Never go back, p.11
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       Never Go Back, p.11
 

         Part #18 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child

  pair of stilts. Sullivan spun around and Reacher stepped to the door, and out to the corridor, and closed the door and bolted it.

  Then he ran back, awkward in his laceless boots, past the room with Sullivan’s briefcase in it, to the next room. He stood well back and looked in through the narrow rectangular window.

  And saw Susan Turner for the first time.

  She was worth the wait, he thought.

  Totally worth it.

  She was sitting on the right-hand side of the table. She was wearing army combat uniform, with all the hook-and-loop tapes and tags pulled off, and tan combat boots, with no laces. She was an inch or two above average height. She was small-boned and slender, with dark hair pulled back, and tanned skin, and deep brown eyes. Her face was showing mostly fatigue, but there was spirit in it too, and intelligence, and a kind of detached, ironic mischief.

  Spectacular, in Reacher’s considered opinion.

  Totally worth the wait, he thought again.

  Her lawyer was on the left side of the table, a full bird colonel in Class A uniform. Grey hair and a lined face. Middle-aged and medium-sized.

  A man.

  A white man.

  Heads.

  Score three.

  Reacher moved on, all the way to the quarantine door between himself and the rear lobby. There was no inside handle. Just a buzzer button, like the conference rooms. He kicked off his boots, and then he hit the button, urgently, over and over again. Less than five seconds later the door opened. The lobby clerk stood there, the handle in his hand. His keys were on a squared-off metal screw ring, like a small piece of mountaineering equipment, secured in a belt loop.

  Reacher said, breathless, ‘Your captain is having some kind of a seizure. Or a heart attack. He’s thrashing around. You need to check him out. Right now, soldier.’

  Command presence. Much prized by the military. The guy hesitated less than a second and then stepped into the inner corridor. The door started to swing shut behind him. Reacher nudged his left boot into the gap, and then turned to follow. He ran bootless and quiet behind the guy and then overtook him and wrenched open the first cell door he came to. Unlocked and unbolted, because it was empty.

  But not for long.

  ‘In here,’ he said.

  The lobby guy shouldered in, fast and urgent, and Reacher grabbed his keys and tore them right off his pants, belt loop and all, and then he shoved him hard and sent him sprawling, and closed the door and shot the bolts.

  He breathed in, and he breathed out.

  Now came the hard part.

  NINETEEN

  REACHER PADDED BOOTLESS back to the room where Sullivan’s briefcase still rested on the table. He pushed the door all the way open and darted in and grabbed the case and then he turned back fast and caught the door again before it slammed shut behind him. He knelt on the floor in the corridor and opened the case. He ignored all the files and all the legal paperwork and rooted around until he found a car key, which he put in his pants pocket. Then he found the wallet. He took out the army ID. Sullivan’s first name was Helen. He put the ID in his shirt pocket. He took out her money and put it in his other pants pocket. He found a pen and tore off a small triangle of paper from a Xeroxed form and he wrote Dear Helen, IOU $30, and he signed it Jack Reacher. He put the slip of paper in the money slot, and he closed the wallet, and he closed the briefcase.

  Then he stood up, with the briefcase in his hand.

  He breathed in, and breathed out.

  Showtime.

  He moved on, twelve feet, to the next room, and he glanced in through the narrow window. Susan Turner was talking, patiently, marshalling arguments, using her hands, separating one point from another. Her lawyer was listening, head cocked, writing notes on a yellow legal pad. His briefcase was open on the table, pushed to the side. It was emptier than Sullivan’s, but the guy’s pockets were fuller. His uniform was not well tailored. It was baggy and generous. The nameplate on the pocket flap said Temple.

  Reacher moved on again, all the way to the quarantine door between him and the lobby. He replaced his left boot with Sullivan’s car key, so the door stayed unlatched, and he put his boots back on, slack and laceless. Then he headed back to Turner’s interview room, and stopped outside the door.

  He breathed in, and he breathed out.

  Then he opened the door, fast and easy, and stepped inside the room. He turned and bent and placed Sullivan’s briefcase against the jamb, to stop the door from closing again. He turned back, and saw both Turner and her lawyer looking up at him, nothing much in the lawyer’s face, but what looked like dawning recognition in Turner’s.

  He said, ‘Colonel, I need to see your ID.’

  The guy said, ‘Who are you?’

  ‘Defense Intelligence Agency. Purely routine, sir.’

  Command presence. Much prized by the military. The guy stalled a second, and then he fished in an inside pocket and came out with his ID. Reacher stepped over and took it from him and looked hard at it. John James Temple. He raised his eyebrows, as if surprised, and he looked again, and then he slipped the ID into his shirt pocket, right next to Sullivan’s.

  He said, ‘I’m sorry, colonel, but I need a minute of your time.’

  He stepped back to the door and held it open. After you. The guy looked uncertain for a moment, and then he got up from the table, slowly. Reacher glanced over his shoulder at Turner and said, ‘You wait here, miss. We’ll be right back.’

  The lawyer paused a beat and then shuffled out ahead of him. Reacher said, ‘Sir, to your right, please,’ and followed after him, also shuffling, literally, because of the loose boots. Which were the weak points. Lawyers weren’t necessarily the most physically observant of people, but they had brains and they were generally logical. And this phase of the plan was a low-speed proposition. No urgency. No rush. No panic. Practically slow-motion. This guy had time to think.

  Which, evidently, he used.

  About twenty feet short of the first vacant cell the guy stopped suddenly and turned around and looked down. Straight at Reacher’s boots. Instantly Reacher spun him face-front again and put him in the kind of arresting-a-senior-officer grip that any MP learns early in his career, about which there was nothing in the field manual, and which was not taught in any way except by hints and example. Reacher grabbed the guy’s right elbow from behind, in his left hand, and simultaneously squeezed it hard and pulled it downward and propelled it forward. As always the guy was left fighting the downward force so hard he forgot all about resisting the forward motion. He just stumbled onward, crabwise, twisted and bent, gasping a little, not really from pain, but from outraged dignity. Which Reacher was happy about. He didn’t want to hurt the guy. This was not his fault.

  Reacher manoeuvred the guy to an open and empty cell, which he guessed might have been Turner’s, from the look of it, and pushed him inside, and closed the door on him, and bolted it.

  Then he stood in the corridor, just a beat, and he breathed in, and he breathed out.

  Good to go.

  He shuffled back to the second conference room and stepped inside. Susan Turner was on her feet, between the table and the door. He held out his hand. He said, ‘I’m Jack Reacher.’

  ‘I know you are,’ she said. ‘I saw your photo. From your file. And I recognized your voice. From the phone.’

  And he recognized hers. From the phone. Warm, slightly husky, a little breathy, a little intimate. Just as good as he remembered. Maybe even better, live and in person.

  He said, ‘I’m very pleased to meet you.’

  She shook his hand. Her touch was warm, not hard, not soft. She said, ‘I’m very pleased to meet you too. But what exactly are you doing?’

  He said, ‘You know what I’m doing. And why. At least, I hope you do. Because if you don’t, you’re not worth doing it for.’

  ‘I didn’t want you to get involved.’

  ‘Hence the thing about not visiting?’

  ‘I thoug
ht you might show up. Just possibly. If you did, I wanted you to turn tail and get the hell out, immediately. For your own sake.’

  ‘Didn’t work.’

  ‘What are our chances of getting out of here?’

  ‘We’ve been lucky so far.’ He fished in his shirt pocket and took out Sullivan’s ID. He checked the picture against Turner’s face. Same gender. Roughly the same hair colour. But that was about all. He gave her the ID. She said, ‘Who is she?’

  ‘My lawyer. One of my lawyers. I met her this morning.’

  ‘Where is she now?’

  ‘In a cell. Probably hammering on the door. We need to get going.’

  ‘And you’re taking my lawyer’s ID?’

  Reacher patted his pocket. ‘I’ve got it right here.’

  ‘But you don’t look anything like him.’

  ‘That’s why you’re going to drive.’

  ‘Is it dark yet?’

  ‘Heading that way.’

  ‘So let’s go,’ she said.

  They stepped out to the corridor and walked to the quarantine door. It was still held open an inch by Sullivan’s car key. Reacher pulled the door, and Turner scooped up the key, and they stepped into the small square lobby, and the door sucked shut behind them. The exit door was locked, with a small neat mechanism, no doubt expensive and highly secure. Reacher took out the clerk’s keys, and started trying them, one after the other. There were eight in total. The first was no good. Neither was the second. Nor the third. Nor the fourth.

  But the fifth key did the trick. The lock snicked open. Reacher turned the handle and pulled the door. Cold air came in, from the outside. The afternoon light was fading.

  Turner said, ‘What car are we looking for?’

  ‘Dark-green sedan.’

  ‘That helps,’ she said. ‘On a military base.’

  Warm, husky, breathy, intimate.

  They stepped out together. Reacher closed the door behind them, and locked it. He figured that might buy an extra minute. Ahead of them to the left was a small parking lot, about thirty yards away, across an expanse of blank blacktop. Seventeen cars in it. Mostly POVs. Only two plain sedans, neither one of them green. Beyond the lot a road curved away west. On the right the same road turned a corner and ran out of sight.

  ‘Best guess?’ Turner said.

  ‘If in doubt, turn left,’ Reacher said. ‘That was always my operating principle.’

  They turned left, and found another lot hidden beyond the corner of the building. It was small, nothing more than a bumped-out strip with diagonal bays. Six cars in it, all of them nose-in. All of them identical dark-green sedans.

  Turner said, ‘That’s better.’

  She lined herself up equidistant from the six rear bumpers and pressed the button on the key fob.

  Nothing happened.

  She tried again. Nothing. She said, ‘Maybe the battery is out.’

  ‘In the car?’ Reacher said.

  ‘In the key,’ she said.

  ‘Then how did Sullivan get here?’

  ‘She stuck the key in the door. Like we used to, back in the day. We’ll have to try them one by one.’

  ‘We can’t do that. We’ll look like car thieves.’

  ‘We are car thieves.’

  ‘Maybe none of these is the right car,’ Reacher said. ‘I didn’t see the plate. It was dark this morning.’

  ‘We can’t wander about this base much longer.’

  ‘Maybe we should have turned right.’

  They tracked back, as brisk and unobtrusive as they could be in boots without laces, past the rear door to the guardhouse again, and onward around the corner. It felt good to walk. Freedom, and fresh air. Reacher had always figured the best part of getting out of jail was the first thirty yards. And he liked having Turner next to him. She was nervous as a cat, but she was holding it together. She looked confident. They were just two people walking, like con artists everywhere: act like you’re supposed to be there.

  There was another bumped-out bay around the east corner, six diagonal slots, symmetrical with the one they had already seen to the west. There were three cars in it. Only one of them was a sedan. And it was dark green. Turner hit the key fob button.

  Nothing happened.

  She stepped up close and tried the key in the door.

  It didn’t fit.

  She said, ‘Where does a lawyer who’s visiting the guardhouse come in? The front entrance, right? Is there a parking lot out front?’

  ‘Bound to be,’ Reacher said. ‘But I wish there wasn’t. We’ll be very exposed out front.’

  ‘We can’t just hang around here. We’re sitting ducks.’

  They walked on, to the front corner of the building, and stopped short, in the shadows. Reacher sensed open space ahead, and maybe lights, and maybe traffic.

  ‘On three,’ Turner said. ‘One, two, three.’

  They turned the corner. Act like you’re supposed to be there. They walked fast, like busy people going somewhere. There was a fire lane along the front face of the building, and then a kerbed divider, with a long one-row lot beyond it, full of parked cars except for one empty slot. And to the left of the empty slot was a dark-green sedan.

  ‘That’s it,’ Reacher said. ‘I kind of recognize it.’

  Turner headed straight for it and hit the key fob button, and the car lit up inside and its turn signals flashed once, and its door locks clunked open. Ahead on the left, about a hundred yards away, a car was crawling towards them, at a cautious on-post kind of speed, with its headlights on against the gloom. Reacher and Turner split up, Reacher going right, Turner going left, down the flanks of the green car, Reacher to the passenger’s door, Turner to the driver’s door. They opened up and climbed in together, no fumbling, no hesitation. The approaching car was getting nearer. They closed their doors, slam, slam, like overworked staffers with minutes between vital appointments, and Turner put the key in the slot and started the engine.

  The oncoming car turned in to the lot, and rolled towards them, from the left, its headlight beams lighting them up.

  ‘Go,’ Reacher said. ‘Go now.’

  Turner didn’t. She got it in reverse gear and touched the gas, but the car went nowhere. It just reared up against the parking brake. Turner said, ‘Shit,’ and fumbled the lever down, but by then it was too late. The oncoming car was right behind them. It stopped there, blocking them in, and then its driver turned the wheel hard and crawled forward again, aiming to park in the empty slot right next to them.

  Its driver was Captain Tracy Edmonds. Reacher’s lawyer. Working with HRC. Candice Dayton. His second appointment of the afternoon.

  Reacher slumped right down in his seat, and cradled his face in his hand, like a man with a headache.

  Turner said, ‘What?’

  ‘That’s my other lawyer. Captain Edmonds. I scheduled back-to-back meetings.’

  ‘Why?’

  ‘I wanted to be certain I was out of my cell when your lawyer showed up.’

  ‘Don’t let her see you.’

  ‘That’s the least of our problems. The shit will hit the fan about a minute after she goes inside, don’t you think?’

  ‘You should have figured one lawyer would be enough.’

  ‘Would you have?’

  ‘Probably not.’

  Alongside them Edmonds jacked back and forth a couple of times until she was all neat and straight in her allotted space. She flicked her lights off and Turner flicked hers on and backed straight out and cut the wheel hard. Edmonds opened her door and climbed out of her car. Reacher swapped hands on his face. Turner rattled the lever into a forward gear and straightened up and took off, slowly. Edmonds waited patiently for her to complete the manoeuvre. Turner waved a thank-you gesture and hit the gas.

  ‘South gate,’ Reacher said. ‘Don’t you think? I figure all these guys will have come in from the north.’

  ‘Agreed,’ Turner said. She rolled on south, brisk but not suicidal, all the w
ay through the complex, past buildings large and small, turning here and there, slowing here and there, waiting at stop signs, peering left and right, moving on again, until finally the last of the base fell away behind them, and then they were into the exit road, heading for the
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