Home > Persuader (Jack Reacher #7)(4)

Persuader (Jack Reacher #7)(4)
Author: Lee Child

"Where are we going?" Richard asked.

"Staff parking," I said. "Customers are in and out all day long. Unpredictable. But store people are in there for the duration. Safer."

He looked at me like he didn't understand. I headed for a line of eight cars parked head-on against a blank wall. There was an empty slot next to a dull-colored Nissan Maxima about three years old. It would do. It was a pretty anonymous vehicle. The lot was a backwater, quiet and private. I pulled beyond the empty slot and backed up into it. Put the van's rear doors tight against the wall.

"Got to hide the busted window," I said.

The kid said nothing. I put both empty Colts into my coat pockets and slid out. Tried the Maxima's doors.

"Find me some wire," I said. "Like heavy electrical cable or a coat hanger."

"You're going to steal this car?"

I nodded. Said nothing.

"Is that smart?"

"You'd think so if it was you who'd accidentally shot a cop."

The kid looked blank for a second and then came to and scouted around. I emptied the Anacondas and tossed the twelve spent shell cases into a garbage container. The kid came back with a three-foot length of electrical wire from a trash pile. I stripped the insulation with my teeth and made a little hook in the end and shoved it past the rubber sealing strip around the Maxima's window.

"You're the lookout," I said.

He stepped away and scanned the lot and I fed the wire down inside the car and jiggled it around and jiggled the door handle until it popped open. I tossed the wire back in the trash and bent down under the steering column and pulled off the plastic shroud. Sorted through the wires in there until I found the two I needed and touched them together. The starter motor whined and the engine turned over and caught and ran steadily. The kid looked suitably impressed.

"Misspent youth," I said.

"Is this smart?" he asked again.

I nodded. "Smart as we can get. It won't be missed until six tonight, maybe eight. Whenever the store closes. You'll be home long before then."

He paused with his hand on the passenger door and then kind of shook himself and ducked inside. I racked the driver's seat back and adjusted the mirror and backed out of the slot. Took it easy through the mall lot. There was a cop car crawling around about a hundred yards away. I parked again in the first place I saw and sat there with the engine running until the cop moved away. Then I hustled for the exit and around the cloverleaf and two minutes later we were heading north on a wide smooth highway at a respectable sixty miles an hour. The car smelled strongly of perfume and there were two boxes of tissues in it. There was some kind of furry bear stuck on the rear window with clear plastic suckers where its paws should have been. There was a Little League glove on the back seat and I could hear an aluminum bat rattling around in the trunk.

"Mom's taxi," I said.

The kid didn't answer.

"Don't worry," I said. "She's probably insured. Probably a solid citizen."

"Don't you feel bad?" he said. "About the cop?"

I glanced at him. He was thin and pale and crunched up again as far from me as he could get. His hand was resting against the door. His long fingers made him look a little like a musician. I think he wanted to like me, but I didn't need him to.

"Shit happens," I said. "No need to get all worked up about it."

"What the hell kind of answer is that?"

"The only kind. It was minor collateral damage. Means nothing unless it comes back to bite us. Bottom line, we can't change it, so we move on."

He said nothing.

"Anyway, it was your dad's fault," I said.

"For being rich and having a son?"

"For hiring lousy bodyguards."

He looked away. Said nothing.

"They were bodyguards, right?"

He nodded. Said nothing.

"So don't you feel bad?" I asked. "About them?"

"A little," he said. "I guess. I didn't know them well."

"They were useless," I said.

"It happened so fast."

"The bad guys were waiting right there," I said. "A ratty old pickup like that just hanging around in a prissy little college town? What kind of bodyguards don't notice a thing like that? They never heard of threat assessment?"

"You saying you noticed?"

"I noticed."

"Not bad for a van driver."

"I was in the army. I was a military cop. I understand bodyguarding. And I understand collateral damage."

The kid nodded, uncertainly.

"You got a name yet?" he asked.

"Depends," I said. "I need to understand your point of view. I could be in all kinds of trouble. At least one cop is dead and now I just stole a car."

He went quiet again. I matched him, mile for mile. Gave him time to think. We were almost out of Massachusetts.

"My family appreciates loyalty," he said. "You did their son a service. And you did them a service. Saved them some money, at least. They'll show their gratitude. I'm sure the last thing they'll do is rat you out."

"You need to call them?"

He shook his head. "They're expecting me. As long as I show up there's no need to call them."

"The cops will call them. They think you're in big trouble."

"They don't have the number. Nobody does."

"The college must have your address. They can find your number."

He shook his head again. "The college doesn't have the address. Nobody does. We're very careful about stuff like that."

I shrugged and kept quiet and drove another mile.

"So what about you?" I said. "You going to rat me out?"

I saw him touch his right ear. The one that was still there. It was clearly a completely subconscious gesture.

"You saved my ass," he said. "I'm not going to rat you out."

"OK," I said. "My name is Reacher."

We spent a few minutes cutting across a tiny corner of Vermont and then struck out north and east across New Hampshire. Settled in for the long, long drive. The adrenaline drained away and the kid got over his state of shock and we both ended up a little down and sleepy. I cracked the window to get some air in and some perfume out. It made the car noisy but it kept me awake. We talked a little. Richard Beck told me he was twenty years old. He was in his junior year. He was majoring in some kind of contemporary art expression thing that sounded a lot like finger painting to me. He wasn't good at relationships. He was an only child. There was a lot of ambivalence about his family. They were clearly some kind of tight close-knit clan and half of him wanted out and the other half needed to be in. He was clearly very traumatized by the previous kidnap. It made me wonder whether something had been done to him, apart from the ear thing. Maybe something much worse.

I told him about the army. I laid it on pretty thick about my bodyguarding qualifications. I wanted him to feel he was in good hands, at least temporarily. I drove fast and steady. The Maxima had just been filled. We didn't need to stop for gas. He didn't want lunch. I stopped once to use a men's room. Left the engine running so I wouldn't have to fiddle with the ignition wires again. Came back to the car and found him inert inside it. We got back on the road and passed by Concord in New Hampshire and headed toward Portland in Maine. Time passed. He got more relaxed, the closer we got to home. But he got quieter, too. Ambivalence.

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