61 hours, p.27
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       61 Hours, p.27

         Part #14 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
 

  ‘You’re not blond or Californian.’

  ‘Is that OK?’

  ‘Brunette could work for me. Brown eyes?’

  ‘You got it.’

  ‘Long hair, right?’

  ‘Longer than it should be.’

  ‘Excellent.’

  ‘You want to revisit the A-cup thing too?’

  ‘Got to be honest. I’m just not hearing it.’

  She laughed. ‘OK, I confess. You’re right.’

  ‘Height?’

  ‘Five feet seven.’

  ‘Pale or dark?’

  ‘Neither, really. But I tan well.’

  ‘You want to see South Dakota in the winter?’

  She laughed again. ‘I prefer the beach.’

  ‘Me too. Where are you from?’

  ‘Montana. A small town you never heard of.’

  ‘Try me. I’ve been to Montana.’

  ‘Hungry Horse?’

  ‘Never heard of it.’

  ‘Told you,’ she said. ‘It’s near Whitefish.’

  ‘You like the army?’

  ‘Did you?’

  ‘You’ve got my file,’ Reacher said.

  ‘And half the time I’m thinking, man, if you hated it that bad, you should have just gotten out while the getting was good.’

  ‘I never hated it. Not for a minute. I just wanted to fix what was wrong with it.’

  ‘Above your pay grade.’

  ‘I learned that, eventually.’ Reacher looked around the hallway. The closed door, the dark panelling, the oil paintings, the Persian carpet. The rare woods, the wax, the polish, the patina. He had all the information he was ever going to get from or through the 110th. No real reason to keep on talking.

  The voice asked, ‘What are you doing in South Dakota anyway?’

  He said, ‘I was on a bus that crashed. I got hung up here.’

  ‘Life is a gamble.’

  ‘But the deck is stacked. No bus that I was on ever crashed in a warm place.’

  ‘You behaving yourself up there?’

  ‘Why wouldn’t I be?’

  ‘These files get tagged if an outside agency asks to take a look. You know, the FBI or a local police department or something. And yours is tagged to hell and back. Folks have been all over you for the last twelve years.’

  ‘Anything from here in the last two days?’

  ‘A transcript went out to someone called Thomas Holland at the Bolton PD.’

  ‘The Chief of Police. Probably routine. He wanted to know I was qualified, because he wanted my help. Back when he thought the stone building was an army place. Any follow-up?’

  ‘No.’

  ‘That’s because I’m behaving myself.’

  A long pause.

  Time to go.

  He asked, ‘What’s your name?’

  ‘Does it matter?’

  ‘I could find out. The way the army is now, you’re probably on a web site somewhere.’

  ‘Are you kidding? The 110th? No way. We don’t exist.’

  ‘So what’s your name?’

  ‘Susan.’

  ‘Nice name.’

  ‘I think so too.’

  Another long pause.

  Time to go.

  He asked, ‘Is your air force guy at Lackland?’

  ‘Yes. Talking to their records guys in Colorado.’

  ‘Ask him to try one more time. Obviously that stuff was flown in. There has to be a cargo manifest somewhere.’

  ‘I’ll try.’

  ‘Call me back?’ he asked.

  ‘You bet,’ she said.

  Reacher went back to the kitchen and took another cup of coffee. The house was quiet. No significant sound from the outside. No significant sound from the inside either, except for the subliminal vibe of calm alert people concentrating hard on the business at hand. It was the kind of silence Reacher had heard a hundred times before. He carried his mug to the parlour and found Janet Salter reading there. She looked up from her book and said, ‘You’re drinking coffee.’

  Reacher said, ‘I hope you don’t mind.’

  ‘Not at all. But doesn’t it keep you awake?’

  He nodded. ‘Until I want to go to sleep.’

  ‘How was she?’

  ‘Who?’

  ‘The woman in Virginia.’

  ‘She was fine.’ Reacher stepped to the window and took a look at the street. Snow, ice, the parked cruiser, frozen foliage moving stiffly in the wind. A little moonlight, a little high cloud, a distant orange glow from vapour lamps on the streets to the north and the east. He said, ‘All quiet.’

  Janet Salter asked, ‘Do you think the state penitentiary and the federal prison have the same lock-down time as the county jail?’

  ‘I imagine so.’

  ‘Then we’re safe for a spell, aren’t we? Heads have been counted and there’s no opportunity for mass disturbance until the morning.’

  ‘In principle.’

  ‘But?’

  ‘Hope for the best, plan for the worst.’

  ‘Is that your motto?’

  ‘One of many.’

  ‘What are the others?’

  ‘Never forgive, never forget. Do it once and do it right. You reap what you sow. Plans go to hell as soon as the first shot is fired. Protect and serve. Never off duty.’

  ‘You’re as hard on yourself as you are on others.’

  ‘Cruel but fair.’

  ‘I can’t stand this kind of tension much longer.’

  ‘I hope you won’t have to.’

  ‘For the first time in my life I’m afraid. It’s a very elemental thing, isn’t it?’

  ‘It’s a choice,’ Reacher said. ‘That’s all.’

  ‘Surely everyone’s afraid of death.’

  ‘That was another motto. I’m not afraid of death. Death’s afraid of me.’

  ‘You sound like you were trying to convince yourself.’

  ‘We were. All the time. Believe me.’

  ‘So you are afraid of death.’

  ‘We all have to go sometime. Depends what form it takes, I guess.’

  Janet Salter went quiet for a moment. Then she said, ‘I met my successor at Yale two years ago. At a library conference. It was an interesting experience. I imagine you feel the same way, talking to the woman in Virginia.’

  ‘She isn’t my successor. Not directly. There could have been six or seven other people in between me and her. Maybe more. It’s a distant connection. Almost archaeological.’

  ‘Is she better than you?’

  ‘Probably.’

  ‘That’s how I felt, too. At first I was depressed about it. Then I realized actually I should feel encouraged about it. Progress is being maintained. The world is still moving forward.’

  ‘How long have you been retired?’

  ‘A little more than ten years.’

  ‘So you got back here before the prison was built.’

  ‘Years before. It was a different town then. But not too different, I suppose. The real change is still to come. We’re still in a transitional phase. The real change will come when we get used to it. At the moment we’re a town with a prison in it. Soon we’ll be a prison town.’

  ‘So what was it like?’

  ‘Gentle,’ Janet Salter said. ‘Quiet. Half the size. No fast food, only one motel. Chief Holland was a young man with a family. Like Andrew Peterson is now. I don’t know why, but that symbolizes the change for me. Everything felt cheerful and young and lighthearted. Not old and tired and bitter, like it is now.’

  ‘What happened to Holland’s wife?’

  ‘Cancer. But mercifully quick. Their daughter Liz was fifteen at the time. Which could have been awkward, but she seemed to handle it quite well. She was named for her mother. Her mother went by Betty, and she went by Liz. They were very similar in every way. Which could have been awkward for the chief, too, but he got past it. He was already involved in the early stages of planning the prison by then, which took his mind off it
.’

  ‘And what was the Lowell divorce all about?’

  ‘I told you, I don’t know. But the fact that no one speaks of it invites speculation, doesn’t it?’

  ‘His fault or hers?

  ‘Oh, his, I think.’

  ‘Peterson said he has a sister who looks just like him.’

  ‘In a way. Much younger than him. More like a niece.’

  ‘Are you going to stay here, even when it’s a prison town?’

  ‘Me? I’m far too old to start over somewhere else. What about you?’

  ‘I couldn’t stay here. It’s too cold.’

  ‘Eventually you’ll want to stay somewhere.’

  ‘Hasn’t happened so far.’

  ‘See how you feel thirty years from now.’

  ‘That’s a far horizon.’

  ‘It will come faster than you expect.’

  Reacher put his empty mug on a low table. He wasn’t sure whether to stay in the room or to leave her alone to read. He wasn’t sure which she would prefer.

  ‘Sit,’ she said. ‘I’ll have plenty of time to read after all this fuss is over.’

  He sat.

  She asked, ‘Are you warm enough?’

  He said, ‘I’m fine.’ Which he was. The ancient radiator under the window was putting out plenty of heat. The hot water in the pipes was coursing around the house relentlessly. He could hear it. He could hear the occluded right-angle joint at the top of the stairs, hissing a little louder than the others. He pictured the burner in the basement, roaring, and the pump, running hard. Unlimited heat, available around the clock. Much better than the arrangement in Andrew Peterson’s farmhouse. The old iron wood stove, banked and cooling all night, barely warm by morning.

  He stared into space for a second.

  He said, ‘Stupid.’

  Janet Salter asked him, ‘Who or what?’

  ‘Me.’

  ‘Why?’

  ‘I need to make a phone call.’ He got up and stepped out to the hallway. Spoke to the cop sitting on the bottom stair. Said, ‘I need Andrew Peterson’s home number.’

  The cop said, ‘I’m not sure I’m at liberty to give it to you.’

  ‘Then dial it for me. I won’t look.’

  She dialled it for him. Checked that she was getting ring tone, and then handed the receiver to him. Kim Peterson answered. Reacher introduced himself and said, ‘I’m very sorry to disturb you, but I need to speak with Andrew.’

  ‘He just got home.’

  ‘I know. I’m sorry. But it’s important.’

  There was a long delay. Maybe Kim had to go drag Peterson out of his den. But he came on the line eventually.

  ‘Problem?’ he asked. ‘The opposite,’ Reacher said. ‘I know where the key is. For the stone building.’

  Five to nine in the evening.

  Seven hours to go.

  THIRTY-TWO

  REACHER STAYED ON THE LINE AND PETERSON SPENT A MINUTE talking to himself about what to do next. Like he was thinking out loud. He said, ‘The prison was locked down an hour ago, so the siren is not going to sound. It can’t, really, can it? There’s no opportunity. The guy could come without the siren, I suppose, but in that case we’ll still have plenty of bodies in the way. Four in the house, three on the street. All of them are good people. I made sure of that. So right now it doesn’t really matter whether you’re there or not, does it? You’re superfluous. In a temporary sense. So it’s safe enough for you to come out. Do you agree?’

  ‘Safe enough,’ Reacher said.

  ‘I’ll pick you up in ten minutes.’

  Reacher went back to the parlour. Janet Salter looked up at him. He told her he was going out, and where, and why. He said, ‘If the cops have to leave, what do you do?’

  She said, ‘Lock myself in the basement.’

  ‘With?’

  ‘My gun.’

  ‘When?’

  ‘Straight away, I suppose.’

  ‘Correct,’ Reacher said. ‘Straight away, immediately, instantly, no delay at all, before the cops are even out through the door. You lock yourself in, and you stay there until I get back.’

  ‘With the password.’

  ‘Correct,’ Reacher said again. ‘And even if the cops don’t actually leave, you go down there if you sense any kind of commotion at all. Any kind of uneasiness, any kind of extra nervousness, any kind of heightened alert, OK?’

  ‘You think the man might come with the police still in the house?’

  ‘Hope for the best, plan for the worst. If the cops get a bad feeling, they won’t tell you right away. They won’t want to look stupid afterwards, if it turns out to be nothing. So it’s up to you to figure it out. Trust your gut. Any doubt at all, get the hell down there, fast. A stray bullet can kill you just the same as one that was aimed.’

  ‘How long will you be gone?’

  ‘Two hours, maybe.’

  ‘I’ll be fine.’

  ‘You will if you do what I say.’

  ‘I will. I promise. I’ll go down and lock the door and wait for the password.’

 
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