Read Without Fail Online

Authors: Lee Child

Tags: #Action & Adventure, #Mystery & Detective, #Political, #General, #Suspense, #Thrillers, #Fiction, #Espionage

Without Fail (8 page)

BOOK: Without Fail
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"Chicago," Froelich repeated. "That's why the cheque went there."

Reacher nodded. "She funded everything, because I don't have a credit card or a cheque book. As you already know, probably."

"So what happened to Elizabeth Wright from New Jersey?"

"I bought these clothes," Reacher said. "Or rather, you bought them for me. And the shoes. Sunglasses, too. My version of Secret Service fatigues. I went to the barber. Shaved every day. I wanted to look plausible. Then I wanted a lone woman from New Jersey, so I met a couple of Newark flights at the airport here on Thursday. Watched the crowd and latched onto Ms Wright and told her I was a Secret Service agent and there was a big security snafu going on and she should come with me."

"How did you know she was headed to the rally?"

"I didn't. I just looked at all the women coming out of baggage claim and tried to judge by how they looked and what they were carrying. Wasn't easy. Elizabeth Wright was the sixth woman I approached."

"And she believed you?"

"I had impressive ID. I bought this radio earpiece from Radio Shack, two bucks. Little electrical cord disappearing down the back of my neck, see? I had a rented Town Car, black. I looked the part, believe me. She believed me. She was quite excited about the whole thing, really. I brought her back to this room and guarded her all evening while Neagley took over. I kept listening to my earpiece and talking into my watch."

Froelich switched her gaze across to Neagley.

"We wanted New Jersey for a reason," Neagley said. Their driving licences are the easiest to forge, you know that? I had a laptop and a colour printer with me. "I'd just gotten through making Reacher's Secret Service ID for him. No idea if it was anything like the real thing, but it sure looked good. So I made up a Jersey licence with my picture and the name and address on it, printed it out, laminated it with a thing we bought from Staples for sixty bucks, sandpapered the edges clean, scuffed it around a little bit and shoved it in my bag. Then I dressed up some and took Ms Wright's party invitation with me and headed downstairs. I got into the ballroom OK. With the knife in my pocket."

"And?"

"I hung around, then I got hold of your guy. Held on for a spell."

Froelich looked straight at her. "How would you have done it?"

"I had hold of his right hand in my right. I pulled him close, he rotated slightly, I had a clear shot at the right side of his neck. Three-and-a-half-inch blade, I'd have stuck it through his carotid artery. Then jerked it around some. He'd have bled to death inside thirty seconds. I was one arm movement away from doing it. Your guys were ten feet away. They'd have plugged me afterward for sure, but they couldn't have stopped me from getting it done."

Froelich was pale and silent. Neagley looked away.

"Without the knife would have been harder," she said. "But not impossible. Breaking his neck would have been tricky because he's got some muscle up there. I'd have had to do a quick two-step to get his weight moving, and if your guys were fast enough they might have stopped me halfway. So I guess I'd have gone with a blow to his larynx, hard enough to crush it. A jab with my left elbow would have done the trick. I'd have been dead before him, probably, but he'd have suffocated right afterwards, unless you've got people who could do an emergency tracheotomy on the ballroom floor within a minute or so, which I guess you don't have."

"No," Froelich said. "We don't have." Then she fell silent again.

"Sorry to ruin your day," Neagley said. "But hey, you wanted to know this stuff, right? No point doing a security audit and not telling you the outcome."

Froelich nodded. "What did you whisper to him?"

"I said, I've got a knife. Just for the hell of it. But very quietly. If anybody had challenged me I was going to claim I'd said, where's your wife? Like I was coming on to him. I imagine that happens, time to time."

Froelich nodded again. "It does," she said. "Time to time. What else?"

"Well, he's safe in his house," Neagley said.

"You checked?"

"Every day," Reacher said. "We've been on the ground in Georgetown since Tuesday night."

"I didn't see you."

"That was the plan."

"How did you know where he lives?"

"We followed your limos." Froelich said nothing. "Good limos," Reacher said. "Slick tactics."

"Friday morning was especially good," Neagley said.

"But the rest of Friday was pretty bad," Reacher said. "Lack of co-ordination produced a major communications error."

"Where?"

"Your D.C. people had video of the ballroom but clearly your New York people never saw it, because as well as being the woman in the party dress Thursday night Neagley was also one of the photographers outside the Stock Exchange."

"Some North Dakota paper has a web site," Neagley said. "Like all of them, with a graphic of their masthead. I downloaded it and modified it into a press pass. Laminated it and put brass eyelets in it and slung it around my neck with a nylon cord. Trawled the secondhand stores in lower Manhattan for battered old photo gear. Kept a camera up in front of my face the whole time so Armstrong wouldn't recognize me."

"You should operate an access list," Reacher said. "Control it, somehow."

"We can't," Froelich said. "It's a constitutional thing. The First Amendment guarantees journalistic access, any old time they want it. But they were all searched."

"I wasn't carrying," Neagley said. "I was just breaching your security for the hell of it. But I could have been carrying, that's for damn sure. I could have gotten a bazooka past that kind of a search."

Reacher stood up and stepped to the credenza. Pulled open a drawer and took out a stack of photographs. They were commercial one-hour six-by-four colour prints. He held up the first picture. It was a low-angle shot of Armstrong standing outside the Stock Exchange with the carved lintel inscription floating like a halo over his head.

"Neagley's," Reacher said. "Good picture, I thought. Maybe we should sell it to a magazine, defray some of the twenty grand."

He stepped back to the bed and sat down and passed the photograph to Froelich. She took it and stared at it.

"Point is I was four feet away," Neagley said. "I could have gotten to him if I'd wanted to. A John Malkovich situation again, but what the hell."

Froelich nodded blankly. Reacher dealt the next print, like a playing card. It was a grainy telephoto picture clearly taken from a great distance, looking down from way above street level. It showed Armstrong outside the Stock Exchange, tiny in the centre of the frame. There was a crude gunsight drawn round his head with a ballpoint pen.

"This is the half," Reacher said. "I was on the sixtieth floor of an office building three hundred yards away. Inside the police perimeter, but higher than they were checking."

"With a rifle?"

He shook his head. "With a piece of wood the same size and shape as a rifle. And another camera, obviously. And a big lens. But I played it out for real. I wanted to see if it was possible. I figured people wouldn't like to see a rifle-shaped package, so I got a big square box from a computer monitor and put the wood in diagonally, top corner to bottom corner. Then I just wheeled it into the elevator on a hand truck, pretended it was real heavy. I saw a few cops. I was wearing these clothes without the fake pin or the earpiece. I guess they thought I was a delivery driver or something. Friday after the closing bell, the district's getting quiet enough to be convenient. I found a window in an empty conference room. It wouldn't open, so I guess I'd have had to cut out a circle of glass. But I could have taken a shot, just like I took the picture. And I'd have been Edward Fox. I could have gotten clean away."

Froelich nodded, reluctantly. "Why only a half?" she asked. "Looks like you had him fair and square."

"Not in Manhattan," Reacher said. "I was about nine hundred feet away and six hundred feet up. That's an eleven-hundred foot shot, give or take. Not a problem for me ordinarily, but the wind currents and the thermals around those towers turn it into a lottery. They're always changing, second to second. Swirling, up and down and side to side. They make it so you can't guarantee a hit. That's the good news, really. No competent rifleman would try a distance shot in Manhattan. Only an idiot would, and an idiot's going to miss anyway."

Froelich nodded again, a little relieved. "OK," she said.

So she's not worried about an idiot, Reacher thought. Must be a professional.

"So," he said. "Call it a total score of three, if you want, and forget the half. Don't worry about New York at all. It was tenuous."

"But Bismarck wasn't tenuous," Neagley said. "We got there about midnight. Commercial flights, through Chicago."

"I called you from a mile away," Reacher said. "About the musicians."

He dealt the next two photographs.

"Infrared film," he said. "In the dark."

The first picture showed the back of the Armstrong family house. The colours were washed out and distorted, because of the infrared photography. But it was a fairly close shot. Every detail was clearly visible. Doors, windows. Froelich could even see one of her agents, standing in the yard.

"Where were you?" she asked.

"On the neighbour's property," Reacher said. "Maybe fifty feet away. Simple night manoeuvre, infiltration in the dark. Standard infantry techniques, quiet and stealthy. Couple of dogs barked some, but we got around them. The State troopers in the cars didn't see a thing."

Neagley pointed to the second picture. It showed the front of the house. Same colours, same detail, same distance.

"I was across the street, at the front," she said. "Behind somebody's garage."

Reacher sat forward on the bed. "Plan would have been to have an M16 each, with the grenade launcher on it. Plus some other full-auto long guns. Maybe even M60 machine-guns on tripods. We certainly had enough time to set them up. We'd have put phosphorus grenades into the building with the M16s, simultaneously front and back, one each, ground floor, and either Armstrong would burn up in bed or we'd shoot him down as he ran out the door or jumped out the window. We'd have timed it for maybe four in the morning. Shock would have been total. Confusion would have been tremendous. We could have taken your agents out in the M16, easy as anything. We could have chewed the whole house to splinters. We'd have probably exfiltrated OK too, and then it would have boiled down to a standard manhunt situation, which wouldn't have been ideal out there in the boonies, but we'd probably have made it, with a bit of luck. Edward Fox again."

There was silence.

"I don't believe it," Froelich said. She stared at the pictures. "This can't be Friday night. This was some other night. You weren't really there."

Reacher said nothing.

"Were you?" she asked.

"Well, check this out," Reacher said. He handed her another photograph. It was a telephoto shot. It showed her sitting in the apartment window above the garage, staring out into the darkness, holding her cell phone. Her heat signature was picked up in strange reds and oranges and purples. But it was her. No doubt about it. Like she was close enough to touch.

"I was calling New Jersey," she said, quietly. "Your musician friends got away OK."

"Good," Reacher said. "Thanks for arranging it." She stared at the three infrared pictures, one after the other, and said nothing.

"So the ballroom and the family house were definites," Reacher said. "Two-zip for the bad guys. But the next day was the real clincher. Yesterday. That rally at the church."

He passed the last photo across. It was regular daylight film, taken from a high angle. It showed Armstrong in his heavy overcoat walking across the community centre lawns. The late golden sun threw a long shadow out behind him. He was surrounded by a loose knot of people, but his head was clearly visible. It had another crude gunsight inked round it. "I was in the church tower," Reacher said. "The church was locked."

"At eight o'clock in the morning. I'd been in there since five."

"It was searched."

"I was up where the bells were. At the top of a wooden ladder, behind a trapdoor. I put pepper on the ladder. Your dogs lost interest and stayed on the ground floor."

"It was a local unit. They were sloppy."

BOOK: Without Fail
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