His arithmetic awareness and his inherent cynicism about financial institutions always compelled him to check his balance every time he withdrew cash. He always remembered to deduct the ATM fees and every quarter he remembered to add in the bank's paltry interest payment. And despite his suspicions, he had never been ripped off. Every time his balance came up exactly as he predicted. He had never been surprised or dismayed.
Until that morning in Portland, where he was surprised, but not exactly dismayed. Because his balance was more than a thousand dollars bigger than it should have been.
Exactly one thousand and thirty dollars bigger, according to Reacher's own blind calculation. A mistake, obviously. By the bank. A deposit into the wrong account. A mistake that would be rectified. He wouldn't be keeping the money. He was an optimist, but not a fool. He pressed another button and requested something called a mini-statement. A slip of thin paper came out of a slot. It had faint gray printing on it, listing the last five transactions against his account. Three of them were ATM cash withdrawals that he remembered clearly. One of them was the bank's most recent interest payment. The last was a deposit in the sum of one thousand and thirty dollars, made three days previously. So there it was. The slip of paper was too narrow to have separate staggered columns for debits and credits, so the deposit was noted inside parentheses to indicate its positive nature: (1030.00).
One thousand and thirty dollars.
Not inherently an interesting number, but Reacher stared at it for a minute. Not prime, obviously. No even number greater than two could be prime. Square root? Clearly just a hair more than thirty-two. Cube root? A hair less than ten and a tenth. Factors? Not many, but they included 5 and 206, along with the obvious 10 and 103 and the even more basic 2 and 515.
A thousand and thirty.
Or, maybe not a mistake.
Reacher took fifty dollars from the machine and dug in his pocket for change and went in search of a pay phone.
He found a phone inside the bus depot. He dialed his bank's number from memory. Nine-forty in the West, twelve-forty in the East. Lunch time in Virginia, but someone should be there.
And someone was. Not someone Reacher had ever spoken to before, but she sounded competent. Maybe a back-office manager hauled out to cover for the meal period. She gave her name, but Reacher didn't catch it. Then she went into a long rehearsed introduction designed to make him feel like a valued customer. He waited it out and told her about the deposit. She was amazed that a customer would call about a bank error in his own favor.
"Might not be an error," Reacher said.
"Were you expecting the deposit?" she asked.
"Do third parties frequently make deposits into your account?"
"It's likely to be an error, then. Don't you think?"
"I need to know who made the deposit."
"May I ask why?"
"That would take some time to explain."
"I would need to know," the woman said. "There are confidentiality issues otherwise. If the bank's error exposes one customer's affairs to another, we could be in breach of all kinds of rules and regulations and ethical practices."
"It might be a message," Reacher said.
"From the past."
"I don't understand."
"Back in the day I was a military policeman," Reacher said. "Military police radio transmissions are coded. If a military policeman needs urgent assistance from a colleague he calls in a ten-thirty radio code. See what I'm saying?"
Excerpted from Bad Luck and Trouble by Lee Child Copyright © 2007 by Lee Child. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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