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The Enemy, Page 2

Lee Child

Chapter Two


  I put the phone down and saw a note my sergeant had left me: Your brother called. No message. I folded the note once and dropped it in the trash. Then I headed back to my quarters and got three hours' sleep. Got up again fifty minutes before first light. I was back at the motel just as dawn was breaking. Morning didn't make the neighborhood look any better. It was depressed and abandoned for miles around. And quiet. Nothing was stirring. Dawn on New Year's Day is as close as any inhabited place gets to absolute stillness. The highway was deserted. There was no traffic. None at all.

  The diner at the truck stop was open but empty. The motel office was empty. I walked down the row to the last-but-one room. Kramer's room. The door was locked. I stood with my back to it and pretended I was a hooker whose client had just died. I had pushed his weight off me and dressed fast and grabbed his briefcase and I was running away with it. What would I do? I wasn't interested in the briefcase itself. I wanted the cash in the wallet, and maybe the American Express card. So I would rifle through and grab the cash and the card and ditch the bag itself. But where would I do that?

  Inside the room would have been best. But I hadn't done it there, for some reason. Maybe I was panicking. Maybe I was shocked and spooked and just wanted to get the hell out, fast. So where else? I looked straight ahead at the lounge bar. That was probably where I was going. That was probably where I was based. But I wouldn't carry the briefcase in there. My co-workers would notice, because I was already carrying a big purse. Hookers always carry big purses. They've got a lot of stuff to haul around. Condoms, massage oils, maybe a gun or a knife, maybe a credit card machine. That's the easiest way to spot a hooker. Look for someone dressed like she's going to a ball, carrying a bag like she's going on vacation.

  I looked to my left. Maybe I walked around behind the motel. It would be quiet back there. All the windows faced that way, but it was night and I could count on the drapes being closed. I turned left and left again and came out behind the bedrooms on a rectangle of scrubby weeds that ran the length of the building and was about twenty feet deep. I imagined walking fast and then stopping in deep shadow and going through the bag by feel. I imagined finding what I wanted and heaving the bag away into the darkness. I might have thrown it thirty feet.

  I stood where she might have stood and scoped out a quarter circle. It gave me about a hundred and fifty square feet to check. The ground was stony and nearly frozen by overnight frost. I found plenty of stuff. I found trash and used needles and foil crack pipes and a Buick hubcap and a skateboard wheel. But I didn't find a briefcase.

  There was a wooden fence at the rear of the lot. It was about six feet tall. I jacked myself up on it and looked over. Saw another rectangle of weeds and stones. No briefcase. I got down off the fence and walked onward and came up on the motel office from the back. There was a window made of dirty pebbled glass that I guessed let into the staff bathroom. Underneath it were a dozen trashed air conditioners all stacked in a low pile. They were rusty. They hadn't been moved in years. I walked on and came around the corner and turned left into a weedy gravel patch with a Dumpster on it. I opened the lid. It was three-quarters full of garbage. No briefcase.

  I crossed the street and walked through the empty lot and looked at the lounge bar. It was silent and closed up tight. Its neon signs were all switched off and the little bent tubes looked cold and dead. It had its own Dumpster, close by in the lot, just sitting there like a parked vehicle. There was no briefcase in it.

  I ducked inside the greasy spoon. It was still empty. I checked the floor around the tables and the banquettes in the booths. I looked on the floor behind the register. There was a cardboard box back there with a couple of forlorn umbrellas in it. But no briefcase. I checked the women's bathroom. No women in it. No briefcase in it either.

  I looked at my watch and walked back to the bar. I would need to ask some face-to-face questions there. But it wouldn't be open for business for another eight hours at least. I turned around and looked across the street at the motel. There was still nobody in the office. So I headed back to my Humvee and got there in time to hear a 10-17 come in on the radio. Return to base. So I acknowledged and fired up the big diesel and drove all the way back to Bird. There was no traffic and I made it inside forty minutes. I saw Kramer's rental parked in the motor pool lot. There was a new person at the desk outside my borrowed office. A corporal. The day shift. He was a small dark guy who looked like he was from Louisiana. French blood in there, certainly. I know French blood when I see it.

  "Your brother called again," the corporal said.


  "No message. "

  "What was the ten-seventeen for?"

  "Colonel Garber requests a ten-nineteen. "

  I smiled. You could live your whole life saying nothing but 10-this and 10-that. Sometimes I felt like I already had. A 10-19 was a contact by phone or radio. Less serious than a 10-16, which was a contact by secure landline. Colonel Garber requests a 10-19 meant Garber wants you to call him, was all. Some MP units get in the habit of speaking English, but clearly this one hadn't yet.

  I stepped into my office and saw Kramer's suit carrier propped against the wall and a carton containing his shoes and underwear and hat sitting next to it. His uniform was still on three hangers. They were hung one in front of the other on my coatrack. I walked past them to my borrowed desk and dialed Garber's number. Listened to the purr of the ring tone and wondered what my brother wanted. Wondered how he had tracked me down. I had been in Panama sixty hours ago. Before that I had been all over the place. So he had made a big effort to find me. So maybe it was important. I picked up a pencil and wrote Joe on a slip of paper. Then I underlined it, twice.

  "Yes?" Leon Garber said in my ear.

  "Reacher here," I said. The clock on the wall showed a little after nine in the morning. Kramer's onward connection to LAX was already in the air.

  "It was a heart attack," Garber said. "No question. "

  "Walter Reed worked fast. "

  "He was a general. "

  "But a general with a bad heart. "

  "Bad arteries, actually. Severe arteriosclerosis leading to fatal ventricular fibrillation. That's what they're telling us. And I believe them too. Probably kicked in around the time the whore took her bra off. "

  "He wasn't carrying any pills. "

  "It was probably undiagnosed. It's one of those things. You feel fine, then you feel dead. No way it could be faked, anyway. You could simulate fibrillation with an electric shock, I guess, but you can't simulate forty years' worth of crap in the arteries. "

  "Were we worried about it being faked?"

  "There could have been KGB interest," Garber said. "Kramer and his tanks are the biggest single tactical problem the Red Army is facing. "

  "Right now the Red Army is facing the other way. "

  "Kind of early to say whether that's permanent or not. "

  I didn't reply. The phone went quiet.

  "I can't let anyone else touch this with a stick," Garber said. "Not just yet. Because of the circumstances. You understand that, right?"


  "So you're going to have to do the widow thing," Garber said.

  "Me? Isn't she in Germany?"

  "She's in Virginia. She's home for the holidays. They have a house there. "

  He gave me the address and I wrote it on the slip of paper, directly underneath where I had underlined Joe.

  "Anyone with her?" I asked.

  "They don't have kids. So she's probably alone. "

  "OK," I said.

  "She doesn't know yet," Garber said. "Took me a while to track her down. "

  "Want me to take a priest?"

  "It isn't a combat death. You could take a female partner, I guess. Mrs. Kramer might be a hugger. "

  "OK. "

  "Spare her the details, obviously. He was en route to Irwin, is all. Croaked in a layover ho
tel. We need to make that the official line. Nobody except you and me knows any different yet, and that's the way we're going to keep it. Except you can tell whoever you partner with, I guess. Mrs. Kramer might ask questions, and you'll need to be on the same page. What about the local cops? Are they going to leak?"

  "The guy I saw was an ex-Marine. He knows the score. "

  "Semper Fi," Garber said.

  "I didn't find the briefcase yet," I said.

  The phone went quiet again.

  "Do the widow thing first," Garber said. "Then keep on looking for it. "

  I told the day-shift corporal to move Kramer's effects to my quarters. I wanted to keep them safe and sound. The widow would ask for them, eventually. And things can disappear, on a big base like Bird, which can be embarrassing. Then I walked over to the O Club and looked for MPs eating late breakfasts or early lunches. They usually cluster well away from everybody else, because everybody else hates them. I found a group of four, two men and two women. They were all in woodland-pattern BDUs, standard on-post dress. One of the women was a captain. She had her right arm in a sling. She was having trouble eating. She would have trouble driving too. The other woman had a lieutenant's bar on each lapel and Summer on her nametape. She looked to be about twenty-five years old and she was short and slender. She had skin the same color as the mahogany table she was eating off.

  "Lieutenant Summer," I said.


  "Happy New Year," I said.

  "Sir, you too. "

  "You busy today?"

  "Sir, general duties. "

  "OK, out front in thirty minutes, Class As. I need you to hug a widow. "

  I put my own Class As on again and called the motor pool for a sedan. I didn't want to ride all the way to Virginia in a Humvee. Too noisy, too uncomfortable. A private brought me a new olive-green Chevrolet. I signed for it and drove it around to post headquarters and waited.

  Lieutenant Summer came out halfway through the twenty-eighth minute of her allotted thirty. She paused a second and then walked toward the car. She looked good. She was very short, but she moved easily, like a willowy person. She looked like a six-foot catwalk model reduced in size to a tiny miniature. I got out of the car and left the driver's door open. Met her on the sidewalk. She was wearing an expert sharpshooter badge with bars for rifle, small bore rifle, auto rifle, pistol, small bore pistol, machine gun, and submachine gun hanging on it. They made a little ladder about two inches long. Longer than mine. I only have rifle and pistol. She stopped dead in front of me and came to attention and fired off a perfect salute.

  "Sir, Lieutenant Summer reports," she said.

  "Take it easy," I said. "Informal mode of address, OK? Call me Reacher, or nothing. And no saluting. I don't like it. "

  She paused. Relaxed.

  "OK," she said.

  I opened the passenger door and started to get in.

  "I'm driving?" she asked.

  "I was up most of the night. "

  "Who died?"

  "General Kramer," I said. "Big tank guy in Europe. "

  She paused again. "So why was he here? We're all infantry. "

  "Passing through," I said.

  She got in on the other side and racked the driver's seat all the way forward. Adjusted the mirror. I pushed the passenger seat back and got as comfortable as I could.

  "Where to?" she said.

  " Green Valley, Virginia," I said. "It'll be about four hours, I guess. "

  "That's where the widow is?"

  "Home for the holidays," I said.

  "And we're breaking the news? Like, Happy New Year, ma'am, and by the way, your husband's dead?"

  I nodded. "Lucky us. " But I wasn't really worried. Generals' wives are as tough as they come. Either they've spent thirty years pushing their husbands up the greasy pole, or they've endured thirty years of fallout as their husbands have climbed it for themselves. Either way, there's not much left that can get to them. They're tougher than the generals, most of the time.

  Summer took her cap off and tossed it onto the backseat. Her hair was very short. Almost shaved. She had a delicate skull and nice cheekbones. Smooth skin. I liked the way she looked. And she was a fast driver. That was for damn sure. She clipped her belt and took off north like she was training for NASCAR.

  "Was it an accident?" she asked.

  "Heart attack," I said. "His arteries were bad. "

  "Where? Our VOQ?"

  I shook my head. "A crappy little motel in town. He died with a twenty-dollar hooker wedged somewhere underneath him. "

  "We're not telling the widow that part, right?"

  "No, we're not. We're not telling anyone that part. "

  "Why was he passing through?"

  "He didn't come to Bird itself. He was transiting D. C. Frankfurt to Dulles, then National to LAX twenty hours later. He was going out to Irwin for a conference. "

  "OK," she said, and then she went very quiet. We drove on. We got about level with the motel, but well to the west, heading straight for the highway.

  "Permission to speak freely?" she said.

  "Please," I said.

  "Is this a test?"

  "Why would it be a test?"

  "You're from the 110th Special Unit, aren't you?"

  "Yes," I said. "I am. "

  "I have an application pending. "

  "To the 110th?"

  "Yes," she said. "So, is this a covert assessment?"

  "Of what?"

  "Of me," she said. "As a candidate. "

  "I needed a woman partner. In case the widow is a hugger. I picked you out at random. The captain with the busted arm couldn't have driven the car. And it would be kind of inefficient for us to wait until we had a dead general to conduct personnel assessments. "

  "I guess," she said. "But I'm wondering if you're sitting there waiting for me to ask the obvious questions. "

  "I'd expect any MP with a pulse to ask the obvious questions, whether or not they had a special unit transfer pending. "

  "OK, I'm asking. General Kramer had a twenty-hour layover in the D. C. area and he wanted to get his rocks off and he didn't mind paying for the privilege. So why did he drive all the way down here to do it? It's what, three hundred miles?"

  "Two hundred and ninety-eight," I said.

  "And then he'd have to drive all the way back. "

  "Clearly. "

  "So why?"

  "You tell me," I said. "Come up with something I haven't thought of myself and I'll recommend you for the transfer. "

  "You can't. You're not my CO. "

  "Maybe I am," I said. "This week, anyway. "

  "Why are you even here? Is something happening I should know about?"

  "I don't know why I'm here," I said. "I got orders. That's all I know. "

  "Are you really a major?"

  "Last time I checked," I said.

  "I thought 110th investigators were usually warrant officers. Working plain clothes or undercover. "

  "They usually are. "

  "So why bring you here when they could send a warrant officer and have him dress up as a major?"

  "Good question," I said. "Maybe one day I'll find out. "

  "May I ask what your orders were?"

  "Temporary detached duty as Fort Bird 's Provost Marshal's executive officer. "

  "The Provost Marshal isn't on-post," she said.

  "I know," I said. "I found that out. He transferred out the same day I transferred in. Some temporary thing. "

  "So you're acting CO. "

  "Like I said. "

  "MP XO isn't a special unit job," she said.

  "I can fake it," I said. "I started out a regular MP, just like you. "

  Summer said nothing. Just drove.

  "Kramer," I said. "Why did he contemplate a six-hundred-mile round-trip? That's twelve hours' driving time out of his twenty. Just to spend f
ifteen bucks on a room and twenty on a whore?"

  "Why does it matter? A heart attack is a heart attack, right? I mean, was there any question about it?"

  I shook my head. "Walter Reed already did the autopsy. "

  "So it doesn't really matter where or when it happened. "

  "His briefcase is missing. "

  "I see," Summer said.

  I saw her thinking. Her lower eyelids flicked upward a fraction.

  "How do you know he had a briefcase?" she said.

  "I don't. But did you ever see a general go to a conference without one?"

  "No," she said. "You think the hooker ran off with it?"

  I nodded. "That's my working hypothesis right now. "

  "So, find the hooker. "

  "Who was she?"

  Her eyelids moved again.

  "Doesn't make sense," she said.

  I nodded again. "Exactly. "

  "Four possible reasons Kramer didn't stay in the D. C. area. One, he might have been traveling with fellow officers and didn't want to embarrass himself in front of them by having a hooker come to his room. They might have seen her in the corridor or heard her through the walls. So he invented an excuse and stayed in a different place. Two, even if he was traveling alone he might have been on a DoD travel voucher and he was paranoid about a desk clerk seeing the girl and calling The Washington Post. That happens. So he preferred to pay cash in some anonymous dive. Three, even if he wasn't on a government ticket he might have been a well-known guest or a familiar face in a big-city hotel. So likewise he was looking for anonymity somewhere out of town. Or four, his sexual tastes ran beyond what you can get from the D. C. Yellow Pages, so he had to go where he knew for sure he could get what he wanted. "


  "Problems one, two, and three could be answered by going ten or fifteen miles, maybe less. Two hundred and ninety-eight is completely excessive. And whereas I'm prepared to believe there are tastes that can't be satisfied in D. C. , I don't see how they're more likely to be satisfied way out here in the North Carolina boonies, and anyway I would guess such a thing would cost a lot more than twenty bucks wherever you eventually found it. "

  "So why did he take the six-hundred-mile detour?"

  She didn't answer. Just drove, and thought. I closed my eyes. Kept them closed for about thirty-five miles.

  "He knew the girl," Summer said.

  I opened my eyes. "How?"

  "Some men have favorites. Maybe he met her a long time ago. Fell for her, in a way. It can happen like that. It can almost be a love thing. "

  "Where would he have met her?"

  "Right there. "

  "Bird is all infantry. He was Armored Branch. "

  "Maybe they had joint exercises. You should check back. "

  I said nothing. Armored and the infantry run joint exercises all the time. But they run them where the tanks are, not where the grunts are. Much easier to transport men across a continent than tanks.

  "Or maybe he met her at Irwin," Summer said. "In California. Maybe she worked Irwin, but had to leave California for some reason, but she liked working military bases, so she moved to Bird. "

  "What kind of a hooker would like working military bases?"

  "The kind that's interested in money. Which is all of them, presumably. Military bases support their local economies in all kinds of ways. "

  I said nothing.

  "Or maybe she always worked Bird, but followed the infantry to Irwin when they did a joint exercise out there one time. Those things can last a month or two. No point in hanging around at home with no customers. "

  "Best guess?" I said.

  "They met in California," she said. "Kramer will have spent years at Irwin, on and off. Then she moved to North Carolina, but he still liked her enough to make the detour whenever he was in D. C. "

  "She doesn't do anything special, not for twenty bucks. "

  "Maybe he didn't need anything special. "

  "We could ask the widow. "

  Summer smiled. "Maybe he just liked her. Maybe she made damn sure he did. Hookers are good at that. They like repeat customers best of all. It's much safer for them if they already know the guy. "

  I closed my eyes again.

  "So?" Summer said. "Did I come up with something you didn't think of?"

  "No," I said.

  I fell asleep before we were out of the state and woke up again nearly four hours later when Summer took the Green Valley ramp too fast. My head rolled to the right and hit the window.

  "Sorry," she said. "You should check Kramer's phone records. He must have called ahead, to make sure she was around. He wouldn't have driven all that way on the off chance. "

  "Where would he have called from?"

  " Germany," she said. "Before he left. "

  "More likely he used a pay phone at Dulles. But we'll check. "


  "You can partner with me. "

  She said nothing.

  "Like a test," I said.

  "Is this important?"

  "Probably not. But it might be. Depends what the conference is about. Depends what paperwork he was taking to it. He might have had the whole ETO order of battle in his case. Or new tactics, assessment of shortcomings, all kinds of classified stuff. "

  "The Red Army is going to fold. "

  I nodded. "I'm more worried about red faces. Newspapers, or television. Some reporter finds classified stuff on a trash pile near a strip club, there'll be major embarrassment all around. "

  "Maybe the widow will know. He might have discussed it with her. "

  "We can't ask her," I said. "As far as she's concerned he died in his sleep with the blanket pulled up to his chin, and everything else was kosher. Any worries we've got at this point stay strictly between me, you, and Garber. "

  "Garber?" she said.

  "Me, you, and him," I said.

  I saw her smile. It was a trivial case, but working it with Garber was a definite stroke of luck, for a person with a 110th Special Unit transfer pending.

  Green Valley was a picture-perfect colonial town and the Kramer house was a neat old place in an expensive part of it. It was a Victorian confection with fish-scale tiles on the roof and a bunch of turrets and porches all painted white, sitting on a couple of acres of emerald lawn. There were stately evergreen trees dotted about. They looked like someone had positioned them with care, which they probably had, a hundred years ago. We pulled up at the curb and waited, just looking. I don't know what Summer was thinking about, but I was scanning the scene and filing it away under A for America. I have a Social Security number and the same blue and silver passport as everyone else but between my old man's Stateside tours and my own I can only put together about five years' worth of actual residence in the continental U. S. So I know a bunch of basic elementary-school facts like state capitals and how many grand slams Lou Gehrig hit and some basic high-school stuff like the constitutional amendments and the importance of Antietam, but I don't know much about the price of milk or how to work a pay phone or how different places look and smell. So I soak it up when I can. And the Kramer house was worth soaking up. That was for sure. A watery sun was shining on it. There was a faint breeze and the smell of woodsmoke in the air and a kind of intense cold-afternoon quiet all around us. It was the kind of place you would have wanted your grandparents to live. You could have visited in the fall and raked leaves and drunk apple cider and then come back in the summer and loaded a ten-year-old station wagon with a canoe and headed for a lake somewhere. It reminded me of the places in the picture books they gave me in Manila and Guam and Seoul.

  Until we got inside.

  "Ready?" Summer said.

  "Sure," I said. "Let's do it. Let's do the widow thing. "

  She was quiet. I was sure she had done it before. I had too, more than once. It was never fun. She pulled off the curb and headed for the driveway entrance. Drove
slowly toward the front door and eased to a stop ten feet from it. We opened our doors together and slid out into the chill and straightened our jackets. We left our hats in the car. That would be Mrs. Kramer's first clue, if she happened to be watching. A pair of MPs at your door is never good news, and if they're bareheaded, it's worse news.

  This particular door was painted a dull antique red and it had a glass storm screen in front of it. I rang the bell and we waited. And waited. I started to think nobody was home. I rang the bell again. The breeze was cold. It was stronger than it had looked.

  "We should have called ahead," Summer said.

  "Can't," I said. "Can't say, please be there four hours from now so we can deliver some very important news face-to-face. Too much of a preview, wouldn't you say?"

  "I came all this way and I've got nobody to hug. "

  "Sounds like a country song. Then your truck breaks down and your dog dies. "

  I tried the bell again. No response.

  "We should look for a vehicle," Summer said.

  We found one in a closed two-car garage standing separate from the house. We could see it through the window. It was a Mercury Grand Marquis, metallic green, as long as an ocean liner. It was the perfect car for a general's wife. Not new, not old, premium but not overpriced, suitable color, American as hell.

  "Think this is hers?" Summer asked.

  "Probably," I said. "Chances are they had a Ford until he made lieutenant colonel. Then they moved up to a Mercury. They were probably waiting for the third star before they thought about a Lincoln. "

  "Sad. "

  "You think? Don't forget where he was last night. "

  "So where is she? You think she went out walking?"

  We turned around and felt the breeze on our backs and heard a door bang at the rear of the house.

  "She was out in the yard," Summer said. "Gardening, maybe. "

  "Nobody gardens on New Year's Day," I said. "Not in this hemisphere. There's nothing growing. "

  But we walked around to the front anyway and tried the bell again. Better to let her meet us formally, on her own terms. But she didn't show. Then we heard the door again, at the back, banging aimlessly. Like the breeze had gotten hold of it.

  "We should check that out," Summer said.

  I nodded. A banging door has a sound all its own. It suggests all kinds of things.

  "Yes," I said. "We probably should. "

  We walked around to the rear of the house, side by side, into the wind. There was a flagstone path. It led us to a kitchen door. It opened inward, and it must have had a spring on the back to keep it closed. The spring must have been a little weak, because the gusting breeze was overpowering it from time to time and kicking the door open eight or nine inches. Then the gust would die away and the spring would reassert itself and the door would bang back into the frame. It did it three times as we watched. It was able to do it because the lock was smashed.

  It had been a good lock, made of steel. But the steel had been stronger than the surrounding wood. Someone had used a wrecking bar. It had been jerked hard, maybe twice, and the lock had held but the wood had splintered. The door had opened up and the lock had just fallen out of the wreckage. It was right there on the flagstone path. The door had a crescent-shaped bite out of it. Splinters of wood had been blown here and there and piled by the wind.

  "What now?" Summer said.

  There was no security system. No intruder alarm. No pads, no wires. No automatic call to the nearest police precinct. No way of telling if the bad guys were long gone, or if they were still inside.

  "What now?" Summer said again.

  We were unarmed. No weapons, on a formal visit in Class A uniform.

  "Go cover the front," I said. "In case anyone comes out. "

  She moved away without a word and I gave her a minute to get in position. Then I pushed the door with my elbow and stepped inside the kitchen. Closed the door behind me and leaned on it to keep it shut. Then I stood still and listened.

  There was no sound. No sound at all.

  The kitchen smelled faintly of cooked vegetables and stewed coffee. It was big. It was halfway between tidy and untidy. A well-used space. There was a door on the other side of the room. On my right. It was open. I could see a small triangle of polished oak floor. A hallway. I moved very slowly. Crept forward and to the right to line up my view. The door banged again behind me. I saw more of the hallway. I figured it ran straight to the front entrance. Off of it to the left was a closed door. Probably a dining room. Off of it to the right was a den or a study. Its door was open. I could see a desk and a chair and dark wood bookcases. I took a cautious step. Moved a little more.

  I saw a dead woman on the hallway floor.