Reacher started with the transcripts. The pre-committee hearings. There were records of two separate sessions, the first two weeks ago, and the second one week ago. Hence the rush. The third session was due.
The transcripts were exactly what transcripts should be. Every vocal sound uttered in the room had been transcribed on to paper. Every um and er and you know, every false start, every repetition, every tail-off, every stutter and stammer, every hopeless tangle and broken train of thought. Reading the pages was almost like hearing the voices. But not quite. There was a semi-real quality. Speech never hit paper just right, however good the transcriber.
The first to speak was one of the Senate staffers. Reacher could picture the guy. Not young. Disrespectful to send a kid, unless the kid was a hotshot, and hotshots didn’t get sent to waste time listening for sixteen hours before saying no to the army. So it would be an older guy, solid and substantial and been-there-forever, but a clear B-lister all the same, because A-listers didn’t get sent to waste time listening for sixteen hours before saying no to the army, either.
This particular example of a senior B-lister sounded puffed-up and bossy. He started out by making himself chairman of the board. He just announced it. No one objected. Not that Reacher expected anyone to. Presumably the guy had a dynamic of his own going on with the other staffers, and why would the army or the jarheads care which one of the assholes did what? So the guy went ahead and formally recited the purpose of the meeting, which he said was to examine available courses of action in the light of the perceived requirement for a new infantry weapon, namely a sniper rifle.
Reacher didn’t like that sentence at all. Because of the word perceived. Clearly that was how the argument was going to go. You don’t really need this. Yes, we do. Why? Which was the big bureaucratic elephant trap, right there. The on-the-ground snipers would drift the wrong way. Had they ever missed a shot because of inferior equipment? Hell, no sir, we never miss our shots. Hell, we can use anything. Hell, we could make our own damn sniper rifles out of your granddaddy’s old varmint gun and a length of rainwater gutter and a roll of goddamned duct tape.
And the procurement officers would drift too far the other way, until they started sounding like gun nuts or NRA members writing a letter to Santa Claus. So it was a ritual dance. There was no way of winning. It was 1986 and it was all about planes and missiles and computers and laser-guided integrated systems. Firearms were boring. They were going to lose. But not until their wet-dream sniper rifle specification leaked overseas. The foreign manufacturer could gear up ahead of the next attempt. Or go right ahead and build the thing and sell it to the Soviets.
Reacher turned the pages, and it went pretty much as he had guessed it would. The puffed-up bossy guy asked why they needed the new rifle, and no one answered. The bossy guy asked them to pretend he was an idiot and knew nothing about the subject. Not a big ask, Reacher thought. Then the army procurement guy spoke up and the typist must have nearly worn out his m key: Um. Erm. Umm. (Pause) I’m … I’m … I’m.
The bossy guy said they could come back to that. Then he asked what exactly they were looking for, and things got back on solid ground with long back-and-forths about what qualities a sniper rifle needed. Cold shot accuracy was head of the list, of course. Often a sniper gets just one chance, which by definition will be out of a cold barrel. It has to hit. So the barrel is all about perfectly uniform internal dimensions, and heavy match-grade steel, with the right twist, and maybe some fluting for stiffness and reduced weight, the whole thing properly bedded into the stock, which shouldn’t swell or shrink depending on the weather, or be too heavy to carry twenty miles. And so on.
The liaison women spoke often and at length. The first up was identified by the initials C.R. She had said, ‘This is extremely high-tech metalwork we’re talking about here. And we’ll need groundbreaking optics. Maybe we could incorporate laser range finding. This could be very exciting. It could be a great research opportunity for somebody.’
A smart woman. Whole sentences. And good sentences. She was trying to make it radical, not boring, and she was hinting at big dollars getting spent in someone’s district, which would be an IOU any senator would be happy to tuck away in his vest pocket. A good tactical approach.
But it didn’t work. The chairman of the board asked, ‘Who’s going to pay for all that?’
At which point the transcriber had written: Pause.
Reacher switched to the bio stack and found that C.R. was Christine Richardson. From Orange County, California. Private prep school, private high school, West Point. She was thirty years old and already a lieutenant colonel. Fast track, and the political shop was a greased rail anyway. Nice work, if you could get it.
The thirty-year-old woman with the fanny pack and the headband made it through three crosswalks on green and got held up at the next three on red. The seventh turned green before she got there, but it was choked with walkers, and they were slow to get going, so she got hung up behind them, running on the spot for two whole seconds, then pushing through, dodging left, dodging right, refusing to cut away diagonally, because then the distance would be less than the full five miles, which would be cheating, and she never cheated. At least not with running. She made it through the crowd to the opposite corner, and she turned right, and she logged the junction in her mind as half red and half green, which seemed fair to her, and which meant so far she was running exactly fifty-fifty, three and a half green, three and a half red, which was not a catastrophe, but was not great either, because she liked to bank plenty of greens well before she got closer to the centre, where things were always stickier.
She ran on, another unbroken stretch, her strides still long and easy, still relaxed, but pushing now just a little more, picking up the pace, still breathing well, still moving well, her hair still swinging behind her in its perfect pattern, still symmetrical, still like a metronome.
The next crosswalk was red.
The man in the car got snarled up in traffic where 270 approached the Beltway. Inevitable, and expected. Orderly deceleration by all concerned, the flow hanging together, still like the thousand-round burst from the distant chain gun, but fully subsonic now, slow and fat and stealthy in the air. 355 to Wisconsin Avenue would be jammed, so he decided to stay on until 16th Street, east of Rock Creek Park. It wouldn’t be a racetrack, but it would be better. And it would drop him down all the way to Scott Circle, and then Mass Ave ran all the way to the Capitol.
He was a bullet, and he was still on target.
From the other side of the office Cornelius Christopher said, ‘OK, library hour is over. Go get your suit now. You can take the documents with you, but not out of the building.’
There was a button-down shirt that was going to be way too small in the neck, but that was OK, because soldiers in suits were supposed to look awkward and uncomfortable. The shirt was blue and there was a red tie with it, with small blue crests on it. It could have come from a rifle club somewhere. It was a good choice. The undershirt and the boxers were standard white PX items, which was fine, because Reacher had never heard of anyone buying that kind
of stuff anywhere else. There was a pair of black PX socks, and a pair of black dress-uniform shoes. They looked to be the right size.
The supply guy said, ‘Try it all on. If there’s a problem, we can do some alterations. If not, you should keep it on. Get used to it, and wear it in some. You’d already be on a bus or a plane by now, if you were really coming in from somewhere.’
The shirt sleeves ended up half-staff, and the neck couldn’t get close to buttoning, but the effect was OK. Every sergeant in civvies Reacher had ever seen wrenched his tie loose after about ten minutes. The suit coat was tight across the shoulders, and the sleeves stopped short of the knobs on the side of his wrists. He stood back and checked a mirror.
Perfect. A sergeant’s salary was embarrassingly close to the poverty line. And sergeants didn’t read GQ. Not usually. The whole ensemble looked exactly like a hundred dollars grudgingly spent at the outlet mall ahead of a sister-in-law’s second wedding.
The supply guy said, ‘Keep it on. It’ll do.’
Reacher was supposed to supply his own pocket junk, so next up was ID. It had his real name and his photograph on it, but a master sergeant’s rank, and an infantry unit sufficiently generic to be plausible for a guy deployed with Special Forces, shooting individuals one at a time from a mile away.
‘How do I communicate with the colonel?’ Reacher asked.
‘Try the telephone,’ the supply guy said.
‘Sometimes hard to find a phone in a hurry.’
‘There’s no danger,’ the supply guy said. ‘It’s all just talking.’
The woman with the fanny pack and the headband crossed the Potomac on the Francis Scott Key Bridge, high above the water, running hard, die straight, through the hot swampy air, a glorious unbroken sprint, heading for Georgetown but not planning to get there. She was going to turn right on M Street, which became Pennsylvania Avenue, all the way to Washington Circle, and then New Hampshire Avenue to Dupont Circle, and then Mass Ave the rest of the way to the Capitol itself.
A crazy route, geographically, but any other option was either less or more than five miles, and five miles was what she ran. To the inch. Anyone else would have used her car’s odometer, on a quiet Sunday morning, but she had bought a surveyor’s wheel, a big yellow thing on a stick, and she had walked with it four separate times before she came up with eight thousand eight hundred yards exactly, and not a single step less or more. Precision was important.
She ran on. By that point she could feel a wide sweat stripe all the way down her back, and her throat was starting to burn. Pollution, hanging over the sluggish river, a visible cloud. But she dug in and pushed on, long, long strides, fast cadence, arms pumping. Her headband was soaked. But she was ahead of schedule. Just. Many variables ahead, but she had a chance of making it. Five miles in thirty minutes. Eight thousand eight hundred yards in one thousand eight hundred seconds. Fourteen and two-thirds feet a second. Not an international distance, so there was no world record. No national record, no Olympic record. But the greats might have done it in twenty-four minutes. So thirty was acceptable. For her, with traffic, and lights, and office workers in the way.
She pushed on, breathing hard, still moving well, right up there in the zone.
The traffic on 16th Street was stop-start heavy, frustration on every block, past Juniper Street, and Iris, and Hemlock, and Holly, and Geranium, and Floral. Then past Walter Reed, with the park green and serene on the right. The driver was no longer a bullet. He was shrapnel at best, subject to aerodynamic forces, jinking right and left between the lanes to win some fractional advantage on the dead-straight road. A Southern town, built for horses and buggies, perspiring gentlemen in hats and vests flicking mosquitoes away, now sclerotic with jammed vehicles, superheated air shimmering above their hoods, expensive paint winking in the sun.
He still had a long way to go. He was going to be late.
Reacher walked the corridors until he smelled an office with a coffee machine going. He ducked in and helped himself to a cup, practising a sergeant’s manner, on the surface quiet and deferential, with ramrod competence showing underneath. But the office was empty, so his acting was wasted, and the coffee was burnt and stewed. But he took it with him anyway, in one hand, the sheaf of documents in the other, all the way back to Cornelius Christopher’s office.
Christopher said, ‘You look the part.’
Reacher said, ‘Do I?’
‘Your file says you’re pretty good with a long gun.’
‘I do my best.’
‘You could have been a real sniper.’
‘Too much waiting around. Too much mud. The best snipers are always country boys.’
‘And you’re a city boy?’
‘I’m a nowhere boy. I grew up on Marine bases.’
‘Yet you joined the army?’
‘I’m naturally contrary.’
‘Did you finish your reading?’
‘We checked for financial irregularities,’ Christopher said. ‘Or financial excesses, I suppose. But they’re all living within their means. Appropriate accommodations, four-cylinder cars, good clothes but small wardrobes, modest jewellery, no vacations, not that they’d take a vacation anyway. Not fast track people. Not if they want to be Chief of Staff one day. Or a defence industry lobbyist.’
Reacher put the thirty-year-old Lieutenant Colonel Christine Richardson to the bottom of the pile, and started in on the second of the women, twenty-nine years old and a mere major, name of Briony Walker, the daughter of a retired naval officer, brought up mostly in Seattle and San Diego, public elementary school, public high school, valedictorian, West Point.
Christopher said, ‘I hope it’s not her.’
Reacher said, ‘Why?’
‘The naval connection.’
‘You like the navy?’
‘Not much, but it’s still a military family.’
The third candidate was another thirty-year-old light colonel, this one called Darwen DeWitt, and right there Reacher knew she wasn’t the product of a military family. Not with a name like that. In fact she was the daughter of a Houston businessman who owned about a hundred dent-repair franchises. Private education all the way, softball star, West Point.
The fourth was Alice Vaz, age thirty, lieutenant colonel, granddaughter of another lieutenant colonel, except this one had been called Mikhail Vasilyevich and he had been a lieutenant colonel in the Red Army. A Soviet. His son, Alice’s father, had gotten out of Hungary just in time, with a pregnant wife, and Alice had been born in the United States. A citizen. California, public elementary, public high, West Point.
‘Notice anything definitive?’ Christopher asked.
Reacher said, ‘Their names are perfectly alphabetical. Alice, Briony, Christine and Darwen.’
‘OK, apart from that.’
‘Two of them are rich girls. What does that do to your money motive?’
‘Maybe taking money is a habit with rich people. Maybe that’s how they get rich in the first place. Did you notice anything else?’
‘Neither did we.’
The woman with the fanny pack and the headband was on New Hampshire Avenue, gunning hard up the rise, the hubbub of Dupont Circle already visible in the haze ahead. She was up two greens on the crosswalks and she could see it already, reaching the Capitol steps, slamming her hand on her wrist to stop the watch, gasping for air, once, twice, bent over, hands on knees, then raising her head, then bringing her arm up slowly, and blinking the sweat from her eyes and focusing on the pale LCD readout and seeing the magic numbers: twenty-nine something.
She could do it.
She hammered on, striding short because of the gradient, really breathing, really hurting, but still moving well.
The man in the car was still on 16th Street. He had the air on high, but even so he could feel sweat on his back. Vinyl upholstery, and a four-cylinder motor with no power to spare for a big compressor. He was just past Ha
rvard Street, getting to where young and rent-strapped aides were forced to live. No cars for them. They were walking to work, right alongside him, about the same speed.
He watched one, a girl, in pantyhose despite the heat, the nylon scissoring fast, ugly white athletic sneakers on her feet, with tube socks, her dress shoes no doubt in the big bag she was carrying, along with briefing papers and position papers and talking points, maybe with a make-up kit, hoping against hope everyone else would be busy and she would get to go on the television news for a comment.
There were male versions too, dressed out of a Brooks Brothers’ sale, heads high, striding out. Every block brought more of them, twos and threes, until both sidewalks were full of them, all heading the same way, power walking, almost an army, an unstoppable force, clean-living and idealistic young people setting out to do good for their country.
They were going to get to work before him. The traffic was awful.
The transcript showed that the second pre-committee hearing had picked up more or less exactly where the first had left off, solidly on the safe ground of technical discussions, about minutiae like actions and stocks and bedding and triggers and scopes. It was as if a collective but unspoken agreement had been reached, to avoid unpleasant issues, and to run out the clock with the kind of things shooters liked to talk about.
The four liaison women poked and prodded and drew the men out endlessly, going over things again and again, refining details until Reacher could practically see the new weapon in his mind’s eye. Three of them were doing it just to keep the ball rolling, and the fourth was lapping it all up, no doubt picturing her contact in a foreign boardroom reading her fax, unable to believe the precision of the specification he was being handed.
Who was the fourth?
Christine Richardson and Darwen DeWitt did most of the talking. The transcript looked like a movie screenplay where C.R. and D.D. were the big stars. They each got plenty of ink. But their approaches were different. Richardson was rah-rah for the army, every question and every point laying a kind of guilt trip on the politicians for not rushing to make the world a safer place. DeWitt showed more concern for the Congressional point of view. She was almost a fifth sceptic. Devil’s advocate, maybe, or perhaps her sympathies genuinely lay elsewhere. Perhaps her Houston dent-repair upbringing had made her a fiscal conservative. But wherever she was coming from, she laid bare the details of the secret spec as much as anyone.
Briony Walker and Alice Vaz said less. Walker was all about accuracy. The naval family. She wanted the rifle to be like the guns on her daddy’s ships, artillery instruments, infallible when properly aimed. And she was