Never Go Back, Page 2Lee Child
He said, ‘Jack Reacher for Major Turner.’
The woman stopped and started a couple of times, as if she had plenty she wanted to say, but in the end all she managed was, ‘You better head on up to her office. You know where it is?’
Reacher nodded. He knew where it was. It had been his office once. He said, ‘Thank you, sergeant.’
He went up the stairs. Same worn stone, same metal handrail. He had been up those stairs a thousand times. They folded around once and came out directly above the centre of the lobby at the end of the long second-floor corridor. The lights were on in the corridor. The same linoleum was on the floor. The office doors to the left and right had the same reeded glass as the first-floor doors.
His office was third on the left.
No, Susan Turner’s was.
He made sure his shirt was tucked and he brushed his hair with his fingers. He had no idea what he was going to say. He had liked her voice on the phone. That was all. He had sensed an interesting person behind it. He wanted to meet that person. Simple as that. He took two steps and stopped. She was going to think he was crazy.
But, nothing ventured, nothing gained. He shrugged to himself and moved on again. Third on the left. The door was the same as it always had been, but painted. Solid below, glass above, the reeded pattern splitting the dull view through into distorted vertical slices. There was a corporate-style name plate on the wall near the handle: Maj. S. R. Turner, Commanding Officer. That was new. In Reacher’s day his name had been stencilled on the wood, below the glass, with even more economy: Maj. Reacher, CO.
He heard a vague vocal sound inside. It might have been Enter. So he took a breath and opened the door and stepped inside.
He had been expecting changes. But there weren’t many. The linoleum on the floor was the same, polished to a subtle sheen and a murky colour. The desk was the same, steel like a battleship, painted but worn back to shiny metal here and there, still dented where he had slammed some guy’s head into it, back at the end of his command. The chairs were the same, both behind the desk and in front of it, utilitarian mid-century items that might have sold for a lot of money in some hipster store in New York or San Francisco. The file cabinets were the same. The light fixture was the same, a contoured white glass bowl hung off three little chains.
The differences were mostly predictable and driven by the march of time. There were three console telephones on the desk, where before there had been one old rotary-dial, heavy and black. There were two computers, one a desktop and one a laptop, where before there had been an in-tray and an outtray and a lot of paper. The map on the wall was new and up to date, and the light fixture was burning green and sickly, with a modern bulb, all fluorescent and energy-saving. Progress, even at the Department of the Army.
Only two things in the office were unexpected and unpredictable.
First, the person behind the desk was not a major, but a lieutenant colonel.
And second, he wasn’t a woman, but a man.
THE MAN BEHIND the desk was wearing the same ACU pyjamas as everyone else, but they looked worse on him than most. Like fancy dress. Like a Halloween party. Not because he was particularly out of shape, but because he looked serious and managerial and desk-bound. As if his weapon of choice would be a propelling pencil, not an M16. He was wearing steel eyeglasses and had steel-grey hair cut and combed like a schoolboy’s. His tapes and his tags confirmed he was indeed a lieutenant colonel in the United States Army, and that his name was Morgan.
Reacher said, ‘I’m sorry, colonel. I was looking for Major Turner.’
The guy named Morgan said, ‘Sit down, Mr Reacher.’
Command presence was a rare and valuable thing, much prized by the military. And the guy named Morgan had plenty of it. Like his hair and his glasses, his voice was steel. No bullshit, no bluster, no bullying. Just a brisk assumption that all reasonable men would do exactly what he told them, because there would be no real practical alternative.
Reacher sat down, in the visitor chair nearer the window. It had springy bent-tube legs, and it gave and bounced a little under his weight. He remembered the feeling. He had sat in it before, for one reason or another.
Morgan said, ‘Please tell me exactly why you’re here.’
And at that point Reacher thought he was about to get a death message. Susan Turner was dead. Afghanistan, possibly. Or a car wreck.
He said, ‘Where is Major Turner?’
Morgan said, ‘Not here.’
‘We might get to that. But first I need to understand your interest.’
‘In Major Turner.’
‘I have no interest in Major Turner.’
‘Yet you asked for her by name at the gate.’
‘It’s a personal matter.’
Reacher said, ‘I talked to her on the phone. She sounded interesting. I thought I might drop by and ask her out to dinner. The field manual doesn’t prohibit her from saying yes.’
‘Or no, as the case may be.’
Morgan asked, ‘What did you talk about on the phone?’
‘This and that.’
‘It was a private conversation, colonel. And I don’t know who you are.’
‘I’m commander of the 110th Special Unit.’
‘Not Major Turner?’
‘Not any more.’
‘I thought this was a major’s job. Not a light colonel’s.’
‘This is a temporary command. I’m a troubleshooter. I get sent in to clean up the mess.’
‘And there’s a mess here? Is that what you’re saying?’
Morgan ignored the question. He asked, ‘Did you specifically arrange to meet with Major Turner?’
‘Not specifically,’ Reacher said.
‘Did she request your presence here?’
‘Not specifically,’ Reacher said again.
‘Yes or no?’
‘Neither. I think it was just a vague intention on both our parts. If I happened to be in the area. That kind of a thing.’
‘And yet here you are, in the area. Why?’
‘Why not? I have to be somewhere.’
‘Are you saying you came all the way from South Dakota on the basis of a vague intention?’
Reacher said, ‘I liked her voice. You got a problem with that?’
‘You’re unemployed, is that correct?’
‘Since I left the army.’
Reacher asked, ‘Where is Major Turner?’
Morgan said, ‘This interview is not about Major Turner.’
‘Then what’s it about?’
‘This interview is about you.’
‘Completely unrelated to Major Turner. But she pulled your file. Perhaps she was curious about you. There was a flag on your file. It should have triggered when she pulled it. Which would have saved us some time. Unfortunately the flag malfunctioned and didn’t trigger until she returned it. But better late than never. Because here you are.’
‘What are you talking about?’
‘Did you know a man named Juan Rodriguez?’
‘No. Who is he?’
‘At one time he was of interest to the 110th. Now he’s dead. Do you know a woman named Candice Dayton?’
‘No. Is she dead too?’
‘Ms Dayton is still alive, happily. Or not happily, as it turns out. You sure you don’t remember her?’
‘What’s this all about?’
‘You’re in trouble, Reacher.’
‘The Secretary of the Army has been given medical evidence showing Mr Rodriguez died as a direct result of a beating he suffered sixteen years ago. Given there’s no statute of limitations in su
ch cases, he was technically a homicide victim.’
‘You saying one of my people did that? Sixteen years ago?’
‘No, that’s not what I’m saying.’
‘That’s good. So what’s making Ms Dayton unhappy?’
‘That’s not my topic. Someone else will talk to you about that.’
‘They’ll have to be quick. I won’t be sticking around for long. Not if Major Turner isn’t here. I don’t remember any other real attractions in the neighbourhood.’
‘You will be sticking around,’ Morgan said. ‘You and I are due a long and interesting conversation.’
‘The evidence shows it was you who beat on Mr Rodriguez sixteen years ago.’
‘You’ll be provided with a lawyer. If it’s bullshit, I’m sure he’ll say so.’
‘I mean, bullshit, you and I are not going to have any kind of a long conversation. Or a lawyer. I’m a civilian, and you’re an asshole wearing pyjamas.’
‘So you’re not offering voluntary cooperation?’
‘You got that right.’
‘In which case, are you familiar with Title 10 of the United States Code?’
Reacher said, ‘Parts of it, obviously.’
‘Then you may know that one particular part of it tells us when a man of your rank leaves the army, he doesn’t become a civilian. Not immediately, and not entirely. He becomes a reservist. He has no duties, but he remains subject to recall.’
‘But for how many years?’ Reacher said.
‘You had a security clearance.’
‘I remember it well.’
‘Do you remember the papers you had to sign to get it?’
‘Vaguely,’ Reacher said. He remembered a bunch of guys in a room, all grown up and serious. Lawyers, and notaries, and seals and stamps and pens.
Morgan said, ‘There was a lot of fine print. Naturally. If you’re going to know the government’s secrets, the government is going to want some control over you. Before, during, and after.’
‘How long after?’
‘Most of that stuff stays secret for sixty years.’
‘Don’t worry,’ Morgan said. ‘The fine print didn’t say you stay a reservist for sixty years.’
‘It said worse than that. It said indefinitely. But as it happens the Supreme Court already screwed us on that. It mandated we respect the standard three bottom-line restrictions common to all cases in Title 10.’
‘To be successfully recalled, you have to be in good health, under the age of fifty-five years, and trainable.’
Reacher said nothing.
Morgan asked, ‘How’s your health?’
‘How old are you?’
‘I’m a long way from fifty-five.’
‘Are you trainable?’
‘I doubt it.’
‘Me too. But that’s an empirical determination we make on the job.’
‘Are you serious?’
‘Completely,’ Morgan said. ‘Jack Reacher, as of this moment on this day, you are formally recalled to military service.’
Reacher said nothing.
‘You’re back in the army, major,’ Morgan said. ‘And your ass is mine.’
THERE WAS NO big ceremony. No processing-in, or reprocessing. Just Morgan’s words, and then the room darkened a little as a guy in the corridor took up station in front of the door and blocked the light coming through the reeded glass panel. Reacher saw him, all sliced up vertically, a tall, broad-shouldered sentry, standing easy, facing away.
Morgan said, ‘I’m required to tell you there’s an appeals procedure. You’ll be given full access to it. You’ll be given a lawyer.’
Reacher said, ‘I’ll be given?’
‘It’s a matter of simple logic. You’ll be trying to appeal your way out. Which implies you’re starting out in. Which means you’ll get what the army chooses to give you. But I imagine we’ll be reasonable.’
‘I don’t remember any Juan Rodriguez.’
‘You’ll be given a lawyer for that, too.’
‘What’s supposed to have happened to the guy?’
‘You tell me,’ Morgan said.
‘I can’t. I don’t remember him.’
‘You left him with a brain injury. It caught up with him eventually.’
‘Who was he?’
‘Denial won’t work for ever.’
‘I’m not denying anything. I’m telling you I don’t remember the guy.’
‘That’s a discussion you can have with your lawyer.’
‘And who is Candice Dayton?’
‘Likewise. But a different lawyer.’
‘Different type of case.’
‘Am I under arrest?’
‘No,’ Morgan said. ‘Not yet. The prosecutors will make that decision in their own good time. But until then you’re under orders, as of two minutes ago. You’ll retain your former rank, for the time being. Administratively you’re assigned to this unit, and your orders are to treat this building as your duty station and appear here every morning before 0800 hours. You are not to leave the area. The area is defined as a five-mile radius of this desk. You’ll be quartered in a place of the army’s choosing.’
Reacher said nothing.
Morgan said, ‘Are there any questions, major?’
‘Will I be required to wear a uniform?’
‘Not at this stage.’
‘That’s a relief.’
‘This is not a joke, Reacher. The potential downside here is considerable. For you personally, I mean. The worst case would be life in Leavenworth, for a homicide conviction. But more likely ten years for manslaughter, given the sixteen-year gap. And the best case is not very