Make me, p.36
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       Make Me, p.36
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         Part #20 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child

  He brought a lot of money. We’re going to take a look.”

  They brought the guy to the diner, but before they let him in they talked among themselves about the helicopters. Everyone was there, apart from Moynahan’s brother. The one who had gotten kicked in the balls and had his gun taken. The discussion was brief, and there was no consensus. There were two trains of thought. Either it was general reconnaissance ahead of a further incursion at a future date, in which case it had likely involved cameras and thermal imaging and ground-penetrating radar, or it was the actual search for Keever itself, which they had long predicted would include the air, in which case it would involve pretty much the same technology, but it would find nothing either, because of the hogs.

  Brief.

  No consensus.

  Either they were coming back, or they weren’t.

  No vote was taken.

  The guy they showed in looked healthy. Like a guy from the National Geographic channel. Scruffy gray hair, scruffy gray beard. Forty-five, maybe. Weird kind of clothes with a lot of zippers. Bootlaces like mountain-climbing ropes.

  He said his name was Torrance.

  He said he had ditched his ID. Not just an insurance thing. Although there were certain clauses in his policy. But mostly he wanted to leave people guessing. That was his aim. No trace at all. His paper trail stopped seven hundred miles ago. A small fire, in the bathroom sink in a Nevada motel. All gone. He had driven onward only by night, to minimize risk. He wanted to leave people unsure. And inconvenienced. Seven long years, before a legal presumption.

  The man with the jeans and the hair said, “You’ll forgive us for being cautious, Mr. Torrance.”

  Then he looked at the Moynahan who had gotten hit in the head, and he said, “Where’s your damn brother?”

  Moynahan said, “I don’t know.”

  “I need him here.”

  Their usual policy for messages in a meeting was last in, first out. Moynahan had been last in. He had been slow, down the old concrete giant. Because of his head. Because of his balance.

  He said, “OK, I’ll go find him.”

  He headed for the street.

  The man with the jeans and the hair looked back at Westwood and said, “Mr. Torrance, I guess our first question would be whether you’re wearing a wire.”

  Westwood said, “I’m not.”

  “Then you’ll be happy to unbutton your shirt.”

  Westwood did. A sturdy chest, plenty of flesh, curly gray hair. No microphone.

  The man with the jeans and the hair said, “Our second question would be how you found us.”

  “On-line,” Westwood said. “Through a board. A buddy of mine named Exit told me.”

  “We knew her.”

  Her. Knew.

  Westwood said, “She told me she was coming here with her friend Michael. Also a buddy of mine. He posted as Mike.”

  “She did. We knew Mike too.”

  “I figured what was good enough for them was good enough for me.”

  “Our third question would be what you planned to do with your rental car. That’s a bright red paper trail right there.”

  “I wondered if I paid extra one of you would get rid of it for me. You could dump it all the way over in Wichita or Amarillo. It would get stolen pretty quick.”

  “Such a thing could be arranged. And if it ever showed up, in the barrio or wherever, it would only add to the mystery. Or make people think homicide.”

  “That’s what I figured.”

  “As you know, we provide end of life choices. And choice means exactly that. We don’t judge. We don’t make people state their reasons. We don’t offer counseling, and we don’t try to change your mind. But you have arrived in an unconventional manner. So we need to ask why. Exceptionally.”

  Westwood said, “I’ve had enough. I never asked to be born. I haven’t really enjoyed it, to be honest.”

  “Specifically?”

  “I owe a lot of money. I can’t pay. I can’t face what comes next.”

  “Gambling?”

  “Worse.”

  “The government?”

  “I made some errors.”

  The man with the jeans and the hair looked at his crew. All there, apart from the Moynahan brothers. Five guys. They shuffled, and grimaced thoughtfully, and nodded vague assent.

  The man with the jeans and the hair looked back at Westwood and said, “I think we can help you, Mr. Torrance. But I’m afraid it will cost all of what you brought.”

  Westwood said, “I want the gasoline engine. That’s how I want to do it.”

  “It’s a popular option.”

  “Is it leaded gas?”

  “It runs on unleaded now. Special cylinder heads. The carbon monoxide is the same as it always was. It’s the catalyst that takes it away, not unleaded. And the smell is better. The benzene makes it sweet. It’s a nice way to go.”

  “What do other people choose?”

  “Most choose both. Certainty of outcome is considered paramount. Hence all the statistics they study.”

  “Should I do both?”

  “No need for it. The gasoline engine is a hundred percent effective. You can trust it.”

  Then the guy looked at the street door.

  He said, “Where did the Moynahans get to?”

  Last in, first out.

  The spare-parts guy from the irrigation store said, “I’ll go find them.”

  He headed out.

  The man with the jeans and the hair looked back at Westwood and said, “It’s an odd question, Mr. Torrance, but would you like to join us for breakfast?”

  Westwood thought about it and then said yes, and the counterman temporarily put aside his community membership in favor of his professional duties, by stepping back there and setting up a fresh pot of coffee. The Cadillac driver said he better go check on his delivery first, back in a minute, but the store owner and the hog farmer and the one-eyed guy from the motel all sat down right away. The waitress came over and took their orders. Coffee was poured, and plates were delivered. Then the store owner got up again and said he wanted to run next door to get something. Heartburn medicine, the others thought. He too said he would be back in a minute.

  But he wasn’t.

  Neither was the Cadillac driver.

  Or the Moynahans, or the guy gone looking for them.

  The man with the jeans and the hair stared at the door. He said, “What the hell is going on here? People keep leaving and not coming back.”

  He got up and stepped to the window. There was nothing out there. As in, nothing at all. Just stillness. No traffic, no pedestrians. Nothing moving. Hot sun, empty streets.

  The guy said, “We have a problem. Out the back, right now. Mr. Torrance, excuse us. We’ll come by for you later.”

  And then he ran, through the kitchen, followed by the hog farmer and the counterman and the one-eyed clerk, to the alley in back, where the counterman’s crew-cab was parked. They piled in and took off, back to the plaza, south to the far end, into the mouth of the narrow dirt road. Like a private driveway, twenty miles long.

  Westwood stood alone in the silent diner. Until the street door opened and Chang came in, followed by Reacher.

  Chapter 54

  The biggest chunk of the money had gone for the helicopters. Two air limousines, touting for corporate business out of Kansas City. Like Town Cars in the sky. No chance of getting them to land. Not on unapproved sites. No chance of them letting anyone rappel out on ropes. Their insurance wouldn’t permit it. But they were happy to fly there and back empty. They were happy to add a little drama. For a video shoot, they were told. They got the exact GPS coordinates direct from Google. Timing was the tricky part. So the cameras could roll. But they had computers in the cockpits. It might be possible.

  The second-biggest chunk of the money was carried by Westwood. Enough to impress. His cockpit computer was a rented Ford’s speedometer and his wristwatch. High school, not postgrad. If a car needs
to travel fifteen miles in fifteen minutes, how fast must it go? All tied to the train, of course. He found an AM station with traffic-and-weather-together, which said the railroad was on or close. To schedule, presumably. He could do no better.

  Meanwhile Reacher and Chang were in the FedEx truck. They had called the depot in Oklahoma City and said they had a super-rush urgent overnight package for a place called Mother’s Rest. They were told the latest time they could bring it. They came five minutes before. They found the night driver smoking in the alley. He said Mother’s Rest was on his regular route. He agreed official bank-banded bricks of hundred dollar bills were wonderful things. Especially with a little psychology thrown in. Take as many as you want. Whatever you think is fair. All we want to do is ride in the back. And arrive at train time exactly. Which the guy said he could do. No problem. With his eyes shut. It was his regular route. They could ride up front if they wanted, and then hop in the back when they were getting close by.

  And then hop out again, hopefully unnoticed, behind the Cadillac driver’s store, amid all the helicopter mayhem and the train panic and the Westwood confusion. If the timing worked. Which it had, apparently. There had been plenty of mayhem. That was for damn sure. And no one in the store. Which was a bonus in the short term. But a burden in the long term. It was one more thing for later.

  Which began with whichever Moynahan it was Reacher had kicked in the balls. They saw the guy limping along a cross street, heading in the direction of the diner or the store. Or the motel, conceivably. He went down easy, hog-tied tight with five of the cable zips from the hardware store, and gagged with one of the rags from the same source, and dumped in the abandoned CPA’s office next door to FedEx, which had not been furnished with much of a lock.

  Then came the guy’s brother or cousin or whatever he was, wearing a ridiculous leather hat, looking for something. He went down too, just as easy, five cable ties, one rag, and a berth on the CPA’s floor, right next to his relative. Then came the spare parts guy. From the irrigation store. Looking for the first two. This time there was no conversation about football. Just the ties, a rag, the floor.

  Regular folk kept well out the way. They stayed indoors. Some kind of an ancient instinct, presumably. Maybe because of the sub-machineguns. They looked alien. Like movie props. Nothing to do but hide. The 911 service was the same thing as disconnected. The cops were a long way away. And it was hot anyway. More comfortable inside, with the AC.

  The Cadillac driver walked right into it. He thought his store was still his. Ties, rag, floor. They had to go further to find the dry goods owner. They got him coming out the back of his building, holding a small bottle of Pepto-Bismol. Ties, rag, floor.

  Then the well ran dry, when the crew-cab screamed away from behind the diner.

  Leaving Westwood all alone.

  Who said, “They agreed to the gasoline engine.”

  Reacher nodded. “They’ll keep the con going to the end. Whatever it is.”

  “I assume the farm is where they went.”

  “Where else is there?”

  “Are we ready?”

  “We’ve done what we can.”

  “I’ll get us there.”

  “I know you will.”

  “And that’s where you’ll ditch me, right?”

  Chang said, “We won’t ditch you. Unless you want to be ditched.”

  “I don’t.”

  Reacher said, “I wish I could send you ahead. Instead of me. You’re a grown-up. I don’t care what happens to you. Come if you want. Stay with us all the way. But stay with us on my left-hand side.”

  “Why that?”

  “I’m right-handed. I like freedom of movement.”

  “Understood. Let’s go.”

  In the normal way of business it would have been called a test drive. An unfamiliar piece of equipment, driven briefly and experimentally by an intending purchaser. Except that Reacher was not an intending purchaser. He rarely purchased anything, and nothing that wasn’t consumable, and certainly not farm equipment. The salesman knew. And Reacher wasn’t driving it, either, because he couldn’t. He didn’t know how. He got over the first problem with the sub-machinegun, and the second with Westwood, who had once learned how to drive such a thing because science editors sometimes got sucked into judging science projects, which sometimes led to hands-on involvement in neighborhood do-gooder bullshit, which often meant shoveling some kind of actual shit, and mechanically was always the best way to handle that.

  It was a New Holland backhoe, from the farm equipment dealer north of the wagon train trail. Westwood chugged it back through the plaza and onward past the motel. If not a test drive, at least a courtesy loan. Without the courtesy part. But a loan nonetheless. Reacher had no intention of keeping it. On the back it had a claw arm and a digging shovel, very narrow, with two aggressive teeth. An entrenching tool. On the front the bucket was broad and tall, but shallow. More like a bulldozer blade. It was clearly a versatile machine. All kinds of things could be bolted on. It was brand-new, brightly painted, and completely clean. It had a new-backhoe smell. The cab was just about wide enough for three, but there was only one seat. Westwood was in it, because he had to be. There were all kinds of levers and pedals. Chang was standing sideways on Westwood’s left, and Reacher was jammed in sideways on his right. The engine was roaring. The thing was built for hard work and short back-and-forth distances, between hole and pile, but there were road-going gears in there too. Westwood had it wound up to about thirty miles an hour when they left the plaza.

  Not into the mouth of the private driveway.

  Into the wheat.

  Westwood had the front bucket set a couple of feet off the ground, with the bottom edge jutting forward. Like a metal chin. It smashed the wheat down, like a blunt scythe, and thick golden clouds of dust and fragments filled the air, like an ongoing linear explosion, and stalky debris thrashed the underside, and on the edges of the furrow the wheat swayed back in waves and brushed the windows. The land was flat in a global sense but where the rubber met the dirt it was uneven and lumpy. The backhoe was pitching fore-and-aft like a boat, and bouncing on its tires. They were soft, and they bulged and floundered on every bump. Westwood was hammering up and down in his seat. Reacher and Chang were hanging on sideways, like subway riders on a runaway train.

  The metal chin hammered on.

  Dust and fragments howled all around them.

  Thirty miles an hour.

  Twenty miles to go.

  Elementary school.

  Forty minutes.

  But better than taking the private driveway. Which could be mined. Or at least spiked. And which definitely involved a straight head-on ten-mile approach to a right-angle corner, where any sane defender would mount a fifty-caliber machine gun. Arriving by car on the dirt road would be like coming up the motel stairs two at a time. We could pick you off like squirrels. Better to have some freedom of movement. Which meant an off-road vehicle. Which meant a battering ram. Hence the front bucket. Which was also bulletproof, and the size of a twin-bed mattress. Heavy steel, for humping jagged rocks. There was a sliver of visibility over the top. As much as they needed. For the wheat, anyway. So far, so good. The plan was working. Except for one small unintended consequence. Mainly because of the slamming around.

  Reacher’s headache was coming back.

  Most of the way the farm was out of sight behind the wheat, so they steered by the sun. Not exact, but close enough. First visual contact happened about a quarter-mile from where they were aiming, and just about right on time. A house and six outbuildings. Fences and beaten earth. A phone line on poles. The diesel generator’s top-hat exhaust.

  And the stink of hogs.

  Like a chemical weapon.

  Westwood looped away, and came back head-on, and stopped about two hundred yards out. The engine died back to an idle. Last fragments of wheat settled back to earth.

  Quiet.

  All alone.

  Reacher felt
like a predator above a water hole.

  Then the water hole started shooting back.

  Three weapons firing. Long guns. All the same. Distinctive. Flat solid barks, and the crack of fast bullets in the air. NATO rounds out of M16s, if Reacher was a gambling man. All of them so far missing. Understandable. It was a deceptive shot. Two hundred yards, absolutely
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