"A new Stone Barrington novel is always welcome."—Palm Beach Post
Reckless Abandon (Stone Barrington Series #10)by Stuart Woods
Cop-turned-lawyer Stone Barrington tracks a mobster hiding deep within the witness protection program in this new thriller in the New York Times bestselling series-with a little help from beautiful Florida police chief Holly Barker.See more details below
Cop-turned-lawyer Stone Barrington tracks a mobster hiding deep within the witness protection program in this new thriller in the New York Times bestselling series-with a little help from beautiful Florida police chief Holly Barker.
Read an Excerpt
Stone Barrington had just walked through the door when his cell phone vibrated in his jacket pocket. He dug it out, while Gianni led him back to his usual table. Dino wasn’t there yet.
“Stone?” An unfamiliar female voice.
“It’s Holly Barker.”
It took only a nanosecond for Stone to display her image on the inside of his eyelids—tall, light brown hair, sun-streaked, well put together, badge. “Hello, Chief, how are you?”
“How can I help?”
“I’m in a taxi, and I don’t know where to tell the driver to take me. Can you recommend a good hotel, not too expensive?” “In what city?”
“In New York. I’m headed for the Midtown Tunnel, I think.”
“Why don’t you stay at my house? There’s a guest room.”
“I have a friend with me.”
“Male or female?”
“My secretary is there right now, working late. I’ll call and tell her to expect you.” He gave her his Turtle Bay address. “There are three guest rooms—two with king beds and one with twins, all on the top floor. You choose.”
“Are you sure? I don’t want to put you to any trouble.”
“No trouble at all. That’s what the guest rooms are for.”
“When will I see you?”
“Have you had dinner?”
“Drop your luggage, freshen up, and meet me at Elaine’s—Second Avenue, between Eighty-eighth and Eighty-ninth.”
“Sounds great. We’re at the tunnel now. How long should it take me?”
“If you’re quick, half an hour, but you’re a woman . . .”
“Half an hour it is, and don’t ever put a ‘but’ in front of that statement.” She hung up.
Gianni put a Knob Creek on the rocks in front of him, and Stone took a sip. “Better get him something, too,” Stone said, pointing at Dino, his partner when he had been an NYPD detective. Dino spoke to a couple of people at the front tables, then came back and pulled up a chair. His drink had already arrived.
“How you doing?” Dino asked.
“Not bad. You?”
“The same. You’re looking thoughtful.”
“I was just trying to remember everything about my trip to Vero Beach, Florida, last year, when I was picking up my Malibu at the Piper factory.”
“I was in a bank in the next town, a place called Orchid Beach, getting a cashier’s check to pay for the airplane, when a bunch of guys wearing masks walked in and stuck the place up.”
“Oh yeah, you told me about that. They shot a guy, didn’t they?”
“Yes. A lawyer with a funny name—Oxblood, or something like that.”
“How did you remember that?”
Dino tapped his temple. “I do The New York Times crossword every day. Calisthenics for the brain.”
“Funny, it doesn’t seem to have muscled up.”
“I remembered the name, didn’t I? While your brain has apparently turned to mush. Why were you thinking about the bank robbery?”
“Not the robbery so much, the woman.”
“Ah, now we’re getting to the nub of things. I’ll bite. What woman?”
“She’s the chief of police down there, name of Holly Barker. She was supposed to marry Oxenhandler that very day. I met her at the police station.”
“You went to the police station?”
“I was a witness, and I didn’t have a shirt.”
“You’re losing me here.”
“I took off my shirt and held it to Oxenhandler’s chest wound, not that it did much good. He died shortly after reaching the hospital.”
“So you were bare-chested in Orchid Beach, and you met this girl?”
“Woman. We’re not supposed to call them girls, remember?”
“A cop loaned me a shirt. Holly arrived and took over the case. I remember how cool she was under the circumstances.”
“Pretty bad circumstances.”
“Yeah. After I came home I called her with some information, and we had a couple of phone conversations after that.”
“So why are you thinking about this . . . person?”
“She’s in town. In fact, she’s at my house right—Jesus, I forgot to call Joan.” Stone dialed his office number and got his secretary on the phone. “There are a couple of women coming to the house—one is named Holly Barker; I don’t know the other one. Will you put them in whichever of the guest rooms they want, and give them a key?”
“You’re doing two at a time now, Stone?” Joan Robertson asked.
“I should be so lucky. Just get them settled. I’ll explain later.”
“Whatever you say, boss.” She hung up.
“What’s she doing up here?” Dino asked.
“She didn’t say. She called from a taxi on the way in from the airport.”
“Nice of you to offer her a bed,” Dino said slyly.
“Oh, shut up.”
“Did you offer the two of them your bed?”
“I offered them a guest room; that’s it.”
“So far. Well, I guess it’s how you keep your weight down, isn’t it?”
“Dino . . .”
Gianni put some menus on the table.
“We’ll be two more,” Stone said. “And we’ll order when the ladies arrive.”
Gianni brought two more menus and a basket of hot bread. Stone tore into a slab of sourdough.
“Carbing up for later?” Dino asked.
“Get off it. I just want to get something in my stomach with the bourbon.”
“Mary Ann and I worry about you, you know.”
“Mary Ann has enough to worry about with you on her hands.”
“We want to see you settled with some nice, plain girl.”
“You just want to drag everybody down with you,” Stone said. “And what do you mean, ‘plain’?”
“A beautiful woman demands too much of a man.”
“You’re married to a beautiful woman.”
“I speak from experience. Their care and feeding is a full-time job.”
“Mary Ann cares for and feeds both of you, and without the slightest help from you, as I recall.”
“She’s an exceptional woman,” Dino said. “You’ll never do that well.”
“Thanks a lot.”
They finished their drinks and had just ordered another round, when Dino nodded toward the front door. “I’ll bet that’s your lady cop,” he said.
Stone looked up to see a tall woman, more striking than he remembered, striding toward them, smiling.
“Hey, there,” Holly said, offering her hand.
Stone and Dino were on their feet, getting her chair.
“This is my friend Dino Bacchetti, my old partner. He runs the detective squad at the Nineteenth Precinct.”
“Where’s your friend?” Stone asked.
“Oh, Daisy’s exhausted,” Holly replied. “I put her to bed.”
“Can I get you a drink?” Stone asked.
“What are you drinking?”
“That will do nicely,” she said.
Gianni brought her the drink.
“So what brings you to the big city?” Stone asked.
“I’m in hot pursuit of a fugitive,” Holly said.
Stone handed her a menu. “Let’s order dinner, then you can tell me about it.”
THEY WERE HALFWAY through their first course, a salad of French green beans, mushrooms, and bacon.
“Tell us about your fugitive, Holly,” Dino said. “Maybe I can help.”
“That would be nice, Dino,” Holly replied. “First, a little background: Not long ago, I wrapped up a case in my jurisdiction that involved a man named Ed Shine; his history is interesting. He came to the U.S. from Italy, as a teenager, and his original name was Gaetano Costello.”
“Second cousin to Frank. The mob changed his name to Edward Shine, planted a birth certificate in the county records, and put him through high school and college, ostensibly the son of some people named Shine, who just happened to live in the same apartment building as Mr. and Mrs. Meyer Lansky. Right out of college, Ed starts building office buildings, and he never has any trouble arranging financing; he’s laundering money for the mob. He continues doing this for forty years or so, and very successfully. In the meantime, he’s visiting Florida on a regular basis, and he has a brief affair with a Latino woman and fathers a son out of wedlock, naming the boy Enrico. The kid takes his mother’s maiden name, Rodriguez, and is called Trini.
“Trini Rodriguez grows up his father’s son and is trained in all the little arts required of a Mafia-made man. His favorite is killing people. I thought I had killed him, but he bounced back.”
“Why did you think you had killed him?” Stone asked, putting down his fork.
“Because I stuck a steak knife in his neck and wiggled it around, and he was pumping blood at a great rate the last time I saw him.”
Stone gulped. “And why, may I ask, did you stick a steak knife in his neck?”
“He was trying to kill an FBI agent at the time, and I was trying to stop him.”
“Apparently, though, his people got him to a hospital in time, and he recovered.”
“Wasn’t he arrested?”
“Yes, but there were complications.”
“He was trying to kill an FBI agent, but there were complications?”
“Right. Turns out Trini had been an FBI informant all the time he was killing people, and the Miami agent in charge, a guy named Harry Crisp, took him out of the hospital and put him in the Witness Protection Program, saying that he needed his testimony in the big case—my case. All this without mentioning it to me, and I wanted the guy for mass murder.”
Dino spoke up. “So the guy you’ve come to New York to find is in the Federal Witness Protection Program?”
“Well,” Dino said, wiping his mouth and taking a sip of his wine, “that’s going to make it just a little difficult to arrest him.”
“Hang on,” Stone said. “You said you wanted him for mass murder?”
“Right. I had a witness in protective custody, and he killed two of her relatives, trying to get at her. She insisted on going to the funeral, and the FBI had the scene covered with lots of agents and a few snipers. I’m up in the church bell tower with one of the snipers when the hearses arrive, and everybody is on maximum alert, looking for somebody with a weapon.
“The coffins are taken out of the hearses and set by the graveside, and my witness walks over, puts a rose on the first coffin and kisses it, then steps over to the other coffin, and, as she kisses it, both coffins explode.”
“Holy shit,” Dino said quietly.
“My sentiments exactly,” Holly replied. “It’s carnage, everywhere you look. More than a dozen people are dead and several dozen injured, some critically. Like I said, I’m in the church tower, and the shock wave from the explosions starts the bell ringing and nearly deafens the sniper and me.”
“So he murders a dozen people, and still the FBI puts him in the Program?”
“Harry Crisp puts him in the Program, and once anybody in the FBI makes a move, they never want to reverse it; makes them look bad, they think.”
“And I’ll bet Crisp still has his job,” Stone said.
“No, thanks to a little work of mine, but he still has a job: He’s the AIC in American Samoa.”
“It was the most remote place they could find to send him. The AIC in Miami is now one Grant Early Harrison, who was the FBI guy I was trying to save when I stuck Trini Rodriguez. He was undercover at the time.”
“Well, Grant Early Harrison must be very grateful to you,” Stone said.
“Grateful, but not very. He’s how I know Trini Rodriguez is in the Program and in New York, but he stopped talking to me the moment he realized that I planned to take Trini.”
“So there’s no more help forthcoming from Agent Harrison?”
“None at all, the bastard, and after I got him his job, too.”
“And how did you do that?” Stone asked.
“After this business was over, and Ed Shine and a lot of other people had been arrested, a deputy director of the FBI paid me a visit and asked me for my account of events. I managed to toss a couple of hand grenades into Harry Crisp’s lap, resulting in his getting shipped to the farthest reaches of the Pacific Rim, and I said some very nice things about Grant, which, ultimately, got him the AIC’s job in Miami.”
“I don’t ever want you for an enemy,” Dino said. “You’re not Italian, are you?”
“No, but I’m an army brat, and I put twenty years in, myself, commanding MPs. In the army, you learn how to work the system.”
“Do you learn how to stick a knife in somebody’s throat, too?”
Holly put a hand on Dino’s arm. “Oh, Dino, that’s the first thing they teach you in the army, didn’t you know?”
“Are you armed?” Dino asked.
“No, I didn’t want to deal with the hassle at the airport.”
“You got your badge and your ID with you?”
Dino reached under the table and fiddled with an ankle, then he put his napkin over something and slid it across the table. “I think you’re going to need this,” he said.
Holly lifted the edge of the napkin and peeped under it. “Oh, Dino,” she said, “a Walther PPK. How sweet of you!”
Stone peeped under the napkin, too. “I’ve got one just like it,” he said.
“That’s yours,” Dino said. “You didn’t think I’d give her my piece, did you?”
“What are you doing with my Walther?” Stone demanded.
“You loaned it to me that time when we did that thing.”
“And you never returned it?”
“Holly will give it back to you after she’s shot Trini Rodriguez a few times,” Dino explained.
Holly slipped the weapon into her handbag and returned Dino’s napkin.
“Swell,” Stone said.
“Holly,” Dino said, “I’ve got a couple of friends on the organized crime task force. I’ll mention Rodriguez’s name and see if anybody has heard about him. Do you know what name he’s using in the Program?”
“No, Grant wouldn’t tell me.”
“It would be a big help if you could find out.”
“I don’t know how to do that,” Holly said.
“Let me work on it,” Dino replied.
Their main course arrived, and there was no more talk of Trini Rodriguez.
On the way back to Stone’s house, in a cab, he turned to Holly. “Are you and your friend comfortably situated upstairs?”
“Oh, yes, thank you. The room is very nice.”
“I’m not sure how I feel about sleeping in the same house with somebody who could stab somebody else in the neck.”
Holly patted his knee. “I promise not to stab you in the neck,” she said. “At least not the first night.”
The cab pulled up in front of Stone’s house, and they got out. Stone went to the front door and unlocked it.
“Hang on!” Holly yelled. “I left my purse in the cab!” She ran toward the moving taxi, screaming at it.
Stone watched her catch up and stop the cab, then he turned back and stepped inside his front door. As he did, he heard a sound that made the hair stand up on the back of his neck. He froze.
Holly came up the steps behind him. “That was close,” she said.
“Don’t move,” Stone replied.
“What? Oh, God. Daisy! Stand down!” She brushed past Stone and took the dog’s collar. “Sit.”
Daisy sat down and looked at Stone warily.
“This is Stone,” she said. “Stone is good. Good.”
Daisy walked over and nuzzled Stone’s hand.
“How do you do, Daisy?” Stone said.
She licked his hand.
“Sorry about that,” Holly said. “You okay?”
“My heart rate is returning to normal. So this is your friend?”
“Yep. Isn’t she beautiful?”
“You didn’t mention that your friend is a Doberman pinscher.”
“I hope it’s okay if Daisy stays, too. We can always go to a hotel.”
“Holly, in hotels, chambermaids enter your room several times a day when you aren’t there. You don’t want a dead chambermaid on your conscience, do you?”
“Daisy’s not like that.”
“I’m relieved to hear it.”
“She only kills on command.”
Stone looked at her askance.
“Go to bed,” Stone said. He watched as she walked ahead of him to the elevator. It was a pleasant sight.
Stone was nearly asleep when he felt Holly sit on his bed. He wasn’t all that sleepy after all, he thought. He reached for her, and his hand found a warm, furry body.
“Go to sleep, Daisy,” he groaned.
Daisy sighed, snuggled against Stone, and settled in for the night.
STONE WAS SLEEPING soundly when he was disturbed by a chink, chink sound. He opened an eye and found Holly sitting on his bed in one of his terry cloth bathrobes, eating cereal from a bowl.
“Good morning,” she said. “I made myself some breakfast. Can I get you some?”
Stone pressed the button that made his bed sit up, then rubbed his eyes. “What time is it?”
“Six-fifteen,” she replied.
Daisy, who had been snuggled close to Stone, sat up and yawned.
“Six-fifteen,” Stone repeated tonelessly.
“Too early for you? What time do you normally get up?”
“I wake up around seven, then have some breakfast in bed and read the Times and do the crossword. I usually get out of bed around nine.”
“Lazy guy, huh?”
“I’m not running a police force in a Florida town,” Stone said, “and I don’t have people pounding on my door at the crack of dawn, demanding to see me. It’s one of the advantages of being self-employed.”
Holly nodded. “Guess so. I see Daisy slept with you last night,” she said.
Stone nodded. “Apparently so. You’ll need to avert your eyes while I dash to the bathroom. And doesn’t Daisy have to go out in the mornings, or does she use a flush toilet?”
“She has to go out. And why do I have to avert my eyes?”
“Suit yourself,” Stone said, getting out of bed and walking to the bathroom. When he came back, Holly was still there.
“And don’t forget the plastic bag,” he said, climbing back into bed.
“You want me to put Daisy in a plastic bag?”
Stone shook his head. “It’s the law in New York that when the dog poops, the owner picks it up and puts it into the nearest trash can. It’s a hundred-dollar fine if you fail to do so. And don’t bring it back into the house.”
“Well, I never,” Holly said. “What’ll they think of next in the big city?” She stood up. “Where do I find a plastic bag?”
“Kitchenette,” Stone said, pointing. “Next to my dressing room; saves an elevator ride at breakfast time.”
Holly went and found a plastic bag. “Guess I’d better shower and get dressed, if we’re going out,” she said to the dog. “Come on, Daisy.”
“Doesn’t she have to go out right now?” Stone asked.
“She can hold it, don’t worry. You want to take her out?”
Stone rolled over and pulled the covers over his head.
At mid-morning Stone had finished breakfast and was dressing when Holly came upstairs, looking good in a sweater and wool slacks, Daisy at her side.
“Nice neighborhood,” she said. “Why is it called Turtle Bay?”
“There used to be a bay called Turtle Bay here, a long time ago. It got filled in.”
She went and looked out a rear window. “Beautiful garden. Do all the houses get to use it?”
“Yep, it’s a common garden. All the houses open onto it.”
“So what are you going to do today?”
“Start looking for Trini Rodriguez, I guess.”
“Where do mafiosi hang out?”
Stone slipped his feet into a pair of loafers. “Hang on a minute. Trini is in the Federal Witness Protection Program, right?”
“Well, the Feds usually put people in there when they’re going to testify against the Mafia, when they’re runningfrom the mob, you know?”
“Oh, I don’t think Trini would ever testify against his people.”
“Then who are the Feds protecting him from?”
“Holly, that just doesn’t make any sense. Why would they protect him from you?”
“Because he’s theirs, and they don’t want me getting him tried in Indian River County. And they think if he’s theirs, nobody else has a right to him. Well, I have a right to him.”
“You’re a very determined gir. . . woman, aren’t you?”
“Yes, and I don’t mind being called a girl, except at work. So where do the Mafia guys hang out?”
“Well, they used to hang out in Little Italy, but these days they seem to be more scattered. I guess there are some in each borough.”
“There are five in New York: Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, The Bronx, and Manhattan. Until the turn of the century, they were separate cities.”
“So where’s Little Italy?”
“Will a cabdriver know it?”
“That’s problematical these days,” Stone said. “Tell you what: I’ve got a light day; I’ll drive you down there, maybe buy you some lunch.”
“Hey, that sounds great, but I’m buying. You get the gas.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
She put a hand under Daisy’s chin and gazed into her eyes. “You stay here and be a good girl,” she said, then she turned to Stone. “Do you want her to kill anybody who comes into the house?”
“No, thanks,” Stone replied. “I wouldn’t want to come home and find my secretary dead.”
Stone slipped into a tweed jacket. “Okay, let’s go.” He led her downstairs to the garage, opened the door, and backed out, closing the garage door with a remote control.
“Your car makes a nice noise,” she said, as he accelerated toward Second Avenue. It’s an E55, isn’t it?”
“Very good. Most people can’t distinguish it from the ordinary E-class Mercedes.”
“I drove one, once; pretended that I was a prospective customer. I liked it.”
“Did you train Daisy yourself?”
“No, she was trained by an old army buddy of my father’s who got murdered. I bought her from his daughter. Daisy is what’s called in dog-breeding circles an ‘Excellent Working Bitch.’ ”
Stone laughed. “I like that.”
“Applies to me, too,” Holly said, grinning.
Soon they were creeping through traffic through the little streets of Little Italy. “That’s Umberto’s Clam House,” Stone said, pointing at a little restaurant. “Joey Gallo got shot there. Down the street is a coffeehouse, where some other don got it while playing bocce in the back garden. You may have seen that photograph of the corpse, with a cigar still clamped in his teeth.”
“I think I saw that on the History Channel,” Holly said.
“I guess you have a lot of time for things like the History Channel in Orchid Beach.”
“Oh, we get out of the house once in a while.” She pointed at a little restaurant. “Let’s have lunch there.”
“Okay. Let me find a parking space.”
“I’ll go ahead and get a table.” She opened the door and got out. It took Stone another ten minutes before somebody freed up a parking space, and when he got back to the restaurant, she was sitting at a table in the window, looking at the menu. He stopped and just looked for a moment. He was finding her more and more attractive. He went in and took a seat.
“What looks good?”
“Pasta,” she said. “I was thinking about the white clam sauce.”
A waiter came over.
“I’ll have the same,” Stone said, after she’d ordered. “And let’s have a bottle of the Frascati.”
“I hope that’s a dry white wine,” she said.
The waiter brought the bottle and poured them each a glass.
Stone raised his glass. “To . . .” But, to his astonishment, Holly had kicked over her chair and run out of the restaurant. He ran to the front door and looked down the street in time to see her sprinting through the crowds on the sidewalk, her handbag in one hand and his Walther in the other.
STONE RAN A few steps in the direction Holly had taken, but she had disappeared into the crowd. He ran back to the restaurant, left some money on the table, and ran to his car. He executed a lucky U-turn and started down the street, checking both sides for Holly. A couple of blocks down, he found a parking place and got out of the car, searching the street for signs of her. Then he saw her half a block away, walking toward him. He leaned on the car and waited.
“I can’t believe I let the son of a bitch outrun me,” Holly said, though she wasn’t even breathing hard.
“You saw Trini?”
“He walked right past the restaurant. Didn’t you see him?”
“I don’t have the slightest idea what he looks like,” Stone said. “You want to give me a description?”
“Six-two or -three, two hundred pounds, looks more Hispanic than Italian. He has black hair with a ponytail; evil face.”
“Evil face? I don’t recall ever having seen that description on a wanted poster.”
“Trust me. What are we doing about lunch?”
Stone looked around. “I’m not giving up this parking spot. Follow me.” He led her a few blocks into Chinatown, to a restaurant called Hong Fat, and soon they were eating noodles.
“So, are you a native New Yorker?” Holly asked.
“Born and bred in Greenwich Village; father was a cabinet and furniture maker, mother, a painter. Went to NYU and NYU law school. My last year I joined a program to ride with the NYPD, became enamored of law enforcement, and, on graduation, joined the department, became a detective three years later, partnered up with Dino, and had a hell of a good time. Put in fourteen years. That’s the nutshell bio.”
She shook her head. “Incomplete. Why’d you leave the force?”
“The force left me. We disagreed on an investigation I was ostensibly running, and they used a knee wound as an excuse to ship me out. I did a cram course on the bar exam, took it, passed, and joined the law firm of Woodman and Weld, courtesy of an old law school buddy. That complete enough?”
“For the moment,” she said.
“How about you?”
“Born in the army, grew up in the army, mother died when I was twelve, joined the army after high school, got a degree in the service, went to OCS, got a commission, and commanded MPs for the rest of my twenty years.”
“Why didn’t you go for thirty?”
“Another female officer and I accused a bird colonel of sexual harassment—rape, in the other girl’s case. We got him court-martialed, but he was acquitted. After that, there was no place to go in the army. He had too many friends in high and low places. Got an offer of the deputy chief’s job in Orchid Beach; the chief got himself killed, and I was bumped up a rung. Met Jackson Oxenhandler, moved in with him, made plans to marry him. You know the rest.”
“How are you living with that?”
“Better than can be expected. I’m pretty good at compartmentalizing things, so I tucked it away in the back of my mind. It comes out once in a while, but less and less often. Jackson, fortunately, had made a will, and he left me well fixed.”
“Seen any men since then?”
“Just one—Grant Early Harrison. We had . . . well, I guess you’d describe it as a fling, and after he got the AIC’s job in Miami, we cooled down. Before, he’d been an undercover agent, and that was interesting. Now he’s a bureaucrat, and that’s not.”
“Ever thought of getting out of that little town?”
“Listen, so much happens in that little town you wouldn’t believe it. I’ve busted up two major organized crime operations in three years, with all the attendant homicides and other felonies. You’re looking funny—skeptical, maybe. What are you thinking?”
“I was just thinking, the idea of you waltzing into town, looking for some guy in the Witness Protection Program, then going down to Little Italy your first day and spotting him on the street is ludicrous; couldn’t happen.”
“That sort of thing happens to me all the time,” Holly said, laughing. “Either there’s some sort of angel watching over me, or I’m the world’s best cop.”
“Another thing: It’s okay for you to pack my Walther while you’re in town—the NYPD would overlook that, since you’re a serving officer—but if you start shooting at Trini on the street and clip a civilian—well, that’s big trouble. You might keep that in mind.”
“I certainly will,” Holly replied. “I’d take a dim view of something like that happening in my jurisdiction.”
“Good. And if you remember that you’re not in your jurisdiction, that would be a big help. Even if you hit Trini between the eyes with your first shot—that’s a lot of paperwork for the locals, and the New York news media would fall on you from a great height.”
“Okay, okay,” Holly said, raising her hands in surrender. “Lecture heard and understood. You want the Walther back?”
“Keep it,” Stone said, “but make sure the circumstances are dire before you use it.”
“Dire,” she replied. “I promise. So how’s your love life, Stone? Now that we’ve covered mine.”
“Varied,” Stone said.
“I’ll bet that’s a New York City term, meaning ‘nonexistent.’ ”
“You sound like Dino.”
“And I’ve seen you looking at me. You look pretty horny.”
Stone tried to repress a blush. “You’re an attractive girl,” he said, “but don’t get cocky; it’s unbecoming.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t want to do anything unbecoming.”
“If I put my hand on your knee, is Daisy going to bite it off?”
“She will if I tell her to.”
“Would you tell her to?”
“Oh, I wouldn’t need her help to handle you.”
Stone choked on a noodle.
AFTER LUNCH, STONE drove them back to his house, and Holly and Daisy headed for Central Park and a long walk. Stone called down to his office.
“Good afternoon,” Joan said dryly.
“Sorry I didn’t check in this morning,” he said. “I took my houseguest downtown for lunch.”
“You didn’t tell me you bought a killer dog,” she said. “I went upstairs to find you, and, luckily, I slammed the door before he could tear my arm off.”
“She,” Stone said. “It’s Holly’s dog. Didn’t you meet her when Holly arrived?”
“No, I was on my way out. I just gave her the key and the alarm code and pointed her upstairs. I guess the dog was still in the cab.”
“Anything up this morning?”
“Well, a guy who says he’s an old friend of yours has been waiting for you for more than an hour.”
“Who is he?”
“He won’t say, and he won’t leave. Could you get down here and deal with him, please?”
“I’ll be right there,” Stone said. He got up and went downstairs to his office. As he came down the stairs he could see down the hall to the waiting area, and saw two long legs extended from a chair, with a very fine pair of shoes at the end of them.
“Good afternoon,” Stone said. He couldn’t see the face, but when the man stood up, it was familiar enough.
“Lance Cabot,” he said.
“So that’s his name,” Joan’s voice called from her office.
Lance offered his hand. “I’m sorry, perhaps I was being too cautious. I thought that if you called in and she gave you my name, you might not want to see me.”
“Come into my office,” Stone said, pointing the way. He was still trying to get his breath back. A little more than a year before, a man had walked into his office and offered Stone a lot of money to go to London to rescue his niece from the clutches of her bad, bad boyfriend, whose name had been Lance Cabot.
Stone had taken the job, only to learn that his client had used a false name and was trying to track down Cabot to kill him. The client, whose name turned out to be Stanford Hedger, was CIA, and Cabot was ex-Agency, then operating as a rogue. Stone had asked for help from a friend and had been contacted by British intelligence, who asked him to enter into a business arrangement with Cabot, who was trying to steal some important equipment from a military arms lab. With the help of an inside man, Cabot had stolen the item, presumably sold it to bad people, and had disappeared with Stone’s money. A couple of weeks later, to Stone’s astonishment, his money had been returned, along with the healthy profit Cabot had promised him.
Lance took a seat and crossed his legs. He was casually dressed in a tweed jacket and tan trousers, looking for all the world like a resident of New York, out for a walk and a cup of coffee.
“Can I get you some coffee?” Stone asked.
“Thanks, but your secretary provided that, in spite of her suspicions.”
“What brings you to New York, Lance?”
“I live here now, a few blocks uptown.”
Stone’s jaw dropped. “Aren’t you a fugitive? Is that why you’re here, looking for a lawyer?”
Lance shook his head. “I’m not a fugitive, and I don’t need a lawyer, at least for myself.”
“For someone else?”
“Maybe, but not just yet.”
“I’m sorry, but I’m baffled by all this. I thought you were being sought by every intelligence agency and police department in Europe, not to mention your own former people.”
“They’re not former,” Lance said. He fished a wallet out of his pocket and handed it to Stone.
Stone found himself staring at a CIA ID card, complete with photograph. “How long have you had this back?”
“I always had it,” Lance said. “Let me explain. When Hedger hired you—”
“Hedger was CIA, wasn’t he?”
“Yes, he was, but he was led to believe that I had gone rogue. That’s why he was looking for me.”
“I don’t understand.”
“It’s complicated. I was sent over there to . . . well, ostensibly to acquire a British invention, a piece of military hardware, you will recall, and sell it to a Middle Eastern country—Iraq, as it happens.”
“The CIA wanted you to steal British military hardware and sell it to Saddam Hussein?”
“Yes. Well, not really. You see, Hedger wanted the hardware, too, ostensibly for our nuclear weapons program. He really wanted it to help him regain the Agency’s high regard, in which he had formerly been held.”
“This is very confusing: The Agency had two agents trying to steal the hardware, working at cross-purposes?”
“Now you’ve got it.”
“And you were supposed to sell it to Saddam Hussein?”
“Yes, and I did, but not before it had been modified to make it useless. It needed the right software, too, and he didn’t have that, but by that time, I had his money and was gone. You got a very nice slice of those funds, too. What did you do with the money?”
“I paid the taxes on it and invested the rest, as my accountant recommended.”
“Good,” Lance said. “Just what I would have done.”
“Lance, it worries me to think I did what you would have done.”
Lance laughed. “You have nothing to worry about, Stone. You’re clean as a whistle.”
“Does your agency know that I was paid the money?”
“Of course. I had a little trouble convincing them, but after I had repeatedly pointed out how valuable you had been to us, they agreed.”
“But I was supposed to be helping the British.”
“Well, yes, but you were really helping us all the time.”
“Did the British know this?”
Lance pursed his lips. “Not exactly, but they do now. After all, I helped rid them of a man in their midst who was willing to sell their technology to anybody. Why do you care?”
“As it happens, I’ve spent a good deal of time in the company of one of their people, a woman called Carpenter.”
“Felicity Devonshire?” Lance laughed aloud.
“I didn’t even know that was her name until a few months ago.”
“She’s a piece of work, that girl. Did you know that, at this very moment, she’s being considered to replace Sir Edward Fieldstone as head of her service? If she gets the job, she’ll be the first woman to do so. She was prominently mentioned in the last Birthday Honours List, too. She’s now Dame Felicity.”
“I didn’t know any of that,” Stone said. “We parted on less than the best terms.”
“Pity,” Lance said. “She’s a remarkable woman. My people are rooting for her to get the job.”
“Good for her. Now, why did you come to see me, Lance?”
Lance chuckled. “I thought I might send some more business your way.”
STONE’S FIRST REACTION was to send Lance on his way, but, as it happened, things had been a little slow in the way of work, and a fresh injection of business could help his cash flow. “What are we talking about?” he asked.
“Just a little legal work,” Lance replied, studying his well-manicured nails.
“Look at me when you lie to me, Lance.”
Lance looked up. “Why do you think I’m lying?”
“Because you’ve never said anything to me that was the truth. Ever.”
Lance shrugged. “Surely you understand that that was business. I was carrying out an assignment important to the national interest, and you were helping.”
“Yes, but I didn’t know that.”
“I wasn’t allowed to tell you, and it was important that you didn’t know. In fact, you never would have been involved at all, if I hadn’t been in a situation of, shall we say, temporarily interrupted cash flow. I needed your quarter of a million, which you very kindly supplied, and you made a very tidy profit from the arrangement. Where else could you have gotten a return of four hundred percent in less than thirty days?”
“Everybody was lying to me, especially Hedger.”
“Hedger is dead. Did I mention that?”
Stone took a quick breath. “No, you didn’t. Do I want to know how and why? I assume he didn’t keel over of a coronary.”
“No, he was expertly stabbed by somebody who worked for you.”
“What on earth are you talking about?” Stone demanded.
“Remember those two retired British cops you hired to follow me around London and bug my house?”
Stone hadn’t known that Lance knew about that, so he said nothing.
“You’ll remember that Hedger’s people beat up one of them very badly, so badly that he later expired.”
“Well, his mate took exception to that and held Hedger accountable. He knifed him in a mews a short walk from the Connaught, while you were still in London.”
“I didn’t know,” Stone said.
“Scotland Yard hushed it up, the knifer having been one of their own. Had an exemplary military record, too, killing people in the Special Air Services. That detective inspector, Throckmorton—unlikely name, isn’t it?—didn’t think a shady American spook’s life was worth a blip in the happy retirement of one of their former officers.”
“And what did the Agency have to say about that?”
“Almost nothing. Somebody gave Throckmorton a good lunch and received the details. They shook hands and went their separate ways. Hedger is now a star on the memorial in the lobby of the headquarters building at Langley.”
“The more I learn about your business, the less I want to learn about it.”
“You shouldn’t feel badly about Hedger. He was a bad apple; been using his position for years to enrich himself in various underhanded ways, and the Agency was sick of him. Good riddance and no trial or publicity. His death didn’t even make the tabloids, let alone the Times. His alumni newsletter ran a nice obit, though, most of it lies.”
“An ignominious end,” Stone mused.
“In Hedger’s case, deservedly so.”
“What is this legal work you want done? It isn’t illegal work, is it?”
“Oh, no, no, nothing like that. It’s pretty simple, really: A fellow we hired for some contract work got himself into a scrape with the local law, and—”
” The local law where?”
“Right here in Gotham, actually.”
“There’s a DUI and some other minor stuff involved. He needs a lawyer, and we feel honor bound to provide him with one. We’ll pay five hundred an hour.”
Stone’s normal fee for that sort of thing was three hundred an hour. “That is not ungenerous.”
“We don’t want it to go to trial, you see; could be embarrassing and might even reveal information detrimental to national security.”
“You mean, detrimental to the Central Intelligence Agency.”
“Same thing. Do we have a deal?” Lance held out his hand to shake.
“Oh, all right,” Stone said, shaking the hand. He picked up a pen and pad. “What’s your client’s name?”
“Herbert Fisher, a professional photographer by trade.”
Stone nearly choked. “Oh, no, no, no, no,” he said, holding out his hands as if to ward off evil.
“You know Mr. Fisher?” Lance asked, looking surprised.
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