Killing Floor: Page1
Lee Child (1997)
WE PULLED UP AT THE DOORS OF THE LONG LOW BUILDING. Baker got out of the car and looked up and down along the frontage. The backup guys stood by. Stevenson walked around the back of our car. Took up a position opposite Baker. Pointed the shotgun at me. This was a good team. Baker opened my door.
"OK, let's go, let's go," he said. Almost a whisper.
He was bouncing on the balls of his feet, scanning the area. I pivoted slowly and twisted out of the car. The handcuffs didn't help. Even hotter now. I stepped forward and waited. The backup fell in behind me. Ahead of me was the station house entrance. There was a long marble lintel crisply engraved: Town of Margrave Police Headquarters. Below it were plate-glass doors. Baker pulled one open. It sucked against rubber seals. The backup pushed me through. The door sucked shut behind me.
Inside it was cool again. Everything was white and chrome. Lights were fluorescent. It looked like a bank or an insurance office. There was carpet. A desk sergeant stood behind a long reception counter. The way the place looked, he should have said: how may I help you, sir? But he said nothing. He just looked at me. Behind him was a huge open-plan space. A dark-haired woman in uniform was sitting at a wide, low desk. She had been doing paperwork on a keyboard. Now she was looking at me. I stood there, an officer on each elbow. Stevenson was backed up against the reception counter. His shotgun was pointed at me. Baker stood there, looking at me. The desk sergeant and the woman in uniform were looking at me. I looked back at them.
Then I was walked to the left. They stopped me in front of a door. Baker swung it open and I was pushed into a room. It was an interview facility. No windows. A white table and three chairs. Carpet. In the top corner of the room, a camera. The air in the room was set very cold. I was still wet from the rain.
I stood there and Baker ferreted into every pocket. My belongings made a small pile on the table. A roll of cash. Some coins. Receipts, tickets, scraps. Baker checked the newspaper and left it in my pocket. Glanced at my watch and left it on my wrist. He wasn't interested in those things. Everything else was swept into a large Ziploc bag. A bag made for people with more in their pockets than I carry. The bag had a white panel printed on it. Stevenson wrote some kind of a number on the panel.
Baker told me to sit down. Then they all left the room. Stevenson carried the bag with my stuff in it. They went out and closed the door and I heard the lock turning. It had a heavy, well-greased sound. The sound of precision. The sound of a big steel lock. Sounded like a lock that would keep me in.
I FIGURED THEY WOULD LEAVE ME ISOLATED FOR A WHILE. It usually happens that way. Isolation causes an urge to talk. An urge to talk can become an urge to confess. A brutal arrest followed by an hour's isolation is pretty good strategy.
But I figured wrong. They hadn't planned an hour's isolation. Maybe their second slight tactical mistake. Baker unlocked the door and stepped back in. He carried a plastic cup of coffee. Then he signaled the uniformed woman into the room. The one I'd seen at her desk in the open area. The heavy lock clicked behind her. She carried a metal flight case which she set on the table. She clicked it open and took out a long black number holder. In it were white plastic numbers.
She handed it to me with that brusque apologetic sympathy that dental nurses use. I took it in my cuffed hands. Squinted down to make sure it was the right way up and held it under my chin. The woman took an ugly camera out of the case and sat opposite me. She rested her elbows on the table to brace the camera. Sitting forward. Her breasts rested on the edge of the table. This was a good-looking woman. Dark hair, great eyes. I stared at her and smiled. The camera clicked and flashed. Before she could ask I turned sideways on the chair for the profile. Held the long number against my shoulder and stared at the wall. The camera clicked and flashed again. I turned back and held out the number. Two-handed, because of the cuffs. She took it from me with that pursed grin which says: yes, it's unpleasant, but it's necessary. Like the dental nurse.
Then she took out the fingerprint gear. A crisp ten-card, already labeled with a number. The thumb spaces are always too small. This one had a reverse side with two squares for palm prints. The handcuffs made the process difficult. Baker didn't offer to remove them. The woman inked my hands. Her fingers were smooth and cool. No wedding band. Afterward she handed me a wad of tissues. The ink came off very easily. Some kind of new stuff I hadn't seen before.
The woman unloaded the camera and put the film with the prints card on the table. She repacked the camera into the flight case. Baker rapped on the door. The lock clicked again. The woman picked up her stuff. Nobody spoke. The woman left the room. Baker stayed in there with me. He shut the door and it locked with the same greased click. Then he leaned on the door and looked at me.
"My chief's coming on down," he said. "You're going to have to talk to him. We got a situation here. Got to be cleared up. "
I said nothing back to him. Talking to me wasn't going to clear any situation up for anybody. But the guy was acting civilized. Respectful. So I set him a test. Held out my hands toward him. An unspoken request to unlock the cuffs. He stood still for a moment then took out the key and unlocked them. Clipped them back on his belt. Looked at me. I looked back and dropped my arms to my sides. No grateful exhalation. No rueful rubbing of my wrists. I didn't want a relationship with this guy. But I did speak.
"OK," I said. "Let's go meet your chief. "
It was the first time I'd spoken since ordering breakfast. Now Baker was the one who looked grateful. He rapped twice on the door and it was unlocked from the outside. He opened it up and signaled me through. Stevenson was waiting with his back to the large open area. The shotgun was gone. The backup crew was gone. Things were calming down. They formed up, one on each side. Baker gripped my elbow, lightly. We walked down the side of the open area and came to a door at the back. Stevenson pushed it open and we walked through into a large office. Lots of rosewood all over it.
A fat guy sat at a big rosewood desk. Behind him were a couple of big flags. There was a Stars and Stripes with a gold fringe on the left and what I guessed was the Georgia state flag on the right. On the wall between the flags was a clock. It was a big old round thing framed in mahogany. Looked like it had decades of polish on it. I figured it must be the clock from whatever old station house they bulldozed to build this new place. I figured the architect had used it to give a sense of history to the new building. It was showing nearly twelve thirty.
The fat guy at the big desk looked up at me as I was pushed in toward him. I saw him look blank, like he was trying to place me. He looked again, harder. Then he sneered at me and spoke in a wheezing gasp which would have been a shout if it hadn't been strangled by bad lungs.
"Get your ass in that chair and keep your filthy mouth shut," he said.
This fat guy was a surprise. He looked like a real asshole. Opposite to what I'd seen so far. Baker and his arrest team were the business. Professional and efficient. The fingerprint woman had been decent. But this fat police chief was a waste of space. Thin dirty hair. Sweating, despite the chilly air. The blotchy red and gray complexion of an unfit, overweight mess. Blood pressure sky-high. Arteries hard as rocks. He didn't look halfway competent.
"My name is Morrison," he wheezed. As if I cared. "I am chief of the police department down here in Margrave. And you are a murdering outsider bastard. You've come down here to my town and you've messed up right there on Mr. Kliner's private property. So now you're going to make a full confession to my chief of detectives. "
He stopped and looked up at me. Like he was still trying to place me. Or like he was waiting for a response. He didn't get one. So he jabbed his fat finger at me.
"And then you're going to jail," he said. "And then you're going to the chair. And then I'm going to take a dump on your shitty little pauper's grave. "
He hauled his bulk out of the chair and looked away from me.
"I'd deal with this myself," he said. "But I'm a busy man. "
He waddled out from behind his desk. I was standing there between his desk and the door. As he crabbed by, he stopped. His fat nose was about level with the middle button on my coat. He was still looking up at me like he was puzzled by something.
"I've seen you before," he said. "Where was it?"
He glanced at Baker and then at Stevenson. Like he was expecting them to note what he was saying and when he was saying it.
"I've seen this guy before," he told them.
HE SLAMMED THE OFFICE DOOR AND I WAS LEFT WAITING with the two cops until the chief of detectives swung in. A tall black guy, not old, but graying and balding. Just enough to give him a patrician air. Brisk and confident. Well-dressed, in an old-fashioned tweed suit. Moleskin vest. Shined shoes. This guy looked like a chief should look. He signaled Baker and Stevenson out of the office. Closed the door behind them. Sat down at the desk and waved me to the opposite chair.
He rattled open a drawer and pulled out a cassette recorder. Raised it high, arm's length, to pull out the tangle of cords. Plugged in the power and the microphone. Inserted a tape. Pressed record and flicked the microphone with his fingernail. Stopped the tape and wound it back. Pressed play. Heard the thunk of his nail. Nodded. Wound back again and pressed record. I sat and watched him.
For a moment there was silence. Just a faint hum, the air, the lights, or the computer. Or the recorder whirring slowly. I could hear the slow tick of the old clock. It made a patient sound, like it was prepared to tick on forever, no matter what I chose to do. Then the guy sat right back in his chair and looked hard at me. Did the steepled fingers thing, like tall elegant people can.
"Right," he said. "We got a few questions, don't we?"
The voice was deep. Like a rumble. Not a southern accent. He looked and sounded like a Boston banker, except he was black.
"My name is Finlay," he said. "My rank is captain. I am chief of this department's detective bureau. I understand you have been apprised of your rights. You have not yet confirmed that you understood them. Before we go any further we must pursue that preliminary matter. "
Not a Boston banker. More like a Harvard guy.
"I understand my rights," I said.
"Good," he said. "I'm glad about that. Where's your lawyer?"
"I don't need a lawyer," I said.
"You're charged with murder," he said. "You need a lawyer. We'll provide one, you know. Free of charge. Do you want us to provide one, free of charge?"
"No, I don't need a lawyer," I said.
The guy called Finlay stared at me over his fingers for a long moment.
"OK," he said. "But you're going to have to sign a release. You know, you've been advised you may have a lawyer, and we'll provide one, at no cost to yourself, but you absolutely don't want one. "
"OK," I said.
He shuffled a form from another drawer and checked his watch to enter date and time. He slid the form across to me. A large printed cross marked the line where I was supposed to sign. He slid me a pen. I signed and slid the form back. He studied it. Placed it in a buff folder.
"I can't read that signature," he said. "So for the record we'll start with your name, your address and your date of birth. "
There was silence again. I looked at him. This was a stubborn guy. Probably forty-five. You don't get to be chief of detectives in a Georgia jurisdiction if you're forty-five and black except if you're a stubborn guy. No percentage in jerking him around. I drew a breath.
"My name is Jack Reacher," I said. "No middle name. No address. "
He wrote it down. Not much to write. I told him my date of birth.
"OK, Mr. Reacher," Finlay said. "As I said, we have a lot of questions. I've glanced through your personal effects. You were carrying no ID at all. No driver's license, no credit cards, no nothing. You have no address, you say. So I'm asking myself, who is this guy?"
He didn't wait for any kind of a comment on that from me.
"Who was the guy with the shaved head?" he asked me.
I didn't answer. I was watching the big clock, waiting for the minute hand to move.
"Tell me what happened," he said.
I had no idea what had happened. No idea at all. Something had happened to somebody, but not to me. I sat there. Didn't answer.
"What is Pluribus?" Finlay asked.
I looked at him and shrugged.
"The United States motto?" I said. "E Pluribus Unum? Adopted in 1776 by the Second Continental Congress, right?"
He just grunted at me. I carried on looking straight at him. I figured this was the type of a guy who might answer a question.
"What is this about?" I asked him.
Silence again. His turn to look at me. I could see him thinking about whether to answer, and how.
"What is this about?" I asked him again. He sat back and steepled his fingers.
"You know what this is about," he said. "Homicide. With some very disturbing features. Victim was found this morning up at the Kliner warehouse. North end of the county road, up at the highway cloverleaf. Witness has reported a man seen walking away from that location. Shortly after eight o'clock this morning. Description given was that of a white man, very tall, wearing a long black overcoat, fair hair, no hat, no baggage. "
Silence again. I am a white man. I am very tall. My hair is fair. I was sitting there wearing a long black overcoat. I didn't have a hat. Or a bag. I had been walking on the county road for the best part of four hours this morning. From eight until about eleven forty-five.
"How long is the county road?" I said. "From the highway all the way down to here?"
Finlay thought about it.
"Maybe fourteen miles, I guess," he said.
"Right," I said. "I walked all the way down from the highway into town. Fourteen miles, maybe. Plenty of people must have seen me. Doesn't mean I did anything to anybody. "
He didn't respond. I was getting curious about this situation.
"Is that your neighborhood?" I asked him. "All the way over at the highway?"
"Yes, it is," he said. "Jurisdiction issue is clear. No way out for you there, Mr. Reacher. The town limit extends fourteen miles, right up to the highway. The warehousing out there is mine, no doubt about that. "
He waited. I nodded. He carried on.
"Kliner built the place, five years ago," he said. "You heard of him?"
I shook my head.
"How should I have heard of him?" I said. "I've never been here before. "
"He's a big deal around here," Finlay said. "His operation out there pays us a lot of taxes, does us a lot of good. A lot of revenue and a lot of benefit for the town without a lot of mess, because it's so far away, right? So we try to take care of it for him. But now it's a homicide scene, and you've got explaining to do. "
The guy was doing his job, but he was wasting my time.
"OK, Finlay," I said. "I'll make a statement describing every little thing I did since I entered your lousy town limits until I got hauled in here in the middle of my damn breakfast. If you can make anything out of it, I'll give you a damn medal. Because all I did was to place one foot in front of the other for nearly four hours in the pouring rain all the way through your precious fourteen damn miles. "
That was the longest speech I had made for six months. Finlay sat and gazed at me. I watched him struggling with any detective's basic dilemma. His gut told him I might not be his man. But I was sitting right there in front of him. So what should a detective do? I let him ponder. Tried to time it right with a nudge in the right direction. I was going to say something about the real guy still running around out there while he was wasting time in here with me. That would feed his insecurity. But he jumped first. In the wrong direction.
"No statements," he said. "I'll ask the questions and you'll answer them. You're Jack-none-Reacher. No address. No ID. What are you, a vagrant?"
I sighed. Today was Friday. The big clock showed it was already more than half over. This guy Finlay was going to go through all the hoops with this. I was going to spend the weekend in a cell. Probably get out Monday.
"I'm not a vagrant, Finlay," I said. "I'm a hobo. Big difference. "
He shook his head, slowly.
"Don't get smart with me, Reacher," he said. "You're in deep shit. Bad things happened up there. Our witness saw you leaving the scene. You're a stranger with no ID and no story. So don't get smart with me. "
He was still just doing his job, but he was still wasting my time.
"I wasn't leaving a homicide scene," I said. "I was walking down a damn road. There's a difference, right? People leaving homicide scenes run and hide. They don't walk straight down the road. What's wrong about walking down a road? People walk down roads all the damn time, don't they?"
Finlay leaned forward and shook his head.
"No," he said. "Nobody has walked the length of that road since the invention of the automobile. So why no address? Where are you from? Answer the questions. Let's get this done. "
"OK, Finlay, let's get it done," I said. "I don't have an address because I don't live anywhere. Maybe one day I'll live somewhere and then I'll have an address and I'll send you a picture postcard and you can put it in your damn address book, since you seem so damn concerned about it. "
Finlay gazed at me and reviewed his options. Elected to go the patient route. Patient, but stubborn. Like he couldn't be deflected.
"Where are you from?" he asked. "What was your last address?"
"What exactly do you mean when you say where am I from?" I asked.
His lips were clamped. I was getting him bad-tempered, too. But he stayed patient. Laced the patience with an icy sarcasm.
"OK," he said. "You don't understand my question, so let me try to make it quite clear. What I mean is, where were you born, or where have you lived for that majority period of your life which you instinctively regard as predominant in a social or cultural context?"
I just looked at him.
"I'll give you an example," he said. "I myself was born in Boston, was educated in Boston and subsequently worked for twenty years in Boston, so I would say, and I think you would agree, that I come from Boston. "
I was right. A Harvard guy. A Harvard guy, running out of patience.
"OK," I said. "You've asked the questions. I'll answer them. But let me tell you something. I'm not your guy. By Monday you'll know I'm not your guy. So do yourself a favor. Don't stop looking. "
Finlay was fighting a smile. He nodded gravely.
"I appreciate your advice," he said. "And your concern for my career. "
"You're welcome," I said.
"Go on," he said.
"OK," I said. "According to your fancy definition, I don't come from anywhere. I come from a place called Military. I was born on a U. S. Army base in West Berlin. My old man was Marine Corps and my mother was a French civilian he met in Holland. They got married in Korea. "
Finlay nodded. Made a note.
"I was a military kid," I said. "Show me a list of U. S. bases all around the world and that's a list of where I lived. I did high school in two dozen different countries and I did four years up at West Point. "
"Go on," Finlay said.
"I stayed in the army," I said. "Military Police. I served and lived in all those bases all over again. Then, Finlay, after thirty-six years of first being an officer's kid and then being an officer myself, suddenly there's no need for a great big army anymore because the Soviets have gone belly-up. So hooray, we get the peace dividend. Which for you means your taxes get spent on something else, but for me means I'm a thirty-six-year-old unemployed ex-military policeman getting called a vagrant by smug civilian bastards who wouldn't last five minutes in the world I survived. "
He thought for a moment. Wasn't impressed.
"Continue," he said.
I shrugged at him.
"So right now I'm just enjoying myself," I said. "Maybe eventually I'll find something to do, maybe I won't. Maybe I'll settle somewhere, maybe I won't. But right now, I'm not looking to. "
He nodded. Jotted some more notes.
"When did you leave the army?" he asked.
"Six months ago," I said. "April. "
"Have you worked at all since then?" he asked.
"You're joking," I said. "When was the last time you looked for work?"
"April," he mimicked. "Six months ago. I got this job. "
"Well, good for you, Finlay," I said.
I couldn't think of anything else to say. Finlay gazed at me for a moment.
"What have you been living on?" he asked. "What rank did you hold?"
"Major," I said. "They give you severance pay when they kick you out. Still got most of it. Trying to make it last, you know?"
A long silence. Finlay drummed a rhythm with the wrong end of his pen.
"SO LET'S TALK ABOUT THE LAST TWENTY-FOUR HOURS," he said.
I sighed. Now I was heading for trouble.
"I came up on the Greyhound bus," I said. "Got off at the county road. Eight o'clock this morning. Walked down into town, reached that diner, ordered breakfast and I was eating it when your guys came by and hauled me in. "
"You got business here?" he asked.
I shook my head.
"I'm out of work," I said. "I haven't got any business anywhere. "
He wrote that down.
"Where did you get on the bus?" he asked me.
"In Tampa," I said. "Left at midnight last night. "
"Tampa in Florida?" he asked.
I nodded. He rattled open another drawer. Pulled out a Greyhound schedule. Riffed it open and ran a long brown finger down a page. This was a very thorough guy. He looked across at me.
"That's an express bus," he said. "Runs straight through north to Atlanta. Arrives there nine o'clock in the morning. Doesn't stop here at eight. "
I shook my head.
"I asked the driver to stop," I said. "He said he shouldn't, but he did. Stopped specially, let me off. "
"You been around here before?" he asked.
I shook my head again.
"Got family down here?" he asked.
"Not down here," I said.
"You got family anywhere?" he asked.
"A brother up in D. C. ," I said. "Works for the Treasury Department. "
"You got friends down here in Georgia?" he asked.
"No," I said.
Finlay wrote it all down. Then there was a long silence. I knew for sure what the next question was going to be.
"So why?" he asked. "Why get off the bus at an unscheduled stop and walk fourteen miles in the rain to a place you had absolutely no reason to go to?"
That was the killer question. Finlay had picked it out right away. So would a prosecutor. And I had no real answer.
"What can I tell you?" I said. "It was an arbitrary decision. I was restless. I have to be somewhere, right?"
"But why here?" he said.
"I don't know," I said. "Guy next to me had a map, and I picked this place out. I wanted to get off the main drags. Thought I could loop back down toward the Gulf, farther west, maybe. "
"You picked this place out?" Finlay said. "Don't give me that shit. How could you pick this place out? It's just a name. It's just a dot on the map. You must have had a reason. "
"I thought I'd come and look for Blind Blake," I said.
"Who the hell is Blind Blake?" he said.
I watched him evaluating scenarios like a chess computer evaluates moves. Was Blind Blake my friend, my enemy, my accomplice, conspirator, mentor, creditor, debtor, my next victim?
"Blind Blake was a guitar player," I said. "Died sixty years ago, maybe murdered. My brother bought a record, sleeve note said it happened in Margrave. He wrote me about it. Said he was through here a couple of times in the spring, some kind of business. I thought I'd come down and check the story out. "
Finlay looked blank. It must have sounded pretty thin to him. It would have sounded pretty thin to me too, in his position.
"You came here looking for a guitar player?" he said.
"A guitar player who died sixty years ago? Why? Are you a guitar player?"
"No," I said.
"How did your brother write you?" he asked. "When you got no address?"
"He wrote my old unit," I said. "They forward my mail to my bank, where I put my severance pay. They send it on when I wire them for cash. "
He shook his head. Made a note.
"The midnight Greyhound out of Tampa, right?" he said.
"Got your bus ticket?" he asked.
"In the property bag, I guess," I said. I remembered Baker bagging up all my pocket junk. Stevenson tagging it.
"Would the bus driver remember?" Finlay said.
"Maybe," I said. "It was a special stop. I had to ask him. "
I became like a spectator. The situation became abstract. My job had been not that different from Finlay's. I had an odd feeling of conferring with him about somebody else's case. Like we were colleagues discussing a knotty problem.
"Why aren't you working?" Finlay asked.
I shrugged. Tried to explain.
"Because I don't want to work," I said. "I worked thirteen years, got me nowhere. I feel like I tried it their way, and to hell with them. Now I'm going to try it my way. "
Finlay sat and gazed at me.
"Did you have any trouble in the army?" he said.
"No more than you did in Boston," I said.
He was surprised.
"What do you mean by that?" he said.
"You did twenty years in Boston," I said. "That's what you told me, Finlay. So why are you down here in this no-account little place? You should be taking your pension, going out fishing. Cape Cod or wherever. What's your story?"
"That's my business, Mr. Reacher," he said. "Answer my question. "
"Ask the army," I said.
"I will," he said. "You can be damn sure of that. Did you get an honorable discharge?"
"Would they give me severance if I didn't?" I said.
"Why should I believe they gave you a dime?" he said. "You live like a damn vagrant. Honorable discharge? Yes or no?"
"Yes," I said. "Of course. "
He made another note. Thought for a while.
"How did it make you feel, being let go?" he asked.
I thought about it. Shrugged at him.
"Didn't make me feel like anything," I said. "Made me feel like I was in the army, and now I'm not in the army. "
"Do you feel bitter?" he said. "Let down?"
"No," I said. "Should I?"
"No problems at all?" he asked. Like there had to be something.
I felt like I had to give him some kind of an answer. But I couldn't think of anything. I had been in the service since the day I was born. Now I was out. Being out felt great. Felt like freedom. Like all my life I'd had a slight headache. Not noticing until it was gone. My only problem was making a living. How to make a living without giving up the freedom was not an easy trick. I hadn't earned a cent in six months. That was my only problem. But I wasn't about to tell Finlay that. He'd see it as a motive. He'd think I had decided to bankroll my vagrant lifestyle by robbing people. At warehouses. And then killing them.
"I guess the transition is hard to manage," I said. "Especially since I had the life as a kid, too. "
Finlay nodded. Considered my answer.
"Why you in particular?" he said. "Did you volunteer to muster out?"
"I never volunteer for anything," I said. "Soldier's basic rule. "
"Did you specialize?" he asked. "In the service?"
"General duties, initially," I said. "That's the system. Then I handled secrets security for five years. Then the last six years, I handled something else. "
Let him ask.
"What was that?" he asked.
"Homicide investigation," I said.
Finlay leaned right back. Grunted. Did the steepled fingers thing again. He gazed at me and exhaled. Sat forward. Pointed a finger at me.
"Right," he said. "I'm going to check you out. We've got your prints. Those should be on file with the army. We'll get your service record. All of it. All the details. We'll check with the bus company. Check your ticket. Find the driver, find the passengers. If what you say is right, we'll know soon enough. And if it's true, it may let you off the hook. Obviously, certain details of timing and methodology will determine the matter. Those details are as yet unclear. "
He paused and exhaled again. Looked right at me.
"In the meantime, I'm a cautious man," he said. "On the face of it, you look bad. A drifter. A vagrant. No address, no history. Your story may be bullshit. You may be a fugitive. You may have been murdering people left and right in a dozen states. I just don't know. I can't be expected to give you the benefit of the doubt. Right now, why should I even have any doubt? You stay locked up until we know for sure, OK?"
It was what I had expected. It was exactly what I would have said. But I just looked at him and shook my head.
"You're a cautious guy?" I said. "That's for damn sure. "
He looked back at me.
"If I'm wrong, I'll buy you lunch on Monday," he said. "At Eno's place, to make up for today. "
I shook my head again.
"I'm not looking for a buddy down here," I said.
Finlay just shrugged. Clicked off the tape recorder. Rewound. Took out the tape. Wrote on it. He buzzed the intercom on the big rosewood desk. Asked Baker to come back in. I waited. It was still cold. But I had finally dried out. The rain had fallen out of the Georgia sky and had soaked into me. Now it had been sucked out again by the dried office air. A dehumidifier had sucked it out and piped it away.
Baker knocked and entered. Finlay told him to escort me to the cells. Then he nodded to me. It was a nod which said: if you turn out not to be the guy, remember I was just doing my job. I nodded back. Mine was a nod which said: while you're covering your ass, there's a killer running about outside.
THE CELL BLOCK WAS REALLY JUST A WIDE ALCOVE OFF THE main open-plan squad room. It was divided into three separate cells with vertical bars. The front wall was all bars. A gate section hinged into each cell. The metalwork had a fabulous dull glitter. Looked like titanium. Each cell was carpeted. But totally empty. No furniture or bed ledge. Just a high-budget version of the old-fashioned holding pens you used to see.
"No overnight accommodation here?" I asked Baker.
"No way," he replied. "You'll be moved to the state facility later. Bus comes by at six. Bus brings you back Monday. "
He clanged the gate shut and turned his key. I heard bolts socket home all around the rim. Electric. I took the newspaper out of my pocket. Took off my coat and rolled it up. Lay flat on the floor and crammed the coat under my head.
Now I was truly pissed off. I was going to prison for the weekend. I wasn't staying in a station house cell. Not that I had any other plans. But I knew about civilian prisons. A lot of army deserters end up in civilian prisons. For one thing or another. The system notifies the army. Military policeman gets sent to bring them back. So I'd seen civilian prisons. They didn't make me wild with enthusiasm. I lay angrily listening to the hum of the squad room. Phones rang. Keyboards pattered. The tempo rose and fell. Officers moved about, talking low.
Then I tried to finish reading the borrowed newspaper. It was full of shit about the president and his campaign to get himself elected again for a second term. The old guy was down in Pensacola on the Gulf Coast. He was aiming to get the budget balanced before his grandchildren's hair turned white. He was cutting things like a guy with a machete blasting his way through the jungle. Down in Pensacola, he was sticking it to the Coast Guard. They'd been running an initiative for the last twelve months. They'd been out in force like a curved shield off Florida's coast every day for a year, boarding and searching all the marine traffic they didn't like the smell of. It had been announced with an enormous fanfare. And it had been successful beyond their wildest dreams. They'd seized all kinds of stuff. Drugs, mostly, but guns as well, illegal migrants from Haiti and Cuba. The interdiction was reducing crime all over the States months later and thousands of miles further down the line. A big success.
So it was being abandoned. It was very expensive to run. The Coast Guard's budget was into serious deficit. The president said he couldn't increase it. In fact, he'd have to cut it. The economy was in a mess. Nothing else he could do. So the interdiction initiative would be canceled in seven days' time. The president was trying to come across like a statesman. Law enforcement big shots were angry, because they figured prevention was better than cure. Washington insiders were happy, because fifty cents spent on beat cops was much more visible than two bucks spent out on the ocean two thousand miles away from the voters. The arguments flew back and forth. And in the smudgy photographs, the president was just beaming away like a statesman saying there was nothing he could do. I stopped reading, because it was just making me angrier.
To calm down, I ran music through my head. The chorus in "Smokestack Lightning. " The Howling Wolf version puts a wonderful strangled cry on the end of the first line. They say you need to ride the rails for a while to understand the traveling blues. They're wrong. To understand the traveling blues you need to be locked down somewhere. In a cell. Or in the army. Someplace where you're caged. Someplace where smokestack lightning looks like a faraway beacon of impossible freedom. I lay there with my coat as a pillow and listened to the music in my head. At the end of the third chorus, I fell asleep.
I WOKE UP AGAIN WHEN BAKER STARTED KICKING THE BARS. They made a dull ringing sound. Like a funeral bell. Baker stood there with Finlay. They looked down at me. I stayed on the floor. I was comfortable down there.
"Where did you say you were at midnight last night?" Finlay asked me.
"Getting on the bus in Tampa," I said.
"We've got a new witness," Finlay said. "He saw you at the warehouse facility. Last night. Hanging around. At midnight. "
"Total crap, Finlay," I said. "Impossible. Who the hell is this new witness?"
"The witness is Chief Morrison," Finlay said. "The chief of police. He says he was sure he had seen you before. Now he has remembered where. "