SERIES

Desperate Measures

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Stone Barrington faces down danger on New York's mean streets in the latest thriller from perennial fan favorite Stuart Woods.

Upon returning to the states from a European jaunt, Stone Barrington makes the acquaintance of a stunning woman who seems like she could be an ideal candidate to meet some of his professional--and personal--needs. Before long, though, Stone is put to the task of protecting his new hire when New York City is rocked by a series of disturbing crimes, and it looks as if she might be the next target.

In the city that never sleeps there's always a plot being hatched, and the only recourse is constant vigilance and a bit of luck. But if those defensive systems fail, Stone will have to go head-to-head against some of the most dastardly scum he's ever faced . . .

Praise

"[An] irresistible, luxury-soaked soap opera."--Publishers Weekly 

"Woods creates another action-packed thriller for his readers to devour, with plenty of interesting twists and turns that make for a nonstop, can't catch-your-breath read."--Booklist 

"Mr. Woods knows how to portray the beautiful people, their manners and mores, their fluid and sparkling conversation, their easy expectations and all the glitter that surrounds and defines them. A master of dialogue, action and atmosphere, the Key West resident has added one more jewel of a thriller-mystery to his ever-growing collection."--Fort Myers Florida Weekly

Excerpt

1

The early-morning conversation had taken place in bed in London, after drinking brandy with guests until the wee hours. So if Stone had once remembered what was said, he had now forgotten it.

He struggled to put it together in his mind during their flight from his house, Windward Hall, in England, back to Teterboro, but he had failed. There wasn't much conversation on the airplane, but he put that down to Kelly's hangover, which must have been as monumental as his, since she had matched him drink for drink. Once they were back at his house in New York, they had dinner and went to bed early.

He woke at seven the following morning, a preordered breakfast on a tray resting on his belly. There were empty dishes on her side of the bed and sounds of packing from her dressing room. His eggs were cold, but he ate them anyway, to settle his stomach.

Kelly came out of the dressing room naked, with predictable results. When they were spent, she stood up.

"I told you yesterday that I'd gotten a chopper ride back to Langley today, didn't I?"

Of course she had, he could remember that much. "Surely, not at this hour," he said.

"I'm to be there at nine-forty-five sharp for a ten o'clock departure, and I can't miss it. Fred can drive me to the heliport."

"No," he said, getting up. "I'll drive you myself."

"Thank you," she said, then went back into the dressing room.

He surveyed his face in the bathroom mirror and was surprised to find that he didnÕt look like a man with a hangover. What was more, he didnÕt feel like a man with a hangover. He felt perfectly normal, except that he still couldnÕt remember their conversation in London. He shaved, showered, dressed, and called down to Fred, his factotum. ÒI wonÕt need you this morning,Ó he said. ÒIÕll drive myself.Ó

"As you wish, Mr. Barrington," Fred replied.

In the car Kelly said, ÒFred is going to collect my other luggage at the hotel and send it to me.Ó She had a suite in a residential hotel not far from his house.

"Plenty of room at my house," Stone replied.

"Stone," she said, "do you remember our conversation in London?"

"Of course," Stone lied.

"Because you're not behaving like a man who's being abandoned."

That rocked him. "'Abandoned'?"

"Do you remember my telling you that I'm returning to the Agency-and that they want me to live down there in a place they've found for me?"

"Yes," he lied again, "and I'm very sad about it." That last part wasn't a lie; he suddenly felt overwhelmingly sad.

"It's sweet of you to say so, but I think you'll have forgotten me before long."

Stone knew a cue when he heard one. "I'll never forget you," he said.

"Oh, shut up!" Kelly cried, beginning to weep. "Did you expect me to pass up a promotion and give up a career I've put fourteen years into?"

"I'm not sure what I expected," he said. And that wasn't a lie, either.

He drove to the East Side Heliport, was admitted to the ramp, and stopped beside the experimental Sikorsky X-2 helicopter the Central Intelligence Agency was testing for the builder. The pilot stowed Kelly's luggage, assisted her to a rear seat, and handed her a headset.

"Well," she said to Stone. "I could never say it wasn't fun."

"Neither could I," Stone said. He kissed her, then closed and locked the door. The rotors began to turn, and he backed away as the machine lifted off and pointed itself to the south.

He was still backing up when he bumped into someone, hard. He turned to find a miniature airline pilot standing behind him. "I'm so sorry," he said.

"You shouldn't walk backward at a heliport," she replied. She was, in fact, not a miniature at all, but a small woman in an airline captain's uniform.

"What can I do to make it up to you?" he asked, for she was quite beautiful, too.

"If you have a car, you can give me a lift," she replied.

"I do, and I'd be delighted. Where to: Westchester? New Jersey? Los Angeles?"

"Lexington Avenue will do," she said.

He took her single bag and walked her to the Bentley.

"I hope this is not a joke car," she said.

"It's a perfectly serious car," he replied, stowing her bag in the trunk and opening the front passenger door for her.

"Are you a chauffeur?" she asked.

"Only for you," he replied, getting into the driver's seat. He held out a hand. "I'm Stone Barrington."

She took the hand. "I'm Faith Barnacle," she said.

"Faith?"

"It's better than Hope or Charity, isn't it? I'm the victim of a pious Catholic mother."

"It's certainly the best of the three. I'm trying to think of a barnacle joke, but I can't remember one."

"That's all right, I would have heard it in high school, anyway."

Stone got the car started and moving. "Where on Lex?"

"East Forty-seventh Street," she replied. "It's one of those seedy hostelries where they store airline employees when they're not being used."

"For whom do you fly?"

"Pan American Airlines," she said.

"Didn't they go out of business a couple of decades ago?"

"I just wanted to see if you were paying attention. I fly for Trans-Continent, a charter airline. We've only got three airplanes, and I fly them all."

"How many pilots do they employ?"

"Somewhere between a dozen and a dozen and a half, depending on the season and the day of the week."

Stone pulled up in front of the hotel and popped the trunk, so the doorman could take her bag.

"How does the week ahead look?" he asked.

"I'm here for three nights."

"Will you have dinner with me tonight?"

"Thank you, yes. It's either you or Jeopardy!, and I hate Jeopardy!"

He gave her his card. "I'm just a few blocks downtown. Come for a drink at my house, and we'll go out from there."

"At what hour?"

"Six-thirty?"

"Fine. How shall I dress?"

"Nicely."

"What are you wearing?"

"A necktie."

"This is going to be interesting," she said, getting out and waving goodbye.

Driving back to his house, Stone suddenly recalled, in great detail, his conversation with Kelly in London. It made him sad again.

2

Stone pulled the car into the garage and went into his office. Bob, his Labrador retriever, and Joan Robertson, his secretary, greeted him with equal enthusiasm.

"I perceive that you are alone," Joan said.

"You are very perceptive. Bob doesn't seem to mind." Bob was offering him his favorite toy, a red dragon. "Nobody wants that dreadful toy," Stone said, scratching his ears.

"He wasn't going to give it to you," Joan said. "He just wants you to know he has it."

"Do I have anything to do?" Stone asked.

"No, I've done it all," she replied.

"Then I'll find something else to do," he said, slipping into his chair. He picked up the phone and dialed.

"Bacchetti."

"How do?" Stone asked.

"I do pretty good," Dino replied. They had been partners many years before on the NYPD; now Dino was the police commissioner for New York City.

"Come for a drink at six-thirty, then let's have dinner."

"I take it you're back on the right side of the Atlantic."

"If I'm not, I will be by cocktail time."

"Are you bringing what's-her-name?"

"No. What's-her-name has taken flight from my existence; Lance Cabot has lured her back to her nest." Lance was the director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

"Smart girl," Dino said. "I'll check with Viv. If I don't call you back, we'll see you at six-thirty."

"Done," Stone said, then hung up and buzzed Joan.

"Yes, boss?"

"You must have something for me to do," he said.

"Do you do windows?" she asked.

"I do not."

"Then there's no hope for you. Go watch those political programs you love so much."

Stone hung up, yawned, and turned on the TV.

Faith was punctual. He met her at the door and walked her through the living room to his study. ÒAnother couple is joining us shortly,Ó he said. ÒLetÕs get a head start on them. What would you like?Ó

"A bourbon on the rocks," she said. "Knob Creek, if you have it."

"I have it in abundance," Stone said, pouring them each one. They sat down before the fire.

"This is a very nice room," she said.

"Thank you."

"And the living room was very nice, too, as is the house and the neighborhood."

"On behalf of the neighbors, I thank you."

"How do you live so well?"

"Well, I got the house cheap: I inherited it from a great-aunt. My father, who was a cabinetmaker and furniture designer, made all the paneling, shelves, and did the woodwork."

"I see," she said, "sort of. Did you get the Bentley cheap?"

"I got a pretty good deal on it."

"What do you do?"

"I'm a partner in a law firm, Woodman & Weld."

"Never heard of it."

"There's no reason you should have, unless you're suing or being sued or want an estate managed or a will written."

"None of the above," she said.

"How long have you been flying?" Stone asked.

"Since I was sixteen," she said. "I went to high school in the town where I was born-Delano, Georgia-then graduated from the aviation university, Embry Riddle, in Florida, with a diploma and an ATP license. I flew packages and freight, was first officer on a Lear, then got in a lot of single-pilot jet time in Citations. I flew for an airline, right seat for eight or nine years, then I joined Trans-Continent and made captain as soon as they needed one."

"Total time?"

"A little over fifteen thousand hours. You sound like a pilot."

"I am. I fly a CJ3-Plus."

"Nice. I flew one for a charter service for two years. Total time?"

"About four thousand hours, half of it in Citations. Lately, I've been flying a borrowed Citation Latitude."

"That's a great airplane. My charter service ordered three of them and sent me to Flight Safety for a type rating. Then, the day I got my rating, the charter service went bust. They reneged on their order for the three Latitudes, and I had to buy my own ticket home."

"That's a sad story, but at least you got the type rating."

The doorbell rang, but Stone kept his seat. "They'll let themselves in," he said. "Their names are Dino and Viv Bacchetti." He spelled the name for her.

The Bacchettis spilled into the room and demanded liquor. Stone introduced them to Faith, then did the pouring of Dino's scotch and Viv's martini.

"So, how did you two meet?" Viv asked.

"She body-blocked me at the heliport today," Stone said.

"He was walking backward and nearly knocked me down," Faith explained.

"Why were you both at the heliport?" Dino asked.

"Stone was seeing a friend off, and I had hitched a ride into the city from JFK on a chopper," Faith said. "The pilot's a friend."

"Sounds like fate at work," Viv said.

They finished their drinks, then left the house and got into DinoÕs car. ÒPatroon,Ó he said.

"What's Patroon?" Faith asked.

"A very good restaurant," Stone replied.

"Dino," she asked, "why does your car have a blue light on top?"

"It's a police car," Dino replied.

"In a manner of speaking," Stone said. "Not every police officer has this ride, but Dino, for reasons I've never understood, is the police commissioner for the City of New York."

"I've never felt so safe," Faith said.

They arrived at the restaurant, were greeted and seated by the owner, Ken Aretsky, and ordered drinks. When they had been delivered, Dino took a deep breath. ÒFaith, this is not a good time to feel safe.Ó

"What are you talking about, Dino?" Stone asked.

"While you were swanning around London, we had two homicides on the Upper East Side."

"Only two?" Stone asked. "Why is that remarkable?"

"Because both were small, blond, and beautiful," Dino said. "Like you, Faith."

3

Stone and Dino had worked homicide together, so Stone thought about this the way a cop would. "Anything else in common?"

"The manner of their deaths," Dino said.

"Which was?"

"I don't want to talk about it."

Stone frowned. Dino never didn't want to talk about anything at all. Stone took a breath to ask another question, but Dino gave him the slightest shake of his head, and he didn't ask it.

"Come on, Dino." This was Faith talking, and she looked as though she was going to get an answer.

"I haven't had enough to drink to tell you about that," Dino replied.

Faith was going to persist, but Stone said, "Drop it. He's serious."

"Well, I have a license to carry," Faith said, "so I will."

"A New York City license?" Dino asked.

"New York, Florida, and California," Faith replied. "It's an option for airline pilots. I have to shoot twice a month, requalify once a month, and pay for my own gun and ammunition, but it makes me feel better. I fly charters, and sometimes the groups get rowdy. I've had them banging on the cockpit door."

"Have you ever had to draw your weapon?" Dino asked.

"Only once. I didn't point it at anybody, and there wasn't one in the chamber. Still, its presence had a calming effect on the two-hundred-and-fifty-pound guy who wanted to fly the airplane."

"Good for you," Dino said. "That shows judgment and restraint. Would you like to be a police officer? I'll give you a good assignment right out of the Academy."

"Do you have an assignment available that involves flying an airplane?"

"How about a helicopter?"

Faith shook her head. "They scare me shitless."

"Me, too," Dino said, "and that's just riding in them."

"Well, this is a first," Stone said. "Dino has never offered my date a job."

"I'm serious," Dino said.

"I know," Stone replied.

"Thanks, Dino," Faith said. "I'm flattered, but I like wings on my aircraft, and I enjoy travel."

"You should hire her, Stone," Viv said. "You've been flying the Latitude with pro pilots."

"Only because it's illegal for me to fly it alone. Anyway, it's not my airplane; it belongs to your boss." Viv worked for Mike Freeman, at Strategic Services, the world's second-largest security company. Viv was also a retired NYPD detective. Stone had recently swapped airplanes with Mike-on a temporary basis-when he had wanted to fly to London, and he would have to give back the Latitude soon.

Dinner came, and they enjoyed it.

DinoÕs car dropped them off after dinner. ÒNightcap?Ó Stone asked Faith.

"Sure."

They went into the study.

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