Tripwire


Chapter 13

  ST. LOUIS TO DALLAS-Fort Worth is 568 miles by air, and it took a comfortable ninety minutes, thirty of them climbing hard, thirty of them cruising fast, and thirty of them descending on approach. Reacher and Jodie were together in business class, this time on the port side of the plane, among a very different clientele than had flown with them out of New York. Most of the cabin was occupied by Texan businessmen in sharkskin suits in various shades of blue and gray, with alligator boots and big hats. They were larger and ruddier and louder than their East Coast counterparts, and they were working the stewardesses harder. Jodie was in a simple rust-colored dress like something Audrey Hepburn might have worn, and the businessmen were stealing glances at her and avoiding Reacher's eye. He was on the aisle, in his crumpled khakis and his ten-year-old English shoes, and they were trying to place him. He saw them going around in circles, looking at his tan and his hands and his companion, figuring him for a roughneck who got lucky with a claim, then figuring that doesn't really happen anymore, then starting over with new speculations. He ignored them and drank the airline's best coffee from a china cup and started thinking about how to get inside Wolters and get some sense out of DeWitt.

  A military policeman trying to get some sense out of a two-star general is like a guy tossing a coin. Heads brings you a guy who knows the value of cooperation. Maybe he's had difficulties in the past inside some unit or another, and maybe he's had them solved for him by the MPs in an effective and perceptive manner. Then he's a believer, and his instinct goes with you. You're his friend. But tails brings you a guy who has maybe caused his own difficulties. Maybe he's botched and blundered his way through some command and maybe the MPs haven't been shy about telling him so. Then you get nothing from him except aggravation. Heads or tails, but it's a bent coin, because on top of everything any institution despises its own policemen, so it comes down tails a lot more than it comes up heads. That had been Reacher's experience. And, worse, he was a military policeman who was now a civilian. He had two strikes against him before he even stepped up to the plate.

  The plane taxied to the gate and the businessmen waited and ushered Jodie down the aisle ahead of them. Either plain Texan courtesy or they wanted to watch her legs and her ass as she walked, but Reacher couldn't mount any serious criticism on that issue because he wanted to do exactly the same thing. He carried her bag and followed her down the jetway and into the terminal. He stepped alongside her and put his arm around her shoulders and felt a dozen pairs of eyes drilling into his back.

  "Claiming what's yours?" she asked.

  "You noticed them?" he asked back.

  She threaded her arm around his waist and pulled him closer as they walked.

  "They were kind of hard to miss. I guess it would have been easy enough to get a date for tonight. "

  "You'd have been beating them off with a stick. "

  "It's the dress. Probably I should have worn trousers, but I figured it's kind of traditional down here. "

  "You could wear a Soviet tank driver's suit, all gray-green and padded with cotton, and they'd still have their tongues hanging out. "

  She giggled. "I've seen Soviet tank drivers. Dad showed me pictures. Two hundred pounds, big mustaches, smoking pipes, tattoos, and that was just the women. "

  The terminal was chilled with air-conditioning and they were hit with a forty-degree jump in temperature when they stepped out to the taxi line. June in Texas, just after ten in the morning, and it was over a hundred and humid.

  "Wow," she said. "Maybe the dress makes sense. "

  They were in the shade of an overhead roadway, but beyond it the sun was white and brassy. The concrete baked and shimmered. Jodie bent and found some dark glasses in her bag and slipped them on and looked more like a blond Audrey Hepburn than ever. The first taxi was a new Caprice with the air going full blast and religious artifacts hanging from the rearview mirror. The driver was silent and the trip lasted forty minutes, mostly over concrete highways that shone white in the sun and started out busy and got emptier.

  Fort Wolters was a big, permanent facility in the middle of nowhere with low elegant buildings and landscaping kept clean and tidy in the sterile way only the Army can achieve. There was a high fence stretching miles around the whole perimeter, taut and level all the way, no weeds at its base. The inner curb of the road was whitewashed. Beyond the fence internal roads faced with gray concrete snaked here and there between the buildings. Windows winked in the sun. The taxi rounded a curve and revealed a field the size of a stadium with helicopters lined up in neat rows. Squads of flight trainees moved about between them.

  The main gate was set back from the road, with tall white flagpoles funneling down toward it. Their flags hung limp in the heat. There was a low, square gatehouse with a red-and-white barrier controlling access. The gatehouse was all windows above waist level and Reacher could see MPs inside watching the approach of the taxi. They were in full service gear, including the white helmets. Regular Army MPs. He smiled. This part was going to be no problem. They were going to see him as more their friend than the people they were guarding.

  The taxi dropped them in the turning circle and drove back out. They walked through the blinding heat to the shade of the guardhouse eaves. An MP sergeant slid the window back and looked at them inquiringly. Reacher felt the chilled air spilling out over him.

  "We need to get together with General DeWitt," he said. "Is there any chance of that happening, Sergeant?"

  The guy looked him over. "Depends who you are, I guess. "

  Reacher told him who he was and who he had been, and who Jodie was and who her father had been, and a minute later they were both inside the cool of the guardhouse. The MP sergeant was on the phone to his opposite number in the command office.

  "OK, you're booked in," he said. "General's free in half an hour. "

  Reacher smiled. The guy was probably free right now, and the half hour was going to be spent checking that they were who they said they were.

  "What's the general like, Sergeant?" he asked.

  "We'd rate him SAS, sir," the MP said, and smiled.

  Reacher smiled back. The guardhouse felt surprisingly good to him. He felt at home in it. SAS was MP code for "stupid asshole sometimes," and it was a reasonably benevolent rating for a sergeant to give a general. It was the kind of rating that meant if he approached it right, the guy might cooperate. On the other hand, it meant he might not. It gave him something to ponder during the waiting time.

  After thirty-two minutes a plain green Chevy with neat white stencils pulled up inside the barrier and the sergeant nodded them toward it. The driver was a private soldier who wasn't about to speak a word. He just waited until they were seated and turned the car around and headed slowly back through the buildings. Reacher watched the familiar sights slide by. He had never been to Wolters, but he knew it well enough because it was identical to dozens of other places he had been. The same layout, the same people, the same details, like it was built to the same master plan. The main building was a long two-story brick structure facing a parade ground. Its architecture was exactly the same as the main building on the Berlin base where he was born. Only the weather was different.

  The Chevy eased to a stop opposite the steps up into the building. The driver moved the selector into park and stared silently ahead through the windshield. Reacher opened the door and stepped out into the heat with Jodie.

  "Thanks for the ride, soldier," he said.

  The boy just sat in park with the motor running and stared straight ahead. Reacher walked with Jodie to the steps and in through the door. There was an MP private stationed in the cool of the lobby, white helmet, white gaiters, a gleaming M-16 held easy across his chest. His gaze was fixed on Jodie's bare legs as they danced in toward him.

  "Reacher and Garber to see General DeWitt," Reacher said.

  The guy snapped the rifle upright, which was symbolic of removing a barrier. Reac
her nodded and walked ahead to the staircase. The place was like every other place, built to a specification poised uneasily somewhere between lavish and functional, like a private school occupying an old mansion. It was immaculately clean, and the materials were the finest available, but the decor was institutional and brutal. At the top of the stairs was a desk in the corridor. Behind it was a portly MP sergeant, swamped with paperwork. Behind him was an oak door with an acetate plate bearing DeWitt's name, his rank, and his decorations. It was a large plate.

  "Reacher and Garber to see the general," Reacher said.

  The sergeant nodded and picked up his telephone. He pressed a button.

  "Your visitors, sir," he said into the phone.

  He listened to the reply and stood up and opened the door. Stepped aside to allow them to walk past. Closed the door behind them. The office was the size of a tennis court. It was paneled in oak and had a huge, dark rug on the floor, thread-bare with vacuuming. The desk was large and oak, and DeWitt was in the chair behind it. He was somewhere between fifty and fifty-five, dried out and stringy, with thinning gray hair shaved down close to his scalp. He had half-closed gray eyes and he was using them to watch their approach with an expression Reacher read as halfway between curiosity and irritation.

  "Sit down," he said. "Please. "

  There were leather visitor chairs drawn up near the desk. The office walls were crowded with mementoes, but they were all battalion and division mementos, war-game trophies, battle honors, old platoon photographs in faded monochrome. There were pictures and cutaway diagrams of a dozen different helicopters. But there was nothing personal to DeWitt on display. Not even family snaps on the desk.

  "How can I help you folks?" he asked.

  His accent was the bland Army accent that comes from serving all over the world with people from all over the country. He was maybe a midwesterner, originally. Maybe from somewhere near Chicago, Reacher thought.

  "I was an MP major," he said, and waited.

  "I know you were. We checked. "

  A neutral reply. Nothing there at all. No hostility. But no approval, either.

  "My father was General Garber," Jodie said.

  DeWitt nodded without speaking.

  "We're here in a private capacity," Reacher said.

  There was a short silence.

  "A civilian capacity, in fact," DeWitt said slowly.

  Reacher nodded. Strike one.

  "It's about a pilot called Victor Hobie. You served with him in Vietnam. "

  DeWitt looked deliberately blank. He raised his eyebrows.

  "Did I?" he said. "I don't remember him. "

  Strike two. Uncooperative.

  "We're trying to find out what happened to him. "

  Another short silence. Then DeWitt nodded, slowly, amused.

  "Why? Was he your long-lost uncle? Or maybe he was secretly your father? Maybe he had a brief, sad affair with your mother when he was her pool boy. Or did you buy his old childhood home and find his long-lost teenage diaries hidden behind the wainscoting with a 1968 issue of Playboy magazine?"

  Strike three. Aggressively uncooperative. The office went silent again. There was the thumping of rotor blades somewhere in the far distance. Jodie hitched forward on her chair. Her voice was soft and low in the quiet room.

  "We're here for his parents, sir. They lost their boy thirty years ago, and they've never known what happened to him. They're still grieving, General. "

  DeWitt looked at her with gray eyes and shook his head.

  "I don't remember him. I'm very sorry. "

  "He trained with you right here at Wolters," Reacher said. "You went to Rucker together and you sailed to Qui Nhon together. You served the best part of two tours together, flying slicks out of Pleiku. "

  "Your old man in the service?" DeWitt asked.

  Reacher nodded. "The Corps. Thirty years, Semper Fi. "

  "Mine was Eighth Air Force," DeWitt said. "World War Two, flying bombers out of East Anglia in England all the way to Berlin and back. You know what he told me when I signed up for helicopters?"

  Reacher waited.

  "He gave me some good advice," DeWitt said. "He told me, don't make friends with pilots. Because they all get killed, and it just makes you miserable. "

  Reacher nodded again. "You really can't recall him?"

  DeWitt just shrugged.

  "Not even for his folks?" Jodie asked. "Doesn't seem right they'll never know what happened to their boy, does it?"

  There was silence. The distant rotor blades faded to nothing. DeWitt gazed at Jodie. Then he spread his small hands on the desk and sighed heavily.

  "Well, I guess I can recall him a little," he said. "Mostly from the early days. Later on, when they all started dying, I took the old man's advice to heart. Kind of closed in on myself, you know?"

  "So what was he like?" Jodie asked.

  "What was he like?" DeWitt repeated. "Not like me, that's for sure. Not like anybody else I ever knew, either. He was a walking contradiction. He was a volunteer, you know that? I was, too, and so were a lot of the guys. But Vic wasn't like the others. There was a big divide back then, between the volunteers and the drafted guys. The volunteers were all rahrah boys, you know, going for it because they believed in it. But Vic wasn't like that. He volunteered, but he was about as mousy quiet as the sulkiest draftee you ever saw. But he could fly like he was born with a rotor blade up his ass. "

  "So he was good?" Jodie prompted.

  "Better than good," DeWitt replied. "Second only to me in the early days, which is saying something, because I was definitely born with a rotor blade up my ass. And Vic was smart with the book stuff. I remember that. He had it all over everybody else in the classroom. "

  "Did he have an attitude problem with that?" Reacher asked. "Trading favors for help?"

  DeWitt swung the gray eyes across from Jodie.

  "You've done your research. You've been in the files. "

  "We just came from the NPRC," Reacher said.

  DeWitt nodded, neutrally. "I hope you didn't read my jacket. "

  "Supervisor wouldn't let us," Reacher said.

  "We were anxious not to poke around where we're not wanted," Jodie said.

  DeWitt nodded again.

  "Vic traded favors," he said. "But they claimed he did it in the wrong way. There was a little controversy about it, as I recall. You were supposed to do it because you were glad to help your fellow candidates, you know? For the good of the unit, right? You remember how that shit went?"

  He stopped and glanced at Reacher, amused. Reacher nodded. Jodie's being there was helping him. Her charm was inching him back toward approval.

  "But Vic was cold about it," DeWitt said. "Like it was all just another math equation. Like x amount of lift moves the chopper off the ground, like this much help with that complicated formula gets his boots bulled up. They saw it as cold. "

  "Was he cold?" Jodie asked.

  DeWitt nodded. "Emotionless, the coldest guy I ever saw. It always amazed me. At first I figured it was because he came from some little place where he'd never done anything or seen anything. But later I realized he just felt nothing. Nothing at all. It was weird. But it made him a hell of a tremendous flyer. "

  "Because he wasn't afraid?" Reacher asked.

  "Exactly," DeWitt said. "Not courageous, because a courageous guy is somebody who feels the fear but conquers it. Vic never felt it in the first place. It made him a better war flyer than me. I was the one passed out of Rucker head of the class, and I've got the plaque to prove it, but when we got in-country, he was better than me, no doubt about it. "

  "In what kind of a way?"

  DeWitt shrugged, like he couldn't explain it. "We learned everything as we went along, just made it all up. Fact is, our training was shit. It was like being shown a little round thing and being told 'this is a baseball,' and then getting sent straight ou
t to play in the major leagues. That's something I'm trying to put right now that I'm here running this place. I never want to send boys out as unprepared as we were. "

  "Hobie was good at learning on the job?" Reacher asked.

  "The best," DeWitt said. "You know anything about helicopters in the jungle?"

  Reacher shook his head. "Not a lot. "

  "First main problem is the LZ," DeWitt said. "LZ, landing zone, right? You got a desperate bunch of tired infantry under fire somewhere, they need exfiltrating, they get on the radio and our dispatcher tells them sure, make us an LZ and we'll be right over to pull you out. So they use explosives and saws and whatever the hell else they got and they blast a temporary LZ in the jungle. Now a Huey with the rotor turning needs a space exactly forty-eight feet wide and fifty-seven feet nine-point-seven inches long to land in. But the infantry is tired and in a big hurry and Charlie is raining mortars down on them and generally they don't make the LZ big enough. So we can't get them out. This happened to us two or three times, and we're sick about it, and one night I see Vic studying the leading edge of the rotor blade on his Huey. So I say to him, 'What are you looking at?' And he says, 'These are metal. ' I'm thinking, like what else would they be? Bamboo? But he's looking at them. Next day, we're called to a temporary LZ again, and sure enough the damn thing is too small, by a couple of feet all around. So I can't get in. But Vic goes down anyway. He spins the chopper around and around and cuts his way in with the rotor. Like a gigantic flying lawn mower? It was awesome. Bits of tree flying everywhere. He pulls out seven or eight guys and the rest of us go down after him and get all the rest. That became SOP afterward, and he invented it, because he was cold and logical and he wasn't afraid to try. That maneuver saved hundreds of guys over the years. Literally hundreds, maybe even thousands. "

  "Impressive," Reacher said.

  "You bet your ass impressive," DeWitt said back. "Second big problem we had was weight. Suppose you were out in the open somewhere, like a field. The infantry would come swarming in on you until the damn chopper was too heavy to take off. So your own gunners would be beating them off and leaving them there in the field, maybe to die. Not a nice feeling. So one day Vic lets them all on board, and sure enough he can't get off the ground. So he shoves the stick forward and sort of skitters horizontally along the field until the airspeed kicks in under the rotor and unsticks him. Then he's up and away. The running jump. It became another SOP, and he invented it, too. Sometimes he would do it downhill, even down the mountainsides, like he was heading for a certain crash, and then up he went. Like I told you, we were just making it up as we went along, and the truth is a lot of the good stuff got made up by Victor Hobie. "

  "You admired him," Jodie said.

  DeWitt nodded. "Yes, I did. And I'm not afraid to admit it. "

  "But you weren't close. "

  He shook his head. "Like my daddy told me, don't make friends with the other pilots. And I'm glad I didn't. Too many of them died. "

  "How did he spend his time?" Reacher asked. "The files show a lot of days you couldn't fly. "

  "Weather was a bitch. A real bitch. You got no idea. I want this facility moved someplace else, maybe Washington State, where they get some mists and fogs. No point training down in Texas and Alabama if you want to go fighting someplace you get weather. "

  "So how did you spend the downtime?"

  "Me? I did all kinds of things. Sometimes I partied, sometimes I slept. Sometimes I took a truck out and went scavenging for things we needed. "

  "What about Vic?" Jodie asked. "What did he do?"

  DeWitt just shrugged again. "I have no idea. He was always busy, always up to something, but I don't know what it was. Like I told you, I didn't want to mix with the other flyers. "

  "Was he different on the second tour?" Reacher asked.

  DeWitt smiled briefly. "Everybody was different second time around. "

  "In what way?" Jodie asked.

  "Angrier," DeWitt said. "Even if you signed up again right away it was nine months minimum before you got back, sometimes a whole year. Then you got back and you figured the place had gone to shit while you were away. You figured it had gotten sloppy and half-assed. Facilities you'd built would be all falling down, trenches you'd dug against the mortars would be half full of water, trees you'd cleared away from the helicopter parking would be all sprouting up again. You'd feel your little domain had been ruined by a bunch of know-nothing idiots while you were gone. It made you angry and depressed. And generally speaking it was true. The whole 'Nam thing went steadily downhill, right out of control. The quality of the personnel just got worse and worse. "

  "So you'd say Hobie got disillusioned?" Reacher asked.

  DeWitt shrugged. "I really don't remember much about his attitude. Maybe he coped OK. He had a strong sense of duty, as I recall. "

  "What was his final mission about?"

  The gray eyes suddenly went blank, like the shutters had just come down.

  "I can't remember. "

  "He was shot down," Reacher said. "Shot out of the air, right alongside you. You can't recall what the mission was?"

  "We lost eight thousand helicopters in 'Nam," DeWitt said. "Eight thousand, Mr. Reacher, beginning to end. Seems to me I personally saw most of them go down. So how should I recall any particular one of them?"

  "What was it about?" Reacher asked again.

  "Why do you want to know?" DeWitt asked back.

  "It would help me. "

  "With what?"

  Reacher shrugged. "With his folks, I guess. I want to be able to tell them he died doing something useful. "

  DeWitt smiled. A bitter, sardonic smile, worn and softened at the edges by thirty years of regular use. "Well, my friend, you sure as hell can't do that. "

  "Why not?"

  "Because none of our missions were useful. They were all a waste of time. A waste of lives. We lost the war, didn't we?"

  "Was it a secret mission?"

  There was a pause. Silence in the big office.

  "Why should it be secret?" DeWitt asked back, neutrally.

  "He only took on board three passengers. Seems like a special sort of a deal to me. No running jump required there. "

  "I don't remember," DeWitt said again.

  Reacher just looked at him, quietly. DeWitt stared back.

  "How should I remember? I hear about something for the first time in thirty years and I'm supposed to remember every damn detail about it?"

  "This isn't the first time in thirty years. You were asked all about it a couple of months ago. In April of this year. "

  DeWitt was silent.

  "General Garber called the NPRC about Hobie," Reacher said. "It's inconceivable he didn't call you afterward. Won't you tell us what you told him?"

  DeWitt smiled. "I told him I didn't remember. "

  There was silence again. Distant rotor blades, coming closer.

  "On behalf of his folks, won't you tell us?" Jodie asked softly. "They're still grieving for him. They need to know about it. "

  DeWitt shook his head. "I can't. "

  "Can't or won't?" Reacher asked.

  DeWitt stood up slowly and walked to the window. He was a short man. He stood in the light of the sun and squinted left, across to where he could see the helicopter he could hear, coming in to land on the field.

  "It's classified information," he said. "I'm not allowed to make any comment, and I'm not going to. Garber asked me, and I told him the same thing. No comment. But I hinted he should maybe look closer to home, and I'll advise you to do the exact same thing, Mr. Reacher. Look closer to home. "

  "Closer to home?"

  DeWitt put his back to the window. "Did you see Kaplan's jacket?"

  "His copilot?"

  DeWitt nodded. "Did you read his last-but-one mission?"

  Reacher shook his head.

  "You should have," DeWitt said. "Sloppy work f
rom somebody who was once an MP major. But don't tell anybody I suggested it, because I'll deny it, and they'll believe me, not you. "

  Reacher looked away. DeWitt walked back to his desk and sat down.

  "Is it possible Victor Hobie is still alive?" Jodie asked him.

  The distant helicopter shut off its engines. There was total silence.

  "I have no comment on that," DeWitt said.

  "Have you been asked that question before?" Jodie said.

  "I have no comment on that," DeWitt said again.

  "You saw the crash. Is it possible anybody survived it?"

  "I saw an explosion under the jungle canopy, is all. He was way more than half-full with fuel. Draw your own conclusions, Ms. Garber. "

  "Did he survive?"

  "I have no comment on that. "

  "Why is Kaplan officially dead and Hobie isn't?"

  "I have no comment on that. "

  She nodded. Thought for a moment and regrouped exactly like the lawyer she was, boxed in by some recalcitrant witness. "Just theoretically, then. Suppose a young man with Victor Hobie's personality and character and background survived such an incident, OK? Is it possible a man like that would never even have made contact with his own parents again afterward?"

  DeWitt stood up again. He was clearly uncomfortable.

  "I don't know, Ms. Garber. I'm not a damn psychiatrist. And like I told you, I was careful not to get to know him too well. He seemed like a real dutiful guy, but he was cold. Overall, I guess I would rate it as very unlikely. But don't forget, Vietnam changed people. It sure as hell changed me, for instance. I used to be a nice guy. "

  OFFICER SARK WAS forty-four years old, but he looked older. His physique was damaged by a poor childhood and ignorant neglect through most of his adult years. His skin was dull and pale, and he had lost his hair early. It left him looking sallow and sunken and old before his time. But the truth was he had woken up to it and was fighting it. He had read stuff the NYPD's medical people were putting about concerning diet and exercise. He had eliminated most of the fats from his daily intake, and he had started sunbathing a little, just enough to take the pallor off his skin without provoking the risk of melanomas. He walked whenever he could. Going home, he would get off the subway a stop short and hike the rest of the way, fast enough to get his breath going and his heartbeat raised, like the stuff he'd read said he should. And during the workday, he would persuade O'Hallinan to park the prowl car somewhere that would give them a short walk to wherever it was they were headed.

  O'Hallinan had no interest in aerobic exercise, but she was an amiable woman and happy enough to cooperate with him, especially during the summer months, when the sun was shining. So she put the car against the curb in the shadow of Trinity Church and they approached the World Trade Center on foot from the south. It gave them a brisk six-hundred-yard walk in the sun, which made Sark happy, but it left the car exactly equidistant from a quarter of a million separate postal addresses, and with nothing on paper in the squad room it left nobody with any clue about which one of them they were heading for.

  YOU WANT A ride back to the airport?" DeWitt asked.

  Reacher interpreted the offer as a dismissal mixed in with a gesture designed to soften the stonewall performance the guy had been putting up. He nodded. The Army Chevrolet would get them there faster than a taxi, because it was already waiting right outside with the motor running.

  "Thanks," he said.

  "Hey, my pleasure," DeWitt said back.

  He dialed a number from his desk and spoke like he was issuing an order.

  "Wait right here," he said. "Three minutes. "

  Jodie stood up and smoothed her dress down. Walked to the windows and gazed out. Reacher stepped the other way and looked at the mementoes on the wall. One of the photographs was a glossy reprint of a famous newspaper picture. A helicopter was lifting off from inside the embassy compound in Saigon, with a crowd of people underneath it, arms raised like they were trying to force it to come back down for them.

  "You were that pilot?" Reacher asked, on a hunch.

  DeWitt glanced over and nodded.

  "You were still there in '75?"

  DeWitt nodded again. "Five combat tours, then a spell on HQ duty. Overall, I guess I preferred the combat. "

  There was noise in the distance. The bass thumping of a powerful helicopter, coming closer. Reacher joined Jodie at the window. A Huey was in the air, drifting over the distant buildings from the direction of the field.

  "Your ride," DeWitt said.

  "A helicopter?" Jodie said.

  DeWitt was smiling. "What did you expect? This is the helicopter school, after all. That's why these boys are down here. It ain't driver's ed. "

  The rotor noise was building to a loud wop-wop-wop. Then it slowly blended to a higher-pitched whip-whip-whip as it came closer and the jet whine mixed in.

  "Bigger blade now," DeWitt shouted. "Composite materials. Not metal anymore. I don't know what old Vic would have made of it. "

  The Huey was sliding sideways and hovering over the parade ground in front of the building. The noise was shaking the windows. Then the helicopter was straightening and settling to the ground.

  "Nice meeting you," DeWitt shouted.

  They shook his hand and headed out. The MP sergeant at the desk nodded to them through the noise and went back to his paperwork. They went down the stairs and outside into the blast of heat and dust and sound. The copilot was sliding the door for them. They ran bent-over across the short distance. Jodie was grinning and her hair was blowing everywhere. The copilot offered his hand and pulled her up inside. Reacher followed. They strapped themselves into the bench seat in back and the copilot slid the door closed and climbed through to the cabin. The familiar shudder of vibration started up as the craft hauled itself into the air. The floor tilted and swung and the buildings rotated in the windows, and then their roofs were visible, and then the outlying grassland, with the highways laid through it like gray pencil lines. The nose went down and the engine noise built to a roar as they swung on course and settled to a hundred-mile-an-hour cruise.

  THE STUFF SARK had read called it "power walking," and the idea was to push yourself toward a speed of four miles an hour. That way your heartbeat was raised, which was the key to the aerobic benefit, but you avoided the impact damage to your shins and knees that you risked with proper jogging. It was a convincing proposition, and he believed in it. Doing it properly, six hundred yards at four miles an hour should have taken a fraction over five minutes, but it actually took nearer eight, because he was walking with O'Hallinan at his side. She was happy to walk, but she wanted to do it slowly. She was not an unfit woman, but she always said I'm built for comfort, not for speed. It was a compromise. He needed her cooperation to get to walk at all, so he never complained about her pace. He figured it was better than nothing. It had to be doing him some kind of good.

  "Which building?" he asked.

  "The south, I think," she said.

  They walked around to the main entrance of the south tower and inside to the lobby. There were guys in security uniforms behind a counter, but they were tied up with a knot of foreign men in gray suits, so Sark and O'Hallinan stepped over to the building directory and consulted it direct. Cayman Corporate Trust was listed on the eighty-eighth floor. They walked to the express elevator and stepped inside without the security force being aware they had ever entered the building.

  The elevator floor pressed against their feet and sped them upward. It slowed and stopped at eighty-eight. The door slid back and a muted bell sounded and they stepped out into a plain corridor. The ceilings were low and the space was narrow. Cayman Corporate Trust had a modem oak door with a small window and a brass handle. Sark pulled the door and allowed O'Hallinan to go inside ahead of him. She was old enough to appreciate the courtesy.

  There was an oak-and-brass reception area with a thickset m
an in a dark suit behind a chest-high counter. Sark stood back in the center of the floor, his loaded belt emphasizing the width of his hips, making him seem large and commanding. O'Hallinan stepped up to the counter, planning her approach. She wanted to shake something loose, so she tried the sort of frontal attack she had seen detectives use.

  "We've come about Sheryl," she said.

  "I NAVE TO go home, I guess," Jodie said.

  "No, you're coming to Hawaii, with me. "

  They were back inside the freezing terminal at Dallas-Fort Worth. The Huey had put down on a remote apron and the copilot had driven them over in a golf cart painted dull green. He had shown them an unmarked door that led them up a flight of stairs into the bustle of the public areas.

  "Hawaii? Reacher, I can't go to Hawaii. I need to be back in New York. "

  "You can't go back there alone. New York is where the danger is, remember? And I need to go to Hawaii. So you'll have to come with me, simple as that. "

  "Reacher, I can't," she said again. "I have to be in a meeting tomorrow. You know that. You took the call, right?"

  "Tough, Jodie. You're not going back there alone. "

  Checking out of the St. Louis honeymoon suite that morning had done something to him. The lizard part of his brain buried deep behind the frontal lobes had shrieked: The honeymoon is over, pal. Your life is changing and the problems start now. He had ignored it. But now he was paying attention to it. For the first time in his life, he had a hostage to fortune. He had somebody to worry about. It was mostly a pleasure, but it was a burden.

  "I have to go back, Reacher," she said. "I can't let them down. "

  "Call them, tell them you can't make it. Tell them you're sick or something. "

  "I can't do that. My secretary knows I'm not sick, right? And I've got a career to think about. It's important to me. "

  "You're not going back there alone," he said again.

  "Why do you need to go to Hawaii anyway?"

  "Because that's where the answer is," he said.

  He stepped away to a ticket counter and took a thick time-table from a small chrome rack. Stood in the cold fluorescence and opened it up to D for the Dallas-Fort Worth departures and ran his finger down the list of destinations as far as H for Honolulu. Then he flipped ahead to the Honolulu departures and checked the flights going back to New York. He double-checked, and then he smiled with relief.

  "We can make it anyway, do both things. Look at this. There's a twelve-fifteen out of here. Flight time minus the time change going west gets us to Honolulu at three o'clock. Then we get the seven o'clock back to New York, flight time plus the time change coming back east gets us into JFK at twelve noon tomorrow. Your guy said it was an afternoon meeting, right? So you can still make it. "

  "I need to get briefed in," she said. "I have no idea what it's about. "

  "You'll have a couple of hours. You're a quick study. "

  "It's crazy. Only gives us four hours in Hawaii. "

  "All we need. I'll call ahead, set it up. "

  "We'll be on a plane all night. I'll be going to my meeting after a sleepless night on a damn plane. "

  "So we'll go first-class," he said. "Rutter's paying, right? We can sleep in first class. The chairs look comfortable enough. "

  She shrugged and sighed. "Crazy. "

  "Let me use your phone," he said.

  She handed him the mobile from her bag and he called long-distance information and asked for the number. Dialed it and heard it ring six thousand miles away. It rang eight times and the voice he wanted to hear answered it.

  "This is Jack Reacher," he said. "You going to be in the office all day?"

  The answer was slow and sleepy, because it was very early in the morning in Hawaii, but it was the answer he wanted to hear. He clicked the phone off and turned back to Jodie. She sighed at him again, but this time there was a smile mixed in with it. She stepped to the counter and used the gold card to buy two first-class tickets, Dallas-Fort Worth to Honolulu to New York. The guy at the counter made the seat assignments on the spot, slightly bewildered in front of people spending the price of a used sportscar to buy twenty hours on a plane and four on the ground on Oahu. He handed the wallets over and twenty minutes later Reacher was settling into an enormous leather-and-sheepskin chair with Jodie safely a yard away at his side.

  THERE WAS A routine to be followed in this situation. It had never before been employed, but it had been rehearsed often and thoroughly. The thickset man at the chest-high counter moved his hand casually sideways and used his index finger on one button and his middle finger on another. The first button locked the oak door out to the elevator lobby. There was an electromagnetic mechanism that clicked the steel tongue into place, silently and unobtrusively. Once it was activated, the door stayed locked until the mechanism was released again, no matter what anybody did with the latch or the key. The second button set a red light flashing in the intercom unit on Hobie's desk. The red light was bright and the office was always dark, and it was impossible to miss it.

  "Who?" the thickset guy said.

  "Sheryl," O'Hallinan repeated.

  "I'm sorry," the guy said. "There's nobody called Sheryl working here. Currently we have a staff of three, and they're all men. "

  He moved his hand to the left and rested it on a button marked TALK, which activated the intercom.

  "You operate a black Tahoe?" O'Hallinan asked him.

  He nodded. "We have a black Tahoe on the corporate fleet. "

  "What about a Suburban?"

  "Yes, I think we have one of those, too. Is this about a traffic violation?"

  "It's about Sheryl being in the hospital," O'Hallinan said.

  "Who?" the guy asked again.

  Sark came up behind O'Hallinan. "We need to speak with your boss. "

  "OK," the guy said. "I'll see if that can be arranged. May I have your names?"

  "Officers Sark and O'Hallinan, City of New York Police Department. "

  Tony opened the inner office door, and stood there, inquiringly.

  "May I help you, Officers?" he called.

  In the rehearsals, the cops would turn away from the counter and look at Tony. Maybe take a couple of steps toward him. And that is exactly what happened. Sark and O'Hallinan turned their backs and walked toward the middle of the reception area. The thickset man at the counter leaned down and opened a cupboard. Unclipped the shotgun from its rack and held it low, out of sight.

  "It's about Sheryl," O'Hallinan said again.

  "Sheryl who?" Tony asked.

  "The Sheryl in the hospital with the busted nose," Sark said. "And the fractured cheekbones and the concussion. The Sheryl who got out of your Tahoe outside St. Vincent's ER. "

  "Oh, I see," Tony said. "We didn't get her name. She couldn't speak a word, because of the injuries to her face. "

  "So why was she in your car?" O'Hallinan asked.

  "We were up at Grand Central, dropping a client there. We found her on the sidewalk, kind of lost. She was off the train from Mount Kisco, and just kind of wandering about. We offered her a ride to the hospital, which seemed to be what she needed. So we dropped her at St. Vincent's, because it's on the way back here. "

  "Bellevue is nearer Grand Central," O'Hallinan said.

  "I don't like the traffic over there," Tony said neutrally. "St. Vincent's was more convenient. "

  "And you didn't wonder about what had happened to her?" Sark asked. "How she came by the injuries?"

  "Well, naturally we wondered," Tony said. "We asked her about it, but she couldn't speak, because of the injuries. That's why we didn't recognize the name. "

  O'Hallinan stood there, unsure. Sark took a step forward.

  "You found her on the sidewalk?"

  Tony nodded. "Outside Grand Central. "

  "She couldn't speak?"

  "Not a word. "

  "So how do you know she was off t
he Kisco train?"

  The only gray area in the rehearsals had been picking the exact moment to drop the defense and start the offense. It was a subjective issue. They had trusted that when it came, they would recognize it. And they did. The thickset man stood up and crunched a round into the shotgun's chamber and leveled it across the counter.

  "Freeze!" he screamed.

  A nine-millimeter pistol appeared in Tony's hand. Sark and O'Hallinan stared at it and glanced back at the shotgun and jerked their arms upward. Not a rueful little gesture like in the movies. They stretched them violently upward as if their lives depended on touching the acoustic tile directly above their heads. The guy with the shotgun came up from the rear and jammed the muzzle hard into Sark's back and Tony stepped around behind O'Hallinan and did the same thing with his pistol. Then a third man came out from the darkness and paused in the office doorway.

  "I'm Hook Hobie," he said.

  They stared at him. Said nothing. Their gazes started on his disfigured face and traveled slowly down to the empty sleeve.

  "Which of you is which?" Hobie asked.

  No reply. They were staring at the hook. He raised it and let it catch the light.

  "Which of you is O'Hallinan?"

  O'Hallinan ducked her head in acknowledgment. Hobie turned.

  "So you're Sark. "

  Sark nodded. Just a fractional inclination of his head.

  "Undo your belts," Hobie said. "One at a time. And be quick. "

  Sark went first. He was quick. He dropped his hands and wrestled with his buckle. The heavy belt thumped to the floor at his feet. He stretched up again for the ceiling.

  "Now you," Hobie said to O'Hallinan.

  She did the same thing. The heavy belt with the revolver and the radio and the handcuffs and the nightstick thumped on the carpet. She stretched her hands back up, as far as they would go. Hobie used the hook. He leaned down and swept the point through both buckles and swung the belts up in the air, posing like a fisherman at the end of a successful day on the riverbank. He reached around and used his good hand to pull the two sets of handcuffs out of their worn leather cups.

  "Turn around. "

  They turned and faced the guns head-on.

  "Hands behind you. "

  It is possible for a one-armed man to put handcuffs on a victim, if the victim stands still, wrists together. Sark and O'Hallinan stood very still indeed. Hobie clicked one wrist at a time, and then tightened all four cuffs against their ratchets until he heard gasps of pain from both of them. Then he swung the belts high enough not to drag on the floor and walked back inside the office.

  "Come in," he called.

  He walked around behind the desk and laid the belts on it like items for close examination. He sat heavily in his chair and waited while Tony lined up the prisoners in front of him. He left them in silence while he emptied their belts. He unstrapped their revolvers and dropped them in a drawer. Took out their radios and fiddled with the volume controls until they were hissing and crackling loudly. He squared them together at the end of the desktop with their antennas pointed toward the wall of windows. He inclined his head for a moment and listened to the squelch of radio atmospherics. Then he turned back and pulled both nightsticks out of the loops on the belts. He placed one on the desk and hefted the other in his left hand and examined it closely. It was the modern kind, with a handle, and a telescopic section below. He peered at it, interested.

  "How does this work, exactly?"

  Neither Sark or O'Hallinan replied. Hobie played with the stick for a second, and then he glanced at the thickset guy, who jabbed the shotgun forward and hit Sark in the kidney.

  "I asked you a question," Hobie said to him.

  "You swing it," he muttered. "Swing it, and sort of flick it. "

  He needed space, so he stood up. Swung the stick and flicked it like he was cracking a whip. The telescopic section snapped out and locked into place. He grinned with the unburned half of his face. Collapsed the mechanism and tried again. Grinned again. He took to pacing big circles around the desk, swinging the stick and cracking it open. He did it vertically, and then horizontally. He used more and more force. He spun tight circles, flashing the stick. He whipped it backhanded and the mechanism sprang open and he whirled around and smashed it into O'Hallinan's face.

  "I like this thing," he said.

  She was swaying backward, but Tony jabbed her upright with his pistol. Her knees gave way and she fell forward in a heap, pressed up against the front of the desk, arms cuffed tight behind her, bleeding from the mouth and nose.

  "What did Sheryl tell you?" Hobie asked.

  Sark was staring down at O'Hallinan.

  "She said she walked into a door," he muttered.

  "So why the hell are you bothering me? Why are you here?"

  Sark moved his gaze upward. Looked Hobie full in the face.

  "Because we didn't believe her. It was clear somebody beat on her. We followed up on the Tahoe plate, and it looks like it led us to the right place. "

  The office went silent. Nothing except the hiss and the squelch from the police radios on the end of the desk. Hobie nodded.

  "Exactly the right place," he said. "There was no door involved. "

  Sark nodded back. He was a reasonably courageous man. The Domestic Violence Unit was no kind of safe refuge for cowards. By definition it involved dealing with men who had the capacity for brutal violence. And Sark was as good at dealing with them as anybody.

  "This is a big mistake," he said quietly.

  "In what way?" Hobie asked, interested.

  "This is about what you did to Sheryl, is all. It doesn't have to be about anything else. You really shouldn't mix anything else in with it. It's a big step up to violence against police officers. It might be possible to work something out about the Sheryl issue. Maybe there was provocation there, you know, some mitigating circumstance. But you keep on messing with us, then we can't work anything out. Because you're just digging yourself into bigger trouble. "

  He paused and watched carefully for the response. The approach often worked. Self-interest on the part of the perpetrator often made it work. But there was no response. from Hobie. He said nothing. The office was silent. Sark was shaping the next gambit on his lips when the radios crackled and some distant dispatcher came over the air and sentenced him to death.

  "Five one and five two, please confirm your current location. "

  Sark was so conditioned to respond that his hand jerked toward where his belt had been. It was stopped short by the handcuff. The radio call died into silence. Hobie was staring into space.

  "Five one, five two, I need your current location, please. "

  Sark was staring at the radios in horror. Hobie followed his gaze and smiled.

  "They don't know where you are," he said.

  Sark shook his head. Thinking fast. A courageous man.

  "They know where we are. They know we're here. They want confirmation, is all. They check we're where we're supposed to be, all the time. "

  The radios crackled again. "Five one, five two, respond please. "

  Hobie stared at Sark. O'Hallinan was struggling to her knees and staring toward the radios. Tony moved his pistol to cover her.

  "Five one, five two, do you copy?"

  The voice slid under the sea of static and then came back stronger.

  "Five one, five two, we have a violent domestic emergency at Houston and Avenue D. Are you anywhere near that vicinity?"

  Hobie smiled.

  "That's two miles from here," he said. "They have absolutely no idea where you are, do they?"

  Then he grinned. The left side of his face folded into unaccustomed lines, but on the right the scar tissue stayed tight, like a rigid mask.