First question: why would a two-star general use a place like this? I was pretty sure there wouldn't have been a DoD inquiry if he had checked into a Holiday Inn.
There were two town police cruisers parked at careless angles outside the motel's last-but-one room. There was a small plain sedan sandwiched between them. It was cold and misted over. It was a base-model Ford, red, four cylinder. It had skinny tires and plastic hubcaps. A rental, for sure. I put the Humvee next to the right-hand police cruiser and slid out into the chill. I heard the music from across the street, louder. The last-but-one room's lights were off and its door was open. I figured the cops were trying to keep the interior temperature low. Trying to stop the old guy from getting too ripe. I was anxious to take a look at him. I was pretty sure I had never seen a dead general before.
Three cops stayed in their cars and one got out to meet me. He was wearing tan uniform pants and a short leather jacket zipped to his chin. No hat. The jacket had badges pinned to it that told me his name was Stockton and his rank was deputy chief. I didn't know him. I had never served there before. He was gray, about fifty. He was medium height and a little soft and heavy but the way he was reading the badges on my coat told me he was probably a veteran, like a lot of cops are.
"Major," he said, as a greeting.
I nodded. A veteran, for sure. A major gets a little gold-colored oak leaf on the epaulette, one inch across, one on each side. This guy was looking upward and sideways at mine, which wasn't the clearest angle of view. But he knew what they were. So he was familiar with rank designations. And I recognized his voice. He was the guy who had called me, at five seconds past midnight.
"I'm Rick Stockton," he said. "Deputy Chief."
He was calm. He had seen heart attacks before.
"I'm Jack Reacher," I said. "MP duty officer tonight."
He recognized my voice in turn. Smiled.
"You decided to come out," he said. "After all."
"You didn't tell me the DOA was a two-star."
"Well, he is."
"I've never seen a dead general," I said.
"Not many people have," he said, and the way he said it made me think he had been an enlisted man.
"Army?" I asked.
"Marine Corps," he said. "First sergeant."
"My old man was a Marine," I said. I always make that point, talking to Marines. It gives me some kind of genetic legitimacy. Stops them from thinking of me as a pure army dogface. But I keep it vague. I don't tell them my old man had made captain. Enlisted men and officers don't automatically see eye to eye."Humvee," he said.
He was looking at my ride.
"You like it?" he asked.
I nodded. Humvee was everyone's best attempt at saying HMMWV, which stands for High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, which about says it all. Like the army generally, what you're told is what you get.
"It works as advertised," I said.
"Kind of wide," he said. "I wouldn't like to drive it in a city."
"You'd have tanks in front of you," I said. "They'd be clearing the way. I think that would be the basic plan.
"The music from the bar thudded on. Stockton said nothing.
"Let's look at the dead guy," I said to him.
He led the way inside. Flicked a switch that lit up the interior hallway. Then another that lit up the whole room. I saw a standard motel layout. A yard-wide lobby with a closet on the left and a bathroom on the right. Then a twelve-by-twenty rectangle with a built-in counter the same depth as the closet, and a queen bed the same depth as the bathroom. Low ceiling. A wide window at the far end, draped, with an integrated heater-cooler unit built through the wall underneath it. Most of the things in the room were tired and shabby and colored brown. The whole place looked dim and damp and miserable.
A Man Called Intrepid author dies aged 89(Dec 03 2013) William Stevenson, a journalist and author who drew on his close ties with intelligence sources to write two best-selling books in the 1970s, A Man Called...