61 hours, p.10
Part #14 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
‘Since I’m stuck here in a snowstorm with nothing much else to do, that would be great. But a records check will do it. It’ll show up somewhere. I need to know its purpose, its scope, and its architecture.’
‘Call me back at close of business.’
Then there was a click, and the voice was gone. Five to ten in the morning.
Forty-two hours to go.
THE LAWYER PARKED HIS CAR IN HIS OFFICE LOT AND PUT ON HIS overshoes. He took them off again inside his building’s lobby and placed them in a plastic grocery bag and carried the bag with his briefcase to the elevator. His secretary greeted him at her cubicle outside his door. He didn’t answer. He didn’t yet know whether it was or wasn’t a good morning. He just held out his hand for his message slips.
There were eight of them.
Three were trivial inter-office issues.
Four were legitimate legal matters.
The last was a request for a client conference at the prison, on an urgent matter relating to case number 517713, at noon.
Reacher sat alone for a spell and then wandered out and found Peterson in an empty office off the corridor near the entrance to the squad room. The office had four desks boxed together in the centre of the space. The walls had long horizontal pin boards extending waist-high to head-high. Peterson was tacking yesterday’s crime scene photographs to the boards. The dead guy, dressed in black. The establishing shot, the close-ups. Snow on the ground, blunt force trauma to the right temple. No blood.
Peterson said, ‘We just got the autopsy report. He was definitely moved.’
Reacher asked, ‘Were there other injuries?’
‘Some perimortem bruising.’
‘Are there bad parts of town?’
‘Some are worse than others.’
‘Have you checked the bars?’
‘Newly cleaned floors, suspicious stains.’
‘You think this was a bar fight?’
‘Somewhere in the low rent district, but not in the war zone.’
‘Tell me what the pathologist said about the weapon.’
‘It was round, fairly smooth, probably machined metal or wood, maybe a fence post or a rainwater pipe.’
‘Neither one of those,’ Reacher said. ‘A fence post or a rainwater pipe has a uniform diameter. Too wide to grip hard enough to swing hard enough. My guess is it was a baseball bat. And baseball bats are relatively hard to find in the winter. They’re in closets or garages or basements or attics. Except sometimes they’re under bars, where the bartender can grab them real quick. Not in the good part of town, of course, and in the war zone they’d probably want a shotgun.’
Peterson said nothing.
Reacher asked, ‘Where do the prison guards drink?’
‘You think it was one of them?’
‘It takes two to tango. Prison guards are used to the rough and tumble.’
Peterson was quiet for a beat. ‘Anything else?’
Reacher shook his head. ‘I’m going out. I’ll be back later.’
The snow was still heavy. Peterson’s car was already just a humped white shape in the lot. Reacher turned up the hood of his borrowed coat and walked straight past it. He made it out to the sidewalk and peered left, peered right. The snow swirled around him and blew in under his hood and clogged his hair and his eyelashes and drifted down his neck. Directly opposite him was some kind of a public square or town park and beyond that was an array of commercial establishments. The distance was too great and the snow was too thick to make out exactly what they were. But one of them had a plume of steam coming out of a vent on the roof, which made it likely that it was either a dry cleaner or a restaurant, which made it a fifty-fifty chance that a late breakfast could be gotten there.
Reacher headed over, floundering through ploughed snow, slipping and sliding through the square. His ears and nose and chin went numb. He kept his hands in his pockets. The place with the steam was a coffee shop. He stepped inside, to hot wet air. A counter, and four tables. Jay Knox was alone at one of them. The bus driver. Judging by the state of his table he had finished a large meal some time ago. Reacher stepped up opposite him and put his hand on a chair back, ready to pull it out, like a request. Knox seemed neither pleased nor displeased to see him. Just preoccupied, and a little sullen.
Reacher sat down anyway and asked, ‘You making out OK?’
Knox shrugged. ‘They put me with some people.’
‘I suppose they’re nice enough.’
‘But you came out for a long slow breakfast.’
‘I don’t like to impose.’
‘Didn’t they offer?’
‘I don’t particularly like them, OK?’
Reacher said nothing.
Knox asked, ‘Where did they put you?’
‘With the cop who came to the bus.’
‘So why are you here? Didn’t the cop give you breakfast?’
Reacher didn’t answer. Just said: ‘Any news?’
‘The tow trucks got here this morning. They pulled the bus off the highway. We’re leasing a replacement out of Minneapolis. Should be here soon after the storm passes.’
‘Not so bad.’
‘Except that it will come with its own driver. Which means I’ll be a passenger all the way back to Seattle. Which means I won’t get paid, effective four o’clock yesterday afternoon.’
‘Not so good.’
‘They should do something about that damn bridge.’
‘Have you seen anything of the passengers?’
‘They’re scattered here and there. One of them has her arm in a sling and one of them has a cast on her wrist. But generally they’re not bitching too much. I don’t think any of them has called a lawyer yet. Actually some of them are looking on the bright side, like this whole thing is a magical mystery tour.’
‘Not so bad,’ Reacher said again.
Knox didn’t answer. Just got up suddenly and took stuff off a nearby hook and jammed a hat on his head, and wound a muffler around his neck, and struggled into a heavy coat, all borrowed, judging by the sizes and the colours. He nodded once at Reacher, a slightly bad-tempered farewell, and then he walked to the door and stepped out into the snow.
A waitress came by and Reacher ordered the biggest breakfast on the menu.
Five to eleven in the morning. Forty-one hours to go.
The lawyer left his briefcase in his office but carried his overshoes in their grocery bag. He put them on in his building’s lobby and retraced his steps through the lot to his car. He buckled up, started the engine, heated the seat, turned on the wipers. He knew that the highway was still closed. But there were alternative routes. Long, straight South Dakota roads, stretching all the way to the horizon.
He fumbled his overshoes off and put a leather sole on the brake pedal and moved the shifter to Drive.
Reacher was halfway through a heaping plate of breakfast when Peterson came in. He was dressed in his full-on outdoors gear.
It was clear that Reacher was supposed to be impressed by how easily Peterson had found him. Which Reacher might or might not have been, depending on how many other places Peterson had tried first.
Peterson put his hand on the chair that Knox had used, and Reacher invited him to sit with a gesture from his loaded fork. Peterson sat down and said, ‘I’m sorry you didn’t get breakfast at the house.’
Reacher chewed and swallowed and said, ‘No problem. You’re being more than generous as it is.’
‘Kim suffers from loneliness, that’s all. It isn’t her favourite time of day, when the boys and I leave the house. She usually hides out in her room.’
Reacher said nothing.
Peterson asked, ‘Have you ever been lonely?’
Reacher said, ‘Sometimes.’
‘Kim would say you haven’t. Not unless you had sat on a back porch day after day
‘Isn’t she local?’
‘She is. But being used to something doesn’t mean you have to like it.’
‘I guess not.’
‘We checked the bars. We found one with a very clean floor.’
‘North. Where the prison guards drink.’
‘Any cooperative witnesses?’
‘No, but the bartender is missing. Lit out in his truck yesterday.’
‘OK,’ Reacher said.
‘Thank you,’ Peterson said. ‘You’re welcome.’ Reacher speared half a slice of bacon and a half-circle of set egg yolk and ate it.
‘Any other thoughts?’ Peterson asked.
‘I know how the guy you put in jail is communicating.’
‘He made a friend on the inside. Or coerced somebody. Your guy is briefing the second guy, and the second guy is briefing his own lawyer. Like a parallel track. You’re bugging the wrong room.’
‘There are dozens of lawyer visits every day.’
‘Then you better start sifting through them.’
Peterson was quiet for a beat. ‘Anything else?’
Reacher nodded. ‘I need to find a clothing store. I more or less promised your wife. Cheap, and nothing fancy. You know somewhere like that?’
The clothing store that Peterson recommended was a long block west of the public square. It carried sturdy garments for sturdy farmers. There were summer and winter sections, without many obvious differences between the two. Some of the items were off-brand makes, and others had recognizable labels but visible defects. There was a limited choice of dull colours. Prices were low, even for footwear. Reacher started from the ground up with a pair of black waterproof boots. Then he started in on the garments. His rule when confronted with a choice was to take either olive green or blue. Olive green, because he had been in the army. Blue, because a girl had once told him it picked out his eyes. He went with olive green, because it almost matched his borrowed coat, which was tan. He chose pants with a flannel lining, a T-shirt, a flannel shirt, and a sweater made of thick cotton. He added white underwear and a pair of black gloves and a khaki watch cap. Total damage was a hundred and thirty bucks. The store owner took a hundred and twenty for cash. Four days of wear, probably, at the rate of thirty dollars a day. Which added up to more than ten grand a year, just for clothes. Insane, some would say. But Reacher liked the deal. He knew that most folks spent much less than ten grand a year on clothes. They had a small number of good items that they kept in closets and laundered in basements. But the closets and basements were surrounded by houses, and houses cost a whole lot more than ten grand a year, to buy or to rent, and to maintain and repair and insure.
So who was really nuts?
He dressed in a changing cubicle and dumped his old stuff in a trash barrel behind the counter. He jammed the hat on his head and tugged it down over his ears. He covered it with the borrowed parka’s hood. He zipped up. He put on the gloves. He stepped out to the sidewalk.
And was still cold.
The air was meat-locker chilled. He felt it in his gut, his ribs, his legs, his ass, his eyes, his face, his lungs. Like the worst of Korea, but in Korea he had been younger, and he had been there under orders, and he had been getting paid. This was different. The snow danced and swirled all around him. A freshening wind pushed at him. His nose started running. His vision blurred. He took breaks in doorways. He turned a ten-minute walk to the police station into a twenty-minute winter odyssey.
When he arrived, he found full-on mayhem.
Five minutes before noon.
Forty hours to go.
It sounded like half the phones in the place were ringing. The old guy behind the reception counter had one in each hand and was talking into both of them. Peterson was alone in the squad room, on his feet behind a desk, a phone trapped between his ear and his shoulder, the cord bucking and swaying as he moved. He was gesticulating with both hands, short, sharp, decisive motions, like a general moving troops, as if the town of Bolton was laid out in front of him on the desk top, like a map.
Reacher watched and listened. The situation made itself clear. No rocket science was involved. A major crime against a person had been committed and Peterson was moving people out to deal with it while making sure his existing obligations were adequately covered. The crime scene seemed to be on the right hand edge of the desk, which was presumably Bolton’s eastern limit. The existing obligations seemed to be slightly south and west of downtown, which was presumably where Janet Salter lived. The vulnerable witness. Peterson was putting more resources around her than at the scene, which indicated either proper caution or that the victim at the scene was already beyond help.
A minute later Peterson stopped talking and hung up. He looked worried. Expert in a casual way with all the local stuff, a little out of his depth with anything else. He said, ‘We’ve got a guy shot to death in a car.’
Reacher said, ‘Who?’
‘The plates come back to a lawyer from the next county. He’s had five client conferences up at the jail. All of them since we busted the biker. Like you said. He’s their parallel track. And now their plan is made. So they’re cleaning house and breaking the chain.’
‘Worse than that,’ Reacher said.
Peterson nodded. ‘I know. Their guy isn’t on his way. We missed him. He’s already here.’
TWICE PETERSON TRIED TO GET OUT OF THE SQUAD ROOM AND twice he had to duck back to answer a phone. Eventually he made it to the corridor. He looked back at Reacher and said, ‘You want to ride along with me?’
Reacher asked, ‘You want me there?’
‘If you like.’
‘I really need to be somewhere else.’
‘I should go introduce myself to Mrs Salter.’
‘I want to know the lie of the land. Just in case.’
Peterson said, ‘Mrs Salter is covered. I made sure of that. Don’t worry about it.’ Then he paused and said, ‘What? You think they’re going to move on her today? You think this dead lawyer is a diversion?’
‘No, I think they’re breaking the chain. But it looks like I’m going to be here a couple of days. Because of the snow. If that escape siren goes off any time soon, then I’m all you’ve got. But I should introduce myself to the lady first.’
Peterson said nothing.
Reacher said, ‘I’m trying to be helpful, that’s all. To repay your hospitality.’
Peterson said nothing.
Reacher said, ‘I’m not your guy.’
‘I know that.’
‘You could be helpful at the crime scene.’
‘You’ll be OK. You know what to do, right? Take plenty of photographs and pay attention to tyre tracks and footprints. Look for shell cases.’
‘But first call your officers in Mrs Salter’s house. I don’t want a big panic when I walk up the driveway.’
‘You don’t know where she lives.’
‘I’ll find it.’
In summer it might have taken ten minutes to find Mrs Salter’s house. In the snow it took closer to thirty, because lines of sight were limited and walking was slow. Reacher retraced the turns that the prison bus had
61 Hours by Lee Child / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5.1 out of 5 / Based on41 votes