Never go back, p.19
Never Go Back,
Part #18 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
She paused a long moment.
Then she said, ‘You’re like something feral.’
Reacher said nothing in reply to that. Feral, from the Latin adjective ferus, wild, via bestia fera, wild animal. Generally held to mean having escaped from domestication, and having devolved back to a natural state.
Turner said, ‘It’s like you’ve been sanded down to nothing but yes and no, and you and them, and black and white, and live or die. It makes me wonder, what does that to a person?’
‘Life,’ Reacher said. ‘Mine, anyway.’
‘You’re like a predator. Cold, and hard. Like this whole thing. You have it all mapped out. The four guys in the car, and their bosses. You’re swimming towards them, right now, and there’s going to be blood in the water. Yours or theirs, but there’s going to be blood.’
‘Right now I hope I’m swimming away from them. And I don’t even know who they are or where they are.’
‘But you will. You’re thinking about it all the time. I can see you doing it. You’re worrying away at it, trying to catch the scent.’
‘What else should I do? Buy us bus tickets straight to Leavenworth?’
‘Is that the only alternative?’
‘What do you think?’
She took her first sip of coffee, slow and contemplative. She said, ‘I agree with you. And that’s the problem, right there. That’s what’s making me uncomfortable. I’m just like you. Except not yet. And that’s the point. Looking at you is like looking into the future. You’re what I’m going to be one day. When I’m all sanded down too.’
‘So I’m too similar? Most women say no because I’m too different.’
‘You scare me. Or the prospect of becoming you scares me. I’m not sure I’m ready for that. I’m not sure I ever will be.’
‘Doesn’t have to happen. This is a bump in the road. You’ll still have a career.’
‘If we win.’
‘So best case, I step off the path to stay on it. Worst case, I’m off it for ever.’
‘No, worst case is you’re dead or locked up. Worst case is the wrong guys win.’
‘It’s always win or lose with you, isn’t it?’
‘Is there a third option?’
‘Does it burn you up to lose?’
‘It’s a kind of paralysing arrogance. Normal people don’t get all burned up if they lose.’
‘Maybe they should,’ Reacher said. ‘But you’re not really like me. You’re not looking at yourself when you look at me. That’s why I came all this way. You’re a better version. That’s what I sensed on the phone. You’re doing it the way it should be done.’
‘Everything. Your job. Your life. Being a person.’
‘Doesn’t feel that way. Not right now. And don’t think of me like a better version. If I can’t look at you and see what’s going to be, you can’t look at me and see what should have been.’
Then the griddle man came back, this time with plates full of eggs and bacon and fried biscuits, all of which looked good, and all of which looked perfectly cooked. The eggs had clean, crisp edges. Clearly the guy cared for his metal well. After he was gone again Turner said, ‘This is all assuming you have a definite preference, that is, one way or the other, about the number of rooms.’
Reacher said, ‘Honest answer?’
‘I do have a definite preference.’
‘I have to tell you my thing first.’
‘The other item designed to make me run.’
‘A paternity suit,’ Reacher said. ‘Apparently I have a daughter in Los Angeles. By a woman I can’t remember.’
REACHER TALKED, AND Turner ate. He told her the things he had been told. Red Cloud, between Seoul and the DMZ, and Candice Dayton, and her diary, and her home in LA, and her homelessness in LA, and her daughter, and her car, and her visit with a lawyer.
Turner asked, ‘What’s the kid’s name?’
‘Samantha,’ Reacher said. ‘Sam for short, presumably.’
‘How old is she?’
‘Fourteen. Nearly fifteen.’
‘How do you feel?’
‘Bad. If she’s mine, I should have been there for her.’
‘You really don’t remember her mother?’
‘No, I really don’t.’
‘Is that normal for you?’
‘You mean, exactly how feral am I?’
‘I don’t think I forget people. I hope I don’t. Especially women I sleep with. But if I did, I would be unaware of it, by definition. You can’t be aware of forgetting.’
‘Is this why we’re going to Los Angeles?’
‘I have to know,’ Reacher said.
‘But it’s suicide. They’ll all be waiting for you there. It’s the one place they can be sure you’ll go.’
‘I have to know,’ Reacher said again.
Turner said nothing.
Reacher said, ‘Anyway, that’s the story. That’s what I had to tell you. In the interests of full disclosure. In case it had a bearing. On the rooms issue, for instance.’
Turner didn’t answer.
They finished up, and they got their check, which was for a total represented by a scrawled figure circled beneath three scribbled lines. How much was a cup of diner coffee? No one knew, because no one ever found out. Maybe it was free. Maybe it had to be, because the composite total was modest. Reacher had thirteen dollars and thirty-two cents in his pocket, which was Sullivan’s surviving eighty cents plus the change he had gotten in the gas station hut, and he left all of it on the table, thereby including a handsome tip. A guy who worked a hot griddle all night deserved no less.
The car was where they had left it, unmolested, not surrounded by searchlights and SWAT teams. Far to their left the state police barracks looked quiet. The cruisers out front had not moved. The warm lights were still showing in the windows.
‘Stay or go?’ Turner asked.
‘Stay,’ Reacher said. ‘This place is as good as any. As weird as that sounds, with the troopers right here. It’s not going to get better than this. Not until it’s over.’
‘Not until we win, you mean.’
They eased themselves into the Corvette’s low seats, and Turner fired it up and drove back to the motel. She stopped outside the office.
‘I’ll wait here,’ she said. ‘You go do it.’
‘OK,’ he said.
He took a fistful of twenties from one of Billy Bob’s bricks.
‘Two rooms,’ she said.
The night clerk was asleep in his chair, but it didn’t take much to wake him up. The sound of the door did half the job, and a polite tap from Reacher’s knuckles on the counter did the rest. The guy was young. Maybe it was a family business. Maybe this was a son or a nephew.
‘Got two rooms?’ Reacher asked him.
The guy made a big show of checking on a computer screen, like many such guys do, which Reacher thought was dumb. They weren’t the worldwide heads of global operations for giant hotel corporations. They were in motels with rooms they could count on their fingers and toes. If they lost track, then surely all they had to do was turn around and check the keys hanging on the hooks behind them.
The guy looked up from the screen and said, ‘Yes, sir, I can do that.’
‘Thirty dollars per room per night. With a voucher included, for breakfast at the café across the street.’
‘Deal,’ Reacher said, and he swapped three of Billy Bob’s twenties for two of the young guy’s keys. Rooms eleven and twelve. Adjacent. A kindness, on the young guy’s part. Easier for the maid in the morning. Less distance to push her heavy cart.
‘Thank you,’ Reacher said.
They walked back together and found their rooms, which were on the second floor, up an exterior flight of concrete stairs. Reacher gave Turner the key to eleven, and kept twelve for himself. She said, ‘What time tomorrow?’
‘Noon,’ he said. ‘And I’ll drive some, if you like.’
‘We’ll see. Sleep well.’
He waited until she was safely inside before he opened his door. The room behind it was a concrete box with a popcorn ceiling and vinyl wallpaper. Better than the place a mile from Rock Creek, but only by degrees. The heater was quieter, but far from silent. The carpet was cleaner, but not by much. As was the bedspread. The shower looked reasonable, and the towels were thin but not transparent. The soap and the shampoo were dressed up with a brand name that sounded like a firm of old Boston lawyers. The furniture was made of pale wood, and the television set was a small off-brand flat-screen, about the size of a carry-on suitcase. There was no telephone. No minibar refrigerator, no free bottle of water, no chocolate on the pillow.
He turned on the television and found CNN and watched the ticker at the bottom of the screen, all the way through a full cycle. There was no mention of two fugitives fleeing an army facility in Virginia. So he headed for the bathroom and started the shower and stood under it, aimlessly, long after the soap he had used was rinsed away. Fragments of the conversation over the scarred café table came back to him, unstoppably. You’re like something feral, she had said. You’re like a predator. Cold, and hard.
But in the end the line that stuck was from earlier in the exchange. Turner had asked about Morgan, and he had told her, Your guys in Afghanistan missed two consecutive radio checks, and he did nothing about it. He went over and over it, sounding the words in his head, moving his lips, saying it out loud, breaking it down, sputtering each phrase into the beating water, examining each separate clause in detail.
Your guys in Afghanistan.
Missed two consecutive radio checks.
And he did nothing about it.
He shut off the water and got out of the tub and grabbed a towel. Then, still damp, he put his pants back on, and one of his T-shirts, and he stepped out to the upstairs walkway. He padded barefoot through the cold night air, to room eleven’s door.
REACHER WAITED IN the cold, because Turner didn’t open up right away. But he knew she was awake. He could see electric light through the spy hole in her door. Then it darkened briefly, as she put her eye to it, to check who was there. Then he was left to wait some more. She was hauling some clothes on, he guessed. She had showered, too, almost certainly. Then the door opened, and she stood there, with one hand on the handle and the other on the jamb, blocking his way, either consciously or subconsciously. Her hair was slick with water and finger-combed out of her eyes. She was wearing her army T-shirt and her new work pants. Her feet were bare.
Reacher said, ‘I would have called, but there’s no telephone in my room.’
‘Mine either,’ she said. ‘What’s up?’
‘Something I told you about Morgan. I just realized what it means.’
‘What did you tell me?’
‘I said your guys in Afghanistan missed two consecutive radio checks, and he did nothing about it.’
‘I was thinking about that too. I think it’s proof he’s one of them. He did nothing because he knew there was nothing to do. He knew they were dead. No point in organizing a search.’
‘Can I come in?’ Reacher asked. ‘It’s cold out here.’
‘Or we could use my room,’ he said. ‘If you prefer.’
‘No, come in,’ she said. She took her hand off the jamb and moved aside. He stepped in, and she closed the door behind him. Her room was the same as his. His shirt was on the back of a chair. Her boots were under the chair, stowed neatly, side by side.
She said, ‘I guess I could afford some new shoes now.’
‘New everything, if you want,’ he said.
‘Do you agree?’ she said. ‘It’s proof he’s one of them?’
‘It could be proof he’s lazy and incompetent.’
‘No commander could be that dumb.’
‘How long have you been in the army?’
She smiled, briefly. ‘OK, plenty of commanders could be that dumb.’
He said, ‘I don’t think the important part is him doing nothing about it.’
She sat down on the bed. Left him standing near the window. Her pants were loose, and her shirt was tight. She was wearing nothing underneath it. That was clear. He could see ribs, and slender curves. On the phone from South Dakota he had pictured her as a blonde, with blue eyes, maybe from northern California, all of which had turned out to be completely wrong. She was dark-haired and dark-eyed, and from Montana. But he had been right about other things. Five-six or five-seven, he had guessed out loud, but thin. Your voice is all in your throat. She had laughed out loud and asked: You saying I’m flat-chested? He had laughed back and said, 34A at best. She had said, Damn.
But the reality was better than the telephone guesses. Live and in person she was something else entirely.
Totally worth it.
She said, ‘What was the important part of what Morgan said?’
‘The two missed radio checks.’
‘Your guys checked in on the day you were arrested, but then they missed the next day, and the next.’
‘As did I, because I was in jail. You know that. It was a concerted plan. They shut us down, both ends, over there and over here, simultaneously.’
‘But it wasn’t simultaneous,’ Reacher said. ‘That’s my point. Afghanistan is nine hours ahead of Rock Creek. That’s practically a whole day’s worth of daylight in the winter. And no one walks on a goat trail in the Hindu Kush after dark. That would be a bad idea for a huge number of reasons, including falling down and accidentally breaking your leg. So your guys were out there getting shot in the head during daylight hours. That’s for damn sure. No question about it. And daylight hours end by about six o’clock local.’
‘Six o’clock in the evening in Afghanistan is nine o’clock in the morning here.’
‘But my lawyer said you opened your bank account in the Cayman Islands at ten o’clock in the morning, and the hundred grand arrived at eleven o’clock in the morning, and you were arrested at noon.’
‘I remember that last part.’
‘Which means your guys were dead at least an hour before they started messing with you. Many hours, most likely. Minimum of one, maximum of eight or nine.’
Never Go Back by Lee Child / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5.1 out of 5 / Based on46 votes