Home > High Heat (Jack Reacher #17.5)(3)

High Heat (Jack Reacher #17.5)(3)
Author: Lee Child

She said, “Where are you going now?”

“Bleecker Street, I think.”

“You can’t. That’s in his territory.”

“Or nearby. Or the Bowery. There’s music all over, right?”

“Same thing. All his territory.”

“Who is he?”

“His name is Croselli. Everything north of Houston and south of 14th is his. And you hit him in the head.”

“He’s one guy. He won’t find me.”

“He’s a made man. He has soldiers.”

“How many?”

“A dozen, maybe.”

“Not enough. Too big of an area.”

“He’ll put the word out. All the clubs and all the bars.”

“Really? He’ll tell people he’s frightened of a sixteen-year-old? I don’t think so.”

“He doesn’t need to give a reason. And people will bust a gut to help. They all want brownie points in the bank. You wouldn’t last five minutes. Go see your brother. I’m serious.”

“Free country,” Reacher said. “That’s what you’re working for, right? I’ll go where I want. I came a long way.”

The woman stayed quiet for a long moment.

“Well, I warned you,” she said. “I can’t do more than that.”

And she walked away, toward Washington Square. Reacher waited where he was, all alone on Waverly, head up, head down, searching for a breath of air, and then he followed after her, about two minutes behind, and he saw her drive away in a car that had been parked in a tow zone. A 1975 Ford Granada, he thought, mid-blue, vinyl roof, a big toothy grille. It took a corner like a land yacht and drove out of sight.

Washington Square was much emptier than Reacher had expected. Because of the heat. There were a couple of unexplained black guys hanging around, probably dealers, and not much else. No chess players, no dog walkers. But way over on the eastern edge of the square he saw three girls go into a coffee shop. Coeds for sure, long hair, tan, lithe, maybe two or three years older than him. He headed in their direction, and looked for a pay phone on the way. He found a working instrument on his fourth try. He used a hot damp coin from his pocket and dialed the number he had memorized for West Point’s main switchboard.

A sing-song male voice said, “United States Military Academy, how may I direct your call?”

“Cadet Joe Reacher, please.”

“Hold the line,” the voice said, which Reacher thought was appropriate. West Point was in the business of holding the line, against all kinds of things, including enemies foreign and domestic, and progress, sometimes. West Point was Army, which was an unusual choice for the elder son of a Marine, but Joe’s heart had been set on it. And he claimed to be enjoying it so far. Reacher himself had no idea where he would go. NYU, possibly, with women. The three in the coffee shop had looked pretty good. But he didn’t make plans. Sixteen years in the Corps had cured him of that.

The phone clicked and buzzed as the call was transferred from station to station. Reacher took another hot wet coin from his pocket and held it ready. It was a quarter to nine, and dark, and getting hotter, if such a thing was possible. Fifth Avenue was a long narrow canyon running north ahead of him. There were flashes of light in the sky, low down on the horizon, way far in the distance.

A different voice said, “Cadet Reacher is currently unavailable. Do you have a message?”

Reacher said, “Please tell him his brother is delayed twenty-four hours. I’m spending the night in the city. I’ll see him tomorrow evening.”

“Roger that,” the new voice said, with no interest at all, and the line went dead. Reacher put the second coin back in his pocket, and he hung up the phone, and he headed for the coffee shop on the eastern edge of the square.

* * *

An air conditioner over the coffee shop’s door was running so hard it was trembling and rattling, but it wasn’t making much difference to the temperature of the air. The girls were together in a booth for four, with tall soda glasses full of Coke and melting ice. Two of them were blondes and one was a brunette. All of them had long smooth limbs and perfect white teeth. The brunette was in short shorts and a sleeveless button-front shirt, and the blondes were in short summer dresses. They all looked quick and intelligent and full of energy. Storybook Americans, literally. Reacher had seen girls just like them in greasy old out-of-date copies of Time and Life and Newsweek, at Mujuk and every other base he had lived on. They were the future, the stories had said. He had admired them from afar.

Now he stood at the door under the roaring air conditioner and admired them from a whole lot closer. But he had no idea what to do next. Life as a Corps kid taught a guy plenty, but absolutely nothing about bridging a fifteen-foot door-to-table distance in a New York City coffee shop. Up to that point his few conquests had not really been conquests at all, but mutual experiments with Corps girls just as isolated as himself, and just as willing and enthusiastic and desperate. Their only negatives had been their fathers, who were all trained killers with fairly traditional views. The three students in front of him were a whole different can of worms. Much easier from the parental point of view, presumably, but much harder in every other way.

He paused.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

He moved on, fifteen feet, and he approached their table, and he said, “Do you mind if I join you?”

They all looked up. They all looked surprised. They were all too polite to tell him to get lost. They were all too smart to tell him to sit down. New York City, in the summer of 1977. The Bronx, burning. Hundreds of homicides. The Son of Sam. Irrational panic everywhere.

He said, “I’m new here. I was wondering if you could tell me where to go, to hear some good music.”

No answer. Two pairs of blue eyes, one pair of brown, looking up at him.

He said, “Are you headed somewhere this evening?”

The brunette was the first to speak.

She said, “Maybe.”

“Where to?”

“Don’t know yet.”

A waitress came by, barely older than the coeds themselves, and Reacher maneuvered himself into a spot where her approach gave him no choice but to sit down. As if he had been swept along. The brunette scooted over and left an inch between her thigh and his. The vinyl bench was sticky with heat. He ordered a Coke. It was way too hot for coffee.

There was an awkward silence. The waitress brought Reacher’s Coke. He took a sip. The blonde directly opposite asked him, “Are you at NYU?”

“I’m still in high school,” he said.

She softened a little, as if he was a rare curiosity.

“Where?” she asked.

“South Korea,” he said. “Military family.”

“Fascist,” she said. “Get lost.”

“What does your dad do for a living?”

“He’s a lawyer.”

“Get lost yourself.”

The brunette laughed. She was an inch shorter than the others, and her skin was a shade darker. She was slender. Elfin, almost. Reacher had heard the word. Not that it meant much to him. He had never seen an elf.

The brunette said, “The Ramones might be at CBGB. Or Blondie.”

Reacher said, “I’ll go if you go.”

“It’s a rough area.”

“Compared to what? Iwo Jima?”

“Where’s that?”

“It’s an island in the Pacific.”

 

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