Make me, p.2
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       Make Me, p.2
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         Part #20 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child

  Reacher walked six blocks down and six blocks back, and he saw plenty of stuff. He saw houses still lived in, and houses converted to offices, for seed merchants and fertilizer dealers and a large-animal veterinarian. He saw a one-room law office. He saw a gas station one block north, and a pool hall, and a store selling beer and ice, and another selling nothing but rubber boots and rubber aprons. He saw a laundromat, and a tire bay, and a place for stick-on boot soles.

  He didn’t see a museum, or a monument.

  Which might be OK. They wouldn’t have put either thing right on the shoulder. Back a block or two, probably, for a sense of reverence, and to stay out of harm’s way.

  He stepped off the wagon train trail into a side street. The town was laid out on a grid, even though it had grown up semicircular. Some lots were more desirable than others. As if the giant elevators had a gravitational system all their own. The furthest reaches were undeveloped. Closer to the apex, buildings were shoulder to shoulder. The block behind the trail had one-room apartments that might have started out as barns or garages, and what looked like pop-up market stalls, for folks who had given over an acre or two to fruits and vegetables. There was a store that did Western Union and MoneyGram and faxing and photocopying and FedEx and UPS and DHL. There was a CPA’s office next to it, but it looked abandoned.

  No museum, and no monument.

  He quartered the blocks, one after another, past low shacks, past diesel engine repair, past vacant lots full of weeds as fine as hair. He came out at the far end of the wide street. He had covered half the town. No museum, and no monument.

  He saw the morning train pull in. It looked hot and bothered and impatient about stopping. It was impossible to see whether anyone got out. Too much infrastructure in the way.

  He was hungry.

  He walked straight ahead through the plaza, almost all the way back to where he had started, past the general store, and into the diner.

  At which point the motel keeper’s twelve-year-old grandson ducked into the general store, to the pay phone on the wall just inside the door. He dumped his coins and dialed a number, and when it was answered he said, “He’s searching the town. I followed him everywhere. He’s looking all over. He’s doing it block by block.”

  Chapter 3

  The diner was clean and pleasant and attractively decorated, but it was above all else a working place, designed to swap calories for money as fast as possible. Reacher took a two-top in the far right-hand corner, and he sat with his back to the angle, so he had the whole room in front of him. About half the tables were taken, mostly by people who seemed to be fuelling up ahead of a long day of physical labor. A waitress came by, busy but professionally patient, and Reacher ordered his default breakfast, which was pancakes, eggs, and bacon, but most of all coffee, first and always.

  The waitress told him the establishment had a bottomless cup policy.

  Reacher welcomed that news.

  He was on his second mug when the woman from the railroad came in, alone.

  She stood for a second, as if unsure, and then she looked all around, and saw him, and headed straight for him. She slid into the empty chair opposite. Up close and in the daylight she looked better than the night before. Dark lively eyes, and some kind of purpose and intelligence in her face. But some kind of worry, too.

  She said, “Thanks for the knock on the door.”

  Reacher said, “My pleasure.”

  She said, “My friend wasn’t on the morning train either.”

  He said, “Why tell me?”

  “You know something.”

  “Do I?”

  “Why else get off the train?”

  “Maybe I live here.”

  “You don’t.”

  “Maybe I’m a farmer.”

  “You’re not.”

  “I could be.”

  “I don’t think so.”

  “Why not?”

  “You weren’t carrying a bag, when you got out of the train. That’s about the polar opposite of being rooted to the same patch of land for generations.”

  Reacher paused a beat and said, “Who exactly are you?”

  “Doesn’t matter who I am. What matters is who you are.”

  “I’m just a guy passing through.”

  “I’m going to need more than that.”

  “And I’m going to need to know who’s asking.”

  The woman didn’t reply. The waitress came by, with his plate. Pancakes, eggs, and bacon. There was syrup on the table. The waitress refilled his coffee. Reacher picked up his silverware.

  The woman from the railroad put a business card on the table. She pushed it across the sticky wood. It had a government seal on it. Blue and gold.

  Federal Bureau of Investigation.

  Special Agent Michelle Chang.

  Reacher said, “That’s you?”

  “Yes,” she said.

  “I’m pleased to meet you.”

  “Likewise,” she said. “I hope.”

  “Why is the FBI asking me questions?”

  “Retired,” she said.

  “Who is?”

  “I am. I am no longer an FBI agent. The card is old. I took some with me when I left.”

  “Is that allowed?”

  “Probably not.”

  “Yet you showed it to me.”

  “To get your attention. And for credibility. I’m a private investigator now. But not the sort that takes pictures in hotels. I need you to understand that.”

  “Why?”

  “I need to know why you came here.”

  “You’re wasting time. Whatever else your problem is, I’m just a coincidence.”

  “I need to know if you’re here to work. We could be on the same side. We could both be wasting time.”

  “I’m not here to work. And I’m on nobody’s side. I’m just a passerby.”

  “You sure?”

  “Hundred percent.”

  “Why would I believe you?”

  “I don’t care if you believe me.”

  “Look at it from my point of view.”

  Reacher said, “What were you before you joined the Bureau?”

  Chang said, “I was a police officer in Connecticut. A patrol cop.”

  “That’s good. Because I was a military cop. As it happens. So we’re brother officers. In a way. Take my word as a gentleman. I’m a coincidence.”

  “What kind of military cop?”

  Reacher said, “The army kind.”

  “What did you do for them?”

  “Mostly what they told me to. Some of everything. Criminal investigation, usually. Fraud, theft, homicide, and treason. All the things folks do, if you let them.”

  “What’s your name?”

  “Jack Reacher. Terminal at major. Late of the 110th MP. I lost my job too.”

  Chang nodded once, slowly, and seemed to relax. But not completely. She said, but softer, “You sure you’re not working here?”

  Reacher said, “Completely.”

  “What do you do now?”

  “Nothing.”

  “What does that mean?”

  “What it says. I travel. I move around. I see things. I go where I want.”

  “All the time?”

  “It works for me.”

  “Where do you live?”

  “Nowhere. In the world. Right here, today.”

  “You have no home?”

  “No point. I’d never be there.”

  “Have you been to Mother’s Rest before?”

  “Never.”

  “So why now, if you’re not working?”

  “I was passing by. It was a whim, because of the name.”

  Chang paused a beat, and then she smiled, suddenly, and a little wistfully.

  “I know,” she said. “I can see the movie in my head. The end shot is a big close-up of a leaning-over cross in the ground, two boards nailed together, with an inscription done by a hot poker from a camp fire, and behind it the wagon train clanks
away and grows tiny in the distance. Then the credits roll.”

  “You think an old woman died here?”

  “That’s how I took it.”

  “Interesting,” Reacher said.

  “How did you take it?”

  “I wasn’t sure. I thought maybe a younger woman stopped to have a baby. Maybe rested up a month and moved on. Maybe the kid became a senator or something.”

  “Interesting,” Chang said.

  Reacher pierced a yolk and took a dripping forkful of breakfast.

  Thirty feet away the counterman dialed the wall phone and said, “She came back alone from the train station, and headed straight for last night’s guy, and now they’re deep in conversation, plotting and scheming, you mark my words.”

  Chapter 4

  The diner got less busy. The breakfast rush was clearly a crack-of-dawn thing. Farming, as bad as the military. The waitress came by and Chang ordered coffee and a danish, and Reacher finished his breakfast. He said, “So how does a private investigator like you spend her time, if you don’t get to take photographs in hotels?”

  Chang said, “We aim to offer a range of specialized services. Corporate research, and a lot of on-line security now, of course, but personal security too. Close personal protection. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, and that’s good news for the bodyguard business. And we do buildings security. Plus advice and background checks and threat assessments, and some general investigations too.”

  “What brings you here?”

  “We have an ongoing operation in the area.”

  “Against what?”

  “I’m not at liberty to say.”

  “How big of an operation?”

  “We have one man in place. At least I thought we did. I was sent as back-up.”

  “When?”

  “I arrived yesterday. I’m based in Seattle now. I flew as far as I could and rented a car. It was a hell of a drive. These roads go on forever.”

  “And your guy wasn’t here.”

  “No,” Chang said. “He wasn’t.”

  “You think he left temporarily and is coming back by train?”

  “I hope that’s all it is.”

  “What else could it be? This isn’t the Wild West anymore.”

  “I know. He’s probably fine. He’s based out of Oklahoma City. It’s entirely possible he had to run back for some other business. He’d have used the train, because of the roads. Therefore he’ll come back by train. He’ll have to. He told me he doesn’t have a car here.”

  “Have you tried calling him?”

  She nodded. “I found a land line in the general store. But there’s no answer at his home and his cell is off.”

  “Or out of range. In which case he isn’t in Oklahoma City.”

  “Would he have gone further afield? Around here? Without a car?”

  “You tell me,” Reacher said. “It’s your case, not mine.”

  Chang didn’t answer. The waitress came back and Reacher got a jump on lunch by ordering a slice of peach pie. With more coffee. The waitress looked resigned. Her boss’s bottomless cup policy was taking a beating.

  Chang said, “He was due to brief me.”

  Reacher said, “Who was? The guy that isn’t here?”

  “Obviously.”

  “Brief you as in update you?”

  “More than that.”

  “So how much don’t you know?”

  “His name is Keever. He works out of our Oklahoma City office. But we’re all on the same network. I can see what he’s doing. He’s got a couple of big things going on. But nothing out here. Nothing on his computer, anyway.”

  “How did you get the back-up assignment?”

  “I was available. He called me personally.”

  “From here?”

  “Definitely. He told me exactly how to get here. He referred to it as his current location.”

  “Did it feel like a routine request?”

  “Pretty much. It observed the protocols.”

  “So procedure was followed, except the case isn’t on his computer?”

  “Correct.”

  “Which means what?”

  “It must be a small thing. Maybe a favor for a friend, or something else too close to pro-bono to get past the boss. No money in it, either way. So it stays under the radar. But then I suppose it got to be a bigger thing. Big enough to justify the call for back-up.”

  “So it’s a small thing that’s gotten bigger? Involving what?”

  “I have no idea. Keever was going to brief me.”

  “No idea at all?”

  “What part don’t you understand? He was working on a hobby case, privately, in secret, and he was going to tell me all about it when I got here.”

  “What was his tone on the phone?”

  “He was relaxed. Mostly. I don’t think he likes this place much.”

  “Did he say so?”

  “More my impression. When he was explaining how to get here, he made it sound apologetic, like he was sucking me in to some sinister and creepy place.”

  Reacher said nothing.

  Chang said, “I guess you military people are too data-driven to follow that line of thinking.”

  Reacher said, “No, I was about to agree. I didn’t like the store with the rubber aprons, for instance, and I had some weird kid following me everywhere I went this morning. Maybe ten or twelve. A boy. A slow kid, I
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