Make me, p.16
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       Make Me, p.16
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         Part #20 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child

  explain why the guy has those two area codes. But so is Mississippi, just the same. Chicago isn’t, but a guy with the real name McCann might choose Maloney for an alias. Maybe it was his mother’s name. So at this point I would say it’s even money.”

  “Where do you want to start?”

  “With the current 501. It might be a recent contract. It might have a real name on it.”

  “If it isn’t a burner.”

  She opened a search page just as ugly as Westwood’s, and typed in the number, 501 and seven more digits.

  The screen said: refer.

  Reacher said, “What does that mean?”

  She said, “It means it isn’t in the reverse directory, but there’s information to be had. At a price, from a source in the phone company.”

  “How big of a price?”

  “A hundred bucks, probably.”

  “Can you afford it?”

  “If it comes to anything I’ll bill the LA Times.”

  “Check the others first. In case you need a quantity discount.”

  Which turned out to be a possibility. The Chicago number came back exactly as advertised, one of a dozen lines into the Lincoln Park branch of the city library, but both the Louisiana cell and the Mississippi cell came back as refer.

  Information to be had.

  Reacher said, “How exactly do we get it?”

  Chang said, “We used to e-mail. But not now. Too vulnerable. Too risky for the source. Worse than a paper trail. Now we have to call.”

  She picked up her phone and dialed. The call was answered fast. There was no small talk. Chang was all business. She gave her name, and explained what she needed, and read out the three numbers, slowly and distinctly, and listened to them repeated back, and said “OK,” and hung up.

  “Two hundred bucks,” she said. “He’ll get back to me later today.”

  Reacher said, “How much later?”

  “Could be hours.”

  There was only one thing to do, to fill the time.

  Ten minutes later, twenty miles south of Mother’s Rest, the man with the ironed jeans and the blow-dried hair took a fourth call on his land line. His contact said, “Hackett says Chang just made a call. He says they’re in a motel in West Hollywood.”

  “Who did she call?”

  “The phone company. She wanted information on three numbers. She paid two hundred dollars for it.”

  “What information did she get?”

  “None yet. Her source said he’d call back later today.”

  “How much later?”

  “Could be hours.”

  “Can you get it faster?”

  “Save your money. Hackett is listening. You’ll know when she knows.”

  “How far away is he?”

  “He’s heading to West Hollywood now. I’m sure he’ll be in place before the guy calls back.”

  The motel bed was indeed flat and wide and firm. Reacher lay on his back, filmed with sweat, the AC not really cold, the ceiling fan busted. Chang lay beside him, breathing deep. Reacher’s theory had always been the second time was by far the best. No more tiny inhibitions, and no more first-time fumbles, yet still plenty of novelty and excitement. But that theory had been shattered. It had been blown apart. All theories should be tested, Westwood had said. That’s a central part of the scientific method. And tested it they had. The second time, an hour ago, had been sensational. But the third time had been better. Way better. Reacher lay there, drained, empty, his bones turned to rubber, relaxed in a way that made any previous notion of repose seem like furious agitation.

  Eventually Chang rolled up on one elbow, and traced her fingers over his chest, to his neck, to his face, and down again, as if learning him, as if memorizing the slabs and contours of his body. In turn he was happy with stillness, his hand on the inside of her thigh, unmoving but alive with the thrill of hot skin, damp but velvet smooth, the muscle under it slack, a tiny pulse ticking against his palm.

  She said, “Reacher.”

  He said, “Yes?”

  “Nothing. I’m just trying it out.”

  Her hair was on his shoulder, thick and heavy. Her breasts were crushed against his arm. He could feel the beat of her heart.

  She said, “Have you ever been married?”

  “No,” he said. “You?”

  “Once. But it didn’t last.”

  “Like so many.”

  She said, “What’s the longest relationship you ever had?”

  “Six months,” he said. “Or thereabouts. Postings made it difficult. I got moved too often. It was a lottery. A double lottery, if she was in the service too. Mostly it was like ships that pass in the night.”

  Her phone rang.

  She pushed off him and twisted upright and padded naked across the room to the desk. She checked the incoming number and answered the call. No small talk. All business. The phone company, presumably. She found a pen, and padded back to the night stand, where there was a pad of motel paper, all brittle and yellowed with age. She carried it back to the desk, and bent down, and started making notes, first on one page, and then on a second, and then on a third. At one point she turned toward him and leaned forward and winked.

  He propped himself on his elbows.

  She said, “Thank you,” and clicked off her call.

  He said, “What?”

  She said, “Wait.”

  She woke her computer and clicked and typed and her face was lit by cold gray light from the screen. She put her fingertips on the touchpad and swiped and scrolled and zoomed.

  Then she smiled.

  He said, “What?”

  She said, “All three numbers were burner phones. All pre-paid, all bought at pharmacies. The Louisiana phone is recent. From a drugstore in Shreveport. It had to be registered before it could be used. That’s the system now. You buy it, you use it to call an 800 number, it gets assigned an area code local to where you’re calling from, plus an available number. Which all happened. Then it was used eleven times, and then it ran out of minutes, and it wasn’t topped up fast enough, so it lapsed. It was taken off the air. The number will be reissued about six months from now.”

  “Who did it call?”

  “Westwood, in LA, all eleven times.”

  “From where?”

  “Shreveport. The same cell tower every time.”

  Reacher said nothing.

  Chang said, “And the Mississippi phone was exactly the same, more or less, except it’s a little older. It was bought a year ago at a drugstore in Oxford, and registered with a local Mississippi area code, and topped up four times, but eventually abandoned. All usage was in Oxford, all on two towers. Dozens of calls to Westwood, from a school and a dorm, maybe, if he was right, and the guy was a college student.”

  “Good to know,” Reacher said. “But not worth a wink and a smile. So tell me about the Arkansas number. I’m guessing that’s where the action is.”

  Chang smiled again, still naked, still happy, relieved, satisfied, and excited. She said, “The Arkansas number is different. It’s a drugstore burner like the others, except it’s still on the air, even though it’s originally much, much older. It was part of a huge Wal-Mart order from years ago. Back then they came with numbers already built in and pre-assigned. Hence the Arkansas area code, because Wal-Mart’s HQ is in Arkansas. But it wasn’t sold there. Wasn’t sold anywhere, in fact, at least not by Wal-Mart. It got replaced by a newer model, and earlier this year the last of the unsold stock was auctioned off for ten cents on the dollar. About a hundred units, my guy thinks.”

  “Who bought them?”

  “A middleman in New Jersey. A kind of broker. A specialist in such things.”

  “And he sold them on?”

  “That’s what middlemen do.”

  “When?”

  “Twelve weeks ago.”

  “Who did he sell them to?”

  Chang’s smile got wider.

  She said, “He sold them to a mom-an
d-pop drugstore in Chicago.”

  He said, “Where in Chicago?”

  She turned her laptop so he could see its screen. He craned his neck. Gray light and straight lines. Google Maps, he figured, or Google Earth, or whatever kind of Google it was that showed satellite pictures of city streets.

  Chang said, “It’s a little ways north of downtown. It’s literally right next door to the Lincoln Park branch of the city library.”

  Still naked, still excited, still smiling, Chang tried the number again, the grandfathered 501 area code, plus seven more digits, but as before it rang and rang without being answered, and without going to voice mail. She gave it a whole hopeful minute, and then she hung up. Then she put her phone on speaker, and called Westwood, and found him in his office at the LA Times. She said, “The 501 number is a pharmacy burner that was sold in a store right next to the Lincoln Park library in Chicago. Therefore Maloney is McCann. We’re assuming he volunteers in the library, which would give him open access to the 773 number he used before. Then when you blocked him he went next door and bought a cell phone and tried again. We need to know his history. We need to know when he started calling.”

  Westwood said, “I’ll check.”

  They heard pattering keys, and clicking and scrolling, and breathing. Reacher pictured the twin screens, and the phone in the dock. Then Westwood came back and said, “The first McCann call came in a little over four months ago. There were fifteen more before I blocked him. Then he changed to Maloney, and called three more times. But you know that.”

  “Got notes on the earlier calls?”

  “Nothing. I’m sorry.”

  “Don’t worry. We’ll figure it out.”

  “Keep in touch.”

  “We will.”

  She hung up.

  Reacher said, “We should find the main number for the library. They must have details on their volunteers. We could get a home address.”

  She said, “We should shower first. And get dressed. I feel weird doing this with no clothes on.”

  Reacher said nothing.

  The man with the ironed jeans and the blow-dried hair took a fifth call on his land line. His contact said, “The phone company just called her back. Then she called the LA Times, immediately. She’s all excited about a guy named McCann in Chicago.”

  There was a long, long pause.

  Then the man with the jeans and the hair asked, “Did she speak to him?”

  “To McCann?” his contact said. “No.”

  “But she has his phone number.”

  “Actually she has two phone numbers. Although one of them seems to be in a public library. Apparently McCann volunteers there.”

  “She already knows where he works?”

  “Volunteering is not the same thing as working.”

  “Why hasn’t she spoken to him?”

  “She tried to. She called his cell, but he didn’t answer.”

  “Why wouldn’t he?”

  “How would I know?”

  “I’m asking you, as a professional. I want analysis. That’s what I pay you for. What are the possible reasons for not answering a cell phone call?”

  “Sudden decease of the cell phone owner, loss of the cell phone under the seat of a city bus or similar, not recognizing the incoming caller ID while in a misanthropic mood, being in a location or environment where taking a call would be socially unacceptable. There are hundreds of reasons.”

  “What’s her next move?”

  “She’ll keep trying the cell number, and she’ll go through the main switchboard at the library to get whatever data is kept on the volunteers.”

  “Like an address?”

  “That might be difficult. There would be privacy issues.”

  “So what then?”

  “She’ll go to Chicago. She’ll go anyway. If McCann was Keever’s client, she’ll want to interview him. And she can’t expect him to fly out to her.”

  “And Reacher will go with her to Chicago.”

  “Most likely.”

  “I can’t let them do that. They’re too close already.”

  “How do you propose to stop them?”

  “Your boy Hackett is right there.”

  “At the moment Hackett is engaged for surveillance only.”

  “That might need to change. You told me about the menu.”

  “You need to think about this carefully. Not just the money. It’s a big step.”

  “I can’t let them get to Chicago.”

  “You need to be very sure. This kind of decision benefits from absolute certainty.”

  “We should have stopped them ourselves, when we had the chance.”

  “I’ll need a formal instruction.”

  The man with the jeans and the hair said, “Tell Hackett to stop them now. Permanently.”

  Chapter 29

  The shower made for a slow and gentle transition between what they had been doing and what they had to do next. The tub was narrow, but the curtain was on a bowed-out rail, and the spray was wide and warm, and they didn’t want to get more than an inch away from each other anyway, so all was comfortable. They washed each other, like a game, top to bottom, slowly, carefully, soap and shampoo, no crevice neglected, and some lingered over. They took their time. There was a certain amount of fooling around. Steam rose, and filled the room, and the mirror fogged.

  Then eventually they climbed out and dried off with thin towels, and they rubbed circles in the steam on the mirror, one high up, one lower down, and they combed their hair, Reacher with his fingers, Chang with a tortoiseshell implement she fetched from her suitcase. They collected their clothes from where they had fallen, on the floor and the chair and the bed, and they dragged them on over still-damp skin.

  Then it was back to business. Reacher re-opened the drapes, and saw nothing outside except bright sun and blue sky. It was a spectacular day. Southern California, in late summer. Even the band of smog low down looked golden. Chang tried the 501 cell again. As before, it rang endlessly, without an answer. She kept it going. It purred dolefully but relentlessly on the speaker. On and on. Reacher said, “I never had this happen before. Either someone answers or it goes to an answering machine.”

  “Maybe those old burners didn’t have voice mail yet. Or maybe he didn’t set it up. Or he disabled it.”

  “Can you do that?”

  “I don’t know.”

  “Why isn’t he answering? He can’t have it both ways. Either you use voice mail or you answer your damn phone.”

  “He’s given up. No one would listen to him. So he dumped the phone. It’s ringing in a drawer somewhere.”

  Reacher was a need-to-know person, where technology was concerned. He understood faxes and telexes and military radio and the United States Postal Service, but he had never needed to know anything about civilian cell phones. He had never owned one. Why would he? Who would he call? Who would call him? The little he understood came from everyday observation. He pictured the phone in his mind, ringing and ringing. Vibrating too, probably. Ringing and buzzing. Powerful, and energetic. He said, “The battery must be charged. If it went dead the phone would switch off and the network would know. So he must plug it in from time to time.”

  “So maybe he went out to the store and left it behind.”

  Reacher glanced out the window and didn’t answer.

  The phone kept on ringing.

 
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