Home > Deep Down (Jack Reacher #16.5)(7)

Deep Down (Jack Reacher #16.5)(7)
Author: Lee Child

Briony Walker was the navy daughter, and she looked it, neat and controlled and severe, except for an unruly head of hair, untamed even by what looked like a recent and enthusiastic haircut. She too had an animated face, and she too had a lot going on behind her eyes.

Alice Vaz was the best looking. Reacher didn’t know the word. Elfin, maybe? Gamine? Probably somewhere in between. She had darker skin than the other two, and a cap of short dark hair, and the kind of eyes that switch between a twinkle and a death ray in, well, the blink of an eye. She was smaller than the other two, and slight, in a European kind of way, and maybe smarter, too. Ultimately she was controlling the conversation, by hemming it in with questions too boring to answer. She was making the others focus.

The meeting dragged on. Reacher made no further contributions beyond an occasional grunt of assent. Eventually conversation dried up and the guy at the head of the table asked if everyone agreed the army’s needs and requirements were now properly in the record. All hands went up. The guy repeated the question, this time personally to and directly at Briony Walker, possibly a courtesy, possibly out of spite, her own words fed back to her. But Walker took no offense. She just agreed, yes, she was completely satisfied.

Whereupon the four staffers stood up and left the room, hustling and bustling and without a word, as if to take time out to say goodbye would hopelessly overburden their busy schedules. The women stood up, but the next out of the room was the army procurement guy, who just clapped his Marine buddy on the shoulder and disappeared. Whereupon the Marine clapped his NCO on the shoulder and they walked out together, leaving just Reacher and the women in the room.

*

But it didn’t stay that way for long. The women were already in a huddle. Not exactly leaning in, face to face, a tight little triangle, shoulder to shoulder, touching each other, like regular women. But maybe the West Point version. They drifted in lockstep to the door, there was a polite glance from Alice Vaz, and then they were gone.

Reacher stayed where he was. No big rush. Nothing he could have done about it. Maybe there were guys who could have pulled it off. Hey, I’m sorry about your dead buddy that I never met, but can I separate you from your grieving pals and take you out and buy you a drink? Reacher was not one of those guys.

But the women weren’t going anywhere. He was sure of that.

He got up and stepped out and saw them where the corridor widened into a lobby. They were still together in their tight huddle. Not going anywhere. Just talking. Lots of social rules. They would end up in a bar, for sure, but not yet.

Reacher drifted back to a bank of pay phones and dialed. He leaned on the wall. He saw Briony Walker glance at him, then glance away. Just the out-of-towner making a call. Maybe to his local buddies, telling them he’s done for the day, asking them where the action is at night.

Christopher said, “Yes?”

Reacher said, “Did you hear about Christine Richardson?”

“Yes, we did.”

“So it’s going to be a little harder now.”

“It might be over now. If Richardson was the leak all along.”

“Suppose she wasn’t?”

“Then it might be easier, not harder. With the other three. Emotion helps. Loose lips sink ships.”

“It wasn’t a fun afternoon. Romance is on no one’s mind. They’re talking to each other. There’s no way into a conversation like that.”

“Exploit any opportunity you can.”

“You’re not in the Capitol, but you’re monitoring their fax line, right?”

“Correct.”

“Including tonight?”

“Of course. What do you know?”

“It’s not DeWitt.”

“How do you know?”

“She was upset. She’s thirty years old and she never had anyone die before.”

“It’s natural to be upset.”

“But if she had a secret agenda she’d have gotten over it. To do her work. But she didn’t. She hardly said a word. She sat there like the whole thing had no purpose. Which was absolutely the appropriate reaction for anyone without an agenda of her own.”

“Had either of the other two gotten over it?”

“Alice Vaz was all over it. Briony Walker likewise. And Walker made a real big fuss about going through it all one more time. With every detail stated for the record.”

“So she could check if she missed anything in her last two faxes?”

“That’s a possible interpretation.”

“What did Vaz do?”

“Same thing she did in the transcripts. Big geography. She should quit and run a travel agency.”

“What are you going to do?”

“I don’t know yet. Just monitor that fax line for me.”

*

Reacher hung up the phone. The women were still in the lobby, still talking, still not going anywhere. He set off toward them, just strolling, like a man with an hour to kill, like a stranger in town drawn toward the only faces he knew. Plan A was to keep the pretense going, maybe getting into the group via Briony Walker’s interest in gunshot wounds. Maybe she was a sniper groupie. He could offer some opinions. Head shot or chest shot? Well, ma’am, I favor the throat shot. If you hit it just right you can make their heads come off.

Plan B was to abandon the pretense and come clean as an MP captain undercover for MI, and see where that road led. Which might be all the way home. If he made out Richardson had been the prime suspect, then whoever worked hardest to reinforce that conclusion would be the guilty one. If no one worked hard, then Richardson had been the guilty one all along.

He strolled on.

Plan A or Plan B?

They made the decision for him.

They handed it to him on a plate.

They were civilized women, and reflexively polite in the way that military people always are. He was heading close to them. He wasn’t going to pass by on the other side. So he had to be acknowledged. Briony Walker looked straight at him, but Darwen DeWitt was the first to speak. She said, “We weren’t introduced. I guess it wasn’t that kind of an afternoon.”

“No, ma’am,” Reacher said. “I guess it wasn’t.” He said his name. He saw each of the three file it away in her memory.

He said, “I was sorry to hear about Colonel Richardson.”

DeWitt nodded. “It was a shock.”

“Did you know her well?”

“We all came up together. We expected to carry on together.”

“Brother officers,” Reacher said. “Or sisters, I guess.”

“We all felt that way.”

Reacher nodded. They could all afford to feel that way. No rivalry. Not yet. They faced no significant bottleneck until the leap from Brigadier General to Major General. From one star to two. Then a little rivalry might bite.

Briony Walker said, “It must have happened to you, sergeant. You must have lost people.”

“Ma’am, one or two.”

“And what do you do on days like that?”

“Well, ma’am, typically we would go to a bar and toast their journey. Usually starts out quiet, and ends up happy. Which is important. For the good of the unit.”

Alice Vaz said, “What unit?”

“I’m not at liberty to say, ma’am.”

“What bar?”

“Whatever is close at hand.”

DeWitt said, “The Hyatt is a block away.”

*

They walked over to the Hyatt. But not exactly together. Not a foursome. More accurately a threesome and a singleton in a loose association, held together only by Reacher playing dumb enough to miss the hints he should get lost. The women were too polite to make it more explicit. But even so the walk was excruciatingly embarrassing. Out of the grounds, across Constitution, onto New Jersey Avenue, across Louisiana and D Street, and then they were there, at the Hyatt’s door. Reacher stepped up promptly and held it open. Because immediate action was required, right there, right then. Indecisive loitering on the sidewalk would have led to heavier hints.

 

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