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HE WAS A PERFECT gentleman, attentive, eager to please. There was something balletic in his movements: a swoop to light Mrs. Winslow's cigarette with a gold Dupont, a bow to place the black mink stole about her fleshy shoulders, a pirouette as the maître d' came bustling up.
"Was everything satisfactory, Mr. Rathbone?"
"Everything was excellent, Felix," he said, and pressed a folded twenty into the waiting palm.
"The zabaglione was divine," Mrs. Birdie Winslow said. "Something extra, wasn't there?"
"Just a few drops of rum, madam. For flavor."
"Marvelous idea. We must come again."
"Please do," Felix said, escorting them to the door. "On Friday we shall have baked pompano with a champagne sauce."
Outside, they stood a moment staring up at a lucid sky sown with rows of stars. But the easterly wind had an edge, and Mrs. Winslow wrapped her stole tighter. Rathbone slipped an arm lightly about her thick waist.
He leaned closer. "Love your perfume. Obsession, isn't it?"
"Oh, David," she said, "you know everything."
"Yes," he said solemnly, "I do." And then laughed, hugging her to share the joke. "All right, now let's test your sense of direction. We're in Boca Raton. Which way do we go to get back to Lauderdale?"
She looked around a moment, then pointed. "That way?"
"And end up in Palm Beach? Nope, we go south."
He handed the ticket to the waiting valet, and they stood in comfortable silence until the black Bentley was brought around.
"Thank you, Mr. Rathbone," the valet said, pocketing his tip. "You folks have a nice evening now, y'hear."
"Everyone in Florida is so polite," Mrs. Winslow said as they drove southward on A1A.
"Uh-huh," David Rathbone said. "The last outpost of civility. All you need is money. Birdie, I hope you don't mind dropping in at this party."
"Of course not. I'll be happy to meet your friends."
"Not friends—clients. I don't socialize much with them. I prefer to keep our relations on a professional level. But I thought it would give you a chance to chat with them, find out for yourself if they're satisfied with my services. That's the best way to select an investment adviser: talk to the man's clients and get their opinions."
"Are they all wealthy?"
"None of them is hurting. And Sidney Coe is rich rich. He keeps a yacht down at Bahia Mar that's just a little smaller than the QE2. Crew of five live aboard, but Coe never takes it out. Just uses it for partying."
"And you handle all his funds?"
"Oh yes. Up about forty percent last year. But all my clients have done as well. At that rate you can double your money in less than two years."
"I'd like that. Poor Ralph used to handle all our investments and after he died I just turned everything over to the bank."
"Banks are all right," Rathbone said, "but too conservative. They're so heavily regulated that there are a lot of aggressive investment opportunities they're not allowed to touch."
"How long will it take the bank to double my money?"
"Probably about ten years—if you're lucky."
"And you can do it in two?"
"Or less," he said. "You won't object if we only spend an hour at the party? Then I'll drive you home. I've got to get back to my office. I have a client in Madrid who's phoning at midnight."
"Madrid? Oh my. Do you have many foreign clients?"
"Five. One in Spain, two in England, one in France, one in Germany. I usually get over there several times a year and visit them all. And of course they frequently come to Florida. Especially in the winter!"
"I can understand that," Birdie Winslow said. "The climate is divine. I'm so glad I moved here."
"So am I," David Rathbone said, and placed a hand gently on her plump knee.
The home was on the Intracoastal Waterway at the Hillsboro Inlet. They parked on a circular driveway of antique brick, along with a Cadillac, BMW, and Jaguar XJ-S. They sat a moment, staring at the glittering mansion.
"David," she said, "it's divine!"
"Is it? Four bedrooms, three baths, marble floors, pool, sauna, private dock. It's listed, fully furnished. They're asking a million five. Interested?"
"Oh heavens, no! Too big for just little old me."
"Of course it is. You have better things to do with your money."
"But why are they selling?"
"They're building on the beach. A larger place with a guest house. Before we go in, let me brief you on what to expect. The host and hostess are Mortimer and Nancy Sparco. He was in sewer pipe in Ohio. Retired now. The guests will be Sidney Coe, the yacht owner I told you about, and his third wife, Cynthia. He made his money in natural gas. Oklahoma. The third married couple are James and Trudy Bartlett. He was a neurosurgeon. Then there's Ellen St. Martin. You already know her. A divorcée. And Frank Little, who may or may not be gay. He's an importer. Mostly sports equipment. The butler's name is Theodore, and the maid is Blanche."
"I'll never remember all that."
"Of course you won't," he said, taking her arm as they strolled up the Chattahoochee walk. "But you'll sort them out eventually. Don't forget to ask what they think of the job I'm doing for them."
Mrs. Winslow was happy she'd worn her basic black and pearls, for all the women were in evening gowns and the men, like Rathbone, were spiffy in white dinner jackets and plaid cummerbunds. She was introduced around, and everyone was just as nice as they could be. Champagne was served in crystal flutes.
Rathbone drew aside and let Mrs. Winslow mingle with the other guests. They spoke of planned cruises, a new restaurant in Miami, the polo season at Wellington, and an upcoming charity ball in Palm Beach for British royalty. It was all easy talk, moneyed talk, and Mrs. Winslow was dazzled.
"If you don't mind my asking," she said to Cynthia Coe, "what do you think of David Rathbone? I mean as an investment manager. I'm thinking of going in with him."
"Do it," Mrs. Coe said promptly. "The man's a wizard. The best in the business."
"He's got the Midas Touch," James Bartlett said. "Doubled my net worth in two years. You can't go wrong."
"A financial genius," Mortimer Sparco said. "Absolutely trustworthy. He'll make you a mint."
"Divine," Mrs. Winslow kept breathing. "Divine."
The hour passed swiftly. Finally, goodbyes were said, with all the women vowing to call Birdie for lunch or a shopping tour of the malls. Then Rathbone drove her home to her rented condo.
"Nice people," he said, "weren't they?"
"Very nice. So friendly. Nothing standoffish at all. David, I've decided I'd like to have you manage my money."
"I think that's a wise decision," he said. "You won't have the nuisance of watching your investments every day. You'll get a monthly statement from me detailing exactly how much you've made. My fee will be deducted automatically from the profits. Suppose I stop by around eleven tomorrow morning with the papers. Just a simple power of attorney and a management contract. It won't take long. And then perhaps we could have lunch at the Sea Watch."
"I'd like that," Birdie Winslow said.
He stopped in front of the lobby, got out of the Bentley, came around and held the door open for her. Before they parted, he kissed her cheek lightly.
"Thank you for a lovely evening," he said. "I'm looking forward to a long and mutually profitable relationship."
"Friendship," she said with a tinkly laugh, touching his sun-bleached hair.
"Of course," he said.
He drove swiftly back to the house on the Hillsboro Inlet. The others were still busy cleaning up, wiping out ashtrays, plumping cushions, arranging the chairs precisely.
"Come on, gang," Ellen St. Martin was saying. "Everything's got to be spick-and-span. I'm showing this dump tomorrow."
They all looked up expectantly when Rathbone entered. He lifted a hand, thumb and forefinger making a circle in the A-OK sign.
"Got her," he said, and they applauded.
He moved amongst them, taking out a gold money clip in the shape of a dollar sign. He gave each of them a fifty, not forgetting Theodore and Blanche, washing glasses in the kitchen.
"Now let's adjourn to the Palace," Rathbone said. "The booze is on me, but you guys will have to buy your own macadamia nuts."
Laughing, they all moved outside to their cars. Frank Little grabbed Rathbone's arm.
"Where did you find that mooch?" he asked. "My God, she's as fat and ugly as a manatee."
"Really?" Rathbone said with a smile. "I think she's divine!"CHAPTER 2
HIS NAME WAS LESTER T. Crockett, and he was an austere man: vested, bow-tied, thin hair parted in the middle. He raised his eyes from the open file on his desk, looked at the woman sitting across from him.
"Rita Angela Sullivan," he said. "Unusual name. Spanish and Irish, isn't it?"
"You've got it," she said. "Puerto Rico and County Cork."
He nodded. "That was a fine operation in Tampa," he said.
"I didn't get much credit for it."
"Not in the newspapers," he agreed with a frosty smile. "You can blame me for that. I didn't want your name or picture used. I wanted you down here for an undercover job."
"But it was me who roped the banker," she argued. "Without him, they'd have no case at all."
"I agree completely," he said patiently, "but I assure you that your work did not go unnoticed. That's why you're here."
"And where the hell is here?" she demanded. "All I know is that my boss in Tallahassee put me on a plane for Fort Lauderdale and told me to report to you. What kind of an outfit is this?"
He sat back, twined fingers over his vest, stared at her. "Let me give you some background. About a year ago it became obvious that the war against so-called 'white-collar crime' in Florida was being mishandled. I'm speaking now not of the drug trade but money laundering, boiler room scams, stock swindles, and tax frauds. There are a lot of elderly people in Florida, rich elderly people, and along with the retirees came the sharks."
"So what else is new," she said flippantly, but he ignored it.
"The Department of Justice sent me down to study the problem and make recommendations. I found that it wasn't so much a lack of money or a lack of manpower that was hurting law enforcement in this area, it was the number of agencies involved, overlapping jurisdictions, and a competitiveness that frequently led to inefficiencies and rancorous dispute."
"Everyone hunting headlines?" she suggested. "Big egos?"
"Those were certainly factors," he acknowledged. "The FBI, SEC, State Attorney's Office, IRS, and local police, to name just a few, were all involved. Investigators from those agencies were walking up each other's heels, withholding evidence from each other, and planning sting and undercover operations with absolutely no coordination whatsoever."
"I believe it," she said. "I heard of a case in Jacksonville where a local undercover narc set up a big coke buy. Only the seller turned out to be an undercover FBI narc."
"Happens more often than you think," Crockett said, not smiling. "My recommendation was to set up an independent supra-agency that would draw personnel from all the others, as needed, and work with absolutely no publicity or even acknowledgment that such an agency existed. My recommendation was approved with the proviso that such an organization would be allowed to function for only two years. At the end of that time, an evaluation would be made of the results, if any, and it would then be determined whether or not to allow the supra-agency to continue to exist. I was appointed to direct the agency's activities in south Florida."
"Lucky you," Rita Sullivan said. "What's the name of this agency?"
"It has no name. The theory is that if it's nameless it is less likely to attract attention."
"Maybe," she said doubtfully. "And where do I fit in?"
"You'll be working with a man named Anthony Harker. He's on loan from the Securities and Exchange Commission."
"A New Yorker?" she asked.
"That's one strike against him," she said. "He's my boss?"
Crockett gave her his wintry smile. "I prefer the word 'associate.' He's waiting in his office, down the hall. He'll brief you."
"If I don't like the setup, can I go back to Tallahassee?"
"But it'll go in my jacket that I bugged out. Right?"
"Right," Lester T. Crockett said, rising to shake her hand.
Instead of names painted on the doors, there were business cards taped to the frosted glass. She found one that read Anthony C. Harker and went in. The man seated behind the steel desk had an inhaler plugged up one nostril. He looked at her, blinked once, pocketed the inhaler.
"For an allergy," he said. "You might have knocked."
"You're Rita Angela Sullivan?"
"That's right. Anthony C. Harker?"
"Yes." Then, stiffly, "You can call me Tony if you like."
"I'll think about it," she said and, unbidden, slid into the armchair alongside his desk.
"When did you get in?" he asked.
"Where you staying?"
"The Howard Johnson in Pompano Beach."
"Using your real name?"
"Good. What address did you give when you registered?"
"My mother's home in Tallahassee."
"That's okay. When you check out, pay cash. No credit cards."
"When am I going to check out?"
"We'll get to that. Have you got wheels?"
"Rent something small and cheap. By the way, I heard about the bust in Tampa. Nice work."
"They were flying the stuff in from the Bahamas?"
"That's right. Using an old abandoned landing strip out in the boondocks."
"How did you get the banker to sing?"
She lifted her chin. "I persuaded him," she said.
Harker nodded. "This thing we're on isn't drugs. At least not the smuggling or dealing."
"That may be part of it. The key suspect is a guy named David Rathbone. No relation to Basil."
"Forget it," he said. "You're too young. This David Rathbone is a wrongo. No hard stuff, but he's a con man, swindler, shark, and world-class nogoodnik. You hungry?"
"What?" she said, startled. "Yeah, I could eat something."
"Here's the subject's file. Read it. Meanwhile I'll go get us some lunch. Pizza and a beer?"
"Sounds good. Pepperoni and a Bud for me, please."
He was gone for almost a half-hour. When he returned, they spread their lunch on his desktop.
"No pepperoni for you?" she asked.
"No, just cheese. I've got a nervous stomach."
"I read the file on Rathbone," Sullivan said. "A sweet lad. Where did you get that photo? He's beautiful."
"From his ex-wife. If she had her druthers, she'd have given us his balls, too."
"What's he into right now?"
"He's set himself up as an investment adviser or financial planner—whatever you want to call it. I estimate—and it's just a guess—that's he's got at least fifteen mooches on his list, and he's handling maybe twenty million dollars."
"Oh-oh. Who are all these lucky victims?"
"Widows and divorcées plus a choice selection of doctors and airline pilots—the biggest suckers in the world when it comes to investments."
"What's his con?"
"He gets them to sign a full power of attorney plus a management contract. Then he's home free. His fee, he tells them, is three percent annually. If he's handling twenty mil like I figure, it would give him a yearly take of six hundred thousand. But I don't think he's satisfied with that. A greedy little bugger, our Mr. Rathbone. And with his record, he's got to be dipping in the till. But he sends out monthly statements, and no one has filed a complaint yet. About two months ago I convinced one of his clients, a divorcée, to demand all her money back from Rathbone, including the profits he claimed he had made for her. She got a teller's check for the entire amount the next day. She was so ashamed of doubting Rathbone that she returned the check and told him to keep managing her money."
"If Rathbone is looting the assets, how was he able to return the divorcée's funds?"
"Easy. The old Ponzi scam. He used other investors' money to pay off. He came out of it smelling like roses, and it made me look like a shmuck. Why are you staring at me like that?"
"How long have you been in south Florida?" Sullivan asked.
"Almost eight months now."
"How come you're so pale? Don't you ever hit the beach?"
"I'd like to but can't. I get sun poisoning."
"Allergy, nervous stomach, and sun poisoning," she said. "You're in great shape."
"I'm surviving," Harker said. "You look like you toast your buns every day."
"Not me," she said. "This is my natural hide. I can get a deeper tan just by walking a block or two in the sunshine."
Excerpted from Sullivan's Sting by Lawrence Sanders. Copyright © 1990 Lawrence A. Sanders Enterprises, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Posted December 25, 2010
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