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Home > 61 Hours (Jack Reacher #14)(7)

61 Hours (Jack Reacher #14)(7)
Author: Lee Child

There was a little low talking after that. A little surprise, a little uncertainty, then a lot of contentment. The old folks brightened and smiled and stood taller. Chief Holland ushered their hosts in from a side room, five local couples and four local men and four local women who had come alone. The lobby was suddenly crowded. People were milling about and shaking hands and introducing themselves and grouping together and hunting through the pile for their suitcases.

Reacher kept count in his head. Thirteen knots of people, which implied thirteen empty guest rooms, which exactly mirrored the thirteen Mount Rushmore motel rooms on Knox's official paperwork. Peterson was a good advance man.

Reacher wasn't on Knox's official paperwork.

He watched as the lobby emptied. Suitcases were hoisted, arms were offered, the doors were opened, pairs and threesomes and foursomes walked out to the waiting vehicles. It was all over inside five minutes. Reacher was left standing alone. Then the guy in the parka came back in and closed the doors. He disappeared down a doglegged corridor. Chief Holland came back. He looked at Reacher and said, 'Let's wait in my office.'

Five to eight in the evening.

Fifty-six hours to go.

Chapter Four

HOLLAND'S OFFICE WAS LIKE A THOUSAND REACHER HAD SEEN before. Plain municipal decor, tendered out, the job won by the underbidder. Sloppy gloss paint all over the place, thick and puckered and wrinkled, vinyl tile on the floor, a veneered desk, six last-generation file cabinets in an imperfect line against the wall under an institutional clock. There was a framed photograph centred on the cabinets under the clock. It showed Chief Holland as a straighter, stronger, younger man, standing and smiling with a woman and a child. A family portrait, maybe ten or more years old. The woman was attractive in a pale, fair-haired, strong-featured way. Holland's wife, presumably. The child was a girl, maybe eight or nine, her face white and indistinct and unformed. Their daughter, presumably. There was a pair of dice on the desk. Big old bone cubes, worn from use and age, the dots rubbed and faded, the material itself veined where soft calcium had gone and harder minerals had remained. But apart from the photograph and the dice there was nothing personal in the room. Everything else was business.

Holland sat down behind the desk in a worn leather chair. There was an undraped picture window behind his head, triple-glazed against the cold. Clean glass. Darkness outside. Snow on the outer sill, a heater under the inner sill.

Reacher took a visitor chair in front of the desk.

Holland didn't speak.

Reacher asked, 'What am I waiting for?'

'We wanted to offer you the same hospitality we offered the others.'

'But I was a harder sell?'

Holland smiled a tired smile. 'Not really. Andrew Peterson volunteered to take you in himself. But he's busy right now. So you'll have to wait.'

'Busy doing what?'

'What cops do.'

Reacher said, 'This is a bigger place than I expected. The tour bus GPS showed it as a dot on the map.'

'We grew. That GPS data is a little out of date, I guess.'

The office was overheated. Reacher had stopped shivering and was starting to sweat. His clothes were drying, stiff and dirty. He said, 'You grew because you got a prison built here.'

'How do you figure that?'

'New prison bus. New sign after the highway.'

Holland nodded. 'We got a brand-new federal facility. We competed for it. Everybody wanted it. It's like getting Toyota to open an assembly plant. Or Honda. Lots of jobs, lots of dollars. Then the state put their new penitentiary in the same compound, which was more jobs and more dollars, and the county jail is there too.'

'Which is why the motels are full tonight? Visiting day to-morrow?'

'Total of three visiting days a week, all told. And the way the bus lines run, most people have to spend two nights in town. Heads on beds six nights a week. Motel owners are like pigs in shit. And the diners, and the pizza parlours, and the shuttle bus people. Like I told you, jobs and dollars.'

'Where's the compound?'

'Five miles north. The gift that keeps on giving.'

'Lucky you,' Reacher said.

Holland was quiet for a beat. Then he said, 'I learned a long time ago, you don't look a gift horse in the mouth.'

The guy in the parka knocked and walked straight in and handed Holland a closed file folder. The clock on the wall showed eight in the evening, which was about right according to the clock in Reacher's head. Holland swivelled his chair and opened the file folder ninety degrees and kept it tilted up at an awkward angle, to stop Reacher seeing the contents. But they were clearly reflected in the window glass behind Holland's head. They were crime scene photographs, glossy colour eight-by-tens with printed labels pasted in their bottom corners. Holland leafed through them. An establishing shot, then a progressive sequence of close-ups. A sprawled black-clad body, large, probably male, probably dead, snow on the ground, blunt force trauma to the right temple. No blood.

In the tour bus Knox had closed his cell phone and said: The town of Bolton has a police department. They're sending a guy. But they've got problems of their own and it will take some time.

Holland closed the file. Said nothing. A reserved, taciturn man. Like Reacher himself. In the end they just sat opposite each other without speaking. Not a hostile silence, but even so there was an undercurrent to it. Holland kept his palm on the closed file and glanced from time to time between it and his visitor, as if he wasn't yet sure which represented his bigger problem.

Eight o'clock in the evening in Bolton, South Dakota, was nine o'clock in the evening in Mexico City. Seventeen hundred miles south, sixty degrees warmer. The man who had taken the call from the untraceable pay-as-you-go cell was about to make a call of his own, from his walled city villa to a walled rural compound a hundred miles away. There another man would listen without comment and then promise a decision within twelve hours. That was how it usually went. Nothing worthwhile was achieved without reflection and rumination. With reflection and rumination impulsive mistakes could be avoided, and bold strokes could be formulated.

Holland's office was quiet and still and the door was closed, but Reacher heard noise in the rest of the station house. Comings and goings, close to thirty minutes' worth. Then silence again. A watch change, he guessed. Unlikely timing for a three-shift system. More likely a two-shift system. The day watch clocking off, the night watch coming on, twelve hours and twelve hours, maybe half past eight in the morning until half past eight at night. Unusual, and probably not permanent. Probably indicative of some kind of short-term stress.

They've got problems of their own.

Andrew Peterson came back to the station house just before nine twenty in the evening. He ducked his head into Holland's office and Holland joined him in the corridor with the file of crime scene photographs. The impromptu conference didn't last long. Less than five minutes. Reacher assumed that Peterson had seen the dead guy in situ and therefore didn't need to study pictures of him. The two cops came back into the office and stood in the centre of the floor with quitting time written all through their body language. A long day, and another long day tomorrow, but until then, nothing. It was a feeling Reacher recognized from the years he had held a job. It was a feeling he had shared on some days. But not on days when dead guys had shown up in his jurisdiction.

Peterson said, 'Let's go.'

Twenty-five past nine in the evening.

Fifty-four and a half hours to go.

Twenty-five past nine in the evening in South Dakota was twenty-five past ten in the evening in the walled compound a hundred miles from Mexico City. The compound's owner was an exceptionally short man who went by the name of Plato. Some people assumed that Plato was Brazilian, and had followed the Brazilian habit of picking a short catchy name to stand in for whatever long sequence of patronymics littered his birth certificate. Like the way the soccer star Edson Arantes do Nascimento had called himself Pele. Or the way another named Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite had called himself Kaka. Others claimed that Plato was Colombian, which would have been in many ways more logical, given his chosen trade. Others insisted he was indeed Mexican. But all agreed that Plato was short, not that anyone would dare say so to his face. His local driver's licence claimed five feet three inches. The reality was five feet one in elevator shoes, and four feet eleven without them.

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