Never go back, p.37
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       Never Go Back, p.37

         Part #18 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
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  ‘He’s close. She’s out of the house. Just walking around. There’s no one within a mile of her. He’s going to pick his spot.’

  ‘And get the message to them how?’

  ‘At the diner. They’ve been there twice. There’s a gentleman named Arthur who seems willing to pass the word.’

  Turner’s ten minutes had turned into almost forty, but nothing had happened, either on the off-ramp behind them, or on the street in front of them. She said, ‘We have to go.’

  Reacher said, ‘Where?’

  ‘Just drive. Randomly. Within a mile of her door, because if she’s out, she’s walking. Surface streets only, also because she’s walking. Shrago will be thinking the same.’

  So they fired up the Ford and merged on to the 134, and got off again immediately, and started the search on Vineland, block by block, randomly, except for her own street, which they decided not to risk. Most blocks were about a thousand feet long and two hundred feet deep, which meant there were about a hundred and twenty in a square mile, which meant there were nearly four hundred inside a circle with a two-mile diameter, which meant there were close to ninety miles of road to cover. But not quite, because some blocks were double-wide, and the highway shoulders and the ramps ate up space, and some tracts had never been built. About sixty miles, probably. Three hours’ worth, at a safe speed of twenty. Not that moving around increased the chances of a random encounter. Space and time didn’t work that way. But moving around felt better.

  They saw nothing in the first hour, except the background blur of sidewalks and poles and trees and houses and stores, and parked cars in their hundreds. They saw not more than a handful of people, and they paid close attention to all of them, but none of them was the girl, and none of them was Shrago. They saw no cars crawling slow like their own. Most were heading from here to there innocently and normally, at a normal speed, and sometimes more. Which caused the only excitement in the whole of the second hour, when a dull black BMW ran a light about a hundred yards ahead, and was T-boned by an old Porsche on the cross street. Steam came up and a small crowd gathered, and then Reacher turned left and saw no more, until another random turn brought him back in line, by which time a cop car was there, with its light bar flashing, and after three more turns there was a second cop car, and an ambulance.

  But apart from that, there was nothing. Nothing at all. Thirty minutes later Turner said, ‘Let’s take an early lunch. Because she might, if she had an early breakfast. Or no breakfast at all.’

  ‘The diner?’ Reacher said.

  ‘I think so. Practically every meal means she might skip one, but not two.’

  So they worked their way back through the maze, and they joined Vineland just north of the neighbourhood, and they rolled south until they saw the old coach diner dead ahead on the left, all gleaming and shining in the sun.

  And crossing Vineland towards it was the girl.


  JULIET CALLED ROMEO, and he said, ‘I’m afraid it fell apart. We had a piece of bad luck. He needed to grab her near his car, obviously. Right next to it, ideally. He couldn’t drag her down the street screaming, not for any appreciable distance. So he leapfrogged ahead and parked the car, and then he looped around on foot and came out again behind her, and it was all going fine, and he was all set to pass her right alongside the car, and they had about twenty yards left to go, and then some idiot ran a light and got into a fender bender, and suddenly there was a crowd of people, and a cop car, and then another cop car, and obviously Shrago couldn’t do anything in front of a crowd of people or the LAPD, so the girl watched the fun for a minute and then walked on, and Shrago had to let her go, because at first he couldn’t get his car out from the middle of all the mess, and then when he finally got going, he’d lost her and he couldn’t find her again.’

  Romeo said, ‘So what next?’

  ‘He’s starting over. All her known haunts. Her house, the law office, the diner. He’ll pick her up again somewhere.’

  ‘This has to be finished in California. We can’t afford for them to come home.’

  Reacher slowed, and let the girl cross fifty yards ahead of him, and then he swung the wheel and followed her into the diner’s lot. She went straight in through the door, and he parked the car, and Turner said, ‘Should I come in with you?’

  Reacher said, ‘Yes, I want you to.’

  So they went in, and they waited just inside the door, where they had waited before. The diner looked exactly the same as the previous evening, with the blonde waitress back on duty in the left side of the coach, and the long-suffering brunette working the right side, and Arthur behind his counter, and the girl on her stool, way at the end. The blonde waitress came by, like before, with the same blank smile, and Reacher pointed to a booth on the right, one away from directly behind the girl, and the blonde gave them up to the brunette with no marked reluctance at all. They walked in and sat down, Reacher with his back to the room again, Turner facing him across the atomic laminate, the girl with her back to them both, about six feet away.

  But she was watching them in the mirror.

  Reacher waved at her reflection, partly as a greeting, partly as a join us gesture, and the kid lit up like Christmas was coming and slid off her stool, and caught Arthur’s eye and jerked her thumb at the booth behind her, as if to say I’m moving again, and then she stepped across, and Turner scooted over and the kid sat down next to her on the bench, the three of them all together in a tight little triangle.

  Reacher said, ‘Samantha Dayton, Susan Turner, Susan Turner, Samantha Dayton.’

  The kid twisted around on the vinyl and shook hands with Turner and said, ‘Are you his assistant?’

  Turner said, ‘No, I’m his commanding officer.’

  ‘Way cool. What agency?’

  ‘Military police.’

  ‘Awesome. Who are all the others?’

  ‘There’s only us and the FBI.’

  ‘Are you leading or are they leading?’

  ‘We are, of course.’

  ‘So it’s your guy in the white car?’

  ‘Yes, he’s ours.’

  ‘Parachuted in from where?’

  ‘I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.’

  The kid laughed, and looked happy as a clam. The inside scoop, and a woman CO, and jokes. She said, ‘So the guy due to show up is a military guy? Like an AWOL soldier saying goodbye to his family before disappearing for ever? But why would his family have a lawyer? Or is it his lawyer? Is he a spy, or something? Like a very senior officer, all old and distinguished, but tragically disillusioned? Is he selling secrets?’

  Reacher said, ‘Have you seen anyone today?’

  ‘The same people as yesterday.’

  ‘No men on their own?’

  ‘The man with the cropped ears is on his own today. In the rental. Maybe his partner is out sick.’

  ‘Where did you see him?’

  ‘He came down Vineland in his car. I was in the coffee shop for breakfast. Near the lawyer’s office. Although we’ll need to rethink that involvement. This thing is a triangle, isn’t it? And we don’t know which one the lawyer is working for. Could be the neighbour, could be the soldier. Could be both of them, I suppose, although I don’t see how. Or why, actually.’

  Reacher asked, ‘What time did you eat breakfast?’

  ‘It was early. Just after the agents left.’

  ‘They left?’

  ‘Just for twenty minutes. That seems to be the pattern. You should coordinate better. Everyone moves at the same time, which leaves a gap.’

  ‘That’s bad.’

  ‘It’s OK with me. It means I can get out without them knowing. Then when I come back they’re all surprised, because they thought I was still in there.’

  ‘Is that what you did this morning?’

  ‘It’s what I’m going to do every morning.’

  ‘Did the man with the ears see you leave?’

  ‘I don’t t
hink so.’

  ‘Did he see you anyplace else?’

  ‘I don’t think so. I was trying to blend in. Because of your people, not him. I didn’t see him. But I saw his car again later. It was parked where there was a fender bender.’

  Reacher said, ‘You need to stay away from that guy.’

  ‘I know. You told me that yesterday. But I can’t stay in the house all day.’

  Turner paused a beat, and asked, ‘How long have you lived in that house?’

  ‘Always, I think. I don’t remember any other houses. I’m pretty sure I was born in that house. That’s what people say, isn’t it? Even when they weren’t, exactly. Which I wasn’t, either. I was born in the hospital. But I went home to that house. Which is what the phrase means these days, I suppose, now that the whole parturition business has been institutionalized.’

  Turner said, ‘Have you ever lived in a car?’

  ‘That’s a weird question.’

  ‘You can tell us. We know people who would love to get that high on the food chain.’


  ‘Lots of people. What I mean is, we don’t judge.’

  ‘Am I in trouble?’

  Reacher said, ‘No, you’re not in trouble. We’re just checking a couple of things. What’s your mom’s name?’

  ‘Is she in trouble?’

  ‘No one’s in trouble. Not on your street, anyway. This is about the other guy.’

  ‘Does he know my mom? Oh my God, is it us you’re watching? You’re waiting for him to come see my mom?’

  ‘One step at a time,’ Reacher said. ‘What’s your mom’s name? And, yes, I know about the Colt Python.’

  ‘My mom’s name is Candice Dayton.’

  ‘In that case I would like to meet her.’

  ‘Why? Is she a suspect?’

  ‘No, this would be personal.’

  ‘How could it be?’

  ‘I’m the guy they’re looking for. They think I know your mother.’


  ‘Yes, me.’

  ‘You don’t know my mother.’

  ‘They think face to face I might recognize her, or she might recognize me.’

  ‘She wouldn’t. And you wouldn’t.’

  ‘It’s hard to say for sure, without actually trying it.’

  ‘Trust me.’

  ‘I would like to.’

  ‘Mister, I can tell you quite categorically you don’t know my mom and she doesn’t know you.’

  ‘Because you never saw me before? We’re talking a number of years here, maybe back before you were born.’

  ‘How well are you supposed to have known her?’

  ‘Well enough that we might recognize each other.’

  ‘Then you didn’t know her.’

  ‘What do you mean?’

  ‘Why do you think I always eat in here?’

  ‘Because you like it?’

  ‘Because I get it for free. Because my mom works here. She’s right over there. She’s the blonde. You walked past her two times already and you didn’t bat an eye. And neither did she. You two never knew each other.’


  REACHER SLID ALONG the bench and craned around and took a look. The blonde waitress was busy, moving left, moving right, blowing an errant strand of hair out of an eye, wiping a palm on a hip, smiling, taking an order.

  He didn’t know her.

  He said, ‘Has she ever been to Korea?’

  The kid said, ‘That’s another weird question.’

  ‘How is it weird?’

  ‘It is if you know her.’

  ‘How so?’

  ‘Her whole stressed-out martyr shtick is based around how she’s never been out of Los Angeles County but one time in her life, when a boyfriend took her to Vegas but couldn’t pay for the hotel. She doesn’t even have a passport.’

  ‘Are you certain about that?’

  ‘That’s why she dyes her hair. This is Southern California. She has no papers.’

  ‘She doesn’t need papers.’

  ‘She’s an undocumented citizen. It takes a long time to explain.’

  ‘Is she doing OK?’

  ‘This isn’t the life she planned.’

  ‘Are you doing OK?’

  ‘I’m fine,’ the kid said. ‘Don’t worry about me.’

  Reacher said nothing, and Arthur came out of the blind spot behind his shoulder, and bent down and whispered in the kid’s ear, quietly, but his hard consonants made it clear what he was saying, which was: This lady and gentleman need to have a conference with another gentleman. Whereupon the kid jumped up, all aglow, perfectly happy to be displaced by a yet-more-senior agent even closer to the heart of the drama. Arthur moved back out of sight, and the kid hustled after him, and smooth as silk her vacated spot on the bench was immediately filled by a small solid figure sliding into place, neatly, elbows already on the table, and triumph in his face.

  Warrant Officer Pete Espin.

  Reacher looked at Turner, and Turner shook her head, which meant Espin had men in the coach, at least two, probably armed, and probably close by. Espin got comfortable on the bench, and then he cupped his hands, like he was reassembling a shuffled deck, and he said, ‘You’re not her daddy.’

  Reacher said, ‘Apparently.’

  ‘I checked, just for the fun of it. The State Department said Ms Dayton never had a passport. The DoD said she never entered Korea on any other kind of document. So I checked some more, and it turns out the lawyer is selling stuff on the internet. Any kind of document, saying anything you want it to say. At one of two price levels, either paper only, or plausible. In this type of case plausible means real women, real children, and a real Xerox of a real birth certificate. And this guy is not the only one. This is a thriving business. There’s a lot of inventory. You want a kid born on a certain date, you can take your pick.’

  ‘Who bought the affidavit?’

  ‘He gave his name as Romeo, but his money was good. Out of the Cayman Islands.’

  ‘When did Romeo buy it?’

  ‘The same morning Major Turner was arrested. It’s an instant service. You tell them the names and the places and the dates and they doctor the boilerplate. You can even upload text, if you want. The documents are done in a computer and they come by e-mail, and they look like photocopies. Candice Dayton was chosen because of her kid’s birthdate. The lawyer knew her as a waitress, from eating in here. She got a hundred bucks for signing her name. But the birthdate was dumb. Did you notice that? It was exactly halfway through your time at Red Cloud. As in, exactly. Which sounds like a guy looking at a calendar, not natural biology.’

  ‘Good point,’ Reacher said.

  ‘So you’re off the hook.’

  ‘But why was I ever on the hook? That’s the big question. You got an answer for me? Why did Romeo buy that affidavit?’


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