The affair, p.16
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       The Affair, p.16

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

 

  46

  I padded downstairs barefoot, wearing only my pants. I took the call alone in the back office behind the reception counter, as before. It was Karla Dixon on the line. My old colleague. The financial wizard. She had been a founding member of the original 110th Special Unit. My second pick, after Frances Neagley. I guessed Stan Lowrey had passed on my question about money from Kosovo, and Dixon was calling back direct, to save time.

  I asked, "Why did you have to say you were my fiancee?"

  She asked back, "Why, did I interrupt something?"

  "Not exactly. But she heard. "

  "Elizabeth Deveraux? Neagley told us about her. You two are getting it on already?"

  "And now I've got some explaining to do. "

  "You need to take care there, Reacher. "

  "Neagley always thinks that. "

  "This time she's right. The sergeants' network is all lit up. Red hot. Deveraux is being checked out, big time. "

  "I know that," I said. "Garber already told me. Waste of time. "

  "I don't think so. It all suddenly went quiet. "

  "Because there's nothing there. "

  "No, because there is. You know how bureaucracy works. It's easy to say no. Silence means yes. "

  "What would they find if they checked you out?"

  "Plenty. "

  "Or me?"

  "I hate to think. "

  "So there you go," I said. "Nothing to worry about. "

  "Believe me, there's something wrong there, Reacher. I mean it. Maybe something real big. My advice would be to stay away from her. "

  "Too late for that. I don't buy it, anyway. She was a good little jarhead. "

  "Who told you that?"

  "She did. "

  Silence on the line.

  I said, "What else?"

  Dixon said, "There's no money coming out of Kosovo. None at all. Whoever's worrying about that is on a wild goose chase. It's not a factor. "

  "You sure?"

  "Completely. "

  "They're wondering if Joe is telling me anything. "

  "Wild goose chase," she said again. "Treasury wouldn't know, anyway. Unless it was billions and billions. Which it isn't. It isn't even dollars and cents. It's nothing. Someone's panicking, that's all. They're thrashing around. They're looking for something that isn't there. "

  "OK, good to know," I said. "Thanks. "

  "That was the good news," she said.

  "What's the bad news?"

  "Related information," she said. "A friend of a friend got into the Kosovo files, and they're plenty thick right now. "

  "With what?"

  "Among other things, two local women disappeared without a trace. "

  Dixon told me that over the last year two Kosovan women had simply vanished. There was no local explanation. No family troubles. Both were unmarried. Both had been within range of the U. S. Army's local footprint. Both had fraternized.

  "Girlfriend material," Dixon said.

  "Good looking?" I asked.

  "I didn't see photographs. "

  I asked, "Was there an investigation?"

  "Under the radar," Dixon said. "We're not there at all, remember, as far as the rest of the world is concerned. So they flew a guy in from Germany. Supposedly on his way to Italy for some NATO crap, but Kosovo was the real destination. The travel arrangements are still on file. "

  "And?"

  "As a patriotic American you'll be glad to hear that every last member of the U. S. armed forces was as innocent as a newborn baby. No crimes were committed by anyone in uniform. "

  "So the case was closed?"

  "Tighter than a trout's asshole. "

  "Who was the investigator?"

  "Major Duncan Munro. "

  I finished the call with Dixon and went back upstairs. Deveraux wasn't in my room. I padded back to hers and found the door locked. I heard the shower running. I knocked but got no response. So I showered and dressed and went back fifteen minutes later and found nothing but silence. I walked up to the diner, but she wasn't there either. Her car was not in the department lot. So I just stood there on the sidewalk, with nowhere to go, and no one to talk to, and nothing to do, completely unaware that the hour that would change everything had just ticked down from sixty minutes to fifty-nine.

  47

  I loitered on the sidewalk for half of that hour. Mostly I leaned on a wall and didn't move. A professional skill. Necessary in my line of work. I'm good at it. But I know people who are better. I know people who have waited hours or days or weeks for something to happen.

  I was waiting for the old guy with the tape measure to show up and open the shirt shop. Which he did, eventually. I pushed off my wall and crossed the street and followed him inside. He fussed with locks and lights and I made straight for his pile of button-downs. I found the same thing I was wearing and took it to the counter.

  The old guy said, "Stocking up?"

  I said, "No, the first one got dirty. "

  He leaned in and peered at my pocket. I saw his eyes trace the curl of blood. Down and up. He said, "I'm sure that would wash out. Cold water, maybe a little salt. "

  "Salt?"

  "Salt helps with bloodstains. With cold water. Hot water sets them. "

  "I don't think the Toussaint's hotel offers a very sophisticated laundry service," I said. "Actually I don't think they offer any kind of laundry service at all. They don't even offer coffee in the lounge. "

  "You could take the shirt home with you, sir. "

  "How?"

  "Well, in your suitcase. "

  "Easier just to replace it. "

  "But that would be very expensive. "

  "Compared to what? How much do suitcases cost?"

  "But you would keep a suitcase forever. You would use it over and over again for many years. "

  I said, "I think I'll just take the new shirt. No need to wrap it. "

  I paid the guy and then ducked into his changing cubicle and pulled the curtain. I took off the old shirt, put on the new, and came back out.

  "Got a trash can?" I asked.

  The guy paused a beat in surprise and then ducked down and came back up with a knee-high metal canister. He held it out uncertainly. I balled up the dirty shirt and hit a three-pointer from about ten feet. The guy looked horrified. Then I headed back across the street to the diner for breakfast. And for a little more purposeful loitering. I knew my best chance of running into Deveraux would be right there. A woman who ate like she did couldn't stay away for long. It was just a matter of time.

  In the end it was a matter of less than twenty minutes. I ate eggs and was halfway through my third cup of coffee when she came in. She saw me from the doorway and paused. The whole world paused. The atmosphere went solid. She was in uniform again, and her hair was tied back. Her face was a little set in place. A little immobile. She looked wonderful.

  I took a breath and kicked the facing chair out. She didn't react. I saw her eyes move as she considered her options. She looked at all the tables. Most of them were unoccupied. But evidently she decided that to sit on her own might cause a scene. She was worried about voters. Worried about her reputation. So she came over to me. She pulled the chair out another foot and sat down, quiet and reserved, knees tight together, hands in her lap.

  I said, "I don't have a fiancee. I don't have any kind of other girlfriend. "

  She didn't answer.

  I said, "It was just an MP colleague on the phone. They're all playing a game with the undercover thing. Apparently it amuses them. My CO calls himself my uncle. "

  No answer.

  "I can't prove a negative," I said.

  "I'm hungry," she said. "This is the first time in two years I've missed breakfast. "

  "I apologize for that," I said.

  "Why? There's no need, if what you're saying is true. "

  "It
is true. I'm apologizing on behalf of my colleague. "

  "Was it your sergeant? Neagley?"

  "No, it was a woman called Karla Dixon. "

  "What did she want?"

  "To tell me that no one is running a financial scam out of Fort Kelham. "

  "How would she know?"

  "She knows everything about anything with a dollar sign in front of it. "

  "Who thought there was a financial scam out of Kelham?"

  "The brass. I suppose it was a theoretical possibility. Like you said, they're desperate. "

  "If you had a fiancee, would you cheat on her?"

  "Probably not," I said. "But I'd want to, with you. "

  "I've been burned before. "

  "Hard to believe. "

  "Yet true. Not a good feeling. "

  "I understand," I said. "But you weren't being burned last night. "

  She went quiet. I saw her thinking. Last night. She waved to the waitress and ordered French toast. The same as the day before.

  "I called Bruce Lindsay," she said. "Shawna Lindsay's little brother. Did you know they have a phone?"

  "Yes," I said. "I've used it. Karla Dixon was returning a call I made from it. "

  "I'm heading over there this afternoon. I think you're right. He has something to tell me. "

  Me. Not us.

  I said, "It was a fellow officer's lame joke. That's all. "

  She said, "I'm afraid there's a problem with the fingerprints. From Janice Chapman's house, I mean. My own fault, as a matter of fact. "

  "What kind of problem?"

  "Deputy Butler has a friend over there at the Jackson PD. From back when he took the course. I encourage him to get her to do our processing for us, on the quiet, to save ourselves the money. We don't have the budget here. But Butler's friend screwed up this time, and I can't ask him to ask her to do it over. That would be a step too far. "

  "Screwed up how?"

  "She got her file numbers mixed. Chapman's data went to a case about a woman called Audrey Shaw, and we got Audrey Shaw's data. The wrong person entirely. Some kind of federal government worker. Which Chapman definitely wasn't, because there's no federal government work here, and Chapman didn't work anyway. Unless Audrey Shaw was the previous owner of Chapman's house, in which case it was Butler's own screw-up, looking for prints in the wrong places, or yours, for letting him. "

  "No, Butler did a good job," I said. "He looked in all the right places. Those prints weren't from a previous owner, not unless she sneaked back in and used Chapman's toothbrush in the middle of the night. So it's just one of those things, I guess. Shit happens. "

  "Tell me again," she said. "About that phone call. "

  "It was Major Karla Dixon of the 329th," I said. "With information for me. That's all. "

  "And the fiancee thing was a joke?"

  "Don't tell me the Marines are better comedians, too. "

  "Is she good looking?"

  "Pretty nice. "

  "Was she ever your girlfriend?"

  "No. "

  Deveraux went quiet again. I could see a decision coming. It was almost there. And I was pretty sure it was going to turn out OK. But I didn't find out. Not right then. Because before she could speak again the stout woman from the department's switchboard room crashed in through the diner door and stopped dead with one hand on the knob and one on the jamb. She was out of breath. She was panting. Her chest was heaving. She had run all the way. She called out, "There's another one. "

 
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