Authors: Stuart Woods
They dined on a thick slab of country pâté, then thinly sliced veal, then blueberry pie for dessert. They moved to the sofa for cognac.
“That was delicious,” Brio said.
“You look delicious,” Stone replied, kissing her behind the ear. “Shall we find out?”
“I don’t suppose I can persuade you to wait a little longer,” she said.
“That’s very perceptive of you.”
“Here, on the sofa, or shall we make a move?”
“Let’s make a move,” Stone replied, and they did.
She disappeared into the guest dressing room while Stone simply stripped off and got into bed. When she came out, she was wearing the guest terry-cloth robe.
“May we have the lights off?” she asked.
“If you prefer. I was looking forward to looking at you.”
She flicked off the bedside lamp, shucked off the robe, and got into bed with him.
“I’m sure this is improper,” she said.
“I hope so. It’s more fun that way.”
Then she seemed, finally, to make a decision and turned into his arms. Things moved more quickly after that, and they were soon enjoined, with her on top.
“You enjoy being on top, don’t you?”
“Not just in bed, in general.”
“This seems to be working rather well,” she breathed. “Would you prefer something else?”
He rolled them over, emerging on top. “I’d prefer this, for the moment. Then we can explore, if you like.” As he began there was a terrible buzzing noise. “What is that?” he asked.
“It’s my cell phone, and that particular noise means it can’t go unanswered under any circumstances.”
He rolled off her. She ran for her bag and picked up the phone. “Special Agent Ness,” she said, then stepped into the dressing room and closed the door behind her. By the time she returned, Stone had cooled down markedly.
“Sorry about that,” she said.
“Was it really that important?”
“That was a Zanian alert,” she said. “His airplane just took off from Santa Maria, in the Azores.”
“Refueling stop,” Stone said. “Do they know his destination?”
“No, not yet.”
“Perhaps I can help.”
“How could you possibly do that?”
“By telling you, possibly, his destination.”
“All right, what’s your best guess?”
“The Sultanate of Saud,” Stone said. “And it’s not a guess. It’s an informed judgment.”
“Why not Saudi Arabia? We’ve no extradition treaty with them.”
“Zanian unwisely took a large investment from an important prince and failed to return it when he fled.”
“How could you know that?”
“That’s not important, but my source says it’s true, and that’s good enough for me.”
“Then your source must be in the Saudi government.”
“It is not.”
“Then it must be in the highest echelon of American intelligence.”
Stone opened the bedside drawer, fished out a card, and handed to her.
She looked at it. “Associate director and adviser to the director? Don’t be ridiculous! Do they print those down at your cigar stand?”
“I don’t indulge in cigars, and the card is genuine, as is the information upon it.”
“Good God! You’ve been spying for the Agency all this time?”
“I’m not a spy, and you had only to ask, if you wanted to know what my connections were.”
“Well, I had heard that you are a close, personal friend of the president,” she said, “whatever that means.”
“It means that we are close, personal friends,” Stone said. “It would be a mistake to read anything else into it.”
“I think you would be less anxious if you could simply believe that anything I tell you is true, instead of a lie.”
“Can you prove your connection to the president?”
“Yes, but I decline to do so. You are a high official of our nation’s most important investigative agency, and that you didn’t know these things means that you are either negligent or uninterested or both. Surely you have read my file.”
“What makes you think you’re important enough to even have a file with us?”
“You’ll know that after you’ve read my file.”
“Excuse me,” she said. She got up, left the room, and soon, Stone could hear the clicks of a laptop keyboard. After a few minutes of this, he drifted off to sleep.
He woke after sunup and realized that he was alone in bed. He got up and went to the guest bedroom next door and found the bed made and her luggage gone. The bell sounded that meant breakfast was on the way up in the dumbwaiter. He went back to his suite, took the tray and set it on the bed, then adjusted the bed’s angle, got into it and began to eat.
Stone was at his desk the next morning when Joan buzzed. “Special Agent Ness on one.”
Stone picked up. “Stone Barrington.”
“If you say so.”
“I’m sorry I vanished last night, but you were sound asleep, and I didn’t want to wake you.”
“Thank you. I was grateful for the sleep. Anything else?”
“I would like to come and see you this morning and bring a friend.”
Stone couldn’t help laughing. “A threesome? At this time of day?”
“Of course not! And mind what you say on this line.”
“Are we being recorded?”
“Not to my knowledge.”
“If you’re not sure, then you should choose your words more carefully.”
“It’s a male friend,” she said.
“There you go again.”
“Will you stop misinterpreting me?”
“If you will think and speak more clearly. Let’s start over: What do you want?”
“I want to bring a colleague to your office for a meeting.”
“There, that’s better. Who is your colleague?”
“A person whose presence will allow me to make decisions quickly.”
“All right. When would you like to come?”
“Right this minute?”
“We are sitting in a car outside your office.”
Stone laughed again. “Ring the bell under the brass plate at the door,” he said. He buzzed Joan. “Ms. Ness and a colleague are about to ring the front bell. Please show them into my office.” He hung up and walked over to the seating area and waited. A moment later, Joan showed in Brio Ness and a man Stone had met once before. He was a former assistant attorney general and the recently appointed director of the FBI, Nelson Gramm.
“Director,” Stone said, shaking the man’s hand. “Special Agent Ness.” He waved them to seats. “How may I help you?”
“First of all,” Gramm said, “I want to thank you for your assistance in Hawaii and on the return flight.”
“I would like to charter your airplane,” Gramm said.
“With all the government aircraft available? Why?”
“There are certain expenditures that I have the authority to authorize immediately. The use of government aircraft is not one of them. That would require an official request, which would then filter down to an actionable level, and it could take a week or more.”
“For what purpose do you wish to charter it?”
“To fly to the Sultanate of Saud and arrest Viktor Zanian.”
Stone looked at Brio, who could not hold his gaze.
“Where did you get the information that Zanian is in the Sultanate?”
“From you. It seems that you are getting better information than we, and faster. We also wish to employ you as a consultant.”
“And when do you want to fly to the Sultanate?”
“Let me tell you what is involved in arranging this flight,” Stone said.
“First of all, the charter fee will be twenty thousand dollars an hour, which begins at wheels up and ends at touchdown. The airplane requires two flight crews and two flight attendants: that’s six people, and the charter fee does not include fuel, but I’ll throw in catering. You’ll need someone aboard with a valid credit card and a high credit limit for the fuel.”
Brio raised her hand, then put it back in her lap.
“How many people do you wish to transport?”
“Two: Special Agent Ness and you.”
“And the two of us are expected to penetrate whatever security Zanian and his host have?”
“I have authorized a team of eighteen agents, which will be
assembled from four of our European stations and will board in Cairo.”
“So, we’re just supposed to serve an arrest warrant and take him away?”
“Has anyone inquired of the sultan as to his feelings on the subject of Zanian?”
“That will be your job.”
“I’m just supposed to drop my law practice, fly across the Atlantic Ocean and the Arabian Desert, and say, ‘Please, sir, may I arrest your houseguest and take him away?’ ”
“I spoke with your managing partner, Bill Eggers, less than an hour ago, and he said we could do with you as we will, at a thousand dollars an hour.”
“Sort of like being sold into bondage,” Stone said.
“Only with your agreement.”
“And why do you think I have enough sway with the sultan to pull this off? I’ve never met the man.”
“He asked for you. He apparently read something about you in some magazine and was impressed. He called Lance Cabot for a reference.”
Stone looked at Brio again. Now she was contemplating her lap.
“And Special Agent Ness has something she’d like to say to you,” Gramm said.
Stone looked at Brio again. “Oh?”
She managed to raise her gaze a few degrees. “I wish to apologize for any doubts I may have had about your credentials and your acquaintances,” she said.
“How very nice of you,” Stone said sweetly. “Now, Director Gramm, I have to reassemble my crew, who need some rest after our last adventure, and have the aircraft inspected before a long flight, so the earliest we will be able to depart will be noon tomorrow.”
“No earlier? We don’t know how long Zanian will be in the Sultanate.”
“Why would he want to leave?” Stone asked. “He just got there.”
“Done,” the director said, getting to his feet and offering his hand.
“I’ll get my luggage,” Brio said.
“Since we’re not leaving until tomorrow, just leave it with Joan, and we’ll take it with us to the airplane. Please be here at nine
“Thank you,” she said, shooting him a dirty look. Then she followed her boss out of the office.
He called Faith and got the wheels turning.
“Have you ever flown into the Sultanate?” he asked.
“I’ve flown into Riad and Dubai, but never into the Sultanate of Saud. I don’t expect it will be any more difficult than the other two.”
Stone called Lance.
“I understand you’re traveling tomorrow,” Lance said.
“Anything you can do to pave the way would be appreciated by all.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” Lance said, then hung up.
Stone slid into a booth with Dino and Viv at Patroon. “Welcome home, Viv,” he said, kissing her on the cheek.
“Thank you, Stone. I guess I have you to thank for Dino’s tan.”
“I couldn’t keep him out of the sun.”
“I hear you’re off again tomorrow,” Dino said.
“Why is it you and everyone else knows about my travel plans before I do?”
“It’s our job,” Viv said.
“Have you ever been to the Sultanate of Saud?” Stone asked.
“Once,” she said. “I’ve issued fly-around orders to all our flight crews.”
“What is the place like?”
Viv stared at the ceiling for a moment. “Quaint,” she said.
“That’s all you’ve got? ‘Quaint’?”
“I want to be as complimentary as I can.”
“How’s the food?”
“Just great, if you enjoy goat and, in a pinch, camel.”
“I should think it would be wasteful to eat camels, when they’re so useful.”
“They have become less so, since the advent of Land Rovers,” she said, “and they only eat them when they’re very old. If I were you, I’d stick with the goat.”
“What’s that like?”
“It’s like goat,” she said. “It’s good if they use enough garlic. Oh, by the way, the men all reek of garlic. It’s like in Spain. If they eat enough garlic it gets into the bloodstream, then they emit.”
“Any good local restaurants?”
“I’d stick to room service if I were you. And the only good place to stay is the palace.”
“The Palace Hotel?”
“The palace. Where the sultan, his harem, and large numbers of his sons and other family live.”
“And if we’re not invited to stay?”
“Either get invited, or sleep on your airplane.”
“What is the climate like this time of year?”
“Not to put too fine a point on it, hot.”
“And the evenings?”
“Cold. Take a coat for the evenings.”
“Any local shopping?”
“Yes, if you’re looking to buy a camel or a goat. They sell them on the street corners.”
“I think I’ll pass on the shopping.”
“What’s the local currency?”
“Dollars or euros. Don’t take anything else, and don’t accept the local currency as change. Deal in round numbers.”
“You may be able to buy aviation fuel with them. For everything else, think cash. It would be wise to take along a pile of it, since everyone expects a bribe.”
“For anything they can think of. How long are you staying?”
“As short a time as possible.”
“Nothing happens quickly in the Sultanate, and I mean
If you’re staying more than overnight, you should take along two—no, three hundred thousand dollars in cash.”
“What service could be worth that kind of money?”
“How much is your airplane worth to you?”
“I’m going to have to buy it back from them?”
“It won’t be as bad as that, but it will
as bad. I’ve heard of one instance where a CEO returned to his private jet to find an engine missing. He had to pay for a new one, even though it was the one they had removed.”
“I think I’ll take a mechanic with us.”
“And an engine.”
“Oh, come on, Viv, it can’t be as bad as that?”
“I told you, it will
Stone turned to Dino, who had been silent. “Can I borrow a platoon of your uniformed officers to guard the airplane?”
“You’ll run up a big bill at the airport, if you do that,” Viv said. “You’ll need to bribe customs officials to get them in and out of the country.”
“I was kidding,” he said to Dino.
“Viv wasn’t,” Dino replied.
Stone got out his phone and called Brio Ness.
“Is everything all right?”
“Sort of. I’ve just been reliably informed that we should take a large amount of dollars to pay bribes on the ground.”
“Whatever,” she said.
“I’m told the bribes can be shocking, and God knows what we’re going to have to pay for Zanian.”
“What sort of money are we talking about?”
“I’ve been told to take three hundred thousand dollars for bribes. We may need a million to pay for Zanian.”
“I’ll call you back,” she said, then hung up.
“How’d she take it?”
“She’s calling her director.”
Stefan, the maître d’, was finishing his dance with the Caesar salad when Brio called back.
“I’ve arranged for a million three in cash,” she said. “It will be delivered to the airplane tomorrow. Where is it?”
“Jet Aviation, at Teterboro. There’s a safe on the airplane. I’m surprised you got permission so quickly.”
“The director says we’ll find a way to take it out of Zanian’s hide.”
“I’ll bring you a contract to sign,” Stone said.
“And I’ll bring a receipt for you to sign.” She hung up.
“She’s bringing a million three,” he said.
“From the FBI?”
“Directly from the director.”
“I don’t believe it.”
“The director says he’ll get it back from Zanian.”
“And what if you don’t get Zanian back?”
“We’d better,” Stone said.
Viv spoke up, “What if you can’t afford him?”