Hells corner, p.9
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       Hells Corner, p.9
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         Part #5 of Camel Club series by David Baldacci

  Stone looked at Chapman. “You keep saying he was scheduled to walk across the park? Who told you that?”

  “Got it from the PM’s office.”

  Stone looked toward the northern edge of the park and tried to recreate in his mind exactly what he’d seen the previous night. But for some reason the most vivid details just wouldn’t come. Maybe it was his concussion. Or maybe, he admitted to himself, I’m just getting old.

  They joined Gross in examining the rooftop garden at the Hay-Adams Hotel. The trees did block the line of sight into the park.

  “They were firing blind,” said Gross. “Because if they had a spotter in the park they would’ve known the PM wasn’t there.”

  There were markers on the floor showing where all the casings had been found.

  Gross said, “TEC-9s, like I said before. Over two hundred rounds. So it was probably multiple guns.”

  “Agreed,” said Stone as he gazed at the floor. “And no one below or in the hotel heard or saw anything?”

  “I think lots of people heard and saw lots of things. But whether they can remember it correctly and communicate that to us effectively is a whole other question.”

  “You’ll obviously match the casings to the slugs found in the park,” said Stone.

  “Already done,” replied Gross. “Not that there was much doubt about that.”

  “Good, because there’s plenty of doubt about everything else,” noted Stone.


  LATER THAT NIGHT Stone and Chapman drove back to Stone’s cottage. When he opened the door he glanced to his right when he saw her.

  Annabelle was sitting in a chair by the fireplace. He ushered Chapman in as Annabelle rose to greet him. After introducing Chapman to Annabelle, Stone was about to say something when Annabelle held out the book written in Russian. “I guess you’ll be wanting this back. Are you still planning to go on your… trip?”

  Stone frowned as he looked down at the book. “There are personal boundaries, Annabelle. And I’ve always respected yours.”

  “You’re not going to make me feel guilty about this, Oliver, so don’t even try. I haven’t known you all that long and I think we’ve nearly lost you about five times at least by my count.”

  Chapman gazed at Stone in surprise. “I didn’t think you were working anymore.”

  Annabelle answered. “He wasn’t. So just think what his mortality rate will be now.”

  Stone laid the book down on his desk. “I think I’m clearly old enough to make that decision for myself. And to answer your question, my trip has been postponed.”

  “What trip?” asked Chapman.

  Stone ignored her.

  Annabelle said, “But you are back working for the government?”

  “Like I said, I’m old enough to make that decision.”

  “Why, Oliver, why would you? After all they did to you.”

  “Yeah, why? I think we deserve an answer, said a voice.”

  They all turned to see Reuben Rhodes, Harry Finn and Caleb Shaw at the door to the cottage. It was Reuben who’d spoken.

  “I feel like I’m at bloody Waterloo Station,” muttered Chapman as the men came forward.

  Stone looked down. “It’s not easily explained.”

  “At least tell me you’re not working this damn park explosion case,” said Annabelle.

  “That’s exactly what he’s doing.”

  This came from Alex Ford as he walked into the cottage.

  “Blimey,” said Chapman. “I think you need to change the locks on your door.”

  Alex stood near the fireplace. “Should I tell them or are you going to?”

  “Tell us what?” said Annabelle.

  “That Oliver was presented with a commission and badge today. He is now a duly sworn in member of the federal government working with Agent Chapman here from MI6. They’ve been tasked to find out who tried to blow up the British PM.”

  Stone looked coldly at his friend. “Thank you for maintaining confidences, Alex.”

  Reuben said, “Since when the hell are there confidences among us? How many times have I covered your back, Oliver? Risked life and limb? And you the same for me?”

  “The same for all of us,” added Annabelle.

  “This is different,” replied Stone.

  “Why, because you’ve got a badge now?” growled Reuben.

  Annabelle added, “You’ve joined up with the same folks who hurt you so badly. Don’t you see why we’re all stunned? Especially after what happened in Divine. They were just going to let you rot in that prison.”

  “And I would have except for all of you, I know that,” Stone said quietly.

  “So why?” Annabelle asked again.

  “As I said, it’s hard to explain. Actually it may be impossible to explain.”

  “We’re all waiting for you to try.”

  Something seemed to stiffen in Stone’s features. “You’re assuming that I owe you an explanation. I don’t.”

  Annabelle looked like Stone had slapped her. Even loyal Reuben seemed stunned, and Caleb gaped.

  “Well, I guess that’s all the explanation I need,” said Annabelle. She turned and walked out.

  Reuben glanced at his old friend. “She didn’t deserve that, Oliver. None of us do.”

  “This is just the way it has to be. I’m sorry, Reuben.”

  “Fine. I’ll be sure and come to your funeral.”

  Reuben also left. Caleb started to follow behind, paused and looked back at Oliver. “This is the only time I’ve been relieved that Milton isn’t alive. To hear this.”

  Harry Finn said, “I hope you know what you’re doing.” Then he followed Caleb out.

  Now only Alex was left except for Chapman.

  Stone gazed at the Secret Service agent. “Do you want to tell me I’m wrong too?”

  “No. I figure you know what you’re doing, even if I don’t particularly like it. But there’s a problem with your bomb plant scenario.”

  “How do you know what our theory is?” asked Stone. “I didn’t think you were involved in the investigation.” “Technically, I’m not. But you still hear things.”

  “So what’s wrong with our theory?” Chapman asked.

  “The Secret Service canine unit did a sweep of the park earlier.”

  “When exactly?” asked Stone sharply.

  “I’m not sure of the precise time. But you probably noticed a canine unit at the north end of the park?”

  “We did, on the video,” said Stone.

  “They don’t bring the dogs out for their health.”

  “Would they typically cover the entire park?” asked Stone.

  “Yes. With a dog it doesn’t take that long.”

  “So the dog would have detected a bomb?” said Chapman.

  “That’s sort of the point,” answered Alex.

  “Well, it’s also sort of the point that a bloody bomb did go off in the park,” she shot back.

  “I’m just telling you what I know. I guess I’ll be going now.”

  “Alex, this is not how I wanted things to go down,” said Stone.

  “Yeah, but they did, didn’t they? I hope you make it, Oliver, I really do.”

  A moment later he was gone. A few seconds later they heard his car start.

  “Nice group of mates you have. Seems like they really care about you.”

  “And I care about them.”

  “Who are they really?”

  “Not important.”

  “Who was this Milton bloke the little fellow mentioned?”

  “A friend.”

  “But he’s dead. How? Accident?”

  “No, large-caliber rifle round.”

  Chapman was about to say something when Stone’s cell phone buzzed. It was FBI agent Gross. Stone listened and then clicked off.

  “The woman from the park last night has turned up.”

  “You mean they caught her?” asked Chapman.

  “No, she walked into the FB
I all on her own.”


  “I’M MARISA FRIEDMAN,” the woman said as Stone and Chapman took seats opposite her and Tom Gross in an interior office at the FBI’s Washington Field Office, which all agents referred to as the WFO. Stone took a few moments to study her. In good light and with only a few feet separating them he decided she was closer to thirty than forty. She was Chapman’s height or a bit taller, with blonde hair that curled around her neck. It was not her natural color, Stone could tell. Her eyes were blue and striking, her face interesting with elegant bone structure, the chin sharply angled and the two sides of her jaw forming perfect bookends for the expressive mouth. Her clothes were clearly expensive but she wore them in a casual manner; minimal jewelry and makeup completed the attractive package.

  Gross added, “Ms. Friedman voluntarily came in when she learned we were looking for anyone who was in the park last night.”

  Friedman shook her head and looked troubled. “I have to tell you I was shocked at what happened. I’d just gotten to H Street when the gunfire started. And then the explosion.” She shivered uncontrollably.

  “How did you find out the FBI was looking for you?” Stone asked.

  “A friend of mine saw an item on the news and phoned me.”

  Stone looked at Gross, who said, “In situations like this we call in the media and ask for their assistance in getting the word out. Usually very effective.”

  “Well, it certainly was in my case,” said Friedman.

  “In any event you probably would’ve assumed the police would want to talk to you,” said Stone.

  “I guess so, yes, although I don’t have any experience in things like this. My home was broken into years ago, that’s really the only contact I’ve ever had with the police.”

  “Can you tell us what you saw?” asked Gross.

  “Smoke and people running and screaming.” She looked at Stone and her voice shook. “I’ve never been that frightened in my life.”

  “But before all that you were sitting on one of the benches in the park?” said Stone.

  “Yes, that’s right.”

  “Little late at night for that, wasn’t it?” asked Stone.

  “My office is located in the line of town houses on the west side of the park.”

  “Jackson Place?” said Stone.

  “Yes. Most of the offices there are linked to the White House, but I was able to snare one of them for my business through more luck than skill. I was working late. Left the office. The night was so nice I sat down and might’ve even dozed off. I don’t usually do that, but I did last night. It was a long day and I was tired. And I know the park is about the best-protected space in the city, so I felt very safe.” She gave a hollow laugh. “That turned out to be quite ironic. It really was bad timing all around,” she added with another little shiver. “Nice relaxing time in the park that turned into a war zone. For a minute there I thought I’d stumbled onto a movie set.”

  “Only the bullets and bomb were real,” said Stone.


  “What is your business?” asked Gross.

  She flashed a smile. “In this town, that close to the White House you’re one of the two Ls.”

  “Lawyer or lobbyist,” answered Stone.

  “You win the prize.” She crossed her legs and flicked at the hem of her skirt, revealing briefly a glimpse of her pale bare thighs. From the efficient way she did it, Stone deduced this was a tactic of hers during a meeting, at least a meeting with men. He glanced at Gross and saw that it had gotten his attention too. When he looked at Chapman she was just finishing rolling her eyes at this same act.

  Mars, Venus, thought Stone.

  “So which are you?” he asked Friedman. “Lawyer or lobbyist?”

  “Both, actually.”

  Gross cleared his throat. “And who do you lobby on behalf of?”

  Her gaze shifted to the FBI agent. “Lobbyists are the most regulated beasts on earth, so my client list is a matter of public record. But it has no relevance to last night. If I hadn’t decided to sit on the bench instead of going right home I wouldn’t even be here.”

  “We still need to check,” said Gross.

  “Check away. It’s all part of the public record. There’s nothing particularly remarkable about them, the usual businesses, trade associations. I have some foreign clients, but their businesses are mainstream.”

  “Who were you calling last night?” asked Stone.

  She seemed surprised by the question.

  “I was in the park last night,” he explained. “And the park is also under video surveillance 24/7. You were seen on the phone.”

  “Wow, Big Brother is alive and well,” she said casually, but her long forehead bunched into neat rows of skin. “Can I ask why it’s relevant who I was talking to?”

  Gross said, “We can easily enough get that information. But you can save us time by cooperating. However, if you don’t…”

  She looked at him with a weary expression. “I know, I know, then you think I’m up to no good. Look, it was just a friend.”

  Gross poised his pen over his notepad. “Your friend’s name?”

  “Do you really have to check that out? I mean, it seems silly. It was just a friend.”

  Gross said, “Ms. Friedman, a bomb exploded across from the White House. No detail is too small in an investigation like this. And the question is not silly. Now, your friend’s name and the subject of your conversation?”

  “It’s just a man that I know.”

  “Name?” Gross said again, this time with a harder edge to his voice. This obviously would be the last time the FBI agent would ask politely.

  She sat forward and her voice dropped. “Look, this friend I was talking to is married.”

  “Okay,” said Stone.

  “And so?” prompted Chapman with a malicious look.

  “And not to me, obviously. And maybe we’re more than just friends.”

  She did the leg cross, skirt flick again, but this time her hands jerked and she didn’t seem nearly as confident.

  Stone saw Chapman shoot the woman a contemptuous look at this bungled ploy to distract. Even Gross didn’t drop his gaze to her legs this time.

  Gross said, “We’re not really concerned with your, um, friend’s marital issues.”

  Friedman sat back, relieved. “Okay, thank you.”

  “But I still need his name and what you were talking to him about.”

  She sighed resignedly. “Fine. Willis Kraft. He lives in Potomac. We were just talking about… personal stuff.”

  “And his wife doesn’t understand him?” said Chapman, still gazing at the woman in disgust.

  Friedman’s gaze hardened and she and Chapman did a brief staredown
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