Make me, p.32
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       Make Me, p.32
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         Part #20 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child

  “Yeah, Keever. Why kill Keever over a hobby? There has to be more.”

  “Level five could be special merchandise. Could be worth more.”

  Reacher glanced at the screen. Still searching. Seven minutes gone. He said, “I’m trying to imagine what could be so special. To be worth Merchenko money.”

  The guy from Palo Alto said, “They all have my sympathy.”

  Reacher said, “Mine too. I take the point about burning down the building with hibachi grills. But otherwise we should let them do what they want. They didn’t ask to be born. It’s like taking a sweater back to the store.”

  Chang said, “Except it shouldn’t be either too easy or too difficult. Which somehow obliges the rest of us to set the bar. Is that fair on any of us?”

  Westwood said, “This is exactly what I was afraid of. It’s an ethical debate. I could have written it in my office. On standby for a slow month. There was no need to spend travel money. I’m going to get my butt kicked for this.”

  Twelve minutes gone.

  They got drinks, not exactly served, but collected from the kitchen. Which was very retro. It looked vaguely like some of the places Reacher could remember as a kid. Family quarters on a dozen bases all around the world, different weather outside the window, same cabinets in the kitchen. Some mothers made a big show of scrubbing them down with disinfectant, immediately on the first morning, but Reacher’s mother was French and believed in acquired immunity. Which had worked, generally. Although his brother had gotten sick once. More likely a restaurant. He was starting to date.

  Chang said, “You OK?”

  He said, “I’m fine.”

  Eighteen minutes gone.

  They went back to the den, and the clock ticked on. Nineteen minutes. The guy from Palo Alto said, “We didn’t agree the stakes. For the wager.”

  Reacher said, “What did we say the first time?”

  “We didn’t.”

  Twenty minutes gone.

  Reacher said, “We don’t want to outstay our welcome.”

  The guy said, “The program will get there. I’m a better geek than they are.”

  “What’s the longest search you’ve ever run?”

  “Nineteen hours.”

  “What did you find?”

  “The president’s schedule on an assassin site.”

  “Of the United States?”

  “The very same. And the schedule was current when I started the search.”

  “Did you call it in?”

  “That was a dilemma. I’m not a public resource. And as a matter of fact there was no more information to be had. A site that took me nineteen hours to find would have so many mirrors and decoys the servers might as well be on Venus or Mars. But the Secret Service wouldn’t have taken that on trust. They’d have torn my stuff apart for their own guys to look at. They’d have tied me up for a year, talking and consulting. So no, I didn’t call it in.”

  “And nothing happened.”

  “Thankfully.”

  Twenty-seven minutes.

  Still searching.

  Then the search stopped.

  The screen changed to a list of links.

  Chapter 47

  The list of links showed one direct URL for the Mother’s Rest web site, and four sub-pages, and one external reference, which the guy from Palo Alto wanted to check first, because he said it was unusual. He managed to retrieve an isolated chat-room comment made by a poster named Blood. It said I hear Mother’s Rest has good stuff. It was on a secure board the guy didn’t recognize. The context wasn’t clear. But it wasn’t a suicide board. It belonged to some other community. An enthusiast site, by the feel of it.

  No other data.

  Dead end.

  The guy from Palo Alto said, “We’ll go straight to the mothership. No pun intended.”

  He didn’t use the trackball. It wasn’t that kind of software. It was all typed commands. The guy seemed to like it that way. Old school. He was a veteran. And he was fast. His bone-white fingers pattered up and down. Almost a blur.

  The screen re-drew into a full color, full service web site.

  There was a photograph.

  The photograph was of a road running dead straight ahead, through an infinite sea of wheat, forever, until it disappeared in a golden haze on the horizon, at that point as narrow as a needle. It was the old wagon train trail. The road west out of Mother’s Rest.

  And it was an allegory, obviously. At the top of the page was written: Take The Journey With Us. At the bottom was written: Mother’s Rest. At Last.

  The first sub-page link was an About Us piece. They were a community dedicated to providing end of life choices. The very best goods, services, care, and concern were solemnly promised. Trust was guaranteed. Discretion was a given.

  The second sub-page link was the sign-in page. For community members. User name and password. Probably hard to break. But no need, because the third link bypassed it altogether, and led straight down to level four.

  The first page of merchandise.

  There were three items on offer. First was a non-sterile oral Nembutal solution in a 50ml bottle, going for $200. Second was an injectable Nembutal solution in a 100ml bottle for $387. Third was a sterile oral Nembutal solution in a 100ml bottle for $450. Safely lethal doses were quoted as 30ml through a needle, or 200ml by mouth. Time to a deep sleep was quoted as less than a minute, and time to death was quoted as less than twenty. Reacher figured the injectable solution was a hard sell. If a guy was into needles, he could OD on heroin at a tenth of the price. He figured the sterile oral would be the best seller. Nine hundred bucks for a peaceful exit. Sterile sounded clean, somehow. The holy grail. But the non-sterile was better value. Only eight hundred, at the risk of getting stomach flu the day after you were dead.

  Delivery was thirty bucks, with a tracking number, and payment of the whole balance was required prior to dispatch, through Western Union or MoneyGram. Checks or money orders were not accepted. The Nembutal would arrive in a plain package. It should not be refrigerated, but kept tightly sealed and stored in a cool dry place.

  Next came a button that said: Click Here To Order.

  Chang said, “Reacher was right. This page doesn’t pay Merchenko.”

  Westwood said, “We should take a look at level five.”

  It took some time to get there. Like dial-up used to be. Although Reacher was sure things were happening lightning-fast behind the scenes. The guy’s code, battling the site’s defenses, one warrior against a horde, millions of feints and penetrations every second, burrowing in, driving down through the layers.

  The page came up.

  Michael McCann’s friend Exit had called it interesting. And it was, Reacher supposed. Depending on what a person needed. It offered a concierge service. Members were invited to travel to Mother’s Rest, by train from Chicago or Oklahoma City. They would be met at the station by a representative, and they would spend the night in a luxury motel. Then came transfer by luxury sedan, to the Mother’s Rest HQ. There they would find a private annex, with a suite inside designed to resemble a luxury hotel, with a calming bedroom ambience. There they could get comfortable, and at a time of their choosing an assistant would administer a Nembutal drink, and then withdraw. Or, if preferred, for those concerned about gulping a bitter liquid, the assistant would administer a regular sleeping pill, and then press a button, and an old 1970s small-block Chevy V-8 would start up outside, distant and inaudible, but its sweet rich exhaust would be piped to the room, to do its gentle work.

  Members were invited to inquire as to the cost of the service.

  It would be substantial, Reacher thought. He pictured the guy from the train, in his suit and his collared shirt, with his fine leather bag, and the woman, in her white dress, fit for a garden party in Monte Carlo. Both rich. Both sick, possibly. Both headed for a dignified end. He saw them in his mind, different people, different days, but the same physical gesture. At room 203’s dusty window. Standing
with their arms held wide, their hands still on the drapes, staring out at the morning, as if in wonder.

  Their last morning.

  Chang said, “Michael and his friend. Is this what they did?”

  Westwood said, “This is my story. Right here. I’ll ask if this is the future. It could be, a hundred years from now. Chaos, overpopulation, no water. There could be one of these on every street corner. Like Starbucks. But I’ll have to see it for myself. Having spent the travel money.”

  “Maybe,” Reacher said. “After we check it.”

  “What’s to check? We know what’s there. Veterinary Nembutal goes out by parcel service, and high-end clients come in by train. And who can seriously say either thing is wrong? I could ask if the Deep Web somehow predicts what’s coming next. Maybe it has to. It’s human desire, after all. Nothing more. Unfiltered and unregulated. Somehow organic. The book rights for this one are in the philosophy section. Because this is how these things happen. We’ve seen these things happen. A hundred years from now this could be normal.”

  “Keever didn’t think it was normal yet. He could have shrugged his shoulders. He could have changed his name to Wittgenstein and gotten out of the way of progress. But he saw something wrong.”

  “Do you?”

  “I’m not sure. But Keever was sure.”

  “What could be wrong?”

  “I don’t see how Michael and his friend can have afforded the concierge service. Not if they saved up all their lives. So where the hell are they?”

  The guy from Palo Alto said, “Are we done?”

  Chang said, “We are, and thank you very much.”

  Reacher said, “You’re the man. You’re down there among them. They can’t see you, but you can see them.”

  Westwood said, “Send me an invoice.”

  The guy said, “I’ll get you a car,” and he pressed his phone.

  People got up, and Reacher took a step toward the door, and another, and then the floor on the left slammed upward at a crazy angle, just canted itself to forty-five degrees, some immense force, instantaneous, and he thought earthquake and it tipped him over and smashed him into the door frame, across the chest and the neck, like a blow from a two-by-four, followed by a clatter to the floor, and a desperate glance around, for Chang, and whatever else was coming next.

  Not an earthquake.

  He sat up.

  Everyone else squatted down.

  He said, “I’m OK.”

  Chang said, “You fell over.”

  “Maybe a board was loose.”

  “The boards are fine.”

  “Maybe there’s a warp.”

  “Do you have a headache?”

  “Yes.”

  “You’re going to the emergency room.”

  “Bullshit.”

  “You forgot Keever’s name. You had to say the guy who was killed with the backhoe. That’s classic aphasia. You forgot a word and you worked around it. That’s not good. And before that you tripped near the bookstore. And you keep drifting off. Like daydreaming, or talking to yourself.”

  “Do I?”

  “Like it’s all spacey in there.”

  “How is it normally?”

  “You’re going to the emergency room.”

  “Bullshit. Don’t need it.”

  “For me, Reacher.”

  “Waste of time. We should go direct to the hotel.”

  “I’m sure you’re right. But do it for me.”

  “I’ve never done it before.”

  “There’s a first time for everything. I hope not just this.”

  Reacher said nothing.

  “For me, Reacher.”

  The guy from Palo Alto said, “Go to the emergency room, man.”

  Reacher looked at Westwood and said, “Help me out here.”

  Westwood said, “Emergency room.”

  The guy from Palo Alto said, “Tell them you’re a coder. No waiting time. Some of those companies make big donations.”

  They did as the guy said, and claimed a status Reacher did not have. And was never likely to have. Right down there in terms of probability, with quilter, or scrapbooker, or tenor in the choir. But it got him seen in ninety seconds, and ninety seconds after that he was on his way for a CT scan of his head. Which he said was bullshit, don’t need it, waste of time, but Chang hung in there, and they fired up the machine, which was nothing much, a kind of electric buzz, just X-rays, and then a wait for a doctor to look at the file. Which Reacher said was bullshit, waste of time, the same things over again, and Chang hung in again, and eventually a guy showed up with a file in his hand and a look in his eye. Chang and Westwood stayed in the room.

  Reacher said, “The CT in CT scan stands for computed tomography.”

  The guy with the file said, “I know.”

  “I know what day of the week it is and I know who the president is. I know what I had for breakfast. Both times. I’m proving there’s nothing wrong with me.”

  “You have a head injury.”

  “That’s not possible.”

  “You have a head. It can be injured. You have a cerebral contusion, in Latin contusio cerebri, in fact technically two, both coup and contre-coup, caused, quite clearly, by blunt trauma to the right side of the head.”

  Reacher said, “Is that the good news or the bad news?”

  The guy said, “If you’d taken that punch on the upper arm, you’d expect one hell of a bruise. Which is exactly what you got. Not on the outside. Not enough flesh. The bruise is on the inside. On your brain. With a twin across the hall, because your brain bounced from side to side in your skull like a goldfish in a test tube. What we call coup and contre-coup.”

  Reacher said, “Symptoms?”

  “Will vary with the severity of the injury and the individual, but to some degree will include headache, confusion, sleepiness, dizziness, loss of consciousness, nausea, vomiting, seizures, and difficulties with coordination, movement, memory, vision, speech, hearing, managing emotion, and thinking.”

  “That’s a lot of symptoms.”

  “It’s the brain.”

  “What about mine in particular? Which symptoms will I get?”

  “I can’t say.”

  “You have my paperwork right there. An actual picture.”

  “It can’t be interpreted exactly.”

  “Case closed, right there. You’re only guessing. I’ve been hit in the head before. This is no different. No big deal.”

  “It’s a head injury.”

  “What’s the next part of your speech?”

  “I think the scan justifies admission overnight for observation.”

  “That ain’t going to happen.”

  “It should.”

  “If the guy hit me in the arm you’d tell me I’d be OK in a couple of days. The bruise would go down. You’d send me home. You can do the same thing with my head. It happened yesterday, so tomorrow will be a couple of days. I’ll be fine. If it is what you say it is anyway. You could have gotten that file mixed up with somebody else.”

  “The brain is not the same thing as an arm.”

  “I agree. An arm is not protected by a thick layer of bone.”

  The guy said, “You’re a grown-up. This is not a psychiatric facility. I can’t keep you here against your will. Just sign yourself out at the desk.”

  And then he turned around and headed out, ready for the next in line. Maybe a coder, maybe not. The door swung shut behind him.

 
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