Read The Short Forever Online

Authors: Stuart Woods

Tags: #Mystery, #Thriller, #Suspense

The Short Forever

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BOOKS BY STUART WOODS

FICTION

Orchid Blues†

Cold Paradise*

L.A. Dead*

The Run°

Worst Fears Realized*

Orchid Beach†

Swimming to Catalina*

Dead in the Water*

Dirt*

Choke

Imperfect Strangers

Heat

Dead Eyes

L.A. Times

Santa Fe Rules

New York Dead*

Palindrome

Grass Roots°

White Cargo

Under the Lake

Deep Lie°

Run Before the Wind°

Chiefs

TRAVEL

A Romantic’s Guide to the Country Inns of Britain and Ireland (1978)

MEMOIR

Blue Water, Green Skipper

*A Stone Barrington Book
†A Holly Barker Book
°A Will Lee Book

THIS BOOK IS FOR
ROBERT TOWBIN

1

ELAINE’S, LATE.

Stone Barrington sipped his third Wild Turkey and resisted the basket of hot sourdough bread that the waiter had just placed on the table. Callie was to have been there an hour and a half ago, and he was very, very hungry. She’d called from the airport to say that she was on the ground and on her way, but that had been an hour ago. It just didn’t take that long to get to Elaine’s from Teterboro Airport, where her boss’s jet landed. He glanced at his watch: He’d give her another three minutes, and then he was ordering.

He had been looking forward to seeing her. They’d spent some very pleasant time together in Palm Beach a few months before, on the yacht of his client Thad Shames. She was Shames’s majordomo—assistant, cook, social secretary, whatever he needed—and she moved when Shames moved, back and forth between Palm Beach and New York. In New York, she had been living with Stone, and he missed her when she was away.

“Give me a menu,” Stone said to Michael, the headwaiter.

“Giving up on her?” Michael asked.

“I am. If I drink any more without some food in my stomach, you’re going to have to send me home in a wheelbarrow.”

Michael laughed and placed a menu before him. “Dino’s not coming?”

“He should be here in a while; he said he had to work late.” He opened the menu, and Michael stood ready, pad in hand. When Stone was this hungry, everything looked good. He’d meant to have fish; he’d gained three pounds, and he needed to get it off, but now he was too hungry. “I’ll have a Caesar salad and the osso buco,” he said, “and a bottle of the Amerone.”

Michael jotted down the order, and as he reached for the menu, Stone looked up to see Callie breezing through the front door. He rose to meet her. She looked wonderful, as usual, in an Armani pantsuit. She gave him a short, dry kiss and sat down.

“I’d given up on you,” Stone said. “I just ordered.”

Michael handed her a menu, but she handed it back. “I’m sorry, I can’t stay for dinner,” she said.

Stone looked at her, stupefied. She had kept him waiting for an hour and a half, and now she wasn’t going to have dinner?

“Would you like a drink, Callie?” Michael asked.

She shook her head. “No time, Michael.”

“You still want dinner, Stone?”

“Yes, please,” Stone replied.

Michael retreated.

“So?” Stone asked.

“So what?” Callie replied.

“Is there something you want to tell me?” He wanted an apology and an explanation, but he got neither.

“Stone,” Callie said, looking at the tablecloth and playing with a matchbook. She didn’t continue.

“I’m right here,” he replied. “Have been, for an hour and a half.”

“God, this is hard,” she said.

“Maybe a drink would help.”

“No, I don’t have the time.”

“Where do you have to be at this hour?” he asked.

“Back in Palm Beach.”

Stone wasn’t terribly surprised. Thad Shames, a computer software billionaire, had a peripatetic life-style, and Callie was, after all, at his beck and call.

“First of all, I’m sorry I’m late,” she said. “I had to go by the house and pick up some things.”

Stone looked around; she wasn’t carrying anything.

“They’re in the car,” she said.

“What did you have to pick up?” he asked.

“Some things.
My
things.”

Stone blinked. “Are you going somewhere?”

“Back to Palm Beach. I told you.”

Stone was baffled. “Callie . . .”

She took a deep breath and interrupted him. “Thad and I are getting married this weekend.”

Stone was drinking his bourbon, and he choked on it.

“I know you didn’t expect this,” she said. “For that matter, neither did I. It’s just happened the past couple of weeks.” She had been gone for two weeks on this last trip.

Stone recovered his voice. “Are you perfectly serious about this?”

“Perfectly, and I’d appreciate it if you didn’t try to talk me out of it.”

That was exactly what he wanted to try. “I wouldn’t dream of it,” he said. “If that’s what you want.”

“It’s good, Stone. It isn’t like with you and me, but that could never last.”

“Why not?” Stone demanded, stung.

“Oh, it’s been great. I arrive in town, move in with you; we go to Elaine’s and the theater, and around. We fuck our brains out for a week or two, then I go back.”

That was exactly what they did, he reflected, but he wasn’t going to admit it. “I thought we had more than that going,” he said.

“Oh, men always think that,” she said, exasperated. “There are things Thad can give me, things I need, things you can’t . . .” She left it hanging.

“Can’t afford?” he asked. “I live pretty well. Of course, I’m not worth five billion dollars, but I didn’t think Thad was, anymore, not after his new stock offering collapsed, and with the way the market has been.”

“It’s true,” she said. “Thad was hurt badly. Now he’s only worth three billion.”

“What a blow,” Stone said.

“It’s not the money,” she said. “All right, maybe that’s part of it. God knows, I’ll never have to draw another anxious breath.”

“Not about money, anyway.”

“Won’t you try and understand?”

“What is there to understand? I’m out, Thad’s in. It’s your life; I can’t tell you how to live it.”

“If only you’d . . .” She stopped.

Stone didn’t want to hear the rest, anyway. “I think it’s a little late for ‘if only,’ ” he said. “Clearly, you’ve thought this out, I’m not going to try to talk you out of it.”

“Thank God for that,” she muttered, half to herself.

They sat silently for a moment, then, without another word, Callie got up and headed for the door, nearly knocking down Dino, who had chosen that moment to walk in.

Dino turned and watched her rush out the door, then he walked over to Stone’s table and sat down. Dino Bacchetti had been Stone’s partner when he was still on the NYPD; now he ran the detective squad at the Nineteenth Precinct. “So,” he said, “I see you managed to fuck up another relationship.”

“Jesus, Dino, I didn’t do anything,” Stone said.

Dino motioned to Michael for a drink. “That’s usually the problem,” he said. The drink was placed before him, and he sipped it.

“You want some dinner, Dino?” Michael asked.

“Whatever he’s having,” Dino replied.

“Caesar salad and the osso buco?”

“Good.” He turned to Stone. “After a while, women
expect
you to do something.”

“She’s marrying Thad Shames.”

Dino’s eyebrows shot up. “No shit? Well, I’ll admit, I didn’t see
that
one coming. I guess Thad isn’t broke yet.”

“Not yet, but he’s only worth three billion now.”

“Poor guy; couple months, he’ll be living on the street. Still, he got the girl.”

“Don’t rub it in.”

“It’s what I do,” Dino explained.

Stone’s cellphone, clipped to his belt, began to vibrate. “Now what?” he said to nobody in particular. “Hello?”

“Stone, it’s Bill Eggers.” Bill was the managing partner of Woodman & Weld, the prestigious law firm for which Stone did unprestigious jobs.

“Yeah, Bill.”

“You sound down.”

“Just tired; what’s up?”

“You got anything heavy on your plate right now?”

“Nothing much.”

“Good; there’s a guy coming to see you tomorrow morning at nine, with some work. Do whatever he says.”

“Suppose he wants me to kill somebody.”

“If this guy wanted somebody killed, he’d do it himself. His name is John Bartholomew, and he’s major, in his way.”

“I’ll be glad to see him.”

“You got a passport?”

“Yes.” Not that he’d used it for a long time.

“Good. You’re going to need it.” Eggers hung up.

Elaine came over and pulled up a chair. “Callie left in a hurry,” she said. “I guess you fucked it up again.”

“Don’t
you
start,” Stone said.

2

STONE WOKE UP HUNGOVER. HE SHOULDN’T drink that much so close to bedtime, he reflected, and resolved, once again, not to do it again. It was half past eight, and this guy Bartholomew was coming at nine; no time for breakfast. He showered and shaved and got into a suit, then went down to his office on the ground floor.

The ground floor, except for the garage, had been a dentist’s office when Stone’s great-aunt had still owned the house. After Stone inherited the place and renovated it, mostly with the sweat of his own brow, he turned the dentist’s office into his own. His secretary, Joan Robertson, worked at the front of the house, then came a couple of small rooms for supplies and the copying machine, then his own office, a pleasant room at the back of the house, looking out into the gardens of Turtle Bay, a collection of townhouses in the East Forties that opened onto a common garden. Only the burglar bars spoiled the view.

Stone heard the clicking of computer keys stop, and Joan came back to his office. “You’re in early,” she said.

“What do you mean?” Stone asked, with mock offense. “It’s nearly nine o’clock.”

“That’s what I mean. I’ll bet you didn’t have time for breakfast.”

“You got some coffee on?”

“I’ll get you a cup,” she said.

“There’s some guy named John Bartholomew coming in at nine,” he said. “Bill Eggers sent him.”

“I’ll show him in when he arrives,” she said.

Stone shuffled listlessly through the files on his desktop. He hadn’t lied when he’d told Eggers that he wasn’t busy.

Joan came back with the coffee. He was grateful that her taste in beans ran with his, that she liked the strong, dark stuff that usually got made into espresso. “Did Callie get in last night?” she asked.

“She got in, then she got out.”

“Out? You mean,
out
?”

“I do. She’s marrying Thad Shames this weekend.”

“Good God! I’m shocked!”

“So was I, to tell the truth.”

“You let another one get away.”

“Joan . . .”

She threw her hands up defensively. “Sorry, it’s none of my business. You want me to send a wedding gift?”

Stone brightened. “Good idea. Go find the ugliest piece of sterling that Tiffany’s makes and send it to them in Palm Beach with a truly sincere card.”

The doorbell rang. “There’s your appointment,” she said. She left and returned a moment later with a tall, heavyset man in his fifties who, in his youth, had probably played college football.

“I’m Stone Barrington,” Stone said, rising and offering his hand.

“John Bartholomew,” the man replied, shaking it.

Stone waved him to a chair. “Bill Eggers called last night.”

“Did he give you any details?”

“No.”

Joan brought in another cup of coffee on a silver tray and offered it to Bartholomew, who had, apparently, placed his order with her on arrival.

Bartholomew sipped it. “Damned fine coffee,” he said.

There was something vaguely British about him, Stone thought, perhaps more than just the hand-tailored suit. “Thank you. We drink it strong around here.”

“The way I like it,” the big man replied. “Never could understand that decaf crap. Like drinking nonalcoholic booze. Why bother?”

Stone nodded and sipped his own coffee.

“We don’t have much time, Mr. Barrington, so I’ll come to the point. I have a niece, my dead sister’s only child, name of Erica Burroughs.” He spelled the name. “She’s twenty, dropped out of Mount Holyoke, involved with a young man named Lance Cabot.”

“Of the Massachusetts Cabots?”

“He’d like people to think so, I’m sure, but no, no relation at all; doesn’t even know them; I checked. Young Mr. Cabot, I’m reliably informed, earns his living by smuggling quantities of cocaine across international borders. Quantities small enough to conceal on his person or in his luggage, but large enough to bring him an income, you follow?”

“I follow.”

“I’m very much afraid that Erica, besotted as she is, may be assisting him in his endeavors, and I don’t want to see her end up in a British prison.”

“She’s in Britain?”

Bartholomew nodded. “London, living with Mr. Cabot, quite fancily, in a rented mews house in Mayfair.” He opened a briefcase and handed Stone a file with a few sheets of paper inside. “Don’t bother reading this now, there isn’t time, but it contains everything I’ve been able to learn about Cabot, and something about Erica, as well. What I’d like you to do is to go to London, persuade Erica to come back to New York with you, and, if it’s possible without implicating Erica, get young Mr. Cabot arrested. I’d like him in a place where he can’t get to Erica. For as long as possible, it goes without saying.”

“I see.”

“Will you undertake this task? You’ll be very well paid, I assure you, and you will lack for no comfort while traveling.”

Stone didn’t have to think long, and mostly what he thought about was Sarah Buckminster, another relationship he’d managed to fuck up, though it wasn’t really his fault. “I will, Mr. Bartholomew, but you must understand that I will be pretty much limited to whatever persuasion I can muster, within the law, and whatever influence with the authorities I can scrape up. I won’t kidnap your niece, and I won’t harm Cabot, beyond whatever justice I can seek for him, based on crimes that are real and not imagined.”

“I understand perfectly, Mr. Barrington. I’m well aware that you are a respectable attorney and not a thug for hire. I’m also informed, by a number of people, Samuel Bernard among them, that you are a resourceful man and that your background as a police detective gives you entrée to certain places.”

“Sometimes,” Stone admitted, “but not always. There are limits to what an ex-policeman can do.”

“I understand. I simply want you to do whatever you can.”

“On that basis, I’ll go,” Stone said. “I’ll ask my secretary to book me on a flight this evening.”

“That won’t be necessary,” Bartholomew said, digging into his briefcase and coming up with an envelope secured with a rubber band. He tossed it onto Stone’s desk. “You’re booked on a two P.M. flight to London, and I’ve reserved accommodation for you at the Connaught hotel. There’s five thousand pounds sterling in the envelope and the name of a man at Coutts Bank in The Strand who will provide you with more, should you need it. Please enjoy whatever food, drink, and guests you may wish to have at the Connaught; the bill will come to me, and you need not keep track of your expenses.”

“That’s very generous,” Stone replied.

“All the relevant addresses and phone numbers are in the file, as is my card. Call me should you need advice or assistance of any sort. I understand that this may take a week or two, or even longer, so don’t feel pressed for time. I want this done in the best way possible, regardless of time or cost.” He reached into his briefcase, came up with a box, and placed it on Stone’s desk. “This is a satellite telephone that will work anywhere in Britain. Please use it to contact me when necessary; my number is programmed into the first digit. All you do is press one and hold it, and I’ll be on the other end. Please keep it with you at all times, in case I should wish to contact you.”

“All right.”

Bartholomew stood up. “Now, I must hurry to an appointment, and you have a flight to catch.” He shook hands with Stone, closed his briefcase, and marched out of the office, a man in a hurry.

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