Never go back, p.42
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       Never Go Back, p.42
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         Part #18 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child

  had connections already in place. Like you said. What did Thomas De Quincey write?’

  ‘Poetry?’

  ‘His most famous work was an autobiographical book called Confessions of an English Opium-eater. That’s what he did in Dove Cottage, for eleven straight years. He eased away the tensions of the day. Then he wrote a memoir about it.’

  Turner said, ‘I wish we could get in there.’

  Reacher had been in the original Dove Cottage, in England. On a visit. He had paid his entrance money at the door, and he had ducked under the low lintel. Easy as that. Getting into the new Dove Cottage was going to be much harder. Penetrating a house was something Delta Force and Navy SEALs trained for all their careers. It was not a simple task.

  Reacher said, ‘Do you see cameras?’

  Turner said, ‘I don’t, but there have to be some, surely.’

  ‘Is there a doorbell?’

  ‘There’s no button. Just a knocker. Which is more authentic, of course. Maybe there are zoning laws.’

  ‘Then there must be cameras. A place like this can’t fling its door open every time there’s a knock. Not without knowing who it is.’

  ‘Which implies an operations room, with screens, and some kind of remote unlock function. One guy could run it. Will there be security?’

  ‘There have to be servants. Discreet little guys in dark suits. Like butlers or stewards. Who are also security. I guess the cameras are small. Maybe just fibre-optic lenses, poking out through the wall. There could be dozens of them. Which would make sense. Someone has to keep an eye open for what could go on, in a place like this.’

  ‘We need to see someone go in, not out. We need to see how the system works.’

  But they didn’t. No one went in. No one came out. The house just sat there, looking smug. The same lights stayed on. The first smears of morning came up over the roof.

  Turner said, ‘We’ve never met them.’

  Reacher said, ‘They’ve seen our photographs.’

  ‘Have they shown our photographs to their operations guy?’

  ‘I sincerely hope so. Because we’re talking about the top boy in charge of intelligence for the United States Army.’

  ‘Then the door will stay locked,’ Turner said. ‘That’s all. Costs us nothing.’

  ‘Does it alert them? Or are they alert already?’

  ‘You know they’re alert. They’re staring into the void.’

  ‘Maybe they don’t let women in.’

  ‘They would have to send someone down to explain that. If they don’t recognize us, then we could be anybody. City officials, or whatever. They’d have to talk to us.’

  ‘OK,’ Reacher said. ‘Knocking on the door is an option. How far up the list do you want to put it?’

  ‘In the middle,’ Turner said.

  Five minutes later Reacher asked, ‘Below what?’

  ‘I think we should call the DEA. Or Espin, at the 75th. Or the Metro PD. Or all of the above. The FBI too, probably. They can start work on the financial stuff.’

  ‘You’re the CO.’

  ‘I want a legal arrest.’

  ‘So do I.’

  ‘Really?’

  ‘Because you do.’

  ‘Is that the only reason?’

  ‘I like a legal arrest wherever possible. Every time. I’m not a barbarian.’

  ‘We can’t stay here anyway. It’s getting light.’

  And it was. The sun was on the far horizon, shooting level rays, backlighting the house, casting impossibly long shadows. A cone of sky was already blue. It was going to be a fine day.

  ‘Make the call,’ Reacher said.

  ‘Who first?’

  ‘Leach,’ Reacher said. ‘Better if she coordinates. Otherwise it will be like the Keystone Cops.’

  Turner emptied her pockets of phones, of which there were two, hers and Shrago’s. She checked she had the right one, and she opened it, and she turned away from the street, ready to dial. She was lit up from the back, warm and gold in the new dawn sun.

  And then Shrago’s phone rang. On the stone knee-wall, on the ledge below the fence. The crazy birdsong was switched off, but the grinding wasn’t. It was happening big time. The phone was squirming around, like it was trying to choose a direction. The screen was lit up as before, with Incoming Call, and Home.

  The phone buzzed eight times, and then it stopped.

  ‘Dawn,’ Turner said. ‘Some kind of deadline. Either prearranged, or in their own minds. They must be getting plenty anxious by now. They’re going to give up on him soon.’

  They watched the house a minute more, and as they turned away an upstairs window lit up bright, just a brief yellow flash, like an old-fashioned camera, and they heard two muffled gunshots, almost simultaneous but not quite, a little ragged, too quick for a double tap from a single weapon, but just right for two old guys counting to three and pulling their triggers.

  SIXTY-NINE

  NOTHING HAPPENED FOR a long, eerie minute. then the black door was hauled open fast and a whole stream of guys started pouring out, in various states of readiness, some clean and dressed and ready to go, some almost, some still rumpled and creased, all of them white and old, maybe eight or nine of them in total, and mixed in with them were half a dozen younger men in uniform, like hotel pages, and a younger man in a black turtleneck sweater, who Turner thought could be the operations guy. They all slowed down on the sidewalk, and they composed themselves, and then they sauntered away, like nothing was anything to do with them. One guy in a suit walked right past Reacher, with a look on his face that said, Who, me?

  Then Reacher and Turner started moving against the fleeing tide, towards the house, towards the black door, and they were buffeted by a couple of late stragglers, and then they were inside, in a wide, cool hallway, done in a Colonial style, all pale yellow, and brass candlesticks, and clocks, and dark mahogany wood, and an oil portrait of George Washington.

  They went up the stairs, which were wide and thickly carpeted, and they checked an empty room, which had two elegant daybeds in it, next to two elegant coffee tables. The coffee tables held fine examples of the opium smoker’s needs. Lamps and bowls and long, long pipes, the heights all arranged so that a man lying relaxed on his side would find the pipe exactly where he wanted it. There were pillows here and there, and a warm, dull weight in the air.

  They found Scully and Montague in the next room along. They were both around sixty years old, both grey, both trim, but not iron-hard like the kind of general who wants people to know he came from the infantry. These two were happy for folk to know they came from the back rooms. They were wearing dark pants and satin smoking jackets. Their pipes were made of silver and bone. They both had holes in both temples, through and through with jacketed bullets. Nine-millimetres, from the service Berettas that had fallen to the floor. The entry wounds were on the right. Reacher pictured them, the dawn call, as agreed, but no answer, so maybe a handshake, and then muzzles against skin, and elbows out, and one, two, three.

  And then the street was suddenly howling with sirens, and about a hundred people jumped out of cars.

  A guy from the DEA told them the story, in a front room off the wide, cool hallway. It turned out Shrago had spilled to Espin inside about a second and a half, which meant Morgan was in custody thirty minutes later, and Morgan had spilled inside a second and a half too, whereupon Espin had called three different agencies, and a raid had been planned. And executed. But five minutes late.

  ‘You weren’t late,’ Reacher said. ‘You could have come yesterday, and they would have done the same thing. It didn’t matter who was coming up the stairs. You or us or anybody, they were going down like gentlemen.’

  The guy said there were opium dens like Dove Cottage everywhere, all over the world, for the kind of civilized man who prefers fine wine over beer. Opium was the authentic product, heated to a vapour, the vapour inhaled, a gentleman’s relish, as sweet as organic honey. The real thing. The source. Not
cut or altered or extracted or converted. Not in any way. Not sordid, not street, and unchanged for thousands of years. Archaeologists would tell you Stone Age had a double meaning.

  And like fine wine, all kinds of bullshit crept in. Terrain was held to be important. The best was held to be Afghan. Individual hillsides were examined. Like vineyards. Montague did a deal with the Zadran brothers. Their stuff was high grade. They branded it Z and talked it up, and pretty soon Dove Cottage was getting enormous membership fees. It all worked fine for four years. Then their in-country guy was seen heading north for the ritual pow-wow, and the whole thing unravelled, despite their best efforts. Espin came by and said their best efforts had been considerable. He said he was halfway through the financial stuff, and already he could see the hundred grand had come straight out of Montague’s own account.

  Then eventually the crowd in the house included Colonel John James Temple, who was still Turner’s attorney of record, and both Major Helen Sullivan and Captain Tracy Edmonds, who were still Reacher’s. Temple had gotten a permanent stay on Turner’s confinement order. She was basically free to go, pending formal dismissal of charges. Sullivan and Edmonds had bigger problems. Given Morgan’s current status, it was impossible to say whether Reacher was or was not still in the army. It was likely a question that would run all the way, to the Deputy Chief of Staff for personnel, who was dead upstairs.

  Turner begged a ride for them both, with Colonel Temple, who had been little placated when Reacher returned his ID. The atmosphere was tense. But Reacher was keen to get Turner back to the hotel, and Colonel Temple’s sedan was better than walking. Except they didn’t go back to the hotel. Evidently Turner had given Rock Creek as their destination, because Temple drove over the water into Virginia. The old stone building. Her command. Her base. Her home base. Her home. When I get back I’m going to have my office steam-cleaned. I don’t want any trace of Morgan left behind.

  Which was when he had known for sure. She loved the campfire. As had he, once upon a time, but only briefly, and only that special fire inside the 110th Special Unit. Which was now hers.

  It was well into the morning when they arrived, and everyone was there. The night watch had stayed. Espin had kept them in the loop, and they had followed the play by play. The day watch had gotten in to find it a done deal, all bar the shouting. Sergeant Leach was there, and the duty captain. Reacher wondered if Turner would ever mention the doodling. Probably not. More likely promote him sideways.

  Her first hour was largely ceremonial, with a lot of fist bumps, and shooting the shit, and slaps on the back, and then somehow she ended the tour in her office, and she stayed there, starting where she had left off, reviewing every piece of information, and checking every disposition. Reacher hung out with Leach for a spell, and then he went down the old stone steps and took a long walk, a random figure-eight around bland three-lane blocks. He got back and found her still occupied, so he hung out with Leach some more, and then it went dark, and then she came down the stairs, with a car key in her hand.

  She said, ‘Ride with me.’

  The little red sports car had been down a few days, but it started fine, and it ran steady, if a little loud and throaty, but Reacher figured that might have been dialled in on purpose by the guy who designed the muffler. Turner put the heater dials in the red and unlatched the top, and dropped it down behind the seats.

  ‘Like a rock-and-roll song on the radio,’ she said.

  She backed out of her slot, and she drove out through the gate, and she turned left, and she followed the bus route, past the motel and onward to the mall, where she pulled up in front of the big stucco place with the Greek style of menu.

  ‘Buy you dinner?’ she said.

  There were all kinds of people in the restaurant. Couples, and families, and children. Some of the children were girls, and some of them might have been fourteen. Turner chose a booth at the front window, and they watched a bus go by, and Reacher said, ‘I’m a detective, and I know what you’re going to say.’

  She said, ‘Do you?’

  ‘It was always fifty-fifty. Like flipping a coin.’

  ‘That easy?’

  ‘You have no obligation even to think about it. This was my thing, not yours. I came here. You didn’t come to South Dakota.’

  ‘That’s true. That’s how it started. I wasn’t sure. But it changed. For a time. Starting in that cell, in the Dyer guardhouse. You were taking Temple away, and you looked over your shoulder at me and told me to wait there. And I did.’

  ‘You had no choice. You were in the guardhouse.’

  ‘And now I’m not.’

  ‘I understand,’ Reacher said. ‘The 110th is better.’

  ‘And I got it back. I can’t just walk away.’

  ‘I understand,’ Reacher said again. ‘And I can’t stay. Not here. Not anywhere. So it’s not just you. We’re both saying no.’

  ‘The 110th was your creation. If that makes you feel better.’

  ‘I wanted to meet you,’ Reacher said. ‘That was all. And I did. Mission accomplished.’

  They ate, and paid, and they emptied their pockets on the table. Turner took the wallets, and the credit cards, and Shrago’s phone, for processing, and Reacher took the cash money, for the upcoming weeks, less thirty dollars, which Turner promised to return to Sullivan. Then they walked out to the lot. The air was cold, and a little damp. The middle of the evening, in the middle of winter, in the northeastern corner of Virginia. The lazy Potomac was not far away. Beyond it in the east D.C.’s glow lit up the clouds. The nation’s capital, where all kinds of things were going on. They kissed for the last time, and hugged, and wished each other luck, and then Turner got in her little red car and drove away. Reacher watched her until she was lost to sight. Then he dropped his cell phone in the trash, and he crossed the street, and he walked until he found a bus bench. North, not south. Out, not in. Onward, and away. He sat down, alone.

 
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