Home > Tripwire (Jack Reacher #3)

Tripwire (Jack Reacher #3)
Author: Lee Child

Chapter 1

JACK REACHER SAW the guy step in through the door. Actually, there was no door. The guy just stepped in through the part of the front wall that wasn't there. The bar opened straight out onto the sidewalk. There were tables and chairs out there under a dried-up old vine that gave some kind of nominal shade. It was an inside-outside room, passing through a wall that wasn't there. Reacher guessed there must be some kind of an iron grille they could padlock across the opening when the bar closed. If it closed. Certainly Reacher had never seen it closed, and he was keeping some pretty radical hours.

The guy stood a yard inside the dark room and waited, blinking, letting his eyes adjust to the gloom after the hot whiteness of the Key West sun. It was June, dead-on four o'clock in the afternoon, the southernmost part of the United States. Way farther south than most of the Bahamas. A hot white sun and a fierce temperature. Reacher sat at his table in back and sipped water from a plastic bottle and waited.

The guy was looking around. The bar was a low room built from old boards dried to a dark color. They looked like they had come from old broken-up sailing ships. Random pieces of nautical junk were nailed to them. There were old brass things and green glass globes. Stretches of old nets. Fishing equipment, Reacher guessed, although he had never caught a fish in his life. Or sailed a boat. Overlaying everything were ten thousand business cards, tacked up over every spare square inch, including the ceiling. Some of them were new, some of them were old and curled, representing ventures that had folded decades ago.

The guy stepped farther into the gloom and headed for the bar. He was old. Maybe sixty, medium height, bulky. A doctor would have called him overweight, but Reacher just saw a fit man some way down the wrong side of the hill. A man yielding gracefully to the passage of time without getting all stirred up about it. He was dressed like a northern city guy on a short-notice trip to somewhere hot. Light gray pants, wide at the top, narrow at the bottom, a thin, crumpled beige jacket, a white shirt with the collar spread wide open, blue-white skin showing at his throat, dark socks, city shoes. New York or Chicago, Reacher guessed, maybe Boston, spent most of his summertime in air-conditioned buildings or cars, had these pants and this jacket stashed away in the back of his closet ever since he bought them twenty years ago, brought them out and used them occasionally as appropriate.

The guy reached the bar and went into his jacket and pulled out a wallet. It was a small, overloaded old item in fine black leather. The sort of wallet that molds itself tight around the stuff crammed inside. Reacher saw the guy open it with a practiced flick and show it to the bartender and ask a quiet question. The bartender glanced away like he'd been insulted. The guy put the wallet away and smoothed his wisps of gray hair into the sweat on his scalp. He muttered something else and the bartender came up with a beer from a chest of ice. The old guy held the cold bottle against his face for a moment and then took a long pull. Belched discreetly behind his hand and smiled like a small disappointment had been assuaged.

Reacher matched his pull with a long drink of water. The fittest guy he had ever known was a Belgian soldier who swore the key to fitness was to do whatever the hell you liked as long as you drank five liters of mineral water every day. Reacher figured five liters was about a gallon, and since the Belgian was a small whippy guy half his size, he should make it two gallons a day. Ten full-size bottles. Since arriving in the heat of the Keys, he had followed that regimen. It was working for him. He had never felt better. Every day at four o'clock he sat at this dark table and drank three bottles of still water, room temperature. Now he was as addicted to the water as he had once been to coffee.

The old guy was side-on to the bar, busy with his beer. Scanning the room. Reacher was the only person in it, apart from the bartender. The old guy pushed off with his hip and stepped over. Waved his beer in a vague gesture that said may I? Reacher nodded to the opposite chair and broke the plastic seal on his third bottle. The guy sat heavily. He overwhelmed the chair. He was the sort of guy who keeps keys and money and handerkerchiefs in his pants pockets so that the natural width of his hips is way exaggerated.

"Are you Jack Reacher?" he asked across the table.

Not Chicago or Boston. New York, for sure. The voice sounded exactly like a guy Reacher had known, spent the first twenty years of his life never more than a hundred yards from Fulton Street.

"Jack Reacher?" the old guy asked again.

Up close, he had small wise eyes under an overhanging brow. Reacher drank and glanced across at him through the clear water in his bottle.

"Are you Jack Reacher?" the guy asked for the third time.

Reacher set his bottle on the table and shook his head.

"No," he lied.

The old guy's shoulders slumped a fraction in disappointment. He shot his cuff and checked his watch. Moved his bulk forward on the chair like he was about to get up, but then he sat back, like suddenly there was time to spare.

"Five after four," he said.

Reacher nodded. The guy waved his empty beer bottle at the bartender who ducked around with a fresh one.

"Heat," he said. "Gets to me."

Reacher nodded again and sipped water.

"You know a Jack Reacher around here?" the guy asked.

Reacher shrugged.

"You got a description?" he asked back.

The guy was into a long pull on the second bottle. He wiped his lips with the back of his hand and used the gesture to hide a second discreet belch.

"Not really," he said. "Big guy, is all I know. That's why I asked you."

Reacher nodded.

"There are lots of big guys here," he said. "Lots of big guys everywhere."

"But you don't know the name?"

"Should I?" Reacher asked. "And who wants to know?"

The guy grinned and nodded, like an apology for a lapse in manners.

"Costello," he said. "Pleased to meet you."

Reacher nodded back, and raised his bottle a fraction in response.

"Skip tracer?" he asked.

"Private detective," Costello said.

"Looking for a guy called Reacher?" Reacher asked. "What's he done?"

Costello shrugged. "Nothing, far as I know. I just got asked to find him."

"And you figure he's down here?"

"Last week he was," Costello said. "He's got a bank account in Virginia and he's been wiring money to it."

"From down here in Key West?"

Costello nodded.

"Every week," he said. "For three months."

"So?"

"So he's working down here," Costello said. "Has been, for three months. You'd think somebody would know him."

"But nobody does," Reacher said.

Costello shook his head. "I asked all up and down Duval, which seems to be where the action is in this town. Nearest I got was a titty bar upstairs someplace, girl in there said there was a big guy been here exactly three months, drinks water every day at four o'clock in here."

He lapsed into silence, looking hard at Reacher, like he was issuing a direct challenge. Reacher sipped water and shrugged back at him.

"Coincidence," he said.

Costello nodded.

"I guess," he said quietly.

He raised the beer bottle to his lips and drank, keeping his wise old eyes focused tight on Reacher's face.

"Big transient population here," Reacher said to him. "People drift in and out, all the time."

"I guess," Costello said again.

"But I'll keep my ears open," Reacher said.

Costello nodded.

"I'd appreciate it," he said, ambiguously.

"Who wants him?" Reacher asked.

"My client," Costello said. "Lady called Mrs. Jacob."

Reacher sipped water. The name meant nothing to him. Jacob? Never heard of any such person.

"OK, if I see him around, I'll tell him, but don't hold your breath. I don't see too many people."

"You working?"

Reacher nodded.

"I dig swimming pools," he said.

Costello pondered, like he knew what swimming pools were, but like he had never considered how they got there.

"Backhoe operator?"

Reacher smiled and shook his head.

"Not down here," he said. "We dig them by hand."

"By hand?" Costello repeated. "What, like with shovels?"

"The lots are too small for machinery," Reacher said. "Streets are too narrow, trees are too low. Get off Duval, and you'll see for yourself."

Costello nodded again. Suddenly looked very satisfied.

"Then you probably won't know this Reacher guy," he said. "According to Mrs. Jacob, he was an Army officer. So I checked, and she was right. He was a major. Medals and all. Military police bigshot, is what they said. Guy like that, you won't find him digging swimming pools with a damn shovel."

Reacher took a long pull on his water, to hide his expression.

"So what would you find him doing?"

"Down here?" Costello said. "I'm not sure. Hotel security? Running some kind of a business? Maybe he's got a cruiser, charters it out."

"Why would he be down here at all?"

Costello nodded, like he was agreeing with an opinion.

"Right," he said. "Hell of a place. But he's here, that's for certain. He left the Army two years ago, put his money in the nearest bank to the Pentagon and disappeared. Bank account shows money wiring out all over the damn place, then for three months money wiring back in from here. So he drifted for a spell, then he settled down here, making some dough. I'll find him."

 

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