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

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

Jacob said, 'Naturally. Our friend would expect nothing less. Instructions will be issued, and sanctions will be advertised.'

'And our boys should be out there too. Ears and eyes open. We need to feel we made some contribution, at least.'

'Naturally,' Jacob said again. 'So are we in or out?'

No one spoke for a long moment. Then Jasper said, 'I'm in.'

'Me too,' Jonas said.

Jacob Duncan nodded and unfolded his hands.

'That's a majority, then,' he said. 'Which I'm mighty relieved to have, because I took the liberty of calling our friend to the south two hours ago. Our boys and his are already on the hunt.'

'I want to be there,' Seth said. 'When the stranger gets it.'

FIFTEEN

REACHER WAS HALF EXPECTING SOMETHING NAILED TOGETHER from sod and rotten boards, like a Dust Bowl photograph, but the woman drove him down a long gravel farm track to a neat two-storey dwelling standing alone in the corner of a spread that might have covered a thousand acres. The woman parked behind the house, next to a line of old tumbledown barns and sheds. Reacher could hear chickens in a coop, and he could smell pigs in a sty. And earth, and air, and weather. The countryside, in all its winter glory. The woman said, 'I don't mean to be rude, but how much are you planning to pay me?'

Reacher smiled. 'Deciding how much food to give me?'

'Something like that.'

'My breakfast average west of the Mississippi is about fifteen bucks with tip.'

The woman looked surprised. And satisfied.

'That's a lot of money,' she said. 'That's two hours' wages. That's like having a nine-day work week.'

'Not all profit,' Reacher said. 'I'm hungry, don't forget.'

She led him inside through a door to a back hallway. The house was what Seth Duncan's place might have been before the expensive renovations. Low ceilings overhead, small panes of wavy glass in the windows, uneven floors underfoot, the whole place old and antique and outdated in every possible way, but cleaned and tidied and well maintained for a hundred consecutive years. The kitchen was immaculate. The stove was cold.

'You didn't eat yet?' Reacher asked.

'I don't eat,' the woman said. 'Not breakfast, at least.'

'Dieting?'

The woman didn't answer, and Reacher immediately felt stupid.

'I'm buying,' he said. 'Thirty bucks. Let's both have some fun.'

'I don't want charity.'

'It isn't charity. I'm returning a favour, that's all. You stuck your neck out bringing me here.'

'I was just trying to be a decent person.'

'Me too,' Reacher said. 'Take it or leave it.'

She said, 'I'll take it.'

He said, 'What's your name? Most times when I have breakfast with a lady, I know her name at least.'

'My name is Dorothy.'

'I'm pleased to meet you, Dorothy. You married?'

'I was. Now I'm not.'

'You know my name?'

'Your name is Jack Reacher. We've all been informed. The word is out.'

'I told the doctor's wife.'

'And she told the Duncans. Don't blame her for it. It's automatic. She's trying to pay down her debt, like all of us.'

'What does she owe them?'

'She sided with me, twenty-five years ago.'

Roberto Cassano and Angelo Mancini were driving north in a rented Impala. They were based in a Courtyard Marriott, which was the only hotel in the county seat, which was nothing more than a token grid of streets set in the middle of what felt like a billion square miles of absolutely nothing at all. They had learned to watch their fuel gauge. Nebraska was that kind of place. It paid to fill up at every gas station you saw. The next one could be a million miles away.

They were from Vegas, which as always meant they were really from somewhere else. New York, in Cassano's case, and Philadelphia, in Mancini's. They had paid their dues in their home towns, and then they had gotten hired together in Miami, like playing triple-A ball, and then they had moved up to the big show out in the Nevada desert. Tourists were told that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but that wasn't true as far as Cassano and Mancini were concerned. They were travelling men, always on the move, tasked to roam around and deal with the first faint pre-echoes of trouble long before it rolled in and hit their boss where he lived.

Hence the trip to the vast agricultural wastelands, nearly eight hundred miles north and east of the glitter and the glamour. There was a snafu in the supply chain, and it was a day or two away from getting extremely embarrassing. Their boss had promised certain specific things to certain specific people, and it would do him no good at all if he couldn't deliver. So Cassano and Mancini had so far been on the scene for seventy-two hours straight, and they had smacked some beanpole yokel's wife around, just to make their point. Then some other related yokel had called with a claim that the snafu was being caused by a stranger poking his nose in where it didn't belong. Bullshit, possibly. Quite probably entirely unconnected. Just an excuse. But Cassano and Mancini were only sixty miles away, so their boss was sending them north to help, because if the yokel's statement was indeed a lie, then it indicated vulnerability, and therefore minor assistance rendered now would leverage a better deal later. An obvious move. This was American business, after all. Forcing down the wholesale price was the name of the game.

They came up the crappy two-lane and rolled through the crappy crossroads and pulled in at the motel. They had seen it before. It looked OK at night. Not so good in the daylight. In the daylight it looked sad and botched and half-hearted. They saw a damaged Subaru standing near one of the cabins. It was all smashed up. There was nothing else to see. They parked in the lot outside the lounge and got out of the rental car and stood and stretched. Two city boys, yawning, scoured by the endless wind. Cassano was medium height, dark, muscled, blank-eyed. Mancini was pretty much the same. They both wore good shoes and dark suits and coloured shirts and no ties and wool overcoats. They were often mistaken for each other.

They went inside, to find the motel owner. Which they did, immediately. They found him behind the bar, using a rag, wiping a bunch of sticky overlapping rings off the wood. Some kind of a sadsack loser, with dyed red hair.

Cassano said, 'We represent the Duncan family,' which he had been promised would produce results. And it did. The guy with the hair dropped the rag and stepped back and almost came to attention and saluted, like he was in the army, like a superior officer had just yelled at him.

Cassano said, 'You sheltered a guy here last night.'

The guy with the hair said, 'No, sir, I did not. I tossed him out.'

Mancini said, 'It's cold.'

The guy behind the bar said nothing, not following.

Cassano said, 'If he didn't sleep here, where the hell did he sleep? You got no local competition. And he didn't sleep out under a hedge. For one thing, there don't seem to be any hedges in Nebraska. For another, he'd have frozen his ass off.'

'I don't know where he went.'

'You sure?'

'He wouldn't tell me.'

'Any kindly souls here, who would take a stranger in?'

'Not if the Duncans told them not to.'

'Then he must have stayed here.'

'Sir, I told you, he didn't.'

'You checked his room?'

'He returned the key before he left.'

'More than one way into a room, asshole. Did you check it?'

'The housekeeper already made it up.'

'She say anything?'

'No.'

'Where is she?'

'She finished. She left. She went home.'

'What's her name?'

'Dorothy.'

Mancini said, 'Tell us where Dorothy lives.'

SIXTEEN

DOROTHY'S IDEA OF A FIFTEEN-DOLLAR BREAKFAST TURNED OUT to be a regular feast. Coffee first, while the rest of it was cooking, which was oatmeal, and bacon, and eggs, and toast, big heaping portions, lots of everything, all the food groups, all piping hot, served on thick china plates that must have been fifty years old, and eaten with ancient silverware that had heavy square Georgian handles.

 

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