Night school, p.20
Night School, p.20Part #21 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
to bring the guy in for further and better particulars. Then she checked Wiley’s personnel file for the commanders who had written his initial fitness reports. Fort Benning, and then Fort Sill. She called a friend in Personnel Command. The Benning guy had moved on to Bragg. The Sill guy was still in Oklahoma, three years later. She got the numbers and started dialing.
Muller scanned one scrap of paper after another. Griezman’s output was prodigious. Most of it was normal ass-covering bullshit. Trivia from below to be shoveled up above. Standard practice. Everyone did it. No one ever wanted the buck to stop with him. No one ever wanted to be at an official inquiry, saying, “Yes, it was me who judged it not worth passing on. So it’s all my fault.”
There were routine reports from every kind of case. None of them meant anything. Until five stapled pages about Helmut Klopp. An interrogation. Photographs. Issues with the translator. No knowledge of what had been said in the bar. Actual conversation had not been overheard. The American investigators were named as Reacher and Neagley. But that was all. Nothing about where they were staying. Muller thought the consulate, maybe. Or maybe not. They were U.S. Army, not CIA. A hotel? Nothing was mentioned.
He plowed on. Safe enough, as long as he kept his light low and his door shut. An unexpected visitor could be counted on to knock. Or at least call out. Not that there would be an unexpected visitor. It was late, and the building was quiet. Eventually he came to an interim report about a surveillance operation. Recent. That evening, in fact. He had dumped the pile upside down. He was reading it in chronological order. The surveillance had been fruitless. The negative result had been communicated to Reacher in his hotel room. Which meant the Hamburg police had run an operation for the American military.
Reacher’s hotel was not named, but the switchboard number Griezman had called was recorded. The traffic division had access to a standard reverse phone directory, so Muller started his computer and looked up the number.
And got the hotel’s name.
He knew the place very well. A bijou establishment on a side street, in a good but not-quite-best neighborhood. Sometimes the manager called to complain about people parking right in front. Because that ruined the image. They had a guy with a top hat. Where was he supposed to stand? Muller himself had been out there twice. Nothing he could do. Not without two years of due process to get the curb changed. Which the city’s lawyers would never allow. Suppose all the small hotels wanted the same treatment? Chaos. It was already bad enough with the big brands.
Muller picked up his desk phone and dialed Dremmler at home.
Reacher stepped around the guy with the top hat and set out walking. It was midnight local time. The streets were lit by lamps on poles, and by the soft light of storefronts dimmed to a nighttime glow, and by the blue flicker of late shows on television sets behind undraped apartment windows. He walked a figure-of-eight around two random blocks and saw no one behind him. Or ahead of him. Or in the shadows. Just a routine precaution. A habit. He was thirty-five years old and still alive. Had to mean something.
He found the street with the bar in it. Where Klopp had seen Wiley the first time. Where Billy Bob and Jimmy Lee had sold their scrap Berettas. Where German ID was for sale. He stopped forty yards short and eyeballed the place from an angle. The ground floor of the stone building, the center door, the planked wood façade, varnished and shiny. The small windows, with their lace curtains, and their paper flags. The lights were on inside. By night they looked warm and welcoming.
Reacher crossed the street and went in through the door. Inside it was smoky and loud. It was late, but there were maybe sixty people still in there, mostly men, in tight private groups of three or four. Some were at tables, and some were standing, cramped and back-to-back with other huddles. There were upholstered benches under the windows. All were full, like seats on a rush-hour subway. Reacher eased through the crowd, gently but firmly, like a police horse at a riot. Most folks got out of his way fast enough. They looked like business people, or clerical workers. Some of them senior, some of them doing well. Reacher didn’t see Wiley. He didn’t expect to. He was a lucky man, but not that lucky. He sensed people looking at him from behind. Delayed reaction. Weren’t we warned about a man like that?
He made it to the bar after a roundabout route, and he wedged himself in, and waited to be served. Both bartenders were men. Both had heavy canvas aprons tied around their waists. One glanced his way. Reacher asked for a cup of black coffee. The guy set an espresso machine going, and ducked back for his money. Reacher asked him no questions. Life wasn’t like the television shows. Bartenders never spilled the beans. Why would they? Who came first, the sixty people they had to live with every night of their lives, or the lone guy they had never seen before?
Instead he carried his coffee into the crowd and sat down in the spare seat where three guys were at a four-top table. They looked at him like he had committed an embarrassing faux pas, and then they looked away, and a lot of coughing and false starts indicated they were changing the subject. And commenting. Reacher heard the word arschloch, which he knew from many in-country arguments meant asshole. But he didn’t react. Instead he drained his cup and headed for the pay phone on the opposite wall. He got a coin ready and dialed Orozco.
Orozco said, “Are we in trouble?”
Reacher said, “No, we’re good. If I get the guy.”
“I thought you almost had him.”
“I screwed up. I didn’t expect a woman messenger. Live and learn.”
“So what now?”
“Did Billy Bob and Jimmy Lee tell you who sold them the ID?”
“They won’t. They’re scared. This is some kind of big mobbed-up thing. But not Italian. Nostalgic Germans instead. They have members and chapters and rules and all kinds of things. Billy Bob and Jimmy Lee are more afraid of them than me.”
“And the bar is where these guys meet?”
“It’s their unofficial HQ.”
“And what are they exactly?”
“The biggest far-right faction. So far all talk, but that can’t last forever.”
“OK, tell Billy Bob and Jimmy Lee we don’t care who they bought their ID from. Tell them we won’t ask again, in exchange for an answer to one simple question. They gave the impression they picked out their new names themselves. One of them said because he liked the sound of it. Ask them if that’s true. Could they really get any name they wanted?”
“OK,” Orozco said. “I’ll ask them. Anything else?”
“Not right now.”
“Are we in trouble?”
“Don’t worry. We’re golden.”
“If you get the guy.”
“How hard can it be?”
Reacher hung up the phone and turned to face the room. By that point lots of people were looking at him. Word had gotten around. There was a huddle at the street door, and another at the back door. Both sets of guys were watching him. Waiting for him. Which meant the fight would be outside. He would leave, and they would follow. If there was a fight. Which was not certain. These were mostly above average people. Above average age, above average weight. Heart attacks just waiting to happen. Discretion would be the better part of valor for most of them. The exceptions were of no real concern. They were younger and a little fitter, but they were desk workers. Nothing to worry about. Reacher was a good street fighter. Mostly because he enjoyed it.
He pushed off the wall and parted the crowd, chest out, as straight and slow as a funeral march. No one blocked him. He made it to the street door. In front of it was a tight knot of six men. In their thirties, probably, and none of them slender. But desk workers. Their suits were shiny on the ass and the elbow. He could read their body language. They were set to let him pass, and then they would about-turn fast and spill out behind him, on the damp and shiny cobblestones.
Reacher said, “You speak English?”
One guy said
“You ever wonder why? Why you speak my language and I don’t speak yours?”
“Never mind. What are your orders?”
“If I wanted a parrot I’d go to a pet store. Someone just told you to do something. Tell me what it was.”
“Then I’ll have to evaluate a large number of theoretical possibilities. One of which is you want a rumble on the sidewalk. Maybe that’s not true at all. Maybe I’ve misjudged you terribly. But I’ll have to err on the side of caution. You see that, right? It’s my only sensible course of action. So don’t follow me out the door. Maybe all you want is a breath of air. But erring on the side of caution means I’ll have to interpret it as a hostile act. Current NATO doctrine requires an immediate reaction with overwhelming force. I know you have a welfare state, but a hospital is still a hospital, no matter who pays for it. No fun at all. So my advice is to sit this one out.”
“You’re afraid of us.”
“Sadly, no. I’m trying to be fair, is all. No reason for you to get hurt. If one of your bosses has a beef with me, send him out alone. I’ll walk him around the block. We’ll have an exchange of views. That way everyone’s a winner.”
Reacher pushed his way between the first guy and the second, and pulled the door. He slid out around its swing and took two fast paces to the curb and turned around.
No one followed.
He waited in the gutter a whole minute, but no one came out. He turned his collar up against the nighttime mist and set out walking back to the hotel. From the corner he saw the guy with the top hat was gone. The evening shift had ended, and the night shift had started. He slowed down and scanned ahead. Habit.
There was a guy in a doorway on the other side of the street. Barely visible. He was lit from the side, softly, in green, by a pharmacy sign two units further away. He was wearing a dark parka and a little Bavarian hat. Probably had a feather in the band. He was watching the hotel. No doubt about that. He was face-on to it, wedged in the doorway corner. White, and a little stout. Maybe six feet and two-ten. Hard to say how old.
Reacher walked on. Maybe part of a diplomatic protection team. A courtesy from the German government. Maybe they had found out Sinclair was in town. Or maybe Bishop had sent a guy. From the consulate. A third under-deputy for cultural affairs, with brass knuckles in his pocket. Trained under the previous system.
Reacher walked on, looking at nothing in particular, with the guy in the corner of his eye. But then a car turned in from the four-way up ahead, and bright headlights came straight at him, fast and dazzling, a big vehicle pattering over the cobblestones.
The car stopped alongside him. A Mercedes. A department Mercedes. Griezman. Who buzzed the passenger window down and said, “Get in. I’ve been calling you. I thought you must be asleep with the phone turned off. I was coming to wake you up.”
Reacher said, “Why?”
“We saw Wiley.”
Reacher glanced up.
The man in the doorway was gone.
“Get in,” Griezman said.
Griezman took off fast, his seat back yielding and groaning under the sudden acceleration. He said one of the cops in one of the unmarked cars parked at the bar earlier in the evening had been a night-shift guy, brought in early on overtime rates of pay, and therefore still on duty, still on his regular watch. Still with the sketch of Wiley on the seat beside him. He had been cruising the western edge of St. Pauli, and he had seen a guy he swore matched the sketch. Carrying a bottle-shaped carrier bag from an all-night wine store. Walking south toward the water.
Reacher said, “When?”
“Twenty minutes ago.”
“How sure is he?”
“I believe him. He’s a good cop.”
Traffic was light, but the road surface was slick, and most other drivers were heading home from bars, so Griezman wasn’t as fast as he might have been. But even so they got where they were going within ten minutes. They stopped between high buildings, twenty yards short of a crossroads. Griezman said the possible Wiley had been seen crossing the street, up ahead, walking right to left from the cop’s point of view. Now thirty minutes ago, in total. In that direction lay huge new apartment blocks. A brand-new residential development. Immense. On reclaimed land, from when the docks moved downriver, in search of more space. There were thousands and thousands of separate addresses.
Reacher said, “Rentals, right?”
Griezman said, “You think he lives there?”
“He was carrying a bottle of wine. Conceivably taking it to a party, but more likely taking it home. Given the late hour.” Reacher looked the other way, to his right. He said, “I bet I know what he bought. Let’s go find the store.”
The store was a clean, well lit place, with what looked like a fine selection of wines, red, white, rosé, and sparkling, including a shelf of lower-priced items, for folks who didn’t live in brand-new residential developments. The clerk was an amiable old guy of about sixty-something. Reacher took his copy of Wiley’s sketch from his pocket and the old guy confirmed it immediately. The man in the sketch had been in the store about forty minutes previously. He had bought a bottle of chilled champagne.
“He’s celebrating,” Reacher said.
“Credit card?” Griezman asked.
“He paid cash,” the clerk said.
Reacher looked at a plastic bubble on the ceiling above the clerk’s head. He said, “Is that a security camera?”
The clerk said it was, and it fed a VHS recorder in the back room. Griezman knew how to work it. It gave a decent black-and-white picture, looking down from behind the clerk’s shoulder. The angle was wide. It was a dual-purpose installation. Customers were clearly visible, but so was the register drawer. In case the clerk was skimming.
Griezman wound the tape back forty minutes and Wiley came in right on cue. No doubt about it. The hair, the brow, the cheek bones. The deep-set eyes. He looked dead-on average height, but scrawny, in a hardscrabble kind of a way. He moved with energy and purpose. And confidence. Almost a swagger. Physically he looked athletic. Not bouncy like a kid, but trained and mature. He was thirty-five years old, like Reacher himself. All grown up.
On the tape Wiley stepped over to a chiller and opened the glass door and took out a dark bottle with a thin neck.
“Dom Perignon,” Griezman said. “Not so cheap.”
Wiley carried the bottle to the register and took crumpled bills from his pocket. He counted them out and the clerk made change with coins. Then the clerk put the bottle in a bottle-shaped bag and Wiley carried it away. Thirty-seven seconds, beginning to end.
They watched it again.
The same things happened.
“Now show me the neighborhood,” Reacher said.
They got back in the car and Griezman drove south, pattering slowly over the cobblestones, following what must have been Wiley’s earlier route, past where the cop had seen him, between scarred brick warehouses, and eventually to a brand-new traffic circle that led left or right or straight ahead into the new development’s feeder roads.
Griezman stopped the car. The engine idled, and the wiper flopped back and forth about once a minute. Reacher looked ahead. He could see a hundred thousand windows. Most were dark, but a few were lit.
He said, “Are these places expensive?”
Griezman said, “All of Hamburg is expensive.”
“I’m wondering how Wiley pays the rent.”
“He doesn’t. No one named Wiley is registered here. We already checked.”
“We think he’s using a German name.”
“That would make a difference.”
“Possibly one he chose himself.”
“Does he offend you?”
“He’s betraying his country. Which is also mine.”
“Do you l
“Perhaps that answers my question.”
“I prefer to think of it as healthy yet skeptical respect.”
“Not very patriotic.”
“Exactly patriotic. My country, right or wrong. Which means nothing, unless you admit your country is wrong sometimes. Loving a country that was right all the time would be common sense, not patriotism.”
Griezman said, “I’m sorry your country is having these troubles.”
Reacher said, “Do you love your country?”
“It’s too early to say. It was only fifty years ago. We changed more than any other country has ever changed. I think we were doing OK. But the people from the east have set us back. Economically, of course. And politically. We’re seeing things we haven’t seen before.”
“Like the bar Helmut Klopp called you from.”
Night School by Lee Child / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5.3 out of 5 / Based on48 votes