One shot, p.6
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       One Shot, p.6

         Part #9 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
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Chapter 6

  Reacher rode the elevator to the top of the black glass tower and found a maintenance stairwell that led to the roof. He came out through a triangular metal hutch next to the water tank and the elevator winding gear. The roof was gray tar paper covered with gravel. It was fifteen stories up, which wasn't much in comparison with some cities. But it felt like the highest point in Indiana. He could see the river to the south. South and west, he could see where the raised highway separated. He walked to the northwest corner, and wind whipped at him and flattened his shirt against his body and his pants against his legs. Directly below him the highway spur curled around behind the library and the tower and ran away due east. Far beyond it in the distance the northward spur carried on straight and met a cloverleaf about two miles away in the haze. A long straight road came off the cloverleaf and ran back toward him. He fixed its position in his mind, because that was the road he wanted.

  He rode down to the lobby and set out walking. At street level the air was warm and still. He went north and west, which meant he missed the sports bar by a block. The road he wanted came in at a shallow angle south of it and diverted him away. It was straight and wide. Four lanes. Closest to downtown it had small run-down establishments. There was a gun store with heavy mesh on the windows. There was a barbershop with a sign: Any Style $7. There was an old-fashioned motor court on a lot that once must have stood on the edge of town. Then there was a raw cross street and beyond it the lots got bigger and the buildings got newer. Fresh commercial territory. No existing leases, nothing to tear down. Once-virgin land, now paved over.

  He kept on walking and after a mile he passed a fast-food drive-through. Then a tire store. Four New Radials $99! Then a lube franchise and a dealership for small cars from Korea. America's Best Warranty! He looked ahead, because he figured he was getting close.

  Are you a hooker?

  No way. I work at the auto parts store.

  Not an auto parts store. The auto parts store. Maybe the only one, or at least the main one. The biggest one. Which in any city is always right there on the same strip as the tire stores and the auto dealers and the lube shops. Which in any city is always a wide new strip near a highway cloverleaf. Cities are all different, but they're also all the same.

  He spent ten minutes hiking past a Ford dealership with about a thousand new pickup trucks lined up shoulder to shoulder with their front wheels up on ramps. Behind them was a giant inflatable gorilla tied down with guy wires. The wires had tinsel bunting attached to them. Beyond the new trucks were old trucks. Trade-ins, Reacher guessed, looking for new homes. Beyond the used lot was a fire road.

  And then an auto parts store.

  It was a franchise operation, long and low, neat and clean. New blacktop in the lot, urgent messages in the windows. Cheap oil filters, cheap antifreeze, guaranteed brake parts, superduty truck batteries. The parking lot was about a quarter full. There were slammed Hondas with wide pipes and blue headlight bulbs and rubber-band tires on chrome wheels. There were listing pickup trucks with broken springs. There were tired sedans halfway through their third hundred thousand miles. There were two cars alone together in the end bays. The store staff's cars, Reacher figured. They weren't allowed to park in the prime front-and-center slots, but they wanted their rides where they could see them through the windows. One was a four-cylinder Chevy, and the other was a small Toyota SUV. The Chevy had chromed silhouettes of reclining women on the mud flaps, which made the Toyota the redhead's car. That was Reacher's conclusion.

  He went inside. The air was set very cold and smelled of sharp chemical flavors. There were maybe a half-dozen customers walking around, looking. At the front of the store were racks full of glass and chrome things. Dress-up accessories, Reacher guessed. In back were racks of things in red cardboard boxes. Clutch plates, brake pads, radiator hoses, stuff like that, he guessed. Parts. He had never put parts on a car. In the army there had been guys to do it for him, and since the army he had never had a vehicle of his own.

  Between the glamour stuff and the boring stuff was a service corral made of four counters boxed together. There were registers and computers and thick paper manuals. Behind one of the computers was a tall boy somewhere in his early twenties. Not someone Reacher had seen before. Not one of the five from the sports bar. Just a guy. He looked to be in charge. He was wearing red coveralls. A uniform, Reacher guessed, partly practical and partly suggestive of the kind of thing an Indy 500 pit mechanic might wear. Like a symbol. Like an implied promise of fast hands-on help with all kinds of matters automotive. The guy was a manager, Reacher guessed. Not the franchise owner. Not if he drove a four-cylinder Chevy to work. His name was embroidered on the left of his chest: Gary. Up close he looked sullen and unhelpful.

  "I need to speak with Sandy," Reacher said to him. "The redhead. "

  "She's in back right now," the guy called Gary said.

  "Shall I go through or do you want to go get her for me?"

  "What's this about?"

  "Personal. "

  "She's here to work. "

  "It's a legal matter. "

  "You're not a cop. "

  "I'm working with a lawyer. "

  "I need to see some ID. "

  "No, Gary, you don't. You need to go get Sandy. "

  "I can't. I'm short-staffed today. "

  "You could call her on the phone. Or page her. "

  The guy called Gary just stood still. Did nothing. Reacher shrugged and bypassed the corral of counters and headed for a door in back marked No Admittance. It would be an office or a lunchroom, he guessed. Not a stockroom. A place like that, stock was unloaded directly onto the shelves. No hidden inventory. Reacher knew how modern retail worked. He read the papers people left behind on buses and in diner booths.

  It was an office, small, maybe ten-by-ten, dominated by a large white laminate desk with oily handprints on it. Sandy was sitting behind it, wearing red coveralls. Hers looked a whole lot better than Gary's. They were cinched in tight around her waist with a belt. The zipper was open about eight inches. Her name was embroidered on the left, displayed a lot more prominently than Gary's was. Reacher figured that if he owned the franchise he would have Sandy working the counter and Gary in the office, no question.

  "We meet again," he said.

  Sandy said nothing. Just looked up at him. She was working with invoices. There was a stack of them on her left, and a stack of them on her right. One of them was in her hand, frozen in midair on its journey from one stack to the other. She looked smaller than Reacher remembered, quieter, less energetic, duller. Deflated.

  "We need to talk," he said. "Don't we?"

  "I'm very sorry for what happened," she said.

  "Don't apologize. I wasn't offended. I just want to know how it went down. "

  "I don't know how. "

  "You do, Sandy. You were there. "

  She said nothing. Just placed the invoice on top of the stack to her right and used her fingers to line it up exactly.

  "Who set it up?" Reacher asked.

  "I don't know. "

  "You must know who told you about it. "

  "Jeb," she said.

  "Jeb?"

  "Jeb Oliver," she said. "He works here. We hang out sometimes. "

  "Is he here today?"

  "No, he didn't show. "

  Reacher nodded. The guy called Gary had said: I'm short-staffed today.

  "Did you see him again last night? Afterward?"

  "No, I just ran for it. "

  "Where does he live?"

  "I don't know. With his mother somewhere. I don't know him that well. "

  "What did he tell you?"

  "That I could help with something he had to do. "

  "Did it sound like fun?"

  "Anything sounds like fun on a Monday night in this town. Watching a barn plank warp sounds like fun. "

  "How much did he pay you?"

  S
andy didn't answer.

  "A thing like that, nobody does it for free," Reacher said.

  "Hundred dollars," she said.

  "What about the other four guys?"

  "Same for them. "

  "Who were they?"

  "His buddies. "

  "Who came up with the plan? The brothers thing?"

  "It was Jeb's idea. You were supposed to start pawing me. Only you didn't. "

  "You improvised very well. "

  She smiled a little, like it had been a small unscripted success in a life that held very few of them.

  "How did you know where to find me?" Reacher asked.

  "We were cruising in Jeb's truck. Around and around. Kind of standing by. Then he got word on his cell. "

  "Who called him?"

  "I don't know. "

  "Would his buddies know?"

  "I don't think so. Jeb likes to know things that nobody else knows. "

  "You want to lend me your car?"

  "My car?"

  "I need to go find Jeb. "

  "I don't know where he lives. "

  "You can leave that part to me. But I need wheels. "

  "I don't know. "

  "I'm old enough to drive," Reacher said. "I'm old enough to do lots of things. And I'm pretty good at some of them. "

  She half-smiled again, because he was using her own line from the night before. She looked away, and then she looked back at him, shy, but curious.

  "Was I any good?" she asked. "You know, last night, with the act?"

  "You were great," he said. "I was preoccupied, or I would have given up on the football in a heartbeat. "

  "How long would you need my car for?"

  "How big is this town?"

  "Not very. "

  "Not very long, then. "

  "Is this a big deal?"

  "You got a hundred bucks. So did four other guys. That's five hundred right there. My guess is Jeb kept another five for himself. So someone paid a thousand bucks to put me in the hospital. That's a moderately big deal. For me, anyway. "

  "I wish I hadn't gotten involved now. "

  "It turned out OK. "

  "Am I in trouble?"

  "Maybe," Reacher said. "But maybe not. We could deal. You could lend me your car and I could forget all about you. "

  "Promise?"

  "No harm, no foul," Reacher said.

  She ducked down and lifted her purse off the floor. Rooted through and came out with a set of keys.

  "It's a Toyota," she said.

  "I know," Reacher said. "End of the row, next to Gary's Chevy. "

  "How did you know that?"

  "Intuition," he said.

  He took the keys and closed the door on her and headed back to the corral of counters. Gary was ringing some guy up for some unidentifiable purchase. Reacher waited in line behind him. Got to the register inside about two minutes.

  "I need Jeb Oliver's address," he said.

  "Why?" Gary said.

  "A legal matter. "

  "I want to see some ID. "

  "You had a criminal conspiracy running out of your store. If I were you, the less I knew about it, the better. "

  "I want to see something. "

  "What about the inside of an ambulance? That's the next thing you're going to see, Gary, unless you give me Jeb Oliver's address. "

  The guy paused a moment. Glanced beyond Reacher's shoulder at the line forming behind him. Apparently decided that he didn't want to start a fight he knew he couldn't win, with a whole bunch of people watching. So he opened a drawer and took out a file and copied an address onto a slip of paper torn off the top of a memo pad provided by an oil filter manufacturer.

  "North of here," he said. "About five miles. "

  "Thank you," Reacher said, and took the slip of paper.

  The redhead's Toyota started on the first turn of the key. Reacher let the engine idle and racked the seat back and adjusted the mirror. Clipped his belt and propped the slip of paper against the instrument panel. It meant he couldn't see the tachometer, but he wasn't very interested in whatever information that dial might supply. All he cared about was how much gas was in the tank, and there looked to be more than enough for five miles out and five miles back.

  Jeb Oliver's address was nothing more than a house number on a rural route. Easier to find than a road with a name, like Elm Street, or Maple Avenue. In Reacher's experience some towns had more roads named after trees than trees themselves.

  He moved out of the parking lot and drove north to the highway cloverleaf. There was the usual forest of signs. He saw the route number he wanted. It was going to be a dogleg, right and then left. East, and then north. The little SUV hummed along OK. It was tall for its width, which made it feel tippy on the turns. But it didn't fall over. It had a small engine that kept itself working hard. The interior smelled of perfume.

  The west-east part of the dogleg was some kind of a major county road. But after the turn north the blacktop narrowed and the shoulders grew ragged. There was agriculture going on to the left and the right. Some kind of a winter crop was planted in giant circles. Radial irrigation booms turned slowly. The corners where the booms didn't reach were unplanted and stony. Superimposing circles on squares wasted more than twenty-one percent of every acre, but Reacher figured that might be an efficient trade-off in places where land was plentiful and irrigation hardware wasn't.

  He drove four more miles through the fields and passed a half-dozen tracks with mailboxes at the end of them. The mailboxes were painted with numbers and the tracks led away west and east to small swaybacked farm dwellings maybe two hundred yards off the road. He watched the numbers and slowed before he got to the Oliver place. It had a mailbox like all the others, up on a post made out of two figure-eight concrete blocks stacked end on end. The number was daubed in white on a weathered plywood rectangle wired to the concrete. The track was narrow with two muddy ruts flanking a weedy center hump. There were sharp tire tracks in the mud. New treads, wide, aggressive, from a big truck. Not the kind of tires you bought at the $99-for-four place.

  Reacher turned the Toyota in and bumped down the track. At the end of it he could see a clapboard farmhouse with a barn behind it and a clean red pickup truck next to it. The truck was turned nose-out and it had a massive chrome radiator grille. A Dodge Ram, Reacher figured. He parked in front of it and got out. The house and the barn were about a hundred years old and the truck was about a month old. It had the big Hemi motor, and the crew cab, and four-wheel drive, and huge tires. It was probably worth more than the house, which was badly maintained and one winter away from serious trouble. The barn was no better. But it had new iron clasps on the doors, with a bicycle U-lock through them.

  There was no sound except for a distant rainfall hiss as the irrigation booms turned slowly in the fields. No activity anywhere. No traffic on the road. No dogs barking. The air was still and full of the sharp smell of fertilizer and earth. Reacher walked to the front door and knocked twice with the flat of his hand. No response. He tried again. No response. He walked around to the back of the house and found a woman sitting on a porch glider. She was a lean and leathery person, wearing a faded print dress and holding a pint bottle of something golden in color. She was probably fifty, but she could have passed for seventy, or forty if she took a bath and got a good night's sleep. She had one foot tucked up underneath her and was using the other to scoot the glider slowly back and forth. She wasn't wearing shoes.

  "What do you want?" she said.

  "Jeb," Reacher said.

  "Not here. "

  "He's not at work, either. "

  "I know that. "

  "So where is he?"

  "How would I know?"

  "Are you his mother?"

  "Yes, I am. You think I'm hiding him here? Go ahead and check. "

  Reacher said nothing. The woman stared at him and rocked the glid
er, back and forth, back and forth. The bottle rested easy in her lap.

  "I insist," she said. "I mean it. Search the damn house. "

  "I'll take your word for it. "

  "Why should you?"

  "Because if you invite me to search the house it means he's not in it. "

  "Like I said. Jeb's not here. "

  "What about the barn?"

  "It's locked from the outside. There's only one key and he's got it. "

  Reacher said nothing.

  "He went away," the woman said. "Disappeared. "

  "Disappeared?"

  "Only temporarily, I hope. "

  "Is that his truck?"

  The woman nodded. Took a small, delicate sip from her bottle.

  "So he walked?" Reacher said.

  "He was picked up. By a friend. "

  "When?"

  "Late last night. "

  "To go where?"

  "I have no idea. "

  "Take a guess. "

  The woman shrugged, rocked, sipped.

  "Far away, probably," she said. "He has friends all over. California, maybe. Or Arizona. Or Texas. Or Mexico. "

  "Was this trip planned?" Reacher asked.

  The woman wiped the neck of the bottle on the hem of her dress and held it out toward him. He shook his head. Sat down on the porch step. The old wood creaked once under his weight. The glider kept on rocking, back and forth. It was almost silent. Almost, but not quite. There was a small sound from the mechanism that came once at the end of each swing, and a little creak from a porch board as it started its return. Reacher could smell mildew from the cushions, and bourbon from the bottle.

  "Cards on the table, whoever the hell you are," the woman said. "Jeb got home last night limping. With his nose busted. And I'm figuring you for the guy who bust it. "

  "Why?"

  "Who else would come looking for him? I'm guessing he started something he couldn't finish. "

  Reacher said nothing.

  "So he ran," the woman said. "The pussy. "

  "Did he call someone last night? Or did someone call him?"

  "How would I know? He makes a thousand calls a day, he takes a thousand calls a day. His cell phone is the biggest thing in his life. Next to his truck. "

  "Did you see who picked him up?"

  "Some guy in a car. He waited on the road. Wouldn't come down the track. I didn't see much. It was dark. White lights on the front, red lights on the back, but all cars have those. "

  Reacher nodded. He had seen only a single set of tire marks in the mud, from the big pickup. The car that had waited on the road was probably a sedan, too low-slung to make it down the farm track.

  "Did he say how long he would be gone?"

  The woman just shook her head.

  "Was he scared of something?"

  "He was kind of beaten down. Deflated. "

  Deflated. Like the redhead in the auto parts store.

  "OK," Reacher said. "Thanks. "

  "You going now?"

  "Yes," Reacher said. He walked back the way he had come, listening to the glider moving, listening to the hiss of irrigation water. He backed the Toyota all the way to the road and swung the wheel and headed south.

  He put the Toyota next to the Chevy and headed inside the store. Gary was still behind the register. Reacher ignored him and headed straight for the No Admittance door. The redhead was still behind the desk. She was almost through with the invoices. The stack on her right was tall, and the stack on her left had just one sheet of paper in it. She wasn't doing anything with it. She was leaning back in the chair, unwilling to finish, unwilling to get back out to the public. Or to Gary.

  Reacher put the car keys on the desk.

  "Thanks for the loan," he said.

  "Did you find him?" she asked.

  "He's gone. "

  She said nothing.

  "You look tired," Reacher said.

  She said nothing.

  "Like you've got no energy. No sparkle. No enthusiasm. "

  "So?"

  "Last night you were full of beans. "

  "I'm at work now. "

  "You were at work last night, too. You were getting paid. "

  "You said you were going to forget all about that. "

  "I am. Have a nice life, Sandy. "

  She watched him for a minute.

  "You too, Jimmy Reese," she said.

  He turned around and closed the door on her again and headed out to the daylight. Started walking south, back to town.

  There were four people in Helen Rodin's office when he got there. Helen herself, and three strangers. One of them was a guy in an expensive suit. He was sitting in Helen's chair, behind her desk. She was standing next to him, head bent, talking. Some kind of an urgent conference. The other two strangers were standing near the window, like they were waiting, like they were next in line. One was a man, one was a woman. The woman had long dark hair and glasses. The man had no hair and glasses. Both were dressed casually. Both had lapel badges with their names printed large. The woman had Mary Mason followed by a bunch of letters that had to be medical. The man had Warren Niebuhr with the same bunch of letters. Doctors, Reacher figured, probably psychiatrists. The name badges made them look like they had been dragged out of a convention hall. But they didn't seem unhappy about it.

  Helen looked up from her discussion.

  "Folks, this is Jack Reacher," she said. "My investigator dropped out and Mr. Reacher agreed to take over his role. "

  News to me, Reacher thought. But he said nothing. Then Helen gestured at the guy in her chair, proudly.

  "This is Alan Danuta," she said. "He's a lawyer specializing in veterans' issues. From D. C. Probably the best there is. "

  "You got here fast," Reacher said to him.

  "I had to," the guy said back. "Today is the critical day for Mr. Barr. "

  "We're all headed for the hospital," Helen said. "The doctors say he's ready for us. I was hoping that Alan would consult by phone or e-mail, but he flew right in. "

  "Easier for me that way," Danuta said.

  "No, I got lucky," Helen said. "And then even luckier, because there's a psychiatric conference in Bloomington all week. Dr. Mason and Dr. Niebuhr drove straight down. "

  "I specialize in memory loss," Dr. Mason said.

  "And I specialize in coercion," Dr. Niebuhr said. "Dependency issues in the criminal mind, and so on. "

  "So this is the team," Helen said.

  "What about his sister?" Reacher asked.

  "She's already with him. "

  "We need to talk. "

  "Privately?"

  "Just for a moment. "

  She made an excuse-me face to the others and led Reacher into the outer office.

  "You get anywhere?" she asked him.

  "The bimbo and the four other guys were recruited by a friend of theirs called Jeb Oliver. He paid them a hundred bucks each. I figure he kept another five for his trouble. I went to his house, but he's gone. "

  "Where?"

  "Nobody knows. He was picked up by a guy in a car. "

  "Who is he?"

  "He works at the store with the bimbo. But he's also a small-time dope dealer. "

  "Really?"

  Reacher nodded. "There's a barn behind his house with a fancy lock on it. Maybe a meth lab, maybe a storeroom. He spends a lot of time on his cell phone. He owns a truck that had to cost twice what a store clerk makes in a year. And he lives with his mother. "

  "What does that prove?"

  "Drug dealers are more likely than anyone else to live with their mothers. I read it in the paper. "

  "Why?"

  "They've usually got small-time priors. They can't pass the kind of background checks that landlords like to run. "

  Helen said nothing.

  "They were all hopped up last night," Reacher said. "All six of them. Speed
, probably, judging by the way the bimbo looked today. She was different. Really down, like an amphetamine hangover. "

  "They were doped up? Then you were lucky. "

  Reacher shook his head. "You want to fight with me, your best choice would be aspirin. "

  "Where does this get us?"

  "Look at it from Jeb Oliver's point of view. He was doing something for somebody. Part work, part favor. Worth a thousand bucks. Had to be for someone higher up on one of his various food chains. And it probably wasn't for the auto parts manager. "

  "So you think James Barr was involved with a dope dealer?"

  "Not necessarily involved. But maybe coerced by one for some unknown reason. "

  "This raises the stakes," Helen said.

  "A little," Reacher said.

  "What should we do?"

  "We should go to the hospital. Let Dr. Mason find out if Barr is bullshitting about the amnesia. If he is, then the fastest way through all of this is to slap him around until he tells us the truth. "

  "What if he isn't bullshitting?"

  "Then there are other approaches. "

  "Like what?"

  "Later," Reacher said. "Let's hear what the shrinks have to say first. "

  Helen Rodin drove out to the hospital in her Saturn with the lawyer Alan Danuta sitting beside her in the front and Reacher sprawling in the back. Mason and Niebuhr followed her in the Taurus they had rented that morning in Bloomington. They parked side by side in a large visitors' lot, and all five people got out and stood for a moment and then headed together toward the building's main entrance.

  Grigor Linsky watched them walk. He was fifty feet across the lot, in the Cadillac that Jeb Oliver's mother had seen in the dark the night before. He kept the motor running and dialed his cell phone. The Zec answered on the first ring.

  "Yes?" he said.

  "The soldier is very good," Linsky said. "He's already been out to the boy's house. "

  "And?"

  "Nothing. The boy is no longer there. "

  "Where is the boy?"

  "Distributed. "

  "Specifically?"

  "His head and his hands are in the river. The rest of him is under eight yards of crushed stone in the new First Street roadbed. "

  "What's happening now?"

  "The soldier and the lawyer are at the hospital. With three others. Another lawyer and two doctors, I think. Specialist counsel and expert witnesses, I imagine. "

  "Are we relaxed?"

  "We should be. They have to try. That's the system here, as you know. But they won't succeed. "

  "Make sure they don't," the Zec said.

  The hospital was on the outer edge of the city and therefore relatively spacious. Clearly there had been no real estate restraints. Just county budget restrictions, Reacher figured, that had limited the building to plain concrete and six stories. The concrete was painted white inside and out, and the stories were short of headroom. But other than those factors the place looked like any hospital anywhere. And it smelled like any hospital anywhere. Decay, disinfectant, disease. Reacher didn't like hospitals very much. He was following the other four down a long bright corridor that led to an elevator. The two shrinks were leading the way. They seemed pretty much at home. Helen Rodin and Alan Danuta were right behind them. They were side by side, talking. The shrinks reached the elevator bank and Niebuhr hit the button. The little column of people closed up behind him. Then Helen Rodin turned back and stopped Reacher before he caught up with the others. Stepped close and spoke quietly.

  "Does the name Eileen Hutton mean anything to you?"

  "Why?"

  "My father faxed a new witness list. He added her name. "

  Reacher said nothing.

  "She seems to be from the army," Helen said. "Do you know her?"

  "Should I?"

  Helen came closer and turned away from the others.

  "I need to know what she knows," she said quietly.

  This could complicate things, Reacher thought.

  "She was the prosecutor," he said.

  "When? Fourteen years ago?"

  "Yes. "

  "So how much does she know?"

  "I think she's at the Pentagon now. "

  "How much does she know, Reacher?"

  He looked away.

  "She knows it all," he said.

  "How? You never got anywhere near a courtroom. "

  "Even so. "

  "How?"

  "Because I was sleeping with her. "

  She stared at him. "Tell me you're kidding. "

  "I'm not kidding. "

  "You told her everything?"

  "We were in a relationship. Naturally I told her everything. We were on the same side. "

  "Just two lonely people in the desert. "

  "We had a good thing going. Three great months. She was a nice person. Still is, probably. We were close. "

  "That's more information than I need, Reacher. "

  He said nothing.

  "This is way out of control now," Helen said.

  "She can't use what she's got. Even less than I can. It's still classified and she's still in the army. "

  Helen Rodin said nothing.

  "Believe it," Reacher said.

  "Then why is she on the damn list?"

  "My fault," Reacher said. "I mentioned the Pentagon to your father. When I couldn't understand how my name had come up. He must have poked around. I thought he might. "

  "It's over before it starts if she talks. "

  "She can't. "

  "Maybe she can. Maybe she's going to. Who knows what the hell the military is going to do?"

  The elevator bell rang and the small crowd shuffled closer to the doors.

  "You're going to have to talk to her," Helen said. "She'll be coming here for a deposition. You're going to have to find out what she's going to say. "

  "She's probably a one-star general by now. I can't make her tell me anything. "

  "Find a way," Helen said. "Exploit old memories. "

  "Maybe I don't want to. She and I are still on the same side, remember. As far as Specialist E-4 James Barr is concerned. "

  Helen Rodin turned away and stepped into the elevator car.

  The elevator opened into a sixth-floor lobby that was all blank, painted concrete except for a steel-and-wired-glass door that led into a security airlock. Beyond that, Reacher could see signs to an ICU and two isolation wards, one male, one female, and two general wards, and a neonatal facility. Reacher guessed the whole sixth floor had been funded by the state. It wasn't a pleasant place. It was a perfect blend of prison and hospital, and neither thing was a fun ingredient.

  A guy in a Board of Corrections uniform met the party at a reception desk. Everyone was searched and everyone signed a liability waiver. Then a doctor showed up and led them to a small waiting area. The doctor was a tired man of about thirty, and the waiting area had chairs made of tubular steel and green vinyl. They looked like they had been ripped out of 1950s Chevrolets.

  "Barr is awake and reasonably lucid," the doctor said. "We're listing him as stable, but that doesn't mean he's a well man. So today we're restricting his visitors to a maximum of two at any one time, and we want them to keep things as brief as possible. "

  Reacher saw Helen Rodin smile, and he knew why. The cops would want to come in pairs, and therefore Helen's presence as defense counsel would make three at a time. Which meant that the medical restrictions were handing her a defense-only day.

  "His sister is with him right now," the doctor said. "She'd prefer it if you would wait until they've finished their visit before going in. "

  The doctor left them there and Helen said, "I'll go first, on my own. I need to introduce myself and get his consent for the representation. Then Dr. Mason should see him, I think. Then we'll decide what to do next based on her conclusions. "

  She spoke fast. Rea
cher realized she was a little nervous. A little tense. All of them were, apart from him. None of them apart from him had ever met James Barr before. Barr had become an unknown destination for each of them, all in separate ways. He was Helen's client, albeit one that she didn't really want. He was an object of study for Mason and Niebuhr. Maybe the subject of future academic papers, even fame and reputation. Maybe he was a condition waiting to be named. Barr's syndrome. Same for Alan Danuta. Maybe to him the whole thing was a Supreme Court precedent waiting to be argued. A textbook chapter. A law school class. Indiana versus Barr. Barr versus the United States. They were all investing in a man they didn't know.

  They took a green vinyl chair each and settled in. The little lobby smelled of chlorine disinfectant, and it was silent. There was no sound at all except for a faint rush of water in pipes and a distant electronic pulse from a machine in another room. Nobody said anything but everyone seemed to know they were in for a long slow process. No point in starting out impatient. Reacher sat opposite Mary Mason and watched her. She was relatively young, for an expert. She seemed warm and open. She had chosen eyeglasses with large frames so that her eyes could be clearly seen. Her eyes looked kind and welcoming, and reassuring. How much of that was bedside manner and how much was for real, Reacher didn't know.

  "How do you do this?" he asked her.

  "The assessment?" she said. "I start out assuming it's more likely to be real than fake. A brain injury bad enough for a two-day coma almost always produces amnesia. Those data were settled long ago. Then I just watch the patient. True amnesiacs are very unsettled by their condition. They're disoriented and frightened. You can see them really trying to remember. They want to remember. Fakers show up different. You can see them avoiding the days in question. They look away from them mentally. Sometimes even physically. There's often some distinctive body language. "

  "Kind of subjective," Reacher said.

  Mason nodded. "It is basically subjective. It's very hard to prove a negative. You can use brain scans to show differing brain activity, but what the scans actually mean is still subjective. Hypnotism is sometimes useful, but courts are scared of hypnotism, generally. So yes, I'm in the opinion business, nothing more. "

  "Who does the prosecution hire?"

  "Someone exactly like me. I've worked both sides of the fence. "

  "So it's he said, she said?"

  Mason nodded again. "It's usually about which of us has more letters after her name. That's what juries respond to. "

  "You've got a lot of letters. "

  "More than most people," Mason said.

  "How much will he have forgotten?"

  "Several days, minimum. If the trauma happened Saturday, I'd be very surprised if he remembers anything after Wednesday. Before that there'll be a shadowy period just about as long where he remembers some things and not others. But that's the minimum. I've seen cases where months are missing, sometimes after concussions, not even comas. "

  "Will anything come back?"

  "From the initial shadowy period, possibly. He might be able to work backward from the last thing he remembers, through the preceding few days. He might be able to pick out a few previous incidents. Working forward, he'll be much more limited. If he remembers his last lunch, he might eventually get as far as dinner. If he remembers being out at a movie, he might eventually recall driving home. But there'll be a hard boundary somewhere. Typically it would be when he went to sleep on the last day he's aware of. "

  "Will he remember fourteen years ago?"

  Mason nodded. "His long-term memory should be unimpaired. Different people seem to have different internal definitions of long- term, because there seems to be a literal chemical migration from one part of the brain to another, and no two brains are identical. The physical biology isn't well understood. People like to use computer metaphors now, but that's all wrong. It's not about hard drives and random access memory. The brain is entirely organic. It's like throwing a bag of apples down the stairs. Some bruise, some don't. But I would say fourteen years counts as long-term for just about anybody. "

  The waiting area went quiet. Reacher listened to the distant electronic pulse. It was a sinus rhythm, he guessed, from a machine that was either monitoring a heartbeat or causing one. It was running at about seventy beats a minute. It was a restful sound. He liked it. Then a door opened halfway down a corridor and Rosemary Barr stepped out of a room. She was showered and her hair was brushed but she looked thin and exhausted and sleepless and ten years older than the day before. She stood still for a moment and then looked right, looked left, and walked slowly toward the waiting area. Helen Rodin got up and went to meet her halfway. They stood together, talking low. Reacher couldn't hear what they were saying. A two-way progress report, he guessed, first medical, then legal. Then Helen took Rosemary's arm and led her onward to the group. Rosemary looked at the two psychiatrists, at Alan Danuta, at Reacher. She said nothing. Then she walked on alone toward the security desk. Didn't look back.

  "Avoidance," Niebuhr said. "We're all here to poke and prod at her brother, physically, mentally, legally, metaphorically. That's invasive and unattractive. And to acknowledge us means to acknowledge her brother's jeopardy. "

  "Maybe she's just tired," Reacher said.

  "I'm going in to see him now," Helen said.

  She walked back up the corridor and went into the room Rosemary had come out of. Reacher watched her until he heard the door close. Then he turned back to Niebuhr.

  "Seen this kind of thing before?" he asked him.

  "Coercion? Have you seen it before?"

  Reacher smiled. Every psychiatrist he had ever met liked to answer questions with questions. Maybe they were taught to, day one at psychiatry school.

  "I've seen it a lot," he said.

  "But?"

  "Usually there was more evidence of a dire threat. "

  "A threat against the sister isn't dire? You came up with that hypothesis yourself, I believe. "

  "His sister hasn't been kidnapped. She's not a prisoner somewhere. He could have arranged to have her safeguarded. Or told her to get out of town. "

  "Exactly," Niebuhr said. "We can only conclude that he was instructed not to do any such thing. Evidently he was told to leave her open, and ignorant, and vulnerable. That demonstrates to us how powerful the coercion must have been. And it demonstrated to him how powerful it was. And it demonstrated to him how powerless he was in comparison. Every day. He must have been living with deep dread, and helplessness, and guilt for his obedience. "

  "Ever seen a rational man afraid enough to do what he did?"

  "Yes," Niebuhr said.

  "Me too," Reacher said. "Once or twice. "

  "The threatener must be a real monster. Although I'd expect to see other factors present, as enhancers, or multipliers. Very likely a recent relationship, some kind of dependency, an infatuation, a desire to please, to impress, to be valued, to be loved. "

  "A woman?"

  "No, you don't kill people to impress women. That usually has the opposite effect. This will be a man. Seductive, but not in a sexual way. Compelling, somehow. "

  "An alpha male and a beta male. "

  "Exactly," Niebuhr said again. "With any final reluctance resolved by the threat to the sister. Possibly Mr. Barr was never entirely sure whether the threat was a joke or for real. But he chose not to test it. Human motivation is very complex. Most people don't really know why they do things. "

  "That's for sure. "

  "Do you know why you do things?"

  "Sometimes," Reacher said. "Other times I don't have the faintest idea. Maybe you could tell me. "

  "I'm normally very expensive. That's why I can afford to do things like this for nothing. "

  "Maybe I could pay you five bucks a week, like rent. "

  Niebuhr smiled uncertainly.

  "Uh, no," he said. "I don't think so. "

  Then the waiting ar
ea went quiet again and stayed quiet for ten long minutes. Danuta stretched his legs way out and worked on papers inside an open briefcase that he kept balanced on his knees. Mason had her eyes closed and might have been asleep. Niebuhr stared into space. The three of them were clearly accustomed to waiting. As was Reacher himself. He had been a military cop for thirteen years, and Hurry Up and Wait was the real MP motto. Not Assist, Protect, Defend. He focused on the distant electronic heartbeat, and passed the time.

  Grigor Linsky turned his car around and watched the hospital doors in his mirror. Made a bet with himself that nothing would happen for at least sixty minutes. At least sixty, but not more than ninety. Then he rehearsed an order of priority in case they didn't all come out together. Who should he ignore and who should he tail? In the end he decided to stick with whoever acted alone. He figured that was most likely to be the soldier. His guess was the lawyers and the doctors would head back to the office. They were predictable. The soldier wasn't.

  Helen Rodin came out of James Barr's room fifteen minutes after she went in. She walked straight back to the waiting area. Everyone looked at her. She looked at Mary Mason.

  "Your turn," she said. Mason stood up and walked away down the corridor. She took nothing with her. No briefcase, no paper, no pen. Reacher watched her until Barr's door closed behind her. Then he leaned back in his chair, in the silence.

  "I liked him," Helen said, to nobody in particular.

  "How is he?" Niebuhr asked.

  "Weak," Helen said. "Smashed up. Like he got hit by a truck. "

  "Is he making sense?"

  "He's coherent. But he doesn't remember anything. And I don't think he's faking. "

  "How far back is he blanking?"

  "I can't tell. He remembers listening to a baseball game on the radio. Could have been last week or last month. "

  "Or last year," Reacher said.

  "Did he accept your representation?" Danuta asked.

  "Verbally," Helen said. "He can't sign anything. He's handcuffed to the bed. "

  "Did you walk him through the charges and the evidence?"

  "I had to," Helen said. "He wanted to know why I thought he needed a lawyer. "

  "And?"

  "He assumes he's guilty. "

  There was silence for a moment. Then Alan Danuta closed his briefcase and took it off his knees and put it on the floor. Sat up straight, fast, all in one fluid movement.

  "Welcome to the gray areas," he said. "This is where good law comes from. "

  "Nothing good about it," Helen said. "Not so far. "

  "We absolutely cannot let him go to trial. The government injured him through its own negligence and now it wants to put him on trial for his life? I don't think so. Not if he can't even remember the day in question. What kind of a defense could he conduct?"

  "My father will have kittens. "

  "Obviously. We'll have to cut him out. We'll have to go straight to federal court. It's a Bill of Rights issue anyway. Federal, then Appeals, then the Supremes. That's the process. "

  "That's a long process. "

  Danuta nodded.

  "Three years," he said. "If we're lucky. The most applicable precedent is Wilson, and that case took three and a half years. Almost four. "

  "And we've got no guarantee of winning. We might lose. "

  "In which case we'll go to trial down the road and we'll do the best we can. "

  "I'm not qualified for this," Helen said.

  "Intellectually? That's not what I heard. "

  "Tactically and strategically. And financially. "

  "There are veterans' associations that can help with the money. Mr. Barr served his country, after all. With honor. "

  Helen didn't reply to that. Just glanced Reacher's way. Reacher said nothing. He turned away and stared at the wall. He was thinking: This guy is going to get away with murder again? Twice?

  Alan Danuta moved in his chair.

  "There is an alternative," he said. "Not very exciting legally, but it's out there. "

  "What is it?" Helen asked.

  "Give your father the puppet master. Under these circumstances, half a loaf is better than none. And the puppet master is the better half anyway. "

  "Would he go for it?"

  "You know him better than I do, presumably. But he'd be a fool not to go for it. He's looking at a minimum three-year appeals process before he even gets Mr. Barr inside a courtroom. And any prosecutor worth his salt wants the bigger fish. "

  Helen glanced at Reacher again.

  "The puppet master is only a theory," she said. "We don't have anything that even remotely resembles evidence. "

  "Your choice," Danuta said. "But one way or the other, you can't let Barr go to trial. "

  "One step at a time," Helen said. "Let's see what Dr. Mason thinks. "

  Dr. Mason came back twenty minutes later. Reacher watched her walk. The length of her stride and the look in her eyes and the set of her jaw told him she had arrived at a firm conclusion. There was no uncertainty there. No diffidence, no doubt. None at all. She sat back down and smoothed her skirt across her knees.

  "Permanent retrograde amnesia," she said. "Completely genuine. As clear a case as I ever saw. "

  "Duration?" Niebuhr asked.

  "Major League Baseball will tell us that," she said. "The last thing he remembers is a particular Cardinals game. But my bet would be a week or more, counting backward from today. "

  "Which includes Friday," Helen said.

  "I'm afraid so. "

  "OK," Danuta said. "There it is. "

  "Great," Helen said. She stood up and the others joined her and they all moved around and ended up facing the exit, either consciously or unconsciously; Reacher wasn't sure. But it was clear that Barr was behind them, literally and figuratively. He had changed from being a man to being a medical specimen and a legal argument.

  "You guys go on ahead," he said.

  "You're staying here?" Helen asked.

  Reacher nodded.

  "I'm going to look in on my old buddy," he said.

  "Why?"

  "I haven't seen him for fourteen years. "

  Helen stepped away from the others and came close.

  "No, why?" she asked quietly.

  "Don't worry," he said. "I'm not going to switch his machines off. "

  "I hope you're not. "

  "I can't," he said. "I don't have much of an alibi, do I?"

  She stood still for a moment. Said nothing. Then she stepped back and joined the others. They all left together. Reacher watched them process out at the security desk, and as soon as they were through the steel door and in the elevator lobby he turned around and walked down the corridor to James Barr's door. He didn't knock. Just paused a beat and turned the handle and went inside.

 
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