Running blind, p.7
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       Running Blind, p.7
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         Part #4 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
Chapter 7

  LAMARR ARRIVED EXACTLY on time in a new Buick Park Avenue with shined paint and Virginia plates. She was alone and looked small in it. She eased to a stop and pressed a button and the trunk lid opened. There was a chrome supercharged label on the lip. Reacher closed the trunk again and opened the passenger door and slid inside.

  "Where's your bag?" she asked.

  "I don't have a bag," he said.

  She looked blank for a second. Then she looked away from him like she was dealing with a social difficulty and eased away down the street. She paused at the first junction, unsure.

  "What's the best way south?" she asked.

  "On a plane," he said.

  She looked away again and made a left, away from the river. Then another, which set her heading north on Route 9.

  "I'll pick up I- 84 in Fishkill," she said. "Go west to the Thruway, south to the Palisades, pick up the Garden State. "

  He was silent. She glanced at him.

  "Whatever," he said.

  "Just making conversation. "

  "No need. "

  "You're not being very cooperative. "

  He shrugged. "You told me you wanted my help with the Army. Not with the basic geography of the United States. "

  She raised her eyebrows and made a shape with her mouth like she was disappointed, but not surprised. He looked away and watched the scenery from his window. It was warm in the car. She had the heater on high. He leaned over and turned his side down by five degrees.

  "Too hot," he said.

  She made no comment. Just drove on in silence. I-84 took them across the Hudson River and through Newburgh. Then she turned south on the Thruway and squirmed back in her seat, like she was settling in for the trip.

  "You never fly?" he asked.

  "I used to, years ago," she said. "But I can't now. "

  "Why not?"

  "Phobia," she said simply. "I'm terrified, is all. "

  "You carrying your gun?" he asked.

  She lifted a hand from the wheel and pulled back the flap of her jacket. He saw the straps of a shoulder holster, stiff and brown and shiny, curving next to her breast.

  "Would you use it?"

  "Of course, if I had to. "

  "Then you're dumb to be scared of flying. Driving a car and getting in gunfights are a million times more likely to kill you. "

  She nodded. "I guess I understand that, statistically. "

  "So your fear is irrational," he said.

  "I guess," she said.

  There was silence. Just the hum of the motor.

  "The Bureau got many irrational agents?" he asked.

  She made no reply. Just reddened slightly under the pallor. He sat in the silence, watching the road reel in ahead. Then he started to feel bad for riding her. She was under pressure, from more than one direction.

  "I'm sorry about your sister," he said.

  "Why?" she asked.

  "Well, I know you're worried about her. "

  She kept her eyes on the road. "Blake tell you that? While I was making the coffee?"

  "He mentioned it. "

  "She's my stepsister, actually," she said. "And any worrying I do about her situation is strictly professional, OK?"

  "Sounds like you don't get along. "

  "Does it? Why should it? Should I care more just because I'm close to one of the potential victims?"

  "You expected me to. You expected me to be ready to avenge Amy Callan, just because I knew her and liked her. "

  She shook her head. "That was Blake. I would have expected you to care anyway, as a human being, except in your case I wouldn't, actually, because you match the killer himself for profile. "

  "Your profile is wrong. Sooner you face up to that, sooner you'll catch the guy. "

  "What do you know about profiling?"

  "Nothing at all. But I didn't kill those women, and I wouldn't have, either. Therefore you're wasting your time looking for a guy like me, because I'm exactly the wrong type of a guy to be looking for. Stands to reason, right? Borne out by the facts. "

  "You like facts?"

  He nodded. "A lot better than I like bullshit. "

  "OK, try these facts," she said. "I just caught a killer in Colorado, without ever even being there. A woman was raped and murdered in her house, blows to the head with a blunt instrument, left posed on her back with her face covered by a cloth. A violent sexual crime, spontaneously committed, no forced entry, no damage or disruption to the house. The woman was smart and young and pretty. I reasoned the perpetrator was a local man, older, lived within walking distance, knew the victim, had been in the house many times before, was sexually attracted to the victim, but was either inadequate or repressed as to communicating it to her appropriately. "

  "And?"

  "I issued that profile and the local police department made an arrest within an hour. The guy confessed immediately. "

  Reacher nodded. "He was a handyman. He killed her with his hammer. "

  For the first time in thirty minutes, her eyes left the road. She stared at him. "You can't possibly know that. It hasn't been in the paper here. "

  "Educated guess. The cloth over her face means she knew him and he knew her, and he was ashamed to leave her uncovered. Probably made him feel remorseful, maybe like she was watching him from beyond the grave or something. That kind of semifunctional thinking is indicative of a low IQ. The lack of forced entry and the lack of disruption to the house both mean he was familiar with the place. He'd been there many times before. Easy enough to figure. "

  "Why easy?"

  "Because what kind of a guy with a low IQ has been visiting with a smart and pretty girl many times before? Got to be a gardener or a handyman. Probably not a gardener, because they work outside and they tend to come at least in pairs. So I figured a handyman, probably tormented by how young and cute she was. One day he can't stand it anymore, he makes some kind of a clumsy advance, she's embarrassed by it, she rejects it, maybe even laughs at it, he freaks out and rapes her and kills her. He's a handyman, got his tools with him, he's accustomed to using them, he'd use a hammer for a thing like that. "

  Lamarr was silent. Reddening again, under the pallor.

  "And you call that profiling?" Reacher asked. "It's just common sense. "

  "That was a very simple case," she said quietly.

  He laughed. "You guys get paid for this? You study it in college and all?"

  They entered New Jersey. The blacktop improved and the shoulder plantings got tidier, like they always do. Every state puts a lot of effort into the first mile of its highways, to make you feel you're entering a better place from a worse one. Reacher wondered why they didn't put the effort into the last mile instead. That way, you'd miss the place you were leaving.

  "We need to talk," Lamarr said.

  "So talk. Tell me about college. "

  "We're not going to talk about college. "

  "Why not? Tell me about Profiling 101. You pass?"

  "We need to discuss the cases. "

  He smiled. "You did go to college, right?"

  She nodded. " Indiana State. "

  "Psychology major?"

  She shook her head.

  "So what was it? Criminology?"

  "Landscape gardening, if you must know. My professional training is from the FBI Academy at Quantico. "

  "Landscape gardening? No wonder the Bureau snapped you up in a big hurry. "

  "It was relevant. It teaches you to see the big picture, and to be patient. "

  "And how to grow things. That could be useful, killing time while your bullshit profiles are getting you nowhere. "

  She was silent again.

  "So are there many irrational phobic landscape gardeners at Quantico? Any bonsai enthusiasts scared of spiders? Orchid growers who won't step on the cracks in the sidewalk?"

  Her pallor was whitening. "I hope you're real
proud of yourself, Reacher, making jokes while women are dying. "

  He went quiet and looked out of the window. She was driving fast. The road was wet and there were gray clouds ahead. They were chasing a rainstorm south.

  "So tell me about the cases," he said.

  She gripped the wheel and used the leverage to adjust her position in the seat.

  "You know the victim group," she said. "Very specific, right?"

  He nodded. "Apparently. "

  "Locations are obviously random. He's chasing particular victims, and he goes where he has to. Crime scenes have all been the victim's residence, so far. Residences have been basically various. Single-family housing in all cases, but varying degrees of isolation. "

  "Nice places, though. "

  She glanced at him. He smiled. "The Army paid them all off, right? When they quit? Scandal avoidance, they call it. A big chunk of money like that, a chance to settle down after a few footloose years, they probably bought nice houses. "

  She nodded as she drove. "Yes, and all in neighborhoods, so far. "

  "Makes sense," he said. "They want community. What about husbands and families?"

  "Callan was separated, no kids. Cooke had boy-friends, no kids. Stanley was a loner, no attachments. "

  "You look at Callan's husband?"

  "Obviously. Any homicide, first thing we do is look at family. Any married woman, we look at the husband. But he was alibied, nothing suspicious. And then with Cooke, the pattern became clear. So we knew it wasn't a husband or a boyfriend. "

  "No, I guess it wasn't. "

  "First problem is how he gets in. No forced entry. He just walks in the door. "

  "You think there was surveillance first?"

  She shrugged. "Three victims is not a large number, so I'm wary of drawing conclusions. But yes, I think he must have been watching them. He needed them to be alone. He's efficient and organized. I don't think he would have left anything to chance. But don't overestimate the surveillance. It would be pretty obvious pretty quickly that they were alone during the day. "

  "Any evidence of a stakeout? Cigarette butts and soda cans piled up under a nearby tree?"

  She shook her head. "This guy is leaving no evidence of anything. "

  "Neighbors see anything?"

  "Not so far. "

  "And all three were done during the day?"

  "Different times, but all during daylight hours. "

  "None of the women worked?"

  "Like you don't. Very few of you ex-Army people seem to work. It's a snippet I'm going to file away. "

  He nodded and glanced at the weather. The roadway was streaming. The rain was a mile ahead.

  "Why don't you people work?" she asked.

  "Us people?" he repeated. "In my case because I can't find anything I want to do. I thought about landscape gardening, but I wanted a challenge, not something that would take me a second and a half to master. "

  She went silent again and the car hissed into a wall of rain. She set the wipers going and switched on the headlights and backed off the speed a little.

  "Are you going to insult me all the time?" she asked.

  "Making a little fun of you is a pretty small insult compared to how you're threatening my girlfriend. And how you're so ready and willing to believe I'm the type of guy could kill two women. "

  "So was that a yes or a no?"

  "It was a maybe. I guess an apology from you would help turn it into a no. "

  "An apology? Forget about it, Reacher. I stand by my profile. If it wasn't you, it was some scumbag just like you. "

  The sky was turning black and the rain was intense. Up ahead, brake lights were shining red through the deluge on the windshield. The traffic was slowing to a crawl. Lamarr sat forward and braked sharply.

  "Shit," she said.

  Reacher smiled. "Fun, right? And right now your risk of death or injury is ten thousand times higher than flying, conditions like these. "

  She made no reply. She was watching her mirror, anxious the people behind her should slow down as smartly as she had. Ahead, the brake lights made a red chain as far as the eye could see. Reacher found the electric switch on the side of his seat and racked it back. He stretched out and got comfortable.

  "I'm going to take a nap," he said. "Wake me up when we get someplace. "

  "We're not through talking," Lamarr said. "We have a deal, remember? Think about Petrosian. I wonder what he's doing right now. "

  Reacher glanced to his left, looking across her and out her window. Manhattan lay in that direction, but he could barely see the far shoulder of the highway.

  "OK, we'll keep on talking," he said.

  She was concentrating, riding the brake, crawling forward into the deluge.

  "Where were we?" she said.

  "He's staked them out sufficient to know they're alone, it's daylight, somehow he walks right in. Then what?"

  "Then he kills them. "

  "In the house?"

  "We think so. "

  "You think so? Can't you tell?"

  "There's a lot we can't tell, unfortunately. "

  "Well, that's wonderful. "

  "He leaves no evidence," she said. "It's a hell of a problem. "

  He nodded. "So describe the scenes for me. Start with the plantings in their front yards. "

  "Why? You think that's important?"

  He laughed. "No, I just thought you'd feel better telling me something you did know a little about. "

  "You son of a bitch. "

  The car was crawling forward. The wipers beat slowly across the glass, back and forth, back and forth. There were flashing red and blue lights up ahead.

  "Accident," he said.

  "He leaves no evidence," she said again. "Absolutely nothing. No trace evidence, no fibers, no blood, no saliva, no hair, no prints, no DNA, no nothing. "

  Reacher locked his arms behind his head and yawned. "That's pretty hard to do. "

  Lamarr nodded, eyes fixed on the windshield. "It sure is. We've got lab tests now like you wouldn't believe, and he's beating all of them. "

  "How would a person do that?"

  "We don't really know. How long have you been in this car?"

  He shrugged. "Feels like most of my life. "

  "It's been about an hour. By now, your prints are all over everything, the door handles, the dash, the seat-belt buckle, the seat switch. There could be a dozen of your hairs on the headrest. A ton of fiber from your pants and your jacket all over the seat. Dirt from your backyard coming off your shoes onto the carpet. Maybe old fibers from your rugs at home. "

  He nodded. "And I'm just sitting here. "

  "Exactly. The violence associated with homicide, all that stuff would be spraying all over the place, plus blood maybe, saliva too. "

  "So maybe he's not killing them in the house. "

  "He leaves the bodies in there. "

  "So at least he'd have to drag them back inside. "

  She nodded. "We know for sure he spends time in the house. There's proof of that. "

  "Where does he leave the bodies?"

  "In the bathroom. In the tub. "

  The Buick inched past the accident. An old station wagon was crumpled nose-first into the back of a sport-utility exactly like Reacher's own. The station wagon's windshield had two head-shaped holes broken through it. The front doors had been crowbarred open. An ambulance was waiting to U-turn through the divider. Reacher turned his head and stared at the sport-utility. It wasn't his. Not that he thought it could be. Jodie wouldn't be driving anywhere. Not if she had any sense.

  "In the tub?" he repeated.

  Lamarr nodded at the wheel. "In the tub. "

  "All three of them?" he asked.

  Lamarr nodded again. "All three of them. "

  "Like a signature?"

  "Right," she said.

  "How does he know they've all got tubs?"
/>
  "You live in a house, you've got a tub. "

  "How does he know they all live in houses? He's not selecting them on the basis of where they live. It's random, right? They could live anyplace. Like I live in motels. And some of them just have showers. "

  She glanced across at him. "You don't live in motels. You live in a house in Garrison. "

  He glanced down, like he had forgotten.

  "Well, now I do, I guess," he said. "But I was on the road, before. How does he know these women weren't?"

  "That's a catch- 22," she said. "If they were homeless, they wouldn't be on his list. I mean, to be on his list, they need to live somewhere, so he can find them. "

  "But how does he know they all have tubs?"

  She shrugged. "You live somewhere, you've got a tub. Takes a pretty small studio to have just a shower stall. "

  Reacher nodded. This was not his area of expertise. Real estate was pretty much foreign terrain to him. "OK, they're in the tub. "

  "Naked. And their clothes are missing. "

  She was clear of the crash site and was accelerating into the rain. She put the windshield wipers on high.

  "He takes their clothes with him?" he asked. "Why?"

  "Probably as a trophy. Taking trophies is a very common phenomenon in serial crimes like these. Maybe it's symbolic. Maybe he thinks they should still be in uniform, so he robs them of their civilian gear. As well as their lives. "

  "He take anything else?"

  She shook her head. "Not as far as we can tell. There was nothing obviously removed. No big spaces anywhere. Cash and cards were all still where they should be. "

  "So he takes their clothes and leaves nothing behind. "

  She was quiet for a beat.

  "He does leave something behind," she said. "He leaves paint. "

  "Paint?"

  "Army camouflage green. Gallons of it. "

  "Where?"

  "In the tub. He puts the body in there, naked, and then he fills the tub with paint. "

  Reacher stared past the beating wipers into the rain. "He drowns them? In paint?"

  She shook her head again. "He doesn't drown them. They're already dead. He just covers them with paint afterward. "

  "How? Like he paints them all over?"

  She was gunning it hard, making up for lost time. "No, he doesn't paint them. He just fills the tub with the paint, right up to the rim. Obviously it covers the bodies. "

  "So they're floating in a tub full of green paint?"

  She nodded. "That's how they were all found. "

  He fell silent. He turned away and stared through his window and stayed silent for a long time. To the west, the weather was clearer. It was brighter. The car was moving fast. Rain hissed under the tires and beat on the underbody. He stared blankly at the brightness in the west and watched the endless road reel in and realized he was happy. He was heading somewhere. He was on the move. His blood was stirring like an animal at the end of winter. The old hobo demon was talking to him, quietly, whispering in his head. You're happy now, it was saying. You're happy, aren't you? You even forgot for a moment you're stuck in Garrison, didn't you?

  "You OK?" Lamarr asked.

  He turned toward her and tried to fill his mind with her face, the white pallor, the thin hair, the sneering teeth.

  "Tell me about the paint," he said quietly.

  She looked at him, oddly.

  "It's Army camouflage basecoat," she said. "Flat green. Manufactured in Illinois by the hundred thousand gallons. Produced sometime within the last eleven years, because it's new process. Beyond that, we can't trace it. "

  He nodded, vaguely. He had never used it, but he had seen a million square yards of stuff daubed with it.

  "It's messy," he said.

  "But the crime scenes are immaculate. He doesn't spill a drop anywhere. "

  "The women were already dead," he said. "Nobody was fighting. No reason to spill any. But it means he must carry it into the house. How much does it take to fill a tub?"

  "Somewhere between twenty and thirty gallons. "

  "That's a lot of paint. It must mean a hell of a lot to him. You figured out any significance to it?"

  She shrugged. "Not really, not beyond the obvious military significance. Maybe removing the civilian clothes and covering the body with Army paint is some kind of reclamation, you know, putting them back where he thinks they belong, in the military, where they should have stayed. It traps them, you see. Couple of hours, the surface is skinning over. It goes hard, and the stuff underneath jellifies. Leave it long enough, I guess the whole tub might dry solid, with them inside. Like people put their baby's shoe in a Perspex cube?"

  Reacher stared ahead through the windshield. The horizon was bright. They were leaving the weather behind. On his right, Pennsylvania looked green and sunny.

  "The paint is a hell of a thing," he said. "Twenty or thirty gallons? That's a major load to haul around. It implies a big vehicle. A lot of exposure obtaining it. Exposure just carrying it into the house. Very visible. Nobody saw anything?"

  "We canvassed, door to door. Nobody reported anything. "

  He nodded, slowly. "The paint is the key. Where's he getting it from?"

  "We have no idea. The Army is not being especially helpful. "

  "I'm not surprised. The Army hates you. And it's embarrassing. Makes it likely it's a serving soldier. Who else could get that much camouflage paint?"

  She made no reply. She just drove, south. The rain was gone and the wipers were squealing over dry glass. She switched them off with a small definite movement of her wrist. He fell to thinking about a soldier somewhere, loading cans of paint. Ninety-one women on his list, some skewed mental process reserving twenty or thirty gallons for each one of them. A potential total of two, two and a half thousand gallons. Tons of it. Truckloads of it. Maybe he was a quartermaster.

  "How is he killing them?" he asked.

  She slid her hands to a firmer grip on the wheel. Swallowed hard and kept her eyes on the road.

  "We don't know," she said.

  "You don't know?" he repeated.

  She shook her head. "They're just dead. We can't figure out how. "

 
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