Stone Barrington must trap a ruthless defector in this heart-stopping thriller from fan favorite Stuart Woods.
Stone Barrington is trying to enjoy some downtime at his English retreat when he's unceremoniously sent off to the remote reaches of the UK and into a deadly snare. As it turns out, this is only the first volley by a rival power, one that has its eyes set on disrupting the peace of the nation.
With the help of two brilliant and stunning women, Stone must leverage a new position of power to capture a villain with a lethal agenda. But the closer he comes to nabbing the culprit, the more he realizes there's a bigger plan at work, and a true mastermind who's a force to be reckoned with . . .
Release date: October 15, 2019
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons
Print pages: 320
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Stone Barrington woke earlier than he should have and was, for a moment, disoriented. Sunlight was streaming through a two-inch gap in the drawn curtains of the room, and he never slept with curtains drawn. Except in England.
He sat up in bed. He was, indeed, in England, in the house called Windward Hall that he had owned for some years. He had landed in the early evening in the Strategic Services Gulfstream 600, on which he had caught a ride from Teterboro, New Jersey. The company jet was in England or Europe on almst a weekly basis, and the private runway on his land was long enough to accommodate it for landing and takeoff. It was a convenient way to commute between his New York residence and his house in England.
He looked at the bedside clock: a little after six AM. He fell back onto his pillow, tried for another hour of sleep and failed. He had come alone to England, so there was no opportunity of an erotic nature to occupy him until the kitchen was open for business, and he was hungry. He got out of bed and flung open the curtains in the room, then got back into bed with yesterday’s crossword puzzle which he had not finished.
He regretted not inviting a companion on this trip, but his mind turned to the beautiful woman whose country house was just across the Beaulieu River from his. At that moment, his cellphone rang. “Hello?”
“Good morning,” she said with a husky voice. “I hope I didn’t wake you.”
“Good morning, Felicity; I wish you were here to wake me properly.”
“I’m nearly there, darling,” she replied, chuckling; just across the river.”
“Then come and have breakfast with me.”
“I’d like to have you for breakfast, but I have to be in London at 9:30 for an important meeting at the Foreign Ministry.” Felicity was director of MI-6, the British foreign intelligence service, which came under the purview of the Foreign Minister.
“What a pity,” Stone said.
“Not to worry; I’ll be down tomorrow afternoon for the weekend. Why don’t you host a dinner party?”
“Well, I didn’t bring any guests with me, so I guess it will just have to be the two of us.”
“Tell you what,” she said, “I will assemble the guests for a table of, say, eight?”
“What a good idea; you’re better acquainted with the locals than I.”
“Consider it done; I’ll bring the place cards with me, so don’t bother about that. Shall we say seven for eight?” In British parlance, this meant dinner at eight, and show up at seven, if you’d like a drink first.
“Perfect. I’ll get the cook to work on a menu and I’ll unearth some good bottles from the cellar.”
“I will look forward to it,” She said.
“And bring your toothbrush; we’ll make a weekend of it.”
“What a good idea!.” She made a kissing noise and hung up.
Stone went back to his crossword, a happier man.
The following evening, dressed in his Royal Yacht Squadron mess kit - essentally, a tuxedo with a short, naval-style jacket and the appropriate insignia - inspected the beautifully set table in the small dining room, then went to the library, where drinks would be served. It was about three minutes past seven when he heard the doorbell, and a couple of minutes later, Dame Felicity Devonshire entered the library, followed by three couples. One, he recognized as Felicity’s boss, the foreign minister, Sir Oswald Towne and Lady Towne, AKA Dierdre; another was a younger man in a proper naval mess kit, sporting quite a lot of braid, and his apparent wife; the third couple looked familiar.
“Stone,” Felicity said, “Of course you know Sir Oswald and Lady Towne - Ozzie and Dierdre.” They all shook hands. “And this is Admiral Sir Timothy Barnes, and Lady Barnes, Tim and Kate.” More handshaking. “Tim is the First Sea Lord,” Felicity added. Hands were shaken.
Stone knew that that post was the Royal Navy equivalent of the American chief of naval operations.
“And,” Felicity said, “I don’t know if you’ve met the newly-elected commodore of the Royal Yacht Squadron, Derek Drummond, and his wife, Hildy.” Drummond was also dressed in a Squadron mess kit, which should have been a clue.
“Congratulations on your election,” Stone said, shaking their hands.
“Thank you, Stone; it’s good to see an American member here.” the commodore replied.
“It’s good to be here,” Stone said.”
Geoffrey, the butler, served champagne and cocktails, and there was chat among the guests and their hosts.
“Do you have a place in the neighborhood?” Stone asked Tim Barnes.
“No, I had to come down from London for the launching of a new submarine; Ozzie and Dierdre were staying with Felicity, and she asked us to join them, so my barge brought us from Portsmouth to her dock on the Beaulieu.
“What does an admiral’s barge consist of these days?” Stone asked.
“A very comfortable Nelson motorboat of forty feet; it suitable for a weekend place.”
Felicity joined them. “Tim has also just come from a visit to our Station Two, in the Scottish Highlands. He was kind enough to give me a lift back in a naval aircraft.”
“Why does MI-6 have a station so far north?” Stone asked.
“Station Two is our training facility for new recruits to the service,” she said. “I drove up there last week for my own inspection, but I was called back to London and had to leave my car there and fly back.”
“Is this the Aston Martin DB 11?”
“It is, and I miss it already.”
“How will you get it back from Scotland?”
“A good question; would you like to drive it back?”
“That’s a very tempting thought,” Stone said. “I’ve never driven that car.”
The foreign minister joined them in time to hear that exchange. “You look like a fit fellow,” he said to Stone. You might enjoy a taste of the training up there.”
“Good idea,” Tim said. “The place is run by an old chum of mine, a colonel in the Royal Marines. “I’d be happy to give him a call and tell him not to be too hard on you.”
“Is this a sort of boot camp, then?” Stone asked, intrigued.
“The first two weeks are very much a boot camp,” Tim replied. “Lots of hikes and runs, weapons training, hand to hand fighting, that sort of thing. The next two months are all the secret stuff: codes; tradecraft, communications: all the James Bond stuff.”
“They’re in the first week of training now,” Felicity said. “You could join them for the second week, then drive the car back.” She turned to the FM: “Stone is a consultant to our colleages at Langley, so he’s a family member, in a way. He’s also been of help to us on occasion.”
“Then I don’t see why he shouldn’t have a bit of fun at our expense,” the FM said. “Send me an authorization to sign - and, of course a release for his signature, absolving us from any liability for serious injury or an early death.”
“You make it sound like such fun,” Stone said, “but . . . “
”Nonsense,” the FM chortled, clapping him on the back. “It’s all decided and authorized.”
They were called in to dinner, and Stone put the thought of a Highland vacation out of his mind. He noticed that Felicity left the table to use her phone for a few minutes, but that often happened.
She returned to the table. “Good news,” she said “We’re flying some equipment and a few people up to Station Two tomorrow, and the aircraft will pick you up at your airstrip at seven o’clock tomorrow morning.”
Stone choked on his wine.
“I envy you the experience,” the FM said. “Just the sort of romp I’d have enjoyed in my youth.”
“I’m not all that young,” Stone said, and everyone laughed heartily.
Stone woke up with a warm hand cradling his genitals. He checked the narrow opening in the curtains: still dark outside.
“Ah, you’re awake,” Felicity said, climbing on top of him.
“What time is it?”
“Five AM,” she said. “You’ve time for love, breakfast and packing. We’re starting with love.”
They spent half an hour on love, then Stone dove into a shower. When he came out, Felicity was dressed.
“I’ll call Stan to help you with the boat,” he said.
“Not to worry; my car is picking me up here in about three-quarters of an hour.”
“Call down for breakfast,” he said. “Just press the button marked Kitchen. I’ll have the usual; you have whatever you like. He grabbed a large leather duffle, and began stuffing things into it.
“Oh,” Felicity said, “just pack what you’ll need for the return drive; Station Two will provide you with everything else.” She picked up the phone and ordered breakfast.
At 7 AM Stone stood at the hangar on his airstrip and watched the airplane turn final. To his surprise, it was a Dakota, the British name for the American DC-3 or C-47. It touched down lightly ran down half the runway, then turned 180 Degrees and stopped where he stood. He walked toward the airplane, propeller was whipping his clothes around him. The rear door opened, and a man in fatigues, what the Brits called, ‘battle dress,’ clapped his hands together and held them out to receive Stone’s duffle. Stone climbed the ladder and was directed forward past other luggage, each with a green canvas object secured to it. There were no proper seats, so he set himself down on a sort of canvas bench, affixed to the airplane’s bare metal. There was no insulation.
He got into his seat harness up front, just aft of the cockpit, which gave him a good view of the pilot and his controls. The rear door was closed, the ladder stowed, and the pilot, advanced the throttles slightly applied right brake and sputn the airplane around. He then shoved the throttles all the way forward, and the airplane left the ground in what seemed to Stone an amazingly short time.
He was handed a set of ear protectors, like a headset without the wiring, and he gratefully put them on. There was no point in trying to speak to his companions, because the engine noise was too great, and they were wearing the same earmuffs he wore.
The man next to him handed him a copy of the International New York Times - yesterday’s, as it happened, and in the next hour and a half he’d read every word of it. They were somewhere over the Midlands, at 8,000 feet, on top of a cloud layer. He started on the crossword, which was challenging enough to engage him for another hour and a half.
The airplane began a descent, and suddenly, all the passengers were on their feet, strapping on backpacks. A sergeant handed Stone one and helped him get into it. He got close to Stone’s ear and lifted a muff. “Ever jumped before?” he yelled.
Stone shook his head. “What are you talking about?” he shouted back, but the man couldn’t hear him. Stone could hear him shouting, though. The man took a length of nylon line from behind Stone’s shoulder and clipped one end of it to a steel cable running the length of the cabin. “Static line,” he shouted. “Count to ten; if your chute doesn’t open by the time you’re finished, pull this.” He held up a triangular piece of tubing, took Stone’s arm and moved it out and up from his body. “Rip cord,” he said.
“Wait a minute!” Stone shouted, but the group of men started shuffling aft, and the sergeant grabbed Stone’s arm and marched him along, snatching the muffs from his ears. There was a red light over the open rear door, and as he watched it went out, and a green light came on. People began to jump out of the airplane. As Stone approached the open door he craned his neck to get a look outside, and as he did the sergeant pushed him through the door. “Noooooooo,” Stone yelled as he fell into the daylight. Immediately, he felt a hard jerk, and he looked up to see his parachute billowing.
Suddenly, it was quiet, as the airplane flew away, turning. There was no wind, and Stone could hear a dog barking somewhere on the ground. The parachutes of those who had jumped before him were stretched out into a line, and looking down, from what he estimated was a thousand feet or so, he saw a mostly bare, green landscape, with a tree here and there.
He knew from old movies that he could pull on the straps holding him to alter his direction, but he seemed aligned with everyone else, so he didn’t see any point in experimenting. He began to think about how he was going to handle the landing. The others had their feet together, so he kept his that way.
As he neared the ground he seemed to be going faster and faster as it rose to meet him, then his feet struck the ground and he fell, rolling over. The chute settled over him, blocking his view of everything.
“Get out of there,” someone shouted and pulled at the nylon. Stone got to his feet and figured out how to release the harness, then he was standing and, amazingly, alive. A man was gathering up his parachute.
Another man tugged at his sleeve and pointed up. Stone looked to see several chutes floating down. “That’s your luggage,” the man said. Stone was surprised that he wasn’t shouting, but speaking fairly normally. “It will be taken by truck to your quarters.”
“How do I get there?” Stone asked.
“You run,” the man said; follow the others, and don’t get lost; because you might never be seen again.” He pointed Stone in the right direction and gave him a shove. Stone was wearing a pair of high-topped thickly-soled walking shoes that he used on pavement, and they worked fairly well. He began jogging along, unbuttoning his jacket as he warmed up.
Half an hour later the group pulled up at a gate in a high, chain-link fence with coils of razor wire at the top. Stone wondered if that was meant to keep people out or, perhaps, in. He was pleased to see that he wasn’t breathing any harder than the other men in the party. They were herded through the gat and into a quonset hut, with its semicircular roofline. Inside there were folding chairs, and people were getting out of their warmer clothing and mopping their brows. Stone followed the line, just as he had done since they jumped, making him the last to sit down.
A man wearing a military sweater with epaulets came into the hut and walked to the front of the room. “Listen up,” he said. “I am Captain Moffat; you no longer have names; you are designated. . . “ he pointed at Stone, then down he line . . “Alpha, Beta, Charley, Delta, Echo, Foxtrot, Golf, Hotel. While you are at Station Two you will not tell anyone your former name, nor anything about yourself. Does anyone not understand that?” He waited for a moment and was met by silence. “Your luggage has been placed in your quarters, and your designation will be on the door. Clothing conforming to your height, weight and measurements will also have been placed in your quarters. Wear only what you are issued.”
He switched on a light, illuminating a screen on which there was a drawing. “This is a map of Station Two: memorize it. If you are slow and stupid, you will be given a map. Would anyone like a map?” No one spoke.
Stone started memorizing the map, which wasn’t complicated: headquarters, living quarters, dining hall, gymnasium and workout facilities, supply; clinic, armory, motor pool.
“The weapons carried by staff and guards are loaded with live ammunition. Try very hard not to give anyone a reason to shoot at you. Now, get up and follow the sergeant to the dining hall; eat; go to your quarters and remain there until you are awakened at dawn. Upon your awakening, at six A.M., you have thirty minutes to shower, dress and get to the dining hall. You will have thirty minutes to eat. After that, it gets easier: all you have to do is exactly what you are told. Get out.”
They got out.
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