Make me, p.13
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       Make Me, p.13
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         Part #20 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child

  “You win some, you lose some.”

  “No, you win plenty, and then you lose one. No second chance.”

  “I’m not unhappy doing what I’m doing.”

  “But?”

  “I don’t know how much longer we can keep on doing it. It doesn’t feel like a job for life.”

  “It might have been, for Keever.”

  “That’s very blunt.”

  “What was his story?”

  “Was?”

  “OK, is.”

  “I heard he was facing a third reprimand. The Bureau is very cautious, and he had a habit of rushing in regardless. No plan, no back-up. He was putting cases in jeopardy, they said. As well as himself and his fellow agents. A third strike would have qualified him for Alaska too. That radar hut would have been getting crowded. So he resigned, ahead of the hearing. I guess he thought it was the only dignified thing to do. And before you say it, sure, I agree, that’s probably what he did in Mother’s Rest. He rushed in, regardless. He didn’t wait for back-up.”

  The waitress came by, with their plates of food, and with refills for their drinks. When she was gone Reacher said, “But Keever called for back-up. He got that far. We know that. Why call and not wait?”

  Chang said, “Impatience? Urgency?”

  “Maybe they got to him first. While he was waiting. Maybe he didn’t rush in.”

  “That sounds like a public service message on behalf of hotheads everywhere.”

  “We don’t know what happened.”

  “I wish he’d rushed out.”

  “Always a sound policy.”

  “I bet you never did.”

  “More times than I can count. Which is why I’m still here, having dinner with you. The chaotic universe. Darwinism in action.”

  She paused, and said, “May I ask you a question?”

  He said, “Sure.”

  “Are we having dinner?”

  “That’s what it said on the menu. Lunch was different, and this sure ain’t breakfast.”

  “No, I mean having dinner, as opposed to grabbing road food.”

  “As in candlelight and piano music?”

  “Not necessarily.”

  “Violin players and guys selling roses?”

  “If appropriate.”

  “Like a date?”

  She said, “Broadly, I suppose.”

  He said, “Honest answer?”

  “Always.”

  “Suppose we had found Keever yesterday, maybe stepping off the train, or fallen over in a wheat field somewhere, with a sprained ankle, somewhat hungry and thirsty but otherwise OK, then yes, for sure I would have asked you out to dinner, and if you had accepted, then we’d be having that dinner right about now, so I guess this half-qualifies.”

  “Only half?”

  “We didn’t find Keever. So it’s still partly road food.”

  “But you would have asked me out to dinner?”

  “Absolutely.”

  “Why?”

  “You’re the sort of person I like to have dinner with.”

  She was quiet for a long moment, five or six seconds, right to the edge of discomfort, and then she said, “I would have said yes, for the same reason.”

  “Outstanding.”

  “So keep it straight in your mind. We’re having dinner. Not grabbing road food. That’s a fact, not a question.”

  “Then why did you ask me?”

  “To make sure you knew.”

  No dining chairs were required that night for Reacher. They ate dessert and drank coffee, slowly, relaxed, not rushing at all, both of them choosing to trust the inevitable, and then Chang signed the check, and stood up, and Reacher stood up with her, and she linked her arm in his, like they were an old couple from way back, and they walked out together, slowly, relaxed, not rushing at all, and they waited for the elevator, and rode up to five, and opened the room.

  Then it got a little less slow, and a little less relaxed, and a little more rushed. Chang was warm and fragrant, and smooth, and long-limbed, and young but not a kid, and she was strong enough to push back, and she was solid enough not to worry about. Reacher liked her a lot, and she seemed to like him back. Afterward they talked for a spell, and then she fell asleep, and then he did too, the best way he knew.

  Chapter 24

  Boarding started right on time at twenty past seven in the morning. Chang rolled her bag down the air bridge, and Reacher followed it, all the way to the cheap seats about two-thirds into the plane. Chang put her bag in the overhead and took the window seat. Reacher took the aisle. He said, “How well do you know LA?”

  She said, “Well enough to find the newspaper building.”

  “Maybe he works from home.”

  “In which case he won’t meet us there. I’m sure his address is a secret, if not his cell phone number. He’ll pick a coffee shop in the neighborhood.”

  “Works for me. But which neighborhood? Do you know them all?”

  “I suppose we’ll have to rent another car. We should get GPS.”

  “Unless he’s in the office and willing to meet us there. We could take a cab.”

  “We’ll get in too early. He won’t be there yet.”

  “OK, we’ll call his cell when we land and we’ll let him make the decision for us. Coffee shop or office. Rental car or cab.”

  “If he agrees to see us at all.”

  “Two hundred deaths. That’s a story.”

  “Which he’s already heard, according to you. When Keever’s client called him. Who seems not to have made much of an impression.”

  “There’s a difference between hearing and listening. And that’s our problem. I doubt if Westwood even knows what he’s got. He didn’t listen, and his notes don’t seem to mean much. It’s going to be like picking a lock with spaghetti.”

  “What if we can’t?”

  “No such word.”

  “You’re optimistic this morning.”

  “That’s an inevitable consequence. I had a very pleasant night.”

  “Me too.”

  “Good to know.”

  “What do your friends call you?”

  “Reacher.”

  “Not Jack?”

  He shook his head. “Even my mother called me Reacher.”

  “Do you have siblings?”

  “I had a brother, name of Joe.”

  “Where is he now?”

  “Nowhere. He died.”

  “I’m sorry.”

  “Not your fault.”

  “What did your mom call him?”

  “Joe.”

  “And she called you Reacher?”

  “It’s my name, just as much as Jack. You mean your friends don’t call you Chang?”

  “I was Officer Chang, and then Special Agent Chang, but that was only at work.”

  “So what do they call you?”

  “Michelle,” she said. “Or Shell, sometimes, for short. Which I quite like. It’s a nice diminutive. Except not with my last name. Shell Chang sounds somewhere between a Korean porn star and an oil exploration company in the South China Sea and a roll of quarters being dumped in a cash register.”

  “OK,” Reacher said. “Michelle it is. Or Chang.”

  And then the plane took off, and chased the dawn westward over the mountains.

  Seven hours by road to the east, in Mother’s Rest, dawn had already happened. The morning train had been and gone. The breakfast rush in the diner was easing. The guy with two shirts had opened his store. The spare-parts guy had opened his too, and was already crammed in behind his counter, sorting invoices into piles. The Cadillac driver was tallying receipts for his seven different accounts, Western Union, MoneyGram, faxing, photocopying, FedEx, UPS, and DHL. The Moynahan who had gotten kicked in the balls and had his gun taken was still home, caring for his brother, who was still a little dazed.

  And the one-eyed clerk was coming out of the motel office, and standing and sniffing the air, and glancing all around, at the insid
e perimeter of the horseshoe, at the parking spaces, at the sidewalk passing the first-floor rooms, at the walkway passing the second-floor rooms. A leisurely visual inspection. Of the light bulbs, all working. Of the lawn chairs, all neatly lined up. All there. All quiet. All serene. 214 was empty. 215 was empty.

  They weren’t coming back, he thought.

  All good.

  LAX arrivals was jammed, so Reacher and Chang had to fight their way out to the curb to find a quiet spot to make their call. Chang hid behind a pillar and dialed. And woke Westwood up. Not an early starter. She was embarrassed at first, then placatory, and then she got down to business. She introduced herself again, and said she needed to meet, because something that had looked small to both of them was suddenly not so small anymore. She said there was a credible figure of two hundred deaths. She said as an ex–FBI agent she was taking it seriously. She said her colleague was from the military, and he was also taking it seriously. She said sure, the book rights were still available.

  Then she listened to an address, and hung up.

  “Coffee shop,” she said. “In Inglewood.”

  Reacher said, “That’s close by. When?”

  “Thirty minutes.”

  “We should take a cab. We don’t have time to rent a car.”

  Twenty miles south of Mother’s Rest, the man with the ironed jeans and the blow-dried hair took a call on his land line. Triple-A, but not exactly. Their man Hackett had logged the first contact. A cell-to-cell phone call, six minutes long, between Westwood, who was presumably at home, given his hours, and a woman who gave her name as Chang, who was at the airport, judging by the background noise, and who was with a male colleague she described as military. Deaths had been mentioned, and a rendezvous set up, in a coffee shop in Inglewood, which Hackett would monitor.

  The cab line was long but brisk, and Inglewood was just the other side of the 405 from the airport, so they got to the designated coffee shop with time to spare. The place was one of many lining the street. Most had tiny outdoor tables and Italian words on their chalk boards, but Westwood’s pick didn’t. It was a straight-up vinyl-and-linoleum antique, faded over the decades to a dull khaki color. It was about a quarter full, with men on their own, all of them silently reading newspapers, or staring into space. None of them looked like a science editor.

  “We’re early,” Chang said. “He’ll be late.”

  So they took a booth, sitting side by side at a laminate table, on a bench upholstered in tuck-and-roll vinyl, that might have started out deep red and glittery, but was now as khaki as everything else. They ordered coffee, one hot, one iced. They waited. The place was quiet. Just the turning of newspaper pages and the clink of ironstone cups on ironstone saucers.

  Five minutes.

  Then eventually Westwood arrived. He looked nothing like Reacher expected, but the reality fit the bill just as well as the preconceptions had. He was an outdoors type, not a lab rat, and sturdy rather than pencil-necked. He looked like a naturalist or an explorer. He had short but unruly hair, fair going gray, and a beard of the same length and color. He was red in the face from sunburn and had squint lines around his eyes. He was forty-five, maybe. He was wearing clothing put together from high-tech fabrics and many zippers, but it was all old and creased. He had hiking boots on his feet, with speckled laces like miniature mountain-climbing ropes. He was toting a canvas bag about as big as a mail carrier’s.

  He paused inside the door, and identified Chang instantly, because she was the only woman in the place. He slid in opposite, across the worn vinyl, and hauled his bag after him. He put his forearm on the table and said, “I assume your other colleague is still missing. Mr. Keever, was it?”

  Chang nodded and said, “We hit the wall, as far as he’s concerned. We’re dead-ended. We can trace him so far, but no further.”

  “Have you called the cops?”

  “No.”

  “So I guess my first question is, why not?”

  “It would be a missing persons report. That’s all, at this stage. He’s an adult, gone three days. They might take the report, but they wouldn’t do anything with it. It would go straight to the back burner.”

  “Two hundred deaths might get them interested.”

  “We can’t prove anything. We don’t know who, why, when, where, or how.”

  “So I’m buying you breakfast because there’s a guy you haven’t even reported missing, and two hundred deaths you know nothing about?”

  “You’re buying us breakfast because you’re getting the book rights. You can buy all the breakfasts.”

  “Except so far this breakfast alone is worth more than the book rights. So far the book rights and fifty cents will get me a cup of coffee.”

  Reacher said, “You’re a scientist. You need to think about it scientifically.”

  “In what way?”

  “Statistically, maybe. And linguistically. With a little sociology thrown in. Plus a deep and innate understanding of human nature. Think about the number two hundred. Sounds like a nice round figure, but it isn’t, really. No one says two hundred purely at random. People say a hundred, or a thousand. Or hundreds or thousands. Two hundred deaths sounds specific to me. Like a true number. Maybe rounded up from the high 180s or 190s, but it sounds to me like there’s information behind it. Enough to keep me interested, anyway. For instance. Speaking as an investigator.”

  Westwood said nothing.

  Reacher said, “Plus we assume the cops already heard the story, and already dismissed it.”

  Westwood nodded. “Because you assume Mr. Keever’s client called everyone from the White House downward. Including me.”

  “Which is where we have to start. With the client. We need to find the guy. We need to hear the story over again, from the beginning, like Keever did. Then maybe we can predict what happened next.”

  “I get hundreds of calls. I told you.”

  “How many?”

  “Point taken.”

  “And you note them all down. You told us that, too.”

  “Not in any great detail.”

  “We might be able to puzzle it out.”

  “You would need a name, at least.”

  “I think we have a name.”

  Chang glanced at Reacher.

  “Possibly,” Reacher said to her. Then he turned back to Westwood. He said, “It’s probably not a real name, but it might be a start. You told us sooner or later you block the nuisance calls. When they wear out their welcome. Suppose a guy got frustrated by that, and tried to start over by coming back to you under a different name and number?”

  “Might happen,” Westwood said.

  Reacher turned to Chang and said, “Show him Keever’s bookmark.”

  Chang dug the paper out of her pocket and smoothed it on the table. The 323 phone number, and Mother’s Rest—Maloney.

  Westwood said, “That’s my number. No doubt about that.”

  Reacher said, “We took it to mean there was a guy in Mother’s Rest named Maloney, who was of interest in some way. But there’s no such guy.
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