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Home > Second Son (Jack Reacher #15.5)(2)

Second Son (Jack Reacher #15.5)(2)
Author: Lee Child

There were maybe forty homes between Reacher and the water on the left-hand side of the street, and another forty on the right. He figured the homes closer to him and further from the sea would be off-post housing for Marine families, and the homes further from him and nearer the water would be locally owned, by Japanese families who lived there full-time. He knew how real estate worked. Just steps to the beach. People competed for places like that, and generally the military let the locals have the best stuff. The DoD always worried about friction. Especially on Okinawa. The air station was right in the centre of Genowan, which was a fair-sized city. Every time a transport plane took off the schools had to stop teaching for a minute or two, because of the noise.

He turned his back on the East China Sea and walked inland, past identical little houses, across a four-way junction, into a perfect rectilinear matrix of yet more identical houses. They had been built quick and cheap, but they were in good order. They were meticulously maintained. He saw small doll-like local ladies on some of the porches. He nodded to them politely, but they all looked away. He saw no local Japanese kids. Maybe they were in school already. Maybe their semester had already started. He turned back and a hundred yards later found Joe out on the streets, looking for him.

Joe said, ‘Did they tell you about the test?’

Reacher nodded. ‘No big deal.’

‘We have to pass.’

‘Obviously we’ll pass.’

‘No, I mean we have to really pass this thing. We have to crush it. We have to knock it out of the park.’

‘Why?’

‘They’re trying to humiliate us, Reacher.’

‘Us? They don’t even know us.’

‘People like us. Thousands of us. We have to humiliate them back. We have to make them embarrassed they even thought of this idea. We have to piss all over their stupid test.’

‘I’m sure we will. How hard can it be?’

Joe said, ‘It’s a new policy, so it might be a new kind of test. There might be all kinds of new things in it.’

‘Like what?’

‘I have no idea. There could be anything.’

‘Well, I’ll do my best with it.’

‘How’s your general knowledge?’

‘I know that Mickey Mantle hit .303 ten years ago. And .285 fifteen years ago. And .300 twenty years ago. Which averages out to .296, which is remarkably close to his overall career average of .298, which has to mean something.’

‘They’re not going to ask about Mickey Mantle.’

‘Who then?’

Joe said, ‘We need to know. And we have a right to know. We need to go up to that school and ask what’s in this thing.’

Reacher said, ‘You can’t do that with tests. That’s kind of opposite to the point of tests, don’t you think?’

‘We’re at least entitled to know what part or parts of which curriculum is being tested here.’

‘It’ll be reading and writing, adding and subtracting. Maybe some dividing if we’re lucky. You know the drill. Don’t worry about it.’

‘It’s an insult.’

Reacher said nothing.

CHAPTER FIVE

THE REACHER BROTHERS walked back together, across the four-way junction, and into the long concrete street. Their new place was ahead and on the left. In the distance the sliver of sea glowed pale blue in the sun. There was a hint of white sand. Maybe palm trees. Between their place and the sea there were kids out on the street. All boys. Americans, black and white, maybe two dozen of them. Marine families. Neighbours. They were clustered outside their own places, at the cheap end of the street, a thousand steps from the beach.

Reacher said, ‘Let’s go take a look at the East China Sea.’

Joe said, ‘I’ve seen it before. So have you.’

‘We could be freezing our butts off in Korea all winter.’

‘We were just on Guam. How much beach does a person need?’

‘As much as a person can get.’

‘We have a test in three days.’

‘Exactly. So we don’t have to worry about it today.’

Joe sighed and they walked on, past their own place, toward the sliver of blue. Ahead of them the other kids saw them coming. They got up off kerbstones and stepped over ditches and kicked and scuffed their way to the middle of the road. They formed up in a loose arrowhead, facing front, arms folded, chests out, more than twenty guys, some of them as young as ten, some of them a year or two older than Joe.

Welcome to the neighbourhood.

The point man was a thick-necked bruiser of about sixteen. He was smaller than Joe, but bigger than Reacher. He was wearing a Corps T-shirt and a ragged pair of khaki pants. He had fat hands, with knuckles that dipped in, not stuck out. He was fifteen feet away, just waiting.

Joe said quietly, ‘There are too many of them.’

Reacher said nothing.

Joe said, ‘Don’t start anything. I mean it. We’ll deal with this later, if we have to.’

Reacher smiled. ‘You mean after the test?’

‘You need to get serious about that test.’

They walked on. Forty different places. Forty different welcomes to forty different neighbourhoods. Except that the welcomes had not been different. They had all been the same. Tribalism, testosterone, hierarchies, all kinds of crazy instincts. Tests of a different kind.

Joe and Reacher stopped six feet from the bruiser and waited. The guy had a boil on his neck. And he smelled pretty bad. He said, ‘You’re the new kids.’

Joe said, ‘How did you figure that out?’

‘You weren’t here yesterday.’

‘Outstanding deduction. You ever thought of a career with the FBI?’

The bruiser didn’t answer that. Reacher smiled. He figured he could land a left hook right on the boil. Which would hurt like hell, probably.

The bruiser said, ‘You going to the beach?’

Joe said, ‘Is there a beach?’

‘You know there’s a beach.’

‘And you know where we’re going.’

‘This is a toll road.’

Joe said, ‘What?’

‘You heard. You have to pay the toll.’

‘What’s the toll?’

‘I haven’t decided yet,’ the bruiser said. ‘When I see what you’ve got, I’ll know what to take.’

Joe didn’t answer.

The guy said, ‘Understand?’

Joe said, ‘Not even a little bit.’

‘That’s because you’re a retard. You two are the retard kids. We heard all about you. They’re making you take the retard test, because you’re retards.’

Reacher said, ‘Joe, now that’s an insult.’

The big guy said, ‘So the little retard talks, does he?’

Joe said, ‘You seen that new statue in the square in Luzon?’

‘What about it?’

‘The last kid who picked a fight with my brother is buried in the pedestal.’

The guy looked at Reacher and said, ‘That doesn’t sound very nice. Are you a psycho retard?’

Reacher said, ‘What’s that?’

‘Like a psychopath.’

‘You mean do I think I’m right to do what I do and feel no remorse afterward?’

‘I guess.’

Reacher said, ‘Then yes, I’m pretty much a psychopath.’

Silence, except for a distant motorbike. Then two motorbikes. Then three. Distant, but approaching. The big kid’s gaze jumped to the four-way junction at the top of the street. Behind him the arrowhead formation broke up. Kids wandered back to the kerbs and their front yards. A bike slowed and turned into the street and puttered slowly along. On it was a Marine in BDUs. No helmet. An NCO, back from the base, his watch finished. He was followed by two more, one of them on a big Harley. Disciplinarian dads, coming home.

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