Nothing to Lose by Lee Child

  “Sir?” he said.

  “I was an MP myself,” Reacher said. “I did your lieutenant’s job about a million years ago.”

  “Sir, which unit?”

  “The 110th.”

  “Rock Creek, Virginia,” Morgan said. A statement, not a question.

  Reacher said, “I went there a couple of times, to get my ass kicked. The rest of the time, I was on the road.”

  “On the road where?”

  “Everywhere you’ve ever been, and about a hundred other places.”

  “Sir, that’s interesting, but I’m going to have to ask you to move your vehicle.”

  “At ease, Corporal. We’ll move it as soon as we’ve talked to your lieutenant.”

  “On what subject, sir?”

  “That’s between him and us,” Reacher said.

  “Sir, I can’t justify disturbing him on that basis.”

  “Move along, soldier. I’ve read the manual, too. Let’s skip a few pages, to where you’ve already determined that this is important.”

  “Is this about the missing Marine private?”

  “Much more interesting.”

  “Sir, it would help me to have fuller particulars.”

  “It would help you to have a million dollars and a date with Miss America, too. But what are the chances, soldier?”

  Five minutes later Reacher and Vaughan were inside the wire, inside one of the six green metal buildings, face-to-face across a desk with a one-striper called Connor. He was a small lean man. He was maybe twenty-six years old. He had been to Iraq. That was for sure. His BDUs were beat up and sandblasted and his cheekbones were burned shiny. He looked competent, and probably was. He was still alive, and he wasn’t in disgrace. In fact he was probably headed for a captain’s rank, pending paperwork. Medals too, maybe. He asked, “Is this an official visit from the Hope PD?”

  Vaughan said, “Yes.”

  “You’re both members of the department?”

  Vaughan said, “Mr. Reacher is a civilian adviser.”

  “So how can I help?”

  Reacher said, “Long story short, we know about the DU salvage at Thurman’s plant.”

  Connor said, “That bothers me a little.”

  Reacher said, “It bothers us a little, too. Homeland Security rules require us to maintain a register of chemically sensitive sites within twenty miles.” He said it as if it was true, which it might have been. Anything was possible, with Homeland Security. “We should have been told.”

  “You’re more than twenty miles from the plant.”

  “Twenty exactly to downtown,” Reacher said. “Only fifteen to the town limit.”

  “It’s classified,” Connor said. “You can’t put it in a register.”

  Reacher nodded. “We understand that. But we should have been made aware of it, privately.”

  “Sounds like you are aware of it.”

  “But now we want to verify some details. Once bitten, twice shy.”

  “Then you need to speak to the Department of Defense.”

  “Better if we don’t. They’ll wonder how we got wind of it. Your guys talking will be their first guess.”

  “My guys don’t talk.”

  “I believe you. But do you want to take a chance on the Pentagon believing you?”

  Connor said, “What details?”

  “We think we’re entitled to know when and how the scrap DU gets transported out, and what route is used.”

  “Worried about it rolling down First Street?”

  “You bet.”

  “Well, it doesn’t.”

  “It all goes west?”

  Connor said, “It goes nowhere.”

  Vaughan said, “What do you mean?”

  “You guys aren’t the only ones with your panties in a wad. Colorado’s pretty uptight. They want to close the Interstate and use an armed convoy. Which they can’t contemplate on a regular basis. Once every five years is what they’re thinking.”

  “How long ago did the first convoy leave?”

  “It didn’t. The first convoy will happen about two years from now.”

  Reacher said, “So right now they’re stockpiling the stuff at the plant?”

  Connor nodded. “The steel moves out, the DU stays.”

  “How much have they got there?”

  “As of right now, maybe twenty tons.”

  “Have you seen it?”

  Connor shook his head. “Thurman reports monthly by mail.”

  “You like that?”

  “What’s not to like?”

  “The guy is sitting on a mountain of dangerous stuff.”

  “And? What could he possibly do with it?”


  Reacher and Vaughan got back in the truck and Vaughan said, “Was that answer a yes or a no?”

  “Both,” Reacher said. “No, it doesn’t get moved out, yes, it’s all still there.”

  “Is that a good both or a bad both?”

  Reacher ducked his head and looked up through the screen. The sun was a dull glow behind the cloud, but it was still way above the horizon.

  “Four hours until dark,” he said. “We’ve got time for a considered decision.”

  “It’s going to rain.”


  “Which will wash more TCE into the aquifer.”


  “We’re not going to sit here until dark, in the rain.”

  “No, we’re not. We’re going to the Holiday Inn in Halfway again.”

  “Only if we get separate rooms.”

  “Shut up, Vaughan. We’re going to get the same room we got before, and we’re going to do all the same things.”

  The same room was not available, but they got one just like it. Same size, same décor, same colors. Indistinguishable. They did all the same things in it. Showered, went to bed, made love. Vaughan was a little reserved at first, but got into it later. Afterward she said that David had been better in bed. Reacher wasn’t offended. She needed to believe it. And it was probably true.

  They lay in the rucked sheets and Vaughan explored Reacher’s scars. She had small hands. The bullet hole in his chest was too big for the tip of her little finger. Her ring finger fitted it better. Every woman he had been naked with was fascinated by it, except the woman he had gotten it for. She had preferred to forget. The rain started after an hour. It was heavy. It drummed on the hotel’s roof and sheeted against the window. A cozy feeling, in Reacher’s opinion. He liked being inside, in bed, listening to rain. After an hour Vaughan got up and went to shower. Reacher stayed in bed and leafed through the Bible that the Gideons had left in the nightstand.

  Vaughan came back and asked, “Why does it matter?”

  “Why does what matter?”

  “That Thurman is stockpiling depleted uranium?”

  Reacher said, “I don’t like the combination. He’s got twenty tons of radioactive waste and twenty tons of TNT. He’s an End Times enthusiast. I spoke to a minister last night. He said that End Times people can’t wait to get things started. Thurman himself said there might be precipitating events on the way. He said it kind of smugly, like he secretly knew it was true. And the whole town seems to be waiting for something to happen.”

  “Thurman can’t start the Armaggedon. It’ll happen when it happens.”

  “These people are fanatics. They seem to think they can nudge things along. They’re trying to breed red cows in Israel.”

  “How would that help?”

  “Don’t ask me.”

  “Cows aren’t dangerous.”

  “Another requirement seems to be a major war in the Middle East.”

  “We’ve already got one.”

  “Not major enough.”

  “How could it be worse?”

  “Lots of ways.”

  “Personally I don’t see any.”

  “Suppose another country joined in?”

  “They’d be crazy to.”

  “Suppose someone fi
red the first shot for them?”

  “How would they?”

  Reacher said, “Suppose a dirty bomb went off in Manhattan or D.C. or Chicago. What would we do?”

  “According to you, we’d evacuate the city.”

  “And then?”

  “We’d investigate.”

  Reacher nodded. “We’d have people in hazmat suits crawling all over the wreckage. What would they find?”


  “For sure. They’d identify the materials involved. Suppose they found TNT and depleted uranium?”

  “They’d make a list of possible sources.”

  “Correct. Everyone in the world can buy TNT, but DU is rarer. It’s a byproduct of an enrichment process that occurs in maybe twenty places.”

  “Nuclear powers.”


  “A list of twenty suspects wouldn’t help.”

  “Exactly,” Reacher said again. “And the intended victim isn’t going to stand up and take responsibility, because the intended victim didn’t know anything about anything in the first place. But suppose we were nudged in the preferred direction?”


  “Remember Oklahoma City? The Federal Building? That was a big explosion, but they knew it was a Ryder truck. Within hours. They’re great at putting tiny fragments together.”

  “But presumably one uranium fragment is like another.”

  “But suppose you were a state-sponsored terrorist from overseas. You’d want maximum bang for the buck. So if you didn’t have quite enough uranium when you were building your bomb, you might use other stuff to pack it out.”

  “What other stuff?”

  “Maybe pieces of wrecked cars,” Reacher said.

  Vaughan said nothing.

  Reacher said, “Suppose the guys in the hazmat suits found fragments of Peugeots and Toyotas sold only in certain markets. Suppose they found fragments of Iranian license plates.”

  Vaughan was quiet for a moment, working it out. “Iran is working with uranium. They’re boasting about it.”

  “There you go,” Reacher said. “What would happen next?”

  “We’d make certain assumptions.”


  “We’d attack Iran.”

  “And after that?”

  “Iran would attack Israel, Israel would retaliate, everyone would be fighting.”

  “Precipitating events,” Reacher said.

  “That’s insane.”

  “These are people that believe red cows signal the end of the world.”

  “These are people who care enough to make sure ash gets a proper burial.”

  “Exactly. Because by anyone’s standards that’s a meaningless gesture. Maybe it’s just camouflage. To make sure no one looks at them too closely.”

  “We have no evidence.”

  “We have an End Times nutcase with technical expertise and twenty tons of TNT and twenty tons of DU and four Iranian cars and a limitless supply of shipping containers, some of which were last seen in the Middle East.”

  Vaughan said, “You think it’s possible?”

  “Anything is possible.”

  “But no judge in America would sign off on a search warrant. Not with what we’ve got. It’s not even circumstantial. It’s just a crazy theory.”

  Reacher said, “I’m not looking for a search warrant. I’m waiting for dark.”

  Darkness came two hours later. With it came doubts from Vaughan. She said, “If you’re really serious about this, you should call the State Police. Or the FBI.”

  Reacher said, “I would have to give my name. I don’t like to do that.”

  “Then talk to that MP lieutenant. He already knows your name. And it’s his bag after all.”

  “He’s looking at medals and a promotion. He won’t want to rock the boat.”

  It was still raining. A steady, hard downpour.

  Vaughan said, “You’re not a one-man justice department.”

  “What’s on your mind?”

  “Apart from legalities?”

  “Yes, apart from those.”

  “I don’t want you to go there. Because of the radiation.”

  “It won’t hurt me.”

  “OK, I don’t want to go there. You said there were fertility issues and birth defects.”

  “You’re not pregnant.”

  “I hope.”

  “Me too.”

  “But these things can linger. I might want children one day.”

  That’s progress, Reacher thought. He said, “It’s the dust that’s the problem. And this rain will damp it down. And you don’t have to come in. Just drive me there.”

  They left thirty minutes later. Halfway was a small place but it took a long time to get out of it. People were driving cautiously, like they usually did in storms in places that were normally dry. The roads were running with water, like rivers. Vaughan put her wipers on high. They batted back and forth, furiously. She found the turn east and took it. Within a minute the old Chevy was the only car on the road. The only car for miles around. Rain battered the windshield and drummed on the roof.

  “This is good,” Reacher said.

  “You think?”

  “Everyone will be indoors. We’ll have the place to ourselves.”

  They passed the MP post thirty minutes later. There were still four
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