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The Camel Club  

- David Baldacci


Roger Seagraves walked out of the U.S. Capitol after an interesting meeting that, surpris-ingly, had had little to do with politics. That evening he sat alone in the living room of his modest suburban home after arriving at an important decision. He had to kill someone, and that some-one was a very significant target. Instead of a daunting proposition, Seagraves saw it as a worthy challenge.

The next morning Seagraves drove to his office in northern Virginia. Sitting at his desk in a space that was small and cluttered, and looked exactly the same as other work spaces up and down the corridor, he mentally assembled the critical pieces of his task. Seagraves finally concluded that he would do the deed himself, unwilling to trust it to a third party. He'd killed before, many times in fact; the only difference now was he wouldn't be doing it for his government. This one was all for him. He spent the next two days in careful, decisive preparation ef-ficiently conducted around his day job. The three imperatives of his mission were embedded in every action he performed: (1) keep it simple; (2) provide for every contingency; and (3) never panic no matter how much your plan goes awry, which it occasionally did. However, if there were a fourth rule, it would have to be: exploit the fact that most people are fools when it comes to things that actually matter, like their own survival. He had never suffered from that shortcoming.

Roger Seagraves was forty-two, single and childless. A wife and brats would certainly have complicated his unorthodox lifestyle. In his previous career with the federal government he'd adopted false identities and traveled across the world. Fortunately, chang-ing identities was stunningly easy to do in the computer age. A few clicks of the Dell, a server somewhere in India hummed, and from one's fancy laser printer out popped a new you with all the official bells, whistles and available credit. Seagraves could actually buy all that he needed on an Internet site that required a carefully guarded password. It was akin to a Macy's department store for criminals, sometimes dubbed by its felonious clientele as "EvilBay." There one could purchase every-thing from first-rate ID packs and stolen credit card numbers to the services of professional hit men, or sterilized weapons if you were inclined to commit the murder yourself. He usually obtained the necessary materials from a dealer who had a 99 percent ap-proval rating from his customers and a money-back guarantee. Even killers liked to go with quality.

Roger Seagraves was tall, well built and handsome with thick blond wavy hair; on the surface he seemed carefree in his ways and possessed an infectious grin. Virtually every woman in his vicinity copped a second look, as did some envious men. He often used this to his advantage. When you had to kill or deceive, you used whatever tools you had as effectively as possible. His gov-ernment had taught him that too. Though he still technically la-bored for the United States, he also worked for himself. His "official" pension plan fell far short of giving him the quality retirement he felt he deserved after so many years of risking his life for the red, white and blue. For him, though, it had been mostly red.

On the third afternoon after his enlightening visit to the Capitol Seagraves subtly modified his features and put on several layers of clothing. When it grew dark, he drove a van up into the expensive fringes of northwest D.C. where the embassies and pri-vate mansions all had paranoid guards patrolling their compounds. He parked in a small courtyard behind a building across the street from a very exclusive club housed in an imposing brick Georgian that catered to wealthy and politically obsessed per-sons, of whom Washington had more than any city on earth. These folks loved to gather over passable food and average wine and talk polls, policies and patronage to their hearts' content. Seagraves wore a blue jumper suit with "Service" stenciled on the back. The key he'd made earlier fit the simple lock of the va-cant building that was awaiting extensive renovation. His tool-box in hand, he took the steps two at a time until he reached the top floor and entered a room facing the street. He flashed a pen-light around the empty space, noting the single window. He'd left it unlocked and well oiled on an earlier visit. He opened his toolbox and quickly assembled his sniper rifle. Next he attached the suppressor can to the muzzle, chambered a single round--he was nothing if not confident--crept forward and drew up the window a bare two inches, just enough to allow the can to fit in the opening. He checked his watch and looked up and down the street from his lofty perch without much worry of being spotted, since the building he was in was com-pletely dark. In addition, his rifle had no optics signature and sported Camoflex technology, meaning it changed color to match its background.

Oh, what the human race had learned from the humble moth.

When the limo and lead security car pulled up to the club, he drew his bead on the head of one of the men who got out of the stretch, but he didn't fire. It wasn't time yet. The club member walked inside followed by his security men sporting ear fobs and thick necks sticking out of starched collars. He watched the stretch and the security car pull off.

Seagraves checked his watch again: two hours to go. He con-tinued to scan the street below as town cars and cabs dropped off serious-faced women outfitted not in carats of De Beers and yards of Versace, but in smart off-the-rack business suits and tasteful costume jewelry, with their social and political antennae set on high. The serious-faced men accompanying them were hunkered down in pinstripes, bland ties and what seemed to be bad attitudes.

It won't get any better, gents, trust me.

One hundred and twenty minutes dragged by, and his gaze had never once left the club's brick fa?ade. Through the large front windows he could see the efficient swirl of folks who cradled their drinks and murmured in low, conspiratorial tones.

Okay, it was time for business.

He gave the street another quick scan. Not a soul was looking his way. Over his career he'd found they never were. Seagraves waited patiently until the target walked through his crosshairs for the last time, then his gloved finger edged to the trigger. He didn't particularly like firing through a windowpane, though it wouldn't interfere with the flight of the ordnance he was using.

Thwap! This was followed instantly by a tinkle of glass and the heavy thud of a pudgy dead man hitting a highly polished oak floor. The Honorable Robert Bradley had felt no pain at all with the impact. The bullet had killed his brain before it could tell his mouth to start screaming. Not a bad way to go, actually.

Seagraves calmly laid down the rifle and peeled off his jump-suit, exposing the D.C. police uniform underneath. He put on a matching hat he'd brought with him and marched down the stairs to the rear door. When he exited the building, he could hear the screams from across the street. Only nineteen seconds had passed since the shot; he knew because he'd counted the ticks off in his head. He now moved rapidly down the street as he contin-ued to time the action in his head. The next moment he heard the powerful whine of the car engine as the carefully choreographed scene was played out. Now he began to run all out, pulling his pistol as he did so. He had five seconds to get there. He turned the corner in time to almost be hit by the sedan as it raced by him. At the last instant he leaped to the side, rolled and came up in the middle of the road.

People across the street shouted at him, pointing at the car. He turned, gripped his gun with both hands and fired at the sedan. The blanks in his gun sounded sweet, just like the real thing. He placed five shots and then sprinted hard down the asphalt for half a block and slid into what appeared to be an unmarked po-lice cruiser parked there; it raced after the fast-disappearing sedan, its siren blaring and grille lights flashing. The car it was "chasing" turned left at the next intersection, then right, and headed down an alley, stopping in the middle. The driver in the car jumped out, ran to the lime-green VW Beetle parked in front of his in the alley and drove off.

Once out of sight of the club, the other car's grille lights and siren stopped as it peeled away from the hunt and headed in the opposite direction. The man next to Seagraves never once looked at him as he climbed into the backseat and stripped off the police uniform. Underneath the cop clothes he wore a tight-fitting one-piece jogging outfit; black sneakers were already on his feet. In the floorboard of the car was a muzzled six-month-old black Lab. The car whipped down a side street and turned left at the next corner, stopping beside a park deserted at this late hour. The back door opened, Seagraves climbed out and the car sped off.

About the book:

Existing at the fringes of Washington D.C., the Club consists of four eccentric members. Led by a mysterious man known as "Oliver Stone," they study conspiracy theories, current events, and the machinations of government to discover the "truth" behind the country's actions. Their efforts bear little fruit --- until the group witnesses a shocking murder ... and become embroiled in an astounding, far reaching conspiracy.

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