One Shot by Lee Child

Chapter 5


  Reacher woke at six. Took a long cold shower, because the room was hot. But his shirt was dry. It was as stiff as a board, and still the right size. There was no room service. He went out for breakfast. The roads were full of trucks, hauling gravel, hauling fill, mixing concrete, feeding the work zones' appetites. He dodged them and walked south toward the waterfront. Through the gentrification frontier. He found a workingman's diner with a basic menu. He drank coffee and ate eggs. He sat at a window and watched the street for aimless doorway lurkers or men in parked cars. Because if he had been followed the night before it was logical to assume he would be followed again. So he kept his eyes open. But he saw nobody.

  Then he walked the length of First Street, north. The sun was up on his right. He used store windows as mirrors and watched his back. Plenty of people were going his way, but none of them was following him. He guessed whoever it was would be waiting for him in the plaza, ready to confirm what he expected to see: The witness went to the lawyer's office.

  The fountain was still going. The pool was nearly half full. The tributes were still there, neatly lined up, another day older, a little more faded, a little more wilted. He figured they would be there for a week or so. Until after the last of the funerals. Then they would be removed, discreetly, maybe in the middle of the night, and the city would move on to the next thing.

  He sat for a moment on the NBC monolith, with his back to the tower, like a guy wasting time because he was early. Which he was. It was only seven forty-five. There were other people in the same situation. They stood around, singly or in groups of two or three, smoking last cigarettes, reading the morning news, chilling before the daily grind. Reacher looked first at men on their own with newspapers. That was a pretty traditional surveillance cover. Although in his opinion it was due for replacement with a new exiled-smoker cover. Guys standing near doorways and smoking were the new invisibles. Or guys on cell phones. You could stand there with a Nokia up to your ear forever and nobody thought twice.

  In the end he settled on a guy who was smoking and talking on a cell phone. He was a short man of about sixty. Maybe more. A damaged man. There was a permanent lopsided tension in the way he held himself. An old spinal injury, maybe. Or busted ribs that had been badly set, years ago. Whatever it was, it made him look uncomfortable and querulous. He wasn't the type of guy who would happily converse at length. But there he was, on his phone, just talking, aimlessly. He had thin gray hair, recently barbered but not stylishly. He was in a double-breasted suit that had been expensively tailored, but not in the United States. It was square and boxy, too heavy for the weather. Polish, maybe. Or Hungarian. Eastern European, certainly. His face was pale and his eyes were dark. They didn't glance Reacher's way, even once.

  Reacher checked his watch. Seven fifty-five. He slid off the shiny granite and walked into the tower's lobby.

  Grigor Linsky stopped pretending and dialed an actual number on his phone.

  "He's here," he said. "He just went up. "

  "Did he see you?" the Zec asked.

  "Yes, I'm sure he did. "

  "So make that the last time. Now you stay in the shadows. "

  Reacher found Helen Rodin already at her desk. She looked settled in, like she had been there a long time already. She was in the same black suit, but her shirt was different. It was a simple scoop neck, not tight. It was china blue and matched her eyes exactly. Her hair was tied back in a long pony tail. Her desk was covered with legal books. Some were facedown, some were faceup. They were all open. She had about eight pages of notes going, on a yellow legal pad. References, case notes, decisions, precedents.

  "James Barr is conscious," she said. "Rosemary called me at five this morning. "

  "Is he talking?"

  "Only to the doctors. They won't let anyone else near him yet. Not even Rosemary herself. "

  "What about the cops?"

  "They're waiting. But I'll need to be there first. I can't let him talk to the cops without representation. "

  "What is he saying to the doctors?"

  "That he doesn't know why he's there. That he doesn't remember anything about Friday. The doctors say that's to be expected. Amnesia is predictable with head injuries, possibly covering several days before the trauma. Several weeks, sometimes. "

  "Where does that leave you?"

  "With two big problems. First, he might be faking the amnesia. And that's actually very hard to test, either way. So now I'm going to have to find a specialist opinion on that, too. And if he isn't faking, we're in a real gray area. If he's sane now, and he was sane before, but he's missing a week, then how can he get a fair trial? He won't be able to participate in his own defense. Not if he hasn't got the slightest idea what anyone is talking about. And the state put him in that position. They let him get hurt. It was their jail. They can't do that and then go ahead and try him. "

  "What's your father going to think?"

  "He's going to fight it tooth and nail. Obviously. No prosecutor can afford to admit the possibility that amnesia might screw up a trial. Otherwise everyone would jump right on it. Everyone would be looking to get beat up in pretrial detention. Suddenly nobody would be able to remember anything. "

  "It must have happened before. "

  Helen nodded. "It has. "

  "So what do the law books say?"

  "I'm reading them now. As you can see. Dusky versus the United States, Wilson versus the United States. "


  "There are lots of ifs and buts. "

  Reacher said nothing. Helen looked straight at him.

  "It's spinning out of control," she said. "Now there'll be a trial about a trial. It's something that might need to go all the way to the Supreme Court. I'm not equipped for that. And I don't want that. I don't want to be the lawyer who gets people off on weird technicalities. That's not who I am and it's a label I can't afford right now. "

  "So plead him guilty and the hell with it. "

  "When you called me last night I thought you were going to walk in here this morning and tell me he's innocent. "

  "Dream on," Reacher said.

  She looked away.

  "But," he said.

  She looked back. "There's a but?"

  He nodded. "Unfortunately. "

  "What's the but?"

  "He's not quite as guilty as I thought he was. "


  "Get your car and I'll show you. "

  They rode down together to a tenants-only underground parking garage. There were NBC broadcast trucks in there and cars and pickups and SUVs of various makes and vintages. There was a new blue Mustang convertible with an NBC sticker in the windshield. Ann Yanni's, probably, Reacher thought. It was right for her. She would drive top-down on her days off and top-up during the workweek, to keep her hair OK for the cameras. Or maybe she used a lot of spray.

  Helen Rodin's ride was a small dark-green sedan so anonymous Reacher didn't know what it was. A Saturn, maybe. It was unwashed and not new. It was a graduate student's car, the sort of thing a person uses until a first salary kicks in and lease payments become affordable. Reacher knew all about lease payments. Baseball on the TV carried a lot of commercials. Every half-inning, and every call to the bullpen.

  "Where are we going?" Helen asked.

  "South," Reacher said.

  He racked his seat back and crunched a whole lot of stuff in the footwell behind him. She had her seat close to the wheel, even though she wasn't a short woman. He ended up looking at her more or less from behind.

  "What do you know?" she asked.

  "It's not what I know," he said. "It's what James Barr knows. "

  "About what?"

  "About me. "

  She came up out of the garage and started south down a street parallel with First. Eight o'clock in the morning, the rush hour traffic was still heavy. Going the opposite way from the afternoon rush, he guess

  "What does James Barr know about you?" she asked.

  "Something that made him want me here," he said.

  "He ought to hate you. "

  "I'm sure he does. But he still wanted me here. "

  She crawled south, toward the river.

  "He never met me before," Reacher said. "Never saw me again afterward. We knew each other for three weeks, more than fourteen years ago. "

  "He knew you as an investigator. Someone who broke a tough case. "

  "A case he thought couldn't be broken. He watched me do it every step of the way. He had a front row seat. He thought I was an investigative genius. "

  "That's why he wanted you here?"

  Reacher nodded. "I spent last night trying to live up to his opinion. "

  They crossed the river on a long iron trestle. The sun was on their left. The wharf was on their right. The slow gray water moved listlessly past it.

  "Go west now," Reacher said.

  She made a right and took a two-lane county road. There were bait stores on the riverbank and shacks selling barbecue and beer and crushed ice.

  "But this case was already broken," she said. "He knew that. "

  "This case was only halfway broken," Reacher said. "That's what he knew. "


  Reacher nodded, even though he was behind her.

  "There's more to this case than Emerson saw," he said. "Barr wanted someone else to understand that. But his first lawyer was lazy. He wasn't very interested. That's why Barr got so frustrated. "

  "What more is there?"

  "I'll show you. "

  "A lot?"

  "I think so. "

  "So why didn't he just lay out the facts, whatever they are?"

  "Because he couldn't. And because nobody would have believed him anyway. "

  "Why? What the hell happened here?"

  There was a highway cloverleaf ahead, just like he had hoped.

  "I'll show you," he said again. "Take the highway north. "

  She powered the little car through the ramp and merged with the traffic. There was a mixed stream flowing north. Eighteen-wheelers, panel trucks, pickups, cars. The road recrossed the river on a concrete bridge. The wharf was visible to the east, in the distance. The city center was ahead, on the right. The highway rose gently on its stilts. Helen drove onward, with the roofs of low edge-of-town buildings flashing past on the left and the right.

  "Be ready to take the spur that runs behind the library," Reacher said.

  It was going to be a right exit. It was announced well in advance with a sign. The broken line separating the right lane from the center lane became a solid line. Then the solid line became a narrow wedge. The through traffic was forced away to the left. The exit lane angled slightly right. They stayed in it. The wedge grew wider and was filled in with bold cross-hatched lines. Up ahead were yellow drums. They passed them by, onto the spur that would lead behind the library. Reacher twisted in his seat and checked the rear window. Nobody behind them.

  "Go slow," he said.

  Two hundred yards ahead the spur started to curve, behind the library, behind the black glass tower. The roadbed was wide enough for two lanes. But the radius was too tight to make it safe for two lanes to run side by side at high speed into the corner. Traffic engineers had thought better of it. They had advised a gentler trajectory. They had marked out a single lane through the curve. It was a little wider than a normal lane, to allow for misjudgments. It started way on the left and then swung sharply to the right and cut across the apex of the curve at a more shallow angle.

  "Go real slow now," Reacher said.

  The car slowed. Way up ahead of them on the left was a crescent-moon shape of white cross-hatching. Beginning right next to them on the right was a long thin triangle of white cross-hatching. Just lines of paint on the blacktop, but they shepherded people along and kept them safe.

  "Pull over," Reacher said. "Here, on the right. "

  "Can't stop here," Helen said.

  "Like you had a flat. Just pull over. Right here. "

  She braked hard and turned the wheel and steered onto the cross-hatched no-man's-land on their right. They felt the thick painted lines thumping under the tires. A juddery little rhythm. It slowed as she slowed.

  She stopped.

  "Back up a little," Reacher said.

  She backed up, like she was parallel parking against the concrete parapet.

  "Now forward a yard," Reacher said.

  She drove forward a yard.

  "OK," he said.

  He wound his window down. The traffic lane on their left was clear and smooth, but the cross-hatched no-man's-land they were stopped on was covered with grit and trash and debris blown across it by years of passing vehicles. There were cans and bottles and detached mud flaps and tiny cubes of broken headlight glass and plastic splinters from old fender benders. Far away to the left the through traffic rumbled north on a separate bridge. There was a constant stream over there. But they sat for a whole minute before anyone else came the way they had taken. A lone pickup passed close on their left and rocked them with its slipstream. Then the spur went quiet again.

  "Not busy," Reacher said.

  "It never is," Helen said. "This doesn't really go anywhere people need to get. It was a total waste of money. But I guess they've always got to be building something. "

  "Look down," Reacher said.

  The highway was raised up on tall stilts. The roadbed was maybe forty feet above ground level. The parapet wall was three feet high. Beyond it, ahead and to their right, was the upper story of the library building. It had an intricate cornice, carved from limestone, and a slate roof. It felt close enough to touch.

  "What?" Helen asked.

  Reacher pointed with his thumb and then leaned way back so she could see across him. Directly to their right was an unobstructed view down into the plaza, with a perfectly straight line of sight along the narrow bottleneck between the end of the ornamental pool and the plaza wall. And beyond it, dead ahead, perfectly aligned, was the door of the DMV office.

  "James Barr was a sniper," Reacher said. "Not the best, not the worst, but he was one of ours and he trained for more than five years. And training has a purpose. It takes people who aren't necessarily very smart and it makes them seem smart by beating some basic tactical awareness into them. Until it becomes instinctive. "

  "I don't understand. "

  "This is where a trained sniper would have fired from. Up here on the highway. Because from here he's got his targets walking directly toward him in a straight line. Single file, into a bottleneck. He sets up with one aiming point and never has to vary it. His targets just walk into it, one after the other. Shooting from the side is much harder. The targets are passing right to left in front of him, relatively quickly, he's got to figure in deflection compensation, he's got to move the rifle after each shot. "

  "But he didn't fire from here. "

  "That's my point. He should have, but he didn't. "


  "He had a minivan. He should have parked it right where we are now. On this exact spot. He should have climbed through into the back seat and opened the sliding door. He should have fired from inside the minivan, Helen. It had tinted windows. The few cars that passed him wouldn't have seen a thing. He should have fired his six shots, with the much easier aim, and the six cartridge cases would have ejected inside the van, and then he should have shut the door and climbed back into the driver's seat and driven away. It would have been a much better firing position and he would have left nothing at all behind. No physical evidence of any kind, because nothing would have touched anything except his tires would have touched the road. "

  "It's farther away. It's a longer distance to shoot. "

  "It's about seventy yards. Barr was reliable at five times that distance. Any military sniper is. With an M1A Super Match, seventy yard
s is the same thing as point-blank range. "

  "Someone would have gotten his plate number. There's always some traffic. They would have remembered him being here, afterward. "

  "His plates were covered with mud. Probably on purpose. It would have been a great getaway. In five minutes he would have been five miles away. Much better than threading through the traffic on the surface streets. "

  Helen Rodin said nothing.

  "And he was expecting it to be sunny," Reacher said. "You told me it usually is. Five o'clock in the afternoon, the sun would have been in the west, behind him. He would have been firing out of the sun. That's an absolutely basic preference for a sniper. "

  "Sometimes it rains. "

  "That would have been OK, too. It would have washed his tire tracks out of this grit. Either way around, he should have been up here in his van. Every reason in the world says he should have been up here in his van. "

  "But he wasn't. "

  "Evidently. "

  "Why not?"

  "We should get back to your office. That's where you need to be now. You've got a lot of strategizing to do. "

  Helen Rodin sat down at her desk. Reacher walked to her window and looked out into the plaza. Looked for the damaged man in the boxy suit. Didn't see him.

  "What strategizing?" Helen asked. "Barr made a choice about where to shoot from, that's all, and it wasn't a great choice, according to you, according to some fourteen-year-old military theory that he probably forgot all about the day he quit the service. "

  "They don't forget," Reacher said.

  "I'm not convinced. "

  "That's why he walked out on Chapman. Chapman wasn't going to be convinced, either. That's why he asked for me. "

  "And you are convinced?"

  "I'm looking at a situation where a trained sniper passed up an excellent location in favor of a much worse one. "

  "He used a parking garage in Kuwait City. You said so yourself. "

  "Because that was a good location. It was directly in line with the apartment building's door. The four guys were walking directly toward him. They went down like dominoes. "

  "This is fourteen years later. He's not as good as he was. That's all. "

  "They don't forget," Reacher said again.

  "Whatever; how does it make him less guilty?"

  "Because if a person chooses a terrible B instead of a great A, there has to be a reason for it. And reasons have implications. "

  "What was his reason?"

  "It had to be a real good one, didn't it? Because he trapped himself inside a building, down at street level, in a congested area, with a much harder shot, in a place whose very nature made it the best crime scene a twenty-year veteran like Emerson has ever seen. "

  "OK, tell me why he would do that. "

  "Because he was literally going out of his way to leave every last piece of evidence he could. "

  She stared at him. "That's crazy. "

  "It was a great crime scene. Everyone was so happy with how great it was, they never stopped to realize it was way too great. Me included. It was like Crime Scene 101, Helen. It was what they must have given Bellantonio on his first day in college. It was too good to be true, therefore it wasn't true. Everything was wrong with it. Like, why would he wear a raincoat? It was warm and it wasn't raining and he was in a car and he was never outside. He wore it so he could scrape unique fibers off it onto the pillar. Why would he wear those stupid shoes? You look at a pair of shoes like that and you just know they track every last piece of crap around. Why did he shoot out of the dark? So that people would see his muzzle flash and pinpoint the location so they could go up there afterward and find all the other clues. Why would he scrape his rifle on the wall? That's a twenty-five-hundred-dollar purchase. Why didn't he take the traffic cone away with him? It would have been easier just to throw it in the back of his van than leave it there. "

  "This is crazy," Helen said.

  "Two clinchers," Reacher said. "Why did he pay to park? That bothered me from the start. I mean, who does that? But he did. And he did it just so he could leave one little extra clue. Nothing else makes any sense. He wanted to leave a quarter in the meter with his prints on it. Just to tie it all in a nice little bow. To connect it with the shell case, which he probably also left there on purpose. "

  "It fell in a trench. "

  "He could have gotten it out. There was plenty of wire lying around, according to Bellantonio's report. It would have taken a second and a half. "

  Helen Rodin paused. "What's the other clincher?"

  "That's easy, once you start looking through the right end of the telescope. He wanted to be looking at the pool from the south, not the west. That was crucial. He wanted to be looking at it lengthwise, not sideways. "


  "Because he didn't miss, Helen. He fired into the pool deliberately. He wanted to put a bullet in the water, down the long diagonal axis, from a low angle, just like a ballistics tank, just so it could be found later, undamaged. Just so it could tie his barrel to the crime. Sideways wouldn't have worked for him. Not enough travel distance through the water. The bullet would have hit the wall too hard. It would have gotten damaged. "

  "But why the hell would he do all that?"

  Reacher didn't answer.

  "Remorse? For fourteen years ago? So he could be found and punished?"

  Reacher shook his head. "He would have confessed as soon as they found him. A remorseful person would have been wanting to confess. "

  "So why did he do all that?"

  "Because he was made to, Helen. Simple as that. "

  She stared at him.

  "Someone forced him to do it," Reacher said. "He was forced to do it and he was forced to take the blame for it. He was told to go home afterward and wait for the arrest. That's why he took the sleeping pill. He was probably going crazy, sitting there waiting for the shoe to fall. "

  Helen Rodin said nothing.

  "He was coerced," Reacher said. "Believe it. It's the only logical explanation. He wasn't a lone nutcase. That's why he said, They've got the wrong guy. It was a message. He was hoping someone would pick up on it. He meant they should be looking for the other guy. The guy who made him do it. The guy he feels is more responsible. "

  Helen Rodin said nothing.

  "The puppet master," Reacher said.

  Reacher checked the plaza again, from the window. The ornamental pool was about two-thirds full. The fountain was splashing merrily. The sun was out. There were no loiterers visible.

  Helen Rodin got up from her desk. Just stood there behind it.

  "I should be turning cartwheels," she said.

  "He still killed five people. "

  "But if the coercion was substantial, it's going to help him. "

  Reacher said nothing.

  "What do you think it was? A double-dare? Some kind of thrill-seeking?"

  "Maybe," Reacher said. "But I doubt it. On the face of it, James Barr is twenty years too old for double-dares. That's a kid thing. And they'd have done it from the highway anyway. They would have wanted to survive to do it again. "

  "So what was it?"

  "Something else entirely. Something real. "

  "Should we take it to Emerson?"

  "No," Reacher said.

  "I think we should. "

  "There are reasons not to. "


  "For one, Emerson's got the best done deal he ever saw. He's not going to pick at the seams now. No cop would. "

  "So what should we do?"

  "We should ask ourselves three basic questions," Reacher said. "Like who, and how, and why. It was a transaction. We need to figure out who benefits. Because James Barr certainly didn't. "

  "The who was whoever set those guys on you last night. Because he liked the way the transaction was going and he didn't want the boat rocked by some new guy showing up. "

rrect," Reacher said.

  "So I need to look for that person. "

  "You might not want to do that. "

  "Why wouldn't I?"

  "It might get your client killed," Reacher said.

  "He's in the hospital, guarded night and day. "

  "Your client isn't James Barr. It's Rosemary Barr. You need to think about what kind of a threat can have made James Barr do what he did. He was looking at life without parole at best. Getting strapped to the gurney at worst. He knew that well in advance. He must have. So why would he go along? Why would he walk meekly into all that? It had to have been one hell of an effective threat, Helen. And what's the only thing Barr's got to lose? No wife, no kids, no family at all. Except a sister. "

  Helen Rodin said nothing.

  "He was told to keep quiet, to the end. Obviously. That's why he asked for me. It was like a coded communication. Because the puppet can't talk about the puppet master, not now, not ever, because the threat is still out there. I think he might be trading his life for his sister's. Which gives you a big problem. If the puppet master sees you poking around, he'll think the puppet talked. That's why you can't go to Emerson. "

  "But the puppet didn't talk. You figured it out. "

  "We could put an announcement in the paper. Think anyone would believe it?"

  "So what should I do?"

  "Nothing," Reacher said. "There's nothing you can do. Because the more you try to help James Barr, the more likely you are to get Rosemary Barr killed for it. "

  Helen Rodin was quiet for a long moment.

  "Can we protect her?" she asked.

  "No," Reacher said. "We can't. There's only two of us. We'd need four guys minimum, and a safe house. That would cost a lot of money. "

  Helen Rodin came out from behind her desk. Walked around and stood next to Reacher and gazed out of the window. She put her hands on the sill, lightly, like a pianist's on a keyboard. Then she turned around and leaned against the glass. She was fragrant. Some clean scent a little like soap.

  "You could look for him," she said.

  "Could I?" he answered, nothing in his voice.

  She nodded. "He made a mistake. He gave you a reason that's not connected to James Barr. Not directly. He set those boys on you. Therefore you've got a legitimate interest in finding their employer. An independent interest. You could go after him and he wouldn't necessarily conclude that James Barr had talked. "

  "I'm not here to help the defense. "

  "Then look at it as helping the prosecution. If two people were involved, then two people deserve to go down. Why let the patsy take the fall on his own?"

  Reacher said nothing.

  "Just look at it as helping me," Helen said.

  Grigor Linsky dialed his cell phone.

  "They're back in her office," he said. "I can see both of them in the window. "

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