Home > Deep Down (Jack Reacher #16.5)(5)

Deep Down (Jack Reacher #16.5)(5)
Author: Lee Child

She could do it.

She hammered on, striding short because of the gradient, really breathing, really hurting, but still moving well.

The man in the car was still on 16th Street. He had the air on high, but even so he could feel sweat on his back. Vinyl upholstery, and a four-cylinder motor with no power to spare for a big compressor. He was just past Harvard Street, getting to where young and rent-strapped aides were forced to live. No cars for them. They were walking to work, right alongside him, about the same speed.

He watched one, a girl, in pantyhose despite the heat, the nylon scissoring fast, ugly white athletic sneakers on her feet, with tube socks, her dress shoes no doubt in the big bag she was carrying, along with briefing papers and position papers and talking points, maybe with a makeup kit, hoping against hope everyone else would be busy and she would get to go on the television news for a comment.

There were male versions too, dressed out of a Brooks Brothers sale, heads high, striding out. Every block brought more of them, twos and threes, until both sidewalks were full of them, all heading the same way, power walking, almost an army, an unstoppable force, clean-living and idealistic young people setting out to do good for their country.

They were going to get to work before him. The traffic was awful.

*

The transcript showed that the second pre-committee hearing had picked up more or less exactly where the first had left off, solidly on the safe grounds of technical discussions, about minutiae like actions and stocks and bedding and triggers and scopes. It was as if a collective but unspoken agreement had been reached, to avoid unpleasant issues, and to run out the clock with the kind of things shooters liked to talk about.

The four liaison women poked and prodded and drew the men out endlessly, going over things again and again, refining details until Reacher could practically see the new weapon in his mind’s eye. Three of them were doing it just to keep the ball rolling, and the fourth was lapping it all up, no doubt picturing her contact in a foreign boardroom reading her fax, unable to believe the precision of the specification he was being handed.

Who was the fourth?

Christine Richardson and Darwen DeWitt did most of the talking. The transcript looked like a movie screenplay where C.R. and D.D. were the big stars. They each got plenty of ink. But their approaches were different. Richardson was rah-rah for the army, every question and every point laying a kind of guilt trip on the politicians for not rushing to make the world a safer place. DeWitt showed more concern for the Congressional point of view. She was almost a fifth skeptic. Devil’s advocate, maybe, or perhaps her sympathies genuinely lay elsewhere. Perhaps her Houston dent-repair upbringing had made her a fiscal conservative. But wherever she was coming from, she laid bare the details of the secret spec as much as anyone.

Briony Walker and Alice Vaz said less. Walker was all about accuracy. The naval family. She wanted the rifle to be like the guns on her daddy’s ships, artillery instruments, infallible when properly aimed. And she was weirdly interested in the end results. She asked about head shots and chest shots, about how it felt to wait while the bullet flew, about what they saw through the scope afterward. The effect was almost pornographic.

Alice Vaz asked mostly wider questions. The others debated rifle stocks made of composite materials, which wouldn’t shrink or swell no matter the conditions, and she asked about the conditions. Where in the world was this rifle likely to go? How hot? How cold? How high? How wet? She didn’t get clear answers, and after a spell she gave up. There were no A.V. attributions in the last twenty pages of the transcript.

Christopher asked, “Gut feeling?”

Reacher said, “Just from this?”

“Why not?”

“Then I would say it’s Christine Richardson. She sounds like the prime mover. She wants everything spelled out every which way. No secrets with that woman.”

“I could say she’s trying to sell it. I could say she thinks the political guys will find that stuff interesting.”

“No, she knows they don’t. But she keeps on talking anyway. She won’t let them leave anything vague or unspecified. Why is that?”

“Maybe she has OCD.”

“What’s that?”

“Obsessive compulsive disorder. Like alphabetizing your underwear.”

“How do you alphabetize underwear?”

“Figure of speech.”

“So you’re happy with Richardson?”

“No,” Christopher said. “We think it’s her too. From the externalities in the transcripts, at least. The issue is going to be proving it.”

*

The woman with the fanny pack and the headband was on Mass Ave, approaching Scott Circle, and the man in the car was on 16th Street, approaching Scott Circle. Their average speeds for the last many minutes had been more or less identical, at ten miles an hour, her progress steady and resolute and relentless, his frustratingly stop-start-fast-fast-slow. She was pushing hard, ready for an iconic athletic breakthrough, desperate for it, and he was agitated about the time, anxious about being late, wishing he could have parked and taken the Metro without getting back at the end of the day to find all his wheels had been stolen.

It happened like this: she was on the left-hand sidewalk, on Mass Ave, and he was at right angles to her, in 16th Street’s extreme right lane, wanting to come off into the circle. She was looking straight ahead, watching the traffic, watching the upcoming crosswalk lights, trying to time it, suddenly convinced that if she got held up there her bid was over. He was looking beyond the three cars ahead, to the far left, diametrically away from her, watching the traffic coming into the circle, which would have prior right of way. He was looking for an upcoming gap, trying to time it, hoping to roll up to the line and squirt on through, one unbroken move.

She sprinted, hard, hard, hard, and he moved up, craning left, looking for the gap that would be his, seeing half a gap, rolling, rolling, the cars ahead of him clearing, the gap tightening, not really a gap at all, but his last chance, so he went for it, hitting the gas, wrenching the wheel, smashing into her as she sprinted into the space she had been sure would remain, because surely no driver would try to use it.

She went up in the air and down on his windshield rail, impossibly loud metallic thumps and crashes, and he braked hard and she spun on the shiny roof and clattered over the inclined tailgate and landed head first on the blacktop.

*

Reacher butted all the paperwork into a neat stack and put it back on Christopher’s desk. Christopher said, “Almost time to get down to business. Do you know the committee room number?”

Reacher said, “Yes.”

“Do you know where it is?”

“No.”

“Good. I’m not going to tell you. I want you wandering around like a little lost country boy. I want everything about this thing to be realistic from the get-go.”

“Nothing about this thing is realistic. And nothing about this thing is going to work.”

“Look on the bright side. You might get lucky. One of them might be into rough trade. All on the army’s dime, too.”

Reacher said nothing. He used the door on F Street and turned right and left onto New Jersey Avenue, and then the Capitol Building was right there in front of him, half a mile ahead, big and white and shining in the sun. He looped around into the plaza and went up the steps. A Capitol cop looked at his ID and gave him a barrage of directions so confusing that Reacher knew he would need a couple of refreshers along the way. Which he got, first from another guard, and then from a page.

 

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