Make me, p.23
Part #20 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
practice on-line, but the medical receptionist wouldn’t give out a home number. The phone company database said it was unlisted. Neither husband nor wife showed up anywhere in Chang’s secret databases. Google brought nothing back either, except one anodyne image of the couple at a charity event. Dr. and Mrs. Evan Lair. A kidney foundation. He was in black tie, and she was in an evening gown. She looked in good health. She glittered with diamonds, and her teeth were very white.
Then it became a three-way decision, between how soon they would need to get to Phoenix, and how long they could wait for a gold card flight, and how long the police would wait before notifying the sister. If they ever did. She was not the next of kin. That would be the son. He would be their primary focus. They would want to tell him first. And if they did, they would leave it to him to call his aunt. They would see that as his responsibility. Which he might or might not discharge, depending on his challenges.
All of which meant one way or the other she might or might not be getting the call just as they touched down in Phoenix. Which was still OK, either way. Bad news was bad news. Didn’t matter when you got it. As long as she didn’t have time to start up with a scheme whereby she should fly to Chicago and take charge of everything personally. She had to be gotten to well before that happened. Before she was coached into nothing but bumper stickers, by victim support officers, or well-meaning friends.
The best travel bet was outside Chang’s comfort zone, on an airline she didn’t have a card for. But it was the first and most satisfactory option. It gave them just enough time to stop by the Peninsula to dump the P7 and grab Chang’s bag. And one other thing. They fired up Hackett’s captured phone and checked the call log. All incoming traffic was from one number alone. Its area code was 480.
Chang checked her computer.
She said, “That’s a cell phone in Phoenix, Arizona. Where we’re going.”
A very expensive quickie with her phone company guy told them the Phoenix number was a burner cell bought from a local Arizona Wal-Mart just a week ago, and registered immediately, right outside in the Wal-Mart parking lot. Bought with cash, and as one of six at a time, which were purchasing behaviors suggestive of a customer who was comfortable with the theory and practice of untraceable communications.
Reacher said, “He’ll dump that number soon. He’ll move on to the next.”
Chang nodded. “As soon as Hackett doesn’t call him when he should. Or as soon as he turns on CNN and sees what’s going on here.”
“So maybe we should call him first. While we still can.”
“And say what?”
“Whatever might produce an advantage. We need to keep him off balance. We need all the help we can get.”
“You want to upset him.”
“Can’t hurt. Whatever stray emotions we can bring to bear.”
“OK, try it.”
He lit up Hackett’s phone, and found the right screen, and pressed the green button. He heard the numbers spooling outward into the ether, and then he heard a short hissing silence, and then he heard a ring tone.
And then he heard an answer.
A voice said, “Yes?”
It was a man’s voice, from a big chest and a thick neck, but the syllable was snatched at and the full boom was bitten back short, because of breathy haste and enthusiasm. And anticipation. Like a gulp or a gasp. This guy had caller ID, and he wanted Hackett’s news, and he wanted it bad, and he wanted it right then. That was clear. So the celebrations could begin, presumably.
Reacher said, “This is not Hackett.”
The voice paused, and said, “I see.”
“This is Jack Reacher.”
“Hackett got McCann, but he didn’t get us. In fact we got him. He was good, but not good enough.”
The voice said, “Where is Hackett now?”
Some kind of a flat, monotone accent. Eastern European, maybe. A big guy, for sure. Probably pale and fleshy, maybe short of breath.
Reacher said, “Hackett is in the hospital. But handcuffed to the bed, because the police found him before the doctors. Right here in Chicago. We took his phone and his back-up weapon, but we left him with the gun that killed McCann. Unconscious, in a suspected terrorist den. The cops found him there. I know, don’t ask. Bad data. They were misinformed. But because of it they’ll be sweating him hard. They’ll be telling him Guantanamo is in his future. Or rendition, to places where bad things happen. He’ll be so desperate for a deal he’ll give you up in a heartbeat. Nothing you can do to him the government won’t do worse. So you have that to worry about. Plus you have us to worry about. You started a war. Which was dumb. Because you’ll lose. And it won’t be pretty. We’re going to beat you so hard your kids will be born dizzy.”
“We already beat Hackett. He went down easy. Was he the best you had? I hope not, for your sake. Because you’re next. We know your name, and we know where you live. And we’re on the way. The time for looking over your shoulder starts now.”
There was a long indrawn breath on the other end of the line, as if more words were coming, perhaps many, but in the end none were spoken. Instead the call cut off, and Reacher heard nothing more. He pictured the electronic chip being pried out of the phone, being snapped in two by a blunt thumbnail, the pieces being dumped in the trash.
Chang asked, “Who was he?”
Reacher said, “He didn’t talk much. Only nine words. But he sounded big and heavy, and Russian, and fairly verbal, and reasonably smart.”
“From around there. Georgia, or Ukraine. One of those new countries.”
“Verbal, with only nine words?”
“I told him I wasn’t Hackett, and he said, I see. Measured, and calm. Or said in order to appear measured and calm. This is a guy who understands how words can mean all kinds of different things.”
“Do we really know his name and where he lives?”
“I might have been glamorizing our situation a little. Or exaggerating for effect. As in, we fake it till we make it. Because we will know, sooner or later. Somehow. Maybe your phone guy could list his calls by location. There’s only a week’s worth, on that number. He can’t have strayed far from home. We could zero in.”
“Would the information lead to physical harm or serious injury?”
“That would be its sole purpose.”
“Then my phone guy won’t do it. That’s his deal.”
“Do you have to tell him?”
“He would put two and two together after the fact. Then he would go work for someone else. I can’t let that happen.”
“Even for Keever?”
“Keever would understand. So should you. You had a code. A deal is a deal.”
“Works for me,” Reacher said. “I guess. I expect we can figure it out some other way. After we talk to the sister. Who might figure it out for us. Depending on how much she knows. And whether it means anything to us.”
“Nothing else does. This is not a small thing in a wheat field anymore. Hackett is from California, and he has armorers in Illinois, and his boss is in Arizona. This is a nationwide organization. They’ll be watching the airport. You told them we’re coming.”
“That’s why I told them. We won’t find them otherwise.”
“It’s a risk.”
“Everything is a risk. Getting on the plane is a risk. All the other passengers have phones. Think of the songs and the pictures. Think of the extra mass.”
In the event the jet engines coped perfectly with the challenge the on-board phones presented. Their plane took off smoothly and climbed away, just like every other plane that day at America’s busiest airport. Reacher was confident they had not been followed, certainly airside. But their real names were in an airline’s computer, and their ETA was widely advertised. Hope for the best, plan for the worst.
They had seats together over the leading edge of the wing. Window and middle. Not the e
Reacher said, “I was thinking about the Moynahan cousins. Or brothers, or whatever they were.”
Chang said, “And?”
“There were two of them, and they were a hundred times less trouble than Hackett on his own.”
“How are you feeling?”
“Like I got hit three times. Which is my point. As opposed to zero times before. I agree with you about Hackett in California and the gun guys in Illinois and the boss in Arizona. It’s a national organization. But I don’t see how Mother’s Rest can be a part of it. Those folks are a far lower standard. They can’t be a local division. They would be the weak link in the chain. They’d stick out like a sore thumb.”
“So what are they?”
“Clients, possibly,” Reacher said. “McCann hired Keever. Maybe Mother’s Rest hired someone too. Maybe that’s what happens now. Maybe bad guys outsource their muscle to national organizations. Maybe they outsource everything. Why not? It’s a service economy.”
Chang said, “Then the sister could be in danger. Theoretically. Because organizations behave like organizations. They ask for a detailed brief. Did Mother’s Rest know McCann talked to his sister? If so, she’s in the brief. She’s a loose end. Because we are, too. We could meet. And organizations don’t like loose ends to meet. Cover-your-ass is way too important.”
Reacher said nothing.
Chang said, “What?”
“I wanted to say I’m sure the sister is OK. She has to be, logically. I mean, Keever was there just a couple of days, and now we’re asking if someone knows his client’s sister’s address? The odds against would be enormous, surely. Big numbers.”
“Being on a plane is a helpless feeling. Things can prey on your mind.”
The Phoenix airport was properly titled Sky Harbor International, and it was a safe harbor, at least airside. Because of the metal detectors. Landside was a different ball game. So Reacher and Chang got off the plane and walked away from the exit, toward more distant gates. Where they stopped in at a coffee shop and sat on high stools and waited. For the last Chicago passenger to be in a hotel bus. For anyone waiting out there for Chicago passengers to have long ago given up and gone home.
Then they strolled out, window shopping, infinitely slow, watching for belated recognition, for phoned-ahead alerts, but seeing nothing. The airport was spacious, and crowds were thin, and folks were relaxed. After Chicago it felt like Sunday. They stopped short of the airside exit and looked at shoes and sweatshirts and turquoise jewelry, until the next plane landed, and a crowd of disembarking passengers bore down, maybe a hundred people, from Minnesota, Reacher thought, with a hundred carry-on bags, and he and Chang slipped in ahead of the last stragglers, and they hustled through the baggage hall in a loose mobile crowd, through the last of the air-conditioned chill, and out to the taxi line, into the baking desert heat. But the wait there was not more than a breathless minute. No one paid attention. No one shuffled, and no one looked at them, and no one looked away.
They took the cab to the car rental compound. No one followed. Reacher had no driver’s license, so Chang lined up and rented a mid-sized Chevrolet. It was bland and white, for anonymity, and it had GPS, for getting around. They waited at the document booth and scanned ahead. No idling cars at the curb. No one else around. It was too hot for pedestrians.
They drove random and incoherent directions for ten minutes, and then they set the GPS for the tony suburb. Where the doctor lived, with McCann’s sister. They found news radio, but there was nothing from Chicago. No time for it. Apparently Phoenix had problems of its own. The GPS took them north, and then east toward Scottsdale, then into a suburban street that led to another, and finally to the right development.
Which had a gatehouse at its entrance.
The gatehouse was built in a decorative style, with a hipped roof and cactus plantings, and a red-striped barrier coming out on the right, and a red-striped barrier coming out on the left. Like a fat bird with two skinny wings.
A gated community. Rich people. Taxpayers. Political donors. The Maricopa County sheriffs on speed dial.
They waited at the curb, a hundred yards short.
It was three in the afternoon. Five, in Chicago.
There was one guard behind the glass.
Reacher said, “We should have figured.”
Chang said, “If she’s heard about her brother, we’ll never get in. Not if that guy has to call the house first. Which I’m sure he does.”
Reacher said, “You have an FBI card.”
“It’s not a badge. He’ll know the difference.”
“He’s a rent-a-cop.”
“He’s a human being with a pulse. That’s all it takes.”
“Mrs. Hopkins was impressed by it.”
“Different generation. Different instincts about the government.”
Reacher said nothing.
Chang said, “You OK?”
“My head hurts.”
“What do you want to do?”
“Let’s try to get in.”
“OK, but any problems, we withdraw gracefully. We live to fight another day. The sister is a bridge we can’t afford to burn.”
She drove on and turned in, and stopped ahead of the barrier, right next to the sliding glass partition. She buzzed her window down. She flipped her hair and turned her head and smiled. She said, “We’re here for Dr. and Mrs. Evan Lair.”
The rent-a-cop was an elderly white man, in a gray polyester uniform. A short-sleeved shirt. Thin, mottled arms.
He hit a red button.
He said, “I hope you folks have a wonderful afternoon.”
The barrier went up.
Chang drove on through. She buzzed her window up again and said, “I wouldn’t want to pay money for security like that.”
Reacher said, “The landscaping is nice, though.”
And it was. There were no lawns. There was nothing that needed water. There were artful rivers of stone, with cactus leaves slashing through like blades, and mists of pale red flowers, and steel sculptures, still bright and uncorroded in the bone-dry air. The land was flat, and the lots were large, and the houses were set at different angles, this way and that, as if they had arrived on the scene by accident.
Reacher said, “It should be up ahead on the left. A quarter-mile, maybe.”
Which was where a lot of cars were gathered. All different makes, all different models, all different colors. Most of them expensive. They were cheek by jowl on the driveway, three across, three deep, then spilling out bumper to bumper to the street outside, all clustered, all packed in tight, all randomly misaligned, with empty curbs ahead of them, and empty curbs beyond them, as if the house at that location was uniquely and strongly magnetic.
Maybe thirty cars in total.
Which was why the barrier had gone up with no questions asked.
There was a message at the gate.
A house party.
Or a cocktail party, or a pool party, or whatever other kind of a party could bring thirty cars over at three o’clock on a hot afternoon.
The mailbox at the end of the crowded driveway said The Lairs’ Lair.
Chang parked beyond the last of the curbside cars. They got out in the heat and looked back. The house itself was handsome, wide and confident, one story, a complex roof, part adobe, part rough-hewn hunting lodge, showy enough to at least whisper wealth and taste, but by most standards not really showy at all. Whatever was happening at the house was happening in the back yard. Which was not on view. There was a head-high wall running all around. An architectural feature, made to look the same as the house. Same siding, same color. Same everywhere in the association. The front yards were all open, but the back yards were all buttoned up tight. Private. Nothing to see. But Reacher felt he could hear a pool. He could hear splashing,
Chang said, “We did some research in the Bureau. I wrote some of it myself, actually. I’m like Mrs. Hopkins. The research was into cars. We worked out a ratio, for any given venue, between the value of the cars parked outside and the amount of money changing hands inside.”
Reacher said, “You think there’s money changing hands in there?”
“No, I’m telling you based on my hard-won expertise valuing cars that there are some very wealthy folk in attendance here. And quite a mixture. Those are not just girl cars. There are some couple-cars here. Even some boy cars, straight from work. This is a heavyweight crowd.”
They walked closer.
There was a gate in the back yard wall, near the garage. Wide enough for a ride-on mower. Specified years before, presumably, by an architect who thought people would always want lawns. Now used as a regular in-out walkway. A landscaped path. Rivers of stones. Knee-high solar lights. The gate standing open a foot. Glimpses of people beyond, packed together, gauzy, sunlit, moving a little.
A woman coming out of the gate.
Carrying a bag to her car, briskly, busily, officially.
Not McCann’s sister. A friend or a neighbor. A co-host or a co-organizer.
Make Me by Lee Child / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 4.1 out of 5 / Based on41 votes