Make me, p.6
Part #20 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
“I can’t open a room except for the registered occupant. I’m sorry.”
“It was a corporate booking. We all work together. We need to be in and out. It’s a teamwork thing.”
“I could go check with the manager.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Reacher said. “I’ll go check with him myself.”
But the one-eyed guy wasn’t in his office. An impromptu absence, clearly, because the desk looked like work had been interrupted recently and temporarily. Files and ledgers were open, and pens were dropped on notebooks, and there was a go-cup of coffee that looked pretty warm.
But the guy wasn’t there.
Behind the desk was a door in the wall. Private space, Reacher guessed. The sleeping couch for sure, and maybe a kitchenette, and certainly at least a half-size bathroom. Which was maybe where the guy was right then. Some things can’t wait.
Reacher listened hard, and heard nothing.
He stepped around the desk to the private side.
He glanced at the ledgers. And the files. And the notebooks. Routine motel stuff. Accounts, orders, to-do lists, percentages.
He listened again. Heard nothing.
He opened a drawer. Where the guy kept the room keys. He put 113 in, and took 215 out.
He closed the drawer.
He stepped back to the public side.
He breathed out.
The one-eyed guy didn’t come back. Maybe he had a digestive disorder. Reacher turned around, and strolled out of the office. He crossed the horseshoe and went up Chang’s stairs. He showed her the key, and she asked, “How long have we got it?”
He said, “As long as Keever paid for. All week, probably. I’m taking over his room. The motel guy can’t complain. He’s had his money. And Keever isn’t here to express an opinion.”
“Will that work?”
“It might. Unless they get up a posse.”
“In which case we call 911. Like Keever should have.”
“The guy in the suit left a fifty-dollar tip for the maid.”
“That’s a lot of money. You give that for a week on a cruise ship.”
“She was very happy.”
“She would be. It’s like a free week’s wages.”
“Makes me feel bad. I never leave more than five.”
“He was a rich man. You said so yourself.”
Reacher said nothing, and stepped up to Keever’s door. He put the key in the lock. He opened the door and stepped back and said, “After you.”
Chang went inside, and Reacher followed. Evidence of Keever was all over the room. The shirt on the door knob, a neat travel kit in the bathroom, a linen jacket in the closet, a battered valise open against a wall, full of clothes. Everything had been lined up with great precision by the maid. The room was clean and tidy.
No briefcase. No computer bag, no fat notebooks, no handwritten pages.
Not on open view, anyway.
Reacher turned back and closed the door. He had searched maybe a hundred motel rooms in his long and unglamorous career, and he was good at it. He had found all kinds of things in all kinds of places.
He said, “What was Keever, before he joined the Bureau?”
Chang said, “He was a police detective, with a night-school law degree.”
Which meant he had searched motel rooms too. Which meant he wouldn’t have used anywhere obvious. He knew the tricks. Not that the room offered many opportunities. It was not architecturally complex.
Chang said, “We’re fooling ourselves, surely. The motel clerk could have been in here half a dozen times already. Or let someone else in. We have to assume this room was searched long ago.”
Reacher nodded. “But how well? That’s the question. Because we know one thing for sure. Keever was in this room at one point, and then he left. He had three possible ways of leaving. First, he left on an innocent errand that turned bad later. Second, he was dragged out of here kicking and screaming by persons unknown. Or third, he was sitting here on the bed, running things through his mind, and he made a sudden random connection, like a real oh-shit moment, and he stood up and hustled over to the pay phone in the general store to call 911 without further ado. Except he didn’t make it.”
“Didn’t make it? What are you saying?”
“I’m saying the guy is missing. Tell me where and why, and I’ll close down the other theories.”
“None of those three ways of leaving means we should expect to find something in this room. Something that everyone else missed.”
“No, I think the third one does. Just possibly. Imagine the moment. Oh shit. You’re stunned. And as of that split second you’re in grave danger. The danger is so bad you need to run straight for the phone. But you’ll be exposed. This is not the same as using a cell behind a locked door. This is a walk in the open air. Which carries a risk now. So maybe you’re tempted to leave a marker behind. You scribble a note and you hide it. Then you go for the phone.”
“And don’t make it.”
“That’s what the math says. Sometimes.”
“But this note is hidden so well no one has found it. But not so well we won’t find it. If there is a note at all. If it was the third of the three possibilities. If it wasn’t something completely different.”
“It was a sequence,” Reacher said. “Had to be, right? It was two oh-shit moments. A small one, maybe the day before, after which he calls you for back-up, and then the big one, after which he goes to call the cops.”
“After leaving a note.”
“I think it’s worth considering.”
When Reacher searched a room, he started with the room, not the contents. Hiders and therefore seekers tended to ignore the physical structure, which was often rich with possibility. Especially for a sheet of paper. An under-window HVAC unit could be opened up, and nine times out of ten there was a plastic pocket expressly designed to hold paperwork, often an instruction manual or a warranty card, among which an enterprising person could conceal dozens of pages.
Or if there was forced-air heating and cooling, there would be grills, easily unscrewed. Pocket doors were good for hiding papers. Ceilings had removable panels for maintenance purposes. A folding door on a closet had an inside face no one ever saw. And so on.
Only then came the furniture. In this case a bed, two night tables, an upholstered chair, a dining chair at the desk, the desk itself, and a small chest of drawers.
They looked everywhere, but they found nothing.
Afterward Chang said, “Worth a try, I guess. In a way I’m glad we didn’t find anything. Makes it less final. I want him to be OK.”
Reacher said, “I want him to be in Vegas with a nineteen-year-old. But until we get a postcard, we have to assume he isn’t. Just so we stay sharp.”
“He was a cop and a special agent. How far is it from here to the general store? What could have happened?”
“It’s about two hundred feet. Past the diner. Lots of things could have happened.”
Chang didn’t answer. Reacher’s hands felt dirty. From moving furniture, and touching surfaces not regularly cleaned. He stepped into the bathroom and flipped up the tap to wet his hands. The soap was a new cake, still wrapped in tissue paper. Light blue, all pleated and stuck down with a gold label. Not the worst place Reacher had ever seen. He pulled off the paper and balled it up. The trash can was under the vanity. The vanity was deep. A kind of underhand through-the-slot change-up was required. Left-handed, too. Which he executed. And then he washed his hands, the new soap hard at first, and then better later. He dried his hands on a fresh towel, and then his conscience got the better of him, and he bent down to check his tissue-paper spitball had in fact hit the target.
The trash can was round, like a short cylinder, but it was jammed up in a left-hand corner, which meant there was a shallow space behind. The kind of space that got ignored, especially by maids with mops. Not for two-dollar tips. It was the kin
Three of them.
One was his own spitball. He could tell by the dampness. One was an older version of the same thing. Bone dry. A previous cake of soap.
And one was a piece of furred paper, like junk from a pocket.
The paper was a stiff white square, about three and a half inches on a side, with one gummed edge. A sheet from a memo block or cube. Reacher had seen such things before. It had been folded in four, and it had ridden in a pocket for a month or more. The folds were worn, and the corners had deteriorated, and the surfaces were rubbed. Reacher guessed it had been flicked toward the trash can, maybe two-fingered like a trick with a playing card, but it had sailed too far, and hit the deck in no-man’s-land.
He unfolded it and smoothed it flat. What could be called the outer face was blank. Just a rub of grime, and faint indigo staining, probably from denim. From the back pocket of a pair of blue jeans, he thought.
He turned the paper over.
What could be called the inner face had writing on it. Ballpoint pen, a hurried note. A scrawl, really. There was a phone number, and the words 200 deaths.
Reacher asked, “Is this Keever’s handwriting?”
Chang said, “I don’t know. I’ve never seen Keever’s handwriting. And it isn’t a great sample. So we can’t be certain. Think like a defense attorney. There’s no unbroken chain of custody. Anyone could have left this here. At any time.”
“Sure,” Reacher said. “But suppose it’s Keever’s. What would it be?”
“Be? A note, probably made during a phone call. In his office. His spare bedroom, anyway. Maybe an initial contact, or a follow-up call. High stakes, with two hundred deaths, and a phone number, which might be either the client, or a source of independent corroboration. Or a source of further information.”
“Why would he throw it away?”
“Because later he wrote it up in longer form, so he didn’t need it anymore. Maybe he was standing here at the mirror, checking himself over, like people do. Maybe he dumped his old Kleenex and took new, and maybe he checked his other pockets at the same time. Maybe he hadn’t used those pants for a while.”
The phone number’s area code was 323. Reacher said, “Los Angeles, right?”
Chang nodded and said, “Either a cell or a land line.”
“Two hundred deaths. That would qualify as serious danger.”
“If it’s Keever’s. If it was about this current case. It could be anybody’s about anything.”
“Who else would pass through here with two hundred deaths on his mind?”
“Who says they did? Even if it’s Keever’s, it could have been an old case. Or a different case. Or it could have been a liability lawyer a year ago, chasing ambulances. How could there even be two hundred deaths here? That’s twenty percent of the population. Someone would have noticed. You wouldn’t need a private investigator.”
“Let’s call the number,” Reacher said. “Let’s see who answers.”
Reacher locked up the room, and they went down the metal stairs, and a hundred feet away the one-eyed guy came out of his office and bustled across toward them, waving and gesturing. When he arrived he said, “Excuse me, sir, but 215 is not your registered room.”
Reacher said, “Then amend your register. The room was paid for by an associate of ours, and I’m going to be using it until he returns.”
“You can’t do that.”
“No such word.”
“How did you get the key?”
“I found it under a bush. Just lucky, I guess.”
“This is not allowed.”
“Then call the cops,” Reacher said.
The guy said nothing. He just huffed and puffed for a moment, and then he turned around and headed back, without another word.
Chang said, “Suppose he does call the cops?”
“He won’t,” Reacher said. “He would have made a big point of telling us he was about to, yes sir, right there and then. Plus the cops are probably fifty miles away. Or a hundred. They wouldn’t come out for a room that was already paid for. Plus if these people have something to hide, the last thing they’ll do is call the cops.”
“What will he do instead?”
“I’m sure we’ll find out.”
They stepped out to the wide street and walked past the front of the diner, to the general store. The sun was up and the town was quiet. No activity, and no big crowds. There was a pick-up truck fifty yards ahead, making a turn into a side street. There was a kid throwing a tennis ball against a wall, and hitting the rebound with a stick. Like baseball practice. He was pretty good. Maybe he should have his picture in a magazine. There was a FedEx truck crossing the rails on the old trail, and heading into town.
The general store was a classic rural building, a plain flat-roofed structure end-on to the street, with a fancy gabled frontage made of lap boards painted dull red. There was a sign, painted in circus letters colored gold: Mother’s Rest Dry Goods. There was a single door, and a single window, which was small, and purely for light, rather than for the display of tempting goods. The glass was covered with decals, all with names Reacher didn’t know. Brand names, he assumed, for arcane but vital country stuff.
Inside the door was a boxed-in vestibule, which had a pay phone mounted on the wall. No acoustic hood. Just the instrument itself, all metal, including the cord. Chang fed coins in the slot, and dialed. She listened for a spell, and then she hung up without speaking.
She said, “Voice mail. The phone company’s standard announcement. Not personalized. No name. Sounded like a cell phone.”
Reacher said, “You should have left a message.”
“No point. I can’t get calls here.”
“Try Keever again. Just in case.”
“I don’t want to. I don’t want to hear him not answer.”
“He’s either OK or he isn’t. Calling him or not calling him doesn’t change anything.”
She used her own cell to look up the number, but she dialed on the older technology. As before, she listened for a spell, and then she hung up without speaking. She tried a second number. Same result.
She shook her head.
She said, “No answer.”
Reacher said, “We should go to Oklahoma City.”
The train would have been faster, but its departure was still eight hours away, so they drove, in Chang’s rental car. It was a compact Ford SUV, green in color. Inside it was bland and unmarked, and it smelled strongly of upholstery shampoo. They were out of town within a minute, on the old wagon train trail, and then they turned south and west and south again, through the immense checkerboard of endless golden fields, until they found a county road that promised a highway entrance two hundred miles ahead.
Chang was driving, in her T-shirt. Reacher had the passenger seat racked back, and he was watching her. She had one hand low on the wheel, and the other resting in her lap. Her eyes were always moving, to the road ahead, to the mirrors, back to the road ahead. Sometimes she half-smiled briefly, and then half-grimaced, as thoughts ran through her head. Her shoulders were rolled forward an inch, in a tiny hunch. Which Reacher took to mean she wanted to be a smaller person. Which ambition he could not endorse. She looked exactly the right size to him. She was long-limbed and solid, but not where she shouldn’t be.
I think I’m a nice person, but I know I’m not the reason.
He said nothing.
She looked in the mirror again, and she said, “There’s a pick-up truck behind us.”
He said, “How far back?”
“About a hundred yards.”
“How long has it been there?”
“A mile or so.”
“It’s a public road.”
“It came on real fast, but now it’s hanging back. Like it was looking for us, and now it’s found us.”
“That’s all I ca
“Not much of a posse.”
“Two men, I think. A driver and a passenger.”
Reacher didn’t want to turn around to look. Didn’t want to show
Make Me by Lee Child / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 4.1 out of 5 / Based on41 votes