Never go back, p.5
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       Never Go Back, p.5
 

         Part #18 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child

  The 110th had gotten a solid tip about a gangbanger in South Central LA, who went by the street name of Dog, which was alleged to be a contraction of Big Dog, because the guy was supposedly sizeable in terms of both status and physique. The DEA wasn’t interested in him, because he wasn’t part of the drug wars. But the tip said like neutrals everywhere he was making a fortune selling black-market weapons to both sides at once. The tip said he was the go-to guy. The tip said he was angling to unload eleven crates of army SAWs. SAWs were not metal things with little teeth, good for cutting wood. SAWs were Squad Automatic Weapons, which were fearsome fully automatic machine guns, with fearsome capacities and fearsome capabilities.

  Reacher had gone to South Central LA and walked the hot dusty streets and asked the right kinds of questions in the right kinds of places. In that environment he was unmistakably army, so he had posed as a disaffected grunt with interesting stuff for sale. Grenades, launchers, armour-piercing ammunition in vast quantities, Beretta handguns. People were naturally cautious, but ultimately the pose worked. Two days later he was face to face with the Dog, who turned out to be big indeed, mostly side to side. The guy could have weighed four hundred pounds.

  The last sheet in the file was the affidavit, which was headed Evidentiary Statement of Juan Rodriguez, a.k.a. Big Dog, a.k.a. Dog. Reacher’s name was all over it, as well as a long list of injuries, including a broken skull and broken ribs and tissue damage and contusions. It was signed at the bottom, by Rodriguez himself, and witnessed, by a lawyer on Ventura Boulevard in Studio City, Los Angeles, and notarized, by someone else entirely.

  Sullivan said, ‘Remember him now?’

  ‘He was lying in this affidavit,’ Reacher said. ‘I never laid a finger on him.’

  ‘Really?’

  ‘Why would I? I wasn’t interested in him. I wanted his source, that’s all. I wanted the guy he was buying from. I wanted a name.’

  ‘You weren’t worried about SAWs on the streets of LA?’

  ‘That was the LAPD’s problem, not mine.’

  ‘Did you get the name?’

  ‘Yes.’

  ‘How?’

  ‘I asked, he answered.’

  ‘Just like that?’

  ‘More or less.’

  ‘What does that mean?’

  ‘I was a good interrogator. I made him think I knew more than I did. He wasn’t very smart. I’m surprised he even had a brain to injure.’

  ‘So how do you explain the hospital report?’

  ‘Do I have to? A guy like that, he knows all kinds of unsavoury characters. Maybe he ripped someone off the day before. He wasn’t operating in a very civilized environment.’

  ‘So that’s your defence? Some other dude did it?’

  ‘If I’d done it he wouldn’t have made it to the hospital. He was a useless tub of lard.’

  ‘I can’t go to the prosecutor with some other dude did it. I can’t say the proof is you would have actually killed him, rather than merely mortally injuring him.’

  ‘You’ll have to.’

  ‘No, I won’t have to. You need to listen up, Reacher. You need to take this seriously. I can get you a deal, but you have to get out in front of it. You have to own it and show some contrition.’

  ‘I don’t believe this.’

  ‘I’m giving you my best advice.’

  ‘Can I get a new lawyer?’

  ‘No,’ Sullivan said. ‘You can’t.’

  They ate the rest of their breakfasts in silence. Reacher wanted to move to another table, but he didn’t, because he thought it would look petty. They split the check and paid and went out to the car, where Sullivan said, ‘I have somewhere else to go. You can walk from here. Or take the bus.’

  She got in her car and drove away. Reacher was left on his own, in the restaurant lot. The three-lane in front of him was part of the local bus route. There was a bench stop thirty yards to his left. There were two people waiting. Two men. Mexicans, both of them much thinner than the Big Dog. Honest civilians, probably, heading for yard work in the cemetery, or janitor jobs in Alexandria, or in D.C. itself.

  There was another bus stop fifty yards to his right. Another bench. On the near side of the street, not the far. Heading north, not south. Heading out, not in. To McLean, and then Reston, maybe. And then to Leesburg, probably, and possibly all the way to Winchester. Where there would be more buses waiting, bigger buses, which would labour through the Appalachians, into West Virginia, and Ohio, and Indiana. And onward. And away.

  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 waited. The air was cold. The traffic was steady. Cars and trucks. All makes, all models, all colours. Then far to his left he saw a bus. Heading north, not south. Heading out, not in. The bench was fifty yards to his right. He waited. The bus was a big van, really, converted. Local, not long distance. A municipal service, with a subsidized fare. It was snorting and snuffling its way towards him, slowly.

  He let it go. It passed him by and continued on its way, oblivious.

  He walked back to the 110th HQ. Two miles in total, thirty minutes exactly. He passed his motel. The car with the dents in the doors was gone from the kerb. Reclaimed, or stolen.

  He got to the old stone building at five minutes to eight in the morning, and he met another lawyer, who told him who Candice Dayton was, and why she was unhappy.

  NINE

  THE SENTRY REACHER had met the afternoon before was back in his hutch. The day watch. He nodded Reacher through the gate, and Reacher walked onward to the short flight of steps and the freshly painted door. The Humvee was still in the lot. As was the small red two-seater. The car with the dents in the doors was not.

  There was a new sergeant at the desk in the lobby. The night watch, presumably, finishing up. This one was male, white, and a little more reserved than Leach had been in the end. Not explicitly hostile, but quiet and slightly censorious, like a milder version of the guys in the T-shirts from the night before: You brought the unit into disrepute. He said, ‘Colonel Morgan requires you to report to 207 immediately.’

  Reacher said, ‘Immediately what?’

  The guy said, ‘Immediately, sir.’

  ‘Thank you, sergeant,’ Reacher said. Room 207 was upstairs, fourth on the left, next to his own room. Or next to Susan Turner’s, or Morgan’s, now. Back in the day 207 had been Karla Dixon’s office, his number cruncher. His financial specialist. She had busted open plenty of tough things. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, crimes come down to love, hate, or money, and unlike what it says in the Bible, the greatest of these is money. Dixon had been worth her modest weight in gold, and Reacher had fond memories of room 207.

  He used the stairs and walked the corridor and passed his old office. The name plate was still on the wall: Maj. S. R. Turner, Commanding Officer. He heard Captain Weiss’s voice in his head, and Major Sullivan’s: She took a bribe. Maybe there was an innocent explanation. Maybe a distant uncle had died and left stock in a uranium mine. Maybe it was a foreign mine, hence the offshore status. Australian, perhaps. There was uranium in Australia. And gold, and coal, and iron ore. Or somewhere in Africa. He wished Karla Dixon was there. She could have taken one look at the paperwork, and seen the truth in an instant.

  He didn’t knock at 207’s door. No reason to. Apart from Morgan he was likely to be the highest rank in the building. And rank was rank, even in his peculiar circumstances. So he went straight in.

  The room was empty. And it was no longer an office. It had been converted to a conference room of some kind. There was no desk, but there was a big round table and six chairs. There was a black spider-shaped thing in the centre of the table, presumably a speakerphone for group discussions with remote parties. There was a credenza against one wall, presumably for in-meeting coffee and sandwiches. The lightshade was the same glass bowl. There was an economy bulb in it, turne
d on already, glowing weak and sickly.

  Reacher stepped over to the window and looked out. Not much to see. No parking in the lot on that side of the building. Just a big trash container, and a random pile of obsolete furniture, desk chairs and file cabinets. The chair upholstery looked swollen with damp, and the file cabinets were rusty. Then came the stone wall, and over it was a decent view east, all the way to the cemetery and the river. The Washington Monument was visible in the far distance, the same colour as the mist. A watery sun was behind it, low in the sky.

  The door opened behind him and Reacher turned around, expecting Morgan. But it wasn’t Morgan. It was déjà vu all over again. A neat Class A uniform, with JAG Corps insignia on it. A woman lawyer. Her nameplate said Edmonds. She looked a little like Sullivan. Dark, trim, very professional, wearing a skirt and nylons and plain black shoes. But she was younger than Sullivan. And junior in rank. She was only a captain. She had a cheaper briefcase.

  She said, ‘Major Reacher?’

  He said, ‘Good morning, captain.’

  She said, ‘I’m Tracy Edmonds. I’m working with HRC.’

  Which was the Human Resources Command, which back in the days of plain English had been the Personnel Command. Which at first made Reacher think she was there to take him through the paperwork. Pay, bank details, the whole nine yards. But then he realized they wouldn’t have sent a lawyer for that kind of thing. A company clerk could do that stuff perfectly well. So she was there about the Candice Dayton thing, probably. But she was junior, and she had given up her first name unasked, and she had an open look on her face, all friendly and concerned, which might mean the Candice Dayton thing wasn’t as serious as the Big Dog problem.

  He asked, ‘Do you know anything about Susan Turner’s situation?’

  She said, ‘Who?’

  ‘You just walked past her office.’

  She said, ‘Only what I’ve heard.’

  ‘Which is what?’

  ‘She took a bribe.’

  ‘For what?’

  ‘I think that’s confidential.’

  ‘It can’t be. She’s confined prior to trial. Therefore there must be probable cause in the record. Or have we abandoned civilized jurisprudence while I’ve been away?’

  ‘They say she took a day to pass on crucial information. No one understood why. Now they do.’

  ‘What information?’

  ‘She arrested an infantry captain from Fort Hood. An espionage case, allegedly. The captain gave up the name of his foreign civilian contact. Major Turner sat on it for twenty-four hours, and the contact used the time to get away.’

  ‘When was this exactly?’

  ‘About four weeks ago.’

  ‘But she wasn’t arrested until the day before yesterday.’

  ‘That’s when the foreign contact paid her. Which was evidence they had to wait for. Without it the delay could have been explained as incompetence, not criminality.’

  ‘Has the pre-trial confinement been appealed?’

  ‘I don’t think so.’

  ‘Who’s her lawyer?’

  ‘Colonel Moorcroft. Out of Charlottesville.’

  ‘You mean the JAG school?’

  Edmonds nodded. ‘He teaches criminal defence.’

  ‘Is he commuting from there to here?’

  ‘No, I believe he’s in the Dyer VOQ.’

  Which were the Visiting Officers’ Quarters, at Fort Dyer. Or, now, Joint Base Dyer-Helsington House. Not the Ritz exactly, but not too far from it, and no doubt a whole lot better than a crappy motel on a three-lane a mile from Rock Creek.

  Edmonds pulled out a chair for him, and then one for herself, and sat down at the conference table. She said, ‘Candice Dayton.’

  Reacher sat down, and said, ‘I don’t know who Candice Dayton is. Or was.’

  ‘Denial is not a smart way to go, I’m afraid, major. It never works.’

  ‘I can’t pretend to remember someone if I don’t.’

  ‘It creates a bad impression. It reinforces a negative stereotype. Both things will go against you in the end.’

  ‘Who was she?’

  Edmonds lifted her briefcase on to the table and opened it up. She took out a file. She said, ‘You were posted to Korea several times, is that correct?’

  ‘Many times.’

  ‘Including at one time a short spell working with the 55th MP.’

  ‘If you say so.’

  ‘I do say so. It’s all here in black and white. It was very late in your career. Almost the last thing you did. You were at Camp Red Cloud. Which is between Seoul and the demilitarized zone.’

  ‘I know where it is.’

  ‘Candice Dayton was an American citizen, and at that time she was temporarily resident in Seoul.’

  ‘A civilian?’

  ‘Yes. You remember her now?’

  ‘No.’

  ‘You had a brief affair.’

  ‘Who did?’

  ‘You and Ms Dayton, of course.’

  ‘I don’t remember her.’

  ‘Are you married?’

  ‘No.’

  ‘Have you ever been?’

  ‘No.’

  ‘Have you had many sexual liaisons in your life?’

  ‘That’s a very personal question.’

  ‘I’m your lawyer. Have you?’

  ‘As many as possible, generally. I like women. I guess it’s a biological thing.’

  ‘So many there may be some you don’t remember?’

  ‘There were some I try to forget.’

  ‘Does that category include Ms Dayton?’

  ‘No. If I was trying to forget her, that would mean I remember her. Right? And I don’t.’

  ‘Are there others you don’t remember?’

  ‘How would I tell?’

  ‘You see, this is what I meant about reinforcing a stereotype. It won’t help you in court.’

  ‘What court?’

  ‘Candice Dayton left Seoul pretty soon after you did, and she went home to Los Angeles, which is where she was from. She was happy to be back. She got a job, and she did quite well for a number of years. She had a daughter early on, who thrived and then did well in school. She got promoted at work, and she bought a bigger house. All the good stuff. But then the economy went bad, and she lost her job, and then she lost her house. As of right now, she and her daughter are living in her car, and she’s looking for financial assistance, from anywhere she’s entitled to get it.’

  ‘And?’

  ‘She got pregnant in Korea, major. Her daughter is yours.’

  TEN

  EDMONDS PAGED THROUGH the file, walking delicate fingers from sheet to sheet. She said, ‘Army policy is to take no proactive steps. We don’t send out search parties. We merely make a note against the father’s name. Usually nothing happens. But if the father comes to us, as you did, then we’re obliged to act. So we’re going to have to give your current status and location to the court in Los Angeles.’

  She found the page she was looking for. She pulled it out from among all the others. She slid it across the conference table. She said, ‘Obviously, as your lawyer, I would strongly recommend a paternity test.
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