Hells corner, p.36
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       Hells Corner, p.36
 

         Part #5 of Camel Club series by David Baldacci

  “Can’t you tell me here?” Turkekul asked.

  Stone sat back. “You trust Marisa. And Marisa trusts me, or she wouldn’t have brought you here.”

  “I do trust her.”

  “Then what is the problem?”

  “You obviously have never lived in the Middle East.”

  “On the contrary, I have.”

  When Stone next spoke it was in Pashto. Then he switched to Farsi. The effect on Turkekul was immediate.

  “How do you know these languages?”

  “My hair is white. I’ve been in this business a long time. But you’re referring to not trusting anyone because your friend is only a friend until he is your enemy?”

  “Precisely.”

  “Then I will chance being overheard and tell you why you need to be involved.”

  “Yes?”

  “A fatwa has been issued. A private one.”

  “A fatwa? Against whom?”

  “Against you.”

  Turkekul looked stricken. “Against me? I do not understand.”

  “Someone has found out you’re assisting the Americans, Fuat. They want to eliminate that assistance.”

  Turkekul’s gaze swung between Stone and Friedman. “A fatwa? But I am an academic. I am no threat to anyone.”

  “Someone has found out what you’re really doing. That is clear. The mole I spoke of? His target, it seems, was you. They know of your treachery.”

  “This is… preposterous.”

  “No, our information is rock solid. As you know, we’ve vastly improved our intelligence resources in that part of the world.”

  “Who issued the fatwa?”

  Stone said a name and the man’s face turned gray.

  “They are…”

  “Yes. And the group they have assigned to execute the fatwa have the reputation of never missing. I won’t mention their name, but trust me, you would recognize it.”

  Turkekul looked shrunken now as he fidgeted with his hands.

  Stone studied him. “I know your faith does not allow for the imbibing of alcohol, but perhaps an exception in this case? Then we can talk about what we would like for you to do.”

  “Yes, I think. Perhaps some wine,” he said quickly.

  Friedman motioned for a waiter.

  Ten minutes later Turkekul left with Friedman. After he had gone, Stone and Chapman departed by a rear exit and climbed into a black Yukon with bulletproof windows and armor plating.

  “Well done, Oliver,” said a booming voice from the backseat.

  James McElroy was sitting there. “The audio feed was loud and clear. I heard everything.”

  Stone sat back against the leather seat. “Well, let’s see if the man takes the bait.”

  CHAPTER 76

  “HE’S ON THE MOVE,” Agent Ashburn said. She was sitting in the front seat of the SUV wearing a headset. She turned to look at Stone and Chapman. “I hope this works.”

  “If it doesn’t, we’ll know soon enough,” said Stone.

  “How about his security?” asked Chapman.

  “They were told to give him an out.”

  “He won’t get suspicious?”

  “Their job is to protect him from others. Not from himself. He said he was going to bed. They’re not expecting him to sneak out, which he just did.”

  A voice came over Ashburn’s headset. “Okay, he just got in a cab. He must’ve called for one from his apartment. He’s heading west.”

  “West?” said Stone. “Out of the city?”

  Ashburn nodded. “He just crossed the Key Bridge. Okay, he’s turning right onto the GW Parkway and heading into Virginia.” She tapped the driver. “Let’s roll.”

  The truck sped off and crossed the river and then hung a right onto the parkway.

  “Keep back a bit,” Ashburn instructed the driver. “We’ve got assets all around. There’s no way we’ll lose him.”

  Stone did not seem convinced of this. He glanced at Chapman with an uneasy expression.

  Ashburn looked back. “Riley Weaver gets wind of what we’re doing he will throw a hissy. You know that.”

  “It won’t be the first time,” replied Stone.

  He was peering out the windows into the darkness. The GW Parkway was one of the most beautiful stretches of road in the D.C. metro area. There were thick woods on both sides of the asphalt, stone walls lining the road, steep terrain heading down to the Potomac River and the lighted expanse of Georgetown north of the water. Stone wasn’t focused on this aspect of the trip, however. He was watching the distant taillights of the cab that had just now come into view.

  “He’s pulling off,” Ashburn said a minute later. “Onto the scenic overlook.”

  Stone had already seen this. The lights of the cab vanished as it made the turn.

  “Pull past and then slow down,” Ashburn ordered the driver. She gave this same command into her headset.

  Stone didn’t know how many vehicles the FBI had on the scene, but the Bureau typically brought overwhelming force to any task. However, the mission here was not to arrest Turkekul and anyone he was meeting with, but to follow the person he was meeting with and hope that trail led them up the chain of command. Perhaps all the way to the president of Russia himself.

  “We’ve got infrared eyes on the entire scene,” said Ashburn. “He’s getting out of the cab and walking over to the wall fronting the parking area.”

  “Is there another vehicle there?” asked Stone. “I didn’t see one when we drove past.”

  Ashburn looked confused and spoke into her headset. “Well, how is he meeting with someone, then? Are they flying up here?”

  She flinched. “A light just came on in the woods near the wall.”

  Stone said, “They could have hiked up from the riverbank.”

  “Quite a hike,” said Ashburn. She spoke into her headset. “Everyone stand by. Do not intervene. Repeat, do not intervene. This is a—”

  The sound of the shot made them all jump. Stone grabbed the driver’s shoulder. “Go! Go!”

  The SUV whipped around, plowed across the median and sped back toward the pull-off.

  “Move in,” Ashburn called into her headset. “All positions move in!”

  SUVs poured into the parking lot. Stone and Chapman were out of the truck before it even stopped. Stone ran toward the still figure sprawled on the asphalt. He knelt down next to Turkekul. Chapman stood next to him.

  “He’s dead,” said Stone. “Exit wound from the front. He was facing the river. That means the shot came from the other side of the road.”

  Ashburn was already screaming instructions at her troops. A pack of agents raced toward the woods on the other side of the road where the shot had originated. Two other agents were pulling a terrified cab driver from his ride. Chapman slipped over the wall and looked down.

  “The light was from a battery-operated lantern with a timer switch,” she said.

  She rejoined Stone and looked down at Turkekul.

  “Could there really have been a fatwa on him?” she asked.

  Stone just shook his head. “We got played. Again,” he added bitterly.

  “What happens now?”

  “We’re screwed,” he muttered. “That’s what happens now. We’re completely and totally screwed.”

  CHAPTER 77

  THERE WAS NO ONE LEFT STANDING after the NIC chief found out about an unauthorized operation that had cost him his sole asset in the biggest counterintelligence investigation of his brief career as the nation’s head spy. If Weaver could have issued a hit on Stone, Chapman and Ashburn and gotten away with it, he would have. Even Sir James McElroy, who immediately owned up to his part in the fiasco, was not spared.

  When Stone and Chapman met with him later at the British embassy McElroy looked older and frailer than before. The spark that was usually in his eye had receded. Chapman looked crushed at having let the man down. Stone’s expression was unfathomable. There were few who could discern the smoldering anger wi
thin him.

  “No leads on the shooter?” asked McElroy quietly as he held his side tightly.

  Chapman answered, “None. By the time the FBI got there the sniper was long gone. There’s a road near the location. Takes a minute for a car to disappear into a dozen different directions.”

  “Well, MI6 has been officially taken off the case,” said McElroy. He looked at Chapman. “I’m on the next flight out. Care to ride with me?”

  Chapman glanced at Stone, who was looking at the wall, obviously lost in thought.

  “If I could follow you a bit later, sir, just to wrap up a few things here.”

  McElroy said, “Could you excuse us for a minute, Mary?”

  Chapman shot Stone another look and quickly left the room.

  When the door closed Stone focused on the Brit.

  “Quite a cock-up,” said McElroy.

  “Quite.”

  “I still believe it was worth the effort. The status quo was letting people die left and right.”

  “Well, we just added another to that list.”

  “Now that Turkekul is gone the matter might be closed.”

  Stone sat down across from him. “How so?”

  “Turkekul was their point man.”

  “If so, why kill him?”

  “You flushed him out.”

  “How did they know I did?”

  McElroy spread his hands. “How have these chaps known anything? They just do.”

  “My commission has been revoked,” said Stone. “The president’s loyalties have their limits. Not that I can blame him.”

  “How about our FBI agent?”

  “Ashburn? Couple black marks and a desk job for a while. She was smart enough to get some backing higher up before this all went down. Her landing will be relatively soft. But it’s still not what she wanted to happen.”

  “Of course not.” McElroy patted Stone on the shoulder. “It’s no use sitting around lamenting about things we can’t change. Some missions go according to plan and everyone’s happy. And some unfortunately don’t.”

  “Well, I’m not convinced this mission is over yet.”

  “It is for us, Oliver. I’ve been known to buck the system on occasion. Last night was one of those occasions. But I also know when to toss in the towel. Otherwise I wouldn’t have lasted this long.”

  He rose, holding on to the table for support. Stone looked up at him.

  “Maybe it’s true. Even though I was the one who said it, I’m not sure I really believed it.”

  “What?”

  “That I’m not what I once was.”

  “None of us are, Oliver. None of us are.”

  After McElroy left, Chapman came back in and sat down next to Stone.

  “I thought it was a good try, and for what it’s worth I’d do it again,” she said. “Better than sitting on our hands looking for somebody else to do something.”

  “Thanks,” Stone said curtly. “So what do you have to wrap up over here that you’re not flying back with your boss?”

  “I’m not sure. I thought you could tell me.”

  Stone cocked his head. “Not following.”

  “You’re not going to just leave it like this, are you?”

  “What else am I supposed to do? I’m officially out of the investigation.”

  “Officially just means technically. And from what I’ve seen of how you operate, technicalities don’t matter much.”

  “I screwed up big-time. Weaver is trying to figure out a way to put me behind bars.”

  “Forget him. We still have a case to solve. Because I don’t think Turkekul going down means anything.”

  Stone now looked interested. “What do you mean?”

  “Come on, I was eavesdropping at the door. I heard you tell Sir James that you didn’t believe the mission was over.”

  “I don’t. I just don’t see how much good I can do.”

  “Because you’re not what you were?”

  “You really were listening at the keyhole.”

  “Yeah, I really was.”

  Stone hesitated for a moment and then said, “I’m done, Mary. Fly back to London. Get the hell away from me. Right now, I’m professional poison. You’ve got a long career ahead of you.”

  He rose to leave. She snagged his arm.

  “John Carr would never walk away from this.”

  “No, he wouldn’t. But I’m not John Carr. Not anymore.”

  The door closed behind him.

  CHAPTER 78

  “I JUST CAME BY TO SAY I’m sorry.”

  Stone was standing on the threshold of Marisa Friedman’s office in Jackson Place. The woman stared back at him. She was dressed in jeans, a T-shirt and sandals. Her hair was disheveled and there was a smudge of dirt on her left cheek. Over her shoulder Stone could see packing boxes.

  “Okay,” she said. “But that wasn’t necessary. Op went wrong. Heads roll. That’s the nature of the beast. I anted in, and the pot went to someone else.”

  “Unauthorized op,” Stone corrected her. “Because of me.”

  She shrugged. “Doesn’t matter now, does it?”

  “You moving?”

  “Going out of business.”

  “Higher orders?”

  “It was never really my business to begin with. Uncle Sam was footing the bill. And keeping all the profits. If I’d really been in business for myself, I’d be retired on a cushy income by now.”

  She fell silent and the two stared at each other. “I’ve got some fresh coffee brewing. You up for a cup?”

  “All right, but I’m a little surprised you’re not pulling a gun on me instead.”

  “Believe me, I thought about it.”

  They sat at her desk. As Stone drank his coffee he said, “What now?”

  “What now? Good question. My ticket got pulled.”

  Stone’s mouth fell open. “Not permanently?”

 
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