Make me, p.10
Part #20 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
Like any ex-cop she looked around, the full 360, seven or eight separate snapshots, and then she moved through the room with plenty of energy, powered by what looked like enthusiasm, or maybe some kind of shared euphoria at their mutual survival through the night. She slid in alongside him.
He said, “Did you sleep?”
She said, “I must have. I didn’t think I was going to.”
“You didn’t go meet the train.”
“He’s a prisoner, according to you. And that’s the best-case scenario.”
“I’m only guessing.”
“It’s a reasonable assumption.”
“Did you see the woman in 203?”
“I thought she was hard to explain. Dressed in black, she could have been an investor or a fund manager or something else deserving of the junior executive routine. Her face and hair were right. And she has a key to the company gym. That’s for sure. But dressed in white? She looked like she was going to a garden party in Monte Carlo. At seven o’clock in the morning. Who does that?”
“Is it a fashion thing? Someone’s idea of summer clothes?”
“I sincerely hope not.”
“So who was she?”
“She looked like she was headed to City Hall for her fifth wedding.”
The waitress came by, and Chang asked her, “Do you know a guy in town named Maloney?”
“No,” she said. “But I know two guys named Moynahan.”
And then she winked and walked away.
Chang said, “Now she’s really your best friend forever. I don’t think she likes the Moynahans.”
Reacher said, “I don’t see why anyone would.”
“Someone must. We should assume they have their own best friends forever. We should expect a reaction.”
“But not yet. They both took a hit. It’s going to be like having the flu for a couple of days. Not like on a television show, where they get over it during the commercial messages.”
“But they’ll get over it eventually. Could be a mob scene, between their friends and their co-conspirators.”
“You were a cop. I’m sure you shot people before.”
“I never even drew my weapon. It was Connecticut. A small town.”
“What about in the FBI?”
“I was a financial analyst. White collar.”
“But you qualified, right? At the range?”
“We had to.”
“Were you any good?”
“I won’t shoot unless they fire first.”
“I can live with that.”
“This is crazy talk. This is a railroad stop. This is not the OK Corral.”
“All those places had the railroad. That was the point. The bad guy would get off the train. Or the new sheriff.”
“How serious do you think this is?”
“It’s on a scale, like anything else. At one end Keever’s in Vegas with a nineteen-year-old. At the other end he’s dead. I’m shading toward the dead end of the middle. Or maybe a little beyond. I’m sorry. It was probably an accident. Or a semi-accident. Or panic. So now they don’t know what to do.”
“Right now we have a simple three-part agenda. Eat breakfast, drink coffee, and find Maloney.”
“Might not be easy.”
“We should start at the receiving office. Over by the elevators. I bet they know every name for two hundred miles. And it might be two birds with one stone. If there’s something hinky about the wheat, we might pick up a vibe.”
Chang nodded and said, “How did you sleep?”
“It was weird at first, with Keever’s things in the room. His suitcase by the wall. I felt like someone else. I felt like a normal person. But I got over it.”
The receiving office was a plain wooden structure next in line after the weighbridge. It was purely utilitarian. It was what it was. It made no concession to style or appeal. It didn’t need to. It was the only game in town, and farmers either used it or starved.
Inside, it had counters for form-filling, and a worn floor where drivers waited in line, and a stand-up desk where deliveries were recorded. Behind the desk was a white-haired guy in bib overalls, with a blunt pencil behind his ear. He was fussing around with stacks of paper. He was gearing up ahead of the harvest, presumably. He had the look of a guy entirely happy in his little fiefdom.
He said, “Help you?”
Reacher said, “We’re looking for a guy named Maloney.”
“You know a Maloney around here?”
“We’re private inquiry agents from New York City. A guy died and left all his money to another guy. But it turns out the other guy already died too, so now the money is back in the pot for all the relatives we can find. One of them claims he has a cousin in this county named Maloney. That’s all we know.”
“Not me,” the guy said again. “How much money?”
“We’re not allowed to say.”
“Better than a poke in the eye.”
“So how can I help you?”
“We figured you might know a bunch of names around here. I imagine most folks must come through this office at one time or another.”
The guy nodded, like a vital and unanticipated connection had been made. He hit the space bar on a keyboard and a screen lit up. He maneuvered a mouse and clicked on something and a list appeared, long and dense. A bunch of names. He said, “These are the folks pre-cleared for using the weighbridge. Goes faster that way. Which we need, at busy times. I guess this would be all the grain people in the neighborhood. From the owners to the workers and back again. Men, women, and children. This business is all-hands-on-deck, at certain times of the year.”
Chang said, “You see a Maloney in there? We’d certainly appreciate a first name and an address.”
The guy used the mouse again and the list scrolled upward. Alphabetical. He stopped halfway down and said, “There’s a Mahoney. But he passed on, I think. Two or three years ago, if I remember right. The cancer got him. No one knew what kind.”
Chang said, “No one named Maloney?”
“Not on the list.”
“Suppose he’s not a grain worker? Would you know him anyway?”
“Maybe socially. But I don’t. I don’t know anyone named Maloney.”
“Is there anyone else we could ask?”
“You could try the Western Union store. With the FedEx franchise. It’s more or less our post office.”
“OK,” Reacher said. “Thanks.”
The guy nodded and looked away and said nothing, as if both enchanted and annoyed by the break in his routine.
Reacher remembered where the Western Union store was. He had seen it before, twice, on his block-by-block explorations. A small place, with a window crowded by neon signs, for MoneyGram, and faxing, and photocopying, and FedEx, and UPS, and DHL. They went in, and the guy behind the counter looked up. He was about forty, tall and well built, not fat but certainly fleshed out, with a full head of hair, and a guileless face.
He was the Cadillac driver.
The store was as plain as the receiving office, all dust and unpainted wood, with worn beige machines for faxing and photocopying, and untidy piles of address forms for the parcel services, and teetering stacks of packages, some presumably incoming, and some presumably outgoing. Some packages were small, barely larger than the address labels stuck to them, and some were large, including two that were evidently drop-shipped direct from foreign manufacturers in their original cartons, one being German medical equipment made from sterile stainless steel, if Reacher could trust his translation skills, and the other being a high-definition video camera from Japan. There were sealed reams of copy paper on open shelves, and ballpoint pens on strings, and a cork noticeboard on a wall, covered with thumbtacked fliers for all kinds of neighborhood services, i
The Cadillac driver said, “Can I help you?”
He was behind a plywood counter, counting dollar bills.
Reacher said, “I recognize you from somewhere.”
The guy said, “Do you?”
“You played college football. For Miami. 1992, right?”
“Not me, pal.”
“Was it USC?”
“You got the wrong person.”
Chang said, “Then you’re the taxi driver. We saw you at the motel this morning.”
The guy didn’t answer.
“And yesterday morning,” Chang said.
There was a small wire-mesh holder on the counter, full of business cards supplied by the MoneyGram franchise. A side benefit, presumably, along with the commission. Reacher took a card and read it. The guy’s name was not Maloney. Reacher asked him, “You got a local phone book?”
“I want to balance it on my head to improve my deportment.”
“I want to look up a number. What else is a phone book for?”
The guy paused a long moment, as if searching for a legitimate reason to deny the request, but in the end he couldn’t find one, apparently, because he dipped down and hauled a slim volume from a shelf under the counter, and rotated it 180 degrees, and slid it across the plywood.
Reacher said, “Thank you,” and thumbed it open, to where L changed to M.
Chang leaned in for a look.
Reacher said, “Why is this town called Mother’s Rest?”
The guy behind the counter said, “I don’t know.”
Chang said, “How old is your Cadillac?”
“How is that your business?”
“It isn’t, really. We’re not from the DMV. We don’t care about the license plates. We’re interested, is all. It looks like a fine automobile.”
“It does its job.”
“Which is what?”
The guy paused a beat.
“Taxi,” he said. “Like you figured.”
Reacher said, “You know anyone named Maloney?”
“No,” the guy said, with a measure of certainty, as if glad to be on solid ground. “There’s no one named Maloney in this county.”
Reacher and Chang walked back to the wide street and stood in the morning sun. Chang said, “He was lying about the Cadillac. It’s not a taxi. A place like this doesn’t need a taxi.”
Reacher said, “So what is it?”
“It felt like a club car, didn’t it? Like a golf cart at a resort. To take guests from one place to another. From reception to their rooms. Or from their rooms to the spa. As a courtesy. Especially without the license plates.”
“Except this place isn’t a resort. It’s a giant wheat field.”
“Whatever, he didn’t go far. He was there and back in the time it took us to shower and eat breakfast. An hour, maybe. Thirty minutes there, thirty minutes back. A maximum twenty-mile radius, on these roads.”
“That’s more than a thousand square miles,” Reacher said. “Pi times the radius squared. More than twelve hundred square miles, actually. Connected with Keever’s thing, or separate?”
“Connected, obviously. At the motel the guy acted the same way as the spare parts guy who met the train. Like a lackey. And the spare parts guy dimed you out because you look a bit like Keever. So it’s connected.”
Reacher said, “We’d need a helicopter to search twelve hundred square miles.”
“And no Maloney,” Chang said. She stuck her hand in her back pocket and came out with Keever’s bookmark. Mother’s Rest—Maloney. “Unless the guy is lying about that too. Not being in the phone book doesn’t necessarily prove anything. He could be unlisted. Or new in town.”
“Would the waitress lie too?”
“We should try the general store. If he exists, and he isn’t eating in the diner, then he’s buying food there. He has to be feeding himself somehow.”
They set out walking, south on the wide street.
Meanwhile the Cadillac driver was busy calling it in. Such as it was. He said, “They’re nowhere.”
In the motel office the one-eyed guy said, “How do you figure that?”
“You ever heard of a guy named Maloney?”
“That’s who they’re looking for.”
“A guy named Maloney?”
“They checked my phone book.”
“There is no guy named Maloney.”
“Exactly,” the Cadillac driver said. “They’re nowhere.”
The general store looked like it might not have changed in fifty years, except for brand names and prices. Beyond the entrance vestibule it was dark and dusty and smelled of damp canvas. It had five narrow aisles piled high with stuff ranging from woodworking tools to packaged cookies, and candles to canning jars, and toilet paper to light bulbs. There was a rail of work clothes that caught Reacher’s eye. His own duds were four days old, and being around Chang made him conscious of it. She smelled of soap and clean skin and a dab of perfume. He had noticed, when she leaned close for a look at the phone book, and he wondered what she had noticed. He picked out pants and a shirt, and found socks and underwear and a white undershirt on a shelf opposite. A dollar per, for the smaller stuff, and less than forty for the main items. Overall a worthwhile investment, he thought. He hauled it all to the counter in back and dumped it all down.
The store owner wouldn’t sell it to him.
The guy said, “I don’t want your business. You’re not welcome here.”
Reacher said nothing. The guy was a stringy individual, maybe sixty years old. He had caved-in cheeks covered in white stubble, and thin gray hair, unwashed and too long, and tufts in his ears, and fur on his neck. He was wearing two shirts, one on top of the other. He said, “So run along now. This is private property.”
Reacher said, “You got health insurance?”
Chang put her hand on his arm. The first time she had touched him, he thought, apropos of nothing.
The guy said, “You threatening me?”
Reacher said, “Pretty much.”
“This is a free country. I can choose who I sell to. The law says so.”
“What’s your name?”
“None of your business.”
“Is it Maloney?”
“Can you give me change for a dollar?”
“I want to use your pay phone.”
Make Me by Lee Child / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 4.1 out of 5 / Based on41 votes