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 (4 page)

BOOK: Severe Clear
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“Good,” the observer said. “Now, you on the left.”

“My name is Mike,” the man said. “I was born in New York City, but my parents soon moved to California, where my father opened a restaurant in the San Fernando Valley, which he still operates. I currently work as a bartender at the Beverly Hills Hotel, in Los Angeles.”

“Good. Now you, the third.”

“My name is Richard, called Rick. I was born and raised in Santa Monica, California. I attended a technical college in Burbank and studied computer science. I work for a large security company in their Los Angeles office, designing and building prototypes for large-scale alarm systems.”

“Good,” the observer said. “You may all call me Algernon. You all know that a short time ago an American SEAL team located our beloved Osama bin Laden in Pakistan and murdered him there. Our purpose—yours and mine—will be to wreak a vengeance on the United States for that despicable act from which that country may never recover.”

There were excited murmurs from the three men, and they exchanged happy glances.

“Take a good look at each other, because you will not meet again for some time, but when you do, you must recognize each other on sight. Hans, we know why you are in Leipzig. Rick, how did you travel here?”

“I took a flight from Los Angeles to London, then spent a week touring southwest England in a rental car. After that I took a flight from Heathrow to Paris and from there to Leipzig. I am picking up another rental car tomorrow, with which I will tour Eastern Europe for another ten days, before returning to Los Angeles from Paris.”

“Mike?”

“I flew from Los Angeles to Rome and spent five days there, before traveling by train to Leipzig on a passport supplied to me. Tonight, I will return to Rome and spend another three days there before returning to Los Angeles.”

“You all belong to mosques, under Muslim names. Has any of you visited a mosque in Europe during the past two years?”

Hans raised his hand. “I was not told I couldn’t.”

“Does anyone at your mosque know your German name?”

“No. I was told not to give it to anyone.”

“Good. Now, here are your instructions: Hans, you are a certified Porsche mechanic, are you not?”

“Yes,” Hans replied.

“You are to resign from your job at the factory, saying that you wish to return to the United States. You will ask for a letter of recommendation to a Porsche dealer in Los Angeles and apply for a job there by e-mail. There is an envelope in the drawer with an e-mail address to the service manager at the dealership. You will apply by e-mail, sending as attachments your résumé and your letter of recommendation. The dealership will arrange your work permit. Later, you will leave this job for another, which you will be told about at a later date.”

Hans opened the drawer, found the envelope, and put it into his jacket pocket.

“Mike,” Algernon said, “you subscribe to a restaurant services magazine. When you return you will see an advertisement for kitchen and bar staff at a new hotel called The Arrington. You will apply for a bartender’s job there as soon as you return.”

Mike nodded.

“Rick,” Algernon said, “you are currently working on alarm systems for The Arrington. Your employer is furnishing security personnel to The Arrington, and when you return, you will apply to your boss for a position as a security systems operator and repairman in The Arrington’s security monitoring center, which is operated by your employer.”

Rick said, “Yes, sir.”

“You all have excellent backgrounds for the jobs to which you will apply, and you must do everything possible to see that you are hired. When you return to the United States, you must obtain throwaway cell phones, set up e-mails in your code names, then send your e-mail addresses to the following website.” Algernon gave them the name, then repeated it. “When you have been hired at the hotel, you will send an e-mail to that address saying, ‘All is well. I am fine,’ signing it with your code name. I will contact you at those e-mail addresses and give you further instructions at a later date. When you go to work at the hotel, you will not give any sign that you recognize each other. Rick, your code name will be Wynken. Hans, your code name will be Blynken. Mike, your code name will be Nod. Everybody understand?”

The three men nodded.

“You may receive further instructions from me directly or by phone. I sign my e-mails with the name ‘Algernon.’”

The three men nodded.

“Now leave, one at a time; five minutes apart. Don’t leave any fingerprints on the doorknob. Throw the gloves into a public trash bin at least two blocks away from here. Hans, you first, then Rick, then Mike.”

Algernon sat and waited until all three men had left, then he took out his cell phone and sent an e-mail message to someone who was waiting for it. Two minutes later, he received a reply: “All is well. I am fine.”

Algernon left the office, locking the door behind him. A few blocks away he discarded the office key and the gloves he had been wearing.

 5 

S
tone and Dino met for dinner at Patroon, a restaurant on East Forty-sixth Street. It was the first time they had dined there, and they were still looking for a replacement for Elaine’s. Stone and Dino had been detectives and partners at the 19th Precinct many years before; Dino was now running the detective squad there.

They settled into a corner table in the handsome, paneled dining room, hung with photographs from the collection of the owner, Ken Aretsky.

“What do you think?” Dino asked.

Stone seemed distracted. “Huh?”

“Of the restaurant.”

“Oh. I like the look and feel of it.” He opened a menu. “More expensive than Elaine’s, though.”

A waiter materialized before them and set down two drinks. “Knob Creek for you, Mr. Barrington. Johnnie Walker Black for you, Lieutenant Bacchetti.”

Stone thanked the man. “That’s a good start,” he said, sipping the drink.

“How did he know?” Dino asked.

“Beats me. Did you get famous all of a sudden?”

A man appeared at the table and introduced himself as the owner.

“How do you do, Ken?” Stone asked. “Please pull up a chair.”

Aretsky did so.

“Your waiter is gifted with second sight,” Stone said, raising his drink.

“Not really,” Aretsky replied. “Elaine told me to expect you two, though I didn’t think it would take so long.” The waiter brought him a drink.

“When did this happen?”

“About a month before she died,” Aretsky replied. “I think she knew she didn’t have long. Elaine said that the restaurant might not make it without her, and that you two were her most loyal customers. She said you’d turn up here eventually, and she told me what you drink.”

Dino raised his glass. “Elaine,” he said.

Stone and Ken raised their glasses and drank. They talked for a few minutes about the photographs on the walls, then Ken excused himself to greet another customer.

“She’s still taking care of us,” Stone said.

“How about that?” Dino took another sip of his scotch and looked searchingly at Stone. “Something’s going on with you, pal. You depressed about something?”

“Nothing in particular,” Stone replied. “I had lunch with Kelli Keane today.”

“The redhead from the
Post
?”

“Not anymore. She quit to write a biography of Arrington. She had a lot of questions.”

Dino looked surprised. “And you answered them?”

“Most of them. She seems to be doing a conscientious job of research, and I’d rather she had accurate information to work from instead of rumors.”

“And you trust her?”

“It’s not necessary to trust her. I don’t think she’ll lie outright, and if she does, I have a recording of the conversation.” He patted his breast pocket.

“Smart move. Is she going to let you read it before publication?”

“I didn’t ask.”

“If a client of yours was talking to a former
Post
reporter for publication, what advice would you give him?”

“I’d tell him to record the conversation.”

“Yeah, and you’d tell him to demand to see the manuscript before publication.”

“I don’t want to read it when it’s published, and I don’t want to read it now. There won’t be anything in it that I don’t already know.”

“I hope you’re right,” Dino said. “So this lunch depressed you?”

“It forced me to relive things.”

“Speaking of ‘things,’ how are they with you and Marla Rocker?”

“Okay, I guess. She’s going to direct Peter’s play, and she’s casting now. She won’t be able to make it to the hotel opening.” Stone and Arrington’s son was a student at the Yale School of Drama, and he had written the play the year before. Dino’s son, Ben, also a student there, had produced it, and now it was being readied for Broadway.

“You going to take somebody else?” Dino asked.

“Who? I’m not seeing anybody else.”

“I’ve never known that condition to last very long,” Dino said.

Stone sighed. “I don’t know, everything is just kind of . . . flat.”

“You’ve got the grand opening to look forward to. The kids and their girls are going to be there, and I’m bringing Viv.” Dino had been seeing another detective, Vivian DeCarlo, who had worked for him at the 19th, and whom he had had transferred when he couldn’t stand not going out with her.

“I’m happy for you,” Stone said.

“The event sounds like it’s going to be a hell of a lot of fun,” Dino pointed out.

“Oh, there’s something new,” Stone said. He told Dino about the NSA intercept of a mention of the hotel.

“That’s kind of creepy,” Dino said.

“It’s more than creepy. We’re going to have Will Lee and the president of Mexico there, you know.”

“I know. I can see how there might be a little concern.”

“A
little
concern? Both the Secret Service and Strategic Services have doubled their manning for those days. Mike Freeman is taking it very seriously, and if he’s worried, I’m worried.”

Dino picked up a menu. “Let the pros sweat it,” he said. “You and I are out of our depth with that sort of thing.”

“Yeah,” Stone said, picking up his menu, “and I don’t like being out of my depth. That’s how you drown.”

They ordered dinner, and after it came, they liked it.

 6 

J.
Herbert Fisher, formerly a loser of the Olympic class, but now an ace young attorney at Stone Barrington’s firm, Woodman & Weld, stood at the bar of P. J. Clarke’s, sipped his bourbon, and gazed at his prospects.

There was a pair of attractive brunettes a couple of bar stools away, but they were both wearing wedding rings, and that made them out of bounds. Herbie, as he had been known formerly, until he had advised those who knew him that he preferred and insisted on being called Herb, had had a semi-long-term relationship with a beautiful associate at his firm, but she had finally told him that she didn’t think an in-house pairing would be helpful to either of their careers. Since that time, it had been catch-as-catch-can, which hadn’t been all bad, but he had had to start seduction from scratch about twice a week, on average, and the experience was wearing thin.

Herbie caught an elbow in a rib and surmised that someone behind him was trying to nail down a space at the bar. He considered elbowing back but decided that the elbower might outweigh him. He peered over his shoulder and found empty space, until he ratcheted his gaze down a few inches and located the top of a blond, female head. Herbie didn’t exactly mind tall women, but he wasn’t all that tall himself, and he found it comforting when he could look slightly down at a female.

“Pardon me,” he said, “are my ribs crowding your elbow?”

She looked up at him, revealing a strikingly pretty face. “Not anymore.”

“Pretty good elbow,” Herbie said to her. “Did you play high school football?”

“Oddly enough I did,” she said. “I was an ace kicker: thirty-two extra points and eighteen field goals my senior year. Would you like to experience my field goal attempt?” She waved frantically at a bartender who was busy being busy elsewhere.

“Maybe later,” Herbie said. “May I get you a drink? I have influence here.”

She shot him a withering glance. “If you can produce a Laphroaig on the rocks right here”—she tapped the bar in front of her—“within sixty seconds, I’ll give you . . . the benefit of the doubt.”

Herbie made sure his gaze did not leave hers. He raised his right index finger and made a twirling motion.

A bartender materialized. “What can I get you, Herb?”

“Sean, this lady would like a Laphroaig on the rocks, my tab.”

“Sure thing.” There was the sound of ice hitting a glass, then of glass hitting the bar, then liquid striking ice. The result was set down in front of the young woman.

“I reckon that took about twenty seconds,” Herbie said. “That should get me more than the benefit of the doubt.”

“You’re right,” she said. “You can ask me two questions.”

“One: May I have the sixty-second version of your biography? Two: Will you have dinner with me?” He watched her expression, which did not change. “I am reliably informed that there is a restaurant at the rear of this establishment.”

“Okay,” she said, “here goes.” She took a deep breath: “Born in New York City twenty-nine years and two months ago, educated in the public schools and at Columbia University, followed by one year of Columbia Law School: boring. Joined the NYPD as a patrol officer, served four years, quit when I didn’t make detective, went to work for a security company called Strategic Services for three years, then quit to become a P.I. That’s the twenty-second version—you’ll have to pry the rest out of me over dinner.” She raised her glass, then took a long, grateful swig of the single-malt scotch. “I’m hungry. How long will it take you to get a table?”

“Follow me,” Herbie said, tossing two twenties on the bar and leading the way aft. A moment later they were wedged into a corner of the crowded dining room. She polished off her drink and raised her glass. “Join me in another?”

BOOK: Severe Clear
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