Make me, p.5
Part #20 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
Reacher said, “Want to flip a coin or wait for morning?”
Chang said, “And do what? Kick the door down? We’re in full view of the office here.”
Reacher glanced down, and saw the one-eyed guy dragging a lawn chair across the blacktop. It was the chair Reacher had slept in, by the fence. The one-eyed guy lined it up on the sidewalk outside his office window, and he sat down, like an old-time sheriff on his boardwalk porch, just gazing. In this case not quite at room 214. Low, and a little right. Which meant not quite at 113, either.
Both rooms at once.
Then Reacher remembered the same chair, that morning, abandoned in the traffic lane, and he glanced across at 106, and he ran the angles.
He rested his elbows on the rail.
He said, “I guess whether we kick the door down depends on how urgent you feel this whole thing is.”
Alongside him Chang said, “No one gets those calls right. Not all the time.”
“But some of the time, right?”
“So which kind of time is this?”
“What’s your opinion?”
“I’m not in your chain of command. My opinion should carry no weight.”
She said, “What is it anyway?”
“Every case is different.”
“Bullshit. Cases are the same all the time. You know that.”
“Cases like this are the same about half the time,” Reacher said. “They fall in two broad groups. Sometimes you get your guy back weeks later, no harm, no foul, and sometimes you’ve lost your guy before you even knew you had a problem. There isn’t much middle ground. The graph looks like a smiley face. Ironically.”
“Therefore the math says wait. Either we’re already beaten, or we have plenty of time.”
Reacher nodded. “That’s what the math says.”
“If we move now, we’re committing unconditionally into an unknown situation against forces we have no way of assessing. Could be five guys with convincing handshakes. Or five hundred, with automatic weapons and hollowpoint ammunition. In defense of something we never even heard of yet.”
“Which could be what, hypothetically?”
“Like I said, not fertilizer bombs in the warehouse. Something else, that started out weird and then suddenly wasn’t. Maybe they really are broadcasting to our root canals.”
Chang nodded down toward the one-eyed guy, far away in his white plastic chair. She said, “You picked the right channel to broadcast Keever’s name. This guy is in this thing hip deep.”
Reacher nodded. “Motel keepers are always useful, in any endeavor. But this guy is not high up in the organization. He’s squirming. He resents this. He thinks he’s better than all-night sentry duty. But apparently his bosses don’t.”
“And they’re the people we have to find,” Chang said.
“Figure of speech. A leftover from the old days. It was all teamwork back then.”
Reacher said nothing.
Chang said, “You stayed here. I didn’t see a gun to your head.”
“My reasons for staying have nothing to do with how urgent you think this whole Keever thing is. That’s a separate matter, and it’s your call.”
“I’ll wait for morning.”
“The math says so.”
“Will you sleep OK, with this guy watching?”
“What else can I do?”
“We could ask him to stop.”
“How different would that be than unconditionally committing?”
“That depends on his response.”
“I’ll sleep OK. But I’m going to double lock the door and put the chain on. We have no idea what’s happening here.”
“No,” Reacher said. “We don’t.”
“I like your haircut, by the way.”
“What were your reasons?”
“For the haircut?”
He said, “Curiosity, mostly.”
“That thing with Penn State in 1986. It was really well done. It was a superb act. I’m sure he’s done it before, and I’m sure he’s practiced, and rehearsed, and critiqued himself, and relived his successes in his mind, and therefore I’m equally sure it’s completely inconceivable he doesn’t know there has to be a handshake in there. I bet every other time he’s shaken a hand. But not with me. Why was that?”
“He made a mistake.”
“No, he couldn’t force himself to do it. That was my impression. Even to the point of compromising his art. He’s into something, and right now it’s under threat somehow, and he feels the people posing the threat are literally too loathsome to touch. That’s the impression I got. So I was curious about what kind of a thing could make a person feel that way.”
“Now I might not sleep OK.”
“They’ll come for me first,” Reacher said. “I’m downstairs. I’ll be sure to make plenty of noise. You’ll get a head start.”
Reacher sat in a chair in his room, in the dark, six feet back from the window, invisible from the outside, just watching. Fifteen minutes, then twenty, then twenty-five. As long as it took. The one-eyed guy in his plastic chair was a pale smudge in the gloom, about a hundred feet away. He had gotten comfortable. He was tipped back a little. He was maybe asleep, but lightly. Noise or movement would alert him, probably. Not the best sentry Reacher had ever seen, but not the worst, either.
Above the guy and to the right, up on the second floor, the center room had a rim of light around the drapes. Room 203. The guy from the train, probably. The recent arrival, no doubt unpacking his little leather bag, and getting all his ducks in a row. Unguents and potions in the bathroom, some things in the closet, other things in the drawers. Although the size of the bag was a serious issue, in Reacher’s opinion. It had looked like a high quality item, well used, but not battered or destroyed. Heavy pebbled leather, brown in color, with brass fitments. A classic shape, presumably formed by hinges and some kind of an internal skeleton structure. But not large. And the guy was in town for at least twenty-four hours. Maybe more. With a bag too small for a spare suit, or spare shoes.
Which was unusual, in Reacher’s experience. Most civilians carried spare everything, in case of spills, or changes in the weather, or unanticipated invitations.
Ten minutes later the rim of light clicked off, and room 203 went full dark. The one-eyed guy stayed where he was, tipped back, maybe watching, maybe not. Reacher gazed back from the shadows, fifteen more minutes, as long as it took, until he was sure there was nothing doing. Then he stripped and folded his clothes the way he always did, the same pants under a new mattress, and he took a brief shower, and climbed into bed. He left the drapes open, and set the alarm in his head to wake him at six in the morning, or if there was noise or commotion in the night, whichever came first.
The dawn was silent, and it was golden again, but infinitely pale. The elevators threw weak shadows long enough to hit the motel. Reacher sat up in bed and watched. The plastic chair was still there, on the sidewalk under the office window, a hundred feet away, but the one-eyed guy had gone. At four in the morning, Reacher guessed. The lowest ebb. To a couch in the back, no doubt.
Room 203’s drapes were still closed. The guy from the train. Still asleep, probably. Reacher got up and came back from the bathroom with a towel around his waist. He opened his window. For the air. And for the sound. He could hear vehicles on the wide street. Regular gasoline V-8s, and thick tires pattering on the rail lines embedded in the blacktop. Pick-up trucks, probably. Heading for breakfast in the diner. People were up with the sun.
He sat and watched, without coffee. He ran a pleasant fantasy through his head, of calling the diner and ordering a pot from the waitress, his new best friend, and having her
He sat and watched, patiently, expecting to be rewarded eventually, and eventually he was, after almost an hour. First the one-eyed guy came out his office door, and stood and sniffed the air, the way people do in the morning. Then the guy glanced all around, at the inside perimeter of his little domain, and his parking spaces, and the sidewalk passing the first-floor rooms, and the walkway passing the second-floor rooms, a leisurely visual inspection, born mostly of duty, Reacher thought, but with a small slice of pride in there somewhere. Then the guy remembered the unexamined territory directly behind him, and he turned around to check, and he saw his misplaced lawn chair. He dragged it back to 102, and left it lined up in perfect uniformity with all its ground-floor equivalents, which were all directly underneath their second-floor counterparts.
Which made it more duty than pride. Because he hadn’t bothered the day before. He had left the chair any old place it had wanted to be. Wherever it hung its hat was its home. But this new day was different. Somehow. The guy was acting like a nervous CO ahead of a one-star’s visit.
Reacher waited. The shadows retreated, yard by yard, as the sun climbed higher. He heard the seven o’clock train. It rolled in, and vibrated, and rolled out again.
The drapes opened in room 203. The window was sideways to the sun, and like everything else the glass was covered in crop dust, but even so Reacher saw the guy clearly, in his suit, standing with his arms held wide, his hands still on the drapes, staring out at the morning, as if in wonder, as if it was a big surprise the sun had come up again. As if it had been maybe fifty-fifty at best. The guy stood like that for a whole minute, and then he turned away and was lost to sight.
A white sedan drove into the lot. A Cadillac, Reacher thought. But not new. It was from a previous generation. It was long and low, all road-hugging weight and boulevard ride. Like a limousine. Therefore an unusual color, outside of Florida or Arizona. An unusual sight in any case, in farm country. It was the first sedan Reacher had seen in about three hundred miles. It was pretty clean. Recently rinsed, at least, if not actually washed. Reacher couldn’t see the driver. The glass was too dark.
The car swooped right and backed left and reversed into the slot below room 203. It had no front license plate. The driver didn’t get out. Above the car, room 203’s door opened, and the man in the suit stepped out. He had the brown leather bag in his hand. He stood still for a long moment, and did the air-sniffing thing. As if in wonder. Then he snapped out of his trance and headed for the stairs, definitely gaunt but light on his feet, and a fluent, fluid mover, not muscle-bound like an athlete, but graceful like a dancer, or a stage actor. He came down the stairs, and the driver got out of the Cadillac, to greet him.
The driver was a man Reacher hadn’t seen before. He was about forty, tall and well built, not fat but certainly fleshed out, with a full head of hair, and a guileless face. Another junior executive, possibly. The man in the suit shook his hand, and ducked into the back of the car. The driver carried the brown leather bag to the trunk, and placed it inside, like a little ceremony. Then he got back behind the wheel, and the car pulled forward, and drove away.
No rear license plate, either.
Reacher went and took a shower.
Chang was already in the diner, at the corner two-top they had used before. She had her back to the wall. She had reserved the table next to her, by hanging her coat on the chair. Reacher passed it back to her and sat down, side by side, with his own back to the wall. Which was tactically sound, but a shame in every other way. Chang looked just fine in a T-shirt. Her hair was still damp, which made it look like ink. Her arms were long and faintly muscled, and her skin was smooth.
She said, “The guy in the suit left already. He took his bag, so he isn’t coming back. Lucky him.”
“I saw,” Reacher said. “From my room.”
“I was on my way back from the railroad. Keever wasn’t on the morning train.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“So now’s the time. No more waiting for him. I have to start looking for him. His room is 215. I peeked through the window. There’s a big shirt hanging on a closet door. Room 213 is completely empty.”
“OK. We’ll get in somehow.”
“Figure of speech,” Reacher said. “I have nothing else to do today.”
“Should we go do it now?”
“Let’s eat first. Eat when you can. That’s the golden rule.”
“Now could be a good time to do it.”
“Could be, but later will be better. When the maid has started work. She might open the door for us.”
The waitress came over, with coffee.
After breakfast they found the motel maid had indeed started work, but she was nowhere near Keever’s room. She was fully occupied on the other side of the horseshoe, making 203 ready-to-rent again after the man in the suit’s departure. She had a big stacked cart on the walkway, and the room door was standing open. She was visible inside, stripping the bed.
She would have a pass key on her belt, or in her pocket, or chained to her cart handle.
Reacher said, “I guess I’ll walk over there and say hello.”
He turned left at 211, and left again at 206, and he stopped level with the cart and looked in 203’s door.
The maid was crying.
And working, both at the same time. She was a white woman, thin as a rail, no longer young, hauling a sack of towels from the bathroom. She was bawling and sniveling and tears were streaming down her face.
From outside the room Reacher said, “Ma’am, are you OK?”
The woman stopped, and let go of the sack, and straightened up. She huffed and puffed and took a breath and stared blankly at Reacher, and then she turned and stared blankly in the mirror, and then she turned back again without a reaction, as if her appearance was already too far gone to worry about.
She said, “I’m very happy.”
“No, really. I’m sorry. But the gentleman who just checked out left me a tip.”
“What, your first ever?”
She said, “My best ever.”
She had a smock with a wide catch-all pocket on the bottom hem. She used both hands carefully and came out with an envelope. Smaller than a regular letter. Like a reply to a fancy invitation. On it the words Thank You were handwritten with a fountain pen.
She flipped up the flap with her thumb, and took out a fifty-dollar bill. Ulysses S. Grant, right there on the front.
“Fifty bucks,” she said. “The most I ever got before was two dollars.”
“Outstanding,” Reacher said.
“This is going to make such a big difference to me. You can’t imagine.”
“I’m happy for you,” Reacher said.
“Thank you. I guess sometimes miracles happen.”
“Do you know why this town is called Mother’s Rest?”
The woman paused a beat.
She said, “Are you asking me or are you going to tell me?”
“I’m asking you.”
“I don’t know.”
“You never heard any stories?”
“About mothers,” Reacher said. “Resting, either literally or figuratively.”
“No,” she said. “I never heard anything about that.”
“Can you let me into 215?”
The woman paused a beat. She said, “Are you the gentleman from 113? And 106, the night before?”
Make Me by Lee Child / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 4.1 out of 5 / Based on41 votes