Author:David Baldacci

    An Original Will Robie / Camel Club Short Story


    It was five minutes to noon on a Saturday.

    The streets of Georgetown were filled with shoppers. The sun overhead was warming and the breeze brisk and refreshing. The waters of the nearby Potomac had some light froth from the wind. Many boaters were out enjoying the weather.

    It was all in all a delightful day to be alive.

    Yet there were a few people clustered in the vicinity who were not thinking about the pleasant weather or fun things to do. They had other things on their minds.

    Oliver Stone walked down the crowded sidewalk. In his pocket was his paycheck from the Mt. Zion Cemetery where he was the caretaker. His destination was a bank in the luxury mall located on M Street. He would just be able to deposit the check before the bank closed. He did not make much money and had to take care with what he did earn. Yet his needs were few, and his salary also included a cottage in which to live. And he liked being around the dead. They were a quiet bunch. He’d had enough excitement to last him the rest of his life.

    Behind him walked another man, partially hidden by a group of giddy teenage girls overburdened with shopping bags filled with purchases from upscale stores. Texts were flying from their collective phones—youthful gossip was now delivered almost exclusively electronically. Indeed, one girl was energetically texting the friend walking beside her, as though actually turning and speaking to her would be somehow uncool or an unimaginable burden.

    As he walked along, Will Robie looked up and watched the seagulls drift across the clear sky. It was a beautiful day to do many things, but dying was not one of them. It was never a good day to die, he thought. Yet oftentimes one didn’t have a choice on the actual timing. Sometimes your death was caused by someone else’s agenda.

    Robie had nearly been killed by such agendas several times, quite recently in fact. He couldn’t say that he cared for it.

    He looked at Oliver Stone, who was about fifteen feet ahead of him. The man had close-cropped white hair. He was lean and wiry and about six-two, nearly two inches taller than Robie. It was a sad testament to the state of general health in America when a lean older man made one immediately think he was suffering from a serious illness. Robie knew who Oliver Stone was, and he also knew that he was not someone to take lightly. And despite his not exactly being a spring chicken, Robie knew the man could hold his own against just about anyone or anything.

    Stone turned into the mall entrance. Robie broke off from the giddy girls and turned in there as well, about ten paces back now. Stone hurried up the steps and onto the main level of the multistory mall that had a clear glass elevator leading to the upper floors. Stone didn’t bother with the elevator. He just walked briskly up the steps to the next level, turned left, and continued on.

    Robie mimicked these movements, rotating his line of sight to take in what he needed to. The mall was crowded but the section where Stone was headed was not. The bank was down here, as were some other businesses that were either not open on Saturday or were, like the bank, about to close.

    Next to the bank entrance was a long corridor leading to a service area and restrooms. This was the cheaper section of the mall and none of the popular stores were located here. But banks were notoriously frugal on everything except executive pay, and thus it was the perfect location for one. That was why banks had all the money. They didn’t spend any more than they absolutely had to.

    Stone passed the service corridor and walked through the large opening into the bank. He nodded at the security guard posted near the entrance. The guard was older, with white hair and a paunch that stretched his rental cop shirt to its fullest extent. The guard checked his watch.

    Stone smiled. “Don’t worry, I’ve got two minutes, Charlie.”

    “You know you can use the ATM outside to deposit your funds, Oliver.”

    “I like dealing with real people. If the machine chews up my check, where’s the proof?”

    Charlie smiled. “I bet you don’t have an online account either.”

    “I’ve heard of the Internet. I’ve just never used it.”

    “I only do because of the grandkids. Never in all my life thought I’d be on something called Facebook. Or Google. Have a good weekend.”

    “You too.”

    Charlie put his security key into the lock and turned it to the left. A solid wall with the bank’s name and logo on it came partially down over the bank entrance. Charlie turned the key back to its original position and the wall stopped descending. He would wait patiently for the customers to finish their business and then he would close up shop fully. He was itching to get home to watch Virginia Tech play Alabama. Kickoff was at one.

    Stone went up to stand in line for the next available teller. There were four customers ahead of him and three tellers behind the polycarbonate shield, which would stop most bullets. He looked to his right and saw a youngish dark-haired man in an ill-fitting suit sitting in a small glass-enclosed cubicle. The nameplate on the glass said this was the bank manager. To Stone the man looked like he was half asleep.

    While two of the tellers serviced customers the third was counting cash. To the left of the tellers’ enclosure, but outside the bulletproof glass area, was the vault, its thick steel door standing open.

    Stone did not turn around when Will Robie entered the bank, ducking under the partially lowered door at one minute to noon. He didn’t have to. As he waited in line, he watched Robie in a security mirror bolted to the corner of the ceiling. Stone had never seen Robie before today, but his experienced eyes told him that the man was not here to fulfill a banking transaction. Stone had seen Robie behind him on the street. And so he wondered why he was here.

    Is it me? thought Stone. And if so, how should I handle it?

    Charlie frowned at Robie’s popping in at the last minute. He had evidently been hoping that no more customers would show up. The college football game was calling his name. He desperately wanted to see the Hokies knock off the heavily favored Crimson Tide.

    Robie did not go to stand in line. He went over to the information table and started looking through some form documents kept there in small cubbies.

    Fifty-eight seconds later the clock on the wall clicked to noon.

    Charlie turned to tell another group of people attempting to enter the bank that it was closed. There would be no more customers today.

    A moment later Charlie tasted his own blood, arterial spray that reached his mouth. He was already dead, but didn’t know it.

    His attacker held the older man up while he expired. His colleague turned the key in the lock all the way to the left and the wall rapidly descended. In a few seconds what was going on inside the bank was sealed off from the rest of the mall.

    Robie had turned at the moment the knife blade severed Charlie’s neck arteries. He would have pulled his weapon but there were two guns pointed at him.

    There were four people in total standing at the entrance. They were dressed in blue jumpsuits with hoodies. They slipped their hoodies off and revealed black ski masks underneath covering their faces.

    One of them pushed a rolling laundry cart that had a sheet over it. Robie noted the gunmen had heavy weaponry—both machine pistols and subguns. It was a lot of firepower for a bank branch robbery.

    One teller saw Charlie drop dead to the floor when his killer let him go, and screamed. Everyone else turned. Everyone else except Stone. He was watching all of this in the surveillance mirror. His gaze methodically panned over each of the gunmen, taking in as much information as he could. It was certainly true that the situation was bad, but that didn’t necessarily mean it was impossible to rectify.

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