Stuart Woods

Strategic moves


Elaine's, late.

Stone Barrington was uncharacteristically late in meeting his former partner at the NYPD, Lieutenant Dino Bacchetti, for dinner, and Dino was not alone at the table. Dino ran the detective bureau at the 19th Precinct. Stone's other dinner partner, Bill Eggers, managing partner at the prestigious law firm of Woodman amp; Weld, pretty much ran Stone, who, working from his home office in Turtle Bay, handled cases and clients of Woodman amp; Weld that they did not wish to be seen to handle.

'You're late,' Eggers said.

'I'm late for dinner with Dino,' Stone said, 'but since I didn't have a date with you, I prefer to think of myself as right on time for our meeting.'

Eggers managed a chuckle. 'Fair enough,' he said. 'I'm buying tonight.'

'For me, too?' Dino asked.

'For you, too, Dino,' Eggers replied.

A waiter set a Knob Creek on the rocks before Stone; the other two men already had glasses of brown whiskey before them. Stone raised his glass, but Eggers put a hand on his arm.

'No, I'll do the toasting tonight,' he said, raising his own glass. 'To Stone Barrington, who has earned more than a night out on my expense account.'

'Hear, hear,' Dino said.

'I'll drink to that,' Stone offered, raising his glass and taking a pull from it. 'Is there an occasion, Bill, or are you just feeling magnanimous?'

'A little of both,' Eggers said, taking an envelope from his pocket and handing it to Stone.

Stone saw, through a window in the envelope, his name, which indicated to him that it might be printed on a check. 'Bill, have you taken to personally delivering payment of my bills to the firm?'

'Open it,' Eggers said.

Stone lifted the flap and pulled open the envelope far enough to see the amount of the check, which was one million dollars. His mouth worked, but no sound came out.

'Don't bother to thank me,' Eggers said. 'After all, you earned it, and may I say that this is the first annual bonus the firm has ever paid to an attorney who is 'of counsel'?'

Stone recovered his voice. 'Why, thank you, Bill, and please thank anyone else at the firm who had anything whatever to do with this.'

'This event is occurring because you were substantially responsible for bringing in Strategic Services as a new client, and they have turned out to be a very good client indeed. The death of Jim Hackett has increased their need for your counsel and ours.'

Jim Hackett had been the founder and sole owner of the firm, which served many corporations around the world in security matters of all sorts. He had been shot to death while in Stone's company, on an island in Maine, by a sniper employed by two senior members of the British cabinet who believed Hackett to be someone else.

'Thank you again,' Stone said.

'I want you to know-and I realize I'm saying this in front of a witness-that if the growth of the Strategic Services account continues as I believe it will, then by this time next year I may very well be recommending you for a partnership at Woodman amp; Weld,' Eggers said.

Stone was once more dumbstruck. That this might happen had never, in his years of service to the firm, entered Stone's mind. Furthermore, he knew that a partnership in Woodman amp; Weld would bring an annual income that would be a considerable multiple of the check in the envelope he held. Stone had always been an outsider at the firm, only occasionally visiting its offices and listed as 'Of Counsel' only at the bottom of its letterhead.

'I will take your silence as evidence of shock,' Eggers said.

Stone nodded vigorously and downed half his drink while signaling for another.

'Make it three,' Eggers said to the waiter, 'and let me see the list of special wines.'

Stone had seen the list of special wines, but he had never once ordered from it, because the wines started at $500 a bottle.

'Well,' Dino said, raising his glass again, 'I'm happy I could be here on this special occasion.'

'Dino,' Eggers said, 'you've done Stone many favors on our behalf over the years, so I'm happy you could be here, too.'

'Feel free to add me to the bonus list,' Dino said wryly.

'Only should you die in our service,' Eggers said pleasantly.

'I figured,' Dino replied.

Eggers opened the wine list, glanced at it, then closed it. 'Order something that will go well with a Chateau Petrus 1975,' he said, opening his menu.

Stone turned to the waiter, who was braced beside the table, holding his pad and pencil ready. 'I want one of Barry's secret steaks, medium rare,' Stone said, 'and I'll start with the French green bean salad, hold the peppers, use truffle oil.'

'Same here, rare,' Dino said.

'Make it three,' Eggers echoed, 'and mine medium.'

The waiter dematerialized.

'Tell me,' Eggers said to Stone, 'have you figured out why Jim Hackett was murdered?'

'I've never said this to anyone before,' Stone replied, 'but I am under the constraint of the British Official Secrets Act and am, therefore, unable to respond to your question.'

'You're shitting me,' Eggers said.

'I shit you not,' Stone replied. 'You will recall that my client, at that time, was an arm of Her Majesty's Government. They made me sign the Act.'

More specifically, Stone's client had been a lovely redhead, who also happened to be the head of MI6, the foreign arm of British Intelligence.

'And,' Eggers said, 'I perceive that your work for them resulted in the resignation and arrest of the British foreign secretary and the home secretary.'

'I cannot either confirm or deny your perception,' Stone said, 'but just between the three of us, I would be very much surprised if those two gentlemen ever came to trial.'

'I suppose, if that happened, too much embarrassing information would come to light,' Eggers said.

'That is what I suppose, too,' Stone replied, 'though no one has said as much to me. The government managed to keep it out of the British newspapers by employing the Official Secrets Act.'

'It made the New York Times,' Eggers said.

'All copies of which were banned for sale that day in the UK,' Stone said. 'I don't think that sort of thing has happened since the abdication of Edward the Eighth.'

'I'm glad your name was kept out of it,' Eggers said. 'The firm would not have liked that sort of publicity. Our London office has too many clients who might have been embarrassed by your participation.'

'I'm glad, too,' Stone said. 'Believe me.'

Dinner arrived, and the bottle of Petrus, which Eggers tasted with some ceremony. 'We'll drink it,' he said to the waiter, and they did.


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