61 hours, p.24
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       61 Hours, p.24
 

         Part #14 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child

  The guy said nothing.

  Turner said, ‘But if you don’t talk to me, we’ll do the investigation in public. Right out in the open. We’ll tell CNN where your folks live, and we’ll call the navy about your brother. Not the officers. We’ll call his buddies first.’

  Silence for a long moment.

  Then the guy said, ‘OK.’

  ‘OK what?’

  ‘OK, I’ll talk to you.’

  ‘OK you’ll talk to me what?’

  ‘OK, I’ll talk to you, ma’am.’

  Turner rolled her window down. She called out, ‘Tell the pilot to go get his dinner.’

  Plato put the phone down on his pilot. The guy had called to say the weather in the north was due to take a turn for the worse at some point within the next twenty-four hours. More snow. Which Plato already knew. He had satellite television. He had a huge mesh dish bolted to a concrete pad right next to his house. The dish was connected to a box, and the box was connected to an enormous Sony LCD screen on the end wall of the living room. It was tuned to the Weather Channel.

  The Sony screen was not the only thing on the end wall. There were eighteen oil paintings next to it, all jostling for space. There were forty-three more on the two long walls. Twenty on the other end wall. A total of eighty-one works of art. Mostly second-rate pieces by fourth-rate painters. Or third-rate pieces by third-rate painters. Or fourth-rate pieces by second-rate painters. One was a Monet, supposedly, but Plato knew it had to be a forgery. Monet was a prolific artist. Widely distributed, often copied. Someone had once said that of the two thousand pictures Monet had painted in his lifetime, six thousand were in the United States alone. Plato wasn’t a fool. He knew what he had. And he knew why he had it. He didn’t much care for art. Not his thing. Each canvas was a souvenir, that was all, of a ruined life.

  In the spaces between the paintings he had nailed small inverted horseshoe-shaped arrays of thin brass pins. Dozens of them, maybe even hundreds. He hadn’t counted for a long time. Over each array was draped as many necklaces or bracelets as would fit. He had diamonds, emeralds, rubies, and sapphires. Gold chains, silver chains, platinum chains. He had earrings hung from single pins. He had finger rings looped over single pins. Wedding bands, engagement rings, signet rings, class rings, big diamond solitaires.

  Hundreds and hundreds of them.

  Maybe even thousands.

  It was all a question of time.

  It was a subject that interested him. It was dominated by class. How long could people last, after running out of cash, before they had to start selling their bodies? How many layers did people have, between defeat and surrender, between problem and ruin? For poor people, really no time at all, and no layers at all. They needed his product, so as soon as their meagre paycheques ran out, which was usually payday itself, they would start fighting and stealing and cheating, and then they would take to the streets, and they would do whatever it was they had to do. He got nothing but money from them.

  Rich people were different. Bigger paycheques, which lasted longer, but not for ever. Then would start the slow depletion of savings accounts, stocks, bonds, investments of all kinds. Then desperate hands would root through drawers and jewellery boxes. First would come forgotten pieces, pieces that were not liked, pieces that had been inherited. Those items would find their way to him after long slow journeys, from nice suburbs in Chicago and Minneapolis and Milwaukee and Des Moines and Indianapolis. They would be followed by paintings snatched from walls, rings pulled from fingers, chains unlatched from necks. A second wave would follow, as parents were looted, then a third, as grandparents were visited. When nothing was left, the rich people would succumb, too. Maybe at first in hotels, fooling themselves, but always eventually out on the street, in the cold, kneeling in filthy alleyways, men and women alike, doing what needed to be done.

  All a matter of time.

  Holland parked in the lot and headed for his office. Peterson and Reacher headed for the squad room. It was deserted, as usual. No messages on the back corner desk, nothing in voice mail. Reacher picked up the phone and then put it back. He tapped the space bar on the keyboard and the computer screen lit up and showed a graphic of a police shield that had Bolton Police Department written across it. The graphic was large and a little ragged. A little digital. A tower unit a yard away was humming and whirring and chattering. A hard drive, getting up to speed.

  Reacher asked, ‘Have you got databases in here?’

  Peterson asked, ‘Why?’

  ‘We could check on Plato. He seems to be the prime mover here, whoever he is.’

  Peterson sat down at the next desk along and tapped his own keyboard. Clicked here, clicked there, typed a password. Then some kind of dialogue box must have come up, because Reacher saw him use his left forefinger on the shift key, his right forefinger on a capital P, then on a lower case l, then an a, a t, and an o.

  Plato.

  ‘Nothing,’ Peterson said. ‘Just a redirect to Google, who says he’s a Greek philosopher.’

  ‘Got a list of known aliases?’

  Peterson typed some more. Nine keystrokes. Presumably aka, then a space, then Plato.

  ‘South American,’ he said. ‘Citizenship unknown. Real name unknown. Age unknown. Believed to live in Mexico. Believed to own pawn shops in five United States cities, suspected narcotics trafficker, suspected involvement in prostitution.’

  ‘Nice guy.’

  ‘No arrest record. Nothing in Mexico, either.’

  ‘Is that it?’

  ‘The federal databases will have more. But I can’t access them.’

  Reacher picked up the phone again, and then put it back. Rock Creek had more on its plate than his trivial business. He wondered if he was becoming an embarrassment. Or a bore. Like the grizzled old noncoms who still lived close to army posts and sat in grunt bars all night, full of piss and wind and out-of-date bullshit and nonsense. Or like retired city cops, the ones who hadn’t saved enough to move south, still patronizing the same old saloons and butting in on every conversation.

  Peterson said, ‘We could go up to the prison. It’s in the federal system. They’ve got computers. I know some of the guys there.’

  Five minutes to five in the afternoon.

  Eleven hours to go.

  TWENTY-EIGHT

  THE PRISON WAS FIVE MILES DUE NORTH, AT THE END OF A continuation of the same road that led up to town from the highway. The road was straight, as if a planner had laid a ruler on a map. It was ploughed and salted and pretty much clear from constant use. Visiting day. The shuttle buses had been busy.

  The five miles took eight minutes. For the first seven Reacher saw nothing ahead except a late gloomy sky and ice in the air. Then he saw the prison. There was a diffuse glow on the far horizon that resolved itself into hundreds of separate puffballs of blue-white light high above a glittering razor-wire fence. The fence was long and maybe twelve feet tall. Maybe twelve feet thick. It had inner and outer screens of taut wire. The space in between was piled high with loose coils. More loose coils were fixed along the top. They were moving and swaying in the wind, flashing and winking in the light. The light came from stadium fixtures on tall poles set every thirty feet. Huge upside-down metal bowls in groups of four, with powerful bulbs in them. There were watchtowers set every hundred feet, tall splay-legged structures with lit-up glassed-in cabins and outside walkways. There were searchlights on the walkways. The lights on the poles were blazing, and their glow came back up off the undisturbed snow seemingly twice as bright. Behind the fence was a three-hundred-yard expanse of lit-up snow-covered yard, and then huddled in the centre of the giant rectangle was a cluster of new concrete buildings. They covered an area the size of a large village. Or a small town. The buildings were all lit up, inside and out. They had small mean windows in heavy blank façades, like the portholes in the side of a ship. Their roofs were all covered with snow, like a thick uniform blanket.

  ‘The gift horse,’ Peterson said.
The cash cow.’

  ‘Impressive,’ Reacher said.

  And it was. As a whole the place was huge. Many hundreds of acres. The vast pool of bright light set against the prairie darkness made it look like an alien spacecraft, just hovering there, unsure whether to land or to whisk away again to a more hospitable location.

  At its far end the road broadened out into a wide square plaza in front of the main gate. The plaza was lined at its edges with bus benches and trash cans. Peterson drove straight through it. The gate was really a tunnel, walled and roofed with wire, tall enough for prison buses, wide enough to form two separated lanes, one in, one out. Each lane had three gates forming two pens. Peterson drove into the first and was momentarily locked in, a closed gate behind him, a closed gate ahead. A guard in cold-weather gear came out of a door, looked them over, stepped back inside, and the gate ahead opened. Peterson rolled forward thirty feet. The whole procedure was repeated. Then the last gate opened and Peterson drove out and headed for the buildings on a thoroughfare that was both rutted by vehicles and beaten flat by footsteps. Clearly the shuttle buses discharged their passengers outside the gate. Reacher pictured the woman and the child he had seen at the coffee shop, wrapped in their borrowed motel comforters, trudging through the snow, trudging back.

  Peterson parked as close to the visitor door as he could get. Behind the door was an empty lobby, sad and institutional, with wet linoleum on the floor and mint green paint on the walls and fluorescent tubes on the ceiling. There was an idle X-ray belt and a metal detector hoop and three prison guards standing around and not doing much of anything. Peterson knew them. They knew him. A minute later he and Reacher had been hustled through a side door into a ready room. New construction, but it was already a little trashed and battered. It was hot. It smelled of old coffee, and new sweat, and wet wool coats, and cheap polyester uniforms. There were five low chairs in it, and a desk with a computer on it. A guard fired it up and typed in a password and then left the room.

  ‘Federal prison, federal databases,’ Peterson said. Those databases were evidently a little unfamiliar to him, because it took a whole lot of pointing and clicking and typing before he got anywhere. A whole lot of pursed lips and sudden inhalations and exhalations. But eventually he took his hands off the keyboard and sat back to read.

  ‘Same stuff at first,’ he said. ‘South American, exact origins unknown, real identity unknown, exact age unknown but believed to be in his forties, believed to live in Mexico, pawn shops in Chicago, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Des Moines and Indianapolis, suspected dope in the same five cities, suspected prostitution in the same five cities.’

  Reacher asked, ‘Anything new?’

  ‘We didn’t have the names of those cities before.’

  ‘Apart from that.’

  ‘Nothing proven. There’s a standard warning about how tough he is. He made it to the top tier, and you don’t do that by being a choirboy. They figure he must have killed hundreds of people. That seems to be an entry-level requirement. Des Moines doesn’t impress anybody, but Chicago surely does. He’s not an amateur.’

  Then Peterson started clicking and scrolling again. More pursed lips, more deliberate breathing. He said, ‘The guy owns his own plane.’

  ‘So do plenty of people.’

  ‘It’s a Boeing 737. A regular airliner, converted for private use. Supposedly purchased from a bankrupt Mexican airline.’

  Reacher said nothing.

  Peterson clicked and scrolled.

  ‘He’s very small,’ he said. ‘Four feet eleven inches.’

  ‘Really?’

  ‘What are you?’

  ‘Six feet five.’

  ‘You’ve got eighteen inches on him. That’s a foot and a half.’

  Reacher said, ‘He’s practically a midget.’

  Peterson said, ‘Someone else once called him a midget, and woke up in the hospital with his legs cut off.’

  Susan Turner made it back to her office in Rock Creek after a long slow drive through rush hour traffic. She parked in her reserved space and went in through the front door and up the stone stairs. The handrail was still metal. The second-floor corridor was still narrow. The floor was still linoleum. There were still lines of doors left and right, with fluted glass windows in them, with offices behind each one. All unchanged, she thought, since Reacher’s day. Repainted, possibly, but not fundamentally altered. Each office was still equipped according to the current DoD protocol. Hers had the famous metal desk, three phones with a total of thirty lines, an ergonomic task chair on casters, file cabinets, and two visitor chairs with springy bent-tube legs. Her light shade was made of glass and shaped like a bowl and was hung from the ceiling on three metal chains. It was fitted with an energy-saving bulb. She had a desktop computer with a fast and secure government intranet connection. She had a laptop wirelessly connected to a separate network. She had an up-to-date map of the world on the wall.

  She sat down. No messages. Nothing from the air force. Reacher hadn’t called again. She plugged her digital voice recorder into her USB hub. Her conversation with her prisoner uploaded to an audio file. Voice recognition software would turn it into a written document. Both new files would be forwarded to the proper destinations. Arrests would be made in Texas and Florida and New York City. A unit citation would follow, plus a Bronze Star recommendation for herself, like night follows day.

  Reacher had won a Bronze Star, way back when. She knew that, because she had his personal file on her desk. It was a thick old thing, straining against a furred cardboard jacket. She had been through it many times. Jack-none-Reacher, born October 29th. A military family, but not a legacy career, because his father had been a Marine. His mother had been French. He had graduated West Point. He had served thirteen years. He had been an MP from the start, which as far as Susan was concerned put him on the side of the angels, but even so he had been in and out of trouble the whole time. He had said what needed to be said, and he hadn’t cared who he said it to. He had done what needed to be done, and he hadn’t cared who he did it to. He had cut corners, and cut heads. He had been busted back to captain for busting a civilian’s leg. Demotion was always a coded message. Time to move on, buddy. But he had stayed in. He had stayed in and battled back to major again. Which had to be the biggest comeback of all time. Then he had led the 110th. Its first CO. Its founder, in effect.

  Her predecessor, but no kind of role model.

  Yet at intervals through his thirteen years he had won a Silver Star, the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, a Soldier’s Medal, a Purple Heart, and the Bronze Star. Clearly he had talent to burn. Which meant that with a more corporate attitude and an army father and an American mother, he could have been Chief of Staff by now.

  A bizarre career.

  The Silver Star and the Purple Heart came from Beirut. Reacher had been an army liaison officer serving with the Marine Corps at the time of the barracks bombing. He had been badly wounded in the attack, and then heroic in the immediate aftermath. All the other medal citations were redacted, which meant they involved secrets.

  He had been hospitalized in Beirut and then airlifted to Germany for convalescence. His medical summary was in the file. He was a healthy person. The wound had healed fast and completely. It had left what the army called a disfiguring scar, which implied a real mess. He was six feet five inches tall and at the time of the report from Germany had weighed two hundred and forty pounds. No internal weaknesses had been detected. His eyesight was rated excellent.

  He had many formal qualifications. He was rated expert on all small arms. He had won an inter-service thousand-yard rifle competition with a record score. Anecdotally his fitness reports rated him well above average in the classroom, excellent in the field, fluently bilingual in English and French, passable in Spanish, outstanding on all man-portable weaponry, and beyond outstanding at hand-to-hand combat. Susan knew what that last rating meant. Like having a running chainsaw thrown at you.


  A hard man, but intelligent.

  His photograph was stapled to the inside cover of the file. It was a colour picture, a little faded by the intervening years. His hair was short and unruly. He had bright blue eyes, a little hooded. His gaze was direct and unflinching. He had two noticeable scars. One was at the corner of his left eye. The other was on his upper lip. His face looked like it had been chipped out of rock by a sculptor who had ability but not much time. All flat hard planes. He had a neck. Thick, for sure, but it was there. His shoulders were broad. His arms were long, and his hands were large.

  His mouth was set in a wry smile that was halfway between patient and exasperated. Like he knew he had to get his picture taken, but like he had just gotten through telling the photographer the guy had three more seconds before his camera got rammed down his throat.

  Jack-none-Reacher.

  Altogether Susan felt that he would be interesting to know, possibly rewarding as a friend, certainly dangerous as an enemy.

  She picked up her phone and dialled her guy in the air force. Asked him if there was news. There wasn’t. She asked when it would come through. Her guy said soon. She said soon wasn’t soon enough.

  Her guy said, ‘Trying to impress someone?’

  She said, ‘No,’ and hung up.

  The last page of Reacher’s file was a standard cross-reference index that listed related mentions in other files. There were seventy-three citations. They were all classified, which was no big deal. Virtually all military paper was classified. The first seventy-two citations were dated at various points during his thirteen years of service and were classified at a level which would make them awkward for her to get hold of. Operational reports, obviously. The seventy-third citation was classified at a lower level, but it was ancient. Dated way back. So far back, in fact, that Jack-none-Reacher would have been just six years old at the time. A little boy. Which was strange. A contemporary report about family issues would be in the Marine Corps archives, not army. Because of his father.

  So why was the army holding paper on a six-year-old kid?

  She e-mailed the Human Resources Command for a one-time password that would grant her temporary access to the record.

  The process for leaving the prison involved all the same moves in reverse, with the addition of a thorough physical inspection of the departing vehicle. Peterson stopped in the first locked cage and two guards came out with flashlights and one checked the trunk and the other checked the back seat. Then they swapped responsibilities and did it all over again. The centre gate opened and Peterson rolled forward into the second cage. A third guard checked their IDs and waved them away.

  Peterson asked, ‘What do you think?’

  Reacher asked, ‘About what?’

  ‘Their security.’

  ‘Adequate.’

 
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