Hells corner, p.48
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       Hells Corner, p.48
 

         Part #5 of Camel Club series by David Baldacci

  outside. It was hard for Stone to believe that hours had passed while they’d been inside the mountain.

  They reached the seam of light. Stone pushed through plywood and dislodged metal plates that he had placed there years ago. The seam became a foot-wide opening. Finn put Knox down and helped. Twelve inches became a yard. Far below they heard a single explosion, but they were now free of the mountain.

  But Stone cautioned, “Be ready. I’ll go first.”

  They all tensed. Finn picked Knox up and pulled his weapon. Chapman had her Walther in one hand and what looked like a throwing knife in the other. Annabelle held on to Caleb, who was nearly dead on his feet after the long ascent.

  Stone took a step forward and then stumbled, nearly toppling to his knees. He looked down.

  “Shit!”

  He hadn’t tripped over the uneven terrain. A wire had been stretched between the rock sides of the opening. He looked to his right. Wedged into a crevice was the last explosive. It had a counter. It was at five seconds.

  “Get back,” screamed Stone as he lunged forward toward the bomb. Right at the same instant Chapman darted forward too.

  Annabelle yelled. Caleb moaned. Finn staggered backward under the weight of Joe Knox.

  Stone glanced at the MI6 agent. She wasn’t looking at him. She was staring dead at the bomb, her jaw tensed, her arms raised above her. She gained purchase with the rock floor and launched herself past him.

  Stone shouted, “No, Mary!”

  The counter hit one.

  CHAPTER 102

  ANOTHER MEMORIAL SERVICE.

  At Arlington Cemetery.

  A trio of caskets was lined up side by side representing three veterans of America’s military.

  Harry Finn.

  Joseph Knox.

  And John Carr.

  Security was doubly heavy considering what had happened last time. There were four circles of perimeter patrols. Bomb detection canines were everywhere. Because of what they now knew about nanobots, every bag was hand-searched, every person patted down, every cell phone, iPhone and electronic device of any kind confiscated.

  The rules had definitely changed. Nothing would ever be the same again.

  The president was there to give the remarks. Important members of Congress and the military were also in attendance. The FBI director, Riley Weaver and Agents Ashburn and Garchik were all there. Sir James McElroy was also in attendance because his PM was also present. Not being in the American military or satisfying other specific criteria, Mary Chapman did not have a casket here. But the PM was scheduled to say a few heartfelt words about her sacrifice to help Britain’s greatest ally.

  Annabelle Conroy and Caleb Shaw were not here either for the same reason as Chapman. They didn’t satisfy the criteria for burial at the exalted cemetery. But the president would mention what they had done as well.

  The PM spoke first. Then came a stream of important dignitaries to the podium, including Riley Weaver. He didn’t explain what Murder Mountain was, because he didn’t have to. The press had been kept completely out of the loop on that. Officially, the deaths of Knox, Finn and Carr had come about by a confrontation with a team of Russian drug dealers who had fashioned a laboratory at an abandoned government facility with the aid of an American intelligence officer turned traitor. The bombing and gunfire in Lafayette Park and the subsequent murders in Pennsylvania, Virginia and D.C. had been carried out by the same group. Speaking last, the president swore that he would do everything in his power to see that justice was done and the perpetrators of these vile acts held accountable. Tension between the Americans and Russians was understandably at an all-time high.

  From nearly a half a mile away, atop a knoll at Arlington Cemetery the woman watched these proceedings while she pretended to be gazing at the faded tombstone of a long-dead general. By virtue of a PA system that broadcast across the cemetery, she could hear every word of the speeches. Most held no interest for her, but the one by the president did capture her attention. When he mentioned the American intelligence operative turned traitor, she had to smile.

  She knew that the proceedings here were being carried live on all the major network and cable stations. She also knew that Carlos Montoya was watching, because she had communicated with him and told him to.

  The plan had worked, even if the president of the U.S. and his counterpart in Mexico had survived. The Russians were being blamed. Her mission, against all odds, had been successful.

  Her cell phone chirped. She looked at the message that had just come across the screen.

  Buen trabajo.

  Good work indeed.

  And then the rest of the message came through. It lifted her spirits even more. The remainder of the money was being sent to her account. Carlos Montoya wished her well. She typed her reply.

  Hasta luego.

  But she didn’t really mean it. She was done. This was it. How could she ever top this, anyway?

  Marisa Friedman swiped at her new hairdo, cut exceedingly short and dyed dark brown. She had used time-tested techniques to change her facial features to the extent that not even her closest friends would know who she was. She could freely walk these grounds without worry of being recognized.

  She turned away from the ceremony. If she had any regrets, it was that John Carr had not taken her up on her offer. Yet she couldn’t have expected that he would. Once he found out she had been behind it all—and he was the sort that would—she would have had to kill him anyway. Yet they could have had a little time together. For someone like Friedman, alone most of her life, that would have been enough.

  One billion dollars in her bank account and the rest of her life to do as she pleased. She sighed contentedly. It wasn’t every day that one pulled off one of the most intricate and earth-shattering operations of all time. Her new papers were in order. A ride on private wings awaited her at Dulles Airport. She had actually purchased an island, through a straw-man transaction. And now she intended to do absolutely nothing for the next year except lie on the beach, read, sip a cool drink and decide what would be next. She passed a number of bomb detection canines. None registered on her. She hid her smile as she passed the wall of security on her way out of the cemetery.

  Nanobots.

  Montoya had spent years and two billion dollars engineering the transformation of smells and chemical signatures detectable by machines at the molecular level using this microscopic army of programmable soldiers. Now drugs and anything else that would normally be detected could flow freely around the globe. But mostly into America. Drugs, guns, bombs, nuclear material. This really did change everything. The possibilities for the criminal element were limitless. That was one reason Friedman had purchased her island so far away. She didn’t want to hear the screams from her homeland.

  Screw them.

  She reached her car. A rental. She surveyed the landscape once more.

  She looked down as the dog came up to her. No leash, not even a collar. A stray. She bent down to pet it, but it backed away from her.

  “It’s okay, sweetie. I’m not going to hurt you.”

  The dog drew nearer, as though to check her intent. But when she put her hand out it backed away once more, sat on its haunches and commenced howling.

  A bit unnerved, Friedman put her key in the car door.

  Her head whipped around when the men converged on her. There were ten of them, half in suits, half in military uniform. All had weapons out. All were pointed at her.

  “What’s going on?” she demanded. She slipped her sunglasses up to her forehead.

  “What is going on?” she said again.

  One of the suits said, “Step away from the vehicle and place both hands on your head, fingers interlocked. Now!”

  Friedman did as he instructed. “Is this your dog? If so, it’s made a very big mistake. You can search me. I have no bombs or drugs or anything like—”

  Marisa Friedman stopped speaking when she saw him come around the back of the S
UV parked next to her car.

  Oliver Stone slipped his sunglasses into the pocket of his windbreaker. Behind him Mary Chapman kept her aviators on.

  Something made Friedman look to her left. There was Finn. And next to him was Joe Knox in a wheelchair, a bandage wrapped around his head and his right arm in a sling.

  When Friedman looked back at Stone she flinched yet again.

  Caleb Shaw, also wearing a shoulder harness, and Annabelle Conroy, looking perfectly fine, stood just behind their friend.

  Friedman took her gaze off Stone long enough to look at the dog that sat just feet from her.

  She smiled. “What a cute dog.”

  “That dog was your undoing,” said Stone.

  “How?” she asked.

  Stone made a show of sniffing his wrist. “It’s always a mistake to reveal anything true about yourself that can later be used against you.”

  “I don’t understand.”

  “The Thai perfume with the visceral impact on men? Two hearts beating as one? Very rare. But not impossible to get if you have the United States government behind you.” He looked down at the dog. “And a very distinctive smell. One sniff is all this little guy needed to track you down in a place as big as Arlington.”

  “How did you know I’d even be here?”

  “How could you not be here?” replied Stone.

  “Would you have come if the positions had been reversed?”

  “No.”

  “Why?”

  “I never gloated over killing anyone.”

  She stopped smiling. “I wasn’t gloating. I prefer to think of it as paying my respects to a worthy opponent.”

  “We also just intercepted Montoya’s email to you and your reply back. Hasta luego? Nice touch. A billion dollars is a good payday. And best of all, it provided a direct link from you to him. His days are quite numbered now too.”

  She looked around at all the armed men. “Doesn’t look like I’ll be able to spend that billion dollars.” She paused. “I have to commend you on figuring out the nanobots and the scents. I really thought I had that one well covered.”

  “You did. It was more luck than reasoning.”

  “I doubt that. No one is that lucky. When Montoya saw the president walk away from the bombing he was not a happy man.”

  “Hence your comeback plan?”

  She nodded. “You always have a plan B, because plan A doesn’t always work.”

  “Most people would have simply cut and run by then.”

  “I only had half the billion. I wanted it all. And I wanted to see the plan through. If I could. The best ones do, you know. Point of pride.”

  “You almost did.”

  “Doesn’t really matter now. Can I ask how you managed it? I really thought I had all bases covered at Murder Mountain.”

  “You did,” said Stone. “Particularly with the third exit. Can I ask how you managed that?”

  “Like I said, I studied you in the classroom.”

  “Okay, enough of this crap,” came a loud voice, and Riley Weaver made an appearance, with the FBI director and Agent Ashburn right behind.

  “How did you get so totally screwed up, Friedman?” barked Weaver, pointing a stubby finger at her.

  She didn’t even bother responding to him. She kept her gaze on Stone and smiled. “A man like you goes his own way. I found two other Triple Sixers who knew of the exit through the kitchen. So I knew you’d have found another way, one that only you would know.”

  “Why?” asked Stone.

  “Because you didn’t trust anyone other than yourself. Not even your fellow assassins. Not really.”

  “What made you think that?”

  “Because I never trusted anyone either. Other than myself.”

  “How’d you find it?”

  She looked at the men holding the guns. “Do you mind if I lower my arms? I’m getting a little stiff. You can see that I’m not armed. And even if I were, I’m a bit outgunned.”

  “Just keep your hands where we can see them,” said one of the agents.

  Holding her hands in front of her, she turned back to Stone and continued. “Once I knew I’d use Murder Mountain, I went over every inch of the place. The front door was to the west. The back door was to the east. One couldn’t go down. So I went up. And there it was, much like how you left it. Now I answered your question. How about mine?”

  Stone looked at Chapman.

  Friedman swiveled her gaze to the woman.

  The MI6 agent shrugged. “Seen a bomb like that twice before in Northern Ireland. Once it was the blue wire. Once it was the red wire. My favorite color was blue. So that’s the one I snipped. Cut it pretty bloody close, though. Second to spare. Not much else we could do. But we’re here. That’s what counts.”

  “Once we got safely away we detonated the bomb,” explained Stone. “Just in case you had someone in the area watching. After that it was a phone call and the rest was arranged. We were all carted away in body bags. The rest of the plan you saw today. Figured it was the only way we’d have a shot at getting to you. Making you believe your plan had worked. President Brennan worked it all out with the Russian government.”

  “Neatly done.”

  Stone drew closer to her. “Was it really just about the money?”

  “Partly. But it was also about the thrill. To see if I could pull it off. It was quite the challenge. Even you have to admit that. When Montoya came to me, tried to recruit me, at first I pushed back. But then I thought, why the hell not? I think even you would have been tempted.” She reached out to touch his arm, but he drew back.

  She looked disappointed but said, “I know that’s what motivated you. The thrill. All those years at Triple Six. You certainly didn’t do it for the money.”

  “No, I didn’t.”

  “Why then? And don’t lie and say you were merely serving your country.”

  Riley Weaver snapped, “I said enough of this.” He strode forward. “You’re going to prison. But just for a short while. Then you’re going to be executed. For treason.”

  “Riley, you really are so tiresome,” said Friedman as she shook her head. “You take the fun out of everything.”

  The former Marine looked apoplectic. “Fun! You call what you did fun! You are a complete psycho.”

  She turned back to Stone. “Why? Why did you do it?”

  “I had a woman I loved. I had a daughter I cherished. I wanted to go home to them.”

  Friedman didn’t say anything for a long moment. “Well, I didn’t have any of that,” she finally said.

  “Okay,” said Weaver. “Cuff her and read the lady her rights. Let’s do this by the book. No mistakes. She’s not missing out on her date with a lethal injection. In fact, I think I’ll hit the trigger myself.”

  She looked at him disdainfully. “I’m not going to prison and I’m certainly not being executed by you.”

  Weaver smiled maliciously. “Well, lady, I’d sure as hell like to know how you’re going to avoid it.”

  “I already did.”

  She staggered a bit as she said this. She reached out and steadied herself by placing a hand against the door of her rental.

  Stone was the first to realize what had happened.

  He rushed forward and seized her left hand. He saw the pinprick of blood on the inside of her left wrist, right in the middle of a blood vessel. He grabbed her right hand and twisted it upward. The stone on the ring she wore there was gone. In its place was a short, thin needle sticking upward.

  “I would be careful around that, if I were you,” Friedman said. “Nasty, extremely fast-acting stuff. Leaves old cyanide in the dust on the toxicity ladder.” Her voice was slow and her words a bit garbled. She staggered again. Stone held her up and then let her slide back against the car and descend to the ground.

  They all stood looking down at her. Weaver’s face was a mask of fury.

  “How?” he demanded.

  Friedman smiled. “As soon as I saw
him.” She pointed at Stone. “I knew it was over. So I took care of business, Riley. A good spy to the last. And all good spies go out on their own terms. Not anyone else’s.”

  She looked back at Stone and drew a long, painful breath. “I bought
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