Hot Mahogany

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A rock-solid new stone barrington novel

Stone Barrington is hired to protect a former intelligence agent with a penchant for antique furniture-and a bad case of amnesia. And what he's forgotten, some will kill for...

Excerpt

1

Elaine’s, late.
Stone Barrington breezed into the restaurant and found his former NYPD partner, Dino Bacchetti, waiting for him, Scotch in hand.
A waiter set a Knob Creek on the rocks before Stone, and he took a large sip.
“Where have you been?” Dino asked.
“You mean for the past week?”
“You’ve been gone a week?”
“Dino, remember when I went to Lakeland, Florida, to ground school for the new airplane? For a week?”
“That’s where you’ve been?”
“No. I’ve been in Vero Beach, Florida, for flight training.”
“For a week?”
“For three days.”
“You have a new airplane?”
“Not exactly. I had the engine removed from my Piper Malibu Mirage and replaced with a turbine—that’s a jet engine, turning a propeller. So now it’s called a JetProp, and it’s like a new airplane, and because it’s like a new airplane, my insurance company insisted I have flight training in it from a guy named John Mariani, in Vero Beach.”
“Whatever you say.”
“Dino, why don’t you remember any of this? How much have you had to drink?”
“You think I’m drinking too much?”
“You seem to be in a state.”
“What sort of state?”
“The word stupor leaps to mind.”
“Genevieve will be here in a few minutes,” Dino said. Genevieve James was Dino’s girlfriend, a nurse in the ER at a nearby hospital.
“Good.”
“When she gets here, don’t leave me.”
“Why not?”
“I’m in some sort of trouble.”
“What kind of trouble?”
“I don’t know, but if you’re here, she won’t hurt me.”
“Well, I’m not getting in the middle of this,” Stone said.
“Just sit there in your chair and don’t say anything, and it’ll be all right.”
“Okay. I’ll just sit here.”
“Stone?” Dino was looking over Stone’s shoulder, toward the door.
“Yes?”
“Have you seen Lance Cabot lately?” Cabot was the newly appointed deputy director for operations of the CIA. Both Dino and Stone had done consulting work for him.
“Not lately.”
“Well, he looks like shit,” Dino said. “He’s aged years.”
“How do you know this?”
“Because I’m looking at him right now.”
Stone turned and looked toward the door. Lance Cabot stood there, looking, as Dino had said, years older. He was also a bit disheveled, needed a haircut, and had at least a three-day growth of beard. His face was bruised.
“Good God, you’re right,” Stone said.
Lance was, ordinarily, the most fastidious of men, always perfectly dressed and groomed. Stone watched as Frank, one of the two headwaiters, greeted him and led him to a table at the rear of the restaurant.
“He didn’t even look at us,” Dino said. “Something’s wrong. . . . Uh-oh,” Dino said.
“What now?”
“Genevieve.”
Stone turned to see the beautiful Genevieve enter the restaurant and head for their table. They both stood, while Dino held her chair, a sure sign of fear.
“How are you, Genevieve?” Stone said, giving her a kiss.
“I’m very well, Stone,” she said, ignoring Dino. “How was your Malibu training?”
Stone shot a glance at Dino, who was looking very uncomfortable. “Hard work and great fun. The new airplane is faster, smoother, and quieter, only it’s not a Malibu anymore; it’s called a JetProp.”
“I remember,” she said.
“I’m going nuts,” Dino said.
“What?”
“Lance just came in again, and he looks perfectly fine.”
Stone turned and looked, and there he was, younger, undisheveled, unbruised, and perfectly groomed. “We’re both going nuts,” Stone said.
Lance came over to the table and greeted them all, shaking their hands. “Good evening,” he said.
“Lance,” Dino said, “you should be working as a magician.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Because, in addition to standing here, you’re sitting back there.” Dino pointed.
“Oh, that’s my older brother, Barton Cabot.”
“Ahhhhh,” Dino and Stone said, simultaneously.
“He came in ahead of me while I finished a phone call in the car. If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to join him, but Stone, I’d like to speak with you alone, after we’ve ordered dinner.”
“Sure,” Stone said. In his experience, when Lance spoke to him alone, trouble invariably followed.
Lance went to join his brother.
“Eerie resemblance,” Genevieve said.
“Yeah,” Dino agreed. “It’s like Lance can know exactly how he’ll look in a few years.”
Genevieve spoke to Dino for the first time. “That’s how you’re going to look when I’m finished with you,” she said.
Stone made a point of inspecting a row of photographs of Elaine’s regulars on the opposite wall.
Elaine came over and sat down, exchanging kisses with Genevieve. Dino looked relieved to have her there. “So?” she said.
“I just got in,” Stone replied.
“From where?”
“From Vero Beach, Florida.”
“What for?”
“Dino will explain it to you,” Stone said.
Lance came and tapped Stone on the shoulder. “Let’s go into the next room for a minute,” he said.
Dino looked anxious. “You’ll be all right,” Stone said. “Elaine is here.”
“She’ll help Genevieve,” Dino said.
Stone got up and followed Lance into the dining room next door, where people occasionally threw parties and which Elaine used for overflow when the main room was full. They sat down at a table.
“I didn’t know you had a brother,” Stone said.
“I haven’t had a brother for many years. Until tonight.”
“Does he live in New York?”
“I don’t know,” Lance said.
“What?”
“I have no idea where he lives. Neither does he. That’s the difficult thing.”
Stone settled in for a story.

2

Stone thought Lance looked as though he needed a drink.
“Can I get you a drink, Lance?”
“Thank you, no. We’ve got a flap on—two agents missing in Afghanistan—and I have a meeting with the director in two hours.”
“In the middle of the night?”
“I have to make a recommendation,” Lance said. “We think we know where they are: Do we send in more people to get them and risk the lives of a hundred men, or do we call in an air strike and kill everybody.”
“Including the two agents?”
“That’s the decision. There’s a chopper waiting for me at the West Side helipad. That’s why I can’t deal with this right now.”
“Deal with what?”
“My brother, Barton.”
“Start at the beginning, Lance.”
“My brother is four years older than I. Barton has been a star all his life: In school, in sports, wherever he went, he was always the star. Our mother died in childbirth with me. When I was twelve, our father died, and Barton became a surrogate father. He joined the Marines during the war in Vietnam, right out of Harvard; got a commission, led a platoon. I was at Harvard then. By the time it was over he was a colonel, commanding a regiment. Nobody in the Marines had advanced so quickly since World War Two. He was sent to the War College and told he would be a general before long, perhaps a future chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.”
“Sounds like a spectacular career.”
“It was, until he abruptly resigned his commission and disappeared.”
“Disappeared?”
“Nobody could find him. I tried and failed. When I was giving my commencement speech at my graduation I looked down and saw him in the audience, but when the thing was over, he had disappeared again. I didn’t see him again until tonight.”
“So he abandoned you when you were in college?”
“Not entirely. My fees were paid, and a generous check arrived every month from a trust he had set up to receive my inheritance, since I was not yet of age. I wrote to him in care of the bank, but my letter was returned.”
“But you heard from him tonight?”
“Not exactly. I had a call earlier this evening from a hospital in New York, saying that the police had found him, three days ago, unconscious, on the street. He had been beaten and, apparently, robbed, since he had no money or identification. His wristwatch had been taken, too. He was unconscious for around thirty hours, and when he woke, he didn’t know who he was. The police tried to identify him, and today they finally got a match on his fingerprints and got hold of his service record, where I was listed as his next of kin. Somebody at the Pentagon recognized my name and called me.”
“Has Barton recovered his memory?”
“Somewhat. He knows his name, he remembers me, but not much else. No one has been able to find an address for him, since his wallet was stolen. That’s why I need your help.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“His doctor told me that this sort of amnesia is usually temporary; the memory comes back in bits and pieces. It’s a good sign that he has begun to remember. The hospital had to discharge him, since he has recovered from the beating and he has a next of kin. They released him to me tonight. But I can’t take him back to Langley with me, not in the middle of this crisis.”
“Do you want me to find him a hotel?”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea just yet; he needs to regain his memory before he can be left alone.”
“I suppose I could put him up at my house for a couple of days,” Stone said.
“Thank you, Stone. I don’t think he’ll be any trouble; he’s quite docile. I’d also like you, perhaps with Dino’s help, to find out where he lives and, when he recovers himself, take him to his home.”
“But you don’t have any idea at all where he lives?”
Lance shook his head. “None.” He looked at his watch. “There’s a car waiting to take me to the helipad. Come and meet Barton.” He got up and led Stone into the main dining room.
Barton Cabot was sitting at his table, talking in a companionable way with Elaine, who was sitting with him.
“Stone,” Lance said, “this is my brother.”
Barton rose and extended his hand. “Barton Cabot,” he said. “Elaine and I were just catching up.”
“You know Elaine?” Lance asked.
“He’s an old customer,” Elaine said. “Haven’t seen him for at least twenty years.”
“I remember being here,” Barton said, “but not how I got here or why.”
“That’s good,” Lance said. He sat down and turned to his brother. “Barton, I have to return to my office right now, but Stone, here, who is a good friend, is going to put you up at his house for a few days. You’ll be very comfortable there.” He slipped a card and some money into his jacket pocket. “My number is there, if you need to reach me. We’ll catch up in a few days.”
Barton nodded. “It’s very good of you, Stone, to put me up,” he said. “After all, I’m a perfect stranger, even to myself.”
Stone shrugged. “Any brother of Lance’s.”
Lance stood up and motioned for Stone to follow him. “I’m very grateful for this, Stone,” he said as they walked toward the door. He took a card from his pocket and scribbled a number on the back. “That’s my cell number,” he said. “I’ll call you tomorrow to see how he is, but if there’s any sort of emergency, you can reach me, night or day, at that number. He seems to be about your size; can you loan him some clothes?”
“Sure, but first let him have some dinner, then I’ll get him home and to bed.” They shook hands, and Lance went outside, got into a black SUV at the curb and was driven away.
Stone turned and went back to Barton Cabot’s table. As he passed his own table he heard Genevieve and Dino.
“If you would just tell me what this is about,” Dino was pleading.
“You know what it’s about,” Genevieve replied.
Stone kept walking. He sat down with Elaine and Barton and ordered some pasta, and the three of them had a quiet chat for a while. Barton kept up nicely, offered an opinion once in a while, and was charming, even witty. But he said nothing that seemed to require any direct memory of his circumstances.
Stone gave Barton his card, and he tucked it into a jacket pocket. “Thank you, Stone,” he said.
Well, Stone thought, at least he can remember my name. He excused himself to go to the men’s room, and when he returned, both Barton and Elaine were no longer at the table. He saw Elaine sitting up front with some customers and walked up to her. “Where’s Barton?” he asked.
“He left,” she said. “Got into a cab. I put his dinner on your tab.”
Stone hurried outside and looked up and down Second Avenue. There was no sign of Barton Cabot.
“Oh, shit,” he said aloud to himself.

3

Stone went back into Elaine’s and sat down with Dino and Genevieve, both of whom, he was grateful to see, had fallen silent.
“Dino, I need your help,” he said.
“I’d better be going,” Genevieve said, standing up.
“No, don’t go,” Stone said.
“I’ve got a night shift starting in a few minutes,” she said. She pecked Stone on the cheek, fetched Dino a sweeping, openhanded blow to the back of the head, mussing his hair, and left.
“Why do I think you got off light?” Stone asked.
“I still don’t know what it’s about,” Dino said, smoothing his hair.
“You may never know,” Stone said. “I need your help.” He explained about Lance’s brother.
“And you let him walk out of here?” Dino asked, incredulous.
“I had to go to the john, all right? And besides, he was sitting, chatting with Elaine.”
“You know Elaine spends her evening cruising tables.”

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