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Home > 61 Hours (Jack Reacher #14)(13)

61 Hours (Jack Reacher #14)(13)
Author: Lee Child

Peterson said, 'The prison took two years to build. There were hundreds of construction workers. They built a camp for them, five miles west of us. Public land. There was an old army facility there. They added more huts and trailers. It was like a little village. Then they left.'

'When?'

'A year ago.'

'And?'

'The bikers moved in. They took the place over.'

'How many?'

'There are more than a hundred now.'

'And?'

'They're selling methamphetamine. Lots of it. East and west, because of the highway. It's a big business.'

'So bust them.'

'We're trying to. It isn't easy. We have no probable cause for a search out there. Which isn't normally a problem. A meth lab in a trailer, life expectancy is usually a day or two. They blow up. All you need to do is follow the fire department. All kinds of volatile chemicals. But these guys are very careful. No accidents yet.'

'But?'

'We caught a break. A big-time guy out of Chicago came west to negotiate a bulk purchase. He met with their top boy right here in Bolton. Neutral ground, and civilized. He bought a sample out the back of a pick-up truck in the restaurant parking lot, right where we had dinner.'

'And?'

'We have a witness who saw the whole transaction. The Chicago guy got away, but we grabbed the dope and the money and busted the biker. He's in the county lock-up right now, awaiting trial.'

'Their top boy? Didn't that give you probable cause to search his place?'

'His truck is registered in Kentucky. His driver's licence is from Alabama. He claims that he drove up here. He says he doesn't live here. We had nothing to link him to. We can't get a warrant based on the fact that he dresses like some other guys we've seen. Judges don't work that way. They want more.'

'So what's the plan?'

'We're going to roll him. We'll offer him a plea bargain and he'll give us what we need to clean out the whole mess.'

'Has he agreed?'

'Not yet. He's waiting us out. Waiting to see if the witness forgets stuff. Or dies.'

'Who's the witness?'

'A nice old lady, here in town. She's seventy-plus. Used to be a teacher and a librarian. Perfect credibility.'

'Is she likely to forget stuff or die?'

'Of course she is. That's how these people do it. They scare the witnesses. Or kill them.'

'Which is why you're worried about strangers coming to town. You think they're coming for her.'

Peterson nodded. Said nothing.

Reacher took a long pull on his bottle and asked, 'Why assume it will be a stranger? Couldn't the bikers come over and take care of it for themselves?'

Peterson shook his head. 'We're all over any biker who shows up in town. As you saw tonight. Everyone watches for them. So it won't be a biker. It would be self-defeating. Their whole strategy is to deny us probable cause.'

'OK.'

Peterson said, 'Someone else is on his way. Has to be. On their behalf. Someone we won't recognize when he gets here.'

Chapter Eight

REACHER TOOK A THIRD LONG PULL ON HIS BOT TLE AND SAID, 'IT'S not the bus driver.'

Peterson asked, 'How sure are you?'

'How much money are these guys getting for their meth?'

'Two hundred bucks a gram, as far as we know, and we guess they're moving it in pick-up trucks, which is a whole lot of grams. They could be making millions.'

'In which case they can afford professionals. A professional hit man with a day job as a bus driver is an unlikely combination.'

Peterson nodded. 'OK, it's not the bus driver. Mr Jay Knox is innocent.'

'And you can vouch for all the prison visitors?'

'We watch them. They hit the motels, they get on the shuttle buses to the prison, they come back, they leave the next day. Any change to that pattern, we'd be all over them, too.'

'Where's the witness?'

'At home. Her name is Janet Salter. She's a real sweetie. Like a storybook grandma. She lives on a dead-end street, fortunately. We have a car blocking the turn, all day and all night. You saw it.'

'Not enough.'

'We know. We have a second car outside her house and a third parked one street over, watching the back. Plus women officers in the house, the best we've got, minimum of four at all times, two awake, two asleep.'

'When is the trial?'

'A month if we're lucky.'

'And she won't leave? You could stash her in a hotel. Maybe in the Caribbean. That's a deal I would take right now.'

'She won't leave.'

'Does she know the danger she's in?'

'We explained the situation to her. But she wants to do the right thing. She says it's a matter of principle.'

'Good for her.'

Peterson nodded. 'Good for us, too. Because we'll nail the whole lot of them. But hard on us, also. Because we're using a lot of resources.'

Reacher nodded in turn. 'Which is why you're pussyfooting. Why you're not confronting the bikers. Because an all-out war right now would stretch you too thin.'

'And because we have to sell this thing to a jury. We can't let defence counsel make out it's all part of a harassment campaign. Plus, the bikers aren't dumb. They keep their noses clean. Technically as individuals they haven't done anything wrong yet. At least not in public.'

'In fact the opposite seems to be true. I saw the photographs.'

'Exactly,' Peterson said. 'It looks like one of our good citizens beat one of theirs to death.'

The clock on the refrigerator ticked on and hit five to midnight. Fifty-two hours to go. Outside the window the moon had crept higher. The fallen snow was bright. The air was still. No wind. The cold was so intense Reacher could feel it striking through the farmhouse walls. There was a buffer zone about a foot deep, where the cold came creeping in before the heat from the iron stove overwhelmed it and beat it back.

Reacher asked, 'Is Chief Holland up to the job?'

Peterson said, 'Why do you ask?'

'First impressions. He looks a little overmatched to me.'

'Holland is a good man.'

'That's not an answer to my question.'

'Did you discuss your superiors when you were in the army?'

'All the time. With people of equal rank.'

'Are we of equal rank?'

'Approximately.'

'So what were your superiors like?'

'Some of them were good, and some of them were assholes.'

'Holland's OK,' Peterson said. 'But he's tired. His wife died. Then his daughter grew up and left home. He's all alone, and he feels a little beaten down.'

'I saw the photograph in his office.'

'Happier days. They made a nice family.'

'So is he up to the job?'

'Enough to ask for help when he needs it.'

'Who's he asking?'

'You.'

Reacher finished his Miller. He was warm, and comfortable, and tired. He said, 'What could I possibly do for him?'

Peterson said, 'There was an old army facility where they built the construction camp.'

'You told me that already.'

'We need to understand exactly what it was.'

'Don't you know?'

Peterson shook his head. 'It was put in a long time ago. There's a single stone building, about the size of a house.'

'Is that all?'

Peterson nodded. 'A long straight road leading to a single small building all alone on the prairie.'

'And it's the size of a house?'

'Smaller than this one.'

'What shape?'

'Square. Rectangular. Like a house.'

'With a roof?'

'Of course.'

'Because I'm wondering if it was a missile silo. There are plenty of them in the Dakotas.'

'It's not a silo.'

'Then it could be anything. Could be something they started and didn't finish.'

'We don't think so. There's a kind of folk memory with the older people. They say there were hundreds of engineers out there for months. And a security cordon. And a lot of coming and going. That's a lot of effort for a thing the size of a house.'

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