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The Camel Club


HE WAS RUNNING HARD, BULLETS embedding in things all around him.
He couldn't see who was shooting, and he had no weapon to return
fire. The woman next to him was his wife. The young girl next to
her was their daughter. A bullet sliced through his wife's wrist,
and he heard her scream. Then a second bullet found its target and
his wife's eyes widened slightly. It was the split-second bulge of
the pupils that signaled death before one's brain could even
register it. As his wife fell, he raced to his little girl's side
to shield her. His fingers reached for hers but missed. They always

He awoke and sat straight up, the sweat trickling down his cheeks
before finally creeping onto his long, bushy beard. He poured a bit
of water from a bottle over his face, letting the cool drops push
away the heat-filled pain of his recurrent nightmare.

As he got up from the bed, his leg brushed against the old box he
kept there. He hesitated and then lifted the top off. Inside was a
ragged photo album. One by one he looked at the few pictures of the
woman who'd been his wife. Then he turned to the photos of his
daughter; of the baby and toddler she'd been. He had no more
pictures of her after that. He would have given his life to have
seen her, even for a moment, as a young woman. Never a day went by
that he didn't wonder what might have been.

He looked around the cottage's sparsely furnished interior. Looking
back at him were dusty shelves crammed with books covering an array
of subjects. Next to the large window that overlooked the darkened
grounds was an old desk stacked with journals filled with his
precise handwriting. A blackened stone fireplace provided much of
his heat, and there was a small kitchen where he prepared his
simple meals. A minuscule bathroom completed his modest living

He checked his watch, took a pair of binoculars from the rickety
wooden table next to his bed and grabbed a frayed cloth knapsack
off his desk. He stuffed the binoculars and a few journals in the
knapsack and headed outside.

The old grave markers loomed before him, the moonlight glancing off
the weathered, mossy stone. As he stepped from the front porch to
the grass, the brisk air helped carry away the burning sensation in
his head from his nightmare, but not the one in his heart.
Thankfully, he had somewhere to go tonight, yet with some time to
spare. And when he had extra time, he invariably headed to one

He walked through the large wrought-iron gates where the scrollwork
announced that this was Mt. Zion Cemetery, located in northwest
Washington, D.C., and owned by the nearby Mt. Zion United Methodist
Church. The church was the oldest black congregation in the city,
having been organized in 1816 by folks who didn't enjoy practicing
their faith at a segregated house of worship that had somehow
missed the concept of equality in the Scriptures. The three-acre
parcel had also been an important stop along the underground
railroad, shepherding slaves from the South to freedom in the North
during the Civil War.

The graveyard was bracketed on one side by the massive Dumbarton
House, headquarters of the National Society of the Colonial Dames
of America, and on the other side by a low-rise brick residential
building. For decades the historic cemetery had suffered from
neglect, with toppled tombstones and waist-high weeds. Then the
church had enclosed the graveyard with the fence and built the
small caretaker's cottage.

Nearby was the far larger and far better known Oak Hill Cemetery,
the final resting place of many notable people. However, he
preferred Mt. Zion and its place in history as a gateway to

He'd been engaged as the cemetery's caretaker some years ago, and
he took his work very seriously, making sure the grounds and grave
sites were kept in good order. The cottage that came with the job
was his first real home in a long time. The church paid him in cash
with no bothersome paperwork; he didn't make nearly enough to pay
income taxes anyway. In fact, he made barely enough money to live.
Yet it was still the best job he'd ever had.

He walked south on 27th Street, caught a Metro bus and was soon
dropped a block or so from his "second home" of sorts. As he passed
the small tent that at least technically belonged to him, he pulled
the binoculars out of his knapsack and from the shadow of a tree
used them to eye the building across the street. He had taken the
government-issued binoculars with him after serving his country
proudly before completely losing faith in its leaders. His real
name he had not used in decades. He had been known for a long time
now as Oliver Stone, a name he'd adopted in what could only be
termed an act of cheeky defiance.

He related well to the irreverent film director's legendary work,
which challenged the "official" perception of history, a history
that often turned out to be more fiction than fact. Taking the
man's name as his own seemed appropriate, since this Oliver
Stone was also very interested in the "real" truth.

Through the binoculars he continued to study the comings and goings
at the mansion that never ceased to fascinate him. Then Stone
entered his small tent, and, using an old flashlight, he carefully
noted down his observations in one of the journals he'd brought in
his knapsack. He kept some of these at the caretaker's cottage and
many more at hiding places he maintained elsewhere. He stored
nothing at the tent because he knew it was regularly searched. In
his wallet he always kept his official permit allowing him to have
his tent here and the right to protest in front of the building
across the street. He took that right very seriously.

Returning outside, he watched the guards who holstered
semiautomatic pistols and held machine guns or occasionally spoke
into walkie-talkies. They all knew him and were warily polite, as
folks were with those who could suddenly turn on you. Stone always
took great pains to show them respect. You were always deferential
with people who carried machine guns. Oliver Stone, while not
exactly in the mainstream, was hardly crazy.

He made eye contact with one of the guards, who called out, "Hey,
Stone, I hear Humpty Dumpty was pushed, pass it on."

Some of the other men laughed at this remark, and even Stone's lips
curled into a smile. "Duly noted," he answered back. He had watched
this very same sentry gun down someone a few feet from where he was
standing. To be fair, the other fellow had been shooting at

He hitched his frayed pants up tighter around his slender waist,
smoothed back his long grayish white hair and stopped for a moment
to retie the string that was trying and failing to hold his right
shoe together. He was a tall and very lean man, and his shirt was
too big and his trousers too short. And the shoes, well, the shoes
were always problematic.

"It is new clothes that you need," a female voice said in the

He looked up to see the speaker leaning against a statue of Major
General Comte de Rochambeau, an American Revolutionary War hero.
Rochambeau's stiff finger was pointing at something, Stone had
never known what. Then there was a Prussian, Baron Steuben, to the
northwest, and the Pole, General Kosciuszko, guarding the northeast
flank of the seven-acre park that Stone was standing in. These
statues always brought a smile to his face. Oliver Stone so loved
being around revolutionaries.

"It really is the new clothes that you need, Oliver," the
woman said again as she scratched her deeply tanned face. "And the
hair cut too, yes. Oliver, it is a new everything that is

"I'm sure that I do," he replied quietly. "Yet it's all in one's
priorities, I suppose, and fortunately, vanity has never been one
of mine."

This woman called herself Adelphia. She had an accent that he'd
never been able to exactly place, although it was definitely
European, probably Slavic. She was particularly unsympathetic to
her verbs, wedging them into very awkward places in her speech. She
was tall and spare with black hair shot through with gray that she
wore long. Adelphia also had deeply set, brooding eyes and a mouth
that was usually cast into a snarl, though Stone had sometimes
found her to be kindhearted in a grudging sort of way. It was
difficult to gauge her age, but she was certainly younger than he.
The six-foot-long, freestanding banner outside her tent


There was very little that was subtle about Adelphia. In life she
only saw the rigid lines of black and white. To her, shades of gray
were nonexistent, whereas this was a city that had seemingly
invented the color. The small sign outside of Oliver Stone's tent
read simply:


He had yet to find it after all these years. Indeed, was there ever
a city created where the truth was more difficult to discover than
the one he was standing in right now?

"I go to get the café, Oliver. You would like some? I have

"No thank you, Adelphia. I have to go somewhere."

She scowled. "Another meeting is where you go? What good does it
give you? It is not young you are no more and you should no be
walking in the dark. This is dangerous place."

He glanced at the armed men. "Actually, I think it's fairly secure

"Many men with guns you say is safe? I say you crazy," she
responded testily.

"Perhaps you're right and thank you for your concern," he said
politely. Adelphia would much rather argue and looked for any
opening to pounce on. He'd long since learned never to allow the
woman such an opportunity.

Adelphia stared at him angrily for another moment and then stalked
off. Meanwhile, Stone glanced at a sign next to his that


Stone had not seen the gentleman who erected that sign for a long

"Yes, we will, won't we?" he muttered, and then his attention was
caught by the sudden activity across the street. Policemen and
marked cruisers were assembling in groups. Stone could also see
lawmen taking up positions at the various intersections. Across the
street the imposing black steel gates that could withstand the push
of an M-1 tank opened, and a black Suburban shot out, its red and
blue grille lights blazing.

Knowing instantly what was happening, Stone hurried down the street
toward the nearest intersection. As he watched through his
binoculars, the world's most elaborate motorcade streamed out onto
17th Street. In the middle of this imposing column was the most
unique limousine ever built.

It was a Cadillac DTS model loaded with the latest in navigation
and communication technology, and it could carry six passengers
very comfortably in rich blue leather with wood trim accents. The
limo boasted automatic-sensor reclining seats and a foldaway
storable desktop and was fully airtight with its own internal air
supply in case the outside oxygen wasn't up to par. The
presidential seal was embroidered on the center of the rear seat,
and presidential seals were also affixed on the inside and outside
of the rear doors. On the right front fender rode the U.S. flag.
The presidential standard flew from a post on the left front
fender, signaling that America's chief executive was indeed

The exterior of the vehicle was constructed of antiballistic-steel
panels, and the windows were phone-book-thick polycarbonate glass
that no bullet could penetrate. It ran on four self-healing tires
and sported double-zero license plates. The car's gas mileage was
lousy, but its price tag of $10 million did include a ten-disc CD
changer with surround sound. Unfortunately, for those looking for a
bargain, there was no dealer discount. It was known affectionately
as the Beast. The limo had only two known weaknesses: It could
neither fly nor float.

A light came on inside the Beast, and Stone saw the man perusing
some papers, papers of enormous importance, no doubt. Another
gentleman sat beside him. Stone had to smile. The agents must be
furious over the light. Even with thick armor and bulletproof glass
you didn't make yourself such an easy target.

The limo slowed as it passed through the intersection, and Stone
tensed a bit as he saw the man glance his way. For a brief moment
the president of the United States, James H. Brennan, and
conspiracy-minded citizen Oliver Stone made direct eye contact. The
president grimaced and said something. The man next to him
immediately turned the light out. Stone smiled again. Yes, I
will always be here. Longer than both of you.

The man seated beside President Brennan was also well known to
Stone. He was Carter Gray, the so-called intelligence czar, a
recently created cabinet-level position that gave him ironfisted
control of a $50-billion budget and 120,000 highly trained
personnel in all fifteen American intelligence agencies. His empire
included the spy satellite platform, the NSA's cryptologic
expertise, the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency, or DIA, and
even the venerable CIA, an agency Gray had once headed. Apparently,
the folks at Langley thought that Gray would show them preference
and deference. He had done neither. Because Gray was also a former
secretary of defense, it was assumed that he would show the
Pentagon --- which consumed eighty cents out of every intelligence
dollar --- loyalty. That assumption had also turned out to be
completely erroneous. Gray obviously knew where all the bodies were
buried and had used that to bend both agencies to his considerable

Stone did not believe that one man, one fallible human being,
should have that much power, and certainly not someone like Carter
Gray. Stone had known the man very well decades ago, though Gray
certainly would not have recognized his old mate now. Years ago
it would've been a different story, right, Mr. Gray?

The binoculars were suddenly ripped out of his hands, and Stone was
staring at a uniformed guard toting a machine gun.

"You pull these out again to look at the man, Stone, they're gone;
you got it? And if we didn't know you were okay, they'd be gone
right now." The man thrust the vintage field glasses back into
Stone's hands and marched off.

"Simply exercising my constitutional rights, Officer," Stone
replied in a low voice that he knew the guard couldn't hear. He
quickly put his binoculars away and stepped back into the shadows.
Again, one should not argue with humorless men carrying automatic
weapons. Stone let out a long breath. His life was a precarious
balance every day.

He went back inside his tent, opened his knapsack and, using his
flashlight, read over a series of stories he'd clipped from
newspapers and magazines and pasted into his journals. They
documented the doings of Carter Gray and President Brennan:
"Intelligence Czar Strikes Again," claimed one headline; "Brennan
and Gray Make Dynamic Duo," said another.

It had all come about very quickly. After several fits and starts
Congress had dramatically reorganized the U.S. intelligence
community and essentially put its complete faith in Carter Gray. As
secretary of intelligence, Gray headed the National Intelligence
Center, or NIC. The center's statutory mandate was to keep the
country safe from attacks within or without its borders. Safe by
any means necessary was perhaps the chief unwritten part of this

However, the beginning of Gray's tenure had hardly matched his
impressive résumé: a series of suicide bombers in
metropolitan areas with enormous casualties, two assassinations of
visiting foreign dignitaries and then a direct but fortunately
unsuccessful attack on the White House. Despite many in Congress
calling for his resignation and the dismantling of the secretary's
authority, Gray had kept the support of his president. And if power
slots in Washington were compared to natural disasters, the
president was a hurricane and an earthquake all rolled into

Then slowly, the tide had begun to turn. A dozen planned terrorist
attacks on American soil had been thwarted. And terrorists were
being killed and captured at an increasingly high rate. Long unable
to crack the inner rings of these organizations, the American
intelligence community was finally starting to attack the enemy
from within its own circles and damaging its ability to hit the
United States and its allies. Gray had understandably received the
lion's share of the credit for these outcomes.

Stone checked his watch. The meeting would be starting soon.
However, it was a long walk, and his legs, his usual mode of
getting around, were tired today. He left the tent and checked his
wallet. There was no money in it.

That's when he spotted the pedestrian. Stone immediately headed
after this gentleman as he raised his hand and a taxi pulled up to
the curb. Stone increased his pace, reaching the man as he climbed
into the cab. His eyes downcast, his hand out, Stone said, "Can you
spare some change, sir? Just a few dollars." This was said in a
practiced, deferential tone, allowing the other man to adopt a
magnanimous posture if he so chose. Adopt one, Stone
thought. For it's a long walk.

The man hesitated and then took the bait. He smiled and reached for
his wallet. Stone's eyes widened as a crisp twenty-dollar bill was
placed in his palm.

"God bless you," Stone said as he clutched the money tightly.

Stone walked as quickly as he could to a nearby hotel's taxi stand.
Normally, he'd have taken a bus, but with twenty dollars he'd ride
by himself for a change. After smoothing down his long, disheveled
hair and prodding his equally stubborn beard into place, Stone
walked up to the first cab in line.

On seeing him the cabby hit the door lock and yelled, "Get the hell
outta here!"

Stone held up the twenty-dollar bill and said through the
half-opened window, "The regulations under which you operate do not
allow you to discriminate on any basis."

It was clear from the cabby's expression that he would discriminate
on any basis he wanted to and yet he eyed the cash greedily. "You
speak pretty good for some homeless bum." He added suspiciously, "I
thought all you people was nuts."

"I am hardly a nut and I'm not homeless," Stone replied. "But I am,
well, I am just a bit down on my luck."

"Ain't we all?" He unlocked the doors and Stone quickly climbed in
and told the man where he wanted to go.

"Saw the president on the move tonight," the cabby said. "Pretty

"Yes, pretty cool," Stone agreed without much enthusiasm. He
glanced out the rear window of the cab in the direction of the
White House and then sat back against the seat and closed his eyes.
What an interesting neighborhood to call home.

Excerpted from THE CAMEL CLUB © Copyright 2011 by Columbus
Rose Ltd. Reprinted with permission by Warner Vision, an imprint of
Time Warner Bookmark. All rights reserved.

The Camel Club
by by David Baldacci

  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Mass Market Paperback: 624 pages
  • Publisher: Vision
  • ISBN-10: 0446615625
  • ISBN-13: 9780446615624