Never go back, p.13
Never Go Back,
Part #18 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
‘Metro wants me for Moorcroft,’ Reacher said. ‘Your lawyer. A detective called Podolski thinks I did it.’
‘Why would he?’
‘I was the last guy who talked to him, and I trashed my old clothes afterwards, and I was alone and unaccounted for at the relevant time.’
‘Why did you trash your clothes?’
‘Cheaper than laundry, overall.’
‘What did you talk to Moorcroft about?’
‘I wanted him to get you out of jail.’
Now the cop was about ten cars back, shouldering through the jam, pretty fast.
Reacher said, ‘Take your jacket off.’
Turner said, ‘Normally I want a cocktail and a movie before I remove my clothing.’
‘I don’t want him to see your uniform. If he’s looking for me, he’s looking for you, too.’
‘He’s got our plate number, surely.’
‘He might not see the plate. We’re nose to tail here.’
The cars in front were heading for the gutter. Turner followed after them, steering left-handed, using her right hand on her jacket, tearing open the placket, hauling down the zipper. She leaned forward and shrugged out of the left shoulder, and then the right. She got her left arm out, and she got her right arm out. Reacher hauled the jacket from behind her and tossed it in the rear footwell. She had been wearing a T-shirt under the jacket, olive green, short-sleeved. Probably an extra small, Reacher thought, which fit her very well, except it was a little short. It barely met the waistband of her pants. Reacher saw an inch of skin, smooth and firm and tan.
He looked back again. Now the cop was two places behind, still coming, still flashing red and blue, still whooping and cackling and whining.
He said, ‘Would you have come out to dinner with me, if you’d been in the office yesterday? Or tonight, if Moorcroft had gotten you out?’
She said, with her eyes on the mirror, ‘You need to know that now?’
They were yards short of 17th Street. Up ahead on the right the Washington Monument was lit up in the gloom.
The cop car came right alongside.
And stayed there.
IT STAYED THERE because the car one place ahead hadn’t moved all the way over, and because in the next lane there was a wide pick-up truck with exaggerated bulges over twin rear wheels. The cop had no room to get through. He was a white man with a fat neck. Reacher saw him glance across at Turner, fleeting and completely incurious, and then away again, and then down at his dashboard controls, where evidently his siren switches were located, because right then the note changed to a continuous cackling blast, manic and never ending, and unbelievably loud.
But evidently there was something else down between the seats, and evidently it was a lot more interesting than siren switches. Because the guy’s head stayed down. He was staring at something, hard. A laptop screen, Reacher thought. Or some other kind of a modern communications device. He had seen such things before. He had been in civilian cop cars, from time to time. Some of them had slim grey panels, on swanneck stems, full of instant real-time notes and bulletins and warnings.
He said, ‘We got trouble.’
Turner said, ‘What kind?’
‘I think this guy is on his way to Union Station, too. Or the bus depot. To look for us. I think he’s got notes and pictures. Pictures would be easy to get, right? From the army? I think he’s got them right in front of him, right now. See how he’s making a big point of not looking at us?’
Turner glanced to her left. The cop was still staring down. His right arm was moving. Maybe he was fumbling for his microphone. Up ahead the traffic moved a little. The car in front got out the way. The pick-up with the wide arches slid over six inches. The cop had room to get through.
But he didn’t look up. And his car didn’t move.
The siren blasted on. The guy started talking. No way to make out what he was saying. Then he shut up and listened. He was being asked a question. Possibly some stilted radio protocol that meant: Are you sure? Because right then the guy turned face-on and ducked his head a little for a good view out his passenger window. He stared at Turner for a second, and then he flicked onward to Reacher.
His lips moved.
A single syllable, brief, inaudible, but definitely a voiced palatal glide morphing into a voiceless alveolar fricative. Therefore almost certainly: Yes.
Then he unclipped his seatbelt and his right hand moved towards his hip.
Reacher said, ‘Abandon ship.’
He opened his door hard and part rolled and part fell out to the kerb. Turner scrambled after him, away from the cop, over the console, over his seat. The car rolled forward and nestled gently against the car in front, like a kiss. Turner came out, all arms and legs, awkward in her loose boots. Reacher hauled her upright by the hand and they hustled together across the width of the sidewalk and on to the Mall. Bare trees and evening gloom closed around them. Behind them there was nothing to hear except the cackling blast of the siren. They looped around towards the near end of the Reflecting Pool. Turner was in her T-shirt, nothing more, and the air was cold. Reacher took off his jacket and handed it to her.
He said, ‘Put this on. Then we’ll split up. Safer that way. Meet me in fifteen minutes at the Vietnam Wall. If I don’t arrive, keep on running.’
She said, ‘Likewise if I don’t,’ and then she went one way and he went the other.
Reacher was distinctive in any context, because of his height, so the first thing he looked for was a bench. He forced himself to walk slow and easy, with his hands in his pockets, without a care in the world, because a running man attracted the eye a hundred times faster than a walking man. Another old evolutionary legacy. Predator and prey, motion and stillness. And he didn’t look back, either. He made no furtive glances. He kept his gaze straight and level, and he walked towards what he saw. Full dark was coming down fast, but the Mall was still busy. Not like summertime, but there were plenty of winter tourists finishing up their days, and up ahead the Wall had its usual crowd of people, some of them there to mourn, some of them to pay more general respects, and some of them the gaggle of weird folks the place always seemed to attract. He couldn’t see Turner anywhere. The siren had stopped, replaced by honking horns. Presumably the cop was out of his car by that point, and presumably his and Sullivan’s stationary vehicles were jamming up the traffic flow.
Reacher saw a bench in the gloom twenty yards away, unoccupied, positioned parallel with the still waters of the Pool, and he strolled on towards it, slow and relaxed, and then he paused as if deciding, and he sat down, and leaned forward, with his elbows on his knees. He looked down, like a contemplative man with things on his mind. A long and careful stare would betray him, but at first glance nothing about his pose would say tall man, and nothing would say fugitive, either. The only notable tell was his lack of a jacket. It wasn’t exactly shirtsleeve weather.
Thirty yards behind him the horns were still sounding.
He waited, head down, still and quiet.
And then forty yards away from the corner of his eye he saw the cop with the fat neck, hustling along on foot, with a flashlight in his hand, but no gun. The guy was twitching left and right, nervous and searching hard, presumably in his boss’s bad books for getting close and getting beat. Reacher heard two new sirens, both of them far away in the distance, one in the south, maybe all the way down on C Street, and one in the north, on 15th possibly, or 14th, maybe level with the White House or the Aquarium.
The cop with the fat neck was heading for the Wall, halfway there, but then he stopped and turned a full circle. Reacher felt his gaze pass right over him. A guy sitting still and staring at the water was of no interest at all, when there were plenty of better prospects all around, like a crowd of thirty or forty heading for the base of the Monument, either a tour group or a crowd of strangers all coincidentally drifting in the same direction at the same time, or a mixt
The distant sirens came closer, but not very close. Some kind of a centre of gravity seemed to pull them east. Which again was a decent percentage play. The Metro PD knew its own turf, presumably. To the east were the museums and the galleries, and therefore the crowds, and then came the Capitol, and beyond that came the best getaways north and south, by road and rail.
Reacher waited, not moving at all, not looking around, just staring ahead at the water. Then when the stopwatch in his head hit ten minutes exactly, he eased himself to his feet and ran through as many un-fugitive-like motions as he could think of. He yawned, and he put his palms hard on the small of his back, and he stretched, and he yawned again. Then he set off west, just strolling, like he had all the time in the world, with the Pool on his left, in a long leisurely curve through the bare trees that brought him to the Wall four minutes later. He stood on the edge of the crowd, just one pilgrim among many, and looked for Susan Turner.
He couldn’t see her anywhere.
REACHER WALKED ABOVE the wall, following the rise and the fall and the shallow angle, from 1959 to 1975, and then back again at the lower level, from 1975 to 1959, past more than fifty-eight thousand names twice over, without once seeing Susan Turner anywhere. If I don’t arrive, keep on running, he had said, and she had replied, Likewise if I don’t. And they were well past their agreed fifteen minutes. But Reacher stayed. He made one more pass, from the lonely early deaths on their low eight-inch panels, past the peak casualties more than ten feet high in 1968 and 1969, and onward to the lonely late deaths, on low eight-inch panels again, looking at every person he saw either straight on or reflected in the black stone, but none of them was Turner. He came out at the end of the war and ahead of him on the sidewalk was the usual huddle of souvenir sellers and memorabilia merchants, some of them veterans and some of them pretending to be, all of them hawking old unit patches and branch insignia and engraved Zippo lighters, and a thousand other things of no value at all, except in the sentimental sense. As always tourists came and chose and paid and went, and as always a static cadre of picturesque and disaffected types hung around, more or less permanently.
Because one of the disaffected types was a thin girl with a curtain of dark hair hanging loose, wearing an oversized coat wrapped twice around her, knee length, with camo pants below, and the tongues hanging out of her boots. Her coat sleeves were rolled to her wrists, and her hands were in her pockets. She was standing huddled, head down, in a daze, rocking just perceptibly from foot to foot, out of it, like a stoner.
Susan Turner, acting the part, fitting in, hiding in plain sight.
Reacher walked up to her and said, ‘You’re really good.’
‘I needed to be,’ she said. ‘A cop walked right by. As close as you are. It was the guy we saw before, in the cruiser that was parked back there.’
‘Where is he now?’
‘He went east. Like a rolling cordon. It passed me by. You too, I guess.’
‘I didn’t see him.’
‘He went down the other side of the Pool. You never raised your head.’
‘You were watching me?’
‘I was. And you’re pretty good too.’
‘Why were you watching me?’
‘In case you needed help.’
Reacher said, ‘If they’re combing east, we better go west.’
‘No, by taxi,’ Reacher said. ‘Taxis in this town are as invisible as it gets.’
Every significant tourist site along the Mall had a rank of two or three cabs waiting. The Wall was no exception. Behind the last souvenir booth were battered cars with dirty paint and taxi lights on their roofs. Reacher and Turner got in the first in line.
‘Arlington Cemetery,’ Reacher said. ‘Main gate.’
He read the printed notice on the door. The fare was going to be three bucks for the flag drop, plus two dollars and sixteen cents per mile thereafter. Plus tip. They were going to be down about seven bucks, total. Which was going to leave them about twenty-three. Which was better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, but was a long way short of what they were going to need.
They sat low in sagging seats and the cab crashed and bounced like its wheels were square. But it made the trip OK. Around the back of the Lincoln Memorial, and out over the water on the Memorial Bridge, and back into Arlington County. To the bus stop at the cemetery gate. Right where Reacher had started out, almost exactly twenty-four hours previously.
Which was a weird kind of progress.
The bus stop at the cemetery gate had a small crowd waiting, all small dark Hispanic men, all labourers, all tired, and patient, and resigned. Reacher and Turner took their places among them. Turner blended in fairly well. Reacher didn’t. He was more than a head taller and twice as wide as anyone else. And much paler. He looked like a lighthouse on a dark rocky shore. Therefore the wait was tense. And long. But no cop cars rolled past, and eventually the bus came. Reacher paid the fares, and Turner sat at a window, and Reacher sat next to her on the aisle and hunched down as low as he could go. The bus moved off, slow and ponderous, on the same route Reacher had taken the day before, past the stop where he had gotten off at the bottom of the three-lane hill, and onward up the steep incline towards the 110th HQ.
Turner said, ‘They’ll call the FBI, because they’ll assume we’re going interstate. The only question is who calls first. My money is on the Metro PD. The army will wait until morning, most likely.’
‘We’ll be OK,’ Reacher said. ‘The FBI won’t use roadblocks. Not here on the East Coast. In fact they probably won’t get off their asses at all. They’ll just put our IDs and our bank cards on their watch lists, which doesn’t matter anyway, because we don’t have IDs or bank cards.’
‘They might tell local PDs to watch their bus depots.’
‘We’ll keep an eye out.’
‘I still need clothes,’ Turner said. ‘Pants and a jacket at least.’
‘We’ve got nineteen dollars. You can have one or the other.’
‘Pants, then. And I’ll trade you your jacket back for your shirt.’
‘My shirt will look like a circus tent on you.’
‘I’ve seen women wear men’s shirts. Like wraps, all chic and baggy.’
‘You’ll be cold.’
‘I was born in Montana. I’m never cold.’
The bus laboured up the hill past the 110th HQ. The old stone building. The gates were open. The sentry was in his hutch. The day guy. Morgan’s car was still in the lot. The painted door was closed. Lights were on in all the windows. Turner swivelled all the way around in her seat, to keep the place in sight as long as she could. Until the last possible moment. Then she let it go and faced front again and said, ‘I hope I get back there.’
Reacher said, ‘You will.’
‘I worked so hard to get there in the first place. It’s a great command. But you know that already.’
‘Everyone else hates us.’
‘Only if we do our job properly.’
The bus made the turn at the top of the hill, on to the next three-lane, which led to Reacher’s motel. There was rain in the air. Just a little, but enough that the bus driver had his wipers going.
Turner said, ‘Tell me again how this is all my fault. Me and Afghanistan.’
The road levelled out and the bus picked up speed. It rattled straight past Reacher’s motel. The lot was empty. No car with dented doors.
He said, ‘It’s the only logical explanation. You put a fox in someone’s henhouse, and that someone wanted to shut you down. Which was easy enough to do. Because as it happened no one else in the unit knew what it was about. Your duty captain didn’t. Neither did Sergeant Leach. Or anyone else. So you were the only one. They set you up with the Cayman Islands
‘But I didn’t mention Afghanistan to you at all.’
‘But they didn’t know that. The phone log shows duration, not content. They didn’t have a recording. So I was a theoretical loose end. Maybe I knew what you knew. Not much of a problem, because I wasn’t likely to show up. They seem to have checked me out. They claim to know how I live. But just in case, they made some plans. They had the Big Dog thing standing by, for instance.’
‘I don’t see how that would help them any. You’d have been in the system, with plenty of time to talk.’
‘I was supposed to run,’ Reacher said. ‘I was supposed to disappear
Never Go Back by Lee Child / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5.1 out of 5 / Based on46 votes