Choppy Water - Stuart Woods


A platoon of Secret Service agents led Stone Barrington and Holly Barker from a service elevator and down a hallway, where they paused at a set of double doors.

“Ready?” Stone asked Holly.

“No,” she replied firmly.

“Take a few deep breaths,” he advised.

She did so, then shook her shoulders.

“Ready now?” he asked, reflecting that he wouldn’t be ready, either, if he had just been elected president of the United States.

“Is it too soon for me to resign the office?” Holly asked.

“Way too soon,” Stone replied. He nodded at the agent with his hand on the doorknob, and the man pushed the door open.

The crowd in the ballroom let out a noise that Stone thought happened only at riots. Holly took hold of his arm, and he led her toward the platform at the front of the room. At the bottom of the steps, he stopped. “Okay, you’re on your own now.”

She nodded, let go of his arm, and climbed the stairs.

Stone took a moment to look around the room and discovered that he was the only man there wearing a tuxedo. Who had not gotten the memo—them or him?

The applause went on and on while Holly beamed at the crowd until finally she began begging with her hands for them to stop and let her speak. “First,” she said, “I want to introduce the vice president–elect of the United States, Sam Meriwether, of Georgia!”

To strong applause, the former senator climbed the steps on the other side of the stage, took Holly’s hand, and nodded his thanks to the audience. Then he stepped back, indicating that they should direct their attention to the president-elect.

“We’ve all come a long way together,” she said, “and there are some people I need to thank. Please hold your applause till the end, or we’ll be here all night.” She thanked her father and stepmother, her campaign manager and others. Twenty names later she said, “And my friend, Stone Barrington,” indicating him at the edge of the platform. A spotlight caught him.

Stone had not expected this—indeed, did not welcome it—and felt a flush of heat and a flop sweat coming on. He nodded a couple of times. Photographers’ strobes flashed and iPhones were held up by people in the audience. Then, mercifully, the spotlight went elsewhere, and he was able to pat his face with a handkerchief and cool down a bit. He wondered how he could gracefully get out of the room without being noticed, then realized he was stuck there as long as Holly was.

Holly made a short, graceful speech about what it meant to her to be elected president—just short enough to make the lede for all the news shows. Then she left the stage and walked around the room alone, shaking hands and exchanging air-kisses. At a signal from her, the orchestra struck up a tune and people rose and started dancing. Holly made her way back to Stone, and they were directed out a door at the rear of the platform and into a greenroom, where staff and close friends awaited. She repeated her stroll around the ballroom. A half hour later they were led out of the room, followed by Holly’s father, Ham Barker, and his wife, Ginny. The next thing they knew, they were back in suite 27A, and everybody was drinking champagne.

The TV was turned off, and a pianist and a bass player offered some light jazz background.

It was two in the morning before the last friend left, and Stone was alone with Holly.

“You look a little peaky,” she said to him. “God, I forgot you’re just out of the hospital. Let’s get you to bed.”

Stone allowed her to help him undress and rehang his arm in the sling, then they settled into bed.

“What does tomorrow hold for you?” Stone asked.

“I’ve told the staff I want a week off, and I don’t care if they like it or not,” she said. “Where can we go to be alone?”

“Do we have to stay in the country?”

“Oh, yes. Traveling abroad is going to be a very big deal for the next few years.”

“Then I can offer you L.A., Maine, or Key West.”

“Too many people in L.A. Too hot in Key West. That leaves Maine.”

“Do you have a coat?”

“I can go shopping in the morning.”

“Really? And cause a riot on Madison Avenue?”

“Oh. All right. I’ll have somebody bring a few in for me to choose from.” She waited for a response. “Stone?”

But Stone was out for the night.

* * *

The following morning after breakfast,