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Bad Luck and Trouble, Page 2

Lee Child

  But there was a lot he did know about her. She was smart and resourceful and thorough. And very tough. And strangely uninhibited. Not in terms of personal relationships. She avoided personal relationships. She was intensely private and resisted any kind of closeness, physical or emotional. Her lack of inhibition was professional. If she felt something was right or necessary, then she was uncompromising. Nothing stood in her way, not politics or practicality or politeness or even what a civilian might call “the law.” At one point Reacher had recruited her to a special investigations unit. She had been a big part of it for two crucial years. Most people put its occasional spectacular successes down to Reacher’s leadership, but Reacher himself put them down to her presence. She impressed him, deeply. Sometimes even came close to scaring him.

  If she was calling for urgent assistance, it wasn’t because she had lost her car keys.

  She worked for a private security provider in Chicago. He knew that. At least she had four years ago, which was the last time he had come into contact with her. She had left the army a year later than he had and gone into business with someone she knew. As a partner, he guessed, not an employee.

  He dug back in his pocket and came out with more quarters. Dialed long distance information. Asked for Chicago. Gave the company name, as he remembered it. The human operator disappeared and a robot voice came on the line with a number. Reacher broke the connection and redialed. A receptionist responded and Reacher asked for Frances Neagley. He was answered politely and put on hold. Altogether his impression was of a larger operation than he had imagined. He had pictured a single room, a grimy window, maybe two battered desks, bulging file cabinets. But the receptionist’s measured voice and the telephone clicks and the quiet hold music spoke of a much bigger place. Maybe two floors, cool white corridors, wall art, an internal phone directory.

  A man’s voice came on the line: “Frances Neagley’s office.”

  Reacher asked, “Is she there?”

  “May I know who’s calling?”

  “Jack Reacher.”

  “Good. Thank you for getting in touch.”

  “Who are you?”

  “I’m Ms. Neagley’s assistant.”

  “She has an assistant?”


  “Is she there?”

  “She’s en route to Los Angeles. In the air right now, I think.”

  “Is there a message for me?”

  “She wants to see you as soon as possible.”

  “In Chicago?”

  “She’ll be in LA a few days at least. I think you should go there.”

  “What’s this all about?”

  “I don’t know.”

  “Not work related?”

  “Can’t be. She’d have started a file. Discussed it here. She wouldn’t be reaching out to strangers.”

  “I’m not a stranger. I’ve known her longer than you have.”

  “I’m sorry. I wasn’t aware of that.”

  “Where is she staying in LA?”

  “I don’t know that either.”

  “So how am I supposed to find her?”

  “She said you’d be able to track her down.”

  Reacher asked, “What is this, some kind of a test?”

  “She said if you can’t find her, she doesn’t want you.”

  “Is she OK?”

  “She’s worried about something. But she didn’t tell me what.”

  Reacher kept the receiver at his ear and turned away from the wall. The metal phone cord wrapped around his chest. He glanced at the idling buses and the departures board. He asked, “Who else is she reaching out to?”

  The guy said, “There’s a list of names. You’re the first to get back to her.”

  “Will she call you when she lands?”


  “Tell her I’m on my way.”


  Reacher took a shuttle from the bus depot to the Portland airport and bought a one-way ticket on United to LAX. He used his passport for ID and his ATM card as a debit card. The one-way walk-up fare was outrageous. Alaska Airlines would have been cheaper, but Reacher hated Alaska Airlines. They put a scripture card on their meal trays. Ruined his appetite.

  Airport security was easy for Reacher. His carry-on baggage amounted to precisely none at all. He had no belt, no keys, no cell phone, no watch. All he had to do was dump his loose change in a plastic tray and take off his shoes and walk through the X-ray hoop. Thirty seconds, beginning to end. Then he was on his way to the gate, coins back in his pocket, shoes back on his feet, Neagley on his mind.

  Not work related. Therefore, private business. But as far as he was aware she had no private business. No private life. She never had. She would have everyday trivia, he guessed, and everyday problems. Like anyone. But he couldn’t conceive of her needing help with any of that kind of stuff. A noisy neighbor? Any sane man would sell his stereo after one short conversation with Frances Neagley. Or give it away to charity. Drug dealers on her corner? They would end up as a line item on an inside page of the morning newspaper, corpses found in an alley, multiple knife wounds, no suspects at this time. A stalker? A groper on the elevated train? Reacher shuddered. Neagley hated to be touched. He didn’t really know why. But anything except brief accidental contact with her would earn a guy a broken arm. Maybe two broken arms.

  So what was her problem?

  The past, he guessed, which meant the army.

  A list of names? Maybe chickens were coming home to roost. The army seemed like a long time ago to Reacher. A different era, a different world. Different rules. Maybe someone was applying today’s standards to yesterday’s situations, and complaining about something. Maybe a long-delayed internal inquiry had started up. Reacher’s special investigations unit had cut a lot of corners and busted a lot of heads. Someone, maybe Neagley herself, had come up with a catchphrase: You do not mess with the special investigators. It had been repeated endlessly, as a promise, and a warning. Deadpan, and deadly serious.

  Now maybe someone was messing with the special investigators. Maybe subpoenas and indictments were flying around. But in that case why would Neagley compromise him? He was as close to untraceable as a human being in America could get. Wouldn’t she just play dumb and leave him be?

  He shook his head and gave it up and got on the plane.

  He used the flight time figuring out where in LA she would hole up. Back in the day it had been part of his job to find people, and he had been pretty good at it. Success depended on empathy. Think like them, feel like them. See what they see. Put yourself in their shoes. Be them.

  Easier with AWOL soldiers, of course. Their aimlessness gave their decisions a special kind of purity. And they were heading away from something, not toward something. Often they would adopt a kind of unconscious geographic symbolism. If their route into a city was from the east, they would hole up on the west. They would want to put mass between themselves and their pursuers. Reacher would spend an hour with a map and a bus schedule and the Yellow Pages and often he would predict the exact block he would find them on. The exact motel.

  Tougher with Neagley, because she was heading for something. Her private business, and he didn’t know where or what it was. So, first principles. What did he know about her? What would be the determining factor? Well, she was cheap. Not because she was poor or a miser, but because she didn’t see the point in spending a buck on something she didn’t need. And she didn’t need much. She didn’t need turn-down service or a mint on the pillow. She didn’t need room service or tomorrow’s weather forecast. She didn’t need fluffy robes and complementary slippers heat-sealed in cellophane. All she needed was a bed and a door that locked. And crowds, and shadows, and the kind of anonymous low-rent transient neighborhoods where bartenders and desk clerks had short memories.

  So, scratch downtown. Not Beverly Hills, either.

  So where? Where in the vastness of LA would she be comfortable?

  There were twenty-one
thousand miles of surface streets to choose from.

  Reacher asked himself, Where would I go?

  Hollywood, he answered. A little ways south and east of the good stuff. The wrong stretch of Sunset.

  That’s where I would go, he thought.

  And that’s where she’ll be.

  The plane landed at LAX a little late, well after lunch. There had been no meal service on board and Reacher was hungry. Samantha the Portland prosecutor had served him coffee and a bran muffin for breakfast, but that seemed like a long time ago.

  He didn’t stop to eat. Just headed out to the taxi line and got a Korean guy in a yellow Toyota minivan who wanted to talk about boxing. Reacher knew nothing about boxing and cared less. The sport’s obvious artificiality turned him off. Padded gloves and above-the-belt rules had no place in his world. And he didn’t like talking. So he just sat quietly in the back and let the guy ramble on. He watched the hot brown afternoon light through the window. Palm trees, movie billboards, light gray traffic lanes striped with endless twin tracks of rubber. And cars, rivers of cars, floods of cars. He saw a new Rolls-Royce and an old Citroën DS, both black. A bloodred MGA and a pastel blue ’57 Thunderbird, both open. A yellow 1960 Corvette nose-to-tail with a green 2007 model. He figured if you watched LA traffic long enough you would see one of every automobile ever manufactured.

  The driver took the 101 north and exited a block from Sunset. Reacher got out on the off-ramp and paid the fare. Hiked south and turned left and faced east. He knew Sunset had a dense knot of cheap places right there, both sides of the boulevard, covering about three-quarters of a mile. The air was southern California warm and smelled of dust and gasoline fumes. He stood still. He had a potential mile-and-a-half walk ahead of him, down and back, and a dozen motel desks to canvass. An hour-long task, maybe more. He was hungry. He could see a Denny’s sign ahead and on the right. A chain diner. He decided to eat first and work later.

  He walked past parked cars and vacant lots boxed in by hurricane fencing. Stepped over trash and softball-sized tumbleweeds. Recrossed the 101 on a long bridge. Entered the Denny’s lot by cutting across a grass shoulder and the drive-through lane. Walked past a long line of windows.

  Saw Frances Neagley inside, sitting alone in a booth.


  Reacher stood for a moment in the parking lot and watched Neagley through the window. She hadn’t changed much in the four years since he had last seen her. She had to be nearer forty than thirty now, but it wasn’t showing. Her hair was still long and dark and shiny. Her eyes were still dark and alive. She was still slim and lithe. Still spending serious time in the gym. That was clear. She was wearing a tight white T-shirt with tiny cap sleeves and it would have taken an electron microscope to find any body fat on her arms. Or anyplace else.

  She was a little tan, which looked good with her coloring. Her nails were done. Her T-shirt looked like a quality item. Overall she looked richer than he remembered her. Comfortable, at home in her world, successful, accustomed to the civilian life. For a moment he felt awkward about his own cheap clothes and his scuffed shoes and his bad barbershop haircut. Like she was making it, and he wasn’t. Then the pleasure of seeing an old friend swamped the thought and he walked on through the lot to the door. Went in and stepped past the Please Wait to Be Seated sign and slid straight into her booth. She looked up at him across the table and smiled.

  “Hello,” she said.

  “To you, too,” he said.

  “Want lunch?”

  “That was my plan.”

  “So let’s order, now you’re finally here.”

  He said, “You sound like you were waiting for me.”

  “I was. And you’re about on time.”

  “Am I?”

  Neagley smiled again. “You called my office guy from Portland, Oregon. He saw the caller ID. Traced it to a pay phone at the bus depot. We figured you’d head straight for the airport. Then I figured you’d take United. You must hate Alaska Airlines. Then a cab ride here. Your ETA was easy enough to predict.”

  “You knew I would come here? To this diner?”

  “Like you taught me, back in the day.”

  “I didn’t teach you anything.”

  “You did,” Neagley said. “Remember? Think like them, be them. So I was being you being me. You’d figure I’d head for Hollywood. You’d start right here on Sunset. But there’s no meal on United from Portland, so I figured you’d be hungry and want to eat first. There are a couple of possible places on the block but this one has the biggest sign and you’re no gourmet. So I decided to meet you here.”

  “Meet me here? I thought I was tracking you.”

  “You were. And I was tracking you tracking me.”

  “Are you staying here? In Hollywood?”

  She shook her head. “Beverly Hills. The Wilshire.”

  “So you came out here just to scoop me up?”

  “I got here ten minutes ago.”

  “The Beverly Wilshire? You’ve changed.”

  “Not really. It’s the world that has changed. Cheap motels don’t do it for me anymore. I need e-mail and the internet and FedEx service now. Business centers and concierges.”

  “You make me feel old-fashioned.”

  “You’re improving. You use ATMs now.”

  “That was a good move. The bank balance message.”

  “You taught me well.”

  “I didn’t teach you anything.”

  “Like hell.”

  “But it was an extravagant move,” Reacher said. “Ten dollars and thirty cents would have worked just as well. Maybe even better, with the period between the ten and the thirty.”

  Neagley said, “I thought you might need the airfare.”

  Reacher said nothing.

  “I found your account, obviously,” Neagley said. “Wasn’t too much more trouble to hack in and take a look. You’re not rich.”

  “I don’t want to be rich.”

  “I know. But I didn’t want you to have to respond to my ten-thirty on your own dime. That wouldn’t have been fair.”

  Reacher shrugged and let it go. Truth was, he wasn’t rich. Truth was, he was almost poor. His savings had eroded to the point where he was starting to think about how to boost them back up again. Maybe a couple of months of casual labor were in his future. Or some other kind of a score. The waitress came over with menus. Neagley ordered without looking, a cheeseburger and a soda. Reacher matched her for speed, tuna melt and hot coffee. The waitress retrieved the menus and went away.

  Reacher said, “So are you going to tell me what your ten-thirty was for exactly?”

  Neagley answered him by leaning down and pulling a black three-ring binder out of a tote bag on the floor. She passed it across the table. It was a copy of an autopsy report.

  “Calvin Franz is dead,” she said. “I think someone threw him out of an airplane.”


  The past, which meant the army. Calvin Franz had been an MP and Reacher’s exact contemporary and pretty much his equal all the way through his thirteen years of service. They had met here and there in the way that brother officers often tended to, rubbing shoulders in different parts of the world for a day or two at a time, consulting on the phone, crossing paths when two or more investigations had tangled or collided. Then they had done a serious spell together in Panama. Quality time. It had been very short but very intense, and they had seen things in each other that left them feeling more like real brothers than brother officers. After Reacher had been rehabilitated from his temporary demotion disgrace and given the special investigations operation to build, Franz’s name had been near the top of his personnel wish list. They had spent the next two years together in a real unit-within-a-unit hothouse. They had become fast friends. Then as often happened in the army, new orders had come in and the special operation had been