Never go back, p.32
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       Never Go Back, p.32

         Part #18 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
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  She said, ‘Why wouldn’t I?’

  ‘You don’t know me.’

  ‘Are you dangerous?’

  ‘I could be.’

  ‘Arthur keeps a Colt Python under the counter, about opposite where you’re sitting. And another one at the other end. They’re both loaded. With .357 Magnums. Out of eight-inch barrels.’

  ‘You eat here a lot?’

  ‘Practically every meal, but the word would be often. Not a lot. Lot refers to quantity, and I prefer small portions.’

  Reacher said nothing.

  ‘Sorry,’ she said. ‘I can’t help it. I’m naturally pedantic.’

  He said, ‘Why did you want to join me?’

  ‘Why did I see your car three times today?’

  ‘When was the third time?’

  ‘Technically it was the first time. I was at the lawyer’s office.’

  ‘Why?’

  ‘Curiosity.’

  ‘About what?’

  ‘About why we see the same cars three times a day.’

  ‘We?’

  ‘Those of us paying attention,’ she said. ‘Don’t play dumb, mister. There’s something going on in the neighbourhood, and we would love to know what it is. And you look like you might tell us. If I asked you nicely.’

  ‘Why do you think I could tell you?’

  ‘Because you’re one of them, cruising around all day, snooping.’

  Reacher said, ‘What do you think is happening?’

  ‘We know you’re all over the lawyer’s office. And we know you’re all over my street. So we’re guessing someone on my street is the lawyer’s client, and they’re in some shady business together.’

  ‘Who on your street?’

  ‘That’s the big question, isn’t it? It depends on how much of a head fake you use with your parking places. We think you would want to be close to your target, but not right in front of it, because that would be too obvious. But how close? That’s what we don’t know. You could be watching a lot of different houses, if you go left and right a little ways, up and down the street.’

  Reacher said, ‘What’s your name?’

  ‘Remember that Colt Python?’

  ‘Loaded.’

  ‘My name is Sam.’

  ‘Sam what?’

  ‘Sam Dayton. What’s your name?’

  ‘Is that really all you know about the operation on your street?’

  ‘Don’t damn us with faint praise. I think we did very well to piece that much together. You’re all very tight-lipped about it. Which is a great expression, isn’t it? Tight-lipped? But the tell is the way you move your cars between the law office and where I live. I understand why you do it, but it gives away the connection.’

  ‘No one has talked to you about it?’

  ‘Why would they?’

  ‘Has your mom said anything?’

  ‘She doesn’t pay attention. She’s very stressed.’

  ‘What about?’

  ‘Everything.’

  ‘What about your dad?’

  ‘I don’t have one. I mean, obviously I must, biologically, but I’ve never met him.’

  ‘Brothers or sisters?’

  ‘I don’t have any.’

  Reacher said, ‘Who do you think we are?’

  ‘Federal agents, obviously. Either DEA, ATF, or FBI. This is Los Angeles. It’s always drugs or guns or money.’

  ‘How old are you?’

  ‘Almost fifteen. You didn’t tell me your name yet.’

  Reacher said, ‘Reacher,’ and watched her very carefully. But there was no reaction. No spark. No aha! moment. Or no OMG!! moment, which Reacher understood to be more likely with kids. His name meant nothing to her. Nothing at all. It hadn’t been mentioned in her presence.

  She said, ‘So will you tell me what’s going on?’

  Reacher said, ‘Your dinner is getting cold. That’s what’s going on. You should eat.’

  ‘Are you eating?’

  ‘I already ate.’

  ‘So why come in?’

  ‘For the decor.’

  ‘Arthur is very proud of it. Where are you from?’

  ‘I move around.’

  ‘So you are a federal agent.’ And then she started eating some of her food, which Reacher bet himself was billed on the menu as Mom’s Amazing Meatloaf. The smell of ground beef and ketchup was unmistakable. He knew all about diners. He had spent hundreds of hours in them, and he had eaten most of what they had to offer.

  She said, ‘So am I right? Is it the lawyer and a client?’

  ‘Partly,’ Reacher said. ‘But there’s no shady business between them. It’s more about a guy who might visit with one of them. Or both of them.’

  ‘A third party? With a beef?’

  ‘Kind of.’

  ‘So it’s going to be an ambush? You’re waiting for the guy to show? You’re going to bust him on my street? That would be very cool. Unless it happens at the law office. Can you choose? If you can, will you do it on my street? You should think about it anyway. The street would be safer. That little mall is busy. Is the guy dangerous?’

  ‘Have you seen anyone around?’

  ‘Only your own people. They sit in their cars and watch all day. Plus your mobile crews. The guy in the silver Malibu comes by a lot.’

  ‘A lot?’

  ‘Frequently, I should say. Or often. And the two guys in the rental. And you two in the Range Rover. But I haven’t seen a man on his own, looking dangerous.’

  ‘What two guys in a rental?’

  ‘One of them has a funny-shaped head. And cropped ears.’

  ‘Cropped?’

  ‘At first from a distance I thought they were just small. But up close you can see they’ve been cut. Like into tiny hexagons.’

  ‘When did you get up close with that guy?’

  ‘This afternoon. He was on the sidewalk outside my house.’

  ‘Did he say anything?’

  ‘Not a thing. But why would he? I’m not a lawyer or a client and I don’t have a beef with anyone.’

  Reacher said, ‘I’m not authorized to tell you much, but those two guys are not with us. They’re not ours, OK? In fact they might be a part of the problem. So stay away from them. And tell your friends.’

  The girl said, ‘Not so cool.’

  Then Reacher’s phone rang. He was unaccustomed to carrying a phone, and at first he assumed it was someone else’s. So he ignored it. But the girl stared at his pocket, until he pulled it out. Turner’s stored number was on the screen.

  He excused himself, and answered.

  Turner was breathing hard.

  She said, ‘I’m heading back, and I need you out front of the diner, right now.’

  Some kind of tight emotion in her voice.

  So Reacher clicked off the call, and left Sam Dayton alone in the booth, and went outside, and hustled through the lot to the street. A minute later he saw headlights way to his left, spaced high and wide, coming towards him fast. The old Range Rover, out of the south, in a big hurry. Then its lights lit him up and it jammed to a hard stop right next to him and he yanked the door and slid inside.

  He said, ‘What’s up?’

  Turner said, ‘A situation got a little out of hand.’

  ‘How bad?’

  ‘I just shot a guy.’

  FIFTY-FOUR

  TURNER TOOK THE Ventura Freeway going west, and she said, ‘I figured the law office would be closed for the night by now, and probably the whole strip with it, and therefore I figured the watchers would be gone by now too, so I went up to take a look around, because there are things we may need to know in the future, including what kind of locks the law office has, and what kind of alarm. Which, by the way, are both fairly basic. You could buy five minutes in there, if you had to. And then I looked at my map and saw how I could get to Mulholland Drive pretty easily, because I’ve always wanted to drive a car on Mulholland Drive, like a G-man in a movie, and I figured if the kid is in there wit
h you for her dinner, then she’s in there for at least thirty minutes more, which gives me time for a personal excursion, so off I went.’

  ‘And?’ Reacher said, simply to keep her going. Shooting people was stressful, and stress was a complex thing. People reacted to it in all kinds of different ways. Some people bottled it up, and some talked it out. She was a talker, he figured.

  She said, ‘I was followed.’

  ‘That was dumb,’ he said, because she didn’t like mindless agreement.

  ‘I spotted him early. There were lights behind him and I could see it was only one guy. A solo driver, and that was all. So I didn’t think much of it. And lots of people like Mulholland Drive, so it didn’t bother me he was going the same direction.’

  ‘So what did?’

  ‘He was also going the same speed. Which is unnatural. Speed is a personal thing. And I’m pretty slow, most of the time. Usually people are bunching up behind me, or I’m getting passed by altogether. But this guy was just there, always. Like I was towing him on a rope. And I knew it wasn’t the 75th MP or the FBI, because neither one knows what we’re driving, so it had to be our other friends, except there was only one guy in the car, not two, which meant either it was neither one of them, or they’ve split up now and they’re hunting solo, but whatever, it got old real quick, and the movies say Mulholland gets wild real quick, so I figured I better stop at the very first turn-out I saw, like a message, to tell him I had made him, which would then give him a choice, either accept defeat gracefully and keep on rolling down the road, or be a sore loser and stop and harass me in person.’

  ‘And he stopped?’

  ‘He sure did. He was the third of the four in the dented car this morning. What you call the driver from the first night. They’ve split up and they’re hunting solo.’

  ‘I’m glad it was him, and not the other one.’

  ‘He was bad enough.’

  ‘How bad?’

  ‘Real bad.’

  ‘Bullshit,’ Reacher said. ‘He was a waste of food. He was the one I hit second. Which makes him worse than the one who just bought us dinner.’

  ‘Busted,’ Turner said. ‘It was like taking candy from a baby.’

  ‘What kind of taking?’

  ‘He had a gun.’

  ‘That would level the playing field a little.’

  ‘It did, for about three-quarters of a second, and then he didn’t have a gun any more, which meant I did, and some voice in my head was screaming threat threat threat centre mass bang and I blinked and found out I had gone and done it, right through the heart. The guy was dead before he hit the ground.’

  ‘And you need me right now for what?’

  ‘Are you telling me you don’t offer counselling?’

  ‘Not a core strength.’

  ‘Fortunately I’m a professional soldier, and won’t need counselling.’

  ‘Then how may I help you?’

  ‘I need you to move the body. I can’t lift it.’

  Mulholland looked exactly like the movies, but smaller. They drove in as cautious as G-men, prepared to stop if the coast was clear, prepared to keep on going if there were flashing lights and crackling radios already on the scene. But there weren’t. So they stopped. Traffic on the road was light. Picturesque, but not practical.

  But the night-time view from the turn-out was spectacular.

  Turner said, ‘Not the point, Reacher.’

  The dead guy was on the ground near his car’s front corner. His knees were folded sideways, but other than that he was flat on his back. There was no doubt about it. It was the driver from the first night. With a hole in his chest.

  Reacher said, ‘What gun was it?’

  ‘Glock 17.’

  ‘Which is where right now?’

  ‘Wiped and back in his pocket. For the time being. We have to work out how to play it.’

  ‘Only two possible ways,’ Reacher said. ‘Either the LAPD finds him sooner, or later. Best bet would be to throw him in the ravine. He could be there a week. He could get eaten up. Or at least chewed, especially the fingers. Putting him in the car is much worse. Doesn’t matter if we make it suicide or homicide, because the first thing they’ll do is run the fingerprints, and from that moment onward Fort Bragg will go crazy, and this whole thing will unravel from the far end.’

  ‘As in, not our end. And you don’t want that.’

  ‘Do you?’

  ‘I just want it unravelled. I don’t care who does it.’

  ‘Then you’re the least feral person I ever met. They slandered you in the worst possible way. You should cut their heads off with a butter knife.’

  ‘No worse than they said about you, with the Big Dog.’

  ‘Exactly. I’m about to stop and buy a butter knife. So give me a sporting chance. A few days in the ravine won’t hurt anyone. Because even if we don’t wrap it up personally, then the LAPD and Fort Bragg will, maybe next week, when they eventually find this guy. Either way it’s going to unravel.’

  ‘OK.’

  ‘And we’re keeping the Glock.’

  Which they did, along with a wallet and a cell phone. Then Reacher bunched the front of the guy’s coat in his hands and heaved him off the ground, and staggered with him as close to the edge of the drop as he dared. Most ravine disposals failed. The bodies hung up, six or seven feet down, right there on the slope. Due to a lack of height and distance. So Reacher spun the guy around, like a hammer thrower at the Olympics, two full circles, low on the ground side, high on the air side, and then he let go and hurled him out into the darkness, and he heard the crashing of disturbed trees, and the rattle of stones, and then not much else, apart from the hum of the plain below.

  They U-turned off the turn-out and headed back, through Laurel Canyon to the freeway. Reacher drove. Turner stripped the Glock and checked it, and then put it back together and put it in her pocket, with one nine-millimetre in the chamber and fifteen more in the magazine. Then she opened the wallet. It was loaded just like the others. A thick raft of twenties, a handful of smaller bills, a full deck of unexpired and legitimate credit cards, and a North Carolina driver’s licence with the guy’s picture on it. His name had been Jason Kenneth Rickard, and he had finished his earthly sojourn a month shy of his twenty-ninth birthday. He was not an organ donor.

  His phone was a cheap item similar to the pair Reacher and Turner had bought at the chain pharmacy. An untraceable mission-specific pre-paid, no doubt. Its directory showed just three numbers, the first two labelled Pete L and Ronnie B, which were obviously Lozano and Baldacci, and the third was just Shrago. The call register showed very little activity. Nothing outgoing, and just three incoming, all from Shrago.

  Turner said, ‘Shrago must be the big guy with the small ears. He seems to have the squad leader’s role.’

 
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