61 hours, p.31
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       61 Hours, p.31

         Part #14 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
 

  The car’s transmission was controlled by a lever on the steering column. It was still in Drive. The heater was set at seventy degrees. The radio volume was turned down very low. There were regular gasps of quiet static and occasional murmuring voices, all of them unintelligible.

  ‘OK,’ Reacher said.

  ‘Seen enough?’ Holland asked.

  ‘Yes.’

  ‘So what happened?’

  ‘I don’t know.’

  ‘Why didn’t he drive straight home?’

  ‘I don’t know.’

  ‘He was looking for the shooter,’ Holland said.

  ‘You all are.’

  ‘But that wasn’t his job tonight. So he was freelancing. You know why?’

  ‘No.’

  ‘He was trying to impress you.’

  ‘Me?’

  ‘You were practically mentoring him. You were helping him. Maybe you were even pushing him.’

  ‘Was I?’

  ‘You told him what to do about the dead lawyer. All those photographs? You told him what to do about the dead biker. You discussed things. He was going to be the next chief. He wanted to be a good one. He was ready to listen to anybody.’

  ‘I didn’t tell him to go searching for the shooter all alone in the middle of the night.’

  ‘He wanted to break the case.’

  ‘You all do.’

  ‘He wanted your respect.’

  ‘Or yours,’ Reacher said. ‘Maybe he was trying to live up to the bullshit you put on the radio tonight. About the meth? You made him feel like a fraud.’

  Silence for a beat.

  Holland asked, ‘What happened here?’

  Reacher said, ‘He saw someone in the lot. Almost certainly in a car or a truck. Too cold to be on foot. He drove in. A wide circle. He stopped, cheek to cheek. Pretty close. He turned down his radio and opened his window, ready to talk. But the guy just went ahead and shot him. He fell over and died and his foot slipped off the brake. The car drove itself into the wall.’

  ‘Same basic setup as the lawyer.’

  ‘Pretty much.’

  ‘Was it quick?’

  ‘Head shots usually are.’

  They went quiet. Just stood and shivered in the freezing air. Holland said, ‘Should we look for a shell case?’

  Reacher shook his head. ‘Same deal as the lawyer. The shell case ejected inside the shooter’s vehicle.’

  Holland didn’t speak. Reacher could see the question in his face. Who was the guy? It was right there in his eyes.

  An awkward question, with an unappealing answer.

  Reacher said, ‘Now I see why you wanted me here. You wanted me to be the one to reach the conclusion. And say it out loud. Me, not you. An independent voice.’

  Holland didn’t speak.

  Reacher said, ‘OK, let’s not go there. Not just yet. Let’s think for a minute.’

  They went back to the station house. Holland parked in the slot reserved for him and they walked between the garbage cans to the door. They went to the squad room, to the desk that Peterson had used. Holland said, ‘You should check his messages. Voice mail and e-mail. Something might have come in that led him there.’

  Reacher said, ‘You’re clutching at straws.’

  ‘Allow me the privilege.’

  ‘Did he even come here first?’

  ‘I don’t know.’

  ‘Did he even have time?’

  ‘Probably not. But we should check the messages anyway. Because we need to be sure, with a thing like this.’

  ‘You should do the checking. It’s your department. I’m just a civilian.’

  Holland said, ‘I don’t know how. I never learned. I’m not good with technology. I’m old school. Everyone knows that. I’m the past. Andrew was the future.’

  So Reacher puzzled his way through the telephone console and the computer keyboard. No passwords were required. No PINs. Everything was set up for fast and casual access. There was only one voice mail message. It was from Kim Peterson, much earlier in the evening, just after six o’clock, just after Reacher and her husband had hustled back to Janet Salter’s house after watching the surveillance video from the prison.

  Kim’s recorded voice was suspended somewhere between panicked and brave and resigned and querulous.

  She had asked, ‘When are you coming home?’

  Reacher moved on to e-mail. He opened the application. Two messages downloaded. The first was from the DEA in Washington D.C. An agent there was confirming his belief that there was no meth lab under the facility west of Bolton, South Dakota. Expensive satellite surveillance time proved it. Peterson was thanked for his interest and asked to get back in touch should new information come to light.

  The second e-mail was a routine nightly round robin BOLO bulletin from the Highway Patrol. Statewide coordination. Be on the lookout. For, in this instance, a whole bunch of stuff, including any or all of three stolen cars and four stolen trucks taken that day from random locations around the state, a stolen snowplough taken from a highway maintenance depot east of Mitchell, a thing called an Isuzu N-series pump and a de-icing truck stolen by two absconded employees from a commercial airfield east of Rapid City, a stolen Ithaca shotgun from Pierre, four suspects believed to be at large in a 1979 Chevrolet Suburban after a messy and aborted burglary in Sioux Falls, and finally Peterson’s own contribution, a bartender fleeing a suspected Bolton homicide in a 2005 Ford pick-up truck.

  Reacher said, ‘Nothing.’

  Holland sat down.

  ‘So say it,’ he said. ‘Let’s go there now.’

  ‘Three questions,’ Reacher said. ‘Why did the lawyer stop on the road with such total confidence? Why did Peterson stop in the lot? And why was he killed tonight of all nights?’

  ‘Answers?’

  ‘Because the lawyer felt safe to do so. Because Peterson felt safe to do so. And because you announced the meth bust on the police department radio net.’

  Holland nodded.

  ‘The shooter is one of us,’ he said. ‘He’s a cop.’

  Five minutes to midnight.

  Four hours to go.

  THIRTY-SIX

  HOLLAND AND REACHER HASHED IT OUT BETWEEN THEM, LIKE people do, searching for weaknesses in a theory, finding none, and thereby strengthening it to the point of certainty. A bent cop already in town explained why the watch for incoming strangers had proved fruitless. A bent cop in a car, flashing his lights, maybe patting the air with a gloved hand out a window, explained why a cautious lawyer would come to a dead stop on a lonely road in the middle of nowhere. A bent cop, hearing Holland’s triumphant radio message earlier that night, explained why Peterson had died so soon afterwards. The guy would have realized the need for action before morning. Start of business tomorrow he’ll be calling the DEA in Washington with the details, Holland had said. A no-brainer. And a bent cop parked in a lot, maybe waving urgently, explained why Peterson had come straight to his side, completely unsuspecting, completely unready.

  And a bent cop hauled unwillingly away by the siren and the crisis plan explained why Janet Salter had lived through the prison riot, all five hours of it.

  Holland said, ‘It’s my fault. What I said on the radio got Andrew killed.’

  ‘I might have done the same,’ Reacher said. ‘In fact, sometimes I did do the same.’

  ‘I was trying to help him.’

  ‘Unintended consequences. Don’t blame yourself.’

  ‘How can I not?’

  ‘Why did he even go there? He wasn’t on duty. He wasn’t just passing by, because it wasn’t on his way home.’

  ‘He was always on duty, in his head, at least. And it could have been on his way home. More or less. I mean, it was a very minor detour. Two extra minutes, maybe. And that was Andrew, through and through. Always willing to give a little extra to the cause. Always ready to try one last thing, check one last place.’

  Reacher said nothing.

  Holland said, ‘I’m
assuming the Mexican is behind all of this. The one we keep hearing about.’

  Reacher said, ‘Plato.’

  Holland asked, ‘How long ago do you suppose he turned our guy around?’

  ‘A year,’ Reacher said. ‘This whole business seems to be a year old.’

  ‘Was it money?’

  ‘Most things are.’

  ‘Who is it?’

  ‘I don’t know.’

  ‘A new guy, I’m guessing. I hardly know them. Not enough to trust any of them, anyway. The department is a mess. Which is my fault too, I guess. I couldn’t keep up.’

  Reacher said nothing.

  Holland asked, ‘Where do we start?’

  ‘Tell me about Kapler.’

  ‘He had problems in Miami. Nothing was proved against him. But there were rumours. It was Miami, and there was drug money around.’

  ‘Terrific.’

  ‘They were just rumours.’

  ‘You should look at him. And Lowell. What happened to him a year ago? You should look at this guy Montgomery, too. People who are all alone when they discover crimes are sometimes the same people that committed them.’

  ‘Should I bring them in?’

  ‘Safest thing to do would be to bring everyone in. The whole damn department. Sit them down right here in this room, and you’d know for sure your guy was right in front of you.’

  Holland said, ‘Can I do that?’

  ‘Sure you can.’

  ‘Should I do it?’

  Reacher said nothing. Any cop’s most basic question: Suppose we’re wrong?

  Holland said, ‘The crew at Mrs Salter’s must be OK. They didn’t go anywhere tonight. Did they? They weren’t waiting in abandoned lots. They have alibis. Each other, and you.’

  ‘True.’

  ‘So I could leave them in place.’

  ‘But you should warn them first,’ Reacher said. ‘If our guy senses the net is tightening, he might make one last attempt.’

  ‘They’d nail him.’

  ‘Not if you don’t warn them first. A fellow cop comes to their door, what are they going to do? Shoot first and ask questions later?’

  ‘They’d nail him afterwards.’

  ‘Which would be too late.’

  ‘It would be a suicide mission.’

  ‘Maybe he’s ready for one. He must know he’s going to get nailed sooner or later. He must know he’s dead whatever happens. He’s between a rock and a hard place. Two homicides or three, either way he’s going to fry.’

  ‘He might not come in at all. He might disobey my order.’

  ‘Then he’ll identify himself for you. He’ll paint a target on his own back. He’ll save you the trouble.’

  ‘So should I do it? Should I call them in?’

  ‘I would,’ Reacher said. ‘It’s any police department’s basic duty. Get criminals off the streets.’

  Holland made the calls. First came seven individual conversations, with the four women and the three men stationed with Mrs Salter. The subtext was awkward. One of your fellow officers is a killer. Trust no one except yourselves. Then he made a general all-points call on the radio net and ordered all other officers, whoever they were, wherever they were, whatever they were doing, on duty or not, to report to base exactly thirty minutes from then. Which Reacher thought was a minor tactical error. Better to have required their immediate presence. Which might not have gotten them there any faster in practice, but to set even a short deadline gave the bad guy the sense he still had time and space to act, to finish his work, and in ideal conditions of chaos and confusion, too, with cops running around all over the place. It was going to be a risky half-hour.

  Holland put the microphone back on its rest, and picked up the phone again. He said, ‘Kim Peterson hasn’t been informed yet.’

  Reacher said, ‘Don’t do it by phone. That’s not right.’

  ‘I know. I’m calling the front desk. Because I want you to do it. The desk guy can drive you. He can pick you up again in an hour. An hour should do it.’

  ‘Are you serious?’

  ‘I don’t have time to do it myself. I’ll be busy here.’

  ‘I don’t have standing,’ Reacher said. ‘I’m just a stranger passing through.’

  ‘You met her,’ Holland said. ‘You spent a night in her house.’

  ‘It’s your job, not mine.’

  ‘I’m sure you’ve done it before.’

  ‘That’s not the point.’

  ‘I’m sure you were good at it.’

  ‘Not very.’

  ‘You have to do it,’ Holland said. ‘I just can’t, OK? Don’t make me, OK?’

  Plato spent an hour in seat 1A, front of the cabin, left hand side, and then he got restless. Air travel at night bored him. By day there was a view, even from seven miles up. Mostly empty and brown, to be sure, but with enough roads and houses and towns to remind him there were new customers down there, just waiting to be recruited and served. But at night he couldn’t see them. There was nothing except darkness and strings of distant lights.

  He got up and walked down the aisle, past his men, past the last first class seat, into the empty space where economy class had been. He looked at the equipment on the floor. His men had checked it. He checked it again, because he was Plato and they weren’t.

  Food, water, all uninteresting. Seven coats, seven hats, seven pairs of gloves. All new, all adequate. The coats were big puffy things filled with goose feathers. North Face, a popular make, all black. Six were medium, and one was a boy’s size. The sub-machine guns were H&K MP5Ks. Short, stubby, futuristic, lethal. His favourite. There were seven small backpacks, each containing spare magazines and flashlights.

  Immediately Plato diagnosed a problem. The backpack straps would have to be let out close to their maximum length, to fit over the bulky coats. An obvious conclusion. Simply a question of thinking ahead. But it hadn’t been done.

  He was Plato, and they weren’t.

  The ladders were made by an American company called Werner. Aluminum, thirty-two feet long at their maximum extension, rated for two hundred and fifty pounds. They were all plastered with yellow warning stickers. They rattled slightly. They were picking up vibrations from the engines. They probably weighed about twenty pounds each. There were four of them. Eighty pounds. They would be left behind. Better to use the airlift capacity for forty extra glassine bricks than four useless ladders.

  The same with the six useless men, of course. They would be left behind too. Nine hundred pounds of replaceable flesh and blood, versus four hundred and fifty extra bricks of meth? No contest.

  Plato was already visualizing the return trip. He knew he would succeed. He had many advantages. Most of them were innate and overwhelming. His man on the ground was insurance, nothing more.

  Caleb Carter was considered low man on the totem pole. Which he
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