61 hours, p.4
Part #14 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
Holland’s office was quiet and still and the door was closed, but Reacher heard noise in the rest of the station house. Comings and goings, close to thirty minutes’ worth. Then silence again. A watch change, he guessed. Unlikely timing for a three-shift system. More likely a two-shift system. The day watch clocking off, the night watch coming on, twelve hours and twelve hours, maybe half past eight in the morning until half past eight at night. Unusual, and probably not permanent. Probably indicative of some kind of short-term stress.
They’ve got problems of their own.
Andrew Peterson came back to the station house just before nine twenty in the evening. He ducked his head into Holland’s office and Holland joined him in the corridor with the file of crime scene photographs. The impromptu conference didn’t last long. Less than five minutes. Reacher assumed that Peterson had seen the dead guy in situ and therefore didn’t need to study pictures of him. The two cops came back into the office and stood in the centre of the floor with quitting time written all through their body language. A long day, and another long day tomorrow, but until then, nothing. It was a feeling Reacher recognized from the years he had held a job. It was a feeling he had shared on some days. But not on days when dead guys had shown up in his jurisdiction.
Peterson said, ‘Let’s go.’
Twenty-five past nine in the evening.
Fifty-four and a half hours to go.
Twenty-five past nine in the evening in South Dakota was twenty-five past ten in the evening in the walled compound a hundred miles from Mexico City. The compound’s owner was an exceptionally short man who went by the name of Plato. Some people assumed that Plato was Brazilian, and had followed the Brazilian habit of picking a short catchy name to stand in for whatever long sequence of patronymics littered his birth certificate. Like the way the soccer star Edson Arantes do Nascimento had called himself Pelé. Or the way another named Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite had called himself Kaká. Others claimed that Plato was Colombian, which would have been in many ways more logical, given his chosen trade. Others insisted he was indeed Mexican. But all agreed that Plato was short, not that anyone would dare say so to his face. His local driver’s licence claimed five feet three inches. The reality was five feet one in elevator shoes, and four feet eleven without them.
The reason no one dared mention his stature to his face was a former associate named Martinez. Martinez had argued with Plato and lost his temper and called him a midget. Martinez had been delivered to the best hospital in Mexico City, unconscious. There he had been taken to an operating room and laid on the table and anaesthetized. He had been measured from the top of his scalp downward, and where the tape showed four feet and ten inches, lines had been drawn on his shins, a little closer to his knees than his ankles. Then a full team of surgeons and nurses had performed a double amputation, neatly and carefully and properly. Martinez had been kept in the hospital for two days, and then delivered home in an ambulance. Plato had delivered a get-well gift, with a card expressing the wish that the gift be appreciated and valued and kept permanently on display. Under the circumstances the wish was correctly interpreted as a command. Martinez’s people had thought the gift was a tank of tropical fish, from its size and apparent weight and because it was clearly full of sloshing liquid. When they unwrapped it they saw that it was indeed a fish tank. But it contained no fish. It was full of formaldehyde and contained Martinez’s feet and ankles and part of his shins, ten inches’ worth in total.
Thus no one ever again mentioned Plato’s height.
He had taken the call from the walled villa in the city and had promised a decision within twelve hours, but it really wasn’t worth investing that much time on a relatively minor issue concerning a relatively minor outpost of a large and complex international organization. So after just an hour and a half his mind was made up: he would authorize the silencing of the witness. He would send his man in as soon as was practical.
And he would go one step further. He would add a fifteenth item to the list. He was a little dismayed that it had not already been proposed. But then, he was Plato, and they weren’t.
He would break the chain, for safety’s sake.
He would have the lawyer silenced, too.
PETERSON LED REACHER OUT INTO THE FREEZING NIGHT AND asked if he was hungry. Reacher said yes, he was starving. So Peterson drove to a chain restaurant next to a gas station on the main route out to the highway. His car was a standard police specification Ford Crown Victoria, with winter tyres on the front and chains on the back. Inside it smelled of heat and rubber and hamburger grease and warm circuit boards. Outside it had nearly stopped snowing.
‘Getting too cold to snow,’ Peterson said. Which seemed to be true. The night sky had partially cleared and a vast frigid bowl of arctic air had clamped down. It struck through Reacher’s inadequate clothing and set him shivering again on the short walk through the restaurant lot.
He said, ‘I thought there was supposed to be a big storm coming.’
Peterson said, ‘There are two big storms coming. This is what happens. They’re pushing cold air ahead of them.’
‘How long before they get here?’
‘And then it’s going to warm up?’
‘Just a little. Enough to let it snow.’
‘Good. I’ll take snow over cold.’
Peterson said, ‘You think this is cold?’
‘It ain’t warm.’
‘This is nothing.’
‘I know,’ Reacher said. ‘I spent a winter in Korea. Colder than this.’
‘The army gave me a decent coat.’
‘At least Korea was interesting.’ Which needled Peterson a little. The restaurant was empty and looked ready to close up. But they went in anyway. They took a table for two, a thirty-inch square of laminate that looked undersized between them.
Peterson said, ‘The town of Bolton is plenty interesting.’
‘The dead guy?’
‘Yes,’ Peterson said. Then he paused. ‘What dead guy?’
Reacher smiled. ‘Too late to take it back.’
‘Don’t tell me Chief Holland told you.’
‘No. But I was in his office a long time.’
‘Not for a minute.’
‘But he let you see the photographs?’
‘He tried hard not to. But your cleaning staff did a good job on his window.’
‘You saw them all?’
‘I couldn’t tell if the guy was dead or unconscious.’
‘So you suckered me with that jab about Korea.’
‘I like to know things. I’m hungry for knowledge.’
A waitress came by, a tired woman in her forties wearing sneakers under a uniform that featured a knotted necktie over a khaki shirt. Peterson ordered pot roast. Reacher followed his lead, and asked for coffee to drink.
Peterson asked, ‘How long were you in the army?’
‘And you were an MP?’
‘With medical training?’
‘You’ve been talking to the bus passengers.’
‘And the driver.’
‘You’ve been checking me out.’
‘Of course I have. Like crazy. What else do you think I was doing?’
‘And you want me in your house tonight.’
‘You got a better place to go?’
‘Where you can keep an eye on me.’
‘If you say so.’
‘There are reasons.’
‘Want to tell me what they are?’
‘Just because you’re hungry for knowledge?’
‘All I’ll say is right now we need to know who’s coming and going.’
Peterson said nothing more, and a minute later dinner arrived. Plates piled high, mashed po
Peterson asked, ‘What exactly did you do in the MPs?’
Reacher said, ‘Whatever they told me to.’
‘Everything from attempted to multiple.’
‘How much medical training did you get?’
‘Worried about the food here?’
‘I like to know things too.’
‘I didn’t get much medical training, really. I was trying to make the old folks feel better, that’s all.’
‘They spoke well of you.’
‘Don’t trust them. They don’t know me.’
Peterson didn’t reply.
Reacher asked, ‘Where was the dead guy found? Where the police car was blocking the side street?’
‘No. That was different. The dead guy was somewhere else.’
‘He wasn’t killed there.’
‘How do you know?’
‘No blood in the snow. Hit someone hard enough in the head to kill them, the scalp splits. It’s inevitable. And scalps bleed like crazy. There should have been a pool of blood a yard across.’
Peterson ate in silence for a minute. Then he asked: ‘Where do you live?’
Which was a difficult question. Not for Reacher himself. There was a simple answer. He lived nowhere, and always had. He had been born the son of a serving military officer, in a Berlin infirmary, and since the day he had been carried out of it swaddled in blankets he had been dragged all over the world, through an endless blur of military bases and cheap off-post accommodations, and then he had joined up himself and lived the same way on his own account. Four years at West Point was his longest period of residential stability, and he had enjoyed neither West Point nor stability. Now that he was out of the service, he continued the transience. It was all he knew and it was a habit he couldn’t break.
Not that he had ever really tried.
He said, ‘I’m a nomad.’
Peterson said, ‘Nomads have animals. They move around to find pasture. That’s the definition.’
‘OK, I’m a nomad without the animals part.’
‘You’re a bum.’
‘You got no bags.’
‘You got a problem with that?’
‘It’s weird behaviour. Cops don’t like weird behaviour.’
‘Why is it weirder to move around than spend every day in the same place?’
Peterson was quiet for a spell and then he said, ‘Everyone has possessions.’
‘I’ve got no use for them. Travel light, travel far.’
Peterson didn’t answer.
Reacher said, ‘Whatever, I’m no concern of yours. I never heard of Bolton before. If the bus driver hadn’t twitched I’d have been at Mount Rushmore tonight.’
Peterson nodded, reluctantly.
‘Can’t argue with that,’ he said.
Five minutes to ten in the evening.
Fifty-four hours to go.
Seventeen hundred miles to the south, inside the walled compound a hundred miles from Mexico City, Plato was eating too, a rib eye steak flown in all the way from Argentina. Nearly eleven in the evening local time. A late dinner. Plato was dressed in chinos and a white button-down shirt and black leather penny loafer shoes, all from the Brooks Brothers’ boys’ collection. The shoes and the clothes fit very well, but he looked odd in them. They were made for fat white middle-class American children, and Plato was old and brown and squat and had a shaved bullet head. But it was important to him to be able to buy clothes that fit right out of the box. Made-to-measure was obviously out of the question. Tailors would wield the tape and go quiet and then call out small numbers with studied and artificial neutrality. Alteration of off-the-rack items was just as bad. Visits from nervous local seamstresses and the furtive disposal of lengths of surplus fabric upset him mightily.
He put down his knife and his fork and dabbed his lips with a large white napkin. He picked up his cell phone and hit the green button twice, to return the last call he had received. When it was answered he said, ‘We don’t need to wait. Send the guy in and hit the witness.’
The man in the city villa asked, ‘When?’
‘As soon as would be prudent.’
‘And hit the lawyer, too. To break the chain.’
‘And make sure those idiots know they owe me big.’
‘And tell them they better not bother me with this kind of shit ever again.’
Halfway through the pot roast Reacher asked, ‘So why was that street blocked off?’
Peterson said, ‘Maybe there was a power line down.’
‘I hope not. Because that would be a strange sense of priorities. You leave twenty seniors freezing on the highway for an hour to guard a power line on a side street?’
‘Maybe there was a fender bender.’
‘Does it matter? You were already on your way into town by that point.’
‘That car had been there two hours or more. Its tracks were full of snow. But you told us no one was available.’
‘Which was true. That officer wasn’t available. He was doing a job.’
‘None of your business.’
‘How big is your department?’
‘And they were all busy?’
‘How many of them were busy sitting around doing nothing in parked cars?’
‘You got concerns, I suggest you move here and start paying taxes and then talk to the mayor or Chief Holland.’
‘I could have caught a chill.’
‘But you didn’t.’
‘Too early to say.’
They went back to eating. Until Peterson’s cell phone rang. He answered and listened and hung up and pushed his plate to one side.
‘Got to go,’ he said. ‘You wait here.’
‘I can’t,’ Reacher said. ‘This place is closing up. It’s ten o’clock. The waitress wants us out of here. She wants to go home.’
Peterson said nothing.
Reacher said, ‘I can’t walk. I don’t know where I’m supposed to go and it’s too cold to walk anyway.’
Peterson said nothing.
Reacher said, ‘I’ll stay in the car. Just ignore me.’
‘OK,’ Peterson said, but he didn’t look happy about it. Reacher left a twenty dollar bill on the table. The waitress smiled at him. Which she
61 Hours by Lee Child / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5.1 out of 5 / Based on41 votes