Stone Barrington was sitting up in bed watching last night's recording of The Rachel Maddow Show, while skipping Joe Scarborough's rant during the first half hour of Morning Joe, which was on a subject he had heard about too often: small government. His cell phone rang, and he picked it up. "Hello?"
"Scramble," a female voice said.
He paused. This was the secure cell phone on which he only got calls from Lance Cabot, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, who always scrambled. It was a CIA iPhone, given to Stone when he was appointed special adviser to the director, with the putative rank of deputy director, though he was no such thing.
"Scramble, goddammit!" she said.
Stone pressed the button. "Scrambled," he said. "Now who the hell is this?"
"It's Holly, you complete ass," she said. "You don't recognize my voice anymore?" They had been lovers for years.
"Of course I do, but how did you get this number?"
"You gave it to me," she said, "to use for the most confidential calls, and all of my calls to you are most confidential."
"Oh," he said. Holly was the secretary of state and about to announce a run for the Democratic nomination for president. She was very, very careful about being seen or heard communicating with Stone; the press would have far too much fun reporting ad nauseam that she was sleeping with someone.
"'Oh'? Is that all you've got to say?"
"Yes," he replied. "Now it's your turn: What have you got to say?"
"I'm coming to New York, and I want to spend the night at your house, doing what we always do there."
"Oh, of course. I look forward to seeing you. What time?"
"We're landing at the East Side Heliport at noon. Can Fred meet me?" Fred Flicker was Stone's factotum, a pint-sized veteran of Britain's Royal Marines Commandos.
"Sure. What did you mean by 'we'?"
"The presidents will be aboard, too, since it's the presidential helicopter." The presidents were Katharine Lee, the current president, and her husband, Will Lee, the former president.
"Invite them to dinner."
"I don't want to dine with them, I want to dine with you. Alone. I need your advice on something."
"Something that can't be discussed on a scrambled CIA iPhone?"
"Certainly not. Do you trust those people?" Holly had once been the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and she knew them well.
"Well, yes, I trust them. Sort of."
"You're hopeless," she said. "See you later." She hung up.
Stone hung up, too, and the phone rang again almost immediately. "Hello?"
"It's Dino. Dinner tonight? Viv is traveling again." Dino was Dino Bacchetti, Stone's former partner on the NYPD and now the police commissioner of New York City.
"Can't. Holly's on her way in for the evening."
"What, I'm not allowed to see Holly now?"
"She wants us to dine alone. She needs advice about something."
Dino made a snorting noise. "Advice? From you?"
"I give very good advice," Stone said. "My friends' lives would be so richer, fuller, and happier if they would just take it."
"You're delusional," Dino said. "Tomorrow night?"
"Patroon, at seven?"
Dino hung up.
Stone was at his desk at noon, waiting for Holly to arrive. Joan Robertson, his secretary, buzzed him.
"Some woman claiming to be the secretary of state is on one. Shall I tell her to buzz off?"
"You know very well who that is," Stone said, pushing the button. "Where are you, Holly?"
"Out of the chopper and into the car. Since I spoke with you earlier I've been saddled with three campaign chores that I have to take care of this afternoon. May I keep your car-and Fred?"
"You may. What time do you expect to finally land here?"
"By six, probably, which means maybe."
"I'll look for you when I see you coming."
"Great, bye." She hung up.
Stone called Helene, his housekeeper/cook and ordered dinner for seven o'clock, probably, perhaps later.
Helene understood. "It's moussaka; I can serve whenever."
"Good." Stone hung up and tried to find some work to do.
At seven-thirty, Holly called. ÒIÕm on the way, there in ten.Ó She hung up.
Stone called Helene and alerted her, then went up to his study to wait.
Sure enough, ten minutes later, Fred delivered her to the study, then took her luggage up to the master suite.
Stone and Holly wrapped themselves around each other and kissed noisily. She finally broke away. "Bourbon, now," she said breathlessly.
Stone poured them both one, and they settled onto the sofa before the fireplace, where a cheery blaze burned.
"Why don't we just down these drinks, strip off, and fuck each other's brains out right now?" Holly asked.
"Because Helene will be here shortly with our dinner, and we don't want to shock her and make her drop the dishes."
"Oh, well," Holly said, squeezing his genitals. "I'll just have to wait."
Dinner arrived, they sat down at the table, and Fred decanted the wine Stone had chosen. They tucked into their first course, P‰t Diana: goose liver with lots of butter.
"Okay, what advice do you need?" Stone asked.
"I have what you might call an administrative problem at State," she said.
"And we both are aware that I know absolutely nothing about the administration of the State Department, so why are you talking to me about it?"
"Because I trust your judgment."
"Judgment about everything."
"Even things I know nothing about?" Stone took a sip of his wine. "The reason some people trust my judgment is because I never give advice about things I know nothing about."
"Are you willing to listen?"
"Yes, of course. Shoot."
"I have reason to believe that there is a Russian mole in a trusted position at State."
Stone took a gulp of his wine and looked at her. She seemed absolutely serious.
Holly took a gulp of her wine, too. "All right, now you know. What's your advice?"
"Shoot him between the eyes with a large-caliber weapon," Stone replied.
"That's as serious as I can be with grossly insufficient information. Try again."
"My deputy secretary stopped by the house last night and insisted that we take a walk around the block, indicating with hand motions that there might be a bug in the house. So, we took a walk." She paused to stuff some moussaka into her mouth.
Stone waited for her to chew. "Did you check that out?"
"This morning. My living room was bugged. My people fixed it."
"And what did your deputy impart to you while you were hiking the streets of Georgetown?"
"That he believed there to be a mole in the department."
"On what evidence? And don't tell me a hunch."
"He had a briefing from somebody at the Agency whose report on the Russian situation contained a telephone intercept that employed the exact language he had used at a staff meeting at State a week or so before."
"Who else attended the staff meeting?"
"About thirty staffers."
"How many State Department staffers are there?"
"A little over seventy-five thousand."
"So, you need only investigate the thirty? That's better than seventy-five thousand. Why didn't you immediately call the FBI?"
"Are you nuts?"
"Isn't that what they do? Counterintelligence?"
"They would flood the department with agents, knocking over things and looking into people's desk drawers and interrogating my staff."
"Don't you think they know what they're doing?"
"I do think they know what they're doing, but they do it noisily, and I can't afford that kind of noise right now. It would get into the media before sunset tomorrow."
"Ah, so this has a political edge to it."
"Of course it has a political edge! Everything I do between now and the election next year will have a political edge, whether I like it or not!"
"I guess you're right about that."
"Then what am I going to do?"
"I don't know, what are you going to do?"
"That's what I need your advice about: What am I going to do?"
"Well, let's start by eliminating those actions that we feel wouldn't work."
"Okay," she said, "start with the FBI."
"All right, number one. Don't call the FBI."
"Advice accepted. What else?"
"Well, let's see," he said, chewing his moussaka thoughtfully.
"Stop chewing your moussaka thoughtfully and come up with something!"
"Why don't you call somebody at the Agency?"
"Because Lance is out of the country, and I don't trust any of the other hierarchy there. If Hugh English got hold of this, I'd be hauled before the Senate Intelligence Committee the following day, put under oath, and made to look like a fool because there's a mole at State and I'm not doing anything about it!" Hugh English was the crusty old deputy director for intelligence, and he bitterly hated Lance-and Holly almost as much.
"All right, number two. Don't call anybody at the Agency."
"Advice accepted," she said. "What else?"
"Doesn't State have its own intelligence operation?"
"Yes, but since I don't know where the spy is in State, how can I trust them? He might be embedded in their ranks."
"Number three. Don't call in State's intelligence people."
"Jesus Christ. Advice accepted. Can't you come up with something that might have a chance of working?"
"It seems to me that you need a trusted partner in this, one who knows Washington well, knows where the bodies are buried, knows where to bury any fresh ones that turn up, and is a better counterspy than you or anyone else. In short, someone who would know exactly how to proceed."
"That sounds an awful lot like Lance Cabot," she said.
"As it happens, I have-right here in my pocket-a special telephone that will allow you to speak to Lance in a positively secure manner." He took out his Agency iPhone and put it on the dining table.
"I know," she said, digging into her purse and coming up with an iPhone. "I have one just like it." She put hers on the table.
"Then why haven't you called him already?"
"Two reasons," Holly said. "One, I wanted to talk to you before I made a move."
"Which you have now done."
"Two, I try never to make important decisions when my mind is really on sex."
"There must be something I can do to help," Stone said.
"Let's skip dessert," she replied, putting down her fork and heading toward the elevator. "Come on," she called over her shoulder.
"Not yet, you aren't, but you will be soon!"
Holly had, of course, been right. Stone lay on his back, taking deep breaths, while Holly fondled him further.
"If you're in search of an encore, you're going to have to wait a few minutes," he said.
"You must be getting old. I remember when it was always ready."
"You just dreamed that."
"All right," she said, withdrawing, "I'll be patient. Sort of."
"Maybe now would be a good time to call Lance," he suggested.
"Not yet. I haven't yet freed my mind of carnal thoughts."
"What are you going to do about that when or if you become president?" he asked.
"I'll call you," she replied smugly.
"What if I'm in L.A. or England or Paris?" he asked, naming the other places where he owned residences. "Or if you are?"
"I may have to resort to toys, but I'll need a lot of imagination for that."
"You want to pop down to the sex shop and pick out something just in case?"
"Not yet. You're available." She laughed. "See?"
She was right, he was stirring.
She held out her arms. "Come to me, baby."
He went to her. This time, she climaxed first.
Stone kissed her. "There, I've done my duty."
"That was above and beyond the call," she replied, kissing him back. "You have restored my faith."
"You were losing faith?"
"Let's just say it was wilting, but it's back now."
"Okay, time to call Lance."
"What time is it where he is?" she asked.
"I don't know where he is."
"Then how can we call him?"
"The phone works at night, too."
"But suppose it's the middle of the night?"
"Suppose Lance wanted to call you urgently: Would he hesitate if it were in the middle of the night?"
"All right, call him."
Stone retrieved his iPhone and pressed the button.
Stone pressed the speaker button and set the phone on Holly's naked belly.
"Lance, Holly's here with me."
"So I see," Lance replied.
"What?" Stone and Holly said simultaneously.
"Didn't I tell you that your Agency iPhone has a camera capability?"
"Every iPhone has a camera capability."
"All right, I was kidding."
Holly lifted the phone, and pulled the sheet over her breasts. Stone did something similar.
"Are we all ready to speak now?" Lance asked.
"Holly's deputy secretary-what's his name?"
"Mac," she said.
"Maclean McIntosh," Lance offered.
"That's the one," Holly said.
"What about him?"
"He took Holly for a walk in Georgetown and told her he thinks there's a mole at State."
"Turns out, my house was bugged," she added. "It's been fixed."
"What is his evidence?" Lance asked.
"One of your people sent him a document that included a phone intercept from GRU headquarters in Moscow. The intercept included language identical to what Mac had used when addressing a big staff meeting a week or so before."
"I know the intercept," Lance said. "I didn't know about the language."
"Only Mac would have recognized it, since it was his language," Holly said.
"Have you called the FBI?" he asked.
"Oh, really, Lance," Holly said, "it would be all over Fox News, or wherever, before the end of their first day on the investigation."
"You think the FBI leaks?"
"Sometimes," she said. "Their problem is, they don't blend in. They always look like FBI Special Agents."
"You have a point," Lance said. "Their presence would be disruptive, too."
"And I'd be yanked in front of the Intelligence Committee and asked why I haven't caught the mole," Holly added.
"There is that," Lance agreed.
"What should I do?" she asked.
"Stone, what do you think?" Lance asked.
"I told Holly I thought she should call you."
Lance sighed. "Everybody's last resort," he murmured.
"I called you the minute I . . ."
"The minute you what?"
"The minute I shared with Stone."
"I will let that one go," Lance said.
"I think what is needed," Stone interjected, "is an investigation that nobody knows is an investigation."
"What do you have in mind?" Holly asked.
"I don't have anything in mind," Stone replied. "I'm just positing something; it's not as though I have a solution."
"Then you're not positing anything," she said. "Look it up."
"Now, now, children," Lance said. "Holly, what Stone has, ah, posited is rather brilliant."