Night school, p.14
Night School, p.14Part #21 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
the cheek bones, the deep-set eyes. The floppy hair. Recognizable. Griezman’s guys could watch for him, from strategically parked cars. With radios. Day after day. They might be successful. He said, “It would be a very big commitment. A lot of hours. We’d have to trade favors.”
Sinclair said, “What could we offer him?”
“A prostitute got strangled. He has a fingerprint. He wants us to run it through our systems.”
“We can’t do that.”
“What I told him.”
“Not that I can think of. Food, possibly. There’s a lot of him.”
The table went quiet again. Sinclair bent down and dug around in her pocketbook, and came out with her purse. It was a fat leather thing, blue in color, fastened with a tab and a popper. She scooped up her driver’s license, from the table next to her cup, and she unsnapped her purse, and made ready to slide the license into its customary slot.
Then she stopped.
She said, “I have my license. It’s right here.”
She pincered her fingertips and pulled it out from behind a plastic window.
Two licenses, side by side. Everything the same. The Commonwealth of Virginia, the number, the name, the address, the date of birth, the signature.
Even the photograph was the same.
The back part of Reacher’s brain checked doors and windows, and the front part checked facts and logic. Facts and logic won. But certainty was a dangerous illusion, so he said, “Maybe we should go inside.”
Neagley went first. Sinclair grabbed her pocketbook in one hand and her purse and her two licenses in the other and hustled after her. Reacher brought up the rear. They stepped through the double doors and walked through the breakfast room and up the stairs to the lobby. No one there. Sinclair said, “We should check my room.”
Reacher asked, “Where is it?”
The elevator shaft was empty. The birdcage was on an upper story.
Reacher said, “Wait one.”
He stepped over to the desk. The clerk who had checked them in was on duty. She was a stout old matron, and no doubt very competent. He asked her, “Ma’am, did a woman who resembles my friend here ask for a key? Did she show you ID?”
The clerk said, “Resembles?”
“No,” the woman said. “No one asked. No one came in. There was no woman. Just a man. He waited by the elevator. Possibly meeting a guest. But then I had to go in the office. I didn’t see him again.”
She pointed behind her, at an office door.
Reacher said, “What did the man look like?”
“He was small. He was wearing a raincoat.”
“Thank you,” Reacher said.
He stepped back to the others.
He said, “Let’s take the stairs.”
Neagley led the way, staying close to the wall, craning her neck, looking upward. The stairs wrapped around the elevator shaft. They could see into it through the filigreed wrought iron. Nothing was moving. Just chains and cables and an iron slab of a counterweight, all immobile. They made it to the second floor. Then the third. They looked up and saw the underside of the elevator car. The birdcage. It was waiting on the floor above. The top floor.
Reacher said, “If it moves, we’ll race it back to the bottom. We’ll get there first. It’s pretty slow.”
But it didn’t move. It just sat there. They walked up to where they could see into it. It was empty. Gate closed, waiting. They came around behind it, then alongside it, climbing all the way, and then finally they stepped out into the top-floor hallway.
Sinclair pointed. Third room along. Next to Reacher’s own. Upgraded. Only the best for the United States government. The door was closed.
Neagley said, “I’ll go.”
She moved silently over the thick corridor carpet. The hinge side of the door was closest, and the knob side farthest. She ducked under the peephole’s field of view and flattened against the wall beyond the door. She reached out and tried the knob backhand. Long training. Always safer. Guns can shoot through doors.
She mouthed “Locked,” and mimed that she needed the key. Sinclair tucked her purse and her licenses up under her arm and scrabbled in her bag. She came out with a brass key on a pewter fob. Reacher took it from her and tossed it to Neagley, who caught it one-handed and put it in the lock, from the same position, backhand again, at a distance, out of the line of fire.
She turned the key.
The door sagged open an inch.
Reacher stepped up and flattened against the wall on the hinge side, symmetrical with Neagley, equally safe, and he spread his fingers and pushed the door wide.
Neagley pivoted around the jamb and ducked inside. Reacher followed. Long training. Smallest first, biggest last. That way both parties got an unobstructed view. And the bigger party didn’t get accidentally shot in the back.
There was no one in the room.
Just a wide bed with a dozen green brocade pillows, and a lone wheeled suitcase with a lock, in the middle of the floor.
No one in the bathroom.
No one in the closet.
Sinclair came in and dumped her stuff on the bed. Her pocketbook, her purse, the two driver’s licenses. They spilled and fluttered. Reacher closed and locked the door. He checked the window.
Nothing to see.
Sinclair said she knew her real license by a long-forgotten smudge of ballpoint ink in one corner. From cashing a check in a D.C. bank, she said, where she needed ID, and where the writing ledge was cramped and narrow due to the thickness of the teller’s bulletproof window. The exuberant underline beneath her signature had swerved off the check and touched her license. She had rubbed the mark with her thumb, removing some of it and spreading the rest.
She put her real license back in her purse, and she put her purse back in her pocketbook. She left the fake license on the bed, and sat down next to it. She trapped it under her fingernail, as if it might float away. She said, “I guess this raises a large number of questions.”
“One, at least,” Reacher said.
“Have you ever mislaid your license before?”
“Is this the question?”
“Then I would say Mr. Ratcliffe has work to do.”
“Because they won’t want to give it to the FBI. Too high a risk of a scandal.”
“The White House.”
“Forget the White House. Someone is running around Hamburg pretending to be me.”
“Or vice versa.”
“What does that mean?”
“You might be a foreign spy,” Reacher said. “Maybe it’s the real Marian Sinclair who’s running around Hamburg.”
“Are you kidding?”
“No stone unturned.”
“Do you follow baseball?”
“Baseball,” Reacher said. “Do you follow it?”
“Socially, I suppose.”
“Where do you go?”
“What do you see beyond the right-field wall?”
Sinclair said, “A warehouse.”
“OK, you pass the test.”
“Were you serious?”
“No, I was pulling your leg. Obviously you’re real, because you brought Neagley’s mail.”
“There’s a time and a place, major.”
“These are as good as any. We could get depressed otherwise.”
“The White House didn’t forge a copy of my driver’s license.”
“We’re a stone’s throw from a bar where this stuff is for sale.”
“Coincidence,” Reacher said.
“I don’t believe in coincidence. Neither should you.”
“Sometimes we have to. If that license had been made here in Germany, however good these people are, they would have been forced to use a press photograph. From a newspaper or a magazine. Re-shot on regular film, to make it look like the real thing, and definitely you, but it couldn’t be the exact same photograph as on your real license, because they don’t have that photograph. Only the Virginia DMV has that photograph. You never mislaid your license, so it can’t have been copied direct.”
“So who made it?”
“The Virginia DMV.”
“Which is many things, but not a criminal organization.”
“Far from it. They did it as a statutory duty. As a service to the public. When you mislaid your first license and requested a replacement.”
“But I never did. I told you that.”
“They didn’t know it wasn’t you. Someone filled out the form, with your name and address, and mailed it in, and then monitored your mailbox until the replacement arrived.”
“Someone who works in the White House travel office. An older person, who has been in government service a long time. Hence the potential embarrassment. Hence Ratcliffe won’t give it to the FBI.”
“Why the travel office?”
“Partly because DMV paperwork needs more than just your name and address. There are all kinds of numbers. The people who book your flights and your cars and your hotels would know them all.”
“My lawyer knows them all. My accountant knows them all. Probably my housekeeper knows them all.”
“You were eating breakfast under an assumed name four thousand miles from home. Your replica DL was dropped twenty feet away. You don’t believe in coincidence. Who knew you were here?”
Sinclair paused a beat and said, “The White House travel office.”
“No one else.”
“Not even the hotel desk,” Reacher said. “You’re using a different name. Only one possible explanation. Someone in the travel office made a phone call.”
“To who? Some local woman trained to impersonate me?”
“There is no local woman. No one went to the desk. No one entered the lobby except a small man in a raincoat.”
“So what happened?”
“The small man in the raincoat knew your ETA. The night flight, on Lufthansa. Someone in the travel office told him all about it. He followed you from the airport to the hotel, he hung around across the street, he saw you check in, he saw you get in the elevator, he snuck in the lobby, he called the elevator back down, he dropped the license on the floor, and he turned around and walked away.”
“Why did he do all that?”
“It was a message. I think you were supposed to find the license yourself. You went up to dump your bag, and he expected you to come back down again for breakfast.”
“I took the stairs.”
“Why an older person who has been in the travel office a long time?”
“You can figure that out. In fact I think you already have. You’re not wondering who the man in the raincoat was. Because you know.”
“You’re pretty sure.”
“There are things I can’t tell you.”
Neagley said, “Let me hazard a wild-ass guess. You guys ran a black operation somewhere and gave our side German papers. For false-flag cover. Or just for the fun of it. Or the Israelis did, with your permission. The German government found out and got upset. You wouldn’t admit it or discuss it, so now their intelligence service is applying some very civilized German-style pressure. They’re saying, see, we can do it, too. They’re asking, how do you like it now? There’s an element of showing off in there, I guess, but why not? It’s all very discreet, and ultimately harmless. But unsettling, I imagine.”
“Why an older person who has been there a long time?”
“They have embassy people who could have done it, but deniability is always a good thing, so they called on a local asset. There are no new relationships of that type. Not for the new Germany. They’re all historic survivors from the old East Germany. Some young U.S. government worker, way back when, hoping for a revolution, copying documents and leaving them under a rock in a park. Then he buys a house and needs some cash, and it rolls on, until eventually the new Germany and its new intelligence service inherit him. Now finally he’s useful. He knows your home address, because he’s in the travel office now. So he runs the license scam, and he delivers the replacement to the embassy. Ratcliffe’s too, maybe, plus whoever else they’re tweaking. Where they all wait patiently in a drawer, until the first of you comes to Germany. Which would be you, this morning. Lufthansa cooperated, because it’s a state airline. You didn’t fly alone. A German embassy worker got a last-minute seat, with your license in an envelope. Which is why the man in the raincoat had to follow you from the airport. He could have waited here, because he knew where you were headed, because the travel office booked your room, but he had to meet the flight first, because the embassy worker had to hand off the envelope. The license was about two minutes behind you, all the way into town.”
Sinclair was quiet for a long time. Then she said, “I won’t comment on any of that. But obviously we couldn’t admit it. If such a thing had happened. Which I’m not saying either way.”
Reacher asked, “Are you going to respond?”
“That would be a complicated double bluff, wouldn’t it?”
“You could go to Griezman. Make him bluff. He’ll make nice to you, but then he’ll bury it behind your back, in order to be seen as a reliable guy by his own government. Which would do him good. He might regard that as a favor. He might watch the safe house in return.”
“Simpler for him to insist on us running the fingerprint.”
“Which we should anyway. A woman was killed. It would be the right thing to do.”
“That’s the view from the cheap seats?”
“Should be the view from every seat.”
Sinclair said nothing.
Reacher said, “We could run it privately. If it’s a null result, we could tell him. If it isn’t, we could figure something out as we went along.”
“What are the odds?”
“Soldiers use hookers but don’t usually kill them. And she was expensive, judging by the neighborhood. Which makes it even less likely.”
Night School by Lee Child / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5.3 out of 5 / Based on48 votes