Hells corner, p.41
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       Hells Corner, p.41
 

         Part #5 of Camel Club series by David Baldacci

  the door open and left the waiting room.

  He caught up to Annabelle as she reached a window and looked out at the setting sun.

  “I really can’t believe this, Oliver,” she said in a trembling voice. “Wake me up and tell me this is not real.”

  “But he’s still with us. He’s tough. We just have to keep believing that he will come out of this.”

  She sat down in a chair. Stone stood next to her. When she started to cry, he handed her a wad of tissues he’d grabbed before following her.

  When the sobs subsided, she looked up at him. “The doctors didn’t seem very optimistic.”

  “Doctors never do. Their job is to dampen hopes, not heighten expectations. Then if the patient comes out of it, they look more competent than they actually are. But they don’t know Alex like we do.”

  “He’s a hero. As brave as anyone I’ve ever met.”

  “Yes,” agreed Stone.

  “So you emailed him? Told him about the bomb?”

  Stone nodded and with each motion of his head his guilt deepened. I emailed him. I made him confront the problem. I’m the reason he’s lying in that coma.

  He sat down next to her. “I… I wasn’t very forthcoming with Alex during this whole thing.” He thought back to when he and Chapman were leaving Friedman’s office that night. Alex had approached, obviously wanted to talk.

  And I basically blew him off. And now he’s lying in a coma.

  While putting on a brave front to Annabelle, Stone had had a private chat with the doctors. They were not hopeful of recovery.

  “Is there brain damage?” Stone had asked.

  “Too early to tell,” replied one of them. “We’re just trying to keep him alive.”

  “Oliver?”

  He turned to see Annabelle staring at him. “What were you thinking just now?”

  “That I failed my friend. That he deserved better than me.”

  “If you hadn’t gotten that message to him, the bomb would have gone off in the crowd. So many people would have died.”

  “The logical part of me realizes that.” He touched his chest. “But not this part.” He paused. “Milton. And now Alex. It has to stop, Annabelle. It has to.”

  “We all knew what we were getting into.”

  “No, I don’t think anyone really knew. But it doesn’t matter.”

  “I want to find who did this, Oliver. I want them to pay for what they did.”

  “They will, Annabelle. That I swear to you.”

  She glanced sharply at him. “You’re going after them?”

  “It’ll either be me or them who walks away. I owe Alex that. I at least owe him that.”

  Stone looked off down the hallway. He seemed to sense it before it even happened.

  Annabelle noted this. “What is it?”

  “They’re coming.”

  “Who’s coming?”

  He helped her to her feet and hugged her. “I promise you that I will find who did this. I promise you.”

  “You can’t do it alone, Oliver.”

  “This time I have to.”

  When he stepped back from her there were tears in his eyes. They slid down his narrow cheeks. Annabelle looked stunned by this. She had never seen Oliver Stone cry before.

  “Oliver?”

  He kissed her on the forehead, turned and walked away just as the men in suits rounded the corner and headed toward him.

  CHAPTER 87

  TWO MINUTES LATER STONE AND CHAPMAN were in a government sedan heading downtown. From the car they were escorted to a small conference room at the FBI’s WFO. Stone was not surprised to see the FBI director there or Agent Ashburn. Or even Agent Garchik and the director of ATF. But he was surprised to see Riley Weaver walk in and sit down next to the FBI chief.

  “I’ve already given my report to Agent Ashburn,” Stone said.

  “I’m aware that you and Agent Ford are friends,” began the director, who had clearly picked up on Stone’s uncooperative tone.

  “One of my best friends, actually,” replied Stone.

  Ashburn interjected, “We just need to understand this better, Agent Stone.”

  “I’m no longer an agent.” He glanced at Riley Weaver. “My commission was taken away.”

  The FBI director cleared his throat. “Yes, well, that can be addressed later. Right now we need to focus on where we stand.”

  Stone made no move to speak. He simply stared at Weaver until the man looked so uncomfortable that he eyed the door as though he wanted to flee.

  Finally Chapman said, “I’ll give it a go. If I miss something I’m sure Agent Stone will fill it in.”

  Over the next twenty minutes she told them everything that had happened, from Stone’s realization of the source of the bomb to their visit to Escalante’s home to Stone’s frantic messages to Alex Ford.

  “Nifty piece of investigation and deduction, Stone,” said the FBI director as Ashburn nodded in agreement. The director added, “If you hadn’t acted as you did, the nation would be mourning its president. You saved his life.”

  “You have Alex Ford to thank for that, not me.”

  “We all realize that,” said Weaver curtly.

  Stone eyed him. “Good. I’m glad we’re all on the same page there.”

  When the explanation turned to the nanobots being used to change the molecular makeup of the bomb’s trace signature, both the ATF director and Agent Garchik looked like they might be sick. “If that’s true it changes everything,” Garchik said. “Everything.” He looked at his director, who was glumly nodding in agreement.

  Weaver looked at the FBI director. “And we’re sure this is the case?”

  “Carmen Escalante passed by two bomb detection canines and a bomb scanner at the ceremony today,” said Ashburn. “Neither animal nor machine reacted.”

  “And we checked the video feed on Padilla entering the park. Same thing. Walked within a foot of the dog and nothing,” added the ATF director. “Whatever they did with this nano stuff, it worked. Altered the scent and chem footprint.”

  The FBI director cleared his throat again. “That will have to be dealt with, certainly. But right now we need to find out who is behind this.”

  Chapman said, “You’ve interviewed Carmen Escalante?”

  “Interrogated her, more like it,” replied Ashburn. “Unless she’s a great actress she was a total dupe. She knew nothing of the bomb in her braces.”

  “Perfect place for it, actually,” said the director. “Going through the magnetometer they of course caused it to go off, but they’re metal. And we didn’t have her put them through the X-ray because, well, it would have looked pretty callous.”

  “But Padilla was part of the bombing,” said Chapman. “Even if Escalante is innocent. I can’t believe the guy would show up at the park wearing a bomb, pass by the canine to see if it detected said bomb and then jump in the hole when the guns started going off. He had to know he was going to die.”

  “We’ve done a lot more digging on him,” said Ashburn. “The accident on the bus that led to the deaths of Carmen’s parents and her leg injuries? The bus was actually sabotaged. Now we suspect that Carmen’s father used to work for one of the Mexican drug cartels. He might’ve wanted out. They didn’t like that. So they messed with the brakes on a bus. Willing to kill a hundred people to get one.”

  “That explains the Latinos in Pennsylvania,” said the FBI director. “This wasn’t the Russians, which we were led to believe it was. It was probably the Mexican drug cartels. Or more likely Carlos Montoya wanting to get back on top.”

  Ashburn said, “So Montoya gets the U.S. and Mexican presidents in one shot.” She looked at the director. “And you too, sir.”

  The director nodded. “Makes sense. We thought Montoya was out of business or even dead. But maybe he fooled us all and was looking to make a move to get back his empire and have us blame the Russians. In the power vacuum that would inevitably come, the Mexican cartels would be ba
ck on top. And if Montoya is indeed behind this, that would mean he would be back on top too.”

  “So the whole piece with Fuat Turkekul was a sham?” asked Ashburn. “He wasn’t a traitor?”

  Chapman answered. “Probably not. It’s likely he was sacrificed.”

  “And the tree farm, John Kravitz and George Sykes?” said the FBI director.

  “All innocent and all sacrificed too,” said Chapman. “To reinforce the Russian angle. But Judy Donohue was in on it. Paid off and then killed.”

  Garchik said, “But this technology? With the nanobots. Are you saying drug cartels have the wherewithal to do this?”

  Ashburn said, “I talked to my counterpart at DEA. He gave me a down-and-dirty lesson on the current state of the drug business. Even though the Mexicans have been muscled out by the Russians, they still have billions of dollars in cash flow. And some of the best scientists in the business to do their drug lab work. And the experts they didn’t have they could easily have hired or forced them to work on this. This is not just about bombs. Like my friend at the DEA said, if they can change the scent of bombs, they can change the scent of drugs. They can walk shit right through all our defenses. It’s a whole other paradigm at that point. A game-changer. The Border Patrol, DEA and the rest of us will be defenseless.”

  “And why didn’t we know this before?” asked Riley Weaver, speaking for the first time. “I mean about Escalante’s father being in the cartel?”

  Ashburn said, “Padilla wasn’t a person of interest—well, at least not for very long. We all figured him for the victim not the perp, so we had no reason to dig deeper. And even this latest report coming out of Mexico is speculative. No hard proof. We can’t legally demonstrate Montoya is behind this. At least not yet.”

  Chapman said, “So they killed Carmen’s parents. Where does Padilla come in? Did he work for the cartel too?”

  Ashburn responded, “Doubtful, at least from the little we know. That was another reason we didn’t dig deep on Padilla. Our preliminary inquiries turned up nothing.”

  The director said, “He might have fled here to get Carmen away from them. The cartel might have discovered them here, though.”

  Ashburn added, “And maybe blackmailed Padilla to work with them. Threatened to kill Carmen if he didn’t. He might not have even known he was carrying a bomb that night. Maybe he was just told when the guns started up to run and jump in the hole. The cleverest part for me is they used the deaths of Padilla and Tom Gross to their own ends, knowing that there would be a memorial service for the victims.”

  “Right,” said Chapman. “They created the event they wanted to attack.” She glanced at Stone. “He already figured that one out too.”

  Riley Weaver slapped his hand on the table. “Okay, that’s very interesting. But we still don’t know how the bomb was detonated. Or who their source was in this country. Okay, so maybe it wasn’t the Russians. Maybe it is Montoya and the Mexicans. But they had to have a link here. There is no way they got all this done without a traitor in the ranks. If it wasn’t Turkekul, who was it?”

  Finally, Stone stirred. He looked at Weaver. “The traitor is pretty obvious at this point, don’t you think, Director?”

  He stared so hard at Weaver that the man finally turned red. “You better not be accusing me of—”

  Stone broke in. “I take the simple answer when it presents itself.”

  “Meaning what?” asked the FBI director quietly.

  “Meaning it’s the only person left standing.”

  The others in the room looked at him curiously.

  Chapman spoke up. “Okay, you lot, the man means Marisa Friedman.”

  The room became silent as each person stared first at Chapman and then at Stone. The FBI director and Ashburn looked to be in shock.

  Riley Weaver appeared markedly pale. When Stone glanced at him, he turned sharply away. “That is preposterous,” he sputtered.

  Chapman said, “Remember the government building used for the sniper’s nest? When Stone and I discovered that, we were very nearly killed. There were a number of red herrings they wanted us to find out, to point the finger at the Russians. But the connection to the government building was not one of them. That was the one thing they didn’t want us to connect to all this. Why? Because it had to be someone who knew about that building. It had to be someone who could gain access to that building. It had to be someone on the inside.”

  Stone pointed at Weaver. “On your side. Someone like Friedman.”

  Weaver started to say something but then just sat there glaring at Stone.

  “And Friedman was at the park that night. She could have detonated the bomb using her cell phone after she left. She was on the east side of the park away from the shooters. And she could have been the one to phone Turkekul and lure him out to be shot along the GW Parkway, while she was pretending to work with us to nail him and whoever he was working with. If you recall, it was Friedman who made the initial discoveries about Turkekul, which led to all of you suspecting him of being a mole and a traitor in the first place.”

  “And,” said Stone, looking at Weaver again, “she was dismissed by the intelligence service because of her complicity in Turkekul’s death. Which gave her the perfect opportunity to retire from the field with no questions asked. She played all of us perfectly.”

  “You have no proof of that,” growled Weaver.

  Ashburn spoke up. “Director Weaver, have you tried to get in touch with Marisa Friedman lately?”

  All gazes swiveled to the NIC chief.

  He said defensively, “I had no reason to try and reach her.”

  “I would suggest that you now do have a reason,” said the FBI director firmly.

  Weaver slowly pulled out his phone and drilled in a number with his thick index finger. Five, ten, twenty seconds went by. He left a message for her to call him.

  He put away his phone. “Okay, she didn’t answer her phone. That proves nothing.”

  “But if I’m right,” said Stone, “what do you think she’s doing right now?”

  “Running like hell,” said Chapman.

  “If you’re right. And it’s a big if,” replied Weaver.

  The FBI director said to Ashburn, “We need to find Friedman. Right now.”

  “Yes sir.” Ashburn picked up her phone and left the room.

  Weaver shook his head and looked at the FBI director. “We cannot simply accept this man’s word for it. Friedman was one of the best field agents I’ve ever worked with.”

  “I think she’s actually the best,” said Stone. “The only problem is she’s not working for us anymore.”

  “Well, if you are right then she’s probably long gone,” said Weaver. “She would have her exit strategy down to the last detail.”

  Stone turned to him. “She would, except for one little thing.”

  The man looked contemptuously at him. “Really? And what’s that?”

  “The presidents are still alive. Which means she failed. I doubt her employer is too happy about that. But it also gives us a shot at getting to her.”

  CHAPTER 88

  SEVERAL HOURS LATER they had a lead on Friedman. They were all still at the WFO when Ashburn came back into the conference room waving a piece of paper.

  “Visual ID on Friedman getting on a train bound for Miami from Union Station in Washington. We checked the passenger manifest. She’s traveling under an alias, obviously. No Friedman on the list. Guess that confirms her complicity.”

  They all looked at Weaver, who sat sullen-faced in a corner of the room.

  Ashburn said, “I take it she never called you back, sir?”

  Weaver didn’t even bother to answer.

  Ashburn said, “Miami makes sense. She’s presumably working for a Mexican cartel. She gets to Miami and hops on a private plane headed west to Mexico. And her taking the train was a smart move. She probably thought we’d expect her to use wings to get away fast.”

  Stone looked a
t Ashburn. “Visual ID? Did someone actually see her?”

  “We have surveillance cameras set up at all the airports and train
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