Book 15 in the Stone Barrington series
This book is for John Mariani.
Stone Barrington breezed into the restaurant and found his former NYPD partner, Dino Bacchetti, waiting for him, Scotch in hand.
A waiter set a Knob Creek on the rocks before Stone, and he took a large sip.
“Where have you been?” Dino asked.
“You mean for the past week?”
“You’ve been gone a week?”
“Dino, remember when I went to Lakeland, Florida, to ground school for the new airplane? For a week?”
“That’s where you’ve been?”
“No. I’ve been in Vero Beach, Florida, for flight training.”
“For a week?”
“For three days.”
“You have a new airplane?”
“Not exactly. I had the engine removed from my Piper Malibu Mirage and replaced with a turbine – that’s a jet engine, turning a propeller. So now it’s called a JetProp, and it’s like a new airplane, and because it’s like a new airplane, my insurance company insisted I have flight training in it from a guy named John Mariani, in Vero Beach.”
“Whatever you say.”
“Dino, why don’t you remember any of this? How much have you had to drink?”
“You think I’m drinking too much?”
“You seem to be in a state.”
“What sort of state?”
“The word stupor leaps to mind.”
“Genevieve will be here in a few minutes,” Dino said. Genevieve James was Dino’s girlfriend, a nurse in the ER at a nearby hospital.
“When she gets here, don’t leave me.”
“I’m in some sort of trouble.”
“What kind of trouble?”
“I don’t know, but if you’re here, she won’t hurt me.”
“Well, I’m not getting in the middle of this,” Stone said.
“Just sit there in your chair and don’t say anything, and it’ll be all right.”
“Okay. I’ll just sit here.”
“Stone?” Dino was looking over Stone’s shoulder, toward the door.
“Have you seen Lance Cabot lately?” Cabot was the newly appointed deputy director for operations of the CIA. Both Dino and Stone had done consulting work for him.
“Well, he looks like shit,” Dino said. “He’s aged years.”
“How do you know this?”
“Because I’m looking at him right now.”
Stone turned and looked toward the door. Lance Cabot stood there, looking, as Dino had said, years older. He was also a bit disheveled, needed a haircut, and had at least a three-day growth of beard. His face was bruised.
“Good God, you’re right,” Stone said.
Lance was, ordinarily, the most fastidious of men, always perfectly dressed and groomed. Stone watched as Frank, one of the two headwaiters, greeted him and led him to a table at the rear of the restaurant.
“He didn’t even look at us,” Dino said. “Something’s wrong… Uh-oh,” Dino said.
Stone turned to see the beautiful Genevieve enter the restaurant and head for their table. They both stood, while Dino held her chair, a sure sign of fear.
“How are you, Genevieve?” Stone said, giving her a kiss.
“I’m very well, Stone,” she said, ignoring Dino. “How was your Malibu training?”
Stone shot a glance at Dino, who was looking very uncomfortable. “Hard work and great fun. The new airplane is faster, smoother, and quieter, only it’s not a Malibu anymore; it’s called a JetProp.”
“I remember,” she said.
“I’m going nuts,” Dino said.
“Lance just came in again, and he looks perfectly fine.”
Stone turned and looked, and there he was, younger, undisheveled, unbruised, and perfectly groomed. “We’re both going nuts,” Stone said.
Lance came over to the table and greeted them all, shaking their hands. “Good evening,” he said.
“Lance,” Dino said, “you should be working as a magician.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Because, in addition to standing here, you’re sitting back there.” Dino pointed.
“Oh, that’s my older brother, Barton Cabot.”
“Ahhhhh,” Dino and Stone said, simultaneously.
“He came in ahead of me while I finished a phone call in the car. If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to join him, but Stone, I’d like to speak with you alone, after we’ve ordered dinner.”
“Sure,” Stone said. In his experience, when Lance spoke to him alone, trouble invariably followed.
Lance went to join his brother.
“Eerie resemblance,” Genevieve said.
“Yeah,” Dino agreed. “It’s like Lance can know exactly how he’ll look in a few years.”
Genevieve spoke to Dino for the first time. “That’s how you’re going to look when I’m finished with you,” she said.
Stone made a point of inspecting a row of photographs of Elaine’s regulars on the opposite wall.
Elaine came over and sat down, exchanging kisses with Genevieve. Dino looked relieved to have her there. “So?” she said.
“I just got in,” Stone replied.
“From Vero Beach, Florida.”
“Dino will explain it to you,” Stone said.
Lance came and tapped Stone on the shoulder. “Let’s go into the next room for a minute,” he said.
Dino looked anxious. “You’ll be all right,” Stone said. “Elaine is here.”
“She’ll help Genevieve,” Dino said.
Stone got up and followed Lance into the dining room next door, where people occasionally threw parties and which Elaine used for overflow when the main room was full. They sat down at a table.
“I didn’t know you had a brother,” Stone said.
“I haven’t had a brother for many years. Until tonight.”
“Does he live in New York?”
“I don’t know,” Lance said.
“I have no idea where he lives. Neither does he. That’s the difficult thing.”
Stone settled in for a story.
Stone thought Lance looked as though he needed a drink.
“Can I get you a drink, Lance?”
“Thank you, no. We’ve got a flap on – two agents missing in Afghanistan – and I have a meeting with the director in two hours.”
“In the middle of the night?”
“I have to make a recommendation,” Lance said. “We think we know where they are: Do we send in more people to get them and risk the lives of a hundred men, or do we call in an air strike and kill everybody.”
“Including the two agents?”
“That’s the decision. There’s a chopper waiting for me at the West Side helipad. That’s why I can’t deal with this right now.”
“Deal with what?”
“My brother, Barton.”
“Start at the beginning, Lance.”
“My brother is four years older than I. Barton has been a star all his life: In school, in sports, wherever he went, he was always the star. Our mother died in childbirth with me. When I was twelve, our father died, and Barton became a surrogate father. He joined the Marines during the war in Vietnam, right out of Harvard; got a commission, led a platoon. I was at Harvard then. By the time it was over he was a colonel, commanding a regiment. Nobody in the Marines had advanced so quickly since World War Two. He was sent to the War College and told he would be a general before long, perhaps a future chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.”
“Sounds like a spectacular career.”
“It was, until he abruptly resigned his commission and disappeared.”
“Nobody could find him. I tried and failed. When I was giving my commencement speech at my graduation I looked down and saw him in the audience, but when the thing was over, he had disappeared again. I didn’t see him again until tonight.”