Home > Persuader (Jack Reacher #7)(10)

Persuader (Jack Reacher #7)(10)
Author: Lee Child

Susan Duffy called me again on the morning of day nine, Sunday. She sounded different. She sounded like a person who had done a lot more thinking. She sounded like a person with a plan.

"Hotel lobby at noon," she said.

She showed up in a car. Alone. The car was a Taurus built down to a very plain specification. It was grimy inside. A government vehicle. She was wearing faded denim jeans with good shoes and a battered leather jacket. Her hair was newly washed and combed back from her forehead. I got in on the passenger side and she crossed six lanes of traffic and drove straight into the mouth of a tunnel that led to the Mass Pike.

"Zachary Beck has a son," she said.

She took an underground curve fast and the tunnel ended and we came out into the weak midday April light, right behind Fenway.

"He's a college junior," she said. "Some small no-account liberal-arts place, not too far from here, as it happens. We talked to a classmate in exchange for burying a cannabis problem. The son is called Richard Beck. Not a popular person, a little strange. Seems very traumatized by something that happened about five years ago."

"What kind of something?"

"He was kidnapped."

I said nothing.

"You see?" Duffy said. "You know how often regular people get kidnapped these days?"

"No," I said.

"Doesn't happen," she said. "It's an extinct crime. So it must have been a turf war thing. It's practically proof his dad's a racketeer."

"That's a stretch."

"OK, but it's very persuasive. And it was never reported. FBI has no record of it. Whatever happened was handled privately. And not very well. The classmate says Richard Beck is missing an ear."

"So?"

She didn't answer. She just drove west. I stretched out on the passenger seat and watched her out of the corner of my eye. She looked good. She was long and lean and pretty, and she had life in her eyes. She was wearing no makeup. She was one of those women who absolutely didn't need to. I was very happy to let her drive me around. But she wasn't just driving me around. She was taking me somewhere. That was clear. She had come with a plan.

"I studied your whole service record," she said. "In great detail. You're an impressive guy."

"Not really," I said.

"And you've got big feet," she said. "That's good, too."

"Why?"

"You'll see," she said.

"Tell me," I said.

"We're very alike," she said. "You and me. We have something in common. I want to get close to Zachary Beck to get my agent back. You want to get close to him to find Quinn."

"Your agent is dead. Eight weeks now, it would be a miracle. You should face it."

She said nothing.

"And I don't care about Quinn."

She glanced right and shook her head.

"You do," she said. "You really do. I can see that from here. It's eating you up. He's unfinished business. And my guess is you're the sort of guy who hates unfinished business." Then she paused for a second. "And I'm proceeding on the assumption that my agent is still alive, unless and until you supply definitive proof to the contrary."

"Me?" I said.

"I can't use one of my people," she said. "You understand that, right? This whole thing is illegal as far as the Justice Department is concerned. So whatever I do next has to stay off the books. And my guess is you're the sort of guy who understands off-the-books operations. And is comfortable with them. Even prefers them, maybe."

"So?"

"I need to get somebody inside Beck's place. And I've decided it's going to be you. You're going to be my very own long-rod penetrator."

"How?"

"Richard Beck is going to take you there."

She came off the pike about forty miles west of Boston and turned north into the Massachusetts countryside. We passed through picture-perfect New England villages. Fire departments were out on the curbs polishing their trucks. Birds were singing. People were putting stuff on their lawns and pruning their bushes. There was the smell of woodsmoke in the air.

We stopped at a motel in the middle of nowhere. It was an immaculate place with quiet brick facings and blinding white trim. There were five cars in the lot. They were blocking access to the five end rooms. They were all government vehicles. Steven Eliot was waiting in the middle room with five men. They had hauled their desk chairs in from their own rooms. They were sitting in a neat semicircle. Duffy led me inside and nodded to Eliot. I figured it was a nod that meant: I told him, and he hasn't said no. Yet. She moved to the window and turned so that she faced the room. The daylight was bright behind her. It made her hard to see. She cleared her throat. The room went quiet.

"OK, listen up, people," she said. "One more time, this is off the books, this is not officially sanctioned, and this will be done on our own time and at our own risk. Anybody wants out, just leave now."

Nobody moved. Nobody left. It was a smart tactic. It showed me she and Eliot had at least five guys who would follow them to hell and back.

"We have less than forty-eight hours," she said. "Day after tomorrow Richard Beck heads home for his mother's birthday. Our source says he does it every year. Cuts classes and all. His father sends a car with two pro bodyguards because the kid is terrified of a repeat abduction. We're going to exploit that fear. We're going to take down the bodyguards and kidnap him."

She paused. Nobody spoke.

"Our aim is to get into Zachary Beck's house," she said. "We can assume the supposed kidnappers themselves wouldn't exactly be welcome there. So what will happen is that Reacher will immediately rescue the kid from the supposed kidnappers. It will be a tight sequence, kidnap, rescue, like that. The kid comes over all grateful and Reacher is greeted like a hero around the family hearth."

People sat quiet at first. Then they stirred. The plan was so full of holes it made a Swiss cheese look solid. I stared straight at Duffy. Then I found myself staring out the window. There were ways of plugging the holes. I felt my brain start to move. I wondered how many of the holes Duffy had already spotted. I wondered how many of the answers she had already gotten. I wondered how she knew I loved stuff like this.

"We have an audience of one," she said. "All that matters is what Richard Beck thinks. The whole thing will be phony from beginning to end, but he's got to be absolutely convinced it's real."

Eliot looked at me. "Weaknesses?"

"Two," I said. "First, how do you take the bodyguards down without really hurting them? I assume you're not that far off the books."

"Speed, shock, surprise," he said. "The kidnap team will have machine pistols with plenty of blank ammunition. Plus a stun grenade. Soon as the kid is out of the car, we toss a flashbang in. Lots of sound and fury. They'll be dazed, nothing more. But the kid will assume they're hamburger meat."

"OK," I said. "But second, this whole thing is like method acting, right? I'm some kind of a passerby, and coincidentally I'm the type of guy who can rescue him. Which makes me smart and capable. So why wouldn't I just haul his ass around to the nearest cops? Or wait for the cops to come to us? Why wouldn't I stick around and give evidence and make all kinds of witness statements? Why would I want to immediately drive him all the way home?"

Eliot turned to Duffy.

"He'll be terrified," she said. "He'll want you to."

 

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