Stone Barrington gets a taste of New York City’s devious upper crust in this “sleek and engaging”* mystery in the #1 New York Times bestselling series.
Hired to prove infidelity in an heiress’s marriage, Stone Barrington goes undercover. But the work turns dirty—and catastrophic—when the errant husband is found dead and the other woman disappears without a trace. Now, Stone must clear his own good name and find a killer hiding among the glitterati of New York’s high society.
About the Author
Stuart Woods is the author of more than sixty novels, including the #1 New York Times bestselling Stone Barrington series. He is a native of Georgia and began his writing career in the advertising industry. Chiefs, his debut in 1981, won the Edgar Award. An avid sailor and pilot, Woods lives in Florida, Maine, and New Mexico.
Hometown:Key West, Florida; Mt. Desert, Maine; New York, New York
Date of Birth:January 9, 1938
Place of Birth:Manchester, Georgia
Education:B.A., University of Georgia, 1959
Read an Excerpt
A big night—a couple of directors, a couple of movie stars, half a dozen writers, an assortment of journalists, editors, publicists, cops, wise guys, drunks, hangers-on, women of substance, and some of considerably less substance. And this was just at the tables; the bar was a whole other thing.
Stone Barrington pushed his plate away and sat back. Gianni, the waiter, snatched it away.
“Was it all right?” Gianni asked.
“You see anything left?” Stone asked.
Gianni grinned and took the plate to the kitchen.
Elaine came over and sat down. “So?” she said.
She did not light a cigarette. To Stone’s continuing astonishment, she had quit, cold turkey.
“Not much,” Stone replied.
“That’s what you always say,” Elaine said.
“I’m not kidding, not much is happening.”
The front door of the restaurant opened, and Bill Eggers came in.
“Now something’s happening,” Elaine said. “Eggers never comes in here unless he’s looking for you, and he never looks for you unless there’s trouble.”
“You wrong the man,” Stone said, waving Eggers over to the table, but he knew she was right. For ordinary work, Bill phoned; for more pressing tasks, he hunted down Stone and usually found him at Elaine’s.
“Good evening, Elaine, Stone,” Eggers said. “Your cell phone is off.”
“It didn’t work, did it?” Stone replied.
“I gotta be someplace,” Elaine said, getting up and walking away. She got as far as the next table.
“Drink?” Stone asked.
Michael, the headwaiter, materialized beside them.
“Johnnie Walker Black, rocks,” Eggers said.
“I have a feeling I’m going to need a Wild Turkey,” Stone said to Michael.
“How’s it going?” Eggers asked.
“You tell me,” Stone said.
“If I had to guess,” Stone said, “I’d say, not so hot.”
“Oh, it’s not so bad,” Eggers replied.
“Then what drags you away from home and hearth, into this den of iniquity?”
“You remember that big Irish ex-cop, used to do little chores for you from time to time?”
“Teddy? He dropped dead in P. J. Clarke’s three months ago.”
“How many things can an Irishman in an Irish bar drop dead of?” Stone asked, rhetorically.
“Yeah,” Eggers admitted.
“And why would I need somebody like Teddy?” Stone asked.
“You remember telling me about that thing Teddy used to do with the water pistol?” Eggers asked.
“You mean, after he kicked down a door and had his camera ready, how he squirted his naked subjects down low, so they’d grab at themselves and leave their faces open to be photographed in bed with each other?”
Eggers chuckled. “That’s the one. I admire that kind of ingenuity.”
The drinks came, and they both sipped for a long, contemplative moment.
“So, you’re in need of that kind of ingenuity?” Stone asked at last.
“You remember that prenup I tossed you last year?” Eggers asked. Bill Eggers was the managing partner of Woodman & Weld, the very prestigious New York law firm to which Stone was of counsel, which meant he sometimes did the work that Woodman & Weld did not wish to appear to be doing.
“Elena Marks?” Stone asked.
“The very one.”
“I remember.” Elena Marks was heiress to a department store fortune, and she had married a member in high standing of the No Visible Means of Support Club.
“You remember that funny little clause you wrote into her prenup?”
“You mean the one about how if Larry got caught with his pants around his ankles in the company of a lady other than Elena, he would forfeit any claim to her assets or income?” Lawrence Fortescue was English—handsome, well educated, and possessed of every social grace, which meant he didn’t have a receptacle in which to relieve himself.
“The very one,” Eggers said.
“Has Larry been a bad boy?” Stone asked.
“Has been, is, and will continue to be,” Eggers replied, sipping his Scotch.
“I see,” Stone said.
“Now that Teddy has gone to his reward, who do you use for that sort of thing?”
“It’s been quite a while since that sort of thing was required of me,” Stone replied edgily.
“Don’t take that tone with me, young man,” Eggers said, raising himself erect in mock dudgeon. “It’s work, and somebody has to do it.”
Stone sighed. “I suppose I could find somebody.”
Eggers looked at him sharply. “You’re not thinking of doing this yourself, are you? I mean, there are heights involved here, and you’re not as young as you used to be.”
“I am not thinking of doing it myself, but I’m certainly in good enough shape to,” Stone said. “What kind of heights are we talking about?”
“The roof of a six-story town house, shooting through a conveniently located skylight.”
“There is no such thing as a conveniently located skylight, if you’re the one doing the climbing,” Stone said.
“You’d need someone . . . spry,” Eggers said, “and the term hardly applies to the cops and ex-cops you mingle with.”
At that moment, as if to make Eggers’s point, Stone’s former partner from his NYPD days, Dino Bacchetti, walked through the front door and headed for Stone’s table.
“If you see what I mean,” Eggers said.
Stone held up a hand, stopping Dino in his tracks, then a finger, turning him toward the bar.
“I get your point,” Stone said. “I’ll see who I can come up with.”
“You don’t have a lot of time,” Eggers said. “It’s at nine o’clock tomorrow night.”
“What’s at nine o’clock tomorrow night?”
“The assignation. Larry Fortescue has an appointment with a masseuse who, I understand, routinely massages more than his neck muscles. Elena would like some very clear photographs of that service being performed.”
“Let me see what I can do,” Stone said.
Eggers tossed off the remainder of his Scotch and placed a folded sheet of paper on the table. “I knew you would grasp the nettle,” he said, standing up. “The address of the building is on the paper. I’ll need the prints and negatives by noon the day after tomorrow.”
“What’s the rush?”
“Elena Marks is accustomed to instant gratification.”
“But not from Larry?”
“You are quick, Stone. Nighty-night.” He slapped Dino on the back as he passed the bar on his way to the door.
Dino came over, licking Scotch off his hand, where Eggers had spilled it. He flopped into a chair. “So what was that about?” he asked, pointing his chin at Eggers’s disappearing back.
“Dirty work,” Stone said.
Dino patted the rest of the spilled Scotch off his hand with a cocktail napkin. “Is there any other kind?”
“Sure there is, and they give me plenty of it,” Stone said defensively.
“Just slightly grubby; I don’t have to kill anybody.”
“And who are you going to get to do it?”
“Well, Teddy’s dead, so I guess I’d better call Bob Cantor,” Stone said, digging out his cell phone and switching it on.
“Bob’s your man, as well as your uncle,” Dino observed.
Stone dialed the number and got a recording. He left a message, then dialed Cantor’s cell phone.
It was answered instantly. “Speak to me!” Cantor’s voice shouted over a babble of voices and steel-band music.
“It’s Stone. Where the hell are you?”
“Saint Thomas, baby!” Cantor yelled.
“Like in the Virgin Islands, Saint Thomas?”
“I’m not talking about the church.”
“Bob, I need some help. Are you sober?”
“Certainly not! I’ve had enough piña coladas to fill that hot tub at your house.”
“It’s not a hot tub; it’s just a big bathtub with the Jacuzzi thing.”
“Whatever. Why don’t you come down here, Stone? You wouldn’t believe the women.”
“I’d believe them.”
“What d’ya need, that you would interrupt a man’s drinking?”
Stone looked around and cupped a hand over the cell phone. “I need a second-story man who’s good with a camera.”
“You running a badger game?”
“Close, but not quite. And the shots have to be taken on a roof, so I need somebody who’s in good enough shape not to fall off the building and embarrass everybody.”
“Got a pencil?”
Stone dug out a pen. “Shoot.”
“My sister’s boy. He’s young and bold and agile, and he’s a pretty good photographer.”
“The light may not be very good.”
“It never is in those situations, is it?”
Cantor gave Stone the number, and he wrote it on a cocktail napkin. “Tell him I sent you and not to screw it up.”
“Does he make a habit of screwing up?” Stone asked. But Cantor had punched off and returned to his piña coladas.
“I heard that,” Dino said, “but I didn’t hear it.”
“Good,” Stone said, punching in the number Cantor had given him. The phone rang five times before it was picked up.
“What!” a young man’s voice said, panting.
“Who wants to know? Jesus, can’t a guy get laid anymore?”
“My name is Stone Barrington. Your uncle Bob said to call you.”
“Gimme your number, I got something to finish here.”
Stone gave him the number, and he hung up.
“I think I interrupted him,” Stone said.
“In the saddle?”
“That’s what it sounded like.”
“These kids!” Dino said, laughing. “Nobody would ever have caught you or me doing that.”
“Nah,” Stone agreed. Then he looked toward the door and froze. “Look over your shoulder and tell me if I’m seeing what I think I’m seeing,” he said.
Dino looked over his shoulder. “Carpenter!”
She was standing there in a beautiful cashmere coat that set off her dark brown hair, looking around, looking lost; she hadn’t seen him. Stone grabbed Michael, the headwaiter, as he passed. “The lady at the door,” Stone said. “Go over there and say, ‘Miss Carpenter? Mr. Barrington is expecting you.’ Then bring her here.”
Michael nodded and went to his work. Stone watched her face; no sign of surprise. Carpenter had never given much away. Michael led her back toward the table, and Stone and Dino stood up.
“What took you so long?” Stone said, embracing her and kissing her on the cheek.
“I came as fast as I could,” she said, her British accent smooth and creamy. “Dino, how are you?” She hugged him.
“Better now,” Dino said.
Stone took her coat, hung it up, and held a chair for her, then he sat down and waved Michael over again. “What would you like to drink, Carpenter?” He didn’t know her first name, nor her last name, for that matter. Carpenter was a handle, a moniker, a code name. They had met in London the year before, when he had gotten himself into a mess that required the assistance of British intelligence. Dino had been there, too.
“Bourbon, please,” she said, “no ice.”
“You get that, Michael?”
Michael nodded and went away.
“Since when does a limey girl drink bourbon?” Dino asked.
“Since Stone extolled its virtues,” she replied. A glass was set before her, and she sipped appreciatively.
“And what brings you to New York?” Stone asked. “Besides me, I mean.”
“Well,” she said drolly, “you were the most important consideration, of course, but there is a little job I have to do with an agency of your government that will require every waking moment that I can tear myself away from your presence.”
“I’ll see that there are not many of those moments,” Stone said. “Dare I ask which agency of my government?”
“The FBI,” she said.
“Oh, yes, they would be the folks who are roughly analogous to your own outfit, wouldn’t they?”
“Perhaps,” she said coolly.
“C’mon, Stone, she’s not going to tell you anything,” Dino said.
Elaine came back and pulled up a chair.
“Elaine Kaufman,” Stone said, “let me introduce . . .” He waited for Carpenter to fill in the blank.
“Felicity,” Carpenter said, offering her hand to Elaine and shooting Stone an amused glance.
“Really?” Stone asked.
“Sometimes,” Carpenter replied.
Stone’s cell phone rang.
Stone stood up. “Excuse me for a moment,” he said to Carpenter. He walked toward the kitchen and turned into the empty dining room that Elaine used for parties and overflow. “Hello?”
“This is Herbie Fisher. You called?”
“Yeah, I spoke to your uncle Bob a few minutes ago, and he recommended you for a job.”
“What kind of job?”
“It involves a camera.”
“I’m up for photography,” Herbie said. “Tell me more.”
“The job’s tomorrow evening, so clear your schedule. Come to my office tomorrow morning at ten.” Stone gave him the address. “It’s the professional entrance of the house, lower level.”
“What’s it pay?”
“I’ll talk to you tomorrow morning.” Stone hung up and went back to his table. Elaine had moved on to somebody else’s.
“Late date?” Carpenter asked.
“Business,” Stone said.
“How long are you in town for?”
“A few days, unless I can think of a reason to stretch my stay.”
Dino stood up. “I’ll leave you two to work on some reasons.”
“Good night, Dino,” she said. “I hope I’ll see you again while I’m here.”
“Count on it,” Dino said, then he left.
“Sweet man,” Carpenter said.
“If you say so. Felicity, huh? I like it.”
“It’s just as well; I’m not going to change it.”
“Have you had dinner?”
“I had a business dinner earlier.”
“Where are you staying?”
“Where, with friends?”
“In the East Forties.”
“Very near me. Will you come to my house for a nightcap?”
They got into their coats and, outside, Stone started to hail a cab.
“Don’t,” she said. “I have a car, courtesy of my firm.” She nodded toward a black Lincoln idling at the curb.
“All the better,” Stone said, opening the door for her. He gave the driver his address.
“That’s in Turtle Bay,” she said.
“You know Turtle Bay?”
“I can read a map and a guidebook, I know all about it. Does your house open onto the common garden?”
“Yes, it does.”
“Perhaps you’ll show me the garden tomorrow.”
“Certainly,” Stone replied, though he wasn’t quite sure what she meant.
“How does one afford a house of one’s own, what with property prices the way they are in New York these days?”
“Easy. One has a great-aunt who dies and wills him the house. Then one works one’s ass off renovating it.”
“I can’t wait to see it.”
“You don’t have to wait, we’re here.” He opened the door, and she slid across the seat. She leaned back into the car. “You can go,” she said to the driver.
Stone liked the sound of that. He led her up the steps, unlocked the front door, and hung their coats in the front hall closet. “I didn’t know you had any friends in New York,” he said.
“Oh. And I suppose their front hall closet has a selection of cloaks and daggers.”
“Quite,” she said.
Stone switched on some lights from the master panel in the foyer.
Carpenter walked into the living room. “This is very handsome,” she said. “Did you choose the furniture, or did you have a designer?”
“Most of the furniture came with the house. I had everything reupholstered. I chose the fabrics.”
“Oh? I thought I detected a woman’s touch.”
Stone didn’t want to go there. “My study is through here,” he said, leading the way.
“Beautiful paneling and bookcases,” Carpenter said.
“My father designed and built them.”
“Your father the Communist?”
“Ex-Communist,” Stone replied. “You pulled a few files on me, didn’t you?”
“A few. Mother, a painter. Both parents disowned by their parents, who were textile tycoons in New England. Why?”
“My father, because of his politics; my mother, because she married my father. The only family member who spoke to them was my great-aunt. She bought this house and hired my father to do a lot of the interior. It kept them from starving to death, early in their marriage. What else did you learn about me?”
“Went to New York University, then the law school. Joined the NYPD afterwards, served fourteen years, including eleven as a detective. Retired for medical reasons, ostensibly. A bullet in the knee, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, but there were other, more political reasons. The department was never very comfortable with me.”
“You must tell me about it when we have more time,” she said.
“Don’t we have time now?”
“Not really. Where is your bedroom?”
He led her up a flight. “Right here.”
She began unbuttoning her suit coat. “I think we’d better get to bed,” she said. “I have an early meeting tomorrow morning.”
Stone stood, stunned, his mouth open.
She reached over and closed it, then kissed him lightly. “You mustn’t believe everything you hear about proper British girls,” she said, working on his buttons.
“I must remember that,” he said, helping her.
Stone woke with the gray light of dawn coming through the windows overlooking the garden. He could hear the shower running. He got up, found a robe, brushed his hair, and was about to go and find her when she came out of the bathroom, wearing his terrycloth robe, her face shiny with no makeup.
“Good morning,” she said. “You were very good last night.”
“Why, thank you,” he said.
“It’s interesting how you talk during sex,” she said. “Englishmen never do that.”
“No, they always seem in such a hurry. You, on the other hand, took your time, and I liked that.”
“You are a very big surprise, Felicity.”
“Oh, I hope so,” she replied. “If I hadn’t been, my carefully composed professional mien would have been compromised.”
He put his arms around her. “I assure you, it was not. As I said, you were a very big surprise.”
She picked up her watch from his dresser top. “I think we may have time to do it again,” she said. “Are you up for that?”
“I’m getting there,” Stone said.
Stone stood at the door, his arms around Carpenter. “Can’t I get you a cab?”
“It’s only in the next block,” she said.
“The, ah, home of my friends.”
“What is it, a town house? An apartment building?”
“It’s very comfortable,” she said, “though I like it here better.”
“Then why don’t you move in for the remainder of your time in New York?”
“What a nice idea,” she said, kissing him. “Let me see if I can arrange it.”
“Love it. I’ll come here at, say, eight o’clock?”
“See you then.” He watched her walk quickly down the street, then turn the corner. Then he went back inside and made himself some breakfast.
Herbie Fisher was forty minutes late for his appointment. He was small, ferret-like, sleekly dressed, and annoying. “Hey,” he said, plopping down in a chair across the desk from Stone.
“You’re late,” Stone said.
Herbie shrugged. “Traffic.”
“If I give you this job you can’t be late,” Stone said.
Herbie shrugged. “So get somebody else,” he said, standing up.
Stone picked up the phone and punched a button for a line that didn’t exist. “Joan,” he said, “get me that guy I used last month for the photography work.” He hung up and pretended to go through some papers, then he looked up. “You still here?”
“Okay, okay,” Herbie said. “I get the picture. I’ll do it your way, on time and everything. What does it pay?”
“Five hundred,” Stone said. “It just went down from a thousand. You want to try for two-fifty?”
“Five hundred’s fine,” Herbie said contritely. “Gimme the pitch.”
Stone handed him a sheet of paper. “The pitch is, you show up at this address at eight o’clock this evening. Can you pick a lock?”
“What kind of lock?”
“The street door of a town house with several apartments.”
“If you can’t pick the lock, you’ll have to get somebody to buzz you in, or wait for somebody to leave the building so you can get in. If there’s an elevator, take it to the top floor; if not, walk up the stairs.”
“At least two cameras, one wide lens, say a thirty-five-millimeter, one medium telephoto, a hundred-, a hundred-thirty-five-millimeter, in that range. Fast color negative film, no flash. This is strictly existing light. When you get to the top floor, get yourself onto the roof. The sixth-floor apartment has a skylight. There’ll be a man and a woman in the apartment around nine o’clock. I want explicit photographs of whatever they do to each other. Is that clear?”
“Clear as gin.”
“Then get out of there and process the film. Do it yourself; no labs. Got it?”
“Got it. Don’t worry, I got all the equipment. Who are the people?”
“I don’t know, and you don’t want to. I want the negatives and two sets of eight-by-ten prints on my desk, here, no later than ten o’clock tomorrow morning.”
“I got it,” Herbie said. “I want to be paid now.”
“Forget it. Five hundred, cash on delivery. If you do a clean job, no problems, and I like your work, I’ll give you a thousand. Tell me right now if there’s anything about this you can’t handle; you get only one shot at it.”
“I can handle it all, clean, no problems,” Herbie said.
Stone gave him his cell phone number. “Call me when you’re out of the building safely. Don’t write the number down, memorize it.”
“Got it,” Herbie said.
“Then get this, Herbie: You screw up, and I never heard of you. Don’t call me from a police station and ask me to make bail for you, understand?”
“I got it.”
“You get yourself busted, you’ll have to sit in jail until your uncle Bob gets back from the Virgin Islands.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, I get the picture,” Herbie said, picking up one of Stone’s cards from a tray on his desk.
“Put that back,” Stone said. “You and I have never met and have no connection whatever.”
“Jesus, you’re a hardass,” Herbie said, returning the card.
“Now you’re getting the picture,” Stone replied. “But just in case you didn’t, I’ll spell it out for you: You get caught, you’re looking at a Peeping Tom charge, and maybe attempted burglary, at the very least, and at worst, a blackmail rap. You could do time, and you’ll do it with no weekly visits and freshly baked cookies from me. In short: Fuck up and you’re on your own.”
Herbie held up his hands defensively. “I told you, I got it. I’m a pro. I know the risks, and I’ll take whatever, if things go wrong.”
“If you’re not back here with the goods at ten tomorrow morning, I’ll know things went wrong, and I’ll be joining your uncle Bob in Saint Thomas for a week or two. He’ll testify that I was with him the whole time.”
“You think Uncle Bobby would do that to me?”
“He’s already told me he would. He doesn’t like fuckups, either.”
Nodding furiously, Herbie got up and fled the premises.
Stone hoped to God he’d made an impression on the kid.
He buzzed for Joan.
“Book me a table for two at Café des Artistes at eight-thirty, please.”
“Sure, and I promise not to tell Elaine.”
“You’d better not. If I’m dead, you’re out of a job.”
“You have a point.”
“And if a woman named Carpenter calls, give her my cell phone number. I don’t want to miss her call.”
“Somebody new, Stone?”
“Somebody old, but not all that old.”
Carpenter showed up at Stone’s house exactly on time, followed by a uniformed chauffeur carrying two large suitcases.
“I’m accepting your invitation,” she said, kissing Stone lightly on the lips.
“And you’re very welcome,” Stone said. “Put the cases in the elevator,” he said to the chauffeur. “I’ll do the rest.”
They rode up to his bedroom together, and he showed her where to put her clothes. “Make it quick,” he said. “Our dinner table is in half an hour.” He looked at his watch: Herbie Fisher should be in the building by now.
Stone employed a service that provided drivers, and his usual man had his Mercedes E55 waiting at the curb when they came out of the house.
“Very nice,” Carpenter said, settling into the backseat beside Stone.
“And armored, too,” Stone said. “Just in case anybody intends to do you harm.”
“No. When I went car shopping a while back, they were wheeling it into the showroom. Some mob guy had ordered it and had got himself popped the day before it arrived.”
“Good for me, though. I was being shot at, at the time, and I bought it from the widow at a nice discount. The armor is only good for small arms—no land mines or rockets.”
“You get a lot of land mines and rockets on the streets of New York?” she asked.
“Not as many as we used to. Giuliani discouraged that sort of behavior, and Bloomberg seems to be following his lead.”
They arrived at 1 West Sixty-seventh Street on time for their table at Café des Artistes, and they were seated immediately. Stone ordered two champagnes fraise des bois.
“What’s that?” Carpenter asked.
“A glass of champagne with a dose of wild strawberry liqueur.”
The drinks arrived. “I like the murals,” Carpenter said, looking around at paintings of nude nymphs greeting conquistadores.
“They’re a big reason this is one of my favorite restaurants,” Stone said. “Notice that, while they have different faces, the nymphs all seem to have the same body. I think the artist, Howard Chandler Christy, must have had a favorite model.”
“I hope we aren’t here entirely for the nudes,” Carpenter said.
“Fear not, the food is excellent.” He glanced at his watch. Herbie should be in position on the roof by now.
Stone ordered them the charcuterie and the bourride, a seafood stew in a thick, garlicky sauce.
“Mmmmm,” Carpenter said, tasting it. “Good thing we’re both having this, what with all the garlic.”
“Felicity,” Stone said. “No kidding?”
“No kidding. It was my grandmother’s name.”
“And what is your last name?”
“I’m not sure I know you well enough to tell you,” she said.
“After last night, I should think you’d know me well enough to tell me anything,” Stone said.
She laughed. “All right, it’s Devonshire.”
“Like the county?”
“Felicity Devonshire. Sounds like an actress on Masterpiece Theatre.”
“What’s Masterpiece Theatre?”
“It’s a program on our Public Broadcasting System that features British television plays.”
Stone checked his watch again: nine-thirty. Herbie should be calling any second.
“Why do you keep looking at your watch?” Carpenter asked.
“Sorry, something’s going on tonight, and I should get a call saying it went well.”
“Sounds like you’re in my business.”
“Not exactly,” Stone said. “Though we probably use some of the same techniques.”
“What’s this evening’s technique?”
“Candid photography,” he replied.
“Keyhole stuff? You’re joking.”
“All’s fair in love and divorce.”
“I thought we British had a corner on that market, except for the French.”
“Nope. New York is not a no-fault state.”
“What’s no-fault? Sounds like car insurance.”
“It means the divorce is legally considered to be neither party’s fault. Lots of states have that, but not New York. In New York one needs grounds for divorce—cruelty or, especially, adultery. Sometimes my clients ask me to substantiate grounds. In this particular case, the evidence is more important than the divorce itself, since the husband signed a prenuptial agreement stating that, if he fooled around, he’d get none of his wife’s very considerable fortune.”
“I may have asked you this before, but why have you never married?” he asked.
“The job,” she said. “My firm frowns on marriages, unless they’re intramural. Marrying outside the profession almost guarantees divorce, often an ugly one, and the firm doesn’t like that sort of publicity.”
“None of the gentlemen of your trade ever appealed to you?”
“Oh, there was a time,” she said. “A couple of years ago one of my colleagues and I got very serious, but not as serious as I thought. When he was offered a posting abroad, he accepted with alacrity, much to my annoyance. I broke it off immediately. He made the wrong choice.”
“Maybe it wasn’t so wrong after all, if he could leave you so readily.”
“I entirely agree,” she said, “and I got over it. You’re my first, ah, liaison since then, which is why I was so eager to get you into bed last night. I hope I didn’t put you off with my assertiveness.”
“Did I seem put off?”
She laughed. “No, I don’t think you did. You were . . . very interesting.”
“And what, exactly, does that mean?”
“It means exactly that. Don’t worry, it’s a very considerable compliment.”
They finished their main course and had dessert. When they were served coffee, Stone had entirely forgotten about Herbie Fisher. Then his cell phone vibrated. He looked at his watch: just after eleven o’clock. “Do you mind?” he asked, holding up the phone.
“Go ahead,” she said.
Stone opened the phone. “Yes?”
“It wasn’t my fault!” Herbie said, sounding very agitated.
“The goddamned skylight must have been old or something.”
“What the hell happened?” Stone demanded, trying to keep his voice down.
“It collapsed,” Herbie said. “I fell right on top of both of them.”
“You fell into . . .” Stone stopped and looked around. “Where are you?”
“It’s not my fault the guy’s dead,” Herbie said.
“You’ve got to come down here,” Herbie said.
“I’m being arraigned in night court.”
“Listen to me very carefully,” Stone said. “Don’t say a word to anybody—not to a cop, not to an ADA, not toanybody. Do you understand?”
“Sure, I understand. Do you think I’m stupid?”
“I’ll be there inside of an hour, and you keep your mouth shut,” Stone said. He snapped the phone shut.
“Somebody get a thumb in his eye looking through a keyhole?” Carpenter asked.
“Something like that,” Stone said, waving for the check.
“You don’t look so good,” Carpenter said.
“I’m not so good,” Stone said, feeling as if he might toss his dinner back onto the table. “This is very, very bad.”
He signed the check, grabbed Carpenter, and headed for the door.
“Where are we going?” Carpenter asked.
“I’m going to night court; you’re going home.”
“Oh, no I’m not. I want to see night court.”
Stone hustled her into the car. “This may take a while,” he said.
“I’ve got all night,” she replied.
“This is very, very bad,” Stone said, half to himself, as the car drove away.
Stone sat in one of the little rooms where attorneys met with their clients. Carpenter was upstairs in the big courtroom, taking in the American way of justice.
The opposite door to the cubicle opened, and Herbie Fisher walked in. He looked terrible—no belt or shoelaces, his hair mussed, and an expression of terror on his skinny face. He sat down on the stool opposite Stone and grasped the chain-link partition between them.
“You gotta get me out of here,” he said, tears in his eyes.
“Take it easy, Herbie,” Stone said. “Nobody’s going to kill you.”
“You haven’t seen the guys I’m sharing a cell with,” Herbie replied. “Now you gotta get me out of here.”
“Herbie, do you remember the little chat we had yesterday?” Stone asked. “The one where I told you that if you fucked up, you were on your own?”
“It wasn’t my fault!” Herbie cried.
“Keep your voice down. Now I want you to tell me exactly what happened.”
“Get me out of here first,” Herbie said. “Then I’ll tell you.”
“Herbie, unless you tell me what happened and tell me right now, I’m going to walk out of here and let you rot in jail.”
“You can’t do that! You gotta get me out! I can’t be in jail.”
“Herbie, listen to me very carefully,” Stone said. “Take a few deep breaths and calm down.”
Herbie sucked air.
“I’ll tell you what’s going to happen.”
Herbie appeared to be a little calmer.
“Sometime tonight, you’re going to be arraigned in night court. The charges could include manslaughter or negligent homicide, breaking and entering, and attempted burglary. Do you understand?”
“But I didn’t kill anybody!” Herbie cried. “You gotta get me out of here!”
“Shut up and listen. At the arraignment, a lawyer will represent you, and you’ll plead not guilty to all charges. Then bail will be set, and you’ll get out. You’ll be having breakfast at home.”
“You’re going to represent me?” Herbie asked plaintively.
“No, another lawyer will. You are not to mention my name to him or anyone else. Do you understand?
“Now I want you to tell me exactly what happened tonight. Start when you entered the building.”
Herbie took a couple more breaths. “The downstairs door was open—like, ajar, you know? All I had to do was push it open.”
“Good, that helps with the breaking-and-entering charge.”
Then I took the elevator to the sixth floor, like you said, and I found a door to the roof. When I went out onto the roof, it locked behind me and that scared me, because I was stuck up there. I was going to have to shinny down a drainpipe or something.”
“Okay, you got onto the roof. Then what happened?”
“The apartment under the skylight was dark for a few minutes, then, a little before nine, a light came on, and I could see inside.”
“What did you see?”
“A girl was in the room and she was setting up one of those portable massage tables, you know?”
“I know. Go on.”
“Well, she set everything up, and she seemed to be real careful about everything in the room. She was turning lights on and off, until she got them the way she wanted them. Then she spread out sheets and stuff on the table.”
“Okay, go on.”
“Then, a little after nine, this guy arrived, and he took off his clothes. They both did, as a matter of fact.”
“Did they kiss or embrace?”
“Just a peck on the cheek and a pat on the ass.”
“Did you photograph that?”
“No, not yet. I was getting my gear ready.”
Stone resisted the temptation to yell at him. “Go on, what happened next?”
“Then the guy got on the table, facedown, so I figured it wouldn’t do any good to shoot him, if I couldn’t see his face.”
“So you still didn’t take any photographs?”
“No, not yet. So, anyway, the girl was rubbing him all over, and he was kind of squirming. Then he turned over on his back and I could see his face.”
“So you started photographing him?”
“No, not yet.”
“Herbie, did you take any photographs at all?”
“Sure, yeah, I did.”
“I’m coming to that. Anyway, she starts to work on his thing, you know, and he’s writhing around, but my angle wasn’t so good, so I crawled out onto the skylight so I could get a better shot. It looked strong enough to hold me.”
“So, when you got a better angle, did you start shooting?”
“Yeah. I took a couple of wide shots with the thirty-five-millimeter lens, then I heard—no, I guess I felt—this creaking under me, you know?”
“Go on, Herbie.”
“So I stopped shooting and started thinking about getting off that skylight.”
“You stopped shooting?”
“Well, yeah, the skylight was sounding like it was going to break, so I had to get off it.”
“Did you get off it?”
“What do you mean, not exactly?”
“I was kind of backing up, and the skylight creaked again, and the girl looked up, right at me.”
“Did you photograph her face?”
“I’m not sure. It all started happening very fast,” Herbie said.
“Then what happened?”
“The guy was just lying there, like he was done and had fallen asleep, the way you do, you know? And the girl started backing away from the table.”
“Yes, then what happened?”
“Then the skylight caved in and I started falling into the room.”
“I don’t remember.”
“What do you mean, you don’t remember?”
“Well, I must have been out for a little while, and when I came to, I was lying on top of this guy, and he was dead.”
“Wait a minute,” Stone said. “How do you know he was dead?”
“Because he was just kind of staring up with these dead eyes. He wasn’t blinking or anything.”
“What did you do then?”
“Well, I got to my feet and brushed glass and stuff off me and kind of walked around to see if anything was broken. Anything of mine, I mean.”
“But you were all right?”
“Yeah, but the guy was dead. I think I might have broken his leg, though.”
“When you fell on him?”
“Yeah. I fell on his legs.”
“That shouldn’t have killed him.”
“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you. I didn’t kill the guy; I couldn’t have.”
“What happened then?”
“I heard all these guys coming,” Herbie said. “It sounded like a lot of them coming up the stairs.”
“They didn’t use the elevator?”
“What happened next?”
“I figured it was the cops, so I looked around for someplace to hide my camera, and I saw this wood box by the fireplace. So I went over and opened it and took out a log, and I put my camera inside and put the log back on top of it. I was looking for another way out of the room when the door opened and all these guys came in.”
“Were they cops?”
“I guess so.”
“Were they in uniform?”
“No. They looked like detectives, in plain clothes.”
“And what did they do?”
“A couple of them grabbed me and threw me up against the wall, and a couple more went over to see about the naked guy on the table. I heard one of them say his leg was broken, and another one said he was dead.”
“And then what happened?”
“Then they left.”
“They left? You mean they left the apartment and left you alone there?”
“Yeah. One of them said, ‘You stay put.’ So I did.”
“And then what?”
“I tried to find another way out of the apartment, except by the door, but there wasn’t one. So I sat down on a chair and looked at the dead guy for a minute. Then the cops arrived. This time they had uniforms. And guns. And they arrested me and took me to a police station, where they put me in a van with some really badass guys and brought me here.”