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Stone Barrington returns in the stunning new thriller by the New York Times–bestselling author.
Stone Barrington is back in Manhattan and pleased to receive an unexpected visit from his friend and sometime lover Holly Barker, now an assistant director at the CIA. For her part, Holly is glad to leave the staid, official environs of the capital for the dining and atmosphere of New York, but her sojourn isn’t only for pleasure. An explosive incident requires her immediate attention—and Stone’s investigative expertise.
But what initially appears to be a clear-cut case soon becomes increasingly complex—and dangerous. For in the secretive world of government intelligence, national interests all too often conflict with power grabs and turf wars, and extreme wealth allows even the most pursued rivals to slip through the cracks. As Stone and Holly follow the trail from London’s posh embassy district to Manhattan’s Upper East Side, they learn just how well the most cunning plans can be disguised . . . and how far some people will go to wreak vengeance.
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Stuart Woods is the author of fifty novels, including the New York Times–bestselling Stone Barrington and Holly Barker series. He is a native of Georgia and began his writing career in the advertising industry. Chiefs, his debut in 1981, won the Edgar Award. An avid sailor and pilot, Woods lives in New York City, Florida, and Maine.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
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.”
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