“Pure, escapist gold . . . Mr. Child’s tough talk and thoughtful plotting make an ingenious combination.”—The New York Times
Six shots. Five dead. One heartland city thrown into a state of terror. But within hours the cops have it solved: a slam-dunk case. Except for one thing. The accused man says: You got the wrong guy. Then he says: Get Reacher for me.
And sure enough, ex—military investigator Jack Reacher is coming. He knows this shooter–a trained military sniper who never should have missed a shot. Reacher is certain something is not right–and soon the slam-dunk case explodes.
Now Reacher is teamed with a beautiful young defense lawyer, moving closer to the unseen enemy who is pulling the strings. Reacher knows that no two opponents are created equal. This one has come to the heartland from his own kind of hell. And Reacher knows that the only way to take him down is to match his ruthlessness and cunning–and then beat him shot for shot.
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About the Author
Date of Birth:1954
Place of Birth:Coventry, England
Read an Excerpt
C H A P T E R 2
Reacher was on his way to them because of a woman. He had spent Friday night in South Beach, Miami, in a salsa club, with a dancer from a cruise ship. The boat was Norwegian, and so was the girl. Reacher guessed she was too tall for ballet, but she was the right size for everything else. They met on the beach in the afternoon. Reacher was working on his tan. He felt better brown. He didn’t know what she was working on. But he felt her shadow fall across his face and opened his eyes to find her staring at him. Or maybe at his scars. The browner he got, the more they stood out, white and wicked and obvious. She was pale, in a black bikini. A small black bikini. He pegged her for a dancer long before she told him. It was in the way she held herself.
They ended up having a late dinner together and then going out to the club. South Beach salsa wouldn’t have been Reacher’s first choice, but her company made it worthwhile. She was fun to be with. And she was a great dancer, obviously. Full of energy. She wore him out. At four in the morning she took him back to her hotel, eager to wear him out some more. Her hotel was a small Art Deco place near the ocean. Clearly the cruise line treated its people well. Certainly it was a much more romantic destination than Reacher’s own motel. And much closer.
And it had cable television, which Reacher’s place didn’t. He woke at eight on Saturday morning when he heard the dancer in the shower. He turned on the TV and went looking for ESPN. He wanted Friday night’s American League highlights. He never found them. He clicked his way through successive channels and then stopped dead on CNN because he heard the chief of an Indiana police department say a name he knew: James Barr. The picture was of a press conference. Small room, harsh light. Top of the screen was a caption that said: Courtesy NBC. There was a banner across the bottom that said: Friday Night Massacre. The police chief said the name again, James Barr, and then he introduced a homicide detective called Emerson. Emerson looked tired. Emerson said the name for a third time: James Barr. Then, like he anticipated the exact question in Reacher’s mind, he ran through a brief biography: Forty-one years old, local Indiana resident, U.S. Army infantry specialist from 1985 to 1991, Gulf War veteran, never married, currently unemployed.
Reacher watched the screen. Emerson seemed like a concise type of a guy. He was brief. No bullshit. He finished his statement and in response to a reporter’s question declined to specify what if anything James Barr had said during interrogation. Then he introduced a District Attorney. This guy’s name was Rodin, and he wasn’t concise. Wasn’t brief. He used plenty of bullshit. He spent ten minutes claiming Emerson’s credit for himself. Reacher knew how that worked. He had been a cop of sorts for thirteen years. Cops bust their tails, and prosecutors bask in the glory. Rodin said James Barr a few more times and then said the state was maybe looking to fry him.
A local anchor called Ann Yanni came on. She recapped the events of the night before. Sniper slaying. Senseless slaughter. An automatic weapon. A parking garage. A public plaza. Commuters on their way home after a long workweek. Five dead. A suspect in custody, but a city still grieving.
Reacher thought it was Yanni who was grieving. Emerson’s success had cut her story short. She signed off and CNN went to political news. Reacher turned the TV off. The dancer came out of the bathroom. She was pink and fragrant. And naked. She had left her towels inside.
“What shall we do today?” she said, with a wide Norwegian smile.
“I’m going to Indiana,” Reacher said.
He walked north in the heat to the Miami bus depot. Then he leafed through a greasy timetable and planned a route. It wasn’t going to be an easy trip. Miami to Jacksonville would be the first leg. Then Jacksonville to New Orleans. Then New Orleans to St. Louis. Then St. Louis to Indianapolis. Then a local bus, presumably, south into the heartland. Five separate destinations. Arrival and departure times were not well integrated. Beginning to end, it was going to take more than forty-eight hours. He was tempted to fly or rent a car, but he was short of money and he liked buses better and he figured nothing much was going to happen on the weekend anyway.
What happened on the weekend was that Rosemary Barr called her firm’s investigator back. She figured Franklin would have a semiindependent point of view. She got him at home, ten o’clock in the morning on the Sunday.
“I think I should hire different lawyers,” she said.
Franklin said nothing.
“David Chapman thinks he’s guilty,” Rosemary said. “Doesn’t he?
So he’s already given up.”
“I can’t comment,” Franklin said. “He’s one of my employers.”
Now Rosemary Barr said nothing.
“How was the hospital?” Franklin asked.
“Awful. He’s in intensive care with a bunch of prison deadbeats. They’ve got him handcuffed to the bed. He’s in a coma, for God’s sake. How do they think he’s going to escape?”
“What’s the legal position?”
“He was arrested but not arraigned. He’s in a kind of limbo.
They’re assuming he wouldn’t have gotten bail.”
“They’re probably right.”
“So they claim under the circumstances it’s like he actually didn’t get bail. So he’s theirs. He’s in the system. Like a twilight zone.”
“What would you like to happen?”
“He shouldn’t be in handcuffs. And he should be in a VA hospital at least. But that won’t happen until I find a lawyer who’s prepared to help him.”
Franklin paused. “How do you explain all the evidence?”
“I know my brother.”
“You moved out, right?”
“For other reasons. Not because he’s a homicidal maniac.”
“He blocked off a parking space,” Franklin said. “He premeditated this thing.”
“You think he’ s guilty, too.”
“I work with what I’ve got. And what I’ve got doesn’t look good.”
Rosemary Barr said nothing.
“I’m sorry,” Franklin said.
“Can you recommend another lawyer?”
“Can you make that decision? Do you have a power of attorney?”
“I think it’s implied. He’s in a coma. I’m his next of kin.”
“How much money have you got?”
“How much has he got?”
“There’s some equity in his house.”
“It won’ t look good. It’ll be like a kick in the teeth for the firm you work for.”
“I can’ t worry about that.”
“You could lose everything, including your job.”
“I’ll lose it anyway, unless I help James. If he’s convicted, they’ll let me go. I’ll be notorious. By association. An embarrassment.”
“He had your sleeping pills,” Franklin said.
“I gave them to him. He doesn’t have insurance.”
“Why did he need them?”
“He has trouble sleeping.”
Franklin said nothing.
“You think he’s guilty,” Rosemary said.
“The evidence is overwhelming,” Franklin said.
“David Chapman isn’t really trying, is he?”
“You have to consider the possibility that David Chapman is right.”
“Who should I call?”
“Try Helen Rodin,” he said.
“She’s the DA’s daughter.”
“I don’t know her.”
“She’s downtown. She just hung out her shingle. She’s new and she’s keen.”
“Is it ethical?”
“No law against it.”
“It would be father against daughter.”
“It was going to be Chapman, and Chapman knows Rodin a lot better than his daughter does, probably. She’s been away for a long time.”
“College, law school, clerking for a judge in D.C.”
“Is she any good?”
“I think she’s going to be.”
Rosemary Barr called Helen Rodin on her office number. It was like a test. Someone new and keen should be at the office on a Sunday.
Helen Rodin was at the office on a Sunday. She answered the call sitting at her desk. Her desk was secondhand and it sat proudly in a mostly empty two-room suite in the same black glass tower that had NBC as the second-floor tenant. The suite was rented cheap through one of the business subsidies that the city was throwing around like confetti. The idea was to kick-start the rejuvenated downtown area and clean up later with healthy tax revenues.
Rosemary Barr didn’t have to tell Helen Rodin about the case because the whole thing had happened right outside Helen Rodin’ s new office window. Helen had seen some of it for herself, and she had followed the rest on the news afterward. She had caught all of Ann Yanni’s TV appearances. She recognized her from the building’s lobby, and the elevator.
“Will you help my brother?” Rosemary Barr asked.
Helen Rodin paused. The smart answer would be No way. She knew that. Like No way, forget about it, are you out of your mind? Two reasons. One, she knew a major clash with her father was inevitable at some point, but did she need it now? And two, she knew that a new lawyer’s early cases defined her. Paths were taken that led down fixed routes. To end up as a when-all-else-fails criminal-defense attorney would be OK, she guessed, all things considered. But to start out by taking a case that had offended the whole city would be a marketing disaster. The shootings weren’t being seen as a crime. They were being seen as an atrocity. Against humanity, against the whole community, against the rejuvenation efforts downtown, against the whole idea of being from Indiana. It was like LA or New York or Baltimore had come to the heartland, and to be the person who tried to excuse it or explain it away would be a fatal mistake. Like a mark of Cain. It would follow her the rest of her life.
“Can we sue the jail?” Rosemary Barr asked. “For letting him get hurt?”
Helen Rodin paused again. Another good reason to say no. An unrealistic client.
“Maybe later,” she said. “Right now he wouldn’t generate much sympathy as a plaintiff. And it’s hard to prove damages, if he’s heading for death row anyway.”
“Then I can’t pay you much,” Rosemary Barr said. “I don’t have money.”
Helen Rodin paused for a third time. Another good reason to say no. It was a little early in her career to be contemplating pro bono work.
But. But. But.
The accused deserved representation. The Bill of Rights said so. And he was innocent until proven guilty. And if the evidence was as bad as her father said it was, then the whole thing would be little more than a supervisory process. She would verify the case against him independently. Then she would advise him to plead guilty. Then she would watch his back as her father fed him through the machine. That was all. It could be seen as honest dues-paying. A constitutional chore. She hoped.
“OK,” she said.
“He’s innocent,” Rosemary Barr said. “I’m sure of it.”
They always are, Helen Rodin thought.
“OK,” she said again. Then she told her new client to meet her in her office at seven the next morning. It was like a test. A sister who really believed in her brother’s innocence would show up for an early appointment.
Rosemary Barr showed up right on time, at seven o’clock on Monday morning. Franklin was there, too. He believed in Helen Rodin and was prepared to defer his bills until he saw which way the wind was blowing. Helen Rodin herself had already been at her desk for an hour. She had informed David Chapman of the change in representation on Sunday afternoon and had obtained the audiotape of his initial interview with James Barr. Chapman had been happy to hand it over and wash his hands. She had played the tape to herself a dozen times Sunday night and a dozen more that morning. It was all anyone had of James Barr. Maybe all anyone was ever going to get. So she had listened to it carefully, and she had drawn some early conclusions from it.
“Listen,” she said.
She had the tape cued up and ready in an old-fashioned machine the size of a shoe box. She pressed Play and they all heard a hiss and breathing and room sounds and then David Chapman’s voice: I can’ t help you if you won’t help yourself. There was a long pause, full of more hiss, and then James Barr spoke: They got the wrong guy. . . . They got the wrong guy, he said again. Then Helen watched the tape counter numbers and spooled forward to Chapman saying: Denying it is not an option. Then Barr’s voice came through: Get Jack Reacher for me. Helen spooled onward to Chapman’s question: Is he a doctor? Then there was nothing on the tape except the sound of Barr beating on the interview room door.
“OK,” Helen said. “I think he really believes he didn’t do it. He claims as much, and then he gets frustrated and terminates the interview when Chapman doesn’ t take him seriously. That’s clear, isn’t it?”
“He didn’t do it,” Rosemary Barr said.
“I spoke with my father yesterday,” Helen Rodin said. “The evidence is all there, Ms. Barr. He did it, I’m afraid. You need to accept that a sister maybe can’ t know her brother as well as she’d like. Or if she once did, that he changed for some reason.”
There was a long silence.
“Is your father telling you the truth about the evidence?” Rosemary asked.
“He has to,” Helen said. “We’re going to see it all anyway. There’s the discovery process. We’re going to take depositions. There would be no sense in him bluffing at this point.”
“But we can still help your brother,” Helen said in the silence. “He believes he didn’t do it. I’m sure of that, after listening to the tape.
Therefore he’s delusional now. Or at least he was on Saturday.
Therefore perhaps he was delusional on Friday, too.”
“How does that help him?” Rosemary Barr asked. “It’s still admitting he did it.”
“The consequences will be different. If he recovers. Time and treatment in an institution will be a lot better than time and no treatment in a maximum security prison.”
“You want to have James declared insane?”
Helen nodded. “A medical defense is our best shot. And if we establish it right now, it might improve the way they handle him before the trial.”
“He might die. That’s what the doctors said. I don’t want him to die a criminal. I want to clear his name.”
“He hasn’t been tried yet. He hasn’t been convicted. He’s still an innocent man in the eyes of the law.”
“That’s not the same.”
“No,” Helen said. “I guess it isn’t.”
There was another long silence.
“Let’s meet back here at ten-thirty,” Helen said. “We’ll thrash out a strategy. If we’re aiming for a change of hospitals, we should try for it sooner rather than later.”
“We need to find this Jack Reacher person,” Rosemary Barr said.
Helen nodded. “I gave his name to Emerson and my father.”
“Because Emerson’s people cleared your brother’ s house out.
They might have found an address or a phone number. And my father needed to know because we want this guy on our witness list, not the prosecution’s. Because he might be able to help us.”
“He might be an alibi.”
“Maybe an old army buddy, at best.”
“I don’t see how,” Franklin said. “They were different ranks and different branches.”
“We need to find him,” Rosemary Barr said. “James asked for him, didn’ t he? That has to mean something.”
Helen nodded again. “I’d certainly like to find him. He might have something for us. Some exculpatory information, possibly. Or at least he might be a link to something we can use.”
“He’s out of circulation,” Franklin said.
He was two hours away, in the back of a bus out of Indianapolis. The trip had been slow, but pleasant enough. He had spent Saturday night in New Orleans, in a motel near the bus depot. He had spent Sunday night in Indianapolis. So he had slept and fed himself and showered. But mostly he had rocked and swayed and dozed on buses, watching the passing scenes, observing the chaos of America, and surfing along on the memory of the Norwegian. His life was like that. It was a mosaic of fragments. Details and contexts would fade and be inaccurately recalled, but the feelings and the experiences would weave over time into a tapestry equally full of good times and bad. He didn’t know yet exactly where the Norwegian would fall. At that point he thought of her as a missed opportunity. But she would have sailed away soon anyway. Or he would have. CNN’s intervention had shortened things, but maybe only by a fraction.
The bus was doing 55 on Route 37, heading south. It stopped in Bloomington. Six people got out. One of them left the Indianapolis paper behind. Reacher picked it up and checked the sports. The
Yankees were still ahead in the East. Then he flipped to the front and checked the news. He saw the headline: Sniper Suspect Hurt in Jail Attack. He read the first three paragraphs: Brain injury. Coma.
Uncertain prognosis. The journalist seemed torn between condemning the Indiana Board of Corrections for its lawless prisons and applauding Barr’s attackers for doing their civic duty.
This might complicate things, Reacher thought.
The later paragraphs carried a reprise of the original crime story, plus updated background, plus new facts. Reacher read them all.
Barr’s sister had moved out of his house some months before the incident. The journalist seemed to think that was either a cause or an effect of Barr’s evident instability. Or both. The bus moved out of Bloomington. Reacher folded the paper and propped his head against the window and watched the road. It was a black ribbon, wet with recent rain, and it unspooled beside him with the center line flashing by like an urgent Morse code message. Reacher wasn’t sure what it was saying to him. He couldn’t read it.
The bus pulled into a covered depot and Reacher came out into the daylight and found himself five blocks west of where a raised highway curled around behind an old stone building. Indiana limestone, he guessed. The real thing. It would be a bank, he thought, or a courthouse, or maybe a library. There was a black glass tower beyond it. The air was OK. It was colder than Miami but he was still far enough south that winter felt safely distant. He wasn’t going to have to refresh his wardrobe because of weather. He was in white chino pants and a bright yellow canvas shirt. Both were three days old. He figured he would get another day out of them. Then he would buy replacements, cheap. He had brown boat shoes on his feet. No socks. He felt he was dressed for the boardwalk and thought he must look a little out of place in the city.
He checked his watch. Nine-twenty in the morning. He stood on the sidewalk in the diesel fumes and stretched and looked around. The city was one of those heartland places that are neither large nor small, neither new nor old. It wasn’t booming and it wasn’t decrepit.
There was probably some history. Probably some corn and soybean trading. Maybe tobacco. Maybe livestock. There was probably a river, or a railhead. Maybe some manufacturing. There was a small downtown area. He could see it ahead of him, east of where he stood. Taller structures, some stone, some brick, some billboards. He figured the black glass tower would be the flagship building. No reason to build it anyplace else than the heart of downtown.
He walked toward it. There was a lot of construction under way.
Repairs, renewals, holes in the road, gravel piles, fresh concrete, heavy trucks moving slow. He crossed in front of one and hit a side street and came out along the north side of a half-finished parking garage extension. He recalled Ann Yanni’ s fevered breaking-news recap and glanced up at it and then away from it to a public square. There was an empty ornamental pool with a fountain spout sticking up forlornly in the center. There was a narrow walkway between the pool itself and a low wall. The walkway was decorated with makeshift funeral tributes. There were flowers, with their stems wrapped in aluminum foil. Photographs under plastic, and small stuffed animals, and candles. There was a dusting of leftover sand. The sand had soaked up the blood, he guessed. Fire engines carry boxes of sand for accidents and crime scenes. And stainless steel shovels for removal of body parts. He glanced back at the parking garage. Less than thirty-five yards, he thought. Very close.
He stood still. The plaza was silent. The whole city was quiet. It felt stunned, like a limb briefly paralyzed after a massive bruising blow. The plaza was the epicenter. It was where the blow had landed. It was like a black hole, with emotion compressed into it too tight to escape.
He walked on. The old limestone building was a library. That’s OK, he thought. Librarians are nice people. They tell you things, if you ask them. He asked for the DA’s office. A sad and subdued woman at the checkout desk gave him directions. It wasn’t a long walk. It wasn’t a big city. He walked east past a new office building that had signs for the DMV and a military recruitment center. Behind it was a block of off-brand stores and then a new courthouse building. It was a plain flat-roof off-the-shelf design dressed up with mahogany doors and etched glass. It could have been a church from some weird denomination with a generous but strapped congregation.
He avoided the main public entrance. He circled the block until he came to the office wing. He found a door labeled District Attorney.
Below it on a separate brass plate he found Rodin’s name. An elected official, he thought. They use a separate plate to make it cheaper when the guy changes every few Novembers. Rodin’s initials were A. A. He had a law degree.
Reacher went in through the door and spoke to a receptionist at a counter. Asked to see A. A. Rodin himself. “About what?” the receptionist asked, quietly but politely. She was middle-aged, well cared for, well turned out, wearing a clean white blouse. She looked like she had worked behind a desk all her life. A practiced bureaucrat. But stressed. She looked like she was carrying all the town’s recent troubles on her shoulders.
“About James Barr,” Reacher said.
“Are you a reporter?” the receptionist asked.
“No,” Reacher said.
“May I tell Mr. Rodin’s office your connection to the case?”
“I knew James Barr in the army.”
“That must have been some time ago.”
“A long time ago,” Reacher said.
“May I have your name?”
The receptionist dialed a phone and spoke. Reacher guessed she was speaking to a secretary, because both he and Rodin were referred to in the third person, like abstractions. Can he see a Mr. Reacher about the case? Not the Barr case. Just the case. The conversation continued. Then the receptionist covered the phone by clamping it to her chest, below her collarbone, above her left breast.
“Do you have information?” she asked.
The secretary upstairs can hear your heart beating, Reacher thought.
“Yes,” he said. “Information.”
“From the army?” she asked.
Reacher nodded. The receptionist put the phone back to her face and continued the conversation. It was a long one. Mr. A. A. Rodin had an efficient pair of gatekeepers. That was clear. No way of getting past them without some kind of an urgent and legitimate reason. That was clear, too. Reacher checked his watch. Nine-forty in the morning. But there was no rush, under the circumstances. Barr was in a coma. Tomorrow would do it. Or the next day. Or maybe he could get to Rodin through the cop, if need be. What was his name? Emerson?
The receptionist hung up the phone.
“Please go straight up,” she said. “Mr. Rodin is on the third floor.”
I’m honored, Reacher thought. The receptionist wrote his name on a visitor pass and slipped it into a plastic sleeve. He clipped it on his shirt and headed for the elevator. Rode it to the third floor. The third floor had low ceilings and internal corridors lit by fluorescent tubes. There were three doors made of painted fiberboard that were closed and one set of double doors made of polished wood that were open. Behind those was a secretary at a desk. The second gatekeeper. She was younger than the downstairs lady but presumably more senior.
“Mr. Reacher?” she asked.
He nodded and she came out from behind her desk and led him to where the windowed offices started. The third door they came to was labeled A. A. Rodin.
“What’s the A. A. for?” Reacher asked.
“I’m sure Mr. Rodin will tell you if he wants to,” the secretary said.
She knocked on the door and Reacher heard a baritone reply from inside. Then she opened the door and stood aside for Reacher to go in past her.
“Thanks,” he said.
“You’re most welcome,” she said.
Reacher went in. Rodin was already on his feet behind his desk, ready to welcome his visitor, full of reflexive courtesy. Reacher recognized him from the TV. He was a guy of about fifty, fairly lean, fairly fit, gray hair cut short. In person he looked smaller. He was maybe an inch under six feet and a pound under two hundred. He was dressed in a summer-weight suit, dark blue. He had a blue shirt on, and a blue tie. His eyes were blue. Blue was his color, no doubt about it. He was immaculately shaved and wearing cologne. He was a very squared-away guy, no question. As opposed to me, Reacher thought. It was like a study in contrasts. Next to Rodin, Reacher was an unkempt giant. He was six inches taller and fifty pounds heavier. His hair was two inches longer and his clothes were a thousand dollars cheaper.
“Mr. Reacher?” Rodin said.
Reacher nodded. The office was government-basic, but neat. It was cool and quiet. No real view from the window. Just the flat roofs of the off-brand stores and the DMV office, with all the ductwork showing. The black glass tower was visible in the distance. There was a weak sun in the sky. At a right angle to the window there was a trophy wall behind the desk, with college degree certificates and photographs of Rodin with politicians. There were framed newspaper headlines reporting guilty verdicts in seven different cases. On another wall was a photograph of a blonde girl wearing a mortarboard and a gown and holding a degree scroll. She was pretty. Reacher looked at her for a moment longer than he needed to.
“That’s my daughter,” Rodin said. “She’s a lawyer, too.”
“Is she?” Reacher said.
“She just opened her own office here in town.”
There was nothing in his tone. Reacher wasn’t sure whether he was proud, or disapproving.
“You’re due to meet with her, I think,” Rodin said.
“Am I?” Reacher said. “Why?”
“She’s defending James Barr.”
“Your daughter? Is that ethical?”
“There’s no law against it. It might not be sensible, but it’s not unethical.”
He said sensible with emphasis, hinting at a number of meanings. Not smart to defend a notorious case, not smart for a daughter to take on her father, not smart for anyone to take on A. A. Rodin. He sounded like a very competitive guy.
“She put your name on her provisional witness list,” he said.
“She thinks you have information.”
“Where did she get my name?”
“I don’t know.”
“From the Pentagon?”
Rodin shrugged. “I’m not sure. But she got it from somewhere.
Therefore people have been looking for you.”
“Is that why I got in here?”
“Yes, it is,” he said. “That’s exactly why. Generally I don’t encourage walk-ins.”
“Your staff seems to be on board with that policy.”
“I certainly hope so,” Rodin said. “Sit down, please.”
Reacher sat in the visitor chair and Rodin sat behind his desk. The window was on Reacher’s left and Rodin’s right. Neither man had the light in his eyes. It was an equitable furniture arrangement. Different from some prosecutors’ offices Reacher had known.
“Coffee?” Rodin asked.
“Please,” Reacher said.
Rodin made a call and asked for coffee.
“Naturally I’m interested in why you came to see me first,” he said. “The prosecution, I mean, rather than the defense.”
“I wanted your personal opinion,” Reacher said.
“On how strong a case you’ve got against James Barr.”
Rodin didn’t answer immediately. There was a short silence and then there was a knock at the door and the secretary came in with coffee. She had a silver tray with the works on it. A French press, two cups, two saucers, a sugar bowl, a tiny pitcher of cream, two silver spoons. The cups were fine china. Not government issue, Reacher thought. Rodin likes his coffee done right. The secretary put the tray on the edge of the desk, so that it was exactly halfway between the desk chair and the visitor chair.
“Thanks,” Reacher said.
“You’re most welcome,” she said, and left the room.
“Help yourself,” Rodin said. “Please.”
Reacher pushed the plunger down and poured himself a cup, no cream, no sugar. It smelled dark and strong. Coffee, done right.
“The case against James Barr is exceptionally good,” Rodin said.
“Eyewitnesses?” Reacher asked.
“No,” Rodin said. “But eyewitness testimony can be of random value. I’m almost glad we don’t have eyewitnesses. Because what we’ve got instead is exceptional physical evidence. And science doesn’t lie. It doesn’t get confused.”
“Exceptional?” Reacher said.
“A complete rock-solid evidence trail that ties the man to the crime.”
“As good as it gets. The best I’ve ever seen. I’m completely confident.”
“I’ve heard prosecutors say that before.”
“Not this one, Mr. Reacher. I’m a very cautious man. I don’t prosecute capital cases unless I’m certain of the outcome.”
Rodin gestured above and behind him at his trophy wall.
“Seven for seven,” he said. “One hundred percent.”
“In how long?”
“In three years. James Barr will make it eight for eight. If he ever wakes up.”
“Suppose he wakes up damaged?”
“If he wakes up with any brain function at all, he’s going to trial. What he did here can’t be forgiven.”
“OK,” Reacher said.
“You’ve told me what I wanted to know.”
“You said you had information. From the army.”
“I’ll keep it to myself for now.”
“You were a military policeman, am I right?”
“Thirteen years,” Reacher said.
“And you knew James Barr?”
“Tell me about him.”
“Mr. Reacher, if you have exculpatory information, or anything to add at all, you really need to tell me now.”
“I’ll get it anyway. My daughter will submit it. She’ll be looking for a plea bargain.”
“What does the A. A. stand for?”
“Aleksei Alekseivitch. My family came from Russia. But a long time ago. Before the October Revolution.”
“But they keep up traditions.”
“As you can see.”
“What do people call you?”
“Alex, of course.”
Reacher stood up. “Well, thanks for your time, Alex. And the coffee.”
“Are you going to see my daughter now?”
“Is there any point? You seem pretty sure of yourself.”
Rodin smiled an indulgent smile.
“It’s a matter of procedure,” he said. “I’m an officer of the court, and you’re on a witness list. I’m obliged to point out that you’re obliged to go. Anything less would be unethical.”
“Where is she?”
“In the glass tower you can see from the window.”
“OK,” Reacher said. “I guess I could drop by.”
“I still need whatever information you have,” Rodin said. Reacher shook his head.
“No,” he said. “You really don’t.”
He returned his visitor pass to the woman at the reception desk and headed back to the public plaza. Stood in the cold sun and turned a complete circle, getting a sense of the place. All cities are the same, and all cities are different. They all have colors. Some are gray. This one was brown. Reacher guessed the brick was made from local clay and had carried the color of old farmland into the facades. Even the stone was flecked with tan, like it carried deposits of iron. There were accents of dark red here and there, like old barns. It was a warm place, not busy, but it was surviving. It would rebound after the tragedy. There was progress and optimism and dynamism. All the new construction proved it. There were work zones and raw concrete curbs everywhere. Lots of planning, lots of rebuilding. Lots of hope.
The new parking garage extension anchored the north end of the downtown strip. It suggested commercial expansion. It was south and slightly west of the kill zone. Very close. Directly west and maybe twice as distant was a length of the raised highway. It ran free and clear through a curve for maybe thirty yards before curling in behind the library. Then it curled some more and passed behind the black glass tower. The tower was due north of the plaza. It had an NBC sign near the door, on a black granite slab. Ann Yanni’s workplace, Reacher guessed, as well as Rodin’s daughter’s. East of the plaza was the office building with the DMV and the recruiting office. That was where the victims had come from. They had spilled out the door. What had Ann Yanni said? At the end of a long workweek? They had hustled west across the plaza toward their parked cars or the bus depot and had stumbled into a nightmare. The narrow walkway would have slowed them down and lined them up. Like shooting fish in a barrel.
Reacher walked the length of the empty ornamental pool to the revolving door at the base of the tower. He went in and checked the lobby for a directory. There was a glassed-in board made of ridged black felt with press-in white letters. NBC was on the second floor. Some of the other suites were empty, and Reacher guessed the rest changed hands fast enough to make it worth holding on to the press-in letter system. Law Offices of Helen Rodin was listed on four. The letters were a little misaligned and the spacing was off. Rockefeller Center it ain’t, Reacher thought.
He waited for the elevator in a queue of two, him and a pretty blonde woman. He looked at her and she looked at him. She got out on two and he realized it was Ann Yanni. He recognized her from the broadcast. Then he figured all he needed to do was meet Emerson from the local PD and he would have brought the whole breaking news tableau to life.
He found Helen Rodin’s suite. It was at the front of the building. Her windows were going to overlook the plaza. He knocked. Heard a muffled reply and went in. There was an empty reception room with a secretary’s desk. The desk was unoccupied. It was secondhand, but not recently used. No secretary yet, Reacher thought. Early days.
He knocked on the inner office door. Heard the same voice make a second reply. He went in and found Helen Rodin at another secondhand desk. He recognized her from her father’s photograph. But face-to-face she looked even better. She was probably no more than thirty, quite tall, lightly built. Slim, in an athletic sort of a way. Not anorexic. Either she ran or played soccer or had been very lucky with her metabolism. She had long blonde hair and her father’s blue eyes. There was intelligence behind them. She was dressed all in black, in a pantsuit with a tight stretch top under the coat. Lycra, Reacher thought. Can’t beat it.
“Hello,” she said.
“I’m Jack Reacher,” he said.
She stared at him. “You’re kidding. Are you really?”
He nodded. “Always have been, always will be.”
“Not really. Everybody’ s somebody.”
“I mean, how did you know to come? We couldn’t find you.”
“I saw it on the TV. Ann Yanni, Saturday morning.”
“Well, thank God for TV,” she said. “And thank God you’re here.”
“I was in Miami,” he said. “With a dancer.”
“She was Norwegian,” he said.
He walked to the window and looked out. He was four stories up and the main shopping street ran away directly south, down a hill, emphasizing his elevation. The ornamental pool was placed with its long axis exactly lined up with the street. The pool was on the street, really, except they had blocked the street off to make the plaza. Someone returning from a long spell away would be surprised to find a big tank of water where once there had been roadway. The pool was much longer and narrower than it had looked from ground level. It looked sad and empty, with just a thin layer of mud and scum on the black tile. Beyond it and slightly to the right was the new parking structure. It was slightly downhill from the plaza. Maybe half a story’s difference.
“Were you here?” Reacher asked. “When it happened?”
“Yes, I was,” Helen Rodin said quietly.
“Did you see it?”
“Not at first. I heard the first three gunshots. They came very fast. The first, and then a tiny pause, and then the next two. Then another pause, a little longer, but just a split second, really. I stood up in time for the last three. Horrible.”
Reacher nodded. Brave girl, he thought. She hears gunshots, and she stands up. She doesn’t dive under the desk. Then he thought: The first, and then a tiny pause. That was the sound of a skilled rifleman watching where his first cold shot went. So many variables. The cold barrel, the range, the wind, the zeroing, the sighting-in.
“Did you see people die?” he asked.
“Two of them,” she said behind him. “It was awful.”
“Three shots and two people?”
“He missed once. Either the fourth or the fifth shot, they’re not sure. They found the bullet in the pool. That’s why it’s empty. They drained it.”
Reacher said nothing.
“The bullet is part of the evidence,” Helen said. “It ties the rifle to the crime.”
“Did you know any of the dead people?”
“No. They were just people, I guess. In the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Reacher said nothing.
“I saw flames from the gun,” Helen said. “Way over there, in the shadows, in the dark. Little spits of flame.”
“Muzzle flashes,” Reacher said.
He turned back from the window. She held out her hand.
“I’m Helen Rodin,” she said. “I’m sorry, I should have introduced myself properly.”
Reacher took her hand. It was warm and firm.
“Just Helen?” he said. “Not Helena Alekseyovna or something?”
She stared at him again. “How the hell did you know that?”
“I met your dad,” he said, and let go of her hand.
“Did you?” she said. “Where?”
“In his office, just now.”
“You went to his office? Today?”
“I just left there.”
“Why did you go to his office? You’re my witness. He shouldn’t have seen you.”
“He was very keen to talk.”
“What did you tell him?”
“Nothing. I asked questions instead.”
“I wanted to know how strong his case was. Against James Barr.”
“I’m representing James Barr. And you’re a defense witness. You should have been talking to me, not him.”
Reacher said nothing.
“Unfortunately the case against James Barr is very strong,” she said.
“How did you get my name?” Reacher asked.
“From James Barr, of course,” she said. “How else?”
“From Barr? I don’t believe it.”
“Well, listen,” she said.
She turned away to the desk and pressed a key on an old-fashioned cassette player. Reacher heard a voice he didn’t recognize say: Denying it is not an option. Helen touched the Pause key and kept her finger on it.
“His first lawyer,” she said. “We changed representation yesterday.”
“How? He was in a coma yesterday.”
“Technically my client is James Barr’s sister. His next of kin.”
Then she let go of the Pause key and Reacher heard room sounds and hiss and then a voice he hadn’t heard for fourteen years. It was exactly how he remembered it. It was low, and tense, and raspy. It was the voice of a man who rarely spoke. It said: Get Jack Reacher for me.
He stood there, stunned.
Helen Rodin pressed the Stop key.
“See?” she said.
Then she checked her watch.
“Ten-thirty,” she said. “Stick around and join in the client conference.”
She unveiled him like a conjurer on a stage. Like a rabbit out of a hat.
First in was a guy Reacher immediately took for an ex-cop. He was introduced as Franklin, a freelance investigator who worked for lawyers.
They shook hands.
“You’re a hard man to find,” Franklin said.
“Wrong,” Reacher said. “I’m an impossible man to find.”
“Want to tell me why?” There were instant questions in Franklin’s eyes. A cop’s questions. Like, How much use is this guy going to be as a witness? What is he? A felon? A fugitive? Will he have credibility on the stand?
“Just a hobby,” Reacher said. “Just a personal choice.”
“So you’re cool?”
“You could skate on me.”
Then a woman came in. She was in her mid- to late thirties, probably, dressed for an office, and stressed and sleepless. But behind the agitation she wasn’t unappealing. She looked like a kind and decent person. Even pretty. But she was clearly James Barr’s sister. Reacher knew that even before they were introduced. She had the same coloring and a softer, feminized, older version of the same face.
“I’m Rosemary Barr,” she said. “I’m so glad you found us. It feels providential. Now I really feel we’re getting somewhere.”
Reacher said nothing at all.
The law offices of Helen Rodin didn’t run to a conference room. Reacher figured that would come later. Maybe. If she prospered. So all four people crowded into the inner office. Helen sat at her desk. Franklin perched on a corner of it. Reacher leaned on the windowsill. Rosemary Barr paced, nervously. If there had been a rug, she would have worn holes in it.
“OK,” Helen said. “Defense strategy. At the minimum we want to pursue a medical plea. But we’ll aim higher than that. How high we eventually get will depend on a number of factors. In which connection, first, I’m sure we all want to hear what Mr. Reacher has to say.”
“I don’t think you do,” Reacher said.
“Want to hear what I’ve got to say.”
“Why wouldn’ t we?”
“Because you jumped to the wrong conclusion.”
“Why do you think I went to see your father first?”
“I don’t know.”
“Because I didn’t come here to help James Barr.”
“I came here to bury him,” Reacher said.
They all stared.
“But why?” Rosemary Barr asked.
“Because he’s done this before. And once was enough.”
The Fan Letter by Lee Child
They say the past is another country, and in my case it really was: provincial England at the end of the fifties and the start of the sixties, the last gasp of the post-war era, before it surrendered to the tectonic shift sparked by the Beatles. My family was neither rich nor poor, not that either condition had much meaning in a society with not much to buy and not much to lack. We accumulated toys at the rate of two a year: one on our birthdays, and one at Christmas. We had a big table radio (which we called "the wireless") in the dining room, and in the living room we had a black and white fishbowl television, full of glowing tubes, but there were only two channels, and they went off the air at ten in the evening, after playing the National Anthem, for which some families stood up, and sometimes we saw a double bill at the pictures on a Saturday morning, but apart from that we had no entertainment.
So we read books. As it happens I just saw some old research from that era which broke down reading habits by class (as so much was categorized in England at that time) and which showed that fully fifty percent of the middle class regarded reading as their main leisure activity. The figure for skilled workers was twenty-five percent, and even among laborers ten percent turned to books as a primary choice.
Not that we bought them. We used the library. Ours was housed in a leftover WW2 Nissen hut (the British version of a Quonset hut) which sat on a bombed-out lot behind a church. It had a low door and a unique warm, musty, dusty smell, which I think came partly from the worn floorboards and partly from the books themselves, of which there were not very many. I finished with the children's picture books by the time I was four, and had read all the chapter books by the time I was eight, and had read all the grown-up books by the time I was ten.
Not that I was unique - or even very bookish. I was one of the rough kids. We fought and stole and broke windows and walked miles to soccer games, where we fought some more. We were covered in scabs and scars. We had knives in our pockets - but we had books in our pockets too. Even the kids who couldn't read tried very hard to, because we all sensed there was more to life than the gray, pinched, post-war horizons seemed to offer. Traveling farther than we could walk in half a day was out of the question - but we could travel in our heads ... to Australia, Africa, America ... by sea, by air, on horseback, in helicopters, in submarines. Meeting people unlike ourselves was very rare ... but we could meet them on the page. For most of us, reading - and imagining, and dreaming - was as useful as breathing.
My parents were decent, dutiful people, and when my mother realized I had read everything the Nissen hut had to offer - most of it twice - she got me a library card for a bigger place the other side of the canal. I would head over there on a Friday afternoon after school and load up with the maximum allowed - six titles - which would make life bearable and get me through the week. Just. Which sounds ungrateful - my parents were doing their best, no question, but lively, energetic kids needed more than that time and place could offer. Once a year we went and spent a week in a trailer near the sea - no better or worse a vacation than anyone else got, for sure, but usually accompanied by lashing rain and biting cold and absolutely nothing to do.
The only thing that got me through one such week was Von Ryan's Express by David Westheimer. I loved that book. It was a WW2 prisoner-of-war story full of tension and suspense and twists and turns, but its biggest "reveal" was moral rather than physical - what at first looked like collaboration with the enemy turned out to be resistance and escape. I read it over and over that week and never forgot it.
Then almost forty years later, when my own writing career was picking up a head of steam, I got a fan letter signed by a David Westheimer. The handwriting was shaky, as if the guy was old. I wondered, could it be? I wrote back and asked, are you the David Westheimer? Turned out yes, it was. We started a correspondence that lasted until he died. I met him in person at a book signing I did in California, near his home, which gave me a chance to tell him how he had kept me sane in a rain-lashed trailer all those years ago. He said he had had the same kind of experience forty years before that. Now I look forward to writing a fan letter to a new author years from now ... and maybe hearing my books had once meant something special to him or her. Because that's what books do - they dig deeper, they mean more, they stick around forever.