The affair, p.11
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       The Affair, p.11

         Part #16 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
 
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Chapter Eleven

 

  33

  The kid showed me his sister's room. It was clean and tidy. Not preserved as a shrine, but not yet cleared out, either. It spoke of loss, and bewilderment, and lack of energy. The bed was made and small piles of clothes were neatly folded. No decision had been taken about its future fate.

  There was none of Shawna Lindsay's personality on display. She had been a grown woman, not a teenager. There were no posters on the walls, no souvenirs of anything, no breathless diary. No keepsakes. She had owned some clothes, some shoes, and two books. That was all. One book was a thin thing explaining how to become a notary public. The other was an out-of-date tourist guide to Los Angeles.

  "Did she want to be in the movies?" I asked.

  "No," the kid said. "She wanted to travel, that's all. "

  "To LA specifically?"

  "Anywhere. "

  "Did she have a job?"

  "She worked part time at the loan office. Next to Brannan's bar. She could do her numbers pretty good. "

  "What did she tell you that she couldn't tell your mom?"

  "That she hated it here. That she wanted to get out. "

  "Your mom didn't want to hear that stuff?"

  "She wanted to keep Shawna safe. My mom is afraid of the world. "

  "Where does your mom work?"

  "She's a cleaner. At the bars in town. She gets them ready for happy hour. "

  "What else do you know about Shawna?"

  The kid started to say something, and then he stopped. In the end he just shrugged and said nothing. He moved toward the center of the plain square space and stood there, as if he was soaking something up. Something in the still air. I got the feeling he had rarely been in that room. Not often before Shawna's death, and not often since.

  He said, "I know I really miss her. "

  We went back to the kitchen and I asked, "If I left money, do you think your mom would mind if I used her phone?"

  "You need to make a call?" the kid asked back, as if that was an extraordinary thing.

  "Two calls," I said. "One I need to make, and one I want to make. "

  "I don't know how much it costs. "

  "Pay phones cost a quarter," I said. "Suppose I left a dollar a call?"

  "That would be too much. "

  "Long distance," I said.

  "Whatever you think is right. I'm going outside again. "

  I waited until I saw him emerge in the front yard. He took up a position near the fence, just standing there, watching the street, infinitely patient. Some kind of a perpetual vigil. I tucked a dollar bill between the phone's plastic casing and the wall and took the receiver off the hook. I dialed the call I needed to make. Stan Lowrey, back on our shared home base. I went through his sergeant and a minute later he came on the line.

  I said, "Well, there's a surprise. You're still there. You've still got a job. "

  He said, "I think I'm safer than you are right now. Frances Neagley just reported back. "

  "She worries too much. "

  "You don't worry enough. "

  "Is Karla Dixon still working financial stuff?"

  "I could find out. "

  "Ask her a question for me. I want to know if I should be concerned about money coming in from a place called Kosovo. Like gangsters laundering bales of cash. That kind of a thing. "

  "Doesn't sound very likely. That's the Balkans, right? They're middle class if they own a goat. Rich, if they own two. Not like America. "

  I looked out the window and said, "Not so very different from parts of it. "

  Lowrey said, "I wish I was working financial stuff. I might have picked up some necessary skills. Like how to have savings. "

  "Don't worry," I said. "You'll get unemployment. For a spell, at least. "

  "You sound cheerful. "

  "I've got a lot to be cheerful about. "

  "Why? What's going on down there?"

  "All kinds of wonderful things," I said, and hung up. Then I trapped a second dollar bill between the phone and the wall and dialed the call I wanted to make. I used the Treasury Department's main switchboard and got a woman who sounded middle-aged and elegant. She asked, "How may I direct your inquiry?"

  I said, "Joe Reacher, please. "

  There was some scratching and clicking and a minute of dead air. No hold music at Treasury, either, back in 1997. Then a woman picked up and said, "Mr. Reacher's office. " She sounded young and bright. Probably a magna cum laude graduate from a prestigious college, full of shining eyes and idealism. Probably good looking, too. Probably wearing a short plaid skirt and a white turtleneck sweater. My brother knew how to pick them.

  I asked, "Is Mr. Reacher there?"

  "I'm afraid he's out of the office for a few days. He had to go to Georgia. " She said it like she would have said Saturn or Neptune. An incomprehensible distance, and barren when you got there. She asked, "May I take a message?"

  "Tell him his brother called. "

  "How exciting. He never mentioned he had brothers. But actually, you sound just like him, did you know that?"

  "So people say. There's no message. Tell him I just wanted to say hello. To touch base, you know. To see how he is. "

  "Will he know which brother?"

  "I hope so," I said. "He's only got one. "

  I left immediately after that. Shawna's brother did not break his lonely vigil. I waved and he waved back, but he didn't move. He just kept on watching the far horizon. I hiked back to the Kelham road and turned left for town. I got some of the way toward the railroad and heard a car behind me, and a blip of a siren, like a courtesy. I turned and Deveraux pulled up right alongside me, neat and smooth. A short moment later I was in her front passenger seat, with nothing between us except her holstered shotgun.

  34

  The first thing I said was, "Long lunch. " Which was supposed to be just a descriptive comment, but she took it as more. She said, "Jealous?"

  "Depends what you ate. I had a cheeseburger. "

  "We had rare roast beef and horseradish sauce. With roast potatoes. It was very good. But you must know that. You must eat in the OC all the time. "

  "How was the conversation?"

  "Challenging. "

  "In what way?"

  "First tell me what you've been doing. "

  "Me? I've been eating humble pie. Metaphorically, at least. "

  "How so?"

  "I went back to the wrecked car. I was under orders to destroy the license plate. But it was already gone. The debris field had been picked clean, very methodically. There was a big force out there at some point this morning. So I think you're right. There are boots on the ground outside Kelham's fence. They're operating an exclusion zone. They were diverted to the clean up because someone at the Pentagon didn't trust me to do it. "

  Deveraux didn't answer.

  "Then I took a long walk," I said.

  Deveraux asked, "Did you see the gravel pile?"

  "I saw it this morning," I said. "I went back for a closer look. "

  "Thinking about Janice May Chapman?"

  "Obviously. "

  "It's a coincidence," she said. "Black-on-white rapes are incredibly rare in Mississippi. No matter what folks want to believe. "

  "A white guy could have taken her there. "

  "Unlikely. He'd have stuck out like a sore thumb. He'd have been risking a hundred witnesses. "

  "Shawna Lindsay's body was found there. I talked to her kid brother. "

  "Where else would it be found? It's a vacant lot. That's where bodies get dumped. "

  "Was she killed there?"

  "I don't think so. There was no blood. "

  "At the scene or inside her?"

  "Neither one. "

  "What do you make of that?"

  "Same guy. "

  "And?"

  "Addiction to risk," she said. "June, November, March, the bottom of th
e socioeconomic scale, then the middle, then the top. By Carter County standards, that is. He started safe and got progressively riskier. No one cares about poor black girls. Chapman was the first really visible victim. "

  "You care about poor black girls. "

  "But you know how it is. An investigation can't sustain itself all on its own. It needs an external source of energy. It needs outrage. "

  "And there wasn't any?"

  "There was pain, obviously. And sorrow, and suffering. But mostly there was resignation. And familiarity. Business as usual. If all the murdered women of Mississippi rose up tonight and marched through town, you'd notice two things. It would be a very long parade, and most of the marchers would be black. Poor black girls have been getting killed here forever. White women with money, not so often. "

  "What was the McClatchy girl's name?"

  "Rosemary. "

  "Where was her body found?"

  "In the ditch near the crossing. The other side of the tracks. "

  "Any blood?"

  "None at all. "

  "Was she raped?"

  "No. "

  "Was Shawna Lindsay?"

  "No. "

  "So Janice May Chapman was another kind of escalation. "

  "Apparently. "

  "Did Rosemary McClatchy have a connection with Kelham?"

  "Of course she did. You saw her photograph. Kelham guys were lining up at her door with their tongues hanging out. She stepped out with a string of them. "

  "Black guys or white guys?"

  "Both. "

  "Officers or enlisted men?"

  "Both. "

  "Any suspects?"

  "I had no probable cause even to ask questions. She wasn't seen with anyone from Kelham for at least two weeks before she was killed. My jurisdiction ends at Kelham's fence. They wouldn't have let me through the gate. "

  "They let you through the gate today. "

  "Yes," she said. "They did. "

  "What is Munro like?" I asked.

  "Challenging," she said again.

  We thumped up over the tracks and parked just beyond them, with the straight road west in front of us, and the ditch where Rosemary McClatchy had been found on our right, and the turn into Main Street ahead and on our left. A standard cop instinct. If in doubt, pull over and park where people can see you. It feels like doing something, even when it isn't.

  Deveraux said, "Obviously I started out with the baseline assumption that Munro would be lying through his teeth. Job one for him is to cover the army's ass. I understand that, and I don't blame him for it. He's under orders, the same way you are. "

  "And?"

  "I asked him about the exclusion zone. He denied it, of course. "

  "He would have to," I said.

  She nodded. "But then he went ahead and tried to prove it to me. He toured me all over. That's why I was gone so long. He's running a very tight ship. Every last man is confined to quarters. There are MPs everywhere. The MPs are watching each other, as well as everyone else. The armory is under guard. The logs show no weapons in or out for two solid days. "

  "And?"

  "Well, naturally I assumed I was getting conned big time. And sure enough, there were two hundred empty beds. So naturally I assumed they've got a shadow force bivouacked in the woods somewhere. But Munro said no, that's a full company currently deployed elsewhere for a month. He swore blind. And I believed him, ultimately, because like everyone else I've heard the planes come in and out, and I've seen the faces come and go. "

  I nodded. Alpha Company, I thought. Kosovo.

  She said, "So in the end it all added up. Munro showed me a lot of evidence and it was all very consistent. And no one can run a con that perfect. So there is no exclusion zone. I was wrong. And you must be wrong about the debris field. It must have been local kids, scavenging. "

  "I don't think so," I said. "It looked like a very organized search. "

  She paused a beat. "Then maybe the 75th is sending people directly from Benning. Which is entirely possible. Maybe they're living in the woods around the fence. All Munro proved is that no one is leaving Kelham. He could be one of those guys who tells you a small truth in order to hide a bigger lie. "

  "Sounds like you didn't like him much. "

  "I liked him well enough. He's smart and he's loyal to the army. But if we'd both been Marine MPs at the same time I'd have been worried. I'd have seen him as a serious rival. There's something about him. He's the type of guy you don't want to see moving into your office. He's too ambitious. And too good. "

  "What did he say about Janice May Chapman?"

  "He gave me what appeared to be a very expert summary of what appeared to be a very expert investigation which appeared to prove no one from Kelham was ever involved with anything. "

  "But you didn't believe it?"

  "I almost did," she said.

  "But?"

  "He couldn't hide the rivalry. He made it clear. It's him against me. It's the army against the local sheriff. That's the challenge. He wants the world to think the bad guy is on my side of the fence. But I wasn't born yesterday. What the hell else would he want the world to think?"

  "So what are you going to do?"

  "I'm not sure yet. "

  "What do you want to do?"

  "He doesn't respect the Marines, either. Him against me means the army against the Corps. Which is a bad fight to pick. So if he wants rivalry, I want to give it right back. I want to take him on. I want to beat him like a rented mule. I want to find the truth somehow and stick it up his ass. "

  "Do you think you can do that?"

  She said, "I can if you help me. "

 
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