Stone Barrington walked into his office on a Monday morning and found three pink memo slips, saying that a John Keegan had called and needed to see him urgently.
Joan Robertson, his secretary, came into the room without being asked, and said, "No, I don't know who he is. He's been leaving messages on the machine since early this morning."
"Perhaps you know why there's no number to call back on these slips?"
"Oh, I just thought I'd make life more difficult for you. Isn't that my job?"
"I'm just asking."
"I can only write down the messages left," she said. "If there had been a number, I would have written that down, too. If past performance is any indication, he'll call back."
"I can't argue with that," Stone said. His phone rang. Joan picked it up.
"The Barrington Practice at Woodman & Weld," she said. "Ah, yes, Mr. Keegan, I have him right here." She handed Stone the phone with a triumphant grin.
"Good morning, this is Stone Barrington."
"Thank God," Keegan said. "My name is John Keegan, call me Jack. I need to speak to you in person as soon as possible."
"Where are you, Jack?"
"In a cab, on the way in from the airport."
"A New York airport?"
"Sorry, yes. LaGuardia. I just got off the shuttle from Boston."
"Do you have my address?"
Keegan spoke it to him.
"May I know what this is about?"
"I'll tell you when I see you. Suffice to say, it's a family matter."
"I'll be available when you get here. I hope you brought your raincoat and galoshes." But Keegan had hung up. It was pouring outside.
A few minutes later, the office doorbell rang. Stone's office was in a former dentist's office in a house that he had inherited from a great-aunt many years before and remodeled. He heard the sounds of an umbrella closing and outer clothing being shucked off.
Joan stuck her head in. "Mr. Keegan to see you," she said, "slightly damp."
Keegan walked in wearing a good suit and a necktie, and carrying an old-fashioned briefcase, stuffed. He dropped it on the floor with a thump and offered his hand.
Stone shook it and waved him to a seat. "I expect you could use some hot coffee," Stone said.
"How?" Joan asked.
"It's strong. Do you want it weaker?"
"Strong is good."
She left and returned with a steaming mug and set it on a small table beside him. He sipped it gratefully.
"You said this was a family matter," Stone said. "I have only one family member, a son, Peter, who lives in Los Angeles. Is this about him?"
"No, sorry. The other side of the family." He handed a card over: "Keegan, Kay, and Williams, Boston."
"And you're Keegan," Stone said. "Just a wild guess."
"I and my father before me. All three of us partners had fathers who preceded us in the firm."
"Neat and tidy. The other side of the family? The Stones?"
"They're all dead, except two of them, who are . . . unavailable."
"Mr. Barrington . . ."
"Call me Stone."
"Stone . . ." He hesitated.
"I'm new to this case, and it would be helpful to me if you could recount your knowledge of your Stone relatives, particularly with regard to your residence on Islesboro."
"How far back do you want me to go?"
"My mother, Matilda, was a Stone. She and my father, a Barrington, were both from western Massachusetts, both families in the weaving business, mostly men's suitings. My parents fell in love as teenagers; she was studying art at Mount Holyoke and he, law, at Yale. Her parents objected to the pairing."
"On what grounds?"
"My father had leftist political views. He had even joined the Communist Party for a brief time, mostly to annoy his father, I think. They married anyway-eloped. As a result, they were both banished from their families: he for his politics, she for marrying him."
"Did you have any cousins on the Stone side?"
"Two first cousins, Caleb and Richard."
"Did you know them well?"
"Not until, at eighteen, I was invited to spend a summer on Islesboro with them, during a brief thaw in family relations."
"And how did you get on with them?"
"Splendidly, with Dick, poorly with Caleb, who was both a bully and an ass, as bullies usually are. I finally had occasion to punch him in the nose, earning the displeasure of his mother, who thereafter declared me persona non grata on the island. I was not invited back."
"Did you see them after that?"
"I saw Dick once, when he came to New York on business. We had dinner and renewed our warm friendship. That was the last time I saw him."
"Did you communicate on any sort of regular basis?"
"Not really. I never met his wife."
"And did the Stone brothers have progeny?"
"Dick and his wife had a daughter. Caleb, twin sons."
"Did you ever hear from Dick again?"
"I received a package from him, with a letter instructing me to put it in my safe and to open it only in the event of his death."
"What happened after that?"
"Murdered, along with his wife and child, I am informed."
"You are correctly informed."
"Did you learn who killed them?"
"I deduced who did. The law did not."
"What was your deduction?"
"That Enos and Eben Stone murdered all three, along with a number of local, Boston, and New Haven women. Oh, and both their parents. I believe the twins are serving life without possibility of parole in the state prison."
"That is not quite correct," Keegan said.
"How not so?"
"The Stone twins confessed to the killing of their parents, pled guilty, and were sentenced to life."
"What about no parole?"
"Their first parole hearing is the day after tomorrow."
Stone blinked. "Whatever happened to 'without parole'?"
"Like you, the police deduced that the Stone twins were guilty of all the aforementioned murders, but they did not have the evidence to prove their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In shooting their parents, however, they were careless, and the prosecution had them cold."
"Wasn't that good enough for life without parole?"
"It should have been, but two factors intervened: first, the boys claimed, convincingly, that their father had sexually abused them as children and that their mother knew about it but did nothing. Second, the state was deeply embarrassed about its failure to charge them on all counts, and they just wanted the case to go away. So, aided by a clever attorney-my father-they pled guilty to the murders of their parents, in exchange for life with the possibility of parole, something the prosecution thought never would happen."
"And you," Stone said. "Are you telling me all this because of the guilt of your father's participation?"
"Yes. I tried to talk him out of it, but he thought it would be a feather in his cap. As a result, he was asked to resign from his clubs, and he never took another criminal case. Also, the twins were a couple of years behind me at school, and I had always thought they were evil little shits. My great regret is that Maine got rid of the death penalty in the 1870s."
"All right, we're both up to date, I think," Stone said. "Now tell me why we are telling each other all this."
"I can't very well show up at the parole hearing and beg the board to deny."
"Because it would further humiliate my father to oppose him in a case that has already caused him such pain. He loved his clubs, and he is quite old now and has already had one stroke."
"So, you'd like me to appear and plead the case against parole?"
"If you would be so kind; I would be very grateful."
"And have you been able to come up with any convincing evidence for me to present?"
"I fear I have not."
"Let me guess: the twins have been ideal prisoners and they charmed all they have met."
"That's about the size of it."
"So, I'm supposed to appear at the hearing and tell the board that, contrary to all the available evidence, they are very bad boys, not to mention evil little shits, and they should throw away the key."
"Sort of," Keegan admitted.
"And, of course, the twins will have a parade of other witnesses-guards, nurses, fellow prisoners, and, let's not forget, the prison doctor, who will all swear to their cuddliness."
"You make it sound hopeless," Keegan said, his shoulders slumping into his damp suit.
"I don't make it sound hopeless," Stone said. "It is hopeless."
"Will you, at least, come up to Maine for the hearing and share my bench with me, holding a briefcase? That would make it appear that I'm not alone in all this."
"Jack," Stone said, not unkindly. "Apart from your father, do you have any family?"
Keegan shook his head. "My wife and I were childless, and she died last year."
"Well, my advice to you is to pack up your shingle and your bags and retire to some remote place in a distant land, but not without a shotgun handy, because your appearance before the parole board, no matter how ineffective, is not going to win the affections of the Stone twins, and they will not have short memories."
Keegan sighed. "I had hoped to avoid retirement."
"Why avoid it? Many men of your age retire every day, sitting under a palm tree and drinking pi–a coladas."
"My problem is, I love the law, love practicing it every day."
"Do you play golf?"
"Time to take it up," Stone said brightly. He rose. "I wish I could help, Jack. I really do, but I have no argument to make that would not just make things worse for both of us."
"I understand," Keegan said, standing and offering his hand. "Thank you for hearing me out."
"One thing might help," Stone said.
"Don't appear. I think we both understand that your absence would not make a difference in the outcome, and the twins will be grateful, not vengeful, whenever they hear the Keegan name, as long as it's your father they're thinking of."
"You have a point," Keegan said.
"Check into a good hotel, see a show or two, get drunk, and be in another state when the board meets."
Joan helped him into his soggy rainwear and put him out onto the street with a cheery wave.
Stone didn't have to look up the number. He dialed the Dark Harbor Shop, in the village of the same name, on Islesboro, Maine.
"This is Billy." Billy Hotchkiss was the cousin of Stone's Maine property manager, Seth Hotchkiss, the owner of the Dark Harbor Shop, and the fount of all knowledge about the island and its inhabitants. He was also, among other things, the only real estate broker on the island.
"Billy, it's Stone Barrington. How are you?"
"Well, Stone," Billy said, "after your most recent visit, if gun brass was gold, I'd be sitting under a palm tree somewhere, sipping pi–a coladas. But never mind; picking it up gives the kids something to do with their afternoons."
"I'm sorry about the shootout, Billy. Please tell everybody that. But I was on the wrong end of it, and it was coming fast."
"That part we got. Listen, I'm glad you called, I've got some news. Mr. Greco and his family have decided the island isn't right for them, and they're putting the Stone house back on the market. I've already got an offer, it fell into my hands not ten minutes ago," Billy said. "It's from a shelter corporation, since the bidders don't want people to know who they are."
Stone took Billy's meaning.
"But you and I know who they are, don't we, Billy?"
"Well, I know who they are. I'm not so sure about you."
"Let me put it this way, Billy: How much would I have to offer to make the present owner forget he had another offer?"
"You should've asked me what the offer was. I'd have told you that."
"How much was the offer, Billy?"
"Three million dollars, with the house, the boathouse, the new guesthouse, and six point two acres of prime waterfront. I'm sure the owner would like to get a little something out of it for his trouble."
"Would three and a half million get it off the market?"
"Well, I'm just guessing here, but you're fucking right it would."
"Well, then, you fax me a legal definition of the property and all the usual stuff, and I'll fax you a signed offer before noon-all cash, condition as is, closing Friday at noon. I'll wire you three hundred and fifty grand of earnest money. And you and the wife can dine out grandly this evening on your commission."
"I'll call up Mr. Greco, and get his verbal approval, before I put us to all that trouble."
"All right. You can tell him I'm the buyer, if you like, but not why I'm buying."
"Well, you haven't told me why you're buying, have you?" Billy said.
"No. But we both know, don't we?"
"You can assume that."
"Let's get it done before that corporate buyer hears about it, shall we?"
"All right by me."
"Call me if there are any problems. But let's not have any problems, okay?"
"Avoiding problems is my life's work," Billy said, and they both hung up.
Stone buzzed Joan.
"In about a minute, you're going to get a fax about a house in Dark Harbor from Billy Hotchkiss. When it comes in, transfer the relevant information on it to a boilerplate offer, and print it out for my signature and your notarizing. Also, wire transfer three hundred and fifty grand to Billy's real estate office account as earnest money. Got that?"
"Yes, but let me be sure I've got it right: you're buying yet another property. This one in a place where you already own a house?"
"That is correct, and I don't have time to explain why. We just need to get that offer into Billy's hands fast. And call Charley Fox at Triangle Investments and tell him to find another three million somewhere in my checking account, because we're closing before noon on Friday. Oh, and I'll need a cashier's check for the three million in Billy's hands on Thursday, and make my attorney of record Herbie Fisher. And print me a power of attorney for Ed Rawls to act for me at the closing, and send that to Billy, too."
"Mine is not to reason why," Joan muttered on her way out.
"Keep thinking that!" Stone shouted after her.
Stone called his old NYPD partner, Dino Bacchetti, now New York City's police commissioner.