Running blind, p.31
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       Running Blind, p.31
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         Part #4 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
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Chapter 31

  SEVEN HOURS LATER it was well past midnight. Reacher was locked up alone in a holding pen inside the FBI's Portland Field Office. He knew the cop had called his sergeant and the sergeant had called his Bureau contact. He knew Portland called Quantico and Quantico called the Hoover Building and the Hoover Building called New York. The cop relayed all that information, breathless with excitement. Then his sergeant arrived in person and he clammed up. Harper disappeared somewhere and an ambulance arrived to take Scimeca to the hospital. He heard the police department cede jurisdiction to the FBI without any kind of a struggle. Then two Portland agents arrived to make the arrest. They cuffed him and drove him to the city and dumped him in the holding pen and left him there.

  It was hot in the cell. His clothes dried within an hour, stiff as boards and stained olive with paint. Apart from that, nothing happened. He guessed it was taking time for people to assemble. He wondered if they would come to Portland, or if they'd fly him back to Quantico. Nobody told him anything. Nobody came near him. He was left alone. He spent the time worrying about Scimeca. He imagined harassed strangers in the emergency room, probing and fussing over her.

  It stayed quiet until after midnight. Then things started happening. He heard sounds in the building. Arrivals, urgent conversations. First person he saw was Nelson Blake. They're coming here, he thought. They must have discussed a position and fired up the Lear. Timing was about right. The inner door opened and Blake walked past the bars and glanced into the cell, something in his face. You really screwed up now, he was saying. He looked tired and strained. Red and pale, all at the same time.

  It went quiet again for an hour. Past one o'clock in the morning, Alan Deerfield arrived, all the way from New York. The inner door opened and he walked in, silent and morose, red eyes behind the thick glasses. He paused. Glanced through the bars. The same contemplative look he'd used all those nights ago. So you're the guy, huh?

  He walked back out and it went quiet again, another hour. Past two o'clock, a local agent came in with a bunch of keys. He unlocked the door.

  "Time to talk," he said.

  He led him out of the cell block into a corridor. Down the corridor to a conference room. Smaller than the New York facility, but just as cheap. Same lighting, same big table. Deerfield and Blake were sitting together on one side. There was a chair positioned opposite. He walked around and sat down in it. There was silence for a long moment. Nobody spoke, nobody moved. Then Blake sat forward.

  "I've got a dead agent," he said. "And I don't like that. "

  Reacher looked at him.

  "You've got four dead women," he said. "Could have been five. "

  Blake shook his head. "Never was going to be five. We had the situation under control. Julia Lamarr was right there rescuing the fifth when you killed her. "

  The room went silent again. Reacher nodded, slowly.

  "That's your position?" he asked.

  Deerfield looked up.

  "It's a viable proposition," he said. "Don't you think? She makes some kind of breakthrough in her own time, she overcomes her fear of flying, she gets herself out here right on the heels of the perpetrator, she arrives in the nick of time, she's about to start emergency medical procedures when you burst in and hit her. She's a hero, and you go to trial for the murder of a federal agent. "

  Silence again.

  "Can you make the chronology work?" Reacher asked.

  Blake nodded. "Sure we can. She's at home, say, nine o'clock in the morning East Coast, she gets herself outside Portland by five, Pacific. That's eleven hours. Plenty of time to get a brainstorm and get herself to National and get on a plane. "

  "The cop see the bad guy get in the house?"

  Deerfield shrugged. "We figure the cop fell asleep. You know what these country boys are like. "

  "He saw a padre come calling. He was awake then. "

  Deerfield shook his head. "Army will say they never sent a padre. He must have dreamed it. "

  "Did he see her get in the house?"

  "Still asleep. "

  "How did she get in?"

  "Knocked on the door, interrupted the guy. He bolted out past her, she didn't chase him because she wanted to check on Scimeca, because she's a humanitarian. "

  "The cop see the guy running out?"

  "Still asleep. "

  "And she took the time to lock the door behind her, even though she was rushing upstairs because she's such a humanitarian?"

  "Evidently. "

  The room went quiet.

  "Scimeca come around yet?" Reacher asked.

  Deerfield nodded. "We called the hospital. She remembers nothing about anything. We assume she must be blanking it out. We'll get a boatload of shrinks to say that's perfectly normal. "

  "Is she OK?"

  "She's fine. "

  Blake smiled. "But we won't pursue her for a description of her attacker. Our shrinks will say that would be grossly insensitive, given her circumstances. "

  The room went quiet again.

  "Where's Harper?" Reacher said.

  "On suspension," Blake said.

  "For not following the party line?"

  "She's unduly affected by a romantic illusion," Blake said. "She told us some fantastic bullshit story. "

  "You see your problem, right?" Deerfield said. "You hated Lamarr from the start. So you killed her for personal reasons of your own and invented a story to cover yourself. But it's not a very good story, is it? There's no support for it. You can't put Lamarr anywhere near any of the scenes. "

  "She never left any evidence," Reacher said.

  Blake smiled. "Ironic, isn't it? That's exactly what you said to us, right at the outset. You said all we had was we thought a person like you did it. Well, now all you got is you think Lamarr did it. "

  "Where's her car?" Reacher asked. "She drove up to Scimeca's place from the airport, where's her car?"

  "The perp stole it," Blake said. "He must have snuck around the back on foot, originally, not knowing the cop was asleep. She surprised him, he took off in her car. "

  "You going to find a rental in her real name?"

  Blake nodded. "Probably. We can usually find what we need to. "

  "What about the flight in from D. C. ? You going to find her real name in the airline computer?"

  Blake nodded again. "If we need to. "

  "You see your problem, right?" Deerfield said again. "It's just not acceptable to have a dead agent, without somebody being responsible. "

  Reacher nodded. "And it's not acceptable to admit an agent was a killer. "

  "Don't even think about it," Blake said.

  "Even though she was a killer?"

  "She wasn't a killer," Deerfield said. "She was a loyal agent, doing a fine job. "

  Reacher nodded.

  "Well, I guess this means I'm not going to get paid," he said.

  Deerfield made a face, like there was a bad smell in the room.

  "This is not a joke, Reacher," he said. "Let's be real clear about that. You're in big trouble. You can say whatever the hell you want. You can say you had suspicions. But you'll look like an idiot. Nobody will listen to you. And it won't matter anyway. Because if you had suspicions, you should have let Harper arrest her, right?"

  "No time. "

  Deerfield shook his head. "Bullshit. "

  "Was she visibly in the act of harming Scimeca?" Blake asked.

  "I needed her out of my way. "

  "Our counsel will say even if you had mistaken but sincere prior suspicions, you should have gone straight for Scimeca in the tub and let Harper deal with Lamarr behind you. It was two against one. It would have saved you time, right? If you were so concerned with your old buddy?"

  "It might have saved me half a second. "

  "Half a second could have been critical," Deerfield said. "Life-or-death medical situation like that? Our counsel will make a big point out o
f it. He'll say spending precious time hitting somebody proves something, like personal animosity. "

  The room went quiet. Reacher looked down at the table.

  "Law buff like you knows all about it," Blake said. "Honest mistakes occur but even so, actions in defense of a victim need to happen right at the exact time the victim is getting assaulted. Not afterward. Afterward is revenge, pure and simple. "

  Reacher said nothing.

  "And you can't claim it was mistaken and accidental, " Blake said. "You once told me you know all about how to break someone's skull, and no way would it happen by accident. That guy in the alley, remember? Petrosian's boy? And what goes for skulls goes for necks, right? So it wasn't an accident. It was deliberate homicide. "

  There was silence.

  "OK," Reacher said. "What's the deal?"

  "You're going to jail," Deerfield said. "There's no deal. "

  "Bullshit, there's no deal," Reacher said. "There's always a deal. "

  Silence again. It lasted minutes. Then Blake shrugged.

  "Well, you want to cooperate, we could compromise, " he said. "We could call Lamarr a suicide, grieving about her father, tormented she couldn't save her sister. "

  "And you could keep your big mouth shut," Deerfield said. "You could tell nobody nothing, except what we want them told. "

  Silence again.

  "Why should I?" Reacher said.

  "Because you're a smart guy," Deerfield said. "Don't forget, there's absolutely nothing on Lamarr. You know that. She was way too smart. Sure, you could dig around a couple of years, if you had a million dollars for lawyer bills. You could come up with a little meaningless circumstantial stuff, but what's a jury going to do with that? A big man hates a small woman? He's a bum, she's a federal agent? He breaks her neck, and then he blames her for it? Some fantastic story about hypnosis? Forget about it. "

  "So face it, OK?" Blake said. "You're ours, now. "

  There was silence. Then Reacher shook his head.

  "No," he said. "I think I'll pass on that. "

  "Then you go to jail. "

  "Just one question, first," Reacher said.

  "Which is?"

  "Did I kill Lorraine Stanley?"

  Blake shook his head. "No, you didn't. "

  "How do you know?"

  "You know how we know. We had you tailed, all that week. "

  "And you gave a copy of the surveillance report to my lawyer, right?"

  "Right. "

  "OK," Reacher said.

  "OK what, smart guy?"

  "OK nuts to you, is what," Reacher said.

  "You want to expand on that?"

  Reacher shook his head. "You figure it out. "

  The room went quiet.

  "What?" Blake said.

  Reacher smiled at him. "Think about strategy. Maybe you can lock me up for Lamarr, but you can't ever claim I'm also the guy who killed the women, because my lawyer has got your own report proving that I'm not. So what are you going to do then?"

  "What does that matter to you?" Blake said. "You're locked up anyway. "

  "Think about the future," Reacher said. "You've told the world it's not me, and you're swearing blind it's not Lamarr, so you've got to be seen to keep on looking, right? You can't ever stop, not without people wondering why. Think about the negative headlines. Elite FBI unit gets nowhere, tenth year of search. You'd just have to swallow them. And you'd have to keep the guards in place, you'd have to work around the clock, more and more manpower, more and more effort, more and more budget, year after year, searching for the guy. Are you going to do that?"

  Silence in the room.

  "No, you're not going to do that," Reacher said. "And not doing that is the same thing as admitting you know the truth. Lamarr is dead, the search has stopped, it wasn't me, therefore Lamarr was the killer. So it's all or nothing now, for you guys. It's make-your-mind-up time. If you don't admit it was Lamarr, then you use up all your resources for the rest of history, pretending to look for a guy you know for sure doesn't exist. And if you do admit it was Lamarr, then you can't lock me up for killing her, because in the circumstances it was absolutely justifiable. "

  Silence again.

  "So, nuts to you," Reacher said.

  There was silence. Reacher smiled.

  "So now what?" he asked.

  They were quiet for a long moment. Then they recovered.

  "We're the Bureau," Deerfield said. "We can make your life very difficult. "

  Reacher shook his head.

  "My life's already very difficult," he said. "Nothing you guys can do to make it any harder. But you can stop with the threats, anyway. Because I'll keep your secret. "

  "You will?"

  Reacher nodded. "I'll have to, won't I? Because if I don't, it'll all just come back on Rita Scimeca. She's the only living witness. She'll get pestered to death, prosecutors, police, newspapers, television. All the sordid details, how she was raped, how she was naked in the tub with the paint. It'll hurt her. And I don't want that to happen. "

  Silence again.

  "So, your secret is safe with me," Reacher said.

  Blake stared at the tabletop. Then he nodded.

  "OK," he said. "I'll buy that. "

  "But we'll be watching you," Deerfield said. "Always. Never forget that. "

  Reacher smiled again.

  "Well, don't let me catch you at it," he said. "Because you should remember what happened to Petrosian. You guys never forget that, OK?"

  IT FINISHED LIKE that as a tie, as a wary stalemate. Nothing more was said. Reacher stood up and threaded his way around the table and out of the room. He found an elevator and made it down to street level. Nobody came after him. There were double doors, scarred oak and wired glass. He pushed them open and stepped out into the chill of some dark deserted Portland street in the middle of the night. Stood on the edge of the sidewalk, looking at nothing in particular.

  "Hey, Reacher," Harper called.

  She was behind him in the shadow of a pillar flanking the entrance. He turned and saw the gleam of her hair and a stripe of white where her shirt showed at the front of her jacket.

  "Hey yourself," he said. "You OK?"

  She stepped across to him.

  "I will be," she said. "I'm going to ask for a transfer. Maybe over here. I like it. "

  "Will they let you?"

  She nodded. "Sure they will. They're not going to rock any boats as long as the budget hearings are on. This is going to be the quietest thing that ever happened. "

  "It never happened at all," he said. "That's how we left it, upstairs. "

  "So you're OK with them?"

  "As OK as I ever was. "

  "I'd have stood up for you," she said. "Whatever it took. "

  He nodded. "I know you would. There should be more like you. "

  "Take this," she said.

  She held out a slip of flimsy paper. It was a travel voucher, issued by the desk back at Quantico.

  "It'll get you to New York," she said.

  "What about you?" he asked.

  "I'll say I lost it. They'll wire me another one. "

  She stepped close and kissed his cheek. Stepped away and started walking.

  "Good luck," she called.

  "To you too," he called back.

  HE WALKED TO the airport, twelve miles on the shoulders of roads built for automobiles. It took him three hours. He exchanged the FBI voucher for a plane ticket and waited another hour for the first flight out. Slept through four hours in the air and three hours of time zones and touched down at La Guardia at one o'clock in the afternoon.

  He used the last of his cash on a bus to the subway and the subway into Manhattan. Got out at Canal Street and walked south to Wall Street. He was in the lobby of Jodie's office building a few minutes after two o'clock, borne along by sixty floors of workers returning from lunch. Her firm's recep
tion area was deserted. Nobody at the counter. He stepped through an open door and wandered down a corridor lined with law-books on oak shelves. Left and right of him were empty offices. There were papers on desks and jackets over the backs of chairs, but no people anywhere.

  He came to a set of double doors and heard the heavy buzz of conversation on the other side. The chink of glass on glass. Laughter. He pulled the right-hand door and the noise burst out at him and he saw a conference room jammed full of people. They were in dark suits and snowy white shirts and suspenders and quiet ties, and severe dark dresses and black nylon. There was a wall of blinding windows and a long table under a heavy white cloth loaded with ranks of sparkling glasses and a hundred bottles of champagne. Two bartenders were pouring the foamy golden wine as fast as they could. People were drinking it and toasting with it and looking at Jodie.

  She was rippling through the crowd like a magnet. Wherever she walked, people stepped up and formed a crowd around her. There was a constantly changing sequence of small excited circles with her at every center. She turned left and right, smiling, clinking glasses, and then moved on randomly like a pinball into new acclaim. She saw him at the door at the same moment he saw himself reflected in the glass over a Renoir drawing on the wall. He was unshaven and dressed in a crumpled khaki shirt dried stiff with random green stains. She was in a thousand-dollar dress fresh from the closet. A hundred faces turned with hers and the room fell silent. She hesitated for a beat, like she was making a decision. Then she fought forward through the crowd and flung her arms around his neck, champagne glass and all.

  "The partnership party," he said. "You got it. "

  "I sure did," she said.

  "Well, congratulations, babe," he said. "And I'm sorry I'm late. "

  She drew him into the crowd and people closed around them. He shook hands with a hundred lawyers the way he used to with generals from foreign armies. Don't mess with me and I won't mess with you. The top boy was an old red-and-gray-faced man of about sixty-five, the son of one of the names on the brass plaque in reception. His suit must have cost more than all the clothes Reacher had ever worn in his life. But the mood of the party meant there was no edge in the old guy's attitude. He looked like he would have been delighted to shake hands with Jodie's elevator man.

  "She's a big, big star," he said. "And I'm gratified she accepted our offer. "

  "Smartest lawyer I ever met," Reacher said over the noise.

  "Will you go with her?"

  "Go with her where?"

  "To London," the old guy said. "Didn't she explain? First tour of duty for a new partner is running the European operation for a couple of years. "

  Then she was back at his side, smiling, drawing him away. The crowd was settling into small groups, and conversation was turning to work matters and quiet gossip. She led him to a space by the window. There was a yard-wide view of the harbor, framed by sheer buildings on either side.

  "I called the FBI uptown," she said. "I was worried about you, and technically I'm still your lawyer. I spoke with Alan Deerfield's office. "


  "Two hours ago. They wouldn't tell me anything. "

  "Nothing to tell. They're straight with me, I'm straight with them. "

  She nodded. "So you delivered, finally. "

  Then she paused.

  "Will you be called as a witness?" she asked. "Is there going to be a trial?"

  He shook his head. "No trial. "

  She nodded. "Just a funeral, right?"

  He shrugged. "There are no relatives left. That was the point. "

  She paused again, like there was an important question coming up.

  "How do you feel about it?" she asked. "One-word answer?"

  "Calm," he said.

  "Would you do it again? Same circumstances?"

  He paused in turn.

  "Same circumstances?" he said. "In a heartbeat. "

  "I have to go to work in London," she said. "Two years. "

  "I know," he said. "The old guy told me. When do you go?"

  "End of the month. "

  "You don't want me to come with you," he said.

  "It'll be very busy. It's a small staff with a big workload. "

  "And it's a civilized city. "

  She nodded. "Yes, it is. Would you want to come?"

  "Two straight years?" he said. "No. But maybe I could visit, time to time. "

  She smiled, vaguely. "That would be good. "

  He said nothing.

  "This is awful," she said. "Fifteen years I couldn't live without you, and now I find I can't live with you. "

  "I know," he said. "Totally my fault. "

  "Do you feel the same way?"

  He looked at her.

  "I guess I do," he lied.

  "We've got until the end of the month," she said.

  He nodded.

  "More than most people get," he said. "Can you take the afternoon off?"

  "Sure I can. I'm a partner now. I can do what I want. "

  "So let's go. "

  They left their empty glasses on the window ledge and threaded their way through the knots of people. Everybody watched them to the door, and then turned back to their quiet speculations.

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