Hells corner, p.24
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       Hells Corner, p.24
 

         Part #5 of Camel Club series by David Baldacci

  Stone didn’t answer right away. “No, I don’t. I think he may have been in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

  “Lot of that going around. Look at Alfredo Padilla. And Agent Gross.”

  “Right.”

  “So the question becomes, if someone is keeping things from the director of the FBI, who could have that kind of clout?”

  Stone looked at her. “I need to try and see someone today.”

  “Who?”

  “Just someone.”

  “Is it important?”

  “Yes.”

  “Where is this person?”

  “Well, he lives right across from Lafayette Park.”

  CHAPTER 50

  IT WAS NOT AN EASY THING to get in to see the president of the United States without an appointment. In fact, it was virtually impossible. The man’s work schedule would put anyone else’s in the world to shame. On Air Force One he could cover multiple countries in one day and be home in time for a state dinner and then some late-night phone lobbying with his cohorts on Capitol Hill.

  Thus Stone was very surprised to be sitting in a helicopter as it was flown across the Maryland countryside. It touched down in the craw of the Catoctin Mountains where a three-car motorcade took him the rest of the way to Camp David, perhaps the best-protected parcel of land in the world.

  This did make sense, thought Stone. Meeting at Camp David was far more private than walking the halls of the White House. As the motorcade entered the confines of Camp David and a ramrod-straight Marine in dress blues met him, Stone wondered exactly how he was going to broach the subject with the man. And what his reaction would be.

  Well, I’m just about to find the answers to those questions.

  He stood in a small wood-paneled room alone. But not for long. The door opened and there was the president dressed casually in corduroy pants and a checked shirt with loafers on his feet. He held a pair of glasses in one hand and a BlackBerry phone held up to his ear in the other.

  He glanced at Stone standing there and motioned for him to take a seat. The president finished his call in low murmurs, slid the phone in his shirt pocket, poured a cup of coffee from a pot set up on a side table and poured one for Stone too. He handed him the cup and sat down, sliding his glasses over his face.

  “Lost a contact,” said Brennan. “Backup glasses until they get my other pair. Can’t face the public in glasses. They don’t like that.”

  Stone thought about that and it did occur to him that he couldn’t remember seeing a president with glasses on during a public event.

  “I appreciate you taking the time to see me on such short notice, sir.”

  The president leaned back and scrutinized him. “I’m sure you know why I did. The sense of urgency is compelling. We seem to be spiraling right out of control on this. Every day there’s a new crisis. Made any sense of it yet?”

  “Some. But there are a lot of new questions.”

  “Give me a quick debrief.”

  Stone did so, leaving out nothing, including the attack at his cottage and about Fuat Turkekul.

  “I know I’m not telling you anything you aren’t aware of,” he said.

  The president nodded. “The PM and I are very close.”

  “James McElroy also plays by the rules.”

  “An impressive man. Always seems to know more than anyone else, myself and his prime minister included, I think.”

  “The mark of a good intelligence officer,” commented Stone. “But keeping me in the dark on that did cost us time.”

  “I’m aware of that, but it couldn’t be helped,” he said brusquely.

  “I understand.”

  “Some good has come out of this,” said Brennan.

  “Sir?” asked Stone with a questioning look.

  In response the president picked up a remote and hit a button. A part of the wall slid open, revealing a flat-screen TV. The president touched another button and the TV came on. “This was recorded earlier,” he explained.

  Stone watched as the image of Carmen Escalante appeared. She looked even smaller and her leg braces even bigger on the screen than in person. She was being interviewed about the death of her beloved uncle and her own personal plight with her medical issues.

  “Word has really spread about this, causing two things to happen. We’re holding a joint memorial service for Mr. Padilla and Agent Gross. The president of Mexico is flying up for the ceremony. And, second, private donors have stepped in to pay for Ms. Escalante’s operations for her legs.”

  “That’s very nice.”

  “As you probably know, relations with Mexico have been strained due to the immigration issue among other things. However, things have thawed a bit with what happened to Padilla. I know he’s an accidental hero, but he still lost his life. And we need heroes wherever we can find them. The story has gotten favorable play in Mexico and here. The people of our two nations have come together a little bit more. It’s positive, or so my aides tell me. Something to build on for the future. That’s one of the major reasons we’re holding the joint memorial service.”

  He hit more buttons and the TV turned off and the wall slid back into place. He put the remote down and leaned back in his chair, sipping his coffee.

  “Which brings us to today.”

  “Yes sir.”

  “All right. I think it’s now time for me to ask why you wanted to meet.”

  “I know you’re a busy man so I’ll get right to it.” Stone paused, but only for a moment. “Could you tell me where Agent Garchik is? And what happened to the evidence that went missing with him? Because I know you have the answers to both those questions.”

  CHAPTER 51

  PRESIDENT BRENNAN AND OLIVER STONE stared at each other for an uncomfortably long time. Stone had engaged in such protracted battles of will before with people he considered his employers. The key was never to break eye contact. If you did they interpreted that as a sign of weakness and would pounce. They all had this skill; that was why they were in leadership positions.

  “I beg your pardon?” the president said, but there was a slight hitch in his voice that was compelling in its disclosure of what the man was truly thinking.

  Stone didn’t answer. He just kept staring at the man, as though he could see the content of every synapse firing. Stone had to convey through this silence that he knew everything, though some of it was only speculation.

  He waited.

  Brennan said nothing else, his gaze intensifying briefly, but then slowly the burn faded. He stood.

  “Let’s take a walk, Stone. I think we need to come to an understanding, and I need to stretch my legs.”

  Stone followed him outside after the president slipped on a jacket. The security detail accompanied them, keeping both men encircled at the center of a hard diamond formed by the Secret Service agents. The men and women of the security detail were dressed casually in deference to their boss’s clothes and the rustic surroundings.

  The president spoke in a low voice as they made their way along a trail in the woods over which many past presidents had trod.

  “Love it up here. Recharge. Forget my troubles, so to speak, at least for a little while.”

  Stone’s gaze drifted right and left and up ahead as the agents kept to their marks precisely. Camp David in truth was even better protected than the White House. It was in the middle of rugged terrain, and its perimeter defenders, a large detachment of highly trained Marines, would be able to see any adversary coming long in advance.

  The president drew so close to Stone that their elbows touched. Stone automatically looked around to see if the Secret Service agents had an issue with that. However, since their boss had initiated the proximity, the security detail just kept trudging along.

  “Stone, we have a problem.”

  “The debris. Do we know what it is yet?”

  “Have you ever heard of nanobots?”

  “Nanotechnology? I’ve read about it in the newspapers. That’s
about the extent of my knowledge.”

  “Damnedest things. It’s already in our clothes, foods, cosmetics, appliances, lots of things. And most people have no idea it’s even there. Half the scientists think it’s perfectly safe. And the other half say we don’t know enough and it could have unforeseen and possibly disastrous long-term consequences.”

  “So they found some of these nanobots in the debris? But I thought they were microscopic?”

  “They are. They were only revealed after being put under the scope.”

  “Why would they have been there? What would be the purpose in the context of a bomb?”

  The president smiled resignedly. “There’s the rub, Stone. We don’t know. What we think is that someone out there has come up with a new application that uses nanotechnology in ways that were never intended.”

  “You mean for criminal or terrorism purposes?”

  “Yes.”

  “What are people speculating? I mean, for why the nanobots were there? There must be some theories.”

  “There are. The most popular one is also the most chilling. That theory involves some sort of contagion being grafted onto the explosive. When the bomb exploded it released this contagion that is now in the system of everyone who’s been at that park. And they’ve unwittingly carried it on to others.”

  Stone flinched and moved away from the man. “I’ve been to that park. I was knocked over by the blast. I could be contaminated. You shouldn’t be near me.”

  “I’ve already been exposed, Stone. Through Agent Gross, Garchik and others. Hell, the FBI director was out there too. But I can tell you that I’ve had every test known to the doctors and they’ve given me a clean bill of health.”

  “Is there any evidence of the existence of such a contagion on the debris?”

  “Not that we know. But you know what they’re telling me now? That the damn nanobots have the ability to invade and actually change certain molecular structures of other substances. This ‘transformation’ can leave the substances in their original form, but it can change them subtly enough to make identifying them much harder. So right now we don’t believe there’s a contagion problem, but the truth is we don’t know for certain. We’re not even sure what to test for. So all the things the doctors checked me for may be worthless. And furthermore, they could have used nanobots to produce a totally new contagion. It’s like my grandkids playing whack-a-mole. You hit at one hole and the damn thing shows up in another.”

  “And Agent Garchik?” he said.

  “We thought it best to remove him from the field for a while. He’s currently at an ATF safe house in—”

  Stone put up a hand. “I’d prefer not to know the exact location.”

  “You mean?”

  “In case someone tries to get it from me. Yes.”

  “Dangerous times, Stone. Uncertain times.”

  “Enemies closer.”

  “Right. If only we knew exactly who they were anymore. It’s getting harder and harder on that score.”

  “I think every soldier deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan would agree with you on that.”

  “It’s ironic, actually,” said Brennan.

  “What’s that?”

  “I originally sought you out to go fight the Russians in Mexico. Now I find them much closer to home. Possibly right across the street from the White House.”

  “You know of course about the gun found and Kravitz’s ties to Moscow?”

  “Yes, yes, all of that, but there’s something else.”

  Stone waited expectantly.

  “When the Soviet Union was a world power they had an immense scientific discovery program. Labs all over the place and tens of billions of dollars to fund those efforts.”

  “So nanobots?”

  “Nanobots. There are few countries or organizations with the wherewithal to pull something like this off. The Russians are near the top of the list.”

  “What do you want me to do now, sir?”

  “Your job, Stone. And I promise you that I’ll have your back.”

  Stone gazed hard at the man. The president seemed to sense Stone’s doubts.

  “I mean that, Stone. You survive this, the slate is clean. You have my word. No more blowbacks against you.” He put out his hand. Stone shook it.

  Brennan added, “Why do men like you do the job you do? It can’t be for the medals. And it’s certainly not the money.”

  Stone said nothing.

  “Why then? God and country?”

  “Both simpler and more complex, Mr. President.”

  “What then?”

  “So I can look at myself in the mirror.”

  CHAPTER 52

  STONE WAS FLOWN BACK to D.C., where he met Chapman by prearrangement at Lafayette Park.

  “How did it go?” she asked anxiously.

  “Informative.”

  “In a helpful sort of way?”

  “That remains to be seen.”

  “Come on! Any revelations? You met with the president, for God’s sake.”

  Stone explained about the unknown bits of debris possibly being connected to nanotechnology. And also about the whereabouts of Agent Garchik.

  “Did you know all that when you asked to meet with the president?”

  “Let’s say I suspected it.”

  “And you told him of your suspicions?”

  “I thought the direct way was best.”

  “Pretty ballsy. So nanobots? Bloody hell. What’s the world coming to when they stick stuff in stuff we can’t even see that could come back and kill us all?”

  “I think some folks would call that progress, actually,” said Stone dryly.

  “So the Russians are playing around in their laboratory again. Ominous development.”

  “Drug trafficking is worth hundreds of billions of dollars. That’s one motivation. Couple that with science that could make Russia’s enemies wastelands, that’s something you can’t measure in mere treasure.”

  “Russia’s enemies, meaning my country and yours.”

  “Despite détente, Gorbachev and Yeltsin, things have never really been rosy among the three nations.”

  “But why would they detonate a bomb in Lafayette Park that didn’t kill anyone?”

  “I don’t know.”

  He moved over toward ground zero and looked down at the crater.

  “Riley Weaver’s questions are also still unanswered,” he said.

  “What do you mean?”

  “How did the tree suddenly die? And why was the hole left open after the tree went in?”

  “The arborist and stuff. Agent Gross told us about it.”

  “Well, I guess we need to check it ourselves.”

 
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