The hard way, p.29
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       The Hard Way, p.29

         Part #10 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child



  THE PENTAGON GUY left with a promise to liaise in due course via Lauren Pauling's cell phone. Readier got a coffee refill and Pauling said, "You didn't find Taylor's passport in his apartment."

  Reacher said, "No, I didn't."

  "So either he's still alive or you think someone's impersonating him." Reacher said nothing.

  Pauling said, "Let's say Taylor was working with the guy with no tongue. Let's say they fell out over something, either what they did to Kate and Jade in the end, or the money, or both. Then let's say one of them killed the other and ran, on Taylor's passport, with all the money."

  "If it's the guy with no tongue, why would he use Taylor's passport?"

  "Maybe he doesn't have one of his own. Plenty of Americans don't. Or maybe he's on a watch list. Maybe he couldn't get through an airport with his own name."

  "Passports have photographs."

  "They're often old and generic. Do you look like your passport photograph?"

  "A little."

  Pauling said, "A little is sometimes all you need. Going out, they don't care as much as when you're coming in."

  Reacher nodded and looked up and saw Brewer coming in the door. Big, fast, energetic. Something in his face, maybe frustration, maybe concern, Reacher couldn't tell. Or perhaps the guy was just tired. He had been woken up early. He hurried through the room and slid into the booth and sat in the same spot the Pentagon guy had just vacated.

  He said, "The body in the river was not the guy in Patti's photograph."

  "You sure?" Reacher asked.

  "As sure as I've ever been about anything. Patti's guy is about five-nine and athletic and the floater was six-three and wasted. Those are fairly basic differences, wouldn't you say?"

  Reacher nodded. "Fairly basic."

  Pauling asked, "Did he have a tongue?"

  "A what?" Brewer said.

  "A tongue. Did the floater have a tongue?"

  "Doesn't everybody? What kind of question is that?"

  "We're looking for a guy who had his tongue cut out."

  Brewer looked straight at her. "Then the floater ain't yours. I was just at the morgue. He's got everything except a heartbeat."

  "You sure?"

  "Medical examiners tend to notice things like that."

  "OK," Reacher said. "Thanks for your help."

  "Not so fast," Brewer said. "Talk to me."

  "About what?"

  "About why you're interested in this guy."

  Something in his face.

  Reacher asked, "Did you get an ID?"

  Brewer nodded. "From his fingerprints. They were mushy, but we made them work. He was an NYPD

  snitch. Relatively valuable. I've got buddies uptown who are relatively unhappy."

  "What kind of a snitch?"

  "Methamphetamine out of Long Island. He was due to testify."

  "Where had he been?"

  "He just got out of Rikers. They swept him up along with a bunch of others to keep his cover intact. Held him a few days, then turned him loose."


  "He just got out. The ME figures he was dead about three hours after walking through the gates."

  "Then we don't know anything about him," Reacher said. "He's completely unrelated." This time it was Brewer who said: "You sure?"

  Reacher nodded. "I promise."

  Brewer gave him a long hard look, cop to cop. Then he just shrugged and said, "OK." Reacher said, "Sorry we can't help."

  "Shit happens."

  "You still got Patti's photograph?"

  "Photographs," Brewer said. "She gave me two. Couldn't decide which one was better."

  "You still got them?"

  "In my pocket."

  "Want to leave them with me?"

  Brewer smiled, man to man. "You planning on returning them personally?"

  "I could," Reacher said. "But first I want to look at them."

  They were in a standard white letter-size envelope. Brewer pulled it from his inside pocket and laid it on the table. Reacher saw the name Taylor and the words For Brewer written on the front in blue ink and neat handwriting. Then Brewer left. Just stood up and walked back out to the street with the same kind of speed and energy and hustle he had used on the way in. Reacher watched him go and then he turned the envelope facedown and squared it on the table in front of him. Looked at it hard but left it unopened.

  "What have we got?" he asked.

  "We've got the same as we always had," Pauling said. "We've got Taylor and the guy who can't talk." Reacher shook his head. "Taylor is the guy who can't talk."



  PAULING SAID, "THAT'S absurd. Lane wouldn't employ anyone who can't talk. Why would he? And nobody mentioned it. You asked about Taylor several times. They said he was a good soldier. They didn't say he was a good soldier except he can't talk. They'd have mentioned that little detail, don't you think?"

  "Two words," Reacher said. "All we need to do is add two words and the whole thing makes perfect sense."

  "What two words?"

  "We've been saying the guy can't talk. Truth is, he can't afford to talk." Pauling paused a long moment.

  Then she said: "Because of his accent."

  Reacher nodded. "Exactly. All along we've been saying nobody was missing, but by definition Taylor was missing from the start. And Taylor was behind this whole damn thing. He planned it, and he set it up, and he executed it. He rented the apartment and he bought the chair. He probably did other stuff we didn't catch up with yet. And everywhere he went, he couldn't risk opening his mouth. Not even once. Because

  he's English. Because of his accent. He was realistic. He knew he had to be leaving a trail. And if whoever was tracking him came along later and heard all about an average-looking forty-year-old man with an English accent, they would have made him in a second. It would have been a total no-brainer. Who else would anyone have thought of? Because he was the last one to see Kate and Jade alive."

  "He did the same thing as Knight, five years ago. That's how the takedown worked."

  "Exactly," Reacher said again. "It's the only way to explain it. Possibly he drove them to Bloomingdale's but certainly he didn't stop there. He just pulled a gun and kept on going. Maybe threatened to shoot Kate in front of the kid. That would have kept her quiet. Then he just dropped off the radar and started relying on a kind of double alibi he had created for himself. First, he was presumed dead. And second, all anyone would ever remember of him was a guy that couldn't speak. A guy with no tongue. It was a perfect piece of misdirection. Weird, exotic, absolutely guaranteed to get us chasing off in the wrong direction."

  Pauling nodded. "Brilliant, in a way."

  "It was all anyone remembered," Reacher said. "Like that old Chinese man? All he really recalled was

  the way the guy gulped like a fish. And the super on Sixth Avenue? We said, tell us about the guy, and he said he keeps his mouth tight shut all the time because he's embarrassed that he can't talk. That was the beginning and the end of his description. The obvious thing and the only thing. Everything else was trivial by comparison."

  "Open the envelope," Pauling said. "Confirm it."

  So Reacher lifted the envelope's flap and slid the two photographs out, facedown. He tapped the back of the top picture like a cardsharp looking for luck.

  Then he flipped it over.

  It was the guy he had seen twice before. No question about it.


  White, a little sunburned, lean, chiseled, clean-shaven, jaw clamped, not smiling, maybe forty years old. Blue jeans, blue shirt, blue ball cap, white sneakers. All the clothing worn and comfortable. It was clearly a very recent shot. Patti Joseph had caught him coming out of the Dakota one late-summer morning. It looked like he had paused on the sidewalk and lifted his gaze to check the weather. By doing so he had met the angle of Patti's long Nikon lens perfectly.

  "No doubt about it," Reacher said. "That's the
guy I saw getting into the Mercedes and the Jaguar." He turned the second picture over. It was a closer shot. Maximum zoom, and therefore not quite as clear. There was a little camera shake. The focus wasn't perfect. But it was a viable photograph. Same

  location, same angle, different day. Same guy. But this time his mouth was open. His lips were drawn back. He wasn't smiling. Maybe he was just grimacing against the sudden glare of the sun after stepping out of the dark Dakota lobby. He had terrible teeth. Some were missing. The rest were gappy and uneven.

  "There you go," Reacher said. "There's another reason. No wonder everyone told us he kept his mouth clamped shut all the time. He's not dumb. He was concealing two pieces of evidence at the same time, not just one. His English accent, and his British dentistry. Because that's really a no-brainer. Someone from Lane's crew hears about a Brit with bad teeth? It would have been like wearing a nametag around his neck."

  "Where is he now? England?"

  "That's my guess. He flew home, where he feels safe."

  "With the money?"

  "Checked luggage. Three bags."

  "Could he do that? With all the X-rays?"

  "I don't see why not. I once had a lesson about paper money from an expert. Right here in New York City, as a matter of fact. At Columbia University. The paper isn't really paper, as such. It's mostly linen and cotton fibers. More in common with the shirt on your back than a newspaper. I think it would show up like clothing on an X-ray machine."

  Pauling slid the photographs across the table and butted them together side by side in front of her. Looked at one, looked at the other. Reacher sensed her running through an explanation in her head. An analysis. A narrative.

  "He's tan from the Hamptons," she said. "He was there all summer with the family. And then he was worried about someone checking his apartment from the street, afterward. That's why he took the lightbulb out of the guest room and covered the window. The place had to look empty, if anyone ever checked."

  "He was very thorough."

  "And very unsentimental. He walked away from that great apartment."

  "He can rent ten apartments now."

  "That's for sure."

  "It's a shame," Reacher said. "I liked him when I thought he was dead. Everyone spoke well of him."

  "I wouldn't take recommendations from those guys."

  "I guess not. But I usually like Brits. Gregory seems OK." Pauling said, "He's probably as bad as the rest of them." Then she stacked the photographs and slid them back.

  "Well, you've got the name to give to Lane," she said. Reacher didn't reply.

  "A unified theory of everything," she said. "Like a physicist. I don't see why you say it's only partial. Taylor did it all."

  "He didn't," Reacher said. "He didn't make the phone calls. An American made the phone calls."



  "TAYLOR HAD A partner," Reacher said. "Obviously. He had to, because of the accent thing again. At first I thought it might be the guy in the river. Like you said, I thought maybe they fell out afterward. Or that Taylor got greedy and wanted the whole nine yards for himself. But that won't work now. The guy in the river was just a regular New York corpse. An unrelated homicide. He was in Rikers at the relevant time. So, I don't know who made the phone calls. That's why it's only a partial theory."

  "Lane will want to know who the partner was. He won't settle for half a loaf."

  "You bet your ass he won't."

  "He's not going to pay."

  "He'll pay part. We'll get the rest later. When we tell him who the partner was."

  "How do we find out who the partner was?"

  "The only sure way is to find Taylor and ask him."

  "Ask him?"

  "Make him tell us."

  "In England?"

  "If that's where your Pentagon buddy says he went. I guess he could check for us who Taylor was sitting next to on the flight. There's a slim chance they flew together."


  "Very. But it's maybe worth a try."

  So Pauling went through ten more minutes of phone tag at the U.N. and then gave up and left a voice-mail message asking the guy to check whether Taylor had had a traveling companion.

  "What now?" she said.

  "Wait for your guy to get back to you," Reacher said. "Then book us a car to the airport and flights to London, if that's where Taylor went, which it probably is. Tonight's red-eye, I guess. I'm betting Lane will ask me to go over there. He'll want me to do the advance work. Then he'll bring his whole crew over for the kill. And we'll deal with them there."

  Pauling looked up. "That's why you promised no cop or prosecutor in America is going to think twice." Reacher nodded. "But their opposite numbers in England are going to get pretty uptight. That's for damn


  Reacher put Patti Joseph's photographs back in their envelope and jammed it in the front pocket of his shirt. Kissed Pauling on the sidewalk and headed for the subway. He was outside the Dakota before five in the afternoon.

  The name. Tomorrow. Mission accomplished.

  But he didn't go inside. Instead he walked straight ahead and crossed Central Park West and went in through the gate to Strawberry Field. The John Lennon memorial, in the park. Near where Lennon was killed. Like most guys his age Reacher felt that The Beatles were part of his life. They were its soundtrack, its background. Maybe that was why he liked English people.

  Maybe that was why he didn't want to do what he was about to do.

  He patted his shirt pocket and felt the photographs and ran through the narrative one more time the same way Pauling had. But there was no doubt about it. Taylor was the bad guy. No question. Reacher himself was an actual eyewitness. First the Mercedes, then the Jaguar.

  No doubt about it.

  Maybe there was just no joy in giving one bad guy to another.

  But this is for Kate, Reacher thought. For Jade. For Hobart's money. Not for Lane.

  He took a deep breath and stood for a second with his face tilted up to catch the last of the sun before it fell away behind the buildings to the west. Then he turned around and walked back out of the park.

  Edward Lane fanned the two photographs of Taylor quite delicately between his finger and his thumb and asked one simple question: "Why?"

  "Greed," Reacher said. "Or malice, or jealousy, or all of the above."

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