Make me, p.20
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       Make Me, p.20
 

         Part #20 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child

  “A couple of blocks might do it. If we point ourselves in the right direction. This is a man who looks terrible because he doesn’t take care of himself. Probably doesn’t eat right, maybe doesn’t sleep right. Probably won’t go to the doctor, so he doesn’t get prescriptions to fill. And he certainly isn’t trawling the aisles comparison shopping for vitamin pills. Pharmacies are not on his radar. He doesn’t have a favorite. He’s indifferent to them all. Therefore he had no particular reason to buy his phone from this particular pharmacy. So why did he? Because he walks past it twice a day, to and from the library. How else would he even notice? They had one phone in the window, all covered with dust. So I think we can conclude he walks home in this direction. Out the library door, turn left, past the pharmacy, and onward.”

  “To where?”

  “I think this is a pretty nice neighborhood. I think the real estate here is solid. But apparently McCann is ashamed of where he lives. What does that mean? You see anything around here you’d be ashamed to live in?”

  “I’m not McCann.”

  “Exactly. It’s all relative. The old guy in the volunteer room looks like a retired CEO or something, and I’m sure he’s local, and I’m sure he lives in a house. Pretty much impossible to have a shirt like that without living in a house. The two things go together. Practically a requirement. Probably some kind of a nice brownstone on a quiet leafy street. Therefore if it’s relative, McCann doesn’t live in a house. But not in an apartment, either. Apartments are perfectly legitimate alternatives to houses. Better in some ways. Certainly nothing to be ashamed about. So McCann lives in something less than a house, but not an apartment.”

  “A broken-up house,” Chang said. “A not-very-nice brownstone, on a not-very-leafy street, all divided up into separate rooms. Probably not still cooking on electric hotplates, but close. Which is hard for one guy to admit to another guy, especially when the other guy has a brownstone all to himself. Maybe the exact same brownstone. Same builder, same plan. But his street didn’t fall on hard times. Which is way too pointed for testosterone to bear.”

  “That’s how I see it,” Reacher said. “Roughly. Maybe not the hormonal stuff. But two or three blocks in this direction, we’re going to find a couple of streets of tumbledown row houses, each with about a dozen bells on the door, and those kind of bells usually have labels next to them, sometimes with names on, and with a bit of luck we’ll find one of those names is McCann.”

  There were plenty of names, because there were plenty of labels, because there were plenty of bells, because there were four streets, not a couple, and they were long. The first two turned left and right off the main drag two blocks after the library, and the third and the fourth came another block further out. They were low-rise enclaves between taller buildings, not shoe-horned in but there from the beginning. There was nothing off-putting or unpleasant about them. No trash in the gutters, no busted syringes crunching underfoot, no graffiti, no rot or decay. Nothing overt. But somehow the mysterious and unforgiving calculus of real estate had downgraded them. Maybe there were missing trees, or damp in the basements, or too much window AC. Maybe the breeze blew wrong. Maybe way back a poor widow had split up her house to make ends meet, and then another, and another. Image was a very subtle thing.

  They had their Town Car quarter the neighborhood at a slow speed, to establish the search area’s boundaries. Then they had the guy park, and they got out to walk. The sun was over the lake, and the light was sharp with reflections. It was already hot, two hours before noon.

  Chang took the sunny side of the street, and Reacher stayed in the morning shadows. They moved door to door, separately, unsynchronized, up brownstone stoops and down again, like restaurant workers delivering menus, or missionaries seeking converts. Reacher found that most bell buttons had names against them, some handwritten, some typed, some printed, some embossed on narrow black tape and stuck over previous tenants’. There were Polish names, and African names, and South American names, and Irish names, a whole United Nations right there, but on the first street at least none of the names was McCann.

  Twenty miles south of Mother’s Rest, the man with the ironed jeans and the blow-dried hair took another call on his land line. His contact said, “She’s not using her phone anymore.”

  “Why not?”

  “Hard to say. A precaution, possibly. She’s ex-FBI and he’s ex-military. They’re not babes in the wood.”

  “In other words you’re saying Hackett can’t find them.”

  “No, he found them. He found them real easy. He watched the library. They showed up right on time. They were inside for half an hour, and then they bought a burner phone in the drugstore next door.”

  “So what is he waiting for?”

  “Opportunity.”

  “They must not talk to McCann.”

  “Don’t worry. That ain’t going to happen. I can promise you that.”

  They crossed the main drag and entered the second street, up brownstone stoops and down again, house by house. Most places seemed to have three floors with up to four separate dwellings on each. The names kept on coming. One place had Javier, Hiroto, Giovanni, Baker, Friedrich, Ishiguro, Akwame, Engelman, Krupke, Dassler, Leonidas, and Callaghan. Perfectly alphabetical, if you changed the order. The first twelve letters. And Callaghan at least was Irish. But it wasn’t McCann.

  The houses themselves had touches of faded glory. There were remnants of stained glass, and Victorian tile. The front doors were crusted with layers of paint, and most of them had pebble glass panels, with blurred and hazy views of inside lobbies, with shapes that might have been parked bicycles, or baby carriages. Reacher moved on, door to door, one place after another, the end of the street coming close, the search nearly half over, and he didn’t find McCann.

  But Chang did.

  She waved from across the street, from the stoop of a house just like all the others, and he raised his palms in a semaphored question, and she pumped her fist, discreetly, like a golfer after a long but successful putt. He crossed the street and joined her, and she pointed at the bell box, and ran an elegant nail over a ribbon of white paper neatly printed with the name Peter J. McCann.

  Chapter 34

  McCann’s digs were listed as apartment 32, which Reacher figured was the second apartment on the third floor, possibly a back room, if they were counting clockwise from the front left, as was likely. A top-floor walk-up, in other words, with no view. In an unremarkable building on a second-rate street. Location was working against the guy.

  The street door was stout and securely locked.

  Chang pressed McCann’s call button. They heard no sound inside. Too far away, presumably. There was no crackling reply over the speaker. Nothing at all. Just a hot quiet morning, with nothing stirring.

  Reacher said, “Try his phone again.”

  Their burner had a redial facility. Not bad for thirteen bucks. Chang hit it and they waited cheek to cheek.

  It rang and rang.

  No answer.

  She killed the call.

  She said, “Now what?”

  “Too early for pizza,” Reacher said. “We’ll have to be UPS.”

  He pressed nine separate buttons, and when the first of them answered he said, “Package delivery, ma’am.”

  There was a pause, and then the door lock buzzed and clicked.

  They went inside, through a hot vestibule with bikes and baby carriages and drifts of Thai menus and locksmiths’ cards, into a downstairs hallway that bore traces of family living from a hundred years before, with crown moldings and wallpaper. But the wallpaper was faded and scuffed, and the moldings were cruelly terminated by crude partitions, and the elegant parlor doors had five-lever locks butchered into them, and spy holes, and brass numbers screwed on not exactly level. First on the left was 11, with 12 behind it, further on down the hallway.

  The staircase was ornate, and carpeted, and steep. Automatic lights came on as they passed every dogleg. They
got to the top, breathing hard. It was hot up there. Unit 32 was the first door they came to. Back corner, on the left.

  Reacher knocked.

  No answer.

  But the way the door rattled in the frame didn’t sound right.

  Reacher tried the handle.

  The door was unlocked.

  The door opened straight into a living room, and that was pretty much the whole apartment, right there, dark but small enough for a single glance. There was hot air and a sour smell, and an unmade twin-size bed against one wall, and a windowless RV-size kitchenette and a windowless RV-size bathroom side by side on another. The only light in the place came from a bay window, which was dark with soot and had drapes only half pulled back. The walls were bare, and might once have been white, but they had long ago grayed over, to the color of ash. There was a bar-height eating table, no wider than an oil drum, and a single stool. There was a lone armchair, and an ottoman that didn’t match, except it was worn shiny in the same kind of way. And that was it for variety, in terms of furniture. Everything else was tables.

  There were five tables in all, each one about the size of a door, about six feet long, about three feet wide, all of them made of wood and stained black. Together they dominated the whole apartment. They were arranged in a line down the center of the room, in a pattern, the first end-on, the second butted up sideways, making a T shape, the third end-on again, the fourth sideways, another T, the fifth and last end-on again, the whole array looking like a rigid backbone running through the dismal space, like vertebrae and stubby ribs.

  On the tables were computers, seven of which were desktops and eight of which were laptops. There were other unexplained black boxes, and external hard drives, and modems, and USB hubs, and power supplies, and cooling fans. But above all there were wires, great bales and billows of kinked and tangled cables, like rats’ nests gone haywire. And where there weren’t either wires or boxes, there were books, high teetering piles of them, all about technical aspects of coding, and hypertext protocols, and domain name allocation.

  Chang checked the hallway and closed the door behind them.

  Reacher said, “Try his phone.”

  She hit redial, and he heard a purr of ring tone against her ear, and then the cell network clicked in, and a phone started to ring in the room. It was loud and insistent. It was ringing and buzzing, with a stupid tune and the thick vibration of plastic on wood. McCann’s phone was right there, on a table, hopping around under a nest of wire, its little front window all lit up blue. It was plugged in to a charging wire, which was plugged in to a computer.

  Chang killed the call.

  She said, “Why doesn’t he have it with him? A cell phone belongs in a pocket.”

  Reacher said, “To him it’s not a cell phone, I guess. Not in the normal way. It was an alternate number for calling Westwood, that’s all. And it did its job. Not its fault there was no result. So like you figured, he gave it up and dumped the phone in a drawer. Except the drawer is a table.”

  “Plugged in.”

  “Habit, maybe.”

  “So where is he?”

  Reacher said, “I don’t know where he is.”

  “Keever’s door was unlocked too.”

  “I remember.”

  “I think we should take a quick look and get out.”

  “How quick?”

  “Two minutes.”

  Which wasn’t much, but which was enough, because there wasn’t much to look at. The kitchen was tiny, with a half-size cabinet that held only a box of off-brand breakfast cereal, and a half-size refrigerator that held only a quart of off-brand milk, and two candy bars. The bathroom cabinet had legal analgesics and over-the-counter cold remedies. There was a chest of drawers full of threadbare clothing, most of it man-made material, and all of it black. There was nothing unusual about the bed. The computer equipment was what it was. All the screens lit up on command, but from that point onward every step of every way needed a password.

  No photos, no personal items, no leisure reading, no stacks of mail.

  Chang opened the door and checked the hallway.

  She said, “Let’s go.”

  She opened the door wider.

  There was a guy standing there.

  Eyewitness testimony was suspect because of preconditions, and cognitive bias, and suggestibility. It was suspect because people see what they expect to see. Reacher was no different. He was human. The front part of his brain wasted the first precious split second working on the image of the guy at the door, trying to rearrange it into a plausible version of a theoretical McCann. Which was not an easy mental task, because McCann was supposed to be sixty years old and thin and gaunt, whereas the guy at the door was clearly twenty years younger than that, and twice as solid. But still Reacher tried, instinctively, because who else could it be, but McCann? Who else could be at McCann’s door, in McCann’s building, in McCann’s city?

  Then half a second later the back part of Reacher’s brain took over, and the image resolved itself, crisp and clear, not a potential McCann at all, not even remotely a contender, but the familiar twice-glimpsed face, now three times seen, first in the diner, next in the Town Car, and finally in the there and then, in a dim upstairs hallway in a three-floor walk-up.

  Chapter 35

  The guy was about forty years old, give or take, right up there on a hard-won plateau in the center of his life, not a dumb kid anymore, but not yet an old man either, and full of accumulated competence and confidence and capability, all wrapped up in experience. He looked to be dead-on six feet tall, and about two hundred pounds. He was wearing blue jeans, coarse and high-waisted, not stylish at all, with a belt, and a white open-neck shirt, and a blue satin baseball jacket. He had fair hair cut short and neatly brushed, and a pink slabby face, and small blue eyes, and an inquiring expression. He could have been a neighborhood electrical contractor, showing up in person to prepare a detailed estimate for a difficult job.

  Except for the gun in his hand. Which looked like an old Ruger P-85. Nine millimeter. With a suppressor tube attached. A silencer, about nine inches long. The guy was holding the gun down by his leg. Pointed at the floor. With the suppressor tube it ran from the middle of his thigh to the middle of his calf. Long, and slender.

  A random circuit in the back part of Reacher’s brain sparked up with a play-by-play: He flew short-notice from LA, and can’t have taken a gun on the plane, so he has operational support in Chicago, at a fairly high level, given that suppressors are illegal in the state of Illinois.

  The front part of his brain said: Step forward.

  He stepped forward.

  The gun came up, and the guy said, “Don’t move.”

  Reacher stepped forward again, all the way to the door.

  The guy said, “I’ll shoot.”

  You won’t, because you want to shoot me in the room, not in the doorway, because I’m too big to move afterward, and also because in real life suppressors don’t work like they work in the movies, with a polite little spit, but with a hell of a bang, not much quieter than a regular gunshot anyway, which will be audible all over the house, if you fire in the hallway.

  So you won’t shoot.

  Not yet.

  The guy said, “Stay where you are.”

  The back of Reacher’s brain said: If he has operational support in Chicago, you should check for reinforcements. Muscle is cheaper than silencers here.

  Which was why he had pushed his luck all the way to the door. To get the angle. But there was nothing in the dim shadows beyond the guy’s shoulder. No bulk, no sound, no shifting stance, no breathing.

  The guy was alone.

  Reacher stood still.

  The guy said, “Back inside now.”

  From the room Chang said, “What do you want?”

  You’re not going to say you want to shoot us, nothing personal, purely business, because that would induce a measure of last-ditch defense on our part.

  The guy said,
I want to talk.”

  “About what?”

  “About what’s happening in Mother’s Rest. I think I can help you.”

  And you have a bridge for sale in Brooklyn. I wasn’t born yesterday. Reacher stayed right where he was, filling the doorway, angled slightly, his front toe on the seam between the hallway floor and the room floor, with the guy about a yard in front of him, halfway to the staircase railing, and Chang about two yards behind him, still halfway into the room.

  She said, “If you’re here to help us, why did you bring a gun?”

  The guy didn’t answer.

  Reacher had failed driving, but he had passed everything else. Including unarmed combat. Which sounded like a useful qualification, but wasn’t. The whole point of the military had been to engage with hot weapons at minimum risk to the home side. In other words, to shoot the other guy from a very long way away with a rifle, or failing that to shoot him closer by with a handgun. The unarmed combat courses had been afterthoughts. There had been a whiff of embarrassment. Hand-to-hand implied failure at the hot-weapons stage. Worst of all, the pointy-heads couldn’t find anything to write in the manual. There were no valid theories. Martial arts didn’t work in the real world. Judo and karate were useless without the mats and the referee and the special pajamas. So unarmed combat was brawling, basically. Like a bar fight. Whatever worked.

  Chang said, “Put the gun down, and we’ll talk.”

  He won’t, because that would give up his only advantage. He would be one-on-one with a giant, which was not appealing, especially because right then the giant was fixing him with the glassy stare of a psychopath.

 
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