61 hours, p.18
Part #14 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
gloves from their hands and the hats from their heads.
The four women formed up around Janet Salter like a cordon and bustled her off to the kitchen. Peterson ordered the three night watch cars to their positions and sent the remaining seven men back to the station. Reacher watched normality restored from the parlour window. Within five minutes all was as it had been five hours earlier.
Peterson asked, ‘So what happened here?’
‘Nothing at all,’ Reacher said. ‘What happened there?’
‘A riot. Not that we saw much of anything. They shut it down very fast.’
‘Because it was phoney. It was a diversion.’
Peterson nodded. ‘But their guy never came here.’
‘And the big question is, why the hell not?’
‘Because he saw you.’
‘But I didn’t see him. Which begs another big question. If he’s good enough to see me without me seeing him, why didn’t he just go for it?’
‘I have no idea.’
‘I saw a woman with a big white dog.’
‘A little after eleven.’
‘Mrs Lowell. She’s a neighbour. She walks her dog every night.’
‘You should have told me that. I might have shot her.’
‘I’m sorry.’ Peterson clamped his palms tight on his nose. It must have been hurting. His skin temperature had vaulted sixty degrees in sixty seconds. Then he ran his fingers through his hair. ‘Bad thing to say, I guess, but I kind of wish the guy had come tonight. I’m not sure we can take another month of this.’
Reacher said, ‘I don’t think you’ll have to. I think they’re fresh out of diversions.’
‘They can start another riot any old time they want to.’
‘They can’t. That’s the point. Prison riots need a critical mass. About a third of the population would riot every day of the week, given the chance. Another third never would. It’s the middle third that counts. The swing votes. Like an election. And they’re spent now. Their passion has gone. It will take a year before they’re back in the game.’
Peterson said nothing.
Reacher said, ‘And your biker pal can’t organize an escape fast enough. So you’re in the clear now. You’re safe.’
‘You might never hear that siren again.’
Five to one in the morning.
Twenty-seven hours to go.
At a quarter past one the phone in the hallway rang. Janet Salter came out of the kitchen to answer it. She passed the receiver to Peterson. Peterson listened for a second and went to find Reacher in the parlour.
‘It’s the woman from the 110th MP,’ he said. ‘How does she know this number?’
‘She has a caller ID system,’ Reacher said. ‘With coordinates. She’s probably watching this house right now, on Google Earth.’
‘But it’s dark.’
‘Don’t ask me how it works.’ He stepped out to the hallway and sat down in the chair. Picked up the receiver. Asked, ‘You got my answers for me?’
The voice said, ‘Not yet.’
‘So why are you calling so late? I could have been fast asleep.’
‘I just wanted to tell you I got my guy.’
‘Was I right?’
‘I’m not going to answer that question. I’m not going to give you the satisfaction.’
‘So I was right.’
‘Actually, not quite. He was in the third motel north of the bus depot.’
‘Because the first two were close together? He had to go on to the third, for distance?’
‘I used to do this for a living.’
‘I’m duly impressed.’
‘How was he?’
‘You tell me.’
Reacher said, ‘He was awake. He had a loaded firearm and shoes on. His bag was packed and his jacket was on the back of a chair. He struggled for less than ten seconds and then he gave it up.’
‘You’re very good.’
‘Not good enough to survive the general’s head.’
‘I still want to hear that story.’
‘Then get me my answers. A fair exchange is no robbery.’
‘We’re close. We can see the money coming out of Congress. But we can’t see it arriving at the Department of the Army. It’s dropping out of sight somewhere along the way. We’re narrowing it down. We’ll get there.’
‘Give me the rest of the night. Call me at eight o’clock in the morning.’
‘You’re good, too.’
Reacher said, ‘There’s a local rumour about a scandal. Word on the street is the place was never used because its purpose was too revolting.’
‘On the street?’
‘In an old lady’s parlour, anyway.’
‘OK. But old ladies get revolted by all kinds of things.’
‘You can search with your Google thing, right?’
‘That’s what it’s for.’
‘Check a Florida cop called Kapler for me. He left the state two years ago. I want to know why.’
‘I like to know things. He moved from Florida to South Dakota. Who does that?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘How many Florida cops called Kapler can there be?’
‘Probably more than ten, and less than a hundred.’
‘With employment problems two years ago?’
Reacher asked, ‘What are you wearing?’
‘What is this, a dirty phone call now?’
Reacher smiled. ‘No, I’m just trying to picture the scene. For old times’ sake. I know the desk. Same office?’
‘I assume so. Upstairs, third on the left.’
‘That’s the one.’ Reacher saw it in his mind. Stone stairs, a metal handrail, a narrow corridor floored with linoleum, lines of doors left and right with fluted glass windows in them, offices behind each one, each office equipped according to some complex DoD protocol. His had had the metal desk, two phones with a total of three lines, a vinyl chair on casters, file cabinets, and two visitor chairs with springy bent-tube legs. Plus a glass light shade shaped like a bowl and hung from the ceiling on three metal chains. Plus an out-of-date map of the United States on the wall, made after Hawaii and Alaska had joined the Union but before the interstate highway system had been completed.
Made, in fact, around the same time that the strange installation near Bolton, South Dakota, was being put in.
The voice said, ‘I’m wearing my ACUs with a T-shirt. I’ve got the jacket on, because it’s cold tonight.’
Reacher said, ‘You’re in Virginia. You don’t know what cold is.’
‘Quit whining. You’re still in double figures up there. Negative, but hey. Minus eleven degrees. But the radar shows colder air moving in from the west.’
‘How could it get colder?’
‘You’re going to get what Wyoming just had, that’s how.’
‘You talking to meteorologists?’
‘No, I’m looking at the Weather Channel.’
‘What did Wyoming just have?’
‘They were thirty below zero.’
‘You can take it. You’re a big guy. Probably a Norseman way back, by the look of you.’
‘What, Google Earth can see through roof tiles now?’
‘No, there’s a photo of you in your file.’
‘What about you?’
‘Yes, there’s a photo of me in my file, too.’
‘Not what I meant, smartass. I don’t have your file.’
‘I’m a one-eyed fifty-year-old hunchback.’
‘I thought so, judging by your voice.’
‘You saying I’m flat-chested?’
‘34A at best.’
‘Blond hair, probably short. Blue eyes. From northern California.’
She asked, ‘Age?’
Reacher had been thirty-two years old, the first time he sat behind that battered desk. Which was both old and young for a command of that importance. Young, because he had been something of a star, but old, too, in that he had gotten there a little later than a star should, because he wasn’t an organization man and hadn’t been entirely trusted. He said, ‘You’re thirty or thirty-one,’ because he knew that when it came to a woman’s age it was always better to err on the side of caution.
She said, ‘Flattery will get you everywhere.’ Then she said, ‘Got to go. Call me later.’
The household got right back into its settled routine. Peterson left, and the two day watch women went up to bed. Janet Salter showed Reacher to the front upstairs room with the window over the porch roof. In principle the most vulnerable, but he wasn’t worried. Sheer rage would overcome any theoretical tactical disadvantage. He hated to be woken in the night. An intruder came through that window, he would go straight back out like a spear.
Five to two in the morning.
Twenty-six hours to go.
REACHER HAD PLANNED ON SLEEPING UNTIL EIGHT, BUT HE WAS woken at half past six. By Peterson. The guy came into the bedroom and some primal instinct must have made him pause and kick the bed frame and then step smartly back. He must have figured that was the safest thing to do. He must have figured if he leaned over and shook Reacher gently by the shoulder he could get his arm broken.
And he might have been right.
Reacher said, ‘What?’
Peterson said, ‘First light is less than an hour away.’
‘You need to get going.’
‘The biker camp. Remember? You offered.’
Janet Salter was already in her kitchen. Reacher found her there. She was dressed for the day. She had coffee going. The old percolator was slurping and rattling. He said, ‘I have to go out.’
She nodded. ‘Mr Peterson told me. Will you be OK?’
‘I hope so.’
‘I don’t see how. There are a hundred people out there, and all you have is a six-shooter.’
‘We need information.’
‘I’ve got the Fourth Amendment. That’s all the protection I need. If I get hurt or don’t come back, the cops get probable cause for a search. The bikers don’t want that. They’ll treat me with kid gloves.’
‘That’s hard to imagine.’
‘Will you be OK here?’
‘I hope so.’
‘If the cops leave again, take your gun and lock yourself in the basement. Don’t open the door to anyone except me.’
‘Should we have a password?’
‘You can ask about my favourite book.’
‘You don’t have one. You told me that.’
‘I know. So that will be the correct answer.’ The percolator finished and Reacher poured a generous measure into one of six white mugs standing on the counter.
Janet Salter asked, ‘Will the police leave again?’
‘There could be another riot.’
‘Unlikely. Prison riots are rare. Like revolutions in a nation’s history. The conditions have to be exactly right.’
‘An escape, then.’
‘Even less likely. Escapes are hard. The prison people make sure of that.’
‘Are you saying my problems are over?’
‘So are you going to come back here or not?’
‘I think the highway is still closed.’
‘When it opens again, where will you go next?’
‘I don’t know.’
Janet Salter said, ‘I think you’ll head for Virginia.’
‘She might be married.’
‘You should ask her.’
Reacher smiled. Said, ‘Maybe I will.’
Peterson briefed him in the hallway. He said the spare unmarked car was outside, warmed up and running. It was reliable. It had been recently serviced. It had a full tank. It had chains on the back and winter tyres on the front. There was no direct route to the camp. The way to go was to head south towards the highway, but turn west a mile short of the cloverleaf on the old road that ran parallel.
‘The road the lawyer was killed on,’ Reacher said.
‘That was all the way to the east,’ Peterson said. ‘But still, perhaps you shouldn’t stop if someone tries to flag you down.’
‘I won’t,’ Reacher said. ‘Count on it.’
He was to keep on the old road for five miles, and then make a right and head back north on a county two-lane that wandered a little for about eight miles before hitting the ruler-straight section that the army engineers had put in fifty years before. That section was two miles long, and it ran right up to the camp, where he would find the fifteen wooden huts and the old stone building, laid out in two neat lines of eight, running precisely east to west.
‘The stone building is in the back left corner,’ Peterson said.
Five to seven in the morning.
61 Hours by Lee Child / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5.1 out of 5 / Based on41 votes