Home > Worth Dying For (Jack Reacher #15)(11)

Worth Dying For (Jack Reacher #15)(11)
Author: Lee Child

'We're a week late.'

'We aren't. We don't specify dates.'

Seth Duncan said nothing.

Jacob said, 'What? You guaranteed a date?'

Seth Duncan nodded.

Jacob said, 'That was dumb, son. We never specify dates. You know we can't afford to. There are a hundred factors outside of our control. The weather, for one.'

'I used a worst-case analysis.'

'You think too much. There's always something worse than the worst. Count on it. So what happened?'

'Two guys showed up. At my house. Two days ago. His people. Tough guys.'

'Where was Brett?'

'I had to tell him I was expecting them.'

'Were you?'

'More or less.'

'Why didn't you tell us?'

'Because I'm dealing with it.'

'Not very well, son. Apparently. What did they do?'

'They said they were there to deliver a message from their boss. An expression of displeasure. I said I understood. I explained. I apologized. They said that wasn't good enough. They said they had been told to leave marks. I said they couldn't. I said I have to be out and about. I have a business to run. So they hit Eleanor instead. To make their point.'

'Just like that?'

'They asked first. They made me agree. They made her agree, too. They made me hold her. They took turns. I told her sorry afterwards. She said, what's the difference? Them then or you later? Because she knew I was agitated.'

'And then what?'

'I asked for another week. They gave me forty-eight hours.'

'So they came back again? Tonight?'

'Yes. They did it all over again.'

'So who was the guy in the restaurant? One of them?'

'No, he wasn't one of them. I told you, I never saw him before.'

Jonas Duncan said, 'He was a passer-by. Like we figured. From what he said at the time, to the boy. A passer-by full of the wrong end of the stick on this occasion.'

Jacob said, 'Well, at least he's out of our hair.'

Then they heard faint sounds outside. Tyres on gravel. A vehicle, on their driveway. It came slow, whining in a low gear. It seemed to stop halfway. The engine kept on running. There was a pause, and then a ragged thump, dull, percussive, somehow mixed with the sound of breath expelled, and then another pause, and another sound. Then the vehicle drove away, faster this time, with acceleration and gear changes, and the world went quiet again.

Jonas Duncan was first out the door. From fifty yards he could see strange humped shapes in the moonlight. From twenty he saw what they were. From five he saw what condition they were in. He said, 'Not out of our hair. Not exactly. Not yet.'

Jacob Duncan said, 'Who the hell is this guy?'

Seth Duncan and his uncle Jasper didn't speak.

Reacher parked the pick-up truck next to the wrecked Subaru and found the motel owner waiting at his door. Mr Vincent. His hair looked black in the light.

'Changing the locks?' Reacher asked him.

The guy said, 'I hope I won't have to.'

'But?'

'I can't let you stay here.'

Reacher said, 'I paid thirty dollars.'

'I'll refund it, of course.'

'That's not the point. A deal is a deal. I didn't damage anything.'

Vincent said nothing.

Reacher said, 'They already know I'm here. Where else could I be?'

'It was OK before.'

'Before what?'

'Before they told me not to let you stay here. Ignorance of the law is no offence. But I can't defy them now. Not after they informed me.'

'When did they inform you?'

'Two minutes ago. By phone.'

'You always do what they tell you?'

Vincent didn't answer.

'Dumb question, I suppose,' Reacher said.

'I'd lose everything I've worked for. And my family before me. All those years.'

'Since 1969?' Reacher asked.

'How did you know that?'

'Just a lucky guess. The moon landing and all. The Apollo programme.'

'Do you remember 1969?'

'Vaguely.'

'I loved it. So many things were going on. I don't know what happened afterwards. It really seemed like the start of a new era.'

'It was,' Reacher said. 'Just not the era you expected.'

'I'm sorry about this.'

'You going to offer to drive me down to the Interstate now?'

'I can't do that either. We're not supposed to help you in any way at all.'

'We?'

'Any of us. They're putting the word out.'

'Well, I seem to have inherited a truck,' Reacher said. 'I can drive myself.'

'Don't,' Vincent said. 'They'll report it stolen. The county police will stop you. You won't get halfway there.'

'The Duncans control the cops too?'

'No, not really. But a stolen truck is a stolen truck, isn't it?'

'They want me to stay here?'

'They do now. You started a war. They want to finish it.'

TWELVE

REACHER STOOD IN THE COLD BETWEEN THE TRUCK AND THE motel cabin and looked all around. There was nothing much to see. The blue glow of the neon reached only as far as the dead Subaru, and then it faded away. Overhead was a moon and a billion chilly stars.

Reacher said, 'You still got coffee in the pot?'

Vincent said, 'I can't serve you.'

'I won't rat you out.'

'They might be watching.'

'They're driving two guys sixty miles to the hospital.'

'Not all of them.'

'This is the last place they'll look. They told you to move me on. They'll assume you obeyed.'

'I don't know.'

'Let's make a deal,' Reacher said. 'I'll move on, to spare you the embarrassment. You can keep the thirty bucks, because this isn't your fault. In return I want a cup of coffee and some answers.'

* * *

The lounge was dark, except for a lone work light behind the bar. No more soft reds and pinks. Just a harsh fluorescent tube, with a pronounced flicker and a green colour cast and a noisy component. The music was off and the room was silent, apart from the buzz of the light and the rush of air in the heating system. Vincent filled the Bunn machine with water and spooned ground coffee from a can the size of a drum into a paper filter the size of a hat. He set it going and Reacher listened to the water gulping and hissing and watched the precious brown liquid streaming down into the flask.

Reacher said, 'Start at the beginning.'

Vincent said, 'The beginning is a long time ago.'

'It always is.'

'They're an old family.'

'They always are.'

'The first one I knew was old man Duncan. He was a farmer, from a long line of farmers. I guess the first one came here on a land grant. Maybe after the Civil War. They grew corn and beans and built up a big acreage. The old man inherited it all. He had three sons, Jacob, Jasper, and Jonas. It was an open secret that the boys hated farming. But they kept the place going until the old man died. So as not to break his heart. Then they sold up. They went into the trucking business. Much less work. They split up their place and sold it off to their neighbours. Which made sense all around. What was a big spread back in the days of horses and mules wasn't so big any more, with tractors and all, and economies of scale. Land prices were high back then, but the boys sweetened the deals. They gave discounts, if their neighbours signed up to use Duncan Transportation to haul away their harvests. Which again made sense all around. Everyone was getting what they wanted. Everyone was happy.'

'Until?'

'Things went sour kind of slowly. There was a dispute with one of the neighbours. Ancient history now. This was twenty-five years ago, probably. But it was an acrimonious situation. It festered all one summer, and then that guy didn't get his crop hauled away. The Duncans just wouldn't do it. It rotted on the ground. The guy didn't get paid that year.'

'He couldn't find someone else to haul it?'

'By then the Duncans had the county all sewn up. Not worth it for some other outfit to come all the way here just for one load.'

 

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