Night school, p.35
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       Night School, p.35

         Part #21 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
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  went about their eternal business.

  The messenger said, “Who are you?”

  Reacher nodded beyond the half-open door and said, “Mr. Wiley is in here.”

  The men hung back and let the messenger lead the way. Reacher watched their faces. He saw the truth dawning. An empty space. A dead man on the floor. A lake of drying blood. Three unexplained figures standing back from its edge.

  Not right.

  Reacher pulled his gun.

  The two men and the woman turned to look.

  Reacher said, “You’re under arrest.”

  Their reactions differed by gender. Reacher saw a cascade of ancient, hopeless conclusions in the two men’s eyes. They were guest workers in a foreign nation. They had no status, no power, no leverage, no rights, no expectations. They were bottom of the pile. They were cannon fodder.

  They had nothing to lose.

  They went for their pockets. They scrabbled at puckered fabric, hitching and bending, ramming their hands in, hauling them out. Reacher yelled no in English and nein in German, but they didn’t stop. They had weird little sawed-off revolvers. Pale steel, pale pinewood grips. Barrels about an inch long, like stubs. Reacher thought Washington D.C. and New York and London would be top of the list. Then maybe Tel Aviv, and Amsterdam, and Madrid. Then Los Angeles and San Francisco. Maybe the Golden Gate Bridge itself. Like Helmsworth had said. Their orders were to strap it to a bridge support, set the timer, and run like hell.

  He shot them center mass, a fast double tap, left to right, and when they were down he shot them again, in the head from the same range, to be completely sure and certain. The shattering noise died away to an ear-damaged hiss. On the side of the empty broken-down furniture truck the word Möbel was spattered with blood.

  Reacher aimed at the messenger’s face.

  The messenger raised her hands.

  She said, “I surrender.”

  No one answered.

  She said, “I have good information. I know their bank accounts. I can give you their money.”

  —

  Sinclair took charge. She was the ranking officer, after all, in a NATO kind of a way. From a municipal perspective Griezman took it meekly enough, possibly because of realpolitik, which was a German word for knowing when you’re beat. She told him if the van hadn’t yet crossed the bridge he should pull all his men free from the mayor’s office and set up a solid perimeter. She sent Neagley to the phone booth, to get Bishop on the scene, and White, and Vanderbilt. Waterman and Landry could stay home and mind the store.

  Within minutes Griezman had two cars on the bridge. The traffic cop was thanked and sent home. Then two more cars arrived. They funneled through the roadblock and set up ahead of the nearest buildings. Simply a question of numbers. A panel van was a substantial item. A long line of men walking shoulder to shoulder could hardly miss it.

  Reacher looked at Wiley, and then at Sinclair. He asked her, “Did he tell you how he found the crate?”

  She said, “Something his uncle Arnold told him.”

  “What kind of something?”

  “All about the atom bombs. Even Uncle Arnold thought it was crazy. Even though he was a paratrooper, and basically everything he was trained for was a suicide mission. He was going to be part of the first wave in the greatest land battle in history. But even so there was something weird about the atom bombs. Too much power for a single person. Then he told him the story about the missing crate. They all believed it was true. There was panic behind the scenes. Too much for a cover-your-ass. Uncle Arnold figured the natural ebb and flow would bring it to one particular storage depot. He was sure of it. But it wasn’t there. Apparently he took it as a lesson in humility.”

  “What did Wiley take it as?”

  “A lesson in something was labeled wrong.”

  “How did he figure it out?”

  “Something else Arnold told him. A different subject entirely. Arnold was there very early. Germany was still in ruins. People were starving. The army employed local civilians. Mostly women, because that’s about all there were. Like a kind of welfare, and it saved drafting GIs to do shorthand and typing. He put it together with something else Arnold said. The local women would do anything for money. Anything for a candy bar or a pack of Luckies. Arnold made hay while the sun shone. One time a girl gave him her sister’s address. She was game, too. But he couldn’t find the right house. The girl had written 11, and he thought it was 77. Because of her handwriting. Europeans put a long tick on the front of their ones. Like the opposite of a tail. A one looks like a seven. They put a little crossbar on the seven, to make it look different. Eventually Wiley wondered what would have happened if a German clerk made a handwritten note, and then an American clerk typed it up. Or the other way around. He figured mistakes could be made.”

  “Was it that simple?”

  “He figured surely the army would think of that. He figured they would make charts and tables and change ones for sevens and sevens for ones. But apparently Uncle Arnold’s stories were crazy. There was extreme bureaucracy going on. Eventually Wiley wondered what would happen if a number went through three steps, not two. As in, suppose a German clerk made a handwritten note, and then an American clerk typed it up, and then another German clerk made a handwritten note off the typed-up page? Or the other way around. Starting with either ones or sevens. He made charts and tables of his own. He figured it was a step the army wouldn’t take for itself. He figured the army would be blind to the faults of its own system. And he was right. The crate had been there all along. He found it on his third try.”

  Reacher said nothing. Just nodded and walked away. The messenger caught his eye. She said, “I can help.”

  He said, “I don’t want your money.”

  She said, “Something else. The fat man is wrong. A van did cross the bridge. It was driving out as we drove in.”

  Chapter 41

  Neagley carried Wiley’s bag to the trunk of Griezman’s car, and she set it down on the lid, and she unzipped it. Reacher called Griezman over, and asked him to search it. Griezman said, “Why me?”

  Reacher said, “I would appreciate your opinion.”

  Griezman did the kind of job Reacher expected. Like a veteran taking a test. Practiced, but suddenly cautious. As if he knew something must be wrong. A trap. Was he on trial about how fast he could find it? What was at stake? He didn’t know.

  In the end only three items were worthy of comment. First was Wiley’s new passport, in the name of Isaac Herbert Kempner, because it was a thing of beauty. It was completely, utterly, entirely genuine. Second was the map they had seen in his kitchen, now neatly folded, because it was of limited cartographical utility, and therefore likely sentimental, which might bring a clue as to his state of mind.

  Third item was a Mercedes-Benz key.

  Probably not for a sedan. A little too large. Too much plastic. Too everyday. It was the kind of key that one day would be grimy. The kind of key that came in a panel van.

  Griezman agreed.

  Reacher said, “Can a brand-new Mercedes-Benz start without a key?”

  Griezman said, “No.”

  “Therefore the van was stolen with a duplicate.”

  Griezman said, “Yes.”

  “Hard to get.”

  “Yes.”

  “Your department has been very impressive. Since the first moment. Your performance has been excellent. Would you agree?”

  “Modesty forbids.”

  “I mean it sincerely.”

  “Again, I can’t comment.”

  “There was only one weak spot. The surveillance south of Hanover never happened.”

  “That was the traffic division.”

  “They put the car on the bridge for us.”

  “What are you saying?”

  “I’m saying a sequence of events can be explained in a large variety of different ways.”

  “Give me one way, for example.”

  “Everything
is a really strange coincidence.”

  “Give me another way.”

  “The police department leaks through the traffic division.”

  “Leaks to who?”

  “Some kind of a mobbed-up community. But not Italian. Nostalgic Germans instead. With members and chapters and rules and all kinds of things. And goals and ambitions. That’s what we heard.”

  Griezman said nothing.

  “I’m sorry,” Reacher said. “We’re withholding secrets and prying into yours.”

  “Do you have an overall theory?”

  “Only two possibilities. First is they stole the truck from one garage and hid it in another garage about three blocks away. Why? For what possible reason? Are they planning to sneak back at night and get it? Is it a double bluff? Is it a triple bluff? It all gets way too weird and complicated. I prefer the second possibility.”

  “Which is?”

  “The cop at the bridge was lying.”

  “That’s a big thing to say out loud.”

  “They stole the truck and drove it away. The guy at the bridge turned a blind eye. These things happen. Get over it. It’s what mobbed up means. It’s a port. You need to make mental adjustments.”

  Griezman didn’t answer.

  Reacher said, “It would make sense of what the messenger just told me.”

  “Hardly a reliable witness.”

  “I agree.”

  Griezman said, “What is in the truck?”

  “What would you most hate it to be?”

  “One of a number of things.”

  “It’s worse than any of them. Believe me. Therefore we need to question everything. So we can figure out where to look.”

  Griezman said, “I suppose a corrupt traffic policeman is a theoretical possibility.”

  “You know these people. You told me you were biding your time. You told me you can’t arrest them for thought crimes. You told me you need actual crimes.”

  Griezman was quiet a beat.

  Then he said, “I talked to their leader this morning. As a matter of fact he was the last man to see the forger alive. He wanted Wiley’s new name. He had a copy of the sketch. His name is Dremmler. He imports shoes from Brazil. I had to go to his office. I couldn’t ask him to come to mine. He said he has people in places that would surprise me. He said I was facing a powerful force, soon to get more powerful.”

  “We need to go pay Herr Dremmler a visit.”

  —

  Griezman drove, to a mixed-use street about four blocks from the bar with the varnished wood front. Apparently neon was permitted in that part of town. Dremmler’s place was a narrow four-story building, part of the 1950s reconstruction, with a lit-up sign running side to side in the space between the top-floor windows and the rainwater gutter. It was written in red, in a complicated copperplate script, as if it was a famous brand. Like an old-style Coca-Cola sign in America. It said Schuhe Dremmler, which Reacher figured meant Dremmler’s Shoes.

  The elevator was slow. And the guy wasn’t there. His secretary said he had taken a call and gone out. She had no idea where. She had no idea when he would return.

  —

  They drove back to the consulate. Griezman was invited in. The others were there before them. Wiley’s corpse was en route to the morgue in the American military hospital at Landstuhl, in a meat wagon organized by Orozco. The messenger was locked in a basement room, waiting for a U.S. Marshal, and a handcuff, and an airplane to Dulles. The Iranian was sitting in a chair by the window. Orozco and his sergeant had brought him in. Smooth and easy. No collateral damage. Happily the Iranian himself had answered the door. After that it had been a straightforward abduction. The guy looked unsure. His old life was over. His new life was about to begin, in a place he had never seen. Orozco said no one was upset about it. He said Bishop claimed he was about to give the order anyway. The after-action report would be written up accordingly. But he said Bishop had thanked him afterward, for saving time, at least. White was happy. He cared about agents in the field. Vanderbilt was gloomier. He said now the CIA in Hamburg was blind.

  Then Sinclair took the floor. She had spoken to Ratcliffe and the president. All kinds of back channels were open. NATO and the European Union were standing by. For a task as yet unspecified. Next step was to fill in the blanks. The U.S. would take a deep breath and admit it had lost track of a crate of nuclear weapons forty years ago. Germany would take a deep breath and admit it had neo-Nazi gangs strong enough to steal such a crate. Which was a step neither the U.S. nor Germany really wanted to take. Neither admission was felt likely to inspire widespread admiration. A final decision would be made soon.

  “They want us to fix it for them,” Sinclair said. “Before soon becomes now.”

  “Did they say that in words?” Reacher asked.

  “The hints were pretty heavy.”

  “I would like to know for sure.”

  “I guess some questions are better answered afterward.”

  “How long have we got?”

  “They can’t wait forever.”

  Outside the window it was going dark. Northern latitude, late afternoon.

  Reacher asked, “How big of a deal is Dremmler’s Shoes?”

  Griezman said, “He boasts of a million pairs a week. Fifty million pairs a year. Probably bullshit, but even so, I’m sure it’s a large number.”

  “So the office we saw must be clerical only. Orders and invoices and that kind of thing. The heavy lifting must get done elsewhere.”

  “At the docks,” Griezman said. “He owns part of a wharf.”

  “And he has people in places that would surprise you.”

  Sinclair said, “Is this a Hail Mary?”

  “No, ma’am,” Reacher said. “It’s a wild-ass guess.”

  “About the shoe guy?”

  “At first as a theoretical example. Let’s say he’s the grand wizard of something or other. He’s got members everywhere. Including the police department. As a result he’s been with us every step of the way. He heard about the deal back at the beginning. Then he decided to hijack it. For the greater glory of whatever it is he’s the grand wizard of. He piggybacked on our investigation. And it worked for him. He got the van. But it was a crazy scramble. He was always short of time. Always playing catch up. He couldn’t plan ahead. No further than getting it out. Now he doesn’t know what to do with it. He doesn’t even know what’s in it. That information never leaked. I think he stashed it somewhere close. Temporarily. He needs to take a deep breath. He needs to figure it out.”

  “Plausible,” Sinclair said. “But so are a hundred other possibilities.”

  “Not a hundred,” Reacher said. “Ten, maybe. But this one fits what we know. Dremmler asked the forger about Wiley’s new name. That can’t be a coincidence. And he owns a wharf. A million pairs of shoes a week. That’s a lot of trucks. An extra one wouldn’t be noticed.”

  “We get only one shot at this.”

  He remembered moving his other hand, the same way, barely touching her forehead, burying his fingers deep in her hair, pushing them through. That time he had left his hand where it ended up, which was cupped on the back of her neck. Which he remembered felt slender, and warm.

  He had gambled then.

  He said, “Your call.”

  “You don’t have an opinion?”

  “I’m going anyway. Just in case. Because if this is the guy, this is also the guy who got his ego in a wad when his junior varsity got beat. Ever since then he’s been setting people on me. I left word he should come out and meet me himself. I told him we could walk around the block and have a discussion. Maybe it’s time to make that happen.”

  Chapter 42

  They waited for full darkness to fall, and for rush-hour traffic to die away. And for all kinds of diplomatic discussions to be over. Bishop said he had to be there. He would drive White and Vanderbilt in his car. Sinclair said she would join them. Griezman felt he should observe, on behalf of the city. He was happ
y to invite Waterman and Landry to ride with him. They were FBI, after all. It would be an honor.

  Reacher and Neagley would go with Orozco, in Orozco’s car, driven by his sergeant, who was a guy named Hooper. He was taller than Neagley, but not a huge guy. He and Orozco had army Berettas. Reacher had a new mag in
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