61 hours, p.7
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       61 Hours, p.7
 

         Part #14 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child

  ‘Their top boy? Didn’t that give you probable cause to search his place?’

  ‘His truck is registered in Kentucky. His driver’s licence is from Alabama. He claims that he drove up here. He says he doesn’t live here. We had nothing to link him to. We can’t get a warrant based on the fact that he dresses like some other guys we’ve seen. Judges don’t work that way. They want more.’

  ‘So what’s the plan?’

  ‘We’re going to roll him. We’ll offer him a plea bargain and he’ll give us what we need to clean out the whole mess.’

  ‘Has he agreed?’

  ‘Not yet. He’s waiting us out. Waiting to see if the witness forgets stuff. Or dies.’

  ‘Who’s the witness?’

  ‘A nice old lady, here in town. She’s seventy-plus. Used to be a teacher and a librarian. Perfect credibility.’

  ‘Is she likely to forget stuff or die?’

  ‘Of course she is. That’s how these people do it. They scare the witnesses. Or kill them.’

  ‘Which is why you’re worried about strangers coming to town. You think they’re coming for her.’

  Peterson nodded. Said nothing.

  Reacher took a long pull on his bottle and asked, ‘Why assume it will be a stranger? Couldn’t the bikers come over and take care of it for themselves?’

  Peterson shook his head. ‘We’re all over any biker who shows up in town. As you saw tonight. Everyone watches for them. So it won’t be a biker. It would be self-defeating. Their whole strategy is to deny us probable cause.’

  ‘OK.’

  Peterson said, ‘Someone else is on his way. Has to be. On their behalf. Someone we won’t recognize when he gets here.’

  EIGHT

  REACHER TOOK A THIRD LONG PULL ON HIS BOT TLE AND SAID, ‘IT’S not the bus driver.’

  Peterson asked, ‘How sure are you?’

  ‘How much money are these guys getting for their meth?’

  ‘Two hundred bucks a gram, as far as we know, and we guess they’re moving it in pick-up trucks, which is a whole lot of grams. They could be making millions.’

  ‘In which case they can afford professionals. A professional hit man with a day job as a bus driver is an unlikely combination.’

  Peterson nodded. ‘OK, it’s not the bus driver. Mr Jay Knox is innocent.’

  ‘And you can vouch for all the prison visitors?’

  ‘We watch them. They hit the motels, they get on the shuttle buses to the prison, they come back, they leave the next day. Any change to that pattern, we’d be all over them, too.’

  ‘Where’s the witness?’

  ‘At home. Her name is Janet Salter. She’s a real sweetie. Like a storybook grandma. She lives on a dead-end street, fortunately. We have a car blocking the turn, all day and all night. You saw it.’

  ‘Not enough.’

  ‘We know. We have a second car outside her house and a third parked one street over, watching the back. Plus women officers in the house, the best we’ve got, minimum of four at all times, two awake, two asleep.’

  ‘When is the trial?’

  ‘A month if we’re lucky.’

  ‘And she won’t leave? You could stash her in a hotel. Maybe in the Caribbean. That’s a deal I would take right now.’

  ‘She won’t leave.’

  ‘Does she know the danger she’s in?’

  ‘We explained the situation to her. But she wants to do the right thing. She says it’s a matter of principle.’

  ‘Good for her.’

  Peterson nodded. ‘Good for us, too. Because we’ll nail the whole lot of them. But hard on us, also. Because we’re using a lot of resources.’

  Reacher nodded in turn. ‘Which is why you’re pussyfooting. Why you’re not confronting the bikers. Because an all-out war right now would stretch you too thin.’

  ‘And because we have to sell this thing to a jury. We can’t let defence counsel make out it’s all part of a harassment campaign. Plus, the bikers aren’t dumb. They keep their noses clean. Technically as individuals they haven’t done anything wrong yet. At least not in public.’

  ‘In fact the opposite seems to be true. I saw the photographs.’

  ‘Exactly,’ Peterson said. ‘It looks like one of our good citizens beat one of theirs to death.’

  The clock on the refrigerator ticked on and hit five to midnight. Fifty-two hours to go. Outside the window the moon had crept higher. The fallen snow was bright. The air was still. No wind. The cold was so intense Reacher could feel it striking through the farmhouse walls. There was a buffer zone about a foot deep, where the cold came creeping in before the heat from the iron stove overwhelmed it and beat it back.

  Reacher asked, ‘Is Chief Holland up to the job?’

  Peterson said, ‘Why do you ask?’

  ‘First impressions. He looks a little overmatched to me.’

  ‘Holland is a good man.’

  ‘That’s not an answer to my question.’

  ‘Did you discuss your superiors when you were in the army?’

  ‘All the time. With people of equal rank.’

  ‘Are we of equal rank?’

  ‘Approximately.’

  ‘So what were your superiors like?’

  ‘Some of them were good, and some of them were assholes.’

  ‘Holland’s OK,’ Peterson said. ‘But he’s tired. His wife died. Then his daughter grew up and left home. He’s all alone, and he feels a little beaten down.’

  ‘I saw the photograph in his office.’

  ‘Happier days. They made a nice family.’

  ‘So is he up to the job?’

  ‘Enough to ask for help when he needs it.’

  ‘Who’s he asking?’

  ‘You.’

  Reacher finished his Miller. He was warm, and comfortable, and tired. He said, ‘What could I possibly do for him?’

  Peterson said, ‘There was an old army facility where they built the construction camp.’

  ‘You told me that already.’

  ‘We need to understand exactly what it was.’

  ‘Don’t you know?’

  Peterson shook his head. ‘It was put in a long time ago. There’s a single stone building, about the size of a house.’

  ‘Is that all?’

  Peterson nodded. ‘A long straight road leading to a single small building all alone on the prairie.’

  ‘And it’s the size of a house?’

  ‘Smaller than this one.’

  ‘What shape?’

  ‘Square. Rectangular. Like a house.’

  ‘With a roof?’

  ‘Of course.’

  ‘Because I’m wondering if it was a missile silo. There are plenty of them in the Dakotas.’

  ‘It’s not a silo.’

  ‘Then it could be anything. Could be something they started and didn’t finish.’

  ‘We don’t think so. There’s a kind of folk memory with the older people. They say there were hundreds of engineers out there for months. And a security cordon. And a lot of coming and going. That’s a lot of effort for a thing the size of a house.’

  ‘I’ve heard of stranger things.’

  ‘We need to know. Chances are we’re going to need to go out there and make a hundred arrests. We need to know what we’re dealing with.’

  ‘Call somebody. Call the Department of the Army.’

  ‘We have. We’ve called, the county board has called, the state government has called.’

  ‘And?’

  ‘Nobody ever got a reply.’

  ‘How old are your older people?’

  ‘Does that matter?’

  ‘I’m asking when the place was built. Did they see all these engineers for themselves? Or just hear stories about them from their parents or grandparents?’

  ‘The place is about fifty years old.’

  ‘How long since soldiers were seen out there?’

  ‘Never. The place was never used.’

  Reacher shrugg
ed. ‘So it’s an abandoned Cold War facility. Maybe never even completed. One day it seemed like a good idea, the next day it didn’t. That kind of thing happened all the time, way back when, because strategy was fluid. Or because nobody had the faintest idea what they were doing. But it’s no big deal. A stone house is going to be more resistant to small-arms fire than a hut or a trailer, but I’m assuming you’re not planning on a shooting war out there anyway.’

  ‘We need to know for sure.’

  ‘I can’t help you. I never served here. Never heard any talk.’

  ‘You could make some back-channel calls. Maybe you still know people.’

  ‘I’ve been out a very long time.’

  ‘You could go west and take a look.’

  ‘It’s a stone building. Army stone is the same as anyone else’s.’

  ‘Then why the hundreds of engineers?’

  ‘What’s on your mind?’

  ‘We’re wondering if it’s an underground facility. Maybe the stone building is just a stair head. It could be a warren down there. Their lab could be down there. Which would explain the lack of fires and explosions in the trailers. They could have turned the whole place into a fortress. There could be food and water and weapons down there. This whole thing could turn into a siege. We don’t want that.’

  Peterson stood up and stepped over to the desk and took two fresh bottles from the refrigerator. Which told Reacher they were only halfway through their conversation. Maybe only a third of the way through, if there was a six-pack in there.

  Peterson said, ‘There’s more.’

  ‘No kidding,’ Reacher said.

  ‘We’ve got their top boy locked up, but command and control is still happening. They’re still functioning.’

  ‘So he’s got a deputy.’

  ‘Gangs don’t work like that.’

  ‘So he’s still communicating. Cell phone or smuggled notes.’

  ‘Not happening.’

  ‘You know that for sure?’

  ‘Definitely.’

  ‘Then it’s through his lawyer. A private conference every day, they’re pretending to discuss the case, your guy is really issuing verbal instructions, his lawyer is passing them on.’

  ‘That’s what we guessed. But that’s not happening either.’

  ‘How do you know?’

  ‘Because they have concealed video and audio in the conference rooms.’

  ‘For privileged discussions between lawyers and clients? Is that legal?’

  ‘Maybe. It’s a brand-new prison. And there’s a lot of fine print in some of the new federal legislation.’

  ‘He’s not a federal prisoner.’

  ‘OK, so no, it’s probably not entirely legal.’

  ‘But you’re doing it anyway?’

  ‘Yes,’ Peterson said. ‘And we haven’t heard a single instruction or business detail. No notes passed, nothing written down.’

  ‘You ever heard of the Fourth Amendment? This could screw your case.’

  ‘We’re not planning on using anything we hear. The prosecutor doesn’t even know we’re doing it. We just want advance warning, that’s all, in the police department, in case they decide to move against the witness.’

  ‘She’ll be OK. You’ve got her buttoned up tight. It’s only a month. You’re on the hook for a little overtime, but that’s all.’

  ‘We competed for that prison.’

  ‘Holland told me. Like a Toyota plant. Or Honda.’

  ‘It was a give and take process.’

  ‘It always is.’

  ‘Correctional staff get tax breaks, we built houses, we expanded the school.’

  ‘And?’

  ‘Final item was we had to sign on to their crisis plan.’

  ‘Which is what?’

  ‘If there’s an escape, we have a preassigned role.’

  ‘Which is what?’

  ‘The whole of the Bolton PD moves up to a prearranged perimeter a mile out.’

  ‘All of you?’

  ‘Every last one of us. On duty or off. Awake or asleep. Healthy or sick.’

  ‘Are you serious?’

  ‘It’s what we had to agree. For the good of the town.’

  ‘Not good,’ Reacher said. ‘Not good at all,’ Peterson said. ‘If that siren goes off, we drop everything and head north. All of us. Which means if that siren goes off any time in the next month, we leave Janet Salter completely unprotected.’

  NINE

  REACHER FINISHED MOST OF HIS SECOND BEER AND SAID, ‘THAT’S insane.’

  ‘Only in reality,’ Peterson said. ‘Not on paper. The Highway Patrol is theoretically available to us as back-up. And the feds offered us witness protection for Mrs Salter. But the Highway Patrol is usually hours away all winter long, and Mrs Salter refused the protection. She says the bikers are the ones who should be locked up miles from home, not her.’

  ‘Problem,’ Reacher said.

  ‘Tell me about it,’ Peterson said.

  Reacher glanced at the moonlit view out the window and said, ‘But it’s not exactly ideal escaping weather, is it? Not right now. Maybe not for months. There’s two feet of virgin snow on the ground for five miles all around. If someone gets through whatever kind of a fence they have out there, they’ll die of exposure inside an hour. Or get tracked by a helicopter. Their footsteps will be highly visible.’

  Peterson said, ‘No one escapes on foot any more. They stow away on a food truck or something.’

  ‘So why form a perimeter a mile out?’

  ‘Nobody said their crisis plan makes any sense.’

  ‘So fake it. Leave some folks in place. At least the women in the house.’

  ‘We can’t. There will be a head count. We’ll be audited. We don’t
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