Running blind, p.23
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       Running Blind, p.23
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         Part #4 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
Chapter 23

  THE LAW PROVIDES that a narcotics conviction can be accompanied by confiscation of assets, which means that the DEA in New York City ends up with more automobiles than it can possibly ever need, so it loans out the surplus to other law enforcement agencies, including the FBI. The FBI uses those vehicles when it needs some anonymous transport that doesn't look like government-issue. Or when it needs to preserve some respectable distance between itself and some unspecified activity taking place. Therefore James Cozo withdrew the Bureau's sedan and the services of its driver and tossed Harper the keys to a black one-year-old Nissan Maxima currently parked in the back row of the underground lot.

  "Have fun," he said again.

  Harper drove. It was the first time she had driven in New York City, and she was nervous about it. She threaded around a couple of blocks and headed south on Fifth and motored slowly, with the taxis plunging and darting and honking around her.

  "OK, what now?" she said.

  Now we waste some time, Reacher thought.

  "Bob's not around until eight," he said. "We've got the whole afternoon to kill. "

  "I feel like we should be doing something. "

  "No rush," Reacher said. "We've got three weeks. "

  "So what do we do?"

  "First we eat," Reacher said. "I missed breakfast. "

  YOU'RE HAPPY TO miss breakfast because you need to be sure. The way you predict it, it's going to be a straight twelve-hour/twelve-hour split between the local police department and the Bureau, with changeovers at eight in the evening and eight in the morning. You saw it happen at eight in the evening yesterday, so now you're back bright and early to see it happen again at eight this morning. Missing a crummy help-yourself-in-the-lobby motel breakfast is a small price to pay for that kind of certainty. So is the long, long drive into position. You're not dumb enough to rent a room anywhere close by.

  And you're not dumb enough to take a direct route, either. You wind your way through the mountains and leave your car on a gravel turnout a half-mile from your spot. The car is safe enough there. The only reason they built the turnout in the first place is that ass-holes are always leaving their cars there while they go watching eagles or scrambling over rocks or hiking up and down. A rental car parked neatly on the gravel is as invisible as the ski bags on the airport carousel. Just part of the scenery.

  You climb away from the road up a small hill maybe a hundred feet high. There are scrawny trees all over the place, a little more than shoulder high. They have no leaves, but the terrain keeps you concealed. You're in a kind of wide trench. You step left and right to pass tumbled boulders. At the top of the hill you follow the ridge to the left. You duck low as the ground starts to fall away on the other side. You drop to your knees and shuffle forward to where two giant rocks rest on each other, giving a wonderful random view of the valley through the triangle they make between them. You lean your right shoulder on the right-hand rock and Lieutenant Rita Scimeca's house slides into the exact center of your field of view, just a little more than two hundred yards away.

  The house is slightly north and west of your position, so you're getting a full-frontal of the street side. It's maybe three hundred feet down the mountain, so the whole thing is laid out like a plan. The Bureau car is right there, parked outside. A clean Buick, dark blue. One agent in it. You use your field glasses. The guy is still awake. His head is upright. He's not looking around much. Just staring forward, bored out of his skull. You can't blame him. Twelve hours through the night, in a place where the last big excitement was somebody's Christmas bake sale.

  It's cold in the hills. The rock is sucking heat out of your shoulder. There's no sun. Just sullen clouds stacked up over the giant peaks. You turn away for a moment and pull on your gloves. Pull your muffler up over the lower half of your face. Partly for the warmth, partly to break up the clouds of steam your breathing is creating in the air. You turn back. Move your feet and squirm around. Get comfortable. You raise the glasses again.

  The house has a wire fence all the way around the perimeter of the yard. There's an opening onto a driveway. The driveway is short. A single garage door stands at the end of it, under the end of the front porch. There's a path off the driveway that loops around through some neat rockery planting to the front door. The Bureau car is parked at the sidewalk right across the driveway opening, just slightly up the hill from dead center. Facing down the rise. That puts the driver's line of vision directly in line with the mouth of the path. Intelligent positioning. If you walk up the hill to the house, he sees you coming all the way. You come on him from behind, he maybe spots you in his mirror, and he sees you for certain as soon as you pass him by. Then he gets a clear back view all the way as you walk up the looping path. Intelligent positioning, but that's the Bureau for you.

  You see movement a half-mile to the west and two hundred feet farther down the mountain. A black-and-white Crown Victoria, nosing through a right-angle turn. Prowling, slow. It snuffles through the turns and enters her road. A cloud of white vapor trails from the tailpipe. The engine is cold. The car has been parked up all night behind a quiet station house. It comes up the street and slows and stops flank to flank with the Buick. The cars are a foot apart. You don't see it for sure but you know the windows are buzzing down. Greetings are being exchanged. Information is being passed on. It's all quiet, the Bureau guy is saying. Have a nice day, he's adding. The local cop is grunting. Pretending to be bored, while secretly he's thrilled to have an important mission. Maybe the first he's ever had. See you later, the Bureau guy is saying.

  The black-and-white moves up the hill and turns in the road. The Buick's engine starts and the car lurches as the agent slams it into drive. The black-and-white noses in behind it. The Buick moves away down the hill. The black-and-white rolls forward and stops. Exactly where the Buick was, inch for inch. It bounces twice on its springs and settles. The motor stops. The white vapor drifts and disappears. The cop turns his head to the right and gets exactly the same view of the path the Bureau guy had gotten. Maybe not such a dumb-ass, after all.

  HARPER DROVE THE Maxima into a commercial parking garage on West Ninth Street, right after Reacher told her the grid pattern was about to finish and the street layout was about to get messy. They walked back east and south and found a bistro with a view of Washington Square Park. The waitress had a copy of a digest-sized philosophy journal to lean her order pad on. A student from NYU, making ends meet. The air was cold, but the sun was out. The sky was blue.

  "I like it here," Harper said. "Great city. "

  "I told Jodie I'm selling the house," Reacher said.

  She looked across at him. "She OK with that?"

  He shrugged. "She's worried. I don't see why. It makes me a happier person, how can that worry her?"

  "Because it makes you a footloose person. "

  "It won't change anything. "

  "So why do it?"

  "That's what she said. "

  Harper nodded. "She would. People do things for a reason, right? So she's thinking, what's the reason here?"

  "Reason is I don't want to own a house. "

  "But reasons have layers. That's only the top layer. She's asking herself, OK, why doesn't he want to own a house?"

  "Because I don't want the hassle. She knows that. I told her. "

  "Bureaucratic type of hassle?"

  He nodded. "It's a big pain in the ass. "

  "Yes, it is. A real big pain in the ass. But she's thinking bureaucratic hassle is just a kind of symbol for something else. "

  "Like what?"

  "Like wanting to be footloose. "

  "You're just going around in a circle. "

  "I'm just telling you how she's thinking. "

  The philosophy student brought coffee and Danish. Left a check written out in a neat, academic hand. Harper picked it up.

  "I'll take care of it," she said.

  "OK," Reacher said.
>
  "You need to convince her," Harper said. "You know, make her believe you're going to stick around, even though you're selling the house. "

  "I told her I'm selling my car too," he said.

  She nodded. "That might help. Sounds like a stick-around thing to do. "

  He paused for a beat.

  "I told her I might travel a little," he said.

  She stared at him. "Christ, Reacher, that's not very reassuring, is it?"

  "She travels. She's been to London twice this year. I didn't make a big fuss about it?"

  "How much do you plan to travel?"

  He shrugged again. "I don't know. A little, I guess. I like getting around. I really do. I told you that. "

  Harper was quiet for a second.

  "You know what?" she said. "Before you convince her you're going to stick around, maybe you should convince yourself. "

  "I am convinced. "

  "Are you? Or do you figure you'll be in and out, as and when?"

  "In and out a little, I guess. "

  "You'll drift apart. "

  "That's what she said. "

  Harper nodded. "Well, I'm not surprised. "

  He said nothing. Just drank his coffee and ate his Danish.

  "It's make-your-mind-up time," Harper said. "On the road or off the road, you can't do both together. "

  HIS LUNCH BREAK will be the first big test. That's your preliminary conclusion. At first you wondered about bathroom arrangements, but he just went inside and used hers. He got out of the car after about ninety minutes, after his morning coffee had worked its way through. He stood stretching on the sidewalk. Then he walked up the looping path and rang the doorbell. You adjusted the focus on the field glasses and got a pretty good side view. You didn't see her. She stayed in the house. You saw his body language, a little awkward, a little embarrassed. He didn't speak. He didn't ask. Just presented himself at the door. So the arrangement had been set up ahead of time. Tough on Scimeca, you think to yourself, psychologically speaking. A raped woman, random intrusion of a large male person for some explicit penis-based activity. But it happened smoothly enough. He went in, and the door closed, a minute passed, the door opened again, and he came back out. He walked back to the car, looking around some, paying attention. He opened the car door, slid inside, and the scene went back to normal.

  So, no opportunity with the bathroom breaks. His lunch break would be the next chance. No way the guy is going twelve hours without eating. Cops are always eating. That's your experience. Doughnuts, pastries, coffee, steak and eggs. Always eating.

  HARPER WANTED A view of the city. She was like a tourist. Reacher walked her south through Washington Square Park and all the way down West Broadway to the World Trade Center. It was about a mile and three quarters. They sauntered slowly and spent fifty minutes doing it. The sky was bright and cold and the city was teeming. Harper was enjoying it.

  "We could go up to the restaurant," Reacher said. "Bureau could buy me lunch. "

  "I just bought you lunch," Harper said.

  "No, that was a late breakfast. "

  "You're always eating," she said.

  "I'm a big guy," he said. "I need nutrition. "

  They checked their coats in the lobby and rode up to the top of the building. Waited in line at the restaurant desk, with Harper pressed up against the wall of windows, gazing out at the view. She showed her badge and they got a table for two, right at a window facing directly back up West Broadway and Fifth Avenue beyond, from a quarter-mile high.

  "Awesome," she said.

  It was awesome. The air was crisp and clear and the view extended a hundred miles. The city was khaki far below them in the fall light. Packed, intricate, infinitely busy. The rivers were green and gray. The outer boroughs faded into Westchester and Connecticut and Long Island. In the other direction, New Jersey crowded the bank and curved away in the far distance.

  "Bob's over there," she said.

  "Someplace," Reacher agreed.

  "Who is Bob?"

  "He's an asshole. "

  She smiled. "Not a very exact description, criminologically speaking. "

  "He's a storeman," Reacher said. "A nine-to-five guy, if he's in the bar every night. "

  "He's not our guy, right?"

  He's nobody's guy, Reacher thought.

  "He's small-time," he said. "Selling out of the trunk of his car in the parking lot? No ambition. Not enough at stake to make it worth killing people. "

  "So how can he help us?"

  "He can name names. He's got suppliers, and he knows who the other players are. One of the other players will name more names, and then another and another. "

  "They all know each other?"

  Reacher nodded. "They carve it up. They have specialties and territories, same as anybody else. "

  "Could take us a long time. "

  "I like the geography here," Reacher said.

  "The geography? Why?"

  "It makes sense. You're in the Army, you want to steal weapons, where do you steal them from? You don't creep around the barracks at night and pull them out from every footlocker you see. That way, you get yourself about eight hours' grace until the guys wake up and say hey, where's my damn Beretta?"

  "So where do you steal them from?"

  "Someplace they won't be missed, which means storage. Find a stockpile facility where they're laid up ready for the next war. "

  "And where are those?"

  "Look at an interstate map. "

  "Why interstate?"

  "Why do you think the interstates were built? Not so the Harper family could drive from Aspen to Yellowstone Park on vacation. So the Army could move troops and weapons around, fast and easy. "

  "They were?"

  Reacher nodded. "Sure they were. Eisenhower built them in the fifties, height of the Cold War thing, and Eisenhower was a West Pointer, first and last. "

  "So?"

  "So you look where the interstates all meet. That's where they put the storage, so the stuff can go any which way, moment's notice. Mostly just behind the coasts, because old Ike wasn't too worried about parachutists dropping into Kansas. He was thinking of ships coming in from the sea. "

  "And Jersey is good for that?"

  Reacher nodded again. "Great strategic location. Therefore lots of storage, therefore lots of theft. "

  "Therefore Bob might know something?"

  "He'll point us in a new direction. That's about all we can count on from Bob. "

  HIS LUNCH BREAK is no good. No good at all. You keep the field glasses tight to your eyes and watch the whole thing happen. A second black-and-white prowl car noses around the corner and moves slowly up the hill. It stops flank to flank against the first one and stays there, motor running. Two of the damn things, side by side. Probably the whole of the police department's fleet, right there in front of you.

  You get a partial view. The driver's window is down on both cars. There's a brown paper sack and a closed cup of coffee. The new guy lifts them across the gap, elbow high to keep them upright. You adjust the focus on the field glasses. You see the waiting cop reach out. The scene is flat and two-dimensional and grainy, like the optics are at their limit. The cop takes the coffee first. His head turns as he finds the cup holder inside. Then he takes the bag. He props it on the ledge of his door and unrolls the top. Glances down. Smiles. He has a big, meaty face. He's looking at a cheeseburger or something. Maybe two of them, and a wedge of pie.

  He rolls the top of the sack again and swings it inside. Almost certainly dumps it on his passenger seat. Then his head is moving. They're chatting. The cop is animated. He's a young guy. The flesh of his face is tight with youth. He's full of himself. Enchanted with his important mission. You watch him for a long moment. Watch the happy expression on his face. Wonder what that face will look like when he walks to her door for a bathroom break and gets no reply to his knock. Because right the
re and then you decide two things. You're going in there, to do the job. And you're going to work it without killing the cop first, just because you want to see that expression change.

  THE NISSAN MAXIMA was briefly a drug dealers' favorite ride, so Reacher felt OK about using it to get out to the Jersey bar. It would look innocent enough parked in the lot. It would look real. Unmarked government cars never did. A normal person spends twenty grand on a sedan, he goes ahead and orders the chrome wheels and the pearl coat along with it. But the government never did, so their cars looked obvious, artificially plain, like they had big signs painted on the side saying this is a police unmarked. And if Bob saw such a thing in the lot, he'd break the habit of a lifetime and spend his evening someplace else.

  Reacher drove. Harper preferred not to, not in the dark and the rush hour. And rush hour was bad. Traffic was slow up the spine of Manhattan and jammed at the entrance to the tunnel. Reacher played with the radio and found a station where a woman was telling him how long he was going to have to wait. Forty, forty-five minutes. That was about twice as slow as walking, which was exactly how it felt.

  They inched forward, deep under the Hudson River. His backyard was sixty miles upstream. He sat there and traced its contours in his mind, testing his decision. It was a nice enough yard, as yards go. Certainly it was fertile. You turned your head, the grass was a foot high when you turned it back. It had a lot of trees. Maples, which had been cute in the early fall. Cedars, which Leon must have planted himself, because they were placed in artful groups. Leaves came off the maples and little purple berries came off the cedars. When the leaves were down, there was a wide view of the opposite bank of the river. West Point was right there, and West Point had been an important part of Reacher's life.

  But he was not a nostalgic guy. Part of being a drifter means you look forward, not backward. You concentrate on what's ahead. And he felt in his gut that a big part of looking ahead was looking for newness. Looking for places you hadn't been and things you hadn't seen. And the irony of his life was that although he had covered most of the earth's surface, one time or another, he felt he hadn't seen much. A lifetime in the service was like rushing down a narrow corridor, eyes fixed firmly to the front. There was all kinds of enticing stuff off to the sides, which you rushed past and ignored. Now he wanted to take the side trips. He wanted a crazy zigzag, any direction he felt like, any old time he wanted.

  And returning to the same place every night wouldn't do it. So his decision was the right one. He said the words to himself. Sell the house. The house is on the market. The house is for sale. The house is sold. He said the words and a weight came up off of him. It wasn't just the practical weight, although that was important. No more fretting about leaks in the pipes and bills in the mail and oil deliveries and insurance coverage. It was the release. Like he was back in the world, unburdened. He was free and ready to go. It was like a door opening and sunlight flooding in. He smiled to himself in the thrumming darkness of the tunnel, Harper at his side.

  "You actually enjoying this?" she said.

  "Best mile of my life," he answered.

  YOU WAIT ANDand you watch, hour after hour. Perfectionism like that, you don't find everywhere. But you are perfect, and you have to stay perfect. You have to stay sure. And by now you're sure the cop is a permanent fixture. He eats in his car, he uses her bathroom from time to time, and that's it. So you think about hijacking the cop, maybe tomorrow morning, just before eight o'clock, and impersonating him. Replacing him on duty. You think about sitting in his car for a spell and then walking up to Scimeca's door and knocking, like you were ready to relieve yourself. You think about that for around a second and a half, and then you reject it, of course. His uniform wouldn't fit. And you'd be expected to chat with the Bureau guy at the eight o'clock handover. He'd know you were a fake, straight off the bat. It's not like he's dealing with a big anonymous police department like he'd get in New York or L. A.

  So either the cop has to be moved, or you have to go in right past him. At first you toy with the idea of a diversion. What would it take to get him out of there? A major automobile accident at the crossroads, maybe. A fire in the school, perhaps. But as far as you know the village doesn't have a school. You've seen yellow buses on the road, heading in and out toward Portland. The school is probably in another jurisdiction. And an automobile accident would be hard to stage. Certainly you're not about to involve yourself in one. And how do you induce two other drivers to get in a crash?

  Maybe a bomb threat. But where? At the station house? That would be no good. The cop would be told to stay where he was, safely out of the way, until it was checked out. So where else? Some spot where people are gathered, maybe. Somewhere the whole police department would be needed to handle the evacuation. But this is a tiny place. Where do people gather? The church, maybe. You can see a spire, down near the through road. But you can't wait until next Sunday. The library? Probably nobody in there. Two old dears at most, sitting there doing their needlepoint, ignoring the books. Evacuation could be handled by the other cop on his own in about three and a half seconds.

  And a bomb threat would mean a phone call. You start to think about that. Where from? Calls can be traced. You could head back to the airport in Portland and call from there. Tracing a call to an airport pay phone is the same thing as not tracing it at all. But then you're miles out of position at the critical time. A safe call, but a useless call. Catch-22. And there are no pay phones within a million miles of where you're crouched, not in the middle of the damn Rocky Mountains or whatever the hell they call them. And you can't use your mobile, because eventually the call would appear on your bill, which ultimately is the same thing as a confession in open court. And who can you call? You can't allow anybody to hear your voice. It's too distinctive. Too dangerous.

  But the more you think about it, the more your strategy centers around the phone. There's one person you can safely let hear your voice. But it's a geometric problem. Four dimensional. Time and space. You have to call from right here, in the open, within sight of the house, but you can't use your mobile. Impasse.

  THEY DROVE OUT of the tunnel and streamed west with the traffic. Route 3 angled slightly north toward the Turnpike. It was a shiny night in New Jersey, damp asphalt everywhere, sodium lights with evening fog haloes strung like necklaces. There were lit billboards and neon signs left and right. Establishments of every nature behind lumpy blacktop yards.

  The roadhouse they were looking for was in the back of a leftover lot where three roads met. It was labeled with a beer company's neon sign which said Mac-Stiophan's, which as far as Reacher understood Gaelic meant Stevenson's. It was a low building with a flat roof. Its walls were faced with brown boards and there was a green neon shamrock in every window. Its parking lot was badly lit and three-quarters empty. Reacher put the Maxima at a casual angle across two spaces near the door. Slid out and looked around. The air was cold. He turned a full circle in the dark, scanning the lot against the lights from the street.

  "No Cadillac DeVille," he said. "He's not here yet. "

  Harper looked at the door, cautiously.

  "We're a little early," she said. "I guess we'll wait. "

  "You can wait out here," he said. "If you prefer. "

  She shook her head.

  "I've been in worse places," she said.

  It was hard for Reacher to imagine where and when. The outer door led to a six-by-six lobby with a cigarette machine and a sisal mat worn smooth and greasy with use. The inner door led to a low dark space full of the stink of beer fumes and smoke. There was no ventilation running. The green shamrocks in the windows shone inward as well as outward and gave the place a pale ghostly glare. The walls were dark boards, dulled and sticky with fifty years of cigarettes. The bar was a long wooden structure with halved barrels stuck to the front. There were tall barstools with red vinyl seats and lower versions of the same thing scattered around the room near tables bu
ilt of lacquered barrels with plywood circles nailed to their tops. The plywood was rubbed smooth and dirty from thousands of wrists and hands.

  There was a bartender behind the bar and eight customers in the body of the room. All of them had glasses of beer set on the plywood in front of them. All of them were men. All of them were staring at the new-comers. None of them was a soldier. They were all wrong for the military. Some were too old, some were too soft, some had long dirty hair. Just ordinary workingmen. Or maybe unemployed. But they were all hostile. They were silent, like they had just stopped talking in the middle of low muttered sentences. They were staring, like they were trying to intimidate.

  Reacher swept his gaze over all of them, pausing on each face, long enough to let them know he wasn't impressed, and short enough to stop them thinking he was in any way interested. Then he stepped to the bar and rolled a stool out for Harper.

  "What's on draft?" he asked the bartender.

  The guy was wearing an unwashed dress shirt with no collar. Pleats all the way down the front. He had a dish towel squared over his shoulder. He was maybe fifty, gray-faced, paunchy. He didn't answer.

  "What have you got?" Reacher asked again.

  No reply.

  "Hey, are you deaf?" Harper called to the guy.

  She was half on and half off the stool, one foot on the floor, the other on the rung. Her jacket was draped open and she was twisting around from the waist. Her hair was loose down her back.

  "Let's make a deal," she said. "You give us beer, we give you money, take it from there. Maybe you could turn it into a business, you know, call it running a saloon. "

  The guy turned to her.

  "Haven't seen you in here before," he said.

  Harper smiled. "No, we're new customers. That's what it's all about, expanding your customer base, right? Do it well enough, and you'll be the barroom king of the Garden State, no time at all. "

  "What do you want?" the guy said.

  "Two beers," Reacher said.

  "Apart from that?"

  "Well, we're already enjoying the ambiance and the friendly welcome. "

  "People like you don't come in a place like mine without wanting something. "

  "We're waiting for Bob," Harper said.

  "Bob who?"

  "Bob with real short hair and an old Cadillac DeVille, " Reacher said. "Bob from the Army, comes in here eight o'clock every night. "

  "You're waiting for him?"

  "Yes, we're waiting for him," Harper said.

  The guy smiled. Yellow teeth, some of them missing.

  "Well, you've got a long wait, then," he said.

  "Why?"

  "Buy a drink, and I'll tell you. "

  "We've been trying to buy a drink for the last five minutes," Reacher said.

  "What do you want?"

  "Two beers," Reacher said. "Whatever's on tap. "

  "Bud or Bud Light. "

  "One of each, OK?"

  The guy took two glasses down from an overhead rack and filled them. The room was still silent. Reacher could feel eight pairs of eyes on his back. The guy placed the beers on the bar. There was an inch of soapy foam on the top of each of them. The guy peeled two cocktail napkins from a stack and dealt them out like cards. Harper pulled a wallet from her pocket and dropped a ten between the glasses.

  "Keep the change," she said. "So why have we got a long wait for Bob?"

  The guy smiled again and slid the ten backward. Folded it into his hand and put his hand in his pocket.

  "Because Bob's in jail, far as I know," he said.

  "What for?"

  "Some Army thing," the guy said. "I don't know the details, and I don't want to know the details. That's how you do business in this part of the Garden State, miss, begging your damn pardon, your fancy ideas notwithstanding. "

  "What happened?" Reacher asked.

  "Military policemen came in and grabbed him up right here, right in this room. "

  "When?" Reacher asked.

  "Took six of them to get him. They smashed a table. I just got a check from the Army. All the way from Washington, D. C. The Pentagon. In the mail. "

  "When was this?" Reacher asked.

  "When the check came? Couple days ago. "

  "No, when did they arrest him?"

  "I'm not sure," the guy said. "They were still playing baseball, I remember that. Regular season, too. Couple months ago, I guess. "

 
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