Killing floor, p.20
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       Killing Floor, p.20

         Part #1 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
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Chapter Twenty-One

  I STUDIED CHEMISTRY IN MAYBE SEVEN DIFFERENT HIGH schools. Didn't learn much of it. Just came away with general impressions. One thing I remember is how you can throw some little extra thing into a glass tube and make everything blow up with a bang. Just some little powder, produces a result way bigger than it should.

  That was how I felt about Molly. I'd never met her before. Never even heard of her. But I felt angry, way out of all proportion. I felt worse about her than I felt about Joe. What happened to Joe was in the line of his duty. Joe knew that. He would have accepted that. Joe and I knew about risk and duty right from the moment we first knew about anything at all. But Molly was different.

  The other thing I remember from the chemistry lab is stuff about pressure. Pressure turns coal into diamonds. Pressure does things. It was doing things to me. I was angry and I was short of time. In my mind I was seeing Molly coming out of that jetway. Striding out, determined to find Joe's brother and help him. Smiling a wide smile of triumph. Holding up a briefcase of files she shouldn't have copied. Risking a lot. For me. For Joe. That image in my mind was building up like massive pressure on some old geological seam. I had to decide how to use that pressure. I had to decide whether it was going to crush me or turn me into a diamond.

  We were leaning on the front fender of Roscoe's car in the airport short-term lot. Stunned and silent. Wednesday afternoon, nearly three o'clock. I had hold of Finlay's arm. He had wanted to stay inside and get involved. He had said it was his duty. I had screamed at him that we didn't have time. I had dragged him out of the terminal by force. I had marched him straight to the car, because I knew what we did in the next few moments was going to make the difference between winning and losing.

  "We've got to go get Gray's file," I said. "It's the next best thing. "

  Finlay shrugged. Gave up the struggle.

  "It's all we got," he said.

  Roscoe nodded.

  "Let's go," she said.

  She and I drove down together in her car. Finlay was in front of us all the way. She and I didn't speak a single word. But Finlay was talking to himself through the whole trip. He was shouting and cursing. I could see his head jerking back and forth in his car. Cursing and shouting and yelling at his windshield.

  TEALE WAS WAITING JUST INSIDE THE STATION HOUSE doors. Back against the reception counter. Stick clutched in his spotty old hand. He saw the three of us coming in and limped away into the big open squad room. Sat down at a desk. The desk nearest to the file room door.

  We walked past him into the rosewood office. Sat down to wait it out. I pulled Joe's torn printout from my pocket and passed it across the desk. Finlay scanned it through.

  "Not much, is it?" he said. "What does the heading mean? E Unum Pluribus? That's backwards, right?"

  I nodded.

  "Out of one comes many," I said. "I don't get the significance. "

  He shrugged. Started reading it through again. I watched him study it. Then there was a loud knock on the office door and Baker came in.

  "Teale's on his way out of the building," he said. "Talking to Stevenson in the parking lot. You guys need anything?"

  Finlay handed him the torn printout.

  "Get me a Xerox of this, will you?" he said.

  Baker stepped out to do it and Finlay drummed his fingers on the desk.

  "Who are all those initials?" he said.

  "We only know the dead ones," I said. "Hubble and Molly Beth. Two are college numbers. Princeton and Columbia. Last one is a detective down in New Orleans. "

  "What about Stoller's garage?" he said. "You get a look at that?"

  "Nothing," I said. "Just a couple of empty air conditioner cartons from last year when he was hauling them to Florida and stealing them. "

  Finlay grunted and Baker came back in. Handed me Joe's paper with a copy of it. I kept the original and gave the copy to Finlay.

  "Teale's gone," Baker said.

  We hustled out of the office. Caught a glimpse of the white Cadillac easing out of the lot. Pushed open the file room door.

  Margrave was a tiny town in the middle of nowhere but Gray had spent twenty-five years filling that file room with paper. There was more paper in there than I'd seen in a long time. All four walls had floor-to-ceiling cabinets with doors in crisp white enamel. We pulled open all the doors. Each cabinet was full of rows of files. There must have been a thousand letter-size boxes in there. Fiberboard boxes, labels on the spines, little plastic loops under the labels so you could pull the boxes out when you needed them. Left of the door, top shelf, was the A section. Right of the door, low down, the last Z. The K section was on the wall facing the door, left of center, eye level.

  We found a box labeled "Kliner. " Right between three boxes labeled "Klan" and one labeled "Klipspringer v. State of Georgia. " I put my finger in the little loop. Pulled the box out. It was heavy. I handed it to Finlay. We ran back to the rosewood office. Laid the box on the rosewood desk. Opened it up. It was full of old yellowing paper.

  But it was the wrong paper. It had nothing to do with Kliner. Nothing at all. It was a three-inch pile of ancient police department memos. Operational stuff. Stuff that should have been junked decades ago. A slice of history. Procedures to be followed if the Soviet Union aimed a missile at Atlanta. Procedures to be followed if a black man wanted to ride in the front of the bus. A mass of stuff. But none of the headings began with the letter K. Not one word concerned Kliner. I gazed at the three-inch pile and felt the pressure build up.

  "Somebody beat us to it," Roscoe said. "They took out the Kliner stuff and substituted this junk instead. "

  Finlay nodded. But I shook my head.

  "No," I said. "Doesn't make any sense. They'd have pulled the whole box and just thrown it in the trash. Gray did this himself. He needed to hide the stuff, but he couldn't bring himself to spoil his sequence in the file room. So he took the contents out of the box and put in this old stuff instead. Kept everything neat and tidy. You said he was a meticulous guy, right?"

  Roscoe shrugged.

  "Gray hid it?" she said. "He could have done it. He hid his gun in my desk. He didn't mind hiding things. "

  I looked at her. Something she had said was ringing a warning bell.

  "When did he give you the gun?" I asked her.

  "After Christmas," she said. "Not long before he died. "

  "There's something wrong with that," I said. "The guy was a detective with twenty-five years in the job, right? A good detective. A senior, respected guy. Why would a guy like that feel his choice of off-duty weapon should have to be a secret? That wasn't his problem. He gave you the box because it held something needed hiding. "

  "He was hiding the gun," Roscoe said. "I told you that. "

  "No," I said. "I don't believe that. The gun was a decoy, to make sure you kept the box in a locked drawer. He didn't need to hide the gun. Guy like that could have a nuclear warhead for an off-duty weapon if he wanted to. The gun wasn't the big secret. The big secret was something else in the box. "

  "But there isn't anything else in the box," Roscoe said. "Certainly no files, right?"

  We stood still for a second. Then we ran for the doors. Crashed through and ran over to Roscoe's Chevy in the lot. Pulled Gray's file box out of the trunk. Opened it up. I handed the Desert Eagle to Finlay. Examined the box of bullets. Nothing there. There was nothing else in the file box. I shook it out. Examined the lid. Nothing there. I tore the box apart. Forced the glued seams and flattened the cardboard out. Nothing there. Then I tore the lid apart. Hidden under the corner flap there was a key. Taped to the inside face. Where it could never be seen. Where it had been carefully hidden by a dead man.

  WE DIDN'T KNOW WHAT THE KEY FIT. WE DISCOUNTED ANYTHING in the station house. Discounted anything in Gray's home. Felt those places were too obvious for a cautious man to choose. I stared at the key and felt the pressure building. Closed my eyes and b
uilt a picture of Gray easing back the corner of that lid and taping his key under it. Handing the box to his friend Roscoe. Watching her put it in her drawer. Watching the drawer roll shut. Watching her lock it. Relaxing. I built that picture into a movie and ran it in my head twice before it told me what the key fitted.

  "Something in the barbershop," I said.

  I snatched the Desert Eagle back from Finlay and hustled him and Roscoe into the car. Roscoe drove. She fired it up and slewed out of the lot. Turned south toward town.

  "Why?" she said.

  "He used to go in there," I said. "Three, four times a week. The old guy told me that. He was the only white guy ever went in there. It felt like safe territory. Away from Teale and Kliner and everybody else. And he didn't need to go in there, did he? You said he had a big messy beard and no hair. He wasn't going in there to get barbered. He was going in there because he liked the old guys. He turned to them. Gave them the stuff to hide. "

  Roscoe jammed the Chevy to a stop on the street outside the barbershop and we jumped out and ran in. There were no customers in there. Just the two old guys sitting in their own chairs, doing nothing. I held up the key.

  "We've come for Gray's stuff," I said.

  The younger guy shook his head.

  "Can't give it to you, my friend," he said.

  He walked over and took the key from me. Stepped over and pressed it into Roscoe's palm.

  "Now we can," he said. "Old Mr. Gray told us, give it up to nobody except his friend Miss Roscoe. "

  He took the key back from her. Stepped back to the sink and stooped down to unlock a narrow mahogany drawer built in underneath. Pulled out three files. They were thick files, each in an old furred buff paper cover. He handed one to me, one to Finlay and one to Roscoe. Then he signaled his partner and they walked through to the back. Left us alone. Roscoe sat on the upholstered bench in the window. Finlay and I hitched ouselves into the barber chairs. Put our feet up on the chrome rests. Started reading.

  MY FILE WAS A THICK STACK OF POLICE REPORTS. THEY HAD all been Xeroxed and faxed. Doubly blurred. But I could read them. They formed a dossier put together by Detective James Spirenza, Fifteenth Squad, New Orleans Police Department, Homicide Bureau. Spirenza had been assigned a homicide, eight years ago. Then he had been assigned seven more. He had ended up with a case involving eight homicides. He hadn't cleared any of them. Not one. A total failure.

  But he'd tried hard. His investigation had been meticulous. Painstaking. The first victim had been the owner of a textile plant. A specialist, involved in some new chemical process for cotton. The second victim was the first guy's foreman. He'd left the first guy's operation and was trying to raise seed money to start up on his own.

  The next six victims were government people. EPA employees. They had been running a case out of their New Orleans office. The case concerned pollution in the Mississippi Delta. Fish were dying. The cause was traced two hundred and fifty miles upriver. A textile processing plant in Mississippi State was pumping chemicals into the river, sodium hydroxide and sodium hypochlorite and chlorine, all mixing with the river water and forming a deadly acidic cocktail.

  All eight victims had died the same way. Two shots to the head with a silenced automatic pistol. A. 22 caliber. Neat and clinical. Spirenza had assumed they were professional hits. He went after the shooter two ways. He called in every favor he could and shook all the trees. Professional hit men are thin on the ground. Spirenza and his buddies talked to them all. None of them knew a thing.

  Spirenza's second approach was the classic approach. Figure out who is benefiting. Didn't take him long to piece it together. The textile processor up in Mississippi State looked good. He was under attack from the eight who died. Two of them were attacking him commercially. The other six were threatening to close him down. Spirenza pulled him apart. Turned him inside out. He was on his back for a year. The paperwork in my hand was a testimony to that. Spirenza had pulled in the FBI and the IRS. They'd searched every cent in every account for unexplained cash payments to the elusive shooter.

  They'd searched for a year and found nothing. On the way, they turned up a lot of unsavory stuff. Spirenza was convinced the guy had killed his wife. Plain beat her to death was his verdict. The guy had married again and Spirenza had faxed the local police department with a warning. The guy's only son was a psychopath. Worse than his father, in Spirenza's view. A stone-cold psychopath. The textile processor had protected his son every step of the way. Covered for him. Paid his way out of trouble. The boy had records from a dozen different institutions.

  But nothing would stick. New Orleans FBI had lost interest. Spirenza had closed the case. Forgotten all about it, until an old detective from an obscure Georgia jurisdiction had faxed him, asking for information on the Kliner family.

  FINLAY CLOSED HIS FILE. SPUN HIS BARBER CHAIR TO FACE mine.

  "The Kliner Foundation is bogus," he said. "Totally bogus. It's a cover for something else. It's all here. Gray bust it wide open. Audited it from top to bottom. The Foundation is spending millions every year, but its audited income is zero. Precisely zero. "

  He selected a sheet from the file. Leaned over. Passed it over to me. It was a sort of balance sheet, showing the Foundation's expenditures.

  "See that?" he said. "It's incredible. That's what they're spending. "

  I looked at it. The sheet contained a huge figure. I nodded.

  "Maybe a lot more than that," I said. "I've been down here five days, right? Prior to that I was all over the States for six months. Prior to that I was all over the world. Margrave is by far the cleanest, best maintained, most manicured place I've ever seen. It's better looked after than the Pentagon or the White House. Believe me, I've been there. Everything in Margrave is either brand-new or else perfectly renovated. It's completely perfect. It's so perfect it's frightening. That must cost an absolute fortune. "

  He nodded.

  "And Margrave is a very weird place," I said. "It's deserted most of the time. There's no life. There's practically no commercial activity in the whole town. Nothing ever goes on. Nobody is earning any money. "

  He looked blank. Didn't follow.

  "Think about it," I said. "Look at Eno's, for example. Brand-new place. Gleaming, state-of-the-art diner. But he never has any customers. I've been in there a couple of times. There were never more than a couple of people in the place. The waitresses outnumber the customers. So how is Eno paying the bills? The overhead? The mortgage? Same goes for everywhere in town. Have you ever seen lines of customers rushing in and out of any of the stores?"

  Finlay thought about it. Shook his head.

  "Same goes for this barbershop," I said. "I was in here Sunday morning and Tuesday morning. The old guy said they'd had no customers in between. No customers in forty-eight hours. "

  I stopped talking then. I thought about what else the old guy had said. That gnarled old barber. I suddenly thought about it in a new light.

  "The old barber," I said. "He told me something. It was pretty weird. I thought he was crazy. I asked him how they make a living with no customers. He said they don't need customers to make a living because of the money they get from the Kliner Foundation. So I said, what money? He said a thousand bucks. He said all the merchants get it. So I figured he meant some kind of a business grant, a thousand bucks a year, right?"

  Finlay nodded. Seemed about right to him.

  "I was just chatting," I said. "Like you do in the barber's chair. So I said a thousand bucks a year is OK, but it's not going to keep the wolf from the door, something like that, right? You know what he said then?"

  He shook his head and waited. I concentrated on remembering the old guy's exact words. I wanted to see if he would dismiss it as easily as I had done.

  "He made it sound like a big secret," I said. "Like he was way out on a limb even to mention it. He was whispering to me. He said he shouldn't tell me, but he would, becaus
e I knew his sister. "

  "You know his sister?" Finlay asked. Surprised.

  "No, I don't," I said. "He was acting very confused. On Sunday, I'd been asking him about Blind Blake, you know, the old guitar player, and he said his sister had known the guy, sixty years ago. From that, he'd got mixed up, must have thought I'd said I knew his sister. "

  "So what was the big secret?" he said.

  "He said it wasn't a thousand dollars a year," I said. "He said it was a thousand dollars a week. "

  "A thousand dollars a week?" Finlay said. "A week? Is that possible?"

  "I don't know," I said. "At the time, I assumed the old guy was crazy. But now, I think he was just telling the truth. "

  "A thousand a week?" he said again. "That's a hell of a business grant. That's fifty-two thousand bucks a year. That's a hell of a lot of money, Reacher. "

  I thought about it. Pointed at the total on Gray's audit.

  "They'd need figures like that," I said. "If this is how much they're spending, they'd need figures like that just to get rid of it all. "

  Finlay was pensive. Thinking it through.

  "They've bought the whole town," he said. "Very slowly, very quietly. They've bought the whole town for a grand a week, here and there. "

  "Right," I said. "The Kliner Foundation has become the golden goose. Nobody will run the risk of killing it. They all keep their mouths shut and look away from whatever needs looking away from. "

  "Right," he said. "The Kliners could get away with murder. "

  I looked at him.

  "They have got away with murder," I said.

  "So what do we do about it?" Finlay said.

  "First we figure out exactly what the hell they're doing," I said.

  He looked at me like I was crazy.

  "We know what they're doing, right?" he said. "They're printing a shitload of funny money up in that warehouse. "

  I shook my head at him.

  "No, they're not," I said. "There's no serious manufacture of counterfeit money in the U. S. Joe put a stop to all that. The only place it happens is abroad. "

  "So what's going on?" Finlay asked. "I thought this was all about counterfeit money. Why else would Joe be involved?"

  Roscoe looked over at us from the bench in the window.

  "It is all about counterfeit money," she said. "I know exactly what it's all about. Every last little detail. "

  She held up Gray's file in one hand.

  "Part of the answer is in here," she said.

  Then she picked up the barbers' daily newspaper with the other hand.

  "And the rest of the answer is in here," she said.

  Finlay and I joined her on the bench. Studied the file she'd been reading. It was a surveillance report. Gray had hidden out under the highway cloverleaf and watched the truck traffic in and out of the warehouses. Thirty-two separate days. The results were carefully listed, in three parts. On the first eleven occasions, he'd seen one truck a day incoming from the south, arriving early in the morning. He'd seen outgoing trucks all day long, heading north and west. He'd listed the outgoing trucks by destination, according to their license plates. He must have been using field glasses. The list of destinations was all over the place. A complete spread, from California all the way up and over to Massachusetts. Those first eleven days, he'd logged eleven incoming trucks and sixty-seven outgoing. An average of one truck a day coming in, six going out, small trucks, maybe a ton of cargo in a week.

  The first section of Gray's log covered the first calendar year. The second section covered the second calendar year. He'd hid out on nine separate occasions. He'd seen fifty-three outgoing trucks, the same six a day as before, with a similar list of destinations. But the log of incoming trucks was different. In the first half of the year, one truck a day was coming in, like normal. But in the second half of the year, the deliveries picked up. They built up to two trucks a day incoming.

  The final twelve days of his surveillance were different again. They were all from the final five months of his life. Between last fall and February, he was still logging about six trucks a day going out to the same wide spread of destinations. But there were no incoming trucks listed at all. None at all. From last fall, stuff was being moved out, but it wasn't coming in.

  "So?" Finlay asked Roscoe.

  She sat back and smiled. She had it all figured.

  "It's obvious, right?" she said. "They're bringing counterfeit money into the country. It's printed in Venezuela, some place Kliner set up alongside his new chemical place there. It comes in by boat and they're hauling it up from Florida to the warehouse in Margrave. Then they're trucking it north and west, up to the big cities, L. A. , Chicago, Detroit, New York, Boston. They're feeding it into the cash flows in the big cities. It's an international counterfeit money distribution network. It's obvious, Finlay. "

  "Is it?" he said.

  "Of course it is," she said again. "Think of Sherman Stoller. He drove up and down to Florida to meet the boat coming in from the sea, at Jacksonville Beach. He was on his way out there to meet the boat when he got picked up for speeding on the bridge, right? That's why he was so agitated. That's why he got the fancy lawyer out so fast, right?"

  Finlay nodded.

  "It all fits," she said. "Think of a map of the States. The money is printed in South America, comes here by sea. Lands in Florida. Flows up the southeast, and then sort of branches out from Margrave. Flows on out to L. A. in the west, up to Chicago in the middle, New York and Boston in the east. Separate branches, right? It looks like a candelabra or a menorah. You know what a menorah is?"

  "Sure," Finlay said. "It's that candlestick Jewish people use. "

  "Right," she said. "That's how it looks on a map. Florida to Margrave is the stem. Then the individual arms lead out and up to the big cities, L. A. across to Chicago across to Boston. It's an import network, Finlay. "

  She was giving him plenty of help. Her hands were tracing menorah shapes in the air. The geography sounded OK to me. It made sense. An import flow, rolling north in trucks, up from Florida. It would need to use that knot of highways around Atlanta to branch itself out and head for the big cities in the north and west. The menorah idea was good. The left-hand arm of the candlestick would have to be bent out horizontally, to reach L. A. Like somebody had dropped the thing and somebody else had accidentally stepped on it. But the idea made sense. Almost certainly Margrave itself was the pivot. Almost certainly that warehouse was the actual distribution center. The geography was right. Using a sleepy nowhere place like Margrave as the distribution center would be smart. And they would have a huge amount of available cash. That was for sure. Forged cash, but it would spend just the same. And there was a lot of it. They were shipping a ton a week. It was an industrial-scale operation. Huge. It would explain the Kliner Foundation's massive spending. If they ever ran short, they could just print some more. But Finlay still wasn't convinced.

  "What about the last twelve months?" he said. "There's been no import flow at all. Look at Gray's list. The incoming deliveries didn't happen. They stopped exactly a year ago. Sherman Stoller got laid off, right? There's been nothing coming up for a year. But they're still distributing something. There were still six trucks a day going out. Nothing coming in, but six trucks a day going out? What does that mean? What kind of an import flow is that?"

  Roscoe just grinned at him and picked up the newspaper.

  "The answer's in here," she said. "It's been in the papers since Friday. The Coast Guard. Last September, they started their big operation against smuggling, right? There was a lot of advance publicity. Kliner must have known it was coming. So he built up a stockpile ahead of time. See Gray's list? For the six months before last September, he doubled the incoming deliveries. He was building up a stockpile in the warehouse. He's kept on distributing it all year. That's why they've been panicking about exposure. They've been sitting there on top of a massive s
tockpile of counterfeit money for a year. Now the Coast Guard is going to abandon its operation, right? So they can start importing again as usual. That's what's going to happen on Sunday. That's what poor Molly meant when she said we have to get in before Sunday. We have to get in the warehouse while the last of the stockpile is still in there. "

 
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