Hells corner, p.26
Part #5 of Camel Club series by David Baldacci
“Sniper who killed Kravitz called and told them we’d gone off in a hurry. Where else would we have been going?”
“Right.” Chapman looked chagrined at missing such an obvious point. “But again, he saw someone take down a basketball hoop. So what? It’s not like he could identify him in a lineup, right?”
“Maybe he could.”
“What do you mean? He didn’t tell Annabelle that.”
“He didn’t know Annabelle from Adam. And we know someone was at that bar listening in.”
Chapman sipped her drink. “That’s right, they came after them later.”
“So maybe he was holding that back from someone. Blackmail?”
“He got a bunch of bullet wounds instead of cash. So who do you think he might have seen?”
“Maybe Lloyd Wilder.”
Chapman’s jaw fell open. “Lloyd Wilder?”
“Possible. Kill him and the others, two birds with one stone.”
“So he was part of the bombing too?”
“I’m not sure what part if any he played, actually. But the fact that they took him out as soon as we showed up tells me he was expendable from day one.”
“So we need to check into Wilder’s background?” She shook her head, looking frustrated. “This thing just keeps on growing.”
“We’ll let Ashburn and the Bureau dig into Wilder’s history. They’ll probably find some money in an offshore account somewhere.”
“And I thought conspiracies were confined to Hollywood films.”
“Actually you’ll come to see that D.C. is just one big conspiracy.”
“I also spoke with Harry about Turkekul.”
Stone paused as the waiter came over and took their orders. After he was gone Stone resumed. “Nothing out of the ordinary.”
“I guess that’s good.”
“Maybe or maybe not.”
“I’m not following.”
“The man has been tasked to take out the number one terrorist in the world and he’s teaching a course at Georgetown?”
“It’s background cover for him.”
Stone didn’t look convinced.
“But Sir James is aware of this. You trust him, right?” she said, even as she felt her stomach tighten and her skin grow cold.
“I trust you,” he said.
“I just do. Let’s leave it at that.”
AS THEY ATE Chapman kept shooting glances at Stone. If he noticed, Stone made no reaction. She downed several more mojitos and a glass of port after the meal was done.
“You have a car?” he asked after the bill was paid.
“Yes, but why don’t we walk for a bit? It’s a nice evening.”
“That’s a good idea.”
“Really?” she said smiling.
“Yes. You’ve had a lot to drink. A walk will help clear your head,” he added in a strange voice.
They strolled along, passing by restaurants teeming with hungry, boisterous patrons. Car horns honked and people walked past.
“Troubled?” Stone said.
She glanced at him sharply. “Just thinking about things. Why?”
“No reason. Just a lot to think about.”
“So Director Weaver never got back to you?”
“I have to assume he never will. That’s why I had Caleb research for me.”
“And after reviewing his research, what are your conclusions?”
“I don’t have any,” he admitted. “I just have more questions.” He paused. “Weaver did say one interesting thing before he cut me off.”
“What?” she said, perhaps a tad too quickly.
“He said things might not be as they seem. I think he meant that we were all looking at this the wrong way. That if we could find the right way to look at things we might make sense out of everything.”
“Do you believe that?” she said.
“I don’t disbelieve it. At least not yet.”
She stopped at a street vendor and bought a ball cap with “FBI” on it. When Stone looked at her, puzzled, she explained, “Got a nephew back in London who’s keen on them.”
“Does he know you work for MI6?”
“No, he thinks I’m in the computer business. I’d be much cooler to him if he knew the truth.”
As they continued to walk along she said, “Okay, let’s go back through what we know. Gunfire and bombing. Maybe unrelated. The Hay-Adams Hotel was a distraction and the gunfire actually came from a U.S. government building undergoing renovation. Padilla runs for his life and triggers the bomb that was probably in a basketball in the tree’s root ball. That leads us to the tree and from there to the tree farm.”
Stone picked it up from there. “The tree farm leads to John Kravitz, who had bomb-making elements under his trailer. He’s killed to prevent him from talking to us. Agent Gross and the other two are killed for reasons yet unknown, but Wilder might’ve been involved. The bomb had some unusual elements that tentatively have been identified as nanobots. Why they were in the bomb is unknown. Agent Garchik has been ‘relieved’ of his field duties pending further developments. We have several pieces of evidence that show either the Russian government or Russian drug cartels, or perhaps both, may be behind this.”
“And the Latinos were killed because they might have seen something or else they might have been part of the plot.”
“Yes. And the actual target of the bomb is still unknown. We have a number of possibilities but no definitive answer.”
Chapman stopped walking and looked at him. “Okay, there’s the list. We’ve checked it twice.”
“We left out one thing. Fuat Turkekul.”
“But his presence has been explained.”
“Sir James explained it. And I know you trust him, despite what you said earlier.”
“No, I said I trusted you.”
Chapman’s cheeks reddened slightly. Stone gazed at her for a moment and then looked away. He checked his watch.
“You have another date?” she said with an attempt at a smile.
“No, I was just wondering how long it would take before you told me.”
“Told you what?”
“Whatever it is you’re keeping from me.”
CHAPMAN TURNED and took a few hesitant steps away from Stone. When she turned back he hadn’t moved. He was just looking at her.
She came back to him. “What do you want from me?”
“I thought you said you trusted me?”
“All trust has limits. And it has to be constantly earned.”
“You didn’t tell me that part.”
“I didn’t think I had to.”
“You’re putting me in a very awkward position.”
“I need a drink.”
Stone raised his eyebrows at this. “Okay. But it would be nice if you remained sober.”
“You should’ve seen me doing pub crawls whilst at university. I can hold my bloody liquor.”
She turned and headed off.
She turned back to him. “What!” she snapped.
He pointed behind him. “There’s a bar right there.”
She looked where he was pointing. “Right. Well done.” She pushed past him and into the bar.
Five minutes later she’d downed two vodka tonics while Stone sipped on a bottle of ginger ale and eyed her steadily. “You sure you’ll be able to drive home okay?”
“It’s a bloody breeze driving here after London.”
“Not if you’re drunk. A British agent arrested for DUI?”
“I’m not drunk!”
“Okay. Then let’s move on.” He stared at her, waiting.
“I can’t tell you everything. I hope you understand that,” she said.
Stone rose. “Take care of yourself.”
She gazed up at him in amazement. “Just like that?”
“Just like that.”
He turned and left.
He walked block after block, his long legs eating up the pavement in great chunks as adrenaline roared through his body. He thought she was different. He was wrong.
Same old shit, he thought. Same old shit.
He passed the Capitol building and kept going until he recognized the area he was in. Whether he had meant to come here or not he wasn’t sure, but he was a man who almost always followed his instincts. He passed throngs of young men on the street. When several seemed overly interested in him, he stuck his federal badge on his belt and let them see his gun. They immediately backed off.
“It’s cool,” one said.
Another said with a grin, “Hey, Gramps, ever kill anybody with that gun?”
“No,” lied Stone. He held up a finger. “But I have with this.”
The young men looked skeptical.
One said, “You killed somebody with just your pinky? Right.”
He showed them the finger again. “Not the pinky. This is the index finger. It gives far more leverage against the carotid, so it’s easier to crush.”
The men shuffled off.
Stone walked on.
He reached the door, knocked.
He heard the clunks as she came to answer it.
The door opened and Carmen Escalante looked up at him with wide, sad eyes.
“Yes?” she said.
“I was here before,” he said, showing her his badge.
“Yes, I remember. What is it you want?”
“To see how you’re doing.”
“That’s right,” said a voice.
Stone turned and saw Chapman standing a few feet behind him. She came forward. She looked a bit out of breath, and she was holding her high heels in her left hand.
“We wanted to make sure you were okay,” she said, getting her breathing under control and slipping on her shoes.
“May we come in?” asked Stone, still staring at Chapman.
THEY FOLLOWED CARMEN DOWN THE HALL. They immediately noticed that the home had been cleaned and the stench of rotting food was gone. When they entered the small living room, they saw furniture and a large flat-screen television that had not been there previously.
“What happened?” asked Chapman, looking around.
Carmen smiled sadly. “When people saw on the TV what happened to Uncle Freddy, they come and they help me. Clean my house, buy me things. They are very kind.”
“What people?” asked Stone.
“People from the TV station.”
“The TV station?” asked Stone.
“Well, they say people donate money. People on the street. And they give me many things.” She pointed to the TV. “Like that. Uncle Freddy would have liked that TV very much. He liked to watch football. Not your kind.”
“Not mine either. You mean soccer,” said Chapman.
“Yes, that is what I mean. And they clean my house and now someone come every day to check on me.” She tapped her braces on the floor. “They say they will also help with my medical bills. And buy me a new pair of these.”
“That’s terrific, Carmen,” said Chapman.
“Would you like something to drink?” she asked. “I have many things now to drink,” she added proudly.
They declined and Stone said, “Will you stay here, then?”
Carmen sat down and they did too.
“I do not know. I have to think. They have a service for Uncle Freddy. I must go to that. Your president, he will be there. And my president too. From Mexico. Though I don’t like him very much. But I will still go. Then I will decide what to do.” She looked around at her new possessions. “I like this place very much. And my new things. Very much.”
“So maybe you’ll stay?” said Stone.
“It is possible, yes.” She fell silent for a moment. “I can go back to school. In Mexico I worked in a doctor’s office. I know computers. My English is good. I can type and file things. I can get a job. I can have friends.”
“You can do all those things,” said Stone encouragingly.
“My family thinks I should come home. They say I do not live in a nice area.”
“But you have to think about what you want. It’s your life to lead,” said Chapman. “And you can always move from here to another place.”
She looked uncertain. “And I can take my new things?”
“Absolutely,” said Stone. “I’ll even come and help you.”
“You will do this for me?” she said, looking at him in wonder.
“You are strange government people.”
Chapman glanced at Stone. “Yes, I guess we are,” she said.
Promising to return to check on her, they left.
“Where did you come from?” Stone asked as they walked down the street.
“I followed you. Bloody difficult in heels, let me tell you. You walk very fast.”
“Why did you follow me?”
“Because you were right. And I wanted to tell you so.”
Hells Corner by David Baldacci / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5 out of 5 / Based on50 votes