Dead in the Water

A Novel

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Stone Barrington only wants a winter getaway from the chill of New York in the beautiful, tropical Caribbean paradise of St. Mark’s. But what the lawyer and ex-cop gets instead is the chance to defend Allison Manning. The beautiful young woman stands accused of killing her rich husband on board their luxurious yacht and then burying him at sea.

Stone isn’t exactly conversant with the island country’s law, but this much is clear to him: Allison is being railroaded by the perverse sense of justice of a prosecutor who will do anything to stay in office. Donning the robe and wig of a British barrister, Stone does everything he can to save Allison–from publicizing the case all over the American press to conducting the kind of smart, tough investigation that money can’t buy. Just when he has the jury in the palm of his hands, a shocking reversal of fortune changes everything. And what was once a sure thing begins to look a lot like a death sentence.



Stone Barrington slowly opened his eyes and stared blearily at the pattern of moving light above him. Disoriented, he tried to make sense of the light. Then it came to him: he was aboard a yacht, and the light was reflected off the water.

He sat up and rubbed his eyes. The night before had been the stuff of bad dreams; he never wanted to have another like it. The nightmare had started at Kennedy Airport, when his live-in girlfriend, Arrington Carter, had not shown up for the flight. She was supposed to come directly from the magazine office where she had been meeting with an editor, but she had not arrived.

Stone had found a phone and had tracked down Arrington, still at The New Yorker.

“Hello?” she said.

Stone glanced at his watch. “I guess you’re not going to make the plane,” he said. “It leaves in twenty minutes.”

“Stone, I’m so sorry; I’ve been having you paged at the terminal. Didn’t you hear the page?”

He tried to keep his voice calm. “No, I didn’t.”

“Everything has exploded here. I took the proposal for the profile on Vance Calder to Tina Brown, and she went for it instantly. Turns out she had tried and tried to do a piece with Vance when she was at Vanity Fair, and he would never cooperate.”

“That’s wonderful,” he said tonelessly. “I’m happy for you.”

“Look, darling, Vance is coming into New York tomorrow, and I’ve got to introduce him to Tina at lunch, there’s just no getting around it.”

“I see,” he replied.

“Don’t worry, I’m already booked on the same flight tomorrow. You go ahead to St. Marks, take delivery of the boat, put in some provisions, and get gloriously drunk. I’ll be there by midnight.”

“All right,” he said.

“Oh,” she sighed, “I’m so relieved you’re not angry. I know you can see what a break this is for me. Vance hasn’t sat still for an in-depth interview for more than twenty years. Tina says she’ll bump up the printing for the anticipated increase in newsstand sales.”

“That’s great,” he said, making an effort to sound glad for her. “I’ll meet you at the St. Marks airport tomorrow night, then.”

“Oh, don’t do that; just sit tight, and I’ll grab a cab.” She lowered her voice. “And when I get there, sweetie, try and be well rested, because I’m going to bounce you off the bedsprings a whole lot; you read me?”

“I read you loud and clear. I’d better run; they’ve almost finished boarding. And remember, we’ve only got the boat for ten days; don’t waste any more.”

“I really am going to make it up to you in the best possible way, Stone,” she said. “Bye-bye.”

“Bye.” Stone hung up the phone and ran for his plane. Moments later, he had settled into a comfortable leather seat and had in his hand a rum and tonic, in honor of his long-anticipated winter holiday. As the big jet taxied out to the runway he looked out the window and saw that it had started to snow. Good. Why have a tropical holiday if you can’t gloat?

Vance Calder was, arguably, Hollywood’s premier male star, often called the new Cary Grant, and he had played an important part in Stone’s and Arrington’s lives already. She had been in Calder’s company when they had met at a dinner party at the home of a gossip columnist nearly a year earlier. Although Stone had been struck by her beauty and had found her marvelous company, he had not bothered to call her, because he hadn’t believed for a moment that he could take a girl away from Vance Calder. Instead, Arrington had called him. Vance, she had explained, was no more than an acquaintance who, when he was in New York, liked to have a pretty girl to squire around, especially at dinners like the one at Amanda Dart’s apartment, which she would feature in her column.

Inside a few weeks they were living together, and Stone had never been happier. At forty-two, he was still a bachelor, and he liked it that way. Living with Arrington, though, had made a lack of freedom seem very attractive, and he was determined to hang on to her, even if it came to marriage. Marriage had been increasingly on his mind of late, especially since Arrington had been showing signs of feeling a lack of commitment on his part. On the plane down to St. Marks he had reached a decision. They would have a wonderful cruise on the chartered boat, and they would come back engaged, unless it turned out to be easy to be wed in St. Marks; in that case, they would come back married. He was looking forward to the prospect.

Then the night began to go wrong. In San Juan, their first stop, he learned that his flight to St. Martin, the next leg, had been delayed by two hours. In St. Martin, the connecting flight to Antigua had also been delayed, and by the time he had arrived there, the light twin that would take him to St. Marks had already left and had to be summoned back at great expense. He had reached St. Marks sometime after 3:00 A.M. Nevertheless, he had been met by the charter agent and taken to the boat, a Beneteau 36, a roomy French design, and had, without unpacking, fallen dead into the double berth in the little owner’s cabin.

He got out of bed and stumbled naked into the little galley and found half a jar of instant coffee in a cupboard. Shortly he had found the gas tap in the cockpit, boiled a kettle, and made himself a really terrible cup of coffee. While he drank it he took a stroll around the interior of the little yacht, a very short stroll indeed. He was glad there would be only the two of them aboard.

There was a very nice dining table, some books, no doubt left by previous charterers, and a small television set. He wondered what he might receive on that. He turned it on and, to his surprise, found himself looking at CNN. The marina must have a satellite dish, he thought. He slid into the navigator’s seat, the leather cool against his naked buttocks, and looked around the chart table. All the island charts were there, plus a small Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver, a VHF radio, and everything else they needed to navigate in the islands.

He found some stale cereal and ate some, watching CNN. A major snowstorm would reach the New York City area by evening, and travel was expected to be disrupted. Thank God Arrington is getting out this afternoon, he thought. He washed his dishes, then unpacked and put away his clothes. A swim might be nice, he thought; he got into some trunks and climbed into the cockpit.

As he did, a yacht of about forty-five feet hove into view, under engine. It had a dark blue hull and teak decks, and her name, Expansive, was lettered on her bow in gilt. Two other things about the yacht caught his eye: the mainsail was still up, and in tatters, and it was being steered by a quite beautiful young woman. She was small and blond, wearing a bikini bottom and a chambray shirt knotted under her breasts, leaving a fetching expanse of tanned midriff showing between the two. The yacht passed within twenty yards of Stone’s boat, but she never looked at him. Oddly, no one came on deck to help her dock. He started to go and help, but a yellow flag was flying at the crosstrees, signaling that the yacht was arriving from a foreign port, and he saw a uniformed customs officer waiting to take her lines. Stone watched the somewhat clumsy operation and wished he had gone to help. He’d have liked a closer look at the woman.

He put down the boarding ladder, then dove off the stern into the bright blue water, which turned out to be exactly the right temperature—about eighty degrees, he reckoned. Maybe later today he’d call somebody in New York and gloat. He swam out about fifty yards into the little harbor, then sprinted back to his boat, hauling himself up the boarding ladder. He got a towel from below, made himself another cup of the awful coffee, and settled into the cockpit to get some sun on his all-too-white body. As he did, he saw the customs officer leave the yacht and, at a dead run, head for the little police shack fifty yards away. Odd.

A moment later, the customs officer emerged from the shack in the company of two police officers, one of them of rank, judging from his uniform. The three men marched rapidly back toward the blue yacht and went aboard, disappearing below. Stone watched with interest to see what would happen next. Ten minutes passed before the young woman skipper appeared on deck wearing a cotton dress. Accompanied by the three uniformed officers, one of them carrying a small nylon duffel, she walked toward the police shack and disappeared inside.

What the hell was going on? Stone wondered.

He kept an eye on the police shack all afternoon. Finally, sometime after five o’clock, the woman left the shack in the company of two uniformed policemen, got into a waiting car, and was driven away. Stone didn’t know what sort of trouble she was in, but he felt for her, alone in a foreign place, at the mercy of the police. He had seen many people in custody, and he had never envied any of them.


Stone showered, shaved, and got into some of his new tropical clothing—a short-sleeved silk shirt, Italian cotton trousers, and woven leather loafers, no socks. He found it an unexpected pleasure to dress so lightly in January; there was much to be said for winter in the tropics.

As the sun set he wandered across a wide green lawn toward a wide thatched roof covering a bar and restaurant open to the breezes. It was early, and there were few customers. A black bartender stood behind an expanse of varnished mahogany, idly polishing a glass. A television set over the bar was tuned to CNN, the sound muted.

“Evening to you, boss,” he said amiably, with what sounded to Stone like a Bahamian accent.

“Evening,” Stone said.

“And what might be your pleasure this fine evening?”

“Oh, something tropical, I guess, to celebrate my first evening in warm weather.”

“A piña colada, mebbe?”

“Sounds good.” Stone looked up at the television and saw a woman in a heavy coat standing on what looked like a New York City street corner. A blizzard was raging about her. “Could you turn the sound up on the TV for a minute?” he asked the bartender.

“Sure thing, boss.”

“…was predicted for later this evening, but it started around noon, and we already have a foot of snow on the streets, with at least twenty inches expected by the wee hours of tomorrow morning. Kennedy, La Guardia, and Newark Airports closed at midafternoon, so nothing is flying into or out of the city until further notice. The Port Authority predicted that no flights would be moving until noon tomorrow.”

“Shit,” Stone said aloud. “Okay, you can turn the volume down again.”

“What you care, boss?” the bartender asked, turning down the TV. “You already here.”

“Yeah, but my girl isn’t. She was due to leave at four this afternoon.”

“Bad luck, boss,” the man said.

“Where are you from?” Stone asked.

“Born right here on St. Marks, boss.”

“Funny, you sound Bahamian. You shining me on with that accent?”

The man grinned. “You’re too good for me, pal.” He stuck out his hand. “I’m Thomas Hardy, like the writer.” Now the accent was more island British, with an extra, familiar layer.

Stone shook his hand. “Do I hear a little New York in there somewhere?”

“Lived in Brooklyn a long time; worked all over the city.”

“I’m Stone Barrington; I’m on a charter yacht over at the marina.”

“That’s kind of a familiar name,” Thomas said.

“Don’t know why; it’s my first time in St. Marks.”

“Were you ever a cop?”

Stone blinked in surprise. “I was, mostly in the Nineteenth Precinct. Have we ever met?”

Thomas shook his head. “No, but I heard about you. I was walking a beat in the Village when you left the force; everybody was talking about you, said you got a bad deal.”

“I can’t complain,” Stone said. “I left with the full pension after fourteen years.”

“Yeah, but you took some lead with you, huh?”

“They got it out. What are you doing in St. Marks?”

“I was born here, like I said. My mama moved to New York when I was a kid. I joined the force, did my twenty, and brought my savings and my pension down here and put it to work.”

“This your place?”

“Lock, stock, and liquor license.”

“How long you been at it?”

“Six and a half years.”

“Business good?”

“Not bad; a little better every year. That blizzard in the Northeast is going to cost me, though. A lot of people will be in your girl’s shoes.”

“I guess so.” Stone sighed. “I was looking forward to a more romantic week than this. Where can I make a phone call?”

Thomas reached under the bar, pulled out a phone, and set it on the bar. “I charge the tourists a buck a minute, but for an old cop, I’ll just put what they charge me on your tab. Got a fax machine, too, if you should need one.”

“Thanks.” Stone called his home number.


“I guess you’re not going to make it tonight, huh?”

“You heard? I tried to call you at the charter office, but I didn’t get an answer.”

“They get CNN down here.”

“I’m sorry, baby. It started to come down around midday, and let me tell you, it’s really something. I’m a southern girl; I’ve never seen snow like this.”

“CNN says the airlines will be flying again tomorrow afternoon. See what you can do.”

“I’m already rebooked on tomorrow’s flight, assuming it goes.”

“Good. What are you up to now?”

“I’m having dinner with Vance and some friends of his. He actually found a Range Rover somewhere, and he’s picking me up.”

“Where are you dining?”

“Wherever’s open, I guess.”

“I miss you, babe.”

“And I miss you, my darling. I was looking forward to that first piña colada.”

“I’m drinking it for you right now. Say, let me give you this number.”

Thomas shoved a card in front of him.

Stone read off both the phone and fax numbers “Keep me posted on the flight situation, will you? The boat is moored no more than a hundred yards from this phone.”

“I will, baby.”

Stone said good-bye and hung up. “Well, Thomas, it looks like you and me.” He sipped the piña colada. It was perfect—cold, sweet, and pineapply.

“Let me know when you’re ready for dinner,” Thomas said. “I’ll keep a table for you.” Customers were drifting in now, and a waiter was seating them.

Stone watched as a large black man dressed in a white linen suit, and in the company of a beautiful café-au-lait woman, entered and was shown to a prime table overlooking the harbor. “Impressive-looking fellow,” he said.

“That’s Sir Winston Sutherland, the minister of justice,” Thomas said.

“A mover and shaker?”

“He both moves and shakes. And if his own opinion holds, he just might be the next prime minister.”

Stone heard a car door slam and turned to look. The blond woman from the blue yacht, Expansive, had left a police car and, alone, was making her way across the lawn toward the marina.

“Very nice, huh?” Thomas said.

“Very nice indeed. She spent the afternoon with the local cops, though. I wonder why.”

“Word is, the lady left Europe with a husband but arrived in St. Marks without him.”

Stone turned and looked at the bartender. “I didn’t see anybody else on board when she came into the harbor.”

“That’s because she was all alone on that big boat.”

“You mean she sailed it all the way across the Atlantic?”

“Well, not all the way,” Thomas said. “Her husband was along for part of the time.”

“Is foul play suspected?”

“On this island, foul play is always suspected,” Thomas replied. “That lady is going to have to convince a number of people”—he pointed at Sir Winston Sutherland—“that man first among them, that she is as innocent as a newborn lamb.”

“And how difficult is that likely to be?” Stone asked.

“It could be very difficult indeed,” Thomas said. “There’s going to be a coroner’s jury over at the town meeting house tomorrow morning. Word is, Sir Winston is asking the questions.”

“Is that unusual?”

“Usually the coroner does it.”

Stone looked over at Sir Winston Sutherland, who was digging into a bowl of something. “What’s he eating?” he asked.

“Conch chowder.”

“Well, I suppose you have to be careful of any man with enough daring to eat conch chowder in a white linen suit.”

“Oh,” Thomas said, “there’s more reason than that to be careful of Sir Winston.”

When Stone got back to his boat, late, there were lights on in the big blue yacht. He was tempted to call on the lady to offer his condolences, but he was a little drunker than he liked to be when he introduced himself to a beautiful woman.


Stone, a little worse for the wear, entered the Markstown Meeting Hall at ten o’clock the following morning, just as the coroner, a wizened little black man with snow white hair, was about to call the proceedings to order. A jury of five black men and one white sat on folding chairs along one side of the hall; the coroner sat on a folding chair at a card table at the front of the room, and the woman from the blue yacht sat in the front row of chairs, dressed in a trim black dress that set off her tan. The dress was not quite demure enough for mourning, but it bespoke a certain dignity. Stone took a seat in the front row, across the aisle from her, just as Sir Winston Sutherland made his entrance, carrying a large satchel briefcase and dressed in a double-breasted blue suit with chalk stripes. He looked very official.

“These proceedings will come to order,” said the coroner. “We meet to hear testimony on the death of Paul Phillips Manning; we are pleased to have Sir Winston with us to conduct questioning.”

Stone glanced at the woman, who sat, looking tired but somehow radiant, staring serenely at the coroner. She glanced briefly at Sir Winston. Stone wondered if she knew who he was and what was about to happen.

The coroner spoke again. “Call Mrs. Allison Manning.”

The woman rose and walked toward a folding chair set next to the coroner’s card table, between him and the jury. The scene resembled a rehearsal of a high school play set in a courtroom.

“Hold the book,” the coroner said to her, extending a Bible. “Do you swear by Almighty God that the evidence you are about to give will be the truth?”

“I do,” Allison Manning replied.

“State your full name and age for the record.”

“Allison Ames Manning; I am twenty-nine years old.”

Stone now noticed a stenographer seated near the jury, taking down the proceedings in shorthand.

Allison Manning gazed evenly at Sir Winston as he rose from his seat to his full height, which was a good six-three, and approached her.

“Mrs. Manning,” Sir Winston said gently, “may I begin by expressing my condolences on the loss of your husband?”

“Thank you,” she replied.

“Mrs. Manning, how long were you married to Paul Phillips Manning?”

“It would have been four years next month.”

“And how old was your husband at his death?”


“And where did the two of you reside?”

“In Greenwich, Connecticut.”

“Would you be kind enough to tell us of your last months with your husband?”

Allison Manning took a deep breath and spoke in a clear, well-modulated voice. “My husband and I left Newport, Rhode Island, last May and crossed the Atlantic to Plymouth, in England, just the two of us. Paul had had the yacht built in Finland and fitted out with some extra equipment after it was delivered to Newport. From Plymouth, we cruised up the English Channel to Cowes, on the Isle of Wight, then crossed the Channel and cruised the coast of Brittany, in France. We made a long passage to Bilbao, in northern Spain, then went on to Lisbon and Gibraltar. In the Mediterranean, we cruised the Greek islands and the Balearics and then sailed out to Madeira and the Canary Islands. We called at Las Palmas and did some refitting there, then at Puerto Rico, a port on the southernmost island of the Canaries, and our last port of call before starting across the Atlantic, bound for Antigua.” She took a sip of water from a glass poured by the coroner.

“Please go on,” Sir Winston said.

Allison Manning looked a little sadder. “We sailed southwest from the Canaries down to the latitude of Antigua, then turned west. We had picked up the trade winds by then, and we were making good time. We were ten days out of Puerto Rico, over halfway to Antigua, when the incident occurred.”

“Tell us about the incident, with as much detail as you can recall.”

“It was on the early afternoon of the tenth day,” she said. “We had been in and out of squalls, then the wind dropped, and we were very nearly becalmed. The weather had been very changeable. We had been down to short sail in the squalls, using a roller-reefing headsail, which was like a big window blind, and when Paul began to unroll the sail in the light winds, the top swivel of the roller-reefing gear separated into two parts. The sail fell down with the bottom part, and the top part of the gear remained at the top of the mast, attached to the halyard. I hope I’m making this clear.”

Sir Winston turned to the jury. “Gentlemen, do you understand?”

The jury nodded as one man.

“Please go on, Mrs. Manning,” Sir Winston said.

“This wasn’t the first time this had happened,” she said, “and it meant that someone had to go up the mast and pull the top part of the swivel down to deck level so that it could be reattached to the bottom part.”

“And who went up the mast?”

“I did.”

“Was this usual? Did your husband often send you up the mast at sea?”

“No. I had done that a couple of times before, but when we were tied up alongside in port. It was easier for Paul to hoist me up the mast with a winch than for me to hoist him. He is…was a large man. On this occasion he wanted to go himself, but he had woken up not feeling well that morning and was obviously not well. He had a thing about making good time at sea, and he didn’t want to wait until he felt better, so I said I would go up the mast.”

“And how did you accomplish that?”

“Paul lowered the mainsail; I got into the bosun’s chair, which is a canvas sling, and Paul winched me to the top of the mast on the main halyard, then cleated the line while I hauled the genoa halyard down to deck level. There wasn’t much wind, but there was a sea running from the last squall, and it was pretty uncomfortable at the top of the mast. I called to Paul to lower me to the deck, and that was when I saw him, sitting on a cockpit seat, holding his arm, near the shoulder.” For the first time, her voice quavered. “His left arm.”

“What happened then?”

She seemed to struggle to keep control of herself. “I called to him again, and he looked up at me. Then he seemed to be in terrible pain, and he sort of just lay down on his side on the cockpit seat.” Tears appeared on her cheeks now. “I was very frightened. The wind began to get up again, and with no sail up, the boat was rolling very badly. I continued to call out to him in panic—panic that I was stuck at the top of the mast, and panic that he seemed to be having a heart attack, and I couldn’t help him.” Now she began to cry in earnest. Sutherland stood without speaking while she produced a tissue and dabbed at her eyes. Finally in control again, she continued. “A few minutes passed—I don’t know how long—then Paul slid off the seat onto the cockpit sole. He just lay there, facedown. It was obvious that he was unconscious; he just sort of flopped about when the boat rolled.”

“And then what did you do?”

“I just clung to the mast and cried.”

On Sale
Mar 17, 2009
Page Count
464 pages