The affair, p.21
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       The Affair, p.21

         Part #16 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
 
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Chapter Twenty-One

  58

  A Humvee is a very wide vehicle, and it was on a very narrow dirt road. It almost filled it, ditch to ditch. It was painted in standard green and black camouflage colors, and it was very clean. Maybe brand new.

  I walked toward it and it came to a stop and the motor shut off. The driver's door opened and a guy climbed down. He was in woodland-pattern BDUs and clean boots. Since before the start of my career, battledress uniform had been worn with subdued name tapes and badges of rank, and like everything else in the army the definition of subdued had been specified within an inch of its life, to the point where names and ranks were unreadable from more than three or four feet away. An officer-led initiative, for sure. Officers worried about snipers picking them off first. The result was I had no idea who had just gotten out of the Humvee. Could have been a private first class, could have been a two-star general. Three-stars and above don't drive themselves. Not usually. Not on business. Not off duty either. They don't do much of anything themselves.

  But I had a clear premonition about who the guy was. An easy conclusion, actually. Who else was authorized to be out and about? He even looked like me. Same kind of height, same kind of build, similar coloring. It was like looking in a mirror, except he was five years my junior, and it showed in the way he moved. He was bouncing around with plenty of energy. An impartial judge would have said he looked young and overexuberant. The same judge would have said I looked old and overtired. Such was the contrast between us.

  He watched me approach, curious about who I was, curious about a white man in a black neighborhood. I let him gawp until I was six feet away. My eyesight is as good as it ever was, and I can read subdued tapes from further than I should, especially on bright sunlit Mississippi afternoons.

  His tapes said: Munro. U. S. Army.

  He had little tan oak leaves on his collar, to show he was a major. He had a field cap on his head, the same camouflage pattern as his blouse and his pants. He had fine lines around his eyes, which were about the only evidence he wasn't born yesterday.

  I had the advantage, because my shirt was plain. Civilian issue. No name tape. So I stood there for a moment in silence. I could smell diesel from his ride, and rubber from its tires. I could hear its engine tick as it cooled. I could hear the breeze in Emmeline McClatchy's shade tree.

  Then I stuck out my hand and said, "Jack Reacher. "

  He took it and said, "Duncan Munro. "

  I asked, "What brings you here?"

  He said, "Let's sit in the truck a spell. "

  A Humvee is equally wide inside, but most of the space is taken up by a gigantic transmission tunnel. The front seats are small and far apart. It was like sitting in adjacent traffic lanes. I think the separation suited both our moods.

  Munro said, "The situation is changing. "

  I said, "The situation is always changing. Get used to it. "

  "The officer in question has been relieved of his command. "

  "Reed Riley?"

  "We're not supposed to use that name. "

  "Who's going to know? You think this truck is wired for sound?"

  "I'm just trying to maintain protocol. "

  "Was that him in the Blackhawk?"

  Munro nodded. "He's on his way back to Benning. Then they're going to move him on and hide him away somewhere. "

  "Why?"

  "There was some big panic two hours ago. The phone lines were burning up. I don't know why. "

  "Kelham just lost its quarantine force, that's why. "

  "That again? There never was a quarantine force. I told you that. "

  "I just met them. Bunch of civilian yahoos. "

  "Like Ruby Ridge?"

  "But less professional. "

  "Why do people do stupid shit like that?"

  "They envy our glamorous lives. "

  "What happened to them?"

  "I chased them away. "

  "So then someone felt he had to withdraw Riley. You're not going to be popular. "

  "I don't want to be popular. I want to get the job done. This is the army, not high school. "

  "He's a senator's son. He's making his name. Did you know the Marine Corps employs lobbyists?"

  I said, "I heard that. "

  "This was our version. "

  I looked out my window at the McClatchy place, at its low roof, its mud-stained siding, its mean windows, its spreading tree. I asked, "Why did you come here?"

  "Same reason you chased the yahoos away," Munro said. "I'm trying to get the job done. "

  "In what way?"

  "I checked out the other two women you mentioned. There were FYI memos in the XO's files. Then I cross-referenced bits and pieces of information I picked up along the way. It seems like Captain Riley is something of a ladies' man. Since he got here he's had a string of girlfriends longer than my dick. It's likely both Janice Chapman and Shawna Lindsay were on the list. I want to see if Rosemary McClatchy will make it three for three. "

  "That's why I'm here, too. "

  "Great minds think alike," Munro said. "Or fools never differ. "

  "Did you bring his picture?"

  He unbuttoned his right breast pocket, just below his name. He pulled out a slim black notebook and opened it and slid a photograph from between its pages. He handed it to me, arm's length across the transmission tunnel.

  Captain Reed Riley. The first time I had seen his face. The photograph was in color, possibly taken for a passport or some other civilian document that prohibited headgear or other visual obstructions. He looked to be in his late twenties. He was broad but chiseled, somewhere halfway between bulky and slender. He was tan and had very white teeth, some of which were on display behind an easy grin. He had brown hair buzzed short, and wise empty eyes creased at the corners with webs of fine lines. He looked steady, competent, hard, and full of shit. He looked exactly like every infantry captain I had ever seen.

  I handed the picture back, arm's length across the transmission tunnel.

  I said, "We'll be lucky to get a definitive ID. I bet all Rangers look the same to old Mrs. McClatchy. "

  "Only one way to find out," Munro said, and opened his door. I got out on my side and waited while he looped around the stubby hood. He said, "I'll tell you something else that came up with the cross-referencing. Something you might like to know. Sheriff Deveraux is not a lesbian. She's a notch on Riley's bedpost too. Apparently they were dating less than a year ago. "

  And then he walked on ahead of me, to Emmeline McClatchy's door.

  Emmeline McClatchy opened up after Munro's second knock. She greeted us with polite reserve. She remembered me from before. She paid close attention as Munro introduced himself, and then she invited us inside, to a small room that had two wooden wheelback chairs either side of a fireplace, and a rag rug on the floor. The ceiling was low and the dimensions were cramped and the air smelled of cooked food. There were three framed photographs on the wall. One was Martin Luther King, and one was President Clinton, and the third was Rosemary McClatchy, from the same series as the picture I had seen in the Sheriff's Department's file, but possibly even more spectacular. A friend with a camera, one roll of film, a sunny afternoon, a frame, a hammer, and a nail, and that was all that was left of a life.

  Emmeline and I took the chairs by the fireplace and left Munro standing on the rug. In the tiny room he looked as big as I felt, and just as awkward, and just as clumsy, and just as alien. He took the photograph from his pocket again and held it face down against his chest. He said, "Mrs. McClatchy, we need to ask you about your daughter Rosemary's friends. "

  Emmeline McClatchy said, "My daughter Rosemary had lots of friends. "

  Munro said, "In particular one young man from the base she might have been seeing. "

  "Seeing?"

  "Stepping out with. Dating, in other words. "

  "Let me see the picture. "

  Munro bent down
and handed it over. She held it this way and that in the light from the window. She studied it. She asked, "Is this man suspected of killing the white girl?"

  Munro said, "We're not sure. We can't rule him out. "

  "Nobody brought pictures to me when Rosemary was killed. Nobody brought pictures to Mrs. Lindsay when Shawna was killed. Why is that?"

  Munro said, "Because the army made a bad mistake. There's no excuse for it. All I can say is it would have been different if I had been involved back then. Or Major Reacher here. Beyond that, all I can do is apologize. "

  She looked at him, and so did I. Then she looked at the picture again and said, "This man's name is Reed Riley. He's a captain in the 75th Ranger Regiment. Rosemary said he commanded Bravo Company, whatever that is. "

  "So they were dating?"

  "Almost four months. She was talking about a life together. "

  "Was he?"

  "Men will say anything to get what they want. "

  "When did it end?"

  "Two weeks before she was killed. "

  "Why did it end?"

  "She didn't tell me. "

  "Did you have an opinion?"

  Emmeline McClatchy said, "I think she got pregnant. "

  59

  There was silence in the small room for a moment, and then Emmeline McClatchy said, "A mother can always tell. She looked different. She acted different. She even smelled different. At first she was happy, and then later she was miserable. I didn't ask her anything. I thought she would come to me on her own. You know, in her own good time. But she didn't get the chance. "

  Munro was quiet for a beat, like a mark of respect, and then he asked, "Did you ever see Captain Riley again after that?"

  Emmeline McClatchy nodded. "He came by to offer his condolences, a week after her body was found. "

  "Do you think he killed her?"

  "You're the policeman, young man, not me. "

  "I think a mother can always tell. "

  "Rosemary said his father was an important man. She wasn't sure where or how. Politics, perhaps. Something where image matters. I think a black girlfriend was a good thing for Captain Riley, but a pregnant girlfriend wasn't. "

  Emmeline McClatchy wouldn't be pushed any further. We said our goodbyes and walked back to the Humvee. Munro said, "This is looking real bad. "

  I asked him, "Did you speak to Shawna Lindsay's mother too?"

  "She wouldn't say a word to me. She chased me away with a stick. "

  "How solid is the information about Sheriff Deveraux?"

  "Rock solid. They dated, he ended it, she wasn't happy. Then Rosemary McClatchy was next up, as far as I can piece it together. "

  "Was it his car that got wrecked on the track?"

  "According to the Oregon DMV it was. Via the plate you found. A blue '57 Chevy. A piece of shit, not a show car. "

  "Did he have an explanation?"

  "No, he had a lawyer. "

  "Can you prove he was Janice Chapman's boyfriend too?"

  "Not beyond a reasonable doubt. She was a party girl. She was seen with a lot of guys. She can't have been dating all of them. "

  "She was known as a party girl at Tulane, too. "

  "Is that where she went?"

  "Apparently. "

  He smiled. "If all the Tulane coeds were laid end to end, I wouldn't be in the least surprised. "

  "Did you know she wasn't really Janice Chapman?"

  "What do you mean?"

  "She was born Audrey Shaw. She changed her name three years ago. "

  "Why?"

  "Politics," I said. "She was coming off a two-year affair with Carlton Riley. "

  I left him with that piece of information, and walked away south. He drove away north. This time I didn't cut through anyone's yard. I walked around the block, like a responsible citizen, and stepped over the wire and hiked across the field and found the dirt track through the trees. I was back on Main Street less than twenty minutes later. Five minutes after that I was inside the Sheriff's Department. One minute after that I was in Deveraux's office. She was behind her desk. The desk was covered in a sea of paper.

  I said, "We need to talk. "

  60

  Deveraux looked up at me, a little alarmed. Something in my voice, maybe. She said, "Talk about what?"

  I asked her, "Did you ever date a guy from the base?"

  "What base? You mean Kelham?"

  "Yes, Kelham. "

  "That's kind of personal, isn't it?"

  "Did you?"

  "Of course not. Are you crazy? Those guys are my biggest problem. You know how it is between a military population and local law enforcement. It would have been the worst kind of conflict of interest. "

  "Do you socialize with any of them?"

  "No, for the same reason. "

  "Do you know any of them?"

  "Barely," she said. "I've toured the base and met some of the senior officers, in a formal way. Which is to be expected. They're trying to deal with the same kind of problems I am. "

  "OK," I said.

  "Why are you asking?"

  "Munro was at the McClatchy place. Rosemary McClatchy and Shawna Lindsay seem to have dated the same guy. Janice Chapman also, probably. Munro heard you had dated the guy too. "

  "That's bullshit. I haven't dated a guy in two years. Couldn't you tell?"

  I sat down.

  "I had to ask," I said. "I'm sorry. "

  "Who was the guy?"

  "I can't tell you. "

  "You have to tell me. Don't you think? McClatchy and Lindsay are my cases. Therefore it's relevant information. And I have a right to know if some guy is taking my name in vain. "

  "Reed Riley," I said.

  "Never heard of him," she said.

  Then she said, "Wait a minute. Did you say Riley?"

  I didn't answer.

  She said, "Oh my God. Carlton Riley's son? He's at Kelham? I had no idea. "

  I said nothing.

  "Oh my God," she said again. "That explains a whole lot. "

  I said, "It was his car on the railroad track. And Emmeline McClatchy thinks he got Rosemary pregnant. I didn't ask her. She came right out with it. "

  "I need to talk to him. "

  "You can't. They just choppered him out of there. "

  "To where?"

  "What's the most remote army post in the world?"

  "I don't know. "

  "Neither do I. But a buck gets ten that's where he'll be tonight. "

  "Why would he say he dated me?"

  "Ego," I said. "Maybe he wanted his pals to believe he had collected the whole set. The four most beautiful women in Carter Crossing. The Brannan brothers at the bar told me he was a big dog and always had arm candy. "

  "I'm not arm candy. "

  "Maybe not on the inside. "

  "His father probably knows the guy Janice Chapman had the affair with. They're right there in the Senate together. "

  I said nothing.

  She looked right at me.

  She said, "Oh, no. "

  I said, "Oh, yes. "

  "The same woman? Father and son? That's seriously messed up. "

  "Munro can't prove it. Neither can we. "

  "We can infer it. This all is way too much hoopla for a theoretical worry about blowback in general. "

  "Maybe," I said. "Maybe not. Who knows how these people think?"

  "Whatever, you can't go to D. C. Not now. It's far too dangerous. You'll be walking around with the world's biggest target on your back. Senate Liaison has got a lot invested in Carlton Riley. They won't let you screw things up. Believe me, you're nothing to them compared to a good relationship with the Armed Services Committee. "

  She said all that and then her phone rang and she picked up and listened for a minute. She covered the mouthpiece with her palm and said, "This is the Oxford PD asking about the dead journalist. I want to te
ll them the proven perpetrator was shot to death by police after resisting arrest, case closed. "

  I said, "Fine with me. "

  So she told them that, and then she had to call a whole long list of state departments and county authorities, so I wandered out of her office and she got so busy I didn't talk to her again until dinner at nine o'clock.

  At dinner we talked about her father's house. She ordered her cheeseburger and I got a roast beef sandwich and I asked her, "What was it like growing up here?"

  "It was weird," she said. "Obviously I didn't have anything to compare it to, and we didn't get television until I was ten, and we never went to the movies, but even so I sensed there had to be more out there. We all did. We all had island fever. "

  Then she asked where I grew up, so I went through as much of the long list as I could remember. Conceived in the Pacific, born in West Berlin when my father was assigned to the embassy there, a dozen different bases before elementary school, education all over the world, cuts and bruises picked up fighting in hot wet alleys in Manila healing days later in cold wet quarters in Belgium, near NATO headquarters, then running across the original assailants a month later in San Diego and resuming the conflict. Then eventually West Point, and a restless, always-moving career of my own, in some of the same places but in many new and different places too, in that the army's global footprint was not identical to the Marine Corps'.

  She asked, "What's the longest you were ever in one spot?"

  I said, "Less than six months, probably. "

  "What was your dad like?"

  "He was quiet," I said. "He was a birdwatcher. But his job was to kill people as fast and efficiently as possible, and he was always aware of it. "

  "Was he good to you?"

  "Yes, in an old-fashioned way. Was yours?"

  She nodded. "Old-fashioned would be a good way to describe it. He thought I'd get married and he'd have to come all the way to Tupelo or Oxford to visit me. "

  "Where was your house?"

  "South on Main Street until it curves, and then first on the left. A little dirt road. Fourth house on the right. "

  "Is it still there?"

  "Just about. "

  "Didn't it rent again?"

  "No, my dad was sick for a spell before he died, and he let the place go. The bank that owned it wasn't paying attention. It's more or less a ruin now. "

  "All overgrown, with slime on the walls and a cracked foundation? A big old hedge in back? Eight letters on the mailbox?"

  "How do you know all that?"

  "I was there," I said. "I passed by on my way to the McClatchy place. "

  She didn't answer.

  I said, "I saw the deer trestle. "

  She didn't answer.

  I said, "And I saw the dirt in the trunk of your car. When you gave me the shotgun shells. "

 
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