Home > Make Me (Jack Reacher #20)(7)

Make Me (Jack Reacher #20)(7)
Author: Lee Child

He said, “Have a very pleasant day.”

“You too, sir. And congratulations on the rehab. If you don’t mind me saying that.”

Reacher squeezed out of the store and stood for a moment in the sun.

Reacher visited with twelve more merchants, for a total of thirteen, which gave him fourteen opinions, including the waitress’s. There was no consensus. Eight of the opinions were really no opinions at all, but merely shrugs and blank looks, along with a measure of shared defensiveness. There are weird names all over the country. Why single out Mother’s Rest, in a nation with towns called Why and Whynot, and Accident and Peculiar, and Santa Claus and No Name, and Boring and Cheesequake, and Truth or Consequences, and Monkeys Eyebrow, and Okay and Ordinary, and Pie Town and Toad Suck and Sweet Lips?

The other six opinions were variations on the waitress’s fantasy. And his own, Reacher supposed. And Chang’s. Folks were working backward from the name, and inventing picturesque scenarios to fit. There was no hard evidence. No one knew of a memorial stone or a museum, or a historical plaque, or even an old folk tale.

Reacher strolled back down the wide street, thinking: nap or haircut?

The spare-parts guy was the first to call it in. He said he was sure he had handled it safely, with the old football trick. It was a technique he had been taught many years before. Pick a good college team in a good year, and most guys were too flattered to be suspicious. Within an hour three more merchants had made the same kind of report. Except about the football. But in terms of substance the picture was clear. The one-eyed motel clerk took all the incoming calls, and he got the information straight in his mind, and then he dialed an outgoing number, and when it was answered he said, “They’re coming at it through the name. The big guy is all over town, asking questions.”

He got a long plastic crackle in exchange, calm, mellifluous, and reassuring. He said, “OK, sure,” but he didn’t sound sure, and then he hung up the phone.

The barbershop was a two-chair establishment, with one guy working in it. He was old, but not visibly shaking, so Reacher got a hot-towel shave, and then a clipper cut, short on the back and sides, fading longer up top. His hair was still the same color it always had been. A little thinner, but it was still there. The old guy’s labors produced a good result. Reacher looked in the mirror and saw himself looking back, all clean and crisp and squared away. The bill was eleven dollars, which he thought was reasonable.

Then he strolled back across the wide plaza, and outside the motel he saw the lawn chair he had seen before, all alone in the traffic lane. White plastic. He picked it up and put it down again on the right side of the curb, on a patch of grass near a fence. Unobtrusive. In no one’s way. He rotated it with his foot, until it was lined up with the rays of the sun. Then he sat down and leaned back and closed his eyes. He soaked up the warmth. And at some point he fell asleep, outdoors in the summertime, which was the second-best way he knew.

Chapter 7

That evening Reacher walked up to the railroad a whole hour early, at six o’clock, partly because the sun had gone low in the sky and there was nowhere left to bask, and partly because he liked being early. He liked enough time to scope things out. Even something as simple as getting on a train.

The elevators were still and silent, presumably empty and awaiting the harvest. The giant warehouse was all closed up. The rails were quiet. The vapor lights were already on, ahead of the dusk, which was coming. The western sky was still gold, but the rest of it was dark. Not long, Reacher thought, before nightfall.

The tiny railroad building was open but empty. Reacher stepped inside. The interior was all wood in a gingerbread style, and it had been painted many times, in an institutional shade of cream. It smelled like wooden buildings always did, at sundown after a long hot day, all airless and dusty and baked.

The ticket window was arched, but it was small overall, and therefore intimate. It had a round hole in the glass, for talking. But behind the glass the shade was down. The shade was brown and pleated. It was made from some kind of primitive vinyl. It had the word Closed printed on it, in paint that looked like gold leaf.

There were restrooms off a short corridor. There was a table, with a six-day-old newspaper. There were lights hanging from the ceiling, milky bulbs in glass bowls, but there was no switch. Near the door, where it should have been, was a blank plate with a message taped to it: Ask at ticket window for lights.

The benches were magnificent. They could have been a hundred years old. They were made from solid mahogany, upright and severe, only grudgingly sculpted to the human form, and polished to a shine by use. Reacher picked a spot and sat down. The contour felt better than it should. The shape was stern and puritan, but it was very comfortable. The woodworker had done a fine, subtle job. Or maybe the wood itself had given up the struggle, and instead of fighting back had yielded and molded and learned to embrace. From all the shapes and sizes, with their various masses and temperatures. Literally steamed and pressed, like an industrial process, in super-slow motion. Was that possible, with wood as hard as mahogany? Reacher didn’t know.

He sat still.

Outside it went darker, and therefore inside it went darker, too. Ask at ticket window for lights. Reacher sat in the gloom and watched out the window. He guessed Chang was out there somewhere. In the shadows. That was how she had done it before. He guessed he could go find her. But for what? He wasn’t planning any kind of a big long speech. Five more minutes of small talk wouldn’t make a difference. He traveled. He moved on. People came and went. He was used to it. No big deal. A friendly wave would do the job, as he stepped across to the train. By which time she might be preoccupied anyway, talking to Keever, getting the story, finding out where the hell he had been.

If Keever was on the train.

He waited.

A long minute before the train was due Reacher heard the stones in the rail bed click and whisper. Then the rails themselves started to sing, a low steely murmur, building to a louder keening. He felt pressure in the air, and saw the headlight beam. The noise came next, hissing and clattering and humming. Then the train arrived, hot and brutal but infinitely slow, brakes grinding, and it stopped with the locomotive already out of sight, and the passenger cars lined up with the ramp.

The doors sucked open.

On his left Reacher saw Chang step out of the shadow. Like a reflex, because of the train. Out and back, like the flash of a camera.

A man stepped down from the train.

On his right Reacher saw the spare-parts guy from the irrigation store. He stepped out of a shadow and took one step forward and waited.

The man from the train stepped into a pool of light.

Not a big guy. Not Chang’s guy. Not Keever. This was a person a little above average height, but some way below average weight. He could have been fifty, and what might have been called slender in his youth was starting to look emaciated. His hair was dark, but probably colored, and he was wearing a suit and a collared shirt, with no tie. He had a bag in his hand, brown leather, larger than a doctor bag, smaller than a duffel.

No one else got out of the train.

The doors were still open.

On his right Reacher saw the spare-parts guy take another step forward. The man from the train spotted him. The spare-parts guy said a name and stuck out his hand. Polite, respectful, welcoming, and humble.

The man from the train shook hands.

The doors were still open.

 

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