Dirt (Stone Barrington Series #2)by Stuart Woods
Feared and disliked for both her poison pen and ice-queen persona, bicoastal gossip columnist Amanda Dart finds the tables have turned. The unwitting victim of an anonymous gossipmonger who is faxing to national opinion makers an outrageous scandal sheet revealing the details of her ongoing indiscretions with a nationally known takeover artist, Amanda enlists the help… See more details below
Feared and disliked for both her poison pen and ice-queen persona, bicoastal gossip columnist Amanda Dart finds the tables have turned. The unwitting victim of an anonymous gossipmonger who is faxing to national opinion makers an outrageous scandal sheet revealing the details of her ongoing indiscretions with a nationally known takeover artist, Amanda enlists the help of New York lawyer and investigator Stone Barrington to learn the identity of the faxer. Everybody is a suspect in the world of tabloid journalism. As the faxes grow more scathing and begin to expose the peccadilloes of not only Amanda but other members of the gossip community, Barrington winds up with more leads than he can handle and an employer who is about to take matters dangerously into her own hands. The world of gossip is turned on its head. It becomes clear to Stone that even the most respected members of the social scene will stop at nothing - even murder - to clear their names.
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Chapter OneDinner had been wonderful—twelve around a gleaming oval table of burled walnut in a dining room a dozen stories above the light-flecked carpet of Central Park, the cooking by the chef of a famous restaurant a few blocks away, the wines from the host's superb cellar, and the company carefully chosen by a couple who could cast a wide net. Amanda Dart felt quite at home among them.
As they moved from the table into the library next door for coffee and brandy, Amanda reflected that her presence there was as much a tribute to her position as to her personality, though she could certainly hold her own in any company. Of those present—a movie star and his gorgeous companion, a captain of industry and his dowdy wife, and a former British prime minister, her dinner partner, among them—Amanda alone possessed the power to tell the world just who her hosts had attracted to their table, something the couple wanted very badly for the world to know. It was vulgar to drop names; Amanda Dart, queen of gossip columnists, would do the dropping for them.
Lord Wight, the former prime minister, was taking a keen interest in Amanda, attention that, on another night, would have been a great deal more interesting for her. Tonight, however, she had other plans, other company in mind, and the thought made for a weak feeling in her crotch.
"I chose my title from the island of my birth," Lord Wight was saying.
"Oh, yes, the Isle of Wight," Amanda said, returning his serve. "I believe the town of Cowes there is the capital of British yachting." Point made.
"The capital of European yachting," his lordship replied.
"And that's where you sailyour little yacht?"
"Actually, it's quite a large yacht," Wight replied testily. "And I don't just sail it, I race it."
"Tell me, Lord Wight," Amanda asked innocently, "just how does someone amass enough of a fortune to buy a large yacht during a lifetime of public service?"
"Fortunately, my dear lady," Wight said, smiling softly, "in my country the amassing of a fortune is not incompatible with a life in politics. One acquires knowledgeable friends who advise one on how to invest one's money."
Amanda winked at him. "One understands," she said.
Her hostess joined them. "Amanda, dear," she said, "you made me promise to tell you when it was midnight, and it is. You're catching a plane?"
"To St. Bart's," Amanda said, moving forward in her seat in preparation for standing.
"Surely there's no plane out of Kennedy at this hour," Wight said, consulting a gold watch from his waistcoat pocket. "They do have noise regulations, don't they?"
"Not at Teterboro," Amanda replied. "One is fortunate enough to have friends with jets." She stood up, bringing Lord Wight with her.
"My dear," he was saying, "I do hope I can see you when I'm next in New York."
"Of course, Lord Wight," Amanda replied, fishing in her little clutch purse for a card. "I would be delighted to hear from you." Any night but tonight, she thought.
She made her goodbyes, collected her coat from the butler, and slipped out of the huge apartment.
Downstairs, her trusty driver, Paul, and her elderly Cadillac were waiting. Amanda slipped into the back seat, and in a moment they were moving. "The Trent, Paul," she said.
"Yes, ma'am," Paul replied.
It was Amanda's fiftieth birthday, though no one knew it; she was in spectacular shape, her firm body the product of a regular program with a trainer in her own little gym. Amanda allowed no other person to see her perspire. She placed two fingers on her carotid artery and glanced at her watch. Her resting pulse was normally forty-five; tonight, it was seventy.
Amanda lived her life in very public view, and she took great care in how she presented herself to her world. Although of a deeply sensual nature, she was known as something of an ice queen, and she was quite happy to keep it that way. Her sexual alliances were few, but athletically maintained, with men who were always wealthy, off her beaten track, very discreet, and usually younger than she. Tonight and for the weekend, she would see her very favorite, a real estate developer from Atlanta named Henry Bell, who made it to New York no more than once every eight or nine months. Perfect for Amanda.
Henry was a pillar of Atlanta society, the husband of a retired opera singer and the father of two daughters whose social ambitions were relentless. Amanda had helped them meet tout Gotham while, unbeknownst to them or anyone else, she had established a highly erotic relationship with their father, who was a youthful forty-five. This weekend he was in New York, ostensibly for a board meeting, and he was waiting for her at the Trent, a small, elegant hotel in the East Sixties. They planned to be together until early Monday morning.
The car glided to a halt at the Trent's discreet entrance. Amanda looked up and down the block before she got out; she had no wish to run into anyone she knew. "No need to get the door, Paul. Please meet me here after midnight on Sunday—say, two a.m."
"Two o'clock Monday morning," Paul said.
Satisfied that the block was empty of pedestrians, she slid out of the car and ran across the sidewalk, slipping on a pair of dark glasses. She paused for a moment in the foyer of the hotel and glanced across the little lobby at the front desk, where a man in a tailcoat was working. She waited until he turned away, then scooted across the lobby, unspotted, to the alcove where the elevator was. She pressed "P" for penthouse and waited while the car traveled upward for fifteen floors. When the door opened, she popped her head out to check that the hallway was empty, then walked out of the elevator and to the end of the hall, stopping before double doors.
Glancing around once more to be sure she was alone, she stepped out of her shoes, then slipped off her panties. She was not wearing a bra under the little black dress. She took off her coat and unzipped her dress. Then, holding her coat, shoes, and panties in her hand, she rang the bell. Seconds later the door opened, and she stepped inside.
Henry Bell stepped back to allow her to enter. He was wearing a silk dressing gown. He said nothing, but untied the belt and whipped it off, presenting a trim physique and a throbbing erection. Amanda dropped her belongings on the floor, wiggled her shoulders, and let the little dress fall off, revealing full breasts and a finely crafted body. She kicked the dress out of the way and stood there, wearing only black stockings and a black garter belt.
"Hello, sailor," she said, and went to him.
Late Sunday evening, they sat propped up in bed, naked, next to the remains of a room service dinner on a tray. Henry dozed lightly while Amanda watched yet another of his endless collection of erotic Scandinavian videotapes. Henry had a little man in Stockholm who sent them to the Trent whenever he was in New York. Amanda loved them.
This one was particularly intriguing, she thought, glancing at Henry. Poor baby, she had given him a real workout for the whole weekend. He deserved his rest; still . . . She reached for his penis and began kneading it gently. A small smile appeared on his sleeping face.
"We've just time for one more round, sweetie," she said.
Henry didn't open his eyes. "If I can," he whimpered.
Amanda rearranged herself slightly, then bent over and took his penis into her mouth. Henry gave a little groan and began to respond.
At that moment, the doors to the suite's bedroom burst open with a bang, and the room was filled with light.
"Over here, Amanda!" a man's voice shouted as a flashbulb went off.
Amanda sat straight up in bed, her mouth open, her eyes wide. Her left hand still rested on Henry's penis. "What?!" she screamed. There were all sorts of lights, those that flashed and those that burned steadily.
"Get out!" Amanda screamed, shaking a fist at the lights.
Henry sat frozen, dumbfounded.
"Just one more, Amanda!" the man's voice shouted.
Amanda picked up a heavy clock from the bedside table and threw it at the light as Henry suddenly came to life. He started toward the intruders, but the bedroom doors were slammed in his face. He threw his shoulder against them, then howled in pain.
Amanda did what she most wanted to do in the world: she screamed.
An hour later, fully dressed but still trembling, Amanda fled the hotel, got into the back of the Cadillac, and was driven home. She looked over her shoulder but saw no witness to her leaving. She was in control again, and she had begun to assess the damage. It promised to be considerable.
Amanda walked into the office suite of her penthouse, dressed in her standard uniform of Chanel suit, Ferragamo shoes, plain gold jewelry, and a gold Cartier Panther wristwatch and bracelet. Dirt. Copyright © by Stuart Woods. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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