The Hard Way by Lee Child

  I hope so, Reacher thought. Left hand. Index finger, curled. Ring finger, straight. Middle finger, straight. Middle finger, curled. 3785. I hope.

  He pulled the closet door and entered 3785 on the security keypad. There was an agonizing second's wait and then it beeped and the inner door's latch clicked.

  "He never gave me the combination," Kowalski said.

  "But I bet he lets you be the lifeguard out in the Hamptons."

  Reacher opened the inner door and pulled the chain for the light. The closet was about six feet deep and three wide. A narrow walk space on the left, money on the right. Bales of it. All of them were intact except for one that was opened and half-empty. That was the one Lane had thrown around the room and then repacked. Reacher dragged it out. Carried it to the bed and dumped it down. Kowalski stayed at his shoulder.

  "You know how to count?" Reacher asked.

  "Funny man," Kowalski said.

  "So count that."

  Reacher stepped back to the closet and eased in sideways and crouched. Hefted an intact plastic bale off the top of the pile and turned it over and over in his hands and checked all six sides. On one face under the legend Banque Centrale there was smaller print that said Gouvernement National, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Under that was printed: USD 1,000,000. The plastic was old and thick and grimy.

  Reacher licked the ball of his thumb and rubbed a small circle and saw Ben Franklin's face. Hundred-dollar bills. Ten thousand of them in the bale. The heat shrink was original and untouched. A million bucks, unless the gentlemen bankers of Burkina Faso's national government in O-Town had been cheating, which they probably hadn't.

  A million bucks, in a package about as heavy as a loaded carry-on suitcase. Altogether there were ten intact bales. And ten empty wrappers.

  A total of twenty million dollars, once upon a time.

  "Fifty packets," Kowalski called from the bed. "Ten thousand dollars each."

  "So how much is that?" Reacher called back. Silence.

  "What, you were out sick the day they taught multiplication?"

  "It's a lot of money."

  You got that right, Reacher thought. It's five hundred grand. Half a million. Total of ten and a half million still here, total of ten and a half million gone.

  Original grand total, back in the day, twenty-one million dollars.

  The whole of the Burkina Faso payment, Lane's capital, untouched for five years. Untouched until three days ago.

  Kowalski appeared in the closet doorway with the torn wrapper. He had repacked the remaining money neatly into two equal stacks with one extra brick sideways across the top. Then he had bundled and folded the heavy plastic into a tidy package that was about half the original size and almost opaque.

  Reacher said, "Were you out sick the day they taught numbers, too?" Kowalski said nothing.

  "Because I wasn't," Reacher said. "I showed up that day." Silence.

  "See, there are even numbers and there are odd numbers. An even number would make two stacks the same size. I guess that's why they call them even. But with an odd number, you'd have to lay the extra one sideways across the top."

  Kowalski said nothing.

  "Fifty is an even number," Reacher said. "Whereas, for instance, forty-nine is an odd number."

  "So what?"

  "So take the ten grand you stole out of your pocket and give it to me." Kowalski stood still.

  "Make a choice," Reacher said. "You want to keep that ten grand, you'll have to beat me in a fistfight. If you do, then you'll want to take more, and you will take more, and then you'll run. And then you'll be on the outside, and Lane and his guys will come and shake the trees for you. You want it to be that way?"

  Kowalski said nothing.

  "You wouldn't beat me anyway," Reacher said.

  "You think?"

  "Demi Moore could kick your ass."

  "I'm a trained man."

  "Trained to do what? Swim? You see any water here?" Kowalski said nothing.

  "The first punch will decide it," Reacher said. "It always does. So who are you going to back? The runt or the big guy?"

  "You don't want me for an enemy," Kowalski said.

  "I wouldn't want you for a friend," Reacher said. "That's for damn sure. I wouldn't want to go with you to Africa. I wouldn't want to crawl up to a forward OP with you watching my back. I wouldn't want to turn around and see you driving off into the sunset."

  "You don't know how it was."

  "I know exactly how it was. You left two men three hundred yards up the line. You're disgusting."

  "You weren't there."

  "You're a disgrace to the uniform you once wore." Kowalski said nothing.

  "But you know which side your bread is buttered," Reacher said. "Don't you? And you don't want to get caught biting the hand that feeds you. Do you?"

  Kowalski held still for a long moment and then dropped the bundled package and reached behind him to his hip pocket and came back with a banded sheaf of hundred-dollar bills. It was folded in half. He dropped it on the floor and it resumed its former flat shape like a flower opening its petals. Reacher tucked it back in the open bale and heaved the bale onto the top of the stack. Pulled the chain and killed the light and closed the door. The electronic lock clicked and beeped.

  "OK?" Kowalski said. "No harm, no foul, right?"

  "Whatever," Reacher said.

  He led Kowalski back to the living room and then detoured to the kitchen and glanced in at the office. At the computer. At the file drawers. Something about them nagged at him. He stood in the empty silence for

  a second. Then a new thought struck him. Like an ice cube dropped down the back of his neck.

  "What trees are they shaking?" he asked.

  "Hospitals," Kowalski said. "We figure whoever is back has got to be sick."

  "Which hospitals?"

  "I don't know," Kowalski said. "All of them, presumably."

  "Hospitals don't tell anyone anything."

  "You think? You know what an ER nurse makes?" Silence for a moment.

  "I'm going out again," Reacher said. "You stay here."

  Three minutes later he was at the pay phone, dialing Pauling's cell.



  PAULING ANSWERED ON the second ring. Or the second vibration, Reacher thought. She said her name and Reacher asked, "You got a car?"

  She said, "No."

  "Then jump in a cab and get over to Dee Marie's place. Lane and his guys are out scouting hospitals, looking for either Knight or Hobart. They don't know which one came back yet. But it's only a matter of time before they hit Saint Vincent's and get a match on Hobart's name and buy his address. So I'll meet you there. We're going to have to move them."

  Then he hung up and flagged a cab of his own on Ninth Avenue. The driver was fast but the traffic was

  slow. It got a little better after they crossed Broadway. But not much. Reacher sprawled sideways on the seat and rested his head on the window. Breathed slow and easy. He thought: No use fretting about what you can't control. And he couldn't control Manhattan's traffic. Red lights controlled Manhattan's traffic. Approximately seventy-two of them between the Dakota Building and Hobart's current billet.

  Hudson Street runs one way south to north below West 14th so the cab took Bleecker and Seventh Avenue and Varick. Then it made the right into Charlton. Reacher stopped it halfway down the block and made the final approach on foot. There were three parked cars near Dee Marie's place. But none of them was an expensive sedan with OSC plates. He glanced south at the oncoming traffic and hit 4L's button. Pauling answered and Reacher said his name and the street door buzzed.

  Up on the fourth floor the apartment door still hung open. Burst hinges, splintered frame. Beyond it were voices in the living room. Dee Marie's, and Pauling's. Reacher stepped inside and they stopped talking. They just glanced beyond him at the door. He knew what they were thinking. It was no kind of a secure barrier against the outside world. Dee Marie
was still in her cotton shift but Pauling had changed. She was wearing jeans and a T-shirt. She looked good. Hobart himself was where Reacher had last seen him, propped up on the sofa. He looked bad. Pale and sick. But his eyes were blazing. He was angry. "Lane's coming here?" he asked.

  "Maybe," Reacher said. "Can't discount the possibility."

  "So what are we going to do?"

  "We're going to be smart. We're going to make sure he finds an empty apartment." Hobart said nothing. Then he nodded, a little reluctantly.

  "Where should you be?" Reacher asked him. "Medically?"

  "Medically?" Hobart said.

  "I have no idea. I guess Dee Marie did some checking."

  Dee Marie said, "Birmingham, Alabama, or Nashville, Tennessee. One of the big university hospitals down there. I got brochures. They're good."

  "Not Walter Reed?" Reacher said.

  "Walter Reed is good when they get them fresh from the battlefield. But his left foot happened nearly five years ago. And even his right wrist is completely healed. Healed all wrong, but healed all the same. So he needs a whole lot of preliminary stuff first. Bone work, and reconstruction. And that's after the malaria and the tuberculosis are taken care of. And the malnutrition and the parasites."

  "We can't get him to Birmingham or Nashville tonight."

  "We can't get him there ever. The surgery alone could be over two hundred thousand dollars. The prosthetics could be even more than that." She picked up two brochures from a small table and handed them over. There were expensive graphics and glossy photographs on the fronts. Blue skies, green lawns, warm brick buildings. Inside were details of surgical programs and prosthetics designers. There were more photographs. Kindly men with white hair and white coats cradled mechanical limbs like babies. One-legged people in athletic vests braced themselves on sleek titanium struts at marathon start lines. The captions under the pictures were full of optimism.

  "Looks good," Reacher said. He handed the brochures back. Dee Marie put them exactly where they had been before, on the table.

  "Pie in the sky," she said.

  "A motel tonight," Pauling said. "Somewhere close. Maybe we could rent you a car. Can you drive?" Dee Marie said nothing.

  "Take the offer, Dee," Hobart said. "Easier on you."

  "I have a license,' Dee Marie said.

  "Maybe we could even rent a wheelchair."

  "That would be good," Hobart said. "A ground floor room, and a wheelchair. Easier for you. Dee."

  "Maybe an efficiency," Pauling said. "With a little kitchen. For the cooking."

  "I can't afford it," Dee Marie said.

  The room went quiet and Reacher stepped out the front door and checked the hallway. Checked the stairwell. Nothing was happening. He came back inside and pulled the door as far closed as it would go. Turned left in the entry and walked past the bathroom to the bedroom. It was a small space nearly filled by a queen bed. He guessed Hobart slept there, because the night table was piled with tubes of antiseptic creams and bottles of over-the-counter painkillers. The bed was high. He pictured Dee Marie hoisting her brother on her back, turning around, reversing toward the bed, dumping him down on the mattress. He

  pictured her straightening him out, tucking him in. Then he pictured her heading for another night on the sofa.

  The bedroom window had a wood frame and the glass was streaked with soot. There were faded drapes, three-quarters open. Ornaments on the sill, and a color photograph of a Marine Lance Corporal. Vinnie, Reacher guessed. The dead husband. Blown to bits on a Fallujah roadside. Killed instantly, or not. He had the bill of his dress cap low on his brow and the colors in the picture were vivid and smoothed and airbrushed. An off-post photographer, Reacher guessed. Two prints for about a day's pay, two cardboard mailers included, one for the mother and one for the wife or the girlfriend. There were similar pictures of Reacher somewhere in the world. For a spell every time he got promoted he would have a picture taken and send it to his mother. She never displayed them, because he wasn't smiling. Reacher never smiled for the camera.

  He stepped close to the window and glanced north. Traffic flowed away from him like a river. He glanced south. Watched the traffic coming toward him.

  And saw a black Range Rover slowing and pulling in to the curb. License plate: OSC 19.

  Reacher spun around and was out of the bedroom in three long strides. Back in the living room after three more.

  "They're here," he said. "Now." Silence for a split second.

  Then Pauling said, "Shit."

  "What do we do?" Dee Marie said.

  "Bathroom," Reacher said. "All of you. Now."

  He stepped over to the sofa and grabbed the front of Hobart's denim shirt and lifted him into the air. Carried him to the bathroom and laid him gently in the tub. Dee Marie and Pauling crowded in after him. Reacher pushed his way past them and back out to the hallway.

  "You can't be out there," Pauling said.

  "I have to be," Reacher said. "Or they'll search the whole place."

  "They shouldn't find you here."

  "Lock the door," Reacher said. "Sit tight and keep quiet."

  He stood in the hallway and heard a click from the bathroom door and a second later the intercom buzzed from the street. He waited a beat and hit the button and said, "Yes?" Heard amplified traffic noise and then a voice. Impossible to tell whose it was.

  It said: "VA visiting nurse service." Reacher smiled. Nice, he thought.

  He hit the button again and said, "Come on up."

  Then he walked back to the living room and sat down on the sofa to wait.



  REACHER HEARD LOUD creaking from the staircase. Three people, he guessed. He heard them make the turn and start up toward four. Heard them stop at the head of the stairs, surprised by the broken door. Then he heard the door open. There was a quiet metallic groan from a damaged hinge and after that there was nothing but the sound of footsteps in the foyer.

  First into the living room was Perez, the tiny Spanish guy. Then Addison, with the knife scar above his eye.

  Then Edward Lane himself.

  Perez stepped left and stopped dead and Addison stepped right and stopped dead and Lane moved into the center of the small static arc and stood still and stared.

  "The hell are you doing here?" he asked.

  "I beat you to it," Reacher said.


  "Like I told you. I used to do this for a living. I could give you guys a mirror on a stick and I'd still be hours ahead of you."

  "So where is Hobart?"

  "Not here."

  "It was you who broke down the door?"

  "I didn't have a key."

  "Where is he?"

  "In the hospital."

  "Bullshit. We just checked."

  "Not here. In Birmingham, Alabama, or Nashville, Tennessee."

  "How do you figure that?"

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