One Shot by Lee Child

Chapter 13

  Emerson read through Bellantonio's reports. Saw that Reacher had called Helen Rodin. He wasn't surprised. It was probably just one of many calls. Lawyers and busybodies working hard to rewrite history. No big shock there. Then he read Bellantonio's twin questions: Is Reacher left-handed? Did he have access to a vehicle?

  Answers: probably, and probably. Southpaws weren't rare. Line up twenty people, and four or five of them would be left-handed. And Reacher had access to a vehicle now, that was for damn sure. He wasn't in town, and he hadn't left on a bus. Therefore he had a vehicle, and probably had had one all along.

  Then Emerson read the final sheet: James Barr had been in Alexandra Dupree's apartment. What the hell was that about?

  According to Ann Yanni's road maps Franklin's office was dead-center in a tangle of streets right in the heart of the city. Not an ideal destination. Not by any means. Construction, the start of rush hour, slow traffic on surface streets. Reacher was going to be putting a lot of trust in the tint in the Ford Motor Company's glass. That was for sure.

  He started the motor and put the roof back up. Then he eased off the turnout and headed south. He repassed the Oliver place after twelve minutes, turned west on the county road, and then south again on the four-lane into town.

  Emerson went back to Bellantonio's cell phone report. Reacher had called Helen Rodin. They had business. They had matters to discuss. He would go back to her, sooner or later. Or she would go to him. He picked up the phone. Spoke to his dispatcher.

  "Put an unmarked car on Helen Rodin's office," he said. "If she leaves the building, have her followed. "

  Reacher drove past the motor court. He stayed low in the seat and glanced sideways. No sign of any activity. No obvious surveillance. He passed the barbershop, and the gun store. Traffic slowed him as he approached the raised highway. Then it slowed him more, to walking speed. His face was feet away from the pedestrians on his right. Feet away from the stalled drivers on his left. Four lanes of traffic, the two inbound lanes moving slow, the two outbound lanes static.

  He wanted to get away from the sidewalk. He put his turn signal on and forced his way into the next lane. The driver behind his shoulder wasn't happy. Don't sweat it, Reacher thought. I learned to drive in a deuce-and-a-half. Time was when I would have rolled right over you.

  The left-hand lane was moving a little faster. Reacher crept past cars on his right. Glanced ahead. There was a police cruiser three cars in front. In the right-hand lane. There was a green light in the distance. Traffic in the left-hand lane was approaching it slowly. Traffic in the right-hand lane was approaching it slower still. Each successive car reached the painted line and paused a moment and then jumped the gap. Nobody wanted to block the box. Now Reacher was two cars behind the cop. He hung back. The irritated guy behind him honked. Reacher inched forward. Now he was one car behind the cop.

  The light went yellow.

  The car in front of Reacher sprinted.

  The light went red.

  The cop stopped on the line and Reacher stopped directly alongside him.

  He put his elbow on the console and cupped his head in his hand. Spread his fingers wide and covered as much of his face as he could. Stared straight head, up under the header rail, looking at the light, willing it to change.

  Helen Rodin rode down two floors in the elevator and met Ann Yanni in the NBC reception area. NBC was paying for Franklin's time, so it was only fair that Yanni should be at the conference. They rode down to the garage together and got into Helen's Saturn. Came up the ramp and out into the sunshine. Helen glanced right and made a left. Didn't register the gray Impala that moved off the curb twenty yards behind her.

  The light stayed red an awful long time. Then it went green and the guy behind Reacher honked and the cop turned to look. Reacher took off through his field of vision and didn't look back. He filtered into a left-turn lane and the cop car swept past on his right. Reacher watched it jam up again ahead. He didn't want to go through the side-by-side thing again so he stuck with the left turn. Found himself back in the street with Martha's grocery on it. It was clogged with slow traffic. He shifted on the seat and checked his pants pocket. Sifted through the coins by feel. Found a quarter. Debated with himself, twenty yards, thirty, forty.

  Yes.

  He pulled into Martha's tiny lot. Left the engine running and slid out of the seat and danced around the hood to the pay phone on the wall. He put his quarter in the slot and took out Emerson's torn card. Chose the station house number and dialed.

  "Help you?" the desk guy said.

  "Police?" Reacher asked.

  "Go ahead, sir. "

  Reacher kept his voice fast and light, rushed and low. "That guy on the Wanted poster? The thing you guys were passing around?"

  "Yes, sir?"

  "He's right here, right now. "

  "Where?"

  "In my drive-through, the one on the four-lane north of town next to the tire store. He's inside right now, at the counter, eating. "

  "You sure it's the guy?"

  "Looks just like the picture. "

  "Does he have a car?"

  "Big red Dodge pickup. "

  "Sir, what's your name?"

  "Tony Lazzeri," Reacher said. Anthony Michael Lazzeri, batted. 273 in 118 appearances at second base in 1935. Second-place finish. Reacher figured he would need to move around the diamond soon. The Yankees hadn't had enough second basemen, or enough nonchampionship years.

  "We're on our way, sir," the desk cop said.

  Reacher hung up and slid back into the Mustang. Sat still until he heard the first sirens battling north.

  Helen Rodin was halfway down Second Street when she caught a commotion in her mirror. A gray Impala sedan lurched out of the lane three cars behind her and pulled a crazy U-turn through the traffic and took off back the way it had come.

  "Asshole," she said.

  Ann Yanni twisted in her seat.

  "Cop car," she said. "You can tell by the antennas. "

  Reacher made it to Franklin's place about ten minutes late. It was a two-story brick building. The lower floor looked like some kind of a light industrial unit, abandoned. It had steel shutters over its doors and windows. But the upstairs windows had venetian blinds with lights behind them. There was an outside staircase leading to an upper door. The door had a white plastic plate on it: Franklin Investigations. There was a parking apron at street level, just a patch of blacktop one- car deep and about six wide. Helen Rodin's green Saturn was there, and a blue Honda Civic, and a black Chevy Suburban so long that it was overhanging the sidewalk by a foot. The Suburban was Franklin's, Reacher guessed. The Honda was Rosemary Barr's, maybe.

  He drove past the place without slowing and circled the block. Saw nothing he didn't want to see. So he slotted the Mustang next to the Saturn and got out and locked it. Ran up the staircase and went in the door without knocking. He found himself in a short hallway with a kitchenette to his right and what he guessed was a bathroom to his left. Up ahead he could hear voices in a large room. He went in and found Franklin at a desk, Helen Rodin and Rosemary Barr in two chairs huddled in conversation, and Ann Yanni looking out the window at her car. All four turned as he came in.

  "Do you know any medical terminology?" Helen asked him.

  "Like what?"

  "PA," she said. "A doctor wrote it. Some kind of an abbreviation. "

  Reacher glanced at her. Then at Rosemary Barr.

  "Let me guess," he said. "The hospital diagnosed James Barr. Probably a mild case. "

  "Early onset," Rosemary said. "Whatever it is. "

  "How did you know?" Helen asked.

  "Intuition," Reacher said.

  "What is it?"

  "Later," Reacher said. "Let's do this in order. " He turned to Franklin. "Tell me what you know about the victims. "

  "Five random people," Franklin said. "No connection between any of
them. No real connection with anything at all. Certainly no connection to James Barr. I think you were absolutely right. He didn't shoot them for any reason of his own. "

  "No, I was absolutely wrong," Reacher said. "Thing is, James Barr didn't shoot them at all. "

  Grigor Linsky stepped back into a shadowed doorway and dialed his phone.

  "I followed a hunch," he said.

  "Which was?" the Zec asked.

  "With the cops at the lawyer's office, I figured the soldier wouldn't be able to go see her. But obviously they still have business. So I thought maybe she would go to him. And she did. I followed her. They're together in the private detective's office right now. With the sister. And that woman from the television news. "

  "Are the others with you?"

  "We've got the whole block covered. East, west, north, and south. "

  "Sit tight," the Zec said. "I'll get back to you. "

  Helen Rodin said, "You want to explain that statement?"

  "The evidence is rock solid," Franklin said.

  Ann Yanni smiled. A story.

  Rosemary Barr just stared.

  "You bought your brother a radio," Reacher said to her. "A Bose. For the ballgames. He told me that. Did you ever buy him anything else?"

  "Like what?"

  "Like clothes. "

  "Sometimes," she said.

  "Pants?"

  "Sometimes," she said.

  "What size?"

  "Size?" she repeated blankly.

  "What size pants does your brother wear?"

  "Thirty-four waist, thirty-four leg. "

  "Exactly," Reacher said. "He's relatively tall. "

  "How does this help us?" Helen asked.

  "You know anything about numbers games?" Reacher asked her. "Old-fashioned illegal numbers, state lotteries, the Powerball, things like that?"

  "What about them?"

  "What's the hardest part of them?"

  "Winning," Ann Yanni said.

  Reacher smiled. "From the players' point of view, sure. But the hardest part for the organizers is picking truly random numbers. True randomness is very hard for humans to achieve. In the old days numbers runners used the business pages in the newspapers. They would agree in advance, maybe the second page of the stock prices, maybe the second column, the last two figures in the first six prices quoted. Or the last six, or the middle six, or whatever. That came close to true randomness. Now the big lotteries use complicated machines. But you can find mathematicians who can prove the results aren't truly random. Because humans built the machines. "

  "How does this help us?" Helen said.

  "Just a train of thought," Reacher said. "I sat all afternoon in Ms. Yanni's car, enjoying the sun, thinking about how hard it is to achieve true randomness. "

  "Your train is on the wrong track," Franklin said. "James Barr shot five people. The evidence is crushing. "

  "You were a cop," Reacher said. "You put yourself in danger. Stakeouts, takedowns, high-pressure situations, moments of extreme stress. What's the first thing you did afterward?"

  Franklin glanced at the women.

  "Went to the bathroom," he said.

  "Correct," Reacher said. "Me too. But James Barr didn't. Bellantonio's report from Barr's house shows cement dust in the garage, the kitchen, the living room, the bedroom, and the basement. But not in the bathroom. So he got home, but he didn't take a leak until after he changed and showered? And how could he shower anyway without going into the bathroom?"

  "Maybe he stopped on the way. "

  "He was never there. "

  "He was there, Reacher. What about the evidence?"

  "There's no evidence that says he was there. "

  "Are you nuts?"

  "There's evidence that says his van was there, and his shoes, and his pants, and his coat, and his gun, and his ammo, and his quarter, but there's nothing that says he was there. "

  "Someone impersonated him?" Ann Yanni asked.

  "Down to the last detail," Reacher said. "Drove his car, wore his shoes and his clothes, used his gun. "

  "This is fantasy," Franklin said.

  "It explains the raincoat," Reacher said. "A big roomy garment that covered everything except the denim jeans? Why else wear a raincoat on a warm dry day?"

  "Who?" Rosemary asked.

  "Watch," Reacher said.

  He stood still, and then he took a single pace forward.

  "My pants are thirty-seven-inch legs," he said. "I crossed the new part of the garage in thirty-five strides. James Barr has a thirty-four-inch leg, which means he should have done it in about thirty-eight strides. But Bellantonio's footprint count shows forty-eight strides. "

  "A very short person," Helen said.

  "Charlie," Rosemary said.

  "I thought so, too," Reacher said. "But then I went to Kentucky. Initially because I wanted to confirm something else. I got around to thinking that maybe James Barr just wasn't good enough. I looked at the scene. It was tough shooting. And fourteen years ago he was good, but he wasn't great. And when I saw him in the hospital the skin on his right shoulder was unmarked. And to shoot as well as he apparently did, a guy's got to practice. And a guy who practices builds up bruising on his shoulder. Like a callus. He didn't have it. So I figured a guy who started out average could only have gotten worse with time. Especially if he wasn't practicing much. That's logical, right? Maybe he'd gotten to the point where he couldn't have done the thing on Friday. Through a simple lack of ability. That's what I was thinking. So I went down to Kentucky to find out for sure how much worse he'd gotten. "

  "And?" Helen asked.

  "He'd gotten better," Reacher said. "Way better. Not worse. Look at this. " He took the target out of his shirt pocket and unfolded it. "This is the latest of thirty-two sessions over the last three years. And this is much better than he was shooting when he was in the army fourteen years ago. Which is weird, right? He's fired only three hundred twenty rounds in the last three years, and he's great? Whereas he was firing two thousand a week back when he was only average?"

  "So what does this mean?"

  "He went down there with Charlie, every time. And the guy who runs the range is a Marine champion. And a real anal pack rat. He files all the used targets. Which means that Barr had at least two witnesses to what he was scoring, every time. "

  "I'd want witnesses," Franklin said. "If I was shooting like that. "

  "It's not possible to get better by not practicing," Reacher said. "I think the truth is he had actually gotten really bad. And I think his ego couldn't take it. Any shooter is competitive. He knew he was lousy now, and he couldn't face it, and he wanted to cover it up. He wanted to show off. "

  Franklin pointed at the target. "Doesn't look lousy to me. "

  "This is faked," Reacher said. "You're going to give this to Bellantonio and Bellantonio is going to prove it to you. "

  "Faked how?"

  "I'll bet this was done with a handgun. Nine-millimeter, from point-blank range. If Bellantonio measures the holes, my guess is he'll find they're forty-six thousandths of an inch bigger than. 308 holes. And if he tests the paper, he'll find gunpowder residue on it. Because my guess is James Barr took a stroll down the range and made these holes from an inch away, not three hundred yards. Every time. "

  "That's a stretch. "

  "It's simple metaphysics. Barr was never this good. And it's fair to assume he must have gotten worse. If he'd gotten a little worse, he'd have owned up to it. But he didn't own up to it, so we can assume he'd gotten a lot worse. Bad enough to be seriously embarrassed about it. Maybe bad enough that he couldn't hit the paper at all. "

  Nobody spoke.

  "It's a theory that proves itself," Reacher said. "To fake the score because of embarrassment proves he couldn't shoot well anymore. If he couldn't shoot well anymore, he didn't do the thing on Friday. "

  "You're just guessing," Franklin
said.

  Reacher nodded. "I was. But I'm not now. Now I know for sure. I fired a round down in Kentucky. The guy made me, like a rite of passage. I was full of caffeine. I was twitching like crazy. Now I know James Barr will have been way worse. "

  "Why?" Rosemary asked.

  "Because he has Parkinson's disease," Reacher said to her. "PA means paralysis agitans, and paralysis agitans is what doctors call Parkinson's disease. Your brother is getting sick, I'm afraid. Shaking and twitching. And no way on earth can you fire a rifle accurately with Parkinson's disease. My opinion, not only didn't he do the thing on Friday, he couldn't possibly have done it. "

  Rosemary went quiet. Good news and bad news. She glanced at the window. Looked at the floor. She was dressed like a widow. Black silk blouse, black pencil skirt, black nylons, black patent leather shoes with a low heel.

  "Maybe that's why he was so angry all the time," she said. "Maybe he felt it coming on. Felt helpless and out of control. His body started to let him down. He would have hated that. Anyone would. "

  Then she looked straight at Reacher.

  "I told you he was innocent," she said.

  "Ma'am, I apologize unreservedly," Reacher said. "You were right. He reformed. He kept to his bargain. He deserves credit. And I'm sorry he's sick. "

  "Now you've got to help him. You promised. "

  "I am helping him. Since Monday night I haven't done anything else. "

  "This is crazy," Franklin said.

  "No, it's exactly the same as it always was," Reacher said. "It's someone setting James Barr up for the fall. But instead of actually making him do it, they just made it look like he did it. That's the only practical difference here. "

  "But is it possible?" Ann Yanni asked.

  "Why not? Think it through. Walk it through. "

  Ann Yanni walked it through. She rehearsed little movements, slowly, thoughtfully, like an actress. "He dresses in Barr's clothes, and shoes, and maybe finds a quarter in a jar. Or in a pocket somewhere. He wears gloves, so as not to mess up Barr's fingerprints. He's already taken the traffic cone from Barr's garage, maybe the day before. He gets the rifle from the basement. It's already been loaded, by Barr himself, previously. He drives to town in Barr's minivan. He leaves all the clues. Covers himself in cement dust. Comes back to the house and puts everything away and leaves. Fast, not even taking the time to use the bathroom. Then James Barr comes home sometime later and walks into a trap he doesn't even know is there. "

  "That's exactly how I see it," Reacher said.

  "But where was Barr at the time?" Helen said.

  "Out," Reacher said.

  "That's a nice coincidence," Franklin said.

  "I don't think it was," Reacher said. "I think they arranged something to get him out of the way. He remembers going out somewhere, previously. Then being optimistic, like something good was about to happen. I think they set him up with someone. I think they engineered a chance meeting that led somewhere. I think he had a date on Friday. "

  "With who?"

  "Sandy, maybe. They turned her loose on me. Maybe they turned her loose on him, too. He dressed well on Friday. The report shows his wallet was in a decent pair of pants. "

  "So who really did it?" Helen asked.

  "Someone cold as ice," Reacher said. "Someone who didn't even need to use the bathroom afterward. "

  "Charlie," Rosemary said. "Got to be. Has to be. He's small. He's weird. He knew the house. He knew where everything was. The dog knew him. "

  "He was a terrible shooter too," Reacher said. "That's the other reason why I went to Kentucky. I wanted to test that theory. "

  "So who was it?"

  "Charlie," Reacher said. "His evidence was faked, too. But in a different way. The holes in his targets were all over the place. Except they weren't really all over the place. The distribution wasn't entirely random. He was trying to disguise how good he actually was. He was aiming at arbitrary points on the paper, and he was hitting those points, every time, dead-on, believe me. Once in a while he would get bored, and he'd put one through the inner ring. Or he'd pick on a quadrant outside the outer ring and put a round straight through it. One time he drilled all four corners. The point is, it doesn't really matter what you aim at, as long as you hit it. It's only convention that makes us aim at the ten-ring. It's just as good practice to aim at some other spot. Even a spot off the paper, like a tree. That's what Charlie was doing. He was a tremendous shot, training hard, but trying to look like he was missing all the time. But like I said, true randomness is impossible for a human to achieve. There are always patterns. "

  "Why would he do that?" Helen asked.

  "For an alibi. "

  "Making people think he couldn't shoot?"

  Reacher nodded. "He noticed that the range master was saving the used targets. He's an ice-cold pro who thinks about every wrinkle ahead of time. "

  "Who is he?" Franklin asked.

  "His real name is Chenko and he hangs with a bunch of Russians. He's probably a Red Army veteran. Probably one of their snipers. And they're real good. They always have been. "

  "How do we get to him?"

  "Through the victim. "

  "Square one. The victims are all dead ends. You'll have to come up with something better than that. "

  "His boss calls himself the Zec. "

  "What kind of a name is that?"

  "It's a word, not a name. Old-time Soviet slang. A zec was a labor camp inmate. In the Gulag in Siberia. "

  "Those camps are ancient history. "

  "Which makes the Zec a very old man. But a very tough old man. Probably way tougher than we can imagine. "

  The Zec was tired after his stint with the backhoe. But he was used to being tired. He had been tired for sixty-three years. He had been tired since the day the recruiter came to his village, in the early fall of 1942. His village was four thousand miles from anywhere, and the recruiter was a type of Moscow Russian nobody had ever seen before. He was brisk, and self-assured, and confident. He permitted no argument. No discussion. All males between the ages of sixteen and fifty were to come with him.

  The Zec was seventeen at that point. Initially he was overlooked, because he was in prison. He had slept with an older man's wife, and then beaten the guy badly when he complained about it. The beaten guy claimed exemption from the draft because of his physical condition, and then he told the recruiter about his assailant in prison. The recruiter was anxious to make his numbers, so the Zec was hauled out of his cell and told to line up with the others in the village square. He did so quite happily. He assumed he was being given a ride to freedom. He assumed there would be a hundred opportunities just to walk away.

  He was wrong.

  The recruits were locked into a truck, and then a train, for a journey that lasted five weeks. Formal induction into the Red Army happened along the way. Uniforms were issued, thick woolen garments, and a coat, and a pair of felt-lined boots, and a pay book. But no actual pay. No weapons. And no training either, beyond a brief stop in a snow-covered rail yard, where a commissar brayed over and over again at the locked train through a huge metal megaphone. The guy repeated a simple twenty-word speech, which the Zec remembered ever afterward: The fate of the world is being decided at Stalingrad, where you will fight to the last for the Motherland.

  The five-week journey ended on the eastern bank of the Volga, where the recruits were unloaded like cattle and forced to run straight for a small assemblage of old river ferries and pleasure cruisers. Half a mile away on the opposite bank was a vision from hell. A city, larger than anything the Zec had ever seen before, was in ruins, belching smoke and fire. The river was burning and exploding with mortar shells. The sky was full of airplanes, which lined up and fell into dives, dropping bombs, firing guns. There were corpses everywhere, and body parts, and screaming wounded.

  The Zec was forced onto a small boat that had a gaily-colored striped sunshad
e. It was crammed tight with soldiers. Nobody had room to move. Nobody had a weapon. The boat lurched out into the freezing current and airplanes fell on it like flies on shit. The crossing lasted fifteen minutes and at the end of it the Zec was slimy with his neighbors' blood.

  He was forced off onto a narrow wooden pier and made to line up single file and then made to run toward the city, past a staging post where the second phase of his military training took place: two quartermasters were doling out loaded rifles and spare ammunition clips in an endless alternate sequence and chanting what later struck the Zec as a poem, or a song, or a hymn to complete and utter insanity, over and over again without pausing:

  The one with the rifle shoots

  The one without follows him

  When the one with the rifle is killed

  The one who is following picks up the rifle and shoots.

  The Zec was handed an ammunition clip. No rifle. He was shoved forward, and blindly followed the back of the man ahead. He turned a corner. Passed in front of a Red Army machine-gun nest. At first he thought the front line must therefore be very close. But then a commissar with a flag and another huge megaphone roared at him: No retreat! If you turn back even one step we will shoot you down! So the Zec ran helplessly onward and turned another corner and stepped into a hail of German bullets. He stopped, half-turned, and was hit three times in the arms and legs. He was bowled over and came to rest lying on the shattered remains of a brick wall and within minutes was buried under a mounting pile of corpses.

  He came to forty-eight hours later in an improvised hospital and made his first acquaintance with Soviet military justice: harsh, ponderous, ideological, but running strictly in accordance with its own arcane rules. The matter at issue was caused by his having half-turned: Were his wounds inflicted by the Motherland's enemy, or had he been retreating toward his own side's guns? Because of the physical ambiguity he was spared execution and sentenced to a penal battalion instead. Thus began a process of survival that had so far lasted sixty-three years.

  A process he intended to continue.

  He dialed Grigor Linsky's number.

  "We can assume the soldier is talking," he said. "Whatever he knows, they all know now. Therefore it's time to get ourselves an insurance policy. "

  Franklin said, "We're really no further ahead. Are we? No way is Emerson going to accept a damn thing unless we give him more than we've got right now. "

  "So work the victim list," Reacher said.

  "That could take forever. Five lives, five life histories. "

  "So let's focus. "

  "Great. Terrific. Just tell me which one you want me to focus on. "

  Reacher nodded. Recalled Helen Rodin's description of what she had heard. The first shot, and then a tiny pause, and then the next two. Then another pause, a little longer, but really only a split second, and then the last three. He closed his eyes. In his mind he pictured Bellantonio's audio graph from the cell phone voice mail. Pictured his own mute simulation, in the gloom of the new parking garage, his right arm extended like a rifle: click, click-click, click-click-click.

  "Not the first one," he said. "Not the first cold shot. No guarantee of hitting anything with that. Therefore the first victim was meaningless. Part of the window dressing. Not the last three, either. That was bang-bang-bang. The deliberate miss, and more window dressing. The job was already done by then. "

  "So, the second or the third. Or both of them. "

  Click, click-click.

  Reacher opened his eyes.

  "The third," he said. "There's a rhythm there. The first cold shot, then a lead-in, and then the money shot. The target. Then a break. His eye is lagging in the scope. He's making sure the target is down. It is. So then the last three. "

  "Who was the third?" Helen asked.

  "The woman," Franklin said.

  Linsky called Chenko, and then Vladimir, and then Sokolov. He explained the mission and pulled them all in tighter. Franklin's office had no back entrance. There was just the exposed staircase. The target's car was right there on the apron. Easy.

  Reacher said, "Tell me about the woman. "

  Franklin shuffled his notes. Put them in a new order of priority.

  "Her name was Oline Archer," he said. "Caucasian female, married, no children, thirty-seven years old, lived west of here in the outer suburbs. "

  "Employed in the DMV building," Reacher said. "If she was the specific target, Charlie had to know where she was and when she would be coming out. "

  Franklin nodded. "Employed by the DMV itself. Been there a year and a half. "

  "Doing what exactly?"

  "Clerical supervisor. Doing whatever they do in there. "

  "So was it work-related?" Ann Yanni asked.

  "Too long of a counter delay?" Franklin said. "A bad photo on a driver's license? I doubt it. I checked the national databases. DMV clerks don't get killed by customers. That just doesn't happen. "

  "So what about her personal life?" Helen Rodin asked.

  "Nothing jumped out at me," Franklin said. "She was just an ordinary woman. But I'll keep digging. I'll go down a few levels. Got to be something there. "

  "Do it fast," Rosemary Barr said. "For my brother's sake. We have to get him out. "

  "We need medical opinions for that," Ann Yanni said. "Regular doctors now, not psychiatrists. "

  "Will NBC pay?" Helen Rodin asked.

  "If it's likely to work. "

  "It should," Rosemary said. "I mean, shouldn't it? Parkinson's is a real thing, isn't it? Either he's got it or he hasn't. "

  "It might work at trial," Reacher said. "A plausible reason why James Barr couldn't have done it, plus a plausible narrative about someone else doing it? That's usually how you create reasonable doubt. "

  "Plausible is a big word," Franklin said. "And reasonable doubt is a risky concept. Better to get Alex Rodin to drop the charges altogether. Which means convincing Emerson first. "

  "I can't talk to either one of them," Reacher said.

  "I can," Helen said.

  "I can," Franklin said.

  "And I sure as hell can," Ann Yanni said. "We all can, apart from you. "

  "But you might not want to," Reacher said.

  "Why not?" Helen asked.

  "You're not going to like this part very much. "

  "Why not?" Helen asked again.

  "Think," Reacher said. "Work backward. The thing with Sandy being killed, and the thing in the sports bar Monday night, why did those two things happen?"

  "To tie you up. To prevent you hurting the case. "

  "Correct. Two attempts, same aim, same goal, same perpetrator. "

  "Obviously. "

  "And the thing Monday night started with me being followed from my hotel. Sandy and Jeb Oliver and his other pals were cruising around, standing by, waiting until someone called them and told them where I ended up. So really it started with me being followed to my hotel. Much earlier in the day. "

  "We've been through all of this. "

  "But how did the puppet master get my name? How did he even know I was in town? How did he know there was a guy here who was a potential problem?"

  "Someone told him. "

  "Who knew, early in the day on Monday?"

  Helen paused a beat.

  "My father," she said. "Since early on Monday morning. And then Emerson, presumably. Shortly afterward. They'd have talked about the case. They'd have communicated immediately if there was a danger that the wheels were coming off. "

  "Correct," Reacher said. "Then one of those two guys called the puppet master. Well before lunch on Monday. "

  Helen said nothing.

  "Unless one of those two guys is the puppet master," Reacher said.

  "The Zec is the puppet master. You said so yourself. "

  "I said he's Charlie's boss. That's all. We've got no way of knowing whether he's actually at the top of
the tree. "

  "You're right," Helen said. "I don't like this line of thinking at all. "

  "Someone communicated," Reacher said. "That's for damn sure. Either your father or Emerson. My name was on the street two hours after I got off the bus. So one of them is bent and the other one won't help us either because he already likes the case exactly the way it is. "

  The room went quiet.

  "I need to get back to work," Ann Yanni said.

  Nobody spoke.

  "Call me if there's news," Yanni said.

  The room stayed quiet. Reacher said nothing. Ann Yanni crossed the room. Stopped next to him.

  "Keys," she said.

  He dug in his pocket and handed them over.

  "Thanks for the loan," he said. "Nice car. "

  Linsky watched the Mustang leave. It went north. Loud engine, loud exhaust. It was audible for a whole block. Then the street went quiet again and Linsky dialed his phone.

  "The television woman is out of there," he said.

  "The private detective will stay at work," the Zec said.

  "So what if the others leave together?"

  "I hope they don't. "

  "What if they do?"

  "Take them all. "

  Rosemary Barr asked, "Is there a cure? For Parkinson's disease?"

  "No," Reacher said. "No cure, no prevention. But it can be slowed down. There are drugs for it. Physiotherapy helps. And sleep. The symptoms disappear when a person is asleep. "

  "Maybe that's why he wanted the pills. To escape. "

  "He shouldn't try to escape too much. Social contact is good. "

  "I should go to the hospital," Rosemary said.

  "Explain to him," Reacher said. "Tell him what really happened on Friday. "

  Rosemary nodded. Crossed the room and went out the door. A minute later Reacher heard her car start up and drive away.

  Franklin went out to the kitchenette to make coffee. Reacher and Helen Rodin were left alone in the office together. Reacher sat down in the chair that Rosemary Barr had used. Helen stepped to the window and looked down at the street below. She kept her back to the room. She was dressed the same as Rosemary Barr. Black shirt, black skirt, black patent-leather shoes. But she didn't look like a widow. She looked like something from New York or Paris. Her heels were higher and her legs were long and bare and tan.

  "These guys we're talking about are Russians," she said.

  Reacher said nothing.

  "My father is an American," she said.

  "An American called Aleksei Alekseivitch," Reacher said.

  "Our family came here before World War One. There's no possible connection. How could there be? These people we're talking about are low-life Soviets. "

  "What did your father do before he was the DA?"

  "He was an assistant DA. "

  "Before that?"

  "He always worked there. "

  "Tell me about his coffee service. "

  "What about it?"

  "He uses china cups and a silver tray. The county didn't buy them for him. "

  "So?"

  "Tell me about his suits. "

  "His suits?"

  "On Monday he was wearing a thousand-dollar suit. You don't see many public servants wearing thousand-dollar suits. "

  "He's got expensive tastes. "

  "How does he afford them?"

  "I don't want to talk about this. "

  "One more question. "

  Helen said nothing.

  "Did he pressure you not to take the case?"

  Helen said nothing. Looked left. Looked right. Then she turned around. "He said losing might be winning. "

  "Concern for your career?"

  "I thought so. I still think so. He's an honest man. "

  Reacher nodded. "There's a fifty percent chance you're right. "

  Franklin came back in with the coffee, which was a thin own-brand brew in three nonmatching pottery mugs, two of them chipped, on a cork bar tray, with an open carton of half-and-half and a yellow box of sugar and a single pressed-steel spoon. He put the tray on the desk and Helen Rodin stared at it, like it was making Reacher's point for him: This is how coffee is served in an office.

  "David Chapman knew your name on Monday," she said. "James Barr's first lawyer. He's known about you since Saturday. "

  "But Chapman didn't know I ever showed up," Reacher said. "I assume nobody told him. "

  "I knew your name," Franklin said. "Maybe I should be in the mix, too. "

  "But you knew the real reason I was here," Reacher said. "You wouldn't have had me attacked. You'd have had me subpoenaed. "

  Nobody spoke.

  "I was wrong about Jeb Oliver," Reacher said. "He isn't a dope dealer. There was nothing in his barn except an old pickup truck. "

  "I'm glad you can be wrong about something," Helen said.

  "Jeb Oliver isn't Russian," Franklin said.

  "Apple pie," Reacher said.

  "Therefore these guys can work with Americans. That's what I'm saying. It could be Emerson. Doesn't have to be the DA. "

  "Fifty percent chance," Reacher said. "I'm not accusing anybody yet. "

  "If you're right in the first place. "

  "The bad guys were all over me very fast. "

  "Doesn't sound like either Emerson or the DA to me, and I know them both. "

  "You can say his name," Helen said. "His name is Alex Rodin. "

  "I don't think it's either one of them," Franklin said.

  "I'm going back to work," Helen said.

  "Give me a ride?" Reacher asked. "Let me out under the highway?"

  "No," Helen said. "I really don't feel like doing that. "

  She picked up her purse and her briefcase and walked out of the office alone.

  Reacher sat still and listened to the sounds out on the street. He heard a car door opening and closing. An engine starting. A car driving away. He sipped his coffee and said, "I guess I upset her. "

  Franklin nodded. "I guess you did. "

  "These guys have got someone on the inside. That's clear, right? That's a fact. So we should be able to discuss it. "

  "A cop makes more sense than a DA. "

  "I don't agree. A cop controls only his own cases. Ultimately a prosecutor controls everything. "

  "I'd prefer it that way. I was a cop. "

  "So was I," Reacher said.

  "And I have to say, Alex Rodin kills a lot of cases. People say it's caution, but it could be something else. "

  "You should analyze what kind of cases he kills. "

  "Like I don't have enough to do already. "

  Reacher nodded. Put his mug down. Stood up.

  "Start with Oline Archer," he said. "The victim. She's what's important now. "

  Then he stepped to the window and checked the street. Saw nothing. So he nodded to Franklin and walked down the hallway and out the door to the top of the outside staircase.

  He paused on the top step and stretched in the warmth. Rolled his shoulders, flexed his hands, took a deep breath of air. He was cramped from driving and sitting all day. And oppressed by hiding out. It felt good just to stand still and do nothing, high up and exposed. Out in the open, in the daylight. Below him to his left the cars were gone except for the black Suburban. The street was quiet. He glanced to his right. There was traffic building up on the north-south drag. To his left, there was less. He figured he would dodge west first. But a long way west, because the police station must be near. He would need to loop around it. Then he would head north. North of downtown was a warren. North of downtown was where he felt best.

  He started down the stairs. As he stepped off onto the sidewalk at the bottom he heard a footfall fifteen feet behind him. A side step. Thin soles on limestone grit. Quiet. Then the unmistakable crunch-crunch of a pump-action shotgun racking a round.

  Then a voice.

  It sa
id: "Stop right there. "

  An American accent. Quiet, but distinct. From somewhere way north. Reacher stopped. Stood still and stared straight ahead at a blank brick wall across the street.

  The voice said: "Step to your right. "

  Reacher stepped to his right. A long sideways shuffle.

  The voice said: "Now turn around real slow. "

  Reacher turned around, real slow. He kept his hands away from his body, palms out. Saw a small figure fifteen feet away. The same guy he had seen the night before, from the shadows. Not more than five-four, not more than a hundred and thirty pounds, slight, pale, with cropped black hair that stuck up crazily. Chenko. Or Charlie. In his right hand, rock-steady, was a sawn-off with a pistol grip. In his left hand was some kind of a black thing.

  "Catch," Charlie said.

  He tossed the black thing underhand. Reacher watched it tumble and sparkle through the air straight at him and his subconscious said: Not a grenade. So he caught it. Two-handed. It was a shoe. A woman's patent-leather dress shoe, black, with a heel. It was still slightly warm.

  "Now toss it back," Charlie said. "Just like I did. "

  Reacher paused. Whose shoe was it? He stared down at it.

  Low heel.

  Rosemary Barr's?

  "Toss it back," Charlie called. "Nice and slow. "

  Assess and evaluate. Reacher was unarmed. He was holding a shoe. Not a stone, not a rock. The shoe was lightweight and unaerodynamic. It wouldn't do anyone any harm. It would stall and flutter in the air and Charlie would just swat it away.

  "Toss it back," Charlie said again.

  Reacher did nothing. He could tear the heel off and throw it like a dart. Like a missile. But Charlie would shoot him while he was drawing his arm back and winding up. Charlie was fifteen feet away, poised, balanced, unblinking, with the gun rock-steady in his hand. Too close to miss, too far to get to.

  "Last chance," Charlie said.

  Reacher soft-tossed the shoe back. A long, looping underhand throw. Charlie caught it one-handed and it was like the scene had rewound right back to the beginning.

  "She's in summer school," Charlie said. "Think about it like that. She's going to get acquainted with the facts of life. She's going to work on her testimony. About how her brother planned in advance. About how he let slip what he was going to do. She's going to be a great witness. She's going to make the case. You understand that, right?"

  Reacher said nothing.

  "So the game is over now," Charlie said.

  Reacher said nothing.

  "Take two steps backward," Charlie said.

  Reacher took two steps backward. They put him right on the curb. Now Charlie was twenty feet away. He was still holding the shoe. He was smiling.

  "Turn around," he said.

  "You going to shoot me?" Reacher asked.

  "Maybe. "

  "You should. "

  "Why?"

  "Because if you don't, I'm going to find you and I'm going to make you sorry. "

  "Big talk. "

  "Not just talk. "

  "So maybe I'll shoot you. "

  "You should. "

  "Turn around," Charlie said.

  Reacher turned around.

  "Now stand still," Charlie said.

  Reacher stood still. Faced the street. He kept his eyes open. Stared down at the blacktop. It was laid over ancient cobblestones. It was full of small humps in a regular pattern. He started counting them, to fill what might be the last seconds of his life. He strained to hear sounds behind him. Listened for the whisper of clothing as Charlie's arm extended. Listened for the quiet metallic click as the trigger moved through its first tenth of an inch. Would Charlie shoot? Common sense said no. Homicides were always investigated.

  But these people were crazy. And there was a fifty percent chance they owned a local cop. Or that he owned them.

  Silence. Reacher strained to hear sounds behind him.

  But he heard nothing. Nothing happened. Nothing at all. One minute. Two. Then a hundred yards away to the east he heard a siren. Just two brief electronic blips from a cop car forcing a path through traffic.

  "Stand still," Charlie said again.

  Reacher stood still. Ten seconds. Twenty. Thirty. Then two police cruisers turned into the street simultaneously. One from the east and one from the west. They were both moving fast. Their engines roared. Their tires howled. Their sounds beat against the brick. They jammed to a stop. Doors opened. Cops spilled out. Reacher turned his head. Charlie wasn't there anymore.

 
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