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Small Wars, Page 2

Lee Child

  “Which tells us what?”

  “I don’t know how to put it.”

  “In your own words, sergeant.”

  “She’s a pointy-head.”

  “The pointiest of all. War Plans is special. Regular pointy-heads can’t even get in the door. We’re talking needle sharp here. Shot to death. Should we be worried?”

  “I think we should, sir.”

  “Intuition,” Reacher said. “It’s a wonderful thing.”

  “Any practical steps?”

  “Start playing bad cop with the guys at Smith. Tell them we need more things sooner. In fact tell them we require a Xerox of everything. A complete file, as per protocol.”

  “I think that’s one of the issues not yet decided.”

  “Fake it till you make it, sergeant. Get them in the habit.”

  “Yes, sir.”

  “And close the door on the way out.”

  Which the guy did. Reacher dialed his phone. The Pentagon. A number on a desk outside an office with a window. Answered by a sergeant, inevitably.

  Reacher said, “Is he there? It’s his brother.”

  “Wait one, major.” Then a shout, muffled by a palm on the receiver: Joe, your brother is on line two. Then a click, and then Joe’s voice, asking, “Are you still in Central America?”

  Reacher said, “No, they pulled me out and sent me to Benning. Some other guy got in a car wreck. So I’m a day late and a dollar short.”

  “What’s at Benning?”

  “It’s a new thing. A lot of incoming reports. Success or failure will depend on high-speed triage. Which is why I’m calling. I need background on a name at War Plans. It would take all day to get it anyplace else.”

  “What’s happening at War Plans?”

  “One of them died.”

  “What exactly is it you’re doing at Benning?”

  “The mission is to supervise all criminal investigations in the southeastern military districts. The likelihood is it will become a gigantic file cabinet.”

  “Who was supposed to get the command?”

  “A guy named David Noble. Never met him. Fell asleep at the wheel, probably. Too eager to get here.”

  “So you got it.”

  “Luck of the draw.”

  “Who died from War Plans?”

  “Caroline Crawford.”

  “So you’ll be investigating that.”

  “I expect someone will, eventually.”

  “How did she die?”

  “Shot on a lonely road.”

  “Who by?”

  “We don’t know.”

  “She was a big star,” Joe said. “She was going all the way. Lieutenant general at least. The Joint Chiefs’ office, probably.”

  “Doing what exactly?”

  “There are three possible vectors for the Cold War. It could go hot, or it could stay the same, or the Soviet Union could fall apart under its own weight. Obviously a diligent planner looks at option three and asks, OK, what’s next? And small wars are next. Against half-assed nuisance countries, mostly in the Middle East. Caroline Crawford was working on Iraq. She was starting early and playing a real long game. A big gamble. But the payoff was huge. She would have owned the Middle East doctrine. That’s about as good as it gets, for a planner.”

  Reacher said, “I assume all of that was behind closed doors. I assume I don’t need to go looking for Iraqi assassins.”

  “Conventional wisdom would say the Iraqis didn’t know who she was. As you say, it was behind closed doors, and there were many of them, and they were all closed tight, and she was too junior to attract attention anyway.”

  “Any other external enemies?”

  “External to what?”

  “The United States. Either the army or the general population.”

  “I can’t think of one.”

  “OK,” Reacher said. “Thanks. Are you well and happy?”

  “What are you going to do?”

  “About what?”


  “Nothing, probably. I’m sure there’s a jurisdiction thing. State Police will claim it. I think they opened a new mortuary, up in Atlanta. They’re proud of it. It’s like a new theater getting the best plays.”

  “Yes, I’m well and happy. Do you have time to drive up and have dinner?”

  “It’s about a thousand miles.”

  “No, it’s about six hundred and ninety-three. That’s not far.”

  “Maybe I’ll get there for a weekend.”

  “Keep me in the loop about Crawford. If anything weird shows up, I mean. Part of my job.”

  “I will,” Reacher said, and he hung up the phone. His sergeant knocked on the door and came in with a faxed report and a short stack of photographs. The guy put them neatly on the desk and said, “This all is from the MP XO at Smith. It’s everything they’ve got so far. We know what they know.”

  “Did you read it on the way in?”

  “Yes, sir.”


  “There are tire tracks and footprints. Probably a second vehicle was deployed as a barrier. The perpetrator seems to be a tall man with a long stride and large feet. Also noteworthy is the fact that JAG lawyers went with the MPs to the scene. And there were three gunshot wounds. Two in the chest and one in the head.”

  “Good work, sergeant.”

  The guy said, “Thank you,” and walked out, and a minute later Frances Neagley walked in.


  Neagley was about the size of a male flyweight boxer, and could have beaten one easily, unless the referee happened to be watching. She was in woodland-pattern BDUs, newly washed and pressed. She had dark hair cut short, and a solid tan. She had spent the winter overseas. That was clear. She said, “I heard about the dead pointy-head.”

  Reacher smiled. The NCO grapevine. He said, “How are you?”

  “Grumpy. You pulled me out of an easy week at Fort Bragg. Practically a vacation.”

  “Doing what?”

  “Security for the special forces command. They don’t tend to need much. Not that it isn’t good to see you.”

  “What do you know about Fort Smith?”

  “It’s their version of pointy-heads. The theory and practice of irregular warfare. They call it a school.”

  “Why would they have JAG lawyers permanently on base?”

  “The theory, I suppose. Rules of engagement, and so forth. I imagine they’re pushing the envelope.”

  “My brother says the dead pointy-head was staking out a whole new doctrine for the Middle East. She wanted to own Plan B. If we don’t get the big war, we get a bunch of small wars instead. Starting with Iraq, maybe. She was rolling the dice. And I guess special forces were rolling them right along with her. They don’t fit well with the big war. Their only play is small. Was anyone talking about that at Bragg?”

  Neagley shook her head. “That kind of thing would have to start at Smith. It’s like espionage. You have to infiltrate the intellectual heart. Or like a political campaign. You have to build a constituency. You need key endorsements.”

  “So if she wins, who loses?”

  “No one loses. She wouldn’t divert resources away from the big war. It would be extra spending. The president is a Republican.”

  “So she was a woman with no enemies.”

  “She was rich,” Neagley said. “Did you know that?”

  Reacher said, “No.”

  “People say it was family money. She bought a sports car to celebrate her promotion.”

  “What kind of sports car?”


  “A Volkswagen?”

  “I don’t think so.”

  Reacher leafed through the faxed report.

  “A Porsche,” he said. “The POV she was found in.”

  He scanned the rest of the report. Words, maps, charts. And the photographs. Mud, marks, wounds. He passed it all to Neagley. She scanned it in turn, the same way, words, maps, charts, mud, marks, and wounds.
  She said, “Two in the chest and one in the head. That’s an execution.”

  Reacher nodded. “The woman with no enemies. But not exactly. Because it can’t have been random. It wasn’t a robbery. Not just some punk. Even a hillbilly would have taken the car. He’d have driven it hard all night and burned it in the morning.”

  “Two in the chest and one in the head is standard military practice. Under certain circumstances, in certain units. You can look it up.”

  “Is it exclusively military?”

  “Probably not.”

  “And there are plenty of vets in the state of Georgia. We shouldn’t narrow it down too much. We shouldn’t put the blinders on.”

  Neagley turned to the last page of the written report. She said, “We might as well put blindfolds on. It isn’t our case. The State Police has got it.”

  “How many rich people are there in the army?”

  “Very few.”

  “How many are also smart enough to fast-track through one tough gig after another?”

  “Very few.”

  “So does this feel random to you?”

  “Not with the execution-style placement, no.”

  “So she was a specific target, deliberately ambushed.”

  “You can see the tire marks in the mud. The guy parked across the road. Sawed back and forth a bit, to make it look good. Then he got out to wait. Big feet. That’s how to narrow it down. This guy wears size fifteen boots.”

  Reacher took the paperwork back from her. He flipped forward to the maps. Not the kind of thing for sale at the gas station. Detailed government surveys, of woodland and streams and roads and tracks of every description and purpose, all Xeroxed and tiled together on slightly-overlapping pages.

  He said, “But that road doesn’t really go anywhere. Maybe it’s just a firebreak. There’s no logical reason to be on that road. You’d have to detour to get there, and then get yourself back on track again afterward. Wherever you were going. Therefore there’s no logical way to predict she would use that road. The odds get worse and worse after the first big fork. She could have used any road. It’s ten to one at best. And who sets up a deliberate ambush on a ten-to-one chance? So it must have been random.”

  “So let the State Police have it. They’ll chase it through the shoe size. This guy must be a basketball player. I mean, what size are your feet?”


  “Is that big or small?”

  “I don’t know.”

  “We need a larger sample. What about Joe, for instance?”

  Reacher didn’t answer.

  Neagley said, “What?”

  “Sorry, I was thinking.”

  “What about?”

  “About Joe and his footwear habits. He’s same as me, I think. Maybe eleven and a half.”

  “And he’s an inch taller, as I recall, as well as better looking, so if we ballpark it we could round it up and say a size twelve is about right for guys about your height, and we could push it up to size fourteen, maybe, to allow for some genetic variation, which has to mean a guy who wears a size fifteen is not going to be any smaller than you, at least, and probably bigger, which makes him some kind of ape man who lives in the woods. Should be easy to spot. Should be easy to eliminate suspects. The State Police will handle it fine.”

  “We’re supposed to supervise. The JAGs got us access.”

  “I believe we’re already getting all of Fort Smith’s paperwork.”

  “I think we need to be proactive.”

  “In what way?”

  “In whatever way works. It had to be random, but it can’t have been. There’s a whole span of assumptions right there, and at least one of them can’t be true. We’ll have to figure it out sooner or later. Because the State Police will ask. Also sooner or later. That’s for damn sure.”

  “OK. We’ll do what we can. Plus the autopsy will be happening.”


  Two hours later the autopsy reported exactly what everyone expected. Otherwise healthy. The fatal shot was probably the first, into the chest. Hard to be sure, for both pathologist and perpetrator, hence the two follow-ups. The vertical triangle. Chest, chest, head. Job done.

  All three bullets had been recovered inside the Porsche. They were badly mangled, but they were almost certainly nine-millimeter Parabellum. The entry wound in the forehead was exactly nine millimeters wide. The angle was plausible, for a tall man firing downward into a stationary car. Which matched the earlier photographs. The big feet had walked close, then shuffled around, possibly during a moment of conversation, and then they had stepped back and braced. For the moment of truth. Recoil off the nine wasn’t terrible, but a sound footing was always a good idea. Range about eight feet, Reacher guessed. Ideal. Chest, chest, head. Hard to miss, at eight feet. No brass in the photographs. The guy had picked up his shell cases. And driven away, in the decoy vehicle.

  A skilled worker.

  An execution.

  Neagley said, “The career gossip sounds fairly normal, for a pointy-head. She was a classroom superstar at West Point. A decent physical soldier, but mostly a geek. Therefore always destined for the back rooms. Smooth acceleration all the way. Really blossomed in War Plans. It suited her somehow. She became her own person. She loosened up a little. Even started spending some of her money. Maybe she felt awkward before. That was when she first got the fancy uniforms.”

  Reacher said, “Do we know anything about the money yet? As in, where it originally came from?”

  “You think this is a financial crime?”

  “Who knows, with rich people? They’re different from you and me.”

  “I’ve got a call in, to the family. Difficult today, obviously. With her being dead, and so on. There are protocols involved and procedures to follow. We’ll probably end up talking to the family lawyer. But that’s fine. These things can be complicated. We’ll need him anyway.”

  “Anything useful from the State Police?”

  “They’re looking for a tall guy with big feet. Not necessarily active-duty military. Their minds are open. They acknowledge they have a lot of veterans. Plus a lot of kids who have seen every execution style in history on cable TV. And who have guns. And vehicles.”


  “They say robbery. Casting a net and seeing what showed up. Like fishing on a lazy afternoon.”

  “On a road to nowhere?”

  “They say people take that road sometimes. She took it that day, obviously.”

  “Low probability.”

  “But a quiet and undisturbed location.”

  “They didn’t steal anything.”

  “They panicked and ran.”

  “Does the State Police really believe any of that?”

  “No. It’s a polite hypothetical. They’re bending over backward to be fair, because JAG is right there at their elbows. But I hear deep down