Never go back, p.4
Never Go Back,
Part #18 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
Reacher nodded. ‘That’s how I took it. Like I was being extradited out of civilian life. To face the music. But it was a much simpler procedure. There was no kind of a hearing.’
‘You think they’re serious?’
‘Feels that way at the moment.’
‘What do you need from me?’
‘I’m looking for Major Susan Turner of the 110th MP.’
‘Like I said, it’s personal.’
‘Connected with your problem?’
‘No. Not in any way.’
‘But you were with the 110th, right?’
‘A long time before Major Turner got anywhere near it.’
‘So you’re not subverting testimony or coaching a witness?’
‘Absolutely not. This is a different matter entirely.’
‘Are you a friend of hers?’
‘I was hoping that might be a future development. Or not, depending on what I think of her when I meet her.’
‘You haven’t met her yet?’
‘Is she here?’
Weiss said, ‘In a cell. Since yesterday afternoon.’
‘What’s the charge?’
‘She took a bribe.’
‘I don’t know.’
‘I don’t know.’
‘How much of a bribe?’
‘I’m just a jailer,’ Weiss said. ‘You know how it is. They don’t give me chapter and verse.’
‘Can I see her?’
‘Visiting hours are over.’
‘How many guests have you got tonight?’
‘So you’re not busy. And we’re off the record, right? So no one will know.’
Weiss opened up a green three-ring binder. Notes, procedures, standing orders, some of them printed, some of them handwritten. He said, ‘She seems to have been expecting you. She passed on a request through her lawyer. She mentioned you by name.’
‘What’s the request?’
‘It’s more of an instruction, really.’
‘She doesn’t want to see you.’
Reacher said nothing.
Weiss looked down at the three-ring binder and said, ‘Quote, per the accused’s explicit request, under no circumstances is Major Jack Reacher, U.S. Army, Retired, former commander of the 110th MP, to be granted visitation privileges.’
GETTING OUT OF the Joint Base was only marginally quicker than getting in. Each of the three guard shacks checked ID and conducted a trunk search, to make sure Reacher was who he said he was, and hadn’t stolen anything. Then after clearing the last of the barriers he threaded his way along the same route the local bus had taken. But he stopped early, and pulled in at the kerb. There were plenty of highway ramps all around. There was I-395, spearing south and west. There was the George Washington Memorial Parkway, heading north and west. There was I-66, heading due west. There was I-395 going east, if he wanted it. All of them quiet and flowing fast. There was a big country out there. There was I-95, all the way up and down the eastern seaboard, and the West Coast, five days away, and the vast interior, empty and lonely.
They couldn’t find you before. They won’t find you now.
A new discharge, this time without honour.
She doesn’t want to see you.
Reacher moved off the kerb and drove back to the motel.
The two guys with the T-shirts were gone. Evidently they had gotten up and staggered off somewhere. Reacher left their car on the kerb two hundred yards away. He left the key in the ignition and the doors unlocked. Either it would be stolen by a couple of punks, or the two guys would come back to get it. He really didn’t care which.
He walked the last of the distance and let himself into his dismal room. He had been right. The shower was weak and strangled, and the towels were thin, and the soap was small, and the shampoo was cheap. But he cleaned up as well as he could, and then he went to bed. The mattress felt like a sack stuffed with balled-up plastic, and the sheets felt damp with disuse. But he fell asleep just fine. He set the alarm in his head for seven, and he breathed in, and he breathed out, and that was it.
Romeo dialled Juliet again and said, ‘He just tried to make contact with Turner over at Dyer. And failed, of course.’
Juliet said, ‘Our boys must have missed him at the motel.’
‘Nothing to worry about.’
‘I hope not.’
‘Yes, you too.’
Reacher didn’t make it to seven o’clock. He was woken at six, by a brisk tap at the door. It sounded businesslike. Not threatening. Tap, tap, tappity tap. Six o’clock in the morning, and someone was already cheerful. He slid out of bed and hauled his pants out from under the mattress and put them on. The air in the room was sharp with cold. He could see his breath. The heater had been off all night.
He padded barefoot across the sticky carpet and opened the door. A gloved hand that had been ready to tap again was pulled back quickly. The hand was attached to an arm, which was attached to a body, which was in a Class A army uniform, with JAG Corps insignia all over it. A lawyer.
A woman lawyer.
According to the plate on the right side of her tunic her name was Sullivan. She was wearing the uniform like a business suit. She had a briefcase in her non-tapping hand. She didn’t say anything. She wasn’t particularly short, but her eye line was level with Reacher’s shirtless chest, where there was an old .38 bullet wound, which seemed to preoccupy her.
Reacher said, ‘Yes?’
Her car was behind her, a dark-green domestic sedan. The sky was still black.
She said, ‘Major Reacher?’
She was in her mid-thirties, Reacher guessed, a major herself, with short dark hair and eyes that were neither warm nor cold. He said, ‘How can I help you?’
‘It’s supposed to be the other way around.’
‘You’ve been assigned to represent me?’
‘For my sins.’
‘For the recall appeal or the Juan Rodriguez thing or the Candice Dayton thing?’
‘Forget the recall appeal. You’ll get five minutes in front of a panel about a month from now, but you won’t win. That never happens.’
‘So Rodriguez or Dayton?’
‘Rodriguez,’ Sullivan said. ‘We need to get right to it.’ But she didn’t move. Her gaze traced its way downward, to his waist, where there was another scar, by that point more than a quarter century old, a big ugly white starfish overlaid by crude stitches, cut through by a knife wound, which was much more recent, but still old.
‘I know,’ he said. ‘Aesthetically I’m a mess. But come in anyway.’
She said, ‘No, I think I’ll wait in the car. We’ll talk over breakfast.’
‘There’s a diner two blocks away.’
‘For myself. Not for you.’
‘Two blocks away? You could have brought coffee.’
‘Could have, but didn’t.’
‘Some big help you’re going to be. Give me eleven minutes.’
‘That’s how long it takes me to get ready in the morning.’
‘Most people would say ten.’
‘Then either they’re faster than me or imprecise.’ He closed the door on her and padded back to the bed and took his pants off again. They looked OK. Laying them out under the mattress was as close as he ever got to ironing. He walked on to the bathroom and set the shower running. He cleaned his teeth and climbed under the weak lukewarm stream and used what was left of the soap and shampoo. He dried himself with damp towels and dressed and stepped out to the lot. Eleven minutes, dead on. He was a creature of habit.
Major Sullivan had turned her car around. It was a Ford, the same model as the silver item that had driven him across Missouri many days before. He opened the
Reacher asked, ‘What’s your name?’
Sullivan said, ‘You can read, I presume.’
‘First name, I mean.’
‘Does it matter? You’re going to call me Major Sullivan.’ She said it in a way that was neither friendly nor unfriendly. Nor unexpected. A personal relationship was not on the agenda. Army defence lawyers were diligent, intelligent and professional, but they were on nobody’s side but the army’s.
The diner was indeed two blocks away, but the blocks were long. A left, and then a right, and then a ragged strip mall, on the shoulder of another three-lane road. The mall featured a hardware store, and a no-name pharmacy, and a picture-framing shop, and a gun store, and a walk-in dentist. The diner stood alone at the end of the strip, in its own lot. It was a white stucco affair with the kind of inside decor that made Reacher bet the owner was Greek and there would be a million items on the menu. Which made it a restaurant, in his opinion, not a diner. Diners were lean, mean, stripped-down places, as ruthless as combat rifles.
They took a booth in a side wing, and a waitress brought coffee before being asked, which raised Reacher’s opinion of the place a little. The menu was a multi-page laminated thing almost as big as the tabletop. Reacher saw pancakes and eggs on page two, and investigated no further.
Sullivan said, ‘I’m recommending a plea bargain. They’ll ask for five years and we’ll offer one and settle on two. You can do that. Two years won’t kill you.’
Reacher said, ‘Who was Candice Dayton?’
‘Not my case. Someone else will talk to you about that.’
‘And who was Juan Rodriguez exactly?’
‘Someone you hit in the head who died from his injuries.’
‘I don’t remember him.’
‘That’s not the best thing to say in a case like this. It makes it sound like you hit so many people in the head that you can’t distinguish one from the other. It might prompt further inquiries. Someone might be tempted to draw up a list. And from what I hear it might be a very long list. The 110th was pretty much a rogue operation back then.’
‘And what is it now?’
‘A little better, perhaps. But far from outstanding.’
‘That’s your opinion?’
‘That’s my experience.’
‘Do you know anything about Susan Turner’s situation?’
‘I know her lawyer.’
‘She took a bribe.’
‘Do we know that for sure?’
‘There’s enough electronic data to float a battleship. She opened a bank account in the Cayman Islands at ten o’clock in the morning the day before yesterday, and at eleven o’clock a hundred thousand dollars showed up in it, and then she was arrested at twelve o’clock, more or less red-handed. Seems fairly open and shut to me. And fairly typical of the 110th.’
‘Sounds like you don’t love my old unit, overall. Which might be a problem. Because I’m entitled to a competent defence. Sixth Amendment, and so on. Do you think you’re the right person for the job?’
‘I’m what they’re giving you, so get used to it.’
‘I should see the evidence against me, at least. Don’t you think? Isn’t there something in the Sixth Amendment about that too?’
‘You didn’t do much paperwork sixteen years ago.’
‘We did some.’
‘I know,’ Sullivan said. ‘I’ve seen what there is of it. Among other things you did daily summaries. I have one that shows you heading out for an interview with Mr Rodriguez. Then I have a document from a county hospital ER showing his admission later the same day, for a head injury, among other things.’
‘And that’s it? Where’s the connection? He could have fallen down the stairs after I left. He could have been hit by a truck.’
‘The ER doctors thought he had been.’
‘That’s a weak case,’ Reacher said. ‘In fact it’s not really a case at all. I don’t remember anything about it.’
‘Yet you remember some stairs that Mr Rodriguez might have fallen down after your interview.’
‘Speculation,’ Reacher said. ‘Hypothesis. Figure of speech. Same as the truck. They’ve got nothing.’
‘They have an affidavit,’ Sullivan said. ‘Sworn out by Mr Rodriguez himself, some time later. He names you as his attacker.’
SULLIVAN HAULED HER briefcase up on the booth’s vinyl bench. She took out a thick file and laid it on the table. She said, ‘Happy reading.’
Which it wasn’t, of course. It was a long and sordid record of a long and sordid investigation into a long and sordid crime. The root cause was Operation Desert Shield, all the way back in late 1990, which was the build-up phase before Operation Desert Storm, which was the Gulf War the first time around, after Saddam Hussein of Iraq invaded his neighbour, the independent state of Kuwait. Half a million men and women from the free world had gathered over six long months, getting ready to kick Saddam’s ass, which in the end had taken all of one hundred hours. Then the half-million men and women had gone home again.
The material wind-down had been the problem. Armies need a lot of stuff. Six months to build it up, six months to break it down. And the build-up had received a lot more in the way of care and attention than the wind-down. The wind-down had been piecemeal and messy. Dozens of nationalities had been involved. Long story short, lots of stuff had gone missing. Which was embarrassing. But the books had to be balanced. So some of the missing stuff was written off as destroyed, and some as damaged, and some as merely lost, and the books were closed.
Until certain items started showing up on the streets of America’s cities.
Sullivan asked, ‘You remember it yet?’
‘Yes,’ Reacher said. He remembered it very well. It was the kind of crime the 110th had been created to fight. Man-portable military weapons don’t end up on the streets by accident. They’re filched and diverted and stolen and sold. By persons unknown, but by persons in certain distinct categories. In logistics companies, mostly. Guys who have to move tens of thousands of tons a week with hazy bills of lading can always find ways of making a ton or two disappear, here and there, for fun and profit. Or a hundred tons. The 110th had been tasked to find out who and how and where and when. The unit was new, with its name to make, and it had gone at it hard. Reacher had spent hundreds of hours on it, and his team had spent many times more.
He said, ‘But I still don’t remember any Juan Rodriguez.’
Sullivan said, ‘Flip to the end of the file.’
Which Reacher did, where he found he remembered Juan Rodriguez pretty well.
Just not as Juan Rodriguez.
Never Go Back by Lee Child / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5.1 out of 5 / Based on46 votes