Home > Worth Dying For (Jack Reacher #15)(2)

Worth Dying For (Jack Reacher #15)(2)
Author: Lee Child

Tyler waited. He knew he might have to wait all day, and he was prepared to. He was a patient man. He used the dead time visualizing the sequence of possible events. He imagined the big man in the brown coat stepping into the scope's field of view, stopping, standing still, turning his back, putting his hand on the handle.

A hundred and twenty yards.

A single high velocity round.

The end of the road.

TWO

JACK REACHER WAS THE BIG MAN IN THE BROWN COAT, AND FOR HIM that particular road had started four miles away, in the middle of an evening, with a ringing telephone in a motel lounge at a crossroads, where a driver who had given him a ride had let him out before turning in a direction Reacher didn't want to go. The land all around was dark and flat and dead and empty. The motel was the only living thing in sight. It looked like it had been built forty or fifty years earlier in a burst of commercial enthusiasm. Perhaps great possibilities had been anticipated for that location. But clearly the great possibilities had never materialized, or perhaps they had been illusions to begin with. One of the four crossroads lots held the abandoned shell of a gas station. Another had a poured foundation, perhaps for a large store or even a small mall, with nothing ever built on it. One was completely empty.

But the motel had endured. It was an adventurous design. It looked like the drawings Reacher had seen as a kid in boys' comic books, of space colonies set up on the moon or on Mars. The main building was perfectly round, with a domed roof. Beyond it each cabin was a circular domed structure of its own, trailing away from the mothership in a lazy curl, getting smaller as they went to exaggerate the perspective. Family rooms near the office, individual accommodations down the line. All the siding was painted silver, and there were vertical aluminium accents spaced to frame the windows and the doors. Concealed neon lighting in the eaves of the circular roofs cast a ghostly blue glow. The paths all around were made of grey gravel boxed in with timbers that were also painted silver. The pole the motel sign was set on was disguised with painted plywood to look like a space rocket resting on a tripod of slim fins. The motel's name was the Apollo Inn, and it was written in letters that looked like the numbers on the bottom of a bank cheque.

Inside, the main building was mostly an open space, except for a slice boxed off for a back office and what Reacher guessed were two restrooms. There was a curved reception counter and a hundred feet opposite there was a curved bar. The place was basically a lounge, with a pie-shaped parquet dance floor and huddles of red velvet chairs set around cocktail tables equipped with lamps with tasselled shades. The interior of the domed roof was a concave cyclorama washed by red neon. There was plenty more indirect lighting everywhere else, all of it red or pink. There was tinkly piano music playing softly over hidden loudspeakers. The whole place was bizarre, like a 1960s vision of Las Vegas transplanted to outer space.

And the whole place was deserted, apart from one guy at the bar and one guy behind it. Reacher waited at the reception counter and the guy behind the bar hustled over and seemed genuinely surprised when Reacher asked him for a room, as if such requests were rare. But he stepped to it smartly enough and coughed up a key in exchange for thirty dollars in cash. He was more than middle-aged, maybe fifty-five or sixty, not tall, not lean, with a full head of hair dyed a lively russet colour that Reacher was more used to seeing on Frenchwomen of a certain age. He put Reacher's thirty bucks in a drawer and made a fussy notation in a book. Probably the heir of the lunatics who had built the place. Probably worked nowhere else his whole life, probably making ends meet by pulling quintuple duty as manager, desk clerk, barman, handyman and maid. He closed the book and put it in a different drawer and set off back towards the bar.

'Got coffee over there?' Reacher asked him.

The guy turned and said, 'Sure,' with a smile and a measure of satisfaction in his voice, as if an ancient decision to set a Bunn flask going every night had been finally vindicated. Reacher followed him through the neon wash and propped himself on a stool three spaces away from the other customer. The other customer was a man of about forty. He was wearing a thick tweed sports coat with leather patches at the elbows. He had those elbows on the bar, and his hands were curled protectively around a rocks glass full of ice and amber liquid. He was staring down at it with an unfocused gaze. Probably not his first glass of the evening. Maybe not even his third or his fourth. His skin was damp. He looked pretty far gone.

The guy with the dyed hair poured coffee into a china mug decorated with the NASA logo and slid it across the bar with great pride and ceremony. Maybe a priceless antique.

'Cream?' he asked. 'Sugar?'

'Neither,' Reacher said.

'Passing through?'

'Aiming to turn east as soon as I can.'

'How far east?'

'All the way east,' Reacher said. 'Virginia.'

The guy with the hair nodded sagely. 'Then you'll need to go south first. Until you hit the Interstate.'

'That's the plan,' Reacher said.

'Where did you start out today?'

'North of here,' Reacher said.

'Driving?'

'Hitching rides.'

The guy with the hair said nothing more, because there was nothing more to say. Bartenders like to stay cheerful, and there was no cheerful direction for the conversation to go. Hitching a ride on a back road in the dead of winter in the forty-first least densely populated state of America's fifty was not going to be easy, and the guy was too polite to say so. Reacher picked up the mug and tried to hold it steady. A test. The result was not good. Every tendon and ligament and muscle from his fingertips to his ribcage burned and quivered and the microscopic motion in his hand set up small concentric ripples in the coffee. He concentrated hard and brought the mug to his lips, aiming for smoothness, achieving lurching, erratic movement. The drunk guy watched him for a moment and then looked away. The coffee was hot and a little stewed, but it had caffeine in it, which was really all it needed. The drunk guy took a sip from his glass and put it back on its coaster and stared at it miserably. His lips were parted slightly and bubbles of moisture were forming in their corners. He sipped again. Reacher sipped again, slower. Nobody spoke. The drunk guy finished up and got a refill. Jim Beam. Bourbon, at least a triple. Reacher's arm started to feel a little better. Coffee, good for what ails you.

Then the phone rang.

Actually, two phones rang. One number, two instruments, one over on the reception desk, the other on a shelf behind the bar. Quintuple duty. The guy with the hair couldn't be everywhere at once. He picked up and said, 'This is the Apollo Inn,' just as proudly and brightly and enthusiastically as if it was the establishment's first-ever call on opening night. Then he listened for a spell and pressed the mouthpiece to his chest and said, 'Doctor, it's for you.'

Automatically Reacher glanced backward, looking for a doctor. No one there. Beside him the drunk guy said, 'Who is it?'

The bartender said, 'It's Mrs Duncan.'

The drunk guy said, 'What's her problem?'

'Her nose is bleeding. Won't stop.'

The drunk guy said, 'Tell her you haven't seen me.'

The guy with the hair relayed the lie and put the phone down. The drunk guy slumped and his face dropped almost level with the rim of his glass.

'You're a doctor?' Reacher asked him.

'What do you care?'

'Is Mrs Duncan your patient?'

'Technically.'

'And you're blowing her off?'

'What are you, the ethics board? It's a nosebleed.'

'That won't stop. Could be serious.'

'She's thirty-three years old and healthy. No history of hypertension or blood disorders. She's not a drug user. No reason to get alarmed.' The guy picked up his glass. A gulp, a swallow, a gulp, a swallow.

 

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