A New York Times Bestselling Author
Two-Dollar Bill delivers all the storytelling twists and whip-smart banter readers have come to love in Stuart Woods' thrillers. In his latest, suave Manhattan cop-turned-lawyer Stone Barrington is back on his home turf, facing down a brilliant Southern flimflam man.
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Stuart Woods is the author of more than sixty novels, including the #1 New York Times bestselling Stone Barrington 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 Florida, Maine, and New Mexico.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
ELAINE’S, LATE. For some reason no one could remember, Thursday nights were always the busiest at Elaine’s. Stone Barrington reflected that it may have had something to do with the old custom of Thursday being Writer’s Night, an informal designation that began to repeat itself when a lot of the writers who were regular customers gathered on Thursdays at the big table, number four, to bitch about their publishers, their agents, the size of their printings and promotion budgets, their wives, ex-wives, children, ex-children, dogs and ex-dogs.
The custom had withered with the imposition of smoking rules, when Elaine figured that number four needed to be in the smoking section, and since the new, no-smoking-at-all law came into effect, Writer’s Night had never been revived. Anyway, Stone figured, every night was Writer’s Night at Elaine’s, and that was all right with him.
On this particular night, every table in the main dining room was jammed, and the overflow of tourists and nonregulars had filled most of the tables in Deepest Siberia, which was the other dining room. The only times Stone had ever sat in that room were either when Elaine had sold the main dining room for a private party, or when he was in deep shit with Elaine, something he tried to avoid.
Tonight, however, Elaine was fixing him with that gaze that could remove varnish. He had been to a black tie dinner party and had stopped by for a drink afterward, just in time to secure his usual table, the last available. Now he was sitting there, sipping a brandy, and not eating dinner. Elaine strongly preferred it if, when one sat down at a table, especially on a night as busy as this, one ordered dinner. She didn’t much care if you ate it or not, as long as it got onto the bill.
To make matters worse, Dino had wandered in, having also dined elsewhere, and had sat down and also ordered only a brandy.
Suddenly, Elaine loomed over the table. “You fucking rich guys,” she said.
“Huh?” Stone asked, as if he didn’t know what she meant.
She explained it to him. “You go out and eat somewhere else in your fucking tuxedos, then you come in here and take up a table and nurse a drink.”
“Wait a minute,” Dino said, “I’m not wearing a tuxedo.”
“And I’m not nursing this drink,” Stone said, downing the rest of his brandy and holding up his glass, signaling a waiter for another. “And you may recall, we were in here last night, eating with both hands.”
“A new night begins at sunset,” Elaine said. “Now get hungry or get to the bar.” She wandered off and sat down at another table.
“You feeling hungry?” Stone asked.
“Yeah, a little,” Dino replied.
Stone handed the waiter his glass. “Bring us an order of the fried calamari,” he said, “and get some silver and napkins on the table, so it’ll look like we’re ordering.”
“You think that’ll work?” Dino asked, looking sidelong at Elaine.
“Maybe she’ll get distracted,” Stone said. “Bring us a bottle of the Frascati, too, instead of the brandy,” he said to the waiter. “And some bread.”
“The bread is a good move,” Dino said. “You don’t think she really meant that about going to the bar, do you?”
The bar crowd and the restaurant crowd at Elaine’s were occupied by different tribes, each of whom acknowledged the presence of the other only when eyeing their women. Neither Stone nor Dino had ever had a drink at the bar.
“Nah,” Stone replied. “It’s just her sense of humor.” He looked up and was elated to see Bill Eggers, the managing partner of Woodman & Weld, the law firm to whom Stone was of counsel, coming in the front door. Stone waved him over and pumped his hand.
“Sit down and order dinner,” Stone said.
Eggers sat down. “I already ate,” he said.
“Shhh, Elaine will hear you. Order something for Christ’s sake.” Stone shoved a menu at him.
“You want to drink at the bar?”
Eggers opened the menu. “I guess I could eat some dessert.”
“I’ve been out with a new client,” Eggers said. “He’ll be here in a minute; he went to get his limo washed.”
“He wants to make sure it’s hand washed,” Eggers explained, “and he doesn’t trust his driver to do it right.”
“And you want this guy for a client?”
“Actually, you want this guy for a client, because he wants you for his lawyer.”
“You mean he asked for me?”
Eggers nodded. “Go figure.”
A new client did not usually ask for Stone; he first came to Eggers with some embarrassing, awful problem: a private detective in the employ of his wife had photographed him in bed with a bad woman; his son had been accused of the date-rape of his headmaster’s daughter; his wife, drunk, had driven his Mercedes through a liquor-store window. Like that. Eggers then hunted down Stone, whose lot it was to handle the sort of thing that Woodman & Weld did not want to be seen handling. In return for this service, the firm would occasionally hand him a nice personal-injury suit that could be settled quickly.
“What’s his problem?”
“He doesn’t have one, that I know of,” Eggers said. “He’s a rich Texan, which may be redundant; he’s a good-looking guy who attracts women like blackflies on a May day in Maine; and he’s unmarried.”
“What kind of problems could he possibly have?” Dino asked. “Has he killed somebody, maybe?”
“Not that he mentioned.”
“How’d you come by him?” Stone asked.
“He was recommended by another Texan client, a very valuable one, a client you are not to go anywhere near.”
“And he just asked for me, out of the blue?”
“Out of the clear blue. He said, and I quote,” and here Eggers lapsed into a broad drawl, “ ‘I hear you got a feller, name of Barrington, does some stuff for you. I want him to handle my little ol’ account.’ ”
“He must be planning to kill somebody,” Dino said. “Maybe drum up some business for me?” Dino was the NYPD lieutenant in charge of the detective squad at the 19th Precinct, sometimes called the Silk Stocking Precinct because it covered the Upper East Side of New York City. He had been Stone’s partner, back when Stone had been a police detective.
“Here he is now,” Eggers said, nodding toward the front door.
A man of about six-four and two hundred and twenty pounds, broad of shoulder and narrow of hip, wearing a western-cut suit and a broad-brimmed Stetson, filled the front door.
“He looks like one of the Sons of the Pioneers,” Dino said.
Stone hated him on sight. “Make sure he orders dinner,” he said to Eggers.
THE TEXAN had a bone-crushing handshake. “Hey,” he said to the table, then he started crushing bones. “I’m Billy Bob Barnstormer.”
“That’s Lieutenant Dino Bacchetti of the New York Police Department,” Eggers said, “and that’s Stone Barrington.”
“Did you say ‘Barnstormer’?” Stone asked incredulously.
“Yep,” Billy Bob replied. “My grandaddy was a pilot in World War One, and after that he barnstormed around the country for a while, before he started up Southwest Airlines.”
“I thought Herb Kelleher and Rollin King started Southwest,” Stone said.
“Them, too,” Billy Bob replied blithely. “Like I said, he was barnstorming, and his name was originally Barnstetter, so it made sense to make the change while he was doing that work. He got used to it, I guess, so he had it changed, legal-like.”
Dino looked nervously at Elaine and slid a menu across the table. “Have some dinner.”
“Thanks, me and ol’ Bill, here, already ate.”
“Bill is having dessert,” Dino said.
“I think I’ll have some bourbon for dessert,” Billy Bob replied. He turned to the waiter. “What you got?”
“We’ve got Jack Daniel’s and Wild Turkey and Knob Creek, but Stone is the only one who drinks that, except for that writer.”
“I’ll have me a double Wild Turkey straight up,” Billy Bob said, then turned his attention to Stone, giving him a broad, pearly smile. “I heard some good things about you,” he said.
“What did you hear?” Dino asked. “We never hear anything good about him.”
Stone shot Dino what he hoped was a withering glance.
“Well, even back in Texas we get some news from the East ever now and then. Can I buy you fellers a drink?”
“We’ve got one already,” Stone said. “What sort of problem have you got, Billy Bob?”
Billy Bob looked puzzled. “Problem?”
“Why do you need a lawyer?”
“Well, shoot, everybody needs a lawyer don’t they?”
“Hard to argue with that,” Eggers agreed.
“You planning to murder anybody?” Dino asked hopefully.
“Not this evenin’,” Billy Bob replied, flashing his big grin again. “They got a pissing place around here?”
“Through the door, first on your left,” Stone said, pointing.
Billy Bob got up and followed directions.
“That ol’ boy has either the best teeth or the best dental work I’ve ever seen,” Dino said.
“How did you come up with this guy again?” Stone asked Eggers.
“I told you, he came recommended by a good client in Texas. Stone, just talk to the man, will you?”
Billy Bob arrived back at the table simultaneously with his bourbon. He peeled a bill off a fat roll and handed it to the waiter.
The waiter looked at it. “A two-dollar bill? I haven’t seen one of these in years.”
“Coin of the realm, my friend,” Billy Bob said.
“The Wild Turkey is eight dollars,” the waiter said.
“That’s on my bill,” Eggers said.
“And the Jefferson is for you,” Billy Bob told the waiter.
The waiter pocketed the money and went away shaking his head.
“Jefferson?” Dino asked.
“Thomas Jefferson is on the two-dollar bill,” Stone said.
“I thought he was worth more than that,” Dino said.
“Me, too,” Eggers interjected. “Madison is on the five-thousand-dollar bill, except there isn’t one anymore. I don’t know who’s on the ten-thousand-dollar bill.”
“Chase,” Stone said.
“There’s no president named Chase,” Eggers replied.
“Salymon Portland Chase,” Stone said. “Secretary of the Treasury and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.”
“How do you know that?” Dino asked doubtfully.
“I know a lot of stuff,” Stone replied.
“So, Billy Bob,” Dino said, “is that whole wad in your pocket two-dollar bills?”
“Naw,” Billy Bob said. “I got some hundreds in there, too.”
Stone’s calamari and Eggers’s dessert arrived. Billy Bob tossed down his Wild Turkey and ordered another.
“When did you get into town?” Stone asked, trying to keep a conversation going.
“This evenin’,” Billy Bob replied. “My GIV sucked a bird in a engine out at Teterboro, so I’m going to be here a few days while they stick a new one on it.”
“I always wanted a Gulfstream Four,” Eggers said wistfully.
“Sell you mine when my Gee Five gets here,” Billy Bob said. “I got one on order.”
“What’s the difference?” Dino asked.
“The Five is bigger, faster, got more range. Shoot, I can go from Dallas to Moscow on that thing, not that you’d want to. Don’t know why anybody would want to go to Moscow. Freeze your balls off.”
Everybody nodded gravely. Conducting a conversation with Billy Bob Barnstormer was not going to be easy.
“What business are you in, Billy Bob?” Stone asked.
“Why, whatever turns a two-dollar bill,” Billy Bob replied. “You name it, I’m in it. Me and Warren Buffett got a little start-up goin’, but I cain’t talk about that, yet.”
Stone tried again. “What’s your main interest?”
“Can you be more specific?”
Eggers jumped into the breach. “Stone, most of our clients are in more than one business. Sounds like Billy Bob, here, is an investor.”
“I like that,” Billy Bob said. “An investor. Yeah.”
“Where you staying while you’re in town?” Dino asked.
“Well, usually I take the presidential suite at the Four Seasons,” Billy Bob said, “but all their suites are booked up for some kind of convention, so I guess I got to scare up some other accommodation.”
“New York hotels are tight this time of year,” Dino said. “Stone, why don’t you put up Billy Bob at your house? You’ve got a lot of room.”
Stone aimed a kick under the table at Dino, but Dino was too quick for him. “Well, I think Billy Bob is looking for a higher level of service than I’m able to offer,” Stone said.
“It would be very kind of you, Stone,” Eggers chimed in. “After all, it’s very late, and Billy Bob is a client.”
Stone looked desperately for an out.
“Why, thank you, Stone,” Billy Bob said, sounding truly grateful. “That’s the nicest thing anybody ever did for me. And I thought all New Yorkers was tight-assed sons of bitches.” He shook his head in wonder.
“Oh, not all New Yorkers,” Dino said. “Stone is a prince of a fellow.”
“He certainly is,” Eggers agreed, pursing his lips to suppress a laugh. “A king, even.”
“If I were a king,” Stone said, “neither of you two would have a head.”
“Now, Stone,” Dino said, “that’s unkind. And just when Billy Bob was thinking well of you.”
“I still think well of him,” Billy Bob said, tossing back another Wild Turkey. “Well, I think I’m about ready to hit the bunkhouse. You ready, Stone?”
“Yes, I guess I am,” Stone said, rising. “You get the bill,” he said to Eggers.
“Sure thing, Stone.”
“C’mon, boy, I’ll give you a ride in my limousine,” Billy Bob said.
Stone followed him toward the door, stopping at a table to give Elaine a peck on the cheek. “Good night, Elaine.”
“Good riddance,” she said.
STONE STEPPED OUT into the bitterly cold night and turned up his overcoat collar. Billy Bob joined him, overcoatless, and pointed at an absurdly long white limousine at the curb.
“Just hop in there, boy,” he said.
As he climbed into the enormous car, Stone tried to remember the last time someone had called him “boy.” Probably when he was a boy, he concluded.
Billy Bob climbed into the car and settled in beside him, then, simultaneously with the slamming of the door, the window beside Stone suddenly crazed over, apparently because of a bullet hole in its center. This was followed quickly by two more bullets, and this time, Stone could hear the gun. He had not even had time to duck. He looked out the now-absent window in time to see a black Lincoln Town Car turn left onto Eighty-eighth Street, against the light, and disappear down the block.
He turned to speak to Billy Bob and found him no longer there. Stone hipped his way across the seat and got out of the curbside door, looking for Billy Bob. The Texan stood in the street, holding an old-fashioned Colt Single-Action Army six-shooter with a pearl handle, looking for a target.
“Are you nuts?” Stone yelled at him.
“Huh?” Billy Bob asked, noticing Stone for the first time.
Stone snatched the pistol out of his hand. “Give me that!”
“Hey, what are you doin’?” Billy Bob demanded.
Stone stuck the weapon into his inside overcoat pocket. “You can get three years at Riker’s Island just for holding that thing in this town.”
“You mean New York won’t support a man’s Second Amendment right to bear arms?”
“Let’s just say that the New York Police Department has a differ...
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