Hells corner, p.34
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       Hells Corner, p.34

         Part #5 of Camel Club series by David Baldacci

  “No. But if she had travel docs with her in preparation for making a run they’re in the wreckage and we’re still sifting through it. But paper is not something that’s likely to survive something like that.”

  “But she had a bag. We certainly spooked her. I think she was making a run for it.”

  “Not disagreeing with you.” Ashburn rose. “You’ve had a busy day. Almost shot by an imposter security guard/sniper and now nearly blown up.”

  “Does anyone know I’m here?”

  “You mean your friends? No, we thought it best to keep it on the QT.”

  “So Chapman is okay. No BS?”

  “No BS.”

  “Can I see her?”

  “I’ll check. Be back in a minute.”

  Less than a minute later the door opened. It wasn’t Ashburn. It was Chapman propelling herself into the room via a wheelchair. There was a strip of bandage across her right cheek and one on her forehead.

  Stone started and sat up more. His gaze darted to the wheelchair and then back at her.

  “Not to worry.” Chapman grinned. “I can walk, just hospital rules for patients having gotten themselves blown up. You Americans have so many bloody regulations.”

  Stone sat back, relief on his features.

  She stopped next to the bed. “How about you? Everything working okay?”

  Stone stretched his arms and neck. “Far as I know. Sore, but functional.”

  “We almost caught them.”

  “Almost doesn’t count in our business.”

  “What did Ashburn tell you?”

  “Basic stuff. No leads.” He added with a smile, “The most important thing she told me was that you were okay.”

  Chapman smiled back. “I’m glad to see you have your priorities right.”

  “You saved my life.”

  “That only means we’re even.”

  “I guess that’s true.”

  “But Donohue was the last straw. No one left to talk to.”

  “You’re wrong. There’s Fuat Turkekul.”

  “But he’s off-limits.”

  “After being blown up twice, nothing is off-limits as far as I’m concerned.”

  Later, when she walked in, Stone tried to hide his surprise but really couldn’t.

  Marisa Friedman was dressed in a white skirt, a blue silk blouse and flats. Her makeup was immaculate, her hair was glossy and fell loosely to her shoulders. She carried a purse in one hand and a pair of sunglasses in the other. She placed a pair of penetrating eyes on Stone and sat down in the room’s one chair.

  “I can tell you’re stunned to see me,” she said.

  “The last time I got near you, I was told in no uncertain terms to back the hell off.”

  “How much do you really know? About me, I mean?”

  “Weaver was blunt but informative.”

  “In our line of work that’s good sometimes and not so good other times.”

  He sat up in the bed. “So why are you here?”

  “I heard about what happened to you. I wanted to see that you were okay.”

  “You didn’t have to come here to find that out. A phone call would’ve done it.”

  She glanced at him and then quickly looked away. She rose and walked to the window. “It’s a pretty day.”

  “I guess it is. I hadn’t really thought about it.”

  She continued to gaze out. “When I was a kid I was fascinated with the weather. I thought I’d grow up to be a meteorologist.”

  “What happened?”

  She turned to look at him. “I’m not sure, actually. I did all the right things. Went to all the right schools. Then I detoured to Harvard Law. After graduating I had the intention of taking a year off, traveling in Europe and then settling down to a desk job at a firm in New York City. But on a whim I attended a seminar about the CIA and the next thing I know all these years have gone by.” She turned to look out the window again. “I’ve seen a lot of weather.” She glanced back at him. “But not nearly as much as you, apparently.”

  “You’ve talked to Weaver about me?”

  She walked to the side of the bed. “John Carr. Quite impressive.”

  Stone shrugged resignedly. “I hadn’t heard that name in over thirty years and now it seems like I hear it all the time.”

  She scooted the chair closer to the bed and sat down. “I was surprised that you had gotten on to me. I had no idea you were tailing me the night I was visiting Fuat until I got the message from Weaver’s people. How did you do it?”

  “So that’s why you’re really here? To make sure there are no permanent holes in your cover?”

  “Wouldn’t you do the same thing?”

  “Yes, I would, actually,” he admitted.


  “Process of elimination. You were at the park that night. Adelphia’s story didn’t hold up to scrutiny. Turkekul was there to meet someone.” He pointed a finger at her. “You were the logical choice. It took me longer than it should have, actually. But in my defense, there was a lot of smoke and mirrors thrown at me.”

  Friedman looked nervous. Stone easily discerned why. “You’re afraid if I figured it out, so could someone else?”

  “That’s the story of my life, Agent Stone. Trying to figure it out before they get to me.”

  “How did you figure out Turkekul?”

  “A dozen minor things that meant nothing separately but which meant everything once you put them all together. I really couldn’t believe it, though. And neither at first could NIC. But once they started digging it turned out to be true. Fuat’s Afghan connection was the nail in the coffin. We traced that history to ties to the former Soviet Union. His principal handler back then is now only three seats removed from the top spot in the power hierarchy over there.”

  “And the connection to the Russian drug cartels?”

  “Cartel. There’s only one, really, though it has many manifestations. And the Russian government is firmly in partnership with it. Not only is the cash flow enormous, the damage drug trafficking can do to an entire country is far more deadly than actually hitting it with one’s military. In a war soldiers die along with some civilians. Most people remain completely unaffected by it. In a drug war everyone feels the pain one way or another.”

  “I can see that.”

  “Then the issue became what to do about Turkekul.”

  “And the solution was to give him rope to hang himself?”

  “Not just that, no. We need the others. Up the chain of command. Fuat being a Trojan horse was a serious setback for us. But if we can turn that to our advantage then we can make it into a serious disadvantage for the other side.”

  “I wish you luck on that.”

  She rose and put a hand on his shoulder. “I know you’re working hard to solve this case. And I know that Fuat figures into it.”

  “But you don’t want me pushing too hard, so hard that it blows up what you’re trying to do?”


  “I’ll keep that in mind. You can go back and tell Weaver your mission was accomplished today.”

  “He doesn’t know I’m here.”

  “Right.” There was a bite to Stone’s words that surprised him.

  “He doesn’t,” she said emphatically.

  “So why are you really here? And it’s not just to check your cover. Or see if I was okay.”

  She looked at him curiously. “A deduction based on what?”

  “Based on the fact that I have you pegged as a multitasker.”

  She sighed. “I just wanted to see you again. Make sure you really were okay, despite what I was told. You were blown up, after all.”

  “And why is that important to you?”

  “It just is.”

  “I’m not getting this.”

  She drew closer to him. “Well, then let me be uncharacteristically frank. We’re actually a lot alike, John Carr. There aren’t many people who do what we do.” Her features softened and she seemed
to be looking past him. “I’ve lived so many years of my life as someone I’m really not.” She refocused on him. “I know you’ve done that for an even longer period of time. I’ve never met anyone like me. That is, until I met you.” She touched his arm. “So that’s why I’m here. I guess just to convince myself that I’m not alone. That there are others like me out there. I know that probably seems illogical to you.”

  “No, it actually doesn’t. It makes a lot of sense, in fact.”

  She drew closer to him. “It’s a lonely life.”

  “It can be, yes.”

  “I can tell you’ve been alone a long time.”


  She slowly lifted her hand and touched it against his cheek. “It’s in the face. The face doesn’t lie, if you know how to look.” She paused. “And we both do know how to look, don’t we?”

  She removed her hand and Stone looked away.

  “I’m sorry if I’ve embarrassed you,” she said. “I just wish…”


  “That we had met a long time ago.”

  “It wouldn’t have worked a long time ago.”

  “Does that mean it could work now?”

  Stone looked away again. “Nothing will work with me.”

  “You’re choosy?”

  “It’s not that. Even if I were choosy, you would be… Well, it doesn’t matter now.”

  “It can always matter. Even for two old warriors like us.”

  “I’m old. You’re not.”

  “In this business we’re all old.” She paused. “If we’re still alive.”

  She stood, slid a hand down his cheek and then bussed her lips against his face.

  “Take care of yourself,” she said. A moment later she was gone.


  STONE AND CHAPMAN WERE DISCHARGED from the hospital the next day after being held for observation. Stone had to admit that he needed the extra rest. Being knocked unconscious twice within a short period of time would have done a number on a young man, much less someone his age. But he had motivation to get out of his bed and take up the hunt once more. Things were coming to a head. The big event was close to happening. He could feel it in every nerve he had.

  As Chapman drove off in a new ride provided by the FBI, Stone looked across at her. “How many stitches?”

  She touched the bandage across her forehead. “Six here and two more on the cheek. Doc said I’d be healed in plenty of time for holiday photos.” She glanced over at him. “How’d you get off without any? I distinctly remember seeing you all bloodied before passing out.”

  “They probably figured what’s the use? And the major cut was on my scalp. There’s a Band-Aid up there but you can’t see it.”

  “I guess we are very lucky.”

  “Luckier than Judy Donohue.”

  “So they roped her into this whole thing. How? Money?”

  “I would assume so, yes. Money they never really intended on paying.”

  “They were going to kill her all along, you mean?”

  “Clearly. The cover they built for her was flimsy at best. Only designed to hold us off a day or two. As soon as she talked to us at the church and said all those lies she was a dead woman.”

  “So presumably the FBI will find a deposit to an offshore account somewhere in Donohue’s name that has been rescinded. Funny, she didn’t strike me as the type to conspire.”

  “What type? The one that doesn’t like money? I’ve run into very few of those.”

  “But to participate in an attack against your own country?”

  “Don’t be naïve. And besides, no one got hurt in that attack, except for the unfortunate Alfredo Padilla.”

  “But when other people started dying? She had to notice that.”

  “Of course she did. But by that time it was too late. If she came to us to confess, she’d be admitting to being an accessory to murder, multiple murders. She probably decided the safer course was to follow through with the plan and run with what she thought was lots of money.”

  “And George Sykes gets a hole in the head for doing nothing wrong at all.”

  “Yes. That’s why I don’t feel too badly about Judy Donohue.”

  “Your theory on how they got Sykes to drive off in a panic like that was probably close to the truth.”

  “Threaten his family. They might have told him where to meet. A route that would take him right into the kill zone. It was meticulously set up. Which is both informative and daunting.”

  “They could probably kill us anytime they wanted.”

  “They tried to kill me and you stopped it.”

  “Score one for the good guys.”

  “And it proves they’re not infallible.”

  “So does that mean the whole tree farm, root ball, National Park Service angle was another red herring?”

  “I think Kravitz was framed. I think Lloyd Wilder was totally innocent too.”

  “And the Latinos who were executed?”

  “Counterparts to Judy Donohue. They were partially in on the plot, but only partially. They played their roles, received their payoff and then were eliminated.”

  “Okay, so we’re back to Fuat Turkekul? How do you want to do this? Weaver will be all over our butts if we get caught messing around with the little Turk.”

  “Like I told you before, I got a wink from Sir James.”

  “So what? That is not going to protect you from Riley Weaver and you know it.”

  “So we’ll bypass Turkekul and take the path slightly less traveled.”

  “Which is? Adelphia?”


  “Who, then?”

  He said nothing.

  “Marisa Friedman is the only one left.”

  “Yes, she is.”

  “But the last time we tried to access her, we got nailed.”

  “That was last time. Now we are forewarned. And she came to see me.”

  “What? When?”

  “Yesterday. In the hospital.”

  “What did she want?”

  “I’m not really sure, to tell you the truth. She’s a lonely woman.”

  “Really?” Chapman looked at him inquiringly.

  “I guess we’re all lonely in some way.”

  “All right,” said Chapman uncertainly. “So how are we going to do it?”

  In answer Stone pulled out his phone and punched in a number. “Annabelle? I think it’s time you and Caleb had your follow-up meeting with Ms. Friedman.”

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