Night school, p.37
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       Night School, p.37
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         Part #21 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child

  Then he turned and walked away, to the far back corner again, and through a door, to the hidden part of the suite.

  Reacher waited.

  The guy didn’t come back. Not in one minute. Not in two. Which he would, if he had heard. Human nature. He would have grabbed his guns and his buddies and come back right away.

  He hadn’t heard.

  Reacher called, “All clear, Hooper.”

  No response.

  Howling, squealing, rattling.

  Reacher called again, louder this time, “Hooper, all clear.”

  Hooper stuck his head out the back of the truck. Then he jumped down, and bounced up, and walked back to safety.

  “Nine bombs,” he said. “The code book is missing, too.”

  Chapter 44

  In the other direction the crowd had grown to about twenty strong, and they were forty yards away. Still tiny, in the industrial vastness. Not threatening. Reacher felt the opposite was true. They were standing up in puzzled solidarity against what they saw as a threat against their bosses in the office. They were ready to close ranks against the intruders. They were loyal employees. Or more. Maybe some of them were low-level members of the cause. Maybe that’s how a guy got a foreman’s position, at Schuhe Dremmler.

  Reacher said to Hooper, “How good is your German?”

  “Pretty good,” Hooper said. “That’s why I work here.”

  “Go tell them to calm down and get back to work.”

  “Any particular form of words you want me to use?”

  “Tell them we’re American military police here on behalf of the Brazilian military police, conducting a routine audit connected to shoes, and if we’re forced to report a hostile reception they’ll get extra scrutiny.”

  “Will they believe me?”

  “Depends how convincing you are.”

  They watched him, forty yards away, face to face with the guy at the tip of the arrowhead. He was talking in long composed sentences. The crowd wasn’t buying what he was selling.

  Orozco said, “Stand by to rescue him.”

  Reacher said, “Don’t kick them in the knees.”

  “Why not?”

  “They’re wearing knee pads.”

  Hooper kept on talking. And talking. Forward motion ebbed away. The crowd went still. But not convinced. Hooper took the long walk back. He said, “I did my best.”

  “Are they going to call the cops?” Reacher said.

  “Not their place. They’re confused, is all. And concerned. It’s a family business.”

  “Then we better be quick.”

  “Where do we start?”

  “With data. Which means the office. And the guy in it.”

  “Rules of engagement?”

  “We’ll figure them out afterward.”

  —

  They did no more one-eye checking. Too much scrutiny. Didn’t look right. Instead they walked around the pile of boxes, brisk and routine, into the hidden bay, as if all they needed was a signature on their paperwork, or an answer to a supplementary question, or a copy of a document. They pulled their guns as soon as they were out of sight. The entrance to the office suite was a door in the far back corner of the space, beyond the van, near the manual panel for the roll-up exit. The door led to the first room, which had a matching door in the far back corner, which led onward, to wherever the guy had gone. To the rear part of the suite, presumably. Unknown territory.

  Opening the door let in a pulse of factory noise, so they got through fast, and fanned out, ready. Hooper walked backward. He was tasked to be eyes-on-rearward at all times. Essential for confidence. Nothing worse than not knowing what was behind. The crowd could get restless again. Reinforcements could show up. The night shift, reporting early. Or expert opinion. German army veterans, maybe, called in especially, and asked a simple question: What the hell are these?

  They didn’t know what they got.

  They moved on, toward the next door. It was narrow. A bottleneck. What stun grenades were invented for. But they had none. The door was open a crack. Reacher peered through. Saw nothing. A slice of empty room. He put his ear to the opening. He heard talking in German. Male voices. Questions and answers. Frustrated, but not angry. Puzzled, but patient. They were trying to figure something out. Three guys talking, Reacher thought. Were there others saying nothing? The sound was off to the left, and it had a boxed-in, glassy tone. As if they were in a walled-off executive office in the left-hand corner. Which he couldn’t see.

  He backed off a step. Glanced out the window. No one was coming after them. Not yet. He made hand signals, minimum three people, located far left, in the corner. They paced it out, back to back on their side of the dividing wall. It was an awkward distance. Two steps too long for total surprise. Hooper would guard the door, facing out, and first Neagley and then Reacher and Orozco would go deep, fanning out, splitting the target, giving three different lines of sight. Any monkey business, waste all but one.

  They took up station in operational order, first Neagley, then Reacher, then Orozco, then Hooper facing backward. Neagley burst through the door and headed for third. Reacher took second. Orozco stopped at first. Where home plate should have been was a glassed-in cubicle. Set up like an office within an office. Flanking the desk were two guys. One was the man Reacher had seen before. A big guy, and competent. The other was similar.

  Propped in a chair in front of the desk was the tenth Davy Crockett. Like a human visitor. Like a suspect in a police station. Its canvas pack was unlaced and pulled down. The cylinder was dull green. It had white stencil writing. It had a screwed-on panel up top, with six small chicken-head knobs, and three small toggle switches.

  Behind the desk in a chair was a guy Reacher took to be Dremmler. He looked like the boss of something. He looked like a leader. He was about forty-five years old. An imposing individual. His hair was blond, going gray, and his face was red, going gray. He was wearing a suit, with a high lapel. An old German style. His elbows were on the desk. His fingers were steepled. He was studying the secret file. Or he had been. Now he was staring at Reacher. Or his Colt Government Model. Which was aimed at his face.

  Reacher said, “Hände hoch.”

  Like an old black-and-white movie.

  Hands up.

  Dremmler did nothing. The men either side went for the biding-his-time tough guy version, their hands coming up halfway, fingers straight, tense and speculative. A cease fire, but not a surrender.

  Reacher stepped closer.

  He said, “Do you speak English?”

  Dremmler said, “Yes.”

  “You’re under arrest.”

  “On what authority?”

  “The U.S. Army.”

  Dremmler glanced down, at the crumpled camouflage canvas.

  Reacher said, “Did you mess with that thing?”

  “Not yet,” Dremmler said. “We don’t know what it is.”

  “It’s nothing of interest.”

  “We clicked the knobs a little. To see what they were, really.”

  “And the switches?”

  “On and off, a couple of times.”

  “And now you’re studying the file. Trying to puzzle it out.”

  “What is it exactly?”

  Reacher said, “Step out of the room one by one.”

  The first guy came out. The man Reacher had seen. He walked on his toes, tense and ready, biding his time. Then the second guy came out, just the same.

  Reacher said to Dremmler, “You stay there.”

  Dremmler stayed at his desk, his fingers still steepled.

  Reacher said to the two guys, “You are in the custody of the United States Army. I am obliged by law to tell you if you mess with us we will hurt you very badly.”

  The two men didn’t move.

  Reacher said to Orozco, “You and Hooper take these guys out to Griezman. Send Neagley out to guard the truck. New departure time is fifteen minutes from now.”

  “Why?”

&nbs
p; “He messed with the switches.”

  “It has to need more than that.”

  “I sure hope so. But I would like to check. Herr Dremmler can help me. He has the file, after all.”

  Chapter 45

  Dremmler stayed at his desk and Reacher sat in an empty chair next to the Davy Crockett. Like a host and two guests. A three-way conversation. Three points of view. But nothing was said. Not for the first many minutes. Reacher took the file off the desk and tried to make sense of it. A six-digit code was entered by turning the chicken-head knobs. Officially one guy did three digits, and clicked his arming switch, and then the second guy did three more, and clicked his arming switch. The center switch stayed off. What was it for? The file didn’t say.

  Ten six-digit codes were listed. They were indexed against ten serial numbers. Ready for an armorer’s stick of chalk.

  Dremmler said, “What is that thing?”

  Reacher said, “What were you hoping for?”

  “I don’t know what you mean.”

  “To help your cause make a statement.”

  “You should leave now,” Dremmler said. “This discussion is over.”

  Reacher said, “Is it?”

  “You have no authority here. This is a simple misunderstanding. I don’t even know what that thing is.”

  “It’s a bomb. You stole it. After asking about Horace Wiley’s new name.”

  “Griezman would find it very difficult to make legal progress against me.”

  “Because you have people in places that might surprise him?”

  “Hundreds and hundreds of people.”

  “Are you their leader?”

  “I have that honor.”

  “Where are you leading them?”

  “They want their country back. I will make sure they get it. And more. I’ll make sure they get the country they deserve. Strong again. With purity of purpose. All pulling together in the same direction. No more dead wood. No more outside interference. Nothing of that kind will be tolerated. Germany will be for Germans.”

  Reacher was quiet a long moment.

  Then he said, “How much do you know about the history of your country?”

  “The truth or the lies?”

  “The terror and the misery and the eighty million dead. We learned that stuff in class. Then at night we’d be shooting the shit, and someone would talk about a time machine, which meant you could go back and take the guy out. Before he even got started. Would you do it?”

  “What was your opinion?”

  “I was all for it. But it was a dumb question. There are no time machines. And hindsight is always twenty-twenty vision. I figured the real challenge was to ask the question backward. Starting in the here and now. Looking ahead. With foresight. Which is the opposite of a time machine. Is there a guy you could take out today, so no one would need to dream about time machines tomorrow? If so, would you do it? Suppose you were wrong. But suppose you were right. Eighty million lives for one.”

  The clock in his head told him fifteen minutes had passed. The bomb was fine. Random twisting and clicking meant nothing. Which made sense. A bad parachute landing could have been worse.

  He said, “It was a hardcore moral question. Some said no, because the guy has broken no laws. Not yet. But that was true of all of them once. If you would come back in a time machine to do it, why wouldn’t you do it now? Some worried about degrees of certainty. What if you’re only ninety percent sure? Some said better safe than sorry. Which logically meant anything better than fifty percent. But not really. Anything over one percent might be worth it. A one-in-a-hundred chance of saving eighty million people from terror and misery? Do you have a view, Herr Dremmler?”

  Dremmler said nothing.

  Reacher said, “We were undergraduates. West Point is a college. It’s the kind of thing we talked about then. Were we serious? Didn’t matter. There was no way to prove we would do what we said. Or not. But life’s a bitch. Now I get to answer the question for real. Was I bullshitting all those years ago?”

  He shot Dremmler in the heart, and when he settled he shot him again, in the head, from the same range, to be sure and certain. Then he put his gun in his pocket, and stuffed the file in the camouflaged backpack, and hoisted the Davy Crockett up on his shoulder, and walked out to the van. He stepped one way and hit the green magic mushroom, to open the door, and then the other, to dump the backpack down with its nine other siblings. He pulled the door on them and locked the lever tight.

  He got in the passenger seat.

  Neagley said, “You OK?”

  “Never better.”

  “You sure?”

  “What are you, my mother?”

  The door came all the way up.

  Reacher said, “Drive.”

  —

  The NSC ran an emergency protocol whereby the participants were immediately dispersed, to reduce the risk of visual identification, and consequently the risk of subpoenas. Within sixteen hours Reacher was in Japan. He heard a nuclear recovery company had been sent out to unload the van. They had an old-style vehicle, from back in the days when nuclear-tipped missiles would fall off planes and land in fields. Later he heard White and Vanderbilt had flown direct to Zurich with the messenger. They had drained one account and filled another. The CIA was up six hundred million. The Iranian was given a condo in Century City. Within a week he had a job in the movies. The Saudis were called home to Yemen. After that, there was no further trace of them. Wiley was buried in a potter’s field, on the shoulder of a German highway, with no stone or marker.

  —

  Reacher saw Sinclair one last time, about two months later, when he was called to Washington. To get a medal. She sent a note and asked him to dinner. The night before the ceremony. At her place. A suburban house in Alexandria. He wore his Marine Corps pants, and his black T-shirt from Hamburg, both washed and folded by a Japanese laundry. No jacket, because it was warm. His hair was cut and he had showered and shaved. She was in a black dress. With diamonds, not pearls. They ate at a table as long as a boat. Candles flickered. The diamonds sparkled. She told him some of the news was good. The bad guys were hurting. Their financial setback was significant. Six hundred million was a good chunk of change. Hamburg was off the table for air transportation. Because the two guys had been key. The messenger had been helpful. She had mapped out some structure. They had filled in some blanks. Some of the news was not so good. Wiley had made no will, and so far he still owned the ranch in Argentina. They couldn’t unwind it. There was still a lot they didn’t know. They were still running around with their hair on fire.

  After dinner they made a half-hearted attempt to clear the dishes, but they ended up stalled close together in the kitchen doorway. He could smell her perfume. He was nervous again.

  She said, “Do it like you did before.”

  He raised his hand and brushed her forehead, with his fingertips, and he slid his fingers into her hair. He swept it back and left part behind her ear, and part hanging free.

  It looked good.

  He took his hand away.

  She said, “Now do the other side.”

  He used his other hand, the same way, barely touching her forehead, burying his fingers deep. He left his hand where it ended up, on the back of her neck. Which was slender. And warm. She put her own hand flat on his chest. She slid it up behind his neck. She pulled down and he pulled up. They kissed, suddenly at home again. He found the tiny metal teardrop on the back of her dress. He eased it down, between her shoulder blades, past the small of her back.

  She said, “Let’s go upstairs.”

  They went to her bedroom, where she climbed on top. She rode him like a cowgirl, but facing him again, hips forward, shoulders back, head up, eyes closed. The diamonds swung and bounced. Her arms were behind her,
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