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 (9 page)

BOOK: Severe Clear
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“Getting settled in?” Kate Lee said from behind her.

Holly turned to find her boss standing in her doorway. “Yes, ma’am,” Holly said. “I’m ready to go to work.”

“That’s good, because you’re headed to London tonight.”

“I am?” Lance rarely sent her anywhere.

Kate made herself comfortable on Holly’s sofa, and Holly joined her, bringing along a pad.

“We have an operative in Europe that you and Lance don’t know about. He has always communicated with me through what is now your office. I’ve sent him a message to expect you tomorrow, and he’ll call you on your cell phone after you’ve landed.”

“All right. Who is he?”

“His birth name was Ari Shazaz,” Kate said, “but his passport is British, in the name of Hamish McCallister. He was born in Syria to an Algerian father and a Scottish mother. He’s in his early forties, and you will find him to be impeccably British—Eton, Oxford, White’s, the Garrick Club, etcetera. At school and university he was known as McCallister, his mother’s maiden name. His father died when he was eight or nine, and she took him to London to bring up. She’s from landed gentry—they own an island off the west coast of Scotland, appropriately called Murk.

“Hamish is fluent in Arabic and Urdu along with French and Italian. After university, he worked in a family-owned bank, doing business in the Middle East and on the continent. He has earned his living for the past ten years as a weekly columnist for the
Guardsman
, a leftish London paper, and he writes the occasional penetrating article for some magazine or other on things like Arab-Israeli relations.”

Grace appeared in the doorway. “Excuse me, Mrs. Lee, but I have Ms. Barker’s new credentials.”

“Come in, Grace,” Kate said.

Grace opened a large envelope and shook out the contents onto the coffee table. “First, may I have your old credentials, please? Your Agency ID, your passport, your gate and building pass, and your iPhone and BlackBerry.”

Holly fetched her purse and produced those items.

Grace handed her a new Agency ID and a plastic card that would allow entry through both the main gate and the Agency’s front entrance. “That card will also work at any American embassy or consulate abroad. You now have a full diplomatic passport,” she said, handing over the document. “Please sign here.” She held the passport in place while Holly signed it. “Here’s another card to keep with you,” she said, handing over another piece of plastic. “It states that you are a federal agent and licensed to carry firearms anywhere in the United States and its territories and possessions. It can also be useful with foreign police, though it carries no official weight abroad. Here are your new American Express card and Visa and MasterCards. You may use them for all official expenditures and you may withdraw funds from any ATM in the world with no daily limit. Your PIN number is the last four digits of your Agency employee number.”

Holly picked up the American Express card, which was black. “It seems to be made of titanium,” she said.

“Yes, it’s called the Centurion card. Here’s a packet listing the various benefits and services accruing to it, including a travel agent. Here’s something else made of titanium,” she said, handing Holly a small, light semiautomatic pistol. “It was designed and developed by the Agency and is currently in use by only high-level officers. It will later be issued to all those expected to travel armed.” Grace handed her a box. “Here is a shoulder holster and a belt holster for your use, as well as a box of nine-millimeter ammunition, four magazines, and a small but very effective silencer. You should familiarize yourself with the pistol on the range as soon as possible.”

Grace also handed her two new phones. “This iPhone and this BlackBerry already contain all the information in your old phones. They contain a GPS chip not found in commercial phones, which allows the Agency to track you anywhere in the world to a distance of one meter.”

“I’ll never be alone again,” Holly said.

“Removing the SIM chip will disable the GPS function. If you don’t want to be tracked, pull out the chip. If you lose a phone, there will be hell to pay.” Grace raked all of Holly’s old credentials and equipment into her envelope and left the room.

“Where was I?” Kate asked.

“Ari Shazaz, or Hamish McCallister.”

“We’ll always refer to him as Hamish, since it is important that his Arab name remain unknown, except where he needs to use it.”

“Understood. Why am I seeing him in London?”

“Two reasons: First, since you will be his main contact here, you should know each other. Second, I want you to speak with him about an upcoming event, about which you may have heard—the grand opening of a hotel, The Arrington, in California in a couple of weeks.”

“I’ve read about it,” Holly said.

“And of course, you know its namesake through Stone Barrington.”

“No, we never met, but I certainly know about her.”

“I’ve received word that an NSA computer picked up a cell phone conversation between someone in Afghanistan and someone in Yemen, during which the words ‘The Arrington’ were spoken. This is of concern to us because, as you may know, the president and the president of Mexico will be in residence at the hotel just prior to and during the grand opening.”

“I can see how that would cause concern.”

“I’ve also heard that an e-mail was sent from somewhere in California to a website that the NSA keeps watch on. The message was, ‘All is well. I am fine,’ and it was signed ‘Nod.’ I want you to instruct Hamish to take whatever contacts are available to him to learn if anyone else anywhere has heard anything at all concerning the hotel or anything about the Nod message.”

“How long will I be in London?”

“Long enough to meet Hamish and get a first report from him after he has made his contacts. After that, he will phone or send encrypted e-mails to you, using equipment we have supplied to him.”

“Should I make travel arrangements?”

“Not necessary. You will be flying in an Agency aircraft, along with Stewart Graves, who is taking up his post as deputy station chief at the London embassy. Greg Barton will be along, too, and after dropping off you and Stewart, the plane will continue to Rome to deliver him there. The aircraft will then return and collect you as soon as your business is done. If it’s needed elsewhere, we’ll send another aircraft or have you fly home commercial. Be at our facility at Dulles at eleven
P.M.
tonight, and pack for a week, just in case. You’ll be staying at the Connaught Hotel, which is near the embassy. By the way, Stewart is aware of Hamish’s existence, but make no mention of him.”

“I understand.”

“No need to contact me while you’re gone, unless it’s urgent. In that case use the communication facilities at the London station. Oh, by the way, one of your jobs will be to travel with me, so you and I will be attending the opening of The Arrington with my husband, and we’ll travel on Air Force One.”

Kate shook her hand and went back to her office, closing the connecting door behind her.

Holly continued putting her things away, then she noticed her iPhone vibrating on the coffee table. She picked it up and found an e-mail waiting.

“Congratulations on the new job,” it said. “Stone.”

“Now, how the hell did he know so soon?” she asked herself. She e-mailed him back: “Thanks, see you in L.A. for the opening of The Arrington.”

 16 

H
olly arrived at Dulles half an hour before flight time, parked in a reserved spot, and unloaded her luggage. The facility looked like any other Fixed Base Operator, or FBO, on the field, though the reception area was smaller than most. Her pass card allowed her through the door.

“Good evening,” said a young woman behind the front desk. “Your name, please?”

“Holly Barker.” She produced her Agency ID.

“Your flight is the Gulfstream 450 parked on the ramp. You may board whenever you like, and your luggage will be loaded into the cabin.”

“Thank you,” Holly said. She left her two bags and took her briefcase and purse with her.

A stewardess greeted her at the door of the airplane. “We’ve made up three seats as bunks, Ms. Barker,” the woman said. “You may choose any other seat, and when you’re ready to sleep, a bunk. May I get you anything to drink?”

“Thank you, I’ll have some fizzy water, please.” Holly found a seat at the rear of the airplane and checked her e-mail. There was one from Kate Lee, announcing her appointment to a list of Agency executives. She forwarded that to her father, Ham, in Florida. “Thought you’d like to see this,” she wrote. “Kiss Daisy for me.” Her workload had been so heavy that she had left her Doberman pinscher with her father and his wife, where there was room for her to run. She missed Daisy but knew she was in good hands.

Stewart Graves and Greg Barton arrived together, chatting like old friends. She got a perfunctory greeting from both, then they sat down and buckled in. The stewardess closed the cabin door, and the engines started. At the stroke of eleven the airplane began to taxi, and five minutes later they were roaring down the runway.

When they had been climbing for fifteen minutes the pilot’s voice was heard. “Good evening; we’re now at flight level 450, and we have a ninety-knot tailwind. We should arrive at Biggin Hill Airport, in Kent, at five-thirty
A.M.
, Dulles time, ten-thirty London time.”

The stewardess appeared again. “Would you like dinner?” she asked.

“No, thank you,” Holly said.

“Breakfast will be served an hour before we land. What would you like? We have cereals, pastries, or scrambled eggs with bacon.”

“I’ll have the eggs,” Holly said. She settled in to read the Agency’s handbooks for her two phones and discovered that both could send and receive encrypted messages. Forward of where she sat Graves and Barton were in earnest conversation. Holly chose the aftermost bunk, set her watch forward five hours, and was soon sound asleep.


T
he stewardess woke her at nine o’clock, and she went to the toilet and freshened up. When she returned she raised the shade of her window and got an eyeful of bright sunshine. There was an undercast far below. She switched on the screen at her seat and found the moving map. They would make their landfall south of Land’s End soon, and their arrival time had not changed. The breakfast was much better than she had expected.


T
hey touched down at Biggin Hill three minutes early, and her luggage was taken into an FBO, where a customs and immigration official awaited them. She was unimpressed by Holly’s brand-new diplomatic passport and gave it its first stamp.

“There’s a van waiting for us,” Stewart Graves said. He had eight or nine pieces of luggage; this was a move across the Atlantic for him.

Greg Barton shook her hand. “Good luck in the new post,” she said to him.

“Thanks. You, too.” Those were the only words he had spoken to her since they had boarded the airplane. Holly thought he might have given her a few pointers on her new job, since she was replacing him, but apparently he was not anxious for her to succeed. Stewart Graves was similarly tight-lipped. After a hideously long drive through the south London suburbs, the van stopped at the Connaught, and the doorman unloaded her bags.

“Good luck,” she said to Graves, and he nodded. “You, too.” Then he was gone.

Holly checked in and was walked upstairs by a young woman. She was delighted to find that a suite had been booked for her, a first since she had joined the Agency. She showered, then dried her hair and had a light lunch. She was dozing on her sitting room sofa when her iPhone rang.

“Yes?”

“This is Hamish. Seven
P.M.
at a pub called the Grenadier, in Wilton Row. Any cabdriver will know it.” He hung up.

“Okay,” she said into the dead line. She watched a cricket match for an hour, trying to figure it out, then gave up and watched an old movie.

 17 

T
he cab dropped Holly at the doorstep of the Grenadier, which was located in a pretty mews behind Wilton Crescent, in upper-upper-class Belgravia.

She walked up the front stairs and into a cozy barroom. A fire crackled in a hearth to her left, and the room was crowded with expensively dressed young people. Holly ordered a scotch over ice and found a spot to sit near the fire. She had begun sizing up the young men in the room, when somebody stepped in front of her. She looked up to see a trim figure in clothes that were clearly bespoke. He had a bald head with a fringe of dark hair and he had, of all unexpected things in London, a suntan.

“Holly Barker?” he asked.

Holly stood up and found that the top of his head came to about the tip of her nose. “Hamish?”

They shook hands, and Hamish guided her into an adjoining dining room, where a single table had been set for two. “Please,” he said, pulling out the table so that she could get behind it and sit on the banquette. He set his own drink on the table and waved at a waitress. “May I have a large Lagavulin with a single ice cube, please?” He had dark, almost black eyes and perfect teeth.

“Lagavulin?” Holly asked.

“It’s a single-malt scotch from the island of Islay,” he replied.

“It’s hard to keep up with single malts.”

“Don’t even try,” he said, smiling. “Kate didn’t make it clear that you were beautiful, as well as smart. I particularly like the red hair. Tell me, is it from a bottle?” His English was entirely upper class, reflecting his Eton and Oxford education.

“It’s from a salon,” Holly replied. What would he want to know next, her bra size?

He moved a hand up and down. “It’s all a very pleasing combination. You chose exactly the right things to wear to a fashionable pub.”

Holly had chosen tweed slacks and a jacket and a cashmere sweater, all covered by a trench coat, which she now struggled out of. “Thank you, Hamish.”

A young woman brought them menus and a wine list. “The food here is very good, for a pub, and they have some decent wines. What did Kate do with Greg Barton?” he asked, as his eyes roamed the wine list. “Take him out and shoot him?”

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