Hells corner, p.18
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       Hells Corner, p.18
 

         Part #5 of Camel Club series by David Baldacci

  Stone didn’t answer.

  “Still, not a particularly good day for any of us.”

  “You could say that.”

  “And do you blame yourself?”

  Stone looked at him. “And why wouldn’t I?”

  McElroy considered this. “I suppose I would’ve been disappointed if you’d answered any other way. I’ve grown used to finger-pointing over the years, accepting it as just the way the world works now. But I know it doesn’t work that way for you and never has. And neither does it for me.”

  “So am I going to be pulled from the case?”

  “Do you want to be?”

  “I don’t like unfinished business.”

  “I wish I could give you a definitive answer, but I can’t.”

  “The president wavering on me? He’s done it before.”

  “He’s a politician. It’s never easy. That’s mostly why I never threw my hat into the ring. A spy’s life is a bit easier in that department.”

  “So until I get the word either way am I free to continue my investigation?”

  “The answer to that would be yes.”

  “That’s all I needed to know.”

  “I understand that Riley Weaver came to visit you.”

  “He did.”

  “He’s scared, as I understand it. Sees something big coming over the horizon. And he thinks that what happened here plays into it somehow? That it was merely a first step?”

  “I think he believes that, yes.”

  “And do you?”

  “Since the attack at the park made no sense, then it seems likely that it was part of something else.”

  “Bigger than exploding a bomb and scattering machine-gun fire across from your president’s humble abode? Goodness, we might be in serious trouble.”

  The man’s words were said in a jesting tone, but it was apparent from the look of concern in his eyes that McElroy too had a sense of foreboding. “Any inkling as to what that something else might be?”

  Stone turned to him. “Fuat Turkekul.”

  “What about him?”

  “I don’t believe in coincidences.”

  “Meaning his being in the park at the same time of the attack.”

  “I think someone in your food chain knows something about it.”

  “So why didn’t they kill him, then?”

  “That would make the answer simple. This isn’t simple.” He eyed the security team. “Feel like a bit of a walk?”

  “If you’ll lend me a hand, yes. Knees aren’t what they used to be, and what they used to be was never much, I’m afraid.”

  The two old allies walked along the brick path. Stone supported McElroy with a firm hand under his elbow as the spy chief made his way slowly along using his cane.

  “Theories?” said McElroy.

  “They know everything before we do. And more to the point, they seem to know what we’re going to do at the same time we decide to do it.”

  “So a traitor assuredly?”

  Stone nodded. “Any possibilities?”

  “I’ve looked that issue up one side and down the other and I can’t find a viable suspect. Damn infuriating.”

  “So you suspected something like that too?”

  “I always suspect something like that. And it usually turns out to be true. I agree with you that the other side seems to be always ahead of us. But I don’t know how they’re doing it.”

  “We could lay a trap. Channel information through one source only and see if it ends up in the wrong hands.”

  “I don’t think whoever it is will fall for that.”

  “Worth a try?”

  “Then we warn them we suspect.”

  “If they’re as good as I think they are, they already know that we suspect.”

  “I’m afraid I’m going to have to sit down, Oliver.”

  Stone helped his friend to another bench and then sat next to him. “Tell me something,” said Stone. “Did what happened at the park cause Turkekul to change his plans in any way? Was the mission altered at all?”

  McElroy didn’t answer right away. “Of course it would have been completely altered if Fuat had been killed,” he pointed out. “Altered to the point of being abandoned. One would think that would have been the goal of the attack.”

  “Since the man didn’t die, we have to think of alternative reasons.”

  “I can think of none.”

  “For now, but we have to keep trying.”

  “It won’t be easy for you. The FBI is looking to crush you. Its director has already had a meeting with your president. I have also had the pleasure of your leader’s company, and have done my utmost to dissuade him from giving in to the entreaty that you be removed from the case.”

  “Until they make me stop I’ll keep going.”

  “Pretty much sums up our professional lives, Oliver.”

  “Yes, it does.”

  “I wish you luck.”

  “I’ll need it.”

  “You’ll also need this.”

  McElroy took a memory stick from his pocket and handed it to Stone.

  “What is it?”

  “The FBI’s preliminary report on the attack at the tree farm.” As Stone looked uncertainly at the USB stick, McElroy added, “By the by, I had a computer delivered to your cottage earlier.” He paused. “You do know how to work a computer, don’t you?”

  “I can manage. And thanks.”

  “Cheers.”

  McElroy rose on stiffened legs and slowly walked off.

  CHAPTER 39

  STONE SAT BACK, RUBBED HIS EYES and yawned. He poured out a last cup of coffee and surveyed the miniscule interior of his cottage before his gaze alighted once more on his shiny new laptop computer. It looked almost as out of place in his dingy surroundings as a Picasso hanging on the wall would have.

  What was on the memory stick McElroy had given him was far more interesting than the computer itself. The FBI, motivated no doubt by the murder of one of its own, had done an intensely thorough investigation of the tree farm and the trailer. What they had found was incriminating if not wholly surprising.

  Stone ticked off the points in his head.

  A sharp-eyed agent had noticed that a narrow section of the cement blocks forming the foundation of Kravitz’s trailer home was of a slightly lighter color. They had removed this stack and entered the open space underneath and found bomb-making materials, along with two basketballs, both of which had been cut in half.

  A review of John Kravitz’s personal history had found him to be a college graduate as his boss Lloyd Wilder had noted. But what Wilder hadn’t told them, or more likely didn’t know, was that Kravitz had been arrested twice in the past during rallies against the government for items ranging from antiwar protests to stem cell research. Also found on his cell phone were names and addresses of certain people on government watch lists.

  His neighbors had reported that Kravitz had acted suspiciously over the last few weeks, though Stone discounted that as witness bias since there had been no specific examples from any of these neighbors as to why they thought that other than the police and FBI showing up at the man’s door.

  From the records at the tree farm and the accounts of those working there, Kravitz had full access to the maple tree before it was loaded on a truck and sent to D.C. This included during after hours, because he had a key to the special storeroom where the tree was being prepared for shipping. The insertion of a bomb in the root ball of a tree that large, even housed inside a basketball, would not be difficult for an experienced hand like Kravitz, the report had found. Any disturbance at the site of entry could be easily covered up and then further disguised by the burlap container.

  Kravitz had been shot with a rifle round that had ripped through his heart, killing him instantly. Stone had to admire the skill of the sniper, since the person would have had to make that shot with the distraction of Stone and Chapman shooting at him. The secretary at the tree farm had succumbed to a .
45 round from a handgun, Lloyd Wilder from a shotgun blast to the face and finally Tom Gross had taken two .45 rounds to the chest. He had fired his weapon once, hitting the wall.

  Two different guns used in the attack meant two different attackers, at least. A shotgun was problematic. It was unfailingly deadly at close range but very noisy. The handgun could be used with a suppressor. Yet no one had heard anything, the report added. This was not so unlikely as it seemed. When Stone had traveled there with Gross and Chapman he’d observed that the tree farm was set far off the road. So probably no cars passing by would’ve heard the shots. And the other people working there at the time were far away in the fields. The office building was low and long. It would have blocked the view of any vehicle coming there from anyone working in the fields or other buildings. And tree farms were noisy places with machinery on for much of the time. Still, everyone there had been interviewed and professed to have heard or seen nothing. There were only three people in the office and they were all dead.

  Stone leaned back and drank his coffee as outside the dawn began to emerge.

  So Kravitz was part of the bombing plot and he was killed when the cops moved in. Short, sweet, made sense. Evidence all there. Signed, sealed, delivered. Check off the box. But why the attack at the tree farm in the first place? Was Lloyd Wilder part of the conspiracy? There was no evidence to point to that. And Stone had seen the man’s face when they told him why they were there. Stone had seen many liars. Wilder, he believed, had not been lying. The secretary? No connection. No evidence of wrongdoing.

  Stone heard the footsteps outside the cottage. He quickly closed the laptop, sending the room into darkness. Just as he had with Riley Weaver, he pulled his gun from his desk drawer and crouched down in the kneehole with his eyes barely above the top edge. He was getting a little tired of late-night unannounced visits.

  The silhouette at his door was that of a woman. He could tell by the hair, the shape of the face and torso.

  Agent Chapman? Too tall. Hair too long.

  “Oliver?”

  He moved his finger away from the trigger and rose.

  A few moments later he was staring at Annabelle Conroy as she walked into his cottage and plunked down in a chair by the fireplace, crossed her arms and scowled up at him.

  “Annabelle, what are you doing here?”

  “We need to talk.”

  “About what?”

  “About everything. But let’s start with you being in trouble and needing our help.”

  He said wearily, “I can handle this. And I don’t want all of you—”

  “What!” she snapped. “You don’t want us to what? Care about what happens to you? You want us to just come to your funeral and wonder what if? Did you really think that was going to work?”

  He sat down next to her and slid his pistol into his waistband. “No, I guess I didn’t expect that.”

  “Good, because I’m here to tell you that we’re going to help, whether you like it or not.”

  “How? You can’t meddle in an FBI investigation.”

  “I wouldn’t call it meddling. And since when are you against becoming involved in official investigations? From what I know, you’ve made a career out of doing just that.”

  “It’s different this time.”

  “Why, because you’re now working for the government? I don’t see how that really makes a difference. And since the government isn’t happy with you right now, I would think you’d need some unofficial help.”

  “But still I’m not sure what any of you can do.”

  “That never stopped us before.” She turned to him and her tone became less aggressive. “All I’m saying is we want to help. Just like you did with me, and everybody else in the good old Camel Club.”

  “But you’ve already paid me back for helping you. I’d be dead in Divine, Virginia, but for you.”

  “This isn’t a tit-for-tat contest, Oliver. I’m your friend. I would be here for you at any time.”

  Stone let out a sigh. “Where are the others?”

  “Out in the car.”

  “I thought so. Would you like to get them? I can put some more coffee on.”

  “Don’t bother. We brought breakfast too.”

  She rose as he looked up at her in mild amusement.

  “Camel Club forever,” she said.

  CHAPTER 40

  IT TOOK THE BETTER PART of three hours, but Stone finally brought them all up to speed on the case. Finn, Reuben and Caleb sat in chairs ringed around Stone’s desk while Annabelle perched on top of the desk. Alex Ford was not with them because he was on duty.

  “So the bomber, at least one of them, has been caught,” said Caleb.

  “Seems that way,” answered Stone.

  “Only you don’t look convinced,” said Finn. He had on a dark blue windbreaker, jeans, dusty boots and his Glock.

  “All the evidence is there,” said Stone. “In fact, too much.”

  “FBI see it that way?” asked Reuben.

  “I don’t know, seeing as how I’m a bit out of favor with them right now.”

  “If not this tree guy, who then?” interjected Annabelle. “If you’re saying he was set up, it’s a hell of a setup.”

  “Agreed.” Stone was about to say something else when someone knocked on his door.

  It was Chapman. She stepped inside and saw the others.

  Stone said bluntly, “I’ve finally come to my senses and asked my friends to help us out.”

  Chapman looked around at them. “Help us how?” she said in a skeptical tone.

  “In the investigation.”

  “And what agency are they with?”

  Caleb volunteered, “I’m with the Library of Congress.”

  Chapman stared at him, openmouthed. “The bloody hell you are.”

  He looked taken aback. “I beg your pardon?”

  She turned to Stone. “What the hell is going on here?”

  “I spoke with McElroy last night. He gave me the FBI file on the incident in Pennsylvania. I’ve gone through it. With them.”

  “With your friends? Who are going to help us?” she said slowly, as though not believing her own words. “A bloody librarian!”

  Caleb said with dignity, “I’m actually a rare book specialist. In my field that’s like being James Bond.”

  Chapman drew her pistol with enviable speed and placed it against Caleb’s forehead. “Well, in my field, little man, that means shit.”

  She put her gun away while Caleb looked like he might have a stroke.

  “Do I have a choice?” asked Chapman.

  “In what?” asked Stone.

  “In working with them?”

  “If you want to continue to work with me, you’ll have to work with them.”

  “You lot do things a bit peculiarly over here.”

  “Yes, we do,” agreed Stone. “So would you like me to fill you in on the FBI’s report? Unless McElroy has done the honors already?”

  Twenty minutes later Chapman was fully informed both of the content
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