Home > Make Me (Jack Reacher #20)(3)

Make Me (Jack Reacher #20)(3)
Author: Lee Child

The crossing had no barriers. Just red lights. Reacher stood on the tracks and gazed back south, the way he had come. There were no other crossings for at least a mile, which was about as far as he could see, in the pale light. There were no other crossings for at least a mile to the north, either. Which meant that if Mother’s Rest laid claim to its own east-west thoroughfare, he was standing on it.

It was reasonably wide, and slightly humped, built up with dirt taken from shallow ditches dug either side. It was covered with thick blacktop, grayed with age, split here and there by weather, and random like frozen lava on the edges. It was dead straight, from one horizon to the other.

A possibility. Wagon trains went dead straight when they could. Why wouldn’t they? No one put in extra miles just for the fun of it. The lead driver would steer by a distant landmark, and the others would follow, and a year later some new party would find the ruts, and a year after that someone would make a mark on a map. And a hundred years later some state highway department would come by with trucks full of asphalt.

There was nothing to see in the east. No one-room museum, no marble headstone. Just the road, between infinite fields of nearly ripe wheat. But in the other direction, west of the tracks, the road ran through the town, more or less dead center, built up on both sides for about six low-rise blocks. The corner lot on the right had expanded northward about a hundred yards. Like a football field. It was a farm equipment dealership. Weird tractors and huge machines, all brand-new and shiny. On the left was a veterinary supply business, in a small building that must have started out as an ordinary residential dwelling.

Reacher made the turn and walked on the old trail, due west through the town, the morning sun faintly warm on his back.

In the motel office the one-eyed clerk dialed the phone, and when it was answered he said, “She went back to the railroad again. Now she’s meeting the morning train, too. How many guys are these people sending?”

He was answered by a long plastic crackle, not a question, but not an instruction either. Softer in tone. Encouragement, maybe. Or reassurance. The one-eyed guy said, “OK, sure,” and hung up.

Reacher walked six blocks down and six blocks back, and he saw plenty of stuff. He saw houses still lived in, and houses converted to offices, for seed merchants and fertilizer dealers and a large-animal veterinarian. He saw a one-room law office. He saw a gas station one block north, and a pool hall, and a store selling beer and ice, and another selling nothing but rubber boots and rubber aprons. He saw a laundromat, and a tire bay, and a place for stick-on boot soles.

He didn’t see a museum, or a monument.

Which might be OK. They wouldn’t have put either thing right on the shoulder. Back a block or two, probably, for a sense of reverence, and to stay out of harm’s way.

He stepped off the wagon train trail into a side street. The town was laid out on a grid, even though it had grown up semicircular. Some lots were more desirable than others. As if the giant elevators had a gravitational system all their own. The furthest reaches were undeveloped. Closer to the apex, buildings were shoulder to shoulder. The block behind the trail had one-room apartments that might have started out as barns or garages, and what looked like pop-up market stalls, for folks who had given over an acre or two to fruits and vegetables. There was a store that did Western Union and MoneyGram and faxing and photocopying and FedEx and UPS and DHL. There was a CPA’s office next to it, but it looked abandoned.

No museum, and no monument.

He quartered the blocks, one after another, past low shacks, past diesel engine repair, past vacant lots full of weeds as fine as hair. He came out at the far end of the wide street. He had covered half the town. No museum, and no monument.

He saw the morning train pull in. It looked hot and bothered and impatient about stopping. It was impossible to see whether anyone got out. Too much infrastructure in the way.

He was hungry.

He walked straight ahead through the plaza, almost all the way back to where he had started, past the general store, and into the diner.

At which point the motel keeper’s twelve-year-old grandson ducked into the general store, to the pay phone on the wall just inside the door. He dumped his coins and dialed a number, and when it was answered he said, “He’s searching the town. I followed him everywhere. He’s looking all over. He’s doing it block by block.”

Chapter 3

The diner was clean and pleasant and attractively decorated, but it was above all else a working place, designed to swap calories for money as fast as possible. Reacher took a two-top in the far right-hand corner, and he sat with his back to the angle, so he had the whole room in front of him. About half the tables were taken, mostly by people who seemed to be fueling up ahead of a long day of physical labor. A waitress came by, busy but professionally patient, and Reacher ordered his default breakfast, which was pancakes, eggs, and bacon, but most of all coffee, first and always.

The waitress told him the establishment had a bottomless cup policy.

Reacher welcomed that news.

He was on his second mug when the woman from the railroad came in, alone.

She stood for a second, as if unsure, and then she looked all around, and saw him, and headed straight for him. She slid into the empty chair opposite. Up close and in the daylight she looked better than the night before. Dark lively eyes, and some kind of purpose and intelligence in her face. But some kind of worry, too.

She said, “Thanks for the knock on the door.”

Reacher said, “My pleasure.”

She said, “My friend wasn’t on the morning train either.”

He said, “Why tell me?”

“You know something.”

“Do I?”

“Why else get off the train?”

“Maybe I live here.”

“You don’t.”

“Maybe I’m a farmer.”

“You’re not.”

“I could be.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Why not?”

“You weren’t carrying a bag, when you got out of the train. That’s about the polar opposite of being rooted to the same patch of land for generations.”

Reacher paused a beat and said, “Who exactly are you?”

“Doesn’t matter who I am. What matters is who you are.”

“I’m just a guy passing through.”

“I’m going to need more than that.”

“And I’m going to need to know who’s asking.”

The woman didn’t reply. The waitress came by, with his plate. Pancakes, eggs, and bacon. There was syrup on the table. The waitress refilled his coffee. Reacher picked up his silverware.

The woman from the railroad put a business card on the table. She pushed it across the sticky wood. It had a government seal on it. Blue and gold.

Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Special Agent Michelle Chang.

Reacher said, “That’s you?”

“Yes,” she said.

“I’m pleased to meet you.”

“Likewise,” she said. “I hope.”

“Why is the FBI asking me questions?”

“Retired,” she said.

“Who is?”

“I am. I am no longer an FBI agent. The card is old. I took some with me when I left.”

“Is that allowed?”

“Probably not.”

“Yet you showed it to me.”

 

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