Authors: Stuart Woods
tone Barrington dreamed terrible dreams, then he jerked awake and immediately forgot them, as he always did. He was in a small room, dimly lit by a very large digital clock, which glowed red, making the room pink. The time read 9:46.
He lifted his head from the foam rubber pillow and looked about. Walls, ceiling, steel table with two chairs, steel shutter lowered over the only window. His bladder was near bursting, and he got out of bed and wobbled over to a closed door, behind it a small bathroom. He relieved himself noisily, then turned to his left to examine himself in the small mirror over the sink. Too dark. He groped for the light switch and found it, wincing in the bright light. He could only have described the image in the mirror as haggard. He splashed cold water on his face, then looked again: just the same. On the counter next to the sink were a plastic-wrapped toothbrush, a tiny tube of toothpaste, a tiny can of shaving cream, and a disposable razor. He tried the toothbrush first, and scrubbed away the fur that coated his teeth.
The beard was hard to deal with, and he wished for electric clippers. Still, he got it scraped off, cutting himself only twice. He tried the shower next, and it worked well. He used the tiny bottle of shampoo on the soap dish next to the tiny bar of soap. He used the only towel to dry himself and noticed a flesh-colored bandage on the inside of his left elbow. He ripped it off and found two tiny wounds in the vein. Then he toweled his hair dry and brushed it back with his fingers. He got into the cheap terry robe hanging on the bathroom door, noticing that the bedroom or cell, as it might be, was now lit by weak sunlight, and a dry cleaner’s plastic sleeve and a shopping bag now hung on a hook on the door. He thought he smelled food somewhere, and his stomach growled.
He walked over to the door and noticed a button on the wall next to it, with a plastic sign reading “Ring for attendant.”
Attendant? Had he been involuntarily admitted to a mental hospital? He aimed a finger at the button, but a voice stopped him.
“That won’t be necessary,” a man said.
Stone wheeled around and found a young man dressed in green hospital scrubs seated at the table, two plastic trays heaped with eggs and bacon before him.
“Would you like some breakfast, Mr. Barrington?” the man asked, indicating the other chair.
“Thank you, yes,” Stone said, taking a seat and attacking the food, which was still fairly warm. He washed eggs down with orange juice made from concentrate. “At the risk of employing a cliché,” he said, “where am I?”
The man took a mouthful of eggs, chewed for a moment and swallowed, washing it down with coffee from a foam cup. “Where do you think you are?” he asked.
“This appears to be a hospital room, and you appear to be a doctor,” Stone said, peering at the plastic name tag pinned to the man’s scrubs. “Dr. Keeler.”
“Only your second guess was good,” Keeler said, “and you cheated.”
“Funny farm? Addiction treatment center?”
“Are you insane or an addict?” the doctor asked.
“Neither. I thought perhaps you thought I was one or the other, maybe both. Somebody seems to have injected me with something in my left arm.” He took a sip of the awful orange juice.
“You are in the American Embassy, in Paris,” the doctor replied.
Stone choked on his orange juice.
“France, not Texas.”
“Thank you for making the distinction,” Stone said, coughing.
“How do you feel?” the doctor asked when Stone had recovered normal breathing.
“Fuzzy around the edges,” Stone replied.
“I’m not surprised. What’s the last thing you remember before waking up?”
Stone thought about that. “I was at a party in my home,” he said finally, “celebrating the marriage of some friends. I remember the police commissioner gave them both medals.”
“They were both police officers who had recently behaved in a courageous manner.”
“What was the date of the party?”
“Ah, the fourteenth.”
“That was four days ago,” he said.
Stone gulped. “I’ve lost four days?”
“It would appear so. You ingested or were injected with a drug called hypnotol. You may remember that it was a popular sleeping medication about eight years ago, until several people died from taking it, and some others who had taken too much suffered memory loss, usually temporary, sometimes permanent. Based on your bloodwork, I would describe the dosage you received as too much.”
“Who injected me? I assume that’s why I had tape on my arm.”
“No, that’s from drawing blood and administering an IV. If you didn’t take the drug yourself, then someone probably gave you something to drink that had been doctored. The right dosage would have made you into a sort of walking, talking zombie.”
“And destroyed my memory of the last four days?”
“Including traveling from New York to Paris?”
“A reasonable assumption.”
“How did I get to the American Embassy?”
“A kindly taxi driver picked you up at the airport but couldn’t understand what you were saying, and when you passed out, he went through your wallet.” He got up, went to the door, and returned with the shopping bag that had been hanging there. He reached into the bag and came up with a zippered plastic sack containing what Stone recognized as the normal contents of his pockets, including his passport and wallet, and emptied it onto the table. Keeler opened the wallet, removed a card, and handed it to Stone. It read “Holly Barker, Assistant Director of Intelligence.”
“That got the attention of a marine guard at the front gate.” He handed Stone a CIA ID with his picture on it. “So did this.”
“Ah,” Stone said.
“We’ve been unable to reach Ms. Barker,” Keeler said. “She is away from her office at some sort of retreat.”
“Retreat? That doesn’t sound like Holly.”
“In any case, once we had made you as comfortable as we could here and sent your blood for analysis, someone typed your name into a computer and came up with a very interesting CIA file that identified you as a consultant to the Agency, hence the ID card.”
“That is correct,” Stone said.
“And you are also an attorney with the New York law firm of Woodman & Weld?”
“Do you have any idea why you came to Paris? Had you been planning a trip?”
“No, I had not, and I have no idea why I came here.”
“You had a first-class, round-trip ticket on Air France,” Keeler said, “with two baggage claim stubs but no baggage. We’re checking into that now.”
“Thank you. Why do you have a room like this in an embassy?”
“It’s actually in that part of the building dedicated to the intelligence services. Sometimes we have . . . guests.”
“The clothes you were wearing have been cleaned and pressed. Why don’t you get into them, and I’ll introduce you to some other people here.” He got up and left the room.
Stone got dressed.
r. Keeler returned to the little room. “Come with me,” he said. Stone got into his blazer and followed.
They walked down a corridor, then into a large room divided into cubicles where men and women were at work. There seemed to be an unusually large number of monitors on their desks. They passed half a dozen glassed-in offices, then stopped at a closed door. Keeler rapped on it, then looked up at the ceiling, where a camera peered back at him. The door made a clicking noise and Keeler opened it.
They stepped into a large, comfortably furnished office where a man in his mid-forties with thick, graying hair spilling into his eyes was talking with a man and a woman. Stone reflexively appreciated that the woman was in her mid-thirties and quite beautiful.
“Mr. Barrington,” Keeler said, “this is Whit Douglas, our station chief. The lady is Rose Ann Faber, our chief of analysis, and the other gentleman is Richard LaRose, who does God-knows-what around here.”
Stone shook their hands, and the group moved to a seating area with a sofa and some comfortable chairs.
“How are you feeling, Mr. Barrington?” Douglas asked.
“It’s Stone, please, and I’m feeling reasonably well, I guess, sort of jet-lagged.”
“It’s the drug,” Keeler said. “Your state of consciousness for the past few days would have prevented jet lag.”
“Have I really been unconscious for four days?”
“No,” the doctor said, “as I mentioned before, you were walking and talking for part of the time. You probably weren’t drugged until the day before yesterday.”
“Why do you say that?” Stone asked.
“You would have had to be reasonably sober in order to make the decision to travel to Paris, not to mention getting through security and onto an airplane.”
“But I can’t remember getting on the airplane.”
“The drug has obliterated four days of your memory,” the doctor explained, “which may or may not return. The obliteration need not occur at the time of receiving the drug—it can work backwards and erase earlier memory, too. There have been cases where people have lost several weeks.”
“We hope your memory returns,” Whit Douglas said, “because we want to know how a consultant to the Agency happened to get ahold of a giant Mickey Finn, and we want to know why.”
“So do I,” Stone replied.
“Do you remember talking to anyone on the airplane?”
“I don’t remember
on the airplane,” Stone said. “If my memory returns, when will that start happening?”
“At any time,” Keeler said. “You could start getting flashbacks immediately or in a couple of days. If you don’t get anything back in that time, you’re probably faced with the permanent loss of those four days.”
There was a rap at the door. Douglas pressed a button on the coffee table and let in a young man, who walked across the room, Stone’s airline ticket in his hand. “Mr. Barrington, we’ve found your luggage. It was in the tank at De Gaulle.”
“A pressure chamber that limits the effect of an explosion. The airlines get nervous these days when there’s unclaimed baggage. Would you like the bags sent to your hotel?”
Stone thought about it. “I don’t know if I have a hotel.”
“Where did you stay the last time you were in Paris?” Douglas asked.
“At the Bristol, but I didn’t like the location, so I don’t think I would have booked in there.”
“Can we book a room for you somewhere?”
“Okay, how about the Plaza Athénée?”
Douglas nodded to the young man, and he left.
Stone dug out his iPhone. “I should call my secretary,” he said. “Maybe she can help with the memory.” His phone was dead.
“Use the one on my desk,” Douglas said. “Give the operator the number.”
Stone did as he was told, and Joan, his secretary, picked up the phone.
“Woodman & Weld,” she said. “Mr. Barrington’s office.”
“Hi, it’s Stone.”
“Well, where the hell have you been? Your hotel said you never checked in, Dino’s on his honeymoon, and Holly has vanished.”
“What hotel is that?”
“The Plaza Athénée. That’s where you said you were staying.”
“I had to make a detour,” Stone said. “Listen, I need your help. Describe to me what I did between Dino’s engagement party and right now.”
Joan thought this over for a moment. “You want
what you were doing?”
“Exactly. Pretend I don’t know.” Stone pressed the speaker button so the others could hear.
“All right, you got to your desk late the day after the party, then you had lunch with Bill Eggers and had a meeting at the firm, then you got back here around five, and I went home.”
“How about the next day?”
“The same, pretty much. With Dino gone and Holly moved out, you didn’t have anybody to play with.”
“And the day after that?”
“You got a call from somebody in the middle of the afternoon, then said you were going to Paris for a few days. An envelope arrived by messenger with a first-class, round-trip ticket on Air France, and a note saying a car would pick you up at seven that evening. There was no return address on the envelope. You were due into Paris at nine the next morning.”
“Did I see anybody in my office?”
“Did anybody call that you didn’t know?”
“No, but I was in the ladies’ when the afternoon call came, and you picked up.”
“Can you think of anything else? What did I do in the evenings?”
“Like I said, you didn’t have anybody to play with, so I guess you dined at home alone.”
“Thanks, we’ll talk again later.” Stone hung up and went back to the sofa. “Not much help, huh?”
“Rose Ann,” Douglas said, “find out who called Stone’s office in the afternoon day before yesterday.”
Stone gave her his business card, and she went to the phone on Douglas’s desk, then returned. “They’ll have it in a few minutes,” she said.
The phone rang, and Douglas picked it up and listened, then hung up. “You’re booked into the Plaza Athénée. They were expecting you yesterday. We got you an upgrade.”