Hells corner, p.6
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       Hells Corner, p.6
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         Part #5 of Camel Club series by David Baldacci

  “Your man looks all right. Except for his tooth.”

  “He’s a tough chap, but he did say colliding with you was like hitting a brick wall.”

  Stone continued to focus on the feed. The suit and woman were no longer visible. He saw people running; the security bollards on Pennsylvania retracted into the street and police cars and Secret Service vans raced away. Blair House was quickly sealed off.

  “Can you show me the last thirty seconds again?”

  She hit a couple of keystrokes and Stone watched the explosion happen again. He sat back puzzled.

  “What’s the problem?” said Chapman as she stopped the video.

  “Can you slow it down even more?”

  “I’ll try.” She worked some keystrokes. “This is the best I can do, I’m afraid.”

  They watched it again with everything in ultraslow motion.

  Stone followed the path of the jogger as he passed by a pair of uniformed Secret Service officers and a canine before entering the park.

  “Fat chap to be in trainers,” noted Chapman. “Doesn’t look like a runner, does he?”

  “People who wear jogging suits aren’t always runners. He might have just been out for a walk.”

  “If you say so.”

  “Bomb could have been on that iPod.”

  Chapman nodded. “I was thinking the same thing. C-4 or Semtex. Or something even more powerful. If so, there will be evidence of that in the debris field.”

  “Yes and no. Yes, the iPod will be blown apart, but it would be regardless of whether it was part of an explosive device or not.”

  “But they’ll be able to tell,” said Chapman. “From scorching marks, from the deformity angles of the parts, outward as opposed to inward, and so on.”

  Stone turned to her. “You know about explosives?”

  “Another reason they sent for me. I spent three years chasing some nasty Irishmen who didn’t believe the IRA had actually signed a peace treaty. They liked to make things go boom. Learned a lot.”

  “I’m sure.” Stone looked back at the screen. “He dove into the planting hole.”

  “And the explosion happened a few seconds later. Maybe a suicide bomber, then.”

  Stone looked skeptical. “Who kills only himself by diving in a hole?”

  “So what do you think the lay of the land is, then?”

  He looked at her curiously. “Lay of what land?”

  “Your land of too many bloody American agencies. I’ve only been on this case less than a day and already I feel claustrophobic.”

  “Ever heard of Hell’s Corner?”

  Chapman shook her head.

  Stone leaned forward and tapped the frozen screen, which showed Lafayette Park. “This is Hell’s Corner,” he said. “Pennsylvania Avenue, the actual street, belongs to the D.C. metro cops. The sidewalks around Lafayette Park are the Secret Service’s turf and the park itself comes under the jurisdiction of the Park Police. Secret Service agents are actually taught to grab a person of interest from the street or park, carry him to the sidewalk and then arrest him there to prevent a pissing contest over jurisdiction.”

  “Okay,” Chapman said slowly.

  “Hell’s Corner,” he said again. “The Feds and cops hate it, but they all have to dance to the same song. The explosion is a case in point. The Park Police will control the scene, but the FBI, and the ATF, because an explosive was involved, will control the investigation. And Homeland Security, Secret Service, NIC and CIA will be hovering like vultures.”

  Chapman took a sip of tea. “So what now?”

  “We’ll have to go to the park, talk to the investigators and track down the jogger’s identity and that of the woman and the guy in the suit too.” He gazed at Chapman. “Your guy? Where is he?”

  “Available for questioning. But we have his full report. He saw less than you.”

  “All right.”

  She reached for her jacket. “So on to the park?”


  “You want to use my car?”

  “I think we should, since I don’t happen to own one.”


  ANNABELLE CONROY RODE THE ELEVATOR up to the second floor, stepped off, turned and entered the Rare Book Reading Room in the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress. She surveyed the large room and spotted Caleb Shaw at his desk in the back. She caught his eye and he quickly came forward.

  “Annabelle, what are you doing here?”

  “Can you take a break? I’ve got Reuben and Harry Finn out front. We want to talk.”

  “About what?”

  “What do you think? Oliver. Those guys took him from the hospital and we haven’t seen or heard from him since.”

  “If anyone can take care of himself it’s Oliver.”

  “But he might need our help.”

  “All right, give me a minute.”

  As they rode down in the elevator Caleb said, “This has been quite an exciting day for me.”

  “Why’s that?”

  “We just got in an F. Scott. And not just any F. Scott. The F. Scott.”

  “The F. Scott what?” asked Annabelle.

  Caleb gazed at her in horror. “F. Scott Fitzgerald. One of the greatest American writers of all time.” He sputtered, “My God, Annabelle, where have you been all these years?”

  “Nowhere near a library, I guess.”

  “The book is The Great Gatsby, arguably his greatest achievement, and certainly his most well-known work. And it’s not just any Great Gatsby, of which we have several. It’s a first edition, first state, of course. But it has the very rare, scarcely obtainable dust jacket cover.” Annabelle looked at him blankly. “You know, the one with the haunting pair of female eyes? It is one of the most uniquely famous covers in classic literature. You see, the cover was actually conceived before Fitzgerald finished writing the book. He loved it so much he wrote a scene in the novel that included that image.”

  “Very interesting,” said Annabelle politely, but her tone actually showed little interest. She had once shared a van with Caleb for nearly two days, during which he had regaled her nearly nonstop with literary scuttlebutt. She had never really recovered from the onslaught.

  They got off the elevator and walked toward the exit.

  Caleb continued, “And that’s not the best part. The best part is that it’s Zelda’s copy. The provenance is absolutely certain.”

  “Who’s Zelda?”

  “Who’s Zelda?” sputtered Caleb again. “His wife, of course. Scott and Zelda. A more tragic couple you would be hard pressed to find. She died in an asylum and Fitzgerald drank himself to death. He inscribed the book for her. What a coup for the library. A one of one,” he added. “We love those.”

  “Totally unique?”


  “How much did you pay for it?”

  Caleb looked taken aback. He blustered, “Well, I mean, that is not for public—”

  “Come on, just an estimate.”

  “It was well into the six figures, I’ll have to leave it at that,” he said, a bit pompously.

  Annabelle now looked interested. “My grandmother left me her personal copy of Wuthering Heights. I wonder how much it might be worth. It’s in excellent condition.”

  Caleb looked intrigued. “Wuthering Heights? First editions of those in pristine condition are rare. Where did she get it?”

  “At a bookstore eight years ago. It’s a paperback, is that a problem?”

  Caleb gazed stonily at her and said stiffly, “Funny.”

  Outside they met up with Reuben and Harry Finn. Finn was a decades-younger version of Stone, lean and lethal. Unless he needed to move fast, he never seemed to even flinch, as though storing his energy for when a crisis occurred. Reuben had changed from his loading-dock uniform into his usual garb of jeans and a sweatshirt with moccasins on his feet. They sat on the broad steps leading into the library.

  Annabelle said, “So what are we going to do?

  “What can we do?” said Reuben.

  “Oliver may be in trouble,” she replied.

  “Oliver is often in trouble,” responded Caleb.

  “Those men who took him from the hospital,” began Annabelle.

  Finn cut in. “NIC. Riley Weaver’s boys. Heard it from a buddy of mine. It was a catch and release. I doubt Oliver gave them what they wanted.”

  “Then he is in trouble,” said Annabelle. “And we have to help him.”

  “Why don’t we wait for him to ask for that help?” said Caleb.

  “Why?” Annabelle shot back.

  “Because every time I help him I get in trouble here,” he said, looking back at the enormous library building. “I’m actually on probation, a positively horrendous situation for someone of my age and level of experience.”

  “No one’s asking you to risk your job, Caleb. But I did find something out. In fact, it’s why I wanted to meet with all of you today.”

  “What did you find out?” asked Reuben.

  “That Oliver was leaving to go somewhere.”

  “How do you know that?”

  “I found a packed bag in his cottage. Along with several books written in what I think is Russian.”

  “You mean you broke in his cottage and found it,” said Caleb heatedly. “You have absolutely no respect for property rights, Annabelle Conroy. None. It’s outrageous. It really is.”

  She slipped a book from her pocket and showed it to the librarian.

  “Yes, it is Russian,” said Caleb as he glanced at the title. He looked more closely at the title. “It’s a book on Russian politics, but it’s decades old. Why in the world would he be taking that with him?”

  “Maybe he was going to Russia and he needed to bone up on his language skills,” suggested Finn. “One way to do that is read the language.”

  “Why would Oliver be going to Russia?” asked Reuben. “Wait a minute, how would he even get there? He doesn’t have a passport. He doesn’t have any ID at all. Not to mention money for the trip.”

  “There could only be one way he could go,” said Annabelle.

  “You mean on behalf of the U.S. government?” replied Finn.


  “On behalf of the government!” exclaimed Caleb. “He doesn’t work for the government. At least not anymore.”

  “Maybe that status has changed,” said Annabelle. “I mean, they offered the man the Medal of Honor.”

  Reuben mused, “Oliver going back inside. After all these years, I can’t believe it.”

  “And after all they did to him,” added Finn quietly.

  “Why would he do that?” asked Caleb. “If there’s one thing we know about Oliver, it’s that he really doesn’t trust the government.”

  “Maybe he really didn’t have a choice,” said Finn.

  “But it’s not like he’s twenty anymore,” retorted Annabelle. “He was almost killed last night. If he goes to Russia, he may never come back.”

  Reuben said, “He may be older but he’s also wiser. I wouldn’t discount how much he has left in the tank.”

  “He almost died in that prison in Divine, Reuben,” she reminded him. “And Milton did die,” she added with brutal frankness.

  Reuben, who’d been very close to Milton Farb, glanced down at his hands. “Maybe we’re all too old for this shit anymore.”

  Finn said, “So how do you want to play this with Oliver? We all know he won’t ask for our help. Not after what happened in Divine.”

  Caleb said, “That’s right. He’ll do nothing that puts us in any danger.”

  “Then maybe we don’t wait for him to ask for our help,” said Annabelle. “Maybe we just become proactive.”

  “Meaning what exactly?” asked Reuben. “Not spy on him?”

  “No, but we can show a united front and tell him what we think.”

  “I’m not sure that’s a great idea,” Reuben said.

  Annabelle stood. “Fine. If you guys want to wait for his death notice, great. I’m not.” She turned and walked off.

  “Annabelle!” Reuben called after her.

  She never turned around.

  “She’s very stubborn,” grumbled Caleb. “Like most women. It’s probably why I never got married.”

  Reuben glowered at him. “Oh, I think there were a few other reasons for that, Caleb.”


  TRAFFIC IN D.C. WAS MUCH WORSE than normal, and all because someone had detonated a bomb across from the White House. At least that’s probably what some frustrated commuters were thinking. For blocks in all directions the street barriers had been thrown up, making the nation’s capital resemble a hodgepodge of corrals. Metro police cars and black Secret Service SUVs were dovetailed in front and behind these barriers to further discourage anyone from approaching.

  Stone and Chapman, despite her credentials, were forced to abandon her car and walk. Phone calls were made at every checkpoint as the MI6 agent’s documents were scrutinized and her incremental passage authorized by off-site higher-ups. Stone could understand that none of the street cops or agents were willing to fall on the sword because they’d passed them through in error. This was why supervisors cashed the larger paychecks and had the slightly bigger offices. Their asses would be fried if someone further up the food chain decided to throw his weight around.

  They finally cleared the last hurdle and approached ground zero, Lafayette Park. To Stone, who knew it perhaps better than anyone else, it was nearly unrecognizable. The center of the park was a blackened mass, trees and plants destroyed, the grass burned, the dirt piled up in mounds. The Jackson statue lay in ruins. A cannon wheel had nearly reached the sidewalk on the Pennsylvania Avenue side. A section of fence was embedded in a tree a good seventy feet away.

  The ATF had set up its mobile command post in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue. The FBI’s counterpart unit was set up in Jackson Place to the west of the park. Dogs and armed security were everywhere. All the businesses and government offices located on Jackson Place and across the park on Madison Place had been shut down.

  While the park looked like a cop’s convention, the people in uniform were still outnumbered by the swarm of suits. Stone and Chapman passed by a large Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms National Response Team, or NRT, truck. Stone knew that there were only three NRT vehicles in existence. The NRT members constituted the best bomb experts in the country and could go into any scenario and within a couple days tell what had gone boom and how.

  Stone caught sight of some techs in hazmat suits parsing through the explosion site. He also eyed people in hermetic gear who looked like surgeons preparing for the OR. They were scrounging the area, looking for trace evidence. Small colored tents were scattered everywhere. He assumed each one marked a bit of evidence that had been found.

  The men in some of the suits clearly represented the FBI. This was not a guess, since they were also wearing their FBI windbreakers. Other jacket and ties beyond that inner circle were members of the Secret Service, this given away by their ear buds and dour expressions as these “outsiders” trod their turf.

  Stone and Chapman walked toward the group of FBI agents. However, before they reached the circle of investigators a tall man intercepted them.

  “Mr. Stone?”

  Stone eyed him. “Yes?”

  “I need you to come with me, sir.”


  The man pointed directly across the street.

  “The White House? Why?”

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