Home > Persuader (Jack Reacher #7)(9)

Persuader (Jack Reacher #7)(9)
Author: Lee Child

I said nothing. Looked up at the sky.

"Who was he?" Duffy said again.

I kept on looking up at the sky and dragged myself ten years backward through time, to a whole different world.

"You know anything about tanks?" I asked.

"Military tanks? Tracks and guns? Not really."

"There's nothing to them," I said. "I mean, you like them to be able to move fast, you want some reliability, you don't object to some fuel economy. But if I've got a tank and you've got a tank, what's the only thing I really want to know?"

"What?"

"Can I shoot you before you can shoot me? That's what I want to know. If we're a mile apart, can my gun reach you? Or can your gun reach me?"

"So?"

"Of course, physics being physics, the likely answer is if I can hit you at a mile, then you can hit me at a mile. So it comes down to ammunition. If I stand off another two hundred yards so your shell bounces off me without hurting me, can I develop a shell that doesn't bounce off you? That's what tanks are all about. The guy in the ocean was an army intelligence officer who had been blackmailing an army weapons specialist."

"Why was he in the ocean?"

"Did you watch the Gulf War on TV?" I asked.

"I did," Eliot said.

"Forget about the smart bombs," I said. "The real star of the show was the M1A1 Abrams main battle tank. It scored about four hundred to zip against the Iraqis, who were using the best anybody ever had to give them. But having the war on TV meant that we'd shown our hand to the whole world, so we better get on with dreaming up some new stuff for the next time around. So we got on with it."

"And?" Duffy asked.

"If you want a shell to fly farther and hit harder, you can stuff more propellant into it. Or make it lighter. Or both. Of course, if you're stuffing more propellant into it, you've got to do something pretty radical elsewhere to make it lighter. Which is what they did. They took the explosive charge out of it. Which sounds weird, right? Like, what's it going to do? Go clang and bounce off? But they changed the shape. They dreamed up this thing that looks like a giant lawn dart. Built-in fins and all. It's cast from tungsten and depleted uranium. The densest metals you can find. It goes real fast and real far. They called it the long-rod penetrator."

Duffy glanced at me with her eyelids low and smiled and blushed all at the same time. I smiled back.

"They changed the name," I said. "Now it's called the APFSDS. I told you they like initials. Armor Piercing Fin Stabilized Discarding Sabot. It's powered by its own little rocket motor, basically. It hits the enemy tank with tremendous kinetic energy. The kinetic energy changes to heat energy, just like they teach you in high school physics. It melts its way through in a split second and sprays the inside of the enemy tank with a jet of molten metal, which kills the tankers and blows up anything explosive or flammable. It's a very neat trick. And either way, you shoot, you score, because if the enemy armor is too thick or you've fired from too far away, the thing just sticks partway in like a dart and spalls, which means it fragments the inner layer of the armor and throws scabs of scalding metal around inside like a hand grenade. The enemy crew come apart like frogs in a blender. It was a brilliant new weapon."

"What about the guy in the ocean?"

"He got the blueprints from the guy he was blackmailing," I said. "Piece by piece, over a long period of time. We were watching him. We knew exactly what he was doing. He was aiming to sell them to Iraqi Intelligence. The Iraqis wanted to level the playing field for the next time around. The U.S. Army didn't want that to happen."

Eliot stared at me. "So they had the guy killed?"

I shook my head. "We sent a couple of MPs down to arrest him. Standard operating procedure, all legal and aboveboard, believe me. But it went wrong. He got away. He was going to disappear. The U.S. Army really didn't want that to happen."

"So then they had him killed?"

I looked up at the sky again. Didn't answer.

"That wasn't standard procedure," Eliot said. "Was it?"

I said nothing.

"It was off the books," he said. "Wasn't it?"

I didn't answer.

"But he didn't die," Duffy said. "What was his name?"

"Quinn," I said. "Turned out to be the single worst guy I ever met."

"And you saw him in Beck's car on Saturday?"

I nodded. "He was being chauffeured away from Symphony Hall."

I gave them all the details I had. But as I talked we all knew the information was useless. It was inconceivable that Quinn would be using his previous identity. So all I had to offer was a physical description of a plain-looking white man about fifty years old with two.22 GSW scars on his forehead. Better than nothing, but it didn't really get them anywhere.

"Why didn't his prints match?" Eliot asked.

"He was erased," I said. "Like he never existed."

"Why didn't he die?"

"Silenced.22," I said. "Our standard issue weapon for covert close work. But not a very powerful weapon."

"Is he still dangerous?"

"Not to the army," I said. "He's ancient history. This all was ten years ago. The APFSDS will be in the museum soon. So will the Abrams tank."

"So why try to trace him?"

"Because depending on exactly what he remembers he could be dangerous to the guy who went to take him out."

Eliot nodded. Said nothing.

"Did he look important?" Duffy asked. "On Saturday? In Beck's car?"

"He looked wealthy," I said. "Expensive cashmere overcoat, leather gloves, silk scarf. He looked like a guy who was accustomed to being chauffeured around. He just jumped right in, like he did it all the time."

"Did he greet the driver?"

"I don't know."

"We need to place him," she said. "We need context. How did he act? He was using Beck's car, but did he look entitled? Or like somebody was doing him a favor?"

"He looked entitled," I said. "Like he uses it every day of the week."

"So is he Beck's equal?"

I shrugged. "He could be Beck's boss."

"Partner at best," Eliot said. "Our LA guy wouldn't travel to meet with an underling."

"I don't see Quinn as somebody's partner," I said.

"What was he like?"

" Normal," I said. "For an intelligence officer. In most ways."

"Except for the espionage," Eliot said.

"Yes," I said. "Except for that."

"And whatever got him killed off the books."

"That too."

Duffy had gone quiet. She was thinking hard. I was pretty sure she was thinking of ways she could use me. And I didn't mind at all.

"Will you stay in Boston?" she asked. "Where we can find you?"

I said I would, and they left, and that was the end of day five.

I found a scalper in a sports bar and spent most of days six and seven at Fenway Park watching the Red Sox struggling through an early-season homestand. The Friday game went seventeen innings and ended very late. So I slept most of day eight and then went back to Symphony Hall at night to watch the crowd. Maybe Quinn had season tickets to a concert series. But he didn't show. I replayed in my mind the way he had glanced at me. It might have been just that rueful crowded-sidewalk thing. But it might have been more.

 

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