61 hours, p.41
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       61 Hours, p.41
 

         Part #14 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child

  stayed in her office in Rock Creek, waiting by the phone. She slept in her visitor chairs, leaning back in one, her feet up on the other. The phone never rang.

  After a week the arson theorists presented their best guesses. The fire had been a refuelling accident. Possibly due to undischarged static electricity arcing between the plane and the hose, more likely due to vapour build-up underground and a spark from a boot heel on concrete. The fire had burned mostly two hundred and ten feet below the surface, with enhanced thermodynamic characteristics due to a strange aerodynamic stasis in which a gale of air had howled down the stair shaft and the products of combustion had blasted up the twin ventilation shafts, in exactly opposite directions but with perfectly equal masses and velocities, in what amounted to a controlled and everlasting explosion in a narrow vertical cylinder made of fireproof material. Like a rocket blasting off, but upside down, heading for the centre of the earth, not the sky. The roof damage was felt to prove it. Two temporary caps placed in the fake chimneys fifty years earlier had blown out and were found six hundred yards away. It was estimated that the narrow cone of flame might have reached a thousand feet above ground level, thereby mimicking the heat signature of a launching missile.

  It was felt the initial phase of the fire might have lasted four hours. Then when the fuel load had depleted below a certain critical point the stasis had collapsed and a fireball had bloomed upward and outward, at a lower but still tremendous temperature, and had burned for an hour or so before collapsing again and finally burning out.

  The toxic cloud in Bolton could not be explained. The air force admitted to storing surplus aircrew requirements from World War Two in the facility, all of it tanned leather in the form of helmets and boots and flying jackets, and it was felt that chemical residue from the tanning process might have been responsible for temporary adverse medical effects.

  The presence of the diamonds was not explained, either. A theory was advanced that they had been stolen in Europe in the last days of the war, and entrusted to a quartermaster to be smuggled home, but had been mislaid and routed to the wrong destination.

  After a series of discreet phone calls from the Pentagon, both the FBI and the local agencies in South Dakota concluded that in the absence of remains positively identifiable as human, no homicide investigation could be opened.

  Two weeks later Kim Peterson moved with her children to a small rented house in Sioux Falls, to be nearer her father and their grandfather. Not exactly a teeming metropolis, but at least there were things to be seen from her kitchen window.

  Four weeks later Susan Turner was deployed to Afghanistan. Elements of the 110th were operating there, and her presence was required. On her last day in Virginia she put Jack Reacher’s old service file in a khaki envelope and marked it Return to Human Resources Command. She left it front and centre on the damaged desk. Then she walked out of the old Rock Creek office, and closed the door with the fluted glass window, and walked along the narrow linoleum corridor, and down the stone stairs, and out to her waiting car.

  To be continued

  30/9/10

 
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