Never go back, p.8
Never Go Back,
Part #18 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
The duty officer was still in the ground-floor corridor. Leach was still behind the reception desk. Reacher came down the stairs and shrugged at them both. Part apologetic, part rueful, partly the universal military gesture: same old shit. Then he headed out the door and down the stone steps to the cold midday air. The sky was clearing. There was some bright blue up there.
Reacher walked the rest of the hill and turned on the three-lane. A bus passed him by. Heading out, not in. Onward, and away. He walked on, down a slight dip, up a slight rise. He saw the motel ahead of him, on the right, maybe a hundred yards distant.
The car with the dented doors was in the motel lot.
THE CAR WAS easily recognizable, even at a distance. Make, model, shape, colour, the slight deformation in the driver’s side sheet metal. It was alone in the lot, level with where Reacher guessed his room must be. He moved three paces forward, on a diagonal to the edge of the sidewalk, to improve his angle, and he saw four men coming out of his door.
Two of them were as easily identifiable as the car. They were the guys from the night before. One hundred per cent certain. Shape, size, colouring. The other two men were new. Nothing special about the first of them. Tall, young, dumb. As bad as his two pals.
The fourth man was different.
He looked a little older than the others, and he was a little bigger than the others, which made him close to Reacher’s own size. Six-four, maybe, and two-forty. But all muscle. Huge thighs, small waist, huge chest, like an hourglass, like a cartoon drawing. Plus big knotted shoulders, and arms propped away from his sides by the sheer bulk of his pectorals and his triceps. Like a world champion male gymnast, except more than twice the size.
But it was his head that was truly extraordinary. It was shaved, and it looked like it had been welded together from flat steel plates. Small eyes, and heavy brows, and sharp cheekbones, and tiny, gristly ears, like pasta shapes. He was straight-backed and powerful. Slavic, somehow. Like a poster boy out of an old Red Army recruiting advertisement. Like the ideal of Soviet manhood. He should have been holding a banner, one-handed, high and proud, his eyes fixed mistily on a golden future.
The four men shuffled out and closed the door behind them. Reacher walked on, ninety yards away, then eighty. An Olympic sprinter could have closed the gap in about eight seconds, but Reacher was no kind of a sprinter, Olympic or otherwise. The four men stepped over to their car. Reacher walked on. The four men opened their doors and folded themselves inside, two in the back, two in the front. Reacher walked on. Seventy yards. Sixty. The car moved through the lot, and stopped nose-on to the three-lane, waiting for a gap in the traffic, waiting to turn. Reacher wanted it to turn towards him. Turn left, he thought. Please.
But the car turned right, and joined the traffic stream, and drove away into the distance, and was lost to sight.
A minute later Reacher was at his door, unlocking it again, opening it up, and stepping inside. Nothing was disturbed. Nothing was torn up or tipped over or trashed. Therefore there had been no detailed search. Just a cursory poke around, looking for a first impression.
Which was what?
There was a wet tub, and a wet towel, and some old clothes stuffed in the trash cans, and some abandoned toiletries near the sink. Like he had just upped and quit. Which they had told him to, after all. You should get the hell out of town, right now. Every night we find you still here, we’re going to kick your ass.
Maybe they thought he had heeded their warnings.
Or maybe not.
He left the room again and walked up to the motel office. The clerk was a squirrelly guy about forty, all bad skin and jutting bone, perched up on a high stool behind the counter. Reacher said, ‘You let four guys into my room.’
The clerk sucked his teeth and nodded.
Reacher said, ‘Army?’
The guy nodded again.
‘Did you see ID?’
‘Didn’t need to. They had the look.’
‘You do a lot of business with the army?’
‘To never ask questions?’
‘You got it, chief. I’m sweetness and light all the way, with the army. Because a man’s got to eat. They do anything wrong?’
‘Not a thing,’ Reacher said. ‘Did you hear any names?’
Reacher said nothing.
‘Anything else I can do for you?’ the guy asked.
‘I could use a fresh towel,’ Reacher said. ‘And more soap, I guess. And more shampoo. And you could empty my trash.’
‘Whatever you want,’ the guy said. ‘I’m sweetness and light all the way, with the army.’
Reacher walked back to his room. There was no chair. Which was not a breach of the Geneva Conventions, but confinement to quarters was going to be irksome for a large and restless man. Plus it was only a motel, with no room service. And no dining room, and no greasy-spoon café across the street, either. And no telephone, and therefore no delivery. So Reacher locked up again and walked away, to the Greek place two blocks distant. Technically a grievous breach of his orders, but, win or lose, trivialities weren’t going to count for much, either one way or the other.
He saw nothing on the walk, except another municipal bus, heading out, and a garbage truck, on its rounds. At the restaurant the hostess gave him a table on the other side of the room from his breakfast billet, and he got a different waitress. He ordered coffee, and a cheeseburger, and a slice of pie, and he enjoyed it all. He saw nothing on the walk back except another bus heading out, and another garbage truck on its rounds. He was back in his room less than an hour after leaving it. The squirrelly guy had been in with a new towel, and new soap, and new shampoo. The trash cans were empty. The room was as good as it was going to get. He lay down on the bed and crossed his ankles and put his hands behind his head and thought about taking a nap.
But he didn’t get one. Within about a minute of his head hitting the pillow, three warrant officers from the 75th MP showed up to arrest him.
THEY CAME IN a car, and they were driving it fast. Reacher heard it on the road, and he heard it thump up into the lot, and he heard it slew around and jam to a stop outside. He heard three doors open, a ragged sequence of three separate sounds, all contained in the same second, and he heard three pairs of boots hit the ground, which meant three guys, not four, which meant they were not the guys from the car with the dented doors. There was a pause, with one set of footsteps receding fast, which he guessed was someone running around to cover the rear, which was a waste of time, because there was no bathroom window, but they didn’t know that, and better safe than sorry. Which told him he was dealing with a competent crew.
He uncrossed his ankles and unlaced his hands from behind his head and sat up on the bed. He swivelled around and put his feet on the floor. Right on cue the hammering started on the door. Nothing like Major Sullivan’s polite little tap, tap, tappity tap from six o’clock in the morning. This was a full-on furious boom, boom, boom, by big strong guys trained to make a paralysing first impression. Not his own favourite method. He had always felt self-conscious, making a lot of noise.
The guys outside stopped banging long enough to shout something a couple of times. Open up, open up, Reacher guessed. Then they started banging again. Reacher stood up and walked to the door. He thumped on it from the inside, just as hard and just as loud. The commotion stopped on the outside. Reacher smiled. No one expects a door to talk back.
He opened up and saw two guys in army combat uniform. One had a sidearm drawn, and the other had a shotgun. Which was pretty damn serious, for a suburban Virginia afternoon. Behind them their car had three doors hanging open. Its motor was running.
Reacher said, ‘What?’
The guy on the hinge side of the door was in charge. Safest spot, for the senior guy. He said, ‘Sir, you’re to come with us.’
‘Acting for who?’
‘You’ll find out.’
The name on the guy’s uniform tape was Espin. He was about the size of a flyweight boxer, dark-haired, hard and muscled, with a flattened nose. He looked like an OK type of guy. In general Reacher liked warrant officers. Not as much as sergeants, but more than most commissioned officers.
He asked, ‘Is this an arrest?’
‘Do you want it to be?’ Espin said. ‘If so, keep talking.’
‘Make your mind up, soldier. It’s one thing or the other.’
‘I prefer voluntary cooperation.’
‘Then yes, you’re under arrest.’
‘What’s your name?’
‘I want to remember it as long as I live.’
‘Is that a threat?’
‘What’s your name?’
‘Pete,’ the guy said.
‘Got it,’ Reacher said. ‘Pete Espin. Where are we going?’
‘Fort Dyer,’ Pete Espin said.
‘Someone wants to talk to you.’
The third guy came back from behind the building. Junior to Espin, but only technically. All three of them looked like veterans. Seen it all, done it all. Espin said, ‘We’re going to search you first.’
‘Be my guest,’ Reacher said. He held his arms out wide. He had nothing to hide. He had nothing in his pockets except his passport, his ATM card, his toothbrush, some cash money, some gum, and his motel key. Which was all quickly confirmed. Whereupon the guy with the shotgun motioned him over to the car. To the back seat on the passenger side. Which was the safest spot to carry a bad guy in a four-place vehicle without a security screen. Smallest chance of him interfering with the driver. The guy who had checked for a bathroom window got in the driver’s seat. Espin got in next to Reacher. The guy with the shotgun closed Reacher’s door on him and then climbed in the front passenger seat. All set, nice and easy and professional. A good crew.
It was too late for lunch and too early for rush hour, so the roads were clear and the drive was quick, on a different route from the one Reacher had used before, through a tangle of streets to Dyer’s northern entrance, which seemed much less used than the main gate to the south. But it was no less secure. Getting in took the same amount of time. Dragons’ teeth, barriers, and check, check, check, three separate times. Then they drove a looping back way around and fetched up at the rear door of the guardhouse. Reacher was ushered out of the car, and in through the door, to a guy behind it. Not exactly a prison guard. More like a clerk or an administrator. He was unarmed, like most prison staff, and he had keys on his belt. He was in a small square lobby, with locked quarantine doors to the left and the right.
Reacher was led through the door on the left and onward to an interview room. Which had no windows. Just four blank walls, and a table bolted to the floor, with two chairs on one side and one on the other. The room had not been designed by the dining-room guy. That was clear. There was no blond wood or carpet. Just scuffed white paint on cinder block, and a cracked concrete floor, and a fluorescent bulb in a wire cage on the ceiling.
A Dyer guy Reacher hadn’t seen before came in with a clear plastic zip bag and took away all the stuff from his pockets. Reacher sat down on the solo side of the table. He figured that was his designated position. Espin sat down opposite him. Everyone else left. Espin said nothing. No questions, no pleasantries, no bullshit to pass the time.
Reacher said, ‘Who wants to talk to me?’
Espin said, ‘He’s on his way.’
‘Some Polish name.’
‘Who is he?’
Which Reacher did, about twenty minutes later. The door opened, and a man in a suit came in. The man was on the early side of middle age, with short dark hair showing some grey, and a pale, pouchy face showing some fatigue, and a hard compact body showing some time in the gym. The suit was black, not cheap, but worn and shiny in places, and it had a badge holder flipped open and hooked in the top breast pocket. The badge was Metro PD. Which was D.C.’s local police department.
The guy sat down next to Espin and said, ‘I’m Detective Podolski.’
‘Good to know,’ Reacher said.
‘I need some answers.’
‘To what kind of questions?’
‘I think you know.’
‘Questions about a felony assault.’
‘How old this time? Twenty years? A hundred? Something that happened during the Civil War?’
‘Tell me about your morning.’
‘This morning. Today.’
‘I got up, and then I spoke to a lawyer, and then I spoke to another lawyer, and then I spoke to another lawyer. This morning was wall-to-wall lawyers, basically.’
‘Sullivan, Edmonds and Moorcroft.’
‘And Moorcroft would be Colonel Moorcroft, of your JAG school in Charlottesville, but temporarily working out of this base?’
‘Not my JAG school,’ Reacher said. ‘But yes, that’s the guy.’
‘And where did you speak with him?’
‘Right here, on this base. In the OC dining room.’
‘And when did you speak with him?’
‘This morning. Like I said.’
‘What time specifically?’
‘Does a private conversation between two army officers on an army base fall into your jurisdiction, detective?’
‘This one does,’ Podolski said. ‘Believe me. When did you speak with him?’
‘His breakfast time,’ Reacher said. ‘Which was later than mine. I would say the conversation began at twenty-three minutes past nine.’
‘That’s certainly specific.’
‘You asked me to be specific.’
Podolski said, ‘What was the conversation with Colonel Moorcroft about?’
‘A legal matter,’ Reacher said.
‘No, it was about a third party.’
‘And the third party would be Major Susan Turner, of the 110th MP, currently under investigation by the army on corruption charges?’
‘And Major Sullivan witnessed this conversation, is that right?’
‘Yes, she was there.’
‘She says you wanted Colonel Moorcroft to do something, is that correct?’
‘Yes, it is.’
‘You wanted him to appeal Major Turner’s pre-trial confinement?’
‘Yes, I did.’
‘But he wouldn’t? Is that correct? And in fact he told you to butt out?’
‘At one point, yes.’
Never Go Back by Lee Child / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5.1 out of 5 / Based on46 votes