MatchUp, p.13Lee Child
“I want to see your hands.”
Warwick was too puzzled to protest. He simply peeled his gloves off, inside out, first one, then the other.
He held his hands up.
The door opened again and Samuel Rye stepped into the room.
ALL MORGUES WEAR THE SAME perfume, a blend of disinfectant, refrigeration, and putrefying flesh. Eau de death.
All morgues are outfitted along the same lines. Gleaming tiles, cabinets, and counters. Stainless steel tables, sinks, lights, scales, carts, and instruments.
All morgues have the same coolers, some larger, some smaller, some more numerous. To Brennan’s surprise, the one at the CFL had Braille lettering beside the sign saying 5205: BODY STORAGE. She wondered. Visually impaired pathologists or autopsy techs? Sketchy backup generators?
She didn’t think about it long. The after-hours quiet was goosing her already jangled nerves. There were no Stryker saws whining. No phones ringing. No faucets pounding water into stainless steel sinks. No voices dictating, directing, or cracking jokes. She’d done her share of late-night autopsy room stints. It was never good times.
After badging her through security and escorting her upstairs, Matias had rolled a gurney from the blind-friendly cooler. They’d discussed her findings and reviewed her report. Then Matias had pulled surgical aprons, masks, and gloves from drawers and they’d both suited up.
“Ready?” Dark brows raised above the rectangle of fabric covering her nose and mouth. Which were also dark.
Matias double-checked the tag, then unzipped the body bag. Whrrrp. The sound was like a snarl in the stillness. The stench of death wafted out. The odor bothered neither Matias nor Brennan.
Yeow lay naked and supine, the Y stitching his chest dark against the waxy, gray skin. One eye was half open, the pupil milky black. The base of his throat was mottled radish red.
From Matias’s comments and autopsy notes and diagram, Brennan knew that the “troubling” marks were posterior, at the back of Yeow’s neck.
Brennan nodded again.
Matias separated the flaps of the pouch. Together they tucked Yeow’s arms and rotated his body, Matias at the shoulders, Brennan at the ankles. His forehead hit the table with a soft thunk.
Brennan leaned in. Saw nothing.
Matias pulled a surgical lamp close and thumbed the switch. Light flooded Yeow’s head and upper torso.
The marks were subtle but definitely there, centered above the seventh cervical vertebrae, at the base of Yeow’s neck. Two lines converging at a very slight angle.
“Perimortem?” Brennan asked.
“Definitely. The hemorrhaging means the injury occurred at the time of death.”
“Looks like he was hit by something with a pair of long, thin edges. Or a pair of bars.”
“Or he hit something.”
“You think he fell?”
Matias shook her head. “I found no blunt trauma anywhere else on the body. No lacerations, no hematomas, no fractures. Nothing but this linear bruising and the abrasions on his throat.”
“No defensive wounds on his hands or arms?”
“A few broken nails. But I have no way to tell when or how that happened.”
“And there was no skin or tissue under his nails.” Brennan knew that from Matias’s notes. “No trace at all.”
“It makes no sense. If conscious, victims of strangulation claw at their attackers’ hands. Or at the ligature cutting off their air.”
Brennan straightened and closed her eyes. Again played a mental holograph of the assault.
Warwick facing him with the plastic bag.
Or behind him.
Tall, skinny Warwick.
She pictured the two linear marks. Their position, spacing, and orientation.
The figure morphed. Grew shorter. More solid.
Brennan’s eyes flew open.
Not Paul Warwick.
“These bruises were made by a prosthetic hand.” Tone emphatically calm. “That’s why you found no skin under Yeow’s nails.”
“A device with two hooks?” Matias spoke while eyeballing the patterned injury on Yeow’s neck.
“That tracks.” Nodding slowly.
Brennan stripped off and bunched her apron, mask, and gloves. “I know who did this.”
“Seriously?” Matias, unconvinced.
“I have to go.” Toe-slamming the pedal and tossing her gear into the biohazard bin.
“My paralegal is in grave danger.”
Brennan grabbed her shoulder bag and fired out the door. She thumbed her phone for an Uber as she hustled. The app seemed agonizingly slow. But eventually Fong promised to be there in a black Camry hybrid within eleven minutes. She pushed out to the street and ran, hoping her phone would bring Fong to her. She could be a mile away in eleven minutes. Maybe more. Then her phone buzzed in her hand. Caller ID displayed the same unfamiliar number she had seen before. Albert Thorsten. Yeow’s editor at the Washington Post. The Kalahari voice.
It said, “I apologize.”
“For what, dammit?”
No time for games.
“The Metro cops found Yeow’s notes. They returned them to me. You were right. Calder Massee killed himself. He was a spy. There was an execution order, but the rest of the file shows Massee was already dead when the assassin got there. He shot himself in his car. Ian Massee and Paul Warwick were cherry-picking the evidence. Yeow’s story was going to cut them off at the knees. They’re the suspects now.”
“No, it was Samuel Rye. Yeow’s story was going to kill his show. I should have known. He said it wasn’t about the money. When someone says that, it’s always about the money.”
She disconnected and dialed Veronica Luong.
She said, “Tell Szewczk and Dupreau to get to Samuel Rye’s place in Crystal City right now. Cops, SWAT, everything. Rye is the killer.”
Then she saw a black Camry up ahead. She waved. It stopped. She got in.
SAMUEL RYE STOOD FRAMED IN the open doorway. Short, squat, powerful. All slabs and angles. In his good hand was a Colt Python, which was a stainless steel six-shot revolver about the size and weight of a sledgehammer. Clamped in his hook was an open switchblade. Six inches of fine glittering steel, faintly blue in the fluorescent light. Not pretty. Not pretty at all. Reacher didn’t like knives.
He should have known.
It’s not the money.
It’s always the money.
Rye said, “Sit down.”
Reacher said, “No.”
“You won’t. That’s a very loud gun. The cops are coming.”
“Brennan went to look at Yeow’s autopsy notes. She won’t find skin under the nails. She’ll put two and two together. She’s smart like that. And she has a cell phone.”
Rye took a step into the room.
He leveled the Colt. The barrel looked the size of a water main. It was pointing at Reacher’s center mass.
Stay alive and see what the next minute brings.
That was Reacher’s motto.
He said, “How did you get her prints on the bag?”
Rye smiled. Pleased with himself.
He said, “I guess you don’t watch much television.”
“The Yankees sometimes,” Reacher said. “When I can.”
“My last program. All about 3-D printing. Very useful. But I hinted it could be used for bad purposes too.”
“She arrived at the Marriott two days ago and had a room-service dinner. I bought her water glass from the waiter. Lifted her prints, scanned them, filled the printer cartridge with squalene, and printed them all over a brand-new
Reacher nodded. He had heard of squalene. A Russian watchmaker had once told him all about it. It was a natural organic compound, found in shark liver oil and olive oil. And on human noses. The watchmaker used it to lubricate delicate mechanisms.
Rye said, “Sit down.”
“No,” Reacher said again.
He heard footsteps out in the corridor. Quiet and hesitant.
Ian Massee appeared in the doorway.
He looked in bad shape. Bent over, limping, breathing ragged.
He said, “The bastard hit me.”
Rye said, “We have worse problems than that.”
Massee shuffled in. Stopped between Rye and Warwick. If Rye was the twelve on a clock face, Massee was the one and Warwick was the two. Reacher was the six. Outnumbered. A classic three against one.
The gun was still steady on Reacher’s chest.
Rye said, “Is Brennan planning to meet you here?”
Reacher said, “No.”
Then he sensed more movement in the corridor. Almost nothing. Just a faint disturbance in the air.
He looked at Rye and said, “You should cut your losses and get the hell out. Or shoot Massee, not me. He got you into this mess. He’s as bad as his big brother.”
Rye said nothing.
Behind his left shoulder Reacher saw a third of a face, a green eye, a sweep of dark blond hair. Brennan, peering around the doorjamb. Exactly the same as at the chained door of her hotel room, back at the beginning.
He said, “Time is ticking away.”
Brennan moved soundlessly into the room. A yard behind Rye.
Reacher said, “I wish I was a woman.”
Rye said, “What?”
“I would have a purse. I could swing it like a bat. I could knock your gun hand out of the way.”
“What?” Rye said again.
And Brennan did exactly that. Reacher saw thirty-seven hours of anger and outrage and frustration in her face, channeling into some kind of deadly focus. She wound up like a discus thrower at the Olympics and swung her bag from behind and smashed it into Rye’s forearm with all the strength in her body. Which was evidently considerable. The gun was swept all the way from the six on the clock face to the three. It fired with a deafening crash and a television monitor exploded, and simultaneously Reacher smashed a giant fist into the exposed side of Rye’s head, jaw, ear, and cheekbone, and then he danced to his right and crashed an elbow into Warwick’s throat. Rye and Warwick went down backward, and Massee sank to his knees clutching his chest. Maybe a heart attack, all by himself.
Reacher looked at Brennan and said, “Thank you.”
Brennan took a breath and said, “You’re welcome.”
Then there were sirens outside and boots in the corridor and six men in FBI windbreakers burst into the room, followed by Szewczk and Dupreau, followed by Veronica Luong.
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 23, 2310 EST
THEY BOTH NEEDED TO DECOMPRESS. and reacher was hungry.
Certain the Marriott bars and restaurants would be packed with alcohol-buzzed toxicologists, pathologists, lawyers, and engineers, they opted for the Raven in Mount Pleasant. Brennan remembered it from her drinking days. The dive decor. The heart-stopping cheeseburgers and onion rings. She hoped it was still there.
It was. And a good choice. The interior was dim, lit mostly by neon beer signs. Bar to one side, booths to the other, each with its own miniature jukebox. The place, largely empty, had only one flaw. The syrupy stench of grease and stale beer.
They chose an alcove in the rear and climbed onto high chrome stools with cracked vinyl seats. Brennan climbed. Reacher simply straddled and dropped.
On the wall above their shoulders, his left, her right, was a bulgy-screen TV that looked like it had been mounted sometime in the ’80s. The picture was on but the sound was muted.
After a brief wait, a guy slouched over and asked what they wanted. His tee, once white, was stained and stretched way too tight over his belly. On it was an unnaturally elongated Latvian flag.
Reacher asked for a burger, very rare, and black coffee. Brennan asked for the same, medium rare, double cheese. Perrier and lime to drink.
Their eyes met.
Reacher amended their order to two pints of whatever was on tap. The guy recommended some microbrewery IPA with an unlikely name.
The beer hit the table seconds later. Brennan took in a few molecules, mostly foam. Did the automatic alkie count in her head. How many months? Years? She’d be fine.
“What’s an IPA?” Reacher asked.
“Damn good,” Brennan said.
Brennan’s eyes drifted to the ancient Sony above and between them. Read a headline below a grim-faced anchor. Faking a Murderer. To the anchor’s right was a graphic of a middle-aged man in an air force officer’s uniform.
“We’ve made the eleven o’clock news.” Brennan echoed Matias’s words.
As Reacher glanced left, the screen cut to video. Bathed in artificial light, Dupreau led a handcuffed Warwick from the Crystal City building. Szewczk followed with Rye. Massee was in the hands of a guy with FBI lettered on the back of his jacket.
The footage ended and the anchor returned. They watched her lips silently summarize the breaking story, Brennan’s image now hanging where Calder Massee’s had been.
Their burgers arrived. They added garnish and condiments. Ate in silence.
Brennan spoke when only lettuce remained on her plate. “Rye set the whole thing up.”
“Two birds with one stone,” Reacher agreed. “Eliminate Yeow, who was going to back your suicide finding, thereby killing his story. Hype attention for his documentary.”
“Rye wanted it to hit big, like Making a Murderer. Or Serial.”
Reacher just looked at her.
“A TV documentary and a podcast.”
MatchUp by Lee Child / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5 out of 5 / Based on40 votes