Killing floor, p.23
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       Killing Floor, p.23

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

  IT WAS OVER FOUR HUNDRED MILES BACK TO THE MARGRAVE station house. I drove all of them as fast as I dared. I needed to see Finlay. Needed to lay out a brand-new theory for him. I slotted the old Cadillac into a space right next to Teale's brand-new model. Went inside and nodded to the desk guy. He nodded back.

  "Finlay here?" I asked him.

  "In back," he told me. "The mayor's with him. "

  I skirted the reception counter and ran through the squad room to the rosewood office. Finlay was in there with Teale. Finlay had bad news for me. I could see it in the slope of his shoulders. Teale looked at me, surprised.

  "You back in the army, Mr. Reacher?" he said.

  Took me a second to catch on. He was talking about my fatigues and the camouflage jacket. I looked him up and down. He was in a shiny gray suit with embroidered patterns all over it. Bootlace tie with a silver clasp.

  "Don't you be talking to me about clothes, asshole," I said.

  He looked down at himself in surprise. Brushed off a speck that hadn't been there. Glared up at me.

  "I could have you arrested for language like that," he said.

  "And I could tear your head off," I said to him. "And then I could stick it up your ratty old ass. "

  We stood and glared at each other for what seemed like a long time. Teale gripped his heavy cane like he wanted to raise it up and hit me with it. I could see his hand tightening around it and his glance darting toward my head. But in the end he just stalked out of the office and slammed the door. I reopened it a crack and peered out after him. He was picking up a phone at one of the squad room desks. He was going to call Kliner. He was going to ask him when the hell he was going to do something about me. I shut the door again and turned to Finlay.

  "What's the problem?" I asked him.

  "Serious shit," he said. "But did you get a look in the truck?"

  "I'll get to that in a minute," I said. "What's the problem here?"

  "You want the small problem first?" he said. "Or the big problem?"

  "Small first," I said.

  "Picard's keeping Roscoe another day," he said. "No option. "

  "Shit," I said. "I wanted to see her. She happy with that?"

  "According to Picard she is," he said.

  "Shit," I said again. "So what's the big problem?"

  "Somebody's ahead of us," he whispered.

  "Ahead of us?" I asked him. "What do you mean?"

  "Your brother's list?" he said. "The initials and the note about Sherman Stoller's garage? First thing is there's a telex in from the Atlanta PD this morning. Stoller's house burned down in the night. Out by the golf course, where you went with Roscoe? Totally destroyed, garage and all. Torched. Somebody threw gasoline all over the place. "

  "Christ," I said. "What about Judy?"

  "Neighbor says she bailed out Tuesday night," he said. "Right after you spoke to her. Hasn't been back. The house was empty. "

  I nodded.

  "Judy's a smart woman," I said. "But that doesn't put them ahead of us. We already saw the inside of the garage. If they were trying to hide something, they were too late. Nothing to hide anyway, right?"

  "The initials?" he said. "The colleges? I identified the Princeton guy this morning. W. B. was Walter Bartholomew. Professor. He was killed last night, outside his house. "

  "Shit," I said. "Killed how?"

  "Stabbed," he said. "Jersey police are calling it a mugging. But we know better than that, right?"

  "Any more good news?" I asked him.

  He shook his head.

  "Gets worse," he said. "Bartholomew knew something. They got to him before he could talk to us. They're ahead of us, Reacher. "

  "He knew something?" I said. "What?"

  "Don't know," Finlay said. "When I called the number, I got some research assistant guy, works for Bartholomew. Seems Bartholomew was excited about something, stayed at his office late last night, working. This assistant guy was ferrying him all kinds of old material. Bartholomew was checking it through. Late on, he packed up, e-mailed Joe's computer and went home. He ran into the mugger, and that was that. "

  "What did the e-mail say?" I asked him.

  "It said stand by for a call in the morning," he told me. "The assistant guy said it felt like Bartholomew had hit on something important. "

  "Shit," I said again. "What about the New York initials? K. K. ?"

  "Don't know yet," he said. "I'm guessing it's another professor. If they haven't gotten to him yet. "

  "OK," I said. "I'm going to New York to find him. "

  "Why the panic?" Finlay asked. "Was there a problem with the truck?"

  "There was one major problem," I said. "The truck was empty. "

  There was silence in the office for a long moment.

  "It was going back empty?" Finlay said.

  "I got a look inside just after I called you," I said. "It was empty. Nothing in it at all. Just fresh air. "

  "Christ," he said.

  He looked upset. He couldn't believe it. He'd admired Roscoe's distribution theory. He'd congratulated her. Shook her hand. The menorah shape. It was a good theory. It was so good, he couldn't believe it was wrong.

  "We've got to be right," he said. "It makes so much sense. Think of what Roscoe said. Think of the map. Think of Gray's figures. It all fits together. It's so obvious, I can just about feel it. I can just about see it. It's a traffic flow. It can't be anything else. I've been over it so many times. "

  "Roscoe was right," I agreed. "And everything you just said is right. The menorah shape is right. Margrave is the center. It's a traffic flow. We only got one little detail wrong. "

  "What detail?" he said.

  "We got the direction wrong," I said. "We got it ass-backward. The flow goes exactly the opposite direction. Same shape, but it's flowing down here, not out of here. "

  He nodded. He saw it.

  "So they're not loading up here," he said. "They're unloading here. They're not dispersing a stockpile. They're building up a stockpile. Right here in Margrave. But a stockpile of what? You're certain they're not printing money somewhere and bringing it down here?"

  I shook my head.

  "Doesn't make any sense," I said. "Molly said there's no printing going on in the States. Joe stopped it. "

  "So what are they bringing down here?" he said.

  "We need to figure that out," I said. "But we know it adds up to about a ton a week. And we know it fits into air conditioner boxes. "

  "We do?" Finlay said.

  "That's what changed last year," I said. "Before last September, they were smuggling it out of the country. That's what Sherman Stoller was doing. The air conditioner runs weren't a decoy operation. They were the actual operation itself. They were exporting something boxed up in air conditioner cartons. Sherman Stoller was driving them down to Florida every day to meet a boat. That's why he got so up-tight when he was flagged down for speeding. That's why the fancy lawyer came running over. Not because he was on his way to load up. Because he was on his way to unload. He had the Jacksonville police sniffing around a full load for fifty-five minutes. "

  "But a full load of what?" Finlay said.

  "I don't know," I said. "The cops didn't think to look. They saw a load of sealed-up air conditioner cartons, brand-new, serial numbers and everything, and they just assumed it was kosher. The air conditioner cartons were damn good cover. Very plausible product to be hauling south. Nobody would be suspicious of brand-new air conditioners heading south, right?"

  "But they stopped a year ago?" he said.

  "Correct," I said. "They knew the Coast Guard thing was coming, so they got as much out as they could ahead of time. Remember the double runs in Gray's notes? Then they stopped altogether, a year ago. Because they felt just as vulnerable smuggling outward past the Coast Guard as we figured they'd feel smuggling inward. "

  Finlay nodded. Look
ed displeased with himself.

  "We missed that," he said.

  "We missed a lot of things," I said. "They fired Sherman Stoller because they didn't need him anymore. They decided just to sit on the stuff and wait for the Coast Guard thing to stop. That's why they're vulnerable right now. That's why they're panicking, Finlay. It's not the last remains of a stockpile they've got in there until Sunday. It's the whole damn thing. "

  FINLAY STOOD GUARD AT THE OFFICE DOOR. I SAT AT THE rosewood desk and called Columbia University in New York. The number reached the modern history department. The early part of the call was very easy. I got a helpful woman in their administrative office. I asked if they had a professor with the initials K. K. Straightaway she identified a guy called Kelvin Kelstein. Been there many years. Sounded like he was a very eminent type of a guy. Then the call got very difficult. I asked if he would come to the phone. The woman said no he wouldn't. He was very busy and could not be disturbed again.

  "Again?" I said. "Who's been disturbing him already?"

  "Two detectives from Atlanta, Georgia," she said.

  "When was this?" I asked her.

  "This morning," she said. "They came in here asking for him and they wouldn't take no for an answer. "

  "Can you describe these two men to me?" I asked her.

  There was a pause as she tried to remember.

  "They were Hispanic," she said. "I don't recall any details. The one who did the talking was very neat, very polite. Unremarkable, really, I'm afraid. "

  "Have they met with him yet?" I asked her.

  "They made a one o'clock appointment," she said. "They're taking him to lunch somewhere, I believe. "

  I held the phone tighter.

  "OK," I said. "This is very important. Did they ask for him by name? Or by the initials K. K. ? Like I just did?"

  "They asked exactly the same question you did," she said. "They asked if we had any faculty with those initials. "

  "Listen to me," I said. "Listen very carefully. I want you to go see Professor Kelstein. Right now. Interrupt him, whatever he's doing. Tell him this is life or death. Tell him those Atlanta detectives are bogus. They were at Princeton last night and they murdered Professor Walter Bartholomew. "

  "Are you kidding?" the woman said. Almost a scream.

  "This is for real," I said. "My name is Jack Reacher. I believe Kelstein had been in touch with my brother, Joe Reacher, from the Treasury Department. Tell him my brother was murdered also. "

  The woman paused again. Swallowed. Then she came back, calm.

  "What should I tell Professor Kelstein to do?" she said.

  "Two things," I said. "First, he must not, repeat, must not meet with the two Hispanic men from Atlanta. At any time. Got that?"

  "Yes," she said.

  "Good," I said. "Second, he must go right now to the campus security office. Right now, OK? He must wait there for me. I'll be there in about three hours. Kelstein must sit in the security office and wait for me with a guard right next to him until I get there. Can you make absolutely sure he does that?"

  "Yes," she said again.

  "Tell him to call Princeton from the security office," I said. "Tell him to ask after Bartholomew. That should convince him. "

  "Yes," the woman said again. "I'll make sure he does what you say. "

  "And give my name to your security desk," I said. "I don't want any problem getting in when I arrive. Professor Kelstein can ID me. Tell him I look like my brother. "

  I hung up. Shouted across the room to Finlay.

  "They've got Joe's list," I said. "They've got two guys up in New York. One of them is the same guy who got Joe's briefcase. Neat, polite guy. They've got the list. "

  "But how?" he said. "The list wasn't in the briefcase. "

  A clang of fear hit me. I knew how. It was staring me in the face.

  "Baker," I said. "Baker's inside the scam. He made an extra Xerox copy. You sent him to copy Joe's list. He made two copies and gave one to Teale. "

  "Christ," Finlay said. "Are you sure?"

  I nodded.

  "There were other indications," I said. "Teale's pulled a bluff. We figured everybody in the department was clean. But he was just keeping them hidden. So now we don't know who the hell is involved and who the hell isn't. We've got to get out of here, right now. Let's go. "

  We ran out of the office. Through the squad room. Out through the big plate-glass doors and into Finlay's car.

  "Where to?" he said.

  "Atlanta," I told him. "The airport. I've got to get to New York. "

  He started up and headed out north along the county road.

  "Baker was in it from the start," I said. "It was staring me in the face. "

  I WENT THROUGH IT WITH HIM AS HE DROVE. STEP BY STEP. Last Friday I had been alone in the small white interview room at the station house with Baker. I had held out my wrists to him. He'd removed my handcuffs. He'd taken the cuffs off a guy he was supposed to believe was a murderer. A murderer who had pulped his victim's body. He was willing to put himself alone in a room with such a guy. Then later I had called him over and made him escort me to the bathroom. He had been sloppy and careless. I'd had opportunities to disarm him and escape. I'd taken it as a sign he'd listened to me answering Finlay's questions and slowly become convinced I was innocent.

  But he'd always known I was innocent. He knew exactly who was innocent and exactly who wasn't. That's why he had been so casual. He knew I was just a convenient fall guy. He knew I was just an innocent passerby. Who worries about taking the cuffs off an innocent passerby? Who takes a whole lot of precautions escorting an innocent passerby to the bathroom?

  And he had brought Hubble in for questioning. I'd noticed his body language. He was all twisted up with conflict. I had figured he was feeling awkward because Hubble was Stevenson's buddy and his relative by marriage. But it wasn't that. He was all twisted up because he was caught in a trap. He knew bringing Hubble in was a disaster. But he couldn't disobey Finlay without alerting him. He was trapped. Damned if he did, damned if he didn't.

  And there had been a deliberate attempt to conceal Joe's identity. Baker had deliberately screwed up the prints thing with the computer so that Joe would remain unidentified. He knew Joe was a government investigator. He knew Joe's prints would be in the Washington database. So he tried to make damn sure they didn't get matched. But he had blown his cover by announcing the null result far too early. It was inexperience. He'd always left the technical work to Roscoe. So he didn't know the system. But I hadn't put two and two together. I had been too overwhelmed when the second attempt with the prints had brought back my brother's name.

  Since then, he had been poking and prying, hovering around on the edge of our hidden investigation. He had wanted in and he had been a willing helper. Finlay had used him on lookout duty. And all the time he was running to Teale with the snippets he was getting from us.

  Finlay was blasting north at a hell of a speed. He flung the Chevy around the cloverleaf and mashed the pedal. The big car hurtled forward up the highway.

  "Could we try the Coast Guard?" he said. "Get them to stand by Sunday for when they start shipping out? Some kind of an extra patrol?"

  "You're joking," I said. "The political flak the president's taken over that, he's not going to reverse himself the very first day, just because you ask him to. "

  "So what do we do?" he said.

  "Call Princeton back," I told him. "Get hold of that research assistant again. He may be able to piece together what Bartholomew figured out last night. Hole up somewhere safe and get busy. "

  He laughed.

  "Where the hell's safe now?" he said.

  I told him to use the Alabama motel we'd used Monday. It was in the middle of nowhere and it was as safe as he needed to get. I told him I'd find him there when I got back. Asked him to bring the Bentley to the airport and to leave the key and the parking clai
m at the arrivals information desk. He repeated all the arrangements back to me to confirm he was solid. He was doing more than ninety miles an hour, but he was turning his head to look at me every time he spoke.

  "Watch the road, Finlay," I said. "No good to anybody if you kill us in a damn car. "

  He grinned and faced forward. Jammed his foot down harder. The big police Chevy eased up over a hundred. Then he turned again and looked straight into my eyes for about three hundred yards.

  "Coward," he said.

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