61 hours, p.8
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       61 Hours, p.8
 

         Part #14 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child

  comply to the letter, we’ll get hit with federal supervision for the next ten years. The town signed a contract. We took their money.’

  ‘For the extra cars?’

  Peterson nodded. ‘And for housing. Everyone lives within ten minutes, everyone gets a car, everyone keeps his radio on, everyone responds instantaneously.’

  ‘Can’t you stick Mrs Salter in a car and take her with you?’

  ‘We’re supposed to keep civilians away. We certainly can’t take one with us.’

  ‘Has anyone escaped so far?’

  ‘No. It’s a brand-new prison. They’re doing OK.’

  ‘So hope for the best.’

  ‘You don’t get it. We would hope for the best. If this was about random chance or coincidence, we wouldn’t be sweating it. But it isn’t. Because the same guy who wants us out of Janet Salter’s house has the actual personal power to make that happen, any old time he wants to.’

  ‘By escaping on cue?’ Reacher said. ‘I don’t think so. I know prisons. Escapes take a long time to organize. He would have to scope things out, make a plan, find a truck driver, build trust, get money, make arrangements.’

  ‘There’s more. It gets worse.’

  ‘Tell me.’

  ‘Part two of the crisis plan is for a prison riot. The corrections people move in off the fence and we take over the towers and the gate.’

  ‘All of you?’

  ‘Same as part one of the plan. And prison riots don’t take a long time to organize. They can start in a split second. Prisons are riots just waiting to happen, believe me.’

  There was no third bottle of beer. No more substantive conversation. Just a few loose ends to tie up, and a little reiteration. Peterson said, ‘You see? The guy can time it almost to the minute. The wrong thing gets said to the wrong person, a minute later a fight breaks out, a minute after that there’s a full-blown riot brewing, we get the call, ten minutes after that we’re all more than five miles from Janet Salter’s house.’

  ‘He’s in lock-up,’ Reacher said. ‘The county jail, right? Which is a separate facility. Nobody riots in lock-up. They’re all awaiting trial. They’re all busy making out like they’re innocent.’

  ‘He’s a biker. He’ll have friends in the main house. Or friends of friends. That’s how prison gangs work. They look after their own. And there are lots of ways of communicating.’

  ‘Not good,’ Reacher said again.

  ‘Not good at all,’ Peterson said. ‘When the siren sounds, we leave the old-timer civilian on the desk, and that’s it. He’s supposed to call us back if there’s a terrorist alert, but short of that, our hands are tied.’

  ‘You expecting a terrorist alert?’

  ‘Not here. Mount Rushmore has symbolic value, but that’s Rapid City’s problem.’

  Reacher asked, ‘Did you expand the police department too? Like the schools?’

  Peterson nodded. ‘We had to. Because the town grew.’

  ‘How much did you expand?’

  ‘We doubled in size. By which time we were competing with the prison for staff. It was hard to keep standards up. Which is a big part of Chief Holland’s problem. It’s like half of us are his from the old days, and half of us aren’t.’

  ‘I can’t help him,’ Reacher said. ‘I’m just a guy passing through.’

  ‘You can make those calls to the army. That would help him.

  If we get through the next month, we’re going to need that information.’

  ‘I’ve been out too long. It’s a new generation now. They’ll hang up on me.’

  ‘You could try.’

  ‘I wouldn’t get past the switchboard.’

  ‘Back when I came on the job we had a special emergency number for the FBI office in Pierre. The system changed years ago, but I still remember the number.’

  ‘So?’

  ‘I’m guessing there’s a number you remember, too. Maybe not for a switchboard.’

  Reacher said nothing.

  Peterson said, ‘Make the calls for us. That’s all, I promise. We’ll handle the rest, and then you can get on your way.’

  Reacher said nothing.

  ‘We can offer you a desk and chair.’

  ‘Where?’

  ‘At the police station. Tomorrow.’

  ‘You want me to come to work with you? To the police station? You don’t quite trust me yet, do you?’

  ‘You’re in my house. With my wife and children sleeping in it.’

  Reacher nodded.

  ‘Can’t argue with that,’ he said.

  But Kim Peterson wasn’t sleeping. Not right then. Ten minutes after Andrew Peterson left him alone Reacher got tired of the stale hop smell from the four empty beer bottles, so he trapped their necks between his knuckles and carried them two in each hand out to the kitchen, hoping to find a trash bin. Instead he found Kim Peterson tidying her refrigerator. The room was dark but the light inside the appliance was bright. She was bathed in a yellow glow. She was wearing an old candlewick bathrobe. Her hair was down. Reacher held up the four bottles, as a mute inquiry.

  ‘Under the sink,’ Kim Peterson said.

  Reacher bent down and opened the cabinet door. Lined up the bottles neatly with six others already there.

  ‘Got everything you need?’ she asked him.

  ‘Yes, thanks.’

  ‘Did Andrew ask you to do something for him?’

  ‘He wants me to make some calls.’

  ‘About the army camp?’

  Reacher nodded.

  ‘Are you going to do it?’

  Reacher said, ‘I’m going to try.’

  ‘Good. That place drives him crazy.’

  ‘I’ll do my best.’

  ‘Promise?’

  ‘Ma’am?’

  ‘Promise me, if he asks, would you help him any way you can? He works too hard. He’s responsible for everything now. Chief Holland is overwhelmed. He barely knows half his department. Andrew has to do everything.’

  There was a tiny bathroom off the den and Reacher used it to take a long hot shower. Then he folded his clothes over the back of the chair that Peterson had used and climbed under the covers. The sofa springs creaked and twanged under his weight. He rolled one way, rolled the other, listened to the loud tick of the clock, and was asleep a minute later.

  Five to one in the morning.

  Fifty-one hours to go.

  TEN

  REACHER WOKE UP AT TEN TO SEVEN, TO A SILENT SEPULCHRAL world. Outside the den windows the air was thick with heavy flakes. They were falling gently but relentlessly on to a fresh accumulation that was already close to a foot deep. There was no wind. Each one of the billions of flakes came parachuting straight down, sometimes wavering a little, sometimes spiralling, sometimes sidestepping an inch or two, each one disturbed by nothing except its own featherweight instability. Most added their tiny individual masses to the thick white quilt they landed on. Some stuck to fantastic vertical feathered shapes on power lines and fence wires, and made the shapes taller.

  The bed was warm but the room was cold. Reacher guessed that the iron stove had been banked overnight, its embers hoarded, its air supply cut off. He wondered for a moment about the correct protocol for a house guest in such circumstances. Should he get up and open the dampers and add some wood? Would that be helpful? Or would it be presumptuous? Would it upset a delicate and long-established combustion schedule and condemn his hosts to an inconvenient midnight visit to the woodpile two weeks down the road?

  In the end Reacher did nothing. Just kept the covers pulled up to his chin and closed his eyes again.

  Five to seven in the morning.

  Forty-five hours to go.

  Seventeen hundred miles to the south the day was already an hour older. Plato was eating breakfast in the smaller of his two outdoor dining rooms. The larger was reserved for formal dinners, and therefore little used, because formal dinners meant business dinners, and most of his current business associates wer
e Russians, and Russians didn’t much care for the evening heat a hundred miles from Mexico City. They preferred air conditioning. Plato supposed it was a question of what they were accustomed to. He had heard that parts of Russia were so cold you could spit, and the saliva would freeze and bounce off the ground like a marble. Personally he didn’t believe it. He was prepared to accept that parts of Russia recorded very low temperatures, and certainly some of the extreme numbers he had seen in almanacs and weather reports might indeed freeze a small volume of organic liquid in the space and time between mouth and ground. But to survive in such an environment he was sure a human would have to wear a ski mask, possibly made from silk or a more modern synthetic material, and spitting was categorically impossible while wearing a ski mask. And he understood that in general extremely low temperatures went hand in hand with extremely low humidity, which would discourage spitting anyway, maybe even to the point of impracticability. Thus the anecdote was illustrative without being functionally true.

  Plato was proud of his analytical abilities.

  He was thinking about Russians because he had received an intriguing proposal from one of them, an hour ago by telephone. It was the usual kind of thing. A cousin of a friend of a brother-in-law wanted a bulk quantity of a certain substance, and could Plato help the man? Naturally Plato’s first priority was to help Plato, so he had viewed the proposal through that lens, and he had arrived at an interesting conclusion, which might, with a little honing and salesmanship, be turned into an advantageous deal. Dramatically advantageous, in fact, and completely one-sided in his own favour, of course, but then, he was Plato, and the unnamed Russian cousin wasn’t.

  There were three main factors.

  First, the deal would require a fundamental shift in the Russian’s initial baseline assumption, in that the bulk quantity would not be transported to the Russian, but the Russian would be transported to the bulk quantity.

  Second, the deal would require complete faith on Plato’s part in the notion that a bird in the hand was worth two in the bush.

  And third, the deal would change things a little, up in South Dakota. Therefore the situation up there had to remain pristine, and viable, and immaculate, and perfectly attractive. Perfectly marketable, in other words. Which meant the witness and the lawyer had to be dealt with sooner rather than later.

  Plato reached for his phone.

  At fourteen minutes past seven the old farmhouse was still quiet. At fifteen minutes past, it burst into life. Reacher heard the thin beep and wail of alarm clocks through walls and ceilings, and then the stumbling tread of footsteps on the second floor. Four sets. Parents, and two children. Two boys, Reacher figured, judging by the uninhibited clumsiness of their progress. Doors opened and closed, toilets flushed, showers ran. Ten minutes later there was noise in the kitchen. The gulp and hiss of a coffee machine, the padded slam of the refrigerator door, the scrape of chair legs on floorboards. Again, Reacher wondered about applicable protocol. Should he just come out and join the family at breakfast? Or would that scare the children? He supposed it would depend on their ages and their constitutions. Should he wait to be invited? Or should he wait until the children had left for school? Would they be going to school at all, with a foot of new snow on the ground?

  He showered fast and dressed in the tiny bathroom and made the bed and sat on it. A minute later he heard the scrape of a chair and small fast feet on the boards and an inexpert knock on his door. It opened immediately and a boy stuck his head inside. The kid was maybe seven years old. He was a miniature version of Andrew Peterson. His face was equal parts resentment at being sent to do a chore, and apprehension for what he might find, and open curiosity about what he had actually found.

  He stared for a second and said, ‘Mama says come get a cup of coffee.’

  Then he disappeared.

  By the time Reacher got through the door both children had left the kitchen. He could hear them running up the stairs. He imagined he could see disturbances in the air behind them, dust and vortexes, like a cartoon. Their parents were sitting quietly at the table. They were dressed the same as the day before, Peterson in uniform, his wife in sweater and pants. They weren’t talking. Any kind of conversation would have been drowned out by running feet above. Reacher took coffee from the pot and by the time he was back at the table Peterson had gotten up and was on his way out to the barn to start the pick-up to plough his way out to the street. His wife was on her way upstairs to make sure the children were ready. A minute later both boys ran down the stairs and crashed out through the door. Reacher heard the rattle of a heavy diesel engine and saw a glimpse of yellow through the snow. The school bus, apparently right on schedule, undeterred by the weather.

  A minute after that, the house was completely silent. Kim didn’t come back to the kitchen. Reacher got nothing to eat. No big deal. He was used to being hungry. He sat alone until Peterson stuck his head in the hallway and called for him. He took the borrowed Highway Patrol coat from the hook and headed out.

  Five to eight in the morning.

  Forty-four hours to go.

  The lawyer was wrestling with his garage door again. There was a new foot of snow out on the driveway and it had drifted a little against the door, jamming it in its tracks. He had his overshoes on, and his shovel in his hand. The motor on the garage ceiling was straining. He grabbed the inside handle and jerked upward. The mechanism’s chains bucked and bounced and the door came up in a rush and the peak of the snowdrift outside fell inward. He shovelled it back out and then started his car and got ready to face his day.

  His day began with breakfast. He had taken to eating it out. In some ways, normal small-town behaviour. A coffee shop, some banter, some networking, some connections. All valuable. But not worth more than a half-hour’s investment. Forty-five minutes at the most. Now he was spending at least an hour in his booth. Sometimes, an hour and a half.

  He was afraid to go to work.

  The message forms his firm used were yellow. Every morning his secretary handed him a wad. Most were innocent. But some said Client requests conference re case # 517713. There was no case with that number. No file. Nothing written down. Such a note was a code. An instruction, really, to head up to the prison and take mental dictation.

  Most days he got no such note. Some days he did. There was no way of predicting it. It was a part of his morning ritual now, to stand in front of his secretary’s desk, with his hand out and his heart in his mouth, waiting to see what his life would do to him next.

  Reacher saw nothing on the ride downtown except snow. Snow on the ground, snow in the air. Snow everywhere. The world was slow and silent and shrunken. Traffic was light and was huddled together in narrow rutted lanes in the middle of roads. Small waffles of snow pelted up off tyres in cautious rooster tails. Small convoys joined up and crept along like slow trains, doing twenty miles an hour, or less. But Peterson’s cruiser was warm and safe and solid. A heavy car on flat land, with chains on the back and winter tyres on the front. No problem.

  By day through the snow the police station looked longer and lower than it had by night. It was a sprawling one-storey building built of white brick. It had a flat roof with microwave dishes and radio antennas bolted to steel superstructures. It reminded Reacher of a classic State Police barracks. Maybe it had been built from a standardized blueprint. There were plenty of squad cars in the lot, still warm, just parked. Day watch personnel, presumably, coming in from home for briefing ahead of their eight-thirty start. There was a small front-loader working between the cars, bustling around on rubber caterpillar tracks, shovelling snow into a pile that was already eight feet high. Peterson seemed relaxed. Reacher figured he was feeling good about the snow. It limited fast access to anywhere, including Janet Salter’s house. Intruders would wait for a better day. Stealthy approaches were hard to make through thigh-high drifts.

  Reacher took the parka but left the gloves and the hat in the car. Too personal. He would replace them with items
of his own. Inside the lobby there was a different old guy on the stool behind the counter. The day watch aide. Same kind of age as the guy the night before, same kind of civilian clothing, but a different individual. Peterson led Reacher right past him and down a corridor into a large open-plan squad room. It was full of noise and talk and men and women in uniform. They had go-cups of coffee, they were making notes, they were reading bulletins, they were getting ready to head out. There were close to thirty of them. A sixty-strong department, split equally between day and night duty. Some were young, some were old, some were neat, some were a mess. A real mixed bag. We doubled in size, Peterson had said. It was hard to keep standards up. Reacher saw the proof right there in front of him. It was easy enough to pick out the new hires from the old hands, and easy to see the friction between them. Unit cohesion had been disrupted, and professionalism had been compromised. Us and them. Reacher saw Chief Holland’s problem. He was dealing with two departments in one. And he didn’t have the energy for it. He should have retired. Or the mayor should have canned him, before the ink was dry on the prison deal.

  But new or old, all the cops were punctual. By eight thirty the room was almost completely deserted. Clearly the roadblocks were eating manpower, and presumably snow days brought fender benders by the dozen. Only two cops stayed behind. Both were in uniform. One had a name badge that said Kapler. The other had a name badge that said Lowell. Neither one was wearing a belt. No guns, no radios, no cuffs. Both were somewhere in their mid-thirties. Kapler was dark, with the remnant of a fading tan. Lowell was fair and red-faced, like a local boy. Both looked fit and strong and active. Neither looked happy. Kapler went clockwise and Lowell went counterclockwise and they emptied out-trays all around the room and carried the resulting piles of paper away through a blank door further down the corridor.

  Reacher asked, ‘What’s that all about?’

 
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