Night school, p.22
Night School, p.22Part #21 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
Muller had replaced the papers carefully. Nothing suspicious. But where was the sketch? Presumably the American investigators had taken as many copies as they wanted. Griezman himself might have taken a couple more, to start a cover-your-ass file of his own. He would have stored the original somewhere safe. In a special drawer, perhaps. He might have dozens of sketches. A whole category. It was a detective bureau, after all.
But where? There was a side-to-side line of drawers behind the secretary’s ergonomic typing chair. They formed the base of a wall unit, with shelves above. Muller slipped in behind her desk and bent down to take a look. None of the drawers was labeled. He backed out and glanced through Griezman’s door. The inner sanctum. There were identical drawers inside, but with no shelves above. Like a credenza, with framed photographs on it, of a woman and two children. Griezman’s wife and kids, no doubt. Plus a statuette trophy for something or other. Probably nothing athletic, given the size of the guy. There was another line of file cabinets on the wall opposite. A total of twenty drawers inside the room, and four outside.
An inconvenient ratio.
Muller made a deal with himself. A one in five chance of success was better than a four in five chance of losing his job. He was useful where he was, in the long term. In the big picture. That fact had to be weighed in the balance. Therefore he would search the secretarial station, but not Griezman’s office itself. A sensible compromise. He slid in again behind the secretary’s desk. He would go left to right, he figured. A quick look. A sketch should be easy to spot. Probably done on thick paper, from an art store. Possibly a non-standard size. Probably cased in a plastic page protector.
He bent down.
A woman’s voice behind him said, “Hello?”
Surprised, and a little quizzical.
Muller straightened up and turned around.
He said nothing.
The woman dumped her purse on her desk and shucked off her coat. She hung it on a hook and bustled back. She said, “Can I help you, Deputy Chief Muller?”
Deputy Chief Muller didn’t answer.
The woman said, “Are you looking for something?”
“A sketch,” Muller said.
Muller paused a beat.
Then he said, “There was a traffic accident late last night. My division is handling it, naturally. A cyclist was knocked down. Hit and run. The driver didn’t stop. The cyclist’s companion gave us a pretty good description. A distinctive face, and an unusual hairstyle.”
“How can we help you?”
“By a coincidence my officer had just seen one of Chief Griezman’s officers, about an hour before. My officer thought it was illegal parking, but it was actually a stakeout. Chief Griezman’s officer had a sketch in his car. Of an American named Wiley. Later my officer remembered it and realized it was exactly the same face as was being described to him there and then by the cyclist’s companion.”
Griezman’s secretary said, “I see.”
“Therefore I need to show your sketch to our witness. For confirmation.”
“I would be happy to give you a copy.”
Muller said, “If it’s not too much trouble.”
“None at all.”
“Thank you very much.”
The woman ducked into the inner sanctum and Muller heard a drawer roll open. Then she came out again, with a sheet of thick paper in a plastic page protector. She switched on her Xerox machine. Muller heard clicking and ticking and smelled hot toner. He heard the elevator door thump open. He saw two more secretaries step out. Purses, coats, brisk morning motion. Both walked past, smiling and polite, ready to get to work.
Griezman’s secretary raised the Xerox machine’s lid and placed the sketch face down. She touched a button. The machine whirred. A copy came out.
The elevator door opened again. Not Griezman. Just a man in a suit. Muller knew him vaguely. The man nodded good morning and walked on by.
Griezman’s secretary handed the copy to Muller. It was done with colored pencils. A scrawny man, with a prominent brow, and prominent cheek bones, and deep-set eyes, and long yellow hair.
Muller said, “Thank you,” and walked away, down the hallway, to the fire door, and down the fire stairs, to his own floor, and his own hallway, and his own office, where he immediately set about creating a phony log entry about an injured cyclist and a hit-and-run driver. Just in case Griezman checked.
Reacher and Neagley went straight to the lobby. Neagley said, “We need to get Wiley’s movement orders. All of them. That’s the key to this thing. He’s been in-country a little over two years, and AWOL the last four months. Which gives us a critical period of a little under two years of active service. During which envelope of time he saw something, and planned, and then stole it. So we need to know exactly where he’s been. Day to day, from first to last. Because at least one day he was right next to it. Whatever it is. Maybe even touching it. Physically adjacent.”
“Minimum of one day,” Reacher said. “The day he was stealing it.”
“I think two days minimum,” Neagley said. “First he saw it, and then he figured it out, and then he came back to steal it.”
“Except he didn’t see it. Not exactly. He found it. He located it. This is a long game. He came to Germany to get it. He knew about it ahead of time.”
“Either way. Maybe more so. There was a physical encounter.”
“I want to know how he’s paying his rent,” Reacher said. “He’s a private soldier. He doesn’t have a savings plan. See if the movement orders overlap with any kind of cold-case property crimes. He got his seed money somehow.”
And then the clerk at the desk answered a ringing telephone, and pressed the receiver to her bosom, and called out, “Major Reacher, it’s for you.”
It was Orozco, calling from a cellar somewhere, judging by the sound.
Orozco said, “Are we in trouble?”
“We’re good,” Reacher said. “Currently saving the world.”
“Until we don’t.”
“In which case it won’t matter anyway.”
“I just got through talking with Billy Bob and Jimmy Lee. They confirm they could pick any name they wanted for the phony ID. But it had to be German. In case there was a random check inside the division. It was felt foreign names would stand out. But any German name was OK. Whatever they wanted. Whatever sounded good or meant something to them.”
“OK, thanks,” Reacher said. “Got to go.”
His back was against the counter, and he could see out through the glass part of the front door.
There was a guy in a doorway.
Across the street.
Reacher hung up the phone. He caught Neagley’s eye and pointed. She lined herself up with the sliver of view. She said, “I see him. Hard not to.”
“Let’s step out for some air.”
Neagley went first, and then Reacher, and the guy in the doorway startled, and then made an elaborate show of yawning and stretching and sauntering away, on the opposite sidewalk, slowly, as if he had all the time in the world.
Neagley said, “Shall we see where he’s going?”
They kept pace, ten feet behind, two lanes of morning traffic between, as the guy strolled along. He had a wool coat and no hat. He was solidly built. He was bigger than Neagley and smaller than Reacher. He turned right at the four-way. Reacher and Neagley crossed at the light and caught up again, to ten feet behind.
The guy turned right again.
Into an alley, between buildings.
“A trap, obviously,” Neagley said. “Probably a closed courtyard. No wonder the guy was easy to see. His job was to bring you here.”
“The guy wasn’t Griezman’s and he wasn’t Bishop’s. So who was he? Orozco just told us this place is mobbed up. I’m sure Helmut Klopp is a founding member. He knows what we look like and he know
“You think they’re still mad about that?”
“How big do you think the courtyard is?”
“I’m no architect, but maybe thirty by thirty. Like a large room.”
“How many guys do you think they brought?”
“Six, minimum. Seven, with the guy who led you here.”
“Led us here.”
“Until I halted the advance. A sergeant’s first duty is to keep her officer safe.”
“Is that what they teach you?”
“Between the lines.”
“Works for me,” Reacher said.
“We should head back.”
“Maybe you’re wrong.”
“I don’t think I’m wrong.”
“Maybe it’s a residential courtyard. Low-income housing. Some kind of an inner-city thing. Rooms without a view. The kind of place you live if you’re out of work. Which at least leaves you free all morning to stand in a doorway across the street from a hotel.”
“You think he was going home?”
“I think I should go find out.”
“It’s a trap, Reacher.”
“I know it is. But we need to make them worried about us. We need to keep the pressure on. We might need to make them give up the passport seller. I’m sure he’s one of them. We need Wiley’s new name. That might be the only way of getting it. Give me two minutes exactly. If I’m not out already, feel free to come on in and lend a hand.”
Reacher walked on and turned in at the alley. It was about three feet wide. Like a mean hallway in a cheap apartment. Up ahead was a rectangle of light. Morning shade, and sandstone colors. No people. They would be flat against the wall, either side of the alley mouth.
Reacher walked on in the dark, trailing his fingertips against the stone on both sides, to keep himself centered. His footsteps were loud, and a strange quacking echo came first off the walls and then off the roof. Up ahead nothing changed. Morning light, and painted concrete. Fleshy colors. Bright and clean. Bricks underfoot, like some of the sidewalks. No physical obstructions. No well heads or water pumps. All 1950s modernity.
Reacher walked on.
Then three paces from the end of the alley he broke into a run and burst out into the courtyard, moving fast, all the way to the center, where he jammed to a stop and spun around.
All still pressed flat against the wall. All evidently expecting a more cautious approach. Four of them were the four from outside the bar, the first time. Germany is for Germans. They looked partially recovered. Three of the others looked similar, but as yet undamaged. And possibly older, on average. Possibly selected on merit. One had nothing in his hands. One had a baseball bat. One had a broken bottle. Brown glass, jagged, like a miniature crown. That guy would go down first, Reacher decided. The bat guy could wait. A bat was no use in a melee. The first four would hang back. Once bitten, twice shy. The decoy from the doorway wouldn’t fight at all. Not his job. So it would be three on one initially. Not a huge problem. After that, who knew.
The guy with the bat moved first. Which was dumb but predictable. It was the biggest weapon. It set the tone. But it was useless on the run. No one could get a hit while simultaneously sprinting down a track. Not Babe Ruth, not Joe DiMaggio, not Mickey Mantle. Not even Ted Williams at his finest. Wasted effort, but indicative of an attempt at tactics. The idea seemed to be the bat would knock Reacher down, and then the guy with the bottle would follow up, leaning down, jabbing and twisting. Which meant the bottle guy was on the move very early, just two steps behind the bat guy’s shoulder, ready for his moment of glory, looking for all the momentum he could get.
But momentum was a two-way street.
Reacher sidestepped the guy with the bat and met the guy with the bottle head on, two opposing masses colliding at high speed, like a wreck on the highway. Reacher was watching nothing but the bottle, which was out in front and coming up in a panic, toward his face, in the guy’s right hand. Which made it purely a question of approximate timing. Easier than hitting a baseball. Reacher swept his left forearm up, inside out, like a guy shooing a wasp at a picnic, and it hit the bottle guy’s right forearm somewhere along its length, so that the bottle’s trajectory was slammed up and out, harmlessly over Reacher’s left shoulder, which left time and space for Reacher’s right elbow to hook around and smash the guy full in the face, which because of all of the kinetic energy was more or less like a stick of dynamite going off in the guy’s mouth. He went down faster than gravity and Reacher turned and stomped on the bottle, so no one else could use it, and then he started back toward the guy with the bat, who had spun off uselessly behind him.
Reacher decided he wanted the bat.
The guy planted his feet and started to drop into a crouch, and started to pull the bat back, low, more like a tennis swing than a baseball swing, like setting up for a cautious two-handed backhand return of serve, or a long drive off a golf tee, all his momentum cocking back, and back, and back, ahead of eventually pulling the trigger when Reacher arrived within range. Which made it another question of approximate timing. The only way to defend against the swing of a bat was to get there early, ideally before the swing had even started, or worst case in its first foot or so, where it would still be weak and slow, no more than a soft lateral thump, like walking into a fence rail at night. Getting there early required sudden acceleration, which was not easy for a guy built like Reacher, but which came naturally on that occasion. Because of motivation. Because of the difference between a soft lateral thump and a broken femur or arm or ribs. Reacher exploded at the guy and got there three inches into the bat’s forward swing, which gave him time to catch its sweet spot in the meat of his palm, and jerk it away, and add his other hand, and stab the knob of the handle at the guy’s head like a rifle butt, and connect, like a ferocious punch through a single knuckle.
The guy went down sideways and Reacher spun around, looking for the next target, which presented itself immediately in the form of the third new guy rushing in, unarmed, his hands up and open as if he was aiming for a wrestling hold. Reacher swung the bat the wrong way around, like a bad switch hitter flailing at a high fastball, a swinging strike for sure, except the third new guy was a lot bigger than a baseball, so a perfect aim was not a crucial requirement. Anywhere between the chest and the head was a bull’s-eye. The elbow, the upper arm, the neck, the skull. Or all four at once, which is what happened. The guy brought his arm up to protect his head, and the bat caught his elbow, and his triceps, which impact smashed the heavy bone of his upper arm backward into the point of his jaw, where his neck met his skull. Which dropped him to his knees, but the lights stayed on. So Reacher swung again, this time properly right-handed, probably good enough for nothing more than a fly ball at a July Fourth picnic, but more than adequate against human biology. The guy rocked sideways and then flopped forward on his face.
By that point the clock in Reacher’s head told him the fight had been running a little over four seconds. The decoy from the doorway was still plastered against the wall. Not his business. The four sides of beef from the first bar were lumbering into action. They had broken raggedly from their concealed positions and were haphazardly placed. No rhyme or reason. Just random. Which was a problem. The first two would be easy. The third would not be difficult. But the fourth would be a problem. Reacher could see that. Time and space and movement. Like astronomy. Like planets on collision courses. Orbits and angles and relative speeds. The fourth guy would come pressing in before the third guy was down. No other possibility. It was in the way their centers of gravity were moving. There was no logical sequence beyond one, two, three. No matter where a person started.
All of which made Reacher regret he had told Neagley two minutes exactly. He still had a minute and fifty-five seconds to go. With no logical way of surviv
A sergeant’s first duty is to keep her officer safe.
Maybe she had disobeyed him.
Which of course she had. He launched against the first two, using the bat like a fist, one, two, forehand, backhand, thinking ahead, lining up for the third guy, executing the pivot with speed and grace and economy, but even so the fourth guy came pressing in way too early, as predicted, just half a step behind, by blind luck timed to arrive just before the bat could start moving again.
But then the fourth guy disappeared. Like he had run full speed into a clothes rope. Like a special effect in a movie. One frame he was there, and the next he was gone. The third guy went down and behind him Reacher saw Neagley, following through from what looked like a roundhouse rabbit punch to the fourth guy’s throat.
The decoy from the doorway raised his hands.
Reacher said, “Thank you, sergeant.”
Neagley said, “You should have picked up the bottle. Better than the bat.”
Reacher walked over to the decoy and said, “Tell your boss to stop wasting my time. Tell him to come see me himself. One on one. I’ll walk him around the block. We’ll have an exchange of views.”
Then they left, back down the alley to the street, first Neagley, then Reacher. They stood in the sun and shrugged and straightened, and then they hustled back to the hotel.
Night School by Lee Child / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5.3 out of 5 / Based on48 votes