Home > Make Me (Jack Reacher #20)(6)

Make Me (Jack Reacher #20)(6)
Author: Lee Child

“But he has big things going on.”

Chang nodded. “We’re the real deal and we do good work. But we’re a business. Low overhead is the key to everything. And a good web site. No one knows exactly what you are.”

“What kind of a thing would he take on as a hobby case?”

“I’ve been thinking about that, obviously. Nothing corporate. There’s no such thing as a small corporate case. Some of them are like a license to print money. They go straight on the computer, believe me. It’s like giving yourself a gold star. This one has to be a private client, paying in cash, or handwriting checks. Nothing shady, necessarily, but probably dull and possibly nuts.”

“Except now Keever needs back-up.”

“Like I said, it started small, and then it got bigger.”

“Or the nuts part suddenly wasn’t nuts anymore.”

“Or got even crazier.”

The waitress came by and started Reacher’s second bottomless cup of the day. He pre-paid upfront, about four times the check. He liked coffee, and he liked waitresses.

Chang said, “How was your morning?”

He said, “I couldn’t find the old woman’s grave or any kind of information about the baby.”

“You think either one would still be around?”

“I’m pretty sure. There’s plenty of space. They’re not going to pave over someone’s grave. And there’s always room for a historical plaque. You see them all over. Some kind of cast metal, painted brown. I don’t know who makes them. Department of the Interior, maybe. But there isn’t one.”

“Have you talked to the locals?”

“Next on the list.”

“You should start with the waitress.”

“She has a professional obligation to give me the showbusiness answer. So the good word can get around, and then suddenly her diner is a tourist attraction.”

“Hasn’t worked so far.”

“You think many people ask?”

“Probably about five out of ten,” she said. “Except that’s about eleven years’ worth of visitors, right there. So it’s a high-percentage, low-frequency proposition. Depends what you mean by ‘many.’ ”

And right then the waitress set off toward them with the Bunn flask, for Reacher’s first refill of the session, and Chang asked her, “Why is this town called Mother’s Rest?”

The waitress stood back, favoring one hip over the other, like tired women do, with the coffee mid-air and level with her waist. She had hair the color of the wheat outside, and a red face, and she could have been thirty-five or fifty, and a thin person bulking up with age, or a heavy person burning down with work. It was impossible to tell. She looked very happy to take a minute, because Reacher was already her best friend forever, because of the tip, and because she’d just been asked a question that was neither offensive nor boring.

She said, “I like to think a grateful son in a faraway city built his mama a little country home to retire to, in exchange for all the good things she had done for him, and then some stores came to sell her what she needed, and some more houses, and pretty soon it was a town.”

Reacher said, “Is that the official version?”

The waitress said, “Honey, I don’t know. I’m from Mississippi. I can’t imagine how I washed up here. You should ask the counterman. I think he was born in the state at least.”

And then she bustled away, like waitresses do.

Chang asked, “Was that the showbusiness answer?”

Reacher nodded and said, “But from the creative side, not the marketing side. She needs to get with the program. Or go write for the movies. I saw one just like that. On the television set in a motel room. In the daytime.”

“Should we ask the counterman?”

Reacher glanced over. The guy was busy. He said, “First I’m going to find some real people. I saw some candidates while I was out walking. Then I’m going to find a place to take a nap. Or maybe I’ll get my hair cut. Maybe I’ll see you at the railroad stop at seven o’clock. Your guy Keever will be getting out, and I’ll be climbing aboard.”

“Even if you don’t know the story of the name yet?”

“It’s not that important. Not really worth sticking around for. I’ll believe my own version. Or yours. Depending on my mood.”

Chang said nothing in reply to that, so Reacher drained his mug, and slid out from behind his table, and threaded his way back through the room. He stepped outside. The sun was still warm. Next on the list. Real people. Starting with the spare-parts guy, for the irrigation systems.

Chapter 6

The guy was still hemmed in behind his register. He had about two feet of room, which wasn’t enough. He was close to Reacher’s own height and weight, but slack and swollen, in a shirt as big as a circus tent, above a belt buckled improbably low, under a belly the size of a kettle drum. His face was pale, and his hair was colorless.

There was a phone on the wall, behind his right shoulder. Not an ancient item with a rotary dial and a curly wire, but a regular modern cordless telephone, with a base station screwed to the stud, and a handset upright in a cradle. Easy enough for the guy to flail blindly behind him, and then the numbers were right there, in the palm of his hand, for speedy dialing. Or speed dialing. The base station had a plastic window with ten spaces. Five were labeled, and five were not. The labels seemed to be the brands the guy sold parts for. Helplines for technical advice, possibly, or sales and service numbers.

The guy said, “Can I get you anything?”

Reacher said, “Have we met?”

“I’m pretty sure not. I’m pretty certain I’d remember.”

“Yet when I walked by the first time you jumped so high you practically bumped your head on the ceiling. Why was that?”

“I recognized you, from your old pictures.”

“What old pictures?”

“From Penn State, in ’86.”

“I wasn’t smart enough for Penn State.”

“You were in the football program. You were the linebacker everyone was talking about. You were in all the sports papers. I used to follow that stuff pretty closely back then. Still do, as a matter of fact. You look older now, of course. If you don’t mind me saying that.”

“Did you make a phone call?”

“When?”

“When you saw me walk by.”

“Why would I do that?”

“I saw your hand move toward the phone.”

“Maybe it was ringing. It rings all the damn time. Folks wanting this, folks wanting that.”

Reacher nodded. Would he have heard the phone ring? Possibly not. The door had been closed, and the phone was all electronic, with adjustable volume, and maybe it was set to ring very quietly, in such a small space. Especially if calls came in all the time. Right next to the guy’s ear. A loud ring could get annoying.

Reacher said, “What’s your theory about this town’s name?”

The guy said, “My what?”

“Why is this place called Mother’s Rest?”

“Sir, I honestly have no idea. There are weird names all over the country. It’s not just us.”

“I’m not accusing you of anything. I’m interested in the history.”

“I never heard any.”

Reacher nodded again.

 

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