The RedeemerHarry Hole investigates a mistaken assassination
Stuart Woods’ books are among the most popular suspense titles on the market, and there’s much to choose from, considering the ever prolific mystery books author has written a memoir, a travel book and some 44 novels throughout his 37-year career. He’s a true force to be reckoned with, having already published 29 consecutive New York Times bestsellers in hardcover.
Born in Manchester, Georgia, and a successful competitive sailor throughout the ’70s, Woods started writing fiction in 1981, beginning with Chiefs, a detective novel inspired by a police badge he found in his grandmother’s home that was bloodstained and riddled with buckshot. The Stone Barrington series of novels, which involve the misadventures of a former NYPD detective-turned-lawyer, are arguably the most popular of the many Stuart Woods books.
The detective novel author has far too many titles to mention here, but highlights include Loitering With Intent (2009), Santa Fe Edge (2010), Bel-Air Dead (2011) and Son of Stone (2011). At the behest of his publishers, he now writes three novels a year, and they’re all but guaranteed to become New York Times bestsellers.
Stuart Woods refers to himself as a “born-again bachelor,” and lives happily with a Labrador retriever named Fred in Key West, Florida, in Maine, and in New York City.
Stone Barrington opened the taxi door. “Wait for me,” he said. “I won’t be long.” He got out of the cab
and looked around. The yellow awning was gone, but “Elaine’s” was still painted on the darkened windows. A film of soap obscured the interior, but Stone found a bare spot and put his hands up to shield from the glare. What he saw was, in short, nothing.
The book jackets, photographs, and posters that had adorned the walls for forty- seven years were gone. The bar and mirrors behind it were still there, but there were no stools. The dining room contained no tables or chairs and no blue- checkered tablecloths. The two old pay phones still hung on the wall near the cashier’s stand at the bar; they had always been the only phones in the place.
For a tiny moment Stone could hear the babble of a crowded room, chairs scraping, people calling the length of the room to say hello to a friend. Then a passing bus obliterated the sounds and returned Stone to the present. He got back into the cab and gave the driver his home address.
His cell phone buzzed at his belt. “Hello?”
“It’s Dino. Where are you?”
A brief silence, then: “You shouldn’t do that.”
“You’re right,” Stone said. “The memory is better than the reality. Have you had dinner?”
“I was just thinking about it.”
“Come over and I’ll make you some pasta.”
“Me, myself. I can cook, you know.”
“There was a rumor, but I never believed it.”
“Okay. Oh, how are we dressing?”
“Unarmed,” Stone said.
“I’m always armed.”
“Then you can check your gun at the door.”
“Whatever you say.”
“How late is Viv working?”
“Tell her to come over after, and I’ll save her something.”
“I’ll see if she’s brave enough.”
“See ya.” Stone hung up.
At home, he shucked off his jacket in the kitchen and checked the fridge. It was stuffed, as usual. Helene was an overshopper, and she liked to be ready for anything.
Stone found some Italian sausages, some mushrooms, some broccoli rabe, and some garlic. He sliced the sausages and tossed them into a skillet with a little olive oil, and they began to sizzle. He ran some water into a pot and put it on to boil for the pasta. He found some ziti in a cupboard and tossed it into the boiling water, then he chopped some onion and the garlic and tossed them into the pan with the sausages, followed by the mushrooms and rabe.
Dino came into the kitchen and tossed his coat on a chair. “Jesus, that smells pretty good,” he admitted.
“Be ready in ten, fifteen minutes,” Stone said. “Pour us a drink.”
Dino went to the kitchen bar, filled a pair of glasses with ice, then filled one with his usual Johnnie Walker Black scotch and the other with Stone’s Knob Creek bourbon, then handed it to Stone.
Scott Hipp turned off I-295 South in Fort Meade, Maryland, at the dedicated exit entitled “NSA Employees Only” and drove to the mirrored black building that is the headquarters of the National Security Agency. The NSA was that part of the United States intelligence community responsible for communications surveillance and code- breaking, and Hipp was its deputy director for cryptology, so he could park in the underground garage instead of in one of the eighteen thousand parking spaces surrounding the building.
Feeling smug that he would return to a cool automobile instead of those baking outside, he inserted his ID badge in the elevator panel and rode up to his office on the top floor, which he entered at the stroke of eight a.m., as he did every day. Four people awaited him at his conference table, drinking his coffee.
Hipp set his briefcase on the conference table and sat down. “Tell me something I don’t know,” he said without preamble.
The four exchanged some glances and shuffled through their papers.
Hipp watched them with satisfaction, since he knew they knew there was not much he didn’t know.
“How about a cryptology joke?” asked one of them, removing a sheet of paper from a stack.
“Amuse me,” Hipp said.
“Overnight down at Fort Gordon, one of our computers picked up a twenty-two-second cell phone conversation between someone in Afghanistan and someone in Yemen. The conversation was too brief to pinpoint locations, and much of it was garbled. The funny part is that, in the middle of the conversation, two English words were clearly spoken: ‘the’ and ‘Arrington.’ ”
“That is terribly amusing,” Hipp said with a straight face. “It’s also very common, since English is a worldwide language, and foreigners often use phrases from or fragments of English.”
“Does anyone at Fort Gordon, or for that matter, anyone here have any thoughts on what the words mean?”
“Well,” the man said, “I Googled it and there were essentially four hits, among a lot of duplication: first, there’s some techie businessman named Arrington who’s apparently famous in that world; second, there’s an old Virginia family by that name; third, there’s an Arrington vineyard; and fourth, there’s a new hotel opening in Los Angeles called The Arrington. I like that one best because it has the ‘The’ in front of it.”
“Tell me about the hotel,” Hipp said.
“You remember the movie star Vance Calder, who was murdered some years back? The hotel is being built on the grounds of his former home, something like twenty acres, in Bel-Air, a top-scale residential community in L. A.”
“Home of the Bel-Air Hotel, I believe,” Hipp replied.
“Right,” the man said. “The hotel is being named for his widow, née Arrington Carter, who herself was murdered early last year. Curiously, both Mr. and Mrs. Calder were murdered by former lovers.”
“Any apparent significance there?” Hipp asked.
“Not really, just a coincidence. The hotel is having a grand opening soon— apparently it’s a hot ticket out there.”
“If it’s a hot ticket in L. A.,” Hipp observed, “there are probably not many invitations circulating in either Afghanistan or Yemen.”
“That occurred to me, sir.”
“In what language did the cell phone conversation take place?”
“A combination of Urdu and Arabic. Not enough was captured to make any sense of it.”
“All right,” Hipp said. “Put ‘The Arrington’ on the phraseology watchlist and let’s see if anything pops up.
It was as late as it was ever going to get at Elaine’s. Elaine had died nearly six months earlier, and the restaurant couldn’t make it without her. This was its last night.
“You know,” Dino said, gazing at the mob jammed into the place, “if half these people had had dinner here once a week after she died, this joint would still be thriving.”
“You’re right,” Stone said, “but I guess the place could never be the same without Elaine to hold it together.”
“I feel sorry for the writers,” Dino said. “There isn’t another joint in town that gives the best tables to writers. They’ll be wandering up and down Second Avenue, looking for someplace to eat.”
“And think of all the book deals that won’t get made here,” Stone said. “Where else do writers and publishers mingle?”
All the tables had temporary tops that seated ten people, and Stone and Dino were jammed against the wall, so close to the next table that if they wanted to get to the men’s room, they would have to stand on their chairs and walk across the table. There were two hundred people lined up on Second Avenue, waiting to get in.
Bill Eggers, the managing partner of Stone’s law fi rm, Woodman & Weld, spoke up from across the table. “Never mind the writers,” he said, “where are you two guys going to eat?”
“I have no idea,” Stone said. “There just isn’t another place in the city that has what Elaine’s had. Forty- eight years she was here.”
Somebody with a video cam elbowed his way up to the table and panned around the group. Herbie Fisher and his girl and Bob Cantor and his wife were there. Holly Barker had fl own up from Washington for the occasion and was staying with Stone. The cameraman moved on. Stone looked around and saw plenty of regulars: Gay Talese, Frederic Morton, David Black, Nick Taylor, Carol Higgins Clark—all writers; photographers Harry Benson and Jessica Burstein were taking pictures; Alec Baldwin, with shaggy hair nd a full beard, had found a video cam somewhere and was using t; Josh Gaspero, retired publisher, and his Thursday- night regulars ere at their regular table. Gianni and Frank, the headwaiters, nd all the waiters, were still there; none had left for another job before the end.
It was just like every other night at Elaine’s, except for the three hundred extra people.
Stone had ordered the most expensive wines, because he knew Elaine would have loved that. She had liked nothing better than l fogging a few bottles of Dom Pérignon of an evening.
Holly hugged Stone’s arm. “I’m sorry, Stone, I know how you loved Elaine and her joint.”
“That’s what she always called it,” Stone said, “her joint.”
Dino poured himself another Johnnie Walker Black from the bottle on the table.
“Can I get you a straw for that?” Stone asked.
Dino handed him a bottle of Knob Creek. “And for this?”
A good- looking redhead Stone didn’t recognize struggled past his table, heading for either the bar or the front door. Stone was still watching her a moment later when she was stopped by a man who had planted himself in her path. He leaned over and shouted above the din into her ear. She drew back her right hand and punched him squarely in the face. He fell, scattering drinkers, and Stone could have sworn she stepped on him as she continued out the door.
Stone Barrington and Dino Bacchetti entered Elaine’s on a Sunday evening, and drinks were brought to them immediately.
They took their usual table, and Elaine came over and sat down. “You two are oddly dressed,” she said. “For you. What’s going on?”
“Oh,” Stone said, “we delivered our sons to Yale for their freshman year this afternoon, and we’re dressed for humping boxes of their gear up to their apartment.”
Elaine nodded. “So the boys are off?”
“They’re off,” Dino said.
“No wonder you both look so glum,” Elaine said.
Stone looked at Dino. “Do I look glum?”
“Yeah,” Dino said.
“So do you.”
“You’re empty nesters now,” Elaine chortled. “Never thought I’d see the day.”
Stone shook his head. “Nine months ago I didn’t have a son, at least not one I’d ever met. Now I don’t have a son again.”
Elaine reached over and patted his cheek. “You haven’t lost a son,” she said, “you’ve gained a college boy.” She got up and continued her rounds of the regulars’ tables.
“I guess that’s one way to look at it,” Stone said. “Do you think he’ll ever come home again?”
“Probably not,” Dino replied. “You’ve seen the last of that kid.”
“Oh, shut up. You’re in the same spot.”
“Nah,” Dino said, “you’re worse off. At least I’m not used to having Ben around the house all the time. He’s been at prep school for four years, and then his mother yanked him to her place every chance she got. This afternoon, why didn’t you raise the subject of visits home?”
“I thought about it,” Stone said, “but I was afraid I wouldn’t like the answer. After all, the kid’s got the money he was paid for his film, which is more than I had a year ago, so he doesn’t need me for anything.”
“He just doesn’t need you for buying stuff,” Dino pointed out. “He still needs a father.”
“You really think so?”
“Ben needs me, I’m sure of that. Why wouldn’t Peter need you, what with his mother dead and all?” “He’s got Hattie. They’re sleeping together, you know.”
Dino laughed aloud. “No shit? What were you doing your freshman year?”
Stone shrugged. “Fucking my brains out, if I recall correctly.”
“Actually, you continued to do that, at least until you and Arrington got married.”
Stone managed a smile. “If anything, the activity increased after that.”
“I’m getting worried about you, kiddo,” Dino said. “You’re gonna have to get back in the saddle pretty soon or you’re gonna forget how.”
“Yeah, I think about that a lot. It’s just that…well, it’s like not being hungry at dinnertime. I just don’t have an appetite.”
Dino turned and watched as a very pretty brunette in a short skirt came through the door and took a seat at the bar, crossing her long legs. “Doesn’t that do anything for you?”
“Sort of,” Stone replied. “I mean, I remember what it was like, the way you remember how you roller-skated when you were a kid, but it just isn’t all that appealing.”
Dino felt for Stone’s pulse and looked at his watch. “Your vital signs seem normal.”
“That’s something, I guess.”
“Look who’s here,” Dino said, nodding toward the door.
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