Hells corner, p.49
Part #5 of Camel Club series by David Baldacci
He said nothing.
Her chest started to heave. “I think we could have been happy there.”
Everyone looked at Stone, and then back at Friedman.
She said, “I think we could have been. Tell me we could have been.”
Stone remained silent, looking at her.
Her body clenched and then relaxed. Stone thought she had passed at that moment. But she managed to say, “We’re more alike than you’ll ever be willing to admit, John Carr.”
Now her eyes grew still. And then glazed. And Marisa Friedman slid sideways, her lovely pale cheek coming to rest against plain gravel.
Stone didn’t see this.
He had already turned and walked away.
THE CAMEL CLUB CROWDED AROUND Alex Ford’s bed to see the agent staring back at them. Annabelle was gripping his hand, tears easing down her face.
Reuben and Caleb exchanged smiles. Reuben whispered to Caleb, “Remember, no flowers for the man.”
Stone moved closer to the bed and looked down at his friend. Alex still couldn’t speak and the doctors had warned that the extent of his injuries was as yet unknown because part of his brain had been impacted.
“He may fully recover. He may only partially recover,” the surgeon had told them.
“But he’ll live,” said Annabelle.
“Yes,” said the doctor. “He’s going to live.”
Stone put a hand gently on Alex’s shoulder. “It’s… good to have you back, Alex,” he said in a faltering tone.
Alex blinked back at him, his mouth remaining a thin unmoving line.
Annabelle bent her face closer to his. “We’ll be with you every step of the way, Alex, every step.”
He squeezed her hand.
Late that night Stone sat at his desk at his cottage. He had a lot to think about but really didn’t want to dwell on any of it. He had a standing offer to return to work for the government in any capacity he wanted. He’d told the FBI director he’d get back to him on that, without saying when.
Carmen Escalante had been put into WITSEC just in case Carlos Montoya decided to take out his anger on her. Stone doubted she had much to worry about. The world now knew the truth about Montoya being behind Lafayette Park and all the rest. Stone assumed the man would not be alive that much longer. Either someone in his organization would seize the opportunity and take over his cartel, the Russians would murder him for trying to pin all these crimes on them, or else the Americans would take him out.
In the end, Stone didn’t care who killed him.
And the nanobots that could change the trace footprints of bombs and drugs? Well, it would give the ATF and the rest of the crime-fighting world many a sleepless night.
Finally, despite not wanting to do so, his thoughts turned to Marisa Friedman.
A desert island she’d bought for them.
We’re more alike than you’ll ever be willing to admit, John Carr.
She was wrong about that. They were not alike at all.
Or are we?
As he gazed at his desktop, his mind reeling with the implications of these sudden doubts, he saw the little red dot skitter across the old, scarred wood, like a gnat ablaze. It continued to skip across the wood until it reached him. He looked down and watched it climb his chest, scurry across his face and then stop, he presumed, in the middle of his forehead.
He said calmly into the darkness, “I was actually expecting you earlier.”
Chapman appeared in front of him, her Walther with attached laser sight pointed at him.
“Sorry, I’m usually punctual. When did you figure it out?”
“I know that MI6 does not have the luxury of their best agent loitering abroad for no good reason. You should have been reassigned a long time ago and gone home. The fact that you weren’t told me you had another assignment. And it wasn’t just keeping an eye on me. There are plenty of others here who could do that.”
“Well done. But I also hung around to help you solve the case, and keep you from harm. Wasn’t that Watson’s role with Holmes? To carry the gun and shoot the occasional shady character? And offer up oohs and ahhs over the master’s deductions?”
“You said you hadn’t read the stories.”
“I lied. I actually loved them. But I do have to tell you, in all sincerity, I enjoyed playing Watson to your Holmes.”
“Who assigned you to kill me? McElroy?”
“Sir James genuinely likes you. He believed I was simply watching you. I have to keep some things even from my godfather. No, I’d try closer to home if you’re looking for those responsible. We and the Yanks do play well together. You know that.”
“So Weaver then?”
“What do you Americans say? That’s neither a confirm nor deny. But I won’t deny it all that hard.”
“So the NIC chief contracted with British intelligence to kill an American citizen?”
“Don’t you love how the bloody world works these days?”
“How about the president? Does he know about this?”
Did the man lie to my face at Camp David? And after I saved his life? Again?
“That I truly don’t know. But if Weaver is doing it without his knowledge or consent it’s pretty ballsy. You must’ve been a really bad boy.”
“I give as good as I get.”
“I don’t blame you in the least.”
“So you’re an official assassin on the other side of the pond?”
“Sort of like you were. I do the occasional investigation or saving the world for the queen sort of thing from time to time, but mostly I do the bang-bang on a troublesome opponent.”
“I’m sure you’re good at it.”
“So were you. Maybe the best there ever was.” She cocked her head and smiled at him.
She said, “Tell me something. You ever disobey a direct order?”
Stone didn’t hesitate. “Only once in my career. When I was in the army.”
“Are you glad you did?”
“Ever disobey an order when you were at Triple Six?”
“Are you glad you didn’t?”
“No. It’s one of the biggest regrets of my life.”
She lowered her gun and then holstered it. “Well, this is my one time.”
Stone looked surprised. “Why?”
“For a lot of reasons I don’t care to discuss right now.”
“But won’t you suffer for not carrying out the mission?”
“I’m a lady who likes to take her chances in the face of adversity.”
“You’ll have to watch your back now.”
“I’ve been doing that ever since I joined up.”
“Will I see you again?”
“The future is promised to no one.”
She turned and walked to the door but then looked back. “Take care of yourself, Oliver Stone. Oh, one more thing, you can put your gun away. You won’t need it now. At least not with me. But don’t turn your back on Riley Weaver. That would be a mistake. Cheers.”
A moment later Mary Chapman was gone.
Stone slowly put his gun back in the desk drawer and closed it. As soon as he’d seen the dot on his desk he’d aimed his gun toward the kneehole. He was glad he hadn’t had to fire. Chances were very good they each would have killed the other.
He was not tired though the hour was very late. He didn’t need as much sleep as he used to. Age, he supposed, did that to you. He waited a bit and then got up and walked. He walked so far that he reached the spot where it all began.
Not Murder Mountain. That’s where it all began for John Carr.
He looked around the confines of Lafayette Park. This is where it all began for Oliver Stone. And for many reasons he knew this was also where he belonged. He looked across at the White House where the president was no doubt sleeping soundly even after narrowly avoiding an assassination attempt.
His thoughts next turned to Chapman, who would finally be returning to her little island. Maybe he would make a trip across the pond to see her. Just maybe. He sat down at the same bench where Marisa Friedman had perched that night when an explosion rocked Lafayette. That had started everything in motion. Now it was calm once more.
Stone looked over at the maple tree freshly planted in its new home. It looked like it had always belonged here.
Just like some people.
Just like me.
Oliver Stone sat back, drew a long breath and continued to admire the view.
To Mitch Hoffman, who knew “hell” could be so much fun;
To David Young, Jamie Raab, Emi Battaglia, Jennifer Romanello, Tom Maciag, Martha Otis, Anthony Goff, Kim Hoffman, Bob Castillo, Roland Ottewell and all at Grand Central Publishing, who support me every day;
To Aaron and Arleen Priest, Lucy Childs Baker, Lisa Erbach Vance, Nicole James, Frances Jalet-Miller and John Richmond, for keeping me straight and true;
A special shout-out to Maja Thomas, for taking my digital world to a whole new level;
To Maria Rejt, Trisha Jackson and Katie James at Pan Macmillan, for helping me rock across the pond;
To Grace McQuade and Lynn Goldberg, for superb publicity;
To Donna, to whom I owe the title;
To Scot, thanks for the assist;
To Neal Schiff, for all your help on Bureau procedures;
To Bob Scule, for your eagle eye and lobbying insight;
To Frank Verrastro and John Hamre, for the D.C. details;
To Marisa Friedman, Stephen Garchik, the family of Dr. Fuat Turkekul and Tom Gross, hope you enjoyed your roles, and the various charities you contributed to certainly benefited;
To Lynette, Deborah and Natasha, and you know why.
Hells Corner by David Baldacci / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5 out of 5 / Based on50 votes