Never go back, p.9
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       Never Go Back, p.9

         Part #18 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
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  ‘You argued, in fact. In a heated manner.’

  ‘We didn’t argue. We discussed a technical matter. It wasn’t heated.’

  ‘But the bottom line is you wanted Colonel Moorcroft to do something for you, and he refused to do it. Is that a fair summary?’

  Reacher said, ‘What exactly is this about?’

  Podolski said, ‘It’s about Colonel Moorcroft getting beaten half to death, late this morning, in southeast D.C. On my streets.’

  FIFTEEN

  PODOLSKI TOOK OUT a notebook and a pen, and he laid them neatly on the table, and he said, ‘You should have a lawyer here.’

  Reacher said, ‘I wasn’t in southeast D.C. today. Or any other part. I didn’t even cross the river.’

  ‘Do you want a lawyer?’

  ‘I already have a lawyer. Two of them, actually. They’re not much use to me. In fact one of them in particular seems to be doing me no good at all.’

  ‘Major Sullivan, you mean?’

  ‘She left before the conversation was over. Moorcroft was going to file the paperwork. He agreed just after Sullivan was gone.’

  ‘That’s convenient.’

  ‘It’s also true. Is Moorcroft saying different?’

  ‘Moorcroft isn’t saying anything. He’s in a coma.’

  Reacher said nothing.

  ‘You had a car, didn’t you?’ Podolski asked. ‘A blue Chevrolet sedan, borrowed from the 110th HQ.’

  ‘So what?’

  ‘You could have grabbed Moorcroft up and driven him across the river.’

  ‘Could have, I suppose, but didn’t.’

  ‘It was a brutal attack.’

  ‘If you say so.’

  ‘I do say so. There must have been blood everywhere.’

  Reacher nodded. ‘Brutal attacks and blood everywhere tend to go hand in hand.’

  ‘Tell me about your clothes.’

  ‘What clothes?’

  ‘The clothes you’re wearing.’

  Reacher looked down. ‘They’re new. I just bought them.’

  ‘Where?’

  ‘At a strip mall two blocks from my motel.’

  ‘Why did you buy them?’

  She’ll be out and about before long.

  ‘It was time,’ Reacher said.

  ‘Were your old clothes dirty?’

  ‘I suppose.’

  ‘Did you get something on them?’

  ‘Like what?’

  ‘Blood, for instance.’

  ‘No, there was no blood on them.’

  ‘Where are they now?’

  Reacher said nothing.

  Podolski said, ‘We talked to the clerk at your motel. He said you made a point of asking for your trash to be emptied.’

  ‘I didn’t really make a point.’

  ‘But still, he emptied your trash. Like you asked him to. Just before the garbage truck came. So now, your old clothes are gone.’

  ‘Coincidence.’

  ‘That’s convenient,’ Podolski said again. ‘Isn’t it?’

  Reacher didn’t reply.

  Podolski said, ‘The clerk checked the clothes. He’s that kind of guy. They were too big for him, of course, but they might have had some value. But they didn’t. Too dirty, he said. And too stained. Including with what looked like blood to him.’

  ‘Not Moorcroft’s,’ Reacher said.

  ‘Whose, then?’

  ‘I’d been wearing them a long time. I have a hard life.’

  ‘You fight a lot?’

  ‘As little as possible. But sometimes I cut myself shaving.’

  ‘You showered, too, didn’t you?’

  ‘When?’

  ‘When you trashed the clothes. The motel clerk said you asked him for new towels.’

  ‘Yes, I showered.’

  ‘Do you normally shower twice a day?’

  ‘Sometimes.’

  ‘Was there a particular reason, today?’

  She’ll be out and about before long.

  Reacher said, ‘No particular reason.’

  ‘To rinse the blood, maybe?’

  ‘I wasn’t bleeding.’

  ‘If we checked the drain, what would we find?’

  ‘Dirty water,’ Reacher said.

  ‘You sure about that?’

  ‘The whole room is dirty.’

  ‘You’re facing a homicide charge right now, is that correct? From sixteen years ago? Juan Rodriguez? Some guy you beat up?’

  ‘False accusation.’

  ‘I’ve heard that before. Which is what Colonel Moorcroft said too, isn’t it? Major Sullivan told me you mentioned the matter to him. But he wasn’t sympathetic. Did that make you angry?’

  ‘It made me a little frustrated.’

  ‘Yes, it must get tiring, being so widely misunderstood.’

  Reacher said, ‘How bad is Moorcroft?’

  ‘Feeling guilty now?’

  ‘I’m feeling concerned, about him and his client.’

  ‘I heard you never even met the woman.’

  ‘Should that make a difference?’

  ‘The doctors say Moorcroft might wake up at some point. No one can say when, or what state he’ll be in when he does. If he does.’

  Reacher said, ‘I was at the 110th HQ part of the morning.’

  Podolski nodded. ‘For about twenty minutes total. We checked. What were you doing the rest of the morning?’

  ‘Walking.’

  ‘Where?’

  ‘Here and there.’

  ‘Anyone see you walking?’

  ‘I don’t think so.’

  ‘That’s convenient,’ Podolski said, for the third time.

  ‘You’re talking to the wrong guy, detective. Last I saw of Moorcroft, he was making his way out of the OC dining room right here, happy as a clam. Whoever attacked him is running around out there, laughing at you, while you’re wasting your time with me.’

  ‘In other words, some other dude did it?’

  ‘Obviously.’

  ‘I’ve heard that before,’ Podolski said again.

  ‘You ever been wrong?’

  ‘Doesn’t matter. What matters is, am I wrong now? And I don’t think I am. I’ve got a guy with a history of violence, who was seen arguing with the victim right before the time of the crime, and who dumped a full set of clothes right after the time of the crime, and took his second shower of the day, and who had access to a vehicle, and whose movements aren’t entirely accounted for. You were a cop, correct? What would you do?’

  ‘I would find the right guy. I’m sure I saw that written down somewhere.’

  ‘Suppose the right guy says he’s the wrong guy?’

  ‘Happened all the time. You have to use your judgement.’

  ‘I am.’

  ‘Pity,’ Reacher said.

  ‘Show me your hands.’

  Reacher put his hands on the table, flat, palms down. They looked big and tan, and worn and rough. Both sets of knuckles were very slightly pink, and very slightly swollen. From the night before. The two guys, in the T-shirts. The left hook, and the right uppercut. Big impacts. Not the biggest ever, but solid. Podolski stared for a long time.

  ‘Inconclusive,’ he said. ‘Maybe you used a weapon. A blunt instrument of some kind. The doctors will tell me.’

  Reacher said, ‘So what next?’

  ‘That’s the DA’s decision. In the meantime you’ll come with me. I want you locked up downtown.’

  The room went quiet, and then Espin spoke for the first time.

  ‘No,’ he said. ‘Unacceptable. He stays here. Our homicide beats your felony assault.’

  Podolski said, ‘This morning beats sixteen years ago.’

  Espin said, ‘Possession is nine points of the law. We’ve got him. You don’t. Imagine the paperwork.’

  Podolski didn’t answer.

  Espin said, ‘But you can come over and talk to him any time you want.’

  ‘Will he be locked up?’ Podolski asked.

 
Tighter than a fish’s butt.’

  ‘Deal,’ Podolski said. He stood up, and gathered his pen and his notebook, and walked out of the room.

  After that it was straight into routine pre-trial confinement. Reacher was searched again, and his boot laces were taken away, and he was half pushed and half led along a narrow blank corridor, past two grander interview rooms opposite, and around two corners, all the way to the cell block. Which was a lot more civilized than some Reacher had seen. It was more like the far corner of a chain hotel than a prison. It was a warren of subcorridors and small lobbies, and the cell itself was like a motel room. Hardened, for sure, with bolts and locks, and a steel door that opened outward, and concrete walls, and a barred foot-high slit window near the ceiling, and metal fittings in the bathroom, and a narrow barracks-style cot for a bed, but it was spacious and reasonably comfortable all the same. Better than the place on the three-lane, overall. That was for damn sure. There was even a chair next to the bed. Joint Base Dyer-Helsington House, in all its opulent glory. High-status prisoners on the inside got it better than low-status officers on the outside.

  Reacher sat down in the chair.

  Espin waited in the doorway.

  Hope for the best, plan for the worst.

  Reacher said, ‘I need to see the duty captain, as soon as possible.’

  Espin said, ‘He’ll stop by anyway. He’ll need to tell you the rules.’

  ‘I know the rules. I was a duty captain myself, once upon a time. But I still need to see him as soon as possible.’

  ‘I’ll pass on the message.’

  And then Espin left.

  The door slammed, and the lock turned, and the bolts shot home.

  Twenty minutes later the same sounds happened in reverse. The bolts slammed back, and the lock turned the other way, and the door opened. The beanpole captain ducked his head under the lintel and walked in. He said, ‘Are we going to have trouble with you?’

  Reacher said, ‘I don’t see why you should, as long as you all behave yourselves properly.’

  The tall guy smiled. ‘What can I do for you?’

  ‘You can call someone for me. Sergeant Leach at the 110th. Tell her where I am. She might have a message for me. If she does, you can come and tell me what it is.’

  ‘You want me to feed your dog and pick up your dry-cleaning too?’

  ‘I don’t have dry-cleaning. Or a dog. But you can call Major Sullivan, at JAG, if you like. She’s my lawyer. Tell her I want to see her, here, by the close of business today. Tell her I need a client conference. Tell her it’s extremely important.’

  ‘That it?’

  ‘No. Next you can call Captain Edmonds, at HRC. She’s my other lawyer. Tell her I want to see her right after Major Sullivan. Tell her I have urgent things to discuss.’

  ‘Anything else?’

  ‘How many customers do you have today?’

  ‘Just you and one other.’

  ‘Which would be Major Turner, right?’

  ‘Correct.’

  ‘Is she nearby?’

  ‘This is the only cell block we got.’

  ‘She needs to know her lawyer is out of action. She needs to get another one. You need to go see her and make sure she does.’

  ‘That’s a weird thing for you to say.’

  ‘What happened to Moorcroft was nothing to do with me. You’ll know that soon enough. And the best way of getting the egg off your face is not to get it on in the first place.’

  ‘Still a weird thing for you to say. Who died and made you president of the ACLU?’

  ‘I swore an oath to uphold the Constitution. So did you. Major Turner is entitled to competent representation at all times. That’s the theory. And a gap will look bad, when the appeals kick in. So tell her she needs to meet with someone new. As soon as possible. This afternoon would be good. Make sure she grasps that.’

  ‘Anything else?’

  ‘We’re all good now,’ Reacher said. ‘Thank you, captain.’

  ‘You’re welcome,’ the tall guy said. He turned around and folded himself under the lintel again and stepped out to the corridor. The door slammed, and the lock turned, and the bolts shot home.

  Reacher stayed where he was, in the chair.

  Fifteen minutes later the door sounds came again. The bolts, the lock, the hinges. This time the duty captain stayed out in the corridor. Less strain on his neck. He said, ‘Message from Sergeant Leach, over at your HQ. The two guys in Afghanistan were found dead. On a goat trail in the Hindu Kush. Shot in the head. Nine-millimetre, probably. Three days ago, possibly, by the looks of it.’

  Reacher paused a beat, and then he said, ‘Thank you, captain.’

  Hope for the best, plan for the worst.

  And the worst had happened.

  SIXTEEN

  REACHER STAYED IN his chair, thinking hard, flipping an imaginary coin in his head. First time: heads or tails? Fifty-fifty, obviously. Because the coin was imaginary. A real coin flipped by a real human trended closer to 51-49 in favour of whichever side was uppermost at the outset. No one could explain exactly why, but the phenomenon was easily
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