Running blind, p.24
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       Running Blind, p.24
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         Part #4 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
Chapter 24

 

  THEY LEFT THE beer untouched on the bar and headed back to the parking lot. Unlocked the Nissan and slid inside.

  "Couple months is no good," Harper said. "Puts him right outside the picture. "

  "He was never in the picture," Reacher said. "But we'll go talk to him anyway. "

  "How can we do that? He's in the Army system somewhere. "

  He looked at her. "Harper, I was a military policeman for thirteen years. If I can't find him, who can?"

  "He could be anywhere. "

  "No, he couldn't. If this dump is his local bar, it means he was posted somewhere near here. Low-grade guy like that, a regional MP office will be handling him. Two-month time span, he's not court-martialed yet, so he's in a holding pattern at a regional MP HQ, which for this region is Fort Armstrong outside of Trenton, which is less than two hours away. "

  "You sure?"

  He shrugged. "Unless things have changed a hell of a lot in three years. "

  "Some way you can check?" she asked.

  "I don't need to check. "

  "We don't want to waste time here," she said.

  He said nothing back and she smiled and opened her bag. Came out with a folded cellular phone the size of a cigarette packet.

  "Use my mobile," she said.

  EVERYBODY USES MOBILES. They use them all the time, just constantly. It's a phenomenon of the modern age. Everybody's talk, talk, talking, all the time, little black telephones pressed up to their faces. Where does all that conversation come from? What happened to all that conversation before mobiles were invented? Was it all bottled up? Burning ulcers in people's guts? Or did it just develop spontaneously because technology made it possible?

  It's a subject you're interested in. Human impulses. Your guess is a small percentage of calls made represents useful exchange of information. But the vast majority must fall into one of two categories, either the fun aspect, the sheer delight of doing something simply because you can, or else the ego-building self-important bullshit aspect. And your observation is that it splits pretty much along gender lines. It's not an opinion you'd care to voice in public, but privately you're sure women talk because they enjoy it, and men talk because it builds them up. Hi, honey, I'm just getting off the plane, they say. So what? Like, who cares?

  But you're confident that men's use of mobiles is more closely connected to their ego needs, so it's necessarily a stronger attachment, and therefore a more frequent urge. So if you steal a phone from a man, it will be discovered earlier, and reacted to with a greater degree of upset. That's your judgment. Therefore you're sitting in the airport food court watching the women.

  The other major advantage of women is that they have smaller pockets. Sometimes, no pockets at all. Therefore they carry bags, into which goes all their stuff. Their wallets, their keys, their makeup. And their mobile phones. They take them out to use them, maybe rest them on the table for a spell, and then put them right back in their bags. If they get up for a coffee refill, of course, they take their bags with them. That's ingrained. Always keep your pocketbook with you. But some of them have other bags too. There are laptop cases, which these days are made with all kinds of extra compartments for the disks and the CD-ROM thing and the cables. And some of them have pockets for mobiles, little external leather rectangles the same shape as the cigarettes-and-lighter cases women carried back when people smoked. Those other cases, they don't always take them with them. If they're just stepping away to the beverage counter, they often leave them at the table, partly to keep their place claimed, partly because who can carry a pocketbook and a laptop case and a hot cup of coffee?

  But you're ignoring the women with the laptop cases. Because those expensive leather articles imply some kind of serious purpose. Their owners might get home in an hour and want to check their e-mail or finalize a pie chart or something, whereupon they open their laptop case and find their phone is gone. Police notified, account canceled, calls traced, all within an hour. No good at all.

  So the women you're watching are the nonbusiness travelers. The ones with the little nylon backpacks carried as cabin baggage. And you're specifically watching the ones heading out of town, not in toward home. They're going to make a last couple of calls from the airport and then stuff their phones into their backpacks and forget all about them, because they're flying out of the local coverage area and they don't want to pay roaming charges. Maybe they're vacationing overseas, in which case their phones are as useless to them as their house keys. Something they have to take along, but not something they ever think about.

  The one particular target you're watching most closely is a woman of about twenty-three or -four, maybe forty feet away. She's dressed comfortably like she's got a long flight ahead, and she's leaning back in her chair with her head tilted left and her phone trapped in her shoulder. She's smiling vacantly as she talks, and playing with her nails. Picking at them and turning her hands in the light to look at them. This is a lazy say-nothing chat with a girlfriend. No intensity in her face. She's just talking for the sake of talking.

  Her carry-on bag is on the floor near her feet. It's a small designer backpack, all covered in little loops and catches and zippers. It's clearly so complicated to close that she's left it gaping open. She picks up her coffee cup and puts it down again. It's empty. She talks and checks her watch and cranes to look at the beverage counter. She wraps up the chat. Flips her phone closed and drops it in her backpack. Picks up a matching pocketbook and stands up and wheels away to get more coffee.

  You're on your feet instantly. Car keys in your hand. You hustle straight across the court, ten feet, twenty, thirty. You're swinging the keys. Looking busy. She's in line. About to be served. You drop your keys and they skid across the tiles. You bend to retrieve them. Your hand skims her bag. You come back up with the keys and the phone together. You walk on. The keys go back in your pocket. The phone stays in your hand. Nothing more ordinary than somebody walking through an airport lounge holding a mobile.

  You walk at normal pace. Stop and lean on a pillar. You flip the phone open and hold it at your face, pretending to make a call. Now you're invisible. You're a person leaning on a pillar making a call. There are a dozen of you within a twenty-foot radius. You look back. She's back at her table, drinking her coffee. You wait, whispering nothing into the phone. She drinks. Three minutes. Four. Five. You press random buttons and start talking again. You're on a new call. You're busy. You're one of the guys. She stands up. Yanks on the cords of her backpack to close it up. Picks it up by the cords and bounces it against its own weight to make them tight. She buckles the catches. Swings the pack onto one shoulder and picks up her pocketbook. Opens it to check her ticket is accessible. Closes it again. She looks around once and strides purposefully out of the food court. Straight toward you. She passes within five feet and disappears toward the departure gates. You flip the phone closed and slip it into the pocket of your suit and you walk out the other way. You smile to yourself as you go. Now the crucial call is going to end up on someone else's bill.

  THE PHONE CALL to the Fort Armstrong duty officer revealed nothing at all on the surface, but the guy's evasions were voiced in such a way that a thirteen-year Army cop like Reacher took them to be confirmation as good as he'd get if they were written in an affidavit sworn before a notary public.

  "He's there," he said.

  Harper had been eavesdropping, and she didn't look convinced.

  "They tell you that for sure?" she asked.

  "More or less," he said.

  "So is it worth going?"

  He nodded. "He's there, I guarantee it. "

  The Nissan had no maps in it, and Harper had no idea of where she was. Reacher had only anecdotal knowledge of New Jersey geography. He knew how to get from A to B, and then from B to C, and then from C to D, but whether that was the most efficient direct route all the way from A to D, he had no idea. So he came out of th
e lot and headed for the turnpike on-ramp. He figured driving south for an hour would be a good start. He realized within a minute he was using the same road Lamarr had driven him on, just a few days before. It was raining lightly and the Nissan rode harder and lower than her big Buick. It was right down there in the tunnel of spray. The windshield was filmed with city grease and the wipers were blurring the view out with every alternate stroke. Smear, clear, smear, clear. The needle on the gas gauge was heading below a quarter.

  "We should stop," Harper said. "Get gas, clean the window. "

  "And buy a map," Reacher said.

  He pulled off into the next service area. It was pretty much identical to the place Lamarr had used for lunch. Same layout, same buildings. He rolled through the rain to the gas pumps and left the car at the full-service island. The tank was full and the guy was cleaning the windshield when he got back, wet, carrying a colored map which unfolded awkwardly into a yard-square sheet.

  "We're on the wrong road," he said. "Route 1 would be better. "

  "OK, next exit," Harper said, craning over. "Use 95 to jump across. "

  She used her finger to trace south down Route 1. Found Fort Armstrong on the edge of the yellow shape that represented Trenton.

  "Close to Fort Dix," she said. "Where we were before. "

  Reacher said nothing. The guy finished with the windshield and Harper paid him through her window. Reacher wiped rain off his face with his sleeve and started the motor. Threaded his way back to the highway and watched for the turn onto 95.

  I-95 was a mess, with heavy traffic. Route 1 was better. It curved through Highland Park and then ran dead straight for nearly twenty miles, all the way into Trenton. Reacher remembered Fort Armstrong as a left-hand turn coming north out of Trenton, so coming south it was a right-hand turn, onto another dead straight approach road, which took them all the way to a vehicle barrier outside a two-story brick guardhouse. Beyond the guardhouse were more roads and buildings. The roads were flat with whitewashed curbs and the buildings were all brick with radiused corners and external stairways made of welded tubular steel painted green. Window frames were metal. Classic Army architecture of the fifties, built with unlimited budgets and unlimited scope. Unlimited optimism.

  "The U. S. military," Reacher said. "We were kings of the world, back then. "

  There was dimmed light in the guardhouse window next to the vehicle barrier. A sentry was visible, silhouetted against the light, bulky in a rain cape and helmet. He peered through the window and stepped to the door. Opened it up and came out to the car. Reacher buzzed his window down.

  "You the guy who called the captain?" the sentry asked.

  He was a heavy black guy. Low voice, slow accent from the Deep South. Far from home on a rainy night. Reacher nodded. The sentry grinned.

  "He figured you might show up in person," he said. "Go ahead in. "

  He stepped back into the guardhouse and the barrier came up. Reacher drove carefully over the tire spikes and turned left.

  "That was easy," Harper said.

  "You ever met a retired FBI agent?" Reacher asked.

  "Sure, once or twice. Couple of the old guys. "

  "How did you treat them?"

  She nodded. "Like that guy treated you, I guess. "

  "All organizations are the same," he said. "Military police more so than the others, maybe. The rest of the Army hates you, so you stick together more. "

  He turned right, then right again, then left.

  "You been here before?" Harper asked.

  "These places are all the same," he said. "Look for the biggest flower bed, that's where the general office is. "

  She pointed. "That looks promising. "

  He nodded. "You got the idea. "

  The headlight beams played over a rose bed the size of an Olympic pool. The roses were just dormant stalks, sticking up out of a surface lumpy with horse manure and shredded bark. Behind them was a low symmetrical building with whitewashed steps leading up to double doors in the center. A light burned in a window in the middle of the left-hand wing.

  "Duty office," Reacher said. "The sentry called the captain soon as we were through the gate, so right now he's walking down the corridor to the doors. Watch for the light. "

  The fanlights above the doors lit up with a yellow glow.

  "Now the outside lights," Reacher said.

  Two carriage lamps mounted on the door pillars lit up. Reacher stopped the car at the bottom of the steps.

  "Now the doors open," he said.

  The doors opened inward and a man in uniform stepped through the gap.

  "That was me, about a million years ago," Reacher said.

  The captain waited at the top of the steps, far enough out to be in the light from the carriage lamps, far enough in to be sheltered from the drizzle. He was a head shorter than Reacher had ever been, but he was broad and he looked fit. Dark hair neatly combed, plain steel eyeglasses. His uniform jacket was buttoned, but his face looked open enough. Reacher slid out of the Nissan and walked around the hood. Harper joined him at the foot of the whitewashed steps.

  "Come in out of the rain," the captain called.

  His accent was East Coast urban. Bright and alert. He had an amiable smile. Looked like a decent guy. Reacher went up the steps first. Harper saw his shoes leaving wet stains on the whitewash. Glanced down and saw her own were doing the same thing.

  "Sorry," she said.

  The captain smiled again.

  "Don't worry," he said. "The prisoners paint them every morning. "

  "This is Lisa Harper," Reacher said. "She's with the FBI. "

  "Pleased to meet you," the captain said. "I'm John Leighton. "

  The three of them shook hands all around at the doors and Leighton led them inside. He turned off the carriage lamps with a switch inside the doors and then killed the hallway light.

  "Budgets," he said. "Can't waste money. "

  Light from his office was spilling out into the corridor, and he led them toward it. Stood at his door and ushered them inside. The office was original fifties, updated only where strictly necessary. Old desk, new computer, old file cabinet, new phone. There were crammed bookcases and every surface was overloaded with paper.

  "They're keeping you busy," Reacher said.

  Leighton nodded. "Tell me about it. "

  "So we'll try not to take up too much of your time. "

  "Don't worry. I called around, after you called me, naturally. Friend of a friend said I should push the boat out. Word is you were a solid guy, for a major. "

  Reacher smiled, briefly.

  "Well, I always tried to be," he said. "For a major. Who was the friend of the friend?"

  "Some guy worked for you when you worked for old Leon Garber. He said you were a stand-up guy and old Garber always swore by you, which makes you pretty much OK as long as this generation is still in harness. "

  "People still remember Garber?"

  "Do Yankees fans still remember Joe DiMaggio?"

  "I'm seeing Garber's daughter," Reacher said.

  "I know," Leighton said. "Word gets around. You're a lucky guy. Jodie Garber's a nice lady, from what I recall. "

  "You know her?"

  Leighton nodded. "I met her on the bases, when I was coming up. "

  "I'll remember you to her. "

  Then he lapsed into silence, thinking about Jodie, and Leon. He was going to sell the house Leon had left him, and Jodie was worrying about it.

  "Sit down," Leighton said. "Please. "

  There were two upright chairs in front of the desk, tubular metal and canvas, like the things storefront churches threw away a generation ago.

  "So how can I help you?" Leighton said, aiming the question at Reacher, looking at Harper.

  "She'll explain," Reacher said.

  She ran through it all from the beginning, summarizing. It took seven or eight minutes.
Leighton listened attentively, interrupting her here and there.

  "I know about the women," he said. "We heard. "

  She finished with Reacher's smoke screen theory, the possible Army thefts, and the trail which led from Petrosian's boys in New York to Bob in New Jersey.

  "His name is Bob McGuire," Leighton said. "Quartermaster sergeant. But he's not your guy. We've had him two months, and he's too dumb, anyway. "

  "We figured that," Harper said. "Feeling was he could name names, maybe lead us to somebody more likely. "

  "A bigger fish?"

  Harper nodded. "Somebody doing enough business to make it worth killing witnesses. "

  Leighton nodded back.

  "Theoretically, there might be such a person," he said, cautiously.

  "You got a name?"

  Leighton looked at her and shook his head. Leaned back in his chair and rubbed the heels of his hands over his eyes. Suddenly looked very tired.

  "Problem?" Reacher asked.

  "How long have you been out?" Leighton asked back, eyes closed.

  "About three years, I guess," Reacher said.

  Leighton yawned and stretched and returned to an upright position.

  "Things have changed," he said. "Time marches on, right?"

  "What's changed?"

  "Everything," Leighton said. "Well, this, mainly. " He leaned over and tapped his computer monitor with his nail. It made a glassy ringing thunk, like a bottle. "Smaller Army, easier to organize, more time on our hands. So they computerized us, completely. Makes communication a whole lot easier. Makes it so we all know each other's business. Makes inventories easier to manage. You want to know how many Willys Jeep tires we got in store, even though we don't use Willys Jeeps anymore? Give me ten minutes, I can tell you. "

  "So?"

  "So we keep track of everything, much better than we used to. For instance, we know how many M9 Berettas have ever been delivered, we know how many have ever been legitimately issued, and we know how many we got in store. And if those numbers didn't add up, we'd be worrying about it, believe me. "

  "So do the numbers add up?"

  Leighton grinned, briefly. "They do now. That's for damn sure. Nobody's stolen an M9 Beretta from the U. S. Army in the last year and a half. "

  "So what was Bob McGuire doing two months ago?" Reacher asked.

  "Selling out the last of his stockpile. He'd been thieving ten years, at least. A little computer analysis made it obvious. Him, and a couple dozen others in a couple dozen different locations. We put procedures in place to dry up the stealing and we rounded up all the bad guys selling whatever they still had left. "

  "All of them?"

  "Computer says so. We were leaking weapons like crazy, all kinds of descriptions, couple of dozen locations, so we arrest a couple dozen guys, and the leakage has stopped. McGuire was about the last, maybe second-to-last, I'm not sure. "

  "No more weapons theft?"

  "Yesterday's news," Leighton said. "You're behind the times. "

  There was silence.

  "Good job," Reacher said. "Congratulations. "

  "Smaller Army," Leighton said. "More time on our hands. "

  "You got them all?" Harper asked.

  Leighton just nodded. "All of them. Big push, worldwide. There weren't that many. Computers did the trick. "

  Silence in the office.

  "Well, shit, there goes that theory," she said.

  She stared at the floor. Leighton shook his head, cautiously.

  "Maybe not," he said. "We've got a theory of our own. "

  She looked up again. "The big fish?"

  Leighton nodded. "Right. "

  "Who is he?"

  "He's only theoretical, as of now. "

  "Theoretical?"

  "He's not active," Leighton said. "He's not stealing anything. Like I told you, we identified all the leaks and we plugged them all. Couple dozen guys waiting for trial, all the leak locations accounted for. But the way we picked them up was we sent undercover guys in, to buy the stuff. Entrapment. Bob McGuire, for instance, he sold a couple of Berettas to a couple of lieutenants in a bar. "

  "We were just there," Harper said. "MacStiophan's, near the New Jersey Turnpike. "

  "Right," Leighton said. "Our guys bought two M9s out of the trunk of his car, two hundred bucks apiece, which is about a third of what the Army pays for them, by the by. So then we haul McGuire in and we start ripping him apart. We know more or less exactly how many pieces he's stolen over the years, because of the inventory analysis on the computer, and we figure an average price, and we start looking for where the money has gone. And we find about a half of it, either in bank accounts or in the form of stuff he's bought. "

  "So?" Reacher said.

  "So nothing, not right then. But we're pooling information and the story is pretty much the same everywhere. They've all got about a half of their money missing. More or less the exact same proportion everywhere. And these guys are not the smartest guys you've ever met, right? They couldn't hide their money from us. And even if they could, why would they all hide exactly half of it? Why wouldn't some of them hide all of it, or two thirds, or three quarters? You know, whatever, a different proportion in each case?"

  "Enter the theoretical big fish," Reacher said.

  Leighton nodded. "Exactly. How else to explain it? It was like a puzzle with a missing piece. We started to figure some kind of a godfather figure, you know, some big guy in the shadows, maybe organizing everything, maybe offering protection in exchange for half the profit. "

  "Or half the guns," Reacher said.

  "Right," Leighton said.

  "Somebody running a protection racket," Harper said. "Like a scam inside a scam. "

  "Right," Leighton said again.

  There was a long pause.

  "Looks good from our point of view," Harper said. "Guy like that, he's smart and capable, and he has to run around taking care of problems in various random locations. Could explain why he's interested in so many different women. Not because all the women knew him, but because maybe each one of them knew one of his clients. "

  "Timing is good for you too," Leighton said. "If our guy is your guy, he started planning two, three months ago, when he heard his clients were starting to go down. "

  Harper sat forward. "What was the volume of business like two, three years ago?"

  "Pretty heavy," Leighton said. "You're really asking how much these women could have seen, right?"

  "Right. "

  "They could have seen plenty," Leighton said.

  "So how good is your case?" she asked. "Against Bob McGuire, for instance?"

  Leighton shrugged. "Not brilliant. We've got him for the two pieces he sold to our guys, of course, but that's only two pieces. The rest of it is basically circumstantial, and the fact the money doesn't tie up properly weakens the hell out of it. "

  "So eliminating the witnesses before the trials makes sense. "

  Leighton nodded. "Makes a hell of a lot of sense, I guess. "

  "So who is this guy?"

  Leighton rubbed his eyes again. "We have no idea. We don't even know for sure there is a guy. He's just a guess right now. Just our theory. "

  "Nobody's saying anything?"

  "Not a damn word. We've been asking, two months solid. We've got two dozen guys, all of them with their mouths shut tight. We figure the big guy's really put the frighteners on. "

  "He's scary, that's for sure," Harper said. "From what we know about him. "

  There was silence in Leighton's office. Just the brittle patter of rain on the windows.

  "If he exists," Leighton said.

  "He exists," Harper said.

  Leighton nodded. "We think so too. "

  "Well, we need his name, I guess," Reacher said.

  No reply.

  "I should go talk to McGuire for you," Reacher said.

 
Leighton smiled. "I figured you'd be saying that before long. I was all set to say no, it's improper. But you know what? I just changed my mind. I just decided to say yes, go ahead. Be my guest. "

  THE CELL BLOCK was underground, like it always is in a regional HQ, below a squat brick building with an iron door, standing alone on the other side of the rose bed. Leighton led them over there through the rain, their collars turned up against the damp and their chins ducked down to their chests. Leighton used an old-fashioned bellpull outside the iron door and it opened after a second to reveal a bright hallway with a huge master sergeant standing in it. The sergeant stepped aside and Leighton led them in.

  Inside, the walls were made of brick faced with white porcelain glaze. The floors and the ceilings were smooth troweled concrete painted shiny green. Lights were fluorescent tubes behind thick metal grilles. Doors were iron, with square barred openings at the top. There was a cubbyhole office on the right, with a wooden rack of keys on four-inch metal hoops. There was a big desk, piled high with video recorders taping milky-gray flickering images from twelve small monitor screens. The screens showed twelve cells, eleven of them empty and one of them with a humped shape under a blanket on the bed.

  "Quiet night at the Hilton," Reacher said.

  Leighton nodded. "Gets worse Saturday nights. But right now McGuire's our only guest. "

  "The video recording is a problem," Reacher said.

  "Always breaking down, though," Leighton said.

  He bent to examine the pictures on the monitors. Braced his hands on the desk. Bent closer. Rolled his right hand until his knuckle touched a switch. The recorders stopped humming and the REC legends disappeared from the corners of the screens.

  "See?" he said. "Very unreliable system. "

  "It'll take a couple hours to fix," the sergeant said. "At least. "

  The sergeant was a giant, shiny skin the color of coffee. His uniform jacket was the size of a field tent. Reacher and Harper would have fitted into it together. Maybe Leighton, too. The guy was the exact ideal-issue MP noncom.

  "McGuire's got a visitor, Sergeant," Leighton said. An off-the-record voice. "Doesn't need to go in the log. "

  Reacher took off his coat and his jacket. Folded them and left them on the sergeant's chair. The sergeant took a hoop of keys off the wooden board and moved to the inside door. Unlocked it and swung it back. Reacher stepped through and the sergeant closed the door and locked it again behind him. Pointed to the head of a staircase.

  "After you," he said.

  The staircase was built of bricks, rounded at the nose of each stair. The walls either side were the same white glaze. There was a metal handrail, bolted through to the wall every twelve inches. Another locked door at the bottom. Then a corridor, then another locked door. Then a lobby, with three locked doors to three blocks of cells. The sergeant unlocked the middle door. Flipped a switch and fluorescent light stuttered and flooded a bright white area forty feet by twenty. There was an access zone the length of the block and about a third of its depth. The rest of the space was divided into four cells delineated by heavy iron bars. The bars were thickly covered in shiny white enamel paint. The cells were about ten feet wide, maybe twelve deep. Each cell had a video camera opposite, mounted high on the wall. Three of the cells were empty, with their gates folded back. The fourth was locked closed. It held McGuire. He was struggling awake, sitting up, surprised by the light.

  "Visitor for you," the sergeant called.

  There were two tall wooden stools in the corner of the access zone nearest the exit door. The sergeant carried the nearer one over and placed it in front of McGuire's cell. Walked back and sat on the other. Reacher ignored the stool and stood with his hands behind his back, gazing silently through the bars. McGuire was pushing his blanket aside and swinging his feet to the floor. He was wearing an olive undershirt and olive shorts. He was a big guy. More than six feet tall, more than two hundred pounds, more than thirty-five years old. Heavily muscled, a thick neck, big arms, big legs. Thinning hair cropped close, small eyes, a couple of tattoos. Reacher stood absolutely still, watching him, saying nothing.

  "Hell are you?" McGuire said. His voice matched his bulk. It was deep, and the words were half swallowed by a heavy chest. Reacher made no reply. It was a technique he had perfected half a lifetime ago. Just stand absolutely still, don't blink, say nothing. Wait for them to run through the possibilities. Not a buddy. Not a lawyer. Who, then? Wait for them to start worrying.

  "Hell are you?" McGuire said again.

  Reacher walked away. He stepped over to where the master sergeant was sitting and bent to whisper in his ear. The giant's eyebrows came up. You sure? Reacher whispered again. The guy nodded and stood up and handed Reacher the hoop of keys. Went out through the door and closed it behind him. Reacher hung the keys on the knob and walked back to McGuire's cell. McGuire was staring through the bars at him.

  "What do you want?" he said.

  "I want you to look at me," Reacher replied.

  "What?"

  "What do you see?"

  "Nothing," McGuire said.

  "You blind?"

  "No, I ain't blind. "

  "Then you're a liar," Reacher said. "You don't see nothing. "

  "I see some guy," McGuire said.

  "You see some guy bigger than you who had all kinds of special training while you spent your time shuffling paper in some piece-of-shit quartermaster's stores. "

  "So?"

  "So nothing. Just something to bear in mind for later, is all. "

  "What's later?"

  "You'll find out," Reacher said.

  "What do you want?"

  "I want proof. "

  "Of what?"

  "Of exactly how dumb a piece of shit like you really is. "

  McGuire paused. His eyes narrowed, pushed into deep furrows by his brow.

  "Easy for you to talk like that," he said. "Standing six feet away from these bars. "

  Reacher took an exaggerated pace forward.

  "Now I'm two feet from the bars," he said. "And you're still a dumb piece of shit. "

  McGuire took a step forward, too. He was a foot inside the cell, holding a bar in each fist. A level gaze in his eyes. Reacher stepped forward again.

  "Now I'm a foot from the bars, same as you," he said. "And you're still a dumb piece of shit. "

  McGuire's right hand came off the bar and closed into a fist and his whole arm rammed straight out like a piston. It was headed for Reacher's throat. Reacher caught the wrist and swayed and whipped the fist past his head and rocked his weight back and hauled McGuire tight up against the inside of the bars. Twisted the wrist palm-out and walked left and bent the arm back against the elbow joint.

  "See how dumb you are?" he said. "I keep on walking, I break your arm. "

  McGuire was gasping against the pressure. Reacher smiled briefly and dropped the wrist. McGuire stared at him and hauled his arm back inside, rolling the shoulder, testing the damage.

  "What do you want?" he said again.

  "Want me to open the cell gate?"

  "What?"

  "Keys are right over there. You want the gate open, even things up a little?"

  McGuire's eyes narrowed a little more. He nodded. "Yeah, open the damn gate. "

  Reacher stepped away and lifted the hoop of keys off the knob of the exit door. Shuffled through them and found the right one. He'd handled plenty of cell keys. He could pick one out blindfolded. He stepped back and unlocked the gate. Swung it open. McGuire stood still. Reacher walked away and put the hoop of keys back on the doorknob. Stood facing the door, his back to the cell.

  "Sit down," he called. "I left the stool there for you. "

  He sensed McGuire coming out of the cell. Heard his bare feet on the concrete floor. Heard them stop.

  "What do you want?" McGuire said again.

  Reacher kept his back turned. Straining to s
ense McGuire's approach. It wasn't happening.

  "It's complicated," he said. "You're going to have to juggle a number of factors. "

  "What factors?" McGuire asked, blankly.

  "First factor is I'm unofficial, OK?" Reacher said.

  "What does that mean?"

  "You tell me. "

  "I don't know," McGuire said.

  Reacher turned around. "It means I'm not an Army cop, I'm not a civilian cop, in fact I'm not anything at all. "

  "So?"

  "So there's no comeback on me. No disciplinary procedures, no pension to lose, no nothing. "

  "So?"

  "So if I leave you walking on crutches and drinking through a straw the rest of your life, there's nothing anybody can do to me. And we got no witnesses in here. "

  "What do you want?"

  "Second factor is whatever the big guy says he'll do to you, I can do worse. "

  "What big guy?"

  Reacher smiled. McGuire's hands bunched into fists. Heavy biceps, big shoulders.

  "Now it gets sophisticated," Reacher said. "You need to concentrate real hard on this part. Third factor is, if you give me the guy's name, he goes away somewhere else, forever. You give me his name, he can't get to you. Not ever, you understand?"

  "What name? What guy?"

  "The guy you were paying off with half your take. "

  "No such guy. "

  Reacher shook his head. "We're past that stage now, OK? We know there's such a guy. So don't make me smack you around before we even get to the important part. "

  McGuire tensed up. Breathed hard. Then he quieted down. His body slackened slightly and his eyes narrowed again.

  "So concentrate," Reacher said. "You think that to rat him out puts you in the shit. But you're wrong. What you need to understand is, you rat him out and actually it makes you safe, the whole rest of your life, because people are looking at him for a bunch of things a whole lot worse than ripping off the Army. "

  "What's he done?" McGuire asked.

  Reacher smiled. He wished the video cameras had sound. The guy exists. Leighton would be dancing around the office.

  "The FBI thinks he killed four women. You give me his name, they'll put him away forever. Nobody's even going to ask him about anything else. "

  McGuire was silent. Thinking about it. It wasn't the speediest process Reacher had ever seen.

  "Two more factors," he said. "You tell me right now, I'll put in a good word for you. They'll listen to me, because I used to be one of them. Cops stick together, right? I can get you easy time. "

  McGuire said nothing.

  "Last factor," Reacher said gently. "You need to understand, sooner or later you'll tell me anyway. It's just a question of timing. Your choice. You can tell me right now, or you can tell me in a half hour, right after I've broken your arms and legs and I'm about to snap your spine. "

  "He's a bad guy," McGuire said.

  Reacher nodded. "I'm sure he's real bad. But you need to prioritize. Whatever he says he's going to do, that's theoretical, way off in the future, and like I told you, it isn't going to happen anyway. But what I'm going to do, it's going to happen right now. Right here. "

  "You ain't going to do nothing," McGuire said.

  Reacher turned and picked up the wooden stool. Flipped it upside down and held it chest high with his hands around two of the legs. Took a firm backhand grip and bunched his shoulders and pulled steadily. Then he breathed hard and snapped his elbows back and the legs tore away from the rungs. The rungs clattered to the floor. He reversed the stool and held the seat in his left hand and splintered a leg free with his right. Dropped the wreckage and retained the leg. It was about a yard long, the size and weight of a ball bat.

  "Now you do the same," he said.

  McGuire tried hard. He turned over his own stool and grasped the legs. His muscles bunched and the tattoos swelled, but he got nowhere with it. He just stood there, holding the stool upside down.

  "Too bad," Reacher said. "I tried to make it fair. "

  "He was Special Forces," McGuire said. "He was in Desert Storm. He's real tough. "

  "Doesn't matter," Reacher said. "He resists, the FBI will shoot him down. End of problem. "

  McGuire said nothing.

  "He won't know it came from you," Reacher said. "They'll make it look like he left some evidence behind. "

  McGuire said nothing. Reacher swung the leg of the stool.

  "Left or right?" he asked.

  "What?" McGuire said.

  "Which arm you want me to break first?"

  "LaSalle Kruger," McGuire said. "Supply battalion CO. He's a colonel. "

 
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