Make me, p.34
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       Make Me, p.34
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         Part #20 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child

  “Charles Fairbanks.”

  “I thought he was a movie actor.”

  “I think that was Douglas.”

  They moved on, past sagging wood houses set close together, past weedy front yards behind wire fences, some empty, some full of trash, some with chained dogs, some littered with bright bicycles and tricycles and other children’s toys. They found a diagonal street that cut the corner between one not-quite-main drag and another. It was wide enough for three lanes, but the curbs were parked solid. It was long enough to slow down, and stop, and speed up again.

  Reacher said, “This should be fine.”

  There was stoop activity, but most of it was happening about halfway down the street. Young guys, maybe twelve years old, milling around in groups, scanning left and right for traffic.

  Reacher said, “OK, here’s where we pretend we suddenly realize what we’ve gotten ourselves into, and we beat a hasty retreat.”

  They turned around and hustled back to the not-quite-main drag behind them. They turned the tight right and walked on, roughly the same direction they had been headed, behind the street they had seen. They stopped when they guessed they were level with the invisible knot of twelve-year-olds, who they figured were hanging out a long lot’s length to their right. Plus the depth of their own back yard, plus the depth of their own house, plus their own front yard, and the sidewalk. About four hundred dark feet, Reacher figured.

  He said, “Let’s go see what they have for us.”

  Chapter 50

  They picked a boarded-up house with a broken chain on its gate. They went in, swift and decisive like they belonged, and they slipped down the side of the house, and through its back yard, to its back fence, which shared a blunt angle with the back yard of a house on the diagonal street. Probably not the house they were looking for, but close. Reacher forced a wire panel out of its frame and they slipped through, unobtrusive except for the white gleam of their faces in the yellow evening gloom.

  They walked through the new back yard and checked the view between the house and its neighbor. They were one short. All the commerce was taking place one lot to the left. There was a chain-link fence separating the yards. Easily climbed, at the cost of metallic chinking and clinking. Chang was agile. Better than Reacher. He was built for bulldozing, not gymnastics.

  The back yard they climbed into was ill maintained. Not really maintained at all, to be accurate. It was full of thigh-high grass and weeds. The rear of the house had one lit window.

  Reacher said, “Keep your right hand in your pocket when you can. Make them think you have a weapon.”

  “Does that work?”


  She said, “Are they dope dealers?”

  He nodded. “Like drive-through hamburgers. They use juveniles to carry the baggies and the cash back and forth to the cars. Young enough not to get arrested. Although that part might have changed. Might be just a myth these days. Especially in Oklahoma. They probably try them as adults now.”

  The lit window was on the right. Probably a living room of some kind. On the left was a window and a door, both dark. A kitchen, presumably. They swished through the miniature prairie to the door. Reacher tried the handle. Locked. He stepped sideways and looked in the window. A dim space, piled high with trash and dirty dishes. Pizza rinds, and empty cans. Red Bull and beer.

  Reacher took another sideways step and pressed against the wall. He looked in the lit window, half an eye, at an angle. He saw two guys. They were sprawled on separate sofas, staring at their phones. Their thumbs were moving. They were playing games, or texting. On a low table between them were two duffel bags. Black nylon, new but poor quality. The kind of thing that costs five bucks in a store selling cameras for ten and telescopes for twenty. On top of one bag was a bulk pack of rubber bands from an office supply store.

  On top of the other bag was an Uzi sub-machinegun.

  Reacher crept back and rejoined Chang at the kitchen door.

  He whispered, “We need to find a rock.”

  “For the window?”

  He nodded.

  “What about that?”

  He looked where she was pointing. A grudging yard of concrete patio. A square item with rounded corners. Slightly humped. A hole in the center. Some kind of tough material. Plastic, or vinyl, or a blend. A base for a sun umbrella.

  He whispered, “Can you throw that?”

  She said, “Sure.”

  He smiled. No kind of a willowy waif. He said, “One second after I kick the door.”

  She picked it up.

  He got in position.

  He whispered, “OK?”

  She nodded.

  One step, two, three, and he smashed his heel through the lock and the door burst open, and as he fell inside he heard the living room window shatter and the umbrella base crash to the floor. He danced through the kitchen to the living room and found the guy on the left still holding his phone, and the guy on the right with his hand moving fast toward the Uzi, but it was suddenly hooking short, because his shoulders were suddenly hunching and flinching away, a reflex reaction to the loud crash behind him, and the brittle shower of glass on his head and his neck, and the blur of a large back yard object flying through his field of vision.

  Also flying through his field of vision was Reacher’s right boot, which caught him on the side of the face and laid him out like an old raincoat tossed down on a shiny floor. Which was game over, right there, because from that point onward all Reacher had to do was scoop up the Uzi, click the selector to auto, clamp the grip safety, and aim the muzzle at the left-hand guy’s heart.

  He said, “Stay still,” and the guy did.

  No sound from the hallway. Summertime, a warm evening, everyone out on the street.

  The guy said, “What is this?”

  Reacher said, “This is where we take your guns and money.”

  The guy glanced at the bag with the rubber bands on top. A reflex. Involuntary. Chang stepped in behind them. Fist in her pocket.

  Reacher said, “Search them both.”

  She did. Fast and thorough. Quantico training. She came up with nothing of interest from either guy except a car key and two handguns. The car key was for an Audi and the handguns were a Glock 17 and a Beretta 92. Both nine-millimeter weapons. Same as the Uzi. Their ammunition logistics were neat and tidy, if nothing else.

  Reacher said, “Look in the bags.”

  She did. The bag the Uzi had been sitting on held thousands of small glassine packets, full of dirty brown powder. Heroin, presumably, cut and cut and cut again, now packaged and ready for street-level sale.

  The bag with the rubber bands held money.

  A lot of money. Sour greasy bills, fives and tens and twenties, loose and bricked and rolled, some torn, some crumpled, all jammed in tight. Hence the rubber bands, Reacher guessed. Once he had read a book about a cartel accountant, who spent five grand a month on rubber bands alone, just to package all the cash.

  He said, “Where’s the Audi?”

  The guy said, “Out front. Good luck with that.”

  “You’re coming with us. You’re going to carry the bags.”


  “Get over yourself. You win some, you lose some. We’re not the cops. You’re still in business. You’ll make this back in a couple of weeks. Now move your ass.”

  The guy got a bag in each hand, and Reacher pushed him ahead to the hallway, one hand on his collar, the other jamming the Uzi in the small of his back. Chang carried the Glock in her right hand and the Beretta in her left. The hallway was long and filthy, and there were street sounds up ahead. Trash talk, laughter, scuffling feet, moving cars, all boxy and dulled by the heat and the distance, and the closed front door.

  “Ten seconds more,” Reacher said. “Stay smart and live long.”

  He hauled the guy to the side and let Chang duck ahead and open the door. Then Reacher pushed the guy outside, and the talk and the laughter stopped. The
re were eleven people out there, some in the yard, some on the sidewalk, some in the gutter, one of them a little boy about two years old, three of them women under twenty, two of them hard men about thirty, and the other five skinny kids about twelve, the back-and-forth gofers. On the street a car drove by, slowly, just posing, with a loud bass line flexing the panels. Then it was gone, and Reacher pushed the guy ahead, and his people stepped up, ready to fight, but the guy said, “Leave it.”

  Chang blipped the key, and a black sedan flashed its lights. It was smaller than a Town Car, but not compact. Chang opened the rear door, and Reacher made the guy drop the bags on the seat. Then he turned the guy around and shoved him back toward the house. He kept the Uzi leveled. Chang got behind the wheel. Reacher backed into the passenger seat. Chang took off hard. Reacher pulled the heroin bag off the back seat and emptied it out the window as she accelerated away. Tiny glassine packets blew everywhere, shiny and brown, like a plague of dead locusts, like a whirlwind slipstream. Folks ran in the road, scooping them up, chasing the car, leapfrogging ahead of each other, trying to grab whatever they could, with the guys from the house running around too, trying to restore order, trying to reclaim what was theirs. And that was all Reacher saw, because Chang spooled a fast left turn at the end of the diagonal street, and after that its residents were lost to sight.

  Chapter 51

  They dumped the Audi in an off-street convention garage four blocks from the hotel, doors unlocked, key in, and they zipped the guns in the money bag, and carried it back to Westwood’s room. Where they hammed it up a little, at first, with slow reveals, like a magic show. Like rabbits from a hat. First the Beretta, and then the Glock, and then the Uzi, each one greeted with enthusiasm, and then finally the bag falling open, and the avalanche of money on the bedspread.

  Westwood said, “I’m changing my mind about the philosophy section.”

  He and Chang set about counting the cash, and Reacher checked the guns. All were fully loaded, plus one in the chamber. Sixty-seven rounds in total, all interchangeable. The Uzi was in good working order. Most Uzis were. Simple machines, built for what combat was, not what it should be. Like, some would say, the Kalashnikov. The handguns were different. Especially, some would say, the Beretta. They were precision instruments. Beautifully engineered and hard as nails, but still requiring some kind of basic minimal care. Which dope dealers generally didn’t give, in Reacher’s experience. Their cash spent the same as anyone else’s, but sometimes their weapons misfired. Fact of life. Poor maintenance. Or none at all. Both the Glock and the Beretta looked dry and felt gritty. Durable machines, and almost certainly OK, but almost wasn’t enough. Not for the kind of thing that made you pick up a gun in the first place. It was a circular argument. It was a Zen question. Was a weapon you couldn’t trust a weapon at all?

  “Reacher, look at this,” Chang said.

  He looked. Appearances had been deceptive. Evidently. The lone greasy fives and the rough bricks of tens and the loose rolls of twenties were real enough. But they weren’t the whole story. Not even most of it. They were an afterthought. They had been thrown in the bag as a thin extra layer on top of the main cargo. Which had been bricks of official bank-banded hundred dollar bills. All fresh and fragrant and crisp and new. And thick. A hundred bills in every brick.

  A hundred hundreds was ten thousand bucks.

  Per brick.

  There were a lot of bricks.

  He said, “How much?”

  She said, “More than two hundred and thirty thousand dollars.”

  He was quiet for a very long time.

  Then he said, “Can I see the satellite pictures of that place again?”

  Westwood’s computer was already wide awake and working, and the image was still in his internet history, so even though he said the wifi was slow, the picture was on the screen in seconds.

  Reacher took a look.

  As before, he saw a farm surrounded by a sea of wheat. Fences, beaten earth, hogs, chickens, and vegetable gardens. A house and six outbuildings. Parked cars, and satellite dishes. A generator shed. Faint traces of power lines looping between some of the buildings, and a phone line marching in on poles. The well head, and its shadow. Better than an architect’s drawing, because it was the actual as-built reality, not just the intention.

  He did what he had seen the others do, and slid paired fingers around on the touchpad to make the picture move, and un-pinched it to make it bigger. He started where the cars were parked, and pretended one was moving. He followed it out of the farmyard, into the mouth of a dirt road, east toward the railroad track, and then north at the corner of a field. The field ran unbroken more than ten straight miles, and then the dirt road turned west at its far corner, and then north again, all the way up to Mother’s Rest itself, where it came in as a narrow and insignificant tributary at the dead end of the same wide plaza that later ran onward to the elevators. It was a private driveway, essentially, twenty miles long. It went nowhere else.

  He drove the virtual trip in reverse, twenty miles back to the farm, and he parked where he had started. He un-pinched the picture until the farm filled the screen, side to side and top to bottom. Nearest the railroad was the hog pen. It had a large shelter, probably made of wood, and a fenced area in front about six times as big, all churned up and pockmarked by heavy feet. All mud and slime. There was a barn a little bigger than the hog shelter. Those two structures had no power. The generator shed was easily identifiable. It had an intake snorkel through the wall, and a top-hat exhaust vent in the roof. Diesel, for a plant that big. Some immense installation. Thumb-thick cables spider-webbed out, sagging from eave to eave, to the house, and the other three buildings.

  Reacher said, “Let’s assume the biggest structure is the house. With the cars and the satellite dishes. But which structure is the suicide suite?”

  The others crouched next to him, shoulder to shoulder, one on each side.

  Westwood said, “The suicide suite is probably the next biggest. Bedroom, living area, bathrooms, and so on.”

  “With power, for heat and AC and dim ambient lighting. Maybe soft music. All the comforts of home.” Reacher pointed. “That one?”

  “Almost certainly.”

  “So where’s the small-block Chevy V-8?”

  “In one of the other outbuildings. Remote and soundproofed.”

  Reacher nodded. “I was in West Texas once, and I saw them being used to drive irrigation pumps. Back when gasoline was cheaper than water. Regular car engines, pulled out of wrecks, I guess. They poured a concrete pad, and bolted the thing down, like it was still under a hood somewhere. They painted them bright yellow, so they didn’t get hit by tractors or plows. But they were noisy, out in the open. So sure, you’d want to build walls around the concrete pad, and a roof. You could stuff the walls with something, and line the ceiling. Some kind of a sound-absorbing material.”

  “And you’d need power,” Westwood said. “They don’t run it all the time. Just when needed. It would be embarrassing if it didn’t start. So you’d need a battery charger hooked up, permanently, on a trickle setting. Just to be sure.”

  “So which building?”

  Westwood pointed. “That one or that one.”

  “Where’s the exhaust pipe?”

  Silence, for a beat.

  Westwood said, “Maybe we can’t see it.”

  “We can see the power lines. We can see the phone line, just about. The power lines might be an inch thick. Probably a little less. A car exhaust is at least two inches. Maybe three. Take a look underneath sometime. Metal, because of the heat, and therefore welded in sections. But where is it? There’s no pipe running into the suicide suite. Not from any other building.”

  “Maybe they buried it.”

  “The damp would rust it out in weeks. It would leak exhaust. They’d be running to the muffler shop all the time. If they wanted to hide it they’d bring it in knee-high through a flower bed and grow climbing shrubs on it. Maybe ro
ses. Which would make it even easier for us to see. But it isn’t there. It doesn’t exist. Their web site is a lie.”

  Westwood leaned forward and made the picture bigger, and bigger, until it was crude and blurred and pixelated, as big as he could get it. He moved it around, carefully, slowly, and he followed all four walls of all seven buildings.

  No exhaust pipe. No two structures were connected by anything more substantial than an electric cable.

  Reacher said, “Two hundred and thirty thousand dollars to spend. This is like working for the Pentagon again. We can afford to make a new plan.”

  The new plan was made slowly, with care, in depth and in detail, over the rest of that evening, and some of the night, and all the next morning. Computers helped. The plan had five moving parts, and all of them had to be synchronized exactly, and all of them were tricky, and all of them were vital. But because of technology what in the past would have taken days took merely hours. Both Westwood and Chang had laptops, and even Reacher got in the picture, with Chang’s phone. He was getting wifi. He was clicking and scrolling with the best of them. And when the time came to call people, when Westwood and Chang got busy on their cells, he used the land line on the night stand, and between them they got things done about ten times faster than back in the day.

  The rest of the plan was a shopping list. At the top was a legitimate state resident. Not to be bought, as such, but merely rented. Or bribed, to be technical, to go buy the rest of the stuff on the list. Most of which couldn’t be done without an Oklahoma driver’s license. In the end the hotel concierge volunteered. He saw himself as a fixer, and a man of
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