61 hours, p.14
Part #14 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
city. He asked, ‘How are we doing in South Dakota?’
The man in the villa said, ‘The lawyer was taken care of six hours ago.’
‘And the witness?’
Plato felt his blood pressure build behind his temples. He looked at the next twenty-four hours in his mind. He liked to think visually. He liked to see chronological intervals laid out in a linear fashion, like ticks on a ruler. He inspected them at close quarters, like a bird swooping low over the sea, and he filled some of them in, and left others blank. He said, ‘Call the guy and tell him the thing with the witness can’t wait.’
The man in the villa said, ‘I will.’
Plato hung up and redialled. The airfield. He put his plane on standby. It was to be fuelled and ready for takeoff at a moment’s notice. The flight plan should show Canada, but that would be a decoy. The reality would be seventeen hundred miles there and seventeen hundred miles back. Fuel was to be made available at the midpoint for the return leg.
Then he made a third call. He needed six men to go with him. Good men, but not so good he couldn’t afford to leave them behind. If it came to that.
Which, he hoped, it would.
Reacher stopped thinking about the woman with the voice when he heard shouting in the police station lobby. One-sided shouting. A phone call. It had started out formal, gotten polite, then gotten a little defensive, and then gotten exasperated. It had ended with yelling. It had been followed by a three-way back and forth. The old guy from the desk to Holland’s office, Peterson to Holland’s office, the old guy back to the lobby, Peterson back to the squad room.
Peterson said, ‘Biker trouble. One of them just called. Three of their people are missing over here, and why aren’t we doing anything about it?’
Reacher said, ‘What did you tell them?’
‘We said we’re working on it.’
‘They said we better work harder, or they’ll come to town and work on it themselves. They said they’ll give us until tomorrow.’
Five to five in the afternoon.
Thirty-five hours to go.
PETERSON LEFT AGAIN AND REACHER SAT ALONE IN THE EMPTY squad room and looked out the window. It was still snowing. The flakes came down through pools of yellow sodium light. The sky was dark. The day was ending. Twelve thousand nearby souls were huddling in houses, staying warm, looking at the television, getting ready to eat. To the north the prison was seething. To the west the bikers were doing who knew what. And somewhere an unknown marksman was rehearsing a second shot.
Peterson came back and said, ‘Chief Holland thinks they’re bluffing. He says their whole strategy all along has been to stay inside the law and deny us probable cause.’
Reacher said nothing.
Peterson asked, ‘What do you think?’
‘Only one way to find out.’
‘Which is what?’
‘You want us to go over there?’
‘No, I’ll go,’ Reacher said. ‘I need to see the place anyway. To find out what it is.’
‘You have people working on that.’
‘No substitute for a live eyeball.’
‘You’re just going to show up there?’
‘I’ll say I’m from the army. A biannual inspection of our property.’
‘On your own?’
‘Won’t work. They’ll want to see ID.’
‘They won’t. These are not regular citizens.’
Peterson asked, ‘When would you go?’
‘As soon as possible,’ Reacher said. ‘No point in the dark. Let’s say first light tomorrow.’
Peterson said the department had a spare unmarked car. Reacher could use it. First light would depend on the weather, but it would be somewhere between seven and eight o’clock. So Peterson said, ‘I’ll drive you home now. You should get some rest.’
Reacher shook his head. ‘You should drive me to Janet Salter’s instead. She has rooms to spare. She told me she volunteered them after the bus crash. Then she told me she knew about the crisis plan at the prison. It was like a coded message. She wants someone there who won’t leave if the siren sounds. Imagine how that would feel.’
Peterson thought about it for a second, and nodded. Started to say something, and stopped. ‘I was going to say I’ll bring your bags over. But you don’t have any.’
‘Tell Kim I got new clothes. Tell her you saw me in them. I think she was a little worried. And tell her I’ll look after her dad’s parka. And tell her thanks again for her hospitality.’
It was still snowing but the roads between the police station and Janet Salter’s house were still passable. They had been ploughed at least once during the day. The plough blades had thrown up steep banks either side, so that the wheel ruts were now four small trenches inside one giant trench. Sound was absorbed. The world was silent. The flakes came down invisible until they hit the headlight beams. They settled vertically and implacably ahead of the creeping car.
The way the ploughs had narrowed the roads meant that Peterson couldn’t turn into Janet Salter’s street. The parked cop car filled its whole width. The car’s red lights turned lazily and made the falling flakes pink, like garnets, or blood spatter. Reacher climbed out of Peterson’s ride and zipped up and squeezed awkwardly between the parked cruiser’s trunk and the snow bank behind it. The cop in the cruiser paid no attention. Reacher trudged alone down the centre of the street. The tracks from the change of watch that morning were long gone, smoothed over and obscured. The air was bitter. A cold day was slipping away, and a savage night was moving in to replace it.
Reacher climbed up on Janet Salter’s porch and pulled the bell wire. Pictured the cop inside getting up off her perch on the bottom stair and stepping across the Persian rug. The door opened. The cops had swapped their positions. This was the one from the library window. She was tall and had fair hair pulled back in an athletic ponytail. Her hand was resting on her gun. She was alert, but not tense. Professionally cautious, but happy about the tiny break in routine.
Reacher hung his borrowed coat on the hat stand and headed for the library. Janet Salter was in the same armchair as before. She wasn’t reading. She was just sitting there. The other woman cop was behind her. The one that had been in the hallway earlier. The small, dark one. She was staring out the window. The drapes were wide open.
Janet Salter said, ‘You had to rush off before you finished your coffee. Would you like me to make some more?’
‘Always,’ Reacher said. He followed her to the kitchen and watched her fill the antique percolator. The faucets over the sink were just as old. But nothing in the room was decrepit or dowdy. Good stuff was good stuff, however long ago it had been installed.
She said, ‘I understand you’ll stay here tonight.’
He said, ‘Only if it’s convenient.’
‘Were you not comfortable at the Peterson place?’
‘I was fine. But I don’t like to impose too long.’
‘One night was too long?’
‘They have enough on their plate.’
‘You travel light.’
‘What you see is what you get.’
‘Mr Peterson told me.’
‘Told you, or warned you?’
‘Is it a phobia? Or a philia? Or a consciously existential decision?’
‘I’m not sure I ever inquired that deeply.’
‘A phobia would be a fear, of course, possibly of commitment or entanglement. A philia would imply love, possibly of freedom or opportunity. Although technically a philia shades towards issues of abnormal appetite, in your case possibly for secrecy. We must ask of people who fly beneath the radar, why, exactly? Is radar in itself unacceptable, or is the terrain down there uniquely attractive
‘Maybe it’s the third thing,’ Reacher said. ‘Existential.’
‘Your disavowal of possessions is a little extreme. History tells us that asceticism has powerful attractions, but even so most ascetics owned clothes, at least. Shirts, anyway, even if they were only made of hair.’
‘Are you making fun of me?’
‘You could afford to carry a small bag, I think. It wouldn’t change who you are.’
‘I’m afraid it would. Unless it was empty, which would be pointless. To fill a small bag means selecting, and choosing, and evaluating. There’s no logical end to that process. Pretty soon I would have a big bag, and then two or three. A month later I’d be like the rest of you.’
‘And that horrifies you?’
‘No, I think to be like everyone else would be comfortable and reassuring. But some things just can’t be done. I was born different.’
‘That’s your answer? You were born different?’
‘I think it’s clear we’re not all born the same.’
Janet Salter poured the coffee, this time straight into tall china mugs, as if she thought silver trays and ceremony were inappropriate for an ascetic, and as if she had noticed his earlier discomfort with the undersized cup.
She said, ‘Well, whatever your precise diagnosis might be, I’m glad to have you here. You’re welcome to stay as long as you like.’
Five to six in the evening.
Thirty-four hours to go.
After the coffee was finished Janet Salter started to make dinner. Reacher offered to eat out, but she said it was as easy to cook for six as five, which told him the two cops on night watch would be getting up and forming a foursome for most of the evening. Which was reassuring.
With her permission he used the food preparation time to inspect the house. He wasn’t interested in the first floor or the second floor. He wanted to see the basement. South Dakota had tornadoes, and he was pretty sure a house of any quality would have been planned with an underground safety zone. He went down a flight of stairs from a small back hallway off the kitchen and found a satisfactory situation. The prairie topsoil had been too deep for the excavation to reach bedrock, so the whole space was basically a huge six-sided wooden box built from massive baulks of timber banded with iron. The walls and floor were thick to provide stability, and the ceiling was thick to prevent the rest of the house from crashing through after a direct hit. There was a thicket of floor-to-ceiling posts throughout the space, not more than six feet apart, each one hewn and smoothed from the trunk of a tree. Four of them were panelled with wallboard, to form a furnace room. The furnace was a stained green appliance. It was fed by a thin fuel line, presumably from an oil tank buried outside in the yard. It had a pump and a complicated matrix of wide iron pipes that led out and up through the ceiling. An old installation. Maybe the first in town. But it was working fine. The burner was roaring and the pump was whirring and the pipes were hissing. It was keeping the whole basement warm.
The stairs leading upward could be closed off at the bottom with a stout door that opened outward. It could be secured from the inside with an iron bar propped across iron brackets. It was a fine tornado shelter, no question. Probably an adequate bomb shelter. Almost certainly resistant to any kind of small arms fire. Reacher had seen .50 calibre machine guns chew through most things, but hundred-year-old foot-thick close-grain hard-wood would probably hold up until their barrels overheated and warped.
He came back upstairs encouraged and found the night watch cops up and about. They were with their daytime partners in the kitchen. Janet Salter was moving around inside their cordon. There was an atmosphere of custom and comfort. Clearly the strange little household was becoming used to getting along together. The oven was on and it was warming the room. The glass in the window was fogged with moisture. Reacher stepped into the library and checked the view to the rear. Nothing to see. Just a vague sense of flat land receding into the frigid distance. The snow was easing. The falling flakes themselves seemed stunned by the cold.
Reacher turned back from the window and found Janet Salter stepping in through the door. She said, ‘May we talk?’
Reacher said, ‘Sure.’
She said, ‘I know the real reason why you’re here, of course. I know why you’re inspecting the house. You have volunteered to defend me, if the siren should happen to sound, and you’re making yourself familiar with the terrain. And I’m very grateful for your kindness. Even though your psychological imperatives may mean you won’t be here for quite long enough. The trial might not happen for a month. How many new shirts would that be?’
‘Eight,’ Reacher said.
She didn’t reply.
Reacher said, ‘There would be no shame in bowing out, you know. No one could blame you. And those guys will get nailed for something else, sooner or later.’
‘There would be considerable shame in it,’ she said. ‘And I won’t do it.’
‘Then don’t talk to me about psychological imperatives,’ Reacher said.
She smiled. Asked, ‘Are you armed?’
‘Do retired plumbers carry wrenches the rest of their lives?’ She pointed to a low shelf. ‘There’s a book that might interest you. A work of history. The large volume, with the leather binding.’
It was a big old thing about a foot and a half high and about four inches thick. It had a leather spine with raised horizontal ribs and a quaint title embossed in gold: An Accurate Illustrated History of Mr Smith’s & Mr Wesson’s Hand Guns. Which sounded Victorian, which did not compute. Smith & Wesson had made plenty of handguns in the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth, but not nearly enough to fill a book four inches thick.
Janet Salter said, ‘Take a look at it.’
Reacher pulled the book off the shelf. It was heavy.
She said, ‘I think you should read it in bed tonight.’
It was heavy because it wasn’t a book. Reacher opened the leather-bound cover and expected to see faded pages with half-tone engravings or hand-tinted line drawings, maybe alternated with tissue paper leaves to protect the art. Instead the cover was a lid and inside was a box with two moulded velvet cavities. The velvet was brown. Nested neatly in the two cavities was a matched pair of Smith & Wesson revolvers, one reversed with respect to the other, cradled butt to muzzle, like quotation marks either end of a sentence. The revolvers were Smith & Wesson’s Military and Police models. Four-inch barrels. They could have been a hundred years old, or fifty. Plain simple steel machines, chequered walnut grips, chambered for the .38 Special, lanyard eyelets on the bottom of the butts, put there for officers either military or civil.
Janet Salter said, ‘They were my grandfather’s.’
Reacher asked, ‘Did he serve?’
‘He was an honorary commissioner, back when Bolton first got a police department. He was presented with the guns. Do you think they still work?’
Reacher nodded. Revolvers were usually reliable for ever. They had to be seriously banged up or rusted solid to fail. He asked, ‘Have they ever been used?’
‘I don’t think so.’
‘Do you have any oil?’
‘I have sewing-machine oil.’
‘That will do.’
‘Do we need anything else?’
‘Ammunition would help.’
‘I have some.’
‘About a week.’
‘You’re well prepared.’
‘It seemed the right time to be.’
‘How many rounds?’
‘A box of a hundred.’
‘Put the book back now,’ she said. ‘The policewomen need not know. In my experience professionals are offended by amateur plans.’
After dinner the phone rang. It was Peterson, at the police station. He told Janet Salter that the phone on the back corner desk had rung. The 110th MP. The woman wouldn’t talk to h
Janet Salter’s phone was in the hallway. It was newer than the house, but not recently installed. It had a push-button dial, but it also had a cord and was about the size of a portable typewriter. It was on a small
61 Hours by Lee Child / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5.1 out of 5 / Based on41 votes