Night school, p.26
Night School, p.26Part #21 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
All or nothing.
Wiley said, “Better safe than sorry, pal.”
He swapped hands on the gun, fast and smooth and fluid, and he cracked Schlupp hard on the temple, backhand, with the heel of the butt. He didn’t want to shoot him. Not there. Too noisy. He hit him again, forehand, on the other temple, and the guy’s head bounced around like a rag doll. When it came to rest Wiley hit him again, a vicious downward chop, right on the top of his skull, like an ax or a hammer. Schlupp fell to his knees. Wiley hit him again. Schlupp pitched forward and fell on his face. Wiley leaned down and hit him again, and again, and again, and again, and again.
Bone cracked and blood oozed and spattered.
Wiley stopped and took a breath.
He checked Schlupp’s neck for a pulse.
He gave it a whole minute, just to be sure. Still nothing. So he wiped his gun on Schlupp’s shirt, and he picked up the red file folder, and he left.
Reacher sat quietly in the corner of the consulate room, waiting for the phone to ring, wondering who would call first, either New Orleans or Deputy Chief Muller in the traffic division. It was like waiting for the winner of a slow-motion race. He pictured dawn breaking over the delta, languorously, and local FBI agents waking up and eating breakfast, slowly, and then heading out. At which point the process might get a little faster. Presumably their appointment with Wiley’s mother would be their first of the day. Given the pressure from Waterman and Landry. Possibly as early as eight o’clock in the morning, given that a welfare recipient would want to stay cool with the government. Against that semi-leisurely Louisiana timeline ran Wiley’s panel van, five thousand miles away in Germany, cruising at maybe sixty miles an hour, closing in on Hanover, and bypassing it, and leaving it behind, and rolling on south toward the unmarked cars. Who would get there first?
The phone rang.
Neither New Orleans nor Deputy Chief Muller.
It was Griezman.
Who said, “I have a serious problem.”
Reacher said, “What kind?”
“We have a homicide in the old part of town. A small man with his head bashed in. It’s a very fresh scene. A neighbor heard a noise. I feel obliged to send all my men there, at least for today. I really have no alternative. So I’m very sorry, my friend, but I am forced to suspend our temporary assistance.”
“And you’re wondering how I’m going to feel about that.”
Griezman paused a beat.
“No,” he said. “I took you at your word.”
Reacher said, “Good luck with the homicide.”
Reacher killed the call. Sinclair looked a question, and Reacher said, “We’re on our own now.”
“Because you’re such a gentleman.”
“We have time.”
“The messenger could be in Zurich by now.”
“Doesn’t matter. It’s this part that matters. Something physical in a panel van. Which can’t move like money. Not secretly in the blink of an eye. It’s slow and ponderous and noisy and visible, because it’s real.”
“Except Muller hasn’t seen it.”
“How long will you give it?”
“Two hours, maybe.”
“I’ll conclude Wiley wasn’t headed for Frankfurt.”
The phone rang again.
This time it was the New Orleans FBI, patched through direct from their car outside the one-room shack where Wiley’s mother lived. Two agents, a man and a woman. Immediate reports, as requested. They had led off their interview with the scripted questions, about the name Arnold, and the drafted rancher, and the Davy Crockett fan. Turned out they were all the same guy. His full name was Arnold Peter Mason. Born and grew up in Amarillo, Texas. As a kid he worked on a ranch, then he did twenty years in the U.S. Army, and then he lived with Wiley’s mother in Sugar Land, Texas, for a six-year spell, from when young Horace Wiley was about ten years old, until he was about sixteen. And yes, young Horace had called Arnold his uncle. He was an older man than Wiley’s mother had been accustomed to, and he was a still, silent man with secrets, but at first he had been a good provider. More details would follow.
Landry, Vanderbilt, and Neagley all plugged the name into their respective systems. Arnold Peter Mason. Landry got nothing of immediate top-line interest. Neither did Vanderbilt. Neagley got a twenty-year NCO in the airborne infantry. No gold stars, no red flags. Plenty of time in Germany, way back when anything could happen.
Still alive, according to the Social Security mainframe. Sixty-five years old. Still working, according to the Internal Revenue Service. A modest income, declining year on year. Maybe odd jobs or laboring, slowing up ahead of retirement.
The owner of a passport, according to the State Department.
No address within the United States.
The IRS said his tax returns had been filed from overseas.
CIA flagged him as living in Germany.
The Berlin embassy showed him registered as a retired-military U.S. citizen resident in a small village near Bremen. An hour away from Hamburg.
Reacher said, “Is this a co-production? Is this the two of them together?”
Neagley said, “Maybe that’s where the first truck is hidden. At Uncle Arnold’s place, not Frankfurt.”
“Then why bring a second truck now?”
“Maybe Uncle Arnold let the tires go flat.”
“Or maybe they’re going to split the load. If it’s a co-production. Maybe the hundred million is for Wiley’s half only.”
“Wait,” White said. “Look at this. Uncle Arnold has been in Germany nearly twenty years. Since Wiley was sixteen. That’s a hell of a long game.”
“And look at this,” Vanderbilt said.
Also listed along with Mason on the embassy’s register were two non-citizen dependents.
Landry said, “A buck gets ten that’s a wife and a kid.”
Then the phone rang again. The New Orleans FBI, direct from their car, with an important bullet-point update. After six years of relative happiness Mrs. Wiley had kicked Arnold Mason out of her house because she accidentally discovered he had a wife in Germany. And a son. The boy was handicapped. Mrs. Wiley didn’t have much, but she had her standards.
Wiley was a practical man, so he cleaned his gun in the dishwasher. Why not? The M9 was built to military specifications. It was designed to withstand continuous salt water immersion. He used the full pots-and-pans cycle, with the full drying phase. Then he would oil the parts and put the gun back together again, pristine and good as new.
He had balled up his spattered clothes with the red file folder and put them in the kitchen trash. A considered decision. First instinct was to take them out and dump them in a can on the street. Not too close, but not too far, either. No one liked to walk a long distance with a suspicious object in his hand. And then hypothetically there might be a full-court press, and hypothetically the trash cans on the street might get searched, so why let them draw a circle on the map and figure out where you live? Better to leave it right there. The landlord would find it in a month. By which point it wouldn’t matter.
Wiley picked up the phone and dialed his travel agent. The same girl who had booked his trip to Zurich. She spoke good English. She knew he liked a window seat. She had all the details from his shiny new passport.
Muller didn’t call. No one was surprised. The working hypothesis had changed from Frankfurt to Bremen. To Uncle Arnold’s place. Bishop brought a CIA map and spread it on a table. The embassy showed the top line of the address as Gelb Bauernhof. A name, not a street number. Therefore possibly rural. Possibly a farm. Reacher pictured barns and garages and outbuildings, and piles of worn-out tires.
He said, “We need a car.”
Bishop said, “You need a plan.”
“Uncle Arnold’s service record,” Neagley said.
Reacher said, “The plan is Sergeant Neagley and I will conduct surveillance and gather intelligence.”
“Negative,” Bishop said. “CIA and the NSC must be represented. Dr. Sinclair and I will come with you. And the rules of engagement are no engagement at all. Strictly observation only. That’s a dealbreaker. Legally, this is a complex situation.”
“Bring a weapon,” Reacher said. “Wiley has one. And if it’s a farm, they’ll have a shotgun.”
“I said observation only.”
“Bring one anyway.”
White said, “You have to get the Iranian out. You’re saying one hour from now there could be a shooting war. At that exact moment their deal is dead and the Iranian won’t survive it. If you leave him there, you’ll kill him.”
Bishop said nothing.
The phone rang.
Who said, “Do you believe in coincidence?”
Reacher said, “Sometimes.”
“Our homicide victim was a regular patron of Helmut Klopp’s bar. He did his business there. Everyone’s lying, of course, but I think he was the one who sold the ID.”
“Whispers, from other people with other things to hide.”
“Do you have a suspect?”
“Someone preventing or avenging betrayal.”
“Was someone just betrayed?”
“There are no written records in the victim’s apartment. There is however a space in an otherwise neat shelf of file folders.”
“Mission accomplished,” Reacher said.
Then he said, “Which could be ironic.”
Griezman said, “How?”
“It’s a question of timing. You buy ID and decide to kill the supplier and remove his records to prevent future betrayal. But when do you do it? That’s the question. Would a new client take that risk immediately after delivery? Or an old client at a time of maximum pressure, with his plan finally in motion, and maybe already going a little ragged at the edges?”
“I don’t know.”
“Neither do I. I guess it’s about fifty-fifty.”
“You think it’s Wiley.”
“No, I don’t. There could be any number of old clients under stress. And I think Wiley was driving a van at the time. But you’re a responsible copper. You’ll put him on your list. You’ll have to. Which means your temporary assistance just started up again.”
“I thought you gave up on that.”
“Driving the van. Muller told me you canceled your request.”
“I spoke to him an hour ago.”
“No, when did I cancel?”
“He said you discussed specifics for a while and then suddenly changed your mind.”
“Last thing I said was I didn’t know exactly where Wiley was going. He said to tell him when I did. Maybe I misunderstood. Maybe he was waiting for me to call. Maybe he never even started.”
“He said you canceled.”
“Then he misunderstood, not me.”
“I agree, his English is not excellent.”
Bishop called across the room, “The car is here.”
Bishop’s CIA car was exactly the same as Orozco’s MP car, a big blue Opel sedan identical in every respect, except it had no bulletproof divider. Bishop drove, and Sinclair sat next to him in the front. Reacher and Neagley sat in the back. Neagley was comfortable and Reacher was not. Traffic was moving. The sky was gray.
Neagley read out loud the telex summary of Arnold Mason’s service career. He had been drafted at the age of twenty, in 1951, but sent to Germany, not Korea, where he stayed for twenty years, apart from stateside trips for training and maneuvers. He was airborne infantry throughout, trained for the Soviet conflict, and deployed with good but not elite units. He was honorably discharged at the age of forty, in 1971, terminal at staff sergeant.
Sinclair said, “Prior to which he married a German girl and had a kid. Who he returned to twenty years ago after just six years away. Yet Wiley feels connected. This is a weird relationship.”
By then the view out the window was agricultural, in a flat, perfect, close-to-the-city kind of a way. The fields were as neat as vegetable gardens, and not much larger. Every road and every street had a name, neatly lettered in gothic script, black on cream. The passing villages were very small. Not much more than crowded and crooked crossroads. There were barns and outbuildings here and there, but smaller and fewer than Reacher expected. It wasn’t what he had pictured. It was less private and more orderly. It was clean and tidy. Not densely but uniformly populated. Everything was pretty close to everything else.
Bishop said, “Next but one dot on the map and we’re there.”
The next but one dot was a little larger than previous versions. A little denser. They picked up the name of Arnold Mason’s road at a free-for-all five-way in the center of town. It hooked back west of north, away from Bremen in the distance. It was lined left and right with tiny pocket-handkerchief farms, no more than small and perfectly neat houses with a few immaculate acres. There were sheds, but no barns.
Each farm had a name. All appropriately modest. All no doubt picked out by the owners, with a measure of pride. Reacher watched for Gelb Bauernhof, and suddenly understood what it meant. It was German for Yellow Farm. Yellow in Spanish was Amarillo. Where Arnold Mason was born. Amarillo, Texas. The guy had named his farm for where he grew up.
They found it fifth on the right. They were going slow, to read the names. So they got a good look. Not much to see. Maybe four acres planted in perfect lines, growing something dark green, possibly cabbages, and a small neat house, and a small neat stand-alone garage, and a small neat stand-alone shed, set back a little ways. And that was it. The garage would take a Mercedes station wagon. The shed would take a small tractor or a ride-on machine. Neither one would take a stolen furniture truck.
Bishop stopped the car a mile down the road.
Reacher said, “I should go back and knock on the door.”
Sinclair said, “That’s a risk.”
“Wiley isn’t there. No new van. No old van, either.”
“That doesn’t prove Uncle Arnold isn’t involved somehow.”
“He won’t shoot me straight off the bat. He’ll play dumb. He’ll try to talk his way out of it. I’ll let him, if necessary. I agree, if the vans were here it would be different.”
“Wiley might arrive while you’re in there.”
“It’s a possibility. But unlikely. If it happens, I’m sure Sergeant Neagley will think of something.”
“We should all go.”
“Works for me,” Reacher said.
Bishop said nothing.
“Arnold Mason is an American citizen,” Sinclair said. “You’re from the consulate. You’re entitled to make contact.”
Bishop said, “We can’t afford to screw this up.”
“We’ll shut it down at the first sign of trouble.”
“Don’t stand close together,” Reacher said. “Not at first, anyway. Not until we’re sure.”
Bishop turned the car around on the narrow road.
Night School by Lee Child / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5.3 out of 5 / Based on48 votes