Hells corner, p.21
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       Hells Corner, p.21

         Part #5 of Camel Club series by David Baldacci


  “And what will our move be?” Annabelle asked.

  “Still thinking of it. Just drive. And hit the curve fast. I want the driver focused on the road, not me.”

  Annabelle accelerated and drove into the bend in the road at speed.

  “Punch it more,” instructed Reuben.

  She did so, fighting to keep the car on the road.

  Reuben had turned in his seat and was looking back. He pulled a large handgun from his pocket and aimed it out the window.

  “I didn’t know you were armed,” Annabelle said.

  “Well now you do.”

  “Do you have a permit for that thing?”

  “Yeah, but it expired about fifteen years ago.”

  “Wait a minute, what if those are cops back there?”

  “We’re about to find out.”

  The SUV came into view. There was a man hanging out the side of the truck holding a submachine gun.

  “Don’t think they’re cops,” said Reuben. “Keep it steady.”

  The submachine gun fired about the same time Reuben did. The sub was aimed at the car. Reuben was aiming at the front tire. The sub hit its target, blowing out the back window of their car. Annabelle hunched forward and down, her head near the steering wheel.

  Reuben fired once, twice and then a third time as the guy holding the sub reloaded. The front tires on the SUV shredded. The car shot across the road, hit the shoulder and flipped on its side.

  Annabelle sat back up. “Jesus.”

  Reuben turned back around. “Look out!” he screamed.

  A second SUV was coming from the opposite direction and heading right for them. Annabelle cut the wheel hard and her car lurched across the road, cleared the shoulder and landed in the dirt. She gunned the engine and steered the car toward a stand of trees. They reached it. She slammed the car to a stop and they jumped out and ran for the trees as the SUV bore down on them.

  Reuben turned and fired a few shots in the truck’s direction, causing it to veer off. The second they reached the trees, bursts of submachine-gun fire hit. Reuben grabbed Annabelle’s arm and threw her into the cover of the woods.

  He wasn’t as fortunate. A round slammed into his arm.



  He wheeled around and fired at the now stopped truck. The windshield splintered and the men inside took cover.

  Reuben turned and stumbled into the woods along with Annabelle. She held on to his other shoulder and helped him along. Between gritted teeth Reuben said, “Now might be a good time to call the cops, Annabelle. I’d rather have to explain things to them instead of lying in a box after these guys finish with us.”

  She slipped the phone from her purse and hit 911. Nothing happened.

  “Damn it. No bars.”


  “But I had reception around here before.”

  “Maybe they’re jamming the signal.”

  “Who the hell are they?”

  “People we do not want to meet up close.”

  They heard running feet behind them.

  They took cover behind a tree. Reuben fired off the rest of his ammo in the direction of their pursuers. A volley of automatic fire came back at them.

  “Load my pistol for me,” said Reuben between gritted teeth. “Extra clip in my right pocket.” She did so and handed it back to him. He studied the terrain around them. “Submachine guns against a pistol only has one outcome,” he said.

  “So we’re dead?”

  “Didn’t say that.”

  “I wonder what Oliver would do.”

  “What Oliver would do is the unexpected.”

  “So exactly what does that mean in this situation?”

  Reuben fired three more shots, then they took cover behind a large oak as the machine-gun fire raked across it.

  Reuben said, “When the rounds stop, you run that way.” He pointed behind them. “Cut to the left and get back to the road. You should be able to make a call there or flag down a car.”

  “And what about you?” she said fiercely.

  The firing stopped as the men reloaded.

  Reuben grabbed Annabelle’s arm and pushed. “Go.”

  “There has to be another way.”

  “There is no other way. We can’t con our way out of this.”

  “Reuben, I can’t leave—”

  He gripped her arm so tightly that she winced. “You will do what I tell you to do. One of us has to get out of this.”


  The next moment he was running flat-out right at their pursuers.

  Stunned, Annabelle turned and ran in the opposite direction. Tears streamed down her face as she heard the firing start up again.

  Annabelle ran. But she couldn’t outrun the tears as the gunfire continued.


  IT WAS DARK IN THE CITY. Stone watched carefully from a spot he’d chosen in Lafayette Park. He checked his watch. Ten seconds to go. He counted down in his head. The light started blinking from a distance. This was a little demonstration he and Chapman had come up with. She was clicking a high-powered red-beamed laser off and on to simulate the muzzle flashes of a weapon.

  She was standing in the rooftop garden of the Hay-Adams. The light was barely visible from where he was standing. And the trees were blocking any real sightline. He called Chapman and told her the results of his observations. She moved to the next spot in their experiment, a building behind and to the left of the hotel.

  Stone had chosen that building using the hotel as a base marker, because of the bullet pattern in the park and also because the windows in that building actually opened. He had recalled that all the markers denoting found slugs were on the left-hand or western side of the park. That didn’t seem unusual at first, but now coupled with the revelation that the shooters had not been at the Hay-Adams, it was not simply unusual; it was enlightening.

  While Stone was waiting for Chapman to reach the next location, he felt a presence behind him. He turned. It was Laura Ashburn, the female FBI agent who had interrogated him over the slaying of Tom Gross. She was dressed all in black except for her blue FBI windbreaker with the gold lettering on the back. She wore an FBI ball cap and was staring at Stone.

  “Agent Ashburn,” he said. “Anything I can do for you?”

  “I wanted to talk to you,” she said.

  “All right.”

  “We filed our report.”


  “It wasn’t very flattering for you.”

  “After our meeting I didn’t expect it to be. Is that all you wanted to tell me?”

  “I’m not sure,” she said hesitantly.

  He smiled.

  “You think something’s funny.”

  He said, “Let me tell you what I think is funny. After all the assets that have been thrown at this case no one knows what the hell really happened here or why. You’re all running around pointing fingers at everyone else, withholding information, spying on your own people.”

  “What the hell are you—”

  Stone talked right over her. “Spying on your own people and doing your best to try and get ahead of the other guy. The only thing that’s lost in the process is actually solving the case, and maybe saving some lives down the road.”

  “Well, that won’t help Tom Gross.”

  “You’re right, it won’t. What might have helped Tom Gross was a little trust and cooperation from his own agency.”

  “What exactly did he tell you?” Ashburn asked, her features full of confusion.

  “Basically that if he couldn’t even trust his own side how the hell would he ever solve the case?”

  Ashburn looked down and then cast furtive glances around the park where the investigation was proceeding, albeit at a more subdued pace. “I finally got some background on you,” she said, her gaze still avoiding his.

  “I’m sure that will make its way into your amended report.”

>   “Did you really turn down the Medal of Honor?”

  Stone glanced at her. “Why do you want to know?”

  “My son is in Afghanistan. Marines.”

  “I’m sure he’ll serve his country well, just like his mother.”

  “Look, you can be pissed at me, but leave my son—”

  “I don’t play that game. I meant exactly what I said. You’re just doing your job. I don’t fault you. If I were in your shoes, I’d be upset too. I’d want to strike back too. And if you want to use me as a target that’s fine. There’s plenty of blame on my end. I won’t deny that.”

  With this brutal self-judgment hanging out there the woman’s features softened.

  “I’ve actually been going over things again, about what happened in Pennsylvania, I mean. That’s really why I came here to find you.”

  “Why would you be going over things again? You already filed your report, as you said.”

  “Look, I am pissed. Tom was a friend of mine. I do want a target. And you seemed like a very handy one.”

  “All right,” Stone said evenly.

  “The thing is, I’m not sure you actually did anything wrong. I interviewed the state cops. They said you probably saved their lives. Acted before they even knew what was happening. That you got shots off at the shooter and were after him while they were still wondering what was going on.”

  “I’ve probably had a bit more experience than they have in those types of situations.”

  “So I understand,” she said frankly. “And Tom could have called in backup when he contacted the LEOs. In fact he should have.”

  “I honestly thought the dangerous part would be at Kravitz’s place, not the tree farm.”

  Ashburn let out a resigned breath. “I believe you.”

  “And I hope you believe me when I tell you I won’t rest until I find out who did it.”

  She stared at him for a long moment. “I do.”

  The two agents exchanged a firm handshake and then Ashburn disappeared into the darkness. A few moments later Stone gazed out at the red blinking light and then over at imagined points on the grass where he gauged that the “bullets” would be “hitting” based on his roughly estimated trajectory. He punched in the number for Chapman. “Go up one floor,” he said.

  A few minutes later the lights commenced again.

  He called her. “I think that’s it. Any evidence of the guns having been fired from there?”

  “No casings, but I’ve got a patch of what looks like oil or grease. I’ll collect some of it for examination. And when I opened the window, there was no squeak or creak.”

  “Like it had been opened recently.”

  “Yes, but, Oliver, you didn’t tell me this place was a U.S. government building undergoing renovation.”

  “I was hoping I was wrong.”


  STONE AND CHAPMAN RETURNED to his cottage. They had just settled in to talk over this latest discovery when Chapman hit the light on Stone’s desk, plunging the space into darkness.

  “What is it?” hissed Stone.

  She didn’t have time to answer.

  The door burst open and Stone counted at least three men hurtling through it.

  They were masked, dressed in black and carried MP-5s. They moved as one unit, an unstoppable force.

  They were just about to meet the proverbial immovable object.

  Chapman hit the first man with a crushing blow to his knee, pushing it in a direction no knee was designed to go. He went down screaming and grabbing at his destroyed limb. Stone grabbed his gun from his desk drawer, but he didn’t even have time to aim before Chapman cartwheeled across the space, dodging a wall of submachine-gun rounds launched from the last two men in the unit.

  It was soon to be one left.

  Her fist drove up and through the man’s throat at the same time that she cantilevered her body to a seemingly impossible angle, whipping around him like he was the pole and she was the dancer. She kicked his legs out from under him and delivered a crushing blow to the back of his neck. He coughed once and lay still.

  Not missing a beat, Chapman launched herself at the remaining man, who was already halfway to the door, in full retreat.

  When he saw what the man had thrown Stone screamed, “Look out.” He fired. His rounds ripped through wood, plaster, but unfortunately not flesh.

  The mini-explosion ripped through the place. The flash-bang completed half its mission, the blinding flash. Stone had covered his eyes just in time.

  Chapman caught it full in the face and yelled in pain.

  Stone stuffed his shirt collar in his ears and then covered them with his arms. An instant later came the bang. Now they’ll regroup with reinforcements and come back to finish the job, thought Stone.

  What they hadn’t counted on was Stone not being paralyzed. He rolled right, snagged Chapman’s Walther off her, and held it in his left hand. He grabbed Chapman by the arm and slid her behind his desk. He gripped his customized pistol in his right hand and waited.

  The first man came through the door, his submachine gun on full auto. Stone ducked down, slid sideways, and fired through the opening under the desk. His rounds hit their target: the shooter’s knees. No Kevlar on legs. The man went down screaming. The second man started to hit the opening, but Stone fired three shots through the gap.

  A few moments of silence. Then, a siren in the distance.

  Stone called out: “I’ll make a deal before the police get here. I’ll let you take your wounded buddies out. You have five seconds. After that, we all take our chances. And from what I’ve seen, you’re good, but I’m better.”

  The siren drew closer.

  “All right,” a voice said.

  The men were slid out. A few moments later Stone heard a vehicle start. Then silence again. The siren also faded away. Going somewhere, apparently.

  He rolled Chapman over, checked her pulse. She was alive. He cradled her in his arms.

  A minute later she opened her eyes, stared up at him. “Bloody hell,” she exclaimed. She looked around. “I know I got two of them. I think I killed one of them. Where the hell are they?”

  “We came to an understanding.”

  They both jumped up as something slammed against the remains of the front door.

  Stone aimed his gun at the doorway and Chapman leapt to her feet as Stone tossed her the Walther.


  “Annabelle?” he said, when she appeared in the doorway.

  A second later Reuben fell into the room, landing on the wooden floor.

  “Reuben,” exclaimed Stone.

  Annabelle helped Stone get the big man up and over to a chair. Blood
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