Hells corner, p.20
Part #5 of Camel Club series by David Baldacci
“No. I doubt there’s much work going on there. Feds probably interviewed all of them and then let them go. If they try to leave the area, they’ll probably be really sorry. Let’s see if they’re keeping them under surveillance.”
The truck pulled onto the road and sped off. They waited for thirty seconds but no other car followed.
Annabelle put her car in gear. “Okay, the Feds are very trusting. And we’re not.”
“Where do you think they’re headed?” asked Reuben.
“There’s a bar in that direction. Let’s hope they pull off for happy hour after all that interrogation.”
They did go to the bar. And Annabelle and Reuben waited for them to go inside before slipping out of the car and heading in.
“You speak Spanish?” Reuben asked.
“I spent a long time in L.A., so yeah, pretty fluently. You?”
“I know more Vietnamese than Spanish.”
“Then order your beer in English and let me do the talking.”
“And my role?”
“If a guy who we’re not interested in hits on me, take him out.”
“Great, thanks. Nice to use my finely honed skills.”
Inside, the four Latinos were huddled around one table, beers already in hand. They were talking in low voices and casting furtive glances at the few other people in the bar.
Annabelle and Reuben sat at a table near them and then Annabelle put some money in the jukebox. On the way back she dropped her car keys near the table. One of the men bent down to pick them up. When he handed them back, she thanked him in Spanish. Then she pulled a map from her pocket and asked him directions, explaining that she and her friend were trying to find a tree farm. The man told her that he and his friends worked at this very same tree farm.
Annabelle smiled and pulled up a chair, motioning Reuben to stay where he was. She sat down and said, “We’re looking to buy a dozen cypress and were told that your place had some excellent specimens. I work for a landscaping firm in Delaware,” she explained. All of this was spoken in rapid Spanish and seemed to put the men at ease.
The first man told Annabelle that they indeed had such trees, but she could not get them.
“Why not?” she asked.
He explained about what had happened.
“Oh my God,” she exclaimed. “That’s awful. I read about it in the paper, of course, but they didn’t say the name of the tree farm, so I never associated it with yours. I hope they caught who did it.”
The men shook their heads.
“And was this John Kravitz a friend of yours? His name was the one I was actually given when I was coming up here.”
Kravitz had not been a close friend, and the men seemed stunned to learn that he had been involved with the bombing in Washington.
“That’s really a shame,” said Annabelle.
One of the men said that he believed John Kravitz to be innocent.
“But I heard on the news that they found bomb-making material at his home. That’s pretty serious.”
Whether the man had heard this too wasn’t clear. He insisted that Kravitz was innocent.
“And were you all there when the people were killed?”
“That must have been horrible. I guess you’re lucky you weren’t killed too.”
They had been out in the fields, they told her. They had heard and seen nothing.
“I guess the police have questioned you,” said Annabelle.
The surly looks on the men’s faces confirmed that.
“Well, it looks like whoever did it might get away. Too bad,” she said. Annabelle left that comment hanging out there to see what reaction it might inspire. One of the men whispered something to the first. He looked at Annabelle.
“The police didn’t ask about the basketball hoop,” he said.
“Basketball hoop?” Annabelle feigned ignorance even though Stone had told her about the missing hoop.
“We had a basketball hoop up at one of the outbuildings. We would play ball there at lunch. John played too sometimes. He was good.”
“And what happened to the hoop?”
The first man glanced over at his companion who’d whispered to him.
“What’s up?” Annabelle asked innocently.
“Miguel saw something that night.”
“The night before the people were killed. He came back to pick up his sweater he left there.”
“What did he see?”
“He saw someone taking down the basketball hoop.”
“Taking down the hoop? Did he see who it was?”
“No. But it wasn’t John. It was a smaller man. And older. Then another man came. Another stranger. They talked.”
“Miguel, did you hear what they said?”
Miguel shook his head. “They spoke a funny language. I didn’t understand it.”
“Did you try and talk to them?”
“No. I was afraid. I was hiding behind another building.”
“Did you tell the police this?”
“They didn’t ask.”
“Okay,” said Annabelle. “Well, I guess we’ll have to look somewhere else for the trees. Thanks.”
She returned to the table with Reuben and filled him in on the parts he hadn’t overheard.
“Taking down a basketball hoop. And speaking a funny language, huh?”
“Well, it obviously wasn’t Spanish.”
When they left the bar a man who had been sitting near the jukebox sipping on a beer followed them. When their car pulled out, so did his. And then he clicked a number on his phone and spoke into it. A half mile away another vehicle started up and sped toward the direction Annabelle and Reuben were traveling.
STONE WAS SITTING AT A DESK in Chapman’s room at the British embassy listening to the sound of the shower running. A minute later Chapman walked out of the bathroom wrapped in a white terrycloth robe, her feet bare. She was drying her hair with a towel.
“Getting a bloody night’s sleep and bathing with regularity is a little tough around you lot,” she said.
“I’m sure it’s the time difference,” he said. Stone was going over some documents on the table and occasionally glancing at the laptop computer set up on the desk. He paused to look around the room.
“MI6 takes good care of its agents.”
“The British embassy is known for its first-class accommodations,” noted Chapman as she sat on the couch. “And a hotel just doesn’t cut it when one is examining classified documents and carrying a laptop with highly secret data.” She rose. “Give me a sec to dress and we’ll have a spot of tea.”
She left the room and Stone could hear drawers and doors opening and closing. A few minutes later she came out dressed in a skirt, blouse, no hose and no shoes. She was just finishing buttoning her blouse. He glanced away when she looked up at him.
“Feel better?” he said casually.
“Loads, thanks. I’m famished.” She picked up the phone, ordered tea and some food and joined Stone at the desk.
“Any word from your friends, the Camel Club?”
“Caleb called during his lunch hour. He faxed the list over of upcoming events at the park.” Stone picked up two sheets of paper. “Here they are. There are lots of potential targets on there, unfortunately.”
Chapman ran her eye down the list. “I see what you mean. Any of them stand out among the others?”
“A few. Two that the president was going to be attending. Other heads of state, congressmen, celebrities. But narrowing it down will be difficult.”
“But my PM isn’t in the mix.” She put down the papers and looked thoughtful. “You know, chances are very good that I’ll be pulled off this little caper.”
“Because of no proven threat against the PM?”
“That’s right. MI6 doesn’t have unlimited resources.”
“But the implications of what is being planned here could ha
“That’s what I’ll say in my next report. Because I’d like to see this through. But I wouldn’t be surprised if you have to carry on without me.”
Stone didn’t say anything for a few moments. “I hope that’s not the case,” he said.
She looked at him closely. “I’ll take that as a compliment.”
“It was meant as one.”
When the tea and food came they ate and drank while going over the evidence once more.
“Nothing from Garchik and his mysterious debris?” Chapman asked as she took a bite of a hot scone.
“No. Weaver from NIC has cut me off. FBI too, obviously. ATF may be next.” He looked at her. “Guilt by association, I’m afraid. You won’t be too popular either.”
“I’ve dealt with worse. Got on the wrong side of the queen once.”
Stone looked intrigued. “How?”
“Misunderstanding that was more her fault than mine. But she’s the queen so there you are. But it eventually got sorted out.” She took another bite of scone. “But from what I’ve learned about you, you’re a man who’s used to rocking the boat.”
“That was never my intent,” Stone said quietly.
She leaned back in her chair. “You expect me to believe that?”
“I did my job, even when I didn’t agree with it. In that regard I was weak.”
“You were trained to follow orders. We all are.”
“It’s never that simple.”
“If it isn’t that simple our world goes to hell in a hurry.”
“Well maybe sometimes it should go to hell.”
“And I guess it did for you.”
“You ever been married?”
“Ever want to be?”
Chapman looked down, “I guess most women want to be, don’t they?”
“I think most men do too. I did. I was married. I had a woman I loved and a little girl who meant everything to me.”
Stone grew silent.
Chapman finally broke the quiet. “And you lost them?”
“And the fault was entirely mine.”
“You didn’t pull the bloody trigger, Oliver.”
“I might as well have. You don’t voluntarily leave a job like mine. And I shouldn’t have married. I shouldn’t have had a child.”
“Sometimes you can’t control those things. You can’t control love.”
Stone looked at her. Chapman was staring directly at him.
“You can’t,” she repeated softly. “Not even people like us.”
“Well, considering how things turned out, I should have tried.”
“So you’re going to blame yourself forever?”
He looked surprised by the question. “Of course I am. Why?”
“Just asking.” She put down the rest of her scone and refocused on the reports in front of her.
Stone hit the TV remote and the news came on. They were just in time to hear a female reporter broadcasting near Lafayette Park.
“And late-breaking developments have Alfredo Padilla, originally of Mexico, dying in the blast. Apparently there was a bomb planted in a tree hole at Lafayette Park, and Mr. Padilla, unfortunately running away from the shots being fired in Lafayette, fell into the hole and accidentally detonated the bomb planted there. A memorial service is being planned for Mr. Padilla, who is being hailed as a hero, even if unwittingly. FBI special agent Thomas Gross, a veteran with the Bureau, was killed during a shootout at the tree farm where the tree with the bomb in it was procured. He will be honored at this same memorial service in what some are calling a political move to mend relations between the two countries. Another man, John Kravitz, who worked at the tree farm and was allegedly involved in the bombing conspiracy, was killed by an unknown person at his home in Pennsylvania as police closed in. We will bring you more details as they become available.”
Stone turned off the TV.
“Someone has been shooting off his mouth,” he said. “Back in the old days we never would’ve revealed that much about an ongoing investigation.”
“That was before the days of the Internet and frothing media that have to deliver content every second of every day,” remarked Chapman.
“I wonder if they’ll let me attend Gross’s memorial service.”
“I wouldn’t count on it if I were you.”
Five minutes later Chapman said, “Hold on.”
“What?” Stone said, glancing at her.
She held up a piece of paper. “Evidence listing from the crime scene at the park.”
Stone looked at it. “Okay. What do you see?”
“Read down that column,” she said, indicating a list of numbers and corresponding categories on the left side of the sheet.
Stone did. “All right. So?”
She held up another sheet. “Now read this.”
Stone did so. He flinched and looked back at the first sheet. “Why didn’t anyone put this together before?”
“Most likely because it was on two separate reports.”
Stone looked between the two documents.
“Two hundred and forty-six slugs found in the park and environs matching the TEC-9s,” he said.
He looked at the other piece of paper. “But the casings found at the Hay-Adams Hotel only numbered two hundred and forty,” he said.
“You would expect to have more casings than slugs, because some of the slugs might never be recovered,” Stone began.
“But you would never have fewer casings than found slugs,” Chapman said, finishing his thought. “Unless the bad guys took a few with them and left the rest. Which they never would. They would either take none or all.”
Stone looked up. “You know what this means?”
Chapman nodded. “The casings were planted at the hotel and someone miscounted. The shots came from somewhere else.”
“WE HAVE COMPANY, ANNABELLE,” said Reuben.
She glanced in the rearview mirror. “The black SUV with the tinted windows?”
“It was parked at the bar when we pulled up,” she noted.
“I know. I think someone is interested in our conversation with the Latinos.”
She said, “So what do we do? We’re in the middle of nowhere. And I don’t want to call 911, because then we’ll have to explain things I don’t want to.”
“Keep driving. There’s a bend coming up. They’ll make their move
Hells Corner by David Baldacci / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5 out of 5 / Based on50 votes