Hells corner, p.37
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       Hells Corner, p.37
 

         Part #5 of Camel Club series by David Baldacci

  “Yes,” she said quietly. “Fuat Turkekul was our only link to what my superiors referred to as the second coming of Stalin. And I lost him.”

  “No, I lost him. And I told Weaver that to his face.”

  “Doesn’t matter. I let you take him. Same difference. And I didn’t get the necessary clearance, principally because it would never have been given.”

  Stone looked around the office. “What will you do now?”

  “Well, I’ll spend about the next year of my life writing exit briefs and defending my indefensible actions to a top secret government panel that will be doing its best to find a way to do more than fire me.”

  “What, prison?”

  “Why not?”

  Stone put his cup down. “You have any options in the private sector?”

  She shook her head. “Damaged goods. All the guys that are hiring people like me used to work on the government side. They need to stay in their good graces. I’m persona non grata.”

  “You have something else to worry about,” said Stone.

  She nodded. “I’ve been outed. They knew what we were trying to do with Fuat. If they know that, they know about me. The Russians will try to kill me, if for no other reason than professional satisfaction.”

  “And you have no tail coverage?”

  “None. Agency cut all ties to me as soon as our little Bay of Pigs came to light. All those years of outstanding service didn’t provide me with a sliver of support when things went bad.” She smiled resignedly. “Why should I have expected anything more?”

  Stone said nothing. He sipped his coffee and watched the woman.

  She gazed around her office. “You know, as crazy as it sounds, I’m going to miss this place.”

  “Doesn’t sound crazy.”

  “I was a spy, but I was also a businesswoman. And I was actually a pretty good lobbyist.”

  “I’m sure you were.”

  She looked at him. “What about you?”

  “What about me?”

  “Come on, I could hear Riley Weaver’s screams all the way from Virginia.”

  Stone shrugged. “I was out of the business a long time. So I’ll be out of it again. For good this time.”

  “Weaver’s going to come after you.”

  “I know that.”

  “He will make your life a living hell.”

  “I know that too.”

  “I’m thinking about going to a deserted island where he and the Russians can’t find me.”

  “Is there such a place?”

  “Worth finding out.”

  “That takes money.”

  “I’ve saved well.”

  “I haven’t.”

  She eyed him. “So you want to tag along?”

  “I’m definitely baggage you don’t need.”

  “You never know. Us against the world.”

  “I’d probably slow you down.”

  “Something tells me that you wouldn’t. Two old spies on the road.”

  “You’re not old, Marisa.”

  “Neither are you, John.”

  “Oliver.”

  She rose and slid over next to him. “Right now, just let it be John.”

  “Why?”

  She kissed him.

  Stone pulled back in surprise. “I just cost you your career,” he said.

  “No. Maybe you just opened my eyes to the future.”

  She pressed her body against his, nearly pushing him off the chair. Her scent wafted into his nostrils, and it was like a welder’s spark had gone off in the part of his brain that dealt with the senses.

  He moved away from her and shook his head. “I’ve been all over the world and I don’t think I’ve ever smelled anything like that before. I actually felt a pop in my head.”

  She smiled. “It’s a perfume I found in Thailand. Unavailable in the States. The English translation is roughly ‘two hearts as one.’ It’s supposed to have a visceral effect on men. And I’m not talking in the obvious place. More emotional.”

  “Well I can attest to that.”

  She leaned closer. “Don’t dismiss my offer so lightly.”

  “I’m not. But frankly it would be pretty crazy.”

  “Nothing is crazy if you want it badly enough.” She sat back up. “Don’t you think you deserve a little happiness? A little peace after everything you’ve been through?”

  Stone hesitated. “I’ll think about it.”

  She touched his cheek. “That’s all I’m asking, John. I’ve waited a long time for someone like you. I’ve lost my career. But maybe I’ve found something else to replace it.”

  “You could have just about anyone you wanted. Why me?”

  “Because you’re just like me.”

  CHAPTER 79

  STONE WOKE AND LOOKED AROUND. He was in his cottage, lying in his old army cot. He checked his watch. Two a.m. He got up, showered, scrubbing his skin and hair especially hard for a reason he couldn’t really fathom. He dried off and slipped on his pants, shirt and shoes. After leaving Marisa Friedman’s office and before coming home he’d walked for hours, until his legs were sore from smacking into the concrete sidewalks. Then he’d come here, falling asleep almost right away simply because he was exhausted.

  He took some Advil, sat on the side of his cot and waited for the dull ache in his head to subside. Two concussions in a short period of time. At twenty he could shrug that off. Now he could not. It was all taking its toll. The next one might just do him in.

  Maybe I can blame all the mistakes on being blown up twice.

  His thoughts once more turned to Marisa Friedman. A deserted island. Two old spies. He touched his lips where she’d kissed him. He couldn’t say he hadn’t felt… something. In fact, she had made it clear that she would go much farther than a kiss.

  And her offer to leave together? A beautiful woman. An intelligent lady. A woman who had worked in the world he had. At first Stone had thought it ridiculous. He had only told her he would think about it to appease her.

  Now? Now maybe he really was thinking about it. What was left for him here? He had his friends. But right now anyone close to him would suffer too. Riley Weaver would see to that. It had all disintegrated with surprising speed.

  The headache finally weakened and he put on a jacket, left the cottage and walked around the familiar grounds of Mt. Zion. Even in the dark he knew where each tombstone was, every path, every tree. He stopped in front of a few graves of the long dead. He would sometimes talk to these folks, by name. He never got an answer, but it still helped. Allowed him to think through a particularly difficult problem.

  And I’ve got a few of those right now.

  The slight crack of a stick made him turn and stare down the path.

  “I take it you never sleep?”

  Chapman walked toward him. Dark slacks, white blouse, leather jacket. The Walther underneath.

  “Can say the same about you,” he said.

  “Been looking for you.”

  “Why?”

  “You hungry?”

  Stone hadn’t realized how hungry he was until she asked. He couldn’t even remember the last time he’d eaten. “Yeah, I am.”

  “Me too.”

  He held up his watch. “D.C. is not a late-night town. Everything’s closed.”

  “I know a place. All-night restaurant. On the Virginia side.”

  “How?”

  “I’m an insomniac. So I always do a recon for late-night eateries in whatever area I’m in.”

  “Let’s go.”

  She drove across the river, taking the GW Parkway and turning off onto Route 123 heading toward Tysons Corner. There was no traffic and the lights were all green, so very shortly they were pulling into the Amphora restaurant parking lot in the suburb of Vienna. There were over a dozen other cars there. Stone looked around in surprise. “Never knew this was here. And it looks popular.”

  Chapman opened her door and got out. “You should get out more.” She smacked
the door closed with her hip.

  They went in and both ordered breakfast. The coffee and food came fast and was delivered by a white-jacketed and black-bow-tied waiter who had astonishing enthusiasm for nearly three o’clock in the morning.

  “Came by to see you earlier,” Chapman said. “You weren’t home.”

  Stone ate some of his scrambled eggs. “I was out.”

  “Out where?”

  “Does it matter?”

  “You tell me.”

  “You have something you want to say, say it.”

  Chapman swallowed a bite of bacon. “So you’re really just giving up?” she said. “Doesn’t sound like the John Carr I’ve heard about.”

  “I’m getting a little tired of people throwing the name ‘John Carr’ around like I’m supposed to suddenly put on a cape and solve the world’s problems. In case you hadn’t noticed, that was a long time ago and I have enough of my own problems to deal with.”

  Chapman abruptly stood. “Well excuse me. I thought you still gave a shit.”

  Stone clamped a hand around her wrist and pulled her back down into her seat.

  “I’ll give you a fight if that’s what you want,” she snapped.

  “What I want is a little bit of reason and logic.”

  “Hey, buddy!”

  Stone turned to see a large, broad-shouldered man standing next to the table. The man said, “If I were you I’d leave the lady alone.” He put a hand on Stone’s shoulder.

  Chapman glanced quickly at Stone and saw the look in his eye and then watched as his arms tensed to strike.

  “It’s okay.” She opened her jacket to show her gun and then held up her badge. “We were just arguing over who was going to pay the check. But thanks for coming to a lady’s aid, love.”

  “You sure?” said the man.

  Stone ripped the man’s hand off his shoulder. “Yeah, she’s sure, love.”

  They finished their meal and drove back to Stone’s cottage. Stone made no move to get out of the car. Chapman glanced over at him but kept silent.

  “Thanks for breakfast,” he said.

  “You’re welcome.”

  A chunk of silence passed as the darkest part of the night drifted past them and the edge of the sky began to lighten.

  “I don’t like being beaten,” Stone said.

  “I can understand that. Neither do I. That’s why when I start something I want to finish it. I’m sure you feel that way too.”

  “I didn’t have much choice about starting this case.”

  “What do you mean?”

  “Nothing.”

  “Tell me, Oliver.”

  “It’s complicated.”

  “It’s always bloody complicated.”

  Stone glanced out the window as though he expected to see someone watching. “It was my penance, I guess.”

  “Penance? I take it other people suffered because of something you did?”

  “I sincerely hope so,” Stone said.

  “And now that the mission went to hell?”

  “I don’t know, Mary. I really don’t know what that means for me.”

  “So go out on your terms.”

  He looked at her. “How?”

  “Let’s finish the bloody case, that’s how.”

  “I’m not sure where to start.”

  “Usually at the beginning is a good spot.”

  “We tried that.”

  “So they expect us to go left, we go right.”

  “We did that last time and look what happened.”

  “So we just go right a little bit harder and farther,” she said. “Any ideas on that?”

  Stone thought for a minute or two while Chapman continued to watch him. “Not really, no.”

  “Well, I’ve got one,” she said. “Tom Gross.”

  “The dead can’t talk.”

  “Not what I mean.”

  “What, then?”

  “Remember when we were sitting in that coffee shop and he told us about being watched?”

  “Yes, so?”

  “So he told us something. He said there was only one person he trusted.”

  It only took Stone a couple of seconds to recall this. “His wife,” he said.

  “So I wonder if he trusted her enough to tell her something that could help us?”

  “There’s only one way to find out.”

  “So you’re back on the hunt?”

  He took a few moments to answer. “Unofficially. Which is actually right where I belong.”

  CHAPTER 80

  CHAPMAN PHONED THE BEREAVED ALICE GROSS at 9 a.m. that morning and asked to see her. Stone and Chapman arrived at the modest two-story house in Centreville, Virginia, early in the afternoon. Alice Gross certainly looked like a woman who’d just lost her husband. Her skin was naturally pale but with a gray pallor lurking just below the surface. Her eyes were red, her hair in disarray. She held a crumpled tissue in one hand and a bottle of water in the other as she led them into her small living room.

  Stone saw a coloring book on the coffee table, a baseball bat and some cleats in one corner. When his gaze lighted on a photo of the Gross family showing the dead agent with his wife and four kids ranging in age from three to fourteen, Stone grimaced and quickly looked away. He glanced at Chapman and saw that she’d had the same reaction.

  They sat on the couch while Alice Gross took a chair opposite.

  Stone said, “Your husband was a terrific agent, Mrs. Gross. We all feel his loss.”

  “Thank you. You know they’re holding a memorial service for Tom?”

  “Yes, we heard about that. He certainly deserves it.”

  “He’d be embarrassed about it, though. He never liked to draw attention to himself. Just wasn’t his way. He just did his job. Didn’t
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