Never go back, p.14
Never Go Back,
Part #18 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
and never come near the army again, the whole rest of my life. That was the plan. That was the whole point. They even showed up at the motel to make sure I understood. And the Big Dog thing was a great choice for that. The guy is dead, and there’s an affidavit. There’s no real way to fight it. Running would have been entirely rational. Sergeant Leach thought if she could find a way of warning me, I’d head for the hills.’
‘Why didn’t you run?’
‘I wanted to ask you out to dinner.’
‘Not my style. I figured it out when I was about five years old. A person either runs or he fights. It’s a binary choice, and I’m a fighter. Plus, they had something else in their back pocket.’
‘Something else designed to make me run, which didn’t, either.’
Fourteen years old.
I’ll get to it.
‘I’ll tell you later,’ Reacher said. ‘It’s a complicated story.’
The bus ground onward, all low gears and loud diesel, past the strip mall Reacher knew, with the hardware store, and the pharmacy, and the picture-framing shop, and the gun store, and the dentist, and the Greek restaurant. Then it moved out into territory he hadn’t seen before. Onward, and away.
He said, ‘Look on the bright side. Your problem ain’t exactly brain surgery. Whatever rabbit you were chasing in Afghanistan is behind all this shit. So we need to work backward from him. We need to find out who his friends are, and we need to find out who did what, and when, and how, and why, and then we need to bring the hammer down.’
Turner said, ‘There’s a problem with that.’
‘I know,’ he said. ‘It won’t be easy. Not from the outside. It’s like we’ve got one hand tied behind our back. But we’ll give it our best shot.’
‘Unfortunately that’s not the problem I’m talking about.’
‘So what is?’
‘Someone thinks I know something I don’t. That’s the problem.’
‘What don’t you know?’
‘I don’t know who the rabbit is,’ Turner said. ‘Or what the hell he’s doing, or where, or why. Or how. In fact I don’t know what’s happening in Afghanistan at all.’
‘But you sent two guys there.’
‘Much earlier. For a completely different reason. In Kandahar. Pure routine. Entirely unconnected. But along the way they picked up on a whisper from a Pashtun informer, that an American officer had been seen heading north to meet with a tribal leader. The identity of the American was not known, and his purpose was not known, but the feeling was it can’t have been anything good. We’re drawing down. We’re supposed to be heading south, not north, towards Bagram and Kabul, prior to getting the hell out. We’re not supposed to be way up in-country, having secret meetings with towelheads. So I sent my guys to chase the rumour. That was all.’
‘The day before I was busted. So I won’t even have a name until they report back to me. Which they won’t be able to, not until I’m back on the inside.’
Reacher said nothing.
Turner said, ‘What?’
‘It’s worse than that.’
‘How can it be?’
‘They won’t be able to report back ever,’ Reacher said. ‘Because they’re dead.’
REACHER TOLD TURNER about the missed radio checks, and the agitation in the old stone building, and the semi-authorized air search out of Bagram, and the two dead bodies on the goat trail. Turner went still and quiet. She said, ‘They were good men. Natty Weeks and Duncan Edwards. Weeks was an old hand and Edwards was a good prospect. I shouldn’t have let them go. The Hindu Kush is too dangerous for two men on their own.’
‘It wasn’t tribesmen who got them,’ Reacher said. ‘They were shot in the head with nine-millimetre rounds. U.S. Army side-arms, most likely. Beretta M9s, almost certainly. The tribesmen would have cut their heads off. Or used AK47s. Different kind of hole altogether.’
‘So they must have gotten close to the wrong American.’
‘Without even knowing it,’ Reacher said. ‘Don’t you think? A handgun to the head is an up-close-and-personal kind of a thing. Which they wouldn’t have allowed, surely, if they had the slightest suspicion.’
‘Very neat,’ Turner said. ‘They shut me down, at both ends. Here, and there. Before I got anything at all. As in, right now I have nothing. Not a thing. So I’m totally screwed. I’m going down, Reacher. I don’t see a way out of this now.’
Reacher said nothing.
They got off the bus in Berryville, Virginia, which was one town short of its ultimate destination. Better that way, they thought. A driver might remember a pair of atypical passengers who stayed on board until the very end of the line. Especially if it came to radio or TV appeals, or routine police interviews, or public-enemy photographs in the post office.
The rain had stopped, but the air was still damp and cold. Berryville’s downtown area was pleasant enough, but they backtracked on foot, back the way the bus had come, across a railroad track, past a pizza restaurant, to a hardware store they had seen from the window. The store was about to close, which was not ideal, because clerks tend to remember the first and last customers of the day. But they judged yet more time in ACU pants was worse. So they went in and Turner found a pair of canvas work pants similar to Reacher’s. The smallest size the store carried was going to be loose in the waist and long in the leg. Not perfect. But Turner figured the discrepancy was going to be a good thing. A feature, not a bug, was how she put it. Because the pant legs would pool down over her army boots, thereby hiding them to some extent, and making them less obvious.
They bought the pants and three pairs of boot laces, one for Reacher’s boots, and one for Turner’s, and one for her to double up and use as a belt. They conducted their business in as unmemorable a manner as they could. Neither polite nor impolite, neither rushing nor stalling, not really saying much of anything. Turner didn’t use the restroom. She wanted to change, but they figured for the last customer of the day to go in wearing ACU pants and come out in a new purchase would likely stick in the clerk’s memory.
But the store had a big parking lot on one side, and it was empty and dark, so Turner changed her pants in the shadows and dumped her army issue in a trash container at the rear of the building. Then she came out, and they traded jacket for shirt, and they sat down on a kerb together and tied their boots.
Good to go, with four dollars left in Reacher’s pocket.
Four bucks was a week’s wage in some countries of the world, but it wasn’t worth much of a damn in Berryville, Virginia. It wouldn’t buy transportation out of the state, and it wouldn’t buy a night in a motel, and it wouldn’t buy a proper sit-down meal for two, not in any kind of restaurant or diner known to man.
Turner said, ‘You told me there’s more than one kind of ATM.’
‘There is,’ Reacher said. ‘Fifty miles ahead, or fifty miles back. But not here.’
‘There’s no point in holding on to four dollars.’
‘I agree,’ Reacher said. ‘Let’s go crazy.’
They walked back towards the railroad track, fast and newly confident in their newly laced boots, to the pizza restaurant they had seen. Not a gourmet place, which was just as well. They bought a single slice each, to go, pepperoni for Reacher, plain cheese for Turner, and a can of soda to share between them. Which left them eighty cents in change. They ate and drank sitting side by side on a rail at the train crossing.
Turner asked, ‘Did you lose guys when you were CO?’
‘Four,’ Reacher said. ‘One of them was a woman.’
‘Did you feel bad?’
‘I wasn’t turning cartwheels. But it’s all part of the game. We all know what we’re sign
‘I wish I’d gone myself.’
Reacher asked, ‘Have you ever been to the Cayman Islands?’
‘Ever had a foreign bank account?’
‘Are you kidding? Why would I? I’m an O4. I make less than some high-school teachers.’
‘Why did you take a day to pass on the name of the Hood guy’s contact?’
‘What is this, the third degree?’
‘I’m thinking,’ Reacher said. ‘That’s all.’
‘You know why. I wanted to bust him myself. To make sure it was done properly. I gave myself twenty-four hours. But I couldn’t find him. So I told the FBI. They should think themselves lucky. I could have given myself a week.’
‘I might have,’ Reacher said. ‘Or a month.’
They finished their pizza slices, and drained the shared can of soda. Reacher wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and then wiped the back of his hand on his pants. Turner said, ‘What are we going to do now?’
‘We’re going to walk through town and hitch a ride west.’
‘Better than sleeping under a bush.’
‘How far west?’
‘All the way west,’ Reacher said. ‘We’re going to Los Angeles.’
Fourteen years old.
‘I’ll tell you later,’ Reacher said. ‘It’s complicated.’
They walked through the downtown area, on a street called East Main, which became a street called West Main after a central crossroads. All the store windows were dark. All the doors were shuttered. Berryville was no doubt a fine American town, matter-of-fact and unpretentious, but it was no kind of hub. That was for damn sure. It was all closed up and slumbering, even though it was only the middle of the evening.
They walked on. Turner looked good in the shirt, even though she could have gotten herself and her sister in it together. But she had rolled the sleeves, and she had shrugged and wriggled like women do, and it had draped and fallen into some kind of a coherent shape. Somehow its hugeness emphasized how slender she was. Her hair was still down. She moved with lithe, elastic energy, a wary, quizzical look never leaving her eyes, but there was no fear there. No tension. Just some kind of an appetite. For what, Reacher wasn’t entirely sure.
Totally worth the wait, he thought.
They walked on.
And then on the west edge of town they came to a motel.
And in its lot was the car with the dented doors.
THE MOTEL WAS a neat and tidy place, entirely in keeping with what they had seen in the rest of the town. It had some red brick, and some white paint, and a flag, and an eagle above the office door. There was a Coke machine, and an ice machine, and probably twenty rooms in two lines, both of them running back from the road and facing each other across a broad courtyard.
The car with the dented doors was parked at an angle in front of the office, carelessly and temporarily, as if someone had ducked inside with a brief enquiry.
‘Are you sure?’ Turner asked, quietly.
‘No question,’ Reacher said. ‘That’s their car.’
‘How is that even possible?’
‘Whoever is running these guys is deep in the loop, and he’s pretty smart. That’s how it’s possible. There’s no other explanation. He heard we broke out, and he heard we took thirty bucks with us, and he heard about that Metro cop finding us on Constitution Avenue. And then he sat down to think. Where can you go with thirty bucks? There are only four possibilities. Either you hole up in town and sleep in a park, or you head for Union Station, or the big bus depot right behind it, and you go to Baltimore or Philly or Richmond, or else you head the other way, west, on the little municipal bus. And whoever is doing the thinking here figured the little municipal bus was the favourite. Because the fare is cheaper, and because Union Station and the big bus depot are far too easy for the cops to watch, as are the stations and the depots at the other end, in Baltimore and Philly and Richmond, and because sleeping in the park really only gets you busted tomorrow instead of today. And on top of all that they claim to know how I live, and I don’t spend much time on the East Coast. I was always more likely to head west.’
‘But you agreed to head for Union Station.’
‘I was trying to be democratic. Trying not to be set in my ways.’
‘But how did they know we’d get out of the bus in Berryville?’
‘They didn’t. I bet they’ve already checked everywhere from about Leesburg onward. Every visible motel. Hamilton, Purcellville, Berryville, Winchester. If they don’t find us here, that’s where they’re heading next.’
‘Are they going to find us here?’
‘I sincerely hope so,’ Reacher said.
The motel office had small windows, for a decorative effect, like an old colonial house, and on the inside they were fitted with sheer drapes of some kind. No way of telling who was in the room. Turner walked to a window, and put her face close to the glass, and looked ahead, and left, and right, and up, and down. She whispered, ‘No one there. Just the clerk, I think. Or maybe he’s the owner. Sitting down, in back.’
Reacher checked the car doors. They were locked. As was the trunk. He put his hand on the hood, above the radiator chrome. The metal was hot. The car hadn’t been parked there long. He moved left, into the mouth of the courtyard. No one there. No one going from room to room, no one checking doors or looking in windows.
He stepped back and said, ‘So let’s talk to the guy.’
Turner pulled the office door, and Reacher went in ahead of her. The room was a lot nicer than the kind of place Reacher was used to. A lot nicer than the place a mile from Rock Creek, for instance. There was quality vinyl on the floor, and wallpaper, and all kinds of framed commendations from tourist authorities. The reception desk was an actual desk, like something Thomas Jefferson might have used to write a letter. Behind it was a red leather chair with a guy in it. The guy was about sixty, tall and grey and impressive. He looked like he should have been running a big corporation, not a small motel.
Turner said, ‘We’re looking for our friends. That’s their car outside.’
‘The four gentlemen?’ the guy said, with a tiny and sceptical hesitation before the word gentlemen.
‘Yes,’ Turner said.
‘I’m afraid you just missed them. They were looking for you about ten minutes ago. At least, I assume it was you they were looking for. A man and a woman, they said. They wondered if you’d checked in already.’
‘And what did you tell them?’ Reacher asked.
‘Well, naturally, I told them you hadn’t arrived yet.’
‘Are you ready to check in now?’ the guy asked, in a tone that suggested it wouldn’t break his heart if they didn’t.
‘We need to find our friends first,’ Reacher said. ‘We need to have a discussion. Where did they go?’
‘They wondered if perhaps you’d gone to get a bite to eat. I directed them to the Berryville Grill. It’s the only restaurant open at this time of the evening.’
‘The pizza place doesn’t count?’
‘It’s not exactly a restaurant, is it?’
‘So where’s the Berryville Grill?’
‘Two blocks behind us. An easy walk.’
‘Thank you,’ Turner said.
There were two ways to walk two blocks behind the motel. On the left-hand cross street, or the right-hand cross street. Covering both at once would involve splitting up, which would risk a potential one-on-four
Never Go Back by Lee Child / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5.1 out of 5 / Based on46 votes