Never go back, p.3
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       Never Go Back, p.3

         Part #18 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
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  attractive either, given that we would have to look at the original crime. I would plan on conduct unbecoming, at the minimum, with a new discharge, this time without honour. But your lawyer will run it down for you.’

  ‘When?’

  ‘The relevant department has already been notified.’

  There were no cells in the old building. No secure facilities. There never had been. Just offices. Reacher was left where he was, in the visitor chair, not looked at, not spoken to, completely ignored. The sentry stood easy on the other side of the door. Morgan started tapping and typing and scrolling on the laptop computer. Reacher searched his memory for Juan Rodriguez. Sixteen years ago he had been twelve months into his command of the 110th. Early days. The name Rodriguez sounded Hispanic. Reacher had known many Hispanic people, both inside the service and out. He remembered hitting people on occasion, inside the service and out, some of them Hispanic, but none of them named Rodriguez. And if Rodriguez had been of interest to the 110th, he would have remembered the name, surely. Especially from so early, when every case was significant. The 110th had been an experimental venture. Every move was watched. Every result was evaluated. Every misstep had an autopsy.

  He asked, ‘What was the alleged context?’

  No answer from Morgan. The guy just kept on tapping and typing and scrolling. So Reacher searched his memory for a woman named Candice Dayton. Again, he had known many women, both inside the service and out. Candice was a fairly common name. As was Dayton, comparatively. But the two names together meant nothing special to him. Neither did the diminutive, Candy. Candy Dayton? Candice Dayton? Nothing. Not that he remembered everything. No one remembered everything.

  He asked, ‘Was Candice Dayton connected to Juan Rodriguez in some way?’

  Morgan looked up, as if surprised to see he had a visitor sitting in his office. As if he had forgotten. He didn’t answer the question. He just picked up one of his complicated telephones and ordered a car. He told Reacher to go wait with the sergeant downstairs.

  Two miles away, the man whom only three people in the world knew as Romeo took out his cell, and dialled the man only two people in the world knew as Juliet, and said, ‘He’s been recalled to service. Colonel Morgan just put it in the computer.’

  Juliet said, ‘So what happens next?’

  ‘Too early to tell.’

  ‘Will he run?’

  ‘A sane man would.’

  ‘Where are they putting him?’

  ‘Their usual motel, I expect.’

  The sergeant at the desk downstairs didn’t say anything. She was as tongue-tied as before. Reacher leaned on the wall and passed the time in silence. Ten minutes later a private first class came in from the cold and saluted and asked Reacher to follow him. Formal, and polite. Innocent until proven guilty, Reacher guessed, at least in some people’s eyes. Out in the lot there was a worn army sedan with its motor running. A young lieutenant was stumping around next to it, awkward and embarrassed. He held the rear door and Reacher got in the back. The lieutenant took the front passenger seat and the private drove. A mile later they arrived at a motel, a run-down swaybacked old heap in a dark lot on a suburban evening-quiet three-lane road. The lieutenant signed a paper, and the night clerk gave Reacher a key, and the private drove the lieutenant away.

  And then the second car arrived, with the guys in the T-shirts and the athletic pants.

  FIVE

  THERE WERE NO pockets in the athletic pants, and none in the T-shirts, either. And neither man was wearing dog tags. No ID at all. Their car was clean, too. Nothing in it, except the usual army document package stowed neatly in the glove compartment. No weapons, no personal property, no hidden wallets, no scraps of paper, no gas receipts. The licence plate was a standard government registration. Nothing abnormal about the car at all, except the two new dents in the doors.

  The left-hand guy was blocking the driver’s door. Reacher dragged him six feet along the blacktop. He offered no resistance. Life was not a television show. Hit a guy hard enough in the side of the head, and he didn’t spring back up ready to carry on the fight. He stayed down for an hour or more, all sick and dizzy and disoriented. A lesson learned long ago: the human brain was much more sensitive to side-to-side displacement than front-to-back. An evolutionary quirk, presumably, like most things.

  Reacher opened the driver’s door and climbed inside the car. The motor was stopped, but the key was still in. Reacher racked the seat back and started the engine. He sat still for a long spell and stared ahead through the windshield. They couldn’t find you before. They won’t find you now. The army doesn’t use skip tracers. And no skip tracer could find you anyway. Not the way you seem to live.

  He adjusted the mirror. He put his foot on the brake and fumbled the lever into gear. Conduct unbecoming, at the minimum, with a new discharge, this time without honour.

  He took his foot off the brake and drove away.

  He drove straight back to the old HQ building, and parked fifty yards from it on the three-lane road. The car was warm, and he kept the motor running to keep it warm. He watched through the windshield and saw no activity ahead. No coming or going. In his day the 110th had worked around the clock, seven days a week, and he saw no reason why anything would have changed. The enlisted night watch would be in for the duration, and a night duty officer would be in place, and the other officers would go off duty as soon as their work was done, whenever that might be. Normally. But not on that particular night. Not during a mess or a crisis, and definitely not with a troubleshooter in the house. No one would leave before Morgan. Basic army politics.

  Morgan left an hour later. Reacher saw him quite clearly. A plain sedan came out through the gate and turned on to the three-lane and drove straight past where Reacher was parked. In the darkness Reacher saw a flash of Morgan at the wheel, in his ACU pyjamas and his eyeglasses, his hair still neatly combed, looking straight ahead, both hands on the wheel, like someone’s greataunt on the way to the store. Reacher watched in the mirror and saw his tail lights disappear over the hill.

  He waited.

  And sure enough, within the next quarter-hour there was a regular exodus. Five more cars came out, two of them turning left, three of them turning right, four of them driven solo, one of them with three people aboard. All the cars were dewed over with night mist, and all of them were trailing cold white exhaust. They disappeared into the distance, left and right, and their exhaust drifted away, and the world went quiet again.

  Reacher waited ten more minutes, just in case. But nothing more happened. Fifty yards away the old building looked settled and silent. The night watch, in a world of its own. Reacher put his car in gear and rolled slowly down the hill and turned in at the gate. A new sentry was on duty in the hutch. A young guy, blank and stoic. Reacher stopped and buzzed his window down and the kid said, ‘Sir?’

  Reacher gave his name and said, ‘I’m reporting to my duty station as ordered.’

  ‘Sir?’ the guy said again.

  ‘Am I on your list?’

  The guy checked.

  ‘Yes, sir,’ he said. ‘Major Reacher. But for tomorrow morning.’

  ‘I was ordered to report before 0800 hours.’

  ‘Yes, sir. I see that. But it’s 2300 hours now, sir. In the evening.’

  ‘Which is before 0800 in the morning. As ordered.’

  The guy didn’t speak.

  Reacher said, ‘It’s a simple matter of chronology. I’m keen to get to work, therefore a little early.’

  No answer.

  ‘You could check with Colonel Morgan, if you like. I’m sure he’s back at his billet by now.’

  No answer.

  ‘Or you could check with your duty sergeant.’

  ‘Yes, sir,’ the kid said. ‘I’ll do that instead.’

  He made the call, and listened for a second, and put the phone down and said, ‘Sir, the sergeant requests that you stop by the desk.’

  ‘I’ll be sure to do that
, soldier,’ Reacher said. He drove on, and parked next to the little red two-seater, which was still there, exactly where it had been before. He got out and locked up and walked through the cold to the door. The lobby felt quiet and still. A night and day difference, literally. But the same sergeant was at the reception desk. Finishing her work, before going off duty. She was on a high stool, typing on a keyboard. Updating the day’s log, presumably. Record-keeping was a big deal, all over the military. She stopped and looked up.

  Reacher asked her, ‘Are you putting this visit in the official record?’

  She said, ‘What visit? And I told the private at the gate not to, either.’

  Not tongue-tied any more. Not with the interloper Morgan out of the house. She looked young, but infinitely capable, like sergeants the world over. The tape over her right breast said her name was Leach.

  She said, ‘I know who you are.’

  Reacher said, ‘Have we met?’

  ‘No, sir, but you’re a famous name here. You were this unit’s first commander.’

  ‘Do you know why I’m back?’

  ‘Yes, sir. We were told.’

  ‘What was the general reaction?’

  ‘Mixed.’

  ‘What’s your personal reaction?’

  ‘I’m sure there’s a good explanation. And sixteen years is a long time. Which makes it political, probably. Which is usually bullshit. And even if it isn’t, I’m sure the guy deserved it. Or worse.’

  Reacher said nothing.

  Leach said, ‘I thought about warning you, when you first came in. Best thing for you would have been just to run for it. So I really wanted to turn you around and get you out of here. But I was under orders not to. I’m sorry.’

  Reacher asked her, ‘Where is Major Turner?’

  Leach said, ‘Long story.’

  ‘How does it go?’

  ‘She deployed to Afghanistan.’

  ‘When?’

  ‘The middle of the day, yesterday.’

  ‘Why?’

  ‘We have people there. There was an issue.’

  ‘What kind of an issue?’

  ‘I don’t know.’

  ‘And?’

  ‘She never arrived.’

  ‘You know that for sure?’

  ‘No question.’

  ‘So where is she instead?’

  ‘No one knows.’

  ‘When did Colonel Morgan get here?’

  ‘Within hours of Major Turner leaving.’

  ‘How many hours?’

  ‘About two.’

  ‘Did he give a reason for being here?’

  ‘The implication was Major Turner had been relieved of her command.’

  ‘Nothing specific?’

  ‘Nothing at all.’

  ‘Was she screwing up?’

  Leach didn’t answer.

  Reacher said, ‘You may speak freely, sergeant.’

  ‘No, sir, she wasn’t screwing up. She was doing a really good job.’

  ‘So that’s all you’ve got? Implications and disappearances?’

  ‘So far.’

  ‘No gossip?’ Reacher asked. Sergeants were always part of a network. Always had been, always would be. Like rumour mills. Like uniformed versions of tabloid newspapers.

  Leach said, ‘I heard one little thing.’

  ‘Which was?’

  ‘It might be nothing.’

  ‘But?’

  ‘And it might not be connected.’

  ‘But?’

  ‘Someone told me the guardhouse at Fort Dyer has a new prisoner.’

  SIX

  FORT DYER WAS an army base very close to the Pentagon. But Leach told Reacher that eight years after he mustered out a cost-cutting exercise had merged it with the Marine Corps’ nearby Helsington House. The newly enlarged establishment had been given the logical if clumsy name of Joint Base Dyer-Helsington House. In Reacher’s day both Dyer and Helsington House had been high-status places in their own right, staffed mostly by senior and very important people. With the result that the Dyer PX had looked more like Saks Fifth Avenue than a Wal-Mart. And he had heard the Marines’ store was even better. Therefore the new blended version was likely to be no lower on the social totem pole. Therefore its cells were likely to house only high-status prisoners. No drunken brawlers or petty thieves there. An MP major with a problem would be a typical tenant. Therefore Leach’s rumour might be right. The Dyer guardhouse was located north and west of the Pentagon. Diagonally across the cemetery. Less than five miles from the 110th’s HQ. Much less.

  ‘The army and the jarheads in the same place?’ Reacher said. ‘How’s that working out for them?’

  ‘Politicians will do anything to save a buck,’ Leach said.

  ‘Can you call ahead for me?’

  ‘You going there? Now?’

  ‘I have nothing better to do at the moment.’

  ‘Do you have a vehicle?’

  ‘Temporarily,’ Reacher said.

  The night was quiet and dark and suburban, and the drive to Dyer took less than ten minutes. Getting into the Joint Base itself took much longer. The merger had happened less than four years after 9/11, and whatever cost-cutting money had been saved hadn’t been saved on security. The main gate was on the south side of the complex, and it was impressive. There were concrete dragons’ teeth everywhere, funnelling traffic through a narrowing lane blocked by three consecutive guard shacks. Reacher was in battered civilian clothes and had no military ID. No ID at all, in fact, except a worn and creased U.S. passport that was already long expired. But he was in a government car, which created a good first impression. And the military had computers, and he showed up as on active service as of the middle of that evening. And the army had sergeants, and Leach had lit up the favour network with a blizzard of calls. And Dyer had a Criminal Investigation office, and to Reacher’s mild surprise there were still guys around who knew guys who knew guys who remembered his name. The upshot was that just forty-five minutes after stopping at the first barrier he was face to face with an MP captain in the guardhouse front office.

  The captain was a serious dark guy of about thirty, and his ACU nametape said his name was Weiss. He looked honest and decent and reasonably friendly, so Reacher said, ‘This is just a personal matter, captain. Not even remotely official. And I’m probably a little toxic right now, so you should proceed with extreme caution. You should keep this visit off the record. Or refuse to talk to me altogether.’

  Weiss said, ‘Toxic how?’

  ‘Looks like something I did sixteen years ago has come back to bite me in the ass.’

  ‘What did you do?’

  ‘I don’t remember. No doubt someone will remind me soon enough.’

  ‘The computer says you were just recalled.’

  ‘Correct.’

  ‘I never heard of that before.’

  ‘Me neither.’

  ‘Doesn’t sound good. Like someone really wanted you back in the jurisdiction.’

 

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