Make me, p.25
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       Make Me, p.25
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         Part #20 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child

  “The kind of things that will make you happy to split with me fifty-fifty.”

  “Tell me.”

  “Peter McCann had a sister. Lydia McCann, as was. Now Lydia Lair, married to a doctor. She lives here in Phoenix. In a suburban location. The brother and the sister talked all the time. He told her everything. According to what Chang just said to Westwood, it could be that talking to the sister is the same thing as talking to McCann himself.”

  “We can’t let that happen.”

  “We?”

  “OK, fifty-fifty. Of course.”

  “I’m glad we see eye to eye.”

  “But with one extra thing.”

  “Which would be what?”

  “Tell me how McCann died.”

  “Hackett shot him.”

  “In greater detail.”

  “Hackett went to visit him very early in the morning and walked him out the building at gunpoint. To the local park. There was no one around. He shot him in the back of the skull with a silenced nine.”

  “Was there a lot of mess?”

  “I wasn’t there.”

  “Probably exited through the face. But the brain was dead by then. No further heartbeat. No blood pressure. Effective, but not visual. Are you going to do the same thing with Reacher and Chang?”

  “I’m going to do whatever the hell works. Split fifty-fifty. Which could be expensive. Because apart from anything else, we also have to do it fast. They could be talking right this minute.”

  Chapter 39

  The long story about Michael McCann’s disappearance began with a desire to visit Oklahoma. Michael announced it one day, in his slow, halting, disappointed way, and his father didn’t let himself fall in the trap of worrying about it, not then, not immediately, because he knew it was unlikely to happen. These things rarely did. But then Michael further announced he had researched housing policy in Oklahoma, which was different than Illinois, in that part-time work could qualify. Which might be more sustainable.

  Peter McCann’s reaction had been mixed. Obviously at the top of the pole was the sheer terror of imagining Michael alone and adrift in an unfamiliar environment. But underneath that was a tiny green shoot of optimism. Finally Michael had spent some computer time productively. He had researched housing policy in another state. He had even drawn a conclusion. Which might be more sustainable. Which was almost like making a plan. Certainly it showed a solid flicker of initiative. It was evidence of self-motivation, which some long-ago shrink had said would be the first sign of improvement.

  So all in all Peter McCann had been holding it together.

  His sister said, “Then Michael announced he had a friend in Oklahoma. Which was a big deal. He had never had a friend before. He had never even used the word. We figured it happened through an internet forum. Which was worrying, I guess. But Michael is thirty-five years old. He’s not retarded. His IQ is way up there. He knows what he’s doing. He’s sad, that’s all. So Peter asked what questions he could and then bit his lip.”

  Reacher said, “And what happened?”

  “Michael went to Oklahoma. A little place not far from Tulsa. He texted at first. Then less frequently. But he was OK, as far as we knew. Then one day he texted to say he was coming home soon. He didn’t say exactly when, and he didn’t say why. We haven’t heard from him since.”

  “When did Peter call the police?”

  “Pretty soon afterward. Then he called everybody.”

  “Including the White House?”

  “I advised him not to. But of course no one anywhere was listening to him. There are half a million mentally-challenged homeless men in America. No one would consider searching for an individual among them. How could they? Why would they? Michael is not aggressive and he isn’t on medication. He isn’t dangerous.”

  “Didn’t they at least check with the friend?”

  “I’m sure you know how it is. In your own jobs. Suddenly all you have is a name that doesn’t mean much, and a hazy half-remembered address no one can find.”

  “So the friend has not been identified?”

  “No one even knows whether it was a man or a woman.”

  “What about the social housing?”

  “There wasn’t any. Clearly Michael had been staying with the unknown friend. Probably not working at all, even part-time.”

  “And then what happened?”

  “Obviously Peter wouldn’t give up. He went to work on his own. First he got help from the phone company. He can be very persistent. They tracked Michael’s phone. The last day they can see it move southwest, from one cell tower to the next, from around Tulsa to Oklahoma City, at what looks like an average speed of about fifty miles an hour. Which was a bus, Peter thinks. He thinks Michael took the bus from Tulsa to Oklahoma City.”

  “Why?”

  “To get the train to Chicago.”

  Reacher nodded. The train.

  Inevitably.

  Chang said, “There are other trains out of OC.”

  McCann’s sister said, “Peter thinks Michael was coming home. Peter’s certain of it. And sure enough, at first the phone moves north in the right direction at the right speed. But then it switches off.”

  “Because it got too far away. We had the same thing. The last cell tower is about ninety minutes north of Oklahoma City. Then you’re in dead air forever.”

  “It never came back on again.”

  “Did Peter tell the cops?”

  “Of course.”

  “What did they say?”

  “They say the phone hunted for a signal so hard it ran down the battery. Then Michael didn’t get a chance to charge it before it got stolen in Chicago. Just because he hasn’t visited his dad doesn’t mean he isn’t back in town. And so on and so forth. Or alternatively the phone was stolen in Tulsa or OC and some other guy took it on the bus and the train, but he didn’t have the code to unlock the screen, so he quit trying and trashed it. Meanwhile Michael is still in Oklahoma, or perhaps he went somewhere else entirely, possibly San Francisco.”

  Reacher said, “Why San Francisco?”

  McCann’s sister said, “There are a lot of homeless men in San Francisco. Cops think it’s a magnet. They think people go there automatically, like it’s still 1967.”

  “How does Peter rate that possibility?”

  “As a possibility, but nothing more.”

  “So then he hired Keever?”

  “He started the process.”

  “Searching on-line?”

  “At first.”

  Reacher said, “Tell us about his interest in the internet.”

  But then the daughter came back in the room, to tell her mom people were leaving. The two of them went out together to say goodbye, and Reacher heard the outside hubbub change in frequency to a long slow goodbye tone, and then he heard car doors slamming and engines starting, and vehicles pulling away.

  Five minutes later the house was absolutely silent.

  No one came back to the shuttered study. Reacher and Chang waited alone in the gloom. Five more minutes. Nothing doing. They opened the door and looked out. An interior hallway, empty. Silver-framed photographs on the wall. A family story, in chronological order. A couple, a couple with a baby, a couple with an infant, a couple with a kid, a couple with a teenager. All three of them growing older, frame by frame.

  There was no sound.

  No voices, no footsteps.

  They moved out of the study to the hallway. They felt entitled. Or allowed. Or at least no longer inappropriate. The guests were gone. No more need to hide. They turned toward what they felt was the center of the house and took quiet tentative steps. The silver-framed photographs started up again. A fresh batch, in a new location. But the same old story. A couple with a college student, a couple with a muddy college student in a soccer uniform holding a cup, a couple with a graduating college student.

  No voices, no footsteps.

  They moved on, past a room with padded walls and a giant sc
reen and a forest of upright loudspeakers. And three separate chairs, each one of them with its own reclining mechanism, and its own cup holder. A home theater. Reacher had never seen one before, in a home.

  No sound.

  They came out in an arched antechamber ahead of the living room. Where the architecture changed from adobe to hunting lodge. The ceiling soared overhead, with knotty boards rising to an angled peak, in a shallow upside-down V. Black iron chandeliers hung down, with bulbs made to look like candles. There were sofas made of thick brown leather, deep and wide and sprawling, with plaid blankets folded over their backs, for color.

  They heard a car on the driveway.

  Metallic thumps, as doors opened and closed.

  Footsteps on the rivers of stone.

  The front door opened.

  A heavy tread in the hallway.

  Dr. Evan Lair walked into his living room. He saw Reacher, saw Chang, and stopped. He said, “Hey, guys,” in a way that was part welcome, part question, perfectly amiable, completely accepting, but with a tiny edge of impatience, as if what he really meant was I thought all the guests had gone.

  Then his daughter came in behind him, still in the shirt and bikini, and she put her hand on his back and said, “It’s something to do with Cousin Michael. Mom has been talking to them.”

  Then she maneuvered onward and stepped up close, and put out her hand, and said, “Hi, I’m Emily,” and they all shook and introduced themselves, and said congratulations all around.

  Then McCann’s sister came in, kind of dusting her hands, and she said, “I’m sorry, but we took a slice of cake and a glass of tea to the man at the gate. The least we could do. He had a busy afternoon on our behalf.”

  Reacher said, “Did you give him a guest list beforehand?”

  “We have to.”

  “Then you should have given him only half a slice of cake. He let us in without checking it.”

  Evan said, “Is Michael still missing?”

  Emily said, “Dad, you know he is.”

  “And Peter is finally looking for him now? Is that what this is?”

  “Uncle Peter has been looking for him all along.”

  “Well, he isn’t here. Neither one of them is here.”

  Reacher said, “We apologize for the intrusion.”

  “Sit down,” Emily said. “Please.”

  They ended up two and three on opposite sofas, Reacher and Chang cradled in the corners of one, with ice tea in glasses, on coasters on coffee tables made to look like old steamship trunks, and across from them on the other sofa was the Lair family, all in a line, with Evan and Lydia at the ends, and Emily in the middle, long and lithe and golden tan.

  Reacher said, “Peter did very well with the phone company. That kind of information is hard to get.”

  Peter’s sister said, “It’s Chicago. It was a friend of a friend in the union.”

  “And Peter being a thorough guy, he won’t have summarily dismissed the phone theft scenarios before or after the train ride. In Tulsa or OC or Chicago. Not completely out of hand. But he will have thought it at least equally likely something happened along the way.”

  “On the train?” Emily said.

  “Or not. We know that train, as it happens. It stops once before Chicago. At a little country place called Mother’s Rest.”

  No reaction from McCann’s sister.

  Reacher said, “Mother’s Rest is way out in the middle of nowhere. It’s also Keever’s last known location. I think Peter concluded Michael got out of the train there. Hence his phone never came out the other side of the dead zone. I think he sent Keever to check.”

  “Well, that’s good, right?” Evan said. “If he’s there, Keever will find him.”

  Reacher said nothing.

  McCann’s sister said, “He’s had no luck yet. Peter hasn’t had a report in three days. Nothing doing. Unless he’s due to call me with the good news right about now.” Which seemed to make her conscious of the time, because she patted her wrist, looking for a watch, and then she squinted far into the kitchen to see the microwave clock.

  She said, “It’s after suppertime in Chicago.”

  She pointed near Reacher and said, “Hon, pass me the phone.”

  The phone was on the steamer trunk, near his ice tea. It was bigger than some, and curvier, and heavier. Better plastic. Still cordless and modern, but first-generation. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. It had a transparent window for speed-dial labels, with a space at the top for its own number, which someone had filled out in elegant pencil, the 480 area code and seven more digits. He passed it across, and McCann’s sister took it, and checked it for dial tone.

  She said, “The line is working.”

  Evan asked, “How big of a place is Mother’s Rest?”

  Reacher said, “Very small.”

  “Why is it called that?”

  “No one knows.”

  “How can it take three days to search a very small place?”

  “Depends how thorough you are. You could spend three weeks poking around, opening every door, looking under every bush. Which is what’s on my mind. It’s a footsore picture. It’s old-fashioned police work. The phone company trace, through a pal in the union, the railroad schedules, the guess about whether he stayed on board or got out, the physical search of a physical location. Time and space. Steel and iron. Shoe leather and late nights. Smart people would call it analog.”

  “I suppose sometimes it has to be that way.”

  “But we heard Peter was obsessed with the internet. He called a science journalist in LA a total of eighteen times to talk about it. Was that separate? How is that connected to a place that doesn’t even get cell service?”

  McCann’s sister said, “It wasn’t separate. It was parallel. He thought it might be a clue to where Michael was. He thought that Michael might talk to similar people on secret sites. Maybe he was heading somewhere for a reason. Maybe there had been discussions. We had high hopes of Mr. Westwood for a time. He might have held the key. But Peter was very persistent. And persistence can be a negative thing in the end. As you say, eighteen calls. I tried to warn him.”

  “Did he find the sites anyway?”

  McCann’s sister said, “I’ll get more tea.”

  She stood up and picked up the jug from the steamer trunk, and the jug caught the phone and sent it spinning in place, frictionless, plastic on leather. Reacher saw the neat pencil handwriting, rotating slowly, like a bicycle spoke coming to rest. Area code 480, and seven more digits.

  Phoenix, Arizona. Where we’re going.

  We’re on the way.

  The time for looking over your shoulder starts now.

  Half a slice of cake.

  He said, “Evan, may I ask you a personal question?”

  Dr. Lair did what most guys do, when facing such an inquiry, which was to pause a quizzical beat, and shrug in mock innocence, and say, “Sure.”

  “Do you keep a gun in the house?”

  “Is that important?”

  “Just a matter of interest.”

  “As a matter of fact I do.”

  “May I see it?”

  “That’s a strange request.”

  His daughter Emily was half-turned sideways, sitting cross-legged, watching the exchange, back and forth from one face to the other, like tennis.

  So was Chang.

  Reacher said, “Is the gun in the bedroom?”

  Lair said, “As a matter of fact it is.”

 
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