Home > Deep Down (Jack Reacher #16.5)(6)

Deep Down (Jack Reacher #16.5)(6)
Author: Lee Child

The designated committee room had an impressive door made from polished mahogany; and inside, it had an impressive table made from the same wood. Around the table were seated four people. One was the transcriber. He was in shirtsleeves and had a court-reporter machine in front of him. The other three were clearly the army procurement officer, and the Marine Corps procurement officer, and the Marine sniper. The two officers were in uniform, and the sniper was in a cheap suit. Probably a Recon Marine. A Delta wannabe. The officers shook hands, and the sniper gave a millimetric nod, which Reacher returned, equally briefly, which for two alleged snipers was effusive, and for a dogface and a jarhead meeting for the first time was practically like rolling around on the floor in an ecstatic bear hug.

There was no one else in the room. No political staffers, none of the liaison women. The clock in Reacher’s head said the meeting was due to start inside a minute. The clock on the wall was a minute fast, so the meeting was already underway, according to Capitol time. But nothing was happening. No one seemed to care. The Marine sniper was mute, and the procurement guys were clearly as happy to waste time sitting quiet as to waste it talking up a storm about a lost cause.

The clock ticked. No one spoke. The jarhead stared into space, infinitely still. The officers moved in their chairs and got comfortable. Reacher copied the jarhead.

Then eventually the staffers came in, followed by three women in army Class A uniform. Three women, not four. Class A uniform, female officer, the nameplate is adjusted to individual figure differences and centered horizontally on the right side between one and two inches above the top button of the coat. Reacher scanned the black plastic rectangles. DeWitt, Vaz, and Walker were there. Richardson was not. A and B and D were present, but C was missing. No Christine.

The four staffers looked a little upset, and the three women looked very unhappy. They all sat down, in what were clearly their accustomed places, leaving one chair empty, and the guy at the head of the table said, “Gentlemen, I’m afraid we have some very upsetting news. Earlier today Colonel Richardson was struck by a car as she was running to work. At Scott Circle.”

Reacher’s first thought was: Running? Why? Was she late? But then he understood. Jogging, fitness, shower and dress at the office. He had seen people do that.

The guy at the head of the table said, “The driver of the car is a postal worker from the Capitol mail room. Eyewitness accounts suggest risks were taken by both parties.”

The army procurement officer asked, “But how is she? How’s Christine?”

The guy at the head of the table said, “She died at the scene.”

Silence in the room.

The guy said, “Head trauma. From when she hit the windshield rail, or from when she finally fell to the ground.”

Silence. No sound in the room, except the patter of the transcriber’s machine, as he caught up with what had been said. Then even he went quiet.

The guy at the head of the table said, “Accordingly, I suggest we close down this process and resume it at a more suitable time.”

The army procurement officer asked, “When?”

“Let’s schedule it for the next round of budget discussions.”

“When are those?”

“A year or so.”


Then Briony Walker said, “No, sir. We have a duty to fulfill. The process must be completed. Colonel Richardson would have wanted it no other way.”

No answer.

Walker said, “The army deserves to have its case made properly and its needs and requirements placed in the record. People would quickly forget our reason for abandoning this process. They would assume we had not been truly interested. So I propose we complete our mission by making certain every detail and every parameter have been adequately clarified and accurately recorded. Then at least our legislators will know exactly what they are approving. Or rejecting, as the case may be.”

The guy at the head of the table said, “Does anyone wish to speak against the proposal?”

No answer.

“Very well,” the guy said. “We will do as Major Walker suggests, and spend the rest of the day going over everything one more time. Just in case there’s something we missed.”


And go over it they did. Reacher recognized the sequence of individual discussions from the transcripts. They started at the beginning and worked their way through. Most items were simply reiterated and reconfirmed, but there were some lingering live debates. Briony Walker was all out for bolt action. The naval family. The accuracy issue. A bolt action was operated manually, as gently as you liked, so the gun stayed still afterward, with no microscopic tremors running through it. On the other hand a semi-automatic action was operated by gunpowder explosions, and was absolutely guaranteed to put tremors into the gun afterward. Perhaps for a critical length of time.

“How long?” one of the staffers asked.

“Would be critical?” Walker asked back.

“No, how long do these tremors last?”

“Some fractions of a second, possibly.”

“How big are they?”

“Certainly big enough to hurt accuracy at a thousand yards or more.”

The staffer looked across the table and said, “Gentlemen?”

The army procurement guy looked at his Marine counterpart, who looked at his sniper, who stared into space. Then everyone looked at Reacher.

Reacher said, “What was the first item you discussed?”

The staffer said, “Cold shot accuracy.”

“Which is important why?”

“Because a sniper will often get just one opportunity.”

“With a bullet that was chambered when?”

“I think we heard testimony that it can have been several hours previously. Long waits seem to be part of the job.”

“Which means any tremors will have disappeared long ago. You could chamber the round with a hammer. If you assume the money shots are always going to be singles, and widely spaced, possibly by hours or even days, then the action doesn’t matter.”

“So you’d accept a semi-automatic sniper rifle?”

“No, sir,” Reacher said. “Major Walker is correct. Possibly the money shots won’t always be the first shots. And accuracy is always worth pursuing wherever possible. And bolt actions are rugged, reliable, simple, and easy to maintain. They’re also cheap.”

So then came a debate about which bolt action was best. The classic Remington had fans in the room, but so did Winchester and Sako and Ruger. And at that point Alice Vaz started up with more of her big-picture questions. She said, “The way to understand our requirements, for not only actions but also stocks and bedding, it seems to me, is to understand where and how this rifle will actually be used. At what altitude? At what barometric pressures? In what extremes of temperature and humidity? What new environments might it face?”

So to shut her up the army procurement guy ran through just about everything in the War Plans locker. No names and no specific details, of course, but all the meteorological implications. High altitude plus freezing mist, extreme dry heat with sand infiltration, rain forest humidity and high ambient temperature, in snow many degrees below zero, in downpours, and so on.

Then one of the staffers insisted that the steel for the barrel had to be domestic. Which was not a huge problem. Then another insisted that the optics had to be domestic too. Which was a bigger problem. Reacher watched the women seated opposite. Darwen DeWitt wasn’t saying much. Which was a surprise after her star turns the first two times out. She was a little more than medium height, and still lithe, like the teenage softball star she had been. She was dark-haired and pale-skinned, with features more likely to be called strong than pretty, but she was spared from being plain by mobile and expressive eyes. They were dark, and they moved constantly but slowly, and they blazed with intelligence and some kind of inner fire. Maybe she was burning off surplus IQ, to stop her head from exploding.

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