Make me, p.21
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       Make Me, p.21
 

         Part #20 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child

  Whatever worked.

  The guy kept the gun where it was.

  Reacher leaned forward an inch.

  He wants to shoot me in the room, not the doorway. I’m too big to move.

  The guy said, “Back up now.”

  Reacher said nothing.

  I’m too big to move.

  And then it shifted. The man with the gun was no longer in charge. No longer in control. He was being pushed back. Inch by inch. Because of relentless pressure. Not physically. The tip of the suppressor didn’t move. But in his mind the man with the gun felt battered by a sudden and unexplained reversal of fortune, and he felt roasted by some kind of death rays coming out of the psychopath’s eyes.

  Reacher said, “Don’t worry.”

  Brawling. All in the head. Win them before you get in them.

  He said, “Let’s see if we can help you out of this mess.”

  His standard procedure, such as it was, based on what had worked, for a right-handed person facing a right-handed gunman, was to drive slightly forward but mostly counterclockwise, a savage rotation from the waist, explosive, exaggerated like a dance move, with the right shoulder whipping hard around, therefore the right elbow whipping hard around, and the right hand and the right palm, the palm smacking hard against the inside of the bad guy’s wrist, and then pushing it, pushing it hard, pushing the gun out of orbit, then clamping on like a claw, the other hand meanwhile coming palm-to-palm with the gun hand, the left against his right, like dancing, like fighting over the gun, but it’s not fighting over the gun, it’s pushing the gun hand, pushing the gun hand back, and back, all the time dragging the wrist forward with the claw, until the wrist breaks and the gun drops.

  But you can save yourself a lot of effort, because he’s got a suppressor. That gun is twice as long as his muscle memory thinks it is. Which makes it easy. Go the short route.

  Which Reacher did, twisting hard from the waist, but short, keeping his palm hooked close to his body, smacking not the guy’s wrist but the suppressor itself, pushing it wide and safe, then grasping it and hauling on it hard.

  A standard procedure, so called because it was often used, like a default setting, because ninety-nine times in a hundred it worked. But this was the hundredth guy. He knew what to do. He didn’t allow himself to get hauled around off balance by keeping hold of the gun. He let go of it right away. Instantly. He gave it up, no contest. He just dropped it and spun away. It was his only smart play. It was one in a hundred.

  It was a smart play because even though it gave Reacher sole possession of a lethal weapon, it gave him possession of it the wrong way around. He had grabbed it by the suppressor, in his right hand, palm outward, and he was still rotating away from the action, and the dead stop and the right-left-right shuffle to get the gun where it needed to be was going to occupy some finite slice of time, and then turning the barrel toward the target was going to occupy another slice, maybe longer, because it was a long barrel, with the suppressor in place. Not point and shoot. More like lashing the guy with a whip. Which would all take what? A second and a half? Two seconds?

  During which time a guy smart enough to start such a play will be hitting you in the side of the head. He’ll be raining down the blows. Maybe four in your two seconds, if he’s any good with the speed bag. Better to let the gun go for the time being. Better to come back to it later. Better to get ready for what you know is coming.

  Reacher opened his hand and the Ruger fell away, and he started to unwind his counterclockwise twist, bringing his elbow up backhand, ducking his head down, and the first of the incoming blows bounced off the top of his skull, and then a left hook caught him above the ear, a savage blow, like an iron bar, and then his own elbow arrived in the neighborhood, scything a kind of defensive no-fly-zone through the nearby air, butting aside the next incoming right, and he used its momentum to pull a left hook of his own out of the bag, but the bang above the ear had set back the unwinding process an inch or two, so his blind aim was off, and the punch landed weakly, in that it didn’t knock the guy through the staircase railing, but merely bounced him off it.

  At which point the guy showed yet more talent. Naturally Reacher was leaning in, waiting to finish it, waiting for the guy to come flopping back, all loose and raggedy and defenseless, but the guy jerked away sideways, at ninety degrees. A supreme gymnastic effort. Remarkable, for a big man. And a lifesaver. With a bonus. Not only had the guy escaped a colossal impact but now Reacher had his weight on the wrong foot, so the guy took advantage, by stepping in a pace and crashing a short left into Reacher’s kidney. Which Reacher felt would leave a bruise.

  Then the guy stepped back the same pace, like a boxer to a neutral corner. He stood there, alert but not moving, and looking pretty confident. The Ruger was on the hallway carpet, about halfway between Reacher’s feet and his. It was aimed at neither one of them. It was pointing to the side, as yet undecided, like an emperor’s thumb, neither up nor down.

  Not exactly halfway between them.

  Closer to Reacher, if anything.

  How long to get it?

  Long enough to get your head kicked in.

  Or shot through the heart. Reacher checked the guy’s clothes. The satin jacket was thin, and showed no bulges or heavy weights. It was falling open, with nothing to hide. The blue jean pockets were puffed out innocently. Just air and Kleenex. Therefore his back-up weapon would be on his belt, in a pancake holster in the small of his back. As supplied by his local operational support. Not the fastest draw in the world, but a lot faster than a tall guy bending down and trying to scrabble up a small pistol off the floor, all unbalanced with nine inches of extra metal.

  Hence the confidence. Which he wouldn’t feel if he was heading for a fistfight. No one had before. But this guy looked pretty good. He had only one minor concern, Reacher supposed. Which was that Reacher didn’t really need to pick up the Ruger as such. All he really needed to do was get a foot on it and scrape it backward between his legs to Chang.

  That would be a game-changer.

  But difficult. And slow. A clumsy, unnatural movement. Plus then the finite slice of time it would take Chang to grab it up herself, and set, and aim, and fire.

  Not the fastest draw in the world, but faster than that.

  Almost certainly.

  So, a concern, but minor.

  Time to mess with his head.

  Reacher stepped backward. One long pace. The proportions changed. Now the Ruger was nearer the guy. Who then stepped forward. Closer to it. Inevitably. Human nature, right there. Hard to push them back, easy to suck them in. The guy would have made a big point of standing his ground against forward pressure of any kind, but he showed no such determination in the other direction. He stepped right up. His first mistake. A weakness. He didn’t understand. He thought any length of rooming-house hallway was as good as any other. In fact he thought his new position was better. Because it put the Ruger right at his feet. He could reclaim it, any old time he wanted to. Then he would have two guns, and Reacher would have none.

  Better.

  But not really.

  Because of the temptation. Because of the urgency. The guy had two weapons within easy reach, but neither one was actually in his hand. So near and yet so far. He was consumed by all the future possibilities. He was thinking ahead, to the heavy solid feel, the ribbed grips rough against his palm, the trigger warm and hard under his finger. Invulnerability. Victory. Job done. So close. After nothing more than dipping down and up again for the Ruger, real fast and swooping, or batting his satin jacket aside and scrabbling around behind his back to the holster, and drawing, and aiming, and firing.

  Nothing more than that.

  So close. Temptation. Urgency. But either maneuver would take time. A second or so. Maybe more. And either maneuver would be a clear signal. There would be no ambiguity. Reacher would know exactly what was coming next. And he was only two paces away. He was a big guy, but clearly mobile. And how mobile did
he need to be? Trying for the Ruger meant a kick in the face. Surely. Reacher would take one step, and bang. Right-footed, after a little shuffle. Like punting a football. The target would be right there, in the right place, at the right time, at the right height. On a tee. Begging for it. His face.

  And trying for the holster meant a kick in the nuts. Equally surely. He would be fighting with one hand behind his back, literally. His elbow would be bent in a weird position. He would be wide open.

  Two weapons within easy reach, but neither one in his hand.

  Temptation.

  Urgency.

  Distraction.

  Reacher took half a step closer. Compressing the geometry. Reducing the range. Sharpening the focus. Upping the pressure. Face to face, five feet apart. The guy kept still on the surface. But Reacher could see underneath. The guy was quivering. A physical manifestation of his dilemma. He wanted to duck down or reach around. One or the other. Or both. Uncontrollable. He kept starting and stopping, microscopically. Trying it this way, trying it that way. Little shakes and judders. His eyes were moving. Up and down, up and down. So near and yet so far.

  Reacher said, “What’s your name?”

  The guy said, “Why?”

  “We seem to have made each other’s acquaintance. We might as well introduce ourselves formally.”

  “Why?”

  “Might be a smart move on your part. Might make me think about you as a person. Not just an opponent. I might not hit you so hard. That’s the conventional wisdom these days. Victims need to humanize themselves.”

  Shakes and judders. Eyes going up and down.

  So near and yet so far.

  The guy said, “I’m not a victim.”

  Reacher said, “Not yet.”

  Behind him Chang said, “This doesn’t need to end badly. Step back and raise your hands. Then we’ll talk. And we can fix this. You haven’t done anything to us yet.”

  The guy didn’t answer. His eyes were going up and down. Reacher could see he wanted to use the Ruger. And why not? It was his original weapon of choice. For a reason, presumably. And it had the suppressor. It was operationally superior. Sentimentally superior, too. Which maybe the guy didn’t know yet, in the front part of his brain. But it was working on him. He could pick up the Ruger, and he’d be right back at the beginning. Like starting over. Like nothing happened. He could pick up the Ruger and make himself whole again.

  Reacher said, “What’s your name?”

  The guy said, “Keith Hackett.”

  “I’m Jack Reacher. I’m pleased to meet you.”

  The guy didn’t answer.

  Reacher said, “But you already know our names.”

  No reply.

  “So that’s the price. Like my colleague said, this doesn’t have to end badly. Not for you, at least. All you have to do is tell us who told you our names. Who gave you this job. Who you call every night, with a progress report. You tell us that, and we’ll let you walk away.”

  No response.

  “It’s a simple concept, Mr. Hackett. You tell us, you walk away. You don’t tell us, you don’t walk away. Maybe you can’t walk away. These things are unpredictable. Injuries can be serious.”

  No answer.

  “Think of those old signs for crossing the street,” Reacher said. “When they did them with words. Walk or don’t walk, Mr. Hackett. That’s the issue here.”

  The guy waited a beat, suddenly still for the very first time, and then he went for the Ruger. He powered down, faster than gravity, his eyes on the prize, his hands already moving, rehearsing the scoop, his face averted, because of what he knew must be coming, but what he hoped could be beat.

  It couldn’t. The guy’s face was turned away high and back, so Reacher’s boot caught him under the chin, like a monstrous uppercut from a heavyweight with a horseshoe in his glove. The guy went over backward and laid out full length, but to his credit he knew he was dead if he stayed there, so he skidded once, and then crabbed and scrambled away, all elbows and knees, and he got himself upright, shrugging and blinking and pawing the air. He didn’t look good. He had a broken jaw, obviously. Missing teeth. Which were serious injuries. But neither, in a technical sense, a referee would say, were also debilitating injuries, under the current circumstances. Unless the guy was planning to start his victory feast anytime soon.

  Reacher watched the guy’s right hand. He figured it could move only one of three ways. Smartest would be straight up in surrender. Dumbest would be another fist. Therefore the second-dumbest would be the same as the second-smartest, which would be to go for the holster.

  The guy went for the holster.

  Didn’t get there.

  His arm moved back, and his elbow came out, and he flattened his hand to slip it behind his back, and his left hand moved in awkward sympathy, counterbalancing, and his shoulders opened up, and he went as flat and two-dimensional as if he was pasted on the air. Like a paper target. Like a paper target on a wall in an unarmed combat class. Whatever worked. Reacher stepped in a short pace and head-butted the guy full in the face, from fully three feet away, plenty of arc through the dim hallway air, plenty of power, plenty of acceleration, a colossal, driving impact, and then suddenly the guy wasn’t there anymore and Reacher was using every muscle in his body to stop himself from following through and head-butting the floor.

  Then across the stairwell a room door opened and a white-haired woman stuck her head out. An automatic light came on because of her.

  She asked, “Who are you people?”

  Chapter 36

  The neighbor was a noble old bird, thin and faded, but animated. She seemed to be on the ball. Like many of her generation she tended toward courtesy, and a reluctance to disbelieve. Overtly, at least. Purely out of politeness, Reacher supposed.

  He said, “We’re putting in a new computer for Mr. McCann. But it’s hot up here. This guy fainted.”

  “Would you like me to call for the ambulance?”

  “No, we’ll get him inside and give him a glass of water.”

  “It would be no trouble.”

  “Ma’am, it’s an insurance thing. He’s a freelance contractor. It’s tough on these guys. He’s got an insane deductible. He doesn’t want a hospital bill.”

  “Is there anything else I can do?”

  “Not a thing, ma’am.”

  Reacher grabbed Hackett under the arms and started dragging him toward McCann’s room. Chang nudged the Ruger with her foot, discreetly, pushing it to safety a few inches at a time. The neighbor started to close her door, and then she changed her mind and opened it again, the same confidential twelve-inch gap, and she said, “I thought Peter always installed his computers himself.”

  Then she closed up for good and the hallway went quiet.

  Chang picked up the Ruger and carried it the rest of the way. Reacher got Hackett inside. Chang closed the door. Hackett had plenty of maxillary damage. That was for damn sure. Pretty much all the facial bones. Some doctor was headed for the lecture circuit. But the guy was breathing pretty well. For the moment, at least. Until various internal items swelled up and clotted. After that it was a gamble.

  Chang said, “When will he wake up?”

  Reacher said, “I have no idea. Somewhere between two hours and never.”

  “You hit him very hard.”

  “He hit me first. Twice in the head and once in the back.”

  “Are you OK?”

  He nodded. He was OK. But not spectacular. His kidney hurt bad. Movement was not pain-free. And his head hurt worse. There was a sharp pain above his ear. It had been a hell of a blow. Maybe the worst he had ever taken.

  The head-butt had been unwise, under the circumstances.

  “We can’t wait here two hours,” Chang said. “Anything could happen.”

  “We need to find McCann, and waiting here is as good a way as any.”

  “You’re not thinking,” she said. “Do you have a headache?”

  “Not yet. B
ut I will. Why?”

  “How did they find us here?”

  “I guess this guy followed us. In retrospect it was obvious we would start at the library.”

  “But then we took the Town Car. On a crazy route. Looping all around the neighborhood, to get our bearings. There was no one behind us. There was no one following. How could there be?”

  “How, then?”

  “They have better information about McCann than we do. Somehow. Maybe he’s done business with them. They have his address, at least. Maybe that’s why the door was unlocked. Like Keever’s door was unlocked. Maybe Hackett has already been here once this morning.”

  Something in her voice.

  Reacher picked up the Ruger and checked the chamber and dropped the mag. Brassy nine-millimeter rounds winked at him. But not enough brassy nine-millimeter rounds.

  The mag was one short.

  He sniffed the chamber. Sniffed the muzzle.

  The gun had been fired.

  Chang said, “They didn’t want us to talk to McCann. There were two ways of stopping us. They chose both.”

  Reacher checked Hackett’s pulse. In his neck. It was there, but slow.
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