Never go back, p.24
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       Never Go Back, p.24

         Part #18 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
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  ‘I’m in a position I don’t want to be in.’

  ‘What position?’

  ‘I’m going to have to criticize a fellow team member, and a senior officer.’

  ‘Is that one person or two?’

  ‘One person, ma’am.’

  ‘Me?’

  ‘No, ma’am.’

  ‘Morgan?’

  ‘No, ma’am. Someone else. But you’re the CO and I’m not a snitch.’

  ‘Then tell Reacher. He’s no one’s CO.’

  Leach paused a beat, and weighed up the artifice. And came out in favour, apparently, because she turned to Reacher and said, ‘Sir, I have a longstanding concern about the duty captain.’

  Reacher said, ‘How longstanding?’

  ‘Permanent.’

  ‘Why haven’t you done anything about it?’

  ‘I don’t know how. He’s a captain and I’m a sergeant.’

  ‘What’s the issue?’

  ‘He’s a doodler. He draws and scribbles all the time he’s on the phone.’

  Reacher nodded.

  ‘I’ve seen the results,’ he said. ‘On his desk. An old legal pad.’

  ‘Do you know why he does it?’

  ‘Because he’s bored.’

  ‘But sometimes he’s not bored. When big news comes through. He changes. Suddenly he’s happy.’

  ‘No law against that.’

  ‘But the pen is still in his hand. He changes, and the drawings change too. Sometimes they’re not even drawings. Sometimes he jots things down. Key words.’

  Reacher said nothing.

  Leach said, ‘Don’t you see? He deals with classified information, which is supposed to exist in physical form in one place only, which is the Rock Creek file room. For the information or parts of the information to exist in physical form elsewhere is dead against regulations.’

  Turner said, ‘Oh please, tell me.’

  Reacher said, ‘He wrote the number down?’

  ‘Yes, ma’am,’ Leach said. ‘Yes, sir. He wrote the number down.’

  Leach pulled a crumpled sheet of paper from her pocket. It was a page from the yellow legal pad Reacher had seen. It was curled at the top, wide and generous, from several days of being rolled over. It was practically covered in black ink, from a ballpoint pen. There were shapes and whorls and boxes and machines and spirals, with occasional plain-text times and names and words, some of them heavily underlined, some of them boxed in and shaded over almost to the point of illegibility.

  Leach put her fingertip on the first legible word, which was a little less than a third of the way down the page. The word was Kandahar. A proper noun. The name of a place. It had a vivid arrow sketched next to it. The arrow was pointing away from the word, emphatically. Leach said, ‘This is the last signal before the one that’s missing. This is Weeks and Edwards moving out of Kandahar, going back to Bagram on standby, as ordered. That all is still in the file room, exactly where it should be.’

  Then she jumped her fingertip to the bottom third of the page, where two words stood out, separated by a dash: Hood – Days. The H of Hood was enhanced after the fact, with baroque curlicues. A man on the phone, bored. Leach said, ‘This is the next signal after the one that’s missing. It’s still in the file room too, immediately after the Kandahar thing. This is our guys checking in from Fort Hood in Texas, reporting that they expect to be all wrapped up in a matter of days.’

  Then she moved her hand upward again and bracketed her fingers over the middle third of the page. She said, ‘So this part here is what corresponds to the gap in the record.’

  The middle third of the page was a mass of bleak doodles, with shapes and whorls repeated endlessly, and boxes and mazes and spirals. But buried right in the centre of it all were the letters A and M, followed by a four-digit number. The whole thing had been first scrawled, and then gone over carefully, with more precise lines, squared up, and sharpened, and underlined, and then abandoned.

  A.M. 3435.

  Turner smiled and said, ‘He’s technically in the wrong, sergeant, but we’re going to overlook it this one time.’

  A.M. 3435.

  Which was a number that Reacher might have remembered pretty well, because it was mildly engaging, in the sense that 3 and 4 and 3 and 5, if raised to the powers of 3 and 4 and 3 and 5 respectively, would collectively add up to exactly 3435. Which was slightly interesting. Such numbers had been much discussed by a guy called Joseph Madachy, who once upon a time had been the owner, publisher and editor of a magazine called Recreational Mathematics. Reacher had read a stack of back issues, as a kid, in the library on a Marine base in the Pacific. He said, ‘Sergeant, what’s my best way of contacting Major Sullivan at JAG?’

  ‘Directly, sir?’

  ‘Person to person.’

  ‘When, sir?’

  ‘Right now.’

  ‘In the middle of the night?’

  ‘Right this minute.’

  Leach pulled another piece of paper from her pocket. Smaller. A sheet from a scratch pad, torn in half. She said, ‘This is Major Sullivan’s personal cell. I’m sure right now it’s on her night table.’

  ‘How did you know I would need it?’

  ‘I figured that was how you were going to have to do it. Defence motions get pretty wide latitude. But permission to speak freely?’

  ‘Of course.’

  Leach took a second slip of paper from her pocket. Another sheet from a scratch pad, torn in half, just the same. She said, ‘This is Captain Edmonds’ personal cell. Your other lawyer. I think she’s a better prospect. She’s more likely to pursue it with vigour. She likes to see the right thing done.’

  ‘Even after I busted myself out of jail?’

  ‘I think so.’

  ‘So she’s an idealist?’

  ‘Get it while you can. It won’t last. It didn’t with Major Sullivan.’

  Reacher asked, ‘Is the FBI involved yet?’

  Leach said, ‘They’ve been notified.’

  ‘Who is organizing the army’s efforts?’

  ‘The 75th MP. A team led by Warrant Officer Espin. Who you met. He was the one who brought you to Dyer. People say he’s taking it personally. He claims you abused his good nature. He claims he did you a favour, and thereby inadvertently set the whole thing in motion.’

  ‘What did he do for me?’

  ‘He kept you at Dyer. Detective Podolski wanted to take you downtown. Espin said no. And then on top of that, you asked him to go get the MP duty captain right away, which he did, which he’s counting as another favour exploited.’

  ‘The duty captain would have come anyway.’

  ‘But not so quickly. And your whole plan depended on getting everything done before late afternoon. So you had to start early. Which Espin feels he accidentally facilitated.’

  ‘Is he getting anywhere?’

  ‘Not so far. But not through lack of trying.’

  ‘Can you get a message to him?’

  ‘Probably.’

  ‘Tell him to get over himself. Ask him what he would have done in our situation.’

  ‘I will, sir. If I can.’

  ‘What’s your name, sergeant?’

  ‘Sir, it’s Leach.’

  ‘No, your first name.’

  ‘Sir, it’s Chris.’

  ‘As in Christine or Christina or something?’

  ‘Just Chris, sir. That’s what’s on my birth certificate.’

  ‘Well, Chris, if I was still CO of the 110th, I’d move heaven and earth to keep you there. That unit has had its share of great NCOs, and you’re right up there with the best of them.’

  ‘Thank you, sir.’

  ‘No, thank you, sergeant.’

  Leach left after that, in a hurry, facing a four-hour drive back, followed by a full day at the office. Reacher looked at Turner and said, ‘You must be a hell of a good commander, to inspire loyalty like that.’

  ‘No more than you were,’ she said. ‘You had Frances Neagley
.’

  ‘You been reading her file too?’

  ‘I’ve been reading all the files. All the operational histories, too. I wanted to know the 110th inside out.’

  ‘Like I said, you’re a great commander.’ Reacher flattened the page from the legal pad against the top of the hotel desk, and he smoothed one of the torn halves of the scratch pad paper next to it. Then he picked up the phone and dialled Captain Tracy Edmonds’ private cell number.

  FORTY-TWO

  THERE WAS A lot of ring tone, but Reacher expected that. Cell networks can take eight seconds to route a call. And very few sleepers jump up like the movies. Most people wake up slow, and then blink and fumble.

  But Edmonds answered eventually. She said, ‘Hello?’ Her tone was a little anxious, and the sound of her voice was a little plummy, as if her tongue was thick, or her mouth was full.

  Reacher said, ‘Captain Edmonds?’

  ‘Who is this?’

  ‘Your client, Jack Reacher. Major, United States Army. Recently recommissioned. Currently manoeuvring with the 110th MP. Are you alone?’

  ‘What kind of a question is that?’

  ‘We’re about to have a privileged conversation, counsellor. We have legal matters to discuss.’

  ‘You’re damn right we do.’

  ‘Calm down, captain.’

  ‘You broke out of jail.’

  ‘That’s not allowed any more?’

  ‘We have to talk.’

  ‘We are talking.’

  ‘Really talk, I mean.’

  ‘Are you alone?’

  ‘Yes, I’m alone. So what?’

  ‘Got a pen?’

  She paused a beat. ‘Now I have.’

  ‘Paper?’

  ‘Got it.’

  ‘OK, pay attention. To better mount an adequate defence, I need hard copies of everything anyone has on a citizen of Afghanistan known to us only as A.M. 3435.’

  ‘That’s probably secret.’

  ‘I’m entitled to due process. Courts take that shit very seriously.’

  ‘Whatever, it’s a big ask.’

  ‘Fair’s fair. They have their bullshit with the affidavit.’

  ‘Reacher, I’m representing you in a paternity suit. Not the Juan Rodriguez thing. That’s Major Sullivan. And to get hard copies of military intelligence out of Afghanistan would be huge even in a criminal case. You won’t get it in a paternity suit. I mean, why would you?’

  Reacher said, ‘You told me the Uniform Code of Military Justice still lists adultery as a crime. What’s the penalty?’

  ‘Potentially substantial.’

  ‘So it’s not just a paternity suit. It’s a criminal case too.’

  ‘That’s tenuous.’

  ‘They can’t have it both ways, counsellor. They mentioned adultery as a crime. Either that means something or it doesn’t.’

  ‘Reacher, we have to talk.’

  ‘Is this where you tell me coming in from the cold would be the best thing to do?’

  ‘It would be.’

  ‘Perhaps. But I’ve chosen Plan B anyway. So I need that information.’

  ‘But how does it relate? Afghanistan hadn’t even started when you were in Korea. Or when you saw the Big Dog.’

  Reacher said nothing.

  Edmonds said, ‘Oh.’

  ‘Correct,’ Reacher said. ‘You’re pretty quick, for a lawyer. This is about Major Turner, not me. Or maybe it’s about Major Turner and me, because what we’ve got here is someone laying down a challenge to two COs of the 110th Special Unit. Which means there are going to be winners and losers, and the smart money says you need to be with the winners, because being on the right side of history brings bounty beyond imagining, in this man’s army.’

  ‘Are you going to be the winners?’

  ‘Count on it. We’re going to beat them like rented mules. And we need to, captain. They killed two of our own in Afghanistan. And beat one of your colleagues half to death.’

  Edmonds said, ‘I’ll see what I can do.’

  Turner was still in her robe, and she was showing no signs of going back to bed. Reacher asked her, ‘What was in the envelope?’

  ‘The other thing I asked Sergeant Leach for.’

  ‘Evidently. But what was it?’

  ‘We’re going to Los Angeles next.’

  ‘Are we?’

  She nodded. ‘You need to take care of the Samantha situation.’

  ‘I’ll get to it.’

  ‘Worst case, we’re going to fail here, and they’re going to lock us up and throw away the key. I can’t let that happen to you. Not before you’ve met your daughter. You’d think about nothing else, for the rest of your life. So you can put my problem on the back burner for a spell, and you can move yours to the front.’

  ‘When did you make this plan?’

  ‘Some time ago. As I was entitled to. You’re in my unit, apparently. Therefore I’m your CO. We’re going to Los Angeles next.’

  ‘What was in the envelope?’

  She answered by spilling the contents on the bed.

  Two credit cards.

  And two driver’s licences.

  She paired them up and kept one of each for herself, and she passed the others to Reacher. A New York State driver’s licence, and a Visa credit card. The licence was made out to a guy named Michael Dennis Kehoe, forty-five years old, at a Queens address. Male, blue eyes, height six-six. He was an organ donor. The picture showed a square face and a wide neck. The Visa card was in the same name, Michael D. Kehoe.

  Reacher said, ‘Are they real?’

  ‘Mine are.’

  ‘And mine aren’t?’

  ‘They’re kind of real. They’re from the undercover locker.’

  Reacher nodded. The 110th sent people undercover all the time. They needed documents. The government supplied them, authentic in every way, except for never having been issued to an actual person.

  He asked, ‘Where are yours from?’

 

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