Below the Belt (A Stone Barrington Novel)

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9781524756963: Below the Belt (A Stone Barrington Novel)

Stone Barrington lands in hot water in this thrilling adventure in the #1 New York Times bestselling series.
 
Newly ensconced in his Santa Fe abode with a lovely female companion, Stone Barrington receives a call from an old friend requesting a delicate favor. A situation has arisen that could escalate into an explosive quagmire, and only someone with Stone’s stealth and subtlety can contain the damage. At the center of these events is an impressive gentleman whose star is on the rise, and who’d like to get Stone in his corner. He’s charming and ambitious and has friends in high places; the kind of man who seems to be a sure bet. But in the fickle circles of power, fortunes rise and fall on the turn of a dime, and it may turn out that Stone holds the key not just to one man’s fate, but to the fate of the nation.

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About the Author:

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.:

***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected copy proof***

Copyright © 2017 Stuart Woods

 

1

Stone Barrington landed the CJ 3 Plus smoothly at Santa Fe Airport at midafternoon. Holly Barker sat next to him in the copilot’s seat. “Very nice,” she said.

“Thank you,” Stone replied, and taxied to the ramp, where a rental car was waiting for them. He transferred their luggage to the car, and Stone went inside and made arrangements for regular hangar space. Back in the car, he drove through the automatic gate.

“Excited?” Holly asked.

“I guess so, yes.”

“If I had just bought a new house, sight unseen, I’d be terrified.”

“It’s not exactly sight unseen,” he replied. “I’ve visited there a few times. It was owned by Ed Eagle’s wife’s sister.”

“Are we going to have a bed to sleep in?”

“We are. I bought it substantially furnished.”

“What does that mean?”

“We’re going to find out in about twenty minutes,” he said, turning onto the Santa Fe bypass. Twenty minutes later they turned off the main highway at the Tesuque exit.

“What street is it on?”

“This one—Tesuque Village Road.” They passed the Tesuque Village Market, and a quarter mile later, Stone turned into a drive and reached out his window to enter the gate code into the keypad. The gate slid silently open, and they drove up a fairly long drive and parked in front of the house.

“From here, it looks like every other house in Santa Fe,” Holly said.

“It’s true, all Santa Fe houses look a little alike—it’s the architectural style and the mock adobe finish.” He unloaded their luggage, carried it to the front door, and saw that the key was in the lock, as promised. They entered a long hallway and found a large living room on their right. The big pictures that had hung over the fireplaces at either end were gone. Otherwise, things seemed as he remembered them.

He gave Holly the tour of the kitchen, dining room, and his study, then led her to the master suite and showed her her bath and dressing room, where he left her luggage, then he took her into the bedroom. “Look,” he said, “a bed to sleep in.”

“Now?” Holly asked mischievously.

“Later. Unpack.” He found his own bath and dressing room and unpacked his things, and they met in the study for drinks.

“Thank God she left liquor,” Holly said, sipping her bourbon.

They had hardly sat down in the comfortable leather chairs when the phone rang. “I expect that’s for the previous owner,” Stone said, “but I’d better answer it.” He pressed the speaker button. “Hello?”

“Mr. Stone Barrington?” a woman’s voice asked.

“Yes.”

“This is the White House operator. Will you accept a call from President Lee?”

“Which President Lee?” he asked.

“I beg your pardon, the former President.”

“Of course.”

“Stone?”

“Will, how are you?”

“Very well, thank you. How’s the new house?”

“I moved in half an hour ago. How the hell did you find me here?”

“Didn’t you know? The White House operators can find anybody.”

“How’s the other President Lee?”

“Thriving.”

“And William Henry the Fifth?”

“Rambunctious. I wanted to invite you to something in Santa Fe tomorrow evening—a fund-raiser, actually, but never mind that. It’s dinner at the home of friends, followed by an evening at the Santa Fe Opera—La bohème.”

“Sounds wonderful, we’d love to.”

“Oh, yes, and give Holly my best.”

“Thank you, Mr. President,” Holly said. “You’re the only person at the White House who will talk to me.”

“I’m not talking to you, I’m talking to Stone. We all have orders from the commander in chief not to speak to you.”

Holly sighed. “Yes, I know.” President Kate Lee had told her to take two weeks off and not to call the office, just to have fun. She had gone to New York to see Stone, but then he had bought the house and they had flown west to see it.

“We’d love to come,” Stone said. “It’s my favorite opera.”

“It’s everybody’s favorite opera,” Will replied. “And you and I will have to find a private moment during the evening. There’s something I need to talk to you about.”

“I’ll look forward to it,” Stone said.

“Six o’clock for drinks, followed by dinner. The opera begins at nine—sundown.”

“See you then,” Stone said, then hung up.

“I’m annoyed,” Holly said. “The White House will talk to you, but not to me.”

“That’s because Kate knows you well enough to know that given an inch of access, you’d take a mile. It would be as though you weren’t on vacation at all.”

“I’m unaccustomed to vacations,” Holly replied. She was the national security advisor to the President and, as such, chaired the National Security Council. “And there’s no telling what those people are screwing up in my absence. I’ll probably return to find that the nation is at war.”

“Remember, you chose many of those people. They’re perfectly capable of running the council in your absence.”

“That’s not what a girl wants to hear,” she said moodily.

“I think what you need is another drink,” Stone said, picking up the bottle and refreshing her glass.

“You’re a mind reader.” She took a gulp. “I’m hungry.”

“That’s because it’s two hours later in New York. Let me see what I can find.” He went into the kitchen and found the refrigerator well stocked and returned with some cheese, crackers, and salami.

“That’s better,” Holly said. “What are we doing for dinner?”

“We’ll go up to the Market. It’s a grocery, a restaurant, a pizzeria, a bakery, and, not least, a bar.”

“Everything we need for survival,” she said.

Stone saw an envelope on his chairside table, addressed to him, and he opened it and read it aloud.

Dear Stone,

Welcome to your new home! Everything you see in the house is now yours. My L.A. house is already furnished, so all I took with me were my clothes and a few pictures. You’ll have fun shopping for replacements. I’ve attached a list of numbers for the best restaurants, the maid and cook, the gardener, a handyman, and others you might need. By the way, the hot tub is set to 100 degrees. Feel free to call for advice, and enjoy yourself!

Gala

“That was sweet of her,” Holly said. “I like the sound of the hot tub.”

“Then let’s go find it,” Stone said. “Bring your drink.”

 


 

2

Stone and Holly found the house with his rental-car GPS; it was big, set into a hillside, and had quite a lot of guest parking. He found a spot and they walked toward the front door. A figure stepped out of the darkness: “Mr. Barrington?”

“Yes.”

The man showed him a badge. “Secret Service. May I see some ID, please?”

Stone showed him his New York driver’s license.

“Got anything federal-issued?”

Stone showed him his pilot’s license.

“This way, please. Just you, not the lady.”

“Holly, will you go ahead inside? I’ll join you shortly.”

Holly climbed the steps, rang the bell, and was admitted. The agent led Stone to a large black SUV and rapped on the window. The door opened, and he motioned for Stone to get in.

“Evening, Stone,” Will Lee said, putting aside his New York Times. “How are you?” The agent closed the door, and the only sound Stone could hear was the air-conditioning.

“Very well, Will.”

“Forgive me for ambushing you, but once we’re inside, everyone will be watching.”

“What’s up?”

Will turned his body more toward Stone. “I want to tell you a story, some of which you’ll already know about.”

“All right.”

“Would you like a drink? We have Knob Creek.”

“Sure, thanks.”

Will opened a compartment in front of them and extracted two glasses, some ice, and a bottle of the bourbon and poured them both one. “Happier days,” Will said.

“Are these not happy ones?” Stone asked, taking a swig.

“Think of this as the first day of the election season,” Will said, “though we have a long way to go. The election season is never happy, just frenetic, and often depressing.”

“I suppose you’re right. What’s the story?”

“It begins on a December day in Washington more than ten years ago. We were flying down to Georgia for Christmas, so we left our house in Georgetown and drove up to Silver Spring Airport, where we kept our airplane, at that time a new Piper Mirage. As I was doing my preflight, a marine helicopter set down next to us, and a young officer got out and told me that the vice president would like us to join him and his wife for breakfast at Camp David.

“We arrived there and met Joe and Sue Adams, and after some small talk, Joe got serious. He told us that they had just spent a few days in New York, shopping and going to the theater. There was more to it, though—Joe had had some medical tests, most of them in their suite at the Waldorf, and the results were troubling.”

Stone nodded and had another sip of his drink.

So did Will. “He told us, in the strictest confidence, that he had been diagnosed as being in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, and that he hadn’t told anybody else.”

“I never knew that,” Stone said.

“No one did, for a while. Remember, this was eleven months before the election, and the President couldn’t run again. Joe was everybody’s favorite for the nomination and the election.”

“That, I remember.”

“Joe told me that I was his personal choice for President, and he wanted me to announce almost immediately.”

“A big surprise.”

“An enormous shock. I’d given thought to running, but I didn’t expect to do that for another eight years. Joe said that he would announce in another month or so that he would not be a candidate, but he didn’t want anyone to know why. He was giving me a heads-up to give me time to get a team together for an announcement of my own.”

“That was very good of him.”

“He knew that George Kiel, the minority leader in the Senate at the time, would jump right in, and that he, being better known than I, would be the immediate favorite. Anyway, we went back to our airplane, flew home, and I talked with my folks about it. They were all for a run, and eventually, as you know, I came around. Something odd happened, though, while we were still at the homeplace. Kate received a letter there.”

“Why was that odd?”

“Because no mail had ever been addressed to her at my folks’ house. She borrowed the car, disappeared for about four hours, then returned. She said it was business, and I knew better than to ask any more. She was deputy director for intelligence at the CIA at the time.”

Stone nodded. “Did you ever find out where she went?”

“Yes, but not until after the election. The letter was from a man named Ed Rawls. Does that ring a bell?”

“Of course—a CIA mole for the Russians. He went to prison for it, and you later pardoned him. He lives near my house in Maine.”

“Right. At that time he was in the Atlanta federal prison. Kate had been responsible for exposing him, and she went to see him.”

“Why?”

“Because he alluded to Joe Adams’s illness in the letter.”

Stone sat up straight. “But you had only learned about it that morning, right? And you and Kate were supposed to be the only ones who knew.”

“Right again. You can see why she went to see him.”

“I guess I can. How the hell could somebody in a federal prison know about this almost as soon as you did?”

“We never learned how he knew, but Ed was a brilliant intelligence agent, and he knew an awful lot of people, even if most of them weren’t speaking to him anymore.”

“I guess not. Why did he want to see Kate?”

“Because he wanted a presidential pardon, and he figured that if he helped get me elected, I might give him one.”

“That must have seemed pretty breathtaking.”

“It certainly took mine away when I finally heard about it. So, let’s skip ahead a few months: I got the nomination, largely because Joe Adams called in some favors that helped us swing the California delegation at the last moment.”

“I remember. I was at the convention, and it was a squeaker.”

“Right. I was losing the battle for the nomination because I had sworn to accept the recommendations of a study committee on whether to close a huge base in California. George Kiel had made the same pledge, but he told a lot of California delegates that he would renege on that promise if elected, and keep the base open. Joe managed to find out that the committee was going to recommend that the base remain open, so George’s promise became meaningless.”

“How’d Adams find out about the committee report?”

“Ed Rawls found out and told Joe.”

“Did you know about this?”

“Not at the time. All I knew was that everybody, including myself, wanted me to take George’s offer to run with him on the ticket—everybody but Joe Adams. He urged me to turn down George’s offer and go for the nomination, but he wouldn’t tell me why. I took his advice. Then word somehow got out that the base would not be closed. Most of George’s delegates from California swung to me, and I got the nomination.”

“And, in due course, the presidency.”

“Right.”

“All because of inside information from a traitor to his country?”

“Right, though I didn’t know it for a long time.”

“Wait a minute,” Stone said. “A while after you were nominated, the President had a stroke and died a few days later.”

“Correct.”

“And the vice president, Joe Adams, became President.”

“Correct again.”

“But he had Alzheimer’s? And you knew that?”

“I did. I had a very difficult time with the decision, but for a lot of reasons I kept my mouth shut, and Joe served out the term with distinction.”

“I never heard any rumors.”

“Few people did, because Ed Rawls had a hand in keeping Joe’s secret from becoming public.”

Stone sucked in a breath. “And when did you find out about that, Will?”

“Yesterday.”

“Who told you?”

“Joe Adams.”

 


 

3

Stone sat back in his seat. “I don’t know if you knew this, but I know Ed Rawls from Islesboro, where my Maine house is. We sort of worked together in solving a series of murders on the island.”

“I didn’t know that,” Will said, “but that could actually be helpful in all this.”

“All what? Let’s get back to your story.”

“Did you know that Ed Rawls was Kate’s mentor at the Agency?”

“I may have read that somewhere at the time she exposed him.”

“They were very close, and she was devastated when she found out what he’d been doing.”

“What, exactly, had Ed been doing?”

“He got caught in a honey trap—photographs and all—and the honey turned out to be a Soviet agent. He was near retirement, and the Soviets blackmailed him into giving them CIA secrets. Ed was smart enough not to give them anything damaging, but they kept a close rein on him, and one evening when two of our people who had become suspicious were following him, they rumbled his Soviet watchers, shots were exchanged, and our two people died. That, in the end, is what sent Ed to prison, even though he had no knowledge of either the Soviets or Americans following him. Except for that, he might never have been prosecuted. When I learned of the circumstances, it ma...

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Book Description Penguin Audiobooks, United States, 2017. CD-Audio. Book Condition: New. Unabridged. Language: English . Brand New. Stone Barrington lands in hot water in this thrilling adventure in the #1 New York Times bestselling series. Newly ensconced in his Santa Fe abode with a lovely female companion, Stone Barrington receives a call from an old friend requesting a delicate favor. A situation has arisen that could escalate into an explosive quagmire, and only someone with Stone s stealth and subtlety can contain the damage. At the center of these events is an impressive gentleman whose star is on the rise, and who d like to get Stone in his corner. He s charming and ambitious and has friends in high places; the kind of man who seems to be a sure bet. But in the fickle circles of power, fortunes rise and fall on the turn of a dime, and it may turn out that Stone holds the key not just to one man s fate, but to the fate of the nation. Bookseller Inventory # AAS9781524756963

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