Hells corner, p.44
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       Hells Corner, p.44
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         Part #5 of Camel Club series by David Baldacci

  “Roger that.”

  Twenty minutes later Finn reported back. “Got two sentries on the first floor, southwest corner. Assuming cocked and locked though no visible weapons. The others must be on the upper floors. That’s the best I can do with the scope.”

  Knox got on the phone. “Hey, Oliver, what would you say if I could get my hands on a TI?”

  “A thermal imager? How?”

  “I know people here. Hell, I should have brought one with me.”

  “How fast can you get it?”

  “One hour.”

  “Do it.”

  Within one hour two things happened. Knox returned with his thermal imager, and Ming and his colleague came back and went inside the building. They were carrying large bags of what looked to be fast food.

  Two minutes later Knox buzzed Stone.

  Knox said, “Okay, I just hit the building as best I could. This device is rated for penetration of most construction materials, so brick, rebar and concrete block are no problem.”

  “How many are you seeing?”

  “I’ve got six images, all with SBAs,” said Knox, referring to soft body armor. “It blocks the thermal signal so it stands out pretty prominently.”

  Stone looked perplexed. “Just six? You’re sure?”

  “Wait a sec. Okay, now I see it, third floor I’ve got a thermal with no SBA.”

  “Gender?”

  “From the silhouette looks to be female.”

  “Friedman.”

  “Probably. But I’ve never met the lady. No way to do a positive ID from the TI anyway.”

  “Thanks, Joe, you and Harry sit tight.” He looked at Chapman.

  She said, “Okay, we have the players lined up, site locked down. Do we go in shooting or do we call in official reinforcements?”

  “Some reason you keep harping on that theme?”

  “I could say I was concerned we’ll all get shot. Well, I am concerned about that. But I’m more worried that some of us will be tempted to do things that we might officially regret later. Well, I’m worried that one of us will be tempted.” She looked at him expectantly.

  “You can leave right now. No one’s stopping you.”

  “It wasn’t an ultimatum on my part, merely a passive comment.”

  “I don’t get you sometimes.”

  “Just sometimes? I’m disappointed.”

  “How many weapons do you have?”

  “My Walther and a Glock. Four extra clips. You?”

  “Enough.”

  “A shotgun, MP-5 or TEC-9 would be nice in close-quarters combat.”

  “Let’s hope the other guys don’t think that way.”

  “You know they’ll be loaded.”

  “Maybe, maybe not. You can’t exactly walk through the city with an arsenal without getting some attention from the NYPD.”

  “Maybe they stashed it there earlier.”

  “Maybe they did.”

  “We can still call in backup.”

  “We don’t even know if Friedman is in there for certain.”

  “But at least six bad guys are. In a building they’re not supposed to be in.”

  “Well, for all we know they leased the space and have every right to be there. And in case you’ve forgotten, we’re not supposed to be here either. Joe and Harry are doing me a favor. And I’m unofficial. You’re the only one with a badge and it has the queen on it. It would take about six months to explain it all to the boys in blue and we’d probably stay in lockup that whole time.”

  “Well, the ‘queen’ has revoked my authority but I see your dilemma. So what do we do now?”

  “I expect they believe a zig is coming.”

  “So we zag?”

  “We zag.”

  Stone picked up his phone. “Get ready,” he told Knox. “We go in one hour.”

  The zag did not exactly go according to plan. In fact it did not come close to going according to plan. The first indication was that neither the front nor rear doors were locked. Finn and Knox collapsed the rear entry and Stone and Chapman the front entrance at two a.m. precisely. The guards stationed there were asleep. Guns pointed at their heads woke them, but they took their time about it. By the time Stone’s team hit the top floors the four other men were up and stretching.

  The second indication of their plan being unsuccessful was that none of the men even had their guns in their hands. The last clue was that the woman on the third floor wasn’t Friedman. She was older by about twenty years and appeared to be drunk. At least they couldn’t wake her. She snored on.

  Thoroughly frustrated, Stone let his anger get the better of him. He grabbed Ming by the neck and slammed him up against the wall. “Care to tell me where Friedman is?”

  Ming’s smile was both deliberate and superior. He replied coolly, “She anticipated your visit.”

  Stone slowly released the man. Ming looked around at the other three, their guns pointed at him and his team. The woman snored loudly in the corner on an old cot.

  “She anticipated me? Me specifically?”

  Ming nodded. “John Carr,” he said. He pointed at Stone. “That is you. She gave us your picture. Even though you are disguised. The eyes give you away.”

  Stone glanced at Finn, then Knox and finally Chapman before bringing his gaze back to Ming.

  “Why all this?” asked Stone.

  “She pays us big to come here, stay in an old building, walk around, be seen. No fighting. Easiest gig I’ve ever been on.”

  Stone swore under his breath. He’d been played again.

  Ming interpreted his look and his smile deepened. “She tells me you are smart. That you will not believe she has gone on the train to Miami.” He paused and added, “A desert island?”

  “Opposite,” said Stone.

  “Right,” replied Ming. “When we go on a job it is usually with more cover. This job, I buy lunch with my own credit card, because she tells me to.”

  Another red flag that I missed because I wanted her so badly. She used every instinct I had against myself.

  “To what purpose?” said Stone.

  “A distraction.”

  Stone thought, Two teams. Asian and Russian. I thought they were for the inner and outer walls. The fallback contingency. But they weren’t. Ming was the distraction. So during the distraction what was the other team doing?

  Stone’s heart began to sink.

  So obvious. Now so obvious.

  He steadied himself and asked, “Where did she take them?”

  Chapman blurted out, “Who?”

  Stone never took his eyes off Ming. “Where did she take my friends?”

  Ming clapped his hands together. “You are good. She said you would probably figure it out.”

  “Where?” Stone edged closer to the man and leveled his pistol against Ming’s forehead. “Tell me. Now.”

  Ming’s smile was still there but behind it was a small trace of concern.

  “Do you have the guts to pull that trigger, in front of all these people?”

  Stone slowly pulled the hammer back on his weapon. “You’ll find out in three seconds.” When two seconds had passed, his finger began to descend to the trigger. “When I touch it, there’s no going back. You’re dead.”

  Ming blurted out, “She says to where it all began for you and the Triple Six. And that is where it will end. That’s all she says. She says you will know what it means.”

  Chapman exclaimed, “Oliver, do you know what he’s talking about?”

  Stone slowly removed the muzzle from Ming’s forehead. “Yes, unfortunately I do.”

  Murder Mountain. To where it all began. For me.

  And now where it will all end.

  CHAPTER 94

  WITH AGENT ASHBURN AT HIS HEEL, Stone strode down the hall at WFO like a plane gathering power to lift off the ground. He didn’t stop to knock on the door. He slammed it open and walked in.

  The FBI director looked up at him, stunned. Across the conference ta
ble from him was seated Riley Weaver.

  The director said, “What the hell is going on?”

  Stone didn’t even look at him. His gaze went immediately to Weaver. “What did you tell her?”

  “What?” snapped Weaver. “We’re in the middle of a meeting, in case you hadn’t noticed, Stone.”

  Stone came around the table with such a threatening look that Weaver half rose out of his seat, his hands curled into fists, his body hunched into a defensive stance in case Stone attacked.

  The director barked, “Ashburn, what is going on? Why did you let him in—”

  Stone shouted, “What did you tell Friedman about me, Weaver?”

  “I haven’t talked to the woman. I warned you before. If you start accusing me of crap—”

  “I mean before I told you she was behind it all,” barked Stone. “You talked to her then, didn’t you?”

  Weaver slowly sat back down in his chair. The FBI director stared over at him. Ashburn gazed at him from the doorway. Weaver looked at each of them before turning back to Stone.

  “She was one of my field agents. I had every right to talk to her.”

  “What did you tell her about me? That I figured it out? That I was the one who warned the Secret Service? That I was the reason the plan didn’t work?”

  “So what if I did?” blustered Weaver. “I didn’t know she was a traitor then. And frankly, I still don’t know that she is. For all I know someone kidnapped her or even killed her.”

  Chapman walked into the room. “They didn’t. And she is a traitor. She set us up. Diverted us while she had two of Stone’s friends kidnapped.”

  “What!” exclaimed the FBI director and Ashburn in unison.

  “How do you know that?” asked Weaver curiously. “We searched the train to Miami, she wasn’t on it. But something tells me you already knew that.” He glanced at the FBI director. “Holding out on us, Stone?”

  “I’m no longer working for the government, in case you didn’t get the memo.”

  “That’s bullshit.”

  “What’s bullshit is you talking to Friedman and not telling any of us. In fact, I bet you kept her in the loop the whole time. I wondered how they always knew what we were going to do before we even did it. Now I know. It was you, wasn’t it?”

  “I don’t owe you or anyone else an explanation for my actions.”

  “I’ll tell that to my friends when I find their bodies,” snapped Stone.

  Ashburn said, “Do you have any idea where she’s holding them?”

  Stone calmed and finally looked away from Weaver. “No,” he lied. “I don’t.”

  “So why’d you come here?” asked Weaver. “You want our help?”

  “No. I just wanted to know who I had to thank for fingering me to Friedman.”

  “Damn it, I didn’t do it intentionally,” roared Weaver.

  But Stone had already left the room. They could hear him marching rapidly down the hall.

  Ashburn looked at Chapman. “What is going on?”

  “He told you. His friends have gone missing and Friedman has them.”

  “You’re sure?” asked the director.

  “Heard it from the horse’s mouth.”

  Ashburn glanced down the hall. “What is he going to do?”

  “What do you think he’s going to do?” replied Chapman.

  “He can’t do this alone.”

  The director added, “We have resources that he doesn’t.”

  “That may be all well and good. But he’s John Carr. And quite frankly he’s got resources you lot don’t have either. And there’s no one on earth who has more motivation to get this woman than he does.”

  “And you’re telling us he doesn’t know where they are being held?” asked Ashburn.

  “If he does he hasn’t bothered to tell me.”

  “Where did you find this information out?”

  “In the South Bronx,” said Chapman.

  “The South Bronx!” yelled Ashburn. “How did you get a line on the South Bronx?”

  “You’ll have to ask Sherlock Holmes that question. I’m just good old Watson.”

  “Agent Chapman,” began the director.

  “Sir,” she said, heading him off. “If I knew something helpful I would tell you.”

  “Why don’t I believe that?” He paused, studying her. “I think I can plainly see where your loyalties lie.”

  “My loyalties, sir, lie about three thousand miles from here, to a dear old lady, an ambitious PM and an old man with dandruff and a brilliant mind.”

  “Are you sure?” asked the director.

  “I’ve always been sure of that,” replied Chapman.

  She turned to leave.

  “Where are you going?” demanded Weaver.

  “Holmes needs his Watson.”

  “Agent Chapman, this is not your fight.” said the director.

  “Perhaps not. But it would be awfully bad form to stop now.”

  “I can have you detained,” said the director.

  “Yes, you can. But I don’t think you will.”

  Chapman turned and hurried after Stone.

  CHAPTER 95

  “SO WHY ANNABELLE AND CALEB?” said Harry Finn as they all drove in Knox’s Range Rover west of Washington, D.C., on Route 29. The night was dark, though dawn was only a couple of hours away. The ambient light was limited and the mood in the vehicle matched the outside: black.

  Stone, who was again riding shotgun, said grimly, “Because they helped me run a scam on her and I guess she didn’t like it.”

  And I let her decoy me with a tactic a rookie should have seen through and I fell for it like the damn fool I am.

  But there was something else nagging at Stone. Mere revenge didn’t seem enough motivation for someone as intelligent and ambitious as Marisa Friedman. There had to be something more. He just didn’t know what that was. And if he was afraid of anything, it was the unknown.

  They’d quickly confirmed that both Annabelle and Caleb were missing and that no one had seen them for at least twenty-four hours. Stone had taken a few minutes to visit Alex Ford in the ICU. His condition hadn’t changed, but it hadn’t gotten worse either, which Stone took as a rare
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