Make me, p.33
Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font       Night Mode Off   Night Mode

       Make Me, p.33
Download  in MP3 audio

         Part #20 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child

  Reacher said, “It’s a bruise. It’s getting better.”

  Chang said, “Thank you for having it checked. Let’s go find the hotel.”

  “Should have gone direct.”

  “Reacher, you fell over.”

  He walked carefully, all the way to the cab line.

  Chapter 48

  People said that on a map San Francisco looked like a thumb sticking up south to north, shielding the Bay from the Pacific, but Reacher thought it curved more like a raised middle finger. Although why the city should be mad at the ocean, he didn’t know. The fog, maybe. But either way, the hotel Westwood had chosen was at the tip, where either the thumbnail or the fingernail would be. Right on the waterfront. It was dark, so the view was a void, apart from the Golden Gate Bridge, which was all lit up, on the left, and then further out on the right was the distant twinkle of Sausalito and Tiburon.

  They checked in and washed up and met in the restaurant for dinner. It was a pretty room, with plenty of crisp white linen. There were couples and foursomes in there. They were the only threesome. Trysts and deals were going on all around them. Westwood got the internet on his phone and said, “Forty thousand suicides every year in America. One every thirteen minutes. Statistically we’re more likely to kill ourselves than each other. Who knew?”

  Chang said, “If five of them every nine days use the Mother’s Rest concierge service, that’s a couple hundred a year. Like Keever’s note. We already saw two.”

  Reacher said, “What would you pay for that?”

  “I wouldn’t, I hope.”

  “If it’s nine hundred bucks to do it yourself in bed, then what would be reasonable? Five times as much? Say five grand?”

  “Maybe. For the pampering. Like going to the spa instead of filing your nails at home.”

  “That would be a million dollars a year. Better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.”

  “But?”

  “Their proposed hit list this week alone was Keever, McCann, you, me, and the Lair family. Seven people. Which is not a problem, apparently, because they rent a Ukrainian tough guy to do the heavy lifting. That’s a big reaction for a million bucks.”

  “People get killed for a dollar.”

  “On the street in a panic. Not as a strategic imperative. I think there’s more in this than a million bucks. But I don’t see how. Folks wouldn’t pay ten or twenty grand. Or more. Would they? They could buy their own 1970s Chevy. They could buy a garden shed and drill a hole.”

  “This is not necessarily a rational decision. And it’s totally based on not buying your own Chevy. That’s the point. Full service.”

  “So what would they pay?”

  “I don’t know. It’s hard to picture it. Imagine you’re a rich guy, and you want out. One final luxury. Discreet people in the background, making sure it all goes OK. Care and concern, and hands to hold. It’s a major event in your life, obviously. You might pay what you paid for your car. Which is probably a Mercedes or a BMW. Fifty grand, maybe. Or even eighty. Or more. I mean, why not? You can’t take it with you.”

  Westwood said, “When are we going there?”

  Reacher said, “When we’ve made a plan. It’s a tactical challenge. Like approaching a small island across an open sea. It’s as flat as a pool table there. The grain elevators are the tallest things in the county. I’m sure they have all kinds of ladders and catwalks. For maintenance. They’ll post lookouts. They’ll see us coming ten minutes away. And if we come by train, they’ll be lined up on the ramp, just waiting for us.”

  “We could drive in by night.”

  “They would see the headlights a hundred miles away.”

  “We could switch them off.”

  “We wouldn’t see our way. It’s pitch black at night. It’s the countryside.”

  “The roads are straight.”

  “Plus at the moment we’re unarmed.”

  Westwood said nothing.

  After dinner Westwood went to his room and Reacher and Chang took a stroll outside, on the Embarcadero. Near the water. The night was cool. Literally half of the Phoenix temperature. Chang had nothing but her T-shirt. She walked pressed up hard against him, for warmth. It made them clumsy, like a three-legged creature.

  Reacher said, “Are you holding me upright?”

  She said, “How do you feel now?”

  “Still got a headache.”

  “I don’t want to go back to Mother’s Rest until you feel better.”

  “I’m fine. Don’t worry.”

  “I wouldn’t go back there at all if it wasn’t for Keever. Who am I to judge? They’re meeting a need. Maybe Westwood is right. Maybe we’ll all be doing it in a hundred years.”

  Reacher said nothing.

  She said, “What?”

  “I was going to say I would save the money and choose the shotgun. But that would be tough on whoever found me. There would be a lot of mess. Same with the handgun. Same with hanging myself, or jumping off the roof. Stepping in front of a train isn’t fair to the engineer. Even drinking the Kool-Aid in a motel room isn’t fair to the maid. Maybe that’s why people choose the concierge service. Easier on the folks they leave behind. That’s worth a premium, I guess. But I still don’t see how it adds up to Merchenko money.”

  “I don’t see how we get back there. It’s like they have a ten-mile-high razor-wire fence. Except laid down flat.”

  “We should start out in Oklahoma City.”

  “You want to take the train?”

  “I want to keep our options open. We’ll figure out the fine print later. Tell Westwood to book the flights.”

  Reacher woke very early the next morning, before Chang, and he slid out of bed and shut himself in the bathroom. He had given up on his previous theory. Forever. It had been proven categorically wrong. Repeatedly. There was no ceiling. There was no upper limit. There was no reason why it should ever stop.

  Which was good to know.

  He stood in front of the mirror and twisted and turned and checked himself over. He had new bruises from falling down. The old bruise on his back where Hackett had hit him was vivid yellow and the size of a dinner plate. But he wasn’t pissing blood, and the ache was going away, and the stiffness was easing. The side of his head was still tender, and a little soft, but not exactly swollen. Not enough flesh, like the doctor had said. His headache was moderate. He wasn’t sleepy. He wasn’t dizzy. He stood on one leg and closed his eyes, and didn’t sway. He was conscious. No nausea. He hadn’t thrown up. No seizures. He walked a line of tiles, from the tub to the toilet, and back again with his eyes closed, and he didn’t stray. He touched his nose with his fingertip, and then rubbed his stomach while patting his head. No problems with coordination or movement, beyond his innate and inevitable slight clumsiness. He was no ballet dancer. Neat and deft and dexterous were adjectives that had never applied.

  The door opened behind him and Chang stepped in. He saw her in the mirror. She looked soft and sleepy. She yawned and said, “Good morning.”

  He said, “To you too.”

  “What are you doing?”

  “Checking my symptoms. The doctor gave me a hell of a list.”

  “How far did you get?”

  “I still have to do memory, vision, speech, hearing, managing emotion, and thinking.”

  “You already passed managing emotion. I’ve been quite impressed. For a guy. Who was in the army. Now tell me three famous Oklahomans, since that’s where we’re going.”

  “Mickey Mantle, obviously. Johnny Bench. Jim Thorpe. Bonus points for Woody Guthrie and Ralph Ellison.”

  “Your memory is fine.” She retreated to the tub and held up two fingers. “How many?”

  “Two.”

  “Your vision is fine.”

  “Not a very stringent test.”

  “OK, stay where you are and tell me who made the bathtub.”

  He looked. There was small faint writing near the overflow hole.

  “American St
andard,” he said, because he already knew.

  “Your vision is fine,” she said again.

  She whispered something very softly.

  “On the plane?” he said. “I’m totally up for that.”

  “Your hearing is fine. That’s for sure. What’s the longest word in the Gettysburg Address?”

  “Which symptom is that?”

  “Thinking.”

  He thought. “There are three. All with eleven letters. Proposition, battlefield, and consecrated.”

  “Now recite the first sentence. Like you were an actor on a stage.”

  “Lincoln was coming down with smallpox at the time. Did you know that?”

  “That’s not it.”

  “I know. That was for extra credit on memory.”

  “We already did memory. Remember? Now we’re doing speech. The first sentence.”

  “The guy who founded Getty Oil was descended from the guy the town of Gettysburg was named for.”

  “That’s not it either.”

  “That was general knowledge.”

  “Which is not even a symptom.”

  “It relates to memory.”

  “We did memory ages ago.”

  He said, loud like an actor, “ ‘Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.’ ”

  It sounded good in a bathroom. The marble gave it echo and resonance.

  He said, louder, “ ‘Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure.’ ”

  She said, “Has your headache gone?”

  He said, “More or less.”

  “Which means it hasn’t yet.”

  “It’s on its way out. It was never a big deal.”

  “The doctor thought it was.”

  “The medical profession has gotten very timid. Very cautious. No sense of adventure. I lived through the night. I didn’t need observation.”

  Chang said, “I’m glad he was cautious.”

  Reacher said nothing.

  Then Westwood called on the room phone to say his travel people had booked seats on United, the only direct flight of the day. But no rush, because it left halfway through the morning. So they ordered room service coffee, to be delivered right away, and then room service breakfast, to be delivered in exactly one hour’s time.

  Very early in San Francisco was a couple hours into the day in Mother’s Rest. Not the difference between city and country habits, but merely time zones. Mother’s Rest was ahead. The general store was doing business. The diner had a few last stragglers. The motel maid was hard at work. The one-eyed clerk was in the bathroom. The Cadillac driver was in his store, and Western Union and MoneyGram and FedEx were busy.

  But the spare parts store was closed. For the irrigation systems. And the diner had no counter service. Those two guys were on a metal walkway on top of what they called Elevator Three, the old concrete giant, the biggest they had. With binoculars. And a simple system. There were two roads in, one from the east and one from the west, which was the wagon train trail, running crossways, almost directly below them. But there were no roads in from the north or the south. Just the railroad tracks. The system split the risk heavily in favor of the roads. The guys sat across from each other, one looking west, one looking east, and once every five minutes or so they would turn, and scan the railroad to the north and south, a leisurely sweep from close to far, just in case someone was walking in, or using some weird self-propelled machine, like an old Western movie. It became a ritual. A chance to stretch.

  Except at train time. Then the role was harder. They were looking straight down on the train, more or less, so they could see the far side. Almost. Certainly they would see someone force a door and jump down on the blind side, like an old spy movie. But at the same time equal attention had to be paid to the roads. Always. Intrusion by vehicle was judged far more likely.

  Which meant apart from once in the morning and once in the evening, the binoculars were trained on the far horizon, for early warning, through the dust in the air, fine and golden close by, then a haze in the distance.

  Visibility, about fifteen miles.

  You know the plan.

  You know it works.

  They checked out, and a doorman got a cab, and they squeezed in, three across the rear seat, with a measure of regret in some, but not in Westwood, who was a little unsettled. He said, “That was a very weird hotel. Only in San Francisco, I guess. All the time I was showering they had some guy reciting the Gettysburg Address through the bathroom ventilator.”

  Chapter 49

  The flight was fine and the Oklahoma City hotel the LA Times had booked was a grand old three-spired confection, built a hundred years before and gone a little musty, but rescued by a refresh about a decade in the past. It was adequate in every respect, and most of all it retained the kind of service Reacher wanted. He said to Chang, “Go chat with the concierge and tell him you’re the kind of person who likes to get to know a town by walking all over. But tell him naturally you’re concerned about safety. Ask him if there are parts you should avoid.”

  She came back ten minutes later with a paper tourist map, printed by the thousand for convention folk, and marked up by the concierge with a ballpoint pen. Certain inner-city neighborhoods were walled off by a thick blue line. No-go areas. Like a napkin sketch of East Berlin in the old days. One particular quadrant was both walled off and and then re-emphasized with an X so vigorous it scored through the paper.

  Chang said, “He told me not to go there day or night.”

  “My kind of place,” Reacher said.

  “I’m coming with you.”

  “I was counting on it.”

  They ate early, a late-afternoon equivalent of brunch. Plain ingredients, dressed up fancy. The coffee was good. Afterward they waited an hour for the sun to set. The long plains day came to an end. The streetlights came on. Headlights came on. The bar noise changed from afternoon quiet to evening buzz.

  Reacher said, “Let’s go.”

  It was a long walk, because the city fathers knew which side their bread was buttered. Convention business had to be protected. The wild frontier was many blocks away. The street life changed as they walked, from occasional busy workers heading home briskly, to a stoop culture with knots of people hanging out in doorways doing not very much of anything. Some of the stores had been shuttered at the close of business, and some looked like they had been boarded up for years, but others were still open and doing a trade. Food, soda, loose cigarettes.

  Chang said, “You OK?”

  “Doing fine,” Reacher said.

  He navigated by instinct, looking for the kind of place where people could gather and cars could double park for a moment. There were cars at the curbs, and some in motion. There were tricked-out Japanese coupes, and low-riders, and enormous old aircraft-carrier sedans from Buick and Plymouth and Pontiac. Some had custom modifications, with wide mag wheels, and chrome pipes, and blue chassis lights underneath. One car was lowered waist-high, with the motor sticking up through a hole in the hood panel, vertical like a miniature oil rig, with a huge four-barrel carburetor and a giant chrome air filter about level with the roof.

  Reacher stopped and looked at it.

  He said, “I need to see those satellite pictures again.”

  Chang said, “Why?”

  “There’s something wrong with them.”

  “What?”

  “I don’t know. Something in the back of my mind. Not a regular memory thing. I’m OK.”

  “You sure?”

  “Ask me a question.”

  “Teddy Roosevelt’s vice president.”

 
Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up
Scroll