Hells corner, p.4
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       Hells Corner, p.4
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         Part #5 of Camel Club series by David Baldacci

  “Keep going,” encouraged Weaver.

  “The suit was checking out a statue and took a long time to do it. Then he made his move toward Decatur House at the same time as the woman was leaving the park. When the shooting started they were both out of my line of sight. After that I picked up on the jogger, who was running toward the Jackson statue. He seemed to simply vanish, but now I know he actually jumped in the hole to avoid the bullets.”

  Weaver said, “And got blown up for his troubles.”

  “That doesn’t mean that one or more of the other people in the park last night were also not involved.”

  Weaver shook his head. “I believe that’s a stretch. You got raking automatic fire in the park and then a bomb that had already been planted there and gets triggered probably accidentally by the poor sucker trying to duck the bullets. I think the guy did us a favor. Ferreted out a bomb before it could have done real damage. Now we have to figure out who, how and why on the gunfire and the bomb.” Weaver studied him. “You have anything you’d care to add to the mix? Because quite frankly, I’m disappointed in the little you’ve had to tell me. I thought you were hot stuff and you’ve really given me not much I hadn’t figured out on my own.”

  “I didn’t think it was my job to do your job. But here’s another observation for free.” Stone added, “The ganger was really a cop, right?”

  On that, the screen went immediately to black.

  CHAPTER 8

  WITHOUT ANY INSTRUCTIONS FROM HIM the car dropped Stone off at Mt. Zion Cemetery. This was intentional, Stone knew. It was as if to say, “We know exactly where you live. We can come for you anytime we want.”

  Stone walked past the wrought-iron gates that enclosed the cemetery and into the small caretaker’s cottage that was his home. The furnishings were spartan and secondhand and fit Stone’s personality and limited resources perfectly. There was one large room divided between a small kitchen and a sitting area. Against one wall was a large shelf of books on esoteric subjects in multiple languages that he’d collected over decades. In front of that was Stone’s scarred wooden desk that had come with the cottage. A few threadbare chairs sat in front of a blackened brick fireplace. In an alcove behind a tattered curtain was the army cot he slept on. That and a tiny bathroom formed the extent of the premises.

  Stone took three Advil, washed them down with a glass of water and sat down in the chair behind his desk while he rubbed his head. Whether he was still leaving for Mexico or not he didn’t know. But for now at least he would proceed on the assumption that he was staying until the men came for him.

  He held up four fingers on his right hand and stared at them.

  “Four people,” he said to himself. Although perhaps now only three since the video had made clear the jogger was no longer among the living. Yet they still didn’t know who he was or why he was there. So Stone kept the fourth finger up.

  “So was the jogger in the classic wrong place, wrong time or was he involved?” he asked himself. “And where are the suit and the woman? And are they connected?”

  And there was the ganger who was probably a cop. Stone had realized that was the only reason the man would have come to Lafayette with a gun. He had a badge and authorization to be there armed. The screen going black on him back at NIC was all the affirmation Stone needed. Riley Weaver didn’t play any nicer with people than Carter Gray had.

  What was bothering Stone was that both the suit and the woman had left just before the gunfire began. Coincidence? Both just as lucky as the jogger was unlucky?

  He closed his eyes and pushed his mind to reach back to the night before. His temples were still throbbing and his scalp still burned from having a pointy tooth rammed into it, but slowly the pictures and sounds returned.

  “MP-5s or possibly TEC-9s,” he said out loud. In reality there could be lots of possibilities for the hardware. “Set on full auto. Probably thirty-round magazines that could be configured for fifty or more. So how many shots had been fired? He had not been able to count every round, of course, but he could make an estimate from the time expired. Full auto, assume thirty-round mags, two to three seconds to empty the ammo box. Firing lasted about three to four times that, or twelve to fifteen seconds. Hundred rounds or so. But only if there was only one weapon being fired. If more than one, they were talking hundreds of rounds. A lot of firepower. Since most of the slugs had apparently ended up in the dirt, the FBI would be able to get a fairly precise number. But that didn’t answer the far more important question. How exactly had anyone gotten that close to deliver that level of attack?

  Stone rose and looked out the window and assembled in his mind the topography of the area around the park. To the north and west along H Street were the United States Chamber of Commerce building and the venerable Hay-Adams Hotel. To the northeast was St. John’s Church. Behind all these locations were federal government and office buildings. He recalled that the Hay-Adams had a rooftop garden area. And it was a taller building than the church. And height was important here to explain the trajectory of the bullets.

  He moved on to the next question. Why did they take me to NIC? Just for my observations? There were other people there who could have told them the same things I did. There had to be another reason. Fair winds and following seas?

  Stone looked out the window and saw the black Town Car pull up to the gates. As the occupants climbed out Stone eyed the men. FBI, he thought. Bureau agents tended to spend a little more on their clothes. Stone doubted that they were here to escort him to a plane destined for Mexico. The president would not have involved the FBI in something like that. Too many legal roadblocks. The Bureau tended to follow the letter of the law. And the FBI director had the clout to tell the president no. So perhaps the equation had changed once more.

  And maybe this time in my favor.

  As the four people drew closer, Stone could see that his initial observation was correct. He had just spied an FBI Academy ring on one of the men’s fingers. There was also a woman with them, and Stone didn’t think she was FBI. Assessing every feature from her teeth to her facial structure to her walk, she was a Brit, he concluded. MI6 most likely. Tasked for external intelligence, security and investigations.

  This certainly made sense if the British PM was the target. She was either in country traveling with him, stationed here, or she had taken a day flight over, leaving at around two and getting in at about the same time. By the looks of it Stone opted for the latter.

  And it was very clear why they were here. The bullets were one thing, but that bomb had been meant to blow somebody up and Stone didn’t think it was an overweight jogger. And they thought Stone could somehow help them find the truth.

  Ironic, he thought. The truth.

  He kept watching them as they approached his cottage.

  CHAPTER 9

  THE WOMAN WAS INDEED WITH MI6. Her name was Mary Chapman. Up close she turned out to be in her mid-thirties, about five-eight, with shoulder-length dirty blonde hair held back with a clasp. Her eyes were intense and shining. She had a compact jaw, thin lips and a slender, wiry build, though her bare calves were muscled. Her fingers were long and her grip was a vise. In Stone’s opinion the Brit’s features were classically attractive without being overwhelming. Chapman’s eyes were deeply green and active. She would never be described as “cute,” thought Stone. Confident, intimidating even, but never cute.

  “How was the flight across the pond? Little jet-lagged?” Stone said after everyone had been introduced and they’d taken up seats in front of the empty fireplace.

  Chapman gazed at Stone and then made a show of smoothing out a wrinkle on her suit jacket. “No bloody beds in coach, even on dear old British Air.” Within her accent and words Stone detected a sense of humility along with a potential for broad humor.

  “You must be highly thought of for them to fly you nearly three thousand miles here. MI6 has a permanent footprint in D.C., doesn’t it?”

  Chapman eyed the shabby inter
ior of the cottage before settling her eyes back on Stone’s threadbare clothes. “And I thought the Yanks paid their people better.”

  One of the FBI agents cleared his throat. “Agent Chapman is here to assist the Bureau with its investigation.”

  Stone turned his attention to the man. He was beefy though strongly built. A desk jockey, Stone assumed, by the size of his waist and perspiring forehead. He was clearly only the messenger and note taker. He wouldn’t be doing any of the heavy lifting on this.

  “I’ve already been to NIC. They beat you to it. They came to the hospital. You were slower, if classier.”

  Beefy looked chagrined by this but plunged on. “And was the meeting helpful?”

  “I thought you were into cooperation and sharing these days.”

  Beefy gazed stonily back at him.

  Stone said, “They weren’t particularly forthcoming. I’m hoping you can do better.”

  Chapman crossed her legs and said, “Sorry if I seem a bit nitpicky, but I didn’t see your credentials.”

  Stone replied in a pleasant tone, “I don’t have any to show you.”

  She looked at Beefy quizzically.

  He said stiffly, “A formality that needn’t interrupt the progress of the investigation.”

  Chapman hiked her eyebrows at this but remained silent.

  “Good,” said Stone. He sat back in his desk chair and his features grew serious. “The park.” He gave them a minute-by-minute account of what had happened. When he was finished he added, “There are three people out there unaccounted for.” He gazed at Beefy. “And do we know the name of the unfortunate jogger?”

  “There were human remains found. Everywhere,” Beefy added, his mouth curled up with distaste.

  “Identifiable?”

  “It won’t be an easy one, but it’s also not insurmountable. Clearly DNA at this point. If he’s on a database somewhere we’ll get a hit. We’ve posted his picture from the video feed on our Web sites and given it to the media to splash around. Someone will hopefully come forward or at the very least report him missing.”

  “The other three?”

  “With the man in the suit and the woman we’re running the video feed taken at the park through facial recognition databases, although the man never looked in the direction of the surveillance cameras. No hits as of four minutes ago. We’ve also placed the images with the media, asking for the public’s help.”

  “Do you see them as perhaps connected to this?” asked Stone.

  “Too early to tell. Maybe they were just lucky they left the park when they did.”

  “And the ganger? Was he a cop?”

  “Did NIC tell you he was?”

  “Not in so many words. But they didn’t deny it either.”

  “I won’t deny it either, then.”

  Stone said, “His tooth was sticking in my head until the doctors removed it. You can get a dental match on that, and possibly a DNA hit.” He held up his sleeve. “And this is his blood. Do you have a kit in the trunk of the Bucar? You can swab for it right now.”

  “That won’t be necessary,” said Chapman.

  Stone turned to her. “And why is that?”

  “Because the tooth belongs to one of our security people who was patrolling the park. The doctors didn’t return it to you, did they? See, my man would actually like it back.”

  “And why was your man in the park last night?”

  “Because before he turned his ankle after tripping on some steps at the White House, my prime minister was scheduled to walk across Lafayette Park on his way back to Blair House, at precisely two minutes past eleven. Lucky for him he didn’t, since he would have had his damn head blown off.”

  CHAPTER 10

  AFTER THE FBI AGENTS and MI6 Chapman left, Stone puttered in the cemetery for a half hour, righting tombstones toppled by a recent heavy rain and cleaning debris caused by the same storm. This manual labor allowed him to think clearly. And he had a lot that was puzzling him and no answers. As he was bagging some sticks and small branches, he stiffened and slowly turned around.

  “I’m impressed.”

  He turned to see Mary Chapman come out from behind a bush. “I never moved. What, you have eyes in the back of your head?”

  “Sometimes.” Stone tied up the bag and deposited it next to a wooden storage shed. “When I need to.”

  Chapman walked over to him. “This is amazing cover for an agent. A cemetery worker.”

  “Caretaker, actually. This cemetery isn’t used any longer. It’s a historical site.”

  She stopped, lifted one leg and rubbed some dirt off her plain black low-heeled pump. “I see. And do you enjoy taking care of the dead?”

  “I do.”

  “Why?”

  “They never argue with me.” He headed back to the cottage. She followed. They sat on the front porch. A minute of silence passed as they listened to the chirps of birds mingled with the sounds of passing cars. Stone stared straight ahead. Chapman’s gaze continued to flick at him like an erratic beam of light.

  “So Oliver Stone?” she said at last, with mirth in her eyes. “I’ve enjoyed several of your movies. Are you here scouting another film?”

  “Why did you come back?” he asked, finally turning to her.

  She rose and surprised him by saying, “Got time for a spot of coffee? I’ll buy.”

  She had a car, so they drove to lower Georgetown and found a parking spot on the street, an almost unheard-of event in the congested area.

  Stone told her so.

  “Right,” she said, clearly unimpressed by this. “Try parking in London.”

  They carried their coffees and sat outside at a small table. Chapman took off her pumps, hiked her skirt to mid-thigh, put her feet up on an empty chair, leaned back, closed her eyes and let the sun fall fully on her pale face and bare legs. “England rarely has sun this strong,” she explained. “And when it does it’s usually immediately interrupted by clouds and then rain. Makes a lot of us seriously suicidal. Particularly if it rains in bloody August and you have no holiday abroad planned.”

  “I know.”

  She opened her eyes. “Do you now?”

  “I lived in London for two years. It was a long time ago,” he added.

  “Business?”

  “You could say that, yes.”

  “John Carr?”

  Stone drank his coffee, said nothing.

  She sipped her coffee and let the silence linger.

  “John Carr?” she said again.

  “I heard you the first time,” he said politely, glancing sideways at her.

  She smiled. “Would you like to know where I heard that name for the first time?”

  Stone didn’t answer, but his silence apparently constituted enough of an assent for her to continue.

  “James McElroy. He’s a good bit older than you are.” She ran her eye over his tall, spare frame. “And not in nearly as good shape.”

  Stone again said nothing.

  “He’s a legend in British intelligence circles. Ran MI6 for decades. But I believe you know all that. Now he has some special title, I’m not really sure what it is. But he does what he wants. And bloody good for the country too, I can tell you that.”

  “Is he well?”

  “Yes. Apparently somewhat due to you. Iran, 1977? Six fanatics sent to place his head on the sharp end of a spear? Six dead men after you finished with them. He said he didn’t even have time to pull his weapon to help you. Then you were gone, just like that. Never had a chance to properly thank you.”

  “I didn’t require any thanks. He was our ally. It was my job.”

  “Well, irrespective, he said that for decades he wanted to buy you a pint for saving his arse, but you never turned up again. He still wants to, as a matter of fact.”

  “Again, not necessary.”

  Chapman stretched, put her feet back on the pavement, edged her skirt down and slipped her pumps back on. “By sheer coincidence he’s here in
town.”

  “Is that why you came back?”

  “Yes and no.”

  He stared at her expectantly.

  “Yes, in that I knew he would want to see you. No in that I had my own reasons.”

  “Which are?”

 
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