Home > Worth Dying For (Jack Reacher #15)(8)

Worth Dying For (Jack Reacher #15)(8)
Author: Lee Child

'As much as anywhere else.'

'We should get going. You're in big trouble.'

'Not unless they send all nine at once,' Reacher said.

'All nine what?'

'Football players.'

'I said there were ten.'

'I already met one of them. He's currently indisposed. They're one short, as of tonight.'

'What?'

'He got between me and Seth Duncan.'

'What did you do to Seth Duncan?'

'I broke his nose.'

'Oh, sweet Jesus. Why?'

'Why not?'

'Oh sweet, sweet Jesus. Where are the car keys?'

'What will happen to Mrs Duncan?'

'We need to get going. Right this minute.'

'First answer the question.'

'Mrs Duncan will be punished too. For calling my husband. She's been told not to do that. Just like he's been told not to go treat her.'

'He's a doctor. He doesn't get a choice. They take an oath, don't they?'

'What's your name?'

'Jack Reacher.'

'We have to go, Mr Reacher. Right now.'

'What will they do to Mrs Duncan?'

'This isn't your business,' the woman said. Which, strictly speaking, was fairly close to Reacher's own opinion at that point. His business was to get himself to Virginia, and he was being offered a ride through the hardest part of the journey, fast and free. I-80 awaited, two hours away. An on-ramp, the last of the night drivers, the first stirrings of morning traffic. Maybe breakfast. Maybe there was a rest area or a truck stop with a greasy spoon cafe. Bacon, eggs, coffee.

'What will they do to her?' he asked again.

The woman said, 'Probably nothing much.'

'What kind of nothing much?'

'Well, they might put her on a coagulant. One of the uncles seems to have medical supplies. Or maybe they'll just stop her taking so much aspirin. So she doesn't bleed so bad next time. And they'll probably ground her for a month. That's all. Nothing too serious. Nothing for you to worry about. They've been married ten years, after all. She's not a prisoner. She could leave if she wanted to.'

'Except this time she inadvertently got her husband's nose broken. He might take that out on her, if he can't take it out on me.'

The doctor's wife said nothing. But it sounded like she was agreeing. The strange round room went quiet. Then Reacher heard tyres on gravel.

NINE

REACHER CHECKED THE WINDOW. THERE WERE FOUR TYRES IN total, big knobbly off-road things, all of them on a Ford pick-up truck. The truck had a jacked suspension and lights on a roof bar and a snorkel air intake and a winch on the front. There were two large shapes in the gloom inside. The shapes had thick necks and huge shoulders. The truck nosed slowly down the row of cabins and stopped twenty feet behind the parked Subaru. The headlights stayed on. The engine idled. The doors opened. Two guys climbed out.

They both looked like Brett, only bigger. Late twenties, easily six-six or six-seven, probably close to three hundred pounds each, big waists made tiny by huge chests and arms and shoulders. They had cropped hair and small eyes and fleshy faces. They were the kind of guys who ate two dinners and were still hungry afterwards. They were wearing red Cornhuskers football jackets made grey by the blue light from the cabin's eaves.

The doctor's wife joined Reacher at the window.

'Sweet Jesus,' she said.

Reacher said nothing.

The two guys closed the truck's doors and stepped back in unison to the load bed and unlatched a tool locker bolted across its width behind the cab. They lifted the lid and one took out an engineer's ball-peen hammer and the other took out a two-headed wrench at least a foot and a half long. They left the lid open and walked forward into the truck's headlight wash and their shadows jumped ahead of them. They were light on their feet and nimble for their size, like football players usually were. They paused for a moment and looked at the cabin's door, and then they turned away.

Towards the Subaru.

They attacked it in a violent frenzy, an absolute blitzkrieg, two or three minutes of uncontrolled smashing and pounding. The noise was deafening. They smashed every shard of glass out of the windshield, they smashed the side windows, the back window, the headlights, the tail lights. They hammered jagged dents into the hood, into the doors, into the roof, into the fenders, into the tailgate. They put their arms through the absent glass and smashed up the dials and the switches and the radio.

Shit, Reacher thought. There goes my ride.

'My husband's punishment,' the doctor's wife whispered. 'Worse this time.'

The two guys stopped as suddenly as they had started. They stood there, one each side of the wrecked wagon, and they breathed hard and rolled their shoulders and let their weapons hang down by their sides. Pebbles of broken automotive glass glittered in the neon and the boom and clang of battered sheet metal echoed away to absolute silence.

Reacher took off his coat and dumped it on the bed.

The two guys formed up shoulder to shoulder and headed for the cabin's door. Reacher opened it up and stepped out to meet them head on. Win or lose, fighting inside would bust up the room, and Vincent the motel owner had enough problems already.

The two guys stopped ten feet away and stood there, side by side, symmetrical, their weapons in their outside hands, four cubic yards of bone and muscle, six hundred pounds of beef, all flushed and sweating in the chill.

Reacher said, 'Pop quiz, guys. You spent four years in college learning how to play a game. I spent thirteen years in the army learning how to kill people. So how scared am I?'

No answer.

'And you were so bad at it you couldn't even get drafted afterwards. I was so good at it I got all kinds of medals and promotions. So how scared are you?'

'Not very,' said the guy with the wrench.

Wrong answer. But understandable. Being a good enough guard or tackle in high school to get a full-boat free ride to the big school in Lincoln was no mean achievement. Playing even a cameo role on the field in Memorial Stadium made a guy close to the best of the best. And failing to make the National Football League was no kind of real disgrace. The dividing line between success and failure in the world of sports was often very narrow, and the reasons for falling on one side or the other were often very arbitrary. These guys had been the elite for most of twenty years, the greatest thing their neighbourhood had ever seen, then their town, then their county, maybe their state. They had been popular, they had been feted, they had gotten the girls. And they probably hadn't lost a fight since they were eight years old.

Except they had never had a fight. Not in the sense meant by people paid to fight or die. Pushing and shoving at the schoolyard gate or on the sidewalk outside the soda shop or late at night after a start-of-summer keg party was as far from fighting as two fat guys tossing lame spirals in the park were from the Superbowl. These guys were amateurs, and worse, they were complacent amateurs, accustomed to getting by on bulk and reputation alone. In the real world, they would be dead before they even landed a blow.

Case in point: bad choice of weapons. Best are shooting weapons, second best are stabbing weapons, third best are slashing weapons. Blunt instruments are way down the list. They slow hand speed. Their uncontrolled momentum is disadvantageous after a miss. And: if you have to use them, the backhand is the only way to go, so that you accelerate and strike in the same sudden fluid motion. But these guys were shoulder to shoulder with their weapons in their outer hands, which promised forehand swings, which meant that the hammer or the wrench would have to be swung backward first, then stopped, then brought forward again. The first part of the move would be a clear telegraph. All the warning in the world. No surprise. They might as well put a notice in the newspaper, or send a cable by Western Union.

 

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