Reacher’s designated handler told him it wasn’t going to be easy. There were going to be difficulties. Numerous and various. A real challenge. The guy had no kind of a bedside manner. Normally handlers started with the good news.
Maybe there isn’t any, Reacher thought.
The handler was an Intelligence colonel named Cornelius Christopher, but that was the only thing wrong with him. He looked like a decent guy. Despite the fancy name he seemed to have turned out fairly plain and pragmatic. Reacher would have liked him, except he had never met him before. Going undercover with a handler you never met before led to inefficiency. Or worse.
Christopher asked, “How much did they tell you yesterday?”
Reacher said, “I was in Frankfurt yesterday. Which is in Germany. No one told me anything. Except to get on a plane to Dulles, and then report to this office.”
“I see,” Christopher said.
“What should they have told me?”
“You really know nothing about this?”
“Some local trouble with staff officers.”
“So they did tell you something.”
“No one told me anything. But I’m an investigator. I do this stuff for a living. And some things are fairly obvious. I’m a relatively new guy who has so far been posted almost exclusively overseas. Therefore I’m almost certainly unknown to the kind of staff officer who doesn’t get out much.”
“Out of where?”
“The Beltway, for instance. Call it a two-mile radius from this very office. Maybe they also have a fishing cottage on a lake somewhere. But that’s not the kind of place I’m likely to have been.”
“You’re not very happy, are you?”
“I’ve had more promising days.”
“What’s your problem?”
“When does this thing start?”
“Well, that’s my problem, right there. I’ve got a handler I never met before and a situation I know nothing about.”
“It’s bad workmanship. It’s shoddy and confused. It shows no pride. Because you guys are always the same. There’s a clue in the title, remember?”
“Your title. Military Intelligence. Ideally both of those words should mean something to you. But surely at least one of them does. One at a time, if you wish. On alternate days, if you want.”
“Feel free to give me your honest opinion.”
Reacher said, “So what do I need to know?”
And at that same minute a car backed out of a driveway, in a distant location, slowly, a front-wheel-drive car, with a yelp as the tires turned. Not the shriek of speed. The opposite. A suburban sound, rubber on a tended blacktop driveway, like the smell of the sprinkler on the summer air.
Then the car paused and the driver selected a forward gear and the car rolled south, gently over the speed bumps that the driver himself had argued should be put in, for the safety of the children.
Then the car turned a little west, toward the highway, ready to join the mighty flow toward the capital.
Colonel Cornelius Christopher sat forward and made a space on his desk, paired hands coming together back to back, and then sweeping apart, pushing clutter aside. The move was emphatic. But purely metaphorical. There was nothing on the desk. No clutter. A good man-manager, Reacher thought. He let me have my say, and now we’re moving right along.
Christopher said, “There’s no danger. It’s going to be all talking.”
Reacher said, “Talking about what?”
“You were right, it’s about staff officers. There are four of them. One of them is bad. They’re all political liaison people. To the House and the Senate. They practically live there. You know the type. Going places, fast track, better not to get in their way.”
“The army is asking for a new sniper rifle. We’re giving evidence to some new pre-committee. Begging, basically. Our legislative overseers. In fact, not even really. They sent senior staffers instead. We’re not even talking to elected officials.”
“Now you don’t sound very happy.”
“I’m not here to be happy. The liaison officers are sitting in on these hearings, obviously. And one of them is leaking. Design criteria, load, range, size, shape, weight and budget.”
“Leaking to who?”
“A likely bidder located overseas, we assume. A foreign manufacturer, in other words. Someone that wants the business. Someone that likes a rigged game.”
“Is the business worth it? How many sniper rifles do we buy? And how much do we pay for them?”
“It’s the implied endorsement. They can sell copies for five grand each to the freak market. The price of a decent used car. As many as they want. Like selling crack.”
“Who else is at these hearings?”
“There’s our four liaison and the four staffers we’re pitching to, plus our procurement guy and the Marine procurement guy, plus a Ranger sniper and a Marine sniper for color commentary.”
“The Marines are involved?”
“In a minority way. They didn’t bring their own liaison, for instance. But it’s definitely a joint project. No other way of doing a thing like this.”
“So why wouldn’t it be the Marines leaking? Their procurement guy or their sniper? Why assume it’s our guys?”
“The leaks are via a fax machine inside the Capitol Building. Which is where our liaison guys have their offices.”
“How certain are you of that?”
“Could be the staffers. They’re in the Capitol Building, presumably.”
“Different phone network. Our legislative overseers are on some new super-duper thing. Our offices are still steam-powered.”
“OK,” Reacher said. “So it’s one of our guys.”
“I’m afraid so,” Christopher said.
“Money,” Christopher said. “Got to be. I can’t see anyone forming a deep ideological attachment to a European firearms manufacturer. Can you? And money is always a factor for officers like these. They’re mixing with corporate lawyers and lobbyists all the time. Easy to feel like the poor relation.”
“Can’t we just watch their fax machine?”