Lee has three homes—an apartment in Manhattan, a country house in the south of France, and whatever airplane cabin he happens to be in while traveling between the two. In the US he drives a supercharged Jaguar, which was built in Jaguar’s Browns Lane plant, thirty yards from the hospital in which he was born.
Lee spends his spare time reading, listening to music, and watching the Yankees, Aston Villa, or Marseilles soccer. He is married with a grown-up daughter. He is tall and slim, despite an appalling diet and a refusal to exercise.
Visit Lee Child at his website here.
A lonely railroad track. A crime scene. A cover-up. A young woman is dead, and solid evidence points to a soldier at a nearby military base. But that soldier has powerful friends in Washington.
There was no one waiting outside bay fifteen. No special crew. No one at all. The corridor was entirely empty, too, both ways, as far as the eye could see. I guessed everyone else was already where they wanted to be. Twelve o’clock meetings were in full swing.
Bay fifteen’s door was open. I knocked on it once, as a courtesy, as an announcement, as a warning, and then I stepped inside. Originally most of the Pentagon’s office space was open plan, boxed off by file cabinets and furniture into bays, hence the name, but over the years walls had gone up and private spaces had been created. Frazer’s billet in 3C315 was pretty typical. It was a small square space with a window without a view, with a metal DoD desk, and a chair with arms and two without, and a credenza and a double-wide storage unit.
And it was a small square space entirely empty of people, apart from Frazer himself in the chair behind the desk. He looked up at me and smiled and said, “Hello, Reacher.”
I looked left and right. No one there. No one at all. There was no private bathroom. No large closet. No other door of any kind. The corridor behind me was empty. The giant building was quiet.
Frazer said, “Sit down, if you like.”
I sat down.
Frazer said, “You’re late.”
“I apologize,” I said. “I got hung up.”
Frazer nodded. “This place is a nightmare at twelve o’clock. Lunch breaks, shift changes, you name it. It’s a zoo. I never plan to go anywhere at twelve o’clock. I just hunker down in here.” He was about five-ten, maybe two hundred pounds, wide in the shoulders, solid through the chest, red-faced, black-haired, in his middle forties. Plenty of old Scottish blood in his veins. He had been in Vietnam as a teenager and the Gulf as an older man. He had combat pips all over him like a rash. He was an old-fashioned warrior, but unfortunately for him he could talk and smile as well as he could fight, so he had been posted to Senate Liaison, because the guys with the purse strings were the real enemy.
He said, “So what have you got for me?”
I said nothing. I had nothing to say. I hadn’t expected to get that far.
He said, “Good news, I hope.”
“No news,” I said.
I nodded. “Nothing.”
“You told me you had the name. That’s what your message said.”
“I don’t have the name.”
“Then why say so? Why ask to see me?”
I paused a beat.
“It was a shortcut,” I said.
“In what way?”
“I put it around that I had the name. I wondered who might crawl out from under a rock, to shut me up.”
“And no one has?”
“Not so far. But ten minutes ago I thought it was a different story. There were four spare men in the lobby. In DPS uniforms. They followed me. I thought they were an arrest team.”
“Followed you where?”
“Around the E ring to the D. Then I lost them on the stairs.”
Frazer smiled again.
“You’re paranoid,” he said. “You didn’t lose them. I told you, there are shift changes at twelve o’clock. They come in on the Metro like everyone else, they shoot the shit for a minute or two, and then they head for their squad room. It’s on the B ring. They weren’t following you.”
I said nothing.
He said, “There are always groups of them hanging around. There are always groups of everyone hanging around. We’re seriously overmanned. Something is going to have to be done. It’s inevitable. That’s all I hear about, all day, every day. There’s nothing we can do to stop it. We should all bear that in mind. People like you, especially.”
“Like me?” I said.
“There are lots of majors in this man’s army. Too many, probably.”
“Lots of colonels too,” I said.
“Fewer colonels than majors.”
I said nothing.
He asked, “Was I on your list of things that might crawl out from under a rock?”
You were the list, I thought.
He said, “Was I?”
“No,” I lied.
He smiled again. “Good answer. If I had a beef with you, I’d have you killed down there in Mississippi. Maybe I’d come on down and take care of it myself.”
I said nothing. He looked at me for a moment, and then a smile started on his face, and the smile turned into a laugh, which he tried very hard to suppress, but he couldn’t. It came out like a bark, like a sneeze, and he had to lean back and look up at the ceiling.
I said, “What?”
His gaze came back level. He was still smiling. He said, “I was thinking about that phrase people use. You know, they say, that guy? He couldn’t even get arrested.”
I said nothing.
He said, “You look terrible. There are barbershops here, you know. You should go use one.”
“I can’t,” I said. “I’m supposed to look like this.”
Eight days earlier my hair had been eight days shorter, but apparently still long enough to attract attention. Leon Garber, who at that point was once again my commanding officer, summoned me to his office, and because his message read in part without repeat without attending to any matters of personal grooming I figured he wanted to strike while the iron was hot and dress me down right then, while the evidence was still incontrovertibly in existence, right there on my head. And that was exactly how the meeting started out. He asked me, “Which army regulation covers a soldier’s personal appearance?”
Which I thought was a pretty rich question, coming from him. Garber was without a doubt the scruffiest officer I had ever seen. He could take a brand new Class A coat from the quartermaster’s stores and an hour later it would look like he had fought two wars in it, then slept in it, then survived three bar fights in it.
I said, “I can’t remember which regulation covers a soldier’s personal appearance.”
He said, “Neither can I. But I seem to recall that whichever, the hair and the fingernail standards and the grooming policies are in chapter one, section eight. I can picture it all quite clearly, right there on the page. Can you remember what it says?”
I said, “No.”
“It tells us that hair grooming standards are necessary to maintain uniformity within a military population.”
“It mandates those standards. Do you know what they are?”
“I’ve been very busy,” I said. “I just got back from Korea.”
“I heard Japan.”
“That was just a stopover on the way.”
“Do they have barbers in Japan?”
“I’m sure they do.”
“Do Japanese barbers take more than twelve hours to cut a man’s hair?”
“I’m sure they don’t.”
“Chapter one, section eight, paragraph two, says the hair on the top of the head must be neatly groomed, and that the length and the bulk of the hair may not be excessive or present a ragged, unkempt, or extreme appearance. It says that instead, the hair must present a tapered appearance.”
I said, “I’m not sure what that means.”
“It says a tapered appearance is one where the outline of the soldier’s hair conforms to the shape of his head, curving inward to a natural termination point at the base of his neck.”
I said, “I’ll get it taken care of.”
“These are mandates, you understand. Not suggestions.”
“OK,” I said.
“Section two says that when the hair is combed, it will not fall over the ears or the eyebrows, and it will not touch the collar.”
“OK,” I said again.
“Would you not describe your current hairstyle as ragged, unkempt, or extreme?”
“Compared to what?”
“And how are you doing in relation to the thing with the comb and the ears and the eyebrows and the collar?”
“I’ll get it taken care of,” I said again.
Then Garber smiled, and the tone of the meeting changed completely.
He asked, “How fast does your hair grow, anyway?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “A normal kind of speed, I suppose. Same as anyone else, probably. Why?”
“We have a problem,” he said. “Down in Mississippi.”
© Lee Child