Read Severe Clear Online

Authors: Stuart Woods

Tags: #Terrorism, #Suspense, #Prevention, #Mystery & Detective, #Thriller, #Fiction, #Private Investigators, #Stone (Fictitious Character), #General, #Mystery, #Barrington

Severe Clear (10 page)

BOOK: Severe Clear
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“On the contrary,” Holly said, “Greg was rewarded with a very nice job in Rome. He’s already there.”

“I heard Stewart Graves will be coming to London.”

“We were all on the same aircraft coming over.”

“Did Greg fill your ears with descriptions of my exploits?”

“Neither of them had anything to say, so I got some sleep.”

“Ah, yes, the woman thing. I don’t think either of them liked working for Kate, then to have yet another woman inserted between them and Kate must have been a blow.”

“As I said, they didn’t share. What I know of you came from Kate.”

Hamish nodded. “I’m sure she was objective and fair.”

“Always, in my experience.”

“What job were you in before?”

“Assistant DDO.”

“And now you are assistant director! A great leap. I’m sure Kate was very deliberate in leaving out the ‘to’ between ‘assistant’ and ‘director.’”

Holly smiled. “She’s always deliberate.”

“Yes! Not a hothead, our Kate.”

“Not in my experience.”

“I expect her cool confidence comes from the proximity of the man who appointed her.”

“I think it comes from her core, and I think being married to Will Lee has as many pitfalls as advantages.”

“I can’t keep up with American politics.”

“Don’t even try.”

He laughed. “And soon she will be gone, with her husband. What then for the ambitious at Langley?”

“Anxiety, I should think.”

“And it’s already begun, hasn’t it? The removal of Stewart and Greg must have got their attention!”

“I left the country only hours after I was appointed, so I wasn’t around to hear the chatter. I hear you roam far and wide, Hamish. What brings you to London?”

“Why, the pleasure of meeting you, Holly,” he replied smoothly, “and also my curiosity about what message Kate has sent me. She has sent me a message, hasn’t she?”

“She has.”

“Well, let’s order first to get the waitress out of our hair—pardon me,
your
hair,” he said, stroking his bald pate.

“I’ll have the steak-and-kidney pie,” Holly said, “and whatever wine you’re ordering.”

Hamish crooked a finger at the waitress, who came over. “Each of us will have the steak-and-kidney pie, with chips,” he said to her, “and a bottle of the Corton ’99.”

The woman jotted down the items and left.

“And now,” Hamish said, “I can’t wait to hear from Kate.”

“Have you ever heard of a hotel in Los Angeles called The Arrington?”

“Of course. Opening soon, isn’t it?”

“Quite soon, and with a big splash. The presidents of the United States and Mexico will be in attendance, which, as you might imagine, has cranked up the Secret Service and the hotel’s security operation.”

“I can imagine.”

The waitress delivered their food and wine, and they spent a few minutes eating and chatting idly.


L
ater, as they were finishing the wine, Holly got back to business. “Something troubling happened recently. The NSA in-tercepted a cell phone call from Afghanistan to Yemen, in which the words ‘The Arrington’ stood out.”

“Well, I don’t imagine that the hotel’s public relations people had reached as far as Afghanistan.”

“Apparently, neither did anyone else imagine that,” Holly said.

“So what would Kate like me to do?”

“She’d like you to canvass your contacts in Europe and the Middle East for anything pointing to a possible planned attack on the hotel. There could be mischief afoot.”

“I suppose I could do that,” Hamish said, “but if I start calling around, then the NSA would suddenly be picking up mentions of The Arrington all over Europe and the Middle East, which would disturb them even more.”

“You have a point,” Holly said. “Let’s not get them any more excited than they already are.”

“Then I will need to speak to some people face-to-face, if we wish not to provoke a red alert in American intelligence circles.”

“A wise suggestion, I think. How long will it take you to manage it?”

“I think that, if I leave tomorrow morning in a small jet, I could do it in four or five stops: say, a week?”

“Are you contemplating chartering a jet aircraft on our nickel?”

Hamish smiled. “That is exactly the question Kate would ask, were she here. Fortunately, I have access to a Citation Mustang belonging to a friend. All it will cost Kate is the fuel.”

“What about the pilot?”

“Oh, I am the pilot,” Hamish said, “and I am already bought and paid for.”

“I have a friend in New York who flies that airplane,” Holly said, thinking of Stone, something she had been doing a lot lately.

“How fortunate for him,” Hamish said. “Do you fly?”

“A Piper Malibu,” Holly replied. “No jet time, as yet.”

“Lovely airplane. Of course, there will be the usual attendant expenses: airport handling, hotels, etcetera.”

“Within reason,” Holly said, imagining Hamish in a huge suite in a fabulous hotel.

“Always,” Hamish replied. “Would you care to come with me? It should be an enlightening and pleasant trip.”

Holly thought that traveling to exotic places in a jet with Hamish McCallister at the controls would not be unpleasant. “I’m required elsewhere,” she said.

“Perhaps another time,” Hamish said, locking his eyes on hers.

Holly felt a blush coming on and coughed into her napkin. “There’s one other thing to look for: any mention of the word ‘Nod.’”

Hamish frowned. “In what context?”

“Any context you might come across. It appears to be the code name of an operative. It was sent in an e-mail from California to a suspected al Qaeda website that is being watched.”

“Was the message translated?”

“It read, in its entirety, ‘All is well. I am fine. Nod.’”

“I see. Sounds like someone has accomplished some task.”

“That’s how it seems to us, too. We need to know more.”

Hamish handed her a card. “These are all my contact numbers and e-mail addresses, should you ever need to reach me.”

“Thank you.”

Hamish glanced at his watch. “Now, if you will excuse me, I have some flight planning and other preparations to make, so that I can get an early start tomorrow.” He tossed off the remainder of his wine. “Would you mind getting the bill? It should be easier for you to reclaim expenses than I.”

“Not at all.”

Hamish stood and offered his hand. “A great pleasure. Must run. Will you be in London when I get back?”

“Maybe, I’m not sure. In any event, you know how to reach me.”

“Of course. Must run.” And he did.

 18 

S
tone cooked dinner for himself and Marla Rocker, whom he had been seeing for many weeks. After dinner, they repaired to his bed and did what they usually did after dinner.

When they were finished, Marla said, “I’m sorry I can’t come to California with you for the hotel opening, but I’m beginning to get very busy with Peter’s play.”

“I’m sorry, too, though I understand your reasons.”

“In fact, when you get back, it’s going to be difficult for me to see much of you.”

That set off a little
ping
in Stone’s frontal lobe; he read it as the first evidence of a dump to come. “Oh?”

“I have a musical that will fall hot on the heels of Peter’s play, and an actor I’ve been close to will be starring.”

So an old boyfriend was back in the picture. “I think I can see where this is headed,” Stone said.

“It’s not you, Stone. You’re a lovely man, and I’ve enjoyed our time together. I hope . . .”

“That we’ll always be friends? Of course.”

“I’m glad you understand,” she said, sounding relieved. She put her feet on the floor and started reaching for clothes. “I can’t stay over—early start tomorrow, and I have to be fresh.”

A moment later, after a quick hug and kiss, she was gone.

Really gone, Stone thought. He looked at the bedside clock. Nine-thirty, and he wasn’t even sleepy. He reached for the TV remote control.


W
hen Stone awoke, it was nearly seven
A.M.
and
Morning Joe
was on the TV. His phone rang. “Hello?”

“Are you really awake?” an English-accented voice inquired.

“I really am,” he replied. “Good morning, Felicity.” Felicity Devonshire was an old friend and lover who, after a long career in British intelligence, had risen to be the head of MI-6, the foreign arm of their intel services, code name: architect.

“It appears that I will be attending the opening of your new hotel, The Arrington, in Bel-Air.”

“Then I’m looking forward to seeing you. Business or pleasure?”

“I’m anticipating a bit of both,” she said.

“I’ll do what I can to help out with the pleasure side.”

“I knew you would, Stone.”

“What else is new in your life, Felicity?”

“Everything is always new in my line of work, except when it’s old.”

“I’m curious as to what business would bring you to The Arrington. Is there something I should know about? I am, after all, an investor and a director.”

“Nothing I can mention at the moment,” she said. “Not on this line. Perhaps later.”

“I’ll be all ears,” Stone replied.

“And I’ll be tugging them.”

Stone remembered on what occasions and in what position she liked to tug his ears. He laughed. “What day are you arriving?”

“The same day as President Lee.”

“Perhaps you’d like to come to New York a day or two earlier and lay over with me?”

“If I can lay over with you, I shall certainly come earlier,” she said with a low chuckle.

“I and my party are flying to L.A. on a Gulfstream 550, supplied by Strategic Services. You can travel with us, if you like.”

“A fetching thought,” she said. “I’ll try and do that. I must go now. I’ll be in touch.” She hung up without further ado.

Stone hung up, too, his spirits lifted by the sound of her voice. Then he remembered that Holly Barker would be in Bel-Air, too.
This might get hairy,
he thought.

 19 

H
olly hung around London for another three days with-out hearing anything from Hamish McCallister. Finally, after having toured the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery and seeing the Degas exhibit at the Royal Academy of Art, and having gained two pounds on Connaught room service, she called the pilot who had flown her to London.

“Hello?”

“It’s Holly Barker. Are you still on this side of the Atlantic?”

“We are,” the man replied, “in Zurich. Are you ready to return to D.C.?”

“I am.”

“Will tomorrow morning be good enough?”

“That will be fine.”

“We’ll be ready to depart Biggin Hill at noon.”

“I’ll be there. See you then.” She hung up and called her office. Grace answered her phone, since Holly hadn’t had time to choose her own secretary.

“Ms. Barker’s office.”

“It’s Holly, Grace.”

“Good morning, Ms. Barker.”

“You’re going to have to get used to calling me Holly, Grace, since I hardly know who Ms. Barker is.”

“I’ll try, Ms. . . . Holly.”

“I’m departing London at noon tomorrow, and I expect to be in the office between three and four.”

“Would you like me to arrange ground transportation?”

“No, my car is at Dulles. Has anything of importance come up?”

“The director is anxious to hear your report.”

“Tell her I haven’t heard anything yet. My friend is out of town.”

“I’ll tell her.”

“See you tomorrow.” Holly ended the call. Almost immediately, the phone rang.

“Hello?”

“Encrypt,” a man’s voice said.

Holly entered the code. “Encrypted.”

“It’s your jet-setting colleague.” The transmission was scratchy. “Can you hear me all right?”

“You break up now and then, but I can make you out.”

“I have something for you.”

“Go ahead.”

“The Nod reference is to a nursery rhyme: ‘Wynken, Blynken, and Nod.’ Do you know it?”

“I was a child, once,” Holly replied.

Hamish chuckled. “My information is that there are three operatives somewhere on the West Coast of the United States. I couldn’t learn where or how long they’ve been there or what they are planning. Did you get that?”

“I got it,” Holly said. “I don’t like it, but I got it. Is there any connection with the hotel?”

“I think that’s a reasonable inference,” Hamish said, “but I couldn’t learn anything specific to support it. I’ll keep contacting people for another day or two, though.”

“Where did you get this information?”

“I can’t talk about my sources.”

“Not who—where?”

“I got that much in Lebanon, but I couldn’t trace it further back than that.”

“All right; I’ll be in London until ten tomorrow, then I’m headed back to my office. You can contact me here or there.”

“If I come up with anything else, I’ll be in touch,” Hamish said. “If I hear nothing, you won’t hear from me at all.”

“Got it. Thanks for dinner. I look forward to working with you.”

“Thank
you
for dinner,” Hamish said, “and same here. Good-bye.” He ended the call.


T
he G-450 landed at Dulles ahead of schedule, encountering only light headwinds. Holly walked into the director’s suite at three-thirty.

“Welcome home,” Grace said. “The director asked that you see her as soon as you get in.”

“Right now is good for me,” Holly said. She put her briefcase on her desk and knocked on the door between her office and the director’s.

“Come in, Holly!” Kate Lee called.

Holly came in and took the seat across the desk from her boss.

“Good trip, I hope.”

“I hope so, too,” Holly replied. “I saw Hamish as planned, the evening of my arrival.”

“What did you think of him?”

“Smart and charming. I asked him to find out what he could about The Arrington and Nod, and we agreed he shouldn’t do it on the phone, so he borrowed an airplane and took off the following morning for parts unknown to me. I heard nothing from him for three days, then he called late yesterday afternoon.”

BOOK: Severe Clear
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