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Показать все книги автора/авторов: Baldacci David
 

«Divine Justice», David Baldacci

Иллюстрация к книге

The fourth book in the Camel Club series

To the memory of my father

 

CHAPTER 1

THE CHESAPEAKE BAY is America 's largest estuary. Nearly two hundred miles long, its watershed covers an area of sixty-five thousand utopian square miles with more than a hundred and fifty rivers and streams barreling into it. It's also the home of myriad bird and aquatic life, and a haven for legions of recreational boaters. The bay is indeed a creation of remarkable beauty, except when you happen to be swimming in the middle of the damn thing during a thunderstorm in the veiled darkness of early morning.

Oliver Stone cracked the surface of the water and gulped in the thick salty air, a thirsty man in the center of a trillion-ton ocean. The long dive had caused him to go farther down than was particularly healthy. Yet when you throw yourself off a thirty-foot cliff into an angry ocean, you should be thankful just to have a heartbeat. As he treaded water he looked around to gauge his bearings. Nothing he saw was too appealing right now. With each streak of lightning sparking to earth, he eyed the three-story-high cliff he'd been standing on. He'd been in the bay less than a minute yet the chill was already drizzling into his bones despite the full-body wet suit he wore underneath his clothes. He stripped off his waterlogged pants, shirt and shoes and then kicked off swimming east. He didn't have much time to get this done.

Twenty minutes later he cut toward shore, all four limbs cement. He used to be able to swim all day, but he wasn't twenty anymore. Hell, he wasn't even fifty anymore. Now he just wanted land; he was tired of impersonating a fish.

He pointed himself at a cleft in the rock and shot toward it. He slogged free of the breakers and jogged toward a large boulder where he snagged the cloth bag he'd previously hidden. Tugging off his wet suit, he toweled dry and changed into fresh clothes and a pair of tennis shoes. The sodden articles were pushed into the bag, tied to a rock and hurled into the storm-swept bay where they'd join his decades-old sniper rifle and long-range scope. He was officially retired from the killing profession. He hoped he would live to enjoy the experience. Right now it was barely even money on that score.

Stone carefully picked his way up the rocky path to a dirt trail. Ten minutes later he reached a fringe of woods where shallow-rooted pines leaned away from the punishing sea wind. A twenty-minute jog after that carried him to the batch of ramshackle buildings, most closer to falling down than not. The cloud-encrusted light was just beginning to topple the darkness as he slid through the window of the smallest hut. It was no more than a lean-to, really, though it did have such luxuries as a door and a floor. He checked his watch. He had ten minutes at most. Already dog-tired, he once more pulled off his clothes then slipped into the tiny shower with rusted piping that only delivered a thin stream of lukewarm water, like a fountain on its last dying spurt. Still, he scrubbed hard, wiping away the stink and briny clutch of the angry bay—wiping away evidence, actually. He was on auto now, his mind too numb to lead the way. That would change. The head games were about to start. He could already envision the boots coming for him.

Stone was listening for the knock on the door; it came as he was dressing.

"Hey man, you ready?" called the voice. It shot through the thin plywood door like a cat's paw into a mouse hole.

In answer Stone smacked one hand hard against the ragged plank floor as he slipped on his shoes, shrugged into a frayed coat, tugged a John Deere cap low over his head and put on his thick glasses. He ran a hand over the bristly gray beard he'd grown over the past six months, then opened the door and nodded at the short, squat man facing him. The fellow had a beer keg frame and a lazy right eye along with teeth yellowed by too many Winstons and double-pop Maxwell House coffees. This was clearly not cafГ© latte land. The top of his head was covered by a Green Bay Packers knit cap. He wore faded farmer's bibs, dirty work boots and a threadbare, grease-stained coat along with an easy smile.

"Cold one this morning," the man said, rubbing his chunky nose and slipping a lit cigarette from between his lips.

Tell me about it, Stone thought.

"But it's supposed to warm up." He drank from an official NASCAR tankard of java, letting some dribble down his chin when he pulled it back.

Stone nodded as his bearded face drooped and his normally attentive eyes grew vacant behind the smudged lenses. As he walked behind the other man Stone's left leg bent outward with a chicken-wing limp that stooped him into being several inches shorter.

They were loading an old banged-up, bald-tired Ford F-150 with firewood when the police car and black sedans slid into the driveway, propelling pebbly gravel in all directions like fired BBs. The trim, muscled men who climbed out of the rides wore blue slickers with "FBI" stenciled on the back in gold lettering and pistols with fourteen-round clips in their belt holsters. Three of them walked up to Stone and his buddy, while a chubby uniformed sheriff with polished black boots and a Stetson hustled to catch up.

"What's the deal, Virgil?" Green Bay asked the uniform. "Some sonofabitch break outta prison again? I'm telling you, you boys oughta start shooting to kill again and screw the pissant liberals."

Virgil shook his head, worry lines rising on his forehead. "No prison. Man's dead, Leroy."

"What man?"

One of the FBI slickers snapped, "Let me see some ID."

Another said, "Where were you and your friend an hour ago?"

Leroy looked from one Fibbie to the next. Then he stared over at the uniform. "Virgil, what the hell's going on?"

"Like I said, a man's dead. Important man. His name's-"

With a slash of his hand, a slicker cut him off. "ID. Now!"

Leroy quickly slid a thin wallet out of his bib's pocket and handed over his license. While one of the agents punched the number into a handheld computer he'd slipped from his windbreaker, another agent held out his hand to Stone.

Stone didn't move. He just stared back with a vacuous expression, his lips gumming and his bum leg doing an exaggerated deep knee bend. He looked confused, which was all part of the act.

"He ain't got no license," Leroy said. "He ain't got nothing of nothing. Hell, can't even talk, just grunts."

The FBI agents closed around Stone. "He work for you?"


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