Never go back, p.29
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       Never Go Back, p.29
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         Part #18 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child

  address of the motel behind him.

  ‘Is that next to the airport parking lot?’ the foreign woman asked.

  ‘Yes,’ Reacher said.

  ‘We use it a lot. Emily will have no trouble finding it.’

  Reacher clicked off the call, and they got comfortable, and they waited, not talking, doing nothing at all but look ahead through the windshield.

  After ten minutes Turner said, ‘You OK?’

  Reacher said, ‘Not really.’

  ‘Why not?’

  ‘I’m sitting here staring at fourteen-year-old girls. I feel like a pervert.’

  ‘Recognize any?’

  ‘Not yet.’

  Altogether they waited more than thirty-five minutes, and then Reacher’s phone rang. Not the foreign woman calling back with an excuse for Emily’s lateness, but Captain Edmonds calling back with what she announced as front-page news. Reacher tilted the phone and Turner put her head close to listen. Edmonds said, ‘I got the full jacket on A.M. 3435. It came through five minutes ago. Not without a little hustle on my part, I might add.’

  Reacher said, ‘And?’

  ‘No, really, you’re most welcome, major. Absolutely my pleasure. I don’t mind risking my entire career by entering in where JAG captains should fear to tread.’

  ‘OK, thank you. I should have said that first. I’m sorry.’

  ‘Some things you need to understand. We’ve been in Afghanistan more than ten years now, and in that context 3435 is a relatively low number. Currently we’re well over a hundred thousand. Which means the data on this man was created some time ago. About seven years ago, I think, as far as I can tell. And there have been no significant updates. Nothing beyond the routine minimum. Because this is a fairly ordinary guy. Boring, even. At first glance he’s a meaningless peasant.’

  ‘What’s his name?’

  ‘Emal Gholam Zadran. He’s now forty-two years old, and he’s the youngest of five Zadran brothers, all of them still alive. He seems to be the black sheep of the family, widely regarded as disreputable. The elder brothers are all fine upstanding poppy growers, working the family farm, like their ancestors did for a thousand years before them, very traditional, small time and modest. But young Emal didn’t want to settle for that. He tried his hand at a number of things, and failed at them all. His brothers forgave him, and took him back, and as far as anyone knows he lives near them in the hills, does absolutely nothing productive, and keeps himself to himself.’

  ‘What was he written up for seven years ago?’

  ‘One of the things he tried out, and failed at.’

  ‘Which was?’

  ‘Nothing was proved, or we’d have shot him.’

  ‘What wasn’t proved?’

  ‘The story is he set up as an entrepreneur. He was buying hand grenades from the 10th Mountain Division and selling them to the Taliban.’

  ‘How much did he get for them?’

  ‘It doesn’t say.’

  ‘Not proved?’

  ‘They tried their best.’

  ‘Why didn’t they shoot him anyway?’

  ‘Reacher, you’re talking to an army lawyer here. Nothing was proved, and we’re the United States of America.’

  ‘Suppose I wasn’t talking to an army lawyer.’

  ‘Then I would say nothing was proved, and right then we were probably kissing Afghan butt and hoping they would set up a civilian government of their own at some point in the not-too-distant future, so we could get the hell out of there, and in that atmosphere shooting indigenous individuals against whom nothing had been proved, even by our own hair-trigger military justice system, would have been regarded as severely counterproductive. Otherwise I’m sure they would have shot him anyway.’

  ‘You’re pretty smart,’ Reacher said. ‘For an army lawyer.’

  And then he clicked off, because he was watching a kid who had gotten out of a cab and was walking into the motel driveway. She was luminous. She was young and blonde, and fresh and energetic, and somehow earnest, as if she was determined to use all the many years ahead doing nothing but good in the world. She looked like a grade-school teacher, about a year out of college.

  FORTY-NINE

  THE KID WALKED past the motel office, and then she stopped, as if she didn’t know where to go. She had a name but no room number. Turner buzzed her window down and called out, ‘Are you Emily?’

  Which was something she and Reacher had rehearsed. No question it was weird to be approached in a motel parking lot by a woman in a car, ahead of what was clearly going to be a bizarre threesome. But a similar approach by a man would have been weirder still. So Turner got to ask the question, which the kid answered by saying, ‘Yes, I’m Emily.’

  Turner said, ‘We’re your clients.’

  ‘I’m sorry. They didn’t tell me. It’s more money for couples.’

  ‘You’ve probably heard this before, or not, possibly, but all we want to do is talk. We’ll give you two thousand dollars for an hour of your time. Clothes on throughout, all three of us.’

  The kid came nearer, but not too close, and she lined herself up with the open window, and she stooped an inch, and she looked in and said, ‘What exactly is this about?’

  Reacher said, ‘An acting job.’

  They talked out in the open, to keep it unthreatening, Reacher and Turner leaning on the side of the car, with Emily completing the triangle four feet away, where she was free to turn and run. But she didn’t. She ran Lozano’s Amex through a slot in her iPhone, and as soon as she saw an authorization number she said, ‘I don’t do porn.’

  Reacher said, ‘No porn.’

  ‘Then what kind of acting job?’

  ‘Are you an actor?’

  ‘I’m a call girl.’

  ‘Were you an actor first?’

  ‘I was an intending actor.’

  ‘Do you do role-play?’

  ‘I thought that’s what I was doing today. The naive young idealist, prepared very reluctantly to do whatever it takes to get extra funding for her school. Or possibly I want to borrow a lawnmower from one of the PTA dads. But normally it’s about interviewing for a job. How can I show I’m really committed to the company?’

  ‘In other words, you’re acting.’

  ‘All the time. Including now.’

  ‘I need you to go see a law firm receptionist and act your way into her good books.’ Reacher told her what he wanted. She showed no curiosity as to why. He said, ‘If there’s a choice, pick a motherly type. She’ll be sympathetic. This is about a struggling mother getting some help. Tell her Ms Dayton is a friend of your aunt, and she loaned you some money when you were in college, and it got you out of a hole, and now you can repay the favour. And you want to see her again anyway. Something like that. You can write your own script. But the receptionist is not supposed to give up the location. In fact she’s prohibited from doing so. So this is your Oscar moment.’

  ‘Who gets hurt here?’

  ‘No one gets hurt. The opposite.’

  ‘For two thousand dollars? I never heard of that before.’

  ‘If she’s for real, she gets helped. If she’s not for real, I don’t get hurt. It’s all good.’

  Emily said, ‘I don’t know if I want to do it.’

  ‘You took our money.’

  ‘For an hour of my time. I’m happy to stand here and talk. Or we could get in the car. I’ll get naked if you like. That’s what usually happens.’

  ‘How about an extra five hundred in cash? As a tip. When you get back.’

  ‘How about seven hundred?’

  ‘Six.’

  Emily said, ‘And the Oscar goes to … Emily.’

  She wouldn’t let them drive her. Smart girl. Words were cheap. The long preamble could have been nothing but a hot-air fantasy, ahead of her unclothed body being found dead in a ditch three days later. So they gave her the address and twenty bucks and she caught a cab instead. They watched it out of sight, and then they turned ba
ck and got in the Range Rover and waited.

  Turner said, ‘Man up, Reacher. A.M. 3435 is Emal Zadran, who has a documented history of buying and selling United States ordnance in the hills of the tribal areas. Whereas Peter Lozano and Ronald Baldacci have a documented history of being part of a company tasked to get that very same United States ordnance in and out of those very same hills. Is that deafening noise I hear the sound of the pieces falling into place?’

  ‘He was buying and selling U.S. ordnance in the hills seven years ago.’

  ‘After which he fell off the radar. By getting better at it. He moved right up to the top of the tree. Now he’s the top boy and the go-to guy. He’s making a fortune for somebody. He has to be. Why else would they go to such lengths to hide him?’

  ‘You’re probably right.’

  ‘I need your serious input here. Not mindless agreement. You’re my executive officer.’

  ‘Is that a promotion?’

  ‘Just new orders.’

  ‘I mean it, you could be right. The informer called him a tribal elder. Which strikes me as a status-based label. Like an honorific. And a black sheep who sits around all day doing nothing productive wouldn’t be thought of as a person of status. More likely the village idiot. Certainly he wouldn’t be honoured. So old Emal is doing something for somebody. And my only objection was having a team on standby in North Carolina, when all the action is in Afghanistan. But maybe there’s a legitimate role for them. Because if what you think is true, then there’s a lot of money coming home. Wagonloads, probably. A big, physical quantity. So yes, they need a team in North Carolina. Just not to handle weapons. To handle the money.’

  Romeo called Juliet and said, ‘It’s getting worse.’

  Juliet said, ‘How could it?’

  ‘They just used Lozano’s Amex. Two thousand dollars on an entertainer. Do you know what that means?’

  ‘They’re bored?’

  ‘There’s only one kind of entertainer who carries her own card reader, and that’s a prostitute. They’re taunting us. They’d be giving it to homeless people, if homeless people had card readers on their phones. Or phones at all, I suppose.’

  ‘Which they don’t.’

  ‘And Reacher’s lawyer got Zadran’s full jacket, about an hour ago. So it’s out there now.’

  ‘You worry too much.’

  ‘It’s an obvious connection. It won’t take a genius to work it out.’

  ‘Or maybe you worry too soon,’ Juliet said. ‘You haven’t heard the good news yet.’

  ‘Is there any?’

  ‘Our boys just saw them drive past the lawyer’s office. In a twenty-year-old Range Rover, black. Hard to be sure, because it had dark windows, but the strong impression was there were two people inside, one large and one small.’

  ‘When was this?’

  ‘Less than an hour ago.’

  ‘Just once?’

  ‘So far. Reconnaissance, obviously.’

  ‘Is there much activity there?’

  ‘It’s a strip mall. It’s like a Fourth of July parade.’

  ‘Where did they go after they cruised by?’

  ‘They took the freeway. Probably looped around. They’re probably holed up a few blocks to the north.’

  ‘Anything we can do?’

  ‘Yes, I think there is. They were super-cautious around that office. They must know the MPs and the FBI are all over it. And there’s nothing to be learned there. Not for them. It would be the worst kind of malpractice. So I don’t think they’ll go near that office again. In which case guarding it is a waste of personnel. We can’t miss them there, because they won’t go there. Simple as that. Therefore our boys would be better used elsewhere. Possibly in a more proactive role. Just a suggestion.’

  ‘I agree,’ Romeo said. ‘Turn them loose.’

  Reacher and Turner passed the time by trying to figure what kind of ordnance would sell for a lot of money and fit in the back of a pick-up truck. Which was frustrating, because the two categories tended to be mutually exclusive. MOABs were sinister finned pear-shaped cylinders thirty feet long and four feet wide. Drones were worth thirty-seven million dollars a pop, but had a wingspan greater than sixty feet. And without the joystick controls they were just lumps of dumb metal. And the joystick controls were all in Texas or Florida. Conversely rifles and handguns and hand grenades weren’t worth much. A Beretta M9 was about six hundred bucks in a store. Maybe four hundred used, on the street, or in the hills, less overhead and expenses, which meant it would take three or four hundred sales just to cover the hundred grand risked in the Cayman Islands. And even the army would notice if it was losing handguns by the thousand.

  They got nowhere.

  And then Emily came back.

  FIFTY

  EMILY GOT OUT of a cab, just like the first time, still in character, all radiant and naive, and she hustled over and stood where she had before, about five feet from Turner’s window. Turner buzzed the glass down, and Emily said, ‘I felt bad doing that.’

  ‘Why?’ Reacher said.

  ‘She was a nice woman. I manipulated her.’

  ‘Successfully?’

  ‘I got the location.’

  ‘Where is it?’

  ‘You owe me six hundred bucks.’

  ‘Not technically. It’s a tip, which means it’s a gift outside of the main contract. There’s no element of owing.’

  ‘Are you trying to get out of it now?’

  ‘No, I’m just naturally pedantic.’

  ‘Whichever, I still need six hundred bucks.’

  Which Ronald Baldacci paid, from the plank of twenties in his wallet. Reacher passed it to Turner, who passed it out the window to Emily, who glanced around and said, ‘This looks like a drug deal.’

  ‘What’s the location?’ Reacher asked.

  She gave a street address, complete with a house number.

  Reacher said, ‘What is that? A vacant lot? A business with its own parking?’

  ‘I don’t know.’

  ‘What was the mood in the office?’

  ‘Very busy. I don’t think Ms Dayton is high on their list of priorities.’

  ‘OK, thank you, Emily,’ Reacher said. ‘It was nice to meet you. Have a great day.’

  ‘That’s it?’

  ‘What else is there?’

  ‘Aren’t you going to ask what a nice girl like me is doing in a job like this? Aren’t you going to give me advice for the future?’

  ‘No,’ Reacher said. ‘No one should listen to my advice. And you seem to be doing fine anyway. A thousand bucks an hour ain’t bad. I know people who get screwed for twenty.’

 
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