Nothing to Lose by Lee Child

  “How old is he?”

  “Thirty-four. He could live another sixty years. Me too.”

  “Were you happy?”

  “Yes and no, like everyone.”

  “What are you going to do?”


  “Long term.”

  “I don’t know. People say I should move on. And maybe I should. Maybe I should accept destiny, like Zeno. Like a true Stoic. I feel like that, sometimes. But then I panic and get defensive. I feel, first they do this to him, and now I should divorce him? But he wouldn’t know anyway. So it’s back to the Zen thing. What do you think I should do?”

  “I think you should take a walk,” Reacher said. “Right now. Alone. Walking by yourself is always good. Get some fresh air. See some trees. I’ll bring the car and pick you up before you hit the four-lane.”

  “What are you going to do?”

  “I’ll find some way to pass the time.”


  Vaughan said goodbye to her husband and she and Reacher walked back along the dirty corridors and through the dismal lounge to the entrance hall. The guy in the gray sweatshirt said, “Goodbye, Mrs. Vaughan.” They walked out to the carriage circle and headed for the car. Reacher leaned against its flank and Vaughan kept on going. He waited until she was small in the distance and then he pushed off the car and headed back to the entrance. Up the steps, in the door. He crossed to the hutch and asked, “Who’s in charge here?”

  The guy in the gray sweatshirt said, “I am, I guess. I’m the shift supervisor.”

  Reacher asked, “How many patients here?”

  “Seventeen,” the guy said.

  “Who are they?”

  “Just patients, man. Whatever they send us.”

  “You run this place according to a manual?”

  “Sure. It’s a bureaucracy, like everywhere.”

  “You got a copy of the manual available?”


  “You want to show me the part where it says it’s OK to keep the rooms dirty and have mouse shit in the corridors?”

  The guy blinked and swallowed and said, “There’s no point cleaning, man. They wouldn’t know. How could they? This is the vegetable patch.”

  “Is that what you call it?”

  “It’s what it is, man.”

  “Wrong answer,” Reacher said. “This is not the vegetable patch. This is a veterans’ clinic. And you’re a piece of shit.”

  “Hey, lighten up, dude. What’s it to you?”

  “David Robert Vaughan is my brother.”


  “All veterans are my brothers.”

  “He’s brain dead, man.”

  “Are you?”


  “Then listen up. And listen very carefully. A person less fortunate than yourself deserves the best you can give. Because of duty, and honor, and service. You understand those words? You should do your job right, and you should do it well, simply because you can, without looking for notice or reward. The people here deserve your best, and I’m damn sure their relatives deserve it.”

  “Who are you anyway?”

  “I’m a concerned citizen,” Reacher said. “With a number of options. I could embarrass your corporate parent, I could call the newspapers or the TV, I could come in here with a hidden camera, I could get you fired. But I don’t do stuff like that. I offer personal choices instead, face-to-face. You want to know what your choice is?”


  “Do what I tell you, with a cheery smile.”


  “Or become patient number eighteen.”

  The guy went pale.

  Reacher said, “Stand up.”


  “On your feet. Now.”


  Reacher said, “Stand up, now, or I’ll make it so you never stand up again.”

  The guy paused a beat and got to his feet.

  “At attention,” Reacher said. “Feet together, shoulders back, head up, gaze level, arms straight, hands by your sides, thumbs in line with the seams of your pants.” Some officers of his acquaintance had barked and yelled and shouted. He had always found it more effective to speak low and quiet, enunciating clearly and precisely as if to an idiot child, bearing down with an icy stare. That way he had found the implied menace to be unmistakable. Calm, patient voice, huge physique. The dissonance was striking. It was a case of whatever worked. It had worked then, and it was working now. The guy in the sweatshirt was swallowing hard and blinking and standing in a rough approximation of parade-ground order.

  Reacher said, “Your patients are not just whatever they send you. Your patients are people. They served their country with honor and distinction. They deserve your utmost care and respect.”

  The guy said nothing.

  Reacher said, “This place is a disgrace. It’s filthy and chaotic. So listen up. You’re going to get off your skinny ass and you’re going to organize your people and you’re going to get it cleaned up. Starting right now. I’m going to come back, maybe tomorrow, maybe next week, maybe next month, and if I can’t see my face in the floor I’m going to turn you upside down and use you like a mop. Then I’m going to kick your ass so hard your colon is going to get tangled up in your teeth. Are we clear?”

  The guy paused and shuffled and blinked. Then he said, “OK.”

  “With a cheery smile,” Reacher said.

  The guy forced a smile.

  “Bigger,” Reacher said.

  The guy forced dry lips over dry teeth.

  “That’s good,” Reacher said. “And you’re going to get a haircut, and every day you’re going to shower, and every time Mrs. Vaughan comes by you’re going to stand up and welcome her warmly and you’re going to personally escort her to her husband’s room, and her husband’s room is going to be clean, and her husband is going to be shaved, and the window is going to be sparkling, and the room is going to be full of sunbeams, and the floor is going to be so shiny Mrs. Vaughan is going to be in serious danger of slipping on it and hurting herself. Are we clear?”


  “Are we clear?”






  “Yes what?”

  “Yes. Sir.”

  “You’ve got sixty seconds to get started, or I’ll break your arm.”

  The guy made a phone call while still standing and then used a walkie-talkie and fifty seconds later there were three guys in the hallway. Dead on sixty seconds a fourth guy joined them. A minute later they had buckets and mops out of a maintenance closet and a minute after that the buckets were full of water and all five guys were casting about, as if facing an immense and unfamiliar task. Reacher left them to it. He walked back to the car and set off in pursuit of Vaughan.

  He caught up with her a mile down the DoD road. She slid in next to him and he drove on, retracing their route, through the pines, through the hills. She said, “Thank you for coming.”

  “No problem,” he said.

  “You know why I wanted you to?”


  “Tell me.”

  “You wanted someone to understand why you live like you live and do what you do.”


  “You wanted someone to understand why it’s OK to do what you’re going to do next.”

  “Which is what?”

  “Which is entirely up to you. And either way is good with me.”

  She said, “I lied to you before.”

  He said, “I know.”

  “Do you?”

  He nodded at the wheel. “You knew about Thurman’s military contract. And the MP base. The Pentagon told you all about them, and the Halfway PD, too. Makes sense that way. I bet it’s right there in your department phone book, in your desk drawer, M for military police.”

  “It is.”

  “But you
didn’t want to talk about it, which means that it’s not just any old military scrap getting recycled there.”

  “Isn’t it?”

  Reacher shook his head. “It’s combat wrecks from Iraq. Has to be. Hence the New Jersey plates on some of the incoming trucks. From the port facilities there. Why would they bypass Pennsylvania and Indiana for regular scrap? And why would they put regular scrap in closed shipping containers? Because Thurman’s place is a specialist operation. Secret, miles from nowhere.”

  “I’m sorry.”

  “Don’t be. I understand. You didn’t want to talk about it. You didn’t even want to think about it. That’s why you tried to stop me from ever going there. Get over it, you said. Move on. There’s nothing to see.”

  “There are blown-up Humvees there,” she said. “They’re like monuments to me. Like shrines. To the people who died. Or nearly died.”

  Then she said, “And to the people who should have died.”

  They drove on, across the low slopes of the mountains, back to I-70, back toward the long loop near the Kansas line. Reacher said, “It doesn’t explain Thurman’s taste for secrecy.”

  Vaughan said, “Maybe it’s a respect thing with him. Maybe he sees them as shrines, too.”

  “Did he ever serve?”

  “I don’t think so.”

  “Did he lose a family member?”

  “I don’t think so.”

  “Anyone sign up from Despair?”

  “Not that I heard.”

  “So it’s not likely to be respect. And it doesn’t explain the MPs, either. What’s to steal? A Humvee is a car, basically. Armor is plain steel sheet, when it’s fitted at all. An M60 wouldn’t survive any kind of a blast.”

  Vaughan said nothing.

  Reacher said, “And it doesn’t explain the airplane.”

  Vaughan didn’t answer.

  Reacher said, “And nothing explains all these young guys.”

  “So you’re going to stick around?”

  He nodded at the wheel.

  “For a spell,” he said. “Because I think something is about to happen. That crowd impressed me. Would they have that much passion for the beginning of something? Or the middle of something? I don’t think so. I think they were all stirred up because they’re heading for the end of something.”


  They hit Hope at five in the afternoon. The sun was low. Reacher pulled off First Street and headed down to Third, to the motel. He stopped outside the office. Vaughan looked at him inquiringly and he said, “Something I should have done before.”

  They went in together. The nosy clerk was at the counter. Behind her, three keys were missing from their hooks. Reacher’s own, for room twelve, plus Maria’s, room eight, plus one for the woman with the large underwear, room four.

  Reacher said, “Tell me about the woman in room four.”

  The clerk looked at him and paused a second, like she was gathering her thoughts, like she was under pressure to assemble an accurate capsule biography. Like she was in court, on the witness stand.

  “She’s from California,” she said. “She’s been here five days. She paid cash for a week.”

  Reacher said, “Anything else?”

  “She’s a fuller-figured person.”


  “Young. Maybe twenty-five or -six.”

  “What’s her name?”

  The clerk said, “Mrs. Rogers.”

  Back in the car Vaughan said, “Another one. But a weird one. Her husband wasn’t arrested until yesterday, but she’s been here five whole days? What does that mean?”

  Reacher said, “It means our hypothesis is correct. My guess is they were on the road together up until five days ago, he found the right people in Despair and went into hiding, she came directly here to wait it out, then he got flushed out by the mass mobilization yesterday and bumped into the wrong people and got picked up. The whole town was turned upside down. Every rock was turned over. He was noticed.”

  “So where is he now?”

  “He wasn’t in a cell. So maybe he got back with the right people again.”

  Vaughan said, “I knew I had heard the name. His wife came in with the supermarket delivery guy. He drives in from Topeka, Kansas, every few days. He gave her a ride. He mentioned it to me. He told me her name.”

  “Truck drivers check in with you?”

  “Small towns. No secrets. Maria came in the same way. That’s how I knew about her.”

  “How did Lucy Anderson come in?”

  Vaughan paused a beat.

  “I don’t know,” she said. “I never heard of her before the Despair PD dumped her at the line. She wasn’t here before.”

  “So she came in from the west.”

  “I guess some of them do. Some from the east, some from the west.”

  “Which raises a question, doesn’t it? Maria came in from the east, from Kansas, but she asked the old guy in the green car to let her out at the MP base west of Despair. How did she even know it was there?”

  “Maybe Lucy Anderson told her. She would have seen it.”

  “I don’t think they talked at all.”

  “Then maybe Ramirez told her about it. Maybe on the phone to Topeka. He came in from the west and saw it.”

  “But why would he notice it? Why would he care? Why would it be a topic of conversation with his girlfriend?”

  “I don’t know.”

  Reacher asked, “Is your watch commander a nice guy?”


  “Because he better be. We need to borrow his car again.”


  “Later tonight.”

  “Later than what?”

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