Never go back, p.38
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       Never Go Back, p.38

         Part #18 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
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  Espin said nothing.

  ‘And who is Romeo really?’ Reacher asked.

  No answer.

  Turner said, ‘What happens next?’

  Espin said, ‘You’re under arrest.’

  ‘Is Reacher too?’

  ‘Affirmative.’

  ‘You need to call Major Sullivan at JAG.’

  ‘She called me first. The Big Dog thing is dead in the water, but between stepping into that cell at Dyer and this moment now, Reacher has committed about a hundred crimes we know about, and maybe more beyond that, from unlawful incarceration of a person in furtherance of a separate felony, to creditcard fraud.’

  Reacher said, ‘Did you get a message from us through Sergeant Leach?’

  ‘Apparently you want me to get over myself.’

  ‘I asked what you would have done differently.’

  ‘I would have placed my trust in the system.’

  ‘Bullshit.’

  ‘Especially if I was innocent.’

  ‘Was I innocent?’

  Espin said, ‘Initially.’

  Reacher said, ‘You didn’t answer my question. Why did Romeo buy that affidavit?’

  ‘I don’t know.’

  ‘And could it have been Romeo who let the Dog out again?’

  ‘Possibly.’

  ‘Why would he do that? And the other thing? The two phony affidavits. What was their purpose? What was their only possible purpose?’

  ‘I don’t know.’

  ‘Yes, you do. You’re a smart guy.’

  ‘Romeo wanted you to run.’

  ‘Why did Romeo want me to run?’

  ‘Because you were in Major Turner’s business.’

  ‘And what does that say about Major Turner’s business? If she’s guilty, Romeo should want me as a witness. He should want me on the stand, confirming all the grisly details for the jury.’

  Espin paused a beat. Then he said, ‘I have orders to bring you back, majors. Both of you. The rest of it is above my pay grade.’

  ‘You know it’s a frame,’ Reacher said. ‘You just told me Romeo has money in the Cayman Islands. He created Major Turner’s account himself. This is not rocket surgery. You’ve seen better scams than this. This is the idiots’ guide. Therefore it’s certain to fall apart. Most likely real soon. Because Turner and I are not morons. We’re going to burn their house down. Which gives you a choice. Either you’re the drone who brings us home in handcuffs mere days before our greatest triumph, or you engage your brain and you start figuring out where you want to be when the dust settles.’

  ‘Which would be where?’

  ‘Not here.’

  Espin shook his head. ‘You know how it is. I have to come home with something.’

  ‘We can give you something.’

  ‘What kind of something?’

  ‘An arrest of your own, a medal-worthy determination to leave no stone unturned, and the icing on a very large cake. And the icing is always the sweetest and most visible part of a very large cake.’

  ‘I’m going to need more than the sales brochure.’

  ‘Someone beat Colonel Moorcroft half to death, and I think you’ve all concluded it wasn’t me. So who was it? You’ll be bringing in a long-time member of a very big deal, and you’ll be tying a bow on it for the political class, by tilting the spotlight.’

  ‘Where would I find this long-time member?’

  ‘You would look for someone who was off-post for an unexplained period of time.’

  ‘And?’

  ‘You would figure someone tailed Moorcroft out of the breakfast room and either forced him or enticed him into a car. You would figure there was no other way to work it. And you would figure it wasn’t an NCO. Because the breakfast room was in the Officers’ Club. So you would go looking for an officer.’

  ‘Got a name?’

  ‘Morgan. He set Moorcroft up for the beating. He delivered him. Check his laundry basket. I doubt he participated, but I bet he stood close enough to get a real good look.’

  ‘Was he off-post at the time?’

  ‘He claims to have been in the Pentagon. His absence was well documented. It was a source of great concern. And the Pentagon keeps records. A lot of work, but a buck gets ten you’ll prove he wasn’t there.’

  ‘Is this solid?’

  ‘Morgan is a part of a small and diverse group, containing as far as we know at one end four NCOs from a logistics company at Fort Bragg, and at the other end two Deputy Chiefs of Staff.’

  ‘That’s hard time if you’re wrong.’

  ‘I know it.’

  ‘Two of them?’

  ‘One of them is in Homeland Security, and one of them isn’t.’

  ‘That’s very hard time if you’re wrong.’

  ‘But am I?’

  Espin didn’t answer.

  Reacher said, ‘It’s always fifty-fifty, Pete. Like tossing a coin. Either I’m wrong, or I’m right, either you bring us back, or you don’t, either Deputy Chiefs are what they say they are, or they’re not. Always fifty-fifty. One thing or the other is always true.’

  ‘And you’re an unbiased judge?’

  ‘No, I’m not unbiased. I’m going to rip their faces off while they sleep. But just because I’m mad about it doesn’t mean they didn’t do it.’

  ‘Got names?’

  ‘One so far. Crew Scully.’

  ‘What kind of name is that?’

  ‘New England blue blood, apparently.’

  ‘I bet he’s a West Pointer.’

  ‘I’m a West Pointer, and I don’t have a stupid name.’

  ‘I bet he’s rich.’

  ‘Plenty of rich people in prison.’

  ‘Who’s the other one?’

  ‘We don’t know.’

  ‘Crew Scully’s best bud from prep school, probably. Those guys stick together.’

  Reacher said, ‘Maybe.’

  Espin said, ‘I get Morgan, and Major Turner gets those guys?’

  ‘You’ll be the human-interest story.’

  ‘What is it they’re supposed to be doing?’

  So Turner ran through it all, starting with cash money obtained on the secondary markets, and ratty old pick-up trucks with weird licence plates, with the cash in the trucks, and then the cash in army containers, and the contents of the army containers in the trucks, which then drive off into the mountains, while the cash is secretly loaded, ready to be secretly unloaded again by the four guys in North Carolina. All enabled by an Afghan native with a documented history of arms sales, and all coordinated by, and presumably enriching, the two Deputy Chiefs, who may or may not also be operating a rogue strategic initiative.

  Espin said, ‘I thought you were being serious.’

  SIXTY-THREE

  ESPIN SAID, ‘WHAT you describe just ain’t happening. The United States military learned its lessons, major. Long ago. We count the paperclips now. Everything has a barcode. Everything is in a bombproof computer. We have companies of MPs at every significant site. We have more checks than a dog has fleas. We’re not losing stuff any more. Believe me. That old-style chaos is way out of date now. If there’s a sock with a hole in it, that sucker comes home. If a single bullet got lost, there would be a shitstorm so bad we’d see the sky turn brown from here. It just ain’t happening, ma’am.’

  Turner said nothing.

  Reacher said, ‘But something is happening. You know that.’

  ‘I’m listening. Tell me what’s happening.’

  ‘Talk to Detective Podolski at Metro. Morgan was off-post at the critical time.’

  ‘Morgan is still what you’re giving me?’

  ‘He’s worth having. All I got was two fake lawsuits.’

  ‘Seems like Morgan’s value just went down, as part of a credible conspiracy.’

  ‘Something is happening,’ Reacher said again. ‘Fake bank accounts, fake legal documents, beatings, four guys chasing us all over. It’s all going to look plenty credible when it’s done. It
always does. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. And the smart guys get their hindsight in first.’

  ‘Hell of a gamble,’ Espin said.

  ‘It’s always fifty-fifty, Pete. Like tossing a coin. Either Morgan is high value or he’s low, and either something is happening or it isn’t, and either you’re a boring drone or you’re the guy who was way ahead of the curve, getting ready to put another ribbon on his chest.’

  Espin said nothing.

  Reacher said, ‘It’s time to flip that coin, Pete. Heads or tails.’

  ‘Do you have a plan?’

  ‘We’re going back to D.C. You don’t need to bring us home. We’re going anyway.’

  ‘When?’

  ‘Now.’

  ‘That’s where Morgan is.’

  ‘That’s where they all are.’

  Espin said, ‘Suppose you agree we fly together?’

  Reacher said, ‘Works for us. But only you. No one else.’

  ‘Why?’

  ‘I want you to leave your guys here another day. The last of the four from Fort Bragg is hanging around. He thinks the girl still works as bait. So I want her protected. She might not be mine, but she’s a sweet kid. Maybe because she’s not mine.’

  ‘I guess my guys could spare a day.’

  ‘I want close personal protection, but unobtrusive. Don’t scare her. Treat it like an exercise. Because it’s likely nothing more than theoretical, anyway. It’s us he wants. And he’ll know what plane we’re on, because Romeo will tell him. So he’ll be right behind us. He might even be on the same flight.’

  Espin said nothing.

  Reacher said, ‘Make your mind up, soldier.’

  Espin said, ‘I don’t need to make my mind up. What you’re proposing gives me six hours to make my mind up.’

  ‘But you need to make a decision.’

  ‘Delta at LAX ninety minutes from now,’ Espin said. He backed down the guys Reacher couldn’t see, with standard infantry hand signals, and then he slid out to the aisle, and he stood up, and he walked away.

  Reacher and Turner followed him out a minute later. The girl was in her mother’s half of the coach, sitting on a stool, saying something to Arthur that was making him smile. Reacher watched her as he walked. All legs and arms, all knees and elbows, the jean jacket, the pants, the new blue T-shirt, the matching shoes, no socks, no laces, the hair like summer straw, halfway down her back, the eyes, and the smile. Fatherhood. Always unlikely. Like winning the Nobel Prize, or playing in the World Series. Not for him.

  In the car Turner said, ‘How do you feel?’

  ‘No different,’ he said. ‘I didn’t have a kid before, and I don’t have one now.’

  ‘What would you have done?’

  ‘Doesn’t matter now.’

  ‘You OK?’

  ‘I guess I was getting used to the idea. And I liked her. We might have had things in common. Which is weird. I guess people can be the same, the world over. Even if they’re not related.’

  ‘Do you think she’s going to fear the howling wolf?’

  ‘I think she envies it already.’

  ‘Then maybe you are related. From way back in time.’

  Reacher took one last look at her, through the diner’s small framed window, and then Turner drove away, south on Vineland, and she was lost to sight.

  LAX was going to be the 101 to the 110, with a final sideways hop on El Segundo Boulevard, and it was going to take most of the ninety minutes Espin had given them, because the freeways were rolling slow. Edmonds called again from Virginia while they were still north of the Hollywood Bowl, and she said, ‘Crew Scully moved Morgan to the 110th personally. He didn’t delegate on that occasion. And he normally does, with temporary commands. And he has no access to Homeland Security intelligence systems.’

  Reacher said, ‘Check if he has a friend who does.’

  ‘I’m already on it.’

  ‘Let me know.’

  ‘Are we still on the right side of history?’

  ‘Count on it,’ Reacher said, and hung up.

  The traffic rolled on, but strangely, always moving but very slowly, as if every driver was a movie guy shooting a scene in slow motion. Turner said, ‘This could be like we arrested ourselves, you know. We could walk off that plane, and Espin could cuff us right there in the D.C. terminal.’

  ‘We’ll think of something,’ Reacher said. ‘Six hours is a long time.’

  ‘Got any ideas?’

  ‘Not yet.’

  ‘These are professional weapons handlers. That’s all they do.’

  ‘Fifty-fifty, Susan. Either it’s all they do or it isn’t.’

  ‘What else could they do?’

  ‘We have six hours to figure that out.’

  ‘Suppose we don’t figure it out?’

  Reacher said, ‘Espin heard the name Crew Scully and figured the guy was rich. Suppose he is? Suppose they both are?’

  ‘We know they’re rich.’

  ‘But we’re making an assumption about how they got rich. Suppose they were rich before. Suppose they were always rich. Suppose they’re old-money East Coast aristocrats.’

  ‘OK, I’ll watch out for old men in faded pink pants.’

  ‘It might alter the equation. We’re assuming a powerful profit motive here. We might need to downgrade that. They could smooth out their own bumps. That hundred grand might have been their own money.’

  ‘This is not a hobby, Reacher. Not with fake bank accounts, and fake legal papers, and old men getting beat up, and four guys coming after us.’

  ‘I agree, this is way more than a hobby.’

  ‘Then what is it?’

  ‘I don’t know. I’m just thinking out loud. I’m trying to get a jump on the six hours.’

  They left the white Ford in a covered lot at the Delta terminal, and they dropped the key in a trash can, which they figured would cost Romeo plenty in rental and recovery fees. Turner stripped Rickard’s Glock and put the separated parts in four more trash cans. Then they walked inside through the wrong door and took the long way around. They came up on the ticket counters from behind. Espin was already there. He must have taken the 405. And he must have taken it alone. There was no one with him. No one next to him, and no one in the shadows. He was standing still, facing

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