Read an Excerpt
Books by Stuart Woods
Stone Barrington was at dinner at Patroon, a favorite restaurant, with Dino and Viv Bacchetti, his closest friends.
“Stone,” Viv said, “don’t you sometimes wish you were still a cop?” Stone had spent fourteen years on the NYPD, most of them as a homicide detective with Dino as his partner.
“Viv,” Stone replied, “with the kindest possible intention, are you out of your fucking mind?”
Viv burst out laughing.
Dino looked at him with pity. “He wishes he was still a cop every time I tell him about something the department is investigating.”
“The only time I wish I were a cop,” Stone said, “is when somebody is double-parked in front of my house and I’m having trouble getting the car out of the garage.”
“You mean, you want to arrest the driver?” Viv asked.
“No, I want to shoot him.”
“Stone thinks the worst crime we have to deal with is double-parking in his block,” Dino pointed out.
“No, I just think it’s the worst crime within gunshot range of my garage door.”
“That seems a drastic remedy,” Viv said.
“Not when you consider that I’d only have to do it once—word would get around, then nobody would double-park in front of my house.”
“It wouldn’t matter, because you’d be in jail for quite a long time,” Dino said.
“You mean, you’d have me arrested for shooting a double-parker?” Dino had stayed on the NYPD and was now police commissioner of New York.
“Of course. You’d get no special treatment.”
“I didn’t mean I’d kill the guy, just shoot him a little.”
“Then you’d spend less time in jail. With good behavior you’d be out in seven to ten.”
“But I still have a badge.”
“Take a close look at your solid-gold, honorary-detective-first-class badge that was given to you by our former commissioner, now mayor. It’s not engraved with the words ‘Authorized to shoot anybody who annoys him.’”
“Not even double-parkers who block my garage door?”
“Especially not them.”
Stone’s cell phone rang and he looked at the number. “It’s Joan,” he said. “She never calls at this time of night. I’d better get it. Hello?”
“I know, I have caller ID.”
“I’ve made a tiny little mistake,” she said.
“Oh, God,” Stone moaned. He covered the phone. “Joan says she’s made a tiny little mistake,” he said to his companions. “That means she’s made a real whopper of a mistake.” He went back to the phone. “All right, let me have it.”
“There’s good news and bad news,” she said. “The good news is that I forgot to put a board meeting of the Arrington Group on your calendar.”
Stone was immediately suspicious. “And what is the bad news?”
“The meeting is tomorrow,” she said. “At noon.”
“Well, I can probably get out of bed early enough to make that.”
“That’s not all the bad news.”
“Oh, God,” Stone said, mostly to himself.
“You already said that.”
“What’s the rest of the bad news?”
“The board meeting is in Rome.”
“Rome is up the Hudson somewhere, isn’t it?”
“Not that Rome.”
“Rome, Georgia? Rome has an airport. I could fly myself down there tomorrow morning.”
“Think farther east.”
“Oh, God,” Stone said. “Not that Rome.”
“That one. Now don’t say, ‘Oh, God’ again, and don’t panic—there’s an Alitalia flight tonight.”
“In, let’s see, fifty-four minutes.”
“That’s a forty-five-minute drive,” he pointed out.
“And Fred is off tonight, he went to the theater.”
“I’ll never make it,” he said.
“Think about this: you’re sitting next to the guy with the fastest car in town.”
“Hang on a minute.” He turned to Dino. “I’ve got to be at JFK in fifty-four minutes to catch a plane to Rome. Can I borrow your car?”
“You mean the one with the flashing lights on top?”
“That’s the one.”
“I can see the headlines in tomorrow’s Post,” Dino said. “POLICE COMMISH LOANS OFFICIAL CAR TO SCHMUCK, WHO IS INVOLVED IN TERRIBLE ACCIDENT.”
“Fifty-three minutes!” Joan shouted from the other end of the phone call.
“Only if I’m in the car with you,” Dino said. “That would shorten the headline to, SCHMUCK HITCHES RIDE WITH COMMISH.”
“You two better get going,” Viv said.
“You’re not coming with us?” Stone asked.
“I’d scream all the way,” she replied. “Go on, get your asses in gear! I’ll get the check.”
“I’ll call you en route with further instructions,” he said to Joan, then hung up and ran for the door, followed closely by Dino.
Dino got into the backseat of the black SUV with Stone and slammed the door. “We’ve got fifty-one minutes to make a flight at JFK,” he said to his driver. “Punch it, and use the siren and the lights.”
“God bless you,” Stone said, patting him on the knee.
“Don’t bring God into this, and don’t put your hand on my knee.”
“You want me to shoot him, boss?” the detective in the front passenger seat asked.
“Not unless he does it again. You get on the horn to security at Kennedy and tell them I want to drive onto the ramp. Find out what gate the Alitalia flight to Rome is occupying, and tell them to stand by for an arriving passenger, Barrington.”
“Yes, sir.” The detective whipped out his phone.
Stone dialed Joan’s number.
“Am I on the flight?” he shouted over the siren.
“You are—you got the last seat, and I ordered you a car.”
“Good. I need a room at the Hassler in Rome.”
“I’ve already called them and talked to the night man. It’s the middle of the night there, but he’s promised to have you a bed, he just can’t promise you a suite.”
“Where’s the board meeting tomorrow?”
“In a conference room at the Hassler.”
“When did we get notice of the meeting?”
“Do you really need to know?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Maybe ten days ago. I got busy and . . .”
“Okay, go upstairs to my dressing room and pack the following, ready?”
“Use the two medium-sized cases. Pack a blue suit, a chalk-stripe, and—I don’t know, maybe a tuxedo, pleated shirt, and black tie. Pack the black alligator oxfords, six pairs of boxers, six pairs of black socks, half a dozen linen handkerchiefs, and six shirts that go with the suits and half a dozen ties, and include my travel toiletries kit. Oh, shit, I don’t have my passport. Find it.”
“Are you wearing your blue blazer with the yacht club buttons?”
“Try the left inside pocket.”
Stone slapped his chest, rummaged in the pocket, and came up with the alligator passport case. “Got it. How did you know where it was?”
“When the new one came in the mail, I saw you put it there. What else do you need?”
“A briefcase—the black alligator one, and all the stuff that’s in it. You might make sure there’s a legal pad in there.”
“Right. What else?”
“Is it cold in Rome?”
“It’s spring, and Rome is a subtropical climate.”
“No coat, then. What’s the agenda for the board meeting?”
“I’ll fax it to you before I go to bed.”
“FedEx the luggage, so it’ll be there the day after tomorrow. I’ll make do until then.”
“Have a good trip.”
“Bye.” Stone hung up and looked around. They were on what looked like the Van Wyck Expressway, and cars were scattering before them. “I like this,” he said. “This is how to go to the airport.”
“You’re lucky it isn’t rush hour,” the driver said.
“He’s lucky he knows me,” Dino said.
“I know you, and I love you, Dino.”
“Is his hand on your knee again, boss?” the detective asked.
“He knows better than that now.”
“Shucks, I was counting on shooting him.”
They were off the expressway and onto the labyrinth of roads around the airport. They stopped at a gate, which rolled back to admit them, and a security guard gave them the gate number and directions.
“You can turn off the siren now,” Dino said. “But keep the lights on.”
“Gotcha, boss.” The driver floored it, and two minutes later they pulled up next to a giant airplane, connected to the terminal by a snaking boarding tunnel.
“Thanks, Dino,” Stone said. “I owe you.”
“I’ll send you a bill. Now get your ass on the plane—it was supposed to push back three minutes ago.”
A security guard waved Stone to a door, and he ran up a flight of stairs, emerging in the tunnel near the aircraft door. A flight attendant awaited, his hand on the door. “Any luggage, Mr. Barrington?”
“None,” Stone said, entering the airplane.
“Just a moment.” He closed the door behind them, turned right, and started down an aisle. They were in the tourist cabin, and the attendant was pointing at a seat right in the middle of the airplane.
“Wait a minute—no first class?” Stone asked.
“The flight is full. This is it.”
Stone sighed and squeezed past the knees of two very large passengers and flopped into the seat. An extremely fat man sat to his left, taking up the entire armrest. “Welcome aboard,” he said.
“Thanks.” Stone looked to his right and found a woman of reasonable proportions.
“Aren’t you the lucky guy?” she said.
“Not lucky enough,” Stone said, trying to find something to do with his left arm. “How long is this flight?”
“For me, nine hours. For you, forever.”
“I’m Hedy Kiesler,” she said. “Actually Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler, but only my mother calls me that.”
“All of it?”
“Just Hedwig. If you call me anything but Hedy, I’ll hurt you.”
“I believe you,” Stone said, offering a hand. “I’m Stone Barrington.”
She leaned in. “I’m glad you made it. I thought I was going to have to deal with the fat guy.”
“I heard that!” the fat guy said.
The airplane was moving backward; after a moment an engine started. A female flight attendant appeared. “Mr. Barrington? I have two seats for you and your companion in first class.”
“What companion?” Hedy asked Stone.
“I think she means you. Join me?”
“You bet your sweet ass,” she said.
The two of them struggled past the two fat men. “Good riddance,” one of them said. “Move over one, George.”
Stone, followed by Hedy, walked up the aisle and was shown to the first pair of seats at the front of the cabin. “You can have the window,” he said.
“I’m sorry we couldn’t seat you sooner,” the attendant said, “but the seats were booked by someone else who didn’t show. I had to wait until we closed the door and pushed back before giving them to you.”
Hedy eased into her seat. “God, what a relief,” she said. “Do you always fly like this?”
“No, usually I fly myself in a light jet.”
“Why not tonight?”
“I had to leave on short notice for a board meeting tomorrow in Rome.”
“What kind of board?”
“A hotel group. What takes you to Rome?”
“I’m a painter. I’ve taken an apartment for a month, and I’m going to paint Rome.”
“I don’t see any canvases or paints.”
“I shipped all that ahead.”
“Where’s your apartment?”
“In the Pantheon district.”
“Where are you staying?”
“At the Hassler Villa Medici.”
The airplane rolled onto the runway and accelerated. Shortly, the attendant brought them dinner menus.
“I’m starved,” Hedy said, opening the menu. “How about you?”
“I had a first course before my secretary called and told me I had to go to Rome.”
“Not even a briefcase. I was lucky my passport was in my jacket pocket. Can I buy you a drink?”
“Several,” she said. “I’m terrified of flying.”
“You don’t look terrified.”
“I guess you’re a calming influence,” she said. “I know bourbon is.”
Stone ordered two double bourbons.
The cabin lights came on, and a voice blared over the loudspeakers, first in Italian, then: “Ladies and gentlemen, we will land in Rome in approximately one hour. Breakfast will now be served.”
Stone realized there was a head on his shoulder. She made a noise and sat up. “Did she say breakfast?”
“We ordered it last night, don’t you remember?”
“I remember only bourbon, but I don’t remember how many.”
A flight attendant set omelets before them and they ate hungrily.
“How do you feel?” Stone asked when their plates had been taken away.
They deplaned and walked toward baggage claim. She was pulling a carry-on.
“Do you have any checked luggage?” Stone asked.
“No, I sent it with the painting stuff.”
“Smart. Can I give you a lift into the city?”
They walked through customs without incident, and Stone saw a man holding a sign with his name on it. A couple of minutes later they were in a large Mercedes sedan.
“You travel well,” she said. “What do you do?”
“I’m an attorney.”
“Woodman & Weld.”
“They represent my stepfather,” she said.
“Who’s your stepfather?”
“His name is Arthur Steele.”
“I’m his lawyer. I represent the Steele insurance group.”
“I believe this is where I say, ‘Small world.’”
“Not yet—my mother was a painter.”
“What was her name?”
“Matilda Stone. Now you can say it.”
“Small world. I know her stuff from the American Collection at the Metropolitan.”
“Come over to my house when you get back to New York, and I’ll show you another dozen.”
“Beats etchings.” She got out her phone and made a call, then hung up. “Shit.”
“What’s the matter?”
“My apartment rental doesn’t start until the day after tomorrow. They had told me I could probably get in a couple of days early, but nooooo.”
“I’ll put you up at the Hassler, if you like. I don’t know what kind of accommodations I have yet, but there’s probably a sofa.”
“For me or for you?”
“Well, I guess if you’re my stepfather’s lawyer you can’t do anything terrible to me.”
“I think that was part of my oath. I can’t do anything terrible to a client’s daughter.”
An hour later, after fighting Roman rush-hour traffic, they pulled up in front of the Hassler. Stone presented himself at the front desk.
“Good morning, Mr. Barrington. We got your call last night, and we’ve given you the only suite left in the hotel. Do you have any luggage?”
“Just the lady’s,” Stone said, indicating his companion. “My luggage won’t be here until tomorrow. Do you think your concierge can find me a pair of boxer shorts, size 36, a pair of black socks, and a white shirt, size 16-35?”
“Certainly, sir. There’s a shop in the hotel, and if they don’t have your sizes, I’ll send a boy down into the Via Condotti, where there are many shops. Let me show you to your suite.”
The man led them to an elevator and to the top floor. He used a key in a door and ushered them into an enormous living room.
“Are you sure this is all you have left?” Stone asked.
“This is our Presidential Suite San Pietro. It’s inadequate, I know, but I’m afraid it’s the best we can offer. We’re booked up for another ten days.”
“Well, I’ll just have to make do, I guess.”
“Look,” Hedy said, “there’s a second bedroom—my virtue is safe!”
The man handed over a key. “Is there anything else I can do for you?”
“I’d like to have my clothes pressed, my laundry done, and my shoes polished. I have a board meeting at noon.”
“Certainly. I’ll send up the valet.” He departed, a fifty-dollar bill in his pocket.
“I’ve got to find a cash machine and get some euros,” Stone said, half to himself. “Excuse me, I have to get out of these clothes.”
“Already?” Hedy asked. “And I thought my virtue was safe.”
Stone found a robe in his bathroom and stripped off everything. When he got back to the living room the doorbell was ringing. He gave his clothes to the valet, with instructions to press his suit, shine his shoes, and launder his other things.
The man accepted the clothes and handed him a shopping bag. “See if these things are satisfactory,” he said.
Stone inspected the contents. “Perfect.” He sent the man off with another of his fifties.
Hedy had emerged from her bedroom in her own robe. “You overtip.”
“Haven’t you ever heard of Ronald Reagan’s trickledown theory?”
“Yes, I’ve just never seen it in operation. If you’ll excuse me, I’d like to get some sleep in a real bed.”
“Of course. Would you like to have dinner with me this evening?”
“I can refuse you nothing,” she said, closing the door behind her.
“We’ll see,” Stone called after her.
The doorbell rang again, and an envelope was slid under the door. Stone opened it to find the agenda for his board meeting. There was only one item: “Consideration of a potential site for a new Arrington Hotel in Rome.” It was the first he’d heard of it.
He went to his own bedroom and left a wakeup call for eleven AM. He had two hours to sleep, and he wasted no time becoming unconscious.
Stone swam up out of a sound sleep and wondered where he was and what that unfamiliar sound meant. He followed it to a telephone. “Yes?” he croaked.
“Your eleven o’clock call, Mr. Barrington.”
“Thank you.” He hung up and stared at the ceiling until his eyes were fully focused, then he got up and went into the large bathroom. Several toiletry items had been laid out, and he managed a shave followed by a shower that fully woke him. He went back to his room and changed into his new underwear, socks, and shirt, tied his tie, and slipped into his freshly pressed clothes. Quite presentable, he thought, gazing into the mirror.
He went into the living room and saw it as if for the first time: beautiful paneling, exquisite fabrics, and a large painting over the sofa. He walked out onto his terrace and got the full effect of the Roman sunshine and spring air, then he went and sat at his desk, forgetting for a moment that his briefcase and laptop were en route. He took his iPhone off the hotel’s charger and checked his e-mail. One from Dino.
I hope the service was as good in Rome as it was in New York.
Not nearly as good, Stone replied, and I thank you again.
The others could wait.
Hedy’s bedroom door was ajar; he peeked inside, and saw only a large lump in the bed. He closed it and left the suite, putting the DO NOT DISTURB sign on the doorknob.
He walked down the hall, found the meeting room, and walked in. Half a dozen men and two women were seated around the conference table. The man at the head of the table, his friend Marcel duBois, rose to greet him.
“Ah, Stone, I’m so glad you could make it on such short notice.”
“You have no idea,” Stone said, embracing him.
“Please have a seat,” he said, indicating a chair next to his, “and we will start.”
Stone sat down.
“Our purpose for being here,” Marcel said, “is to discuss and inspect a potential site for an Arrington Hotel in Rome.” He stood and flipped back a page on an easel to reveal a map of Rome. “This,” he said, pointing to a red dot, “is the Hassler Villa Medici. This,” he said, pointing to a blue dot a short distance away, “is our site. Just the other side of the church next door, on the edge of the Borghese Gardens.”
There was a murmur of approval from the group.
“Marcel,” a woman said, “how on earth did you manage such a site?”
“Approval had been given to another hotel group to build there, but there were difficulties that could not be resolved. We have the opportunity to buy a hundred-year lease on the land, and there is already planning approval, in principle, for a hotel of two hundred rooms and eight stories.”
“What difficulties?” someone asked. “Why would any self-respecting group let go of such a property?”
“You will recall that, until recently, we were in a terrible recession, and Europe has not recovered nearly so quickly as the United States. At a time when others are retrenching, the Arrington Group has the resources to invest.”
Stone knew that the resources mentioned were Marcel’s, inherited from his father and greatly increased by the son, and his own, inherited from his late wife, Arrington Calder Barrington, and her late husband, the film star Vance Calder, and swollen by a burgeoning stock market.
Marcel mentioned the price.
“Move to buy it,” Stone said reflexively.
“Second,” someone called out.
“Yea,” everyone else shouted.
“Well, ladies and gentlemen,” Marcel said, “you have made my job easy. Shall we adjourn to the site and inspect it?”
Ten minutes and a short walk later they were surveying the view over Rome from the hilltop of the Borghese Gardens.
“You will have to imagine, ladies and gentlemen,” Marcel said, “the view from our rooftop restaurant, which will be as good as that of the Hassler.”
Everyone turned and looked at the half-built skeleton of the abandoned project.
“Our architects tell me that we can utilize all of the previous structure, with some judicious additions.”
“Marcel, this is brilliant,” someone said.
“Thank you so much. Now shall we adjourn to the Hassler for some lunch?”
The group returned to the hotel, where a convivial luncheon ran on until mid-afternoon.
As the party broke up, Stone pulled Marcel aside. “You mentioned that the previous group had ‘difficulties.’ What were they?”
“Financial, mostly,” Marcel said, avoiding Stone’s eye.
“And what are you not telling me?”
“I can tell you that those difficulties have been resolved as a result of our purchase. Now all that remains is for each of us to deposit a very large sum of cash in the Arrington account, and we’re off.” He handed Stone a letter that was a formal request for Stone’s investment.
Stone looked at his watch. “It’s early in New York. Is today soon enough?”
Marcel squeezed his arm. “I knew I could rely on your support, my good friend.”
Stone returned to his suite, faxed the letter to Joan with an approval to transfer the money, then found Hedy camped on the living room sofa, drinking coffee. “I’m glad to see you awake,” he said, joining her and pouring himself some coffee.
“Awake is too strong a word, but the coffee is helping,” she replied. “How did your board meeting go?”
“Swimmingly. We approved the purchase of a property quite near here for the construction of a new Arrington.”
“I’ve visited the Arrington in L.A., but not the one in Paris. Will the new Rome Arrington meet their standards?”
“We have a Frenchman in charge who has impeccable taste and unlimited resources. He will devote himself to that task, and all I will have to do is enjoy it when it’s done.” He looked at his watch. “Can you be ready for dinner at seven-thirty?”
“Probably. Will an LBD do?”
“A Little Black Dress will be fine.”
She reappeared in the living room wearing a quite spectacular LBD and very beautiful jewelry. He escorted her down the hall to the restaurant, which was on the same floor. Shortly they were seated at a table with a view, in the distance, of St. Peter’s Basilica. A moon hung over the city, and the drinks were good. They had just finished their first course when Hedy pointed past him. “What’s that?” she asked.
He turned and followed her finger. Just past the church a bright light was burning. “Something appears to be on fire,” Stone said.
After an excellent dinner, Stone signed the bill and stood up. “Do you mind if we take a short walk?” he asked Hedy.
“Not at all.”
They took the elevator downstairs and walked past the church, where they found the smoking ruin of the half-built hotel that Stone, with Marcel, had just bought. A single fire truck was spraying water on the smoking ruin, and Marcel was standing alone, disconsolately watching.
Stone approached and introduced Marcel and Hedy. “What happened?” he asked.
“It burned down.”
“Do we know why?”
Marcel shook his head. “There’s a bright side, though.”
“And what would that be?”
“We can rebuild immediately. All we have to do is to occupy the same footprint. The architects will like that, since they won’t be stuck with the previous floor plans.”
“Whose insurance is going to cover this?”
“The previous owner’s. We’re not due to close until the day after tomorrow. They should clear the lot, as well. If you’ll excuse me, I want to go and speak to the architects in New York. We have the construction company lined up, but I want to see if we can start them with the plans we have.” Marcel shook hands and got into his car, and Stone and Hedy started back to the Hassler.
“Why only one fire truck?” she asked.
“I don’t know—that would have been a three-alarm fire in New York.”
When they were back in the suite, Hedy turned her back. “Will you unzip me, please?”
“It’s one of the things I do best,” Stone replied, unzipping the dress and kissing her on the shoulder.
“Do I have to sleep in the guest room tonight?”
“You will be most welcome in the master suite.”
“I’ll be with you shortly.”
Stone filled out the breakfast card, hung it on the doorknob, and was already in bed when Hedy slipped in beside him and cuddled close. She was tall and slim, and they fit well together.
“Sorry about your virtue,” Stone said, turning toward her.
“That’s all right, I can always get it back later,” she said.
The following morning they were awakened by the doorbell. Stone got into a robe and let room service wheel the tray into the bedroom. He signed the check and sent the waiter on his way. “May I serve you?” he asked Hedy.
“What a good idea,” she said, rearranging the pillows. “What are we having?”
“When is your apartment available?”
“I spoke to the agent. I can get in tomorrow.”
“Do you have to?”
“Not necessarily. What did you have in mind?”
“The weather forecast is good. Why don’t we rent a car and drive down to Positano, on the Amalfi Coast, for a couple of days? Have you ever been there?”
“No, what’s it like?”
“It’s better if you experience it, instead of my attempting to describe it. Do you have enough clothes?”
“What will I need?”
“Only a bikini.”
She laughed. “I don’t think I can dine in a bikini, but I should be able to get by on what I have in my carry-on. What about you?”
“My luggage should be delivered this morning. We can head south after lunch.”
They made love again after breakfast, then Stone’s luggage arrived, and he unpacked, then packed again for Positano.
The phone rang. “Hello?”
“It’s Marcel. Good morning.”
“And to you, as well. How did you do with the architects?”
“We’re in good shape there. They’re doing a quick review of the lower floors, and we’ll be ready to start in a week. The construction company is on hold.”
“I thought I would rent a car and go down to Positano for a couple of days. Can you proceed without me?”
“Of course, and I’ll lend you a car—no need to rent. When would you like it?”
“The Hassler doorman will have it for you.”