Hells corner, p.38
Part #5 of Camel Club series by David Baldacci
care who ended up getting the credit.”
Stone had been concerned that Alice Gross had been briefed by the FBI on the exact circumstances of her husband’s death. And the role Stone had played in it. But apparently they hadn’t done that.
“We’re doing all we can to catch the people responsible,” added Chapman.
“I appreciate that,” sniffled Gross. “He really did care about his job. He worked such long hours.”
Stone said, “He told me that he’d had some concerns, about people watching him.”
Gross nodded. “His own people. They asked me about that, the Bureau I mean.”
“And what did you tell them?” asked Stone.
Gross looked confused. “Aren’t you with the Bureau?”
Stone hesitated. “We’re working with them.”
Chapman said quickly, “I’m actually with MI6. Your husband might’ve mentioned that.”
“Oh yes, that’s right. You’re the Englishwoman. Tom talked about you. He thought you were very good.”
“I appreciate that.”
Gross drew a short breath. “Well, the Bureau was very upset about that. I mean about Tom believing his own people were spying on him. I don’t think they believed it.”
“Did you believe it?” asked Stone.
“Tom believed it and that was good enough for me,” she said staunchly.
“Brilliant,” said Chapman. “I think you’re spot-on with that.”
Stone leaned forward. “Tom told us something. Something about you.”
“About me?” she said in surprise.
“Yes. He said the only person he trusted was you.”
Tears crept into Alice Gross’s eyes. She lifted the tissue up and wiped them away. “We were always so close. He loved being an FBI agent but he loved me more. I know he wasn’t supposed to really talk to me about his cases, but he did, and I would give him my opinion. And sometimes I’d turn out to be right.”
“I’m sure you were a great asset to him,” said Chapman.
Stone said, “Since we know he trusted you, did he happen to mention anything to you about this case? Something he was concerned about? Anything you can remember?”
Gross put her hands in her lap and furrowed her brow. “I can’t recall anything specific other than thinking someone was watching him.”
“Nothing?” prompted Chapman. “It might have seemed insignificant at the time, but anything you can remember? No matter how seemingly trivial?”
Gross shook her head but then stopped. She looked up. “He did say something one night.”
Stone and Chapman leaned forward.
“Yes?” said Stone.
“That ATF agent that was working with him?”
“Stephen Garchik?” replied Stone.
“What did he say about him?” asked Chapman.
“Well, it was late and we were getting ready to go to bed. He was brushing his teeth and he came out of the bathroom and said that he needed to check on something that Garchik had told him.”
“Did he say what it was?”
Gross half closed her eyes, obviously struggling to remember. “Just something he had said about the bomb, what it was made of.”
Chapman and Stone looked at each other.
Gross continued, “And he also wanted to check out something to do with that nano business.”
Stone looked surprised. “He told you about the nanobots?”
“Well, he tried to, but I didn’t really understand any of it.”
“Did he think there was a connection between what he wanted to talk to Garchik about and the nanobots?” asked Chapman.
“He didn’t say. Just that he needed to check those two things out. That it might be important. Because of something he remembered. Only he didn’t tell me what.”
“Something he remembered?” mused Stone. “Do you know if he followed up on it?”
“I doubt it.”
Her eyes filled with tears. “Because he was killed the next day.”
“SO HOW DO WE GET TO GARCHIK?” asked Chapman as they drove away from Gross’s house. “We’re not official anymore. I’m supposed to be on my way to London and you…”
“Right,” said Stone. “Me.” He pulled out his phone. “Well, I can always try calling him.” He hit the numbers.
Chapman said, “If they have him stashed somewhere he might not answer. Especially if they’ve told him what happened. We could be off-limits.”
A voice came on Stone’s phone.
“Hello, Steve, Agent Stone here. Right. I know you disappeared right off the case. We were worried about you until we got the heads-up.” Stone paused as Garchik said something.
“Well, we’d like to meet with you, if that’s okay.”
Garchik said something else.
“I understand, but if I could just ask you about something Agent Gross was—”
Chapman cut the car to the right and nearly slammed into the curb. Stone was jerked sideways in his seat and his head would have hit the window glass if it hadn’t already been down.
Stone looked in front and behind at the vehicles that had boxed them in. The men were already out of their SUVs and striding toward them.
One of the men passed a paper through the window and into Stone’s hands.
“What’s this?” Stone asked in surprise.
“Congressional subpoena. Courtesy of Director Weaver. And if you’re really smart, you’ll never go near Tom Gross’s family again.”
A few seconds later the men were gone.
Stone looked down at the subpoena. He heard chatter. He realized he’d dropped his phone on the car’s floor and snatched it up.
“Steve? Right, sorry about that. Little problem on our end. Look, can you—Hello? Hello?”
Stone clicked off. “Line went dead.”
Chapman put the car in gear again. “Weaver’s people must’ve gotten to him too.”
“Now we can’t find out what Garchik told Gross.”
“What if what he told Gross is something he told us too? As far as I know we were with him pretty much every time he spoke to Garchik.”
“I can’t remember anything critical off the top of my head.” She glanced at the paper. “When do you have to appear?”
Stone read through the document. “Tomorrow. Before the House subcommittee on intelligence.”
“Not a lot of notice. Can they do that?”
Stone read over the document some more. “National security apparently trumps even due process.”
“Yeah,” Stone said dryly. “Lucky me.”
“Do you need a solicitor?”
“Probably, but I can’t afford one.”
“Want me to see what Sir James can do?”
“I think Sir James is pretty much done with me.”
“I think he’s pretty much done with me too. So is there a silver lining here somewhere?”
“We have to start from square one. Go over everything.”
“Well, I’ve got extensive notes and the video of the park on my laptop still. And before we fell out of favor Agent Ashburn provided me with electronic files for a lot of the other video feeds.”
They drove to her hotel and set up a mini command center. For the next several hours they pored over the notes of the case and the video feeds from Chapman’s laptop.
“Well, one thing’s figured out,” said Stone as he stared at the screen.
Chapman joined him. “What?”
“The homeless woman who poured the bottle of water on the tree and killed it?” He pointed at the screen showing the image.
“What about it? That’s one of the few things we can be reasonably sure about.”
Stone hit some keys and zoomed in on the image of the woman. “I was puzzled that they’d b
“It wasn’t minimal,” Chapman pointed out. “It was the catalyst that set everything else in motion.”
“I wasn’t talking about poisoning the tree. I meant Judy Donohue. Why bring her in just to lie about Sykes and increase our suspicion of him? They could’ve come at it some other way. Now I know.”
“I’m not following.”
“Look at the back of the woman’s hand.”
Chapman hit some keys and zoomed into the image even more.
“Her hand is pretty dirty, but if you look at the bottom right.”
Chapman gasped. “That’s a bird’s foot. The tattoo Donohue had on her hand. What was it? The western meadowlark. She was the homeless woman in disguise.”
“They used her for that and then got her to try and implicate Sykes. I don’t think her bosses cared whether she succeeded or not. Sykes was a dead man, and they always intended to kill her too.”
Chapman sat back down and went over some notes. “You know, Garchik said that bombers like to do trial runs to make sure their equipment is working properly.”
“But usually they’ll do it in someplace inconspicuous. At least to the extent you can be inconspicuous when you’re setting off a bomb.”
“And Lafayette Park is hardly inconspicuous. Which means it wasn’t a trial run. It was the mission, albeit part of a larger one.”
Stone looked thoughtful. “Right. The bombing at Lafayette had to take place in order for some other event to occur.”
“We have that list of upcoming events at the park.”
“I don’t think the answer lies there.”
“I agree,” said Chapman. “The bad guys won’t know where the event is going to be, or if the event will even be held.”
She said, “The nanobot thing that has everyone’s knickers in a knot. They occur at the molecular level, which means they can get into anything.”
“And they apparently can be manufactured into just about any bio-or chemical contagion. Synthetic plague or anthrax or ricin maybe. In large quantities.”
“But again, you load all that into a root ball in a tree across from the bloody White House with a bomb attached and you don’t put the plague or another deadly microbe on it? Makes no sense.”
“It’s never made any sense,” agreed Stone. “At least it doesn’t the way we’ve been looking at it.”
Chapman perked up. “Maybe we go back to where it all started.”
“You mean Lafayette Park?”
“Let’s call it for what it is. Hell’s Corner. In fact, I can’t think of it any other way now. Might’ve known.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s named after a bloody Frenchman,” snapped Chapman.
THEY WALKED OVER EVERY INCH of the park for several hours. Stone and Chapman tried to look at things in a new light, but it always resulted in old conclusions. Old and wrong conclusions. Stone was actually a little surprised that no one came over and asked what they were doing here, or else simply escorted them out of the park. But apparently Riley Weaver could not be burdened with such insignificant details. Stone figured he was probably right now at NIC headquarters going over with his own legal staff and that of the congressional committee members how best to crucify him.
Stone paced the park again and again, looking at things from every angle he could think of. Chapman was doing the same thing on the other side of the park. They had passed each other several times during this exercise. At first their expressions had been hopeful, but now—now there was no hope left in either of their faces.
Stone looked at the government building where the shots had come from. And then at the Hay-Adams Hotel from where they had been meant to believe the shots had come. Then he looked at the places where the four people in the park had been that night. In his mind’s eye he walked or in some instances ran them through their paces. Friedman and Turkekul sitting and standing respectively, and then walking away. Padilla running for his life. The British security guard shadowing Stone and ending up losing a tooth. The explosion. Stone being blown off his feet. Now Turkekul and Padilla were dead. Friedman was disgraced and unemployed. The British agent had long since gone home. He had never even known the man’s name. He probably should have questioned the fellow directly, but what could he really have added to the account?
He stopped a short distance from Marisa Friedman’s office, or former office, in Jackson Place. Staring at the front of the old town house, Stone recalled his last encounter there with her. It could have gone very differently if he’d been willing. And right now he was wondering why he hadn’t been… willing.
He turned to see Chapman staring at him. She looked over at the building and then at him.
“Friedman’s career in the intelligence field is over,” he said. “Thanks to me.”
“She’s a big girl. Nobody made her agree to go along.”
“She actually didn’t have much of a choice.”
“Everyone has choices. You make them and then you live with the consequences.” She paused. “Do you plan to see her again?”
Stone shot her a glance. “What do you mean?”
“The last time we were together with her. It doesn’t take a genius to see.”
“To see what?”
She turned away, directing her attention to the hole in the ground where the bomb had gone off, starting their collective nightmare.
“I don’t plan on seeing her again, no,” said Stone. He seemed surprised by this sudden decision.
Where did that come from? Instinct?
Chapman turned back around. “I think that’s wise.”
As it started to get dark Stone and Chapman drove back to his cottage. They sat in the car by the wrought-iron gates for a few minutes.
“I’ll come with you tomorrow,” she said. “If just for moral support.”
“No,” Stone said decisively. “That would not be good for your career.”
He looked at her. “What do you mean?”
“Friedman wasn’t the only one who lost her professional ride. I got a notice from the Home Office yesterday. I’m basically being ordered to resign from MI6.”
Stone looked anguished. “I’m sorry, Mary.”
She shrugged. “Probably time to try something else. After this cock-up I figure things can only go up.”
“Can’t McElroy help you?”
“No. He’s taken his lumps too over this. It’s out of his hands.” She looked around. “I no longer have access to the British embassy. And my credit card has been revoked. I’ve got passage back on an American
Hells Corner by David Baldacci / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5 out of 5 / Based on50 votes