Make me, p.7
Part #20 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
either guy the pale flash of a concerned face in the rear window. So he hunched down a little and moved sideways until he could see the image in Chang’s door mirror. A pick-up truck, about a hundred yards back. A Ford, he thought. A serious machine, big and obvious, keeping pace. It was dull red, like the general store. There were two guys in it, side by side, but far from each other, because of the vehicle’s extravagant width.
Reacher sat up again and looked through the windshield. Wheat to the right, wheat to the left, and the road running dead straight ahead until it fell below the far horizon. The shoulders were graveled for drainage, but there were no ditches. No turns, either. The fields were endless. Almost literally. Maybe the same field ran all the way to the highway ramp. Two hundred miles. It looked possible.
There were no other cars in sight.
He said, “Did you train for this stuff at Quantico?”
She said, “To a certain extent. But a long time ago. And in a different environment. Mostly urban. With traffic lights and four-way stops and one-way streets. We don’t have many options here. Did you train for it?”
“No, I was never any good at driving.”
“Should we let them make the first move?”
“First we need to figure out what they’ve been told to do. If it’s surveillance only, we can lead them all the way to Oklahoma City and lose them there. The only fights you truly win are the ones you don’t have.”
“What if it’s not surveillance only?”
“Then they’ll do it like the movies. They’ll bump us from behind.”
“To scare us? Or worse than that?”
“That would be a very big step for them to take.”
“They’ll make it look like an accident. Tourist lady fell asleep on the long straight road and crashed. I’m sure it happens all the time.”
Reacher said nothing.
“We can’t outrun them,” Chang said. “Not in this thing.”
“So let them get close and then switch to the other lane and hit the brakes. Send them on ahead.”
“Don’t ask me,” Reacher said. “I failed defensive driving. I lasted less than a day. They made me go qualify on something else. When they get big in the mirror, I guess.”
Chang drove on. Two-handed now. One minute. Two. She said, “I want to see their moves. We need to force their hand.”
“They’re the home team. We need to shake them up.”
“OK. Speed up a bit.”
She hit the gas and he turned around and stared out the back window. The pale flash of a concerned face. He said, “Faster.”
The little green Ford jumped ahead, almost two hundred yards, and then the pick-up reacted, and its grille rose up, and it came charging closer. Chang said, “Give me a real-time distance countdown. I can’t judge in the mirrors.”
“They’re at eighty yards now,” Reacher said. “Which gives us about eight seconds.”
“Less, because I’m going to slow down. This thing might tip over.”
“OK, I’m clear ahead.”
“And behind. It’s just the two of us on the road. Forty yards.”
“I’m slowing some more. We can’t do this over sixty.”
“I’m going to do it at ten yards.”
“OK, now, do it now.”
And she did. She swerved left and braked hard and the pick-up came within an inch of clipping her right back corner, but it missed, and it sped on ahead, braking hard but much later. Meanwhile the little green Ford did a lot of side-to-side rocking and tipping, but soon enough it was stopped dead, safe, back in the correct lane, a hundred yards behind the pick-up truck, their relative positions completely inverted after a noisy few seconds.
Chang said, “Of course, this begs the fairly obvious question, what now? We turn around, they turn around. And then they’re chasing us all over again.”
“Drive straight at them,” Reacher said.
“That’s always an option.”
But the pick-up moved first. It turned around in the road and came back toward them, but very slowly, just creeping along, barely more than idle speed. Which Reacher took as a message. Like a white flag.
“They want to talk,” he said. “They want to do this face to face.”
The truck stopped ten yards ahead and both doors opened. Two men climbed out. Sturdy individuals, both about six feet and two hundred pounds, both somewhere in their middle thirties, both with mirrored sunglasses, both with thin cotton jackets over T-shirts. They looked cautious but confident. Like they knew what they were doing. Like they were the home team.
Chang said, “They must be armed. They wouldn’t be doing it this way otherwise.”
“Possible,” Reacher said.
The two men took up position in the middle of the no-man’s-land between the two vehicles. One was on the left of the center line, and one was on the right. They stood easy, just waiting, hands by their sides.
Reacher said, “Run them over.”
“I can’t do that.”
“OK, I guess I’ll go see what they want. Any problems, take off for Oklahoma City without me, and best of luck.”
“No, don’t get out. It’s too dangerous.”
“For me or for them? They’re just a couple of country boys.”
“We should assume they have guns.”
“But only temporarily.”
“Maybe,” Reacher said. “But never forget it was Uncle Sam who made me this way. I passed every other course, except driving.”
He opened his door, and stepped out.
The little green Ford had regular front-hinged doors, like most cars, and the doors had a restraint about two-thirds of the way through their travel, so stepping out meant stepping back too, which improved Reacher’s angle. It put the engine block between him and the two guys. If they drew down immediately and started shooting from the get-go, he could hit the deck behind a bulletproof shield. If they had guns. Which was not proven. Except even if they did, he couldn’t imagine why they would start shooting from the get-go. Which was gone anyway. They could have fired through the windshield. That was the real get-go. Unless they wanted to preserve the car for a convincing accident. It would be hard to explain bullet holes in the glass, if the tourist lady had merely fallen asleep at the wheel. In which case how would they explain bullet holes in the dead passenger? And they would have to get his body back in the car. Which wouldn’t be easy. He would be a lot of dead weight.
He figured they weren’t going to shoot.
If they had guns.
He said, “Guys, you’ve got thirty seconds, so go ahead and state your case.”
The guy on the right folded his arms high across his chest, like a bouncer at a nightclub door. A show of support, Reacher figured, for the other guy, who was presumably the spokesperson.
The other guy said, “It’s about the motel.”
His hands were still by his sides.
Reacher said, “What about it?”
“That’s our uncle who runs it. He’s a poor old handicapped man, and you’re giving him a hard time. You’re breaking all kinds of laws.”
His hands were still by his sides. Reacher stepped out from behind the door and moved up next to the Ford’s right-hand headlight. He could feel the heat from the engine. He said, “What laws am I breaking?”
“You’re in another guest’s room.”
“Who isn’t using it right now.”
His hands were still by his sides. Reacher took a step, and another, until he was level with the Ford’s left-hand headlight, but much further forward, on a diagonal. Which put him ten feet from the two guys, in a narrow triangle in no-man’s-land, the guy with the folded arms on one corner, and the spokesperson on another, and
The guy on the left said, “So we’re here to collect the key.”
Reacher took another step. Now he was seven feet away. Now they were in an intimate little cluster. No other cars in sight. The wheat moved slowly, in waves, like an immense golden sea.
Reacher said, “I’ll return the key when I check out.”
The guy on the left said, “You’re already checked out. As of right now. And you won’t get a room if you come back again. Management reserves the right to refuse admission.”
Reacher said nothing.
The guy on the left said, “And there’s nowhere else in Mother’s Rest. My uncle’s place is the only game in town. You getting the message?”
Reacher said, “Why is it called Mother’s Rest?”
“I don’t know.”
“Where is the message coming from? Purely your uncle, or the other thing?”
“What other thing?”
“Something I heard about.”
“There is no other thing.”
“Good to know,” Reacher said. “Tell your uncle no laws have been broken. Tell him he’s been paid for the room. Tell him I’ll see him later.”
The guy on the right uncrossed his arms.
The guy on the left said, “Are you going to be a problem?”
“I’m already a problem,” Reacher said. “The question is, what are you going to do about it?”
There was a pause, hot and lonely in the middle of nowhere, and then the two guys answered by brushing aside their coats, in tandem, casually, right-handed, both thereby showing black semi-automatic pistols, in pancake holsters, mounted on their belts.
Which was a mistake, and Reacher could have told them why. He could have launched into a long and impatient classroom lecture, about sealing their fates by forcing a decisive battle too early, about short-circuiting a grander strategy by moving the endgame to the beginning. Threats had to be answered, which meant he was going to have to take their guns away, because probing pawns had to be sent back beaten, and because folks in Mother’s Rest needed to know for sure the next time he came to town he would be armed. He wanted to tell them it was their own fault. He wanted to tell them they had brought it on themselves.
But he didn’t tell them anything. Instead he ducked his own hand under his own coat, grabbing at nothing but air, but the two guys didn’t know that, and like the good range-trained shooters they were they went for their guns and dropped into solid shooting stances all at once, which braced their feet a yard apart for stability, so Reacher stepped in and kicked the left-hand guy full in the groin, before the guy’s gun was even halfway out of its holster, which meant the right-hand guy had time to get his all the way out, but to no avail, because the next event in his life was the arrival of Reacher’s elbow, scything backhand against his cheekbone, shattering it and causing a general lights-out everywhere.
Reacher stepped back, and then he checked on the first guy, who was preoccupied, like most guys he had kicked in the groin. The guns were Smith and Wesson Sigma .40s, which were modern part-polymer weapons, and expensive. They were both fully loaded. Both guys had wallets in their hip pockets, with about a hundred dollars between them, which Reacher took as spoils of war. Their driver’s licenses both showed the last name Moynahan, which meant they could indeed be brothers or cousins with an uncle in common. One had been christened John, and the other Steven.
Reacher carried the guns back to the little green Ford. Chang’s window was down. He put one gun in his pocket and passed the other to Chang. She took it, a little reluctantly. He asked, “Did you hear any of what they said?”
Chang said, “All of it.”
“They might have been telling the truth. The motel might have been their only beef. On the other hand, it might not.”
“I vote not,” Reacher said. “The room has been paid for. Why get so uptight?”
“You could have been killed.”
“Many times,” he said. “But all long ago. Not today. Not by these guys.”
“So now what?”
Reacher glanced back. The guy on the right was about to transition from unconscious to concussed. The guy on the left was squirming halfheartedly and pawing at everything between his ribcage and his knees.
Reacher said, “Shoot them if they move.”
He walked ten yards to their truck and climbed in. The glove compartment had registration and insurance in the name of Steven Moynahan. There was nothing else of interest in the cab. He got straightened up behind the wheel and put the truck in gear. He steered for the shoulder and parked straddling the gravel, with the left-hand wheels safely out of the traffic lane, and the right-hand wheels deep in the wheat, and the nose pointing back toward town. He shut it down and pulled the key.
He dragged the guys one by one into the shade ahead of the front bumper, and sat them up against the chrome. Both were awake by that point. He said, “Watch carefully, now,” and when he had their attention he took their key and balanced it on his palm and tossed it underhand into the field. Forty or fifty feet. It would take them an hour to find, even under the best of circumstances, even after they were operational again. Which might be a supplementary hour all by itself.
Then he walked back and got in the Ford, and Chang drove on. From time to time he turned around and checked the view. The parked truck stayed visible for a long time, dwindling to a tiny dull pinprick in the far distance, and then it fell below the northern horizon and was lost to sight.
It took nearly three more hours to get to the highway, and then the distance markers promised another two to Oklahoma City. The drive was uneventful, until a point about ninety minutes out, when all kinds of chiming and beeping started coming from the phone in Chang’s pocket. Voice mails and text messages and e-mails, all patiently stored and now downloading.
Cell service was back.
Chang drove one-handed and juggled her phone, but Reacher said, “We should pull off the road. Before the tourist lady gets in a wreck for real. We should get a cup of coffee.”
Chang said, “I don’t understand how you drink so much coffee.”
“Law of gravity,” Reacher said. “If you tip it up, it comes right out. You can’t help but drink it.”
“Your heart must be thumping all the time.”
“Better than the alternative.”
A mile later they saw a sign and took an exit that led to a standard linear array of pit-stop facilities, including a gas station, and bathrooms, and an old-fashioned plain stone building in a federal style somewhat disfigured by bright neon signs for modern chain store coffee and food. They parked and got out and stretched. It was the middle of the afternoon, and still warm. They used the bathrooms and met in the coffee shop. Reacher got his usual medium cup of hot black, and Chang got iced, with milk. They found a corner table, and Chang put her phone down. It was a thin touch-screen thing about the size of a paperback book. She swiped and dabbed and scrolled, first through the phone options, and then the text messages, and then the e-mail.
She said, “Nothing from Keever.”
“Try calling him again.”
“We both know he won’t answer.”
“Stranger things have happened. Once I had three police departments and the National Guard looking for a guy, and all of a sudden he showed up, fresh back from a vacation out of state.”
“We know Keever isn’t on vacation.”
“Try him anyway.”
Which she did, after a long reluctant pause, first on his home number, and then on his cell number.
There was no reply on either.
Reacher said, “Try the Los Angeles number again. From the piece of paper with the two hundred deaths.”
Make Me by Lee Child / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 4.1 out of 5 / Based on41 votes