The Camel Club by David Baldacci

  coming. The heel of his foot hit the North Korean directly on the chin, knocking him back against the car. Hemingway stopped and looked at the blood on his arm, then turned his attention back to the man.

  “This ain’t going to be pretty,” Reuben said.

  Hemingway’s first strike killed the man. Stone could see this from where he was crouched. He had never seen a blow that hard thrown by a human being. It was more like the raw power of a grizzly bear.

  And yet Hemingway did not let the North Korean fall. He held him up against the car and kept striking away, in the head, in the chest and in the abdomen. He was hitting him with such force and astonishing speed that when Hemingway finally let go and the man slumped to the ground, Stone and Reuben could see that the car door behind him had been caved in.

  Hemingway stepped back and took a deep breath as he surveyed the three dead men. As he went to pick up his swords, Stone took out his pistol and drew a bead on the back of Hemingway’s head. Suddenly, Hemingway stiffened, stood straight and slowly turned in the direction of where Stone and Reuben were hidden.

  He stared up at the window. Although he couldn’t possibly see them, it was clear that Hemingway was aware of their presence.

  As Hemingway stood there, apparently waiting for the bullet to come, Stone lowered his gun. Hemingway waited a few seconds, and then, in a blink, he was gone.

  Simpson ran as fast as she could but was hopelessly disoriented. She finally stopped and looked around. She was in a maze. “Alex?” she cried out.


  She ran toward his voice.

  “Jackie, they’re in here somewhere. Watch yourself.”

  She instantly stopped and knelt down, listening. All she could hear at first was her breathing. Then the sounds of footsteps, stealthy footsteps. She backed down the corridor, away from them. She held her pistol up, ready to fire


  “Down here,” she called out.

  Alex stuck his head around the corner and saw her. He quickly joined her.

  She looked at his filthy clothes. “What the hell happened to you?”

  He rubbed at the muck. “Don’t ask. Just don’t ever say I lack patience, or I’ll deck you.” He gazed behind him. “Two guys blew past me coming in here. Any sign of them?”

  She shook her head. “So how do we get out of here?”

  “It’s as simple as checking the floor.”


  Alex didn’t answer. He walked down the corridor and stopped where it intersected with another. He got on his knees and looked at the floor. “Damn, how about that?”

  Simpson hurried forward and joined him.

  “See?” He was pointing at a small dot in a crevice in the floor that was barely visible.

  “A red dot,” Simpson said. “What does that tell us?”

  “Which way to turn.”


  “You must be a landlubber.”

  “Meaning what?”

  “Meaning sailors know that red means port and port means left.” He turned left down the corridor, and they walked along until they reached another intersection. There they found another dot. This one was green.

  “Green means starboard and starboard means—”

  “Right,” Simpson finished for him.

  They made their way through the corridor this way and soon found themselves at the end.

  “Okay, how did you know about the dots?” Simpson demanded.

  “Oliver told me.”

  “So he really was here,” Simpson said slowly.

  Alex stared at her. “I never doubted it.” He looked up ahead at the door at the far end of the hall. “Oliver said we only had two rooms on this side. That means through that door—”

  “Is the president.”

  “And Hemingway,” Alex added grimly.

  “He is a federal agent, Alex, which means he might be on our side.”

  “Jackie, listen to me. This guy is a traitor, and he can probably kill you with his pinkie. If you get a chance to shoot him, take it.”


  “No bullshit, Jackie. Just do it. Now come on.”

  While Alex and Simpson were dashing through the maze, Stone and Reuben stepped into a room that had a hanging cage, chains on the wall, gurneys and trays of surgical instruments and what looked like an electric chair.

  Stone stared at the latter device and drew a sharp breath. “They called this the room of truth. They used it to break you. The truth was they broke everybody eventually, me included.” He pointed to the chair. “They used too much electricity on one man that I trained with, and his heart stopped. They told his family he went missing overseas during a mission. He’s probably buried on Murder Mountain.”

  “We might be too,” Reuben pointed out glumly.

  “Let’s get on to the next room,” Stone said. “This one always made me sick.”

  They had just started toward the exit when the door they had come through burst open.

  “Run!” Stone shouted, throwing gunfire at the North Korean who had swept into the room. He fired back, and Stone had to hurl himself behind the electric chair.

  Gunfire erupted on all sides of the room. A minute later while Stone was reloading as fast as he could, he heard Reuben yell out, “I’m hit! Oliver, I’m hit.”

  “Reuben,” called out Stone as two shots whizzed by his head. He returned fire and ducked down. A clattering sound came from the left as though someone had overturned a tray of instruments; then came more noises of things being tossed around. Stone made a quick decision. He pointed his pistol at the ceiling lights and shot them all out.

  In the darkness Stone put on his night-vision goggles, his gaze peering desperately through the gauzy green world the goggles created.

  Where was Reuben? Where was he? Finally, Stone saw him lying on the floor behind an overturned gurney, holding his side. There was no sign of the North Korean. Stone kept sweeping the room with his gaze, finally stopping on one corner. Here gurneys and other medical equipment had been hastily stacked, forming a wall. The person had to be behind there. And then Stone’s gaze went upward, and he saw what had to be done. He laid on his back with his knees bent. He rested his gun between his knees and then clamped them together, which held the gun motionless. He lined up his target, exhaled all the air from his lungs and relaxed his muscles fully. It was as though all his training on how to kill someone had come effortlessly back to him, right when he needed it. Should I thank God or Satan?

  In daylight the shot would’ve been simple. Looking into a world of green haze and knowing you had only one chance made the task far more complex.

  He squeezed the trigger. The chain holding the cage, which rested right above where the North Korean was hiding, was cut neatly in two. And the one-ton cage fell.

  Stone continued to watch, his pistol ready. What he saw next slightly sickened him, even though it had been his intent. The blood flowed under the gurneys and started pooling a few inches in front of this barrier.

  Stone rose and made his way over to the corner. He cautiously peered over the wall of gurneys. Only a hand was visible from under the fallen cage. The man hadn’t even had time to scream. In Stone’s old world this would have been labeled a “perfect kill.”

  “Oliver!” Reuben called out.

  Stone turned and raced across the room to where Reuben sat against the wall, clutching his side. The knife was still in him, and blood had spread down his shirt and onto the floor.

  “Shit, bastard got a lucky toss in. I’ll be okay. Had lots worse than this.” Reuben’s face, however, was ashen.

  Stone ran to a set of shelves against the wall and threw them open. There were still bottles of ointment and tape and gauze stored there. He doubted the ointment would be any good, but the gauze and bandages were still in their sterilized wrappers. It would be cleaner than using Reuben’s shirt. He grabbed the supplies and headed back over to Reuben.

  After bandagi
ng him up, Stone helped him through the door into the next room.

  As soon as they left the room, the door leading into the room of truth opened. Captain Jack cautiously peered in. He took a minute to search the space and then found his man under the cage.

  Captain Jack said, “Okay, perhaps it’s time to live to fight another day. I’m sure the bloody North Koreans will understand.” He turned to retreat through the steel door but found that it wouldn’t open.

  “I’d forgotten about that,” he muttered. He stood there wondering what to do. He checked his watch. Soon it wouldn’t matter.



  STONE AND REUBEN REACHED the lower level of the facility at about the same time as Alex and Simpson.

  “So that makes nine Chinese dead,” Alex said after the two groups had compared notes.

  “Actually, they’re North Koreans,” Stone corrected.

  “North Koreans! What the hell are they doing involved in this?” Simpson asked.

  Stone said, “I have no idea.” He pointed with his gun down the hallway. “But I do know that down there are the cells that were used to house ‘detainees’ for interrogation during my time here. Presumably, that’s where the president is.”

  Alex checked his watch. “We’ve got three hours left,” he said urgently. “We’ve got to get the president, get out of here, grab a cell signal and call the Service. They’ll contact the White House and stop the launch.”

  “Do you think there are any North Koreans left?” Simpson asked.

  Alex said, “I saw two guys running past me when I was stuck in that tank. So—” He suddenly shouted, “Look out! Grenade!”

  They scattered for cover as the object bounced down the stairs and landed near them. However, it wasn’t a grenade. It was a flash-bang, a device that stunned a person by using ear-piercing sound and blinding light. Members of the FBI’s hostage rescue team swore by its effectiveness. And it did its job this time. When it went off, all of them were instantly incapacitated.

  Two North Koreans raced down the steps. They wore earplugs and so were unaffected by the sound of the explosion. They pointed their weapons at the helpless Alex and the others. Stone struggled to get to his feet, but he was so disoriented he couldn’t manage it. Simpson’s hands were over her ears, and she looked ready to pass out. Reuben lay crouched in the corner, clutching his side and breathing weakly.

  One of the North Koreans shouted one word, in English this time. “Die!”

  He moved his MP-5 shot selector to auto, and his hand slid to the trigger. He could empty his entire thirty-round mag in a few seconds.

  And he would have too, if he’d still been alive. His spine snapped when the foot struck it from behind. He dropped to the floor. As he fell, his finger pushed back the trigger, and the machine gun emptied a few rounds right into the concrete floor. They ricocheted into the man, not that he felt them.

  The other man tried to fire his gun at Hemingway, but Hemingway ripped the mag right off the stock, then crushed it against the man’s skull and finished him off with a vector strike to the liver, rupturing it. The man dropped to the floor with a thud.

  Then Hemingway was gone.

  As the effects of the flash-bang wore off, Alex struggled to his feet and helped Simpson up. Stone did the same with Reuben.

  “Where did Hemingway go?” Stone asked.

  Alex pointed down the hall. “That way. Through that door. I saw him right before he disappeared. I’m not sure how, because my head was exploding at the same time.”

  They took a moment to eye the battered North Koreans.

  “This guy is a freaking nightmare,” Alex exclaimed.

  “He just saved our lives,” Simpson pointed out.

  “Oh, yeah? Probably because he wants to kill us all by himself,” Alex shot back. “So what I told you still goes. Shoot to kill the bastard.”

  Stone looked at his watch. “We’re running out of time.”

  Hemingway stood alone at the end of the hall, the two cells holding the president and Chastity behind him. The prisoners were unconscious after he’d given them amnesic drugs with their dinner earlier. He didn’t believe they’d want to have any memory of what had happened to them.

  As the door opened at the other end of the hall, Hemingway receded into the shadows.

  Alex stepped through the doorway with the others and called out, “Hemingway, we’ve come for the president.”

  Hemingway made not a sound.

  “You might not know what’s happened, Tom,” Alex added. “The Sharia Group claimed responsibility for the kidnapping. Right this instant the United States has a nuke aimed at Damascus. It’s going to launch in less than three hours unless the president is returned safely. That’s what Reinke and Peters were probably coming to tell you.”

  Hemingway drew a quick breath but still said nothing.

  “Tom, I’m being straight with you,” Alex continued. “The whole world is about to go up in flames. Every Muslim army and every terrorist organization in the world is gathering to attack the United States. We’re at DEFCON 1, Tom. DEFCON 1. You know what that means. Everything’s ready to blow.” Alex paused and then shouted, “We’ve got three hours, goddamn it, or six million people die!”

  Finally, Hemingway stepped into the light.

  “Why would the Sharia Group have claimed responsibility?” he asked warily.

  “They didn’t, so I did it for them,” Captain Jack said as he darted through the doorway and pressed his gun against the side of Simpson’s head. He took her pistol and trained it on the others. “Now, drop your weapons, or you’ll get a nice view of this lady’s brains.”

  The others hesitated for a moment, and then one by one Alex, Stone and the wounded Reuben dropped their guns.

  “Damn, that’s the guy we heard earlier,” Reuben muttered to Stone, but his friend wasn’t listening. He was looking very intently at Captain Jack.

  As Captain Jack’s gaze swept over them, it stopped and came back to Stone. Captain Jack’s brow creased. Then his attention was drawn to Hemingway, who said, “I thought we had an agreement.”

  To Alex, Hemingway seemed coiled so tightly he looked as though he could have jumped clear into outer space.

  “We did, Tom,” Captain Jack said pleasantly. “But then I got a better offer from the North Koreans. I told you I was only in this for the money. That was fair warning to you, mate, and don’t blame me if you didn’t pick up on it.”

  Hemingway said, “Why? To start an American-Muslim war? What does that gain for North Korea?”

  “I really don’t care. They paid my price.”

  Alex said, “We’re going to drop a nuclear bomb on Damascus.”

  Captain Jack looked at him disdainfully. “I worked for the Syrians for a while. They’re just as bloodthirsty as anyone else. It’s not like they don’t deserve it.”

  “Six million people,” Alex said. “Including women and children.”

  Captain Jack just shook his head wearily. “You’re really not getting my point, are you?”

  “You’ve got dead North Koreans all over the place,” Hemingway said. “Do you really think your plan will work now?”

  “I’ll have time to clean that all up, Tom. There’s an old mine shaft not too far from here. Perfect place to dump the bodies. Except for one. The world needs to see that one.”


  “Have to finish the job.”

  Stone spoke up. “So you’re intending on killing all of us?”

  Captain Jack looked at him. “You seem very familiar to me.”

  “You didn’t answer my question.”

  “Yes, I plan to kill each of you.” He glanced at Hemingway. “I did right by you, Tom. Look at what happened in Brennan. Worked to perfection.”

  “It doesn’t work if the president ends up dead too,” Hemingway said flatly. “I’m supposed to return him unharmed. That’s what I said I was going to do.”

  “If it’s money you
want, the U.S. has a lot more than North Korea,” Simpson said.

  Captain Jack shook his head. “Even I’m not that greedy. And I seriously doubt I’d get paid. I mean you are the biggest debtor country in the world.”

  Captain Jack shot Hemingway with a glancing wound to the left leg.
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