Stone Barrington closed his three suitcases and called down for Fred Flicker to fetch his luggage. Fred was quick.
“I’ll have the car around in five minutes, Mr. Barrington,” he said.
“Thank you, Fred.”
Fred hustled the three cases onto the elevator and disappeared. Stone turned to Ann Keaton, who was sitting on the end of his bed, fully dressed and ready to go to her job at the New York City campaign headquarters of Katharine Lee, the Democratic nominee for president of the United States. Ann was her deputy campaign manager.
“Are you crying because I’m leaving?” Stone asked. “I mean, you’ve known for weeks that I have to go to Paris for the opening of the new hotel, l’Arrington.”
“No,” she said, “that’s not why.”
“I’ll be back in two or three weeks, and you’re going to be so busy with the campaign that you won’t even notice that I’m gone.”
“I’ll notice,” Ann said. “I have something to tell you.”
“Just a minute,” Stone said. He buzzed his secretary, Joan Robertson. “Ask Fred to pick up the Bacchettis, then come back for me,” he said. Then he returned and sat next to Ann on the bed.
“All right,” he said, “tell me.”
“I’m crying because I won’t be here when you get back,” Ann said.
This was news to Stone. “And where will you be?”
“I don’t understand, Kate said you could work out of New York.”
“Kate changed her mind,” Ann said. “She wants me to work with Sam more closely. She wants us to meet every day, and Sam can’t come to New York.” Sam Meriwether, the senior senator from Georgia, was Kate Lee’s campaign manager.
“And this is until the election?” Stone asked hopefully.
“Only if Kate isn’t elected,” Ann said. “We’ve talked about what happens if she gets elected: I’ll be heading up the search operation for administration appointees, while remaining her chief of staff. And after the inauguration . . .”
“As the president’s chief of staff, you’ll be the second-most-powerful person in the world?”
“That’s what everybody says,” Ann said, then she renewed her crying.
“Ann, I can understand that if you have to choose between being with me and being the second-most-powerful person in the world, why you might not choose me.”
“And I hate that about myself!” she sobbed. “Why do I want that above personal happiness?”
“Because you’d be doing it for your country,” Stone said, “and, of course, because you’d be the second-most-powerful person in the world.”
“Do you hate me?” Ann asked.
“Of course not. I love you.”
“But you’re not in love with me, not anymore.”
“That’s a self-defense mechanism,” Stone said. “I know I can’t have you, so I can’t be in love.”
“I can understand that,” she said. “Everybody’s got to protect himself. Still, I wish you were the one crying.”
“I hardly ever cry,” Stone said.
“You should try it sometime, it’s good for you.”
“I’ll have to take your word for it.” He got up, took her hand, and pulled her to her feet. “Come on, let’s go down. I have to pick up my briefcase from Joan.”
They took the elevator down to his office, where his briefcase stood open on his desk, with Joan standing guard.
“I got you ten thousand euros,” she said. “If you need more, you can just use your ATM card. The bank says it works in Europe.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Stone said. “But I don’t see how I can spend ten thousand euros in two or three weeks.”
“You’ll find a way,” Joan said, with a confidence born of keeping him in cash.
“Is the car out front?”
“Yes, everything’s ready.”
“Come on, I’ll drop you at your office,” he said to Ann.
“No,” she said. “I want to walk, get some fresh air and get over feeling sorry for myself, and that will take a few minutes.”
She walked him out to the car, where Fred already had the rear door open. He kissed Ann goodbye, got in, and kissed Viv Bacchetti on the cheek. Fred closed the door and got behind the wheel.
“Where’s Dino?” he asked. Her husband, the newly minted commissioner of police for New York, was coming to Paris with them, where he was attending a conference of high-ranking police officials from Europe and the United States. They were taking the Gulfstream 650 jet belonging to Strategic Services, Viv’s employer and the world’s second-largest security company. She was to oversee the security staff at the new hotel, until things were running smoothly.
“He’s coming in his car,” she said, “or rather his motorcade. He had to pick up the L.A. chief of police and the Boston commissioner. The only way the mayor would let Dino ride in a corporate jet was if the other two guys came along, too, and Mike Freeman was okay with that. It’s a motorcade, because those guys are each traveling with two of their own detectives.” Freeman was the CEO of Strategic Services.
“Okay, let’s go, Fred.”
“You look funny,” Viv said.
“Funny queer or funny ha-ha?”
“I just had to say goodbye to Ann.”
“Well, she’ll be here when you get back.”
“No, she’ll be in Washington, very likely for years to come. Kate wants her there to work more closely with Sam Meriwether.”
“Yeah, so do I, but I don’t like it much.”
“Maybe it’s not such a bad thing, Stone, maybe it’s time for you to be a free man again.”
Stone didn’t know how to reply to that.
AT TETERBORO they were let through the security gate at Jet Aviation and Fred drove them to the big airplane. There was a line of black SUVs already there, disgorging men in suits and their luggage. Mike Freeman was greeting them at the airplane’s door and turning them over to the two stewardesses, who would settle them in. Someone got their luggage out of the trunk, then Stone followed Viv up the stairs and to their seats. Dino made the introductions, then the three of them occupied seats together, along with Mike Freeman. The moment everyone was buckled into a seat, the airplane was taxiing. With no delay, they were on the runway, then down the runway and climbing.
“Paris awaits,” Mike said.
“Are you looking forward to it?” Stone asked.
“I always do. By the way, Stone, you won’t be driving into the city with us.”
“Because I had a call from Lance Cabot this morning.” Cabot was the director of Central Intelligence. “His people will be transporting you.”
“That’s very weird,” Stone said.
“I thought so, too,” Mike replied.
And then they were eating a big breakfast.
Stone stepped out the door of the Gulfstream 650 and, from the top of the stairs, viewed what seemed a whole lot of badly parked SUVs. They were there to transport the occupants of the G-650 and their detectives, bodyguards, and the police officers who had come to greet them. One vehicle stood out: a white Mercedes van that was bigger and taller than the usual van. Leaning against it, grinning, was one Richard LaRose, known as Rick, who was the newly appointed Paris station chief of the Central Intelligence Agency. As Stone walked toward the man he caught sight of a Gulfstream 450 being towed into a nearby hangar, and he saw something familiar painted on an engine nacelle, a symbol he had seen before.
“Stone!” Rick yelled.
Stone turned and waved, then pointed out his luggage to a lineman, then pointed at the big van, then he strolled over and shook hands with the grinning Rick, forgetting the Gulfstream. “Rick, how are you?”
“Better than fine,” Rick replied, “and I rate better transportation these days.” He jerked a thumb toward the van. Rick’s former transport had been a battered gray Ford van that he had done terrible things to.
“Congratulations on the new job,” Stone said. “Lance mentioned it.”
Stone’s luggage was stored in a rear compartment, then Rick slid open the door of the van to reveal an interior that was more jetliner than van: four seats, two abreast, facing across a burled walnut tabletop. The cabin was swathed in soft beige leather. On one of the seats sat Lance Cabot, director of Central Intelligence, offering Stone a small, cool smile.
Stone got in and shook hands. “What a surprise to see you in Paris, Lance,” he said. He always was wary around Lance, today no less so.
“In my line of work I try to surprise,” Lance said. “When people expect you, bad things can happen.”
Rick slid in beside Lance and closed the door, then rapped sharply on the bulkhead behind him. The van moved smoothly away
“What brings you across the pond?” Stone asked, genuinely curious.
Lance gazed out the window at the passing scenery. “Oh, I thought I’d come over and help Rick get settled into his new office. And into his new job.”
“And that is very much appreciated, Lance,” Rick said, somehow avoiding sounding obsequious.
“Also, I wanted the opportunity to speak with you privately before you reach your new hotel,” Lance said.
“Well, here I am, and this looks private to me. Assuming we can trust Rick, of course.”
“Of course,” Lance said. “Stone, your arrival in Paris coincides with two notable gatherings in the city: one is the meeting of that group of important policemen, now called the Congress of Security, or in the way of the world these days, CONSEC. Although many of these gentlemen have met at one time or another, this is the first time all of them have met at once. The importance of that meeting is indicated by the place of their conference, the Élysée Palace, which, as you know, is the seat of the president of France.”
Stone nodded; he knew that much, at least.
“The other gathering, which will not be publicized, is of a criminal nature, though it will appear to be a conference of business executives. This is an organization of Russian oligarchs, most of them former KGB generals and colonels, who have grown rich and fat in their new, so-called democracy. What was formerly a loose network of old chums, colleagues, and enemies has now gelled into a more formal entity, which they call the Cowl, as in the hood of a monk. The apparent head monk is Yevgeny Majorov, the son of a very, very important KGB general, now thankfully deceased, and the brother of another decedent, Yuri Majorov, in whose death they suspect you of having had a hand.”
Stone raised a finger. “I deny that,” he said.
“Deny it all you like,” Lance replied. “The fact is that Yuri wanted you dead because you would not accept him as a partner in your hotel business, and he had brought with him to Los Angeles a feared mafia assassin, who sometimes worked freelance, for the express purpose of ensuring your demise.”
“I believe I heard something about that,” Stone said.
“Yuri, as we now know, departed Los Angeles in his private jet, bound for Moscow, and arrived in that city, having apparently expired of natural causes en route.”
Stone shrugged. “These things happen.”
“Yuri’s death coincided with that of his hired assassin, in his bed at the Bel-Air Hotel, and his killer used a little something from the gentleman’s own pharmaceutical supply to off both the assassin and Yuri.”
“There’s a certain poetry to that,” Stone observed.
“Yes, and that standard of ‘poetry’ is rarely found outside organizations such as the one I head. In fact, I believe this particular ‘poet’ to be a former member of my flock, one Teddy Fay, but I can’t prove it, and that fact alone causes me to suspect Teddy. That and the fact that Teddy’s name, photographs, fingerprints, and DNA test have recently vanished from every intelligence and law enforcement database in the United States and its possessions, along with the databases of all those nations with whom we share such data.”
“I will have to take the Fifth on that one,” Stone said.
“There is only one way this could have happened,” Lance said. “Not even I could have engineered it, and I can engineer almost anything, if I try hard enough. No, that action originated far, far above my pay grade. One, and only one, personage could have initiated it, and he, coincidentally, is a friend of yours. But, for reasons of both decorum and self-preservation, I will say no more about that.”
“Thank you, Lance, that is a relief.”
“Good, but you have little else about which to be relieved, Stone.”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“It means that Yevgeny Majorov has made some of the same deductions I have made, and he believes you, in one way or another, to be responsible for both his brother’s failure to penetrate the ownership of your hotel group and for his brother’s untimely demise.”
“The man must be delusional,” Stone said.
“Nevertheless,” Lance said, “while you are in Paris you are going to have to watch your ass—or rather, Rick and his coterie are going to have to. Do you understand and accept this fact?”
Stone sighed. “If I must,” he said.
“Yes, you must. Good day to you.” The van glided to a stop at a Paris street corner; Lance exited the vehicle and immediately got into a black sedan.
“Now to l’Arrington,” Rick said.
Rick’s van took so many turns down so many narrow streets that Stone lost his bearings. After a time, however, the van slowed for a left turn, and Stone saw, for the first time, the gates to the new hotel. They turned and drove through a handsome archway into a large courtyard. A building that was probably impressive under ordinary circumstances had been concealed by acres of scaffolding and plastic cloth.
“I believe they’re sandblasting the limestone facade,” Rick said.
“I hope the inside looks better,” Stone said.
“What was this place before it was a hotel?” Rick asked.
“It was a hotel,” Stone replied. “Before that it was a hospital that Marcel duBois’s father had bought and turned into a cheap hotel. Marcel has now turned it into an expensive one.”
Stone alit from the big van and discovered that it had been followed by three black SUVs, which now disgorged Dino and Viv Bacchetti, Mike Freeman, and the top policemen of Los Angeles and Boston and their luggage.
Dino came over and peeked into Rick’s van. “I want one of these,” he said.
Stone introduced everybody to Rick, while a team of bellmen erupted from the hotel to collect all their luggage.
“Is this place finished?” Dino asked, looking around.
“Almost,” Stone said. “The paint in your room may still be wet, though.”
There was no check-in process; they were immediately escorted into elevators, and Stone was shown into a large, elegantly furnished suite, while Dino and Viv were put in an adjoining bedroom.
A large crystal vase of calla lilies stood on a table in Stone’s living room, and he read the attached card. Welcome to your new home in Paris, it said, and was signed by Marcel duBois.
Dino and Viv unpacked and returned to the sitting room, where tea and some light food had been brought up.
“When do we see Marcel duBois?” Viv asked.
“You’ll see him at dinner. Dino, when do your meetings start?”
“The day after tomorrow. We’re supposed to get over the jet lag during that time. What was the deal with the white van?” Dino asked.
“It contained Lance Cabot,” Stone explained, “who wanted to tell me that the Russians haven’t forgotten about me.”
“Oh, shit,” Dino said.
“Am I going to have to provide your security?” Viv asked.
“No, Lance has thoughtfully taken care of that. Rick LaRose, who you just met, is the CIA’s Paris station chief, newly in the job.”
“What’s Lance doing in Paris?” Dino asked.
“He says he came to help Rick settle into his new office, but I tend to think that nothing Lance says is ever entirely true.”
“How long do we have until dinner?” Viv asked.
Stone looked at his watch. “An hour.”
“Then please excuse me, I have a lot to do.” She vanished into their room.
“Me, too,” Dino said. “See you later.” He followed Viv.
Stone went to do his own unpacking and freshening.
THE WHITE Mercedes van awaited them in the courtyard, sans Rick.
“Where are we going?” Dino asked.
“To a wonderful restaurant called Lasserre,” Stone said. “Marcel duBois is our host, and I understand there will be some other people there, too.”
They arrived at the restaurant, in the Avenue Franklin Roosevelt, and were taken up in an elevator. They walked into a large, square dining room with a sunken center. To Stone’s surprise, all the guests were milling around the room, drinking champagne and talking with each other.
Marcel duBois broke from a knot of people and came across the room, arms spread. There followed the usual kissing of both cheeks, and Stone reintroduced him to Dino and Viv. “Marcel,” he said, “why is no one dining?”
“Because I have not yet told them to,” Marcel replied.
“Do you mean you’ve taken the whole restaurant?”
“I had to. I couldn’t get everyone I wanted you to meet into my dining room at home.”
“Who are these people?”
“The crème de la crème of Paris, of course,” Marcel replied. “Business, show business, hotel business, writing business, you name it. Come and meet them.”
For half an hour they were ushered from group to group and introduced. When they were done, Stone could remember only one name: Mirabelle Chance, who was about five-two barefoot, raven of hair and ivory of complexion.
“Come, let us sit down,” Marcel said.
At a signal from Marcel a chime rang, and the guests began finding their place cards. Marcel headed the table in the very center of the room.
Viv looked up. “The roof is opening,” she said. She was right: the frescoed ceiling slid open to reveal a rose arbor on the roof.
“Whenever it gets a bit too warm,” Marcel explained, “the ceiling opens and lets out the hot air.”
Stone was pleased to see that the place card next to his read MIRABELLE CHANCE, although there was no sign of her. A parade of food and wine ensued.
They were halfway through their first course, a slab of fresh foie gras, when Mirabelle Chance finally took her seat. The gentlemen all rose to receive her, and Marcel introduced her to those at the table she had not yet met.
“I do beg your pardon,” she said, with the slightest French accent layered over upper-class British English. “There was a line in the loo.”
“There always is,” Viv said, and everybody laughed.
“Now, Mr. Barrington,” Mirabelle said, “since I know your name, it is time for me to learn who you are, where you come from, and everything else about you of any possible interest.”
Stone laughed. “Well, I am an attorney,” he said. “I come from New York, and everything else about me you will have to root out, one piece of information at a time.”
“Then I must work for my supper?”
“Only as hard as you wish to,” Stone replied, “but before you start, I think I’m entitled to an exchange of information.”
“All right,” she said. “I am a Parisienne from my birth, though, having a British mother and an indifferent French father, I went to school and university in England, then I at first modeled, and now I design dresses, including the one I am wearing.”
Stone looked her up and down. “You are very good at what you do,” he said.
“Now, my turn to dig,” she said. “Where were you schooled?”
“Within a few blocks of my home in Greenwich Village, at P.S. Six, at New York University, then at their law school.”
“No further graduate work?”
“Yes, I got my Ph.D. as a patrolman and detective with the New York Police Department. I attended for fourteen years, but the degree is purely honorary.” He nodded toward Dino. “That gentleman over there, whose name you will remember is Dino, was my partner as a detective, and he now rules the NYPD as police commissioner. His wife, Vivian, or Viv, as we call her, was a decorated detective before she retired to enter the private sector.”
“My goodness, so many policemen. I feel quite at home, because my father, Michel Chance, is the prefect of police and the Cabinet, the most important of several prefects and roughly analogous to the position of Commissioner Bacchetti.”
Marcel spoke up. “May I say I feel extremely safe at this table?”
“And well you should,” Mirabelle said.
“And how did you avoid becoming a police officer?” Stone asked.
“That was left to my brother, who has risen through the ranks to the position of commandant, and is in charge of investigations in Paris.”
“Until Dino’s recent promotion,” Stone said, “he held that position in New York—chief of detectives.”
“Well,” Mirabelle said, “now we have everyone’s credentials.”
“Not quite,” Stone said. “Which university did you attend in Britain?”
“Cambridge,” she replied, forking a considerable chunk of foie gras between her lush lips.
“I congratulate you,” Stone said.
“Thank you, but your congratulations are late, since I earned my degree some fifteen years ago.”
“My apologies for my tardiness. For whom do you design dresses?”
“I am strictly couture,” she said. “I make dresses for clients, I do not manufacture them for the masses, or even for the elite classes.”
“If you were a Frenchwoman, Stone,” Marcel said, “you would know all this. Mirabelle is quite famous in her world.”
“I never doubted it,” Stone said. “Mirabelle, perhaps you could tell me why there are two men in black suits across the room there”—he nodded—“staring at you.”
“My father and my brother feel that, since I am of their family, I require police protection at all . . . well, at nearly all times.”
“I’m glad there are exceptions,” Stone said.
“And perhaps you could tell me, Stone, why the man and woman in gray over there”—she nodded—“are staring at you?”
“They are employed to see that I may do business in Paris without coming to harm.”
“Since you are dealing with Marcel, I assume this is l’Arrington business of which you speak?”
“Stone,” said Marcel, “is the originator of the Arrington brand, having opened the first one in Bel-Air, Los Angeles. He also sits on the board.”
“Along with Marcel,” Stone pointed out.
“Well,” said Mirabelle, “if I should ever need a place to sleep, I shall know whom to call.”
“I am at your beck and call,” Stone said, handing her a card, “and I hope I may be of service soon.”
Mirabelle tucked the card into her bosom. “We shall see,” she said.
TWO HOURS LATER, sated and suffering from jet lag, Stone and his party went downstairs to his waiting Mercedes van. It wasn’t there.
Stone was about to call Rick LaRose when his cell phone vibrated. He glanced at the calling number. “Yes, Rick?”
“Your van has become unavailable,” Rick said. “Get everybody back inside and wait for my call.”
Stone herded his group back inside. “Rick LaRose’s orders,” he said.
“Oh,” Mirabelle said, “there is my car outside now.” She said good night to all, went outside and departed.
A moment later, a long black car appeared outside, and Rick LaRose got out and came inside. “We have another car for you,” he said.
They trooped outside and got into the car. As they drove away Stone asked, “Whose car is this?”
“The ambassador’s,” Rick replied.
“And what happened to the van?”
Stone was awakened by the room service waiter early the next morning. For a moment he forgot he had left the order on the doorknob.
He let the man in, then got back into bed while the waiter set a tray on his lap, along with a copy of the International New York Times and one of Paris Match. Stone tried that, but his French wasn’t good enough to read it, so he reverted to the Times. He switched on the TV and found CNN.
His phone rang. “Yes?”
“Good morning, Rick.”
“Do you have the TV on?”
“Yes, on CNN.”
“Turn it to the local news, channel two.”
Stone switched and found a Frenchwoman gazing into the camera, producing a torrent of her language. “Okay, got it. What am I watching?”
“Just hang on for a minute.”
“Have you planted something on TV, Rick?”
“No, but I got a tip to watch this.”
The woman’s image disappeared, replaced by that of a burning vehicle.
“What’s this, a bomb in Paris?”
“No, that’s your van,” Rick said.
Stone looked more closely, but it was hard to tell. “And why is it on fire?”
“Someone is sending either you or me a message.”
“If the message is for me, what is it?”
“If it’s for you, I think it means, ‘Pay attention this time.’”
“To the people who tried to kill you when you were last in Paris.”
“Looks that way.”
“Let’s assume for a moment that the message is for you, instead of me. What is the message?”
“‘Stop trying to protect Stone Barrington.’”
“What happened to the driver?”
“He was standing, leaning on the van, having a cigarette—he’s not allowed to smoke in the van—and someone laid a cosh upside his head.”
“Is he all right?”
“He’s in our little clinic at the embassy, and he has a very bad headache, but the doc says he’ll be okay.”
“So, how are you going to react to this message?”
“By replacing the van. We have more than one. A black one will be there at noon to pick you up for your lunch date with Marcel duBois.”
“How did you know I was having lunch with duBois?”
“I’m in the CIA, remember?”
“Oh, yeah, I forgot: you know everything.”
“Near enough to everything—enough to put two men in the van this time: one to protect you and the other to protect him.”
“Well, I hope your plan works. From what I just saw on TV, I don’t think the air-conditioning could keep up.”
“It’ll be okay this time, I promise. You know, this incident is probably going to help us more than it’ll hurt.”
“How will it do that?”
“By telling Lance that our little operation here is a good idea. Lance likes learning that he was right.”
“You’re going to be getting another call this morning.”
“The last woman I met in Paris was one of yours. Is Mirabelle one of yours, too?”
“I’m working on that. In fact, you could be a great help to me.”
“You want me to recruit her for you? I wouldn’t know how to begin.”
“She clearly likes you. We know that from her behavior at the dinner last night.”
“I hope you’re right. I certainly like her.”
“She may raise the subject with you. I, and particularly Lance, would be grateful if you could help her move in our direction.”
“What do you want from her?”
“Anything we can get. She’s very well connected in Paris, beginning with her father and brother, and continuing down her client list, which is heavy with the wives and mistresses of government officials.”
“Okay, Rick, if she asks me if she should become a resource for the Agency, I’ll say, sure, why not?”
“Come on, Stone, you can do better than that.”
“I can’t promise that I will.”
“I’ll rely on your good sense. Gotta run. The van will be there at noon.” He hung up.
Stone stared at the breakfast in his lap, congealing before his eyes. Eggs Benedict did not benefit from getting cold. The phone rang. “Hello?”
“Good morning, Mr. Barrington,” Mirabelle said.
“Good morning, Mademoiselle Chance,” he said.
“Are you free for breakfast?”
“I am, if we can do it here.”
“In the penthouse suite.”
“I’ll be there in half an hour. Au revoir.” She hung up.
Stone called down to room service to collect the tray and to double the order, then he got out of bed and into a shower and a shave.
Stone’s doorbell rang, and he opened it to find standing there Mirabelle Chance, dressed to the gills. Cheeks were kissed.
“Do you always dress so beautifully for breakfast?” he asked, admitting her to the suite.
“Of course,” she replied. “I am my own best advertising. Do you like it?”
“You make that dress look gorgeous,” he said.
“I’m not sure that I understand your language well enough to know if that is a criticism of the dress.”
“Not at all,” Stone replied. “The dress would make any other woman look beautiful.”
“Again, I’m not sure . . .”
“I compliment the beauty of both you and the dress,” he said. “Without reservation.”
She blinked, then smiled. “Have you coffee?” she asked.
The doorbell rang. “I do now.” He admitted the waiter, who set up the table on Stone’s terrace. Shortly, they were seated, and Mirabelle had her coffee.
“Beautiful view, isn’t it?” Stone said.
“That is the Luxembourg Palace,” she said, pointing, “and surrounding it are the Luxembourg Gardens. And they are both very beautiful. How well do you know Paris?”
“Not as well as I expect to in a couple of weeks. What I need is a personal guide.”
She leaned forward on her elbows. “Is that all you require?”
“The river of my needs is broad and deep,” he said.
“So, then, it takes more than one woman to meet them?”
“Not necessarily. It just takes more than a personal guide.”
“A multitasker, then?”
“If you want to be technical.”
“I would prefer not.” The waiter, who had been rearranging the silverware, brought two plates of eggs Benedict from the hotbox below, set them in place, and whisked away the covers.
“Bon appétit,” he said, then vanished.
“Now we are alone,” she said.
“No, we have eggs Benedict.”
“Ah, yes.” She dug in. “Tell me,” she said after a moment’s chewing, “what is your connection to the CIA?”
“I am a consultant to the Agency,” Stone said.
“What does that mean?”
“It means that sometimes they ask for my advice, and I give it. At other times they don’t, and I don’t.”
“Are you paid for this advice?”
“Only on a piecework basis.”
“How much per piece?”
“I bill them by the hour. I am an attorney, after all, and that is our wont.”
“You won’t what?”
“It means our usual practice or desire.”
“You bill the CIA for your desires?”
“No, I bill them for their desires. What is your connection to French intelligence?”
“None,” she said. “They have so many—anagrams?”
“Ah, yes, acronyms. French intelligence has too many, and I would never know with whom I was dealing. I have been asked, sort of, to become associated with American intelligence.”
“In what capacity?”
“As a conveyor of gossip, apparently.”
“I suppose you would hear quite a lot of that from your clients.”
“Constantly, but rarely anything that would amuse the CIA.”
“You never know what might entertain them,” Stone said. “Did you accept their offer?”
“Not yet. What is your advice?”
“Would it amuse you to associate yourself with them?”
“Then accept, but negotiate the terms.”
“How do you mean?”
“You are a businesswoman: whatever they offer you, demand more.”
“Will I get it?”
“You will get some of it, that’s what a negotiation is about: you rarely get everything you want.”
“I nearly always get everything I want,” she said emphatically.
“I’m not surprised. Perhaps I should hope that you don’t want me.”
“If I should want you, then God help you.”
“In that circumstance I would prefer to handle the transaction myself.”
“That’s the first time this morning you’ve laughed.”
“I don’t laugh, unless I am really amused.”
“Then I will take your laugh as a compliment—assuming that you are laughing with me, rather than at me.”
“An interesting distinction,” she said. “When I was at school in England I learned, with some difficulty, when Englishmen were being funny. I have had much less experience with Americans.”
“Anything I can do to help,” Stone said.
“Was that an offer of or a request for sex?”
“You see! I think maybe that was meant to be funny, but I’m not sure. What does ‘not necessarily’ mean?”