61 hours, p.25
Part #14 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
‘Is that all?’
‘That’s all it needs to be.’
‘I think it’s pretty good.’
‘Human nature will get them in the end. They’re only a year or so into it. All it will take is for two guards to get lazy at the same time. Bound to happen sooner or later. It always does.’
Peterson smiled and his car rolled on through the snow towards town.
Seventeen hundred miles south a small convoy of three black Range Rovers rolled through the heat towards Plato’s compound. The trucks were all less than a month old, they all had blacked-out windows, and they were all the Sport model, which was really a rebodied Land Rover LR3 with a supercharged Jaguar engine under the hood. Fine trucks for rough but unchallenging roads, which were what Plato’s part of the Michoacán was all about. Each truck was carrying two men, for a total of six. All of them were local thirty-somethings with twenty years’ experience, all of them were dressed in dark suits, and all of them were heavily armed.
And all of them had worked for Plato before.
Which meant that all of them were a little afraid.
The three cars made the last turn and started the last dusty mile to the gate. All three drivers knew they were already being tracked with binoculars. They had passed the point of no return. They held a steady fifty and maintained a tight formation and then slowed far enough out to be unthreatening. People said Plato’s gatemen had anti-tank missiles. Or rocket-propelled grenades, at the very least. Plus surface-to-air missiles for government helicopters. Maybe true, maybe not, but no one was in the mood to find out for sure.
The three cars stopped well short of the gate and the six men climbed out from behind their black windows and stood still in the early-evening heat. No one approached them. They knew that they were being identified at a distance. Beyond that there would be no intervention. They knew that their good behaviour was guaranteed not by a physical search, but by the fact that they all had sisters and mothers and grandmothers and female cousins all within easy reach. Watching a relative’s skin being peeled off her face was not pleasant. Living with her afterwards was worse.
A gasoline engine started and a gear engaged and the gate was driven back. A minute later the last of the cars was inside the compound and the gear reversed and the gate closed again.
Peterson let Reacher out at Janet Salter’s house. It was his new default destination, night and day. He crunched up the driveway and the woman cop from the hallway let him in. Janet Salter was in the library, in her usual chair, in a pool of light, reading. The other woman cop was at the window, with her back to the room. Situation normal. All quiet.
Janet Salter held up her book and said, ‘I’m reading Sherlock Holmes.’
Reacher said, ‘The dog that didn’t bark in the night?’
‘I already thought about that. Your neighbour lives upwind. Doesn’t mean no one was here, just because her dog didn’t get a sniff.’
‘There’s a companion volume you should see, in the parlour,’ Janet Salter said. She put her book down and got up out of her chair. Reacher followed her to the front room. She closed the door. Didn’t show him a book. Instead she asked, ‘Are the bikers really gone?’
Reacher said, ‘Yes.’
‘Are they coming back?’
‘I don’t think so.’
‘So am I safe now?’
‘Why did Chief Holland let them go?’
‘Small town rules,’ Reacher said.
‘Which now mean that if I go ahead and testify as planned, only one man will, as you put it, get nailed.’
‘Which absolutely wasn’t the deal. The idea was to nail them all. Now they’ll just become some other town’s problem.’
‘And then the next, and the next.’
‘It isn’t right.’
‘It’s how things work.’
‘I mean it isn’t right to put me at so much risk for so little reward.’
‘You want to pull out?’
‘Yes, I think I do.’
Five minutes to six in the evening.
Ten hours to go.
JANET SALTER SAT DOWN IN A PARLOUR CHAIR. REACHER CHECKED the view from the window. Nothing there. Just the cop in his car, a good one, his head moving left, moving right, checking the mirror.
Reacher said, ‘I think it’s too late to make a practical difference.’
Janet Salter asked, ‘Why?’
‘You could talk to Holland right now, but Holland can’t talk to the prosecutor before tomorrow, and the prosecutor can’t file the papers until maybe the next day, and the news might take another day to filter through. But the bad guys are in a hurry. That place makes money for them. They can’t afford any downtime.’
Janet Salter said, ‘So I’m in, and I can’t get out?’
‘Hang tough,’ Reacher said. ‘You’ll be OK.’
‘I wouldn’t have been OK last night, except for you. And you won’t be here for ever.’
‘I won’t need to be,’ Reacher said. ‘The bad guys won’t wait for ever.’
Janet Salter went to make dinner. She said cooking relaxed her. The night watch cops got up and came downstairs. The house felt safe. Dark and cold outside, bright and warm inside. Pots and pans on the stove top fogged the kitchen windows, so Reacher prowled between the library and the parlour and the hallway. He saw nothing from the windows except snow and ice and moving shadows. The wind was still blowing. Not ideal conditions for careful surveillance, but Reacher felt the situation was acceptable. Seven cops on the case, with himself as backup. Safe enough.
Then the phone rang.
Reacher was in the hallway at the time and Janet Salter called through from the kitchen and asked him to answer it. It was Peterson. He said, ‘I have something I need you to see.’
‘At the station, on a computer.’
‘Can you bring it over?’
‘I can’t leave here.’
‘You said we might never hear that siren again. No escapes, no more riots.’
‘An educated guess is still a guess.’
‘I’ll pick you up and bring you straight back.’
‘You can’t promise that. Suppose the siren sounds while I’m over there?’
‘I’ll still bring you back. I swear, on the lives of my children.’
‘You’d get in trouble.’
‘I’ll fight it. And I’ll win.’
‘You should get the department, you know that?’ Reacher said. ‘The sooner the better.’
Peterson arrived five minutes later. He spoke to his people and then he found Janet Salter and told her he was borrowing Reacher for a quarter of an hour. He looked her in the eye and promised her that none of his officers would leave the house until Reacher was back. She was uneasy, but she seemed to believe him. Reacher put his coat on and climbed into Peterson’s car and five minutes after that he was back in the squad room.
Peterson sat down at a desk with a computer and started pointing and clicking and pursing his lips and inhaling and exhaling. He came up with a blank grey square in the middle of the screen. The square had a play arrow laid over its centre portion.
‘Surveillance video,’ Peterson said. ‘From the prison interview room. It’s digital. They e-mail it to us.’
‘It’s the biker and his lawyer. Earlier this afternoon. We never cancelled the surveillance. You know why?’
‘Inefficiency.’ Peterson moved the mouse and clicked on the play arrow. The grey square changed to a grainy colour picture of the interview room shot from above. The camera was presumably hidden in a light fixture, on the lawyer’s side of the glass partition. It showed a man in a grey suit sitting forward in his chair with his elbows on the concrete cou
‘Now listen,’ Peterson said.
The lawyer said something in a whisper. Reacher couldn’t hear it.
‘Where’s the mike?’ he asked.
‘In the light with the camera.’ Peterson stabbed a key and the computer beeped the volume all the way up. Then he dragged a red dot backwards a fraction and the segment played again. Reacher craned closer. The audio quality was very poor, but this time the lawyer’s sentence was at least intelligible.
The lawyer had said, ‘You know, the ancient Greeks tell us that a six-hour wait solves all our problems.’
Peterson paused the replay. ‘Ancient Greeks, right? Like ancient Greek philosophers? You said Plato was an ancient Greek philosopher. It’s a code. It’s a message.’
Reacher nodded. ‘When was this?’
‘Two o’clock this afternoon. So a six-hour wait would take us to eight o’clock. It’s six o’clock now. Which gives them two more hours. They’ve already wasted two-thirds of their time.’
Reacher stared at the screen.
‘Play it again,’ he said.
Peterson dragged the red dot back. Hit play. The lawyer’s head, moving forward an inch. The scratchy, whispery sound. The ancient Greeks tell us that a six-hour wait solves all our problems.
Reacher said, ‘I don’t hear it that way. He’s not saying we have a six-hour period during which at some random point all our problems might be solved. I think he’s saying that six hours from then something specific is going to happen in order to solve them.’
‘Just my opinion.’
‘What kind of thing will happen?’
‘The siren will sound. It’s their only way to get at Mrs Salter.’
‘How can a lawyer make the siren sound?’
‘He can’t. But maybe they can together.’
‘What happens up there at eight o’clock? Are they eating? Feeding time at the zoo is always a good time for a riot.’
‘They eat earlier.’
‘TV time? An argument about CBS or NBC?’
‘You said another riot won’t happen.’
‘Something is going to happen. That lawyer is talking about a future event with a fairly high degree of confidence.’
Peterson went pale. Papery white, under his reddened winter skin.
‘Jesus,’ he said. ‘Eight o’clock is head-count time. They lock them in their cells for the night and check them off. Suppose that guy got out this afternoon and they don’t know it yet? They’re going to be one short. One minute past eight, they’re going to hit the panic button.’
They drove straight back to Janet Salter’s house. Dinner was almost ready. About ten minutes away. Spaghetti and sauce and cheese, with salad in the old wooden bowl. Janet Salter offered to set an extra place for Peterson. Peterson said yes. But nothing more. He just accepted the invitation and then stepped away from the kitchen activity and took Reacher by the elbow and dragged him into the parlour. He said, ‘I’m staying right here when the siren goes off.’
Reacher said, ‘Good.’
‘Two are better than one.’
‘Are you armed?’
‘Yes. And so is Mrs Salter.’
‘How will their guy arrive?’
‘From the front, in a car. Too cold for anything else.’
‘Anything we can do ahead of time?’
Reacher said, ‘No.’
Peterson said, ‘We could warn the prison, I suppose. If the siren went off right now, their guy might be out of position.’
‘We don’t want him out of position,’ Reacher said. ‘We want him walking up the driveway at two minutes past eight. Exactly when and where we expect him. You said it yourself, we need this thing to be over.’
Seventeen hundred miles south Plato came out of his house and found the three idling Range Rovers parked in a neat nose-to-tail line. The six men who had come with them were standing easy in pairs, heads up, sunglasses on, hands clasped behind their backs. Plato looked at them carefully. He knew them. He had used them before. They were solid but unspectacular performers. Competent, but uninspired. Not the best in the world. Second-rate, B-students, adequate. There were a lot of words with which to describe them.
He looked at the trucks. Three of them, all identical. British. Each the cost of a college education. Maybe not Harvard. He counted them from the front, one, two, three. Then from the back, three, two, one. He had to choose. He never occupied the same relative position in a convoy two times in a row. Too predictable. Too dangerous. He wanted a two-in-three chance of surviving the first incoming round, if there was to be one. He figured a second round would miss. The supercharged engines had great acceleration. Better than turbocharged. No lag.
He chose car number three. A double bluff, in a way. Slightly counterintuitive. If number one or number two was blown up, number three might get trapped by the flaming wreckage. He would be expected to expect that. He would be presumed to be in car number one, for that very reason. Which burnished his two-in-three chances a little. Convoys opened up at speed. Rack and pinion steering, fast reactions, number three’s driver could swerve with plenty of time to spare.
He inclined his head, towards the third car. One of the men standing next to it stepped up smartly and opened the rear door. Plato climbed in. There was a step. Which was necessary, given his stature. He got settled on the rear seat. Cream leather, piped with black. An armrest on the door to his right, an armrest pulled down in the centre of the bench. Air conditioning, set low. Very comfortable.
The two men climbed into the front. Doors closed, a forward gear was engaged. The convoy moved off. The gate was grinding back as they approached it. They slowed, slipped through, sped up. They cruised through the first dusty mile.
Plato looked at the men in front of him.
Many words to describe them.
The best was: disposable.
Janet Salter’s kitchen table was cramped for seven people. Peterson and the four women cops had guns on their hips, which made them wide. Reacher himself was not narrow, elbow to elbow. But perhaps as a consequence the atmosphere was cosy. At first Janet Salter was tense, as were Reacher and Peterson for other reasons. The four women cops were happy to talk. Then Janet Salter began to relax, and Reacher and Peterson took a mutual unspoken decision to save it for when it was going to count. They joined in. Everyone told stories. Janet Salter had attended a small local elementary school, a long time ago. The farm boys had been sewn into their winter underwear in November and not released until March. By January the smell was awful. By February it was unbearable.
Peterson’s experience had been different. He was half Janet Salter’s age. His school was exactly the same as he saw in all the TV shows he watched. He felt part of America, until he looked at a map. Seven hundred miles from the nearest Major League team. A long way from anywhere. Something timid in his head had told him he would never leave. He confessed it quite openly.
Two of the women cops were from North Dakota. They had come south for jobs. And for warmer weather, one said with a smile. Their educations had been similar to Peterson’s. Reacher didn’t say much. But he knew what they were talking about. Lockers, the gym, the principal’s office. He had been to seven elementary schools, all of them overseas on foreign bases, but all of them imported direct from the U.S. as standardized kits of parts. Outside he had been in the steamy heat of Manila or Leyte, or the damp cold of Germany or Belgium, but inside he could have been in North Dakota or South Dakota or Maine or Florida. At times he had been twelve thousand miles from the nearest Major League team. Something in his head had told him he would never stay still.
61 Hours by Lee Child / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5.1 out of 5 / Based on41 votes