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 (20 page)

BOOK: Severe Clear
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Hamish saw a procession of unmarked white vans come through the front gate without being stopped and proceed up the hill to the reception building. “What are those vans about?” he asked. “They weren’t even stopped and searched like every other vehicle entering the property.”

“Oh, they’re just part of the security for the weekend,” Clair said. “Don’t worry, their presence makes us all that much safer.”

Hamish watched as they drove past the reception area. A couple of dozen men were unloading equipment, some of which appeared to be detectors of some sort. He couldn’t be sure if it was for detecting metal or nuclear material. He felt a light sweat break out on his forehead.

Then they were underground. “One of the great features of the hotel is that we’ve been able to hide a great many parked vehicles down here. It helps keep the grounds so much more attractive, don’t you think?”

“I do,” Hamish replied.

“The landscape architects wanted a pastoral feeling about the place.”

“They’ve done a wonderful job.”

“I hope room service has been doing a good job of feeding you,” Clair said. “Our restaurants won’t be opening until lunchtime tomorrow, when our guests begin to arrive.”

“How did you manage to get Immi Gotham to perform?” Hamish asked.

“Centurion Studios and The Arrington share some important investors, so Centurion has arranged for most of its stars to be here, either as guests or performers. They’ve taken a quarter of our accommodations for the opening weekend, and Leo Goldman Junior, their CEO, arranged for Ms. Gotham to appear. I don’t think she’s ever done a concert like this before, preferring to appear in films and make recordings.”

“I’m looking forward to seeing her,” Hamish said. “I’m a big fan.”

“Who isn’t?” Clair said. “I’ll certainly be there, if I have to sit in a tree.”

Hamish reflected that by the end of the concert, there wouldn’t be any trees.

Clair pulled up to his cottage. “Now you’ve seen it all,” she said. “Please give me a call if there’s anything else I can do for you, Mr. McCallister, and we look forward to reading your reportage.”

Hamish hopped out of the cart. He could think of a number of things she could do for him, but he imagined she was far too busy with her duties to provide them. He let himself into his cottage, went to the bar and poured himself a glass of San Pellegrino from the fridge. He pulled the curtains back in his bedroom and gazed down into the Arrington Bowl, imagining it at capacity for the concert.

It was that concert that would be the cherry on the sundae of the event he had planned. Not only would he take out two presidents, he would cause to vanish virtually the entire roster of stars of one of Hollywood’s top studios, all in a single flash. The worldwide media would print and broadcast nothing else for weeks. It would be bigger than 9/11, he reckoned—a much greater loss of life and property in the heart of America’s most decadent community, with the possible exception of Las Vegas.

And he would be alive and well to read about it, hear about it, and bask in its afterglow for decades to come. Then there would be London to deal with.

 40 

K
elli Keane got off a corporate jet at Burbank, followed by the photographer Harry Benson, his four assistants, and their luggage, plus many cases of photographic equipment. A very large van pulled up to the airplane and began stowing their bags, while Kelli and her team climbed into the seats.


W
hen they arrived at The Arrington, the van was waved to a parking area and two men in dark blue jumpsuits approached. “Okay, folks, everything out of the van, we’re unloading your luggage,” one of them said.

“Wait a minute,” Kelli said, holding up a hand. “We’re not unloading any of our stuff. We’re here from
Vanity Fair
to photograph this event.” She held up a letter. “Here’s my authorization from the director of public relations.”

The man read the letter and handed it back to her. “Very nice,” he said, “now here’s my authorization.” He held up a badge.

Harry leaned over and whispered in Kelli’s ear, “They’re Secret Service. Shut up, and let’s get everything unloaded.” Two bellmen appeared in a big cart and began removing luggage, while the two agents opened the black equipment cases and started taking out equipment.

Kelli got on her cell phone.

“Clair Albritton,” a voice said.

“Clair, it’s Kelli Keane from
Vanity Fair.
I’ve just arrived with my team, and we’re being given a hard time by the Secret Service.”

“Kelli, please remember we have two presidents and a lot of other important people in residence.
Everybody
is being given a hard time. Please do as they ask.”

Kelli put away her phone and turned to find an agent pawing through her underwear. He closed the bag and started on another. She stood there, sputtering, while Harry relaxed in the van, looking through an
L.A. Times.

“Take a few deep breaths, Kelli,” Harry said, in his Glaswegian accent. “This is a little more than par for the course, but there’s nothing you can do to rush it. Just have a seat and relax.”

Kelli leaned against the van and longed for a cigarette. She had quit, cold turkey, two years ago, but when she was annoyed about something the urge came back, and she was very annoyed at the moment. Now the agents started closing the cases, and two others began removing the seats from the van. Another one was lying on his back on a creeper, surveying its underside.

“Okay,” somebody said finally, “you can reload now.” The bellmen got everything back into the van.

“You see,” Harry said, “that took only forty minutes. It’s not like we have to be somewhere. There’s nobody to photograph until tomorrow.”

“There’s the grounds,” Kelli said.

“Somebody else is doing that,” Harry said. “I’m not a landscapist.”

Kelli finally wilted before the wisdom of one of the world’s great photojournalists. “All right,” she said, “I’ll settle for a cold beer.”

The van moved off up the hill and finally stopped in front of the reception building. Clair Albritton was there to meet them. “Hello, Kelli, sorry about security. A warning: if you leave the grounds, you’ll have to go through all that again when you return.” She spread a map on the hood of the van and gave Kelli and Harry a briefing on the layout of the hotel.

“Where are you going to want to put the lights, Harry?” Kelli asked.

“Lights? We’re not going to need any lights that aren’t handheld. This place is too big, and there are too many people to do setups. I’m going to be working on the fly. Don’t worry about it, dear, it’s not my first time.”

Everybody got back into the van, and they followed a cart with Clair and the two bellmen down the hill to a two-story building. Clair got out and began instructing the bellmen. “Kelli, you and Harry have the two ground-floor rooms. Your assistants are upstairs in two other rooms.”

“We don’t have suites?” Kelli asked. She had become accustomed to suites.

“The suites are all reserved for the people you’ve come here to photograph and interview,” Clair said. “We could have let them all three times over.”

“It’s fine, Kelli,” Harry said. “We could be in a motel somewhere, you know.”

“What about interiors?” Kelli asked.


Architectural Digest
is already here, photographing some suites, the restaurants, and the rest of the grounds,” Clair said.

“How many other journalists are here?”

“A dozen or so. A fellow from a London paper is next door to you. Most of them are nearby.”

“Why do I feel we’re being quarantined?” Kelli asked.

Clair laughed. “Kelli, you have free run of the grounds and the public buildings. What more do you want?”

“A suite,” Kelli muttered. “Where is Stone Barrington staying?”

“He has his own house,” Clair replied. “And all the rooms are full.”

“Where is it?”

“Through the reception building, out the back door, and around the pool. But don’t go up there unless you call first—it’s next door to the presidential cottage, and the Secret Service will be all over you.” She handed Kelli a thick envelope. “Here are your hotel press passes. You and your people must wear them at all times.”

Kelli opened the envelope and found hers, with the word
MEDIA
emblazoned across it below her photograph. “You’re belling the cat, are you?”

“Our guests have the right to know when they’re talking to a reporter,” Clair said. “Remember, you’re to wear that, prominently displayed, at all times, otherwise we’ll have a problem.”

“Got it,” Kelli said. “Thanks for all your help, Clair.”

“Your bar is fully stocked,” Clair said, “compliments of the house.” She got into a cart and drove away. As she did, another cart came down the path, stopped, and a man got out. He was immaculately dressed and quite handsome, even if bald.

“Good afternoon,” he said. “If you’re bunking here, I take it you’re press.” He offered his hand. “I’m Hamish McCallister. I’m just next door.” He pointed at the door next to Harry’s. “Hello, Harry, how are you?”

“Good grief, Hamish, you came all this way?” They shook hands and embraced.

“Good God, I’m surrounded by Scots!” Kelli said.

“Lucky girl,” Hamish replied. “Can I buy anybody a beer?”

“Sold,” Kelli said, following the two men into Hamish’s quarters. She looked around. “It’s a fucking suite,” she said. “How’d you do that?”

“Charm,” Hamish replied.

“You didn’t think of that, did you, Kelli?” Harry asked.

Kelli peeked into the bedroom. “My word!” she said. “You travel with a
steamer trunk
?”

Hamish closed the bedroom door and handed her a drink. “Wardrobe is so important, don’t you think?”

Kelli took the beer. “I’d be a happy woman if I could travel with a steamer trunk,” she said.

 41 

L
ate in the afternoon, Stone and Mike were having a drink in Stone’s study, when Special Agent Steve Rifkin appeared.

“The search is still under way,” he said. “I’ve got seventy men combing every nook and cranny of this property.” He set his briefcase on the coffee table and took out a stack of paper. “One good thing: the bell captain keeps a log of every piece of luggage that his men have delivered to any suite or room. It’s meant to resolve lost luggage issues, but it’s a stroke of luck for us.”

Stone and Mike each took a sheet from the stack. “And this is accurate?”

“It is, and here’s the good news. There’s not a single piece of luggage bigger than a large suitcase, and we’ve checked every one of those so far. There are no large boxes and no trunks, and from this point on, every piece of luggage arriving here will be opened and hand-searched, and if there are any trunks, they’ll be subject to radiation checks before they’re opened. We have a very well-equipped bomb squad on site, and they’ll stay through the entire weekend.”

“Well, that’s a relief,” Stone said.

Rifkin’s cell phone rang, playing “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” “Special Agent Rifkin.” His face drained of expression, and he hung up. “They’ve found a bomb,” he said.

Stone and Mike stood up.

“Not you, me,” Rifkin said.

“I’m in charge of hotel security,” Mike reminded him, “and Stone is a member of the board. Let’s go.”

Rifkin shrugged and led the two outside to a cart, and they were driven away.

“Where is the bomb?” Mike asked.

“In a wine and liquor storage area behind the restaurant,” he said. After another minute’s drive the cart stopped, and Rifkin led the way past a dozen agents into the building, then into a large room with wine racks on three sides and shelving on the other. Thousands of bottles of wine and spirits were in the racks and shelves, and there was a large pile of cardboard boxes in the middle of the floor, all opened. A man in a heavy, helmeted suit was examining a small suitcase on top of a stack of boxes. He did something to it, and the lid fell open, exposing a metal panel.

“Oh, shit,” Rifkin said under his breath.

The suited man reached into the case and came out with an object, then he noticed the crowd behind him. “Get the fuck out of here, all of you!” he yelled. His voice was muffled by the helmet. “We’ve got a couple of pounds of plastique here, and I want every human being at least a hundred yards from this building!”

“Turn on your radio, Jim!” Rifkin yelled, then he started hustling everybody out of the room. He, Stone, and Mike got into the cart and headed back up the hill, where they parked behind the reception building. Rifkin picked up his radio. “Jim? Do you read?”

“Yeah, I read,” Jim replied. “I’m going to need a few minutes to go over this thing and try and figure out how to deal with it.”

“Is there a timer?”

“Yeah, but it’s not running,” he replied. “If it starts running, I’m running, too. I’ll get back to you.”

The three men sat in the cart silently for a couple of minutes. Finally, Mike spoke. “This one isn’t nuclear,” he said. “Too small.”

“I agree,” Rifkin replied.

“I hope you both know what you’re talking about,” Stone said.

Rifkin spoke up. “I did a week’s intensive course on bomb making and disposal,” he said. “I’ll bet I can tell you exactly how this one is put together.”

“Okay, shoot,” Stone said.

“It’s pretty simple: there’s a timer attached to a detonator, like a blasting cap, which is shoved into the plastique. Somebody starts the timer, and when it hits zero, the detonator goes off, exploding the plastique. If there’s a couple of pounds of the stuff, like Jim says, it will take down that entire building and damage others nearby, and it will kill nearly everybody in the building.”

“Nearly everybody?” Stone asked.

“Somebody always gets lucky.”

The radio crackled. “Steve?”

“I’m here, Jim.”

“Okay, I’ve isolated the plastique, and the device doesn’t seem to be booby-trapped. There’s a T-shaped key with a hexagonal tip, like a drill bit, and there are three positions: up, right, and left. I can’t tell which position fires it, so I’m going to try them all.”

BOOK: Severe Clear
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