Night School by Lee Child


  Beginning to end, the orders showed Wiley arriving in-country, and then bouncing back and forth between what used to be a forward position in the battle area, to a rearward position in a maintenance depot. Which was the post north and east of Frankfurt. There were also regular voluntary detachments to a storage lager thirty miles west. What was once a supply depot was by then a dump for stuff no one needed anymore. Members of Wiley’s unit could volunteer to go cannibalize parts from retired machines. The XO called it hands-on training in on-the-field maintenance. Which Reacher agreed sounded better than the guy admitting he had to scavenge retreads to keep his unit limping along. But despite the hard sell it was not popular duty. There had been four opportunities. No one had volunteered more than once.

  Except Wiley.

  Wiley had volunteered three times.

  The first three.

  But not the fourth.

  Neagley said, “That’s where he saw it, obviously. Whatever it is. In the storage lager. Has to be. Maybe the first time, he searched for it. The second time, he found it. The third time, he planned it. Then he stole it, seven months ago. Which meant he didn’t have to go back the fourth time. The thing was gone by then. He already had it.”

  “Hidden nearby, according to you. We need to confirm it. We need eyes on the road. Four guys with binoculars, like a visual trap. Maybe on the autobahn south of Hanover. He can’t have gotten that far yet.”

  He dialed Griezman, who said he would take care of it.

  Sinclair said, “He’s very helpful.”

  Reacher said, “So far.”

  “Are you blackmailing him?”

  “I said I wouldn’t, but I’m not sure he believes me. So I guess I am, in a way. The end result is the same.”

  “Long may it continue.”

  “It won’t,” Reacher said. “Griezman will dump us as soon as he gets a bigger problem.”

  “Is there a bigger problem than this?”

  “He doesn’t know how bad it is.”

  “Should we tell him?” Sinclair said. “Should we make an official request for assistance?”

  White said, “That would be a political disaster. It would project weakness. Russia is practically next door. We can’t wash our dirty linen in public.”

  Waterman said, “And it’s too late anyway. The Germans would take half a day even to respond. It would take a whole day to brief them in properly. Maybe more, because they’re starting from cold. Which means Wiley would get at least a thirty-six-hour start. By then he could be anywhere. This is a big country now.”

  —

  Dremmler’s office was on the fourth floor of a building wholly owned by him. He rode down in the elevator, which was the original 1950s item. Reliable, but slow. It took twenty seconds to reach the lobby. During which time Dremmler imported and sold thirty-three pairs of Brazilian shoes. Which was a comforting statistic. A million pairs a week. More than fifty million pairs a year.

  He left his building and walked through the weak midday sun, a block, two, three, to the bar with the varnished wood front. Once upon a time it would have been considered early for a lunch break, but the place was already crowded. Because new staggered office hours meant lunch breaks happened throughout the day, in a ceaseless ongoing relay.

  Dremmler pushed through the crowd, nodding and greeting, until he saw Wolfgang Schlupp on a stool at the bar. Not an impressive specimen. Dark hair, dark eyes, lean dark face, built like a shivering dog. But useful. About to be more useful. Dremmler elbowed in next to him, shoulder first, his back to the room. He said, “How’s business, Herr Schlupp?”

  Schlupp said, “What do you need?”

  “Information,” Dremmler said. “For the cause. The new Germany depends on it.”

  A barman in a heavy canvas apron came over and Dremmler ordered a liter of beer.

  Schlupp said, “What kind of information?”

  “You made a driver’s license and maybe a passport for an American gentleman.”

  “Hold it right there. I didn’t make nothing.”

  “OK, you passed a customer’s order to your partners in Berlin. They made it. All you did was keep half the money.”

  “So what?”

  Dremmler squeezed himself some extra space and took out the drawing. He smoothed it on the bar.

  He said, “This guy.”

  The hair, the brow, the cheek bones. The deep-set eyes.

  Schlupp said, “I don’t remember him.”

  “I think you do.”

  “What of it?”

  “It’s important to the cause.”

  “What is?”

  “What new name did this man take?”

  “Why do you need to know?”

  “We want to find him.”

  Schlupp said, “You know I can’t tell you. What kind of business would I have? No one would trust me.”

  “This is one time only. No one will ever know. This guy is in trouble already. But we want him first. Right now he’s heading somewhere in an empty panel van. To pick something up. Presumably a heavy load. Given the size of the van. Could be weapons. Could be Nazi gold from a salt mine.”

  “And you want it.”

  “For all of us. For the cause. It would make a huge difference.”

  Schlupp didn’t answer.

  Dremmler said, “There would be a finder’s fee, of course. Or a consultation agreement. Or a straight commission, if you like.”

  Schlupp said, “I would be taking a risk. It’s like being a priest. It’s understood I won’t talk.”

  “The size of the fee would of course reflect the size of the risk.”

  Schlupp looked at the sketch.

  He said, “I think I remember him. I’ve done a lot of Americans. I think this guy chose three separate names. The first two were identity cards and driver’s licenses only. But I think the third had a passport.”

  “What were the names?”

  “It was months ago. I would have to look it up.”

  “You don’t remember?”

  “I hear hundreds of names.”

  “When can you do it?”

  “When I get home.”

  “Call me at once, will you? It’s very important. To the cause.”

  “OK,” Schlupp said.

  Dremmler nodded in satisfaction and left the way he had come, leading with the other shoulder, pushing through the crowd, nodding and greeting, back to the weak midday sun beyond the open door.

  The barman who had served his liter of beer picked up the phone.

  —

  The phone rang in the consulate room. Vanderbilt picked it up and gave it to Reacher. It was Orozco. He said, “Are we in trouble?”

  “Not yet,” Reacher said. “We think Wiley’s heading for Frankfurt. We think he stole something from the storage lager near his home base, about seven months ago. Then we think he hid it. Now we think he’s heading down there to pick it up.”

  “We have plenty of people in Frankfurt.”

  “I know,” Reacher said. “I’ll call them if I need them.”

  “I just finished up with Billy Bob and Jimmy Lee. They saved the best for last. Turns out they sold an M9 to Wiley. So bear that in mind. He’s armed.”

  —

  Wiley’s phone rang, and he took the call in his kitchen. He knew immediately from the background noise who it was. The friendly barman, made friendlier still by liberal applications of folding money, in amounts somewhere between tips and bribes. Plus an extra wad for just-in-case emergencies. Or warnings. Or whatever else in the opinion of the guy who was taking the cash would be appreciated by the guy who was giving the cash. The same the world over. All unsaid and unspoken but well understood.

  The guy said, “Wolfgang Schlupp is going to sell you out to Dremmler.”

  Wiley said, “For how much?”

  “A percentage. Dremmler says you’re on your way to find Nazi gold.”

  “I was on my way to the bathroom.”

  “You’ve got un
til Schlupp gets home.”

  —

  The phone rang again in the consulate room, and Landry picked it up, and gave it to Neagley, who gave it to Reacher. It was Griezman. He said, “It turns out our traffic division needs extreme detail for a remote operation like Hanover will be. We’ll all save time if you give them the specifications direct. Better accuracy, too. I’ve alerted their deputy chief. He’s expecting your call. I’ll give you his number. His name is Muller.”

  “OK,” Reacher said. “Anything else?”

  “Nothing. Good luck.”

  “Thank you.”

  Reacher hung up and redialed.

  —

  The phone rang on Muller’s desk. He closed the door and sat down and picked up. An American voice said, “Is that Deputy Chief Muller?”

  Muller said, “Yes.”

  “My name is Reacher. I believe Chief of Detectives Griezman told you I would call.”

  Muller moved a file and found a pad of message forms. He picked up a pencil. He noted the date, the time, and the caller. He said, “Apparently you wish autobahn traffic to be monitored south of Hanover.”

  “You have the plate number. I need to know if it’s heading from here to the Frankfurt area.”

  “What exactly do you envisage from us?”

  “Cars on the shoulders. Or on the bridges. Four pairs of eyes. Like a regular speed trap, but with binoculars, not radar guns.”

  “We have no experience of such things, Mr. Reacher. There are no speed limits on the autobahns.”

  “But you get the gist.”

  “I have seen American television.”

  Muller wrote gist on the message pad.

  Reacher said, “Communication needs to be instant. I need time to arrange things at the other end.”

  Muller said, “Do you know where he’s going?”

  “Not exactly. Not yet.”

  “Tell me when you work it out. I could allocate resources.”

  “Thank you, I will.”

  Muller hung up. He tore the top sheet off the message pad. He tore it in half, and in quarters, and eighths, and sixteenths, like confetti, which he dropped in his trash can. Reacher could claim the conversation had taken place, but Muller could claim it had ended with a last-gasp never-mind withdrawal, and hence cancellation of all just-agreed points. Couldn’t be proven either way. A classic he-said-she-said, which the cops always won.

  He dialed Dremmler.

  He said, “Believe it or not, I just had Reacher on the phone. A problem Griezman dumped in my lap. Reacher thinks Wiley is heading to Frankfurt. He promised to tell me the exact destination, just as soon as he has it.”

  “Excellent.”

  “Did you get his new name?”

  “It’s on its way very soon.”

  —

  Wolfgang Schlupp left the bar as soon as he was good and ready, and he took two alleys and a bus, which let him out one alley and two left turns from home, which was a top-floor apartment in a pre-war townhouse. No elevator, given the age of the place. But plenty of equity. There had long been a rumor the whole townhouse row had been incorrectly repaired after the wartime bombing. But then an engineer’s report had proved exactly the opposite. Prices had doubled overnight. Schlupp had gotten in early. He had overheard a conversation in the bar, back to back with two city officials, swapping gossip.

  He walked up the stairs, through the second-floor lobby, through the third, and onward.

  —

  Wiley heard him coming. He was leaning on the wall, in the shadow between a fire cabinet and a hot-water riser. He had a gun in his hand. His Beretta M9, army kind-of surplus, bought from two chuckleheads stealing from a supply company, in the very same bar where the talkative Mr. Schlupp plied his not-so-secret-after-all trade.

  Schlupp stepped up from the top stair, and hunched left, and unlocked his door. Wiley came out of the shadow and shoved him through it, the gun in his back, kicking the door shut with his heel, pushing him on down the hallway, to a spacious living room, all urban and gray and bare brick, where Schlupp tripped and fell on a black leather sofa, and lay there helpless.

  Wiley stood above him and aimed the gun at his face.

  He said, “I heard you’re going to sell me out, Wolfgang.”

  “Not true,” Schlupp said. “I would never do that. What kind of business would I have?”

  “You told Dremmler you would.”

  “I was going to make up a name and send him on a wild goose chase.”

  “You got records here?”

  “All in code.”

  “Why not make up a name in the bar? Why wait to get back to the records?”

  “Was it Dremmler who told you?”

  “Doesn’t matter who. You were going to sell me out. You were going to look me up in the records. Dremmler told you to call him at once, because it was very important to the cause.”

  “No way, man. That’s bullshit. How could I? Who would trust me again?”

  “Why didn’t you make up a name in the bar?”

  Schlupp didn’t answer.

  Wiley said, “Show me the records.”

  Schlupp struggled to his feet and they went down the hallway the same way they came up, but slower, the gun in Schlupp’s back all the way, to a small bedroom in use as an office.

  Schlupp pointed to a high shelf.

  He said, “The red file folder.”

  Which was like a three-ring binder, except it had four. Pre-punched pages had lines of handwritten code, nonsense non-words in separate columns, maybe old name, new name, passport, license, national ID.

  Wiley said, “Which one am I?”

  “I wasn’t going to sell you out.”

  “Why didn’t you make up a name in the bar?”

  “Dremmler’s full of it, man. Right now he thinks you’re deep in the country in a panel van, looking for Nazi gold. But evidently you’re not. So he’s wrong about that, which means he could be wrong about everything. That’s logical, right? Why even listen to him?”

  “I didn’t,” Wiley said. “I listened to the barman. Dremmler asked and you answered. You were going to sell me out. If you didn’t want to, you would have given up a phony name right there and then. Or OK, maybe you froze, but a minute later you would have figured it out and said, yes now I remember, he calls himself Schmidt. Or some such. But you didn’t.”

  “He scares me, man. He can make trouble. OK, I was going to tell him. But I changed my mind.”

  “When you saw me?”

  “No, before.”

  “I don’t believe you.”

  “What kind of business would I have?”

  “Dremmler told you he’d cover the risk.”

  “I swear, man. You’re wrong. I changed my mind. I would never do it.”

  In for a penny, in for a pound.

 
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