ELAINE’S, LATE. For some reason no one could remember, Thursday nights were always the busiest at Elaine’s. Stone Barrington reflected that it may have had something to do with the old custom of Thursday being Writer’s Night, an informal designation that began to repeat itself when a lot of the writers who were regular customers gathered on Thursdays at the big table, number four, to bitch about their publishers, their agents, the size of their printings and promotion budgets, their wives, ex-wives, children, ex-children, dogs and ex-dogs.
The custom had withered with the imposition of smoking rules, when Elaine figured that number four needed to be in the smoking section, and since the new, no-smoking-at-all law came into effect, Writer’s Night had never been revived. Anyway, Stone figured, every night was Writer’s Night at Elaine’s, and that was all right with him.
On this particular night, every table in the main dining room was jammed, and the overflow of tourists and nonregulars had filled most of the tables in Deepest Siberia, which was the other dining room. The only times Stone had ever sat in that room were either when Elaine had sold the main dining room for a private party, or when he was in deep shit with Elaine, something he tried to avoid.
Tonight, however, Elaine was fixing him with that gaze that could remove varnish. He had been to a black tie dinner party and had stopped by for a drink afterward, just in time to secure his usual table, the last available. Now he was sitting there, sipping a brandy, and not eating dinner. Elaine strongly preferred it if, when one sat down at a table, especially on a night as busy as this, one ordered dinner. She didn’t much care if you ate it or not, as long as it got onto the bill.
To make matters worse, Dino had wandered in, having also dined elsewhere, and had sat down and also ordered only a brandy.
Suddenly, Elaine loomed over the table. “You fucking rich guys,” she said.
“Huh?” Stone asked, as if he didn’t know what she meant.
She explained it to him. “You go out and eat somewhere else in your fucking tuxedos, then you come in here and take up a table and nurse a drink.”
“Wait a minute,” Dino said, “I’m not wearing a tuxedo.”
“And I’m not nursing this drink,” Stone said, downing the rest of his brandy and holding up his glass, signaling a waiter for another. “And you may recall, we were in here last night, eating with both hands.”
“A new night begins at sunset,” Elaine said. “Now get hungry or get to the bar.” She wandered off and sat down at another table.
“You feeling hungry?” Stone asked.
“Yeah, a little,” Dino replied.
Stone handed the waiter his glass. “Bring us an order of the fried calamari,” he said, “and get some silver and napkins on the table, so it’ll look like we’re ordering.”
“You think that’ll work?” Dino asked, looking sidelong at Elaine.
“Maybe she’ll get distracted,” Stone said. “Bring us a bottle of the Frascati, too, instead of the brandy,” he said to the waiter. “And some bread.”
“The bread is a good move,” Dino said. “You don’t think she really meant that about going to the bar, do you?”
The bar crowd and the restaurant crowd at Elaine’s were occupied by different tribes, each of whom acknowledged the presence of the other only when eyeing their women. Neither Stone nor Dino had ever had a drink at the bar.
“Nah,” Stone replied. “It’s just her sense of humor.” He looked up and was elated to see Bill Eggers, the managing partner of Woodman & Weld, the law firm to whom Stone was of counsel, coming in the front door. Stone waved him over and pumped his hand.
“Sit down and order dinner,” Stone said.
Eggers sat down. “I already ate,” he said.
“Shhh, Elaine will hear you. Order something for Christ’s sake.” Stone shoved a menu at him.
“You want to drink at the bar?”
Eggers opened the menu. “I guess I could eat some dessert.”
“I’ve been out with a new client,” Eggers said. “He’ll be here in a minute; he went to get his limo washed.”
“He wants to make sure it’s hand washed,” Eggers explained, “and he doesn’t trust his driver to do it right.”
“And you want this guy for a client?”
“Actually, you want this guy for a client, because he wants you for his lawyer.”
“You mean he asked for me?”
Eggers nodded. “Go figure.”
A new client did not usually ask for Stone; he first came to Eggers with some embarrassing, awful problem: a private detective in the employ of his wife had photographed him in bed with a bad woman; his son had been accused of the date-rape of his headmaster’s daughter; his wife, drunk, had driven his Mercedes through a liquor-store window. Like that. Eggers then hunted down Stone, whose lot it was to handle the sort of thing that Woodman & Weld did not want to be seen handling. In return for this service, the firm would occasionally hand him a nice personal-injury suit that could be settled quickly.
“What’s his problem?”
“He doesn’t have one, that I know of,” Eggers said. “He’s a rich Texan, which may be redundant; he’s a good-looking guy who attracts women like blackflies on a May day in Maine; and he’s unmarried.”
“What kind of problems could he possibly have?” Dino asked. “Has he killed somebody, maybe?”
“Not that he mentioned.”
“How’d you come by him?” Stone asked.
“He was recommended by another Texan client, a very valuable one, a client you are not to go anywhere near.”
“And he just asked for me, out of the blue?”
“Out of the clear blue. He said, and I quote,” and here Eggers lapsed into a broad drawl, “ ‘I hear you got a feller, name of Barrington, does some stuff for you. I want him to handle my little ol’ account.’ ”
“He must be planning to kill somebody,” Dino said. “Maybe drum up some business for me?” Dino was the NYPD lieutenant in charge of the detective squad at the 19th Precinct, sometimes called the Silk Stocking Precinct because it covered the Upper East Side of New York City. He had been Stone’s partner, back when Stone had been a police detective.
“Here he is now,” Eggers said, nodding toward the front door.
A man of about six-four and two hundred and twenty pounds, broad of shoulder and narrow of hip, wearing a western-cut suit and a broad-brimmed Stetson, filled the front door.
“He looks like one of the Sons of the Pioneers,” Dino said.
Stone hated him on sight. “Make sure he orders dinner,” he said to Eggers.
THE TEXAN had a bone-crushing handshake. “Hey,” he said to the table, then he started crushing bones. “I’m Billy Bob Barnstormer.”
“That’s Lieutenant Dino Bacchetti of the New York Police Department,” Eggers said, “and that’s Stone Barrington.”
“Did you say ‘Barnstormer’?” Stone asked incredulously.
“Yep,” Billy Bob replied. “My grandaddy was a pilot in World War One, and after that he barnstormed around the country for a while, before he started up Southwest Airlines.”
“I thought Herb Kelleher and Rollin King started Southwest,” Stone said.
“Them, too,” Billy Bob replied blithely. “Like I said, he was barnstorming, and his name was originally Barnstetter, so it made sense to make the change while he was doing that work. He got used to it, I guess, so he had it changed, legal-like.”
Dino looked nervously at Elaine and slid a menu across the table. “Have some dinner.”
“Thanks, me and ol’ Bill, here, already ate.”
“Bill is having dessert,” Dino said.
“I think I’ll have some bourbon for dessert,” Billy Bob replied. He turned to the waiter. “What you got?”
“We’ve got Jack Daniel’s and Wild Turkey and Knob Creek, but Stone is the only one who drinks that, except for that writer.”
“I’ll have me a double Wild Turkey straight up,” Billy Bob said, then turned his attention to Stone, giving him a broad, pearly smile. “I heard some good things about you,” he said.
“What did you hear?” Dino asked. “We never hear anything good about him.”
Stone shot Dino what he hoped was a withering glance.
“Well, even back in Texas we get some news from the East ever now and then. Can I buy you fellers a drink?”
“We’ve got one already,” Stone said. “What sort of problem have you got, Billy Bob?”
Billy Bob looked puzzled. “Problem?”
“Why do you need a lawyer?”
“Well, shoot, everybody needs a lawyer don’t they?”
“Hard to argue with that,” Eggers agreed.
“You planning to murder anybody?” Dino asked hopefully.
“Not this evenin’,” Billy Bob replied, flashing his big grin again. “They got a pissing place around here?”
“Through the door, first on your left,” Stone said, pointing.
Billy Bob got up and followed directions.
“That ol’ boy has either the best teeth or the best dental work I’ve ever seen,” Dino said.
“How did you come up with this guy again?” Stone asked Eggers.
“I told you, he came recommended by a good client in Texas. Stone, just talk to the man, will you?”
Billy Bob arrived back at the table simultaneously with his bourbon. He peeled a bill off a fat roll and handed it to the waiter.
The waiter looked at it. “A two-dollar bill? I haven’t seen one of these in years.”
“Coin of the realm, my friend,” Billy Bob said.
“The Wild Turkey is eight dollars,” the waiter said.
“That’s on my bill,” Eggers said.
“And the Jefferson is for you,” Billy Bob told the waiter.
The waiter pocketed the money and went away shaking his head.
“Jefferson?” Dino asked.
“Thomas Jefferson is on the two-dollar bill,” Stone said.
“I thought he was worth more than that,” Dino said.
“Me, too,” Eggers interjected. “Madison is on the five-thousand-dollar bill, except there isn’t one anymore. I don’t know who’s on the ten-thousand-dollar bill.”
“Chase,” Stone said.
“There’s no president named Chase,” Eggers replied.
“Salymon Portland Chase,” Stone said. “Secretary of the Treasury and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.”
“How do you know that?” Dino asked doubtfully.
“I know a lot of stuff,” Stone replied.
“So, Billy Bob,” Dino said, “is that whole wad in your pocket two-dollar bills?”
“Naw,” Billy Bob said. “I got some hundreds in there, too.”
Stone’s calamari and Eggers’s dessert arrived. Billy Bob tossed down his Wild Turkey and ordered another.
“When did you get into town?” Stone asked, trying to keep a conversation going.
“This evenin’,” Billy Bob replied. “My GIV sucked a bird in a engine out at Teterboro, so I’m going to be here a few days while they stick a new one on it.”
“I always wanted a Gulfstream Four,” Eggers said wistfully.
“Sell you mine when my Gee Five gets here,” Billy Bob said. “I got one on order.”
“What’s the difference?” Dino asked.
“The Five is bigger, faster, got more range. Shoot, I can go from Dallas to Moscow on that thing, not that you’d want to. Don’t know why anybody would want to go to Moscow. Freeze your balls off.”
Everybody nodded gravely. Conducting a conversation with Billy Bob Barnstormer was not going to be easy.
“What business are you in, Billy Bob?” Stone asked.
“Why, whatever turns a two-dollar bill,” Billy Bob replied. “You name it, I’m in it. Me and Warren Buffett got a little start-up goin’, but I cain’t talk about that, yet.”
Stone tried again. “What’s your main interest?”
“Can you be more specific?”
Eggers jumped into the breach. “Stone, most of our clients are in more than one business. Sounds like Billy Bob, here, is an investor.”
“I like that,” Billy Bob said. “An investor. Yeah.”
“Where you staying while you’re in town?” Dino asked.
“Well, usually I take the presidential suite at the Four Seasons,” Billy Bob said, “but all their suites are booked up for some kind of convention, so I guess I got to scare up some other accommodation.”
“New York hotels are tight this time of year,” Dino said. “Stone, why don’t you put up Billy Bob at your house? You’ve got a lot of room.”
Stone aimed a kick under the table at Dino, but Dino was too quick for him. “Well, I think Billy Bob is looking for a higher level of service than I’m able to offer,” Stone said.
“It would be very kind of you, Stone,” Eggers chimed in. “After all, it’s very late, and Billy Bob is a client.”
Stone looked desperately for an out.
“Why, thank you, Stone,” Billy Bob said, sounding truly grateful. “That’s the nicest thing anybody ever did for me. And I thought all New Yorkers was tight-assed sons of bitches.” He shook his head in wonder.
“Oh, not all New Yorkers,” Dino said. “Stone is a prince of a fellow.”
“He certainly is,” Eggers agreed, pursing his lips to suppress a laugh. “A king, even.”
“If I were a king,” Stone said, “neither of you two would have a head.”
“Now, Stone,” Dino said, “that’s unkind. And just when Billy Bob was thinking well of you.”
“I still think well of him,” Billy Bob said, tossing back another Wild Turkey. “Well, I think I’m about ready to hit the bunkhouse. You ready, Stone?”
“Yes, I guess I am,” Stone said, rising. “You get the bill,” he said to Eggers.
“Sure thing, Stone.”
“C’mon, boy, I’ll give you a ride in my limousine,” Billy Bob said.
Stone followed him toward the door, stopping at a table to give Elaine a peck on the cheek. “Good night, Elaine.”
“Good riddance,” she said.
STONE STEPPED OUT into the bitterly cold night and turned up his overcoat collar. Billy Bob joined him, overcoatless, and pointed at an absurdly long white limousine at the curb.
“Just hop in there, boy,” he said.
As he climbed into the enormous car, Stone tried to remember the last time someone had called him “boy.” Probably when he was a boy, he concluded.
Billy Bob climbed into the car and settled in beside him, then, simultaneously with the slamming of the door, the window beside Stone suddenly crazed over, apparently because of a bullet hole in its center. This was followed quickly by two more bullets, and this time, Stone could hear the gun. He had not even had time to duck. He looked out the now-absent window in time to see a black Lincoln Town Car turn left onto Eighty-eighth Street, against the light, and disappear down the block.
He turned to speak to Billy Bob and found him no longer there. Stone hipped his way across the seat and got out of the curbside door, looking for Billy Bob. The Texan stood in the street, holding an old-fashioned Colt Single-Action Army six-shooter with a pearl handle, looking for a target.
“Are you nuts?” Stone yelled at him.
“Huh?” Billy Bob asked, noticing Stone for the first time.
Stone snatched the pistol out of his hand. “Give me that!”
“Hey, what are you doin’?” Billy Bob demanded.
Stone stuck the weapon into his inside overcoat pocket. “You can get three years at Riker’s Island just for holding that thing in this town.”
“You mean New York won’t support a man’s Second Amendment right to bear arms?”
“Let’s just say that the New York Police Department has a different interpretation of the Second Amendment than you do.”
Stone walked back toward Elaine’s.
“Where are you going?”
“To get the police,” Stone called over his shoulder. “Somebody has just tried to kill you, and if I were you, I’d get out of the street before they come back.” He went back into the restaurant and walked back to the table he had just left. “You’d better get some people over here,” he said to Dino. “Somebody just took a few shots at Woodman & Weld’s newest client.”
“What!!!” Bill Eggers shouted.
“Yeah, you can really pick ’em, Bill.”
Dino got on his cell phone and called the cavalry.
FIFTEEN MINUTES LATER, Dino’s detectives were conducting their preliminary investigation of the incident, and a criminalist was searching the car for bullet fragments.
One of the detectives walked over to Billy Bob, notebook in hand. “You’re Mr. Barnstormer, is that right?” the detective asked.
“That sure is right,” Billy Bob said.
“You got any identification, sir?”
Billy Bob produced a Texas driver’s license.
“Is this your current address?” the detective asked, checking the license.
“It sure is.”
“Are you armed, Mr. Barnstormer?” the detective asked.
“Hold it, Billy Bob,” Stone said, placing a hand on his arm. “My name is Barrington. I’m Mr. Barnstormer’s attorney,” he said to the detective. “I’d like to point out that your question is inappropriate, in the circumstances, since Mr. Barnstormer is the intended victim here, and I instruct him not to answer. I will tell you, though, that Mr. Barnstormer is not carrying a weapon.”
“Okay,” the detective said, making a note. “Anybody see the car?”
“I did,” Stone replied. “I was sitting next to the shot-out window, and I saw a black Lincoln Town Car make a hard left onto Eighty-eighth Street, running the light. It had New York plates, but I couldn’t get the number.”
“Okay,” the detective said. “Mr. Barnstormer, can you think of anyone in New York City who might want to cause you harm?”
Billy Bob looked at Stone.
“You can answer that one,” Stone said.
“No one at all?”
Billy Bob looked at Stone again, and he nodded.
“Do you know anybody in New York, Mr. Barnstormer?”
“Sure, I know lots of folks. I know Lieutenant Bacchetti over there, and I know a feller named Mr. Michael Bloomberg.”
“You know the mayor?” Stone asked, surprised.
“Yep, we’re real tight, Mike and me.”
“I think that’s all I need to know for the moment, Mr. Barnstomer,” the cop said. “Where are you staying?”
“You can reach him through me,” Stone said, handing the detective his card. “Can we go now? You through with the car?”
The criminalist walked over.
“You find anything?” the detective asked him.
“No bullet fragments,” the young man said, “but I found some residue on the broken glass.”
“What kind of residue?”
“Whoever did the shooting used frangible ammo, the kind of stuff you use at the firing range. The slugs disintegrated on impact with the glass, which is why the window on the opposite side of the car didn’t take any hits. Looks like you’ve got an environmentally conscious shooter.”
“A real citizen,” Stone said. “Is the car released?”
“Sure,” the criminalist said.
“Are you through with Mr. Barnstormer?” Stone asked the detective.
“For the moment.”
“Thank you and good night,” Stone said, climbing into the car. “Let’s go, Billy Bob.”
The car pulled away from the curb, and Stone gave the driver the address before turning to his new client. “All right, Billy Bob,” he said, “what the fuck was that all about?”
“How the hell should I know?” Billy Bob responded.
“You don’t know who your enemies are?”
“I don’t have no enemies, to speak of.”
“What about the ones not to speak of?”
“Well, you know, you do business, you piss off a few people along the way.”
“You do much business in New York?”
“Now and again.”
“You do business with anybody of a criminal nature?”
“Well, you never know what folks do in their spare time.”
“You know anybody with connections to organized crime?”
“I do business with businesspeople, that’s all,” Billy Bob said, sounding defensive.
“You piss off anybody in New York?”
“Not that I know of,” Billy Bob said.
Stone was having trouble speaking, now, since he was sitting next to the blown-out window and the icy air was blowing in his face at thirty miles an hour, and his lips didn’t want to move. He put his gloved hands over his face and waited for the car to reach its destination.
THE CAR PULLED UP in front of Stone’s town house in Turtle Bay, and everybody got out. The driver went to the trunk and began unloading luggage, while Stone, in amazement, counted. Eight pieces of black alligator luggage with brass corners were disgorged. Stone reckoned there was fifty thousand dollars’ worth of reptilian baggage there. It took all three of them to get it up the front steps of the house and into the entrance hall.
“Pick me up at nine o’clock in the morning,” Billy Bob said to the driver, “and get me a car with a back window.”
“I’d advise you to travel in something less conspicuous,” Stone said, “since people are shooting at you. Try a black Lincoln, like the shooter; there are thousands of them in the city.”
“Okay,” Billy Bob said to the driver, “something shorter and blacker.” He tipped the man and sent him on his way.
Stone and Billy Bob humped the luggage into the elevator, and Stone pushed the button for the third floor. “Left out of the elevator, first door on your right,” he said. “I’ll walk up; we wouldn’t want to break the cable.”
“What time do you get up?” Billy Bob asked. “I fix a mean breakfast.”
“Not early,” Stone said. “Kitchen’s on the ground floor; help yourself.” He let the elevator door close and headed for his own room, thinking only of how to get the man out of his house at the earliest possible moment the following morning.
STONE WAS WAKENED by the smell of seared meat. He rolled over and checked the bedside clock: 8:30 A.M. He had overslept. He struggled out of bed, got into a robe and walked downstairs to the kitchen.
Billy Bob Barnstormer was standing before the Viking range, turning over a thick strip steak on the integral gas grill, while stirring something in a saucepan on an adjacent burner. He looked over at Stone. “Hey! G’mornin’! I didn’t wake you up, did I?”
“You did. What are you doing?” Stone looked at the steaks; he had bought them at Grace’s Marketplace, at hideous expense, with the idea of cooking them in the company of a woman he knew.
“Why, I’m just rustlin’ up some grub for us,” Billy Bob said. “I had to go with what I could find in the icebox, ’cept for the grits. I brought those with me.”
“You travel with grits?” Stone asked.
“Only when I go north,” Billy Bob explained. “You cain’t get ’em up here. How you like your beef cooked?”
“Medium to medium rare,” Stone said, annoyed with himself for cooperating in this endeavor. “I’m not sure I can eat a steak at this hour of the day.”
“Don’t worry, you’ll have the grits and some eggs to cut the grease. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, y’know.” Billy Bob picked up a bowl of what looked like a dozen eggs, whisked them briefly with a fork and dumped them into a skillet holding a quarter pound of melted butter. “Have a seat,” he said. “Oughta be two minutes, now.” He turned the steaks again.
Stone got a container of fresh orange juice out of the Sub-Zero and poured two glasses, put some coffee on, then set the table and sat down. Reconsidering, he got up and found two steak knives, then sat down again.
Billy Bob forked the steaks onto the two plates, then scooped out some grits, then filled the unoccupied portion of the plates with scrambled eggs. He took a bottle of Tabasco sauce and sprinkled it liberally over his eggs, but when he tried for Stone’s plate, Stone snatched it away.
“Hold the Tabasco,” Stone said. “You’re trying to put me in the hospital, aren’t you?”
“Aw, it’s good for you.” Billy Bob sat down and sawed his steak in half. It was blood rare, blue in the middle.
So was Stone’s. He got up and put it back on the grill, then sat down and started on his eggs and grits.
“You like your meat burnt, then?” Billy Bob asked through a mouthful of food.
“I like it medium to medium rare,” Stone said, getting up and flipping the steak. He waited another couple of minutes, then removed the meat to his plate.
“Real nice morning out there.” Billy Bob said. “I brought in your paper.”
“The forecast for this morning was six degrees Fahrenheit,” Stone said.
“Yeah, I guess it’s about that,” Billy Bob agreed.
“You call that a real nice morning?”
“Well, the sun’s shining bright,” Billy Bob said. “That’s good enough for me.”
“Did you come to New York without an overcoat?” Stone asked.
“I never really needed one,” Billy Bob said. “I spent a week in Nome, Alaska, on an oil deal once, in the middle of the winter, and I got by all right without one. What’d you do with my gun?”
“I locked it in my safe,” Stone said. “You can have it back when you’re on your way out of town.”
“You folks sure are fussy about what a man carries,” Billy Bob said.
“It’s not us folks; it’s the NYPD.”
“You’re my lawyer; get me a license for the thing.”
“You have no idea what you’re asking,” Stone said. “The process is so long and drawn out that most people stop when they see the forms. And in the end, you only get it if you can prove you carry diamonds or large amounts of cash.”
“How large is a large amount of cash?”
“I don’t know, fifty grand, maybe.”
“Well, shoot, I’m carrying that right now. I mean, it’s in my briefcase. That’s pocket money where I come from.”
“In New York it’s an invitation to get hit over the head. You think that had anything to do with your getting shot at last night?”
“You know, I’ve been thinking on that, and you know what? Them bullets was fired at your side of the car.”
Stone stopped eating. “They were not fired at me.”
“Well, we just don’t know that, do we? You made any enemies lately?”
“I’m a lawyer,” Stone said. “People don’t shoot at lawyers.”
“Why, shucks,” Billy Bob said, “in Texas, every lawyer I know is packin’. Don’t you ever pack?”
“Sometimes, when it’s called for.”
“Well, there you go.”
“They weren’t shooting at me. Nobody has ever shot at me, except when I was a cop.”
“Maybe there’s bad people you put in the pokey; maybe they’re all pissed off about it.”
There had, in fact, been such a case in Stone’s past, but only one, and he was not about to admit it to Billy Bob Barnstormer. “Nope.”
“Well, how ’bout that feller with the German name that got after you and Dino that time?” Billy Bob asked.
“How’d you hear about that?” Stone asked.
“I got my sources. You think I’d hire you without checking you out?”
“You haven’t hired me, Billy Bob, and it’s my considered opinion that there’s no reason why you should.”
“I don’t see how you figure that,” Billy Bob replied. “I needed a lawyer last night.”
“Not really; all you needed was somebody to disarm you. I just made the investigation go a little faster.”
“Funny, I thought it was when I mentioned Mike Bloomberg that things got to going faster.”
“Right, you see? You don’t need a lawyer.”
“Well, I think I’m going to be the judge of that,” Billy Bob said, taking an envelope from a pocket and laying it on the table.
“Your retainer,” Billy Bob said.
“My retainer for what?”
“For representing me as my lawyer. It’s a check for fifty grand.”
Stone gulped and washed down some eggs with some orange juice. “What are you involved in, Billy Bob?”
“Why, I don’t know what you mean.”
“I mean, you got shot at last night, and you seem real anxious to have a lawyer.”
“Just in case.”
“Just in case of what?”
“You know what I mean.”
“No, I don’t know what you mean.”
“Everybody ought to have a lawyer. I have a lawyer ever’ place I do business.”
“And how many lawyers is that?”
“A whole mess of ’em.”
“At fifty grand a pop?”
“Well, I pay less in the boondocks, but when you’re in a place like New York, you got to go first class.”
“I appreciate that, Billy Bob, but if I’m going to be your lawyer, you’re going to have to level with me.”
“Stone, I promise you, the second there’s something to level with you about, I’ll level with you.”
Stone eyed the envelope with the check. He had been prepared to instruct his secretary to sell some stock this morning, since he was cash poor.
“Well, all right, I’ll represent you, but you’ve got to keep me up-to-date on what you’re doing, if I’m going to be effective.”
“Why, sure I will,” Billy Bob said soothingly.
Stone didn’t feel soothed. He felt stuffed like a pig, having just eaten the biggest breakfast of his life. All he needed now was an apple in his mouth. He read the Times and tried to forget his stomach.
The phone rang, and Stone picked up the kitchen extension. “Hello?”
“Good morning,” a man said. “May I speak with Billy Bob Barnstormer, please? This is Warren Buffett calling.” Stone was stunned into silence for a moment.
“Hello?” Buffett said.
“Sorry, just a moment.” Stone held out the phone to Billy Bob. “It’s for you.”
Billy Bob took the phone. “Hello? Hey, Warren, how you doin’? Just fine thanks. We ready to go? Shoot, I been ready for a month. You want some money? How much? Thirty? That gonna be enough to give us a decent cash reserve? You sure you don’t need more? Well, it’s there if you need it. I’ll get it to you this morning. Nah, I got your account number from last time. Great, you take care now.” Billy Bob hung up. “Mind if I make a long-distance call on your phone? I’ll pay, of course.”
“As long as it’s not to Hong Kong, be my guest.”
Billy Bob dialed a number. “Hey, Ralph. You up yet? Okay, when you get to the office wire Warren Buffett thirty million dollars. Yeah, same account as last time and the time before that. You know the drill. Okay, talk to you later.” Billy Bob hung up. “Well, we’re off!”
Stone stared at him, wondering. Well, he’d seen Buffett on television lately, and it had sounded like him.
STONE WORKED in his office most of the day, clearing his desk of papers that had piled up over the past couple of weeks. It went like that, usually—he neglected things, then got them done in a rush. He had his secretary, Joan Robertson, deposit Billy Bob’s check, and she looked relieved to have the money in the bank.
Late in the afternoon he went upstairs and looked for Billy Bob, but he had, apparently, checked out of the Stone Hotel. For a moment, Stone was confused by the pile of alligator luggage still in the guest bedroom. Then he found a note: “Thanks for the sack, Stone. Keep the luggage as a house present. I got some more. Billy Bob B.”
Stone gazed at the cases in disbelief, pushing at them with a toe as if they might bite. They felt empty. He’d leave them there and argue with Billy Bob about it later.
He had a big event, starting at six o’clock—Woodman & Weld’s annual firm party at the Four Seasons restaurant. He got out a fresh tuxedo, shirt, shoes, jewelry and a bow tie, then shaved and got into a shower. He had just finished and turned off the water when he heard a noise from the direction of his bedroom and the murmur of voices.
He grabbed a terry-cloth robe and walked toward the sounds. Two men in suits were having a look around his bedroom. “Who the hell are you?” Stone demanded.
The two men turned and looked at him, unsurprised. “FBI,” one of them said, and they both flashed IDs.
“What are you doing in my bedroom?”
“Your secretary let us in and told us to wait.”
“She didn’t tell you to wait in my bedroom.”
“She wasn’t specific.”
“What do you want?”
“The United States Attorney wants to see you.”
“Well, tell him to call and make an appointment.”
“Wants to speak with you now.”
Stone checked the bedside clock. “At this hour of the day?”
“Get dressed,” the man said.
What the hell could the U.S. Attorney want with him? Stone wondered. He went back into the bathroom, dried and combed his hair, then went back into the bedroom. The two FBI agents were still standing there, looking bored. He went into his dressing room and got his clothes on.
“The occasion isn’t formal,” an agent said, when Stone reappeared.
“I always dress for the U.S. Attorney,” Stone said. “Let’s go.” They went downstairs, and Stone grabbed a heavy, black cashmere topcoat, a white silk scarf, a black hat and some warm gloves. New York was in the midst of its coldest winter in years. They went outside and got into a black Lincoln that was idling at the curb, apparently driven by another agent.
“We have to go all the way downtown?” Stone asked. “It’s rush hour; it’ll take at least an hour, and I have to be somewhere.”
“Relax, we’re not going far,” an agent said.
Ten minutes later they stopped at the Waldorf-Astoria, at the Towers entrance. The agents led him to an elevator, and they went up many floors, stopping near the top of the building. The elevator opened into a large vestibule, and Stone could hear the sound of many voices beyond a set of large double doors. An agent opened a side door and showed him into a small study.
“Be right with you,” the agent said, closing the door behind him.
Stone shucked off his overcoat and tossed it onto a sofa, next to somebody’s mink coat. He looked around the room: It didn’t appear to have been done by a hotel decorator but seemed actually to be used as a study. Behind him, a door opened and closed, and Stone turned around. A tall, blond woman in a tight black cocktail dress walked toward him, her hand extended.
“Good evening, Mr. Barrington. I’m Tiffany Baldwin, the U.S. Attorney for New York.”
Stone shook her hand. “The last time I saw you,” he said, “you had a different name and were six feet six and wearing a double-breasted suit.”
“I believe you’re referring to my predecessor,” she said.
The change was news to Stone. “When did he predecess?”
“He handed over the reins an hour ago. He’s the new Deputy Attorney General; I’m replacing him tomorrow morning at nine. Those voices you hear through there are a welcome-aboard party for me.” She waved him toward a chair and took one, herself.
“U.S. Attorneys are not named Tiffany,” Stone said, “and they don’t look in the least like you.”
“Thank you, I think,” she replied. “Sorry about the name, but by the time I graduated from Harvard Law, it was too late to change it. I’ll never forgive my parents, of course, but what are you going to do?”
“Well, now we know why you’re here,” Stone said. “But what am I doing here? Are you going to offer me a job as your deputy?”
She smiled sardonically. “Hardly.”
“What do you mean, ‘hardly’?” Stone said, sounding wounded. “I went to law school, too, you know, though not at Harvard.”
“Well, that immediately disqualifies you, doesn’t it?”
“Watch it. I’ll spread the word, and you’lll spend all your time in New York being given a hard time by old NYU Law grads.”
“I’ll look forward to it. Now to business. I want to talk with you about a client of yours.”
Not Billy Bob Barnstormer, Stone thought. Not already. “What client is that?”
“Never heard of him.”
“Come now, Stone; confirming that you represent him is not a breach of attorney-client confidentiality.”
“I’m not being confidential, I’m being baffled,” Stone replied.
Tiffany Baldwin sighed. “It’s going to be like that, is it?”
“Like what, baffled? I am genuinely baffled. I have never heard of Rodney Peeples, and I suspect neither has anyone else, name like that.”
“It does seem improbable, doesn’t it?”
“My whole evening, so far, seems improbable,” Stone said. “Whose apartment is this?”
“It belongs to the Ambassador to the United Nations; the Attorney General borrowed it for the event.”
“The Attorney General is in there?” Stone asked, pointing at a door.
“I’d like to leave now; I don’t want to catch anything.”
“I’m afraid that if I breathe the air I might leave here as a tight-assed, right-wing, fundamentalist, anti–civil libertarian with a propensity for singing gospel music. And I don’t think that’s treatable.”
She laughed in spite of herself. “Come on,” she said, rising. “Let’s get out of here.”
Stone stood up. “You’re afraid of catching it, too, aren’t you?”
“Not a chance.”
“Where are we going?” he asked, helping her into the mink coat from the sofa.
“To the same party,” she said.
“No kidding. I may as well give you a lift.”
“You’re just a party animal, aren’t you. Do you have another one after Woodman and Weld’s?”
“My last party of the evening.”
Stone grabbed his coat and followed her into the vestibule, where an FBI agent had the elevator door held open. They rode down in the elevator in silence, then got back into a waiting Lincoln, which was longer than the other one, while the two agents accompanying them got into a black SUV behind them.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had this many chaperones on a date,” Stone said. “And armed, too.”
“This isn’t a date,” she said. “It’s a coincidence.”
TIFFANY BALDWIN pressed a button, and a glass partition between them and the driver slid up. “Okay,” she said, “it’s not a coincidence.”
“Nope. I’m new in town, and I needed a date for this party, and I once saw you across a crowded room, and I figured, what the hell?”
“I’m flattered. And is this Rodney Peeples fiction?”
“Nope, he’s real, but elusive. We heard a rumor that you were involved with him, so it was a good excuse to call you.”
They pulled up in front of the Four Seasons, and the doorman got the door.
“Let’s leave our coats in the car,” Tiffany said. “Then we won’t have to stand in line for the coat-check room when we leave.”
Stone tossed both coats and his hat into the rear seat and hustled her into the building, his teeth chattering. They climbed the big staircase and emerged into the Grill Room, which had been mostly cleared of tables so those present could drink and pump each other’s hands without bumping into the furniture. A string quartet was sawing away at some Mozart in a corner, and great quantities of food and drink were being consumed.
Stone snagged two glasses of champagne from a passing waiter, and they waded into the crowd.
“Well,” Tiffany said, “this is a good introduction to New York City. I recognize a lot of faces here; how many of them do you know?”
“Hardly any, except for the lawyers I run into in the hallowed halls of Woodman and Weld, but I recognize the same faces you do.” They were former cabinet members, politicians, a couple of United States senators, the mayor, the police commissioner and enough city councilmen, CEOs and movers and shakers that if laid end to end would reach somewhere into the northern regions of Central Park.
Bill Eggers elbowed his way through the mob and, ignoring Stone, gave Tiffany a big hug and kiss. “Welcome home, kiddo,” he said.
“Home?” Stone asked.
“I interned at Woodman and Weld for two summers during law school,” she said.
Eggers took her by the hand and led her up some stairs to a level overlooking the party. Somebody rang a silver bell, and the crowed quieted a bit.
“Good evening, everyone,” Eggers said. “On behalf of Woodman and Weld I want to welcome you all here to our annual profit-draining salute to our clients and friends. I will keep you long enough only to introduce you to the newest member of the New York legal fraternity, who has just been appointed the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Formerly, as a law student, she worked summers at Woodman and Weld, and I firmly intend to use that connection every chance I get on behalf of our clients. May I introduce Ms. Tiffany Baldwin!” There was loud applause. Tiffany raised a glass to the crowd and mouthed a thank you, but said nothing. She descended the stairs with Eggers, and Stone could not get near her for an hour, such was the press to meet her.
It was not until he had been swept into the main dining room for dinner that he found her again, his place card opposite hers.
“I assume you met everyone in the place,” he said, sitting down.
“Twice,” she said, fanning herself with her hands. “What happened to you?”
“I was flotsam in the tide, but you were right, this event is an excellent introduction for you. Now half the movers and shakers in the city can say they know you when their friends say, ‘Who the hell is Tiffany Baldwin?’ ”
“Call me Tiff,” she said. “It takes some of the sting away.”
“What were your parents thinking?”
“Louis Comfort Tiffany was a distant relative by marriage,” she said, “and giving me his name gave my mother an excuse to tell people about the kinship every time she introduced me to someone. Never mind that trailer trash from Maine to California were naming their daughters Tiffany, even if they didn’t always spell it correctly. You’d be astonished at the number of ways the name can be misspelled.”
“What were you doing before your new appointment?”
“Well, until this morning I was an assistant attorney general.”
“So, you’re a Republican?”
“No, but the AG doesn’t know that, and my father is a major contributor to the party and a friend of the First Family, and that passes for political credentials.”
“You must have won a lot of cases for the Justice Department,” Stone said.
“Yes, indeed, and always the tough ones that the boys didn’t want to try. They were mostly during the Clinton years, though. The boys began to catch on that the tough cases got them noticed.”
“So, now you’re the one who’s going to try to put that nice Martha Stewart in jail?”
She raised her hands as if fending off the remark. “Nope, that one belongs to my predecessor and his chosen people. I wouldn’t touch it with a very long pole. I take it, from your view of the AG, that you’re a Democrat?”
“A Yellow Dog Democrat.”
“That’s somebody who would vote for a Yellow Dog before he’d vote for a Republican.”
“I wouldn’t say that too loudly,” she said, looking around. “This is a very Republican-looking crowd to me.”
“Nah, they’re mostly rich Democrats, though in a setting like this it can be hard to tell the difference.”
Her eyes were fixed on the entrance. “Well, it’s real hard to tell what that is.”
Stone looked over his shoulder to see Billy Bob entering the room. He was wearing a western-cut tuxedo that seemed to be sprinkled with stardust, and on his arm was a six-foot-tall woman who looked like a stripper who had been redone by Frédéric Fekkai and Versace. “Oh, that’s my newest client, one Billy Bob Barnstormer.”
“You’re kidding,” she said.
“I am not.”
“Where did he get that suit? It looks like he’s playing Vegas.”
“Texans have places to get things like that,” Stone said. “They keep them from the rest of us.”
“Thank God for that. Who is he? What does he do?”
“It’s hard to say, exactly. He goes out into the world and gathers money from trees. He flew into Teterboro in a GIV last night and stayed at my house, leaving many pieces of alligator luggage behind as a house gift. And he got a phone call this morning from Warren Buffett.”
“I should have such house guests,” she said.
“Do you have a house, yet?”
“They’re putting me up in a government suite at the Waldorf Towers until either I find a place or they need it for somebody more important, whichever comes first.”
“I would extend your residence there as long as possible.”
She shook her head. “No, I have to pay my own room service and laundry bills. Do you have any idea what they charge for dry cleaning a silk blouse?”
“A week’s pay?”
“Very nearly, and breakfast this morning was forty-five bucks.”
“I hope you ate well.”
“Better than I intended to. I felt I had to finish it.”
“I know how you feel. Billy Bob cooked me breakfast this morning—a strip steak and half a dozen eggs. I couldn’t eat lunch, and I’m not very hungry now.”
He looked back at Billy Bob and his date, posing for a photograph with the mayor, whose head hovered at about the height of the date’s nipples, which were threatening to become visible. They all seemed the best of friends.
Stone was still thinking about that phone call that morning. “Excuse me a second,” he said. He walked out of the dining room and into the hallway, next to the huge Picasso weaving and called Bob Cantor, who did all sorts of technical investigations for him.