Stone Barrington made it from his bed to his desk by ten AM, after something of a struggle with jet lag. Granted, the three-hour time change between Los Angeles and New York was not a killer, but it mattered. As soon as he sat down his intercom buzzed.
“Yes?” he said to his secretary, Joan Robertson.
“You have a visitor,” she said, “name of John Fratelli. Says he’s a friend of Eduardo.”
“Send him in,” Stone said. Any friend of Eduardo Bianci’s was a friend of his.
A vision of the mid-to-late twentieth century appeared in the doorway.
“Mr. Barrington? May I come in?”
“Of course,” Stone said, rising to greet his visitor, who was wearing a boxy, light gray flannel suit, a starched white shirt, and what appeared to be a clip-on bow tie. He was carrying a salesman’s suitcase and a porkpie hat and had a haircut that had probably been accomplished entirely with electric clippers—short sides and a Brylcreemed top. “Come in and have a seat, Mr. Fratelli.”
“Thank you,” the man replied. “It’s nice of you to see me.” This was delivered in what appeared to be an old-fashioned Brooklyn accent, the likes of which had not been heard for many years from a man as young as Fratelli, who appeared to be no older than fifty. He came in and took the proffered chair across the desk and set down the suitcase.
“How may I help you?” Stone said, hoping the man was not a salesman.
Fratelli stood again, reached into a pocket, and pulled out a wad of bills; he peeled off five hundreds and placed them carefully on Stone’s desk.
“All right,” Stone said, “you’ve paid for a consultation and bought yourself some attorney-client confidentiality.”
“Good,” Fratelli said, sitting down again.
“I should inform you, though, that if you confess to a crime and I end up representing you in court, I will not be able to call you to the stand to testify on your own behalf.”
“Why not?” Fratelli inquired.
“Because I cannot call a witness to the stand who I know will lie under oath.”
“I understand,” Fratelli said. “That’s reasonable, I guess.”
“How is Mr. Bianci?” Stone asked, by way of getting the man to relax.
“Did you not tell my secretary that Eduardo had sent you to me?”
“Oh, I meant Eduardo Buono.”
“I don’t know anyone by that name,” Stone said.
“Well, he knows you.”
“How does he know me?”
“He read an article about you in a magazine—Vanity Fair.”
That magazine had published an excerpt from a book about Stone’s late wife, Arrington. “I’m afraid I—”
“Eduardo says you’re a standup guy.”
“Well, as kind a characterization as that may be—”
“Eduardo and I shared a living space for twenty-two years.”
“I’m happy for you both, but that still doesn’t—”
“Eduardo was a very smart man, even if he did get caught.”
“Ahhhh,” Stone said. Now he understood. “Where did you do your time, Mr. Fratelli?”
“And when did you get out?”
“How long were you away?”
“Twenty-five years, to the day. I did my whole sentence, no parole.”
“What was the rap?”
“Armed robbery. I did it, no excuses. That’s why I didn’t apply for parole.”
“Then you, not I, are the standup guy, Mr. Fratelli.”
Fratelli actually blushed. “Thank you,” he said softly.
“Now, please tell me, how can I help you?”
“Eduardo left me two million dollars,” he said. “And change.”
“Congratulations, but if you’re looking for investment advice, I’m not—”
“I’m looking for advice on how not to go back to prison,” Fratelli said.
“That’s fairly simple, Mr. Fratelli—don’t commit another crime.”
“Oh, sure, but—”
“Oh, I think I see. Did Mr. Buono acquire your inheritance by extralegal means?”
“Did he rob somebody?”
“Exactly, but Eduardo said the statue was done.”
That stopped Stone in his tracks for a moment, then he figured it out. “Do you mean the statute? The statute of limitations?”
“Well, the statute of limitations for robbery is five years, so if you and Mr. Buono were cellmates for twenty-two years . . .”
“So it’s mine, then?”
“I wouldn’t go as far as that,” Stone said. “It’s problematical.”
“I was afraid you’d say something like that.”
“Mr. Fratelli, let me put this hypothetically, since you and I do not want to discuss a real crime.”
“Okay, I get that.”
“If prisoner A committed a crime, and the statute of limitations has run out, then he can mention prisoner B in his will.”
“It wasn’t exactly like that,” Fratelli said. “There wasn’t—I mean, in this story prisoner A didn’t have a will, he had a safe-deposit box. He, hypothetically speaking, had a bank account, and every quarter for twenty-five years, the bank deducted the rental of the safe-deposit box from his account. From time to time, his lawyer deposited funds.”
“And prisoner B has access to the box?”
“Prisoner A told me—ah, him—where to find the key.”
“And has prisoner B visited the box?”
“You could say that.”
“And he emptied the box?”
“About an hour ago,” Fratelli said. “Just as soon as the bank opened, prisoner B was there with the key.”
“Did anyone see what he removed from the box?”
“No, he was in a little closet, and he had brought a suitcase. He just walked out with the money.”
“His question is, what’s he going to do with it?”
“Whatever he likes,” Stone said. “As long as no one knows he has it.”
“Does prisoner B have the money legally?”
“A better question might be, is anyone going to be looking for the money? A widow? A nephew? A bookie?”
“He didn’t have any of those, and nobody knows about the money. Hypothetically.”
“How about the lawyer who made the bank deposits?”
“He died three weeks ago.”
“Then, Mr. Fratelli, prisoner B is laughing.”
“His first move should be to go to a bank—a different bank—open a checking account with less than ten thousand dollars, then rent another safe-deposit box. After that, he could remove enough money periodically to support himself. Lashing out with large amounts could get him into trouble, as you might imagine. People will steal, after all.”
“Yes, they will,” Fratelli said.
“Ten thousand dollars is the magic number. If prisoner B banks that much, a form reporting it goes to the Internal Revenue Service, and, although they are said to have stacks of those forms, which they never read, it’s not a good idea to generate such a form. After all, they may start reading faster, or they may teach a computer how to read them.”
“That’s good advice,” Fratelli said.
“One other thing: if you should seek legal advice again, it might be in your interests to go to an attorney who has not heard this hypothetical story.”
Fratelli stood up. “Thank you, Mr. Barrington,” he said, offering his hand.
They shook, Fratelli left, and Stone opened a desk drawer and raked the little stack of hundreds into it.
Joan came in a moment later. “While you were talking to Mr. Fratelli, a secretary to the president of the United States called. You’re invited to dinner tomorrow evening with President and Mrs. Lee at their apartment in the Carlyle.”
Stone had not heard from the Lees in months. “Call back and say that I accept, with pleasure.”
“You may bring a date.”
Stone’s current squeeze, the fashion designer Emma Tweed, had returned to her native London for a few weeks. “Say that I will come alone.”
Stone wore a dark suit and a tie, because he didn’t know who else was invited. He entered the Carlyle Hotel and got off the elevator at the penthouse level, where he was greeted by two Secret Service agents to whom he identified himself. That wasn’t good enough; they went over him with the wand.
Katherine Rule Lee, now retired as director of Central Intelligence, answered the door. She was wearing tight jeans and a sweater, and she looked good in both. “Oh, Stone,” she said, offering both cheeks to be kissed and giving him a hug, “nobody told you to dress down?”
“I didn’t get that part of the message,” Stone said, “but I’m not in the least uncomfortable.”
“Will’s watching the news. Knob Creek?”
She pointed him at the living room, then went to the bar, while he continued.
Will Lee stood up and offered his hand. “Good to see you, Stone.”
“And you, Mr. President.”
“It’s still Will.”
“Good to see you, Will.”
The president waved him to a chair, and Kate brought him his drink.
“They’re showing excerpts from last night’s Democratic campaign debate,” Will said.
The three of them watched in silence until the program ended, then Will turned off the TV. “What did you think?” he asked Stone.
“I think there are at least three guys and one woman in that field who would make a good president.”
“And not one who could win against Taft Duncan,” Stone said, referring to the Speaker of the House and presumptive Republican nominee.
“I’m afraid I agree,” Will said. “What have you been up to Stone?”
“I’ve just come back from Los Angeles, where my son, Peter, who recently graduated from Yale, has established himself on the Centurion Studios lot as a director. Dino’s son, Ben, is his partner, and Peter’s girlfriend, Hattie Patrick, writes the music for their films.”
“I’ve met them all, last year at the opening of The Arrington,” Will said. “Remember?”
“How could I forget?” Stone said.
They all shared a laugh.
“And what does the next year hold for you?”
“My year seems oddly empty, with Peter on the other side of the country, so I guess I’ll have to think about practicing some law. Bill Eggers is making broad hints about my absences from the firm.”
“Ah, yes, the partners won’t want to share income with one of their number who is an absentee.”
“Well, I have made a lot of rain,” Stone said, “so I don’t think I have to worry about them ganging up on me. What brings you to town?”
“Well, Kate is supposed to have an informal meeting with the board of Strategic Services tomorrow evening.”
“Yes, I know, I’ll be at the dinner.” Kate had been invited to join the board of directors after Will left office.
“Our other reason for being here is to see you,” Will said.
That puzzled Stone. “Oh?”
A man in a white jacket appeared and announced dinner, so they all went to a table with a spectacular view of the New York City skyline. Stone took a sip of his wine and waited for the president to finish his thought.
“Stone,” Will said, “the day before yesterday I received a bundle of twenty letters, each of them written by a Democratic Party bigwig or a major campaign contributor, all individually composed but with the same subject. Can you guess what that subject was?”
“Well, it seems a little late in the game to get a constitutional amendment passed that would allow you to run for a third term.”
“Thank God for that,” Will said. “What they wanted was what they see as the next best thing.” He sat silently and waited for the penny to drop.
It took Stone a moment. “Kate,” he said finally. “They want Kate to run.”
“Terrible idea, isn’t it?” Kate said. She had been quiet until now.
“I think it’s a terrific idea,” Stone said. “But we’re halfway through the primaries.”
“My very point,” Kate said, “but Will doesn’t think that is an impediment.”
“And I think Stone can figure out why,” Will said.
“Because it looks like none of the candidates is going to have anything like a majority of the delegates going into the first ballot at the convention.”
“Right you are.”
“So, for the first time in I-don’t-know-how-long, we’d have a brokered convention?”
“Since 1952,” Will said, “when Adlai Stevenson got the nomination. We’ve had some close brushes since, but not the real thing. The primary process usually works to nominate a candidate.”
Stone thought about that. “I was just thinking about Gore Vidal’s play The Best Man, which dealt with that subject.”
“Do you remember what each candidate needed to get the nomination?”
“Yes, the support of an earlier president, a Trumanesque figure.”
“Well, I don’t think Kate would have any trouble getting the support of the sitting president, would she?”
“I’m trying to get him to withhold that support,” Kate said.
“Actually, she doesn’t have to try,” Will said. “It would be politically impossible for me to support her.”
“The Republicans would say you’re trying to create a dynasty,” Stone said.
“Not just the Republicans,” Will replied. “A lot of Democrats, too, especially the three or four leading candidates.”
“So, you’d have to sit back, clam up, and wait for the convention to sort it out—after the first ballot.”
“Exactly,” Will said.
“You don’t really think anybody’s going to buy that, do you?” Stone asked.
“Of course not. All the commentators and not a few of the delegates will say I’m pulling all the strings.”
“And how would you handle that?”
“By not pulling any strings.”
“You mean you’d actually sit out the nomination without showing the slightest support for Kate?”
“Not so much as a nod or a wink,” Will replied. “And not a word of advice to her or any of her supporters on obtaining the nomination. If she gets it, then I’ll shoot my mouth off at every opportunity, of course, but after tonight, I won’t say a word to her or anyone else on the subject, except ‘no comment.’”
“You see how crazy this is?” Kate said.
“Kate,” Stone said, “let me ask you a question: do you think you’d make a good president?”
“I think I’d make a sensational president,” Kate said.
Stone turned to Will. “And, Will, do you think she can beat Taft Duncan?”
“In my last word on the subject, yes,” Will said. He looked at his watch. “I’d better hurry,” he said. “I’m sneaking into the Blue Note to hear Chris Botti’s last set.”
“Can I come with you?” Stone asked. “I’m a big Chris Botti fan.”
“No, you have a meeting to attend.”
“What meeting is that?”
“In about an hour the twenty people who wrote me those letters are arriving here for a drink with Kate, so I can’t be here. But you can.”
Will got up and shook Stone’s hand. “Hope to see you soon, Stone, but when I do, I don’t want to hear a word about Kate’s plans.”
“Gotcha, Will.” He and Kate watched him disappear out the door, two Secret Service agents close behind him.
“Well,” Kate said, heaving a sigh. “Now I have only you to help me greet the throng.”
“What are you going to say to them?” Stone asked.
“I think it’s better if you hear it at the same time they do,” she said. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get into something more presidential.” She got up and left Stone to contemplate his dessert.
Kate came back at five minutes before the hour and handed Stone a sheet of paper. “Here’s the list of the invitees. The good news is, every one of them accepted.”
Stone scanned the list quickly. “This is a great tribute to you,” he said. He knew half a dozen of them, at least slightly; Bill Eggers, the managing partner of Stone’s law firm, Woodman & Weld, and Mike Freeman, CEO of the world’s second-largest security firm, Strategic Services, were close friends. Half of them were women, either politicians or businesspeople.
Kate took back the list and shoved it into the pocket of her jacket.
“Your suit looks great, perfect for the occasion,” Stone said.
“I won’t be wearing Chanel suits often after tonight,” she said. “I’ll have to expand my J. Crew wardrobe, though. They’re bringing some things for me to look at tomorrow.”
“Are you nervous about this meeting?”
“I am. It’s the first time I’ve ever asked for anyone’s support, except for Will. Will you introduce me when everyone’s here?”
“Of course. Is there anything in particular you’d like me to say?”
“Just say what Will would say, if he were here. Thank them for their letters, which Will turned over to me, and explain his hands-off position.”
“He’s serious about it, then?”
“Dead serious. He says he won’t even discuss it with me. And explain to them that they shouldn’t try to discuss it with him.”
“You know this is going to be in the papers tomorrow, don’t you?”
“I wouldn’t be shocked,” she replied. “Someone will blab, it’s human nature, I suppose.”
The doorbell rang, and Kate led Stone into the living room to await the guests while the butler answered the door.
• • •
Half an hour later, all of the invitees had arrived and were at least halfway through their first drink. Kate nodded at Stone; he stood and tapped his signet ring loudly against his glass, then set down his drink. Silence fell.
“Good evening to all of you,” Stone said. “My name is Stone Barrington. I know some of you and look forward to getting to know you all over the next few months. The president was unable to join us, as he has an extremely important appointment to hear some jazz down in the Village.”
That got a good laugh.
“And, I should tell you, that wasn’t a joke. The president won’t be joining us at any of our meetings or speaking to any of us or anyone else about the subject of this meeting. He recognizes that this is the beginning of an unusual—no, a unique political campaign, and he believes he can best serve the interests of his party and his country by staying the hell out of it. So, please, when you next see him, make no reference to Kate and her campaign. He did want you to know, however, that after the convention has made its choice, he will have a great deal to say about his wife’s campaign to you and to anybody else who will listen. Now, Kate wants to talk to us and tell us how we can help.” He turned and extended a hand toward the first lady.
“Ladies, gentlemen, you know why you are all here, because you started this. You were kind enough to get together and write individually to Will, suggesting a course of action. Will immediately turned your letters over to me, and told me to get on with it, if that’s what I wanted to do. That is what I want to do, and I am going to need your continuing help and advice. Since this is all your fault, you are now the steering committee for my campaign.”
“How much is it going to cost us, Kate?” someone called from the back of the room.
“All I want from you is your friendship, your affection, your wisdom . . . and a check for a million dollars payable to a superPAC that’s being set up as we speak.” Loud laughter. “And that’s just for starters, because I am going to ask each of you—at the moment we secure the nomination—to get on the phone and start raising twenty-five million dollars each, and the smaller the contributions, the better. That will give us half a billion dollars to run on—about half of what we’ll need for the whole campaign.
“Now, I know it will be difficult for all of us not to discuss this with anyone else—spouses, lovers, business associates, barbers, bookies—but every day you can keep your mouth shut about this evening and our mutual intentions, the stronger the move we make will be when we make it. I’m doing half a dozen exit interviews while I’m in New York, and I don’t want to have to face questions about my political intentions. At this moment, you are the only people who know of my intentions. Now, everybody grab a seat, if you can find one, and start asking me questions.”
Stone sat quietly and marveled at how knowledgeable, fluent, concise, and witty Kate was when fielding the questions. She was going to be great on the road and in town hall meetings. The questions went on for an hour, then there was another half hour of chatting, exchanging of business cards, and congratulating Kate. Stone was the last to leave.
“I thought that went just perfectly,” he said to Kate at the door.
“I thought so, too, Stone, and thank you for being here and helping me in Will’s absence.”
“I’m very glad to be here, and I’ll be very glad to help in any way I can. Let me know when you need my check.”
They hugged and kissed, and Stone left the apartment feeling that he had been part of something historic. As he waited for the elevator, the doors opened and Will Lee stepped out. “How did it go?” he asked, then threw up a hand. “No, I don’t want to know.”
“How was Chris Botti?”
“So was Kate.”
Will clapped his hands over his ears, and Stone got onto the elevator, laughing.
When he got home, he found a pocket recorder and dictated an account—everything he could remember about the evening.
He went to bed excited.
Stone took his breakfast tray off the dumbwaiter, along with the two morning papers, the New York Times and the Daily News.
As he ate his eggs and bacon he went over the lead stories of both papers: not a word about last night’s event. He switched on the TV and was greeted by the sight of the president leaving the Blue Note. A local reporter stuck a microphone in his face.
“Mr. President, where’s the first lady? Couldn’t you get a date?”
Will laughed. “She had a dinner date with somebody else,” he said.
“And who was that?”
“She wouldn’t tell me.” He got into the waiting SUV and drove away.
• • •
Immediately after Stone reached his desk, Joan buzzed. “John Fratelli to see you.”
“He says it’s urgent.”
“All right, send him in.”
Fratelli appeared in the doorway, still carrying his suitcase.
Stone waved him in. “So, Mr. Fratelli, why aren’t you at a bank opening an account?”
“I tried,” Fratelli said, holding up his suitcase to display three bullet holes.
“Are you hurt?”
“The money stopped the rounds,” he said. “I wasn’t heeled, so all I could do was hide behind my bag.”
“Did you call the police?”
“I didn’t think that was such a good idea.”
“I see your point,” Stone said. “What bank did you go to?”
“One on the corner of Forty-second and Third. I forget the name.”
“And you never got inside?”
“Any idea who shot at you?”
“We’re still under lawyer confidentiality?”
“I don’t know if you’re old enough to remember,” Fratelli said, “but a long time ago, some guys stuck up a freight terminal at JFK and walked away with a big crate full of money that was being shipped to a foreign bank.”
“I’m old enough to remember,” Stone said. “And I suppose your friend Buono was one of them?”
“He was their leader,” Fratelli said, “and some of them were unhappy with their cut. Eddie took half, something like seven million, and the others split the rest. They got away clean, and Eddie told them all to lie low for eighteen months, not to buy anything expensive or showy, just to live regular, you know?”
“I know,” Stone said.
“Well, all of a sudden half a dozen bookies in Brooklyn got paid what they were owed, so right away, the street knew who pulled the job. Then one of them bought a red Cadillac convertible, and all of a sudden there were cops everywhere.”
“As I recall, the busts came only a couple of weeks after the robbery,” Stone said.
“Mr. Fratelli, it sounds like what you’re telling me is that Eddie didn’t spend any of his half of the money—what was it? Seven million?”
Fratelli nodded solemnly.
“But you only got the two million in the safe-deposit box?”
Fratelli nodded again.
“Arithmetic tells me there’s another five million out there somewhere.”
“How many guys did the job?”
“How many are still alive?”
“And where are they?”
“Out,” Fratelli said.
Stone held up a hand. “Don’t tell me who they are.”
“One of them was at Sing Sing when Eddie and me were. He made a couple of attempts to get Eddie to tell what he had done with his money, but I . . .”
“You were watching Eddie’s back,” Stone said.
Fratelli nodded. “For twenty-two years.”
“Did you recognize the man who shot at you?”
“Two of them: one driving, one shooting. Young guys. I don’t know any young guys.”
“Mr. Fratelli,” Stone said, “I think you need to get out of town.”
“But I’ve still gotta—”
“The rest of the money, wherever it is, has been safe all these years—a few months more isn’t going to hurt.”
“I guess I’d better get on a plane, then.”
“No, Mr. Fratelli, not a plane. These days everything gets X-rayed.”
“A better idea, but your shooters might be watching. Same with the bus station.”
“Then how’m I going to get out of town?”
“I don’t suppose you have a driver’s license?”
Stone thought about it. “Do you know what a livery service is?”
“Cars—black Lincolns, mostly, with drivers. They’re an expensive way to travel, but you can afford it.” Stone rummaged in his desk drawer, came up with a card, and handed it to Fratelli. “This is a big one, a chain. You don’t want to deal with a small, neighborhood outfit—no telling who owns it. What you do is, you pick a place you want to go, say Pittsburgh.”
“It’s just an example. You call this service and tell them you want a car to drive you there. They’ll be happy to take cash. Then, after you’re under way, you change your mind and tell the driver you want to go somewhere else, like Boston or Washington, D.C. Anyplace with train service. When you get there, have him drive you to the station and take a train to anywhere you like, except back to New York.”
“Okay, that makes sense.”
“You need a change in your clothing, to blend in better.”
“What kind of clothing should I get?”
“Go to Brooks Brothers. You know it?”
“Yeah, it used to be on Madison.”
“It still is. Buy a couple of suits, some shirts and ties, the works—a wardrobe. They sell luggage there, too. Buy a couple of pieces, insist that they fit your suits while you wait. Buy a new hat, and when you get a chance, grow some hair, maybe a mustache. Next time you get a haircut, don’t let the barber use electric clippers. You getting the picture?”
“Yeah, I want to look like a regular businessman. But I don’t know where to go after that.”
“Pick someplace nice, take a vacation, enjoy yourself.”
“Maybe Florida,” Fratelli said, smiling a little.
“Don’t tell me,” Stone said. “Another thing, on your way to Brooks Brothers, tell the cabdriver to find a Radio Shack.”
“They still got those?”
“They still got those. Buy something called a throwaway cell phone—you’ll find it useful, and don’t forget to recharge it every night when you go to bed.”
“Who am I going to call?”
“Use it to make hotel reservations on your trip. Another thing, when you open your bank account, ask them to give you something called a debit card. You can use it like a credit card, and they’ll take your charges out of your account.”
“This is all very good advice, Mr. Barrington.”
“Don’t mention it.” Stone picked up the phone and buzzed Joan. “Please hail a cab for Mr. Fratelli,” he said. “I don’t want him standing on the street, looking for one.” He hung up. “Good luck, Mr. Fratelli. I don’t suppose we’ll be meeting again.” Stone leaned a little on that.
“Yeah, right,” Fratelli said. He put some more hundreds on Stone’s desk and left.
Stone’s private line rang, and he picked it up. “Hello?”
“It’s Dino. You up for dinner tonight?”
“Eight at Patroon?”
“See you there.”
Stone arrived at Patroon as Dino was getting out of his car, a large black SUV. He clapped his friend on the back. “No more town car?”
“They stopped making them, and the department got these tanks to replace them.”
A moment later, after a warm greeting from Patroon’s owner, Ken Aretzky, they were seated at their usual table. There was really no replacement for Elaine’s, without Elaine, but Patroon was serving pretty well.
Drinks arrived without being ordered.
“So where’s Viv?” Stone said, asking after Dino’s wife.
“Working, where else? Mike Freeman keeps her busy.” Viv was a retired detective sergeant, now working for Strategic Services.
“Oh, shit,” Stone said, “I forgot, I was supposed to be at Strategic Services an hour ago. Kate Lee is stopping by to get acquainted with the board.”
“You want to leave?”
“No, it’s too late, it was just for drinks.” Stone looked around to see if anyone was close enough to overhear them. “Can you keep a secret?”
“You ask me that after all these years?”
“You have a wife, now.”
“So I can’t tell Viv whatever this is?”
“Not a word—not until you see it in the papers, if you do.”
“Okay, okay, unburden yourself, or you’ll explode.”
“K. is going to run for president.”
“President of what?”
“Not so loud. The U.S.”
“Can she do that?”
“She’s a natural-born American citizen.”
“But, I mean . . .”
“I know what you mean, and the answer is yes, she can do that.”
“But the primaries?”
“She’s going to wait until the convention.”
Dino gave that some thought. “Oh, I see, Will doesn’t think anybody will get a majority?”
“Not on the first ballot.”
“Only if someone pulls way ahead during the primaries, and the polls don’t show that happening.”
Dino thought some more. “She’d make a terrific president.”
“That’s what she said.”
“Stone, can this work? Can she raise the money?”
“She’s already raised twenty-one million: twenty other people and me.”
“She can’t run on that.”
“And each of the twenty-one has agreed to raise another twenty-five million.”
Dino flinched. “Don’t look at me.”
Menus arrived, and they ordered.
“So,” Dino said, “what are you going to get?”
“For raising all this money. Ambassador to the Court of Saint James’s? Or will you have to settle for some banana republic?”
“Nothing but the satisfaction of seeing Will Lee’s policies continued, and I expect Kate will have a lot of her own.”
“What about the other twenty guys?”
“Men and women. They can fend for themselves.”
“Yeah, I guess they can.”
“Something else came up.”
“Is it a secret?”
Stone thought about that. “Yes, I guess so. Attorney-client privilege is involved.”
“Oh, the shyster’s seal of the confession.”
“More or less. You remember that big heist at Kennedy, what, twenty-five years ago?”
“Buono,” Dino said. “Eduardo Buono.”
“What a memory!”
“Who could forget a fifteen-million-dollar heist? And less than half of it recovered.” Dino took a swig of his scotch. “Hey, you didn’t find the money, did you?”
“No, and I don’t know where it is, but someone with whom I have recently become acquainted has, ah, stumbled across some of it.”
“Wait a minute,” Dino said, screwing up his forehead. “John Fratelli.”
Stone gaped at him. “I didn’t say that,” he said, looking furtively around.
“He got sprung a couple of days ago.”
“How could you know that?”
“I had a drink with Sean Donnelly last night. He was the lead detective on the case, retired fifteen years ago.”
“I thought he was dead.”
“He looks kind of dead, but I ran into him at P.J. Clarke’s, so unless he’s pulled off a resurrection, I guess he didn’t die, quite.”
“So, what sort of shape is Fratelli in after twenty-five years inside?”
“Oh, he’s in remarkably . . . Wait a minute, I never mentioned that name.”
“So the shyster’s seal is still intact. Relax. Is Fratelli walking and talking?”
“So Eddie Buono told him where the loot was.”
“Maybe. Maybe some of it.”
“Don’t be so fucking nosy.”
“I’m just curious.”
“I know you’re curious, but I can’t have you whispering in Donnelly’s shell-like ear.”
“Why would I give a shit if John Fratelli has dipped into Buono’s honeypot?”
“I seem to recall that you are a highly placed police official, chief of detectives, namely.”
“I’m off duty,” Dino said.
“You haven’t been off duty since the day you graduated from the academy. And you would just love to bust this case wide open.”
“I wouldn’t mind seeing Donnelly get the credit for that.”
“Not going to happen,” Stone said.
“So where’s Fratelli?”
“Stop doing that! I didn’t mention Florida!”
“You’re a mine of non-information,” Dino said.
“Dino, you can’t act on any of this. You said you could keep a secret.”
“No, I didn’t. I said I wouldn’t tell Viv.”
“That was about the Kate thing, not the . . . client thing.”
“I’ll have to review our conversation in my mind, to see if that’s true.”
“Don’t review, take my word for it. I’m not having a client of mine who’s done his time getting sent up again for, ah, accepting an inheritance.”
“Oh, well, the statute’s expired, hasn’t it?”
“Unless ‘inheriting’ this sum is a new crime? Like receiving stolen goods?”
“Let it go, Dino.”
“Okay, okay, I’m just busting your balls.”
“It’s what you do best, isn’t it?”
They ate their dinner and talked about other things.
Stone’s ass had barely touched his office chair the following morning, when Joan buzzed. “Mike Freeman on one.”
Stone heaved a rueful sigh and picked up the phone. “I know, Mike, and I’m sorry.”
“I hope something terrible happened to you that prevented your being there,” Mike said.
“You’re beginning to sound like Dino.”
“I’m beginning to understand Dino’s attitude,” Mike said.
“I got embroiled in a discussion about a client and didn’t realize that I’d missed the event until it was too late. I offer my abject apologies.”
“Kate asked for you. A lot.”
“I’ll write her a note,” Stone said. “Maybe if I include a check for a million dollars, that will mollify her.”
“A very good idea.”
“What’s the name of the superPAC?”
“The Best Woman.”
“Won’t people guess whom it’s for?”
“We’re hoping most people will think it’s for Hillary Clinton.”
“Good luck with that.”
“Look, this is going to get out anyway. I was amazed that it didn’t make yesterday’s papers.”
“So was I. The event is already a day and a half old, and nothing’s out there. Is it possible this could last awhile?”
“I don’t think so,” Mike said. “Frankly, I’ll be relieved when it breaks.”
“When it does, everybody will accuse Kate of being a spoiler for the other candidates. I’ll bet she starts getting write-in votes in primary states.”
“You go write her a note, now,” Mike said. “I’ll see you later.”
Stone hung up, got out a sheet of his best stationery, and wrote his apology. He buzzed Joan. “Please make out a check to something called ‘The Best Woman.’”
“For how much?”
“A million dollars.”
“Good God, for that kind of money she’d better be the best!”
Excerpted from Standup Guy by Stuart Woods
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