Make me, p.18
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       Make Me, p.18
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         Part #20 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child

  Both of you.”

  Chang said, “Where?”

  “To talk to my boss.”

  “Where is he?”

  “In the van at the curb.”

  Reacher glanced out the sliding doors and saw a dark blue panel van parked in the no-waiting lane, about thirty yards away. Not very clean. Not very shiny.

  “Surveillance,” the guy said. “And by boss I mean my watch supervisor for the day. Not my real boss. The man in the van has the responsibility. It’s that simple. This is pure routine. No big deal at all.”

  Reacher said, “No.”

  “Sir, that’s not a word right now. This is national security.”

  “No, this is an airport. This is where people get on airplanes. Which is what we’re going to do. With one bag between us. So either arrest us or step aside.”

  “That kind of attitude is on the list too.”

  “Higher or lower than the no luggage thing?”

  “Sir, you’re not helping yourself.”

  “In what endeavor?”

  The guy got all tensed up, and a pair of LAPD uniforms strolled into view, with all kinds of hardware on their bulky hips. Then the guy breathed out, with the same kind of sound as before, either irritated or frustrated, and he said, “OK, you folks have a safe flight.”

  And he walked on, diagonally, already scanning the middle distance for new alerts.

  Chang’s gold card guy had gotten them some kind of preapproved status on their boarding passes, which let them use a special line through security, and keep their shoes on. Reacher put his coins in a bowl, and raised his hands in the scanner, and joined Chang on the other side. They walked to the gate, and found a lounge nearby that more gold card coding let them in, and they waited a good long time on upholstered chairs, which they agreed were the modern-day equivalents of the old mahogany benches at the railroad stop in Mother’s Rest, in that both were more comfortable than they looked. Which the modern-day equivalents needed to be, because theirs was not the first flight out. Which Reacher eventually figured was the gold card downside.

  Then they boarded, and the gold card guy came through strong again, with seats in the exit row, which meant more leg room, which Reacher obviously appreciated, yet also resented. He understood the theory. In an emergency people would have to exit that way, out through the window and over the wing. Hence all kinds of regulations mandated a minimum space, so people would be comfortable on their way through, except that if such a thing existed as a minimum space for a person to be comfortable, then why wasn’t every row just as capacious? It was a regulatory conundrum he couldn’t unravel.

  Chang said, “This is nice.”

  Reacher said, “It sure is.”

  “Why didn’t you like that cop in the airport?”

  “I liked him fine. I like everyone. I’m a happy, cheerful, and gregarious person.”

  “No, you’re really not.”

  “I liked him fine,” Reacher said again.

  “You reacted to him in a negative way.”

  “Did I?”

  “You said no to him, and then you started pushing him. You were practically daring him to arrest us.”

  “I had a question.”

  “Which was what?”

  “I mean, I thought he was plausible. Very plausible, really. We’ve both seen it happen. Some upstairs pointy-head writes a list. Based on what, no one knows. Maybe nine times out of ten no luggage means you’re a bad guy. Except my guess would be nearer one in a million. His too, probably. But he sticks to the list. Because he has to.”

  “So what was your question?”

  “Have you seen an LAPD photo ID recently? To compare?”

  “I can’t recall.”

  “Me neither.”

  “You think he was phony?”

  “I wish I knew. I guess if he wasn’t, at least he was proving the mind control thing was bullshit. Otherwise he would have been happy I wasn’t checking bags. I would have been leaving more room in the hold for the machinery.”

  “If he was phony, who could he be really?”

  “Maybe he was another Moynahan cousin.”

  “In LA? How many can there be? I don’t buy it.”

  “Why did he quit when he did?”

  “Because you convinced him. He had no probable cause. And most likely he needed some. The legislation is probably weaker than we think it is.”

  “No, he quit when he did because the cops came close.”

  “They were his.”

  “But suppose they weren’t. Suppose he was a con man whose job it was to get us in the van. But hey, nothing is that important. He’s a pro who wants to work again. He wasn’t sure what I was going to do next. I might have gone ballistic. He couldn’t risk attention. So he shut it down, because the cops happened to wander close, prowling around, looking for unusual behaviors. In other words, the guy covered his ass and ran.”

  “Or he was a good soldier who spared you an hour in jail and himself an hour of paperwork by taking a deep breath and counting to ten and walking away.”

  The plane turned onto the runway, amid noisy billows of dry brown air, and it accelerated slowly, complacently, as if fully aware the mysteries of flight had been worked out long ago, and it lifted off calmly, and glinted in the sun, and sideslipped in the haze, and curved upward on trails of soot, setting a dark but graceful course north and east.

  Ten minutes later, twenty miles south of Mother’s Rest, the man with the ironed jeans and the blow-dried hair took the call on his land line. His contact said, “We’re going to put this right.”

  “Put what right?”

  “We got very unlucky.”

  “What are you talking about?”

  “There was a problem.”

  “Did they get on the plane?”

  At which point the contact went talkative again. Not from high spirits. From a bitter and incredulous should-have obsession. He said, “Hackett set it up perfectly. She booked the flight on the phone, so he had all the details. The timing was perfect. To the second. He watched them leave the motel, in a taxi. He was in the back of a Town Car by then, with a subcontractor driving, and they followed for a spell, and then they got alongside on the 405, and it was a total gimme, including she even had her window open, and the fast lane was moving well for the getaway, and a black Town Car on the road to LAX is invisible, because there are a million of them, so the shotgun was literally coming up, right then, point-blank range, but they got rear-ended by a Ferrari. Like getting kicked into next week, Hackett said. They never saw them again. You can’t move backward on a freeway.”

  “So they’re on the plane?”

  “It wasn’t the earliest flight. They chose it because she has a gold card. Hackett is ahead of them, by thirty-four minutes. I told you, we’re going to put this right.”

  “In Chicago?”

  “No extra charge. It wasn’t our Ferrari, but it is our reputation.”

  “Don’t let them talk to McCann.”

  “Understood. Our thoughts exactly.”

  The flight was long. Not coast to coast, but basically transcontinental. A big slice, if not the whole thing. Chang had her seat reclined an inch, and her legs were stuck out straight, with her lace-up shoes under the seat in front. She was thinking, like he had seen her think before, behind the wheel of the little green Ford, on the long empty road to Oklahoma City. Sometimes half-smiling, and then half-grimacing, as positives and negatives ran through her mind, or strengths and weaknesses, or good outcomes and bad. Without a road to watch her eyes were involved too, narrowing, squinting, widening, shifting focus far and near.

  Reacher was trying not to think. He was chasing an elusive memory, right in the twilight between conscious and subconscious. He was looking away from it, not thinking about it, leaving it well alone.

  He said, “The library will be closed when we get there.”

  She said, “We’ll hit it first thing in the morning. We’ll stay the night in a hotel.


  “We should make it a good one. We should stay in the best hotel in town, and send the bill to the newspaper. A big suite. With room service. They’ll be happy to pay. Because something is coming. I can feel it.”

  “What exactly?”

  “I don’t know. There’s something I can’t remember, but I know it’s important.”

  “How, if you can’t remember?”

  “Just a feeling.”

  “Because the best hotel in town will go on my credit card first. I’ll be taking a financial risk.”

  “They’ll be happy to pay,” Reacher said again.

  “Four Seasons or the Peninsula?”

  “Either one.”

  “I’ll call from O’Hare and take whichever is cheaper.”

  Reacher said nothing.

  Chang said, “Exactly how important do you think this thing is, that you can’t remember but know is important?”

  “I think it’s going to give us a shape. Of what we’re up against.”

  “What is?”

  “I don’t know. It’s like I’m trying to match two things. Two things have been identical. But I don’t know what. Words, or facts, or places.”

  “Not places. LA is nothing like Mother’s Rest. There’s no similarity at all.”

  “OK.”

  “Neither is Chicago. Except maybe some of the farmers go there, to do whatever farmers do in Chicago. Is that it?”

  “No.”

  “You better hurry up. We’re going to be there soon.”

  Reacher nodded, absently. We’re going to be there soon. He pictured the deplaning process in his mind. He liked to think things through, and scope things out. Even something as simple as getting off a plane. It was a lizard brain thing. They would taxi and park, and the seatbelt sign would go off, and people would stand, and wrestle stuff out of the overheads and from under the seats, and they would pack together in the aisle, and eventually shuffle one by one to the door and out to the jet bridge. Then the race would be on for real, down the long wide corridors, past the silvery boutiques, past the food courts, with their laminate tables and their lonely customers.

  Which was when he got it.

  He said, “Not words or facts or places.”

  She said, “What then?”

  “Faces,” he said. “Do you remember that Town Car on the 405?”

  “There were a million Town Cars on the 405.”

  “One of them pulled alongside and kept pace for a second, and then got rear-ended by a red coupe.”

  “Oh, that one.”

  “Its window came down. I caught a glimpse of the guy inside.”

  “How much of a glimpse?”

  “Partial, and extremely brief.”

  “But?”

  “We’ve seen him before.”

  “Where?”

  “In the diner in Inglewood. That brown place. This morning. Where we met with Westwood the first time. That guy was in there. Elbows on the table, reading a newspaper.”

  Now Chang said nothing.

  “Same guy,” Reacher said.

  “I was trained to think like a defense attorney.”

  “And whatever you’re going to say, the front part of my brain agrees with you a hundred percent. It was a split-second glimpse between two vehicles moving at forty miles an hour, and eyewitness testimony is unreliable at best.”

  “But?”

  “The back part of my brain knows it was the same guy.”

  “How?”

  “The radio chatter is off the scale.”

  “You hear radio chatter?”

  “I listen out for it hard. We were wild animals for seven million years. We learned a lot of lessons. We should be careful not to lose them.”

  “What is the radio chatter saying?”

  “Part of it is tuning up for a fight. It knows nothing good is coming.”

  “What about the other part?”

  “It’s having a back-and-forth, working out the implications. Which are basically all or nothing. Either I’m completely mistaken, or that guy has been following us from the start. Which would mean he’s tracking us through your cell phone. Which would mean he knows virtually everything so far. And which would mean we better call the Four Seasons or the Peninsula from a pay phone. That way we’ll get ahead. And we need to get ahead, because this guy is escalating. He’s moving right along. At breakfast this morning in the diner he was observing. Maybe eavesdropping a little, reading lips. Now he’s trying to kill us.”

  “By opening his window?”

  “He looked at me. For a split second I thought he wanted to tell me something. He was kind of locking in on me. In a preparatory way. But not ahead of him telling me something. He was acquiring his target. That’s what he was doing. Logic says he had a sawed-off shotgun in there with him. For a car-to-car drive-by, like an air-to-air missile. Two rounds to make sure, and then everyone panics and crashes, and he gets away in the fast lane, and afterward he was just one Town Car in a million, like you said.”

  “That’s a very extreme scenario.”

  “It’s all or nothing. What else was he doing, pulling level like that? He’s been told to take us out. Which suggests he’s versatile. And therefore expensive. Which starts to give us a shape for what’s happening in Mother’s Rest. They’re supplying something. In exchange for money. Enough money to hire a versatile private operative to counter a perceived threat.”

  “Unless like you said, it was a split-second glimpse at forty miles an hour, two moving vehicles, and eyewitness testimony is unreliable.”

  “Hope for the best, plan for the worst.”

  “That wouldn’t get us a warrant.”

  “Warrants are about what you can prove. Not what you know.”

  “And you know?”

  “It’s an instinct thing. It’s why I’m still here, after seven million years. Darwinism in action.”

  She said, “What did we do between breakfast time and now to make them escalate?”

  “Exactly,” he said. “We homed in on McCann.”

  “Who must therefore be very dangerous to them. And therefore very interesting to us.”

  “And the library will be closed when we get there.”

  She said, “If he’s the same guy. You could still be wrong.”

  “But the smart money says we should act like I’m right. Just in case.”

  “Like Pascal’s Wager.”

  “Costs us nothing if we’re wrong, but saves us plenty if we’re right.”

  “Except he’s behind us now. He’s still in LA.”

  “Not necessarily. This was not the first flight out.”

  Chang said nothing. She just took out her phone, and held down a button, and changed it from airplane mode to off completely.

  They landed from the east, after a long lazy loop over the lake and the city. A summer dusk was almost done, still bronze and hot, but darkening. The lights on the runways were bright. They taxied and parked, and the seatbelt sign went off, and people stood up and wrestled things out of the overheads and from under the seats, and they started to pack together in the aisle, Reacher and Chang among them.

  Chapter 32

 
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