Home > Worth Dying For (Jack Reacher #15)(4)

Worth Dying For (Jack Reacher #15)(4)
Author: Lee Child

Quite a face. It was framed by black hair and had pale skin and frightened eyes at the top, and then a red-soaked handkerchief pressed tight at the apex of a triangular red gush that had flooded downward past the mouth and neck to the blouse below. There was a string of blood-soaked pearls. The blouse was silk and it was wet to the waist. The woman took the handkerchief away from her nose. She had split lips and blood-rimed teeth. Her nose was still leaking, a steady stream.

'You came,' she said.

The doctor blinked twice and focused hard and turned down his mouth in a frown and nodded. He said, 'We should take a look at that.'

'You've been drinking,' the woman said. Then she looked at Reacher and asked, 'Who are you?'

'I drove,' Reacher said.

'Because he's drunk?'

'He'll be OK. I wouldn't let him do brain surgery, but he can stop the bleeding.'

The woman thought about it for a moment and then she nodded and put the handkerchief back to her face and opened the door wide.

They used the kitchen. The doctor was drunk as a skunk but the procedure was simple and the guy retained enough muscle memory to get himself through it. Reacher soaked cloths in warm water and passed them across and the doctor cleaned the woman's face and jammed her nostrils solid with gauze and used butterfly closures on her cut lips. The anaesthetic took the pain away and she settled into a calm and dreamy state. It was hard to say exactly what she looked like. Her nose had been busted before. That was clear. Apart from that she had good skin and fine bone structure and pretty eyes. She was slim and fairly tall, well dressed and solidly prosperous. As was the house itself. It was warm. The floors were wide planks, lustrous with a hundred years of wax. There was a lot of millwork and fine detail and subtle pastel shades. Books on the shelves, paintings on the walls, rugs on the floors. In the living room there was a wedding photograph in a silver frame. It showed a younger and intact version of the woman with a tall reedy man in a grey morning suit. He had dark hair and a long nose and bright eyes and he looked very smug. Not an athlete or a manual worker, not a professor or a poet. Not a farmer, either. A businessman, probably. An executive of some kind. An indoors type of guy, soft, with energy but no vigour.

Reacher headed back to the kitchen and found the doctor washing his hands in the sink and the woman brushing her hair without the help of a mirror. He asked her, 'You OK now?'

She said, 'Not too bad,' slow and nasal and indistinct.

'Your husband's not here?'

'He decided to go out for dinner. With his friends.'

'What's his name?'

'His name is Seth.'

'And what's your name?'

'My name is Eleanor.'

'You been taking aspirin, Eleanor?'

'Yes.'

'Because Seth does this a lot?'

She paused a long, long time, and then she shook her head.

'I tripped,' she said. 'On the edge of the rug.'

'More than once, all in a few days? The same rug?'

'Yes.'

'I'd change that rug, if I were you.'

'I'm sure it won't happen again.'

They waited ten minutes in the kitchen while she went upstairs to take a shower and change. They heard the water run and stop and heard her call down that she was OK and on her way to bed. So they left. The front door clicked behind them. The doctor staggered to the car and dumped himself in the passenger seat with his bag between his feet. Reacher started up and reversed down the driveway to the road. He spun the wheel and hit the gas and took off, back the way they had come.

'Thank God,' the doctor said.

'That she was OK?'

'No, that Seth Duncan wasn't there.'

'I saw his picture. He doesn't look like much to me. I bet his dog's a poodle.'

'They don't have a dog.'

'Figure of speech. I can see a country doctor being worried about getting in the middle of a domestic dispute where the guy drinks beer and wears a sleeveless T-shirt and has a couple of pit bull terriers in the yard, with broken-down appliances and cars. But apparently Seth Duncan doesn't.'

The doctor said nothing.

Reacher said, 'But you're scared of him anyway. So his power comes from somewhere else. Financial or political, maybe. He has a nice house.'

The doctor said nothing.

Reacher asked, 'Was it him?'

'Yes.'

'You know that for sure?'

'Yes.'

'And he's done it before?'

'Yes.'

'How many times?'

'A lot. Sometimes it's her ribs.'

'Has she told the cops?'

'We don't have cops. We depend on the county. They're usually sixty miles away.'

'She could call.'

'She's not going to press charges. They never do. If they let it go the first time, that's it.'

'Where does a guy like Duncan go to eat dinner with his friends?'

The doctor didn't answer, and Reacher didn't ask again.

The doctor said, 'Are we heading back to the lounge?'

'No, I'm taking you home.'

'Thanks. That's good of you. But it's a long walk back to the motel.'

'Your problem, not mine,' Reacher said. 'I'm keeping the car. You can hike over and pick it up in the morning.'

Five miles south of the motel the doctor stared all over again at the three old houses standing alone at the end of their driveway, and then he faced front and directed Reacher left and right and left along the boundaries of dark empty fields to a new ranch house set on a couple of flat acres bounded by a post-and-rail fence.

'Got your key?' Reacher asked him.

'On the ring.'

'Got another key?'

'My wife will let me in.'

'You hope,' Reacher said. 'Goodnight.'

He watched the doctor stumble through the first twenty feet of his driveway and then he K-turned and threaded back to the main north-south two-lane. If in doubt turn left, was his motto, so he headed north a mile and then he pulled over and thought. Where would a guy like Seth Duncan go for dinner with his friends?

FIVE

A STEAKHOUSE, WAS REACHER'S CONCLUSION. A RURAL AREA, FARM country, a bunch of prosperous types playing good-old-boy, rolling their sleeves, loosening their ties, ordering a pitcher of domestic beer, getting sirloins cooked rare, smirking about the coastal pussies who worried about cholesterol. Nebraska counties were presumably huge and thinly populated, which could put thirty or more miles between restaurants. But the night was dark and steakhouses always had lit signs. Part of the culture. Either the word Steakhouse in antique script along the spine of the roof, all outlined in neon, or an upmarket name-board all blasted with spotlights.

Reacher killed his headlights and climbed out of the Subaru and grabbed one of the roof rails and stepped up on the hood and then crouched and eased himself up on the roof. He stood tall, his eye line eleven feet above the grade in a flat part of the world. He turned a full 360 and peered into the darkness. Saw the ghostly blue glow of the motel far off to the north, and then a distant pink halo maybe ten miles south and west. Maybe just a gas station, but it was the only other light to be seen. So Reacher drove south and then west. He stopped twice more to fix his bearings. The glow in the air grew brighter as he homed in on it. Red neon, made slightly pink by the night mist. Could be anything. A liquor store, another motel, Exxon.

It was a steakhouse. He came up on it end-on. It was a long low place with candles in the windows and siding like a barn and a swaybacked roof like an old mare in a field. It was standing alone in an acre of beaten dirt. It had a bright sign along its ridgeline, a bird's nest of glass tubing and metal supports spelling out the word Steakhouse in antique script and red light. It was ringed with parked cars, all of them nose-in like sucking pigs or jets at a terminal. There were sedans and pick-up trucks and SUVs, some of them new, some of them old, most of them domestic.

 

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