Night school, p.17
Night School, p.17Part #21 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
certain amount of aptitude and fitness. He was promoted to private first class, which indicated he had a pulse and was still in the army. He was sent to Fort Sill, to the artillery school, for assessment. He was then trained and deployed in Germany with an air-defense company.
“I can picture it,” Neagley said.
Reacher nodded, because he could, too. The bland notations in the file were more than just marks on paper. They were like a box score in baseball. A person could make a whole big story out of it. This happened, and then that. The artillery school was the pivot. Not for dummies. Wiley was clearly an acceptable soldier. Probably up there near the top of his class after basic. Not elite school material. But maybe his CO had seen an aptitude. Or invented one. Some COs counseled people based on old wives’ tales. As in, left-handed people couldn’t be snipers. People who were small and wiry should be artillerymen. And so on. But either way it had worked. Wiley had fit right in. Not easy. The Chaparral was a weird machine. It had to stop driving and be more or less rebuilt before it could fire. Then packed up and driven on and stopped and rebuilt all over again. The crews were like the pit stop crews from a NASCAR automobile race. As complicated as a ballet, timed to a tenth of a second. An incoming airplane could get real close in a tenth of a second. It was team work at its finest. Almost gymnastic. And Wiley had earned his place. Maybe small and wiry helped for real. The guy was a competent soldier. No question. But dead-ended. Three years later he was still a private. The armored divisions were no longer hiring. The front line was a thing of the past.
Had that been a surprise to him?
Reacher said, “Did the MPs on the original AWOL out there talk to his buddies from four months ago?”
Neagley nodded and said, “I already requested the transcripts.”
“What is he selling?”
Neagley didn’t answer.
Instead she said, “How mad was Sinclair?”
“Less mad than she could have been,” Reacher said. “I blew the safe house.”
“How? Griezman won’t let you down.”
“That’s what I told her. But she wasn’t convinced. Then I understood. The safe house was blown as soon as Griezman heard about it. Simple as that. It was no longer our secret. That’s what she meant. And I can see her point. Sooner or later Griezman will pass it on to his intelligence service. That’s his MO, and he’s obliged to anyway. So then the Germans will want a finger in the pie. It’s their turf. Which is too many cooks. Pretty soon the surveillance vehicles will be double-parked on the curb outside. My fault.”
“Unless we get the guy.”
“I told her that, too. But it doesn’t solve her problem. Win or lose, the Krauts will always know about that safe house.”
“We would have told them anyway. Sooner or later. Next year, or the year after. This shit will go international. Believe me. We’re all going to be cooperating our asses off. You got in early, that’s all.”
“She said the fingerprint thing is worse. It’s a federal crime.”
“Same thing. If we get the guy.”
“Or if I double-cross Griezman. If I steal his labor and give him nothing in return.”
“Did she ask you to do that?”
“I suggested it myself. I told him I would run the print. That was all. Why did I choose those particular words?”
“Subconscious wiggle room.”
“Doesn’t feel good.”
“Would going to prison feel better?”
“He’s a homicide cop with a fingerprint. What am I supposed to do?”
“What did you think you were doing?”
“I guess I was figuring I would tell him if it’s negative, and if it’s positive, maybe I would stall. I figured I could deal with it direct. That way everyone’s a winner, and I don’t break the law. Which I’m happy about, because I like that law. I like to control whether or not our people go on trial in foreign legal systems. So I made two separate errors of judgment.”
“The price,” Reacher said. “A hundred million dollars. I keep seeing it in my mind. It’s a lot of money. It’s front-burner money for sure. But I’m letting it get out of proportion. It’s all I can think about.”
“What does that mean?”
“Why do you think Sinclair was less mad at you than she could have been?”
“Maybe she secretly agrees with me.”
“No,” Neagley said. “She likes you.”
“What is this, high school?”
“More or less.”
“OK,” Reacher said.
“Trust me,” Neagley said. “She was there, and you were here. Now she’s here, too. Not rocket science. Slim is better than none, whatever the target. She’s lonely. She lives in a big empty house on a suburban street.”
“You know that?”
“I don’t think she likes me at all,” Reacher said.
“Do you like her?”
“What are you, my mom?”
“You should have listened to her more.”
“Your mom. She was French. Those ladies have got it going on.”
“What exactly are we talking about here?”
But Neagley didn’t answer that, because the room phone rang. Griezman. Reacher put him on speaker. Griezman said his people were in position, and that surveillance could be considered officially active as of that moment. The apartment house lobby fed six separate units, one to the left and one to the right of the walk-up stairwell, on each of the second, third and fourth floors. Records showed a Turkish family and an Italian family also in residence, both diplomatic households, plus three German families, all of them prosperous and solidly middle class. There was a service entrance in back of the building, and it was covered by a supplementary car, just in case, but it likely wouldn’t be used as a pedestrian exit. Not the local custom, as the sleepers would surely know. Presumably they made conscious efforts to fit in, and not stand out.
“Thank you,” Reacher said. “Good hunting.”
Griezman asked, “How long do you expect to need us?”
“Forty-eight hours or less.”
“Any news on the fingerprint?”
Reacher paused a beat.
He said, “Not yet.”
Griezman said, “Why does it take so long?”
“We’ll get it soon.”
“I know,” Griezman said. “I trust you.”
In the Educational Solutions building in McLean, Virginia, it was six hours earlier, still morning, and Waterman and Landry were working together on the background check. They had Wiley’s service number, which in the modern way was the same as his Social Security number. Which unlocked a lot of database doors. First up and most obvious were four felony arrests in the 1980s, in Sugar Land, Texas, south and west of Houston. Clearly none of the arrests had led to a conviction. A guy who had gone down the first time wouldn’t have been around to collect the next three. But, no smoke without fire. Landry dug into the details. All four arrests had been for selling stolen property. Allegedly. All four cases had failed for lack of evidence. The prosecutors had declined to prosecute. The witnesses had been vague. Possibly for real. There was no proof of threats or tampering. Wiley was a lucky man. Or subtle. After his last arrest there was nothing in his criminal record for five straight years. Then he joined the army.
“We should tell Sinclair,” Landry said. “We have confirmation. This guy steals stuff and sells it. That’s his MO.”
Waterman said, “Except that Reacher claims they have nothing there worth a hundred million dollars.”
“They must have.”
“Not stealable by a single guy. Not portable. Not operable by people who live in caves.”
“Accessible to a private soldier?”
“So he’s in the army because he’s a patriot?”
“A fifth go-round with the prosecutors. Maybe Wiley figured he couldn’t stay lucky forever.”
Landry said, “There’s nothing in the arrest record three years ago.”
“There wouldn’t be. It would have been a quiet word in the ear. It happened that way all the time.”
“This is the 1990s.”
“Maybe not in Sugar Land.”
“The guy met with the Saudi. Now he’s meeting with him again. Has to be a reason.”
Neagley left, and Reacher stayed in his room alone, because that was where Griezman would call first. No doubt about that. Purely as a courtesy. Just simple detectives, hoping for favors, one to the other. Sinclair would be called second. But the phone didn’t ring. Reacher’s neck itched, like it did after every haircut. He took off his new T-shirt and shook it out. Then he stripped completely and took another shower, with the door open, and one ear or the other out of the water stream. The phone didn’t ring. He toweled off and dressed again and looked out the window. Then he sat down in a green velvet chair. The phone didn’t ring.
There was a knock at the door.
Taller than the average, but no wider.
The dress, the pearls, the nylons, the shoes.
The face and the hair.
“I assume this is the best place to wait,” she said. “I assume Griezman will call you first.”
Not dumb, either.
“I should apologize,” Reacher said. “I made two errors of judgment. No disrespect was intended.”
She said, “May I come in?”
He stepped aside, and she walked in past him. He smelled her perfume. She looked at the phone, and then she sat down in the same chair he had been using.
She said, “I didn’t take offense. We drafted you to get things done. There’s no buyer’s remorse. Ultimately it’s you I’m worried about.”
“You were right. We ask you to do things, and if they turn out well we all claim the credit, but if they turn out badly you’re on your own. That must be stressful. Like the thing you just did in Bosnia. That can’t have been pleasant.”
“Actually it was,” Reacher said.
“Technically it was a double homicide.”
“The first guy was the commander of some ragtag ethnic army. The second guy was his second-in-command. To set an example they arrested a famous soccer player from the other community. The star of the local franchise. They handcuffed him to a radiator and broke both his legs with a sledgehammer. They paid particular attention to his knees and ankles. They left him there for an hour to contemplate his future. Then they had a couple of mattresses hauled into the room. Then they had the guy’s wife and daughter hauled into the room. They had the whole battalion line up at the door. They raped them to death, right in front of the guy’s eyes. He kept hitting his head on the radiator. He was trying to kill himself. He didn’t succeed. His wife lasted nearly twenty-four hours. His daughter was dead in six. She bled out. She was eight years old. I spent two weeks confirming the facts. I saw the mattresses. So all in all I felt pretty good about pulling the trigger. Like a guy taking the trash to the curb. Maybe not fun in and of itself, but afterward you have a clean and tidy garage. Which feels good. That’s for sure.”
“That there are such things in the world.”
“Get used to it,” Reacher said. “Things can only get worse.”
“I got a message from Waterman. Wiley was busted four times for selling stolen goods. Nothing stuck. But you know how that goes.”
“Outstanding,” Reacher said. “Now he’s in the army.”
“Where all kinds of things are streaming back to storage depots, because the front line suddenly disappeared. Where as a result security isn’t what it was. Maybe old habits die hard.”
“But what? What is he stealing and what is he selling?”
Sinclair didn’t answer.
The phone didn’t ring.
There was a knock at the door.
Or a bell girl, to be precise. With a trim uniform and a little hat. From the lobby, with a package. A plain white envelope. Large. Unmarked. It looked to have half an inch of paper in it. That kind of size. That kind of stiffness.
The girl said, “For you, sir.”
Reacher said, “Who from?”
“The gentleman wouldn’t give his name.”
“What did he look like?”
“I didn’t see well. A normal American, I think. Quite ordinary.”
One of Orozco’s guys, Reacher thought. Not Orozco himself. Too distinctive. His sergeant, maybe. The guy who was driving the car, the first time out.
He took the package and said, “Thank you.”
The girl headed back down the stairs. Reacher unflapped the envelope and peeked inside. Sinclair stood at his elbow. He could smell her perfume. He riffed the top of the papers with his thumb. He saw every first line. They were all familiar. It was a duplicate copy of Wiley’s file. The same in every respect, except this time the photocopier had been short on toner. The print was pale.
Horace-none-Wiley, fading away.
Sinclair said, “Who sent it?”
“Orozco,” Reacher said. “No one else knows I’m here.”
“Why would he send you a second copy?”
“Did you order yours through the Joint Chiefs?”
“Maybe somehow Orozco heard about it. Maybe he thought it was a big deal. A high level panic over a private first class might attract his attention. You had it sent to Hamburg. Maybe he’s giving me an early warning. Or a head start. Knowing I’m in Hamburg myself. Not knowing I’ve already seen the file.”
“The Joint Chiefs wouldn’t leak.”
“Then maybe Stuttgart did. Or Personnel Command. Orozco has friends everywhere. He’s a very popular guy. He has a sunny disposition.”
He dropped the envelope on the bed. Sinclair was still at his elbow. Very close to him. He could smell her perfume. The dress, the pearls, the shoes. The face and the hair.
The phone didn’t ring.
She said, “Waiting makes me nervous.”
He said nothing.
“I can’t relax.”
He said nothing.
“Do you get nervous?”
Yes, he thought. I’m nervous right now.
“No,” he said. “Doesn’t help anything.”
“You had your hair cut.”
“Where I got the idea about Wiley. The barber had a picture.”
“The barber did a nice job.”
“I hope so. He charged me five bucks.”
Night School by Lee Child / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5.3 out of 5 / Based on48 votes