Stone Barrington departed the Carlyle Hotel, on Madison Avenue at 76th Street and slipped from under the 76th Street awning into his waiting car. He had had a business lunch after departing the United Nations, where his close friend, Secetary of State Holly Barker, had given a well-received speech. A heavy rain was falling, and he could hardly see across the street.
“Can you see to drive, Fred?” he asked his factotum, Fred Flicker.
“Only just, sir,” Fred replied. “I’ll go slowly.”
“As you wish.” Stone found his unfinished New York Times crossword on the seat next to him; it was quite dark outside, and he switched on the reading light and started to work.
Traffic was slow. He saw a figure in black jogging toward Park Avenue with something in his hand; Stone couldn’t tell what, and he went back to his puzzle.
They had reached Park Avenue, but just as they did the light turned red, and since there is no right turn on red in New York City, Fred waited for it to change.
A dark blur appeared to his right in Stone’s periperal vision, but before he could turn to look at it, something struck the side window of the car with a heavy blow, and the vehicle shook slightly. As he turned he saw the figure in black seeming to bounce off his car and fall into the street. He peered out the window at the figure, who was scrambling to his feet and noted that he carried a sledge hammer.
Then, from behind him, came another blow to the car, then one to the left rear window. Finally, the figure on Stone’s side had another go, with similar results. This time a star appeared in the window glass.
Fred was turning to look at him. “What’s happening?” he asked.
“Never mind the light, Fred, take a right quickly.”
Fred did so, just as the light changed, and he was able to drive the length of the block before encountering another red light on Park. Stone looked over his shoulder and saw three dark figures, bearing sledge hammers, trotting toward the car. “Never mind the light, Fred, GO!” Stone shouted for emphasis.
Fred went and got lucky, sailing through the empty intersection. All the lights on Park turned green, and he made it to 57th Street before they turned red again.
“What the hell?” Fred asked.
“Beats me,” Stone said. “Drop me at the house, then take this over to the Strategic Services garage on 12th Avenue and ask them to replace my window. The other two seem to have survived intact.” Stone had bought the car, already armored, from Strategic Services, the second-largest security company in the United States.
Fred pulled into the garage in Turtle Bay, so Stone wouldn’t get wet. “Shall I wait for the car, sir, while they repair it?”
“Yes, if they have the window in stock and can do it immediately; if not, just wait until the rain stops, then leave the car and take a cab back.”
“Yes, sir.” Fred pulled out of the garage and turned west as the door closed behind him.
Stone took the crossword with him into his adjacent office, where his phone was ringing. His secretary was nowhere to be seen, so he picked it up. “Stone Barrington.”
“It’s Dino.” Dino Bacchetti had been Stone’s detective partner many years before when they were both on the NYPD; by now, he had risen to the heights of Commissioner of Police. “Dinner tonight? Patroon at seven-thirty?”
“Sure. Funny you should ring; I need a policeman.”
“Somebody take a shot at you?”
“No, but three men with sledge hammers attacked my car at Park and 76th.”
“Did you say, ‘sledge hammers’?”
“Did you have anything to drink at lunch?”
“They were sledge hammers, Dino.”
“One cracked window; Fred is having it replaced at the Stategic Service shop.”
“That’s right, you’ve got armored glass, haven’t you? Nice to know it works.”
“Yes, it is.”
“Do you think they were after you?”
“I think I could be forgiven for believing that, but I’ve no idea why anyone would want to beat me or my car to death with sledge hammers.”
“Maybe it’s not you they were after; maybe it’s the Bentley.”
“I’m not aware of any organized hatred of Bentleys in New York, are you?”
“Give me some time; I’ll see if there were any other attacks on English luxury cars today.”
“Take all the time you like,” Stone said.
“Oh, where were you coming from?”
“The Carlyle; I had lunch there with Bill Eggers and a client.”
“Didn’t you go to the U.N. this morning?”
“Yes, the lunch was after Holly had departed from Washington; I drove her to the heliport.”
“What does Bill drive?”
“A black Lincoln from a car service, I think.”
“How about the client?”
“No idea; I met him in the dining room.”
“Talk to you later.” Dino hung up.
Joan returned from somewhere with a shopping bag. “Sorry I wasn’t in when you got back; I needed some office supplies. Did anyone call?”
Stone turned up at Patroon on time and found Dino’s black SUV parked outside with a policeman asleep at the wheel.
Dino had already ordered drinks for the two of them, and Stone slid into the booth. The drinks came, and glasses were raised.
“Well, you’re not crazy,” Dino said.
“I’m relieved to hear it.”
“Two other Bentleys and a Rolls were attacked within six blocks and inside of an hour of your run-in.”
“Yours was the only one with armoring. The others ended up with a back seat full of glass, but the only passenger was in the the Rolls, and he suffered some scratches from flying glass.”
“Anybody I know?”
“Some guy from the Argentinian U.N. Consulate.”
“So it’s an attack on expensive English Cars?” Stone asked.
“More likely an attack on just expensive.”
“Any Mercedes or BMWs get the treatmant?”
“Then, on the available evidence . . . “
”Did you get a description?” Dino asked.
“A Ninja with a sledge hammer.”
“It was rainng heavily, and all three men - I guess they were men - were dressed entirely in black.”
“Might have been something waterproof, given the weather. Did you check the hardware stores to see if anybody had bought three sledge hammers?”
“We didn’t think of that,” Dino replied.
“Well, New York’s finest can’t think of everything, can you?”
“I guess that’s almost enough,” Stone replied.
Dino called the following morning the moment Stone sat down at his desk. “Did you see the Times coverage of Holly’s speech this morning?”
“I did; overwhelmingly positive, I’d say.”
“Me, too. Did you see Gloria Parsons’s op-ed piece?”
“I haven’t gotten that far yet. What the hell is Gloria doing on the Times op-ed page?”
“Her boyfriend, the ex-governor’s influence, I expect; also, the woman is a good writer.”
“What did she have to say?”
“Read it for yourself. By the way, your guess was inspired,” Dino said.
“About the sledgehammers. A woman visited a hardware store on 3rd Avenue, in the twenties, and bought three sledgehammers.”
“They had to get them somewhere.”
“She was about five-eight, a hundred and forty pounds, fairly short, dark hair, age thirty to forty, wearing a trench coat over black pants.”
“Did she pay by credit card?”
“That would be too easy; she paid cash.”
“Did the store deliver them?”
“No, she bought a canvas carryall and took them away in that.”
“So, you’re stuck.”
“Every cop on the East Side, upper and lower, is looking for people dressed in black, carrying a sledgehammer.”
“Brilliant police work.”
“It will be, if they spot somebody matching the description. Did you see any of these people before they started banging on your car?”
“Yes, come to think of it; as I left the Carlyle I saw somebody dressed in black - I assumed it was some sort of rainwear - and carrying something, though I couldn’t tell what, it was raining so hard.”
“Headed toward Park?”
“Yes, on the downtown side of the street. Does that matter?”
“I have no idea; I’m just being thorough.”
Have you had any reports of further Bentley abuse today?”
“Not yet, but I’ve had a hot call from the Bentley distributor, demanding action. Nothing from the Rolls people.”
“Did you get your car fixed?” Dino asked.
“Yes, it took a couple of hours, but Strategic Services came up with a window and installed it. The other two windows were unmarked. The workman said they should have used a pickaxe.”
“Because a pickaxe is pointed, and it would have had a better chance of penetrating the armored glass, because it would have concentrated the force into a smaller area than a sledgehammer.”
“Shall I put out an APB on people buying pickaxes?”
“Why not? Anything at all on the woman who bought the sledgehammers?”
“No, the store said she wasn’t a regular customer.”
“After all, how many sledgehammers does a girl need?”
“Only three, apparently; I guess they last awhile. Is there anything else your police department can do for you today?”
“Nope. Keep up the good work.”
Dino hung up.
Joan came in with the New York Post and put it on his desk. “Your incident of yesterday made the Post,” she said.
“LUXURY CARS ATTACKED WITH SLEDGEHAMMERS!” the headline screamed. The article was short, though, and there was no theory on why.
“I guess the Times ignored it,” Stone said. “At least, I didn’t see anything about it.”
“Not shocking enough,” she said, then went back to her desk.
A little further inside the Post was an editorial on Holly’s appearance at the U.N. “WOUNDED MADAME SECRETARY KNOCKS ONE OUT OF THE PARK,” read the headline, and all two paragraphs were entirely favorable. “Have we got a president-in-the-making here?” it finished. Stone reflected that Dino thought the bullet was meant for him, not Holly. The ex-con gunman, shot by Fred, had not been found to have a motive to shoot either Stone or Holly, and the case had petered out.
Stone picked up the Times and turned to the op-ed page. There was Gloria’s piece. “Barker throws her shoulder into the ring?” read the lead. Stone read on:
“Secretary of State Holly Barker, substitution at the U.N. for the president, brought the General Assembly to its collective feet when she appeared with her arm in a sling, albeit a silken one from Hermes. This is surely the first time a wounded cabinet member has risen from a hospital bed after an assassination attempt to address the world. It must be something like the reception Abraham Lincoln would have received in Congress, had his wound been to the shoulder, instead of to the head.
“President Katharine Lee, who of late, has been somewhat unpopular in certain quarters of the international community, thus won a victory for her policies by the simple device of not showing up, and instead, dispatching her glamorous secretary of state to stand in for her.
Secretary Barker has recently been seen with her president in half a dozen appearances where one might not expect a cabinet member to be seen in such high company, which indicates both her high standing in her boss’s opinion and maybe even a hint ast to who the president might like to see succeed her in office. There seems to be a wide-spread view in both houses of Congress that president could do a lot worse than Holly Barker.”
It went on like that for another six paragraphs. Stone found a pair of scissors in his desk drawer and clipped both the Times op-ed piece and the Post editorial. He buzzed Joan.
“Didn’t somebody give me a nice, leather scrapbook for Christmas a couple of years ago?”
“Yes, boss; I’ve been keeping it in the hope that you might do something that would engender some favorable press clippings.”
“Forget about that, but bring me the scrapbook, please.”
Joan hustled into his office and removed the album from its box.
Stone handed her the clippings. “You are now the official archivist for our Secretary of State,” he said.
“Soon to be our next president?”
“You didn’t hear that from me,” Stone said. She took the clippings and the album and returned to her office.