Hells corner, p.22
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       Hells Corner, p.22

         Part #5 of Camel Club series by David Baldacci

  was seeping down his forearm and his face was pale.

  “What happened?” said Stone.

  “We were followed in Pennsylvania. Got into a gunfight. Reuben was shot. He needs a doctor.”

  Reuben put a hand on Stone’s arm and pulled him downward.

  “I’ll be okay,” Reuben said weakly. “One in the arm went clean through but it hurts like hell. Other one nicked my leg.”

  Stone looked down at the hole in Reuben’s pants leg.

  “You need to go to the hospital. Right now.” He looked angrily at Annabelle. “Why haven’t you already taken him?”

  “He insisted on coming here. Reuben wanted me to run for help, but when I heard all the shooting I had to come back and make sure he was okay.”

  Stone glanced at Chapman before looking back at Reuben. “Did you see anything that might identify the men?”

  “They were good, Oliver,” he said. “Trained very well. That’s what I wanted to come and tell you. I don’t know how I got the jump on them. Better to be lucky than good. Got hold of one of their weapons, opened fire and they all took off.”

  “Trained very well? Meaning?” said Stone.

  He turned to Annabelle. “Go get it from the car.”

  “But Reuben, we need to get you—”

  “Get it and then I’ll go quietly.”

  She ran out to the car and was back in a few seconds. She was holding something. She handed it over to Stone.

  He looked down at it and then glanced at Reuben. “Do you know what this is?”

  Reuben nodded. “Figured you would too.”

  Chapman looked at it over Stone’s shoulder. “That’s a 9mm Kashtan submachine gun.”

  “Yes, it is,” said Stone. “Russian made.”

  Reuben grimaced and clutched his arm. “That’s right. Russian made.” He glanced up at Annabelle. “The weird language those guys were talking when they took down the hoop?”

  “You think it was Russian?”

  “I’d bet a year’s pay it was. Not that that’s a lot of money, but still.” He grimaced.

  “Weird language?” asked Stone.

  Annabelle started to explain what had happened, but Stone stopped her. “You can fill me in later. We need to get him to the hospital.” Stone put an arm under Reuben’s shoulder and helped him to his feet. He turned to Annabelle. “Stay here and call Harry and make sure he’s okay and then do the same with Caleb. Then join us at Georgetown Hospital.”


  Chapman got on the other side of Reuben and the three made their way slowly to Chapman’s car. The ride to the hospital was quick, and while Reuben was being checked out Stone sat in the waiting room with Chapman and Annabelle, who had just gotten there.

  “Did you get ahold of them?” asked Stone.

  She nodded. “Both okay. Finn is still on assignment. Caleb is at his condo. I told Harry to be extra careful and Caleb to stay put.”

  “Good, now tell us what happened in Pennsylvania.”

  She explained what had happened in the bar and afterwards. When she gave him the exact location of the attack, Stone hurried off to make a call. When he came back she picked up the story again. “So after I found Reuben we circled back to the highway. Guy in a truck stopped, asked no questions and let us hop in the back. I managed to get the bleeding to stop, but I was afraid Reuben was going to pass out on me. The guy dropped us off at a car rental place. I got us another ride and drove back to D.C. as fast as possible. I wanted to stop and get him medical attention, but he wouldn’t let me. Said we had to get to you. And show you that gun.”

  “Did you get a look at any of them?”

  Annabelle took a deep breath. “Not really, but one of their trucks flipped over. Some of them have to be hurt or even dead. If you get some people up there to check on it. I gave you the location.”

  Stone said, “I already made the call. They’re heading there right now.”

  Twenty minutes later Stone got a response. He listened, asked a few questions and then put his phone away.

  “The truck is gone.”

  “That’s impossible. It flipped over. I saw it. The people had to have been hurt, maybe killed.”

  “But you can have all that cleaned up in less than thirty minutes. They did find some shell casings and an indentation in the dirt where the truck rolled and a few bits of wreckage, but that was all.”

  Annabelle said, “These people are good.”

  Stone looked at Chapman. “Yes, they are. They clean up after themselves really well.”

  “Submachine guns,” said Chapman. “Heavy firepower. And he had what, a pistol?”

  “That’s right. But he said he was going to do what you would do, Oliver. Be unpredictable. So he waited for them to start reloading and then he charged their position. I guess they didn’t expect that.” She shuddered and let out a gasp. “I thought for sure he was dead.”

  Stone squeezed her hand. “But he’s not. The doctors said he’s going to be fine. He’s just out of commission for a while.”

  Annabelle said, “But since it’s a gunshot wound won’t the hospital have to report that to the authorities?”

  Stone took out his shield and held it up. “Not after I showed them this and told them Reuben was working with me.”


  “But if the blokes were Russian, how does that connect with what we found out tonight?” said Chapman.

  Annabelle looked at her wide-eyed. “What did you find tonight?”

  Stone told her about the possible origins of the shots from a U.S. government building. “It’s undergoing renovation so it’s empty, but it’s supposed to be secure nonetheless. We talked with the guards there. None of them remembered anyone coming to the building that night, certainly not carrying automatic weapons.”

  “Is there only one entrance into the building?” asked Annabelle.

  “The very question I put to them. They said not if one had a key card with the necessary authorizations. With that someone could access other entrances.”

  “Do we know if someone did that?”

  “Checking it out now,” said Stone. “But I’m not hopeful.”


  “Either the card will have been stolen or cloned or something else. And yet the next question is, why go to all the trouble of leaving evidence behind at the Hay-Adams and not actually do the shooting from there? What did the office building have that the hotel didn’t?”

  “Well, the building was empty. The hotel wasn’t,” pointed out Annabelle.

  “They still had to get to the rooftop garden. And it was empty that night. No, they wanted us to think they were at the hotel. They needed that building. Why?”

  Chapman said, “Just add it to all the other questions we don’t have answers for.”

  “But it is important,” Stone said.

  “Why?” asked Annabelle.

  “Because right before you and Reuben got to the cottage, someone sent a team to kill us. They almost succeeded, and would have except for my friend here.” He indicated Chapman. “How did you learn to move like that?” he asked her.

  “I took ballet as a lass. Hated it back then, but I have to admit, it does come in handy when someone is trying to murder you.”

  “You think the attack had something to do with what you found out?” asked Annabelle.

  “I think it had everything to do with the fact that we discovered the gunfire came from a supposedly secure federal building.”


  THE NEXT MORNING CHAPMAN was at Stone’s cottage by seven o’clock, and she wasn’t alone. James McElroy slowly made his way into the cottage and took a seat in front of the fireplace. He’d changed his jacket and wore no tie. His open-collared shirt had a checked pattern. His hair was neatly combed and his slacks pressed. But his reddened eyes and saggy face spoke of the stress he was enduring.

  “Chapman told me about your little adventure here last night.” He looked at the damaged
door and eyed the bullet holes. “Not quite as civilized as a nightcap,” he pointed out.

  “No,” agreed Stone.

  “U.S. government building, eh?”


  “Complicates an already overly complicated situation.”

  “But it’s the first time we’ve gotten under their collar, so to speak.”

  “Well, that is something, I suppose.” His expression changed. “Spoke to the PM this morning, Oliver,” he began.


  “And he’s not pleased.”

  “Well, for what it’s worth, neither am I. But we’ve only been on the case a few days. And in that time four people have died and my friends nearly made it six.”

  “Yes, Agent Chapman filled me in on your decision to use your, what was it again?”

  Chapman said, “The Camel Club.”

  “Right, this Camel Club group to help. I have to say I find the name quite imaginative.”

  “And do you disapprove of my use of them?”

  “Personally I’ve found the utilization of irregular forces a stroke of genius, particularly when the paid troops are lacking. Whether that was the case here or not, I’m not prepared to say. But that’s not the issue.”

  “So what exactly is the problem?”

  “I understand that you put a man on Fuat Turkekul?”

  “Yes. Harry Finn. Former Navy SEAL. He now works for a red cell team testing the security of sensitive facilities in this country and abroad. But he’s taken some time off. And he’s elected to use that time off to help me.”

  “I of course know all about his mother, Lesya, and the fate of his father, Rayfield Solomon.”

  Stone looked stunned. “I wasn’t aware that was public knowledge.”

  “It’s certainly not,” replied McElroy. “I would not have been advised of it except that Solomon was a friend of mine from years back. We had done some joint operations together in both Asia and South America. And I knew Lesya from her days with the former Soviet Union. I was actually one of the first Western intelligence officers to know that she was a double agent.”

  “Then you know the whole story? About me, I mean? What I did to Rayfield Solomon?”

  “Orders are orders, Oliver. You were following them. If you hadn’t you wouldn’t have been simply put in the clink for insubordination. You would’ve been shot for treason. I know how the Yanks operate on that score, which is similar to how we do things.”

  “I could still have refused.”

  “But you can’t change that fact now, no matter how much you may want to.”

  “Then you also know about Harry?”

  “Not everything, no.”

  He and Stone exchanged a long glance.

  McElroy said, “But you do trust him?”

  “He’s proven his loyalty to me beyond doubt.”

  “May I ask how you managed that? With what happened between his father and you?”

  “We worked it out. That’s all I can say on the matter.”

  “I see.” McElroy did not look convinced. “Still, making him privy to Fuat’s presence and role? That was a reach, wasn’t it? I have to say I’m surprised.”

  “I can’t ask a man to risk his life without telling him why. Harry knows what Fuat Turkekul means to this country. He will do everything in his power to safeguard him.”

  “Which begs the question of why you think Fuat needs additional protection.”

  “Agent Gross believed his own people were spying on him. Agent Garchik thinks the same. And we found out last night that the park shooters were not in the hotel but in a government-owned building that required a special security card to access.”

  “I see,” McElroy said, nodding his head.

  “Did you know that ATF found something in the bomb debris that they can’t ID? That they’ve had to call in NASA?”

  “Yes, Chapman reported that to me. Bombs to outer space? Of all the agencies you folks have, why that one?”

  “Maybe the substance is something that looks like it might be from a space program. Other than that I don’t know.”

  “You folks and the Russians are really the only ones with any space program to speak of other than a few stray private entrepreneurs with lots of money.”

  Chapman and Stone exchanged a glance. If McElroy noted this he made no reaction.

  “For all I know, NASA won’t be able to determine what it is either,” said Stone.

  Chapman spoke up. “Or they may know but won’t say. Or aren’t allowed to say,” she amended.

  McElroy looked between them. “Well, we seem to be in an appalling sticky wicket. I’ve had to look over my shoulder for my enemies before, but I’m not sure there’s a degree on the compass right now that’s safe.”

  “So what does your PM want?”

  “Assurances that we won’t make a bad matter even worse.”

  Chapman said, “Can it get much worse?”

  “Anything can become worse,” said McElroy. “Oklahoma City to 9/11? The underground bombings in London to the attacks in Mumbai? This could be the tip of the iceberg, as Director Weaver intimated to you earlier.”

  “And I haven’t heard from him since. I take it what happened with Agent Gross triggered that?”

  “If I had to speculate, I think our Mr. Weaver is truly running scared. Afraid to turn to anyone. So don’t take it personally.”

  “That’s a hell of a situation to have with the head of our intelligence umbrella.”

  “And yet it’s exactly the one we do have. It’s like when the global financial collapse occurred. Credit markets were frozen. No one trusted anyone else. That’s where we are in the intelligence world right now.”

  “And the bad guys keep plugging away,” said Chapman hotly.


  “And we can’t control what the bad guys do,” said Stone.

  “It depends on who they are,” replied McElroy.

  Stone thought about this for a moment. “Are you suggesting what I think you are?”

  “What do you think I’m suggesting, Oliver?”

  “That we back off because certain folks might not like what we find?”

  “I think that captures the spirit of the thing, yes.”

  “And that’s what you want us to do?”

  With difficulty McElroy rose on shaky legs. When Chapman got up to help him he waved her off. “I’m fine. He straightened his jacket and turned to Stone.

  “I’m telling you no such thing. As far as I’m concerned, it’s full speed ahead. And damn the torpedoes, I believe, is how your Admiral Farragut put it.”

  “But the PM?” said Stone.

  “Nice enough fellow, but he’s out of his depth in the intelligence field. And so long as he sees fit to entrust me with the security of the British people I will act as I see fit. I refuse to be paralyzed. I trust you. I presume you trust me. That’s good enough.”

  “Bucking the command carries a price.”

  “I’m too old to care, really. But don’t forget my earlier warning. I believe that very little of what we’ve seen so far is actually what it appears to be.”

  “Which means that all of our conclusions are wrong too.”

  “Perhaps not all. But the important ones, probably yes.”

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