Night school, p.9
Night School, p.9Part #21 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
“A meter seventy, a meter seventy-five.”
“Five feet eight inches,” Griezman said. “Completely average.”
Reacher asked, “Is he fat or thin?”
The translator said, “Neither.”
“Strong or weak?”
“If he played a sport, what sport would he play?”
Klopp didn’t answer.
Reacher said, “Think about what’s on the TV. Think about the Olympic Games. What sport would he play?”
Klopp thought hard and long, as if going through the whole sporting calendar, in great detail. Eventually he spoke in German, a long speculation, arguments for and against, a little of this and a little of that. The translator said, “He thinks probably a middle-distance runner. Perhaps the fifteen hundred meters upward. Maybe even a long-distance runner, up to the ten thousand meters. But he wasn’t an unnatural stick insect like a marathon runner.”
“A stick insect from Africa, right?”
“He added that, yes.”
“Tell me everything, OK?”
“So the American is average height, on the wiry side of average weight, possibly full of bounce and energy? That kind of guy?”
“Yes, always moving.”
“How long was he there before the Saudi guy showed up?”
“Perhaps five minutes. He was just a man in a bar. No one was interested in him.”
“What did he drink?”
“A half liter of lager, quite slowly. He still had most of it left after the meeting had finished.”
“How long did he stay, after the Saudi guy left?”
“Perhaps thirty minutes.”
“What did the Saudi guy drink?”
“Nothing. He would not have been served.”
“What kind of hair has the American got?”
Klopp shrugged at the translator, and she chided him, telling him to think. He said something, awkwardly, clearly not his field of expertise, but then he carried on, determined to muster all the details he could. It turned into a long speech. Eventually the translator said, “The American had fair hair, the color of hay or straw in the summer. His hair was quite normal at the sides but much longer at the top. Like a style. As if he could flop it around. Like Elvis Presley.”
“Was it neat?”
“Yes, it was neatly brushed.”
“What is that?”
“Oil, like he uses. Or wax, or something.”
“No, just natural.”
The face as described went with the hair and the build. Deep-set blue eyes, tight skin on the forehead, prominent cheek bones, a thin nose, white teeth, an unsmiling mouth, a firm chin. No visible damage. No major scars, no tattoos. An old tan, and some lines around the eyes. More likely squint lines than laugh lines or frown lines. A groove down one cheek. From the clamp of the jaw, and maybe a missing tooth. But all of a piece. Narrow, but all horizontal. The brows, the eyes, the high cheek bones, the thin slash of the mouth, the clamped and working grimace. His age was more likely thirty-something than twenty-something.
Reacher said, “Tell Mr. Klopp we’ll want him to repeat all of that for the sketch artist.”
The translator passed on the message, and Klopp nodded.
Reacher asked, “What was the American wearing?”
Klopp answered, and the translator said, “Actually a Levi’s jacket the same as yours.”
“Exactly the same?”
“Small world,” Reacher said. “Now ask him why he feels the Saudi guy was agitated. Only first-hand evidence. Only what he saw or heard. Tell him to leave the political analysis for later.”
There was a long discussion in German, with Griezman chipping in, with a lot of back and forth to get it all straight, and then the translator said, “On reflection Herr Klopp feels excited might be a better word than agitated. Excited and nervous. The American told the Arab something, and the Arab reacted in that manner.”
“Did Mr. Klopp hear what was said?”
“How long was that part of the discussion?”
“Possibly a minute.”
“How long did the Saudi guy stay?”
“He left immediately.”
“And the American stayed another thirty minutes?”
“OK,” Reacher said. “Tell Mr. Klopp it’s time to look at the photographs.”
Reacher put his tote bag on the table. He said, “Tell Mr. Klopp there are a lot of photographs. He should feel free to take a break whenever he needs to. Tell him to bear in mind everything he told us about the man’s face, all those details, and to use them as a mental checklist for when he’s deciding. Tell him hair can change, but eyes and ears never do. Tell him it’s OK not to be sure. He can make a pile of possibles and check them again later. But tell him not to make mistakes.”
Neagley unpacked the bag. Two hundred cards. She separated them into five equal stacks of forty each. Less daunting that way. She slid the first stack over to Klopp. He got to work, without visible enthusiasm, but with a degree of efficiency. Like a clerical supervisor. Reacher watched his eyes. He seemed to be following the checklist suggestion. One item after another. Eyes, nose, cheek bones, mouth, chin. Every step of the way was a separate yes or no decision. Most candidates failed early. The discard pile grew large. Fat faces, round faces, dark eyes, full lips. No one in the first stack of forty made the cut. Not even as possibles.
Neagley slid the second stack into position. She caught Reacher’s eye and winked. He nodded. The Hamburg expat was top of the pile. The counterculture guy, with the shock of hair. Klopp rejected him immediately. Reacher saw why. No cheek bones, and pouty rosebud lips, not a thin unsmiling slash.
The discard pile grew tall.
There was no possibles pile.
Neagley slid the third stack into position. Klopp got to work. The translator sat quiet. Griezman went out and came back and a minute later a man came in with a pot of coffee and five cups. Klopp didn’t pause. He took cards off Neagley’s stack, one at a time, left thumb and index finger, and brought them closer to him, and looked at them, and slapped them down, one after the other.
The discard pile grew taller.
There was still no possibles pile.
Klopp said something in German, and the translator said, “He apologizes for not being more helpful.”
Reacher said, “Ask him how sure he is about his discards.”
She did, and said, “A hundred percent.”
“He says he has that kind of mind.” Then she paused. She glanced at Reacher, who had told her to tell him everything, and then at Griezman, as if for permission to do so. She said, “Mr. Klopp trained as an auditor, in East Germany, and was second-in-command at a very large factory near the Polish border. He wishes us to understand he is overqualified for his current position. But all the better jobs here in the west are prohibited to ethnic Germans and given instead to people from Turkey.”
“Does he want to take a break? He’s got about eighty more to look at.”
She asked, and he answered, and she said, “He is happy to continue. He has the American’s face fixed firmly in his mind. Either it is here or it is not. He invites you to check his work against the sketch he will produce with our artist. He thinks you will find his conclusions to be accurate.”
“OK, tell him to get it done.”
There was nothing in the fourth stack. Not even a possible. A hundred and sixty gone by. Neagley slid the final forty into place. Reacher watched Klopp. One card at a time, left thumb and index finger, held easy, not near and not far. Decent vision, with his glasses on. Genuine concentration. Not a bored blank stare or an impatient sneer. A calm focus. He was interrog
No, time after time. Always no. The cards slapped down. By that point Reacher had seen more than a hundred and seventy versions of what the guy wasn’t. Which started to define what he was. Which was what Klopp had said. Deep-set blue eyes, prominent cheek bones, a thin nose, an unsmiling mouth, a firm chin. There were no other variants left. All under hair currently the color of straw, currently normal on the sides and long on the top. Like a style.
The discard pile grew taller.
There was still no possibles pile.
Then Klopp scrabbled up the last card, and looked at it, the same focus as every other card, and he put it on the discard pile.
Reacher called from Griezman’s office. He got Landry, who got Vanderbilt, who got White, who sounded sleepy. It was five o’clock in the morning in Virginia. Reacher said, “The guy saw the rendezvous. No doubt about it. The choreography was exactly right. The odds against the same type of thing happening in the same neighborhood at the same time are astronomical.”
“Did he ID the American?”
“No,” Reacher said. “Ratcliffe is wrong. This is not about computers. He put two whispers together, for no reason at all. There’s no connection. They’re separate. Just random.”
“OK, we better tell him. You better get back here.”
“No,” Reacher said. “We’re staying.”
The sketch artist wanted to work alone, so Griezman took Reacher and Neagley on a walking tour of the station. They saw more interview rooms, and offices for officers, and squad rooms, and the booking area, and the holding cells, and the evidence room, and a cafeteria. Serious people were working hard everywhere. Griezman seemed proud of it all. Reacher figured he should. It was impressive.
They pushed through a door and took a second-story pedestrian skybridge to a new part of the complex. The science center. Forensics. The labs. First up was a large white room with ranks of computers on long white benches. Griezman said, “We think this is how people will steal from each other in the future. Already three percent of Germans use the internet. More than fifteen percent in your own country. And we’re sure it will grow.”
They walked on, past clean rooms with airlock doors. Like operating rooms in a hospital. Chemical analysis, firearms, blood, tissue, DNA. Laboratory benches, hundreds of glass tubes, all kinds of weird machines. The budget must have been immense. Griezman said, “The university co-funds some of it. Their scientists work here. Which is good for both of us. And we get a lot of federal money, too. It’s a shared facility. For the German army also, under certain circumstances.”
Reacher nodded. Like Waterman had said, back in cooperation school.
They took stairs down to the ground floor. The air was fresher, like there was open access to the outside. They went through a door to a vehicle bay. Like a service station or a tire shop, but immaculately clean. Almost antiseptic. Slick white paint on the floor, white tile on the walls, bright white light. No oil stains, no dirt, no clutter. There were two vehicles in there. One was a big sedan, with a damaged front corner. Worse than a fender bender, but not a wreck. Not a write-off. Griezman said, “There was a hit-and-run accident. A child was badly injured. The driver didn’t stop. We think this was the car. The owner denies it. We hope to find blood and fibers. But it will be a challenge.”
The other car in the shop was a pretty little coupe, with its doors standing open. A guy in a white coat was leaning in. Griezman said, “We’re fingerprinting the inside. There was a homicide. We think the perpetrator might have been the victim’s last passenger. She was a prostitute. It can be a dangerous profession.”
Reacher wandered over and took a look. It was a cute car, especially compared to his recycled Caprice. And immaculate. It shone under the lights. It fit right in with the antiseptic atmosphere. He said, “This is a very clean automobile.”
Griezman said, “So was her apartment.”
“Did she have a housekeeper?”
“A service, I think.”
“Then she probably had her car washed, too. Maybe on a regular basis. Waxed and detailed. Inside and out. Which is good. Not many old prints.”
Griezman spoke German to the guy in the lab coat. A request for a progress report, possibly. The guy answered and pointed here and there. Griezman stuck his head in for a better view. Then he backed out again, ponderously, and said, “We think there’s a partial left thumb on the seat belt release. But it’s narrow, because the button is ridged. And smudged somehow. Possibly the same thing on the seat belt tongue, but the surface is hopeless. Hard plastic, with tiny pimples for grip. A regulation, no doubt. We should have a word with the department concerned. They’re not helping us.”
Reacher said, “What kind of a car is this?”
Griezman said, “It’s an Audi.”
“Then Audi has already helped you. I had a friend with the same problem. About a year ago. Fort Hood, which is about the same size as Hamburg. Off-post married quarters. A Jaguar, not an Audi, but they’re both premium brands. They put chrome on their door-release levers. Looks expensive, feels great, and it gleams in the dark so you can find it. All of which enhances what they call the user experience. The passenger puts his middle finger in and pulls. Not his little finger, because he thinks it’s too weak, and not his ring finger, because he thinks it’s too clumsy, and not his index finger, because his wrist would need to rotate an extra twenty-five percent, which borders on the uncomfortable. Always his middle finger. So you need to take the door apart, and print the back of the lever. That’s what my friend would say.”
The guy in the lab coat said something in German. Unknown words, but an indignant tone. Clearly he could follow along in English. Griezman said, “That was going to be our next step anyway. Did your friend secure a conviction?”
“No,” Reacher said. “The chain of evidence broke down. He could prove the guy’s print was on the lever, but he couldn’t prove the lever came from the ex-wife’s car. Defense counsel said it could have come from anywhere.”
“What should he have done?”
“Before he started he should have engraved his initials on the front of the lever. While it was still right there on the door. With a dentist’s drill. He should have had himself photographed doing it. Wide shots, to establish the car, and then close ups.”
Griezman spoke in German, a long list of instructions. Reacher caught the word zahnarzt, which he knew from having a toothache in Frankfurt meant dentist. The guy in the lab coat listened and nodded.
They got back to the interview room just as Klopp was getting set to leave. The sketch artist gave them a copy of a drawing made with colored pencils. Griezman told them he would fax a further copy to McLean, Virginia, and then keep the original on file.
Reacher and Neagley carried their copy to the door, where the wired-glass window let in some natural light. The American looked exactly like Klopp had described. The artist had done a fine job capturing his words. The wave of blond hair. The skin stretched tight over the skull beneath. The brow and the cheek bones, horizontal and parallel and close together, like two bars on an old-style football helmet, with the eyes flashing out from way behind. The mouth, like a gash. Plus two vertical lines, the nose like a blade, and a crease down the right cheek, as if the most the mouth ever moved was in a lopsided and sardonic smile. The guy was shown in a jacket like Reacher’s. Pale tan denim, authentic in every respect. Under it was a white T-shirt. His collar bones stood out, like his cheek bones. His neck was shown corded with sinew. A hardscrabble guy, no longer young.
Neagley said, “Military?”
Reacher said, “Can’t tell by looking.”
“Then why are we staying?”
“I don’t know. Ratcliffe said we could have what we want. I guess what I want is not to be trapped in someone else’s mistake.”
“I agree. It’s probably ten to one against. Which means if we stick around we have a one-in-ten chance of being in the right place at the right time. Whereas if we go back to Virginia we have a zero chance. They’re not going to meet at the Washington Monument. That’s for damn sure.”
The translator came over and said, “Mr. Klopp is asking when you want to schedule the rest of the debriefing session.”
Reacher said, “Tell Mr. Klopp we’re done with him. Tell him if I ever see him again I’ll pop his eyeballs out one at a time with my thumbnail.”
Night School by Lee Child / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5.3 out of 5 / Based on48 votes