Night school, p.10
Night School, p.10Part #21 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
Then Griezman came over and said, “Will you be my guests for lunch?”
Twelve noon, in Hamburg, Germany.
Which was one o’clock in the afternoon in Kiev, Ukraine. The messenger was getting off a plane. He had been driven through the mountains to Peshawar in Pakistan, and had flown to Karachi, and then to Kiev. He had used a different passport for each of the flights, and he had changed his shirt once, from pink to black, and added shades and a Donetsk soccer supporter’s hat. He was untraceable and anonymous. Ukraine border control gave him no problems. He walked through baggage claim and out of the terminal. He joined the taxi line and smoked a cigarette while he waited.
The taxi was an old Czech Skoda, and he told the driver the address he wanted, which was a flower market five streets from his real destination, which was a small apartment occupied by four of the faithful from Turkmenistan and Somalia. A safe house. Always better to make the final approach on foot. Taxi drivers remembered things, the same as anyone else. Some even made notes. Mileage logs, gasoline consumption, addresses. He didn’t know the four guys. But they were expecting him. Kiev was not the same as Hamburg. He couldn’t just walk in. A messenger had been sent ahead. Of the messenger. Such were the necessary precautions.
He got out of the Skoda at the flower market. He walked between stalls crowded with bright blooms, into a humid hall full of rarer specimens, and when he came out the other end he was back in his pink shirt and the hat and the sunglasses were gone.
He walked the final five blocks and found the right building. It was a squat concrete tower, set off-center in a row of older and more elegant buildings. Like a false tooth. As if long ago a bomb had fallen, randomly, and made a space. Perhaps it had. The lobby smelled of ammonia. The elevator worked, but with unpleasant noises. The upstairs hallways were narrow.
He knocked on the door and waited. He counted the seconds in his head. He had knocked on a lot of doors. He knew how it worked. One, they hear the knock, two, they get up off the couch, three, they thread around the clutter, four, they step to the door, five, they open it.
The door opened. A guy stood there. On his own, with silence behind him.
The messenger said, “You’re expecting me.”
The guy said, “We have to go out.”
The guy was Somali, the messenger thought. In his twenties, but already worn down to nothing but dusty skin and sinew. Primitive, like an ancestor species. The messenger said, “I don’t want to go out. I’m tired. I have to be on my way first thing in the morning. I have an onward flight.”
“No choice. We have to go out.”
“The point of a safe house is that I don’t have to go out.”
“The Kiev soccer team is playing an evening game in Moscow. It’s on the television in the bars. It starts soon, because of the time zones. It would be weird for us not to go. We would stand out.”
“You can go.”
“We can’t have anyone in the apartment. Not this afternoon. Someone would notice. It’s a big rivalry. Like a patriotic thing. We’re supposed to fit in here.”
The messenger shrugged. Such were the necessary precautions. And soccer wasn’t so bad. He had once seen it played with a human head. He said, “OK.”
They took the stairs down, an unspoken agreement not to risk the elevator. They walked away from the flower market, in a new direction, past grand but faded apartment houses, with rusted ironwork and peeling stucco façades, and then between two of them into an alley the Somali said was a shortcut. It was a narrow brick passage, echoing and almost uncomfortable, but a building’s depth later it opened out into a small courtyard, not much bigger than a room, which was walled in by the blank four-story backs of other buildings. There was a small patch of sky, way up high. The walls were pierced here and there by blind or whitewashed windows, and they carried fat rainwater pipes and aimless loops of antenna cable.
There were three guys in the courtyard.
The messenger thought one of them could be the Somali’s cousin. The other two were also a pair. From Turkmenistan, no doubt. The guys from the safe house. For a happy second the messenger thought they were meeting there and all going to the bar together. Then he saw there was no other exit from the courtyard.
Not a shortcut.
It was a trap.
And then he understood. Clear as day. Perfectly logical. He was a security risk. Because he knew the price. A hundred million dollars. Which was the single most dangerous component of the whole enterprise. Such a huge amount would set alarm bells ringing everywhere. Anyone who knew about it was automatically a potential leak. Classic theory. They had studied it in the camps, with hypothetical examples. They had gamed it out. A pity, they had said. But necessary. A great struggle required great sacrifices. A great struggle required clear minds and cold hearts. The guy sent on ahead had not asked for the guest quarters to be aired out and made ready. He had carried a different instruction.
The messenger stood still. He would never talk. Not him. They must know that. After all that he had done. He was different. He was safe. Wasn’t he?
No, these were men who played soccer with human heads. They had no room for sentiment.
The Somali guy said, “I’m sorry, brother.”
The messenger closed his eyes. Not guns, he thought. Not in the center of Kiev. It would be knives.
He was wrong. It was a hammer.
In Jalalabad it was half past four in the afternoon. Tea was being served in the white mud house. The new messenger had been brought to the small hot room. She was a woman. Twenty-four years old, long black hair, skin the color of tea. She was wearing a white explorer shirt, full of loops and pockets, and khaki pants, and desert boots. She was standing at attention in front of the two men, who were sitting on their cushions.
The tall man said, “It’s a matter of very little importance, but there’s a need for speed. So you’ll fly direct from Karachi. No need for caution. No one has ever seen you before. You’ll meet with an American and you’ll tell him we accept his price. Repeat, we accept his price. Do you understand?”
The woman said, “Yes, sir.”
The fat man said, “The American won’t mention the price, and you won’t ask. It has to stay a secret. Because he’s embarrassed we beat him down so low, and on our part we don’t want the others to think we’re broke and that’s all we can afford.”
The woman inclined her head.
She said, “When shall I leave?”
“Now,” the tall man said. “Drive all night. Get the morning plane.”
After lunch Griezman drove Reacher and Neagley to the hotel they had used before. They thanked him and waved him away but didn’t check in. Reacher didn’t like to stay in the same place twice. A habit. Unnecessary, some said. He said he was thirty-five years old and still alive. Had to mean something.
They checked Neagley’s map. She put her fingernail on the safe house. She said, “Of course, they might have more than one.”
“Possible,” Reacher said. “This whole thing is a percentage game.”
They set out walking, and found the street they had seen before, where the four cop cars had been parked. Where the hooker had been killed. They made a left, toward the safe house, close but not too close, and they checked the side streets on the way. Not easy to do. Not like some parts of the world. There were no big signs. No flashing neon, no shingles swinging in the wind. Prohibited, presumably. On grounds of good taste. Every commercial unit had to be eyeballed individually. They saw a car rental franchise occupying two side-by-side addresses. Other operations were also self-explanatory. But some weren’t. Reacher stepped into a lobby with armchairs and a reception desk, thinking it was a hotel, but it turned out to be a tanning salon, with the booths in back. The woman at the desk laughed, and then tried to suppress it, and then further atoned by mentioning a boutique establishment
“You got money?” Neagley asked.
“Ratcliffe will pay,” Reacher said.
“He doesn’t know we’re here.”
“We’ll call him. We should anyway.”
“A room. Yours or mine.”
“We won’t have rooms. They won’t let us check in without money.”
Reacher pulled out his wad of walking-around money. Logged out, but never logged back in. A modest sum. Neagley had the same.
Reacher said, “We’ll get one room. For the time being. Until the NSC calls them.”
Neagley paused a beat, and said, “OK.”
They went in.
At that moment the American was three streets away, slowing to a stop outside the car rental franchise they had just seen. He had stopped for an early lunch in Groningen. With a glass of wine. Therefore he lingered, to let it wear off. Just in case. The laws were tough. So he took a walk. It was a pretty town. Then he drove on, across the nominal border, and he hit the fast road through Bremen. He enjoyed every mile. Like a premature nostalgic feeling. It would be a long time before he saw Europe again. Maybe never.
He gave back the key and walked away, out of the neighborhood, toward the water. Toward his place. Rented, with less than a month left on the lease. Waste not, want not. Good timing.
The room they got had dark green wallpaper and pewter accents all over the place. But the phone worked. Reacher got the duty NSC guy, who undertook to finance their stay through the consulate. Then White came on the line and said, “Vanderbilt went back four years with the Switzerland thing. Then he cross-checked. There were exactly one hundred Americans in Germany that day who had visited Zurich on a prior occasion.”
“Good data,” Reacher said. “But not definitive. He might have used the Cayman Islands. Or Luxembourg. Or Monaco. Or maybe he went to Zurich for a vacation. I did, once, and I sure as hell didn’t go to a bank while I was there.”
White said, “Understood.”
“But tell Vanderbilt thanks.”
Then Waterman got on, and said, “They’re nervous about you.”
Reacher said, “Who are?”
“Ratcliffe and Sinclair.”
“He said we should roll the dice. No point all doing it in the same place.”
“So are we. And there’s no point being nowhere all in the same place either.”
“Sinclair will want to speak to you.”
“Tell her I’ll check in later. After the consulate comes through. That might give them an incentive.”
“And there’s mail from the Department of the Army for Sergeant Neagley.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Put it on hold until I’ve spoken with Sinclair.”
“Can we agree on a time?”
“Tell her two hours from now,” Reacher said.
They went to find the bar where Helmut Klopp had seen the rendezvous. It was twenty minutes away, the same as it was from the safe house, but on a different vector. Like two spokes of the same wheel. They walked past it, not slowing down, not speeding up, looking straight ahead, inspecting the place obliquely. It was on the ground floor of an older building made of stone, which once might have been a tenement or a factory, probably burned out in the wartime firestorm but deemed repairable. The bar had a center door in a planked wood façade. But it wasn’t a rustic look. Not like the side of a barn way out in the country. The planks were tight and true and planed smooth. They were dark gold in color, heavily varnished and shiny, like a rowboat on a lake in a park. There were small windows, with cream lace café curtains hung behind the bottom halves, and loops of small paper flags hung on strings behind the top halves. All the paper flags were German. The light inside looked dim and amber.
Neagley said, “We have two people following us.”
Reacher said, “Where?”
“On the corner fifty yards behind us.”
He didn’t look.
He said, “Who?”
“Two males between thirty and forty. Bigger than me and smaller than you. Probably not Germans. They walk like Americans.”
“How do Americans walk?”
“How long have they been there?”
“I’m not sure.”
“No. Also too tall.”
“OK,” Reacher said. “Let’s get a cup of coffee.”
They strolled on, at the same lazy pace, and came to a pastry shop with a display case full of confections, and an espresso machine, and four small tables with two chairs each. The tables and chairs were metal painted silver. They were right up against the windows, with a good view of the street. Neagley sat down and Reacher went to the counter. He ordered two double espressos and called, “You want a cake?”
“Sure,” Neagley said. “Apple strudel.”
“Two,” Reacher said to the woman at the register. The old army rule. Eat when you can. The next chance could be days away. The woman pantomimed that Reacher should go sit down and she would bring a tray. Reacher pantomimed that he wanted to pay right away. His own rule. He might need to leave without warning, and he didn’t like to stiff ordinary working folk. He got his change and stepped over to the table and sat down, and Neagley craned her neck, very discreetly, and said, “They saw us come in here. They sped up. We’ll see them in a minute.”
Reacher checked the view left and right. There was another coffee shop across the street, twenty yards farther on. Tables in the window. A good view. Anyone with any sense would stop in there. They could wait as long as they needed to, raising no suspicion at all, and then they could resume the tail whenever their quarry moved.
“There they are,” Neagley said.
Reacher saw two guys, as advertised, in their thirties, bigger than her and smaller than him. Maybe six feet and two hundred pounds. Short hair. Walking like Americans. Dressed like Americans. Specifically, to his practiced eye, dressed like off-duty American military. Put a civilian in uniform for an hour, for a movie role or a fancy-dress party, and he looks wrong, somehow, as if uncomfortable, or unaccustomed. Equally, put a guy who has worn a uniform for the last ten years in jeans and a jacket, and he looks wrong, too. Equally unaccustomed. Wrong posture, too neat, creases too sharp, no slouch or shuffle.
They came on, the same way Reacher and Neagley had passed the bar, not slowing down, not speeding up, looking straight ahead, checking the scene in the corners of their eyes. Big hard faces, worn hands. NCOs, probably. Lifers, by the look of them. They ambled on, and one whispered something to the other, and the other nodded, and they ducked in at the coffee shop twenty yards farther on, across the street. Cars drove by, both ways, and shoppers and office workers hustled past on the sidewalks. The guys got a table in the window and sat there, pretending not to look at Reacher and Neagley, just as Reacher and Neagley were pretending not to look at them.
“Who are they?” Reacher said.
“Can’t tell by looking,” Neagley said.
“Army, obviously. Terminal at sergeant. Probably not combat troops. Old sergeants in the battle area look different than that. Those guys are some other thing.”
“But they’re not company clerks.”
“No. They’re muscle workers.”
“Agreed. They’re support troops of some kind. Transportation, maybe. Maybe they load trucks. And unload them.”
“What are you thinking?”
“I’m wondering why they’re here,” Reacher said. “How did they know?”
“Griezman? Maybe he made a call. As soon as he left us at the hotel.”
“But we didn’t stay at
“Which means the NSC leaked it. They’re the only ones who knew what hotel we were in. Which is ridiculous.”
“Agreed. Therefore they didn’t follow us from either hotel. We came to them. They were waiting here.”
Night School by Lee Child / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5.3 out of 5 / Based on48 votes