Night school, p.28
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       Night School, p.28

         Part #21 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
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  “You have seen our facilities. Unbelievable results are obtained. We think our victim was hit seven times on the top of the head. Almost a frenzy. All in the same place, so the wound is mush. Except two of the seven blows erred slightly, one to the left, one to the right, and by combining opposite halves of those two crisp impressions, we can see the overall shape of the implement used as the bludgeon.”

  “Good work.”

  “We have an extensive database of such things, for reference and comparison.”

  “I’m sure you do.”

  “It was the butt of a Beretta M9 pistol.”

  Reacher said, “I see.”

  “Which is the U.S. Army’s standard-issue sidearm.”

  “Wasn’t me.”

  “Was it Wiley?”

  “I don’t know.”

  “There’s one more thing,” Griezman said.

  But it had to wait, because a light turned green and the Mercedes rolled into the square in front of the station. The gray sky made it dark early. The street lights were on. People streamed in and out, fast and purposeful, flowing around others standing dazed and mute. There was a lit-up booth halfway back. Foreign currency. One guy.

  Griezman parked and they walked the rest of the way. The guy in the booth was small and dark. He spoke fast, even in English. Reacher showed him the sketch and he said, “Yeah, two days ago, in the evening, deutschmarks and dollars into Argentinian pesos.”

  “How much?”

  “About four hundred bucks.”

  “Was he nervous or excited?”

  “He was gazing all around. Like he was thinking.”

  “About what?”

  “I have no idea, man.”

  Reacher stepped back, and gazed all around. It was getting darker by the minute. He saw streams of people, and behind them the railroad station, all lit up, as big and fancy as a museum or a cathedral. He saw city lights and the grind of traffic.

  Griezman said, “Now get back in the car.”

  —

  They drove two more blocks in the traffic and then they turned off and parked in a quiet street. They sat side by side in the front of the car, staring ahead through the windshield. Griezman seemed to prefer it that way. Alone, but not exactly face to face. He said, “I told you there was a space in an otherwise neat shelf of file folders.”

  “You found the missing item?”

  “No, we found something else. The file folders were made of stiff board covered in vinyl. All different colors. With four rings inside. They line up like books. Are you familiar with this product?”

  “Ours have three rings inside.”

  “Suppose there were ten such items neatly lined up on a high shelf. Numbered from one to ten. Suppose I asked you to take down number six. How would you do it?”

  “I’m tempted to say it ain’t rocket science. Except it probably is. I’ve seen your facilities.”

  “They ran an experiment. They simulated the scene and randomly selected thirty-four subjects. Basically anyone who passed their office door. Every single one pulled the file exactly the same way. A hundred percent.”

  “How?”

  “You reach up and touch the pad of your index finger to the spine of your chosen file, in our case number six, as if you’ve traced it and now you’re claiming it, very discreetly. It’s yours. The ownership issue is psychologically settled. But it’s lined up perfectly. There’s nothing to grip. But you can’t move your index finger. Subconsciously you can’t give up your claim. So you put the edge of your thumb on number five, and the pad of your middle finger on number seven, and you ease them back, very respectfully, because it’s a neat shelf, and then you jump your thumb and your middle finger inward, to pincer the sliver of spine you’ve just exposed, and you pull the file out, with your index finger exactly where it always was, on the spine, ready to balance the load as it comes down toward you.”

  “Good work,” Reacher said again.

  “Reverse the numbers for left-handed people, of course.”

  “But I’m guessing he wasn’t left-handed.”

  “We have a perfect print. From the spine of the adjacent file. The pad of his right-hand middle finger. Pressed gently against the vinyl.”

  “Is it in your system?”

  “An exact match.”

  “That’s good.”

  “With the print we took from the dead girl’s sports car. From the chrome lever. The unknown suspect. It’s the same guy, Reacher. The prints are identical. Same finger, same angle, same cautious pressure. It’s uncanny.”

  Reacher said nothing.

  “First a woman and then a man were savagely murdered,” Griezman said. “You know who did it.”

  “Help me find Wiley and I’ll tell you.”

  “Would I also be helping myself?”

  “Let’s ask him when we find him.”

  “But you could tell me now.”

  “Tell who now? The simple detective, or the obedient bureaucrat who will pass it all on to his intelligence service in Berlin about ten minutes from now? Whereupon I would go to jail about ten minutes after that.”

  “Do you not tell your superiors what they should know?”

  “I tell them as little as possible. Short words, no math, and no diagrams.”

  “You’ll go to jail anyway. In Germany it is illegal to withhold this kind of information.”

  “You going to arrest me?”

  “I could make you a material witness. You would be obliged to answer. Refusal would be deemed contempt of the judicial system.”

  “I’m sure there’s a joke in there somewhere.”

  “This is a serious business.”

  “There’s a case to be made ours is more serious. I’m sure my president would be happy to explain it to your chancellor. But we don’t need to go that route. Help me find Wiley, and then we’ll figure out this other thing together.”

  “Did he do it?”

  “Forget the print. A lawyer wouldn’t like it anyway. It could have been left months ago. You need to come at it another way. The Beretta was a good catch. They’re for sale in your victim’s favorite bar. Did you know that? Who could have bought one there?”

  “Wiley,” Griezman said. “He bought his ID there.”

  “Good theory. Promising. Doesn’t prove anything yet, but clearly the next step would be find him and talk to him.”

  “Where is he?”

  “I don’t know.”

  —

  At that moment Wiley was a hundred yards away, crossing the street at a walk light two blocks east of the train station. He was dressed in black pants and a black hooded sweatshirt. He was carrying a small black duffel. It was heavy. Its load shifted and clanked as he walked. At first he followed a familiar route, from the bus stop toward the bar with the varnished wood front. But halfway there he turned off and stepped into a vehicle entrance and walked past two head-high trash receptacles. He opened a stairwell door marked Exit Only, and he walked up a flight, to the hotel parking garage. Where he had met the hooker. He remembered the way she turned around and beckoned him to her car, like she couldn’t wait.

  He remembered every detail.

  No cameras.

  He walked to the far corner of the floor, smelling cold gasoline, cold diesel, cold rubber, and cold cement dust. He picked out a silver BMW. Six cylinder, gasoline. An older model. It had the look of a car parked a long time. The windshield was dull. The paint was filmed with neglect. He squatted in front of its radiator grill. He took a cross-head screwdriver from his duffel. He unfastened the front license plate and stored it in his bag. He moved around and squatted behind the trunk. He unscrewed the rear plate and put it in his bag.

  He took out a single-burner camp stove. Bought new for the occasion. It was about eight inches square, made of pressed steel, with a rubber tube and a knurled brass valve. He took out a head-sized canister of propane. Bright blue, cheap, easy, and convenient. He attached the valve. He turned the knob and heard a his
s of gas. He shut it off.

  He lay down on the cold concrete and slid the burner two feet under the rear of the car. He took six wooden blocks from his bag. Children’s toys. From Sweden, he thought. Each one was about six inches long and an inch square. Each one was lacquered a different bright color. He built them into a tower on top of the burner. Where a coffee pot or a tea kettle would go. He put two one way, then two the other, and finally the third layer the same way as the first. Like a little camp fire. He took out a silver foil dish, the size and shape of a roast chicken. He balanced it on the tower of wooden blocks.

  He took out a box of nine-millimeter Parabellum ammunition. A hundred rounds. One of two bought with the M9 from the chuckleheads in the bar. He threaded his hand through the space under the BMW’s suspension and laid the box gently in the silver foil dish.

  Finished. Good to go. The propane, the tube, the burner, the short stack of wood, the roasting dish, the handgun rounds.

  The BMW’s gas tank, directly above.

  He checked his position and rehearsed the backward scoot. Then he took out a Zippo lighter. He checked the knurled brass knob. He turned on the burner. He heard the hiss of gas. He flicked the lighter and brought the flame to the burner’s rose. The gas caught with a thump. He dialed it back to a lower setting. A click below medium. Like a fast simmer.

  Then he slid out backward and stood up and grabbed his bag and hustled.

  —

  A mile away Dremmler came out of his fourth-floor office, and spent twenty seconds in the elevator, which was thirty-three pairs of Brazilian shoes, and then Muller fell in step with him on the sidewalk, and said, “You’ve heard, I expect.”

  “About Wolfgang Schlupp?” Dremmler said. “I’ve heard about nothing else. The police have been all over that bar. My members there are very upset. My phone has been ringing off the hook.”

  “Was it Wiley?”

  “I thought he was out of town.”

  “So did everybody. They were all focused outward. No one even looked the other way. So I did, just to be sure. Two cameras on traffic lights. For flow, supposedly, but recorded all the same. And there he is. Driving the other way. Toward St. Georg. He never left town. He’s in town right now.”

  “Where?”

  “It’s a large white vehicle. Every traffic cop on the force is looking for it.”

  Dremmler walked a couple of steps in silence.

  Then he said, “Herr Muller, in your professional opinion, concerning Wolfgang Schlupp, how serious will the investigation be?”

  “Extremely. His head was bashed in.”

  “They’ll make a list of people he spoke to today. I’ll be on it.”

  “Naturally. Chief of Detectives Griezman likes lists. He likes paperwork in general.”

  “I can’t afford to be implicated. It would be politically inconvenient.”

  “Just make up a story. You’re a businessman, he’s a businessman. You were talking about the stock market. It’s not like he can contradict you.”

  “Will that be enough?”

  “It was just a weird coincidence. Maybe you saw him at a business dinner. He was a nodding acquaintance. You were merely saying hello. A professional courtesy. You hardly knew the fellow.”

  —

  Griezman drove Reacher back to the consulate, and let him out on the same curb he had got in from before. Then Griezman drove away and Reacher went inside, where he discovered Neagley had won her five-dollar bet. She had a sheet of telex paper to prove it. Low single digits, she had predicted, and she had scored with the lowest digit of all.

  In 1955 the United States Army was considerably north of a million strong. Part of that strength was a young first lieutenant by the name of Wilson T. Helmsworth. He was a recent graduate of West Point and several specialist schools. He was hunting one airborne command after another. He was technically Arnold Mason’s superior officer several different times. It was even theoretically possible the two had met. In some kind of a formal setting. Maybe a parade. Not cracking beers. Then later Helmsworth moved onward and upward, and along the way he qualified in anything and everything related to a parachute. At one time or another he held all the records. Free fall included. He wrote book after book about paratrooper tactics.

  Then he survived a long jungle war where the canopy was thick and the air was misty and the infantry didn’t give a damn about paratrooper tactics. And he came out of it promoted. He got on board early with special forces theory, and about twenty-odd generations later he was still there in the thick of it, now in overall command of training at Fort Benning, Georgia. Where the tough stuff was invented. Major General Wilson T. Helmsworth. The only Cold War airborne junior commander still wearing the green suit. From the brown-boot army to the black-boot army to the New Balance army. Tenacious. A million to one, literally.

  Neagley said, “As of this moment he’s located at Benning.”

  Sinclair said, “He needs thirty minutes to set up a call. He’s a busy man.”

  “We can’t do this by phone,” Reacher said. “It has to be done face to face. He’s been in the army forty years. He knows how to bullshit. We need to be in the same room. We need to see his body language.”

  “We? We can’t all fly back. Not now. None of us should fly back.”

  “None of us is going to. Helmsworth is going to come to us. If he’s at Benning, he can get to Atlanta. For the night flight. He could be here in the morning. I think the Joint Chiefs should order him to report to the Hamburg consulate immediately.”

  “Because of someone else’s cryptic half-remembered childhood legend?”

  “Ratcliffe said we get what we need.”

  “Helmsworth’s a two-star general.”

  “Which means he’ll run away from anything soft or speculative, at a hundred miles an hour. And anything even remotely controversial at two hundred miles an hour. Won’t work on the phone. He needs to see the face of the NSC. And we need to see his.”

  “It’s a big deal for a Hail Mary.”

  “It’s a foreign country. Possibly there’s a foreign enemy here. They’ll give him another medal. Theoretically he could get a Silver Star.”

  “For flying in?”

  “He’s a two-star general. They get medals like frequent flyer miles.”

  “Are you sure we need him?”

  “No stone unturned.”

  Sinclair made the call.

  Then outside the window there was a faint, distant sound. A dull and hollow pop pop and a blunted hiss of air. And then more. Pop, pop pop. The back part of Reacher’s brain said handgun, probably nine-millimeter rounds, urban setting, probably half a mile distant. He stepped to the window and heaved it open. He heard sirens in the distance. Then more gunfire, four rounds, then five, very faint but louder because of the open window, and then more sirens, two different tones, probably ambulances and cop cars, and then a furious volley of gunfire, impossibly fast, like a continuous explosion, like a hundred machine guns firing all at once, like the best firework show the town park ever had, and then there was the muted concussive thump of a fuel explosion, and two more handgun rounds, and then nothing but sirens, the scream of cop cars, the yelp of ambulances, the deafening bass bark of fire trucks, all blending in a howl that sounded more like sorrow than help.

  Reacher looked out at the street and saw cops racing past, all in the same direction, most in cars, some on motorcycles, one on foot, half running. He saw two ambulances and a fire truck. The whole place was flashing red and blue.

  Sinclair said, “What was it?”

  Neagley said, “It sounded like a house fire, where someone left a box of ammunition on the kitchen counter. Then the propane tank went up. Except we should have heard the sirens earlier. But maybe it was a stone building. Maybe the fire was concealed from exterior view. Therefore the alarm was sounded late.”

  “Deliberate?”

  “Maybe, maybe not. Either way sounds the same.”

  “Related?”

/>   “Can’t say,” White said. “This is a big city. There’s a lot going on.”

  There was a second fuel explosion. Faint and far away, but unmistakable. A thump, a silent vacuum, the suck of air, and the sensation of blooming heat, however impossible. Reacher watched the street. Every cop in town was heading in the same direction.

  Chapter 33

 
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