One Shot by Lee Child

Chapter 8

  Reacher woke himself up at seven in the morning and went out to check for a tail and to look for a drugstore. He walked a zigzag half-mile and saw nobody behind him. He found a drugstore two blocks east of the motor court and bought black coffee in a cardboard cup, a pack of throwaway razors, a can of shaving foam, and a new tube of toothpaste. He carried his purchases back by a roundabout route and put his clothes back under the mattress and sat on the bed and drank the coffee. Then he showered and shaved, using his full twenty-two- minute routine. He washed his hair twice. Then he dressed again and went out for breakfast to the only place he could find, which was the drive-through he had seen the day before. It had a small counter inside. He had more coffee and an English muffin filled with a round piece of ham and something that might have once been egg, first dried and powdered and then reconstituted. His threshold of culinary acceptability was very low, but right then he felt he might be pushing at the bottom edge of his personal envelope.

  He followed the muffin with a piece of lemon pie, for a sugar hit. It was better than the muffin, so he had a second piece, with a second cup of coffee. Then he walked south to the barbershop. He pulled the door and sat down in the chair at eight-thirty exactly.

  By which time the homicide investigation outside the Metropole Palace was already three hours old. The body in the alley had been discovered at half-past five in the morning by a cleaner coming in to work. The cleaner was a middle-aged man from Honduras. He didn't touch the body. Didn't check for vital signs. The way it was lying there told him all he needed to know. The slack emptiness of death is recognizable anywhere. The guy just rushed inside and told the night porter. Then he went home again, because he had no green card and didn't want to be around a police investigation. The night porter dialed 911 from the desk phone and then went out through the fire door to take a look. Came back inside thirty seconds later, not having enjoyed it.

  Two patrol cars and an ambulance showed up within eight minutes. Paramedics confirmed the DOA and the ambulance went away. The patrolmen blocked off the alley and the fire exit and then took a statement from the night porter. He said he had stepped out for some air and discovered the body himself, to protect the illegal from Honduras. It was close to true. Certainly the patrolmen had no reason to doubt his word. They just stood back and waited for Emerson.

  Emerson got there by six twenty-five. He brought his number two, a woman called Donna Bianca, and the city ME, and Bellantonio himself to run the crime scene. Technical work occupied the first thirty minutes. Measurement, photography, the accumulation of trace evidence. Then Emerson got the OK and stepped close to the body and ran into his first major problem. The girl had no purse and no ID. Nobody had the slightest idea who she was.

  Ann Yanni showed up behind the Metropole at seven-fifteen. She had an NBC crew with her, consisting of a cameraman and a sound guy with a microphone on a long boom. The microphone had a gray fur wind sock on it and the boom was ten feet long. The guy put his hips against the police tape and extended his arms as far as he could and heard Emerson's voice in his headphones. Emerson was talking to Bianca about prostitution.

  The ME had checked the girl's arms and thighs and between her toes and found no needle tracks. So she hadn't been there to score. So maybe she was hooking. Who else would come out the side door of a downtown hotel in the middle of the night, dressed like that? She was young and she still had her looks. Therefore she wouldn't have been cheap. Therefore she would have been carrying a big purse full of twenties that had just come out of some businessman's ATM. She had run into somebody waiting for her. Either somebody waiting for her specifically, or somebody waiting on the off chance for someone like her. Whoever, he had snatched her purse and hit her in the head, a little harder than necessary.

  A nineteen- or twenty-year-old who wasn't an addict wouldn't necessarily have been fingerprinted, unless she had a vice conviction somewhere. Emerson wasn't willing to count on that, therefore he didn't expect to discover her identity through the databases. He expected to discover it inside the hotel, either from the night porter who had pimped her in and out, or through the john who had called her.

  "Nobody leaves," he said to Bianca. "We'll talk to all the guests and all the staff one by one. So find a room somewhere. And tell all units to be on the lookout for a guy with more new twenties than he should have. "

  "A big guy," Bianca said.

  Emerson nodded. "A real big guy. That was some punch. "

  The ME took the body away to the morgue and Donna Bianca commandeered the hotel bar and the interviews were two-thirds through by eight-thirty in the morning.

  The barber was a competent old guy who had probably been cutting the same style for close to fifty years. He went for what the military would have called a whitewall. He left an inch and a half on the top and used his clippers to shave the bottom and the sides up toward it. Then he flipped the clippers over and squared off the sideburns and cleaned the fuzz off the neck. It was a style Reacher was familiar with. He had worn it most of his life, except for periods when he had been too lazy to care, and a couple of six-month stretches when he had favored an all-over number-one buzz cut.

  The barber did the thing with the hand mirror, to show Reacher the back.

  "Happy?" he asked.

  Reacher nodded. It looked OK, except that there was a half-inch margin all around where his skin was dead white. He had had longer hair in Miami and the tan hadn't penetrated. The barber brushed the clippings off his collar and removed the towel. Reacher gave him his seven bucks and tipped him a dollar. Then he walked around the block. Nobody followed him. He unlocked his room and washed his face and shaved under his sideburns again. There was a new half-inch of stubble there. The barber's clippers had been a little blunt.

  The Metropole interviews were finished by nine-twenty and they gave Emerson absolutely nothing at all. The night porter swore blind that he knew nothing about the girl. There were only eleven guests and none of them was promising. Emerson was an experienced and talented detective and he knew that people sometimes tell the truth. And he knew that accepting the truth was as important a part of a detective's professional arsenal as rejecting lies. So he conferred with Donna Bianca and together they concluded they had just wasted the best part of three hours on a faulty hunch.

  Then a guy named Gary called, from the auto parts store.

  Gary had gotten to work at eight and had found himself really short-staffed. There was still no sign of Jeb Oliver and Sandy hadn't shown, either. At first he had been annoyed. He had called her apartment and gotten no reply. On her way, he had assumed. Late. But she never showed. Thereafter he called every thirty minutes. By nine-thirty the annoyance had given way to worry and he started thinking about auto wrecks. So he called the cops for information. The desk guy told him there had been no traffic accidents that morning. Then there was a pregnant pause and the desk guy seemed to consider another possibility and asked for a name and a description. Gary said Alexandra Dupree, known as Sandy, nineteen years old, white, petite, green and red. Ten seconds after that Gary was speaking to a detective called Emerson on a cell phone.

  Gary agreed to close the store for the day and Emerson sent a patrol car to pick him up. First stop was the morgue. Gary identified the body and was white and badly shaken when he arrived in Emerson's office. Donna Bianca calmed him down and Emerson watched him carefully. Statistics show that women get killed by husbands, boyfriends, brothers, employers, and workmates-in descending order of likelihood-well before passing strangers show up on the list of possible suspects. And sometimes a boyfriend and a workmate can be the same guy. But Emerson knew that Gary was in the clear. He was too shaken. No way could a person fake that kind of sudden shock and surprise over something he had already known about for eight or ten hours.

  So Emerson started in, gently, with all the usual cop questions. Last time you saw her? Know anything about her private life? Family? Boyfriends? Ex-boyfriends?
Weird phone calls? Did she have any enemies? Problems? Money troubles?

  And then, inevitably: Anything unusual over the last couple of days?

  And so by ten-fifteen Emerson knew all about the stranger that had come to the store the day before. Very tall, heavily built, tan, aggressive, demanding, wearing olive-green pants and an olive-green flannel shirt. He had spent two mysterious sessions with Sandy in the back office, and had borrowed her car, and had demanded Jeb Oliver's address with menace, and Jeb Oliver was missing, too.

  Emerson left Gary with Donna Bianca and went out to the corridor and used his cell to call Alex Rodin in his office.

  "Your lucky day," he said. "We've got a nineteen-year-old female homicide victim. Someone broke her neck. "

  "How does that make me lucky?"

  "Her last unexplained contact was yesterday, at her place of work, with a guy that sounds a whole lot like our pal Jack Reacher. "


  "We got a pretty good description from her boss. And her neck was busted by a single blow to the side of the head, which ain't easy unless you're built like Reacher is. "

  "Who was the girl?"

  "A redhead from the auto parts store out toward the highway. There's also a boy missing from the same store. "

  "Where did this thing happen?"

  "Outside the Metropole Palace Hotel. "

  "Is that where Reacher is staying?"

  "Not according to the register. "

  "So is he a suspect or not?"

  "Right now he looks pretty damn good for it. "

  "So when are you going to bring him in?"

  "As soon as I find him. "

  "I'll call Helen," Alex Rodin said. "She'll know where he is. "

  Rodin lied to his daughter. He told her that Bellantonio needed to see Reacher to correct a possible misunderstanding about part of the prosecution's evidence.

  "What part?" Helen asked.

  "Just something they discussed. Probably nothing important, but I'm playing this very cautiously. Don't want to hand you grounds for an appeal. "

  The traffic cone, Helen thought.

  "He's on his way to the airport," she said.


  "To say hello to Eileen Hutton. "

  "They know each other?"

  "Apparently. "

  "That's unethical. "

  "To know each other?"

  "To influence her testimony. "

  "I'm sure he won't do that. "

  "When will he be back?"

  "After lunch, I think. "

  "OK," Rodin said. "It'll keep. "

  But it didn't keep, of course. Emerson left for the airport immediately. He had met Reacher twice face-to-face and could pick him out of a crowd. Donna Bianca went with him. They went in together through a restricted area and found a security office that looked out over the whole arrivals hall through one-way glass. They scanned the waiting faces carefully. No sign of Reacher. Not here yet. So they settled down to wait.

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