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Divine Justice (Camel Club 4) David Baldacci 2022/8/8 14:12:36

“What?” Reuben exclaimed, his features growing pale. “What the hell did he want? You know, technically, I’m not AWOL. It was a misunderstanding.”

“He called about you, Oliver,” said Alex.

Stone looked up at him. “What about me?”

“We’re taking another trip to the White House. Tomorrow.”

Alex smiled. “Something about a medal, my friend. A long-overdue one. The top brass reviewed your war record, made the recommendation and the president immediately accepted it.”

Reuben roared, “That’s fantastic.” He slapped Stone on the back as the others crowded around him, offering their congratulations.

When things quieted Stone said, “Alex, will you please call them back and tell them I appreciate the gesture but I can’t accept it.”

“What!” exclaimed a stricken Reuben.

Alex added, “Oliver, no one turns down the Medal of Honor. No one. Hell, a lot of soldiers who get it are dead.”

“I’m not turning it down. That would be a dishonor to everyone who earned it. But I just want them to withdraw the offer. They made a mistake.”

“Mistake, hell. You earned it,” Finn said. “I read your record, Oliver.”

“Maybe I did deserve it. Back then. And back then I would have accepted it. But I don’t deserve it now. And for me to take it would dishonor the memory of every soldier who was awarded it.”

Annabelle said, “Oliver, please, don’t do this. Think about it. You’ll be a part of American history. How many people get a shot at that?”

“I already am a part of American history, Annabelle. I know what I did on that battlefield. And I did it because I couldn’t let my men die. But I also know very clearly what I did after I left the army. Very clearly. And that’s the difference.”

“But you were just following orders,” said Alex.

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“Sheep follow blindly. We’re not supposed to be sheep.”

Caleb went over to Stone and put a hand on his shoulder. “I never served in the military, so I can’t really speak to any of that. But I do want to say one thing. I was very proud of you when they offered you the medal. But I think I’m even prouder of you for not accepting it.”

After they all left, saying they would be back soon, Stone took the box out that he had kept the recording in. It also contained two other items.

He looked first at the photo of his baby daughter, Beth, who had grown up and then died never knowing that he was her father. Then he turned to the other faded picture.

In this image his wife Claire was suspended forever as a young wife and mother. In his mind every day it was Claire Carr who kept him going. In that prison while Tyree and his men were brutalizing him it had been her memory to which he’d clung.

He could never part with that image because in a visceral way it was the only shred of identity he had left. It was the one memory that kept alive the spirit of a young soldier, husband and father named John Carr. Not the assassin, not the killer. Just him, or who he used to be.

With his fingers he touched her hair, her face, skated along the line of her mouth. She and his daughter had been the only good things in a life that otherwise had been filled with scars and hurt and violence.

And yet memories of them were enough to take away all of it. Gone, like the cleansing force of the purest water.

He sat in the chair holding his wife and daughter.

And at least for a few moments everything again was all right.

After he put the box away he pulled out the new cell phone Annabelle had given him and punched in the number from memory. With each smack of his finger against the pad, Stone was growing more and more confident of what he was about to do.

After all, how much time could a man like him really expect to have left? He told himself he could not afford to waste another minute of it.

When the voice answered, he said quietly, “Abby, it’s me.”

TO MICHELLE, the ride continues. And your incredible enthusiasm always keeps me going.

To Mitch Hoffman, for another superb editing job. Your thoughtful comments guided me to where I needed to go.

To David Young, Jamie Raab, Emi Battaglia, Jennifer Romanello, Martha Otis and all the rest at Grand Central Publishing who take such good care of me.

To Aaron and Arleen Priest, Lucy Childs, Lisa Erbach Vance and Nicole Kenealy for good counsel and warm friendship.

To Tom and Patti Maciag and their wonderful children, Stephen, Colleen and Emily. The Tall Family truly rocks.

To Maria Rejt and Katie James at Pan Macmillan for always being there.

To Grace McQuade and Lynn Goldberg for letting the world know.

To Dr. Catherine Broome, Sohan Makker, Dr. Alli Guleria, Mark Poplawski and Harvey Watkins for technical support and making a cool scene even cooler.

To Bob Schule, for his boundless knowledge of all things political and his incredible generosity in sharing it.

To Tom DePont, for being a great friend, wonderful advisor and the guru of NASCAR for yours truly.

To Lynette, Deborah and Natasha for always steering the good ship Columbus Rose straight and true.