The affair, p.13
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       The Affair, p.13

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

 

  38

  I followed Deveraux from room to room while she checked for herself. Paint on the walls, still fresh. Loveseat and armchair in the living room, still new. A recent television set. A fancy VHS player. Even the pots and pans and knives and forks in the kitchen showed no nicks or scratches from long-term use.

  There were no clothes in the closet older than a couple of seasons. No old prom dress wrapped in plastic. No old cheerleader outfit. No photographs of family. No keepsakes. No old letters. No softball trophies, no jewelry box with a busted ballerina. No battered stuffed animals preserved from childhood years.

  "Does it matter?" Deveraux said. "She was just a random victim, after all. "

  "She's a loose end," I said. "I don't like loose ends. "

  "She was already here when I got back to town. I never thought about it. I mean, people come and go all the time. This is America. "

  "Did you ever hear anything about her background?"

  "Nothing. "

  "No rumors or assumptions?"

  "None at all. "

  "Did she have a job?"

  "No. "

  "Accent?"

  "The Midwest, maybe. Or just south of it. The heartland, anyway. I only spoke to her once. "

  "Did you fingerprint the corpse?"

  "No. Why would we? We knew who she was. "

  "Did you know?"

  "Too late now. "

  I nodded. By now Chapman's skin would be sloughing off her fingers like a soft old glove. It would be wrinkling and tearing like a wet paper bag. I asked, "Do you have a fingerprint kit in the car?"

  She shook her head. "Butler does the fingerprinting here. The other deputy. He took a course with the Jackson PD. "

  "You should get him here. He can take prints from the house. "

  "They won't all be hers. "

  "Nine out of ten will be. He should start with the tampon box. "

  "She won't be on file anywhere. Why would she be? She was a kid. She didn't serve and she wasn't a cop. "

  I said, "Nothing ventured, nothing gained. "

  Deveraux used the radio in her car out in the middle of the turnaround. She had chess pieces to move. Pellegrino had to replace Butler at Kelham's gate. She came back in and said, "Twenty minutes. I have to get back. I have work to do. You wait here. But don't worry. Butler should do it right. He's a reasonably smart guy. "

  "Smarter than Pellegrino?"

  "Everyone is smarter than Pellegrino. My car is smarter than Pellegrino. "

  I asked, "Will you have dinner with me?"

  She said, "I have to work pretty late. "

  "How late?"

  "Nine o'clock, maybe. "

  "Nine would be fine. "

  "Are you paying?"

  "Absolutely. "

  She paused a beat.

  "Like a date?" she asked.

  "We might as well," I said. "There's only one restaurant in town. We'd probably end up eating together anyway. "

  "OK," she said. "Dinner. Nine o'clock. Thank you. "

  Then she said, "Don't shave, OK?"

  I said, "Why not?"

  She said, "You look good like that. "

  And then she left.

  I waited on Janice May Chapman's front porch, in one of her rocking chairs. Both old ladies watched me from across the street. Deputy Butler showed up just inside his allotted twenty minutes. He was in a car like Pellegrino's. He left it where Deveraux had left hers, and unfolded himself from the seat, and stepped around to the trunk. He was a tall guy, and well put together, somewhere in his middle thirties. He had long hair for a cop, and a square, solid face. First glance, he wouldn't be the easiest guy in the world to manage. But maybe not impossible.

  He took a black plastic box out of his trunk and walked up Chapman's driveway toward me. I got out of my chair and held out my hand. Always better to be polite. I said, "Jack Reacher. I'm pleased to meet you. "

  He said, "Geezer Butler. "

  "Really?"

  "Yes, really. "

  "You play bass guitar?"

  "Like I haven't heard that one before. "

  "Was your dad a Black Sabbath fan?"

  "My mom too. "

  "Are you?"

  He nodded. "I've got all their records. "

  I led him inside. He stood in the hallway, looking around. I said, "The challenge here is to get her prints and no one else's. "

  "To avoid confusion?" he said.

  No, I thought. To avoid a Bravo Company guy lighting up the system. Better safe than sorry.

  I said, "Yes, to avoid confusion. "

  "The chief said I should start in the bathroom. "

  "Good plan," I said. "Toothbrush, toothpaste, tampon box, personal things like that. Things that were boxed up or wrapped in cellophane in the store. No one else will have touched them. "

  I hung back so as not to crowd him, but I watched him pretty carefully. He was extremely competent. He took twenty minutes and got twenty good prints, all small neat ovals, all obviously a woman's. We agreed that was an adequate sample, and he packed up his gear and gave me a ride back to town.

  I got out of Butler's car outside the Sheriff's Department and walked south to the hotel, where I stood on the sidewalk and wrestled with a dilemma. I felt I should go buy a new shirt, but I didn't want Deveraux to feel that dinner was supposed to be more than just dinner. Or in reality I did want her to feel dinner could be more than just dinner, but I didn't want her to see me wanting it. I didn't want her to feel pushed into anything, and I didn't want to appear overeager.

  But in the end I decided a shirt was just a shirt, so I hiked across to the other side of Main Street and looked at the stores. Most of them were about to close. It was after five o'clock. I found a men's outfitters three enterprises south of where I started. It didn't look promising. In the window was a jacket made from some kind of synthetic denim. It glittered and shone in the lights. It looked like it had been knitted out of atomic waste. But the only other shopping choice was the pharmacy, and I didn't want to show up at dinner wearing a dollar T. So I went in and looked around.

  There was plenty more stuff pieced together from dubious fabrics, but there was plenty of plainer stuff too. There was an old guy behind the counter who seemed happy to let me poke around. He had a tape measure draped around his neck. Like a badge of office. Like a doctor wears a stethoscope. He didn't say anything, but he seemed to understand I was looking for shirts and he either frowned and tutted or beamed and nodded as I moved around from pile to pile, as if I was playing a parlor game, getting warmer and colder in my search.

  Eventually I found a white button-down made of heavy cotton. The collar was an eighteen and the sleeves were thirty-seven inches long, which was about my size. I hauled my choice to the counter and asked, "Would this be OK for a job in an office?"

  The old guy said, "Yes, sir, it would. "

  "Would it impress a person at dinner?"

  "I think you'd want something finer, sir. Maybe a pinpoint. "

  "So it's not what you'd call formal?"

  "No, sir. Not by a long chalk. "

  "OK, I'll take it. "

  It cost me less than the pink shirt from the PX. The old guy wrapped it in brown paper and taped it up into a little parcel. I carried it back across the street. I planned to dump it in my room. I made it into the hotel lobby just in time to see the owner setting off up the stairs in a big hurry. He turned when he heard the door, and he saw it was me and he stopped. He was out of breath. He said, "Your uncle is on the phone again. "

  39

  I took the call alone in the back office, as before. Garber was tentative from the get-go, which made me uneasy. His first question was, "How are you?"

  "I'm fine," I said. "You?"

  "How's it going down there?"

  "Bad," I said.

  "With the sheriff?"

 
; "No, she's OK. "

  "Elizabeth Deveraux, right? We're having her checked out. "

  "How?"

  "We're having a quiet word with the Marine Corps. "

  "Why?"

  "Maybe we can get you something you can use against her. You might need leverage at some point. "

  "Save your effort. She's not the problem. "

  "So what is?"

  "We are," I said. "Or you are. Or whoever. The army, I mean. They're patrolling outside of Kelham's fence and shooting people. "

  "That's categorically impossible. "

  "I've seen the blood. And the car wreck has been sanitized. "

  "That can't be happening. "

  "It is happening. And you need to stop it happening. Because right now you've got a big problem, but you're going to turn it into World War Three. "

  "You must be mistaken. "

  "There are two guys beat up and one guy dead down here. I'm not mistaken. "

  "Dead?"

  "As in no longer alive. "

  "How?"

  "He bled out through a gunshot wound to the thigh. There was a half-assed attempt to patch it up with a GI field dressing. And I found a NATO shell case at the scene. "

  "That's not us. I would know. "

  "Would you?" I said. "Or would I? You're up there guessing and I'm down here looking. "

  "It's not legal. "

  "Tell me about it. Worst case, it's a policy decision. Best case, someone's gone rogue. You need to find out which and get it stopped. "

  "How?" Garber said. "You want me to walk up to a random selection of senior officers and accuse them of an egregious breach of the law? Maybe the worst ever in American military history? I'd be locked up before lunch and court-martialed the next morning. "

  I paused. Breathed. Asked, "Are there names I shouldn't say on an open line?"

  Garber said, "There are names you shouldn't even know. "

  "This whole thing is drifting out of control. It's going from bad to worse. I've seen three lawyers heading in and out of Kelham. Someone needs to make a decision. The officer in question needs to be pulled out and redeployed. Right now. "

  "That's not going to happen. Not as long as Kosovo is important. This guy could stop a war singlehanded and all by himself. "

  "He's one of four hundred men, for Christ's sake. "

  "Not according to the political ad campaigns two years from now. Think about it. He's going to be the Lone Ranger. "

  "He's going to be locked up in Leavenworth. "

  "Munro doesn't think so. He says the officer in question is likely innocent. "

  "Then we should act like it. We should stop with the lawyers and we should stop patrolling outside the fence. "

  "We're not patrolling outside the fence. "

  I gave up. "Anything else?"

  "One thing," Garber said. "I have to do this. I hope you understand. "

  "Try me. "

  "You got a postcard from your brother. "

  "Where?"

  "At your office. "

  "And you read it?"

  "An army officer has no reasonable expectation of privacy. "

  "Is that in the regulations too? Along with the hairstyles?"

  "You need to explain the message to me. "

  "Why? What does it say?"

  "The picture on the front is downtown Atlanta. The card was mailed from the Atlanta airport eleven days ago. The text reads: Heading to a town called Margrave, south of here, business, but heard a story Blind Blake died there, will let you know. Then it's signed Joe, his name. "

  "I know my brother's name. "

  "What does the message mean?"

  "It's a personal note. "

  "I'm ordering you to explain it to me. I apologize, but I have to do this. "

  "You went to elementary school. You can read. "

  "What does it mean?"

  "It means what it says. He's heading south of Atlanta to a town called Margrave. "

  "Who was Blind Blake?"

  "A guitar player, from way back. Blues music. One of the first legends. "

  "Why would Joe make a point of informing you about that?"

  "Shared interest. "

  "What does Joe mean when he says he will let you know?"

  "He means what he says. "

  "Let you know about what?"

  "About the Blind Blake legend, of course. About whether he died there. "

  "Why does it matter where this man died?"

  "It doesn't matter. It's just a thing. Like collecting baseball cards. "

  "So this is really about baseball cards?"

  "What the hell are you talking about?"

  "Is this a code for something else?"

  "A code? Why the hell would it be a code?"

  Garber said, "You called his office today. "

  "You know about that?"

  "There's a reporting mechanism in place. "

  "That kid? The girl in his office?"

  "I'm not at liberty to discuss the details. But I need to know why you called him. "

  "He's my brother. "

  "But why now? Were you going to ask him something?"

  "Yes," I said. "I was going to ask him how he's doing. Purely social. "

  "Why now? Did something at Kelham provoke the inquiry?"

  "This is none of your business. "

  "Everything is my business. Help me out here, Reacher. "

  I said, "Two black women were killed here before Janice May Chapman. Did you even know that? Because that's something you should be bearing in mind, if you're thinking about political campaigns. We ignored them and then our heads exploded when a white woman got killed. "

  "How does this relate to Joe?"

  "I met the second victim's brother. Made me think about family. That's all it was. "

  "Did Joe tell you anything about money from Kosovo?"

  "I didn't get him. He was out of the office. He was in Georgia. "

  "Atlanta again? Or Margrave?"

  "I have no idea. Georgia is a big state. "

  "OK," Garber said. "I apologize for the intrusion. "

  I asked, "Who exactly is worried about money from Kosovo?"

  He said, "I'm not at liberty to discuss that. "

  I hung up with Garber and breathed in and out for a spell, and then I carried my new shirt upstairs and left it on my bed. I started to think about dinner with Elizabeth Deveraux. Three hours to go, and only one more thing to do beforehand.

 
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