Home > Worth Dying For (Jack Reacher #15)(13)

Worth Dying For (Jack Reacher #15)(13)
Author: Lee Child

Perfect.

Reacher drove in, all the way, and stopped with the hood of the truck under a kind of mezzanine half-loft built like a shelf under the peak of the roof. He shut the engine down and climbed out and walked back the way he had come, out of the shed, then twenty yards more. He turned and checked. The truck was completely hidden.

He smiled.

He thought: time for bed.

He set out walking.

He walked in the tractor ruts. The ground under his feet was uneven and hard, and progress was slower than it would have been on the grassy hump in the centre of the track, but even frozen grass can bruise and show footsteps, and Reacher always preferred to leave no trail. He made it back to the road and turned north and walked where the centre line would have been, if anyone had ever painted one. The night was still and quiet, the air frigid, the stars still bright overhead. Nothing else was moving. Up ahead there was no blue glow. The motel's lights had been turned off for the night.

He walked three fast road miles, less than an hour, and came up on the crossroads from the south. He stopped a hundred yards out and checked. On his left, the abandoned mall foundation. Beyond it, the abandoned gas station. On his right, nothing, and beyond that, the motel, dark and silent, just shapes and shadows.

No parked cars.

No parked trucks.

No watchers.

No ambush.

Reacher moved on. He came up on the motel from the rear, at the end of the curl of cabins, behind the smallest of them. All was quiet. He stayed off the gravel and minced along the silver timbers to his bathroom window. It was still open. The screen was still in the bathtub. He sat on the sill and ducked his head and swivelled his legs up and slid inside. He closed the window against the cold and turned and looked around.

His towels were where he had left them after his shower. Vincent hadn't made up the room. Reacher guessed that was tomorrow's task. No great urgency. No one was expecting a sudden demand for accommodation. Not in the wilds of Nebraska, not in the depths of winter.

Reacher stepped through to the main room and found an undisturbed situation. All was exactly as he had left it. He kept the lights off and the drapes open. He untucked the bed all around and slid in, fully dressed, boots and all. Not the first time he had slept that way. Sometimes it paid to be ready. Hence the boots, and the untucked bedding. He rolled left, rolled right, got as comfortable as he could, and a minute later he was fast asleep.

* * *

He woke up five hours later and found out he had been wrong. Vincent was not pulling quintuple duty. Only quadruple. He employed a maid. A housekeeper. Reacher was woken by the sound of her feet on the gravel. He saw her through the window. She was heading for his door, getting ready to make up his room. He threw aside the covers and sat up, feet on the floor, blinking. His arms felt a little better. Or maybe they were still numb from sleep. There was mist and cold grey light outside, a bitter winter morning, not long after dawn.

People see what they expect to see. The housekeeper used a pass key and pushed the door wide open and stepped into what she thought was a vacant room. Her eyes passed over Reacher's shape on the bed and moved on and it was a whole long second before they came back again. She didn't really react. She showed no big surprise. No yelp, no scream. She looked like a solid, capable woman. She was about sixty years old, maybe more, white, blunt and square, with blond hair fading slowly to yellow and grey. Plenty of old German genes in there, or Scandinavian.

'Excuse me,' she said. 'But Mr Vincent believed this room to be empty.'

'That was the plan,' Reacher said. 'Better for him that way. What you don't know can't hurt you.'

'You're the fellow the Duncans told him to turn out,' she said. Not a question. Just a statement, a conclusion derived from shared intelligence on the phone tree.

'I'll move on today,' Reacher said. 'I don't want to cause him any trouble.'

'I'm afraid it's you that will have the trouble. How do you plan to move on?'

'I'll hitch a ride. I'll set up south of the crossroads. I've done it before.'

'Will the first car you see stop?'

'It might.'

'What are the chances?'

'Low.'

'The first car you see won't stop. Because almost certainly the first car you see will be a local resident, and that person will get straight on the phone and tell the Duncans exactly where you are. We've had our instructions. The word is out. So the second car you see will be full of the Duncans' people. And the third, and the fourth. You're in trouble, sir. The land is flat here and it's wintertime. There's nowhere to hide.'

FOURTEEN

THE HOUSEKEEPER MOVED THROUGH THE ROOM IN AN ORDERLY, preprogrammed way, following a set routine, ignoring the anomaly represented by an illicit guest seated on the bed. She checked the bathroom, as if assessing the size of the task ahead of her, and then she butted the tub armchair with her thigh, moving it back an inch to the position decreed for it by the dents in the carpet.

Reacher asked, 'You got a cell phone?'

The woman said, 'Sure. Some minutes on it, too.'

'You going to rat me out?'

'Rat who out? This is an empty room.'

Reacher asked, 'What's to the east of here?'

'Nothing worth a lick to you,' the woman said. 'The road goes to gravel after a mile, and doesn't really take you anywhere.'

'West?'

'Same thing.'

'Why have a crossroads that doesn't lead anywhere, east or west?'

'Some crazy plan,' the woman said. 'About fifty years ago. There was supposed to be a strip right here, all commercial, a mile long, with houses east and west. A couple of farms were sold for the land, but that's about all that happened. Even the gas station went out of business, which is pretty much the kiss of death, wouldn't you say?'

'This motel is still here.'

'By the skin of its teeth. Most of what Mr Vincent earns comes from feeding whiskey to the doctor.'

'Big cash flow right there, from what I saw last night.'

'A bar needs more than one customer.'

'He's paying you.'

The woman nodded. 'Mr Vincent is a good man. He helps where he can. I'm a farmer, really. I work the winters here, because I need the money. To pay the Duncans, basically.'

'Haulage fees?'

'Mine are higher than most.'

'Why?'

'Ancient history. I wouldn't give up.'

'On what?'

'I can't talk about it,' the woman said. 'It's a forbidden subject. It was the start of everything bad. And I was wrong, anyway. It was a false allegation.'

Reacher got up off the bed. He headed for the bathroom and rinsed his face with cold water and brushed his teeth. Behind him the woman stripped the bed with fast practised movements of her wrists, sheets going one way, blankets the other. She said, 'You're heading for Virginia.'

Reacher said, 'You know my Social Security number too?'

'The doctor told his wife you were a military cop.'

'Were, as in used to be. Not any more.'

'So what are you now?'

'Hungry.'

'No breakfast here.'

'So where?'

'There's a diner an hour or so south. In town. Where the county cops get their morning coffee and doughnuts.'

'Terrific.'

The housekeeper stepped out to the path and took fresh linens from a cart. Bottom sheet, top sheet, pillowcases. Reacher asked her, 'What does Vincent pay you?'

'Minimum wage,' she said. 'That's all he can afford.'

'I could pay you more than that to cook me breakfast.'

'Where?'

'Your place.'

'Risky.'

'Why? You a terrible cook?'

She smiled, briefly. 'Do you tip well?'

'If the coffee's good.'

'I use my mother's percolator.'

'Was her coffee good?'

'The best.'

'So we're in business.'

 

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