Make me, p.26
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       Make Me, p.26
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         Part #20 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child

  “It would be better in the hallway. Dead-of-night home invasions are rare. Plus you’d be too sleepy to be effective. Are you right-handed?”

  “Yes, I am.”

  “Then within six feet of the front door on the right-hand side would be favorite. In a drawer or a cabinet. Or grips-up in a decorative vase. On a table. I imagine that would work.”

  “Are you also a security consultant?”

  “We aim to offer a wide range of services.”

  Emily said, “He’s right, Dad. The bedroom is pointless.”

  Chang said, “Technically our advice would be to conceal a separate firearm in each major zone of the house. The bedroom certainly, but also the kitchen area, the living area, the entrance lobby, upstairs if you have one, the basement if you have one, and the garage.”

  Emily said, “Where’s best if you only have one?”

  Only have one, Reacher heard.

  “Go with the math,” Chang said. “Most problems come in the front door.”

  “Seriously?” Lair said. “I should move it?”

  “Better ask Mom,” Emily said.

  And right then McCann’s sister came back, with a fresh jug of tea and cake on a plate, and she said, “Ask me what?”

  “Whether my daddy should move his gun to the hallway.”

  “Why on earth would he want to do that?”

  “On the advice of one logical daughter and two security consultants.”

  “How on earth did the subject come up? Is it important?”

  We can’t tell her. Not now.

  Reacher said, “No, it was just professional interest, that’s all,” and a minute later the matter evaporated like a bubble of soap, quickly forgotten, except by Chang, who flashed a question, eye to eye: What the hell is going on?

  Reacher scratched his nose, absently, with the edge of his forefinger, the rest of his hand cupped below, hiding him mouthing Turn your phone off.

  McCann’s sister said, “Are you OK?”

  Reacher said, “Tell us about the web sites Michael was using.”

  Chapter 40

  McCann learned two things fast, his sister said, when he started looking at his son’s computer. The first was that software could be booby-trapped so that opening an internet history was the same thing as erasing an internet history. Unless you opened it right, which he didn’t, obviously. Because he didn’t know how. But like a lot of downloaded programs it wasn’t perfect. It had a tiny glitch. It left the first screen visible for about half a second. Then it was gone. Blank. No more.

  The second thing he learned was how short of a time half a second was. But also how long. A fastball could get there and back again in half a second, easy. And plenty could be retained in the memory. It was a question of trusting, not thinking. Some ancient trick of mind and retina and after-image. Better to look away, and glimpse it on the edge.

  Except it meant nothing. Just long lines of characters, as if someone had rolled a ball along the top part of a keyboard. Completely random.

  McCann’s sister said, “So Peter being Peter, he learned what he could about what he was up against, which turned out to be the Deep Web. About which there wasn’t much useful to learn. We had some scary conversations. We thought we were in charge. Relatively speaking. But we weren’t. There was a whole secret world we knew nothing about. It was ten times bigger than ours. People were in there, talking. Doing weird stuff we wouldn’t understand. It was like a science-fiction movie.”

  Reacher said, “Was there one thing in particular Westwood was supposed to help with, or was it a general inquiry?”

  “No, it was very specific. There’s a widespread feeling among Deep Web people that the government must be building a search engine capable of finding their web sites. We felt there was a hint in Westwood’s article that it already exists. Peter wants Westwood to confirm or deny, and if so, help get him a chance to use it.”

  “Is that likely?”

  “Personally I don’t think there’s a hope in hell, but leave no stone unturned. His son is missing. My nephew.”

  “Is it conceivable Peter could have left things out when he was talking to you? Were his stories always completely joined up?”

  “What do you mean?”

  “You hadn’t heard the words Mother’s Rest, for instance.”

  “No, I hadn’t.”

  “Did he ever say anything about two hundred deaths?”

  Emily said, “Two hundred what?”

  Her mother said, “No.”

  Reacher said, “He talked to Keever about both those things. And Keever went to Mother’s Rest. So it was important somehow. Yet he didn’t mention it to you.”

  “What happens there?”

  “We don’t know.”

  “Peter’s my big brother and I’m his little sister. He never forgets it. Never lets me forget it, either. Not in a bad way. In the best way. The only reason he would leave things out would be to spare me unpleasantness.”

  No one spoke.

  Chang got up.

  She said, “I need the ladies’ room,” and Emily pointed it out, and she wandered away in the right direction.

  Reacher said, “Do you guys have plans for dinner?”

  McCann’s sister said, “I haven’t thought about it yet.”

  “We could go out.”

  “Who?”

  “All of us.”

  “Where?”

  “Anywhere you like. Right now. My treat. Let me take you out to dinner.”

  “Why?”

  “Sounds like you’ve been working hard all day.”

  Chang reappeared at the edge of the living room. She caught Reacher’s eye and said, “Men’s room is right here, if you need it.”

  He said, “OK.”

  “I can show you, if you like.”

  “I’m sure I’ll find it when the time is right.”

  Emily said, “She wants to talk to you in private.”

  So Reacher got up and joined Chang in the outer hallway. She said, quietly, “You think Hackett’s friends are coming?”

  “We should have been more cautious with the phone. They could have equipment all over the country. If so, we just sold out the sister. We gave Westwood chapter and verse. So we can’t leave them alone. Not here. Not now. Either we get them out or we babysit them all night. Close personal protection. A wide range of services.”

  “I’d rather get them out.”

  “I already offered them dinner.”

  “The guy on the gate is useless.”

  “Which way is the bedroom?”

  “The other wing. Through the living room again.”

  “You try asking them to dinner. Maybe they thought it was weird from me.”

  “It’s weird from either one of us. We don’t know them. And they’re in the middle of a high-precision wedding countdown. Two strangers suddenly taking them out for a bucket of chicken would make their heads explode.”

  “I said anywhere they want. Doesn’t have to be KFC.”

  “Same difference. Doesn’t matter where we go.”

  They heard a car on the driveway.

  Metallic thumps, as doors opened and closed.

  Footsteps on the rivers of stone.

  Modern automotive design puts no more than four seats behind regular wide-open doors. Some sedans might be five-seaters, and some trucks were seven-seaters, but no tough guy grows up wanting to sit on the transmission hump, and no one is effective in the way back of a minivan. So worst case would be four incoming. Best case would be one. Likelihood was either two or three. Reacher turned instantly and headed across the living room, charting his course many steps ahead, as straight as possible, setting himself to graze the corners of tables and the arms of chairs, like a downhill slalom against the clock. The Lair family was still all in a line on the sofa, frozen, not understanding, Lydia, Emily, Evan, the linen shift, the shirt and bikini, the shorts and the loud Hawaiian, all watching, so Reacher patted the air as he passed them by,
telling them to stay where they were, and then he hustled onward, out the far side of the living room, into a short hallway, past more silver-framed photographs of unknown people, maybe relatives, including a thin man and a sad boy, perhaps Peter and Michael McCann, and finally onward into the bedroom.

  The back of his brain said women usually take the side near the bathroom and he sidestepped and scrambled around a pillow-stacked king-size bed to a night table with nothing on it but an alarm clock and an unread book.

  He heard them kick down the front door.

  He wrenched open the drawer under the book and saw reading glasses and headache pills and a box of tissues and a Colt Python with a six-inch barrel. Hatched walnut grips lacquered to a soupy shine, an immense blued-steel frame, brawny .357 Magnum rounds in the wheel. One hell of a nighttime gun. Smart in some ways. No complexity. No safety, no jams. But dumb in other ways. It weighed three pounds. Too heavy to lift while blinking awake. And the recoil would blow a sleepy arm through the headboard.

  Reacher took it and checked the cylinder. All there. A six-shooter. Six rounds.

  He heard boots in the hallway.

  Inside the front door. Moving six feet to the right. Two people. A third would be coming around the back. If there was a third. Along the decorative path, past the plantings, between the solar lights, through the gate.

  Please go in.

  No spare rounds in the drawer.

  A six-shooter.

  Reacher stepped back to the bedroom door. Still he heard boots in the hallway. Then he moved out, past the silver-framed photographs again, edging sideways, Python at arm’s length, eyes on the front sight, crisp and clear, everything else blurred, the light soft, the house shuttered and shaded against the sun, and full of dim shadows.

  He stopped at the mouth of the living room. On his left was the Lair family, still on the sofa, but starting to stir. Shock was giving way to fear. And in Emily’s case, outrage. She was going to break forward. Her folks were going to break back. On his right was the sofa he and Chang had sat on, and beyond it was a partial view to the door.

  He saw the bulk of a moving shoulder. A silhouette, against the light. Tense and pumped up and ready to go.

  On his left through the slider he saw a guy in the back yard. Behind the wedding gifts. Then out in clear air. Black T-shirt, black pants. And a Ruger P-85, with a suppressor tube fitted. Carried easy, down by his side, from above his knee to the top of his boot. Which was also black. They were dressed the part. That was for damn sure.

  Where was Chang?

  Reacher did not want to fire without knowing where she was. Not a Magnum round. Not in her general direction. Too many dim shadows. Too much dazzling contrast. Too many crazy outcomes. Rounds could deflect off bone and go through walls. Plural. They could exit the building completely, and break a window down the street.

  Where was she?

  Emily was drawing breath, ready to start yelling and screaming, bikini and all, in Reacher’s view a natural primeval reaction, the instinctive defense of family and territory, plus in her case a measure of righteous indignation, as in, this was her special week and who the hell did they think they were anyway? Evan was a calm man, accustomed to calamity, trained in science and reason, in tests and evidence and careful diagnosis, and he was a smart guy, and all his circuits were sparking, but he couldn’t make anything fit in his mind, so his body was left waiting for a final decision. Lydia was pressed back in her corner, the wife and mother, the sister and the aunt, retreating into herself, Reacher thought, or into an earlier version of herself, perhaps the true McCann version, raised tougher, maybe in the kind of place where splintering wood and a heavy tread was never good news.

  Then the guy in the yard opened the slider and stepped inside, and the back of Reacher’s brain showed him the whole chess game right there, laid out, obvious, like flashing neon arrows, in immense and grotesque detail, the snap pivot left and the round into the meat of the yard guy’s chest, where it was less likely than a head shot to go through-and-through, which was good, given a neighborhood behind them full of wooden fences, but where it was more likely to soak the Lair family with thick pink mist, from behind, hair and all, which wasn’t good, because it would be traumatic, especially during such a week, except on reflection Reacher figured the week was already pretty much a disaster from that exact point onward, given that the chess game said there would be a dead guy at that very moment sliding to the floor of their private house, even as the homeowner-owned Python was snapping right again for two rounds at where the silhouette of the shoulder had been, which two rounds might or might not hit anything, but which would give a second’s cover for the scramble around the sofa and the capture of the dead guy’s Ruger, for a total of three rounds expended and fifteen gained.

  But Reacher made none of those shots or moves, because by then he knew where Chang was. She was being pushed into view, toward the living room from the front door, struggling, two guys holding her, her hands trapped behind her back, a palm clamped over her mouth, a gun at her head. Another Ruger, with another suppressor. Unstable and unwieldy in its present role, because of its length. But no doubt effective.

  Reacher put the Python on the floor behind him, very quietly, in the shadows against the hallway baseboard, under the last of the silver-framed photographs.

  Then he stepped into the living room.

  Chapter 41

  The guy from the yard tracked around part of a curve, and the two from the door came in and took up position on the same arc, wide apart, Chang suddenly shoved forward, sent sprawling, all the way to the Lairs’ sofa, where she landed and steadied herself and turned around and perched on the edge. Reacher sat on the arm, slow and casual, wanting to look like less of a threat, wanting to anchor himself at that end of the room, knowing a standing guy will be told to sit, and often where, whereas a sitting guy was rarely moved. Evan was next to him, and then came Emily, sitting back, and Chang, sitting forward and breathing hard, and Lydia, sitting back. What had been spacious for three was crowded for five. They made a unified target. Three Rugers against them, fanned out wide, like a field-of-fire diagram in an old infantry manual.

  Three Rugers, three guys. Black clothes, scalped hair, pale skin. Big enough and heavy enough, but also somehow bony. Tight cheekbones. Hard times in their DNA, from not too long ago. From Europe, maybe. Far in the marshy east. Every man against his neighbor, for the last thousand years. They stood there, rock steady, at first calming down and taking stock and checking boxes, and then thinking hard about something new. Normally Reacher might have said they looked like they knew what they were doing, but the truth was right then he thought they didn’t. Not a hundred percent. Not anymore. They were improvising. Or preparing to improvise. Or at least considering it. As if their own chess game had come to a fork in the road. Arrows to the left, arrows to the right. Options. Freedom of choice. Always dangerous.

  They didn’t move. Didn’t speak. There was maybe a hint of a smile. Then the guy in the middle said, “We were told we would find a man and a woman talking to another woman.”

  Good English, close to a regular American accent, but with dull Slavic undertones. Eastern Europe for sure. Moody, put-upon, a guy whose life was a sea of troubles.

  No one answered.

  The guy said, “But what we actually find is two men and three women. One of which is Chinese. Which is all very confusing. So tell me, which among you has been talking to who?”

  Chang said, “I’m American, not Chinese. And we’ve all been talking. To each other. Everyone to everyone else. All ways around. Now you tell us something. Who the hell are you and what the hell are you doing here?”

  The guy said, “One of you is somebody’s sister.”

  No response.

  The guy said, “We don’t know if the somebody is a Chinaman. That information would have helped, I guess.”

  No response.

  “Which one of you is somebody’s sister?”

  “N
ot me,” Reacher said.

  “You got a sister, wise guy? Maybe you should tell me where she lives.”

  “If I had a sister, I would. Save me kicking your ass myself.”

  The guy looked away, to the other end of the sofa. To the three women there.

  He said, “Which one of you is the sister?”

  No response.

  “Which one of you is the woman who spoke to the sister?”

 
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