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 (3 page)

BOOK: Severe Clear
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“Sure, Mike.”

Freeman closed the conference room door and waved Stone to a seat.

“You’re looking very serious, Mike.”

“I’m feeling very serious,” he replied.

“What’s going on?”

“I had a phone call this morning, a conference call, actually, with the director of the Secret Service, Howard Carroll, and the president’s chief of staff, Tim Coleman, whom I believe you know.”

“I know Coleman, but not Carroll.”

“They told me that an NSA computer recorded a cell phone conversation between someone in Afghanistan and someone in Yemen. Most of it was garbled, but the words ‘The Arrington’ in English were discernible.”

“That’s disturbing,” Stone said, and he felt it.

“Both the White House and the Secret Service feel that a single mention of the hotel’s name is not necessarily significant, and they’ve put the name on a kind of electronic watchlist to see if there’s any further chat about it. In the meantime, nobody is panicking—yet—but we’ve agreed that our security for the grand opening should be stepped up even above the present level. We’ve twenty-five of our people assigned to the event, and I’ve told them I would speak with you and request that another twenty-five of our agents be assigned, plus half a dozen more to serve in the security center, monitoring the hundred and fifty high-definition cameras we have installed around the property.”

“I’m certainly agreeable to that and anything else you feel we need,” Stone said. “And I think we’re fortunate to have you as a principal in the hotel.”

“Thank you, Stone, I’ll see to it. When I told the others that our security at the hotel is nearly at White House levels, I wasn’t kidding, and now we’re ratcheting it up a couple of notches. We’ve already made the perimeter of the property highly secure, and there are only four access points, which will be beefed up with concrete barriers. The Secret Service is now going to increase their number of agents, many of them armed with automatic weaponry, and they’re bringing in shoulder-fired Stinger ground-to-air missiles and distributing them at high points around the property, in case of an attack from the air. Every airport in Southern California will be alerted to the possibility of airplane rentals by foreign nationals. And every flight plan filed in the area will be checked against the watchlists.”

“It sounds as though you’ve got it covered,” Stone said.

“Tim Coleman has told me that Kate Rule, at the CIA, is sending out orders to every station to question all informants.”

“I can’t think of anything you haven’t done,” Stone said.

“Neither can I,” Mike said, “but I’m going to worry about it every day until this event is behind us.”

“So am I,” Stone said.

 3 

S
tone returned from his meeting at Strategic Services to find Kelli Keane waiting for him. He had completely forgotten the appointment.

“Hello, Kelli,” he said, shaking her hand. “I’m sorry I’m late, a board meeting ran on a bit.” Kelli Keane was a former reporter with the
Post
who had quit to write magazine pieces. And a biography of Arrington. Stone was uneasy about talking to her, but she had made the point that he could help her be sure that what she had to say in the book was accurate.

He seated her on the sofa and took a chair opposite, while Joan brought in a bottle of mineral water and two glasses. He certainly wasn’t going to drink while talking to her.

“Lunch will be ready in a few minutes,” Joan said.

Stone had also forgotten that their appointment was for lunch. “How can I help you?” he asked.

“To begin with, I’d like to run through some chronology,” Kelli replied, “to get events in their proper order.”

“All right.”

“You met Arrington when?”

“Oh, many years ago, at a cocktail party. Her first words on being introduced to me were ‘We must never marry.’”

Kelli laughed. “Oh, yes, ‘Arrington Barrington.’ How did you ever resolve that point?”

“We ran through the options, and it seemed to her that ‘Arrington Carter Barrington’ worked, separating the two names just enough. This was after she had accepted my proposal.”

“Why did it take you so long to marry?”

“Pretty simple—she married someone else.”

“And how did that happen?”

“It was winter. We had planned a vacation bareboating in the Caribbean, on the island of St. Marks. We were to meet at the airport. I arrived first, it had begun to snow, and I was concerned that she might have trouble getting there. Finally, she called and said that the
New Yorker
had asked her to write a profile of the movie star Vance Calder, and that she had to meet with him, since he was returning to L.A. the following day. She promised to get a flight to St. Marks the next day.

“I went ahead to the island, but my flight was the last one out before they closed the airport. Turns out, Arrington was snowed in in New York for several days, and so was Vance Calder. We were communicating by fax, this being before e-mail was prevalent and before St. Marks got good cellular service, and after a few days, I got a fax saying that she was going back to L.A. with Vance, and that it was over between us.”

“Pity.”

“Yes, I had bought a ring and was going to pop the question.”

“Oh, dear.”

“Well, yes. Took me a while to get over that.”

“And by that time, Arrington was pregnant?”

Stone froze; she had boxed him in, and this was a question he did not want to address. “It happens to married people.”

“It also happens to unmarried people,” Kelli said, “and to people who have not yet decided to marry.”

“Yes, of course.”

“And it happened to you and Arrington.” It wasn’t a question.

“We had been living together.”

“So how did she know whose son she was carrying?”

“She didn’t,” Stone replied. “I think it was many years later that it became clear to her, when the child was growing up.”

“No paternity test?”

“Not until much later, and that was nearly by accident.”

“And when did she tell you?”

“After Vance’s death. She felt she owed it to him to maintain the status quo while he was alive, and she did.”

“So why didn’t you marry immediately after his death?”

“By this time we had very different lives, on opposite coasts, and they seemed incompatible. Then she decided to take Peter back to Virginia, her home state, and build a house there. I invited them both to come to New York for Christmas, and after that, things developed very quickly. Peter and I got along immediately, and he quickly guessed that I was his father. There’s a photograph of my father in my study, and Peter resembles him closely. When he saw it—that was all he needed. I had promised Arrington I wouldn’t tell him without her approval, and I didn’t. But Peter is a very bright young man.”

“I saw that in him when we met in Virginia,” Kelli said. She had come down for the housewarming of Arrington’s new house with her boyfriend, James Rutledge, who was photographing the place for
Architectural Digest.

Joan came into the room. “Lunch is served in the kitchen,” she said.

Stone led Kelli from his office through the exercise room to the kitchen, where his housekeeper, Helene, had laid the table for two, and he seated his guest.

Stone poured them glasses of Chardonnay, and they dug into a seafood risotto.

“May we talk about money for a minute?” she asked.

Stone sighed. “Must we?”

“I don’t want details, just an overview. Vance Calder was very rich, wasn’t he?”

“Vance, who was much older than Arrington but looked wonderful, had had a fifty-year career in Hollywood, and he was, financially, very astute. From his first film he waived salary in favor of a percentage of the gross receipts of his films, and he invested in Centurion stock. Sometimes, when the studio was having cash flow problems, he took stock in lieu of his percentage. Over the years, he became the largest single stockholder in Centurion Studios, and he also invested in California real estate, which brought him handsome returns.”

“I’ve heard that his estate was worth something in the region of two billion dollars?”

“You said you didn’t want details.”

“Sorry. It was during those years that Vance acquired the land in Bel-Air where the new hotel is being built?”

“Yes. First, he bought an old house there and redid it, then, as his neighbors aged or just moved, he acquired adjoining properties.”

“So Arrington inherited Vance’s estate, and you inherited Arrington’s estate? Thus avoiding inheritance taxes in both cases?”

“I made it clear to Arrington that I was uninterested in her money,” Stone said. “In fact, I declined to participate in any of her decisions about her bequests. She worked with another attorney to draw up her will, and I was given a sealed copy, which was not opened until after her death. She left the great bulk of her estate to Peter, in trust, and a lesser share to me. Arrington died in a year during which, due to some congressional anomaly, estate taxes were suspended. I have made it a rule not to spend any of her money on myself, and I have willed my estate to Peter in its entirety, except for a few bequests.”

“That’s abstemious of you.”

“I have funds of my own that are sufficient to my needs.”

“And now The Arrington is about to open. Did you name it that?”

“Arrington had thought of calling it Casa Calder, after Vance, but after her death, the new name was suggested to me, and it seemed to fit. I understand you’re covering the grand opening for
Vanity Fair
?”

“Yes, I’ll be there with a team of photographers. It will be well covered.”

“Centurion is doing a lot of filming, too. It should all be very exciting.”

“You don’t really sound very excited about it,” Kelli said.

“I have mixed emotions,” Stone said, “and I expect they will remain mixed.”

“Stone, do you feel any guilt about your inheritance from Arrington?”

Stone shrugged. “I didn’t do anything to deserve it.”

“From what I’ve learned during my research, you did very well by Arrington after Vance’s death: after you became her attorney, you helped her save Centurion from a rapacious property developer. You and your law firm took over her affairs and increased her wealth, and you saved her millions on the purchase of the Virginia land where she built her house. Surely it was natural of her to want to leave you a part of her estate, even if you hadn’t married, and as her husband, there was nothing out of the ordinary about inheriting from her.”

Stone shrugged again. “That’s all very logical, and I suppose it should make me feel better about it, but . . .”

“I’m sorry,” Kelli said, “I won’t go any further with that.”

“Thank you.”

“There is a rumor I’d like you to address, though.”

“What sort of rumor?”

“That you were married previously to a woman who has now been hospitalized for some years, but somehow, the marriage records went away.”

“Funny, I hadn’t heard that,” Stone replied. He knew it, but he hadn’t heard it.

“So you deny that?”

“Unless you have something more than a rumor for evidence, why should I bother?”

“One other thing,” Kelli said, “and then I’ll leave you alone.”

“What’s that?”

“There appears to be some discrepancy about your and Arrington’s son’s date of birth.”

Stone frowned. He hadn’t expected this, and he needed to make this go away immediately. “Peter has a birth certificate, like everybody else, and that’s a public record.”

“I know, I’ve seen it, and you are listed as the father. How did Vance Calder feel about that?”

“I wasn’t privy to conversations between Arrington and Vance, so I’ve no idea what he felt.”

“How does Peter feel about Vance?”

“He seems to have nothing but fond memories of him.”

“Do you mind if I talk to Peter?”

“I certainly do, and if you pursue that line of questioning, my cooperation will end. Is that perfectly clear?”

“Perfectly,” she said. She glanced at her watch. “Well, that’s all I have at this time. May I call you if I think of anything further?”

“This has all been painful, and I would prefer not to discuss any of it any further. I think you have enough for your book.”

“I understand,” she said. “Thank you for your cooperation.” She excused herself and left.

Stone was left staring into his wineglass.

 4 

T
hree months before Stone’s conversation with Kelli Keane, three men sat in a dentist’s reception room in Leipzig, Germany. There were no other patients waiting, and they did not seem to know each other.

From behind the two-way glass separating the reception room from the rest of the suite of offices, another man observed them. The three looked fit, but otherwise unremarkable; all appeared to be Anglo-Saxon, between twenty-five and thirty-five, and neatly dressed in casual clothing. Two of them leafed through magazines; the other stared at the mirrored glass, as if he could see through it, which the viewer found a little unsettling.

The observer pressed a button on the receptionist’s desk and the outside door to the reception room locked with a distinct click. The two reading magazines both looked at the door; the one staring into the mirror did not. The observer found that interesting. He leaned toward the microphone on the desk and spoke.

“The one farthest from the door, open the drawer in the magazine table next to you.”

They all became alert. The man opened the drawer.

“There are three pairs of cotton gloves in the drawer,” the observer continued. “Each of you put on a pair, and wipe clean any surface or magazine you may have touched.”

They did so. When they had finished, the observer continued. “You, on the right, tell us your first name and something about yourself.”

The starer wiped the brass pull on the drawer clean and looked back at the mirrored glass. “I am Hans,” he said, in unaccented American English. “I work as a test driver at the Porsche factory in Leipzig, where the Cayenne and Panamera models are assembled. I was born in Monterey, California, to a German father and an American mother. They moved to Berlin when I was sixteen, so that my father could take over an automobile repair shop owned by my grandfather.”

BOOK: Severe Clear
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