Home > High Heat (Jack Reacher #17.5)(6)

High Heat (Jack Reacher #17.5)(6)
Author: Lee Child

Reacher said, “He had an accident.”

“Jesus.”

They hustled on, through the bar one more time, into the lobby corridor, fast and hot.

Too late.

They got within ten feet of the street door, and then it opened wide and four big guys in sweated-through suits stepped in, followed by Croselli himself. All five of them stopped, and Reacher stopped, and behind him Chrissie and Jill Hemingway stopped, eight people all in a strung-out, single-file standoff, in a hot narrow corridor with perspiration running down the bare brick walls.

From the far end of the line Croselli said, “We meet again, kid.”

Then the lights went out.

* * *

Reacher couldn’t tell if his eyes were open or closed. The darkness was total and profound, like the next stop after nothing. And the darkness was completely silent, way down at some deep primeval level, all the low subliminal hum of modern life suddenly gone, leaving nothing in its place except blind human shufflings and a kind of whispered eerie keening that seemed to come up from ageless rocks below. From the twentieth century to the Stone Age, at the flick of a switch.

From behind him Reacher heard Chrissie’s voice say, “Reacher?”

“Stand still,” he said.

“OK.”

“Now turn around.”

“OK.”

He heard her feet on the floor, shuffling. He searched his last retained visual memory for where the first of Croselli’s guys had stopped. The middle of the corridor, facing dead ahead, maybe five feet away. He planted his left foot and kicked out with his right, hard, blindly, aiming groin-high into the pitch-black emptiness ahead. But he hit something lower, making contact a jarring split second before he expected. A kneecap, maybe. Which was fine. Either way the first of Croselli’s guys was about to fall down, and the other three were about to trip over him.

Reacher spun around and felt for Chrissie’s back, and he put his right arm around her shoulders, and with his left hand he found Hemingway, and he half pulled and half pushed them back the way they had come, to the bar, where a feeble battery-powered safety light had clicked on. Which meant it hadn’t been the flick of a switch. The whole building had lost power.

He found the restroom corridor and pushed Chrissie ahead of him and pulled Hemingway behind him, to the rear door, and they barged through it, out to the street.

Which was way too dark.

They hustled onward anyway, fast, out in the heat again, muscle memory and instinct compelling them to put some distance between the door and themselves, compelling them to seek the shadows, but it was all shadows. The Bowery was a pitch-dark and sullen ditch, long and straight both ways, bordered by pitch-dark and sullen buildings, uniformly massive and gloomy, their unlit bulk for once darker than the night sky. The skyline sentinels forty blocks north and south weren’t there at all, except in a negative sense, because at the bottom of the sky there were dead fingers where inert buildings were blocking the glow of starlight behind thin cloud.

“The whole city is out,” Hemingway said.

“Listen,” Reacher said.

“To what?”

“Exactly. The sound of a billion electric motors not running. And a billion electric circuits switched off.”

Chrissie said, “This is unbelievable.”

Hemingway said, “There’s going to be trouble. Give it an hour or so, and there’s going to be rioting, and arson, and a whole lot of looting. So you two, right now, head north as far and as fast as you can. Do not go east or west. Do not use the tunnels. Do not stop until you’re north of 14th Street.”

Reacher said, “What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to work.”

“You’re suspended.”

“I can’t stand by and do nothing. And you have to get your friend back where you found her. I think those are our basic obligations.” And then she ran, south toward Houston Street, and was lost in the dark within seconds.

* * *

The street light on Great Jones was no longer working, but the blue Chevette was still under it, gray and formless in the dark, as yet unmolested. Chrissie opened it up, and they got in, and she started the motor and put it in gear. She didn’t turn on the lights, which Reacher understood. Disturbing the massive darkness didn’t seem right. Or possible, even. The great city felt stunned and passive, an immense organism laid low, implacable and indifferent to tiny scurrying humans. Of which there was a growing number within view. Windows were opening, and folks on lower floors were walking downstairs and coming out, standing near their doors and peering about, full of wonder and apprehension. The heat was still way up there. It wasn’t cooling down at all. A hundred degrees, maybe more, clamping down and now smug and settled and supreme, unchallenged by fans or air conditioning or any other kind of manmade mediation.

Great Jones Street was one-way west, and they crossed Lafayette and Broadway, and continued on West Third, Chrissie driving slow and tentative, not much faster than walking pace, a dark car in the dark, one of very few about. Maybe drivers had felt compelled to pull over, as part of the general paralysis. The traffic lights were all out. Each new block was newly weird, still and silent, blank and gray, absolutely unlit. They turned north on LaGuardia Place, and went counterclockwise around the bottom right-hand corner of Washington Square, back to the coffee shop. Chrissie parked where she had before, and they got out into the soupy air and the silence.

The coffee shop was dark, obviously, with nothing to see behind its dusty glass window. The air conditioner above the door was silent. And the door was locked. Reacher and Chrissie cupped their hands and pressed them to the glass and peered through, and saw nothing except vague black shapes in the dark. No staff. No customers. Maybe a health board thing. If the refrigerators went out, maybe they had to abandon ship.

Reacher said, “Where will your friends have gone?”

Chrissie said, “No idea.”

“You said there was a plan.”

“If one of us gets lucky, we meet back here at midnight.”

“I’m sorry you didn’t get luckier.”

“I feel OK now.”

“We’re still south of 14th Street.”

“They won’t find you in the dark, surely.”

“Will we find your friends in the dark?”

“Why would we want to? They’ll get back by midnight. Until then we should hang out and experience this. Don’t you think? This is pretty amazing.”

And it was. There was a hugeness to it. Not just a room or a building or a block, but the entire city, slumped inert and defeated all around them, as if it was ruined, as if it was dead, like a relic from the past. And maybe it was more than just the city. There was no glow on any horizon. Nothing from across either river, nothing from the south, nothing from the north. Maybe the whole Northeast was out. Maybe all of America. Or the whole world. People were always talking about secret weapons. Maybe someone had pulled a trigger.

Chrissie said, “Let’s go look at the Empire State Building. We may never see it like this again.”

Reacher said, “OK.”

“In the car.”

“OK.”

They went up University, and used Ninth Street across to Sixth Avenue, where they turned north. Sixth Avenue was nothing at all. Just a long black hole, and then a small rectangle of night sky where it ended at Central Park. There were a few cars on it. All were moving slow. Most had their lights off. Like the Chevette. Instinctive, somehow. A shared assumption. Crowd behavior. Reacher caught a sudden whiff of fear. Hide in the dark. Don’t stand out. Don’t be seen.

 

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