Home > Deep Down (Jack Reacher #16.5)(9)

Deep Down (Jack Reacher #16.5)(9)
Author: Lee Child

“Some did. From time to time. In a way.”

“I see.”

“Do you?”

“You’re an undercover operator,” Vaz said. “I always knew the day would come.”

“When what?”

“When you finally figured it out. As in, your procurement office is riddled with corruption, and has been for years. As in, you don’t need a new sniper rifle. You know that. But those guys have already sold stock in the new model. Maybe the money is already spent. So they have to make it happen. Any way they can. I mean, did you hear some of the arguments they were making?”

“Where is their office?”

“Who? Procurement is a big department.”

“The guy I saw today, for instance.”

“His office is in the Capitol Building.”

“With a fax machine?”

“Of course.”

“Did any of the others know this?”

“In the political shop? We all did. Why do you think Walker made them go through the whole thing again today? Because she wanted to generate a third fax.”

“Why?”

“An extra piece of evidence for you. We knew you’d catch up with it eventually.”

“Why didn’t one of you drop a dime before?”

“Not our place.”

“You mean the cost-benefit ratio wasn’t right. One of you would have to step up, and it’s conceivable she could lose. Because anything can happen in a military court. In which case she’s out of the running right from that moment. Because she was once on the losing side. You couldn’t risk that kind of mistake. Not having come so far.”

“The running for what?”

“For whatever it is you all plan to be.”

“For a spell we thought the previous sniper could be the undercover guy. The one you replaced. Like entrapment. He was letting the officer push him to want more and more. But in the end we thought he was just a sniper. So we’d have nailed you for the real undercover guy in about a minute, except no one was really paying attention this afternoon.”

“Because of Richardson? What did she think was happening?”

“The same as we all did. Procurement is a swamp and you’d notice sooner or later.”

“What is it you plan to be?”

“Respected. Perhaps within a closed community, but by someone.”

“Has your life lacked respect so far?”

“You have no idea,” Vaz said. She turned toward him, moving on the bench, her knees coming close to his, dark nylon over dark skin. She said, “I’m proceeding on the assumption that I can trust my impression that you’re younger than me. And in a branch with much less generous and accelerated promotion. And that therefore I outrank you.”

“I’m a captain,” Reacher said. “Ma’am.”

“Therefore if our chains of command were in any way related, it would be inappropriate for us to have a close relationship. Therefore the question is, are our chains of command in any way related?”

“I think they’re about as far apart as chains of command can be.”

“Wait there,” she said. “I’ll be right back.”

And she got up and threaded her way through the cluttered space, heading for the restroom corridor in back. Five minutes, minimum, Reacher thought. He followed her as far as a pay phone on the wall. The phone was a scratched old item and the wall behind it was dark with smoke and grime.

He dialed, and said his name.

Cornelius Christopher said, “Yes?”

Reacher said, “I’m done.”

“What does that mean? You’re quitting?”

“No, it means the job is done.”

“What do you know?”

“Walker must be back at the Capitol by now. Any faxes yet?”

“No.”

“You were wrong. No one is leaking to a foreign firearms manufacturer. No one ever was. Why would anyone need to? Everyone knows what a good sniper rifle should be. It’s self-explanatory. It’s obvious. The basic principles have been understood for a century. No one needs to gather secret intelligence. Because they already know.”

“So what’s the story?”

“I’m waiting for the final proof. I should have it in five minutes or less.”

“Proof of what?”

“It’s Alice Vaz,” Reacher said. “Think about the transcripts. Her big-picture questions. She asked a couple more this afternoon. She wanted it spelled out exactly where this new rifle will be used. She asked what new environments it might face.”

“So?”

“She was trying to get into War Plans through the back door. And the procurement guy fell for it. No details, but he gave plenty of weather clues. Anyone could reverse-engineer our entire slate of global intentions from what he said.”

“Like what?”

“He said high altitude plus freezing mist.”

“Afghanistan,” Christopher said. “We’re going to have to go there sooner or later.”

“And extreme dry heat with sand infiltration.”

“The Middle East. Iraq, most likely.”

“And rain forest humidity and high ambient temperature.”

“South America. Colombia, and so on. The drug wars.”

“And in snow many degrees below zero.”

“If we have to go to the Soviet Union.”

“You see? She got a summary of all our future plans from the guy. Exactly the kind of oblique data that enemy intelligence analysts love.”

“Are you sure?”

“I gave her two seconds to react and she came up with blaming procurement for being corrupt. It was almost plausible. She’s very smart.”

“Which enemy? Which foreign intelligence?”

“The Soviets, of course. A local fax number, probably in their embassy.”

“She’s their asset?”

“In a big, big way. Think about it. She’s on the fast track. She’s going right to the top. Which is what? The Joint Chiefs, at least. But maybe more. A woman like this could be President of the United States.”

“But how did they recruit her? And when?”

“Probably before she was born. Her granddaddy was some big Red Army hero. So maybe her daddy wasn’t a real refugee. Maybe the KGB shuffled him to Hungary so he could get out and look like a dissident. Whereupon his daughter could be born an American and become a real deep down sleeper. She was probably groomed for the fast track from birth. These people play a long game.”

“That’s a lot of assumptions.”

“The proof will be here in about three minutes. Or not.”

“But why risk wasting a super-high-value asset on this? Because if you’re right, then this is useful, but it’s not life-changing. This is not the hydrogen bomb.”

“I think this was kind of accidental. I think it came up in the normal course of her duties. But she couldn’t resist phoning it in. Habit, or a sense of obligation. If she’s a true believer.”

“What’s the proof you’re getting in five minutes? Or is it three?”

“It’s two minutes now, probably,” Reacher said. “She made a brief call from the Hyatt hotel. Think about it. She’s a huge asset. Maybe their biggest ever. She’s headed all the way to the top. Which could be anywhere. And right now she’s stopping in War Plans next, which is a real big prize in itself. So she has to be protected. Like no one has ever been protected before. And she was suspicious of me somehow. Maybe routine paranoia. I was new. I was hanging around. So she called for help. She told the embassy’s wet boys where I’d be, and when. And then she lured me into the trap. Right now I’m supposed to believe I’m about to get in her pants.”

 

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