Home > Persuader (Jack Reacher #7)(3)

Persuader (Jack Reacher #7)(3)
Author: Lee Child

"I'm going to slow down a little," I said. "Going to pull in so they'll pull out to pass me."

"Don't do it," the kid said. "You can still put this right."

I ignored him. Dropped the speed to maybe fifty and pulled right and the college car instinctively drifted left to come up on my flank. I fired my last three chambers at it and its windshield shattered and it slewed all the way across the road like maybe the driver was hit or a tire had gone. It plowed nose-first into the opposite shoulder and smashed through a line of planted shrubs and then it was lost to sight. I dropped the empty gun on the seat beside me and wound the window up and accelerated hard. The kid said nothing. Just stared into the rear of the van. The broken window back there was making a weird moaning sound as the air sucked out through it.

"OK," I said. I was out of breath. "Now we're good to go."

The kid turned to face me.

"Are you crazy?" he said.

"You know what happens to people who shoot cops?" I said back.

He had no reply to that. We drove on in silence for maybe thirty whole seconds, more than half a mile, blinking and panting and staring straight ahead through the windshield like we were mesmerized. The inside of the van stank of gunpowder.

"It was an accident," I said. "I can't bring him back. So get over it."

"Who are you?" he asked.

"No, who are you?" I asked back.

He went quiet. He was breathing hard. I checked the mirror. The road was completely empty behind us. Completely empty ahead of us. We were way out in open country. Maybe ten minutes from a highway cloverleaf.

"I'm a target," he said. "For abduction."

It was an odd word to use.

"They were trying to kidnap me," he said.

"You think?"

He nodded. "It's happened before."

"Why?"

"Money," the kid said. "Why else?"

"You rich?"

"My father is."

"Who is he?"

"Just a guy."

"But a rich guy," I said.

"He's a rug importer."

"Rugs?" I said. "What, like carpets?"

"Oriental rugs."

"You can get rich importing Oriental rugs?"

"Very," the kid said.

"You got a name?"

"Richard," he said. "Richard Beck."

I checked the mirror again. The road was still empty behind. Still empty ahead. I slowed a little and steadied the van in the center of my lane and tried to drive on like a normal person.

"So who were those guys?" I asked.

Richard Beck shook his head. "I have no idea."

"They knew where you were going to be. And when."

"I was going home for my mother's birthday. It's tomorrow."

"Who would know that?"

"I'm not sure. Anybody who knows my family. Anybody in the rug community, I guess. We're well known."

"There's a community?" I said. "Rugs?"

"We all compete," he said. "Same sources, same market. We all know each other."

I said nothing. Just drove on, sixty miles an hour.

"You got a name?" he asked me.

"No," I said.

He nodded, like he understood. Smart boy.

"What are you going to do?" he asked.

"I'm going to let you out near the highway," I said. "You can hitch a ride or call a cab and then you can forget all about me."

He went very quiet.

"I can't take you to the cops," I said. "That's just not possible. You understand that, right? I killed one. Maybe three. You saw me do it."

He stayed quiet. Decision time. The highway was six minutes ahead.

"They'll throw away the key," I said. "I screwed up, it was an accident, but they aren't going to listen. They never do. So don't ask me to go anywhere near anybody. Not as a witness, not as nothing. I'm out of here like I don't exist. We absolutely clear on that?"

He didn't speak.

"And don't give them a description," I said. "Tell them you don't remember me. Tell them you were in shock. Or I'll find you and I'll kill you."

He didn't answer.

"I'll let you out somewhere," I said. "Like you never saw me."

He moved. Turned sideways on his seat and looked straight at me.

"Take me home," he said. "All the way. We'll give you money. Help you out. We'll hide you, if you want. My folks will be grateful. I mean, I'm grateful. Believe me. You saved my ass. The cop thing, it was an accident, right? Just an accident. You got unlucky. It was a pressure situation. I can understand that. We'll keep it quiet."

"I don't need your help," I said. "I just need to get rid of you."

"But I need to get home," he said. "We'd be helping each other."

The highway was four minutes ahead.

"Where's home?" I asked.

"Abbot," he said.

"Abbot what?"

"Abbot, Maine. On the coast. Between Kennebunkport and Portland."

"We're heading in the wrong direction."

"You can turn north on the highway."

"It's got to be two hundred miles, minimum."

"We'll give you money. We'll make it worth your while."

"I could let you out near Boston," I said. "Got to be a bus to Portland."

He shook his head, violently, like a seizure.

"No way," he said. "I can't take the bus. I can't be alone. Not now. I need protection. Those guys might still be out there."

"Those guys are dead," I said. "Like the damn cop."

"They might have associates."

It was another odd word to use. He looked small and thin and scared. There was a pulse jumping in his neck. He used both hands to pull his hair away from his head and turned toward the windshield to let me see his left ear. It wasn't there. There was just a hard knob of scar tissue. It looked like a small piece of uncooked pasta. Like a raw tortellini floret.

"They cut it off and mailed it," he said. "The first time."

"When?"

"I was fifteen."

"Your dad didn't pay up?"

"Not quickly enough."

I said nothing. Richard Beck just sat there, showing me his scar, shocked and scared and breathing like a machine.

"You OK?" I asked.

"Take me home," he said. Like he was pleading. "I can't be alone now."

The highway was two minutes ahead.

"Please," he said. "Help me."

"Shit," I said, for the third time.

"Please. We can help each other. You need to hide out."

"We can't keep this van," I said. "We have to assume the description is on the air all over the state."

He stared at me, full of hope. The highway was one minute ahead.

"We'll have to find a car," I said.

"Where?"

"Anywhere. There are cars all over the place."

There was a big sprawling out-of-town shopping mall nestled south and west of the highway interchange. I could already see it in the distance. There were giant tan buildings with no windows and bright neon signs. There were giant parking lots about half-filled with cars. I pulled in and drove once around the whole place. It was as big as a town. There were people everywhere. They made me nervous. I came around again and headed in past a line of trash containers to the rear of a big department store.

 

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