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Authors: Stephen Frey

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BOOK: The Insider
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CHAPTER 4

An hour earlier Manhattan had disappeared in the rearview mirror, and now Jay was entering a world where simply being comfortable was tantamount to being poor. Where if you knew exactly how much you were worth, you weren’t worth much, and where social status was measured by the private school your child attended, the country club you belonged to, and whether you drove to work or were driven.

Through tinted windows Jay surveyed the Connecticut estate from the backseat of the navy blue Lincoln Town Car that had picked him up in front of his apartment building. Maple trees towered over either side of the estate’s long driveway, blocking out bright sunshine. Whitewashed four-slat fences parsed fields of timothy and clover into neat rectangles dotted by pairs of Thoroughbred horses, standing shoulder to haunch, flicking long tails to ward off insects from each other’s eyes.

Jay moved forward on the leather seat as the main house came into view. Tucked into the side of a hill and surrounded by beautifully manicured gardens and lawns was a three-story mansion made of dark stone, standing at the end of a circular driveway. To one side of the mansion was a four-car garage, and parked in front of the garage were a hunter green Mercedes sedan, a red Suburban, and a white Austin Healey 3000.

The driver eased to a gentle stop before the main entrance, then hopped out and hurried around the back of the car to Jay’s door.

But Jay had already emerged. He stood, hands on his waist, admiring the huge structure. On either side of the many white-trimmed windows were dark green wooden shutters, and in front of the windows were black flower boxes bursting with colorful blooms. He glanced up and counted four chimneys rising from the slate roof, then his eyes dropped to the entrance and the long, wide covered porch before it. The house was absolutely beautiful.

“I was going to get your door,” the driver said apologetically.

“Not necessary.” Jay took in the grandeur before him, trying to understand how it must feel to live in such a place. A grim expression came to his face as he glanced at the garage. The house he had grown up in easily would have fit inside. “Thanks for picking me up.”

“You’re welcome.” The driver moved to the trunk, retrieved Jay’s bag, and slung it over his shoulder. “Shall we go inside, sir?”

“I’ll take that.” Jay pulled the bag from the other man’s shoulder. “There’s no reason for you to have to carry it.”

“Hello, Jay West.”

Jay looked up. Standing in a doorway to the side of the mansion’s main entrance was a woman he assumed to be Oliver’s wife.

“I’m Barbara Mason,” the woman called, coming down the steps. She wore a plain white top and a pair of khaki shorts. “Please come in.”

Jay bid the driver good-bye and moved toward her.

“How are you?” Barbara met Jay on the lawn. “I’ve heard so much about you.” She patted him on the shoulder. “All good, I assure you.”

“I’m glad.” Instantly Jay noticed a detached confidence about Barbara. The “dollar demeanor,” he called it—an aura of independence born from never having to worry about money. “I wouldn’t want Oliver spreading the truth about me.”

She squeezed his arm and smiled coyly. “Of course not.”

At one point Barbara had been an attractive woman. She was blond and of medium height, and her face was pretty and her smile charming. But as Jay studied her closely, he was vaguely surprised to see age lines at the corners of her mouth and a barely discernible sadness in the crow’s feet around her green eyes. Her legs were tanned and toned, but he saw the onset of varicose veins and noticed that her hands seemed prematurely wrinkled. She was probably the same age as Oliver, late thirties, he thought, but she seemed older. And as he pictured Oliver standing beside her, they didn’t seem right for each other. He had expected a flashier, more exotic woman, perhaps because he had witnessed Oliver’s powerful sex drive the morning before in the storage room. His gaze dropped to the ground as the image of Oliver pressing himself against Abby flashed through his mind.

“We’re going to have a perfectly wonderful day on the sailboat,” Barbara said, pulling him across the lawn toward the side door and a young boy standing there. “Meet my son, Junior.”

“Hello.” Junior held out his hand, fingers spread wide.

“Hi.” Jay took the boy’s small hand and shook it. “You’ve got quite a grip,” he said as he followed Barbara into the mansion’s kitchen.

“Thanks. Can I go now, Mom?”

“Yes, honey. But go check in with the baby-sitter.”

“Where’s Oliver?” Jay asked, watching Junior dart away.

“Upstairs getting ready.” Barbara moved to a counter on top of which was a large picnic basket overloaded with food and supplies. “Oliver didn’t tell me you were so handsome,” she said matter-of-factly.

Jay grinned. “And Oliver didn’t tell me you were so forward.”

“I say what I think when I think it,” she replied unapologetically, pulling several items from the basket and placing them on the counter. “Sometimes it gets me into trouble with the girls at the club, but I’ve always followed that philosophy and I can’t stop now. I guess I inherited it from my father. He can be pretty direct sometimes.”

Jay glanced around the large country-style kitchen, stocked with top-of-the-line appliances and every cooking gadget imaginable. “Is your father on Wall Street?”

Barbara exhaled heavily, as if her father’s occupation wasn’t something she wanted to discuss. “My father once owned a company named Kellogg Aviation. That’s my maiden name, Kellogg. The company is a—”

“A feeder airline for one of the big carriers,” Jay interrupted. “It was purchased a few years back for quite a bit of money.”

“How did you know that?”

“I was involved with an investment group that was trying to buy it when I was at National City. I was going to provide the bank financing, but when the large airline came into the picture, the group I was working with backed off.” Jay hesitated. “So your father is Harold Kellogg.” According to
Forbes
, Kellogg was extremely wealthy.

“That’s right,” Barbara confirmed.

“Well, it makes more sense now,” Jay muttered under his breath.

“What does?”

“Oh, nothing.”

“Come on.”

“It’s really none of my business.”

“Out with it,” she demanded, winking at him. “Or I’ll tell Oliver that you told me he was fooling around with someone at the office.”

Jay’s eyes flashed to Barbara’s, wondering if that comment was a test. “All right, all right,” he agreed, smiling too broadly. “It’s just that I know what real estate goes for up here. This farm must be a hundred acres if it’s—”

“A hundred and fifty, and my father owns another two hundred on the other side of the hill.”

“And the house is probably ten thousand square feet.”

“Something like that.”

“Right.” Jay raised his eyebrows, impressed. There were commercial office buildings in his hometown that weren’t as big. “I’m sure Bill McCarthy pays Oliver very well, but this is—well, it’s beyond the means of even most investment bankers.”

“That’s true,” Barbara agreed. “The farm was a gift from my father. Oliver couldn’t have afforded it on his own.”

For the first time Jay thought he heard a trace of sarcasm in her voice, or perhaps it was bitterness.

“And I know it bothers him every time he comes up the driveway,” she continued. “Every time he sees what my father accomplished.” Her lips formed a tight smile. “Unfortunately, I didn’t figure all that out until after we moved in,” she admitted ruefully. “They don’t get along very well. My father can be, well, pretty abrasive. Oliver’s always been resentful of him. I guess it’s because of Oliver’s background.” She was silent for a few moments. “I’ve probably told you more than you wanted to hear,” she said quietly. “Maybe more than I should have. But I warned you.” Her voice rose to its natural tone. “I say the first thing that pops into my mind.”

“I’m glad you did.” Without realizing it, Jay ran his finger along the scar beneath his eye. It was a habit he couldn’t break. “How did you and Oliver meet?”

Barbara shot him a sly look. “You mean you’re interested in understanding what a society girl like me is doing with a boy from the wrong side of the tracks.”

He shrugged, slightly embarrassed. She’d hit the nail on the head.

“I told you, Jay. I don’t pull any punches.”

“No kidding.” He checked the hallway for Oliver. “So tell me.”

“Oliver’s quite a charmer when he wants to be.” She gazed down at her French manicure. “I met him at an East Side cocktail party twelve years ago when he was a rising star at J. P. Morgan. I was fascinated to find out how a young man who had grown up in the Bronx projects could be so successful at a blue-blooded, white-shoe firm like Morgan—fascinated to find out how he even got himself into the cocktail party, because only establishment types had been invited. By the end of the evening I was fascinated with just him. He’s a dynamic man. He begged his way into Morgan after graduating from City College, and the rest, as they say, is history. Once you give Oliver even the slightest opportunity, the tiniest opening, he takes full advantage. I’ve never met a person who can master so many things so quickly, or at least make you believe he has. He’s the real deal, but at the same time he’s the biggest con artist you’ve ever met. He’s an enigma and a constant contradiction, and even though I’m married to him, I’ve never truly figured him out,” she continued. “Which I guess is one reason I still love him.” She sighed. “Why I put up with him.”

Jay stared at Barbara for several moments, struck by her honesty.

“Damn it!”

“What’s wrong?” Barbara’s outburst had startled him.

“Oh, I forgot to get gin for the outing. Oliver loves his Beefeater and tonic on the sailboat.” She rolled her eyes. “He’ll go nuts when he finds out I forgot to get a bottle.”

“We can stop on our way to the boat,” Jay pointed out.

“No.” Barbara shook her head. “Once Oliver gets going, he doesn’t like to stop. It drives him up a wall to do errands on the way to the club. And I don’t want to hear about how incompetent I am because I didn’t remember to tell the housekeeper to buy the gin. He’s always telling me I should make lists, but I hate lists.” She moved to a row of hooks attached to the side of the refrigerator and removed a set of keys. “Be a dear and go get me some. There’s a liquor store in a little shopping mall a couple of miles back down the lane that goes past the end of our driveway,” she explained, tossing the keys to Jay. “Make a left at the end of the driveway.”

“I remember seeing the store on the way out here. Are these the keys to the Suburban I saw out front?” He could tell they weren’t by their shape, but wanted to politely give her a chance to switch keys if she’d made a mistake.

“No. Those are to the Austin Healey parked next to the Suburban. Driving the Healey ought to make the errand more fun.”

Jay smiled. “Great.”

“The car’s all warmed up,” Barbara said. “Oliver had it out a little while ago.”

“Okay. I’ll be right back.”

Jay headed out the door and moved quickly to the flashy British sports car. He pulled its canvas top back, slipped behind the steering wheel, and fired up the six-cylinder engine. Then he was off, flying down the mile-long driveway, wind whipping his hair back, the white speedometer needle nudging seventy before he finally leaned on the brakes, locked up the polished chrome wheels, and skidded to a halt as driveway met country lane. When the car had screeched to a stop, Jay put his head back and laughed, then slapped the dashboard and smelled the rich leather scent emanating from the car. Oliver was living the dream.

Jay checked in both directions, then slammed the stick into first gear, punched the accelerator, and sped down the twisting road. The car hugged the tight turns as he ran through the gears, centrifugal forces pressing his body into the seat as the speed increased. Finally the road straightened out and he pushed the car to its limit. Too soon the liquor store appeared. For a moment he considered racing past and taking the car for a drive, but he slowed down, not wanting to keep Oliver and Barbara waiting. He ran back through the gears, then coasted across the small shopping mall’s gravel parking lot to a stop.

As Jay unsnapped the seat belt, he was startled by the ring of a phone coming from inside the glove compartment. He leaned across the passenger seat and opened the compartment door. It was probably Oliver, he thought, calling to warn him against driving his baby too fast. He grabbed the slim cell phone from atop a black folder and pressed the answer button. “Hello.”

“Oliver, it’s Tony! Thank God I got you. Listen, don’t use that information I gave you yesterday. There’s a problem. We want to review the situation face-to-face first. Understand?”

Jay said nothing, listening to the sounds of traffic coming from the other end of the line.

“Oliver?”

Still Jay was silent.

“Shit!”

The line clicked in Jay’s ear. Slowly he brought the phone down and stared at it. Finally he leaned across the passenger seat and replaced the phone in the glove compartment atop the folder that he assumed contained the car’s service records, registration, and insurance information. As he did, he noticed a computer disk beside the folder and an unsealed envelope beneath it. Acting on impulse, he yanked out the envelope and removed the single piece of paper from inside, staring at the name on the page for a long time. Bell Chemical. Bell was one of the largest specialty chemical manufacturers in the country.

Out of the corner of his eye Jay noticed a red Suburban in the side mirror. It was tearing down the long straightaway toward the shopping mall. He shoved the paper inside the envelope and replaced it in the glove compartment just as Oliver guided the Suburban into the parking spot beside the Healey.

“Hey, pal,” Oliver called through the Suburban’s open window. He turned off the engine, hopped out of the SUV, and met Jay behind the Healey. “Glad you could make it out here.”

“Thanks for having me.”

“Sure.” Oliver was dressed in a polo shirt, khakis, Docksiders, and a pair of Vuarnet sunglasses. “We couldn’t have asked for a nicer day.”

BOOK: The Insider
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