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Authors: Stuart Woods

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BOOK: Criminal Mischief
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A couple hundred miles west of Oakland, Ness completed her phone calls and instructions to her SWAT team and made sure they had a copy of the warrant for Zanian.

She sat back in her reclining chair. “Could I have a large Scotch on the rocks, please?” she said to the flight attendant.

“Would you prefer a blend or a single malt?” the woman asked. “We have Laphroaig and a Talisker,” she said.

“The Talisker,” Ness replied, and it was quickly in her hand. “Stone?”

“Yes, Special Agent?”

“You can call me Brio.”

“Yes, Brio?”

“I don’t have a bed in New York. Can you provide me with one?”

“Of course, and with dinner, too.”

“Who else will be there?”

“Just you,” he said. “Margot has chosen to go home to her apartment.”

“Thank you, I accept.”

Stone picked up the satphone and made the arrangements.

“How long till Teterboro?”

“Seven hours. We’ve got a tailwind.”

“I’m sleepy,” she said, setting down her empty glass, which was whisked away by the attendant.

“I’m not surprised. Sleep.”

She sank into her seat, and Stone draped a light cashmere throw over her inert body.

Dino looked over at her. “First time I’ve ever seen an FBI special agent do that. I didn’t know they slept.”

“They do after a long day’s work and a double Scotch,” Stone said.

Dino waved at the flight attendant and ordered. “I think I’ll try that,” he said, taking a gulp of the Scotch.

Stone spread a throw over him, and took his glass away as his fingers relaxed. He ordered a Knob Creek for himself as the satphone rang beside him. “Yes?”

“It’s Joan. Are you still on the planet?”

“I am, and we’re approaching the coast of California. Tell Fred we’ll be landing in about seven hours and to meet us.”

“Who’s ‘us’?”

“Special Agent Ness. Let Helene know we’ll need dinner, no matter what time we arrive.”

“Should I have the maid ready a room for your guest?”

“That remains to be negotiated.”

“We’ll be ready for everything.”

“By the way, I have a letter, in Dino’s possession, stating that I’m to be paid the ten-million-dollar reward.”

“Is it genuine?”

“It is, signed by Special Agent Ness and witnessed by a Hawaiian. I shall want you to present it to the director of the FBI for payment.”

“In person?”

“A copy, via FedEx, please. You retain the original, in case there’s an argument.”

“So, you caught Zanian?”

“No, but I made it possible for the FBI to. Not my fault that they blew it.”

“Are they going to see it that way?”

“To be announced.”

“I shouldn’t hold my breath, then?”

“Not for very long.”

“Okay, boss, I’ll get on it. Oh, I almost forgot: Lance Cabot called and wondered if you would be interested in the whereabouts of Mr. Zanian.”

“Can you patch me through to him?”

“I can try. If I push the wrong button, call him direct.”


There was a squawk, and then the smooth voice of the director of the Central Intelligence Agency filled the satphone. “Stone, where are you?”

“About a hundred miles west of California. Please note that, for once, it does not appear to be on fire.”

“What a nice change. Did Joan give you my message?”

“She did, piquing my curiosity.”

“Have you found Zanian?”

“No, but I saw his G-500 take off from Honolulu this morning.”

“Was he inside it?”

“One can only suspect. Can you confirm that?”

“No, but I suspect it to be so, too.”

“Do you have any inspiration regarding his destination?”

“It ain’t Acapulco,” Lance said.

“I didn’t think it would be. Any further thoughts?”

“I hear Santa Barbara, in an hour or so. He has a house there.”

“That’s the best guess I’ve heard all day. Is it worth having a SWAT team there to meet him?”

“It couldn’t hurt, but the man is elusive by nature, so don’t make any promises you can’t keep.”

“Always good advice,” Stone replied.

“Do you expect to collect the price on his head?”

“I have a letter to that effect from the agent in charge of the case.”

“Well, that’s better than a note on a paper bag.”

“Considerably better, I hope.”

“You can hope. Call me when you’re back home and let me know how things went. If the director turns out to be recalcitrant, let me know. I may be able to help. Goodbye, Stone.”

“Goodbye, Lance.” He hung up. “Now, why didn’t I call him sooner?” he said aloud to himself.

“Call who?” Brio asked sleepily.

“Santa H. Claus.”


“I am reliably informed by someone who is reliably informed, that Zanian is headed for Santa Barbara. I’m also told he has a house there.”

“Then let’s land at Santa Barbara,” she said.

“Thank you, but I’m through chasing my tail. If you want to have a SWAT team there, good luck to you. You might order up a search warrant for his house, too.”

Ness picked up the satphone and went to work.


Once back at his house in New York, Stone sent Fred up with his bags and Brio up with hers. She could choose her own room. Then he settled in at his desk and waited for Joan to show up. It didn’t take her long.

“You look oddly well-rested.”

“I didn’t suffer from lack of sleep.”

“Who’s upstairs?” she asked.

“Brio Ness. I don’t know in what room.”

“I’ll find out.”

“No need to disturb her.”

“Any instructions?” she asked.

“Just get that letter to the director of the FBI.”

“It’s already there. I found a courier service.”

“Heard anything?”


“Get me Lance Cabot, please.”

She buzzed Stone a moment later. “Lance on one.”

“I’m home,” Stone said.

“In the company of Mr. Zanian, I hope.”

“Sadly no. I’ve been thinking about the Middle East.”

“Lots of people do.”

“Is there some small country there, without a treaty, that might shelter Zanian?”

“Undoubtedly,” Lance said. “If Mr. Zanian has enough cash to impress a top diplomat or, perhaps, a sultan.”

“Do you have one in mind?” Stone asked.

“That depends on whether Mr. Zanian had the foresight to become a Muslim.”

“I hadn’t considered that.”

“It’s worth considering.”

“Which country?”

“The Sultanate of Saud,” Lance said. “The Sauds are cousins of the Saudis, but not as rich.”

“Who is?”

“Hardly anyone.”

“How much would it take to impress the sultan?”

“Well, Mr. Zanian deposited one hundred forty million dollars in the World Traders Bank today, in the Caymans.”

“Wow! Did he steal that much?”

“Estimates are north of two billion. I think his net worth would impress the sultan to the extent of offering him shelter, quietly, in his country.”

“How do we find out?”

“I suppose you’d have to know someone who knows the sultan.”

“Does anyone I know, know the sultan?”


“The only person I can think of who might know the sultan would be you.”

“The sultan and I have had dealings in the past.”

“Is your arm long enough to poke an elbow in the sultan’s ribs?”


“In that case, is there something I can do for you?”

“There might be,” Lance replied.

“Don’t be coy, Lance. What do you want?”

“Dame Felicity Devonshire,” Lance said, referring to the head of MI6, the British foreign intelligence service, “is not speaking to me—that is, she is not returning my calls. Find out why, and I will give you entrée to the Sultan of Saud.”

“Plain enough,” Stone said. “I’ll see what I can do.” He hung up and looked for Dame Felicity’s private number. The two of them were longtime friends and occasional lovers, her country house on the Beaulieu River in England being the neighbor of his place. He dialed the number, and to his surprise, she answered.

“I wondered when you’d get around to calling,” she said reprovingly.

“I’ve been lost in the Pacific for the past week,” Stone said.

“My recollection is that telephone service extends to that region of the planet, as it does to all regions. Apparently, Lance Cabot was able to reach you there.”

“Actually, I’m home again in New York, and I reached him. He is distraught.”

“Oh, really? Whyever would that be?”

“He fears that he has accidentally offended you in some way.”

“ ‘Accidentally,’ did you say?”

“Yes. Lance would never intentionally offend you, Felicity. He’s too fond of you for that.”

She emitted a short snort. “I doubt it.” But she sounded as if she might be softening.

“I’m absolutely certain of his affection for you, Felicity. Why are you torturing the poor fellow?”

“Well, I’m glad he’s noticed,” she said.

“Believe me, he has noticed and he is, as I have said, distraught. Don’t you think you could give him a call and put him out of his misery?”

“I know an assassin or two who could do that with ease.”

“I was speaking metaphorically,” Stone said, “as you well know.”

“Well, I will be at this number for a half hour or so, if he would like to ring me.”

“I’m certain he would. How are you?”

“I’m quite well, thank you. When are you coming over?”

“I’m embroiled in something right now. But when I get it sorted out, I would love to pay you a visit.”

“I’ll hold you to that, Stone,” she said, then hung up.

Stone called Lance. “I’ve spoken to Felicity,” he said. “And while she has not divulged the source of her hurt, she has deigned to accept your call at the private number during the next half hour.”

“Oh, she has deigned, has she?”

“That was my interpretation, not hers. You’d better get your ass in gear, pal, or you’re going to screw up again.”

“Oh, all right.”

“And right after that, you can give your friend, the sultan, a call and see if he’s harboring a criminal I know.”

But Lance had already hung up.

Joan buzzed. “Special Agent Ness is ensconced in the guest room next to the master suite,” she said. “And I have informed her that you’ll be having a late dinner in your study and that dress is casual, as you like to say. I take it that’s code for nude.”

“Let’s call it dressing down,” Stone said. “Thank you.” He hung up. He thought of calling Lance but decided he’d better wait to hear from him.


Lance called back to confirm that Zanian would be staying with the Sultan of Saud. Stone wondered how easy it was to get a sultan on the phone, but Lance always found a way.

Stone was still finding his way through Earth’s time zones, but he thought it best if he operated on the information contained in his wristwatch, which he had been resetting periodically. He went upstairs, unpacked his clothes, and filled the laundry hamper with what had to be laundered, then he got into a shower.

He had gotten out and was drying himself when someone called.


Stone wrapped a smaller towel around himself and walked into his bedroom; Brio was sitting on the end of his bed. “ ‘Yoo-hoo’? In what decade of this century are we operating?”

“The present day. Anyway, it had the desired result, which was to bring you out of hiding.”

“I suppose it did, if you consider the shower hiding.” He sat down beside her on the bed.

“That’s far enough,” she said. “More than that, it’s close enough.”

Stone reached behind him and pointed a finger between his shoulder blades. “I have an itch where I can’t quite reach it. Could you help, please?”

She looked at his back, then scratched the correct spot for him.

“Thank you,” he said. Her touch was not unaffectionate. “That is a feeling of relief.”

“I had a hint that you were seeking relief of some sort,” she said, drily.

“What else is on offer?” he asked.

“I had hoped to be offered a drink,” she said.

“If you can wait a couple of minutes while I dry my hair and dress, I will take you by the hand and lead you to the watering hole.” He got up and walked to the bathroom door, then stopped and looked over his shoulder. “You can watch, if that would please you.”

“Oh, please!”

“Another cliché from another era. You’re full of them!”

“You’re full of something, too,” she said, “but it’s not clichés.”

Stone blew his hair dry and brushed it, then went into his dressing room and got into underwear, trousers, shirt, shoes, socks, and a tweed jacket. He walked back into the bedroom. “The sun is officially over the yardarm, somewhere, so come with me.”

They walked down the stairs, which gave Ness an opportunity to view the pictures hung there.

“Very nice paintings,” Brio said. “Who chooses them for you?”

“Oh, please!” he said. “To coin a cliché. I am the son of a painter of great accomplishment. I learned about art at her knee, from watching her create it.”

They walked on toward the study. “You seem to have a number of canvases signed by a Matilda Stone. Any relation?”

“I had the good fortune to be her son.”

“You’re right. She’s a painter of great accomplishment.”

“My mother thanks you.” They walked into the study, where Fred had already lit a fire. “You said you were dying for a drink, I believe? What will you have?”

She pointed at a bottle of Talisker. “That,” she replied, “if you please.”

“Over ice?”


He poured it and then a Knob Creek for himself. He put both drinks on a small, silver tray and took it to the sofa, where she had settled herself.

“You have a nice mix of period pieces and the more recent,” she said.

“I inherited the house and its contents from my great-aunt. I sold off some of her pieces for cash to do a complete remodel and kept the others in storage, along with the china and silverware and some pictures. The rest I have added over time.”

“That little tray on which you served our drinks is a lovely thing,” she said.

“It was made by a Boston silversmith named Revere,” he replied.

Revere,” she said.

Revere. My great-aunt had a complete tea service and some table serving pieces of his, too.”

“Well, if you’re ever broke, those would bring a pretty price.”

“I’ve been broke, and I didn’t like it,” Stone said, “but I managed to hold on to the silver. May I get you another drink?”

“Let’s give the first one a little more time to do its work,” she said.

“No rush. I’ve been meaning to tell you that I’m pursuing a lead on Mr. Zanian.”

“Oh, don’t call him ‘Mister,’ ” she said. “He doesn’t deserve the respect.”

BOOK: Criminal Mischief
2.97Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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