The Camel Club by David Baldacci

  family. What did you mean by that?”

  Stone sat down behind his desk and fiddled with some papers lying there. “Let’s just say that I thought I’d finished my ‘duties’ for my country, but apparently, my country believed that my job was not one you ever walked away from.” He paused. “It’s the greatest regret of my life that my family suffered because of me.”

  “Your daughter’s name was Beth?” Alex said cautiously. “And she was born in Atlanta?”

  Stone stared at him. “How did you know that?”

  Alex was thinking of the mistake on the NIC database as to Simpson’s birthplace that she’d pointed out to Hemingway. Yet the database was right. She was born in Atlanta, not Birmingham, where the Simpsons were from. And then he thought of the two tall, fair-haired Simpsons and their petite, dark-haired daughter. Now Alex had a good idea what Oliver Stone’s dead wife looked like. It was clear to him that Jackie Simpson and Beth Carr were the same person.

  “It was on her official file,” Alex answered.

  Stone nodded absently.

  Alex put his hand on Stone’s shoulder. “I’m sorry, Oliver.”

  “Don’t pity me, Alex. I’ve done many things in my life that I hate myself for. I could excuse them by saying I was serving my country, but that’s not really much of an excuse, is it?”

  Carter Gray had just finished his briefing with the president and was heading back to his chopper on the lawn of the White House. It had been a good meeting, although Brennan was making some curious—and to Gray’s thinking, disturbing—noises about a decided shift in America’s policies toward the Middle East. However, Gray stopped pondering this when he saw the man standing at the fence looking at him. Oliver Stone motioned over to where Reuben sat astride his Indian motorcycle. Then Stone pointed to the west. As Gray followed this gesture, it was clear what the man intended.

  A few minutes later Gray was in a limo following the motorcycle. As he’d expected, it turned into Arlington National Cemetery. A few minutes later, with his security detail at a discreet distance, Gray stood across from Stone in front of John Carr’s grave.

  “I can give you ten minutes at most, John,” Gray said.

  “My name is Oliver Stone.”

  “Whatever,” Gray said impatiently.

  “And five minutes will be more than enough.”

  “Then get on with it.”

  “How did my daughter end up with the Simpsons?”

  Gray looked a little put out by the question but said, “As you know, Roger Simpson worked at the CIA with me. We were very good friends. They couldn’t have children. It seemed like a good solution. You and your wife had no family, and I couldn’t just abandon the child, although there were some at the Agency who thought she should’ve just been shot too. I had no idea you were even alive, John.”

  “I don’t believe you looked very hard.”

  “I had no involvement in what happened to you. I didn’t order it and I didn’t condone it. In fact, I saved your daughter from being killed.”

  “But you did nothing to stop the attack on me and my family, did you?”

  “Did you really just expect to walk away from it all?”

  “I never would’ve betrayed my country.”

  “That’s not the point.”

  “That is precisely the point!”

  Gray threw up a hand. “This is ancient history.”

  Stone pointed to the left. “Part of your history lies over there, where your wife is buried. Do you just forget that?”

  “Don’t you dare talk about her,” Gray snapped. “Now, is there anything else?”

  “Just one more thing,” Stone said. “I want you to resign your position.”

  Gray stared at him blankly. “Excuse me?”

  “You are to resign your position immediately as national intelligence director. You’re no longer fit for the post.”

  “I feel sorry for you,” Gray said, shaking his head. “I really do. You served your country capably, and if you need something to make your old age more comfortable, I’ll see what I can do.”

  “I’ll go public, tell all that I know.”

  Gray looked at him with pity. “And you have so much credibility, a man who doesn’t even exist. And that friend of yours, Reuben. I’ve looked him up. He’s even more incorrigible than you. And if you think Alex Ford is going to say anything, think again. He won’t jeopardize his career by taking me on, and he’s smart enough not to drag the country through something like this. So just go back to your little hole, John, and crawl in for good.”

  “All I need is for you to resign.” Gray shook his head wearily and turned to leave. Stone added, “Before you go, you might want to listen to this.”

  Gray turned back around and saw that Stone was holding out a small tape recorder. He hit the play button.

  A moment later Gray was listening to himself as he calmly talked about killing the president at Murder Mountain.

  When Stone hit the stop button, Gray exploded, “How the hell did you—”

  He stopped as Stone held up his cell phone. “A friend gave me this phone that’s also a recorder. And being an old spy, I put it to good use.” He handed Gray the tape. “I’ll be delighted to hear of your resignation tomorrow morning.” He started to walk off and then turned around. “We both served our country capably, Carter. But the way we did it just doesn’t have a place anymore. And thank God for that.”

  Gray just stood there, his face red and his chest heaving. “I’m not a zealot, damn you. I’m a patriot!”

  “Actually, you’re neither one, Carter.”

  “Then what am I? Tell me,” he said tauntingly. “What the hell am I?”

  “You’re wrong.”

  The next day Kate and Alex met for lunch. All of Washington was talking about Carter Gray’s abrupt resignation.

  “Oliver couldn’t have had anything to do with that, could he?” Kate asked.

  “I think Oliver Stone is capable of a lot more than either of us know,” Alex replied quietly.

  After their lunch the two walked hand in hand past a very familiar building.

  “I can’t seem to get this place out of my head,” Alex said, staring across at the White House.

  “Well, I’ll just have to work extra hard on getting your mind on other things. After all, in a few years you’re a free man, Agent Ford.”

  He looked at her and smiled. “I really don’t consider myself a free man anymore.”

  “Am I supposed to take that as a compliment?”

  He kissed her. “Does that answer your question?”

  They watched as a helicopter lifted off from the White House grounds.

  Alex looked at the NIC insignia on the tail. “That was probably Carter Gray making his last trip to the White House.”

  “Good riddance,” Kate said.

  “The person who replaces him might be just as ruthless,” Alex cautioned.

  “Now, that’s a truly frightening thought,” Kate said.

  “It’ll be okay.” Alex pointed over to Lafayette Park. “So long as he’s here.”

  On a bench sat Stone and Adelphia drinking the café.

  Adelphia was talking animatedly; however, it was clear that Stone’s attention was fully on the building across the street.

  Alex and Kate walked off down the street, leaving the country in the capable hands of citizen Oliver Stone, and the Camel Club.


  To Michelle, thanks for always being my number one fan and best critic. I’m still amazed that you read every word in every draft.

  To Aaron Priest, thank you for being there for me from day one. None of this would be possible without you.

  To Maureen Egen, Jamie Raab, Tina Andreadis, Emi Battaglia, Tom Maciag, Karen Torres, Martha Otis, Jason Pinter, Miriam Parker and the rest of the Warner Books gang who work so hard on my behalf. You have my thanks and appreciation.

  To Lucy Childs and Lisa Erbach Vance for all the thousands of deta
ils you handle every day for me.

  To Frances Jalet-Miller, your editing skills and incredible insight were on full display with this book. Thank you.

  To Art Collin, my sincere thanks and gratitude for reading through early drafts.

  To Dr. Monica Smiddy, thank you for the detailed and thoughtful medical advice. You make a humble writer sound like a forensic genius.

  To Dr. John Y. Cole at the Library of Congress, thank you for the amazing behind-the-scenes tour of LOC and the expert knowledge of its magnificent buildings and collections.

  To Mark Dimunation and Daniel De Simone with the Library of Congress for patiently answering all my questions and letting me glimpse the library’s Rare Books reading room. It’s a true gem.

  To the USSS Washington Field Office, my utmost thanks and respect for all you do and for your willingness to share your knowledge with me.

  To Jennifer Steinberg, my gratitude for always getting answers to those last-minute research questions.

  To Maria Rejt, for your very helpful comments.

  To Bob Schule, for reading the words, giving me incredibly good comments, educating me on energy policy and, above all, being the best friend anyone could have.

  To Neal Schiff, thanks for always being willing to share your FBI knowledge.

  To Charles Veilleux, thank you for the expert advice on firearms and weapons.

  To Tom DePont, for help on financial issues in the novel.

  To Dr. Alli Guleria, a dear friend, for always being there for us, and for educating me on all things orthodontic and Indian.

  To Lynette and Deborah, for navigating the “Enterprises” straight and true.

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