Never go back, p.10
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       Never Go Back, p.10
 

         Part #18 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child

  observed in experiments. Something to do with multiple axes of spin, and wobble, and aerodynamics, and the general difference between theory and practice.

  But Reacher’s coin was imaginary. So, second time: heads or tails? Exactly fifty-fifty again. And the third time, and the fourth time. Each flip was a separate event all its own, with identical odds, statistically independent of anything that came before. Always fifty-fifty, every single time. But that didn’t mean the chances of flipping four heads in a row were fifty-fifty. Far from it. The chances of flipping four heads in a row were about ninety-four to six against. Much worse than fifty-fifty. Simple math.

  And Reacher needed four heads in a row. As in: Would Susan Turner get a new lawyer that afternoon? Answer: either yes or no. Fifty-fifty. Like heads or tails, like flipping a coin. Then: Would that new lawyer be a white male? Answer: either yes or no. Fifty-fifty. And then: Would first Major Sullivan or subsequently Captain Edmonds be in the building at the same time as Susan Turner’s new lawyer? Assuming she got one? Answer: either yes or no. Fifty-fifty. And finally: Would all three lawyers have come in through the same gate as each other? Answer: either yes or no. Fifty-fifty.

  Four yes-or-no answers, each one of them a separate event all its own. Each one of them a perfect fifty-fifty chance in its own right. But four correct answers in a row were a six-in-a-hundred improbability.

  Hope for the best. Which Reacher did. To some extent justifiably, he felt. Statistics were cold and indifferent. Which the real world wasn’t, necessarily. The army was an imperfect institution. Even in noncombatant roles like the JAG Corps, it wasn’t perfectly gender-neutral, for instance. Senior ranks favoured men. And a senior rank would be seen as necessary, for the defence of an MP major on a corruption charge. Therefore the gender of Susan Turner’s new lawyer wasn’t exactly a fifty-fifty proposition. Probably closer to seventy-thirty, in the desired direction. Moorcroft had been male, after all. And white. Black people were well represented in the military, but in no greater proportion than the population as a whole, which was about one in eight. About eighty-seven to thirteen, right there.

  And Reacher could keep at least one of his own lawyers in the building practically indefinitely. All he had to do was keep them talking. One spurious point after another. Some big show of anxiety. He could keep them there for ever, until they grew bored or impatient enough to abandon legal propriety and good manners. Therefore the chances of his lawyer and Turner’s being present in the building together were better than fifty-fifty, too. Seventy-thirty again, possibly. Maybe even better.

  And regular visitors to Dyer might know the north gate was closer to the guardhouse, and therefore they could be relied upon to use it. Maybe. Which put the gate question better than fifty-fifty, too. If Turner’s new lawyer was a regular visitor. Which he might not be. Pointy-headed classroom stars didn’t necessarily get around much. Call it fifty-five to forty-five. A marginal advantage. Not overwhelming.

  Nevertheless, overall, the plan’s chances were a little better than six in a hundred.

  But not a whole lot better.

  If Turner got a new lawyer in the first place, that was.

  Hope for the best.

  Reacher waited. Relaxed, patient, inert. He counted off the time in his head. Three o’clock in the afternoon. Three thirty. Four o’clock. The chair was comfortable. The room was warm. And fairly soundproof. Very little noise was audible from the outside. Just a dull acoustic. Not that the place was remotely like a regular prison. It was a civilized place, for civilized people.

  All of which, Reacher hoped, was going to help.

  Finally at four thirty in the afternoon the bolts slammed back, and the lock turned, and the door opened. The beanpole captain said, ‘Major Sullivan is here to see you.’

  Showtime.

  SEVENTEEN

  THE TALL GUY stood back and let Reacher walk in front of him. The corridor dog-legged left, and then right. Reacher pieced together the geography from what little he had seen. He figured the main office was around three more corners. Still some distance away. Before that would come the small square lobby, with the locked quarantine doors, and the clerk, and the rear door to the outside. Before that would come the interview rooms, on both sides of a short stretch of corridor all its own. The scuffed spaces for cops and suspects would be on the right, and on the left would be the slightly grander spaces he had seen on his way to the cells. There were two of them. His destination, he assumed. Higher quality, for conferences between lawyers and clients. They had windows in their doors, narrow vertical rectangles of wired glass, set off-centre above the handles.

  He walked straight past the first door, glancing in the window but pretending not to, seeing Sullivan in there, seated on the left side of a table, in her neat Class A uniform, hands folded on top of her closed briefcase, and he kept on walking, to the second door, where he stopped and glanced in the window quite openly.

  The second room was empty.

  No client, and no lawyer, male or otherwise.

  Neither heads nor tails.

  Not yet.

  Behind him the tall guy said, ‘Hold up, major. You’re in this one back here.’

  Reacher turned around and tracked back. The door wasn’t locked. The tall guy just turned the handle and opened it up. Reacher listened to the sounds it made. A solid metallic click from the handle, a cursive precision grind from the hinges, an air-locked swish from the silicone seals. Not loud, but distinctive. Reacher stepped inside. Sullivan looked up. The tall guy said, ‘Buzz when you’re done, counsellor.’

  Reacher sat down opposite Sullivan, and the tall guy closed the door and walked away. The door was not locked because there was no handle on the inside. Just a flat expanse, with something missing, unexpected, like a face without a nose. There was a doorbell button next to the jamb. Buzz when you’re done. The room itself was plain and pleasant. No windows, but it was cleaner and crisper than the cop room. The light bulb was brighter.

  Sullivan kept her briefcase closed, and her hands clasped on top of it. She said, ‘I won’t represent you in the Moorcroft assault. In fact I really don’t want you as a client at all.’

  Reacher didn’t answer. He was checking what he could hear from the corridor. Which wasn’t much, but was maybe enough.

  Sullivan said, ‘Major?’

  Reacher said, ‘I’m what they’re giving you, so get used to it.’

  ‘Colonel Moorcroft is a friend of mine.’

  ‘Your old teacher?’

  ‘One of them.’

  ‘Then you know what those guys are like. In their heads they’re never out of the classroom. Socratic, or whatever they call it. He was yanking my chain, for the sake of it. He was arguing for the fun of it, because that’s what they do. You left, and then he said he was going to file the paperwork as soon as he finished his toast. He intended to all along. But straight answers aren’t his style.’

  ‘I don’t believe you. No paperwork was filed this morning.’

  ‘The last I saw of him he was walking out of the dining room. About two minutes after you.’

  ‘So you’re denying this one too?’

  ‘Think about it, counsellor. My aim was to get Major Turner out of her cell. How would attacking Moorcroft help me? It would set me back at least a day, if not two or three.’

  ‘Why do you care so much about Major Turner?’

  ‘I liked her voice on the phone.’

  ‘Maybe you were angry with Moorcroft.’

  ‘Did I look angry?’

  ‘A little.’

  ‘You’re wrong, major. I didn’t look angry at all. Because I wasn’t angry. I was sitting there quite patiently. He wasn’t the first classroom guy I ever met. I went to school, after all.’

  ‘I felt uncomfortable.’

  ‘What did you tell Podolski?’

  ‘Just that. There was a dispute, and I felt uncomfortable.’

  ‘Did you tell him it was heated?’

  ‘Y
ou confronted him. You argued.’

  ‘What was I supposed to do? Stand up and salute? He’s not exactly the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.’

  ‘The evidence against you appears to be considerable. The clothes, in particular. That’s classic.’

  Reacher didn’t answer. He was listening again. He heard footsteps in the corridor. Two people. Both men. Low voices. Short, uncontroversial sentences. A succinct and everyday exchange of information. The footsteps moved on. There were no door sounds. No click, no grind, no swish.

  Sullivan said, ‘Major?’

  Reacher said, ‘Do you have a wallet in your briefcase?’

  ‘What?’

  ‘You heard me.’

  ‘Why would I?’

  ‘Because you’re not carrying a purse, and if you don’t mind me saying so, your uniform is tailored very close to your figure, and there are absolutely no bulges in your pockets.’

  Sullivan kept her hands on her briefcase and said, ‘Yes, I have a wallet in here.’

  ‘How much money is in it?’

  ‘I don’t know. Thirty dollars, maybe.’

  ‘How much was your last ATM withdrawal?’

  ‘Two hundred.’

  ‘Got a cell phone in there too?’

  ‘Yes.’

  ‘Then there’s as much evidence against you as me. Clearly you called an accomplice and offered him a hundred and seventy bucks to kick your old teacher’s ass. Maybe because your grades weren’t perfect, all those years ago. Maybe you were still angry about it.’

  ‘That’s ridiculous.’

  ‘That’s what I’m saying.’

  Sullivan didn’t answer.

  Reacher asked, ‘How were your grades?’

  Sullivan said, ‘Not perfect.’

  Reacher listened again. Silence in the corridor.

  Sullivan said, ‘Detective Podolski will order a landfill search. He’ll find your clothes. It won’t be difficult. Last in, first out. Will they stand up to DNA analysis?’

  ‘Easily,’ Reacher said. ‘It wasn’t me.’

  Then: more footsteps in the corridor. Soft, quiet, two people. A procession, maybe. One person leading another. A halt, an explanation, a casual, low-toned, ten-beat sentence. Maybe: This one, colonel. The other one’s in use. And: door sounds. The crisp metallic click of the handle, the slick grind of the hinges, and the suck of the silicone seal.

  The arrival of a lawyer. Turner’s, for sure. Because she was the only other customer in the place. While Reacher’s lawyer was still in the building. His first lawyer, yet. So far, so good.

  Heads and heads.

  Score two.

  Reacher said, ‘Tell me about the Rodriguez affidavit.’

  Sullivan said, ‘An affidavit is a sworn statement of fact.’

  ‘I know that,’ Reacher said. ‘Like I told your old pal Moorcroft, this stuff isn’t brain surgery. Affidavit is Latin for he has declared upon oath. But does it really speak from beyond the grave? In a practical sense? Real world?’

  For the first time Sullivan took her hands off her briefcase. She rocked them from side to side. Equivocal. All kinds of academic gestures. Maybe, maybe not. She said, ‘In American jurisprudence it’s fairly unusual to rely on an unsupported affidavit, especially if the person who swore it out is unavailable for cross-examination. But it can be allowed, if the interests of justice demand it. Or the interests of public relations, if you want to be cynical. And the prosecution will argue that Rodriguez’s affidavit is not exactly unsupported, anyhow. They have the daily summary from the 110th’s files, showing your visit with him, and they have the ER report from immediately afterwards, showing the results of it. They’ll claim the three things together present a seamless and coherent narrative.’

  ‘Can you argue against that?’

  ‘Of course,’ Sullivan said. ‘But our argument looks suddenly very weak, dynamically. What they’re going to say makes perfect sense, in an everyday way. This happened, then this happened, then this happened. We’ll need to take out the middle this and replace it with something that sounds very unlikely on its face. As in, you left, and someone else just happened to show up in the same place at the same time and beat the guy to a pulp.’

  Reacher didn’t answer. He was listening again.

  Sullivan said, ‘Our problem is whether an attempted defence that fails will annoy the court to the point where you get a worse sentence than you would have gotten with the plea bargain. Which is a serious risk. My advice is to play safe and take the deal. Two years is better than five or ten.’

  Reacher didn’t answer. He was still listening. At first, to nothing. Just silence. Then: more footsteps in the corridor. Two people. One following the other.

  Sullivan said, ‘Major?’

  Then: door sounds. The same door. The same crisp metallic click of the handle, the same slick grind of the hinges, the same suck of the silicone seal. Then a pause, and the same sounds all over again, in the reverse sequence, as the door closed. And then: one set of footsteps, walking away.

  So now Turner was in the next-door room with her lawyer, and the corridor was empty.

  Showtime.

  Reacher said, ‘I have a serious problem with my cell, counsellor. You really need to come see it.’

  EIGHTEEN

  SULLIVAN ASKED, ‘WHAT kind of a problem do you have with your cell?’ She said it a little wearily, but not impatiently. She wasn’t dismissing the matter out of hand. Defence lawyers dealt with all kinds of bullshit. Suspects were always looking for an edge or an angle. For the inevitable appeal. Any imagined slight or unfairness had to be investigated and evaluated. Reacher knew that. He knew how the game was played.

  He said, ‘I don’t want to put something in your mind. I don’t want to pre-empt your honest opinion. I need you to see this for yourself.’

  ‘Now?’

  ‘Why not?’

  ‘OK,’ she said, a little wearily.

  She stood up. She stepped over to the door. She pressed the buzzer.

  She left her briefcase on the table.

  Reacher stood up and waited behind her.

  One minute.

  Two.

  Then the narrow glass window in the door darkened, and the door opened up, and the duty captain said, ‘All done, counsellor?’

  Sullivan said, ‘No, he has a problem with his cell.’

  The tall guy looked at Reacher, with a quizzical expression on his face, part resigned, part surprised, as if to say, Really? You? This old shit?

  But he said, ‘OK, whatever. Let’s go take a look.’

  Like he had to. He knew how the game was played.

  Reacher led the way. Sullivan went next. The tall guy brought up the rear. They walked in single file, through the dog-legs, left and then right, to the cell door, which was unlocked and unbolted, because Reacher wasn’t in it. Reacher pulled it open and held it for the others. The tall guy smiled and took the door from him and gestured: after you. He was dumb, but not brain damaged.

  Reacher went in first. Then came Sullivan. Then the tall guy. Reacher stopped and pointed.

  ‘Over there,’ he said. ‘In the crack.’

  Sullivan said, ‘What crack?’

  ‘In the floor, near the wall. Under the window.’

  Sullivan stepped forward. The tall guy stopped short of the bed. Sullivan said, ‘I don’t see a crack.’

  Reacher said, ‘There’s something in it. It’s wriggling.’

  Sullivan froze. The tall guy leaned in. Human nature. Reacher leaned the other way, just a subtle drift, but the tall guy’s mass was moving one way, and Reacher’s the other. Reacher shoved the guy, below his shoulder, on his upper arm, hard, like a swimmer pushes off the end of the pool, and the guy went down over the bed like he was falling off a
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