Make me, p.19
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       Make Me, p.19
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         Part #20 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child

  Eventually Reacher and Chang crabbed one at a time down the aisle to the airplane door, and out to the jet bridge, and then out to the concourse, which was packed full of a thousand people either sitting and waiting or hustling fast in every direction. Reacher had the unknown man’s face front and center in his mind, like a Most Wanted photograph in the post office, and he scanned the crowds obliquely, in the corner of his eye, looking away, not thinking, trusting his instincts to snag the resemblance, if it was there.

  It wasn’t. The guy wasn’t sitting, wasn’t waiting, wasn’t hustling in any direction. They walked together through the long concourse corridor, past people waiting outside restroom doors, past people lining up for coffee, past newsstands, past silvery boutiques, past fast-food eateries with their laminate tables and their hunched solo travelers. Reacher scanned ahead for newspapers being read, for elbows on the table, for a familiar slope of shoulders, but he saw nothing. No guy. Not in the building.

  They made it to the airside exit, and stepped out to landside, to baggage claim, and onward toward the door for ground transportation, and they saw a wall of pay phones, lonely and ignored, but better still they found a concierge desk, which offered all kinds of helpful services to new arrivals, including hotel bookings made direct. A cheerful woman in a blazer recommended the Peninsula, and made the call for them, and got them a suite, and told them where the cab line was.

  It was a warm evening, and the air outside was thick with humidity and gas fumes and cigarette smoke. They waited five minutes, and got a tired guy in a tired Crown Vic, who took off for town as fast as he could. Reacher watched out the window until the airport crowds were gone, but he saw no faces he knew. On the highway he watched the cars around them, but none pulled close or kept pace. They all just rolled along through the evening dark, individually, oblivious, all lit up, in worlds of their own.

  Chang said, “We should buy a burner phone.”

  Reacher said, “And we should tell Westwood to buy one too. Because that’s how our guy got this whole thing started, presumably. He was sitting on Westwood, monitoring his calls. We came to him, this morning. We walked right into it.”

  “Which proves they’re worried about Westwood. Which confirms something Westwood wrote is highly relevant.”

  “Probably not the sharks and the Frenchman.”

  “Or the gerbils or the climate change.”

  “See? We’re narrowing it down already.”

  They came in parallel to the L tracks, and saw the great city huge and high and implacable in front of them, by that time a purely nighttime vista, with a million lit windows against an inky eastern sky. The Peninsula hotel was ready and waiting for them, with a suite twice as large as the service bungalows Reacher had grown up in, and a thousand times plusher. The room service menu was the size of a phone book, and bound in leather. They ordered whatever they wanted, on the assumption the LA Times would pay. They ate it slowly, on the assumption they had the whole night ahead, uninterrupted. No need to rush. Better to savor the certainty. Better to bask in the upcoming promise. Through appetizers, and entrees, and desserts, and coffee.

  They woke early the next morning, despite the time zones, partly because they had things on their minds, but mostly because they hadn’t bothered to close the drapes the night before, and the bedroom faced east, where it caught the morning sun. What was on Reacher’s mind was his theory, which had suffered further revision. The fourth time had been better than the third. Hard to believe. But true. Which was bittersweet. Because one day it would have to be average. It had to stop somewhere. Sooner or later. It couldn’t keep on getting better forever.

  Could it?

  Hope for the best, plan for the worst.

  Apparently what was on Chang’s mind was Lincoln Park, and an irony, because she said, “I’m wondering how to get there. It’s pretty close. I’m not sure it’s worth renting a car. It might be hard to park. And taxis will add up, and might be hard to find. So overall I’m thinking we should get a Town Car for the day. Preferably black.”

  “Through the hotel,” Reacher said. “Another layer of staying ahead.”

  “Pick up at nine. We’ll be at the library about ten minutes after it opens.”

  “Outstanding.”

  Which because of the early hour gave them plenty of time, for a long slow room service breakfast, and long slow showers, after other things best done long and slow, in the morning, including the testing of theories.

  Their Town Car was the traditional sedan, black in color, as requested, and waxed to a shine. Its driver was a small man in a gray suit. He professed himself equally happy to drive through traffic or sit at a curb. No skin off his nose. He was getting paid either way. It took him ten minutes to Lincoln Park. The library had a start-of-the-day feel, when they stepped inside. There was a little discreet bustling going on, getting things ready. They asked for the woman they had spoken to on the phone the day before, on the inquiries number, after touching nine, and they got directions from one helpful staffer after another, like a relay race, all the way to a desk labeled Inquiries, which stood alone in a side alcove, and which was currently unattended. Its chair was neatly tucked in, and its computer screen was blank. As yet undisturbed. The inquiries lady was late for work.

  But all was not lost. Because in the end wall of the alcove was a door, and behind the door were voices, and on the door was a sign: Volunteer Room. From inside of which McCann had made fifteen calls, until Westwood had run out of patience.

  Reacher knocked on the door, and the voices fell silent. He opened the door, and saw a break room, very municipal, full of inoffensive colors and low chairs with fabric upholstery. In the chairs were five people, two men, three women, different ages, different types.

  The phone was on a low table, between two of the chairs.

  “Excuse me,” Reacher said. “I’m sorry to interrupt. I’m looking for Mr. McCann.”

  An old guy said, “He isn’t here,” and he said it in a way that made Reacher assume he knew McCann, possibly well, in order to answer with such authority, and to appoint himself spokesperson on the matter. He was a thin old specimen, with pleated no-iron khaki pants and a full head of white hair, neatly brushed, and a tucked-in plaid shirt, like a retired-person uniform. Retired from an executive position, probably, full of spreadsheets and data, still needing to feel wanted, or wanting to feel needed.

  Reacher asked him, “When was the last time you saw Mr. McCann?”

  “Three or four weeks ago.”

  “Is that usual?”

  “He comes and goes. These are volunteer positions, after all. I gather he has many other interests.”

  “Do you know where he lives?”

  The old guy said, “I’m sorry, but these are personal questions, and I have no idea who you are.”

  “A short time ago Mr. McCann hired a firm of private inquiry agents, to help him with a problem. We’re the agents. We’re here to help him.”

  “Then you must know where he lives.”

  Reacher said quietly, “Sir, may we speak alone?”

  Which hit the spot, as far as the old guy’s ego was concerned. He had been recognized as a cut above. As exactly the kind of man you pulled aside and brought closer to the center. He said to the other volunteers, “Would you give us the room? It’s time to start work anyway. You’ve all got things to do.”

  So the others trooped out, the younger man and three women, and Chang closed the door behind them, and she and Reacher sat down in places just vacated, in a triangle with the old guy, who hadn’t moved.

  Chang said, “The agent who dealt with Mr. McCann is missing, I’m afraid. And the first thing we need to do in a case like this is make sure the client is safe. That’s our standard operating procedure. But we’re going to need help finding him.”

  The old guy said, “What’s this about?”

  “We don’t know exactly. Maybe you can help us there too. We think Mr. McCann is all worked up about something
. Maybe he mentioned it.”

  “I know he’s not a happy man.”

  “Do you know why?”

  “We aren’t close. We don’t exchange confidences. We have a working relationship. We talk about library matters, of course, often at length, and we agree on most of them, but I recall very little personal conversation. I get the impression he has family problems. That’s as much as I can tell you. I think his wife is long dead and his grown-up son is an issue. Or a challenge, as they would say nowadays.”

  “Do you know where he lives?”

  “No, he never told me.”

  Reacher said, “Isn’t that unusual? Don’t people normally talk about where they live? The stores on their block, or how far they have to go for a cup of coffee?”

  The old guy said, “I got the strong impression he was ashamed of where he lived.”

  They left the old guy in the room, and found the inquiries lady at work at her desk outside. She had showed up, just in time. Chang renewed their acquaintance, and showed one of her defunct FBI cards, and it was all going as smoothly as could be, but still the woman wouldn’t give up McCann’s address. She was unmovable. She was passionate on the subject of privacy. She said a request could be made to the director. But Reacher figured the director would be equally passionate, maybe not on the subject of privacy, but certainly on the subject of possible litigation, and therefore just as unmovable.

  He said, “OK, don’t tell me the address. But at least tell me if Mr. McCann has an address.”

  The woman said, “Of course he has.”

  “And you know what it is?”

  “Yes, I do. But I can’t tell you.”

  “Is it local?”

  “I can’t give you the address.”

  “I don’t want it. I don’t care about the address anymore. I wouldn’t listen if you told me. I just want to know if it’s local. That’s all. Which doesn’t give anything away. Every neighborhood has thousands of people.”

  “Yes, it’s local.”

  “How local? Does he walk here, the days he works?”

  “You’re asking me for his address.”

  “No, I’m not. I don’t want his address. I wouldn’t even let you tell me now. I would stick my fingers in my ears and sing la-la-la. I just want to know if it’s walking distance. It’s a geography question. Or physiology. How old would you say Mr. McCann is?”

  “How what?

  “Old. His age is different than his address. You’re free to talk about it. You’re free to share your impressions.”

  “He’s sixty. He was sixty last year.”

  “Is he in good shape?”

  “Hardly. He looks terrible.”

  “That’s too bad. In what way?”

  “He’s too thin. He doesn’t look after himself. He takes no care at all.”

  “Is he lacking in energy?”

  “Yes, I would say so. He’s kind of down all the time.”

  “Then he wouldn’t want to walk too far, would he? Let’s say three blocks maximum. Would that be a fair conclusion?”

  “I can’t tell you.”

  “A three block radius is thirty-six square blocks. That’s bigger than Milwaukee. You wouldn’t be telling me anything.”

  “OK, yes, he walks to work, and yes, it’s a short walk. But that’s it. I can’t tell you anything else.”

  “What’s his first name? Can you tell us that?”

  “It’s Peter. Peter McCann.”

  “What about his wife? How long has he been widowed?”

  “I think that was all a long time ago.”

  “What’s his son’s name?”

  “It’s Michael, I think. Michael McCann.”

  “Is there an issue with Michael?”

  “We didn’t talk about it.”

  “But you must have pieced something together.”

  “I would be betraying a confidence.”

  “Not if he didn’t tell you himself. You would be sharing your own conclusions. That’s all. That’s a big difference.”

  “I think Mr. McCann’s son Michael has a behavioral issue. I don’t know what, exactly. Not something to be proud of, I think. That would be my conclusion.”

  Reacher made a sympathetic face, and tried one last time, but still she wouldn’t give up McCann’s address. So they took their leave and detoured to the reference desk and checked the Chicago phone books. There were too many P. McCanns and too many M. McCanns to be useful. They stepped back out to the street armed with precisely nothing except impressions and guesses.

  Chapter 33

  They turned left on the sidewalk outside the library door, and found the mom-and-pop pharmacy exactly where it should have been, which was directly adjacent. It was a narrow storefront, with an awning and a door and a small display window, which was full of not-very-tempting items, including elastic bandages and heat pads and a toilet seat for folks having difficulty with mobility. Pharmacy windows were a marketing challenge, in Reacher’s opinion. It was hard to think of a display liable to make people rush inside with enthusiasm. But he saw one item of interest. It was a burner cell, in a plastic package, hanging on a peg on a board. The phone looked old-fashioned. The plastic package looked dusty. The price was advertised as super-low.

  They went inside and found six more identical phones pegged to a panel otherwise covered with two-dollar cases and two-dollar chargers, and car adapters, and wires of many different descriptions, most of them white. The phones themselves were priced a penny shy of thirteen dollars. They came pre-loaded with a hundred minutes of talk time.

  Reacher said, “We should buy one.”

  Chang said, “I was thinking of something more modern.”

  “How modern does it need to be? All it has to do is work.”

  “It won’t get the internet.”

  “You’re talking to the wrong person. That’s a feature, as far as I’m concerned. And it’s a karma thing. We’ll have the same phone as McCann. It might bring us luck.”

  “Doesn’t seem to have worked for him,” Chang said. But she unhooked a phone from the display anyway, and carried it to the counter, where an old lady waited behind the register. She had steel-gray hair in a bun, and she was dressed with last-century, old-country formality. Way in the back of the store was an old guy working on prescriptions. Same kind of age, same kind of style. A white coat over a suit and tie. Same kind of hair, apart from the bun. Mom and Pop, presumably. No other staff. Low overhead.

  Reacher asked the woman, “Do these phones have voice mail?”

  She repeated the question, much louder, not directed at him, he realized, but at Pop in back, who called out, “No.”

  The woman said, “No.”

  Reacher said, “A friend of ours bought one here. Peter McCann. Do you know him?”

  She called out loudly, “Do we know Peter McCann?”

  The old guy in back shouted, “No.”

  “No,” the woman said.

  “Do you know his son Michael?”

  “Do we know his son Michael?”

  “No.”

  “No.”

  “OK,” Reacher said. He found a ten and a five in his pocket, and paid for the phone. His change came in coins, expertly reckoned and deftly dispensed. They stopped on the sidewalk outside the store and wrestled the package open. Wasn’t easy. In the end Reacher gave up on finesse and tore it in half down the middle. He put the charger in his pocket and passed the phone itself to Chang. She looked it over, and figured it out, and turned it on. It came up with a welcome screen, small, blurred, and black and white. It showed its own number. Area code 501, plus seven more digits. It showed a battery icon, at about fifty percent capacity. Charged at the factory, but not all the way. The icon was like a tiny flashlight battery, tipped over on its side, solid at one end and hollow at the other. Reacher said, “Try McCann again. Maybe this time he’ll answer. Maybe his phone will recognize a kindred spirit.”

  There was no speaker option. Not for thirteen bu
cks. Chang dialed, and they stood together cheek to cheek, listening, her right ear, his left, and they heard McCann’s phone ring. And ring. Endlessly. The same as before. No answer, and no voice mail.

  Like a faithful spaniel, not understanding.

  Chang ended the call.

  She said, “Now what? We search an area bigger than Milwaukee?”

  “I was dramatizing for effect. Milwaukee is bigger than thirty-six blocks. It’s a pretty nice place.”

  Then he stopped.

  She said, “What?”

  He said, “Nothing.”

  He had been about to say we should go there sometime.

  She said, “OK, we have to search an area smaller than Milwaukee, but not by much.”

 
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