When are you going to accept that you’re too old for this job? Chasing the young is no game for a man in his fifties. How many more lame excuses are you supposed to listen to? How many errant businessmen with conspicuous, ring-shaped tan lines on their wedding finger do you need to talk to? It shouldn’t be your job. The family survived more than a century without your stewardship. It would go on without you. There are a thousand other jobs to do, jobs that let you get a good night’s sleep and sit at a desk, jobs that don’t drag you out into the darkness before dawn to confront all manners of men and women, some bent on simple lust, others convinced they’ve found an untapped vein of gold. Even here, the pre-dawn morning is cold enough that your joints ached with the effort of tearing yourself out of bed.
The drive from Stryker to Mariposa is beautiful, even in the dark. The silhouettes of palm trees whisper to you as you pass, but you scarcely notice unless you’re making the drive back at sunset, when the sky seems to burn behind the trees. Maybe this will be that kind of case, messy enough to keep you around all day, but not so messy you have to stay overnight.
It’s not the money or the luxury you’re after. You’re a Stone ... and not just any Stone. You’re a scion of the Shreveport Stones, who control more oil than most Middle Eastern countries. You don’t need to work.
Anyone who ever took a psychology course, hell anyone who ever saw a TV show about a psychologist would tell you that you do it because of your ex-wife, duplicitous gold-digger she turned out to be. But, they’d be wrong. Sure, Elise is probably lying on a beach in some exclusive resort, snorting coke off a cabana boy’s ass. And, sure. She wasn’t who she pretended to be. But, she turned out to be what you wanted. And, she gave you almost five years of her life, five years of experimentation and dissolution that you barely survived. They were good years. Her fire burned impossibly bright then and banked low only at the end. You don’t begrudge her a penny of the money that the prenup guaranteed her.
Maybe you just hate people and want to see your worst beliefs about them confirmed. That would be kind of sick, but not the sickest thing you’ve witnessed, not by a long shot. You’re never quite sure if working with the Stones and their hangers-on is warping your view of normal or if the “common wisdom” is what’s skewed.
Maybe your motives are noble. Your job is steeped in sex and family politics. With the Stones, sex is always political. Who you marry, who you sleep with, who you flirt with, the circles you run in, they’re always about the family eventually. For all the scumbags you’ve dealt with, you’ve also seen the beginning of at least a dozen strong, happy marriages. The ratio is too depressing to think about, but this is where the sausage gets made.
The guard at the front gate of the resort waves you through without even glancing at your pass. He doesn’t ask you where you’re going or offer to tell you how to get there. He knows you know.
The sun is rising when you park outside Cabana 22. Your mind flickers back to a long string of visits to this particular building, stretching back thirty years. This is the first time you’ve been here for Zoe, but she has six older siblings who have all used this particular rendezvous. Before that, her father and his two brothers used it. For all the sex that’s been had here, it ought to smell like something besides coconuts and ... coffee. Somebody’s up. Retroactively, you knock on the front door to let whoever it is know that you’re coming in.
It’s Zoe sitting at the table, dressed in gray sweatpants and a tank top. She’s sipping coffee and looking only half awake. She greets you with a sleepy half-smile, “Uncle Oliver, I didn’t expect you so early. Would you like some coffee?”
Even this young, the Stones choose their words carefully. She was expecting you, just not so early. Smart girl. You’re never sure how the family member is going to react to your presence the first time they see you under these circumstances. They know about Gibraltar, of course. They’ve been under our protection since before they were born. They generally know about liaison management, usually from an older sibling. But, a lot don’t think they’ll ever see that side of their protective detail. They don’t always take it well.
You accept a cup of coffee and ask, “How are you, Zoe?”
She shrugs, “All right. It wasn’t what I expected exactly. It was sweet ... and messy. I probably should have spent more time horseback riding, too. I thought that part would be easier. But...” Another shrug, “How did you find out so fast?”
It’s your turn to shrug. You like Zoe, but it’s good not to let the family at large know your techniques, “I got a report. Is he still here?”
Zoe nods after a moment, “He’s asleep in my room. Be nice to him, please. He was ... sweet.”
You rise and give her a reassuring smile, “I’ll even bring him coffee.”
The young man in question is sprawled out, face down, a blue, satin sheet covering him from the waist down. That’s good. Nudity can make things awkward. Your impulsive offer to bring coffee means you can’t knock on the open door as you enter, but he stirs to the sound of the cup on the side table and looks up, eyes bleary.
This is the moment when the most things go wrong--falling asleep with a nubile young girl and waking up with an old guy standing there can trigger all sorts of responses. Given your druthers, you would make these calls after the subject has had time to wake up and get his bearings, but you have a clear message to send, one that makes it clear that you can react quickly.
“I brought you coffee.” You sit down in a chair in the corner, making no threatening gestures. He blinks at you, then at the coffee, as if weighing which is more important. Finally, he asks, “Who are you?”
“Oliver Stone,” you answer. “And no, not the director.”
“Are you Zoe’s ... father?” He pauses long enough that you wonder how many other possible questions crossed his mind: husband, maybe. Grandfather, possibly. Twice you’ve been asked if you were a pimp.
“I’m her uncle, more or less,” you answer by rote. “I work for Gibraltar Security. I’m here to talk to you, Charlie.”
He blinks a few times, “Wait. Zoe is one of those Stones?”
You nod. It’s not an unreasonably question. According to his dossier, Charlie’s a bit of a radical. He’s attended at least three protests against Stone family influence and written unflatteringly about the family in his blog. He’s also spent time in a hospital the family built. But he may or may not know that. Either way, it’s kiddie stuff.
He looks around the room, “I guess that makes sense.” You hear a quaver of uncertainty in his voice. That usually means the subject has just realized he might be in trouble.
Your instinct is to be reassuring. But, that’s not in the script, “When an underage family member forms a new liaison, we like to make official contact with the other person involved.” Strictly speaking, you should add “or people” to that sentence, but that’s not really anybody’s business.
“Underage?” The quaver is stronger now. “I thought she was ... at least eighteen.”
You shake your head. That’s possibly true. At the kitchen table, she looked so very young, but a Stone on the prowl can seem more mature than they are and they tend to grow up fast. Sophistication comes with the territory. Still, it’s not your job to empathize, “She’s not.”
You let it hang in the air for a couple of beats, long enough for it to sink in. You want him on the fine edge between rationality and fear. On the third breath, you let him off the hook, “But, that doesn’t matter. She is incorporated. Do you know what that means?”
He shakes his head mutely. It’s not surprising. Americans have a lot of opinions about Jayanesia, but very few facts, “It means she’s legally an adult, at least on Jayanesia. As long as she considers what happened contractual, you’re all right.”
You nod, “Our concept of consensual, more or less.” It’s funny how you don’t think of yourself as an American. You went native a long time ago. “I’m not here because of any legal trouble. The Stones find that a lot of trouble can be avoided by explaining right off the bat how we operate in these cases.”
“How old is she, anyway?”
You tell him. He blanches. If he’s faking, he’s a hell of an actor. You give him a sympathetic-looking nod, “Stones grow up fast.” It’s an aphorism at best, more true here than in other parts of the world certainly, but far from universal. The full truth is more complicated, as such things usually are. The joke told at liaison management is that many Stones go straight from infancy to adultery.
You extract a pen from your coat pocket and look down at your notepad, still blank, “I’d like to ask you a few questions.”
“Do I have to answer them?” There’s a note of belligerence there, a challenge made regardless of the fear. In spite of yourself, you’re starting to like this one. He’s young, unmarried and brave. He’d have to unlearn his juvenile approach to politics, but if he could, he’d probably make a good Jayanesian. You decide to give him a straight answer.