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Stone Cold (Camel Club 3) David Baldacci 2022/8/8 14:08:33

He sighed, opened his paper and froze.

Staring back at him was a photo that had been taped inside the front page of the newspaper he was holding.

As he stared at the picture of the woman, it suddenly occurred to him who she was.

Then her head disappeared. Left in its place was a large hole. Simpson gasped and then looked down at his chest. Blood was pouring out of it from where the bullet had entered after passing through the newspaper and neatly obliterating the identity of the woman. By any standard, it was a hell of a shot.

His eyes started to flutter as he stared out the window where the glass had been cracked by the bullet. He looked at the shell of the building across the street, the one that had never been finished. As he pitched forward, dead, onto his kitchen table, the thought did occur to Simpson of who had just killed him.

IN QUICKLY REBUILDING Carter Gray’s cliffside house overlooking the Chesapeake Bay, great pains had been taken in ensuring that the intelligence chief would be safe and secure. This goal, obviously, included preventing someone from blowing up the place a second time. With that in mind, and taking into account some of Oliver Stone’s observations, the windows were all now made from bulletproof glass and the gas regulator was no longer accessible from the outside. The guards still slept in the cottage near the main house and the underground chamber and escape tunnel had been rebuilt as well.

Gray rose early and went to bed late every day. He put many miles on his personal chopper that landed in the rear grounds at all hours. He had a private jet at his disposal that carried him to hot spots all over the world. He knew that he would retire in a few years with his reputation intact as one of his country’s greatest public servants, and that meant a lot to the man.

The storm was fast approaching from the bay; the rumbles of thunder reached Gray’s ears as he dressed in his bedroom. He checked his watch; it was six o’clock in the morning. He would have to hurry a bit. There would be no chopper ride today; the winds were too strong and unpredictable and lightning was already starting to flash across the sky.

He climbed into a three-SUV motorcade; his vehicle was in the middle. A driver and guard were in his Escalade; the other two SUVs carried six armed men total.

As the cars pulled out of the estate and onto the road, the rain began to sprinkle lightly. Gray studied a briefing book open on his lap in preparation for his first meeting this morning, but his thoughts truly were elsewhere.

John Carr was still out there.

The motorcade slowed to round a curve and that’s when Gray saw it. He rolled down the window to get a better look.

Set into the grass next to the road was a tombstone with a small American flag stuck into the ground in front of the white grave marker. They were exactly like the ones used at Arlington National Cemetery.

An instant later, Gray realized what he had just done. Before he could even scream, the round from the long-range rifle slammed into the side of his head, ending his life.

The armed men exploded out of the truck, guns drawn and swinging in all directions. Yet there was nothing to see, no shooter to kill.

As several guards sprinted in the direction of where the shot probably had come from, another one opened the passenger-side door and a bloodied Carter Gray slumped out, still encased in his seat belt.

“Son of a bitch,” muttered the guard, before punching in a number on his cell phone.

OLIVER STONE HAD SHOT GRAY from such a long distance away that he did not need to sprint away from the man’s bodyguards. In truth, he had made even more difficult shots in his career, but none that meant more to him. He made his way slowly back through the woods to the dead man’s home. As he walked along the rain started coming down harder, and the flashes of lightning and accompanying cracks of thunder picked up their pace.

He’d killed Simpson from the unfinished building across the street, his sniper rifle perched on an oil drum. The photo Stone had taped inside the newspaper was of his wife, Claire. He wanted Simpson to know. He’d placed the photo at a precise spot on the page, gauged his shot accordingly, leaving behind no evidence of who was in the picture.

Stone had driven here right after the shooting because he had to kill Gray before Simpson’s murder was discovered and Gray went deep into hiding. He’d checked the forecast the night before. The approaching storm front from offshore was critical. Choppers didn’t take off in such weather. That limited Gray to his motorcade. Stone had set the tombstone and flag by the side of the road, certain that even a cautious man like Gray would roll down the window to get a good look at it. That few seconds was all Stone had needed. With his scope and trusty rifle, and killing skills that one never really lost no matter how many years passed, it was a near certainty that he would get his man. And he had.

He skirted the edge of Gray’s property, his gait steady but unhurried. He knew Gray’s men would be coming soon, but in many ways he’d waited his entire adult life for this moment. He did not intend to rush it.

He reached the edge of the cliff and looked down at the dark water far below. Racing through his mind was the image of a young man very much in love, holding his wife in one arm, his baby girl in the other. The world seemed to be theirs. Their potential seemed unlimited. And yet how very limited it had all become. Because the next mental image was one of John Carr killing as he ran from one brutal murder to the next over a span of a decade.

He had built his life on lies, deception and swift, violent death with “government authorization” as his sole justification. In the end it had cost him everything.

He had lied to Harry Finn that day in the nursing home. He’d told Finn that he, John Carr, was different from the likes of Bingham, Cincetti and Cole. Yet he really wasn’t. In many ways, he was just like them.

He turned and walked away from the edge. Then John Carr whipped around and ran straight toward the edge and over it. He sailed out into space with his arms spread wide, his legs splayed. It was thirty years ago and he had just killed another man. It was a successful hit, only there were dozens of men intent on killing him. He had run like the wind; no one could catch him. Faster than a deer he was. He had run straight to the edge of a cliff three times as high as this one and without a second thought had jumped into nothing but air. He had plummeted down, bullets raining all around him. He’d hit the water cleanly, come up and lived to kill another day.

As the water rushed toward him, Carr’s arms and legs came together in perfect form. Some things you just never forgot. Your brain didn’t need to send a message; your body just knew what to do. And for most of his life, John Carr had known just what needed to be done.

An instant before he hit the water, Oliver Stone smiled, and then John Carr disappeared beneath the waves.