Night school, p.7
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       Night School, p.7

         Part #21 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
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  “Who’s the O-5 who won’t say where he was?”

  “Infantry commander.”

  “Did you ask around?”

  The world’s most efficient grapevine.

  “He’s solid,” Neagley said. “But he didn’t see much in the Gulf and now he’s staring east through the mist at the Soviets, except they’re long gone. So he’s frustrated. And he’s occasionally vocal about it.”

  “A malcontent.”

  “But not the worst ever.”

  “Why don’t they know where he was?”

  “He wrote himself a roving brief. Research into new weapons and tactics. All that kind of bullshit. The future is flexible and lightweight and so on. He travels extensively. Normally he doesn’t have to say where. But this time they asked him and got nothing out of him.”

  “Where is he now?”

  “They sent him home. Because the question came out of the West Wing. It’s the commander in chief asking. No one knows what to do next. No one knows if it’s something or nothing.”

  “We should put those words on our unit patch. Like a motto on a scroll below two crossed question marks.”

  “I’m sure the guy is billeted close to the Pentagon. He’s got high-level discussions in his future, I’m certain of that. We can find him if you want to talk to him.”

  Then she said, “Wait.”

  She dug through her pile of lists.

  She said, “Wait a damn minute.”

  She found the right list. She checked it once, and she checked it again.

  She said, “I know where he was a week before.”

  Reacher read the list upside down. Names and flight numbers. Thirty-six Americans. Vanderbilt’s work.

  “Zurich,” he said.

  Neagley nodded. “Exactly seven days ahead of the rendezvous, arriving in time for afternoon coffee, and getting back again late, after dinner. But he can’t be our guy. Our guy would have a cover story for the day in question. Wouldn’t he? He would lie. He wouldn’t just clam up. What does he think we’re going to do? Take his word as a gentleman?”

  Reacher said, “Find out where he is. Make sure they know it’s the commander in chief asking. Tell them we’re coming over to pick the guy up. Tell them we’re going to take him for a ride around the block in the back of our car.”

  —

  The guy was at Myer, in a billet in their visiting officers’ quarters. Reacher figured the new get-in-the-car orders would have hit about twenty minutes previously, probably via the Joint Chiefs’ office. Which would have added to their gravity. He figured the guy would have either run away right then or gotten ready. Turned out he had gotten ready. He stepped out his door as soon as the black Caprice pulled to a stop at his curb.

  Neagley was driving, and Reacher was in the back, on the right side. The guy climbed aboard and sat behind Neagley, upright, back straight, hands on his knees, like he was in a pew and everyone was watching. His name was Bartley. He was the wrong side of forty, but not by much. He was average height and lean. A stamina guy. Endurance, not strength. Just starting to lose it. A leader of men, but not as down-in-the-mud credible as he once had been. He was in battledress uniform, nicely creased. He smelled of soap.

  Reacher said, “Repeat your orders for me, if you would, colonel.”

  Bartley said, “I am to get into a vehicle containing two military police officers, and for avoidance of doubt I am to consider myself legitimately under their jurisdiction at all times, and I am to answer their questions truthfully to the best of my ability, because for further avoidance of doubt I am to consider these orders personal to the commander in chief.”

  “He has a way with words, doesn’t he?”

  “He was a lawyer.”

  “They were all lawyers.”

  “What questions do you have?”

  Reacher said, “You picked the wrong day to go missing, colonel.”

  “I have nothing to say about that.”

  “Not even if the commander in chief is asking?”

  “It’s a matter of privacy. That day has nothing to do with my professional performance. Nothing to do with my duties.”

  “That’s good to know. But I think that’s the point. They want to know what you do in your spare time. You’re a senior officer. There are implications. These things can be either good or bad. You should tell us about it. You risk our imaginations running riot.”

  “I have nothing to say.”

  “That’s a tactical error. You’re drawing attention. Where there’s smoke there’s fire. This is an event horizon, colonel. This is where it all goes wrong. Possibly for nothing. Possibly for some little thing other guys have gotten away with. But you’re going to crash and burn. Best case, you’re going to stall. Best case, you’re going to get an asterisk against your name forever. As in, we can’t be sure about that guy.”

  Bartley rubbed his palms against his pants legs and said nothing.

  Reacher said, “I don’t care what you did. Except if it was one particular thing. But I don’t think it was. I mean, what are the odds?”

  “I’m sure it wasn’t that thing.”

  “There you go.”

  “There’s no reason for you to be interested in me.”

  “I’m sure you’re right. But I have to look people in the eye and give them an honest opinion. If it wasn’t that thing, then I’m happy to say so, and nothing more. I’m happy to say don’t ask, it was something else altogether. Your secret stays here. But first I need to know what kind of something else it was. Because I need to be convincing. I need to speak with the kind of confidence and authority that comes from a solid foundation of facts.”

  “It was nothing of importance.”

  “This is make or break, colonel. When you’re in a hole, you should stop digging. I truly don’t care what it is. I won’t even report it. Sex, drugs, or rock and roll, I don’t give a damn. As long as it’s not that one particular thing. Which we agree is unlikely. All I really want is to ask you a completely different question. Something else entirely.”

  “What question?”

  “This is not it, OK? This is just a little supplementary first. A minor inquiry. Like batting practice. Do you go to Zurich every week?”

  The guy said nothing.

  Reacher said, “It’s a simple answer, colonel. The truth can set you free. One little word, and you can move on up without a stain on your character. Or not.”

  Bartley said, “I go most weeks.”

  “Including the day they’re asking about?”

  “Yes.”

  “Still got the plane ticket?”

  “Yes.”

  “Arrive after lunch, leave after dinner?”

  “Yes.”

  “You go to a bank?”

  “Yes.”

  “With what?”

  “Money, of course. But all of it mine. All of it legal.”

  “Care to explain?”

  “What happens if I do?”

  “Depends what it is. Depends if it disrespects the uniform.”

  “What if it does?”

  “You take your chances.”

  Bartley said nothing.

  Reacher said, “You figure it out, colonel. You’re a smart guy. I’m sure you have a postgraduate degree. This is not splitting the atom. The order to get in this car came from the White House through the Joint Chiefs. Therefore who are we working for?”

  “The National Security Council.”

  “How bad can they hurt you?”

  “Very bad.”

  “Worse than you can imagine. A million times worse than a scandal about carrying money to Switzerland. If it is a scandal. Which it might not be. Not if it’s all yours, and it’s all legal. Which you said it was.”

  “I’m hiding it from my wife. I’m going to divorce her.”

  “She done you wrong?”

  “No.”

  “But you’re taking the money anyway.”

  “I earned it.”

 
Earned what? You’re an O-5. I know what you get. With all due respect, I doubt if your life savings keep Swiss bankers awake at night. And don’t tell me every little helps. There’s no point carrying two dollars a week to Zurich. The airfare would become a factor.”

  “The airfare is a factor. As are the fees. But I did the math.”

  “What money?”

  “Our house. Here at home. Mortgages, mostly. I want to get the equity out. I transfer it as fast as they allow. I take it out of Germany in cash. By that point it no longer exists on paper. I keep it in a safety deposit box.”

  “You’re a prince among men, colonel. That’s for damn sure. But what I really need to know is who else you saw. In Zurich. Back and forth, maybe, like you. Or new guys, just once. Did you get to know anyone?”

  “Like who?”

  “Other Americans.”

  “It’s a private situation. You don’t necessarily see anyone.”

  “What about at the airport? Or on the street?”

  Bartley didn’t answer.

  Reacher said, “I need a list, colonel. Dates and descriptions. Military and civilian. The very best you can give me.”

  “What are you going to do? Who are you going to tell? What are you going to say?”

  “The president will tell the Joint Chiefs you’re of no interest to the NSC. Not in this matter. After that it’s unpredictable. Depends who you have to talk to, I guess. And how much fuss your wife chooses to make.”

  They let him out on the curb, outside his billet, and then they drove away, back to McLean.

  All kinds of enemies.

  —

  They wrote up the Bartley conversation and lodged it in the central file. Then Neagley took a call, and told Reacher the four-month AWOL was a guy named Wiley. From Texas. He was one of a five-man crew working a Chaparral air defense battery. Twelve missiles on a tracked vehicle. Four on the rails, ready to launch, and eight more waiting. To protect armored vehicles and personnel on the forward edge of the battle area. The idea was to sit in behind the front line of tanks and use radar and binoculars to scan the low horizon ahead. For incoming fighter-bombers or attack helicopters. And then, fire and forget. Heat-seeking, like an old Sidewinder, but better. Designed for low altitude only. As the enemy swooped down for the kill.

  Reacher said, “Perfect for bringing down civilian airliners over cities. During take off or landing. When they’re low in the sky.”

  Neagley said, “Too big. The missiles alone are ten feet long. The truck is gigantic. Plus it has tank tracks and camouflage paint. People would notice, in the airport parking lot. Plus they use forward area alerting radar. And the infrared sensors are complicated. There was an upgrade. Same problem. It’s a specialist expertise. All due respect, a training camp in Yemen is not the same thing as Ford Aerospace. Same problem with the price, too. Twelve missiles per vehicle. Top speed less than forty miles an hour. It would take an all-day convoy to reach a hundred million dollars’ worth. Like a parade in Red Square. Plus the guy has been gone four months. He can’t go back to organize it now. He would be arrested on sight.”

  “Keep an eye on him anyway,” Reacher said. “I don’t like four months. That’s shameful. Someone needs his ass kicked. What the hell is going on over there?”

  —

  In Hamburg night was falling. The Iranian was taking a walk. An evening stroll, with a newspaper tucked up under his arm. Lights were coming on in the stores and the offices and the delis, and the jewelers and the dry cleaners and the insurance bureaus. Bright, clean, crisp white light. But not harsh. A softer type of neon. More European. The bakeries and the pastry shops were dark. Their day was done. The restaurants and the bars were lit up amber, low and welcoming, as if they were all friendly dim spaces, paneled with oak. On the streets, traffic was steady. Cars passed by, every detail of the glowing scene duly reflected in their waxed panels, their new headlights probing ahead, restlessly, unnaturally blue.

  The Iranian reached a pocket park and sat down on a bench. He leaned back and rested his arms along the rail. Cars passed by. He stared straight ahead. There were no pedestrians.

  He waited.

  Then he got up again, no rush, and like a conscientious citizen he put his newspaper in the trash can, and he left the park, and strolled back the way he had come.

  Thirty seconds later the CIA head of station stepped out of a shadow and crossed the street. He went straight to the trash can, and he took out the newspaper, and he tucked it up under his own arm, and he walked away.

  Thirty minutes later he was on the phone to McLean, Virginia, direct from the consulate.

  Chapter 10

  Vanderbilt took the call, and brought White to the phone. White listened, and his eyes went through their entire repertoire of squinting long, and focusing short, and narrowing, and looking left and right. He made notes on a piece of paper. Two separate subjects, Reacher thought. Two separate headings. Two blocks of handwriting, neat and cursive.

  Eventually White hung up the phone and said, “Two pieces of news. The Iranian requested a dead drop. Half an hour ago. He left a report hidden in a newspaper. Some of it could be called speculative. It’s partly a cultural analysis. Almost an essay. He says the Saudi who knew the messenger is very excited. As if something big is going to happen. Bigger than they dared to dream. Tied in with the hundred million dollars, obviously. As if they got somewhere they never expected to get. The Iranian stresses he has no specific details, and neither does the Saudi kid. It’s a faith-based thing. It feels to everyone like a whole new ball game. He says the Saudi kid is smiling like he’s looking at the promised land.”

  Reacher said, “What was the second piece of news?”

  “The consulate got a cover-your-ass report from some low-level Hamburg cops about an American talking to an Arab in a bar. Some weird thing. Except it was exactly the right day, and exactly the right time. It’s possible the first rendezvous was witnessed.”

  —

  White called the consulate back and got the local numbers he would need, including two for the main man, who was apparently a big fat guy named Griezman. The chief of detectives. The consulate knew him well. It was after the end of the regular day in Hamburg, but the guy was still in his office. Still at his desk. He picked up right away. White put the phone on speaker and asked him about the police report. Reacher heard the guy going back through a stack of paperwork. He couldn’t remember it. Then he got it. The weird thing with the Arab in the bar.

  Which went to the U.S. Consulate.

  Which meant there were brownie points to be earned.

  The guy said, in English, very politely, “How may I help you?”

  Like a concierge in a hotel.

  White said, “We need a name and address for the witness. The same for the bar. Background information on both. Possibly surveillance on both.”

  “I don’t know.”

  “I could have your chancellor call you. Your head of state. Then you would know.”

  “No, I mean I don’t know. I don’t know the details. I’m the chief of detectives. Those reports pass through my office, that’s all. And anyway it says here the witness is a lunatic.”

  “Can he tell the time?”

  “OK, I’ll get the details for you. Certainly. End of the day tomorrow.”

  “Are you kidding me? You’ve got an hour. And tell no one what you’re doing or why. Consider this matter top secret. And keep this line open for when I call you back.”

  —

  In Hamburg Griezman took a breath, and looked out at the evening gloom. Then he set to work. It was not taxing. It was merely a sequence of telephone calls. One number led to another. Like a neural pathway. An organization in action. Something to be proud of. The validation of a theory. As granular as he wanted. He could take it all the way back to
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