Night school, p.11
Night School, p.11Part #21 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
“Maybe that bar is more than just a place for like-minded folk. Maybe it’s a rendezvous for all kinds of people. Maybe money is earned there. So what happens when two unexplained military cops show up in town? They post sentries, just in case. And here we are. We just tripped their wire.”
“They don’t know we’re military cops. They don’t know our names. No one even knows we’re in the country.”
“How did we find out about Helmut Klopp?”
“Griezman passed on some dumb police report. To the consulate.”
“Because he’s a noble citizen?”
“No, because he was covering his very considerable ass.”
“Such a guy would also pass on a dumb police report about two military personnel recorded in a homicide investigation. Walking past the scene and claiming to be tourists. Our names are right there in black and white. So he had to pass it on. Probably straight to HQ in Stuttgart. Where someone looked us up, and saw the 110th in our recent pasts, and hit some kind of a secret alarm button. Like in a bank. No one heard anything, but people started scrambling all over town. Who are we here for? This is a broad sweep. We’re going to upset all kinds of people.”
“Suppose these are the right people?”
“You take the one on the left, and you can have the Legion of Merit.”
“They would never give a Legion of Merit to a sergeant.”
“They’re not the right people. I’m a lucky man, but not that lucky.”
“So who are they?”
“Can’t tell by looking,” Reacher said.
They chased the last strudel crumbs around their plates, and drained their coffee cups down to the muddy paste at the bottom, and then they stood up fast and hustled out the door.
Reacher and Neagley dodged pedestrians on the sidewalk and cars on the street, and they headed diagonally toward the second coffee shop on the other side. Through the window they saw the two guys startle and sit up straight. Too late. They were sitting together on the far side of a corner table for four, where their angle was good. Which left two empty chairs between them and the rest of the room. Neagley went in first and took one of the chairs. Reacher followed and took the other. Which meant the two guys were trapped. All quiet and genteel and civilized, but they had no way out. Not unless Reacher and Neagley stood up again to let them by. Which was not on the immediate agenda.
Reacher said, “Listen carefully, guys, because I’m going to say this once and once only. We have a one-time special offer. We’ll help you if we can. Minimum sentences in exchange for full disclosure. Unless it’s the one thing we’re interested in. But I don’t think it is. I think you’re the wrong kind of guys for that.”
The guy on the left said, “Get lost.”
He was closer to forty than thirty, with graying black hair buzzed short, and a doughy slab of a face, like an uncooked loaf. He had dark eyes and calluses on his hands. His accent was from Arkansas, or Tennessee, or maybe Mississippi.
Reacher said, “You know our names, because someone checked us out and raised the alarm. Therefore you know we’re MPs. You’re under arrest as of this moment.”
“You can’t do that.”
“I’m pretty sure we can. The Uniform Code says so. We could arrest the Chief of Staff if we wanted to. We would need a pretty good case, but in theory we could do it. You present much less of a problem.”
“You have no jurisdiction.”
“That’s a big word.”
“We’re not military personnel.”
“I think you are.”
“We’re not American either.”
“I think you are.”
“Prove it. Show me ID.”
“Get lost,” the guy said again.
“The law in Germany requires you to identify yourselves to the police on request.”
“German police. Not you.”
“You’re doing this wrong. Now you’re heading for maximum sentences.”
The guy said nothing. The other guy was watching the conversation, his eyes going back and forth, like tennis.
Reacher said, “Show me ID.”
The guy on the left said, “We’d like to leave now. Please step aside.”
“Not going to happen.”
“We could make it happen.”
“You could try,” Reacher said. “But you’d get hurt. You’re out of your league. You’re up against something you never saw before.”
“You have a mighty high opinion of yourself.”
Reacher nodded at Neagley. “I’m talking about her. I’m just here to clean up the mess.”
They looked at Neagley. Dark hair, dark eyes, a tan. A good-looking woman. She smiled at them. Her forearms were on the table. Reacher noticed her nails. They were shiny with clear polish, and neatly filed. Even on the right, which she must have done left-handed. She wouldn’t use a nail salon. She couldn’t bear her hands to be touched. She looked at one guy, and then the other.
The guy on the left shrugged and raised up an inch off his chair and dug in his back pants pocket. The other guy did the same. Reacher watched. Safe enough. No one kept a weapon in his back pants pocket. Uncomfortable. Not readily accessible.
The guys came out with two IDs each. Plastic, the size of credit cards. But not. They were national identity cards, and driver’s licenses. Both had Bundesrepublik Deutschland at the top. Germany. The Federal Republic. The photographs were right. The guy on the left was named Bernd Durnberger, and the guy on the right was named Klaus Augenthaler.
Reacher said, “You’re German citizens?”
The guy on the left took his cards back and nodded.
The guy nodded again.
“Did you have to take a test?”
“Was it hard?”
“What state are we in?”
“That’s the country. It’s a federal system. There’s a clue where it says Bundesrepublik. It means it has states, like America. Only sixteen of them, not fifty, but the principle is the same.”
“I guess I forget.”
“Hamburg,” Reacher said.
“That’s the town.”
“Also the state. Like New York. Next to Schleswig Holstein and Bremen. Then comes Lower Saxony. Did you change your name?”
“I like the way it sounds.”
“Did you retain your American citizenship?”
“No, we renounced. We’re not dual. So there’s nothing you can do.”
“We can be impolite.”
“Americans often are, overseas. You Europeans are always complaining about it. We could just sit here in the way.”
“No, we’re going to leave now.”
“Because we want to.”
“You need the bathroom?”
“You got a pressing engagement?”
“We got freedom of movement.”
“Sure you do. Like a person in Times Square, trying to get to work on time. No way to do that, unless he runs right over the tourist in front of him.”
The guy said nothing.
Reacher looked at the other guy, and said, “How did you choose your name?”
“The same,” the guy said. “I liked the sound of it.”
“Really? Say it for me.”
The guy didn’t answer.
“Say it for me,” Reacher said again. “Let me hear how nice it sounds.”
“Say it for me.”
Reacher hooked his thumbs under the edge of the table top and clamped down hard with his fingers. He leaned forward. He said, “Say your name for me.”
The guy couldn’t.
He was clamping the table and leaning forward not for the drama, but to be ready for what came next. And it came right then. The guy on the right shoved the table hard, aiming to jab Reacher in the midsection with it, like a punch, or even to knock him over backward in his chair, but Reacher was ready, and he shoved back ten times as hard and drove the wooden edge into the guy’s gut. A satisfactory blow, but the movement of the furniture gave the guy on the left a widening gap to stand up in, which he did, and then he slid around behind Reacher’s seated back and hustled for the street door. Except by then Neagley was also on her feet, stepping left, leading with her shoulder, drifting toward the guy, and then rotating savagely and slamming a roundhouse right into his chest, dead on the solar plexus, which stood him up panicked and breathless, like he had swallowed an electric cattle prod. Which gave her plenty of time to call her next shot. Which was her left knee to his groin, followed by her right knee to his face, as he crumpled to the floor in front of her.
Reacher kept the other guy hemmed in behind the table. He said, “See what I mean? Now I have to clean that up.”
He turned his head, and saw an old lady behind the counter getting ready to scream or faint or grab the phone. He called out, “Sexueller Angriff,” which he knew from taking a prisoner to a civilian courthouse in Frankfurt meant sexual assault. He pointed to himself and added, “Militarpolizei,” which he knew meant military police. The old woman calmed down a little. The forces of order were in control. And actually nothing was broken. The guy had gone down and missed everything. Neagley was a precision worker. There was blood on the floor, but not much. Nothing a minute with a mop wouldn’t take care of. No harm, no foul, overall.
Reacher said to Neagley, “Ask to use her phone. Call Stuttgart and find out who we know who could get here today.”
“For these guys?”
“The background noise is starting. We’re going to need garbage disposal.”
“Not through Sinclair?”
“This is army business. We shouldn’t bore her with the details.”
Neagley spoke no more German than Reacher, so she mimed with raised eyebrows and her right-hand thumb and pinky, the universal dumb-show for a telephone, and the old lady bustled off to the far end of the counter and came back with an old black instrument tethered by a wire. Neagley dialed and waited and started talking.
Reacher turned back to the guy at the table. He was pale. He had a buzz cut growing low on his forehead, and old acne pits on his cheeks. His gaze was alternating between Reacher and his pal on the floor. Back and forth, like a metronome. Panic in his eyes.
Reacher said, “I’m going to take a wild-ass guess and say you’re not the brains of the operation. Which leaves you in a vulnerable position. But luck is on your side. I’m a reasonable man. The one-time special offer is still open. For you only. Minimum sentence in exchange for full disclosure. I’m going to count to three. Then it’s gone.”
More panic in the guy’s eyes. He opened his mouth, but he couldn’t speak. Not very bright. Not very verbal.
Reacher said, “Who told you to be here today?”
The guy pointed at his pal on the floor.
He said, “He did.”
Reacher said, “Why?”
“We sell things.”
“In the bar.”
“What kind of things?”
Reacher said, “Big or small?”
The guy nodded.
The guy nodded.
Reacher said, “Anything else?”
“OK, you sell sidearms to skinheads. Congratulations. New or used?”
“Only old ones.”
“We take them from the scrap trucks.”
Reacher nodded. Retired U.S. Army inventory, listed as worn out or defective or destroyed, but never quite making it to the smelter. Not uncommon. He said, “Ammunition too?”
The guy said, “Yes.”
“In that same bar?”
The guy said, “Yes.”
“Where did you get the phony ID?”
“Same place. In that bar. There’s a German guy.”
“What else happens there?”
“All kinds of deals.”
“Do you go there a lot?”
The guy looked at his pal on the floor. He nodded. He said, “It’s where we sell things.”
Reacher took the police sketch from his pocket. The American. The brow, the cheek bones, the deep-set eyes. The floppy hair. He unfolded the drawing and flattened it out and reversed it on the table. He said, “Did you ever see this man in there?”
The guy took a look.
He said, “Yes, I’ve seen him.”
Neagley put the phone down and mimed a thank-you to the old lady and came back to the table. Reacher said, “This guy has seen our guy in the bar.”
Neagley said, “How many times?”
The guy said, “About three.”
“Over how long of a period?”
“About the last few months. Sometimes he wears a hat.”
“What kind of a hat?”
“A sports team, I think. The NFL, maybe. Something with a red star.”
“Do you know his name?”
Night School by Lee Child / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5.3 out of 5 / Based on48 votes