The Affair by Lee Child

Chapter Nineteen


  Elizabeth Deveraux was waiting exactly where she had left me, right next to her car, six feet from the tree line. I stepped out of the woods right in front of her and she jumped a little, but then she gathered herself pretty quickly. I guessed she didn't want to insult me by being surprised I had made it. Or she didn't want to show she had been anxious. Or both. I kissed her on the lips and handed back the Winchester and she asked, "What happened?"

  I said, "They're some kind of a citizens' council from Tennessee. Some kind of a half-assed amateur backwoods militia. They're leaving now. "

  "I heard a handgun. "

  "One of them was so overcome with regret he committed suicide. "

  "Did he have things to regret?"

  "More than most. "

  "Who brought them here?"

  I said, "That's the big question, isn't it?"

  I returned her spare shotgun ammunition from my pockets. She made me put it in the trunk myself. Then we drove back to town. My new Beretta dug into my thigh and my stomach all the way. We passed through the black half of Carter Crossing, and then we thumped over the railroad track, and then we pulled into the Sheriff's Department's lot. Home base for Deveraux. Safety. She said, "Go get a cup of coffee. I'll be back soon. "

  "Where are you going?"

  "I have to give Mrs. Lindsay the news about her son. "

  "That won't be easy. "

  "No, it won't. "

  "Want me to come with you?"

  "No," she said. "That wouldn't be appropriate. "

  I watched her drive away, and then I headed to the diner for coffee. And for the phone. I kept my mug close at hand on the hostess station and dialed Stan Lowrey's office. He picked up himself. I said, "You're still there. You've still got a job. I don't believe it. "

  He said, "That stuff is getting old, Reacher. "

  "You'll look back on it like the dying embers of a happy time. "

  "What do you want?"

  "From life in general? That's a big question. "

  "From me. "

  "I want many things from you," I said. "Specifically I want you to check some names for me. In every database you can find. Mostly civilian, if you can, including government stuff. Call the D. C. police and try to get them to help. The FBI too, if there's anyone over there still speaking to you. "

  "On the up and up or on the quiet?"

  "On the very quiet. "

  "What names?"

  "Janice May Chapman," I said.

  "That's the dead woman, right?"

  "One of several. "


  "Audrey Shaw," I said.

  "Who is she?"

  "I don't know. That's why I want you to check her out. "

  "In connection with what?"

  "She's a loose end connected to another loose end. "

  "Audrey Shaw," he said, slowly, as if he was writing it down.

  Then he said, "What else?"

  I asked, "How far away is Garber's office from yours?"

  "It's on the other side of the stairwell. "

  "I need him on the line. So go get him and drag him over by the scruff of his raggedy old neck. "

  "Why not just call him direct?"

  "Because I want him on your line, not his. "

  No answer, except a plastic thump as he laid down the phone on his desk, and a grunt as he stood up, and a hiss as his chair cushion recovered its shape. Then silence, which was expensive, because I was on a pay phone. I fed it another quarter and waited. Whole minutes passed. I started to think Garber was sitting tight. Refusing to come. But then I heard the phone lift up off the desk and the familiar voice asked, "What the hell do you want now?"

  "I want to talk to you," I said.

  "So call me. We have switchboards now. And extensions. "

  "They're listening to your line. I think that's pretty obvious, isn't it? You're a pawn here, the same as me. Therefore someone else's line is safer. "

  Garber was quiet for a beat.

  "Possible," he said. "What have you got for me?"

  "The boots on the ground outside of Kelham were an unofficial force. A local citizens' militia. Evidently part of some weirdo network of true patriots. Apparently they were here to defend the army from unjustified harassment. "

  "Well, Mississippi," he said. "What do you expect?"

  "They were from Tennessee, actually," I said. "And you're missing the point. They didn't just happen to be here. They weren't just passing by on a whim. They weren't here for a vacation. They were deployed here. They have a contact somewhere, who knew exactly when, and exactly where, and exactly how, and exactly why they would be needed. Who would have that kind of information?"

  "Someone who had all the facts from the get-go. "

  "And where would we find such a person?"

  "Somewhere high up. "

  "I agree," I said. "Any idea who?"

  "None at all. "

  "You sure? You need to put me in the loop here if you can. "

  "I'm sure. You're already in the loop as much as I am. "

  "OK, go back to your office. Five minutes from now I'm going to call you. You can ignore what I say, because it won't mean much. But stay on the line long enough to let the tape recorders roll. "

  "Wait," Garber said. "There's something I have to tell you. "

  "Like what?"

  "News from the Marine Corps. "

  "What kind of news?"

  "There's some kind of issue with Elizabeth Deveraux. "

  "What kind of issue?"

  "I don't know yet. They're playing hard to get. They're making a real big deal about access. The file she's in is apparently some super-toxic thing. Highest category, biggest deal in the world, and similar bullshit. But word is there was some big scandal about five years ago. The story is Deveraux got some other Marine MP fired for no good reason. Rumors say it was personal jealousy. "

  "Five years ago is three years before she quit. Was she honorably discharged?"

  "Yes, she was. "

  "Voluntary separation or involuntary?"

  "Voluntary. "

  "Then there's nothing there," I said. "Don't worry about it. "

  "You're thinking with the wrong part of your body, Reacher. "

  "Five minutes," I said. "Be back at your desk. "

  The waitress freshened my cup and I drank most of the new brew while I counted three hundred seconds in my head. Then I stepped back to the phone and dialed Garber direct. He answered and I said, "Sir, this is Major Reacher reporting from Mississippi. Can you hear me?"

  Garber said, "Loud and clear. "

  I said, "I have the name of the individual who ordered the Tennessee Free Citizens to Kelham. That order became part of a criminal conspiracy in that it resulted in two homicides and two felony assaults. I have an appointment I need to keep at the Pentagon the day after tomorrow, and then I'll return to base immediately afterward and I'll get JAG Corps involved at that point in time. "

  Garber was on the ball. He caught on fast and played his part well. He asked, "Who was the individual?"

  I said, "I'll keep that strictly to myself for the next forty-eight hours, if you don't mind. "

  Garber said, "Understood. "

  I dabbed the cradle to end the call, and then I dialed a new number. Colonel John James Frazer's billet, deep inside the Pentagon. The Senate Liaison guy. I got his scheduler and made a twelve o'clock appointment with him, in his office, for the day after next. I didn't say why, because I couldn't. I didn't have a real reason. I just needed to be somewhere in the giant building. As bait in a trap.

  Then I sat at a table and waited for Deveraux. I knew a woman who ate like she did wouldn't be long.


  Deveraux came in thirty minutes later, looking pale and drawn. Death messages are never pleasant. Especially when lightning strikes twice, against a mother who is already angry
. But it's all part of the job. Bereaved relatives are always angry. Why wouldn't they be?

  Deveraux sat down and blew a long sad breath at me.

  "Bad?" I asked.

  She nodded.

  "Terrible," she said. "She's not going to vote for me ever again, that's for sure. I think if I had a house, she'd burn it down. If I had a dog, she'd poison it. "

  "Can't blame her," I said. "Two for two. "

  "It will be three for three soon. That woman is going to take a midnight stroll on the railroad tracks. I guarantee it. Within a week, probably. "

  "Has that happened before?"

  "Not often. But the train is always there, once a night. Like a reminder that there's a way out if you need one. "

  I said nothing. I wanted to remember the midnight train in a happier context.

  She said, "I want to ask you a question, but I'm not going to. "

  "What question?"

  "Who put those idiots in the woods?"

  "Why aren't you going to ask it?"

  "Because I'm assuming there's a whole bunch of things here, all interconnected. Some big crisis on the base. A part answer wouldn't make sense. You'd have to tell me everything. And I don't want to ask you to do that. "

  "I couldn't tell you everything even if I wanted to. I don't know everything. If I knew everything I wouldn't be here anymore. The job would be done. I'd be back on post doing the next thing. "

  "Are you looking forward to that?"

  "Are you fishing?"

  "No, I'm just asking. I've been there myself, don't forget. Sooner or later we all hit the moment when the light goes out. I'm wondering if it's happened to you yet. Or if it's still to come. "

  I said, "No, I don't really want to get back on post. But that's mostly because of the sex, not the work. "

  She smiled. "So who put those idiots in the woods?"

  "I don't know," I said. "Could have been a number of people. Kelham is a pie the same as any other pie, and there are lots of folks with their fingers in it. Lots of interests, lots of angles. Some of them are professional, and some of them are personal. Maybe five or six of them pass the crazy test. Which means there are five or six different chains of command terminating in five or six very senior officers somewhere. Any one of them could feel threatened in some way bad enough to pull a stunt like this. And any one of them would be quite capable of doing it. You don't get to be a very senior officer in this man's army by being a sweet guy. "

  "Who are the five or six?"

  "I wouldn't have the faintest idea. That's not my world. From where they are, I'm just a grunt. I'm indistinguishable from a private first class. "

  "But you're going to nail him. "

  "Of course I'm going to nail him. "


  "Day after tomorrow, I hope. I have to go to D. C. Just for a night, maybe. "


  "I got on a line I knew to be tapped and said I knew a name. So now I have to go hang out up there and walk the walk and see what comes out of the woodwork. "

  "You made yourself the bait in a trap?"

  "It's like a theory of relativity. Same difference if I go to them or they come to me. "

  "Especially when you don't even know who they are, let alone which one of them is guilty. "

  I said nothing.

  She said, "I agree. It's time to shake something loose. If you want to know if the stove is hot, sometimes the only way to find out is to touch it. "

  "You must have been a pretty good cop. "

  "I still am a pretty good cop. "

  "So when did your light go out? With the Marines, I mean. When did you stop enjoying it?"

  "About where you are now," she said. "For years you've laughed off the small things, but they come so thick and fast that eventually you realize an avalanche is made up of small things. Snowflakes, right? Things don't get much smaller than that. Suddenly you realize that small things are big things. "

  "No single specific thing?"

  "No, I got through fine. I never had any trouble. "

  "What, all sixteen years?"

  "I had some minor speed bumps here and there. I dated the wrong guy once or twice. But nothing worth talking about. I made it to CWO5, after all, which is as high as it goes for some of us. "

  "You did well. "

  "Not bad for a country girl from Carter Crossing. "

  "Not bad at all. "

  She asked, "When are you leaving?"

  "Tomorrow morning, I guess. It will take me all day to get there. "

  "I'll have Pellegrino drive you to Memphis. "

  "No need," I said.

  "Agree for my sake," she said. "I like to get Pellegrino out of the county as often as possible. Let him wreck his car and kill a pedestrian in some other jurisdiction. "

  "Has he done that here?"

  "We don't have pedestrians here. This is a very quiet town. Quieter than ever right now. "

  "Because of Kelham?"

  "This place is dying, Reacher. We need that base open, and fast. "

  "Maybe I'll make some headway in D. C. "

  "I hope you do," she said. "We should have lunch now. "

  "That's why I came in. "

  Deveraux's lunch staple was chicken pie. We ordered a matched pair and were halfway through eating them when the old couple from the hotel came in. The woman had a book, and the man had a newspaper. A routine pit stop, like dinner. Then the old guy saw me and detoured to our table. He told me my wife's brother had just called. Something very urgent. I looked blank for a second. The old guy must have thought my wife came from a very large family. "Your brother-in-law Stanley," he said.

  "OK," I said. "Thanks. "

  The old guy shuffled off and I said, "Major Stan Lowrey. A friend of mine. He and I have been TDY at the same place for a couple of weeks. "

  Deveraux smiled. "I think the verdict is in. Marines were better comedians. "

  I started eating again, but she said, "You should call him back if it's very urgent, don't you think?"

  I put my fork down.

  "Probably," I said. "But don't eat my pie. "

  I went back to the phone for the third time and dialed. Lowrey answered on the first ring and asked, "Are you sitting down?"

  I said, "No, I'm standing up. I'm on a pay phone in a diner. "

  "Well, hold on tight. I have a story for you. About a girl called Audrey. "

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