Long, swift strides in the brisk evening air, eyes straight ahead, straight on target, ignoring bankers, asset managers, gold diggers, and the idle rich along the way. No time for pleasantries. It was almost done, almost locked, almost in the bag.
There he was again. Not giving up easily. And this time his handler was with the annoying little pug. I kept my eyes forward, dead set on ignoring them. Donahue stepped into my path. Hill by his side.
“Jim. The situation is escalating. We need to talk. Now.”
You didn’t need to know a thing about him to spot the American bureaucrat. He was in an off-the-rack black suit, nearly fitting but not quite, with a slim black necktie, as if he was auditioning for a high school production of Men in Black. Nobody dresses like that. Nobody but unimaginative American government men.
“Subpoena me or get the hell out of my way,” I said as I speed walked a half circle around them down the stone footpath. My nose was blocked and I could hear it.
He grabbed me by the arm as I was heading past him, pulling me back. Took me by surprise. I didn’t think the little bureaucrat had the guts to lay a hand on me. I stopped dead in my tracks and stared into his eyes point-blank. He spoke before I did. His words were calm and measured.
“Your country requires your cooperation. Incidentally, such cooperation may also help keep you out of prison.”
“The hell you talking about, Donahue? You think you can throw some ridiculous threats at me like some schoolboy? Hill, get this guy out of my face before I break his.”
I didn’t like the smug grin on his face. He knew something I didn’t, and it amused him.
“Two possibilities. Either you don’t know, and that makes you incompetent. Or you do know, and you’re just a common crook. Either way, you’re exposed, Jim,” he replied, keeping his calm while I was losing mine.
“You’re out of your mind. You can go to hell, Donahue! That goes for you too, Hill!”
I slapped his hand away, freeing my arm of his grip.
“Touch me again and you’ll draw back a bloody stump,” I told him and turned to continue the path leading to the stables. It was stupid and I knew it. Drugs and stress doing the talking, brain trying to play catchup.
“Your funeral, Jim. Bet you’ll look great in orange,” that smug voice behind me replied. It was an absurd threat. But that’s what worried me.
I tried to get his voice out of my head, approaching the stables, getting my game face on. The lights were on all around the riding pen and the nearby stables area, and there was the same soft buzz of a few dozen mingling guests. I scanned the crowd as I approached, trying to avoid making eye contact not to lose time getting stuck in polite conversation.
It really wasn’t difficult to spot him. At least a head taller than the other men around and towering over the women. Cream-white double-breasted jacket with brass buttons, hair slicked back to cover the bald patch, a crimson pocket square, brown loafers, and blue jeans. Upper-class casual.
He was entertaining a woman just by the round pen, showing off a thoroughbred to her, patting the stallion’s head while a handler held on to the reins. I locked on like a cruise missile and headed straight for them. The last piece of the puzzle.
I was so concentrated on him that it wasn’t until I got all the way up to them that I saw whom he was talking to.
The devil was she doing there?
I froze up as I came all the way to them, face-to-face with the old sod. My loss of words did not afflict him.
“Ah, and there you are, Jim. Good man, just in time too. Jolly good. I was just in the middle of relaying last week’s Ascot race to Ms. Rosenbaum—”
“Chris, please, Mr. Niederhauser,” she said in that sweet bubbly voice that made men’s knees week.
“Of course, and call me Nick. Everyone does, my dear,” he beamed back at her. “As I was saying, Dancing Cloud here was my star performer last week. He just arrived back from Berkshire. Poor boy, such a long journey. Came in second, he did. By a nose, by God, by a nose! Next time, he’ll do even better. Not bad for a four-year-old, eh, old boy?
“I believe you already know Chris? Part of your acquisition team, I understand. You have found a very competent lady here, Jim. That’s what good breeding does for you. Just like with Dancing Cloud, a Rosenbaum is sure to excel. I was distraught to hear about your father, Christina. He was a dear friend and a client.”
I was breathing hard but not out of breath. I was furious.
“Nick, I’m sorry do to this on your big night,” I started while trying to remember if I even knew the reason for this little garden party for a few hundred of his closest friends. “Need to talk shop. Time is of the essence. Is there some place we can talk on the q.t.?”
He gave me a knowing smile and a nod, like a child thinking that no one around can see that you’ve got a secret.
“Of course, of course. Business before pleasure, that’s what I always say.”
He looked around, making some hand waving here and there and the hang-arounds cleared off one by one. Made me wonder if this was a common occurrence, to wave away the servants and guests from the racehorse pen to talk secrets.
Probably was too.