61 hours, p.9
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       61 Hours, p.9
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         Part #14 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child

  Peterson said, ‘Normal clerical duties.’

  ‘While you’re hurting for manpower? I don’t think so.’

  ‘So what’s your guess?’

  ‘Disciplinary. They did something wrong and they’ve been grounded. Holland took their guns away.’

  ‘I can’t talk about it.’

  ‘Are they new or old?’

  ‘Lowell has been here a spell. He’s local. An old Bolton family. Kapler’s new, but not too new. He came up from Florida two years ago.’

  ‘Why? For the weather? I thought that worked the other way around.’

  ‘He needed a job.’

  ‘Because? What went wrong for him down there?’

  ‘Why should something have gone wrong?’

  ‘Because with the greatest possible respect, if you’re in Florida law enforcement, South Dakota is the kind of place you go when you run out of alternatives.’

  ‘I don’t know the details. He was hired by Chief Holland and the mayor.’

  ‘So what did Lowell do to deserve him as a partner?’

  ‘Lowell’s an odd duck,’ Peterson said. ‘He’s a loner. He reads books.’

  ‘What did they do to get themselves grounded?’

  ‘I can’t talk about it. And you’ve got work to do. Pick any desk you like.’

  Reacher picked a desk way in the back corner. An old habit. It was a plain laminate thing, and the chair was adjusted for a small person. It was still warm. There was a keyboard and a screen on the desk, and a console telephone. The screen was blank. Switched off. The phone had buttons for six lines and ten speed dials.

  Peterson said, ‘Dial nine for a line.’

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

  Reacher dialled. Nine for a line, then a Virginia area code, then seven more digits. A number he remembered.

  He got a recording, which was not what he remembered.

  The recording featured a man’s voice, speaking slowly and ponderously, with undue emphasis on his first three words. His message said, ‘You have reached the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If you know your party’s extension, you may dial it at any time. Otherwise, please choose from the following menu.’ Then came a long droning list, press one for this, press two for that, three for the other thing, agriculture, manufacturing, non-food service industries.

  Reacher hung up.

  ‘You know another number?’ Peterson said.

  ‘No.’

  ‘Who were you calling?’

  ‘A special unit. An investigative department. Kind of elite. Like the army’s own FBI, but much smaller.’

  ‘Who did you get instead?’

  ‘Some government office. Something about labour statistics.’

  ‘I guess things change.’

  ‘I guess they do,’ Reacher said.

  Then he said, ‘Or maybe they don’t. At least, not fundamentally.’

  He dialled again. The same number. He got the same recording. If you know your party’s extension, you may dial it at any time. He dialled 110. Heard a click and a purr and a new dial tone. A new voice, live, after just one ring.

  It said, ‘Yes?’ A Southern accent, a man, probably late twenties, almost certainly a captain, unless the world had gone mad and they were letting lieutenants or NCOs answer that particular phone now, or, worse still, civilians.

  Reacher said, ‘I need to speak to your commanding officer.’

  ‘Whose commanding officer?’

  ‘Yours.’

  ‘Who exactly do you think you’re speaking with?’

  ‘You’re the 110th MP HQ in Rock Creek, Virginia.’

  ‘Are we?’

  ‘Unless you changed your phone number. There used to be a live operator. You had to ask for room 110.’

  ‘Who exactly am I speaking to?’

  ‘I used to work for the 110th.’

  ‘In what capacity?’

  ‘I was its first CO.’

  ‘Name?’

  ‘Reacher.’

  Silence for a moment.

  Reacher asked, ‘Does anyone go ahead and actually choose from that menu?’

  ‘Sir, if you worked for the 110th, you’ll know that this is an active and open emergency channel. I’ll have to ask you to state your business immediately.’

  ‘I want to talk to your commanding officer.’

  ‘Concerning?’

  ‘A favour I need. Tell him to look me up in the files and call me back.’ Reacher read out the number from a label stuck to the console in front of him.

  The guy on the other end hung up without a word.

  Five to nine in the morning.

  Forty-three hours to go.

  ELEVEN

  AT NINE THIRTY THE PHONE ON REACHER’S BORROWED DESK rang, but the call was not for him. He stretched the cord and passed the handset to Peterson. Peterson gave his name and rank and then listened for the best part of a minute. He asked whoever it was on the other end to stay in touch, and then he passed the handset back. Reacher hung it up. Peterson said, ‘We need your information just as soon as you can get it.’

  Reacher pointed at the console in front of him. ‘You know how it is with kids today. They never write, they never call.’

  ‘I’m serious.’

  ‘What changed?’

  ‘That was the DEA on the line. The actual Drug Enforcement Administration. The actual federal bureau. From Washington D.C. A courtesy call. Turns out they have a wiretap on a guy they think is a Russian dope dealer. New to the scene, trying to make a name, trawling for deals, out of Brooklyn, New York. A guy in Mexico called Plato just called him about a property for sale five miles west of a town called Bolton, in South Dakota.’

  ‘A property for sale?’

  ‘Those were the words they used.’

  ‘So what is this? Real estate or dope dealing?’

  ‘If there’s an underground lab out there, then it’s both, isn’t it? And that’s going to be the DEA’s next question. It’s a nobrainer. They’ll be building their file and they’ll call us to ask what exactly that place is.’

  ‘Tell them to call the Department of the Army direct. Quicker all around.’

  ‘But that would make us look like idiots. We can’t admit we’ve had a place next to us for fifty years and we don’t even know what it is.’

  Reacher shrugged. Pointed at the phone again. ‘You’ll know as soon as I do. Which might be never.’

  ‘You were their commanding officer? An elite unit?’

  Reacher nodded. ‘For a spell.’ Then he said: ‘Plato is a weird name for a Mexican, don’t you think? Sounds more like a Brazilian name to me.’

  ‘No, Yugoslavian,’ Peterson said. ‘Like that old dictator.’

  ‘That was Tito.’

  ‘I thought he was a South African bishop.’

  ‘That was Tutu.’

  ‘So who was Plato?’

  ‘An ancient Greek philosopher. The pupil of Socrates, the teacher of Aristotle.’

  ‘So what has Brazil got to do with all of that?’

  ‘Don’t ask,’ Reacher said.

  Kapler and Lowell came back to the squad room. They distributed memos still hot and curled from the photocopier, one into every in-tray, and then they slouched out again. Peterson said, ‘That’s their day’s work done, right there. Now comes a five-hour lunch break, probably. What a waste.’

  ‘What did they do?’

  ‘I can’t talk about it.’

  ‘That bad?’

  ‘No, not really.’

  ‘So what was it?’

  ‘I can’t talk about it.’

  ‘Yes you can.’

  ‘OK, three days ago they were out of radio contact for an hour. Wouldn’t say why or how or what they were doing. We can’t allow that. Because of the prison plan.’

  The phone rang again at twenty minutes to ten. Reacher picked it up and said, ‘Yes?’

  A woman’s voice asked, ‘Major Reacher?’
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  ‘Yes.’

  ‘Do you know who I am?’

  ‘Keep talking.’

  ‘You taught a class in your last year in the service.’

  ‘Did I?’

  ‘About integrating military and federal investigations. I took the class. Don’t you recognize my voice?’

  ‘Keep talking.’

  ‘What do you want me to say?’ Right then Reacher wanted her to say plenty, because she had a great voice. It was warm, slightly husky, a little breathy, a little intimate. He liked the way it whispered in his ear. He liked it a lot. In his mind he pictured its owner as blonde, not more than thirty-five years old, not less than thirty. Probably tall, probably a looker. Altogether a terrific voice, for sure.

  But not a voice he recognized, and he said so.

  The voice said, ‘I’m very disappointed. Maybe even a little hurt. Are you sure you don’t remember me?’

  ‘I need to speak to your CO.’

  ‘That will have to wait. I can’t believe you don’t know who I am.’

  ‘Can I take a guess?’

  ‘Go ahead.’

  ‘I think you’re some kind of a bullshit filter. I think your CO wants to know if I’m for real. If I say I remember you, I fail the test. Because I don’t. We never met. Maybe I wish we had, but we didn’t.’

  ‘But I took your class.’

  ‘You didn’t. You read my file, that’s all. The course title was for public consumption only. The class was about screwing the feds, not cooperating with them. If you had been in the room with me, you’d know that.’

  A smile in the voice. ‘Good work. You just passed the test.’

  ‘So who are you, really?’

  ‘I’m you.’

  ‘What does that mean?’

  ‘I’m CO of the 110th Special Unit.’

  ‘Really?’

  ‘Really and truly.’

  ‘Outstanding. Congratulations. How is it?’

  ‘I’m sure you can imagine. I’m sitting at your old desk, right now, both metaphorically and literally. Do you remember your desk?’

  ‘I had a lot of desks.’

  ‘Here at Rock Creek.’

  Actually Reacher remembered it pretty well. An old-style government desk, made of steel, painted green, the finish on the edges already worn back to bright metal by the time he inherited it.

  The voice said, ‘There’s a big dent on the right-hand side. People say you made it, with someone’s head.’

  ‘People say?’

  ‘Like a folk legend. Is it true?’

  ‘I think the movers did it.’

  ‘It’s perfectly concave.’

  ‘Maybe they dropped a bowling ball.’

  ‘I prefer the legend.’

  Reacher asked, ‘What’s your name?’

  The voice said, ‘Make one up for me.’

  ‘What?’

  ‘Let’s keep this off the record. Give me a code name.’

  ‘This is a private conversation.’

  ‘Not really. Our system shows you’re calling from a police station. I’m sure it has a switchboard and recording devices.’

  Reacher said, ‘OK, keep talking. I should try to make the name fit the person.’

  ‘What do you want me to say?’

  ‘Read the phone book. That would work for me.’

  Another smile in the voice. ‘People say the dent in the desk came from a colonel’s head. They say that’s why you got canned from the 110th.’

  ‘I didn’t get canned. I got new orders, that’s all.’

  ‘Only because no one liked that particular colonel. But you definitely walked the plank. That’s what people say.’

  ‘Amanda.’

  ‘Amanda? OK, that’s who I am. You need me again, call the number and ask for Amanda. Now, what can I do for you today?’

  ‘There’s a small town in South Dakota called Bolton. Roughly in the middle of the state, twelve or thirteen miles north of I-90.’

  ‘I know where it is. Our system includes your coordinates. I’m looking at Bolton right now.’

  ‘Looking at it how?’

  ‘On my laptop. With Google Earth.’

  ‘You guys have it easy.’

  ‘Technology is indeed a wonderful thing. How can I help you?’

  ‘Five miles west of town is an abandoned Cold War installation. I need to know what it was.’

  ‘Can’t you tell what it was?’

  ‘I haven’t seen it. And apparently there isn’t much to see. It could be nothing. But I want you to check it out for me.’

  ‘You sure it isn’t a missile silo? The Dakotas are full of them.’

  ‘They say it isn’t a silo. Doesn’t sound like one, either.’

  ‘OK, hold on. I’m zooming and scrolling. According to the most recent image the only thing west of town looks like a prison camp. Fifteen huts and an older building, in two lines of eight. Plus a long straight road. Maybe two miles of it.’

  ‘Does the older building look like a house?’

  ‘From above it looks exactly like a house.’

  ‘OK, but I need more than that.’

  ‘You want me to come all the way up to South Dakota and go out there and look at it with you?’

 
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