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Home > 61 Hours (Jack Reacher #14)(8)

61 Hours (Jack Reacher #14)(8)
Author: Lee Child

The reason no one dared mention his stature to his face was a former associate named Martinez. Martinez had argued with Plato and lost his temper and called him a midget. Martinez had been delivered to the best hospital in Mexico City, unconscious. There he had been taken to an operating room and laid on the table and anaesthetized. He had been measured from the top of his scalp downward, and where the tape showed four feet and ten inches, lines had been drawn on his shins, a little closer to his knees than his ankles. Then a full team of surgeons and nurses had performed a double amputation, neatly and carefully and properly. Martinez had been kept in the hospital for two days, and then delivered home in an ambulance. Plato had delivered a get-well gift, with a card expressing the wish that the gift be appreciated and valued and kept permanently on display. Under the circumstances the wish was correctly interpreted as a command. Martinez's people had thought the gift was a tank of tropical fish, from its size and apparent weight and because it was clearly full of sloshing liquid. When they unwrapped it they saw that it was indeed a fish tank. But it contained no fish. It was full of formaldehyde and contained Martinez's feet and ankles and part of his shins, ten inches' worth in total.

Thus no one ever again mentioned Plato's height.

He had taken the call from the walled villa in the city and had promised a decision within twelve hours, but it really wasn't worth investing that much time on a relatively minor issue concerning a relatively minor outpost of a large and complex international organization. So after just an hour and a half his mind was made up: he would authorize the silencing of the witness. He would send his man in as soon as was practical.

And he would go one step further. He would add a fifteenth item to the list. He was a little dismayed that it had not already been proposed. But then, he was Plato, and they weren't.

He would break the chain, for safety's sake.

He would have the lawyer silenced, too.

Chapter Five

PETERSON LED REACHER OUT INTO THE FREEZING NIGHT AND asked if he was hungry. Reacher said yes, he was starving. So Peterson drove to a chain restaurant next to a gas station on the main route out to the highway. His car was a standard police specification Ford Crown Victoria, with winter tyres on the front and chains on the back. Inside it smelled of heat and rubber and hamburger grease and warm circuit boards. Outside it had nearly stopped snowing.

'Getting too cold to snow,' Peterson said. Which seemed to be true. The night sky had partially cleared and a vast frigid bowl of arctic air had clamped down. It struck through Reacher's inadequate clothing and set him shivering again on the short walk through the restaurant lot.

He said, 'I thought there was supposed to be a big storm coming.'

Peterson said, 'There are two big storms coming. This is what happens. They're pushing cold air ahead of them.'

'How long before they get here?'

'Soon enough.'

'And then it's going to warm up?'

'Just a little. Enough to let it snow.'

'Good. I'll take snow over cold.'

Peterson said, 'You think this is cold?'

'It ain't warm.'

'This is nothing.'

'I know,' Reacher said. 'I spent a winter in Korea. Colder than this.'

'But?'

'The army gave me a decent coat.'

'And?'

'At least Korea was interesting.' Which needled Peterson a little. The restaurant was empty and looked ready to close up. But they went in anyway. They took a table for two, a thirty-inch square of laminate that looked undersized between them.

Peterson said, 'The town of Bolton is plenty interesting.'

'The dead guy?'

'Yes,' Peterson said. Then he paused. 'What dead guy?'

Reacher smiled. 'Too late to take it back.'

'Don't tell me Chief Holland told you.'

'No. But I was in his office a long time.'

'Alone?'

'Not for a minute.'

'But he let you see the photographs?'

'He tried hard not to. But your cleaning staff did a good job on his window.'

'You saw them all?'

'I couldn't tell if the guy was dead or unconscious.'

'So you suckered me with that jab about Korea.'

'I like to know things. I'm hungry for knowledge.'

A waitress came by, a tired woman in her forties wearing sneakers under a uniform that featured a knotted necktie over a khaki shirt. Peterson ordered pot roast. Reacher followed his lead, and asked for coffee to drink.

Peterson asked, 'How long were you in the army?'

'Thirteen years.'

'And you were an MP?'

Reacher nodded.

'With medical training?'

'You've been talking to the bus passengers.'

'And the driver.'

'You've been checking me out.'

'Of course I have. Like crazy. What else do you think I was doing?'

'And you want me in your house tonight.'

'You got a better place to go?'

'Where you can keep an eye on me.'

'If you say so.'

'Why?'

'There are reasons.'

'Want to tell me what they are?'

'Just because you're hungry for knowledge?'

'I guess.'

'All I'll say is right now we need to know who's coming and going.'

Peterson said nothing more, and a minute later dinner arrived. Plates piled high, mashed potatoes, plenty of gravy. The coffee was an hour old, and it had suffered in terms of taste but gained in terms of strength.

Peterson asked, 'What exactly did you do in the MPs?'

Reacher said, 'Whatever they told me to.'

'Serious crimes?'

'Sometimes.'

'Homicides?'

'Everything from attempted to multiple.'

'How much medical training did you get?'

'Worried about the food here?'

'I like to know things too.'

'I didn't get much medical training, really. I was trying to make the old folks feel better, that's all.'

'They spoke well of you.'

'Don't trust them. They don't know me.'

Peterson didn't reply.

Reacher asked, 'Where was the dead guy found? Where the police car was blocking the side street?'

'No. That was different. The dead guy was somewhere else.'

'He wasn't killed there.'

'How do you know?'

'No blood in the snow. Hit someone hard enough in the head to kill them, the scalp splits. It's inevitable. And scalps bleed like crazy. There should have been a pool of blood a yard across.'

Peterson ate in silence for a minute. Then he asked: 'Where do you live?'

Which was a difficult question. Not for Reacher himself. There was a simple answer. He lived nowhere, and always had. He had been born the son of a serving military officer, in a Berlin infirmary, and since the day he had been carried out of it swaddled in blankets he had been dragged all over the world, through an endless blur of military bases and cheap off-post accommodations, and then he had joined up himself and lived the same way on his own account. Four years at West Point was his longest period of residential stability, and he had enjoyed neither West Point nor stability. Now that he was out of the service, he continued the transience. It was all he knew and it was a habit he couldn't break.

Not that he had ever really tried.

He said, 'I'm a nomad.'

Peterson said, 'Nomads have animals. They move around to find pasture. That's the definition.'

'OK, I'm a nomad without the animals part.'

'You're a bum.'

'Possibly.'

'You got no bags.'

'You got a problem with that?'

'It's weird behaviour. Cops don't like weird behaviour.'

'Why is it weirder to move around than spend every day in the same place?'

Peterson was quiet for a spell and then he said, 'Everyone has possessions.'

'I've got no use for them. Travel light, travel far.'

Peterson didn't answer.

Reacher said, 'Whatever, I'm no concern of yours. I never heard of Bolton before. If the bus driver hadn't twitched I'd have been at Mount Rushmore tonight.'

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