One Shot by Lee Child

Chapter 4

  Reacher checked into a downtown hotel called the Metropole Palace, two blocks east of First Street, about level with the main shopping strip. He paid cash up front for one night only and used the name Jimmy Reese. He had cycled through all the presidents and vice presidents long ago and was now using second basemen from the Yankees' nonchampionship years. Jimmy Reese had played pretty well during part of 1930 and pretty badly during part of 1931. He had come from nowhere and moved on to St. Louis for part of 1932. Then he had quit. He had died in California, age ninety-two. But now he was back, with a single room and a bath in the Metropole Palace, for one night only, due to check out the next morning before eleven o'clock.

  The Metropole was a sad, half-empty, faded old place. But it had once been grand. Reacher could see that. He could picture the corn traders a hundred years ago walking up the hill from the river wharf and staying the night. He guessed the lobby had once looked like a Western saloon, but now it was thinly made over with modernist touches. There was a refurbished elevator. The rooms had swipe cards instead of keys. But he guessed the building hadn't really changed very much. His room was certainly old-fashioned and gloomy. The mattress felt like a part of the original inventory.

  He lay down on it and put his hands behind his head. Thought back more than fourteen years to Kuwait City. All cities have colors, and KC was white. White stucco, white-painted concrete, white marble. Skies burned white by the sun. Men in white robes. The parking garage James Barr had used was white, and the apartment building opposite was white. Because of the glare the four dead guys had all been wearing aviator shades. All four men had been hit in the head, but none of the shades had broken. They had just fallen off. All four bullets had been recovered, and they broke the case. They were match-grade 168-grain jacketed boat tails. Not hollow points, because of the Geneva Convention. They were an American sniper's bullets, either Army or Marines. If Barr had used a battle rifle or a submachine gun or a sidearm, Reacher would have gotten nowhere. Because every firearm in theater except the sniper rifles used standard NATO rounds, which would have cast the net way too wide, because just about all of NATO was in-country. But Barr's whole purpose had been to use his own specialist weapon, just for once, this time for real. And in so doing, his four thirteen-cent bullets had nailed him.

  But it had been a tough, tough case. Maybe Reacher's finest ever. He had used logic, deduction, paperwork, footwork, intuition, and ultimately elimination. At the end of the trail was James Barr, a man who had finally seen the pink mist and was strangely at peace with his capture.

  He had confessed.

  The confession was voluntary, fast, and complete. Reacher never laid a hand on him. Barr talked quite freely about the experience. Then he asked questions about the investigation, like he was fascinated by the process. Clearly he had not expected to be caught. Not in a million years. He was simultaneously aggrieved and admiring. He had even acted a little sympathetic when the political snafu eventually broke him loose. Like he was sorry that Reacher's fine efforts had come to nothing.

  Fourteen years later he had not confessed.

  There was another difference between this time and the last time, too. But Reacher couldn't pin it down. Something to do with how hot Kuwait City had been.

  Grigor Linsky used his cell phone and called the Zec. The Zec was the man he worked for. It wasn't just Zec. It was the Zec. It was a question of respect. The Zec was eighty years old, but he still broke arms if he smelled disrespect. He was like an old bull. He still had his strength and his attitude. He was eighty years old because of his strength and his attitude. Without them he would have died at age twenty. Or later, at thirty, which was about when he went insane and his real name finally slipped his mind.

  "The lawyer went back to her office," Linsky said. "Reacher turned east off First Street. I laid back and didn't follow him. But he turned away from the bus depot. Therefore we can assume he's staying in town. My guess is he checked into the Metropole Palace. There's nothing else in that direction. "

  The Zec made no reply.

  "Should we do anything?" Linsky asked.

  "How long is he here for?"

  "That depends. Clearly he's on a mission of mercy. "

  The Zec said nothing.

  "Should we do anything?" Linsky asked again.

  There was a pause. Cellular static, and an old man breathing.

  "We should maybe distract him," the Zec said. "Or discourage him. I'm told he was a soldier. Therefore he will probably maintain a predictable pattern of behavior. If he's at the Metropole, he won't stay in tonight. Not there. No fun for a soldier. He'll go out somewhere. Probably alone. So there could be an incident. Use your imagination. Make it a big scenario. Don't use our own people. And make it look natural. "


  "Broken bones, at least. Maybe he gets a head injury. Maybe he winds up in the coma ward along with his buddy James Barr. "

  "What about the lawyer?"

  "Leave her alone. For now. We'll open that can of worms later. If we need to. "

  Helen Rodin spent an hour at her desk. She took three calls. The first was from Franklin. He was bailing out.

  "I'm sorry, but you're going to lose," the investigator said. "And I've got a business to run. I can't put in unbilled hours on this anymore. "

  "Nobody likes hopeless cases," Helen said diplomatically. She was going to need him again in the future. No point in holding his feet to the fire.

  "Not pro bono hopeless cases," Franklin said.

  "If I get a budget, will you come back on board?"

  "Sure," Franklin said. "Just call me. "

  Then they hung up, all proprieties observed, their relationship preserved. The next call came ten minutes later. It was from her father, who sounded full of concern.

  "You shouldn't have taken this case, you know," he said.

  "It wasn't like I was spoiled for choice," Helen said.

  "Losing might be winning, if you know what I mean. "

  "Winning might be winning, too. "

  "No, winning will be losing. You need to understand that. "

  "Did you ever set out to lose a case?" she asked.

  Her father said nothing. Then he went fishing.

  "Did Jack Reacher find you?" he asked, meaning: Should I be worried?

  "He found me," she said, keeping her voice light.

  "Was he interesting?" Meaning: Should I be very worried?

  "He's certainly given me something to think about. "

  "Well, should we discuss it?" Meaning: Please tell me.

  "I'm sure we will soon. When the time is right. "

  They small-talked for a minute more and arranged to meet for dinner. He tried again: Please tell me. She didn't. Then they hung up. Helen smiled. She hadn't lied. Hadn't even really bluffed. But she felt she had participated. The law was a game, and like any game it had a psychological component.

  The third call was from Rosemary Barr at the hospital.

  "James is waking up," she said. "He coughed up his breathing tube. He's coming out of the coma. "

  "Is he talking?"

  "The doctors say he might be tomorrow. "

  "Will he remember anything?"

  "The doctors say it's possible. "

  An hour later Reacher left the Metropole. He stayed east of First Street and headed north toward the off-brand stores he had seen near the courthouse. He wanted clothes. Something local. Maybe not a set of bib overalls, but certainly something more generic than his Miami gear. Because he figured he might head to Seattle next. For the coffee. And he couldn't walk around Seattle in a bright yellow shirt.

  He found a store and bought a pair of pants that the label called taupe and he called olive drab. He found a flannel shirt almost the same color. Plus underwear. And he invested in a pair of socks. He changed in the cubicle and threw his old stuff away in the store's own trash bin. Forty bucks, for what he hope
d would be four days' wear. Extravagant, but it was worth ten bucks a day to him not to carry a bag.

  He came out and walked west toward the afternoon sun. The shirt was too thick for the weather, but he could regulate it by rolling up the sleeves and opening a second button. It was OK. It would be fine for Seattle.

  He came out into the plaza and saw that the fountain had been restarted. It was refilling the pool, very slowly. The mud on the bottom was an inch deep and moving in slow swirls. Some people were standing and watching it. Others were walking. But nobody was using the short route past the memorial tributes, where Barr's victims had died. Maybe nobody would ever again. Instead everyone was looping the long way around, past the NBC sign. Instinctively, respectfully, fearfully; Reacher wasn't sure.

  He picked his way among the flowers and sat on the low wall, with the sound of the fountain behind him and the parking garage in front of him. One shoulder was warmed by the sun and the other was cool in the shade. He could feel the leftover sand under his feet. He looked to his left and watched the DMV building's door. Looked to his right and watched the cars on the raised highway. They tracked through the curve, high up in the air, one after the other, single file, in a single lane. There weren't many of them. Traffic up there was light, even though First Street itself was already building up to the afternoon rush hour. Then he looked to his left again and saw Helen Rodin sitting down beside him. She was out of breath.

  "I was wrong," she said. "You are a hard man to find. "

  "But you triumphed nonetheless," he said.

  "Only because I saw you from my window. I ran all the way down, hoping you wouldn't wander off. That was a half hour after calling all the hotels in town and being told you aren't registered anywhere. "

  "What hotels don't know won't hurt them. "

  "James Barr is waking up. He might be talking tomorrow. "

  "Or he might not. "

  "You know much about head injuries?"

  "Only the ones I cause. "

  "I want you to do something for me. "

  "Like what?" he asked.

  "You can help me," she said. "With something important. "

  "Can I?"

  "And you can help yourself. "

  He said nothing.

  "I want you to be my evidence analyst," she said.

  "You've got Franklin for that. "

  She shook her head. "Franklin's too close to his old PD buddies. He won't be critical enough. He won't want to tear into them. "

  "And I will? I want Barr to go down, remember. "

  "Exactly. That's exactly why you should do it. You want to confirm that they've got an unbreakable case. Then you can leave town and be happy. "

  "Would I tell you if I found a hole?"

  "I'd see it in your eyes. And I'd know from what you did next. If you go, it's a strong case. If you stay around, it's weak. "

  "Franklin quit, didn't he?"

  She paused, and then she nodded. "This case is a loser, all ways around. I'm doing it pro bono. Because nobody else will. But Franklin's got a business to run. "

  "So he won't do it for free, but I will?"

  "You need to do it. I think you're already planning to do it. That's why you went to see my father first. He's confident, for sure. You saw that. But you still want a peek at the data. You were a thorough investigator. You said so yourself. You're a perfectionist. You want to be able to leave town knowing everything is buttoned down tight, according to your own standards. "

  Reacher said nothing.

  "This gets you a real good look," she said. "It's their constitutional obligation. They have to show us everything. The defense gets a full discovery process. "

  Reacher said nothing.

  "You've got no choice," she said. "They're not going to show you anything otherwise. They don't show stuff to strangers off the street. "

  A real good look. Leave town and be happy. No choice.

  "OK," Reacher said.

  She pointed. "Walk four blocks west and one block south. The PD is right there. I'll go upstairs and call Emerson. "

  "We're doing this now?"

  "James Barr is waking up. I need this stuff out of the way early. I'm going to be spending most of tomorrow trying to find a psychiatrist who will work for free. A medical plea is still our best bet. "

  Reacher walked four blocks west and one block south. It took him under the raised highway and brought him to a corner. The PD had the whole block. Their building occupied most of it and there was an L-shaped parking lot on the rest of it for their vehicles. There were black-and-whites slotted in at angles, and unmarked detective cars, and a crime-scene van, and a SWAT truck. The building itself was made of glazed tan brick. It had a flat roof with big HVAC ducts all over it. There were bars on all the windows. Razor wire here and there around the perimeter.

  He went inside and got directions and found Emerson waiting for him behind his desk. Reacher recognized him from his TV spot on Saturday morning. Same guy, pale, quiet, competent, not big, not small. In person he looked like he had been a cop since birth. Since the moment of conception, maybe. It was in his pores. In his DNA. He was wearing gray flannel pants and a white short-sleeve shirt. Open neck. No tie. There was a tweed jacket on the back of his chair. His face and his body were a little shapeless, like he had been molded by constant pressures.

  "Welcome to Indiana," he said.

  Reacher said nothing.

  "I mean it," Emerson said. "Really. We love it when old friends of the accused show up to tear our work to shreds. "

  "I'm here for his lawyer," Reacher said. "Not as a friend. "

  Emerson nodded.

  "I'll give you the background myself," he said. "Then my crime-scene guy will walk you through the particulars. You can see absolutely anything you want and you can ask absolutely anything you want. "

  Reacher smiled. He had been a cop of sorts himself for thirteen long years, on a tough beat, and he knew the language and all its dialects. He knew the tone and he understood the nuances. And the way Emerson spoke told him things. It told him that despite the initial hostility, this was a guy secretly happy to meet with a critic. Because he knew for sure he had a solid-gold slam-dunk case.

  "You knew James Barr pretty well, am I right?" Emerson asked.

  "Did you?" Reacher asked back.

  Emerson shook his head. "Never met him. There were no warning signs. "

  "Was his rifle legal?"

  Emerson nodded. "It was registered and unmodified. As were all his other guns. "

  "Did he hunt?"

  Emerson shook his head again. "He wasn't an NRA member and he didn't belong to a gun club. We never saw him out in the hills. He was never in trouble. He was just a low-profile citizen. A no-profile citizen, really. No warning signs at all. "

  "You seen this kind of thing before?"

  "Too many times. If you include the District of Columbia, then Indiana is tied for sixteenth place out of fifty-one in terms of homicide deaths per capita. Worse than New York, worse than California. This town isn't the worst in the state, but it's not the best, either. So we've seen it all before, and sometimes there are signs, and sometimes there aren't, but either way around we know what we're doing. "

  "I spoke with Alex Rodin," Reacher said. "He's impressed. "

  "He should be. We performed well. Your old buddy was toast six hours after the first shot. It was a textbook case, beginning to end. "

  "No doubts at all?"

  "Put it this way. I wrote it up Saturday morning and I haven't given it a whole lot of thought since then. It's a done deal. About the best done deal I ever saw, and I've seen a lot. "

  "So is there any point in me walking through it?"

  "Sure there is. I've got a crime-scene guy desperate to show off. He's a good man, and he deserves his moment in the sun. "

  Emerson walked Reacher to the lab and introduced him as a lawyer's scout, not as J
ames Barr's friend. Which helped a little with the atmosphere. Then he left him there. The crime-scene guy was a serious forty-year-old called Bellantonio. His name was more exuberant than he was. He was tall, dark, thin, and stooped. He could have been a mortician. And he suspected James Barr was going to plead guilty. He thought he wasn't going to get his day in court. That was clear. He had laid out the evidence chain in a logical sequence on long tables in a sealed police garage bay, just so that he could give visitors the performance he would never give a jury.

  The tables were white canteen-style trestles and they ran all the way around the perimeter of the bay. Above them was a horizontal line of cork boards with hundreds of printed sheets of paper pinned to them. The sheets were encased in plastic page protectors and they related to the specific items found directly below. Trapped tight in the square made by the tables was James Barr's beige Dodge Caravan. The bay was clean and brightly lit with harsh fluorescent tubes and the minivan looked huge and alien in there. It was old and dirty and smelled of gasoline and oil and rubber. The sliding rear door was open and Bellantonio had rigged a light to shine in on the carpet.

  "This all looks good," Reacher said.

  "Best crime scene I ever worked," Bellantonio said.

  "So walk me through it. "

  Bellantonio started with the traffic cone. It was sitting there on a square of butcher paper, looking large and odd and out of place. Reacher saw the print powder on it, read the notes above it. Barr had handled it, that was for sure. He had clamped his right hand around it, near the top, where it was narrow. More than once. There were fingerprints and palm prints. The match was a laugher. There were way more comparison points than any court would demand.

  Same for the quarter from the parking meter, same for the shell case. Bellantonio showed Reacher laser-printed stills from the parking garage video, showing the minivan coming in just before the event and going out again just after it. He showed him the interior of the Dodge, showed him the automotive carpet fibers recovered from the raw new concrete, showed him the dog hairs, showed him the denim fibers and the raincoat threads. Showed him a square of rug taken from Barr's house, showed him the matching fibers found at the scene. Showed him the desert boots, showed him how crepe rubber was the best transfer mechanism going. Showed him how the tiny crumbs of rubber found at the scene matched new scuffs on the shoes' toes. Showed him the cement dust tracked back into Barr's house and recovered from the garage and the basement and the kitchen and the living room and the bedroom. Showed him a comparison sample taken from the parking garage and a lab report that proved it was the same.

  Reacher scanned the transcripts from the 911 calls and the radio chatter between the squad cars. Then he glanced through the crime-scene protocol. The initial sweep by the uniformed officers, the forensic examination by Bellantonio's own people, Emerson's inspiration with the parking meter. Then he read the arrest report. It was printed out and pinned up along with everything else. The SWAT tactics, the sleeping suspect, the ID from the driver's license from the wallet in the pants pocket. The paramedics' tests. The capture of the dog by the K9 officers. The clothes in the closet. The shoes. The guns in the basement. He read the witness reports. A Marine recruiter had heard six shots. A cell phone company had provided a recording. There was a graph attached. A gray smear of sound, with six sharp spikes. Left to right, they were arrayed in a pattern that matched what Helen Rodin had said she had heard. One, two-three, pause, four-five-six. The graph's vertical axis represented volume. The shots had been faint but clear on the recording. The horizontal axis represented the time base. Six shots in less than four seconds. Four seconds that had changed a city. For a spell, at least.

  Reacher looked at the rifle. It was heat-sealed into a clear plastic sleeve. He read the report pinned above it. A Springfield M1A Super Match, ten-shot box magazine, four cartridges still in it. Barr's prints all over it. Scratches on the forestock matching varnish scrapings found at the scene. The intact bullet recovered from the pool. A ballistics lab report matching the bullet to the barrel. Another report matching the shell case to the ejector. Slam dunk. Case closed.

  "OK, enough," Reacher said.

  "It's good, isn't it?" Bellantonio said.

  "Best I ever saw," Reacher said.

  "Better than a hundred eyewitnesses. "

  Reacher smiled. Crime-scene techs loved to say that.

  "Anything you're not happy with?" he asked.

  "I love it all," Bellantonio said.

  Reacher glanced at his reflection in the Dodge's tinted window. The black glass made his new shirt look gray.

  "Why did he leave the traffic cone behind?" he said. "He could have pitched it into the back of the van, easy as anything. "

  Bellantonio said nothing.

  "And why did he pay to park?" Reacher asked.

  "I'm forensics," Bellantonio said. "Not psychology. "

  Then Emerson came back in and stood there, waiting to accept Reacher's surrender. Reacher gave it up, no hesitation. He shook their hands and congratulated them on a well-worked case.

  He walked back, one block north and four blocks east, under the raised highway, heading for the black glass tower. It was after five o'clock and the sun was on his back. He arrived at the plaza and saw that the fountain was still going and the pool had filled another inch. He went in past the NBC sign and rode up in the elevator. Ann Yanni didn't show. Maybe she was preparing for the six o'clock news.

  He found Helen Rodin at her secondhand desk.

  "Watch my eyes," he said.

  She watched them.

  "Pick your own cliche," he said. "It's a cast-iron, solid-gold slam dunk. It's Willie Mays under a fly ball. "

  She said nothing.

  "See any doubt in my eyes?" he asked.

  "No," she said. "I don't. "

  "So start calling psychiatrists. If that's what you really want to do. "

  "He deserves representation, Reacher. "

  "He stepped out of line. "

  "We can't just lynch him. "

  Reacher paused. Then he nodded. "The shrink should think about the parking meter. I mean, who pays for ten minutes even if they're not shooting people? It strikes me as weird. It's so law-abiding, isn't it? It kind of puts the whole event into a law-abiding envelope. Maybe he really was nuts this time. You know, confused about what he was doing. "

  Helen Rodin made a note. "I'll be sure to mention it. "

  "You want to get some dinner?"

  "We're on opposite sides. "

  "We had lunch. "

  "Only because I wanted something from you. "

  "We can still be civilized. "

  She shook her head. "I'm having dinner with my father. "

  "He's on the opposite side. "

  "He's my father. "

  Reacher said nothing.

  "Were the cops OK?" she asked.

  Reacher nodded. "They were courteous enough. "

  "They can't have been very pleased to see you. They don't understand why you're really here. "

  "They don't need to worry. They've got a great case. "

  "It's not over until the fat lady sings. "

  "She's been singing since Friday at five. Pretty loud. "

  "Maybe we could have a drink after dinner," she said. "If I can get away in time. There's a sports bar six blocks north of here. Monday night, it's about the only place in town. I'll drop by and see if you're there. But I can't promise anything. "

  "Neither can I," Reacher said. "Maybe I'll be at the hospital, unplugging James Barr's life support. "

  He rode down in the elevator and found Rosemary Barr waiting for him in the lobby. He guessed she had just gotten back from the hospital and had called upstairs and Helen Rodin had told her he was on his way down. So she had waited. She was pacing nervously, side to side, crossing and recrossing the route between the elevator bank and the street door.

  "Can w
e talk?" she asked.

  "Outside," he said.

  He led her through the door and across the plaza to the south wall of the pool. It was still filling slowly. The fountain splashed and tinkled. He sat where he had sat before, with the funeral tributes at his feet. Rosemary Barr stood in front of him, facing him, very close, her eyes on his, not looking down at the flowers and the candles and the photographs.

  "You need to keep an open mind," she said.

  "Do I?" he said.

  "James wanted you here, therefore he can't be guilty. "

  "That's a leap. "

  "It's logical," she said.

  "I just saw the evidence," he said. "More than enough for anyone. "

  "I'm not going to argue about fourteen years ago. "

  "You can't. "

  "But he's innocent now. "

  Reacher said nothing.

  "I understand how you feel," Rosemary said. "You think he let you down. "

  "He did. "

  "But suppose he didn't? Suppose he met your conditions and this is all a mistake? How would you feel then? What would you do for him? If you're ready to stand up against him, don't you think you should be equally ready to stand up for him?"

  "That's too hypothetical for me. "

  "It's not hypothetical. I'm just asking, if you're proved wrong, if he didn't do it, will you put the same energy into helping him?"

  "If I'm proved wrong, he won't need my help. "

  "Will you?"

  "Yes," Reacher said, because it was an easy promise to make.

  "So you need to keep an open mind. "

  "Why did you move out?"

  She paused. "He was angry all the time. It was no fun living with him. "

  "Angry at what?"

  "At everything. "

  "So maybe it's you who should keep an open mind. "

  "I could have made up a reason. But I didn't. I told you the truth. I don't want to hide anything. I need you to trust me. I need to make you believe. My brother's an unhappy man, maybe even disturbed. But he didn't do this. "

  Reacher said nothing.

  "Will you keep an open mind?" she asked.

  Reacher didn't answer. Just shrugged and walked away.

  He didn't go to the hospital. Didn't unplug James Barr's machines. He went to the sports bar instead, after a shower back at the Metropole Palace. The six blocks north of the black glass tower took him under the highway again and out into a hinterland. Gentrification had a boundary to the south, as he had seen, and now he saw it had a boundary to the north, too. The bar was a little ways beyond it. It was in a plain square building that could have started out as anything. Maybe a feed store, maybe an automobile showroom, maybe a pool hall. It had a flat roof and bricked-up windows and moss growing where blocked rainwater gutters had spilled.

  Inside it was better, but generic. It was like every other sports bar he had ever been in. It was one tall room with black-painted air-conditioning ducts pinned to the ceiling. It had three dozen TV screens hanging from the walls and the ceiling. It had all the usual sports-bar stuff all over the place. Signed uniform jerseys framed under glass, football helmets displayed on shelves, hockey sticks, basketballs, baseballs, old game-day programs. The waitstaff was all female, all of them in cheerleader-style uniforms. The bar staff was male and dressed in striped umpire uniforms.

  The TVs were all tuned to football. Inevitable, Reacher guessed, on a Monday night. Some of the screens were regular TVs, and some were plasmas, and some were projectors. The same event was displayed dozens of times, all with slightly different color and focus, some big, some small, some bright, some dim. There were plenty of people in there, but Reacher got a table to himself. In a corner, which he liked. A hard-worked waitress ran over to him and he ordered beer and a cheeseburger. He didn't look at the menu. Sports bars always had beer and cheeseburgers.

  He ate his meal and drank his beer and watched the game. Time passed and the place filled up and got more and more crowded and noisy, but nobody came to share his table. Reacher had that kind of an effect on people. He sat there alone, in a bubble of quiet, with a message plainly displayed: Stay away from me.

  Then someone ignored the message and came to join him. It was partly his own fault. He looked away from the screen and saw a girl hovering nearby. She was juggling a bottle of beer and a full plate of tacos. She was quite a sight. She had waved red hair and a red gingham shirt open at the neck and tied off at the navel. She had tight pants on that looked like denim but had to be spandex. She had the whole hourglass thing going, big-time. And she was in shiny lizard-skin boots. Open the encyclopedia to C for Country Girl and her picture was going to be right there staring back at you. She looked too young for the beer. But she was past puberty. That was for damn sure. Her shirt buttons were straining. And there was no visible panty line under the spandex. Reacher looked at her for a second too long, and she took it as an invitation.

  "Can I share your table?" she asked from a yard away.

  "Help yourself," he said.

  She sat down. Not opposite him, but in the chair next to him.

  "Thanks," she said.

  She drank from her bottle and kept her eyes on him. Green eyes, bright, wide open. She half-turned toward him and arched the small of her back. Her shirt was open three buttons. Maybe a 34D, Reacher figured, in a push-up bra. He could see the edge of it. White lace.

  She leaned close because of the noise.

  "Do you like it?" she asked.

  "Like what?" he said.

  "Football," she said.

  "A bit," he said.

  "Did you play?"

  Did you, not do you. She made him feel old.

  "You're certainly big enough," she said.

  "I tried out for Army," he said. "When I was at West Point. "

  "Did you make the team?"

  "Only once. "

  "Were you injured?"

  "I was too violent. "

  She half-smiled, not sure if he was joking.

  "Want a taco?" she said.

  "I just ate. "

  "I'm Sandy," she said.

  So was I, he thought. Friday, on the beach.

  "What's your name?" she asked.

  "Jimmy Reese," he said.

  He saw a flash of surprise in her eyes. He didn't know why. Maybe she had had a boyfriend called Jimmy Reese. Or maybe she was a serious fan of the New York Yankees.

  "I'm pleased to meet you, Jimmy Reese," she said.

  "Likewise," he said, and turned back to the game.

  "You're new in town, aren't you?" she said.

  "Usually," he said.

  "I was wondering," she said. "If you only like football a bit, maybe you would like to take me somewhere else. "

  "Like where?"

  "Like somewhere quieter. Maybe somewhere a little lonelier. "

  He said nothing.

  "I've got a car," she said.

  "You old enough to drive?"

  "I'm old enough to do lots of things. And I'm pretty good at some of them. "

  Reacher said nothing. She moved on her chair. Pushed it out from the table a little way. Turned toward him and looked down.

  "Do you like these pants?" she asked.

  "I think they suit you very well. "

  "I do, too. Only problem is, they're too tight to wear anything underneath. "

  "We all have our cross to bear. "

  "Do you think they're too revealing?"

  "They're opaque. That usually does it for me. "

  "Imagine peeling them off. "

  "I can't. I doubt if I would have gotten them on. "

  The green eyes narrowed. "Are you a queer?"

  "Are you a hooker?"

  "No way. I work at the auto parts store. "

  Then she paused and seemed to think again. She reconsidered. She came up with a better answer. Which was to jump up from
her chair and scream and slap his face. It was a loud scream and a loud slap and everyone turned to look.

  "He called me a whore," she screamed. "He called me a damn whore!"

  Chairs scraped and guys stood up fast. Big guys, in jeans and work boots and plaid shirts. Country boys. Five of them, all the same.

  The girl smiled in triumph.

  "Those are my brothers," she said.

  Reacher said nothing.

  "You just called me a whore in front of my brothers. "

  Five boys, all staring.

  "He called me a whore," the girl wailed.

  Rule one: Be on your feet and ready.

  Rule two: Show them what they're messing with.

  Reacher stood up, slow and easy. Six-five, two-fifty, calm eyes, hands held loose by his sides.

  "He called me a whore," the girl wailed again.

  Rule three: Identify the ringleader.

  There were five guys. Any five guys will have one ringleader, two enthusiastic followers, and two reluctant followers. Put the ringleader down, and both of the keen sidekicks, and it's over. The reluctant pair just run for it. So there's no such thing as five-on-one. It never gets worse than three-on-one.

  Rule four: The ringleader is the one who moves first.

  A big corn-fed twentysomething with a shock of yellow hair and a round red face moved first. He stepped forward a pace and the others fell in behind him in a neat arrowhead formation. Reacher stepped forward a pace of his own to meet them. The downside of a corner table is there's no other way to go except forward.

  But that was fine.

  Because, rule five: Never back off.

  But, rule six: Don't break the furniture.

  Break furniture in a bar, and the owner starts thinking about his insurance policy, and insurance companies require police reports, and a patrolman's first instinct is to throw everyone in jail and sort it out later. Which generally means: Blame it on the stranger.

  "He called me a whore," the girl said plaintively. Like her heart was broken. She was standing off to the side, looking at Reacher, looking at the five guys, looking at Reacher. Her head was turning like a spectator at a tennis game.

  "Outside," the big guy said.

  "Pay your check first," Reacher said.

  "I'll pay later. "

  "You won't be able to. "

  "You think?"

  "That's the difference between us. "

  "What is?"

  "I think. "

  "You've got a smart mouth, pal. "

  "That's the least of your worries. "

  "You called my sister a whore. "

  "You prefer sleeping with virgins?"

  "Get outside, pal, or I'll put you down right here. "

  Rule seven: Act, don't react.

  "OK," Reacher said. "Let's go outside. "

  The big guy smiled.

  "After you," Reacher said.

  "Stay here, Sandy," the big guy said.

  "I don't mind the sight of blood," she said.

  "I'm sure you love it," Reacher said. "One week in four, it makes you feel mighty relieved. "

  "Outside," the big guy said. "Now. "

  He turned around and shooed the others toward the door. They formed up in single file and threaded between the tables. Their boots clattered on the wood. The girl called Sandy tagged after them. Other customers shrank away from them. Reacher put twenty dollars on his table and glanced up at the football game. Someone was winning, someone was losing.

  He followed the girl called Sandy. Followed the blue spandex pants.

  They were all waiting for him on the sidewalk. They were all tensed up in a shallow semicircle. There were yellow lamps on poles twenty yards away north and south and another across the street. The lamps gave each guy three shadows. There was neon outside the bar that filled the shadows with pink and blue. The street was empty. And quiet. No traffic. No noise, except sports bar sounds muffled by the door.

  The air was soft. Not hot, not cold.

  Rule eight: Assess and evaluate.

  The big guy was round and smooth and heavy, like a bull seal. Maybe ten years out of high school. An unbroken nose, no scar tissue on his brows, no misshapen knuckles. Therefore, not a boxer. Probably just a linebacker. So he would fight like a wrestler. He would be a guy who wants you on the ground.

  So he would start by charging. Head low.

  That was Reacher's best guess.

  And Reacher was right.

  The guy exploded out of the blocks and charged, head low. Driving for Reacher's chest. Looking to drive him backward and have him stumble and fall. Whereupon the other four could all pile in together and stomp him and kick him to their hearts' content.


  Because, rule nine: Don't run head-on into Jack Reacher.

  Not when he's expecting it. It's like running into an oak tree.

  The big guy charged and Reacher turned slightly sideways and bent his knees a little and timed it just right and drove all his weight up and forward off his back foot and through his shoulder straight into the big guy's face.

  Kinetic energy is a wonderful thing.

  Reacher had hardly moved at all but the big guy bounced off crazily, stunned, staggering backward on stiff legs, desperately trying to stay upright, one foot tracing a lazy half-circle in the air, then the other. He came to rest six feet away with his feet firmly planted and his legs wide apart, just like a big dumb capital letter A.

  Blood on his face.

  Now he had a broken nose.

  Put the ringleader down.

  Reacher stepped in and kicked him in the groin, but left-footed. Right-footed, he would have popped bits of the guy's pelvis out through his nose. Your big soft heart, an old army instructor had said. One day it'll get you killed.

  But not today, Reacher thought. Not here. The big guy went down. He fell on his knees and pitched forward on his face.

  Then it got real easy.

  The next two guys came in together shoulder-to-shoulder, and Reacher dropped the first with a head butt and the second with an elbow to the jaw. They both went straight down and lay still. Then it was over, because the last two guys ran. The last two guys always do. The girl called Sandy ran after them. Not fast. The tight spandex and the high-heeled boots impeded her. But Reacher let her go. He turned back and kicked her three downed brothers onto their sides. Checked they were still breathing. Checked their hip pockets. Found their wallets. Checked their licenses. Then he dropped them and straightened up and turned around because he heard a car pull up behind him at the curb.

  It was a taxi. It was a taxi with Helen Rodin getting out of it.

  She threw a bill at the driver and he took off fast, gazing straight ahead, deliberately not looking left or right. Helen Rodin stood still on the sidewalk and stared. Reacher was ten feet away from her, with three neon shadows and three inert forms on the ground behind him.

  "What the hell is going on?" she asked.

  "You tell me," he said. "You live here. You know these damn people. "

  "What does that mean? What the hell happened?"

  "Let's walk," he said.

  They walked south, fast, and turned a corner and went east. Then south again. Then they slowed a little.

  "You've got blood on your shirt," Helen Rodin said.

  "But not mine," Reacher said.

  "What happened back there?"

  "I was in the bar watching the game. Minding my own business. Then some underage red-haired bimbo started coming on to me. I wasn't playing and she got it to where she found a reason to slap me. Then five guys jumped up. She said they were her brothers. We took it outside. "

  "Five guys?"

  "Two ran away. "

  "After you beat up the first three?"

  "I defended myself. That's all. Minimum force. "

  "She slapped you?"
r />   "Right in the face. "

  "What had you said to her?"

  "Doesn't matter what I said to her. It was a setup. So I'm asking you, is that how people get their kicks around here? Picking on strangers in bars?"

  "I need a drink," Helen Rodin said. "I came to meet you for a drink. "

  Reacher stopped walking. "So let's go back there. "

  "We can't go back there. They probably called the cops. You left three men on the sidewalk. "

  He looked back over his shoulder.

  "So let's try my hotel," he said. "There's a lobby. There might be a bar. "

  They walked together in silence, through dark quiet streets, four blocks south. They stayed east of the plaza and passed by the courthouse. Reacher glanced at it.

  "How was dinner?" he asked.

  "My father was fishing. He still thinks you're my witness. "

  "Did you tell him?"

  "I can't tell him. Your information is classified. Thank God. "

  "So you let him stew. "

  "He's not stewing. He's totally confident. "

  "He should be. "

  "So are you leaving tomorrow?"

  "You bet I am. This place is weird. "

  "Some girl comes on to you, why does that have to be a big conspiracy?"

  Reacher said nothing.

  "It's not unheard-of," she said. "Well, is it? A bar, the new guy in town all alone, why shouldn't some girl be interested? You're not exactly repulsive, you know. "

  Reacher just walked.

  "What did you say to her to get slapped?"

  "I wasn't showing any interest, she kept on coming on, I asked her if she was a hooker. Something like that. "

  "A hooker? That'll get you slapped in Indiana. And her brothers would hate it. "

  "It was a setup, Helen. Let's be realistic. It's nice of you to say it, but I'm not the sort of guy that women chase after. I know that, OK? So it was a setup. "

  "No woman ever chased you before?"

  "She smiled in triumph. Like she had found an opening and delivered me. Like she had succeeded at something. "

  Helen Rodin said nothing.

  "And those guys weren't her brothers," Reacher said. "They were all more or less the same age, and when I checked their licenses they all had different last names. "

  "Oh. "

  "So it was all staged. Which is weird. There are only two reasons for doing something like that. Fun, or money. A guy in a bar might have a few bucks, but that's not enough. So they staged it for fun. Which is weird. Doubly weird, because why pick on me? They must have known they were going to get their butts kicked. "

  "There were five of them. Five guys never think one guy could kick their butts. Especially not in Indiana. "

  "Or maybe I was the only stranger in the bar. "

  She looked ahead, down the street. "You're at the Metropole Palace?"

  He nodded. "Me and not too many other people. "

  "But I called and they said you weren't registered. I called all the hotels, looking for you this afternoon. "

  "I use aliases in hotels. "

  "Why on earth?"

  "Just a bad habit. Like I told you. It's automatic now. "

  They went up the front steps together and in through the heavy brass door. It wasn't late, but the place was quiet. The lobby was deserted. There was a bar in a side room. It was empty, except for a lone barman leaning back against the register.

  "Beer," Helen Rodin said.

  "Two," Reacher said.

  They took a table near a curtained window and the guy brought two beers in bottles, two napkins, two chilled glasses, and a bowl of mixed nuts. Reacher signed the check and added his room number.

  Helen Rodin smiled. "So who does the Metropole think you are?"

  "Jimmy Reese," Reacher said.

  "Who's he?"

  "Wait," Reacher said.

  A flash of surprise in her eyes. He didn't know why.

  I'm pleased to meet you, Jimmy Reese.

  "The girl was looking for me personally," he said. "She wasn't looking for some random lone stranger. She was looking for Jack Reacher specifically. "

  "She was?"

  He nodded. "She asked my name. I said Jimmy Reese. It knocked her off balance for a second. She was definitely surprised. Like, You're not Jimmy Reese, you're Jack Reacher, someone just told me. She paused, and then she recovered. "

  "The first letters are the same. Jimmy Reese, Jack Reacher. People sometimes do that. "

  "She was fast," he said. "She wasn't as dumb as she looked. Someone pointed her at me, and she wasn't going to be deflected. Jack Reacher was supposed to get worked over tonight, and she was going to make sure it happened. "

  "So who were they?"

  "Who knows my name?"

  "The police department. You were just there. "

  Reacher said nothing.

  "What?" Helen said. "Were they cops? Protecting their case?"

  "I'm not here to attack their case. "

  "But they don't know that. They think that's exactly why you're here. "

  "Their case doesn't need protecting. It's solid gold. And they didn't look like cops. "

  "Who else has an interest?"

  "Rosemary Barr. She has an interest. She knows my name. And she knows why I'm here. "

  "That's ridiculous," Helen said.

  Reacher said nothing.

  "That's ridiculous," Helen said again. "Rosemary Barr is a mousy little legal secretary. She wouldn't try a thing like that. She wouldn't know how. Not in a million years. "

  "It was a very amateur attempt. "

  "Compared to what? It was five guys. Enough for most people. "

  Reacher said nothing.

  "Rosemary Barr was at the hospital," Helen said. "She went over there after the client conference, and she stayed there most of the afternoon, and I bet she's back there now. Because her brother is waking up. She wants to be with him. "

  "A buck gets ten she's got a cell phone. "

  "Can't use cell phones near the ICU. They cause interference. "

  "A pay phone, then. "

  "She's too preoccupied. "

  "With saving her brother. "

  Helen Rodin said nothing.

  "She's your client," Reacher said. "Are you sure you're impartial?"

  "You're not thinking straight. James Barr asked for you. He wanted you here. Therefore his sister wants you here, too. She wants you to stick around long enough to figure out how you can help. And she knows you can help, or why would her brother have asked for you in the first place?"

  Reacher said nothing.

  "Accept it," Helen said. "It wasn't Rosemary Barr. It's in her best interests to have you here, alive and well and thinking. "

  Reacher took a long pull on his beer. Then he nodded. "I was followed to the bar tonight, obviously. From here. Therefore I was followed here, after lunch. If Rosemary went straight to the hospital this morning she didn't have time to set that up. "

  "So we're back to someone who thinks you can damage the case. Why not the cops? Cops could follow you anywhere. There's a lot of them and they all have radios. "

  "Cops start trouble face-to-face. They don't get a girl to do it for them. "

  "The girl might be a cop, too. "

  Reacher shook his head. "Too young. Too vacant. Too much hair. "

  Helen took a pen from her purse and wrote something on her cocktail napkin. Slid it across the table.

  "My cell phone number," she said. "You might need it. "

  "I don't think anyone will sue me. "

  "I'm not worried about you getting sued. I'm worried about you getting arrested. Even if it wasn't cops actually doing it, they might have gone to the bar anyway. The owner might have called them. Or the hospital might have called them. Those three boys went to the hospital, that's for sure. And the girl definitely knows your alias now. So
you might be in trouble. If you are, listen to the Miranda and then call me. "

  Reacher smiled. "Ambulance chasing?"

  "Looking out for you. "

  Reacher picked up the napkin. Put it in his back pocket.

  "OK," he said. "Thanks. "

  "Are you still going to leave tomorrow?"

  "Maybe. Or maybe not. Maybe I'll stick around and think about why someone would use violence to protect a case that's already a hundred percent watertight. "

  Grigor Linsky called the Zec on his cell phone from his car.

  "They failed," he said. "I'm very sorry. "

  The Zec said nothing, which was worse than a tirade.

  "They won't be traced to us," Linsky said.

  "Will you make sure of that?"

  "Certainly. "

  The Zec said nothing.

  "No harm, no foul," Linsky said.

  "Unless it served merely to provoke the soldier," the Zec said. "Then there would be harm. Possibly considerable harm. He is James Barr's friend, after all. That fact will have implications. "

  Now Linsky said nothing.

  "Let him see you one more time," the Zec said. "A little additional pressure might help. But after that, don't let him see you again. "

  "And then?"

  "Then monitor the situation," the Zec said. "Make absolutely certain it doesn't turn from bad to worse. "

  Reacher saw Helen Rodin into a cab and then went upstairs to his room. He took off his shirt and put it in the bathroom sink and left it to soak in cold water. He didn't want bloodstains on a one-day-old shirt. Three days old, maybe. But not a brand-new garment.

  Questions. There were a lot of questions, but as always the key would be finding the basic question. The fundamental question. Why would someone use violence to protect a case that was already watertight? First question: Was the case already watertight? He trawled through the day in his head and heard Alex Rodin say: It's as good as it gets. The best I've ever seen. Emerson had said: It's the best done deal I ever saw. The morticianlike Bellantonio had said: It's the best crime scene I ever worked. I love it all. Those guys all had professional self-interest in play, of course. And pride, and expediency. But Reacher himself had seen Bellantonio's work. And had said: It's a cast-iron solid-gold slam dunk. It's Willie Mays under a fly ball.

  Was it?

  Yes, it was. It was Lou Gehrig with the bases loaded. It was as close to a certainty as human life offers.

  But that wasn't the fundamental question.

  He rinsed his shirt and wrung it out hard and spread it on the room heater. Turned the heater on high and opened the window. There was no noise outside. Just silence. New York City it wasn't. It sounded like they rolled up the sidewalks at nine o'clock. I went to Indiana, but it was closed. He lay down on the bed. Stretched out. Damp heat came off his shirt and filled the room with the smell of wet cotton.

  What was the fundamental question?

  Helen Rodin's cassette tape was the fundamental question. James Barr's voice, low, hoarse, frustrated. His demand: Get Jack Reacher for me.

  Why would he say that?

  Who was Jack Reacher, in James Barr's eyes?


  That was the basic question.

  The best crime scene I ever worked.

  The best I've ever seen.

  Why did he pay to park?

  Will you keep an open mind?

  Get Jack Reacher for me.

  Jack Reacher stared at his hotel room ceiling. Five minutes. Ten. Twenty. Then he rolled over one way and pulled the cocktail napkin out of his back pocket. Rolled the other way and dialed the phone. Helen Rodin answered after eight rings. She sounded sleepy. He had woken her up.

  "It's Reacher," he said.

  "Are you in trouble?"

  "No, but I've got some questions. Is Barr awake yet?"

  "No, but he's close. Rosemary went back to the hospital. She left me a message. "

  "What was the weather like last Friday at five?"

  "The weather? Friday? It was kind of dull. Cloudy. "

  "Is that normal?"

  "No, not really. It's usually sunny. Or else raining. This time of year it's usually one or the other. More likely sunny. "

  "Was it warm or cold?"

  "Not cold. But not hot. It was comfortable, I guess. "

  "What did you wear to work?"

  "What is this, a dirty phone call?"

  "Just tell me. "

  "Same as I wore today. Pantsuit. "

  "No coat?"

  "Didn't need one. "

  "Have you got a car?"

  "A car? Yes, I've got a car. But I use the bus for work. "

  "Use your car tomorrow. I'll meet you at eight o'clock in your office. "

  "What's this about?"

  "Tomorrow," he said. "Eight o'clock. Go back to sleep now. "

  He hung up. Rolled off the bed and checked his shirt. It was warm and wet. But it would be dry by morning. He hoped it wouldn't shrink.

Previous Page Next Page
Should you have any enquiry, please contact us via [email protected]