Make me, p.38
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       Make Me, p.38
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         Part #20 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child

  same direction. Had to be, surely. An architectural no brainer. And human nature said if the main door was at one end, the escape hatch would be at the other end. So the tunnel would follow the spine of the house, perpendicular to the gable wall, running outward under the compound, toward the generator shed, or possibly the smaller building next to it.

  The generator shed would make more sense. A poured concrete base, properly engineered, easy to integrate with the mouth of the tunnel. Aboveground was a working environment, often checked. Clean, efficient, and safe. No junk piling up. The perfect escape hatch. For all the right reasons.

  But for all the wrong reasons they would choose the smaller building. It wasn’t just nature they hoped to outrun. People too, in a worst-case scenario. There would be no point climbing out in a logical place.

  The smaller building had double doors, like an old-style garage. The lock was rusted in the open position, which Reacher felt boosted the building’s case. No lock at all would be safest. Keys could go missing. No point escaping by the skin of your teeth, and then spending the night locked in a barn.

  They pulled the doors wide and saw a tangle of junk. Scrap metal, mostly, and some old cans of paint. There was a paint-spattered drop cloth dumped on the floor. Not a working environment. Not often checked. Not clean, efficient, or safe. Not a likely location.

  Except.

  The tangle of junk was somewhat artful. There was a void where logic and gravity would not have put one. And there were other voids, somehow linked up, as if a person could hustle through one after another, and get all the way outside, double quick.

  The main void was right above a slight hump in the paint-spattered cloth.

  Reacher pulled the cloth aside and they saw the same kind of hatch they had found in the house. Not angled this time, but set down flat in the floor, and cemented all around.

  It was closed.

  “Outstanding,” Reacher said.

  Chang went to find a truck with the keys in, and Reacher and Westwood got busy shoving metal aside, so she could get it in when she found one. She came back with the same crew-cab they had seen racing out from behind the diner. She drove it in and sawed it back and forth until she had the left front wheel centered on the hatch.

  Second hole sealed.

  Chang got out of the truck and looked at the metal and said, “What the hell is this stuff?”

  Which was a good question.

  The metal was all mild steel, some of it square-section tube, some of it solid rod, some of it one-eighth sheet bashed into strange curled shapes. All of it was rusty, and most of it was smeared black in places with some kind of paint or stain. Most of the tube and all of the rod was welded up in what looked like bolt-together sections of fence. Some of them were about four feet by two, and some of them were about four by four, and some of them were about six by three. All of them were dumped and tangled in a ragged pile.

  And none of them made sense. The fence they had busted with the backhoe was post-and-rail, made of wood, with barbed wire stapled on. There was no metal fence on the property. None in the whole county, as far as Reacher had seen. Maybe the state. And the sections didn’t match. They were not a uniform size. There was no coherent way to bolt them together. No point in having a fence where one short section was three feet tall, and the next six, and the next four. Plus some of the bolt holes ran the wrong way. Some were aligned vertically, and some horizontally.

  Some sections had hinges.

  Not a fence.

  Chang said, “Oh my god. They’re cages.”

  The one-eighth sheet had been cut into strips, and then rolled and beaten and welded into shapes. Rusty and smeared black, like all the rest. There were hinged hoops about three inches around, with U-shaped eyes brazed on.

  Manacles.

  There were hinged hoops about six inches around, with long spikes brazed on.

  Slave collars.

  There were crude iron masks, and pincers, and nails.

  “The black stains,” Chang said. “I think they’re blood.”

  They backed out the double doors and stood in the sun. It felt cold. They turned and looked back at the house. And the suicide suite next to it.

  Reacher said, “The next part is strictly voluntary.”

  He started walking. Chang went with him. Westwood paused a beat, and then hustled to catch up.

  The suicide suite was an outbuilding about half the size of the house. It had a concrete foundation, about knee high, stained orange by rain splashing mud out of puddles. Then came siding made of heavy tarred boards. The roof was shingle. Conventional construction, square and solid, built to last. A power line as thick as Reacher’s finger looped in under the eaves.

  No windows.

  The door was locked.

  Reacher said, “Ready?”

  “Not really,” Chang said, in a voice that sounded small and full of defeat. He remembered her leaning close, in the Cadillac driver’s store, looking at the phone book. Looking at M for Maloney. He remembered piles of packages. Two had come direct from foreign manufacturers. German medical equipment made from sterile stainless steel, and a high-definition video camera from Japan. He remembered the guy from Palo Alto, puzzling over the stray chat-room message from the guy named Blood. I hear Mother’s Rest has good stuff. On a board the guy from Palo Alto didn’t recognize. Some other community. An enthusiast site, by the feel of it. Deep down in the Deep Web.

  Reacher stepped back and strode forward and punched his heel through the lock. The door smashed inward and bounced back off the wall. He stopped it short with spread fingers and stepped inside.

  A vestibule. A smell. Worse than the hogs. Ahead was a small kitchen, with mugs and bottles of water. And wires and cables and plugs and connectors, all piled and tangled, used and forgotten. A working place. To the left was a small lobby with a door on the right and a door at the end. The door on the right was a bathroom. Neither clean nor dirty. An efficient space. Communal. On the wall beyond were coat hooks. A line of four. Loaded, but not with coats.

  With rubber aprons.

  They were smeared brown and black.

  Reacher tried the door at the end of the lobby.

  Unlocked.

  His head hurt.

  He said, “Ready?”

  “Not really,” Chang said again.

  A small voice, full of defeat.

  He opened the door. Pitch dark inside. A bad smell. Cold. The empty sound of a large space. Hard surfaces. Some obstructions. He patted the wall, looking for a switch.

  He found one.

  He turned it on.

  He saw the woman in white.

  Not heading for a garden party in Monte Carlo. Not heading to City Hall for her fifth wedding. Not heading for a private annex with a calming ambience, where she could get comfortable and drink Nembutal, or lie in bed while an old V-8 engine did its gentle work.

  None of the above.

  She was chained by the wrists to a white-tiled wall.

  Slumped down, and hanging low.

  Blood spatter all around.

  Stone dead.

  Reacher was no kind of a competent pathologist, but he figured she had been beaten to death with a baseball bat. There was one on the floor, crusted with blood. Going black, like the stains on the metal. She had livid bruises and broken bones. Her skull was misshapen. Her hair was matted. Her white sheath dress was filthy with blood and vomit.

  She was faced by an array of video equipment. Three television cameras on sturdy tripods, and video lights on stands, with pegged sheets of translucent diffuser. Wires snaked all around the floor. The white tiles made a kind of stage. They covered the last third of the side walls, and the whole of the back wall, and the last third of the floor. An arena. They would light up bright. Plenty of definition. Plenty of detail.

  White tiles, smeared pink.

  There were microphones above the stage.

  Two of them.

  Stereo.

  Ther
e was a sheet of paper clipped to a camera stand. An e-mail, printed out. It said, I would like to see a bossy bitch beaten with a bat. Like a CEO type. Keep it going as long as possible. Legs first. You should make her say sorry Roger, sorry Roger, over and over again. I would be willing to pay a hundred thousand.

  Some other community. An enthusiast site.

  The enthusiast site was called Mother’s Rest, the same as the decoy. Westwood and Chang managed to get the computers up and running. Back in the house. It was all video streaming. Pay per view. A lot of money. The cheapest was the price of a car. Starved to Death was the most expensive. Because of the time it took, presumably. Lots of working hours. Pregnant and Bayoneted was next. Gut Shot was costly. There were most-popular lists. And recently-viewed lists. In all kinds of different categories. Male victim, female victim, couples, young, old, black, white, cutting, stabbing, beating, power tools, extreme insertion, medical experiment, electricity, drowning, and shooting.

  There was also a custom business. Level five. Community members were invited to write in with their requests. As detailed as they liked. Whole scripts, if they wanted. Every attempt would be made to satisfy. It all depended on the right actor coming along. No payment was required until the face and the price had been agreed.

  Chang scrolled to the end of a catalog page and said, “Check this out.”

  A small voice, full of defeat.

  Reacher looked. The latest addition to the Mother’s Rest video library was red hot, brand-new, and now available for instant streaming. It was called Thin Man All Ribs Broken First.

  The guy from the train. In the suit and the collared shirt. With the fine leather bag.

  He was a thin man.

  Reacher’s head hurt.

  Chang scrolled backward, from brand-new to recent, and stopped on Sad Couple With Something to Be Sad About.

  She said, “This has to be Michael McCann, and his friend Exit. Doesn’t it?”

  Reacher said nothing.

  Westwood said, “Look at this.” He was in some kind of root directory. He pointed at the lines of numbers. He said, “Let’s call them movies. Because that’s what they are. They’re snuff films. Some of them are very long. The shortest is two hours. The oldest is from five years ago and the newest was put up yesterday.”

  Then he ran his finger down the screen and stopped close to the bottom. He said, “Guess how many movies they made before McCann first called me.”

  Reacher said, “Two hundred.”

  “Now two hundred and nine.”

  Reacher said nothing.

  Westwood said, “You want to see Death by a Thousand Cuts?”

  “No.”

  “I wonder what they would have called my movie.”

  “Hack Attack, probably. Stabbed to death by pens.”

  “How long does the con last? When do people figure this out? Only after they step in that room?”

  Chang said, “I think they figure it out when the Cadillac driver opens their door and they smell the pigs. I think that’s when the guns come out.”

  “We should ask,” Reacher said. “We know where the con men are.”

  They walked through to the bedroom hallway. To the one-time linen closet. To the sofa, jammed sideways between the hatch and the opposite wall.

  Reacher said, “It would be easier to move the truck.”

  Chang said, “You OK?”

  He nodded. “Under the circumstances.”

  They went out the front, and walked where they figured the tunnel ran, to the small building with the double doors. Chang got in the crew cab and pulled it forward. She got out and left it idling. She looked at the hatch and said, “How do you want to do this?”

  Reacher said, “I doubt if they’re crouching right there, right now. But plan for the worst. Westwood opens the lid and stands back, and we aim straight down the hole. OK?”

  She nodded. Westwood nodded. Reacher took up position, right of dead center, with his H&K ready. New mag, full auto. Chang mirrored him exactly, left of center.

  Westwood bent down and grasped the handle.

  He threw open the door and jumped back.

  There was no hole.

  Chapter 57

  The hatch assembly had been bought in a store and then brought home and cemented down on a flat concrete floor. No hole, no stair head. No penetration of any kind. A continuous unbroken slab. The same pebbly surface on the left of the hatch, and the right of the hatch, and under the hatch.

  Like a blind eye.

  A fake.

  A decoy.

  Reacher said, “My fault. I wasn’t thinking.”

  Westwood said, “Spilled milk. But we need to know where it really is.”

  “No,” Chang said. “We need to know if they used it yet.”

  Which question was immediately answered by a supersonic crack in the air and a hiss of rifling whine and the granular punch of a NATO round passing through a wooden wall, a yard from their heads. Followed instantly by the blast of the rifle itself. Sound waves were slower than bullets. But in this case not much later. Which meant the rifle was close. A hundred feet, Reacher thought. Which was closer than close. It was heading toward point-blank range, even for these guys.

  They hustled inside, and another round punched through the wood, leaving a bright spot of sun. And another, eight feet away. Through-the-wall tactics. Sight unseen. Purely random. This was the A-team, Reacher thought. These were the guys who could hit the side of a barn. He walked past tangles of metal to the far back corner. Invisible from the outside. And fairly invulnerable. Not protected by any kind of a physical shield, but protected by the lottery of aiming blind. The walls weren’t worth a damn, but numbers never lied.

  He kicked out the back wall siding, low down near the floor, a gap two feet high, and four feet long, and then five, as he punched more boards clear. Big enough to crawl out. First Westwood, then Chang. Another round punched through. Then Reacher. They backed off, keeping the building in line. Behind them was nothing but wheat. To the right of behind them was the building near the broken fence. With the dead guys. The backhoe was parked directly right of them. About twenty yards away. Ahead on the right were the movie studio and the house. Ahead on the left was the generator shed. Plenty of places.

  But all of them the wrong side of open ground. Twenty yards minimum. Twenty steps. A long way. Not impossible. It depended on the other guys. How they aimed. How they were trained. If they were trained. A guy who was taught the front-sight mantra might focus so hard he could lose his peripheral vision. Just in the moment. It was possible a guy could walk away unnoticed. It was possible a guy in a gorilla suit could walk away. It would depend on the degree of focus. A person might get away with it.

  But three people wouldn’t.

  Reacher whispered, “Stay here. Don’t move. I’ll come back out and get you.”

  Chang said, “Back out of where?”

  “I’m going back in the building.”

  “That’s crazy.”

  “Not really. Look at what kind of shooters they are. It’s a math thing. To do with probability. I’m no less safe going right where they’re aiming.”

  “That’s nuts.”

  “It’s a big wall. What are the chances? I’m more likely to develop a rare heart condition on the way there.”

  “I’m coming with you.”

  “OK, but Westwood stays here. War correspondents maneuver with the second wave.”

  Westwood said, “Is that what I am?”

  “No, I’m trying to make you feel good. You’re thinking of the book rights.”

  “Not completely.”

 
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