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Someone wants to crash Stone Barrington’s party in this New York Times bestseller in Stuart Woods’s thrilling series.

Stone Barrington is in Bel-Air, overseeing the grand opening of the ultra-luxe hotel, The Arrington, built on the grounds of the mansion belonging to his late wife, Arrington Carter.

The star-studded gala will be attended by socialites, royalty, and billionaires from overseas...and according to phone conversations intercepted by the NSA, it may also have attracted the attention of international terrorists. To ensure the safety of his guests—and the city of Los Angeles—Stone may have to call in a few favors from his friends at the CIA...


Praise for Severe Clear
“Boasts an all-star lineup...Woods expertly mixes familiar ingredients to produce an intoxicating cocktail that goes down easily.”—Publishers Weekly

More Praise for Stuart Woods

“Stuart Woods is a no-nonsense, slam-bang storyteller.”—Chicago Tribune

“A world-class mystery writer...I try to put Woods’s books down and I can’t.”—Houston Chronicle 

“Mr. Woods, like his characters, has an appealing way of making things nice and clear.”—The New York Times

“Woods certainly knows how to keep the pages turning.”—Booklist

“Since 1981, readers have not been able to get their fill of Stuart Woods’ New York Times bestselling novels of suspense.”—Orlando Sentinel

“Woods’s Stone Barrington is a guilty pleasure...he’s also an addiction that’s harder to kick than heroin.”—Contra Costa Times (California)



Scott Hipp turned off I-295 South in Fort Meade, Maryland, at the dedicated exit entitled “NSA Employees Only” and drove to the mirrored black building that is the headquarters of the National Security Agency. The NSA was that part of the United States intelligence community responsible for communications surveillance and code breaking, and Hipp was its deputy director for cryptology, so he could park in the underground garage instead of in one of the eighteen thousand parking spaces surrounding the building.

Feeling smug that he would return to a cool automobile instead of one baking outside, he inserted his ID badge in the elevator panel and rode up to his office on the top floor, which he entered at the stroke of eight a.m., as he did every day. Four people awaited him at his conference table, drinking his coffee.

Hipp set his briefcase on the conference table and sat down. “Tell me something I don’t know,” he said without preamble.

The four exchanged some glances and shuffled through their papers.

Hipp watched them with satisfaction, since he knew they knew there was not much he didn’t know.

“How about a cryptology joke?” asked one of them, removing a sheet of paper from a stack.

“Amuse me,” Hipp said.

“Overnight down at Fort Gordon, one of our computers picked up a twenty-two-second cell phone conversation between someone in Afghanistan and someone in Yemen. The conversation was too brief to pinpoint locations, and much of it was garbled. The funny part is that, in the middle of the conversation, two English words were clearly spoken: ‘the’ and ‘Arrington.’”

“That is terribly amusing,” Hipp said with a straight face. “It’s also very common, since English is a worldwide language, and foreigners often use phrases from or fragments of English.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Does anyone at Fort Gordon, or for that matter, anyone here, have any thoughts on what the words mean?”

“Well,” the man said, “I Googled it and there were essentially four hits, among a lot of duplication: first, there’s some techie businessman named Arrington who’s apparently famous in that world; second, there’s an old Virginia family by that name; third, there’s an Arrington vineyard; and fourth, there’s a new hotel opening in Los Angeles called The Arrington. I like that one best because it has the ‘The’ in front of it.”

“Tell me about the hotel,” Hipp said.

“You remember the movie star Vance Calder, who was murdered some years back? The hotel is being built on the grounds of his former home, something like twenty acres, in Bel-Air, a top-scale residential community in L.A.”

“Home of the Bel-Air Hotel, I believe,” Hipp replied.

“Right,” the man said. “The hotel is being named for his widow, née Arrington Carter, who herself was murdered early last year. Curiously, both Mr. and Mrs. Calder were murdered by former lovers.”

“Any apparent significance there?” Hipp asked.

“Not really, just a coincidence. The hotel is having a grand opening soon—apparently it’s a hot ticket out there.”

“If it’s a hot ticket in L.A.,” Hipp observed, “there are probably not many invitations circulating in either Afghanistan or Yemen.”

“That occurred to me, sir.”

“In what language did the cell phone conversation take place?”

“A combination of Urdu and Arabic. Not enough was captured to make any sense of it.”

“All right,” Hipp said. “Put ‘The Arrington’ on the phraseology watch list and let’s see if anything pops up. I don’t think a single mention of the name is grounds for any sort of alert at this point.”

“Yes, sir,” the man said, scribbling a note on the message and setting it aside.

The meeting went on for another hour, five men trying to find some evil intent in the overnight traffic. At nine thirty, Hipp closed his briefcase and stood up. “I’m due at the White House at eleven,” he said. “You people finish up somewhere else. I need the office.”

The four men shuffled out, and Hipp spent a few minutes going over calls and correspondence with his secretary.

Hipp arrived at the White House at ten forty-five and was admitted to the cabinet room in the West Wing. By eleven there were eight representatives of other intelligence and security agencies present, and the president of the United States entered the room on time. Everyone stood, and he told them to sit, and the meeting began.

* * *

An hour and twenty minutes later, the meeting broke, and Hipp went down to the White House Mess to get some lunch before driving back to Fort Meade. He chose a table by himself, but a moment later, the president’s chief of staff, Tim Coleman, walked up. “Hi, Scott. Mind if I join you?”

“Not even a little bit,” Hipp replied.

“How’d your meeting go?”

“Like most meetings—nothing monumental was decided. Sometimes I think all this Agency cross-talk has gone too far.”

“I know how you feel,” Coleman said. “That’s why I wasn’t there.”

A Filipino waiter came with menus, and they ordered.

A discussion of the troubles of Tiger Woods ensued, and the two men agreed that all the man had to do was to win a couple of tournaments and he’d be back on track. They were on coffee when Hipp, trying to keep the conversation going, told Coleman about the capture of two English words in a foreign telephone conversation.

“What words?” Coleman asked.

“‘The Arrington.’”

Coleman looked at Hipp. “What do you think it means?”

“Could be a new hotel about to open in L.A.,” Hipp said. “I put it on the phraseology watch list, and we’ll see if it comes up again.”

Coleman stood up. “I gotta get back to work, Scott. Good to see you.”

“Same here, Tim.”

Coleman turned to go, then stopped. “Say, let me know if your watch list catches that phrase again, will you?”

Hipp was about to ask why, but Coleman was already striding across the room.

* * *

Tim Coleman went back to his office, and on the way in he said to one of his secretaries, “Get me the director of the Secret Service, please. Right now.”


Stone Barrington arrived at the offices of Strategic Services, his most important legal client, and was shown to a large conference room. A large object under a sheet dominated the table, and half a dozen men and women stood, chatting idly and drinking coffee.

At the stroke of three p.m. Michael Freeman, chairman and CEO of Strategic Services, the world’s second-largest security firm, entered. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “please be seated.” Everyone found a chair.

“I know most of you have already met, but let me take a moment to review. To my immediate right is Stone Barrington, legal counsel to Strategic Services, and the largest individual investor in the hotel. Strategic Services is, of course, a significant investor, as is Superlative Hotel Management, or Super, as we like to call it, and they are represented here by David Connor, CEO, to Stone’s right, and by Morton Kaplan, to my left, who is serving as the executive director of our hotel. At the other end of the table are Katie Rogers, Super’s marketing director, and Caroline Hugenot, the director of design for the hotel, and finally, Dick Trevor, who leads the architectural team for us.

“I have one more introduction to make. Ladies and gentlemen, The Arrington.” Freeman took hold of the sheet covering the object on the table and, with a flourish, whipped it off, revealing a large model of the hotel. Everyone applauded.

“I know you’ve all seen the place at some stage of the construction, but this will be the first bird’s-eye view that any of us has seen, unless someone owns a helicopter I don’t know about.” Freeman produced a laser pointer and switched it on.

“The front gate is here, of course, and the drive takes arrivals up the hill to the reception building, which is an expansion of the Vance Calder house and contains the reception desk, concierge staff, phone exchange, bell captain’s office with adjacent luggage storage space, and the executive offices. Behind that building, where the Calder pool once was, is the house built for Arrington Carter Barrington and her husband, Stone Barrington, and next to that is the former Calder guest house, now Cottage One.”

Freeman continued to point out the new pool, the par-three, nine-hole golf course, the tennis courts, gymnasium, cottages, and buildings containing rooms for both guests and their traveling staffs. “Most of the parking is underground, leaving the roads and paths free for the electric carts that will transport guests and their luggage to their accommodations.

“We have an indoor theater seating three hundred people and an outdoor amphitheater built into the hillside that seats fifteen hundred. There is a mini-mall here, containing a spa, hair salon, and eight top-end shops and boutiques. A guest who arrives having lost all his luggage can reequip himself or herself there in an hour or less.”

Freeman pointed to two large cottages in a secluded corner of the property. “These are our two presidential cottages, and after weeks of diplomacy, negotiation, and security planning, I can finally divulge what most of you do not know: two days before our grand opening, the presidents of the United States and Mexico will meet to conduct final negotiations and the signing of a new trade and immigration treaty between the two countries, covering all sorts of things that you will read about in the newspapers. Additionally, both presidents will attend our grand opening celebration.

“The Arrington is an ideal location for such a meeting, especially since it will not yet have any guests except Stone Barrington and his party, and I can assure you that between the United States Secret Service and the people of Strategic Services, there will be security rivaling that of the White House.”

More applause and happy smiles.

“There are two hundred suites, fifty rooms, three restaurants, and everything else a guest’s heart could desire. As you may know, Centurion Studios has underwritten the grand opening celebration, and they have taken twenty-five suites for that night. Many of their out-of-town guests will be staying on for some days. Centurion has also seen that the crowd attending the celebration will be a star-studded one. One thousand invitations were sent out all over this country and the world, and I’m told that there have been more than nine hundred acceptances. Before you ask, the invitation list is now closed, but then you all had the opportunity of inviting guests.

“Now, I’d like to ask Mort Kaplan to take us through the schedule of events on opening day.”

* * *

Kaplan stood up. He was a tall, slender, handsome man of around fifty in a Savile Row suit and a tan. “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.” Kaplan took them, step by step, through the schedule of the opening day and gave them their suite assignments. “Since all of our guests will be arriving on the same day, I would be grateful if you could check into the hotel with your luggage the previous day. The Secret Service will have your names at the gate. We’ve rented a fleet of golf carts, which will bear our logo, to supplement our own fleet of electric vehicles, so that will help us deal with the rush. We will also have a dozen check-in stations at the front desk, instead of the usual four. Each guest will receive a rather expensive gift box and a packet of information, including a map of the property, table assignment for dinner, and other amenities.”

Kaplan continued for most of an hour, then thanked everyone and sat down.

“Thank you, Mort,” Freeman said. “That was very impressive, and I’m sure everything will go smoothly. Ladies and gentlemen, that concludes our meeting. I’m sure I’ll see you all at the grand opening.”

The group chatted among themselves for a few minutes, then filed out and headed for the elevators. Mike Freeman tugged at Stone’s sleeve. “Stick around for a minute, will you?”

“Sure, Mike.”

Freeman closed the conference room door and waved Stone to a seat.

“You’re looking very serious, Mike.”

“I’m feeling very serious,” he replied.

“What’s going on?”

“I had a phone call this morning, a conference call, actually, with the director of the Secret Service, Howard Carroll, and the president’s chief of staff, Tim Coleman, whom I believe you know.”

“I know Coleman, but not Carroll.”

“They told me that an NSA computer recorded a cell phone conversation between someone in Afghanistan and someone in Yemen. Most of it was garbled, but the words ‘The Arrington’ in English were discernible.”

“That’s disturbing,” Stone said, and he felt it.

“Both the White House and the Secret Service feel that a single mention of the hotel’s name is not necessarily significant, and they’ve put the name on a kind of electronic watch list to see if there’s any further chat about it. In the meantime, nobody is panicking—yet—but we’ve agreed that our security for the grand opening should be stepped up even above the present level. We’ve twenty-five of our people assigned to the event, and I’ve told them I would speak with you and request that another twenty-five of our agents be assigned, plus half a dozen more to serve in the security center, monitoring the hundred and fifty high-definition cameras we have installed around the property.”

“I’m certainly agreeable to that and anything else you feel we need,” Stone said. “And I think we’re fortunate to have you as a principal in the hotel.”

“Thank you, Stone, I’ll see to it. When I told the others that our security at the hotel is nearly at White House levels, I wasn’t kidding, and now we’re ratcheting it up a couple of notches. We’ve already made the perimeter of the property highly secure, and there are only four access points, which will be beefed up with concrete barriers. The Secret Service is now going to increase their number of agents, many of them armed with automatic weaponry, and they’re bringing in shoulder-fired Stinger ground-to-air missiles and distributing them at high points around the property, in case of an attack from the air. Every airport in Southern California will be alerted to the possibility of airplane rentals by foreign nationals. And every flight plan filed in the area will be checked against the watch lists.”

“It sounds as though you’ve got it covered,” Stone said.

“Tim Coleman has told me that Kate Rule at the CIA is sending out orders to every station to question all informants.”

“I can’t think of anything you haven’t done,” Stone said.

“Neither can I,” Mike said, “but I’m going to worry about it every day until this event is behind us.”

“So am I,” Stone said.


Stone returned from his meeting at Strategic Services to find Kelli Keane waiting for him. He had completely forgotten the appointment.

“Hello, Kelli,” he said, shaking her hand. “I’m sorry I’m late. A board meeting ran on a bit.” Kelli Keane was a former reporter with the Post who had quit to write magazine pieces. And a biography of Arrington. Stone was uneasy about talking to her, but she had made the point that he could help her be sure that what she had to say in the book was accurate.

He seated her on the sofa and took a chair opposite, while Joan brought in a bottle of mineral water and two glasses. He certainly wasn’t going to drink while talking to her.

“Lunch will be ready in a few minutes,” Joan said.

Stone had also forgotten that their appointment was for lunch. “How can I help you?” he asked.

“To begin with, I’d like to run through some chronology,” Kelli replied, “to get events in their proper order.”

“All right.”

“You met Arrington when?”

“Oh, many years ago, at a cocktail party. Her first words on being introduced to me were ‘We must never marry.’”

Kelli laughed. “Oh, yes, ‘Arrington Barrington.’ How did you ever resolve that point?”

“We ran through the options, and it seemed to her that ‘Arrington Carter Barrington’ worked, separating the two names just enough. This was after she had accepted my proposal.”

“Why did it take you so long to marry?”

“Pretty simple—she married someone else.”

“And how did that happen?”

“It was winter. We had planned a vacation bareboating in the Caribbean, on the island of St. Marks. We were to meet at the airport. I arrived first, it had begun to snow, and I was concerned that she might have trouble getting there. Finally, she called and said that the New Yorker had asked her to write a profile of the movie star Vance Calder, and that she had to meet with him, since he was returning to L.A. the following day. She promised to get a flight to St. Marks the next day.

“I went ahead to the island, but my flight was the last one out before they closed the airport. Turns out, Arrington was snowed in in New York for several days, and so was Vance Calder. We were communicating by fax, this being before e-mail was prevalent and before St. Marks got good cellular service, and after a few days, I got a fax saying that she was going back to L.A. with Vance, and that it was over between us.”


“Yes, I had bought a ring and was going to pop the question.”

“Oh, dear.”

“Well, yes. Took me a while to get over that.”

“And by that time, Arrington was pregnant?”

Stone froze; she had boxed him in, and this was a question he did not want to address. “It happens to married people.”

“It also happens to unmarried people,” Kelli said, “and to people who have not yet decided to marry.”

“Yes, of course.”

“And it happened to you and Arrington.” It wasn’t a question.

“We had been living together.”

“So how did she know whose son she was carrying?”

“She didn’t,” Stone replied. “I think it was many years later that it became clear to her, when the child was growing up.”

“No paternity test?”

“Not until much later, and that was nearly by accident.”

“And when did she tell you?”

“After Vance’s death. She felt she owed it to him to maintain the status quo while he was alive, and she did.”

“So why didn’t you marry immediately after his death?”

“By this time we had very different lives, on opposite coasts, and they seemed incompatible. Then she decided to take Peter back to Virginia, her home state, and build a house there. I invited them both to come to New York for Christmas, and after that, things developed very quickly. Peter and I got along immediately, and he quickly guessed that I was his father. There’s a photograph of my father in my study, and Peter resembles him closely. When he saw it—that was all he needed. I had promised Arrington I wouldn’t tell him without her approval, and I didn’t. But Peter is a very bright young man.”

“I saw that in him when we met in Virginia,” Kelli said. She had come down for the housewarming of Arrington’s new house with her boyfriend, James Rutledge, who was photographing the place for Architectural Digest.

Joan came into the room. “Lunch is served in the kitchen,” she said.

Stone led Kelli from his office through the exercise room to the kitchen, where his housekeeper, Helene, had laid the table for two, and he seated his guest.

Stone poured them glasses of Chardonnay, and they dug into a seafood risotto.

“May we talk about money for a minute?” she asked.

Stone sighed. “Must we?”

“I don’t want details, just an overview. Vance Calder was very rich, wasn’t he?”

“Vance, who was much older than Arrington but looked wonderful, had had a fifty-year career in Hollywood, and he was, financially, very astute. From his first film he waived salary in favor of a percentage of the gross receipts of his films, and he invested in Centurion stock. Sometimes, when the studio was having cash flow problems, he took stock in lieu of his percentage. Over the years, he became the largest single stockholder in Centurion Studios, and he also invested in California real estate, which brought him handsome returns.”

“I’ve heard that his estate was worth something in the region of two billion dollars?”

“You said you didn’t want details.”

“Sorry. It was during those years that Vance acquired the land in Bel-Air where the new hotel is being built?”

“Yes. First, he bought an old house there and redid it; then, as his neighbors aged or just moved, he acquired adjoining properties.”

“So Arrington inherited Vance’s estate, and you inherited Arrington’s estate? Thus avoiding inheritance taxes in both cases?”

“I made it clear to Arrington that I was uninterested in her money,” Stone said. “In fact, I declined to participate in any of her decisions about her bequests. She worked with another attorney to draw up her will, and I was given a sealed copy, which was not opened until after her death. She left the great bulk of her estate to Peter, in trust, and a lesser share to me. Arrington died in a year during which, due to some congressional anomaly, estate taxes were suspended. I have made it a rule not to spend any of her money on myself, and I have willed my estate to Peter in its entirety, except for a few bequests.”

“That’s abstemious of you.”

“I have funds of my own that are sufficient to my needs.”

“And now The Arrington is about to open. Did you name it that?”

“Arrington had thought of calling it Casa Calder, after Vance, but after her death, the new name was suggested to me, and it seemed to fit. I understand you’re covering the grand opening for Vanity Fair?”

“Yes, I’ll be there with a team of photographers. It will be well covered.”

“Centurion is doing a lot of filming, too. It should all be very exciting.”

“You don’t really sound very excited about it,” Kelli said.

“I have mixed emotions,” Stone said, “and I expect they will remain mixed.”

“Stone, do you feel any guilt about your inheritance from Arrington?”

Stone shrugged. “I didn’t do anything to deserve it.”

“From what I’ve learned during my research, you did very well by Arrington after Vance’s death: after you became her attorney, you helped her save Centurion from a rapacious property developer. You and your law firm took over her affairs and increased her wealth, and you saved her millions on the purchase of the Virginia land where she built her house. Surely it was natural of her to want to leave you a part of her estate, even if you hadn’t married, and as her husband, there was nothing out of the ordinary about inheriting from her.”

Stone shrugged again. “That’s all very logical, and I suppose it should make me feel better about it, but…”

“I’m sorry,” Kelli said, “I won’t go any further with that.”

“Thank you.”

“There is a rumor I’d like you to address, though.”

“What sort of rumor?”

“That you were married previously to a woman who has now been hospitalized for some years, but somehow, the marriage records went away.”

“Funny, I hadn’t heard that,” Stone replied. He knew it, but he hadn’t heard it.

“So you deny that?”

“Unless you have something more than a rumor for evidence, why should I bother?”

“One other thing,” Kelli said, “and then I’ll leave you alone.”

“What’s that?”

“There appears to be some discrepancy about your and Arrington’s son’s date of birth.”

Stone frowned. He hadn’t expected this, and he needed to make this go away immediately. “Peter has a birth certificate, like everybody else, and that’s a public record.”

“I know, I’ve seen it, and you are listed as the father. How did Vance Calder feel about that?”

“I wasn’t privy to conversations between Arrington and Vance, so I’ve no idea what he felt.”

“How does Peter feel about Vance?”

“He seems to have nothing but fond memories of him.”

“Do you mind if I talk to Peter?”

“I certainly do, and if you pursue that line of questioning, my cooperation will end. Is that perfectly clear?”

“Perfectly,” she said. She glanced at her watch. “Well, that’s all I have at this time. May I call you if I think of anything further?”

“This has all been painful, and I would prefer not to discuss any of it any further. I think you have enough for your book.”

“I understand,” she said. “Thank you for your cooperation.” She excused herself and left.

Stone was left staring into his wineglass.


Three months before Stone’s conversation with Kelli Keane, three men sat in a dentist’s reception room in Leipzig, Germany. There were no other patients waiting, and they did not seem to know one another.

From behind the two-way glass separating the reception room from the rest of the suite of offices, another man observed them. The three looked fit, but otherwise unremarkable; all appeared to be Anglo-Saxon, between twenty-five and thirty-five, and neatly dressed in casual clothing. Two of them leafed through magazines; the other stared at the mirrored glass, as if he could see through it, which the viewer found a little unsettling.

The observer pressed a button on the receptionist’s desk and the outside door to the reception room locked with a distinct click. The two reading magazines both looked at the door; the one staring into the mirror did not. The observer found that interesting. He leaned toward the microphone on the desk and spoke.

“The one farthest from the door, open the drawer in the magazine table next to you.”

They all became alert. The man opened the drawer.

“There are three pairs of cotton gloves in the drawer,” the observer continued. “Each of you put on a pair, and wipe clean any surface or magazine you may have touched.”

They did so. When they had finished, the observer continued. “You, on the right, tell us your first name and something about yourself.”

The starer wiped the brass pull on the drawer clean and looked back at the mirrored glass. “I am Hans,” he said, in unaccented American English. “I work as a test driver at the Porsche factory in Leipzig, where the Cayenne and Panamera models are assembled. I was born in Monterey, California, to a German father and an American mother. They moved to Berlin when I was sixteen, so that my father could take over an automobile repair shop owned by my grandfather.”

“Good,” the observer said. “Now, you on the left.”

“My name is Mike,” the man said. “I was born in New York City, but my parents soon moved to California, where my father opened a restaurant in the San Fernando Valley, which he still operates. I currently work as a bartender at the Beverly Hills Hotel, in Los Angeles.”

“Good. Now you, the third.”

“My name is Richard, called Rick. I was born and raised in Santa Monica, California. I attended a technical college in Burbank and studied computer science. I work for a large security company in their Los Angeles office, designing and building prototypes for large-scale alarm systems.”

“Good,” the observer said. “You may all call me Algernon. You all know that a short time ago an American SEAL team located our beloved Osama bin Laden in Pakistan and murdered him there. Our purpose—yours and mine—will be to wreak a vengeance on the United States for that despicable act from which that country may never recover.”

There were excited murmurs from the three men, and they exchanged happy glances.

“Take a good look at each other, because you will not meet again for some time, but when you do, you must recognize each other on sight. Hans, we know why you are in Leipzig. Rick, how did you travel here?”

“I took a flight from Los Angeles to London, then spent a week touring southwest England in a rental car. After that I took a flight from Heathrow to Paris and from there to Leipzig. I am picking up another rental car tomorrow, with which I will tour Eastern Europe for another ten days, before returning to Los Angeles from Paris.”


“I flew from Los Angeles to Rome and spent five days there, before traveling by train to Leipzig on a passport supplied to me. Tonight, I will return to Rome and spend another three days there before returning to Los Angeles.”

“You all belong to mosques, under Muslim names. Has any of you visited a mosque in Europe during the past two years?”

Hans raised his hand. “I was not told I couldn’t.”

“Does anyone at your mosque know your German name?”

“No. I was told not to give it to anyone.”

“Good. Now, here are your instructions: Hans, you are a certified Porsche mechanic, are you not?”

“Yes,” Hans replied.

“You are to resign from your job at the factory, saying that you wish to return to the United States. You will ask for a letter of recommendation to a Porsche dealer in Los Angeles and apply for a job there by e-mail. There is an envelope in the drawer with an e-mail address to the service manager at the dealership. You will apply by e-mail, sending as attachments your résumé and your letter of recommendation. The dealership will arrange your work permit. Later, you will leave this job for another, which you will be told about at a later date.”

Hans opened the drawer, found the envelope, and put it into his jacket pocket.

“Mike,” Algernon said, “you subscribe to a restaurant services magazine. When you return you will see an advertisement for kitchen and bar staff at a new hotel called The Arrington. You will apply for a bartender’s job there as soon as you return.”

Mike nodded.

“Rick,” Algernon said, “you are currently working on alarm systems for The Arrington. Your employer is furnishing security personnel to The Arrington, and when you return, you will apply to your boss for a position as a security systems operator and repairman in The Arrington’s security monitoring center, which is operated by your employer.”

Rick said, “Yes, sir.”

“You all have excellent backgrounds for the jobs to which you will apply, and you must do everything possible to see that you are hired. When you return to the United States, you must obtain throwaway cell phones, set up e-mail in your code names, then send your e-mail addresses to the following Web site.” Algernon gave them the name, then repeated it. “When you have been hired at the hotel, you will send an e-mail to that address saying, ‘All is well. I am fine,’ signing it with your code name. I will contact you at those e-mail addresses and give you further instructions at a later date. When you go to work at the hotel, you will not give any sign that you recognize each other. Rick, your code name will be Wynken. Hans, your code name will be Blynken. Mike, your code name will be Nod. Everybody understand?”

The three men nodded.

“You may receive further instructions from me directly or by phone. I sign my e-mails with the name ‘Algernon.’”

The three men nodded.

“Now leave, one at a time; five minutes apart. Don’t leave any fingerprints on the doorknob. Throw the gloves into a public trash bin at least two blocks away from here. Hans, you first, then Rick, then Mike.”

Algernon sat and waited until all three men had left, then he took out his cell phone and sent an e-mail message to someone who was waiting for it. Two minutes later, he received a reply: “All is well. I am fine.”

Algernon left the office, locking the door behind him. A few blocks away he discarded the office key and the gloves he had been wearing.


Stone and Dino met for dinner at Patroon, a restaurant on East Forty-sixth Street. It was the first time they had dined there, and they were still looking for a replacement for Elaine’s. Stone and Dino had been detectives and partners at the 19th Precinct many years before; Dino was now running the detective squad there.

They settled into a corner table in the handsome, paneled dining room, hung with photographs from the collection of the owner, Ken Aretsky.

“What do you think?” Dino asked.

Stone seemed distracted. “Huh?”

“Of the restaurant.”

“Oh. I like the look and feel of it.” He opened a menu. “More expensive than Elaine’s, though.”

A waiter materialized before them and set down two drinks. “Knob Creek for you, Mr. Barrington. Johnnie Walker Black for you, Lieutenant Bacchetti.”

Stone thanked the man. “That’s a good start,” he said, sipping the drink.

“How did he know?” Dino asked.

“Beats me. Did you get famous all of a sudden?”

A man appeared at the table and introduced himself as the owner.

“How do you do, Ken?” Stone asked. “Please pull up a chair.”

Aretsky did so.

Distant Thunder

Stone Barrington finds himself in hot water in this exhilirating adventure from the #1 New York Times bestselling author. During an intense storm in Dark Harbor, Maine, a perplexing murder… More