Home > Worth Dying For (Jack Reacher #15)(14)

Worth Dying For (Jack Reacher #15)(14)
Author: Lee Child

'I don't know,' the woman said.

'They're not going to be conducting house-to-house searches. They expect to find me out in the open.'

'And when they don't?'

'Nothing for you to worry about. I'll be long gone. I like breakfast as much as the next guy, but I don't take hours to eat it.'

The woman stood there for a minute, unsure, a crisp white pillowcase held flat across her chest like a sign, or a flag, or a defence. Then she said, 'OK.'

Four hundred and fifty miles due north, because of the latitude, dawn came a little later. The grey panel truck sat astride the sandy path, hidden, inert, dewed over with cold. Its driver woke up in the dark and climbed down and took a leak against a tree, and then he drank some water and ate a candy bar and got back in his sleeping bag and watched the pale morning light filter down through the needles. He knew at best he would be there most of the day, or most of two days, and at worst most of three or four days. But then would come his share, of money and fun, and both things were worth waiting for.

He was patient by nature.

And obedient.

* * *

Reacher stood still in the middle of the room and the housekeeper finished up around him. She made the bed tight enough to bounce a dime, she changed the towels, she replaced a tiny vial of shampoo, she put out a new morsel of paper-wrapped soap, she folded an arrowhead into the toilet roll. Then she went to get her truck. It was a pick-up, a battered old item, very plain, with rust and skinny tyres and a sagging suspension. She looped around the wrecked Subaru and parked with the passenger door next to the cabin door. She checked front and rear, long and hard, and then she paused. Reacher could see she wanted to forget the whole thing and take off without him. It was right there in her face. But she didn't. She leaned across the width of the cab and opened the door and flapped her hand. Hurry up.

Reacher stepped out of the cabin and into the truck. The woman said, 'If we see anyone, you have to duck down and hide, OK?'

Reacher agreed, although it would be hard to do. It was a small truck. A Chevrolet, grimy and dusty inside, all worn plastic and vinyl, with the dash tight against his knees and the window into the load bed tight against the back of his seat.

'Got a bag?' he asked.

'Why?'

'I could put it on my head.'

'This isn't funny,' she said. She drove off, the worn old transmission taking a second to process her foot's command, something rattling under the hood, a holed muffler banging away like a motorcycle. She turned left out of the lot and drove through the crossroads and headed south. There was no other traffic. In the daylight the land all around looked flat and featureless and immense. It was all dusted white with frost. The sky was high and blank. After five minutes Reacher saw the two old buildings in the west, the sagging barn and the smaller shed with the captured pick-up in it. Then three minutes later they passed the Duncans' three houses standing alone at the end of their long shared driveway. The woman's hands went tight on the wheel and Reacher saw she had crossed her fingers. The truck rattled onward and she watched the mirror more than the road ahead and then a mile later she breathed out and relaxed.

Reacher said, 'They're only people. Three old guys and a skinny kid. They don't have magic powers.'

'They're evil,' the woman said.

They were in Jonas Duncan's kitchen, eating breakfast, biding their time, waiting for Jacob to come out with it. He had a pronouncement to make. A decision. They all knew the signs. Many times Jacob had sat quiet and distracted and contemplative, and then eventually he had delivered a nugget of wisdom, or an analysis that had cut to the heart of the matter, or a proposal that had killed three or four birds with one stone. So they waited for it, Jonas and Jasper patiently enjoying their meal, Seth struggling with it a little because chewing had become painful for him. Bruising was spreading out from under his aluminium mask. He had woken up with two black eyes the size and colour of rotting pears.

Jacob put down his knife and his fork. He dabbed his lips with his cuff. He folded his hands in front of him. He said, 'We have to ask ourselves something.'

Jonas was hosting, so he was entitled to the first response.

'What something?' he asked.

'We have to consider whether it might be worth trading a little dignity and self-respect for a useful outcome.'

'In what way?'

'We have a provocation and a threat. The provocation comes from the stranger in the motel throwing his weight around in matters that don't concern him. The threat comes from our friend to the south getting impatient. The first thing must be punished, and the second thing shouldn't have happened at all. No date should have been guaranteed. But it was, so we have to deal with it, and without judgement either. No doubt Seth was doing what he thought was best for all of us.'

Jonas asked, 'How do we deal with it?'

'Let's think about the other thing first. The stranger from the motel.'

Seth said, 'I want him hurt bad.'

'We all do, son. And we tried, didn't we? Didn't work out so well.'

'What, now we're afraid of him?'

'We are, a little bit, son. We lost three guys. We'd be stupid not to be at least a little concerned. And we're not stupid, are we? That's one thing a Duncan will never be accused of. Hence my question about self-respect.'

'You want to let him walk?'

'No, I want to tell our friend to the south that the stranger is the problem. That he's somehow the reason for the delay. Then we point out to our friend that he's already got two of his boys up here, and if he wants a bit of giddy-up in the shipment process, then maybe those two boys could be turned against the stranger. That's a win all around, isn't it? Three separate ways. First, those two boys are off Seth's back, as of right now, and second, the stranger gets hurt or killed, and third, some of the sting goes out of our friend's recent attitude, because he comes to see that the delay isn't really our fault at all. He comes to see that we're beleaguered, by outside forces, in ways that he'll readily understand, because no doubt he's beleaguered too, from time to time, in similar ways. In other words, we make common cause.'

Silence for a moment.

Then Jasper Duncan said, 'I like it.'

Jacob said, 'I like it too. Otherwise I wouldn't be proposing it. The only downside is a slight blow to our self-respect and dignity, in that it won't be our own hands on the man who transgressed against us, and we'll be admitting to our friend to the south that there are problems in this world that we can't solve all by ourselves.'

'No shame in that,' Jonas said. 'This is a very complicated business.'

Seth asked, 'You figure his boys are better than our boys?'

'Of course they are, son,' Jacob said. 'As good as our boys are, his are in a different league. There's no comparison. Which we need to bear in mind. Our friend to the south needs to remain our friend, because he would make a very unpleasant enemy.'

'But suppose the delay doesn't go away?' Jasper asked. 'Suppose nothing changes? Suppose the stranger gets nailed today and we still can't deliver for a week? Then our friend to the south knows we were lying to him.'

'I don't think the stranger will get nailed in one day,' Jacob said.

'Why not?'

'Because he seems to be a very capable person. All the evidence so far points in that direction. It could take a few days, by which time our truck could well be on its way. And even if it isn't, we could say that we thought it prudent to keep the merchandise out of the country until the matter was finally resolved. Our friend might believe that. Or, of course, he might not.'

'It's a gamble, then.'

'Indeed it is. But it's probably the best we can do. Are we in or out?'

'We should offer assistance,' Jasper said. 'And information. We should require compliance from the population.'

 

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