Hells corner, p.42
Part #5 of Camel Club series by David Baldacci
stations. We programmed her features into the loop and got a hit at Union Station.”
“Did you look at the video?” he asked. “To check to make sure it was her?”
“I did. It wasn’t a clear shot and she was obviously in disguise, but the computer can pick up on factors the human eye can’t. And the match came back. We’re going to hold the train at the next stop, go through it passenger by passenger and take her.”
They all hurried out of the room. Weaver was the last to leave.
He turned to Stone. “I guess I owe you an apology.”
“You don’t owe me anything. It’s complicated. I’ve been in the dark almost as long as everyone else.”
“You saved the president’s life.” He added, “Fair winds and following seas I believe are in your future permanently.”
Stone said nothing. He simply watched the man turn and go.
Chapman was eyeing him closely. “What was all that about?”
“You keep saying that.”
“I keep saying it because it’s true.”
“Okay, you’re not buying the train theory, are you?”
Stone recalled the things Marisa Friedman had said to him. They were all lies of course. But that was how spies survived.
“She said she wanted to go to a desert island,” he said quietly.
Chapman perked up. “Really? When did she say that?”
“When I went to her office, to tell her I was sorry for destroying her career,” he added. “She said she wanted me to go with her. That we were so much alike.”
Chapman put a hand on his shoulder. “For what it’s worth, I don’t think you two could be more different. She’s a cold-blooded, ruthless bitch just interested in the money. And you, well, you’re obviously not that.” She looked away, perhaps embarrassed at her words.
“A desert island,” he said.
“Right, where she really wanted to go.”
“She’s a spy. She lies for a living.”
Chapman looked at him with renewed interest. “So not a desert island then?”
“Facial recognition software,” said Stone abruptly.
“I’ve heard the stuff is really very accurate.”
“It’s a machine doing it, so it’s only as good as what’s fed into the machine. Which makes me wonder something.”
“I wonder what database they used to compare the picture to?”
“You mean someone as obviously smart as Friedman would have thought of that? She would have known they’d use that measure against her?”
“And if she got into the right databases and fed slightly different parameters into them, that would register a hit on someone else that she made sure was at the train station on the way to Miami.”
“And the police stop the train and search it but don’t find Friedman, so that person isn’t even questioned. Home free.”
“Home free,” said Stone.
“So where is Friedman?”
“What’s the opposite of a desert island?”
“The opposite?” Chapman thought for a moment. “A place with lots of people. A big city?”
“Yes. And she didn’t go south. She wouldn’t go to Mexico.”
“She failed. Why would she go running to the likes of Carlos Montoya if she didn’t get the job done? He’d just put a bullet in her head.”
Chapman sat back. “That’s right, he would.”
“So her ‘double’ headed south to lead us on a fruitless chase.”
“Opposite of south is north. But why would she go to a big city at all?”
“Best place to hide. Yes, you have lots of cops and cameras, but she’s too smart to get tripped up by that. She’ll lose herself among millions of people. She’ll wait to see how it falls out. Once she gets a read on that her options grow.”
“So how do we catch her? We can’t go running off to every big city that’s north of here to look for the woman. Or maybe she’s already out of the country. Maybe Canada.”
“I don’t think so. She runs too fast, she’ll make a mistake even with a prearranged exit strategy. And remember, her exit plan was predicated on a successful ending to her mission. No, she’ll take her time now.”
“And if she is on the train to Miami and the Feds bust her?”
“Then more power to them. But I really don’t think that’s going to happen.”
“Okay, but where do we start looking?”
“We need information.”
Stone thought about what Friedman had said. About the CIA keeping all the profits from her lucrative lobbying practice. That she could have retired in style if it had truly been her business. “She didn’t do this for free. Which means we have to follow the money.” He added cryptically, “And the muscle.”
“If she has someone like Carlos Montoya after her now, she’ll have a wall of pros around her. For protection. So to get to her we have to go through them.”
Chapman smiled. “Now that’s more my cup of tea.”
ANNABELLE SAT DOWN across from Stone at his cottage.
“They let me see him,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper.
She nodded as she traced her forehead with one of her fingers. “Piece of granite hit him right about here. An inch to the left it would have missed him and he wouldn’t be lying in that hospital bed in a coma.”
“Is his condition the same?”
“A bit worse, actually.” She stifled a sob. “His vitals aren’t as good today.”
Stone reached across his desk and gripped her hand. “All we can do is hope and pray, Annabelle. That’s all.”
“He’s such a good guy, Oliver. Solid as a rock. Always there even when I acted like a bitch to him.”
“We all have regrets, probably me more than anyone, when it comes to Alex.” He took his hand away and sat back in his chair.
“We have to get her, Oliver,” said Annabelle. Her eyes were no longer moist. She was staring earnestly at her friend.
“I know. And we will.”
She pulled some pieces of paper from her bag. “After you called me with your questions about the money trail I spoke with my contact in Bermuda.”
“Was he helpful?”
“You know the amount of illegal monies that are funneled around the Caribbean banks on a daily basis? Literally hundreds of billions.”
“Needle in a haystack, then,” said Stone doubtfully.
“It would have been except for one thing.” She looked at one of the papers. “Five hundred million dollars was wired into an account one month ago at a bank in the Caymans. It just sat there with a hold on it. A little over one week ago it was released. One hour after that another five hundred million was wired to the same account. It sat there for the full week. Then it was released. But it didn’t go forward into another account. It went backwards.”
“Return to sender?”
“Exactly. It was rescinded.”
“What day exactly?”
“The day Alex nearly died.”
“When they knew Friedman had failed?”
“So she got half the money when certain goals were met. Probably the explosion in Lafayette, the death of Tom Gross and cleaning up the loose ends like Sykes, Donohue and the Latinos.”
“What about Turkekul?” asked Annabelle.
“He’s a special case. At first I just thought that she had seized an opportunity that had presented itself, but now I’m not so sure.”
“I’m not getting what you mean.”
“I’m not sure I do either. We’ll just have to see how that plays out. Any way to see where the money went?”
She shook her head. “The cops have put pressure on Swiss banks to open up their records and they’ve complied. That’s pushed
“I think I might have a way to find some,” said Stone.
“But Friedman has half a billion dollars at her disposal. That will fund an excellent escape plan.”
“Yes, it will. But she has some problems.”
“She tries to run now it puts up signals they can intercept. She may think if she bides her time they’ll lose their focus on her and move on to other matters.”
“But she may also be able to finger one or more of the cartels with the assassination attempts,” replied Annabelle. “They aren’t going to let that hang out there. Now she’s become a potential witness against them.”
“She’s a very smart woman and she’s undoubtedly thought the very same thing. All the more reason for her to take it slow. And that’s only one side of the equation.”
“Meaning the cops coming after her on the other end.”
“Yes. I’m sure by now Friedman knows we’re on to her.”
As Annabelle gathered her things in preparation to leave she said, “If Alex doesn’t make it, how are we going to get on without him, Oliver?”
She looked like she was going to start crying again. Stone put his arms around her, held her tightly. He let Annabelle Conroy, possibly the most gifted con artist of her generation, but a woman with a huge heart and a rock-solid understanding of loyalty, sob quietly into his shoulder.
When she was done Stone said, “We can never get on without him, Annabelle. All we can do is just survive each day as it comes. I think you and I have a better understanding of that than most people.”
She nodded dumbly and then left. Stone watched her drive off and then went back inside his cottage.
Stone made a call to someone he’d only recently met, but with whom he’d formed a permanent alliance.
Joe Knox said hello on the other end of the phone.
“Joe, it’s Oliver Stone.”
The man’s response was classic Joe Knox. “I was wondering how long it was going to take before you called me in on this. I’ll be at your place in an hour.”
JOE KNOX WAS A BURLY MAN who at age fifty still had the build of the college linebacker he had once been. He and Stone had spent time in a max security prison together, without having had the benefit of a trial much less a conviction. Knox had been assigned to hunt Stone down by what turned out to be a rogue superior at the CIA. But having survived the prison ordeal largely by trusting each other, Knox and Stone had developed a strong friendship.
“I’ve followed it all,” Knox told Stone as they sat across from each other in Stone’s caretaker’s cottage. “Either in the papers or else scuttlebutt, official or otherwise, at the Agency.” Alex Ford had helped Knox’s daughter find her father when he’d been kidnapped and slapped in that prison, and Knox had never forgotten that. The expression on the man’s face clearly revealed his desire to bring in the people who’d put Alex near death.
“Let’s not waste time then,” replied Stone. “Which Mexican cartel has recently moved large amounts of money in the Caribbean bank chains and then rescinded a half-billon-dollar payment?”
“It’s not good, Oliver.”
Knox nodded. “When the Russians came in they sliced up his mother and his wife and his three kids and left them in a ditch. So no love lost there. He’s based on the outskirts of Mexico City. And even though his business has shrunk by about ninety percent he still has muscle and reach all over the world.”
“That’s actually good for our purposes. Friedman will have to exercise maximum caution. Which will slow her escape down.”
Knox thought about this. “She also has another problem.”
“She needs protection.”
“Obviously, but she won’t get it from the Latinos. None of them will side with her against a man like Montoya. And American muscle will probably stay away from her. They don’t like to get mixed up in presidential assassination attempts. The penalties are too stiff and the Feds coming after you are too many. She could go to the Eastern Europeans—the Russians don’t give a damn who they take on—or else the Far East Asians maybe.”
“Which means we have to find out if, say, a half dozen of them or more have slipped into the country in the last few days. Think you can find that out?”
“Even on a bad day,” said Knox. He paused, studying his hands. “So what’s the prognosis on Alex?”
“Not great,” admitted Stone.
“He’s a first-class agent and man.”
“Yes,” said Stone, “he is.”
“Saved our butts.”
“Which means we have to finish this the right way. For him.”
Knox rose. “I’ll have something for you within six hours.”
After his friend left, Stone walked out of his cottage and strolled along the paths between the graves. He reached a bench under a sprawling oak and sat down. He had already lost one close friend. Any moment now it could become two.
He eyed one of the old tombstones. In a cemetery not too far from here Milton Farb lay under the earth. Soon Alex Ford might be occupying a similar position.
It would either be Friedman or him. Both would not survive this. Not after what the lady had done.
Either he would walk away from this. Or she would.
There was no other way it could be.
THEY HAD SEARCHED THE WOMAN’S OFFICE and found nothing. That wasn’t surprising, since she had officially been fired and had moved out of the space. But when they went through her home in Falls Church, they found nothing there either, and she clearly hadn’t moved out from there. But it was certain she’d left in a hurry, her timetable no doubt disrupted by the fast-acting Secret Service after being tipped off by Stone.
Stone and Chapman looked around one more time through the three-level end-unit town home that had been built in the early 1980s and where Marisa Friedman had lived since the year 2000.
“Ashburn gave me an inventory of what they took from here and it was pretty minimal,” said Stone to Chapman as the latter sat down in a chair and surveyed the room. “But there isn’t one personal photo, no scrapbooks, old yearbooks, nothing to show she had a family. She’s scrubbed herself clean.”
“She’s a spy, it obviously comes with the territory.”
“Even spies have lives,” Stone said firmly. “Much of their history might be invented, but they usually have some personal items around.”
“What do we know about her background?” asked Chapman.
“She was born in San Francisco. Only child. Parents both deceased.”
Hells Corner by David Baldacci / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5 out of 5 / Based on50 votes