Barely Legal

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In the newest nonstop adventure from #1 New York Times-bestselling author Stuart Woods, the protege will become the hero: now is the time of Herbie Fisher.

Under the tutelage of Stone Barrington, Herbie Fisher has transformed from a bumbling sad sack into a capable man about town and the youngest partner at the white shoe law firm Woodman & Weld. Now all of his training will be put to the test as he finds himself embroiled in his most daring adventure to date.

Praise

Praise for Smooth Operator by Stuart Woods and Parnell Hall

“Fast-moving, full of action, sexy … It is like eating forbidden fruit, sugary cotton candy or forbidden chocolate brownies with nuts. You know it isn’t good for you, but you can’t put it down! Just go ahead and read it.”—Lincoln Journal-Star
 
“Fans are sure to welcome this action-packed start to a separate series within the larger Stone Barrington story arc.”—Publishers Weekly
 
“Entertaining, suspenseful reading for those who like smart-ass protagonists who are shrewder, tougher, and funnier than the bad guys they encounter.”—Booklist

Excerpt

1

Benny Slick's life was flashing before his eyes. It was flashing upside down because two goons were hanging him by his heels from the window of his fourteenth-floor office. The elderly bookmaker had been hit with financial reversals. A horse running at two hundred to one had finished first; a surprising number of people had bet on the nag to win, and in order to pay them off, Benny had been forced to borrow more money than he had any realistic hope of repaying.

The result was a visit from the one man in the world you didn't want to see. Mario "Payday" Capelleti, so named for his habit of walking into the shops of those who owed him money with two thugs and proclaiming "It's Payday!," had quite a reputation, and it wasn't good. Those who didn't pay were left with a reminder of why this behavior might not be the wisest course of action. Benny Slick was receiving such a reminder.

Mario Payday was puffing on a big cigar. He walked over to the window and blew smoke in Benny's direction. It barely reached him, but the effect was chilling.

"Hi, Benny. Remember me? You should. You took my money. And you failed to pay me back. Not only did you fail to pay me the principal, you failed to pay me the vig. No one fails to pay Mario Payday the interest on a loan. How could you forget that?"

"I didn't forget!" Benny cried desperately.

Mario's eyes narrowed. "You mean you did it deliberately? Benny, you know such disrespect cannot be tolerated."

"I didn't do it deliberately!"

"But you do remember that you owe me money?"

"Yes, yes, I remember."

Mario smiled and spread his arms. "He remembers. It's amazing how quickly people remember when they're upside down. So where is my money?"

Benny's life was still flashing before his eyes, but then he was ninety-two years old and there was a lot to flash. From somewhere in the deep recesses of his mind the right image emerged. "I got it!"

"What have you got, Benny?"

"I got your money!"

"How much money have you got, Benny?"

"I got ninety grand!"

Mario nodded approvingly. "Pull him up."

Mario's goons pulled Benny back into the office. His legs were weak and he could barely stand.

Mario's glare was not helping. "Ninety grand, Benny? You have ninety grand and you couldn't pay me?"

"It's not in cash."

Mario snapped his fingers, pointed to the window. "Put him back."

Benny put up his hands. "No, no, no. You don't have to do that. I have a marker for ninety grand. It's good as cash. You can have it."

"What marker?"

"Vinnie the Vig owed me money, and he didn't have the cash so he gave me a marker."

"Vinnie the Vig is dead."

"It's not his marker. Vinnie was holding another guy's marker for ninety grand. When he went into my debt, he transferred the marker to me, and I will now pass it on to you."

"You have a marker for ninety grand and you never cashed it?"

"I couldn't. I was in prison."

"Where's this marker now?"

"It's in my desk." Benny hurried to his desk and began rifling through the drawers, praying he could find the marker he'd promised was in them. He hadn't cashed it because he'd forgotten it was there. Shortly after he'd received it he was sent off to the state penitentiary for indulging in his chosen profession. By the time he got out he'd forgotten all about the marker, and only recalled it with eternity staring him in the eye.

Benny pulled out his petty cash box, took out the money tray, and searched through the papers in the bottom.

Mario watched him with growing skepticism. "You have a marker for ninety grand and you keep it with the petty cash receipts?"

Benny hoped he did, but it was looking less likely.

And then, suddenly, victory.

Benny clutched the slip of paper and held it up. "Here! Here!"

Mario took the marker. "All right, let's see who owes me ninety thousand dollars."

He held it up, read the name.

"Herbie Fisher."

2

Stone Barrington and Dino Bacchetti were having dinner at Patroon, one of their usual haunts since Elaine's had closed. Their entrŽes had just arrived when Dino looked over Stone's shoulder and his eyes widened. "Uh-oh."

"What?"

"Look who's here."

Stone was contentedly inspecting his steak. "I'm busy. Who is it?"

"Herbie Fisher."

"Oh, great."

"Not necessarily."

"Oh?"

Stone turned and looked. The young man approaching their table was indeed Herbie Fisher. He was impeccably dressed in a suit and tie. He looked like a corporate lawyer, which indeed he was.

Herbie Fisher, the youngest lawyer ever to make senior partner at Woodman  Weld, was a shining star, as adept at attracting clients as he was at handling their legal problems. It was hard to believe he had once been Stone's client, and not in the most savory of cases. Were it not for Stone's legal gymnastics, Herbie probably would have been in jail.

Stone had taken Herbie under his wing, and the young man had flourished under his mentorship. Not only had he straightened out his life, but Stone had taught him where to buy the right suits, where to get the right haircut-in short, how to be a respectable member of high society.

Since turning his life around, Herbie had never caused Stone a moment's concern. On the contrary, he was the attorney to whom Stone was most likely to refer important clients.

At the moment Herbie was grinning from ear to ear, and the cause was undoubtedly the young woman with him. Her beauty was enough to turn any man's head. Though as conservatively dressed as any third-grade schoolteacher, her radiant smile exuded more than a hint of mischief.

Herbie ushered her up to the table.

"Herbie," Stone said.

Herbie shot him a look. Since joining the law firm of Woodman  Weld he had adopted a less juvenile appellation.

Stone quickly corrected himself. "Herb. And who is this charming young lady?"

Herbie positively beamed. "Yvette, these are the men I've been telling you about. Allow me to introduce Stone Barrington and Dino Bacchetti. Gentlemen, this is Yvette Walker, my fiancŽe."

The young couple exchanged glances.

So did Stone and Dino. It was momentary, however. Then they were greeting Yvette enthusiastically, congratulating young Herbie, and hoping the two would be happy together.

Dino took the lead. "Yvette, I'm so happy for you. How did you meet? Are you a lawyer, too?"

She smiled. "Heaven forbid. I have nothing against lawyers, I just don't want to be one."

"What do you do?"

"I'm an actress."

"Really? What have I seen you in?"

"You probably haven't. I'm just getting started."

"You acted in college?"

"Yes."

"Where did you go?"

"Yale drama school."

Dino smiled. "Well, that's a coincidence. Our sons went to Yale. Ben Bacchetti and Peter Barrington. Perhaps you knew them."

"It's a big school."

"They were in the theater department. Peter got a play produced while he was still in school."

"I know of them. Award-winning Hollywood director and the head of Centurion Studios. They were way before my time."

"Not necessarily. Our kids started young."

Yvette's eyes twinkled. "If you think I'm going to tell you my age in front of my fiancŽe, you can forget it. I've told him just as much as he needs to know, no more, no less. If you prove I'm older than I said I was and he dumps me, I'll sue you for damages."

"And I'd handle the case," Herbie said with a smile. "But that's not going to happen. We're very happy."

"Would you care to join us?" Stone said.

Yvette and Herbie looked at each other. They clearly wished to be alone.

Yvette politely declined. "Thanks, but we've got a lot to talk about. Come on, Herbie."

The happy couple chose a table for two in the back and out of earshot.

"I notice she can call him Herbie," Dino said.

"Was that nice?" Stone said.

"Was what nice?"

"You were vetting her."

"Was I?"

"You know you were."

Dino shrugged. "Force of habit."

"No, it wasn't. You're suspicious of her."

"Well, can you blame me?"

"What do you mean?"

"Are you kidding me? Ten years ago Herbie was a total fuckup, couldn't tie his shoe. He'd make the worst choices, often endangering his life."

"So?"

"That was nothing compared to his taste in women. He was always showing up with some hooker or other he was madly in love with, despite the fact that he had just met her."

Stone conceded the point. "He even went so far as to marry one."

Herbie's ex-wife had run off to Aruba with her brother, not to mention a few million dollars of company assets, leaving Herbie holding the bag.

"I remember it well. So, here he is, popping up again with a new fiancŽe. If that's not dŽjˆ vu, I don't know what is."

"At least this one isn't a hooker. She looks like a very nice young girl."

"I hope so," Dino said.

"You're really concerned."

"Well, I'd hate to see Herbie get his heart broken. Is that bad?"

"It's kind of sweet," Stone said.

Dino threw a napkin at him.

3

On the sidewalk outside Patroon, Mario Payday's goon Carlo leaned up against the window and pressed his face to the glass. The young man at the table in the back certainly appeared to be Herbie Fisher. Of course, it was hard to tell with the picture he had to work with. As usual, in identifying one of Mario Payday's new clients, Carlo had gone right to the source and checked his arrest record. Herbie had one, but his mug shot wasn't very good. The young man in the restaurant looked a lot better than the one in the photo. Of course, at the time the photo was taken he'd just been picked up on a charge of murder, which couldn't have helped. According to the rap sheet, he'd been charged with killing a mobster named Carmine Dattila, commonly known as Dattila the Hun. Carlo remembered the incident. The guy had marched into Dattila's place of business and shot him twice in the head in front of a dozen witnesses. Carlo couldn't imagine the young man at the table doing that. He couldn't imagine anyone doing it and beating the rap. Some things, Carlo told himself, just weren't fair.

Carlo whipped out his cell phone and called Mario.

"I got him."

"Got who?"

"Your ninety-thousand-dollar marker. I found him having dinner."

"Where?"

"Patroon. Guy's cleaned up his act some since his last arrest, but it sure looks like him."

"Does he look like he could pay ninety grand?"

"Sure does, unless it's all for show."

"Okay. Make sure it's him. If it is, loosen him up."

"Okay."

Carlo hung up the phone and went in. A man sitting near the door looked familiar, but Carlo couldn't place him. He walked on by and headed for the table in the back of the restaurant.

The young couple were speaking intimately, their heads tilted toward each other, laughing. Carlo would have to spoil their fun. That didn't bother him. Spoiling people's fun was a fringe benefit of the job.

Carlo walked up to the table and said, "Herbie Fisher?"

They looked up.

The girl frowned.

The guy said, "Herb Fisher."

Carlo shrugged. "Whatever. Mr. Fisher, you owe me ninety thousand dollars."

The girl was clearly upset. She looked at the young man and said, "Herbie, what's going on?"

"Mister," Herbie said, "I don't know who you are, but I don't owe you ninety thousand dollars."

"Fair enough. You owe my boss, and he intends to collect. He wanted me to give you advance notice because he is a very nice guy and likes to give fair warning."

"I don't know what you're talking about. You must have me confused with someone else."

"Herb Fisher? It is Herb Fisher, isn't it?" Carlo slapped the rap sheet down on the table. "This is you, isn't it?"

Herbie got to his feet. "All right. You get the hell out of here."

"Or what?"

"There's no what. You're going to leave under your own power, or I'll have you thrown out."

"Have me thrown out? Oh, big man. What, you gonna call the chef?"

At the table in front, Stone Barrington looked over Dino's shoulder. "Uh-oh."

"What?"

"Looks like trouble."

Dino turned to look. The two men were facing off. "That doesn't look good. You think Herbie would welcome an intervention? Or you think he wants to show off in front of his girl?"

"I'm sure Patroon would welcome an intervention."

Dino got to his feet and started for the back.

Herbie saw Dino and put up his hand. "It's okay. I got this."

Carlo looked to see who was coming up behind him. It was the man who'd been sitting at the front table, the guy who'd looked familiar.

The penny dropped.

It was the commissioner of police!

Carlo shied away from Dino and crashed into Herbie. Herbie grabbed ahold of him to keep them both from going down. Carlo tried to break free, but Herbie had him by the arm. This was not good. Mario would not be pleased if he let himself get picked up by the commissioner of police.

Carlo reached under his jacket and pulled out a snub-nosed revolver.

"Look out, he's got a gun!" Dino yelled.

Herbie spun Carlo away, taking Yvette out of the line of fire.

Carlo's finger twisted around the trigger.

The gun went off.

The sound was deafening in the crowded restaurant.

The bullet missed everyone and plowed into the wall.

The shock of the gunshot made Herbie lose his grip. Carlo spun away, ducked past Dino Bacchetti, and charged down the aisle.

Stone stuck out his foot.

Carlo went down, rolled once, and came up in full panic mode. He fired another shot over his shoulder, lunged out the door, and pelted down the street as if the devil were at his heels.

4

The cops ruined dinner. Any way you sliced it, a romantic evening was not in the offing with ballistics experts digging bullets out of walls and detectives taking witness statements.

The detective taking Herbie's was rather arrogant. His attitude gave the impression he didn't believe a word Herbie said.

Of course, the fact that they had Herbie's rap sheet didn't help.

"The man said you owed him money?"

"That's what he said."

"But you don't?"

"I don't even know who he is."

"If you don't know who he is, how can you be sure you don't owe him money?"

"I don't owe anyone money."

"That's a rather broad statement. Couldn't you have some debt you forgot about?"

"He said I owed him ninety thousand dollars. I'd be apt to remember that."

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