Foreign Exchangeby Larry Beinhart
The IRS is on his tail, so Tany Cassella is on the run . . .Facing prison for tax violations, private detective Tony Cassella flees the IRS and heads for the Alps, where he becomes the owner of the only Laundromat in a chic Austrian ski town. A few weeks after his French lover gives birth to a baby girl, Cassella the laundry-magnate gets a job offer that could/b>… See more details below
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The IRS is on his tail, so Tany Cassella is on the run . . .Facing prison for tax violations, private detective Tony Cassella flees the IRS and heads for the Alps, where he becomes the owner of the only Laundromat in a chic Austrian ski town. A few weeks after his French lover gives birth to a baby girl, Cassella the laundry-magnate gets a job offer that could finally set things right back home. An American teen and a Japanese businessman have been killed in a freak avalanche, and the dead girl’s mother wants Cassella to find out why her daughter died. The Japanese man was carrying a disk whose contents are of great interest to the CIA, and returning it to Langley could mean the end of Cassella’s IRS headache. To find the disk, he must confront a global network of killers, thieves, and retired spies. Quickly in over his head, Cassella realizes that to survive in this world of international intrigue, he will have to do much more than wash, fold, and ski. This ebook features an illustrated biography of Larry Beinhart including rare images from the author’s personal collection.
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A Tony Cassella Mystery
By Larry Beinhart
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1991 Larry Beinhart
All rights reserved.
RICK'S AMERICAN LAUNDROMAT
According to my passport my name is Richard Cochrane. That's not true. My native home is Ireland. That's not true either. I'm an exile, an expatriate, a man without a country, a stateless person. Here in a white land. A snow-covered alpine country where they speak a language I barely understand in a landscape like none I've ever known.
But who cares? I have money in the bank. They have excellent banks here. But then, they do almost everywhere these days. I have a full-breasted young woman as my companion. Younger than me. Heavy breasted, round bellied, and ripe with child. My child. She says so. I believe her. Her passport says her name is Marie. That's true. Marie Laure. My passport says my profession is priest. That's not true. On the one recent occasion that anyone has actually read the slot by profession and looked at Marie's belly at the same time, I just grinned. The border guard grinned back. Then we both laughed. He was happier with the notion of a lecherous priest than of a false passport. The image harked back to a merrier age—Chaucerian, Machiavellian, Rabelaisian—when priests and even politicians were presumed to have penises. The alternative, the modern reality of false papers, would have just meant more work.
The truth is that I love Marie pregnant. Sexually. This is a surprise. All that roundness. I love to take her from behind and feel the fullness of her buttocks, that waddling wideness against my thighs, and my hand weighing the swollen tits and feeling the shape of her baby-holding belly. She's vibrant, and healthy, and womanly. There's no cancer-scary pills to think about, no age-of-AIDS rubbers, no Catholic rhythmic counting of days, no pulling out just in time. There is a free and mindless ejaculation, thoroughly primitive, into a completely technology-free vaginal canal.
I was very fortunate. I got dollars when dollars where strong. Artificially and excessively high because a strong dollar made Ronald Reagan feel good. I had the sense to realize that. But I was foolish enough to think that gold would be a good hedge. Fortunately, my banker, who carped about handling a mere $100,000, suggested that I simply put it in a variety of currencies—yen, deutsche mark, Swiss franc, and even British pound.
I was almost tracked down in the south of France.
We decided to move to the mountains. That was when Marie was with me the first time. I discovered skiing. And went into business. Marie left me. Not because of skiing or business. She had the hots for someone else. Someone younger. And I gave her every excuse. Fool that I used to be for French women. I was a pushover, a slut, for any female who did that thing with their r's and their eyes, dropped their h's and moued.
Four days into our first ski trip we needed clean underwear. Marie was going to wash out things in the sink. There is love, there is duty, but I'd come from the States and this seemed excessive. I insisted that we go to the Laundromat. The washing machine was FF50. Five ten-franc pieces. Even at the good old rate of FF7 to the dollar, that was $7.14 to wash one load. Another FF50 for one twenty-minute cycle in the dryer. A big load could easily take forty minutes. There was only one Laundromat in town.
That was the business for me.
Except that the owner had a "relationship" with the mayor. A family relationship. It was not possible to get a license for a competitive Laundromat. But the ski area extends far beyond the one town. In the advertising brochures the whole thing is called, in cosmic letters, L'Espace Killy (Killy did ski there, he did win Olympic gold in all three Alpine events—downhill, slalom, giant slalom—so he probably is a god). Connected by lifts and trails, and beyond the sway of the mayor of Val d'Isère, are the demi-towns of Val Claret, Tignes le Lac, Le Lavachet, Tignes les Boisses, built almost entirely for skiers, with no history but greed in a hurry, ripe and open for coin-operated entrepreneurship. I not only established a Laundromat, I got laundry machine franchises in two apartment buildings. It was much easier if the businesses were owned by a French person, so Marie became my partner. It was her first nonjob source of income. To remember the delight on her face when she came to understand what it means to have business income with tax deductible costs and, even better, a strictly cash business with all those jingling, unrecorded, ten-franc pieces can still bring a bright, nostalgic smile to my face.
Given that Marie and I had made no promises. Given that my escape to her had been after years trapped with another woman in a molasses of misapplied fidelity, a tar baby embrace made of gratitude and of a guilt that was not even about the woman herself but about her son. And even that I had had to blow up my entire world to get out of it. Given that the joy of my relationship with Marie was its utter simplicity. For God's sake, we didn't even speak the same language. I didn't even know how to say "Did you come?" and she never once asked me if I wanted to buy a condo. She was still my girlfriend. And my partner. She came to Sardinia when I called her and when I was in hiding. She was my lover when I went around disguised in monk's robes. She protected my secrets. She asked for nothing.
So she deserved better than to find me with the two entirely too posh English girls on holiday who found me "rough," "roguish," "quaint." Not even I believed my story that it was merely a hunger for my native tongue.
I didn't understand that I was in love with her until she took up with Gerard, the ski instructor. Very much the coxcomb. More satisfied by making another man a cuckold than by getting laid. It made L'Espace Killy intolerable for me. I didn't care how many English girls there were. I didn't care about other women with cute French accents. Just the one. I didn't give a goddamn if my skiing was improving avec rapidité or about those ten-franc pieces clunking away into my machines. It made me insane to be in the same L'Espace with that woman with another cock between her legs and everyone in town, it seemed, aware of it.
There are those who will say it served me right.
There are those who will say it's the least I deserved.
Quite right, too. I left town. I left Marie the Laundromat and the machines and said I would trust her with the books. Even though I had taught her to cook them, even with her getting her hands on the cash before ever I saw it—if I ever saw it—and with her being the owner of record and myself being a stateless person traveling on a not quite real passport.
I went skiing. I had become, in a short time, addicted. I became a Byronic figure, noble, heartbroken, athletic, oft laid but never loving. To Chamonix and Courcheval to Verbier and Zermatt in Switzerland from which I skied over to Cervina in Italy, looking, looking always for a place that needed Laundromats.
Such was my condition when I arrived here.
A place like this is called a ski circus. Circus, from the Latin, means circle or circuit, like Rome's Circus Maximus, which was an oval race track. The lifts and the runs go from town to town to town, from Lech, to Zürs, to St. Christoph, to St. Anton. The tree line is about 500 meters above the town, at 1,800 meters, and the cable car to the Valuga goes to about 2,650 meters, a vast skiable landscape. Half of it is in the Arlberg, the other half, Lech and Zürs, are in a region called the Vorarlberg, which means in front of the Arlberg. Back in the days before the tunnel was built, when villages were truly the complete social unit, Arlbergians and Vorarlbergians were barely on speaking terms. Intermarriage over the pass was seriously frowned on. The Arlberg makes a reasonably valid claim to being the historical center of alpine skiing. A lot of good skiers ski there. It has a famous race, the Kandahar. St. Anton is named for Saint Anthony of Padua. I have been told that he is the patron saint of cows, a weather saint, and the saint who taught poor people to ski. Actually, he is the saint to pray to for finding lost things. The area is extremely Austrian and rather overfond of itself. But none of that is really to the point.
I was staying in a small pension, the equivalent of a guest house or bed and breakfast. It is the custom in these places for the woman of the house to take in the guests' laundry, make it look like very hard work, and charge the guests far more than they would pay at home. What the hell. The punters are on holiday, they expect a certain amount of ripoff, and the person scrubbing—or at least loading her machines, ironing, and folding—is their hostess. It's very hard to tell her to her face that she deserves less for handling your personal soil.
It happened that the Frau of this house took sick and there was no one to do the laundry. After recycling my cleanest dirty clothes one time too many, I asked my host for a laundry, and even hinted, for the sake of saving a few bucks, that perhaps I could simply use the laundry machine in his basement. He couldn't conceive of that. That was Frau territory. He said he would call the local laundry, they would pick up and deliver.
We are speaking here of T-shirts, underwear, sleeveless T-shirts, longjohns—one pair with a hole in the thigh so large that my foot went through it when I tried to put them on—one pair of jeans, three and one half pairs of socks. We are not speaking of delicate silken underthings, lace and pleats, suits of virgin wool, dress shirts of hand-loomed Egyptian cotton. We are not speaking of special handling, spot removal, dry cleaning, or tailoring.
At today's rate of exchange—ÖS11.60:$1—what we are speaking of is $53.44.
Fifty dollars for a half load of laundry. I had found my new home.
I was reasonably happy. I found an apartment. It was expensive. I found an Austrian, influential in the local community, and made a member of his family my paper partner. The beer was good. And reasonable. Alcoholic beverages were perhaps the only thing in town reasonably priced. The women tended to be blond, German, healthy. Friendly too.
In puberty, that most vulnerable and suicidal of ages, I was always able to make it through to the next morning by the thought of having sex with a new girl. No depression was so deep, so dark, so lasciviously sad that it couldn't be countered by the mere concept of new stuff. But in St. Anton my desire wearied at last.
The thought of another blonde, healthy and friendly, ready to play "bounce the mattress" and "bump in the moguls," was as exciting as one more glass of flat beer. When I did find myself in the act I seemed to hear a weary Peggy Lee, husky and cynical, singing "Is That All There Is?"
So I called Marie Laure. She answered the phone. Not Gerard. That was good. I said so. I shouldn't have said so. It pissed her off. So I said I was calling to make sure she was putting my share of the Laundromat money aside. Marie Laure hung up on me. But I felt better. She was a brunette, with dark and magic eyes.
The next day there was a knock on the door.
I opened it. She was standing there. A duffel bag on her shoulder. I was glad to see her. "You couldn't stay away," I said. "Could you?"
She swung the duffel off her shoulder in an arc and at me. Ten kilos of ten-franc pieces bashed into my midsection. It was like a giant blackjack.
"'Ere. 'Ere is your mon-ee," Marie said.
I just smiled and smiled. I took her hand and pulled her into the apartment.
Later on I asked her about Gerard.
"'E is a jerk," she said.
"So am I," I said.
"Oui," she said, "but that is different."
"He's a lot younger than me. And better looking," I said.
She looked at me. She had always had the knack of speaking paragraphs with a glance. This glance was a brief lecture on how funny men were about what they thought women thought was important and how sad it was to be a woman and have to bear such knowledge.
I pulled her closer, insofar as that was possible. Then I entered her. I wasn't bored at all. I wasn't sad. "Je t'adore," I said.
"I know that," she said, challenging, but her hips were moving. Heavy hips, not chic at all, round and muscle solid.
"Je t'aime," I said.
"Tell me in English," she said.
Aimer, "to love," is also "to like," and though je t'aime sounds terribly romantic to Americans, I think it sounds insufficiently definite in French. "I love you," I said.
"Oh, yes," she said, her eyes moist, and she held as tight as she could. Her mouth was wide and hungry, kissing me. I repeated the phrase and Peggy Lee sang not a word.CHAPTER 2
My first child was born in a snowstorm, the first of the year, in November 1990. There were other things going on in the world. The Berlin Wall had just come down. Czechoslovakia was declaring itself to be free. But things like that don't seem so important when you're dealing with the essentials of life, like birth and an early snow.
It made everyone anticipate a good season. Which we needed after the last two winters. The Austrians said, "Zu-per." The English called it "bril." Which is short for brilliant, an adjective applied with such indiscriminate verve that one begins to hope that it means "I promise not to speak when we next meet." The Aussies said, "Another pint of lager, mate."
The promise of November was to be broken. It snowed once again in December, when the baby was a month old, then it stopped. Giant storms came in from the Atlantic, battered England, scoured France with hurricane winds, drenched Belgium, headed for the mountains—where they were wanted and belonged—and then they split, north and south, leaving a big unwanted circle of warmth and sunshine across the Alps. Until the big storm of February. The one that brought the avalanches.
In a commercial sense St. Anton was one of the luckier alpine resorts. It was high enough that the snow we got in December was a base that lasted for the next two months. What little subsequent precipitation we had was snow, not rain. Hundreds of smaller, lower ski areas had nothing. Even such high giants as Val o'Isère actually closed. There was talk of putting the French ski instructors on welfare. Poor Gerard. But what snow we had was limited, and once you left the few pistes with snow-making equipment you had to cross patches of rock, grass, and cow shit to get from snowfield to snowfield. The instructors and the ski bums got out their rock skis, the repair shops went into overdrive. I was the only person I knew virtually unperturbed by how bad conditions were. I was so elated with the baby that what I skied on barely mattered. The laundry business was far better when people fell in the mud than when bright, clean white snow was everywhere.
The grandmothers-to-be wanted to come for the birth. Marie's father was not so eager. He referred to our happy fetus as le bâtard. I asked Marie if she would like to get married. That is not to say that I proposed.
"Would you be happier if we were married?" is what I said.
"To who," she said. "To Rick Cochrane?"
The point appeared to be: how married would we be under an assumed name? Which I might have to change again? But what she really meant was "I might marry you when and if you want to marry me, enough to get down on your knee and beg me and make me believe it is something you want. Don't do me any favors." At that point I did not inquire into what she really meant and was pleased to take what she said she meant as the excuse that it was.
"What shall we name our son?" she said. She was certain it would be a boy. She had that knowledge As a Woman. She knew it because it was Part of Her. Herr Doctor Ochsenboden agreed with her. He deduced it from the strength of the heartbeat. So did Fraulein Glütz, the midwife with the umlaut. She knew from the way he kicked.
If it had been a girl, the name would have been easy. Anna Geneviève. One name for each grandmother.
Naming a boy was more complicated. Marie's father was named Gerard. No way. My father's name was Michael. Which might have been all right, except we were excluding her father, who was pissed enough about le bâtard already. We got books. Baby name books are apparently among the great staples of the publishing industry, along with cookbooks and Bibles. Yet the number of names we couldn't agree on was enough to fill six of them in four languages. I had a yearning for simplicity—like Mike, Jake, Tony—and for Americana, revealing to myself that I somehow, someday expected to be able to go back. She wanted something romantic, different, perhaps Celtic or Gaelic.
I think, perhaps, if we had been married, we would have had the grandmothers come. God knows, they were ready enough to set up residence. Marie said she didn't want to be the focal point of a baby watch. We all have our own ways with anxiety.
Excerpted from Foreign Exchange by Larry Beinhart. Copyright © 1991 Larry Beinhart. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Larry Beinhart (b. 1947) is an award-winning author of mysteries, nonfiction and political essays, best known for his novel American Hero, which inspired the blockbuster film Wag the Dog. His first novel, No One Rides for Free (1986), introduced Tony Cassella, a thoroughly modern private investigator who also appeared in You Get What You Pay For (1988) and Foreign Exchange (1991). Beinhart’s next novel, American Hero (1993), told the story of an unpopular president who engineers a war to win re-election. Beinhart has also won an Emmy and a Dagger Award. He lives and writes in Woodstock, New York.
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