61 hours, p.12
Part #14 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
‘But this is not west Texas,’ Janet Salter said. ‘This is South Dakota. My point is, you can’t make bricks without straw. If they’re shipping out vast quantities of finished product, they must be shipping in vast quantities of raw materials. Which must be visible. There must be truckloads involved. Why can’t Chief Holland get at them that way, without involving me?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘I think Chief Holland has gotten lazy.’
‘Peterson claimed they gave you the option of backing out.’
‘But don’t you see? That’s no option at all. I couldn’t live with myself. It’s a matter of principle.’
‘Peterson claims you were offered federal protection.’
‘And perhaps I should have accepted it. But I much preferred to stay in my own home. The justice system is supposed to penalize perpetrators, not witnesses. That’s a matter of principle, too.’
Reacher glanced at the kitchen door. A cop in the hallway, a cop at the rear window, two more sleeping upstairs ready for the night watch, a car outside, another car one block over, a third at the end of the street. Plus alert townsfolk, and a paranoid police HQ. Plus snow all over the place.
All good, unless the siren sounded.
Reacher asked, ‘Are you a grandmother?’
Janet Salter shook her head. ‘We didn’t have children. We waited, and then my husband died. He was English, and much older than me. Why do you ask?’
‘Peterson was talking about your credibility on the stand. He said you look like a storybook grandma.’
‘I don’t know. I guess I didn’t have those storybooks.’
‘Where were you raised?’
‘On Marine Corps bases.’
‘It felt like all of them.’
‘I was raised here in South Dakota. My father was the last in a long line of robber barons. We traded, we bought land from the native inhabitants at twelve cents an acre, we bought thousands of government stakes through surrogates, we mined gold, we invested in the railroad. At insider rates, of course.’
Reacher said, ‘Hence this house.’
Janet Salter smiled. ‘No, this is where we came when we hit hard times.’
Out in the hallway the bell chimed once, quiet and civilized. Reacher stood up and stepped to the door and watched. The policewoman on duty was sitting on the bottom stair. She got up and crossed the dim space and opened the front door. Chief Holland came in, with a soft flurry of snow and a cloud of cold air. He stamped his feet on the mat and shivered as the warmth hit him. He took off his parka. The policewoman hung it up for him, right on top of Reacher’s borrowed coat.
Holland crossed the hallway and nodded to Reacher and pushed past him to the kitchen door. He told Janet Salter that he had no significant news for her, and that he was dropping by merely to pay his respects. She asked him to wait in the library. She said she would make coffee and bring it in. Reacher watched her fill an old percolator made of thick dull aluminum. It had a cord insulated with fabric. It was practically an antique. It could have been melted down from a surplus B-24 Liberator after World War Two. Reacher stood ready to help, but she waved him away and said, ‘Go and wait with the chief in the library.’ So Reacher joined Holland in the book-lined room and asked, ‘How are things?’
Holland said, ‘What things?’
‘The car out on the eastern town limit. With the dead guy in it.’
‘We’re not sure if our initial assumption was correct. About breaking the chain, I mean. It could have been a simple robbery gone wrong.’
‘The guy was a lawyer, but there was no briefcase in the car. You ever heard of that? A lawyer without a briefcase? Maybe someone took it.’
‘Was there a wallet in his pocket?’
‘A watch on his wrist?’
‘Was he expected up at the jail?’
‘Not according to the visitor lists. His client made no request. But his office claims he got a call.’
‘Then it wasn’t a simple robbery. He was decoyed out there. He had no briefcase because he wasn’t planning on writing anything down. Not in his current line of work.’
‘Maybe. We’ll keep the line of inquiry open.’
‘Who made the call to his office?’
‘A male voice. Same as the first five times. From a cell phone we can’t trace.’
‘Who was the client he saw at the jail?’
‘Some deadbeat simpleton we’ll never get anything out of. We arrested him eight weeks ago for setting fire to a house. We’re still waiting for a psychological evaluation. Because he won’t speak to anyone he doesn’t want to. Not a word.’
‘Sounds like your biker friend chose well.’
The percolator started burping and gulping out in the kitchen. It was loud. Reacher could hear it quite clearly. The smell of brewing coffee drifted in and filled the air. Colombian, Reacher figured, ground coarse, reasonably fresh. He said, ‘Mrs Salter and I were talking about raw material supply to the lab you figure they’ve got out there.’
‘You think we’re negligent? You think we’re putting her at risk when we have a viable alternative?’
‘I didn’t say that.’
‘We’ve tried, believe me. Nothing comes through Bolton. We’re damn sure of that. Therefore they’re being supplied from the west. The Highway Patrol is responsible for the highway. We have no jurisdiction there. All we control is the county two-lane that runs north to the camp. We put cars there on a random basis. Literally random. I roll actual dice on my desk.’
Reacher said, ‘I saw them there.’
Holland nodded. ‘I do it like that because we can’t afford for the pattern to be predictable in any way at all. But so far we haven’t been lucky. They watch us pretty carefully, I suppose.’
‘The trial will do it for us. Or the plea bargain the night before. It won’t come any earlier than that. One more month, that’s all.’
‘Peterson told me there’s no way to fudge the crisis plan.’
‘He’s right. We objected, of course, but the deal was done by the mayor. Lots of money, lots of strings attached. We’d have Justice Department monitors all over us for ever.’
‘A gift horse.’
‘More trouble than it’s worth,’ Holland said. ‘But then, I don’t own a motel.’
Plato’s walled compound extended across a hundred acres. His walking path through the scrub was more than three miles long. He got his next idea at the furthest point from the house. It was characteristically bold. The DEA was going to bust the Russian. That was a given. Plato wasn’t going to stand in their way. The agents had to see the guy take possession. But possession of what, exactly? Enough to make the charges stick, for sure. But not necessarily everything the guy was about to pay for. That would be excessively generous, under the circumstances. A small margin could be retained. A large margin, in fact. Possibly most of the agreed amount. Because what the hell could the Russian guy do? Rant and rave in a supermax cell somewhere, about the unfairness of life? He would be doing that anyway. So Plato could take the guy’s money, and then sell the stuff all over again to someone else. Like selling a house, except this time you take the stove and the light bulbs and the glass from the windows.
The scheme would more than double his transportation problem, but he could deal with that. He was sure a solution would present itself. The details would fall into place.
Because he was Plato, and they weren’t.
Janet Salter brought the coffee to the library on a silver tray. A china pot, some cream, some sugar, three tiny cups, three saucers, three spoons. Clearly the on-duty policewomen were not included. Probably there had been prior discussion about separation of professional and social obligations. Probably the policewomen were happy with the final outcome. Reacher had been in their situation many times. Always better t
Janet Salter poured the coffee. The cup was far too small for Reacher’s hand, but the coffee was good. He sniffed the steam and took a sip. Then Chief Holland’s cell phone rang. Holland balanced his cup and dragged the phone from his pocket and checked the window. He opened the phone one-handed and answered. He listened to the caller for eight seconds. Then he hung up and smiled, widely and gratefully and happily.
He said, ‘We just caught the guy who shot the lawyer.’
Five minutes to two in the afternoon.
Thirty-eight hours to go.
REACHER RODE BACK TO THE STATION WITH HOLLAND. THE unmarked Crown Vic churned its way out of the side street and locked into the established ruts and headed home smooth and easy. Peterson was waiting in the squad room. He was smiling, too, just as widely and gratefully and happily as Holland was. Reacher wasn’t smiling. He had serious doubts. Based in bitter experience. A fast and easy resolution to a major problem was too good to be true. And things that were too good to be true usually weren’t. A basic law of nature.
He asked, ‘So who was the shooter?’
Peterson said, ‘Jay Knox. The bus driver.’
Reacher got the story secondhand by standing off to one side and listening as Peterson briefed Holland. Forty minutes earlier a cop in a patrol car had seen a pedestrian floundering through deep snow alongside a rural road a mile out of town. Peterson named the cop in the car and called him one of ours. An old hand, presumably. From the good half of the department. Maybe someone Holland actually knew. As instructed, the cop in the car was operating at a level of high alert, but even so he thought the guy on foot was more likely a stranded driver than a murderer. He stopped and offered the guy a ride. There was something off about the guy’s response. He was surly, and uncooperative, and evasive. The cop therefore cuffed him and searched him.
And found a Glock 17 nine-millimetre pistol in his pocket. It smelled like it had been recently fired and its magazine was one round short of full.
The cop arrested the pedestrian and drove him to the station. At the booking desk he was recognized as the bus driver. His hands and his clothing were swabbed for gunshot residue. The tests came up positive. Jay Knox had fired a gun at some point in the past few hours. His prints were all over the Glock. His rights had been read to him. He was in a holding cell. He hadn’t asked for a lawyer. But he wasn’t talking, either.
Holland left to take a look at Knox in his cell. It was an urge that Reacher had seen before. It was like going to the zoo. After a big capture people would show up just to stare at the guy. They would stand in front of the bars for a moment and take it all in. Afterwards they would claim there was something in the guy’s face they always knew was wrong. If not, they would talk about the banality of evil. About how there were no reliable signs.
Peterson stayed in the squad room. He was tying up the loose ends in his head. Another urge Reacher had seen before. A dangerous urge. If you work backwards, you see what you want to see.
Reacher asked, ‘How many rounds in the victim?’
‘One,’ Peterson said. ‘In the head.’
‘It’s a common round.’
‘Does the geography work?’
‘Knox was picked up about four miles from the scene.’
‘On foot? That’s too far, surely.’
‘There has to have been a vehicle involved.’
‘Wait until you see the photographs.’
The photographs were delivered thirty minutes later. They were in the same kind of file folder Reacher had seen the night before in Holland’s office. They were the same kind of photographs. Glossy eight-by-tens, with printed labels pasted in their bottom corners. There were plenty of them. They were colour prints, but they were mostly grey and white. Snow on the ground, snow in the air. The camera shutter had frozen the falling flakes in strange dark suspended shapes, like ash from a volcano, like specks and impurities.
The first picture was an establishing shot taken from a distance, looking west to east. It showed a snowbound road with two pairs of ruts clustered close to the crown of the camber. A lone car was sitting dead centre in the westbound ruts. Its headlights were on. It hadn’t veered or swerved. It had just rolled to a halt, like a train on a track.
The second picture had been taken about a hundred feet closer. Three things were apparent. First, there was a figure in the driver’s seat. A man, held upright by a tight seat belt, his head lolling forward. Second, the glass in the rear passenger-side window was misted with a large pink stain. And third, there was absolutely nothing on the road itself except virgin snow and four wheel ruts. No other disturbance at all.
The third photograph confirmed that fact. For the third shot, the camera had ignored the car completely. The lens had been trained directly west to east along the road right above where the yellow line was buried under the snow. It was a featureless picture. Nothing to see. Passing tyres had dug trenches, the base of the ruts had been crushed downward, small side walls had been thrown upward, tiny avalanches had fallen outward from the top of the side walls, and those small fallen fragments had been smoothed over by a crust of fresh snow.
‘Good pictures,’ Reacher said.
‘I did my best,’ Peterson said.
‘No footprints,’ Reacher said.
‘Agreed,’ Peterson said.
The fourth photograph was a close-up of one of the eastbound ruts. Nothing to see there either, except broken and confused pieces of tread marks, the same small waffles and lattices Reacher had seen all over town. No way to reconstruct anything worth sending to a lab.
The fifth picture was a close-up of the car, taken from the front right side. It was a small neat sedan, a make Reacher didn’t recognize.
‘Infiniti,’ Peterson said. ‘It’s Japanese. Nissan’s luxury division. That model has a V-6 engine and full-time four-wheel drive. There are snow tyres on it, all around. It’s practical, and it’s about as showy as a South Dakota lawyer wants to get.’
It was painted a light silver colour. It was basically clean, but grimed over by several recent winter trips. The way the light reflected off the snow and played over the paint made it look ghostly and insubstantial. The driver’s window was all the way open. The dead guy was pinned upright against the seat back by the belt. Some snow had blown in on him. His chin was on his chest. He could have been asleep, except for the hole in his head.
The hole was the subject of photograph number five. It was in the centre of the guy’s forehead. Like a third eye. Clearly the guy had been looking out the window, halfway between sideways and straight ahead. He had been shot right down his line of sight. He had been looking at the gun. The exit wound had spattered stuff all over the window diagonally behind him. His head had then slumped down and rotated back to a central position.
The rest of the photographs were of the body and the interior of the vehicle from every conceivable angle. Take plenty of photographs, Reacher had said, and Peterson had complied to the letter. There was a pair of rubber overshoes neatly placed in the passenger foot well. There was a small multi-purpose chrome hammer mounted centrally on the dash. Reacher had seen them advertised in mail order brochures on aeroplanes. They could tap the windshield out if the doors were jammed after a wreck. They had a blade concealed in the handle to cut seat belts. Ideal accessories for cautious, meticulous, organized people interested in cars. But Reacher wondered whether one had actually ever been used in earnest in the whole history of automotive transport. He suspected not.
The Infiniti’s shifter was in Park. Its ignition key was turned to the run position. The tachometer showed an 800-rpm idle. The odometer showed fewer than ten thousand miles. Cabin temperature was set at sixty-nine degrees. The radi
Reacher said, ‘Tell me the story.’
Peterson said, ‘OK, Knox is in a vehicle. He’s driving. He’s heading east. The lawyer is heading west. They’re both driving slow, because the road is bad. Knox sees the lawyer coming. He winds his window down. Puts his arm out and flags the lawyer down. The lawyer slows and stops. He winds his own window down. Maybe he thinks that Knox is going to warn him about a danger up ahead. Driver to driver, like people do in adverse conditions. Instead, Knox shoots him and drives on.’
‘Who found the body?’
‘Another guy heading east. Maybe five or ten minutes after it happened. He slowed, took a look, and called us from a gas station two miles farther on. No cell phone.’
‘Is Knox right-handed?’
‘I don’t know. But most people are.’
‘Did you find a shell case?’
‘If Knox is right-handed, then he was shooting diagonally across his body. He would want reasonable arm extension. The muzzle was probably out
61 Hours by Lee Child / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5.1 out of 5 / Based on41 votes