Make me, p.17
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       Make Me, p.17
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         Part #20 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child

  Chang said, “What?”

  “Nothing.” But in his mind’s eye he was getting a lonely picture, of a phone on the floor, alive, hopping around, like a faithful spaniel pawing at its dead master, trying to get his attention, not understanding. Out on the moors, maybe, or in a grand living room. A heart attack, perhaps, or gout, or whatever guys with spaniels died of. But he was a need-to-know data-driven person, so all he said was, “Shut it down and try the library switchboard instead.”

  Chang killed the call and the room went quiet. She woke her computer and clicked her way to a web page for the Chicago library system. The Lincoln Park branch had its own inquiries number. A 773 area code, plus seven more digits, not far removed from the volunteer room number they had gotten before. She dialed, and got a menu. English or Spanish. Touch one for this, touch two for that. To speak with a person, touch nine.

  She touched nine. There was ring tone, and then a woman’s voice came on and said, “How may I help you?”

  Chang introduced herself the same way she had to Westwood, the very first time. She said her name, and said she was a private inquiry agent, now based in Seattle, but previously with the FBI, and that last part seemed to help. The woman in Chicago seemed impressed.

  Chang said, “I understand you have volunteers helping out.”

  “That’s correct,” the woman said.

  “Do you have a volunteer named McCann?”

  “We did.”

  “But not anymore?”

  “We haven’t seen him for three or four weeks.”

  “Did he quit?”

  “Not as such. But volunteers tend to come and go.”

  “What can you tell me about him?”

  “Why do you need to know? Is he in trouble?”

  “He was my firm’s client. But we lost touch. We’re trying to reconnect. To see if he still needs our help.”

  “He’s an older man, very quiet, keeps himself to himself. But he does good work. We’d like to reconnect too.”

  “Did he have any burning interests, or things on his mind?”

  “I’m not sure. He was never exactly a chatterbox.”

  “Is he local? Do you have an address for him?”

  Dead air from Chicago. Then the woman said, “I’m sorry, but I’m really not permitted to give out that kind of information. We have to respect our volunteers’ privacy.”

  “Do you have a phone number for him? At his home? Perhaps you could call him and ask him to call us.”

  Silence from Chicago. Just tiny plastic clicks. A database, possibly. A long list, on a computer. Lots of scrolling required. M for McCann would be exactly halfway.

  Then the woman came back on the line and said, “No, I’m afraid we don’t have a phone number for him.”

  After that they checked Chang’s secret private-eye databases for guys named McCann in Chicago, in case he stood out some other way, but they got hundreds of random hits, as was to be expected, Reacher supposed, given ethnic names and historic patterns of migration. Maybe their McCann was one of them, but there was no way of knowing. He was hidden like a grain of sand on a beach.

  After that they checked the airlines. There was plenty of choice. LAX to ORD was a big-deal route. There were multiple departures all through the afternoon hours. Which made sense. Folks could get home before their natural bedtimes, two time zones east. Anything later approached red-eye territory.

  The major carriers were all charging the same price, to the penny, so Chang went with American, where she had a gold card, and she booked on the phone, through a gold card person. More reliable in urgent situations, she said, and better seats.

  Reacher put his toothbrush in his pocket, and she packed her suitcase, with her comb, and her computer, and its charger, and her phone charger.

  She zipped it up.

  She said, “OK?”

  Reacher nodded and said, “Let’s go find a cab.”

  Chapter 30

  They stepped out the door and blinked in the bright sun, and stopped by the office to return the key. The clerk seemed perturbed by their early departure, at first worried there was something wrong with the room, and when they told him there wasn’t, he seemed to assume they saw the place as a hot-sheets by-the-hour convenience, and got upset all over again. Reacher told him it was an urgent change of plan, that was all, just business, nothing more, but he saw the guy’s point. Their hair was still wet from the shower, and the afterglow was coming off them in waves, like nuclear radiation.

  There was a cab at the curb across the street. Reacher whistled and waved, the same as before, and this time it worked. The cab pulled a slow curb-to-curb U-turn and came to rest with the rear door handle exactly level with Reacher’s hip. The driver popped the trunk and climbed out to help with Chang’s suitcase. He was a big guy in a short-sleeved shirt, his forearms roped with muscle, his nose bent from an earlier break, his eyebrows thick with scar tissue. A boxer in his youth, Reacher thought, or just plain unlucky. The guy lifted the suitcase like it was weightless and placed it in the trunk. Chang slid in across the vinyl bench, behind the driver’s seat, and Reacher climbed in beside her. The driver got back behind the wheel and caught Reacher’s eye in the mirror.

  “LAX,” Reacher said. “American, domestic.”

  The cab took off, slow and steady through the winking sunlight, left and right on the side streets, to Santa Monica Boulevard, where it headed south and west toward the 405.

  This time the guy with the jeans and the hair didn’t wait for his land line to ring. He wanted to get ahead of the news, so he dialed his contact preemptively. He said, “Is it done?”

  His contact said, “Don’t worry, it will be.”

  “So it isn’t done?”

  “Not yet.”

  “But Hackett was right there.”

  “Let us do what we’re good at, OK? Two dead in a West Hollywood motel room would have been a disaster. They go to town over a thing like that. There would have been ten squad cars there in a thin minute. They’d have put four detectives on it. It would have been on the evening news. Hackett can’t afford that kind of exposure. Too much risk. He has to be able to work again.”

  “So when?”

  “Trust me. They won’t get on the plane.”

  The 405 was busy, as always, but it was moving. Three lanes, keeping pace, all bright colors and clean paint and wax and chrome, and fierce flashing sun, and the tawny hills in the background. The ride was soft. Chang had her window all the way down, and the breeze was warm. It was blowing her hair around. Her T-shirt was damp on the shoulders, where it had rested. The driver was neat and precise in his movements. No slamming around. He was staying in the right-hand lane, going with the flow, as good a way as any, on LA’s freeways. They would get there when they got there.

  Reacher was leaning back in his seat, still deeply content, still rubbery, and Chang looked the same beside him. She said, “A library volunteer is bound to be local, right? It’s a community thing, basically. It’s not like we’ll have to search the whole of Chicago.”

  Reacher said, “You should check what Westwood wrote four months ago. We need to know what was on McCann’s mind. Before we meet him. We need to know what triggered his first call.”

  Chang took out her phone, and used her thumbs to ask for the LA Times web site. The cell network was slower than wifi, but it got there in the end. She said, “Four months exactly? Or do we assume he researched an earlier piece?”

  “Good point,” Reacher said. “I guess if McCann is an internet guy, he could have found anything. But listing everything Westwood ever wrote in his life won’t help us. Try a three-month window. Four, five, and six months back.”

  Chang used the site’s own search box and typed Westwood. She got a bunch of stuff about the LA neighborhood of the same name. So she changed the search to Ashley Westwood, in quote marks, which worked much better. First up was a sidebar section on the right, with a photo and a bio of the man himself. The photo looked like
it had been taken some years earlier, on a good day. Westwood looked a little younger, and his hair and his beard were a little neater, and less gray. The bio said he had postgraduate degrees in molecular biology and journalism. On the left was a list of his articles. Each one had a headline and a capsule summary. First up was a teaser for his piece on the history of wheat, which was due to be published on the upcoming Sunday. Below that was the piece on traumatic brain injuries they had already seen, in Keever’s Oklahoma City bedroom.

  Chang swiped at her screen and the list spooled upward. She stopped it eight pieces back, which was four months. The guy was doing a new article every two weeks, approximately, each one fairly long and presumably researched fairly extensively. Which in terms of civilian employment was easier than being a coal miner or an ER doctor, no doubt, but not actually easy, in Reacher’s opinion. He had never written anything longer than an after-action report. Which was generally a discipline much shorter in form, and not necessarily researched, or even non-fiction.

  First up at the four-month mark was a piece about organic farming. Fruits, vegetables, and staple crops. The headline was provocative, and the capsule summary hinted that big agribusinesses were subverting the definition in order to reap the premium prices without doing the hard work. Two weeks before that Westwood had written about gerbils. Ancient gerbils, to be precise, according to the headline. Apparently new research proved the bubonic plague in medieval Europe had been carried not by fleas on rats, as long supposed, but by fleas on giant gerbils from Asia.

  The traffic was slowing up, in the right-hand lane at least. The middle lane and the left lane were passing them by. But the driver didn’t move over.

  Chang scrolled on down the list. Next up after the gerbils was a five-month-old piece about climate change. The headline said the oceans were rising, and the capsule summary said fractal geometry meant an East Coast seawall would need more concrete than humans had mixed in all their history so far.

  Chang said, “Everyone writes about climate change. No need for McCann to pick on Westwood in particular, right?”

  Reacher said, “Agreed.”

  Next up was something called the Deep Web. Which had to do with search engines and the internet. Apparently the Surface Web was easier to navigate. After that came bees. Apparently they were dying out the world over. Without them crops would not get fertilized and everyone would starve. Which was a lot more than two hundred people. Reacher could see about two hundred people right then, out the window, because the traffic was slowing even more. They were still in the right-hand lane. The middle lane and the left-hand lane were still a little faster. A black Town Car came level on Chang’s side and kept pace for a second. A gap opened up ahead of it. Its rear window came down, and Reacher caught a partial glimpse of a guy inside, his head turning toward them. For an absurd split second it looked like the guy wanted to tell them something. But then the inevitable happened. The Town Car was in the middle lane, but it was going at the right-hand lane’s speed, and behind it a small red coupe didn’t slow, inattentive, and it kissed the Town Car’s rear bumper. The speed differential was modest, not more than five or ten miles an hour, but even so the Town Car was punted solidly forward, and the passenger’s head was slammed back against the seat cushion, and then hurled forward again, all of Newton’s Laws of Motion in play, inertia and action and reaction. Reacher was surprised by the force of it all. Maybe whiplash really was a thing. The Town Car motored on into the gap ahead, and the red coupe followed, neither one of them slowing, both of them apparently undamaged. Clearly federal bumpers worked like they should.

  There was no fuss. No honking horns, no shaking fists, no middle fingers. All in a day’s work, Reacher supposed, in Los Angeles traffic.

  The right-hand lane slowed even more. Within seconds the Town Car and the red coupe were way ahead and out of sight. The left-hand lane was moving even better. Reacher leaned forward and asked, “Why aren’t you moving over?”

  The driver glanced in the mirror and said, “It’s all going to jam up soon.”

  “So why not get ahead before it does?”

  “It’s a hare and tortoise thing, my friend.”

  Chang put her hand on Reacher’s arm and pulled him back. She said, “Let him do what he’s good at. You failed driving, remember?”

  She turned back to her phone. The last item in their chosen three-month window was a piece about an ocean corridor parallel to the West Coast, from California to Oregon, which great white sharks used for seasonal migration. Not an issue for most folks, except a Frenchman was proposing to swim through it, on his way across the Pacific from Japan. He would sleep on a chase boat every night, and start over every morning, eight hours a day. Apparently the sharks were a secondary problem. First he would have to traverse the Pacific Gyre, which was a slow thousand-mile whirlpool, full of dumped plastic and toxic sludge and all kinds of other crap.

  Chang said, “The French are crazy.”

  Reacher said, “My mother was French.”

  “Was she crazy?”

  “Pretty much.”

  The traffic slowed again, proportionately, the left-hand lane to what the middle lane had been doing, and the middle lane to what the right-hand lane had been doing, and the right-hand lane itself almost to a stop. Still the driver wouldn’t move over. He just inched along, stopping and starting, barely faster than walking.

  Then they found out why.

  Just past Culver City and just before Inglewood, with LAX not far away, the guy pulled off the freeway into a sudden unmarked exit on the right, which led to a narrow road that looked like the entrance to some kind of an abandoned maintenance depot. The cab crunched over debris-strewn blacktop, all alone, between rusty iron sheds, and then it turned and bumped across broken concrete into a dead-end fork, with nothing up ahead but a derelict warehouse, which had a busted door hanging open.

  The guy drove straight inside, into the dark.

  Chapter 31

  The warehouse had rusted iron ribs holding up the roof, and what little light there was inside came from hundreds of tiny bright speckles of sun showing through lacy holes in the siding. It was a big place, close to three hundred feet long, but largely empty, except for unexplained piles of abandoned equipment and scrap metal. The floor was concrete, worn smooth in some places, stained with oil in others, and covered with rusty fragments and pigeon feathers everywhere. The crunch of the tires and the engine noise and the beat of the exhaust came back loud through Chang’s open window.

  There were no people inside, as far as Reacher could see, which fact the back part of his brain seized upon. One blow to the side of the driver’s head would solve the problem. A right-handed haymaker, around and down a little. Unexpected. No warning. Give the guy some whiplash of his own. Get your retaliation in first. Reacher’s hand balled into a fist, ready.

  And then it relaxed again. The guy drove on, slow and steady, but confident, as if he knew exactly where he was going, as if he had been there many times before, and he said, “The hare and the tortoise, my friend. I just saved us twenty minutes.”

  At the far end of the warehouse was an identical busted door, hanging open just the same, and the guy drove out through it into the bright light, and over more cracked concrete, between more abandoned sheds, and out a sagging gate onto LAX’s northern perimeter road, just outside the big wire fence. Reacher saw the control tower dead ahead, and runways and taxiways and parked planes and little trucks swarming all around, busy and innocent under the high sky and the blazing sun.

  The driver said, “We were trespassing, technically, but I used to work in there, back when it was a going concern, so I figure I’m entitled. It saves using the regular way in off the freeway, which will be a real mess right now. It always is, in the afternoon. I lose a buck or two on the meter, but I make it back double because I get a new fare all the faster. My secret sauce. A little local knowledge never hurts.”

  He turned right on a cargo road, and followed th
e outside of another big wire fence, and ten seconds later they were back in the river of Town Cars and taxis and friends and relatives all heading for the terminals. A minute after that they were at American, slowing down, pulling over, and stopping. Another minute, and Chang’s suitcase was out on the sidewalk, upright, handle raised and ready to go, and the driver was paid and tipped and pulling away again.

  Chang got flimsy paper boarding passes from a machine, and then they headed for the security line. They didn’t get there. A guy stepped in the way. He was about forty, pink and solid, with short fair hair. He was wearing tan chinos and a blue polo shirt under a blue warm-up jacket. All the garments looked institutional. A uniform, of sorts. He was wearing a lanyard around his neck. It was tangled and the badge on the end was turned the wrong way around. He said, “Ma’am, sir, I watched you walk inside from the curb.”

  Reacher said, “Did you?”

  “You passed by the curbside bag drop and used a no-checked-bags machine.”

  “Did we?”

  “Sir, you have no luggage. Nothing checked, no carry-on, not even a personal item.”

  “Is that a problem?”

  “Frankly, sir, yes, it is. It’s unusual behavior. It’s one of the things on our list.”

  “Whose list?”

  The guy stared for a second, and then he figured it out and glanced down, to where his ID was hanging backward. He made a little noise in his throat, either irritation or frustration, and he flipped the badge around. Reacher saw a pink thumbnail photograph on the right, and the blue letters LAPD on the left, plus a bunch of lines too small and pale to read.

  The guy said, “Counterterrorism.”

  Reacher said, “I agree having no luggage is statistically rare. That’s a matter of simple observation. But I don’t see why negative inferences need to be drawn.”

  “I don’t make the rules. You’ll have to come with me, I’m afraid.
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