Hells corner, p.29
Part #5 of Camel Club series by David Baldacci
would leave for the rendezvous. She answered my post promptly, which tells me she checks it often. There was no need for him to stand around in the park waiting for her. That is inefficient and stupid. And potentially lethal.”
“But if not her, who? And did he meet with anyone?”
“Not that I saw, no.”
“What does that tell you?”
“That the meeting might have been off-schedule.” He added, “Not something his superiors knew about.”
“If that’s the case, why cover for him?”
“If Turkekul is a valuable asset he would be protected after the fact. And even if the meeting was off-schedule that doesn’t mean it was off-mission and thus could have been important to his superiors.”
“Could he have been set up, then?”
“They didn’t kill him. They could easily have done it by firing a few minutes earlier. No, he wasn’t the target.”
Chapman touched her temples. “My poor head is literally swimming with possibilities and none of them unfortunately make any sense.”
They returned to the park. Stone walked it from north to south and east to west while Chapman dutifully followed looking alternatively curious and bored.
She finally said, “Are you thinking if you walk the scene of the crime, inspiration will strike?”
“I’m not looking for inspiration, just answers.” He gazed back at the building where the shots had presumably come from. “Shots fired. Everyone runs. Padilla jumps into the tree hole. The bomb detonates.”
“The bomb was detonated prematurely. And we need to find out who the actual target was. It keeps coming back to that. That bomb was really supposed to go off when this park was filled with VIPs. If we can determine the target we can reverse engineer it back to the people behind the plot. At least hopefully we can.”
Stone shook his head. “We’re still missing something. The picture is still off. Way off.” He paused. “Okay, let’s change direction for a minute and do a simple process of elimination.”
“How?” she asked.
“If Turkekul wasn’t meeting with Adelphia, who was he going to meet with?” Stone looked around the park. “Not your security man. Not Alfredo Padilla obviously. Not me.”
Chapman gasped. “Wait a minute. You mean the woman?”
Stone nodded. “Marisa Friedman.”
“WHY FRIEDMAN?” ASKED CHAPMAN as they walked along H Street.
“She was at the park. As I said, simple process of elimination.”
“But she explained what she was doing here. She voluntarily came forward, in fact.”
“I would too, if I were guilty of something. Her face was caught on the video feed. If she didn’t come forward it would look very suspicious. This way she defused that suspicion and appeared to be an upright, law-abiding citizen.”
“An adulterous upright citizen. But she has an office right over there.” Chapman pointed to the line of town houses on Jackson Place. “It would make perfect sense for her to be in the park.”
“Please put your hand down just in case she’s watching. They’ve allowed the business owners back in now.”
Chapman dropped her hand and looked chagrined at her indiscreet action. “Sorry.”
“She said she’s a lobbyist, and maybe she is. But maybe she’s more than that.”
“So she could have been Turkekul’s unscheduled meeting?”
Stone said, “If he had such a meeting planned, she was the only one in the park he would be meeting with.”
“But if so, he might have told Sir James and the others about it.”
“Then perhaps they’re covering for her too.”
“Because she’s part of his mission, whatever that is?”
“So her being in the park was because of Turkekul being there?”
“If my theory is right, yes,” replied Stone.
“But did they meet?”
“They left at the same time. I saw no interaction between them while they were in the park. She was on her phone but he wasn’t.”
“And maybe they were going to meet but—”
“But then the guns and the bomb went off.”
“What do you think they were meeting about?”
“I have no idea. But I doubt it was about finding bin Laden.”
“So what do we do with this fresh angle?”
“If we try to go after her and she is being covered by higher-ups we might get our butts handed to us.”
“So we can’t touch her?”
“Officially, no. But there might be another way.”
Stone took out his phone and made a call. “Annabelle? I have another assignment for you. If you’re willing.”
The next day Annabelle and Caleb walked into the office of Marisa Friedman. They had made an appointment and Friedman was waiting for them. Annabelle had changed her appearance greatly. The hair was short and blonde, her face made up, her clothes European, her accent an authentic mix of German and Dutch. Caleb was dressed all in black and had his thinning hair slicked back. He had on square-cut spectacles and a bit of stubble on his face. He carried an unlit cigarette and explained it by telling Friedman it was the only thing that worked for him in trying to quit.
She lifted up her sleeve and showed him the Nicorette patch on her arm. “I’m kind of in the same boat.”
Friedman led them back to her large office on the top floor with windows overlooking Lafayette Park. The space was decorated in a manner that suggested Friedman had traveled widely, had good taste, and the money to exercise those heightened sensibilities.
“We’re just now back in our space,” she said.
“Why is that?” asked Annabelle.
“There was a bombing in the park. And gunshots.”
“My God!” exclaimed Caleb.
“You didn’t hear?” said Friedman with a surprised look.
“As you might have deduced from my accent, I am not from this country,” said Annabelle.
“And I’m an expatriate myself,” added Caleb jauntily.
“But the Americans like their bombs and guns,” said Annabelle. “At least that is what we are told.” She shrugged. “So it is normal, then?”
“No, it’s not normal, thank God.” Friedman leaned forward. “I have to say that your phone call has intrigued me. You want to bring green jobs from Europe here? Can I ask why since green has already taken off where you are?”
Annabelle made a face. “It’s the bureaucracy. The, what you call, red tape. It is killing us. Our business cuts across many different geographic boundaries. The EU makes all businesses jump through hoops that are often impossible and usually totally ridiculous. Our business model is good. Our technology sound. But if we cannot implement it?” She shrugged again.
Caleb added, “Now, I have some experience over here though I’ve been gone a long time. My friends tell me that America is the place to be. That you want green jobs. That the red tape is not so bad. That things can be done quickly and that there are also government incentives to do so.”
“That’s true. What country did you settle in?” she asked suddenly.
She asked a long question in French. Caleb answered her promptly, throwing in a joke at the end that made her laugh.
Annabelle said something in German and Caleb answered her in German.
“I’m afraid my German is very poor,” said Friedman.
“Excuse us,” said Annabelle. “That was very rude.”
“You Europeans speak so many languages. Makes us Americans feel quite inept.”
“Your country is big, ours are small,” said Annabelle. “Language skills are a necessity. But your French is very, um, nice.”
“How can I help you?”
“We are in need of a presence, a footprint I think you call it, here in Washington. We want to build a factory producing our goods in the United States. We also h
“Lobbying, I think,” commented Caleb. “And friends in high places.”
“I can certainly handle these matters for you,” said Friedman. “I have relations with many government people, and energy is one of my specialties. Can I ask how it was you came to me?”
Caleb looked embarrassed. “I’m very much afraid it had nothing to do with your reputation, stellar though I’m sure it is.”
Annabelle added, “We based it on proximity.” She pointed out the window.
Friedman followed her motion. “The White House?” She smiled. “Interesting due diligence. But I guess that’s one reason I settled on this space.”
“But then we also checked the records for your client list. It was very impressive and very much in our area of necessity,” remarked Annabelle.
Caleb leaned forward and tapped his cigarette on the carved wood of Friedman’s desk. “But it would be helpful if you could tell us a bit of your background. We want to get this right. Our business model shows a clear path to a multibillion euro, or dollar, rather, revenue point. We must start on a firm foundation. It is imperative.”
“Of course.” Friedman gave them an account of her background, education and work experience and items with which she could help them.
As the meeting ended she said, “For the sort of work you require I would imagine a ten-thousand-dollar-a-month fee. Understand this is applied to work done under our normal fee structure. For work outside that scope, more monies will be due. It’s all explained in our standard fee agreement.
“Of course,” said Annabelle. “That seems logical.”
“Where in Germany are you from?”
“Berlin. But I grew up elsewhere.”
“Oh, really? Where was that?”
“Many places,” said Annabelle abruptly.
Caleb added, “Quite cosmopolitan. And secretive she is.”
“Nothing wrong with that in today’s world where everyone is watching everyone else,” Friedman said in a light tone.
“We’ll be in touch,” said Annabelle. “Auf Wiedersehen.”
“Ciao,” added Caleb.
JUST IN CASE THEY WERE FOLLOWED, Annabelle and Caleb drove first to a restaurant and then to a hotel. They rode the elevator up and Annabelle opened the door to her room. Stone and Chapman were sitting there waiting for them.
They gave the pair a detailed briefing of their meeting with Friedman.
“Do you think she suspects anything?” asked Chapman.
“If she’s really that good she suspects everything,” answered Annabelle as Stone nodded in agreement.
“She obviously has a functioning lobbying business,” said Annabelle.
“We knew from her client list and checking out her history that she had that set up,” said Stone. “But that does not preclude her having a sideline.”
Chapman added, “Or from the lobbying being her cover and spying being her main occupation.
Annabelle ran a hand through her hair and pulled off her wig. “Any idea what her angle might be?”
“As I told you, we suspect she might be involved with some plan being headed up by American intelligence.”
“And that’s why she was at the park that night?” asked Caleb.
Stone nodded. “Exactly. The man I’ve had Harry following was potentially her contact. It’s just my theory. None of it is confirmed yet.”
“And the man Harry is following? What’s going on with him?”
“It’s up to us to find out.”
“Yes. But without her knowledge. I certainly don’t trust her.”
“But how does this tie into the bombing?” asked Caleb.
“I don’t know if it does,” admitted Stone. “It could be that it was a coincidence they were both there that night. How did you leave it with her?”
“That we’d be in touch,” said Annabelle.
“So what has this really accomplished?” asked Chapman. “I mean, I know you blokes are good at this, but this leaves us nowhere to go with her.”
“Actually, it does,” said Annabelle. She opened her bag, slipped open a hardshell plastic case and they saw the impression of a key set in a mold. “Got her office key out of her purse when Caleb asked her to show him the painting in the foyer while I excused myself to use the ladies’ room. I can have an actual key made in no time.”
Caleb said, “She has a security system.”
Annabelle added, “But the keypad is by the front door. We watched the office last night. Friedman was the last to leave at seven and she keyed in the number. I got it on my camera from where I was in the park pretending to take pictures of the statues.”
Chapman looked at Stone. “So we’re breaking into her place?”
“Not you. I am.”
“Why not me?”
“You’re too official.”
“You’ve got a badge too.”
“I’ve always seen that status as temporary. You, on the other hand, are a lifer.”
“When are you going to do it?” asked Chapman.
“So I can tell the cops to be waiting for you.”
Annabelle scowled at her. “Whose side are you on, lady?”
“But if you let me go, I won’t call anyone,” offered Chapman.
Stone said, “I don’t like it.”
“You keep preaching about partners and loyalty.”
“Okay,” Stone finally said. “You and me.”
Annabelle started to protest. “But—”
Stone put a hand on her shoulder. “Please, Annabelle, just let it go.”
Caleb said, “But we did all the hard work and you two get to have the fun of burglarizing the place.”
This made Annabelle smile. “You’ve come a long way, Mr. Librarian. And by the way, I really dug your metrosexual look when we paid Friedman a visit.”
Caleb brightened. “Thank you. I’ve always thought that—” He started and looked at her. “Metro what?”
“Good luck,” Annabelle told Stone. She turned to Chapman. “Watch his back, and I mean it.”
“I will,” promised Chapman.
Stone and Chapman walked briskly down the street. Stone was in a suit and carried a briefcase. Chapman was in a skirt and heels with a shawl wrapped around her shoulders. She carried a large bag. They walked through the park and over to Jackson Place and Stone inserted the key in the door of Marisa Friedman’s office. They went inside and Chapman punched in the code on the security keypad and the beeping stopped. Stone closed the door behind them and moved forward into the office space.
There was enough ambient light from outside to allow them to see their way around, though Chapman did bump her leg against a desk.
Hells Corner by David Baldacci / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5 out of 5 / Based on50 votes