Make me, p.30
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       Make Me, p.30
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         Part #20 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child

  “Like it’s still 1967.”

  “What?”

  Reacher said, “Nothing.”

  Ten minutes later he was alone with Chang, in the room with the weaker wifi.

  Chapter 44

  They woke early the next morning, with open drapes and things on their minds, the same way they had the previous morning in Chicago, just twenty-four hours before. Reacher was revising his theory again, spellbound with the upward progression. It was beyond expectation. Maybe beyond comprehension. Whereas Chang was preoccupied with getting out of town. She was watching morning television on a local Phoenix affiliate, which had shoved recipes and fashion aside in favor of crime. One presenter was reporting on the fatal shooting of a suspected organized crime figure behind a downtown strip club, which involved much breathless speculation laid over meaningless pictures, mostly of the closed gate in the pink fence, above a ticker that said Moscow Comes to Phoenix, which Reacher figured would annoy Ukrainians everywhere, the two countries being entirely separate now, and proud of it, at least in one direction.

  The other presenter had the bigger story. No longer a home invasion turned tragic tonight, because tonight was now yesterday, and tragic was now inspiring. Apparently a well-respected local doctor residing at the address in question had used a home-defense weapon and killed three intruders, thereby saving his family members from a fate worse than death. Evan Lair was seen on camera, in the far distance, at the limit of a shaky zoom, waving questions away. His reluctance to talk was seen as sturdy old-fashioned modesty. His legend was building. He was halfway to becoming the badass doc, buoyed up by grainy nighttime videotape of gurneys coming out of the house, bathed in flashing red light. There were distant live shots of Emily, now out of the shirt and bikini, now in jeans and a sweater, and Lydia, who was looking down at the ground.

  Then a third presenter broke in to say she was hearing from the police department that the events might be linked, in that the three dead men from the house were known associates of the dead man at the strip club. And a fourth presenter broke in to say she had early word from the DA’s office, that the shootings at the house would likely be seen as justified, and that as far as the strip club incident was concerned, the murder weapon had been recovered from a nearby garbage receptacle, but there were no fingerprints on it, and therefore there were no suspects at this time, and the inquiry would continue.

  Up next, ten things to do with chicken.

  Chang said, “You OK?”

  Reacher said, “Top of the world. Except my head still hurts.”

  “No reaction?”

  “To what?”

  She pointed at the screen. “All that.”

  “My ears are still ringing a bit.”

  “That’s not what I mean.”

  “I leave people alone if they leave me alone. Their risk, not mine.”

  “You’re not upset?”

  “Are you?”

  “What was the machine you saw at the farm at midnight?”

  “It was a dot in the distance. It had a light bar. Like a bull bar, but above the cab. Four rectangular lights, very bright. Could have been a jacked-up pick-up truck. More likely a tractor. It was working hard. I could see exhaust smoke in the lights.”

  “Could it have been a backhoe?”

  “Why?”

  “That was the day Keever disappeared.”

  Reacher said, “It could have been a backhoe.”

  “That’s why I’m not upset. It could have been me, if things had been different. Suppose Michael had gone missing in Seattle. McCann would have called me, and then later I might have called Keever, for back-up. Right now you could be hanging out with him, looking for me.”

  “Perish the thought.”

  “Could have happened.”

  “You would have handled it better.”

  “Keever was a smart guy.”

  “Was?”

  “I guess I have to face it.”

  “Smart, but not smart enough. He made a mistake. You might have avoided it.”

  “What mistake?”

  “Maybe the same mistake I’m about to make. He underestimated them. If they buried him on the farm with the backhoe, then Merchenko wasn’t involved. Not at that stage. That was all their own work. No help required. Maybe they’re better than we think.”

  “They didn’t look it.”

  “Hope for the best, plan for the worst.”

  That morning eight men met at the counter inside the Mother’s Rest dry goods store. As before, the store owner was already there, still in two shirts, still unkempt and unshaven. As before, the first in to join him was the spare-parts guy from the irrigation store, and then came the Cadillac driver from the FedEx store, and the one-eyed clerk from the motel, and the hog farmer, and the counterman from the diner, and the Moynahan who had gotten kicked in the balls and had his gun taken.

  The eighth man arrived five minutes later, with his ironed jeans and his blow-dried hair. The first seven guys said nothing. They waited for him to speak.

  He said, “The news is not good. Our faith was misplaced. The menu system did not function as expected. It did not do the job for us. As of now we’re on our own.”

  Some shuffling, from the first seven. Not yet worry, but indignation. As in, it was all his own idea when it was looking good. Now it’s we and us and ours? The hog farmer said, “Is that what I saw on CNN this morning? From Phoenix? The Russian guy?”

  “He was Ukrainian. And it wasn’t just him. The other three were his, too.”

  “What about the first one? Was his name Hackett?”

  “He’s in the hospital in Chicago. With a cop at the door.”

  “So none of them got the job done?”

  “I told you that.”

  “Going outside of us was a big step.”

  “It cost us nothing. Except money. They’re still out there, but they always were out there. They left, and now they’re coming back. We’ll deal with them here.”

  “They’ll bring the cops.”

  “I don’t think so. They put Hackett in the hospital. I know that for sure. It was probably them in Phoenix too. Which means they can’t talk to the cops. Any police department in the country would arrest them immediately. As a precaution. Until the smoke cleared. They’ll come here alone.”

  More shuffling, from the first seven.

  The Cadillac driver asked, “When will they come?”

  The man with the jeans and the hair said, “Soon, I expect. But we all know the plan. And we all know it works. We’ll see them coming. We’ll be ready.”

  Reacher and Chang joined Westwood downstairs for breakfast, and Westwood said he had called the guy in Palo Alto and set something up for happy hour. In Menlo Park. Although he expected the guy to be late. He was that kind of guy. Then he had booked flights from Sky Harbor to SFO. Three seats in business class, all that remained. And a hotel. Two rooms only, which helped. His department’s budget was cut every year. Reacher thought he had the nervous air of a gambler, deep in the hole, but about to win big.

  When it was time they took a cab to the airport, where their fancy tickets got them in a lounge, where Reacher ate breakfast again, because it was free. They boarded the plane at the head of the line, and got a drink before taxi and takeoff. Better than the rows in back. Even the exit rows.

  The flight itself was neither long nor short, but somewhere in between. Not a hop or a skip, but not a major portion of the earth’s circumference either. Less than New York to Chicago. The cab ride was easy, because it was basically out of town, not that the Santa Clara Valley was sleepy anymore. It was the center of the world, all the way past Mountain View, and people drove like they knew it. The upcoming happy hour was in a bar near a bookstore in Menlo Park, and they found it at the second attempt. They were early, but not early enough to get to the hotel and back, so they paid off the cab and got out.

  The bar caused a moment of psychic concern, because every inch of it was painted red, and its
name was Red, and the back of Reacher’s brain spun through fantastical conceits, trying to work out how Westwood was either a cop or a bad guy, tormenting him with the ghost of Pink, like something out of Shakespeare or Sherlock Holmes, but then he calmed down and figured the geek would have chosen the spot, and therefore the connection was coincidental. And not exact, anyway. The place was ironic, not tacky. The paint had a somber mid-century tone. Like military issue. There were dirty white-stenciled hammers and sickles, distressed and abraded to make them look old, and framed headlines from Pravda, and Red Army helmets, all battered and scratched. The sign at the door was written with a backward R, to make it look Russian, which caused a minor echo of panic. Was it a reference to Merchenko? No, surely Westwood knew the difference between Russia and Ukraine. But were there Ukrainian-themed bars, for a pedantic tormentor? Or would he have to settle for Russian anyway?

  No, the geek chose it.

  Chang said, “You OK?”

  Reacher said, “Thinking too hard. Bad habit. Bad as not thinking at all.”

  “Let’s wait in the bookstore.”

  Reacher tripped at the curb. Just a stumble. He didn’t go down. More of a scuff than a trip. As if there was a lump, or an uneven surface. He looked back. Maybe. Maybe not.

  Chang said, “You OK?”

  He said, “I’m fine.”

  Westwood said he had been in the bookstore before. A signing, for an anthology he was in. Science journalism. An award-winning piece. The store was a cool place, in every way, from its refrigerated temperature to its customers. Westwood wandered one way, and Chang another. Reacher looked at the books on the tables. He read when he could, mostly through the vast national library of lost and forgotten volumes. Battered paperbacks mostly, all curled and furry, found in waiting rooms or on buses, or on the porches of out-of-the-way motels, read and enjoyed and left somewhere else for the next guy. He liked fiction better than fact, because fact often wasn’t. Like most people he knew a couple of things for sure, up close and eyeballed, and when he saw them in books they were wrong. So he liked made-up stories better, because everyone knew where they were from the get-go. He wasn’t strict about genre. Either shit happened, or it didn’t.

  Chang came back, and then Westwood, and they wandered back to the bar and got ready to wait. Being early gave them a choice of tables, and they took a four-top near a window. Reacher got coffee, and the others got sodas.

  Westwood said, “This won’t be good news, I’m afraid. Even if the guy bites. The Deep Web is not an attractive place, overall. So they tell me. Not that I spend time there myself. But you might not like what you see.”

  Reacher said, “It’s a free country. And Michael was McCann’s son, not mine. I don’t care what he was into.”

  A clock on the wall ticked up to a Cyrillic twelve, the top of the hour, and vodka went down in price by half. Happy hour. The first new person through the door was a young woman in her twenties, flushed, unmistakably new at something, but good at it.

  The second person through the door was the guy from Palo Alto.

  Dead on time. Not late at all. He was small, white as a sheet, thin as a specter, always moving, even when he was still. The twenty-nine-year-old veteran. He was dressed all in black. He saw Westwood and headed over. He nodded three ways and sat down. He said, “The Valley likes irony, but you got to agree happy hour in a Soviet shrine is the ultimate contradiction in terms. And speaking of the former USSR, my blog alerts tell me a Ukrainian named Merchenko was a mob hit last night. Which is a happy coincidence. But he will be replaced. The market will fill the void. So I’m still not going public.”

  Westwood said, “Neither are we. Not until long afterward, in the newspaper. By which time there will be so much to bury you won’t even be close to the top of the list. You have my word. You won’t be public. All we need is to search. In private. For a missing individual and his possible destination.”

  “Search where?”

  “Chat rooms, mostly. Maybe commercial web sites.”

  “I don’t want to become a public resource.”

  “I’m happy not to pay you.”

  “Then I would be doing it for friendship, which makes the obligation worse.”

  Reacher said, “Can you do it? If you wanted to?”

  The guy said, “I’ve been doing it since it was called the undernet. And the invisible web. It got harder, but I got better.”

  “The destination might be hard to crack.”

  “Cracking is easy. It’s finding that’s hard.”

  “So what would get you to give us an hour of your time? Apart from getting paid?”

  “Do you have a motive, apart from getting paid? Does anyone, really?”

  “As a matter of fact I’m not getting paid.”

  “Then why are you doing it?”

  “Because some guy thinks he’s pretty damn smart.”

  “But you’re smarter? And you have to prove it?”

  “I don’t have to prove it. I want to prove it. Now and then. Out of respect. For the people who really are smart. Standards should mean something.”

  “You’re trying to steer me to the same conclusion. A battle of egos. Me against them, as coders. Good try. You know me well, even though we’ve only just met. But I’ve gone beyond. I’m happy there. I’m better than them. I know that. I’m secure in that knowledge. I no longer feel the desire to show it. Not even now and then. Not even out of respect. Not that I don’t respect the way you feel. The old me would have agreed with you.”

  “What would the new me agree with?”

  “Tell me about the missing individual. Is he interesting?”

  “Thirty-five-year-old male, crippled by what the doctors call anhedonia, and his aunt calls his happiness meter stuck on zero. Otherwise normal IQ. Functional some of the time.”

  “Lived alone?”

  Reacher nodded. “In sheltered housing.”

  “Disappeared?”

  “Yes.”

  “Sudden new friend prior to disappearance?”

  “Yes.”

  The guy said, “Thirty-two seconds.”

  “For what?”

  “I’ll find him in the Deep Web inside thirty-two seconds. I know where to look.”

  “When can you do it?”

  “Tell me about the aunt.”

  “She married up. A doctor. She has a beautiful daughter. But she still loves her nephew. And seems to understand him.”

  “I like her image of the happiness meter.”

  “We agreed mine is four to nine.”

  “I’ve gone beyond. I hit ten now. All the time.”

  “That’s the molly talking.”

  “The what?”

  “I read it in the paper.”

  “I haven’t taken molly for two years.”

  “Something else now?”

  “Everything else now. Got some stress.”

  “Just remember, speed kills. That’s what they told us, back in the day.”

  “I won’t go public. You understand what that means?”

  Reacher nodded. “There won’t be a trial.”

  “Was it you with Merchenko?”

  “Admit nothing, even on your deathbed. You might suddenly get better.”

  “One night only,” the guy said. “No coming back to check on things. I need space of my own.”

  “When can you do it?”

  “Now, if you like.”

  “Where?”

  “At my house. You’re all invited.”

 
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