Home > Worth Dying For (Jack Reacher #15)(5)

Worth Dying For (Jack Reacher #15)(5)
Author: Lee Child

Reacher parked the doctor's Subaru on its own near the road. He climbed out and stood for a moment in the cold, rolling his shoulders, trying to get his upper body comfortable. He had never taken aspirin and wasn't about to start. He had been banged up in the hospital a couple of times, with IV morphine drips in his arms, and he remembered that experience quite fondly. But outside of the ICU he was going to rely on time and willpower. No other option.

He walked to the steakhouse door. Inside it was a small square lobby with another door. Inside that was an unattended maitre d' lectern with a reading light and a reservations book. To the right was a small dining room with two couples finishing up their meals. To the left, the exact same thing. Ahead, a short corridor with a larger room at the end of it. Low ceilings, unfinished wood on the walls, brass accents. A warm, intimate place.

Reacher stepped past the lectern and checked the larger room. Directly inside the arch was a table for two. It had one guy at it, eating, wearing a red Cornhuskers football jacket. The University of Nebraska. In the main body of the room was a table for eight. It was occupied by seven men, coats and ties, three facing three plus the guy from the wedding photograph at the head. He was a little older than the picture, a little bonier, even more smug, but it was the same guy. No question. He was unmistakable. The table held the wreckage of a big meal. Plates, glasses, serrated knives with worn wooden handles.

Reacher stepped into the room. As he moved the guy alone at the table for two stood up smoothly and sidestepped into Reacher's path. He raised his hand like a traffic cop. Then he placed that hand on Reacher's chest. He was a big man. Nearly as tall as Reacher himself, a whole lot younger, maybe a little heavier, in good shape, with some level of mute intelligence in his eyes. Strength and brains. A dangerous mixture. Reacher preferred the old days, when muscle was dumb. He blamed education. The end of social promotion. There was a genetic price to be paid for making athletes attend class.

Nobody looked over from the big table.

Reacher said, 'What's your name, fat boy?'

The guy said, 'My name?'

'It's not a difficult question.'

'Brett.'

Reacher said, 'So here's the thing, Brett. Either you take your hand off my chest, or I'll take it off your wrist.'

The guy dropped his hand. But he didn't move out of the way.

'What?' Reacher asked.

The guy asked, 'Are you here to see Mr Duncan?'

'What do you care?'

'I work for Mr Duncan.'

'Really?' Reacher said. 'What do you do for him?'

'I schedule his appointments.'

'And?'

'You don't have one.'

'When can I get one?'

'How does never work for you?'

'Not real well, Brett.'

'Sir, you need to leave.'

'What are you, security? A bodyguard? What the hell is he?'

'He's a private citizen. I'm one of his assistants, that's all. And now we need to get you back to your car.'

'You want to walk me out to the lot?'

'Sir, I'm just doing my job.'

The seven men at the big table were all hunched forward on their elbows, conspiratorial, six of them listening to a story Duncan was telling, laughing on cue, having a hell of a time. Elsewhere in the building there were kitchen noises and the sharp sounds of silverware on plates and the thump of glasses going down on wooden tabletops.

Reacher said, 'Are you sure about this?'

The young man said, 'I'd appreciate it.'

Reacher shrugged.

'OK,' he said. 'Let's go.' He turned and threaded his way back around the lectern and through the first door and through the second and out to the cold night air. The big guy followed him all the way. Reacher squeezed between two trucks and headed across open ground towards the Subaru. The big guy followed him all the way. Reacher stopped ten feet short of the car and turned around. The big guy stopped too, face to face. He waited, standing easy, relaxed, patient, competent.

Reacher said, 'Can I give you some advice?'

'About what?'

'You're smart, but you're not a genius. You just swapped a good tactical situation for a much worse one. Inside, there were crowded quarters and witnesses and telephones and possible interventions, but out here there's nothing at all. You just gave away a big advantage. Out here I could take my sweet time kicking your ass and there's no one to help you.'

'Nobody's ass needs to get kicked tonight.'

'I agree. But whatever, I still need to give Mr Duncan a message.'

'What message?'

'He hits his wife. I need to explain to him why that's a bad idea.'

'I'm sure you're mistaken.'

'I've seen the evidence. Now I need to see Duncan.'

'Sir, get real. You won't be seeing anything. Only one of us is going back in there tonight, and it won't be you.'

'You enjoy working for a guy like that?'

'I have no complaints.'

'You might, later. Someone told me the nearest ambulance is sixty miles away. You could be lying out here for an hour.'

'Sir, you need to get in your car and move right along.'

Reacher put his hands in his coat pockets, to immobilize his arms, to protect them from further damage. He said, 'Last chance, Brett. You can still walk away. You don't need to get hurt for scum like that.'

'I have a job to do.'

Reacher nodded, and said 'Listen, kid' very quietly, and the big guy leaned in fractionally to hear the next part of the sentence, and Reacher kicked him hard in the groin, right-footed, a heavy boot on the end of a driving leg, and then he stepped back while the guy jackknifed ninety degrees and puked and retched and gasped and spluttered. Then Reacher kicked him again, a solid blow to the side of the head, like a soccer player pivoting to drive a volleyed crossfield pass into the goal. The guy pinwheeled on the balls of his feet and went down like he was trying to screw himself into the ground.

Reacher kept his hands in his pockets and headed for the steakhouse door again.

SIX

THE PARTY WAS STILL IN FULL SWING IN THE BACK ROOM. NO more elbows on tables. Now all seven men were leaning back expansively, enjoying themselves, spreading out, owning the space. They were all a little red in the face from the warmth and the beer, six of them half listening to the seventh boasting about something and getting ready to one-up him with the next anecdote. Reacher strolled in and stepped behind Duncan's chair and took his hands out of his pockets. He put them on Duncan's shoulders. The room went absolutely silent. Reacher leaned on his hands and pulled them back a little until Duncan's chair was balanced uneasily, up on two legs. Then he let go and the chair thumped forward again and Duncan scrambled up out of it and stood straight and turned around, equal parts fear and anger in his face, plus an attempt to play it cool for his pals. Then he looked around and couldn't find his guy, which took out some of the cool and some of the anger and left all of the fear.

Reacher asked, 'Seth Duncan?'

The bony man didn't answer.

Reacher said, 'I have a message for you, pal.'

Duncan said, 'Who from?'

'The National Association of Marriage Counselors.'

'Is there such a thing?'

'Probably.'

'What's the message?'

'It's more of a question.'

'OK, what's the question?'

'The question is, how do you like it?' Reacher hit him, a straight right to the nose, a big vicious blow, his knuckles driving through cartilage and bone and crushing it all flat. Duncan went over backward and landed on the table. He bounced once and plates broke and glasses tipped over and knives skittered away and fell to the floor.

Duncan made no attempt to get up.

Reacher walked away, down the corridor, past the lectern, back to the lot.

The key the red-headed guy had given him was marked with a big figure six, so Reacher parked next to the sixth cabin and went inside and found a miniature version of the lounge, a purely circular space except for a straight section boxed off for a bathroom and a closet. The ceiling was domed and washed with light. The bed was against the wall, on a platform that had been custom built to fit the curve. There was a tub-shaped armchair and a small round table next to it, with an old-fashioned glass television on a larger table nearby. There was an old-fashioned telephone next to the bed. It had a rotary dial. The bathroom was small but adequate, with a shower head over a tub, and the closet was about the same size as the bathroom.

 

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