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Home > 61 Hours (Jack Reacher #14)(11)

61 Hours (Jack Reacher #14)(11)
Author: Lee Child

Easy meat.

Reacher matched the guy's charge with momentum of his own and smashed his elbow horizontally into the middle of the white space between the guy's beard and his hairline. Like running full tilt into a scaffolding pipe. Game over, except the smaller guy was already up on his knees and scrabbling for grip, hands and feet, like a sprinter in the blocks. So Reacher kicked him hard in the head. The guy's eyes rolled up and he toppled sideways and lay still with his legs folded under him.

Reacher put his hands back in his pockets.

Peterson said, 'Jesus.'

The two guys lay close together, black humps on the moonlit ice, steam rising off them in a cloud. Peterson said nothing more. Holland stalked back to his unmarked car and used the radio and came back a long minute later and said, 'I just called for two ambulances.'

He was looking straight at Reacher.

Reacher didn't respond.

Holland asked, 'You want to explain why I had to call for two ambulances?'

Reacher said, 'Because I slipped.'

'What?'

'On the ice.'

'That's your story? You slipped and just kind of blundered into them?'

'No, I slipped when I was hitting the big guy. It softened the blow. If I hadn't slipped you wouldn't be calling for two ambulances. You'd be calling for one ambulance and one coroner's wagon.'

Holland looked away.

Peterson said, 'Go wait in the car.'

The lawyer went to bed at a quarter to eleven. His children had preceded him by two hours and his wife was still in the kitchen. He put his shoes on a rack and his tie in a drawer and his suit on a hanger. He tossed his shirt and his socks and his underwear in the laundry hamper. He put on his pyjamas and took a leak and brushed his teeth and climbed under the covers and stared at the ceiling. He could still hear the laugh in his head, from the phone call just before he spun out on the highway. A bark, a yelp, full of excitement. Full of anticipation. Full of glee. Eliminate the witness, he had recited, and the man on the phone had laughed with happiness.

Reacher got back in Peterson's car and closed the door. His face was numb with cold. He angled the heater vents up and turned the fan to maximum. He waited. Five minutes later the ambulances showed up, with flashing lights pulsing bright red and blue against the snow. They hauled the two guys away. They were still out cold. Concussions, and probably some minor maxillary damage. No big deal. Three days in bed and a cautious week's convalescence would fix them up good as new. Plus painkillers.

Reacher waited in the car. Thirty feet ahead of him through the clear frigid air he could see Holland and Peterson talking. They were standing close together, half turned away, speaking low. Judging by the way they never glanced back, Reacher guessed they were talking about him.

Chief Holland was asking: 'Could he be the guy?'

Peterson was saying, 'If he's the guy, he just put two of his presumptive allies in the hospital. Which would be strange.'

'Maybe that was a decoy. Maybe they staged it. Or maybe one of them was about to say something compromising. So he had to shut them up.'

'He was protecting you, chief.'

'At first he was.'

'And then it was self-defence.'

'How sure are you he's not the guy?'

'One hundred per cent. It's just not feasible. It's a million-to-one chance he's here at all.'

'No way he could have caused the bus to crash right there?'

'Not without running up the aisle and physically attacking the driver. And no one said he did. Not the driver, not the passengers.'

'OK,' Holland said. 'So could the driver be the guy? Did he crash on purpose?'

'Hell of a risk.'

'Not necessarily. Let's say he knows the road because he's driven it before, summer and winter. He knows where it ices up. So he throws the bus into a deliberate skid.'

'A car was coming right at him.'

'So he says now.'

'But he could have been injured. He could have killed people. He could have ended up in the hospital or in jail for manslaughter, not walking around.'

'Maybe not. Those modern vehicles have all kinds of electronic systems. Traction control, antilock brakes, stuff like that. All he did was fishtail around a little and drive off the shoulder. No big deal. And then we welcomed him with open arms, like the Good Samaritan.'

Peterson said, 'I could talk to Reacher tonight. He was a witness on the bus. I could talk to him and get a better picture.'

Holland said, 'He's a psychopath. I want him gone.'

'The roads are closed.'

'Then I want him locked up.'

'Really?' Peterson said. 'Tell the truth, chief, he strikes me as a smart guy. Think about it. He saved you from a busted nose and he saved me from having to shoot two people. He did us both a big favour with what he did tonight.'

'Accidentally.'

'Maybe on purpose.'

'You think he knew what he was doing? Right there and then?'

'Yes, I think he did. I think he's the sort of guy who sees things five seconds before the rest of the world.'

'Are you serious?'

'Yes, sir. I've spent a little time with him.'

Holland shrugged.

'OK,' he said. 'Talk to him. If you really want to.'

'Can we use him for more? He's ex-military. He might know something.'

'About what?'

'About what's out there to the west.'

'You like him?'

'Doesn't matter if we like him. We can use him. It would be negligent not to, in the current circumstances.'

'That's an admission of defeat.'

'No, sir, it's common sense. Better to ask for help beforehand than get our asses kicked afterwards.'

'How much would we have to tell him?'

'Most of it,' Peterson said. 'Maybe all of it. He'd probably figure it out anyway.'

'Is this what you would do if you were chief?'

'Yes, sir, it is.'

Holland thought about it. Nodded.

'OK,' he said again. 'Good enough for me. Talk to him.' Five minutes to eleven in the evening.

Fifty-three hours to go.

Chapter Seven

PETERSON DROVE HOME IN HIS SQUAD CAR. WHICH REACHER thought was unusual. In his experience town cops dumped their squads in a motor pool and rode home in their personal vehicles. Then the next watch climbed in and drove away while the motors and the seats were still warm. But Peterson said the Bolton PD had a lot of cars. Every member of the department was issued with one. And every member of the department was required to live within ten minutes' drive of the station house.

Peterson lived within two minutes' drive, a mile out of town to the east, in a house sitting on a remnant of an old farm. The house was a solid wooden thing shaped like a pound cake, painted red with white trim, with warm yellow light in some of the windows. There was a matching barn. Both roofs were piled high with snow. The surrounding land was white and frozen and flat and silent. The lot was square. Maybe an acre. It was bounded by barbed wire strung on wizened posts. Maybe a foot of the fence showed above the fall.

The driveway was ploughed in a Y-shape. One leg led to the barn and the other led to the front of the house. Peterson parked in the barn. It was a big old open-fronted structure with three bays. One was occupied by a Ford pick-up truck with a plough blade on it, and one was full of stacked firewood. Reacher climbed out of the car and Peterson joined him and they backtracked down the ploughed strip and turned the tight angle and headed for the house.

The front door was a plain slab of wood painted the same red as the siding. It opened up just as Peterson and Reacher got close enough to touch it. A woman stood in the hallway with warm air and warm light behind her. She was about Peterson's age, well above medium height, and slender. She had fair hair pulled back into a ponytail and was wearing black pants and a wool sweater with a complex pattern knitted into it.

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