PEOPLE SAY THAT knowledge is power. The more knowledge, the more power. Suppose you knew the winning numbers for the lottery? All of them? Not guessed them, not dreamed them, but really knew them? What would you do? You would run to the store. You would mark those numbers on the play card. And you would win.
Same for the stock market. Suppose you really knew what was going to go way up? You're not talking about a hunch or a gut feeling. You're not talking about a trend or a percentage game or a whisper or a tip. You're talking about knowledge. Real, hard knowledge. Suppose you had it? What would you do? You would call your broker. You would buy. Then later you'd sell, and you'd be rich.
Same for basketball, same for the horses, whatever. Football, hockey, next year's World Series, any kind of sports at all, if you could predict the future, you'd be home free. No question. Same for the Oscars, same for the Nobel prize, same for the first snowfall of winter. Same for anything.
Same for killing people.
Suppose you wanted to kill people. You would need to know ahead of time how to do it. That part is not too difficult. There are many ways. Some of them are better than others. Most of them have drawbacks. So you use what knowledge you've got, and you invent a new way. You think, and you think, and you think, and you come up with the perfect method.
You pay a lot of attention to the setup. Because the perfect method is not an easy method, and careful preparation is very important. But that stuff is meat and potatoes to you. You have no problem with careful preparation. No problem at all. How could you, with your intelligence? After all your training?
You know the big problems will come afterward. How do you make sure you get away with it? You use your knowledge. You know more than most people about how the cops work. You've seen them on duty, many times, sometimes close-up. You know what they look for. So you don't leave anything for them to find. You go through it all in your head, very precisely and very exactly and very carefully. Just as carefully as you would mark the play card you knew for sure was going to win you a fortune.
People say that knowledge is power. The more knowledge, the more power. Which makes you just about the most powerful person on earth. When it comes to killing people. And then getting away with it.
LIFE IS FULL of decisions and judgments and guesses, and it gets to the point where you're so accustomed to making them you keep right on making them even when you don't strictly need to. You get into a what if thing, and you start speculating about what you would do if some problem was yours instead of somebody else's. It gets to be a habit. It was a habit Jack Reacher had in spades. Which was why he was sitting alone at a restaurant table and gazing at the backs of two guys twenty feet away and wondering if it would be enough just to warn them off or if he would have to go the extra mile and break their arms.
It was a question of dynamics. From the start the dynamics of the city meant that a brand-new Italian place in Tribeca like the one Reacher was in was going to stay pretty empty until the food guy from the New York Times wrote it up or an Observer columnist spotted some celebrity in there two nights in a row. But neither thing had happened yet and the place was still uncrowded, which made it the perfect choice for a lonely guy looking to eat dinner near his girlfriend's apartment while she worked late at the office. The dynamics of the city. They made it inevitable Reacher would be in there. They made it inevitable the two guys he was watching would be in there, too. Because the dynamics of the city meant any bright new commercial venture would sooner or later get a visit on behalf of somebody wanting a steady three hundred bucks a week in exchange for not sending his boys in to smash it up with baseball bats and ax handles.
The two guys Reacher was watching were standing close to the bar, talking quietly to the owner. The bar was a token affair built across the corner of the room. It made a neat sharp triangle about seven or eight feet on a side. It was not really a bar in the sense that anybody was ever going to sit there and drink anything. It was just a focal point. It was somewhere to keep the liquor bottles. They were crowded three-deep on glass shelves in front of sandblasted mirrors. The register and the credit card machine were on the bottom shelf. The owner was a small nervous guy and he had backed away into the point of the triangle and was standing with his backside jammed against the cash drawer. His arms were folded tight across his chest, defensively. Reacher could see his eyes. They were showing something halfway between disbelief and panic and they were darting all around the room.
It was a large room, easily sixty feet by sixty, exactly square. The ceiling was high, maybe twenty or twenty-five feet. It was made of pressed tin, sandblasted back to a dull glow. The building was more than a hundred years old, and the room had probably been used for everything, one time or another. Maybe it had started out as a factory. The windows were certainly large enough and numerous enough to illuminate some kind of an industrial operation back when the city was only five stories tall. Then maybe it had become a store. Maybe even an automobile showroom. It was big enough. Now it was an Italian restaurant. Not a checked-red-tablecloth and Mama's-sauce type of Italian restaurant, but the type of place which has three hundred thousand dollars invested up front in bleached avant-garde decor and which gives you seven or eight handmade ravioli parcels on a large plate and calls them a meal. Reacher had eaten there ten times in the four weeks it had been open and he always left feeling hungry. But the quality was so good he was telling people about it, which really had to mean something, because Reacher was no kind of a gourmet. The place was named Mostro's, which as far as he understood Italian translated as monster's. He wasn't sure what the name referred to. Certainly not the size of the portions. But it had some kind of a resonance, and the whole place with its pale maple and white walls and dull aluminum accents was an attractive space. The people who worked there were amiable and confident. There were whole operas played beginning to end through excellent loudspeakers placed high on the walls. In Reacher's inexpert opinion he was watching the start of a big reputation.
But the big reputation was obviously slow to spread. The spare avant-garde decor made it OK to have only twenty tables in a sixty-by-sixty space, but in four weeks he had never seen more than three of them occupied. Once he had been the only customer during the whole ninety-minute span he spent in the place. Tonight there was just one other couple eating, five tables away. They were sitting face-to-face across from each other, side-on to him. The guy was medium-sized and sandy. Short sandy hair, fair mustache, light brown suit, brown shoes. The woman was thin and dark, in a skirt and a jacket. There was an imitation-leather briefcase resting against the table leg next to her right foot. They were both maybe thirty-five and looked tired and worn and slightly dowdy. They were comfortable enough together, but they weren't talking much.
The two guys at the bar were talking. That was for sure. They were leaning over, bending forward from the waist, talking fast and persuading hard. The owner was against the register, bending backward by an equal amount. It was like the three of them were trapped in a powerful gale blowing through the room. The two guys were a lot bigger than medium-sized. They were dressed in identical dark wool coats which gave them breadth and bulk. Reacher could see their faces in the dull mirrors behind the liquor bottles. Olive skin, dark eyes. Not Italians. Syrians or Lebanese maybe, with their Arab scrappiness bred out of them by a generation of living in America. They were busy making one point after another. The guy on the right was making a sweeping gesture with his hand. It was easy to see it represented a bat plowing through the bottles on the shelf. Then the hand was chopping up and down. The guy was demonstrating how the shelves could be smashed. One blow could smash them all, top to bottom, he was suggesting. The owner was going pale. He was glancing sideways at his shelves.
Then the guy on the left shot his cuff and tapped the face of his watch and turned to leave. His partner straightened up and followed him. He trailed his hand over the nearest table and knocked a plate to the floor. It shattered on the tile, loud and dissonant against the opera floating in the air. The sandy guy and the dark woman sat still and looked away. The two guys walked slowly to the door, heads up, confident. Reacher watched them all the way out to the sidewalk. Then the owner came out from behind the bar and knelt down and raked through the fragments of the broken plate with his fingertips.
"You OK?" Reacher called to him.
Soon as the words were out, he knew it was a dumb thing to say. The guy just shrugged and put an all-purpose miserable look on his face. He cupped his hands on the floor and started butting the shards into a pile. Reacher slid out of his chair and stepped away from the table and squared his napkin on the tile next to him and started collecting the debris into it. The couple five tables away was watching him.
"When are they coming back?" Reacher asked.
"An hour," the guy said.
"How much do they want?"
The guy shrugged again and smiled a bitter smile.
"I get a start-up discount," he said. "Two hundred a week, goes to four when the place picks up."
"You want to pay?"
The guy made another sad face. "I want to stay in business, I guess. But paying out two bills a week ain't exactly going to help me do that."
The sandy guy and the dark woman were looking at the opposite wall, but they were listening. The opera fell away to a minor-key aria and the diva started in on it with a low mournful note.