61 hours, p.35
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       61 Hours, p.35

         Part #14 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
 

  Reacher looked down at the floor.

  Susan said, ‘You can’t change the past.’

  ‘I know.’

  ‘You can’t atone. And you don’t need to, anyway. That guy deserved to be in a coma, maybe for ever.’

  ‘Maybe.’

  ‘Go to Rapid City.’

  ‘No.’

  ‘Then come to Virginia. We’ll deal with this together.’

  Reacher said nothing.

  ‘Don’t you want to come to Virginia?’

  ‘Sure I do.’

  ‘So do it.’

  ‘I will. Tomorrow.’

  ‘Do it now.’

  ‘It’s the middle of the night.’

  ‘There was a question you used to ask me.’

  ‘Was there?’

  ‘You stopped asking it.’

  ‘What was it?’

  ‘You used to ask if I was married.’

  ‘Are you?’

  ‘No.’

  Reacher looked up again. Janet Salter stared right back at him.

  He said, ‘I’ll leave tomorrow.’

  He hung up the phone.

  Five minutes to two in the morning. Two hours to go.

  FORTY

  THREE HOURS INTO THE FLIGHT, AND PLATO WAS GET TING TENSE. Unsurprisingly. His life was like a video game. One thing popped up at him after another. Each thing had to be dealt with efficiently and comprehensively. From the most important to the least. Not that even the least important thing was trivial. He spent fifteen hundred dollars a month on rubber bands alone. Just to bind up all the cash that he took to the bank. There were no small problems. And plenty of big ones. And his performance was judged not only on substance, but also on style. Drama was weakness. Especially for him.

  The irony was that he had been large as a child. Until he was seven he was as big as or bigger than anyone else. At eight he was still fully competitive. At nine he was in the ballpark. Then he had stopped growing. No one knew why. No one knew if it was genetic, or a disease, or an environmental factor. Maybe mercury, or lead, or some other heavy metal. Certainly it was not a lack of food or proper care. His parents had always been present and competent. At first they had turned a blind eye. The assumption was that such a thing would correct itself. But it didn’t. So first his father had turned away, and then his mother.

  Now no one turned away.

  His cell phone was switched on. Normal rules did not apply to him. It rang and he answered it. His man on the ground. Some fellow cop had found out too much and had been taken out. Plato didn’t care. Collateral damage. Unimportant. Some other guy was sniffing around, too, and would have to be dealt with. An exmilitary cop. Plato didn’t care about that, either. Unimportant. Not his problem.

  But then, finally, the big news: the witness was dead.

  Plato smiled.

  He said, ‘You just saved a life.’

  Then he made a call of his own. Brooklyn, New York. He announced the news. The last obstacle had been removed. South Dakota was now definitively a trouble-free zone. The title was impregnable. Absolutely guaranteed. The Russian agreed to wire the money immediately. Plato listened hard and imagined he heard the click of the mouse.

  He smiled again.

  A done deal.

  He closed his phone and looked out his window. Seat 1A, the best on the plane. His plane. He looked down at America spread out below. Dark and massive. Strings of lights. He checked his watch. Fifty-seven more minutes. Then, once again, and as always, show time. Another challenge. Another triumph.

  Reacher went upstairs and found Janet Salter’s bedroom. It was at the back of the house, directly above the library. It was a pleasant, fragrant room that smelled of talcum powder and lavender. Its bathroom was directly above half of the kitchen. There was a medicine cabinet above the sink. In it was an array of basic toiletry items, plus the box of .38 ammunition, eighty-eight rounds remaining of the original hundred.

  Reacher put the box in his coat pocket and closed the mirror. He went back down the stairs and stepped into the library and stood over Janet Salter and moved her book and one soft arm and took her gun out of her cardigan pocket. It was still fully loaded. It had not been fired. He put it in his own pocket and replaced the book and the arm and stepped away.

  The cop who had killed the lawyer and the deputy chief and Mrs Salter sat in his car and stared out the windshield. He was in his designated position on the makeshift perimeter, personally responsible for the eighth of a mile of snow on his left and the eighth of a mile of snow on his right. Not that any escaper would use anything except the road, even in summer. In any season the terrain was too flat and featureless for concealment. The dogs would run him down in a minute. Going cross-country and hiding in ditches and culverts was strictly for the kind of old black and white chain-gang movie that gets shown late at night on the minor satellite channels. No, these days any sane fugitive would come straight down the road, strapped to the chassis of an empty delivery truck.

  Not that there actually was a fugitive. Plato had been clear about that. There were all kinds of voids in the prison architecture. Overhead plenum chambers where ducts branched, underfloor matrices where pipes split. All kinds of inspection panels. All perfectly safe, because none of the voids actually led anywhere. But useful for purposes short of an actual break-out. A sandwich and a bottle to pee in, a guy could hold out ten or twelve hours.

  Which would be enough.

  The cop checked his guns. Habit. Instinct. First his official piece, in his holster, and then his other piece, in his pocket. Loaded. A round in the chamber, and fourteen more in the magazine.

  He wouldn’t need the fourteen in the magazine.

  Reacher took one last careful tour through Janet Salter’s house. He was fairly sure he wouldn’t be coming back to it, and there were certain things he needed to fix in his mind. He looked at the front door, the back door, the basement door, the kitchen, the hallway, the library, Janet Salter’s position in it, and the book on her lap. Somewhere between five and eight minutes, he thought, for her to get as comfortable as she looked, given that she had been starting out from a state of extreme panic. It would have taken her that kind of time to relax, even in the safe and reassuring company of a trusted figure like a town cop.

  So, allowing a minute’s margin for her protective detail to clear the area, someone had been between six and nine minutes late to the roll call up at the prison.

  Someone would remember.

  Maybe.

  If there had been a roll call at all.

  If the guy had even gone.

  Reacher zipped his coat and jammed his hat down over his ears and covered it with his hood. Put his gloves on, opened the front door, and stepped out once again into the cold. It crowded in on him, battered at him, tormented him, froze him. But he ignored it. An act of will. He closed the door and walked down the driveway and made the turns and headed back towards the station. He stayed vigilant all the way, right up there in the kind of hyper-alert zone that made him feel he could draw and fire a thousand times faster than any opponent. The kind of zone that made him feel he could mine the ore and smelt the metal and draw the blueprint and cast the parts and build his own gun, all before any opponent got the drop on him.

  I’m not afraid of death.

  Death’s afraid of me.

  Fear into aggression.

  Guilt into aggression.

  The police station was completely deserted apart from the civilian aide back on duty behind the reception counter. He was a tall creaky individual about seventy years old. He was sitting glumly on his stool. Reacher asked for the news. The guy said there wasn’t any. Reacher asked how long the department would stay deployed. The guy said he didn’t know. The department had no experience of such a thing. There had never been an escape before.

  ‘There was no escape tonight,’ Reacher said. ‘The guy is hiding out inside.’

  ‘That’s your opinion?’

  ‘Yes, it is.’


  ‘Based on what?’

  ‘Common sense,’ Reacher said.

  ‘Then I should think they’ll give it another hour or so. The perimeter is a mile out. Two hours is long enough to decide the guy is already through, or maybe not coming at all.’

  ‘Tell me how the roll call works. For the department, at the prison.’

  ‘I do it from here. By radio. I work through the list, they answer me from their cars or their collar mikes, I check them off.’

  ‘How did it go tonight?’

  ‘All present and correct.’

  ‘No absentees?’

  ‘None at all.’

  ‘Misfires? Hesitations?’

  ‘None.’

  ‘When did you do it?’

  ‘I started when I heard the siren. It takes about five minutes, beginning to end.’

  ‘So they’re self-certifying, aren’t they?’

  ‘I don’t follow.’

  Reacher said, ‘You don’t really know where they are or what they’re doing. All you know is if they answer your call or not.’

  ‘I ask them where they are. They tell me. Either they’re in position or close to it. And the prison warden is entitled to check.’

  ‘How?’

  ‘He can go up in a tower and eyeball. The land is flat. Or he can tap into our radio net and call the roll himself, if he wants.’

  ‘Did he tonight?’

  ‘I don’t know.’

  Reacher asked, ‘Who was last into position tonight?’

  ‘I can’t say. Early in the alphabet, they’re all still in motion. Late in the alphabet, they’re all already on station.’

  ‘So they tell you.’

  ‘Why would I doubt them?’

  ‘You need to call Chief Holland,’ Reacher said. ‘Mrs Salter is dead.’

  Reacher wandered through the silent station, the squad room, Holland’s office, the bathrooms, and he came to rest in the room with the crime scene photographs pinned to the walls. The biker, and the lawyer. He sat with his back to the biker and looked at the lawyer. He didn’t know the guy’s name. Didn’t know much about him at all. But he knew enough to know the guy was basically the same as Janet Salter. A man, not a woman, a frozen road, not a warm book-lined room, but they were both half-wise, half-unworldly people lulled into a false sense of security, tricked into relaxing. The shift lever in Park and the window all the way down in the door were the same things as Janet Salter’s comfortable posture and the book on her lap.

  Understand their motives, their circumstances, their goals, their aims, their fears, their needs. Think like them. See what they see. Be them.

  They were both all the way there. Not partway, not halfway. They were completely trusting. They had opened up, literally. Doors, windows, hearts, minds. Not half worried, not half formal, not half suspicious.

  They were all the way there.

  Not just any cop could do that to them.

  It was a cop they both knew, had met before, were familiar with.

  Peterson had asked: What would your elite unit do now?

  Answer: Reacher or Susan or any of the other 110th Special Unit COs in between them would put their feet up on the damaged desk and send a pair of eager lieutenants to map out both lives, to list all known acquaintances in the Bolton PD in order of intimacy. Then he or she or any of the others would cross-reference the lists, and a name would show up in common.

  Reacher had no pair of eager lieutenants.

  But there were other approaches.

  A minute later Reacher heard footsteps in the corridor. Arrhythmic. The slap of one sole, followed by the scrape of the other. The old guy from the counter. He had a slight limp. He stuck his head in the door and said, ‘Chief Holland is on his way. He’s leaving his post up there. He shouldn’t, but he is.’

  Reacher nodded. Said nothing.

  The old guy said, ‘It’s a terrible thing that happened to Mrs Salter.’

  ‘I know.’

  ‘Do you know who did it?’

  ‘Not yet. Did anyone call anything in?’

  ‘Like who?’

  ‘A neighbour, maybe. A shot was fired.’

  ‘Inside the house?’

  ‘In her library.’

  The old guy shrugged. ‘Houses are far apart. Everyone has storm windows. Most of them are triple-glazed and on a night like this all of them are shut tight.’

  Reacher said nothing.

  The old guy asked, ‘Is it one of us?’

  ‘Why would it be?’

  ‘Chief Holland called a meeting. Just before the siren. Can’t see any other reason for it. Can’t see any other way of doing it, either. The lawyer, I mean, then Mr Peterson and now Mrs Salter. The three of them, fast and easy, just like that. It has to be one of us. And then you asked who was last in position tonight.’

  ‘Were you a cop?’

  ‘I was with this department thirty years.’

  ‘I’m sorry.’

  ‘I’d like to get my hands on the guy.’

  ‘You spoke to him tonight. At some point. Either just before or just after.’

  ‘They all sounded normal to me.’

  ‘Do you know them well?’

  ‘Not the new guys.’

  ‘Was anybody particularly close with Mrs Salter?’

  ‘A lot of them were. She’s a fixture. Was a fixture.’

  Seven miles up and four hundred miles south Plato’s cell phone rang again. The money he had taken from the Russian was hammering its way around the world. From one jurisdiction to another, shady and untraceable, an automated all-night trip that was scheduled to take seven hours in total. But it was always banking hours somewhere. The deposit flashed across a screen in Hong Kong and tripped a code that meant the account holder should be notified. So the clerk who saw it dialled a number that bounced through five separate call forwarding triggers before ringing out inside the Boeing high above Nebraska. Plato answered and listened without comment. He was already the richest man he had ever met. He always would be. He was Plato, and they weren’t. Not his parents, not the Russian, not his old associate Martinez, not anybody.

  The bank clerk in Hong Kong hung up with Plato and dialled another number. Brooklyn, New York. After three in the morning over there, but the call was answered immediately, by the Russian, who was paying more than Plato was.

  A lot more.

  The clerk said, ‘I told him the money was in his account.’

  The Russian said, ‘So now reverse the transaction.’

  The clerk clicked and scrolled.

  ‘Done,’ he said.

  The Russian said, ‘Thank you.’

  From Brooklyn the Russian dialled Mexico City, a number deep inside a local law enforcement agency with a long name he couldn’t begin to translate. A colonel answered. The Russian told him that all was proceeding exactly according to plan.

 
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