Night school, p.34
Night School, p.34Part #21 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
Visible from outer space.
Little Horace Wiley.
He opened his eyes, and he hung up the phone, and then he walked back the way he had come.
In Zurich the messenger came out of the bank, through a glossy but anonymous door, to the street, where she walked to the corner and flagged down a cab. She settled in the back seat and said in carefully practiced German, “The airport, please. International departures. Lufthansa to Hamburg.”
The driver started his meter and pulled out into traffic.
Dremmler had gotten the rental van’s plate number from Muller, which enabled a friend at a Mercedes-Benz dealership to trace its security code through its vehicle identification number, which enabled another friend at an auto parts store to make a duplicate ignition key. Which Dremmler gave to a third friend, one of a team of two assembled for the occasion. They were both big men, both competent, both resourceful. They had been in the army. Now one was a motorcycle mechanic. The other worked security for visiting Russians.
“The traffic cop at the bridge is mine,” Dremmler said. “As far as he’s concerned you’re invisible. He’s like a blind man. But even so, don’t push your luck. Get in and out real fast. You know where to find it, and you know where to take it afterward. Any questions?”
The guy with the key said, “What’s in it?”
“Something that will bring us great power,” Dremmler said, which he figured was vague, but probably true.
They found a traffic division black-and-white parked ahead of the boxy metal bridge. The guy inside rolled down his window and told them nothing had passed, either coming or going. No trucks, no vans, no cars, no bikes, and no one on foot. No traffic at all. Reacher asked Griezman to tell the guy to block the road with his car if he saw a panel van coming. Probably white, and probably with the plate number it was born with, but neither thing was definite. It could have been repainted or otherwise disguised. Better safe than sorry. Any kind of a panel van, the guy should block the travel lanes and ask questions later.
Griezman asked why.
Reacher said to get the job done before NATO got its finger in the pie. Which he figured Griezman would interpret as a chance for individual glory and recognition. Maybe the guy wanted to run for mayor one day.
Griezman told the traffic cop what to do.
Reacher said, “Let’s go take a look around.”
Griezman drove down the street, with the cobblestones pattering under his tires, then across the boxy metal bridge, its deck humming and ringing, then more cobbles, and then a choice of two main ways to explore the place from nearest to farthest. One was the wharf itself, and the other was an arterial route set back from the water.
“Which way?” Griezman said.
“The back street,” Reacher said.
There were signs of life here and there. A guy was welding a sports car in a garage with its doors propped open. Another guy had an electronics store. But overall the tide was out. That was clear. From nearest to farthest was two miles exactly, and the number of bustling enterprises could be counted on the fingers of two hands.
Griezman said, “Should we go back now and look at the middle third?”
He said, “I think that’s what Wiley did.”
Griezman threaded through a loading bay, and drove back on the wharf. Technically the middle third would be more than a thousand yards long. Two-thirds of a mile. About the same amount deep. Like the business district of a decent-sized city.
Wiley was in there somewhere.
Griezman said, “Where do you wish to start?”
“Think about it from his point of view. He’s got a van to hide. What does he see? Where does he go?”
Griezman slowed, and then turned between two warehouses, on a narrow street that broadened out into a yard, flanked left and right by storehouses with narrow wooden doors.
“Not here,” Reacher said. “For whatever reason he rented a second van. Which tells us he had somewhere to put it. By accident or design he rented a place with room for two. So it’s not a solid door with an inquiries number tacked to it. It’s a pair of solid doors with an inquiries number tacked to one of them.”
Of which there were many. Some notices were old and faded. They inspired no confidence. Some were crisp and new. But other than head back to the office and try them all out there was no way of knowing which numbers were live, and which were not. Reacher looked around as they drove, and pictured the map he had seen, on Griezman’s office table, on the brittle archive paper, dense with ink, crowded with detail.
He said, “Wiley grew up in Texas. How does he feel about driving in Europe?”
“Not great,” Sinclair said. “It’s narrow and awkward and the turns are too tight.”
“We should add that feeling to the list. He had to maneuver a commercial vehicle. He didn’t want to feel trapped or boxed in. I think he rented on one of the wider streets.”
Of which there were a significant number. They repeated, like an architectural plan. Some side streets were wide, too. For heavier wagons and larger loads. Griezman stopped in one of them. He said, “This could take forever.”
Reacher said, “We have forever. As long as your traffic cop stays awake.”
“We could add one last factor. I think he changed the locks. Or added new. This was a very big deal.”
So Griezman set off again, slowly, quartering the neighborhood, and all four on board craned their necks, looking for solid double doors, with a plausible phone number attached, and maneuvering room out front, and new locks.
The messenger was once again in the immigration line at the Hamburg airport. The same four booths were operational, still two for the European Union, and two for outside. She was using the same Pakistani passport. But this time she was dressed in black and her hair was down. She could see her reflection in the glass. She had been told not to worry if she got the same guy. He wouldn’t remember. He saw a million people every day.
She moved up, from third in line to second.
From the back of the car Reacher saw a phone booth on a corner. He said, “I need to make a call.”
Griezman pulled over and Reacher got out. He dialed the consulate room. Vanderbilt answered. Reacher asked him if Orozco had gotten there yet. Vanderbilt said yes, and put him on the line. Orozco said, “I’m standing by, boss.”
Reacher said, “You should do it now. We have an active roadblock here. Either way the deal is not going to happen. Sooner or later they’ll know it.”
“Have you found him yet?”
“Pretty good so far. Like flying.”
“You bet,” Reacher said.
He hung up the phone and stood in the silence. He could hear Griezman’s Mercedes behind him, idling at the curb. He could hear a faint penumbra of noise from the city, a mile away, and a ship’s horn far down the river. Closer by he could hear a compressor running somewhere. Maybe someone was spraying paint. There were occasional engine noises, in the middle distance, as if things were being hauled back and forth.
Not totally dead.
Wiley was in there somewhere.
Reacher stepped back to the car and said, “Sergeant Neagley and I will walk from here.”
The messenger walked through baggage claim and out to the meet-and-greet concourse. She sidestepped hugs and balloons and made it to the street. Which was somewhat underground. The departures level was above it. She had been told she would find the two she was looking for at the left-hand end of the covered section. Near a corral full of small three-wheeled carts.
She saw them as she approached, exactly as described. Small men, wiry, bearded, dark haired and dark skinned. They had overalls unbuttoned to the waist, with undershirts beneath, and ear defenders around their necks, and elbow protectors around
The messenger said, “The Mercedes-Benz was named for a customer’s daughter.”
The guy on the left said, “You’re a woman.”
“This is a serious business. What better disguise?”
“Do you know what you’re doing?”
“You’re supposed to tell us.”
“Then you better trust me. We’re going to take a cab to the old docks. A man is going to give us a long-wheelbase panel van. You’re going to drive the van back to the airport and load it on the plane. Do you understand?”
The two guys nodded. Pretty much what they expected. They were airplane loaders with badges that could get them through any airport gate. Horses for courses. They didn’t expect to get called out to the hospital to do brain surgery.
Reacher and Neagley took opposite sidewalks, and checked doors, and peered around corners. They tried to see what they saw like a slow-motion version of Wiley himself, scouting from his car, pausing at the end of every block, feeling, choosing, left or right or straight ahead, whichever felt best, and safest, and secret, and secluded.
By that point they were deep in the heart of the middle third. And by a happy circumstance the best-feeling places all had the same phone number. Crisp, laminated notices. Fairly recent. Wiley would have liked them. They would have given him confidence. They spoke of a small real estate enterprise. Reliable. Professional. And he would be one tenant among many. He wouldn’t stand out.
“I’ve seen that same number for thirty square blocks,” Neagley said. “This guy bought a big chunk of land.”
“Maybe he wants to put up an apartment building.”
They moved on, pausing at the end of every block, feeling, choosing, left or right or straight ahead. Reacher stopped on a corner. He glanced left. He saw a pair of double doors. Solid. Dark green. Weathered, but not rotted. A phone number. The left-hand door had sagged ajar a foot or so. Open padlocks hung askew on bolts and a hasp. The right-hand door was propped all the way wide. A small warehouse. Dark inside, against the bright daylight.
Reacher walked closer.
There was a sound inside. Fast wheezing breaths, bubbling and gurgling, each one ending in a tiny gasp or yelp. The sound of a guy breathing hard with broken ribs and blood in his throat. Reacher took his Colt out of his pocket. He clicked the safety. He put his finger on the trigger. He kept close to the wall, and tried to see in through the crack of the hinge. A big dark mass.
He followed the angle of the left-hand door, and flattened his back against the last part of it. Neagley waited a yard away. She would replace him when he moved.
He listened to the breathing.
Wheezing, bubbling, yelping.
He moved off the door and peered around its edge.
He saw a two-truck space. One half was full, and one half was empty. The full half had an old delivery truck, dusty and settled on softening tires. The word Möbel was painted on its side. Which was German for furniture. Its rear door was up. Inside was an empty wooden crate. Maybe twelve feet by six by six, made of old timber as hard and bronzed as metal.
The empty half of the space had a guy on the floor.
He was lying in a spreading lake of blood.
The hair, the brow, the cheek bones, the deep-set eyes.
It was Horace Wiley.
Wiley’s blade of a nose was busted, and one of his arms, Reacher thought, from the way he was holding it. His other hand was pressed hard against his stomach. Bright red blood was pulsing out between his fingers. He was staring blankly at the far horizon, with wide-open tragedy in his eyes. More shock and misery than Reacher had ever seen before. More abject crushing disappointment, more pain, more betrayal, more open-mouthed incredulity at the unlikely ways the world can crush a person.
Reacher stepped closer.
He said, “What happened?”
Wiley gasped and bubbled and his voice came out low and halting.
He said, “They stole my van. Stabbed me. Bust my arm.”
“I was waiting here. Two guys came. Stabbed me and stole my van.”
“Waiting for what?”
“Guys who were coming for the van. Part of the deal.”
“I need a doctor, man. I’m going to die.”
“That’s for damn sure,” Reacher said. “Treason gets the death penalty.”
“It hurts bad.”
“Good,” Reacher said.
Then he heard a car. He looked around the open door. It was Griezman and Sinclair, in the department Mercedes.
Sinclair knelt down next to Wiley, talking, listening, promising a doctor in exchange for cooperation, already debriefing a mile a minute. Neagley looked at the empty crate in the furniture truck. She caught Reacher’s eye and pointed to the receptacle for the secret file. Thin plywood, with a half-moon shape scooped out for fingers. The part the apprentice had made, eleven times over. Then Reacher went with Griezman, all the way back to the iron bridge, to see what the traffic cop had snared. One panel van, presumably. But no. When they got there the traffic cop swore nothing had passed by. No vans, no cars, no people, no nothing.
Reacher and Griezman drove back to the warehouse. They got out of the car and heard nothing at all. Sinclair and Neagley were standing in the gloom, still and silent. The lake of blood on the floor was bigger. But it was no longer increasing.
Wiley had bled out.
He was dead.
Griezman said, “Nothing crossed the bridge.”
Then Reacher heard another car.
He stepped out a pace. A taxi. Three passengers. A woman, her head ducked down, shoveling money out of her purse. Paying the fare. And two men, climbing out, small and wiry, dark and bearded, wearing work clothes and protective equipment, looking around, seeing Reacher, looking him right in the eye, and nodding a cautious greeting. As if they expected to see him there. Which they did, he guessed. Generically. They knew a man was going to give them a panel van. They had come to drive it away. Part of the deal.
Reacher put his hand on his gun in his pocket and stepped all the way out to the sunlight. The woman was stuffing her purse back in her bag. The taxi was driving away. The woman looked up. She saw Reacher and looked momentarily confused. Reacher was not the guy she was expecting to see. She was in her early twenties, with jet black hair and olive skin. She was very good looking. She could have been Turkish or Italian.
She was the messenger.
The two guys with her were waiting patiently, stoic and unexcited, like laborers ahead of routine tasks. They were airport workers, Reacher thought. He remembered telling Sinclair that Wiley had chosen Hamburg because it was a port. The second largest in Europe. The gateway to the world. Maybe once. But the plan had changed. Now he guessed they planned to drive the truck into the belly of a cargo plane. Maybe fly it to Aden, which was a port of a different kind. On the coast of Yemen. Where ten tramp steamers would be waiting to complete the deliveries, after weeks at sea. Straight to New York or D.C. or London or LA or San Francisco. All the world’s great cities had ports nearby. He remembered Neagley saying the radius of the lethal blast was a mile, and the radius of the fireball was two. Ten times over. Ten million dead, and then complete collapse. The next hundred years in the dark ages.
The messenger said, “Hello?”
Not Turkish or Italian. Pashtun, probably, from the Northwest Frontier. A tribe as old as time. Dutiful mapmakers drew lines and wrote India or Pakistan or Afghani
Night School by Lee Child / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5.3 out of 5 / Based on48 votes