Home > Worth Dying For (Jack Reacher #15)(12)

Worth Dying For (Jack Reacher #15)(12)
Author: Lee Child

'The guy couldn't haul it himself?'

'They had all sold their trucks. No need for them, as far as they could see, because of the contracts, and they needed the money for mortgages anyway.'

'The guy could have rented. One time only.'

'He wouldn't have gotten out of his gate. The fine print said only a Duncan truck could haul anything off a farm. No way to contest it, not in court, and definitely not on the ground, because the football players were on the scene by then. The first generation. They must be old men themselves by now.'

'Total control,' Reacher said.

Vincent nodded.

'And very simple,' he said. 'You can work all year, but you need your harvest trucked away, or it's the same thing as sitting on your butt and growing nothing. Farmers live season to season. They can't afford to lose a whole crop. The Duncans found the perfect pinch-point. Whether by accident or design, I don't really know. But as soon as they realized what they had, they sure started enjoying it.'

'How?'

'Nothing real bad. People pay a little over the odds, and they mind their manners. That's about all, really.'

'You too, right?'

Vincent nodded again. 'This place needed some fixing, ten years ago. The Duncans loaned me the money, interest free, if I signed up with them for my deliveries.'

'And you're still paying.'

'We're all still paying.'

'Why sit still and take it?'

'You want a revolution? That's not going to happen. People have got to eat. And the Duncans are smart. No one thing is really that bad. You understand?'

'Like a frog in warm water,' Reacher said. 'That's how the doctor's wife described it to me.'

'That's how we all describe it.'

'You still get boiled to death in the end.'

'Long time coming.' Vincent turned away and filled a mug with coffee. Another NASA logo. He pushed it across the bar. He said, 'My mother was related to Neil Armstrong. The first man on the moon. Fifteenth cousin or something.'

Reacher sniffed the steam and tried the coffee. It was excellent. It was fresh, hot, and strong. Vincent said, 'President Nixon had a speech prepared, you know, just in case they got stuck up there. In case they couldn't lift off the surface. Can you imagine? Just sitting there, looking up at Earth in the sky, waiting for the air to run out?'

Reacher said, 'Aren't there laws? Monopolies, or restraint of trade or something?'

Vincent said, 'Going to a lawyer is the same thing as going bankrupt. A lawsuit takes what? Two, three years? Two or three years without your crop getting hauled is suicide. And have you ever worked on a farm? Or run a motel? Believe me, at the end of the day you don't feel like cracking the law books. You feel like getting some sleep.'

Reacher said, 'Wrecking the doctor's car wasn't a small thing.'

Vincent said, 'I agree. It was worse than usual. We're all a little unsettled by that.'

'All?'

'We all talk to each other. There's a phone tree. You know, for when something happens. We share information.'

'And what are people saying?'

'The feeling is maybe the doctor deserved it. He was way out of line.'

'For treating his patient?'

'She wasn't sick. It was an intervention.'

'I think you're all sick,' Reacher said. 'I think you're all a bunch of spineless cowards. How hard would it be to do something? One guy on his own, I agree, that's difficult. But if everyone banded together and called another trucker, they'd come. Why wouldn't they? If there's enough business here for the Duncans, there's enough for someone else.'

'The Duncans might sue.'

'Let them. Then they've got three years of legal bills and no income. The shoe would be on the other foot.'

'I don't think another trucker would take the business. They carve things up. They don't poach, in a place like this.'

'You could try.'

Vincent didn't answer.

'Whatever,' Reacher said. 'I really don't care who gets an ear of corn hauled away, or how, or if, or when. Or a bushel of beans. Or a peck or a quart or however the hell you measure beans. You can sort it out for yourselves. Or not. It's up to you. I'm on my way to Virginia.'

'It's not that easy,' Vincent said. 'Not here. People have been scared so long they can't even remember what it's like not to be scared any more.'

Reacher said nothing.

Vincent asked, 'What are you going to do?'

Reacher said, 'That depends on the Duncans. Plan A is to hitch a ride out of here. But if they want a war, then plan B is to win it. I'll keep on dumping football players on their driveway until they got none left. Then I'll walk on up and pay them a visit. Their choice.'

'Stick to plan A. Just go. That's my advice.'

'Show me some traffic and I might.'

'I need something from you.'

'Like what?'

'Your room key. I'm sorry.'

Reacher dug it out of his pocket and placed it on the bar. A big brass item, marked with a figure six.

Vincent said, 'Where are you going to sleep tonight?'

'Better that you don't know,' Reacher said. 'The Duncans might ask you. And you'd tell them, wouldn't you?'

'I'd have to,' Vincent said.

* * *

There was no more conversation. Reacher finished his coffee and walked out of the lounge, back to the truck. The winch cable had bent the light bar on the roof, so that from the front the whole thing looked a little cross-eyed. But the key turned and the engine started. Reacher drove out of the motel lot. If in doubt, turn left, was his motto. So he headed south, rolling slow, lights off, letting his eyes adjust to the night-time gloom, looking for a direction to follow.

THIRTEEN

THE ROAD WAS A NARROW STRAIGHT RIBBON, WITH DARK EMPTY fields to the right, and dark empty fields to the left. There was enough moonlight and enough starlight to make out shapes, but there weren't many shapes to make out. There was an occasional tree here and there, but mostly the land had been ploughed flat all the way to the horizon. Then three miles out Reacher saw two buildings far to the west, one large, one small, both standing alone in a field. Even at a distance and even in the dark he could tell both buildings were old and made of wood. They were no longer quite square, no longer quite upright, as if the earth was sucking them back down into itself, an inch a time, a corner at a time.

Reacher slowed and turned into a track that was nothing more than a pair of deep parallel ruts put there by the passage of tractor tyres. There was a raised hump of grass between them. The grass was frozen solid, like wire. The pick-up truck lurched and bounced and pattered. Small stones scrabbled under the wheels and skittered away. The track ran straight, then turned, then turned again, following the chequerboard pattern of the fields. The ground was bone hard. No dust came up. The two old buildings got nearer, and larger. One was a barn. The other was a smaller structure. They were about a hundred yards apart. Maybe a hundred and twenty. They were both fringed with dormant vegetation, where errant seeds had blown against their sides, and then fallen and taken root. In the winter the vegetation was nothing more than dry tangled sticks. In the summer it might be a riot of colourful vines.

Reacher looked at the barn first. It stood alone, surrounded by worn-out blacktop. It was built of timbers that looked as hard as iron, but it was rotting and leaning. The door was a slider big enough to admit some serious farm machinery. But the tilt of the building had jammed it in its tracks. The lower right-hand corner was wedged deep in the earth. The iron wheel on the rail above it had lifted off its seat.

There was a judas hole in the slider. A small regular door, inset. It was locked. There were no windows.

Reacher got back in the truck and headed for the smaller shed. It was three-sided, open at the narrow end that faced away from the barn. The tractor ruts ran all the way inside. It was for storage of some kind. Or it had been, once upon a time, long ago. It was about twice as long and a little wider than the truck.

 

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