Make me, p.14
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       Make Me, p.14
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         Part #20 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child

  We’re sure of that. We asked, and the answers weren’t evasive. They were dismissive, and even a little confused. So what if you had gotten sick of Keever’s client, whatever his name is, so he decided to start over, and he came back to you under the name of Maloney? And then he called Keever again, and as always told him to check with you, for corroboration, but this time warned him the issue wouldn’t be filed under his real name anymore, but under the fake name Maloney? Maybe that’s what this note means.”

  “Maybe.”

  “You got a third interpretation?”

  “I could check,” Westwood said.

  “We’d appreciate it. We’re clutching at straws here.”

  “No shit. Keever’s notes are as bad as mine.”

  “They’re all we’ve got.”

  “But even so, with a missing guy and a rumor about two hundred deaths, don’t you think you should at least try the cops again?”

  “I was a cop,” Reacher said. “And I knew plenty more. I never met one who went looking for extra work. So right now they wouldn’t listen. Not yet. I can guarantee that. Just like you didn’t.”

  “I could check,” Westwood said again. “But I don’t see how a fake name will help.”

  “By leading us to the real name.”

  “How can it do that? It conceals the real name.”

  “Check who you blocked just before Maloney started calling. That’s the client.”

  “We’ll find more than one candidate. I block lots of people.”

  “We’ll figure it out. Geography could be significant. We know he hired an investigator from Oklahoma City, and we know he reads the LA Times. That might narrow it down some.”

  Westwood shook his head. “My phone number ain’t exactly easy to find. I don’t pay Google to put it front and center. If your guy is good enough with computers to dig it up off the internet, then he’s reading the paper on-line. That’s for sure. Guys like that haven’t bought physical print for a decade. He could be living anywhere.”

  “Good to know,” Reacher said.

  “Meet me in my office in an hour. In the Times building.”

  Chang nodded and said, “I know where it is.”

  Then the waitress came by and Westwood ordered breakfast, and Reacher and Chang left him alone to eat it.

  Less than ten minutes later, twenty miles south of Mother’s Rest, the man with the ironed jeans and the blow-dried hair took a second call on his land line. His contact told him Hackett had observed the meeting in the Inglewood coffee shop. He had not been close enough to hear much detail, but he had caught Keever’s name, and he had lip-read Chang say they had hit the wall, where he was concerned. Then at the end of the conversation he had inferred a second rendezvous had been suggested, at a location he hadn’t caught, but he had heard Chang saying she knew where it was. He would stay on Westwood for the time being, who would no doubt lead him there.

  Chapter 25

  The LA Times was in a fine old art-deco building on West 1st and Spring in downtown Los Angeles. It had security worthy of a government agency. There was an X-ray belt, and a metal detector. Reacher wasn’t sure why. Maybe an inflated sense of importance. He doubted if the Times was top of anyone’s target list. Probably not even on the fourth or fifth page. But there was no choice. He dumped his coins in a bowl and stepped through the hoop. Chang was slower. She still had her suitcase, and her coat.

  But eventually they were through, and they got passes from a desk, and rode up in an elevator. Westwood’s office turned out to be a square cream room with shelves of books and stacks of newspapers. There was a handsome old desk under the window, with a two-screen computer on it. Westwood was in a chair in front of it, reading e-mail. His enormous canvas bag was dumped on the floor, bellied open, full of more books and more newspapers and a metal laptop computer. Outside the door the hall was loud with the hum of busy people doing busy things. Outside the window the sky was bright with Southern California’s perpetual sunshine.

  Westwood said, “I’ll be right with you. Take a seat.”

  Something in his voice.

  Taking a seat required a little effort. Reacher and Chang cleared stacks of magazines and papers off two spare chairs. Westwood closed his e-mail program and turned around. He said, “My legal department isn’t happy. There are confidentiality issues at stake. Our database is private.”

  Chang asked, “What kind of downside do they foresee?”

  “Unspecified. They’re lawyers. Everything is downside.”

  “It’s an important investigation.”

  “They say important investigations come with warrants and subpoenas. Or at least missing persons reports.”

  Reacher said, “Why did you talk to your lawyers?”

  Westwood said, “Because I’m required to.”

  “Did you talk to your managing editor?”

  “He doesn’t see a story. We ran background on Keever. He’s on a bender somewhere. He’s a washed-up old gumshoe.”

  Chang said nothing.

  Reacher said, “I never met the guy. But I met plenty like him. Above average in every way, except loose with impulse control. But those impulses came from the best of intentions. And however washed up he was, he was James Bond compared to the population of Mother’s Rest. But still they got him.”

  “You don’t know that.”

  “But suppose they did. Suppose there’s something weird out there, with two hundred dead people. That’s a story, right? That’s something the LA Times would eat up with a spoon. You could run it for weeks. You could get a Pulitzer. You could get on TV. You could get a movie deal.”

  “Get back to me as soon as you’ve got something solid.”

  “What do you think the chances are, of that happening?”

  “A hundred to one.”

  “Not two hundred?”

  “Your theories aren’t evidence.”

  “Here’s another theory. We walk out of here, leaving behind the hundred-to-one possibility there’s a big story out there, but because we’re gone it’s no longer a Times exclusive anymore, which means if the hundred-to-one pays off and it breaks, there’s going to be a crazy scramble, with all the papers competing for pole position. So if you’re a smart science editor, even though it’s only a hundred to one, you can see a tiny advantage in using what you know so far to get somewhat prepared ahead of time. So my guess is as soon as we’re back in the elevator, you’re going to check the database for calls from a guy named Maloney. Just to put your mind at rest.”

  Westwood said nothing.

  Reacher said, “So what difference would it make if we were still in the room?”

  No response for a long moment. Then Westwood turned his chair to face his screens, and he clicked the mouse and typed a few letters in two different boxes. User ID and password, Reacher figured. The database, hopefully. Chang leaned forward. The screen showed a search page. Some kind of proprietary software, no doubt suitable for the job at hand, but ugly. Westwood clicked on a bunch of options. Isolating his own notes, possibly. To avoid irrelevant results. Maybe there were a hundred newsworthy Maloneys in LA. Maybe there were two hundred. Sports stars, businesspeople, actors, musicians, civic dignitaries.

  Westwood said, “All theories should be tested. That’s a central part of the scientific method.”

  He typed Maloney.

  He clicked the mouse.

  He got three hits.

  The database showed contact made by a caller named Maloney on three separate occasions. The most recent was just shy of a month previously, and the second was three weeks before that, and the oldest was two weeks before the second. A five-week envelope, all told, four weeks ago. The incoming phone number was the same on all three occasions. It had a 501 area code, which no one recognized.

  Westwood had made no notes about the subject or the content of any of the three conversations. Instead he had simply routed name, number, day, and time straight to a folder marked C.

  “Which i
s?” Reacher asked.

  “Conspiracies,” Westwood said.

  “What kind of thing?”

  “It’s a fairly wide category.”

  “Give me an example.”

  “Smoke alarms are compulsory in homes because they contain cameras and microphones wirelessly linked to the government. With poison gas capsules too, in case the government doesn’t like what you’re saying or doing.”

  “Keever wouldn’t waste time on a thing like that.”

  “And I wouldn’t ignore something more serious.”

  “Maybe it wasn’t well explained.”

  “I guess it can’t have been.”

  “You sure you don’t remember this Maloney guy at all?”

  As a response Westwood clicked his way through to an unfiltered list of all the calls he had received. The screens were big and he had two of them, but even so there was space only for a small part of the calendar year.

  Reacher said, “Are we in there?”

  Westwood nodded. “From this morning.”

  “What folder did you put us in?”

  “I haven’t decided yet.”

  Chang took out her phone and dialed Maloney’s number. The 501 area code, and seven more digits. She put her phone on speaker. There was hiss and dead air as the cellular system hooked her up. Then the number rang.

  And rang, and rang.

  No answer, and no voice mail.

  Chang hung up, after a whole long minute, and the office went quiet.

  Reacher said, “We need to know where the 501 area code is.”

  Westwood clicked off his database and opened up a web browser. Then he glanced at the door and said, “So I guess we’re really doing this.”

  “No one will know,” Reacher said. “Until the movie comes out.”

  The computer told them 501 was one of three area codes given to cell phones in Arkansas. Chang said, “Was there an Arkansas number you blocked about nine weeks ago? Maybe our guy switched from his land line to his cell, simple as that.”

  Westwood went back into his database, to the unfiltered list of calls, and he scrolled back nine weeks, and said, “How much limbo should we give him? How fast would he have come up with the idea of changing his name and number?”

  “Pretty fast,” Reacher said. “It isn’t brain surgery. But I’m guessing there was some limbo. Most likely because of hurt feelings. You rejected him. It might have taken him a week to swallow his pride and call you back.”

  Westwood scrolled some more. Ten weeks back. He opened the list of area codes on his second screen, and went back and forth, comparing, line by line, and when he was finished he said, “I blocked four guys that week. But none of them was from Arkansas.”

  Reacher said, “Try the week before. Maybe he’s more sensitive than we thought.”

  Westwood scrolled again, backward through the next seven days, and then forward again, checking against the list of area codes, and he said, “I blocked two guys the previous week, for a fourteen-day total of six, but still no one from Arkansas.”

  Reacher said, “We’re getting somewhere anyway. The Maloney calls started nine weeks ago, from a guy who had just gotten blocked, in a recent window of time, and in that category there are six possible candidates. Logic says our guy is one of them. And we could be talking to him thirty seconds from now. On his other line. Because you have all the original phone numbers.”

  Chapter 26

  Westwood copied and pasted the six names and numbers to a new blank screen. The names were a standard American mixture. They could have been the first six up for any team in the Majors, or they could have been any six guys in line at the pawn shop, or the ER, or the first-class lounge at the airport. Half the numbers were cell phones, Reacher guessed, because he didn’t recognize the area codes, but there was a 773 for Chicago in there, and a 505 for somewhere in New Mexico, and a 901, which he figured could be Memphis, Tennessee.

  Westwood put his phone in a dock on his desk and dialed the first number direct from his computer. There were speakers in the dock, and Reacher heard the beep-boop-bap of the electronic pulses, and then nothing but hiss, and then a pre-recorded voice, pitched somewhere between scolding and sympathetic.

  The number was out of service.

  Westwood hung up and checked the area code on his screen. He said, “That was a cell phone, in northern Louisiana, maybe Shreveport, or close by. The contract was probably terminated or canceled, as happens in the normal run of things, and the number will be reissued sooner or later.”

  He dialed the second number.

  Same thing. The dialing sounds, then nothing, then the phone company voice, its script apologetic, its tone faintly incredulous that anyone would do anything as pitifully dumb as try to call a telephone number that was currently out of service.

  “A cell in Mississippi,” Westwood said. “Somewhere north. Oxford, probably. A lot of college students there. Maybe his parents threw him off the family plan.”

  “Or maybe it was a burner phone,” Reacher said. “A pay-as-you-go from a drugstore, that ran out of minutes. Or was trashed. Maybe they’re all burners.”

  “Possible,” Westwood said. “Bad guys have done that for years, to stop the government building a case. And these days citizens are learning to do the same thing. Especially the kind of citizens who call newspapers with hot tips about conspiracies. Such is the modern world.”

  He dialed the third number. Another cell, according to the list of area codes, this one in Idaho.

  And this one was answered.

  A guy’s voice came over the speakers, loud and clear. It said, “Hello?”

  Westwood sat up straight, and spoke to the screen. He said, “Good morning, sir. This is Ashley Westwood, from the LA Times, returning your call.”

  “It is?”

  “I apologize for the delay. I had some checking to do. But now I agree. What you told me has to be exposed. So I need to ask you some questions.”

  “Well, yes, sure, that would be great.”

  The voice was pitched closer to alto than tenor, and it was a little fast and shaky with nerves. A thin guy, Reacher thought, always quivering and vibrating. Thirty-five, maybe, or younger, but not much older. Could be Idaho born and bred, but probably wasn’t.

  Westwood said, “First I need to start with a trust-builder. I need you to confirm the name of the private detective you hired.”

  The voice said, “The name of the what?”

  “The private detective.”

  “I don’t understand.”

  “Did you hire a private detective?”

  “Why would I do that?”

  “Because it has to be stopped.”

  “What does?”

  “What you told me about.”

  “A private detective would be no good for that. They’d do the same to him they do to everyone else. As soon as they saw him. I mean, literally. I told you, it’s a line of sight thing. No one can avoid it. You don’t understand. The beam cannot be beaten.”

  “So you didn’t hire a private detective?”

  “No, I didn’t.”

  “Do you use another cell phone, with a 501 area code?”

  “No, I don’t.”

  Westwood hung up on him without another word. He said, “I think I remember that guy. Apparently our minds are being controlled by beams.”

  Reacher said, “What kind of beams?”

  “Mind-controlling beams. They come off the bottom of civilian airliners. The FAA requires them. That’s why they charge for checked bags now, so people will use carry-on instead, which leaves more space in the hold for the equipment. And the operator. He’s down there too, like an old-fashioned bomb aimer, zapping people. The guy in Idaho won’t go out unless it’s cloudy. He says obviously the flyover states are especially vulnerable. All part of the elitist conspiracy.”

  “Except the most-flown-over state is nowhere near Idaho.”

  “Where is it?”

  “Pennsylvania.”
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