Smooth Operator


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From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Stone Barrington series comes the first novel in an extraordinary series starring an old fan favorite: Teddy Fay.

When President Kate Lee calls Stone Barrington to Washington on an urgent matter, it’s soon clear that a potentially disastrous situation requires the kind of help more delicate than even he can provide...and he knows just the right man for the job.

Teddy Fay: ex-CIA, master of disguise, and a gentleman not known for abiding by legal niceties in the pursuit of his own brand of justice.


Praise for Smooth Operator

“Fast-moving, full of action, sexy and now with a very bright, devious new hero in Teddy Fay...It is like eating forbidden fruit, sugary cotton candy or forbidden chocolate brownies with nuts. You know it isn’t good for you, but you can’t put it down! Just go ahead and read it.”—Lincoln Journal-Star

“Fans are sure to welcome this action-packed start to a separate series within the larger Stone Barrington story arc.”—Publishers Weekly

“Woods has millions of fans accumulated over the last 35 years who will read anything with his name on it, and Hall brings his own considerable following to the party. Entertaining, suspenseful reading for those who like smart-ass protagonists who are shrewder, tougher, and funnier than the bad guys they encounter.”—Booklist

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)


***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected copy proof***

Copyright © 2016 Stuart Woods




Stone Barrington, clad only in a bathing suit and sunglasses, lay on the deck of the Mary Lou sipping a cool glass of Knob Creek. Stone was able to do that because Mary Lou Weston herself was manning the helm. Though perhaps manning was the wrong word. A striking blonde, she looked as if she’d be more at home on a runway than driving a boat.

"You sure you don't need me to do anything?" Stone called.

"On this little boat?" Mary Lou said. "I think I can handle it alone."

Stone smiled. Mary Lou referred to her little boat the way the genteel wealthy called their East Hampton mansions cottages. Granted, it was smaller than the Queen Mary. Still, it was one of the larger yachts on the Hudson River. Stone could practically walk across it to New Jersey.

"I was thinking more along the lines of rubbing lotion on your back."

"My back?"

"I could work around to your front. I'm quite flexible."


Startled, Stone rolled over and looked for the disturbance.

A Coast Guard cutter was bearing down on them.

"Hey!" Mary Lou said. "Those idiots are going to swamp us!" She flailed her arms, trying to wave off the boat.

The cutter kept coming. As it drew closer, Stone recognized the man with the bullhorn standing in the bow.

"Dino?" he said incredulously.

"You know that jackass?" Mary Lou said.

"So do you," Stone told her.

"No, I don't."

"Yes, you do."

"You're a hard man to find," Dino Bacchetti called.

Dino Bacchetti and Stone Barrington had been partners on the detective squad at the 19th Precinct. When Stone left the police force and passed the bar exam, Dino had stayed on. Over the years he had risen through the ranks, and recently had been named police commissioner.

Mary Lou was steamed. "Who the hell do you think you are, stopping me in a Coast Guard cutter? You ought to be arrested."

Stone grinned. "I’m sure he should. Though you'll probably have a hard time finding a cop willing to do it. Mary Lou, allow me to present Police Commissioner Dino Bacchetti."

"Yeah, right," Mary Lou scoffed. "Like this joker's really the...Oh, my God!"

"Pleased to meet you," Dino called.

Mary Lou pushed the long blonde hair off her face, and gawked. "What the hell is going on here?"

"I have no idea," Stone said. "Are you coming aboard?"

Dino grinned. "Nah. I just always wanted to say that. Prepare to be boarded. Actually, you're the one coming aboard."

"Gee, Dino. You're a nice guy and all that, but you don't have her looks."

"Sorry, Stone. It's not an invitation."

"You're putting me under arrest?"

"If I have to. I was hoping you'd come quietly."

"What's the charge?"

"Not answering your cellphone."

Stone spread his arms. "Do you see a cellphone?"

"Where are your clothes?"

"Below deck."

"Get them. You're going places."


Dino shrugged. "Frankly, I don't know."















"So, what's going on?" Stone said as the Coast Guard cutter skimmed across the water.

"Where's your cellphone?"

"In my pants."

"Get it out of your pants."

Stone dug in the bag of clothes he was carrying, pulled his cellphone out of his pants pocket. "Now what?"

"You have to call Ann Keaton. She's been trying to reach you all day. When you didn’t answer, she got frustrated and called me."

"What does she want?"

"Damned if I know. She just wants you, and now isn't soon enough. I tried to stall her off and she read me the riot act, implied that if I didn't locate you the president would want to know why."

"She's trying to get me for the president?"

"She didn't say that. She didn't mention Kate except as a threat."

"I guess I better call her." Stone punched in the number on speed dial. "Ann, what the hell is going on?”

"Finally!" Ann said. "Can't you leave your cellphone on?"

"It's on and I'm calling. What is it?"

"Kate wants you at the state dinner."

"What state dinner?"

"The one tonight, honoring the French president."

"Tonight? Do you know what time it is?"

"Yes, I know what time it is," Ann said impatiently. "I've been trying to reach you all afternoon."

"The president wants me at a state dinner?"



"I don't know."

"What do you mean, you don't know? You're the chief of staff."

"That's right. I'm the chief of staff, and I don't know. I know everything, and I don't know this."

"All right, what do you know?"

"Dino will drop you at the heliport. You're taking a helicopter to Washington. A car will meet you there and take you to the White House."

"I don't get to land on the lawn?"

"That's just in the movies."

"No, they actually do it."

"Well, you don't. You land at the heliport. A limo will be waiting."

"I can't go to a state dinner. I'm wearing a bathing suit."

"No problem. Your car will stop at Henry Cassini's to pick up your new tux. They've had your measurements for two hours, they swear they'll be ready."

"You know my measurements?"

"I know which pant leg you put on first."

"I thought that was a state secret."

"It is. We'll have to disappear the tailor after he makes the tux."

"Seriously, what's this all about?"

"I wish I knew. I don't like things I don't know."

"Me neither. Will I see you this evening?"

"I’m afraid not. I have to go out to dinner with the congressman Kate bumped to make room for you at the table. Listen, I have to go. Will you apologize to Dino for me? I may have said some things that could be considered disrespectful to the office of the commissioner."

"Don't worry," Stone assured her. "I'll handle it." He clicked off the phone.

"So," Dino said, "what did she want?"

"She wants to know who you slept with to get the job."













Ann Keaton hung up the phone with a huge weight off her mind. Ann was an excellent White House chief of staff under normal circumstances, and she prided herself in handling crisis situations. Run in a last minute guest for a fully-booked State Dinner? No problem. She had changed the guest list, arranged for a place at the table, even taken care of getting the new place card printed. And, when it turned out it would take some time to reach the surprise guest who didn't even know he was coming, she had arranged to have a tuxedo made, just in case when she finally located him he would not have access to his.

And then Stone Barrington had thrown a monkey wrench into her carefully laid plans by being totally unreachable.

Well, she'd handled the situation, and it had only taken a limousine, a helicopter, a Coast Guard cutter, and an intervention by the New York commissioner of police. All in all, a pretty good day's work.

Now, was there anything else?

Oh, yes.

Ann sighed and picked up the phone.


Paul Wagner knew it was Ann. Her calls were important, and he'd assigned her her own special ringtone. He whipped his cellphone out of his pocket and slipped into his loving boyfriend mode. Ann couldn't see his face, but it was important to get just the right vocal intonation.

"Hi, sweetheart," he said.

"Paul. Listen-"

Paul laughed. "Oh, for goodness sakes. I've had dinner reservations for two weeks. Do you know how hard it was to get them?"

"Something came up."

"It always does." Paul said it good-naturedly, but with just enough barb in it to keep her talking. "What's up?"

"It's silly, but I have to go out with a congressman."

"You're kidding."

"It's a spur of the moment thing. He got bumped from his table to make room for a late addition of Kate's."

"You'll pardon me, but just who is so all-fired important he's interfering with our dinner?"

"Stone Barrington."

Paul put just the right jealous boyfriend inflection into his voice. "The man you used to be involved with?"

"He's not coming to see me, he's coming to see Kate. I have to take care of Congressman Jenkins, from East Podunk."


"I'm sorry. I'll make it up to you. I'm just in a bind."

Paul kept her on the phone as long as he dared, picking up as many details as possible, most of them silly and inconsequential, like tracking Stone down on the Hudson River and having to get a tux made at the last minute. Paul needed all the information he could get. It had seemed like a cushy job, cozying up to the attractive White House chief of staff, and he was happy to do it, but they weren't going to keep paying him unless he had something to show for it.

Paul had no idea whether this particular tidbit was worth anything, but evaluating the intel wasn't his job. His job was passing things along.

Paul punched the number into his cellphone.














Abdul-Hakim sized up the young man seated across the kitchen table from him. Salih was young and inexperienced, but his inexperience was what made him valuable. He was on no watch lists, nor was he likely to be. An American citizen, the son of upstanding convenience store owners, he had no blot on his record.

"Are you ready?" Abdul-Hakim said.

"Yes," Salih said.

Abdul-Hakim was sure he was. It was Abdul-Hakim's job to know, just as it was his job to know every aspect of the operation. A handsome, clean-cut, Middle-Eastern man in an Armani suit, Abdul-Hakim could have passed for a corporate CEO. In fact, he could have passed for many things, and did.

"One more thing," Abdul-Hakim said.

"What's that?"

Abdul-Hakim placed a box of rifle shells on the table. "Use these."


Abdul-Hakim's smile was frosty. "Because I am asking you to. Use them, and leave the expended shell casing behind."

He reached in his jacket pocket, took out an ID, and slid it across the table. "This is also for you. A driver's license, in the name of Nehan Othman. This is what you will present at security, so they will not have a record of your name."

"I understand."

Abdul-Hakim slid a fat envelope across the table. "Ten thousand now, ten thousand more when it is done. I will not see you again until it is over." He stood up.

Salih stood also. "I will walk you out."

"No, you will not. You will wait here at least ten minutes before you even stick your head out the door."

Salih sat back down.


Abdul-Hakim's cellphone rang as he came out the front door of the apartment house. He pulled it out of his pocket, and looked at the Caller ID. It was the money man, the man paying him to set up and run the whole complicated operation. What could he possibly want now?

Abdul-Hakim tried to keep the irritation out of his voice. "I just spoke to him. We're all set."

"Something came up."


















Stone was ushered off the helicopter into a black limo driven by a liveried youth who looked barely tall enough to reach the gas pedal. He took off without a word and without even glancing at his passenger, drove skillfully into downtown DC, and pulled up in front of the exclusive tailor shop of Henry Cassini. A sign on the door said “closed,” but the lights were on inside. This was not unusual. Cassini lived above the shop and often worked late.

Before Stone could even ring the bell the door was yanked open by the tailor himself. An older man with sculptured white hair who was always impeccably dressed in finer suits of his own design, Cassini had a reputation for being genial and deferential to his customers. Tonight, however, he seemed slightly hassled.

"Come in, come in. I just finished." He cast an appraising eye over Stone and nodded. "They got the measurements right. Good. It's in the changing room. Put it on and come out."

The tux fit perfectly, as did the shoes supplied with it. Stone adjusted the bow tie and stepped out into the shop.

Cassini was pacing anxiously. "Let me see, let me see. Ah. Yes. Perfect. Turn around. Good. They got it right. You're all set. Take your wallet and keys, anything else you need. Your clothes will be sent on to your hotel.”

Cassini ushered Stone back out the front door, where the driver was waiting by the car. Stone hopped in and, once more, the driver took off without a word, and headed for the White House.

Stone settled back in the seat and watched as the lights flashed by in the gathering darkness. It was late for a White House dinner. He'd have missed the reception and would be lucky to get a cocktail before sitting down.

Stone felt himself tensing up. And it wasn't just the thought of keeping the president waiting. Kate Lee was a friend, wouldn’t think him rude in any case, even if she hadn't summoned him peremptorily at the last minute. No, something else was wrong.

The car took a right-hand turn, and Stone realized what it was. The car behind followed them into the turn. It had been following them for some time.

"Take a left at the light," Stone said.

The driver was startled just to be spoken to. He half turned in his seat. "That isn't the way."

"Don't turn around. Just keep driving. Do what I say. I know you have your orders. I'm countermanding them. If you don't want to listen to me, tomorrow you can spend your last day on the job hearing a lot of people tell you why you should have."

"What's going on?"

"We're being followed. Don't turn around! Don't do anything out of the ordinary. Take a left at the light if you want to make sure. Watch the rearview mirror. When the lights come with us, you'll know I'm right."

The driver turned left at the light.

The car followed.

"Oh, my God!"

"Take it easy. Don't speed up or slow down. Don't react at all. Get back on course."

The driver made two rights and a left, coming out on the street they'd been on before.

The other car came with them.

"Who are they?"

"I don't know. Let's assume they're friendly until they prove differently."

"Like how?"

"Like that," Stone said, ducking low in his seat.

The block was dark. The window on the passenger's side slid down, and a long barrel emerged. The barrel flashed. A burst of gunfire shattered the rear window of the limo.

"Stay low!" Stone warned. "Do you have a gun?"

The driver was horrified. "No."

"Neither do I. All right, I have to get out."


"Yes, or they'll run us off the road and kill us both. Are there any curves in this road?"


Another burst of gunfire made them duck.

Stone gritted his teeth.

"I need a curve in the road to hop out. Are we near anything like that?"

"We're coming up on a traffic circle."

"Perfect. Step on it."

The young man hit the gas.

The circle had several streets running off of it. Nearly three-quarters of the way around was a dark alley.

"Keep right through the circle. Slow down as you hit the other side, then go like hell. Whatever happens, just keep going. As soon as I'm out of the car, drive straight back to the dispatcher and turn it in."

"Out of the car?"

"Don't think, just drive. Slow down now."

The driver slowed the car.

Gunfire raked the side window. The car in pursuit was overtaking them. The alley was just ahead.

"Go!" Stone yelled.

The driver hit the gas.

Stone wrenched open the door and flung himself from the car in a sideways roll, arms folded over his chest, chin tucked in. He landed on his side, rolled over several times. He came out of the roll slightly dizzy, stumbled to his feet, and staggered down the alley.

As he had hoped, it had all happened too quickly. The tail car had followed the limo past the mouth of the alley. It would have to back up, or go around the circle, or try to find him on a side street, any one of which would give him the time he needed.

Stone ran down the alley. His left leg hurt, but nothing seemed broken. He came out of the alley into the street and tried to flag down an oncoming cab. The driver went on by. So did the next cab. The third cab stopped.

Stone hopped in. "Take me to the White House."

The driver turned around and stared. "Are you sure?"

"Yes. And hurry."

The driver shrugged and took off.

Stone leaned forward, checked his appearance in the rearview mirror. His hair was mussed, his face was smeared with dirt, and the right-hand sleeve of the tux jacket had separated at the shoulder. Inches of white shirt could be seen between the jagged edges of the seam.

Stone leaned forward to the driver. "Scratch that. Take me to Henry Cassini's."

"They're not open this late."

"I know. Take me anyway."

"You're the boss."

The driver pulled up in front of the tailor shop. Stone hopped out and leaned on the bell.

A few minutes later a very indignant Henry Cassini pushed aside the curtain in the door. The look on his face changed when he saw who was ringing.

The little tailor pulled the door open. "What is it?"

"There's a problem with the tux."

















A White House aide led Stone past the head table, where President Kate Lee and First Husband and ex-President Will Lee were entertaining the French President and a host of VIPs including the Senate Majority leader and the Speaker of the House.

Dinner was in full swing. The guests were already enjoying the first course of caviar and quail eggs.

The aide made sure Kate noticed Stone's arrival, then led him across the dining room to his table.

Stone was clearly sitting with the lessor lights, not that he minded. The empty seat at the table was next to a stunning redhead in a low-cut blue ball gown.

Stone pulled out his chair and sat down. Waiters rushed to bring him his appetizer.

The redhead arched an eyebrow and said, "Nice of you to join us."

"I almost didn't make it at all. I had a wardrobe malfunction."

 She smiled. "I could have helped you with that. I'm very good with clothing."

Stone smiled. "I don't believe I've had the pleasure."

"You certainly haven't,” she said, holding out her hand. “Margo Sappington. White House legal counsel."

"Really?" Stone grinned, shaking her proffered hand. "I'd have thought for that position you had to be stuffy and senile."

Margo smiled and leaned against him playfully. "Just what position did you have in mind?"

A white-haired man across the table pointed at Stone in a preemptory manner. "Excuse me. I don't believe I caught your name."

"Stone Barrington."

"I've heard of you. I don't recall your connection to politics."

"I'm a lawyer," Stone said, as if that explained it all. "And you are?"

"Congressman Marvin Drexel, North Dakota. You realize you're very late."

"It was unavoidable."

"A congressional logjam is unavoidable," Drexel said pedantically. "Lateness is merely bad judgment."

"A congressional logjam is only unavoidable when obstructionist morons put party ahead of country."

"God save me from men who parrot talking points!" Drexel snorted. "You weren't supposed to be here, were you?"

Stone smiled and pointed. "I think that's my nametag."

"It was my understanding Congressman Jenkins would be at this table."

"Really? Are you wrong often?"

And elderly man at the table burst out laughing. "Got you there, Marty." He reached out to shake Stone's hand. "Sam Snyder, congressman, Maryland. Democrat, I might add. Which is why congressman Drexel has been ignoring me."

Stone laughed politely, but merely smiled and nodded, hoping to forestall the conversation. Sam Snyder had a kindly, avuncular nature, and struck Stone as the type of man who'd latch onto you at a wedding and bore you to distraction with benevolent good will. The last thing in the world Stone wanted was to get involved in a political squabble between two rival congressmen.

Luckily, Margo came to his rescue. She plucked Stone by the arm and said, "So you're a lawyer too. Maybe that's why they put us together."

"I'm not sure that's the reason," Stone said, "but whoever arranged the seating, I'd like to thank him."

"Are you here alone?"


"Me too. So much nicer to pair up with someone than be the third wheel to some married couple."

"I'll drink to that."

The rest of the dinner progressed smoothly. Caviar and quail eggs gave way to a summer salad from the White House garden, followed by an entrée of dry-aged rib eye beef.

Margo was in heaven. "This steak is to die for!"

Stone smiled. "It's good, but I've had better."

"Oh? Where?"



"In New York City. On the upper East Side. She died, and the restaurant closed. A shame. Elaine was wonderful. I always ate there."

"Didn't Woody Allen used to hang out there?"

"No, I used to hang out there. But I let Woody drop in from time to time."

Margo laughed, and dug into her rib eye.

By the end of dinner Margo was flirting with Stone in a way the congressmen doubtless found distracting. At one point she practically leaned into his lap. She came up giggling and holding a cellphone. "This was on the floor. Yours?"

"Yes, thanks." Stone slipped it into this pocket.

Margo's eyes twinkled. "Did you do that on purpose?"


"Put it there so I'd lean over?"

Stone laughed.

Congressman Drexel watched their banter with growing irritation.

Dinner was followed by a command performance of a violin concerto featuring a French virtuoso. "Where'd they find one?" Stone whispered.

Margo put her hand over her mouth to keep from giggling.

Finally the last note ended. Before Stone could suggest they retire elsewhere, an aide tapped him on the shoulder. "I understand you need to make a phone call."

Stone shook his head. "That wasn't me."

"Yes, it was. If you would follow me, please."

"He has a cellphone," Margo said.

The aide shook his head. "It's from another phone."

Stone shrugged helplessly. "If you'll excuse me, it seems I have to make a phone call."

Margo slipped a card into his hand. "Just in case you have to make another."

Stone followed the aide across the banquet floor and out the double doors. Instead of taking him back the way he came, the aide ushered him through a service door marked No Admittance.

Stone found himself in a narrow back corridor. Halfway down the hall was a desk with a phone, but they sailed right by it, followed a labyrinth of back passageways, and emerged in a small antechamber. The aide gestured for Stone to sit down.

There was a phone on the desk next to him. "Is this where I'm supposed to make a call?"

"No. When the intercom buzzes, don't answer, just get up and go in."

The young man went back out the way they'd come, closing the door behind him.

The intercom buzzed a few minutes later. Feeling like a fool, Stone got up and pushed his way through the door.

He entered the Oval Office and found Kate Lee sitting at the coffee table with the Speaker of the House.

"Ah, good, you're here. Come in, sit down. You know Congressman Charles Blaine?"

"Only by reputation, we've never met."

The congressman did not rise to offer his hand, but he looked up and his face told the story. This was a man on the brink of despair.

"My God, what's wrong?" Stone said.

Kate took a breath. "What I'm about to say doesn't leave this room."

Stone figured he was being warned largely for the congressman's benefit. Kate knew he'd be discreet.

"Of course."

"As you may be aware, the congressman and I had a meeting this afternoon."

"I think everyone is," Stone said.

The meeting had been widely reported, and rumors were rampant. The fact the Republican speaker of the house was having private meetings with the Democratic president was significant, particularly in light of the current congressional session. Several crucial votes were coming up, and the prospect of a bipartisan compromise had led to wild speculation. The political news shows could hardly talk of anything else.

"Congressman Blaine and I are supposed to be ironing out our differences. To a certain extent that is true, but it's not the reason for this meeting."

"Then what is?"

Congressman Blaine looked at him with pleading eyes. "My daughter's been kidnapped."















Stone stared at the congressman. "What?" he said incredulously.

"I got a call Monday night on my cellphone," the speaker said. It was as if a damn had broken, and the words all poured out. "I almost didn't answer, because it said Unknown Caller, but I did. It was a man. I'd never heard his voice before, but he had a slight accent. He said he had my daughter, and if I ever wanted to see her alive again I'd listen carefully and do exactly what he said."

"Which was?"

"Stay away from the police. If I contact the police or any authorities whatsoever, she's dead. I know that's what kidnappers always say, but he meant it. He said it was a deal-breaker. The police, the FBI, the CIA, the secret service, anyone. If I told anyone, they'd know, and they'd kill her and disappear."

"How much do they want?"

"They don't want money."

"What do they want?"

"Votes," Kate said. "They want his votes. They wanted him to get in touch with me, to propose a bipartisan initiative. Or what was supposedly a bipartisan initiative. His job was to line up enough votes to pass a bill the Republicans were blocking in the house."

"They said if I didn't do it, they'd kill my daughter. If they didn't see immediate evidence of me reaching out to the president, they'd kill my daughter. That's why we're having these meetings, and that's why they're publicized."

Stone turned to Kate. "How long have you known?"

"Only since this afternoon. A few days ago Charles came to me with his the bipartisan proposal. I was stunned, but of course pleasantly surprised by the outreach. Then he arranged the meeting this afternoon, insisting it be given media coverage. Only when he got here-"

"I broke down. Told her everything. I couldn't take it anymore. I've been carrying this around with me all week. I hadn’t told anyone."

"Why today?"

Blaine sighed. "This came this morning." He reached into a manila envelope, pulled out a paper, and passed it over.

It was a rap sheet. The mugshot showed a blonde college-aged girl. The charge was felony possession of a controlled substance. Her attorney had gotten it down to a misdemeanor, and she paid the fine.

"They're threatening to expose this?" Stone said.

Blaine shook his head. "It's public knowledge. I campaigned on it. If it could happen to my daughter, it could happen to yours."

"Then what's the point?"

"I don't know. That's what scares me. They have my daughter and they sent me this. What can it mean?"

"I have no idea," Stone said. "So what are you going to do?"

"Anything they want."


"There's a bill coming up in the house regarding medical benefits for wounded vets."

"They want you to block it?"

"They want me to pass it."

"What's the problem?"

"It's a clean bill. The Republicans want to vote it down in favor of an amended bill guaranteeing no portion of the medical benefits would go to birth control. They’re demanding that the clean bill sails through, or they'll kill my daughter."

"So what if it does?"

"I'll be a Judas, the betrayer of my party. But I don’t care if it would save her."

"Can you swing the votes?"

"Probably. There's one hardline conservative who might block me."


"Debate it to death, kill the bill. If he doesn't get his way, he'll filibuster until my daughter's dead."

"Who is that?"

"Congressman Marvin Drexel."

"He was at your table, Stone," Kate said. "Did you get a read on him?"

"Oh, yes. Congressmen Blaine’s assessment seems accurate."

Blaine raised his eyes to Stone. "What do I do?"

"Have they offered proof of life?"


"Next time they contact you, demand proof of life. Tell them if you get it, you'll swing the vote."

"Demand? I can't make demands."

"You can and you must. They're not going to kill her just because you ask. If they do, they lose their leverage. Just let them know you're ready to give them what they want. They'll be eager to make that happen."

"If you think so."

"Let's be brutally honest. Either your daughter is alive or she's dead. If she's dead, nothing you do can change that. If she's alive, we want to keep her that way. We have to sell the idea that her kidnappers get nothing if they don't."

“What do I say?"

"Say you’re too upset to continue if you don’t know she’s alive. Don't rehearse it too much. Just start talking and it'll all come pouring out."

"Go home and do as Stone advises," Kate said. "We'll take it from here."

As soon as the congressman left, Stone turned to Kate. "How much of that is true?"

She looked surprised. "You think he made it up?"

"Not for a minute. I mean what you told him, that you haven't contacted anyone but me."

"That's the truth. If I do something and his daughter dies, I'd never forgive myself."

"That's what I figured. Who knows about this?"

"No one, not even Will."

"That doesn't add up."

"Why not?"

"Someone took a shot at me on my way here."


"I was followed when I left the tailor shop. They fired a shot, tried to force my limo off the road. That's why I was late. Expect an extra charge for the tux."

"So what can you do?"

"What do you expect me to do? You want me to find his daughter, but no one can know I'm looking for her. But someone obviously does. The question is how. What about the aide who brought me in here? What does he know?"

"Just to tell you you had a phone call and leave you in the antechamber."

"That's all?"

"That's all."

"And who gave him those instructions? Clearly you didn't."

"Ann did, and she didn't blab to anyone. She wasn't even here."

"You didn't talk to anyone at the CIA? Holly Barker, for instance. Maybe not about the kidnapping, but to mention I’d be in town?"

"Are you accusing me of being indiscreet?"

"No, Madame President, just human. The point is, someone knows I'm here, and they'll be keeping tabs on me. I can ditch a shadow, but not long enough to investigate. I may have to get outside help."

"You'd bring in Dino?"

"In a heartbeat, if I could think of a cover story. But I have someone better in mind."


"That's on a need to know basis. At this point, I think you need some plausible deniability."

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