Make me, p.28
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       Make Me, p.28
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         Part #20 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child

  with them. They always do, for gunshot victims. We wouldn’t get a head start. But on the other hand this guy looks pretty bad. He needs a trauma surgeon, as soon as possible.”

  “Evan is a doctor.”

  “But what kind? He’d take one look and call the ambulance himself. Immediately. And then he’d call the cops himself. Also immediately. He’s shaky on the thirty-minute thing anyway.”

  “We could walk out and leave the guy here. Who would know?”

  “Too hard on Evan. Potentially. This guy might live thirty minutes. Then the story would leak. He’d be the doctor who ignored a dying man so he could go sit in his bedroom.”

  Reacher put his fingertips high on the guy’s neck, on the intact portion, above the wound, one on each side, behind the ears, near the hinges of the jaw.

  He kept them there.

  Chang said, “What are you doing?”

  “Compressing the arteries that feed his brain.”

  “You can’t do that.”

  “What, it was OK to murder him the first time, but not the second time?”

  “It’s wrong.”

  “It was right the first time, when he was a piece of shit who was about to rape you at gunpoint. Did he change? Did he suddenly become some kind of a saintly martyr we should rush straight to the hospital? When did that part happen?”

  “How long will this take?”

  “Not long. He wasn’t well to begin with.”

  “This is so wrong.”

  “We’re doing him a favor. Like a horse with a broken leg. No one could fix this neck.”

  Her phone rang.

  Loud and clear. Penetrating. She juggled it out and hunched away and answered it. She listened. She whispered. She clicked off.

  Reacher said, “Who was that?”

  “Westwood has landed at Sky Harbor.”

  “Good to know.”

  “I said we’d call him back.”

  “Probably best.”

  “The family will have heard the phone. They’ll know we’re still here.”

  “They’ll think it’s one of these guys. In a pocket. They’ll ignore it.”

  “Is that guy dead yet?”

  “Nearly there. It’s peaceful. Like falling asleep.”

  Then he sat back, and checked for a pulse, and didn’t find one.

  He said, “Let’s go.”

  Their car was on the curb a hundred yards away, in what had been the closest spot when they arrived. Then the tide had gone out and left it high and dry. It was all alone. Chang drove. She U-turned across the road and headed back the way they had come. The development was quiet. Stunned by heat. The air shimmered everywhere, blue and gold, like liquid.

  The gatehouse had both barriers up. Both red-striped poles were vertical. Like a fat bird dressed for the oven. Wide open, both ways, in and out. No guard behind the glass.

  Chang stopped the car.

  She said, “Check it out.”

  The blacktop was hot under Reacher’s feet. He could have fried an egg on it. He heard the buzz of flies six feet away. The sliding window was open. Where the guard leaned out to talk. I hope you folks have a wonderful afternoon. The AC was running hard, trying to cope.

  The guard was on the floor. All tangled up around the legs of his stool. Short sleeve shirt. Mottled arms. Open eyes. He had been shot once in the chest and once in the head. Flies were feasting on his blood. Blue and iridescent. Crawling. Already laying eggs.

  Reacher walked back to the car.

  He said, “The old guy. Not going to get any older.”

  “Makes me feel better about the assisted homicide.”

  “Makes me wish I had found a butter knife in the kitchen and cut his head off.”

  Chang drove out the gate, and took random lefts and rights. They heard no howling sirens in the distance. No commotion. Just the perpetual Phoenix traffic, three shiny lanes, like a slow river, rolling along forever.

  “Where to?” she said.

  “Let’s go find a cup of coffee. And there’s a call you need to make.”

  They pulled in at a strip mall in Paradise Valley. There was a big-name coffee shop sandwiched between a store selling leather belts with silver buckles, and a store selling china plates with fancy patterns. Chang got iced coffee, and Reacher got hot. They sat at a sticky table in back.

  Reacher said, “Tell Westwood to pick a hotel. Somewhere convenient, to suit his budget. Tell him we’ll join him there in two hours.”

  “Why two hours?”

  “Do you guys have a Phoenix office?”

  “Of course. Lots of retired FBI in Phoenix.”

  “We need local knowledge.”

  “About the guys at the house?”

  “About their boss. Who was also Hackett’s boss. A provider of outsourced security, for what is no doubt a varied roster of clients. The service economy at work. Physically he sounded like a big guy to me. On the phone. And then the guy who did all the talking at the house called him the fat man. Did you hear that? He was moaning about not getting paid, and not being able to renegotiate afterward, and he said those are the fat man’s rules. So we need a name. An Eastern European Phoenix-area crime boss who runs Eastern European muscle locally and people like Hackett elsewhere. And who could plausibly be called fat. Behind his back, presumably. Known locations would be good too.”


  “I want to pay him a visit.”


  “For Emily. And for McCann’s sister. And the guard in the gatehouse. And my back hurts and I have a headache now. Some things can’t be allowed to continue.”

  Chang nodded. “And some things have side benefits.”


  “Mother’s Rest will be left wide open. We’ll be canceling its security contract. By cutting off its head. Before we go back there.”

  “Is that the kind of information your local person would have?”

  “I would, if someone called me about Seattle.”

  She took out her phone and dialed, first Westwood, about the hotel, and then she scrolled through her contacts and found her local number. A spare bedroom, presumably. Close by. In Mesa or Glendale or Sun City. Fitted out with matching shelves and cabinets, and a desk, and a chest of drawers. And a computer and a telephone and a fax machine and a printer. Investments, for a new career. We have offices everywhere.

  Reacher got up and headed for the men’s room, where he checked himself in the mirror, for blood, whether his or not, or other signs of mayhem. Always prudent. Once he arrested a guy who had his victim’s tooth stuck in his hair, front and center, like a pale yellow bead from a salon near the beach. Then he washed his hands very thoroughly, and his wrists, and his forearms, with plenty of soap. To get rid of the gunshot residue. Also always prudent. Why make it easy?

  Back at the table Chang said, “He’s Ukrainian and his name is Merchenko.”

  Reacher said, “Is he fat?”

  “Apparently he’s colossal.”

  “Do we know where he does business?”

  “He has a private club south of the airport.”


  “We don’t know.”

  “Can we get in the club?”

  “Members only.”

  “We could apply for jobs. I could be a bouncer.”

  “What could I be?”

  “Depends what kind of club it is.”

  “I think we can guess.”

  “Works for me aesthetically,” Reacher said. “We should go look at the place. Right now. Better to see it in the daylight.”

  South of the airport was not all badlands, but it was brighter and brasher than what they saw on the way. Merchenko’s club was a metal building about the size of Yankee Stadium. But square. It filled its own block, sidewalk to sidewalk. The walls were painted pink and softened in shape by hundreds of giant foil balloons, also pink, some in the shape of hearts, and some in the shape of lips, all of them somehow fixed to the siding.
Lacing in and out between them were miles of neon, right then bleached gray by the sun, but at night no doubt pink. What other color would the neon be? The door was pink, and it had a pink plastic awning above it, and the name of the place was Pink.

  Chang said, “Should we risk going around the block?”

  “It’s early,” Reacher said. “Should be safe enough.”

  So she turned left off the frontage, and drove down the right-hand side. Same huge size. Same pink. Same lips and hearts. Which were kind of drunk-friendly, Reacher thought. Better than swaying the other way, into traffic.

  Then they saw the building did not fill the whole block. Side to side, maybe, but not front to back. It stopped short, and the rear part of the block was a delivery yard. Which made sense. A club that size would need all kinds of consumables. Like an ocean liner. And it would generate all kinds of trash and recycling. Which would need regular pick up. The yard was fenced, with some kind of superior hurricane wire, interwoven with pink screens, so it wasn’t see-through. The fence was topped with floppy rolls of razor wire, to keep climbers out. But two ten-foot lengths were hinged to fold inward, which made sense because of the truck traffic in and out, food and drink and garbage.

  One of those gates was open.

  “Stop,” Reacher said.

  Chang did, and then backed up discreetly, for a better view.

  She said, “I don’t believe it.”

  Inside the gate was a line of head-high trash containers, and then next came an area outside the kitchen door, with fake green grass laid on the concrete, and a token picket fence, and a white metal garden bench, and a big canvas sun umbrella. For chefs and waiters to smoke in comfort.

  Sitting on the bench was a fat man.

  He was smoking a thick cigar and talking to a Hispanic guy, who was wearing a wife-beater and a do-rag, and standing rigidly to attention, his gaze fixed on a spot in the air just above the fat man’s head.

  But fat was too small a word, and plainly inadequate for the occasion. The man on the bench was not plump or big-boned or overweight or even obese. He was a mountain. He was huge. Over six feet, and that was side to side. He dwarfed the bench. He was wearing an ankle-length caftan, gray in color, and his knees were forced wide by his belly, and he was leaning back, perched with his ass on the very front part of the seat, because in the other direction his belly wouldn’t let him fold up ninety degrees to a normal sitting position. There were no recognizable contours to his body. He was an undifferentiated triangle of flesh, with breasts the size of soft basketballs, and other unexplained lumps and bulges the size of king-size pillows. His arms were resting along the back of the bench, and huge dewlaps of fat hung down either side of dimpled elbows.

  All in all he was colossal, which was the word Chang’s contact had used. His head was tiny in comparison with his body. His face was pink and shiny from the sun, and his eyes were small and deep set, partly because he was squinting against the light, and partly because his face was swollen tight, as if someone had stuck a bicycle pump in his ear and given it ten long strokes. His haircut was the same scalped style as the three guys at McCann’s sister’s house.

  Chang said, “He could be a brother or a cousin. Maybe it’s a fat family.”

  “He looks like the boss,” Reacher said. “Look how he’s talking to that guy. He’s giving him a real hard time.”

  And he was. No histrionics. No shouting. Just a steady stream of words, unending, conversational, and therefore probably all the more cruel and effective. The guy in the do-rag wasn’t enjoying himself. That was for damn sure. He was holding himself rigid, staring at the air, riding it out.

  Chang said, “We have to be sure. Maybe Merchenko delegates. Maybe there are underbosses. Maybe this is a brother or a cousin taking care of staff relations for him.”

  Reacher said, “Did your contact mention family members?”

  “She didn’t say.”

  “Can you check?”

  Chang dialed her phone. Reacher watched the fat man. He wasn’t going anywhere. Not yet. He was still talking. Chang asked her question and listened to the answer. She hung up the phone.

  She said, “We don’t know of any family members.”

  “He looks like the boss,” Reacher said again. “Except there’s no security. No guys with sunglasses and wires in their ears. There would be one at the gate, surely. Bare minimum. This guy is supposed to be a crime boss. He’s in full view of the street. We’re just sitting here. No one has tried to chase us away.”

  “Confidence, maybe,” Chang said. “Or overconfidence. He thinks we’re dead by now. Maybe he’s got nothing else to worry about. He could be the apex predator here. Unchallenged.”

  “If he’s the guy.”

  “We shouldn’t assume.”

  “I wish we could. I could hit him from here.”


  “Figure of speech. Not with a handgun. To be certain I’d want to be closer.”

  “Inside the yard?”


  “Maybe there are guards behind the gate.”

  “Could be. But it’s an image thing with these guys. They like to be seen behind a human wall. Or not seen.”

  “So maybe he’s not the guy.”

  “He sure looks like the guy. He looks like a fat man, and it looks like he’s making rules.”

  “We have to be certain.”

  “We’ll never be certain. Unless I ask for ID. Which he might not have. I don’t see a pocket in his dress.”

  “It’s a caftan. Or a muumuu.”

  “What’s a muumuu?”

  “What he’s wearing.”

  “We need to know. This could be solid gold. He’s right there.”

  “Which is the problem. It’s too good to be true.”

  “Could be confidence. Like you said. Could be pure routine. Maybe his security is inside. Maybe they’re used to him ducking outside for a smoke. It’s early, and they know no one’s around. Maybe he doesn’t like them close. Or maybe he thinks staff relations are best done in private.”

  “How long will he stay there?”

  “It’s a big cigar. But maybe he smokes it a bit at a time.”

  “We’ll never have a better chance.”

  “And it can’t last much longer.”

  “But we have to know.”

  Reacher said nothing.

  The fat man kept on talking. Maybe getting more intense. He was jabbing his head with every beat. The fat on his neck was jiggling. The rest of his body was implacably still. Not made for gesture.

  Reacher said, “I think he’s summing up. I think he’s arriving at a conclusion. We don’t have much more time. We need a decision.”

  Chang said nothing.

  Then she said, “Wait.”

  She raised her phone and Reacher saw a picture swim on the screen. The sidewalk, the pink fence, the open gap. An odd angle, unsteady. Camera mode. Then the trash containers, the fake garden, and the fat man.

  She touched the screen and the phone made a sound like a shutter. Then she swiped and dabbed and typed and dabbed again, and the phone made a sound like a whoosh.

  She said, “I’m asking my contact for visual ID.”

  Reacher said, “She better hurry. This can’t last much longer.”

  The fat man kept on talking, and jabbing, and jiggling. The guy in the do-rag kept on taking it. Then the fat man’s fingers started scrabbling at the top slat of the bench. Possibly the beginning of a long and complicated procedure designed to get himself up.

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