The Camel Club by David Baldacci

  “But what does that have to do with Oliver?”

  “Well, you see . . . I want to take the café with Oliver, but he has meeting to go to.”

  “Meeting, what sort of meeting?”

  “Ah, that is what I say. What sort of meeting in middle of night? But off he go. Now, me, I am angry with this. Meeting and no café? So I pretend to go away, but I see him get in cab. And I get in cab too. I have money, I too can take cab.”

  “Of course, of course,” Kate said. “What happened next?”

  “I follow him to Georgetown. He get out, so I get out. He walk to river. I walk to river. And then I see his friends he meet with. I see what they do.”

  “What!” Kate said it so loudly that she startled Adelphia.

  “They get in old boat and they row out to island, that is what they do.”

  “And then what did you do?”

  “I take cab and go back. I not wait for them. And I not swim to island. I go back in cab. I get my café, and I see Agent Fort when he come by for Oliver.” Adelphia started to tear up. “And then I see TV and dead man.”

  “And you’re sure it was the same night?”

  “They say on TV. It is same night.”

  “Adelphia, you say you don’t believe that Oliver did anything wrong. And yet you saw them row out to that island, and then a man was killed there.”

  “They say he killed by gun. Oliver no has gun.”

  “You can’t be sure of that. And what about the others? His friends?”

  Adelphia laughed. “I know these men. Except for the big one, they are little frightened mice. One, he work at library. He love books. He has brought me some. The other one, he checks things.”

  “Checks things?”

  “You know he counts and hums and whistles and grunts. I know not what it was, but Oliver say it to me. He call it OD, something like that.”


  “That is it.”

  “Do you know their names? The friends?”

  “Oh, yes, this I know. The bookman, his name is Caleb Shaw. Sometime he dress in old clothes. Oliver say it is hobby. I say little bookman he is crazy.”

  “And the others?”

  “The counting one, he is Milton Farb. He is smart that one. He tell me things about the world I not know.”

  “And you mentioned the ‘big one’?”

  “Yes. Shifty pants. His name is Reuben, Reuben Rhodes. Rhodes like in Greece is how I remember.”

  “So what do you think happened on that island? If none of them killed the man?”

  “Do you not know?” Adelphia said breathlessly. She lowered her voice and said, “It is they see who did it. They see killer.”

  Kate sat back against the bench. Her first thought was she had to tell Alex about all this. But then she wondered if that would be wise. Doubtless his first reaction would be to come back. That would get him in even more trouble with the Service. And she didn’t know if anything Adelphia was telling her was true. She had a sudden thought.

  “Adelphia, would you mind coming with me to look at something?”

  “Where?” Adelphia asked suspiciously.

  “It’s nearby. I promise it won’t take long.”

  Adelphia reluctantly agreed, and they drove to a parking lot near the Georgetown waterfront.

  Kate said, “Can you describe this boat you saw them in?”

  “It was long, about twelve feet maybe. And old. It all rotted. They take it from old junkyard down that way,” she added, pointing south.

  Kate led her over to the river wall. “I want you to stay here.” She slipped down some rocks located to the side of the seawall and reached the drainage port. “If you lean over a little, I think you can see it all right.” She pulled some brush out of the way, exposing the bow as Adelphia leaned over.

  “Is this the boat you saw them in?”

  “Yes, that is boat.”

  Oh, my God.



  OLIVER STONE WAITED OUTSIDE the high-rise condo building, watching well-dressed people emerge from the building and head off, probably to work, given the number of briefcases he saw. And then she came out. Jackie Simpson carried only a small purse over her shoulder. She didn’t look at Stone as she passed by. He waited a suitable time and followed her. His strides were long and hers short, so he had to constantly slow down. A couple of times he thought about approaching her, but both times something happened which had never happened to him before: He lost his nerve. However, when she stopped to buy a newspaper from a box, she spilled her change. He rushed to help her, laying the coins in her outstretched palm. His breath quickened when he saw it, but he merely smiled when she thanked him and walked off.

  When she arrived at WFO, he stopped and watched her go in the building.

  Petite, olive complexion and an attitude. He’d known a woman just like that once.

  He turned and headed to a Metro station. He had a very important meeting to go to. Emerging from the subway at an agreed-upon spot, he found the other members of the club waiting for him.

  They had decided that the safest way for Milton to retrieve his record of the break-in was to be escorted to his house by the security firm that had responded to the silent alarm. Arrangements were made, and Milton, followed at a discreet distance by the rest of the Camel Club in Caleb’s Malibu, met two guards near his home, and the three men went in together.

  About thirty minutes later Milton joined up with his friends, and they sat in Caleb’s car.

  Stone said, “Did you get it?”

  Milton nodded and slipped a DVD out of his knapsack. “It was activated, so presumably there’s something on it.”

  He popped it in his laptop, and a minute later they were looking at the darkened interior of Milton’s house.

  “There!” Stone said, pointing at a man coming around the corner.

  “That’s Reinke,” Caleb exclaimed.

  “And there’s his confederate,” Reuben added. “The one you nailed with the helmet, Oliver.”

  They continued to watch, seeing the pair move stealthily from room to room.

  “My God, Milton,” Reuben said sarcastically. “You’re quite the Messy Marvin at home, aren’t you?”

  “What’s he pulling out of that bin?” Caleb asked.

  Milton ran that part again. “That looks like my receipt box, but I can’t see what the paper is.”

  “Look, there’s the security guard,” Stone said.

  They watched as the man advanced, and then something flew out of the darkness at him and he crumpled.

  “What the hell was that?” Reuben asked.

  “A man in a mask,” Stone said. “At least one of them had the good sense to burglarize the place without showing his face.”

  “But it wasn’t Reinke and the other guy,” Milton said.

  “Which clearly means there’s someone else,” Stone said slowly. “But this tape gives us the leverage that we—” He was cut off by the buzzing of Milton’s cell phone.

  Milton answered, “Oh, hi, Chastity.” Then his expression changed in a hurry. “What! Oh, my God! What are you talking abou—”

  Stone ripped the phone from his friend. “Chastity!”

  However, it was a man’s voice on the line.

  “I think under the circumstances that we can call it even right now. So long as you don’t act, neither will we.”

  The phone went dead.

  Stone looked at the panicked Milton, who had tears welling into his eyes. “I’m sorry, Milton.”

  Kate had spent the next morning and afternoon researching Milton Farb, Reuben Rhodes and Caleb Shaw. She’d also gone on Google and found some material on Milton and his Jeopardy! stint. However, Oliver Stone remained an enigma. Kate was certain of one thing: She believed the men had seen who killed Patrick Johnson. The bullet hole and blood on the boat seemed to indicate that they’d almost lost their lives as well.

  Armed with her newfound knowledge, she went back t
o Mt. Zion Cemetery that afternoon and was fortunate to find Stone working in the grounds.

  “Hello, Oliver. Kate Adams. We met briefly the other night.”

  “I remember,” he said curtly.

  “Are you okay? You look worried.”

  “Nothing too important.”

  “Well, as you know, Alex is out of town, and I hope you don’t think it’s too forward of me, but I’d like to invite you to dinner tonight.”

  “To dinner?” Stone looked at her as though she were speaking a language he was not familiar with.

  “At my house. Well, not exactly my house, I live in the carriage house. It’s actually Lucille Whitney-Houseman’s home, in Georgetown. Do you know her?”

  “I’m afraid I haven’t had the pleasure,” he said distractedly.

  “And I wanted to invite Adelphia and your other friends.”

  Stone threw some weeds in a garbage bag. “That’s very nice, but I’m afraid—” He stopped and looked at her sharply. “What other friends?”

  “You know. Reuben Rhodes, Caleb Shaw and Milton Farb. I’m starting to collect rare books, and I think Caleb will be fascinating to talk to. And I’m a huge fan of Jeopardy!, though I don’t think I saw Milton when he was on. And Reuben’s work at DIA all those years ago, how could that not be enthralling? And then, of course, there’s you.” She let that comment hang for a long moment. “I’m sure it’ll be a wonderfully interesting dinner. They used to have them in Georgetown all the time, or so Lucky—that’s Mrs. Whitney-Houseman—tells me.” Kate said this all in one long surge, hoping to overwhelm Stone into accepting if only because his curiosity had to be piqued by now.

  He said nothing for about a minute as he knelt on the ground, apparently dissecting all she had said. “I’ve found that when one takes the time to learn that much about someone, there’s usually a reason for the interest that’s not readily apparent to everyone.”

  “I wouldn’t disagree with that,” she answered.

  “However, I’m not sure tonight is good for us. We’ve had, well, we’ve had some bad news very recently.”

  “I’m sorry to hear that. Alex and I had some bad things happen too. Some people tried to kill us. Funny, it was right after we discovered an old boat hidden in a storm drain in Georgetown that looked like it had a bullet hole in it and also some blood.”

  “I see.” Stone’s calm response to what must’ve been a stunning revelation only increased her esteem for the man, along with her curiosity. “Well, then perhaps we should have dinner. I can contact my friends.”

  “Around seven will be great. Do you need the address?”

  “Yes. Mrs. Whitney-Houseman no doubt resides in circles where the common masses do not often tread.”

  She told him the address. “Now, I’ll just pop over to invite Adelphia. I’m sure she can catch a ride with you and your friends.”

  “Kate, I really don’t think that’s a good idea.”

  “Oh, I think it’s a great idea,” she said firmly.

  “And why is that?” he asked.

  “Because, Oliver, you strike me as someone who needs all the friends he can get right now.”

  Caleb, Milton and Adelphia arrived at Lucky’s manse in the Malibu, its tailpipe smoking and its springs creaking from the strenuous activities at Reinke’s place. Reuben and Stone pulled up behind them on the Indian motorcycle.

  Kate had been watching for them and opened the ornately carved front door.

  “Nice bike,” she said to Reuben, who wore a frayed leather jacket, wrinkled khaki pants, collared shirt and his usual moccasins. However, for the dinner he’d wrapped a blue kerchief around his neck as a cravat.

  Reuben ran his gaze appreciatively over the young woman’s figure. She was dressed in black slacks and matching pumps with a white blouse and a small string of pearls around her neck. Her blond hair was done up in a bun that showed off her long, slender neck.

  “I’ll take you for a spin sometime,” he said. “That sidecar has seen some action, let me tell you.”

  Adelphia nodded stiffly at her hostess as she passed into the house. Milton followed her. He was dressed in an immaculate green blazer and striped tie, his slacks perfectly creased. He held out a small bouquet of flowers he’d brought.

  “It’s Milton, right? Well, thank you very much, they’re beautiful.” Even as she said this, Adams saw tears forming in the man’s eyes.

  Next came Caleb, who’d decided not to wear his Abe Lincoln outfit after Stone had spoken with him, something to the effect of not wanting their hostesses to think he was dangerously insane. However, in an act of subtle defiance he had worn his fat pocket watch and chain.

  “Nice to meet you, Caleb,” Kate said pleasantly. “Go right in.”

  Oliver Stone brought up the rear. He was dressed in some of his new clothes and was holding his motorcycle helmet in one hand. “Would you care to give me a preview of the agenda?”

  She looked at him with a twinkle. “But that would take all the fun away.”

  “This isn’t a fun business we find ourselves in.”

  “I agree. But I think you’ll find the evening informative.”

  Lucky met them with a pitcher of sangria. As she scuttled around talking and pouring, it was clear that the old woman was in her element. Sufficiently refreshed, they passed a pleasant hour before dinner was served.

  Reuben and Caleb ate heartily. Stone, Milton and Adelphia merely picked at their meals. Coffee was served in the library. Cigars were offered by Lucky but only Reuben lit up. “I like to see a man smoke,” she said as she sat next to Reuben and patted his big shoulder. “Now, you look to me to be a man who packs heat.”

  As Reuben stared at her quizzically, the conversation, craftily guided by Kate, turned to intelligence circles.

  “I tell you what,” Reuben said, “the best security in the world can be defeated by a rumbling stomach.”

  “How’s that?” Kate asked.

  “Just this. I knew before anyone else the exact time the bombings of Afghanistan and Iraq were going to start.”

  “Were you with DIA back then?”

  “Hell no, they’d long since kicked my butt out. I knew because I was the dispatcher for Domino’s. Each time, the pizza order for the Pentagon spiked right before the bombs started falling. So yours truly knew before the likes of Dan Rather or Tom Brokaw or probably even the president.”

  While Reuben had been talking, Caleb was making the rounds of the books on the massive shelves, with Lucky as his guide.

  Caleb’s face brightened with each new discovery. “Oh, that’s quite a good copy of Moby-Dick. And a Hound of the Baskervilles, first English edition. Very nice. And over there, is that Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia from 1785? Yes, it is. We have one in our collection. Lucky, you really should let me get you acid-free boxes for these, computer-cut to the book’s exact dimensions.”

  Lucky was hanging on Caleb’s every word. “Oh, acid-free boxes cut by computer, how terribly exciting. Would you, Caleb?”

  “It would be my honor.”

  Reuben helped himself to more coffee spiked with a little something from a flask he pulled from his coat pocket. “Yeah, you’ll find brother Caleb a real dynamo in the excitement department.”

  “Lucky,” Kate said finally, “we’re going to head out to the carriage house. I need to talk over some things with my friends.”

  “All right, dear,” she said, patting Caleb’s arm. “But first they have to promise to come back.”

  Reuben immediately raised his glass. “Lucky, you couldn’t keep me away with a squad of Special Forces.”

  Kate led them outside and over to the carriage house, where they settled down around a table on the large sofa and two wing chairs.

  “I’m assuming you’ve told them of our discussion and the discovery of the boat?” Kate said in a businesslike tone to Stone.

  “I have,” he answered, casting a glance in Adelphia’s direction. “And for some reason
you believe that we were in that boat and on the island?”

  “I don’t believe, I know. Now I want to know how much you saw.”

  “There’s no evidence that we saw anything,” he replied evenly. “Even
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