Nothing to Lose by Lee Child

  “On their way up to the first-aid station.”

  “What happened to them?”

  “I did.”

  The judge said nothing.

  Reacher said, “And Mr. Thurman is up in his little airplane right now. Out of touch for another five and a half hours. So you’re on your own. It’s initiative time for Judge Gardner.”

  “What do you want?”

  “I want you to invite me into your living room. I want you to ask me to sit down and whether I take cream and sugar in my coffee, which I don’t, by the way. Because so far I’m here with your implied permission, and therefore I’m not trespassing. I’d like to keep it that way.”

  “You’re not only trespassing, you’re in violation of a town ordinance.”

  “That’s what I’d like to talk about. I’d like you to reconsider. Consider it an appeals process.”

  “Are you nuts?”

  “A little unconventional, maybe. But I’m not armed and I’m not making threats. I just want to talk.”

  “Get lost.”

  “On the other hand I am a large stranger with nothing to lose. In a town where there is no functioning law enforcement.”

  “I have a gun.”

  “I’m sure you do. In fact I’m sure you have several. But you won’t use any of them.”

  “You think not?”

  “You’re a man of the law. You know what kind of hassle comes afterward. I don’t think you want to face that kind of thing.”

  “You’re taking a risk.”

  “Getting out of bed in the morning is a risk.”

  The judge said nothing to that. Didn’t yield, didn’t accede. Impasse. Reacher turned to the wife and took all the amiability out of his face and replaced it with the kind of thousand-yard stare he had used years ago on recalcitrant witnesses.

  He asked, “What do you think, Mrs. Gardner?”

  She started to speak a couple of times but couldn’t get any words past a dry throat. Finally she said, “I think we should all sit down and talk.” But the way she said it showed she wasn’t all the way scared. She was a tough old bird. Probably had to be, to have survived sixty-some years in Despair, and marriage to the boss man’s flunky.

  Her husband huffed once and turned around and led the way into the living room. A sofa, an armchair, another armchair, with a lever on the side that meant it was a recliner. There was a coffee table and a large television set wired to a satellite box. The furniture was covered in a floral pattern that was duplicated in the drapes. The drapes were closed and had a ruffled pelmet made from the same fabric. Reacher suspected that Mrs. Gardner had sewed them herself.

  The judge said, “Take a seat, I guess.”

  Mrs. Gardner said, “I’m not going to make coffee. I think under the circumstances that would be a step too far.”

  “Your choice,” Reacher said. “But I have to tell you I’d truly appreciate some.” He paused a moment and then sat down in the armchair. Gardner sat in the recliner. His wife stood for a moment longer and then sighed once and headed out of the room. A minute later Reacher heard water running and the quiet metallic sound of an aluminum percolator basket being rinsed.

  Gardner said, “There is no appeal.”

  “There has to be,” Reacher said. “It’s a constitutional issue. The Fifth and the Fourteenth Amendments guarantee due process. At the very least there must be the possibility of judicial review.”

  “Are you serious?”


  “You want to go to federal court over a local vagrancy ordinance?”

  “I’d prefer you to concede that a mistake has been made, and then go ahead and tear up whatever paperwork was generated.”

  “There was no mistake. You are a vagrant, as defined by law.”

  “I’d like you to reconsider that.”


  “Why not?”

  “I’d like to understand why it’s so important to you to have free rein in our town.”

  “And I’d like to understand why it’s so important to you to keep me out.”

  “Where’s your loss? It’s not much of a place.”

  “It’s a matter of principle.”

  Gardner said nothing. A moment later his wife came in, with a single mug of coffee in her hand. She placed it carefully on the table in front of Reacher’s chair and then backed away and sat down on the sofa. Reacher picked up the mug and took a sip. The coffee was hot, strong, and smooth. The mug was cylindrical, narrow in relation to its height, made of delicate bone china, and it had a thin lip.

  “Excellent,” Reacher said. “Thank you very much. I’m really very grateful.”

  Mrs. Gardner paused a beat and said, “You’re really very welcome.”

  Reacher said, “You did a great job with the drapes, too.”

  Mrs. Gardner didn’t reply to that. The judge said, “There’s nothing I can do. There’s no provision for an appeal. Sue the town, if you must.”

  Reacher said, “You told me you’d welcome me with open arms if I got a job.”

  The judge nodded. “Because that would remove the presumption of vagrancy.”

  “There you go.”

  “Have you gotten a job?”

  “I have prospects. That’s the other thing we need to talk about. It’s not healthy that this town has no functioning law enforcement. So I want you to swear me in as a deputy.”

  There was silence for a moment. Reacher took the pewter star from his shirt pocket. He said, “I already have the badge. And I have a lot of relevant experience.”

  “You’re crazy.”

  “Just trying to fill a hole.”

  “You’re completely insane.”

  “I’m offering my services.”

  “Finish your coffee and get out of my home.”

  “The coffee is hot and it’s good. I can’t just gulp it down.”

  “Then leave it. Get the hell out. Now.”

  “So you won’t swear me in?”

  The judge stood up and planted his feet wide and made himself as tall as he could get, which was about five feet nine inches. His eyes narrowed as his brain ran calculations about present dangers versus future contingencies. He was silent with preoccupation for a long moment and then he said, “I’d rather deputize the entire damn population. Every last man, woman, and child in Despair. In fact, I think I will. Twenty-six hundred people. You think you can get past them all? Because I don’t. We aim to keep you out, mister, and we’re going to. You better believe it. You can take that to the bank.”


  Reacher thumped back over the expansion joint at nine-thirty in the evening and was outside the diner before nine-thirty-five. He figured Vaughan might swing by there a couple of times during the night. He figured that if he left her truck on the curb she would see it and be reassured that he was OK. Or at least that her truck was OK.

  He went inside to leave her keys at the register and saw Lucy Anderson sitting alone in a booth. Short shorts, blue sweatshirt, tiny socks, big sneakers. A lot of bare leg. She was gazing into space and smiling. The first time he had seen her he had characterized her as not quite a hundred percent pretty. Now she looked pretty damn good. She looked radiant, and taller, and straighter. She looked like a completely different person.

  She had changed.

  Before, she had been hobbled by worry.

  Now she was happy.

  He paused at the register and she noticed him and looked over and smiled. It was a curious smile. There was a lot of straightforward contentment in it, but a little triumph, too. A little superiority. Like she had won a significant victory, at his expense.

  He handed Vaughan’s keys to the cashier and the woman asked, “Are you eating with us tonight?” He thought about it. His stomach had settled. The adrenaline had drained away. He realized he was hungry. No sustenance since breakfast, except for coffee and some empty calories from the bottle of Bud in the bar. And he had burned plenty of calories in the bar. That w
as for sure. He was facing an energy deficit. So he said, “Yes, I guess I’m ready for dinner.”

  He walked over and slid into Lucy Anderson’s booth. She looked across the table at him and smiled the same smile all over again. Contentment, triumph, superiority, victory. Up close the smile looked a lot bigger and it had a bigger effect. It was a real megawatt grin. She had great teeth. Her eyes were bright and clear and blue. He said, “This afternoon you looked like Lucy. Now you look like Lucky.”

  She said, “Now I feel like Lucky.”

  “What changed?”

  “What do you think?”

  “You heard from your husband.”

  She smiled again, a hundred percent happiness.

  “I sure did,” she said.

  “He left Despair.”

  “He sure did. Now you’ll never get him.”

  “I never wanted him. I never heard of him before I met you.”

  “Really,” she said, in the exaggerated and sarcastic way he had heard young people use the word. As far as he understood it, the effect was intended to convey: How big of an idiot do you think I am?

  He said, “You’re confusing me with someone else.”


  Look at yourself, Vaughan had said. What do you see?

  “I’m not a cop,” Reacher said. “I was one once, and maybe I still look like one to you, but I’m not one anymore.”

  She didn’t answer. But he knew she wasn’t convinced. He said, “Your husband must have left late this afternoon. He was there at three and gone before seven.”

  “You went back?”

  “I’ve been there twice today.”

  “Which proves you were looking for him.”

  “I guess I was. But only on your behalf.”


  “What did he do?”

  “You already know.”

  “If I already know, it can’t hurt to tell me again, can it?”

  “I’m not stupid. My position is I don’t know about anything he’s done. Otherwise you’ll call me an accessory. We have lawyers, you know.”


  “People in our position. Which you know all about.”

  “I’m not a cop, Lucky. I’m just a passing stranger. I don’t know all about anything.”

  She smiled again. Happiness, triumph, victory.

  Reacher asked, “Where has he gone?”

  “Like I’d tell you that. ”

  “When are you joining him, wherever he is?”

  “In a couple of days.”

  “I could follow you.”

  She smiled again, impregnable. “Wouldn’t do you any good.”

  The waitress came by and Reacher asked her for coffee and steak. When she had gone away again he looked across at Lucy Anderson and said, “There are others in the position you were in yesterday. There’s a girl in town right now, just waiting.”

  “I hope there are plenty of us.”

  “I think maybe she’s waiting in vain. I know that a boy died out there a day or two ago.”

  Lucy Anderson shook her head.

  “Not possible,” she said. “I know that none of us died. I would have heard.”


  “People in our position.”

  “Somebody died.”

  “People die all the time.”

  “Young people? For no apparent reason?”

  She didn’t answer that, and he knew she never would. The waitress brought his coffee. He took a sip. It was not as good as Mrs. Gardner’s, either in terms of brew or receptacle. He put the mug down and looked at the girl again and said, “Whatever, Lucy. I wish you nothing but good luck, whatever the hell you’re doing and wherever the hell you’re going.”

  “That’s it? No more questions?”

  “I’m just here to eat.”

  He ate alone, because Lucy Anderson left before his steak arrived. She smiled and slid out of the booth and walked away. More accurately, she skipped away. Light on her feet, happy, full of energy. She pushed out through the door and instead of huddling into her shirt against the chill she squared her shoulders and turned her face upward and breathed the night air like she was in an enchanted forest. Reacher watched her until she was lost to sight and then gazed into space until his food showed up.

  He was through eating by ten-thirty and headed back to the motel. He dropped by the office, to pay for another night’s stay. He always rented rooms one night at a time, even when he knew he was going to hang out in a place longer. It was a reassuring habit. A comforting ritual, intended to confirm his absolute freedom to move on. The day clerk was still on duty. The stout woman. The nosy woman. He assembled a collection of small bills and waited for his change and said, “Go over what you were telling me about the metal plant.”

  “What was I telling you?”

  “Violations. Real crimes. You were interested in why the plane flies every night.”

  The woman said, “So you are a cop.”

  “I used to be. Maybe I still have the old habits.”

  The woman shrugged and looked a little sheepish. Maybe even blushed a little.

  “It’s just silly amateur stuff,” she said. “That’s what you’ll think.”


  “I’m a day trader. I do research on my computer. I was thinking about that operation.”

  “What about it?”

  “It seems to make way too much money. But what do I know? I’m not an expert. I’m not a broker or a forensic accountant or anything.”

  “Talk me through it.”

  “Business sectors go up and down. There are cycles, to do with commodity prices and supply and demand and market conditions. Right now metal recycling as a whole is in a down cycle. But that place is raking it in.”

  “How do you know?”

  “Employment seems to be way up.”

  “That’s pretty vague.”

  “It files taxes, federal and state. I looked at the figures, to pass the time.”

  And because you’re a nosy neighbor, Reacher thought.

  “And?” he asked.

  “It’s reporting great profits. If it was a public company, I’d be buying stock, big time. If I had any money, that is. If I wasn’t a motel clerk.”


  “But it’s not a public company. It’s private. So it’s probably making more than it’s reporting.”

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