Reacher's minimalist existence is something to be envied. If only we had the courage to be that free.
—Ft. Worth Star Telegram
In mass-market paperback on April 6th in the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand and on May 9th in the US/Canada.
A prequel set back in 1996 — Reacher is still in the army, age 35, and he’s moved to an emergency task force because the intelligence
services in Europe have plucked a menacing phrase from the air: "The American wants a hundred million dollars." For what?
With Frances Neagley, his trusted sergeant and trusty sidekick, by his side — what problem can't be resolved?
In the morning they gave Reacher a medal, and in the afternoon they sent him back to school. The medal was another Legion of Merit. His second. It was a
handsome item, enameled in white, with a ribbon halfway between purple and red. Army Regulation 600-8-22 authorized its award for exceptionally meritorious
conduct in the performance of outstanding services to the United States in a key position of responsibility. Which was a bar Reacher felt he had cleared,
technically. But he figured the real reason he was getting it was the same reason he had gotten it the first time. It was a transaction. A contractual token.
Take the bauble and keep your mouth shut about what we asked you to do to get it. Which Reacher would have anyway. It was nothing to boast about. The
Balkans, some police work, two local bad guys identified, and located, and visited, and shot in the head. All part of the peace process. Interests were
served, and the region calmed down a little. Two weeks of his life. Four rounds expended. No big deal.
Army Regulation 600-8-22 was surprisingly vague about exactly how medals should be handed out. It said only that decorations were to be presented with an appropriate air of formality and with fitting ceremony. Which usually meant a large room with gilt furniture and a bunch of flags. And an officer senior in rank to the recipient. Reacher was a major, with twelve years in, but other awards were being given out that morning, including three to a trio of colonels and two to a pair of one-star generals, so the big cheese on deck was a three-star from the Pentagon, who Reacher knew from many years before, when the guy had been a CID battalion commander working out of Fort Myer. A thinker. Certainly enough of a thinker to figure out why an MP major was getting a Legion of Merit. He had a look in his eye. Part wry, and part seal-the-deal serious. Take the bauble and keep your mouth shut. Maybe in the past the guy had done the same thing on his own account. Maybe more than once. He had a whole fruit salad of ribbons on the left chest of his Class-A coat. Including two Legions of Merit.
The appropriately formal room was deep inside Fort Belvoir in Virginia. Which was close to the Pentagon, which was convenient for the three-star. Convenient for Reacher too, because it was even closer to Rock Creek, where he had been marking time since he got back. Not so convenient for the other officers, who had all flown in from Germany.
There was some milling around, and some small talk, and some shaking of hands, and then everyone went quiet and lined up and stood to attention, and salutes were exchanged, and medals were variously pinned or draped on, and then there was more milling around and small talk and shaking of hands. Reacher edged toward the door, keen to get out, but the three-star caught him before he made it. The guy shook his hand and kept hold of his elbow, and said, "I hear you’re getting new orders."
Reacher said, "No one told me. Where did you hear that?"
"My top sergeant. They all talk to each other. U.S. Army NCOs have the world’s most efficient grapevine. It always amazes me."
“Where do they say I’m going?”
“They don’t know for sure. But not far. Within driving distance, anyway. Apparently the motor pool got a requisition.”
“When am I supposed to find out?”
“Thank you,” Reacher said. “Good to know.”
The three-star let go of his elbow, and Reacher edged onward, to the door, and through it, and out into a corridor, where a sergeant first-class skidded to a halt and saluted. He was out of breath, like he had run a long way. From a distant part of the installation, maybe, where the real work was done.
The guy said, “Sir, with General Garber’s compliments, he requests that you stop by his office at your earliest convenience.”
Reacher said, “Where am I going, soldier?”
The guy said, “Driving distance. But around here, that could be a lot of different things."
Garber’s office was in the Pentagon, so Reacher caught a ride with two captains who lived at Belvoir but had afternoon shifts in the B-Ring. Garber had
a walled-off room all his own, two rings in, two floors up, guarded by a sergeant at a desk outside the door. Who stood up and led Reacher inside,
and announced his name, like an old-time butler in a movie. Then the guy sidestepped and began his retreat, but Garber stopped him and said,
“Sergeant, I’d like you to stay.”
So the guy did, standing easy, feet planted on the shiny linoleum.
Garber said, “Take a seat, Reacher.”
Reacher did, on a visitor chair with tubular legs, which sagged under his weight and tipped him backward, as if a strong wind was blowing.
Garber said, “You have new orders.”
Reacher said, “What and where?”
“You’re going back to school.”
Reacher said nothing.
Garber said, “Disappointed?”
Hence the witness, Reacher supposed. Not a private conversation. Best behavior. He said, “As always, general, I’m happy to go where the army sends me.”
“You don’t sound happy. But you should. Career development is a wonderful thing.”
“Details are being delivered to your office as we speak.”
“How long will I be gone?”
“That depends on how hard you work. As long as it takes, I guess.”
Reacher got a bus in the Pentagon parking lot and rode two stops to the base of the hill below the Rock Creek HQ. He walked up the slope and went
straight to his office. There was a slim file centered on his desk. His name was on it, and some numbers, and a course title: Impact of Recent
Forensic Innovation on Inter-Agency Cooperation. Inside were sheets of paper, still warm from the printer, including a formal notice of temporary
detachment to a location that seemed to be a leased facility in a corporate park in Maclean, Virginia. He was to report there by five o’clock that
afternoon. Civilian dress was to be worn. Residential quarters would be on-site. A personal vehicle would be provided. No driver.
Reacher tucked the file under his arm and walked out of the building. No one watched him go. He was of no interest to anyone. Not anymore. He was a disappointment. An anticlimax. The NCO grapevine had held its breath, and all it had gotten was a meaningless course with a bullshit title. Not exciting at all. So now he was a non-person. Out of circulation. Out of sight, out of mind. Like a ballplayer on the disabled list. A month from then someone might suddenly remember him for a second, and wonder when he was coming back, or if, and then forget him again just as quickly.
The desk sergeant inside the door glanced up, and glanced away, bored.
Reacher had very few civilian clothes, and some of them weren’t really civilian. His off-duty pants were Marine Corps khakis about thirty years old. He
knew a guy who knew a guy who worked in a warehouse, where there was a bale of stuff wrongly delivered back when LBJ was still president, and then never
squared away again afterward. And apparently the story was old Marine pants looked just like new Ralph Lauren pants, not that Reacher cared about what
new pants looked like, but free was an attractive price. And the pants were fine. Unworn, stiffly folded, a little musty, but good for another thirty
years at least.
His off-duty T shirts were no more civilian, being old army items, gone pale with washing. Only his jacket was definitively non-military. It was a blue denim Levis item, totally authentic in every respect, including the label, but sewn by an old girlfriend’s mother, in a basement in Seoul.
He changed and packed the rest of his stuff into a duffel and a suit carrier, which he heaved out to the curb, where a black Chevy Caprice was parked. He guessed it was an old MP black-and-white, now retired, with the decals peeled off, and the holes for the light bar and the antennas all sealed up with rubber plugs. The key was in. The seat was worn. But the engine started, and the transmission worked, and the brakes were fine. Reacher swung the thing round like a battleship maneuvering, and headed out toward Maclean, Virginia, with the windows down and the radio playing.
The corporate park was one of many, all of them the same, brown and beige, discreet typefaces, neat lawns, some evergreen planting, low two- and
three-building campuses spreading outward across empty land, servicing folks who hid behind bland and modest names and tinted glass in their office
windows. Reacher found the right place by the street number, and pulled in past a knee-high sign that said Educational Solutions Incorporated, in a
typeface so plain it looked childish.
Parked at the door were two more Chevy Caprices. One was black and one was navy blue. They were both newer than Reacher’s. And they were both properly civilian, in that they didn’t have rubber plugs and brush-painted doors. They were government sedans, no doubt about it, clean and shiny, each one with two more antennas than a person needed for listening to the ball game. But the extra two antennas were not the same in both cases. The black car had short needles and the blue car had longer whips, in a different configuration. On a different wavelength. Two separate organizations.
Reacher parked alongside, and left his bags in the car. He went in the door, to an empty lobby, which had durable gray carpet underfoot and green potted ferns here and there against the walls. There was a door marked Office. And a door marked Classroom. Which Reacher opened. There was a green chalkboard at the head of the room, and twenty college desks, in four rows of five, each one with a little ledge on the right, for paper and pencil.
Sitting on two of the desks were two guys, both in suits. One suit was black, and one suit was navy blue. Like the cars. Both guys were looking straight ahead, like they had been talking, but run out of things to say. They were about Reacher’s own age. The one in the black suit was pale with dark hair worn dangerously long for a guy with a government car. The one in the blue suit was pale with colorless hair buzzed short. Like an astronaut. Built like an astronaut, too, or a gymnast not long out of the game.
Reacher stepped in, and they both turned to look.
The dark haired guy said, “Who are you?”
Reacher said, “That depends on who you are.”
“Your identity depends on mine?”
“Whether I tell you or not.”
“Where do you think you are?”
“In a classroom with two government agents from different organizations. At cooperation school. Where they teach all about how to get along with other operations.”
“Please don’t tell me you’re from one of them.”
“Military Police. But don’t worry. I’m sure by five o’clock we’ll have plenty of civilized people here. You can give up on me and get along with them instead.”
The guy with the buzz cut looked up and said, “No, I think we’re it. I think we’re the whole ball game. There are only three bedrooms made up. I took a look around.”
Reacher said, “What kind of a government course has three students only? I never heard of that before.”
“Maybe we’re faculty. Maybe the students live elsewhere.”
The guy with the dark hair said, “Yes, that would make more sense.”
Reacher thought back, to the conversation in Garber’s office. He said, “My guy called it career development. I got the strong impression I would be on the receiving end, not the giving end. Then he seemed to suggest I could get through fast if I worked hard. All in all, I don’t think I’m faculty. Did your orders sound any different?”
The guy with the buzz cut said, “Not really.”
The guy with the hair didn’t answer, except for a big speculative shrug that seemed to concede a person with a strong imagination could interpret his orders as less than impressive.
The guy with the buzz cut said, “I’m Casey Waterman, FBI.”
“Jack Reacher, United States Army.”
The guy with the hair said, “John White, CIA.”
They all shook hands, and then they lapsed into the same kind of silence Reacher had heard when he stepped in. They had run out of things to say. He sat on a desk near the back of the room. Waterman was ahead of him on the left, and White was ahead of him on the right. Waterman was very still. But watchful. He was passing the time and conserving his energy. He had done so before. He was an experienced agent. No kind of a rookie. And neither was White, despite being different in every other way. White was never still. He was twitching and writhing and wringing his hands, and squinting into space, variably, focusing long, focusing short, sometimes narrowing his eyes and grimacing, looking left, looking right, as if caught in a tortuous sequence of thoughts, with no way out. An analyst, Reacher guessed, after many years in a world of unreliable data and double, triple, and quadruple bluffs. The guy was entitled to look a little agitated.
No one spoke.
Five minutes later Reacher broke the silence and asked, “Is there a history of us not getting along? The FBI, I mean, and the CIA and the MPs. I’m not aware of any kind of a big deal. Are you?”
Waterman said, “I think you’re jumping to the wrong conclusion. This is not about history. It’s about the future. They think we’re already cooperative. Which allows them to exploit us. Think about the first half of the course title. This is about forensic innovation just as much as cooperation. And innovation means they’re going to save money. We’re all going to cooperate in the future by sharing lab space. They’re going to build one new place and we’re all going to use it. That’s my bet. We’re here to be told how to make it work.”
“That’s nuts,” Reacher said. “I don’t know anything about labs or scheduling. I’m the last guy.”
“Me neither,” Waterman said. “Not a strength, to be honest.”
“This is worse than nuts,” White said. “This is a colossal waste of time. There are far too many far more important things going on.”
Twitching and writhing and wringing his hands.
Reacher asked, “Did they pull you off a job to bring you here? You got unfinished business?”
“No. I was due a rotation. I just closed out a thing. Successfully, I thought, but this was my reward.”
“Look on the sunny side of the street. You can relax. Take it easy. Go play golf. You don’t need to learn how to make it work. CIA doesn’t give a damn about labs. You hardly use them.”
“I’ll be three months behind on the job I should be starting right now.”
“Which is what?”
“I can’t tell you.”
“Who is doing it instead?”
“I can’t tell you.”
“A good analyst?”
“Not good enough. He’ll miss things. They might be vital. This stuff is impossible to predict.”
“I can’t tell you.”
“But important stuff, right?”
“Far more important than this.”
“What was the thing you just closed out?”
“I can’t tell you.”
“Was it a useful service to our nation?”
“I would say so.”
“But this was your reward.”
Waterman said, “Mine too. I’m in the same boat. I could say every word he just said. I expected a promotion. Not this.”
“A promotion for what? Or after what?”
“We closed a big case.”
“What kind of case?”
“A manhunt, basically. Years old and very cold. But we did it.”
“A service to our nation?”
“What’s this about?”
“I’m comparing the two of you. And there’s not much difference. You’re very good agents, already fairly senior, seen as loyal and reliable and trustworthy, and hence you’re given something useful to do. But then this is your reward for doing it. Which means one of two possible things.”
“Which are?” White said.
"Maybe the thing you did was embarrassing in certain circles. Maybe now it needs to be deniable. Maybe you need to be hidden away. Out of sight and out of mind.”
White shook his head. He said, “No, it was well regarded. It will be for years. I got a secret decoration. And it doesn’t need to be deniable anyway, because it was completely secret. No one in those circles knew anything about it.”
Reacher looked at Waterman and said, “Was there anything embarrassing about your manhunt?”
Waterman shook his head, and said, “What’s the second possibility?”
“This is not a school.”
“Then what is it?”
“It’s a place where they send good agents fresh off a big win.”
Waterman paused a beat. A new thought. He asked, “Are you the same as us? I don’t see why you wouldn’t be. Why draft two the same and not three?”
Reacher nodded. “I’m the same. I’m fresh off a big win. That’s for damn sure. I got a medal this morning. On a ribbon around my neck. For a job well done. All clean and tidy. Nothing to get embarrassed about.”
“What kind of job was it?”
“I’m sure it’s classified. But it might have involved breaking into a house and shooting the occupant in the head.”
“One in the forehead and one behind the ear. Never fails.”
“No, where was the house?”
“I’m sure that’s classified too. But there were a lot of consonants in the name. I remember that part. And then I did the exact same thing the next night. At a different house. Which I think taken all together means I would expect better than this afterward. I would expect to have some input into my next posting.”
“Exactly,” White said. “And my choice wouldn’t have been this. It would have been to do what I should be doing right now.”
“Which sounds challenging.”
“Which is typical. As a reward we want a challenge. We don’t want the easy commands. We want to step up.”
“Maybe we have,” Reacher said. “Let me ask you a question. Think back to when you got these orders. Was it face to face, or written?”
“Face to face. It had to be, for a thing like this.”
“Was there a third person in the room?”
White said, “As a matter of fact there was. It was humiliating. An administrative assistant, waiting to deliver a stack of papers. He told her to stay. She was just standing there.”
Reacher looked at Waterman, who said, “Same for me. He kept his secretary in the room. Normally he wouldn’t. How did you know?”
“Because the same thing happened to me. His sergeant. A witness. But also a gossip. That was the whole point. They all talk to each other. Within seconds everyone knew I wasn’t going anywhere interesting. Just a meaningless course with a bullshit title. I was instantly yesterday’s news. Immediately off the radar. It’s far and wide by now. I’m a non-person. I disappeared. And maybe you did too. Maybe administrative assistants and FBI secretaries have networks of their own. If they do, then the three of us are the three most invisible people on the planet right now. No one is looking at us. No one can even remember us. There’s nothing more boring than this.”
“You’re saying they moved three unrelated but in-form operatives completely under the radar. Why?”
“Under the radar doesn’t capture it. We’re in class here. We’re completely invisible.”
“Why? And why us three? What’s the connection?”
“I don’t know. But I’m sure it’s a challenging project. Possibly the kind of thing three in-form operatives might regard as a satisfactory reward for services rendered.”
“What is this place?”
“I don’t know,” Reacher said again. “But it ain’t a school. That’s for damn sure.”
At five o’clock exactly two black vans pulled in off the road, and drove past the knee-high sign, and parked behind the three Caprices, like a
barricade, trapping them in. Two men in suits got out of each of the vans. Secret Service, or U.S. Marshals. Both pairs of men looked around
briefly, and gave themselves the all-clear, and ducked back to their vans to get their principals out.
From the second van came a woman. She had a briefcase in one hand and a stack of papers in the other. She was wearing a neat black dress. It was the kind of thing that could do double duty, in the daytime in hushed high-floor offices, and in the evening at cocktail parties and receptions. She looked older than Reacher, maybe by ten years or more. Middle forties, but doing well. She had blonde hair, medium length, arranged in an unaffected style and no doubt combed with her fingers. She was taller than the average, but no wider.
Then out of the first van came a guy Reacher recognized instantly. His face was in the paper once a week, and on TV more than that, because as well as getting coverage for his own business, he was in a lot of stock photographs and B-roll footage, of Cabinet meetings, and tense shirt-sleeve discussions in the Oval Office. He was Alfred Ratcliffe, the National Security Advisor. The president’s top boy, whenever it came to things that might not end well. The go-to guy. The right-hand man. Rumor had it he was nearly seventy years old, but he didn’t look it. He was an old State Department survivor, historically in and out of favor as the winds changed and he didn’t, but he had hung in there long enough until finally his backbone got him the best job of all.
The woman joined up with him and they walked together, with the four suits all around them, to the lobby doors, which Reacher heard open, and then he heard feet on the hard carpet, and then they all came into the classroom, two suits hanging back, two walking point toward the chalkboard, Ratcliffe and the woman following them, and turning when they could get no further, to face the room, exactly like teachers at the start of a lesson.
Ratcliffe looked at White, and then at Waterman, and then at Reacher, way in back.
He said, “This is not a school.”
The woman bent decorously at the knee and laid her briefcase and her stack of papers on the floor. Ratcliffe took a step forward and said,
“You three were brought here under false pretenses, obviously. But we didn’t want a lot of fanfare. A little misdirection was better. We
want to avoid attention, if we can. At least at the beginning.”
And then he paused, for the drama, as if inviting questions, but no one asked any. Not even: the beginning of what? Better to hear the pitch all the way through. Always safer, with orders from on high.
Ratcliffe asked, “Who here can articulate this administration’s national security policy in simple plain English?”
No one spoke.
Ratcliffe asked, “Why aren’t you answering?”
Waterman retreated behind a thousand-yard stare, and White shrugged as if to say the immense complexities obviously precluded ordinary language, and anyway weren’t the notions of simplicity and plainness entirely subjective, and therefore clearly in need of a preliminary round of argument in order to agree definitions?
Reacher said, “It’s a trick question.”
Ratcliffe said, “You think it can’t be explained?”
“I think it doesn’t exist.”
“You think we’re incompetent?”
“No, I think the world is changing. Better to stay flexible.”
“Are you the MP?”
Ratcliffe paused again, and said, “A little over three years ago we had a bomb in a garage under a very tall building in New York City. Personally tragic for those killed or injured, of course, but from a global perspective not a very big deal at all. Except at that moment the world went mad. The closer we looked, the less we saw, and the less we understood. We had enemies everywhere, apparently, but we didn’t know for sure who they were, or where they were, or why they were, or what was the connection between them, or what they wanted, and we certainly had no idea what they would do next. We were nowhere. But at least we admitted that to ourselves. Therefore we didn’t waste time developing policies on things we haven’t even heard of yet. We felt that would generate a false sense of security. So as of now our standard operating procedure is to run around with our hair on fire, dealing with ten things at once, as and when they arise. We chase everything, because we have to. A little more than three years from now is the new millennium, with every capital city celebrating around the clock, which makes that one single day the greatest propaganda target in the history of planet Earth. We need to know who these guys are well ahead of time. All of them. So we leave no stone unturned.”
No one asked anything. Not even: do you have any particular stone in mind for us? Always safer not to speak, unless spoken to. Better just to wait.
But then Ratcliffe turned toward the woman and said, “This is Marian Sinclair, my deputy. She will complete the briefing. Every word she says is backed by me, and therefore by the president also. Every word. This might be a waste of time and lead nowhere, but until we know for sure it gets exactly the same priority as everything else. No effort is to be spared. You’ll get anything you need.”
And then the guy swept out, between two hustling suits. Reacher heard them leave the lobby, and he heard their van start up and drive away. Marian Sinclair hauled a front-row desk around until it was facing the rest of the room, and she sat down, all toned arms and dark nylons and good shoes. She crossed her legs and said, “Gather round.”
Reacher moved up to the third row and squeezed into a desk that put him in a neat and attentive semicircle with Waterman and White. Sinclair’s face looked open and honest, but pinched by stress and worry. There was serious shit going on. That was clear. Maybe Garber had dropped a hint. You don’t sound happy. But you should. Maybe all was not lost. Reacher figured White was arriving at the same conclusion. He was leaning forward, and his eyes were still. Waterman was motionless. Conserving energy.
Sinclair said, “There’s an apartment in Hamburg, Germany. A fashionable neighborhood, reasonably central, pretty expensive, but maybe a little transitory and corporate. For the last year the apartment has been rented to four men in their twenties. Not Germans. Three are Saudis, and the fourth is an Iranian. All four appear very secular. Clean-shaven, short hair, well dressed. They favor polo shirts in pastel colors with alligator badges. They wear gold Rolex watches and Italian shoes. They drive BMWs and go out to nightclubs. But they don’t go out to work.”
Reacher saw White nod to himself, as if he was familiar with such situations. There was no reaction from Waterman.
Sinclair said, “Locally the four young men are taken to be minor playboys. Possibly related to distant branches of rich and prominent families. Sowing their wild oats before coming home to the oil ministry. Standard-issue Eurotrash, in other words. But we know they’re not. We know they were recruited in their home countries and sent to Germany through Yemen and Afghanistan by a new organization we don’t know much about yet. Other than it seems to be well funded, strongly Jihadist, largely paramilitary in its training methods, and indifferent to national origins. Saudis and Iranians working together is unusual. But working together they are. They were well thought of in the training camps, and they were sent to Hamburg a year ago. Their mission was to embed themselves in the West, live quietly, and await further instructions. Of which they’ve had none so far. They’re a sleeper cell, in other words.”
Waterman stirred and said, “How do we know all this?”
Sinclair said, “The Iranian is ours. He’s a double agent. CIA runs him out of the Hamburg consulate.”
Sinclair nodded. “And brave kids are hard to find. That’s one of the ways the world changed. Assets used to walk in the embassy door. They wrote begging letters. We used to turn some of them away. But those were old Communists. Now we need young Arabs and we don’t know any.”
“Why do you need us? It’s a stable situation. They’re not going anywhere. You’ll get the activation order about a minute after they do. Assuming the consulate mans the switchboard around the clock.”
Better to hear the pitch all the way through.
Sinclair said, “It is a stable situation. Nothing ever happens. But then something did. Just a tiny random collision. They had a visitor.”
At Sinclair’s suggestion they moved out of the classroom to the office. She said the classroom was uncomfortable, because of the desks, which
was true, especially for Reacher. He was six feet five and two hundred fifty pounds. He was wearing his desk more than sitting in it. By
contrast the office had a conference table with four reclining chairs made of leather. Which enhanced level of comfort Sinclair seemed to
fully anticipate. Which made sense. She had leased the space herself, after all, probably yesterday, or had an under-deputy do so on her
behalf. Three bedrooms, four chairs for the briefings.
The men in suits waited outside, and Sinclair said, “Our asset was squeezed for every detail he had, and we think we can trust some conclusions. The visitor was another Saudi. The same age as them. Dressed the same as them. Product in his hair, gold necklace, alligator on his shirt. They weren’t expecting him. It was a total surprise. But they have a thing like the Mafia, where they might be called upon to perform a service. The visitor alluded to it. It turned out he was what they call a courier. Nothing to do with them. Something else entirely. Just that he was in Germany on business and needed a safe house. Which is always a courier’s preferred option. Hotels leave trails, eventually. They’re paranoid, because these new networks are very spread out. Which means secure communication is theoretically very difficult. They think we can hear their cell phones, which we probably can, and they think we can read their e-mails, which I’m sure we soon will, and they know we steam open their regular mail. So they use couriers instead, who are really messengers. They don’t carry briefcases chained to their wrists. They carry verbal questions and verbal answers in their heads. They go back and forth, from continent to continent, question, answer, question, answer. Very slow, but completely secure. No electronic fingerprint anywhere, nothing written down, and nothing to see except a guy with a gold chain passing through an airport, alongside a million others just like him.”
White asked, “Do we know if Hamburg was his final destination? Or was he breaking his journey to somewhere else?”
Sinclair said, “His business was in Hamburg.”
“But not with our boys in the house.”
“No, with someone else. Unrelated, except he needed somewhere safe to stay.”
“Do we know who sent him? Do we assume the same guys from Yemen and Afghanistan?”
“There’s an argument that says they might let another organization’s messenger use their house. Because of this Mafia thing, partly. We don’t know how wide it spreads. And it would be rational to pool resources. It would spread each organization’s individual reach. After hours of doctrinal discussion, of course. There could be temporary alliances. So we can’t say for certain who sent the messenger. But we strongly believe it was the same guys. Because of another circumstance.”
Waterman said, “Which was what?”
“By a statistically not-very-amazing coincidence, the messenger knew one of the Saudis in the house. They’d spent three months in Yemen together, climbing ropes and firing AK47s. It’s a small world. So the two of them had brief conversations, and the Iranian overheard some of them.”
“What did he hear?”
“The guy was waiting for a rendezvous that might come up within a day or two. Location was as yet unannounced, but would be reasonably local to the safe house. He didn’t have a message to give. He was there to be told something. He was to receive a response and carry it back. The response to an earlier question, we assume. Something that had required a measure of consideration. Important business, our Iranian assumed, because the guy was an elite warrior, just like themselves. He had been well thought of in the camps, or else why would he have the polo shirts and the Italian shoes and four passports? He wasn’t the sort of guy used by small fish at either end of the chain. He was a principals-only type of messenger.” “Did the rendezvous happen?”
“In the late afternoon of the second day. The guy went out for exactly fifty minutes.”
“And then what?”
“He left, first thing the next morning.”
“No more conversations?”
“One more. And it was a good one. The guy spilled the beans. He came right out with it. He told his friend the information he was carrying home. Just like that. Because he was impressed by it, we think. The Iranian said he seemed excited.”
“What was the information?”
“It was a statement. Like a very brief summary of information received.”
“What did it say?”
“The American wants a hundred million dollars.”
Sinclair sat up straight and hitched closer to the table, as if to emphasize her points, and said, “The Iranian is by all accounts very smart and
articulate and sensitive to the nuances of language, and the head of station went over and over it with him, and we firmly believe it was a simple
declarative statement. During those fifty minutes the messenger met face to face with an American. Male, because there was no chat about it being a
woman, and there would have been. The Iranian is certain of that. The American told the messenger he wanted a hundred million dollars. As a price
for something. That was clearly the context. But that’s the end of the transmission. A hundred million for what, we don’t know. From whom, we don’t know.”
White said, “But a hundred million narrows the field. Even if it’s an opening bid that gets knocked down to fifty, it’s still a good chunk of change. Who has that kind of money? Plenty of people, you would say, but at least you can get them all in one Rolodex.”
“Wrong end of the telescope,” Reacher said. “Easier to find the seller than the buyer, surely. What kind of a thing would guys who climb ropes in Yemen pay a hundred million dollars for? And what kind of American in Hamburg has such a thing for sale?”
Sinclair said, “The price scares us. So we’re working both ends. Your job is to find that American. If he’s still overseas, then CIA has jurisdiction, and Mr. White will lead the effort. If he’s back in the States now, the FBI has jurisdiction and Special Agent Waterman will step up instead. And because statistics tell us most Americans in Germany at any one time are U.S. military, we expect Major Reacher will be heavily involved with both.”
Reacher looked at Waterman, then White, and saw issues in their eyes, and had no doubt they saw the same in his.
Sinclair said, “Staff and supplies will start to arrive in the morning. You can have anything you want, at any time. But you will talk to no one except me, Mr. Ratcliffe, or the president. This is a quarantined unit. Whether you want a box of pencils or a secret file, you go through me, Mr. Ratcliffe, or the president. Which in practice will be me. Subsequent paperwork will be generated inside the West Wing. You must not be identified personally. Because a hundred million dollars is a lot of money. Government involvement is not impossible. The American could be State Department, or Justice, or in the Pentagon. You might talk to the wrong person by mistake. So talk to no one. That’s rule number two.”
Waterman said, “What was rule number one?”
“Rule number one is the Iranian must not be burned. We must do nothing that could be traced back to him. We have a lot invested in him and we’re going to need him, because we have no idea what’s coming next.”
Then she pushed her chair back and stood up and headed for the door. As she left she said, “Remember, hair on fire.”
Reacher lay back in his leather chair, and White looked at him and said, “It has to be tanks and planes.”
Reacher said, “Our nearest tanks are a thousand miles from Yemen or Afghanistan, and they take weeks and weeks and thousands of people to move. It would be easier to bring Yemen or Afghanistan to them.”
“I guess a hundred million might get a couple of pilots to come on over. Maybe three or four. Maybe Yemen has runways long enough. Theoretically possible. But planes are no good to them. They would need hundreds of tons of spare parts and hundreds of engineers and maintenance people. And we’d find them five minutes later anyway, and destroy them. Air to ground missiles. Or maybe we can do it remotely.”
“Some other military hardware, then.”
“But what? A million rifles? We haven’t got that many.”
Waterman said, “Truth is they have no idea who the guy is or what he’s selling. It could be anything. It could be a secret, or a code word, or a password, or a formula, or a map or a plan or a diagram, or a list, or the blueprint to a bank’s computer security, or a commercial recipe, or the sum total of the bribes required to pass legislation in all fifty states. Or alternatively it could be physical, but what exactly? In a way the price tag militates against it being physical. What’s worth that much? Diamonds, maybe, but they’re in Antwerp, not Hamburg. Drugs, maybe, but no American has a hundred million bucks’ worth ready to ship. That’s South and Central America. And they have poppies of their own in Afghanistan. Unless it’s something only notionally physical. Like smallpox germs. Or Ebola. Or an antidote. Or a vaccine.”
Reacher stared up at the ceiling.
Things that might not end well.
You don’t sound happy. But you should.
© Lee Child
- Set in 1996, bestseller Child's splendid 21st Jack Reacher novel (after 2015's Make Me) delves into his hero's U.S. Army past.
Right after Reacher is commended for a mission in the Balkans, he's immediately sent "back to school." It turns out that school
means a vital and secret mission: a sleeper cell in Hamburg, Germany, has learned of an American traitor with something to sell
to Islamic terrorists for $100 million. Alfred Ratcliffe, the U.S. president's National Security Adviser, tells Reacher and his
fellow students—two seasoned agents from the CIA and the FBI—"we have enemies everywhere" and gives Reacher's team its orders:
"Your job is to find that American." It's no spoiler to say that Reacher handles the heavy lifting on-site in Hamburg, though he's
ably assisted by two former military police colleagues, Frances Neagley and Manuel Orozco. The premise of the pre-9/11 plot is both
compelling and disconcerting, and Child applies his trademark eye for detail to make the whole endeavor surprisingly and thrillingly
—Publishers Weekly, starred review
This wayback novel, with its old-school investigating, street-smart tactics, and classic Reacher attitude, is an edge-of-your-seat book readers won't want to put down.
—Library Journal, starred review
The premise of Child's celebrated Jack Reacher series may be the best in the business: off-the-grid, ex-military guy—have toothbrush will travel—wanders about, stumbling into messes and cleaning them up. But how do you keep it going without those random messes beginning to seem contrived? By flashing back to Reacher when he was on the grid and in the army... There’s also something out of the ordinary for Child: an in-depth portrait of the bad guy, who is very bad, indeed, but in a pathetic, almost sympathetic way, as when we see him at the end, his master plan in tatters (no spoiler there—this is a Reacher novel), staring blankly with "open-mouthed incredulity at the unlikely ways the world can crush a person." We share that incredulity, but with Child's equally unlikely ability to keep his formula fresh, not only with well-timed backstory, but also with a touch of lyricism where we least expect it.
—ALA Booklist, starred review