Hells corner, p.46
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       Hells Corner, p.46
 

         Part #5 of Camel Club series by David Baldacci

  Of course she has. She’s enjoying this. I ruined her plans. She has a half billion dollars she can’t spend. She’s going to take it all out on me. At least she’s going to try to.

  But again something tugged at the back of Stone’s mind, telling him there had to be more to it than that. He listened as the flap of wings evidenced that birds had gotten into Murder Mountain. That had happened when the place was operational. Stone had even made a pet of one bird that had built a nest near where he slept. It was the only tie to the outside world he’d had.

  The place had been built in the 1960s, and the design reflected the era. There were even ashtrays built into metal consoles. Everywhere he looked he saw something hopelessly out of date. But when it was new, Murder Mountain was a state-of-the-art facility. The government funds to build it, Stone had been told once, had been buried in a huge spending bill that included subsidies for hog farmers and the textile industries.

  What was a little governmental assassination with your ham and polyester?

  He cautiously entered the firing range. It was here that he had killed the first man he’d shot in thirty years. He had done it to save himself and Reuben Rhodes. His gaze traveled to the very spot where the man had fallen and died. The fluorescent overhead lights were too weak to allow Stone to see if the man’s blood was still there. At least his body wasn’t. The place had been cleaned up after his last visit here. He wondered why they hadn’t just imploded Murder Mountain, burying it under tons of steel and rock. Maybe they were holding on to it, in case they needed to use it again. That was a chilling thought.

  The lights were on, though, however feebly. Which meant Friedman had figured out how to use the old generator system to create a bit of power. He crept forward, past the tattered targets, ducking under the sagging wires on pulleys that allowed the paper targets to be moved back and forth. He stopped thinking about anything other than what would be waiting for him.

  The bare scrape of a shoe on the dusty floor caused him to drop low behind a wooden counter where he had once stood daily to fire his allotted rounds. The sound had come from his left, ten yards at most. He wondered if they were all using darts until the moment of truth came. It didn’t really matter. If he allowed himself to be knocked unconscious by a tranquilizer round he was as good as dead anyway.

  Crouching down, he circled backward, his gun covering both front and rear flanks in alternating swivels. This tactic must’ve confused his opponent, who probably thought Stone was moving forward and not backward with every creak of boards. When the man emerged from his hiding place to fire at a target that wasn’t where it was supposed to be, Stone placed one round in the man’s arm, disabling him. As he clutched for his wounded limb, Stone fired the kill shot into his neck, neatly bypassing his body armor. The man dropped on the spot, his carotid severed.

  Stone studied the door, did the math in his head. It was probable that the man he’d just killed was a ruse to flush him. Sacrifice one to accomplish the mission. The landing at Normandy in 1944 had followed this same strategy, only the number of lives sacrificed had been in the thousands. On the other side of that door were probably at least two shooters waiting to take him.

  So he waited. He counted off the seconds in his head. Patience. He had spent years learning that trait. There were few men who could outwait him. Ten minutes passed and the only part of Stone that moved was his chest, with each shallow breath.

  The only problem was that Friedman, and thus her men, knew that one could not go back in these sections. One had to go forward. How long were they willing to wait? How long was Stone willing to wait?

  We’re all going to find out.

  CHAPTER 98

  “WAIT A MINUTE, HOW’D YOU KNOW to bring that laser thing?” Knox asked Chapman as they crouched in the darkness.

  “Like your Boy Scouts, it’s the mission of MI6 to always be prepared.”

  “Meaning you didn’t believe Stone?”

  “The key?” Chapman scoffed. “Of course I didn’t believe him. Reading his psychological profile was fairly easy. He wasn’t going to endanger us too.”

  “He let us go to New York with him,” Finn pointed out.

  “I guess he believed the South Bronx was safer than this place,” pointed out Knox.

  “Murder Mountain,” said Chapman. “Made for interesting reading.”

  Both men looked at her.

  “I researched it, of course,” she said. “Didn’t you?”

  Knox cleared his throat. “How did you know what to research? Stone didn’t mention the place until we were on the way here.”

  “The place where it all began? Remember, that’s what Ming said back in New York. So I did some digging, got my folks back in the UK doing the same. I knew that Stone started out his career in Triple Six. What I didn’t know was that it began with a year’s worth of training right here. Got a file emailed to me two hours before we left. Like I said, interesting reading.”

  Finn looked down at the laminated plan of the place Stone had given him. “Looks like multiple spots to be ambushed.”

  “That cuts both ways,” said Knox, and Chapman nodded in agreement.

  She pointed at the plan and said, “We have two choices. Go through each side together or split up.”

  Finn said, “I vote for getting out of the open. If we need to go through these section things, let’s split up. I’ll go to the left and you two to the right.”

  Chapman shook her head. “No, you two go right, I’ll go left.”

  The men looked at her again. “What?” she said. “A woman can’t go it alone? She needs a precious man to hold her poor, fragile hand?”

  “It’s not that,” said Knox uncomfortably.

  “Good to hear it,” she said. “I’ll take the one on the left. Now here’s some little tidbits you need to know about the section on the right to traverse it safely.” She filled them in on particulars she’d gained from her research.

  “Got it?” she said, looking at them.

  “You’ve given this a lot of thought,” said Knox.

  “Why wouldn’t I?” shot back Chapman. “It’s my job.”

  “Good luck,” said Finn.

  “Cheers.”

  She left the two men standing there staring after her until she disappeared into the darkness.

  Stone was still waiting in the firing range room. He considered his options. It didn’t take long since there weren’t many. He could stay here until he starved to death. Or he could go through the door.

  Or…

  He got up, grabbed the wire that the targets rode on and pulled it free. He wound one end of it around the door handle and over the existing pulleys. Then he crouched down behind the counter and wound the remainder of the wire around his hand. He counted to five and aimed his pistol at the door opening. He slowly pulled on the wire. The door handle lifted. He tugged harder. The door started to open. As soon as it was open halfway, a barrage of bullets poured through, clanging off metal surfaces in the firing range room.

  Okay, probably against orders, the Russians are done playing around with stun darts.

  He tugged on the door some more until it opened all the way, then tied off the wire onto a hook to keep the door open. He sidled along the counter and slid down the pair of NVGs he had brought. They were older and had a major drawback if the other side had night-vision equipment too.

  He edged closer to the opening, but keeping something solid between him and the doorway at the same time. Then he did something unusual, at least to the untrained eye. He took off his goggles, but still kept them powered. He placed them on top of the counter, facing the doorway. Then he scuttled away, aimed his gun and waited for what he was pretty certain was coming.

  The shots came. He counted four of them. Stone couldn’t see the rounds, but he was sure they had passed an inch above the red dot revealed by his goggles to someone looking at them with NV eyewear too. That was the drawback to the old-generation goggles. While on infrared power they pain
ted a red dot basically on your forehead, allowing a sniper to draw a fatal bead.

  But by firing the Russians had revealed their position to Stone by their muzzle flashes through the open doorway. He fired rapidly, once, twice and then a third and fourth time, aiming at spots two inches above the twin flashes. Stone could tell by the weapons’ discharge that they were pistols. If they were firing from classic shooting positions, Stone’s target selection would coincide with their heads, bypassing their body armor.

  He heard two distinct thumps as the bodies hit the floor.

  He got up, snared his NVGs and kept moving.

  Three Russians down, three to go. Plus Friedman.

  CHAPTER 99

  FINN AND KNOX MADE THEIR WAY carefully across the catwalk that was suspended over a tank of foul-smelling liquid. They knew this for two reasons. One, because they could smell it, even if they couldn’t see it. And two, it was on the plan Stone had given them. But it was Chapman who’d told them the secret of passing safely over it. Stone hadn’t done so, because he had never intended for them to get inside this place.

  They had to keep their weight in the center of the metal walkway. If they made a misstep and touched the sides, only bad things would happen. They had nearly reached the end of the catwalk when they heard it.

  A groan.

  Both men looked around, guns pointed at obvious threat points.

  Another groan.

  Finn whispered to Knox, “Sounds like it’s underneath us.”

  “Thinking the same thing,” replied Knox.

  “I recognized it.”

  “The groan?”

  Finn nodded. “Keep a lookout.” He dropped to his knees and put his face against the floor of the catwalk that was only inches from the top of the tank. “Caleb?” he said softly.

  Another groan.

  “Caleb?” he said in a louder voice as Knox gazed anxiously around.

  Another groan and then, “Harry?” The voice was weak, the mind obviously muddled.

  Drugged, was Finn’s first thought.

  He looked up at Knox. “Remember what Chapman told us?”

  Knox nodded and glanced around. “Got an idea.”

  Keeping to the center of the walk, he headed back the way he had come. He couldn’t go back out the door they had come in. It had locked behind them and it was thick and made of stainless steel. But there was an old packing crate set against the wall. He slipped his gun in its holster, hefted the box, which weighed about fifty pounds, and carried it back over to where Finn was, again keeping to the center of the catwalk.

  Each man climbed up on the railing of the catwalk. This was difficult for Knox with the weight of the crate, but he managed it. He looked at Finn and told him his plan.

  “You ready?”

  Finn nodded.

  Knox counted to three and then dropped the box on the side of the catwalk. The floor immediately tilted down on that side while the other side tilted up, revealing a blackened strip of empty space on each side. The crate fell through the opening on the right side and they heard a splash. The foul smell got even fouler.

  Finn, still holding on to the railing, dropped down until his foot was squarely in the empty space. As the floor tilted back up and into place, he jammed his foot against it, holding it open. Knox reached into the rucksack he carried on his back and slid out a length of rope. He tied one end to the railing and let the other drop through the opening.

  Knox switched places with Finn and held the floor open with his foot. Finn grabbed the rope and lowered himself through. He landed in knee-deep muck.

  “Caleb?”

  “Harry?” the voice said groggily.

  “Are you alone?”

  “Yes. At least I think I am.”

  Finn switched on his flashlight and quickly found Caleb trussed up and sitting in the muck, which was up to his chest. Finn cut him loose and helped him through the opening and up to the catwalk.

  “You okay?” Finn asked as the three men proceeded on into the next room.

  Caleb slowly nodded. “Just a little woozy. They gave me a shot. Made me fuzzy. And the stench down there. I don’t think my sense of smell will ever be the same.” His face paled as his mind cleared. “Annabelle? Is she all right?”

  “We’re still looking for her. Any idea where she might be?”

  Caleb shook his head. “I just want to get out of this place. All of us.”

  “That’s the plan,” said Knox.

  “Where’s Oliver?” asked Caleb.

  “In here somewhere,” replied Finn.

  Stone passed into the next section. It had a mock street, building façades, a rotting 1960s-era sedan and mannequins filling in for real people. The mannequins all had bullet holes in their heads. He cleared this space and kept going.

  The next room was the last one on this section.

  The lab.

  Stone cautiously pushed open the door and went inside. No lights here. Using his NV goggles, he checked the room methodically. He kept one hand on his goggles, ready to rip them off if he saw any hint of others using similar equipment, since the red dot would give away his position and probably his life as well.

  As he looked around he noticed something odd. There were long tables set up against one wall of the lab. These tables were new. Various pieces of sophisticated-looking equipment were set up on these surfaces. Glistening metal contraptions with power cords trailing off to the floor. And test tubes in racks lining the walls. Elaborate microscopes and other equipment were centered on another table. On the floor in one corner was a metal cylinder about six feet in length. It had a digital readout screen and a square of glass in the center.

  None of this was here the last time Stone had visited Murder Mountain. He had no idea what it represented or who had placed it here. And right now he didn’t have time to explore the issue.

  Next, his gaze went to the cage that normally hung from the ceiling but now was on the floor. The cage had fallen due entirely to Stone’s marksmanship when he’d last been here and an enemy who had been trying to kill him had died when the two-ton cage had fallen on him.

  But Stone had another recollection of that cage. When he’d been training here all those years ago he and three men had been placed in the cage together. A flame had been ignited under the cage and every ten seconds was increased so that it grew nearer and nearer the metal. The goal was for the men to get out before the heat became unbearable. Added to the problem was that Stone and his colleagues had seen the other team that had come before them. They had failed the test. And two men had suffered crippling burns.

  While the other men in his group had started to panic as the metal grew too hot to touch, Stone had focused all his energies. Why four men in the cage at the same time? Why not three or five, or six? Four men. Four sides to the cage.

  He’d barked out his orders. Each man was to take off his shirt, wrap it around his hands and simultaneously apply pressure against his side of the cage. They did so. The cage door had sprung open. His leadership actions had earned Stone the praise of his instructors. At the same time he had wanted to kill them.

  But this recollection stayed with Stone for only a moment. He could hardly believe what he was seeing.

  “Annabelle?”

  She was inside the cage, gagged and tied up.

  He moved forward, checking the room again for threats but seeing none.

  The cage door wasn’t locked. Stone swung it open. Annabelle’s eyes were closed, and for one terrible moment Stone wasn’t sure if she was alive or not. But you didn’t gag and tie up a dead person. Annabelle had a pulse, and with Stone’s touch against her neck she slowly came around.

  He untied her, took off the gag and helped her out of the cage.

  “God, is it good to see you,” she said drunkenly.

  “They drugged you?”

  “I think so. But it’s wearing off.”

  “Can you walk?”

  “I’ll crawl if it means we can get out of
here.”

  He smiled as her feistiness returned.

  “Are you alone?” she asked.

  “Yes.”

  “Any sign of Caleb?”

  “Not yet. Have you seen Marisa Friedman?”

  Annabelle shook her head.

 
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