Matchup, p.9
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       MatchUp, p.9

           Lee Child
 

  of frozen streets and dirty snow. The sun was weak and watery and very low in the sky. He headed toward it, west, down a wide street, on the traffic side of a high berm of plowed snow, with his thumb out. Every car passed him by. Which he expected. Hitching rides in town was hard. Especially Baltimore. He would do better when he got to the highway ramp. His goal was I-95 South, for however many hundreds of miles it took to get fifty degrees warmer. Maybe as far as Miami. Or all the way to Key West. He had been there before. Always had a good time. Except it was the end of the line. Which meant the only way to leave was to double back. Which he didn’t like. He preferred forward motion.

  As always he had decent shoes, and for once he had a decent coat, so the weather didn’t bother him. He had known colder. Korea in the winter, and the advanced units on the German plain. And some American bases. Baltimore in February was balmy by comparison. But even so, he couldn’t afford an all-nighter. In the summertime he could sleep under a bridge. But not in February, however balmy. Happily the traffic was heavy. Rush hour, all across the civilized world. Lots of potential benefactors. But Reacher was a large man, and not especially attractive. Lots of rejection, too, for all kinds of gut-level reasons.

  But the sheer weight of numbers and the overall odds were with him, and, sure enough, inside an hour and twenty minutes a guy in a rental Impala pulled over and agreed to take him as far as Savannah, Georgia, right then, a straight shot, as late as it took. Maybe conversation would keep the guy awake. That seemed to be the motive behind the offer. So Reacher climbed in, and they took off. The driver was a dark fleshy man who could have been forty. He had a black five o’clock shadow against what in better days would have been pale and papery skin, but was now dark red and swollen with capillaries. Which was a problem all its own. Reacher could stop the guy falling asleep, but he couldn’t keep him alive from a heart attack. He wasn’t a doctor.

  There was no conversation at first. The guy had the radio playing, on a mostly sports talk station, where all kinds of mostly wonderful things were happening. Then at eight o’clock a different voice in a different acoustic read out the local news from Baltimore, just as they were leaving it, and then the voice called upon expert opinion to expand on and explain the news, in the form of respectful conversation, as if between the best of friends. Reacher tuned it out, until he heard a name he knew, and then one he didn’t.

  The anchor asked a question, and the expert answered, “You’re absolutely right; to understand this case, you have to understand the Calder Massee case, and some say the dispute about that case’s original findings has now gone on so long we should take the issue seriously at last. The official line has always been suicide, and indeed the government’s last communication on the subject dates from four years ago, when it said it welcomed what it called Dr. Temperance Brennan’s meticulous and independent analysis, which as expected confirmed conclusions made at the time, and therefore the case was now closed.”

  Reacher had never heard the word Temperance used as a name before.

  The anchor said, “But Jonathan Yeow claimed it was more than a dispute. He claimed to have definitive proof that Massee was executed.”

  The expert said, “You’re absolutely right, even to the point where there was a strong rumor Yeow had an actual copy of the illegal 1987 order to deploy the assassin. And don’t forget, Yeow was a very well respected reporter. He was from the Washington Post. He was the heir to a grand tradition. What he was going to say would have carried some weight. If he was right, Dr. Brennan was either ordered or coerced or bribed to falsify her second autopsy, and if that was true, her career would be over. All her previous testimony would be worthless. She would be a laughingstock. I mean, just this morning she gave the keynote at their convention at the Marriott Wardman down there in D.C., telling hundreds of other forensic scientists to keep it reliable, and relevant, and real.”

  “Is that enough reason for homicide?”

  “Professional ruin is a powerful motivator. Stranger things have happened. And sources inside the FBI suggest there is physical evidence, perhaps in the form of fingerprints.”

  “But Dr. Brennan hasn’t been formally arrested.”

  “Before she even left the convention ballroom, she hired Veronica Luong. Brennan’s supporters say that’s appropriate, in terms of their respective professional achievements, but others say you don’t hire the hottest hotshot in town unless you’re in trouble. Either way it seems Luong negotiated a special arm’s-length own-recognizance relationship with the FBI, at least for these initial stages of the investigation. Some are calling that a professional courtesy, and others are calling it the start of another cover-up.”

  Then the anchor moved on, to the price of gas.

  Reacher looked at the driver and said, “I’m sorry, I have to get out now. I changed my mind. I’m not going to Savannah anymore. I’m going to D.C. instead.”

  WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 22, 2100 EST

  REACHER GOT A BUS ON Georgia avenue and got out where he thought the convention hotels might be. He asked a girl passing by if she knew the Marriott Wardman, and she did what they all did, thumbs flashing over a thin flat telephone the size of a paperback book, and then she showed him the screen, which represented their current location as a blue pulse, and the Wardman as a red blob, like the plastic head of a pushpin shoved in a map. South and west, two blocks down and three blocks over.

  It was a big brassy place, with a lobby the size of a football field, still busy in the middle of the evening. Reacher figured however courteous and arm’s-length Brennan’s current relationship with the FBI might be, it would inevitably include a don’t-leave-town provision, which meant extra nights in her convention room, plus no doubt a deal breaker on the FBI’s part, in the form of an agent right outside her door, just in case she decided to run for it. No hotshot lawyer could negotiate that one away. So Reacher rode the elevator as high as it went and then walked back down the fire stairs, stopping at every floor to take a covert glance up and down the corridor. He saw two turndown carts, and three maids walking, and plenty of crusted trays of room-service leftovers. But no federal agents.

  Until the fifth floor. Like in a movie. An old guy in a fold-up chair, right next to a door. Reacher pulled back and walked down to four, and came back up again to five in the elevator, like a normal person would. He stepped out and pretended to study the sign, these numbers this way, those numbers that way, and then he walked toward the seated agent, and said, “I’m Dr. Brennan’s paralegal. From Veronica Luong’s office.”

  The old guy didn’t get up.

  He said, “Got ID?”

  Reacher gave him his passport.

  The old guy said, “According to the number, this passport was issued direct by a certain office inside the State Department.”

  “It came in the mail,” Reacher said.

  “And now you’re a lawyer?”

  “Not quite. Paralegal, from the ancient Greek para. Like parachute. Not quite a fall.”

  “What do you need to see Dr. Brennan about?”

  “Her Sixth Amendment right to assistance of counsel.”

  “Now you’re the pro bono intern too?”

  “You haven’t arrested her. You can’t stop her having visitors. You can put my name in the log. Which could help you in the end. We might want to switch to the Fifth Amendment later, and think about due process instead. Or as well.”

  The old guy handed back Reacher’s passport.

  He said, “Knock yourself out, kid.”

  The room door had a panel on the wall, close to the handle, with a red light for Do Not Disturb, and a green light for Make Up My Room, and a pushbutton for the doorbell.

  The red light was on.

  Do not disturb.

  Reacher pressed the doorbell button. He heard a chime inside the room, muted and polite. A woman’s voice said, “Who is it?”

  Reacher said, “Your paralegal. Ms. Luong sent me.”

  The door opened on the
chain. Reacher saw a third of a face, a green eye, the sweep of dark blond hair. Not tiny, not tall.

  He liked what he saw.

  He said, “Are you Temperance Brennan?”

  The woman said, “Yes.”

  “Great name.”

  “Who are you?”

  Reacher said, “I’m here to help.”

  “How?”

  “Any way I can, which is what you’re going to need, because this is the Massee family we’re talking about here.”

  “Do you know them?”

  “From a distance.”

  “Who are you?”

  “My name is Jack Reacher.”

  “And?”

  “I was in the army in March 1987. Serving in Germany, as a matter of fact.”

  Brennan was quiet for most of a minute.

  Then she said, “You better come in.”

  BRENNAN’S ROOM WAS A STANDARD rectangle all gussied up with brass and wallpaper, so it could be priced as deluxe or executive. It had two club chairs under the window, either side of a small round table. Reacher sat down in one of them. Less threatening.

  Brennan said, “What do you know?”

  “I can’t tell you,” Reacher said.

  “Then why are you here?”

  “In case a rock meets a hard place. Which it might not. But you shouldn’t underestimate the trouble you’re in.”

  “I wasn’t bribed and I didn’t make a mistake. Massee shot himself.”

  “You know that scientifically.”

  “Yes, scientifically. Jonathan Yeow was wrong. Why would I be scared of him?”

  Reacher said, “I’ll stay the night in this hotel. My advice would be to call Ms. Luong and have her contact me first thing in the morning.”

  “What are you going to tell her that you won’t tell me?”

  “Nothing. This is all just in case.”

  “Of rocks and hard places?”

  “Yeow is a dead journalist, which will drive all the other journalists batshit crazy. He’s one of them. He’s their hero now. It will become a question of stamina. Sooner or later the DOD will throw you under the bus just to shut them up.”

  “Who are you?”

  “Just a guy passing through.”

  “What kind?”

  “I was a military cop.”

  “They say Yeow was suffocated with a plastic bag.”

  “Uncommon method.”

  “They say my prints are on the bag.”

  “But they haven’t arrested you.”

  “I don’t think they buy it physically,” Brennan said. “Yeow must have struggled. He was bigger than me. Almost certainly stronger.”

  “And because you’re a major player.”

  “I suppose.”

  “How did your prints get on the bag?”

  “I don’t know.”

  Reacher got up and walked out of the room. He nodded to the old man in the fold-up chair and headed to the elevators, where he rode down to the lobby and hiked across an acre of marble to the reception desk. He bought a room for the night, using his passport for ID, and his ATM card for money. The room was on the third floor. Neither deluxe nor executive. No brass, no wallpaper. But it had a telephone, which rang within forty-two minutes.

  A woman’s voice said, “Mr. Reacher?”

  Bright, intelligent, possibly lethal.

  Reacher said, “Yes.”

  “This is Veronica Luong, Dr. Temperance Brennan’s attorney. I assume you have classified information that proves the suicide case. I further assume your sense of duty makes you very reluctant to reveal it, but your sense of conscience makes you equally reluctant to see an innocent woman falsely convicted.”

  Definitely lethal.

  Reacher said, “Something like that.”

  “You’re a paralegal.”

  “I only said that to get in the door. Actually I’m unemployed.”

  “No, I mean you’re a paralegal. As of now. With my firm. Officially employed.”

  “Is this an attorney-client thing?”

  “I want you where I can see you,” Luong said. “Starting at eight o’clock tomorrow morning, at the precinct house on Indiana Avenue, Northwest.”

  THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 23, 0837 EST

  SAME WINDOWLESS CELL. SAME AV gear, wall phone, table and chairs. Brennan was seated in one. Luong was beside her.

  They’d been there forty minutes when Dupreau entered and tossed down a file. It landed with a tic and puff of stale air.

  Dupreau stared at Brennan, skin sallow beneath the humming fluorescents. Brennan stared back, telegraphing the anger trip-wiring in her brain.

  A few beats, then, “Thank you for coming.”

  “I had a choice?” Controlled, calm.

  Dupreau pulled out a chair and sat. Opened the file. Slowly sorted and organized the contents. Neither Luong nor Brennan was impressed. Both were familiar with the old trick.

  Dupreau checked that the AV equipment was on and working.

  “This interview will be recorded. For your protection and mine. Do you have any objection to that?”

  “And if I did?” Brennan glared at the mirror, certain Szewczk was on the far side.

  Dupreau hit a button. “Present at this interrogation are Special Agent Pierre Dupreau, Federal Bureau of investigation, Internal Security Unit, Dr. Temperance Brennan, and legal counsel, Veronica Luong.”

  Dupreau provided the date and time, then drew a sheet from one of his stacks and pretended to read.

  Brennan knew what he was doing. And why he’d left them cooling their heels. But the ploy wouldn’t work. She hadn’t become anxious or vulnerable as some suspects might. She’d grown furious. For Brennan, that translated into laser focus.

  Dupreau laid down the paper.

  Some interviewers like to put their subjects at ease, gain their trust, then take advantage. Knowing that wouldn’t work, Dupreau went straight for the kill.

  “Calder Massee was a bird colonel in the United States Air Force, a career officer with access to highly classified information. Many believe he was executed for a crime he didn’t commit. He was wrongly suspected of being a traitor. They said he was actively engaged in spying for foreign governments. But he wasn’t. The suicide story was a government-backed cover-up for the mistake.”

  “Many believe aliens landed at Roswell.”

  “In 2012, you oversaw the exhumation and reanalysis of Massee’s remains.”

  “I’m impressed. You can read.”

  “This year marks the thirtieth anniversary of Massee’s death. Jonathan Yeow was about to go public with proof of your involvement in the whitewashing of his murder. We believe you killed him to prevent that happening.”

  “Very creative.”

  “Incompetence, complicity, greed. Doesn’t matter the reason. Exposure would ruin you.”

  “Seriously. You should write a pilot, shop it to Hollywood.”

  A long humming moment.

  “According to the ME, Yeow died between midnight and seven
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