“Woods’ blend of exciting action, sophisticated gadgetry, and last-minute heroics doesn’t disappoint.”—Publishers Weekly
“Fans won’t want to miss this action-packed thriller.”—Booklist
Stone Barrington returns to the Big Apple in this thrilling novel from New York Times bestselling author Stuart Woods.
After a productive trip to Bel-Air, Stone Barrington is back in Manhattan—and back in his element, ready to return to the world of deluxe fine dining and elegant high society that New York does best.
But then an unexpected visit from his friend and periodic lover, CIA assistant director Holly Barker, draws Stone into a dangerous game of murder and vengeance, against an enemy with plans bigger than they could ever imagine. . . .
“Woods’ blend of exciting action, sophisticated gadgetry, and last-minute heroics doesn’t disappoint.”—Publishers Weekly
“Fans won’t want to miss this action-packed thriller.”—Booklist
Stone Barrington opened the taxi door. “Wait for me,” he said. “I won’t be long.” He got out of the cab and looked around. The yellow awning was gone, but “Elaine’s” was still painted on the darkened windows. A film of soap obscured the interior, but Stone found a bare spot and put his hands up to shield from the glare. What he saw was, in short, nothing.
The book jackets, photographs, and posters that had adorned the walls for forty-seven years were gone. The bar and mirrors behind it were still there, but there were no stools. The dining room contained no tables or chairs and no blue-checkered tablecloths. The two old pay phones still hung on the wall near the cashier’s stand at the bar; they had always been the only phones in the place.
For a tiny moment Stone could hear the babble of a crowded room, chairs scraping, people calling the length of the room to say hello to a friend. Then a passing bus obliterated the sounds and returned Stone to the present. He got back into the cab and gave the driver his home address.
His cell phone buzzed at his belt. “Hello?”
“It’s Dino. Where are you?”
A brief silence, then: “You shouldn’t do that.”
“You’re right,” Stone said. “The memory is better than the reality. Have you had dinner?”
“I was just thinking about it.”
“Come over and I’ll make you some pasta.”
“Me, myself. I can cook, you know.”
“There was a rumor, but I never believed it.”
“Okay. Oh, how are we dressing?”
“Unarmed,” Stone said.
“I’m always armed.”
“Then you can check your gun at the door.”
“Whatever you say.”
“How late is Viv working?”
“Tell her to come over after, and I’ll save her something.”
“I’ll see if she’s brave enough.”
“See ya.” Stone hung up.
At home, he shucked off his jacket in the kitchen and checked the fridge. It was stuffed, as usual. Helene was an overshopper, and she liked to be ready for anything.
Stone found some Italian sausages, some mushrooms, some broccoli rabe, and some garlic. He sliced the sausages and tossed them into a skillet with a little olive oil, and they began to sizzle. He ran some water into a pot and put it on to boil for the pasta. He found some ziti in a cupboard and tossed it into the boiling water, then he chopped some onion and the garlic and tossed them into the pan with the sausages, followed by the mushrooms and rabe.
Dino came into the kitchen and tossed his coat on a chair. “Jesus, that smells pretty good,” he admitted.
“Be ready in ten, fifteen minutes,” Stone said. “Pour us a drink.”
Dino went to the kitchen bar, filled a pair of glasses with ice, then filled one with his usual Johnnie Walker Black scotch and the other with Stone’s Knob Creek bourbon, then handed it to Stone. “Okay, what was the place like?”
“Bereft of all humankind and Elaine. Bereft of everything, come to that.” The contents of the place had been sold at auction, along with Elaine’s personal effects. Stone had bid on some books but didn’t get them.
“You know,” Dino said, taking a bite of his scotch, “I think she’d be happy that we can’t find a new place.”
“She wasn’t that mean-spirited,” Stone pointed out.
“She was about other joints. I’m still afraid to go to Elio’s.” Elio was a former Elaine’s headwaiter who had opened his own restaurant a couple of blocks down Second Avenue.
“Yeah, me too. I only went once, just to say hello to Elio, but I never let her find out. She would have stabbed me with a fork.”
Stone found a hunk of Parmigianino-Reggiano in the fridge and dug the grater out of a drawer. He drained the pasta, forked some onto two plates, dumped some sausage onto the plates and grated a lot of the cheese over them, then he set them on the table and got a bottle of Amarone out of the wine closet and opened it. “Sit yourself down,” he said.
Dino did, and they both ate hungrily.
When Viv showed up, they hadn’t even cleared the table; they were just sitting there, drinking and talking.
“Just like Elaine’s,” Viv said. “Without Elaine.”
Jasmine Shazaz sat in a car parked in Mount Street, London, with a cell phone in her hand. She watched as, fifty yards away, a government Jaguar pulled up in front of the Connaught Hotel and stopped. A man in a dark suit waved the uniformed doorman out of the way as he reached for the car’s rear door, then opened it himself. Another man Jasmine recognized from newspapers and television as a high government official left the hotel and walked toward the open car door, got in and hipped his way across the seat to the left side.
The Special Branch detective, who had been holding the door open, got in behind him and closed the door. The car moved a few feet to Mount Street, the driver looked both ways, then turned left.
Jasmine pressed the phone button on her smartphone, chose a number, and looked out her windscreen. It would take three seconds to connect the call. She pressed the button. “Three, two, one,” she counted, and as she spoke the word “zero,” the glass front of the Porsche dealer’s building at the bottom of Mount Street blew outward, followed by a large ball of flame.
The explosion rocked her car and enveloped the government Jaguar, which was directly in front of the Porsche dealer. The car took the full force of the explosion and was lifted off the pavement, rolling over. The gas tank exploded, creating a secondary ball of flame. The job was done.
Jasmine put her car in gear and, ignoring the broken glass and small rubble on the hood of her car, made a U-turn from her parking space, drove up to South Audley Street, crossed it, then a block later turned left into Park Lane. Sixty seconds later she was in Hyde Park, and five minutes after that she took a seat at the Serpentine Restaurant in the park and perused the menu. Her lunch date arrived a moment later and sat down.
“I believe there was some sort of explosion over around Berkeley Square,” he said, in perfect, upper-class English, though his appearance was Mediterranean, perhaps even Middle Eastern.
“That must be why we’re hearing all those fire engines and police cars,” she said.
“Let’s see if there’s any news,” he said, taking a smartphone from his jacket pocket and switching it on. A moment later they were watching ITV News as a slide appeared. “Breaking News,” it said.
A young woman, hastily arranging her skirt, gazed into the camera, then read from a sheet of paper in her hand. “ITV News has a reliable report that some sort of bomb has gone off in Mayfair, perhaps in Mount Street. Our reporter, Jason Banks, has just arrived at the scene. Jason?”
The camera jerked about, then stabilized. A man was clipping a microphone to his lapel, then he looked up and saw the camera. “Good afternoon, Jane,” he said. “I’m standing a few yards from the northwest corner of Berkeley Square.” He looked over his shoulder, and the camera zoomed in past him. “As you can see, there has been a very large explosion up there, and it appears that the location was the building housing the Porsche sports car dealership. The front of the building has disappeared, and the fire brigade has just arrived on the scene and are connecting their hose pipes as we speak. The events have only just occurred—I and my crew were on the other side of the square, interviewing a police spokesman about a robbery that occurred in Bruton Place a little over an hour ago. The policeman we were interviewing immediately called New Scotland Yard and reported the explosion, then ran toward the burning building. We moved our equipment as quickly as we could, and this is as close as we could get.”
“Jason,” the anchor said, holding a finger to an ear, “we’re just getting a report from a Westminster correspondent that the foreign secretary is lunching at the Connaught Hotel, about fifty meters up the street from the blast location, and we have a unit on the way there to interview him and see if we can get any further information.”
The camera went back to Jason Banks. He was moving up the street to get closer to the burning building. “Jane, we’ve been able to get a few yards closer, and if our camera can zoom in on that burning motorcar sitting on top of two other cars . . . Zoom in on it, damn you!” The camera zoomed in on the burning car. “That was, until a few moments ago, a Jaguar motorcar, and as you can see, the front number plate begins with the letters FO, identifying it as a government vehicle assigned to the Foreign Office. We can only hope that is a horrible coincidence and that the foreign secretary is still enjoying his after-lunch port at the Connaught.”
A police car with its lights and siren on came close to running down Jason Banks as it raced toward the burning vehicle. “Shit!” the reporter yelled. “That was close. Let me see if I can get a word.” He began jogging toward the police car, which had stopped a few yards away and was disgorging two high-ranking police officers, judging from their insignia.
“Excuse me, Inspector,” Banks said, thrusting a microphone at one of them, “but does that number plate on that Jaguar belong to the foreign secretary?”
The response to his shouted question was a stout forearm across the face, nearly causing him to eat his microphone. “Get out of the way, you bloody fool!” the officer yelled.
Banks fell back, nursing his lips with the back of his hand. “As you can see, Jane, the inspector is in no mood to chat. Perhaps you can get a confirmation on this number plate.” He began reading the letters and numbers.
“Yes, Jason, we’ll do that,” the anchor said, scribbling down the numbers, then ripping a sheet off a pad and throwing it at someone off camera. “Run that number down!” she shouted at the person, then she recovered herself. “If you are just joining us, what we know so far is . . .”
The man switched off his smartphone. “I think we can order lunch now,” he said to Jasmine, while beckoning a waiter.
“Order me the Dover sole,” Jasmine said. “And I think, perhaps, a bottle of champagne would be in order.”
Holly Barker, assistant director of Central Intelligence, took her seat at the table in the conference room of her boss, Katharine Rule Lee, the director of Central Intelligence. She was well rested after a couple of days off following a meeting between the presidents of the United States and Mexico, which she had attended in company with the director.
The final seats at the table were filled at fifteen seconds before nine o’clock, according to the GPS-controlled clock on the wall, and at the stroke of nine, the director entered the room and sat down.
“Good morning, ladies and gentlemen,” Kate Lee said. “Thank you for coming. Holly, what’s on our agenda for this morning?”
“Good morning, Director,” Holly replied. “DDO Lance Cabot has three reports from foreign stations, to start us off.” She nodded at Lance.
Cabot shuffled some papers. “Our station in Lagos, Nigeria, was the target of a Molotov cocktail earlier today. The bottle shattered on the wrought-iron fence, and only slightly splashed the facade of the building. A Marine guard extinguished the flame almost immediately. No one has, as yet, claimed credit, but we suspect either an antigovernment insurgent group or, perhaps, the government itself. Take your pick.” He set aside a sheet of paper, then continued. “We have penetrated the administrative offices of an army base in . . .” Lance stopped as a middle-aged woman walked behind him, tapped him on the shoulder, and placed a sheet of paper in front of him. He read it, then looked up.
“What is it, Lance?” Kate asked.
“Tom Riley, London station chief, is on the phone with something important.”
Kate reached for the phone near her and pressed the line button and the speaker control. “Good morning, Tom. We are assembled at the regular morning briefing. Everyone is here. What’s happening?”
A large flat-screen monitor flickered to life and revealed a man in his late forties with an iron-gray, old-fashioned crew cut. “Good morning, Director, everybody. Local TV news is running a breaking news report of a large explosion at a Porsche dealership just off Berkeley Square. One of our people was lunching at the Connaught and saw the foreign secretary leave the dining room perhaps three minutes earlier. A Jaguar that might well be his official car was passing the dealership when the explosion took place, and anyone inside the car is now dead. We’re awaiting the running of the plate number, which begins with FO, indicating a Foreign Office vehicle.” News footage of a burning car filled the screen.
“Tom,” Kate said, “if the foreign secretary was in the car, do you have an opinion as to whether this was intended as an attack on him or if he was just at the wrong place at the wrong time?”
“I’m afraid that would be much too large a coincidence to be credible,” Riley said. “Hang on, I’ve just had confirmation that the number plate belonged to the foreign secretary’s car, and our own man reports seeing the man get into the car in front of the Connaught.”
“Any thoughts on the perpetrators?” Kate asked.
“Too many possibilities to make an educated guess at this point, but we’re on it, and we have good sources at New Scotland Yard, so we should have an idea soon.”
“Anything else, Tom?”
“Not at this time, Director.”
“Keep us posted, then.” She pressed the button, and the screen went dark. “Not every day we have the assassination of a cabinet member in a major European ally,” she said to the table at large. “Lance? Anything?”
“Nothing that would have led us to anticipate such an event, Director,” Cabot replied. “Not a peep. I find it interesting that the perpetrators decided to take out a building and God knows who and what else at a corner of London’s most famous square, in an effort to take out one man. I think there’s a statement there.”
“Director,” Holly said, “given the timing, there must have been an operative on or near the site to set off the explosion.”
“Good point, Holly,” Kate said. “Will you call Tom back when we’re done and ask him to get every possible angle of surveillance footage from New Scotland Yard? London has thousands of these cameras. I’m sure Special Branch is already reviewing the recording, but we might be able to spot somebody not in their files.”
“Yes, Director,” Holly said, making a note. As she did, Holly had a thought, but it was too soon to bring it up, and certainly not in this meeting.
“Did I detect something just now, Holly? An idea?”
“Just a wild guess, Director. I’d like to run it down a little before I make an ass of myself.”
That gained a chuckle from the dozen men and women present.
“Oh, go on, Holly, I’d like a view into your frontal lobe. Entertain us.”
Holly shrugged. “If you insist, Director. You will recall that, last week, a London asset of ours and his brother were involved in planting bombs at an L.A. location. They are both dead now.”
“For which we can thank the appropriate person at this table,” Kate said.
Lance lifted an eyebrow. “Did those two gentlemen have an accomplice we are unaware of, Holly?”
“They had a sister,” Holly said, and the room became very still.
“Ah, yes,” Lance said. “Remind us.”
“Jasmine,” Holly said, “the youngest of the three Shazaz siblings.”
“Whereabouts?” Kate asked, looking at Lance.
Lance merely shook his head.
“Holly? A guess?”
“Her two brothers lived in London,” Kate said. “Perhaps she did, too.”
“They had a rather elegant house, as I recall. Where was it?”
“Cheyne Walk, beside the Thames, in Chelsea.”
“Ah, yes. When you speak to Tom, raise that subject, please. I’d like to know where Ms. Shazaz is, or when she was last sighted.”
“She was in Palo Alto when the West Coast bombs were made,” Holly said. She did not mention that one of the bombs had been a nuclear device, because she didn’t know how many of the people in the room knew that. Lance probably did, but maybe not the others.
“Oh,” the director said. It was a very expressive word. “Why the hell didn’t we bag her?”
Lance spoke up. “We didn’t bag anybody until after the Palo Alto operation had been shut down,” he said, “and intel led us to believe that she was already out of the country when we bagged her brothers.”
“Did intel indicate where out of the country?” Kate asked.
“No, Director, not at the time. Perhaps we have a better idea now.”
“Could this be a revenge killing?” Kate asked. “Or is there a larger motive afoot?”
Holly spoke. “It might be said that the foreign secretary was connected to recent events in California, in the person of the head of MI-6, who was present in L.A.”
“Perhaps you’d better give that lady a jingle,” Kate said, “and let her know of your, ah . . . opinion. I would hate to hear of some later event that we might have helped to stop.”
“With your permission, I’ll make that call now,” Holly said.
“Please do so.”
Holly rose and returned to her office next to the director’s, her heart beating a little faster.
Holly dialed the London direct line for Felicity Devonshire, known as “Architect,” head of MI-6.
“Yes?” a male voice asked.
“This is Holly Barker, assistant director of intelligence, calling from Langley, Virginia, for Architect.”
“Architect is presently unavailable,” the man said. “I’ll say you called.” He hung up without further ado.
Well, that was short, Holly thought. She might as well go back to the meeting. Then her phone rang. “Holly Barker.”
“It’s Felicity. I’m sorry my assistant was short with you. As you can imagine, we’re in the middle of a flap here.”
“The director asked me to call and give you an idea that arose at our daily briefing this morning.”
“I’d be grateful for any suggestion, of course.”
“It occurred to us that this act might be revenge for the deaths of Ari Shazaz, aka Hamish McCallister, and his brother, Mohammad.”
Felicity was briefly silent. “Well, that’s a stretch, but . . .”
“Are you aware that the Shazazes have a sister who was complicit in the bomb making?”
“One moment.” Felicity covered the phone and could be heard to speak authoritatively to someone in the room. “No, we are not aware of that. Do you have details?”
“Her name is Jasmine, she is the youngest of the three siblings, and she may have shared Hamish’s London residence, in Cheyne Walk. I’m afraid that’s all we have, but we would certainly be grateful for anything you learn.”
“Of course,” Felicity said, “and I thank you for the call, Holly. Please give my very best to Kate and thank her for thinking of us. Now, if you’ll excuse me . . .”
“Of course.” But Felicity had already hung up. Holly was about to return to the briefing when her phone rang again. “Holly Barker.”
“Holly, this is Tim Coleman. Is the director available?” Coleman was the president’s chief of staff.
“Good morning, Tim. She’s in the daily intelligence briefing at the moment, but if it’s urgent I can interrupt.”
“No, don’t do that. You’re in the loop on this, so I’ll tell you, and you can tell her.”
“The Oak Ridge nuclear plant has run some tests on the fissionable material found in the California device. It’s a match for a smaller sample that turned up a few months ago that is suspected to have originated in Iran.”
The hairs on Holly’s arm stood up. “That hasn’t been confirmed?”
“No, but we have samples of the enriched uranium from the stores of all the other nuclear-capable countries, and it doesn’t match any of them, so it has to be from either Iran or North Korea.”
“I see,” Holly said. “Is anything else known about the California material?”
“No, but the fact that the late Dr. Kharl supplied the material is another connection to one of those two countries.”
Dr. Kharl, who had assembled the California device, was recently deceased, an order that Holly had transmitted from the director, after presidential approval. He had been instrumental in the Pakistani nuclear weapons program, as well as the North Korean program, and had been thought to be available to just about anyone with the cash.
“I agree,” Holly said. “Anything else, before I drop this bombshell on the director?”
“Just don’t expand the loop. See you later.” Coleman hung up.
Holly hung up, too. That meant she couldn’t bring it up at the briefing. She went back into the room and waited, trying to hide her impatience, while Lance concluded his report. He was talking of the penetration of an Iranian army unit connected with that country’s nuclear program.
The director glanced at her. “Ladies and gentlemen,” she said when Lance had finished, “unless there’s something else of level one importance, you’ll have to hold any other information until tomorrow’s briefing. Thank you all.” She stood up, signaling that everyone should leave, and with a motion of her head indicated that Holly should follow her.
Holly left the room and followed the director to her office, where she took the indicated seat.
“You’ve learned something new,” Kate said.
“First, Felicity and her people were not aware of the existence of Jasmine Shazaz, but now they are, and they will be checking out the Cheyne Walk house. I told her about that on my own authority, reasoning that MI-6 could get in there faster and more thoroughly than London station could, and with less of a local flap, and I think she’ll feel obligated to share.”
“A second thing: Tim Coleman called and asked for you, but declined to interrupt your briefing. Since I’m in the loop he told me that Oak Ridge has determined that the enriched uranium in the California device most likely came from either Iran or North Korea, since it was introduced by Dr. Kharl and is not a match for that of any of the programs we’re familiar with.”
“I’m glad you didn’t blurt that out in the briefing,” Kate said.
“No, ma’am, I know the loop is small. I don’t even know if it includes Lance.”
“You and I are the loop in this agency,” Kate replied, “and we’re going to keep it that way. Outside, it’s the Secret Service, Mike Freeman of Strategic Services, and Stone Barrington, who somehow managed to stop the clock on that thing without blowing us all to kingdom come, and Dino Bacchetti. And the president, of course, which accounts for Tim Coleman being inside, too.”
“There’s one other,” Holly said.
“And who might that be?” Kate asked sharply.
“The reporter from Vanity Fair, Kelli Keane, who was in the room with the device when it was stopped.”
“Good God,” Kate moaned.
“Stone had a very serious word with her afterward, and impressed on her the importance of the event never having taken place.”
“Do you think that will be enough to keep her lid on? I mean, she’s a journalist, for God’s sake!”
“Stone thought she got the message.”
“Did he threaten her?”
“I don’t believe so.”
“Holly, I want you to leave for New York immediately, by the fastest conveyance available, pick her up, sit her down in a quiet room, and frighten her to the bottom of her soul.”
Holly stood up. “Yes, ma’am. Is there anything else?”
“Do you have any doubts about the ability of Stone Barrington to keep this to himself forever? And Dino Bacchetti? It was his gun.”
“No, ma’am, I have no doubts about either of them. They’re both under contract to the Agency as consultants and, as such, have the highest security clearance.”
“Good. Get going.”
Holly went to her office, picked up a phone and called the director of transportation. “This is Assistant Director Holly Barker. Is there a chopper on the pad right now?”
“Yes, ma’am,” the man replied, “but it’s leaving momentarily for Dulles, to pick up a visiting dignitary.”
“Cancel that flight immediately and find another way to transport the dignitary. I want the aircraft fueled and the flight plan filed for New York by the time I can get down there.” She hung up without another word, got her ready bag from her closet, and headed for the elevator.
The rotors were already turning on the brand-new Sikorsky X2 helicopter, not even certified yet, but on loan to the Agency. Holly hadn’t expected this, but she was looking forward to the ride. She hopped into the cabin and buckled in.
After what seemed like only a moment, the sleek machine was flying north, directly into the D.C. no-fly zone and at no more than a thousand feet. She put on her headset. “Hey,” she said to the pilot, “aren’t we a little low?”
“On purpose, ma’am,” the pilot said. “No traffic over Washington at this altitude.”
“Can this thing really break two hundred fifty knots?”
“That’s classified, ma’am, but you have an honest face, so yes, ma’am. It’s the fastest chopper ever, and it’s all mine! I guess you got your seat belt fastened?”
“Well, right after we blow past the White House, I’m going to show you some climb performance.”
“You go right ahead.” Holly looked out her window and the White House blew by, indeed; she could see the ground-to-air missile launchers on the roof. Suddenly, the helicopter raised its nose, and Holly looked over the pilot’s shoulder at the speed tape on the glass cockpit’s pilot’s flight display. It was moving too fast for her to keep up with. Then they leveled at twelve thousand feet, leaving her stomach in the air, and the climb seemed to have taken but a moment.
“You enjoy that?” the pilot asked.
“I’ve always loved roller coasters,” she replied.
“We’ll be on the East Side pad in less than an hour.”
“Does the satphone work?” she asked.
“On this bird, everything works, ma’am.”
Holly picked up the phone, called the Agency’s East Side facility and asked for the agent in charge.
He came on the line immediately. “Holly Barker?”
“That’s right. I’m inbound for the East Side Heliport, ETA forty-five minutes. I need a vehicle to meet me, and I need an immediate location for a Kelli Keane, a writer for Vanity Fair magazine. She’s freelance and may work from home.”
“We’re on it.”
“Send a team to find her, stat, then politely but firmly bring her to your location. Clear a room for me to have a quiet chat with her. No video or audio, is that clear?”
“Over and out.” Holly hung up the phone and sat back to watch the countryside stream past her window.
Kelli Keane was having lunch with a woman friend at a chic downtown restaurant when her cell phone went off. “Kelli Keane.”
“Ms. Keane, my name is Carlson, and I am a federal agent. I need to speak to you alone at the front door of the restaurant immediately. My people will settle your check, so go there now, understood?”
“No, not understood.”
“If it will be more convenient for you, I can send two agents into the restaurant to assist you outside. Would you prefer that?”
“All right, all right, how long?”
“Ten seconds.” The line went dead.
“Carolyn,” Kelli said to her companion, “it seems something urgent has come up and I’ll have to leave, maybe for a few minutes, maybe longer. The check will be taken care of.” Kelli looked toward the front door and saw two large men in dark suits walk in and look around. “Gotta go,” she said to the astonished Carolyn. The door was open when she got there.
“Straight ahead,” one of the men said, assisting her along by the elbow and nearly lifting her off her feet. She found herself in the rear seat of a black SUV between the two men, and the windows were blacked out.
“All right,” Kelli said, “what the hell is going on here?”
“Be quiet,” the man said. “Someone wishes to speak with you. We’ll reach your first destination in twenty minutes.”
“Then what?” she asked, but no one answered her.
Twenty minutes later, the car drove into an underground garage and stopped at an elevator. Several floors later, she was put into what appeared to be a small living room, furnished with a sofa, chairs, and a small dining table. The door closed behind her before she could ask where they were.
After the helicopter landed, Holly held the headset mike to her lips. “That was just amazing,” she said to the pilot. “Thanks so much.” Then she hopped out of the chopper and, eight steps later, into a black SUV. Six minutes after that, the car went underground, and she was rising in the elevator. The AIC was waiting for her.
“She’s in a holding room,” he said.
“Remember, no video, no audio, and no peeking. Got it?”
“Got it.” He led the way down the hall, opened the door, and closed it behind her.
Holly found Kelli Keane sitting at the table, trying to use her iPhone. She recognized her from having seen her at The Arrington hotel in Los Angeles, but they had not met. “Your phone won’t work,” she said.
Kelli put the phone back into her purse. “You look familiar,” she said. “Were you in L.A. a couple of weeks ago?”
Holly sat down. “While you were there, some unusual events occurred, and Stone Barrington had a conversation with you about them. Remember?”
“Of course I remember.”
“Then stop remembering,” Holly said. She took a pad from her jacket pocket and uncapped her pen. “I want the names of everyone to whom you have spoken about those events.”
Kelli looked her in the eye. “Stone asked me not to speak of that, and I have not spoken of it.”
“How about your boyfriend, James Rutledge? What did you tell him?”
“I told him I had a grand time at The Arrington, nothing else.”
“What about Graydon Carter at Vanity Fair?”
“I don’t work directly with him, but I haven’t spoken with my editor about it, either. I just turned in my piece, which mentioned nothing about it.”
“Who else have you not told about those events?” Holly asked.
“The entire world,” Kelli said. “They are all among the people I have not told about that experience. One of the men who brought me here said that this was my first destination. What did he mean by that? Where is my next destination?”
“You have two choices,” Holly said. “One is wherever you wish in Manhattan. The other is the Guantanamo naval base, on the island of Cuba, for an indeterminate time.”
“I’ll take Manhattan,” Kelli replied, “never mind the Bronx and Staten Island, too.”
Holly allowed herself a small smile. “I appear to have made my point.”
“You certainly have,” Kelli said.
“One other thing,” Holly replied.
“For the remainder of your life on this planet, you will not experience a remembrance of those events.”
“What events?” Kelli asked.
Holly got up, rapped on the door, and it was opened from the outside. “Take the elevator to the basement,” she said to Kelli. “A car is waiting for you.”
“And my destination?”
“Anywhere in Manhattan. Back to the restaurant, if you like.”
Kelli consulted her watch. “My friend will either be gone by now or very drunk. Home will do.”
“Home it is. Thank you for your cooperation, Ms. Keane.”
“Don’t mention it.”
“You neither,” Holly said, pressing the elevator button.
Holly used an empty office and called Kate Lee on a secure line.
“How was the helicopter ride?” Kate asked.
“And your mission?”
“Accomplished. The lady has suffered a complete and permanent memory loss regarding those events. I believe she fully appreciates that necessity.”
“Keep an eye on her anyway,” Kate said. “I’m sending the chopper back for you tomorrow morning for a ten A.M. departure, sharp. I’d like you to bring Stone Barrington, Dino Bacchetti, and Mike Freeman with you.”
“I’ll get right on that,” she said, thinking of Stone.
“There’ll be a quick lunch and a briefing at the White House. The chopper will take you directly there.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Holly said.
“Confirm ASAP that the others will arrive with you. Good-bye.” The director hung up.
Holly dialed Stone’s office and got Joan, his secretary.
“Hey, Holly,” Joan said, “always glad to hear from you.”
“Thanks, Joan. Is he available?”
He picked up. “Stone Barrington.”
“It’s Holly. How are you?”
“As well as can be expected,” Stone said.
Holly laughed. “If you can scrape up the energy, I have two invitations for you.”
“The first: you’re invited to take me to dinner tonight, then do terrible things to me in bed.”
“I can handle that.”
“The second: please call Dino and Mike Freeman and ask them to be at the East Side Heliport tomorrow morning for a ten A.M.departure for Washington. There will be lunch at the White House, followed by a briefing.”
“What sort of briefing?”
“Oh, that kind of briefing.”
“Right. And don’t tell, either. Make sure that Dino and Mike know that. Top secret. They’ll be back for dinner.”
“You intrigue me.”
“Of course I do, silly, why else would you want to do terrible things to me in bed?”
“When are you coming?”
“I’m already in town, but I have some calls to make. I’ll be at your place around seven.”
“Use your key. I’ll be upstairs.”
Stone called Dino and Mike; the mention of the White House got their attention and their consent to travel and their promise to shut up about it.
Holly let herself into Stone’s house a little after seven and took the elevator up to the master suite. “Hello? Anybody there?”
“I’m in the shower,” Stone yelled back. “Join me or make yourself at home.”
Holly stripped off her clothes, threw them on a chair, and joined him. Big hug, big kiss.
“What brings you to town?” Stone asked, scrubbing her back with a soft brush.
“You do. You and Kelli Keane.”
“Are you sleeping with her, too?”
“Nope, just you. She and I had a chat.”
“I had that chat with her in L.A.”
“The director was anxious that your suggestions to her be underlined in a memorable way.”
“Did you slap her around?”
“It didn’t come to that—she got the message.”
“But you would have slapped her around, if she had been slow to catch on?”
“I don’t slap people around, I have people who handle that sort of thing.” She was scrubbing his back, now, then his front. “I see that I have excited your interest,” she said, stroking him to fullness.
“You are very perceptive.”
“Are we clean enough now?”
“I believe we are.”
Holly turned off the water, stepped out of the shower and toweled herself, then she grabbed a dry bath sheet and worked on Stone.
“This is the most fun I’ve had for some time,” Stone said.
“Stick around,” she said, “it’s going to get better.” And she was right.
When they had exhausted themselves, then showered off the sweat, Holly sat on the bed, toweling her hair. “Where are we dining?”
“The Four Seasons all right?”
“That seedy old joint? I wish we could go to Elaine’s.”
“So do I, but in the circumstances, the Four Seasons will have to do.”
They dined for two hours at one of the world’s most elegant restaurants, then returned to Stone’s house for a repeat performance of their earlier assignation.
“Holly,” Stone said when they had finished, “is something bad going to happen?”
“I and my people work hard every day to see that nothing bad happens, and we’re good at it.”
“I feel so much better,” Stone said, snuggling up to her and falling asleep.
The group convened at the East Side Heliport in time to see the sleek new helicopter set down.
“Wow,” Stone said, “what is that?”
“I know what it is,” Mike Freeman said. “We’ve already ordered one.” Mike was the CEO of Strategic Services, the largest private security firm in the world, and he often knew about things like this before others did.
“Why am I not surprised?” Stone asked.
Holly directed Stone to the left cockpit seat, while she sat in the rear with Dino and Mike.
Stone looked at the instrument panel and controls. “Don’t worry, I’m not going to ask you how all this stuff works,” he said to the pilot.
“Thanks,” the pilot replied, running through a checklist. “Ever flown a helicopter?”
“Once,” Stone said. “I’d rather not think about it.”
The engines revved, and the chopper leaped off the pad and turned down the East River, gaining altitude quickly. Next thing Stone knew they were over Cape May and turning for Washington.
The pilot was constantly on the radio, and Stone could hear the conversations on his headset. It was obvious that this was no ordinary flight; they were getting special treatment from Air Traffic Control.
“How do I get them to talk to me like that when I’m flying my Citation Mustang?” Stone asked.
“Easy—just have the White House file your flight plan.”
They had descended rapidly over the city, and Stone saw the White House directly ahead. A crowd was gathered under the West Wing portico, and someone was speaking into a small forest of microphones.