61 hours, p.11
61 Hours, p.11Part #14 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
made, struggling through drifts, slogging through unploughed areas, slipping and sliding along vehicle ruts. It was still snowing hard. The big white flakes came down on him, came up at him, whipped all around him. He found the main drag south. He knew that ahead of him was the restaurant. Beyond that was the parked cop car. He kept on going. He was very cold, but he was still functioning. The new clothes were doing their job, but nothing more.
There were cars heading north and south, lights on, wipers thrashing. Not many of them, but enough to keep him on the shoulder and out of the tyre tracks, which would have been easier going. He guessed the roadway under the snow was wide, but right then traffic was confining itself to two narrow lanes near the centre, made of four separate parallel ruts. Each passing car confirmed the collective decision not to wander. With each passing tyre the ruts grew a little deeper and their side walls grew a little higher. The snow was dry and firm. The ruts were lined on the bottom with broken lattices of tread prints, smooth and greasy and stained brown in places.
Reacher passed the restaurant. The lunch hour was in full swing. The windows were fogged with steam. Reacher struggled on. Four hundred yards later he saw the parked cop car. It had pulled out of the southbound ruts and broken through the little walls and made smaller ruts of its own, like a railroad switch. It had parked parallel with the traffic and was completely blocking the side street. Its motor was turned off but its roof lights were turning. The cop in the driver’s seat was not moving his head. He was just staring through the windshield, looking neither alert nor enthusiastic. Reacher slogged through a wide turn and approached him from his front left side. He didn’t want to surprise the guy.
The cop buzzed the window down. Called out, ‘Are you Reacher?’
Reacher nodded. His face felt too cold for coherent speech. The cop’s name plate said Montgomery. He was unshaven and overweight. Somewhere in his late twenties. In the army his ass would have been kicked to hell and back a hundred times. He said, ‘The Salter house is ahead on the left. You can’t miss it.’
Reacher struggled on. There were no big ruts in the side street. Just two lone tracks, one car coming, one car going. The tracks were already mostly refilled with snow. The change of watch, some hours earlier. The night guy going home, the day guy coming in. The day guy had gunned it a little after the turn. His tracks slalomed through a minor fishtail before straightening.
The street curved gently and was lined on both sides by big old houses in big flat lots. The houses looked Victorian. They could have been a hundred years old. They had all been prosperous once and most of them still were. Clearly they had been built during an earlier boom. They predated the federal prison dollars by a century. Their details were obscured by snow, but they had heft and solidity and gingerbread trim. Peterson had called Janet Salter a storybook grandma, and Reacher had expected a storybook grandma’s house to be a small cottage with gingham curtains. Especially considering this storybook grandma had been a teacher and a librarian. Maybe Janet Salter had a different kind of story. Reacher was looking forward to meeting her. He had never known either one of his own grandmothers. He had seen a black and white photograph of himself as a baby on a stern woman’s knee. His father’s mother, he had been told. His mother’s mother had died when he was four, before ever having visited.
The second cop car was parked up ahead. No lights. It was facing him. The cop inside was watching him closely. Reacher floundered onward and stopped ten feet short. The cop opened his door and climbed out and tracked around. His boots set powder flying and small snowballs skittering. He said, ‘Are you Reacher?’
‘I have to search you.’
‘The deputy chief.’
‘Search me for what?’
‘She’s more than seventy years old. I wouldn’t need weapons.’
‘True. But you’d need weapons to get past the officers in the house.’
This cop was a sharp-looking guy the right side of middle age. Compact, muscled, competent. A department of two halves, one better, one worse. A new hire at the end of the street, an old hand outside the house. Reacher planted his feet and unzipped his coat and stood with his arms held wide. Cold air rushed in under his coat. The cop patted him down and squeezed his coat pockets from both sides at once.
‘Go ahead,’ he said. ‘They’re expecting you.’
The driveway was long and the house was ornate. It could have been airlifted straight from Charleston or San Francisco. It had all the bells and whistles. A wraparound rocking-chair porch, dozens of windows, fish scale siding. It had turrets, and more stained glass than a church. Reacher made it up the steps on to the porch and clumped across the boards and stamped the snow off his boots. The front door was a carved multi-panelled thing. It had a bell pull next to it, a cast weight on the end of a wire that looped over pulleys and entered the house through a small bronze eye. Probably ordered by mail from Sears Roebuck a century ago, and delivered by wagon in a wooden box packed with straw, and fitted by a man more used to cart wheels and horseshoes.
Reacher pulled on it. He heard a chime deep inside the house, delayed by a second, low and polite and sonorous. Another second later a policewoman opened the door. She was small and dark and young and was in full uniform. Her gun was in its holster. But the holster was unsnapped, and she looked to be fully on the ball. Women officers in the house, Peterson had said, the best we’ve got, minimum of four at all times, two awake, two asleep.
The woman asked, ‘Are you Reacher?’
‘Come on in.’
The hallway was dark and panelled and fairly magnificent. There were oil paintings on the walls. Ahead was a substantial staircase that rose out of sight. All around were closed doors, maybe chestnut, each of them polished to a shine by a century of labour. There was a large Persian carpet. There were antiquated steam radiators connected with fat pipes. The radiators were working. The room was warm. There was a bentwood hat stand, loaded down with four new police-issue winter parkas. Reacher shrugged off his unzipped coat and hung it on a spare peg. It looked like he felt, an old battered item surrounded by current models.
The woman cop said, ‘Mrs Salter is in the library. She’s expecting you.’
Reacher said, ‘Which one is the library?’
‘Follow me.’ The cop stepped ahead like a butler. Reacher followed her to a door on the left. She knocked and entered. The library was a large square room with a high ceiling. It had a fireplace and a pair of glass doors to the garden. Everything else was books on shelves, thousands of them. There was a second woman cop in front of the glass doors. She was standing easy with her hands folded behind her back, looking outward. She didn’t move. Just glanced back, got a nod from her partner, and looked away again.
There was an older woman in an armchair. Mrs Salter, presumably. The retired teacher. The librarian. The witness. She looked at Reacher and smiled politely.
She said, ‘I was just about to take some lunch. Would you care to join me?’
Five to one in the afternoon.
Thirty-nine hours to go.
JANET SALTER PREPARED THE LUNCH HERSELF. REACHER WATCHED her do it. He sat in a spacious kitchen while she moved from refrigerator to counter to stove to sink. The impression he had formed from Peterson’s casual description did not match the reality. She was more than seventy years old, for sure, grey-haired, not tall, not short, not fat, not thin, and she certainly looked kind and not in the least forbidding, but as well as all of that she was ramrod straight and her bearing was vaguely aristocratic. She looked like a person used to respect and obedience, possibly from a large and important staff. And Reacher doubted that she was a real grandmother. She wore no wedding band and the house looked like no children had set foot in it for at least fifty years.
She said, ‘You were one of the unfortunates on the bus.’
‘I volunteered this house, of course. I have plenty of space here. But Chief Holland wouldn’t hear of it. Not under the circumstances.’
‘I think he was wise.’
‘Because extra bodies in the house would have complicated his officers’ operations?’
‘No, because extra bodies in the house could have become collateral damage in the event of an attack.’
‘Well, that’s an honest answer, at least. But then, they tell me you’re an expert. You were in the army. A commanding officer, I believe.’
‘For a spell.’
‘Of an elite unit.’
‘So we told ourselves.’
‘Do you think I am wise?’ she asked. ‘Or foolish?’
‘Ma’am, in what respect?’
‘In agreeing to testify at the trial.’
‘It depends on what you saw.’
‘In what way?’
‘If you saw enough to nail the guy, then I think you’re doing the right thing. But if what you saw was inconclusive, then I think it’s an unnecessary risk.’
‘I saw what I saw. I am assured by all concerned that it was sufficient to secure a conviction. Or to nail the guy, as you put it. I saw the conversation, I saw the inspection of the goods, I saw the counting and transfer of money.’
‘At what distance?’
‘Perhaps twenty yards.’
‘Through a window?’
‘From inside the restaurant, yes.’
‘Was the glass clean? Steamed up?’
‘Yes and no.’
‘Direct line of sight?’
‘Cool and clear.’
‘It was the middle of the evening.’
‘Was the lot lit up?’
‘Is your eyesight OK?’
‘I’m a little long-sighted. I sometimes wear spectacles to read. But never otherwise.’
‘What were the goods?’
‘A brick of white powder sealed tight in a wax paper wrap. The paper was slightly yellowed with age. There was a pictorial device stencilled on it, in the form of a crown, a headband with three points, and each point had a ball on it, presumably to represent a jewel.’
‘You saw that from twenty yards?’
‘It’s a benefit of being long-sighted. And the device was large.’
‘No doubts whatsoever? No interpretation, no gaps, no guesswork?’
‘I think you’ll make a great witness.’
She brought lunch to the table. It was a salad in a wooden bowl. The bowl was dark with age and oil, and the salad was made of leaves and vegetables of various kinds, plus tuna from a can, and hard boiled eggs that were still faintly warm. Janet Salter’s hands were small. Pale, papery skin. Trimmed nails, no jewellery at all.
Reacher asked her, ‘How many other people were in the restaurant at the time?’
She said, ‘Five, plus the waitress.’
‘Did anyone else see what was happening?’
‘I think they all did.’
‘Afterwards they pretended not to have. Those who dwell in the community to our west are well known here. They frighten people. Simply by being there, I think, and by being different. They are the other. Which is inherently disturbing, apparently. In practice, they do us no overt harm. We exist together in an uneasy standoff. But I can’t deny an undercurrent of menace.’
Reacher asked, ‘Do you remember the army camp being built out there?’
Janet Salter shook her head. ‘Chief Holland and Mr Peterson have asked me the same question endlessly. But I know no more than they do. I was away in school when it was built.’
‘People say it took months to build. Longer than a semester, probably. Didn’t you hear anything when you were back in town?’
‘I went to school overseas. International travel was expensive. I didn’t return during the vacations. In fact I didn’t return for thirty years.’
‘Oxford University, in England.’
Reacher said nothing.
Janet Salter asked, ‘Have I surprised you?’
Reacher shrugged. ‘Peterson said you were a teacher and a librarian. I guess I pictured a local school.’
‘Mr Peterson has any South Dakotan’s aversion to grandeur. And he’s quite right, anyway. I was a teacher and a librarian. I was Professor of Library Science at Oxford, and then I helped run the Bodleian Library there, and then I came back to the United States to run the library at Yale, and then I retired and came home to Bolton.’
‘What’s your favourite book?’
‘I don’t have one. What’s yours?’
‘I don’t have one either.’
Janet Salter said, ‘I know all about the crisis plan at the prison.’
‘They tell me it has never been used.’
‘But as with all things, one imagines there will be a first time, and that it will come sooner or later.’
Plato skipped lunch, which was unusual for him. Normally he liked the ritual and ceremony of three meals a day. His staff duly prepared a dish, but he didn’t show up to eat it. Instead he walked on a serpentine path through the scrub on his property, moving fast, talking on his cell phone, his shirt going dark with sweat.
His guy in the American DEA had made a routine scan through all their wiretap transcripts and had called with a warning. Plato didn’t like warnings. He liked solutions, not problems. His DEA guy knew that, and had already reached out to a colleague. No way to stop the hapless Russian getting busted, but things could be delayed until after the deal was done, so that the money could disappear safely into the ether and Plato could walk away enriched and unscathed. All it would cost was four years of college tuition. The colleague had a sixteen-year-old and no savings. Plato had asked how much college cost, and had been mildly shocked at the answer. A person could buy a decent car for that kind of money.
Plato had only one remaining problem. The place in South Dakota was a multipurpose facility. Most of its contents could be sold, but not all of them. Some of them had to be moved out first. Like selling a house. You left the stove, you took the sofa.
He trusted no one. Which helped, most of the time. But at other times it gave him difficulties. Like now. Who could he ask to pack and ship? He couldn’t call Allied Van Lines. FedEx or UPS were no good.
His reluctant conclusion was that if you wanted something done properly, you had to do it yourself.
Janet Salter patted the air to make Reacher stay where he was and started to clear the table around him. She asked, ‘How much do you know about methamphetamine?’
Reacher said, ‘Less than you, probably.’
‘I’m not that kind of girl.’
‘But you’re that kind of librarian. I’m sure you’ve researched it extensively.’
‘I was in the military.’
‘Certain situations and certain operations called for what the field manuals described as alertness, focus, motivation, and mental clarity, for extended periods. The doctors had all kinds of pep pills available. Straight meth was on its way out when I came on the job, but it had been around before that, for decades.’
Janet Salter nodded. ‘It was called Pervitin. A German refinement of a Japanese discovery. It was in widespread use during World War Two. It was baked into candy bars. Fliegerschokolade, which means flyers’ chocolate, and Panzerschokolade, which means tankers’ chocolate. The Allies had it, also. Just as much, actually. Maybe more. They called it Desoxyn. I’m surprised anyone ever slept.’
‘They had morphine for sleeping.’
‘But now it’s controlled. Because it causes terrible damage to those who abuse it. So it has to be manufactured illegally. Which is relatively easy to do,
‘You can get it direct from acacia trees in west Texas,’ Reacher said. ‘Plus mescaline and nicotine. A wonderful tree, the acacia.’
61 Hours by Lee Child / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5.1 out of 5 / Based on41 votes