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Authors: Stuart Woods

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BOOK: Criminal Mischief
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52

Stone, Brio, and Wilcox sat on the fantail of their chartered yacht, while Wilcox typed out the document Said had demanded.

“There,” Wilcox said, turning around the laptop and handing it to Stone. “Do you wish to add or subtract anything?” he asked.

Stone read it through. “I think it’s perfect, and that it would be dangerous to change anything.”

Wilcox removed his State Department cell phone from a jacket pocket and speed-dialed a number, while pacing around the deck, conducting a conversation with someone. Finally, he hung up. “The secretary of state is on Air Force 3, having departed for Tokyo half an hour ago. The telephone and e-mail electronics aboard the aircraft are inoperable, so he will be out of touch until the airplane lands at Tokyo and he is able to travel to our embassy there. We’re talking seventeen, eighteen hours.”

“That leaves the president,” Stone said.

“It does. Ordinarily, she does not accept telephone calls from State Department personnel of my rank, except in the direst circumstances, like the bombing of an embassy, and in the absence of the secretary of state. I am not inclined to attempt to breach that barrier under these circumstances.”

“I see,” Stone said, knowing what was coming next.

“It is my understanding that you and the president are . . . rather, have . . . a close personal relationship. Is that so?”

Stone thought about it for a moment. “I have heard that rumor, too.”

“Do you think that, given the circumstances, you might communicate this letter to her directly, and ask her to sign and transmit it to both me and the secretary of state.”

Stone thought some more. “You are aware, are you not, that I have a financial interest in the successful completion of this transaction?”

Wilcox winced and sucked his teeth for a moment. “I am very much afraid that I neglected to incorporate that fact into my calculations. My apologies.”

“No apology necessary, Henry,” Stone said.

Everyone quietly sipped his cognac for a while. Then Brio spoke up, “I have been in the presence of the director of the FBI on occasions when he communicated directly with the president on Bureau business. Perhaps I can call him and ask him to call her.”

“What a good idea,” Wilcox said.

“Perhaps,” Stone said, pensively. “However . . .”

After a long pause, Brio said, “However what?”

“Brio,” Stone said, “the ten-million-dollar reward for Zanian is being offered by the FBI, isn’t it?”

“Yes.”

“What is the source of those funds?”

“I was wrong. The money would come from something called FBI Emeritus, which is an organization made up of retired, high-ranking Bureau officials.”

“This is a private, nongovernmental organization?”

“Yes. It’s all very quiet. Most people at the Bureau have never heard of it.”

“Question: Where would an association of former government officials get their hands on ten million dollars?”

A dead silence ensued, for a count of about twenty.

“I don’t know,” Brio said, finally.

“Is the director currently a member of this group?”

“Yes, members are usually elected upon the achievement of the rank of assistant director, at a minimum.”

“Stone,” Wilcox said, “are you leery of accepting the reward, given its origins?”

“Certainly not!” Stone snorted. “I’ll take their money in the blink of an eye!”

“Then, what . . .”

“I’m leery of establishing even the slightest connection of the president with a private club, which has ready access to that kind of money. Where did they get it? What other ‘projects’ have they funded? Secret wars? Black operations? Assassinations of foreign dignitaries? The trail could lead anywhere.”

“But you don’t mind it leading to you,” Wilcox said.

“If a connection arose, I could deny all knowledge of the source
of the funds. I could claim, as anyone else could, that I have no idea of the money’s origin—and I can do it without igniting an investigation by a congressional committee. The president, on the other hand, has political enemies who would enjoy nothing better than hauling her into a committee room, putting her under oath, and eventually, shipping her off to Guantánamo for a little vacation.”

“So to speak,” said Wilcox.

“Well, yes,” Stone said, “but you get the point.”

“I do.”

“Sorry,” Brio said. “Bad idea.”

“We all have them,” Stone said. “I think it would be better if the secretary of state called the president, or better yet, just signed off on it himself. After all, the only purpose of the document is to keep the United States from getting its hands on an airplane that the sultan—or rather, Said, the commanding general of the armed forces, has the hots for.”

“Well put,” Wilcox said. “The entire staff of the State Department couldn’t have said it better.”

Brio spoke up, “Henry, I don’t suppose you could just sort of give Said your word that you won’t go after the Gulfstream?”

Wilcox burst out laughing. “My dear, in the circumstances that Said is considering, my word is nothing more than a puff of hot air.”

“Let’s sleep on this,” Stone said, rising.

“Always a good idea,” Wilcox said, rising, too.

They went off to bed.

53

Stone and Brio were at breakfast the following morning when Henry Wilcox joined them, later than usual.

“Oversleep, Henry?” Stone asked.

“No, I got up early this morning and sent the document for the secretary’s signature, plus an explanation of the circumstances, to his personal e-mail address, so that as soon as he is in a location with access to electronics, he will find them waiting for him.”

“Assuming he checks his e-mail,” Stone said. “We all fail to do that, sometimes.”

“He’s pretty good about it,” Wilcox replied. “At least, we can tell Said that we’ve sent it to him and are awaiting a reply.”

“Good point. We can tell him that we’ve done all we can, and that the secretary’s response time is out of our hands.”

“I don’t expect he’ll find that comforting,” Wilcox said, “but he should find it plausible.”

“Let’s hope so. Said said last night that Zanian had offered a billion dollars, but he didn’t say how much Zanian had been able to raise so far.”

“And that is a bit of information I’d like to have,” Wilcox said.

“I take it as a good sign that Said is still interested in our two million and a quarter dollars,” Stone said.

“He’s not going to pass that up for a billion-dollar pipe dream of Zanian’s,” Brio said.

“Let’s hope not.”

The yacht’s captain came aft. “Mr. Barrington, a call for you on the ship’s radiotelephone.” He handed Stone a portable handset. “Just press the button marked ‘answer.’ ”

Stone accepted the phone and put it on the table. “This is odd,” he said. “A radiotelephone call can be heard by anyone with a radio tuned to the correct frequency.”

“You’d better answer,” Brio said.

Stone pressed the answer button. “Yes?”

“Am I speaking to whom I think I am?” It was a voice that sounded like Said.

“That depends on whom you think I am.”

“When did we last dine?”

“Last evening.”

“What was missing from your dinner?”

Stone thought about that for a moment. “A hump,” he said, finally.

“Has the document of which we spoke last evening been completed?”

“Yes, and sent to the mailbox of the intended addressee,” Stone replied. “He is presently in a distant location and electronically unavailable, until some services can be restored.”

“In what time frame?”

“We are unable to divine that from our present position.”

Said made an angry noise.

“You understand this is quite out of our hands?”

“I suppose.”

“May I return this call when we know more?”

“Yes, but use the cell number.”

“Roger. Out.” Stone ended the call. “He is unhappy.”

Wilcox shrugged. “So am I.”

“I still don’t understand why he used the radiotelephone.”

“Perhaps his own electronic services are temporarily unavailable.”

“Good. If so, he understands our problem. Do you think it’s worth trying to reach the secretary again?”

“I can try,” Wilcox said, taking out his phone and pressing a single digit. He listened for a moment. “This time I got a recorded message, saying the service I seek is temporarily unavailable.”

“That is not an improvement on the situation,” Brio said.

“No, it isn’t,” Wilcox said. “It appears that we are going to have to exercise the most difficult skill of diplomacy.”

“And what is that?” Brio asked.

“Patience,” Wilcox replied.

“Well, shit!” Brio responded.

“Perhaps so, but it is all I have to offer.”

“Relax, Henry,” Stone said. “Nobody’s blaming you, not even Said.”

“Thank you.”

“My own personal motto is
Si non nunc quando
,” Stone said.

Wilcox laughed, something he did not do often.

Brio looked puzzled. “What is that, pig Latin?”

“Just plain Latin,” Wilcox said. “As anyone with a New England schoolboy’s prep-school education can tell you, it means: ‘If not now, when?’ ”

“Well translated.”

“Where did you prep, Stone?”

“At P.S. Six, in New York City.”

Wilcox laughed uproariously. His cell phone rang. “Yes? Good morning, General. Is your cell service working again?”

“It is, as you can see.”

“So is that of the secretary of state,” Wilcox lied.

“And what is the disposition?”

“He has approved the language of the document and is transmitting a signed copy to me.”

“When?”

“As soon as their service is fully operational. It shouldn’t be later than this afternoon.”

“I shall look forward to receiving it.”

“If you will give me a secure e-mail address, I will forward it to you as soon as I receive it.” He made a note of the address. “I shall speak to you later,” Wilcox said, then hung up.

“Excuse me, Henry, but that was a lie.”

“I am aware of that, Stone. Lying is sometimes just another tool in the diplomatic toolbox.”

“And what tool in your toolbox will you use to obtain the secretary’s signature on the document?”

“An equally good one,” Wilcox said. “Forgery.”

54

Wilcox pressed send, then waited. Presently, the captain came aft with two pages from his printer and handed them to the diplomat.

“Do they meet your standards?” Stone inquired.

“Not yet, but soon.” He took a Mont Blanc fountain pen from an inside pocket and scrawled something on a blank sheet of paper, then repeated the process. “Now,” he said. He took the two copies of the document and fluently signed them both, then inspected his work. “Excellent, if I may say so,” he said, handing them to Stone.

“I’ve no idea what the signature of the secretary of state looks like,” he said.

“That’s all right,” Wilcox replied. “Neither does General Said. It’s close enough to fool anybody but, perhaps, the secretary’s own secretary.”

Stone found an envelope, folded a sheet, and tucked it inside, sealing it with a lick. He picked up his cell phone and dialed a number. “General?”

“Yes?”

“This is Stone Barrington. We have received the expected communication from the secretary of state. We have sent you an electronic copy. How would you like the document delivered?”

“I’ll send the boatman, with his clever stick.”

“When?”

“Immediately.”

“Will you call me back when you have seen the document?”

“Of course.” He hung up.

Across the water Stone could see a figure jump into
Star
’s tender and head his way. Stone watched as he approached, then stepped up to the rail. The boatman thrust his stick upward, and Stone grabbed it, thrust the envelope into the jaws of the clip at its end, and watched as the boatman brought it aboard, tucked it into his jacket pocket, and returned to the royal yacht. “Now,” he said to Wilcox and Brio.

They watched as the boatman reached the yacht, secured the tender, ran up the boarding stairs, and disappeared. They went back to their comfortable seats on the fantail. A moment later Stone’s cell phone rang. “Stone Barrington.”

“Mr. Barrington, this is General Said.”

“I rather thought that it might be.”

“I have the document in my hand.”

“And does it meet your requirements?”

“In every respect.”

“I am pleased to hear it. Now, when do we receive the corpus delicti of Mr. Zanian?”

“We must first find and sober up his airplane’s crew, then negotiate the plane’s release from your Jeeps at the airport, then it can proceed to Cairo. Two or three days, I expect.”

“I had hoped for a more immediate surrender.”

“May I suggest that you and your party pack and move to
Star
? There is, of course, plenty of room, and you will be made very comfortable, then we can continue to Cairo in one yacht instead of two.”

“What a good idea! We’ll be ready for your boatman in an hour.”

“Very good. Drinks at six-thirty, on the fantail. And please don’t forget your trunk.”

“That will be brought to Cairo on my aircraft, at the appointed time for the exchange with Mr. Zanian.”

“Fair enough,” Said said. “See you at six-thirty. We’re dressing for dinner.”

“Of course. Goodbye.” They both hung up.

“We’re moving to the royal yacht, which will convey us to Cairo,” Stone said. “Go and pack. The boat will be here for us in an hour, and we may as well change for dinner now. It’s black tie again.”

“Oh, shoot!” Brio said. “Now I have to come up with another dress.”

“Judging from the capacity of your luggage and the number of cases, that won’t be a problem,” Stone said.


Stone settled with the captain and crew, and they were efficiently conveyed to
Star
as soon as the boat arrived
.
As they sat on the fantail, awaiting the arrival of their host, the usual noises associated with getting under way could be heard. From somewhere far below the engines changed their whisper to a murmur, and the big yacht weighed anchor and proceeded up the Red Sea, in good order.

The general, in yet another naval uniform, made his appearance on the fantail, and his guests rose to meet him.

“What a fine evening it will be,” he said, while being handed a large whiskey. “And I am so fortunate to have you all to share it with.”

They settled into their comfortable chairs, and refills were served.

“General,” Wilcox said, “is there a Mrs. Said?”

“Several,” Said replied, blithely.

“Of course,” Wilcox replied. “The joys of your faith and your high standing. Tell me, what becomes of the sultan’s harem in these changing circumstances?”

“I suppose that rather depends on what becomes of the sultan,” Said said.

Wilcox did not pursue that line of conversation further.

“What changes do you intend for your country, in your new regime?” Stone asked.

“Women will have equal standing, for the first time.”

“Hurrah for women!” Brio shouted.

“And what else?” Wilcox asked.

“Little else,” Said replied. “I have, as a practical matter, been running the country for some time. I expect a fairly seamless transition.”

“My country hopes there will not be bloodshed,” Wilcox said.

“We can both hope, Mr. Ambassador,” Said replied. “However, there will always be those who insist on having their blood shed, won’t there be? In those cases we will endeavor to be swift and sure, to cause as little pain as possible.”

His three guests gulped simultaneously.

BOOK: Criminal Mischief
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