Home > Not a Drill (Jack Reacher #18.5)

Not a Drill (Jack Reacher #18.5)
Author: Lee Child

One thing leads to another, and in Jack Reacher’s case, one warm and aimless August day, a hitched ride in an empty lumber truck led to East Millinocket in Maine, which led in turn to a decent mid-morning meal in a roadside restaurant near the highway, which led to a halting two-wary-guys conversation with the man at the next table, which led to an offered ride further north, to a place called Island Falls. The unspoken but clearly implied cost of the ride was the price of the guy’s coffee and pie, but the establishment was cheap, and Reacher had money in his pocket, and as always he had no particular place to be, so he accepted.

One thing leads to another.

The guy’s car turned out to be a softly-sprung old Chevrolet, lacy with rust, and Island Falls turned out to be a pleasant little place on a lake, way in the north, where Maine sticks out like a thumb up Canada’s ass, with Quebec to the left and New Brunswick to the right. But most of all Island Falls was pretty close to the north end of I-95. Which was tempting. Reacher had a collector’s instinct when it came to places. He knew the south end of I-95 pretty well. More than nineteen hundred miles away, just past downtown Miami. He had been there many times. But he had never seen the north end.

He had no particular place to be.

One thing leads to another.

Getting out of Island Falls was easy enough. He had a cup of coffee in a hut next to a kayak rental slip, and stood in the buggy warmth of the lake shore and took in the view, and then he turned his back on it all and walked out of town the same way the old Chevy had driven in, back to the highway cloverleaf. He set up on the on-ramp heading north, and waited. Not long, he figured. It was August, it was warm, it was vacation country. The mood was amiable. It was daylight. He was clean. His clothes were only two days old, and his shave was only three. Ideal conditions, overall.

And sure enough, less than ten minutes later an old-model Jeep SUV with New Brunswick plates slowed and stopped. There was a woman at the wheel, and a man next to her, in the passenger seat. They looked to be somewhere in their mid-thirties, clearly outdoor types, ruffled by the wind and tanned by the sun. Heading home, no doubt, after an active vacation. Maybe they had been kayaking. Or camping. Or both. The load space in the rear of the truck was piled up with stuff.

The guy in the passenger seat let his window down, and the woman craned over for a look, too. The guy said, “We’re only going to Fredericton, which isn’t far, I’m afraid. Any good to you?”

Reacher said, “Is that in Canada?”

“Sure is.”

Reacher said, “Then that’s perfect. All I want is to get to the border, and then back again.”

“Got something against Canada?”

“My passport expired.”

The guy nodded. Gone were the days when a person could just stroll in and out of neighboring countries. Then the guy said, “But there’s nothing much to see between here and there. Nothing much to see through the fence, either. You’d be better off staying where you are, surely.”

Reacher said, “I want to see the end of the road.”

The guy said, “That sounds heavy.”

The woman said, “We think of it as the beginning of the road.”

“Good point,” Reacher said.

The guy said, “Hop in the back.” He craned around in his seat and batted stray items aside. Reacher opened the door and slid in and used his hip to finish the job. He closed the door and the woman hit the gas and they took off, cruising easy through the last thirty-some miles of America.

The last exit was for a town called Houlton. Or the first exit, Reacher supposed, from the Canadian point of view. Then came a mile or so of hinterland, and a little queuing traffic, and barriers and booths and official signs. Reacher stayed in the Jeep until the last car’s length, and then he said his thanks and his goodbyes and he slipped out, and he stepped ahead and put his foot on the last inch of blacktop, directly under the barrier pole.

The end of the road.

One thing leads to another.

He looped back and crossed to the southbound lanes and set up again thirty yards from the barriers. He wanted to give incoming drivers plenty of time to see him, but not enough time to be already going too fast to stop. Once again he anticipated no kind of a lengthy delay. August, daylight, sunshine, vacation country, warmhearted and relaxed Canadian drivers full of generosity and goodwill. Ten minutes max, he thought, maybe closer to five, and it wasn’t outside the bounds of possibility that the first car through would be the one.

It wasn’t. But the second car was. Which was more of a minivan, really. But not the kind of thing a soccer mom would be proud of. It was old and grimy, and somewhat battered. Light blue, maybe, when it left the factory, but now colorless, almost, faded by sun and salt. There was a young man at the wheel, and a young woman beside him in the front, and another young woman in the back. The van had New Brunswick plates, and it was trailing a puff of oil smoke, after pulling away from the customs post.

But Reacher had ridden in worse vehicles.

It slowed and stopped alongside him. The passenger window was already down. The woman in the front said, “We’re headed for Naismith.”

Which was a place Reacher had never heard of. He said, “I’m not sure where that is.”

The guy at the wheel leaned across and said, “The Allagash, man. About an hour west of Route 11. After going north for a bit. It’s a little town. Where you get on the wilderness trail through the forest. It’s a really cool place.”

Reacher said, “North of here?”

The guy said, “Beautiful country, man. You should see those woods. Really primeval. Step off the path, and you could be the first human ever to set foot. I mean, literally. Ten thousand years of undisturbed nature. Since the last Ice Age.”

Reacher said nothing.

The guy said, “Get it while you can, my friend. It won’t be there forever. Climate change is going to take it all down.”

No particular place to be.

Reacher said, “OK, sure, thanks.”

One thing leads to another.

He looped around the rear of the van and the girl in the back slid the door on a rusty track and he climbed in. Behind him in the load space were two big backpacks and one hard-shell suitcase. The seat was some kind of nylon cloth gone greasy with age. He got settled and slid the door closed and the van moved off, puffing smoke again, from the effort.

“Thanks,” Reacher said, for the second time.

The trio introduced themselves. The girl in the back was Helen, and the girl in the front was Suzanne, and the driver was Henry. Henry and Suzanne were a couple. They ran a bicycle store in a place called Moncton. Helen was their friend. The plan was Henry and Suzanne would walk the wilderness trail north from Naismith, to a place called Cripps, which would take four days. Helen would be waiting there with the van to meet them, having spent the same four days doing something else, maybe antiquing in Presque Isle and Caribou.

“I don’t like the woods,” she said, as if she felt an explanation was required.

“Why not?” Reacher asked, because he felt a response was expected.

“Too creepy,” she said. “Too dark. Too full of bugs.”

They puttered onward past Houlton, and then Henry turned off on 212, which soon joined Route 11 going north, which was a pretty road. Saddleback Mountain was ahead on the right, and on the left was an endless expanse of woods and lakes. The trees were green, and the water glittered, and the sky was blue. Beautiful country, just like Henry had promised.

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