Never go back, p.6
Never Go Back,
Part #18 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
You’ll have to pay for it, but it would be most unwise to proceed to a final settlement without one.’
Reacher picked up the sheet of paper. It was a crisp new photocopy of an affidavit. Just like the Big Dog’s. Signatures, and lawyers, and seals, and stamps, all done in a law office in North Hollywood, apparently. His name was all over it. Dates were given for his deployment with the 55th. Dates and times and social activities were recorded. Candice Dayton must have kept a comprehensive diary. The baby’s date of birth was noted. It was exactly nine months after the midpoint of his time at Red Cloud. The baby’s name was Samantha. Sam for short, presumably. She was now fourteen years old. Nearly fifteen.
Edmonds slid a second sheet across. It was a crisp new photocopy of a birth certificate. She said, ‘She didn’t put your name on it. I think originally she was happy to go it alone. But now she’s fallen on hard times.’
Reacher said nothing.
Edmonds said, ‘I don’t know your current financial situation, obviously. But you’re looking at a little more than three years of child support. Plus college, possibly. I imagine the court will contact you in about a month, and you can work it out with them.’
Reacher said, ‘I don’t remember her.’
‘Probably best not to say that too often. These things are fundamentally adversarial in nature, and you should avoid extra resentment on Ms Dayton’s part, if you can. In fact it might be a smart move to contact her proactively. As soon as possible. To show willing, I mean.’
Edmonds took back the affidavit, and she took back the birth certificate. She slotted them back into the file, each in its allotted place. She put the file back in her briefcase and closed it. She said, ‘As you know, major, the Uniform Code of Military Justice still lists adultery as a criminal offence. Especially for those with security clearances. Because the risk of compromise is generally seen as significant. Especially where a civilian is involved. But I think if you’re seen to be acting reasonably with Ms Dayton, then I can get the prosecutor to let that aspect slide. Especially if you were to approach Ms Dayton proactively, with an offer. As I said. Right away, perhaps. I think that would be well received. By the prosecutor, I mean.’
Reacher said nothing.
Edmonds said, ‘It was a long time ago, after all. And no harm to national security has been apparent. Unless your other issue interferes. The thing with Mr Rodriguez, I mean. They might want to hit you with everything they can find, in which case I really won’t be able to help you.’
Reacher said nothing.
Edmonds stood up from the table and said, ‘I’ll keep in touch, major. Let me know if there’s anything you need.’
She left the room and closed the door behind her. Reacher heard her heels on the linoleum in the corridor, and then he heard nothing at all.
Fatherhood was up there as one of the most commonplace male experiences in all of human history. But to Reacher it had always seemed unlikely. Just purely theoretical. Like winning the Nobel Prize, or playing in the World Series, or being able to sing. Possible in principle, but always likely to pass him by. A destination for other people, but not for him. He had known fathers, starting with his own, and his grandfathers, and his childhood friends’ fathers, and then some of his own friends, as they got married and started to raise families. Being a father seemed both straightforward and infinitely complex. Easy enough on the surface. Underneath, simply too immense to worry about. So generally it seemed to come out as a day-to-day thing. Hope for the best, one foot in front of the other. His own father had always seemed in charge. But looking back, it was clear he was just making it up as he went along.
Fourteen years old.
Reacher got no more time to think about her. Not right then. Because the door opened and Morgan walked in, still in his ACU fatigues, still wearing his spectacles, still all groomed and fussy and squared away. He said, ‘You’re dismissed for the day, major. Be back here before 0800 tomorrow.’
Punishment by boredom. Nothing to do all day. Not an unusual tactic. Reacher didn’t respond. He just sat and stared into the distance. Bad manners or minor insubordination couldn’t make his situation any worse. Not at that point. But in turn Morgan just stood there too, dumb as a rock, holding the door, so eventually Reacher had to get up from the table and file out of the room. He took it slow in the corridor until he heard Morgan shut himself back in his own office.
Then he stopped and turned around.
He walked back to the far end of the corridor and checked the office on the left. Room 209. Calvin Franz’s office, back at the beginning. A good friend, now dead. Reacher opened the door and stuck his head in and saw two men he didn’t recognize. NCOs, but not the two from the motel the night before. Not the two in the T-shirts. They were at back-to-back desks, working hard on computers. They looked up at him.
‘Carry on,’ he said.
He stepped back out and tried the opposite door. Room 210, once David O’Donnell’s billet. O’Donnell was still alive, as far as Reacher knew. A private detective, in D.C., he had heard. Not far away. He stuck his head in the room and saw a woman at a desk. She was in ACU fatigues. A lieutenant. She looked up.
‘Excuse me,’ he said.
Room 208 had been Tony Swan’s office. Another good friend, also now dead. Reacher opened the door and checked. No one there, but it was a one-person billet, and that one person was a woman. There was a female officer’s hat on the window sill, and a tiny wristwatch unlatched and upside down on the desk.
He had seen 207. Once Karla Dixon’s domain, now no one’s. The conference room. Dixon was still alive, as far as he knew. In New York, the last time he had heard. She was a forensic accountant, which meant she was very busy.
Room 206 had been Frances Neagley’s office. Directly opposite his own, because she had done most of his work for him. The best sergeant he ever had. Still alive and prospering, he thought, in Chicago. He stuck his head in and saw the lieutenant who had dumped him at the motel the night before. In the first car, driven by the private first class. The guy was at the desk, on the phone. He looked up. Reacher shook his head and backed out of the room.
Room 204 had been Stan Lowrey’s office. A hard man, and a good investigator. He had gone early, the only one of the original unit smart enough to get out unscathed. He had moved to Montana, to raise sheep and churn butter. No one knew why. He had been the only black man in a thousand square miles, and he had no farming experience. But people said he had been happy. Then he had been hit by a truck. His office was occupied by a captain in Class A uniform. A short guy, on his way to testify. No other reason for the fancy duds. Reacher said, ‘Excuse me,’ and headed out again.
Room 203 had been an evidence locker, and still was, and 201 had been a file room, and still was, and 202 had been the company clerk’s quarters, and still was. The guy was in there, a sergeant, relatively old and grey, probably fighting involuntary separation on an annual basis. Reacher nodded a greeting to him and backed out and went downstairs.
The sour-faced night guy had gone and Leach had taken his place at the reception desk. Behind her the corridor led back to the first-floor offices, 101 through 110. Reacher checked them all. Rooms 109 and 110 had been Jorge Sanchez’s and Manuel Orozco’s offices, and were now occupied by similar guys from a newer generation. Rooms 101 through 108 held people of no particular interest, except for 103, which was the duty officer’s station. There was a captain in there. He was a good-looking guy in his late twenties. His desk was twice the normal size, all covered over with telephones and scratch pads and message forms and an untidy legal pad, with its many used pages folded loosely back like an immense bouffant hairdo from the 1950s. The face-up page was covered with angry black doodles. There were shaded boxes and machines and escape-proof spiral mazes. Clearly the guy spent a lot of time on the phone, some of it on hold, some of it waiting, most of it bored. When he spoke it was with a Southern accent that Reache
Reacher asked him, ‘Do you have other personnel deployed around here?’
The guy shook his head. ‘This is it. What you see is what you get. We have people elsewhere in the States and overseas, but no one else in this military district.’
‘How many in Afghanistan?’
‘I can’t give you the details.’
‘Is there another kind? In Afghanistan?’
Something in his voice.
Reacher asked, ‘Are they OK?’
‘They missed their scheduled radio check yesterday.’
‘Is that unusual?’
‘Never happened before.’
‘Do you know what their mission is?’
‘I can’t tell you.’
‘I’m not asking you to tell me. I’m asking whether you know. In other words, how secret is it?’
The guy paused a beat and said, ‘No, I don’t know what their mission is. All I know is they’re out there in the back of beyond, and all we’re getting is silence.’
Reacher said, ‘Thank you, captain.’ He headed back to the reception desk, where he asked Leach for a pool car. She hesitated, and he said, ‘I’m dismissed for the day. Colonel Morgan didn’t say I had to sit in the corner. An omission, possibly, but I’m entitled to interpret my orders in the best possible light.’
Leach asked, ‘Where do you want to go?’
‘Fort Dyer,’ Reacher said. ‘I want to talk to Colonel Moorcroft.’
‘Major Turner’s lawyer?’
Reacher nodded. ‘And Dyer is definitely less than five miles away. You won’t be aiding or abetting a serious crime.’
Leach paused a beat and then opened a drawer and took out a grubby key. She said, ‘It’s an old blue Chevy sedan. I need it back here before the end of the day. I can’t let you have it overnight.’
‘Whose is the red sports car outside?’
Leach said, ‘That’s Major Turner’s ride.’
‘Do you know the guys in Afghanistan?’
Leach nodded. ‘They’re friends of mine.’
‘Are they good?’
‘They’re the best.’
THERE WERE THREE chevrolet sedans in the HQ lot, and two were old, but only one was old and blue. It was dirty and all beat up and saggy, and it had about a million city miles on the clock. But it started up fine, and it idled OK. Which it needed to, because the daytime traffic was slow. Lots of lights, lots of queues, lots of jammed lanes. But getting into Dyer itself was quicker than the first time. The main gate guards were relatively welcoming. Reacher figured Leach must have called ahead again. Which meant she was turning into a minor ally. Which Reacher was happy about. A sergeant on your side made the world go round, smooth and easy. Whereas a sergeant who took against you could kill you dead.
He parked the car and went inside, where it got slower again. A woman at a desk called around and was unable to locate Moorcroft anywhere. Not in the VOQ, not in the legal offices, not in the guardhouse, and not in the cells. Which left only one place to look. Reacher moved on, deeper into the complex, until he saw a sign with an arrow: Officers’ Club. It was late for breakfast, but late breakfasts were a natural habitat for senior rear-echelon staffers. Especially senior rear-echelon staffers who were also academic pointy-heads on short-term visits.
The OC dining room turned out to be a pleasant, bland space, low, wide, and long, recently refurbished, probably by the same guy who did the dining rooms in mid-price chain hotels. There was plenty of blond wood and mid-green fabric. Plenty of angled dividers, and therefore plenty of separate little seating areas. There was carpet on the floor. There were venetian blinds on the windows, cracked open about halfway. Reacher remembered a joke his old colleague Manuel Orozco liked to tell: How do you make a venetian blind? You poke his eyes out. And then: How do you make a Swiss roll? You push him down an Alp. Whereupon David O’Donnell would start pointing out that Swiss rolls weren’t really Swiss. More likely British. Nineteenth-century. Like a Victoria sponge, but assembled differently. O’Donnell was the kind of pedant that made Reacher look normal.
Reacher moved on. Most of the little seating areas were empty, but Moorcroft was in one of them. He was a short, rotund, middleaged man with an amiable expression, in a Class A uniform, with his name big and obvious on the flap of his right breast pocket. He was eating toast, at a big isolated table for four.
And face to face at the table with him was Major Sullivan, Reacher’s lawyer for the Big Dog. Sullivan wasn’t eating. She had already had breakfast, with Reacher, in the Greek establishment. She was cradling a cup of coffee, nothing more, and talking, and listening, in what looked like a very deferential manner, like majors often converse with colonels, or students with teachers.
Reacher stepped into the intimate little area and pulled out a chair and sat down at the table between them. He said, ‘Do you mind if I join you?’
Moorcroft asked, ‘Who are you?’
Sullivan said, ‘This is Major Reacher. My client. The one I was telling you about.’
Nothing in her voice.
Moorcroft looked at Reacher and said, ‘If you have things to discuss, I’m sure Major Sullivan would be happy to schedule an appointment at a more appropriate time.’
‘It’s you I want to talk to,’ Reacher said.
‘Me? About what?’
‘Do you have an interest?’
‘Why has her pre-trial confinement not been appealed?’
‘You must state a legitimate interest before we can consider specifics.’
‘Any citizen has a legitimate interest in the correct application of due process against any other citizen.’
‘You think my approach has so far been incorrect?’
‘I’ll be better able to make that determination after you answer my question.’
‘Major Turner is facing a serious charge.’
‘But pre-trial confinement is not supposed to be punitive. It’s supposed to be no more rigorous than is required to ensure the accused’s presence at trial. That’s what the regulation says.’
‘Are you a lawyer? Your name doesn’t ring a bell.’
‘I was an MP. Actually, I am an MP, I suppose. All over again. Therefore I know plenty about the law.’
‘Really? In the same way a plumber understands the science behind fluid mechanics and thermodynamics?’
‘Don’t flatter yourself, colonel. It’s not brain surgery.’
‘So enlighten me, by all means.’
‘Major Turner’s situation doesn’t require confinement. She’s a commissioned officer in the United States Army. She’s not going to run.’
‘Is that a personal guarantee?’
‘Almost. She’s the commander of the 110th MP. As was I. I wouldn’t have run. She won’t, either.’
‘There are elements of treason here.’
‘Here, maybe, but not in the real world. No one is thinking treason. Or they wouldn’t have brought her here to Dyer. She’d be in the Caribbean by now.’
‘Nevertheless, it’s not a speeding ticket.’
‘She won’t run.’
‘Again, is that a personal guarantee?’
‘It’s a considered assessment.’
‘Do you even know her?’
‘So butt out, major.’
‘Why did she instruct you to prevent me from visiting?’
‘She didn’t, technically. That instruction was passed on by the duty lawyer. At some unspecified time in the late afternoon. Therefore the restriction was already in place before I took over her case, which was the next morning. Which was yesterday.’
‘I want you to ask her to reconsider.’
Moorcroft didn’t answer. Su
Reacher said, ‘I’ll get to it.’
‘It should be your first priority. Nuances count, in a thing like this.’
‘I’ll get to it,’ Reacher said again.
‘This is your daughter we’re talking about here. She’s living in a car. That’s more important than a theoretical worry about Major Turner’s human rights.’
‘The kid is nearly fifteen years old in Los Angeles. No doubt she’s slept in cars before. And if she’s my kid she can take a day or two more
Never Go Back by Lee Child / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5.1 out of 5 / Based on46 votes