A Safe House
Stone Barrington and Dino Bacchetti were dining at their favorite restaurant, Patroon, on East Forty-Sixth Street in New York City, when simultaneously their chateaubriand for two was served as two gentlemen sat down at their table. Their names were Lance Cabot, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and Henry Wilcox, his recently appointed deputy director for Operations.
“What a surprise!” Stone said. “And we were only expecting the steak.”
“I apologize for interrupting your dinner,” Wilcox said.
“Do you apologize for Lance, as well?”
“He does,” Cabot said. “Don’t let us slow you down.”
Stone carved a slice of beef and put it into his mouth. “Well?” he said, after he had swallowed. “Would you like to see a menu?”
“We’ll just order dessert,” Lance said, raising a finger, which instantly summoned a waiter. “Two apple pies à la mode.” The waiter vanished.
“Neither of you is watching your weight, then?” Stone asked.
The pies were set down before them and place settings produced. They dug in.
“We’ll wait until you finish the pie before we ask what you’re doing here,” Stone said.
Neither of them spoke, but both kept eating. Lance finished first and held up the magic finger again. “Coffee for two,” he said to the respondent waiter.
Stone and Dino kept eating.
The coffee arrived. “Now,” Lance said.
“We’re listening,” Stone said, while still chewing his steak. “It may not seem so, but we are.”
“There are two more gentlemen at this table than we require,” Lance said.
“Are you telling my dinner guest and your deputy to go away?” Stone asked.
Lance said, “Since they both have my complete confidence, they may remain.”
“Swell,” Dino said.
“Stone,” Lance said, “I am recalling you to active duty.”
“You make it sound as if I’m in the Army Reserves.”
“Pretty much the same thing,” Lance said. “You are aware that you collect a monthly salary as my associate director.”
“I seem to recall that,” Stone said. “But the amount must be very small, since I can’t remember how much it is.”
“It’s the principle of the thing,” Lance responded.
“What is it you want, Lance?”
“I need you to provide a safe house for a person who shall remain unidentified, even with regard to gender.”
“So, it’s a woman?”
“Stop guessing. It’s unbecoming. The person will be referred to in the editorial masculine.”
“Okay, we’ll pretend it’s a man. What does he need? A bed for the night?”
“Several nights, perhaps many.”
“At my house?”
“At your house in England.”
“Will he make up his bed and be neat at all times?”
“I believe you employ staff to attend to those details.”
“When may I expect him?”
“As soon as you can transport him there.”
Stone blinked. “You want me to transport him to my home in England and house him there, indefinitely?”
“For reasons I cannot explain to you, he may not be transported on an airline or government aircraft.”
“So, you want me to fly him to England in my aircraft?”
“Yes, and accompany him — all in the strictest secrecy, of course.”
“Of course. Why?”
“It’s a secret.”
“Oh, yes, you mentioned that.”
“This is a person who has been of considerable value to the Agency. And if he survives, we trust he will be again.”
“So his survival is in question?”
“There are powerful people who do not wish him well.”
“Well, I would sure hate to be him,” Stone said.
“Do not make light of this, Stone. It is too important.”
“Important to whom?”
“I trust these are not the same powerful people who don’t wish him well.”
“There are all sorts of powerful people involved in this, Stone.”
“And what will they do to me, if they should discover that I have transported this fellow to England and put him up in my house?”
“If they don’t know that, they can’t do anything to you, can they?”
“Don’t make light of this, Lance.”
“Stone, do you have any questions that are not annoying?”
“Two: Who pays for the airplane? And why me?”
“You may present me with a bill for the airplane and fuel, at standard rates. As for why you, I have already reminded you that you are on salary.”
“And when do you want me to do this?”
Lance gazed at his wristwatch. “How soon can you take off?”
“Lance,” Stone said. “Not in the middle of a convivial dinner. Have the person at Teterboro at ten o’clock tomorrow morning. His driver should deliver him inside the Strategic Services hangar and put him aboard the airplane there. The crew will already be aboard. I and my guests will be along shortly after that.”
“Guests?” Lance had turned pink. “There will be no guests aboard.”
“You have already said that Dino has your complete confidence,” Stone pointed out. “And I presume that confidence extends to his wife.”
Lance worked his jaw a bit. “Oh, all right,” he said, finally.
“I’ll check our schedules,” Dino said.
“Otherwise, who would I talk to during and after the flight? It sounds as though I may not speak to the subject of this conversation.”
“You should stay in England for at least a week,” Lance said. “We can’t have this looking like a simple delivery.”
“I don’t think that will be too much of a burden on my good nature,” Stone said. “After all, it’s my house. I love it and don’t get there often enough.”
“Me, either,” Dino said.
Lance placed his palms on the table. “Well, that concludes our business, I think.”
“Are we allowed to communicate with the person, and he with us?” Stone asked.
“Once you’re clear of New York air space,” Lance said, rising, and Wilcox with him. “The apple pie is on you,” he said, and the two men left.
“Well,” Stone said, “that was unexpected.”
“Yeah, and you get a free trip to England and to your own house,” Dino said.
“Yeah, I can take some time. If Viv shows up tomorrow morning, she’ll go, too. Otherwise...”
“She’s off to Bangkok or somewhere.”
“You know the drill.”
Stone called Faith, his pilot, and gave her instructions for the morrow, then he and Dino ordered apple pie à la mode.
The following morning, Stone went down to his office and checked his desk for unresolved work. His secretary, Joan Robertson, walked in.
“I hear you’re off to England,” she said.
“I hear that, too,” Stone replied. “Lance delivered the word personally last night at Patroon.”
“Any idea how long?”
“At least a week. More, if I’m having fun.”
“Oh, God, you always have fun.”
“I forgot. You don’t know about this trip. It’s a big-time secret. I’m traveling, and you won’t know where until you hear from me, and somehow, you won’t. Take a message.”
“Got it.” She handed him a fat envelope. “Here’s all the pounds sterling we had in the safe. I can’t spend it here.”
“Thank you.” She started to return to her office. “Oh, I almost forgot. One of your guests has been delivered to the Strategic Services hangar and is safely — and secretly — aboard.”
“Good to know.”