Never go back, p.22
Never Go Back,
Part #18 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
Getting to Pittsburgh meant cutting northwest across the state, and hitting I-79 somewhere between Clarksburg and Morgan-town. Then it was a straight shot, basically north. Safe enough, Reacher thought. The Toyota was as big as a house and weighed three tons, but it was effectively camouflaged. What’s the best place to hide a grain of sand? On a beach. And if the Toyota was a grain of sand, then West Virginia’s roads were a beach. Practically every vehicle in sight was a full-size pick-up truck. And Western Pennsylvania would be no different. A visitor from outer space would assume the viability of the United States depended entirely on the ability of the citizenry to carry eight-by-four sheets of board, safely and in vast quantities.
The late start to the day turned out to be a good thing. Or a feature, not a bug, as Turner might have put it. It meant they would be driving the highway in the dark. Better than driving it in the light. On the one hand highways got the heaviest policing, but on the other hand cops can’t see what they can’t see, and there was nothing less visible than a pair of headlights doing the legal limit on an Interstate highway at night.
Reacher said, ‘How are we going to get the exact A.M. number?’
Turner said, ‘We’re going to take a deep breath and go way out on a limb. We’re going to ask someone to get all snarled up in a criminal conspiracy, aiding and abetting.’
‘Sergeant Leach, I hope. She’s pretty solid, and her heart is in the right place.’
‘I agree,’ Reacher said. ‘I liked her.’
‘We have records and transcripts in the file room. All she has to do is go take a look at them.’
‘And then what?’
‘Then it gets harder. We’ll have a reference number, but not a name or a biography. And a sergeant can’t access that database. I’m the only one at Rock Creek who can. Morgan now, I suppose, but we can hardly ask him.’
Reacher said, ‘Leave that part to me.’
‘You don’t have access.’
‘But I know someone who does.’
‘The Judge Advocate General.’
‘You know him?’
‘Not personally. But I know his place in the process. He’s forcing me to defend a bullshit charge. I’m entitled to cast the net wide in my own defence. I can ask for pretty much anything I want. Major Sullivan can handle it for me.’
‘No, in that case my lawyer should. It’s much more relevant to my bullshit charge than yours.’
‘Too dangerous for the guy. Moorcroft got beaten half to death for trying to get you out of jail. They’re never going to let your counsel get near that information.’
‘Then it’s dangerous for Sullivan, too.’
‘I don’t think they’ll be watching her yet. They’ll find out afterwards for sure, but by then it’s too late. There’s no point closing the barn door after the horse is out.’
‘Will she do it for you?’
‘She’ll have to. She has a legal obligation.’
They drove on, quiet and comfortable, staying in West Virginia, tracking around the jagged dip where the end of Maryland’s panhandle juts south, then setting course for a town called Grafton. From there the Toyota’s electronics showed a road running northwest, which joined I-79 just south of Fairmont.
Turner said, ‘Were you worried?’
Reacher said, ‘About what?’
‘Those eight guys.’
‘Then I guess that study from when you were six was right on the money.’
‘Correct conclusion,’ Reacher said. ‘Wrong reasoning.’
‘They thought my brain was wired backward. They got all excited about my DNA. Maybe they were planning to breed a new race of warriors. You know what the Pentagon was like back then. But I was too young to take much of an interest. And they were wrong, anyway. When it comes to fear, my DNA is the same as anyone else’s. I trained myself, that’s all. To turn fear into aggression, automatically.’
‘At the age of six?’
‘No, at four and five. I told you on the phone. I figured it was a choice. Either I cower back, or I get in their faces.’
‘I’ve never seen anyone fight with no hands.’
‘Neither had they. And that was the point.’
They stopped for gas and a meal in a place called Macomber, and then they rolled on, ever westward, through Grafton, and then they took the right fork, through a village called McGee, and eventually they came to the I-79 entrance ramp, which the Toyota told them was about an hour south of the Pittsburgh International Airport, which meant they would arrive there at about eight in the evening. The sky was already dark. Night had closed in, secure, and enveloping, and concealing.
Turner said, ‘Why do you like to live like this?’
Reacher said, ‘Because my brain is wired backward. That’s what they missed, all those years ago. They looked at the wrong part of me. I don’t like what normal people like. A little house with a chimney and a lawn and a picket fence? People love that stuff. They work all their lives, just to pay for it. They take thirty-year mortgages. And good for them. If they’re happy, I’m happy. But I’d rather hang myself.’
‘I have a private theory. Involving DNA. Far too boring to talk about.’
‘No, tell me.’
‘Some other time.’
‘Reacher, we slept together. I didn’t even get a cocktail or a movie. The least you can do is tell me your private theories.’
‘Are you going to tell me one of yours?’
‘I might. But you go first.’
‘OK, think about America, a long time ago. The nineteenth century, really, beginning to end. The westward migration. The risks those people took. As if they were compelled.’
‘They were,’ Turner said. ‘By economics. They needed land and farms and jobs.’
‘But it was more than that,’ Reacher said. ‘For some of them, at least. Some of them never stopped. And a hundred years before that, think about the British. They went all over the world. They went on sea voyages that lasted five years.’
‘Economics again. They wanted markets and raw materials.’
‘But some of them couldn’t stop. And way back there were the Vikings. And the Polynesians, just the same. I think it’s in the DNA, literally. I think millions of years ago we were all living in small bands. Small groups of people. So there was a danger of inbreeding. So a gene evolved where every generation and every small band had at least one person who had to wander. That way the gene pools would get mixed up a little. Healthier all around.’
‘And you’re that person?’
‘I think ninety-nine of us grow up to love the campfire, and one grows up to hate it. Ninety-nine of us grow up to fear the howling wolf, and one grows up to envy it. And I’m that guy.’
‘Compelled to spread his DNA worldwide. Purely for the good of the species.’
‘That’s the fun part.’
‘That’s probably not an argument to make at your paternity hearing.’
They left West Virginia and entered Pennsylvania, and five miles after the line they saw a billboard for a shopping mall. The billboard was lit up bright, so they figured the mall was still open. They pulled off and found a faded place anchored by a local department store. Turner headed to the women’s section with a wad of cash. Reacher followed after her, but she told him to go check the men’s section instead.
He said, ‘I don’t need anything.’
She said, ‘I think you do.’
‘A shirt,’ she said. ‘And a V-neck sweater, maybe. At least.’
‘If you get something you can give me my old shirt back.’
‘I’m going to junk it. You need something better.’
‘I want you to look nice.’
So he browsed on his own, and he found a shirt. Blue flannel, with white buttons. Fifteen dollars. And a
Then twenty minutes later Turner came back, head-to-toe different. New black zip boots, new blue jeans, a tight crew-neck sweater, and a cotton warm-up jacket. Nothing in her hands. No shopping bags. She had trashed the old stuff, and she had bought no spares. She saw him noticing, and said, ‘Surprised?’
‘A little,’ he said.
‘I figured we should stay nimble right now.’
They moved on to the smaller stores in the mall’s outlying regions and found an off-brand pharmacy. They bought folding toothbrushes and a small tube of toothpaste. Then they headed back to the truck.
The Pittsburgh International Airport was way far out from the city, and the Interstate led them straight to it. It was a big, spacious place, with a choice of hotels. Turner picked one and parked in its lot. They split Billy Bob’s remaining money nine different ways, and filled every pocket they had. Then they locked up and headed for the lobby. No luggage was no problem. Not at an airport hotel. Airport hotels were full of people with no luggage. Part of the joy of modern-day travel. Breakfast in New York, dinner in Paris, luggage in Istanbul. And so on.
‘Your name, ma’am?’ the clerk asked.
Turner said, ‘Helen Sullivan.’
Reacher said, ‘John Temple.’
‘May I see photo ID?’
Turner slid the two borrowed army IDs across the desk. The clerk glanced at them long enough to establish that, yes, they were photo IDs, and yes, they had the names Sullivan and Temple on them. He made no attempt to match the photographs with the customers. In Reacher’s experience few such people did. Possibly outside their responsibilities, or talents.
The guy said, ‘May I swipe a credit card?’
Reacher said, ‘We’re paying cash.’
Which again was no problem at an airport hotel. Credit cards and travellers’ cheques go missing too, because however bad the baggage handling is, the pickpocketing is good. Reacher peeled off the room rate plus a hundred extra for incidentals, as requested, and the guy was happy to take it. In exchange he gave up two key cards and directions to the elevators.
The room was fine, if not radically different in principle from the cell in the Dyer guardhouse. But in addition to the basics it had a minibar refrigerator, and free bottles of water, and robes, and slippers, and chocolates on the pillows.
And a telephone, which Turner picked up and dialled.
REACHER HEARD THE purr of a ring tone. Turner had the handset trapped between her shoulder and her neck, and she mouthed, ‘Leach’s cell number.’ Then her eyes changed focus as the call was answered. She said, ‘Sergeant, this is Susan Turner. My official advice to you as your commanding officer is to hang up immediately and report this call to Colonel Morgan. Are you going to do that?’
Reacher didn’t hear Leach’s answer, but it was obviously no, because the conversation continued. Turner said, ‘Thank you, sergeant. I need you to do two things for me. First, I need the A.M. number in the original signal from Weeks and Edwards. The transcript should be in the file room. Is Colonel Morgan still in the house?’
Reacher didn’t hear the answer, but it was obviously yes, because Turner said, ‘OK, don’t risk it now. I’ll call back every hour.’ Then she stayed on the line, ready to ask about the second thing she wanted Leach to do for her, but Reacher didn’t hear what it was, because right then there was a knock at the door. He crossed the room and opened up, and standing there was a guy in a suit. He had a walkie-talkie in his hand, and a corporate button in his lapel. A hotel manager of some kind, Reacher thought.
The guy said, ‘I apologize, sir, but there’s been a mistake.’
Reacher said, ‘What kind of a mistake?’
‘The incidentals deposit should have been fifty dollars, not a hundred. When paying in cash, I mean. For the phone and the minibar. If you order room service, we ask you to pay the wait staff direct.’
‘OK,’ Reacher said.
So the guy dipped in his pocket and came out with fifty dollars, two twenties and a ten, all fanned out, like Reacher had won a prize on a television show, and he said, ‘Again, I apologize for the overcharge.’
Reacher took the money and checked it. U.S. currency. Fifty bucks. He said, ‘No problem,’ and the guy walked away. Reacher closed the door. Turner put the phone down and said, ‘What was that?’
‘I guess the clerk at the desk hadn’t gotten a memo. We’re supposed to lodge fifty with them, not a hundred, because room service is all cash.’
‘How was Sergeant Leach?’
‘She’s a brave woman.’
‘You know her number by heart? A sergeant you just met in a new command?’
‘I know all their numbers by heart.’
‘You’re a good commander.’
‘What was the second thing you asked her for?’
‘You’ll see,’ Turner said. ‘I hope.’
Romeo dialled, but Juliet was slow to answer. Romeo rubbed his palm on the leather arm of the chair he was sitting in. His palm was dry, and the leather was smooth and lustrous, made that way by fifty years of suited elbows.
Then in his ear Juliet said, ‘Yes?’
Romeo said, ‘The names Sullivan and Temple just came up in an airport hotel in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Fortunately for us its register is linked to Homeland Security. Being at an airport.’
‘Is it them, do you think?’
‘We’ll have descriptions soon. The hotel is sending a man up to take a look. But I think it has to be them. Because what are the odds? Those two names in combination? As far as we know, those are the only IDs they have.’
‘But why the airport in Pittsburgh?’
‘Doesn’t matter why. Where are our boys?’
‘On their way to Los Angeles.’
‘See how fast you can turn them around.’
The room was warm, so Reacher took off his miracle coat, and Turner took off her new jacket. She said, ‘You want to get room service?’
‘Before or after?’
‘Before or after what?’
‘Before or after we have sex again.’
Reacher smiled. In his experience the second time was always better. Still new, but a little less so. Still unfamiliar, but a little less so. Always better than the first time, and in Turner’s case the first time had been spectacular.
‘After,’ he said.
‘Then take your clothes off,’ she said.
‘No, you first this time.’
‘Because variety is the spice of life.’
Never Go Back by Lee Child / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5.1 out of 5 / Based on46 votes