Hells corner, p.43
Part #5 of Camel Club series by David Baldacci
“You don’t think?”
“She was only four, so no, I don’t think she killed them. Her parents had been wealthy, but the estate taxes took a real bite out of the money, and apparently the relatives who took her in weren’t that generous. They couldn’t deny she had brains, though. She went to Stanford undergrad. Harvard Law School. Then recruited by the CIA. She’s been one of their top field agents for a long time. The lobbying firm façade was a brilliant one. It let her go to places all over the world collecting intel and no one gave it a second thought.”
“Apparently none of your blokes gave it a second thought that she had been turned either. Weaver looked ready to piss in his pants.”
Stone looked around the modest confines of the town home. “Not exactly a mansion.”
“So this is all about money, isn’t it?” Chapman said derisively. “I knew I hated the witch the minute I first saw her.”
“This is all about a lot of money,” said Stone. “A billion dollars can make just about anyone do just about anything and worry about rationalizing it later.”
“I can’t believe you’re defending her.”
“The only thing I’m wondering is when I find her can I keep myself from killing her?”
“Do you mean that?”
Stone turned away from her. “There’s nothing here that can help us.”
“So where do you really think she is?”
“Every airport surveillance video has been reviewed. Every TSA agent questioned. Every piece of paper one needs to travel by air in this country examined. Which leaves car, bus or train. She doesn’t have a car registered to her. A rental car is too problematic for a number of reasons. Bus the same. Besides I just don’t see a near billionaire traveling by Greyhound.”
“Checked. Nothing. There are holes in that arena certainly, and we can’t be absolutely sure she didn’t take private wings, but that’s the best we can do.”
“So a train somewhere north, to a big city? You really think that’s it? But if you think she sent a lookalike by train to Miami, it seems like she’d want to stay far away from the train station.”
“Friedman thinks eight moves ahead. She would have run through the analysis you just laid out, figured what we might think and done the opposite.”
“Right instead of left,” responded Chapman.
“Which means getting to her will not be easy. And bringing her in will be even harder.”
His phone buzzed. He answered it. Joe Knox was on the other end.
Stone listened for several minutes. “Thanks, Joe, now if you can put markers on credit cards, cell phones, what? Right, I knew you’d already thought of that. And this is all between you and me, okay? Right, thanks.”
He looked at Chapman. “She’s even better than I thought.”
“What do you mean?” Chapman asked nervously.
“I thought she would have hired muscle from either Eastern Europe or Asia.”
“Okay, so what did she do?”
“She hired a team from each one. Six and six.”
“Why would she hire two teams?”
“Two walls between us and her. And if one team for some reason turns on her or gets paid off by Carlos Montoya?”
“She has another team to fall back on.”
“And if I’m reading her right, she’ll keep each team independent and perhaps ignorant of the other.”
“Outer and inner wall. Classic defensive position,” said Chapman.
“We pierce one with casualties, we have another line to get through. Then maybe we don’t get through at all.”
“And where are these guys right now?”
“The big city to the north.”
“Which means that’s where I’m headed.”
“Where we’re headed,” corrected Chapman.
“Right, you don’t have a chance in hell of not taking me with you.”
“This isn’t your fight.”
“Look, that bitch tried to kill me too. So you’re not the only one wondering whether you can keep yourself from pulling the trigger.”
SIX HOURS LATER A FELLOW named Ming, who was part of Friedman’s Asian protection team, came to the surface. He was known as a highly paid mercenary who sidelined as a hired killer. No case could ever be built against him, mainly because witnesses kept disappearing. Probably against orders, Ming had used his credit card to buy some lunch at a deli in the South Bronx.
That was still a big area, but they’d managed to whittle it down some. They could trace no rental cars to anyone on the watch list Friedman might have hired. Cabs in the Bronx were not as plentiful as those in Manhattan and there was no record of Ming being in New York before, which probably stopped him from trying to figure out how to use the subway. So based on all that, Joe Knox assumed he was probably on foot when he went for his meal.
On the phone he told Stone, “Let’s figure in a six-block radius with the deli as the center point. It’s a lot of ground to cover, but not nearly as much as we had to check before.”
“That’s good work, Joe.”
“So who do you have on your hunting team?”
“Harry Finn, Mary Chapman from MI6 and me.”
“No, Joe, not you.”
“Alex Ford saved my life. I owe him this.”
“I thought you were going to retire.”
“I will, right after this. How we getting up there?”
“Private wheels. For all I know Friedman has a way to put markers in the electronic system too, so rentals are out.”
“We can take my Rover. When do you want to leave?”
“You really sure about this?”
“Don’t ask again. But what about the rest of the Camel Club?”
“Reuben is shot up. I don’t want Annabelle going anywhere near this. And Caleb, well.”
They headed out at four in the morning. Knox drove. Stone rode shotgun. Finn and Chapman were in the rear seats. Stone had explained the plan to them the previous night. Except for Knox they were all disguised, just in case Friedman had scouts out doing what they were doing. Friedman might have gotten a look at Finn when he was tailing Turkekul and Stone was not willing to take any chances.
They each had a photo of Ming, and Knox also had one of Friedman, although it was doubtful the woman looked anything remotely like she had before.
“Six-block radius,” Stone repeated to them as they reached the Big Apple, which was fully awake by now as millions set off to work. Knox was going to roam in his wheels after he dropped the other three off in different locations around the South Bronx. The area they were in wasn’t exactly Park Avenue, but they were all armed and well capable of taking care of themselves.
Stone walked his route inward toward the deli. He had no need to look at Ming’s photo again. He’d memorized each of the man’s distinctive features, the most prominent of which was a pair of blank eyes. Stone knew if he weren’t a hired killer Ming would have simply become a sociopath and done the same thing for free. But even sociopaths made mistakes. Ming’s error had been using his credit card for a pastrami sandwich, a can of Sapporo and an order of fries.
While there were many gentrified areas of flourishing neighborhoods and retail strips, the South Bronx also contained over half of the borough’s public housing projects. And despite the presence of the new billion-dollar Yankee Stadium, about fifty percent of the population lived below the poverty line. Crime was a problem and there were parts of the area one should avoid. Stone and company were in precisely one of those areas.
However, Stone was less worried about domestic criminals than about a team of imported killers. His gaze kept moving, but as the sun rose high overhead and sweat began to trickle down his neck, he understood quite clearly that it would take a minor miracle to find them.
He was only hou
Chapman reported the sighting. She gave the address where she was. “He’s headed west, just crossing the street.”
The others moved in while Chapman relayed updates via texts.
She texted one last time and then called Stone. “He just went into what looks like a machine shop on… hang on. Uh, East 149th Street is what the sign says.”
“What’s the cross street?” Stone asked, and Chapman told him.
He said, “Now get some cover. They might be watching the street.”
She crossed over and entered an alley. She looked back at the four-story brick building. “It looks abandoned,” she said into her cell phone.
“Stay put and keep watch,” said Stone. “I’ll be there in ten minutes.”
In nine minutes Stone joined her in the alley. “I’ve got Knox and Finn approaching from the other side,” he told her. He glanced at the building. “Seen anything else?”
“Figure at a window on the third floor. Didn’t look like Ming. But I couldn’t be sure.”
Stone studied the area and wondered why Friedman would have chosen this spot to hide. Certainly parts of the South Bronx offered lots of space that no one else was using. Still, it was an odd choice, thought Stone. But he was coming to realize that Marisa Friedman was far more complex than he had originally believed. And he had thought she was quite talented to begin with.
He gazed southeast toward the East River where more than a few bodies had been dumped over the years. To the west was the Harlem River, beyond that upper Manhattan and beyond that the Hudson River where Interstate 95 connected the city with New Jersey to the south and New England to the north.
“What’s the plan?” asked Chapman.
“We sit on the place and observe.”
“As long as it takes for us to figure out what they’ve got, who’s there and how we get to them at minimal risk to ourselves.”
“How about we call in NYPD and/or the FBI?”
Stone glanced back at her. “When you insisted on coming I took it for granted that you were going to follow my lead.”
“I will, to a limit. We need to do everything possible to ensure that Friedman gets back alive, to stand trial.”
“You said you were going to have a hard time not pulling the trigger.”
“I only said that to make you feel better. I’ll have no problem with it. She’s not worth screwing my life over. But the question is, can you stop yourself from pulling it?”
“If I have to, yes.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means I seriously doubt the woman will walk out with her hands up so she can be tried, convicted and executed for treason. If she tries to harm anyone of my team I’ll do my best to kill her. I’m assuming you feel the same way.”
“How much weapons training does she have?”
“I checked her file. She’s got plenty. And all top of the grade performance-wise. Close-quarters and long-range.”
“And here I was thinking she was just a pretty face.”
Stone snagged her shoulder. “This is serious stuff, Chapman. No time for anything but your best game face. So cut out the wisecracks.”
She pulled herself free from his grip. “I’ll let my performance speak for itself. How about that?”
Stone looked away and took up surveillance on the building again.
A few minutes later he received a call from Finn. “In position. No activity back here. Two entry points. One center and one east of center. Appears to be locked and would assume watched. They might have a portable surveillance system in place too. At least I would if I were them and had picked an area like this to hole up in.”
“I agree with that, Harry,” said Stone. “Is Knox there?”
“Affirmative. What do you want us to do?”
“Let’s sit on the place and see what we can see. When we hit it, I want it to be as clean as possible. Any chance on getting the interior plan for this building?”
“Already downloaded it onto my phone.”
“How so fast?” asked a surprised Stone.
“Got a buddy in the city planning office. We served together in the navy.”
“Give me the layout.”
Finn did so.
“Lot of problem areas,” noted Stone.
“Agreed. Once we gain entry. That’ll be the hard part. Unobserved, I mean.”
“Keep watching. Report back every thirty.”
Stone ended the call and turned his gaze back to the old brick structure.
Chapman stirred behind him. “What if someone notices us in this alley?”
“Then we move.”
“I’ve never been to New York before. It’s not as glamorous as I heard.”
“That’s Manhattan, to the west over there. That’s the land of the rich and famous. The Bronx is a different experience. Some cool places and some not so cool places.”
“So I take it you’ve been here before?”
“Business or pleasure?”
“I’ve never traveled for pleasure.”
“So what’d you do when you were up here last?”
Stone didn’t even attempt to answer her query. And from her look, it was clear Chapman didn’t really expect a response.
Yet in his mind’s eye it was decades ago and Stone pulled the trigger on his custom sniper rifle, ending the life of another enemy of the United States as he walked across the street with his mistress toward the luxury hotel where they were going to have sex. His downfall had been ordering the execution of two CIA personnel in Poland. Stone had put a shot through the right eyeball at the stroke of eleven p.m. from a distance of nine hundred yards on elevated ground with a breeze from the north that had given him a few anxious moments. The mistress hadn’t even known what happened until her dead lover hit the pavement. The NYPD and local FBI, tipped off to what was going down, had never attempted to solve the case. That’s just how it was done back then. Hell, thought Stone, maybe that was how it was still done.
He refocused on the brick building even as his index finger curved around an imaginary trigger.
SIX HOURS LATER STONE AND CHAPMAN had moved to an empty building across the street. Filthy mattresses and dirty syringes signaled this for a “prick palace” for addicts, although it didn’t look like anyone had been there in a while. They’d entered through a rear door and settled themselves in for however long this would take. Stone opened his rucksack and handed Chapman a bottle of water, an apple and a hunk of hard bread.
“You know how to show a girl a good time, I’ll give you that,” was her only comment as she started in on her “meal.”
A bit later Stone’s attention was engaged when the front door of the building opposite them opened and Ming and another man came out, walked down the street and turned left. He immediately relayed this to Finn.
“You want me to follow them?” Finn asked.
“No. At this hour of the night they’re probably going for something to eat. They’ve been in there all day. You think you can get a peek inside one of the windows? If our intel is right, there should be ten others in there plus Friedman. But I’d like to get a more accurate head count.”
“The place is mostly dark, but I’ve got a Gen Four NV scope with me.”
“Be careful, Harry. These guys know what they’re doing.”
Hells Corner by David Baldacci / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5 out of 5 / Based on50 votes