Authors: Stuart Woods
Stone was practically lifted out of his bed by the loudest noise he had ever heard. He jumped up and swept back the curtain on the portside porthole. A few yards away an enormous container ship was passing, headed south. It was its horn that had greeted Stone’s new day. They were clearly in the Suez Canal, having steamed all night. He fell back into bed next to Brio, who was sitting up in bed, wide-eyed.
“Relax, it’s only the largest ship you’ve ever seen, and you could hit it with a slingshot. It’s nice to see you so awake, though,” he said, pulling the sheet down and crawling into bed with her. He laid his head on her belly and worked his way south.
“Promise me we won’t hear that noise again,” she said, arranging herself to greet him.
“I can only promise you that this is going to feel very, very good,” he said, attending to the business at hand.
She ran her fingers through his hair. “You’re right,” she said.
After Stone had proved his point a couple of times, he raised the issue of breakfast. “May I have it served on your belly?” he asked.
“No, it will either be too hot or too cold. Why don’t you raise your attention to above my waist, and we’ll discuss it?” He did so, and they discussed it, deciding to get up and have breakfast on deck.
Wilcox joined them shortly. “Did you hear that?”
“Hear what?” Stone asked. “I didn’t hear anything.”
“Nor did I,” Brio said innocently.
It took another moment before they all collapsed, laughing.
“That was the loudest noise I’ve ever heard,” Wilcox said.
“Us, too,” Stone replied.
The landscape was desert on both sides of the canal. Occasionally vehicles passed on the roads on either side of them, headed in both directions. Other ships, large and small, passed.
“I’ve had breakfast on a canal before,” Stone said, “but not one this big.”
“Oh,” Wilcox said, “I saw Said briefly on my way up, and he asked me to tell you that we will conduct the exchange for Zanian at Port Said Airport, tomorrow at midday, instead of Cairo, and to inform your air crew.”
“I wonder how long the runway is at Port Said,” Stone said.
“It’s 7,700 feet. He told me that, too.”
“We can manage that.” He called Faith.
“Change of destination,” he said. “Our meeting will be at Port Said tomorrow at midday, instead of Cairo. They’ve got a 7,700-foot runway.”
“That’s good. I’ll have two agents aboard to deal with Mr. Zanian.”
“Fine. And be sure that my large trunk and valise are in a position where they will be easy to unload.”
“Got it. Will we go directly from Port Said to Teterboro?”
“Yes, if we’ve got the fuel for it.”
“Barring extraordinary headwinds, we have, but we can always refuel at Santa Maria, in the Azores, if necessary. I’ll get the forecast.”
“Good. See you tomorrow.” They hung up.
“I had a strange dream last night,” Wilcox said.
“I dreamed I was in a Dickens novel.”
“Poor you. I hope you weren’t Oliver Twist.”
“No, I was Tiny Tim.”
“Well, you’ve recovered. You don’t look any tinier.”
“I’m relieved to hear it.”
Stone changed the subject, reflecting that there was hardly anything more boring that someone else’s dreams.
General Said came up from below. “Good morning to you all,” he said.
“I gave your message to Stone,” Wilcox said.
“Stone, I hope the change is not inconvenient,” Said said.
“On the contrary, it is quite convenient. From Port Said we can be off to America in the early afternoon, assuming everything goes smoothly. General, do you have any reason to suppose that things might not go as smoothly as we wish?”
“None whatever,” Said replied.
“By the way, you said that Zanian was trying to raise money from his various accounts but not having much success?”
“That is correct.”
“Exactly how much success is Ms. Zanian not having?”
Said smiled. “I’m told he has raised only a few million dollars.”
“And where do those dollars now reside?”
“Apparently, in a bank account that Zanian still has access to.”
“Just not one of his bigger accounts?”
“Was it the sultan’s idea or yours to sell him his freedom for a billion dollars?”
“It was Zanian’s idea,” Said replied.
“And whose idea was it to accept that deal?”
“The sultan and I never had an affirmative agreement on that subject.”
“Did the possible gaining of a billion dollars have anything to do with the, ah, change in the sultan’s status?”
Said shrugged. “You might say that. Then again, you might say the opposite. I shall leave that for the historians to work out. Why do you ask?”
“Because I am wondering why you are content to accept my two million and a quarter, when there is at least the prospect of a billion.”
“I regard that prospect as the dream of an opium eater,” Said replied. “I prefer to deal in cash I can run my fingers through and which is acceptable at any financial institution.”
“I perceive that you are not a dreamer, General, but rather a practical man.”
“It is one of the differences the sultan and I have had over the years,” Said replied. Then he concerned himself with ordering breakfast.
When he was done with the waiter, he asked Stone, “Tell me, what would you like for dinner this evening? Something else without a hump?”
“If you please.”
“It is our last evening aboard this yacht. Is there something you would like to request?”
“Osso buco,” Stone said. “A dish of veal shank.”
“I’m sure the chef can come up with a shank, instead of a hump,” Said said, laughing.
Stone sat on a chaise longue on the upper deck, a cool drink and Brio on one side of him. It was the first time he had seen her in a bikini, and it was a small one.
“I think we should have you photographed in that swimsuit,” he said. “The result, pinned to a bulletin board in the Hoover building, would be a big hit, I’m sure.”
She laughed. “Ordinarily I conceal my figure at work, even under clothing. I don’t think anyone in the building knows that I have breasts.”
“Perhaps I should spread the word,” Stone said. “You’d become very popular.”
“No one would believe you,” she replied. “I’ve been that careful.”
“Does your new rank permit a change in costume?”
“If I did that, the director would think he’d made a terrible mistake in promoting me. I think I’ll let sleeping breasts lie.”
Stone picked up a bottle of lotion and spread some on his face, then put on a straw hat. “Is there anything I can lubricate for you?” he asked, raising the bottle.
“Thank you, no. I’m quite well oiled.”
“You smell like a coconut,” he said. “It’s very pleasant.”
“I’m happy to be an olfactory success.”
“Have you spoken to your squad of agents lately?”
“Yes, they’ll meet us in Port Said.”
“Apparently, Faith already has a couple of volunteers to sit on Zanian during the trip back.”
“I wonder what she offered them,” Brio said.
“Oh, Faith can be quite alluring, even in her uniform. Perhaps,
in her uniform.”
“In my experience, special agents respond favorably to allure. Are two men enough?”
“For Faith or for Zanian?”
Brio laughed. “For Zanian.”
“Well, once we’re off the ground, Zanian has nowhere to run, so even if they unshackle him for the toilet, he’s not going to parachute out over Long Island before landing.”
“I suppose not.”
“Have you arranged a reception committee for Zanian?” Stone asked.
“Yes, our airplane, containing the other twenty-two agents, will precede us to Teterboro, and they will receive him. There’ll be suitable transport waiting when we land.”
Wilcox joined them, wearing a terry-cloth robe. He shucked it off, revealing a wiry and athletic physique, for a man of, what, sixty?
“Welcome, Henry,” Stone said.
“Last chance for a bit of sun,” Wilcox replied.
“What are your plans after Port Said?” Stone asked.
“May I hitch a ride to New York with you?” the ambassador asked. “I’ve got some leave coming.”
“Of course. I’d be happy to have you as a guest at my house. You’ll be almost as comfortable as on this yacht.”
“I may take you up on that for a couple of days,” Wilcox replied. “I’ll have to go on to Washington, eventually, to make my report.”
“As you wish. I’ll have the housekeeper make up a room for you.”
“You’re very kind, Stone.”
“What about you, Brio?” Stone asked. “I recall that you are homeless in New York.”
“That will be up to my director,” she said. “He may have some immediate reassignment for me. May I let you know on short notice?”
“Of course. Perhaps I’ll have some people in for dinner.”
“The Bacchettis, of course.”
“At least, Dino. Viv’s schedule is unpredictable.”
“Have you any firearms aboard, Stone?” Wilcox asked, unexpectedly.
“I have a .380 pistol and permits from both the city and the CIA, allowing me to carry it pretty much wherever I like. Why do you ask? Do you think someone will need shooting?”
“It occurred to me that Zanian might need protecting,” Wilcox said. “There are a great many angry people waiting for him.”
“He’ll be in FBI custody. I’ll let them worry about it.”
“I don’t know why I’m asking,” Wilcox said. “I wouldn’t be upset, if someone put a few bullets into him.”
“I hope you didn’t invest with him,” Stone said.
Wilcox laughed. “Diplomats don’t have enough money to invest, unless they’ve inherited it. My family money is in a well-tended trust. What are you going to do with your reward money?”
“I owe half of it to my friend Dino Bacchetti, who was very helpful at the beginning of all this.”
“The police commissioner?”
“One and the same. We were policemen together, once upon a time.”
“And the other half?”
“I guess I’ll reimburse myself.”
“That seems fair. You must be out a lot in expenses, though.”
“I have a contract with the FBI, covering most of my costs. I’ll submit a bill in due course.”
“I’ll run interference on that,” Brio said.
“Brio,” Wilcox said, “how did you come by your Christian name?”
“The usual way, from my mother, who believed she was half Italian. Her mistake. That half turned out to be Polish.”
“That’s what my mother said when she learned the truth.”
“Henry,” Stone said, “will the State Department send you back to the Sultanate?”
“Probably not. I don’t think that the overthrow of the sultan would merit an A-plus on my record. I’ve got only a couple of years before I can retire, so it could be anywhere they have an open slot.”
“Surely they can’t blame you for the change in regime,” Stone said.
“They can blame me for not seeing it coming. If they want to.”
“Is there anything I can do? Write a letter to somebody, or something?”
“Oh, I don’t think so. That could actually make things worse. Let sleeping tigers lie.”
“So be it.”
“I bet you’ll be the only diplomat who’s spent any time with the sultan’s replacement,” Brio said.
“I suppose so. If I wanted to go back, I’d use that as a qualification. Maybe it’s time for someplace green and pleasant, like England. I’ve always liked England.”
“I have a friend in the foreign office,” Stone said.
“The foreign minister?”
“No, she’s head of MI6.”
“Ah, the Secret Intelligence Service. I don’t think Felicity would be much help in the circumstances.”
Clouds began to appear in the sky, and it felt cooler on deck. The group adjourned to dress for their last dinner aboard
Back in their cabin, Stone watched Brio shed her bikini, which didn’t take long, and they made love in a relaxed manner for a while.
Finally, when they were resting, Stone said, “Any chance you’ll get an assignment in New York?”
“Maybe. If the AIC shoots himself before we get back. I think it’s more likely that the director will send me to Washington for seasoning in the new job.
, if somebody retires, or screws up and he has a need for an AD, then I could end up anywhere.”
“In your heart of hearts, where would you want to be?”
“Maybe West Coast, San Francisco or even L.A.”
“Not New York?”
She slapped him on the ass smartly. “I wouldn’t mind.”
“Are we going to have a lot of press to greet us at Teterboro?”
“Now, that’s an interesting question. I haven’t made a move in
that direction, but the director could have, if he feels he needs some favorable PR, and who doesn’t? I plan to deliver Zanian and then be ready for anything.”
“I think you should be ready to become the most famous FBI assistant director in the Bureau,” Stone said. “Unless your director makes a conscious effort to keep you out of it, the press will sniff you out for the details, and if you won’t talk to them, they’ll make it up.”
“God, I hadn’t thought about that.”
“You’d better whip up a few quotable lines and take notes, then brace yourself. Staying at my house would be better than trying to hide in a hotel. All you need is a car with a driver who doesn’t know where he’s going until you tell him. You can send your bags to the house with me, then have your driver let you out a block away. There’s a secret entrance to the garden behind my house. I can meet you there and make you disappear.”
“Well, now, I haven’t been thinking ahead, have I?”
“Perhaps not.” He gave her directions to the garden entrance and a key. Then he took a shower and had a shave. Brio joined him for the shower, but after she’d scrubbed his back, he left her to it and went to get dressed.
The yacht’s crew had pressed his tux and laundered his other things, even polished his shoes. He left his cabin, and someone was cleaning the staircase he normally used, so he walked farther aft toward another one. Then there was that noise. Instantly, he thought of Wilcox’s Dickensian dream and realized that the sound in his dream had been the dragging of chains.
Stone froze and listened. All quiet for a moment. He came to a big watertight door, then stopped and put his ear to it. Nothing. He
thought about spinning the big wheel on the door and going even farther aft, but Said might not view such actions as those of a gentlemanly guest. So he took the stairs and emerged on deck. He found Wilcox already enjoying his first drink.
“Henry,” Stone said, joining him. “Do you know . . .”
But a crew member appeared, took his drink order, and poured it. When they were alone again, Stone said, “Henry, I’ve been thinking about your dream.”
“My Tiny Tim dream?”
“What about it?”
“Did you hear a noise in your dream? Something like chains being dragged?”
Wilcox sat up. “Yes, I did.”
“In your travels around this yacht, have you encountered anything that looked like a brig?”
“ ‘A brig’?”
“Like a jail cell on a naval vessel.”
“No, but I don’t know what’s aft of that watertight door near my cabin. What are you thinking?”
“That there may be someone imprisoned on the yacht.”
“Well, that would be right in line with the sultan’s view on dungeons. An unruly crew member, perhaps?”
“Perhaps. I was thinking Viktor Zanian.”
“Maybe he bought a ticket, paid for with some of his ill-gotten gains.”
“A ticket to Port Said?”
“Originally to Cairo, now the destination has changed.”
“Why would he want that?”
“To get him out of the Sultanate before somebody decides to let the sultan out of his dungeon?”
Wilcox shook his head. “I don’t see that.”
“If he managed to free up some millions of his stash in the world’s banks it might interest Said enough for him to get Zanian out of the Sultanate. I mean, the commanding general is mighty interested in my two million and a quarter. Zanian has a lot more than that, and it might be enough to interest Said, if his prisoner can get his hands on some of it.”
“That’s a rational view, I think.”
“Zanian is a wily enough character to have some of the money he stole stashed someplace where the government can’t get their hands on it. All he would need is his freedom and a computer.”
“And a little help from Said,” Wilcox said, thoughtfully.