The Camel Club by David Baldacci


  to life. Tom Hemingway had provided his colleague with a publicly available video on the Secret Service and their general protection techniques, rare footage of assassination attempts and, rarer still, a video of Secret Service agents training at their Beltsville, Maryland, facility. Beltsville was where agents learned to do J-turns with their cars, nail targets with their guns, and also practiced protection techniques over and over until fragile thought was taken out of the process and resolute muscle memory took its place.

  The men watched mesmerized as footage was shown of attempts on the lives of Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan. The assassination of John Kennedy was not included on the DVD. Presidents no longer rode around in open cars. And every mistake that had been made in Dallas that day by the Secret Service and overzealous politicians had been long since corrected.

  “You see,” Captain Jack commented, “that the agent’s actions are the same in each instance. The president is completely shielded and almost bodily carried away from the scene with the utmost speed. In Reagan’s case he’s shoved into the presidential limo and is gone within seconds. On 9/11 when it seemed a plane was heading for the White House, the Secret Service evacuated the vice president from his office there; it is said his feet never touched the ground until he was safely away. Speed. Keep that in mind. It is built into their training and thus their psyches. Acting in practiced routines without wasting time thinking. Nothing can override that impulse. And the most important impulse they have is to save the president’s life. They will sacrifice anything for that, including their own lives. We can count on that with certainty. We cannot possibly match them in firepower, manpower, training or technology. But we can understand the psychology of who and what they are and use it to our full advantage. Indeed, other than the element of surprise, that is the only advantage we have. And it will be enough if we are perfect on that day.”

  He went through this part of the video again, breaking it down like game film, frame by frame, as his men committed all of this to memory. Questions were numerous, which the American always took as a good sign.

  Next up on the screen was a diagram of the ceremonial grounds. Captain Jack, using a laser pointer, went grid by grid, pointing out general strategic items, entry and exit points and the positions of the Beast and other pertinent vehicles in the motorcade. “Note that the presidential limo is always parked at a spot with a completely unobstructed exit point. That is critical to our plans.”

  He then assigned numbers to each of his men who would be on the ceremonial grounds that day and pointed out corresponding numbers on the screen that indicated each man’s position there. Next he pointed out the ambulance. “Above all, this vehicle must be disabled. All you men who are responsible for this, you must ensure that it is done.”

  The next frame showed a slender white-haired man wearing glasses. Captain Jack said, “The president travels with his personal physician, this man here, Dr. Edward Bellamy. He will be on the podium with the president. He must be taken out first. He must be, without fail.”

  The next frame showed a simulation of the rope line.

  Captain Jack put his finger on the screen, using it to trace the rope very slowly and carefully, as though he were a surgeon making a precise incision into flesh. “This is the Secret Service’s worst nightmare. If it were up to them, they would never allow it, but it’s the lifeblood of a politician to shake hands and kiss babies,” Captain Jack explained. “It’s here, on the rope line, where he is most vulnerable. Yet it’s also a double-edged sword, because it is precisely here where the bodyguards are at their absolute highest alert.”

  The next image on the screen was that of the ex-National Guardsman who had been given a new hand by Captain Jack’s men. He was in full-dress uniform. It was a slightly older photo and thus showed him with two hooks where his hands should have been.

  Captain Jack said, “We will have no electronic communications capability at the dedication grounds because the Service will crisscross the area with jammers and interceptors. Thus, everything will be done the old-fashioned way, through eyes and ears.” He pointed to the man on the screen. “This is the person who you will key off. He will be wearing this exact uniform. But there will be others there with uniforms on, so you must not make a mistake. Each of you will receive a copy of this DVD and a portable DVD player. You must study it for four hours each day so that you can memorize his every feature and every other detail I am showing you tonight. However, this man you must spot early and never lose sight of where he is. The organizers of the event have arranged that all disabled American soldiers will be up front on the rope line as a way to honor them. It is very good of the town fathers to do this. And it certainly aids our plan.”

  He looked at the engineer and chemist in the group who’d supplied the ex-National Guardsman with his new hand. “It has been confirmed that the desired effect will take less than two minutes.” The men nodded and Captain Jack continued. “When that happens, the pattern becomes immediately this.” He snapped his fingers as he talked. “Shooter sequence 1. Then fedayeen A and B. Then shooter sequence 2, followed by fedayeen C and D. Then shooter sequence 3. Then the final fida’ya. And then shooter sequence 4. As you know, each sequence has precise targets. If one target is not hit during its sequence, the next sequence must add that to its responsibilities. Every target must be struck, no exceptions. All agents will be wearing the latest-generation body armor, as will most of the police, so place your shots accordingly. Is this understood?”

  He stopped and scrutinized each of them again, something he planned to do constantly tonight. One by one they nodded at him. He repeated the attack sequence again and again and then had each man repeat it to him exactly, also confirming what sequence they were in.

  “Because of the limited range of your weapons, you’ll see on the position grid that each shooter is located no more than two rows back from the rope line, and in most cases only one row back. You will arrive at the event in assigned shifts and early enough to make your way to those spots.”

  Captain Jack stopped talking and looked at his men for a long minute. What he was about to say next was, in many ways, the heart of the matter. “Each of you must realize that as soon as you fire your weapon, you almost certainly will be killed by the countersnipers. The proximity of the crowd will afford you some protection but probably not enough. Our information is that the countersnipers will be using the standard Remington 700 series bolt-action sniper rifle with .308 rounds. The American sharpshooters you will be facing can place a shot within a ten-inch circle at over a thousand yards.”

  There was a murmur of appreciation around the room at the skill of their opponents. It was an interesting reaction in the face of what he was telling them. He couldn’t allow them to choose between life and death when the time came. Captain Jack simply wanted them to act, just as the Secret Service trained their people. And each man had to understand that the forfeit of his life was the price to be expected for being a part of this historic day for Islam.

  “As you know, the bullets that hit you will instantly carry you to paradise. You will have more than earned such a reward.” He said this part to them in Arabic.

  Captain Jack now looked at each of the fedayeen. He had given them that title as one of honor. The Arabic term was fida’i and originally meant “adventurer.” Now it usually referred to Arab guerrilla fighters or to “men of sacrifice.” It was likely that all of Captain Jack’s men on the ceremonial grounds would perish, and thus they should have all been called by that title. However, some of Captain Jack’s men would unquestionably die. And thus their colleagues had not begrudged them being referred to as the fedayeen during the course of this mission.

  After the briefing Captain Jack led them downstairs to a room that had been soundproofed by its former owner and used as a recording studio. That was another reason Captain Jack had leased the house, although the weapons they would be using wouldn’t be making that much noise. Here a firing range had been set up, and
the men were given their guns and ordnance. For the next two hours they practiced on their targets, with Captain Jack throwing in unexpected disruptions via sound and video equipment, because it would be complete chaos when the real firing started.

  Although Adnan al-Rimi would not be at the dedication grounds, he’d attended this meeting because he was a man who insisted on knowing everything that had to do with a mission. He had fought side by side with Captain Jack in the Middle East, and the American trusted Adnan as well as he trusted anyone.

  Adnan was standing behind the Iranian named Ahmed, who lived in the apartment with the two Afghans, across from Mercy Hospital, and was working on the vehicle at the garage. Ahmed wouldn’t be at the dedication grounds either but, like Adnan, he had insisted on attending the meeting tonight. Ahmed kept muttering to himself. Something he said caught Adnan’s attention but the Iraqi didn’t show surprise. He spoke to Adnan in Arabic.

  “My language is Farsi,” Ahmed answered. “If you wish to speak to me, do it in Farsi, Adnan.”

  Adnan didn’t answer him. He didn’t like the young man commanding him to speak “his” language. Iranians, Adnan had long ago concluded, were a very different breed of Muslims. He moved away from the younger man. However, his gaze continually returned to him, and his ear to the Iranian’s angry words.

  A half hour after the last of his men had left, Captain Jack drove to downtown Pittsburgh. The man he was meeting was waiting for him in the lobby of the city’s priciest hotel. The gentleman looked a little jet-lagged after the long flight. They rode the elevator to a suite overlooking the city skyline.

  Though the man was fluent in English, he opened the conversation in his native Korean. Captain Jack answered him, in Korean.

  As Captain Jack chatted with his North Korean colleague, he thought of a quote from a man he much admired. “Know your enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles you will never be in peril.” The Chinese general Sun Tzu had written those words in a book titled The Art of War. Though centuries old, the advice still held true today.

  CHAPTER

  38

  STONE AND MILTON HAD TO look twice as the motorcycle pulled to a stop in front of them at Union Station. Reuben lifted up his goggles and rubbed his bloodshot eyes.

  “Reuben, what happened to your pickup truck?” an amazed Stone asked.

  “Found this baby in a junkyard, if you can believe it. Spent the last year fixing it up.”

  “What is it?” Stone asked.

  “It’s a 1928 Indian Chief motorcycle with sidecar,” Milton answered promptly.

  “How the hell did you know that?” Reuben said, glaring at him.

  “I read about it in an article six and a half years ago in Antique Motorcycle Magazine while I was waiting at the dentist. I was there for a crown prep.”

  “A crown prep?” Reuben asked.

  “Yes, it involves isolation with rubber sheeting and drilling to shave off the enamel, which leaves a post of dentin approximately two millimeters in diameter, but without exposing the nerve. The permanent crown is made of porcelain. It’s quite nice. See?” He opened his mouth and showed them.

  Reuben said impatiently, “Thank you for the bloody dental lesson, Dr. Farb.”

  “Oh, there’s hardly any blood, Reuben,” replied Milton, who’d entirely missed the sarcasm in his friend’s remark.

  Reuben sighed and then proudly ran his gaze over the pin-striped candy-apple-red motorcycle with attached sidecar. “A thousand cc power plant, rebuilt transmission and magneto. The sidecar’s not authentic; it’s a fiberglass replica, but it doesn’t rust and it’s a lot lighter. I got most of the parts off eBay, and a friend of mine had some extra cowhide leather that I used to reupholster the sidecar seat. And it’s a left-mount sidecar, which is pretty damn rare. One in this condition would sell for north of twenty grand, and I’ve only got about a tenth of that in it. Not that I’m thinking about selling, mind you, but you never know.”

  He held out a black crash helmet to Stone that had goggles attached.

  “Where exactly do I ride?” Stone asked.

  “In the sidecar, of course. What the hell do you think it’s for? A damn flowerpot?”

  Stone put on the helmet and adjusted the goggles, then opened the small door, stepped into the sidecar and sat down. It was a very cramped space for the tall man.

  Reuben said, “Okay, let’s go.”

  “Wait a minute!” Stone exclaimed. “Is there anything I should know about the motorcycle?”

  “Yeah, if the wheel on the sidecar goes off the ground, you can start praying.”

  Reuben hit the kick-starter and the motor caught. He revved it a couple of times, waved good-bye to Milton, and they sailed away from Union Station.

  Reuben steered the motorcycle west on Constitution Avenue. They cut past the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, where war veteran Reuben gave a respectful salute to the wall, looped around the Lincoln Memorial and passed over Memorial Bridge, which carried them into Virginia. From there they headed south on the George Washington Parkway, which was referred to locally as the GW Parkway. As they raced along, they drew curious stares from people in vehicles they passed.

  Stone found that if he angled his legs just so, he could nearly stretch them fully out. He sat back and gazed over at the Potomac River on his left, where a powerboat had just passed two crew teams racing each other. The sun was warming, the breeze inviting and refreshing, and for a few moments Stone allowed his mind a respite from the many dangers that lay ahead for the Camel Club.

  Reuben pointed to a road sign and shouted over the whine of the engine. “Remember for years that sign read ‘Lady Bird Johnson Memorial Park’?”

  “Yes. Until someone informed them she wasn’t dead,” Stone called back. “And named it after LBJ, who is.”

  “I love the efficiency of our government,” Reuben cried. “Only took them about a decade or so to get it right. It’s a good thing I don’t pay taxes, or I’d be really ticked off.”

  They both watched as a jet lifted off the runway at Reagan National Airport heading north and then did a long bank and eventually turned in the southerly direction they were traveling. A few minutes later they entered the official city limits of Old Town Alexandria, one of the most historic places in the country. It boasted not one, but two boyhood homes of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, as well as Christ Church, where the posterior of none other than George Washington had graced the pews. The town was chock-full of wealth, ancient but beautifully restored homes, rumpled cobblestone streets, wonderful shopping and eclectic restaurants, a vibrant outdoor life and an inviting waterfront area. It also was home to the federal bankruptcy court.

  As they passed the court, Reuben said, “Damn place. Been through there twice.”

  “Caleb knows people who can help you with your money. And I’m sure Chastity could provide valuable services to you too.”

  “I’m certain sweet Chastity could service my needs, but then Milton would be really mad at me,” Reuben called out with a roguish wink. “And I don’t need help with the money I have, Oliver, I just need help with getting more of it.”

  He turned left, and they pulled down a side street heading toward the river until it dead-ended at Union Street. Reuben found a parking space, and Stone extricated himself from the sidecar with some difficulty.

  “What the hell happened to your face?” asked Reuben, who’d obviously just noticed these injuries.

  “I fell.”

  “Where?”

  “In the park. I was playing chess with T.J., and then I was having coffee with Adelphia. I tripped over a tree root when we were leaving.”

  Reuben grabbed his friend by the shoulder. “Adelphia! Oliver, that woman is mental. You’re lucky she didn’t drop a lethal Mickey in your java. Mark my words, one night she’s going to follow you to your cottage and slit your throat.” He paused and then added in a low voice, “Or worse, try and seduce you.” Reuben shivered, apparently at the thought of Adelphia
as a seductress.

  They walked past Union Street Pub and then crossed the street and headed toward a shop near the corner. The sign above the door read: “Libri Quattuor Sententiarum.”

  “Where the hell did that come from?” Reuben asked, pointing at this plaque. “I know I haven’t been here in a while, but didn’t this place used to be called Doug’s Books?”

  “That name wasn’t attracting the desired upscale clientele, so they changed it.”

  “Li-bri Quat-tuor Senten-tiarum? That’s real catchy! What does it mean?”

  “It’s Latin for ‘Four Books of Sentences.’ It was a twelfth-century manuscript by Peter Lombard that was cut up and bound around the 1526 edition of St. Thomas Aquinas’ lectures on the Epistles of Paul. Some scholars consider the Aquinas work to be the world’s rarest book. An even earlier work that was bound around that one might be even more special. Hence, it’s a very appropriate name for a rare book shop.”

  “I’m impressed, Oliver. I didn’t even know you spoke Latin.”

  “I don’t. Caleb told me about it. In fact, it was his idea to rename the shop. As you know, I introduced him to the shop’s owner. I thought it would be productive, given Caleb’s expertise with rare books. At first he simply advised on a few things, but now Caleb has an ownership interest in the place.”

  They went inside the shop accompanied by the jangle of a bell attached to the arched, solid-oak door. Inside, the walls were equal parts exposed brick and ancient stone with worm-eaten wooden beams overhead. Tasteful oil paintings hung on the walls, and ornate bookshelves and massive armoires were bulging with ancient tomes that were all carefully labeled and housed behind glass doors.

  In a separate room a pretty young woman was standing behind a small coffee bar making drinks for some thirsty customers. A sign on the wall asked customers not to enter the rare book area with their beverages.

  A small, balding man came out from the back dressed in a blue blazer, slacks and a white turtleneck, his arms outstretched and a smile on his tanned face. “Welcome, welcome to Libri Quattuor Sententiarum,” he announced, the words rolling adroitly off his tongue. Then he stopped and eyed Reuben and looked at Stone.

  “Oliver?”

  Stone put out his hand. “Hello, Douglas. You remember Reuben Rhodes.”

  “Douglas,” Reuben muttered under his breath. “What happened to ‘Doug’?”

  Douglas gave Stone a prolonged hug and shook Reuben’s hand. “Oliver, you look, well, you look very different. Nice but different. I like the new style. No, I love it. Muy chic. Bellissimo!”

  “Thank you. Caleb says that things are going well here.”

  Douglas took Stone by the elbow and led them over to a quiet corner.

  “Caleb is a jewel, a treasure, a miracle.”

  “And here I was thinking he was just a print geek,” Reuben said with a smirk.

  Douglas continued enthusiastically. “I can’t thank you enough, Oliver, for introducing Caleb to me. Business is booming. Booming! I started out selling porno comic books out of my car trunk, and now look at me. I have a condo in Old Town, a thirty-foot sailboat, a vacation house at Dewey Beach and even a 401(k) plan.”

 
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