Never go back, p.39
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       Never Go Back, p.39

         Part #18 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child

  the main terminal doors. They walked up behind him, and he spun around, and Reacher bought three first-class seats with Baldacci’s credit card.


  THEY WERE AT the gate twenty minutes before boarding started, in seats with a wide field of view, and they didn’t see Shrago. Not that Reacher expected to. LA was a big place, hard to get around, and first the bank charge would have to be spotted, and then Shrago would have to get himself to the airport, and there simply wasn’t enough time. So Reacher drank coffee and relaxed, and then boarding started, and then his phone rang, so he took his seat while talking, which was what pretty much everyone else was doing.

  It was Edmonds on the phone, from Virginia. She said, ‘The 75th MP just informed me about the Candice Dayton situation.’

  ‘I told you I didn’t remember her.’

  ‘I apologize. I should have been less sceptical.’

  ‘Don’t worry about it. I almost believed it myself.’

  ‘I asked around about Crew Scully’s friends.’


  ‘He had a West Point classmate he stayed close to. They came up together like bottle rockets. I asked five separate people, and this is the guy I got from all of them.’

  ‘What is he?’

  ‘Currently the army’s Deputy Chief of Staff for intelligence.’

  ‘That would do it.’

  ‘They share similar backgrounds, they live near each other in Georgetown, and they’re members of all the same clubs, including some very exclusive ones.’

  ‘Are they rich?’

  ‘Not like some people are rich. But they’re comfortable, in an old-fashioned way. You know how it is with those people. Comfortable takes a few million.’

  ‘What’s the guy’s name?’

  ‘Gabriel Montague.’

  ‘You were right about the similar backgrounds. Gabe and Crew. Sounds like a bar near Harvard. Or a store where you buy torn jeans for three hundred dollars.’

  ‘These are huge targets, Reacher. These are giants walking the earth. And you have precisely zero evidence of anything.’

  ‘You think like a lawyer. One of which I need right now, by the way. I’m an innocent man. I don’t want any smoke and mirrors about what happened after they locked me up for two things I didn’t do. If I broke out, it was because I was entitled to.’

  ‘Major Sullivan is working on that. She wants everything dismissed. The fruits of a poisoned tree.’

  ‘Tell her to be quick. We’re heading back right now, with a semi-official escort. I don’t want any fun and games at Reagan National. She’s got about six hours.’

  ‘I’ll tell her.’

  Then the steward came on the PA and said the cabin door was closing, and all devices should be in the off position. So for the first time in his life Reacher complied with the crew member’s instruction, and he dropped the phone in his pocket, and the plane pushed back and started to taxi. It took off over the ocean, and then it pulled a wide right-hand 180, so it was facing east again, and it recrossed the coast above Santa Monica, and it climbed as it flew inland, so that North Hollywood and the Ventura Freeway and Vineland Avenue and the coach diner and the little house with the blue door were all off the port side, far away and far below, barely visible at all.

  A three-way conversation in first class was not easy. The chairs were wide, which put the window seat on one side pretty far from the aisle seat on the other. And the crew members were always back and forth from the galley, with endless free food and drink. Which all helped Reacher see why being rich was called being comfortable, but which made talking difficult. In the end Espin got up and perched on the arm of Turner’s chair, and Turner leaned over nearer Reacher in the window, and they got it to where everyone could see and hear everyone else, and Espin said, ‘If I need any kind of warrant for Morgan, obviously they’re going to ask me about the nature of this alleged conspiracy. So you’d better have a story for me by the time we get off this plane. Or you’re giving me nothing. In which case we’d need to rethink your special status.’

  Reacher said, ‘It’s not going to work that way, Pete. This is not an audition. We’re not trying to break into the movies. And you have no vote here. We’re going our separate ways at Reagan National, whether or not we have a story, and whether or not you like it, and you’re going to wave us goodbye with a cheery smile on your face, either standing up by the door or sitting down in a wheelchair with a broken leg. Those are the ground rules. Are we clear?’

  Espin said, ‘But we share what information we have?’

  ‘Absolutely. As in, Captain Edmonds just told me Crew Scully has a close personal friend named Gabriel Montague.’

  ‘He would. Did they go to prep school together?’

  ‘More or less. West Point, anyway.’

  ‘Who is he?’

  ‘The army’s Deputy Chief of Staff for intelligence.’

  ‘That’s about as high as it gets.’


  ‘Do you have evidence?’

  ‘My lawyer assessed it as precisely zero. In the interests of full disclosure.’

  ‘But you think those are the two?’

  ‘I do now.’

  ‘Why now?’

  ‘William Shakespeare. He wrote a play called Romeo and Juliet. Two households, both alike in dignity. A pair of starcrossed lovers, because Juliet was a Capulet and Romeo was a Montague. Like the Sharks and the Jets in West Side Story. You could rent the movie.’

  ‘You think Montague goes by Romeo? Would he be that dumb?’

  ‘He probably thinks it’s cute. Like faded pink pants. He probably thinks people like us never heard of William Shakespeare.’

  ‘Your lawyer was right. Precisely zero.’

  ‘She’s a lawyer. You’re not. You’re the guy with the coin. Either Montague is Romeo or he’s not. It’s exactly fifty-fifty.’

  ‘That’s like going to Vegas and betting the mortgage on red.’

  ‘An even chance is a wonderful thing.’

  ‘These are Deputy Chiefs of Staff, Reacher. You’d want to be very sure. You’d have to shoot to kill.’

  Romeo called Juliet and said, ‘They’re on the way home. Three tickets in first class. Which is another slap in the face. The third ticket is Espin, from the 75th MP. At first I thought he had made the arrest, but then why would Reacher buy the tickets? They’ve turned our flank. That’s what they’ve done. Espin has gone native.’

  Juliet said, ‘Shrago is at least an hour from the airport.’

  ‘Tell him to hustle. He’s on American, the next flight out.’

  ‘How far behind Reacher will he be?’

  ‘Two hours.’

  ‘That’s a long time. We have one man left, and he isn’t even here. I think we’re beaten.’

  ‘It was always a possible outcome. We knew what kind of business we were getting into. We knew what we might have to do.’

  ‘We survived a good long time.’

  ‘And we’ll survive a two-hour gap. Nothing will happen. Major Turner will need to shower. Travelling with women is inefficient. And after that it will get easier for Shrago. They’ll have to come looking for us. We won’t have to look for them.’

  Espin came and went, back and forth across the aisle, based on the forensic value of the conversation, and his comfort level. Perching on an arm was not the kind of ride Baldacci had paid for. Most of the time he sat and pondered on his own. As did Turner, and as did Reacher. Without notable success. Then Turner called Espin back, and when he was settled she said, ‘We have one fixed point, which is the logistics chain. It’s a twoway conveyor belt, and it never stops. Right now it’s sending empty boxes in and bringing full boxes out. And those full boxes are full of all the right stuff. Barcoded socks with holes in them. I accept that. So nothing’s happening. Except we know something’s happening. So what if those empty boxes aren’t empty? We know the tribesmen aren’t buying the stuff with the barcodes, but what if they’re b
uying stuff sent over exclusively for them? Almost like mail order. Which is why the four guys at Fort Bragg were important. They packed the crates that should have been empty.’

  Espin said, ‘There are systems in place at both ends.’

  ‘Equally paranoid?’

  ‘I don’t think that’s possible.’

  ‘So it could be happening?’

  ‘It could be.’

  ‘But Reacher thinks the profit motive might not be front and centre. Which might make this a personal project. Maybe they’re playing favourites. Maybe they’re arming one faction over another. Maybe they think they’re big experts on Afghanistan. Those old New England guys always think they’re half British. Maybe they remember the old days on the Northwest Frontier. Maybe they think they have unique expertise.’


  ‘But the conveyor belt is two way. We must never forget that. They might be bringing stuff out, not in, concealed among the returning ordnance. Which also makes the guys at Bragg important. They’d have to unpack it in secret, and move it along.’

  ‘What kind of stuff?’

  ‘If profit isn’t front and centre, then it could be some kind of personal enthusiasm. Art, maybe, like statues or sculptures. The stuff the Taliban trashes. If you’re a refined gentleman, that kind of thing might appeal to you. Except their reaction has been way over the top for art. No one gets beat up over an old statue.’

  ‘So what kind of stuff?’

  ‘We’ve got two old gentlemen with personal enthusiasms that have to be kept very secret. Because the enthusiasms are criminal, and also shameful somehow. But also lucrative, in a gentlemanly way. That’s the feeling I’m getting.’

  ‘Young girls? Young boys? Orphans?’

  ‘Look at it from Emal Zadran’s point of view. He was a screw-up and a failure, but he rehabilitated himself. He earned some respect in his community. How? Someone gave him a role, that’s how. As an entrepreneur again, most likely. Someone wanted to buy or sell, and Zadran became the go-to guy. Because he knew the right people. He had connections already in place. Maybe crucial relationships, maybe just by chance.’

  Espin said, ‘Buy or sell what?’

  Reacher said. ‘We’ll figure that out in D.C. Right after you wave us goodbye, either standing up or sitting down.’

  They slept the rest of the way. The cabin was warm, and the chairs were comfortable, and the motion was soothing. Reacher dreamed about the girl, at a much younger age, maybe three, chubby not bony, dressed in the same outfit but miniaturized, with tiny laceless tennis shoes. They were walking on a street somewhere, her small hand soft and warm in his giant paw, her little legs going like crazy, trying to keep up, and he was glancing over his shoulder all the time, anxious about something, worried about how she was going to run if she had to, in her laceless shoes, and then realizing he could just scoop her up in his arms, and run for her, maybe for ever, her fragrant weightless body no burden at all, and relief flooded through him, and the dream faded away, as if its job was done.

  Then the air pressure changed and the steward started up with the stuff about seat backs and tray tables and upright positions. Espin glanced across the aisle, and Reacher and Turner glanced back at him. The coin was in the air, right then. The guy was deciding. Was he a drone, or was he ahead of the curve? Fifty-fifty, Reacher thought, like everything else in the world.

  Then they were on approach, the big plane suddenly heavy and ponderous again, and as soon as the crew members had taken their seats everyone turned on their phones, and Reacher saw he had a voice-mail message from Major Sullivan, an hour old. He called it up and heard some static, and then, ‘Confirming no action will be taken against you for any matters arising out of either of the phony affidavits. So you’re in the clear, as of now. But Major Turner is still considered a legitimate fugitive. Her situation is the same as it always was. So the clock will start ticking all over again, the moment you touch down. You’ll be seen as aiding and abetting. You’ll be an accessory to a very serious felony. Unless you walk away from her in the airport. Which I strongly suggest you do, speaking as your lawyer.’

  He deleted the message, and dialled Edmonds. She answered, and he asked, ‘Where were Scully and Montague seven years ago?’

  She said, ‘I’ll try to find out.’

  And then the plane touched down, and the clock started ticking.


  FIRST ON MEANT first off, too, and the official door at the end of the jet bridge was still closed when they got there. Time zones meant it was very late on the East Coast. Reacher pushed the door and scanned ahead. There was a thin crowd at the gate. Not as bad as Long Beach. Maybe only ten undercover MPs and ten FBI agents inside the first thirty feet alone. Reacher held the door and let Espin go first, and he watched him very carefully. But Espin looked for no one in particular, and he made no eye contact with anyone, and he made no furtive signs or gestures. He just moved through the crowd like a regular person. Reacher and Turner followed after him, and a minute later they all regrouped in a yard of clear space, in the corridor under the baggage claim sign, and Reacher said, ‘You go on ahead. We’re going to stay here.’

  Espin said, ‘Why?’

  ‘In case you put your guys the other side of security.’

  ‘There are no guys.’

  ‘We’ll stay here anyway.’


  ‘Tactical considerations.’

  ‘I’ll give you twenty-four hours.’

  ‘You’ll never find us.’

  ‘I found you in LA. And there’s bait here too. I’ll know where to look.’

  ‘You should concentrate on Morgan.’

  ‘Twenty-four hours,’ Espin said, and then he walked away.

  Reacher and Turner watched him go, and Reacher said, ‘Let’s get coffee.’

  Turner said, ‘Are we staying here?’

  Reacher looked at the arrivals board, and said, ‘It would make some kind of sense. Next in is American, in about two hours. Shrago’s bound to be on it. And from the airplane door to the other side of security, he’s bound to be unarmed. So this would be the place to hit him.’

  ‘Are we going to?’

  ‘No, but I wanted to put the idea in Espin’s head. In case he gets cold feet an hour from now. He’ll assume we’re still here. But we won’t be. We’ll get the coffee to go. We’ll be right behind him.’

  In Reacher’s experience every successful venture in Washington D.C. had one indispensable thing in common, which was a sound base of operations. But such a place could not be bought with cash. Any kind of a decent hotel was going to need a credit card. Which meant either Margaret Vega was going to pay, or they were going to tell Gabriel Montague where they were staying. Turner was in favour of telling him, so Shrago would show up, so they could deal with him. Reacher disagreed.

  She said, ‘Why?’

  ‘If they send Shrago to our location, and he disappears, they’re going to know what happened to him.’


  ‘I don’t want them to know what happened to him. I want them uncertain. For as long as humanly possible. I want them not knowing. I want them staring into the void, hoping for a sign.’

  ‘This is why we need more women officers. For us it’s enough to win. For you, the other guy has to know he lost.’

  ‘I want them to keep their cell phones switched on. That’s all. It might be the only way we prove this for sure. It might be the only way we find them in the first place. Shrago needs to disappear somewhere unknown, and we have to get the numbers out of his phone, and then Sergeant Leach needs to hit up a whole different bunch of friends, and we need to find those phones before they finally give up on Shrago and switch them off.’

  So Margaret Vega paid for a night on the twelfth floor of a very nice hotel with a view of the White House, in a room that had everything they needed, and plenty they didn’t. Turner wanted to get clothes, but it was midnight and nothing was open. So they sh
owered long and slow and wrapped up in robes about two inches thick, and then they sat and ticked away the time until they figured it was twenty minutes before Shrago’s plane would go wheels-down across the river. At which point they got dressed again, and went out.

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