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Nothing to Lose, Page 2

Lee Child

  “We can arrange that.” The guy who was standing nodded to one of the guys in the seats, who scraped his chair back and got up and headed for the kitchen. A long minute later he came back out with a man in a stained apron. The man in the apron was wiping his hands on a dish towel and didn’t look particularly worried or perturbed. He walked up to Reacher’s table and said, “I want you to leave my restaurant.”

  “Why?” Reacher asked.

  “I don’t need to explain myself.”

  “You the owner?”

  “Yes, I am.”

  Reacher said, “I’ll leave when I’ve had a cup of coffee.”

  “You’ll leave now.”

  “Black, no sugar.”

  “I don’t want trouble.”

  “You already got trouble. If I get a cup of coffee, I’ll walk out of here. If I don’t get a cup of coffee, these guys can try to throw me out, and you’ll spend the rest of the day cleaning blood off the floor and all day tomorrow shopping for new chairs and tables.”

  The guy in the apron said nothing.

  Reacher said, “Black, no sugar.”

  The guy in the apron stood still for a long moment and then headed back to the kitchen. A minute later the waitress came out with a single cup balanced on a saucer. She carried it across the room and set it down in front of Reacher, hard enough to slop some of the contents out of the cup and into the saucer.

  “Enjoy,” she said.

  Reacher lifted the cup and wiped the base on his sleeve. Set the cup down on the table and emptied the saucer into it. Set the cup back on the saucer and squared it in front of him. Then he raised it again and took a sip.

  Not bad, he thought. A little weak, a little stewed, but at heart it was a decent commercial product. Better than most diners, worse than most franchise places. Right in the middle of the curve. The cup was a porcelain monstrosity with a lip about three-eighths of an inch thick. It was cooling the drink too fast. Too wide, too shallow, too much mass. Reacher was no big fan of fine china, but he believed a receptacle ought to serve its contents.

  The four guys were still clustered all around. Two sitting, two standing now. Reacher ignored them and drank, slowly at first, and then faster as the coffee grew cold. He drained the cup and set it back on the saucer. Pushed it away, slowly and carefully, until it was exactly centered on the table. Then he moved his left arm fast and went for his pocket. The four guys jumped. Reacher came out with a dollar bill and flattened it and trapped it under the saucer.

  “So let’s go,” he said.

  The guy standing at the head of the table moved out of the way. Reacher scraped his chair back and stood up. Eleven customers watched him do it. He pushed his chair in neatly and stepped around the head of the table and headed for the door. He sensed the four guys behind him. Heard their boots on the tile. They were forming up in single file, threading between tables, stepping past the sign and the register. The room was silent.

  Reacher pushed the door and stepped outside to the street. The air was cool, but the sun was out. The sidewalk was concrete, cast in five-by-five squares. The squares were separated by inch-wide expansion joints. The joints were filled with black compound.

  Reacher turned left and took four steps until he was clear of the parked pick-up and then he stopped and turned back, with the afternoon sun behind him. The four guys formed up in front of him, with the sun in their eyes. The guy who had stood at the head of the table said, “Now you need to get out.”

  Reacher said, “I am out.”

  “Out of town.”

  Reacher said nothing.

  The guy said, “Make a left, and then Main Street is four blocks up. When you get there, turn either left or right, west or east. We don’t care which. Just keep on walking.”

  Reacher asked, “You still do that here?”

  “Do what?”

  “Run people out of town.”

  “You bet we do.”

  “You want to tell me why you do?”

  “We don’t have to tell you why we do.”

  Reacher said, “I just got here.”


  “So I’m staying.”

  The guy on the end of the line pushed his rolled cuffs above his elbows and took a step forward. Broken nose, missing teeth. Reacher glanced at the guy’s wrists. The width of a person’s wrists was the only failsafe indicator of a person’s raw strength. This guy’s were wider than a long-stemmed rose, narrower than a two-by-four. Closer to the two-by-four than the rose.

  Reacher said, “You’re picking on the wrong man.”

  The guy who had been doing all the talking said, “You think?”

  Reacher nodded. “I have to warn you. I promised my mother, a long time ago. She said I had to give folks a chance to walk away.”

  “You a momma’s boy?”

  “She liked to see fair play.”

  “There are four of us. One of you.”

  Reacher’s hands were down by his sides, relaxed, gently curled. His feet were apart, securely planted. He could feel the hard concrete through the soles of his shoes. It was textured. It had been brushed with a yard broom just before it dried, ten years earlier. He folded the fingers of his left hand flat against his palm. Raised the hand, very slowly. Brought it level with his shoulder, palm out. The four guys stared at it. The way his fingers were folded made them think he was hiding something. But what? He snapped his fingers open. Nothing there. In the same split second he moved sideways and heaved his right fist up like a convulsion and caught the guy who had stepped forward with a colossal uppercut to the jaw. The guy had been breathing through his mouth because of his broken nose and the massive impact snapped his jaw shut and lifted him up off the ground and dumped him back down in a vertical heap on the sidewalk. Like a puppet with the strings cut. Unconscious before he got halfway there.

  “Now there are only three of you,” Reacher said. “Still one of me.”

  They weren’t total amateurs. They reacted pretty well and pretty fast. They sprang back and apart into a wide defensive semicircle and crouched, fists ready.

  Reacher said, “You can still walk away.”

  The guy who had been doing the talking said, “You got lucky.”

  “Only suckers get sucker punched.”

  “Won’t happen twice.”

  Reacher said nothing.

  The guy said, “Get out of town. You can’t take us three-on-one.”

  “Try me.”

  “Can’t be done. Not now.”

  Reacher nodded. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe one of you will stay on your feet long enough to get to me.”

  “You can count on it.”

  “But the question you need to ask is, which one of you will it be? Right now you’ve got no way of knowing. One of you will be driving the other three to the hospital for a six-month stay. You want me out of town bad enough to take those odds?”

  Nobody spoke. Stalemate. Reacher rehearsed his next moves. A right-footed kick to the groin of the guy on his left, spin back with an elbow to the head for the guy in the middle, duck under the inevitable roundhouse swing incoming from the guy on the right, let him follow through, put an elbow in his kidney. One, two, three, no fundamental problem. Maybe a little cleanup afterward, more feet and elbows. Main difficulty would be limiting the damage. Careful restraint would be required. It was always wiser to stay on the right side of the line, closer to brawling than homicide.

  In the distance beyond the three guys Reacher could see people going about their lawful business on the sidewalks. He could see cars and trucks driving slow on the streets, pausing at four-way stops, moving on.

  Then he saw one particular car blow straight through a four-way and head in his direction. A Crown Victoria, white and gold, black push bars on the front, a light bar on the roof, antennas on the trunk lid. A shield on the door, with DPD scrolled across it. Despair Police Department. A heavyset cop in a tan jacket visible behind the glass.

  “Behind you,” Reach
er said. “The cavalry is here.” But he didn’t move. And he kept his eyes on the three guys. The cop’s arrival didn’t necessarily guarantee anything. Not yet. The three guys looked mad enough to move straight from a verbal warning to an actual assault charge. Maybe they already had so many they figured one more wouldn’t make any difference. Small towns. In Reacher’s experience they all had a lunatic fringe.

  The Crown Vic braked hard in the gutter. The door swung open. The driver took a riot gun from a holster between the seats. Climbed out. Pumped the gun and held it diagonally across his chest. He was a big guy. White, maybe forty. Black hair. Wide neck. Tan jacket, brown pants, black shoes, a groove in his forehead from a Smokey the Bear hat that was presumably now resting on his passenger seat. He stood behind the three guys and looked around. Surveyed the scene. Not exactly rocket science, Reacher thought. Three guys surrounding a fourth? We’re not discussing the weather here.

  The cop said, “Back off now.” Deep voice. Authoritative. The three guys stepped backward. The cop stepped forward. They swapped their relative positions. Now the three guys were behind the cop. The cop moved his gun. Pointed it straight at Reacher’s chest.

  “You’re under arrest,” he said.


  Reacher stood still and asked, “On what charge?”

  The cop said, “I’m sure I’ll think of something.” He swapped the gun into one hand and used the other to take the handcuffs out of the holder on his belt. He held them on the flat of his palm and one of the guys behind him stepped forward and took them from him and looped around behind Reacher’s back.

  “Put your arms behind you,” the cop said.

  “Are these guys deputized?” Reacher asked.

  “Why would you care?”

  “I don’t. But they should. They put their hands on me without a good reason, they get their arms broken.”

  “They’re all deputized,” the cop said. “Especially including the one you just laid out.”

  He put both hands back on his gun.

  “Self-defense,” Reacher said.

  “Save it for the judge,” the cop said.

  The guy behind him pulled Reacher’s arms back and cuffed his wrists. The guy who had done all the talking opened the cruiser’s rear door and stood there holding it like a hotel doorman with a taxicab.

  “Get in the car,” the cop said.

  Reacher stood still and considered his options. Didn’t take him long. He didn’t have any options. He was handcuffed. He had a guy about three feet behind him. He had a cop about eight feet in front of him. Two more guys three feet behind the cop. The riot gun was some kind of a Mossberg. He didn’t recognize the model, but he respected the brand.

  “In the car,” the cop said.

  Reacher moved forward and looped around the open door and jacked himself inside butt-first. The seat was covered in heavy vinyl and he slid across it easily. The floor was covered in pimpled rubber. The security screen was clear bulletproof plastic. He braced his feet, one in the left foot well and one in the right. Uncomfortable, with his hands cuffed behind him. He figured he was going to get bounced around.

  The cop got back in the front. The suspension yielded to his weight. He reholstered the Mossberg. Slammed his door and put the transmission in drive and stamped on the gas. Reacher was thrown back against the cushion. Then the guy braked hard for a stop sign and Reacher was tossed forward. He twisted as he went and took the blow against the plastic screen with his shoulder. The cop repeated the procedure at the next four-way. And the next. But Reacher was OK with it. It was to be expected. He had driven the same way in the past, in the days when he was the guy in the front and someone else was the guy in the back. And it was a small town. Wherever the police station was, it couldn’t be far.

  The police station was four blocks west and two blocks south of the restaurant. It was housed in another undistinguished brick building on a street wide enough to let the cop park nose-in to the curb on a diagonal. There was one other car there. That was all. Small town, small police department. The building had two stories. The cops had the ground floor. The town court was upstairs. Reacher guessed there were cells in the basement. His trip to the booking desk was uneventful. He didn’t make trouble. No point. No percentage in being a fugitive on foot in a town where the line was twelve miles away in one direction and maybe more in the other. The desk was manned by a patrolman who could have been the arresting officer’s kid brother. Same size and shape, same face, same hair, a little younger. Reacher was uncuffed and gave up the stuff from his pockets and his shoelaces. He had no belt. He was escorted down a winding stair and put in a six-by-eight cell fronted by ancient ironwork that had been painted maybe fifty times.

  “Lawyer?” he asked.

  “You know any?” the desk guy asked back.

  “The public defender will do.”

  The desk guy nodded and locked the gate and walked away. Reacher was left on his own. The cell block was otherwise empty. Three cells in a line, a narrow corridor, no windows. Each cell had a wall-mounted iron tray for a bed and a steel toilet with a sink built into the top of the tank. Bulkhead lights burned behind wire grilles on the ceilings. Reacher ran his right hand under cold water at the sink and massaged his knuckles. They were sore, but not damaged. He lay down on the cot and closed his eyes.

  Welcome to Despair, he thought.


  The public defender never showed. Reacher dozed for two hours and then the cop who had arrested him clattered down the stairs and unlocked the cell and gestured for him to get up.

  “The judge is ready for you,” he said.

  Reacher yawned. “I haven’t seen my lawyer.”

  “Take it up with the court,” the cop said. “Not with me.”

  “What kind of a half-assed system have you got here?”

  “The same kind we’ve always had.”

  “I think I’ll stay down here.”

  “I could send your three remaining buddies in for a visit.”

  “Save gas and send them straight to the hospital.”

  “I could put you in handcuffs first. Strap you to the bed.”

  “All by yourself?”

  “I could bring a stun gun.”

  “You live here in town?”


  “Maybe I’ll come visit you one day.”

  “I don’t think you will.”

  The cop stood there waiting. Reacher shrugged to himself and swung his feet to the floor. Pushed himself upright and stepped out of the cell. Walking was awkward without his shoelaces. On the stairs he had to hook his toes to stop his shoes falling off altogether. He shuffled past the booking desk and followed the cop up another flight. A grander staircase. At the top was a wooden double door, closed. Alongside it was a sign on a short post with a heavy base. Same kind of thing as the restaurant sign, except this one said: Town Court. The cop opened the left-hand panel and stood aside. Reacher stepped into a courtroom. There was a center aisle and four rows of spectator seating. Then a bullpen rail and a prosecution table and a defense table, each with three wheelback chairs. There was a witness stand and a jury box and a judge’s dais. All the furniture and all the structures were made out of pine, lacquered dark and then darkened more by age and polish. The walls were paneled with the same stuff. There were flags behind the dais, Old Glory and something Reacher guessed was the state flag of Colorado.

  The room was empty. It echoed and smelled of dust. The cop walked ahead and opened the bullpen gate. Pointed Reacher toward the defense table. The cop sat down at the prosecution table. They waited. Then an inconspicuous door in the back wall opened and a man in a suit walked in. The cop jumped up and said, “All rise.” Reacher stayed in his seat.

  The man in the suit clumped up three steps and slid in behind the dais. He was bulky and somewhere over sixty and had a full head of white hair. His suit was cheap and badly cut. He picked up a pen and straightened a legal pad in front of him. He looked at Reacher and said,

  “I haven’t been Mirandized,” Reacher said.

  “You haven’t been charged with a crime,” the old guy said. “This isn’t a trial.”

  “So what is it?”

  “A hearing.”

  “About what?”

  “It’s an administrative matter, that’s all. Possibly just a technicality. But I do need to ask you some questions.”

  Reacher said nothing.