61 hours, p.6
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       61 Hours, p.6
 

         Part #14 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child

  cautious week’s convalescence would fix them up good as new. Plus painkillers.

  Reacher waited in the car. Thirty feet ahead of him through the clear frigid air he could see Holland and Peterson talking. They were standing close together, half turned away, speaking low. Judging by the way they never glanced back, Reacher guessed they were talking about him.

  Chief Holland was asking: ‘Could he be the guy?’

  Peterson was saying, ‘If he’s the guy, he just put two of his presumptive allies in the hospital. Which would be strange.’

  ‘Maybe that was a decoy. Maybe they staged it. Or maybe one of them was about to say something compromising. So he had to shut them up.’

  ‘He was protecting you, chief.’

  ‘At first he was.’

  ‘And then it was self-defence.’

  ‘How sure are you he’s not the guy?’

  ‘One hundred per cent. It’s just not feasible. It’s a million-to-one chance he’s here at all.’

  ‘No way he could have caused the bus to crash right there?’

  ‘Not without running up the aisle and physically attacking the driver. And no one said he did. Not the driver, not the passengers.’

  ‘OK,’ Holland said. ‘So could the driver be the guy? Did he crash on purpose?’

  ‘Hell of a risk.’

  ‘Not necessarily. Let’s say he knows the road because he’s driven it before, summer and winter. He knows where it ices up. So he throws the bus into a deliberate skid.’

  ‘A car was coming right at him.’

  ‘So he says now.’

  ‘But he could have been injured. He could have killed people. He could have ended up in the hospital or in jail for manslaughter, not walking around.’

  ‘Maybe not. Those modern vehicles have all kinds of electronic systems. Traction control, antilock brakes, stuff like that. All he did was fishtail around a little and drive off the shoulder. No big deal. And then we welcomed him with open arms, like the Good Samaritan.’

  Peterson said, ‘I could talk to Reacher tonight. He was a witness on the bus. I could talk to him and get a better picture.’

  Holland said, ‘He’s a psychopath. I want him gone.’

  ‘The roads are closed.’

  ‘Then I want him locked up.’

  ‘Really?’ Peterson said. ‘Tell the truth, chief, he strikes me as a smart guy. Think about it. He saved you from a busted nose and he saved me from having to shoot two people. He did us both a big favour with what he did tonight.’

  ‘Accidentally.’

  ‘Maybe on purpose.’

  ‘You think he knew what he was doing? Right there and then?’

  ‘Yes, I think he did. I think he’s the sort of guy who sees things five seconds before the rest of the world.’

  ‘Are you serious?’

  ‘Yes, sir. I’ve spent a little time with him.’

  Holland shrugged.

  ‘OK,’ he said. ‘Talk to him. If you really want to.’

  ‘Can we use him for more? He’s ex-military. He might know something.’

  ‘About what?’

  ‘About what’s out there to the west.’

  ‘You like him?’

  ‘Doesn’t matter if we like him. We can use him. It would be negligent not to, in the current circumstances.’

  ‘That’s an admission of defeat.’

  ‘No, sir, it’s common sense. Better to ask for help beforehand than get our asses kicked afterwards.’

  ‘How much would we have to tell him?’

  ‘Most of it,’ Peterson said. ‘Maybe all of it. He’d probably figure it out anyway.’

  ‘Is this what you would do if you were chief?’

  ‘Yes, sir, it is.’

  Holland thought about it. Nodded.

  ‘OK,’ he said again. ‘Good enough for me. Talk to him.’ Five minutes to eleven in the evening.

  Fifty-three hours to go.

  SEVEN

  PETERSON DROVE HOME IN HIS SQUAD CAR. WHICH REACHER thought was unusual. In his experience town cops dumped their squads in a motor pool and rode home in their personal vehicles. Then the next watch climbed in and drove away while the motors and the seats were still warm. But Peterson said the Bolton PD had a lot of cars. Every member of the department was issued with one. And every member of the department was required to live within ten minutes’ drive of the station house.

  Peterson lived within two minutes’ drive, a mile out of town to the east, in a house sitting on a remnant of an old farm. The house was a solid wooden thing shaped like a pound cake, painted red with white trim, with warm yellow light in some of the windows. There was a matching barn. Both roofs were piled high with snow. The surrounding land was white and frozen and flat and silent. The lot was square. Maybe an acre. It was bounded by barbed wire strung on wizened posts. Maybe a foot of the fence showed above the fall.

  The driveway was ploughed in a Y-shape. One leg led to the barn and the other led to the front of the house. Peterson parked in the barn. It was a big old open-fronted structure with three bays. One was occupied by a Ford pick-up truck with a plough blade on it, and one was full of stacked firewood. Reacher climbed out of the car and Peterson joined him and they backtracked down the ploughed strip and turned the tight angle and headed for the house.

  The front door was a plain slab of wood painted the same red as the siding. It opened up just as Peterson and Reacher got close enough to touch it. A woman stood in the hallway with warm air and warm light behind her. She was about Peterson’s age, well above medium height, and slender. She had fair hair pulled back into a ponytail and was wearing black pants and a wool sweater with a complex pattern knitted into it.

  Peterson’s wife, presumably.

  All three of them paused in a mute pantomime of politeness, Peterson anxious to get in from the cold, his wife anxious not to let the heat out of the house, Reacher not wanting to just barge in uninvited. After a long second’s hesitation the woman swung the door wider and Peterson put a hand on Reacher’s back and he stepped inside. The hallway had a polished board floor and a low ceiling and wallpapered walls. On the left was a parlour and on the right was a dining room. Straight ahead in the back of the house was a kitchen. There was a wood stove going hard somewhere. Reacher could smell it, hot iron and a trace of smoke.

  Peterson made the introductions. He spoke quietly, which made Reacher think there must be sleeping children upstairs. Peterson’s wife was called Kim and she seemed to know all about the accident with the bus and the need for emergency quarters. She said she had made up a pull-out bed in the den. She said it apologetically, as if a real bedroom would have been better.

  Reacher said, ‘Ma’am, the floor would have been fine. I’m very sorry to put you to any trouble at all.’

  She said, ‘It’s no trouble.’

  ‘I hope to move on in the morning.’

  ‘I don’t think you’ll be able to. It will be snowing hard before dawn.’

  ‘Maybe later in the day, then.’

  ‘They’ll keep the highway closed, I’m afraid. Won’t they, Andrew?’

  Peterson said, ‘Probably.’

  His wife said, ‘You’re welcome to stay as long as you need to.’

  Reacher said, ‘Ma’am, that’s very generous. Thank you.’

  ‘Did you leave your bags in the car?’

  Peterson said, ‘He doesn’t have bags. He claims he has no use for possessions.’

  Kim said nothing. Her face was blank, as if she was having difficulty processing such information. Then she glanced at Reacher’s jacket, his shirt, his pants. Reacher said, ‘I’ll head out to a store in the morning. It’s what I do. I buy new every few days.’

  ‘Instead of laundry?’

  ‘Yes.’

  ‘Why?’

  ‘Because it’s logical.’

  ‘You’ll need a warm coat.’

  ‘Apparently.’

  ‘Don’t buy one. Too expensive, for just a few
days. We can lend you one. My dad is your size. He keeps a coat here, for when he visits. And a hat and gloves.’ She turned away and opened a closet door and leaned in to the back and wrestled a hanger off the rail. Came out with an enormous tan parka, the colour of mud. It had fat horizontal quilts of down the size of inner tubes. It was old and worn and had darker tan shapes all over it where patches and badges had been unpicked from it. The shapes on the sleeves were chevrons.

  ‘Retired cop?’ Reacher asked.

  ‘Highway Patrol,’ Kim Peterson said. ‘They get to keep the clothes if they take the insignia off.’

  The coat had a fur-trimmed hood, and it had a fur hat jammed in one pocket and a pair of gloves jammed in the other.

  ‘Try it on,’ she said.

  It turned out that her father was not Reacher’s size. He was bigger. The coat was a size too large. But too big is always better than too small. Reacher pulled it into position and looked down at where the stripes had been. He smiled. They made him feel efficient. He had always liked his sergeants. They did good work.

  The coat smelled of mothballs. The hat smelled of another man’s hair. It was made of tan nylon and rabbit fur.

  ‘Thank you,’ Reacher said. ‘You’re very kind.’ He shrugged the coat off again and she took it from him and hung it on a hook on the hallway wall, just inside the entrance, next to where Peterson was hanging his own police-issue parka. Then they all headed for the kitchen. It ran left to right across most of the width of the house. There was all the usual kind of kitchen stuff in it, plus a beat-up table and six chairs, and a family-room area with a battered sofa and two armchairs and a television set. The wood stove was at the far end of the room. It was roaring like a locomotive. Beyond it was a closed door.

  ‘That’s the den,’ Kim said. ‘Go straight in.’

  Reacher assumed he was being dismissed for the night, so he turned to say thanks once again, but found that Peterson was following right behind him. Kim said, ‘He wants to talk to you. I can tell, because he isn’t talking to me.’

  The man who had been told to kill the witness and the lawyer set about cleaning the gun he had been given for the job. It was a Glock 17, not old, not new, well proved, well maintained. He stripped it, brushed it out, oiled it, and reassembled it. The cheeks of the grip were stippled, and there was some accumulated grime in the microscopic valleys. He worked it out with a Q-tip soaked in solvent. The maker’s name was embossed near the heel, an overcomplicated and rather amateur graphic featuring a large letter G surrounding the rest of the word. It was easy to see the G merely as an outline, and therefore to overlook it. At first glance the name appeared to be LOCK. There was dirt over the whole thing. The man soaked the Q-tip again and started work and had it clean a minute later.

  Peterson’s den was a small, dark, square, masculine space. It was in the back corner of the house and had two outside walls with two windows. The drapes were made of thick plaid material and were drawn back, open. The other two walls had three doors in them. The door back to the family room, plus maybe a closet and a small bathroom. The remainder of the wall space was lined with yard-sale cabinets and an old wooden desk with a small refrigerator on it. On top of the refrigerator was an old-fashioned alarm clock with a loud tick and two metal bells. Out in the body of the room there was a low-slung leather chair that looked Scandinavian, and a two-seat sofa that had been pulled out and made up into a narrow bed.

  Reacher sat down on the bed. Peterson took two bottles of beer from the refrigerator and twisted the tops off and pitched the caps into a trash basket and handed one of the bottles to Reacher. Then he lowered himself into the leather chair.

  He said, ‘We have a situation here.’

  Reacher said, ‘I know.’

  ‘How much do you know?’

  ‘I know you’re pussyfooting around a bunch of meth-using bikers. Like you’re scared of them.’

  ‘We’re not scared of them.’

  ‘So why pussyfoot around?’

  ‘We’ll get to that. What else do you know?’

  ‘I know you’ve got a pretty big police station.’

  ‘OK.’

  ‘Which implies a pretty big police department.’

  ‘Sixty officers.’

  ‘And you were working at full capacity all day and all evening, even to the point where the off-duty chief and the off-duty deputy chief had to respond to a citizen’s call at ten o’clock in the evening. Which seems to be because most of your guys are on roadblock duty. Basically you’ve got your whole town locked down.’

  ‘Because?’

  ‘Because you’re worried about someone coming in from the outside.’

  Peterson took a long pull on his beer and asked, ‘Was the bus crash for real?’

  Reacher said, ‘I’m not your guy.’

  ‘We know you’re not. You had no control. But maybe the driver is our guy.’

  Reacher shook his head. ‘Too elaborate, surely. Could have gone wrong a thousand different ways.’

  ‘Was he really fighting the skid?’

  ‘As opposed to what?’

  ‘Causing it, maybe.’

  ‘Wouldn’t he have just killed the engine and faked a breakdown? Nearer the cloverleaf?’

  ‘Too obvious.’

  ‘I was asleep. But what I saw after I woke up looked real to me. I don’t think he’s your guy.’

  ‘But he could be.’

  ‘Anything’s possible. But if it was me, I would have come in as a prison visitor. Chief Holland told me you get plenty of them. Heads on beds, six nights a week.’

  ‘We know them all pretty well. Not too many short sentences out there. The faces don’t change. And we watch them. Anyone we don’t know, we call the prison to check they’re on the list. And they’re mostly women and children anyway. We’re expecting a man.’

  Reacher shrugged. Took a pull from his bottle. The beer was Miller. Next to him the refrigerator started humming. Warm air had gotten in when Peterson had opened the door. Now the machinery was fighting it.

  Peterson said, ‘The prison took two years to build. There were hundreds of construction workers. They built a camp for them, five miles west of us. Public land. There was an old army facility there. They added more huts and trailers. It was like a little village. Then they left.’

  ‘When?’

  ‘A year ago.’

  ‘And?’

  ‘The bikers moved in. They took the place over.’

  ‘How many?’

  ‘There are more than a hundred now.’

  ‘And?’

  ‘They’re selling methamphetamine. Lots of it. East and west, because of the highway. It’s a big business.’

  ‘So bust them.’

  ‘We’re trying to. It isn’t easy. We have no probable cause for a search out there. Which isn’t normally a problem. A meth lab in a trailer, life expectancy is usually a day or two. They blow up. All you need to do is follow the fire department. All kinds of volatile chemicals. But these guys are very careful. No accidents yet.’

  ‘But?’

  ‘We caught a break. A big-time guy out of Chicago came west to negotiate a bulk purchase. He met with their top boy right here in Bolton. Neutral ground, and civilized. He bought a sample out the back of a pick-up truck in the restaurant parking lot, right where we had dinner.’

  ‘And?’

  ‘We have a witness who saw the whole transaction. The Chicago guy got away, but we grabbed the dope and the money and busted the biker. He’s in the county lock-up right now, awaiting trial.’

 
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