Hells corner, p.33
Part #5 of Camel Club series by David Baldacci
George Sykes, a D.C. police officer and a security guard were dead. They’d found the real security guard in a storage room of the lobby with a single gunshot wound burned into his forehead.
The sniper had disappeared.
Stone had given descriptions of him to Ashburn and a BOLO had gone out, but none of them were holding out much hope. The consensus was that the killer was either laying low or already on private wings heading out of the country.
Stone and Chapman were now in a car sitting outside the modest residence of George Sykes, located in Silver Spring, Maryland. It was in the middle of an ordinary neighborhood with kids on bikes, moms talking in front yards and dads cutting the grass. Or it would have been if the street hadn’t been evacuated and then shut down by the FBI.
Agent Ashburn was in the front passenger seat while another agent was at the wheel.
“What do we know about him?” Stone asked.
“Wife died three years ago. Kids all grown and gone. Been with the National Park Service his entire career. No problems.”
“And six grandchildren,” said Stone. He glanced down at the man’s file. “He’s not much older than me. He must have started early.”
“Money problems?” Chapman asked.
Ashburn nodded. “That was one of the first things we looked at. Didn’t find anything there. But we dug a little deeper and shook out an account that was tied to Sykes. Recent deposit of a hundred thou.”
“So someone paid him off to play along.”
Stone said, “What exactly did they pay him for?”
Ashburn answered. “Bomb in the root ball. What if someone started to poke around there? He would steer them clear. Make sure wherever the bomb was in the dirt that no one got close to it.”
“So he betrayed his country for a hundred thousand dollars?” said Stone. “A grandfather of six?”
Ashburn shrugged. “I’ve seen people do it for a lot less. And six grandchildren eat a lot.”
Chapman added, “And that might’ve only been the first payment.”
“Right,” said Ashburn. “And they made sure the only payment. MO is consistent. They’re eliminating their team, closing up the tunnel. So no leads for us.”
“The sniper took a risk by impersonating a guard,” noted Stone. “We saw his face.”
“But like we concluded, the guy is long gone. And six months from now he’ll have a new face.”
“Lot of money behind this,” said Chapman. “That’s clear.”
Ashburn hiked her eyebrows. “Like a country’s treasury at work?”
“Russia,” said Chapman.
“I’ve heard that theory floated around more and more,” said Ashburn. “Cartel and government maybe working hand in hand. Tough competition.”
Stone nodded at Sykes’s house. “So what are we waiting for? We don’t need a warrant. The guy was shot. We can go to his house to investigate. He was a federal employee.”
Ashburn said, “That’s true, but considering that these folks employ bombs, I’ve sent for a bomb detection dog to go in before we do. That’s also why we’ve evacuated the neighborhood.”
The canine unit came and Stone watched as the dog methodically swept the yard and then entered the house through a back door opened by an FBI agent. Ten minutes later the search was complete and the all clear was given.
It didn’t take long to go through the house, but they found very little of help. As they walked back to their car Ashburn said, “We’ll send in a forensics team to give it a scrubdown, but I doubt it will yield much.”
“Still have to do it,” said Stone.
“Still have to,” agreed Ashburn.
“Has his family been notified?” asked Chapman.
“In the process. That’s another place that might get us somewhere.”
“He might have let something slip to a family member, you mean,” said Chapman.
“If we’re real lucky.”
“I’m not feeling that lucky,” said Stone.
Ashburn dropped them back at their car and they drove off. Chapman was at the wheel while Stone seemed lost in thought.
“What do you think?”
“I’m thinking how much more carnage before they yank Fuat Turkekul and make him talk.”
“So you think he’s really guilty?”
“I don’t have enough information to make that determination. But the status quo is not working for us.”
“What’s the alternative?”
“I haven’t thought of one yet.”
“So who might be the next target in the chain?”
“If Turkekul is involved?” Stone glanced at her.
Chapman said, “That’s what I was thinking too. And I know she’s your friend, but what about—”
“Adelphia is not part of this.”
“Are you really sure? By your admission she’s been out of your life for a while.”
Stone gazed at her and then put a hand on her shoulder. “How do you feel about breaking a few rules?”
“Until I met you, not too keen. But now I think I’m really getting good at it. So we’re going after Turkekul?”
“No,” said Stone.
“I can feel the other side leading us around again. They expect us to go left. Instead, this time we’re going to the right.”
STONE MADE ONE STOP to get some information he needed while Chapman waited in the car. When he climbed back in he gave the directions to her.
On the drive over he said, “They talked to one of Sykes’s coworkers. They said when Sykes took the call he got very pale and ran to his car.”
“What do you think happened?”
“I don’t know exactly, but I have a pretty good idea.”
They reached the address, a townhouse community in Chantilly, Virginia. Chapman parked where Stone told her to, but he didn’t get out of the car.
“We wait,” he said.
A half hour later a truck pulled up to the front of a small town house thirty feet from where they were parked and a woman got out.
Chapman recognized her immediately. “That’s—”
“Yes, it is,” said Stone as he opened the car door.
They reached her front door an instant before she closed it. Stone stuck his foot in the gap. The woman turned around, startled. Stone had his badge out.
Judy Donohue, who was still dressed in her National Park Service uniform, looked from him to Chapman. “I… Yes, I do. Are you here about poor Mr. Sykes? I heard about it. It was awful.”
“Can we come in?”
“Just to ask a few more questions.”
“But I told you all I know.”
“In light of recent developments other questions have come to mind.” Stone pushed the door all the way open and Donohue was forced to step back as Stone crossed the threshold.
“Hey,” she said angrily. “You can’t do that.”
“I just did,” said Stone. Chapman closed the door behind her and Stone moved farther into the house.
“This is illegal, isn’t it?” said Donohue.
Stone glanced at Chapman and then stared at Donohue. “I don’t think so, but then again, I’m not a lawyer.”
“I’d like you to leave. Right now.”
“Why? Do you have something to hide?”
Donohue looked nervous and said, “Of course not.”
“I found out you’re leaving the Park Service. Why is that? I thought being a girl from the big outdoors that it would be the perfect career for you.”
“Not that it’s any of your business, but I’ve been thinking about it for a few months now. And after everything that happened, and Mr. Sykes being shot. It was just time.”
Stone inched closer to her. “So where’s your plane ticket to? A place that doesn’t have extradition with this country?”
“Let’s just c
“I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about,” exclaimed Donohue.
“So you won’t mind us taking a look around for it?”
“Yes, I do mind. Now get out.”
Stone ignored this and moved closer to her. “The call that Sykes got? What did they tell him to make him drive off like that? That they had one of his six grandchildren captive? That he was to contact no one or the child would be killed? That he was to drive to a certain place along a certain route. A route that would take him right in the sniper’s path? And then bang, no more George Sykes?”
“Get out or I’m calling the cops.”
“Sykes had nothing to do with any of this,” said Stone. “The money in a secret account? Set up and planted. Easy to do. The conversation you told us you overheard between Sykes and Agent Gross? Never happened. But with Gross and Sykes dead there’s no one left to question it. But you did miss one thing. An obvious one.”
He looked Donohue up and down. “Would you like to hear what it is?”
Donohue’s lips started to tremble but she didn’t say anything.
“I’ll just go ahead and tell you. You see, we can verify things. About the arborist and the reasons for the hole being left unfilled? Why do I think we’ll find out that everything Sykes told the FBI was true? That the hole couldn’t be filled in yet for the reasons he stated? And why do I think if we dig as deep as the hole for the tree that we’re going find even bigger holes in your story?”
Donohue now looked wobbly on her feet.
Stone moved closer. “They blew a hole right through his head with a long-range rifle round.” He poked her forehead with his finger. “Right there.”
“And with Sykes dead the investigation had to swing back to you. The arborist would be contacted too and your lie would come out. But you expected to be long gone by then, didn’t you? Is that why you’re home early? Pack your life up and use forged docs they provided you. Gone before we know it.”
“All right, this is your last chance. Get out.” Donohue held up her phone like a weapon. “Or I’m calling the cops.”
Chapman took a step forward. “Keep in mind, Judy, that the people you’re working with have killed everyone who’s helped them. Why do you think you’ll be any different?” She glanced at the door. “In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were waiting outside for us to leave before they come in here and tidy up this loose end.”
Donohue looked like she might start sobbing. Regaining her composure, she snapped, “Last time, get out.”
Stone and Chapman left.
“What now?” asked Chapman.
“Part of me says we just flushed the quail, so let’s see where it takes us.”
“And your other part?”
“Worried that she’ll be dead before we can get her to tell the truth. Go ahead and pull out, let her think we’re leaving. I know she’s watching us from the window.”
Chapman started the car and drove off.
Stone had her stop at a spot far enough away but that still allowed them to see Donohue’s house. He pulled out his phone and called Ashburn. It took a couple of minutes of explanation and Stone nodded his head. “Make it as fast as you can.” He clicked off and put the phone away.
“Well?” asked Chapman.
“She’s getting the paperwork together to bring the lady in. If nothing else for her own protection.”
“What if she leaves the house?”
“We’re to stop her and hold her until the Bureau shows up.”
Chapman eased back in her seat but almost immediately jolted up.
Stone had seen it too.
Donohue had come out of her house. She was carrying a bag and she was in a hurry.
Stone said, “Quick, let’s get her before someone else does.”
By the time Chapman put the car in gear, Donohue had opened her truck door.
“Block her in,” ordered Stone.
“Got it.” Chapman punched the gas.
Their car was twenty-five feet from Donohue’s when she started her truck.
The explosion lifted her vehicle off the asphalt and the concussive wave emanating from the blast knocked Chapman’s car on its side. Both their heads bloodied from impacting with metal and glass from the car, Stone and Chapman lay unconscious, still strapped in their seat belts.
STONE WOKE. HIS MIND WAS FUZZY but his reason was slowly returning. He tried to sit up, but a hand held him back. He saw Agent Ashburn staring down at him.
“What?” he began.
“It’s okay. Just take it easy,” she said in a soothing voice.
Stone looked around. He was in a hospital room again. He started to close his eyes when they snapped open as he remembered.
“She’s going to be okay. A few bumps and bruises. Just like you.”
“Donohue’s dead,” he said in a low voice.
“Yes. You saw the bomb detonate?”
Stone nodded. “She was in the truck.”
“Any idea where the bomb came from?”
He touched his head and grimaced. “It was either already on her vehicle when she got home or else someone put it on there while we were in the house with her.”
“You saw no one?”
Stone shook his head slowly.
Ashburn eased down into a chair next to the bed. “I was surprised to get your phone call about Donohue. What pointed you in her direction?”
“Not necessarily. About refusing to be led around by the nose this time.”
“Meaning that’s what you think is happening?”
Stone sat up in the bed. “Meaning I think we’re being manipulated, yeah.”
“Any idea by whom?”
“Maybe closer to home than we’d like. Remember what Agent Gross said. Someone was watching him.”
“So what was Donohue’s angle? Was she the one involved with the tree and the bomb and not George Sykes?”
“I believe so. She tried to throw suspicion his way. Did you find anything at her place?”
Hells Corner by David Baldacci / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5 out of 5 / Based on50 votes