Night School by Lee Child


  “I would need to know the price.”

  “Of course you would. It’s one of four important elements. Our account number, our passcode, the amount, and the recipient’s account number. A lot to memorize, I know, but it’s really a very simple and straightforward transaction.”

  “You don’t like it when people know the price.”

  The fat man said nothing.

  The messenger said, “I will be sacrificed.”

  “Not if we get what we want. This time it’s different. If this deal succeeds, you will always be part of it. We all will. We will become myths and legends. Stories will pass from generation to generation. The price will be revered as a bargain. It will be celebrated. Little girls will pretend to be you. They’ll play games about moving the money. Girls will know they can do this, too.”

  The messenger said nothing.

  The fat man said, “But if this deal fails, then yes, you will be killed, whether you go to Zurich or not. You are already part of it. You are already a witness. All witnesses will be killed. The humiliation would be too great for us to bear otherwise. A hundred million dollars for nothing? Clearly we would need to erase it from memory. Or we’d be finished as leaders. Our bones would be picked clean.”

  The messenger said, “A hundred million dollars? Is that the price?”

  “Go learn the numbers,” the fat man said. “Be ready to leave tonight. Pray for success.”

  —

  In Hamburg, Wiley rode down in the elevator and stepped out of his lobby. He walked away from the traffic circle, past another building, and between two more, to the rear of the complex, where new paving gave way to old granite, and cobblestones, and preserved dockside cranes. There were new footbridges over the dark water, made of teak and steel, looping gracefully over the voids. Wiley took one, and joined another. It was wider, and it led further, all the way to the main road, and the bus stop. Wiley sat in the shelter and waited. First the wrong bus came, and then the right bus came. It would stop two blocks from the car rental franchise. Wiley got on. He was calm. No longer falling. Now it was a sequence of simple mechanical tasks. Deliver, collect, fly. By which time nine hundred square miles would be waiting for him. Visible from outer space.

  He smiled to himself, alone in the crowd on the bus.

  Little Horace Wiley.

  Hot damn.

  —

  A mile from the bus route Muller met Dremmler in a pastry shop. It had four small tables, all of them occupied by pairs of men just like themselves, friends but not really, bound together only by a proposition, be it buying or selling or hedging or insuring, or investing or leasing or renting or flipping.

  Or making a stand against crumbling national identity.

  Dremmler said, “Once again, thank you for your help in the matter of Reacher’s whereabouts. A plan is now in place.”

  Muller said, “My pleasure.”

  “He can’t stay in his hotel all day. He’s bound to come out. I expect a positive report any moment.”

  “Good,” said Muller.

  “Did you succeed with the other thing?”

  Muller took out the sketch of Wiley and flattened it on the table.

  Dremmler said, “Was it hard to get?”

  “It required a tiny paper trail. But it won’t lead anywhere.”

  “I have never seen this man before. He is not a movement member.”

  “But Klopp saw him more than once.”

  “Then he goes to the bar to buy or sell. Or both. I’ll show this picture to the folks I know. We might get a name and address.”

  “We know his name. It’s Wiley. And he doesn’t have an address. I already checked, remember?”

  “I’m sure he purchased a new identity. Or several. That’s usually the first thing these fellows do. But don’t worry. I know exactly who to ask.”

  —

  Neagley told Landry to call his New Orleans field office and script some questions for Wiley’s mother, on the subject of any and all old boyfriends named Arnold, and any and all old boyfriends who were ranchers and then subsequently drafted, and any and all old boyfriends who ever talked about Davy Crockett. Then Vanderbilt called her over to a chattering telex, where she tore out an armful of paper. Her request, via Sinclair and the Joint Chiefs, for cold-case property crimes in Germany. Near military installations or areas of activity. During the span of Wiley’s active in-country deployment.

  There were plenty of crimes.

  Reacher said, “When do we get Wiley’s movement orders?”

  “Soon,” Neagley said. “They’re working on it.”

  The crimes were many and various. All unsolved. There were silent midnight burglaries, and armed invasions and robberies, and stick-ups, and hijacks, all aimed at cash-rich local businesses, like bars and betting parlors and strip clubs. Geographically the locations matched the military map. Because that was where the money was. Hence the cash-rich businesses. Perpetrators in such crimes would come from miles around. From far and wide, like seagulls to a landfill. Very few of them would be soldiers. But some of them would be.

  Neagley said, “Look at the dollar values.”

  “They’re bullshit,” Reacher said. “For the insurance. We should cut them in half.”

  “Even so. One or two of these would give Wiley all the seed money he needed. Three or four of these would put him in a whole different category. We would need to make new assumptions. He could have multiple locations and major resources.”

  “When did he steal the thing he’s selling?”

  “Somewhere between the day he located it and the end of his final ninety-six-hour pass. Somewhere in that ten-month period.”

  “Why hasn’t it been reported missing?”

  “That depends on what it is. Depends on the audit cycle, I suppose. Maybe they’re counting something right now. Maybe the news will break tonight.”

  “How thorough are the audits?”

  “On average not very,” Neagley said. “Mostly it’s a head count. If there are three containers listed on the inventory, they count one, two, three, and they make a check mark.”

  “But the containers could be empty or something.”

  “Got to be one or the other. Either the count hasn’t happened yet, or he fooled them somehow. Those are the only two possibilities.”

  “No, I think there’s a third,” Reacher said. “Maybe whatever he stole was never on an inventory. Maybe no one knew it was there, so no one knows it’s gone.”

  “Like what?”

  “Like my pants.”

  “What about them?”

  “You like them?”

  “They’re pants.”

  “They’re U.S. Marine Corps khakis manufactured in 1962 and shipped in 1965. At some point they were delivered by mistake to a U.S. Army warehouse in Maryland. They stayed there thirty years. Never counted, never audited, never on any guy’s list.”

  “You think someone just bought a hundred million dollars’ worth of pants?”

  “Not specifically pants.”

  “Shirts?”

  “Something that got lost in the back of a warehouse. As a third possibility.”

  “Like what?” Neagley said again.

  “We were going to fight the Red Army here. We had all kinds of stuff. And people screw up. If they can randomly send a bale of jarhead pants to an army base, they can randomly send anything anywhere.”

  “OK,” Neagley said. “It’s a third possibility.”

  Then the phone rang.

  Griezman.

  Who said, “Something weird happened.”

  Chapter 29

  Reacher put the call on speaker, and all seven people gathered around, and Griezman said, “A local police station just got a telephone call from the manager of a car rental franchise. Near your hotel, as a matter of fact. A man who spoke in English and sounded American just rented a large panel van. Despite the fact he spoke only in English, his ID was German. The clerk at the desk did the deal. But t
he manager was in the back office and overheard the conversation. He recognized the customer’s voice. The guy had rented there before, not long ago. Afterward for some reason the manager checked the deal in the computer and saw the guy had used a completely different name than the last time. He had used a whole different set of ID.”

  “When was this?” Reacher said.

  “Twenty minutes ago.”

  “Description?”

  “Vague, but it could be Wiley. That’s why I’m calling you. I already sent a car with a copy of the sketch. We’ll know in a minute or two.”

  “Was the name German the last time?”

  “Yes, but different. Last time it was Ernst, and this time it’s Gebhardt.”

  “OK, thanks,” Reacher said. “Get back to us when the rental people have seen the sketch.”

  He killed the call.

  Sinclair said, “This is the endgame. Starting now. The van is for the delivery.”

  “And then he’s getting the hell out,” Waterman said. “He’s burning through his spare ID. He’s keeping his Sunday best for the airport.”

  “Twenty minutes,” Landry said. “He could be ten miles out of town by now. Griezman has no more jurisdiction. We need to go federal.”

  The phone rang.

  Griezman.

  Who said, “Now we have a positive ID on the sketch. It was Wiley who rented the truck. Confidence level is a hundred percent. I already put out an APB on the plate number. The traffic division will handle it. They can liaise out of town. They do it all the time. We’re assuming a fifteen-kilometer radius by now. About ten miles. It’s coming up on twenty-five minutes. Almost certainly he’s moving south or east. Unless he’s going to Denmark or Holland. We have cars on the main roads and the autobahns. Rest assured we’ll have a lot of eyeballs on it. It’s a large vehicle. And slow.”

  “What address did he use?” Reacher asked.

  “It was phony. Nothing but a hole in the ground. For another new apartment building on the other side of town.”

  “Anything else?” Reacher said.

  “Just that the clerk at the rental franchise said Wiley was concerned about the height of the load floor, and that he needed a roll-up rear door, not hinged, because he said he intended to back the truck up to another truck and transfer a load across.”

  “Thanks,” Reacher said.

  He killed the call.

  Sinclair said, “At least now we know what kind of thing it is. It’s not a document. It’s not intelligence. It needs a large panel van with a roll-up door.”

  “To back up to a similar vehicle,” Neagley said. “Why? If the load is already in a truck, why get another truck?”

  “Maybe the first truck was stolen,” Reacher said. “Maybe he’s worried about getting pulled over.”

  Neagley turned and leafed through the telex concertina. Cold-case property crimes in Germany, near military installations, during Wiley’s deployment. She traced her finger down the faint gray list.

  Her finger stopped.

  She said, “Seven months ago a delivery truck with a roll-up door was stolen from a mom-and-pop furniture store on the outskirts of Frankfurt. Local and then national police were given the number, but the vehicle was never found.”

  Her finger started again. She licked her thumb and turned the pages.

  She said, “Nothing else. Plenty of cars, but no more roll-up doors.”

  Reacher said, “That was three months before he went AWOL.”

  “It was a long game.”

  “Did he steal the thing the same night he stole the truck?”

  “Almost certainly. Which begins to define a location. If he’s the kind of guy who worries about getting pulled over, he would steal the truck close by, drive it the minimum, steal the thing, drive the minimum again, and hide the truck as soon as possible. In a barn, or something. With the thing still inside. A triangular route, fast and focused. Minimum mileage. Minimum risk. We could be looking at a fairly small area, somewhere near Frankfurt.”

  “But then he returned to his unit. For three months. Why?”

  “He was laying low. Waiting for a reaction. Hiding in plain sight. Which was a smart move. We’d have been looking at AWOLs and outside bad guys. Not grunts on the post. But the thing was never missed. The alarm was never raised. There was no reaction. So as soon as he felt sure of that, he left, at the next opportunity. He holed up in Hamburg. It took him four months to sell the thing. Now he’s headed back to pick it up.”

  “Those are big conclusions,” Sinclair said. “Aren’t they? Anyone could have stolen that furniture truck.”

  Reacher said, “We need to know where Wiley was seven months ago. We need his movement orders.”

  “They’re coming,” Neagley said.

  And right then the telex machine burst into chattering life.

  —

  Wiley had driven the big new van back toward the center of town, slowly, carefully, inching through the city traffic, waiting at lights, checking his mirrors. He looped around the Ausenalster lake, and crawled through St. Georg, curving west, heading toward where he lived, but long before he got there he turned left and rumbled over a boxy metal bridge, into the old docks, where the piers were too small for modern freighters, which meant the warehouses were also too small, which made them cheap to rent.

  He parked in front of a dull green double door, and slid down from the high seat. The double door had padlocked bolts top and bottom, and a padlocked hasp in the middle. He had all three keys. He opened the right-hand door, and propped it, and then he walked back and opened the left-hand door, and propped it.

  The space inside was about thirty feet by forty, by more than fifteen feet tall. Like a double garage in a nice suburban house in Sugar Land, but swollen up some. The right-hand slot was empty. The left-hand slot had the old furniture truck. He had driven it from Frankfurt seven months before, the same night he stole it. The same night he loaded its precious cargo. The crazy sprint was not strictly necessary, because he had changed the plates, to be on the safe side. He could have taken his time. But he had wanted to get where he was going. He wanted to hunker down. He only just made it. It was an old truck. A piece of shit, basically. The oil light was on the whole way. The engine was making noises. It was close to dying when he parked it, nose in, thankful to have gotten it there. Thankful to have avoided a tow truck. Some things would have been hard to explain. He shut it down and it never started again. Seized solid. Hence the rental. He parked it next to its predecessor, and he closed the dull green doors, and padlocked the bolts again, and the hasp, and he put the keys in his pocket. He crossed an old iron footbridge to a different pier, and then the new footbridges took over, soaring teak and steel, carrying him from one pier to the next, to the rear of his development, where he walked between two buildings and past another, to his lobby, and his elevator, and his apartment door.

  —

  Muller closed his office door and called Dremmler on his desk phone. He said, “The man in the sketch has left town in a truck. We just got a request for assistance from Griezman’s division. We’re putting an APB on the plate number. Starting fifteen kilometers out, going national if we need to.”

  “He’s delivering,” Dremmler said. “We missed it.”

  “No, the truck is clearly empty. He just picked it up from a rental franchise.”

  “Then he’s collecting something from somewhere else. Which is much more interesting. Keep me informed. Make sure I’m the first to know.”

  “I will.”

  “I’m afraid the other thing didn’t work out.”

  “Reacher?”

  “He predicted it. He brought people with him. He ambushed the ambush. A squad of twelve, my guys said. All armed with military weapons. Plus him. My guys didn’t stand a chance.”

  —

  Wiley was on a ninety-six-hour pass the night the truck was stolen. Whereabouts unknown. That was the first thing his movement orders revealed. His immediately previou
s location had been his regular billet, on a post some miles north and east of the mom-and-pop furniture store. But not many miles, Reacher thought. Dozens, not hundreds. He knew the area. He had been there many times. It was all reasonably local. Like Sugar Land to downtown Houston. A bus ride.

 
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