Home > Second Son (Jack Reacher #15.5)(5)

Second Son (Jack Reacher #15.5)(5)
Author: Lee Child

She got the housekeeper, of course, and a minute later the hot little house on Okinawa was in an uproar.


STAN REACHER GOT straight on the new phone to his company clerk, who leaned on a guy, who leaned on another guy, like dominoes, and within thirty minutes Josie had a seat on the last civilian flight of the evening to Tokyo, and within forty she had an onward connection to Paris.

Reacher asked, ‘Do you want company?’

His mother said, ‘Of course I would like it. And I know your grandpa Moutier would love to see you again. But I could be there a couple of weeks. More, perhaps. And you have a test to take, and then school to start.’

‘They’ll understand. I don’t mind missing a couple of weeks. And I could take the test when I get back. Or maybe they’ll forget all about it.’

His father said, ‘Your mother means we can’t afford it, son. Plane tickets are expensive.’

And so were taxicabs, but two hours later they took one to the airport. An old Japanese guy showed up in a big boxy Datsun, and Stan got in the front, and Josie and the boys crowded together in the back. Josie had a small bag. Joe was clean from the shower, but his hair was no longer combed. It was back to its usual tousled mess. Reacher was still salty and sandy from the beach. No one said much of anything. Reacher remembered his grandfather pretty well. He had met him three times. He had a closet full of artificial limbs. Apparently the heirs of deceased veterans were still officially obliged to return the prostheses to the manufacturer, for adjustment and eventual reissue. Part of the deal, from back in the day. Grandpa Moutier said every year or so another one would show up at his door. Sometimes two or three a year. Some of them were made from table legs.

They got out at the airport. It was dark and the air was going cold. Josie hugged Stan, and kissed him, and she hugged Joe, and kissed him, and she hugged Reacher, and kissed him, and then she pulled him aside and whispered a long urgent sentence in his ear. Then she went on alone to the check-in line.

Stan and the boys went up a long outside staircase to the observation deck. There was a JAL 707 waiting on the tarmac, spotlit and whining and ringed with attendant vehicles. It had stairs rolled up to its forward door, and its engines were turning slowly. Beyond the runway was a night-time view of the whole southern half of the island. Their long concrete street lay indistinguishable in the distance, miles away to the south and the west. There were ten thousand small fires burning in the neighbourhood. Backyard bonfires, each one flickering bright at its base and sending thin plumes of smoke high in the air.

‘Trash night,’ Stan said. Reacher nodded. Every island he had ever been on had a garbage problem. Regulated once-a-week burning was the usual solution, for everything, including leftover food. Traditional, in every culture. The word bonfire came from bone fire. General knowledge. He had seen a small wire incinerator behind the hot little house.

‘We missed it for this week,’ Stan said. ‘I wish we’d known.’

‘Doesn’t matter,’ Joe said. ‘We don’t really have any trash yet.’

They waited, all three of them, leaning forward, elbows on a rail, and then Josie came out below them, one of about thirty passengers. She walked across the tarmac and turned at the bottom of the stairs and waved. Then she climbed up and into the plane, and she was lost to sight.


STAN AND THE boys watched the take-off, watched the jet bank and climb, watched its tiny lights disappear, waited until its shattering noise was gone, and then they clattered down the long staircase three abreast. They walked home, which was Stan’s usual habit when Josie wasn’t involved and the distance was less than eight miles. Two hours’ quick march. Nothing at all, to a Marine, and cheaper than the bus. He was a child of the Depression, not that his family’s flinty New England parsimony would have been markedly different even in a time of plenty. Waste not, want not, make do and mend, don’t make an exhibition of yourself. His own father had stopped buying new clothes at the age of forty, feeling that what he owned by that point would outlast him, and to gamble otherwise would be reckless extravagance.

The bonfires were almost out when they arrived at their street. Layers of smoke hung in the air, and there was the smell of ash and scorched meat, even inside the hot little house. They went straight to bed under thin sheets, and ten minutes later all was silent.


REACHER SLEPT BADLY, first dreaming about his grandfather, the ferocious old Frenchman somehow limbless and equipped with four table legs, moving and rearing like a piece of mobile furniture. Then he was woken in the early hours by something stealthy in the back yard, a cat or a rodent or some other kind of scavenger, and then again much later when the new phone rang twice. Too soon for his mother to have arrived in Paris, too late for a report of a fatal accident en route to Tokyo. Something else, obviously, so he ignored it both times. Joe got up at that point, so Reacher took advantage of the solitude and rolled over and slept on, until after nine o’clock, which was late for him.

He found his father and his brother in the kitchen, both of them silent and strained to a degree he found excessive. No question that grandpa Moutier was a nice old guy, but any ninety-year-old was by definition limited in the life expectancy department. No big surprise. The guy had to croak sometime. No one lives for ever. And he had already beaten the odds. The guy was already about twenty years old when the Wright brothers flew, for God’s sake.

Reacher made his own coffee, because he liked it stronger than the rest of his family. He made toast, poured cereal, ate and drank, and still no one had spoken to him. Eventually he asked, ‘What’s up?’

His father’s gaze dipped and swivelled and traversed like an artillery piece, and came to rest on a point on the tabletop about a foot in front of Reacher’s plate. He said, ‘The phone this morning.’

‘Not mom, right?’

‘No, not that.’

‘Then what?’

‘We’re in trouble.’

‘What, all of us?’

‘Me and Joe.’

Reacher asked, ‘Why? What happened?’

But at that point the doorbell rang, so there was no answer. Neither Joe or his father looked like moving, so Reacher got up and headed for the hallway. It was the same delivery guy as the day before. He went through the same ritual. He unpacked a box and retained it and handed Reacher a heavy spool of electric cable. There must have been a hundred yards of it. The spool was the size of a car tyre. The cable was for domestic wiring, like Romex, heavy and stiff, sheathed in grey plastic. The spool had a wirecutter attached to it by a short chain.

Reacher left it on the hallway floor and headed back to the kitchen. He asked, ‘Why do we need electric cable?’

‘We don’t,’ his father said. ‘I ordered boots.’

‘Well, you didn’t get them. You got a spool of wire.’

His father blew out a sigh of frustration. ‘Then someone made a mistake, didn’t they?’

Joe said nothing, which was very unusual. Normally in that kind of a situation he would immediately launch a series of speculative analyses, asking about the nature and format of the order codes, pointing out that numbers can be easily transposed, thinking out loud about how QWERTY keyboards put alphabetically remote letters side by side, and therefore how clumsy typists are always a quarter-inch away from an inadvertent jump from, say, footwear to hardware. He had that kind of a brain. Everything needed an explanation. But he said nothing. He just sat there, completely mute.

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