Extract: The Affair by Lee Child
March 1997. A woman has her throat cut behind a bar in Mississippi. Just down the road is a big army base. Is the murderer a local guy – or is he a soldier? Jack Reacher, still a major in the military police, is sent in undercover. The county sheriff is a former U.S. Marine – and a stunningly beautiful woman. Her investigation is going nowhere. Is the Pentagon stonewalling her? Or is she trying not to find the killer?
If he does what the army wants, will he be able to live with himself? And if he doesn’t, will the army be able to live with him?
Read on for an extract from The Affair by Lee Child!
The woman with the perfume and the pale hands was already deep into the corridor beyond the open turnstile. She had been waved through. Straight ahead of me was the two-man inquiry desk. To my left were the two guys checking badges. The open turnstile was between their hips. The four spare guys were still doing nothing beyond it. They were still clustered together, quiet and watchful, like an independent team. I still couldn’t see their shoes.
I took another breath and stepped up to the counter.
Like a lamb to the slaughter.
The desk guy on the left looked at me and said, ‘Yes, sir.’ Fatigue and resignation in his voice. A response, not a question, as if I had already spoken. He looked young and reasonably smart. Genuine DPS, presumably. MP Warrant Officers are quick studies, but they wouldn’t be running a Pentagon inquiry desk, however deeply under they were supposed to be.
The desk guy looked at me again, expectantly, and I said, ‘I have a twelve o’clock appointment.’
‘Colonel Frazer,’ I said.
The guy made out like he didn’t recognize the name. The world’s largest office building. Thirty thousand people. He leafed through a book the size of a telephone directory and asked, ‘Would that be Colonel John James Frazer? Senate Liaison?’
I said, ‘Yes.’
Or: Guilty as charged.
Way to my left the four spare guys were watching me. But not moving. Yet.
The guy at the desk didn’t ask my name. Partly because he had been briefed, presumably, and shown photographs, and partly because my Class A uniform included my name on a nameplate, worn as per regulations on my right breast pocket flap, exactly centred, its upper edge exactly a quarter of an inch below the top seam.
Seven letters: REACHER.
Or, eleven letters: Arrest me now.
The guy at the inquiry desk said, ‘Colonel John James Frazer is in 3C315. You know how to get there?’
I said, ‘Yes.’ Third floor, C ring, nearest to radial corridor number three, bay number fifteen. The Pentagon’s version of map coordinates, which it needed, given that it covered twenty-nine whole acres of floor space.
The guy said, ‘Sir, you have a great day,’ and his guileless gaze moved past my shoulder to the next in line. I stood still for a moment. They were tying it up with a bow. They were making it perfect. The general common law test for criminal culpability is expressed by the Latin actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea, which means, roughly, doing things won’t necessarily get you in trouble unless you actually mean to do them. Action plus intention is the standard. They were waiting for me to prove my intention. They were waiting for me to step through the turnstile and into the labyrinth. Which explained why the four spare guys were on their side of the gate, not mine. Crossing the line would make it real. Maybe there were jurisdiction issues. Maybe lawyers had been consulted. Frazer wanted my ass gone for sure, but he wanted his own ass covered just as much.
I took another breath and crossed the line and made it real. I walked between the two badge checkers and squeezed between the cold alloy flanks of the turnstile. The bar was retracted. There was nothing to hit with my thighs. I stepped out on the far side and paused. The four spare guys were on my right. I looked at their shoes. Army regulations are surprisingly vague about shoes. Plain black lace-up Oxfords or close equivalents, conservative, no designs on them, minimum of three pairs of eyelets, closed toe, maximum two-inch heel. That’s all the fine print says. The four guys on my right were all in compliance, but they weren’t wearing cop shoes. Not like the two guys outside. They were sporting four variations on the same classic theme. High shines, tight laces, a little creasing and wear here and there. Maybe they were genuine DPS. Maybe they weren’t. No way of telling. Not right then.
I was looking at them, and they were looking at me, but no one spoke. I looped around them and headed deeper into the building. I used the E ring counterclockwise and turned left at the first radial hallway.
The four guys followed.
They stayed about sixty feet behind me, close enough to keep me in sight, far enough back not to crowd me. A maximum seven minutes between any two points. I was the meat in a sandwich. I figured there would be another crew waiting outside 3C315, or as close to it as they decided to let me get. I was heading straight for them. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.
I used some stairs on the D ring and went up two flights to the third floor. I changed to a clockwise direction, just for the fun of it, and passed radial corridor number five, and then four. The D ring was busy. People were bustling from place to place with armfuls of khaki files. Blank-eyed men and women in uniform were stepping smartly. The place was congested. I dodged and sidestepped and kept on going. People looked at me every step of the way. The hair, and the beard. I stopped at a water fountain and bent down and took a drink. People passed me by. Sixty feet behind me the four spare DPS guys were nowhere to be seen. But then, they didn’t really need to tail me. They knew where I was going, and they knew what time I was supposed to get there.
I straightened up and got going again and turned right into radial number three. I made it to the C ring. The air smelled of uniform wool and linoleum polish and very faintly of cigars. The paint on the walls was thick and institutional. I looked left and right. There were people in the corridor, but no big cluster outside bay fifteen. Maybe they were waiting for me inside. I was already five minutes late.
I didn’t turn. I stuck with radial three and walked all the way across the B ring to the A ring. The heart of the building, where the radial corridors finish. Or start, depending on your rank and perspective. Beyond the A ring is nothing but a five-acre pentagonal open courtyard, like the hole in an angular doughnut. Back in the day people called it Ground Zero, because they figured the Soviets had their biggest and best missile permanently targeted on it, like a big fat bull’s-eye. I think they were wrong. I think the Soviets had their five biggest and best missiles targeted on it, just in case strikes one through four didn’t work. The smart money says the Soviets didn’t always get what they paid for, either.
I waited in the A ring until I was ten minutes late. Better to keep them guessing. Maybe they were already searching. Maybe the four spare guys were already getting their butts kicked for losing me. I took another big breath and pushed off a wall and tracked back along radial three, across the B ring, to the C. I turned without breaking stride and headed for bay fifteen.
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