“Didn’t she invite you?”

“Yes, but I have this thing: I can be sneaky, but I’m not dishonest. I wouldn’t live on money stolen from somebody else. Mind you, I got a very nice divorce settlement, and I don’t mind having that in the bank.”

“How do you get a divorce settlement after being married only a few months?”

“By getting it before no-fault divorce was signed into law in New York State. She didn’t really mind signing the money away, since it had already been sequestered by the feds, pending settlement of the firm’s losses. My attorney managed to get it unsequestered. You ever been married?”

“Yeah. I married a guy I met when we were both at the Police Academy. Lasted a little over two years. We were working different shifts in different precincts and hardly ever saw each other. He was a sweet guy, but not smart. He was on the take a week after he got his shield, and I couldn’t live with that.”

“You were smart to get out.”

She shrugged. “I guess. He’s doing time now, along with a dozen other guys who got caught when Internal Affairs busted them. I had to loan him money for a lawyer.”

“I’m sorry you had to go through that,” Herbie said.

Harp shrugged. “I just chalked it up as life experience. I decided to make more objective judgments of people, instead of being hooked on charm.”

“I noticed that last night,” Herbie said. “I didn’t have time to be charming.”

She smiled. “You were more charming than you realized. Honesty is charming. Beats bullshit every time.”


N
ot far away, Dino Bacchetti and Vivian DeCarlo were sitting up in bed, naked, eating toast and drinking coffee.

“Viv,” Dino said, “how many nights have you spent here in the past three months?”

She smiled. “Most of them, I guess.”

“Just about all of them, and yet you haven’t moved any clothes here. Not to speak of.”

Viv brushed crumbs off her breasts. “I’ve got a little problem, Dino.”

“Let me help you solve it.”

“There’s something I can’t figure out.”

“Cough it up, you’ll feel better.”

“I’ve always thought you were an honest cop, and I admired that. But this apartment—how can you afford the rent on a lieutenant’s salary? It’s gotta be ten grand a month.”

“I don’t rent, I own. The maintenance is two grand a month. I can afford that.”

“Your father ran a candy store. Where’d you get the money to buy it?”

“Honestly,” he replied.

“Honestly, how? Come on, help me out here.”

“Here’s the short version: I was married to a rich woman who had a rich father. She also made a lot of money in investments while we were married. When she walked, her old man insisted that she make a settlement, and I got a very nice check. Everybody was happy, and since it was a division of marital property, there was no tax. I spent a chunk of it on this apartment.”

She heaved a sigh of relief. “I’m so glad to hear that.”

“Good, now why don’t you move in with me?”

“Well, Rosie couldn’t pay our rent all by herself. She’d need time to get another roommate.”

“Tell you what: I’ll pay your share until she finds somebody,” Dino suggested.

Viv brightened. “Yeah, that would work.”

Dino dug in his bedside drawer and came up with a card. “This is a guy from my old neighborhood who has a carting business. Pack up your stuff and call him. Tell him to send me the bill.”

Viv leaned over and kissed him on the ear. “I’ll do it this weekend.”

“Then we’ll both feel better,” Dino said. He set down his coffee cup and got a leg over. “Let’s celebrate,” he said.

So they celebrated.

 8 

M
ike arrived at The Arrington’s front gate, where a security guard checked his driver’s license photo and gave him directions to the executive offices.

“Don’t stop anywhere along the way,” the guard told him. “They expect you at the office in three minutes.”

Mike nodded, then put his car in gear and drove up the hill. He found a parking space next to a dumpster overflowing with building material scrap and went inside. A woman at a makeshift desk in the hallway pointed at a door. “In there,” she said, checking his name off a list and noting the time.

There was a Sharpie-lettered sign on the door: “Director of Food and Beverages.” Mike knocked and walked into an unfurnished reception room.

“Back here!” a voice called out.

Mike walked through the room to an office and found a man in a work shirt sitting behind a desk. “Mike Gennaro?”

“Yes, sir,” Mike replied.

“Take a seat.”

Mike took the only option, a paint-stained wooden chair with some of the caning missing from the seat.

“Sorry for the mess here,” the man said. “It’ll look more like a real office in a couple of weeks. The emphasis here is on finishing the cottages and suites first. I’m Tim Duggan, the food and service director for the hotel.”

“How do you do,” Mike said, crossing his legs and folding his hands in his lap. He was wearing his best suit.

“I expect you’ve heard about this place,” Duggan said.

“Hasn’t everybody? I think every hotel manager in L.A. is convinced it’s going to cost him half his business.”

“We should be so lucky,” Duggan said. He picked up a sheet of paper and glanced at it. “I liked your résumé,” he said. “Only two jobs in your whole life.”

“I’m nothing if not loyal,” Mike said.

“I’ve had dinner a couple of times at Franco’s, in Studio City. That’s your dad’s place, is it?”

“It is.”

“Tell me about your experience there.”

“I started as a dishwasher when I was twelve,” Mike said, “and over the next ten years I worked just about every job in the place, up to and including sous-chef. On my twenty-first birthday, I started tending bar.”

“So why didn’t you make a career of the family business?”

“I have two older brothers who had that idea, and they’re still there. When the time came for them to take over, I’d still be tending bar.”

“And how long at the Beverly Hills Hotel?”

“Six years. The tips are better than at Franco’s.”

“I would imagine. So you want to make a move here as a bartender? You think the tips would be better here than at the Beverly Hills?”

“I understand you’re going to have four bars here,” Mike said. “What I’d like is to be your head bartender, to manage all four and to fill in when somebody’s out or the traffic is heavy.”

“We haven’t budgeted for a head bartender,” Duggan said.

“So, you’re going to run four bars yourself, in addition to all the restaurants? The bartenders will steal you blind.”

Duggan sat back and regarded the applicant with an appraising eye. “We’re instituting a computer system to regulate that.”

“Yeah? And every time a guest pays cash, half of it will go into the bartender’s pocket.”

“And how would you stop that? What’s your system?”

Mike tapped his temple with a finger. “It’s right in here. I can look at the empties and tell you what a bar took in that night and what the bartender got in tips. Remember, I’m one of them, not one of you.”

“How many bartenders should I hire?” Duggan asked.

“For three restaurants and the pool? Fourteen, plus me. That will cover all the bars for a five-day week and the occasional sick day. Remember, I can always fill in.”

“I had reckoned on sixteen,” Duggan said.

“Count me as two,” Mike said, “and I’d expect to be paid both salaries. I’ll divvy up the tips, and I’ll make up the booze orders every week, saving you the trouble. I’ll deal with the wholesalers, too, if you like. I already know all the salespeople and most of the managers.”

“You’re an ambitious guy,” Duggan said.

“I am. By the time you retire and move on, I’ll want your job. I know the restaurant side, too, and I’m good on wine.”

“Double a bartender’s wages sounds low for all of that,” Duggan said.

“I’d rather be a bargain at first. Pretty soon, you’ll know what I’m worth to you.”

Duggan was impressed. His source at the Beverly Hills had already told him that Mike Gennaro was highly regarded there; the man had an outstanding work record, plenty of charm, and a good ear for a customer’s story. Duggan handed him a sheet of paper. “Here’s the rundown on benefits: health insurance, retirement package, etcetera. This will be the kind of place that will repay loyalty and hard work over the long run. I’m aiming for a very low turnover among employees.”

BOOK: Severe Clear
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