Home > Persuader (Jack Reacher #7)(7)

Persuader (Jack Reacher #7)(7)
Author: Lee Child

"I don't own a car," I said.

We were all still standing in a neat little triangle just inside the door. Eliot still had the briefcase in his hand. I was trying to figure out who was the boss. Maybe neither one of them. Maybe they were equals. And fairly senior. They were well dressed but looked tired. Maybe they had worked most of the night and flown in from somewhere. From Washington D.C., maybe.

"Can we sit down?" Duffy asked.

"Sure," I said. But a cheap hotel room made that awkward. There was only one chair. It was shoved under a small desk crammed between a wall and the cabinet that held the television set. Duffy pulled it out and turned it around so it faced the bed. I sat on the bed, up near the pillows. Eliot perched on the foot of the bed and laid his briefcase down on it. He was still giving me the friendly smile and I couldn't find anything phony about it. Duffy looked great on the chair. The seat height was exactly right for her. Her skirt was short and she was wearing dark nylons that went light where her knees bent.

"You're Reacher, right?" Eliot asked.

I took my eyes off Duffy's legs and nodded. I felt I could count on them to know that much.

"This room is registered to somebody called Calhoun," Eliot said. "Paid for with cash, one night only."

"Habit," I said.

"You leaving today?"

"I take it one day at a time."

"Who's Calhoun?"

"John Quincy Adams's vice president," I said. "It seemed appropriate for this location. I used up the presidents long ago. Now I'm doing vice presidents. Calhoun was unusual. He resigned to run for the Senate."

"Did he get in?"

"I don't know."

"Why the phony name?"

"Habit," I said again.

Susan Duffy was looking straight at me. Not like I was nuts. Like she was interested in me. She probably found it to be a valuable interrogation technique. Back when I interrogated people I did the same thing. Ninety percent of asking questions is about listening to answers.

"We spoke to a military cop called Powell," she said. "You asked him to trace a plate."

Her voice was low and warm and a little husky. I said nothing.

"We have traps and flags in the computers against that plate," she said. "Soon as Powell's inquiry hit the wires we knew all about it. We called him and asked him what his interest was. He told us the interest came from you."

"Reluctantly, I hope," I said.

She smiled. "He recovered fast enough to give us a phony phone number for you. So you needn't worry about old unit loyalties."

"But in the end he gave you the right number."

"We threatened him," she said.

"Then MPs have changed since my day," I said.

"It's important to us," Eliot said. "He saw that."

"So now you're important to us," Duffy said.

I looked away. I've been around the block more times than I care to count but the sound of her voice saying that still gave me a little thrill. I began to think maybe she was the boss. And a hell of an interrogator.

"A member of the public calls in a plate," Eliot said. "Why would he do that? Maybe he got in a fender bender with the car the plate was on. Maybe it was a hit-and-run. But wouldn't he go to the cops for that? And you just told us you don't have a car anyway."

"So maybe you saw somebody in the car," Duffy said.

She let the rest of it hang. It was a neat Catch-22. If the person in the car was my friend, then I was probably her enemy. If the person in the car was my enemy, then she was ready to be my friend.

"You guys had breakfast?" I asked.

"Yes," she said.

"So have I," I said.

"We know," she said. "Room service, a short stack of pancakes with an egg on top, over easy. Plus a large pot of coffee, black. It was ordered for seven forty-five and delivered at seven forty-four and you paid cash and tipped the waiter three bucks."

"Did I enjoy it?"

"You ate it."

Eliot snapped the locks on his briefcase and lifted the lid. Pulled out a stack of paper secured with a rubber band. The paper looked new but the writing on it was blurred. Photocopies of faxes, probably made during the night.

"Your service record," he said.

I could see photographs in his briefcase. Glossy black-and-white eight-by-tens. Some kind of a surveillance situation.

"You were a military cop for thirteen years," Eliot said. "Fast-track promotion all the way from second lieutenant to major. Citations and medals. They liked you. You were good. Very good."

"Thank you."

"More than very good, actually. You were their special go-to guy on numerous occasions."

"I guess I was."

"But they let you go."

"I was riffed," I said.

"Riffed?" Duffy repeated.

" RIF, reduction in force. They love to make acronyms out of things. The Cold War ended, military spending got cut, the army got smaller. So they didn't need so many special go-to guys."

"The army still exists," Eliot said. "They didn't chop everybody."

"No."

"So why you in particular?"

"You wouldn't understand."

He didn't challenge me.

"You can help us," Duffy said. "Who did you see in the car?"

I didn't answer.

"Were there drugs in the army?" Eliot asked.

I smiled.

"Armies love drugs," I said. "They always have. Morphine, Benzedrine. The German Army invented Ecstasy. It was an appetite suppressant. CIA invented LSD, tested it on the U.S. Army. Armies march on their veins."

"Recreational?"

"Average age of a recruit is eighteen. What do you think?"

"Was it a problem?"

"We didn't make it much of a problem. Some grunt goes on furlough, smokes a couple of joints in his girlfriend's bedroom, we didn't care. We figured we'd rather see them with a couple of blunts than a couple of six-packs. Outside of our care we liked them docile rather than aggressive."

Duffy glanced at Eliot and Eliot used his fingernails to scrape the photographs up out of his case. He handed them to me. There were four of them. All four were grainy and a little blurred. All four showed the same Cadillac DeVille I had seen the night before. I recognized it by the plate number. It was in some kind of a parking garage. There were two guys standing next to the trunk. In two of the pictures the trunk lid was down. In two of them it was up. The two guys were looking down at something inside the trunk. No way of telling what it was. One of the guys was a Hispanic gangbanger. The other was an older man in a suit. I didn't know him.

Duffy must have been watching my face.

"Not the man you saw?" she said.

"I didn't say I saw anybody."

"The Hispanic guy is a major dealer," Eliot said. "Actually he's the major dealer for most of Los Angeles County. Not provable, of course, but we know all about him. His profits must run to millions of dollars a week. He lives like an emperor. But he came all the way to Portland, Maine, to meet with this other guy."

I touched one of the photographs. "This is Portland, Maine?"

Duffy nodded. "A parking garage, downtown. About nine weeks ago. I took the pictures myself."

"So who's this other guy?"

"We're not exactly sure. We traced the Cadillac's plate, obviously. It's registered to a corporation called Bizarre Bazaar. Main office is in Portland, Maine. Far as we can tell it started out way back as some kind of hippy-dippy import-export trader with the Middle East. Now it specializes in importing Oriental rugs. Far as we can tell the owner is a guy called Zachary Beck. We're assuming that's him in the photographs."

 

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