The Affair by Lee Child

Chapter Two



  Garber said the problem down in Mississippi concerned a twenty-seven-year-old woman named Janice May Chapman. She was a problem because she was dead. She had been unlawfully killed a block behind the main street of a town called Carter Crossing.

  "Was she one of ours?" I asked.

  "No," Garber said. "She was a civilian. "

  "So how is she a problem?"

  "I'll get to that," Garber said. "But first you need the story. It's the back of beyond down there. Northeastern corner of the state, over near the Alabama line, and Tennessee. There's a north - south railroad track, and a little backwoods dirt road that crosses it east - west near a place that has a spring. The locomotives would stop there to take on water, and the passengers would get out to eat, so the town grew up. But since the end of World War Two there's only been about two trains a day, both freight, no passengers, so the town was on its way back down again. "


  "Federal spending. You know how it was. Washington couldn't let large parts of the South turn into the Third World, so we threw some money down there. A lot of money, actually. You ever notice how the folks who talk loudest about small government always seem to live in the states with the biggest subsidies? Small government would kill them dead. "

  I asked, "What did Carter Crossing get?"

  Garber said, "Carter Crossing got an army base called Fort Kelham. "

  "OK," I said. "I've heard of Kelham. Never knew where it was, exactly. "

  "It used to be huge," Garber said. "Ground was broken in about 1950, I think. It could have ended up as big as Fort Hood, but ultimately it was too far east of I-55 and too far west of I-65 to be useful. You have to drive a long way on small roads just to get there. Or maybe Texas politicians have louder voices than Mississippi politicians. Either way, Hood got the attention and Kelham withered on the vine. It struggled on until the end of Vietnam, and then they turned it into a Ranger school. Which it still is. "

  "I thought Ranger training was at Benning. "

  "The 75th sends their best guys to Kelham for a time. It's not far. Something to do with the terrain. "

  "The 75th is a special ops regiment. "

  "So they tell me. "

  "Are there enough special ops Rangers in training to keep a whole town going?"

  "Almost," Garber said. "It's not a very big town. "

  "So what are we saying? An Army Ranger killed Janice May Chapman?"

  "I doubt it," Garber said. "It was probably some local hillbilly thing. "

  "Do they have hillbillies in Mississippi? Do they even have hills?"

  "Backwoodsmen, then. They have a lot of trees. "

  "Whichever, why are we even talking about it?"

  At that point Garber got up and came out from behind his desk and crossed the room and closed the door. He was older than me, naturally, and much shorter, but about as wide. And he was worried. It was rare for him to close his door, and rarer still for him to go more than five minutes without a tortured little homily or aphorism or slogan, designed to sum up a point he was trying to make in an easily remembered form. He stepped back and sat down again with a hiss of air from his cushion, and he asked, "Have you ever heard of a place called Kosovo?"

  "Balkans," I said. "Like Serbia and Croatia. "

  "There's going to be a war there. Apparently we're going to try to stop it. Apparently we'll probably fail, and we'll end up just bombing the shit out of one side or the other instead. "

  "OK," I said. "Always good to have a plan B. "

  "The Serbo-Croat thing was a disaster. Like Rwanda. A total embarrassment. This is the twentieth century, for God's sake. "

  "Seemed to me to fit right in with the twentieth century. "

  "It's supposed to be different now. "

  "Wait for the twenty-first. That's my advice. "

  "We're not going to wait for anything. We're going to try to do Kosovo right. "

  "Well, good luck with that. Don't come to me for help. I'm just a policeman. "

  "We've already got people over there. You know, intermittently, in and out. "

  I asked, "Who?"

  Garber said, "Peacekeepers. "

  "What, the United Nations?"

  "Not exactly. Our guys only. "

  "I didn't know that. "

  "You didn't know because nobody is supposed to know. "

  "How long has this been happening?"

  "Twelve months. "

  I said, "We've been deploying ground troops to the Balkans in secret for a whole year?"

  "It's not such a big deal," Garber said. "It's about reconnaissance, partly. In case something has to happen later. But mostly it's about calming things down. There are a lot of factions over there. If anyone asks, we always say it was the other guy who invited us. That way everyone thinks everyone else has got our backing. It's a deterrent. "

  I asked, "Who did we send?"

  Garber said, "Army Rangers. "

  * * *

  Garber told me that Fort Kelham was still operating as a legitimate Ranger training school, but in addition was being used to house two full companies of grown-up Rangers, both hand picked from the 75th Ranger Regiment, designated Alpha Company and Bravo Company, who deployed covertly to Kosovo on a rotating basis, a month at a time. Kelham's relative isolation made it a perfect clandestine location. Not, Garber said, that we should really feel the need to hide anything. Very few personnel were involved, and it was a humanitarian mission driven by the purest of motives. But Washington was Washington, and some things were better left unsaid.

  I asked, "Does Carter Crossing have a police department?"

  Garber said, "Yes, it does. "

  "So let me guess. They're getting nowhere with their homicide investigation, so they want to go fishing. They want to list some Kelham personnel in their suspect pool. "

  Garber said, "Yes, they do. "

  "Including members of Alpha Company and Bravo Company. "

  Garber said, "Yes. "

  "They want to ask them all kinds of questions. "

  "Yes. "

  "But we can't afford to let them ask anyone any questions, because we have to hide all the covert comings and goings. "

  "Correct. "

  "Do they have probable cause?"

  I hoped Garber was going to say no, but instead he said, "Slightly circumstantial. "

  I said, "Slightly?"

  He said, "The timing is unfortunate. Janice May Chapman was killed three days after Bravo Company got back from Kosovo, after their latest trip. They fly in direct from overseas. Kelham has an airstrip. I told you, it's a big place. They land under cover of darkness, for secrecy's sake. Then a returning company spends the first two days locked down and debriefing. "

  "And then?"

  "And then on the third day a returning company gets a week's leave. "

  "And they all go out on the town. "

  "Generally. "

  "Including Main Street and the blocks behind. "

  "That's where the bars are. "

  "And the bars are where they meet the local women. "

  "As always. "

  "And Janice May Chapman was a local woman. "

  "And known to be friendly. "

  I said, "Terrific. "

  Garber said, "She was raped and mutilated. "

  "Mutilated how?"

  "I didn't ask. I didn't want to know. She was twenty-seven years old. Jodie is twenty-seven years old, too. "

  His only daughter. His only child. Much loved.

  I asked, "How is she?"

  "She's fine. "

  "Where is she now?"

  "She's a lawyer," he said, like it was a location, not an occupation. Then in turn he asked, "How's your brother?"

  I said, "He's OK, as far as I know. "

  "Still at Treasury?"

  "As far as I know. "

; "He was a good man," Garber said, like leaving the army was the same thing as dying.

  I said nothing.

  Garber asked, "So what would you do, down there in Mississippi?"

  This was 1997, remember. I said, "We can't shut out the local PD. Not under those circumstances. But we can't assume any level of expertise or resources on their part, either. So we should offer some help. We should send someone down there. We can do all the work on the base. If some Kelham guy did it, we'll serve him up on a platter. That way justice is done, but we can hide what we need to hide. "

  "Not that simple," Garber said. "It gets worse. "


  "Bravo Company's commander is a guy called Reed Riley. You know him?"

  "The name rings a bell. "

  "And so it should. His father is Carlton Riley. "

  I said, "Shit. "

  Garber nodded. "The senator. The chairman of the Armed Services Committee. About to be either our best friend or our worst enemy, depending on which way the wind is going to blow. And you know how it is with guys like that. Having an infantry captain for a son is worth a million votes to him. Having a hero for a son is worth twice that. I don't want to think about what happens if one of young Reed's guys turns out to be a killer. "

  I said, "We need someone at Kelham right now. "

  Garber said, "That's why you and I are having this meeting. "

  "When do you want me there?"

  "I don't want you there," Garber said.


  Garber told me his top pick for the Kelham job wasn't me. It was a newly minted MP major named Duncan Munro. Military family, Silver Star, Purple Heart, and so on and so forth. He had recently completed some good work in Korea, and was currently doing some great work in Germany. He was five years younger than me, and from what I was hearing he was exactly what I had been five years in the past. I had never met him.

  Garber said, "He's in the air right now. Heading straight down there. ETA late morning tomorrow. "

  "Your call," I said. "I guess. "

  "It's a delicate situation," he said.

  "Evidently," I said. "Too delicate for me, anyway. "

  "Don't get your panties in a wad. I need you for something else. Something I hope you'll see as just as important. "

  "Like what?"

  "Undercover work," he said. "That's why I'm happy about your hair. Ragged and unkempt. There are two things we do very badly when we're undercover. Hair, and shoes. Shoes, you can buy at Goodwill. You can't buy messy hair at a moment's notice. "

  "Undercover where?"

  "Carter Crossing, of course. Down in Mississippi. Off post. You're going to blow into town like some kind of aimless ex-military bum. You know the type. You're going to be the kind of guy who feels right at home there, because it's the kind of environment he's familiar with. So you're going to stay put a spell. You're going to develop a relationship with local law enforcement, and you're going to use that relationship in a clandestine fashion to make sure that both they and Munro are doing this thing absolutely right. "

  "You want me to impersonate a civilian?"

  "It's not that hard. We're all members of the same species, more or less. You'll figure it out. "

  "Will I be actively investigating?"

  "No. You'll be there to observe and report only. Like a training assessment. You've done it before. My eyes and ears. This thing has got to be done absolutely right. "

  "OK," I said.

  "Any other questions?"

  "When do I leave?"

  "Tomorrow morning, first light. "

  "And what's your definition of doing this thing absolutely right?"

  Garber paused and shuffled in his chair and didn't answer that question.

  I went back to my quarters and took a shower, but I didn't shave. Going undercover is like method acting, and Garber was right. I knew the type. Any soldier does. Towns near bases are full of guys who washed out for some reason or other and never got further than a mile. Some stay, and some are forced to move on, and the ones who move on end up in some other town near some other base. The same, but different. It's what they know. It's what they're comfortable with. They retain some kind of ingrained, deep-down military discipline, like old habits, like stray strands of DNA, but they abandon regular grooming. Chapter one, section eight, paragraph two no longer rules their lives. So I didn't shave, and I didn't comb my hair either. I just let it dry.

  Then I laid stuff out on my bed. I didn't need to go to the Goodwill for shoes. I had a pair that would do. About twelve years previously I had been in the U. K. and I had bought a pair of brown brogues at an old-fashioned gentleman's store in a village miles from anywhere. They were big, heavy, substantial things. They were well cared for, but a little worn and creased. Down at heel, literally.

  I put them on my bed, and they sat there alone. I had no other personal clothing. None at all. Not even socks. I found an old army T-shirt in a drawer, olive drab, cotton, originally of a hefty grade, now washed pale and as thin as silk. I figured it was the kind of thing a guy might keep around. I put it next to the shoes. Then I hiked over to the PX and poked around the aisles I usually don't frequent. I found a pair of mud-colored canvas pants and a long-sleeved shirt that was basically maroon, but it had been prewashed so that the seams had faded to a kind of pink. I wasn't thrilled with it, but it was the only choice in my size. It was reduced in price, which made sense to me, and it looked basically civilian. I had seen people wearing worse things. And it was versatile. I wasn't sure what the temperatures were going to be, in March in the northeastern corner of Mississippi. If it was warm, I could roll the sleeves up. If it was cold, I could roll them down.

  I chose white underwear and khaki socks and then stopped in the toiletries section and found a kind of half-sized travel toothbrush. I liked it. The business end was nested in a clear plastic case, and it pulled out and reversed and clipped back in, to make it full-length and ready to use. It was obviously designed for a pocket. It would be easy to carry and the bristle part would stay clean. A very neat idea.

  I sent the clothing straight to the laundry, to age it a little. Nothing ages stuff like on-base laundries. Then I walked off post to a hamburger place for a late lunch. I found an old friend in there, an MP colleague, a guy called Stan Lowrey. We had worked together many times. He was sitting at a table in front of a tray holding the wreckage of a half-pounder and fries. I got my meal and slid in opposite him. He said, "I hear you're on your way to Mississippi. "

  I asked, "Where did you hear that?"

  "My sergeant got it from a sergeant in Garber's office. "


  "About two hours ago. "

  "Terrific," I said. "I didn't even know two hours ago. So much for secrecy. "

  "My sergeant says you're going as second fiddle. "

  "Your sergeant is right. "

  "My sergeant says the lead investigator is some kid. " I nodded. "I'm babysitting. "

  "That sucks, Reacher. That blows big time. "

  "Only if the kid does it right. "

  "Which he might. "

  I took a bite of my burger, and a sip of my coffee. I said, "Actually I don't know if anyone could do it right. There are sensitivities involved. There may be no right way of doing it at all. It could be that Garber is protecting me and sacrificing the kid. "

  Lowrey said, "Dream on, my friend. You're an old horse and Garber is pinch hitting for you in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded. A new star is about to be born. You're history. "

  "You too, then," I said. "If I'm an old horse, you're already waiting at the glue factory gate. "

  "Exactly," Lowrey said. "That's what I'm worried about. I'm going to start looking at the want ads tonight. "

  Nothing much happened during the rest of the afternoon. My laundry came back, a little bleached and battered by the giant machines. It was steam-pressed, but a day's traveling would
correct that. I left it on the floor, piled neatly on my shoes. Then my phone rang, and a switchboard operator patched me in to a call from the Pentagon, and I found myself talking to a colonel named John James Frazer. He said he was currently with Senate Liaison, but he preceded that embarrassing announcement with his whole prior combat bio, so I wouldn't write him off as a jerk. Then he said, "I need to know immediately if there's the slightest shred or scintilla of a hint or a rumor about anyone in Bravo Company. Immediately, OK? Night or day. "

  I said, "And I need to know how the local PD even knows Bravo Company is based at Kelham. I thought it's supposed to be a secret. "

  "They fly in and out on C-5 transports. Noisy airplanes. "

  "In the dead of night. So they could be supply runs, for all anyone knows. Beans and bullets. "

  "There was a weather problem a month ago. Storms over the Atlantic. They were late. They landed after dawn. They were observed. And it's a base town anyway. You know how it is. The locals pick up on the patterns. Faces they know, there one month, gone the next. People aren't dumb. "

  "There already are hints and rumors," I said. "The timing is suggestive. Like you said, people aren't dumb. "

  "The timing could be entirely coincidental. "

  "Could be," I said. "Let's hope it is. "

  Frazer said, "I need to know immediately if there's anything Captain Riley could have, or should have, or might have, or ought to have known. Anything at all, OK? No delay. "

  "Is that an order?"

  "It's a request from a senior officer. Is there a difference?"

  "Are you in my chain of command?"

  "Consider that I am. "

  "OK," I said.

  "Anything at all," he said again. "To me, immediately and personally. My ears only. Night or day. "

  "OK," I said again.

  "There's a lot riding on this. Do you understand? The stakes are very high. "

  "OK," I said, for the third time.

  Then Frazer said, "But I don't want you to do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable. "

  I went to bed early, my hair matted, my unshaven face scratchy on the pillow, and the clock in my head woke me at five, two hours before dawn, on Friday, March 7th, 1997. The first day of the rest of my life.

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