Make me, p.27
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       Make Me, p.27
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         Part #20 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child

  No response.

  The guy looked back the other way.

  He said, “Which one of you is the man who spoke to the sister?”

  No response.

  The guy said, “There are many combinations. Like a test at the Institute of Mathematics. How many socks do I need to guarantee a pair? But in this case one answer at least is obvious, even to the dullest student. We could kill you all. That would guarantee the correct result. That would be a sufficiently large number of socks. But it would be five dead for the price of three. And that price was agreed upfront. Count your change before you leave the store. No renegotiation after the fact. Those are the fat man’s rules.”

  Silence.

  The guy looked at Evan, and said, “What do you do for a living?”

  Evan started once, and started again, and got it out third time around. He said, “I’m a doctor.”

  “Do you work for free?”

  “No, I guess I don’t.”

  “Dumb question, right? Doctors working for free?”

  “Some doctors work for free.”

  “But not you, right?”

  “No, I guess not.”

  “Do you think I should work for free?”

  Evan breathed in, breathed out, floundering.

  The guy said, “Doctor, it’s a simple question. I’m not seeking a medical opinion. Do you think I should work for free? When you don’t?”

  “Does it matter what I think?”

  “I want us all to be comfortable. I want us all to agree. A person should get paid for the work he does. I need your backing on this.”

  “OK, a person should get paid.”

  “For what?”

  “For the work he does.”

  “Should he get more for five things than three things?”

  “I guess he should.”

  “But how can he, when the price was fixed upfront? There is no more blood in that stone. Which is bad news for us. But good news for you. We’ll do only what we’ve been paid to do. No free samples. You stand a chance of surviving.”

  A forty percent chance, the back of Reacher’s brain told him, immediately and automatically, if the shooting was random. But why would the shooting be random? Their brief was a man and two women. In which case Evan’s odds rose to fifty-fifty. And Chang’s fell, from forty percent to thirty-three.

  The guy said, “Of course the flaw in the plan is we might leave the wrong two alive. Which would not be acceptable. I’m sure you have professional standards of your own. The problem needs to be solved another way. We need to think laterally. We need to find a way to get paid. Help me out here.”

  Evan said, “There’s no money in the house.”

  “Doctor, I’m not asking a man to pay for his own execution. That would be harsh. I’m asking you to think laterally. What is there in the current situation that could provide some element of recompense for me and my partners?”

  Evan said nothing.

  “Be creative, doctor. Loosen up. Think outside the box. If not money, what else?”

  No answer.

  The guy looked at Emily and said, “What’s your name, sweetheart?”

  Evan said, “No.”

  The guy looked at Chang.

  He said, “Her too.”

  Emily pulled her shirt tight around her and drew up her knees and scrabbled backward on the sofa. Evan leaned in front of her. The guy in the middle stared him down and said, “If you behave yourself we’ll shoot you first. If you don’t, we’ll leave you alive and make you watch.”

  The three guys were equally spaced along the rim of a quarter circle. Like the bases loaded. But much closer. They were in a room, after all, not a ballpark. A spacious room, but still. The guy at first base on the right was maybe seven feet from Reacher. At third on the far left the furthest guy was fifteen feet away. And the guy on second was halfway between the other two, doing all the talking, on a straight line between Reacher and the front door, about twelve feet distant.

  Three guys. No doubt the Maricopa County DA would call them invaders. As in, a home invasion turned tragic tonight, in an exclusive gated community northeast of town. Film at eleven. The cops would call them perpetrators. Their lawyers would call them clients. Politicians would call them scum. Criminologists would call them sociopaths. Sociologists would call them misunderstood.

  The 110th MP would call them dead men walking.

  The guy on second said, “Let’s get this show on the road.”

  Emily was wedged hard against the back of the sofa, pressed against the plaid wool blanket, her knees drawn up, her arms wrapped tight around her shins. Altogether she looked like a person half her size. Chang wasn’t going anywhere, either. She was planted in place, her hands flat on the sofa by her sides, her legs out straight, her lace-up shoes way out in front of her, her heels literally dug into the rug, like a cartoon roadrunner skidding to a stop.

  The guy on second said, “I’m getting impatient here.”

  Wet lips.

  Moving eyes.

  Urgent.

  No response.

  Then Reacher breathed out and raised a placatory don’t-shoot palm, and he half-stood, slow and calm, unthreatening, the complete opposite of sudden, and he kept himself half-turned away from the guys with the guns, and half-turned toward the group on the sofa, and he said, “Come on, Emily, let’s get this done. They’re going to nail you one way or the other. Might as well make it easy on yourself.”

  She said, “What?”

  He leaned past Evan and grabbed the kid’s wrist and pulled her upright. Immediately Evan stood up to fight him, and Chang too, and McCann’s sister, all of them breathless and panicked and unbelieving. Suddenly there was a small knot of people all vertical and active, clustered together on the rug between the sofas, moving, swaying, bumping, glancing desperately left and right.

  The moment of truth.

  The three guys did nothing. Their smart play at that point would have been to start blasting away, there and then, no hesitation, recognizing that the situation was turning to shit right in front of their eyes. But by then they were heavily invested in a plan of their own devising, in a course of action, in a procedure, in the promise of extreme future physical pleasure, and the two major components of that coming nirvana were knotted tight in the swaying crowd, collateral damage just waiting to happen, and they didn’t want them damaged. Not so soon. They wanted them just the way they were, whole, aware, reacting, all smooth tan flesh and bikinis and T-shirts and low-cut jeans. So they didn’t shoot. They didn’t think. Not with their brains, anyway.

  So far so good.

  Reacher nudged Evan one way and Chang the other and pulled Emily out of the crowd. He reeled her in, all thrashing knees and elbows, and he turned her around and shoved her onward, hard, into the hallway with the silver-framed photographs of the unknown relatives.

  He said, “The bedroom is that way.”

  Evan scrambled past him, grabbing at his daughter, and McCann’s sister jostled him, almost as quick, and Chang piled in behind her, with the first-base guy following, some sudden concern on his face about the emerging chaos, and behind him the second-base spokesperson crowded in, with the third-base guy coming in from the rear. Eight people in total, clumsy, stumbling, forced nearly to single file, funneling into a dark narrow hallway.

  Reacher dropped down in the crowd and scooped up the Python, two-handed to stop it skittering on the polished wood, and he snugged the butt in his palm, solid and reassuring, and he fit his finger in the guard, against the trigger, hard and substantial, and he brought the gun up, three pounds of weight, and he put his left hand on the top of Lydia Lair’s head, and buckled her knees, and forced her down, and he aimed over Chang’s right shoulder and fired, at the center of the man-on-first’s face.

  There were many factors that made a handgun either accurate or not accurate. The velocity of the round and the length of the barrel were the most important, aided or not by aerodynamic subtleties like
the degree of spin imparted by the rifling grooves, which either worked well or didn’t, depending on the bullet. Precision of manufacture was influential, with careful machining of quality metal much preferred over casting from leftover slag. Not that anything much mattered at seven feet. A pore to the left or a wrinkle to the right was immaterial. The human face was a big enough target, generally hard to miss at close quarters, and the man-on-first’s was no exception.

  It was a through-and-through, obviously, given the short range and the power of the Magnum round. Twenty feet behind the guy’s head the wall instantly cratered, the size of a punch bowl, and a ghastly split second later the contents of the guy’s brain pan arrived to fill it, with a wet slap, all red and gray and purple. Meanwhile the guy himself was going down vertically, as if he had stepped into an elevator shaft, and Reacher was turning fractionally left, from the waist, shoulders braced, looking for the third-base guy, the furthest away, because some back-of-the-brain calculation was telling him the guy had a better line of return fire, and he wasn’t drooling as bad as the second-base guy, so maybe he was less invested in the upcoming entertainment, and therefore more likely to start blasting, even at the risk of damaged goods.

  Reacher eased the trigger home, and he felt the mechanism turn, gears and cams and levers, effortless, and the gun fired, in his mind a considered shot, a decent interval after his first, but in the real world almost a double tap, a fast bang-move-bang, a craftsman going about his business, calmly, using his natural born gifts. It was a through-and-through again, inevitably, in the guy’s upper lip, out the base of his skull, shattering the slider window, and exploding a pile of wedding presents on the table in the yard outside, in a cloud of paper fragments, white and silver, like confetti a few days early. The broken glass came down like a waterfall, governed by gravity, and therefore at the same downward speed as the third-base guy, who was also governed by gravity. Reacher saw an inch of their synchronized descent, and then he whipped away to the right, to find the second-base guy.

  Because at that point the race was really on, and Reacher was losing. One guy was nothing, and two guys were never really a problem either, but a third guy could get tricky. The bang-bang of his pals going down tended to concentrate his mind, and worse than that gave him time to get his head in the game, to react, to finally realize oh yeah I’ve got a gun in my hand, to bring the gun up, slower than usual, because of the fat suppressor tube, because the gun was twice as long as his muscle memory thought it was, and also heavier, and therefore less controllable, which was all good, because his traverse was a whole lot shorter than Reacher’s needed to be. He was almost there already. Just inches away. Game almost over. But Reacher kept on moving, in what felt like hopeless slow motion, like forcing the back of his hand through molasses on a cold winter’s day, his left eye on the Python’s front sight, his right eye on the hole in the end of the suppressor tube, which was still elliptical, but only slightly. It was an inch away from dead on.

  The Python was a foot away from dead on.

  Reacher chopped it downward, like cracking a whip backhand, mainly for extra speed and power, but also because the guy was widest at the shoulders, and aiming was a luxury Reacher could no longer afford. The Python was a double-action weapon, which meant the same trigger pull cocked the hammer and then dropped it, so he started early, getting the cylinder turning while the gun was still moving, seeing the hammer come up, feeling the cams and the levers, waiting, then firing, trusting millisecond timing and momentum and deflection and complex four-dimensional calculations.

  In other words, a wing and a prayer.

  But it worked, apparently.

  Because the guy didn’t fire back, and a red chunk came out of his neck. Big enough to feed a family.

  A triple play.

  Unassisted.

  Baseball immortality.

  Behind the guy the bullet smashed its way in and out of a powder room and shattered a lamp in the hallway. The guy himself went down in a heap, with what should have been a thump and a clatter, but Reacher heard none of it, because a Magnum’s downside was deafness, at least temporary, especially inside. Around him the others were helpless with shock, as if frozen in place by a camera strobe or a flash of lightning. McCann’s sister was on her knees, her mouth wide open in a scream Reacher couldn’t hear, and Emily was crouched against the base of the hallway wall. Understandable. A Magnum inside was like a stun grenade. Three times.

  Then the hiss and the roar dulled a little, and people started moving. Chang went for Emily, and Evan helped his wife up and then shouldered his way through for a look at the living room, whereupon he turned around and started herding people back toward the bedroom again, shaking his head emphatically, saying, “We can’t go in there,” over and over again. Not because of personal discomfort, Reacher supposed, the guy being a doctor and so on, but to spare his family the sight. Although he supposed they had been in a butcher’s shop, and survived the experience. Although three guys was a lot of dead meat. Or maybe he was worried about crime scene integrity. Too much TV.

  The Lair family sat on the bed, smaller somehow, except for their eyes, all of them panting hard, all of them trying to hold it together. Chang paced. Reacher wiped the big old Colt and left it on Evan Lair’s night stand.

  Lair said, “We should call the police. We have a legal responsibility.”

  Chang said, “Yes, sir, that would be my advice. You need to get out in front of this.”

  McCann’s sister said, “Peter’s dead, isn’t he?”

  No answer.

  “They got him and now they came to get me. Because they think I know what he knows. Or knew. Everyone thinks that. That’s what you think.”

  Chang said, “We have no proof or first-hand evidence about Peter. It would be most improper for us to tell you anything. And Michael must be told first, anyway.”

  “I expect he’s dead too.”

  “We have no information.”

  The room went quiet.

  Then Evan said, “What are we going to do?”

  Reacher said, “About what?”

  “We have dead people in our house.”

  “They won’t come out smelling of roses. So they’ll call it a righteous shooting. A home invasion, silenced weapons, threats of sexual violence. We’re not going to jail over this. We’re going to get a pat on the head instead. Except I don’t really care for that kind of thing. I would be just as happy not to be mentioned at all. Like I wasn’t here. You should take the credit. Play around with the gun. Get your prints on it again. They’ll give you a free year at the country club. You’ll get new patients. The badass doc.”

  “Are you serious?”

  “I don’t care how it turns out. They’ll never find me. But I would appreciate a head start. Ms. Chang and I have a lot to do. It would help us if you would sit tight for about thirty minutes, before you call 911. Tell them any story you want. Tell them you were in shock. Hence the delay.”

  “Thirty minutes,” Evan said.

  “Shock can last that long.”

  “OK.”

  “But when it comes to the story, tell them only two of them had guns.”

  “Why?”

  “Because I’m going to take one with me. And some cops can count that high.”

  “OK, thirty minutes. Two guns. If I can. I’m not good with uniforms.”

  Reacher looked at Emily and said, “Ma’am, I’m very sorry your big week got ruined.”

  Emily said, “I owe you my thanks.”

  “Think nothing of it.”

  He headed out, behind Chang, who stopped to hug McCann’s sister, and to say, in response to her mute inquiries, “I’m very sorry for your loss.”

  Then they closed the door on them and headed down the hallway, past the photographs, to the living room. First up was the first-base guy, but he had collapsed at an awkward angle. His suppressor was in the pool of blood coming from what was left of his head, and suppressors have wadding inside, or
very fine baffles, either one of which would leak blood forever, so they passed the guy by. The third-base guy was a detour, so Chang ducked down to the second-base guy, the guy who had done all the talking, and she scooped up his Ruger, white collar or not.

  And then she stopped.

  She whispered, “Reacher, this one is still breathing.”

  Chapter 42

  Reacher squatted by the horizontal figure. Chang knelt beside him. The guy was on his back, his legs splayed, his arms in disarray. He was unconscious. Or deep in shock, or in a coma. Or all of the above. His neck was a mess. Half of it was missing. He smelled of dirty clothes and sweat and the iron stink of blood. He smelled of death.

  But there was faint respiration, and a thready pulse.

  “How is that even possible?” Reacher whispered. “A piece the size of a porterhouse steak came flying out of him.”

  “Obviously not a vital piece,” Chang whispered back.

  “What do you want to do?”

  “I don’t know. We can’t call the ambulance. They’ll bring the cops
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