Night school, p.16
Part #21 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
you should forget it as soon as you can.”
The kid said, “How long are you staying?”
“These are cramped accommodations.”
“A great struggle requires a great sacrifice. But don’t get ambitious. I heard they killed my predecessor with a hammer. The same will happen to you. If I say so. Or if I don’t get back.”
She had been coached.
Sinclair did as Reacher had asked. She unlocked her suitcase and took out what looked worse than the first wireless telephone ever invented. Like a brick.
“Satellite phone,” she said. “Encrypted. To the office.”
She pressed buttons and waited for answering beeps, and then she said, “I want the personnel jacket for U.S. Army Private First Class Wiley, first name unknown, currently four months absent without leave from an air defense unit in Germany. To me in Hamburg, seriously fast.”
Then she clicked off.
The National Security Council.
The keys to the kingdom.
There was a knock at the door.
For an illogical split second Reacher thought, seriously fast, you bet your ass.
The door opened. A guy came in. Busy, bustling, sixty-something, medium size, a gray suit, a tight waistband, a warm and friendly face. Pink and round. Lots of energy, and the start of a smile. A guy who got things done, with a lot of charm. Like a salesman. Something complicated. Like a financial instrument, or a Rolls-Royce automobile.
“I’m sorry,” the guy said. To Sinclair only. “I didn’t know you had company.”
American. An old-time Yankee accent.
No one spoke.
Then Sinclair said, “Excuse me. Sergeant Frances Neagley and Major Jack Reacher, U.S. Army, meet Mr. Rob Bishop, CIA head of station at the Hamburg consulate.”
“I just did a drive-by,” Bishop said. “On the parallel street. The kid’s bedroom. The lamp has moved in the window.”
Bishop wouldn’t let them see for themselves. He said he had driven by, and then driven by again, immediately, which was one time too many on any given visit. But he had to, because something wasn’t right. But even so, he couldn’t allow a third go-round. He knew which window to look for, and they didn’t. He would have to crawl past and point it out. A third consecutive pass, driving slow, four people hunched down in the car, craning their necks. Too obvious. Not going to happen. Couldn’t risk it.
Reacher asked, “What wasn’t right?”
“The kid was supposed to move the lamp from the edge of the sill to the middle of the window. But it’s only halfway there. It’s way off center. It’s not exactly the prearranged signal.”
“Which means what?”
“One of three things. First, maybe he only had half a second. In and out, real quick. Or second, maybe he felt moving the lamp all the way was too obvious. Maybe the others are in and out of his room all the time. They might notice. Who takes a moment to move a lamp the same day their old pal shows up again? These guys are not interior decorators. They have other things on their minds. Maybe it was a bad idea.”
“He hasn’t called?”
“Presumably that’s difficult right now. Presumably they’re all in a huddle. They’re excited about this, remember.”
“What’s the third thing?”
“He’s trying to tell us something.”
“What kind of something?”
“Something has changed. Some new factor. As if he’s trying to say, it is but it isn’t. As if for instance the messenger is here in Hamburg, but the rendezvous is somewhere else. Maybe the guy told them he has to take the train to Bremen. Or Berlin. They could meet on the train. That could be a smart way to do it. They could meet accidentally and talk for a minute. Or it could be something else completely.”
Sinclair said, “We have forty-eight hours to figure it out.”
“If they stick to the same schedule,” Neagley said. “Which they might not. It’s a lottery. Travel could be delayed. I imagine they’re making connections all over the place. Including third world countries. So I assume they build in extra time. If the planes go on schedule, then they get to hang out for two days. But if the planes are late, then they have their meetings more or less immediately. Or somewhere in between. That would be my assessment.”
Bishop said, “We need eyes on the apartment building.”
“Can’t do it,” Sinclair said. “Can’t risk the safe house.”
“We’re blind if we don’t. We’re passing up a solid-gold chance of getting the guy.”
Reacher looked at Bishop. An unexpected ally.
Sinclair said, “There are future considerations.”
“That’s then and this is now.”
“Can’t do it,” Sinclair said again.
“We’re already doing it,” Reacher said.
“Chief of Detectives Griezman agreed to watch the apartment building. Plain-clothes officers in cars. They’re pretty good. We saw them at work. Or rather, we didn’t.”
Sinclair went pale. Anger mostly, Reacher figured.
She said, “Starting when?”
“Maybe this afternoon,” he said. “Depends on his scheduling issues.”
“Why is he doing it?”
“I asked him to.”
“In exchange for what?”
“I’m running the fingerprint.”
Sinclair said, “Major, I need to talk to you.”
Reacher said, “You are talking to me.”
Neagley said, “Use my room. We won’t hear you from there.”
She tossed her room key, a soft underhand arc, and Sinclair caught it, one-handed, no trouble at all.
She said, “Follow me.”
Which Reacher did, down the corridor, to Neagley’s room. Sinclair went all the way in, to the window, and she turned around with the light behind her.
Taller than the average, but no wider.
The black dress, the pearls, the nylons, the shoes.
The face and the hair, combed with her fingers.
She said, “You disobeyed an order.”
Reacher said, “I don’t remember an order. I don’t remember much of anything after the National Security Adviser told us we get anything we need. And we need this. It could save us a year. Without it all we got is a regular manhunt. For a guy already four months AWOL, with a brand-new foreign passport. Instead of that we could have a Saudi kid in a pink shirt and pointed shoes lead us directly to him. Right here and now. Who wouldn’t take that deal? The future means nothing if we don’t live to see it.”
“So you broke the law, but only because you thought you had a good reason. You and everyone else. There are lots of good reasons. Too many good reasons. Which is why we have a special structure, to decide between them, when they compete one against the other. That structure is called the National Security Council. We weigh things up and we judge priorities. You just blew a year’s hard work, major. You should resign. Before the after-action report comes out. You’ll get a better deal that way.”
“OK,” Reacher said. “I will, if it turns out bad.”
“You also just blew up forty years of legal precedent about which databases are secret and which are not. That’s a court martial offense all by itself. It’s a federal crime.”
“OK,” Reacher said. “If it turns out bad, I’ll plead guilty.”
“You’re guilty however it turns out.”
“Doesn’t work that way. If it turns out good I get the Legion of Merit.”
“What is this, a joke?”
Reacher said, “No, it’s a gamble. And so far I’m beating the house. The messenger is back in Hamburg. That was ten-to-one at best. But it just paid out. We should ride the wave and keep on winning. Griezman’s OK. He won’t blow the safe house. The boys inside are very complacent. They pay
Sinclair waved it off, like he was missing the point. Then she said, “The fingerprint issue is serious. Legal and political. No one can make that go away.”
“I could say I worded the promise very carefully. I said I would run the print. That was all. I didn’t say I would share the result. A deception for sure, but hey, welcome to the major leagues. I could say for people like me it’s always the same gamble. Eggs get broken, the omelet gets made, and if it turns out tasty, then all is forgiven.”
“And if it doesn’t?”
“I’m always open to new experiences.”
No reply from Sinclair.
Reacher said, “If this turns out bad, you’re going to turn me in. You’re going to give evidence at the court martial. I understand that. And you’ll give it willingly. I understand that, too. You command us, but you don’t approve of us. I’ve played this game before. No hard feelings.”
“What if it turns out good?”
“Then you won’t turn me in and there won’t be a trial. You’ll get a glowing letter in your file, and I’ll get another medal.”
“Which will it be?”
“It’s in the bag. It’s a done deal. This is an AWOL soldier. He and I are in the same city. It’s money in the bank.”
“Are you always this confident?”
“I used to be.”
“What are you now?”
“Are you sleeping with your sergeant?”
“No, I am not. That would be inappropriate. And generally frowned upon, too. Not least by her.”
“She’s crazy about you.”
“We get along, as friends and colleagues.”
Sinclair said nothing in reply.
There was a knock at the door. Neagley herself, Reacher figured, right on cue, checking if Sinclair had killed him yet. Or Bishop, checking if he had killed Sinclair. He opened up, standing to one side, out of the line of fire.
Neither Neagley nor Bishop.
It was a young American man in a department-store suit and a Brooks Brothers tie. He was carrying a rubber pouch with a zip. It looked to have half an inch of paper in it. That kind of size. That kind of stiffness.
The guy said, “For Dr. Sinclair. From the consulate. The document she requested.”
You bet your ass.
Reacher took the pouch and handed it to Sinclair. The guy in the suit went back down the stairs. Reacher and Sinclair went back to her room, where the others were waiting.
Sinclair unzipped the pouch and Reacher smelled copier paper still hot from the printer. There had been a flurry of phone calls, he guessed, and then a high-speed digital transmission incoming from somewhere, either Personnel Command back home, or Stuttgart maybe, directly into the Hamburg consulate, where a high-speed machine had done fast work, and where the young attaché in the Brooks Brothers tie had caught the tumbling pages and butted them together and zipped them up and grabbed a cab. The National Security Council. Even faster than the army press room.
The pages were crisp clear monochrome copies of a standard-issue army personnel file, for Private First Class Horace-none-Wiley, who was thirty-five years old, and from Sugar Land, Texas. He was coming to the end of his first three-year hitch. He had been a thirty-two-year-old recruit. He was five feet eight inches tall, and lightly built. Like a long-distance runner.
The second page had his photograph. It was clipped to the top right corner. Not a passport thumbnail like the old days, but a bigger print. Maybe three inches by two. The Xerox process had bleached out the highlights, like liquid neon, and made the shadows sooty. The image of the paperclip itself looked photographic, but also radioactive.
It was the same guy.
The Xerox imperfections gave the picture a hand-made quality, like a sketch done in charcoal. Like the sketch done in pencil. The same sketch. The same guy. No question. Zero doubt. The brow, the cheek bones, the deep-set eyes. The nose, like a blade. The crease in the cheek, exactly parallel. The set jaw, like he was clamping his teeth. The mouth, like a thin wound, completely expressionless.
Only the hair was different. The photograph was three years old. Horace-none-Wiley had signed on with a regular country-boy buzz cut. A slam dunk, where Army Regulation 670-3-2 was concerned. The extreme, the eccentric, and the faddish had all come later.
“We’ll show the photograph to Mr. Klopp,” Sinclair said. “But there’s really no doubt about it. Congratulations, major. And sergeant. Outstanding work. You started with two hundred thousand.”
Reacher said, “Only because someone made a dumb note about a dumb phone call, which survived about seven different levels of bureaucracy before winding up with the United States government itself. We’re always trying to cut down on paperwork. Maybe we should rethink that.”
“Now we wait. For a Saudi kid in a pink shirt and pointed shoes to come on out and take a walk.”
Sugar Land was what Wiley intended to call his new ranch. Or Sugarland, all one word. Not that he would grow sugar. It was cattle country. He was going to have the largest herd in the world. And the best. But first he would need a name across the top of his gate. Fancy wrought iron. Maybe leave it in red primer. Sugar Land would look good. All in capital letters. Or all one word, Sugarland. And it would be a kind of personal tribute. To an old ambition. Once upon a time he had tried to make it in Sugar Land. But it was a tough old town. Now he was buying a place forty times bigger than the entire incorporated municipality.
It was like falling. At first he had fought it, and then he had gone with it. And then he had fallen even faster. Everything had sped up around him. Which was why he was ready way too early. Ready for the meeting. He felt he had to be prepared. Especially now. The endgame would happen quickly. It always did.
In Sinclair’s presence Reacher called Griezman from the room phone, on the speaker, and he gave him Wiley’s name, to go with the face, and he told him as far as they knew the messenger had already arrived, and then he reconfirmed all the various protocols, about how to call it in if something happened, and above all about being cautious around the apartment. But not so cautious he would miss something. A tough job. But Griezman sounded on top of it. He agreed to all the points. His language was convincing. Reacher saw Sinclair relax a little. Then she looked at him, right in the eye, a level gaze. He wasn’t sure why. Either half approving, because the crazy plan might be working after all, or half disapproving, because now he had made her complicit.
Then Bishop went back to the consulate, and Reacher and Neagley left Sinclair in her room and stopped in at his, to read Wiley’s file front to back. Their first question was why the guy had waited until the age of thirty-two to join the army. Abnormal behavior, right there. But there was no note from the recruiter. Nothing to explain it. Neagley called Waterman’s guy Landry, back in McLean, and she suggested he get the background check started right away. Thirty-two years of it, from the day the guy was born to the day he put on the green suit. There had to be a reason.
An old man or not, Wiley’s early progress looked conventional. He completed basic training without complications, which indicated he had a
Night School by Lee Child / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on48 votes