Home > Worth Dying For (Jack Reacher #15)(10)

Worth Dying For (Jack Reacher #15)(10)
Author: Lee Child

'They're a hornets' nest, that's what. And you just poked it with a stick and now you're going to leave.'

'What was I supposed to do? Let them hit me with shop tools?'

'That's what we do. We take our punishments and we keep smiles on our faces and our heads down. We go along to get along.'

'What the hell are you talking about?'

She paused. Shook her head.

'It's not a big deal,' she said. 'Not really. So we tell ourselves. If you throw a frog in hot water, he'll jump right out again. Put him in cold water and heat it up slowly, he'll let himself get boiled to death without ever noticing.'

'And that's you?'

'Yes,' she said. 'That's us.'

'Give me the details.'

She paused again. She shook her head again.

'No,' she said. 'No, no, no. You won't hear anything bad about the Duncans from me. I want that on the record. I'm a local girl, and I've known them all my life. They're a fine family. There's nothing wrong with them. Nothing at all.'

The doctor's wife took a long hard look at the wrecked Subaru and then she set off walking home. Reacher offered her a ride in the pick-up truck, but she wouldn't hear of it. He watched her out of the motel lot until she was swallowed by the dark and lost to sight. Then he turned back to the two guys on the gravel outside his door. No way could he lift an unconscious human weighing three hundred pounds. Three hundred pounds of free weights on a bar, maybe. But not three hundred pounds of inert flesh and blood the size of a refrigerator.

He opened the pick-up's door and climbed into the cab. It smelled of pine disinfectant and hot oil. He found the gearshift and took off forward on a curve and then stopped and backed up until the tailgate was in line with where the two guys lay. He got out again and stepped around the hood and looked at the winch that was bolted to the frame at the front. It was electric. It had a motor connected to a drum wrapped with thin steel cable. The cable had a snap hook on the end. There was a release ratchet and a winding button.

He hit the ratchet and unwound the cable, ten feet, twenty, thirty. He flipped it up over the hood, over the roof of the cab, between two lights on the light bar, over the load bed, and down to where the guys were lying behind the truck. He dropped the tailgate flat and bent and fastened the hook on to the front of the first guy's belt. He walked back to the front of the truck and found the winding button and pressed.

The motor started and the drum turned and the slack pulled out of the cable. Then the cable went tight and quivered like a bowstring and burred a groove into the front edge of the hood and pulled a crease into the light bar on the roof. The drum slowed, and then it dug in and kept on turning. The truck squatted low on its springs. Reacher walked back and saw the first guy getting dragged by his belt towards the load bed, scuffling along the ground, waist first, arms and legs trailing. The guy dragged all the way to the edge of the tailgate. Then the cable came up vertically and shrieked against the sheet metal and the guy's belt stretched oval and he started up into the air, spinning a little, his back arched, his head and legs and arms hanging down. Reacher waited and timed it and pulled and pushed and shoved and got him up over the angle and watched as he dragged onward into the load bed. Reacher stepped back to the front and waited a beat and then stopped the winch. He came back and leaned into the load bed and released the hook, and then he did the same things all over again for the second guy, like a veterinarian called out to a couple of dead heifers.

Reacher drove five miles south and slowed and stopped just before the shared driveway that ran west towards the three houses huddled together. They had been painted white a generation ago and still managed a grey gleam in the moonlight. They were substantial buildings, arranged along a short arc without much space between them. There was no landscaping. Just threadbare gravel and weeds and three parked cars, and then a heavy post-and-rail fence, and then flat empty fields running away into the darkness.

There was a light behind a ground floor window in the house on the right. No other signs of activity.

Reacher pulled thirty feet ahead and then backed up and turned and reversed into the driveway. Gravel crunched and scrabbled under his tyres. A noisy approach. He risked fifty yards, which was about halfway. Then he stopped and slid out and unlatched the tailgate. He climbed up into the load bed and grabbed the first guy by the belt and the collar and heaved and hauled and half dragged and half rolled him to the edge and then put the sole of his boot against the guy's hip and shoved him over. The guy fell three feet and thumped down on his side and settled on his back.

Return to sender.

Reacher went back for the second guy and pushed and pulled and hauled and rolled him out of the truck right on top of his buddy. Then he latched the tailgate again and vaulted over the side to the ground and got behind the wheel and took off fast.

The four Duncans were still around the table in Jasper's kitchen. Not a planned meeting, but they had a permanently long agenda and they were taking advantage of circumstances. Foremost in their minds was an emerging delay on the Canadian border. Jacob said, 'We're getting pressure from our friend to the south.'

Jonas said, 'We can't control what we can't control.'

'Try telling that to him.'

'He'll get his shipment.'

'When?'

'Whenever.'

'He paid upfront.'

'He always does.'

'A lot of money.'

'It always is.'

'But this time he's agitated. He wants action. And here's the thing. It was very strange. He called me, and it was like jumping into the conversation halfway through.'

'What?'

'He was frustrated, obviously. But also a little surly, like we weren't taking him seriously. Like he had made prior communications that had gone unheeded. Like we had ignored warnings. I felt like he was on page three and I was on page one.'

'He's losing his mind.'

'Unless.'

'Unless what?'

'Unless one of us took a couple of his calls already.'

Jonas Duncan said, 'Well, I didn't.'

'Me either,' Jasper Duncan said.

'You sure?'

'Of course.'

'Because there's really no other explanation here. And remember, this is a guy we can't afford to mess with. This is a deeply unpleasant person.'

Jacob's brothers both shrugged. Two men in their sixties, gnarled, battered, built like fireplugs. Jonas said, 'Don't look at me.'

'Me either,' Jasper said again.

Only Seth Duncan hadn't spoken. Not a word. Jacob's son.

His father asked, 'What aren't you telling us, boy?'

Seth looked down at the table. Then he looked up, awkwardly, the aluminium plate huge on his face. His father and his two uncles stared right back at him. He said, 'It wasn't me who broke Eleanor's nose tonight.'

ELEVEN

JASPER DUNCAN TOOK A PART-USED BOTTLE OF KNOB CREEK whiskey from his kitchen cabinet and stuck three gnarled fingers and a blunt thumb in four chipped glasses. He put them on the table and pulled the cork from the bottle and poured four generous measures. He slid the glasses across the scarred wood, a little ceremony, focused and precise. He sat down again and each man took an initial sip, and then the four glasses went back to the table, a ragged little volley of four separate thumps in the quiet of the night.

Jacob Duncan said, 'From the beginning, son.'

Seth Duncan said, 'I'm dealing with it.'

'But not very well, by the sound of it.'

'He's my customer.'

Jacob shook his head. 'He was your contact, back in the day, but we're a family. We do everything together, and nothing apart. There's no such thing as a side deal.'

'We were leaving money on the table.'

'You don't need to go over ancient history. You found a guy willing to pay more for the same merchandise, and we surely appreciate that. But rewards bring risks. There's no such thing as something for nothing. No free lunch. So what happened?'

 

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