One shot, p.1
One Shot, p.1Part #9 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
Friday. Five o'clock in the afternoon. Maybe the hardest time to move unobserved through a city. Or maybe the easiest. Because at five o'clock on a Friday nobody pays attention to anything. Except the road ahead.
The man with the rifle drove north. Not fast, not slow. Not drawing attention. Not standing out. He was in a light-colored minivan that had seen better days. He was alone behind the wheel. He was wearing a light-colored raincoat and the kind of shapeless light-colored beanie hat that old guys wear on the golf course when the sun is out or the rain is falling. The hat had a two-tone red band all around it. It was pulled down low. The coat was buttoned up high. The man was wearing sunglasses, even though the van had dark windows and the sky was cloudy. And he was wearing gloves, even though winter was three months away and the weather wasn't cold.
Traffic slowed to a crawl where First Street started up a hill. Then it stopped completely where two lanes became one because the blacktop was torn up for construction. There was construction all over town. Driving had been a nightmare for a year. Holes in the road, gravel trucks, concrete trucks, blacktop spreaders. The man with the rifle lifted his hand off the wheel. Pulled back his cuff. Checked his watch.
He took his foot off the brake and crawled ahead. Then he stopped again where the roadway narrowed and the sidewalks widened where the downtown shopping district started. There were big stores to the left and the right, each one set a little higher than the last, because of the hill. The wide sidewalks gave plenty of space for shoppers to stroll. There were cast-iron flagpoles and cast-iron lamp posts all lined up like sentries between the people and the cars. The people had more space than the cars. Traffic was very slow. He checked his watch again.
A hundred yards later the prosperity faded a little. The congestion eased. First Street opened out and became slightly shabby again. There were bars and dollar stores. Then a parking garage on the left. Then yet more construction where the parking garage was being extended. Then, farther ahead, the street was blocked by a low wall. Behind it was a windy pedestrian plaza with an ornamental pool and a fountain. On the plaza's left, the old city library. On its right, a new office building. Behind it, a black glass tower. First Street turned an abrupt right angle in front of the plaza's boundary wall and ran away west, past untidy rear entrances and loading docks and then on under the raised state highway.
But the man in the minivan slowed before he hit the turn in front of the plaza and made a left and entered the parking garage. He drove straight up the ramp. There was no barrier, because each slot had its own parking meter. Therefore there was no cashier, no witness, no ticket, no paper trail. The man in the minivan knew all that. He wound around the ramps to the second level and headed for the far back corner of the structure. Left the van idling in the aisle for a moment and slipped out of the seat and moved an orange traffic cone from the slot he wanted. It was the last one in the old part of the building, right next to where the new part was being added on.
He drove the van into the slot and shut it down. Sat still for a moment. The garage was quiet. It was completely full with silent cars. The slot he had protected with the traffic cone had been the last one available. The garage was always packed. He knew that. That was why they were extending it. They were doubling its size. It was used by shoppers. That was why it was quiet. Nobody in their right mind would try to leave at five o'clock. Not into the rush hour traffic. Not with the construction delays. Either they would get out by four or wait until six.
The man in the minivan checked his watch.
He opened the driver's door and slid out. Took a quarter from his pocket and put it in the meter. Twisted the handle hard and heard the coin fall and saw the clockwork give him an hour in exchange. There was no other sound. Nothing in the air except the smell of parked automobiles. Gasoline, rubber, cold exhaust.
He stood still next to the van. On his feet he had a pair of old desert boots. Khaki suede, single eyelets, white crepe soles, made by Clarks of England, much favored by Special Forces soldiers. An iconic design, unchanged in maybe sixty years.
He glanced back at the parking meter. Fifty-nine minutes. He wouldn't need fifty-nine minutes. He opened the minivan's sliding rear door and leaned inside and unfolded a blanket and revealed the rifle. It was a Springfield M1A Super Match autoloader, American walnut stock, heavy premium barrel, ten-shot box magazine, chambered for the. 308. It was the exact commercial equivalent of the M-14 self-loading sniper rifle that the American military had used during his long-ago years in the service. It was a fine weapon. Maybe not quite as accurate with the first cold shot as a top-of-the-line bolt gun, but it would do. It would do just fine. He wasn't going to be looking at extraordinary distances. It was loaded with Lake City M852s. His favorite custom cartridges. Special Lake City Match brass, Federal powder, Sierra Matchking 168-grain hollow point boat tail bullets. The load was better than the gun, probably. A slight mismatch.
He listened to the silence and lifted the rifle off the rear bench. Carried it away with him to where the old part of the garage finished and the new part began. There was a half-inch trench between the old concrete and the new. Like a demarcation line. He guessed it was an expansion joint. For the summer heat. He guessed they were going to fill it with soft tar. Directly above it there was yellow-and-black Caution Do Not Enter tape strung between two pillars. He dropped to one knee and slid under it. Stood up again and walked on into the raw new construction.
Parts of the new concrete floor were troweled smooth and parts were rough, still waiting for a final surface. There were wooden planks laid here and there as walkways. There were haphazard piles of paper cement sacks, some full, some empty. There were more open expansion joints. There were strings of bare lightbulbs, turned off. Empty wheelbarrows, crushed soda cans, spools of cable, unexplained lengths of lumber, piles of crushed stone, silent concrete mixers. There was gray cement dust everywhere, as fine as talc, and the smell of damp lime.
The man with the rifle walked on in the darkness until he came close to the new northeast corner. Then he stopped and put his back tight against a raw concrete pillar and stood still. Inched to his right with his head turned until he could see where he was. He was about eight feet from the garage's new perimeter wall. Looking due north. The wall was about waist-high. It was unfinished. It had bolts cast into it to take lengths of metal barrier to stop cars hitting the concrete. There were receptacles cast into the floor to take the new parking meter posts.
The man with the rifle inched forward and turned a little until he felt the corner of the pillar between his shoulder blades. He turned his head again. Now he was looking north and east. Directly into the public plaza. The ornamental pool was a long narrow rectangle running away from him. It was maybe eighty feet by twenty. It was like a large tank of water, just sitting there. Like a big aboveground lap pool. It was bounded by four waist-high brick walls. The water lapped against their inner faces. His line of sight ran on an exact diagonal from its near front corner to its far back corner. The water looked to be about three feet deep. The fountain splashed right in the center of the pool. He could hear it, and he could hear slow traffic on the street, and the shuffle of feet below him. The front wall of the pool was about three feet behind the wall that separated the plaza from First Street. The two low walls ran close together and parallel for twenty feet, east to west, with just the width of a narrow walkway between them.
He was on the garage's second floor, but the way First Street ran uphill meant the plaza was much less than one story below him. There was a definite downward angle, but it was
He dropped to his knees and then to his stomach. The low crawl was a sniper's principal mode of movement. In his years in the service he had low-crawled a million miles. Knees and elbows and belly. Standard tactical doctrine was for the sniper and his spotter to detach from the company a thousand yards out and crawl into position. In training he had sometimes taken many hours to do it, to avoid the observer's binoculars. But this time he had only eight feet to cover. And as far as he knew there were no binoculars on him.
He reached the base of the wall and lay flat on the ground, pressed up tight against the raw concrete. Then he squirmed up into a sitting position. Then he knelt. He folded his right leg tight underneath him. He planted his left foot flat and his left shin vertical. He propped his left elbow on his left knee. Raised the rifle. Rested the end of the forestock on the top of the low concrete wall. Sawed it gently back and forth until it felt good and solid. Supported kneeling, the training manual called it. It was a good position. Second only to lying prone with a bipod, in his experience. He breathed in, breathed out. One shot, one kill. That was the sniper's credo. To succeed required control and stillness and calm. He breathed in, breathed out. Felt himself relax. Felt himself come home.
Now wait until the time is right.
He waited about seven minutes, keeping still, breathing low, clearing his mind. He looked at the library on his left. Above it and behind it the raised highway curled in on stilts, like it was embracing the big old limestone building, cradling it, protecting it from harm. Then the highway straightened a little and passed behind the black glass tower. It was about level with the fourth story back there. The tower itself had the NBC peacock on a monolith near its main entrance, but the man with the rifle was sure that a small network affiliate didn't occupy the whole building. Probably not more than a single floor. The rest of the space was probably one-man law firms or CPAs or real estate offices or insurance brokers or investment managers. Or empty.
People were coming out of the new building on the right. People who had been getting new licenses or turning in old plates or joining the army or hassling with federal bureaucracy. There were a lot of people. The government offices were closing. Five o'clock on a Friday. The people came out the doors and walked right-to-left directly in front of him, funneling into single file as they entered the narrow space and passed the short end of the ornamental pool between the two low walls. Like ducks in a shooting gallery. One after the other. A target-rich environment. The range was about a hundred feet. Approximately. Certainly less than thirty-five yards. Very close.
Some of the people trailed their fingers in the water as they walked. The walls were just the right height for that. The man with the rifle could see bright copper pennies on the black tile under the water. They swam and rippled where the fountain disturbed the surface.
He watched. He waited.
The stream of people thickened up. Now there were so many of them coming all at once that they had to pause and group and shuffle and wait to get into single file to pass between the two low walls. Just like the traffic had snarled at the bottom of First Street. A bottleneck. After you. No, after you. It made the people slow. Now they were slow ducks in a shooting gallery.
The man with the rifle breathed in, and breathed out, and waited.
Then he stopped waiting.
He pulled the trigger, and kept on pulling.
His first shot hit a man in the head and killed him instantly. The gunshot was loud and there was a supersonic crack from the bullet and a puff of pink mist from the head and the guy went straight down like a puppet with the strings cut.
A kill with the first cold shot.
He worked fast, left to right. The second shot hit the next man in the head. Same result as the first, exactly. The third shot hit a woman in the head. Same result. Three shots in maybe two seconds. Three targets down. Absolute surprise. No reaction for a split second. Then chaos broke out. Pandemonium. Panic. There were twelve people caught in the narrow space between the plaza wall and the pool wall. Three were already down. The remaining nine ran. Four ran forward and five spun away from the corpses and ran back. Those five collided with the press of people still moving their way. There were sudden loud screams. There was a solid stalled mass of panicked humanity, right in front of the man with the rifle. Range, less than thirty-five yards. Very close.
His fourth head shot killed a man in a suit. His fifth missed completely. The Sierra Matchking passed close to a woman's shoulder and hissed straight into the ornamental pool and disappeared. He ignored it and moved the Springfield's muzzle a fraction, and his sixth shot caught a guy on the bridge of his nose and blew his head apart.
The man with the rifle stopped firing.
He ducked low behind the garage wall and crawled backward three feet. He could smell burnt powder and over the ringing in his ears he could hear women screaming and feet pounding and the crunch of panicked fender benders on the street below. Don't worry, little people, he thought. It's over now. I'm out of here. He lay on his stomach and swept his spent shell cases into a pile. The bright Lake City brass shone right there in front of him. He scooped five of them into his gloved hands but the sixth rolled away and fell into an unfinished expansion joint. Just dropped right down into the tiny nine-inch-deep, half-inch-wide trench. He heard a quiet metallic sound as it hit bottom.
Leave it, surely.
He jammed the five cases he had in his raincoat pocket and crawled backward on his toes and his forearms and his belly. He lay still for a moment and listened to the screaming. Then he came to his knees and stood up. Turned around and walked back the same way he had come, fast but in control, over the rough concrete, along the walkway planks, through the dark and the dust, under the yellow-and-black tape. Back to his minivan.
The rear door was still open. He rewrapped the warm rifle in its blanket and slid the door shut on it. Got in the front and started the engine. Glanced through the windshield at the parking meter. He had forty-four minutes left on it. He backed out and headed for the exit ramp. Drove down it and out the unmanned exit and made a right and a left into the tangle of streets behind the department stores. He had passed under the raised highway before he heard the first sirens. He breathed out. The sirens were heading east, and he was heading west.
Good work, he thought. Covert infiltration, six shots fired, five targets down, successful exfiltration, as cool as the other side of the pillow.
Then he smiled suddenly. Long-term military records show that a modern army scores one enemy fatality for every fifteen thousand combat rounds expended by its infantry. But for its specialist snipers, the result is better. Way better. Twelve and a half thousand times better, as a matter of fact. A modern army scores one enemy fatality for every one-point-two combat rounds expended by a sniper. And one for one-point-two happened to be the same batting average as five for six. Exactly the same average. Simple arithmetic. So even after all those years a trained military sniper had scored exactly what his old instructors would have expected. They would have been very pleased about that.
But his old instructors had trained snipers for the battlefield, not for urban crime. With urban crime, factors unknown on the battlefield kick in fast. Those factors tend to modify the definition of successful exfiltration. In this particular case, the media re
Also not present on the battlefield is urban law enforcement. The dozen simultaneous 911 cell phone calls lit up the emergency switchboard like a Christmas tree, and the local police and fire departments were rolling within forty seconds. Everything was dispatched, all of them with lights popping and sirens blaring. Every black-and-white, every available detective, every crime-scene technician, every fire engine, every paramedic, every ambulance. Initially there was complete mayhem. The 911 calls had been panicked and incoherent. But crimes were plainly involved, and they were clearly serious, so the Serious Crimes Squad's lead detective was given temporary command. He was a high-quality twenty-year PD veteran who had come all the way up from patrolman. His name was Emerson. He was blasting through slow traffic, dodging construction, hopelessly, desperately, with no way of knowing what had happened. Robbery, drugs, gang fight, terrorism, he had no hard information. None at all. But he was calm. Comparatively. His heart rate was holding below a hundred and fifty. He had an open channel with the 911 dispatcher, desperate to hear more as he drove.
"New guy on a cell phone now," the dispatcher screamed.
"Who?" Emerson screamed back.
"Marine Corps, from the recruiting office. "
"Was he a witness?"
"No, he was inside. But he's outside now. "
Emerson clamped his teeth. He knew he wasn't going to be first-on-scene. Not even close. He knew he was leading from the rear. So he needed eyes. Now. A Marine? He'll do.
"OK," he said. "Patch the Marine through. "
There were loud clicks and electronic sounds and then Emerson heard a new acoustic. Outdoors, distant screaming, the splash of water. The fountain, he thought.
"Who is this?" he asked.
A voice came back, calm but rushed, loud and breathy, pressed close to a cell phone mouthpiece.
"This is Kelly," it said. "First Sergeant, United States Marine Corps. Who am I speaking with?"
"Emerson, PD. I'm in traffic, about ten minutes out. What have we got?"
"Five KIA," the Marine said.
"None that I can see. "
"Five dead and no injured?"
"Affirmative," the Marine said again.
Emerson said nothing. He had seen shootings in public places. He had seen dead people. But he had never seen only dead people. Public-place shootings always produced injured along with the dead. Usually in a one-to-one ratio, at least.
"You sure about no injured?" he said.
"That's definitive, sir," the Marine said.
"Who are the DOAs?"
"Civilians. Four males, one female. "
"Roger that, sir," the Marine said.
"Where were you?"
"In the recruiting office. "
"What did you see?"
"What did you hear?"
"Incoming gunfire, six rounds. "
"Long gun, I think. Just one of them. "
"An autoloader, I think. It fired fast, but it wasn't on full automatic. The KIAs are all hit in the head. "
A sniper, Emerson thought. Shit. A crazy man with an assault weapon.
"Has he gone now?" he said.
"No further firing, sir. "
"He might still be there. "
"It's a possibility, sir. People have taken cover. Most of them are in the library now. "
"Where are you?"
"Head-down behind the plaza wall, sir. I've got a few people with me. "
"Where was he?"
"Can't say for sure. Maybe in the parking garage. The new part. People were pointing at it. There may have been some muzzle flash. And that's the only major structure directly facing the KIAs. "
A warren, Emerson thought. A damn rat's nest.
"The TV people are here," the Marine said.
Shit, Emerson thought.
"Are you in uniform?" he asked.
"Full dress, sir. For the recruiting office. "
"OK, do your best to keep order until my guys get there. "
"Roger that, sir. "
Then the line went dead and Emerson heard his dispatcher's breathing again. TV people and a crazy man with a rifle, he thought. Shit, shit, shit. Pressure and scrutiny and second-guessing, like every other place that ever had TV people and a crazy man with a rifle. He hit the switch that gave him the all-cars radio net.
"All units, listen up," he said. "This was a lone nutcase with a long gun. Probably an automatic weapon. Indiscriminate firing in a public place. Possibly from the new part of the parking garage. So either he's still in there, or he's already in the wind. If he left, it was either on foot or in a vehicle. So all units that are more than ten blocks out, stop now and lock down a perimeter. Nobody enters or exits, OK? No vehicles, no pedestrians, nobody under any circumstances. All units that are closer than ten blocks, proceed inward with extreme caution. But do not let him get away. Do not miss him. This is a must-win, people. We need this guy today, before CNN climbs all over us. "
The man in the minivan thumbed the button on the remote on the visor and the garage door rumbled upward. He drove inside and thumbed the button again and the door came down after him. He shut the engine off and sat still for a moment. Then he got out of the van and walked through the mud room and on into the kitchen. He patted the dog and turned on the television.
Paramedics in full body armor went in through the back of the library. Two of them stayed inside to check for injuries among the sheltering crowd. Four of them came out the front and ran crouched through the plaza and ducked behind the wall. They crawled toward the bodies and confirmed they were all DOA. Then they stayed right there. Flat on the ground and immobile next to the corpses. No unnecessary exposure until the garage has been searched, Emerson had ordered.
Emerson double-parked two blocks from the plaza and told a uniformed sergeant to direct the search of the parking garage, from the top down, from the southwest corner. The uniforms cleared the fourth level, and then the third. Then the second. Then the first. The old part was problematic. It was badly lit and full of parked cars, and every car represented a potential hiding place. A guy could be inside one, or under one, or behind one. But they didn't find anybody. They had no real problem with the new construction. It wasn't lit at all, but there were no parked cars in that part. The patrolmen simply came down the stairwell and swept each level in turn with flashlight beams.
The sergeant relaxed and called it in.
"Good work," Emerson said.
And it was good work. The fact that they searched from the southwest corner outward left the northeast
By seven o'clock in the evening it was going dark and Ann Yanni had been on the air eleven times. Three of them network, eight of them local. Personally she was a little disappointed with that ratio. She was sensitive to a little skepticism coming her way from the network editorial offices. If it bleeds, it leads was any news organization's credo, but this bleeding was way out there, far from New York or LA. It wasn't happening in some manicured suburb outside of Washington D. C. It had a tinge of weirdo-from-the-heartland about it. There was no real possibility that anyone important would walk through this guy's crosshairs. So it was not really prime-time stuff. And in truth Ann didn't have much to offer. None of the victims was identified yet. None of the slain. The local PD was holding its cards close to its chest until families had been notified individually. So she had no heartwarming background stories to share. She wasn't sure which of the male victims had been family men. Or churchgoers. She didn't know if the woman had been a mother or a wife. She didn't have much to offer in the way of visuals, either. Just a gathering crowd held five blocks back by police barricades, and a static long shot down the grayness of First Street, and occasional close-ups of the parking garage, which was where everyone seemed to assume the sniper had been.
By eight o'clock Emerson had made a lot of progress. His guys had taken hundreds of statements. Marine Corps First Sergeant Kelly was still sure he had heard six shots. Emerson was inclined to believe him. Marines could be trusted on stuff like that, presumably. Then some other guy mentioned his cell phone must have been open the whole time, connected to another guy's voice mail. The cellular company retrieved the recording and six gunshots were faintly audible on it. But the medical examiners had counted only five entry wounds in the five DOAs. Therefore, there was a bullet missing. Three other witnesses were vague, but they all reported seeing a small plume of water kick out of the ornamental pool.
Emerson ordered the pool to be drained.
The fire department handled it. They set up floodlights and switched off the fountain and used a pumping engine to dump the water into the city storm drains. They figured there were maybe eighty thousand gallons of water to move, and that the job would be complete in an hour.
Meanwhile crime-scene technicians had used drinking straws and laser pointers to estimate the fatal trajectories. They figured the most reliable evidence would come from the first victim. Presumably he was walking purposefully right-to-left across the plaza when the first shot came in. After that, it was possible the subsequent victims were twisting or turning or moving in other unpredictable ways. So they based their conclusions solely on the first guy. His head was a mess, but it seemed pretty clear the bullet had traveled slightly high-to-low and left-to-right as it passed through. One tech stood upright on the spot and another held a drinking straw against the side of his head at the correct angle and held it steady. Then the first guy ducked out of the way and a third fired a laser pointer through the straw. It put a tiny red spot on the northeast corner of the parking garage extension, second level. Witnesses had claimed they had seen muzzle flashes up there. Now science had confirmed their statements.
Emerson sent his crime-scene people into the garage and told them they had all the time they needed. But he told them not to come back with nothing.
Ann Yanni left the black glass tower at eight-thirty and took a camera crew down to the barricades five blocks away. She figured she might be able to identify some of the victims by process of elimination. People whose relatives hadn't come home for dinner might be gathering there, desperate for information. She shot twenty minutes of tape. She got no specific information at all. Instead she got twenty minutes of crying and wailing and sheer stunned incredulity. The whole city was in pain and in shock. She started out secretly proud that she was in the middle of everything, and she ended up with tears in her eyes and sick to her stomach.
The parking garage was where the case was broken. It was a bonanza. A treasure trove. A patrolman three blocks away had taken a witness statement from a regular user of the garage saying that the last slot on the second level had been blocked off with an orange traffic cone. Because of it, the witness had been forced to leave the garage and park elsewhere. He had been pissed about it. A guy from the city said the cone hadn't been there officially. No way. Couldn't have been. No reason for it. So the cone was bagged for evidence and taken away. Then the city guy said there were discreet security cameras at the entrance and the exit, wired to a video recorder in a maintenance closet. The tape was extracted and taken away. Then the city guy said the new extension was stalled for funding and hadn't been worked on for two weeks. So anything in there less than two weeks old wasn't anything to do with him.
The crime-scene technicians started at the yellow-and-black Caution Do Not Enter tape. The first thing they found was a scuff of blue cotton material on the rough concrete directly underneath it. Just a peach-fuzz of barely-visible fiber. Like a guy had dropped to one knee to squirm underneath and had left a little of his blue jeans behind. They photographed the scuff and then picked it up whole with an adhesive sheet of clear plastic. Then they brought in klieg lights and angled them low across the floor. Across the two-week-old cement dust. They saw perfect footprints. Really perfect footprints. The lead tech called Emerson on his Motorola.
"He was wearing weird shoes," he said.
"What kind of weird shoes?"
"You ever heard of crepe? It's a kind of crude rubber. Almost raw. Very grippy. It picks everything up. If we find this guy, we're going to find crepe-soled shoes with cement dust all over the soles. Also, we're going to find a dog in his house. "
"We've got dog hair here, picked up by the crepe rubber earlier. And then scraped off again where the concrete's rough. And carpet fibers. Probably from his rugs at home and in his car. "
"Keep going," Emerson said.
At ten to nine Emerson briefed his Chief of Police for a press conference. He held nothing back. It was the Chief's decision what to talk about and what to conceal.
"Six shots fired and five people dead," Emerson said. "All head shots. I'm betting on a trained shooter. Probably ex-military. "
"Or a hunter?" the Chief said.
"Big difference between shooting deer and shooting people. The technique might be the same, but the emotion isn't. "
"Were we right to keep this away from the FBI?"
"It wasn't terrorism. It was a lone nut. We've seen them before. "
"I want to be able to sound confident about bringing this one in. "
"I know," Emerson said.
"So how confident can I sound?"
"So far we've got good stuff, but not great stuff. "
The Chief nodded and said nothing.
At nine o'clock exactly, Emerson took a call from the pathologist. His staff had X-rayed all five heads. Massive tissue damage, entry and exit wounds, no lodged bullets.
"Hollow points," the pathologist said. "All of them through and through. "
Emerson turned and looked at the ornamental pool. Six bullets in there, he thought. Five through-and-throughs, and one miss. The pool was finally empty by nine-fifteen. The fire department hoses started sucking air. All that was left was a quarter-inch of scummy grit, and a lot of trash. Emerson had the lights reangled and sent twelve recruits from the Academy over the walls, six from one end and six from the other.
The crime-scene techs in the parking garage extension logged forty-eight footprints going and forty-four coming back. The perp had been confident but wary on the way in, and striding longer on the way out. In a hurry. The footprints were size eleven. They found fibers on the last pillar before the northeast corner. Mercerized cotton, at a guess, from a pale-colored raincoat, at shoulder-blade
"He low-crawled," the lead tech said. "Knees and elbows on the way there, and knees, toes, and elbows coming backward. We ever find his shoes, they're going to be all scraped up at the front. "
They found where he must have sat up and then knelt. Directly in front of that position, they saw varnish scrapings on the lip of the wall.
"He rested his gun there," the lead tech said. "Sawed it back and forth, to get it steady. "
He lined himself up and aimed his gaze over the varnish scrapings, like he was aiming a rifle. What he saw in front of him was Emerson, pacing in front of the empty ornamental pool, less than thirty-five yards away.
The Academy recruits spent thirty minutes in the empty pool and came out with a lot of miscellaneous junk, nearly eight dollars in pennies, and six bullets. Five of them were just misshapen blobs of lead, but one of them looked absolutely brand new. It was a boat tail hollow point, beautifully cast, almost certainly a. 308. Emerson called his lead crime-scene tech up in the garage.
"I need you down here," he said.
"No, I need you up here," the tech replied.
Emerson got up to the second level and found all the techs crouched in a low huddle with their flashlight beams pointing down into a narrow crack in the concrete.
"Expansion joint," the lead tech said. "And look what fell in it. "
Emerson shouldered his way in and looked down and saw the gleam of brass.
"A cartridge case," he said.
"The guy took the others with him. But this one got away. "
"Fingerprints?" Emerson asked.
"We can hope," the tech said. "Not too many people wear gloves when they load their magazines. "
"How do we get it out of there?"
The tech stood up and used his flashlight beam to locate an electrical box on the ceiling. There was one close by, new, with unconnected cables spooling out like fronds. He looked on the floor directly underneath and found a rat's nest of discarded trimmings. He chose an eighteen-inch length of ground wire. He cleaned it and bent it into an L-shape. It was stiff and heavy. Probably overspecified for the kind of fluorescent ceiling fixtures he guessed the garage was going to use. Maybe that was why the project was stalled for funding. Maybe the city was spending money in all the wrong places.
He jiggled the wire down into the open joint and slid it along until the end went neatly into the empty cartridge case. Then he lifted it out very carefully, so as not to scratch it. He dropped it straight into a plastic evidence bag.
"Meet at the station," Emerson said. "In one hour. I'll scare up a DA. "
He walked away, on a route exactly parallel to the trail of footprints. Then he stopped next to the empty parking bay.
"Empty the meter," he called. "Print all the quarters. "
"Why?" the tech called back. "You think the guy paid?"
"I want to cover all the bases. "
"You'd have to be crazy to pay for parking just before you blow five people away. "
"You don't blow five people away unless you're crazy. "
The tech shrugged. Empty the meter? But he guessed it was the kind of insight detectives were paid for, so he just dialed his cell phone and asked the city liaison guy to come on back again.
Someone from the District Attorney's office always got involved at this point because the responsibility for prosecution rested squarely on the DA's shoulders. It wasn't the PD that won or lost in court. It was the DA. So the DA's office made its own evaluation of the evidence. Did they have a case? Was the case weak or strong? It was like an audition. Like a trial before a trial. This time, because of the magnitude, Emerson was performing in front of the DA himself. The big cheese, the actual guy who had to run for election. And reelection.
They made it a three-man conference in Emerson's office. Emerson, and the lead crime-scene tech, and the DA. The DA was called Rodin, which was a contraction of a Russian name that had been a whole lot longer before his great-grandparents came to America. He was fifty years old, lean and fit, and very cautious. His office had an outstanding victory percentage, but that was mostly due to the fact that he wouldn't prosecute anything less than a total certainty. Anything less than a total certainty, and Rodin gave up early and blamed the cops. At least that was how it seemed to Emerson.
"I need seriously good news," Rodin said. "The whole city is freaking out. "
"We know exactly how it went down," Emerson told him. "We can trace it every step of the way. "
"You know who it was?" Rodin asked.
"Not yet. Right now he's still John Doe. "
"So walk me through it. "
"We've got monochrome security videotape of a light-colored minivan entering the garage eleven minutes before the event. Can't see the plates for mud and dirt, and the camera angle isn't great. But it's probably a Dodge Caravan, not new, with aftermarket tinted windows. And we're also looking through old tapes right now because it's clear he entered the garage at some previous time and illegally blocked off a particular space with a traffic cone stolen earlier from a city construction site. "
"Can we prove stolen?"
"OK, obtained," Emerson said.
"Maybe he works for the city construction department. "
"You think the cone came from the work on First Street?"
"There's construction all over town. "
"First Street would be closest. "
"I don't really care where the cone came from. "
Rodin nodded. "So, he reserved himself a parking space?"
Emerson nodded in turn. "Right where the new construction starts. Therefore the cone would have looked plausible. We have a witness who saw it in place at least an hour before. And the cone has fingerprints on it. Lots of them. The right thumb and index finger match prints on a quarter we took out of the parking meter. "
"He paid to park?"
"Won't stand up," he said. "Defense will claim he could have placed the cone for an innocent reason. You know, selfish but innocent. And the quarter could have been in the meter for days. "
Emerson smiled. Cops think like cops, and lawyers think like lawyers.
"There's more," he said. "He parked, and then he walked through the new construction. At various points he left trace evidence behind, from his shoes and his clothing. And he'll have picked trace evidence up, in the form of cement dust, mostly. Probably a lot of it. "
Rodin shook his head. "Ties him to the scene sometime during the last two weeks. That's all. Not specific enough. "
"We've got a three-way lock on his weapon," Emerson said.
That got Rodin's attention.
"He missed with one shot," Emerson said. "It went into the pool. And you know what? That's exactly how ballistics labs test-fire a gun. They fire into a long tank of water. The water slows and stops the bullet with absolutely no damage at all. So we've got a pristine bullet with all the lands and grooves we need to tie it to an individual rifle. "
"Can you find the individual rifle?"
"We've got varnish scrapings from where he steadied it on the wall. "
"That's good. "
"You bet it is. We find the rifle and we'll match the varnish and the scratches. It's as good as DNA. "
"Are you going to find the rifle?"
"We found a shell case. It's got tool marks on it from the ejector mechanism. So we've got a bullet and a case. Together they tie the weapon to the crime. The scratches tie the weapon to the garage location. The garage location ties the crime to the guy who left the trace evidence behind. "
Rodin said nothing. Eme
"The shell case has got fingerprints on it," Emerson said. "From when he loaded the magazine. Same thumb and index finger as on the quarter in the parking meter and on the traffic cone. So we can tie the crime to the gun, and the gun to the ammo, and the ammo to the guy who used it. See? It all connects. The guy, the gun, the crime. It's a total slam dunk. "
"The videotape shows the minivan leaving?"
"Ninety seconds after the first 911 call came in. "
"Who is he?"
"We'll know just as soon as the fingerprint databases get back to us. "
"If he's in the databases. "
"I think he was a military shooter," Emerson said. "All military personnel are in the databases. So it's just a matter of time. "
It was a matter of forty-nine minutes. A desk guy knocked and entered. He was carrying a sheaf of paper. The paper listed a name, an address, and a history. Plus supplementary information from all over the system. Including a driver's license photo. Emerson took the paper and glanced through it once. Then again. Then he smiled. Exactly six hours after the first shot was fired, the situation was nailed down tight. A must-win.
"His name is James Barr," Emerson said.
Silence in the office.
"He's forty-one years old. He lives twenty minutes from here. He served in the U. S. Army. Honorable discharge fourteen years ago. Infantry specialist, which I'm betting means a sniper. DMV says he drives a six-year-old Dodge Caravan, beige. "
He slid the papers across his desk to Rodin. Rodin picked them up and scanned them through, once, twice, carefully. Emerson watched his eyes. Saw him thinking the guy, the gun, the crime. It was like watching a Vegas slot machine line up three cherries. Bing bing bing! A total certainty.
"James Barr," Rodin said, like he was savoring the sound of the words. He separated out the DL picture and gazed at it. "James Barr, welcome to a shitload of trouble, sir. "
"Amen to that," Emerson said, waiting for a compliment.
"I'll get the warrants," Rodin said. "Arrest, and searches on his house and car. Judges will be lining up to sign them. "
He left and Emerson called the Chief of Police with the good news. The Chief said he would schedule an eight o'clock press conference for the next morning. He said he wanted Emerson there, front and center. Emerson took that as all the compliment he was going to get, even though he didn't much like the press.
The warrants were ready within an hour, but the arrest took three hours to set up. First, unmarked surveillance confirmed Barr was home. His place was an unremarkable one-story ranch. Not immaculate, not falling down. Old paint on the siding, fresh blacktop on the driveway. Lights were on and a television set was playing in what was probably the living room. Barr himself was spotted briefly, in a lighted window. He seemed to be alone. Then he seemed to go to bed. Lights went off and the house went quiet. So then there was a pause. It was standard operating procedure to plan carefully for the takedown of an armed man inside a building. The PD SWAT team took charge. They used zoning maps from the city offices and came up with the usual kind of thing. Covert encirclement, overwhelming force on standby front and rear, sudden violent assault on the front and rear doors simultaneously. Emerson was detailed to make the actual arrest, wearing full body armor and a borrowed helmet. An assistant DA would be alongside him, to monitor the legality of the process. Nobody wanted to give a defense attorney anything to chew on later. A paramedic team would be instantly available. Two K9 officers would go along because of the crime-scene investigator's theory about the dog in the house. Altogether thirty-eight men were involved, and they were all tired. Most of them had been working nineteen hours straight. Their regular watches, plus overtime. So there was a lot of nervous tension in the air. People figured that nobody owned just one automatic weapon. If a guy had one, he had more. Maybe full-auto machine guns. Maybe grenades or bombs.
But the arrest was a walk in the park. James Barr barely even woke up. They broke down his doors at three in the morning and found him asleep, alone in bed. He stayed asleep with fifteen armed men in his bedroom aiming fifteen submachine guns and fifteen flashlight beams at him. He stirred a little when the SWAT commander threw his blankets and pillows to the floor, searching for concealed weapons. He had none. He opened his eyes. Mumbled something that sounded like What? and then went back to sleep, curling up on the flat mattress, hugging himself against the sudden cold. He was a large man, with white skin and black hair that was going gray all over his body. His pajamas were too small for him. He looked slack, and a little older than his forty-one years.
His dog was an old mutt that woke up reluctantly and staggered in from the kitchen. The K9 team captured it immediately and took it straight out to their truck. Emerson took his helmet off and pushed his way through the crowd in the tiny bedroom. Saw a three-quarters-full pint of Jack Daniel's on the night table, next to an orange prescription bottle that was also three-quarters full. He bent to look at it. Sleeping pills. Legal. Recently prescribed to someone called Rosemary Barr. The label said: Rosemary Barr. Take one for sleeplessness.
"Who's Rosemary Barr?" the assistant DA asked. "Is he married?"
Emerson glanced around the room. "Doesn't look like it. "
"Suicide attempt?" the SWAT commander asked.
Emerson shook his head. "He'd have swallowed them all. Plus the whole pint of JD. So I guess Mr. Barr had trouble getting off to sleep tonight, that's all. After a very busy and productive day. "
The air in the room was stale. It smelled of dirty sheets and an unwashed body.
"We need to be careful here," the assistant DA said. "He's impaired right now. His lawyer is going to say he's not fully capable of understanding Miranda. So we can't let him say anything. And if he does say something, we can't listen. "
Emerson called for the paramedics. Told them to check Barr out, to make sure he wasn't faking, and to make sure he wasn't about to die on them. They fussed around for a few minutes, listened to his heart, checked his pulse, read the prescription label. Then they pronounced him reasonably fit and healthy, but fast asleep.
"Psychopath," the SWAT commander said. "No conscience at all. "
"Are we even sure this is the right guy?" the assistant DA asked.
Emerson found a pair of dress pants folded over a chair and checked the pockets. Came out with a small wallet. Found the driver's license. The name was right, and the address was right. And the photograph was right.
"This is the right guy," he said.
"We can't let him say anything," the ADA said again. "We need to keep this kosher. "
"I'm going to Mirandize him anyway," Emerson said. "Make a mental note, people. "
He shook Barr by the shoulder and got half-opened eyes in response. Then he recited the Miranda warning. The right to remain silent, the right to a lawyer. Barr tried to focus, but didn't succeed. Then he went back to sleep.
"OK, take him in," Emerson said.
They wrapped him in a blanket and two cops dragged him out of the house and into a car. A paramedic and the ADA rode with him. Emerson stayed in the house and started the search. He found the scuffed blue jeans in the bedroom closet. The crepe-soled shoes were placed neatly on the floor below them. They were dusty. The raincoat was in the hall closet. The beige Dodge Caravan was in the garage. The scratched rifle was in the basement. It was one of several resting on a rack bolted to the wall. On a bench underneath it were five nine-millimeter handguns. And boxes of ammunition, including a half-empty box of Lake City M852 168-grain boat tail hollow point. 308s. Next to the boxes were glass jars with empty cartridge cases in them. Ready for recycling, Emerson thought. Ready for handloading. The jar nearest the front of the bench held just five of them. Lake City brass. The jar's lid was still off, like the five latest cases had been dumped in there recently and in a hurry. Emerson bent down a
Emerson left James Barr's house at four in the morning, replaced by forensic specialists who would go through the whole place with a fine-tooth comb. He checked with his desk sergeant and confirmed that Barr was sleeping peacefully in a cell on his own with round-the-clock medical supervision. Then he went home and caught a two-hour nap before showering and dressing for the press conference.
The press conference killed the story stone dead. A story needs the guy to be still out there. A story needs the guy roaming, sullen, hidden, shadowy, dangerous. It needs fear. It needs to make everyday chores exposed and hazardous, like pumping gas or visiting the mall or walking to church. So to hear that the guy was found and arrested even before the start of the second news cycle was a disaster for Ann Yanni. Immediately she knew what the network offices were going to think. No legs, over and done with, history. Yesterday's news, literally. Probably wasn't much of anything anyway. Just some inbred heartland weirdo too dumb to stay free through the night. Probably sleeps with his cousin and drinks Colt 45. Nothing sinister there. She would get one more network breaking news spot to recap the crime and report the arrest, and that would be it. Back to obscurity.
So Ann Yanni was disappointed, but she hid it well. She asked questions and made her tone admiring. About halfway through she started putting together a new theme. A new narrative. People would have to admit the police work had been pretty impressive. And this perp wasn't a weirdo. Not necessarily. So a serious bad guy had been caught by an even-more-serious police department. Right out there in the heartland. Something that had taken considerable time on the coasts in previous famous cases. Could she sell it? She started drafting titles in the back of her mind. America's Fastest? Like a play on Finest?
The Chief yielded the floor to Detective Emerson after about ten minutes. Emerson filled in full details on the perp's identity and his history. He kept it dry. Just the facts, ma'am. He outlined the investigation. He answered questions. He didn't boast. Ann Yanni thought that he felt the cops had been lucky. That they had been given much more to go on than they usually got.
Then Rodin stepped up. The DA made it sound like the PD had been involved in some early minor skirmishing and that the real work was about to begin. His office would review everything and make the necessary determinations. And yes, Ms. Yanni, because he thought the circumstances warranted it, certainly he would seek the death penalty for James Barr.
James Barr woke up in his cell with a chemical hangover at nine o'clock Saturday morning. He was immediately fingerprinted and re-Mirandized once, and then twice. The right to remain silent, the right to a lawyer. He chose to remain silent. Not many people do. Not many people can. The urge to talk is usually overwhelming. But James Barr beat it. He just clamped his mouth shut and kept it that way. Plenty of people tried to talk to him, but he didn't answer. Not once. Not a word. Emerson was relaxed about it. Truth was, Emerson didn't really want Barr to say anything. He preferred to line up all the evidence, scrutinize it, test it, polish it, and get to a point where he could anticipate a conviction without a confession. Confessions were so vulnerable to defense accusations of coercion or confusion that he had learned to run away from them. They were icing on the cake. Literally the last thing he wanted to hear, not the first. Not like on the TV cop shows, where relentless interrogation was a kind of performance art. So he just stayed out of the loop and let his forensics people complete their slow, patient work.
James Barr's sister was younger than him and unmarried and living in a rented downtown condo. Her name was Rosemary. Like the rest of the city's population, she was sick and shocked and stunned. She had seen the news Friday night. And she caught it again Saturday morning. She heard a police detective say her brother's name. At first she thought it was a mistake. That she had misheard. But the guy kept on saying it. James Barr, James Barr, James Barr. Rosemary burst into tears. First tears of confusion, then tears of horror, then tears of fury.
Then she forced herself to calm down, and got busy.
She worked as a secretary in an eight-man law firm. Like most firms in small heartland cities, hers did a little bit of everything. And it treated its employees fairly well. The salary wasn't spectacular, but there were intangibles to compensate. One was a full package of benefits. Another was being called a paralegal instead of a secretary. Another was a promise that the firm would handle legal matters for its employees and their families free, gratis, and for nothing. Mostly that was about wills and probate and divorce, and insurance company hassles after fender benders. It wasn't about defending adult siblings who were wrongly accused in notorious urban sniper slayings. She knew that. But she felt she had to give it a try. Because she knew her brother, and she knew he couldn't be guilty.
She called the partner she worked for, at home. He was mostly a tax guy, so he called the firm's criminal litigator. The litigator called the managing partner, who called a meeting of all the partners. They held it over lunch at the country club. From the start, the agenda was about how to turn down Rosemary Barr's request in the most tactful way possible. A defense to a crime of this nature wasn't the sort of thing they were equipped to handle. Or inclined to handle. There were public relations implications. There was immediate agreement on that point. But they were a loyal bunch, and Rosemary Barr was a good employee who had worked many years for them. They knew she had no money, because they did her taxes. They assumed her brother had no money, either. But the Constitution guaranteed competent counsel, and they didn't have a very high opinion of public defenders. So they were caught in a genuine ethical dilemma.
The litigator resolved it. His name was David Chapman. He was a hardscrabble veteran who knew Rodin over at the DA's office. He knew him pretty well. It would have been impossible for him not to, really. They were two of a kind, raised in the same neighborhood and working in the same business, albeit on opposite sides. So Chapman went to the smoking room and used his cell phone to call the DA at home. The two lawyers had a full and frank discussion. Then Chapman came back to the lunch table.
"It's a slam dunk," he said. "Ms. Barr's brother is guilty all to hell and gone. Rodin's case is going to read like a textbook. Hell, it's probably going to be a textbook one day. He's got every kind of evidence there is. There's not a chink of daylight anywhere. "
"Was he leveling with you?" the managing partner asked.
"There's no bullshitting between old buddies," Chapman said.
"All we would have to do is plead in mitigation. If we can get the lethal injection reduced to life without parole, there's a big win right there. That's all Ms. Barr has a right to expect. Or her damn brother, with all due respect. "
"How much involvement?" the managing partner asked.
"Sentencing phase only. Because he'll have to plead guilty. "
"You happy to handle it?"
"Under the circumstances. "
"How many hours will it cost us?"
"Not many. There's practically nothing we can do. "
"What grounds for mitigation?"
"He's a Gulf War vet, I believe. So there's probably chemical stuff going on. Or some kind of delayed post-traumatic thing. Maybe we could get Rodin to agree beforehand. We could get it done over lunch. "
The managing partner nodded. Turned to the tax guy. "Tell your secretary we'll do everything in our power to help her brother in his hour of need. "
Barr was moved from the police station lockup to the county jail before either his sister or Chapman got a chance to see him. His blanket and pajamas were taken away and he was issued paper underwear, an orange jumpsuit, and a pair of rubber shower sandals. The county jail wasn't a pleasant place to be. It smelled bad and it was noisy. It was radically overcrowded and the social and ethnic tensions that were kept in control on the street were left to rage unchecked inside. Men were stacked three to a cell and the guards were shorthanded. New g
But Barr had been in the army, so the culture shock for him was a little less than it might have been. He survived as a fish for two hours, and then he was escorted to an interview room. He was told there was a lawyer waiting there for him. He found a table and two chairs bolted to the floor in a windowless cubicle. In one of the chairs was a guy he vaguely recognized from somewhere. On the table was a pocket tape recorder. Like a Walkman.
"My name is David Chapman," the guy in the chair said. "I'm a criminal defense attorney. A lawyer. Your sister works at my firm. She asked us to help you out. "
Barr said nothing.
"So here I am," Chapman said.
Barr said nothing.
"I'm recording this conversation," Chapman said. "Putting it on tape. I take it that's OK with you?"
Barr said nothing.
"I think we met once," Chapman said. "Our Christmas party one year?"
Barr said nothing.
"Have the charges been explained to you?" he asked.
Barr said nothing.
"The charges are very serious," Chapman said.
Barr stayed quiet.
"I can't help you if you won't help yourself," Chapman said.
Barr just stared at him. Just sat still and quiet for several long minutes. Then he leaned forward toward the tape machine and spoke for the first time since the previous afternoon.
He said, "They got the wrong guy. "
"They got the wrong guy," Barr said again.
"So tell me about the right guy," Chapman said immediately. He was a good courtroom tactician. He knew how to get a rhythm going. Question, answer, question, answer. That was how to get a person to open up. They fell into the rhythm, and it all came out.
But Barr just retreated back into silence.
"Let's be clear about this," Chapman said.
Barr didn't answer.
"Are you denying it?" Chapman asked him.
Barr said nothing.
"The evidence is all there," Chapman said. "It's just about overwhelming, I'm afraid. You can't play dumb now. We need to talk about why you did it. That's what's going to help us here. "
Barr said nothing.
"You want me to help you?" Chapman said. "Or not?"
Barr said nothing.
"Maybe it was your old wartime experience," Chapman said. "Or post-traumatic stress. Or some kind of mental impairment. We need to focus on the reason. "
Barr said nothing.
"Denying it is not smart," Chapman said. "The evidence is right there. "
Barr said nothing.
"Denying it is not an option," Chapman said.
"Get Jack Reacher for me," Barr said.
"Jack Reacher. "
"Who's he? A friend?"
Barr said nothing.
"Someone you know?" Chapman said.
Barr said nothing.
"Someone you used to know?"
"Just get him for me. "
"Where is he? Who is he?"
Barr said nothing.
"Is Jack Reacher a doctor?" Chapman asked.
"A doctor?" Barr repeated.
"Is he a doctor?" Chapman asked.
But Barr didn't speak again. He just got up from the table and walked to the cubicle's door and pounded on it until the jailer opened it up and led him back to his overcrowded cell.
Chapman arranged to meet Rosemary Barr and the firm's investigator at his law offices. The investigator was a retired cop shared by most of the city's law firms. They all had him on retainer. He was a private detective, with a license. His name was Franklin. He was nothing like a private eye in a TV show. He did all his work at a desk, with phone books and computer databases. He didn't go out, didn't wear a gun, didn't own a hat. But he had no equal as a fact-checker or a skip tracer and he still had plenty of friends in the PD.
"The evidence is rock solid," he said. "That's what I'm hearing. Emerson was in charge and he's pretty reliable. So is Rodin, really, but for a different reason. Emerson's a stiff and Rodin is a coward. Neither one of them would be saying what they're saying unless the evidence was there. "
"I just can't believe he did it," Rosemary Barr said.
"Well, certainly he seems to be denying it," Chapman said. "As far as I can understand him. And he's asking for someone called Jack Reacher. Someone he knows or used to know. You ever heard that name? You know who he is?"
Rosemary Barr just shook her head. Chapman wrote the name Jack Reacher on a sheet of paper and slid it across to Franklin. "My guess is he may be a psychiatrist. Mr. Barr brought the name up right after I told him how strong the evidence is. So maybe this Reacher guy is someone who can help us out with the mitigation. Maybe he treated Mr. Barr in the past. "
"My brother never saw a psychiatrist," Rosemary Barr said.
"To your certain knowledge?"
"How long has he been in town?"
"Fourteen years. Since the army. "
"Were you close?"
"We lived in the same house. "
Rosemary Barr nodded.
"But you don't live there anymore. "
Rosemary Barr looked away.
"No," she said. "I moved out. "
"Might your brother have seen a shrink after you moved out?"
"He would have told me. "
"OK, what about before? In the service?"
Rosemary Barr said nothing. Chapman turned back to Franklin.
"So maybe Reacher was his army doctor," he said. "Maybe he has information about an old trauma. He could be very helpful. "
Franklin accepted the sheet of paper.
"In which case I'll find him," he said.
"We shouldn't be talking about mitigation anyway," Rosemary Barr said. "We should be talking about reasonable doubt. About innocence. "
"The evidence is very strong," Chapman said. "He used his own gun. "
Franklin spent three hours failing to find Jack Reacher. First he trawled through psychiatric associations. No hits. Then he searched the Internet for Gulf War support groups. No trace. He tried Lexis-Nexis and all the news organizations. Nothing. Then he started back at the beginning and accessed the National Personnel Record Center's database. It listed all current and former military. He found Jack Reacher's name in there easily enough. Reacher had entered the service in 1984 and received an honorable discharge in 1997. James Barr himself had signed up in 1985 and mustered out in 1991. So there was a six-year overlap. But Reacher had been no kind of a doctor. No kind of a psychiatrist. He had been a military cop. An officer. A major. Maybe a high-level investigator. Barr had finished as a lowly Specialist E-4. Infantry, not military police. So what was the point of contact between a military police major and an infantry E-4? Something helpful, obviously, or Barr wouldn't have mentioned the name. But what?
At the end of three hours Franklin figured he would never find out, because Reacher fell off the radar after 1997. Completely and totally. There was no trace of him anywhere. He was still alive, according to the Social Security Administration. He wasn't in prison, according to the NCIC. But he had disappeared. He had no credit rating. He wasn't listed as title holder to any real estate, or automobiles, or boats. He had no debts. No liens. No address. No phone number. No warrants outstanding, no judgments entered. He wasn't a husband. Wasn't a father. He was a ghost.
James Barr spent the same three hours in serious trouble. It started when he stepped out of his cell. He turned right to walk down to the pay phones. The corridor was narrow. He bumped into another guy, shoulder to shoulder. Then he made a bad mistake. He took his eyes off the floor and glanced at the other guy and apologized.
A bad mistake, because a fish can
The guy he made eye contact with was a Mexican. He had gang tattoos, but Barr didn't recognize them. Another bad mistake. He should have put his gaze back on the floor and moved on and hoped for the best. But he didn't.
Instead, he said, "Excuse me. "
Then he raised his eyebrows and half-smiled in a self-deprecating way, like he was saying, This is some place, right?
Bad mistake. Familiarity, and a presumption of intimacy.
"What are you looking at?" the Mexican said.
At that point, James Barr understood completely. What are you looking at? That was pretty much a standard opener. Barrack rooms, barrooms, street corners, dark alleys, it was not a phrase you wanted to hear.
"Nothing," he said, and realized he had made the situation much worse.
"You calling me nothing?"
Barr put his eyes back on the floor and moved on, but it was way too late. He felt the Mexican's stare on his back and gave up on the pay phone idea. The phones were in a dead-end lobby and he didn't want to feel trapped. So he walked a long counterclockwise circuit and headed back to his cell. He got there OK. Didn't look at anyone, didn't speak. He lay down on his bunk. About two hours later, he felt OK. He guessed he could handle a little macho bluster. And he was bigger than the Mexican. He was bigger than two Mexicans.
He wanted to call his sister. He wanted to know she was OK.
He set off for the pay phones again.
He got there unmolested. It was a small space. There were four phones on the wall, four men talking, four lines of other men waiting behind them. Noise, shuffling feet, crazed laughter, impatience, frustration, sour air, the smell of sweat and dirty hair and stale urine. Just a normal prison scene, according to James Barr's preconceptions.
Then it wasn't a normal scene.
The men in front of him vanished. Just disappeared. They just melted out of sight. Those on the phone hung up mid-sentence and ducked back past him. Those waiting in line peeled away. In half a second the lobby went from being full and noisy to being deserted and silent.
James Barr turned around.
He saw the Mexican with the tattoos. The Mexican had a knife in his hand and twelve friends behind him. The knife was a plastic toothbrush handle wrapped with tape and sharpened to a point, like a stiletto. The friends were all stocky little guys, all with the same tattoos. They all had cropped hair with intricate patterns shaved across their skulls.
"Wait," Barr said.
But the Mexicans didn't wait, and eight minutes later Barr was in a coma. He was found sometime after that, on the floor, beaten pulpy, with multiple stab wounds and a cracked skull and severe subdural bleeding. Afterward, jail talk said he had had it coming. He had disrespected the Latinos. But jail talk said he hadn't gone quietly. There was a hint of admiration. The Mexicans had suffered a little. But not nearly as much as James Barr. He was medevaced to the city hospital and sewn up and operated on to relieve pressure from a swollen brain. Then he was dumped in a secure intensive care unit, comatose. The doctors weren't sure when he would wake up again. Maybe in a day. Maybe in a week. Maybe in a month. Maybe never. The doctors didn't really know, and they didn't really care. They were all local people.
The warden at the jail called late at night and told Emerson. Then Emerson called and told Rodin. Then Rodin called and told Chapman. Then Chapman called and told Franklin.
"So what happens now?" Franklin asked him.
"Nothing," Chapman said. "It's on ice. You can't try a guy in a coma. "
"What about when he wakes up?"
"If he's OK, then they'll go ahead, I guess. "
"What if he isn't?"
"Then they won't. Can't try a vegetable. "
"So what do we do now?"
"Nothing," Chapman said. "We weren't taking it very seriously anyhow. Barr's guilty all to hell and gone, and there's nothing much anyone can do for him. "
Franklin called and told Rosemary Barr, because he wasn't sure if anyone else would have taken the trouble. He found out that nobody else had. So he broke the news himself. Rosemary Barr didn't have much of an outward reaction. She just went very quiet. It was like she was on emotional overload.
"I guess I should go to the hospital," she said.
"If you want," Franklin said.
"He's innocent, you know. This is so unfair. "
"Did you see him yesterday?"
"You mean, can I alibi him?"
"No," Rosemary Barr said. "I can't. I don't know where he was yesterday. Or what he was doing. "
"Are there places he goes regularly? Movies, bars, anything like that?"
"Not really. "
"Friends he hangs with?"
"I'm not sure. "
"Not for a long time. "
"Other family he visits?"
"There's just the two of us. Him and me. "
Franklin said nothing. There was a long, distracted pause.
"What happens now?" Rosemary Barr asked.
"I don't know exactly. "
"Did you find that person he mentioned?"
"Jack Reacher? No, I'm afraid not. No trace. "
"Will you keep on looking?"
"There's really nothing more I can do. "
"OK," Rosemary Barr said. "Then we'll have to manage without him. "
But even as they spoke, on the phone late at night on Saturday, Jack Reacher was on his way to them.
One Shot by Lee Child / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 4.1 out of 5 / Based on37 votes