Never go back, p.28
Never Go Back, p.28Part #18 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
stole their wallets.’
‘On the plane?’
‘He broke Lozano’s fingers and Baldacci’s arms and no one noticed.’
‘That’s not possible.’
‘Apparently it is. One against two, on an airplane, with a hundred witnesses. It’s a blatant humiliation. And now he’s renting cars on our dime? Who does this guy think he is?’
Reacher thought he was a bad driver. At first he had meant it as a safety-first subterfuge, rightly assuming it would remind him to concentrate, but then he had learned it was true. His spatial awareness and his reaction times were all based on a human scale, not a highway scale. They were up close and personal. Animal, not machine. Maybe Turner was right. Maybe he was feral. Not that he was a terrible driver. Just worse than the average driver. But not worse than the average I-710 driver, on that particular morning, on the section known as the Long Beach Freeway. People were eating, and drinking, and shaving, and brushing their hair, and applying make-up, and filing nails, and filing papers, and reading, and texting, and surfing, and holding long conversations on cell phones, some of which were ending in screams, and some of which were ending in tears. In the midst of it all Reacher tried to hold his speed and his line, while watching the drift and the wobble up ahead, and calculating which way he should swerve if he had to.
He said, ‘We should stop and call Captain Edmonds. I want to know if she can get what we need.’
‘Keep it on the back burner,’ Turner said.
‘I would if I could. But they won’t let us. Their other two guys might have been on that flight to Orange County. Or else on the next Long Beach departure. Either way they’re only an hour or two behind us.’
‘Knowing what Edmonds can or can’t get won’t help us with them.’
‘It’s tactically crucial,’ Reacher said. ‘Like in the field manual. We have to assess whether they need to retain unimpaired cognitive function for future interrogation.’
‘That’s not in the field manual.’
‘Maybe they cleaned it up.’
‘You mean if Edmonds has failed, you’ll keep the two guys alive so you can beat it out of them?’
‘I wouldn’t beat it out of them. I would ask them nicely, like I did with the Big Dog. But if I know I don’t need to ask them anything, then I can let nature take its course beforehand.’
‘What course will that be?’
‘The future’s not ours to see. But something uncomplicated, probably.’
‘Reacher, you’re on the way to see your daughter.’
‘And I’d like to live long enough to get there. We can’t do a front burner and a back burner thing. Not on this. We have to do two front burners. Ma’am. Respectfully submitted.’
Turner said, ‘OK. But we’ll buy a phone, so we don’t have to keep on stopping. In fact we’ll buy two phones. One each. Prepaid, for cash. And a street map.’
Which they did about a mile later, by coming off the freeway into a dense retail strip anchored by a chain pharmacy, which carried pre-paid cell phones and maps, and whose registers accepted cash along with every other form of payment known to man. They put the map in the car, and stored each other’s numbers in their phones, and then Reacher leaned on the Range Rover’s warm flank and dialled Edmonds’ cell.
She said, ‘I made the application at start of business today.’
‘So far there have been no motions to deny.’
‘How soon would you expect them?’
‘Instantly. Or sooner.’
‘So that’s good.’
‘Yes, it is.’
‘So how long?’
‘Later today, or early tomorrow.’
‘Got a pen?’
‘I want you to check Peter Paul Lozano and Ronald David Baldacci with HRC.’
‘Who are they?’
‘I don’t know. That’s why I want you to check.’
‘Relevant to anything in particular?’
‘To being on the right side of history.’
‘I heard something you should know.’
‘Detective Podolski found your clothes in the landfill. They’ve been tested.’
‘The blood didn’t match.’
‘Should I hold my breath waiting for an apology from Major Sullivan?’
‘She’s coming around. She was very touched you left her an IOU.’
‘Is the Metro PD dropping out now?’
‘No. You fled after a lawful police challenge.’
‘That’s not allowed any more?’
‘I’ll do my best with Lozano and Baldacci.’
‘Thank you,’ Reacher said.
And then they got back on the freeway and headed north, just one of ten thousand moving vehicles winking in the sun.
Romeo called Juliet and said, ‘I spoke to the gentleman known as Cool Al directly, on a pretext, and he tells us they’re in a twenty-year-old black Range Rover.’
Juliet said, ‘That’s good to know.’
‘Not the fastest car on the planet. Not that any would be fast enough. I put our boys on a helicopter. Orange County to Burbank. They’ll be in position at least an hour ahead of time.’
‘Who paid for it?’
‘Not the army,’ Romeo said. ‘Don’t worry.’
‘Did you cancel Baldacci’s credit card? Lozano’s, too, I suppose.’
‘I can’t. Those are personal cards. They have to do it themselves, as soon as they get out of the hospital. Until then we’ll have to reimburse them, as always.’
‘This thing is costing us a fortune.’
‘Little acorns, my friend.’
‘Not so little.’
‘Nearly over. Then it’s back to business as usual.’
Reacher kept on dodging the eaters, and the drinkers, and the shavers, and the hair stylists, and the make-up artists, and the nail filers, and the file filers, and the readers, and the texters, and the surfers, and the screamers, and the criers, and he made it as far as East Los Angeles, where he took the Santa Ana Freeway, up to the 101 in Echo Park. Then it was a long slow grind, northwest through the hills, past names he still found glamorous, like Santa Monica Boulevard, and Sunset Boulevard, and the Hollywood Bowl. And then his telephone rang. He answered it and said, ‘I’m driving one-handed on the 101 with the Hollywood sign on my right, and I’m talking on my phone. Finally I feel like I belong.’
Edmonds said, ‘Got a pen and paper?’
‘Then listen carefully. Peter Paul Lozano and Ronald David Baldacci are active duty soldiers currently long-term deployed with a logistics battalion out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina. They’re assigned to a company trained for the infiltration and exfiltration of sensitive items into and out of Afghanistan, which at the moment, of course, is all exfiltration, because of the drawdown, which is also keeping them very busy. Their fitness reports are currently above average. That’s all I know.’
Which information Reacher relayed to Turner, after hanging up, and Turner said, ‘There you go. Stuff that should be making it home isn’t.’
Reacher said nothing.
‘You don’t agree?’
He said, ‘I’m just trying to picture it. All these sensitive items, coming out of caves or wherever, and most of them getting loaded up for Fayetteville, but some of them getting dumped in the back of ratty old pick-up trucks with weird licence plates, which then immediately drive off into the mountains. Maybe the trucks were full of cash on the inward journey. Maybe it’s a cash-on-delivery business. Is that what you’re thinking?’
‘More or less.’
‘Me too. A fishbowl. A lot of stress and uncertainty. And visibility. And risk of betrayal. That’s where they learn who to count on. Because everything is against them, even the roads. How sensitive are these things? Are they OK in the back of a ratty old pick-up truck with a weird licence plate?’
‘All the action is in Afghanistan. But our guys are at Fort Bragg.’
‘Maybe they’re just back from Afghanistan.’
‘I don’t think so,’ Reacher said. ‘I noticed the first minute I saw the first two. I figured neither one of them had been in the Middle East recently. They had no sunburn, no squint lines, and no stress and strain in their eyes. They’re homebodies. But they’re also the A team. So why keep your A team in North Carolina when all your action is in Afghanistan?’
‘Typically these people have an A team on each end.’
‘But there is only one end. Stuff comes out of the caves and goes straight into the ratty old pick-up trucks with the weird licence plates. It never gets anywhere near Fort Bragg or North Carolina.’
‘Then maybe I’m wrong. Maybe they’re selling it in America, not Afghanistan. That would need an A team at Bragg, to siphon it off.’
‘But I don’t think that’s happening either,’ Reacher said. ‘Because small arms is all they could sell, realistically. We’d notice anything heavier. And to sell enough small arms to make the money they seem to be making would flood the market. And the market isn’t flooded. Or you would have heard about it. Someone would have dropped a dime if there was a torrent of military stuff for sale. Domestic manufacturers, probably, getting squeezed out. The message would have gotten to your desk eventually. That’s what the 110th is for.’
‘So what are they doing?’
‘I have no idea.’
Reacher remembered all the pertinent data from Candice Dayton’s affidavit, including her lawyer’s name, and his office address. Turner had found the right block on the street map, and her left thumbnail was resting on it, and her right index finger was tracing their progress, and her two hands were getting very close together. They crossed the Ventura Freeway, and she said, ‘Keep on going until Victory Boulevard. It should be signposted for the Burbank airport. Then we’ll drop down from the north. I imagine most of their focus will be to the south. We’ll be on their blind side.’
Victory Boulevard turned out to be the next exit. Then they made a right on Lankershim, and tracked back south and east, exactly parallel with the freeway they had left minutes before.
‘Now pull over,’ Turner said. ‘From here on in we go supercautious.’
REACHER PARKED IN the mouth of a cross street, and they gazed south together, at the blocks north of the Ventura Freeway, which were a bustling A–Z catalogue of American commercial activity, from medium size on down through small and all the way to super-tiny, with retail enterprises, and wholesale enterprises, and service enterprises, some of them durable, some of them wildly optimistic, some of them up-and-coming, some of them fading fast, some of them familiar and ubiquitous. A visitor from outer space would conclude that acrylic nails were just as important as eight-by-four boards.
Turner still had the map open, and she said, ‘He’s on Vineland Avenue, two blocks north of the freeway. So make a left on Burbank Boulevard, and then Vineland is a right, and then it’s a straight shot. No one knows this car, but we can’t afford to drive by more than two times.’
So Reacher set off again, and made the turns, and drove Vineland like anyone else, not slow and peering, not fast and aggressive, just another anonymous vehicle rolling through the sunny morning. Turner said, ‘He’s coming up, on the right side, next block. I see a parking lot out front.’
Which Reacher saw, too. But it was a shared lot, not the lawyer’s own. Because the right side of the block was all one long low building, with a shake roof and a covered walkway in front, with the exterior walls painted what Reacher thought of as a unique Valley shade of beige, like flesh-coloured make-up from the movies. The building was divided along its length, into six separate enterprises, including a wig shop, and a crystal shop, and a geriatric supplier, and a coffee shop, and a Se Habla Español tax preparer, with Candice Dayton’s lawyer more or less right in the centre of the row, between the magic crystals and the electric wheelchairs. The parking lot was about eight slots deep, and it ran the whole width of the building’s facade, serving all the stores together. Reacher guessed any customer was entitled to park in any spot.
The lot was about half full, with most of the cars at first glance entirely legitimate, most of them clean and bright under the relentless sun, some of them parked at bad angles, as if their drivers had ducked inside just long enough for a simple errand. Reacher had given much thought to what kind of a car two people could live in, and he had concluded that an old-fashioned wagon or a modern SUV would be the minimum requirement, with a fold-flat rear bench and enough unimpeded length between the front seats and the tailgate to fit a mattress. Black glass to the sides and the rear would be an advantage. An old Buick Roadmaster or a new Chevy Suburban would fit the bill, except that anyone planning to live in a new Chevy Suburban would surely see an advantage in selling it and buying an old Buick Roadmaster, and keeping the change. So mostly he scanned for old wagons, maybe dusty, maybe on soft tyres, settled somehow, as if parked for a long time.
But he saw no such vehicles. Most were entirely normal, and three or four of them were new enough and bland enough to be airport rentals, which was what Espin and the 75th MP would be using, and two or three of them were weird enough to be FBI seizures, reissued for use as unmarked stake-out cars. Shadows and the glare of the sun and window tints made it hard to be sure whether any were occupied, or not.
They drove on, same speed, same trajectory, and they got on the freeway again, because Reacher felt a sudden U-turn or other atypical choice of direction would stand out, and they drove around the same long slow rectangle, and they came down Lankershim for the second time, and they parked in the mouth of the same cross street again, feeling comfortably remote and invisible from the south.
‘Want to see it again?’ Turner asked.
‘Don’t need to,’ Reacher said.
‘So what next?’
‘They could be anywhere. We don’t know what they look like, or what car they’ve got. So there’s no point driving around. We need to get a precise location from the lawyer. If the lawyer even knows, day to day.’
‘Sure, but how?’
‘I could call, or I could get Edmonds to call for me, but the lawyer is going to say all correspondence should come to the office, and all meetings should be held at the office. He can’t afford to give her location to a party as involved as I’m supposed to be. He would have to assume any contact I had would end up either creepy or violent. Basic professional responsibility. He could get sued for millions of dollars.’
‘So what are you going to do?’
‘I’m going to do what guys do when they have nothing better going on.’
‘Which is what?’
‘I’m going to call a hooker.’
They backed up and headed north again, and they found a hamburger restaurant, where they drank coffee and Reacher studied certain entries in a Yellow Pages borrowed from the owner, and then they got back on the road again, as far as a motel they saw next to one of the Burbank airport’s long-term parking lots. They didn’t check in. They stayed in the car, and Reacher dialled a number he had memorized. The call was answered by a woman with a foreign accent. She sounded middle-aged, and sleepy.
Reacher asked her, ‘Who’s your top-rated American girl?’
The foreign woman said, ‘Emily.’
‘A thousand an hour.’
‘Is she available now?’
‘Does she take credit cards?’
‘Yes, but then she’s twelve hundred an hour.’
Reacher said nothing.
The foreign woman said, ‘She can be with you in less than thirty minutes, and she’s worth every penny. How would you like her to dress?’
‘Like a grade-school teacher,’ Reacher said. ‘About a year out of college.’
‘Girl next door? That’s
Reacher gave his name as Pete Lozano, and he gave the name and the
Never Go Back by Lee Child / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5.1 out of 5 / Based on46 votes