Make me, p.8
Part #20 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
Chang nodded, keen to move on. She dialed, and held the phone to her ear.
This time the call was answered.
She said, a little surprised, “Good afternoon, sir. May I know who I’m speaking with?”
Which question must have been answered in the obvious manner, the same way Reacher had, with a previous inquiry: Who’s asking?
She said, “My name is Michelle Chang. I’m a private inquiry agent, based in Seattle. Previously I was with the FBI. Now I work with a man named Keever. I think he might have called you. Your number was found in his motel room.”
Reacher had no idea what was asked next, all the way out there in Los Angeles, but he pretty soon realized it must have been an inquiry as to how to spell Keever, because Chang said, “K-e-e-v-e-r.”
A long pause, and then a reply, almost certainly negative, because Chang said, “Can you be certain of that?”
And then there was a long conversation, mostly one-sided, definitely biased toward the LA guy doing all the talking, which Reacher couldn’t hear, and Chang’s facial expressions could have launched a thousand competing scenarios, so he got no real guidance from her. He had a sense the guy worked hard on one thing after another, episodically. And in great detail. Maybe he was an actor. Or a movie person. The context was unclear. In the end Reacher gave up trying to construct a plausible narrative, and just waited.
Eventually Chang said goodbye and clicked off the call, and took a breath, and a sip of iced coffee, and said, “His name is Westwood. He’s a journalist with the LA Times. Their science editor, in fact. Not that it’s a giant department, he says. Generally he writes in-depth features for their Sunday magazine. He says Keever never called him. His habit is to make a brief contemporaneous note of all incoming calls, straight into a secure database, because that’s the kind of thing journalists have to do these days, he says, in case their newspapers get sued. Or in case they want to sue their newspapers. But Keever isn’t in his database. Therefore he didn’t call.”
“This guy Westwood definitely isn’t the client, right?”
Chang shook her head. “He would have said so. I told him I was Keever’s partner.”
“When we found it you said the number would be either the client, or a source of independent corroboration, or a source of further information. So if it isn’t the client, it’s one of the other two. Maybe Keever planned to call him next. After calling you. Or maybe that was your role. Liaison, with Westwood. About whatever.”
“We have to face the likelihood that number was nothing to do with Keever. That note could have been in that room for months.”
“What is Westwood working on now?”
“A long piece about the origin of wheat. About how early wheat was cross-bred and became modern wheat. Sounds like a puff piece to me. As in, we already genetically modified it, so let’s go right ahead and do it some more.”
“Is that significant? As in, we’ve just seen a lot of wheat.”
“Enough to last a lifetime. But I’m voting with the defense attorneys. That note could have been in that room for a year. Or two. Any one of fifty guests could have dropped it. Or a hundred.”
Reacher said, “How private would Westwood’s number be?”
“Depends how recently he changed it. If it’s old, it’s out there. That’s how it is these days. Particularly for journalists. It’s on the internet somewhere, if you look hard enough. Which a lot of journalists like, in our experience. It gives them a network.”
Reacher drained his coffee, and said nothing.
Chang said, “What are you thinking?”
“I’m thinking the defense attorneys would win their case. But a couple of jury members wouldn’t sleep easy. Because there’s an alternative story to be told, and just as convincing, they’re going to think, at four o’clock in the morning. It starts with your own first impression, some squirrelly guy with cash or handwritten checks, on a lunatic quest, because the wheat is going to kill two hundred people. Or something. And to prove it, talk to this journalist, who knows too. And crucially, here’s his number. Which proves something to us, about the guy. He digs up the number from the internet. He’s that kind of a guy. That note feels connected to me. The whole thing feels consistent. It’s some weird lone-guy obsession that carries no possible threat, until suddenly it does.”
Chang said, “We should get back on the road.”
The little green Ford had GPS in the dash and it found Keever’s house with no problem at all, in a faded suburban development north of Oklahoma City proper. It was a one-story ranch on a dead-end street. There was a young tree in the front yard, doing badly from lack of water. There was a driveway on the right side of the lot, ahead of a single-car garage. The roof was brown asphalt tile, and the siding was yellow vinyl. Not an architectural masterpiece, but the late sun made it pleasant, in its own way. It looked like a home. Reacher could imagine a big guy going in the door, kicking off his shoes, dumping himself down in a worn armchair, maybe turning on the ball game.
Chang parked in the driveway. They got out together and walked to the door. There was a bell button and a brass knocker, and they tried both, but they got no response from either. The door was locked. The handle wouldn’t turn at all. The view in the windows showed a dark interior.
Reacher asked, “Does he have family?”
“Divorced,” Chang said. “Like so many.”
“And not the type of guy who leaves a key under a flower pot.”
“And I’m sure he has a burglar alarm.”
“We drove a long way.”
“I know,” Chang said. “Let’s look around the back. With weather like this, maybe he left a window open. A crack, at least.”
The street was quiet. Just seven similar houses, three on a side, plus one at the dead end. No moving vehicles, no pedestrians. No eyes, no interest. Not really a Neighborhood Watch kind of place. It had a transient feel, but in slow motion, as if all seven houses were occupied by divorced guys taking a year or two to get back on their feet.
Keever’s back yard was fenced to head height with boards gone gray from the weather. There was a patch of lawn, nicely kept, and a patio with a wicker chair. The back wall of the house had the same yellow siding. There were four windows and a door. All the windows were shut. The door was solid at the bottom, and had nine little windows at the top. Like a farmhouse thing. It led to a narrow mud room ahead of a kitchen.
The land was flat, the houses were low, and the fence was high. They were not overlooked.
Chang said, “I’m trying to figure out the average police response time in a neighborhood like this. If he has a burglar alarm, I mean.”
Reacher said, “Somewhere between twenty minutes and never, probably.”
“So we could give ourselves ten minutes. Couldn’t we? In and out, fast and focused. I mean, it’s not really a crime, even. He and I work together. He wouldn’t press charges. Especially not under these circumstances.”
“We don’t know what we’re looking for.”
“Loose papers, legal pads, notebooks, scratch pads, anywhere he could have scribbled a note. Grab it all and we’ll go through it when we’re out of here.”
“OK,” Reacher said. “We’ll have to break a window.”
“I like the door. The little Georgian pane nearest the knob. That way we can walk in.”
“Go for it,” Chang said.
The pane was the bottom left of the nine, a little low for Reacher’s elbow, but feasible, if he squatted and jabbed. Then it would be a case of knocking out the surviving shards of glass, and threading his arm in up to the shoulder, and then bending his elbow and bringing his hand back toward the inside knob. He jiggled the outside knob, to test the weight of the mechanism, to figure out how much grip he would need.
The door was open.
It swung neatly inward, over a welcome mat in the mud room. There was an alarm contact on the jamb. A little
There was no sound.
Chang said, “This can’t be right.”
Reacher put his hand in his pocket and closed it around the Smith and Wesson. Self-cocking, and no manual safety. Good to go. Point and shoot. He stepped through the mud room to the kitchen. Which was empty. Nothing out of place. No signs of violence. He moved on to a hallway. The front door was dead ahead. The sun had dropped lower. The house was full of golden light.
And still air, and silence.
Behind him he felt Chang move left, so he moved right, into a corridor with four doors, which were a master suite, and a hall bath, and a guest bedroom with beds in it, and a guest bedroom with an office in it, all of them empty, with nothing out of place, and no signs of violence.
He met Chang in the hallway, near the front door. She shook her head. She said, “It’s like he stepped out to pick up a pizza. He didn’t even lock the door.”
The alarm panel was on the wall. It was a recent installation. It was showing the time of day and a steady green light.
It was disarmed.
Reacher said, “Let’s get what we came for.”
He led the way back to the smallest bedroom, which was all kitted out with matching units, shelves above, cabinets below, and chests of drawers, and a desk, all in blond maple veneer, and a computer and a telephone and a fax machine and a printer. Investments, Reacher supposed, for a new career. We have offices everywhere. The Scandinavian look was calming. The room was tidy. There was no clutter.
There was no paper.
No legal pads, no notebooks, no scratch pads, no memo blocks, no loose leaves.
Reacher stood still.
He said, “This guy was a cop and a federal agent. He spent hours on the phone. On hold, and waiting, and talking. Did anyone ever do that without a pen and a pad of paper? For notes and doodling and passing the time? That’s an unbreakable habit, surely.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean this is bullshit.” He ducked away, to the cabinets below the shelves. He opened one after the other. The first held spare toner cartridges for the printer. The second held spare toner cartridges for the fax machine.
The third held spare legal pads.
And right next to them were spare spiral-bound notebooks, still shrink-wrapped in packs of five, and right behind them were spare memo blocks, solid cubes of crisp virgin paper, three and a half inches on a side.
“I’m sorry,” Reacher said.
“This doesn’t look too good anymore. This is a guy who uses a lot of paper. So much so he buys it in the economy size. I bet that desk was covered with paper. We could have pieced this whole thing together. But someone got here ahead of us. On the same mission. So now it’s all gone.”
“The how tells us who, I’m afraid. Keever is a prisoner. That’s the only way this thing can work. They found notes in his jacket pocket, maybe torn out from a legal pad, and in one pants pocket they found his wallet, with his driver’s license, which told them his address, which they assumed was where the rest of the legal pad was, maybe with more notes on it, and in the other pants pocket they found his house keys, which meant they could walk right in, even to the extent of these new alarms maybe having a thing you wave near the panel, to turn it off. A remote fob, on the keychain. A transponder. Which would be a mercy, I guess. It would mean they didn’t have to beat the code out of him.”
Chang said, “That’s very blunt.”
“I can’t explain it any other way.”
“It doesn’t tell me who.”
“Mother’s Rest,” Reacher said. “That’s his last known location.”
They went through Keever’s house room by room, in case something had been missed. The mud room held nothing of interest. The kitchen was a plain space, not much used. There was mismatched silverware, and odds and ends of canned food, presumably bought with temporary enthusiasm, but never eaten. There was nothing hidden, unless it had been walled up and artfully painted over with a finish exactly resembling twenty-year-old latex base coat, complete with grease and grime.
The living room and the dining nook were the same. Searching was easy. The guy wasn’t exactly camping out, but it was clear he had started over without much stuff, and hadn’t added a great deal along the way. The guest room with beds looked like it had been set up for his children. Visitation rights. Every other weekend, maybe. Whatever the lawyers had agreed. But Reacher felt the room had never been used.
The master suite smelled slightly sour. There was a bed with a single night table. There was a chest of drawers and a wooden apparatus that had a hanger for a jacket, and trays for watches and coins and wallets. Like in a fancy hotel. The bathroom smelled humid, and the towels were a mess.
The night table had a short stack of magazines, weighted down by a hardcover book. As he passed by, Reacher glanced down to see what it was. Purely out of interest.
He saw three things.
First, the magazine on the top of the pile was the Sunday supplement from the LA Times.
Second, it was only part consumed. There was a quarter-inch of bookmark visible.
Third, the hardcover book was also only part consumed. It had a bookmark, too.
The bookmarks were old slips of memo paper, folded once, lengthwise. They were the first paper Reacher had seen, anywhere in the house.
The slip of paper in the hardcover book was blank, except for a single scribbled number 4. Which was a number of moderate technical interest, and most famous for being the only number in the entire universe that matched the number of letters in its own word in English: four. But other than that, it didn’t seem to mean much. Not in context.
Chang said, “I’m with the defense attorneys on that one.”
Reacher nodded. But the next one was better. Much better. Purely in terms of function, at first. The LA Times Sunday magazine came open at the start of a long article by science editor Ashley Westwood. It was about how modern advances in treating traumatic brain injuries were giving us a better understanding of the brain itself.
The magazine was less than two weeks old.
Chang said, “The defense attorneys would start by quoting the LA Times’s Sunday circulation.”
Reacher said, “Which is what?”
“Nearly a million, I think.”
“As in, it’s a million-to-one chance this is not a coincidence?”
“That’s what the defense attorneys would say.”
“What would an FBI agent say?”
“We were taught to think ahead. To what the defense attorneys would say.”
Reacher unfolded the bookmark. It was blank on one side.
It wasn’t blank on the other side.
The other side had two lines of handwriting.
At the top was the same 323 telephone number. Science editor Westwood himself, in Los Angeles, California.
At the bottom was written: Mother’s Rest—Maloney.
Reacher asked, “Now what would an FBI agent say?”
Chang said, “Now she would tell the defense attorneys to bite her. Keever is due to call Westwood for corroboration of or information about something to do with the town we were just in. I think that’s clear. Plus now we have a name. There could be people up there named Maloney. After all, we just met the Moynahans.”
“But why was the bookmark at the front of the article?”
“He hasn’t read it yet.”
“Which is why he hasn’t called Westwood yet. Let’s keep an open mind about the client. Let’s just call him passionate. A guy like that, he’s on the phone all the time. He’s telling the same story, to whoever will listen. Mother’s Rest, two hundred deaths, if you don’t believe me call this reporter in LA, and he gives out the
“From time to time.”
“But there’s some little thing in what the guy is saying that sets Keever thinking. But he’s still skeptical, so he tries a little test. And this is Oklahoma City, right? He’s likely got to go all the way to the train station to get newspapers from other cities. But he does. He gets the LA Times one Sunday. He wants to see if this expert witness has any kind of credibility. Is he a serious writer, or is he something from a supermarket paper? Keever wants to decide for himself. How long ago was wheat first grown?”
“Depends where,” Chang said. “Thousands of years, anyway.”
“So it turns out Westwood is probably pretty good. He’s done the brain, and now he’s going back thousands of years. This is a smart guy.
Make Me by Lee Child / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 4.1 out of 5 / Based on41 votes