Home > Make Me (Jack Reacher #20)(5)

Make Me (Jack Reacher #20)(5)
Author: Lee Child

“What was his tone on the phone?”

“He was relaxed. Mostly. I don’t think he likes this place much.”

“Did he say so?”

“More my impression. When he was explaining how to get here, he made it sound apologetic, like he was sucking me in to some sinister and creepy place.”

Reacher said nothing.

Chang said, “I guess you military people are too data-driven to follow that line of thinking.”

Reacher said, “No, I was about to agree. I didn’t like the store with the rubber aprons, for instance, and I had some weird kid following me everywhere I went this morning. Maybe ten or twelve. A boy. A slow kid, I assumed, fascinated by a stranger, but very shy. He ducked behind a wall every time I glanced his way.”

“I don’t know if that’s weird or sad.”

“You have absolutely no information at all?”

“I’m waiting for Keever to brief me.”

“Which means waiting for the trains.”

“Twice a day.”

“How long before you give up?”

“That’s very blunt.”

“I was kidding. This is like most bad things that ever happened to me, and to you too, probably, in your patrol car. This is a communications breakdown. A message hasn’t gotten through. That’s my guess. Because there’s no cell service, presumably. People can’t cope without it anymore.”

Chang said, “I’m going to give it twenty-four hours.”

“I’ll be gone,” Reacher said. “I guess I’ll take the evening train.”

Reacher left Chang in the diner, and walked back to the old trail, ready to look at the rest of the town. He didn’t see the weird kid again. He turned in at the veterinary supply office and re-checked the left-hand side of the street, all six blocks, and saw nothing of interest. He continued onward, out into open country, a hundred yards, two hundred, just in case the railroad had dragged the center of town eastward, leaving relics behind in their original locations. If Chang was right and an old lady had died, her stone wouldn’t necessarily be visible from a distance. It might be a low-built affair, a slab laid on the ground, an iron picket not more than a foot and a half high, all nested in a sea of wheat, with maybe a mown path leading to it from the shoulder.

But he saw no such path, and no stone, and no ceremonial iron fence. No larger structure either. No museum. No official billboard about a site of historic interest. He turned around and walked back and started quartering the southern quadrant, block by block, beginning on the east-west side street that ran behind the establishments directly on the trail. Which looked pretty much like its northern equivalent, but with more one-room places carved out of barns and garages, and fewer fruit stands. But no memorial stone, and no museum. Not where logic dictated. Mother’s Rest had not always been a crossroads. Not until the railroad. It had been a random speck alongside endless straight ruts through the prairie. The stone or the legend had brought the town to it. The town had grown up around it, like a pearl around a grain of sand.

But he couldn’t find it. Not the stone, or the museum. Not where they should be, which was a respectable distance from the original shoulder. Enough to create a feeling of excursion or pilgrimage. Which would be about a modern-day block behind the original shoulder, but there was nothing there.

He moved on, block by block, the same way he had before. He saw the same kind of things, and began to understand them. The town explained itself to him, gradually, street by street. It was a trading post for a vast and dispersed agricultural community. It shipped in all kinds of technical things and shipped out produce in immense quantities. Grain, mostly. But there was some pasture, too. Evidently. Hence the supply companies and the large-animal veterinarian. And the rubber aprons, he supposed. Some folks were doing well and buying shiny new tractors, and some folks weren’t doing well, so they were getting their diesel engines repaired and sticking new soles on their boots.

Just a town, like any other.

It was the end of summer, and the day had stayed golden, and the sun was warm but not hot, so he kept on strolling, happy to be out of doors, until he found he had revisited every block he had been to, and seen everything again.

No memorial stone, and no museum.

No weird kid.

But there was a guy who looked at him oddly.

Chapter 5

It was two blocks off the old trail, on a parallel east-west side street, which had five developed blocks on one side, and four on the other. The semicircular shape was starting to bite. There was a bank office and a credit union. There were small lock-up workshops, all of them one-man businesses, with a blade sharpener, and a gearbox repairman, and even a barber with a lit-up pole. But in particular there was a spare-parts guy for several different brands of irrigation systems. He had a cramped store and he was penned in behind the register. Not a small guy. He was facing out and as Reacher passed by he got some kind of flicker in his eye, and he reached upward and backward for something behind his shoulder. Reacher didn’t see what it was. His momentum had carried him onward. The front part of his brain didn’t think much of it. But the back part nagged. Why did the guy react?

Easy. He saw a new face. A stranger. Did not compute.

What was he reaching for? A weapon?

Probably not. A random passerby was no immediate threat. And no one kept a baseball bat or an old .45 loud and proud on the wall. Not in plain sight. Under the counter worked better. Plus how dangerous was the irrigation business anyway? Bats and guns were for bars and bodegas, and maybe pharmacies.

So what was the guy reaching for?

The phone, most likely. An old-fashioned wall-mounted telephone. Shoulder height to most folks, for comfortable dialing. The guy grabbed at it backward because he was too cramped to turn all the way around.

Why would he make a call? Was seeing a stranger such an extraordinary event it required instant sharing?

Maybe he suddenly remembered something. Maybe he was due a sales call. Maybe he was supposed to send a package.

Or maybe he had been told to call in sightings.

Of what?

Strangers.

Told by who?

Maybe the weird kid, too. Maybe that was an attempt at actual surveillance. There’s a fine line between showy shyness and sheer incompetence.

Reacher stood in the plaza and turned a full circle.

No one there.

At that point he figured a cup of coffee would be a good idea, so he walked back to the diner. Chang was still in there, at the same table. Late morning. She had swapped seats, so her back was to the angle. Where his had been. He threaded his way through the room and sat down at the table next to hers, side by side, so his back was to the wall, too. Habit, mostly.

“Nice morning?” he asked.

She said, “Feels like a Sunday from my freshman year in college. No cell phone and nothing to do.”

“Doesn’t your guy at least check in with his office?”

She started to say something, but stopped. She looked all around the room, and at the people in it, as if counting the number of potential witnesses to what might turn out to be an embarrassing admission. Then she smiled a complex and expressive smile, part bold, part rueful, maybe even a little conspiratorial, and she said, “I might have glamorized our situation slightly.”

Reacher said, “In what way?”

“Our Oklahoma City office is Keever’s spare bedroom. Like our Seattle office is my spare bedroom. Our web site says we have offices everywhere. Which is true. Everywhere there’s an out-of-work ex–FBI agent with a spare bedroom and bills to pay. We’re not a multilayered organization. In other words, we have no support staff. Keever has no one to check in with.”

 

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