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Stone Barrington sipped his third Wild Turkey and resisted the basket of hot sourdough bread that the waiter had just placed on the table. Callie was to have been there an hour and a half ago, and he was very, very hungry. She'd called from the airport to say that she was on the ground and on her way, but that had been an hour ago. It just didn't take that long to get to Elaine's from Teterboro Airport, where her boss's jet landed. He glanced at his watch: He'd give her another three minutes, and then he was ordering.
He had been looking forward to seeing her. They'd spent some very pleasant time together in Palm Beach a few months before, on the yacht of his client Thad Shames. She was Shames's majordomoassistant, cook, social secretary, whatever he neededand she moved when Shames moved, back and forth between Palm Beach and New York. In New York, she had been living with Stone, and he missed her when she was away.
"Give me a menu," Stone said to Michael, the headwaiter. "Giving up on her?" Michael asked.
"I am. If I drink any more without some food in my stomach, you're going to have to send me home in a wheelbarrow."
Michael laughed and placed a menu before him. "Dino's not coming?" "He should be here in a while; he said he had to work late." He opened the menu, and Michael stood ready, pad in hand. When Stone was this hungry, everything looked good. He'd meant to have fish; he'd gained three pounds, and he need to get it off, but now he was too hungry."I'll have a Caesar salad and the osso buco," he said, "and a bottle of the Amerone."
Michael jotted down the order, and as he reached for the menu, Stone looked up to see Callie breezing through the front door. He rose to meet her. She looked wonderful, as usual, in an Armani pantsuit. She gave him a short, dry kiss and sat down.
"I'd given up on you," Stone said. "I just ordered." Michael handed her a menu, but she handed it back. "I'm sorry, I can't stay for dinner," she said.
Stone looked at her, stupefied. She had kept him waiting for an hour and a half, and now she wasn't going to have dinner?
"Would you like a drink, Callie?" Michael asked. She shook her head. "No time, Michael."
"You still want dinner, Stone?" "Yes, please," Stone replied. Michael retreated.
"So?" Stone asked. "So what?" Callie replied. "Is there something you want to tell me?" He wanted an apology and an explanation, but he got neither.
"Stone," Callie said, looking at the tablecloth and playing with a matchbook. She didn't continue.
"I'm right here," he replied. "Have been, for an hour and a half." "God, this is hard," she said.
"Maybe a drink would help." "No, I don't have the time." "Where do you have to be at this hour?" he asked. "Back in Palm Beach."
Stone wasn't terribly surprised. Thad Shames, a computer software billionaire, had a peripatetic lifestyle, and Callie was, after all, at his beck and call.
"First of all, I'm sorry I'm late," she said. "I had to go by the house and pick up some things."
Stone looked around; she wasn't carrying anything. "They're in the car," she said.
"What did you have to pick up?" he asked. "Some things. My things."
Stone blinked. "Are you going somewhere?" "Back to Palm Beach. I told you."
Stone was baffled. "Callie ..." She took a deep breath and interrupted him. "Thad and I are getting married this weekend."
Stone was drinking his bourbon, and he choked on it. "I know you didn't expect this," she said. "For that matter, neither did I. It's just happened the past couple of weeks." She had been gone for two weeks on this last trip.
Stone recovered his voice. "Are you perfectly serious about this?" "Perfectly, and I'd appreciate it if you didn't try to talk me out of it." That was exactly what he wanted to try. "I wouldn't dream of it," he said. "If that's what you want."
"It's good, Stone. It isn't like with you and me, but that could never last."
"Why not?" Stone demanded, stung. "Oh, it's been great. I arrive in town, move in with you; we go to Elaine's and the theater, and around. We fuck our brains out for a week or two, then I go back."
That was exactly what they did, he reflected, but he wasn't going to admit it. "I thought we had more than that going," he said.
"Oh, men always think that," she said, exasperated. "There are things Thad can give me, things I need, things you can't . . ." She left it hanging.
"Can't afford?" he asked. "I live pretty well. Of course, I'm not worth five billion dollars, but I didn't think Thad was, anymore, not after his new stock offering collapsed, and with the way the market has been."
"It's true," she said. "Thad was hurt badly. Now he's only worth three billion."
"What a blow," Stone said. "It's not the money," she said. "All right, maybe that's part of it. God knows, I'll never have to draw another anxious breath."
"Not about money, anyway." "Won't you try and understand?" "What is there to understand? I'm out, Thad's in. It's your life; I can't tell you how to live it."
"If only you'd . . ." She stopped. Stone didn't want to hear the rest, anyway. "I think it's a little late for 'if only,' " he said. "Clearly, you've thought this out, I'm not going to try to talk you out of it."
"Thank God for that," she muttered, half to herself. They sat silently for a moment, then, without another word, Callie got up and headed for the door, nearly knocking down Dino, who had chosen that moment to walk in.
Dino turned and watched her rush out the door, then he walked over to Stone's table and sat down. Dino Bacchetti had been Stone's partner when he was still on the NYPD; now he ran the detective squad at the Nineteenth Precinct. "So," he said, "I see you managed to fuck up another relationship."
"Jesus, Dino, I didn't do anything," Stone said. Dino motioned to Michael for a drink. "That's usually the problem," he said. The drink was placed before him, and he sipped it.
"You want some dinner, Dino?" Michael asked. "Whatever he's having," Dino replied. "Caesar salad and the osso buco?"
"Good." He turned to Stone. "After a while, women expect you to do something."
"She's marrying Thad Shames." Dino's eyebrows shot up. "No shit? Well, I'll admit, I didn't see that one coming. I guess Thad isn't broke yet."
"Not yet, but he's only worth three billion now." "Poor guy; couple months, he'll be living on the street. Still, he got the girl."
"Don't rub it in." "It's what I do," Dino explained. Stone's cellphone, clipped to his belt, began to vibrate. "Now what?" he said to nobody in particular. "Hello?"
"Stone, it's Bill Eggers." Bill was the managing partner of Wood-man & Weld, the prestigious law firm for which Stone did unprestigious jobs.
"Yeah, Bill." "You sound down." "Just tired; what's up?" "You got anything heavy on your plate right now?" "Nothing much."
"Good; there's a guy coming to see you tomorrow morning at nine, with some work. Do whatever he says."
"Suppose he wants me to kill somebody." "If this guy wanted somebody killed, he'd do it himself. His name is John Bartholomew, and he's major, in his way."
"I'll be glad to see him." "You got a passport?" "Yes." Not that he'd used it for a long time. "Good. You're going to need it." Eggers hung up. Elaine came over and pulled up a chair. "Callie left in a hurry," she said. "I guess you fucked it up again."
"Don't you start," Stone said.
Excerpted from The Short Forever by Stuart Woods. Copyright © 2002 by Stuart Woods. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.