Nothing to Lose by Lee Child


  pale blue robes and had long blond hair and a neat blond beard. He looked more like a Malibu surfer than a Jew from two thousand years ago.

  On the corner of the desk was a Bible.

  Behind the desk was a man Reacher assumed was Mr. Thurman. He was wearing a three-piece suit made of wool. He looked to be close to seventy years old. He looked pink and plump and prosperous. He had white hair, worn moderately long and combed and teased into waves. He had a big patient smile on his face. He looked like he had just stepped out of a television studio. He could have been a game show host, or a televangelist. Reacher could picture him, clutching his chest and promising God would fell him with a heart attack unless the audience sent him money.

  And the audience would, Reacher thought. With a face like that, the idiots would bury him under fives and tens.

  The foreman waited for a nod, then left again. Reacher sat down in a leather armchair and said, “I’m Jack Reacher. You’ve got five minutes.”

  The guy behind the desk said, “I’m Jerry Thurman. I’m very pleased to meet you.”

  Reacher said, “Now you’ve got four minutes and fifty-six seconds.”

  “Actually, sir, I’ve got as long as it takes.” Thurman’s voice was soft and mellifluous. His cheeks quivered as he spoke. Too much fat, not enough muscle tone. Not an attractive sight. “You’ve been making trouble in my town and now you’re trespassing on my business premises.”

  “Your fault,” Reacher said. “If you hadn’t sent those goons to the restaurant I would have eaten a quick lunch and moved on days ago. No reason to stay. You’re not exactly running the Magic Kingdom here.”

  “I don’t aim to. This is an industrial enterprise.”

  “So I noticed.”

  “But you knew that days ago. I’m sure the people in Hope were quick to tell you all about us. Why poke around?”

  “I’m an inquisitive person.”

  “Evidently,” Thurman said. “Which raised our suspicions a little. We have proprietary processes here, and methodologies of our own invention, which might all be called industrial secrets. Espionage could hurt our bottom line.”

  “I’m not interested in metal recycling.”

  “We know that now.”

  “You checked me out?”

  Thurman nodded.

  “We made inquiries,” he said. “Last night, and this morning. You are exactly what you claimed to be, in Judge Gardner’s vagrancy hearing. A passerby. A nobody who used to be in the army ten years ago.”

  “That’s me.”

  “But you’re a very persistent nobody. You made a ludicrous request to be sworn in as a deputy. After taking a badge from a man in a fight.”

  “Which he started. On your orders.”

  “So we ask ourselves, why are you so keen to know what happens here?”

  “And I ask myself, why are you so keen to hide it?”

  Thurman shook his great white head.

  “We’re not hiding anything,” he said. “And you’re no danger to me commercially, so I’ll prove it to you. You’ve seen the town, you’ve met some of the folks who live here, and now I’m going to give you a tour of the plant. I’ll be your personal guide and escort. You can see everything and ask me anything.”

  They went in Thurman’s personal vehicle, which was a Chevy Tahoe the same style and vintage as the security vehicles, but painted black, not white. Same modest interior. A working truck. The keys were already in the ignition. Habit, probably. And safe enough. Nobody would use the boss’s car without permission. Thurman drove himself and Reacher sat next to him in the front. They were alone in the vehicle. They headed to the west wall, away from the vehicle gate, moving slow. Thurman started talking immediately. He described the various office functions, which in order of appearance were operations management, and invoicing, and purchasing, and he pointed out the first-aid station, and described its facilities and capabilities, and made a mildly pointed comment about the people Reacher had put in there. Then they moved on to the line of storage tanks, and he described their capacities, which were five thousand gallons each, and their contents, which were gasoline for the Tahoes and some of the other trucks, and diesel for the cranes and the crushers and the heavier equipment, and a liquid chemical called trichloroethylene, which was an essential metal degreaser, and oxygen and acetylene for the cutting torches, and kerosene, which fueled the furnaces.

  Reacher was bored rigid after sixty seconds.

  He tuned Thurman out and looked at things for himself. Didn’t see much. Just metal, and people working with it. He got the general idea. Old stuff was broken up and melted down, and ingots were sold to factories, where new stuff was made, and eventually the new stuff became old stuff and showed up again to get broken up and melted down once more.

  Not rocket science.

  Close to a mile later they arrived at the internal partition and Reacher saw that a truck had been parked across the gate, as if to hide it. Beyond the wall no more sparks were flying and no more smoke was rising. Activity seemed to have been abandoned for the day. He asked, “What happens back there?”

  Thurman said, “That’s our junkyard. Stuff that’s too far gone to work with goes in there.”

  “How do you get it in, with that truck in the way?”

  “We can move the truck if we need to. But we don’t need to often. Our processes have gotten very developed. Not much defeats us anymore.”

  “Are you a chemist or a metallurgist or what?”

  Thurman said, “I’m a born-again-Christian American and a businessman. That’s how I would describe myself, in that order of importance. But I hire the best talent I can find, at the executive level. Our research and development is excellent.”

  Reacher nodded and said nothing. Thurman turned the wheel and steered a slow curve and headed back north, close to the east wall. The jaws of a giant crusher were closing on about ten wrecked cars at once. Beyond it a furnace door swung open and men ducked away from the blast of heat. A crucible moved slowly on an overhead track, full of liquid metal, all bubbling and crusting.

  Thurman asked, “Are you born again?”

  Reacher said, “Once was enough for me.”

  “I’m serious.”

  “So am I.”

  “You should think about it.”

  “My father used to say, why be born again, when you can just grow up?”

  “Is he no longer with us?”

  “He died a long time ago.”

  “He’s in the other place, then, with an attitude like that.”

  “He’s in a hole in the ground in Arlington Cemetery.”

  “Another veteran?”

  “A Marine.”

  “Thank you for his service.”

  “Don’t thank me. I had nothing to do with it.”

  Thurman said, “You should think about getting your life in order, you know, before it’s too late. Something might happen. The Book of Revelation says, the time is at hand.”

  “As it has every day since it was written, nearly two thousand years ago. Why would it be true now, when it wasn’t before?”

  “There are signs,” Thurman said. “And the possibility of precipitating events.” He said it primly, and smugly, and with a degree of certainty, as if he had regular access to privileged insider information.

  Reacher said nothing in reply.

  They drove on, past a small group of tired men wrestling with a mountain of tangled steel. Their backs were bent and their shoulders were slumped. Not yet eight o’clock in the morning, Reacher thought. More than ten hours still to go.

  “God watches over them,” Thurman said.

  “You sure?”

  “He tells me so.”

  “Does he watch over you, too?”

  “He knows what I do.”

  “Does he approve?”

  “He tells me so.”

  “Then why is there a lightning rod on your church?”

  Thurman didn’t answer that. He just clampe
d his mouth shut and his cheeks drooped lower than his jawbone. They arrived at the mouth of the cattle chute leading to the personnel gate. He stopped the truck and jiggled the stick into Park and sat back in his seat.

  “Seen enough?” he asked.

  “More than enough,” Reacher said.

  “Then I’ll bid you goodbye,” Thurman said. “I imagine our paths won’t cross again.” He tucked his elbow in and offered his hand, sideways and awkwardly. Reacher shook it. It felt soft and warm and boneless, like a child’s balloon filled with water. Then Reacher opened his door and slid out and walked through the doglegged chute and back to the acres of parking.

  Every window in Vaughan’s truck was smashed.

  39

  Reacher stood for a long moment and ran through his options and then unlocked the truck and swept pebbles of broken glass off the seats and the dash. He raked them out of the driver’s footwell. He didn’t want the brake pedal to jam halfway through its travel. Or the gas pedal. The truck was slow enough already.

  Three miles back to town, twelve to the line, and then five to the center of Hope. A twenty-mile drive, cold and slow and very windy. Like riding a motorcycle without eye protection. Reacher’s face was numb and his eyes were watering by the end of the trip. He parked outside the diner a little before nine o’clock in the morning. Vaughan’s cruiser wasn’t there. She wasn’t inside. The place was three-quarters empty. The breakfast rush was over.

  Reacher took the back booth and ordered coffee and breakfast from the day-shift waitress. The college girl was gone. The woman brought him a mug and filled it from a flask and he asked her, “Did Officer Vaughan stop by this morning?”

  The woman said, “She left about a half-hour ago.”

  “Was she OK?”

  “She seemed quiet.”

  “What about Maria? The girl from San Diego?”

  “She was in before seven.”

  “Did she eat?”

  “Plenty.”

  “What about Lucy? The blonde from LA?”

  “Didn’t see her. I think she left town.”

  “What does Officer Vaughan’s husband do?”

  The waitress said, “Well, not much anymore,” as if it was a dumb question to ask. As if that particular situation should have been plain to everybody.

  That particular situation wasn’t plain to Reacher.

  He said, “What, he’s unemployed?”

  The woman started to answer him, and then she stopped, as if she suddenly remembered that the situation wasn’t necessarily plain to everybody, and it wasn’t her place to make it plain. As if she was on the point of revealing something that shouldn’t be revealed, like private neighborhood business. She just shook her head with embarrassment and bustled away with her flask. She didn’t speak at all when she came back five minutes later with his food.

  Twenty minutes later Reacher got back in the damaged truck and drove south and crossed Third Street, and Fourth, and turned left on Fifth. Way ahead of him he could make out Vaughan’s cruiser parked at the curb. He drove on and pulled up behind it, level with the mailbox with the perfectly aligned letters. He idled in the middle of the traffic lane for a moment. Then he got out and walked ahead and put a palm on the Crown Vic’s hood. It was still very warm. She had left the diner nearly an hour ago, but clearly she had driven around a little afterward. Maybe looking for her Chevy, or looking for him. Or neither, or both. He got back in the truck and backed up and swung the wheel and bumped up onto her driveway. He parked with the grille an inch from her garage door and slid out. Didn’t lock up. There didn’t seem to be much point.

  He found the winding path and followed it through the bushes to her door. He hooked her keyring on his finger and tapped the bell, briefly, just once. If she was awake, she would hear it. If she was asleep, it wouldn’t disturb her.

  She was awake.

  The door opened and she looked out of the gloom straight at him. Her hair was wet from the shower and combed back. She was wearing an oversized white T-shirt. Possibly nothing else. Her legs were bare. Her feet were bare. She looked younger and smaller than before.

  She said, “How did you find me?”

  He said, “Phone book.”

  “You were here last night. Looking. A neighbor told me.”

  “It’s a nice house.”

  She said, “I like it.”

  She saw the truck keys on his finger. He said, “I have a confession to make.”

  “What now?”

  “Someone broke all the windows.”

  She pushed past him and stepped out to the path. Turned to face the driveway and studied the damage and said, “Shit.” Then it seemed to dawn on her that she was out in the yard barefoot in her nightwear and she pushed back inside.

  “Who?” she asked.

  “One of a thousand suspects.”

  “When?”

  “This morning.”

  “Where?”

  “I stopped by the metal plant.”

  “You’re an idiot.”

  “I know. I’m sorry. I’ll pay for the glass.” He slipped the keys off his finger and held them out. She didn’t take them. Instead she said, “You better come in.”

  The house was laid out the way he had guessed. Right to left it went garage, mudroom, kitchen, living room, bedrooms. The kitchen seemed to be the heart of the home. It was a pretty space with painted cabinets and a wallpaper border at the top of the walls. The dishwasher was running and the sink was empty and the counters were tidy but there was enough disarray to make the room feel lived in. There was a four-place table with only three chairs. There were what Reacher’s mother had called “touches.” Dried flowers, bottles of virgin olive oil that would never be used, antique spoons. Reacher’s mother had said such things gave a room personality. Reacher himself had been unsure how anything except a person could have personality. He had been a painfully literal child. But over the years he had come to see what his mother had meant. And Vaughan’s kitchen had personality.

  Her personality, he guessed.

  It seemed to him that one mind had chosen everything and one pair of hands had done everything. There was no evidence of compromise or dueling tastes. He knew that way back a kitchen was considered a woman’s domain. Certainly it had been that way in his mother’s day, but she had been French, which had made a difference. And since then he had been led to believe that things had changed. Guys cooked now, or at least left six-packs lying around, or put oil stains on the linoleum from fixing motorcycle engines.

  There was no evidence of a second person in the house. None at all. Not a trace. From his position by the sink Reacher could see into the living room through an arch that was really just a doorway with the door taken out. There was a single armchair in there, and a TV set, and a bunch of moving boxes still taped shut.

  Vaughan said, “Want coffee?”

  “Always.”

  “Did you sleep last night?”

  “No.”

  “Don’t have coffee, then.”

  “It keeps me awake until bedtime.”

  “What’s the longest you ever stayed awake?”

  “Seventy-two hours, maybe.”

  “Working?”

  He nodded. “Some big deal, twenty years ago.”

  “A big MP deal?”

  He nodded again. “Somebody was doing something to somebody. I don’t recall the details.”

  Vaughan rinsed her coffee pot and filled her machine with water. The
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