Hells corner, p.39
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       Hells Corner, p.39

         Part #5 of Camel Club series by David Baldacci

  military plane leaving for London tomorrow night.”

  “I would advise you to be on it.”

  She looked up at the cottage. “Mind if I crash at your place for tonight?”

  “All right,” said Stone.

  “And shouldn’t you prepare for the hearing tomorrow?” she asked. “I can help.”

  “I just plan on telling the truth. If I try and prepare, it’ll just make things more complicated.”

  “They’re going to come after you with everything they have.”

  “I know.”

  “You think you’ll come out okay?”

  “I doubt it.”

  They rose the next morning early and took turns showering. Stone put on his only suit. Then they had breakfast at the same outlet servicing the construction workers. Stone threw away his meal wrapper, finished off his coffee and checked his watch.

  “It’s time,” he said.

  “I’m coming,” replied Chapman.

  “You’re not on the subpoena. They won’t let you in.”

  “Then I’ll wait outside.”

  “You don’t have to do this.”

  “Yes I do, Oliver. I really do.”

  The interrogation was to be conducted in the secure hearing room of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. It was in an underground room beneath the U.S. Capitol’s Rotunda, and accessed by a secret elevator. They grabbed a cab and then got out and made their way toward the main entrance.

  “Did you get any sleep?” she asked.

  “I actually slept remarkably well. I’m getting used to my desk chair.”

  “I didn’t.”

  “My cot is an acquired taste, I’m afraid.”

  “Yeah, next time I try it, I’ll have to be drunk. Slept like a baby that time. Do you know what you’re going to say?”

  “I told you, the truth.”

  “But you need some plan. Some strategy. And not just the bloody truth. Lawyers can twist that all around.”

  “What do you suggest?”

  “That you were doing your best. You took a calculated risk based on conditions on the ground. A dozen people had died. The investigation was getting nowhere. You had to try something. The FBI and MI6 signed off on it. The only one whose feelings are hurt is Riley Weaver. And he had produced exactly nothing on the case. And they asked you to come back to work for them. You were doing the best you could under difficult circumstances. And before the hearing even starts I’d pull the government lawyer aside and mention that there are lots of things you can tell the committee that Weaver won’t want them to hear.”

  “Such as?”

  “Such as NIC withholding critical evidence from the FBI on an international terrorism case? Remember the video from the park? And it also wouldn’t hurt to remind him that your president was, or maybe still is, on your side.”

  “So the reason you didn’t get any sleep last night was because you were up thinking about all this?”

  “I didn’t want you to go in there and get ambushed. You don’t deserve that.”

  “Thank you. I think I’ll take your advice.”

  Chapman noted all the uniformed security. “Pretty tight around here.”

  “Well, this area is on every terrorist’s wish list.”

  They were walking up the steps leading into the building when a uniformed guard strolled by with his black Lab bomb detection canine. The dog sniffed around Stone’s and Chapman’s ankles and then proceeded on.

  “At least that’s one sure thing in an uncertain world,” remarked Stone.

  “Right. What did Garchik say? The dogs can detect nineteen thousand types of explosive material?”

  “And also that there’s not even a machine sophisticated enough to measure how powerful a dog’s nose is. If I—”

  Stone froze.

  Chapman looked at him. She was holding open the door for him. “You okay?”

  Stone didn’t answer. He turned and ran in the other direction.

  Chapman called after him, “What the hell are you doing?”

  She let go of the door and ran after him. The police frowned on sudden movement at this location. And people running away were even more frowned on. However, Stone was across the street with Chapman right on his heels before any of the uniforms could react.

  She caught up to him and grabbed his arm. “I didn’t figure you to chicken out on your hearing. Better to just get it over with.”

  “It’s not the hearing, Mary.”

  “What then.”

  “It’s the dogs.”

  “What about them?”

  Stone started to sprint. She ran after him.

  “Where are we going?”

  “To where it all began.”

  “We already did that.”

  “It’ll be different this time, trust me.”


  STONE CLOSED HIS EYES and sent his mind back to that night. For the second time in twenty-four hours he assembled the pieces in his head, but this time the images were even more vivid. He realized clearly this would be his last chance.

  First up, Friedman on the bench. Dozing and then chatting with her fake lover on the phone. Then Alfredo Padilla in his jogging suit and iPod walking into the park from the northeast. Next, there was Fuat Turkekul lurking on the northwest side of the park examining a statue and actually waiting to meet with Friedman. Finally Stone recalled his exact steps in the park. Hearing the motorcade coming, starting to walk through the park, looking at the other people there.

  The British security agent in the cammie jacket and seemingly walking in quicksand. He was behind Stone when the gunfire started. Now Stone opened his eyes and stared north, toward the Hay-Adams Hotel and then beyond it. Up floor after floor until his gaze reached the location of the shooters. U.S. government building. Didn’t know how they got in, but they did. They wanted Stone to stumble on things that appeared to be the truth, yet weren’t. But they hadn’t wanted him to find the U.S. government building connection. He’d unconsciously gone right instead of the left they had expected. That was why an attempt had been made to kill him and Chapman soon afterward.

  Which also meant they were always watching.

  Now Stone closed his eyes again and envisioned the first bullet hitting several feet to his left. Then more rounds pounding the dirt. Pings and zings everywhere. He’d dropped to his belly. The Brit behind him had done the same. Friedman and Turkekul were already gone from the park. Padilla began the slow zigzag run for his life and ended up in the tree hole.


  Stone opened his eyes again and looked over at Chapman, who’d been standing there staring at him the whole time, her arms folded over her chest.

  “Can they arrest you for not showing up for the hearing?” she asked.

  “Probably,” said Stone in a clearly uninterested tone. “All the shots were on the western side of the park,” he said.

  “Right, you mentioned that all the white tents were on the left side but didn’t explain what you meant by it.”

  “That’s because I didn’t know what it meant. But why? Why were all the shots on that side?”

  In response Chapman pointed to the government building. “Just the location of the shooter. It was a clear field of fire from there. They could see over the trees.”

  “They could see over the trees on the right side too. They could fire through the tree canopy for that matter. Why did they need a clear field of fire? They obviously weren’t aiming at anyone.”

  Chapman started to say something and then stopped.

  “But that’s not the most important question,” he said.

  “Okay, what is the most important question?” she asked.

  “What was the test?”

  She looked confused. “What test?”

  “I think I know what Tom Gross was going to ask Steve Garchik. Garchik said bombers like to test their equipment, to make sure it works. I think Lafayette Park was the test. But what was tested? We ori
ginally thought the bomb was meant for another time, another event, but was accidentally triggered. Then we thought it might have been a test run. But those two hypotheses are incompatible. It’s either one or the other. Not both.”

  Chapman started to say something again, but once more stopped.

  “A test run? Like Garchik said, the bomb part always works. It’s the connections that fail. But would you risk detonating in Lafayette Park just to test your connections?”

  “No,” said Chapman automatically. “They went to way too much trouble.”

  “That’s right, way too much trouble.”

  “So what then? You mentioned it was about the dogs. I’m assuming you meant the bomb sniffers.”

  “I did. Where’s your laptop?”

  Chapman pulled open her bag and slid it out. They walked over to a bench and sat down.

  “Bring up the video from the night of the bombing,” he instructed.

  She did so.

  “Run the feed that happened before the gunfire started.”

  Chapman pushed some keys and brought that image up.

  “Hold it right there.”

  She hit the pause button.

  Stone rose and pointed to the northeast corner of the park. “Padilla entered the park at that spot.”

  Chapman glanced down at the screen and then at where he was pointing. “That’s right.”

  “Why that spot?”

  “Why not that spot?”

  “There are lots of places to enter the park. Remember Carmen Escalante said that her uncle was going to eat at a favorite restaurant on Sixteenth Street. That’s on the west side of the White House, not the east. If he were walking from Sixteenth Street he would have reached the west side of the park first, not the east. So why did he come in on the east side?”

  “Maybe he went somewhere else. We never followed up on the restaurant where he actually ate. Or maybe he did eat there and then went somewhere else for a drink that was on the east side of the park.”

  “Or maybe,” said Stone as he pointed at the screen. “Or maybe he had to enter the park on the east side because of that.”

  Chapman looked where his finger was. “Because that’s where the police were stationed, you mean?”

  “No, because that’s where the bomb dog was stationed. Run the video.”

  Chapman hit the play button. Padilla walked within a foot of the dog. In fact it seemed as though he went out of his way to walk near the dog.

  “But why would that matter? The dog didn’t do anything.”

  “You’re a Brit. Ever read the Sherlock Holmes story entitled ‘Silver Blaze’?”

  “Sorry, never got around to those.”

  “Well, in that story Holmes was able to make much of the fact of the curious incident of the dog in the nighttime.”

  “Why, what did the dog do?”

  “Absolutely nothing. And as Holmes pointed out, that was the curious incident.”

  “You’re only making me more confused.”

  “The test, Mary, was to walk past that dog and not have it react. To have it do nothing, in fact.”

  It took a moment, but the look on Chapman’s face turned to astonishment. “Are you saying that the bomb was on Padilla and not in the root ball?”

  “Yes. A couple of pounds of Semtex would’ve caused the damage that occurred. He could’ve easily had that on his person.”

  “But the leather bits from the basketball?”

  “There was never any basketball. He had the leather bits already in his pocket. The tree farm, George Sykes, the hoop, John Kravitz—all were misdirection.” He added, “Carefully researched misdirection. When they discovered the tree was coming from Pennsylvania they also learned of Kravitz’s shady past.” He looked to the office building where the shots had come from. “And that explains why the gunfire was only on the west side. They couldn’t chance hitting Padilla. If the dog were on the right side, Padilla would have walked past it and then made his way to the east side. Because that’s where the hole was. Which was the other critical piece.”

  “Are you saying he threw himself in that hole and then blew himself up?”

  “The only plausible reason for him to run and throw himself in the hole in the first place was because it seemed that he was running for his life. The hole was in essence his foxhole. The gunfire was the catalyst. He would have no other reason to do it. That was why they needed to have the gunfire. To give him a reason to run and jump in that hole. Otherwise, if he simply detonated aboveground, we would all know the source of the explosive. Diving in the tree hole made us all look at the maple as being the source. Donohue told them when the hole would be covered. They had that one night to do it. Then we discovered all the planted evidence.”

  “But hang on. Garchik said that dogs could never be fooled. How could Padilla get past that dog with a bomb on his person?”

  “Garchik already told us. That was probably the other thing Gross wanted to ask him. What did Garchik tell us about smells?”

  “That you couldn’t cover them up from a dog.”

  “And he also said that smells were molecular. That’s the reason nothing can contain them. That’s why dogs can sniff out things locked in steel containers, covered in smelly fish and wrapped in miles of plastic.”


  “And what did we learn about nanobots?”

  “That they’re nasty buggers.” She paused, her jaw slowly descending. “And that they’re molecular too.”

  “Exactly. They’re molecular too.”

  “Are you saying that they used the nanobots to create a new type of explosive? The nineteen thousandth and first, if you will?”

  “No. The ATF apparently found the usual type of explosive debris. Nothing revolutionary at all, which makes the whole thing even more brilliant. They used the nanobots to molecularly change the smell that traditional explosive materials give off. They would still make the thing go boom, but they wouldn’t smell like anything the dogs have been trained to ferret out. That’s how Padilla got past the dog. That was the test. Get past the dog’s nose with a bomb strapped right on your person. And they did it.”

  “But why would he do it? He’s not Russian. He’s from Mexico.”

  “Mary, where was all the evidence we found pointing to the Russians?”

  “The gun and the funny language being spoken. And—” She stopped. “It was all fabricated. To make it look like the Russians were involved.”


  “But he blew himself up. Why? What reason would he have? You said it yourself. They penetrated the most guarded space on earth, for no reason.”

  “No, they did it for a reason. A very good one. Let’s go.”


  “To see Carmen Escalante. And let’s get there before they kill her too.”


  NO ONE ANSWERED THE KNOCKS at Carmen Escalante’s home. Chapman backed away from the front door and eyed the windows. “Do you think she’s gone for good? Or someone’s taken her?”

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