Praise for Stuart Woods
“Goes down as smoothly as a glass of Knob Creek.” —Publishers Weekly
“Stone Barrington is back to give fans another fun-filled ride of action and suspense.”—Suspense Magazine
The outstanding new thriller from #1 New York Times-bestselling author Stuart Woods.
Stone Barrington isn’t one to turn away in the face of danger, so when he witnesses a tricky situation underway, he jumps in to lend a hand. He never expected, though, that this favor would lead to a mutually beneficial business deal with a prominent gentleman who requires the ever-discreet services of Woodman & Weld.
But in the ruthless corporate world no good deed goes unpunished, and Stone soon finds himself the target of a ragtag group of criminal toughs who don’t appreciate his interference in their dealings. From the isolated landscape of Maine to the white sand beaches of Key West, the trail of deception, theft, and murder will lead to a perilous confrontation.
Praise for Stuart Woods
“Goes down as smoothly as a glass of Knob Creek.” —Publishers Weekly
“Stone Barrington is back to give fans another fun-filled ride of action and suspense.”—Suspense Magazine
Stone Barrington and Dina Bacchetti were having dinner at Patroon, a favorite restaurant. Dino's wife, Viv, was out of town on business-she was an executive at the world's second-largest security company, Strategic Services, and had to travel a lot, so Stone and Dino were having, perhaps, their thousandth dinner together, just the two of them.
The owner, Ken Aretzky, stopped by and bought them a drink, then continued on his rounds. They ordered the Caesar salad, a house specialty prepared at the table, and the chateaubri and, medium rare, and Stone ordered a bottle of the Laughing Hare Cabernet.
"Laughing Hare?" Dino asked.
"A Cabernet you never heard of," Stone said. "Honest public servants can't afford it." Dino was New York City's commissioner of police, but the two men had been partners as homicide detec tives many years before. "That's why I'm buying."
The waiter brought the bottle and poured them a taste. Dino sampled it. "So I should consider this a bribe?"
"Let's call it a bribe in the bank, since there's nothing in par ticular I want from you at the moment."
"That makes a nice change," Dino said, and took a larger swig of the wine. "Not bad."
"You are given to understatement," Stone said. "Okay, it's pretty damn good."
Stone took a swig himself. "Better than that."
"So how come you're alone tonight? Where's Pat Frank?"
"Who knows?" Stone said. "She has let it be known that she'd rather be alone than with me."
"What did you do?"
"It's what you did," Stone said. "You arrested her boyfriend on a double murder charge and her old friend as an accessory after the fact."
"And she blames you?"
"I tried blaming you-it didn't work." "So she pulled the plug?"
"Not exactly, she just got really busy."
"She just started a new business, maybe she is really just very busy."
"When I hear that excuse twice, I usually pull the plug myself. But the second time I was understanding, then I heard it a third time, and I got the message."
"I'm sure it's you, not her."
"Isn't that line supposed to be the other way around?" "It's always you."
"What, am I too nice to them?"
"Maybe. They don't always appreciate that the way you expect them to."
"You mean I should be less nice?"
"Look at it this way," Dino said: "Her boyfriend had two arrests for domestic violence, both times against her, once with a gun, and still, she's upset that he's in jail. Does that make any sense?"
"None at all."
"You've never been violent, have you? You take her out to good restaurants, you stay in good hotels, you have a jet airplane that you let her fly, because she can fly it better than you."
"Had a jet airplane," Stone pointed out. "Her boyfriend and her friend put a bomb in that airplane, which you detonated by pulling a string tied to the master switch."
"Given the circumstances, I thought it was a better idea to pull the string than just sitting in the cockpit and flipping it to the on position, incinerating myself and, incidentally, you."
"I'll grant you that."
"That's swell of you. When does the new airplane arrive?"
"It's sitting in Wichita, ready to go, but the FAA hasn't certified it yet."
"Some sort of technicality, they tell me."
They watched the maitre d' make their Caesar salad, then ate it and waited for their steak to arrive.
"Don't worry about Pat," Dino said. "As you always say, 'Women are like cabs-there'll be another one along again in a minute."'
"I have never spoken those words in my life," Stone said, outraged. "I have too much respect for women."
"Well, maybe you didn't actually say that, I just read your mind."
"I've never thought it, either."
"Now we're back to why they keep dumping you."
"Can you suggest a solution to that problem?" "Stop being so nice."
"I don't know how not to be nice. What should I do, beat them?" "Pat seemed to respond well to that."
"No she didn't, she took out a protection order against him." "She knew that wouldn't stop him, and it didn't."
Their chateaubriand arrived; the maitre d' presented it, sliced it, and served it.
They had just taken their first bite, when Dino's phone rang.
"Uh-oh," he said, then put it to his ear. "What? Say again." He listened. "All right," he said wearily, "I'm on my way." He put the phone back in his pocket. "I gotta go."
"What is it?"
"Does it matter? It's always something. We'll continue your education on the treatment of women at our next meeting."
"Oh, I'll really look forward to that."
"And you'll have to eat my chateaubriand."
"If I do that, I'll explode. I'll take it home and have it for lunch tomorrow."
"That makes me feel so much better," Dino said. He got to his feet, and a young woman appeared with his coat. "Talk to you tomorrow."
"What was it they used to say on Hill Street Blues? 'Be careful out there."'
"Yeah, yeah," Dino said, then left.
Three-quarters of an hour later, Stone left the restaurant with a doggie bag and a recorked half-bottle of wine. He stepped onto the sidewalk and looked up the street to the other side, where Fred, his driver and factotum, sat in the Bentley. The head lights came on, and the car started. It had just begun to pull away from the curb when another car roared past it, nearly hitting a fender, and screeched to a halt just past Stone.
Two large men in suits spilled out of it and were all over a man who had just passed Stone on the sidewalk. They threw him against the wall and began searching him, while he protested.
"What is it?" he asked, and he had a slight accent of some sort. "What did I do?"
"Shut up," one of the men said, backhanding him.
Stone saw the flash of a gold badge on his belt as he drew back to hit the man again. There was a blackjack in his hand.
"Hold it!" Stone shouted.
The man froze for a moment, then turned toward Stone. "Did you say something to me?"
"I said hold it," Stone said more quietly.
"Stay out of this, you dumb son of a bitch," the man said.
"That's an illegal weapon in your hand, Detective," Stone said.
"If you hit him with it, I'll see that you spend the night in jail." Out of the corner of his eye Stone saw Fred get out of the car and unbutton his jacket. He raised a hand, motioning him to stop.
"Who the fuck do you think you are?" the cop said. "I'm a police officer, I can do whatever I want to this guy."
"Do you have a warrant?" Stone asked.
"I don't need a warrant to use this on the guy"-he held up the blackjack-"and I'll use it on you, too, if you don't shut the fuck up and get out of my face."
"Take a look at this," Stone said, taking a gold badge from his pocket and holding it up. "Let me read it for you. It says, 'Detec tive First Grade.' I'll bet yours says 'third grade.'"
The cop backed away a step. "You don't look like a cop to me," he said.
"You mean, because I'm not fat and ugly and wielding an illegal weapon?" Stone reached out and took the blackjack from him.
"Hey," the cop said.
"Ryan," his partner said, tugging at his sleeve, "back off."
"What is this man charged with?" Stone asked.
"I haven't done anything!" the man said. "Come on, what has he done?"
"I haven't decided yet."
Stone turned to the man. "Sir, I'm an attorney. Do you wish to have an attorney to represent you in this matter?'
"Yes, yes, I do."
"Come on, Detective, what is my client charged with?" "You said you was a cop."
"No, I just showed you my badge. I'm a retired cop."
"All right, give me my, ah, persuader, and we'll go."
"No," Stone said. "What precinct are you out of?"
"The Three-Five South."
"Let's see, your precinct commander is Captain O'Donnell, right? Why don't we get him out of bed and have a chat with him right now. Or, if you prefer, we can meet tomorrow morning in the commissioner's office and see what he has to say about this." He held up the blackjack.
"Look, mister, we don't want any trouble," the cop said.
"Then why are you still here?" Stone asked.
The two men got into their car and drove away. Stone turned to the man, who appeared to be in his sixties and Hispanic. "Are you all right?"
"Yes, I'm okay. Are the police always like this in New York?"
"Not usually, and I don't think you'll have any problem with him again tonight. Are you from out of town?"
"From San Antonio, Texas. I'm in town on business." "Where are you staying?"
"At the Waldorf Towers."
"Then let me give you a lift, it's not far."
Fred opened a door for him, and they got in.
"Fred, the Waldorf Towers." Stone turned to his guest. "My name is Stone Barrington." He offered his hand.
The man shook it. "I am Jose Perado," he said. "Please call me Pepe-everyone does."
"What business are you in?"
"I'm in the beer business. I'm a brewer. Perhaps you've heard of Cerveza Perado?"
"Yes, I have. I had it once in Texas. It's very good."
"My grandfather started the business nearly a hundred years ago. I'm the third generation. Do you have a card, Mr. Barrington?"
"Of course." Stone handed him a card.
"What kind of law do you practice?" Perado asked, looking at the card. "Oh, I've heard good things about Woodman & Weld. I hope to visit them while I'm here."
"I practice mostly business law, and I'd be happy to introduce you to whoever you'd like to meet at Woodman & Weld."
Fred drove the car to the Towers entrance at the Waldorf. "Here we are," Stone said.
"May I meet with you tomorrow, Mr. Barrington?"
"Yes, of course, and please call me Stone."
"Would ten tomorrow morning be all right?"
"Of course. The address is on the card. My office is on the street level of my home. It's a short walk from the Waldorf."
"Until ten o'clock," Perado said. He shook Stone's hand, got out of the car, and went inside.
Stone went home, resisted eating Dino's chateaubriand, and called his firm's managing partner, Bill Eggers.
"Good evening, Bill, it's Stone. I hoped you'd be awake."
"I am now. This better be good news, I don't sleep well on bad news."
"Have you ever heard of a beer called Cerveza Perado?"
"I have two six-packs of it in my bar downstairs. It's hard to come by outside of Texas-you have to know somebody."
"I chanced to meet Jose Perado, their third-generation CEO, this evening."
"And how did you manage that?"
"I was coming out of Patroon as he was being 'set upon by footpads,' as Shakespeare once put it."
"Right there in the street?"
"Yep, and the footpads were cops. I took a blackjack away from one of them and threatened to call his captain, whereupon they dematerialized. I gave Pepe, as he likes to be called, a lift to the Waldorf Towers. He's in from San Antonio and looking for legal advice. I'm giving him some tomorrow morning. Would you like to join us?"
"In my office?"
"No, in mine, at home."
"And that is supposed to impress him?"
"No, you're supposed to do that. Ten o'clock?"
"See you then." Both men hung up.
Stone went to bed with dreams of beer bottles dancing in his head.
Stone got to his desk by nine the following morning and called Dino.
“Hey. After your departure last night I left Patroon and had a run-in with a couple of cops outside on the sidewalk.”
“What do you mean a ‘run-in’?”
“They screeched to a halt in front of the restaurant and attacked a passerby.”
“No, someone I’d never seen before. They threw the guy against a wall and hit him, then one of them produced a black- jack and drew back on the guy.”
“Did they hit him with the blackjack?”
“No, I took it away from the cop and started asking questions.”
''I'd have paid money to see that."
"I'm giving you a firsthand account, free."
"I asked them what precinct they were in and they said the Three-Five South, and I cowed them by mentioning their captain's name."
"Right. They backed off, and I put the guy in my car and took him to his hotel, the Waldorf Towers."
"Good for you. Get any names?"
"One of the cops called the other 'Ryan.' That's all I got."
"Ryan from the Three-Five South-that's a start. I'll get back to you."
Stone returned phone calls, dictated letters, and filled out time sheets until Bob Eggers arrived, early.
"So who's this guy we're meeting?"
"I told you last night-just replay the conversation in your mind, then we'll start anew."
"Okay, I've replayed it. What else can you tell me?"
"That's it, that's all I know. The guy is, potentially, a productive client."
Joan came in with coffee and Eggers had some. Then Jose Perado arrived and introductions were made.
Stone watched as Eggers went through his potential-client dance: he started with small talk, moved on to biography and business history and, obviously to Stone, found Perado acceptable as a client.
"We'd be happy to represent you, Mr. Perado,"
Eggers said. "Please call me Pepe, everybody everywhere does."
"Pepe it is."
"I'd like very much to be represented by Woodman & Weld," Pepe said.
"Then let me welcome you to our firm," Eggers said, standing up and shaking his hand.
"Thank you, Bill."
"Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm due for a meeting back at our real offices." He shot Stone a glance. "So, I'm going to leave you in the hands of our favorite partner, Stone, who will assess your immediate needs. I look forward to seeing you again soon." Eggers left.
"That was easy," Pepe said.
"Bill knows a good client when he sees one," Stone replied. "Now, let's talk about your immediate needs. What are they?"
"Two, I think: a distributorship to buy, or alternately, a property where I can start one, and an ad agency."
"Let's start with the ad agency," Stone said. "I recommend a firm called Kelly & Kelly, a small-to-medium firm that does good marketing and great creative work. Can I set up an appointment?"
Stone looked up the number and called the agency: "Good morning, Brad, it's Stone Barrington."
"Good to hear from you, Stone. What's up?"
"I have a potential client for you." He gave the man a brief description of Pepe, including his interest in acquiring or establishing a distribution business. "Sounds interesting. Is he in town?"
"He's in my office."
"Want to bring him over here after lunch? Say, three o'clock?"
"Pepe, is three this afternoon good for you?"
"Good for me."
"You're on, Brad. See you then."
"Hang on, there's something else."
"My brother-in-law, who works here, has a father with a very nice beverage distributorship who's starting to look at retirement."
"That's very interesting."
"His name is Martin Winkle, and I happen to know he's free for lunch. You want to get the two of them together?"
"Hang on. Pepe, would you like to have lunch with a man named Martin Winkle, who's a beverage distributor looking to retire?"
"Sure, why not?"
"Okay, Pepe's on."
"Marty can meet him at twelve-thirty at the Four Seasons. He had a lunch date with me there."
Stone checked with Pepe and made the date.
He hung up. "Okay, you meet Winkle at twelve-thirty, and you and I will meet at the agency's building at three." He gave him the address.
"Fine with me," Pepe said.
"Good." They shook hands, and Pepe left.
Dina called shortly after Perado left. "I got something for you," he said.
"The guy named Ryan is one Eugene Ryan, who got busted off the force two years ago, because he was doing strong-arm work, freelance."
"So, he's no longer a cop?"
"That is his condition. The other guy is probably one Al Parisi, who was a buddy of Ryan's. He graduated from the Academy but didn't last through the probationary period. Ryan had been his training officer, and after Ryan went, so did Parisi. His record says it was for failure to carry out his duties."
"A catchall phrase?"
"Right. A chat with his captain revealed that Parisi has some family mob connections, too."
"I remember a Gino Parisi from a long time ago."
"That was his grandfather."
"So the kid was mobbed up?"
"Reading between the lines, I think he probably was not. He doesn't sound like the type to qualify. The old man, Gino, would probably have thought he was a wimp."
"So he couldn't qualify for the mob, but he could qualify for the Academy?"
"He had a clean sheet, good grades in high school, and fin ished a couple of years of community college. And his family connection didn't emerge in his background check. Parisi is a common enough Italian name. How do you suppose Ryan and Parisi chose this Perado guy to beat up on?"
"It looked to me like they were looking to roll him," Stone said.
"Maybe they're riding around town, pretending to still be cops, looking for likely victims on the street."
"I guess that makes some kind of sense," Dino said. "Was there anything else that connected them to Perado?" "No, not according to him."
"This is very weird," Dino said.
"You just said it makes some kind of sense."
"I take that back-it doesn't make any sense at all." "Okay, I'll grant you that."
"What are you doing for lunch?"
"Eating your chateaubriand from last night."
"Then I won't come between you and your beef. Let me know if some other connection comes up between Ryan/Parisi and Perado."
"Okay." They hung up.
Stone met Pepe Perado in the lobby at Kelly & Kelly, where they rode up together in the elevator.
"Stone," Pepe said, "something happened on the way over here."
"I saw those two cops again. I was coming out of the Waldorf the Park Avenue entrance-and they were double-parked out side the hotel. I know they saw me, and they drove away. I tried to get their tag number, but a taxi pulled between us and blocked my view."
They arrived at their floor, Stone gave their names to the recep tionist, and they were asked to wait for a moment. "Pepe, some thing's wrong here. How would they know you were staying at the Waldorf? They didn't follow us when we left Patroon that evening, Fred was careful about that."
"I can't figure it out," Pepe replied.
"Who have you seen since you arrived in New York?"
Pepe thought about it. "Just our current distributors," he said. "They're called Bowsprit Beverages."
"Tell me about them."
"Well, I told you they weren't doing a very good job for us, and I told them that, too. They didn't take it too well."
"Who did you talk to?"
"Jerry Brubeck, and his partner, Gino Parisi."
"Ah, now this is making sense. My friend at the NYPD told me that the man with Ryan is probably an ex-cop named Parisi. You said they didn't take your criticism well. What did you say to them?"
"I told them I was unhappy with the job they were doing, and I was going to end our relationship. I gave them a letter giving them the notice that our contract required."
"And how did they respond?"
"They didn't seem too upset. After all, I'm a pretty small client to them. Gino said he would see to it that I'd never find another distributor in New York."
"And how did you respond to that?"
"I told them that if that were so, I'd start my own distribution business. Then they got mad, and Gino said I'd never get a license, that he would see to that, too. At that point I told them good day and got out of there."
A secretary came out and led them to the partners' office.
"We'll talk more about Brubeck and Parisi later," Stone said. The Kelly brothers worked in a roomy office at a large, old fashioned partners desk. Introductions were made, then two other people came in and were introduced as Sam Diehl and Caroline Woodhouse, a writer-art director creative team. Stone found Ms. Woodhouse very interesting, and he noted the absence of a ring on her left hand.
The conversation was immediately relaxed and casual: Pepe thanked them for their introduction to Marty Winkle, and the brothers gave him information about the birth and growth of their agency, then showed him some print ads and a dozen of their recent television commercials for various clients.
"I've seen some of this work before," Pepe said, "in magazines and on TV You fellows are very good at what you do."
They talked more about marketing and media buying and about the possibility of opening a small office in San Antonio to handle their regional work, as well as Pepe's account.
"We know you'll want to talk to some other agencies," Stan Kelly said, "but I want you to know that we're very interested in working for you. After you've had some time to make a decision, please call us."
"I don't need to talk with anyone else," Pepe said, "and I've never had any trouble making decisions. If I can put together this company in New York, I'd like you to represent us. I looked at Marty Winkle's operation, and it looks like we're going to make a deal, after we've done due diligence, and Stone has written us a contract. The minute we get that done, I'll want you to go to work on an introductory campaign."
The brothers were delighted. They talked about the sort of budget they thought would be needed, and Pepe was agreeable to that. "By the way, Brad," he said, "I understand your brother-in-law was responsible for the introduction to Marty Winkle. When the deal goes through, I'll see that he gets a finder's fee."
"That would thrill him, Pepe," Brad replied. "He's getting married soon, and he could use it."
They broke up the meeting and said their goodbyes. Stone made a point of shaking Caroline Woodhouse's hand. "I hope I'll see you again," he said.
She looked him in the eye. "I hope so, too," she replied, handing both Stone and Pepe her card.
Stone and Pepe took the elevator downstairs and chatted for a moment in the lobby.
"Tell me about Marty Winkle's operation," Stone said
"I was very impressed," Pepe said. "I also liked it that his building is quite large. If we can make an initial success of dis tributing here, then there's room on the property for a brewing operation. But I'm worried about Gino Parisi's threat of prevent ing me from getting a business license."
"Then I think what we should do is, instead of just buying Marty's assets, buy the corporation, after satisfying ourselves that there are no liabilities attached. If you own the corporation, you own the license, though you may have to get the sanction of the licensing board. Later on, you'd need another license for brewing, but I think the State of New York would be very happy to have a new brewery in the state. We'll see, too, what tax incen tives they'll give us for establishing here."
Pepe shook his hand. "Thanks so much for all your help, Stone. My CFO and accountant will be here tomorrow, and after they've looked things over, I'll give you a call and let you know where we go from here."
The two men parted, and Stone went home to call Dino. He wanted to find out more about Bowsprit Beverages and its own ers, Brubeck and Parisi.