The Hard Way by Lee Child

  looked up at Patti Joseph's window. It was dark. The room behind it was unlit. Therefore she was alone. He pictured her in the chair behind the sill, in the gloom. Pictured her pen scratching on her pad of paper. 2327 hrs., Burke and Venti leave TDA on foot, head

  east toward Central Park. Or CP. A person who wrote TDA for the Dakota would write CP for Central Park, surely. And maybe she had dropped Venti and was using his real name now. He had told her what it was. Maybe she had written Burke and Reacher leave TDA.

  Or maybe she was asleep. She had to sleep sometime.

  "That question you asked," Burke said.

  "What question?" Reacher said.

  "Who knew Mrs. Lane loved Bloomingdale's?"

  "What about it?"

  "It was a good question," Burke said.

  "What's the answer?"

  "There's another question," Burke said.

  "Which is?"

  "Who knew she was heading there that particular morning?"

  "I'm assuming you all knew," Reacher said.

  "Yes, I guess we all did, more or less."

  "Therefore it's not much of a question."

  "I think there's inside involvement," Burke said. "Somebody tipped somebody off."

  "Was it you?"


  Reacher stopped at the crosswalk on Central Park West. Burke stopped beside him. He was as black as coal, a small man, about the size and shape of an old-fashioned Major League second baseman. A Hall of Famer. Like Joe Morgan. He had the same physical self-confidence in the way he held himself.

  The light changed. The upright red hand blinked out and the forward-leaning white man came on. Reacher had always regretted the switch from the words WALK and DONT WALK. Given the choice, he preferred words to pictograms. And as a kid he had been scandalized by the bad punctuation. Ten thousand missing apostrophes in every city in America. It had been a secret thrill, to know better.

  He stepped off the curb.

  "What happened after Anne?" he asked.

  "With the four guys who took her?" Burke said. "That's strictly need-to-know."

  "I'm guessing you helped out."

  "No comment."

  "Did they admit it?"

  "No," Burke said. "They claimed it was nothing to do with them."

  "But you didn't believe them."

  "What else were they going to say?"

  They reached the far sidewalk. The park loomed ahead of them, dark and empty. The music had ended.

  "Where are we going?" Reacher asked.

  "Doesn't matter," Burke said. "I just wanted to talk."

  "About the insider involvement?"


  They turned south together and headed for Columbus Circle. There were lights and traffic down there. Crowds on the sidewalks.

  "Who do you think it was?" Reacher asked.

  "I have no idea," Burke said.

  "Then that's a pretty short conversation," Reacher said. "Isn't it? You wanted to talk, but you don't have much to talk about.'

  Burke said nothing.

  "But who got tipped off?" Reacher asked. "Not who did the tipping. I think that would be the more important answer. And I think that's what you want to tell me."

  Burke said nothing. Just walked on in silence.

  "You as good as dragged me out here," Reacher said. "Not because you're worried if I'm getting enough fresh air and exercise."

  Burke stayed quiet.

  "You going to make me play Twenty Questions?" Reacher said.

  "That might be the best way to do it," Burke said.

  "You think this is about the money?"

  "No," Burke said.

  "So the money is a smokescreen?"

  "Half the equation at best. Maybe a parallel aim."

  "The other half of the equation being punishment?"

  "You got it."

  "You think there's someone out there with a grudge against Lane?"


  "One person?"


  "How many?"

  "Theoretically there might be hundreds," Burke said. "Or thousands. Whole nations, maybe. We've messed with a lot of people, here and there."


  "More than one person," Burke said.



  "What kind of a grudge?"

  "What's the worst thing one man can do to another?"

  "Depends who you are," Reacher said.

  "Exactly," Burke said. "So who are we?"

  Reacher thought: Navy SEALs, Delta Force, Recon Marines, Green Berets, SAS from Britain. The best in the world,

  "Special Forces soldiers," he said.

  "Exactly," Burke said again. "So what don't we do?"

  "You don't leave bodies behind on the battlefield."

  Burke said nothing.

  "But Lane did," Reacher said. "He left two bodies behind."

  Burke stopped on the north curve of Columbus Circle. Traffic roared all around. Headlight beams swept wild tangents. To the right, the tall silvery bulk of a brand-new building. A wide base blocking 59th Street and twin towers rising above.

  "So what are you saying?" Reacher asked. "They had brothers or sons? Someone's come out of the woodwork looking for revenge? Finally? On their behalf?"

  "Doesn't necessarily take brothers or sons," Burke said.


  "Doesn't necessarily take buddies, either."

  "So who?"

  Burke didn't answer. Reacher stared at him.

  "Christ," he said. "You left two guys behind alive}"

  "Not me," Burke said. "Not us. It was Lane."

  "And you think they finally made it home?"

  "I'm sure they would have tried hard."

  "Hobart and Knight," Reacher said.

  "You know their names."


  "How? Who have you been talking to? There's nothing about them in those file cabinets you were looking through. Or in the computer. They've been erased. Like they never existed. Like they're dirty little secrets. Which they are."

  "What happened with them?"

  "They were wounded. According to Lane. We never saw them. They were in forward observation posts and we heard small arms fire. Lane went up the line and came back and said they were hit bad and couldn't possibly make it. He said we couldn't bring them in. He said we'd lose too many guys trying. He flat ordered us to pull out. We left them there."

  "And what do you suppose happened to them?"

  "We assumed they'd be taken prisoner. In which case we assumed their life expectancy would be about a minute and a half."

  I think Lane made sure they didn't come hack.

  "Where was this?" Reacher asked.

  "I can't tell you," Burke said. "I'd go to jail."

  "Why did you stick around afterward? All this time?"

  "Why wouldn't I?"

  "Sounds like you're unhappy with how things went down."

  "I obey orders. And I let officers decide things. That's how it always was and that's how it always will be."

  "Does he know they're back? Lane?"

  "You're not listening," Burke said. "Nobody knows they're back. Nobody even knows if they're alive. I'm just guessing, is all. Based on how big of a deal this all is."

  "Would they do it? Hobart and Knight? Hurt a woman and a child to put a scare into Lane?"

  "You mean, is it justified? Of course it isn't. But would they do it? Hell yes, they would do it. Pragmatic people do what works. Especially after what Lane did to them."

  Reacher nodded. "Who would be talking to them? From the inside?"

  "I don't know."

  "What were they?"


  "Like Carter Groom."

  "Yes," Burke said. "Like Carter Groom."

  Reacher said nothing.

  "Marines hate that," Burke said. "Especially Recon Marines. They hate leaving guys behind. More than anyone. It's their code."

  "So wh
y does he stick around?"

  "Same reason I do. Ours is not to reason why. That's also a code."

  "Maybe in the service," Reacher said. "Not necessarily in some half-assed private company."

  "I don't see a difference."

  "Well, you ought to, soldier."

  "Watch your mouth, pal. I'm helping you out here. I'm earning you a million bucks. You find Hobart and

  Knight, you find Kate and Jade, too."

  "You think?"

  "Dollars to doughnuts. A million dollars to doughnuts. So watch your mouth."

  "I don't need to watch my mouth," Reacher said. "If you've still got a code, then I'm still an officer, I

  can say what I like and you can stand there and take it and salute."

  Burke turned away from the swirling river of traffic in front of him and headed back north. Reacher let him get five yards away and then caught up and fell in beside him. Nothing more was said. Ten minutes later they turned onto 72nd Street. Reacher glanced up and to his left. Patti's Joseph's window was blazing with light.



  REACHER SAID , "You go on ahead. I'm going to walk some more."

  "Why?" Burke asked.

  "You gave me things to think about."

  "You can't think unless you're walking?"

  "No point looking for Hobart and Knight inside the apartment."

  "That's for sure. They were erased."

  "One more thing," Reacher said. "When did Lane and Kate get together?"

  "Soon after Anne died. Lane doesn't like to be alone."

  "Do they get along OK?"

  "They're still married," Burke said.

  "What does that mean?"

  "It means they get along OK."

  "How well?"

  "Well enough."

  "As well as he got along with Anne? The first time around?"

  Burke nodded. "About the same."

  "I'll see you later," Reacher said.

  Reacher watched Burke disappear inside the Dakota and then moved on west, away from Patti Joseph's place. Routine caution, which paid off big time when he glanced back and saw Burke coming after him. Clearly Burke had turned around inside the Dakota's lobby and was trying a pretty poor imitation of a clandestine tail. He was sneaking along in the shadows, his black skin and his black clothes mostly invisible but lit up like a superstar every time he passed under a streetlight.

  He doesn't trust me, Reacher thought. A Delta noncom doesn't trust an MP. Well, there's a big surprise.

  Reacher walked to the end of the block and took the stairs down to the subway. To the northbound platform. Used his Metrocard at the turnstile. He figured Burke wouldn't have a Metrocard. Lane's people drove everywhere. In which case Burke would be hung up at the machine, swiping his credit card or feeding creased bills into the slot. In which case the tail would fail at the first hurdle. If a train came soon.

  Which it didn't.

  It was midnight, and the trains were well into their off-peak schedules. Average wait time was probably fifteen or twenty minutes. Reacher was ready to get lucky, but he didn't. He turned and saw Burke collect

  a brand-new card from the machine and hang back, just waiting.

  Reacher thought: He doesn't want to be on the platform with me. He's going to come through the turnstile at the last possible minute.

  Reacher waited. There were twelve people waiting with him. A knot of three, a knot of two, seven people on their own. Mostly they were well dressed. They were folks going home after movies or restaurant meals, heading back to cheaper rents in the hundreds or all the way up in Hudson Heights.

  The tunnel stayed quiet. The air was warm. Reacher leaned on a pillar and waited. Then he heard the rails start their strange metallic keening. A train, half a mile away. He saw a faint light in the darkness and felt the push of hot air. Then the noise built and twelve people on the platform shuffled forward.

  Reacher shuffled backward.

  He pressed himself into a maintenance recess the size of a phone booth. Stood still. A train rolled in, fast, long, loud, hissing and squealing. A 1 train, local. Shiny aluminum, bright windows. It stopped. People got off, people got on. Then Burke came through the turnstile and made it through the doors just before they closed. The train moved away, left to right, and Reacher saw Burke through the windows. He was walking forward, eyes front, hunting his quarry, car by car.

  He would be all the way up in the Bronx, 242nd Street, Van Cortlandt Park, before he realized his quarry wasn't on the train at all.

  Reacher came out of the recess and brushed dirt off the shoulders of his shirt. Headed for the exit and up to the street. He was down two bucks, but he was alone, which was what he wanted to be.

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