Carnal Curiosity - Stuart Woods


Stone Barrington sat at his desk in the downstairs office of his Turtle Bay town house, poring over documents related to the finances of his new clients, Jack and Hillary Coulter.

Or, perhaps, Hillary and Jack Coulter, since she was the one with all the money, and there was a great deal of it. He added a couple of paragraphs to the memo he was sending to the tax and finance department of his law firm, Woodman & Weld, where his suggestions would be reviewed to keep him out of trouble. His phone buzzed.

“Your five-thirty appointment is here,” his secretary, Joan, said.

“I have a five-thirty?” Stone asked, momentarily baffled.

“The insurance adjuster, Crane Hart, from the Steele company?”

“Oh, of course. Give me three minutes, then send him in.” He clicked off before she could respond. He tidied the document on his computer, then e-mailed it, then he shuffled the papers on his desk into a fairly neat stack.

“Much better,” a female voice said from the doorway.

“Ah, Mr. Hart,” Stone said, not looking up. Then he looked up. “I perceive that you are not a mister,” he said.

She was tall, wrapped in a suit too tight and with a skirt too short to be businesslike, and her bright, blonde hair was pulled tightly into something at the back of her head. He wondered how she could blink, but she did, and slowly.

Before he could speak a moment of carnal curiosity flashed between them. “Ah,” he said, otherwise speechless. He finally managed speech. “I was expecting an insurance adjuster of the male persuasion.”

“Ah,” she replied. “A natural assumption, but Steele sends out tall, blonde, female adjusters when the loss is great enough.”

“I must remember to be robbed at gunpoint more often,” he said, waving her toward the sofa, instead of the chair before his desk.

She took a seat and crossed her legs without undue exposure, an artful act, given the mininess of her skirt.

Stone came and sat at the other end of the sofa.

“Now, about your loss,” she said.

“Must we discuss that? I was beginning to think of this meeting as more of a gain.”

She placed a briefcase on the sofa between them, unsnapped it, and extracted a file. “You’re very kind,” she said, “but first, your loss.”

“If we must.”

“We must.” She consulted the file. “It says here that you were robbed of five hundred thousand dollars.”

“Five million dollars,” he corrected.

Her eyes opened perceptibly wider. “Then you require a taller, blonder adjuster.”

“I recovered four and a half million dollars before filing my claim,” he replied. “The present adjuster will do nicely.”

“Do you have any evidence of this robbery?” she asked.

“I still have a bump on the back of my head,” he said, gingerly touching the spot.

“Anything on paper?”

“I have a bank statement showing a five-million-dollar withdrawal, and a redeposit of four and a half million a few days later.”

“What happened to the other half million?”

“After I had been relieved of the five million—at gunpoint, I should add—the person who had taken it exchanged it for four and a half million.”

“That seems an extremely unwise transaction,” she pointed out.

“Not when you consider that the five million was in tens and twenties, and the exchange sum was in hundreds.”

“You mean the villain paid half a million dollars to make it easier to count?”

“Count, transport, carry by hand, I believe it’s called money laundering.”

“Is there a police report covering any of this? Anything at all?”

Stone went to a desk drawer and came back with his bank statement and two documents, one a receipt from the Connecticut State Police and the other a police report on the theft from the NYPD.

“You seem well documented,” she said admiringly, “and on this basis I will recommend that your claim be paid immediately.”

“Thank you.”

“I expect we at Steele were fortunate to get off so light.”

“I expect you were.”

“Now that we have concluded this matter, do you think you could tell me all of this story, just to satisfy my curiosity?”

“I can certainly do that,” Stone said, “but not without inducing a terrible thirst. Would you like a drink?”

“A Belvedere martini, please,” she replied without hesitation. “Very dry, straight up, olives.”

“For anything more boisterous than brown whiskey over ice, we will have to adjourn to my study upstairs, where the materials for constructing your libation are readily available.”

“You talked me into it,” she said.

He led her upstairs and into his study, a small but comfortably furnished room with a bar concealed behind the paneling and an ice machine humming discreetly. She sat on