Make me, p.24
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       Make Me, p.24
 

         Part #20 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child

  Walking fast.

  Coming close.

  Stopping, and smiling.

  Saying, “Hello, welcome, so good of you to come, please go in.”

  Moving onward to her car.

  Chapter 38

  Reacher and Chang used the decorative path, past the plantings, between the solar lights, through the gate, and into the back yard. They saw a broad rectangle of spectacular desert landscaping, with wood arbors and climbing vines for shade, and huge terracotta pots and fallen amphorae spilling out with flowers, and stately saguaro cactuses standing alone in gravel beds. They saw a swimming pool made of dark plaster, shaped like a natural pond, edged with rocks, and fed by small splashing waterfalls. They saw teak furniture, richly oiled, with fat colorful cushions, and sun umbrellas, and outdoor dining tables.

  They saw about forty people, men and women, some young, mostly older, some dressed in bright Arizona clothes, some in bathing suits, some in cover-ups, all clustered in groups, talking, laughing, clutching plates and glasses. Some were wet, and there were others still in the water, ducked down neck-deep and talking, or floating, or horsing around. At a table under a vine was a young woman of about thirty, long and lithe and golden tan, in a thin shirt over a bikini, relaxed and smiling, but luminous, and in some unstated but obvious way the center of attention. Behind her on one side was a man, gray-haired but well preserved, wearing khaki shorts and a loud Hawaiian shirt, and behind her on the other side was a dark-haired woman with bright eyes and a wide smile, wearing an ankle-length shift made of pale linen. The familiar ease between the three of them made it clear this was a daughter and her parents, and the old Google image seen on Chang’s phone made it clear the parents were Dr. and Mrs. Evan Lair.

  Reacher pointed discreetly and said, “Check that out.”

  There was a long table set up near the house, and it was stacked with gifts, most of them large and boxy, all of them wrapped and ribboned in monochrome whites and silvers.

  Chang said, “This is a wedding.”

  “Looks like it,” Reacher said. “Their daughter’s, presumably. The girl at the table. I guess she’s McCann’s niece.”

  Then McCann’s sister was on the move, after a last laugh and smile and affectionate squeeze of her daughter’s shoulder. She drifted from group to group, chatting, sparkling, leaning in, smiling, kissing, having the time of her life.

  Chang said, “She hasn’t heard from Chicago yet. How could she have?”

  Reacher said nothing.

  McCann’s sister moved on, group to group, taking a glass from a passing tray, putting her hand on other people’s arms, putting the glass back on another tray. Then she caught sight of Reacher and Chang standing alone and awkward near the gate, underdressed in terms of quality, overdressed in terms of quantity, unknown and unexplained, and she changed course and headed toward them, still smiling, eyes still bright, a happy hostess’s welcome all over her face.

  Chang whispered, “We can’t tell her. Not now.”

  The woman came close and extended a slim and manicured hand. She said, “Have we met? I’m Lydia Lair.”

  She looked like her Google picture at the charity ball. Like a million dollars. Chang shook her hand and gave her name, and then Reacher did, and the woman said, “I’ll ask you the same question I’ve been asking all afternoon, which is, do you know our daughter from school or from work? Not that it makes the slightest bit of difference, of course. It’s all one big party. But it’s something to say.”

  Reacher said, “Ma’am, we’re here for something else entirely. Perhaps we should come back later. We wouldn’t want to crash a wedding. Might bring seven years of bad luck.”

  The woman smiled.

  “I think that’s mirrors,” she said. “And this isn’t the wedding. Far from it. Not yet. This is a kind of pre-pre-pre-wedding breakfast bride’s-side-only party sort of thing. So people can start to get to know each other ahead of the rest of the week’s events, so everyone gets energized for the big deal at the weekend. My daughter says everyone does it now. But you know how it is these days. The weddings last longer than the marriages.”

  And then she laughed, a happy sound, as if certain her joke didn’t apply to her, as if certain her daughter’s marriage would last forever.

  Chang asked, “Would this evening be more convenient?”

  “May I know what it’s about?”

  “Your brother Peter.”

  “Oh dear, I’m so sorry, but I think you might have wasted a trip. He isn’t here. He didn’t come. We expected him, obviously, but it’s a long flight. How do you know Peter?”

  “We should get into that later this evening. If that’s convenient. Because right now we’re holding you up. And we’ve taken far too much of your time already. We should let you get back to your guests.”

  McCann’s sister smiled appreciatively, and started to turn away. But a new thought struck her, and she turned back, different. She said, “Is Peter in trouble? Are you police officers?”

  Chang did the only thing she could, as a woman with a code, which was to ignore both questions completely, and respond with a statement that resembled an answer. She said, “We’re private investigators.”

  “Did Keever send you?”

  “Ma’am, now we really need to talk. But we can’t pull you away from all of this.”

  “Is Peter in trouble?”

  Chang did the same thing again. She said, “Ma’am, we’re here to be briefed. Our job is to hear about Peter from you.”

  McCann’s sister said, “Come with me.”

  They walked through the house to a dark-paneled study, shuttered tight against the sun, with club chairs and a river stone fireplace. They sat down, the women perched almost knee to knee, Reacher leaning back. McCann’s sister asked, “Where should I begin?”

  Reacher said, “Tell us what you know about Keever.”

  “I never met him, obviously. But Peter likes to talk things through, so during the selection process I felt I got to know all the candidates to some extent.”

  “How many candidates were there?”

  “Eight to start with.”

  “Did the process take long?”

  “Almost six weeks.”

  “That’s thorough.”

  “That’s Peter.”

  “How often do you talk?”

  “Most days.”

  “How long are the calls?”

  “Some days an hour.”

  “That’s a lot.”

  “He’s my brother. He’s lonely.”

  “Why did he need a private detective?”

  “Because of Michael, his son. My nephew.”

  “People say there are issues.”

  “That’s the wrong word. That’s a polite way of saying difficult. Which is already a polite way of saying something worse. Michael is the opposite of difficult.”

  “What would be the right word?”

  “Michael didn’t make it all the way to the end of the assembly line. A couple of things didn’t get bolted on. I try not to blame the mother. But she wasn’t well. She died less than ten years later.”

  “Which things got missed?”

  “Are you a happy man, Mr. Reacher?”

  “Can’t complain. Generally speaking. Right now I feel pretty good. Not in relation to the current part of our conversation, you understand.”

  “On a scale of one to ten, what’s the worst you’ve ever felt?”

  “About a four.”

  “And the happiest?”

  “Compared to the theoretical best ever?”

  “I suppose.”

  “About a nine.”

  “OK, four at the bottom and nine at the top. What about you, Ms. Chang?”

  She didn’t answer right away. Then she said, “The worst I’ve ever felt would be a three. And I was going to say eight for the best. But now maybe nine. I think.”

  She looked at Reacher as she said it, in a certain way, and McCann’s sister caught the gl
ance. She said, “Are you two sleeping together?”

  No response.

  “Honey, if you’re sleeping together, make it a nine for sure. Always safer. But no higher. Ten gives them performance anxiety. But right now between the two of you we have a swing from either three or four at the low end to a pair of nines at the high end, even though one of the nines is really an eight, but we’re too polite to say so. But you get my drift. You’re normal people. If you swung from two to seven you’d still be normal, but you’d be seen as a little dour and reserved. Understand?”

  Chang nodded.

  “Now suppose your needle is jammed on zero. Doesn’t move at all. Zero at the bottom and zero at the top. That’s Michael. He was born unhappy. Born without the capacity to be happy. Born without any concept even of what happiness is. He doesn’t know it’s there.”

  Chang said, “Is there a name for that?”

  “They have names for everything now. Peter and I discuss them endlessly. None of them really fits. I like an old-fashioned vocabulary. I think of it as melancholy. But that sounds too weak and passive. Michael has depth of emotion. Just not range. You feel joy or passion, and he feels the same intensity, but it’s all hammering away down at the zero level. And he’s intelligent. He knows exactly what’s happening to him. The result is endless torment.”

  “How old is he now?”

  “He’s thirty-five.”

  “What are the outward signs? Is he hard to get along with?”

  “The opposite. You hardly know he’s there. He’s very quiet. He does what you tell him. He hardly speaks. He sits for days staring into space, chewing his lip, his eyes darting around. Or else he’s on his computer, or fiddling with his phone. There’s no aggression. He never gets upset. Upset would imply an emotional range.”

  “Can he work?”

  “That’s been part of the problem. He has to work, to qualify for housing. It’s part of the deal. And he can work. There are things he’s good at. But people find him draining. They don’t like to be with him. Productivity goes down. Usually he’s asked to leave. So he’s in and out of the programs.”

  “Where does he live now?”

  “Right now, nowhere. He went missing.”

  At that point the bride-to-be came in, looking for her mother. A thin shirt over her bikini. Peter McCann’s niece. Michael McCann’s cousin. Up close she was still luminous. She glowed. She was close to perfect. Pre-natal care, perinatal care, post-natal care, pediatrics, nutrition, education, orthodontics, vacations, college, postgrad, a fiancé, the whole nine yards. Her assembly line had worked just fine. The American dream. A spectacular result. And she looked happy. Not silly, not giggly, not hyped up, and not an airhead. Just deeply and serenely content. With room at the top for ecstasy. Her needle ran from maybe six to ten. She had gotten everything her cousin hadn’t.

  McCann’s sister went back out to the pool with her. She promised to return as soon as she could. Reacher and Chang sat quiet in the darkened den. They heard the sounds of the party, muted by walls and distance. Splashes and yelps and the clink of glasses, and the rolling murmur of conversation. Chang said, “We should call Westwood in LA. We should update him. A deal’s a deal. Plus we’re going to need another hotel.”

  Reacher said, “Tell him we need everything he has on the Deep Web. All his notes. Or maybe tell him to come out here to explain it all in person. We might not understand his notes. He can get on a plane. He’s getting the book deal.”

  Chang put her phone on speaker and dialed, and she gave the guy the play-by-play, everything that had happened since she last called, from the West Hollywood motel. She mentioned Chicago, the library, the mom-and-pop pharmacy, McCann’s street, McCann’s house, Hackett, the neighbor, the Lincoln Park homicide, the flight to Phoenix, and finally the sister. And then the son, in the long term trapped between zero and zero, and in the short term missing.

  Westwood said, “They call it anhedonia. The inability to experience pleasure.”

  “The sister makes it sound worse than that.”

  “And Keever’s job was to find him and bring him home?”

  “We assume so. We didn’t get that far in the story. We were interrupted.”

  “I don’t see how the Deep Web or two hundred deaths are involved. This feels like the crime desk, not the science desk. Or one of those human tragedy stories.”

  “It could be all three. We don’t know yet.”

  “Where are you staying?”

  “We haven’t figured that out.”

  “OK, I’ll call you when I land.”

  The line went dead.

  Reacher said, “Apparently Michael spends time on his computer, or fiddling with his phone. Maybe that’s the Deep Web connection. Maybe he’s in some weird kind of chat room all the time. Maybe he has a whole life no one else knows about.”

  “He’s depressed, not weird.”

  “Depressed means what it says, which is pushed down below the normal position. Which implies a range. Which Michael doesn’t have. Which is weird. Or unusual, to be polite. But he’s intelligent, she said. Maybe there are support groups on-line. Maybe he started one.”

  “Why would it need to be secret?”

  “Because of search engines, I guess. Employers check on-line. I read about it in the newspaper. And not just employers, probably. Probably all kinds of people. Relatives, possibly, or doctors. There’s no privacy anymore. Things can come back to bite you. If Michael posted something that showed he wasn’t making progress, he could lose his housing. Or someone might decide he needed supervision.”

  Then the door opened and Lydia Lair came back in. Peter McCann’s sister, Michael McCann’s aunt, and the mother of the bride. She sat down in the same chair and Reacher asked her, “How did Michael go missing?”

  She said, “That’s a long story.”

  Twenty miles south of Mother’s Rest, the man with the ironed jeans and the blow-dried hair took the call on his land line. His contact said, “This is your screw-up now.”

  “In what way?”

  “There were things you didn’t know.”

  “What things?”

  “I promised you they wouldn’t talk to McCann. And I delivered. Can’t talk to a dead man. But it came at a cost. I lost Hackett.”

  “How?”

  “Reacher took him out. Or both of them together. Either way, it shouldn’t have happened. Not theoretically possible.”

  “Is he dead?”

  “He’s in the hospital.”

  “Are you going to let them get away with this?”

  “No, I’m not. I’m going to make an example. This is an image business. Very competitive. Brand strength is everything. So I’ll split it with you fifty-fifty.”

  “Split what?”

  “The cost of not letting them get away with it.”

  The man with the jeans and the hair paused a beat, and then he said, “You didn’t let them talk to McCann. For which you have my grateful thanks. It was a job well done. But with respect, that concluded our business. Any feelings you retain for Reacher or Chang are now personal to you, surely.”

  “Hackett is handcuffed to the hospital bed. He’s in police custody.”

  “How much does he know?”

  “Bits and pieces. But they won’t prove anything. Hackett has no evidence with him. No data. Reacher stole his phone, and he left his computers in the car. Which was provided by our friends in Chicago, complete with a driver. So we still have his hardware. We fired up the phone sniffer again. Chang is back on the air. She just called the guy at the LA Times. From a suburban location right here in Phoenix.”

  “Why there? Because of you? Are they coming for you?”

  “Reacher called me on Hackett’s phone and told me so. Plus it would be an easy prediction anyway. But not if you listened to Chang’s call to the LA Times. They’re here for a completely different reason altogether.”

  “Which is what?”

  “There were things you di
dn’t know.”

  “What things?”

 
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