"Reacher here," I said.
There was a long pause.
"I thought you were in Panama," he said.
"I got orders," I said.
"From Panama to Fort Bird? Why?"
"Not my place to ask."
"When was this?"
"Two days ago."
"That's a kick in the teeth," he said. "Isn't it?"
"Panama was probably more exciting."
"It was OK," I said.
"And they got you working duty officer on New Year's Eve already?"
"I volunteered," I said. "I'm trying to make people like me."
"That's a hopeless task," he said."
A sergeant just brought me coffee."
He paused. "Someone just call you about a dead soldier in a motel?"
"Eight minutes ago," I said. "I shuffled it off to headquarters."
"And they shuffled it off to someone else and I just got pulled out of a party to hear all about it."
"Because the dead soldier in question is a two-star general."
The phone went quiet.
"I didn't think to ask," I said.
The phone stayed quiet.
"Generals are mortal," I said. "Same as anyone else."
"There was nothing suspicious," I said. "He croaked, is all. Heart attack. Probably had gout. I didn't see a reason to get excited."
"It's a question of dignity," Garber said. "We can't leave a two-star lying around belly-up in public without reacting. We need a presence."
"And that would be me?"
"I'd prefer someone else. But you're probably the highest-ranking sober MP in the world tonight. So yes, it would be you."
"It'll take me an hour to get there."
"He's not going anywhere. He's dead. And they haven't found a sober medical examiner yet."
"OK," I said.
"Be respectful," he said.
"OK," I said again.
"Be polite," he said. "Off post, we're in their hands. It's a civilian jurisdiction."
"I'm familiar with civilians," I said. "I met one, once."
"But control the situation," he said. "You know, if it needs controlling."
"He probably died in bed," I said. "Like people do."
"Call me," he said. "If you need to."
"Was it a good party?"
"Excellent. My daughter is visiting."
He clicked off and I called the civilian dispatcher back and got the name and the address of the motel. Then I left my coffee on my desk and told my sergeant what was up and headed back to my quarters to change. I figured a presence required Class A greens, not woodland-pattern BDUs.
I took a Humvee from the MP motor pool and was logged out through the main gate. I found the motel inside fifty minutes. It was thirty miles due north of Fort Bird through dark undistinguished North Carolina countryside that was equal parts strip malls and scrubby forest and what I figured were dormant sweet potato fields. It was all new to me. I had never served there before. The roads were very quiet. Everyone was still inside, partying. I hoped I would be back at Bird before they all came out and started driving home. Although I really liked the Humvee's chances, head-on against a civilian ride.
The motel was part of a knot of low commercial structures clustered in the darkness near a big highway interchange. There was a truck stop as a centerpiece. It had a greasy spoon that was open on the holidays and a gas station big enough to take eighteen-wheelers. There was a no-name cinder block lounge bar with lots of neon and no windows. It had an Exotic Dancers sign lit up in pink and a parking lot the size of a football field. There were diesel spills and rainbow puddles all over it. I could hear loud music coming out of the bar. There were cars parked three-deep all around it. The whole area was glowing sulfurous yellow from the street lights. The night air was cold and there was fog drifting in layers. The motel itself was directly across the street from the gas station. It was a run-down swaybacked affair about twenty rooms long. It had a lot of peeling paint. It looked empty. There was an office at the left-hand end with a token vehicle porch and a buzzing Coke machine.
From The Enemy by Lee Child. Copyright Lee Child 2004. All rights reserved.
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