"Fast-moving easy reading in the familiar Woods style."—Booklist
Stone Barrington faces down a vengeful miscreant in this latest heart-stopping thriller from the #1 New York Times bestselling author
When Stone Barrington finds his name on a hit list, he plans to lie low until the culprit is caught. But when this foe shows no signs of stopping until his deadly objective is realized in full, Stone is left with no choice but to face the problem head-on.
Armed and alert, Stone joins forces with his most savvy connections to catch the perpetrator before the next strike. But it turns out this scum is an expert at evasion in more ways than one, and the international cat-and-mouse hunt that ensues has Stone questioning if he has become the predator or the prey. . .
"Fast-moving easy reading in the familiar Woods style."—Booklist
It was a list of names: ten of them; half men, half women.
John H. Williams
Neatly printed on heavy, pale yellow stationery. Stone Barrington didn't know any of them, except the last. He held it up to the light and found a watermark: Strathmore. He buzzed his secretary, Joan Robertson.
"Yeah, boss?" she asked, setting a cup of coffee on his desk.
"There is a list of names on my desk. Who are they?"
"Beats me. I found it in the mail when I got to work-some time ago."
"Don't be arch, it doesn't suit you. Do you still have the envelope?"
She brought it to him; a plain, manila envelope, available at any store that sold plain manila envelopes. Not as distinctive as the stationery. He looked into the envelope and saw that it still had a card inside; he shook it out onto his desk. Same stationery, but card stock. One line, printed:
Dead, no special order, starting soon. Figure it out.
"Is this one of your jokes?" Stone asked.
"What jokes? I don't have any jokes, just witticisms."
She had him there. "Did you see who delivered it?"
"No, it was already there when I arrived."
"Did you enter from the street?"
"No, I took the shortcut." Joan lived in the building next door, which housed Stone's staff.
"Joan, without touching either of these two pieces of paper, see if you can scan them and e-mail them to Dino." Dino Bacchetti had been his partner when they were detectives with the NYPD, many years before. Now Dino was the police commissioner for New York City, and Stone was an attorney at the firm of Woodman & Weld. In the beginning, he had handled the cases the firm did not wish to be seen handling; now he was a senior partner.
"Yes, sir." She left the room and came back in, pulling on a pair of latex gloves.
"You keep latex gloves in your office?" he asked.
"Yep. You never know when you might not want to touch something or leave any fingerprints." She picked up the two pieces of paper and left his office, closing the door behind her.
Stone had finished half his coffee when his cell phone rang. ÒYes?Ó
"Is this some kind of joke?" Dino asked.
"I don't have any jokes, just witticisms," he replied, stealing a line.
"Tell me how you got them, and why, and no witticisms."
"A plain manila envelope was found by Joan when she came to work this morning. It contained both pieces of paper. There's a watermark on the letter paper: Strathmore. It's common enough, but high quality. We use it here."
"Do you know any of the names on the list?"
"Only one: guess which."
"I'm familiar with two of them: yours and that of Randall Carver."
"Who is he?"
"He's an adman, director of account services at Young & Rubicam."
"How do you know, or know of, him?"
"The name is at the top of a form that landed on my desk about ten minutes before yours did."
"Homicide report. Carver's name is at the top. He was shot once in the head at the corner of Madison Avenue and Forty-second Street by a man on a bicycle, we think. A silencer was used; we found the bicycle around the corner, leaning against a dumpster. It was clean."
"You'll find my prints and Joan's on the paper, when you receive the originals; any others are fair game."
"You sure you don't know anybody on the list?"
"My guess is whoever sent this killed Carver just to get our attention and start us working on the case. Now we have to figure out who all these people are, and that will be no picnic. The first name on the list is John Williams. I'll bet we can find two hundred of them in the phone book, if such a thing still exists."
"He has a middle initial, so it won't be too bad."
"Bad enough. It would have been nice if the killer had given us street addresses. Dinner tonight?"
"Viv is on the road, so it will just be me. P.J. Clarke's at seven?"
"Done." Stone hung up and buzzed Joan. "Please book me at P.J.'s for two at seven, then wrap up these two pieces and the envelope, while wearing your latex gloves."
"Consider it done."
"I will, when it's done."
After work, Stone went up to his fifth-floor master suite, to his dressing room. There were two-his and one for the putative woman. He opened his safe and took out a Colt Government .380: small, slim, light, and a perfect, but smaller copy of the Colt 1911 .45. He also took out a shoulder holster and got it on, then he shoved the .380 into the holster and a spare magazine next to it, then slipped into a tweed jacket. He tucked the envelope that Joan had prepared into an inside pocket.
It was a nice evening, so he didn't bother with his car and driver, finding a cab, instead. Ten minutes up Third Avenue, and he got out at Fifty-fifth Street and went into P. J. Clarke's.
The bar wasn't too crowded, since the five o'clockers had come and gone, and Dino wasn't there yet. He waved a finger at a bartender and the man produced a Knob Creek bourbon on the rocks. He took a sip, and before he could put the glass down, the bartender set another beside it, filled with a brown whiskey.
Dino picked it up. "Starting without me?"
"Only one sip ahead," he replied. "What have you learned about the list?"
"I'll tell you in the back room," Dino said, heading for the back room.
Stone handed Dino the envelope. "The originals are in there."
Dino pocketed it. "My evidence man thanks you."
"What have you learned about the list?"
"About as much as seventy cops and other employees can learn in the time since you called. There are a hundred and ten people who have these names and live or work or both in Manhattan, thirty-one are named John H. Williams, so it's not as bad as I thought it would be."
"What do they have in common?" Stone asked.
"You mean, besides being hunted by a lunatic?"
"He may have very good reasons," Stone said. "Did any of them know a lunatic who might want them dead?"
"There were a scattering of exes-wives and husbands, and just good friends-who are candidates, but nobody who is known to any of the other survivors-so far. In fact, none of the names that anybody on the list came up with are known to any of the others."
"That would be too easy," Stone said.
"Of course, we haven't talked to you, yet." Dino handed him a sheet of paper with a lot of names typed on it. "These are all the people who are considered candidates for being the lunatic. Do you know any of them?"
Stone read through the list carefully. "Not a one," he said.
"No name says 'bingo!'?"
"All right, think about your circle of acquaintances: Do you know anyone who might want to kill you? And not just the women."
Stone got out his iPhone and scrolled through all the names on his contact list. "Nobody," he said.
"Well, I can think of one person," Dino said.
"And who might that be?"
"The first Mrs. Barrington," Dino said.
Stone sighed. Dino never missed an opportunity to bring up Dolce. She was the daughter of a close friend of Stone's, Eduardo Bianchi, now deceased, who had taken a keen interest in him, and he in her. They had been through a civil marriage ceremony in Venice, but before the scheduled church ceremony could be conducted, sealing the deal, Stone had been called back to the USA to help an old girlfriend who was considered a suspect in the death of her husband.
Dolce, incensed by his absence from Venice and the presence of a previous woman back in his life, had begun an obsessive campaign to get Stone back to the altar, and the whole thing had ended badly. Eduardo, understanding his daughter and fond of Stone, had retrieved the document that they had signed at the civil ceremony and returned it to Stone, who had, very quickly, set fire to it. Dolce now resided in a nunnery in Sicily, attended by the nuns, a number of guards, and at least one psychiatrist. "You know very well that Dolce is not free to attack me."
"I know that only because I spoke to my ex-wife this afternoon, who called the mother superior and ascertained that her sister is still 'in residence,' shall we say." Dino's ex-wife, Mary Ann, was Dolce's sister and, after their father's death, had been in charge of her treatment and confinement.
"Well, that's a relief," Stone said.
"You must admit that, if she had her freedom, she would be just the sort of person we're looking for."
"I suppose you're right. You'd like that, wouldn't you?"
"Sure I would. Just think of all the man-hours the department would save. As it is, we're having to interview every person whose name is on the list, and in addition, every ex-wife and ex-husband and ex-lover and all the crazy people whose names they gave us. Also, we've had to assign cops to protect them. God help us if we didn't protect every one of them and then that one turned up dead."
"Any luck with the adman?"
"No, both his secretary and his ex-wife, who know him better than anyone else, say he's just not of the nature to attract enemies. His name might as well have been drawn from a hat."
"Who are the others?"
"They're all employed in Manhattan by accounting or IT firms, universities, hospitals, etcetera, etcetera-no two of them with the same employer or even in the same field of endeavor. They're fairly high up in their chosen fields, well-paid and well-thought of. About the only thing they have in common is that they're all single-either divorced or never married."
"Are any of the women lesbians or bisexual?"
"Only one, that we know of. She works on Page Six at the Post, dishing dirt. Why do you ask?"
"It occurred to me that the threat could have had affairs with all of them, if he or she were bisexual."
"Do you know any lesbians or bisexuals?" Dino asked.
"Not well enough for them to hate me," Stone replied.
"So your theory doesn't hold water?"
"I guess not."
They ordered steaks and wine.
"Oh," Dino said, "two of the people on the list, besides you, have carry licenses-one is a diamond merchant and one is a fancy pawnbroker, with offices in a Fifth Avenue skyscraper."
"Well, I'm packing, and I hope you told them to."
"We didn't have to; they both carry all the time."
Their steaks came, and they assaulted them.
"I get why the diamond merchant carries," Stone said, "but why the pawnbroker?"
"He says he has regular customers-for instance, a woman who's a handicapper at the track in her spare time, and when she loses, she gives him a call. She has a diamond ring worth two hundred grand, and she might borrow fifty on it. When she does, he takes the cash to her personally and collects the ring. The process reverses when she wins big."
"That's novel," Stone said.
"Yeah, he says he knows the ring better than he knows her."
"I guess we could hope that the perp picks one of those two pistol packers and gets his head blown off," Stone said.
"That would be nice," Dino said. "So to speak."
"Any other theories?"
"Yeah, there's one on the list who has, over some time, had multiple threats or attempts on his life."
"Doesn't that sound familiar?"
"You're talking about me?"
"Why do you sound so shocked?"
"I've had . . . Well, there have been . . ."
"Yeah," Dino said. "I think about half of the guys in the Russian mafia carry a card with your photograph on it, just in case they spot you somewhere and get a shot at you."
"That's a gross exaggeration," Stone said.
"I know that's what you'd like to think, but it just ain't so."
"What's your point?" Stone asked.
"I think you'd better do more than pack a pistol, if you want to live through this little episode in your life."
"Are you offering me police protection?"
Dino shook his head. "Nah, you're too rich for that. You can hire your own."
Dino insisted on giving Stone a ride home in his armored SUV. "So," Dino said on the way, "let's talk about steps you need to take to stay alive."
"Oh, all right."
"The first step is for you to assume that you're the guy the lunatic is really after, and that all the others are camouflage."
"Okay, it can't hurt to assume that."
"Second thing is, you don't go out of the house unless it's absolutely necessary. And when you do, you get driven in your armored Bentley by Fred, who will also be packing." Fred was Stone's factotum and a dead shot.
"Fred always packs," Stone said.
"That's good," Dino said.
"What else should I do?"
"Well, if you get scared, leave the country; go to your house in England and keep your head down there. You're unique on the hit list in that you have an airplane capable of transatlantic flight and homes in two foreign countries."
"I can't argue with your reasoning," Stone said, as the car pulled up in front of the house, "but not yet."
Dino produced his weapon and rolled down his window. "All right, the coast appears to be clear; run for it, and I'll cover you."
Stone got out his own weapon, opened the car door, and ran for it. It took him longer than he would have liked to get out his key and open the door. He closed it behind him and took a couple of deep breaths before he went upstairs to bed.
He had just crawled into the sack when his phone rang. "Hello?"
"I hear you're in trouble again," a woman's voice said. It was Viv, Dino's wife, who was the COO of Strategic Services, the world's second-largest security company.
"Well, Dino thinks so, anyway. Where are you?"
"Hong Kong," she said. "I think. When I wake up in the morning I have to figure out where I am. Also, what day it is. Right now, because I've crossed the international date line, it's either tomorrow or yesterday, I can never remember which."