Never go back, p.7
Never Go Back,
Part #18 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
Moorcroft said, ‘I think Major Sullivan and Captain Edmonds are trying to make the point you might not have a day or two more. Depending on what the prosecutors decide to do about the Rodriguez issue, I mean. I imagine they’re rubbing their hands with glee. Because it’s a perfect storm. Clear evidence, plus a disastrous PR angle.’
‘The clear evidence is clear bullshit.’
Moorcroft smiled, practised and indulgent. ‘You’re not the first defendant ever to say that, you know.’
‘The guy is dead. But I’m supposed to be able to confront the witnesses against me. So how is this even legal?’
‘It’s an unfortunate anomaly. The affidavit speaks from beyond the grave. It is what it is. It can’t be cross-examined.’
Reacher looked at Sullivan. She was his lawyer, after all. She said, ‘The colonel is right. I told you, I can get you a deal. You should take it.’
And then she left. She drained her cup, and stood up, and said goodbye, and walked away. Reacher watched her go, and then he turned back to Moorcroft.
He asked, ‘Are you going to appeal Major Turner’s confinement?’
‘Yes,’ Moorcroft said. ‘As a matter of fact I am. I’m going to ask for confinement to the D.C. military district, and I expect to be successful. She’ll be out and about before long.’
‘When will you start the process?’
‘I’ll put in the paperwork as soon as you let me finish my breakfast.’
‘When will you get a decision?’
‘By the middle of the day, I should think.’
‘Good or bad, it’s really none of your business, major.’
Moorcroft chased toast crumbs around his plate for a minute more. Then he stood up in turn and said, ‘Good day, major,’ and strolled out of the room. He waddled a little as he walked. Much more academic than military. But not a bad guy. Reacher felt his heart was in the right place.
Fourteen years old.
I’ll get to it.
Reacher walked all the way north through the complex and stopped in at the guardhouse, where a different captain was in charge. Not Weiss, from the night before. The day guy was an aquiline black man about seven feet tall, but slender as a pencil, folded into a desk chair that was far too small for him. Reacher asked to visit with Susan Turner, and the guy consulted the green three-ring binder, and he refused the request.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
So Reacher walked back to where the old blue Chevy was parked, and he drove it back to the 110th HQ, and he left it where he had found it. He went inside and gave the key to Leach. She was agitated again. Nervous, stressed, and uptight. Not terrible, but visible. Reacher said, ‘What?’
Leach said, ‘Colonel Morgan’s not here.’
‘You say that like it’s a bad thing.’
‘We need him.’
‘I can’t imagine what for.’
‘He’s the CO.’
‘No, Major Turner is your CO.’
‘And she’s not here either.’
‘Our guys in Afghanistan missed their second radio check. It’s forty-eight hours since we heard from them. And therefore we need to do something. But Morgan’s not here.’
Reacher nodded. ‘He’s probably having a new poker fitted. Up his ass. It’s probably a lengthy procedure.’
He moved on, into the ground-floor corridor, to the second office on the left. Room 103. The duty officer’s station. The guy was in there, behind his huge desk, handsome, Southern, and worried. His doodles were bleaker than ever. Reacher asked him, ‘Didn’t Morgan tell you where he was going?’
‘Pentagon,’ the guy said. ‘For a meeting.’
‘Is that all he said?’
‘Have you called?’
‘Of course I have. But it’s a big place. They can’t find him anywhere.’
‘Does he have a cell phone?’
‘How long has he been gone?’
‘Nearly an hour.’
‘What would you want him to do?’
‘Authorize a request for a search party, of course. Every minute counts now. And we have lots of people over there. The 1st Infantry Division. And Special Forces. And helicopters, and drones, and satellites, and all kinds of aerial surveillance.’
‘But you don’t even know where your guys are supposed to be, or what they’re supposed to be doing.’
The duty officer nodded and jabbed his thumb at the ceiling. At the upstairs offices. He said, ‘The mission is in Major Turner’s computer. Which is now Colonel Morgan’s computer. Which is password-protected.’
‘Do the radio checks go into Bagram?’
The guy nodded again. ‘Most of them are routine data. Bagram sends us the transcript. But if there’s anything urgent, then they’re patched through to us, right here in this office. On a secure phone line.’
‘What was it the last time they transmitted? Routine, or urgent?’
‘OK,’ Reacher said. ‘Call Bagram and get an estimate of their range, from that last time.’
‘Will Bagram even know their range?’
‘Those radio guys can usually tell. By the sound, and the signal strength. By a gut feeling, sometimes. It’s their job. Ask for their best guess, to the nearest five miles.’
The guy picked up a phone, and Reacher walked back to Leach at the reception desk in the lobby. He said, ‘Get on the line for the next ten minutes and hit up everyone you know at the Pentagon. Full court press, to locate Morgan.’
Leach picked up her phone.
Ten minutes later Leach had nothing. Not altogether surprising. The Pentagon had more than seventeen miles of corridors and nearly four million square feet of office space, all occupied by more than thirty thousand people on any given workday. Trying to find a random individual was like trying to find a needle in the world’s most secretive haystack. Reacher walked back to 103 and the duty officer said, ‘The Bagram radio room figures our guys were about two hundred and twenty miles out. Maybe two hundred and thirty.’
‘That’s a start,’ Reacher said.
‘Not really. We don’t know what direction.’
‘If in doubt, take a wild-ass guess. That was always my operating principle.’
‘Afghanistan is a big country.’
‘I know it is,’ Reacher said. ‘And it’s unpleasant all over, from what I hear. But where is it worst?’
‘The mountains. The border with Pakistan. Pashtun tribal areas. The northeast, basically. No one’s idea of fun.’
Reacher nodded. ‘Which is the kind of place the 110th gets sent. So get on the horn to the base commander and ask him to order up an air search, starting two hundred and twenty-five miles northeast of Bagram.’
‘That could be completely the wrong direction.’
‘Like I said, it’s a wild-ass guess. You got something better?’
‘They won’t do it anyway. Not on my say-so. A thing like this would need a major or better.’
‘So take Morgan’s name in vain.’
‘Can’t do it.’
Reacher listened. All quiet. No one coming. The duty officer waited, his hand curled into a fist, halfway between his lap and his phone.
You’re back in the army, major.
You’ll retain your former rank.
You’re assigned to this unit.
‘Use my name,’ Reacher said.
THE DUTY OFFICER made the call, and then the military machine took over, distant and invisible and industrious, on the other side of the world, nine time zones and nearly eight thousand miles away, planning, briefing, readying, arming, and fuelling. The old stone building in Rock Creek went quiet.
Reacher asked, ‘How many other people do you have
The duty officer said, ‘Globally? Fourteen.’
‘Right now, Fort Hood in Texas. Cleaning up after Major Turner’s thing down there.’
‘How many in hazardous situations?’
‘That’s a moving target, isn’t it? Eight or ten, maybe.’
‘Has Morgan gone AWOL before?’
‘This is only his third day.’
‘What was Major Turner like as a commander?’
‘She was fairly new. She only had a few weeks.’
‘Is this Afghanistan thing hers, or did she inherit it?’
‘It’s hers,’ the duty officer said. ‘It’s the second thing she did when she got here, after Fort Hood.’
Reacher had never been to Bagram, or anywhere else in Afghanistan, but he knew how it would work. Some things never change. No one liked sitting around doing nothing, and no one liked their own people in trouble. Especially not in the tribal areas, which were brutal and primitive in ways too drastic to contemplate. So the search mission would be undertaken very willingly. But it would carry significant danger. Combat air support would be needed, and overwhelming air-to-ground firepower would be required. Lots of moving parts. Therefore mission planning would take some time. Two hours minimum, Reacher figured, to get all the ducks in a row. Then two hours of flight time. There would be no early resolution.
Reacher spent some of the wait time walking. Back to his motel, and past it, and then left and right on the long blocks to the ragged strip mall ahead of the Greek restaurant, which he ignored, because he wasn’t hungry. He ignored the picture-framing shop, because he had no pictures in need of framing, and he ignored the gun shop, because he didn’t want to buy a gun, and he ignored the walk-in dentist, because his teeth felt fine. He stopped in at the hardware store, and bought a pair of dark khaki canvas work pants, and a blue canvas work shirt, and a brown field coat padded with some kind of trademarked miracle insulation layer. Then he stopped in at the no-name pharmacy and bought dollar socks and boxers and two white T-shirts, which he figured he would wear one on top of the other, under the work shirt, because the T-shirt fabric looked thin, and the weather showed no signs of warming up. He added a three-pack of disposable razors, the smallest available, and an aerosol can of shaving foam, the smallest available, and two packs of gum, and a plastic comb.
He carried his purchases back to the motel, two long blocks, and let himself into his room. It had been serviced in his absence. The bed had been made and the meagre bathroom supplies had been replaced. Fresh towels, dry but still thin, and new wrapped soap, still small, and a new tiny bottle of shampoo, still chemically identical to dishwashing liquid. He stripped in the chill and crammed his old clothes in the trash buckets, half in the bathroom and half in the bedroom, because the buckets were small, and then he shaved very carefully, and then he took his second shower of the day.
He started the heater under the window in the bedroom and dried himself with a hand towel in its hot raucous blast, to save the larger towel for a future occasion. He dressed in his new clothes and put his old boots back on and combed his hair. He checked the result in the bathroom mirror and was satisfied with what he saw. He was at least clean and tidy, which was about as good as it ever got.
She’ll be out and about before long.
Reacher walked back to the 110th HQ. His four upper-body layers plus the miracle insulation did their job. He stayed warm enough. The HQ gates were open. The day guy was in the sentry hutch. Morgan’s car was back in the lot. The plain sedan. Reacher had seen it the night before, with Morgan himself at the wheel, all prim and upright. Reacher detoured across towards it and laid his palm on the hood. Which was warm. Almost hot. Morgan had just gotten back.
Which explained Leach’s state of mind. She was silent and uptight at the reception desk in the lobby. Behind her the duty officer was inert in the ground-floor corridor, all pale in the face, just standing there. Reacher didn’t wait to be told. He turned and headed up the old stone stairs. Third office on the left. He knocked and entered. Morgan was at the desk, thin-lipped and furious, practically quivering with rage.
Reacher said, ‘Good of you to drop by, colonel.’
Morgan said, ‘What you just did will cost the Pentagon more than thirty million dollars.’
‘Money well spent.’
‘It will be a court martial all its own.’
‘Possibly,’ Reacher said. ‘But yours, not mine. I don’t know where you’ve served before, colonel, but this isn’t amateur hour any more. Not here. Not with this unit. You had two men you knew to be in danger, and you absented yourself for two whole hours. You left no word about where you were going, and your phone was switched off. That’s completely unacceptable.’
‘Those men are in no danger. They’re poking around with some trivial inquiry.’
‘They missed two consecutive radio checks.’
‘Probably goofing off, like the rest of this damn unit.’
‘In Afghanistan? Doing what? Hitting the bars and the clubs? Checking out the whorehouses? Spending the day at the beach? Get real, you idiot. Radio silence out of Afghanistan is automatically bad news.’
‘It was my decision.’
‘You wouldn’t recognize a decision if it ran up and bit you on the ass.’
‘Don’t speak to me like that.’
Morgan said nothing.
Reacher asked, ‘Did you cancel the search?’
Morgan didn’t answer.
Reacher said, ‘And you haven’t told me we’re looking in the wrong place, either. Therefore I was right. Those guys are lost on the border in the tribal areas. You should have done this twenty-four hours ago. They’re in real trouble.’
‘You had no right to interfere.’
‘I’m back in the army, I’m assigned to this unit, and I hold the rank of major. Therefore I wasn’t interfering. I was doing my job, and I was doing it properly. Like I always used to. You should pay some attention and pick up some pointers, colonel. You’ve got maybe a dozen people in the field, exposed and vulnerable, and you should be thinking about nothing else, all day and all night. You should leave a precise contact number at all times, and you should have your cell switched on, and you should be prepared to answer it, no matter what else you’re doing.’
Morgan said, ‘Have you finished?’
‘I’ve barely even started.’
‘You understand you’re under my command?’
Reacher nodded. ‘Life is full of anomalies.’
‘Then listen up, major. Your orders have changed. From now on you are confined to your quarters. Go straight back to your motel and stay there until you hear from me again. Do not leave your room at any time for any reason. Do not attempt to communicate with anyone from this unit.’
Reacher said nothing.
Morgan said, ‘You are dismissed, major.’
Never Go Back by Lee Child / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5.1 out of 5 / Based on46 votes