The Camel Club by David Baldacci

  As the Malibu flew forward, Caleb hit the horn. He hadn’t been joking before to Stone. It was very loud, like a shriek and a train whistle rolled into one.

  Reinke glanced over his shoulder at the Malibu as it raced by honking its horn.

  He looked at Peters and muttered, “Stupid high school kids joyriding. Happens all the time around here.”

  Inside Reinke’s house, both Stone and Reuben raced to the front bedroom window when they heard the car horn. That’s when they saw the headlights turn into the drive.

  “Oh, shit, that’s Reinke,” Reuben said.

  “And his friend,” Stone added as the two men climbed out of the car. Then he glanced at the Malibu disappearing down the street. “I told them to call us, not race around sounding like a banshee,” Stone said irritably.

  They hurtled downstairs, and then in the nick of time Stone remembered and grabbed Reuben by the shirt an instant before he would’ve stepped into the infrared arc of the motion detector mounted by the front door. They crawled forward as they heard the front door being unlocked. They hit the kitchen as the front door opened and the beeps started to sound. They were getting off the floor as they heard someone punching in the code and the beeps stopped.

  “Okay,” Stone whispered. “The alarm’s off, so we can open the back door.”

  Reuben did so as quietly as possible, even as they heard a set of footsteps coming their way. They bolted out of the house, shutting the door behind them, and turned the corner of the house.

  And ran right into Warren Peters, who was pulling a trash can back behind the house.

  “What the hell—” was as far as Peters got before Reuben’s massive fist sent the NIC man flying head over heels backward. Stone and Reuben ran for the motorcycle. They were on it and Reuben had kick-started the bike to life when Reinke, hearing all the commotion, came flying out of the house.

  He spotted Stone and Reuben, and his hand went inside his jacket as he ran forward. He had a clear line to shoot. What he didn’t count on was a rusted Malibu going partially airborne driven by a crazed rare book specialist with a terrified OCD genius counting madly in the copilot’s seat.

  “Holy mother of God!” Milton screamed as Reinke went flying across the windshield, rolled off and landed in a heap in the grass. Then Milton resumed his ritual counting.

  Peters had staggered to his feet by this time. However, Caleb, his mind and body seemingly possessed by the spirit of a youthful daredevil, rammed the Malibu into reverse, put the gas pedal to the floor and sped backward, the wheels spitting gravel like machine-gun bullets.

  Peters screamed as the car bore down on him. He got off one shot and dove out of the way. He was coming up for another attempt when the motorcycle flew past him. As Reuben drove, Stone was sitting on the lip of the sidecar swinging his helmet by the strap. It caught Peters on the side of the head, and he went down for the count.

  It was a full ten minutes before Peters and Reinke began to stir. By the time they had regained consciousness, the Camel Club was long gone.



  THE AUTHORITIES’ RESPONSE TO what had happened to Alex Ford and Kate Adams was not exactly encouraging. According to the police the brake line seemed to have popped all by itself. Not unusual for a vehicle that old, the police said. And there was no evidence of any shooter at Kate Adams’ home, other than what Alex had said he’d seen and heard. Two of his bullets were found embedded in the fence behind where he shot. No other slugs were recovered.

  It was the next morning, and Alex was sitting in Jerry Sykes’ office listening to the official version of last night’s event.

  Sykes stopped pacing and looked at him. “The people who tried to help you after your ‘accident’ reported you were acting in a bizarre manner and then you took off running. Alex, all this crap just isn’t like you. Is there something going on in your life you want to talk about?”

  “Absolutely nothing other than someone wanting me dead,” Alex said stonily.

  Sykes dropped into his chair and picked up a mug of coffee. “Why in the hell would anyone want you dead?”

  “Some guy put a freaking gun to my head, Jerry. I didn’t take the time to ask him why.”

  “And nobody saw this guy except you. So again, I’m asking you what happened between yesterday and today to make somebody want you dead?”

  Alex hesitated. He wanted to tell Sykes about the discovery of the boat but figured that admitting he’d disobeyed another order from the director would be the end of his career.

  “I’ve got a lot of years of damn good service behind me. Why all of a sudden would I start making this sort of crap up?”

  “You put your finger on it. You’ve put in a lot of years. The director cut you a break yesterday. He could’ve canned your ass on the spot. Hell, I probably would’ve if I’d been in his shoes. Don’t blow a gift from the top, Alex. You’re not getting another one.”

  “Fine, but can you at least put someone on Kate Adams’ house? I didn’t imagine that optics reflection.”

  Sykes sat back. “I’ll call the D.C. police and ask them to have a car make some extra rounds. But that’s all. And consider that a gift.” Sykes looked at his watch. “I’ve got a meeting, and I think you have a post to stand.”

  “Right. In the White House,” Alex said wearily.

  “No, actually outside. You’ll have to work your way back inside the place.”

  The Camel Club held a hasty meeting at Caleb’s condo early that morning. The first order of business was to congratulate the esteemed librarian and gutsy wheelman on his bravery. They had to wait a bit for that, however, as Caleb was in the bathroom still throwing up after realizing just how close he’d come to dying.

  When Caleb finally emerged from the toilet Stone said, “I would like the official record to reflect that Caleb Shaw has earned the deepest thanks of the entire Camel Club membership for his extraordinary bravery and ingenuity.”

  A pale but smiling Caleb shook each of their hands. “I’m not sure what came over me. I just knew that I had to do something. I’ve never been that scared since I was given the honor of handling Tocqueville’s De la Démocratie en Amérique in its original paper wrappers.”

  Reuben gave a fake tremble. “Handling a Tocqueville! Gives me the piss shivers just thinking about it.”

  “However, we have to assume that Reinke and his partner have now ‘made’ us, so to speak,” Stone warned.

  “I’m not so sure. I took my license plates off while we were watching the road,” Caleb said as they all stared at him in surprise. “After Milton got their license plate and ran it so easily, I was terrified they’d do the same if they saw mine,” he explained.

  Just then Milton’s cell phone buzzed.

  “Yes?” he said. He listened for a bit and then clicked off and looked at the others. “Someone broke into my house and knocked out the security guard who responded to the silent alarm.”

  “Was anything taken?” Stone asked.

  “Doesn’t appear to be. However, I have surveillance devices disguised as track lighting throughout the place. The security company doesn’t know about that.”

  “It would be very interesting to see who broke in,” Stone remarked.

  “I have to go there to check it. The DVD recorder’s hidden behind my refrigerator.”

  “We’ll have to chance it,” Stone said. “If it was Reinke and his colleague, it might give us the leverage we need.”

  Reuben put a big arm around Caleb. “Well, if those two show up again, they’re going down for the count. Right, Killer?”

  His first day back on presidential protection detail was a little awkward for Alex Ford. Everyone seemed to know that this reassignment was a demotion for the veteran agent. Still, they were cordial and professional with him. There was one good thing about being assigned to exterior White House duty: Alex could patrol Lafayette Park.

  However, Stone wasn’t there, but Adelphia was. She was hovering in
the middle of the park, shooting glances in the direction of Stone’s tent.

  “Hello, Adelphia,” Alex said politely. “I was just looking for Oliver.”

  To his surprise, Adelphia’s response was to burst into tears. That was something Alex had never seen the woman do before.

  “Adelphia, what’s the matter?”

  She just covered her face with her hands.

  Alex moved over to her. “Adelphia, what is it? Are you hurt? Or sick?”

  She shook her head, then took a deep breath and uncovered her face. “It is all right,” she said. “It is fine.”

  Alex led her over to a bench. “You’re obviously not fine. Now, tell me what’s wrong. Maybe I can help.”

  Adelphia took a series of replenishing breaths and then looked over at Stone’s tent again. “I no lie to you. I am fine, Agent Fort.”

  “It’s Ford, but if you’re all right—” Then he followed her gaze to Stone’s tent. “Has something happened to Oliver?” he asked quickly.

  “I not know that.”

  “I don’t understand. Then why are you crying?”

  She stared at him in a way she never had before. It wasn’t her usual distrustful and surly expression. It was one of hopelessness. “He trusts you. Oliver has said this to me, he say Agent Fort is good man.”

  “I like and respect Oliver too.” He paused and then added, “His face was bruised the last time I saw him. Does it have something to do with that?”

  Adelphia nodded and told him of the encounter in the park. “He took this finger,” she said, holding up her middle finger, “and he poke it in the man’s side. And this giant of a man, he fall like baby.” She drew a deep, troubled breath. “And then Oliver, he pick up the knife and he hold it in a way”—she shuddered—“he hold it like he know well the knife. And I think he will cut the man’s neck open, like this.” She made a slashing motion with her hand and then stopped. She stared at Alex with an expression of both sadness and relief. “But he did not. He no cut the man. He leave when police come. Oliver no like police.”

  “And you haven’t seen him since?”

  She shook her head, and Alex sat back against the bench letting this all sink in.

  “Hey, Ford,” a voice called out. Alex looked over at his supervisor.

  “You wanna come back and join the party, if it’s not too much trouble?” the man said curtly.

  Alex jumped up. Before leaving he turned to Adelphia. “If you see Oliver, tell him I want to talk to him.”

  Adelphia didn’t look very enthused about that.

  “I won’t tell him you told me anything. I promise. I just need to see him.”

  She finally nodded and he raced off.

  Work in Brennan for the president’s visit had accelerated, and Captain Jack was kept very busy. The vehicle being constructed in the garage was right on schedule, and the various wheelmen were ready. He hadn’t visited the snipers’ nest again. He didn’t want to risk being seen going to the apartment too often. Captain Jack had spent time with al-Rimi and his colleague at the hospital while the two were off duty. There were no problems there.

  He had met once more with Djamila late last night after she had made her nightly rounds of Brennan. He was still a bit concerned about her emotional makeup, but there was no time to substitute now. He reinforced the notion of how important her work was to the whole project. About how many men would be sacrificing their lives and how that sacrifice would be for naught if she failed.

  He would hold two more meetings before game day, one tonight, before the Secret Service advance team arrived in the morning. And, as with the last group meeting, he would afterward meet with his North Korean counterpart to go over necessary details.

  However, Carter Gray was on the prowl. Actually, Captain Jack was a little surprised it had taken the old man this long to become suspicious. They had used every connection they had in the Muslim world to set up this operation. But Hemingway’s plan was, in Captain Jack’s mind, an ultimately futile exercise, although Tom Hemingway simply refused to see that. To Captain Jack’s thinking, Hemingway’s chief problem was he still believed in the good in people. That logic was inherently flawed, Captain Jack knew, because the people who really mattered didn’t possess any goodness. With every mission he’d ever carried out, Captain Jack always allowed for contingencies, and this time was no exception. Following his old maxim had once again led him down the right path. It really was all about the money.

  In the rental space on the outskirts of town the engineer and chemist were going over again the workings of the prosthetic hand with the ex-National Guardsman.

  He had gotten the maneuverings of the device down very well. They watched as he put his new hand through a series of grips, waves and other exercises. Then he executed the water bag implement flawlessly. Before leaving he thanked them both.

  Afterward, the men packed up a duffel bag and headed into town, where they ran errands at a half dozen businesses along the town’s center. At each place they left a little present. These presents would further help lay a place in history for Brennan, Pennsylvania, although certainly not one the townspeople would have wanted.



  ALEX FOUND OUT LATER THAT day he’d been assigned to the advance team for the Brennan event. This thoroughly ticked him off, because it meant time away from Kate. However, it wasn’t as if he could complain. He was barely hanging on to his Service pension as it was. Indeed, Alex sensed that he’d be sent to every bump-in-the-road campaign outpost Brennan was targeting on his reelection charge across America. He’d be a zombie by the time it was over.

  He and Kate met at a restaurant in Dupont Circle. She’d rebounded well from the frightening events of the previous night and was now determined to get to the truth. That spunk drew both admiration and terror from Alex.

  “I understand how you feel, Kate, but don’t get carried away. These guys have guns, and they’re obviously not afraid to use them.”

  “More reason to get them off the streets,” she said determinedly. “So when do you leave for Brennan?”

  “Crack of dawn. It’s a short flight but there’s a lot to do. Advance teams do the heavy lifting that keeps the president safe. But it’s killing me that I won’t be around here in case you need me.”

  She put her hand over his. “Well, for what it’s worth, I thought you were pretty damn terrific last night.”

  Right as she said these words, their young waiter stopped by with their meals and overheard them. Obviously misinterpreting the import of her words, he gave Alex a wink and a smile.

  As they ate, Kate asked, “So any new developments?”

  “Just one.” He told her about his conversation with Adelphia about Stone.

  “You said Stone didn’t have a past that you could find. And yet based on what Adelphia saw, he definitely has a past, maybe a pretty interesting one.”

  Alex nodded and then looked thoughtful. “What do you say after we eat we take a little stroll over to 16th and Pennsylvania?”

  “I hear that’s a really nice place. Think you can get me in?’’

  “Right now I’m not sure they’d let me in. But I was talking about the 16th and Pennsylvania on the other side of the street.”

  Forty-five minutes later the two arrived at Lafayette Park.

  “Doesn’t look like he’s there,” Alex observed as he stared at Stone’s darkened tent. This was confirmed moments later when they opened the tent and saw it was empty.

  “So you have another address for the man?” Kate asked.

  “Actually, I do.”

  Twenty minutes later Alex pulled his car to the curb outside Mt. Zion Cemetery.

  A light was on in the caretaker’s cottage.

  “He lives here?” Kate asked. “At a cemetery?”

  “What’d you expect? A penthouse near the MCI Center?”

  The gate to the cemetery was locked, but Alex boosted Kate over and then scaled the fence, landing next to

  When he answered their knock, Stone couldn’t hide his surprise. “Alex?” he said, and then glanced curiously at Alex’s companion.

  “Hello, Oliver, this is my friend Kate Adams. She’s a lawyer at Justice and the best bartender anyone could want.”

  “Ms. Adams, it’s very nice to meet you,” Stone said, shaking her hand. He looked questioningly at Alex again.

  “We just thought we’d drop by to see you,” Alex said.

  “I see. Well, please come in.” Stone didn’t ask how Alex knew where he lived.

  He let them into the cottage and then poured out some coffee he’d made while they looked around. Kate leafed through a book she pulled from the shelf. “Have you read all these, Oliver?” she asked.

  “Yes,” he said, “though most of them not more than twice, I’m afraid. Unfortunately, there’s never enough time to read as much as one would want.”

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