One Shot by Lee Child

Chapter 12

  Dawn happened somewhere way over in the east about an hour into the drive. The sky changed from black to gray to purple and then low orange sunlight came up over the horizon. Reacher switched his headlights off. He didn't like to run with lights after daybreak. Just a subliminal thing, for the State Troopers camped out on the shoulders. Lights after dawn suggested all kinds of things, like fast through-the-night escapes from trouble hundreds of miles behind. The Mustang was already provocative enough. It was loud and aggressive and it was the kind of car that gets stolen a lot.

  But the troopers that Reacher saw stayed put on the shoulder. He kept the car at a nothing-to-hide seventy miles an hour and touched the CD button on the dash. Got a blast of mid-period Sheryl Crow in return, which he didn't mind at all. He stayed with it. Every day is a winding road, Sheryl told him. I know, he thought. Tell me about it.

  He crossed the Ohio River on a long iron trestle with the sun low on his left. For a moment it turned the slow water into molten gold. Light reflected up at him from below the horizontal and made the inside of the car unnaturally bright. The trestle spars flashed past like a stroboscope. The effect was disconcerting. He closed his left eye and entered Kentucky squinting.

  He kept south on a county road and waited for the Blackford River. According to Ann Yanni's maps it was a tributary that flowed on a southeast-to-northwest diagonal into the Ohio. Near its source it formed a perfect equilateral triangle about three miles on a side with two rural routes. And according to Helen Rodin's information James Barr's favored firing range was somewhere inside that triangle.

  But it turned out that the firing range was the triangle. Three miles out Reacher saw a wire fence on the left shoulder of the road that started directly after he crossed the Blackford on a bridge. The fence ran all the way to the next intersection and had Keep Out Live Gunfire signs on every fourth post. Then it turned a sixty-degree angle and ran three more miles north and east. Reacher followed it and where it met the Blackford again he found a gate and a gravel clearing and a complex of low huts. The gate was chained. It was hung with a hand-painted sign that read: Open 8 A. M. Until Dark.

  He checked his watch. He was a half hour too early. On the other side of the road was an aluminum coach diner fronted by a gravel lot. He pulled in and stopped the Mustang right by the diner's door. He was hungry. The Marriott's room-service steak seemed like a long time ago.

  He ate a long slow breakfast at a window table and watched the scene across the street. By eight o'clock there were three pickup trucks waiting to get into the range. At five after eight a guy showed up in a black diesel Humvee and mimed an apology for being late and unchained the gate. He stood aside and let his customers in ahead of him. Then he climbed back in his Humvee and followed them. He went through the same apologetic routine at the main hut door and then all four guys went inside and disappeared from view. Reacher called for another cup of coffee. He figured he would let the guy deal with the early rush and then stroll over when he had a moment to talk. And the coffee was good. Too good to pass up. It was fresh, hot, and very strong.

  By eight-twenty he started to hear rifles firing. Dull percussive sounds, robbed of their power and impact by distance and wind and berms of earth. He figured the guns were about two hundred yards away, firing west. The shots came slow and steady, the sound of serious shooters aiming for the inner rings. Then he heard a string of lighter pops from a handgun. He listened to the familiar sounds for a spell and then left two bucks on the table and paid a twelve-dollar check at the register. Went outside and got back in the Mustang and drove through the lot and bumped up over the camber of the road and straight in through the range's open gate.

  He found the Humvee guy behind a waist-high counter in the main hut. Up close he was older than he had looked from a distance. More than fifty, less than sixty, sparse gray hair, lined skin, but ramrod straight. He had a weathered neck wider than his head and the sort of eyes that pegged him as an ex-Marine noncom even without the tattoos on his forearms and the souvenirs on the wall behind him. The tattoos were old and faded and the souvenirs were mostly pennants and unit patches. But the centerpiece of the display was a yellowing paper target framed under glass. It had a tight group of five. 300 holes inside the inner ring and a sixth just clipping it.

  "Help you?" the guy said. He was looking past Reacher's shoulder, out the window, at the Mustang.

  "I'm here to solve all your problems," Reacher said.

  "Really?"

  "No, not really. I just want to ask you some questions. "

  The guy paused. "About James Barr?"

  "Good guess. "

  "No. "

  "No?"

  "I don't speak to reporters. "

  "I'm not a reporter. "

  "That's a five-liter Mustang out there with a couple of options on it. So it ain't a cop car or a rental. And it's got Indiana plates. And it's got an NBC sticker in the windshield. Therefore my guess is you're a reporter fixing to gin up a television story about how James Barr used my place to train and prepare. "

  "Did he?"

  "I told you, I'm not talking. "

  "But Barr came here, right?"

  "I'm not talking," the guy said again. No malice in his voice. Just determination. No hostility. Just self-assurance. He wasn't talking. End of story. The hut went quiet. Nothing to hear except the distant gunfire and a low rattling hum from another room. A refrigerator, maybe.

  "I'm not a reporter," Reacher said again. "I borrowed a reporter's car, that's all. To get down here. "

  "So what are you?"

  "Just a guy who knew James Barr way back. I want to know about his friend Charlie. I think his friend Charlie led him astray. "

  The guy didn't say: What friend? He didn't ask: Who's Charlie? He just shook his head and said, "Can't help you. "

  Reacher switched his gaze to the framed target.

  "Is that yours?" he asked.

  "Everything you see here is mine. "

  "What range was it?" he asked.

  "Why?"

  "Because I'm thinking that if it was six hundred yards, you're pretty good. If it was eight hundred, you're very good. If it was a thousand, you're unbelievable. "

  "You shoot?" the guy asked.

  "I used to," Reacher said.

  "Military?"

  "Once upon a time. "

  The guy turned around and lifted the frame off its hook. Laid it gently on the counter and turned it around for inspection. There was a handwritten inscription in faded ink across the bottom of the paper: 1978 U. S. Marine Corps 1000 Yard Invitational. Gunny Samuel Cash, third place. Then there were three signatures from three adjudicators.

  "You're Sergeant Cash?" Reacher said.

  "Retired and scuffling," the guy said.

  "Me too. "

  "But not from the Corps. "

  "You can tell that just by looking?"

  "Easily. "

  "Army," Reacher said. "But my dad was a Marine. "

  Cash nodded. "Makes you half-human. "

  Reacher traced his fingertip over the glass, above the bullet holes. A fine group of five, and a sixth that had drifted just a hair.

  "Good shooting," he said.

  "I'd be lucky to do that at half the range today. "

  "Me too," Reacher said. "Time marches on. "

  "You saying you could have done it back in the day?"

  Reacher didn't answer. Truth was he had actually won the Marine Corps 1000 Yard Invitational, exactly ten years after Cash had scraped third place. He had placed all his rounds through the precise center of the target, in a ragged hole a man could put his thumb through. He had displayed the shiny cup on one office shelf after another through twelve busy months. It had been an exceptional year. He had been at some kind of a peak, physically, mentally, every way there was. That year, he couldn't miss, literally or metaphorically. But he hadn't defended his title the following year,
even though the MP hierarchy had wanted him to. Later, looking back, he understood how that decision marked two things: the beginning of his long slow divorce from the army, and the beginning of restlessness. The beginning of always moving on and never looking back. The beginning of never wanting to do the same thing twice.

  "Thousand yards is a long way," Gunny Cash said. "Truth is, since I left the Corps I haven't met a man who could even put a mark on the paper. "

  "I might have been able to clip the edge," Reacher said.

  Cash took the frame off the counter and turned and hung it back on its hook. He used the ball of his right thumb to level it.

  "I don't have a thousand-yard range here," he said. "It would be a waste of ammunition and it would make the customers feel bad about themselves. But I've got a nice three-hundred that's not being used this morning. You could try it. A guy who could clip the paper at a thousand should be able to do pretty well at three hundred. "

  Reacher said nothing.

  "Don't you think?" Cash said.

  "I guess," Reacher said.

  Cash opened a drawer and took out a new paper target. "What's your name?"

  "Bobby Richardson," Reacher said. Robert Clinton Richardson, hit. 301 in 1959, 141 hits in 134 games, but the Yanks still only finished third.

  Cash took a roller ball pen from his shirt pocket and wrote R. Richardson, 300 yards , and the date and time on the paper.

  "Record keeper," Reacher said.

  "Habit," Cash said. Then he drew an X inside the inner ring. It was about half an inch tall and because of the slant of his handwriting a little less than half an inch wide. He left the paper on the counter and walked away into the room with the refrigerator noise. Came back out a minute later carrying a rifle. It was a Remington M24, with a Leupold Ultra scope and a front bipod. A standard-issue Marine sniper's weapon. It looked to be well used but in excellent condition. Cash placed it sideways on the counter. Detached the magazine and showed Reacher that it was empty. Operated the bolt and showed Reacher that the chamber was empty, too. Reflex, routine, caution, professional courtesy.

  "Mine," he said. "Zeroed for three hundred yards exactly. By me myself, personally. "

  "Good enough," Reacher said. Which it was. An ex-Marine who in 1978 had been the third-best shooter in the world could be trusted on such matters.

  "One shot," Cash said. He took a single cartridge from his pocket. Held it up. It was a. 300 Winchester round. Match grade. He stood it upright on the X on the paper target. It hid it entirely. Then he smiled. Reacher smiled back. He understood the challenge. He understood it perfectly. Hit the X and I'll talk to you about James Barr.

  At least it's not hand-to-hand combat, Reacher thought.

  "Let's go," he said.

  Outside the air was still, and it was neither hot nor cold. Perfect shooting weather. No shivering, no risk of thermals or currents or shimmer. No wind. Cash carried the rifle and the target, and Reacher carried the cartridge in the palm of his hand. They climbed into Cash's Humvee together and Cash fired it up with a loud diesel clatter.

  "You like this thing?" Reacher asked, over the noise.

  "Not really," Cash said. "I'd be happier with a sedan. But it's a question of image. Customers like it. "

  The landscape was all low hills, covered in grass and stunted trees. Someone had used a bulldozer to carve wide straight paths through it. The paths were hundreds of yards apart and hundreds of yards long, and all of them were parallel. Each path was a separate rifle range. Each range was isolated from the others by natural hills and backed by high berms made from the earth scraped up by the bulldozer. The whole place looked like a half-built golf course. It was part green, part raw, all covered with red earth gashes. White-painted rocks and boulders delineated tracks through it, some for vehicles, some for foot traffic.

  "My family has owned this land forever," Cash said. "The range was my idea. I thought I could be like a golf pro, or tennis. You know those guys, they've been on the tour, they retire, they set up teaching afterward. "

  "Did it work?" Reacher asked.

  "Not really," Cash said. "People come here to shoot, but to get a guy to admit he doesn't really know how is like pulling teeth. "

  Reacher saw three pickup trucks parked at separate shooting stations. The guys who had been waiting at eight o'clock were well into their morning sessions. They were all prone on coconut mats, firing, pausing, sighting, firing again.

  "It's a living," Cash said, in answer to a question Reacher hadn't asked. Then he pulled the Humvee off the main track and drove three hundred yards down the length of an empty range. He got out and clipped the paper target to a frame and got back in and K-turned the truck and headed back. He parked it neatly and shut it down.

  "Good luck," he said.

  Reacher sat still for a moment. He was more nervous than he should have been. He breathed in and held it and felt the thrill of caffeine in his veins. Just a tiny microscopic tremble. Four fast cups of strong coffee were not an ideal preparation for accurate long-distance shooting.

  But it was only three hundred yards. Three hundred yards, with a good rifle, no heat, no cold, still air. More or less the same thing as pressing the muzzle into the center of the target and pulling the trigger. He could do it with his eyes closed. There was no fundamental problem with the marksmanship. The problem was with the stakes. He wanted the puppet master more than he had wanted the Marines' cup all those years before. A lot more. He didn't know why. But that was the problem.

  He breathed out. It was only three hundred yards. Not six. Not eight. Not a thousand. No big deal.

  He slid out of the Humvee and took the rifle off the back seat. Carried it across rough earth to the coconut mat. Placed it gently with its bipod feet a yard back from the edge. Bent down and loaded it. Stepped back behind it and lined himself up and crouched, knelt, lay full length. He snuggled the stock into his shoulder. Eased his neck left and right and looked around. It felt like he was alone in the middle of nowhere. He ducked his head. Closed his left eye and moved his right eye to the scope. Draped his left hand over the barrel and pressed down and back. Now he had a tripod mount. The bipod, and his shoulder. Solid. He spread his legs and turned his feet out so they were flat on the mat. Drew his left leg up a little and dug the sole of his shoe into the mat's fibers so the deadweight of the limb anchored his position. He relaxed and let himself sprawl. He knew he must look like a guy who had been shot, instead of a guy preparing to shoot.

  He gazed through the scope. Saw the hypervivid image of great optics. He acquired the target. It looked close enough to touch. He laid the reticle where the two strokes of the X met. Squeezed the slack out of the trigger. Relaxed. Breathed out. He could feel his heart. It felt like it was loose in his chest. The caffeine was buzzing in his veins. The reticle was dancing over the X. It was hopping and jerking, left and right, up and down, in a tiny random circle.

  He closed his right eye. Willed his heart to stop. Breathed out and kept his lungs empty, one second, two. Then again, in, out, hold. He pulled all his energy downward, into his gut. Let his shoulders slacken. Let his muscles relax. Let himself settle. He opened his eye again and saw that the reticle was still. He stared at the target. Feeling it. Wanting it. He pulled the trigger. The gun kicked and roared and the muzzle blast blew a cloud of dust out of the coconut mat and obscured his view. He lifted his head and coughed once and ducked back to the scope.

  Bull's-eye.

  The X was gone. There was a neat hole drilled through the center of it, leaving only four tiny ballpoint ticks visible, one at the top and one at the bottom of each stroke. He coughed again and pushed back and stood up. Cash dropped down in his place and used the scope to check the result.

  "Good shooting," he said.

  "Good rifle," Reacher said.

  Cash operated the bolt and the spent case fell out on the mat. He got to his knees and picked it up and put it in
his pocket. Then he stood up and carried the rifle back toward the Humvee.

  "So do I qualify?" Reacher called after him.

  "For what?"

  "For talking to. "

  Cash turned around. "You think this was a test?"

  "I sincerely hope it was. "

  "You might not want to hear what I've got to say. "

  "Try me," Reacher said.

  Cash nodded. "We'll talk in the office. "

  They detoured up the length of the range for Cash to retrieve the target. Then they turned and drove back to the huts. They passed the pickup guys. They were still blasting away. Cash parked and they went inside and Cash filed Reacher's target in a drawer, under R for Richardson. Then he danced his fingers forward to B for Barr and pulled out a thick sheaf of paper.

  "You looking to show your old buddy didn't do it?" he asked.

  "He wasn't my buddy," Reacher said. "I knew him once, is all. "

  "And?"

  "I don't remember him being that great a shooter. "

  "TV news said it was pretty short range. "

  "With moving targets and deflection angles. "

  "TV said the evidence is pretty clear. "

  "It is," Reacher said. "I've seen it. "

  "Check these out," Cash said.

  He dealt the filed targets like a deck of cards, all along the length of the counter. Then he butted them edge-to-edge and squared them off to make room for more. Then he started a second row, directly underneath the first. In the end he had thirty-two sheets of paper displayed, two long rows of repetitive concentric circles, all of them marked J. Barr, 300 yards , with times and dates stretching back three years.

  "Read them and weep," Cash said.

  Every single target showed an expert score.

  Reacher stared at them, one after the other. Each inner ring was tightly packed with clean, crisp holes. Tight clusters, big and obvious. Thirty-two targets, ten rounds each, three hundred twenty rounds, all of them dead-on maximum scores.

  "This is everything he did?" Reacher asked.

  Cash nodded. "Like you said, I'm a record keeper. "

  "What gun?"

  "His own Super Match. Great rifle. "

  "Did the cops call you?"

  "Guy called Emerson. He was pretty decent about it. Because I've got to think about my own ass, because Barr trained here. I don't want to damage my professional reputation. I've put in a lot of work here, and this place could get a bad name. "

  Reacher scanned the targets, one more time. Remembered telling Helen Rodin: They don't forget.

  "What about his buddy Charlie?" he asked.

  "Charlie was hopeless by comparison. "

  Cash butted James Barr's targets into a pile and put them back in the B slot. Then he opened another drawer and ran his fingers back to S and took out another sheaf of paper.

  "Charlie Smith," he said. "He was military too, by the look of him. But Uncle Sam's money didn't buy anything long-term there. "

  He went through the same routine, laying out Charlie's targets in two long rows. Thirty-two of them.

  "They always showed up together?" Reacher asked.

  "Like peanut butter and jelly," Cash said.

  "Separate ranges?"

  "Separate planets," Cash said.

  Reacher nodded. In terms of numerical score Charlie's targets were much worse than James Barr's. Way worse. They were the product of a very poor shooter. One had just four hits, all of them outside the outer ring, one each in the quadrants in the corners. Across all thirty-two targets he had just eight hits inside the inner ring. One was a dead-on bull's-eye. Dumb luck, maybe, or wind or drift or a random thermal. Seven were very close to clipping the black. Apart from that, Charlie was all over the place. Most of his rounds must have missed altogether. Percentage-wise most of his hits happened in the white between the two outer rings. Low, low scores. But his hits weren't precisely random. There was a weird kind of consistency there. He was aiming, but he was missing. Maybe some kind of bad astigmatism in his eyes.

  "What type of a guy was he?" Reacher asked.

  "Charlie?" Cash said. "Charlie was a blank slate. Couldn't read him at all. If he had been a better shot, he'd have come close to frightening me. "

  "Small guy, right?"

  "Tiny. Weird hair. "

  "Did they talk to you much?"

  "Not really. They were just two guys down from Indiana, getting off on shooting guns. I get a lot of that here. "

  "Did you watch them shoot?"

  Cash shook his head. "I learned never to watch anybody. People take it as a criticism. I let them come to me, but nobody ever does. "

  "Barr bought his ammo here, right?"

  "Lake City. Expensive. "

  "His gun wasn't cheap, either. "

  "He was worth it. "

  "What gun did Charlie use?"

  "The same thing. Like a matched pair. In his case it was a comedy. Like a fat guy who buys a carbon fiber racing bike. "

  "You got separate handgun ranges here?"

  "One indoor. People use it if it rains. Otherwise I let them blast away outside, anywhere they want. I don't care much for handguns. No art to them. "

  Reacher nodded and Cash swept Charlie's targets into a pile, careful to keep them in correct date order. Then he stacked them together and put them back in the S drawer.

  "Smith is a common name," Reacher said. "Actually I think it's the most common name in America. "

  "It was genuine," Cash said. "I see a driver's license before anyone gets membership. "

  "Where was he from originally?"

  "Accent? Somewhere way north. "

  "Can I take one of James Barr's targets?"

  "What the hell for?"

  "For a souvenir," Reacher said.

  Cash said nothing.

  "It won't go anywhere," Reacher said. "I'm not going to sell it on the internet. "

  Cash said nothing.

  "Barr's not coming back," Reacher said. "That's for damn sure. And if you really want to cover your ass you should dump them all anyway. "

  Cash shrugged and turned back to the file drawer.

  "The most recent one," Reacher said. "That would be best. "

  Cash thumbed through the stack and pulled a sheet. Handed it across the counter. Reacher took it and folded it carefully and put it in his shirt pocket.

  "Good luck with your buddy," Cash said.

  "He's not my buddy," Reacher said. "But thanks for your help. "

  "You're welcome," Cash said. "Because I know who you are. I recognized you when you got behind the gun. I never forget the shape of a prone position. You won the Invitational ten years after I was in it. I was watching, from the crowd. Your real name is Reacher. "

  Reacher nodded.

  "Polite of you," Cash said. "Not to mention it after I told you how I only came in third. "

  "You had tougher competition," Reacher said. "Ten years later it was all a bunch of deadbeats. "

  He stopped at the last gas station in Kentucky and filled Yanni's tank. Then he called Helen Rodin from a pay phone.

  "Is the cop still there?" he asked.

  "Two of them," she said. "One in the lobby, one at my door. "

  "Did Franklin start yet?"

  "First thing this morning. "

  "Any progress?"

  "Nothing. They were five very ordinary people. "

  "Where is Franklin's office?"

  She gave him an address. Reacher checked his watch. "I'll meet you there at four o'clock. "

  "How was Kentucky?"

  "Confusing," he said.

  He recrossed the Ohio on the same trestle bridge with Sheryl Crow telling him all over again about how every day was a winding road. He cranked up the volume and turned left and headed west. Ann Yanni's maps showed a highway cloverleaf forty miles ahead. He could turn north there and a couple hours later
he could scoot past the whole city, forty feet in the air. It seemed like a better idea than trying the surface streets. He figured Emerson would be getting seriously frustrated. And then seriously enraged, at some point during the day. Reacher would have been. Reacher had been Emerson for thirteen years, and in this kind of a situation he would have been kicking ass big time, blanketing the streets with uniforms, trying everything.

  He found the cloverleaf and joined the highway going north. He killed the CD when it started over again and settled in for the cruise. The Mustang felt pretty good at seventy miles an hour. It rumbled along, lots of power, no finesse at all. Reacher figured if he could put that drivetrain in some battered old sedan body, then that would be his kind of car.

  Bellantonio had been at work in his crime lab since seven o'clock in the morning. He had fingerprinted the cell phone found abandoned under the highway and come up with nothing worth a damn. Then he had copied the call log. The last number dialed was Helen Rodin's cell. Last-but-one was Emerson's cell. Clearly Reacher had made both of those calls. Then came a long string of calls to several different cell phones registered to Specialized Services of Indiana. Maybe Reacher had made those too, or maybe he hadn't. No way of knowing. Bellantonio wrote it all up, but he knew Emerson wouldn't do anything with it. The only viable pressure point was the call to Helen Rodin, and no way could Emerson start hassling a defense lawyer about a conversation with a witness, suspect or not. That would be a waste of breath.

  So he moved on to the garage tapes. He had four days' worth, ninety-six hours, nearly three thousand separate vehicle movements. His staff had logged them all. Only three of them were Cadillacs. Indiana was the same as most heartland states. People bought pickup trucks as a first preference, then SUVs, then coupes, then convertibles. Regular sedans claimed a tiny market share, and most of them were Toyotas or Hondas or mid-sized domestics. Full-sized turnpike cruisers were very rare, and premium brands rarest of all.

  The first Cadillac on tape was a bone-white Eldorado. A two-door coupe, several years old. It had parked before ten in the morning on the Wednesday and stayed parked for five hours. The second Cadillac on tape was a new STS, maybe red or gray, possibly light blue. Hard to be sure, with the murky monochrome picture. Whatever, it had parked soon after lunch on the Thursday and stayed there for two hours.

  The third Cadillac was a black DeVille. It was caught on tape entering the garage just after six o'clock in the morning on the Friday. Black Friday, as Bellantonio was calling it. At six o'clock in the morning the garage would have been more or less completely empty. The tape showed the DeVille sweeping up the ramp, fast and confident. It showed it leaving again after just four minutes.

  Long enough to place the cone.

  The driver wasn't really visible in either sequence. There was just a gray blur behind the windshield. Maybe it was Barr, maybe it wasn't. Bellantonio wrote it all up for Emerson. He made a mental note to check through again to determine if four minutes was the shortest stay on the tapes. He suspected it was, easily.

  Then he scanned the forensic sweep through Alexandra Dupree's garden apartment. He had assigned a junior guy to do it, because it wasn't the crime scene. There was nothing of interest there. Nothing at all. Except the fingerprint evidence. The apartment was a mess of prints, like all apartments are. Most of them were the girl's, but there were four other sets. Three of them were unidentifiable.

  The fourth set of prints belonged to James Barr.

  James Barr had been in Alexandra Dupree's apartment. In the living room, in the kitchen, in the bathroom. No doubt about it. Clear prints, perfect matches. Unmistakable.

  Bellantonio wrote it up for Emerson.

  Then he read a report just in from the medical examiner. Alexandra Dupree had been killed by a single massive blow to the right temple, delivered by a left-handed assailant. She had fallen onto a gravel surface that contained organic matter including grass and dirt. But she had been found in an alley paved with limestone. Therefore her body had been moved at least a short distance between death and discovery. Other physiological evidence confirmed it.

  Bellantonio took a new sheet of memo paper and addressed two questions to Emerson: Is Reacher left-handed? Did he have access to a vehicle?

  The Zec spent the morning hours deciding what to do with Raskin. Raskin had failed three separate times. First with the initial tail, then by getting attacked from behind, and finally by letting his cell phone get stolen. The Zec didn't like failure. He didn't like it at all. At first he considered just pulling Raskin off the street and restricting him to duty in the video room on the ground floor of the house. But why would he want to depend on a failure to monitor his security?

  Then Linsky called. They had been searching fourteen straight hours and had found no sign of the soldier.

  "We should go after the lawyer now," Linsky said. "After all, nothing can happen without her. She's the focal point. She's the one making the moves here. "

  "That raises the stakes," the Zec said.

  "They're already pretty high. "

  "Maybe the soldier's gone for good. "

  "Maybe he is," Linsky said. "But what matters is what he left behind. In the lawyer's head. "

  "I'll think about it," the Zec said. "I'll get back to you. "

  "Should we keep on looking?"

  "Tired?"

  Linsky was exhausted and his spine was killing him.

  "No," he lied. "I'm not tired. "

  "So keep on looking," the Zec said. "But send Raskin back to me. "

  Reacher slowed to fifty where the highway first rose on its stilts. He stayed in the center lane and let the spur that ran behind the library pass by on his right. He kept on north for two more miles and came off at the cloverleaf that met the four-lane with the auto dealers and the parts store. He went east on the county road and then turned north again, on Jeb Oliver's rural route. After a minute he was deep in the silent countryside. The irrigation booms were turning slowly and the sun was making rainbows in the droplets.

  The heartland. Where the secrets are.

  He coasted to a stop next to the Olivers' mailbox. No way was the Mustang going to make it down the driveway. The center hump would have ripped all the parts off the bottom. The suspension, the exhaust system, the axle, the diff, whatever else was down there. Ann Yanni wouldn't have been pleased at all. So he slid out and left the car where it was, low and crouched and winking blue in the sun. He picked his way down the track, feeling every rock and stone through his thin soles. Jeb Oliver's red Dodge hadn't been moved. It was sitting right there, lightly dusted with brown dirt and streaked with dried dew. The old farmhouse was quiet. The barn was closed and locked.

  Reacher ignored the front door. He walked around the side of the house to the back porch. Jeb's mother was right there on her glider. She was dressed the same but this time she had no bottle. Just a manic stare out of eyes as big as saucers. She had one foot hooked up under her and was using the other to scoot the chair about twice as fast as she had before.

  "Hello," she said.

  "Jeb not back yet?" Reacher said.

  She just shook her head. Reacher heard all the sounds he had heard before. The irrigation hiss, the squeak of the glider, the creak of the porch board.

  "Got a gun?" he asked.

  "I don't hold with them," she said.

  "Got a phone?" he asked.

  "Disconnected," she said. "I owe them money. But I don't need them. Jeb lets me use his cell if I need it. "

  "Good," Reacher said.

  "How the hell is that good? Jeb's not here. "

  "That's exactly what's good about it. I'm going to break into your barn and I don't want you calling the cops while I'm doing it. Or shooting me. "

  "That's Jeb's barn. You can't go in there. "

  "I don't see how you can stop me. "

  He turned his back on her and continued down the track. It curved a little an
d led directly to the barn's double doors. The doors, like the barn itself, were built of old planks alternately baked and rotted by a hundred summers and a hundred winters. Reacher touched them with his knuckles and felt a dry hollowness. The lock was brand new. It was a U-shaped bicycle lock like the ones city messengers used. One leg of the U ran through two black steel hasps that were bolted through the planks of the doors. Reacher touched the lock. Shook it. Heavy steel, warm from the sun. It was a pretty solid arrangement. No way of cutting it, no way of breaking it.

  But a lock was only as strong as what it was fixed to.

  Reacher grabbed the straight end of the lock at the bottom of the U. Pulled on it gently, and then harder. The doors sagged toward him and stopped. He put the flat of his palm against the wood and pushed them back. Held them closed with a straight left arm and yanked on the lock with his right. The bolts gave a little, but not much. Reacher figured that Jeb must have used washers on the back, under the nuts. Maybe big wide ones. They were spreading the load.

  He thought: OK, more load.

  He held the straight part of the lock with both hands and leaned back like a water-skier. Pulled hard and smashed his heel into the wood under the hasps. His legs were longer than his arms, so he was cramped and the kick didn't carry much power. But it carried enough. The old wood splintered a little and something gave half an inch. He regrouped and tried it again. Something gave a little more. Then a plank in the left-hand door split completely and two bolts pulled out. Reacher put his left hand flat on the door and got his right-hand fingers hooked in the gap with a backhand grip. He took a breath and counted to three and jerked hard. The last bolt fell out and the whole lock assembly hit the ground and the doors sagged all the way open. Reacher stepped away and folded the doors back flush with the walls and let the sunlight in.

  He guessed he was expecting to see a meth lab, maybe with workbenches and beakers and scales and propane burners and piles of new Baggies ready to receive the product. Or else a big stash, ready for onward distribution.

  He saw none of that.

  Bright light leaked in through long vertical gaps between warped planks. The barn was maybe forty feet by twenty inside. It had a bare earth floor, swept and compacted. It was completely empty except for a well-used pickup truck parked in the exact center of the space.

  The truck was a Chevy Silverado, several years old. It was light brown, like fired clay. It was a working vehicle. It had been built down to a plain specification. A base model. Vinyl seats, steel wheels, undramatic tires. The load bed was clean but scratched and dented. It had no license plates. The doors were locked and there was no sign of a key anywhere.

  "What's that?"

  Reacher turned and saw Jeb Oliver's mother behind him. She had her hand tight on the doorjamb, like she was unwilling to cross the threshold.

  "It's a truck," Reacher said.

  "I can see that. "

  "Is it Jeb's?"

  "I never saw it before. "

  "What did he drive before that big red thing?"

  "Not this. "

  Reacher stepped closer to the truck and peered in through the driver's-side window. Manual shift. Dirt and grime. High mileage. But no trash. The truck had been someone's faithful servant, used but not abused.

  "I never saw it before," the woman said again.

  It looked like it had been there for a long time. It was settled on soft tires. It didn't smell of oil or gasoline. It was cold, inert, filmed with dust. Reacher got on his knees and checked underneath. Nothing to see. Just a frame, caked with old dirt, clipped by rocks and gravel.

  "How long has this thing been in here?" he asked from the floor.

  "I don't know. "

  "When did he put the lock on the door?"

  "Maybe two months ago. "

  Reacher stood up again.

  "What did you expect to find?" the woman asked him.

  Reacher turned to face her and looked at her eyes. The pupils were huge.

  "More of what you had for breakfast," he said.

  She smiled. "You thought Jeb was cooking in here?"

  "Wasn't he?"

  "His stepfather brings it by. "

  "You married?"

  "Not anymore. But he still brings it by. "

  "Jeb was using on Monday night," Reacher said.

  The woman smiled again. "A mother can share with her kid. Can't she? What else is a mother for?"

  Reacher turned away and looked at the truck one more time. "Why would he keep an old truck locked in here and a new truck out in the weather?"

  "Beats me," the woman said. "Jeb always does things his own way. "

  Reacher backed out of the barn and walked each door closed. Then he used the balls of his thumbs to press the bolts back into their splintered holes. The weight of the lock dragged them all halfway out again. He got it looking as neat as he could, and then he left it alone and walked away.

  "Is Jeb ever coming back?" the woman called after him.

  Reacher didn't answer.

  The Mustang was facing north, so Reacher drove north. He put the CD player on loud and kept going ten miles down an arrow-straight road, aiming for a horizon that never arrived.

  Raskin dug his own grave with a Caterpillar backhoe. It was the same machine that had been used to level the Zec's land. It had a twenty-inch entrenching shovel with four steel teeth on it. The shovel took long slow bites of the soft earth and laid them aside. The engine roared and slowed, roared and slowed, and pulsed clouds of diesel exhaust filled the Indiana sky.

  Raskin had been born during the Soviet Union, and he had seen a lot. Afghanistan, Chechnya, unthinkable upheaval in Moscow. A guy in his position could have been dead many times over, and that fact combined with his natural Russian fatalism made him utterly indifferent to his fate.

  "Ukase," the Zec had said. An order from an absolute authority.

  "Nichevo," Raskin had said in reply. Think nothing of it.

  So he worked the backhoe. He chose a spot concealed from the stone-crushers' view by the bulk of the house. He dug a neat trench twenty inches wide, six feet long, six feet deep. He piled the excavated earth to his right, to the east, like a high barrier between himself and home. When he was finished he backed the machine away from the hole and shut it down. Climbed down from the cab and waited. There was no escape. No point in running. If he ran, they would find him anyway, and then he wouldn't need a grave. They would use garbage bags, five or six of them. They would use wire ties to seal the several parts of him into cold black plastic. They would put bricks in with his flesh and throw the bags in the river.

  He had seen it happen before.

  In the distance the Zec came out of his house. A short wide man, ancient, stooped, walking at a moderate speed, exuding power and energy. He picked his way across the uneven ground, glancing down, glancing forward. Fifty yards, a hundred. He came close to Raskin and stopped. He put his ruined hand in his pocket and came out with a small revolver, his thumb and the stump of his index finger pincered through the trigger guard. He held it out, and Raskin took it from him.

  "Ukase," the Zec said.

  "Nichevo," Raskin replied. A short, amiable, self-deprecating sound, like de rien in French, like de nada in Spanish, like prego in Italian. Please. I'm yours to command.

  "Thank you," the Zec said.

  Raskin stepped away to the narrow end of the trench. Opened the revolver's cylinder and saw a single cartridge. Closed the cylinder again and turned it until it was lined up right. Then he pulled the hammer back and put the barrel in his mouth. He turned around, so that he was facing the Zec and his back was to the trench. He shuffled backward until his heels were on the edge of the hole. He stood still and straight and balanced and composed, like an Olympic diver preparing for a difficult backward pike off the high board.

  He closed his eyes.

  He pulled the trigger.

  For a
mile around black crows rose noisily into the air. Blood and brain and bone arced through the sunlight in a perfect parabola. Raskin's body fell backward and landed stretched out and flat in the bottom of the trench. The crows settled back to earth and the faint noise of the distant stone-crushing machines rolled back in and sounded like silence. Then the Zec clambered up into the Caterpillar's cab and started the engine. The levers all had knobs as big as pool balls, which made them easy to manipulate with his palms.

  Reacher stopped fifteen miles north of the city and parked the Mustang on a big V-shaped gravel turnout made where the corners of two huge circular fields met. There were fields everywhere, north, south, east, and west, one after the other in endless ranks and files. Each one had its own irrigation boom. Each boom was turning at the same slow, patient pace.

  He shut the engine down and slid out of the seat. He stood and stretched and yawned. The air was full of mist from the booms. Up close, the booms were like massive industrial machines. Like alien spaceships recently landed. There was a central vertical standpipe in the middle of each field, like a tall metal chimney. The boom arm came off it horizontally and bled water out of a hundred spaced nozzles all along its length. At the outer end the arm had a vertical leg supporting its weight. At the bottom of the leg was a wheel with a rubber tire. The wheel was as big as an airplane's landing gear. It rolled around a worn track, endlessly.

  Reacher watched and waited until the wheel in the nearest field came close. He walked over and stepped alongside it. Kept pace with it. The tire came almost to his waist. The boom itself was way over his head. He kept the wheel on his right and tracked it through its long clockwise circle. He was walking through fine mist. It was cold. The boom hissed loudly. The wheel climbed gentle rises and rolled into low depressions. It was a long, long circle. The boom was maybe a hundred and fifty feet long, which made the perimeter track more than three hundred yards. Pi times diameter. Area was pi times the radius squared, which would therefore be more than seventy-eight hundred square yards. More than one and a half acres. Which meant that the wasted corners added up to a little less than twenty-two hundred square yards. More than twenty-one percent. More than five hundred square yards in each corner. Like the shapes in the corners of a target. The Mustang was parked on one of the corners, proportionally the same size as a bullet hole.

  Like one of Charlie's bullet holes, in the corners of the paper.

  Reacher arrived back where he had started, a little wet, his boat shoes muddy. He stepped away from the circle and stood still on the gravel, facing west. On the far horizon a cloud of crows rose suddenly and then settled. Reacher got back in the car and turned the ignition on. Found the clamps on the header rail and the switch on the dash and lowered the roof. He checked his watch. He had two hours until his rendezvous at Franklin's office. So he lay back in the seat and let the sun dry his clothes. He took the folded target out of his pocket and looked at it for a long time. He sniffed it. Held it up to the sun and let the light shine through the crisp round holes. Then he put it away again in his pocket. He stared upward and saw nothing but sky. He closed his eyes against the glare and started to think about ego and motive, and illusion and reality, and guilt and innocence, and the true nature of randomness.

 
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