Doing Hard Time
The riveting new Stone Barrington novel from New York Times–bestselling author Stuart Woods.
When Stone Barrington embarks on a trip to Bel-Air to check in on some business and personal concerns, he expects a relaxing break from the fast pace and mean streets of New York. But trouble never takes a vacation, and it has a way of finding Stone. A case that had seemingly been resolved has returned in full force—with lethal results. And this deadly situation makes for strange bedfellows when Stone finds himself teamed with the least likely ally . . . a gentleman of unique abilities, who can fly below the radar and above the law.
From the high-stakes poker tables of Las Vegas to California’s lush beachside resorts, the trail of disguise, subterfuge, and murder leads to a shocking conclusion.
Teddy Fay didn’t like the way the man was looking at him. He pushed his cart around a bend, then trotted halfway down the next aisle in the supermarket and stopped. The man appeared behind him and glanced at Teddy in what he perceived to be a furtive manner. Teddy didn’t like it. He especially didn’t like that the man was uniformed as a deputy sheriff.
Teddy didn’t think of himself as an unnaturally paranoid person; still, after years as a fugitive, albeit now a forgotten one, his sense of self-preservation had become honed to a fine point, and he could not ignore that. He ducked around the next corner, abandoned his shopping cart, and moved quickly toward the rear exit of the big store. He passed through a stockroom and out into the alley behind the store, then he broke into a trot. Before the deputy had had time to miss him and start looking, Teddy had arrived back in the parking lot in front of the store, started his car, and driven away.
He drove away from the store in the opposite direction from his house, then started to work a pattern of turns that took him in a circle, back to his neighborhood, always checking his rearview mirror and occasionally stopping for a minute or so to see if a sheriff’s cruiser would pass him. He took forty minutes to make the ten-minute trip to his house, and he had the garage door open with the remote as he turned into the driveway, so that he didn’t have to slow down until the car was inside and the door down. He had enjoyed living in the North Carolina mountain town, but the time had come to move on.
Once inside, Teddy checked the living room window to be sure he had not been followed, then he went to his laptop, entered the eighteen-digit password, found his departure checklist, and printed it. He went to the kitchen, looked under the sink and found the box of surgical gloves he kept there. He donned a pair then went to his bedroom and packed his two duffels with the clothing and belongings he did not want to leave behind. That done, he put all his remaining clothing into a big plastic leaf bag, then vacuumed the house and furniture thoroughly and put the vacuum bag into another leaf bag, followed by every remaining item that he owned, including the used sheets and towels and everything in the refrigerator and freezer. The house had now taken on a bare look, containing only the furnishings that had come with the rental.
When he was satisfied that he had packed everything he was going to take with him he put his belongings and the two leaf bags into the back of the old station wagon he had been driving for the past ten months, then he returned to the house, found a spray bottle of alcohol-based window cleaning fluid, and spent nearly four hours wiping down every door and door handle, piece of furniture, kitchen cabinet, and surface in the house that could retain a fingerprint.
He spent half an hour at his computer, first logging onto the CIA mainframe, then finding his way to the FAA website and creating a new registration for his airplane, using a tail number from a list he had already reserved and had had stick-on numbers made for.
He then packed his laptop and the contents of his safe, including some $400,000 in cash, into a hard suitcase, then he counted out three months’ rent, put it into an envelope addressed to the real estate agent, along with a note in childish block capitals explaining his departure, and left it on the kitchen table. Since he didn’t have a cleaning lady, it might be weeks before someone found it.
He made a final sweep of the house, then put the suitcase into the rear of the wagon and, using a yard rake, broke the lightbulb that automatically came on when the garage door was opened. It was past one in the morning, now, and as he closed the garage door with the remote, he checked the block once again for any threat. That done, he tossed the remote into a rosebush in front of the house and left the neighborhood.
He drove several miles across town then tossed the leaf bag containing the useful items he no longer wanted into a Salvation Army collection bin, then, a couple of blocks away, he threw the other leaf bag into a building-site dumpster.
Now clear of the town, he drove to the Asheville Regional Airport and tapped in the code that opened a gate on the back side of the field. He drove to his hangar, opened it, and drove inside. He packed the Cessna 182 RG with his belongings, wiped down the station wagon thoroughly, and left another envelope with three months’ hangar rental and a note under a windshield wiper.
He stripped off the plastic, stick-on tail numbers on the airplane and replaced them with the new number. Finally, using the tow bar, he moved the airplane out of the hangar and closed the hangar door. He stripped off the surgical gloves and ran quickly through his checklist, then started the airplane and turned off the master switch, darkening the instrument panel and the interior lights. With only a quarter of a moon and the runway lights to show him the way, he taxied to runway 34 and, without slowing, started his takeoff roll. He thought it likely that, at this time of night, the controller on duty in the tower was probably occupied with some task or reading a magazine and would not notice the small, unlit airplane leaving the airport.
Teddy kept the airplane as low as was safely possible until he was a good twenty miles from the airport, then he turned west and began his climb. Not until he had reached 8,500 feet did he turn on the master switch, the exterior lights, the instrument panel switch, and, finally, the autopilot. He had no specific destination in mind; he would think about that after daylight.
He set his traffic avoidance equipment to a range of twenty miles; an alarm would alert him to other aircraft at or near his altitude. He inclined his seat a few notches, pulled a light blanket over himself, and sought sleep.
Teddy woke with the dawn and looked around him. The American mid-South lay before him, and so did the Mississippi River. He checked his fuel supply and figured he could make Fort Smith, Arkansas, in an hour or so. He landed there, refueled, paid in cash, and had breakfast from a vending machine, washing it down with the free coffee. In half an hour he was back in the air.
Then a wonderful thing happened: the light headwind he had been bucking all night changed, first, to a stiff breeze off his beam, then to a fifty-knot tailwind. He began to put real distance behind him.
He was west of Albuquerque near Gallup when he saw it ahead of him. He started a descent until the object revealed itself in the clear, desert air: a Stearman biplane, parked at one end of a dirt strip nestled against a collection of buildings—a motel, a store or two, and a gas station backed up against the landing strip. He circled the little town once and saw what he was looking for: a fuel tank sitting on a wooden cradle near the Stearman. He checked the windsock and put the Cessna down on the dirt.
A man came strolling out the rear door of what appeared to be a garage adjoining the gas station, and he stood by until Teddy had turned everything off and shut down the engine. “Good day to you,” the man said, as Teddy got out of the airplane and stretched. “My name’s Tom Fields. What can I do you for?”
“You can top me off,” Teddy said, offering his hand. “I’m Billy Burnett. Is there someplace where I can get a hamburger?”
“Sure thing,” Fields said. “Right across Main Street at the motel.” A teenaged boy came out of the garage wiping his hands on a rag. “This is my grandson, Bobby.”
“What’s this place called?” Billy asked. “I didn’t see it on the chart.”
“No, you wouldn’t. This is Paso Grande, New Mexico. The world pretty much passed us by when they opened up I-40.”
Billy followed Tom Fields into his auto shop and looked around: clean, everything in good order, well equipped—all he required in a workshop. “Nice place you’ve got here,” he said.
“Thanks. Right through that door there is my equipment-rental business. I’ve got a forklift and a backhoe and some pneumatic drills, plus a lot of smaller stuff. I’ll pass both businesses on to Bobby, if I can live until he grows some more. Right now, he’s just changing oil and fixing flats. I’m going to send him to mechanic’s school when he graduates from high school.” He pointed out the front door. “There’s your hamburger,” he said.
“Thanks, Tom,” Billy replied. “Will you join me?”
Tom looked at his watch: “I reckon I will.”
Billy was introduced to Sally, a handsome woman of fifty who owned the motel and kept the lunch counter, and the two men had a leisurely lunch, while Teddy shot an occasional appraising glance at Sally, who frankly returned his interest.
“What brings you out our way?” Tom asked over coffee.
“Oh, I just sold my business back in upper New York State, and I thought I’d see some of the country. I lost my wife a year and a half ago, so there was nothing holding me back.” Teddy had already adopted Tom’s manner of speaking and a little of his accent. It was the natural actor in him.
“What kind of business?”
“Machine shop. Tom, do you reckon I could borrow enough tools from you to change my alternator? It’s been erratic, and I’ve got a spare aboard.”
“Sure you can. I’ll help you.”
The two men changed the alternator, then Tom looked at his watch. “I’ve got to run home,” he said. “My wife, Nell, had a little stroke last week, and she’s coming home from the hospital in Albuquerque in an ambulance. Due in half an hour.”
“You go ahead,” Billy said. “Anything I can help you with while you’re gone?”
Tom scratched his head. “That’s good of you to offer. I’ve got a Ford over there needs a new water pump. You reckon you could handle that during my absence? I’ll pay you for your time.”
“I’m glad to help,” Billy said. “Don’t worry about paying me, I’m right well off these days.”
Tom left, and Teddy changed the water pump, teaching Bobby what he was doing. Twice they paused to sell some gasoline to passing cars and clean the windscreens.
It was close to six o’clock before Tom came back. He glanced at the Ford. “Nice job,” he said. “Billy, it’s too late in the day to start off somewhere. Why don’t you come stay with us tonight? My daughter, Bobby’s mother, is fixing supper, and we’ve got a big old house.”
“I’d like to have dinner, Tom, but if you don’t mind, I’ll get a room over at the motel.” Before dinner was over, he had offered to stay on for a week or two, until Tom felt comfortable about coming back to work full-time.
After dinner he accepted a drink, then excused himself and drove back to the motel. As he walked through the diner door, Sally was ringing up the check of her last customer of the day.
“It’s Billy, right?”
“That’s right,” Teddy said, sliding into a booth.
“Can I get you something?”
“I’ll take a cup of coffee if you’ll have a drink with me,” he said, placing half a bottle of bourbon on the table before him.
“I’ll get us some ice,” Sally said. She did that, then slid into the booth with him and watched as he poured.
“I could also use a nice room for a week or two,” Teddy said, lifting his glass to her.
Sally clinked glasses and took a deep pull on her whiskey. “I reckon I can find you a place to sleep,” she said.
It was as easy as that: he had a job, a bed, and someone to share the latter with. Once again, Teddy Fay had effectively vanished in a puff of smoke.
Stone Barrington sat in the fourth row of the University Theater for the winter graduation ceremony of the Yale School of Drama. On one side of him sat Dino and Vivian Bacchetti; on the other side, as far as possible from Viv, sat Mary Ann Bianci Bacchetti, Dino’s former wife and the mother of his son, Ben.
Peter Barrington and Benito Bacchetti, the graduating sons, stood on either side of Hattie Patrick, Peter’s girlfriend, and, as their names were called, each stepped forward to accept their diplomas from the dean of the School of Drama.
There followed a slightly overlong address to the graduates by a Famous Broadway Director, himself an alumnus, then the ceremony was ended, and everyone involved made for the exits.
As the crowd shuffled toward the doors, Stone saw a familiar face just before it disappeared through the exit. He couldn’t place it, but the face had somehow induced a small trickle of anxiety in his guts. Troubled by the feeling, he dismissed it, filed away the face in his mind and resolved to pull it up later, when he was not so occupied with the matters at hand.
Half an hour later, Stone, Dino and Viv, but not Mary Ann, who could not tolerate sharing any social occasion, even this one, with her husband’s new wife, had said goodbye to her son and vanished. Nobody said, “good riddance,” but the words were written on the faces of both Dino and Viv, and Ben looked decidedly relieved.
Hattie sat at the concert grand Steinway, playing Chopin waltzes for background music, as Peter’s entire graduation class, an even dozen and their parents and friends, sipped champagne, a Veuve Cliquot Grande Dame, supplied by Stone, who now sidled up to his son.
“That went well, I thought,” Stone said.
“I know what you want to know,” Peter said. “What are my plans?”
“Are you coming back to New York for a while?” Stone asked his son.
“We’re leaving for California at dawn,” Peter said. “We decided to drive.”
“You’re going to drive your Prius all the way across America?” Stone asked, incredulously.
“Nope, I traded it for a Porsche Cayenne Turbo,” Peter replied. “And we’ve rented a U-Haul trailer.”
“You can’t get all this,” Stone said, indicating the well-furnished apartment, “into a trailer.”
“You’re right, Dad. That’s why the movers are coming tomorrow and packing and shipping everything to L.A., where it will be stored while we look for a place to live. The U-Haul will hold the stuff we absolutely have to have with us for a couple of weeks.”
“That makes sense,” Stone said. “Where will you stay when you arrive?”
“Our cottage, Vance’s old one on the Centurion Studios lot, is being renovated for us. We can camp out there.”
“At the risk of intruding into your personal life,” Stone said, “may I point out that we have a perfectly good, five-bedroom house on the grounds of The Arrington, your mother’s namesake hotel? You might be a great deal more comfortable there, and there’s room service for more than pizza. I’d be happy to give them a call and let them know you’re coming.”
“Thanks, Dad,” Peter said, as if this alternative had never occurred to him, “we’ll take you up on that.”
“When will you be arriving?”
“Next Friday. We start at the studio the following Monday. Our script has already been approved for production.”
“So you’re jumping in at the deep end, then?”
“You could put it that way, I guess. Having a shooting script already approved gives us a head start.”
So did the ownership of forty-five percent of the studio’s stock by himself and Peter’s trust, Stone mused. “I expect you’ll get a warm reception from Leo Goldman, Jr.,” he said.
“Leo told me he’s going to treat us just like everybody else at the studio,” Peter said. “No favoritism.”
“Okay,” Stone said, “and if he fails to do that, we can always muster enough votes on the board to fire him.” Stone and his friend, Mike Freeman, CEO of Strategic Services, Stone’s principal law client, both served on the board and together voted a majority of the shares.
Peter laughed heartily. “I hope it won’t come to that, Dad.”
“You never know what can happen when you’re doing hard time in Hollywood,” Stone said.
“What do you mean by that?” Peter asked, sounding genuinely curious.
“After a few weeks at Centurion Studios, you won’t need to ask,” Stone said. “By the way, I know this will sound odd, but I’d like for you to call me if you meet anyone out there who is Russian.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I know. I just saw someone at your graduation ceremony who looked familiar, and, on reflection, I somehow think he’s Russian.”
“Dad, I know you’ve recently had some serious troubles with a Russian Mob, but why would any of them be at my graduation ceremony?”
“I don’t know, but I want you to be alert to the possibility that, if you meet someone who is Russian, he may not be a friend. Please, just call me.”
“All right, I will.”
Dino wandered over, Viv in tow. “Now that we’ve outlasted Mary Ann, why don’t we get out of here and leave these kids to get drunk and have a good time?” Dino always worried when his ex-wife had too much access to his son. He said she had a way of eating peoples’ brains.
“The car’s parked out front,” Stone said. “Let’s say our goodbyes.”
There was a round of hugs, kisses, and standard advice, then they were in Stone’s car, headed from New Haven back to New York.
It was very quiet for a while, then Dino finally spoke. “I don’t know why,” he said, “but I feel like crying.”
“Oh, Dino,” Viv said, “get a grip.”
“I feel like crying, too,” Stone said.
But neither of them did.
Praise for DOING HARD TIME
“Longtime Woods fans who have seen Teddy [Fay] evolve from a villain to something of a lovable antihero will enjoy watching the former enemies work together in this exciting yarn. Is this the beginning of a beautiful partnership? Let’s hope so.”—Booklist
“Stone—wealthy, handsome, and suave—displays a father’s ruthless streak . . . while Fay brings a welcome gritty edge to this crowd-pleasing series.”—Publishers Weekly
Praise for UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES
“Since 1981, readers have not been able to get their fill of Stuart Woods' New York Times best-selling novels of suspense.”—Orlando Sentinel
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