Night school, p.8
Night School, p.8Part #21 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
the hapless trooper who took the original call. If he wished. Which he did. With fortunately simple questions. Names and addresses, of a person and a place.
In Virginia Waterman’s guy Landry said, “Bigger than they dared to dream doesn’t sound good to me. Neither does it sound like stopping someone’s clock. It sounds much worse than that.”
Reacher said, “We’re hearing it third-hand. We can’t judge the tone.”
“I heard the words whole new ball game. As if it was a big step up. As if it was unexpected to the extent of feeling accidental. Like they dropped a nickel and found a quarter. Such that guys in their twenties who wear Italian shoes and go out to nightclubs are getting all excited. It sounds erotic to me. Are computers that big of a deal?”
Landry said, “We think they are. And they’re certainly going to be in the future. Even now the damage would be catastrophic. Lots of people would die. But I agree, it’s not erotic.”
Vanderbilt said, “It’s not a grand gesture either. Which they tend to value. It’s not like blowing up a building. It has no single moment of climax. It’s a little too technical.”
Reacher said, “So we all agree we’re wasting our time with computers.”
“Where else would we start?”
“What is the guy selling?”
“We’ve been over that.”
“An hour is up,” Waterman said.
White dialed the Hamburg number again. The guy named Griezman answered. He had names and addresses, for the witness and the bar. The witness was a municipal worker. He started his duties early in the morning and finished them after lunch. Hence the bar in the afternoon. He was a man of strong convictions. Some of them were offensive and all of them were erroneous. The bar was five streets from the safe house. It was said to be a hardcore place. But not visibly. It looked civilized. Stern, but discreet. Men in suits, mostly, with normal haircuts. And not yet anti-American, as long as the American was white.
After the call ended Neagley found the bar on the street plan she had. She said, “Not the place we liked so much. Better part of the neighborhood. And a very easy walk from the apartment. Less than twenty minutes. The timing works. Do you think it was the rendezvous?”
Reacher said, “It was the right place at the right time. And the right feel.”
“We need a description from the witness. Maybe a police sketch.”
“Can we trust the Hamburg cops? Or should we go do it ourselves?”
“We don’t have a sketch artist. And maybe the witness doesn’t speak English. We’re going to have to trust them. The State Department would insist, anyway. Otherwise it would turn into a diplomatic incident.”
Reacher nodded. He had dealt with German cops before. Both military and civilian. Not always easy. Mostly due to different perceptions. Germans thought they had been given a country, and Americans thought they had bought a large military base with servants.
There was the noise of a vehicle on the driveway. Swooping in, past the knee-high sign. Then another. Two vehicles. Two vans, no doubt. Black in color. A minute later two men in suits came in through the door, followed by Ratcliffe and Sinclair, with two more men in suits bringing up the rear. Ratcliffe was out of breath. Sinclair was a little flushed. Her throat, and high on her cheeks. She was in another black dress, looking as good as ever. Maybe better. Maybe the flush helped.
Ratcliffe said, “I hear we have an eyewitness.”
Reacher said, “That’s our current operational assumption.”
“We’re going to roll the dice. You and Sergeant Neagley will go back to Germany tonight. The State Department will give you passport photographs for all two hundred programmers. Including the expats. First thing in the morning you will interview the eyewitness. The Hamburg police department is being leaned on as we speak. Then immediately after the eyewitness picks out a photograph, you will call here with the name, and we’ll have the guy picked up at home. Which will be a neat and timely conclusion.”
Reacher said nothing.
They got the same Lufthansa flight. Early evening departure, six time zones, scheduled arrival at the start of the business day. Neagley brought her bag. This time Reacher had one, too. It was a red canvas tote from the Air and Space Museum. Presumably some State Department staffer’s lunch bucket, requisitioned in an emergency and repacked with two hundred passport photographs. Which was a large quantity. Each photograph was glued to an index card, with a name and a passport number. Reacher and Neagley looked at some of them. They dealt them back and forth like playing cards. They found the expat Hamburg resident. The counterculture guy, with the shock of hair. His government picture was better quality than the underground journal. Glossier, and much crisper. Regulation size, white background. The guy was showing a head-on stare, and a challenge in his eyes. A large head, and a thin neck.
“It’s not him,” Reacher said.
“Why not?” Neagley said.
“Because of his hair. He has to do something to make it look like that. Even if it’s doing nothing at all. It’s a choice. It’s a statement. He’s saying, look at me, I have interesting hair. Like guys who wear hats. They’re saying, look at me, I have an interesting hat. All a little desperate, don’t you think? Insecurity, I suppose. As if what’s inside ain’t quite enough. And such people don’t write software patches that could blow up the known universe. If you’re smart enough to write a thing like that, and you’re smart enough to sell it for a hundred million bucks, all in secret, then you’re not insecure. Not even a little bit. You’re the best there ever was. You’re the king of the world.”
They put the pictures back in the bag, and ate the meal. Neagley had the window, and she went to sleep leaning away, her head against the fuselage wall. Less danger of accidental contact that way. Reacher stayed awake. He was thinking about the eyewitness. The municipal worker with the offensive views. Possibly a waste of time. Possibly the man who saves the known universe. Reacher wanted to get a look at him. He felt like the plane, racing east to meet the dawn.
The American was brushing his hair, in the bathroom mirror in his Amsterdam hotel. He was up early. No reason. He had slept. He was calm. But it was time to get back. He would shower and pack and hit the road before the morning rush got going. After that it was plain sailing.
But first he wanted coffee, so he dressed in yesterday’s clothes and brushed his hair. It was sticking up at the top, from the pillow. He used water and slicked it down. He checked the mirror. Acceptable. It was just a quick down-and-up trip in the elevator. In the lobby he took coffee in a go-cup from a silver urn on a table outside the breakfast room. On a matching table the other side of the door were newspapers. Dutch, obviously, plus British, and French, and Belgian, and German, and the Herald Tribune from home. All neatly laid out, all perfectly squared away.
There was nothing in the Berlin paper. No headline, no story. Nothing on the front of the Hamburg paper, either. Or on page two. Or three.
There was a headline on page four.
Low down, and not very big. Plus two inches of story. Mostly boilerplate. Police said the case was receiving maximum attention, and progress was being made.
Specifically, they were about to fingerprint the inside of the victim’s car.
The American put the paper back in the stack. He closed his eyes. She had agreed right there in the garage. She had turned around, enthusiastically, theatrically, and she had beckoned him to her car, urgently, with a complicit smile, like she couldn’t wait. Then she had driven him home. In a neat three-door coupe, tiny but built like a bank vault.
He got in again in his mind. The outer door handle. Black finish, slightly textured. Sporty. Maybe not a problem. The door pull on the inside was leather. Part of the molding. A void for the fingers. Vinyl in there, probably, to save money. But pebbled like the visible areas. Grained, like it should be. Maybe not an ideal surface for prints. Mayb
The seat belt tongue was shaped like a T. The cross-piece was made of black plastic, stippled like fine sandpaper. For grip, he supposed. Some regulation or other. Safe enough. Then later the release latch. His left thumb. He remembered clicking it down. Elbow back, thumb fumbling. A red plastic bar, firm and ridged.
A partial at best. Maybe smeared when the tail of his jacket swung across it. He remembered pressure on his nail, mostly. Vertically downward. Unrushed. Unhurried. Slow, even. A precise little click, in keeping with the jewel-like car. And to let the anticipation build. Before he unwrapped his gift. His favorite moments, in many ways.
The seat belt latch was safe enough.
But the door release wasn’t. The door release was a small chrome bar, cool to the touch, with space scooped out behind for fingers. In his case, the middle finger of his right hand. Slipped in there alone, and elegantly, he thought, even suggestively, and then held there for a polite shall-we-go second, the whole pad of the fingertip pressed hard against the back of the chrome, and then harder, to trip the lock, another precise and respectful click, and then his finger had extricated itself, just as elegantly, he thought.
Smooth, cool chrome.
His own fault.
Evidently German immigration had been pre-warned, because as soon as Neagley handed over her passport the guard in the booth made a sign, and a big fat guy got up off a hard chair in the next lobby and stood ready to greet them. He said his name was Griezman. He said he recognized Reacher’s and Neagley’s names. They had been recorded by a street cop and described as tourists. But clearly they weren’t. Now he understood. He said he was happy to help in any way he could. He said the witness was already waiting at the police station. Very willingly and very eagerly. He had been told his opinion was being sought on a matter of national security. And it was a day off from work. With pay, because he was performing a civic duty. Griezman said the guy spoke no English. There would be a translator present. And yes, it was normal in Germany for a witness to be shown photographs of possible suspects.
Griezman had a department Mercedes on a no-parking curb. They got in and he drove. His seat crushed back under his weight. He was a huge guy. An inch taller than Reacher, and fifty pounds heavier. More than twice what Neagley weighed. But most of it fat. No danger to anyone, except himself.
Reacher said, “On the phone yesterday you called the witness a lunatic.”
Griezman said, “Not literally, of course. He’s obsessed about certain things, that’s all. No doubt rooted in racist and xenophobic pathologies, and worsened by irrational fears. But otherwise he’s quite normal.”
“Would you trust his word in a court of law?”
“Would a judge and jury?”
“Certainly,” Griezman said again. “In everyday life the man functions very well. He works for the city, after all. Like me.”
The police station turned out to be Hamburg’s finest. It was big and new and state-of-the-art. And integrated. Its labs were built in. On the paths outside there were forests of signs at every corner, pointing to this department and that. Inside was the same. It was a complex facility. More like a city hospital. Or a university. Griezman parked his Mercedes in a reserved slot and they all got out. Neagley carried her bag, and Reacher carried his. They followed Griezman into the building, and turned left and right in his wake, along wide clean corridors, to an interview room with a wired-glass window in its door. Inside was a man at a table, with coffee and pastries in front of him, and crumbs scattered all around. The man was maybe forty. He was wearing a gray suit that might have been made of polyester. He had gray hair, thinly flattened across his scalp with oil. He wore steel eyeglasses. Behind the lenses his eyes were pale. His skin was pale. The only color on him was his necktie. It was a swirl of yellow and orange. It was wide and short, like a fish hanging down from his collar.
Griezman said, “His name is Helmut Klopp. He’s an easterner. He came west after reunification. Many of them did. For jobs, you see.”
Reacher was still looking in at the guy. Possibly a waste of time, possibly the savior of the known universe. Griezman made no move to enter the room. Instead he lifted his cuff and checked his watch. As he did so a woman turned the corner and walked toward them. Griezman saw her and shot his cuff back into place, satisfied. Right on time. German precision.
“Our translator,” he said.
She was a short stocky woman of indeterminate age, with hair lacquered into a wide globe around her head, like a golden motorcycle helmet. She was wearing a gray dress, some kind of thick gabardine, as stout as a uniform tunic, and thick wool stockings, and shoes that might have weighed two pounds each.
She said, “Good morning,” in a voice that sounded like a movie star.
Griezman said, “Shall we go in?”
Reacher asked, “What does Mr. Klopp do for the city?”
“His job? He’s a clerical supervisor. At the moment for the Department of Sewers.”
“Is he happy in his work?”
“He’s in an office. It’s not what you would call a hands-on position. He seems happy enough. His performance reviews are good. He’s considered meticulous.”
“Why the weird hours?”
“Are they weird?”
“You told us he starts early and finishes after lunch. That sounds manual to me, not clerical.”
Griezman said a long word in German, the name of something, and the translator said, “There was a proposal to reduce pollution by reducing congestion at rush hour. Workers were encouraged to stagger their office hours. Naturally local government was expected to set an example. Clearly the Department of Sewers voted for the early start and the early finish. Or they got stuck with it. But either way the city has announced that beneficial results are already visible. The latest tests show particulate emissions have lessened more than seventeen percent.”
She made it sound like the greatest thing ever. Like a 1940s movie, black and white, a giant silver screen, the straightlaced guy agreeing to do the very bad thing, all because of the breathy way she asked him.
“Ready?” Griezman said.
They went in, and Helmut Klopp looked up. Like Griezman had said, he seemed happy enough. He was center stage for once. And ready to enjoy it. A frustrated man, probably. German, but an easterner in the west, with all an immigrant’s resentments. Griezman made an opening statement in German, and Klopp replied, and the translator said, “You have been introduced as top-level operatives who have come from America at a moment’s notice.”
Reacher said, “And how did Mr. Klopp answer?”
“He said he’s ready to help in any way he can.”
“I don’t think he did.”
“Do you speak German?”
“Maybe I picked some up. I’ve been here before. I understand you’re only being polite, but my sergeant and I have both heard worse than anything this guy can say. And accuracy is more important than our feelings. This could be a very serious situation.”
The translator glanced at Griezman, who nodded.
She said, “The witness told us he’s glad they sent white people.”
“OK,” Reacher said. “Tell Mr. Klopp he’s an important figure in a current operation. Tell him we intend to debrief him thoroughly across all policy areas. Tell him we want to hear his opinions and his advice. But we have to start somewhere, and the beginning is always best, so our initial focus will be a detailed physical and behavioral description of the two men. Starting, randomly, with the American. First we want to hear it in his own words, and then we’re going to show him some photographs.”
The translator said it all in German, facing Klopp, with animation and careful enunciation. Klopp followed along, nodding gravely, as if contemplating a long task of great difficulty, but willing to give it his best.
Reacher said, “Does Mr. Klopp go to that bar oft
The translator translated, and Klopp answered, quite long, and the translator said, “He goes either two or three times a week. He has two favorite bars, which he rotates to match his five-day work pattern.”
“How long has he been going to that bar?”
“Nearly two years.”
“Has he seen the American in that bar before?”
There was a pause. Thinking time. Then, some German, and, “Yes, he thinks he saw him there two or possibly three months ago.”
“He’s as sure as he can be. The gentleman he’s thinking of two or three months ago was wearing a hat at the time. Which makes it hard to be certain. He would be prepared to admit he might be wrong.”
“What kind of hat?”
“A baseball cap.”
“Anything on it?”
“He thinks a red star. But it was hard to see.”
“Long time ago, too.”
“He’s remembering it by the weather.”
“But either way the American is not a regular customer.”
“No, he’s not.”
“How does he know the guy is American?”
There was a long consultation. A long list. The translator said, “He was speaking English. His accent. The loudness of his voice. The way he dressed. The way he moved.”
“OK,” Reacher said. “Now we need a description. Did he see the American standing up or sitting down?”
“Both. Walking in, sitting alone, sitting with the Arab, sitting alone again, and walking out.”
“How tall is the American?”
Night School by Lee Child / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5.3 out of 5 / Based on48 votes