Make me, p.9
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       Make Me, p.9
 

         Part #20 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child

  But Keever doesn’t know that yet. Because he hasn’t read the piece. Which suggests that whatever the client said was intriguing, but somehow not very urgent. Keever didn’t hop right to it.”

  “It feels plenty urgent now.”

  “Exactly. We need to know what changed.”

  It wasn’t a Neighborhood Watch kind of a place, but even so they saw no sense in lingering. They went out through the mud room and pulled the door behind them. They walked around to the driveway and got in the car.

  Reacher said, “We should talk to Westwood again.”

  “Keever didn’t call him yet,” Chang said. “He has nothing to tell us.”

  “Maybe someone else called him. He can tell us about that.”

  “Who else?”

  “We don’t know yet.”

  Chang didn’t answer. She took out her phone, and dialed it, and hit an extra button, and laid it on the armrest between the front seats.

  “It’s on speaker,” she said.

  Reacher heard the ring tone.

  He heard the call answered.

  “Hello?” Westwood said.

  Reacher said, “Sir, my name is Jack Reacher, and right now I’m working with my colleague Michelle Chang, who spoke to you not long ago.”

  “I remember. We agreed her other colleague never called me. Keever, was it? I thought we established that.”

  “Yes, we accept that. But now we have a pretty clear indication he was intending to call you at some point in the future. Maybe next on the list, or maybe somewhere down the line.”

  Westwood paused a faint distant beat, and said, “Where is this guy now?”

  Reacher said, “He’s missing.”

  “How? Where is he?”

  Reacher said nothing.

  Westwood said, “Dumb questions, I suppose.”

  “The how part could be crucial. The where part was fairly dumb. If we knew where he was, he wouldn’t be missing.”

  “You should look at the calls he already made, surely. Not the calls he was possibly going to make. At some point in the future.”

  “Our information is limited.”

  “To what?

  “We have to work this thing backward, Mr. Westwood. We think he was about to rely on you for some kind of expert insight or opinion. We need to know what kind of a thing you could have helped him with.”

  “I’m a journalist. I’m not an expert on anything.”

  “But you’re informed.”

  “Anyone who reads my stuff is as informed as I am.”

  “I think most readers imagine outtakes get left on the cutting room floor. They assume you know more than was printed. Maybe there was stuff you couldn’t print for legal reasons. And so on. And they assume you like this stuff anyway. And they respect your senior title.”

  “Possibly,” Westwood said. “But we’re talking about a conversation that never took place.”

  “No, we’re thinking about Keever’s client now. So far we’re picturing a passionate person with time on his hands. We have evidence that he called Keever repeatedly. We get the feeling he’s that type of guy. And clearly there’s an issue he feels strongly about. I said I bet he’s called everyone from the White House downward. And I bet he has. Hundreds of people. Including you. Why wouldn’t he? You’re the science editor of a big newspaper. Maybe you wrote something that had a bearing on his issue. I think maybe he found your number on the internet not to pass on to Keever, not originally, but to talk to you direct. I think he has some weird-ass scientific beef, and he thinks you would understand it. So I think maybe he called you. I think maybe you’ve spoken to him.”

  There was a short pause, thousands of miles away, and then Westwood’s voice came back, a little strangled, as if he was fighting a smile. He said, “I work for the LA Times. In Los Angeles. Which is in California. And my number can be found on the internet. All of which on balance is a good thing, but it means I get strange calls all the time. All day and all night. I’ve heard every weird-ass scientific beef there is. People call to talk about aliens and flying saucers and birth and suicide and radiation and mind control, and that’s only the last month alone.”

  “Do these calls go in the database?”

  “They’re most of the database. Ask any reporter.”

  “Can you search by subject?”

  “We get lazy about details. These guys ramble on. We use categories, mostly. This type of crank, that type of crank. Sooner or later I block their calls. When they outstay their welcome. I have to sleep sometimes.”

  “Try Mother’s Rest.”

  “What’s that?”

  “It’s the name of a town. Two words. Like your mom sitting down in a chair. Capital letters.”

  “Why is it called that?”

  “I don’t know,” Reacher said.

  They heard keyboard keys clicking, loud on the speakerphone. The database search, presumably. By subject.

  Westwood said, “Nothing there.”

  “You sure?”

  “It’s a fairly distinctive name.”

  Reacher said nothing.

  Westwood said, “Hey, I’m not saying your guy’s client didn’t call me. He probably did. We all know people like that. I’m saying, how would I know which one he was?”

  They drove out of Keever’s dead-end street, and out of his development, and past an outlet mall, to the highway entrance. Five hours to the right was Mother’s Rest, and ten minutes to the left was downtown Oklahoma City, with steakhouses and barbecue, and decent hotels.

  But Chang said, “No, we have to go back.”

  Chapter 18

  Instead of a steakhouse or a barbecue pit they ate in chilly fluorescent silence in a rest-stop facility run by a third-best national chain. Reacher got a cheeseburger in a paper wrapper and coffee in a foam cup. Chang got a salad, in a plastic container as big as a basketball, with a clear lid at the top, and a white bowl underneath. She was stressed and maybe a little tired from driving, but even so she was good company. She put her hair behind her shoulders and turned attacking her salad into a shared misadventure, with widened eyes and about six different kinds of half-smiles, ranging from rueful and self-effacing to amused anticipation, as Reacher picked up his burger and tried to take a bite.

  She said, “Thank you for your help so far.”

  He said, “You’re welcome.”

  “We need to think about a more durable arrangement.”

  “Do we?”

  “We shouldn’t start out working as a team if I’m going to finish up working alone.”

  He said, “You should call 911.”

  “It would be a missing persons report. That’s all, at this point. An independent adult, gone for two days, in a business where there’s a lot of short-notice travel. They wouldn’t do anything. We have no evidence to give them.”

  “His door.”

  “Undamaged. An unlocked door is evidence of homeowner negligence, not foul play.”

  “So you want to hire me? How does that work, with the low overhead thing?”

  “I just want you to tell me your intentions.”

  He said nothing.

  She said, “You could get a ride back to OC from here. There would be no hard feelings.”

  “I was heading over to Chicago. Before the weather gets cold.”

  “Same answer. Hitch back to OC and get the train. Same train you got before. Won’t get delayed again, I’m sure.”

  He said nothing. He had come to like her lace-up shoes. They were practical, but they looked good, too. Her jeans were soft and old, and they rode low on her hips. Her T-shirt was black, neither tight nor loose. Her eyes were on his.

  He said, “I’ll ride with you. But only if you want me to. This is your business, not mine.”

  “I feel bad asking.”

  “You’re not asking. I’m offering.”

  “I can’t pay you.”

  “I already have everything I need.”

  “Which is what exac
tly?”

  “A few bucks in my pocket, and four points on the compass.”

  “Because I would need to understand your reasons.”

  “For what?”

  “For helping me.”

  “I think people should always help each other.”

  “This could go above and beyond.”

  “I’m sure we’ve both seen worse.”

  She paused a beat.

  “Last chance,” she said.

  He said, “I’ll ride with you.”

  It was dark when they came off the highway. The county road ran onward through the vastness, visible only a headlight’s length ahead, and unrevealed beyond. The little Ford hummed along, bouncing now and then on eroded blacktop, pale wheat stalks strobing by on both sides. Overhead were thin clouds, and a new moon, and a dusting of distant stars.

  It was impossible to say when they passed the point where they had left the Moynahans. Every mile looked exactly the same as every other mile. But the dull red pick-up had gone. They saw it nowhere, not on the county road itself, or on the right-left-right-left local turns that led back through the fields to Mother’s Rest. Which they saw a mile away, faint and ghostly in the night, the elevators by far the tallest things in the landscape. They came in on the old trail, through the widest part of town, six low-rise blocks, and they turned on the plaza and drove down to the motel. The light was burning in the office window.

  Chang said, “Let the fun begin.”

  She parked in the slot under her room and shut down the engine. They paused a moment in the sudden silence, and then they climbed out. They put their hands on their captured guns in their pockets, and stood near the car, in the yellow nighttime half-light, from the glow of the electric bulbs in their bulkhead fixtures, one above every door, and all of them working.

  No movement. No sound.

  No Moynahans, no posse.

  Nothing.

  Then a hundred feet away the one-eyed guy came out of the office.

  He hustled over, the same way he had before, waving and gesturing, and when he arrived he fixed his imperfect gaze on the ground, and he took a breath.

  “I apologize,” he said. “A mistake was made. It led to a misunderstanding. Room 215 is yours to use, until the other gentleman gets back.”

  Chang said nothing.

  Reacher said, “Understood.”

  The one-eyed guy nodded, as if to seal the deal, and then he turned tail and hustled back. Chang watched him go, and said, “Could be a trap or an ambush.”

  “Could be,” Reacher said. “But I don’t think it is. He wouldn’t want fighting inside the actual room itself. The furniture would get busted up, and he would be patching bullet holes in the drywall all winter long.”

  “You saying they’ve surrendered?”

  “It’s a move in the game.”

  “What’s the next move?”

  “I don’t know.”

  “And when will it come?”

  “Tomorrow, probably,” Reacher said. He looked all around, all three sides of the horseshoe, downstairs and upstairs. There was a rim of light around the drapes in room 203. Where the man in the suit had stayed. It had a new occupant.

  “Not before dawn,” he said. “That would be my guess.”

  “Will you sleep OK?”

  “I expect so. Will you?”

  “If I don’t, I’ll bang on the wall.”

  They went up the metal stairs together, and pulled their keys, and turned their locks, side by side but twenty feet apart, like neighbors getting home from work.

  A hundred feet away the one-eyed guy took the lawn chair from outside 102, which was empty, and hauled it over to the spot he had used before, on the sidewalk under his office window. He lined it up and dumped himself down, in the nighttime air, ready to obey the second of the evening’s commands, which had been Watch their rooms all night.

  The first command had been Even if they come back, do not under any circumstances rock the boat tonight. Which matter he thought he had handled in a satisfactory manner.

  Chapter 19

  As before, Reacher sat in his room in the dark, back from the window, invisible from the outside, just watching, this time from a second-floor perspective. Fifteen minutes, then twenty, then thirty. As long as it took, to be sure. The one-eyed guy in his plastic chair was the same pale smudge in the distance, a hundred feet away. The rim of light around 203’s drapes burned steadily. Nothing moved. No cars, no people. No glowing cigarettes in the shadows.

  Nothing doing.

  Forty minutes. Room 203’s lights went out. The one-eyed guy stayed where he was. Reacher gave it ten minutes more, and went to bed.

  Morning came, and it looked as good as the previous morning. The light was pale gold, and the shadows were long. As good as the first morning ever, maybe. Reacher sat on the bed, in a towel, without coffee, and watched. The plastic chair was a hundred feet away, outside the office, but it was abandoned again. Room 203’s drapes were still closed. No one was moving. There was traffic out on the wide street, heard but not seen, first one truck, then a couple more.

  Then silence.

  He waited.

  And the same things happened.

  The shadows retreated, yard by yard, as the sun climbed higher. The seven o’clock train rolled in, and waited, and rolled out again. And the drapes opened in room 203.

  A woman. The sun was still on the glass, which made her dustier than she should have been, but Reacher could see her, pale, in white, standing like the guy the day before, with her arms wide and her hands on the drapes. She was staring at the morning, the same way he had.

  Then the white Cadillac sedan drove in, and aimed right and backed left, into the same slot as before. Still no front license plate. This time the driver got out right away. Above his head the door opened, and the woman in white stepped out of her room. The white was a dress, knee length, like a sheath. White shoes. She wasn’t young, but she was in good shape. Like she worked at it. Her hair was the color of ash, and cut in a bob.

  She had more luggage than the previous guy. She had a neat roll-on suitcase, with wheels and a handle. Bigger than the leather bag. But not huge. Dainty, even. She set out toward the stairs, and the Cadillac driver anticipated her coming predicament, and he threw out a Wait gesture, and went up to meet her. He collapsed her bag’s handle and carried it down, ahead of her, as if showing her the way. He put the bag in the trunk, and she got in the rear seat, and he got back behind the wheel, and the car pulled out and drove away.

  Still no rear license plate.

  Reacher went and took a shower. He heard Chang in the next-door bathroom. The tubs shared a wall. Which meant she hadn’t met the morning train. Which was a rational decision. It had saved her a walk both ways. Maybe she had done what he had, and watched. Maybe they had been sitting side by side, in towels, separated only by the wall. Although she probably had pajamas. Or a nightgown. Probably not voluminous. Given the weather, and the need to pack small.

  He was out before her, and he headed to the diner, hoping to get the same pair of side-by-side tables in the far back corner, which he did. He put his jacket on her chair, pulled down on one side by the Smith in the pocket, and he ordered coffee. Chang came in five minutes later, in the same jeans but a fresh T-shirt, her hair still inky with water from the shower. Her own jacket was pulled down on one side, by her own Smith.
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