Never go back, p.35
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       Never Go Back, p.35

         Part #18 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
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  ‘Probably for the same reason we didn’t shoot Emal Zadran. They have politicians too.’

  ‘When was this?’

  ‘Five years ago. They gave him a permanent billet at home after that. And he hasn’t been back to Afghanistan since.’

  Reacher closed the phone, and Turner said, ‘I don’t like that at all. Why would he sell arms to the people who cut his ears off?’

  ‘He doesn’t make the deals. He’s just a cog in a machine. They don’t care what he thinks. They want his muscle, not his opinions.’

  ‘We should offer him immunity. We could turn him on a dime.’

  ‘He beat Moorcroft half to death.’

  ‘I said offer, not give. We could stab him in the back afterwards.’

  ‘So call him, and make the pitch. He’s still on speed dial, in Rickard’s phone.’

  Turner got up and found the right cell, and got back in bed and dialled, but the phone company told her the number she wanted was blocking her calls.

  ‘Efficient,’ she said. ‘They’re cleaning house as they go, minute by minute. No more Mr Rickard. Or Baldacci, or Lozano. All consigned to history.’

  ‘We’ll manage without Shrago’s input,’ Reacher said. ‘We’ll figure it out. Maybe in a dream, about five minutes from now.’

  She smiled, and said, ‘OK, goodnight again.’

  Juliet called Romeo, because some responsibilities were his, and he said, ‘Shrago has located their car. It’s at a motel south of the Burbank airport.’

  Romeo said, ‘But?’

  ‘Shrago feels it’s likely not in front of the right room, as a basic security measure. He’d have to check ten or a dozen, and he feels he won’t get away with that. One or two, maybe, but no more. And there’s no point in disabling the car, because they’d only rent another, on one of our own credit cards.’

  ‘Can’t he get to the girl?’

  ‘Not before she leaves the house again. It’s buttoned up tight.’

  Romeo said, ‘There’s activity in the legal archive. A lone user, with JAG access, searching for something. Which is unusual, at this time of night.’

  ‘Captain Edmonds?’

  ‘No, she’s in the HRC system. She just took a good look at Rickard and Shrago, about an hour ago. They’re closing in.’

  ‘On Shrago, perhaps. But not on us. There’s no direct link.’

  ‘The link is through Zadran. It’s like a neon sign. So tell Shrago to get out of Burbank. Tell him to wait on the girl. Tell him we’re counting on him, and tell him this mess has to be cleaned up first thing in the morning, whatever it takes.’

  Edmonds’ second call came at five in the morning local time, which was eight in the East. Reacher and Turner did the fore-head-to-forehead thing again, and Edmonds said, ‘OK, here’s an update. Treadmill time is over, and office hours are yet to begin, so all I have is rumour and gossip, but in D.C. that’s usually more accurate than anything else.’

  Reacher said, ‘And?’

  ‘I spoke to eight people either in or associated with the office of the Secretary.’


  ‘Rodriguez or Juan Rodriguez or Dog or Big Dog is ringing no bells. No one recognizes the name, no one is aware of an active case, no one has passed a message to Major Sullivan, and no one is aware of a senior officer doing so either.’


  ‘But not definitive. Eight people is a small sample, and the feeling is a sixteen-year-old embarrassment wouldn’t be given much bandwidth. We’ll know more in an hour, when everyone is back in the office.’

  ‘Thank you, captain.’

  ‘Sleeping well?’

  ‘We’re in a motel that rents by the hour. We’re getting our money’s worth. Was Ezra Shrago offered counselling after the thing with his ears in Afghanistan?’

  ‘Psychiatric notes are eyes-only.’

  ‘But I’m sure you read them anyway.’

  ‘He was offered counselling, and he accepted, which was considered unusual. Most people seem to do it the army way, which is to bottle it up until they collapse with a nervous breakdown. But Shrago was a willing patient.’


  ‘As of three years after the incident he still retained strong feelings of anger, resentment, humiliation and hatred. The home deployment was pre-emptive, just as much as therapeutic. The feeling was he couldn’t be trusted among the native population. He was an atrocity waiting to happen. The notes say he hates the Taliban with a passion.’

  Afterwards Turner said, ‘Now I really don’t like it. Why would he sell weapons to people he hates?’

  ‘He’s a cog,’ Reacher said again. ‘He lives in North Carolina. He hasn’t seen a raghead in five years. He gets paid a lot of money.’

  ‘But he’s participating.’

  ‘He’s disassociating. Out of sight, out of mind.’

  Reacher left the phone where it was, between their pillows, and they went back to sleep.

  But not for long. Edmonds called for a third time forty minutes later, at a quarter to six in the morning, local time. She said, ‘Just for fun I went back through the Fort Bragg deployments, because I wanted to see how long they had all served together as a quartet. Shrago was in at the beginning, as I said, and then came Rickard, and then Lozano, and then Baldacci was the last in, which was four years ago, and they’ve been together ever since. Which makes them the oldest team in the unit, by a big margin. They’ve had plenty of time to get to know each other.’

  ‘OK,’ Reacher said.

  ‘But that’s not the real point. The real point is, four years ago that unit had a temporary commander. The previous guy fell down dead with a heart attack. It was the temporary commander who put Shrago’s team together. And guess who he was?’

  ‘Morgan,’ Reacher said.

  ‘You got it in one. He was a major then. He got his promotion soon after that, for no very obvious reason. His file is pretty thin. You could read it as a cure for insomnia.’

  ‘I’ll bear that in mind. But right now I sleep fine, apart from getting woken up by the phone.’

  ‘Likewise,’ Edmonds said.

  Reacher asked, ‘Who sent Morgan to Bragg four years ago? Who tells a guy like that where to go?’

  ‘I’m working on that now.’

  Reacher left the phone where it was, and they went back to sleep.

  They got a final half-hour, and then the fourth call of the morning came in, at a quarter after six local time, and it came direct from Major Sullivan at JAG. She said, ‘I just spent three hours in the archive, and I’m afraid your theory is a little off the mark. The Big Dog’s claim was not litigated sixteen years ago, nor has it been at any time since.’

  Reacher paused a beat.

  ‘OK,’ he said. ‘Understood. Thanks for trying.’

  ‘Now do you want the good news?’

  ‘Is there any?’

  ‘It wasn’t litigated, but it was investigated very thoroughly.’


  ‘It was a fraud, from beginning to end.’


  SULLIVAN SAID, ‘SOMEONE really went to bat for you. You must have been very well respected, major. It wasn’t a class action thing. There was no new policy regarding ambulance chasers. This was all about you. Someone wanted to clear your name.’


  ‘The hard work was done by a captain from the 135th MP, name of Granger.’

  ‘Man or woman?’

  ‘A man, based on the West Coast. Don Granger.’

  ‘Never heard of him.’

  ‘All his notes were copied to an MP two-star, name of Garber.’

  ‘Leon Garber,’ Reacher said. ‘He was my rabbi, more or less. I owe him a lot. Even more than I thought, clearly.’

  ‘I guess so. He must have driven the whole thing. And you must have been his blue-eyed boy, because this was one hell of a full court press. But you owe Granger, too. He worked his butt off for you, and he saw something everyon
e else missed.’

  ‘What was the story?’

  ‘You guys generate a lot of complaints. Your branch’s standard operating procedure is play dumb and hope they go away, which they often do, but if they don’t, then they’re defended, with historically mixed results. That’s how it went for many years. Then the ones that went away started to cause a problem, ironically. You all had old unproven allegations on file. Most of them were obvious bullshit, quite rightly ignored, but some were marginal. And promotions boards saw them. And they started wondering about smoke without fire, and people weren’t getting ahead, and it became an issue. And the Big Dog’s complaint was worse than most. I guess General Garber felt it was too toxic to ignore, even if it might have gone away by itself. He didn’t want to leave it sitting there on the record. It was way too smoky.’

  ‘He could have asked me about it direct.’

  ‘Granger asked him why he didn’t.’

  ‘And what was the answer?’

  ‘Garber thought you might have done it. But he didn’t want to hear it direct.’


  ‘He thought you might have gotten upset at the thought of SAWs on the streets of Los Angeles.’

  ‘That was the LAPD’s problem, not mine. All I wanted was a name.’

  ‘Which you got, and he didn’t really see how else you could have gotten it.’

  ‘He didn’t talk to me afterwards, either.’

  ‘He was afraid you’d stop by and put a bullet in the lawyer’s head.’

  ‘I might have.’

  ‘Then Garber was a wise man. His strategy was immaculate. He put Granger on it, and the first thing Granger didn’t like was the Big Dog, and the second thing he didn’t like was the lawyer. But there were no cracks anywhere, and he knew you had been with the guy moments before he was beaten, and the affidavit was what it was, so he was stuck. He came up with the same thing you did, which was some other dude did it, or dudes, maybe a delegation sent over by a disgruntled customer, which in that context meant a gang, either Latino like Rodriguez or black, but he didn’t make any progress on his own. So next he went to the LAPD, but the cops had nothing to offer, either. Which Granger didn’t necessarily regard as definitive, because at the relevant time the cops had been up to their eyes in racial sensitivity issues, like the LAPD often was back then, and they were nervous about discussing gangs with a stranger, in case the stranger was really a journalist who believed gang issues were code words for racial insensitivity. So Granger went back to the gang idea on his own, and he checked the record for who had been armed and dangerous at the time, as a kind of starting point, and he found no one had been armed and dangerous at the time. There was a seventy-two-hour period without a single gang crime reported anywhere. So initially Granger concluded gangs were on the wane in LA, and he better look elsewhere, but he had no luck, and Garber was ready to pull him out. Then Granger saw what he was missing.’

  From her pillow Turner said, ‘The seventy-two-hour hiatus was because the LAPD trashed all the gang crime reports. Probably on the advice of their PR people. Not because nothing was happening.’

  ‘Correct, major,’ Sullivan said. ‘But the patrolmen’s notebooks still had all the details. Granger got some lieutenant backed up in a corner, and the true story came out, which was bizarre. About twenty minutes after Reacher left, five black guys from El Segundo showed up and started beating the Big Dog in his own front yard. A neighbour called it in, and the LAPD showed up, and they witnessed about a minute of the beating, and then they got themselves in gear and arrested the guys from El Segundo, and it was the patrolmen themselves who took the Big Dog to the hospital. But there had been a degree of excessive force in the arrests, and a number of serious injuries, so the report was reviewed, and then word came down to bury anything that wasn’t totally kosher, and the precinct captains erred on the side of caution, and they buried everything. Or maybe it wasn’t caution. Maybe there was nothing kosher.’

  Reacher said, ‘So I’m in an affidavit for a beating, but the LAPD actually saw someone else doing it?’

  ‘Granger got photocopies of their notebooks. They’re all in our archives.’

  ‘That’s some ballsy lawyer the Big Dog found.’

  ‘Worse than you think. Plan A was jump on the bandwagon and sue the LAPD itself. Why not? Everyone else was. Granger was snooping the lawyer’s office one night, on Ventura Boulevard, and he found a draft affidavit identical to yours, except it had the LAPD all over it, instead of you. But ironically that couldn’t fly, because the LAPD could prove for a fact it hadn’t been in the neighbourhood that day, because all its records were doctored, so as soon as that little wrinkle sunk in, the lawyer switched to Plan B, which was the army. Which is of course fraudulent and criminal, but the reasoning was very solid. Ever afterwards the LAPD could never admit they trashed crime reports for political convenience, so the lawyer was guaranteed absolute silence from that direction. And the Big Dog wanted a big payday, and the guys from El Segundo had no traceable assets, so Uncle Sam was the next best thing.’

  ‘How did Granger wrap it up?’

  ‘He had to thread the needle, because he didn’t want to embarrass the LAPD in public. But he knew a JAG guy who knew a guy in the Bar Association, and between them they put some professional hurt on the lawyer. Granger made him write out another affidavit, swearing the first one was fraudulent, which he personally witnessed, and which, by the way, is still in the archive one slot away from where the phony one was. And then Granger split the lawyer’s lip.’

  ‘He put that in the archive too?’

  ‘Apparently he was defending himself against an unprovoked attack.’

  ‘That can happen. How is Colonel Moorcroft doing?’

  ‘He’s out of danger, but not good.’

  ‘Give him my best, if you get the chance. And thanks for your efforts tonight.’

  Sullivan said, ‘I owe you an apology, major.’

  Reacher said, ‘No, you don’t.’

  ‘Thank you. But you still owe me thirty dollars.’

  Reacher pictured Turner in his mind, in Berryville, Virginia, after the hardware store, in her new pants, with his shirt ballooning around her, its tail touching the backs of her knees. He said, ‘They were the best thirty dollars I ever had.’

  They celebrated the best way they knew how, and then it was too late to go back to sleep, so they got up and showered, and Turner said, ‘How does it feel?’

  ‘No different,’ Reacher said.

  ‘Why not?’

  ‘I knew I didn’t do it, so it contributed no new information, and it brought no relief, because I wasn’t upset to begin with, because I don’t care what people think.’

  ‘Even me?’

  ‘You knew I didn’t do it. Like I knew you didn’t take a hundred grand.’

  ‘I’m glad she apologized. It was very courteous of you to say she didn’t need to.’

  ‘It wasn’t courtesy,’ Reacher said. ‘It was a statement of fact. She really didn’t need to apologize. Because her initial prejudice was correct. And I shouldn’t have said I didn’t do it, because I almost did. I was a minute away from making every word of that affidavit true. Not because of SAWs on the streets of Los Angeles. I wasn’t worried about them. It takes a lot of strength and training to use one right. And maintenance. The squad machine gun goes to your best guy, not your worst, and are there guys like that on the streets of Los Angeles? I didn’t think so. I figured the SAWs would fire once and end up as boat anchors. Nothing to get upset about there. It was the other stuff that upset me. Claymore mines, and hand grenades. No expertise required. But lots of collateral damage, in an urban situation. Innocent passers-by, and children. And that sneering tub of lard was making a fortune, and spending it all on dope and hookers and twenty Big Macs a day.’

  Turner said, ‘Let’s go get breakfast. And let’s not come back here. Authenticity is losing its charm.’

  They put their toothbrushes in their pock
ets, and they put on their coats, and they headed out to the lot. The street lights were still brighter than the sky. The car was where they had left it, five rooms away.

  There was something written on it.


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