Night School by Lee Child


  “What does he do in the bar?”

  “Nothing much.”

  “Is he army?”

  “Last time I saw him he had no hat and his hair was too long.”

  “When was that?”

  “About two weeks ago.”

  “What was he doing two weeks ago?”

  “He was at a table near a window drinking beer by himself.”

  —

  At that moment the American was waiting to get on a city bus, to head into town. He had things to do. Last-minute errands to run, and a shopping list. Hamburg was a passenger port, with ferries and cruise ships in and out, so travel supplies were not hard to find. And suitable clothes, for a long journey. All cash purchases, all from different places. A strict timetable, but necessary. The clock was ticking.

  The bus arrived, and the American got on.

  —

  Reacher hauled the guy up off the coffee shop floor and pushed him out to the sidewalk. Neagley took his partner. They checked Neagley’s map and headed down to a pocket park. The guy Neagley had hit limped and shuffled. His nose was broken, from her second knee. It didn’t make him any prettier. Or uglier.

  They made it to the park and took two benches. Neagley and the dumb guy sat on one, and Reacher and the casualty sat on the other. They waited. The dumb guy kept very still. He seemed scared of Neagley. Maybe not so dumb. The damaged guy got slowly better. Reacher sensed him getting restless. Sensed him glancing around, calculating the angles, weighing up his chances. At one point a city bus roared slowly past, close and huge and loud, full of passengers heading into town, and Reacher sensed the guy stir, as if the noise and commotion presented an opportunity, so he put his hand on the back of the guy’s neck, like a friendly gesture, and he squeezed, and the guy yelped silently, and then the bus was gone.

  They waited. The afternoon grew late. Then a blue car drew up at the curb. A big Opel sedan. A General Motors product. At the wheel was a guy in army battledress uniform. Beside him was another. Behind both of them was a floor-to-ceiling plastic screen. A cop car.

  The passenger got out. Short, wide, and dark. Manuel Orozco. Late of the 110th. You don’t mess with the special investigators. His phrase. A good friend. He said, “I thought you were buried in a school somewhere.”

  Reacher said, “Is that what you heard?”

  “Everyone was talking about it, man. Like you died.”

  “The NSC got us for a secret thing. We’re shaking a tree. A whole lot of extra crap is falling out. You’re going to have to clean it up for us. Without mentioning our involvement. You can claim them as your own, if you like. Get another medal. Start with these two. They’re selling scrap M9s to skinheads in a bar.”

  “I won’t get a medal for that.”

  “It’s really about the bar. Could be the tip of an iceberg.”

  “What happened to his nose?”

  “Neagley.”

  “Outstanding.”

  “We need background on the bar. Apparently all kinds of deals go down there. Write it up as a separate report, OK? And then feel free to go fishing. But not until we say. There’s one particular guy we’re looking at, and we don’t want to scare him away. Assuming he plans to come back anyway. Which he probably won’t.”

  Orozco said, “You got it, boss.”

  “I’m not your boss anymore.”

  “I’m sure you’re still the boss of something.”

  Orozco put the two guys in the back of the car, behind the plastic screen, and he climbed in next to his driver, and Reacher and Neagley waved them away. Then they walked back to their boutique hotel, where the clerk confirmed the consulate had indeed come through, and as a result they now had two upgraded rooms side by side on the top floor. They went to Neagley’s first, where they dialed McLean, Virginia, to check in with Sinclair.

  —

  At that moment the fingerprint technician in the police garage was on the phone with Chief of Detectives Griezman. He said he had taken an excellent print off the back of the chrome lever. Clear as a bell. By shape, to his practiced eye, it was a right-hand middle finger, and it was average size for a man, or large for a woman. It showed no hits in any of the federal databases. Therefore the perpetrator was almost certainly not German.

  —

  The upgraded rooms had fancy console telephones, and Neagley put hers on speaker and sat on the bed. Reacher sat in a chair. In McLean the phone was also on speaker. Reacher heard the spacey echo, and then he heard Sinclair say hello, and then Waterman, and then White. He guessed they were all in the office, at the conference table, in the leather chairs.

  Sinclair said, “Are you getting anywhere?”

  She sounded tired.

  Reacher said, “The German witness was a man named Klopp, and we got a good description and a good sketch. Which was faxed to you. Klopp says he’s seen the guy twice. Since then we have another witness who has seen the guy three times. All in the same bar. Which seems to be partly a right-wing political hangout and partly an underground marketplace. All kinds of deals, apparently.”

  “Will that be the location of the second rendezvous?”

  “The odds say no. They could choose anywhere from Scandinavia to North Africa.”

  White spoke up and said, “We’re cross-checking lists in several different lateral ways. State has put some big computers on it. We’re watching about four hundred American names. Which is way too many to be useful. Their recent travel destinations include about forty countries. Which is also too many to be useful.”

  Reacher said, “It all comes down to the same old question. What is the guy selling?”

  No answer.

  “We got a weird piece of news,” Sinclair said. “From our people in Ukraine. Just routine police blotter stuff. The Kiev police department reported a dead Arab in an alley downtown. Killed by blows to the head, probably with a carpenter’s hammer. In his twenties, and wearing a pink polo shirt with an alligator on the front. Which is what caught our eye. Probably nothing. Kiev police say there was a soccer match on the TV. The locals lost to Moscow. Lots of unhappy young men in the bars. An Arab on his own in a pink shirt might have been irresistible.”

  “Or?”

  “It’s stupid to base it on the shirt. But maybe he was one of them. Maybe there’s a civil war going on.”

  “Does it change our plan?”

  “No, we should assume the messenger is still on his way. We should act as if the second rendezvous is still imminent. What we need to figure out is whether you and Sergeant Neagley should stay in Hamburg or come back here.”

  “They won’t meet in McLean, Virginia. That’s a certainty. Whereas they might meet in Hamburg again. That’s at least a possibility. A small chance, maybe, but slim is better than none, surely.”

  Sinclair was quiet for a long moment. Nothing on the line except echo and static. Then she said, “OK, but stay away from the safe house.”

  “Even if that means missing the rendezvous?”

  “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. You need to be clear on this. It’s not your decision.”

  —

  In Jalalabad dinner had been eaten and the plates had been cleared away. The men in the white robes were back in their small hot room. Half of their conversation was made up of cautious ritual reminders that nothing had yet been achieved. Not definitively. Not for sure. They were close, but not certain. Ancient proverbs were quoted, old tribal incantations along the lines of not counting chickens until eggs were hatched. But the other half of their conversation was all about counting those chickens. They counted them over and over again. Glorious, dreamy speculation. They made lists, and revised them endlessly, smiling and rocking on their cushions. It was as close to erotic as those guys got.

  They had to choose ten cities. They agreed Washington D.C., New York, and London had to be included. They were non-negotiable. Which left seven more. Paris could be the fourth. Then Brussels, because of NATO headquarters and the European parliam
ent. And Berlin, because why not? Which left four. Moscow might be important to their brothers in the eastern part of Europe. And Tel Aviv, obviously, although really that was a separate argument. Which left two. Amsterdam? Chicago? Los Angeles? Madrid?

  Then they reminded themselves once again not to count their chickens. That resolution lasted less than a minute. They rocked in silence, and then they started over with the fourth spot. Should San Francisco go ahead of Paris? The Golden Gate Bridge?

  —

  The American got out in the heart of the downtown shopping district. He had a small smile on his face. The bus had slowed to take a corner near a pocket park, and out the window across the aisle he had glimpsed two guys he had done business with in the bar. They were sitting on benches. Small world. They were with two friends, a man and a woman. The man had been wearing the exact same jean jacket as him. An even smaller world. What were the odds?

  He crossed a cobblestone plaza and stopped at a foreign exchange booth. He swapped a fistful of deutschmarks and dollars for Argentinian pesos. Then he did the same thing at another booth a street away, and then another. Always used and crumpled bills of mixed denominations. Always cash for cash. No huge amounts. Nothing memorable. No records.

  He changed his final wad up at the train station. Which was a sad place now. There were homeless people and disturbed people hanging around. There were furtive men with swivel eyes, their hands thrust deep in capacious pockets. There was spray-can graffiti on the walls. Nothing compared to the South Bronx or inner-city Detroit or South-Central LA. But unusual for Germany. Reunification had been a strain. Economically, and socially. And mentally. He had watched it. Like living a comfortable life in a nice little house with your family. And then a whole bunch of relatives moves in. From someplace where they don’t really know how to use a knife and fork. Ignorant and stunted people. But German like you. As if a brother had been taken away at birth and locked in a closet. Then in his mid-forties he comes stumbling out again, pale and hunched and blinking. A tough situation to manage.

  He measured his pesos between finger and thumb and was satisfied. They were for incidental expenditures only, nothing more. The banker would do the heavy lifting, as arranged, by wire or telex, or whatever other secret way they did it. The cash was for tips and taxis and porters at the airport. That was all.

  Next, clothes. And then a pharmacy. And then a hardware store, and a camping store, and a toy store.

  —

  Reacher and Neagley went out for an early dinner. They had seen plenty of spots in the neighborhood. They chose a meat-and-potatoes place down three steps in a semi-basement. It had brown wood paneling and accordion music on ceiling loudspeakers.

  Neagley said, “Marian Sinclair is going to fly over here.”

  Reacher said, “Why would she?”

  “I think she bought your argument about slim being better than none.”

  “It shouldn’t need selling.”

  “And she wants to keep an eye on you.”

  “She knew what she was getting. I’m sure Garber told her.”

  “Ten bucks she’ll be here tomorrow.”

  “You good for it?”

  “I won’t need to be. And don’t give me government money. Make sure it’s your own.”

  “She won’t come,” Reacher said. “It would be like backing a horse. Those people don’t do that.”

  Then the lights seemed to dim as Chief of Detectives Griezman walked up to their table. Six-six and three hundred pounds. Billowing gray suit the size of a pup tent. The floor creaked. Griezman said, “I am very sorry to interrupt.”

  Reacher said, “You hungry?”

  Griezman paused a beat, and said, “Yes, a little, actually.”

  Lucky guess, Reacher thought.

  He said, “Then please join us. Be the Pentagon’s guest.”

  “No, I couldn’t allow that. Not in my own city. You must be my guests.”

  “OK,” Reacher said. “Thank you very much. The United States Treasury is grateful.”

  Griezman sat down. A waiter hustled over with a third cover. Water was poured and bread was brought.

  Griezman said, “I want to ask for a favor.”

  Reacher said, “First tell us how you found us here.”

  “Your hotel told us where you’re staying. They’re required to. Any booking by an embassy or a consulate or a diplomatic mission has potential security implications. So there’s a system now. Then I put men in parked cars with radios. They passed you from one to the other until you came in here. I didn’t want them to try following you on foot. I thought you’d spot them.”

  “Have we done something wrong?”

  “I need to ask for an important favor. Personally, face to face.”

  “What kind of an important favor?”

  “We found a fingerprint, in the dead prostitute’s car. Remember? Exactly where you said we would. On the back of the chrome lever. A middle finger from a right hand.”

  “Congratulations.”

  “It has no matches anywhere in our databases.”

  “Is that usual?”

  “It is if the print is foreign.”

  Reacher said nothing.

  Griezman said, “Will you run it through your systems for me?”

  “That’s huge,” Neagley said.

  Reacher nodded. “That’s political. That’s a can of worms. Probably involves all kinds of NATO crap, as well as the Fourth Amendment. We’re knee-deep in PR people and lawyers. It would take them a year to even think about it.”

  Griezman sighed, and said, “That’s always my problem. I’m not political. I’m just a simple detective, hoping for a favor from one to another.”

  “Bullshit,” Reacher said. “You’re paying for dinner tonight because I said the word Pentagon. Maybe you’ll run for mayor one day. This is a liberal city in Western Europe. The voters wouldn’t like to hear the uncouth warmongers bought you a meal. So you’ll have an expenses fight tomorrow, instead of an embarrassment ten years from now. I would call that fairly political, on a scale of one to ten.”

  “I’m just trying to catch a bad guy.”

  “Why would he be an American?”

  “Statistics. Crime figures.”

  “And you think we’d admit that out loud? As in, you’ve got a dead hooker, so sure, it makes total sense to round up the Americans. We can’t just meekly accept a presumption of guilt. Wouldn’t play well at home. This stuff is way above my pay grade.”

  “Personally I agree with you. I think it was a sailor. One of a hundred nationalities. But you’re a large foreign group in Germany. I could eliminate a large number of possibilities.”

  “So now you think it wasn’t an American?”

  “I would like to prove that, yes. An attempt will be expected of me, before the case goes cold. Which is what I want, frankly, as soon as possible.”

  “Why?”

  “Well, for one thing, we’re wasting too much time on it.”

  “Because she was a prostitute?”

  “Ultimately, I suppose. But only through bitter experience and data. Most prostitute murders are committed by itinerants. That’s a fact. This guy is already halfway across the Atlantic, I’m sure. Happy that he got away with it.”

  Political. Reacher felt played. He said, “I’ll think about it. Have a copy of the print sent to the hotel, just in case.”

  “Don’t need to,” Griezman said. He took a small envelope from his inside pocket. “There’s a copy on film in here. And a card with my number.”

  Reacher took the envelope and put it in his own pocket.

  —

  After dinner they elected to walk back to their hotel, so Griezman drove away in his department Mercedes without them. They detoured via the safe house. Just an evening stroll. Just a corner-of-the-eye glance, as they passed. Not that they knew which apartment. There were fifteen windows plausibly related to the lobby in question. Some of them were dark. Some showed the blue glow of televisio
n. Some had low, warm light. No people were visible. There were cars on the street, and occasional pedestrians. Early evening, in the city. They walked on.

  There was a blue car parked at the curb outside their hotel. An Opel sedan. Manuel Orozco’s cop car. He was waiting for them in the lobby. He said, “There’s something you need to know.”

  Chapter 16

  They went back outside and leaned on Orozco’s car. The evening was cool and damp. They could sense the water nearby. Reacher said, “You could have called.”

 
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