15

Stone and Dino were having breakfast when the phone rang, and Stone picked it up.

“Mr. Barrington?”

“Yes.”

“This is Fair Sutherlin.”

“Good morning. You’re up early.”

“It’s eight o‘clock. I’ve been in my office for an hour. Oh, that’s right, I forgot: you’re on vacation.”

Stone ignored the dig. “I’m an attorney. I keep banker’s hours.”

She laughed. “I’m sorry, I can’t resist getting at real people, who have a business life and a private life. When you work at the White House,~ey>iv>

“You make it sound like drudgery,” Stone said.

“Oh, no, it’s too exciting for drudgery. It’s more like combat.”

“I see.”

“I’m breaking out and giving a small dinner party on Saturday night,” she said. “Could you both come? I’ll get Mr. Bacchetti a dinner partner, if he needs one.”

“Hang on,” Stone said, and turned to Dino. “Fair Sutherlin wants us for dinner Saturday night. Do you want her to get you a date?”

“I already have a date,” Dino said. “I’ll bring her.”

Stone went back to the phone. “Is a female FBI agent okay?”

“Oh, that’s perfect,” Fair said. “Nobody there will ever have met a female FBI agent.”

“Where and what time?”

“Seven-thirty for eight.” She gave him the address. “Of course, everything will be off if the country suddenly goes to hell, as it so often does. You’ll be called, in that case.”

“I understand,” Stone said. “The country comes first.”

“But not necessarily in my heart,” she said. “See you then.” She hung up.

“That’s a surprise,” Stone said.

“You’re too easily surprised,” Dino said. “You always were. If I’d put my mind to it, I could have predicted the invitation. She was looking at you a little hungrily back when she was a murder suspect.”

“Good thing we cleared her,” Stone said. “It probably would have been unethical to go out with a suspect.”

“When did that ever stop you?”

“Is this the guy talking who was fucking a desk sergeant not so long ago?”

“Yeah, but she was a hot desk sergeant.”

“I can’t deny that. I always admired your guts, Dino. If that had come to light, you’d be walking a beat now, instead of moonlighting for the president.”

“Nah,” Dino said, “the commissioner and I are like that.” He held up crossed fingers. “The chief of detectives wouldn’t dare mess with me-at least not while he’s fucking a lieutenant in the Public Affairs office.”

“God, the department is a hotbed of illicit liaisons these days, isn’t it?”

“So what else is new?”

“It’s considerate of the chief to give you a get-out-of-jail-free card.”

“Yes, it is, isn’t it?”

“You’d better watch your ass if his lieutenant dumps him.”

“Don’t worry, I know her, she’s not stupid. She knows which side of her badge gets polished.”

“I’m going to try and make sense of that metaphor while I do the crossword,” Stone said, picking up the Times.

“Good luck.”

“With the metaphor or the crossword?”

“Both.”

Stone folded the paper back and looked at one-across. Almost immediately, the phone rang. “Hello?”“It’s Holly.”

“Hey, there.”

“Did I wake you?”

“Wake me? I’m already on the crossword.”

“You want to take me to a fancy restaurant on Saturday night?”

“I’d love to, but I’ve accepted an invitation to a dinner party at Fair Sutherlin’s house.”

“I’m jealous already.”

“Oh, come on.”

“The woman’s a shark, you know.”

“And she seems so nice.”

“That’s because she knows you’re in with the president and the first lady.”

“You mean she’s not this nice to everybody?”

“Everybody thinks so, until they suddenly feel blood running down their necks from an open artery.”

“Oh, come on.”

“Are you forgetting what city you’re in?”

“Is it really all that different from New York?”

“In New York, everybody thinks only of business. Here, they think about politics, and believe me, that’s a whole different ball game. Every person you meet is not just out for himself, he’s out for the guy he works for and the guy he works for. That means everybody has at least three main causes to screw other people for, and that’s before you take into account the effect of partisan politics on relationships.”

“So you’re worried about me?”

“Listen, a simple, barefoot New York lawyer like yourself wouldn’t last a week in this town. Where Washington is concerned, you’re a rube, and a disposable one at that.”

“Suddenly I feel naked and alone,” Stone replied.

“That’s rather a nice thought,” she said.

“I hope to God we’re not on an Agency line.”

She laughed. “Give me credit for knowing when I can get away with talking dirty.”

“Listen, what if I take you to a fancy restaurant tonight instead of Saturday, and we can continue this conversation over a bird and a bottle.”

“Done,” she said.

“You pick the restaurant and book the table. The headwaiters here don’t know who I am.”

“If I’m doing my job properly, they don’t know who I am, either, but leave it to me.”

“You going to do something sneaky to get a good table?”

“I’m sneaky for a living,” she said.

“And good at it.”

“You said it, pal.”

“A drink here at, say, six-thirty?”

“I’m going to feel like martinis tonight,” she said.

“Then I will aid and abet.”

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