The Camel Club by David Baldacci

  putting it out of reach. She grabbed up the boy and tried to say in as calm a voice as she could manage, “Where is Nana’s phone, Timmy, you naughty boy. You take Nana’s phone again?”

  The boy nodded and smiled, obviously pleased with himself.

  “Okay, you naughty boy, you take Nana to her phone. Nana needs her phone. You show me, okay?”

  Only he clearly didn’t remember where he’d put it. They searched for ten minutes as the boy led her to one spot and then another. With each failure Djamila’s spirits dropped lower and lower. And then she heard it: The shower stopped. She looked at her watch. She had to leave very soon, or she would be off schedule. Her mind raced. Then she had the solution: She could use the Franklins’ phone to call her cell phone and the ringing sound would tell her where it was. She punched in the number as she walked around the house. However, she heard nothing. Timmy must have hit the silent button on her phone when he’d taken it. She had another thought. She would simply make the calls using the Franklins’ telephone. She started to dial and then realized that would not work. The man on the other end of the phone would not answer. This person, she had been told, would only take the call if Djamila’s name and number came up on the caller ID screen. She ran to the front window and looked out. Could she see him? Could she signal to him? But she saw no one. No one. She was all alone.

  She heard feet moving around upstairs. She ran back into the kitchen and opened one of the drawers. Djamila slid out a steak knife and quietly made her way upstairs, where she knocked softly on Franklin’s door.



  “You can come in.”

  She opened the door, closed and locked it behind her. Then she saw that Franklin was wrapped in a towel and was putting an assortment of clothes on her bed.

  She glanced up at Djamila. “I should’ve given myself more time to pick out something. Are the boys ready?”



  “Miss, I really think it better that you go alone. The boys, they stay with me.”

  “Nonsense, Djamila,” Franklin replied. “We’ll all go. Now, do you think the green or the blue?” She held up each outfit.

  “The blue,” Djamila said distractedly.

  “I thought so too. Now for the shoes.”

  Franklin stepped into her closet and looked through her shoes.

  “Miss, I really think it better you go alone.”

  Franklin stepped out of the closet, a look of mild annoyance on her face. “Djamila, I can’t force you to go, but the boys and I are going.” She crossed her arms and eyed her nanny harshly. “Tell me, do you have a problem seeing our president, is that it?”

  “No, that is not—”

  “I know there’s a lot of tension between America and your part of the world, but that doesn’t mean you can’t show respect for our leader. After all, you came here. You have a lot of opportunity here. And what really gets me upset are people coming to this country, making money and then complaining and whining about how bad we are. If people hate us so much, they can go back where they came from!”

  “Miss, I no hate this country, even with all it has done to my people, I do not hate.” Djamila instantly knew she had made a mistake.

  “What the hell have we done to Saudi Arabia? My country has spent a lot of time and money on the Middle East, trying to make it free, and what do we have to show for it? Just more pain, misery and tax increases.” Franklin took a deep, calming breath. “Listen, I don’t like to argue like this, Djamila. I really don’t. I just thought it would be fun to have a nice lunch and go to this event. When we get there, if the crowd’s too big and it feels too uncomfortable, then we’ll just leave, okay? Now, would you please make sure the boys are ready? I’ll be down in about twenty minutes.” Franklin turned and went back into her closet.

  Djamila withdrew the steak knife from her pocket, summoning the courage to do what she had to. She took a step forward and then froze. Franklin had abruptly come back out of the closet and was staring at Djamila openmouthed.

  “Djamila?” she said fearfully as she glanced from the knife to her nanny.

  The expression on the other woman’s face revealed to Franklin all she needed to know.

  “Oh, my God.” Franklin tried to close the closet doors so Djamila could not reach her, but Djamila was too quick. She grabbed Franklin’s hair and pressed the knife against her neck.

  Lori Franklin started sobbing hysterically. “Why are you doing this?” she shrieked. “You’re going to hurt my babies. I’ll kill you if you touch them!”

  “I no hurt your sons, I swear this!”

  “Then why are you doing this?”

  “You not going to see president!” Djamila snarled back. “Get on the floor. Now, or you will not live to see your sons grow up.” She pushed the blade edge against Franklin’s neck.

  Trembling, Franklin lay on the floor on her stomach. “Don’t you touch my babies!”

  Djamila reached over and ripped the phone line out of the wall and used it to tie up Franklin, binding her hands to her feet such that she could not even move. Then she tore a piece of the sheet from the bed and gagged her with it.

  Just as she completed this, there was a tapping on the bedroom door, and she heard Timmy’s voice asking quietly, “Mama? Nana?”

  As Franklin tried to call out through her gag, Djamila said as calmly as she could, “It is all right, Timmy. I be right there. You go back with your brothers.”

  She waited until she heard the patter of his retreating feet and then looked down at Franklin. Djamila pulled a small vial from her pocket, poured some of the liquid from the vial onto a corner of the towel and pressed it flush against Franklin’s nose and mouth.

  The American thrashed and gagged and then slipped into unconsciousness.

  Djamila dragged the sedated woman into the closet and shut the door behind her.

  She went downstairs, readied the boys and loaded them into her van. Now that events had started, Djamila didn’t think. She simply did exactly as she had practiced.

  A minute after she’d driven away, the Franklins’ downstairs phone rang. And rang.

  George Franklin hung up the phone in his office. He tried his wife’s cell phone. When there was no answer there, he tried Djamila’s number. Inside one of the pot drawers in the kitchen Djamila’s phone flashed but made no noise. Timmy had accidentally hit the silent key when he’d hidden it in there.

  George Franklin put his phone back down. He wasn’t worried; he was just annoyed. This wasn’t the first time he’d been unable to track down his wife, although Djamila usually answered her phone. He had wanted his wife to bring him something he needed and that he’d left at the house. If he didn’t get ahold of someone soon, he’d just have to go get it himself. He turned his attention back to some papers on his desk.



  BRENNAN FINISHED HIS SPEECH and accepted a symbolic town key from the mayor while the crowd cheered. A couple of minutes later, waving and smiling, the president made his way down the steps, where he was enclosed immediately by a wall of agents.

  About twenty yards away Alex stood near the Beast and scanned the crowd, which was certainly the largest this area had ever seen.

  Before the president hit the first members of the rope line, the senior agent posted there said, “All right, folks, just like we talked about earlier, all hands out where we can see them.”

  Brennan headed to the soldiers first: some disabled regular army men, a couple of marines, a young woman in dress blues and some National Guardsmen. He shook hands, said thank you to the soldiers, smiled and kept walking while photos were taken. He bent down to shake the hand of the soldier in a wheelchair even as his Secret Service agents held on to his jacket, their gazes moving at whipsaw speed to each person within touching or shooting distance of the man. And then the president stepped in front of the disabled National Guardsman.

  Brennan put o
ut his hand, and the man shook it firmly with his prosthetic. The feel of the artificial hand caused Brennan, who’d obviously not noted it wasn’t a real hand, to look slightly puzzled, but only for a second. He felt the moisture on his hand and subtly rubbed it against his other to wipe it off. He thanked the man for his service to his country, and the guardsman saluted his commander in chief with his other hand, or hook, rather. The president looked mildly surprised at this too, but then moved on, saying his sound bites to the fans on the rope line and shaking hands with another National Guardsman, two older men, a young woman and then an elderly lady who gave him a kiss.

  While this was going on, the First Lady, accompanied by the governor and the chief of staff, was making her way slowly down the steps of the stage, stopping to wave and chat along the way. Gray had also risen from his seat and was absently scanning the crowd. He looked like a man who would rather have been anywhere except here. And then he abruptly stopped his random gazing as his eyes locked on Oliver Stone in the crowd, although Stone wasn’t aware of this.

  Gray started to say something, but the words never got out of his mouth.

  The agent to the left of the president noted it first. Brennan was not looking well. Sweat had appeared on his forehead. Then he clutched his head, and next he ominously pressed the palm of his hand to his chest.

  “Sir?” the agent said.

  “I’m . . . ,” Brennan said, and then stopped, his breath coming quickly. He looked panicked.

  The agent immediately spoke into his wrist mike and, using Brennan’s code name, said, “Ravensclaw’s ill. Repeat, Raven—”

  The agent didn’t get any further because he was suddenly on the ground. Six other agents and five policemen around the president were also falling as the first wave of shots started.

  “Guns!” screamed a dozen different agents, and the Secret Service switched directly to emergency response mode.

  The crowd panicked and started to run in all directions trying to get away from the violence exploding all around them.

  Four of the Arab shooters were killed seconds after they had fired by the countersnipers at the tree lines. They were miraculous shots considering the pandemonium that had flashed in front of their long-range scopes.

  Next three fedayeen rushed forward with the crowd toward the motorcade, each lighting a match and pressing it against a small pack concealed under their coats. An instant later the trio was fully ablaze. One threw himself under the ambulance, and it became engulfed in flames. People raced away fearing an imminent explosion as the fire neared the gas tank.

  A dozen agents sprinted forward and hurled themselves against the wall of the crowd, forming a protective perimeter around the president, who’d slumped to the ground, looking very pale. Five more of these agents went down with the second wave of fire. The remaining agents grabbed the president and carried him to the Beast, moving so fast and in synchronization that it appeared they were bound together as some elaborate mechanical insect. Yet two more agents were hit as the second firing sequence continued. They fell next to the prostrate form of Edward Bellamy, the president’s personal physician, who’d been hit in the first volley of fire.

  By the time the agents reached the Beast with the president, there were only two left standing. A cadre of police went to reinforce them. But a third wave of fire dropped almost all of them. The rest of the police were trying to control the crowd, which was climbing fences, rushing out of all the exits and screaming in terror as husbands grabbed wives and parents carried children as fast as they could from the nightmare scene.

  Three more shooters dropped, their heads punctured by the federal countersnipers, who were now moving toward the president, but their progress was greatly impeded by the turbulent mob of citizens who only wanted to get away.

  The second wave of fedayeen had commenced their attack, and more of the vehicles in the motorcade were now ablaze.

  Carter Gray stood transfixed on the stage. Gone was his momentary astonishment at seeing Oliver Stone in the crowd, replaced by the horror he was witnessing right now. The president’s wife was screaming to her husband, but her cries were lost in the noise of the crowd. Surrounding her, Gray and the chief of staff were three Secret Service agents, guns out. The unfortunate governor had stepped off the stage and gotten swept away by a crowd that was now almost as dangerous as the shooters or men on fire. Thousands of people were pushing against the stage in their panic to escape, and the supports holding it up were starting to groan under their collective pressure.

  During the course of the speech Kate, Adelphia and the Camel Club had kept edging forward so that at the conclusion of Brennan’s remarks they were only two rows back from the rope line. It was here that Reuben Rhodes was standing next to one of the first shooters. Yet he hadn’t noted anything until the shot went off because his attention was on the giant TV screens showing the president shaking hands. When he did see what was happening, Reuben instinctively yelled, “Gun.” And then he grabbed the man’s arm and wrestled the weapon away. A moment later the man was killed as a supersonic round smashed into his head. Reuben dropped the gun and grabbed Adelphia’s and Kate’s hands and pulled them away. They and the rest of the Camel Club started to frantically push their way to the fence.

  “Come on,” Stone cried. “Just a little farther.”

  Kate looked behind her, up near the Beast. She was trying to spot Alex, to make sure he was all right. And then she was being shoved forward and had to turn back around.

  Alex had reacted with the first wave of shots, his body operating on muscle memory. Pistol out, he pushed through to the small knot of agents now carrying the limp form of the president to the Beast. Alex instantly took the place of one agent who was hit. They reached the Beast and thrust the president inside. Two agents followed. The agent assigned to drive the Beast opened the driver’s door and was about to jump in when he took a round and slumped to the grass.

  Alex instinctively raced to the driver side, grabbed the keys from the front seat, started the car and hit the gas and horn simultaneously. Fortunately, much of the crowd had fled away from the motorcade and toward the other side of the grounds where there were more exits. Yet there were still people running everywhere. For an instant Alex had a sliver of an opening and he darted through it. Through the exit the enormous engine of the Beast responded when Alex smashed his size 13 shoe to the floor, and the limo hit the parking lot and tore across it toward the road. Alex weaved in and out of streams of people running for their cars. He clipped the front end of a truck but kept going.

  Back at the dedication grounds other cars in the motorcade started up and began to race after the Beast. An instant before the first car in the line, a state trooper vehicle, reached the exit, the last fedayeen set himself ablaze and threw himself onto the windshield. The troopers jumped from their cruiser before it totally ignited in flames. Wedged right against the narrow entry and exit point to the dedication grounds, the fireball effectively blocked the rest of the motorcade from getting out. Normally, the remaining cars would have smashed through the fenced-in area, but they were stopped from doing so by the thousands of fleeing people.

  At least the Beast had gotten away. At least the president was safe, thought one struck agent before he lapsed into unconsciousness.

  The two agents in the back of the limo were examining Brennan.

  “Get the hell to the hospital. I think he’s having a damn heart attack,” one cried out.

  Brennan was writhing in pain, clutching his chest and his arm.

  “Dr. Bellamy?” Alex asked.


  And the ambulance has been blown up. Alex eyed the rearview mirror. There was no one back there. The twenty-seven-car motorcade had been reduced to one. He concentrated on the road ahead. Mercy Hospital was only ten minutes from here. Alex planned to make it in five. He prayed the president could hang on.



  THE BLACK CHOPPER SOARED over the Pennsylv
ania landscape. Tom Hemingway gave precise landing coordinates to the pilot even as he watched what was happening at the dedication on his satellite TV. Even though everything was going just as he had planned it, Hemingway still felt an immense pressure in his chest as the events unfolded in real time. Even with all the thought he had given this, all the planning, all the thousands of times he had visualized these very same events happening in his mind, the reality was far more powerful, far more overwhelming. He finally turned off the TV. He simply couldn’t watch any more.

  Djamila raced through the streets of downtown Brennan, turned left and then hung an immediate right. She then eased into the narrow alley as the kids chortled and laughed in the backseat. She eyed them quickly, then stopped and hit her brakes. She’d almost missed it.

  The overhead doors flew up and the man motioned her in. Djamila swung the van into the garage and the doors were pulled back down.

  A half-block up the street from Mercy Hospital a tractor-trailer pulled out from an alleyway, tried to make a turn heading west, and the engine mysteriously died. The driver got out and opened the hood. The truck was effectively blocking the street in both directions.

  A few blocks away on the same street in the other direction, the Beast made the turn onto the road on two wheels, and then Alex floored it. He could’ve used at least one damn police cruiser to clear his way, but apparently, there weren’t any left. However, Alex presumed roadblocks were being set up on all streets leading in and out of Brennan as no doubt an entire army of law enforcement descended on the area.

  The Beast flashed by a street corner behind which rose the antique Brennan water tower emblazoned with the Stars and Stripes. At this section of the street a work zone had been set up only a half hour before by a pair of men dressed in the brown uniforms worn by town workers. The orange cones and tape effectively cordoned off the sidewalks and directed pedestrians to a detour down another side street. No one knew what work was to be performed, but the few people left in town followed the directive. As soon as the Beast cleared the area, two explosive charges set into the water tower’s front supporting legs detonated. The tower buckled and then fell directly across the street and burst open, disgorging about twelve thousand gallons of filthy water that still
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