Running Blind


Chapter 10

  HE SLEPT BADLY and woke himself up before six in the morning and rolled toward the nightstand. Flicked on the bedside light and checked the exact time on his watch. He was cold. He had been cold all night. The sheets were starched, and the shiny surfaces pulled heat away from his skin.

  He reached for the phone and dialed Jodie's apartment. He got the machine. No answer in her office. Her mobile was switched off. He held the phone to his ear for a long time, listening to her cellular company telling him so, over and over again. Then he hung up and rolled out of bed.

  He walked to the window and pulled the drapes open. The view faced west and it was still dark night outside. Maybe there was a sunrise behind him on the other side of the building. Maybe it hadn't happened yet. He could hear the distant sound of hard rain on dying leaves. He turned his back on it and walked to the bathroom.

  He used the toilet and shaved slowly. Spent fifteen minutes in the shower with the water as hot as he could stand it, getting warm. Then he washed his hair with the FBI's shampoo and toweled it dry. Carried his clothes out of the steam and dressed standing by the bed. Buttoned his shirt and hung his ID around his neck. He figured room service was unlikely, so he just sat down to wait.

  He waited forty-five minutes. There was a polite knock at the door, followed by the sound of a key going into the lock. Then the door opened and Lisa Harper was standing there, backlit by the brightness of the corridor. She was smiling, mischievously. He had no idea why.

  "Good morning," she said.

  He raised his hand in reply. Said nothing. She was in a different suit. This one was charcoal gray, with a white shirt and a dark red tie. An exact parody of the unofficial Bureau uniform, but a whole lot of cloth had been cut out of it to make it fit. Her hair was loose. There was a wave in it, and it hung front and back of her shoulders, very long. It looked golden in the light from the corridor.

  "We've got to go," she said. "Breakfast meeting. "

  He took his coat from the closet as he passed. They rode down to the lobby together and paused at the doors. It was raining hard outside. He pulled his collar up and followed her out. The light had changed from black to gray. The rain was cold. She sprinted down the walkway, and he followed a pace behind, watching her run. She looked pretty good doing it.

  Lamarr and Blake and Poulton were waiting for them in the cafeteria. They were in three of five chairs crowded around a four-place table by the window. They were watching him carefully as he approached. There was a white coffee jug in the center of the table, surrounded by upside-down mugs. A basket of sugar packets and little pots of cream. A pile of spoons. Napkins. A basket of doughnuts. A pile of morning newspapers. Harper took a chair and he squeezed in next to her. Lamarr was watching him, something in her eyes. Poulton looked away. Blake looked amused, in a sardonic kind of a way.

  "Ready to go to work?" he asked.

  Reacher nodded. "Sure, after I've had some coffee. "

  Poulton turned the mugs over and Harper poured.

  "We called Fort Dix last night," Blake said. "Spoke with Colonel Trent. He said he'll give you all day today. "

  "That should do it. "

  "He seems to like you. "

  "No, he owes me, which is different. "

  Lamarr nodded. "Good. You need to exploit that. You know what you're looking for, right? Concentrate on the dates. Find somebody whose stand-down weeks match. My guess is he's doing it late in the week. Maybe not exactly the last day, because he's got to get back to base and calm down afterward. "

  Reacher smiled. "Great deduction, Lamarr. You get paid for this?"

  She just looked at him and smiled back, like she knew something he didn't.

  "What?" he asked.

  "Just keep a civil tongue in your head," Blake said. "You got a problem with what she's suggesting?"

  Reacher shrugged. "We do it by dates alone, we're going to come up with maybe a thousand names. "

  "So narrow it down some. Get Trent to cross-reference against the women. Find somebody who served with one of them. "

  "Or served with one of the men who got canned," Poulton said.

  Reacher smiled again. "Awesome brainpower around this table. It could make a guy feel real intimidated. "

  "You got better ideas, smart guy?" Blake asked.

  "I know what I'm going to do. "

  "Well, just remember what's riding on it, OK? Lots of women in danger, one of them yours. "

  "I'll take care of it. "

  "So get going. "

  Harper took the cue and stood up. Reacher eased out of his seat and followed her. The three at the table watched him go, something in their eyes. Harper was waiting for him at the cafeteria door, looking back at him, watching him approach, smiling at him. He stopped next to her.

  "Why's everybody looking at me?" he asked.

  "We checked the tape," she said. "You know, the surveillance camera. "

  "So?"

  She wouldn't answer. He reviewed his time in the room. He'd showered twice, walked around some, pulled the drapes, slept, opened the drapes, walked around some more. That was all.

  "I didn't do anything," he said.

  She smiled again, wider. "No, you didn't. "

  "So what's the big deal?"

  "Well, you know, you don't seem to have brought any pajamas. "

  A MOTOR POOL guy brought a car to the doors and left it there with the motor running. Harper watched Reacher get in and then slid into the driver's seat. They drove out through the rain, past the checkpoint, through the Marine perimeter, out to I-95. She blasted north through the spray and a fast forty minutes later turned east across the southern edge of D. C. Cruised hard for ten more minutes and made an abrupt right into the north gate of Andrews Air Force Base.

  "They assigned us the company plane," she said.

  Two security checks later they were at the foot of an unmarked Learjet's cabin steps. They left the car on the tarmac and climbed inside. It was taxiing before they had their seat belts fastened.

  "Should be a half hour to Dix," Harper said.

  "McGuire," Reacher corrected. "Dix is a Marine Corps base. We'll land at McGuire Air Force Base. "

  Harper looked worried. "They told me we're going straight there. "

  "We are. It's the same place. Different names, is all. "

  She made a face. "Weird. I guess I don't understand the military. "

  "Well, don't feel bad about it. We don't understand you either. "

  They were on approach thirty minutes later with the sharp, abrupt motions a small jet makes in rough air. There was cloud almost all the way down, then the ground was suddenly in sight. It was raining in Jersey. Dim, and miserable. An Air Force base is a gray place to start with, and the weather wasn't helping any. McGuire's runway was wide enough and long enough to let giant transports struggle into the air, and the Lear touched down and stopped in less than a quarter of its length, like a hummingbird coming to rest on an interstate. It turned and taxied and stopped again on a distant corner of tarmac. A flat-green Chevy was racing through the rain to meet it. By the time the cabin steps were down, the driver was waiting at the bottom. He was a Marine lieutenant, maybe twenty-five, and he was getting wet.

  "Major Reacher?" he asked.

  Reacher nodded. "And this is Agent Harper, from the FBI. "

  The lieutenant ignored her completely, like Reacher knew he would.

  "The colonel is waiting, sir," he said.

  "So let's go. Can't keep the colonel waiting, right?"

  Reacher sat in the front of the Chevy with the lieutenant and Harper took the back. They drove out of McGuire into Dix, following narrow roadways with whitewashed curbstones through blocks of warehouses and barracks. They stopped at a huddle of brick offices a mile from McGuire's runway.

  "Door on the left, sir," the lieutenant said.

  The guy waited in the car, like Reacher knew he would. Rea
cher got out and Harper followed him, staying close to his shoulder, huddling against the weather. The wind was blowing the rain horizontal. The office building had a group of three unmarked personnel doors in the center of a blank brick wall. Reacher took the left-hand door and led Harper into a spacious anteroom full of metal desks and file cabinets. It was antiseptically clean and obsessively tidy. Brightly lit against the gloom of the morning. Three sergeants worked at separate desks. One of them glanced up and hit a button on his telephone.

  "Major Reacher is here, sir," he said into it.

  There was a moment's pause and then the inner office door opened and a man stepped out. He was tall, built like a greyhound, short black hair silvering at the temples. He had a lean hand extended, ready to shake.

  "Hello, Reacher," John Trent said.

  Reacher nodded. Trent owed the second half of his career to a paragraph Reacher had omitted from an official report ten years before. Trent had assumed the paragraph was written and ready to go. He had come to see Reacher, not to plead for its deletion, not to bargain, not to bribe, but just to explain, officer to officer, how he'd made the mistake. Simply because he had needed Reacher to understand it was a mistake, not malice or dishonesty. He had left without asking for a thing, and then sat still and waited for the ax. It never came. The report was published and the paragraph wasn't in it. What Trent didn't know was that Reacher had never even written it. Then ten years had passed and the two men hadn't really spoken since. Not until the previous morning, when Reacher had made the first of his urgent calls from Jodie's apartment.

  "Hello, Colonel," Reacher said. "This is Agent Harper, from the FBI. "

  Trent was politer than his lieutenant. His rank meant he had to be. Or maybe he was just more impressed by tall damp blondes dressed like men. Either way, he shook hands. And maybe held on to the shake longer than was necessary. And maybe smiled, just a fraction.

  "Pleased to meet you, Colonel," Harper said. "And thanks in advance. "

  "I haven't done anything yet," Trent said.

  "Well, we're always grateful for cooperation anyplace we can get it, sir. "

  Trent released her hand. "Which is a strictly limited number of places, I expect. "

  "Fewer than we'd like," she said. "Considering we're all on the same side. "

  Trent smiled again.

  "That's an interesting concept," he said. "I'll do what I can, but the cooperation will be limited. As I'm sure you anticipated. We're going to be examining personnel records and deployment listings that I'm just not prepared to share with you. Reacher and I will do it on our own. There are issues of national and military security at stake. You're going to have to wait out here. "

  "All day?" she said.

  Trent nodded again. "As long as it takes. You comfortable with that?"

  It was clear she wasn't. She looked at the floor and said nothing.

  "You wouldn't let me see confidential FBI stuff," Trent said. "I mean, you don't really like us any more than we like you, right?"

  Harper glanced around the room. "I'm supposed to watch over him. "

  "I understand that. Your Mr. Blake explained your role to me. But you'll be right here, outside my office. There's only one door. The sergeant will give you a desk. "

  A sergeant stood up unbidden and showed her to an empty desk with a clear view of the inner office door. She sat down slowly, unsure.

  "You'll be OK there," Trent said. "This could take us some time. It's a complicated business. I'm sure you know how paperwork can be. "

  Then he led Reacher into the inner office and closed the door. It was a large room, windows on two walls, bookcases, cabinets, a big wooden desk, comfortable leather chairs. Reacher sat down in front of the desk and leaned back.

  "Give it two minutes, OK?" he said.

  Trent nodded. "Read this. Look busy. "

  He handed over a thick file in a faded green folder from a tall stack. Reacher opened it up and bent to examine it. There was a complicated chart inside, detailing projected aviation-fuel requirements for the coming six-month period. Trent walked back to the door. Opened it wide.

  "Ms. Harper?" he called. "Can I get you a cup of coffee?"

  Reacher glanced over his shoulder and saw her staring in at him, taking in the chairs, the desk, the stack of files.

  "I'm all set, right now," she called back.

  "OK," Trent said. "You want anything, just tell the sergeant. "

  He closed the door again. Walked to the window. Reacher took off his ID tag and laid it on the desk. Stood up. Trent unlatched the window and opened it as wide as it would go.

  "You didn't give us much time," he whispered. "But I think we're in business. "

  "They fell for it right away," Reacher whispered back. "A lot sooner than I thought they would. "

  "But how did you know you'd have the escort?"

  "Hope for the best, plan for the worst. You know how it is. "

  Trent nodded. Stuck his head out of the window and checked both directions.

  "OK, go for it," he said. "And good luck, my friend. "

  "I need a gun," Reacher whispered.

  Trent stared at him and shook his head again, firmly.

  "No," he said. "That, I can't do. "

  "You have to. I need one. "

  Trent paused. He was agitated. Getting nervous.

  "Christ, OK, a gun," he said. "But no ammunition. My ass is already way out on a limb on this thing. "

  He opened a drawer and took out a Beretta M9. Same weapon as Petrosian's boys had carried, except Reacher could see this one still had its serial number intact. Trent took the clip out and thumbed the bullets back into the drawer, one by one.

  "Quiet," Reacher whispered urgently.

  Trent nodded and clicked the empty clip back into the grip. Handed the gun to Reacher, butt-first. Reacher took it and put it in his coat pocket. Sat on the window ledge. Turned and swiveled his legs outside.

  "Have a nice day," he whispered.

  "You too. Take care," Trent whispered back.

  Reacher braced himself with his hands and dropped to the ground. He was in a narrow alley. It was still raining. The lieutenant was waiting in the Chevy, ten yards away, motor running. Reacher sprinted for the car and it was rolling before his door was closed. The mile back to McGuire took little over a minute. The car raced out onto the tarmac and headed straight for a Marine Corps helicopter. Its belly door was standing open and the rotor blade was turning fast. The rain in the air was whipping up into spiral patterns.

  "Thanks, kid," Reacher said.

  He stepped out of the car and across to the chopper's ramp and ran up into the dark. The door whirred shut behind him and the engine noise built to a roar. He felt the machine come off the ground and two pairs of hands grabbed him and pushed him into his seat. He buckled his harness and a headset was thrust at him. He put it on and the intercom crackle started at the same time as the interior lights came on. He saw he was sitting in a canvas chair between two Marine load-masters.

  "We're going to the Coast Guard heliport in Brooklyn, " the pilot called through. "Close as we can get without filing a flight plan, and filing a flight plan ain't exactly on the agenda today, OK?"

  Reacher thumbed his mike. "Suits me, guys. And thanks. "

  "Colonel must owe you big," the pilot said.

  "No, he just likes me," Reacher said.

  The guy laughed and the helicopter swung in the air and settled to a bellowing cruise.